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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter XIV

page 54

Chapter XIV.

He made his Will—A Thankless Task—Mr. Begg's Mind is much exercised—Josiah's Domestic Economy—Jean Stewart—The Last Will and Testament.

Before finally settling down to business, Josiah took one more step deserving of special note: he made his will.

The process of will-making is perhaps one of the most deceptive a man can engage in. The will is a legal instrument designed to defeat the legal succession. The law prescribes one line of succession, but the will may entirely reverse the order. It is the means by which legal rights are legally defeated, and natural obligations ignored. It partakes of many of the essentials of benevolence, inasmuch as it embodies the giver and the receiver, and yet it brings none of the rewards attending acts of true beneficence. It neither blesses him who gives, nor yet, as a rule, does it bless him who receives. To the former it is a source of much perplexity, and, in not a few instances, the execution of the will is accompanied by quite as much mental anguish as if it were the execution of the individual. To such the feeling is that of the condemned criminal, who makes his last dying speech and testimony prior to being turned off. With that feeling uppermost in his mind, no man can be truly blessed.

Then, as regards the other party affected by the transaction, it would be sheer madness to expect the discarded heir-at-law, or next-of-kin, to feel in a blissful mood. The outcome on that side, on the contrary, is far more likely to be cursing than blessing. Even the beneficiary himself is more often disap-page 55pointed than otherwise. The bequest seldom or never comes up to his expectations, and if there be no other obstacle put in the way legal restraints are imposed, leaving him the reverse of a free agent. Altogether, will-making is about one of the most thankless tasks a man can be engaged upon.

The subject as it affected himself was one upon which Mr. Begg's mind had been much exercised. Long before he thought of visiting Scotland he thought about making his will. In thrashing the matter out, his mind drifted into a variety of channels, some of them taking rather peculiar mental shape. At one time he thought it might not be out of place to become a family man, and in that way build up for himself a house, as he had built up for himself a fortune. Reasoning out that problem brought his mind face to face with another problem—viz., upon whom should his choice of life-partner devolve?

Josiah Begg, as we have seen, had got through his first love operation, and his was a mind in which prudence and caution combined to make a second venture matter for grave care and consideration.

Amongst other likely marks towards which his mind in the exercise of these precautionary principles revolved was the inevitable housekeeper, without whom the domestic establishment of the single gentleman in good circumstances is never complete.

Josiah's domestic economy, simple as it was, included that indispensable requisite. The lady was a countrywoman of his own. Indeed, he had imported her from Scotland, and for many years she had reigned supreme, the central figure in his domestic economies. She was a middle-aged person of good character, good looks, good abilities, and good management.

Such a combination of goodness could not possibly escape the keen observations of a shrewd business man like Josiah Begg.

The lady was named Jean Stewart.

To such an extent had Jean's good qualities won upon her master that it was known and acknowledged that she had come to exercise considerable influence over him. That may be gathered from the fact that, although not generally known, page 56and hitherto no mention has been made of it in these pages, Miss Stewart accompanied Mr. Begg in his recent trip to Scotland.

If there was any seeming impropriety in that proceeding it was fully answered to Mr. Begg's mind in the fact that, like unto himself, she was a native of Scotland, and it was only reasonable, after a lengthened absence, she should have an opportunity for revisiting her relations.

Miss Stewart having reached mid-life, it is not astonishing to learn she had begun to think in a sober, serious way, peculiar to her age and character, about getting finally settled in life. A good, easy billet152 as housekeeper to a single gentleman of means is all very good in its way, but it does not fulfil all the conditions of the female mind. There still remains the step higher up in the scale of domestic felicity, and why, after a long course of probation, during which she had ably sustained the inferior part, should the housekeeper not aspire to the other? To Miss Stewart's mind that process of reasoning appeared fair and logical, and what is fair, logical, and of good report ought certainly to win the day.

A similar train of thought passed through the mind of Mr. Josiah Begg, although it must be stated, in token of the obtuseness of that gentleman's reasoning faculties, it did not present itself in the same light, being neither so clear nor yet so logical. Still, as we have shown, he did not altogether reject it as an unreasonable proposition.

When he reached Scotland his mind was still as undecided as ever. How long it might have remained in that state we are unable to say. The still small voice from the isolated grave, enjoining him to prove his devotion to the dead by a faithful discharge of his duty to the living, finally determined him on the point, and with that determination, we are sorry to add, Miss Stewart's prospects for becoming mistress of the household faded away.

The last will and testament was made in accordance with that determination on the part of Mr. Begg. Having the best legal assistance at his command, it was prepared with great care. Even the docket on the outside sheet was neatly executed. It read as follows: "The last will and testament of me, Josiah page 57Begg, of San Francisco, merchant shipper and general importer, made this first day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine."

Between that docket and the docket sheet found by Bill Fox on the banks of the Nevis, a close similarity will be noted. The fact is, they were one and the same, although it still remains to be shown how the transformation from San Francisco to Otago occurred. That, however, will appear in due course. Meantime, it is only necessary to add that the will having, in the words of our old friend Daddy, or Duncan, Campbell, been signed, sealed, and delivered, was carefully folded up by Mr. Begg, and, together with the faded flower with the bruised stem, put carefully away in his repositories.

152 Lodging.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]