I expressed my acquiescence with this view of the subject; and I was glad to perceive that with Miss Judson, as with her brother, the obnoxious Theodores would stand me in good stead. The lady was only two years younger than her brother, and even more inclined to be communicative. I made the most of my opportunity, and sat in the vault-like parlour listening respectfully to her discourse, and from time to time hazarding a leading question, as long as it pleased her to converse; although it seemed to me as if a perennial spring of cold water were trickling slowly down my back and pervading my system during the entire period. As the reward of my fortitude I obtained Miss Judson's promise to send me any letters or papers she might find amongst her store of old documents relating to the personal history of Matthew Haygarth.
"I know I have a whole packet of letters in Matthew's own hand amongst my grandmother's papers," said Miss Judson. "I was a great favourite with my grandmother, and used to spend a good deal of my time with her before she died—which she did while I was in pinafores; but young people wore pinafores much longer in my time than they do now; and I was getting on for fourteen years of age when my grandmother departed this life. I've often heard her talk of her brother Matthew, who had been dead some years when I was born. She was very fond of him, and he of her, I've heard her say; and she used often to tell me how handsome he was in his youth; and how well he used to look in a chocolate and gold-laced riding coat, just after the victory of Culloden, when he came to Ullerton in secret, to pay her a visit—not being on friendly terms with his father."
I asked Miss Judson if she had ever read Matthew Haygarth's letters.
"No," she said; "I look at them sometimes when I'm tidying the drawer in which I keep them, and I have sometimes stopped to read a word here and there, but no more. I keep them out of respect to the dead; but I think it would make me unhappy to read them. The thoughts and the feelings in old letters seem so fresh that they bring our poor mortality too closely home to us when we remember how little except those faded letters remains of those who wrote them. It is well for us to remember that we are only travellers and wayfarers on this earth; but sometimes it seems just a little hard to think how few traces of our footsteps we leave behind us when the journey is finished."
The canaries seemed to answer Miss Judson with a feeble twitter of assent: and I took my leave, with a feeling of compassion in my heart. I, the scamp—I, Robert Macaire the younger—had pity upon the caged canaries, and the lonely old woman whose narrow life was drawing to its close, and who began to feel how very poor a thing it had been after all.
Oct. 11th. I have paid the penalty of my temerity in enduring the vault-like chilliness of Miss Hephzibah Judson's parlour, and am suffering to-day from a sharp attack of influenza; that complaint which of all others tends to render a man a burden to himself, and a nuisance to his fellow-creatures. Under these circumstances I have ordered a fire in my own room—a personal indulgence scarcely warranted by Sheldon's stipend—and I sit by my own fire pondering over the story of Matthew Haygarth's life.
On the table by my side are scattered more than a hundred letters, all in Matthew's bold hand; but even yet, after a most careful study of those letters, the story of the man's existence is far from clear to me. The letters are full of hints and indications, but they tell so little plainly. They deal in enigmas, and disguise names under the mask of initials.
There is much in these letters which relates to the secret history of Matthew's life. They were written to the only creature amongst his kindred in whom he fully confided. This fact transpires more than once, as will be seen anon by the extracts I shall proceed to make; if my influenza—which causes me to shed involuntary tears that give me the appearance of a drivelling idiot, and which jerks me nearly out of my chair every now and then with a convulsive sneeze—will permit me to do anything rational or useful.
I have sorted and classified the letters, first upon one plan, then upon another, until I have classified and sorted them into chaos. Having done this, my only chance is to abandon all idea of classification, and go quietly through them in consecutive order according to their dates, jotting down whatever strikes me as significant. George Sheldon's acumen must do the rest.
Thus I begin my notes, with an extract from the fourth letter in the series. Mem. I preserve Matthew's own orthography, which is the most eccentric it was ever my lot to contemplate.
