"I have often wondered what became of him," Abu said. "I believed that he had got safely into Khartoum, and I enquired about him when we entered. When I found that he was not among the killed, I trusted that he might have escaped. I grieve much to hear that he was killed while on his way down."
"Such was the will of Allah," Khatim said. "He preserved him at the battle, He preserved him in the town, He enabled him to reach Khartoum; but it was not His will that he should return to his countrymen. I say, with Abu, that he was a good man; and while he remained with us, was ever ready to use his skill for our benefit. It was Allah's will that his son should, after all these years, come to us; for assuredly, if any other white officer had asked us to surrender, I would have refused."
"Many strange things happen by the will of God," Gregory said. "It was wonderful that, sixteen years after his death, I should find my father's journal at Hebbeh, and learn the story of his escape after the battle, and of his stay with you at El Obeid."
Gregory rode into camp between the two emirs. He paused for a minute, and handed over their followers to the officer in charge of the prisoners; and then went to the hut formerly occupied by the Khalifa, where Colonel Wingate had now established himself. Colonel Wingate came to the entrance.
"These are El Khatim and his son Abu, sir. They surrendered on learning that I was the son of the British officer whom they had protected, and sheltered, for a year after the battle of El Obeid."
The two emirs had withdrawn their swords and pistols from their sashes; and, advancing, offered them to the Colonel. The latter did not offer to receive them.
"Keep them," he said. "We can honour brave foes; and you and your followers were ready to fight and die, when all seemed lost. Still more do I refuse to receive the weapons of the men who defended an English officer, when he was helpless and a fugitive; such an act would, alone, ensure good treatment at our hands. Your followers have surrendered?"
"They have all laid down their arms," Khatim said.
"Do you give me your promise that you will no more fight against us?"
"We do," Khatim replied. "We have received our weapons back from you, and would assuredly not use them against our conquerors."
"In that case, Emir, you and your son are at liberty to depart, and your men can return with you. There will, I trust, be no more fighting in the land. The Mahdi is dead. His successor proved a false prophet and is dead also. Mahdism is at an end, and now our object will be to restore peace and prosperity to the land.
"In a short time, all the prisoners will be released. Those who choose will be allowed to enter our service. The rest can return to their homes. We bear no enmity against them. They fought under the orders of their chiefs, and fought bravely and well. When they return, I hope they will settle down and cultivate the land; and undo, as far as may be, the injuries they have inflicted upon it.
"I will write an order, Mr. Hilliard, to release at once the men you have brought in. Then I will ask you to ride, with these emirs, to a point where there will be no fear of their falling in with our cavalry."
"You are a generous enemy," Khatim said, "and we thank you. We give in our allegiance to the Egyptian government, and henceforth regard ourselves as its servants."
"See, Mr. Hilliard, that the party takes sufficient food with it for their journey to El Obeid."
Colonel Wingate stepped forward, and shook hands with the two emirs.
"You are no longer enemies," he said, "and I know that, henceforth, I shall be able to rely upon your loyalty."
"We are beaten," Khatim said, as they walked away, each leading his horse. "You can fight like men, and we who thought ourselves brave have been driven before you, like dust before the wind. And now, when you are masters, you can forgive as we should never have done. You can treat us as friends. You do not even take our arms, and we can ride into El Obeid with our heads high."
"It will be good for the Soudan," Abu said. "Your father told me, often, how peace and prosperity would return, were you ever to become our masters; and I felt that his words were true. Two hours ago I regretted that Allah had not let me die, so that I should not have lived to see our people conquered. Now, I am glad. I believe all that he said, and that the Soudan will some day become, again, a happy country."
Khatim's men were separated from the rest of the prisoners. Six days' supply of grain, from the stores found in the camp, were handed over to them; together with ten camels with water skins, and they started at once on their long march. Gregory rode out for a couple of miles with them, and then took leave of the two emirs.
"Come to El Obeid," Khatim said, "and you shall be treated as a king. Farewell! And may Allah preserve you!"
So they parted; and Gregory rode back to the camp, with a feeling of much happiness that he had been enabled, in some way, to repay the kindness shown to his dead father.
