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pretension to be so considered. She spent, therefore, a considerable portion of her day in her dressing-room, spent a great deal of money for clothes, and gave herself sundry airs. She was a little woman with long eyes, and regular eyelashes, with a straight nose, and thin lips, and regular teeth. Her face was oval, and her hair was brown. It had at least once been all brown, and that which was now seen was brown also. But, nevertheless, although she was possessed of all these charms, you might look at her for ten days together, and on the eleventh you would not know her if you met her in the streets.
But the appearance of Mrs. Mason was not her forte. She had been a beauty; but if it had been her lot to be known in history, it was not as a beauty that she would have been famous. Parsimony was her great virtue, and a power of saving her strong point. I have said that she spent much money in dress, and some people will perhaps think that the two points of character are not compatible. Such people know nothing of a true spirit of parsimony. It is from the backs and bellies of other people that savings are made with the greatest constancy and the most satisfactory results.
The parsimony of a mistress of a household is best displayed on matters eatable—on matters eatable and drinkable; for there is a fine scope for domestic savings in tea, beer, and milk. And in such matters chiefly did Mrs. Mason operate, going as far as she dared toward starving even her husband. But nevertheless she would feed herself in the middle of the day, having a roast fowl with bread sauce in her own room. The miser who starves himself and dies without an ounce of flesh on his bones, while his skinny head lies on a bag of gold, is, after all, respectable. There has been a grand passion in his life, and that grandest work of man, selfdenial. You can not altogether despise one who has clothed himself with rags and fed himself with bone-scrapings, while broadeloth and ortolans were within his easy reach. But there are women, wives and mothers of families, who would give the bone-scrapings to their husbands and the bones to their servants, while they hide the ortolans for themselves; and would dress their children in rags, while they cram chests, drawers, and boxes with silks and satins for their own backs. Such a woman one can thoroughly despise, and even hate; and such a woman was Mrs. Mason, of Groby Park.
I shall not trouble the reader at present with much description of the young Masons. The eldest son was in the army, and the younger at Cambridge, both spending much more money than their father allowed them. Not that he, in this respect, was specially close-fisted. He ascertained what was sufficient—amply sufficient, as he was told by the colonel of the regiment and the tutor of the college—and that amount he allowed, assuring both Joseph and John that if the}' ipent more they would themselves have to pay for it out of the moneys which should enrich them in future years. But how could the
sons of such a mother be other than spendthrifts? Of course they were extravagant; of course they spent more than they should have done; and their father resolved that he would keep his word with them religiously.
The daughters were much less fortunate, having no possible means of extravagance allowed to them. Both the father and mother decided that they should go out into the county society, and therefore their clothing was not absolutely of rags. But any young lady who does go into society, whether it be of county or town, will fully understand the difference between a liberal and a stingy wardrobe. Girls with slender provisions of millinery may be fit to go out—quite fit in their father's eyes; and yet all such going out may be matter of intense pain. It is all very well for the world to say that a girl should be happy without reference to her clothes. Show me such a girl, and I will show you one whom I should be very sorry that a boy of mine should choose as his sweet-heart.
The three Misses Mason, as they always were called by the Groby Park people, had been christened Diana, Creusa, and Penelope, their mother having a passion for classic literature, which she indulged by a use of Lempriere's dictionary. They were not especially pretty, nor were they especially plain. They were well grown and healthy, and quite capable of enjoying themselves in any of the amusements customary to young ladies—if only the opportunities were afforded them.
Mr. Dockwrath had thought it well to write to Mr. Mason, acquainting that gentleman with his intended visit. Mr. Mason, he said to himself, would recognize his name, and know whence he came, and under such circumstances would be sure to see him, although the express purpose of the proposed interview should not have been explained to him. Such in result was exactly the case. Mr. Mason did remember the name of Dockwrath, though he had never hitherto seen the bearer of it; and as the letter was dated from Hamworth, he felt sufficient interest in the matter to await at home the coming of his visitor.
"I know your name, Mr. Mason, Sir, and have known it long," said Mr. Dockwrath, seating himself in the chair which was offered to him in the magistrate's study, "though I never had the pleasure of seeing you before—to my knowledge. My name is Dockwrath, Sir, and I am a solicitor. I live at Hamworth, and I married the daughter of old Mr. Usbech, Sir, whom you will remember."
Mr. Mason listened attentively as these details were uttered before him so clearly, but he said nothing, merely bowing his head at each separate statement. He knew all about old Usbech's daughter nearly as well as Mr. Dockwrath did himself, but he was a man who knew how to be silent upon occasions.
