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Robert Bramleigh's Will

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It had been a busy day with me. I ïad been working hard getting up evience in a railway-acoident case, and was ratting up my papers with a sigh of ■elief. Anoth'er forty minutes and I aould be at home. I could almost mell the boiled capón and oyster sauce which I knew were being prepared for me. "There'smany a slip 'twixt the up and the lip," says the proverb; and n my case it provea only too true; for, ust as I was tying up the last bundie of apers, the office boy put his head in at ,he door and dispelled the tempting vison. " A woman to see you, if you please, r. She won't give no name. Says ïe's a stranger." "A stracger !" I repeated. "What s she like ? Is she a common person ?" " Not exactly, sir," replied the lad. "Alady?"Iasked. "Oh, no, sir." "What is she, then?" Arthur was a droll lad. I had brought n'm to London from the country, to blige an old college friend. I am fraid that he was not of much use in ie office, but he used to keep the other lerks in a good temper by his amusing ways and dry remarks. Arthur paused, as if considering, and xen, with a look of intelligence, as much as to say that he had hit the nuil n the head this time, he answered: Wel], sir, she's a sort of betwixt and etween." " Not a bad deflnition, Arthur. Ask ie 'betwixt and between' up-stairs." A tall, middle-aged woman entered nd took the seat I placed for her. My visitor removed her gloves, and, arefully smoothing them, placed them n the table beside her. She then prouced from her pocket a large foolscap nvelope, from which she drew a piece f paper folded longways. This she handed to me, explaining, in a hard, monotonous voice, that she had been sent to me by her master, Mr. Robert Bramleigh, of Ooieman street, who was dangerously ill - in f act, was not expected to live many hours. The paper, she said, had been written by his direction, and signed by him for his will that af ternoon. Fearing lest it should not be in a proper form, he had desired her to take it to the nearest lawyer and havo one prepared according to the law. I unfolded the paper and read as follows: In the name of God, Amen. 1 leave my body to the grqund and my soul to Almighty God who gave it. Now this is the will of me. Robert Bramleigh, of 559 Coleman street. I give and leave all my houses, lands, money, and everything that I have, to Hannah Churton, my nousekeeper, as a renard for her loug and faithful services. Signed by me on Tuesday, Deo. 12, 18G8. Kobert Bhamleioh. Witnesses - James Burn, Msrgaret Sims. I exammed the writing caref ully. The signature, "Robert Bramleigh," was weak and shaky. The will itself was written in a looking hand of singular decisión and boldness. The characters were large and well formed. The will had evidetitly been prepared by some one who had but an imperfect knowledge of the form to be used for such a purpose. The solemn appeal to the Deity and the bequest of the testator's body and soul was an old form, much in vogue with our grandfathers, who generally headed a will with one or two pious phrases. The document shown to me was, however, sufficient to give Hannah Churton all of Mr. Bramleigh's propeity. There were the requisite number of witnesses, and the Principal Registry of Her Majesty's Coutt of Probate would have granted letters of administration with the will annexed (tho appointment of an exeoutor having been omittod, tbc ordinary probate could not have been obsiaea), ou one of Ibe atteeting es making affidavit that the will had been executed by the testa tor in the presence of himself and the other attesting witness, and that they had at the same time and in the presence of each other subscribed their names Ihereto as witnesses. Now, I am always very particular about wills ; I think they are too serious to be settled in a hurry. I never wil] allow a cliënt to execute one until I am convinced that its pnrport is perfectly onderstood. " You are Mrs. Churton, I presume?" I asked. "I am," she replied, looking me unflinchingly in the face. Somehow I feit suspicious that things were not so fair as they should be. I questioned her rather closely, but the only admission I obtained from her was that she had written the will. but that it was at her master's dictation. I offered to prepare a more fcrmal document ; but before doing so I declared that it was necessary I should see Mr. Brnmleigh. I named the omission of the appointment of an executor. This seemed rather to nonplus her. She asked whether she could not be named as executrix. The more aversión she showed to my seeing her master the more convinced I feit that something was wrong ; and, seeing that I was not to bo moved from my purpose, she at last gave in ; proposing, however, that I should accompany her back, as she greatly f eared it would be too late if left till the morning. A eab soon took us to No. 559 Ooieman street. It was a large, gloomy, old-fashioned house, with a spacious entrance hall. I was taken into the dining-room, and asked to wait while Mr. Bramleigh was being prepared for my visit. The furniture in the room was old and very massive. Some handsome oil paintings graced the walls. I am very fond of pictures, so, raising the lamp, I walkcd round the room slowly inspecting thena. On the right of the fireplace I carne upon a picture with its face turned toward ;he wall. I turned the picture. It was ;he portrait in oils of a anü very aeautiful girl in a dark riJing-habit. Seariüg footsteps outside the door, I restored the picture to the position in which f found it, and, as