There was Mrs. Blake sitting in front of the fire. She had got on her widow’s mourning, very smart and complete, with black crape, and her white cap; and she’d got the front of her dress folded back very neat on her lap, and was toasting her legs, in her black-and-red checked petticoat, and her feet in cashmere house-boots, very warm and cosy, on the brass fender; and she had got port wine and sherry wine in the two decanters that was never out of the glass-fronted chiffonier when master was alive; and there was something else in a black bottle; and opposite her, in the best arm-chair that old master had sat in to the last, was that lawyer, Sigglesfield from Lewes. And when we all came in, one after another, rather slow, and bringing the cold air with us, they sat in their chairs as if they had been struck, and looked at us.
Harry and John was in front, as was right; and in the dusk they could hardly see who was behind.
‘And what do you want, young men?’ says Mrs. Blake, standing up in her crape, and her white cap, and looking very handsome, Harry said afterwards, though, for my part, I never could see it; and, as she stood up, she caught sight of the clergyman from London, and she shrank back into her chair and covered her face with her hands; and the clergyman stepped into the room, none of us having the least idea of what he was going to say, and said he—
’That’s the woman that I married on the 7th; and that’s the man I married her to!’ said he, pointing to Sigglesfield, who seemed to turn twice as small, and his ferret eyes no better than button-hole slits.
‘That!’ said our parson; ’why, that’s Mr. Sigglesfield, the solicitor from Lewes.’
‘Then the lady opposite is Mrs. Sigglesfield, that’s all,’ said the parson from London.
‘What I want to know,’ says Harry, ’is—is this my house or hers? It’s plain she wasn’t my father’s wife. But yet he left it to her in the will.’
‘Slowly, old boy!’ said John; ’gently does it. How could he have left anything in a will to his wife when he hadn’t got any wife? Why, that fellow there—–’
But here Mrs. Blake got on her feet, and I must say for the woman, if she hadn’t got anything else she had got pluck.
‘The game’s up!’ she says. ’It was well played, too, though I says it. And you, you old fool!’ she says to the parson, ’you have often drunk tea with me, and gone away thinking how well-mannered I was, and what a nice woman Mrs. Blake was, and how well she knew her place, after you had chatted over half your parish with me. I know you are the curiousest man in it, and as you and me is old friends, I don’t mind owning up just to please you. It’ll save a lot of time and a lot of money.’
‘It’s my duty to warn you,’ said John, ’that anything you say may be used against you.’
‘Used against a fiddlestick end!’ said Mrs. Blake. ’I married Robert Sigglesfield in the name of William Alderton, and he sitting trembling there, like a shrimp half boiled! He got ready the kind of will we wanted instead of the one the old man meant, and gave it to the old man to sign, and he signed it right enough.’