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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter LI - A Death-bed Confession

SEND for Bartley. I have something to confess. I cannot die with it on my conscience."

These words were spoken in a querulous voice by a man who lay sick unto death in one of the oldest country-seats in England. The attendants knew that the hand of death was upon him, and his physician had at last told him his days ó nay, even his hours ó were numbered.

Archibald Stanhope lay dying. As if by the mockery of fate, he had, during his last sickness, entered into possession of the earldom and the estates he had coveted, and of which he had dispossessed his brotherís son. Weighed down by guilt, visited by all the terrors a superstitious mind could evoke, he cried out for mercy when the time for reparation, if not even for repentance, had gone by. Eagerly he now sought to undo the wrong he had done, so far at least as it could still be repaired, hoping desperately that he might then seek for mercy, and perchance find pardon.

The physician, having feared for some days that the illness would result fatally, and thinking it probable that various legal dispositions would require to be made, had already warned the lawyer to be on hand. Only a few moments, therefore, elapsed between Lord Archibaldís summons and the entrance of Mr. Bartley. A few brief words of explanation, and the dying man proceeded to dictate the following statement ó"I, Archibald Stanhope, by supposition fourth Earl of Beaumont, being on my death-bed, and learning from my physicians that I have but a few more hours to live, desire to make such reparation as lies in my power for a crime committed against the rightful heir of the title and estates that are now held by me. My eldest brother, Edwin, married against my fatherís will, and shortly afterwards went abroad. At Naples he contracted a fever, from which he died. Eleanor, his wife, returned to her home. A son, whom she named Colin, was born. But for the birth of this child I should have been heir. I regarded him as an interloper, who had deprived me of that which I coveted. His mother, a stranger, to whom I had hitherto been indifferent, now was the object of my resentment, too. I brooded over my ruined prospects, and from that I fell to contriving plans for regaining what I had lost.

"Edwinís marriage had been a runaway affair hastily and informally celebrated before chance witnesses, by a clergyman who had been induced by money to waive the usual enquiries, who was not in charge of any parish, and who had no regular means of livelihood. I conceived the project of impeaching the validity of the marriage. Edwinís wife knew nothing of the clergyman; Edwin himself was dead. The clergyman and witnesses, I found, were ready to sell their silence for gold. I bought it. I also procured false affidavits, setting forth that the marriage ceremony between my brother Edwin and Eleanor had been performed by a lay impostor, that in consequence the marriage was illegal, and Colinís birth illegitimate. I went so far as to produce a confession from the man who was supposed to have performed the ceremony. Our evidence was accepted as conclusive. Eleanor was dismissed to her uncleís roof, and I was recognised as the earlís successor.

"One step in wrong-doing led to another. So long as Colin was alive and near at hand, there was danger that some of my purchased accomplices might betray me, in the hope of reward. I arranged to have Colin abducted and placed on board some emigrant ship, in such a manner that all trace of his identity would be lost and also of the man who delivered him. The plan miscarried, for persons who had seen him in the ship wrote to his people, on reading the account of the abduction of a child corresponding to his description. Eleanorís brother Walter immediately went in search of him, and succeeded in recovering him. But in the meanwhile, Eleanor died, and Walter decided to remain in Canada. All enquiries set on foot by Walter to find some trace of the man who had delivered Colin on board the vessel, failed completely, but from that time forth I lived in continual dread lest some chance should lead to the discovery of my crime, and to public shame and irretrievable disaster.

"Time perhaps might have lulled me into security but for the new anxiety that came to me on behalf of the children my wife bore to me. Of her death and theirs I shall not speak. I felt that Godís wrath was upon me, and as one after another was taken from me, I lived in terror and apprehension; but, hoping to appease Heaven by religious zeal, I still clung to the heirship I had wrongfully secured. In another hour or two I must leave it all. May God have mercy on my unhappy soul !"

Two days later Lord Archibald was buried. Mr. Bartley, aided by information received from him, had already procured full legal evidence of the validity of the marriage between Edwin and Eleanor; and his partner, Mr. Briggs, at once prepared to cross the ocean to personally convey the news to Colin.

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