Page:Court Royal.djvu/202

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always been a dutiful and loving son; you have never caused me an hour’s pain, never given me occasion to blush to think that a son of mine has stained the hereditary honour.’

Lord Saltcombe returned to his apartments in a condition of confusion and distress that made him thankful Beavis was not there to see him. He threw himself in his chair, covered his face with his hands, and a sob broke from his bosom and relieved the immediate tension.

He sat thus thinking, hiding his face from no one, for he was alone, for a quarter of an hour. Then, as though fired by a sudden resolution, he took a key from his pocket and opened his cabinet. He drew forth a drawer and took from it a bundle of faded letters. He set his lips closely, and his brows were contracted.

The fire was low. He took the tongs and raked it together, and put on a billet of wood. Then, to brisk it up, cast on it the scraps of paper from the floor. Now the fire flamed, and the dry wood caught and crackled.

Lord Saltcombe leaned back in his chair, and untied the bundle of letters. He drew the notes from their envelopes, and looked at one, then another. His face relaxed; an expression of pain of a different sort settled on it. He made an effort to recover his firmness and to carry out his resolution. He threw one, two, three envelopes on the flames, and sighed as they flared. He knelt down, and placed the letters on the hearth. Then he drew from the cabinet the little miniature already described, and looked at it long, with face that twitched with suffering. He put it towards his lips—as about to kiss it, then recovered himself, and placed it on the little pyre of old letters.

‘They must all go together now,’ he said, and put his hand to the billet of wood to bring it to the little pile. But the wood was hot and burnt his fingers. Then he took the tongs, and picked up a coal, and laid it on one of the papers. The coal died out, and Lord Saltcombe took the paper, and brushed away the charred fragments. He struck a vesta match, but his hand trembled and he was unable to fire with it the old letters.

Then he stood up, and leaning his elbow on the chimney-piece, rested his head against his hand, and looked down on the miniature on the hearth. How lovely that face was! The great dark eyes seemed to plead for pity. ‘Why should I?’ asked the Marquess. ‘It must be done before I am married.