I led her into her sitting-room. An elderly gentleman was there waiting for her. It was the English doctor.
We talked a great deal about Erskine, but I said nothing about his motive for committing suicide. It was evident that he had not told his mother anything about the reason that had driven him to so fatal, so mad an act. Finally Lady Erskine rose and said, George left you something as a memento. It was a thing he prized very much. I will get it for you.
As soon as she had left the room I turned to the doctor and said, ‘What a dreadful shock it must have been to Lady Erskine! I wonder that she bears it as well as she does.’
‘Oh, she knew for months past that it was coming,’ he answered.
‘Knew it for months past!’ I cried. ‘But why didn’t she stop him? Why didn’t she have him watched? He must have been mad.’
The doctor stared at me. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said.
‘Well,’ I cried, ‘if a mother knows that her son is going to commit suicide - ’
‘Suicide!’ he answered. ‘Poor Erskine did not commit suicide. He died of consumption. He came here to die. The moment I saw him I knew that there was no hope. One lung was almost gone, and the other was very much affected. Three days before he died he asked me was there any hope. I told him frankly that there was none, and that he had only a few days to live. He wrote some letters, and was quite resigned, retaining his senses to the last.’
At that moment Lady Erskine entered the room with the fatal picture of Willie Hughes in her hand. ‘When George was dying he begged me to give you this,’ she said. As I took it from her, her tears fell on my hand.
The picture hangs now in my library, where it is very much admired by my artistic friends. They have decided that it is not a Clouet, but an Oudry. I have never cared to tell them its true history. But sometimes, when I look at it, I think that there is really a great deal to be said for the Willie Hughes theory of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.