Up in Ardmuirland
The following is from Up in Ardmuirland by Michael Barrett:
Chapter IX - Spring's Return
"Guess the latest news, Ted," said my brother, coming in from parochial visits.
I shook my head.
"I'm no hand at riddles."
"Well, there's a marriage to come off in our parish before long, if matters can be satisfactorily arranged."
"A marriage!” That roused me; it would be the first function of the kind I had seen in Ardmuirland. For our lads usually fetched partners from elsewhere, and maidens being accustomed to migrate to service in the south, found mates there--even as the swallows.
"I thought that would fetch you!" cried Val triumphant. "And now give a guess."
But I racked my brains to no purpose.
"It's not Widow Lamont, and it's not Robina----"
"Why not?" he asked. But I saw he was quizzing.
"It's a widow," he said. "I'll tell you that much."
Even then I was nonplussed.
"Ted, you've no imagination! Is Christian Logan too old?"
"Christian Logan! Of course not! Who's the happy man?"
"He's not altogether happy yet," returned Val. "There are obstacles in the way at present. Do you know the Camerons of Redbank Farm at all?"
"Camerons of Redbank! Why, they're Protestants!"
"Tell me something I don't know already," he retorted.
"I can say very little about them. There are two brothers, I believe--one very middle-aged and the other less so. I may have passed the time of day with one or the other."
"Well, it's the less middle-aged one--Lachlan by name--who wants to marry Christian. It's all right about religion. He's ready to make all the necessary promises, and moreover, remarked quite spontaneously that he intended coming to church with his wife after they were married--a most unusual undertaking in these cases. He's evidently merely ignorant of everything Catholic; not bigoted, really. With a wife like Christian, he is most likely to enter the Church himself eventually."
"But what are these almost insurmountable obstacles?"
"Chiefly financial. It seems that the elder brother is the actual tenant of Redbank, and Lachlan is little better than a farm-servant at present. It would be scarcely possible for the poor chap to support a wife and three of a ready-made family on the wages of a mere ploughman--except, of course, in the style of a common labourer, and he is far above that. The best way out of the difficulty would be for Christian to manage the house at Redbank, instead of a paid housekeeper; but the old brother is bitter against Catholics, and more opposed to young children in the house. Hence these tears! Don't you think there are rather respectable obstacles to be overcome?"
"Quite. So what did you suggest?"
"Cameron himself suggested what I think a reasonable solution: to try for some situation as farm bailiff or manager. He is thoroughly up to it all, for he has been practically managing things at Redbank for the last year or two, and has plenty of experience in farm work."
"He ought to be able to find something of the sort. Could the factor at Taskerton do anything for him, do you think? Christian has already lost a husband in the service of the estate, and it would be but restitution to provide her with another."
"The idea struck me, too, though not in precisely the same terms," said Val with an amused laugh. "I am thinking of writing to him about the matter."
"You are really satisfied with the man, then?"
"Decidedly so! He struck me as being a very decent sort of fellow. He has a straight-forward, pleasant manner with him, and is altogether superior to an ordinary crofter. It would be a good match for Christian. Poor soul! She deserves a better lot than she enjoys at present."
"What's his age, do you suppose?"
"Forty-six. Quite a lad, for these parts!"
"Things look all right, certainly," was my summing up.
Val wrote to the factor, but the result was not over-promising. He knew of nothing suitable at present. But he would keep the case in mind, and write at once should he hear of anything available.
Both Val and I were keen on getting the matter settled, and often talked it over together, discussing ways and means. But the weeks slipped by, and we found ourselves no nearer to a solution of the difficulty. We little dreamed of the quarter from which it was eventually to come!
One day as we sat at breakfast Elsie brought in a telegram for Val. It was a somewhat unusual occurrence; for we were a good way from the office, and, porterage being expensive, we had carefully instructed our ordinary correspondents that we preferred the humbler post-card, as a rule. When a telegram did arrive, therefore, it generally presaged something of unusual importance. I saw Val's face change as he read it. He passed it over to me as he rose to write a reply. This is what I saw:
It was signed by a Glasgow doctor, and sent from one of the chief hotels of the city.
I followed Val to his den, where he was writing the answer.
"Would you mind my coming with you?" I asked.
"I should like it of all things," was his reply.
In less than half an hour we had started, and before night had arrived at our destination.
