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THE BARONET'S FUNERAL.
It was about a year after Richard's return to his trade, when one morning the doctor at Barset was roused by a groom, his horse all speckled with foam, who, as soon as he had given his message, galloped to the post-office, and telegraphed for a well-known London physician. A little later, Richard received a telegram: "Father paralyzed. Will meet first train. Wingfold."
With sad heart he obeyed the summons, and found Wingfold at the station.
"I have just come from the house," he said. "He is still insensible. They tell me he came to himself once, just a little, and murmured Richard, but has not spoken since."
"Let us go to him!" said Richard.
"I fear they will try to prevent you from seeing him."
"They shall not find it easy."
"I have a trap outside."
They reached Mortgrange, and stopped at the lodge. Richard walked up to the door.
"How is my father?" he asked.
"Much the same, sir, I believe."
"Is it true that he wanted to see me?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Is he in his own room?"
"Yes, sir; but, I beg your pardon, sir," said the man, "I have my lady's orders to admit no one!"
While he spoke, Richard passed him, and went straight to his father's room, which was on the ground-floor. He opened the door softly, and entered. His father lay on the bed, with the Barset surgeon and the London doctor standing over him. The latter looked round, saw him, and came to him.
"I gave orders that no one should be admitted," he said, in a low stern tone.
"I understand my father wished to see me!" answered Richard.
"He cannot see you."
"He may come to himself any moment!"
"He will never come to himself," returned the doctor.
"Then why keep me out?" said Richard.
The eyes of the dying man opened, and Richard received his last look. Sir Wilton gave one sigh, and death was past. Whether life was come, God only, and those who watched on the other side, knew. Lady Ann came in.
"The good baronet is gone!" said the physician.
She turned away. Her eyes glided over Richard as if she had never before seen him. He went up to the bed, and she walked from the room. When Richard came out, he found Wingfold where he had left him, and got into the pony-carriage beside him. The parson drove off.
"His tale is told," said Richard, in a choking voice. "He did not speak, and I cannot tell whether he knew me, but I had his last look, and that is something. I would have been a good son to him if he had let me--at least I would have tried to be."
He sat silent, thinking what he might have done for him. Perhaps he would not have died if he had been with him, he thought.
"It is best," said Wingfold. "We cannot say anything would be best, but we must say everything is best."
"I think I understand you," said Richard. "But oh how I would have loved him if he would have let me!"
"And how you will love him!" said Wingfold, "for he will love you. They are getting him ready to let you now. I think he is loving you in the darkness. He had begun to love you long before he went. But he was the slave of the nature he had enfeebled and corrupted. I hope endlessly for him--though God only knows how long it may take, even after the change is begun, to bring men like him back to their true selves.--But surely, Richard," he cried, bethinking himself, and pulling up his ponies, "your right place is at Mortgrange--at least so long as what is left of your father is lying in the house!"
"Yes, no doubt I and I did think whether I ought not to assert myself, and remain until my father's will was read; but I concluded it better to avoid the possibility of anything unpleasant. I cannot of course yield my right to be chief mourner. I think my father would not wish me to do so."
"I am sure he would not.--Then, till the funeral, you will stay with us!" concluded the parson, as he drove on.
"No, I thank you," answered Richard: "I must be at my grandfather's. I will go there when I have seen Barbara."
On the day of the funeral, no one disputed Richard's right to the place he took, and when it was over, he joined the company assembled to hear the late baronet's will. It was dated ten years before, and gave the two estates of Mortgrange and Cinqmer to his son, Arthur Lestrange There was in it no allusion to the possible existence of a son by his first wife. Richard rose. The lawyer rose also.
"I am sorry, sir Richard," he said, "that we can find no later will. There ought to have been some provision for the support of the title."
"My father died suddenly," answered Richard, "and did not know of my existence until about five years ago."
"All I can say is, I am very sorry."
"Do not let it trouble you," returned Richard. "It matters little to me; I am independent."
"I am very glad to hear it. I had imagined it otherwise."
"A man with a good trade and a good education must be independent!"
"Ah, I understand!--But your brother will, as a matter of course--. I shall talk to him about it. The estate is quite equal to it."
"The estate shall not be burdened with me," said Richard with a smile. "I am the only one of the family able to do as he pleases."
"But the title, sir Richard!"