"I was too young, Sir," continued Dockwrath, "when you had that trial about Orley Farm to have any thing to do with the matter myself, but nevertheless I remember all the circumstances as though it was yesterday. I suppose, Sir, you remember them also?"
"Yes, Mr. Dockwrath, I remember them very well."
"Well, Sir, my impression has always been that—" And then the attorney stopped. It was quite his intention to speak out plainly before Mr. Mason, but he was anxious that that gentleman should speak out too. At any rate, it might be well that he should be induced to express some little interest in the matter.
"Your impression, you say, has always been—" said Mr. Mason, repeating the words of his companion, and looking as ponderous and grave as ever. His countenance, however, expressed nothing but his usual ponderous solemnity.
"My impression always was—that there was something that had not been as yet found out."
"What sort of thing, Mr. Dockwrath?"
"Well; some secret. I don't think that your lawyers managed the matter well, Mr. Mason."
"You think you would have done it better, Mr. Dockwrath?"
"I don't say that, Mr. Mason. I was only a lad at the time, and could not have managed it at all. But they didn't ferret about enough. Mr. Mason, there's a deal better evidence than any that is given by word of mouth. A clever counsel can turn a witness pretty nearly any way he likes, but he can't do that with little facts. He hasn't the time, you see, to get round them. Your lawyers, Sir, didn't get up the little facts as they should have done."
"And you have got them up since, Mr. Dockwrath?"
"I don't say that, Mr. Mason. Yon see all my interest lies in maintaining the codicil. My wife's fortune came to her under that deed. To be sure that's gone and spent long since, and the Lord Chancellor with all the judges couldn't enforce restitution; but, nevertheless, I wouldn't wish that any one should have a claim against me on that account."
"Perhaps you will not object to say what it is that you do wish?"
"I wish to see right done, Mr. Mason; that's all. I don't think that Lady Mason or her son have any right to the possession of that place. I don't think that that codicil was a correct instrument; and in that case of Mason versus Mason I don't think that you and your friends got to the bottom of it." And then Mr. Dockwrath leaned back in his chair with an inward determination to say nothing more until Mr. Mason should make some sign.
That gentleman, however, still remained ponderous and heavy, and therefore there was a short period of silence—"And have you got to the bottom of it since, Mr. Dockwrath?" at last be said.
"I don't say that I have," said the attorney. "Might I ask, then, what it is you purpose to effect by the visit with which you have honored
me? Of course you are aware that these are very private matters; and although I should feel myself under an obligation to you, or to any man who might assist me to arrive at any true facts which have hitherto been concealed, I am not disposed to discuss the affair with a stranger on grounds of mere suspicion."
"I shouldn't have come here, Mr. Mason, at very great expense, and personal inconvenience to myself in my profession, if I had not some good reason for doing so. I don't think that you ever got to the bottom of that matter, and I can't say that I have done so now; I haven't even tried. But I tell you what, Mr. Mason; if you wish it, I think I could put you in the way of—trying."
"My lawyers are Messrs. Round and Crook, of Bedford Row. Will it not be better that you should go to them, Mr. Dockwrath?"
"No, Mr. Mason. I don't think it will be better that I should go to them. I know Round and Crook well, and don't mean to say a word against them; but if I go any farther in this affair I must do it with the principal. I am not going to cut my own throat for the sake of mending any man's little finger. I have a family of sixteen children, Mr. Mason, and I have to look about very sharp—very sharp indeed." Then there was another pause, and Mr. Dockwrath began to pereeive that Mr. Mason was not by nature an open, demonstrative, or communicative man. If any thing further was to be done, he himself must open out a little. "The fact is, Mr. Mason, that I have come across documents which you should have had at that trial. Round and Crook ought to have had them, only they weren't half sharp. Why, Sir, Mr. Usbech had been your father's man of business for years upon years, and yet they didn't half go through his papers. They turned 'em over and looked at 'em; but never thought of seeing what little facts might be proved."
"And these documents are with you now, here?"
"No, Mr. Mason, I am not so soft as that, I never carry about original documents unless when ordered to prove. Copies of one or two items I have made; not regular copies, Mr. Mason, but just a line or two to refresh my memory." And Mr. Dockwrath took a small letter-case out of his breast coat-pocket.
By this time Mr. Mason's curiosity had been roused, and he began to think it possible that his visitor had discovered information which might be of importance to him. "Are you going to show me any document?" said he.
"That's as may be," said the attorney. "I don't know as yet whether you care to see it. I have come a long way to do you a service, and it seems to me you are rather shy of coming forward to meet me. As I said before, I've a very heavy family, and I'm not going to cut the nose off my own face to put money into any other man's pocket. What do you think my journey down here will cost me, including loss of time, and interruption to my business?"
