Page images





WE left Lady Mason very grateful, at the end of the last chapter, for the promise made to her by Sir Peregrine with reference to her son; but there was still a weight on Lady Mason's mind. They say that the pith of a lady's letter is in the postscript, and it may be that that which remained for Lady Mason to say, was after all the matter as to which she was most anxious for assistance. "As you are here," she said to the baronet, "would you let me mention another subject?"

"Surely," said he, again putting down his hat and riding-stick.

Sir Peregrine was not given to close observation of those around him, or he might have seen by the heightened color of the lady's face, and by the slight nervous hesitation with which she began to speak, that she was much in earnest as to this other matter. And had he been clever in his powers of observation he might have seen also that she was anxious to hide this feeling. "You remember the circumstances of that terrible lawsuit?" she said, at last.

"What; as to Sir Joseph's will? Yes; I remember them well."

"I know that I shall never forget all the kindness that you showed me," said she. "I don't know how I should havo lived through it without you and dear Mrs. Orme."

"But what about it now?"

"I fear I am going to have further trouble."

"Do you mean that the man at Groby Park is going to try the case again? It is not possible after such a lapse of time. I am no lawyer, but I do not think that he can do it."

"I do not know—I do not know what he intends, or whether he intends any thing; but I am sure of this—that he will give me trouble if he can. But I will tell you the whole story, Sir Peregrine. It is not much, and perhaps after all may not be worth attention. You know the attorney in Hamworth who married Miriam Usbech?"

"What, SamuelDockwrath? Oh, yes; I know him well enough; and to tell the truth I do not think very well of him. Is he not a tenant of yours?"

"Not at present." And then Lady Mason explained the manner in which the two fields had been taken out of the lawyer's hands by her son's order.

"Ah! he was wrong there,"said the baronet. "When a man has held land so long it should not be taken away from him except under pressing circumstances; that is, if he pays his rent."

"Mr. Dockwrath did pay his rent, certainly; and now, I fear, he is determined to do all he can to injure us."

"But what injury can Mr. Dockwrath do


"I do not know; but he has gone down to Yorkshire—to Mr. Mason's place; I know that; and he was searching through some papers of old Mr. Usbech's before he went. Indeed, I may say that I know as a fact that he has gone to Mr. Mason with the hope that these law proceedings may be brought on again."

"You know it as a fact?"

"I think I may say so."

"But, dear Lady Mason, may I ask you how you know this as a fact?"

"His wife was with me yesterday," she said, with some feeling of shame as she disclosed the source from whence she had obtained her information.

"And did she tell the tale against her own husband?"

"Not as meaning to say any thing against him, Sir Peregrine; you must not think so badly of her as that; nor must you think that I would willingly obtain information in such a manner. But you must understand that I have always been her friend; and when she found that Mr. Dockwrath had left home on a matter in which I am so nearly concerned, I can not but think it natural that she should let me know."

To this Sir Peregrine made no direct answer. He could not quite say that he thought it was natural, nor could he give any expressed approval of any such intercourse between Lady Mason and the attorney's wife. He thought it would be better that Mr. Dockwrath should be allowed to do his worst, if he had any intention of doing evil, and that Lady Mason should pass it by without condescending to notice the circumstance. But he made allowances for her weakness, and did not give utterance to his disapproval in words.

"I know you think that I have done wrong," she then said, appealing to him; and there was a tone of sorrow in her voice which went to his heart.

"No, not wrong; I can not say that you have done wrong. It may be a question whether you have done wisely."

"Ah! if you only condemn my folly, I will not despair. It is probable I may not have done wisely, seeing that I had not you to direct me. But what shall I do now? Oh, Sir Peregrine, say that you will not desert me if all this trouble is coming on me again!"

"No, I will not desert you, Lady Mason; you may be sure of that."

"Dearest friend!"

"But I would advise you to take no notice whatever of Mr. Dockwrath and his proceedings. I regard him as a person entirely beneath your notice, and if I were you I should not move at ORLEY

all in this matter unless I received some legal summons which made it necessary for me to do so. I have not the honor of any personal acquaintance with Mr. Mason, of Groby Park." It was in this way that Sir Peregrine always designated his friend's step-son—" but if I understand the motives by which he may probably be actuated in this or in any other matter, I do not think it likely that he will expend money on so very uupromising a case."

"He would do any thing for vengeance."

"I doubt if he would throw away his money even for that, unless he were very sure of his prey. And in this matter what can he possibly do? He has the decision of the jury against him, and at the time he was afraid to carry the case up to a court of appeal."

"But, Sir Peregrine, it is impossible to know what documents he may have obtained since that."