Chapter 23: An Unexpected Discovery.
The victory had been a decisive one, indeed. Three thousand prisoners, great quantities of rifles, swords, grain, and cattle had been captured; together with six thousand women and children. A thousand Dervishes had been killed or wounded. All the most important emirs had been killed, and the Sheik Ed Din, the Khalifa's eldest son and intended successor, was, with twenty-nine other emirs, among the prisoners. Our total loss was four men killed, and two officers and twenty-seven men wounded in the action.
"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Hilliard," Colonel Wingate said to him, that evening, "for the valuable services you have rendered, and shall have the pleasure of including your name among the officers who have specially distinguished themselves. As it was mentioned by General Rundle and Colonel Parsons—by the former for undertaking the hazardous service of carrying despatches to the latter, and by Colonel Parsons for gallant conduct in the field—you ought to be sure of promotion, when matters are arranged here."
"Thank you very much, sir! May I ask a favour?
"You know the outline of my story. I have learned, by the papers I obtained at Hebbeh, and others which I was charged not to open until I had certain proof of my father's death, that the name under which he was known was an assumed one. He had had a quarrel with his family; and as, when he came out to Egypt, he for a time took a subordinate position, he dropped a portion of his name, intending to resume it when he had done something that even his family could not consider was any discredit to it. I was myself unaware of the fact until, on returning to Omdurman from Hebbeh, I opened those papers. I continued to bear the name by which I am known, but as you are good enough to say that you will mention me in despatches, I feel that I can now say that my real name is Gregory Hilliard Hartley."
"I quite appreciate your motives in adhering to your former name, Mr. Hartley; and in mentioning your services under your new name, I will add a note saying that your name mentioned in former despatches, for distinguished services, had been erroneously given as Gregory Hilliard only."
"Thank you very much, sir!"
That evening, when several of the officers were gathered in Colonel Wingate's hut, the latter said, when one of them addressed Gregory as Hilliard:
"That is not his full name, Colonel Hickman. For various family reasons, with which he has acquainted me, he has borne it hitherto; but he will, in future, be known by his entire name, which is Gregory Hilliard Hartley. I may say that the reasons he has given me for not having hitherto used the family name are, in my opinion, amply sufficient; involving, as they do, no discredit to himself; or his father, a brave gentleman who escaped from the massacre of Hicks's force at El Obeid; and finally died, with Colonel Stewart, at Hebbeh."
"I seem to know the name," Colonel Lewis said. "Gregory Hilliard Hartley! I have certainly either heard or seen it, somewhere. May I ask if your father bore the same Christian names?"
"I have it now!" Colonel Lewis exclaimed, a minute or two later. "I have seen it in an advertisement. Ever since I was a boy, that name has occasionally been advertised for. Every two or three months, it appeared in the Times. I can see it plainly, now.
"'Five hundred pounds reward will be given for any information concerning the present abode, or death, of Gregory Hilliard Hartley; or the whereabouts of his issue, if any. He left England about the year 1881. It is supposed that he went to the United States, or to one of the British Colonies. Apply to Messieurs Tufton and Sons, solicitors, Lincoln's Inn Fields.'
"Do you know when your father left England?"
"He certainly left about that time. I am nineteen now, and I know that I was born a few weeks after he came out to Alexandria."
"Then there ought to be something good in store for you," Colonel Wingate said. "People don't offer a reward of five hundred pounds, unless something important hangs to it. Of course, there may be another of the same name, but it is hardly likely that anyone would bear the two same Christian names, as well as surname. Is it indiscreet to ask you if you know anything about your father's family?"
"Not at all, sir. Now that I have taken his name, I need have no hesitation in relating what I know of him. Previous to his leaving England, he married without his father's consent; and, failing to make a living in England, he accepted a situation in Alexandria; which he gained, I may say, because he was an excellent Arabic scholar, as he had spent two years in exploring tombs and monuments in Egypt. He was the second son of the Honourable James Hartley; who was brother, and I believe heir, of the Marquis of Langdale, and I should think by this time has succeeded to the title. At his death, my father's eldest brother would, of course, succeed him."
