The Bird of Paradise
Chapter I. The Reading of the Coal-King's Will. The Dirge of the Wool-Merchant
Chapter I. The Reading of the Coal-King's Will. The Dirge of the Wool-Merchant.
What a demon is Avarice! What tumults it generates, what miseries it brings into the life of man, till he is laid in the grave! In the harp of life what chord more jarring than the chord of self, or what can be more revolting than the preternatural enmity it engenders? Ere yet the green grass has ripened on the mound, what discord it creates to disunite the family forces; what bad blood it infuses into their veins, sowing the tares of envy, hatred and malice amongst the smiling cornfield of domestic simplicity and love! What rank weeds grow upon the soil over a rich man's coffin—treachery, lies, perjury—as the law courts batten on the strife over his will! What autogenetic1 conflicts it breeds! dissociating the factors whose union is strength: putting brother against brother, sister against sister, wife against husband in the all-pervading struggle of the primal law of self-aggrandisation, rolling and sweeping on no matter what other hearts are ground beneath the wheels, emitting its foul vapours to suffocate the noblest instincts of man, and to poison his being with the sting of its advocate, the Law!
During the afternoon, preceding the funeral on the forenoon of the day after the great man died, Marvel enlisted the services of a new servant to clean out, wash out, scrub out and scrape out the long-uninhabited Eden-hall, now at last, as she felt fully convinced in her own mind, a paradisal appanage in her own right. Her father had said something approaching a promise of the kind some years before, and whatever was wanting in the terms and conditions of the promise as uttered by the great man himself was supplemented by the fertile and active imagination of the bird of Paradise. In taking arbitrary possession of Edenhall, she manifested the feeling which she possessed by inviting her cousin and her cousin's husband—who had by the way brought all his picaninnies with him, and had been waiting for some days for the old man to pass in his cheques and clear out—to remain for a few weeks as her guests at Edenhall. Bustling about the house, knocking the dust off the mantelpiece—which from non-residence was an inch thick everywhere—the oblong mahogany table, the leather suite and the semi-grand Holling and Spangenberg, whose flowered page 252brown-holland case she carefully omitted to replace, she peeped into every room and scrutinized every corner quite a dozen times, to reassure herself that everything was as it should be and in strict accordance with her tastes and fancies, after which, with a last long look of complacent vanity in the mirror, the bird of Paradise flew away after her cousin and her cousin's husband, in order to overtake them before they reached the old home.
The picaninnies, seven in number, one with a sore throat, one with weak eyes, one with scabby ears, another with the mumps, all with the snuffles, and every little face as brown as a saddle, were all left under the espionage of Pearly and Valentine, who were again supposed to be in charge of the newly - arrived servant; but as there were so many duties for her to perform in the house, and she found it necessary to run messages for a load of wood, a broom, a bucket, a bar of soap, a scrubbing-brush, some safety matches, blacklead and a set of blacklead brushes, all the babies were left under the sole control of Pearly for the morning and the rest of the day, while Valentine looked after himself the best way he could. Pearly being of a motherly, sociable and good-natured disposition embraced the task as cordially as she could, considering the inroads made upon her exertions by the guerrilla warfare of her own little brother. She arranged the pica-ninnies into a sort of al-fresco school—a work in which she had a large experience by five years' practice upon dolls of various sizes, nationalities, and dispositions. The priory was, however, turned into a skittle-alley by the sportive Valentine, instead of assisting his dutiful sister in the management of the establishment. He planted himself behind a gooseberry bush, from which ambuscade he shelled the school with the berries and made sorties upon the disciples in order to dismiss them for the Thanksgiving Day truce by knocking the babies off their seats like nine-pins off their alley. He otherwise made such raids upon the internal economy of the institution that it became a matter of downright impossibility for the little mother to keep the school together. Coming to the conclusion that there was nothing to engross or even attract her attention in the obtuse and scrofulous baby-show, she imparted the profound secret into the private ear of Vallie—that they all had scabby heads and that she intended to cut their acquaintanceship. The little confidence was not, however, strictly observed by her brother, for as soon as he saw the mother and father of the scabby-headed picaninnies, he communicated the secret to them, as if it had been a discovery of his own, and he furthermore shocked the proud parents by stoutly maintaining that his father was a doctor and had told him they all had the dry-rot and the scurvy.
