I gave the porter who took my bag a shilling. Practically it was my last, but that lawyer’s face and manner seemed to justify the expenditure which—so oddly are our minds constituted—I remember reflecting I might regret if I had drawn a false inference. The man touched his hat profusely, and, I hope, made up his mind to vote for me next time. Then I turned to the Head of the Firm and said:—
“Pray, don’t apologise; but, by the way, beyond that of the death of my poor friend, what is the news?”
“Oh, perhaps you know it,” he answered, taken aback at my manner, “though she always insisted upon its being kept a dead secret, so that one day you might have a pleasant surprise.”
“I know nothing,” I answered.
“Then I am glad to be the bearer of such good intelligence to a fortunate and distinguished man,” he said with a bow. “I have the honour to inform you in my capacity of executor to the will of the late Mrs. Martha Strong that, with the exception of a few legacies, you are left her sole heir.”
Now I wished that the hat-rack was still at hand, but, as it was not, I pretended to stumble, and leant for a moment against the porter who had received my last shilling.
“Indeed,” I said recovering myself, “and can you tell me the amount of the property?”
“Not exactly,” he answered, “but she has led a very saving life, and money grows, you know, money grows. I should say it must be between three and four hundred thousand, nearer the latter than the former, perhaps.”
“Really,” I replied, “that is more than I expected; it is a little astonishing to be lifted in a moment from the position of one with a mere competence into that of a rich man. But our poor friend was—well, weak-minded, so how could she be competent to make a binding will?”
“My dear sir, her will was made within a month of her husband’s death, when she was as sane as you are, as I have plenty of letters to show. Only, as I have said, she kept the contents a dead secret, in order that one day they might be a pleasant surprise to you.”
“Well,” I answered, “all things considered, they have been a pleasant surprise; I may say a very pleasant surprise. And now let us go and have some dinner at the club. I feel tired and thirsty.”
Next morning the letter that I had posted from London to the chairman of my committee was, at my request, returned to me unopened.
JANE MEETS DR. MERCHISON
Nobody disputed my inheritance, for, so far as I could learn, Mrs. Strong had no relatives. Nor indeed could it have been disputed, for I had never so much as hypnotised the deceased. When it was known how rich I had become I grew even more popular in Dunchester than I had been before, also my importance increased at headquarters to such an extent that on a change of Government I became, as I have said, Under-Secretary