Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

35. CHAPTER XXXV (continued)

She saw that he was much attached to herself, and trusted to this rather than to anything else. She saw also that his conceit was not very profound, and that his fits of self-abasement were as extreme as his exaltation had been. His impulsiveness and sanguine trustfulness in anyone who smiled pleasantly at him, or indeed was not absolutely unkind to him, made her more anxious about him than any other point in his character; she saw clearly that he would have to find himself rudely undeceived many a time and oft, before he would learn to distinguish friend from foe within reasonable time. It was her perception of this which led her to take the action which she was so soon called upon to take.

Her health was for the most part excellent, and she had never had a serious illness in her life. One morning, however, soon after Easter 1850, she awoke feeling seriously unwell. For some little time there had been a talk of fever in the neighbourhood, but in those days the precautions that ought to be taken against the spread of infection were not so well understood as now, and nobody did anything. In a day or two it became plain that Miss Pontifex had got an attack of typhoid fever and was dangerously ill. On this she sent off a messenger to town, and desired him not to return without her lawyer and myself.

We arrived on the afternoon of the day on which we had been summoned, and found her still free from delirium: indeed, the cheery way in which she received us made it difficult to think she could be in danger. She at once explained her wishes, which had reference, as I expected, to her nephew, and repeated the substance of what I have already referred to as her main source of uneasiness concerning him. Then she begged me by our long and close intimacy, by the suddenness of the danger that had fallen on her and her powerlessness to avert it, to undertake what she said she well knew, if she died, would be an unpleasant and invidious trust.

She wanted to leave the bulk of her money ostensibly to me, but in reality to her nephew, so that I should hold it in trust for him till he was twenty-eight years old, but neither he nor anyone else, except her lawyer and myself, was to know anything about it. She would leave 5000 pounds in other legacies, and 15,000 pounds to Ernest--which by the time he was twenty-eight would have accumulated to, say, 30,000 pounds. "Sell out the debentures," she said, "where the money now is--and put it into Midland Ordinary."

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