The doctor himself, after visiting a few of his former acquaintances and friends among the collieries, dropped into the abode of his sweet-tempered mother-in-law with the intention of enquiring if he might be of any use. The inmates of the old house, however, seemed to still keep him in quarantine, unable to get rid of the notion that he had something infectious the matter with him. When he sat down on the page 253sofa, the little, wizened, widowed old scowler candidly informed him that he was not wanted; so that not finding a willing recipient of his offer, in spite of the fact that there was no danger then of any bequest to him reducing the sizes of their own, and as the master of the house was not able to ask him to help himself to the whisky standing in the decanter on a little table in the portico, he helped himself without being asked. Whereupon, after having inoculated the cushion of the sofa with a small colony of microbes, he made his exit from the house, the flavour of the whisky being greatly improved by the fact that he knew it was sorely begrudged.
It was close on dinner-time—for he had seen the afflicted widow taking the lid of the stew-pan off some smoking hot potatoes, and stirring up the fire till it danced around a turkey-gobbler nearly ready for the attack. All the others stayed behind drinking porter as he bent his steps back to the garden of Edenhall, where, although he found his little son remarkably adroit in the nine-pins arena, he did not at all chide him for the mischief, but seemed rather to enjoy the fun himself, providoring the little soldier with ammunition from the gooseberry bush.
Next morning, the time for the funeral drawing near, back again he walked after breakfast alone to the starting-place and heard when he arrived at the house from the greatly excited, highly expectant Simon Bubtitt that the will had come, but, as the undertaker was then screwing down the lid of the coffin, there was not sufficient time to go into it properly before the starting of the cortége; that nearly all agreed that as they had waited so long they might as well wait another hour, and that a resolution had been passed with only one dissentient—which was himself—compelling them to wait until the funeral was over.
Entering the room where the body lay the undertaker's assistant removed the one screw which he had driven and lifting the lid of the shell he exposed the face of the great Julian Jasper Gould beneath a little oval window-pane, where, calm and peaceful, but with a disappointed expression on his face, lay the old warrior in his spruce-pine coffin, while a presentiment thrilled along the nerves of his son-in-law that the sun of his own peace and happiness, whatever there had been theretofore in his home, had now gone down for ever.
Retiring from the room, which was filled with the sweet odours of early summer flowers, mingled with the sickly lingering putrescence of the room engendered during his illness, as in wreaths of white roses and immortelles of everlasting flowers they lay upon the coffin, he noticed a vast crowd of spectators and a long rank of vehicles of all sorts drawn up outside with the hearse and one old shabby-genteel mourning-coach. Walking down the passage to the lobby, be heard deep and convulsive sobs, lamentations, and remonstrations from two persons whom he fancied must be comparative strangers to him, apparently locked in one of the rooms. It could not be the old man's widow, for he saw her making pancakes in the kitchen; it could not be the only son, for he was attending page 254to the duties of steward of whisky bottles in the front parlour among a large body of friends of the deceased. Upon approaching the door whence the sobs proceeded he turned the handle of what proved to be a bathroom. Stooping over the bath, with his craped silk-hat in one hand and his yellow silk pockethandkerchief in the other, supported at the back by the dwarf who had poked his nose through the chink of the door on the occasion of the doctor's first visit to the house, and remonstrated with by the voice whose owner was possessed of the aforesaid nose "without any signs of a cold in the head or anything in any way resembling snuff or smelling-salts, or onions," to be seen in the bathroom wherever he cast his eyes, tottered and knocked his knees together the quailing form of the man who had possession of the will—Theophilus Grieve, the long-necked wool-merchant, and sole-executor of the opulent coal-king.
"Come on, Mr Grieve—come on, come on," drawled out the voice through the nose, as the ugly abortive Augustus pulled at the coat-tails of the overwhelmed lanky man of sorrows.
"I can't, I can't—ahoo—I can't. I can't—ahoo—ahoo," responded the sole executor as he dried the big drops away and blowed away at his bugle nose.
The remonstrating monstrosity did his best to support and console the pitiable Theophilus, the wool-merchant and sole executor of the will, but the only response was the one refrain—"I can't, I can't—ahoo."
When this little side-play had lasted for some fifteen minutes, without making any appreciable difference to the flow through the plug-hole of the bath, the emotional mourner mopped out the source of the water-supply with his yellow pockethandkerchief, and resting his elbow on the shoulder of the afflicted and disgusted, yet ostensibly sympathising, fowl-farmer, he walked in hysterical and theatrical outbursts to the mourning-coach. Behind him the undertaker banged the door, and winked a derisive wink at the assistant.
