"depend upon it, sir, i asked that question myself. and i appreciate - believe me have come very much to appreciate - the skepticism that the circumstance arouses. i only ask that you let me finish my story before making a judgment."
"very well then, proceed."
"let me be frank with you, sir. although i could not have been more astonished by the contents of the miraculous letter - in another way i was all too familiar with it. for the basic tale, though not the details, was one i had often heard told by myself - in my dreams!
ah! for what orphan does not dream of a great ancestral home? what prodigal, though banished to the wilderness since birth, does not dream of a return to a home he had never known? what wretch is so low that it does not dream of golden staircases and alabaster towers?
i freely admit it - i was that wretch!"
the mysterious young woman scanned mr barbourforth's face for a clue to his reception of her narrative so far.
his visage remained impassive.
she resumed. " my newly declared cousin informed me that he had but a brief time remaining on this earth -
53. a witness
nodding grimly to himself, hartley rogers stepped over to the door of grandmother fotherinton's study and calmly opened it.
cousin garland stood before him.
with a smile.
54. mystery and fortune
" - except for myself, so far as my cousin knew, he had no relations left on this earth. he was sorry he had only one thing to leave me."
the young woman paused.
but as mr barbourforth had no comment or question, she plunged on.
"the one thing was the key - the possible key - to a great mystery - and to an even greater fortune."
55. something terrible
knowing that now there was nothing else for it, hartley bent to the task of making a suitable response to grandmother fotherinton's untimely demise.
he returned garland's somewhat vacant smile with the most somber expression he could muster.
"good evening, miss. you are, i trust, a member of the fotherinton family?"
"what else would i be? do you take me for a servant?"
hartley bowed his head. "of course not, miss. i am afraid my poor wits are addled. addled - by something terrible that has happened."
"excuse me, but just who are you anyway?"
"my name is hartley rogers, miss, but i am afraid that is of little consequence at the moment."
"i'll be the judge of that." garland stepped to hartley's right and looked past him.
she saw the old woman's carcass, which had slid off her chair on to the floor.
"why is grandmother lying on the floor? did she faint?"
"i am afraid it is worse than that."
"oh, she's dead. that's what you are pussyfooting about."
"she appears to be. perhaps we should call a doctor."
garland moved past hartley and bent over the body.
"not much need for that," she announced.
57. a painful reconsideration
just when everything had been going so well -
how could he have been such a fool, such an absolute pitiful fool!
barbourforth felt he was going mad.
it took all his considerable reserves of impassivity to maintain his composure as the young woman with the veil continued her story.
a story, the very story which in almost every detail , he had heard in these very chambers a fortnight ago -