You have now a sufficient outline of my father’s will. The only thing I painfully felt in this arrangement was, the break-up—the dismay that accompanies the disappearance of home. Otherwise, there was something rather pleasurable in the idea. As long as I could remember, I had always cherished the same mysterious curiosity about my uncle, and the same longing to behold him. This was about to be gratified. Then there was my cousin Milicent, about my own age. My life had been so lonely, that I had acquired none of those artificial habits that induce the fine-lady nature—a second, and not always a very amiable one. She had lived a solitary life, like me. What rambles and readings we should have together! what confidences and castle-buildings! and then there was a new country and a fine old place, and the sense of interest and adventure that always accompanies change in our early youth.
There were four letters all alike with large, red seals, addressed respectively to each of the trustees named in the will. There was also one addressed to Silas Alymer Ruthyn, Esq., Bartram-Haugh Manor, &c. &c., which Mr. Sleigh offered to deliver. But Doctor Bryerly thought the post-office was the more regular channel. Uncle Silas’s representative was questioning Doctor Bryerly in an under-tone.
I turned my eyes on my cousin Monica—I felt so inexpressibly relieved—expecting to see a corresponding expression in her countenance. But I was startled. She looked ghastly and angry. I stared in her face, not knowing what to think. Could the will have personally disappointed her? Such doubts, though we fancy in after-life they belong to maturity and experience only, do sometimes cross our minds in youth. But the suggestion wronged Lady Knollys, who neither expected nor wanted anything, being rich, childless, generous, and frank. It was the unexpected character of her countenance that scared me, and for a moment the shock called up corresponding moral images.
Lady Knollys, starting up, raised her head, so as to see over Mr. Sleigh’s shoulder, and biting her pale lip, she cleared her voice and demanded—
‘Doctor Bryerly, pray, sir, is the reading concluded?’
‘Concluded? Quite. Yes, nothing more,’ he answered with a nod, and continued his talk with Mr. Danvers and Abel Grimston.
‘And to whom,’ said Lady Knollys, with an effort, ’will the property belong, in case—in case my little cousin here should die before she comes of age?’
‘Eh? Well—wouldn’t it go to the heir-at-law and next of kin?’ said Doctor Bryerly, turning to Abel Grimston.
‘Ay—to be sure,’ said the attorney, thoughtfully.
‘And who is that?’ pursued my cousin.
‘Well, her uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn. He’s both heir-at-law and next of kin,’ pursued Abel Grimston.
‘Thank you,’ said Lady Knollys.
Doctor Clay came forward, bowing very low, in his standing collar and single-breasted coat, and graciously folded my hand in his soft wrinkled grasp—