"Look here, Mr. Dockwrath, if you are really able to put me into possession of any facts regarding the Orley Farm estate which I ought to know, I will see that you are compensated for your time and trouble. Messrs. Round and Crook—"
"I'll have nothing to do with Round and Crook. So that's settled, Mr. Mason."
"Then, Mr. Dockwrath—"
"Half a minute, Mr. Mason. I'll have nothing to do with Round and Crook; but as I know you to be a gentleman and a man of honor, I'll put you in possession of what I've discovered, and leave it to you afterward to do what you think right about my expenses, time, and services. You won't forget that it is a long way from Hamworth to Groby Park. And if you should succeed—"
''If I am to look at this document I must do so without pledging myself to any thing," said Mr. Mason, still with much solemnity. He had great doubts as to his new acquaintance, and much feared that he was derogating from his dignity as a county magistrate and owner of Groby Park in holding any personal intercourse with him; but nevertheless he could not resist the temptation. He most firmly believed that that codicil had not expressed the genuine last will and fair disposition of property made by his father, and it might certainly be the case that proof of all that he believed was to be found among the papers of the old lawyer. He hated Lady Mason with all his power of hatred, and if there did, even yet, exist for him a chance of upsetting her claims and ruining her before the world, he was net the man to forego that chance.
"Well, Sir, you shall see it," said Mr. Dockwrath; "or rather hear it, for there is not much to see." And so saying he extracted from his pocket-book a very small bit of paper.
"I should prefer to read it, if it's all the same to you, Mr. Dockwrath. I shall understand it much better in that way."
"As you like, Mr. Mason," said the attorney, handing him the small bit of paper. "You will understand, Sir, that it's no real copy, but only a few dates and particulars, just jotted down to assist my own memory." The document, supported by which Mr. Dockwrath had come down to Yorkshire, consisted of half a sheet of notepaper, and the writing upon this covered hardly the half of it. The words which Mr. Mason read were as follows:
"Date of codicil. 14th July, 18—.
"Witnesses to the instrument. John Kenneby; Bridget Bolster; Jonathan Usbech. N.B. Jonathan Usbech died before the testator.
"Mason and Martock. Deed of separation; dated 14th July, 18—.
"Executed at Orley Farm.
"Witnesses, John Kenneby and Bridget Bolster. Deed was prepared in the office of Jonathan Usbech, and probably executed in his presence."
That was all that was written on the paper, and Mr. Mason read the words to himself three
times before he looked up or said any thing concerning them. He was not a man quick at receiving new ideas into his mind, or of understanding new points; but that which had once become intelligible to him and been made his own remained so always. "Well," said he, when he read the above words for the third time.
"You don't see it, Sir?" said Mr. Dockwrath.
"See what?" said Mr. Mason, still looking at the scrap of paper.
"Why, the dates, to begin with."
"I see that the dates are the same—the 14th of July in the same year."
"Well," said Mr. Dockwrath, looking very keenly into the magistrate's face.
"Well," said Mr. Mason, looking over the paper at his boot.
"John Kenneby and Bridget Bolster were witnesses to both the instruments," said the attorney.
"So I see," said the magistrate.
"But I don't remember that it came out in evidence that either of them recollected having been called on for two signatures on the same day."
"No; there was nothing of that came out, or was even hinted at."
"No; nothing even hinted at, Mr. Mason, as you justly observe. That is what I mean by saying that Round and Crook's people didn't get up their little facts. Believe me, Sir, there are men in the profession out of London who know quite as much as Round and Crook. They ought to have had those facts, seeing that the very copy of the document was turned over by their hands." And Mr. Dockwrath hit the table heavily in the warmth of his indignation against his negligent professional brethren. Earlier in the interview Mr. Mason would have been made very angry by such freedom, but he Was not angry now.
"Yes; they ought to have known it," said he. But he did not even yet see the point. He merely saw that there was a point worth seeing.
"Known it! Of course they ought to have known it. Look here, Mr. Mason! If I had it on my mind that I'd thrown over a client of mine by such carelessness as that, I'd—I'd strike my own name off the rolls; I would indeed. I never could look a counsel in the face again, if I'd neglected to brief him with such facts as those. I suppose it was carelessness; eh, Mr. Mason?"
"Oh yes; I'm afraid so," said Mr. Mason, still rather in the dark.
"They could have had no object in keeping it back, I should say."
"No; none in life. But let us see, Mr. Dockwrath; how does it bear upon us? The dates are the same, and the witnesses the same."
"The deed of separation is genuine. There is no doubt about that."
