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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMiles Wallingford - Chapter 28
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Miles Wallingford - Chapter 28 Post by :Khemal Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3216

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Miles Wallingford - Chapter 28

Chapter XXVIII

"She half-enclosed me in her arms,
She pressed me with a meek embrace;
And bending back her head, looked up
And gazed upon my face."

Coleridge.


I saw no one for the next two hours. A window of the parlour, where I was permitted to remain, overlooked the _soi-disant park--or rather _Manhattan_-disant--and it was not long before I caught a glimpse of my mate and Neb, lying off and on, or blockading the jail, lest I should be secretly carried to parts unknown, or some other great evil should approach me from without. What these two honest and affectionate fellows meant by thus maintaining their post, I did not know, it is true; but such was my conjecture. At length Neb disappeared, and was absent an hour. When he retained, he had a coil of rope over his shoulder, when the two took a station at a safe distance from my prison, and began to measure off fathoms, to cut, knot and splice. I was amused with their diligence, which made no abatement until it was interrupted by myself. Of the manner in which that was effected I shall have occasion to speak presently.

About two hours after I was left by Lucy and her father, a keeper came to announce another visitor. I was expecting my own attorney or Mr. Harrison; but the reader will judge of my surprise when Andrew Drewett entered the room. He was accompanied by the jailer, who held a letter in his hand, and who astounded me by saying--

"Captain Wallingford, I have instructions here to open the door for you--bail has been entered."

The jailer disappeared.

"And this I owe to you, Mr. Drewett!"

"I wish I could say as much, with all my heart, my dear sir," Andrew replied, taking my hand, and giving it a warm, cordial shake; "but it would not be strictly true. After saving my life, I should not have suffered you to lie in jail for want of so small a favour as giving bail for your appearance in court, certainly; but would, and will, gladly be your special bail, at the proper time. Let the credit fall, however, only where it is due. Miss Hardinge asked me to obtain your release, and her wishes are second only to my own gratitude."

This was said in a frank, manly manner; and I wondered I had never viewed Andrew Drewett in a light so favourable before. He had improved in person, bore himself like a gentleman I now thought, and was every way a pleasing, well-mannered, well-dressed, and intelligent-looking young man. I could do all justice to him but pardon him Lucy's preference.

"Lucy can never forget our childish intimacy," I said, a little confused. "She left me, declaring an intention to do something of the sort; though I confess I was not exactly prepared for this. You are a man to be envied, Mr. Drewett, if any man on earth is!"

Andrew looked embarrassed. He glanced at me, coloured, turned his look out at the window, then, by a vast effort, seemed to regain his self-command.

"I believe I understand you, Wallingford," he said. "You mean, in being engaged to Lucy Hardinge?"

"I can mean nothing else--all I hear--all I have seen--this last act, in particular, tells me as much."

"All have then told you wrong. I am not so fortunate as to possess the affections of Miss Hardinge; and no man will gain her hand who does not first obtain her heart; ay, and her whole heart, too."

I was astounded! What! Lucy not engaged to Drewett; not loving him, by his own admission; not likely to love him! I believe Andrew had no difficulty in comprehending my feelings in part, for he seemed disposed to continue the subject; and, what was infinitely to his credit, to continue it in a way that should leave no unpleasant uncertainty hanging about the real position of the dear girl.

"It is only quite lately," he said, "that I have seen the great injustice that I and my family have unconsciously committed towards Miss Hardinge. As you are an old--a _very old friend of hers, I will be explicit with you, and endeavour, in some small degree, to excuse myself; though I feel that it can never be done fully. You tell me, that you have heard I was engaged to Miss Hardinge?"

"Unquestionably: I think it was the opinion of her own father; though he must have believed the promise conditional, as Lucy never would marry without his approbation."