"Then, my dear fellow," Colonel Mahon said, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder, "allow me to congratulate you. I can tell you that the title has been in abeyance, for the past fourteen years. Everyone knows the facts. Your grandfather died before the Marquis. Your uncle succeeded him, lived only three years and, being unmarried, your father became the next Earl; and has been advertised for, in vain, ever since. As, unhappily, your father is dead also, you are unquestionably the Marquis of Langdale."
Gregory looked round with a bewildered air. The news was so absolutely unexpected that he could hardly take it in.
"It seems impossible," he said at last.
"It is not only impossible, but a fact," the Colonel said. "There is nothing very surprising in it. There were only two lives between your father and the peerage; and as one was that of an old man, the second of a man certainly in the prime of life, but unmarried, why, the Jews would have lent money on the chance.
"I fancy your uncle was a somewhat extravagant man. I remember he kept a lot of race horses and so on, but he could not have dipped very seriously into the property. At any rate, there will be fourteen years' accumulations, which will put matters straight.
"I hope you have got papers that will prove you are your father's son, and that he was brother of the late Earl."
"I think there can be no difficulty about that," Gregory said. "I have letters from both my parents, a copy of their marriage certificate, and of the registers of my birth and baptism. There are some persons in Cairo who knew my father, and a good many who knew my mother."
"Then I should say that it would be quite safe sailing.
"I don't know, Lewis, whether you are not entitled to that five hundred pounds."
"I am afraid not," the other laughed. "Mr. Hartley; or rather, I should say, the Earl; would have discovered it, himself. I only recognized the name, which plenty of people would have done, as soon as they saw it in despatches."
"It will be a great disappointment to someone," Gregory said; "if they have been, for fourteen years, expecting to come in for this."
"You need not fret about that," another officer said. "The next heir is a distant cousin. He has been trying, over and over again, to get himself acknowledged; but the courts would not hear of it, and told him that it was no use applying, until they had proof of the death of your father. I know all about it, because there was a howling young ass in the regiment from which I exchanged. He was always giving himself airs, on the strength of the title he expected to get; and if he is still in the regiment, there will be general rejoicings at his downfall."
"Then I have met him," Gregory said. "On the way up, he made himself very unpleasant, and I heard from the other officers that he was extremely unpopular. The Major spoke very sharply to him, for the offensive tone in which he addressed me; and an officer sitting next to me said that he was terribly puffed, by his expectations of obtaining a title shortly, owing to the disappearance of those who stood before him in succession. Some of the officers chaffed him about it, then. I remember now that his name was Hartley; but as I had no idea, at that time, that that was also mine, I never thought anything more about it, until now. As he was the only officer who has been in any way offensive to me, since I left Cairo nearly three years ago, certainly I would rather that he should be the sufferer, if I succeed in proving my right to the title, than anyone else."
"I don't think he will suffer, except in pride," the officer said. "His father, who was a very distant cousin of the Earl's, had gone into trade and made a considerable fortune; so that the young fellow was a great deal better off than the vast majority of men in the army. It was the airs he gave himself, on the strength of being able to indulge in an expenditure such as no one else in the regiment could attempt—by keeping three or four race horses in training, and other follies—that had more to do with his unpopularity, than his constant talk about the peerage he was so confident of getting."
"Of course you will go home to England, at once," Colonel Wingate said. "The war is over now, and it would be rank folly for you to stay here. You have got the address of the lawyers who advertised for you; and have only to go straight to them, with your proofs in your hand, and they will take all the necessary steps.
"I should say that it would facilitate matters if, as you go through Cairo, you were to obtain statements or affidavits from some of the people who knew your mother; stating that you are, as you claim to be, her son; and that she was the wife of the gentleman known as Gregory Hilliard, who went up as an interpreter with Hicks. I don't say that this would be necessary at all, for the letters you have would, in themselves, go far to prove your case. Still, the more proofs you accumulate, the less likely there is of any opposition being offered to your claim. Any papers or letters of your mother might contain something that would strengthen the case.
