Too happy at the prospect of anything in the shape of fun, I followed Jem on tiptoe, and when we stood by the open window with our hands over our mouths to keep us from laughing, the pale-faced man was just struggling with the inside lids of an old japanned tea-caddy.
He did not see us, he was too busy, and he did not hear us, for he was talking to himself, and we heard him say, “Everything of every sort therein contained.”
I suppose the lawyer was right, and that the fat man was convinced of it, for neither he nor any one else disputed the old miser’s will. Jem and I each opened an account in the Savings Bank, and Mrs. Wood came into possession of the place.
Public opinion went up and down a good deal about the old miser still. When it leaked out that he had worded the invitation to his funeral to the effect that, being quite unable to tolerate the follies of his fellow-creatures, and the antics and absurdities which were necessary to entertain them, he had much pleasure in welcoming his neighbours to a feast, at which he could not reasonably be expected to preside—everybody who heard it agreed that he must have been mad.
But it was a long sentence to remember, and not a very easy one to understand, and those who saw the plumes and the procession, and those who had a talk with the undertaker, and those who got a yard more than usual of such very good black silk, and those who were able to remember what they had had for dinner, were all charitably inclined to believe that the old man’s heart had not been far from being in the right place, at whatever angle his head had been set on.
And then by degrees curiosity moved to Mrs. Wood. Who was she? What was she like? What was she to the miser? Would she live at the farm?
To some of these questions the carrier, who was the first to see her, replied. She was “a quiet, genteel-looking sort of a grey-haired widow lady, who looked as if she’d seen a deal of trouble, and was badly off.”
The neighbourhood was not unkindly, and many folk were ready to be civil to the widow if she came to live there.
“But she never will,” everybody said. “She must let it. Perhaps the new doctor might think of it at a low rent, he’d be glad of the field for his horse. What could she do with an old place like that, and not a penny to keep it up with?”
What she did do was to have a school there, and that was how Walnut-tree Farm became Walnut-tree Academy.
“What are little boys
made of, made of?
What are little boys made of?”
When the school was opened, Jem and I were sent there at once. Everybody said it was “time we were sent somewhere,” and that “we were getting too wild for home.”
I got so tired of hearing this at last, that one day I was goaded to reply that “home was getting too tame for me.” And Jem, who always backed me up, said, “And me too.” For which piece of swagger we forfeited our suppers; but when we went to bed we found pieces of cake under our pillows, for my mother could not bear us to be short of food, however badly we behaved.