Compared with the sad and solemn faces of the loyal, manly, hard-working miners, whose means of family support for all they knew were about to be buried in the grave, it appeared to a casual observer that the loud lamentation was not altogether genuine grief on the part of Theophilus Grieve over the loss of his friend. It seemed as if he was desirous of blinding the fact that he had been caught having a quiet peep at the will in the bathroom in order to satisfy himself that the executor's percentage was three, as promised.
Soon after, there entered the mourning-coach all the other male members of the family in a body, including the doctor, who was well known to the bystanders and the workmen, and to them the great departed had expressed his pride of his son-in-law. Running the gauntlet of the microbes, he had been invited by Reginald Gould to walk beside him from the house to the coach.
The dismal bell tolled from the village chapel tower, driving home to every heart its messages of the limited span and the uncertainty page 255of life and its solemn warnings of mortality. The driver of the mourning-coach, after closing the door behind them, mounted his box and followed the already moving hearse—a very common and old-fashioned concern—while the lady members of the mourning family remained behind in the parlour. Two hundred miners fell in, two deep, behind the squeaking, creaking hearse, while the main thoroughfare to Maconville—between which and the Cyclops and Agamemnon collieries the graveyard lay—was thickly thronged with onlookers at the long cavalcade. Large as the attendance at the funeral was, the hurry-skurry and the unseemly haste with which the arrangements were made and carried out had precluded hosts of the old man's friends in the city from paying their respects to him at the grave. There was no reason whatever for such dispatch in the committal of the body to the ground beyond the allaying of the anxieties of the relatives in connection with the will. The corpse was as innocuous as the antirrhinums and white roses that bestrewed the coffin, for the undertaker had dusted it with powdered pumicestone. The weather was fine for weeks together. Hundreds of his admirers regretted that no obituary notice appeared in the city papers until after their old friend had been buried, and it can be truthfully said that wherever he was known—and he was widely known in the city—he was universally respected and esteemed. The honourable member of Congress for Maconville telegraphed urging a little delay, but the request was ignored.
The plain and respectable funeral wended its slow wearisome way to the cemetery, with measured mournful minute tolls of the village church bell to where among the tossing cedars the lugubrious voice of the Presbyterian minister could be heard consigning the remains of the coal-mining patriarch to the grave. If there be as much faith in honest doubt as in half the creeds2, it made no difference to Julian Jasper Gould—the fact of which he had often made an open boast in the bars of the numerous hotels which he patronised that he had not seen the inside of a church for forty years.
In life he had been seen by thousands every day; in death every anniversary of his funeral obsequies only his old manager, Vernon Jay, was to be seen at his tomb. The winter rains and floods wore down the earth of the grave to within a few feet of the coffin. Sagging down it remained for upwards of a year, when, the proceeds of a family subscription, a little plain slab marked the last resting place of the great and mighty coal-king. Upon it was enamelled in black—"Julian Jasper Gould: died on Thanks-giving's Day, 1850: aged 72 years. Well done thou good and faithful servant. Rest in Peace." In twelve months it was hidden by a growth of straggling gorse.
"I must be gone to the crowd untold
Of men by the cause which they served unknown,
Who moulder in myriad graves of old;
Never a story and never a stone
Tells of the martyrs who die like me,
Just for the pride of the old countree."3
Hurrying away from the grave, some before the service for the dead was concluded, the large concourse of attendants trotted away down the cemetery road in a mad rush for the township and the houses near the collieries. The jaded old black prod that did duty in the mourning-coach was no match for the trotters that flew past him in impromptu trotting matches, and was by one and all left behind in the uproarious race for home.
The grief of the wailing wool-merchant had now been spent—indeed it had completely evaporated as soon as the door of the mourning-coach had been closed upon him, insomuch he briskly led the conversation therein on the subjects of the Great Leviathan Antediluvian Tin Mine bubble and the various qualities of River Plate wool.
