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[-69-]

CHAPTER CLXII

THE BEQUEST.

    Two days after the suicide of Lady Cecilia Harborough,  an event which created a profound sensation in the fashionable world, and plunged the Tremordyn family into mourning,  Richard Markham was a passenger in a coach that passed through Hounslow.
    At this town he alighted, and inquired the way to the residence of Mr. Bennet, a small farmer in the neighbourhood.
    A guide was speedily procured at the inn; and after a pleasant walk of about three miles. across a [-70-] country which already bore signs of the genial influence of an early spring, Richard found himself at the gate of a comfortable-looking farm-house.
    He dismissed his guide with a gratuity, and was shortly admitted by a buxom servant-girl into a neat little parlour, where he was presently joined by Katherine.
    The young maiden was rejoiced to see her benefactor; and tears started into her eyes, though her lips were wreathed in smiles;  but they were tears of pleasure amid gratitude.
    This is kind of you, Mr. Markham," she said, as he shook her hand with friendly warmth.
    "I am come to see you upon important business, Katherine," observed Richard. "But first let me inquire after the good people with whom you reside?"
    "I am sorry to say," answered Katherine, "that Mrs. Bennet experienced a relapse after her return from London; and she is not able to leave her chamber. She is, however, much better. Her husband is a kind-hearted, good man, and he behaves like a father to me. He is now occupied with the business of his farm, but will be in presently."
    "And now, Katherine, listen to the tidings which I have to communicate," said Markham. "Have you received any news from London within the last day or two?"
    "No-not a word," returned Katherine, already alarmed lest some new misfortune was about to be announced to her.
    "Compose yourself," said Richard; "the news that I have for you are good. But first I must inform you that your late master, Mr. Reginald Tracy, is no more."
    "Dead! "exclaimed Katherine.
    "He put a period to his own existence," continued Markham; "but not before he made you all the amends in his power for the deep injury which his own guilt entailed upon you."
    "Then he confessed his crime, amid thus established my innocence beyond all doubt?" said Katherine.
    "And he has bequeathed to you his whole fortune, with the exception of a small legacy to Mrs. Bonnet, whom his guilt deprived of a sister," added our hero.
    "Oh! then he died penitent!" exclaimed Katherine, weeping  for her goodness of heart prompted her to shed tears even for one who had involved her in such a labyrinth of misery as that from which she had only so recently been extricated.
    "He died by his own hands," said Richard; "and the world will not generally admit that such an act can be consonant with sincere penitence. That he attempted to make his peace with heaven ere he rushed into the presence of the Almighty, let us hope:  that he did all he could to recompense those whom his crime had injured, is apparent. But this letter will probably tell you more on that head."
    Richard handed to Katherine a letter, as he uttered these words.
    It was addressed, "Miss Katherine Wilmot."
    With a trembling hand the young girl opened it; and with tearful eyes she read the following words:  
    