"Mr. Hardinge has then been strangely misled. It is true, Mr. Wallingford, that I have long admired Miss Hardinge, and that I offered myself years ago. I was refused from the first. But, Lucy had the frankness to own that she was free to dispose of her hand; and I persevered contrary to her advice, her wishes, and I may say her entreaties. I think she esteems me; and I know she has a strong regard for my mother, who is almost as fond of her as I am myself. This esteem and regard I hoped might ripen into love, and my presumption has brought its own punishment, It is now about six months--I remember it was shortly after we heard of your probable loss--that I had a final conversation with her on the subject, when I became convinced my prospects were hopeless. Since that time, I have endeavoured to conquer my passion; for love unrequited, I suppose you know, will not last for ever; and I have so far succeeded, as to tell you all this without feeling the pain it would once have cost me. Still, I retain the deepest respect for Miss Hardinge; and a single encouraging look would even now recall me. I am of opinion, however, she intends never to marry. But, let us quit this place, which has no longer any claim on you."

I was in a state scarcely to know what. I did. It was comparatively little to me to learn I was free myself, after so unexpectedly learning that Lucy was also free. Lucy--whom I had for years supposed to be irrevocably engaged; and whom I had continued to love, even against hope Andrew Drewett, I fancied, had never loved as I did, or he would not have made the speech he did; or, his love for Lucy had not been a part of his existence from boyhood, as mine had certainly been. While all these thoughts were passing through my mind, I gave a few directions, took Drewett's arm, and hurried out of the gaol.

I confess that I respired more freely when I found myself in the open air. My companion took my direction, and I led him to the spot where Marble and Neb were still at work on their rope. Great was their surprise on seeing me at large; and I thought the mate looked a little disappointed, though he comprehended the matter at once, as soon as he saw Drewett.

"If you had only waited till night, Miles," Marble said, shaking his head as one menaces, "Neb and I would have shown that bloody gaol a seaman's fashion of quitting it. I'm almost sorry the occasion is lost, for it would have done their stomachs good to wake up at two bells, and find their cage empty. I've half a mind to ask you to go back, boy!"

"But I've no mind to comply with the request; so do me the favour to have my bag carried back to our lodgings, where I intend to swing my hammock, again, to-night.--Mr. Drewett, I must hasten to thank her to whom I owe my freedom;--will you accompany me?"

Andrew excused himself; and receiving my thanks, once more we parted with a hearty shake of the hands. I then hastened towards Wall street, and knocked at Lucy's door; (there were knockers to good houses in New York, in 1804, a vile nuisance having been since well gotten rid of,) and I knocked at Lucy's door, scarce conscious of the manner in which I had got there. It was near the dinner-hour, and the footman was demurring about admitting a sailor-man, who hardly knew what he said, when a little scream from Chloe, who happened to see me, soon disposed of my claim for an entrance.

"Masser Mile!--Masser Mile!--I _so grad--dat feller, Neb, say you come home--Oh! Masser Mile, now I know dat de rascal at Clawbonny get druv' off!"

This speech, confident as it was, a little cooled my ardour by reminding me I was a beggar, in the figurative meaning of the word. Chloe led the way, however, and I was soon in the drawing-room, and in the presence of the youthful mistress of the house. How gloriously beautiful did Lucy then appear! She had dressed for dinner, as usual, but it was in the simplest and neatest manner. Her face was radiant with the pleasure of seeing me where I was, and excitement had deepened the colour on her cheeks, which were never pale, except with emotions. As for her eyes, I can only describe _them by the homely phrase, that "they danced for joy."

"Now, Miles," she said, holding out both hands to meet me, "_this is redeeming your pledge, and behaving as you should. Andrew Drewett was delighted with an opportunity of doing something for the man who saved his life, and my only fear was of your obstinacy."

"After all I have heard from Andrew Drewett, beloved Lucy, you never need fear anything from my obstinacy hereafter. He not only has released my body from prison but he has released my spirits from the weight of a mountain, by honestly confessing you do not love him."

The play of roseate light on an autumnal sky at evening, is not more beautiful, than the changing tints that passed over Lucy's beautiful face. She did not speak, at first; but so intent, so inquiring was her look, while at the same time, it was so timid and modest, that I scarce needed the question that she finally succeeded in asking.

"What _is it, you wish to say, Miles?" at length came from her in faltering tones.

"To ask to be permitted to keep these hands for ever. Not one, Lucy; one will not satisfy a love like mine, a love that has got to be interwoven with my being, from having formed a part of my very existence from boyhood; yes, I ask for _both_."

"You have them both, dear, _dear Miles, and can keep them as long as you please."

