Ξ From the Journals of Edward Rochester – 1811-1815 Ξ
~ Mason had been dead perhaps a year, when one afternoon, Lucias, the old butler, informed me that a gentleman—a lawyer, in fact—had come to Alta Arboleta, and he was looking for me. ~
* * *
“Mr. Edward…there is a gentleman to see you. Will you receive him?”
“Who can it be, Lucias?”
“Campbell?” I repeated distractedly. “Ah, yes, Jonas’ solicitor.”
What could he want, I wonder? Some devilish construction in Mason’s will to thrust more indignities upon me?
“Well, send him in, then. I should be glad for the company—we have so few visitors these days.”
The old servant bowed, and a minute later, Campbell appeared.
I rose from behind my desk and approached the man whom I now remembered. He had conducted the reading of Mason’s will not long after Jonas died, but that was months ago. He held forth his hand.
“Mr. Rochester, t’is a great pleasure to see you again, sir.” His grip was firm and his Scots brogue thick.
“I remember you very well, Campbell. Would you care for something cool to drink? I cannot imagine what business brings you out on such a hot afternoon as this.”
“I’ll not keep ya long, sir. My business will take only a few minutes.”
“Won’t you at least sit down, then?”
He nodded, set his valise on the floor, then took a chair on one side of my desk, while I resumed the seat on the other. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, sir? I thought everything had been taken care of respecting the disposition of Mr. Mason’s properties.”
“Aye, that is true enough. But I found something in his personal effects that he never told me about. As I took an oath to execute my duties faithfully and with the utmost integrity, I must see to this final task.”
“Of course. But what more can that duty have to do with me? Or his daughter? I was made aware of all the provisions at the reading of his will, but as I said, that was months ago.”
“It was, sir,” replied Campbell. “But these documents do not concern Mr. Mason’s will.” He leaned over and fumbled in the valise then pulled out a wrapped and bound packet.” I found these letters in his effects—all of which bear your family name—Rochester.”
“They were in the strong box locked in his desk, but of course I had the key for both the desk and the box. Perhaps he’d forgotten about them, although he was usually most careful about such matters.”
“There was nothing else in the box save these seven letters, three of which were sent to Mr. Mason by a Henry Rochester of Thornfield Hall, in England.”
“Aye. And three of the letters were fair copies of the replies sent by Mr. Mason. As my client left me no explicit instructions concerning the disposition of this correspondence, the ownership properly reverts to their author.”
“My father is dead, Mr. Campbell.” Or soon would be, by what Carter had written to me.
“Then the law recognizes you, sir, as the rightful owner. If the author is dead, his closest living relative becomes the possessor. And as you are…um…husband to Mr. Mason’s daughter, I must give you the fair copies of his letters for safe-keeping.” He cleared his throat. “I am sorry to say it, but…well, it’s not very likely they will ever be of any use to her, is it now?”
I sighed. “No, Campbell. You are quite right about that. But you said there were seven letters. Three from my father, and Mr. Mason’s three replies. From whom is the odd letter?”
He did not immediately reply, but untied the string from around the packet of letters, then handed me the one off the top. “Will you swear this is your father’s hand?”
I took the document he proffered and unfolded it. There at the bottom was Henry’s unmistakeable scribble. “Yes, certainly, this is his signature. Not a doubt of it.”
After thumbing through the letters, he took up another. “Here is the odd epistle, sir. It is addressed to Mr. Mason. It was not written by your father, but rather a Mr. Rowland Rochester.”
~ A World Far Away – End of Part III ~
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