Page images
PDF
EPUB

could come so closely home to all of them.

“Not me,

nor me," cried a chorus of They had neither loved nor respected him ; voices. “We want you to have it; you'd but he had been their chief, with power in make a vast sight better squire than parson," his hands which he could use for their cried out a strong voice after him, as he welfare or injury. But it was not so much walked hurriedly on, “though we've nought his loss, as the question who would succeed to say agen you as parson, Master Justin. him that was agitating them, every one. It's only my way of speaking.” There was scarcely a child among them who Justin kept steadily on his way, the words had not heard their dead master say that his ringing in his ears. He knew only too well runaway son should be cut off from his that he did not and could not make a good estates, and that his step-son should succeed parson; and that the rough, honest fellows to them. Now would come the confirmation about him knew it quite as well as he did. of these oaths if they had been genuine and What was it that was so necessary to make true. But there was the doubt. Old Richard him a true, efficient minister to the spiritual Herford had worshipped his son so openly, wants of this little community, so shut in that it seemed incredible he could really and hedged round from the great world? leave him penniless and landless. The They loved him heartily after their fashion, villagers were vehemently discussing this and looked up to him as the most learned doubt when Master Justin, as they still called and scholarly man in the place. They him, became visible in the street. He felt also looked up to him as one who could inclined to hurry past without speaking to give them good counsel about their fields these weather-beaten, hard-featured men and and their boats. There was not a fisherman women ; but they came thronging about him among them who would not rather have him with the familiarity of long acquaintance. in his boat, on a stormy and dangerous sea,

“So th' old squire's dead and gone,” said than any other man in the village. He was the parish clerk, a hale old man of eighty a leader among them in all things save one; himself, “and we're all a-wondering who's to but that one was the very soul of the profescome after him up yonder. Please God, I sion he had entered into. The moment he say, as our Master Justin's made squire in his put on the garb of a clergyman he ceased to stead. That's what I'm looking for, please be their guide; and knew himself to be the His holy will !"

blind leading the blind. A fact they knew “Nay, nay!” cried a loud shrill woman's by instinct also. voice, “ Herford's been Herford time out o' As Justin drew nearer to the Court, and mind. Master Justin 'll never be offended saw its quaint old-fashioned grey pile of with such as we if we wishes a Herford to come building lying sheltered within its into it; and there's none save Master Dick, curving brow of the cliff, these vexing as has been lost these four years.”

thoughts died away to give place to others as “Well! we shall all see what we shall vexing. How would he be able to bear to see,” said the mistress of the dame-school, see his brother leading a riotous, disreputable the only person in the village of whom life within its walls, and probably in the Pansy stood in awe, “there's a providence course of a few years bring the old place to in all things; and Master Justin's next to the hammer? It had, perhaps, grown dearer own son to the old squire, and he's almost to him since he had looked at it with the a Herford. He'd get the queen's leave to eye of a possible owner than it had been change his name, so it would be all one." before; but it had always been an object of

But it wouldn't be the old breed," admiration to him. Richard was not fit to objected the shrill voice.

be master of it; yet he was left in absolute, “ Th'old breed's a bad breed,” interrupted unrestricted, immediate possession, as though a sturdy fisherman; we don't want Master destiny itself had decreed the speedy ruin of Dick to lord it over I'm for Master Herford Court. Justin. Hurrah !”

The house seemed dark and dreary when he “My good folks,” shouted Justin, to get entered it. With a step that echoed noisily himself heard amid the din of contending through the silent stone-paved hall, Justin voices, “as a matter of course my brother crossed it to the door of the room where he Richard will come into the estates; and no knew he should find his mother. She was doubt he will quickly reappear now he is seated in a low easy-chair on the hearth in Herford of Herford. Some among you the darkened room, her face hidden behind know his whereabouts, or I am very much the handkerchief she was holding up to her mistaken."

eyes. Though she was nearly fifty years of

own

us.

age she was still slim and almost girlish in for his funeral; so we need not look to that. figure; and her face, though there were a few | A handsome funeral it will be, I promise lines on the forehead, and crow's-feet about you, and will cost a mint of inoney. But the corners of the eyes, was nearly as round there! he had a perfect right to do what he and fair and full as when she had married a chose with his own.” second time, twenty-five years ago.

