Allan and the Ice-Gods
Allan and the Ice-Gods
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It is unnecessary that I should set out the history of the disposal of the great Ragnall fortune in any detail. I adhered to my decision which at last was recorded with much formality; though, as I was a totally unknown individual, few took any interest in the matter. Those who came to hear of it for the most part set me down as mad; indeed, I could see that even my friends and neighbours, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, with whom I declined to discuss the business, more or less shared this view, while a society journal of the lower sort printed a paragraph headed:
THE HUNTER HERMIT -
WHO MOCKED AT MILLIONS!
Then followed a distorted version of the facts. Also I received anonymous letters written, I do not doubt, by members of the Atterby-Smith family, which set down my self-denial to "the workings of a guilty conscience" and "to fears of exposure."
Of all these things I took no heed, and notwithstanding wild threats of action by Mr. Atterby-Smith, in due course the alternative clauses of the will came into operation, under which, with only a rough list to guide me, I found myself the practical dispenser of vast sums. Then indeed I "endured hardness." Not only had collieries and other properties to be sold to the best advantage, not only was I afflicted by constant interviews with Messrs. Mellis & Mellis and troubles too numerous to mention. In addition to these, I think that every society and charity in the United Kingdom and quite eighty per cent. of its beggars must have written or sought interviews with me to urge their public or private claims, so that, in the end, I was obliged to fly away and hide myself, leaving the lawyers to deal with the correspondence and the mendicants.
At length I completed my list, allotting the bulk of the money to learned societies, especially such of them as dealt with archaeological matters in which the testatrix and her husband had been interested; to those who laboured among the poor; to the restoration of an abbey in which I had heard Lady Ragnall express great interest, and to the endowment of the castle as a local hospital in accordance with her wish.
This division having been approved and ratified by an order in Court, my duties came to an end. Further, my fee as executor was paid me, which I took without scruple, for seldom has money been harder earned, and the magnificent service of ancient plate was handed over to me-or rather to the custody of my bank-with the result that I have never set eyes upon it from that day to this, and probably never shall.
Also, I selected certain souvenirs, including a beautiful portrait of Lady Ragnall by a noted artist, painted before her marriage, concerning which there was a tragic story whereof I have written elsewhere. This picture I hung in my dining room where I can see it as I sit at table, so that never a day passes that I do not think twice or thrice of her whose young loveliness it represents. Indeed, I think of her so much that often I wish I had placed it somewhere else.
The Egyptian collection I gave to a museum which I will not name; only the chest of Taduki and the other articles connected with it I kept, as I was bound to do, hiding them away in a bookcase in my study and hoping that I should forget where I had put them, an effort wherein I failed entirely. Indeed, that chest might have been alive to judge from the persistence with which it inflicted itself upon my mind, just as if someone were imprisoned in the bookcase. It was stowed away in the bottom part of an old Chippendale bookcase which stood exactly behind my writing chair and which I had taken over as a fixture when I bought the Grange. Now this chair, that I am using at the moment of writing, is one of the sort that revolves, and, heedless of the work I had to do, continually I found myself turning it round so that I sat staring at the bookc