"December 14, '42. Indeed, my dear Ruth, I am ventursom wear you are concurn'd, and w'd tell you that I w'd taik panes to kepe fromm another. I saw ye same girl w'h it was my good fortun to saive from ye molestashun of raketters and mohoks at Smithfelde in September last past. She is ye derest prittiest creture you ever saw, and as elegant and genteel in her speche and maner as a Corte lady, or as ye best bredd person in Ullerton. I mett her in ye nayborood of ye Marchalsee prison wear her father is at this pressent time a prisener, and had som pleassant talke with her. She rememberr'd me at once, and seme'd mitily gladd to see me. Mem. Her pritty blu eys wear fill'd with teares wen she thank'd me for having studd up to be her champyun at ye Fare. So you see, Mrs. Ruth, ye brotherr is more thort off in London than with them which hav ye rite to regard him bestt. If you had scen ye pore simpel childeish creetur and heeard her tell her arteless tale, I think y'r kinde hart w'd have bin sore to considder so much unmiritted misfortun: ye father is in pore helth, a captiv, ye mother has binn dedd thre yeres, and ye pore orfann girl, Mollie, has to mentane ye burden of ye sick father, and a yung helples sister. Think of this, kinde Mrs. Ruth, in y'r welthy home. Mem. Pore Mrs. Mollie is prittier than ye fineist ladies that wear to be sene at ye opening of ye grand new roome at Ranellar this spring last past, wear I sor ye too Miss Gunings and Lady Harvey, wich is alsoe accounted a grate buty."
I think this extract goes very far to prove that my friend Matthew was considerably smitten by the pretty young woman whose champion he had been in some row at Bartholomew Fair. This fits into one of the scraps of information afforded by my ancient inhabitant in Ullerton Almshouses, who remembers having heard his grandfather talk of Mat Haygarth's part in some fight or disturbance at the great Smithfield festival.
My next extract treats again of Mollie, after an interval of four months. It seems as if Matthew had confided in his sister so far as to betray his tenderness for the poor player-girl of the London booths; but I can find no such letter amongst those in my hands. Such an epistle may have been considered by Mrs. Ruth too dangerous to be kept where the parental eye might in some evil hour discover it. Matthew's sister was unmarried at this date, and lived within the range of that stern paternal eye. Matthew's letter appears to me to have been written in reply to some solemn warning from Ruth.
"April 12, 1743. Sure, my dear sister cannot think me so baise a retch as to injoore a pore simpel girl hoo confides in me as ye best and trooest of mortals, wich for her dere saik I will strive to be. If so be my sister cou'd think so ill of me it wou'd amost temt me to think amiss of her, wich cou'd imagen so vile a thort. You tel me that Mrs. Rebecka Caulfeld is mor than ever estemed by my father; but, Ruth, I am bounde to say, my father's esteme is nott to be ye rule of my ackshuns thro' life, for it semes to me their is no worser tyrrannie than ye wich fathers do striv to impose on there children, and I do acount that a kind of barbarity wich wou'd compel ye hart of youth to sute ye proodense of age. I do not dout but Mrs. Rebecka is a mitey proper and well-natur'd person, tho' taken upp with this new sekt of methodys, or, as sum do call them in derission, swaddlers and jumpers, set afoot by ye madbrain'd young man, Wesley, and one that is still madder, Witfelde. Thear ar I dare sware many men in Ullerton wich wou'd be gladd to obtane Mrs. Rebecka's hand and fortun; but if ye fortun wear ten times more, I wou'd not preetend to oferr my harte to herr w'h can never be its misteress. Now, my deare sister, having gone as farr towards satisfieing all y'r queerys as my paper wou'd welle permitt, I will say no more but to begg you to send me all ye knews, and to believe that none can be more affectionately y'r humble servant than your brother." "MATHEW HAYGARTH."
In this extract we have strong ground for supposing that our Matthew truly loved the player-girl, and meant honestly by his sweetheart. There is a noble indignation in his repudiation of his sister's doubts, and a manly determination not to marry Mrs. Rebecca's comfortable fortune. I begin to think that Sheldon's theory of an early and secret marriage will turn up a trump card; but Heaven only knows how slow or how difficult may be the labour of proving such a marriage. And then, even if we can find documentary evidence of such an event, we shall have but advanced one step in our obscure path, and should have yet to discover the issue of that union, and to trace the footsteps of Matthew's unknown descendants during the period of a century.
I wonder how Sisyphus felt when the stone kept rolling back upon him. Did he ever look up to the top of the mountain and calculate the distance he must needs traverse before his task should be done?
