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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 201, 26 November 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE STORY OF A DREAM. CHAPTER 11.—Continued. It was by no means a pleasant day that I passed. The shadow of death brooded heavily over the household. The two old maids arrived and dissolved into tears, and then as suddenly revived in the presence of Mrs. Clayton, with whom they were on terms of deadly enmity. Then the w-hole trio united in being specially disagreeable to me, and gave vent to malicious insinuations regarding fortune hunters and toadies.. Lady Helen kept to her own room, and did not favor us with her presence at all. 1 went out in the park again,in the afternoon, and wished Sylvia was there to keep me company. I visited the spot where I saw her in the morning, and was conscious'■■ that the glade was divested of some special charm Ahat it possessed then. I had never thought ■ much about women hitherto, certainly never cared whether I met the same one twice or not, but I felt, that my thoughts were always returning to, my companion of the morning. “How sw r eet and fair she looked,” I thought, “ and sometimes better even than her beauty is that honest, truthful light in her clear, soft eyes. A girl one _ could trust and love passing well- is Sylvia. Heigho 1 I suppose when I go away from here I shall never see her again. ; I hope my uncle has left her well off. It is a sad. lot to be so friendless ; as she seems. I wonder if Lady Helen 1 is unkind; to her ? I almost fancy she is.” Then I strolled homeward in the pale spring twilight, conscious, for the Erst time in my life, that the prospect of my not seeing a woman again was able, tb- ‘produce serious uneasiness within my hitherto, untroubled heart.
CHAPTER 111. The funeral was over, , chad: been a gorgeous enough’ • pageant,, and largely attended. We : Were all back at Silverdesne now, and "assembled in the gfeat drawing-room to hear' the will read: ' ; The fussy, pompous, family lawyer was full of the importance of his position. He sat at the table, parchment in hand, awaiting the arrival of the . widow. : A4Viien she entered -evefyeye. turned on her. Calm, stately, regal-, looking as any queen, she sailed through: the room, looking even more beautiful - in her widow’s dress than I had thought ther berore. She leant on the arm of a tall, thin, sharp-featured elderly man, a man at whom .Mr. Dollerton, the lawyer, 'darted a’suspicious glance. Just before Lady Helen seatedoherself, she looked; calmly round on the. assembled circle, then, with a courteous wave of • her hand introduced the stranger thus : . “ Mr. Hanway —my solicitor,” Mr. Dollerton Bristled up. The individual in question bowed gravely and profoundly. Then we seated, ourselves again, and I once more feasted my eyes on Sylvia’s flower-like beauty, and paid but little attention to the formal monotonous phrases falling from the lawyer’s lips. Yet something at last collected my scattered thoughts and brought me back to the business of the moment.
; Was it the sound of Sylvia’s name, or the burning blush on Sylvia’s cheek ? I was not quite sure which at first. I looked away from the girl’s embarrassed face, and gave my attention to the lawyer. ' A strange sensation of bewilderment, incredulity, disgust crept over me as from that mass of involved and meaningless words I gathered these facts : “ And I give and bequeath all my estate, . real and personal, with no exception soever (after the payment, of the aforementioned legacies), to roy nephew,' Clive. Paterson Graham, on this sole condition—that within, one year after my decease the said Clive Paterson Graham do take for his wife my ward and faithfully attached adopted daughter, Sylvia Heigh.” There was much more, but I did not hear it. The- whole room whirled round and round: The lawyer’s voice sounded far Off and indistinct! I was utterly unable to .analyse my feelings, but was conscious of a burning shame and indignation. : I dreaded to look at the girl whose name was still tingling in my ears. I felt as if she too must experience this horrible -Sensation ; as if she, too, must long, as I longed, for the earth to open and swallow lis up, and hide our poor shame-stricken faces from the cold and scornful and malicious eyes around. The words ceased. There was a moment’s intense silence. Then, clear and cold as an ice blast, came the sound of Lady Helen’s voice : “ I congratulate Miss Leigh upon her successful scheming, but I feel in duty bound to remark that there is a later will than the one just read—a will drawn up. by Mr. Han way, my own lawyer, and left", in my late husband’s possession but a month before he died. Let that wilb be looked for ere this one is accepted as final.” Then followed a scene of great confusion. The hubbub of the voices almost deafened me. I looked round for Sylvia, but she was~ gone. The two lawyers went off to search for the missing document, but, after two hours of vain labor among the old man’s desks and papers, - declared that no other will could be found.