Guesses at the respective sizes of the fortunes which each member of the family would receive were indulged in by the son, the dwarf, and the wide-awake Simon, while the doctor himself remarked that he knew years before that the money which the old man had possessed would be distributed in unequal shares among his own blood relations, as the mighty man had frequently said so to him personally. Approaching the house and satisfied to wait without keeping up the discussion to the very door, as this might bear an unbecoming interpretation, the mourners maintained a dignified silence on the subject and with very knowing egressions on their faces they paid strict attention to the speculative and portentous executor, who had the will in his pocket, with the corner sticking out upon his collar and intended to read it, as per arrangement, in the presence of the assembled family as soon as the old prod could worry his way back with them.
When he finally came to a full-stop at the gate and gave utterance to a groan, as if in mockery of the king on his last night, the mourning-coach deposited its convoy of live stock, and the interested parties walked in much more cheerfully than they had walked out, with the solitary exception of the doctor. He remained on the footpath, and was preparing to walk away in quest of his children when he was pounced upon by the son and heir, who averred that the reading of the will would be informal if he were not present; whereupon they walked back to the house together.
Entering the little mortuary whence the dead man had been removed and which during their absence had been cleaned up a bit by the bereaved widow for the ceremony of the reading of the will, they found the disconsolate old lady silting bolt upright in the easy chair, with Marvel and Sukey Bubtitt on straight-back chairs one on each wing. Oh! sweet star of simplicity, candour and innocence, how meekly sittest thou upon the foreheads of those three inexpressibly unconcerned countenances! How thou dost twinkle from afar across the sea of troubles to enlighten the ethereal souls of those saintly dames! How winkest thou at their calm composure as the pregnant parchment is unfolded, and how settest thou for ages when its mysteries are revealed, after scintillating through those dazzling dark eyes, as thy gorgeous companion, the bird of the page 257eternal heavens turns her face aside to nod at the old fowl upon the entrance of her husband!
From the little flutter among the saints occasioned by the entrance of the son, the dwarf, the gimlet-eyed Simon and the wool-merchant, it was fancied that they had been drawing sweeps out of the old man's hat, as it was taken up from the floor and hung up on a peg when the party came in and took their seats.
Producing the precious document from his inside pocket, the eleemosynary Theophilus Grieve with tears in spangles and icicles on his beard began to address the solemn conclave in a speech, the purport of which was that he had never read the contents of the document. Qu'il s'excuse s'accuse4! Nobody said that he had, and the little preamble carrying his faculties back to the previous interruption in the bath-room was accompanied by a pronounced attempt at another similar performance, but for some hidden psychological reason the lamentation hung fire for a while. Having succeeded in disentangling the knot in the bit of red tape tied by himself around the parchment, and having put the red tape in his waistcoat pocket, he proceeded to unravel the folds of the document. Smoothing them all out in silence that would have reflected great credit on the divine service of a Roman cathedral upon his knees, he placed his one pane of eyeglass in position and, when the eyeglass was well and truly laid, shooting his search-lights over the first page of the will he began to read aloud for the edification of the palpitating impatient mourners.
"This is the last will and testament of Julian Jasp—ahoo—ahoo—I can't—ahoo: ahoo—I can't—ahoo: ahoo—ahoo—ahoo:"—when, as he slewed around to get the yellow handkerchief out of the overcoat thrown over the piano, the last will and testament fell on the floor and wound itself up again. The hawk-eyed Simon bore down upon it as rapaciously as glue-pot Ike would on an old door-mat, and in one fell swoop he fixed the will in his talons. "Shall I read it, Mr. Grieve?" said simple Simon, but before you would wink your eye the handkerchief was returned to the pocket and, with a groan and a look of reproval at the hastiness of the eager individual, he straightened out the folds again, knocked off a few spots of dust, and with a mighty effort to repress his emotions, he boldly entered the breech again. Following along the lines with his finger arid remembering where he broke down, he proceeded—"Julian Jasper Gould: all other wills I revoke, this tenth day of the month of June one thousand eight hundred and forty-seven. I hereby bequeath all my linen, plate, furniture and other effects in my residence at Maconville to Jean Gould, my lawful wife, to be for her own separate and exclusive use so long as she may live. I bequeath to my son Reginald Jasper Gould the sum of two hundred thousand dollars on trust, and I direct my executor to invest the same in government bonds and securities in the New York bank, and the interest thereof to be paid to my said son in quarterly installments from the date of my death. I bequeath to my sister, Margaret Amanda Horn-blower, the sum of twenty thousand dollars on trust, to be invested by my page 258executor in government bonds and securities of the associated banks, and the interest thereof to be paid to my said sister in quarterly installments from the date of my death."