"It is really a pity, you know, when you have done so well out here, and would be certain to rise to a high post under the administration of the province; (which will be taken in hand, in earnest, now), that you should have to give it all up."
"I scarcely know whether to be pleased or sorry, myself, sir. At present, I can hardly take in the change that this will make, or appreciate its advantages."
"You will appreciate them, soon enough," one of the others laughed. "As long as this war has been going on, one could put up with the heat, and the dust, and the horrible thirst one gets, and the absence of anything decent to drink; but now that it is all over, the idea of settling down here, permanently, would be horrible; except to men—and there are such fellows—who are never happy, unless they are at work; to whom work is everything—meat, and drink, and pleasure. It would have to be everything, out here; for no one could ever think of marrying, and bringing a wife, to such a country as this. Women can hardly live in parts of India, but the worst station in India would be a paradise, in comparison with the Soudan; though possibly, in time, Khartoum will be rebuilt and, being situated between two rivers, might become a possible place—which is more than any other station in the Soudan can be—for ladies."
"I am not old enough to take those matters into consideration," Gregory laughed. "I am not twenty, yet. Still, I do think that anyone permanently stationed, in the Soudan, would have to make up his mind to remain a bachelor."
The next morning, the greater portion of the prisoners were allowed to return to their homes. All the grain and other stores, found in the camp, were divided among the women, who were advised to return to their native villages; but those who had lost their husbands were told that they might accompany the force to the river, and would be taken down to Omdurman, and given assistance for a time, until they could find some means of obtaining a subsistence.
On returning to Khartoum, Colonel Wingate, at Gregory's request, told Lord Kitchener of the discovery that had been made; and said that he wished to return to England, at once. The next day, the Sirdar sent for Gregory.
"Colonel Wingate has been speaking to me about you," he said, "and I congratulate you on your good fortune. In one respect, I am sorry; for you have done so surprisingly well, that I had intended to appoint you to a responsible position in the Soudan Civil Service, which is now being formed. Colonel Wingate says that you naturally wish to resign your present post, but I should advise you not to do so. The operation of the law in England is very uncertain. I trust that, in your case, you will meet with but small difficulty in proving your birth; but there may be some hitch in the matter, some missing link.
"I will, therefore, grant you six months' leave of absence. At the end of that time, you will see how you stand. If things have gone on well with you, you can then send in your resignation. If, on the other hand, you find yourself unable to prove your claim, it will still be open to you to return here, and continue the career in which you have begun so well."
"I am greatly obliged to you, sir, for your kindness; and should I fail in proving my claim, I shall gladly avail myself of your offer, at the end of the six months."
"Now, Zaki," he said, on returning to the hut, of which he had again taken possession, "we must have one more talk. I have told you about the possible change in my position, and that I was shortly leaving for England. You begged me to take you with me, and I told you that if you decided to go, I would do so. I shall be put in orders, tomorrow, for six months' leave. If I succeed in proving my claim to a title, which is what you would call here an emirship, I shall not return. If I fail, I shall be back again, in six months. Now, I want you to think it over seriously, before you decide.
"Everything will be different there from what you are accustomed to. You will have to dress differently, live differently, and be among strangers. It is very cold there, in winter; and it is never what you would call hot, in summer.
"It is not that I should not like to have you with me; we have been together, now, for three years. You saved my life at Atbara, and have always been faithfully devoted to me. It is for your sake, not my own, that I now speak."
"I will go with you, Master, if you will take me. I hope never to leave you, till I die."
"Very well, Zaki, I am more than willing to take you. If I remain in England, you shall always be with me, if you choose to remain. But I shall then be able to give you a sum that will enable you to buy much land, and to hire men to work your sakies, to till your land, and to make you what you would call a rich man here, should you wish to return at the end of the six months. If I return, you will, of course, come back with me."
On the following day, after having said goodbye to all his friends, disposed of his horse and belongings, and drawn the arrears of his pay, Gregory took his place in the train; for the railway had now been carried to Khartoum.
Four days later, he arrived at Cairo. His first step was to order European clothes for Zaki, and a warm and heavily-lined greatcoat; for it was now the first week in December, and although delightful at Cairo, it would be, to the native, bitterly cold in England.
