“Above all,” she continued, “do not let him work up to his full strength, except once or twice in his lifetime; nothing is well done nor worth doing unless, take it all round, it has come pretty easily. Theobald and Christina would give him a pinch of salt and tell him to put it on the tails of the seven deadly virtues;”—here she laughed again in her old manner at once so mocking and so sweet—“I think if he likes pancakes he had perhaps better eat them on Shrove Tuesday, but this is enough.” These were the last coherent words she spoke. From that time she grew continually worse, and was never free from delirium till her death—which took place less than a fortnight afterwards, to the inexpressible grief of those who knew and loved her.
Letters had been written to Miss Pontifex’s brothers and sisters, and one and all came post-haste to Roughborough. Before they arrived the poor lady was already delirious, and for the sake of her own peace at the last I am half glad she never recovered consciousness.
I had known these people all their lives, as none can know each other but those who have played together as children; I knew how they had all of them—perhaps Theobald least, but all of them more or less—made her life a burden to her until the death of her father had made her her own mistress, and I was displeased at their coming one after the other to Roughborough, and inquiring whether their sister had recovered consciousness sufficiently to be able to see them. It was known that she had sent for me on being taken ill, and that I remained at Roughborough, and I own I was angered by the mingled air of suspicion, defiance and inquisitiveness, with which they regarded me. They would all, except Theobald, I believe have cut me downright if they had not believed me to know something they wanted to know themselves, and might have some chance of learning from me—for it was plain I had been in some way concerned with the making of their sister’s will. None of them suspected what the ostensible nature of this would be, but I think they feared Miss Pontifex was about to leave money for public uses. John said to me in his blandest manner that he fancied he remembered to have heard his sister say that she thought of leaving money to found a college for the relief of dramatic authors in distress; to this I made no rejoinder, and I have no doubt his suspicions were deepened.
When the end came, I got Miss Pontifex’s solicitor to write and tell her brothers and sisters how she had left her money: they were not unnaturally furious, and went each to his or her separate home without attending the funeral, and without paying any attention to myself. This was perhaps the kindest thing they could have done by me, for their behaviour made me so angry that I became almost reconciled to Alethea’s will out of pleasure at the anger it had aroused. But for this I should have felt the will keenly, as having been placed by it in the position which of all others I had been most anxious to avoid, and as having saddled me with a very heavy responsibility. Still it was impossible for me to escape, and I could only let things take their course.