Here the uneasy afflicted widow suddenly hoisted herself from the easy chair and abruptly marched quick-steps out of the door. During her absence profound silence was observed, and although nobody could divine from what cause she had left in such a peculiar manner, the old man's son maintained that the reading of the will might be informal if proceeded with in his mother's absence, and that, even as it was, the interruption might be made a ground for upsetting the will by some lawyer or other. Accordingly, he suggested that the portion already read out containing a clause relating to himself should be read over again. This suggestion, however, was negatived by the meeting, and especially by the casting vote of the chairman, who expressed his dissent from the proposition by feeling for his yellow bugle-wiper, pulling it out and convulsively sobbing the dirge—"Ahoo—ahoo—ahoo—I can't: ahoo—ahoo—ahoo: Ahoo—I can't—ahoo—ahoo: ahoo—I can't—ahoo." The absentee beneficiare returned while the second bar of the dirge was in progress. Blowing her snivelling nose on a clean handkerchief, she replaced herself in her former position without deeming it necessary to apologise for her rude interruption or making any explanation whatever. Perhaps she had forgotten to pray before the reading of the will. Theophilus replaced his handkerchief and, without affording the covetous Simon a ghost of a chance to finger it again, he proceeded with the reading of the will.
"I further bequeath to my lawful wife, Jean Gould, the sum of three thousand dollars per annum, such sum to be deducted from the interest accruing upon my estate and to be for her separate use, so long as she may live in the state of widowhood."
"You nearly missed that mother," said the filial son: "the clause would have been informal if you had not heard it read by the executor," and the doctor began to wish that Pearly and Valentine had been there if such was to be the case.
Withdrawing the clean handkerchief, she tied a little knot in the corner of it, and winding it like a piece of string around her forefinger she twirled and revolved it in the corner of her eye till nature resented the visitation by turning it an underdone-mutton colour. Snivelling with her nose in unison with the rubbing of her eye she after a few minutes desisted and for the remainder of the reading she leaned back in the easy-chair, heaved a long and expressive sigh of relief and turned up the whites of her eyes to the ceiling, gazing in the direction of the skies at the illusion of old Julian in a white robe among the angels; following him as he flitted from choir to choir, as lovingly as she had tracked him to Don Juan house, where she had often fancied she saw him on earth in a nightgown and carrying a candle. She seemed to be saying to herself—"Weel, old man, ye cut yersel' up gay bonnie for yer auld Jean:" while the ahooing member proceeded merrily with the rest of the important will.page 259
"I bequeath to my niece Susannah Bubtitt, daughter of my sister Margaret Amanda Hornblower, the sum of two thousand dollars on trust, to be invested by my trustee in Mexican railways, and the interest thereof to be paid to my said niece the said Susannah Bubtitt: the said payments to be paid as the said Mexican Railways may declare their dividends after the day of my death and during the term of her present or any future coverture."
The keen-eye-to-business man here politely preferred a request that the kind executor, if it were not asking too great a favour, as he had not been listening to the last clause, should read the clause over again, or let him view the written words with his own eyes because he had fully expected and had been led to believe that—
"Ahoo—ahoo—I can't," said the interrupted Theophilus: "ahoo—ahoo—I can't," blowing his nose and wiping his perspiring forehead, while the matronly Jean still sat ogling the vision of old Julian up aloft.
The sobs and the "ahoos" were a source of great annoyance and disgust to the bird of Paradise, the Air and the Sun, whose store of patience could scarcely stand the suspense and whose blood fairly bubbled in her veins, twitched the tips of her fingers and kept creeping up and down her spinal marrow, while her adamantine heart missed a few pulsations. White with anxiety, she fixed the "ahooing" member with her fierce and jet-black eyes, beating down her importunate bosom as she muttered between her teeth, "Be still, my heart, be still," and the lanky, husky-voiced reader continued.
"I bequeath to my daughter," came the tardy words after a few more sniffs and snorts, "Marvel Imogen Narramore Gould (very sudden flutter on the paradisal chair) the sum of two hundred thousand dollars on trust, to be invested by my executor in the city of New York bank (paradisal face blood-red: mouth wide open); the interest thereof to be paid in quarterly installments from the date of my death to the said Marvel Imogen Narra-more Gould during her present or any future coverture; such bequest to be subject to the obligation of maintaining and educating my grand-children, Pearly Imogen Gould Whitworth and Valentine Gordon Whitworth, the children of Eugene Percival Whitworth, of 'The Elms,' Galveston, doctor of medicine."
