Aunt Jane's Nieces/Chapter 19

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CHAPTER XIX
DUPLICITY

Aunt Jane had a bad night, as might have been expected after her trials of the previous day.

She sent for Patricia early in the forenoon, and when the girl arrived she was almost shocked by the change in her aunt's appearance. The invalid's face seemed drawn and gray, and she lay upon her cushions breathing heavily and without any appearance of vitality or strength. Even the sharpness and piercing quality of her hard gray eyes was lacking and the glance she cast at her niece was rather pleading than defiant.

"I want you to reconsider your decision of yesterday, Patricia," she begun.

"Don't ask me to do that, aunt," replied the girl, firmly. "My mind is fully made up."

"I have made mistakes, I know," continued the woman feebly; "but I want to do the right thing, at last."

"Then I will show you how," said Patricia, quickly. "You mustn't think me impertinent, aunt, for I don't mean to be so at all. But tell me; why did you wish to leave me your money?"

"Because your nature is quite like my own, child, and I admire your independence and spirit."

"But my cousins are much more deserving," said she, thoughtfully. "Louise is very sweet and amiable, and loves you more than I do, while Beth is the most sensible and practical girl I have ever known."

"It may be so," returned Aunt Jane, impatiently; "but I have left each a legacy, Patricia, and you alone are my choice for the mistress of Elmhurst. I told you yesterday I should not try to be just. I mean to leave my property according to my personal desire, and no one shall hinder me." This last with a spark of her old vigor.

"But that is quite wrong, aunt, and if you desire me to inherit your wealth you will be disappointed. A moment ago you said you wished to do the right thing, at last. Don't you know what that is?"

"Perhaps you will tell me," said Aunt Jane, curiously.

"With pleasure," returned Patsy. "Mr. Bradley left you this property because he loved you, and love blinded him to all sense of justice. Such an estate should not have passed into the hands of aliens because of a lover's whim. He should have considered his own flesh and blood."

"There was no one but his sister, who at that time was not married and had no son," explained Aunt Jane, calmly. "But he did not forget her and asked me to look after Katherine Bradley in case she or her heirs ever needed help. I have done so. When his mother died, I had the boy brought here, and he has lived here ever since."

"But the property ought to be his," said Patricia, earnestly. "It would please me beyond measure to have you make your will in his favor, and you would be doing the right thing at last."

"I won't," said Aunt Jane, angrily.

"It would also be considerate and just to the memory of Mr. Bradley," continued the girl. "What's going to became of Kenneth?"

"I have left him five thousand," said the woman.

"Not enough to educate him properly," replied Patsy, with a shake of her head. "Why, the boy might become a famous artist, if he had good masters; and a person with an artistic temperament, such as his, should have enough money to be independent of his art."

Aunt Jane coughed, unsympathetically.

"The boy is nothing to me," she said.

"But he ought to have Elmhurst, at least," pleaded the girl. "Won't you leave it to him, Aunt Jane?"

"No."

"Then do as you please," cried Patsy, flying angry in her turn. "As a matter of justice, the place should never have been yours, and I won't accept a dollar of the money if I starve to death!"

"Think of your father," suggested Aunt Jane, cunningly.

"Ah, I've done that," said the girl, "and I know how many comforts I could buy for the dear Major. Also I'd like to go to a girl's college, like Smith or Wellesley, and get a proper education. But not with your money, Aunt Jane. It would burn my fingers. Always I would think that if you had not been hard and miserly this same money would have saved my mother's life. No! I loathe your money. Keep it or throw it to the dogs, if you won't give it to the boy it belongs to. But don't you dare to will your selfish hoard to me."

"Let us change the subject, Patricia."

"Will you change your will?"

"No.".

"Then I won't talk to you. I'm angry and hurt, and if I stay here I'll say things I shall be sorry for."

With these words she marched out of the room, her cheeks flaming, and Aunt Jane looked after her with admiring eyes.

"She's right," she whispered to herself. "It's just as I'd do under the same circumstances!"

This interview was but the beginning of a series that lasted during the next fortnight, during which time the invalid persisted in sending for Patricia and fighting the same fight over and over again. Always the girl pleaded for Kenneth to inherit, and declared she would not accept the money and Elmhurst; and always Aunt Jane stubbornly refused to consider the boy and tried to tempt the girl with pictures of the luxury and pleasure that riches would bring her.

