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He seemed a little preoccupied and anxious, I thought, and he had a habit when he talked of fixing his eyes upon some distant object beyond; but he was cordial and warm in his manner, and so far from appearing to side with Hannah, he gave me some very broad hints that he thought she had a great deal too much influence with my father, and told me that I ought to assert my own authority in the house, and bring my influence to bear upon him.
Some message called him out of the room, and for the moment I took his seat at the farther side of the fireplace, to avail myself of the light to read the local paper during his absence. Looking up I was surprised to see what a good view of the village was to be had from this seat, and that above the roofs of the cottages the gable end of my father's house was visible, and a top window, the window of Hannah's room in fact. I observed, too, that a brass birdcage hung in the window, and I was a little surprised at that, for I had never given Hannah credit for any fondness for birds, and didn't know that she kept one. Mr. Bruff returned in a few moments, and I went back to my former seat. We sat and smoked till darkness came on, and then I took my leave. The weather had cleared, and it was a frosty night; the stars were twinkling brightly, and the smoke from the village rose upwards in a light ethereal column. The factories below were lighted up, their long rows of windows shining as brightly as the halls of an enchanted palace; a deep mysterious humming vibrated in the air as if some huge kettle were boiling down below. A lonely star was shining over the cottage roofs, and yet it was not a star, it was below the horizon; a light on the hill beyond—no, it was not that either, it was only a candle burning in Hannah's bedroom window.
As I watched this light it went out, shone again, went out, once more was shown, and then finally disappeared. When I reached home, Hannah opened the door for me. She seemed rather flurried in her manner. She informed me that my father hadn't felt so well after I left and had gone to bed. I mustn't go up-stairs, as he had just gone off to sleep.
So I seated myself in the parlour. The wine I had drunk had made me heavy with sleep, and I went off into a sound slumber sitting in my father's angular arm-chair. I roused up once, and thought for a moment that I heard footsteps in the house, and listened for a while. The boards creaked overhead in my father's room, and I heard something dragged across the floor. It was Hannah, no doubt, putting the room tidy. Sleep overpowered me again.
I was aroused by the violent ringing of a bell, and started to my feet. It was a bell from one of the upper rooms, and I ran swiftly up-stairs with a quick throb of fear. I heard loud outcries from my father's room, and rushed in. Hannah stood by the bedside wailing
bitterly. A glance at my father's livid face and half-closed eyes was sufficient. He was no more.
From the moment of my father's death Hannah's manner to me changed entirely. She became deferential and subdued, and asked my authority for everything she did. I was the master now, she told me.
Before I went to bed that night the woman who had come to do the last offices for the dead brought me a bunch of keys. They were clenched up in his fingers,' she told me. The strong box that was in my father's room I permitted to remain there; but I locked the room and put the key in my pocket. Despite my anxiety to know how his property had been disposed of, I was determined to act with due form and deliberation.
Mr. Bruff came next morning with two tall bony gentlemen in black dress-suits. Mr. Bruff informed me that he had a copy of my father's will, under which these gentlemen were appointed executors. They were cousins of mine, and honest straightforward men, and I made no objection to their taking the management of affairs, being glad indeed to be relieved of all responsibility. I handed to them my father's keys, and told them what he had said as to the will. They found an envelope indorsed My last Will and Testament' in my father's handwriting, and took it away with them, not intending to disclose its contents till after the funeral. No alteration was made in the household, except that Bridget the housemaid was sent off by Mrs. Hannah, her services being no longer required.
The day of the funeral was cold and snowy, and the drive to the distant churchyard dismal in the extreme. My uncle was there, the dissenting minister from York, and three more tall bony Yorkshire cousins as well as the two executors. The will was read after we
came back. It bore date about a year previously. All my father's property was left to trustees, the five bony men, in trust, to pay an annuity of eight hundred pounds for the term of her natural life to Hannah Brookbank the housekeeper, provided that should she marry after the testator's death the legacy should be null and void, and merge in the residue of the estate. Hannah was to have the house, too, for her life, on the same conditions. Farther, to pay to his son, Richard Hargrave, an annuity of one hundred pounds, with a proviso that should the said Richard at any time sleep for three consecutive nights at any place distant more than six miles from Halton Cross, or more than seven nights in all during any one year, the annuity should cease and determine, and go to increase the annuity of Hannah Brookbank. The residue was to accumulate during the lives of Hannah Brookbank and Richard Hargrave, or till the determination of both their interests, and was then to be divided among testator's next-of-kin.
My uncle cried that the will was a most iniquitous one, and that
it must be upset; but the five bony cousins shook their heads and said that law was law, and must be stood by.' These five cousins, it may be said, were to receive each of them five guineas a year for managing the estate. They or their descendents would be the nextof-kin also who would finally inherit the property, unless I married and had children. Thus there was no danger of the provisions of the will falling into abeyance. Hannah was interested in keeping a watch upon me; the trustees were also interested in looking after us both.
To me the situation was extremely cruel. I was confined for all my life, it seemed, on a wretched pittance, to the dull precincts of this most hateful place. True, I could renounce the bequest, but what was I to turn to ? I was beyond the age at which youths are put to any business. I had no means of my own; no chance of making a livelihood in any one way.
Even my uncle, after his first heat was over, confessed that he thought I ought to take up my annuity and comply with its conditions. There was a livelihood for me here; elsewhere I should probably starve. So he said as he took leave of me, for he was obliged to start at once in order to reach home that night.