It always seems to me that one feels one's personal insignificance more keenly in a big city than anywhere else. The hurry and bustle on all sides witness to the self-interest which rules every individual of the crowd, to the exclusion of any sincere concern for others. The feeling was accentuated when we reached the hotel. There all was brightness and movement; in the brilliantly lighted dining-room guests were eating, drinking, chatting, and enjoying life; in the hall and on the staircases attendants were moving swiftly about, visitors were coming and going. Each one's pleasures, comforts, and advantages were the business of the hour. Yet in some chamber overhead a momentous crisis was at hand for one poor, lonely man, who had to leave behind him this scene of busy life, to enter upon an eternity of weal or woe. Upon the passing moments everything depended for him; he had to prepare to meet his God. Around him things were taking their usual course; it mattered little to the majority of the people under that roof whether he lived or died, and less still how his soul would fare in that passage. Yet the things which made up the present happiness of the crowd were those which he had laboured so strenuously to procure--ease, enjoyment, freedom from care--the companions of wealth. For these he had bartered not only the toil and stress of his best years, but something infinitely more precious; part of the price had been the favour of his God! Now he had to part with all these gains, willing or unwilling; would he have the grace to sue for the mercy which might still be his for the asking?
We had ascertained that Gowan still lived, though there was no hope for his recovery, and were ascending the staircase to our rooms when we encountered a priest coming down. He regarded Val with evident interest, then stopped and accosted him. He proved to be one of the neighbouring parochial clergy, who had just been visiting the dying man. Val invited him to our room, and there we learned the circumstances of the case.
Gowan had been in Glasgow about a fortnight, having come thither immediately after landing in Liverpool. He was seriously ill when he arrived at the hotel, and was compelled to take to his bed at once. A doctor was sent for, and found him suffering from heart disease, which had already reached an advanced stage. In spite of every attention the patient became rapidly worse. He would not infrequently fall into fits of unconsciousness, which were the prelude to a state of coma in which he would eventually pass away from life.
To the man's credit, be it said, he at once asked for a priest when he became aware of his danger, and had afterward desired to see Val. All the Sacraments had been administered, and Gowan lay in a weak state, hovering between life and death. I could not but think of the lasting gratitude of Christian Logan and her children, which had led them to remember this man daily in their prayers; who could tell how great a part those prayers had had in securing for him the grace to make his peace with God at the eleventh hour?
Val went in alone to Gowan's room; it was not for me to take any part in such an interview. It was not long before he was back again in our own apartment. Gowan's reception of him had been all that could have been desired. The man expressed sincere sorrow for his ill behaviour, and begged Val's forgiveness. But what was still more satisfactory was his message to Christian and her children. He asked pardon for his unkindness in deserting them; they would soon see, he said, how dear they were to him.
"He has made his will in their favour," was Val's summing up of the matter. "He was just explaining that fact when he had another bad attack quite suddenly, and I came away, after summoning the nurse."
That conversation, short as it was, proved to be the last in which the dying man was to take part with my brother. He passed away a short time after, having never recovered consciousness. The Catholic nurse had sent for Val a few minutes after he had rejoined me. We both went to the sick-room, and my brother had said the prayers for the dying, followed by those for the repose of his soul when Gowan ceased to breathe.
The funeral was over and we had been back in Ardmuirland for some weeks before any tidings arrived about the dead man's affairs. All arrangements as to payment of expenses and the like were carried out by a Glasgow lawyer, who had been empowered to act for Gowan's agent in America. The most thorough search had failed to discover anything in the shape of a will among the dead man's effects in Glasgow, and it was supposed to be in the keeping of the American lawyer. When tidings did arrive, they were such as to fill us with consternation. The will in the lawyer's possession was dated more than two years before, after Gowan's return to America from Ardmuirland. Its terms, moreover, by no means tallied with the information given by the dying man to Val; for in it there was no mention of the Logans at all, everything being bequeathed to the Freemason's lodge of which Gowan had been a member.
Val was puzzled, but not convinced.
"It's a mystery, certainly," he said; "but I feel absolutely satisfied that there is another will somewhere. Poor Gowan said so, unmistakably."
"Can you recall his exact words?" I asked.
Val had an idea that Gowan had said: "I have settled everything on Cousin Christian.” He fancied that just before the attack occurred he had added: "You will have to see about it," or words to that effect.
We both felt convinced that Gowan had been too good a man of business to make such a remark unless he had made his bequest legally secure.
The obvious thing to do was to cable at once to the lawyer to delay action until the new will should turn up. This we did; a letter followed, detailing circumstances.
Our next communication was from the Glasgow lawyer, who requested Val's presence there to consult about matters, as my brother was the only person to whom Gowan had spoken on the subject of a second will. I was too much interested in the mystery to let Val go alone, and he was delighted to have my company, so once more we set off for the distant city.
Dalziel, the lawyer in question, received us in his private office on the morning after our arrival. He was a small grey man, with keen black eyes that twinkled behind his gold-rimmed spectacles now and again when an ordinary man would have smiled. His statement of affairs was indeed not reassuring. Every scrap of paper left behind by Gowan had been carefully examined by one of his responsible clerks, but nothing in the shape of a will had been discovered. Had there been no previous will, Christian Logan's boy might have claimed the estate as next of kin; but that was now not possible. To bring the matter before the law courts was equally futile; the law took cognizance of a man's wishes expressed in writing, and no evidence of a verbal declaration on his part would suffice to set aside a written document.