Then he went to the bank, and Mr. Murray, on hearing the story, made an affidavit at the British resident's; affirming that he had, for fifteen years, known Mrs. Gregory Hilliard, and was aware that she was the widow of Mr. Gregory Hilliard, who joined Hicks Pasha; and that Mr. Gregory Hilliard, now claiming to be Mr. Gregory Hilliard Hartley, was her son. Mr. Gregory Hilliard, senior, had kept an account at the bank for eighteen months; and had, on leaving, given instructions for Mrs. Hilliard's cheques to be honoured. Mrs. Hilliard had received a pension from the Egyptian government, up to the date of her death, as his widow; he having fallen in the service of the Khedive.
Gregory looked up his old nurse, whom he found comfortable and happy. She also made an affidavit, to the effect that she had entered the service of Mrs. Hilliard more than eighteen years before, as nurse to Gregory Hilliard, then a child of a year old. She had been in her service until her death, and she could testify that Gregory Hilliard Hartley was the child she had nursed.
After a stay of four days at Cairo, Gregory started for England. Even he, who had heard of London from his mother, was astonished at its noise, extent, and bustle; while Zaki was almost stupefied. He took two rooms at Cannon Street Hotel, for himself and servant, and next morning went to the offices of Messieurs Tufton and Sons, the solicitors. He sent in his name as Mr. Gregory Hilliard Hartley.
Even in the outer office, he heard an exclamation of surprise, as the piece of paper on which he had written his name was read. He was at once shown in. Mr. Tufton looked at him, with a little surprise.
"I am the son of the gentleman for whom, I understand, you have advertised for a long time."
"If you can prove that you are so, sir," Mr. Tufton said, wearily, "you are the Marquis of Langdale—that is to say, if your father is deceased.
"May I ask, to begin with, how it is that the advertisement has, for so many years, remained unanswered?"
"That is easily accounted for, sir. My father, being unable to obtain a situation in England, accepted a very minor appointment in the house of Messieurs Partridge and Company, at Alexandria. This he obtained owing to his knowledge of Arabic. He had been engaged, as you doubtless know, for two years in explorations there. He did not wish it to be known that he had been obliged to accept such a position, so he dropped his surname, and went out as Gregory Hilliard. As the firm's establishment at Alexandria was burned, during the insurrection there, he went to Cairo and obtained an appointment as interpreter to General Hicks. He escaped when the army of that officer was destroyed, at El Obeid; was a prisoner, for many months, at that town; and then escaped to Khartoum. He came down in the steamer with Colonel Stewart. That steamer was wrecked at Hebbeh, and all on board, with one exception, were massacred.
"My mother always retained some hope that he might have escaped, from his knowledge of Arabic. She received a small pension from the Egyptian government, for the loss of my father, and added to this by teaching in the families of several Turkish functionaries. Three years ago she died, and I obtained, through the kindness of Lord Kitchener, an appointment as interpreter in the Egyptian army. I was present at the fights of Abu Hamed, the Atbara, Omdurman, and the late victory by Colonel Wingate. My name, as Gregory Hilliard, was mentioned in despatches; and will be mentioned, again, in that sent by Colonel Wingate, but this time with the addition of Hartley.
"It was only accidentally, on the night after that battle, that I learned that my father was the heir to the Marquis of Langdale, and I thereupon obtained six months' leave, to come here."
"It is a singular story," the lawyer said, "and if supported by proofs, there can be no question that you are the Marquis, for whom we have been advertising, for many years."
"I think that I have ample proof, sir. Here is the certificate of my father's marriage, and the copies of the registers of my birth and baptism. Here is the journal of my father, from the time he was taken prisoner till his death. Here are his letter to my mother, and letters to his father, brother, and sisters, which were to be forwarded by her should she choose to return to England. Here are two affidavits—the one from a gentleman who has known me from childhood, the other from the woman who nursed me, and who remained with our family till I reached the Soudan. Here also is a letter that I found among my mother's papers, written from Khartoum, in which my father speaks of resuming the name of Hartley, if things went well there."
