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   Chapter 10 AUNT GREEN'S LEGACY.

The Twins By Martin Farquhar Tupper Characters: 9290

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


At last-at last, Mrs. Green fell ill, and, hard upon the over-ripe age of eighty-seven, seemed likely to drop into the grave-to the unspeakable delight of her expectant relatives. Sooth to say, niece Jane, the soured and long-waiting legatee, had now for years been treating the poor old woman very scurvily: she had lived too long, and had grown to be a burden; notwithstanding that her ample income still kept on the house, and enabled the general to nurse his own East India Bonds right comfortably. But still the old aunt would not die, and as they sought not her, nor heir's (quite contrary to St. Paul's disinterestedness), she was looked upon in the light of an incumbrance, on her own property and in her own house. Mrs. Tracy longed to throw off the yoke of dependance, and made small secret of the hatred of the fetter: for the old woman grew so deaf and blind, that there could be no risk at all, either in speaking one's mind, or in thoroughly neglecting her.

However, now that the harvest of hope appeared so near, the legatee renewed her old attentions: Death was a guest so very welcome to the house, that it is no wonder that his arrival was hourly expected with buoyant cheerfulness, and a something in the mask of kindliness: but I suspect that lamb-skin concealed a very wolf. So, Mrs. Tracy tenderly inquired of the doctor, and the doctor shook his head; and other doctors came to help, and shook their heads together. The patient still grew worse-O, brightening prospect!-though, now and then, a cordial draught seemed to revive her so alarmingly, that Mrs. Tracy affectionately urging that the stimulants would be too exciting for the poor dear sufferer's nerves, induced Dr. Graves to discontinue them. Then those fearful scintillations in her lamp of life grew fortunately duller, and the nurse was by her bed-side night and day; and the old aunt became more and more peevish, and was more and more spoken of by the Tracy family-in her possible hearing, as "that dear old soul"-out of it, "that vile old witch."

Charles, to be sure, was an exception in all this, as he ever was: for he took on him the Christian office of reading many prayers to the poor decaying creature, and (only that his father would not hear of such a thing) desired to have the vicar to assist him. Emily also, full of sympathy, and disinterested care, would watch the fretful patient, hour after hour, in those long, dull nights of pain; and the poor, old, perishing sinner loved her coming, for she spoke to her the words of hope and resignation. Whether that sweet missionary, scarcely yet a convert from her own dark creed-(Alas! the Amina had offered unto Juggernaut, and Emily of the strong hill-fort had scarcely heard of any truer God; and the fair girl was a woman-grown before, in her first earthly love, she also came to know the mercies Heaven has in store for us)-whether unto any lasting use she prayed and reasoned with that hard, dried heart, none but the Omniscient can tell. Let us hope: let us hope; for the fretful voice was stilled, and the cloudy forehead brightened, and the haggard eyes looked cheerfully to meet the inevitable stroke of death. Thus in wisdom and in charity, in patience and in faith, that gentle pair of lovers comforted the dying soul.

However, days rolled away, and Aunt Green lingered on still, tenaciously clinging unto life: until one morning early, she felt so much better, that she insisted on being propped up by pillows, and seeing all the household round her bed to speak to them. So up came every one, in no small hope of legacies, and what the lawyers call "donationes mortis causa."

The general was at her bed's-head, with, I am ashamed to say, perhaps unconsciously, a countenance more ridiculous than lugubrious; though he tried to subdue the buoyancy of hope and to put on looks of decent mourning; on the other side, the long-expectant legatee, Niece Jane, prudently concealed her questionable grief behind a scented pocket-handkerchief. Julian held somewhat aloof, for the scene was too depressing for his taste: so he affected to read a prayer-book, wrong way up, with his tongue in his cheek: Charles, deeply solemnized at the near approach of death, knelt at the poor invalid's bedside; and Emily stood by, leaning over her, suffused in tears. At the further corners of the bed, might be seen an old servant or two; and Mrs. Green's butler and coachman, each a forty years' fixture, presented their gray heads at the bottom of the room, and really looked exceedingly concerned.

