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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bertrams - Volume 3 - Chapter 15. The Will
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The Bertrams - Volume 3 - Chapter 15. The Will Post by :gurumakio Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :3648

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The Bertrams - Volume 3 - Chapter 15. The Will

VOLUME III CHAPTER XV. THE WILL

The only attendants at old Mr. Bertram's funeral were his nephew, Mr. Pritchett, and the Hadley doctor. The other gentlemen were to be present only at the more interesting ceremony of reading the will. Sir Lionel had written to say that he was rather unwell; that he certainly would come up from Littlebath so as to be present at the latter performance; but that the very precarious state of his health, and the very inconvenient hours of the trains, unhappily prevented him from paying the other last sad duty to his brother's remains. Sir Henry Harcourt had plainly demanded at what hour the will would be read; and Mr. Stickatit, junior--Mr. George Stickatit--of the firm of Dry and Stickatit, had promised to be at Hadley punctually at two P.M. And he kept his word.

Mr. Pritchett came down by an early train, and, as was fit on such an occasion, was more melancholy than usual. He was very melancholy and very sad, for he felt that that half-million of money was in a great jeopardy; and, perhaps, even the death of his old friend of forty years' standing may have had some effect on him. It was a mingled feeling that pervaded him. "Oh, Mr. George!" he said, just before they went to the churchyard, "we are grass of the field, just grass of the field; here to-day, and gone to-morrow; flourishing in the morning, and cast into the oven before night! It behoves such frail, impotent creatures to look close after their interests--half a million of money! I'm afraid you didn't think enough about it, Mr. George."

And then the Hadley bells were rung again; but they were not rung loudly. It seemed to Bertram that no one noticed that anything more than usually sad was going on. He could hardly realise it to himself that he was going to put under the ground almost his nearest relative. The bells rang out a dirge, but they did it hardly above their breath. There were but three boys gathered at the little gate before the door to see the body of the rich man carried to his last home. George stood with his back to the empty dining-room fireplace: on one side stood Mr. Pritchett, and on the other the Barnet doctor. Very few words passed between them, but they were not in their nature peculiarly lugubrious. And then there was a scuffling heard on the stairs--a subdued, decent undertaker's scuffling--as some hour or two before had been heard the muffled click of a hammer. Feet scuffled down the stairs, outside the dining-room door, and along the passage. And then the door was opened, and in low, decent undertaker's voice, red-nosed, sombre, well-fed Mr. Mortmain told them that they were ready.

"These are yours, sir," and he handed a pair of black gloves to George. "And these are yours, sir," and he gave another pair to the doctor. But the doctor held them instead of putting them on; otherwise Mr. Mortmain could not be expected to change them after the ceremony for a pair of lighter colour. They understood each other; and what could a country doctor do with twenty or thirty pairs of black gloves a year? "And these yours, Mr. Pritchett."

"Oh, Mr. George!" sighed Pritchett. "To think it should come to this! But he was a good gentleman; and very successful--very successful."

There were not ten people in the church or in the churchyard during the whole time of the funeral. To think that a man with half a million of money could die and be got rid of with so little parade! What money could do--in a moderate way--was done. The coffin was as heavy as lead could make it. The cloth of the best. The plate upon it was of silver, or looked like it. There was no room for an equipage of hearses and black coaches, the house was so unfortunately near to the churchyard. It was all done in a decent, sombre, useful, money-making way, as beseemed the remains of such a man.

But it was on 'Change that he was truly buried; in Capel Court that his funeral sermon was duly preached. These were the souls that knew him, the ears to which his name loomed large. He had been true and honest in all his dealings--there, at least. He had hurt nobody by word or deed--excepting in the way of trade. And had kept his hands from picking and stealing--from all picking, that is, not warranted by City usage, and from all stealing that the law regards as such. Therefore, there, on 'Change, they preached his funeral sermon loudly, and buried him with all due honours.