Even while this was in the course of utterance, the hands were snatched from me to be applied to their owner's face, and the dear girl burst into a flood of tears. I folded her in my arms, seated myself at her side on a sofa, and am not ashamed to say that we wept together. I shall not reveal all that passed during the next quarter of an hour, nor am I quite certain that I could were I to make the attempt, but I well recollect my arm was around Lucy's slender waist, at the end of that brief period. What was said was not very coherent, nor do I know that anybody would care to hear, or read it.

"Why have you so long delayed to tell me this, Miles?" Lucy at length inquired, a little reproachfully. "You who have had so many opportunities, and might have known how it would have been received! How much misery and suffering it would have saved us both!"

"For that which it has caused _you_, dearest, I shall never forgive myself; but as for that _I have endured, it is only too well merited. But I thought you loved Drewett; everybody said you were to marry him; even your own father believed and told me as much--"

"Poor, dear papa!--He little knew my heart. One thing, however, he did that would have prevented my ever marrying any one, Miles, so long as you lived."

"Heaven for ever bless him for that, as well as for all his other good deeds? What was it, Lucy?'

"When we heard of the supposed loss of your ship, he believed it, but I did not. Why I did not believe what all around me thought was true, is more than I can explain, unless Providence humanely sustained me by hope. But when my father thought you dead, in conversing of all your good qualities, Miles,--and he loved you almost as well as his daughter"--

"God bless him, dear old gentleman!--but what did he tell you, Lucy?"

"You will never learn, if you thus interrupt me, Miles," Lucy answered, smiling saucily in my face, though she permitted me still to hold both her hands, as if I had taken possession of them literally with an intent to keep them, blushing at the same time as much with happiness, I thought, as with the innate modesty of her nature. "Have a little patience, and I will tell you. When my father thought you dead, he told me the manner in which you had confessed to him the preference you felt for me; and _do you, _can you think, after I was thus put in possession of such a secret, I could listen to Andrew Drewett, or to any one else?"

I shall not reveal what followed this speech; but I may say that, in the course of the next ten minutes, Lucy mildly reproached me again for having so long delayed my declaration.

"I knew you so well, Miles," she continued, smiling--as for blushing, that she did nearly the whole of the remainder of the day--"I know you so well, Miles, that I am afraid I should have made the declaration myself, had you not found your tongue. Silly fellow! how _could you suppose I would ever love any but you?--see here!"

She drew the locket I had given her from her dress, and placed it in my hands, still warm from lying near her heart! I had no choice, but to kiss Lucy again, or to kiss this locket; and I did both, by way of leaving no further grounds for self-reproach. I say, kiss her again, for, to own the truth, I had already done so many times in that interview.

At length, Chloe put her head in at the door, having taken the precaution first to give a gentle tap, to inquire if dinner should be served. Lucy dined at four, and it was now drawing toward five.

"Has my father come in?" demanded the young mistress of her attendant.

"Not yet, Miss Lucy; but he nebber t'ink much of dinner, Miss Lucy, ma'am; and masser Mile been _so long a sailor, dat I t'ink he _must be hungry. I hear dat he hab berry hard time, dis v'y'ge, Miss Lucy--too hard for old masser and missus son!"

"Ay, you have seen Neb, if the truth were told, Miss Chloe," I cried; "and he has been charming your ear with Othello-tales, of his risks and hardships, to make you love him."

I cannot say that Chloe actually blushed, or, if she did, the spectators were none the wiser for the weakness. But dark as was the skin of this honest-hearted girl, she had most affectionate feelings, and even her features could betray the emotions she entertained.

"De feller!" she exclaimed.--"What Miss Lucy please order? Shall 'e cook dish up?"

"We will have dinner," Lucy answered, with a smile Chloe's eyes dancing with a sort of wild delight. "Tell John to serve it. Mr. Hardinge will be home soon, in all probability. We shall be only us three, at table."

The mentioning of the table caused me to cast an eye at my dress; and the sight of my mate's attire, neat and in truth becoming as it was, to one who had no reason to be ashamed of his figure, caused me to recollect my poverty, and to feel one twinge at the distance that the world might fancy its own opinions placed between us. As for birth, my own family was too respectable, and my education had been too good, to leave me now any very keen regrets on such a subject, in a state of society like ours; but there was truly a wide chasm between the heiress of Mrs. Bradfort and a penniless mate of a ship. Lucy understood me; and, slipping her arm through mine, she walked into the library, saying archly, as she drew me gently along--

"It is a very easy thing, Miles, to get skirts made to your round-about."

