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MY FATHER'S WILL
BY FREDERICK TALBOT, AUTHOR OF ‘JACK PUGH'S LEGACY,'
WHAT, Dick,' said my father, looking grimly at me across the fireplace; then your heart's set on roving ?'
'Why, yes, father,' I replied.
'I can't abide this dead-alive place; but I shall not go away till you're better.'
The place was good enough for thy grandfather and me,' went on my father, speaking in a resentful tone; but there's no brooking ye young folk. Well, you'll see me under the sod anyhow before you start on your travels again.'
Something sneering in my father's voice struck me with a little apprehension. I felt a sort of misgiving lest it might prove that I had been too long a-roving already, for I had been for two years. away from my father's roof-tree.
There was no great love or confidence between my father and myself. He had taken little care of me in my boyhood, and I should have grown up altogether neglected and uneducated had it not been for a brother of my mother's-she had died in my infancy-who had insisted on my being sent to a good grammar-school. Here I had got on well, and might have won a scholarship, but my father withdrew me just before the examination, and brought me home to live at Halton.
It was a dull dreary little township, boasting of one long village street, situated in a secluded valley among wild Yorkshire moorlands. A beck or rivulet ran through the valley, and that, widened out into pools and reservoirs below the village, supplied with water two large factories. The main part of the village consisted of low stone cottages, the residences of the factory operatives. Then there was my father's large square house, also built of the gray limestone of the district, with a courtyard at one side, containing coachhouse and stable, and a large bare garden behind it. A public-house at the top of the street, and two or three houses of moderate size occupied by the upper men of the factories, composed the rest of the village. The church was seven or eight miles away. There was no doctor within five miles, and the nearest lawyer lived at Slapton, a small market town some nine miles distant.
Soon after I came home from school my father servant, a housekeeper. Her name was Hannah. buxom young woman, but gifted with a very violent THIRD SERIES, VOL. V. F.S. VOL. XXV.
engaged a new She was a fine temper.
soon began to domineer over me, and bitter quarrels were the result. My father took her part always, and my only ally was a young maid, Sarah, who was also one of her victims.
At last I ran away, and took refuge at the house of my uncle, who was a dissenting minister at York. By his intervention an arrangement was come to. My father consented to allow me a hundred a year to live away from home, and I went abroad with the son of a rich merchant, one of my uncle's pupils. Once upon my travels, I had little thought of coming back to gloomy Halton. With a stick and a knapsack I traversed the whole continent of Europe, and was meditating a farther progress into Asia Minor, when I was recalled to England by the news of my father's alarming illness. It was thought that he was dying, and he earnestly desired to see me once more. When I reached home, however, he had rallied a little, and the end did not seem imminent. He had still strength enough to sit up part of the day, and on one of these occasions it was that he gave utterance to the half-reproach with which I have commenced my story.
We were sitting in the parlour, a dark gloomy chamber provocative of ennui and despair. A threadbare faded carpet covered the floor, and it was furnished with dark heavy mahogany chairs and tables, and a bookcase to match full of worm-eaten old tomes, of which an odd volume of State trials was the only one that afforded either instruction or amusement. The fireplace, with the huge coal fire, white hearthstone, and high fender of perforated brass, was the only redeeming feature of the room.
My father had the reputation of being a wealthy man, although he was very close about his affairs. He had once been part-proprietor of one of the factories in the village, but had retired with a sufficient competence many years ago. Not that our position commanded much respect from the rough folk about us. The factory lasses in their bedgowns, with handkerchiefs tied over their heads, jeered and flouted at Lanky Dick,' as they called me. The lads threw stones at me when I passed, and often in my walks over the wild moorland I would be accosted by a group of these rough fellows, who would ask me if I didn't want to feyt,' and would threaten to 'pause' or kick me if I declined the challenge.
Involuntarily I repined and chafed at my detention here. I had no affection for this place, where I had always been unhappy. The life I had led abroad had suited me wonderfully well. I inherited a roving disposition, I think, from my mother, who was a ship-captain's daughter, and my father, in his fixed gloomy steadfastness, had no sympathy with me. A certain morbid melancholy that laid hold of me at times of rest and inaction was the only part of my father's temperament that I shared.
Especially did the incubus of this dull melancholy hover over
me as I sat by the fire talking in monosyllables to my father. Hannah was away for a day's holiday for refreshment after her labours in nursing my poor father, and we were waited upon by a girl named Bridget, the successor of Sarah. My father was irritable and impatient. The gruel was burnt, he complained, and nothing went right.