"What documents can do yon any harm— unless, indeed, there should turn out to bo a will subsequent to that under which your son inherits the property?"

"Oh no; there was no subsequent will."

"Of course there was not; and therefore you need not frighten yourself. It is just possible that some attempt may be made, now that your son is of age; but I regard even that as improbable."

"And yon would not advise me, then, to say any thing to Mr. Furnival?"

"No; certainly not—unless you receive some legal notice which may make it necessary for you to consult a lawyer. Do nothing; and if Mrs. Dockwrath comes to you again, tell her that you are not disposed to take any notice of her information. Mrs. Dockwrath is, I am sure, a very good sort of woman. Indeed, I have always heard so. But if I were you, I don't think that I should feel inclined to have much conversation with her about my private affairs. What you tell her you tell also to herhusband." And then the baronet, having thus spoken words of wisdom, sat silent in his arm-chair; and Lady Mason, still looking into his face, remained silent also for a few minutes.

"I am so glad I asked you to come," she then said.

"I am delighted if I have been of any service to you."

"Of any service! oh, Sir Peregrine, you can not understand what it is to live alone as I do— for of course I can not trouble Lucius with these matters; nor can a man, gifted as yon are, comprehend how a woman can tremble at the very idea that those law proceedings may possibly be repeated."

Sir Peregrine could not but remember, as he looked at her, that during all those law proceedings, when an attack was made, not only on her income but on her honesty, she had never seemed to tremble. She had always been constant to herself, even when things appeared to be going against her. But years passing over her head since that time had perhaps told upon her courage.

FARM. 37"But I will fear nothing now, as you have promised that you will still be my friend."

"You may be very sure of that, Lady Mason. I believe that I may fairly boast that I do not easily abandon those whom I have once regarded with esteem and affection; among whom Lady Mason will, I am sure, allow me to say that she is reckoned as by no means the least." And then taking her hand, the old gentleman bowed over it and kissed it.

"My dearest, dearest friend!" said she; and lifting Sir Peregrine's beautifully white hand to her lips she also kissed that. It will be remembered that the gentleman was over seventy, and that this pretty scene could therefore be enacted without impropriety on either side. Sir Peregrine then went, and as he passed out of the door Lady Mason smiled on him very sweetly. It is quite true that he was over seventy; but nevertheless the smile of a pretty woman still had charms for him, more especially if there was a tear in her eye the while; for Sir Peregrine Orme had a soft heart. *

As soon as the door was closed behind him Lady Mason seated herself in her accustomed chair, and all trace of the smile vanished from her face. She was alone now, and could allow her countenance to be a true index of her mind. If such was the case her heart surely was very sad. She sat there perfectly still for nearly an hour, and during the whole of that time there was the same look of agony on her brow. Once or twice she rubbed her Lands across her forehead, brushing back her hair, and showing, had there been any one by to see it, that there was many a gray lock there mixed with the brown hairs. Had there been any one by, she would, it may be surmised, have been more careful.

There was no smile in her face now, neither was there any tear in her eye. The one and the other emblem were equally alien to her present mood. But there was sorrow at her heart, and deep thought in her mind. She knew that her enemies were conspiring against her—against her and against her son; and what steps might she best take in order that she might baffle them?

"I have got that woman on the hip now." Those were the words which Mr. Dockwrath had uttered into his wife's ears, after two days spent in searching through her father's papers. The poor woman had once thought of burning all those papers—in old days before she had become Mrs. Dockwrath. Her friend, Lady Mason, had counseled her to do so, pointing out to her that they were troublesome, and could by no possibility lead to profit; but she had consulted her lover, and he had counseled her to burn nothing. "Would that she had been guided by her friend!" she now said to herself with regard to that old trunk, and perhaps occasionally with regard to some other things.

"I have got that woman on the hip at last!' and there had been a gleam of satisfaction in Samuel's eye as he uttered the words which had convinced his wife that it was not an idle threat. She knew nothing of what the box had contained; and now, even if it had not been kept safe from her under Samuel's private key, the contents which were of interest had of course gone. '' I have business in the north, and shall be away for about a week," Mr. Dock wrath had said to her on the following morning.

"Oh, very well; then I'll put up your things," she had answered, in her usual mild, sad, whining, household voice. Her voice at home was always sad and whining, for she was overworked, and had too many cares, and her lord was a tyrant to her rather than a husband.

"Yes, I must see Mr. Mason immediately. And look here, Miriam, I positively insist that you do not go to Orley Farm, or hold any intercourse whatever with Lady Mason. D'ye hear?"