Mrs. Green addressed them first, in her feeble broken manner: "Grant-and John-good and fait

hful-thank you-thank you both; and you too, kind Mrs. Lloyd, and Sally, and nurse-what's-your-name: give them the packets, nurse-all marked-first drawer, desk: there-there-God bless you-good-faithful."

The old servants, full of sorrow at her approaching loss, were comforted too: for a kind word, and a hundred pound note a-piece, made amends for much bereavement: the sick-nurse found her gift was just a tithe of their's, and recognised the difference both just and kind.

"Niece Jane-you've waited-long-for-this day: my will-rewards you."

"O dear-dear aunt, pray don't talk so; you'll recover yet, pray-pray don't:" she pretended to drown the rest in sorrow, but winked at her husband over the handkerchief.

"Julian!" (the precious youth attempted to look miserable, and came as called,) "you will find-I have remembered-you, Julian." So he winked, too, at his mother, and tried to blubber a "thank you."

"Charles-where's Charles? give me your hand, Charles dear-let me feel your face: here, Charles-a little pocket-book-good lad-good lad. There's Emily, too-dear child, she came-too late-I forgot her-I forgot her! general give her half-half-if you love-love-Emi-"

All at once her jaw dropped; her eyes, which had till now been preternaturally bright, filmed over; her head fell back upon the pillow; and the rich old aunt was dead.

Julian gave a shout that might have scared the parting spirit!

Really, the general was shocked, and Mrs. Tracy too; and the servants murmured "shame-shame!" poor Charles hid his face; Emily looked up indignantly; but Julian asked, with an oath, "Where's the good of being hypocrites?" and then added, "now, mother, let us find the will."

Then the nurse went to close the dim glazed eyes; and the other sorrowing domestics slunk away; and Charles led Emily out of the chamber of death, saddened and shocked at such indecent haste.

Meanwhile, the hopeful trio rummaged every drawer-tumbled out the mingled contents of boxes, desk, and escritoire-still, no will-no will: and at last the nurse, who more than once had muttered, "Shame on you all," beneath her breath, said,

"If you want the will, it's under her pillow: but don't disturb her yet, poor thing!"

Julian's rude hand had already thrust aside the lifeless, yielding head, and clutched the will: the father and mother-though humbled and wonder-stricken at his daring-gathered round him; and he read aloud, boldly and steadily to the end, though with scowling brow, and many curses interjectional:

"In the name of God, Amen. I, Constance Green, make this my last will and testament. Forasmuch as my niece, Jane Tracy, has watched and waited for my death these two-and-twenty years, I leave her all the shoes, slippers, and goloshes, whereof I may happen to die possessed: item, I leave Julian, her son, my 'Whole Duty of Man,' convinced that he is deficient in it all: item, I confirm all the gifts which I intend to make upon my death-bed: item, forasmuch as General Tracy, my niece's husband, on his return from abroad, greeted me with much affection, I bequeath and give to him five thousand pounds' worth of Exchequer bills, now in my banker's hands; and appoint him my sole executor. As to my landed property, it will all go, in course of law, to my heir, Samuel Hayley, and may he and his long enjoy it. And as to the remainder of my personal effects, including nine thousand pounds bank stock, my Dutch fives, and other matters, whereof I may die possessed (seeing that my relatives are rich enough without my help), I give and bequeath the same, subject as hereinbefore stated, to the trustees, for the time being, of the Westminster Lying-in Hospital, in trust, for the purposes of that charitable institution. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 13th day of May, 1840.

"Constance Green."

"Duly signed, sealed, and delivered! d--nation!" was Julian's brief epilogue-"General, let's burn it."

"You can if you please, Mr. Julian," interposed the nurse, who had secretly enjoyed all this, "and if you like to take the consequences; but, as each of the three witnesses has the will sealed up in copy, and the poor deceased there took pains to sign them all, perhaps-"

This settled the affair: and the discomfited expectants made a precipitate retreat. As the general, however, got vastly more than he expected, for his individual merits; and seeing that he loved Emily as much as he hated both Julian and his wife, he really felt well-pleased upon the whole, and took on him the duties of executor with cheerfulness. So they buried Aunt Green as soon as might be.

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