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Middlemarch

Chapter 32
"They'll
take
suggestion
as
a
cat
laps
milk."
--SHAKESPEARE: Tempest.
The triumphant confidence of the Mayor founded on Mr. Featherstone's insistent
demand that Fred and his mother should not leave him, was a feeble emotion
compared with all that was agitating the breasts of the old man's blood-relations,
who naturally manifested more their sense of the family tie and were more visibly
numerous now that he had become bedridden. Naturally: for when "poor Peter"
had occupied his arm-chair in the wainscoted parlor, no assiduous beetles for
whom the cook prepares boiling water could have been less welcome on a
hearth which they had reasons for preferring, than those persons whose
Featherstone blood was ill-nourished, not from penuriousness on their part, but
from poverty. Brother Solomon and Sister Jane were rich, and the family candor
and total abstinence from false politeness with which they were always received
seemed to them no argument that their brother in the solemn act of making his
will would overlook the superior claims of wealth. Themselves at least he had
never been unnatural enough to banish from his house, and it seemed hardly
eccentric that he should hare kept away Brother Jonah, Sister Martha, and the
rest, who had no shadow of such claims. They knew Peter's maxim, that money
was a good egg, and should be laid in a warm nest.
But Brother Jonah, Sister Martha, and all the needy exiles, held a different point
of view. Probabilities are as various as the faces to be seen at will in fretwork or
paper-hangings: every form is there, from Jupiter to Judy, if you only look with
creative inclination. To the poorer and least favored it seemed likely that since
Peter had done nothing for them in his life, he would remember them at the last.
Jonah argued that men liked to make a surprise of their wills, while Martha said
that nobody need be surprised if he left the best part of his money to those who
least expected it. Also it was not to be thought but that an own brother "lying
there" with dropsy in his legs must come to feel that blood was thicker than
water, and if he didn't alter his will, he might have money by him. At any rate
some blood-relations should be on the premises and on the watch against those
who were hardly relations at all. Such things had been known as forged wills and
disputed wills, which seemed to have the golden-hazy advantage of somehow
enabling non-legatees to live out of them. Again, those who were no blood-
relations might be caught making away with things--and poor Peter "lying there"
helpless! Somebody should be on the watch. But in this conclusion they were at
one with Solomon and Jane; also, some nephews, nieces, and cousins, arguing
with still greater subtilty as to what might be done by a man able to "will away"
his property and give himself large treats of oddity, felt in a handsome sort of way
that there was a family interest to be attended to, and thought of Stone Court as
a place which it would be nothing but right for them to visit. Sister Martha,
otherwise Mrs. Cranch, living with some wheeziness in the Chalky Flats, could
not undertake the journey; but her son, as being poor Peter's own nephew, could
represent her advantageously, and watch lest his uncle Jonah should make an
 
 
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