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The Cost of His Conscience


[ALL EIGHTS RESERVED.] The Cost of His Conscience BY NOWELL CAY, Author of The Presumption of Stanley Hay, M.P. "A Foe in the Family," &c. At Sir Gilbert Loring walked home from the Hall with the memory of his sweetheart's ibetrothal kiss fresh on his lips, one could have told from his face the precise moment When the thought of his mother obtruded itself into his happy dreams of the girl he loved. Colonel Raeburn, Isabel's father, had been a little difficult. The old gentleman had ob- jected in the first place that the young man was a Loring. liie wickedness of the "bold, bad Lorings" had long been proverbial in the county. It was true that Gilbert himself had escaped the family traits with a completeness that seemed to upset every theory of heredity, but there seemed some danger, as the Colonel giointed out, in allowing his daughter to Starry into a family which, with this one ex- ception, had produced reckless spendthrifts ception, had produced reckless spendthrifts and worse. Since Gilbert's father, the late Sir John Loring, had been the greatest spendthrift of them all, the estate must, of course, be greatly impoverished, and Colonel Raeburn could not allow his daughter to marry a poor man. Young Loring knew that this was the most serious part of the Colonel's objection, and he had prepared for it in his usual frank, straightforward manner by preparing an exact statement of his financial position. It showed that, thanks to his father's early death, and the care with which his trustees had curbed the extravagance of his mother during his long minority, he found himself now at twenty-three with an estate not actu- ally encumbered. It was comparatively a poor one still, and he had anxious moments while the Colonel considered whether it was sufficient to entitle him to the boon he asked. But Isabel had allowed her father to realise that her happiness was at stake, and the ordeal had ended happily. Colonel Raeburn's objections to the match were, after all, only those of a prudent parent. Those of the Dowager Lady Lor- ing, as her son knew well, were likely to be those of a selfish and passionate woman who eared for nothing except her own interests and prejudices. The unconscious smile faded from his handsome boyish face as he remem- bered that the next task before him was to announce his engagement to his mother. His long, swinging steps had brought him in sight of Loring Towers, the gaunt ugly pile which he called home, and which never looked to him so cheerless and sinister as when he returned to it from the Hall. The Towers had no pleasant associations for him. The place recalled only a lonely and loveless childhood, a youth disturbed by the violent passions and open enmity of his mother, who seemed to hate and despise him because he was even-tempered and honest and clean- Jiving, and had none of the vices of his race. The Dowager herself was a Loring of the Lorings, by birth as well as marriage, for the late baronet had married his first cousin, and the fact made it all the more remarkable that jfchfjr should have a child so completely unlike < ..itr, botfe in appearance and character. The contrast between mother and son w- very striking as the young man entered the latter's boudoir. Of late Lady Loring had been seriously warned by her physician against violent excitement and excess in eat- i ing and drinking, and she spent her time alternately in defying the advice and raging against the whole breed of doctors with the very violence of passion against which s'ic had been cautioned, and in moods of fear and abstinence, during which she treated herself as an invalid at the last stage whom a breath cf air might demolish. This was one of her invalid days, and he found her reclining with closed eyes before an unnecessary fire. She shivered as he opened the door, and after a quick, furtive glance at his serious face, the face of a man who had something to tell, closed her eyes again. "You must not excite me," she said. "Dr. Leaven says that I am not to be irritated. My heart is worse to-day." flI do not want to excite or irritate you, mother," said Gilbert, "but there is some- thing I must tell you-if not to-day, then to- morrow." "You know that nothing hurts me like sus- pense," she said, her curiosity piqued by his tone, even more formal than usual. "Tell me at once." He expected from her none of the sympathy which any other mother would have given- to her son at such an interesting and important crisis of his life/but in his worst anticipation he had not thought that she would be quite SO violent and hostile as she showed herself. Almost at the first word of his announcement her daik face became livid with passion. He bad never seen her quite so lost to all control, never heard from her lips vituperation quite so vile as that she poured upon both him and Isabel and all the Raeburns. "And yon think you will turn me out," she screamed. It was, of course, the thought which inspired all her fury, the thought that she was to be supplanted, to resign her posi- tion as mistress of Loring Towers to another 9 woman. I ifl am sure that you would not care to re- main here when the house has a new mis- tress," he said, and the grave inflexibility of his. tone stung her to madness. "I am to turn out," she said between her balf-closed teeth. "Very well, but I will not turn out for you and that pink-faced chit at the Hall. We will go together, and let Roger Loring take his own. You have decided." Gilbert paid little attention to her words. They were to him the meaningless utterances of a woman beside herself with an unjustifi- able exasperation. The scene was even more painful than he had expected. He was asking jumself, as he remained silent, what unplea- sant step his mother