THE SQUIRE’S WILL

“How strange a testament is this, my lord?
The outcome of a most fantastic brain.
‘Tis but a mirror that reflects his life,
With all its twists and turns and madcap arguments.”

Mr. Bolby, the junior partner in the legal firm who had control of the
Squire’s business, was a little, red-faced man, with a round head set
upon an equally round body, which, in its turn, was supported by two
short, sturdy legs. His face was clean shaven, save for two little
tufts of white hair, which stood out on each cheek in startling
contrast to the crimson of his complexion, and his baldish head was
sparsely scattered over with similar tufts. He dressed in a somewhat
gay manner, and had a loud, cheerful voice of a chirpy nature, also a
curious habit of using the same words twice over in different ways.

On arriving from London at the Grange he was handed the Squire’s keys
by Una, and at once proceeded to look over all the private papers of
the dead man. Evidently he had some object in doing so, for he never
rested until he had looked through every document in the desk, and
having made himself master of the precise state of affairs, rested
quietly until the day of the funeral, varying the monotony of this
somewhat dreary life by paying frequent visits to the vicarage, where
he had several lively arguments with Dr. Larcher on arch├Žological
subjects.

At last the day of the funeral arrived, and the dead man was borne
with great pomp to the ancestral vault in Garsworth Church, where
numerous generations of the family had already mouldered for many
centuries. Some of the county families came to the funeral, but most
of them sent their carriages to represent them, as Randal Garsworth,
owing to his secluded life, had been by no means popular, and they
only came themselves or sent their representatives from a sense of
courtesy.

So the long procession, headed by the ponderous hearse with its
stately black horses and nodding plumes, left the coldness of
Garsworth Grange for the similar coldness of the family vault, and on
arriving at the lichgate of the graveyard, were met by Dr. Larcher
and his curate. The coffin was taken into the church, and the vicar
read the funeral service in his most impressive manner, after which
Cecilia played the “Dead March” from “Saul,” and the remains of Randal
Garsworth were conveyed to their last resting-place in the dismal
vault. This being done, the heavy doors were once more closed until
the death of some other member of the family would require them to be
opened, and the greater part of the mourners went their different
ways, while Dr. Larcher, accompanied by Reginald and Dick, returned to
the Grange in company with Mr. Bolby, to hear the will read.

Dr. Larcher was obliged to be present, as he was co-executor with Mr.
Bolby, and he took his two pupils with him for the sake of company,
Reginald being nothing loth, as he had not seen Una since the death of
the Squire.

So charming she looked in her black dress as she stood amid the faded
splendour of the drawing-room, receiving the visitors with graceful
courtesy. Her manner was calm and self-possessed, and she did not give
way to any manifestations of grief on the death of her cousin, a
contrast to Miss Cassy, who loudly bewailed the Squire’s decease, as
if he had been her dearest and most intimate friend.

“Such a gentleman as he was,” she whimpered, wiping her eyes, “quite
one of the old school–a regular what’s-his-name of the Regency–very
odd, isn’t it?”

Dr. Larcher himself thought that Miss Cassy’s ostentatious grief was
very odd, seeing it was for a person of whom she had seen very little,
but he said nothing beyond a few words of sympathy, as he quite
understood Miss Cassy to be one of those demonstrative people who weep
alike at funeral or wedding, and display their feelings openly on the
least occasion.

After partaking of some cake and wine, Mr. Bolby seated himself in a
stately manner in order to read the will, and everyone prepared to
listen. Dr. Larcher looked pityingly at Una, for he knew the contents
of the will and what a blow it would be for her to lose the property,
but as he had expostulated with the Squire at the time of executing it
he could do no more, so things had to take their course.

“This will, gentlemen and ladies,” chirped Mr. Bolby, putting on his
spectacles, “ladies and gentlemen, this will was made five or six
years back by my client deceased–my deceased client being then, as I
have no reason to doubt, in full possession of his senses, that is, he
had his senses in full. I will now read the will, and of course you
will please listen attentively to the will read by me.”