The next letter in which I find a passage worth transcribing is of much later date, and abounds in initials. The postmark is illegible; but I can just make out the letters PO and L, the two first close together, the third after an interval; and there is internal evidence to show that the letter was written from some dull country place. Might not that place have been Spotswold? the PO and the L of the postmark would fit very well into the name of that village. Again I leave this question to the astute Sheldon. The date is March, 1749.
"M. is but porely. Sumtimes I am pain'd to believe this quiett life is not well suted to herr disposishun, having bin acustumed to so much livlinesse and nois. I hav reproched her with this, but she tolde me, with teres in her eys, to be neare mee and M. and C. was to be happie, and ye it is il helth onlie wich is ye cawse of ye sadnesse. I pray heaven M.'s helth may be on ye mending hand soone. Little M. grows more butiful everry day; and indede, my dear sisterr, if you cou'd stele another visitt this waye, and oblidge yr affectionat brother, you wou'd considerr him ye moste butifull creetur ever scene. So much enteligence with sich ingaging temper endeares him to all hartes. Mrs. J. says she adors him, and is amost afraide to be thort a Paygann for bestoeing so much affection on a erthly creetur, and this to oure good parson who cou'd find no reproche for her plesant folly.
"We hav had heavy ranes all ye week last past. Sech wether can but serve to hinderr M.'s recovery. The fysichion at G., wear I tooke her, saies she shou'd hav much fresh aire everry day—if not afoot, to be carrid in a chaire or cotche; but in this wether, and in a plaice wear neeither chaire nor cotche can be had, she must needs stop in doors. I hav begg'd her to lett me carry her to G., but she will not, and says in ye summerr she will be as strong as everr. I pray God she may be so. Butt theire are times whenn my harte is sore and heavy; and the rane beeting agenst the winder semes lik dropps of cold worter falling uponn my pore aking harte. If you cou'd stele a visitt you wou'd see wether she semes worse than whenn you sor her last ortumm; she is trieing ye tansy tea; and beggs her service to you, and greatfull thanks for y'r rememberence of her. I dare to say you here splended acounts of my doins in London—at cok fites and theaters, dansing at Vorxhall, and beeting ye wotch in Covin Garden. Does my F. stil use to speke harsh agenst me, or has he ni forgott their is sech a creetur living? If he has so, I hope you wil kepe him in sech forgetfullnesse,—and obliage,
"Yr loving brother and obediant servent."
To me this letter is almost conclusive evidence of a marriage. Who can this little M. be, of whom he writes so tenderly, except a child? Who can this woman be, whose ill health causes him such anxiety, unless a wife? Of no one but a wife could he write so freely to his sister. The place to which he asks her to "steal a visit" must needs be a home to which a man could invite his sister. I fancy it is thus made very clear that at this period Matthew Haygarth was secretly married and living at Spotswold, where his wife and son were afterwards buried, and whence the body of the son was ultimately removed to Dewsdale to be laid in that grave which the father felt would soon be his own resting-place. That allusion to the Ullerton talk of London roisterings indicates that Matthew's father believed him to be squandering the paternal substance in the metropolis at the very time when the young man was leading a simple domestic life within fifty miles of the paternal abode. No man could do such a thing in these days of rapid locomotion, when every creature is more or less peripatetic; but in that benighted century the distance from Ullerton to Spotswold constituted a day's journey. That Matthew was living in one place while he was supposed to be in another is made sufficiently clear by several passages in his letters, all more or less in the strain of the following:—
"I was yesterday—markett-day—at G., wear I ran suddennly agenst Peter Browne's eldest ladd. The boy openn'd his eyes wide, stearing like an owle; butt I gaive him bakk his looke with interrest, and tolde him if he was curiouse to know my name, I was Simon Lubchick, farmer, at his servise. The pore simpel ladd arsk'd my pardonn humbly for having mistook me for a gentelman of Ullerton—a frend of his father; on wich I gaive him a shillin, and we parted, vastly plesed with eche other; and this is nott the fust time the site of Ullerton fokes has putt me into a swett."
Amongst later letters are very sad ones. The little M. is dead. The father's poor aching heart proclaims its anguish in very simple words:
"Nov. 1751. I thank my dear sister kindly for her friendlinesse and compashin; butt, ah, he is gone, and their semes to be no plesure or comforte on this erth without him! onlie a littel childe of 6 yeres, and yett so dere a creetur to this harte that the worlde is emty and lonely without him. M. droopes sadly, and is more ailing everry day. Indede, my dere Ruth, I see nothing butt sorrow before me, and I wou'd be right gladd to lay down at peece in my littel M.'s grave."