would make necessary if She remained obstinate in her selfish denial of his right to marry. But as she went en, panting with white- hot excitement between each sharp cut word, his attention was caught by the very outrage- ousness of what she was flinging at him. "Mother, what are you saying?" he cried in protest, and her voice rose. "Don't call me mother.' Don't you hear; you are no child) of mine. You are a beggar's brat that I bought for twenty pounds. And you, without a drop of Loring blood in your veins, think you can turn me out of the Towers!" He was so accustomed to hearing wild words from her in her ungovernable fits of temper that it was some time before he even thought of attaching any importance to these, despite the names, dates, and other precise details with which she combated his incredu iity. "If what yon say is true, I have no right to remain in this house. I have no right to my name," he said tensely. "It is Roger Lor- ing who should have been here these last ten years." fiis tone frightened her. Her rage had al- ready expended itself, leaving her afraid of what she had done. She lay back in her chair, panting for breath, a strange blueness round her lips. He rang for her maid with restoratives, and was leaving the room on her arrival when Lady Loring beckoned him to her side. "Where are you going? what are you going to do?" she whispered anxiously. "There is no need for anybody to know. I don't want Roger Loring here, so long as you do not marry. You are not going to tell anybody?" "I am going to learn whether it is true," he said. It was impossible for him to believe anything on the simple word of Lady Loring. He put on his hat and went down to the village. In her excitedly-told story, Lady Loring had said that Nurse Ames was with her, and a party to her deception, when she bdopted another woman's child to pass off as her own. Nurse Ames was a woman who had been in Lady Loring's service, and that of her mother before her for more than fifty years. To Gilbert she had been much more of a mother: than his nominal one, and he had shown his, affeetron for her by the provision the had made for her old age. Her cottage was the prettiest in the village and he en- tered it now with the certainty that if Lady Loring had told him a lie. Nurse Ames would certainly contradict it. As be sat in the spotless little parlour of Rose Cottage, within a stone's throw of the house where only an hour ago life had been made sweet by Isabel Raeburn's promise to be his wife, and her father's consent to the en- gagement, as he sat there, asking questions in a voice from which all animation and impati- ence had gone, he learnt the little that was known of his parentage and birth. His father was a farm labourer, called Dur- feerville, who had been killed by a fall from a haystack four months after his marriage to a servant girl of the same village, a place called Caton Hollow, in Kent. It was Nurse Ames herself who heard by chance of the plight of the ybung widow practically penni- less and expecting to become a mother, but it was in Lady Loring's cunning brain alone that the daring plan was originated, by which she cheated her husband into the belief that he had an heir. Sir John was abroad at the time his supposed son was born and had died without suspecting the deceptibn., -And my mother still alive?" Gilbert asked, with a strange feeling; half hope, half fear in his heart, as the old woman told &er story. I can't say. For twenty years and more I have heard nothing of her. A year or two after yon were born my lady sent me down to Caton Hollow to make inquiries. She had ibecome nervous and wanted to make sure that your mother wasn't doing anything to find out where you were. I found that she had married again, a bricklayer, and gone with him to America. That is the last we heard of her." "And she never made any inquiry about me, or cared what had become of me ?" he asJtedL "S.he could not, Muster Gilbert. My lady never let her know who; she was or where she came from. She took a false name, and so did I when we went down to Caton Hollow. And you need not think that the poor mother wanted to part with you. She did nothing but cry about it, but you see she had no home for you, and could not get another situation if she had a child, and my lady gave her twenty pounds. She was- a pretty young thing, with blue eyes and straight features, and brown hair; for all the world like you, Master Gilbert. But, of course, that was twenty-three years ago, and I don't suppose I should recognise her now, if she was alive. When one has a hard life "And do you remember the name of this- this bricklayer that my mother married?" he interrupted. "Haseldine-John Haseldine," she said without hesitation. "But you are not going to try and find her, Master Gilbert? There would only be danger for you in raking up ihe old story. I am quite sure that my lady does not really mean it to be known. It was because she hated Mr. Roger and wanted to keep him out of the inheritance, quite as much as to please Sir John by giving him an heir, that she passed you off as her child, and she has not changed towards Mr. Roger, Shell never do anything to give him the Towers, even if she dare tell' the truth now. And nobody else knows it except me, and you know that I shan't speak, Master Gil- bert. There is no need for it to make any difference to you." He walked back to the Towers slowly, thinking over his position. He had no longer a moment's doubt of the truth of the story. He had no right to the Towers, no right to his title, no Tight even to the name he had always borne—no right ever to think of marrying Isabel. Here was the tragedy of it all. But for the thought of Isabel and his love for her, he felt that he could have welcomed the revelation which set him free from a setting and asso- ciations