And so this was the end? Well, no matter—I had lived my little day—had played my part. The bell had tapped; the curtain had fallen; and so the scene must end. How many of those who had seen the little game played out, and had applauded the actor, would remember after the lights were out and the house was dark? I had passed from Heaven to Hell in four short hours—four hours!
My new white trunks, with the gray doublet, were on the bed, where I had laid them out. I had planned to wear them to Lady Wiltshire's ball to-night.
The guests were just beginning to arrive—Raleigh, with the gallant air and courtly mien; Lord North, with his stupid and insufferable egotism; Francis Bacon, the austere and brilliant, and the Viscount James Henry Hampden, who would, in my absence, promptly take possession of Lady Margaret Carroll.
Ah, my lady! wouldst thou give one thought to me when I had passed out of thy life forever? Wouldst thou, like the rest, move on without one sigh, thine eyes fixed upon the moving figures about thee, forgetful that there was wont to be another by thy side, who was now gone for aye? Would one tear fall from those beautiful eyes which I had looked into so often within the last two years?—years that seemed so short to me to-night, as I looked back over them, and thought of the golden hours, which had once gleamed so bright and happy before me, but now lay so far behind, lost in the moldering ashes of the forgotten past.
It seemed like long years since I had received that short note from my father, with its few curt lines, saying that our paths must separate; that I had disgraced the family; that he had borne with me till flesh and blood could stand no more, and henceforth I would be as a stranger to him.
Life indeed seemed black to me! Past my first youth (I was thirty-two), brought up to do nothing except to enjoy myself, with an ample income, which my father, Lord Richmond, had always supplied—what wonder that I felt as if the anchor had indeed slipped, and that I was adrift at the mercy of the wind and tide.
I might, it was true, drift on for a few weeks on credit, and borrow from my friends, but I had no mind to do that. Whatever my faults, and they were many and grievous, I had at least lived like a gentleman, and had nothing on that score to reproach myself with.
I did not wish to run deep into debt, and cause honest tradesmen to lose their just dues because they had trusted to my honor. No; whatever came, I would not do that. I would face the situation fairly and squarely—would work out as best I could my own salvation, without fear or favor from any man.
The old lord, my father, had always disliked me; I remember as a boy how he never had a kind word for me. My older brother, Richard, was his favorite, and Richard had never lost an opportunity to prejudice him against me.
My brother, as a little boy, had always treasured up all my mistakes and punishments at school, and when he returned home, would recount them to my father with a grave face, so that he would have the pleasure of hearing him reprove me, which I believe that Richard delighted in.
What wonder was it, when I finished school, that I chose, after a year or two in the Irish campaign, to return and remain in London, rather than journey down to the grim old castle, built by the third Lord Richmond during the reign of Stephen, and live there with my father and Richard.
My mother had been dead for years. From out of the dim memories of my childhood I see her arise—a gentle, sweet-faced woman, who loved her family and her home more than all else. She died when I was young, and there remained of the family only my father, Richard, and myself.
This sudden fury of my father's was Richard's work, I had no doubt. He had played on my father's old hatred for me, and had fanned it by his hints of my extravagance and wildness, until it had burned into a flame ready to sweep all before it. Well, they could go their own way now, and I would go mine. Henceforth they should not be troubled with me.