"Go on, brother, go on, and fear not; thou'lt find nor limb nor feature that cannot bide the test. Scour and scan me to thy content, my good old Hugh — I am indeed thy old Miles, thy same old Miles, thy lost brother, is't not so? Ah, 'tis a great day — I SAID 'twas a great day! Give me thy hand, give me thy cheek — lord, I am like to die of very joy!"
He was about to throw himself upon his brother; but Hugh put up his hand in dissent, then dropped his chin mournfully upon his breast, saying with emotion —
"Ah, God of his mercy give me strength to bear this grievous disappointment!"
Miles, amazed, could not speak for a moment; then he found his tongue, and cried out —
"WHAT disappointment? Am I not thy brother?"
Hugh shook his head sadly, and said —
"I pray heaven it may prove so, and that other eyes may find the resemblances that are hid from mine. Alack, I fear me the letter spoke but too truly."
"One that came from over sea, some six or seven years ago. It said my brother died in battle."
"It was a lie! Call thy father — he will know me."
"One may not call the dead."
"Dead?" Miles's voice was subdued, and his lips trembled. "My father dead! — oh, this is heavy news. Half my new joy is withered now. Prithee let me see my brother Arthur — he will know me; he will know me and console me."
"He, also, is dead."
"God be merciful to me, a stricken man! Gone, — both gone — the worthy taken and the worthless spared, in me! Ah! I crave your mercy! — do not say the Lady Edith — "
"Is dead? No, she lives."
"Then, God be praised, my joy is whole again! Speed thee, brother — let her come to me! An' SHE say I am not myself — but she will not; no, no, SHE will know me, I were a fool to doubt it. Bring her — bring the old servants; they, too, will know me."
"All are gone but five — Peter, Halsey, David, Bernard, and Margaret."
So saying, Hugh left the room. Miles stood musing a while, then began to walk the floor, muttering —
"The five arch-villains have survived the two-and-twenty leal and honest — 'tis an odd thing."
He continued walking back and forth, muttering to himself; he had forgotten the King entirely. By-and-by his Majesty said gravely, and with a touch of genuine compassion, though the words themselves were capable of being interpreted ironically —
"Mind not thy mischance, good man; there be others in the world whose identity is denied, and whose claims are derided. Thou hast company."
"Ah, my King," cried Hendon, colouring slightly, "do not thou condemn me — wait, and thou shalt see. I am no impostor — she will say it; you shall hear it from the sweetest lips in England. I an impostor? Why, I know this old hall, these pictures of my ancestors, and all these things that are about us, as a child knoweth its own nursery. Here was I born and bred, my lord; I speak the truth; I would not deceive thee; and should none else believe, I pray thee do not THOU doubt me — I could not bear it."
"I do not doubt thee," said the King, with a childlike simplicity and faith.
"I thank thee out of my heart!" exclaimed Hendon with a fervency which showed that he was touched. The King added, with the same gentle simplicity —
"Dost thou doubt ME?"
A guilty confusion seized upon Hendon, and he was grateful that the door opened to admit Hugh, at that moment, and saved him the necessity of replying.
A beautiful lady, richly clothed, followed Hugh, and after her came several liveried servants. The lady walked slowly, with her head bowed and her eyes fixed upon the floor. The face was unspeakably sad. Miles Hendon sprang forward, crying out —
"Oh, my Edith, my darling — "
But Hugh waved him back, gravely, and said to the lady —
"Look upon him. Do you know him?"
At the sound of Miles's voice the woman had started slightly, and her cheeks had flushed; she was trembling now. She stood still, during an impressive pause of several moments; then slowly lifted up her head and looked into Hendon's eyes with a stony and frightened gaze; the blood sank out of her face, drop by drop, till nothing remained but the grey pallor of death; then she said, in a voice as dead as the face, "I know him not!" and turned, with a moan and a stifled sob, and tottered out of the room.
Miles Hendon sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. After a pause, his brother said to the servants —
"You have observed him. Do you know him?"
They shook their heads; then the master said —
"The servants know you not, sir. I fear there is some mistake. You have seen that my wife knew you not."
"Thy WIFE!" In an instant Hugh was pinned to the wall, with an iron grip about his throat. "Oh, thou fox-hearted slave, I see it all! Thou'st writ the lying letter thyself, and my stolen bride and goods are its fruit. There — now get thee gone, lest I shame mine honourable soldiership with the slaying of so pitiful a mannikin!"
Hugh, red-faced, and almost suffocated, reeled to the nearest chair, and commanded the servants to seize and bind the murderous stranger. They hesitated, and one of them said —
"He is armed, Sir Hugh, and we are weaponless."
"Armed! What of it, and ye so many? Upon him, I say!"
But Miles warned them to be careful what they did, and added —
"Ye know me of old — I have not changed; come on, an' it like you."
This reminder did not hearten the servants much; they still held back.
"Then go, ye paltry cowards, and arm yourselves and guard the doors, whilst I send one to fetch the watch!" said Hugh. He turned at the threshold, and said to Miles, "You'll find it to your advantage to offend not with useless endeavours at escape."
"Escape? Spare thyself discomfort, an' that is all that troubles thee. For Miles Hendon is master of Hendon Hall and all its belongings. He will remain — doubt it not."