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Chapter L - I Meet My Father

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« on: December 07, 2022, 07:34:30 am »

After a wearying journey I stood at last before the great gates of the castle, the bell at my feet giving shrill notice of my presence. The lodge-keeper hurried out and welcomed me.

I walked swiftly up the winding ascent, straight across the flagged courtyard and entered the castle by a side-door. Then, heedless of the surprised looks of the servants, I made my way to the library, and knocking softly at the door of the inner room, entered.

At first it seemed to me that he was not there, for the chamber was in semi-darkness. The heavily-shaded lamp which stood upon the writing-table was turned down so low as to afford no light at all, and the fitful glow of the firelight left the greater part of the room in shadow. But as I stood upon the threshold a burning coal dropped upon the hearth, and by its flame I saw him leaning back in a high oak chair a few feet away.

Softly I moved across the room towards him and then I saw that he was asleep.

I made no movement, but somehow he seemed to become conscious of my presence and opened his eyes. They fell upon me standing on the hearth-rug before him, and he sat up with a start.

“Philip!” he cried, “you here? You back? You have found him, then?”

At the sound of his voice I trembled, yet I answered him at once:

“Not yet. To-morrow night I shall see him. Till then I could do nothing—and I came here.” He looked at my mud-bespattered boots and wind-tossed hair.

“You have walked from Mellborough?” he asked. Then something in my face seemed to strike him, and, leaning forward, he placed his hands upon my shoulders and turned towards the glow of the fire. “You have come with a purpose!” he said slowly. “Tell me—you have heard something in London?”

I bowed my head silently.

“Some story of the past—my past?”

“Yes.”

“My God!”

Then there was silence between us. I bore it till I could bear it no longer.

“Can you wonder that I have come?” I cried, my voice shaking with a passion which I knew no longer how to restrain. “Oh, speak to me! Tell me whether this thing is true?”

“It is true.”

He had drawn back a little; he had hesitated. I caught hold of his hands and drew him towards me.

“My father,” I cried passionately, “speak to me! Why do you draw away? Is it because—because—oh, only speak to me, call me your son, and if there be anything to forgive I will forgive it.”

He seemed suddenly to abandon an unnatural struggle and caught me by the hands and clasped them. For a moment his face was radiant. “Philip, my son, my dear son!” he cried. “Thank God, it is not that! Thank God, that my name is yours! You are indeed my son.”

After a considerable silence my father told me how he had met Marx abroad. He had done him some service and they had become friendly. He latterly engaged him as secretary.

Then he went on to tell me how Marx had met him on his return after his long absence and had taken him to see his wife, who believed him dead.

He then told me how he had found her married again to Farmer Morton and implored her to come back to him. She refused, and he, in a blind fury, rushed back to where he had left Marx.

He was attacked by Morton; a struggle ensued on the brink of the slate-pit. After a time my father managed to fling Morton from him and fled.

That night Marx came to him and told him he had thrown Morton into the quarry, and that a man named Hart, alias Francis, had witnessed the deed. My father wanted to confess, but Marx persuaded him to keep silent and paid Francis to bear the crime.

“Now you know why I shrank from calling you my son, knowing that when the time came for you to be told of your parentage, I must also tell you that your father was a murderer!”

“It is false!” I cried, springing up and seizing both his hands. “It was an accident. No one could call it a murder. Oh, my father, my father, that you should have suffered like this for so slight a cause!”

A light leaped into his face and for a moment his wasted features and sunken eyes glowed and shone with a great, unexpected happiness. He drew me gently to him and laid his hands upon my shoulders.

“Thank God for this, Philip!” he said, with trembling voice. “It is greater consolation than I ever dared hope for in this world.”

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