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The Black Dwarf

Chapter 18
--Last scene of all, To close this strange eventful history. --- AS YOU LIKE IT.
On the next morning, Mr. Ratcliffe presented Miss Vere with a letter from her
father, of which the following is the tenor:--
"MY DEAREST CHILD, The malice of a persecuting government will compel me,
for my own safety, to retreat abroad, and to remain for some time in foreign parts.
I do not ask you to accompany, or follow me; you will attend to my interest and
your own more effectually by remaining where you are. It is unnecessary to enter
into a minute detail concerning the causes of the strange events which yesterday
took place. I think I have reason to complain of the usage I have received from
Sir Edward Mauley, who is your nearest kinsman by the mother's side; but as he
has declared you his heir, and is to put you in immediate possession of a large
part of his fortune, I account it a full atonement. I am aware he has never forgiven
the preference which your mother gave to my addresses, instead of complying
with the terms of a sort of family compact, which absurdly and tyrannically
destined her to wed her deformed relative. The shock was even sufficient to
unsettle his wits (which, indeed, were never over-well arranged), and I had, as
the husband of his nearest kinswoman and heir, the delicate task of taking care
of his person and property, until he was reinstated in the management of the
latter by those who, no doubt, thought they were doing him justice; although, if
some parts of his subsequent conduct be examined, it will appear that he ought,
for his own sake, to have been left under the influence of a mild and salutary
restraint.
"In one particular, however, he showed a sense of the ties of blood, as well as of
his own frailty; for while he sequestered himself closely from the world, under
various names and disguises, and insisted on spreading a report of his own
death (in which to gratify him I willingly acquiesced), he left at my disposal the
rents of a great proportion of his estates, and especially all those, which, having
belonged to your mother, reverted to him as a male fief. In this he may have
thought that he was acting with extreme generosity, while, in the opinion of all
impartial men, he will only be considered as having fulfilled a natural obligation,
seeing that, in justice, if not in strict law, you must be considered as the heir of
your mother, and I as your legal administrator. Instead, therefore, of considering
myself as loaded with obligations to Sir Edward on this account, I think I had
reason to complain that these remittances were only doled out to me at the
pleasure of Mr. Ratcliffe, who, moreover, exacted from me mortgages over my
paternal estate of Ellieslaw for any sums which I required as an extra advance;
and thus may be said to have insinuated himself into the absolute management
and control of my property. Or, if all this seeming friendship was employed by Sir
Edward for the purpose of obtaining a complete command of my affairs, and
acquiring the power of ruining me at his pleasure, I feel myself, I must repeat, still
less bound by the alleged obligation.
"About the autumn of last year, as I understand, either his own crazed
imagination, or the accomplishment of some such scheme as I have hinted,
 
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