The Missing Heir.
Uncle, you are not looking well to-night.
I'm not well, Florence. I sometimes doubt if I shall ever be any better.
Surely, uncle, you cannot mean
Yes, my child, I have reason to believe that I am nearing the end.
I cannot bear to hear you speak so, uncle, said Florence Linden, in irrepressible agitation. You are not an old man. You are but fifty-four.
True, Florence, but it is not years only that make a man old. Two great sorrows have embittered my life. First, the death of my dearly beloved wife, and next, the loss of my boy, Harvey.
It is long since I have heard you refer to my cousin's loss. I thought you had become reconciledno, I do not mean that,I thought your regret might be less poignant.
I have not permitted myself to speak of it, but I have never ceased to think of it day and night.
John Linden paused sadly, then resumed:
If he had died, I might, as you say, have become reconciled; but he was abducted at the age of four by a revengeful servant whom I had discharged from my employment. Heaven knows whether he is living or dead, but it is impressed upon my mind that he still lives, it may be in misery, it may be as a criminal, while I, his unhappy father, live on in luxury which I cannot enjoy, with no one to care for me
Florence Linden sank impulsively on her knees beside her uncle's chair.
Don't say that, uncle, she pleaded. You know that I love you, Uncle John.
And I, too, uncle.
There was a shade of jealousy in the voice of Curtis Waring as he entered the library through the open door, and approaching his uncle, pressed his hand.
He was a tall, dark-complexioned man, of perhaps thirty-five, with shifty, black eyes and thin lips, shaded by a dark mustache. It was not a face to trust.
Even when he smiled the expression of his face did not soften. Yet he could moderate his voice so as to express tenderness and sympathy.
He was the son of an elder sister of Mr. Linden, while Florence was the daughter of a younger brother.
Both were orphans, and both formed a part of Mr. Lindens household, and owed everything to his bounty.
Curtis was supposed to be in some business downtown; but he received a liberal allowance from his uncle, and often drew upon him for outside assistance.
As he stood with his uncle's hand in his, he was necessarily brought near Florence, who instinctively drew a little away, with a slight shudder indicating repugnance.
Slight as it was, Curtis detected it, and his face darkened.
John Linden looked from one to the other. Yes, he said, I must not forget that I have a nephew and a niece. You are both dear to me, but no one can take the place of the boy I have lost.
But it is so long ago, uncle, said Curtis. It must be fourteen years.
It is fourteen years.
And the boy is long since dead!