I can find no actual announcements of death, only sad allusions here and there. I fancy the majority of Matthew's letters must have been lost, for the dates of those confided to my hands are very far apart, and there is evidence in all of them of other correspondence. After the letter alluding to little M.'s death, there is a hiatus of eight years. Then comes a letter with the post-mark London very clear, from which I transcribe an extract. "October 4th, 1759. The toun is very sadd; everry body, high and low, rich and pore, in morning for Gennerel Wolf: wot a nobel deth to die, and how much happier than to live, when one considers the cairs and miseries of this life; and sech has bin the oppinion of wiser fokes than y'r humble servent. Being in companie on Thersday sennite with that distingwish'd riter, Dr. Johnson,—whose admir'd story of Raselass I sent you new from ye press, but who I am bound to confesse is less admirable as a fine gentlemann than as an orther, his linning siled and his kravatt twisted ary, and his manners wot in a more obskure personn wou'd be thort ungenteel,—he made a remark wich impress'd me much. Some one present, being almost all gentelmenn of parts and learning, except y'r pore untuter'd brother, observed that it was a saying with the ainchents that ye happiest of men was him wich was never born; ye next happy him wich died the soonest. On wich Dr. Johnson cried out verry loud and angry, 'That was a Paggann sentyment, sir, and I am asham'd that a Xtian gentelmann shou'd repete it as a subject for admerashun. Betwene these heathen men and ye followers of Christ their is all ye differenc betwene a slave and a servent of a kind Master. Eche bears the same burden; butt ye servent knows he will recieve just wages for his work, wile ye slave hopes for nothing, and so conkludes that to escape work is to be happy!' I could but aknowlege the wisdomm and pyety of this speche; yett whenn I see ye peopel going bye in their black rayment, I envy the young Gennerel his gloreous deth, and I wish I was laying amongst the plane on the hites of Quebeck. I went to look at ye old house in J. St., but I wou'd not go in to see Mr. F. or ye old roomes; for I think I shou'd see the aparishions of those that once liv'd in them. C. thrivs at Higate, wear the aire is fresh and pewer. I go to see her offen. She is nerely as high as you. Give my servis to Mrs. Rebecka, sinse you say it will plese my father to do so, and he is now dispos'd to think more kindly of me. Butt if he thinks I shal everr arske her to be my wife he is mityly mistaken. You know wear my harte lies—in ye grave with all that made life dere. Thank my father for the Bill, and tell him I pass my time in good companie, and neether drink nor play; and will come to Ullerton to pay him my respeckts when he pleses to bid me. Butt I hav no desire to leeve London, as I am gladd to be neare C."
Who was C., whom Matthew visited at Highgate, and who was nearly as tall as Ruth Judson? Was she not most likely the same C. mentioned in conjunction with the little M. in the earlier letters? and if so, can there be any doubt that she was the daughter of Matthew Haygarth? Of whom but of a daughter would he write as in this letter? She was at Highgate, at school most likely, and he goes to see her. She is nearly as tall as Mrs. Judson. This height must have been a new thing, or he would scarcely impart it as a piece of news to his sister. And then he has no desire to leave London, as he is glad to be near C.
My life upon it, C. is a daughter.
Acting upon this conviction, I have transcribed all passages relating to C., at whatever distance of time they occur.
* * * * *
Thus, in 1763, I find—"C. has grone very hansome, and Mrs. N. tells me is much admir'd by a brother of her frend Tabitha. She never stirs abrorde but with Tabitha, and if a dutchess, cou'd be scarce wated on more cairfully. Mrs. N. loves her verry tenderly, and considers her the sweetest and most wel bredd of young women. I hav given her the new edishun of Sir Charls Grandisson, wich they read alowde in ye evenings, turn and turn about, to Mrs. N. at her spinning. C. has given me a wool comforter of her owne worke, and sum stockings wich are two thick to ware, but I hav not told her so."