"Then, sir," Mr. Tufton said, "I think I can congratulate you upon obtaining the title; but at the same time, I will ask you to leave these papers with me, for an hour. I will put everything else aside, and go through them. You understand, I am not doubting your word; but of course, it is necessary to ascertain the exact purport of these letters, and documents. If they are as you say, the evidence in favour of your claim would be overwhelming.
"Of course, it is necessary that we should be most cautious. We have, for upwards of a hundred years, been solicitors to the family; and as such have contested all applications, from the junior branch of the family, that the title should be declared vacant by the death of the last Marquis, who would be your uncle. We have been the more anxious to do so, as we understand the next claimant is a young man of extravagant habits, and in no way worthy to succeed to the title."
"I will return in an hour and a half, sir," Gregory said, rising. "I may say that the contents of this pocketbook, although intensely interesting to myself, as a record of my father, do not bear upon the title. They are a simple record of his life, from the time when the army of Hicks Pasha was destroyed, to the date of his own murder at Hebbeh. The last entry was made before he landed. I mention this, as it may save you time in going through the papers."
Gregory went out, and spent the time in watching the wonderful flow of traffic, and gazing into the shops; and when he returned to the office, he was at once shown in. Mr. Tufton rose, and shook him warmly by the hand.
"I consider these documents to be absolutely conclusive, my lord," he said. "The letters to your grandfather, uncle, and aunts are conclusive as to his identity; and that of your mother, strengthened by the two affidavits, is equally conclusive as to your being his son. I will take the necessary measures to lay these papers before the court, which has several times had the matter in hand, and to obtain a declaration that you have indisputably proved yourself to be the son of the late Gregory Hilliard Hartley, and therefore entitled to the title and estates, with all accumulations, of the Marquis of Langdale."
"Thank you very much, sir! I will leave the matter entirely in your hands. Can you tell me the address of my aunts? As you will have seen, by my father's letter, he believed implicitly in their affection for him."
"Their address is, The Manor House, Wimperton, Tavistock, Devon. They retired there at the accession of their brother to the title. It has been used as a dower house in the family for many years; and, pending the search for your father, I obtained permission for them to continue to reside there. I was not obliged to ask for an allowance for them, as they had an income, under their mother's marriage settlement, sufficient for them to live there in comfort.
"I will not give you the letter addressed to them, as I wish to show the original in court; but I will have a copy made for you, at once, and I will attest it.
"Now, may I ask how you are situated, with regard to money? I have sufficient confidence in the justice of your claim to advance any sum, for your immediate wants."
"Thank you, sir! I am in no need of any advance. My mother's savings amounted to five hundred pounds, of which I only drew fifty to buy my outfit, when I went up to the Soudan. My pay sufficed for my wants there, and I drew out the remaining four hundred and fifty pounds when I left Cairo; so I am amply provided."
Gregory remained four days in London, obtaining suitable clothes. Then, attended by Zaki, he took his place in the Great Western for Tavistock. Zaki had already picked up a good deal of English, and Gregory talked to him only in that language, on their way down from the battlefield; so that he could now express himself in simple phrases.
Mr. Tufton had on the previous day written, at Gregory's request, to his aunts; saying that the son of their brother had called upon him, and given him proofs, which he considered incontestable, of his identity and of the death of his father. He was the bearer of a letter from his father to them, and proposed delivering it the next day, in person. He agreed with Gregory that it was advisable to send down this letter, as otherwise the ladies might doubt whether he was really what he claimed to be, as his father's letter might very well have come into the hands of a third person.
He went down by the night mail to Tavistock, put up at an hotel; and, after breakfast, drove over to the Manor House, and sent in a card which he had had printed in town. He was shown into a room where the two ladies were waiting for him. They had been some four or five years younger than his father, a fact of which he was not aware; and instead of being elderly women, as he expected, he found, by their appearance, they were scarcely entering middle age. They were evidently much agitated.