In the midst of his querulous grumblings I heard a hesitating single knock at the door, and as the maid was busy in the kitchen, I got up and went out into the stone-paved hall and opened it. Eh, Master Dick,' said a female voice, familiar but strange, 'what, don't you know me?'
Why, you're Sarah,' I said, after a long look at her, and taking her by the shoulders I gave her a hearty salute on each cheek.
Sarah blushed and adjusted her bonnet. 'What, you're still the same, Master Dick?' she cried. But I'm married now-to one of the overlookers at the factory.'
'That's a pity,' I said; 'why couldn't you have waited for me?' 'Nay, Master Dick, you never axed me to,' said Sarah slyly. 'But I've got a comfortable home and a good hard-working husband; and what more can a lass want?'
'What, indeed,' I replied, except a dozen babbies.'
Ay, and we've made a start at that too, Master Dick,' replied Sarah, laughing.
Here I heard my father's voice in complaint of the street door 'Come in, Sarah,' I cried, and talk to the old
being left open. gentleman.'
But Sarah shook her head.
Nay,' she said, 'I've got naught to say to him; but come out into the street, Master Dick, and let me talk to thee a bit.'
I went out and shut the street door after me, and walked with her a few paces towards the village.
Have you heard of the goings-on here ?' whispered Sarah. 'No, nothing particular.'
'Well, I hope thee mayn't. I hope they haven't hurt thee, my lad. But there's been bad work going on here, I can tell thee. Hannah and that lawyer from Slapton, they've been leading the old man a fine dance. Thee keep an eye on 'em, that's all.'
'What, do you mean Polkhorn?' I said.
Eh, no; not him. He's an honest chap yon, and your father and he couldn't get on a bit. Bruff is the man now, and he and Hannah do as they like with the old chap. Thee keep an eye on 'em. I was like to come and give thee a bit of a hint; and now good-bye, I mustn't talk any longer with thee. She's over there with him yonder this very day. Thee look out.'
And with these warning words she quitted me.
My father was cross enough at my absence, and began to bewail his fate, and cry peevishly for Hannah to put him to bed. I offered
my services instead, as Hannah had not returned, and after a while, as he felt very weak and feeble, he consented to allow me to act as nurse. When he was settled comfortably in bed, he seemed quite pleased at my handiness, and looked at me almost with affection. if aught happen to me, my will's and the keys-the keys- Ay,
'Dick,' he whispered to me, in the strong box under the bed, what was I saying?'
'About the keys of the strong box, father.'
'Ay, they're safe enough,' said my father, a cunning expression crossing his face. Good-night, Dick.'
I kissed his rough grizzled cheek, and went down-stairs. The parlour looked so lonely and ghostly in the twilight that I didn't care to sit down in it, but went out into the passage and opened the front door, feeling that the lights in the village and the sounds of life about it would be a little company for me. I hadn't stood there long, when I heard the clatter of hoofs and wheels approaching along the Slapton road. Our house stood just by the cross-roads, and you could see a good way down the Slapton road from our front door. But now everything was hidden in a gray mist, and it was not till the vehicle was close upon me that I was able to distinguish that it was a dogcart drawn by a powerful black horse. I could see that a tall stout man was driving, and that a woman sat beside him, who turned her head as they passed, but it was too dark to recognise any
The night was cold and damp, a drizzling rain falling, and I shut the door, feeling quite chilled, and went back to the fire, stirring it into a cheerful blaze. Presently the door opened and Hannah came in, quiet and demure, dressed in a dark-cloth cloak and whitestraw bonnet with black ribbons. She came into the parlour to ask how her master had been during the day, and seemed much relieved when I told her that he was no worse. She volunteered the intelligence that she had been to Slapton, and that on her return home she had been overtaken by Mr. Bruff, who had given her a lift homewards.
Mr. Bruff himself called next morning. His appearance and address were rather pleasing. He was a tall florid whiskerless man. A pleasant smile always hovered about his lips. After sitting for half an hour with my father he asked me to accompany him back to his inn.
Bare and unattractive in its outward aspect, the inn at Halton was comfortable enough within. There was a good sitting-room for guests, the windows of which commanded a view of the village street. Here Mr. Bruff had established himself with deeds and papers-he explained to me that he was settling the title of a neighbouring estate-before a fine roaring fire, and here he entertained me, ordering a bottle of wine and producing some very good cigars.