which had always jarred upon him. To be released abruptly from an ancestry of which he had always been ashamed, to know for certain that he had not the bad blood of the Lorings in his veins, waiting to show itself when he least expected it, to know that the "mother" he had tried in vain to love or respect had really no claim upon his affection; all this Served to give him an involuntary thrill of satisfaction. He felt a new man, and if his release had come a year back before he had met and loved Isabel, he would not have trudged the price he must pay in admitting imself a poor man with his own way to make in the world. But there was Isabel, and he did not allow any youthful courage or sanguine ambition to blind him to the gulf that had opened be- tween them. He had youth and energy for the fight before him, but, employ it as he might, he knew quite well .that it must be years before he' could be in a position to think of marriage. Colonel Raeburn would never allow his daughter to marry a poor man and, although he knew quite well that I Isabel would wish to wait for him, how could !he tell her waiting could ever be rewarded. No, he could not deceive himself. The an- nouncement of his real position would put an end for ever to their dream of love, and he found himself recalling Nurse Ames' words: "There is no need for it to make any differ- There was real temptation for him in the thought, but he put it aside quickly. If he could base his position on the safe keeping of a secret, he could not think of doing so when the secret was known to Lady Loring. Even though wmdence and self-interest might urge her to keep it, she was at the mercy of these m&d of ungovernable temper in which prudence and self-interest were alike forgotten. He had dismissed all idea of de- nc pending upon her whim for his happiness long before he reached the house to find that the servants were drawing down the blinds. Lady Loring had justified Dr. Leaven's warning, and succumbed to a heart- attack after her excitement, almost as soon as Gilbert left her. The doctor, hastily sum- moned, had just arrived to give his formal and unnecessary verdict that life was ex- tinct. Gilbert was shocked by the suddenness of the catastrophe, but it was impossible for him to feel any actual grief. Almost his first thought was: "If it had only happened yesterday." The temptation to remain silent, as his fond old nurse had suggested, came back, no longer to be dismissed immediately as some- thing dangerous and difficult. Now that Lady Loring was dead, the chances of the secret ever being known were infinitesimal. He had only his own conscience to satisfy, and there was plenty to be said in justifica- tion of silence. If he was usurping the place of the late baronet's nephew and next-of-kin, Roger Loring, he could claim for himself the right of long and unchallenged possession. After being brought up for twenty-three years to think himself Sir John's heir, his moral right to the position was surely as great as that given to Roger Loring by an accident of birth. And it was certain that he would make better use of it. For Cap- tain Roger Loring fulfilled all the traditions of the family, and was already notorious for his vices. To give up the Towers to such a man would only be to throw its revenues to the money-lenders and the gambling casino. And surely it was for Roger Loring to prove his own claim. With casuistries like these he kept alive a moral struggle in his mind for six days, during which he dared not see Isabel, be- cause he had not decided whether she was to be the reward of a deception, or be for ever lost to him. ,I When the decision was at last made it seemed to him that it was the thought of his sweetheart which had rendered deception im- possible, even though it was the agony of los- ing her which had given him his temptation. He could deceive the world, perhaps, but he realised that he could not deceive the girl he loved. To go through life with her pretend- ing to be something that he was not, always guarding a secret from her; He realised that it was impossible, and three days after Lady Loring's funeral, he. walked over to the Hail with a heavy heart to have an interview with the Colonel, and as was inevitable after it, to bid Isabel good-bye for ever. Colonel Raeburn had taken the attitude which Gilbert expected, the only attitude per- haps that any prudent parent could take. He liked Gilbert-all the more because he was not A Loring—and he admired his straightfor- wardness, but he could not allow any sort of engagement to exist between Isabel and a man with no means or position at all. Gilbert had not proposed one, and even Isa- bel, clinging to her lover, and declaring through her tears that she could never cease to love him, scarcely dared to hope for or speak of a future in which they could ever be united. She knew as Gilbert did that all the desire and all the determination in the world does not often bring speedy fortune, and for both this' was the veritable ending of their happiness. They tore themselves apart at last with broken eharts, and Gilbert went up to town in a mood to welcome a last hope of retain- ing the Towers unexpectedly presented by the family lawyer. It was all very well, said Mr. Tanqueray, the lawyer, to feel Convinced in one's own mind of the truth of a story, but a legal matter like the transfer of the Loring inheritance to Roger Loring demanded legal proof of his claim. The late Lady Lor- ing's wild outburst was, of course, not evi- dence that could be accepted in any court of law, and until Nurse Ames' word could be corroborated he would not feel justified in acting for Roger Loring or accepting him as Sir John's heir. He would make inquiries into Nurse Ames story, but until that was forthcoming he begged, or rather insisted, that "Sir Gilbert" would