"I have come down without waiting for an invitation," he said. "I was anxious to deliver my father's letter to you, or at least a copy of it, as soon as possible. It was written before his death, some eighteen years ago, and was intended for my mother to give to you, should she return to England. Its interest to you consists chiefly in the proof of my father's affection for you, and that he felt he could rely on yours for him. I may say that this is a copy, signed as correct by Mr. Tufton. He could not give me the original, as it would be required as an evidence of my father's identity, in the application he is about to make for me to be declared heir to the title."
"Then Gregory has been dead eighteen years!" the elder of the ladies said. "We have always hoped that he would be alive, in one of the colonies, and that sooner or later he would see the advertisement that had been put in the papers."
"No, madam. He went out to Alexandria with my mother, shortly before I was born. He died some three or four years before his brother. It was seldom my mother saw an English paper. Unfortunately, as it turned out, my father had dropped his surname when he accepted a situation, which was a subordinate one, at Alexandria; and his reason for taking it was that my mother was in weak health, and the doctor said it was necessary she should go to a warm climate; therefore, had any of her friends seen the advertisement, they would not have known that it applied to her. I, myself, did not know that my proper name was Hartley until a year back, when I discovered my father's journal at Hebbeh, the place where he was murdered; and then opened the documents that my mother had entrusted to me, before her death, with an injunction not to open them until I had ascertained, for certain, that my father was no longer alive."
One of the ladies took the letter, and opened it. They read it together.
"Poor Gregory!" one said, wiping her eyes, "we were both fond of him, and certainly would have done all in our power to assist his widow. He was nearer our age than Geoffrey. It was a terrible grief to us, when he quarrelled with our father. Of course our sympathies were with Gregory, but we never ventured to say so; and our father never mentioned his name, from the day he left the house. Why did not your mother send his letter to us?"
"Because she did not need assistance. She was maintaining herself and me in comfort by teaching music, French, and English to the wives and children of several of the high Egyptian officials."
"How long is it since you lost her?"
"More than three years ago. At her death, I was fortunate enough to obtain an appointment similar to that my father had, and at the same time a commission in the Egyptian service; and have been fortunate in being, two or three times, mentioned in despatches."
"Yes; curiously enough, after receiving Mr. Tufton's letter, we saw Colonel Wingate's despatch in the paper, in which your name is mentioned. We should have been astonished, indeed, had we not opened the letter before we looked at the paper.
"Well, Gregory, we are very glad to see you, and to find that you have done honour to the name. The despatch said that you have been previously mentioned, under the name of Gregory Hilliard. We always file our papers, and we spent an hour after breakfast in going through them. I suppose you threw up your appointment, as soon as you discovered that Geoffrey died, years ago, and that you had come into the title?"
"I should have thrown it up, but Lord Kitchener was good enough to give me six months' leave; so that, if I should fail to prove my right to the title, I could return there and take up my work again. He was so kind as to say that I should be given a responsible position, in the civil administration of the Soudan."
"Well, we both feel very proud of you; and it does sound wonderful that, being under twenty, you should have got on so well, without friends or influence. I hope you intend to stay with us, until you have to go up to London about these affairs."
"I shall be very happy to stay a few days, Aunt; but it is better that I should be on the spot, as there may be questions that have to be answered, and signatures, and all sorts of things.
"I have brought my Arab servant down with me. He has been with me for three years, and is most faithful and devoted; and moreover, he once saved my life, at tremendous risk to himself."
"Oh, of course we can put him up! Can he speak English?"
"He speaks a little English, and is improving fast."
"Does he dress as a native?"
"No, Aunt. He would soon freeze to death, in his native garb. As soon as I got down to Cairo with him, I put him into good European clothes. He is a fine specimen of a Soudan Arab, but when he came to me he was somewhat weakly; however, he soon got over that."
"Where is he, now?"
"He is with the trap, outside. I told him that he had better not come in until I had seen you, for I thought that your domestics would not know what to do with him, till they had your orders."
"You brought your portmanteau with you, I hope?"
"I have brought it, but not knowing whether it would be wanted; for I did not know whether you would take sufficiently to me, to ask me to stay."
"The idea of such a thing! You must have had a bad opinion of us."