Two had been named for the reading of the will, seeing that a train arrived at 1.45 P.M. And, therefore, when the ceremony was over, George and Mr. Pritchett had to sit together in the dining-room till that time arrived. The doctor, who did not expect much from the will, had gone away, perhaps to prepare other friends for similar occupation. It was a tedious hour that they so passed, certainly; but at last it did make itself away. Lunch was brought in; and the sherry, which had been handed round with biscuits before the funeral, was again put on the table. Mr. Pritchett liked a glass of sherry, though it never seemed to have other effect on him than to make his sadness of a deeper dye. But at last, between this occupation and the muttering of a few scraps of a somewhat worldly morality, the hour did wear itself away, and the hand of the old clock pointed to two.

The three gentlemen had come down by the same train, and arrived in a fly together. Mr. George Stickatit, junior, paid for the accommodation; which was no more than right, for he could put it in the bill, and Sir Lionel could not. The mind of Sir Henry was too much intent on other things to enable him to think about the fly.

"Well, George," said Sir Lionel; "so it's all over at last. My poor brother! I wish I could have been with you at the funeral; but it was impossible. The ladies are not here?"--This he added in a whisper. He could not well talk about Lady Harcourt, and he was not at the present moment anxious to see Miss Baker.

"They are not here to-day," said George, as he pressed his father's hand. He did not think it necessary to explain that they were staying at good old Mrs. Jones's, on the other side of the Green.

"I should have been down for the funeral," said Mr. Stickatit; "but I have been kept going about the property, ever since the death, up to this moment, I may say. There's the document, gentlemen." And the will was laid on the table. "The personalty will be sworn under five. The real will be about two more. Well, Pritchett, and how are you this morning?"

Sir Henry said but little to anybody. Bertram put out his hand to him as he entered, and he just took it, muttering something; and then, having done so, he sat himself down at the table. His face was not pleasant to be seen; his manner was ungracious, nay, more than that, uncourteous--almost brutal; and it seemed as though he were prepared to declare himself the enemy of all who were there assembled. To Sir Lionel he was known, and it may be presumed that some words had passed between them in the fly; but there in the room he said no word to any one, but sat leaning back in an arm-chair, with his hands in his pockets, scowling at the table before him.

"A beautiful day, is it not, Mr. Pritchett?" said Sir Lionel, essaying to make things pleasant, after his fashion.

"A beautiful day--outwardly, Sir Lionel," sighed Mr. Pritchett. "But the occasion is not comfortable. We must all die, though; all of us, Mr. George."

"But we shall not all of us leave such a will as that behind us," said Mr. Stickatit. "Come, gentlemen, are we ready? Shall we sit down?"

George got a chair for his father, and put it down opposite to that of Sir Henry's. Mr. Pritchett humbly kept himself in one corner. The lawyer took the head of the table, and broke open the envelope which contained the will with a degree of gusto which showed that the occupation was not disagreeable to him. "Mr. Bertram," said he, "will you not take a chair?"

"Thank you, no; I'll stand here, if you please," said George. And so he kept his position with his back to the empty fireplace.

All of them, then, were somewhat afraid of having their disappointment read in their faces, and commented upon by the others. They were all of them schooling themselves to bear with an appearance of indifference the tidings which they dreaded to hear. All of them, that is, except the attorney. He hoped nothing, and feared nothing.

Mr. Pritchett nearly closed his eyes, and almost opened his mouth, and sat with his hands resting on his stomach before him, as though he were much too humble to have any hopes of his own.

Sir Lionel was all smiles. What did he care? Not he. If that boy of his should get anything, he, as an affectionate father, would, of course, be glad. If not, why then his dear boy could do without it. That was the intended interpretation of his look. And judging of it altogether, he did not do it badly; only he deceived nobody. On such occasions, one's face, which is made up for deceit, never does deceive any one. But, in truth, Sir Lionel still entertained a higher hope than any other of the listeners there. He did not certainly expect a legacy himself, but he did think that George might still be the heir. As Sir Henry was not to be, whose name was so likely? And, then, if his son, his dear son George, should be lord of two, nay, say only one, of those many hundred thousand pounds, what might not a fond father expect?