Mrs. Dockwrath said that she did hear, and promised obedience. Mr. Dockwrath probably guessed that the moment his back was turned all would be told at the farm, and probably also had no real objection to her doing so. Had he in truth wished to keep his proceedings secret from Lady Mason he would not have divulged them to his wife. And then Mr. Dockwrath did start for the north, bearing certain documents with him; and soon after his departure Mrs. Dockwrath did pay a visit to Orley Farm.

Lady Mason sat there perfectly still for about an hour thinking what she would do. She had asked Sir Peregrine, and had the advantage of his advice; but that did not weigh much with her. What she wanted from Sir Peregrine was countenance and absolute assistance in the day of trouble—not advice. She had desired to renew his interest in her favor, and to receive from him his assurance that he would not desert her; and that she had obtained. It was of course also necessary that she should consult him; but in turning over within her own mind this and that line of conduct, she did not, consciously, attach any weight to Sir Peregrine's opinion. The great question for her to decide was this; should she put herself and her case into the hands of her friend Mr. Furnival now at once, or should she wait till she had received some certain symptom of hostile proceedings? If she did see Mr. Furnival, what could she tell him? only this, that Mr. Dockwrath had found some document among the papers of old Mr. Usbech, and had gone off with the same to Groby Park in Yorkshire. What that document might be she was as ignorant as the attorney's wife.

When the hour was ended she had made up her mind that she would do nothing more in the matter, at any rate on that day.



Mb. Samuel Dockwrath was a little man, with sandy hair, a pale face, and stone-blue eyes. In judging of him by appearance only and not by the ear, one would be inclined to doubt

that he could be a very sharp attorney abroad and a very persistent tyrant at home. But when Mr. Dockwrath began to talk one's respect for him began to grow. He talked well and to the point, and with a tone of voice that could command where command was possible, persuade where persuasion was required, mystify where mystification was needed, and express with accuracy the tone of an obedient humble servant when servility was thought to be expedient. We will now accompany him on his little tour into Yorkshire.

Groby Park is about seven miles from Leeds, and as Mr. Dockwrath had in the first instance to travel from Hamworth up to London, he did not reach Leeds till late in the evening. It was a nasty, cold, drizzling night, so that the beauties and marvels of the large manufacturing town offered him no attraction, and at nine o'clock he had seated himself before the fire in the commercial room at The Bull, had called for a pair of public slippers, and was about to solace all his cares with a glass of mahogany-colored brandyand-water and a cigar. The room had no present occupant but himself, and therefore he was able to make the most of all its comforts. He had taken the solitary arm-chair, and had so placed himself that the gas would fall direct from behind his head on to that day's Leeds and Halifax Chronicle, as soon as he should choose to devote himself to local polit ies.

The waiter had looked at him with doubtful eyes when he asked to be shown into the commercial room, feeling all but confident that such a guest had no right to bo there. He had no bulky bundles of samples, nor any of those outward characteristics of a commereial'' gent" with which all men conversant with the rail and road are acquainted, and which the accustomed eye of a waiter recognizes at a glance. And here it may be well to explain that ordinary travelers are in this respect badly treated by the customs of England, or rather by the hotel-keepers. All iun-keepers have commercial rooms, as certainly as they have taps and bars, but all of them do not have commercial rooms in the properly exclusive sense. A stranger, therefore, who has asked for and obtained his mutton-chop in the commercial room of The Dolphin, The Bear, and The George, not unnaturally asks to be shown into the same chamber at the King's Head. But the King's Head does a business with real commercials, and the stranger finds himself—out of his element.

"'Mereial, Sir?" said the waiter at The Bull Inn, Leeds, to Mr. Dockwrath, in that tone of doubt which seemed to carry an answer to his own question. But Mr. Dockwrath was not a man to be put down by a waiter. "Yes," said he. "Didn't you hear me say so?" And then the waiter gave way. None of those lords of the road were in the house at the moment, and it might be that none would come that night.

Mr. Dockwrath had arrived by the 8.22 P.m. down, but the 8.45 P.m. up from the north followed quick upon his heels, and he had hardly put his brandy-and-water to his mouth before a rush and a sound of many voices were heard in the hall. There is a great difference between the entrance into an inn of men who are not known there and of men who are known. The men who are not known are shy, diffident, doubtful, and anxious to propitiate the chambermaid by great courtesy. The men who are known are loud, jocular, and assured; or else, in case of deficient accommodation, loud, angry, and full of threats. The guests who had now arrived were well known, and seemed at present to be in the former mood. "Well, Mary, my dear, what's the time of day with you?" said a rough, bass voice, within the hearing of Mr. Dockwrath. "Much about the old tune, Mr. Moulder," said the girl at the bar. "Time to look alive and keep moving. Will you have them boxes up stairs, Mr. Kantwise?" and then there were a few words about the luggage, and two real commercial gentlemen walked into the room.

