“Do you know what disagreeable thing has happened? Another will by that old woman, executed five years ago, has been found. She bequeaths half of her property to a monastery, and the other half, in equal shares, to her two companions.”

Tchitchikoff was taken aback.

“But that will is—nonsense! It signifies nothing. It is set aside by the second one,” said he.

“But it is not stated in the second will that the former one is thereby annulled.”

“That is taken for granted. The first is annulled by the last. This is folly. The first will is utterly void. I am well acquainted with the wishes of the deceased. I was with her. Who signed this other will? Who were the witnesses?”

“It was duly witnessed in court. The witnesses were the ex-judge Burmiloff, and Khavanoff.”

“That’s bad,” thought Tchitchikoff. “Khavanoff is said to be an honest man. As for Burmiloff he is a venerable hypocrite, who reads the Apostles in church on festival days. But nonsense! nonsense!” he said aloud, and he immediately felt sufficient firmness to face anything. “I know better than that. I was present at the last moments of the dead woman’s life. I know all about it better than anybody else. I am ready to take my personal oath.”

These words and his air of decision for the moment reassured Lyenitzuin. The latter was very much excited, and had begun to suspect that there might have been some sort of fraud on Tchitchikoff’s part in connection with the will. He now reproached himself for his suspicions. Tchitchikoff’s readiness to take his oath was a plain indication of the reverse. We do not know whether Pavel Ivanovitch would actually have had the audacity to take his oath on the Gospel; but, at all events, he was audacious enough to say that he would.

“Make yourself easy on that score,” he added. “I will consult a lawyer on this matter. Nothing must be attributed to you. You must keep entirely clear of this affair. But I can stay in the town as long as it suits me.”

Tchitchikoff immediately ordered his carriage to be brought to the door, and betook himself to a lawyer’s. This lawyer was a man of extraordinary experience. He had fallen under the jurisdiction of the court fifteen years previously, but he had so managed that it had been utterly impossible to prevent him practising his profession. Everybody was perfectly well aware of the fact that he had deserved transportation half a dozen times. He was suspected to the last degree in every quarter, but it was impossible to produce plain and convincing proofs. There really was something uncanny about him, and he might have been boldly proclaimed as a wizard if the history which we are transcribing referred to an uncivilised epoch.

The lawyer amazed Tchitchikoff by the coolness of his demeanour and the filthiness of his dressing- gown, which presented a complete contrast to the handsome mahogany furniture, the gilt clock under a glass shade, the chandelier which peeped forth from the chintz cover protecting it, and all the other objects which surrounded him, and which bore the stamp of European civilisation.

Nothing daunted, however, by the dubious appearance of the lawyer, Tchitchikoff explained the perplexing points of the matter in hand, and sketched a seductive perspective of the gratitude which would infallibly follow sound counsel and assistance.

The jurisconsult replied to this with allusions to the transitory character of all earthly things, and with much art he allowed it to be understood that a stork in the heavens signified nothing with him providing he had a tomtit in the hand.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.