Justin

“What is the date of the will ?” inquired stooped down to kiss her, with an unusual Justin, with a slight spasm of regret as he emotion of tenderness and compassion for his asked the needless question. mother, once again a widow.

“We drew it up four years ago," answered It was not probable that she could feel his uncle, “and it was executed at once by any profound grief at the loss that had just the old squire. There! I'll say no more till befallen her. Her husband, like any other after the funeral, unless you wish it opened man utterly wrapped up in self, had made and read at once.” her life a weariness and burden to her. The “I do wish it,” said Justin ; “my mother little love she might once have cherished for and I know where it is to be found. Shall I one who had taken her from poverty, and fetch it here, or will you come with me to my who was the father of her favourite son, had father's room, and give a glance at it? It long ago been worn out. But she had not would be as well to see that he has made no failed in the fulfilment of her duty towards change.” him ; partly, perhaps, because he had never “Oh! bring it here,” exclaimed his released his claim upon it

. She did not lift mother, in an impatient tone; "though I up her head when Justin kissed her; but she must say it seems an extraordinary thing to moaned a little, and rocked herself to and meddle with a man's will almost before the fro, as if bound to prove in this manner the breath is out of his body. If my poor dear depth of her affliction.

Richard was only here there would be no There was another occupant of the room, such haste ; indecent haste it seems to me." however, who hailed Justin's appearance “If Richard was here he would be master," with eagerness; an elderly man, short- said Justin, speaking from a sore heart. He sighted and slightly deaf, who had been went away without another word to the sitting sideways by the table, and strumming chamber where the corpse was lying. There upon it with his fingers, in a perplexed and were the peculiar hush, the blank stillness, uncomfortable silence. He sprang up the and emptiness about it which always attend instant the door opened and shook hands the dreary presence of death. It was a very hurriedly and warmly.

familiar room to him, for old Richard Herford “I'm here, Justin," he said. “I came over had not kept his wife's boy at a distance this morning to see if I couldn't persuade the from him; yet to-day it seemed strange in old man to do right at last. So he's gone, the white dulled light entering through the and I'm too late! I was at him only a week shrouded windows. Not even the ashes of ago, when I saw him last. Make another the fire were left upon the hearth, where last will

, I said; and he swore he never would. night he had watched the will consumed Ah! well! we must all knock under sooner before his eyes, which would have made him or later, as I've been telling your mother. master in the place of his prodigal brother. What is it in the service? There's only a The stiff and straightened form of the dead step between us and old Herford. Susan is man lay slightly outlined under the sheet more overcome than I expected; but time, that covered it. Justin paused for a minute Justin, time will work wonders.”

at the foot of the bed, looking down upon it, Time has not worked many wonders for his brain busy with retracing the past. This me yet, uncle," answered Justin. “Come, lapsed existence, which had had no link of mother, we must attend to business now my blood relationship with his own, had yet been uncle is here. There are a good many bound up with it in the most intimate conmatters to arrange.”

nection. This man, with his dominant, “ I have no heart for business so soon,” over-mastering will, had filled the position of murmured the widow from behind her hand a father to him, so far as authority consti kerchief.