The interviews were generally short and spirited, however, and during the intervals Patsy associated more than ever with her cousins, both of whom grew really fond of her.

They fully believed Patricia when she declared she would never accept the inheritance, and although neither Beth nor Louise could understand such foolish sentimentality they were equally overjoyed at the girl's stand and the firmness with which she maintained it. With Patsy out of the field it was quite possible the estate would be divided between her cousins, or even go entire to one or the other of them; and this hope constantly buoyed their spirits and filled their days with interest as they watched the fight between their aunt and their cousin.

Patricia never told them she was pleading so hard for the boy. It would only pain her cousins and make them think she was disloyal to their interests; but she lost no opportunity when with her Aunt Jane of praising Kenneth and proving his ability, and finally she seemed to win her point.

Aunt Jane was really worn out with the constant squabbling with her favorite niece. She had taken a turn for the worse, too, and began to decline rapidly. So, her natural cunning and determination to have her own way enhanced by her illness, the woman decided to deceive Patricia and enjoy her few remaining days in peace.

"Suppose," she said to Mr. Watson, "my present will stands, and after my death the estate becomes the property of Patricia. Can she refuse it?"

"Not legally," returned the lawyer. "It would remain in her name, but under my control, during her minority. When she became of age, however, she could transfer it as she might choose."

"By that time she will have gained more sense," declared Aunt Jane, much pleased with this aspect of the case, "and it isn't reasonable that having enjoyed a fortune for a time any girl would throw it away. I'll stick to my point, Silas, but I'll try to make Patricia believe she has won me over."

Therefore, the very next time that the girl pleaded with her to make Kenneth her heir, she said, with a clever assumption of resignation:

"Very well, Patricia; you shall have your way. My only desire, child, is to please you, as you well know, and if you long to see Kenneth the owner of Elmhurst I will have a new will drawn in his favor."

Patricia could scarcely believe her ears.

"Do you really mean it, aunt?" she asked, flushing red with pleasure.

"I mean exactly what I say, and now let us cease all bickerings, my dear, and my few remaining days will be peaceful and happy."

Patricia thanked her aunt with eager words, and said, as indeed she felt, that she could almost love Aunt Jane for her final, if dilatory, act of justice.

Mr. Watson chanced to enter the room at that moment, and the girl cried out:

"Tell him, aunt! Let him get the paper ready at once."

"There is no reason for haste," said Aunt Jane, meeting the lawyer's questioning gaze with some embarrassment.

Silas Watson was an honorable and upright man, and his client's frequent doubtful methods had in past years met his severe censure. Yet he had once promised his dead friend, Tom Bradley, that he would serve Jane Merrick faithfully. He had striven to do so, bearing with her faults of character when he found that he could not correct them. His influence over her had never been very strong, however, and he had learned that it was the most easy as well as satisfactory method to bow to her iron will.

Her recent questionings had prepared him for some act of duplicity, but he had by no means understood her present object, nor did she mean that he should. So she answered his questioning look by saying:

"I have promised Patricia that you shall draw a new will, leaving all my estate to Kenneth Forbes, except for the bequests that are mentioned in the present paper."

The lawyer regarded her with amazement. Then his brow darkened, for he thought she was playing with the girl, and was not sincere.

"Tell him to draw up the paper right away, aunt!" begged Patricia, with sparkling eyes.

"As soon as you can, Silas," said the invalid.

"And, aunt, can't you spare a little more to Louise and Beth? It would make them so happy."

"Double the amount I had allowed to each of them," the woman commanded her lawyer.

"Can it all be ready to sign tonight?" asked Patsy, excitedly.

"I'll try, my dear," replied the old lawyer, gravely. Then he turned to Jane Merrick.

"Are you in earnest?" he asked.

Patsy's heart suddenly sank.

"Yes," was the reply. "I am tired of opposing this child's wishes. What do I care what becomes of my money, when I am gone? All that I desire is to have my remaining days peaceful."

The girl sprang forward and kissed her rapturously.

"They shall be, aunt!" she cried. "I promise it."

P 233--Aunt Jane's nieces.jpg

Patsy sprang forward and kissed her rapturously