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"Well, if he ain't a grand sight, I never saw one. Why, his head's a stretching all down, past here, and his tail's not out of the lodge gates
The speaker was a country-woman, standing inside
the partially opened door of one of a row of cottages, and peeping out. The doors of all were similarly being peeped through, though the shutters to the windows were closed, and the women and children, who were thus gazing, exhibited signs of having quitted their various household occupations, to look at the passing sight.
The intelligent reader may imagine, by the woman's remark, that some indescribable animal of fabulous length was looming by; but it was nothing of the sort: for the “head” was represented by two solemn mutes, gorgeously apparelled in the blackest of black, and the tail ” by a couple of undertaker's men, equally orthodox to look at; the middle comprised all the paraphernalia of a most extravagant funeral; coaches, horses, plumes, velvets, fringe, bâtons, attendants, carriers, mourners, ribbons, crape, white handkerchiefs, and pomp and vanity.
“I wonder what he cost now !" continued the woman, in the vernacular of the locality, which did not pay particular regard to genders: “he'll be a sight to remember, he will; and to tell our children on, when we grows old."
“Ah, she have done the thing handsome, she have; she haven't spared no money,” replied the matron at the contiguous door, to whom the observations had been made.
“No more she oughtn't to spare it,” retorted the first, in an indignant tone: “ain't it the last money he'll cost her ?”
“ Except the moniment over his grave in the church. I dare say they'll put him up a brave one, from the flagstones to the roof. But, I say, what was up, as it were put off from yesterday till to-day? It were to have been yesterday.”
“Some relation of madam's, as were to come from Lunnon for it, and he couldn't get here afore to-day.”
“Hush !" whispered the other. 66 Who's this ?"
A gentlemanly-looking man, betraying somewhat of a military air, had been walking up the road, and halted close to the women, to gaze at the passing procession. He was a stranger.
“Whose funeral is that?" he inquired of one of them.
“ Mr. Canterbury's, sir," both replied at once. “Mr. Canterbury's, of the Rock."
"A magnificent funeral. He must have been a man of some note.”
“ The richest gentleman for miles round, sir,” answered the woman whose tongue was the loudest. “ He were our landlord.”
"Ah," returned the stranger, glancing down the row of cottages, " that explains why you are all shut up."
“ There's not a house on the estate, sir, poor or rich, but what's shut close to-day. He has been took off sudden, like, at last ; and not to say an old man neither: three weeks he were ill.”
“Does he leave a family ?” “ He leaves a
wife and a child. His second wife, she were, and quite a baby, by the side of him. His own daughters, sir, was years older than she were.”
“ And it's she and her child as gets all his big fortune,” interrupted the other woman, jealous that the first should have the best of the talking. “The Miss Canterburys have been nobody with their father since he brought home his young wife, and they had to leave the Rock and live away. Good ladies they be."
“Are there many daughters ?” asked the stranger, who appeared to listen with interest.
“ Four, sir: two married, and two-There, sir, look, look! In that shiny black coach-and-six, what's a passing now, there's a gentleman a sitting forrard; you can see him well, through the glass.”
“What of him?" inquired the listener, wondering at the sudden abruptness of the woman.
“Why, sir, he's the husband of one of the young ladies, that's why I showed him to you. It's Mr. Rufort, Lord Rufort's son, and he married Miss Jane. He's our rector, but another gentleman is to bury Mr. Canterbury, and Mr. Rufort goes as a mourner. There! in that next shiny coach, that old gentleman with grey hair, a sitting bolt upright, that's Lord Rufort. It's just the way he sits his horse, and never bends his head one way nor t’other. The young ladies have not been friendly at the Rock of late, but they have went up since their father's illness, all but Mrs. Rufort, and she was ill and couldn't leave the rectory. Mrs. Kage went up too, she did; and she's stopped there."
" Who is Mrs. Kage?"
“She's young Mrs. Canterbury's mother, sir. Her father was a lord too, and she ran away from home, when she was a girl, to marry Captain Kage, and it's said the old lord never forgave her. He's never left her no money, that's certain, and they was as poor as anybody till Miss Kage picked up Mr. Canterbury. It's known her mother put her on to the match."
“A match worth 'putting her on,' by all account,” remarked the gentleman, as he turned away.
The procession moved on to the church ; and when the poor worthless body, it had escorted, was consigned to its kindred dust, the procession moved back again. A very few only of the immediate connexions of the deceased entered the Rock; the rest left the mourning coaches for their private carriages, and were driven off to their respective homes.
