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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 65. The Packet
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There & Back - Chapter 65. The Packet Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1589

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There & Back - Chapter 65. The Packet

CHAPTER LXV. THE PACKET

The day so often in Wingfold's thought, arrived at last--the anniversary of the death of sir Wilton. He rose early, his mind anxious, and his heart troubled that his mind should be anxious, and set out for London by the first train. Arrived; he sought at once the office of sir Wilton's lawyer, and when at last Mr. Bell appeared, begged him to witness the opening of the packet. Mr. Bell broke the seal himself, read the baronet's statement of the request he had made to Wingfold, and then opened the enclosed packet.

"A most irregular proceeding!" he exclaimed--as well he might: his late client had committed to the keeping of the clergyman of another parish, the will signed and properly witnessed, which Mr. Bell had last drawn up for him, and of which, as it was nowhere discoverable, he had not doubted the destruction! Here it was, devising and bequeathing his whole property, real and personal, exclusive only of certain legacies of small account, to Richard Lestrange, formerly known as Richard Tuke, reputed son of John and Jane Tuke, born Armour, but in reality sole son of Wilton Arthur Lestrange, of Mortgrange and Cinqmer, Baronet, and Robina Armour his wife, daughter of Simon Armour, Blacksmith, born in lawful wedlock in the house of Mortgrange, in the year 18--!--and so worded, at the request of sir Wilton, that even should the law declare him supposititious, the property must yet be his!

"This will be a terrible blow to that proud woman!" said Mr. Bell. "You must prepare her for the shock!"

"Prepare lady Ann!" exclaimed Wingfold. "Believe me, she is in no danger! An earthquake would not move her."

"I must see her lawyer at once!" said Mr. Bell, rising.

"Let me have the papers, please," said Wingfold. "Sir Wilton did not tell me to bring them to you. I must take them to sir Richard."

"Then you do not wish me to move in the matter?"

"I shall advise sir Richard to put the affair in your hands; but he must do it; I have not the power."

"You are very right. I shall be here till five o'clock."

"I hope to be with you long before that!"

It took Wingfold an hour to find Richard. He heard the news without a word, but his eyes flashed, and Wingfold knew he thought of Barbara and his mother and the Mansons. Then his face clouded.

"It will bring trouble on the rest of my father's family!" he said.

"Not upon all of them," returned Wingfold; "and you have it in your power to temper the trouble. But I beg you will not be hastily generous, and do what you may regret, finding it for the good of none."

"I will think well before I do anything," answered Richard. "But there may be another will yet!"

"Of course there may! No one can tell. In the meantime we must be guided by appearances. Come with me to Mr. Bell."

"I must see my mother first."

He found her ironing a shirt for him, and told her the news. She received them quietly. So many changes had got both her and Richard into a sober way of expecting. They went to Mr. Bell, and Richard begged him to do what he judged necessary. Mr. Bell at once communicated with lady Ann's lawyer, and requested him to inform her ladyship that sir Richard would call upon her the next day. Mr. Wingfold accompanied him to Mortgrange. Lady Ann received them with perfect coolness.

"You are, I trust, aware of the cause of my visit, lady Ann?" said Richard.

"I am."

"May I ask what you propose to do?"

"That, excuse me, is my affair. It lies with me to ask you what provision you intend making for sir Wilton's family."

"Allow me, lady Ann, to take the lesson you have given me, and answer, that is my affair."

She saw she had made a mistake.

"For my part," she returned, "I should not object to remaining in the house, were I but assured that my daughters should be in no danger of meeting improper persons."

"It would be no pleasure, lady Ann, to either of us to be so near the other. Our ways of thinking are too much opposed. I venture to suggest that you should occupy your jointure-house."

"I will do as I see fit."

"You must find another home." Lady Ann left the room, and the next week the house, betaking herself to her own, which was not far off, in the park at Cinqmer, the smaller of the two estates.

The week following, Richard went to see Arthur.

"Now, Arthur!" he said, "let us be frank with each other! I am not your enemy. I am bound to do the best I can for you all."

"When you thought the land was yours, I had a trade to fall back upon. Now that the land proves mine, you have no trade, or other means of making a livelihood. If you will be a brother, you will accept what I offer: I will make over to you for your life-time, but without power to devise it, this estate of Cinqmer, burdened with the payment of five hundred a year to your sister Theodora till her marriage."

Arthur was glad of the gift, yet did not accept it graciously. The disposition is no rare one that not only gives grudgingly, but receives grudgingly. The man imagines he shields his independence by not seeming pleased. To show yourself pleased is to confess obligation! Do not manifest pleasure, do not acknowledge favour, and you keep your freedom like a man!

"I cannot see," said Arthur, "--of course it is very kind of you, and all that! you wouldn't have compliments bandied between brothers!--but I should like to know why the land should not be mine to leave. I might have children, you know!"

"And I might have more children!" laughed Richard. "But that has nothing to do with it. The thing is this: the land itself I could give out and out, but the land has the people. God did not give us the land for our own sakes only, but for theirs too. The men and women upon it are my brothers and sisters, and I have to see to them. Now I know that you are liked by our people, and that you have claims to be liked by them, and therefore believe you will consider them as well as yourself or the land--though at the same time I shall protect them with the terms of the deed. But suppose at your death it should go to Percy! Should I not then feel that I had betrayed my people, a very Judas of landlords? Never fellow-creature of mine will I put in the danger of a scoundrel like him!"

"He is my brother!"

"And mine. I know him; I was at Oxford with him! Not one foothold shall he ever have on land of mine! When he wants to work, let him come to me--not till then!"

"You will not say that to my mother!"

"I will say nothing to your mother.--Do you accept my offer?"

"I will think over it."

"Do," said Richard, and turned to go.

"Will you not settle something on Victoria?" said Arthur.

"We shall see what she turns out by the time she is of age! I don't want to waste money!"

"What do you mean by wasting money?"

"Giving it where it will do no good."

"God gives to the bad as well as the good?"

"It is one thing to give to the bad, and another to give where it will do no good. God knows the endless result; I should know but the first link of its chain. I must act by the knowledge granted me. God may give money in punishment: should I dare do that?"

"Well, you're quite beyond me!"

"Never mind, then. What you and I have to do is to be friends, and work together. You will find I mean well!"

"I believe you do, Richard; but we don't somehow seem to be in the same world."

"If we are true, that will not keep us apart. If we both work for the good of the people, we must come together."

"To tell you the truth, Richard, knowing you had given me the land, I could not put up with interference. I am afraid we should quarrel, and then I should seem ungrateful."

"What would you say to our managing the estates together for a year or two? Would not that be the way to understand each other?"

"Perhaps. I must think about it."

"That is right. Only don't let us begin with suspicion. You did me more than one kindness not knowing I was your brother! And you sent back Miss Brown."

"That was mere honesty."

"Strictly considered, it was more. My father had a right to take the mare from me, and at his death she came into your possession. I thank you for sending her to Barbara."

Arthur turned away.

"My dear fellow," said Richard, "Barbara loved me when I was a bookbinder, and promised to marry me thinking me base-born. I am sorry, but there is no blame to either of us. I had my bad time then, and your good time is, I trust, coming. I did nothing to bring about the change. I did think once whether I had not better leave all to you, and keep to my trade; but I saw that I had no right to do so, because duties attended the property which I was better able for than you."

"I believe every word you say, Richard! You are nobler than I."

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