tutes a part of fatherhood. It was he who “Come, come, Susan !” said her brother had placed him where he was, and chosen in sharply, “ I cannot leave my business every a great degree his life for him ; a bad choice, day, I can tell you, to dance upon you. But as Justin helt to the very core of his heart. I know quite well the provisions of your There was not much grief in his absorbed husband's will, and the directions he has left contemplation of the lifeless form; this death was a release, though it could not over £1,200 a year after Susan's £300 is undo the mischief he had done. It could not deducted. And there are splendid openings give him back his youth, and a fresh entry for improvement, which old Herford talked upon manhood, with all its bright possi- of but never set about. There's Undercliff bilities. "I forgive you !”. he breathed Cove would make a magnificent oyster-bed. softly; and a momentary moisture dimmed By the way the squire has entailed the estate his eyes. With hushed and slow steps, as if now; he will not let you be free to play such fearful of disturbing the sleeper, he crossed a high prank as he has. You and your heirs; the floor to the cabinet, and took from it the eldest son, or daughter if you have no son. will he had deposited there the night before. He was fond of little Pansy. But poor Dick

The cover bore the date of it on the front. is merely mentioned in the will to be cut off It was twenty-two years back, a few months from the inheritance.” after the birth of old Richard Herford's son “Oh! my poor Richard ! my dear boy!" and heir. Justin read it half-aloud. How cried Mrs. Herford. “It's a wicked will, well he could recall the earlier years of his Thomas; it must be set aside. Oh! my little brother's life, whilst he was still a young darling! my poor boy! Perhaps he made child like his Pansy! There had been no another will and had it somewhere. Let jealousy and contempt between them then. us go and look this minute.” He almost felt a return of the old affection, Ah! ay! he made another will,” said and the sense of protectorship towards Mr. Watson drily; "we drew up a will for Richard. But he did not linger longer in him when Richard was six months old, and the room.

He carried the packet down. I remonstrated strongly with him about that. stairs, and placed it in his uncle's hands, who We all but quarrelled and parted over it. cut the ribbon that tied it, and broke the It was a very unfair will in my opinion; seal with a composure Justin could not share. almost as bad, if not quite as bad, as this. He glanced at the date and signatures of the He left absolutely everything to his son, will.

without reserve and without condition. There “Ah! I see," he said, glancing up for a was no provision whatever for you, Susan; moment over his spectacles; “ we drew it up, you were left altogether dependent upon you know, from the old squire's instructions, Dick. 'It will make her a good mother to and I was present when it was signed. Well, him,' said the old Squire ; she'll keep a well! I wish I'd come yesterday. I did civil tongue in her head if she's to look to expostulate with him strongly at the time; him for her living. You know what sort of but a wilful man must have his way. He a living you would get from Dick.” turned a deaf ear to all I urged on him. He “Good gracious !” exclaimed Mrs. Herwould cut off Dick and make Justin his ford. “That was a more wicked will then heir."

Why! Richard would soon make “Good heavens!” cried Justin. His ducks and drakes of his money; and then brain whirled, and his senses seemed to be where should I be! Justin will do what is playing him false. He leaned over his right; everybody knows what Justin is. But uncle's shoulder and devoured the will with my poor boy has always gone wrong, and his eyes. The date was that of four years no wonder, with such a wilful, headstrong man ago, the time when his father's anger raged for his father.” most fiercely against Richard. Yielding to Now she knew the contents of her a sudden and almost unconscious impulse, husband's first will, which she had burned Justin crushed up the cover which was lying with her own hands the night before, she felt on the table and thrust it in his pocket. He quite reconciled to this later one. There had not time to deliberate now; he must would have been no hope for her if Richard wait, and reflect, and decide. The lawyer, had succeeded as uncontrolled master; but whose deaf ear was turned towards him, went Justin had always been good and steady and on with his tranquil comments.

dutiful to her and her husband. Besides, "Ah! no codicil,” he said, " £300 a she was independent of him and mistress of year to Susan, and right of residence in Herford Court. She turned to him and lifted Herford Court for her life; with a few up her face to kiss him. legacies of no consequence. The whole of “God bless you, Justin !” she said ; the residue, estate and personalty, to my you'll make a better master than poor beloved step-son, Justin Webb, who shall Richard. But I am sorry for him. Perhaps take the name of Herford.' We valued it, he'd have tried to be a good man if he'd had two years ago, Justin, and reckoned it at a chance; but he'll never have a chance

this one.

now."