Lady Helen was too well bred to make a scene. She only said calmly : “ I trust, Mr. Graham, that you will allow time for a proper, search before accepting this will as final.” I ' or course prayed her to take as long as she pleased, or her solicitor deemedi necessary, and ; she thanked me .twth. apparent; cordiality. . ~ TjifnC ,Mr^. ; . jClaytonj who had an eight hundred pounds legacy in prospect, gave vent to a few spiteful remarks and left, speedily followed by the old maiden cousins, who had been ignored altogether. Mr. Dollerton came up to me, and shook hands-cordially. “ I congratulate you, Mr. Graham,” he said.l bis a very- equitable and admirable arrangement; a trifle eccentric, but that* is only in keeping with my late.client’s whole conduct through life.”
,«-Tj3ut ypu are prematurem your coni said coolly. -.*in the first place, the bequest is saddled with a bequest I may not be able to fulfil.
In second, Lady Helen declares there is a more recent will than this.”
He shook his head and smiled benignly, “ All nonsense, all nonsense, my good sir. There is no later will. Your uncle trusted me with all his affairs. Is it likely he would call in that sour-visaged interloper yonder, and engage him to draw up another after this one was signed and witnessed ? No ; I don’t credit it for a moment. It is a ruse of Lady Helen’s to gain time. You see, she has been expecting to inherit everything. That’s wiry she schemed and planned to marry him. Often and often has she told me that. He has left her only five hundred pounds a year, and the estate is worth twelve thousand, all of which she counted on possessing.” “ But the—condition,” I said, hesitating, arid conscious ot the hot blush that stained both brow’ and cheeks at the words.
“ Is it a very hard one ? ” he said w r ith a smile. “A beautiful, amiable, and accomplished girl like Miss Leigh. There are plenty of men who would envy you her more even than your fortune. I think you have great cause for thankfulness myself.”
But I was silent and disturbed. This had taken me utterly by surprise. No thought of marriage had ever entered my head yet, and to be brought face to face with it as an adjunct to so large a fortune naturally startled me considerably. If I did not wed Sylvia she would- be a beggar; for in case of either of us refusing to comply with the conditions of the will the whole was to go to some public charity; so in ho way could I help the girl to the fortune that she had been brought up to consider as her own in the future. No wonder I was sorely perplexed and puzzled. As I stood there, debating these questions in my mind, Lady Helen glided slowly up to me. “ Let me give you a word of advice, Mr. Graham,” she said, in that clear hard voice of hers. “Do not count too surely on your fortune or your wife. 1 There has been foul play in this matter :if Lam not much mistakenj and: when the affair is thoroughly sifted I doubt whether Miss Leigh’s part will look as honorable in your eyes as it does now.” “ Lady’ Helen,” 1 answered indignantly, “I do not understand your imputations, nor do I think they become you as a, woman. I can make due allowance for disappointed feelings, but I cannot hear you accuse one who I am sure is innocent of the very! shadow of the dishonor which your' words impute.” She drew back, and looked at me from under frowning brows that gave her beautiful face a dark and stern appearance.
“You are over eager in your championship,”, she said with a faint sneer. “ But I can make allowance fo you also, knowing how much is at stake.” •
; ■“ I cannot force you to believe in the singleheartedness of my I answered, 1 stung to wrath by the baseness Of her insinuation, “Time will prove them,best. I only hope for your sake that this later will may be found. You will understand me better then.” And with a distant bow I turned away and then left the room. My brain was in a whirl. I longed for cool air and solitude. Not knowing whither I went, I rushed out into the park once more and wandered off with the heedless feet, too busy with my own perturbed thoughts and imaginings to pay any attention to external surroundings. It startled me, therefore, to find myself in the little glade again where I had first met. Sylvia. It startled me still more to see that the pretty nook was not untenanted, but oh, it pained and grieved me most of all to see that slender, girlish figure lying there crushed and powerless with grief, shaken by heavy sobs that almost stifled her. “ How can I bear it ?” she moaned, and the anony in her voice cut me to the heart. “ Oh, God ! how can I bear it ?”
In one moment of swift and passionate sympathy I threw myself by her side.
(7o be continued.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 201, 26 November 1880
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