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A LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "MOAT GRANGE."
I. THE rejoicings at the christening of an heir to the goodly estate of the Rock were beginning to die away in neighbouring ears. The bonfires were burnt out, the ashes of the fireworks scattered to the far winds, the tenants and labourers had digested the dinner and the drink, and things had quietly settled down again. Such rejoicings ! both in-doors and out : and all because a poor little infant had come into this world of trouble.
Legally speaking, he was not born the heir; for the estate was not entailed, and Mr. Canterbury, its owner, could bequeath it to whom he would. Little danger, though, that he would leave it away from this child of his old age : no urchin, playing at soldiers in a sword and feather bought at the fair, was ever half so vain-glorious as was Mr. Canterbury over this new baby.
His wife, the first Mrs. Canterbury, had died in earlier days : and his daughters, four, and his son had grown up around him. One of the daughters married and left the Rock; the son died; and later, to the infinite astonishment of the whole vicinity, Mr. Canterbury took it into his head to marry a youthful wife, a lovely girl of eighteen. She cared for him just as much as lovely young wives do care for old husbands, but she had not been proof against the temptations of the Rock, and the settlement he offered for her : and had she wished to be proof against them, her mother would not have allowed her to be. Mr. Canterbury took her to his home, and she commenced and continued her sway in it in a manner that speedily drove the Miss Canterburys out of it. They took refuge in a house on the estate, and Mr. Canterbury, doting on his young wife and blind to her faults, was pleased that they should so be driven, and agreed to allow them fifteen hundred a year. They had the sympathy of the neighbourhood with them : and they would have had it had their wrongs been less, for no ladies were more greatly respected and liked than the Miss Canterburys.
About the time of Mr. Canterbury's marriage, a new rector had been appointed to the village living: the Honourable and Reverend Austin Rufort. He was a man of some five-and-thirty years, good-looking, pleasant, companionable, and an attachment had sprung up between him and Jane Canterbury. His father, Lord Rufort, had not objected to the match, though he told his son he might have done better, in point of family: Austin laughed ; his reverence for rank was not so extreme as his father's.
It was a fine night in October. The rejoicings, we say, which had kept the place alive, had died away, and Mr. Rufort was spending the evening with the Miss Canterburys. They had drawn away from the lights to collect round the large French window of the drawing-room, which opened to the ground, and admire the beauty of the night, so
a cloth cap,
calm and still in the clear moonlight. It was time for Mr. Rufort to be leaving.
“I will go out this way, as I am here," he observed, opening the half of the window, when he had shaken hands with them.
“But your hat,” said Miss Canterbury. “Ring, Millicent.” “Do not ring; I have it here,” he interposed, taking from his pocket doubled пр
“ There,” said he, exhi. biting it on his hand for their inspection, “what do you think of it? I call it my
If I am fetched out at night, I put on this, tie its ears over my ears, and so defy wind and rain.”
“ You had no wind or rain to-night,” said Millicent, the youngest of the sisters.
“No. But in coming out I could not find my hat. It is a failing of mine, that of losing my things in all corners of the house : I sadly want somebody to keep me in order,” he added, looking at Jane.
« Well, good night, Jane, you may as well come and open the gate for me."
Jane glanced at Olive, as she would have glanced to a mother. Miss Canterbury had been regarded by the others almost in the light of one. Mr. Rufort held the glass door wide for her, and she stepped on to the gravel path: he then closed the window, and held out his arm. Jane finished tying her pocket handkerchief round her throat, and took it. He walked bare-headed.
“Put on your cap, Austin.”
“ Cold, Jane ! A clergyman is not fit for his work if he cannot stand for an hour with his head uncovered in bad weather-and to-night is fine. If you saw the model of a guy this elegant cap makes of me and my beauty, you might take it in your head not to have me.”
Jane smiled; her own quiet, confiding smile; and Mr. Rufort looked at her, and drew her arm closer against his side.
“Jane, I had a selfish motive in bringing you out with me. It was to tell you
that the rectory wants a mistress, and the parish wants a mistress, and I want one. We cannot get along without.”
“Your predecessor had no-” wife, Jane was going to say, but stopped herself ere the word fell. “The rectory and the parish had no mistress in his time,” she resumed, framing her answer more to her satisfaction, “and he got along, Austin."
“ After a fashion. A miserable fashion it must have been. That's one cause why they have tumbled into their present state.