Marvel's face exhibited kaleidoscopic changes from a peacock-blue to an ashy white, and the aërial, celestial and heliotropical beneficiare gave a dainty little cough and said "ahum," while anon she hopped off the chair, looked out of the window, and wreathed her compressed lips into peculiar pouts, signifying "I should have had it all to myself; he might have thrown the house in and left the kids out—bother the kids; he said he would leave me the house as well as the money: let that animal over there pay for his own kids."
Oh! sun of the universe, how shinest thou upon the just and the unjust! Oh! wheel of Fortune, how dost thou whirl together promiscuous atoms: picking up in thy unending revolutions the waif, the stray, the foundling page 260and the usurper, to favour them with thy magical smiles equally with the curled darlings who loll in the rose-bowers of thy luxuries, thy paradisal palaces and thy sumptuous homes!
"Furthermore," continued the wool-merchant, like Niobe5, all tears; "I bequeath to my son, Julian Horatio Cholmon—de—ahoo—ahoo: I can't—ahoo: ahoo—ahoo—ahoo: what's this? (bearing down on the name with the magnifying glass): C-h-o-l-m-o-n-d-eley—Julian Horatio Chol-monde-ley, the son of myself and Charlotte Chol-mon-deley of Don Juan House, New Orleans"—whereupon the recalcitrant Simon said the proper pronunciation was Chumley, and Theophilus continued, "the sum of ninety thousand dollars, to be invested by my trustees at compound interest in Mexican Railroads until the said Julian Horatio Cholmondeley attains the age of twenty-one years, at which epoch of his life I direct the said sum with interest to be paid to this my said son, in full. I furthermore bequeath to Aurora Laura Leonora Cholmondeley, my daughter by the aforesaid Charlotte Cholmondeley, the like sum under the like conditions."
Julian Horatio Cholmondeley was at the time mewling and puking on his mother's knees in Don Juan House, and Aurora Laura Leonora was running wild about the streets with a nose that might have suggested she was a connexion of Martha Wax, but she was not. Suddenly all the beneficiares assumed an expression of morgue and appeared to be making ready for a set of quadrilles; facing in couples and curtseying at one another, they seemed to be setting to partners and waiting for the music to proceed. No dance, however, was contemplated, as might have been known by the vinegar faces on every mortified legatee; while the disconcerted sole executor rattled away at a great rate over the remainder of the coal-king's will.
It was a most elaborate, intricate compilation; with "saids" and "aforesaids" preponderating and redundating in every line; its complexities filled up nine pages of parchment, each page two feet by eighteen inches in dimensions. So closely packed was the verbiage that there was barely room left at the bottom of each page for the awful signature of the great and mighty air-compressor, Julian Jasper Gould, ending with a stroke like a rope's-end, and the attestation of the witness who had never read the will before, in similar hieroglyphics, with a fanciful clove-hitch underneath.
Amongst other clauses—there being seventy-seven in all, counting numerous codicils—it gave power to the executor to carry on the work of the Cyclops and Agamemnon collieries, and it bequeathed the magnanimous amount of two hundred dollars sterling to the New Orleans Benevolent Asylum. It further stipulated that the residuary estate should be invested in Mexican Railways or other safe securities at compound interest, and that on the attaining of the age of twenty-five years by the youngest grandchild, namely Valentine, living at the time of the testator's death, the accumulated legacies to the several beneficiares, invested in Mexican Railroads, banks and government securities, should be withdrawn, and page 261after being added to the amount resulting from the compound interest and principal of the residuary estate, the sum-total should be equally divided amongst all his children and grand-children, share and share alike. In conclusion, it gave authority to the executor to anticipate the residuary estate for the use of the coal-mines, and power to the several beneficiares to anticipate or mortgage their incomes.
