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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 4. Mr. Foulger
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 4. Mr. Foulger Post by :autococker1987 Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1346

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 4. Mr. Foulger


Half an hour later the woman and the girl, still in the study and severely damaged by the culminating events of Mr. Cowl's visit, were almost prostrated by the entirely unexpected announcement of the arrival of Mr. Foulger. Mr. Foulger was the late Mr. Moze's solicitor from Chelmsford. Audrey's first thought was: "Has heaven telegraphed to him on my behalf?" But her next was that all the solicitors in the world would now be useless in the horrible calamity that had befallen.

It is to be noted that Audrey was no worse off than before the discovery of the astounding value of the Zacatecas shares. The Moze property, inherited through generations and consisting mainly in farms and tithe-rents, was not in the slightest degree impaired. On the contrary, the steady progress of agriculture in Essex indicated that its yield must improve with years. Nevertheless Audrey felt as though she and her mother were ruined, and as though the National Reformation Society had been guilty of a fearful crime against a widow and an orphan. The lovely vision of immeasurable wealth had flashed and scintillated for a month in front of her dazzled eyes--and then blackness, nothingness, the dark void! She knew that she would never be happy again.

And she thought, scornfully, "How could father have been so preoccupied and so gloomy, with all those riches?" She could not conceive anybody as rich as her father secretly was not being day and night in a condition of pure delight at the whole spectacle of existence. Her opinion of Mathew Moze fell lower than ever, and fell finally.

The parlourmaid, in a negligence of attire indicating that no man was left alive in the house, waited at the door of the study to learn whether or not Miss Moze was in.

"You'll _have to see him," said Miss Ingate firmly. "It'll be all right. I've known him all my life. He's a very nice man."

After the parlourmaid had gone, and while Audrey was upbraiding her for not confessing earlier her acquaintance with Mr. Foulger, Miss Ingate added:

"Only his wife has a wooden leg."

Then Mr. Foulger entered. He was a shortish man of about fifty, with a paunch, but not otherwise fat; dressed like a sportsman. He trod very lightly. The expression on his ruddy face was amiable but extremely alert, hardening at intervals into decision or caution. He saw before him a nervous, frowning girl in inelegant black, and Miss Ingate with a curious look in her eyes and a sardonic and timid twitching of her lips. For an instant he was discountenanced; but he at once recovered, accomplishing a bright salute.

"Here you are at last, Mr. Foulger!" Miss Ingate responded. "But you're too late."

These mysterious words, and the speechlessness of Audrey, upset him again.

"I was away in Somersetshire for a little fishing," he said, after he had deplored the death of Mr. Moze, the illness of Mrs. Moze, and the bereavement of Miss Moze, and had congratulated Miss Moze on the protective friendship of his old friend, Miss Ingate. "I was away for a little fishing, and I only heard the sad news when I got back home at noon to-day. I came over at once." He cleared his throat and looked first at Audrey and then at Miss Ingate. He felt that he ought to be addressing Audrey, but somehow he could not help addressing Miss Ingate instead. His grey legs were spread abroad as he sat very erect on a chair, and between them his dependent paunch found a comfortable space for itself.

"You must have been getting anxious about the will. I have brought it with me," he said. He drew a white document from the breast-pocket of his cutaway coat, and he perched a pair of eyeglasses carelessly on his nose. "It was executed before your birth, Miss Moze. But a will keeps like wine. The whole of the property of every description is left to Mrs. Moze, and she is sole executrix. If she should predecease the testator, then everything is left to his child or children. Not perhaps a very businesslike will--a will likely to lead to unforeseen complications, but the sort of will that a man in the first flush of marriage often does make, and there is no stopping him. Your father had almost every quality, but he was not businesslike--if I may say so with respect. However, I confess that for the present I see no difficulties. Of course the death duties will have to be paid, but your father always kept a considerable amount of money at call. When I say 'considerable,' I mean several thousands. That was a point on which he and I had many discussions."

Mr. Foulger glanced around with satisfaction. Already the prospect of legal business and costs had brought about a change in his official demeanour of an adviser truly bereaved by the death of a client. He saw the young girl, gazing fiercely at the carpet, suddenly begin to weep. This phenomenon, to which he was not unaccustomed, did not by itself disturb him; but the face of Miss Ingate gave him strange apprehensions, which reached a climax when Miss Ingate, obviously not at all at ease, muttered:

"There is a later will, Mr. Foulger. It was made last year."

"I see," he breathed, scarcely above a whisper.

He thought he did see. He thought he understood why he had been kept waiting, why Mrs. Moze pretended to be ill, why the girl had frowned, why the naively calm Miss Ingate was in such a state of nerves. The explanation was that he was not wanted. The explanation was that Mr. Moze had changed his solicitor. His face hardened, for he and his uncle between them had "acted" for the Moze family for over seventy years.