Mr. Dockwrath resolved to stand upon his rights, so he did not move his chair, but looked up over his shoulder at the new-comers. The first man who entered was short and very fat— so fat that he could not have seen his own knees for some considerable time past. His face rolled with fat, as also did all his limbs. His eyes were large and bloodshot. He wore no beard, and therefore showed plainly the triple bagging of his fat chin. In spite of his overwhelming fatness there was something in his face that was masterful and almost vicious. His body had been overcome by eating, but not as yet his spirit—one would be inclined to say. This was Mr. Moulder, well known on the road as being in the grocery and spirit line—a pushing man, who understood his business, and was well trusted by his firm in spite of his habitual intemperance. What did the firm care whether or no he killed himself by eating and drinking? He sold his goods, collected his money, and made his remittances. If he got drunk at night that was nothing to them, seeing that he always did his quota of work the next day. But Mr. Moulder did not get drunk. His brandy-andwater went into his blood, and into his eyes, and into his feet, and into his hands—but not into his brain.

The other was a little spare man in the hardware line, of the name of Kantwise. He disposed of fire-irons, grates, ovens, and kettles, and was at the present moment heavily engaged in the sale of certain newly-invented metallic tables and chairs lately brought out by the Patent Steel Furniture Company, for which Mr. Kantwise did business. He looked as though a skin rather too small for the purpose had been drawn over his head and face, so that his forehead and cheeks and chin were tight and shiny. His eyes were small and green, always moving about in his head, and were seldom used by Mr. Kantwise in the ordinary way. At whatever he looked he looked sideways; it was not that he did not look you in the face, but he always

looked at you with a sidelong glance, never choosing to have you straight in front of him. And the more eager he was in conversation, the more anxious he might be to gain his point, the more he averted his face and looked askance; so that sometimes he would prefer to have his antagonist almost behind his shoulder. And then as he did this he would thrust forward his chin, and having looked at you round the corner till his eyes were nearly out of his head, he would close them both and suck in his lips, and shake his head with rapid little shakes, as though he were saying to himself, "Ah, Sir! you're a bad un, a very bad un." His nose—for I should do Mr. Kantwise injustice if I did not mention this feature—seemed to have been compressed almost into nothing by that skin-squeezing operation. It was long enough, taking the measurement down the bridge, and projected sufficiently, counting the distance from the upper lip; but it had all the properties of a line—it possessed length without breadth. There was nothing in it from side to side. If you essayed to pull it, your fingers would meet. When I shall have also said that the hair on Mr. Kantwise's head stood up erect all round to the height of two inches, and that it was very red, I shall have been accurate enough in his personal description.

That Mr. Moulder represented a firm good business, doing tea, coffee, and British brandy on a well-established basis of capital and profit, the traveling commercial world in the north of England was well aware. No one entertained any doubt about his employers, Hubbies and Grease, of Houndsditch. Hubbies and Grease were all right, as they had been any time for the last twenty years. But I can not say that there was quite so strong a confidence felt in the Patent Steel Furniture Company generally, or in the individual operations of Mr. Kantwise in particular. The world in Yorkshire and Lancashire was doubtful about metallic tables, and it was thought that Mr. Kantwise was too eloquent in their praise.

Mr. Moulder, when he had entered the room, stood still, to enable the waiter to peel off from him his great-coat and the large shawl with which his neck was enveloped, and Mr. Kantwise performed the same operation for himself, carefully folding up the articles of clothing as he took them off. Then Mr. Moulder fixed his eyes on Mr. Dockwrath, and stared at him very hard. "Who's the party, James?" he said, to the waiter, speaking in a whisper that was plainly heard by the attorney.

"Gen'elman by the 8.22 down," said James.

"Commercial?" asked Mr. Moulder, with angry frown.

"He says so himself, anyways," said the waiter.

"Gammon!" replied Mr. Moulder, who knew all the bearings of a commercial man thoroughjly, and could have put one together if he were only supplied with a little bit—say the mouth, as Professor Owen always does with the Dodoes. Mr. Moulder now began to be angry, for he was a stickler for the rights and privileges of his class, and had an idea that the world was not so conservative in that respect as it should be. Mr. Dockwrath, however, was not to be frightened, so he drew his chair a thought nearer to the fire, took a sup of brandy-and-water, and prepared himself for war if war should be necessary.

