“But, my dear madam,” he replied, “among the late baronet’s papers will, doubtless, be found a codicil in my behalf, in fact my cousin distinctly promised me that he would make a suitable provision for the successor to the title.”
“And so he would have done had he lived long enough to complete it,” was the lady’s quiet reply.
“You do not mean to say that you are certain Sir Jasper made no such provision,” enquired the lawyer in a quick and excited tone.
“No document of that kind had been executed prior to the baronet’s death,” she boldly asserted, advancing towards him. “Now listen to me: providing the will in question be not forthcoming after the funeral, the law will declare you heir to the estate. Now, if you swear to me by all that you hold most sacred, that you will allow me one thousand per annum and a suite of apartments at Vellenaux so long as I shall live, no will shall appear, and within one hour after the body of the late Sir Jasper has been consigned to the tomb, you shall become Sir Ralph Coleman and master of Vellenaux and its broad lands.”
“But,” was the cautious reply of the wily lawyer, “how know I that any will has been made or that the Baronet has not kept faith with me. Your word is all that I have to depend on for the truth or falsity of the statement.” He knew her to be an unscrupulous woman, but shrewd withal, and could not bring himself to believe that she would compromise herself so far as to have fraudulently possessed herself of, Sir Jasper’s papers, yet her language indicated very strongly that something of the kind was the case.
“If she really has them,” he thought, “one thousand per annum would not be too large a sum to purchase her silence concerning them; and as the bargain would be a verbal one, and unknown to any but ourselves, she could not hereafter, by any disclosures that she might make, convict me as an accomplice to the transaction.” These thoughts flashed through his mind ere she again spoke.
“Your words, sir, though not complimentary to me, I can excuse, on account of the peculiarity of your present position and frame of mind, and you shall be satisfied of the truth of that which you pretend to doubt,” and drawing from her pocket two papers, Mrs. Fraudhurst held them with a firm grasp before him, but in such a position that it enabled him to read every line. “There,” she continued, in a low tone, “is the will in question, and the codicil which you so much depend on; are you satisfied?” Then, refolding the papers somewhat hastily, replaced them in her dress and turned to leave the room, remarking as she did so, “I shall return in a few moments, and you must make up your mind as to how you intend to act before I do so.”
Ralph had read every line and word, and saw how hopeless was his case unless he closed with the widow’s offer, but he would make one more trial to obtain the best position, and as she re-entered said, “Place those documents in my possession and I will swear to fulfil the terms you propose.”