Sir Henry was all frowns; and yet he was not quite hopeless. The granddaughter, the only lineal descendant of the dead man, was still his wife. Anything left to her must in some sort be left to him, let it be tied up with ever so much care. It might still be probable that she might be named the heiress--perhaps the sole heiress. It might still be probable that the old man had made no new will since Caroline had left his home in Eaton Square. At any rate, there would still be a ground, on which to fight, within his reach, if Lady Harcourt should be in any way enriched under the will. And if so, no tenderness on his part should hinder him from fighting out that fight as long as he had an inch on which to stand.

Bertram neither hoped anything, nor feared anything, except this--that they would look at him as a disappointed man. He knew that he was to have nothing; and although, now that the moment had come, he felt that wealth might possibly have elated him, still the absence of it did not make him in any degree unhappy. But it did make him uncomfortable to think that he should be commiserated by Mr. Pritchett, sneered at by Harcourt, and taunted by his father.

"Well, gentlemen, are we ready?" said Mr. Stickatit again. They were all ready, and so Mr. Stickatit began.

I will not give an acute critic any opportunity for telling me that the will, as detailed by me, was all illegal. I have not by me the ipsissima verba; nor can I get them now, as I am very far from Doctors' Commons. So I will give no verbal details at all.

The will, moreover, was very long--no less than fifteen folios. And that amount, though it might not be amiss in a three-volume edition, would be inconvenient when the book comes to be published for eighteen-pence. But the gist of the will was as follows.

It was dated in the October last gone by, at the time when George was about to start for Egypt, and when Lady Harcourt had already left her husband. It stated that he, George Bertram, senior, of Hadley, being in full use of all his mental faculties, made this as his last will and testament. And then he willed and devised--

Firstly, that George Stickatit, junior, of the firm of Day and Stickatit, and George Bertram, junior, his nephew, should be his executors; and that a thousand pounds each should be given to them, provided they were pleased to act in that capacity.

When Sir Lionel heard that George was named as one of the executors, he looked up at his son triumphantly; but when the thousand pounds were named, his face became rather long, and less pleasant than usual. A man feels no need to leave a thousand pounds to an executor if he means to give him the bulk of his fortune.

Secondly, he left three hundred pounds a year for life to his dear, old, trusty servant, Samuel Pritchett. Mr. Pritchett put his handkerchief up to his face, and sobbed audibly. But he would sooner have had two or three thousand pounds; for he also had an ambition to leave money behind him.

Thirdly, he bequeathed five hundred pounds a year for life to Mary Baker, late of Littlebath, and now of Hadley; and the use of the house at Hadley if she chose to occupy it. Otherwise, the house was to be sold, and the proceeds were to go to his estate.

Sir Lionel, when he heard this, made a short calculation in his mind whether it would now be worth his while to marry Miss Baker; and he decided that it would not be worth his while.

Fourthly, he gave to his executors above-named a sum of four thousand pounds, to be invested by them in the Three per Cent. Consols, for the sole use and benefit of his granddaughter, Caroline Harcourt. And the will went on to say, that he did this, although he was aware that sufficient provision had already been made for his granddaughter, because he feared that untoward events might make it expedient that she should have some income exclusively her own.

Sir Henry, when this paragraph was read--this paragraph from which his own name was carefully excluded--dashed his fist down upon the table, so that the ink leaped up out of the inkstand that stood before the lawyer, and fell in sundry blots upon the document. But no one said anything. There was blotting-paper at hand, and Mr. Stickatit soon proceeded.

In its fifth proviso, the old man mentioned his nephew George. "I wish it to be understood," he said, "that I love my nephew, George Bertram, and appreciate his honour, honesty, and truth." Sir Lionel once more took heart of grace, and thought that it might still be all right. And George himself felt pleased; more pleased than he had thought it possible that he should have been at the reading of that will. "But," continued the will, "I am not minded, as he is himself aware, to put my money into his hands for his own purposes." It then went on to say, that a further sum of four thousand pounds was given to him as a token of affection.