She sank down again in her chair It seemed to her as if she had just had a and began weeping in more real earnest than narrow escape from some dire calamity. before, partly with hysterical emotion, but the sword that had been hanging over her partly with real genuine disappointment for head was taken away; but she could see both her disinherited son. Justin had listened the sword and the frail thread by which it and looked on apart from them as if it was all had been suspended. She shivered and a dream.

quailed at the mere thought of it. But with “Mother," he stammered, “the estate is Justin she was safe. At last she would be not mine. I ought not to take it from mistress of Herford Court; the position she Richard.”

had married for, but had not gained. After " But what will you do?” asked his uncle the long, wearisome season of bondage were sharply: "Old Herford had a right to leave it coming those gay, good times she had as he chose, and he left it to you. His last promised herself when she became old will was wiser than the first. Of course Dick Richard Herford's wife. She had chafed is his own son; but he knew, and everybody under a yoke more burdensome than Justin's. knew, the lad would squander it away. But at length the oppression had ceased, and What would £1,500 a year be to a youngster the oppresser was gone. Already, though who would like to spend £ 15,000? As it is, he had not been one day dead, she was if he should turn up again, and that's doubt experiencing the relief of freedom; and this ful, you could do something handsome for was gathering strength now she knew she him; or if he continues a reprobate, you was provided for, and left dependent upon could but keep him out of the gutter at least. no one. She was thankful according to her Your father knew very well what he was nature; and when she left her brother about, you may be sure. When I expostu Watson and Justin, she retired to her own lated with him at leaving Dick without a room, and knelt down to return thanks for penny, ‘Justin's a good man,' he said, 'he'll the provision made for her, before sending never see him starve. I wish he would !' for her draper and dressmaker, and entering he said, for he was awfully bitter against upon the elaborate task of putting on weeds Dick. Then there's your mother. She has for old Richard Herford. her £300 a year to do what she likes with. It's a younger son's share, and as

CHAPTER VI.—RIGHT OR WRONG? much as Dick deserves. Take your good JUSTIN gave what orders were absolutely luck, and thank Heaven for it. You'll make necessary, and then left the Court, having a better Herford than if you'd been born agreed with his uncle that the will should not one.”

be discussed again till after the funeral. He “Of course he will,” added his mother had kept his own counsel in the first moments pettishly. “Oh! don't begin to harry us all of amazement and perplexity, and now he with scruples and doubts. He always pro- desired solitude and silence to turn over the mised me my boy should be the same as whole of the matter in his mind. He was his own, and he'd act by you as if you were, like a man in a trance, unable to catch the or else I never would have married him. end of any clear thread of thought, and unYou are the eldest son, and you're the heir.” ravel it from the vague confusion of his brain.

“Not old Richard Herford's heir,” said After a while he found himself wandering Justin.

aimlessly along the narrow, grass-grown path “Yes, you are," she persisted; "he's made which followed the crooked bends of the you heir, and nobody can alter that. 'Good cliffs. The thick rain that had been sweeping gracious! what would have become of me if across the country all day had spent itself at he had told me to burn this will and keep last, but the grey gloom of the sky and sea the other ? with my own hands too! No continued. The unbroken curve of the seaprovision for me! To think that he'd left line was of a dark leaden hue, and the rippleme without a penny! I know I should have less water looked sulky and dull. The little been compelled to live with you in that poky birds, which were wont to sing at sunset, even little vicarage, with nothing to live upon ! through the winter days, were silent; and not But now I'm safe, and you are safe; and if a note was to be heard this evening except Richard comes back we can do something the wailing cry of the seagull flying inland. for him. Thank God that first will was not The light was dying away behind its thick to be! I should never have slept in my bed grey veil of clouds, and the night was coming all these years if I'd had an idea what he on swiftly and steadily. But Justin had had done."