"No, Aunt. I had the best of opinions. I am sure that my father would not have written as he did to you, unless he had been very fond of you. Still, as at present I am not proved to be your nephew, I thought that you might not be disposed to ask me to stay.
"Now, with your permission, I will go and tell Zaki—that is the man's name—to bring in my portmanteau. I can then send the trap back."
"Do you know, Gregory," one of his aunts said that evening; "even putting aside the fact that you are our nephew, we are delighted that the title and estates are not to go to the next heir. He came down here about a year ago. His regiment had just returned from the Soudan. He drove straight to the hall, and requested to be shown over it, saying that in a short time he was going to take possession. The housekeeper came across here, quite in distress, and said that he talked as if he were already master; said he should make alterations in one place, enlarge the drawing room, build a conservatory against it, do away with some of the pictures on the walls; and, in fact, he made himself very objectionable. He came on here, and behaved in a most offensive and ungentlemanly way. He actually enquired of us whether we were tenants by right, or merely on sufferance. I told him that, if he wanted to know, he had better enquire of Mr. Tufton; and Flossie, who is more outspoken than I am, said at once that whether we were tenants for life, or not, we should certainly not continue to reside here, if so objectionable a person were master at the hall. He was very angry, but I cut him short by saying:
"'This is our house at present, sir; and, unless you leave it at once, I shall call the gardener in and order him to eject you.'"
"I am not surprised at what you say, Aunt, for I met the fellow myself, on the way up to Omdurman; and found him an offensive cad. It has been a great satisfaction to me to know that he was so; for if he had been a nice fellow, I could not have helped being sorry to deprive him of the title and estates which he has, for years, considered to be his."
After remaining four days at the Manor House, Gregory went back to town. A notice had already been served, upon the former claimant to the title, that an application would be made to the court to hear the claim of Gregory Hilliard Hartley, nephew of the late Marquis, to be acknowledged as his successor to the title and estates; and that if he wished to appear by counsel, he could do so.
The matter was not heard of, for another three months. Lieutenant Hartley was in court, and was represented by a queen's counsel of eminence; who, however, when Gregory's narrative had been told, and the various documents put in, at once stated that after the evidence he had heard, he felt that it would be vain to contest the case at this point; but that he reserved the right of appealing, should anything come to light which would alter the complexion of the affair.
The judgment was that Gregory Hilliard Hartley had proved himself to be the son of the late Gregory Hilliard Hartley, brother of and heir to the late Marquis of Langdale, and was therefore seized of the title and estates.
As soon as the case was decided, Gregory went down again to Devonshire, and asked his aunts to take charge for him. This they at first said was impossible; but he urged that, if they refused to do so, he should be driven to go back to the Soudan again.
"My dear Aunts," he said, "what in the world am I to do? I know no one. I know nothing of English customs, or society. I should, indeed, be the most forlorn person in existence, with a large country estate and a mansion in London. I want someone to introduce me into society, and set me on my legs; manage me and my house, and preside at my table. I am not yet twenty, and have not as much knowledge of English ways as a boy of ten. I should be taken in and duped in every way, and be at the mercy of every adventurer. I feel that it would be a sacrifice for you to leave your pretty home here, but I am sure, for the sake of my father, you will not refuse to do so."
His aunts admitted that there was great justice in what he said, and finally submitted to his request to preside over his house; until, as they said, the time came when he would introduce a younger mistress.
Zaki, when his six months' trial was over, scorned the idea of returning to the Soudan; declaring that, if Gregory would not keep him, he would rather beg in the streets than go back there.
"It is all wonderful here," he said; "we poor Arabs could not dream of such things. No, Master, as long as you live, I shall stay here."
"Very well, Zaki, so be it; and I can promise you that if I die before you, you will be so provided for that you will be able to live in as much comfort as you now enjoy, and in addition you will be your own master."
Zaki shook his head.
"I should be a fool to wish to be my own master," he said, "after having such a good one, at present."
Gregory is learning the duties of a large land owner, and is already very popular in his part of Devonshire. The mansion in London has not yet been reopened, as Gregory says he must learn his lessons perfectly, before he ventures to take his place in society.