Those who entered the Rock were three, and Mr. Norris, the family solicitor, made four. Mr. Carlton, of the Hall, who was no relative; the Honourable and Reverend Austin Rufort, son-in-law to the deceased; and Thomas Kage, a distant relative of Mrs. Canterbury's. All these were marshalled by Mr. Norris into the room where the family had assembled : Mrs. Canterbury and her mother; and the two Miss Canterburys, who had gone to the Rock that morning. Mrs. Canterbury young and lovely in her widow's cap and her heavy black robes, sat with her boy on her knee : she had taken a whim to have him brought to her.
Mr. Norris proceeded to read the will. Its provisions were known beforehand, and had been the talk of the neighbourhood for their injustice : nearly the whole of the property, some eight or ten thousand a year, was bequeathed to Mrs. Canterbury and her child, to the exclusion of Mr. Canterbury's daughters by his first wife.
« And I appoint Thomas Kage sole executor.”
This last sentence, read with emphasis by Mr. Norris, was heard with surprise by several in the room, and with the most intense surprise by Thomas Kage himself. He was a little man, with a pleasant, truthful countenance, and bright dark eyes. He looked up in unfeigned amazement, and the colour came flushing into his face. Mr. Norris ceased reading, and silence fell on the room.
“Would any one present wish to look at the will ?” Mr. Norris inquired, holding it out.
“Oh dear no," murmured Mrs. Kage, in her simpering, affected voice, as she fanned herself with a great black fan, and sprinkled some essence on the floor.
* You can put it up, Mr. Norris.” Perhaps the lawyer deemed that the Honourable Mrs. Kage did not represent the interests of the whole company, for he held it out still, and glanced at Mr. Rufort. But Mr. Rufort answered by a bow of denial.
“ There is no more to be seen than you have read, Norris, and our seeing it would not alter it,” observed the plain-speaking Mr. Carlton. “My dears,” he added, walking up to the two Miss Canterburys, “is it your
wish to look at it?” “ To what end?—as you observe,” replied Miss Canterbury. “ No.”
Mr. Rufort rose, as if to leave. Mrs. Kage, who assumed a great deal of authority at the Rock, though cloaked under a display of ridiculous inertness, addressed him.
“My dear Mr. Rufort, you are not going! We expect you to remain to dinner.”
“ Thank you. Mrs. Rufort's indisposition prevents me. Olive, shall I take charge of you and Millicent ?” he continued in a low tone to Miss Canterbury.
Miss Canterbury's reply was to rise and put her arm within his. “We will also wish you good day, Mrs. Canterbury."
“Dear me, how very unsocial!" broke in Mrs. Kage, as she had recourse to her smelling-salts. “We thought you would all have stayed with us, dearest Miss Canterbury.”
“Olive,” interrupted Mrs. Canterbury, in a half hesitating voice, “we shall be bappy if you will remain. Do not bear malice.”
“Malice !" returned Miss Canterbury, and her tone was certainly free from it, we do not bear any: you are mistaken if you
Today is not a day for the indulgence of malice, Mrs. Canterbury.”
* At least say farewell in cordiality.”
Mrs. Canterbury put out her hand, and Olive took it. Olive then stooped and kissed the child, her young half-brother, a gentle little fellow two years old. Whatever undue influence had been at work, to give him the fortune, part of which ought to have been hers and her sisters', it was no doing of the child's, and Olive Canterbury was too just to visit ill-feeling upon him. Millicent also kissed him, and followed her sister and Mr. Rufort from the room. “And now I'll go,” cried Mr. Carlton, "and I wish you good day,
ladies. And I wish you luck over your office, sir,” he added, in a marked manner to Mr. Kage : “it is one I scorned to undertake. Good day, Norris."
Mr. Norris had been folding up the will, and now laid it on the table. “Sir,” said he to Mr. Kage, “any information or assistance that you may require, I shall be ready to afford. The first step must be to prove the will. But you are in a higher grade of the legal profession than I, and I need not offer superfluous suggestions,” he concluded, remembering that Mr. Kage was a barrister.
“What a mercy that the scene has gone off so tranquilly," sighed Mrs. Kage, when, on the departure of the lawyer, she was left alone with her daughter and their cousin. “I expected, I don't know what, from the Canterbury women and that meddling Mr. Carlton. The presumption of his coming in to hear the will read! Had I been in your place, my dear, I should mildly have requested his withdrawal.”