"No doubt, Lucy; but, with whose money? I have been in such a tumult of happiness, as to have forgotten that I am a beggar; that I am not a suitable match for you! Had I only Clawbonny, I should feel less humiliated. With Clawbonny I could feel myself entitled to some portion of the world's consideration."

We were in the library by this time. Lucy looked at me a moment, intently; and I could see she was pained at my allusion. Taking a little key from a cabinet where she kept it, she opened a small drawer, and showed me the identical gold pieces that had once been in my possession, and which I had returned to her, after my first voyage to sea. I perceived that the pearls she had obtained under Grace's bequest, as well as those which were my own property, if I could be said to own anything, were kept in the same place. Holding the gold in the palm of a little hand that was as soft as velvet and as white as ivory, she said--

"You once took _all I had, Miles, and this without pretending to more than a brother's love; why should you hesitate to do it again, now you say you wish to become my husband?"

"Precious creature! I believe you will cure me of even my silly pride." Then taking up the pearls, I threw them on her neck, where they hung in a long chain, rivalling the skin with which they came in contact--"There--I have said these pearls should be an offering to my wife, and I now make it; though I scarce know how they are to be kept from the grasp of Daggett."

Lucy kissed the pearls--I knew she did not do it on account of any love for them--and tears came into her eyes. I believe she had long waited to receive this gift, in the precise character in which it was now received.

"Thank you, dear Miles," she said. "You see how freely I accept _your gifts; and why should you hesitate to receive mine? As for this Mr. Daggett, it will be easy enough to get rid of his claim. I shall be of age before he can bring his cause to trial, as I learn; then nothing will be easier than for Miles Wailingford to pay all his debts; for by that time, all that is now mine will be yours. No--no--this Mr. Daggett shall not easily rob me of this precious gift."

"Rupert"--I said, by way of getting her answer.

"Rupert will not influence my conduct, any further than I shall insist on returning every dollar he has received from you, in the name of our sainted Grace. But I hear my father's voice, and speaking to some other person. I had hoped we should dine alone!"

The door of the library opened, and Mr. Hardinge entered, followed by a grave-looking, elderly man, of respectable mien, and a manner that denoted one accustomed to deal with matters of weight. I knew this person at once to be Richard Harrison, then one of the most distinguished lawyers of America, and the gentleman to whom I had been carried by John Wallingford, when the latter pressed me to make my will. Mr. Harrison shook me cordially by the hand, after saluting Lucy, whom he knew intimately. I saw at once that something unusual was working in his mind. This highly respectable advocate was a man of method and of great coolness of manner in the management of affairs, and he proceeded to business at once, using very little circumlocution.

"I have been surprised to hear that my worthy client and friend, Mr. John Wailingford, is dead," he observed. "I do not know how his decease should have escaped my notice in the papers, unless it were owing to a pretty severe illness I suffered myself about the time it occurred. My good friend, Mr. Hardinge, told it to me for the first time, only half an hour since."

"It is true, sir," I answered. "I understand my kinsman died eight months since."

"And he held your bond for forty thousand dollars at the time he died?"

"I regret to say he did; a bond secured by a mortgage on my paternal place, Clawbonny, which has since been sold, by virtue of the power contained in the clauses, under the statute, and sold for a song; less than a fourth of its value."

"And you have been arrested, at the suit of the administrator, for the balance due on the bond?"

"I have, sir; and am liberated on general bail, only within an hour or two."

"Well, sir, all these proceedings can be, and _must be set aside. I have already given instructions to prepare an application to the chancellor for an injunction, and, unless your kinsman's administrator is a great dunce, you will be in peaceable possession of Clawbonny, again, in less than a month--if a moderately sensible man, in less than twenty-four hours."

"You would not raise hopes that are idle, Mr. Harrison; yet I do not understand how all this well can be!"