Again, in 1764: "Tabitha Meynell's brother goes more than ever to Higate. He is a clark in his father's wearhouse; very sober and estimabel, and if it be for ye hapiness of C. to mary him, I wou'd be ye laste of men to sett my orthoritty agenst her enclinashun. She is yett but ayteen yeres of age, wich is young to make a change; so I tell Mrs. N. we will waite. Meanwhile ye young peapel see eche other offen."
Again, in 1765: "Young Meynell is still constant, expressing much love and admirashun for C. in his discorse with Mrs. N., butt sattisfide to wait my plesure before spekeing oppenly to C. He semes a most exempelry young man; his father a cittizen of some repewt in Aldersgait-street, ware I have din'd since last riting to you, and at hoose tabel I was paid much considerashun. He, Tomas Meynell ye father, will give his son five hundred pound, and I prommis a thousand pound with C. and to furnish a house at Chelsee, a verry plesent and countriefide vilage; so I make no doubt there will soon be a wedding.
"I am sorrie to here my father is aleing; give him my love and servise, and will come to Ullerton immediate on receiving his commands. I am plesed to think Mrs. Rebecka Caulfeld is so dutifull and kind to him, and has comfortedd him with prairs and discorses. I thank her for this more than for any frendshipp for my undeserving self. Pray tell her that I am much at her servise.
"Our new king is lov'd and admir'd by all. His ministers not so; and wise peopel do entertain themselfs with what I think foollish jokes a-bout a Skotch boote. Perhapps I am not cleverr enuff to see the funn in this joke."
In this letter I detect a certain softening of feeling towards Mrs. Rebecca Caulfield. In the next year—'66—according to my notes, Matthew's father died, and I have no letters bearing the date of that year, which our Matthew no doubt spent at home. Nor have I any letters from this time until the year of Matthew's marriage with Rebecca Caulfield. In the one year of his union with Mrs. Rebecca, and the last year of his life, there are many letters, a few from London and the rest from the manor-house at Dewsdale. But in these epistles, affectionate and confidential as they are, there is little positive information.
These are the letters of the regenerate and Wesleyanised Matthew; and, like the more elaborate epistles of his wife Rebecca, deal chiefly with matters spiritual. In these letters I can perceive the workings of a weak mind, which in its decline has become a prey to religious terrors; and though I fully recognise the reforming influence which John Wesley exercised upon the people of England, I fancy poor Matthew would have been better in the hands of a woman whose piety was of a less severe type than that of Wesleyan Rebecca. There is an all-pervading tone of fear in these letters—a depression which is almost despair. In the same breath he laments and regrets the lost happiness of his youth, and regrets and laments his own iniquity in having been so ignorantly and unthinkingly happy.
Thus in one letter he says,—
"When I think of that inconsideratt foolish time with M., and how to be nere her semed the highest blisse erth cou'd bistowe or Heven prommis, I trimbel to think of my pore unawaken'd sole, and of her dome on wich the tru light never shown. If I cou'd believe she was happy my owne sorow wou'd be lesse; but I canot, sence all ye worthyest memberrs of our seck agree that to die thinking onely of erthly frends, and clingeng with a passhunate regrett to them we luv on erth is to be lesse than a tru Xtian, and for sech their is but one dome."
And again, in a still later epistle, he writes,—
"On Toosday sennite an awakning discorse fromm a verry young man, until lately a carppenter, but now imploid piusly in going from toun to toun and vilage to vilage, preching. He says, that a life of cairlesse happyness, finding plesure in ye things of this worlde, is—not being repentied of—irretrevable damnation. This is a maloncally thort! I fell to mewsing on M., with hoom I injoy'd such compleat happyness, tel Deth came like a spekter to bannish all comforte. And now I knowe that our lives wear vainity. I ashure you, dear sister, I am prodidjusly sadd when I reffleckt upon this truth—ashuredly it is a harde saying."
Anon comes that strange foreknowledge of death—that instinctive sense of the shadowy hand so soon to lay him at rest; and with that mystic prescience comes a yearning for the little child M. to be laid where his father may lay down beside him. There are many passages in the latter letters which afford a clue to that mysterious midnight burial at Dewsdale.