“Oh, what did it signify, mamma, whether he was present or not? I expect Olive Canterbury had sanctioned it.”
“Darling child, how petulantly you speak!"
“ Because I feel petulant,” returned Mrs. Canterbury, who had truly spoken in a most fretful tone.
Mrs. Kage heaved another resigned sigh. Some persons might think she had not much cause for sighing, since she had just inherited to the tune of ten thousand pounds, just double what was left to the Miss Canterburys. “I feel inclined to retire and compose myself for an hour. These gloomy epochs in daily life try one's nerves distressingly : it is a mercy they don't come often. Of all ceremonies, funerals are the worst for delicate susceptibilities, and a will-reading-Thomas, you see, now, why I despatched a second and more urgent summons to you,” Mrs. Kage broke off her fanning and her sentence to say. “I am sure you will look well after my dear child's interests.”
She stepped, mincing, from the room. Mrs. Canterbury looked hard at her cousin: was it his marked expression of severity, cast towards her, which had caused her to "feel petulant ?" “ Thomas, you are angry with me.
What is the matter ?" « Whose business was it to make me executor to this will ?” he uttered.
“ Mr. Canterbury was, I think, the first to propose it, and I and mamma gladly acquiesced : there is no one I could like for it half so
“ You ought to have assured yourself first whether I was willing to act."
“Would you have refused ?” she quickly said. “Yes. As others had already done."
“ Others had not,” she returned. “Only one had refused; Mr. Carlton. My husband asked no one else.”
- I wish he had asked me. I feel this as a blow ; I really do." “ You had better decline to act now,” she resentfully rejoined.
“ Such was my decision when the announcement came from the lawyer's lips. I will not act; I will proclaim publicly that I will have nothing to do with it,' were the thoughts that rose within me.”
“ You do not care what becomes of me or my interests.”
well as you."
“ I am anxious for your best interests, Caroline : and, if I do consent to act, it will be at a cost that I would not encounter for any one else."
66 What cost ?” she exclaimed.
“The periling of my good name, and the coupling it with reproach and injustice. This is a will that must have censures cast upon it far and wide ; what has hitherto been a mark for private scandal in its confined locality, henceforth becomes public, and the world will vie in hurling scorn at it."
“We know what the world's scorn is worth,” she slightingly interrupted.
“ Ay, Caroline ; but I spoke of the scorn of good men. I, cousin and the sole executor of the will, cannot hope to escape : complicity is the least dark reproach that will be thrown at me. It has already begun : when Miss Canterbury and her sister bowed to me on quitting the room, and when Mr. Carlton followed with his marked words, I felt like a guilty accomplice, conscious that I was so appearing to them.”
“ I remember, a long while ago, you took their parts !"
“Yes,” he vehemently interrupted, and the conversation I then held with you ought to have prevented my being thus drawn in. Caroline, I said all to you then, that I thought I was justified in saying: I besought you not to suffer so unjust a will to stand ; not to deprive Mr. Canterbury's daughters of their rights. Were the case mine, I would cut off my right hand, before it should so grasp the property of others.”
Mrs. Canterbury let fall some tears. “My husband was a kind husband to me, and I will not hear this reproach cast upon his
memory." "I cast reproach to you, not to Mr. Canterbury. He is gone. And were he not, were he sitting by your side, there, now, I would honestly aver before him that to you reproach was due, rather than to him. He was blindly fond of you, as the old are apt to be-excuse my plainness, Caroline, but this is no moment for mincing matters. Fond of you, indulgent to you, your husband would have listened to your slightest suggestion. You had only to say, “Leave me and the boy less, and do justice to your daughters, and he would have done it. I am convinced of this : Mr. Canterbury was not by nature an unjust man.”
Mrs. Canterbury wept in silence : though she had never loved her husband, she felt natural grief at his death; and in this moment she was feeling it very much, and it was mixed up with a little self-reproach and a great deal of vexation.
“ Just tell me one thing,” she sobbed forth, as she drew her quiet little boy closer to her, “is this a fit theme for the very day that my husband is put into his grave ?”
“Perhaps it is not,” he returned, “ but the conversation arose with circumstances ; neither of us entered upon it with premeditation. We will resume it to-morrow, Caroline; and by that time I shall have reflected whether or not I will act."
“No,” dissented Mrs. Canterbury: "if you choose to take till tomorrow to decide whether you will perform the part of a friend to me and this fatherless babe, you must do so, but if you
have more to say on this point, say it now, for not another word will I listen to again.”