"Oh, you're sure of that?"
"Quite certain. I found it entered in the old office-books. It was the last of a lot of inch documents executed between Mason and Martock after the old man gave up the business. You see she was always with him, and knew all about it."
"About the partnership deed?"
"Of course she did. She's a clever woman, Mr. Mason; very clever, and it's almost a pity that she should come to grief. She has carried it on so well; hasn't she?"
Mr. Mason's face now became very black. "Why," said he, "if what you seem to allege be true, she must be a—a—a—. What do you mean, Sir, by pity?"
Mr. Dockwrath shrugged his shoulders. "It is very blue," said he, "uncommon blue."
"She must be a swindler—a common swindler. Nay, worse than that."
"Oh yes, a deal worse than that, Mr. Mason. And as for common—according to my way of thinking there's nothing at all common about it. I look upon it as about the best got-up plant I ever remember to have heard of. I do, indeed, Mr. Mason." The attorney during the last ten minutes of the conversation had quite altered his tone, understanding that he had already achieved a great part of his object; but Mr. Mason in his intense anxiety did not observe this. Had Mr. Dockwrath, in commencing the conversation, talked about "plants" and " blue," Mr. Mason would probably have rung his bell for the servant. "If it's any thing, it's forgery," said Mr. Dockwrath, looking his companion full in the face.
"I always felt sure that my father never intended to sign such a codicil as that."
"He never did sign it, Mr. Mason."
"And—and the witnesses !" said Mr. Mason, still not enlightened as to the true extent of the attorney's suspicion.
"They signed the other deed; that is two of them did. There is no doubt about that—on that very day. They certainly did witness a signature made by the old gentleman in his own room on that 14th of July. The original of that document, with the date and their names, will be fortheoming soon enough."
"Well," said Mr. Mason.
"But they did not witness two signatures."
"You think not, eh!"
'' I'm sure of it. The girl Bolster would have remembered it, and would have said so. She was sharp enough."
"Who wrote all the names then at the foot of the will?" said Mr. Mason.
"Ah! that's the question. Who did write them? We know very well, Mr. Mason, you and I that is, who did not. And having come to that, I think we may give a very good guess who did."
And then they both sat silent for some three or four minutes. Mr. Dockwrath was quite at his ease, rubbing his chin with his hand, playing with a paper-knife which he had taken from the study table, and waiting till it should please Mr. Mason to renew the conversation. Mr. Mason was not at his ease, though all idea of affecting
any reserve before the attorney had left him. He was thinking how best he might confound and destroy the woman who had robbed him for so many years; who had defied him, got the better of him, and put him to terrible cost; who had vexed his spirit through his whole life, deprived him of content, and had been to him as a thorn ever present in a festering sore. He had always believed that she had defrauded him, but this belief had been qualified by the unbelief of others. It might have been, he had half thought, that the old man had signed the codicil in his dotage, having been cheated and bullied into it by the woman. There had been no day in her life on which he would not have ruined her, had it been in his power to do so. But now—now, new and grander ideas were breaking in upon his mind. Could it be possible that he might live to see her, not merely deprived of her illgained money, but standing in the dock as a felon to receive sentence for her terrible misdeeds? If that might be so, would he not receive great compensation for all that he had suffered? Would it not be sweet to his sense of justice that both of them should thus at last have their own? He did not even yet understand all that Mr. Dockwrath suspected. He did not fully perceive why the woman was supposed to have chosen as the date of her forgery the date of that other genuine deed. But he did understand, he did perceive—at least so he thought—that new and perhaps conclusive evidence of her villainy was at last within his reach.
"And what shall we do now, Mr. Dockwrath?" he said at last.
"Well; am I to understand that you do me the honor of asking my advice upon that question as being your lawyer?"
This question immediately brought Mr. Mason back to business that he did understand. '' A man in my position can not very well change his legal advisers at a moment's notice. Yon must be very well aware of that, Mr. Dockwrath. Messrs. Round and Crook—"
"Messrs. Round and Crook, Sir, have neglected your business in a most shameful manner. Let me tell you that, Sir."
"Well; that's as may be. I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr. Dockwrath; I'll think over this matter in quiet, and then I'll come up to town. Perhaps when there I may expect the honor of a further visit from you." «
"And you won't mention the matter to Round and Crook?"
"I can't undertake to say that, Mr. Dockwrath. I think it will perhaps be better that I should mention it, and then see you afterward."
"And how about my expenses down here?"
Just at this moment there came a light tap at the study door, and before the master of the house could give or withhold permission the mistress of the house entered the room. "My dear," she said, "I didn't know that you were engaged."