"The title must look after itself. If I thought it in the smallest degree dependent on money for its dignity, I would throw it in the dirt. If it means anything, it means more than money, and can stand without it. If it be an honour, please God, I shall keep it honourable. Whether I shall set it over my shop, remains to be considered.--Good morning!"
As he left the room, a servant met him with the message that lady Ann wished to see him in the library. Cold as ever, but not colder than always, she poked her long white hand at him.
"This is awkward for you, Richard," she said, "but more awkward still for Arthur. Mortgrange is at your service until you find some employment befitting your position. You must not forget what is due to the family. It is a great pity you offended your father." Richard was silent.
"He left it therefore in my hands to do as I thought fit. Sir Wilton did not die the rich man people imagined him, but I am ready to place a thousand pounds at your disposal."
"I should be sorry to make the little he has left you so much less," answered Richard.
"As you please," returned her ladyship.
"I should like to have just a word with my sister Theodora," said Richard.
"I doubt if she will see you.--Miss Malliver, will you take Mr. Tuke to the schoolroom, and then inquire whether Miss Lestrange is able to leave her room. You will stay with her; she is far from well.--Perhaps you had better go and inquire first. Mr. Tuke will wait you here."
Miss Malliver came from somewhere, and left the room.
Richard felt very angry: was he not to see his father's daughter except in the presence of that woman? But he said nothing.
"There is just one thing," resumed her ladyship, "upon which, if only out of respect to the feelings of my late husband, I feel bound to insist;-- it is, that, while in this neighbourhood, you will be careful as to what company you show yourself in. You will not, I trust, pretend ignorance of my meaning, and cause me the pain of having to be more explicit!"
Richard was struck dumb with indignation--and remained dumb from the feeling that he could not condescend to answer her as she deserved. Ere he had half recovered himself, she had again resumed.
"If the title were ceded to the property," she said, as if talking to herself, "it might be a matter for more material consideration."
"Did your ladyship address me?" said Richard.
"If you choose to understand what I mean.--But I speak with too much delicacy, I fear. Compensation it could be only by courtesy.--Suppose I referred to the court of chancery my grave doubts of your story?"
"My father has acknowledged me!"
"And repudiated;--sent you from the house--left you to pursue your trade--bequeathed you nothing! Everybody knows your father--my late husband, I mean--would risk anything for my annoyance, though, thank God, he dared not attempt to push injury beyond the grave!--he well knew the danger of that! Had he really believed you his son, do you imagine he would have left you penniless? Would he not have been rejoiced to put you over Mr. Lestrange's head, if only to wring the heart of his mother?"
"The proofs that satisfied him remain."
"The testimony, that is, of those most interested in the result--whose very case is a confession of felony!"
"A confession, if you will, that my own aunt was the nurse that carried me away--of which there are proofs."
"Has any one seen those proofs?"
"My father has seen them, lady Ann."
"You mean sir Wilton?"
"I do. He accepted them."
"Has he left any document to that effect?"
"Not that I know of."
"Who presented those proofs, as you call them?"
"I told sir Wilton where they had been hidden, and together we found them."
"In the room that was the nursery."
"Which you occupied for months while working at your trade in the house, and for weeks again before sir Wilton dismissed you!"
"Yes," answered Richard, who saw very well what she was driving at, but would not seem to understand before she had fully disclosed her intent.
"And where you had opportunity to place what you chose at your leisure!--Excuse me; I am only laying before you what counsel would lay before the court."
"You wish me to understand, I suppose, that you regard me as an impostor, and believe I put the things, for support of my aunt's evidence, where my father and I found them!"
"I do not say so. I merely endeavour to make you see how the court would regard the affair--how much appearances would be against you. At the same time, I confess I have all along had grave doubts of the story. You, of course, may have been deceived as well as your father--I mean the late baronet, my husband; but in any case, I will not admit you to be what you call yourself, until you are declared such by the law of the land. I will, however, make a proposal to you--and no ungenerous one:--Pledge yourself to make no defence, if, for form's sake, legal proceedings should be judged desirable, and in lieu of the possible baronetcy--for I admit the bare possibility of the case, if tried, being given against us--I will pay you five thousand pounds. It would cost us less to try the case, no doubt, but the thing would at best be disagreeable.--Understand I do not speak without advice!"
"Plainly you do not!" assented Richard. "But," he continued, "let me place one thing before your ladyship: To do as you ask me, would be to indorse your charge against my father, that he acknowledged me, that is, he lied, to give you annoyance! That is enough. But I have the same objection in respect of my uncle and aunt, of whom you propose to make liars and conspirators!"