neither eye nor ear for anything outside of

himself. His brain was too busy to take about him. That was the right light to see note either of the weather or the hour. it in. Providence had allotted the inheritance

There could be no doubt whatever that to the one who could make the best use of the will which had been destroyed was the it. He had not had a finger in it himself. very one old Richard Herford had intended He had even urged his father to forgive to preserve. That was as clear as day. The Richard. It was his mother, the mother of old man's faculties, his sight especially, had both of them, who had burned the will ; so been failing him for some months past; and that even the mere mechanism of the error had he must, at some time, after reading his two not been his. He was perfectly free, in will wills, have enclosed them in the wrong covers and act, of any plot to seize his brother's He had been too precise and clear in speak- birthright. It had come to him. ing of the one he wished to leave behind him What ought he then to do? He had no for any mistake to be possible. On his death idea of what the law of the land would debed he had forgiven his prodigal son, and mand of him; and he hardly wished to know revoked the will he had made in an hour of it. There had been no third person present bitter anger against him. He had passed during his conversation with his step-father, away in the belief that his only child would and all must rest upon his word and testisucceed to the possessions of his forefathers. mony alone. If the law took his word, and It was a mere accident that had caused the gave up all to Richard, what would become former will to be destroyed and the later one of his poor mother? Her life had been a to be preserved.

monotonous bondage for many years, and in But was it right to call it an accident ? her old age she would be cast upon the Justin could not deny that it would be a mercy of a careless and profligate son for the grievous calamity to every other person in- very bread she ate. No. It would be madvolved in the matter, if not to Richard him- ness to throw away the responsibility laid self, for him to come into uncontrolled pos- upon him for the welfare of others, and for the session of the estate. There was barely a maintaining the name and dignity of an old chance against his squandering it recklessly. family. If he stood alone in the matter it To squander it meant that it would soon would be quite another question. But was pass into the hands of strangers; while the it not his bounden duty to keep silence and very name of Herford of Herford would die enter into possession of the estate ? away altogether from their ancient dwelling- He tore up into small pieces the cover, place. Old Richard Herford, with his strong which bore no other writing than the words, family pride, could never have meant that.“ Richard Herford's Will, Sept. 14, 1835," He had made his first will when his heir was and he watched the fragments floating slowly an infant in the cradle. To revert to that away on the light breeze. Then he felt would be as much opposed to his real mind some regret at having destroyed it ; but why? as that his step-son should succeed to the There was nothing in the words, written lands and take the name. He was keen- though they were in the bold, large-hand sighted enough to know the folly of leaving writing of his step father. It was simply a his son absolute master of the place. He slight corroboration of a fact he had decided had had two wills at variance within himself; to keep to himself. and it was only in the hour of mortal weak- Yes. He would keep it to himself. He ness that his passion for his son had triumphed would do his utmost to find Richard; and if over his conviction that his old house and he came home reformed, indisputably rename would be sacrificed to his prodigality: formed, giving proof of a radical change, and

Surely it was no accident, this slight mis- likely to be what the master of Herford ought take of a dim-eyed old man, which had to be, why, then, it would be his duty to been allowed by Providence. Justin did not relinquish the inheritance to him. And use the name of God. Providence had per- Justin selt sure he could fulfil that duty. He mitted the half-childish father to enclose the had never failed yet at the call of principle papers in the wrong covers. Thus he had and honour. Let his younger brother come died more happily; like an over-indulged home a penitent prodigal, and he should have child who falls asleep with some dangerous his father's lands, none the poorer for Justin's tool in his hands, which is gently drawn away stewardship. He lifted up his bowed head as the nerveless fingers lose their hold. There and strode along more freely as he registered was no harm done. Power would be a dan- this vow. This was the right thing to do. gerous weapon in Richard's hands; in his Light was breaking on his path and making it it would be an instrument of blessing to all clear to him. He would keep the whole matter

« PreviousContinue »