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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 57. The Baronet's Will
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There & Back - Chapter 57. The Baronet's Will Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1027

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There & Back - Chapter 57. The Baronet's Will

CHAPTER LVII. THE BARONET'S WILL

Arthur Lestrange was sharply troubled when he found he was to see no more of Barbara. He went again and again to Wylder Hall, but neither mother nor daughter would receive him. When he learned that Miss Brown was for sale, he bought her for love of her mistress. All the explanation he could get from lady Ann was, that the young woman's mother was impossible; she was more than half a savage.

Time's wheels went slow thereafter at Mortgrange. Sir Wilton missed his firstborn. Whatever annoyed him in his wife or any of her children, fed the desire for Richard. Arthur did not please him. He had no way distinguished himself--and some men are annoyed when their sons prove only a little better than themselves. Percy was a poisoned thorn in his side: he was even worse than his father. All his thoughts took refuge in Richard.

He had become dissatisfied with his agent, and although he had never taken an interest in business, distrust made him now look into things a little. He called his lawyer from London, and had him make a thorough investigation. Dismissing thereupon his agent, he would have Arthur take charge of the estate; but the young man, with an inborn dislike to figures, flatly refused, saying he preferred the army. Sir Wilton did not like the army: he had been in it himself, and had left it in a hurry--no one ever knew why.

The only comfort in the house occupied the soul of lady Ann: it was that she heard nothing of the bookbinder fellow! She had grown so torpid, that while Danger was not flattening his nose against the window-pane, she was at peace. For the rest, a lawyer of her own had the will in his keeping, and she had come upon no trace of another.

But when sir Wilton sent for his lawyer to look into his factor's accounts, he had a further use for him, of which his wife heard nothing: he made him draw up another will, in which he left everything to Richard, only son of his first wife, Robina Armour. With every precaution for secrecy, the will was signed and witnessed, but when the lawyer would have carried it with him, the baronet declined to give it up. He laid it aside for a week, then had the horses put to, and drove to find Mr. Wingfold, of whom he had heard from Richard. When he saw him, man of the world as he was, he was impressed by the simplicity of a clergyman without a touch of the clerical, without any look of what he called _sanctity_--the look that comes upon a man cherishing the notion that he is intrusted with things more sacred than God will put in the hands of his other children. Such men, and they are many, one would like to lay for a time in the sheet of Peter's vision, among the four-footed animals and creeping things, to learn that, as there is nothing common or unclean, so is there no class more sacred than another. Never will it be right with men, until every commonest meal is a glad recognition of the living Saviour who gives himself, always and perfectly, to his brothers and sisters.

The baronet begged a private interview, and told the parson he wanted to place in his keeping a certain paper, with the understanding that he would not open it for a year after his death, and would then act upon the directions contained in it.

"Provided always," Wingfold stipulated, "that they require of me nothing unfit, impossible, or wrong."

"I pledge myself they require nothing unworthy of the cloth," said sir Wilton.

"The cloth be hanged!" said Wingfold. "Do they require anything unworthy of a man--or if you think the word means more--of a gentleman?"

"They do not," answered the baronet.

"Then you must write another paper, stating that you have asked me to undertake this, but that you have given me no hint of the contents of the accompanying document. This second you must enclose with the first, sealing the envelope with your own seal."

Sir Wilton at once consented, and there and then did as Wingfold desired.

"I've check-mated my lady at last!" he chuckled, as he drove home. "She would have me the villain to disinherit my firstborn for her miserable brood! She shall find my other will, and think she's safe! Then the thunderbolt--and Dick master! My lady's dower won't be much for Percy the cad and Arthur the proper, not to mention Dorothy the cow, and Vixen the rat!"

He always spoke as if lady Ann's children were none of his. Her ladyship had taught him to do so, for she always said, "_My children!"

That night he slept with an easier mind. He had put the deed off and off, regarding it as his abdication; but now it was done he felt more comfortable.

Wingfold suspected in the paper some provision for Richard, but could imagine no reason for letting it lie unopened until a year should have passed from the baronet's death. Troubling himself nothing, however, about what was not his business, he put the paper carefully aside--but where he must see it now and then, lest it should pass from his mind, and with sir Wilton's permission, told his wife what he had undertaken concerning it, that she might carry it out if he were prevented from doing so.

Time went on. Communication grew yet less between Mr. Wylder and his family. He had returned to certain old habits, and was spending money pretty fast in London. Failing to make himself a god in the house, he forsook it, and was rapidly losing this world's chance of appreciating a woman whose faults were to his as new wine to dirty water.

In the fourth year, Richard wrote to his father, through his grandfather of course, informing him he had got his B.A. degree, and was waiting further orders. The baronet was heartily pleased with the style of his letter, and in the privacy of his own room gave way to his delight at the thought of his wife's approaching consternation and chagrin. At the same time, however, he was not a little uneasy in prospect of the denouement. For the eyes of his wife had become almost a terror to him. Their grey ice, which had not grown clearer as it grew older, made him shiver. Why should the stronger so often be afraid of the weaker? Sometimes, I suppose, because conscience happens to side with the weaker; sometimes only because the weaker is yet able to make the stronger, especially if he be lazy and a lover of what he calls peace, worse than uncomfortable. The baronet dared not present his son to his wife except in the presence of at least one stranger. He wrote to Richard, appointing a day for his appearance at Mortgrange.

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