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His heart gave a great leap when an old lay brother, with a long white beard, came stepping carefully across the freshly dug beds of the vegetable garden to announce that his presence was required by the Lord Abbot. Such a summons was not usual; what could it portend? Might it not be that at this happy Eastertide and on the conclusion of the long Lenten fast, wherein he had not incurred many rebukes, it had at length been decided to give him hope? Hitherto the Abbot had been chary of words, chary of encouragement; if he was about to speak now, surely it would be to say something definite! But Brother Anselm, taught by experience, asked no questions. A few strides brought him within the building, and as he hurried along bare, echoing corridors, he struggled, as he had so often struggled before, to bring that tell-tale visage of his under control, for well he knew that any display of emotion would be instantly noted and disapproved of by the ever-vigilant eyes that surrounded him.
He was conscious of a preliminary inward thrill of emotion, in the shape of disappointment, on learning that he was wanted in the room set apart for the reception of visitors. That did not sound promising. Yet, who knew? The Bishop might, perhaps, have arrived unexpectedly-or the Bishop's coadjutor. It was not impossible that his case was being made the subject of consultation. He entered hastily, genuflected to the Abbot, and with a quick side-glance, while he stood meekly awaiting orders, perceived that the two persons from whom he was separated by a bare table were not ecclesiastics. The Abbot, a clean-shaven, emaciated, hairless old man, with a kind face and sunken blue eyes, made a slight motion with his hand towards one of these, but did not speak. The stranger rose slowly. He was big, gaunt, somewhat round-shouldered, and
had a hook nose, a long upper lip, and iron-grey hair Brother Anselm noticed. He said
"You do not know me, Nigel, although I presume that you must have heard of me. I am your uncle Robert,"
Nigel Scarth, whose name in religion was Brother Anselm, made a gesture of assent, smiling faintly. He had often heard of his two uncles-Thomas, the wealthy owner of Rixmouth Castle, in Yorkshire, and Robert, scarcely less wealthy, who dwelt in the same county, but had heard nothing flattering about either of them, as the latter appeared to divine, for he went on, in a harsh, aggressive tone of voice
"I cannot hold myself in any way to blame for the circumstance of our not having met before. Your late father, my brother Francis, was-but no matter! I do not care to speak ill of the dead."
He paused, frowning heavily and looking down at the table, upon which his long, lean hands rested, while his companion judged the moment appropriate to break in cheerfully with
"Well, Mr. Nigel, we at all events have met before, though I daresay you don't remember me."
"I remember you perfectly, Mr. Linklater," replied the young man, in whose memory the figure of the rotund, rosy-cheeked family lawyer was associated with sundry bygone interviews and earnest remonstrances against the squandering of his small patrimony. He had always rather liked little Mr. Linklater, if he had refused to be guided by his advice; still, it gave him no sort of pleasure to see the lawyer at Lew Abbey. What could his errand possibly be? To place difficulties in the postulant's path by a relation of scandals and escapades which belonged to the abjured past? But that apprehension was dismissed almost as soon as formed. In
the first place, such a proceeding would not be worth Mr. Linklater's while, and in the second, he could tell nothing that had not already been confessed to the Lord Abbot without reserve. For the rest, the nature of Robert Scarth's and Mr. Linklater's joint errand was speedily made known by the former, who now resumed—
"We are here as executors of my brother Thomas. You have not, I understand, been informed of his death?" The young man shook his head. "We do not hear much of what happens in the world," said he.
"I suppose not. Well, we have had the-er-misfortune to lose my brother Thomas, and he has left a will, to which, whatever I may think of its wisdom or folly, it devolves upon me to give effect. I must ask you to give your close attention to the provisions of that will, which are numerous, complicated and—and perhaps I am justified in adding vexatious."
"Oh, you may call them that," chimed in Mr. Linklater briskly; "I take it that they were meant to be that. But they are not so complicated as to be at all unintelligible. You would like me, I dare say, just to state what they are as briefly and clearly as I can."
"If you please," answered Mr. Scarth, and resumed his seat.
The Abbot, who all this time had remained motionless, his chin supported upon his folded hands, made a slight sign to the young man, who obediently took one of the few wooden chairs which stood against the whitewashed wall, and Mr. Linklater, putting on his spectacles, produced a sheaf of documents.
"I have a copy of your late uncle's will here, Mr. Nigel," he began; "but I don't propose to puzzle you by reading it at full length. Let me rather say at once that under it you take-subject to certain restrictions and conditions—a life interest both in his landed estates
and in the greater part of the income arising out of his personal property.'
The young man could not repress a start, and the lawyer held up a warning finger.
"Ah, but wait a bit! the conditions may not be such as you will be disposed to accept. In the first place, you will, of course, have to quit your monastery and assume the usual life and duties of a country gentleman; secondly, the property will, on your death, only pass to the heir male of your body in the event of his not being a Roman Catholic; thirdly, your own life interest will at once terminate, should you at any future time become a monk. Under certain circumstances, you are given power to nominate your successor; only he must not be of your faith. You are to be allowed a month from now in which to make up your mind; and that, I believe, sums up the situation, so far as you are concerned."
A slight flush had mounted to the novice's cheekbones. He glanced appealingly at the Abbot, who did not stir and preserved an impassive mien; then he turned his eyes towards Mr. Linklater, who looked rather amused, and his uncle Robert, who frowned impatiently. Nobody, it appeared, intended to help him.
"I have been taken completely by surprise," he faltered at length; "it never in my life occurred to me that such a thing as this could happen. I do not want to be rich, I do not want to return to the world; I— I do not see that it can be my duty to accept this inheritance."
"Well," observed Mr. Linklater tolerantly, "that's a question for you to decide, and, as I tell you, no decision is obligatory until the end of the next four weeks."
"May I ask what will become of the estates and property if I refuse?"
"In that case everything goes to some person nominated by Mr. Robert Scarth, provided that such person be not either a son of his own or a member of the Church of Rome."
"It pleased my late brother," interposed Robert Scarth suddenly, "to put that additional and rather superfluous affront upon me."
"Oh, well," observed the lawyer, laughing, "it pleased poor Tom to do a good many odd things. Appointing me as his executor, for one, and drawing up his will with his own hand, instead of employing me, for another. It is an eccentric will, and perhaps, if anybody chooses to call it so, a malicious one
"I choose to call it so," broke in Mr. Robert Scarth. "Yes; but, as I was going to say, it is not, in spite of some irregularities, the sort of will which could be disputed with any chance of success in these days, when effect is always given to the manifest wishes of the testator. Otherwise, my dear Robert, I am quite sure you would dispute it."
"I do not know what right you have to say such a thing as that, Linklater!" cried the other angrily.
But Mr. Linklater, who was a very old friend of the family, only laughed again.
"Come, Robert! have you ever in all your days denied yourself the luxury of going to law, except when I have held you back by main force? But we are digressing; and we have already, I am afraid, trespassed rather longer than we should have done upon his lordship's time and patience. I ought, perhaps, just to mention that there are a few points with regard to which the will strikes me as ambiguous; still, I believe I am safe in saying that, should Mr. Nigel decide to comply with the conditions laid down, horses, furniture, carriages, plate and so forth will become his absolutely, and that