"Last nite I drem't of the cherchyarde at S. I satte under the olde yewe tree, as it semed in my dreme, and hurd a childes voice crying in a very piteous mannerr. The thort of this dreme has oppress'd my speritts all day, and Rebecka has enquier'd more than wunce wot ales me. If little M. but lay nere at hande, in ye graive to wich I fele I must soone be carrid, I beleive I shou'd be happyer. Reproove me for this folley if you plese. I am getting olde, and Sattan temts me with seche fooleish thorts. Wot dose it matter to my sole wear my vile bodie is laid? and yet I have a fonde fooleish desier to be berrid with littel M."
And in these latest letters there is ample evidence of that yearning on Matthew's part to reveal a secret which Rebecca's own correspondence betrays.
"We tawked of manny things, and she was more than ordinnary kind and gentel. I had a mind to tell her about M, and aske her frendship for C; but she seemed not to cair to here my sekrets, and I think wou'd be offended if she new the trooth. So I cou'd not finde courrage to tell her. Before I die I shal speek planely for the saik of C. and M. and ye little one. I shal cum to U. erly nex weak to make my Wille, and this time shal chainge my umour no more. I have burnt ye laste, not likeing it."
This passage occurs in the last letter, amongst the packet confided to me. The letter is dated September 5, 1774. On the fourteenth of the following month Matthew died, and in all probability the will here alluded to was never executed. Certain it is that Matthew, whose end was awfully sudden at the last, died intestate, whereby his son John inherited the bulk, and ultimately the whole, of his fortune. There are many allusions to this infant son in the last few letters; but I do not think the little creature obtained any great hold on the father's heart. No doubt he was bound and swaddled out of even such small semblance to humanity as one may reasonably expect in a child of six or seven weeks old, and by no means an agreeable being. And poor weak-minded Matthew's heart was with that player-girl wife whom he never acknowledged, and the little M. And thus ends the story of Matthew Haygarth, so far as I have been able to trace it in the unfathomable gloom of the past.
It seems to me that what I have next to do will be to hunt up information respecting that young man Meynell, whose father lived in Aldersgate Street, and was a respectable and solid citizen, of that ilk; able to give a substantial dinner to the father of his son's sweetheart, and altogether a person considerable enough, I should imagine, to have left footprints of some kind or other on the sands of Time. The inscrutable Sheldon will be able to decide in what manner the hunt of the Meynells must begin. I doubt if there is anything more to be done in Ullerton.
I have sent Sheldon a fair copy of my extracts from Matthew's correspondence, and have returned the letters to Miss Judson, carefully packed in accordance with her request. I now await my Sheldon's next communication and the abatement of my influenza before making my next move in the great game of chess called Life.
What is the meaning of Horatio Paget's lengthened abode in this town? He is still here. He went past this house to-day while I was standing at my window in that abject state of mind known only to influenza and despair. I think I was suffering from a touch of both diseases, by the bye. What is that man doing here? The idea of his presence fills me with all manner of vague apprehensions. I cannot rid myself of the absurd notion that the lavender glove I saw lying in Goodge's parlour had been left there by the Captain. I know the idea is an absurd one, and I tell myself again and again that Paget cannot have any inkling of my business here, and therefore cannot attempt to forestall me or steal my hard-won information. But often as I reiterate this—in that silent argument which a man is always elaborating in his own mind—I am still tormented by a nervous apprehension of treachery from that man. I suppose the boundary line between influenza and idiocy is a very narrow one. And then Horatio Paget is such a thorough-paced scoundrel. He is lie with Philip Sheldon too—another thorough-paced scoundrel in a quiet gentlemanly way, unless my instinct deceives me.
October 12th. There is treachery somewhere. Again the Haygarthian epistles have been tampered with. Early this morning comes an indignant note from Miss Judson, reminding me that I promised the packet of letters should be restored to her yesterday at noon, and informing me that they were not returned until last night at eleven o'clock, when they were left at her back garden-gate by a dirty boy who rang the bell as loudly as if he had been giving the alarm of fire, and who thrust the packet rudely into the hand of the servant and vanished immediately. So much for the messenger. The packet itself, Miss Judson informed me, was of a dirty and disgraceful appearance, unworthy the hands of a gentlewoman, and one of the letters was missing.
