Chapter 38




DICK COMES BACK.

When Mrs. Kent's brother left her house with fifty dollars in his pocket she warned him that it was the last money he could expect to receive from her. He did not reply, but he had no intention of remaining satisfied with so little.

"What is fifty dollars?" he thought, "to my sister's fortune? She needn't think she has got rid of me so easily."

At that time he expected to make her another visit in the course of a month or two, but circumstances prevented. The fact is, he was imprudent enough to commit theft and incautious enough to be detected, not long afterward, and the consequence was a term of imprisonment.

When he was released from confinement he at once made his way to his sister's house.

As before, Nicholas was standing on the lawn. His countenance changed when he recognized his uncle, though he didn't know that he had just come from a prison.

"How are you, Nicholas?" said his uncle.

"I'm well," said his nephew, coldly.

"Really, you have grown a good deal since I saw you."

Even this compliment did not soften Nicholas, who turned his back and did not invite his uncle into the house.

Dick scowled in an ugly manner but controlled his voice.

"How is your mother?"

"She's got the headache."

"I am sorry. I have been sick, too."

Nicholas did not exhibit the slightest curiosity on the subject.

"I have just come from the hospital," a slight fiction, as we know.

This aroused Nicholas, who retreated a little as he asked:

"Did you have anything catching?"

"No; besides, I'm well now. I should like to see your mother."

"I don't think she feels well enough to see you."

"Will you go up and see? I want to see her on important business."

Nicholas went up stairs grumbling.

"Well, mother," he said, "that disreputable brother of yours has come again."

Mrs. Kent's brow contracted.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"Down stairs. He wants to see you, he says."

"How does he look?"

"Worse than ever. He says he has just come from a hospital."

"From a hospital? He has a good deal of assurance to come here," said Mrs. Kent, with a hard look.

"So he has."

"I will tell you why," said his mother, in a lower tone. "He has not told you the truth. He has not come from a hospital, as he represents."

"Why should he say so, then?" asked Nicholas, surprised.

"Because he didn't like to say prison."

"Has he been in prison? How do you know?"

"I saw an account in the papers of his arrest and conviction. I suppose he has just come out of prison."

"Why didn't you tell me of this before, mother?"

"I wanted to keep the disgrace secret, on account of the relationship. When he finds I know it, I shall soon be rid of him."

"Will you see him, then?"

"Yes; I will go down stairs, and you may tell him to come in."

Two minutes later the ex-convict entered his sister's presence. He read no welcome in her face.

"Hang it!" he said, "you don't seem very glad to see your only brother."

"You are right," she said; "I do not seem glad, and I do not feel glad."

His face darkened as he sank heavily into an arm-chair.

"I suppose I'm a poor relation," he said, bitterly. "That's the reason, isn't it?"

"No."

"You'd treat me better if I came here rich and prosperous."

"Probably I would."

"Didn't I say so? You haven't any feelings for the poor."

"I haven't any feeling for criminals," said Mrs. Kent, in a sharp voice.

He uttered a stifled oath and his face flushed.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean that you came here straight from a prison; deny it if you can," she said, sternly.

He hesitated. Then he said:

"I'm not the only innocent man that's been locked up."

"You can't deceive me," she answered, "though you protest your innocence all day. I shall not believe you. I feel sure that you were guilty of the crime for which you were punished."

"It's rather hard that my own flesh and blood should turn against me."

"You have disgraced the family," said Mrs. Kent. "I discard you. I no longer look upon you as my brother."

"If you had not turned me off with such a pittance it wouldn't have happened," he said, sullenly. "Out of your abundance you only gave me fifty dollars."

"And you a stout, broad-shouldered man, must accept charity or steal!" she said, sarcastically.

"Luck has always been against me."

"Your own bad habits have always been against you."

"Look here," said he, doggedly, "I won't stand any more of that, even from my own sister."

"Very well. What have you come here for?"

"I'm out of money."

"And you expect me to supply you?"

"I think you might give me a little, just to get along."

"I shall not give you a cent. You have no claim upon me. I have already said that I no longer look upon you as a brother."

"Is that all you've got to say?" demanded Dick, his face growing dark with anger.

"It is my final determination."

"Then all I've got to say is, you'll repent it to the last day of your life!" he burst out, furiously. "I'll go away"—here he arose—"but I'll never forget your cruelty and harshness."

He strode out of the room, and she looked after him coldly.

"It is as well," she said to herself. "Now he understands that there is no more to be got out of me, I hope I shall never lay eyes upon him again."

"Well," said Nicholas, entering directly afterward, "what have you said to him? He dashed out of the yard, looking as black as a thunder-cloud."

"I told him that he had disgraced the family and I should never more acknowledge him as a brother."

"I'm glad you sent him off with a flea in his ear. I don't want to see him around here again."

"I don't think we shall."

There was one thing Mrs. Kent forgot—her brother's brutal temper and appetite for revenge. Had she thought of this she would, perhaps, have been more cautious about provoking him.


In the middle of the night Mrs. Kent awoke with a strange sense of oppression, the cause of which she did not immediately understand. As soon as she recovered her senses she comprehended the occasion—the crackling flames—and the fearful thought burst upon her:

"The house is on fire!"

She threw on her dress and dashed hastily from the room. She was about to seek the quickest mode of exit when she thought of Nicholas. He might be asleep, unconscious of his peril. She was a cold and selfish woman, but her one redeeming trait was her affection for her son. She rushed frantically to his chamber, screaming:

"Nicholas! Wake up! The house is on fire!"

She entered his chamber, but he was not in it. He had already escaped, and, full of selfish thoughts of his own safety, had fled without giving heed to his mother, though there would have been time for him to save her.

"He is safe!" thought Mrs. Kent, and, relieved of this anxiety, she sought to escape.

But the flames had gained too much headway. Her dress caught fire, and she ran frantically about, ignorant that in so doing she increased the peril. She was barely conscious of being seized and borne out by friendly hands. But though the flames were extinguished, she had already received fatal injuries. She lingered till the afternoon of the following day, and then died. Meanwhile Mr. Miller sent Jasper the telegram already referred to.

Nicholas looked serious when he was informed of his mother's death, but his was not a temperament to be seriously affected by the misfortune of another. His own interests were uppermost in his mind.

"Will I get mother's property?" he asked Mr. Miller, while that mother lay dead and disfigured in his presence.

"This is no time to speak of property," said Mr. Miller, coldly. "You ought to think of your poor mother's fate."

"Of course I do," said Nicholas, trying to look sorrowful; "but I want to know how I'm going to be situated."

"Wait till after the funeral, at any rate," said the other, disgusted.



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