"Your kinsman, Mr. John Wallingford, who was a much esteemed client of mine, made a will, which will I drew myself, and which will being left in my possession for that purpose, I now put in your hands as his sole executor. By that will, you will perceive that he especially forgives you the debt of forty thousand dollars, and releases the claim under the mortgage. But this is not all. After giving some small legacies to a few of his female relatives, he has left you the residuary legatee, and I know enough of his affairs to be certain that you will receive an addition to your estate of more than two hundred thousand dollars. John Wallingford was a character, but he was a money-making character; had he lived twenty years longer, he would have been one of the richest men in the state. He had laid an excellent foundation, but he died too soon to rear the golden structure."

What a change of circumstances was here! I was not only virtually released from debt, but had Clawbonny restored to me, and was master of all I had ever owned, my earnings and the money invested in the Dawn excepted. This last was irretrievably gone, it was true, but, in its place I had the ample legacy of John Wallingford as a compensation. This legacy consisted of a large sum in the three per cents, which then sold at about sixty, but were subsequently paid off at par, of good bank and insurance stocks, bonds and mortgages, and a valuable and productive real property in the western part of the State, with several buildings in town. In a word, I was even richer than Lucy, and no longer need consider myself as one living on her generosity. It is not difficult to believe I was made supremely happy by this news, and I looked to Lucy for sympathy. As for the dear girl herself, I do believe she felt anything but pleasure, at this new accession of riches; for she had a deep satisfaction in thinking that it was in her power to prove to me how completely I possessed her confidence, by placing all she had in my hands. Nevertheless, she loved Clawbonny as well as I did myself, and my restoration to the throne of my fathers was a subject of mutual delight.

Mr. Harrison went on to say that he had ascertained Daggett was in town, to conduct the expected arrangement with me, on the subject of my personals, and that he had already sent a messenger to his attorney, to let the existence of the will be known. He had, consequently, strong hopes of arranging matters, in the course of the next twenty-four hours. We were still at table, in effect, when the messenger came to let us know an interview was appointed at the office of this eminent counsel, and we all adjourned to that place, Lucy excepted, as soon as the cloth was removed; for, in that day, cloths were always removed. At the office, we found Mr. Daggett, whom I now saw for the first time, and his legal adviser, already waiting for us. One glance sufficed to let us into the secret of the consternation both were in, for the lawer had committed himself in the course of the proceedings he had had an agency in conducting, almost as much as his client.

"This is strange news to us, Mr. Harrison," the attorney commenced; "though your character and reputation, I will confess, make it look serious. Is there no mistake in the matter, sir?"

"None whatever, Mr. Meekly. If you will have the goodness to read this will, sir, you will perceive that the facts have been truly laid before your client; and, as to the authenticity of the document, I can only say, it was not only drawn up by myself, under precise instructions from Mr. Wallingford,--which instructions I still possess, in his own hand-writing,--but the will was copied by my client, as well as signed and sealed in my presence, as one of the witnesses. So far as relates to the personals, this will would be valid, though not signed by the testator, supposing no other will to exist. But, I flatter myself, you will find everything correct as to forms."

Mr. Meekly read the will aloud, from beginning to end, and, in returning it to me, he cast a very give-it-up-sort of look at Daggett. The latter inquired, with some anxiety,--

"Is there any schedule of the property accompanying the will?"

"There is, sir," returned Mr. Harrison; "and directions on it where to find the certificates of stock, and all the other evidences of debts--such as bonds and mortgages. Of the last, several are in my own possession. I presume the bond of this Mr. Wallingford was kept by the testator himself, as a sort of family thing."

"Well, sir, you will find that none of the stock has been touched; and I confess this bond, with a few notes given in Genessee, is all that I have been able to find. We have been surprised at discovering the assets to be so small."

"So much the better for you, Mr. Daggett. Knowing what I do, I shall only give up the assets I hold to the executor and heir. Your letters of administration will be set aside, as a matter of course, even should you presume to oppose us,--which I should hardly think advisable."

"We shall not attempt it, Mr. Harrison," Meekly said, hastily; "and we expect equal liberality from your client."