I did so, I saw writ;en at the bottomof the frame, "Mag daen Bramleigh." The footsteps I heard were those of ihe housemaid, who had come to announee that Mr. Bramleigh was ready to see me. I followed her up-stairs, and was ushered into a largo, comfortableooking bedroom. A cheerful fire 3urned in the grate. Facing it was a arge four-post bedstead, hurg with white curtains, and at the head of the )ed Mrs. Churton was sittiDg, with a small table in front of her, on which were placed aninkstandand some paper. She pulled back the curtain, and I saw in old man propped up by pillows, his 'ace drawn, and the eyes very much sunk. I almost feared that he was too f ar gone to make a will; butafter speaking with him for a little time I feit satisfled that the intellect was quite clear. Turning to Mrs. Churton 1 told her that she need not wait ; I would ring if I wanted anything. "Tes, go - go, Hannah !" cried the sick man, and I fancied that I eould detect an eagerness in his voice, as if he desired her absence rather than her presence. As Mrs, Churton left the room I caught sight of the reflection of her face in the glass over the chimneypiece, and I do not think she would have scowled quite as much had she known that I was looking. I began by askiug Mr. Bramleigh what were his wishes with regard to his will. In low tones he told me that he desired to leave everything to Hannah Churton, his housekeeper, as a reward for her long and faithful services. I spoke gravely to the old man, althougb without much hopes of success, but at last I got him to confess that he had nad no mtention of inakiDg his hoaseketper his sole heiress until she had herself broached the subject to hiin. She certainly must have had great power over the old man to induce him to agree to such a seheme. I proposed to Mr. Bramleigh that he should leave his property to some one on whom he could rely, in trust for his daughter. I also volunteered, although I have an aversión to the trouble and responsibility of a trusteeship, my services as trustee for this purpose. My arguments prevailed. He assented, and I prepared a will accordingly, the old man requesting that his medical man, Dr. Kamsey, should be nominated as my co-trusf,ee, and that an annuity of L50 should be paid to Hannah Churton for life. I read tho will to him very carefully, explainiug as I did so its full effect. When I had finished he muttered, "Quite right - quite right; but I am afraid Hannah will not be pleased." I counseled him not to mention it to her; and my advice seemed to satisfy him. Ringing the bell, I requested Mrs. Jhurton to surnmon James Burn and Margaret Sims, the two servants who lad witncssed the first will. As soon as ;hey were in the room, I gave Mr. Bramleigh a pen, and, placing the document before him, 1 said distinctly, so all aiight hear : " Thi which I have just read to you is your final will, and you request James Burn and Margaret Sims to witness your cxecution of it?" "It is - I do," he solemnly said, as with feeble ñngers he wrote his name. The two awe-stricken domestics then added theirs, and I think their hands shook more than the testator's. Hannah Churton was a silent spectator of the whole of this ; but I could not seo her face, as she stood in the background, out of the light of the lamp. Before allowing any one to leave the room, I placed the will in a large envelope. Fastening it with wax, I impressed it with Mr. Iïramleigh's monogram and crest by means of a.seal that was on the tray of the inkstand. The old man watched me closely, and, when I had fimshed, he said: " Keep it - till it is wanted;" thus relieving me of a great embarrassment, for I did not like leaving it in the power of Hannah Churton, lest she should tamper with it. On our way down stairs Dr. Bamsey told me that his patiënt was rapidly sinking, and that he doubted whether he would live another twenty-four hours. Taking him into the dining-room and shutting the door, I told him of my subpieions of the housekeeper, and that I feit afraid of leaving Mr. Bramleigh alone with her all night. He agrced with me, and promised to send his assistant to watch till the morning, when, ü Mr. Bramleigh should still be living, he would on his own responsibility plaoe a trustworthy nurse in charge. The house keeper opcned the door te let us out. " It is all right, Mrs. Churton," I maliciously said, as the doctor wishedher night. "lam quite satisfled now. The will will be in my keeping, By-theby," I added, looking her sharply in th.e faoe, "h&dyon not botter let your master's friends know of tho danger he is in? Dr. Ranisey says he does not think he will last much longer." She mumbled something in reply, but I could not catch what it was. I stayed talking upon. indifferent subjects, to while awaythe time until the arrival of Dr. Ramsey's assistant. Mrs. Ohurton, however, was, unlike her sex, remarkably reticent; I could only get the shortest replies from her. She seemed very muoh astonished and rather displeased when Dr. Ramsey returned with his assistant. He explained to her that, although there was no chance of saving her patient's life, yet his last moments might be alleviated by skilied attendance, and, therefore, as he himself could Bot stay all night, he had brought Ms assistant for that purpose. In one's experience of mankind we find that it is possible to De sometimos too clever. Mrs. Hannah Churton was very clever, but she committed two very great mistakes. The first was in consulting a lawyer. The will drawn by her - for so it really had been- might have been upset on the ground of undue influence. I say "might have been," for there is nothing