He rose from the chair.

"Then I need not trouble you any longer," he said in a firm tone, and turned with real dignity to leave.

He was exceedingly astonished when with one swift movement Audrey rose, and flashed like a missile to the door, and stood with her back to it. The fact was that Audrey had just remembered her vow never again to be afraid of anybody. When Miss Ingate with extraordinary agility also jumped up and approached him, he apprehended, recalling rumours of Miss Ingate's advanced feminism, that the fate of an anti-suffragette Cabinet Minister might be awaiting him, and he prepared his defence.

"You mustn't go," said Miss Ingate.

"You are my solicitor, whatever mother may say, and you mustn't go," added Audrey in a soft voice.

The man was entranced. It occurred to him that he would have a tale to tell and to re-tell at his club for years, about "a certain fair client who shall be nameless."

The next minute he had heard a somewhat romantic, if not hysterical, version of the facts of the case, and he was perusing the original documents. By chance he read first the letter about the Zacatecas shares. That Mathew Moze had made a will without his aid was a shock; that Mathew Moze had invested money without his advice was another shock quite as severe. But he knew the status of the Great Mexican Oil Company, and his countenance lighted as he realised the rich immensity of the business of proving the will and devolving the estate; his costs would run to the most agreeable figures. As soon as he glanced at the testament which Mr. Cowl had found, he muttered, with satisfaction and disdain:

"H'm! He made this himself."

And he gazed at it compassionately, as a cabinetmaker might gaze at a piece of amateur fretwork.

Standing, he read it slowly and with extreme care. And when he had finished he casually remarked, in the classic legal phrase:

"It isn't worth the paper it's written on."

Then he sat down again, and his neat paunch resumed its niche between his legs. He knew that he had made a tremendous effect.

"But--but----" Miss Ingate began.

"Not worth the paper it's written on," he repeated. "There is only one witness, and there ought to be two, and even the one witness is a bad one--Aguilar, because he profits under the will. He would have to give up his legacy before his attestation could count, and even then it would be no good alone. Mr. Moze has not even expressly revoked the old will. If there hadn't been a previous will, and if Aguilar was a thoroughly reliable man, and if the family had wished to uphold the new will, I dare say the Court _might have pronounced for it. But under the circumstances it hasn't the ghost of a chance."

"But won't the National Reformation Society make trouble?" demanded Miss Ingate faintly.

"Let 'em try!" said Mr. Foulger, who wished that the National Reformation Society would indeed try.

Even as he articulated the words, he was aware of Audrey coming towards him from the direction of the door; he was aware of her black frock and of her white face, with its bulging forehead and its deliciously insignificant nose. She held out her hand.

"You are a dear!" she whispered.

Her lips seemed to aim uncertainly for his face. Did they just touch, with exquisite contact, his bristly chin, or was it a divine illusion? ... She blushed in a very marked manner. He blinked, and his happy blinking seemed to say: "Only wills drawn by me are genuine.... Didn't I tell you Mr. Moze was not a man of business?"

Audrey ran to Miss Ingate.

Mr. Foulger, suddenly ashamed, and determined to be a lawyer, said sharply:

"Has Mrs. Moze made a will?"

"Mother made a will? Oh no!"

"Then she should make one at once, in your favour, of course. No time should be lost."

"But Mrs. Moze is ill in bed," protested Miss Ingate.

"All the more reason why she should make a will. It may save endless trouble. And it is her duty. I shall suggest that I be the executor and trustee, of course with the usual power to charge costs." His face was hard again. "You will thank me later on, Miss Moze," he added.

"Do you mean _now?_" shrilled Miss Ingate.

"I do," said he. "If you will give me some paper, we might go to her at once. You can be one of the witnesses. I could be a witness, but as I am to act under the will for a consideration somebody else would be preferable."

"I should suggest Aguilar," answered Miss Ingate, the corners of her lips dropping.

Miss Ingate went first, to prepare Mrs. Moze.

When Audrey was alone in the study--she had not even offered to accompany her elders to the bedroom--she made a long sound: "Ooo!" Then she gave a leap and stood still, staring out of the window at the estuary. She tried to force her mood to the colour of her dress, but the sense of propriety was insufficient for the task. The magnificence of all the world was unfolding itself to her soul. Events had hitherto so dizzyingly beaten down upon her head that she had scarcely been conscious of feeling. Now she luxuriously felt. "I am at last born," she thought. "Miracles have happened.... It's incredible.... I can do what I like with mother.... But if I don't take care I shall die of relief this very moment!"

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