"Cold evening, Sir, for the time of year," said Mr. Moulder, walking up to the fire-place, and rolling the lumps of his forehead about in his attempt at a frown. In spite of his terrible burden of flesh, Mr. Moulder could look angry on occasions, but he could only do so when he was angry. He was not gifted with a command of his facial muscles.

"Yes," said Mr. Dockwrath, not taking his eyes from off the Leeds and Halifax Chronicle. "It is coldish. Waiter, bring me a cigar."

This was very provoking, as must be confessed. Mr. Moulder had not been prepared to take any step toward turning the gentleman out, though doubtless he might have done so had he chosen to exercise his prerogative. But he did expect that the gentleman would have acknowledged the weakness of his footing by moving himself a little toward one side of the fire, and he did not expect that he would have presumed to smoke without asking whether the practice was held to be objectionable by the legal possessors of the room. Mr. Dockwrath was free of any such pusillanimity. "Waiter," he said again, "bring me a cigar, d'ye hear?"

The great heart of Moulder could not stand this unmoved. He had been an accustomed visitor to that room for fifteen years, and had always done his best to preserve the commercial code unsullied. He was now so well known that no one else ever presumed to take the chair at the four o'clock commercial dinner if ho were present. It was incumbent on him to stand forward and make a fight, more especially in the presence of Kantwise, who was by no means stanch to his order. Kantwise would at all times have been glad to have outsiders in the room, in order that he might puff his tables and, if possible, effect a sale—a mode of proceeding held in much aversion by the upright, old-fashioned commercial mind.

"Sir," said Mr. Moulder, having become very red about the cheeks and chin, "I and this gentleman are going to have a bit of supper, and it ain't accustomed to smoke in commercial rooms during meals. You know the rules no doubt if you're commercial yourself—as I suppose you are, seeing you in this room."

Now Mr. Moulder was wrong in his law, as he himself was very well aware. Smoking is allowed in all commercial rooms when the dinner has been some hour or so off the table. But then it was necessary that he should hit the stranger in some way, and the chances were that the stranger would know nothing about commercial law. Nor did he; so he merely looked Mr. Moulder hard in the face. But Mr. Kantwise knew the laws well enough, and as he

saw before him a possible purchaser of metallic tables, he came to the assistance of the attorney.

"I think you are a little wrong there, Mr. Moulder; eh, ain't you?" said he.

"Wrong about what?" said Moulder, turning very sharply upon his base-minded compatriot.

"Well, as to smoking. It's nine o'clock, and if the gentleman—"

"I don't care a brass farthing about the clock,' said the other; "but when I'm going to have a bit of steak with my tea. in my own room, 1 chooses to have it comfortable."

"Goodness me, Mr. Moulder, how many times have I seen you sitting there with a pipe in your mouth, and half a dozen gents eating their teas the while in this very room? The rule of the case I take it to be this: when—"

"Bother your rules."

"Well, it was you spoke of them."

"The question I take to be this," said Moulder, now emboldened by the opposition he had received. "Has the gentleman any right to be in this room at all, or has he not? Is he commercial, or is he—miscellaneous? That's the chat, as I take it."

"You're on the square there, I must allow," said Kantwise.

"James," said Moulder, appealing with authority to the waiter, who had remained in the room during the controversy; and now Mr. Moulder was determined to do his duty and vindicate his profession, let the cousequences be what they might. "James, is that gentleman commercial, or is he not?"

It was clearly necessary now that Mr. Dockwrath himself should take his own part and fight his own battle. "Sir," said he, turning to Mr. Moulder, "I think you'll find it extremely difficult to define that word—extremely difficult. In this enterprising country all men are more or less commercial."

"Hear! hear!" said Mr. Kantwise.

"That's gammon," said Mr. Moulder.

"Gammon it may be," said Mr. Dockwrath, '1 but nevertheless it's right in law. Taking the word in its broadest, strictest, and most intelligible sense, I am a commercial gentleman; and as such I do maintain that I have a full right to the accommodation of this public room."

"That's very well put," said Mr. Kantwise.

"Waiter," thundered out Mr. Moulder as though he imagined that that functionary was down the yard at the tap-room iustead of standing within three feet of his elbow. "Is this gent a commercial, or is he not? Because if not—then I'll trouble you to send Mr. Crump here. My compliments to Mr. Crump, and I wish to see him." Now Mr. Crump was the landlord of the Bull Inn.

"Master's just stepped out, down the street,'' said James.

"Why don't you answer my question, Sir?'' said Moulder, becoming redder and still more red about his shirt-collars.

"The gent said as how he was ''mereial,'"

« PreviousContinue »