“I will go with you,” Edith said to the old servant, as she proceeded a little in advance of him.
Mrs. Fraudhurst sat staring blankly out of the window waiting for the result, which she knew must ensue. A loud shriek from Edith rang through the house, and breathless with excitement, Reynolds entered and announced Sir Jasper’s death and that Miss Effingham had fainted.
The time for action had now arrived. “He may be only in a fit,” said Mrs. Fraudhurst. “I will myself drive over for Dr. Martin. Call Miss Effingham’s maid and let her be carried to her own room and properly attended to. I will return with all speed; in the meantime, Reynolds, be sure that no one enters the room. You had better lock the door and take possession of the key as soon as Miss Edith has been removed.” After quickly dressing, she proceeded towards the stables to hurry forward the harnessing of the pony phaeton, which was at all times at her disposal, and drove rapidly to the house of Dr. Martin, though she well knew his services would be of no avail, but it was a part of the plan she had matured, and was now carrying out.
Fortunately for her the Rector and Sir Jasper’s lawyer and general business agent were at the time with the Doctor in his surgery, consulting on some Parish business and without a moment’s delay they proceeded to Vellenaux, the Rector riding with Mrs. Fraudhurst, whose appearance and conduct were well suited to the occasion.
Life was pronounced extinct, and the cause of death was supposed to be a sudden attack of his old complaint, disease of the heart. The lawyer, in the presence of all, placed seals on the escritoire and doors of the study immediately after the body had been transferred to the bedchamber, and wrote to Ralph Coleman, as the only male relation of the late Baronet, acquainting him with what had occurred, and it was not long before that gentleman presented himself at Vellenaux.
The morning prior to the funeral it pleased Mrs. Fraudhurst, on meeting Ralph Coleman in the long corridor, to request that worthy individual to grant her a private interview in the general library at eleven o’clock, precisely, the lawyer bowed in the affirmative and passed on.
At the time appointed the widow, in very deep but fashionable mourning, entered the library by one door, and a few minutes later the new baronet presented himself at another. After closing it he advanced to the centre table and waited for the lady to announce the nature of her business with him.
In a low, clear and cold, but perfectly steady voice she thus addressed him, “Some two years since I informed you by letter of the existence of a will in which the late baronet, after paying a gratuity of five thousand pounds to Arthur Carlton, left Miss Effingham sole heiress. In that will the name of Ralph Coleman does not appear. If this document be read to-morrow,” she continued after a slight pause, “Vellenaux is lost to you forever.”