The five bony men departed, having drunk five gallons of strong ale and emptied five bottles of funeral port. They had also consumed a round of cold beef and a huge York ham. Each one shook hands with me solemnly as he went out. Ye mun abide by 't, Dick,' the first one had said as he departed, and the four others repeated the same formula. Yes, I must abide by it, there was no doubt of that; but what a lot to look forward to!
The lawyer remained behind. He came to me as I sat by the fire gloomily brooding over past and future, and put his hand cheerily upon my shoulder. 'You mustn't despond, my dear sir,' he said. It seems hard this disposition of the property, but you must remember that elderly people are like children in their affection for those about them and their speedy forgetfulness of the absent. Take my advice, and keep on good terms with Hannah. She is a good creature at heart. She will be very glad, she tells me, that you should remain here at present.'
It was hard enough to have to listen to this-to be told that I might remain on sufferance in a house that had been my father's and that ought to have been mine.
'I shall leave here to-night,' I replied, trying to assume an indifferent tone. 'I can sleep at the inn, and I won't intrude upon Mrs. Brookbank's griefs.' Saying thus, I went out, slamming the door heavily behind me, and took my way through the village street, intending to have a long walk over the moors that I might be entirely alone to wrestle with my own thoughts, and to try to strike out some way of life that should save me from dull brooding despair.
I couldn't help thinking very bitterly of my father, who had done me this cruel injury, who had so cunningly planned to tie me down to a way of life I detested. There was a crafty malignity about the disposition of his wealth that struck me with astonishment. 'What an evil man he must have been!' I could not help saying to myself. And yet perhaps in disposition he was no different from myself. This lonely seclusion had soured his blood. Just such another morbid wretched creature should I become in this accursed prison-house.
As I was passing one of the cottages an arm stretched itself forth from the door and plucked me by the sleeve. I turned and saw that it was Sarah, who was beckoning me to come in.
'Well, lad,' she cried eagerly, as I stepped inside, 'what's been done with property?'
‘O,' I said bitterly, 'Hannah gets everything; I only a pitiful hundred a year.'
'My goodness!' she cried; the brutes, have they treated you like that? And what'll you do? You'll have the law of themyou'll take 'em to York, Master Dick?'
'How can I take the law of them? even if it were any good; what's more, I more than three nights at once.'
Eh, it's shameful!' cried Sarah.
I've no money for that, mustn't be away from here
'But never mind, my lad, We'll fettle 'em yet.'
they sha'n't have it all their own way.
But what Sarah could do, or how in any possible way my enemies were to be fettled, I could not conceive.
Ir was growing quite dark when I reached- my home I was going to say-but I mean the house of Hannah Brookbank. I made my way up-stairs at once to my own room to pack up my things. This chamber had been mine from childhood, and contained many mementoes of my early life. A tattered kite, with a great roll of twine wound upon a stick; cricket bats and stumps; my wooden school-box, battered and inkstained, full of school-books hastily thrust in, just as I had left them when I took leave of the grammar-school. Round about the walls hung samples of my youthful essays in drawing-heads in chalk, sepia landscapes, stiff and conventional enough; besides these, a few pen-and-ink caricatures that called a smile into my dolorous face. There was Hannah, as she appeared when she first came to us; a tall buxom lass, with a pail in her hand and a scrubbing-brush. The same-after a little experience of her temper-with features twisted and demoniac, riding on a broomstick to a witch Sabbath on Ingleborough. There was Sarah, too, in the guise of a distressed damsel about to be
assailed by a sea-monster, Hannah again; whilst Perseus, in likeness of myself, much idealised, was about to smite the monster hip and thigh.
The light was gone entirely now, and a thick haze was blottingout the landscape. The steam-whistles of the factories boomed heavily through the fog, and the clang of bells sounded on my ear, and presently the clatter of wooden clogs upon the stone causeway. The mill hands were coming home from work.
And yet it struck me that there was a greater number of people coming this way than I had ever recollected before; and, still more strange, I lost the sound of feet as the people reached the house: there were footsteps constantly coming towards me, but I heard none going away. A confused murmur, too, was in the air, a hum of multitudinous voices.
I sprang to the window, and beheld a great crowd gathered about the house. As my face appeared at the window the smothered hum rose into a loud strident yell, so powerful and confusing that I shrank back abashed, as if I had felt the blast of a tempest in my face.
What could be the cause of this gathering? I had always from a boy been at enmity with these factory hands, but it was a mere class prejudice that was not likely to have come to such a head as this. The cries, shouts, shrill whistles, and catcalls gave place by degrees to a regular definite howl. Bruff, Bruff, Bruff! Hannah, Hannah, Hannah!' was shouted from hundreds of throats in hoarse unmistakable accents.
A momentary feeling of exultation took possession of me. My wrongs had met with immediate popular sympathy; I felt for the instant as if I were some favourite of the people. But a little reflection convinced me that I was wrong. What mattered it to these people how my father's property was distributed? On the other hand, although it would be idle to say that there was any high standard of morality among them, yet there were certain forms of immorality that sometimes aroused popular indignation. It was very possible that this populace, ubiquitous and full of shrewdness, had detected a relationship between Bruff and Hannah that I had not even suspected.
Then I heard a voice outside calling to me; it was Hannah's; and I opened the door and went out to her. She was standing in the passage, livid in face, and trembling all over.
O, what will become of me?' she cried, twisting her hands to and fro till the knuckles cracked. 'What shall I do? They are calling for me; O, they will kill me!'
'Get out at the back, and away over the fields!' I cried.
'They're all round the house; they've climbed over the gardenwall-back door and front; they're everywhere.'