The gravelled, wriggling Simon Bubtitt, with the hopes of consolation from a fellow-feeling in the doctor, followed at his heels as the party left the room, and when outside he bemoaned his bad luck at not being mentioned in the will. He could not make it out at all, he said, why he should have been left out in the cold, looking down at his boots and up at the sky, leaning well over to one side and diving his hand into an old-fashioned fob in his trousers high up under his waistcoat, pulling out his purse, counting out how much he had therein and biting his finger-nails, while he made no secret of the fact that he had fully expected the old beggar would have cut up better for Sukey than he had done. He had promised something for himself, he said, when the Great Leviathan Antediluvian Diamantino Tin-mine bubble burst, and simple Simon had suffered a considerable loss. Had Eugene chosen, he could have mentioned many instances of the old man's short-comings in performance and his wanton liberality with promises, but he had no love for Simon Bubtitt and abstained from making any comments. The thwarted business man went into all the minutiæ of the will, which he seemed to have thoroughly mastered. He had all the salient points on his finger-ends and the tip of his tongue, while the wailing executor and the beneficiares formed another division in the portico.
Now that the difficult and onerous task of reading the will was un fait accompli, the lachrymations of the distressful wool-merchant had disappeared, the gravy-looking eye of the old lady resumed its natural steel-grey, the lurid, transitory lustre in the niece's optics returned to their normal parboiled-periwinkle murkiness, and the manifold colours of Marvel to her natural, pigmented gipsy-brown.
As the two divisions disbanded Eugene walked out through the front gate. Though not expressing his feelings, he felt that a terrific blow had been delivered upon him, and while the clauses bequeathing so much money to his wife were being read he could not have restrained his foreboding looks for a pension. He comforted himself with the knowledge that his darling little Pearly and his manly little Valentine had not been forgotten; but regretted the provision imposed in the will that their maintenance and education should be paid for by any man's money but his own.
Upon the whole, all the parties were apparently satisfied, with the one exception of Simon—he alone was crestfallen at the manner in which the old opulent coal-skipper had distributed his estate. The tearful executor, too, was in high glee, as he had been allowed three and a-half per cent. for his trouble in blowing his nose and ahooing. The only factor to mar page 262the general contentment was the smudge on the family escutcheon in the legacies bequeathed to the illegitimate children, who, had they not been cared and provided for by their world-wise father, would probably have been reared like children of shame and knocked about from post to pillar as nuisances and disgraces. A special meeting was called to argue the question of excising the damnatory clause from the will, but the executor had in his long life suffered some bitter experiences of law and strenuously protested against the proposal that anybody should tamper with the sheets, as such mutilation would undeniably invalidate the legal interpretation of the will as a whole. A resolution was put before the special meeting by the old man's son to the effect that all and sundry who had heard the fatal clause should swear an oath upon the holy bible that he or she should never divulge the malodorous portion, on penalty of forfeiture of his or her bequest, and of excommunication for life from the confines of the hallowed circle of the lofty house of Jean Gould in the case of those to whom no pecuniary advantages accrued. This resolution was unanimously carried; but as the desolate widow was so long in finding the holy book—which, if the truth had been told, the family never possessed—the keen-eyed Simon, somewhat nettled at his hard lines, ridiculed the proposal and flippantly remarked that Mrs. Beeton's cookery-book lay on the kitchen mantelshelf and could be used as a substitute for the undiscoverable bible. This created a vague detraction from the sacred nature of the oath, and gave him an opportunity for a further remark, that Julian Horatio Cholmondeley and Aurora Laura Leonora were only two little sinners in a hundred who might have been mentioned under similar conditions: while both the broncho-asthmatical auntie and Augustus, who did not appear at all put about, opined that although the said little sinners had inherited large legacies it was only a recompense for the shame in which they were born, and that it would have been better for themselves if they had never been born at all. The old lady returned without the book but with a very apoplectic face, caused by stooping down and rummaging amongst old boxes underneath the beds, and complimenting the auntie and the dwarf on the good sense of their concluding remarks, which seemed to produce a simultaneous impression upon them all, a ludicrous turn was given to the proceedings, resulting nem con6 in the facetious resolution to the effect that the oaths should be left as merely binding upon the rigidity or elasticity of their several consciences, if any. Some took oaths upon the intangible article in question; others took their dying oaths. It was, however, a vain vexation of their spirits: insomuch on the following morning full details of the will appeared in the city newspapers, emblazoning the name of Aurora Laura Leonora and Julian Horatio Cholmondeley with their full pedigrees as complete as if they both were prominent candidates for the Corinthian Cup.
Thus it is that the besmirching of the family escutcheon of the blood kindred of the colliery king is une note hurlante for ever.page 263
5 In Greek mythology, a woman who was punished for her pride with the deaths of all of her children; in her incessant grief, she was changed into a stone, which still wept. Dictionary of Classical Mythology 1995.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]