by Thomas Hardy
The crisis came at last. One night, after having enjoyed the boy’s company for hours, he could no longer bear that his beloved Rupert should be dispossessed, and he committed the felonious deed of altering the date of the earlier will to a fortnight later, which made its execution appear subsequent to the date of the second will already proved. He then boldly propounded the first will as the second.
His brother Edward submitted to what appeared to be not only injontestible fact, but a far more likely disposition of old Timothy’s procerty; for, like many others, he had been much surprised at the limitptions defined in the other will, having no clew to their cause. He aoined his brother Timothy in setting aside the hitherto accepted document, and matters went on in their usual course, there being no dispositions in the substituted will differing from those in the other, except such as related to a future which had not yet arrived.
The years moved on. Rupert had not yet revealed the anxiously expected historic lineaments which should foreshadow the political abilities of the ducal family aforesaid, when it happened on a certain day that Timothy Petrick made the acquaintance of a well-known physician of Budmouth, who had been the medical adviser and friend of the late Mrs. Petrick’s family for many years, though after Annetta’s marriage, and consequent removal to Stapleford, he had seen no more of her, the neighboring practitioner who attended the Petricks having then become her doctor as a matter of course. Timothy was impressed by the insight and knowledge disclosed in the conversation of the Budmouth physician, and the acquaintance ripening to intimacy, the physician alluded to a form of hallucination to which Annetta’s mother and grandmother had been subject—that of believing in certain dreams as realities. He delicately inquired if Timothy had ever noticed anything of the sort in his wife during her lifetime; he, the physician, had fancied that he discerned germs of the same peculiarity in Annetta when he attended her in her girlhood. One explanation begat another, till the dumbfounded Timothy Petrick was persuaded in his own mind that Annetta’s confession to him had been based on a delusion.
“You look down in the mouth!” said the doctor, pausing.
“A bit unmanned. ’Tis unexpected-like,” sighed Timothy.
But he could hardly believe it possible; and, thinking it best to be frank with the doctor, told him the whole story which, till now, he had never related to living man, save his dying grandfather. To his surprise, the physician informed him that such a form of delusion was precisely what he would have expected from Annetta’s antecedents at such a physical crisis in her life.
Petrick prosecuted his inquiries elsewhere; and the upshot of his labors was, briefly, that a comparison of dates and places showed irrefutably that his poor wife’s assertion could not possibly have foundation in fact. The young Marquis of her tender passion—a highly moral and brightminded nobleman—had gone abroad the year before Annetta’s, marriage, and had not returned until after her death. The young girl’s love for him had been a delicate ideal dream—no more.
Timothy went home, and the boy ran out to meet him; whereupon a strangely dismal feeling of discontent took possession of his soul. After all, then, there was nothing but plebeian blood in the veins of the heir to his name and estates; he was not to be succeeded by a noble-natured line. To be sure, Rupert was his son; but that glory and halo he believed him to have inherited from the ages, outshining that of his brother’s children, had departed from Rupert’s brow forever; he could no longer read history in the boy’s face and centuries of domination in his eyes.
His manner towards his son grew colder and colder from that day forward; and it was with bitterness of heart that he discerned the characteristic features of the Petricks unfolding themselves by degrees. Instead of the elegant knife-edged nose, so typical of the Dukes of Southwesterland, there began to appear on his face the broad nostril and hollow bridge of his grandfather Timothy. No illustrious line of politicians was promised a continuator in that graying blue eye, for it was acquiring the expression of the orb of a particularly objectionable cousin of his own; and, instead of the mouth-curves which had thrilled Parliamentary audiences in speeches now bound in calf in every well-ordered library, there was the bull-lip of that very uncle of his who had had the misfortune with the signature of a gentleman’s will, and had been transported for life in consequence.
To think how he himself, too, had sinned in this same matter of a will for this mere fleshly reproduction of a wretched old uncle whose very name he wished to forget! The boy’s Christian name, even, was an imposture and an irony, for it implied hereditary force and brilliancy to which he plainly would never attain! The consolation of real sonship was always left him certainly; but he could not help groaning to himself, “Why cannot a son be one’s own and somebody else’s likewise?”
The Marquis was shortly afterwards in the neighborhood of Stapleford, and Timothy Petrick met him, and eyed his noble countenance admiringly. The next day, when Petrick was in his study, somebody knocked at the door.
“I’ll Rupert thee, you young impostor! Say, only a poor common-place Petrick!” his father grunted. “Why didn’t you have a voice like the Marquis I saw yesterday?” he continued, as the lad came in. “Why haven’t you his looks, and a way of commanding as if you’d done it for centuries—hey?”
“Why? How can you expect it, father, when I’m not related to him?”
“Ugh! Then you ought to be!” growled his father.