I don't mean to let them be without one long.". “ Here we are at the gate," said Jane. “ And now I must
back, or Olive will be calling to me. She is watching me from the window, I am sure, to see that I don't linger.”'
“Not she. She knows you are safe with me.”
“ You take cold—I declare I forgot that. I beg your pardon for my thoughtlessness, Jane. Well, then, I will not keep you now, but I shall have my say out to-morrow.”
He threw his arm round her waist with a quick movement, and drew her behind the shrubbery which skirted the gate, so that they were
beyond the view of the house. “Jane, my darling," he murmured, as he imprinted kiss after kiss upon her unresisting face, “I must have you before Christmas. Think it over.” As
you will,” she softly answered. “Oh my gracious!" groans somebody, “what, a clergyman!” As if clergymen were different from other people !
His kisses came to an end; he released Jane; and, opening the gate, swung through it, and took the path which led to the rectory. Jane stood a moment to watch him : she saw him put on his “ guy of a cap;" she saw him turn and nod to her in the moonlight : and she clasped her hands together with a movement of happy thankfulness, thinking how very much she loved him. Olive tapped at the window, and Jane
The following afternoon, all three of the young ladies were returning home from the village. In crossing the Rock-field, as it was called, they saw Mr. Rufort advancing towards them.
“How serious he looks!” suddenly exclaimed Millicent. “He has been vexed with some parish business or other," surmised Olive. “ Though it must be more than a trifle to affect Mr. Rufort. I must say, Jane, you will have a good-tempered husband; if he has no other praisable quality.”
“I think he has a great many others,” returned Jane, in her quiet way: and Olive laughed.
Mr. Rufort came up. After a minute spent in greeting, he touched Jane, and caused her to slacken her pace. Miss Canterbury and Millicent walked on.
“Jane," said he, when the distance between them had increased, “what is this barrier that has come, or is coming, between us?"
Jane Canterbury looked at him : his face was pale and agitated. She was overcome with surprise. “I do not know what you are speaking of, Austin," she said, at length.
“My father rode over to-day, and told me, without any preparation or circumlocution, that things were to be at an end between us. And when I asked him what he meant, and wherefore it was to be, he said I might ask that of Mr. Canterbury. Have heard anything ?”
“Nothing," said Jane" nothing." And her look of consternation too plainly indicated that she had not. “ But did Lord Rufort give you no further explanation ?"
“I could get nothing else from him. He was in that inaccessible humour of his, which is a sure indication that something has gone wrong. He did not get off his horse. Mrs. Kage, who in passing had stepped inside the gate to look at my autumn flowers, was with me in the garden when he rode up. He made a sign to me with his whip, and I went out: the groom had drawn up close behind, and my father, seeing this, said, Ride on, sir;' and of course Richard rode on. I knew, by the sharp tone, all was not serene; and then he told me what I have said to you, just in so many words.”
Jane's heart was beating. “ What was it he said about my father?”
" I asked an explanation : he seemed too angry, or too—if I the word—too lofty to give it; and said I might inquire that of Mr. Canterbury. Or of the neighbourhood either, for it is no secret,' he
added, as he rode off, barely lifting his hat to Mrs. Kage, who had come to the gate."
“Papa was with us this morning,” observed Jane : "he was just the same as usual, and invited us to dine at the Rock to-morrow I expect you
will also receive an invitation. He did not hint at anything amiss : indeed, he was joking with me, and asked when I meant to take up my residence at the rectory. Do you think there could have been any mistake—any misapprehension on Lord Rufort's part ?”
“Misapprehension of what ?" debated he, standing still in his perplexity and detaining Jane ; " the question is, what is there to misapprehend? Whatsoever it may be, Jane,” he continued, laying his hand
upon her arm and gazing into her eyes, “we are neither of us children: and though it would probably be against the feeling and principles of either, to fly in the face of parental authority and marry without it, to separate us for ever is more than even a father would be justified in. Therefore, though a storm may be bursting over us, we will wait with patience till it is weathered, implicitly trusting in each other. Do you understand me, my
dearest ?” “Yes,” she sighed: "and I think you are right, Austin. I know you would not wilfully lead me wrong. I promise to be guided by you."
He snatched her hand and clasped it : they were in the open field, or he might have snatched something else. " Then we are secure in each other's truth,” he said; "whatsoever may happen, you are still mine : remember that, Jane."