He turned to the door.
"You will consider it?" said her ladyship in her stateliest yet softest tone.
"I will. I shall continue to consider it the worst insult you could have offered my father, your late husband. Thank God, he was my mother's husband first!"
"What am I to understand by that?"
"Whatever your ladyship chooses, except that I will not hold any farther communication with you on the matter."
"Then you mean to dispute the title?"
"I decline to say what I mean or do not mean to do."
Lady Ann rose to ring the bell.
Miss Malliver met Richard in the doorway. He turned.
"I am going to bid Theodora good-bye," he said.
"You shall do no such thing!" cried her ladyship.
Richard flew up the stair, and, believing Miss Malliver had not gone to his sister, went straight to her room.
The moment Theodora saw him, she sprang from the bed where she had lain weeping, and threw herself into his arms. He was the only one who had ever made her feel what a man might be to a woman! He told her he had come to bid her good-bye. She looked wild.
"But you're not going really--for altogether?" she said.
"My dear sister, what else can I do? Nobody here wants me!"
"Indeed, Richard, I do!"
"I know you do--and the time will come when you shall have me; but you would not have me live where I am not loved!"
"Richard!" she cried, with a burst of indignation, the first, I fancy, she had ever felt, or at least given way to, "you are the only gentleman in the family!"
Richard laughed, and Theodora dried her eyes. Miss Malliver was near enough to be able to report, and the poor girl had a bad time of it in consequence.
"I will not trouble Arthur," said Richard. "Say good-bye to him for me, and give him my love. Please tell him that, although all I had was my father's yet, as between him and me, Miss Brown is mine, and I expect him to send her to Wylder Hall. Good-bye again to my dear sister! I leave a bit of my heart in the house, where I know it will not be trampled on!"
Theodora could not speak. Her only answer was another embrace, and they parted.
Richard went to see Barbara, and found her at the parsonage.
"What an opportunity you have," said Wingfold, "of maintaining before the world the honour of work! The man who makes a thing exist that did not exist, or who sets anything right that had gone wrong, must be more worthy than he who only consumes what exists, or helps things to remain wrong!"
"But," suggested Barbara, with her usual keenness, "are you not now encouraging him to seek the praise of men? To seek it for a good thing, is the more contemptible."
"There is little praise to be got from men for that," said Wingfold; "and I am sure Richard does not seek any. He would help men to see that the man who serves his neighbour, is the man whom the Lord of the universe honours. An idle man, or one busy only for himself, is like a lump of refuse floating this way and that in the flux and reflux of the sewer-tide of the world. Were Richard lord of lands it would be absurd of him to give his life to bookbinding; that would be to desert his neighbour on those lands; but what better can he do now than follow the trade by which he may at once earn his living? To omit the question of possibility,--suppose he read for the bar, would that bring him closer to humanity? Would it be a diviner mode of life? Is it a more honourable thing to win a cause--perhaps for the wrong man--than to preserve an old and valuable book? Will a man rank higher in the kingdom that shall not end, because he has again and again rendered unrighteousness triumphant? Would Richard's mind be as free in chambers as in the workshop to search into truth, or as keen to suspect its covert? Would he sit closer to the well-springs of thought and aspiration in a barrister's library, than among the books by which he wins his bread?"
With eternity before them, and God at the head and the heart of the universe, Richard and Barbara did not believe in separation any more than in death. He in London and she at Wylder Hall, they were far more together than most unparted pairs.
Wingfold set himself to keep Barbara busy, giving her plenty to read and plenty of work: her waiting should be no loss of time to her if he could help it! Among other things, he set her to teach his boy where she thought herself much too ignorant: he held, not only that to teach is the best way to learn, but that the imperfect are the best teachers of the imperfect. He thought this must be why the Lord seems to regard with so much indifference the many falsehoods uttered of and for him. When a man, he said, agonized to get into other hearts the thing dear to his own, the false intellectual or even moral forms in which his ignorance and the crudity of his understanding compelled him to embody it, would not render its truth of none effect, but might, on the contrary, make its reception possible where a truer presentation would stick fast in the door-way.
He made Richard promise to take no important step for a year without first letting him know. He was anxious he should have nothing to undo because of what the packet committed to his care might contain.
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