Sir Lionel drew a long breath. After all, five thousand pounds was the whole sum total that was rescued out of the fire. What was five thousand pounds? How much could he expect to get from such a sum as that? Perhaps, after all, he had better take Miss Baker. But then her pittance was only for her life. How he did hate his departed brother at that moment!

Poor Pritchett wheezed and sighed again. "Ah!" said he to himself. "Half a million of money gone; clean gone! But he never would take my advice!"

But George felt now that he did not care who looked at him, who commiserated him. The will was all right. He did not at that moment wish it to be other than that the old man had made it. After all their quarrels, all their hot words and perverse thoughts towards each other, it was clear to him now that his uncle had, at any rate, appreciated him. He could hear the remainder of it quite unmoved.

There were some other legacies to various people in the City, none of them being considerable in amount. Five hundred pounds to one, one thousand pounds to another, fifty pounds to a third, and so on. And then came the body of the will--the very will indeed.

And so Mr. George Bertram willed, that after the payment of all his just debts, and of the legacies above recapitulated, his whole property should be given to his executors, and by them expended in building and endowing a college and alms-house, to be called "The Bertram College," for the education of the children of London fishmongers, and for the maintenance of the widows of such fishmongers as had died in want. Now Mr. Bertram had been a member of the Honourable Company of Fishmongers.

And that was the end of the will. And Mr. Stickatit, having completed the reading, folded it up, and put it back into the envelope. Sir Henry, the moment the reading was over, again dashed his fist upon the table. "As heir-at-law," said he, "I shall oppose that document."

"I think you'll find it all correct," said Mr. Stickatit, with a little smile.

"And I think otherwise, sir," said the late solicitor-general, in a voice that made them all start. "Very much otherwise. That document is not worth the paper on which it is written. And now, I warn you two, who have been named as executors, that such is the fact."

Sir Lionel began to consider whether it would be better for him that the will should be a will, or should not be a will. Till he had done so, he could not determine with which party he would side. If that were no will, there might be a previous one; and if so, Bertram might, according to that, be the heir. "It is a very singular document," said he; "very singular."

But Sir Henry wanted no allies--wanted no one in that room to side with him. Hostility to them all was his present desire; to them and to one other--that other one who had brought upon him all this misfortune; that wife of his bosom, who had betrayed his interests and shattered his hopes.

"I believe there is nothing further to detain us at the present moment," said Mr. Stickatit. "Mr. Bertram, perhaps you can allow me to speak to you somewhere for five minutes?"

"I shall act," said George.

"Oh, of course. That's of course," said Stickatit. "And I also."

"Stop one moment, gentlemen," shouted Harcourt again. "I hereby give you both warning that you have no power to act."

"Perhaps, sir," suggested Stickatit, "your lawyer will take any steps he may think necessary?"

"My lawyer, sir, will do as I bid him, and will require no suggestion from you. And now I have another matter to treat of. Mr. Bertram, where is Lady Harcourt?"

Bertram did not answer at once, but stood with his back still against the chimney-piece, thinking what answer he would give.

"Where, I say, is Lady Harcourt? Let us have no juggling, if you please. You will find that I am in earnest."

"I am not Lady Harcourt's keeper," said George, in a very low tone of voice.

"No, by G----! Nor shall you be. Where is she? If you do not answer my question, I shall have recourse to the police at once."

Sir Lionel, meaning to make things pleasant, now got up, and went over to his son. He did not know on what footing, with reference to each other, his son and Lady Harcourt now stood; but he did know that they had loved each other, and been betrothed for years; he did know, also, that she had left her husband, and that that husband and his son had been the closest friends. It was a great opportunity for him to make things pleasant. He had not the slightest scruple as to sacrificing that "dear Caroline" whom he had so loved as his future daughter-in-law.

"George," said he, "if you know where Lady Harcourt is, it will be better that you should tell Sir Henry. No properly-thinking man will countenance a wife in disobeying her husband."