It was not a very long document, as, after leaving small legacies to
Patience, Jellicks and Munks, the Squire had bestowed upon Una an
income of a thousand a year, and all the rest of his property was left
to Dr. Larcher and Simon Bolby in trust for the natural son of the
deceased, who would prove his claim in due time by producing a letter
written by his father, and also the seal ring of the family.

There was a considerable sensation at the conclusion of Mr. Bolby’s
reading, as no one thought the Squire had any offspring, and, in spite
of her presentiment that she would never get the property, Una could
not help feeling disappointed, as it seemed to be a bar to her
marriage with Reginald. However, she had a thousand a year, and they
could live on that, so after a moment’s reflection, she did not grudge
this unknown son his good fortune. Miss Cassy, however, was not so
easily satisfied, and loudly expressed her anger at the Squire’s
duplicity, which sounded rather comical considering how she had been
previously praising up his virtues.

“So dreadful!” she said indignantly, “a son we never heard of–how
very odd!–who is his mother?–where was he born?–what is his
name?–is most peculiar.”

“It is very peculiar,” assented Mr. Bolby drily, “particularly when I
tell you I don’t know any of the three things you have stated–that
is, the three things stated by you.”

“Do you tell me, sir,” asked the vicar in his ponderous manner, “that
you don’t know the name of this son?”

“No.”

“Nor the name of his mother?”

“No.”

“Nor his birthplace?”

“I give you my word of honour,” said Mr. Bolby solemnly, “that I am
absolutely ignorant of all these–of all these, my dear sir, I am
ignorant absolutely.”

All present looked at one another in blank astonishment, and it was
some time before anyone could speak. Una was the first to recover, and
at once addressed herself to the lawyer.

“If this is the case,” she said slowly, “how is this unknown son to
claim the estate?”

“Did you not hear the will read, my dear lady?” replied Mr. Bolby
equably. “Did you not hear me read the will? The son must produce a
letter written to him by his father, and also the seal ring of the
family.”

“But you surely would not give an unknown man the estate on such
slight evidence?”

“What can I or Dr. Larcher do,” said the lawyer with a deprecating
shrug, “Dr. Larcher and myself; what can we do? If he has the papers
and the ring, he is undoubtedly the heir if he produces the ring and
the papers.”

“It’s the will of a lunatic,” cried Miss Cassy angrily.

“I assure you he was in his right mind when it was written,” chirped
Mr. Bolby placidly, “my dear lady, in his right mind I assure you.”

“I will contest this will,” said Una firmly.

“Better wait, my dear young lady,” said the lawyer, “my dear young
lady, better wait–till the heir appears.”

“But suppose he never appears?” suggested Dr. Larcher.

“Oh, he’ll turn up all right,” said Bolby calmly, “people don’t give
up ten thousand a year so easily–no–ten thousand is not so easily
given up by people.”

“But Mr. Bolby,” said Una in despair, “is there no note or certificate
among my cousin’s papers which can lead to the identification of this
unknown person?”

Mr. Bolby produced a letter from his breast coat pocket. “Now we are
coming to it,” he said with great glee. “I thought such a thing might
be possible; so as it was possible such a thing might be, I searched
and found this letter–it is sealed with the arms of the family, and
was found by me locked up in his private desk, so everything so far is
in order–I’m sure you will agree there is order in everything so far;
it certainly has a ring inside it, for a ring is inside certainly, as
I can feel it. To my mind this envelope contains the letter and ring
mentioned in the will.”

The curiosity of everyone was now roused to the highest point, and Una
asked the next question amid a breathless silence.

“To whom is the letter addressed?”

A profound silence ensued, during which the proverbial pin might have
been heard to drop, as the lawyer replied solemnly and slowly,

“The letter is addressed to ‘Mr. Reginald Blake, Vicarage,
Garsworth.'”

“Addressed to me?” cried Reginald in an astonished voice, springing to
his feet. “Impossible!”

“See for yourself,” replied Bolby, handing him the letter.

Reginald took it in silence and stood holding it irresolutely for a
few moments, during which time he glanced round at the astonished
faces present. At last with an effort he tore open the envelope, but
overcome with emotion seemed unable to proceed further, and crossing
the room, gave the opened envelope to the vicar. Dr. Larcher arose
from his seat as he took the letter and looked steadily at the young
man.

