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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHow It All Came Round - Chapter 33. The Reading Of The Will
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How It All Came Round - Chapter 33. The Reading Of The Will Post by :chensf Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3555

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How It All Came Round - Chapter 33. The Reading Of The Will

CHAPTER XXXIII. THE READING OF THE WILL

Charlotte's depression did not remain with her all through the day. She was a healthy creature, healthy both in body and mind. It was impossible for her, with the bright spring sun shining, and with her wedding-day but one week absent, not to turn again to hope. She saw that she had vexed Hinton. She still felt that queer and uncomfortable desire to be at Somerset House, just at the very hour when her lover had pleaded for her society. But she reflected that when she told him the story, when she proudly cleared her father in his eyes, he would most abundantly forgive her.

"He hates secrets," she said to herself; "and it is the last, the very last, little, tiny secret I shall ever have from my darling."

By this it will be seen that she had ceased to fear her grandfather's will. She had ordered the carriage immediately after lunch, and now asked the coachman to drive to the Strand. As she lay back at her ease she reflected how soon now her anxiety would be over.

"Dear father," she whispered to her heart, "how extra loving and tender I must be to him to-night! I believe him now--fully and absolutely believe him now. I am only doing this for John's sake."

When she reached the Strand she desired the coachman to stop. She would not have him drive to Somerset House. Her secret was a secret, even the old coachman, who had known her from her birth, must not guess it. She told him that she had some business to transact, but that he might meet her at a certain part of the Embankment in an hour.

The carriage rolled out of sight. Now she was alone. She was not accustomed to walking the London streets by herself. Certainly she had never been in the Strand before alone. She had dressed herself with studied plainness, and now, with her veil drawn tightly over her face, she hurried on. She had consulted the map, and knew exactly where Somerset House was. She also had obtained a little, a very little information as to how she was to act for the pursuit of her purpose, from a young barrister who had visited at her home with Hinton some few weeks before. She considered that she had gained her knowledge with considerable skill; and now, with a beating heart, she proceeded to act on it. She turned into the great square which Somerset House encloses, found the particular building where wills are kept, and entered. She was now in a large room, or entrance-hall. There were many desks about, and some clerks, who did not seem particularly busy. Charlotte went up to one of the desks, a clerk lent an attentive ear, she told her errand.

"Ah! you want to read a will," said the gentleman. "You must first produce the proper stamp. Yes, yes, you can certainly see any will you desire. Just go through that door to your right, walk down the passage; you will see a door with such a direction written on it; ask for a search stamp. It will cost you a shilling. Bring it back to me."

Charlotte did as she was desired. The clerk she had appealed to, attracted by her appearance and manner, was willing to be both helpful and polite.

"Whose will do you want, madam?"

"I want my grandfather's will. His name was Harman."

"What year did he die?"

"Twenty-three years ago."

"Ah! just so. This is 1880. So he died in the year 1857. Do you see those catalogues to your left? Go up to those marked 1857. Look under letter H, until you find Harman. Bring the book open at that name to me."

Charlotte was clever at carrying out her instructions. She quickly returned with the book opened at the desired name. The clerk wrote Mr. Harman's name and a number of a folio on a small piece of blue paper. This he gave to Charlotte.

"Take this piece of paper to room number 31, along the passage," he said. "You will have the will very soon now."

She bowed, thanked him, and went away. At room 31 she was desired to wait in the reading-room. She found it without difficulty. It was a small room, with a long table in the middle, and benches round it. At one end sat a clerk at a desk. Charlotte seated herself at the table. There were other people about, some reading wills, some others waiting like herself. She happened just then to be the only woman in the room. She drew up her veil, pressed her hand to her pale face, and waited with what patience she could. She was too much excited to notice how she was looked at and her appearance commented upon. Sitting there and waiting with what courage she could muster, her fear returned. What stealthy thing was this she was doing in the dark? What march was she stealing on her father, her beloved and honored father? Suddenly it appeared to her that she had done wrong. That it would be better, more dignified, more noble, to ask from his own lips the simple truth, than to learn it by such underhand means as these. She half rose to go away; but at this moment a clerk entered, gave a piece of folded paper to the man at the desk, who read aloud the one word,--

"Harman."

Charlotte felt herself turning deadly white as she stood up to receive it. But when she really held her grandfather's will in her hand all desire not to read it had left her. She opened the folio with her shaking fingers, and began to read as steadily as she could. Her eyes had scarcely, however, turned over the page, and most certainly her mind had failed to grasp the meaning of a single word, before, for some unaccountable reason, she raised her head. A large man had come in and had seated himself opposite to her. He was a man on an immense scale, with a rough, red, kind face, and the longest, most brilliantly colored beard Charlotte had ever seen. His round, bright blue eyes were fixed earnestly on the young lady. She returned his glance, in her own peculiar full and open way, then returned to her interrupted task. Ah! what a task it was after all. Hard to understand, how difficult to follow! Charlotte, unused to all law phraseology, failed to grasp the meaning of what she read. She knit her pretty brows, and went over each passage many times. She was looking for certain names, and she saw no mention of them. Her heart began to leap with renewed joy and hope. Ah! surely, surely her grandfather had been unjust, and her own beloved father was innocent. Mrs. Home's story was but a myth. She had read for such a long, long time, and there was no mention of her or of her mother. Surely if her grandfather meant to leave them money he would have spoken of it before now. She had just turned another page, and was reading on with a light heart, when the clerk again entered. Charlotte raised her head, she could not tell why. The clerk said something to the clerk at the desk, who, turning to the tall foreign-looking man said,--

"The will of the name of Harman is being read just now by some one in the room."

"I will wait then," answered the man in his deep voice.

Charlotte felt herself turning first crimson, then pale. She saw that the man observed her. A sudden sense of fright and of almost terror oppressed her. Her sweet and gracious calm completely deserted her. Her fingers trembled so that she could scarcely turn the page. She did not know what she feared. A nightmare seemed pressing on her. She felt that she could never grasp the meaning of the will. Her eyes travelled farther down the page. Suddenly her finger stopped; her brain grew clear, her heart beat steadily. This was what she read,--

"I will and bequeath all the residue of my real and personal estate and effects to the said John Harman, Jasper Harman, and Alexander Wilson, in trust to sell and realize the same, and out of the proceeds thereof to invest such a sum in public stocks or funds, or other authorized securities, as will produce an annual income of L1,200 a year, and to hold the investment of the said sum in trust to pay the income thereof to my dear wife for her life: and after her decease to hold the said investment in trust for my daughter Charlotte to her sole and separate use, independently of any husband with whom she may intermarry."

Charlotte Harman was not the kind of woman who faints. But there is a heart faintness when the muscles remain unmoved, and the eyes are still bright. At that moment her youth died absolutely. But though she felt its death pang, not a movement of her proud face betrayed her. She saw, without looking at him, that the red-faced man was watching her. She forced herself to raise her eyes, and saying simply, "This is Mr. Harman's will," handed it to him across the table. He took it, and began to devour the contents with quick and practised eyes. What she had taken so long to discover he took it in at a glance. She heard him utter a a smothered exclamation of pain and horror. She felt not the least amazement or curiosity. All emotion seemed dead in her. She drew on her gloves deliberately, pulled down her veil, and left the room. That dead, dead youth she was dragging away with her had made her feel so cold and numb that she never noticed that the red faced man had hastily folded up the will, had returned it to the clerk at the desk, and was following her. She went through the entrance hall, glancing neither to the left or right. The man came near. When they both got into the square he came to her side, raised his hat and spoke.

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