so hard to prove as undue influence. The great point against her was the ousting of a child in favor of a stranger. Mistake No. 2 was as follows : The doctor had gone up-stairs to install his assistant, leaving me standing in the hall with the housekeeper. Pumbling in her pocket she pulled out a roll of bank-notes; thrusting these into my hands, she told me that it was her master's wish that I should take them for my trouble. I unrolled them, and tound two for L10 and one for L5. Twenty-flve pounds ! A iong legal experience has taught me that in all dealings with doubtf ui people one's safety lies in having a good witness. I waited till the doctor came down ïtairs, occupying myself by entering ;he numbers of the notes in my pocket - book. "Look, doctor," I cried, as he appeared, showing him the notes. " Mr. Bramleigh is a liberal paymaster." Turning to Mrs. Churton, I said: " This will ampJy repay me." Retaining the note for L5, I returned ler the other two. She took them from ne without saying a word, but a black ook came over her face. I think she segan to suspect me. I got home very ate that night. The capon was more han done, and so was the oyster auce ! Mr. Bramleigh died the next morning it 10 o'clock. Soon after I had left he jecame unconscious, in wliich state he remained till Bhortly before his death, when there was a rally. Opening his eyes with an eager look, as if he missed something, be tbrew one arm outside he coverlet, and crying "Magdalen, kfagdalen " he obeyed the summons which bade him thole his assize - yea, in ;hat dread court where "not proven" is unknown. Guilty or not guilty? Who shall say ? The funeral took place on the Saturday, but an engagement prevented me rom following. Mrs. Churton had writ:en, requesting that I would attend with .he will, which fetül remained in mypossession, with the one drawn by her. I arrived at the house a little after 1 o'clock, and was at once taken into the dining-room, where I found Dr. Ramsey, Mr. Robson (a brother practitioner), and a handsome young fellow, who was ntroduced to me as Lieut. Maitland, the ate Mr. Bramleigh's son-in-law. The door opened and a young lady en;ered. It did not require any introducdon to teil me that she was the original of the portrait, still ■with its front turned ;oward the wall. Her face was very seautiful, notwithstanding its extreme Daleness and the tear-swollen eyelids. 5he seated herself by the fire, her husand standing behind her, leaning his arms on the back of the chair. Mrs. Churton had closely fcllowed Magdalen Maitland into the room. She was dressed in deep mourning and wore a black crape cap, thus offering a marked contrast to Mrs. Maitland, wbo was wearing a gray dress rather travel-söiled. Apparently she had no time to prepare ïer mouming. Dr. Ramsey politely pulled forward a chair for the housekeeper. Taking it iom him with a cold " Thank you," she placed it at the end of the table, directly 'acing me. Very stern and forbidding she looked in her black garments - her 'eatures immovable, her hands resting on her knees. I was about to unseal the envelope containing the will when Lieut. Maitland interrupted me. " One moment, if you please," ho said, placing his hand on my arm. "Before this will is read I wish to say a few words. Mrs. Cburton tells me that Mr. Bramleigh has left her everylhing unconditionally. I simply wish to express my flrm belief that Mr. Bramleigh could only have been induced to make such a will by unfair and foul means. Although I have been the cause of an estrangement between father and daughter, I cannot think that he could so far forget bis love for her as to strip her of everything. It is my intention, for her sake, to contest this will; and it is with this view that I have requested my old f riend, Mr. Robson, to be present tö-day as my legal ad viser." His frank, manly face was flushed with honest excitement as, leaning over the back of liis wii'e's chair, he took her face between his hands and kissed it. "For your sake- not mine, dearest," I heard him whisper. I read the will slowly and distinctly. It was very short. Save one annuity of L50 to Hannah Churton for life, everything was left to Dr. Ramsey and myself, in trust for Magdalen Maitland, to be settled on her as we in our discretion should think fit. Astonishment is a mild word to express the feelings of those present, nor will I attempt to do so. My tale lies with Hannah Chuiton. Starting to her feet, she pushed the chair from her, and, stretching out one arm, gave utterance to a fierce torrent of invective. The veil was lifted, and the native coarseness of the woman's nature stood revealed. It was as I had feared. Unmindful of tho bounty of but too generous a master, sbe heaped obloquy on his memory, xnd fearlessly asserted that slie had wasted tho best years of her life in his service. Magdalen Maitland covered her ears with her hands, to simt out the hard words. Her husband led her toward the door, but Hannah Chuiton intercepted them. Tearing her cap fr m her head, she threw it on tho ground before the frightened girl. "Trample on it!" she cried, in a frenzied voice. "Your father's victim has no right to wear it !" I must admit that she looked grandly tragic as she deolaimed theso fieiy words. I feit half sorry for tho joor,' defeated creature. Nwe yeayg have paswd sino? ttwn. and Mre. Maitlacd declares that there re "silver threads among the gold." The cares of a young family have somewhat marred her good look, but they will live again in my little god-daughter Magdalen, who promises to rival her mother in beauty.


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