“Do you wish me to read it?” he asked slowly.

Reginald bowed silently, and sat down in the vicar’s chair.

Whereupon Dr. Larcher took the letter out of the envelope, leaving the
ring still inside, and having opened it, read the contents in a slow,
deliberate manner. Everyone listened in amazement to the extraordinary
disclosure, and every eye was fixed on Reginald, who sat in his chair
with his face buried in his hands.

“This then,” said the vicar folding up the letter, “proves that you
Reginald are the son of Randal Garsworth and Fanny Blake, for here is
the letter, and here is the ring.”

He stepped up to the lawyer and solemnly delivered both to him, then
returning to his seat laid his hand kindly on Blake’s shoulder.

“You hear what I have read,” he observed sonorously. “What do you
say?”

“Say?”‘ cried the young man, springing to his feet with a pale,
haggard-looking face, “that it’s a lie–you know yourself, sir, that I
am not the squire’s son–Patience knows all about my birth–it is
honourable–honourable. I–I am not the son of that man,” and the poor
young fellow fairly broke down.

On hearing Reginald was the heir to the property a great joy appeared
in Una’s face, but it gave place to a look of pity and sorrow as she
saw how keenly he felt the ignoble circumstances of his birth.

“There is only one thing to be done in order to make sure,” she said,
rising. “Call Patience Allerby.”

Dick Pemberton went out of the room to fetch her, and during the dead
silence which now prevailed Una walked across the room to Reginald and
took his hand.

“This makes no difference to me,” she whispered fondly. “Do not think
that your birth will stand in the way of our marriage, I love you too
well for that.”

“God bless you,” he muttered brokenly, and clasped her hand
convulsively.

The housekeeper entered the room looking pale and worn, with a hard,
defiant expression on her face, as if she was determined to face the
affair out to the bitter end, as indeed she was. On hearing her
footstep Reginald arose unsteadily to his feet and looked at her
anxiously. On seeing the anguish in his face she seemed to falter
for a moment, but soon recovered, and veiled her agony under stolid
composure.

“Patience,” said Reginald in a broken voice, “I have learned by a
letter from Squire Garsworth that I am his son, and that Fanny Blake
was my mother–is it true?”

She bowed her head and replied slowly.

“Perfectly true.”

Reginald flung up his hands with a cry of anguish and fell back in his
chair–it was true–the possession of ten thousand a year could never
cleanse away the stain which rested on his birth.

“Why did you deceive the lad?” asked Dr. Larcher sternly.

“By order of his father,” she replied doggedly. “If you remember, sir,
I went to London with Fanny Blake over twenty-two years ago; she told
me the squire had ruined her, and that was why she left the village;
six months afterwards her child was born and she died. I brought the
baby down to the village to the squire, he refused to recognize his
own offspring, but said he would pay for the boy’s keep, so to save
the good name of the child, I invented the story of the parents dying
in France, and placed it in your care, and he has grown up all these
years under the name of Reginald Blake.”

“And Reginald Blake is the squire’s son?”

“Yes. I hope he has done the boy justice at last.”

“He has. By his will Reginald Blake is acknowledged as master of
Garsworth Grange.”

Patience gave a cry of delight, and with a face beaming with
tenderness approached the young man. He arose slowly from his chair as
she came near him fixing his wild eyes in horror on her face. She saw
the look and half recoiled, but offered her congratulations timidly.

“You are now rich–” she began, when he interrupted her furiously.

“Rich!–rich! Who cares for riches? I am dishonoured for the rest of
my life. I have no right to the name I bear. You have deceived and
tricked me with your lies, leading me to believe that my birth at
least was without dishonour, and now–now, I find my life has been one
long lie. Do you think money will ever repay me for the stain on my
birth. I declare to God that I would willingly become the pauper I was
if I could only regain my self-respect with my poverty. Look at me all
of you. I am rich! young, and a bastard.”

With a cry of passionate anger he rushed from the room, and with an
answering cry of anguish Patience Allerby fell fainting on the floor.