So much for having a first-rate lawyer and a man of character on my side. Daggett gave the whole thing up, on the spot,--re-conveying to me Clawbonny before he quitted, though the sale would unquestionably be set aside, and subsequently was set aside, by means of an amicable suit. A great deal remained to be done, however; and I was obliged to tear myself away from Lucy, in order to do it. Probate of the will was to be made in the distant county of Genessee--and distant it was from New York, in 1804! The journey that could be made, to day, in about thirty hours, took me ten days: and I spent near a month in going through the necessary forms, and in otherwise settling my affairs at the west, as that part of the State was then called. The time, however, was not wasted below. Mr. Hardinge took charge of everything at Clawbonny, and Lucy's welcome letters,--three of which reached me weekly,--informed me that everything was re-established in the house, on the farm, and at the mill. The Wallingford was set running again, and all the oxen, cows, horses, hogs, &c., &c., were living in their old haunts. The negroes were reinstated, and Clawbonny was itself again! The only chants made wore for the better; the occasion having been improved, to paint and new-vamp the house, which Mr. Daggett's parsimony had prevented him from defacing by modern alterations. In a word, 'Masser Mile' was alone wanting to make all at the farm happy. Chloe had communicated her engagement to 'Miss Lucy,' and it was understood Neb and his master were to be married about the same time. As for Moses, he had gone up to Willow Cove, on a leave of absence. A letter received from him, which now lies before me, will give a better account of his proceedings and feelings than I can write myself. It was in the following words, viz.:

"_Willow Cove, Sept. 18th_, 1804.

"Captain Wallingford:

"Dear Sir, and my dear Miles--Here I have been, moored head and starn, these ten days, as comfortable as heart could wish, in the bosom of my family. The old woman was right down glad to see me, and she cried like an alligator, when she heard my story. As for Kitty, she cried, and she laughed in the bargain; but that young Bright, whom you may remember we fell in with, in our cruise after old Van Tassel, has fairly hauled alongside of my niece, and she does little but laugh from morning to night. It's bloody hard to lose a niece in this way, just as a man finds her, but mother says I shall gain a nephew by the trade.

"Now, for old Van Tassel. The Lord will never suffer rogues to prosper in the long run. Mother found the old rascal's receipt, given to my father for the money, years and years ago, and sending for a Hudson lawyer, they made the miserly cheat off with his hatches, and hoist out cargo enough to square the yards. So mother considers the thing as settled at last; but I shall always regard the account as open until I have threshed the gentleman to my heart's content. The old woman got the cash in hard dollars, not understanding paper, and I wasn't in the house ten minutes, before the good old soul roused a stocking out of a drawer, and began to count out the pieces to pay me off. So you see, Miles, I've stepped into my estate again, as well as yourself. As for your offer to pay me wages for the whole of last v'y'ge"--this word Marble could only spell as he pronounced it--"it's generous, and that's a good deal in these bloody dishonest times, but I'll not touch a copper. When a ship's lost, the wages are lost with her, and that's law and reason. It would be hard on a marchant to have to pay wages for work done on board a craft that's at the bottom of the ocean; so no more on that p'int, which we'll consider settled.

"I am delighted to learn you are to be married as soon as you get back to Clawbonny. Was I in your place, and saw such a nice young woman beckoning me into port, I'd not be long in the offing. Thank you, heartily, for the invitation to be one of the bride's-maids, which is an office, my dear Miles, I covet, and shall glory in. I wish you to drop me a line as to the rigging proper for the occasion, for I would wish to be dressed as much like the rest of the bride's-maids as possible; uniformity being always desirable in such matters. A wedding is a wedding, and should be dealt with as a wedding; so, waiting for further orders, I remain your friend and old ship-mate to command,

"Moses Van Dusen Marble."

I do not affirm that the spelling of this letter was quite as accurate as that given in this copy, but the epistle was legible, and evidently gave Marble a great deal of trouble. As for the letters of dear Lucy, I forbear to copy any. They were like herself, however; ingenuous, truthful, affectionate and feminine. Among other things, she informed me that our union was to take place in St. Michael's; that I was to meet her at the rectory, and that we might proceed to Clawbonny from the church-door. She had invited Rupert and Emily to be present, but the health of the last would prevent their accepting the invitation. Major, or general, Merton, as he was universally called in New York, had the gout, and could not be there; and I was asked if it would not be advisable under all the circumstances, to have the affair as private as possible. My answer conveyed a cheerful compliance, and a week after that was despatched, I left the Genessee country, having successfully completed all my business. No one opposed me, and so far from being regarded as an intruder, the world thought me the proper heir of my cousin.

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