Heedless of my influenza, I rushed at once to the lower regions of the inn, saw the waiter into whose hands I had confided my packet at half-past ten o'clock yesterday morning, and asked what messenger had been charged with it. The waiter could not tell me. He did not remember. I told him plainly that I considered this want of memory very extraordinary. The waiter laughed me to scorn, with that quiet insolence which a well-fed waiter feels for a customer who pays twenty shillings a week for his board and lodging. The packet had been given to a very respectable messenger, the waiter made no doubt. As to whether it was the ostler, or one of the boys, or the Boots, or a young woman in the kitchen who went on errands sometimes, the waiter wouldn't take upon himself to swear, being a man who would perish rather than inadvertently perjure himself. As to my packet having been tampered with, that was ridiculous. What on earth was there in a lump of letter-paper for any one to steal? Was there money in the parcel? I was fain to confess there was no money; on which the waiter laughed aloud.
Failing the waiter, I applied myself severally to the ostler, the boys, the Boots, and the young woman in the kitchen; and then transpired the curious fact that no one had carried my packet. The ostler was sure he had not; the Boots could take his Bible oath to the same effect; the young woman in the kitchen could not call to mind anything respecting a packet, though she was able to give me a painfully circumstantial account of the events of the morning—where she went and what she did, down to the purchase of three-pennyworth of pearl-ash and a pound of Glenfield starch for the head chambermaid, on which she dwelt with a persistent fondness.
I now felt assured that there had been treachery here, as in the Goodge business; and I asked myself to whom could I impute that treachery?
My instinctive suspicion was of Horatio Paget. And yet, was it not more probable that Theodore Judson, senr. and Theodore Judson, junr. were involved in this business, and were watching and counterchecking my actions with a view to frustrating the plans of my principal? This was one question which I asked myself as I deliberated upon this mysterious business. Had the Theodore Judsons some knowledge of a secret marriage on the part of Matthew Haygarth? and did they suspect the existence of an heir in the descendant of the issue of that marriage? These were further questions which I asked myself, and which I found it much more easy to ask than to answer. After having considered these questions, I went to the Lancaster-road, saw Miss Judson—assured her, on my word as a gentleman, that the packet had been delivered by my hands into those of the waiter at eleven o'clock on the previous day, and asked to see the envelope. There it was—my large blue wire-wove office envelope, addressed in my own writing. But in these days of adhesive envelopes there is nothing easier than to tamper with the fastening of a letter. I registered a mental vow never again to trust any important document to the protection of a morsel of gummed paper. I counted the letters, convinced myself that there was a deficiency, and then set to work to discover which of the letters had been abstracted. Here I failed utterly. For my own convenience in copying my extracts, I had numbered the letters from which I intended to transcribe passages before beginning my work. My pencilled figures in consecutive order were visible in the corner of the superscription of every document I had used. Those numbered covers I now found intact, and I could thus assure myself that the missing document was one from which I had taken no extract.
This inspired me with a new alarm. Could it be possible that I had overlooked some scrap of information more important than all that I had transcribed?
I racked my brains in the endeavour to recall the contents of that one missing letter; but although I sat in that social tomb, Miss Judson's best parlour, until I felt my blood becoming of an arctic quality, I could remember nothing that seemed worth remembering in the letters I had laid aside as valueless.
I asked Miss Judson if she had any suspicion of the person who had tampered with the packet. She looked at me with an icy smile, and answered in ironical accents, which were even more chilling than the atmosphere of her parlour,—
"Do not ask if I know who has tampered with those letters, Mr. Hawkehurst. Your affectation of surprise has been remarkably well put on; but I am not to be deceived a second time. When you came to me in the first instance, I had my suspicions; but you came furnished with a note from my brother, and as a Christian I repressed those suspicions. I know now that I have been the dupe of an impostor, and that in entrusting those letters to you I entrusted them to an emissary and tool of THEODORE JUDSON."
I protested that I had never to my knowledge set eyes upon either of the Theodore Judsons; but the prejudiced kinswoman of those gentlemen shook her head with a smile whose icy blandness was eminently exasperating.
"I am not to be deceived a second time," she said. "Who else but Theodore Judson should have employed you? Who else but Theodore Judson is interested in the Haygarth fortune? O, it was like him to employ a stranger where he knew his own efforts would be unavailing; it was like him to hoodwink me by the agency of a hireling tool."
I had been addressed as a "young man" by the reverend Jonah, and now I was spoken of as a "hireling tool" by Miss Judson. I scarcely knew which was most disagreeable, and I began to think that board and lodging in the present, and a visionary three thousand pounds in the future, would scarcely compensate me for such an amount of ignominy.