    "To you, Katherine Wilmot, a man about to appear before his Maker appeals for pardon. That man is deeply imbued with a sense of the injury  the almost irreparable injury which his enormous guilt caused you to sustain. But in confessing that this guilt was all and solely his own  in proclaiming your complete innocence,-and in offering you the means of henceforth enjoying independence and fulfilling the dictates of your charitable disposition,  that great criminal entertains a hope that you will accord him your forgiveness, and that you will appreciate his anxiety to do you justice in his last moments. My solicitor is already acquainted with my intentions; and he will faithfully execute my wishes. This letter will be forwarded to him, to be delivered to you, through your benefactor  that noble-hearted young man, Mr. Richard Markham. The bulk of my fortune, amounting to eighteen thousand pounds, I have made over to my solicitor in trust for yourself, and under certain conditions which I have devised exclusively for your benefit. The sum of five hundred pound. I have, in addition, bequeathed to Rachel Bennet, with the hope that she will extend her, pardon also to the man who deprived her of an affectionate Sister. This letter is written in a hurried manner, and under circumstances whose appalling nature you may well conceive. May heaven bless you! Refuse not to pray for the soul of
    "REGINALD TRACY."
    Katherine perused this letter, and then handed it to Richard Markham.
    While he read it, the young maiden prayed inwardly but sincerely for the eternal welfare of him whose course had been dazzling like a meteor, but had terminated in a cloud of appalling blackness.
    "Those conditions, to which the unhappy man alluded, I can explain to you," said Richard, after a long interval of silence, during which he allowed Katherine to compose her thoughts. "This letter was placed in the hands of Mr. Tracy's solicitor, by the governor of Newgate, the day before yesterday. The lawyer immediately wrote to me, being unacquainted with your address. I saw him yesterday afternoon; and he gave me the letter to convey to you, entrusting me at the same time with the duty of communicating to you this last act of Reginald Tracy. Mr. Wharton acquainted me with the conditions which Mr. Tracy had named. Those are that you shall enjoy the interest of the money until you attain the age of twenty-one, when the capital shall be placed at your whole and sole disposal; but should you marry previous to that period, then the capital may also be transferred to your name. And now I must touch upon a more delicate point  inasmuch as it alludes to myself. Mr. Tracy was pleased to place such confidence in me, as to have stipulated that should you contract any marriage previous to the attainment of the age of twenty-one, without my approval of the individual on whom you may settle your affections, you will then forfeit all right and title to the fortune, which is in that case to be devoted to purposes of charity specified in the instructions given by Mr. Tracy to his solicitor."
    "Oh! I should never think of taking any step  however trivial, or however important  without consulting you, as my benefactor  my saviour!" exclaimed Katherine.
    "You are a good and a grateful girl, Katherine," said Richard; "and never for a moment did I mistake your excellent heart  never did I lose my confidence in your discretion and virtue."
    "No-for when all the world deserted me," said the maiden, "you befriended me!"
    "I have yet other matters of business to consult you upon," continued Markham. "Yesterday evening your uncle called upon me. Never-never have I seen such an alteration so speedily wrought in any living being! He said that certain representations which I had made to him at the tavern in the [-71-] Old Bailey, after you had departed with Mrs. Bonnet, had induced him to reflect more seriously upon the course of life which he had been for years pursuing."
    "Oh! these news are welcome-welcome indeed!" ejaculated Katherine, clasping her hands together in token of gratitude.
    "I communicated to him your good fortune, Katherine," proceeded Markham; "and he wept like a child."
    "Poor uncle! His heart was not altogether closed against me!" murmured Katherine.
    "I desired him to call upon me to-morrow, and I assured him that in the meantime I would devise some project by which he should be enabled to earn a livelihood whereof he need not be ashamed."
    "You are not content with being my benefactor, Mr. Markham: you intend to make my relatives adore your name!" cried Katherine, her heart glowing with gratitude towards our hero.
    "I now intend that you shall be the means of doing good, Katherine," said Richard, with a smile.
    "Oh! tell me how!" exclaimed the amiable girl, joyfully.
    "You shall draw upon the first year's interest of your fortune, for a sufficient sum to enable your uncle to retire to some distant town, where, under another name, he may commence a business at whose nature he will not be forced to blush."
    "Oh! that proposal is indeed a source of indescribable happiness to me," said Katherine.
    "Then I will carry the plan into effect tomorrow," continued Richard. "Your uncle and cousin shall both visit you here, when they leave London"
    "Poor John!" said Katherine. "Do you think that his father  "
    "Will treat him better in future?" added Markham, seeing that the maiden hesitated. "Yes: I will answer for it! A complete change has taken place in your uncle: he is another man."
    "He contemplated your benevolence, and he could not do otherwise than be struck by the example," said Kate.
    "I asked him if he desired you to live with him in future; and he replied, Not for worlds!' He then continued to say that dwell where he might, conceal his name how he would, there would be danger of his ancient calling transpiring; and he would not incur the chance of involving you in the disgrace that might ensue. This consideration on his part speaks volumes in favour of that change which has been effected within him"
    "The tidings you have brought me concerning my uncle, Mr. Markham," said Katherine, far outweigh in my estimation the news of my good fortune."
    "Your uncle and your cousin will yet be happy-no doubt," observed Richard. "In reference to your self, what course would you like to adopt? Would you wish me to seek some respectable and worthy family in London, with whom you can take up your abode in entire independence? or  "
    "Oh! no-not London!" exclaimed Katherine, recoiling from the name in horror.
    "My counsel is that you remain here  in this seclusion,  at least for the present," said Richard. "The tranquillity of this rural dwelling  the charms of the country  the unsophisticated manners of these good people, will restore your mind to its former composure, after all you have passed through."
    "This advice I have every inclination to fellow," said Katherine; "and even were I otherwise disposed  which I could not be  your counsel would at once decide me."
    "Remember, Katherine," resumed Markham, "I do not wish you to pass the best portion of your youth in this retirement. With your fortune and brilliant prospect, such a proceeding were unnatural  absurd. I only feel desirous that for a short time you should remain afar from society  until recent events shall be forgotten, and until your own mind shall become calm and relieved from the excitement which past misfortunes have been so painfully calculated to produce."
    "I will remain here until you tell me that it is good for me to go elsewhere," said Katherine.
    At this moment an old man, dressed in a rustic garb, but with a good-natured countenance amid venerable white hair, entered the room.
    This was the farmer himself.
    Katherine introduced Richard to him as her benefactor; and the old man shook hands with our hero in a cordial manner, saying at the same time, "By all I have heard Miss Kate tell of you, sir, you must be an honour to any house, whether rich or poor, that you condescend to visit."
    Richard thanked the good-natured rustic for the well-meant compliment, and then communicated to him the fact that his wife was entitled to a legacy of five hundred pounds, which would be paid to her order in the course of a few days.
    The old man was overjoyed at these tidings, although his countenance partially fell when he heard the source whence the bequest emanated: but Richard convinced him that it would be unwise and absurd to refuse it.
    Mr. Bennet hastened upstairs to communicate the news to his wife.
    While he was absent, the farmer's servant-girl entered to spread the table for the afternoon's repast.
    On the return of the old man to the room, the dinner was served up; and our hero sat down to table with the farmer and Katherine.
    A happy meal was that; and in the pure felicity which Katherine now enjoyed, Richard beheld to a considerable extent the results of his own goodness. How amply did the spectacle of that young creature's happiness reward him for all that he had done in her behalf!
    It was four o'clock in the afternoon when our hero took his leave of the old farmer and Miss Wilmot, in order to retrace his steps to Hounslow.    

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