Olive and Millicent had stopped and were looking back. Olive thought they both seemed agitated, and she wondered : the easy-mannered minister, and the sensible, tranquil Jane. “ Walk on, Millicent, and wait for me at the stile,” she said, for she considered Millicent in the light of a child; Millicent being one-and-twenty; Olive some years past thirty ; and turned back herself to where they were standing.
“ Is anything the matter, Mr. Rufort ?"
6 Of course," he answered ; and forthwith he told her. Olive was amazed, but she was rather inclined to be “ lofty" over it—as Mr. Rufort had expressed it, as to his father. Not lofty with Mr. Rufort, but at mistakes and misapprehensions in general; for she looked at it in the light that Jane had done. “ What can be amiss, sufficient to cause your separation ?" she argued. “It can have nothing to do with either of you personally, whatever it may be.”
"The most extraordinary part, as it appears to me, is, that my father should have said it was no secret to the neighbourhood," remarked Mr. Rufort.
“Yes, that does sound curious," assented Olive.
“ The most feasible construction that I can put upon it is, that his lordship and Mr. Canterbury must have had a quarrel,” he continued : “though how he can construe that into a reason for my giving up Jane, I cannot conceive. My father is not an unjust man.”
Olive answered quickly. “I feel thoroughly sure that when we saw papa this morning, he had had no quarrel whatever with Lord Rufort, and I feel almost as sure that they have not met since. Papa left us before one o'clock to go home to an early luncheon, for he and Mrs.
Canterbury were going afterwards to pay visits. And we saw the carriage drive by with them.”
“ They cannot have met Lord Rufort, and-and-had any disagreement then?” hesitated Jane.
“ Nonsense, Jane,” returned Olive: “ they would not dispute in the presence of Mrs. Canterbury. There's Leta, talking over the stile to Mr. Carlton.”
“Discussing people's private affairs," rejoined Mr. Rufort," for Carlton hears all the gossip, and can keep nothing in. But I must leave you for the present, Miss Canterbury; I shall see you to-night. Good-by, Jane."
He struck across the field, and the young ladies walked on. Presently they saw Millicent run towards them, evidently in excitement. She was breathless when she came up.
“What is it, Leta ?” asked Miss Canterbury.
“Oh, Olive," was the reply of Leta—a fond name for Millicent—"I don't fully understand what it is. It is something about papa."
“ That Mr. Carlton has been telling you?" quickly rejoined Olive.
“ He was going along in his pony-gig just as I got to the stile, and he left it and came and spoke to me. "My dear,' he began, tell your sisters that I have refused to act, for I never will have a hand in robbing them of their money.' “Go on,” somewhat impatiently cried Olive, when Millicent stopped.
Robbing us of our money, Mr. Carlton ? I asked. "To give your money to others and turn you out penniless, is no better than a robbery,' he went on, as if he did not hear me: “therefore I have told my old friend Canterbury that he must get somebody else to help him in his injustice, for I won't. Tell your sisters this, my dear : and tell them that if they should be deprived of their rights, they shall come to the Hall and be my daughters.'
“ Was this all ?” asked Olive.
“All. He had to run back to the pony, which would not stand, and I came to you. What can it mean, Olive? Does papa wish to take our income from us, and turn us out of this house, as he did out of our own ?”
“No," answered Olive, throwing back her neck-it was a way of hers when she felt indignant—"papa will not go to those lengths, I think. It is a preposterous story altogether, and some busy inventor must have set it at work. Poor Mr. Carlton swallows everything, true or false. Why, Millicent, you
could have contradicted it on the spot : was not papa with us this morning, kind as ever ?”
“This is what has reached the ears of Lord Rufort, then,” remarked Jane.
“No doubt. Lord Rufort is known to be a gold worshipper, and Austin's living is small. How can so improbable a tale have arisen ?”
They had been walking rapidly towards the stile : on getting over it, there was Mr. Carlton still
, standing by his pony-gig, at a little distance down the road. Something was amiss with the harness, and he was setting it to rights. Olive made haste to him.
“Mr. Carlton, where did you pick up that sublime information ?” “What ?” asked he, busy with his straps and buckles.
“ That we are to be consigned to the Union to-morrow, and our house and furniture let to the highest bidder, plate included ?”