Aunt Jane's Nieces/Chapter 20
IN THE GARDEN
From this hour Patsy devoted herself untiringly to Aunt Jane, and filled her days with as much sunshine as her merry ways and happy nature could confer. Yet there was one thing that rendered her uneasy: the paper that Lawyer Watson had so promptly drawn had never yet been signed and witnessed. Her aunt had allowed her to read it, saying she wished the girl to know she had acted in good faith, and Patsy had no fault at all to find with the document. But Aunt Jane was tired, and deferred signing it that evening. The next day no witnesses could be secured, and so another postponement followed, and upon one pretext or another the matter was put off until Patricia became suspicious.
Noting this, Aunt Jane decided to complete her act of deception. She signed the will in the girl's presence, with Oscar and Susan to witness her signature. Lawyer Watson was not present on this occasion, and as soon as Patsy had left her Miss Merrick tore off the signatures and burned them, wrote "void" in bold letters across the face of the paper, and then, it being rendered of no value, she enclosed it in a large yellow envelope, sealed it, and that evening handed the envelope to Mr. Watson with the request that it be not opened until after her death.
Patricia, in her delight, whispered to the lawyer that the paper was really signed, and he was well pleased and guarded the supposed treasure carefully. The girl also took occasion to inform both Beth and Louise that a new will had been made in which they both profited largely, but she kept the secret of who the real heir was, and both her cousins grew to believe they would share equally in the entire property.
So now an air of harmony settled upon Elmhurst, and Uncle John joined the others in admiration of the girl who had conquered the stubbornness of her stern old aunt and proved herself so unselfish and true.
One morning Aunt Jane had Phibbs wheel her into her little garden, as usual, and busied herself examining the flowers and plants of which she had always been so fond.
"James has been neglecting his work, lately," she said, sharply, to her attendant.
"He's very queer, ma'am," replied old Martha, "ever since the young ladies an' Master John came to Elmhurst. Strangers he never could abide, as you know, and he runs and hides himself as soon as he sees any of 'em about."
"Poor James!" said Miss Merrick, recalling her old gardener's infirmity. "But he must not neglect my flowers in this way, or they will be ruined."
"He isn't so afraid of Master John," went on Phibbs, reflectively, "as he is of the young ladies. Sometimes Master John talks to James, in his quiet way, and I've noticed he listens to him quite respectively—like he always does to you, Miss Jane."
"Go and find James, and ask him to step here," commanded the mistress, "and then guard the opening in the hedge, and see that none of my nieces appear to bother him."
Phibbs obediently started upon her errand, and came upon James in the tool-house, at the end of the big garden. He was working among his flower pots and seemed in a quieter mood than usual.
Phibbs delivered her message, and the gardener at once started to obey. He crossed the garden unobserved and entered the little enclosure where Miss Jane's chair stood. The invalid was leaning back on her cushions, but her eyes were wide open and staring.
"I've come, Miss," said James; and then, getting; no reply, he looked into her face. A gleam of sunlight filtered through the bushes and fell aslant Jane Merrick's eyes; but not a lash quivered.
James gave a scream that rang through the air and silenced even the birds. Then, shrieking like the madman he was, he bounded away through the hedge, sending old Martha whirling into a rose-bush, and fled as if a thousand fiends were at his heels.
John Merrick and Mr. Watson, who were not far off, aroused by the bloodcurdling screams, ran toward Aunt Jane's garden, and saw in a glance what had happened.
"Poor Jane," whispered the brother, bending over to tenderly close the staring eyes, "her fate has overtaken her unawares."
"Better so," said the lawyer, gently. "She has found Peace at last."
Together they wheeled her back into her chamber, and called the women to care for their dead mistress.