"Yes, I am engaged," said the gentleman.
"Oh, I'm sure I beg pardon. Perhaps this is the gentleman from Hamworth?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Mr. Dockwrath. "I am the gentleman from Hamworth. I hope I have the pleasure of seeing you very well, ma'am?" And getting up from his chair he bowed politely.
"Mr. Dockwrath, Mrs. Mason," said the lady's husband, introducing them; and then Mrs. Mason courtesied to the stranger. She too was very anxious to know what might be the news from Hamworth.
"Mr. Dockwrath will lunch with us, my dear," said Mr. Mason. And then the lady, on hospitable cares intent, left them again to themselves.
Though Mr. Dockwrath was somewhat elated by this invitation to lunch, he was also somewhat abashed by it. He had been far from expecting that Mr. Mason, of Groby Park, would do him any such honor, and was made aware by it of the great hold which he must have made upon the attention of his host. But nevertheless he immediately felt that his hands were to a certain degree tied. He having been invited to sit down at Mr. Mason's table with Mrs. M. and the family, having been treated as though he were a gentleman, and thus being for the time put on a footing of equality with the county magistrate, could not repeat that last important question, "How about my expenses down here?" nor could he immediately go on with the grand subject in any frame of mind which would tend to further his own interests. Having been invited to lunch he could not haggle with due persistency for his share of the business in crushing Lady Mason, nor stipulate that the whole concern should not be trusted to the management of Round and Crook. As a source of pride this invitation to eat was pleasant to him, but he was forced to acknowledge to himself that it interfered with business.
Nor did Mr. Mason feel himself ready to go on with the conversation in the manner in which it had been hitherto conducted. His mind was full of Orley Farm and his wrongs, and he could bring himself to think of nothing else; but he could no longer talk about it to the attorney sitting there in his study. "Will you take a turn about the place while the lunch is getting ready?" he said. So they took their hats and went out into the garden.
"It is dreadful to think of," said Mr. Mason, after they had twice walked in silence the length of a broad gravel terrace.
"What, about her ladyship?" said the attorney.
"Quite dreadful!" and Mr. Mason shuddered. "I don't think I ever heard of any thing so shocking in my life. For twenty years, Mr. Dockwrath, think of that. Twenty years!" and
his face as he spoke became almost black with horror.
"It is very shocking," said Mr. Dockwrath— '' very shocking. What on earth will be her fate if it be proved against her? She has brought it on herself; that is all that one can say of her."
"Dher! d her!" exclaimed the other, gnashing his teeth with concentrated wrath. "No punishment will be bad enough for her. Hanging would not be bad enough."
"They can't hang her, Mr. Mason," said Mr. Dockwrath, almost frightened by the violence of his companion.
"No; they have altered the laws, giving every encouragement to forgers, villains, and perjurers. But they can give her penal servitude for life. They must do it."
"She is not convicted yet, you know."
"D her!" repeated the owner of Groby
Park again, as he thought of his twenty years of loss. Eight hundred a year for twenty years had been taken away from him; and he had been worsted before the world after a hard fight.
"D her!" he continued, in a growl between
his teeth. Mr. Dockwrath, when he had first heard his companion say how horrid and dreadful the affair was, had thought that Mr. Mason was alluding to the condition in which the lady had placed herself by her assumed guilt. But it was of his own condition that he was speaking. The idea which shocked him was the thought of the treatment which he himself had undergone. The dreadful thing at which he shuddered was his own ill-usage. As for her—pity for her! Did a man ever pity a rat that had eaten into his choicest dainties?
"The lunch is on the table, Sir," said the Groby Park footman in the Groby Park livery. Under the present household arrangement of Groby Park all the servants lived on board wages. Mrs. Mason did not like this system, though it had about it certain circumstances of economy which recommended it to her; it interfered greatly with the stringent aptitudes of her character and the warmest passion of her heart; it took away from her the delicious power of serving out the servants' food, of locking up the scraps of meat, and of charging the maids with voracity. But, to tell the truth, Mr. Mason had been driven by sheer necessity to take this step, as it had been found impossible to induce his wife to give out sufficient food to enable the servants to live and work. She knew that in not doing so she injured herself; but she could not do it. The knife, in passing through the loaf, would make the portion to be parted with less by one-third than the portion to be retained. Half a pound of salt butter would reduce itself to a quarter of a pound. Portions of meat would become infinitesimal. When standing with viands before her she had not free-will over her hands. She could not bring herself to part with victuals, though she might ruin herself by retaining them. Therefore, by the order of the master, were the servants placed on board wages. Mr. Dockwrath soon found himself in tho