The old folk can’t go on living always. The King’s messenger had called at Wyvern, and the old Squire must needs get up and go.
Sickness was a cross he had never been used to bear, and now that it was laid on his old shoulders he knew that he could not keep his feet very long.
He had the Wyvern lawyer, who did the business of the estate, up to his room, and the parson and his own son, Harry Fairfield. He made the attorney read the will, which he had told him to bring up with him, and the Squire listened as it was read slowly.
After the clergyman had gone—
“Have ye ought to say to that, son Harry?” said the old Squire.
“’Tis an old will, father,” said Harry.
“It aint,” said the Squire.
“Eight years less two months,” said the lawyer.
“About the age rum’s fit to drink,” said the old Squire. “What say ye to it—now’s your time, son.”
“Priests, women, and poultry, they say, has never enough. There’s bin changes since, and I don’t see why Wyvern should be charged so heavy.”
“There’s three hundred a year to Alice, that’s what ye mean!” said the old Squire.
His son was silent.
“Well, I don’t owe her nothin’, that’s true, but I’ll let it stand, mind. And Harry, lad, the day ye do a good thing there will be seven new moons.”
“What was parson a whisperin’ about in the window wi’ ye?” he asked of the attorney after a time.
“Some claim upon the vicarage which he thought you said you meant to remit by will.”
“I ’a thought upon it, and I won’t. Paternoster built churches, and Our Father pulled ’em down. There’s o’er many parsons for the churches, and o’er many churches for the people—tell him I won’t.”
“What the devil made you talk about that to him?” said Harry, with a dark look, when he and the attorney had got out of the room.
“My dear sir,” said the lawyer, “we must be true to our clients, and beside, don’t you remember the clergyman said he’d be here tomorrow at one to administer the Lord’s Supper, and he’ll be certain to speak of it then to our client.”
At nightfall the Squire grew worse, and his head wandered.
“Tell that white-faced Vicar Maybell, there’s never a one but the thankless in hell—I’ll not sit under none o’ his sermons—Ay, he frowns at that.”
“Hey, dear!” whispered the housekeeper, gazing at him from the hearth where they were sitting.
“And who does he mean, ma’am?” asked the nurse.
“God knows—old times, I suppose,” she answered.
“There’s a glass broke, Tom, who’s kicking up the row?” mumbled the Squire,—“Play, women, and wine undoes men, laughin’—Ay, light it, I’m very dark—Who’s he, ye fool?—Joan and ray lady’s all one in the dark.”
“That’s Tom Ward he’s thinkin’ on?” said the nurse.
“Ay, he liked Tom ever. He wouldn’t think ’twas Wyvern without Tom,” answered the housekeeper.
In a little time he said more distinctly and sternly—
“The dead should do nothing.—So that’s the bishop.—Ay—ay—The devil, mind ye, isn’t always at one door.—If there was a good man here he’d put a clout over that face—Yell never do it.”
Then it would sink into mumbling, and then again grow more distinct.
At last the morning came, and the Squire so many hours nearer death, was, nevertheless, now like himself.
In due course the clergyman arrived, and the housekeeper, and serious Jim Hopper of the mill, close by, attended to make up a little congregation with whom the dying Squire was to receive that most “comfortable “Sacrament, before setting out on his long journey.
“You’re distinctly a Church of England man?” inquired the clergyman gently. “Ay, what do you take me for?” “I make it a rule, dear sir, to inquire. I have once or twice found Presbyterians and other Dissenters among the attendants at my church at Nottingham before I came here, and I am happy to hear so clear an answer to my inquiry,” said the clergyman with a gracious solemnity.
“The crow thinks her own bird fairest—go on,” said Squire Harry.
After these rites were over, the Squire needed rest.
Then, after an hour or so, he called for Tom Ward.
“Well, Tom, we a’ lived a long while together—here in Wyvern—you and me, and—be the day never so long, at last cometh even’ song,’ as they say, and now the doctor thinks my time be come, and I sent for ye to shake hands, Tom, and bid ye good-bye.”
Tom was drying his eyes hastily, and his old face was more puckered than ever.
“Yer honour was always kind to me”
“Come, Tom, ye musn’t be cryin’, man. Penny in pocket’s a merry companion, and I wrote ye down for somethin’ in my will, and ye a’ brewed me many a tankard, Tom—ye’ll never brew me another—and I wouldn’t go without a word and a shake by the hand.”
When this was over, the nurse signed to Tom to go.
I wonder how the grim old man, with near a week’s white stubble on his chin, felt as he saw Tom Ward glide away softly, with tears on his nigged cheeks. For Tom, it was the breaking up and foundering of old Wyvern in the deep. He was too old to live in the new Wyvern that was coming, mayhap.
“I’ll never get the old days out o’ my head, nor ever like the new, and ’twon’t be long, I’m thinkin’, before I follow him down the ash-tree road to Wyvern churchyard.”
And so for the old Squire it came, the last day of light, and the first of death.
It was a stately funeral in the old-fashioned way. All the good old houses of the county were represented there. The neighbours, great and small, mustered; the shops in the town were all shut, and the tenants attended in masses.
This solemn feast and pageant over, the fuss subsided, and Harry entered upon his reign with a gravity becoming his new prerogative and responsibilities.
Sergeant–Major Archdale was an influential, and prosperous, and reserved minister under the new regime. He had a snug berth at Warhampton, as Harry Fairfield had promised, and from that distant legation he was summoned every now and then to Wyvern, and there conferred with the Squire. I have called him Sergeant–Major, but he was so no longer. He had retired some time before from the militia and was now plain Mr. Archdale.
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2015 at 21:19