All of Featherstone’s relatives are hoping to get some of the limited amount of land and money that Featherstone has left behind. Most of the relatives are furiously jealous of the Vincys, as it is expected that Fred will inherit the majority of the land. However, all the speculation is confused by the appearance of the frog-faced stranger, who presents himself as one of the mourners. He is identified as Rigg. Fred overhears Jonah mentioning a “love-child,” and when Fred links this phrase to Rigg’s ugly face, he struggles to suppress a laugh. Seeing this, Mary asks to swap seats with him so Fred is out of the others’ sight.
There is a general atmosphere of nastiness at the reading of Featherstone’s will, created mostly by the greedy excitement and speculation which has totally dwarfed any pretense of mourning that took place at the funeral. This sense of nastiness is further increased by Fred’s reaction to Rigg—a reaction that suggests Fred is just as immature and thoughtless as ever.
Now that all Featherstone’s relatives are assembled, it is time for the reading of his will. Featherstone’s lawyer Mr. Standish was surprised and a little excited when he found out about the second will. The audience listens nervously as Standish reads the first will, announcing that about £3000 will be distributed in small, even amounts among a great many of Featherstone’s relatives. The Garths are not mentioned, but Mr. Vincy and Mrs. Vincy learn they will receive £100 each. It is then announced that Fred will receive £10,000; he is so happy that he has to bite his cheeks to stop himself from smiling.
Again, this scene highlights the selfish, greedy, and ugly side of the people assembled at the reading. Fred behaves in a particularly despicable way; he is so happy about the money he is due to inherit that he cannot pretend to be solemn without physically biting his cheeks. Meanwhile, there is dramatic irony created by the fact that as readers, we know there is a second will.
The rest of Featherstone’s property and land is all given to Joshua Rigg, who is also expected to take “Featherstone” as his surname. Everyone is profoundly shocked except Rigg himself. However, then a second will is read, which cancels out the first one entirely. This new will gives all Featherstone’s land and property to Rigg, leaving only a little extra to build alms-houses in Featherstone’s name. The only person present who inherits anything is Trumbull, who gets Featherstone’s gold-plated cane.
While Featherstone appears to have had a change of heart at the last minute (as indicated by his desire for Mary to burn one of the wills), his original plan—which is the one carried out—was to have a dramatic twist of events that raised people’s expectations before dashing them. In a sense, Featherstone wanted to make sure he had the last laugh.
Mr. Vincy angrily declares that Featherstone must have lost his ability to reason when he made the will. Standish and Trumbull insist that his mind was perfectly healthy. Mr. Garth suggests that the will is actually not that surprising, adding: “I wish there was no such thing as a will.” Jonah chimes in, calling Featherstone “a hypocrite.” Rigg seems unbothered by the malicious comments circulating among the relatives. Rigg has a high-pitched voice and “a vile accent.” Fred laments that he will have to train as a clergyman after all, and asks Mary what she shall do. She replies that she will get another job, and leaves.
Despite the amount of sincere distress in the room, there is something inescapably comic about the chaos that ensues after the reading of the will. Once people lose out on the inheritance they believe they deserve, all the selfish, greedy, and nasty behavior they had been suppressing suddenly comes to the surface.
Concluding the chapter, the narrator reflects that any stories about “low people” in the book can be redeemed by being considered as parables. The narratives of low-ranking people may well serve as metaphors for the lives of the nobility. The narrator concludes by mentioning that Featherstone died before Lord Grey was elected Prime Minister and the Reform Act was passed.
At the time Middlemarch was published, it was still customary to devote novels to the lives of high-ranking people. Here the narrator’s invocation of the Reform Act suggests that Middlemarch’s attention to people of different ranks reflects broader social change.