"Father," said George, "Lady Harcourt is not in my custody. She is the judge of her own actions in this matter."

"Is she?" said Sir Henry. "She must learn to know that she is not; and that very shortly. Do you mean to tell me where she is?"

"I mean to tell you nothing about her, Sir Henry."

"George, you are wrong," said Sir Lionel. "If you know where Lady Harcourt is, you are bound to tell him. I really think you are."

"I am bound to tell him nothing, father; nor will I. I will have no conversation with him about his wife. It is his affair and hers--and that, perhaps, of a hundred other people; but it certainly is not mine. Nor will I make it so."

"Then you insist on concealing her?" said Sir Henry.

"I have nothing to do with her. I do not know that she is concealed at all."

"You know where she is?"

"I do. But, believing as I do that she would rather not be disturbed, I shall not say where you would find her."

"I think you ought, George."

"Father, you do not understand this matter."

"You will not escape in that way, sir. Here you are named as her trustee in this will--"

"I am glad that you acknowledge the will, at any rate," said Mr. Stickatit.

"Who says that I acknowledge it? I acknowledge nothing in the will. But it is clear, from that document, that she presumes herself to be under his protection. It is manifest that that silly fool intended that she should be so. Now I am not the man to put up with this. I ask you once more, Mr. Bertram, will you tell me where I shall find Lady Harcourt?"

"No, I will not."

"Very well; then I shall know how to act. Gentlemen, good-morning. Mr. Stickatit, I caution you not to dispose, under that will, of anything of which Mr. Bertram may have died possessed." And so saying, he took up his hat, and left the house.

And what would he have done had Bertram told him that Lady Harcourt was staying at Mr. Jones's, in the red brick house on the other side of the Green? What can any man do with a recusant wife? We have often been told that we should build a golden bridge for a flying enemy. And if any one can be regarded as a man's enemy, it is a wife who is not his friend.

After a little while, Sir Lionel went away with Mr. Pritchett. Bertram asked them both to stay for dinner, but the invitation was not given in a very cordial manner. At any rate, it was not accepted.

"Good-bye, then, George," said Sir Lionel. "I suppose I shall see you before I leave town. I must say, you have made a bad affair of this will."

"Good-bye, Mr. George; good-bye," said Mr. Pritchett. "Make my dutiful compliments to Miss Baker--and to the other lady."

"Yes, I will, Mr. Pritchett."

"Ah, dear! well. You might have had it all, instead of the fishmongers' children, if you had chosen, Mr. George."

And we also will say good-bye to the two gentlemen, as we shall not see them again in these pages. That Mr. Pritchett will live for the remainder of his days decently, if not happily, on his annuity, may be surmised. That Sir Lionel, without any annuity, but with a fair income paid from the country's taxes, and with such extra pecuniary aid as he may be able to extract from his son, will continue to live indecently at Littlebath--for he never again returned to active service--that also may be surmised. And thus we will make our bows to these old gentlemen--entertaining, however, very different feelings for them.

And soon afterwards Mr. Stickatit also went. Some slight, necessary legal information as to the executorship was first imparted; Sir Henry's threats were ridiculed; the good fortune of the fishmongers was wondered at, and then Mr. Stickatit took his hat. The four gentlemen no doubt went up to London by the same train.

In the evening, Miss Baker and Lady Harcourt came back to their own house. It was Miss Baker's own house now. When she heard what her old friend had done for her, she was bewildered by his generosity. She, at any rate, had received more than she had expected.

"And what does he mean to do?" said Caroline.

"He says that he will dispute the will. But that, I take it, is nonsense."

"But about--you know what I mean, George?"

"He means to insist on your return. That, at least, is what he threatens."

"He shall insist in vain. No law that man ever made shall force me to live with him again."

Whether or no the husband was in earnest, it might clearly be judged, from the wife's face and tone, that she was so. On the next morning, George went up to London, and the two women were left alone in their dull house at Hadley.

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