"I am afraid, Father Fleming," said the lawyer, summing up his report, "that there is no case to go upon for the Logan family."
"But I am convinced," replied Val, "that Gowan has made another will. He sent for me to tell me so, and to ask me to help the Logans in the matter. The will must be somewhere. The question is: Where?"
"I am inclined to think that he never made a second will," the lawyer went on to say. "Not that I think he meant to deceive you," he added hastily, as he noticed Val's air of protest. "But it has often come within my experience that a man in such a weak state may persuade himself that he has already accomplished something which he has fixed his mind upon doing, while all the time nothing has been actually done."
Val, however, could not be convinced that such was the case in the present instance, and I could not help agreeing with him.
"It would be as well if you would call at Gowan's hotel before you leave Glasgow," said Dalziel, as our interview came to an end. "There are some clothes, travelling-cases, rugs, and such like, which it would be absurd to send to America, and equally absurd to sell. They will be something for the Logons if you think well to take them. I can easily arrange with the legatees on the other side, who will certainly make no difficulty."
It was a good idea, and we resolved to act upon it. The lawyer drove with us to the hotel, to introduce us to the manager, and left us when we ascended to the room occupied by the dead man, which was still being retained by the executor until the property should be removed.
The manager himself very civilly accompanied us, directing us to summon a servant, when we had examined things to our satisfaction, and to give orders about packing and removal.
I must confess that I had not altogether given up hope of discovering the lost document among the clothes and packing-cases. But my anticipations were dispelled when we entered. Everything had been neatly folded and placed on the bed and the two tables; it was evident that no document could have been passed unnoticed. The room, too, was quite clean and in order. Val, like myself, seemed rather depressed at the state of things. There was no receptacle where any paper could have been stowed away that had not been thoroughly ransacked by the lawyer's men, whose interest it was to discover the will. A wardrobe for hanging clothes, a chest of drawers, dressing-table, and washstand were the only articles of furniture besides bed, tables, and chairs; none of them looked like possible receptacles of a hidden paper.
Scarcely realizing what I did, I began opening one after another the drawers in the chest. Each was neatly lined with paper, but otherwise empty. As though possessed by a mania for searching, I took out each paper and carefully assured myself that nothing had slipped underneath. Val, roused by my action, began to poke into the drawers of the dressing-table; but his search was just as fruitless. There was nothing to be done but to settle as to the packing of the clothes and take our departure.
Suddenly an idea struck me. How often does a small article get lost in a chest of drawers by slipping behind the drawers themselves. At once I acted on the suggestion. I did not watt to consider that others had probably searched as thoroughly as I could do. Out came the drawers, one after the other, and were deposited on the floor. The bottom drawer was rather tight, and would not come out easily; but I got it out with an extra expenditure of muscle. Positively, there was a small folded paper--like a letter--lying behind it; my heart sank, for it was too small for such a document as I was anxious to find. I picked it up listlessly and unfolded it.
"By Jove, Val! Here it is!" I cried exultantly.
He skipped across the room to read the paper over my shoulder.
"That's it, all right!" was his exclamation. "Thank God!"
It was but a sheet of common note-paper, bearing the printed heading of the hotel. Across it was written in shaky characters the following:
"Blessed Scottish law!" cried Val, when he had scanned the scrap of paper that meant so much to us. "It's not an imposing document, but it'll stand good in this country. Let's take it to Dalziel at once."
The lawyer corroborated Vat's declaration. It was a holograph will, and therefore needed no witness; Gowan was man of business enough to realize that. He had probably slipped it into the drawer where some of his clothes were, meaning to hand it to Val. The drawer must have been over-full, and the mere opening of it would sweep the bit of paper to the back, where it had fallen behind the other drawers.
* * * * * *
Six months later we had a Catholic wedding in the little church at Ardmuirland. All the congregation flocked up for the ceremony and the nuptial Mass--for the bridegroom had suggested that it would be well to begin his married life in perfect union with his wife, and he had been received into the Church a month before.
The Camerons are very well off; for poor old Gowan, though not a millionaire, had put by pots of money. But it would suit neither Lachlan nor his wife to lead an idle life. They have got Redbank into their own hands and are turning it into quite a model farm.
The children are at school. Jeemsie is said to be able to do everything except talk. Tam is bent on being a priest.
Val got his shinty club and his parish hall, and if he wants anything for the church or for himself he has but to mention it. Indeed, he had almost to use force to prevent Christian handing over half her fortune.
Golden dreams do, now and again, it seems, get realized!