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When Opulence dies the disposition which it makes of town and country house, of railway shares and consols, of Grange and Manor, becomes inevitably a theme for gossip wherever departing Dives has been heard of. Poor men invariably manifest a personal interest, and criticise the will as if they were heirs collateral. So when the Earl of Riverside's last testament was opened and its contents made public, from Richmanstown-cum-Sloppery to Coddlington Green, village and hamlet were all alive. Laundresses commented over the wash tubs with arms a-kimbo, till the frothy suds appeared to glow prismatic in the reflection of fifteen thousand pounds a-year. Hedgers and ditchers and ploughmen, munching their bread and cheese for lunch or plodding homeward after a laborious day, beguiled the road with rustic controversy. All agreed that there never was such a Will.
Giving it neat and omitting legal expletives, it ran thus wise. I bequeath all my unentailed estates as follows:Ten thousand pounds and a full and free pardon to the party who abducted my grand-child and heiress, Rosa Devereux, provided she be returned within the space of one year from the opening of this will. Ten thousand pounds to my friend, Adam Hartwell, Rector of Riverside, notwithstanding past differences. Ten thousand pounds to the party or parties, according as Adarn Hartwell shall decide, who shall succeed in discovering and restoring my grand
child, in case her abductor secretes her or is dead. To Job Trusty, my steward, five thousand pounds as a token of appreciation of his and his father's regard for my interests. I will and appoint besides to my trusty nephew and sister's son, the Reverend Alphonso Bushwig, one shilling and i suit of mourning at my expense; but this latter only with the proviso that he preaches a sermon, in full canonicals, in the Church of St. Winifred, Richmanstown, on the wages of hypocrisy. My entailed estate in default of the return of my grandchild devolves to the said Bushwig by due course of descent, but I enjoin upon my executors to maintain their possession in trust, till full evidence shall have been produced that the daughter of my deceased son is dead. I also appoint as executors of this will my man of business in London, Stephen Parks, Esq., Middle Temple, Job Trusty, steward at Riverside, and Adam Hartwell, D. D.
The Earl was a cunning fox. Did some mysterious Nemesis dictate the document, whispering in the secret chambers of the old man's mind? There were two parties in Richmanstown: the Bushwigites, they took the ground that the will was a shameful imposition; and the Anti-Bushwigites, who said “Served him right." Party spirit ran high.
Bushwig, alas for him, this was the tap on the organ of conscientiousness with the gold knobbed cane; and now, if this child was found he never would write himself either earl or bishop, but be compelled to starve, literally to famish, on a miserable pittance of two thousand a year. He cursed his fate and vowed within himself to buy a copy of Hobbes and turn Atheist. For the first time the syren voice of dinner failed to soothe his cares. The Misses Flummery sighed.
But the will, – it was good law. Old Parks drew it and that was enough ; you might hang the freeholds and copy
holds of a county on his handiwork. Cunning whispered in the Rector's ear. “Send for Sergeant Wildfire. He will break it if any man can between the four seas." “It's a strong will,” Wildfire remarked on his arrival, “he would take a copy and consult Lord Crumplehorn, who boasted that he could drive a coach and four through any act of Parliament that ever was engrossed. It was clear that the will was morally unjust. No doubt Dr. Bushwig was the rightful heir; but then Old Parks framed the document. To contest its validity would involve expense. Their opponents had possession, and that was nine points in the law."
Now Conscience kept all this time whispering in the ears of the Rector of Richmanstown, “Charity Green is the missing grandchild." He could not rid his mind of it, till inquiring cautiously in the Work House, the discovery was made that she was not there and had indeed never been there. John confessed that he had pointed out the road and left her to journey alone. She had not been found dead, frozen stark and stiff beneath any of the hedges. Probably therefore she must be housed somewhere in one of the two adjoining parishes. How to find the place of shelter? that was the next consideration.
But for what end. Conscience whispered again, “Seek out the lost one; make amends for a false life in the past by a manly atonement and by a good future. Buy golden opinions from all men. You can find the orphan. Restore
. her unharmed to the legal guardians. This will be glorious. Show that the old Earl has been shamed in his grave by a great act of nobleness.”
"I will not do that,” said Bushwig to his own heart, and he
grew like a stone within himself. “Let her fight her battles; I must fight mine. Besides there is only a fancy and a surmise in proof that this is my cousin. What business have I, a plain, practical man, with surmises ? are sur. mises good in Doetors Commons ? Ah! I have it. If this is Rosa she was brought here by the woman whom my curate buried, and who they say dropped dead in an ale house by the road side. She left no effects; there was not a paper upon her; being evidently journeying afoot to some wandering company of her tribe. Now there is no method whatever by which that child can be identified, not a rag of linen even, for seven years have elapsed since she was taken away." He forgot three very important things. First the ONE who turns to nought the crafty councils of all who persecute the innocent; this was the main item. The rest were only accessories. He knew that her insane mother lived but overlooked the fact that she might have already regained her reason. It had passed from his mind too, though afterward he remembered it, that the bereaved parent had spoken of a birth-mark on the child's person. That came to his recollection again as the sequel proves.
He must find the wanderer. But how? and if found what should then be done? Could she be spirited away? Ten thousand pounds to the finder of the lost heiress was a mighty incentive to curiosity. Now flashed upon his mind the thought, “What meant that business about the ghost ? If his man had sent the girl toward the Work House and she did not arrive there, the wayfarer might have fallen exhausted in the drifts
the common. The ghost was simply some passer-by with a lantern who must have found her.” He questioned Aminadab Vampire.The pottinger was sure that he beheld a supernatural being. It came out of a whirling vapor. It stooped into the snow and lifted up something white in its arms, turned the corner toward the gate at old Squire Deschamps mansion and vanished. The Rector pooh poohed the story but said inwardly, “I have it,” nevertheless. The scent lay. “The beggar's brat,” thought he, “has found harbor at the Deschamp's. I'll unearth her.”
Thicker and faster! Fall on thy knees, Oh! man, repent thee of thy meditated crime, ere it takes shape, and forms itself to fiend-like purpose. Thicker and faster the shadows fall. There is something black in the middle of his heart that takes consistence within itself and says "she must be removed, not harmed, removed, till the evidences in my pocket of Rosa Devereux's death in the Work House at Coddlington Green are aceepted and the earldom becomes mine as next in entail. I will not harm her, or cause her to be harmed.
How to do it? she was in a safe shelter at the Deschamp’s. He would court Marian, a fine girl. At least he would flatter her by gallant advances. He was not a marrying man, it was true, nor would he commit himself, but would smoke out the fox and trust fortune for the next move. The Reverend Alphonso was in the smooth water above the cataract.
Had the weird sisters met him who lured on Macbeth, with their prophecies, to deeds from which Heaven turns recoiling with its pure eyes, yet avenges not the less surely with its strong hands? Bushwig began to hate the little one in his very soul. “Was she always to stand between him and his heart's three golden idols, rank, pleasure and opulence? No.- It should not be.”
Crime passes through three stages. It is suggested first as a thing that we should like could it be accomplished without any real infringement of divine or human law. It is second, a plan that we meditate about, as to the possibility of its being perpetrated by some one, without risk to ourselves. Finally, it is an act which we determine to execute. To this third stage was approaching the Earl expectant. The careless voluptuary was ripening into the hard, iron murderer. How he would have recoiled from the word, but his thoughts all meant that, and turned toward