retain the position which at pesent was certainly his. "And if no corroboration can be ob- tained?" Gilbert asked, and the old gentle- man smiled. "In that case I am afraid you would have no course-no legal course-except to retain the title and estate, Sir Gilbert." The young man drew little consolation from the announcement. But when a couple of weeks went by and he heard nothing from the lawyer, a feverish hope began to grow in his heart, born of the bitterness of losing Isabel. He had remained in town to try and find em- ployment and had already discovered how few openings there are for a man of twenty- three with no particular attainments beyond those given by an ordinary public school and university career. The chance that a point of law for which he was not responsible might after all leave his sacrifice to conscience in- operative had begun to look like his only hope of escaping actual destitution. In spite of himself he had begun to build upon it when the hope was suddenly demolished. A letter from Tanqueray informed him that his mother, Mrs. John Haseldine, had been found, and had given full corroboration of Nurse Ames' story. She recognised a twenty- year-old photograph of the late Lady Loring as that of the lady to whom she had given her baby, and produced proofs of the transastion which even the lawyer was obliged to accept as conclusive. There was suflicient evidence now to enable Captain Loring to establish his claim legally, and the lawyer only awaited Gilbert's permission to make the announce- ment to him. Gilbert turned white as he read, and realised that his last hope was gone. Then he turned to something that had been enclosed in the lawyer's envelope—a letter from his mother. He opened it with strangely mingled feel- ings, the feelings with which he had first heard of the pretty young thing who did nothing but cry because she had to part from her baby. He had yearned for a mother's love as only those can to whom it has been wholly denied. He could remember an occasional kind word from his reputed father, but never one from Lady Loring, and he had felt an involuntary thrill of pleasure in hearing that there was somewhere perhaps in the world a woman to whom he might address the name" mother" without feeling that it was a mockery. And with his ion was mixed no little fear of what the mother who had been a servant girl at the start and married a bricklayer wovld appear to him. He dreaded to think that he might in spite of himself feel ashamed of her. It was a shock to him when he opened her latter to find it ill-spelled and badly written, wholly illiterate, although he, had tried to prepare himself, and knew that it was only what he ought to expect. I But its tone of affection was unmistakable, and he found tears in his eyes as he read it. His loving mother, as she signed herself, had been left a widow for the second tinie. The letter informed him that she had returned to England and caused some delay in the search Tanqueray had com- menced in the States. Her second marriage had been childless, and she had never ceased to grieve for the loss of her baby boy, or hope that one day she would find him. She was overjoyed to tltink that her hope was an- swered at last. She was longing to clasp him to her breast, and begged him to give her that joy at the earliest possible moment. She was living at No. 3, Charlotte-terrace, Broad- sands, where she would be expecting him every momen- after his receipt of her letter. Gilbert turned to the timetable. There was a train to Broadesands in half an hour, and he waited- only to scribble off a letter to Tan- queray instructing him to offer Captain Lor- ing possession of the Towers before jumping into a hansom to catch it. A painful nervousness oppressed him, a nervousness of which he was ashamed, as he reached the pretty little watering-place and made his way dowa the straggling street from the station, glancing at every little row of fishermen's houses be passed for the name "Charlotte-terrace," asking himself at the sight of every aproned ill-dressed woman in garden or doorway; What if this is my I mother? He felt a strange reluctance to ask direc- tion, but was obliged to do so at last, and was startled to fina himself before the row of stately houses on the front, facing the sea. Number 3 was the most imposing of the row, and he hesitated at the gate, wondering whether he would find his mother a depen- dent, for whom lio must inquire at the ser- vants' entrance. But she had said nothing in her letter to make him think it, and he rang the front bell, to find himself ushered into the pre- sence of a stately and still beautiful lady of forty-five, in whose clear-cut features and frank blue eyes even he could recognise at a glance the likeness to his own. I "Mother," he said, and all fear slipped from his heart. It was wh'le £$» was embracing him and crying over him that there flashed into his mind, as such things will, an explanation of I the almost palatial Toomr a remembrance that the name "John Haseldine" had seemed rvaguely familiar to him when he heard it. It I was, of course, the name of the American railroad king who had started life as a brick- layer, emigratedtt. the Status, and in fifteen years had made himself a millionaire by his successful railway schemes. He even re- membered reading somewhere that John Haseldine's immensely wealthy widow had settled in England and taken a house at Broadsands. The next day, for his wholly sympathetic mother was almost as impatient for his mar- riage as he, he presented himself again at the hall qs a suitOr for Isabel's hand, and this time the Colonel did not even hesitate before giving his consent. The most prudent of parents cannot hesitate when the heir to A "Railroad King's*' millions proposes.

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