I went back to my inn utterly crestfallen—a creature so abject that even the degrading influence of influenza could scarcely sink me any lower in the social scale. I wrote a brief and succinct account of my proceedings, and despatched the same to George Sheldon, and then I sat down in my sickness and despair, as deeply humiliated as Ajax when he found that he had been pitching into sheep instead of Greeks, as miserable as Job amongst his dust and ashes, but I am happy to say untormented by the chorus of one or the friends of the other. In that respect at least I had some advantage over both.
October 13th. This morning's post brought me a brief scrawl from Sheldon.
"Come back to town directly. I have found the registry of Matthew Haygarth's marriage."
And so I turn my back on Ullerton; with what rejoicing of spirit it is not in language to express.
BOOK THE SIXTH.
THE HEIRESS OF THE HAYGARTHS.
Of all places upon this earth, perhaps, there is none more obnoxious to the civilized mind than London in October; and yet to Valentine Hawkehurst, newly arrived from Ullerton per North-Western Railway, that city seemed as an enchanted and paradisiacal region. Were not the western suburbs of that murky metropolis inhabited by Charlotte Halliday, and might he not hope to see her?
He did hope for that enjoyment. He had felt something more than hope while speeding Londonwards by that delightful combination of a liberal railway management, a fast and yet cheap train. He had beguiled himself with a delicious certainty. Early the next morning—or at any rate as early as civilization permitted—he would hie him to Bayswater, and present himself at the neat iron gate of Philip Sheldon's gothic villa. She would be there, in the garden most likely, his divine Charlotte, so bright and radiant a creature that the dull October morning would be made glorious by her presence—she would be there, and she would welcome him with that smile which made her the most enchanting of women.
Such thoughts as these had engaged him during his homeward journey; and compared with the delight of such visions, the perusal of daily papers and the consumption of sandwiches, whereby other passengers beguiled their transit, seemed a poor amusement. But, arrived in the dingy streets, and walking towards Chelsea under a drizzling rain, the bright picture began to grow dim. Was it not more than likely that Charlotte would be absent from London at this dismal season? Was it not very probable that Philip Sheldon would give him the cold shoulder? With these gloomy contingencies before him, Mr. Hawkehurst tried to shut Miss Halliday's image altogether out of his mind, and to contemplate the more practical aspect of his affairs.
"I wonder whether that scoundrel Paget has come back to London?" he thought. "What am I to say to him if he has? If I own to having seen him in Ullerton, I shall lay myself open to being questioned by him as to my own business in that locality. Perhaps my wisest plan would be to say nothing, and hear his own account of himself. I fully believe he saw me on the platform that night when we passed each other without speaking."
Horatio Paget was at home when his protege arrived. He was seated by his fireside in all the domestic respectability of a dressing-gown and slippers, with an evening paper on his knee, a slim smoke-coloured bottle at his elbow, and the mildest of cigars between his lips, when the traveller, weary and weather-stained, entered the lodging-house drawing-room.
Captain Paget received his friend very graciously, only murmuring some faint deprecation of the young man's reeking overcoat, with just such a look of gentlemanly alarm as the lamented Brummel may have felt when ushered into the presence of a "damp stranger."
"And so you've come back at last," said the Captain, "from Dorking?" He made a little pause here, and looked at his friend with a malicious sparkle in his eye. "And how was the old aunt? Likely to cut up for any considerable amount, eh? It could only be with a view to that cutting-up process that you could consent to isolate yourself in such a place as Dorking. How did you find things?" "O, I don't know, I'm sure," Mr. Hawkehurst answered rather impatiently, for his worst suspicions were confirmed by his patron's manner; "I only know I found it tiresome work enough."
"Ah, to be sure! elderly people always are tiresome, especially when they are unacquainted with the world. There is a perennial youth about men and women of the world. The sentimental twaddle people talk of the freshness and purity of a mind unsullied by communion with the world is the shallowest nonsense. Your Madame du Deffand at eighty and your Horace Walpole at sixty are as lively as a girl and boy. Your octogenarian Voltaire is the most agreeable creature in existence. But take Cymon and Daphne from their flocks and herds and pastoral valleys in their old age, and see what senile bores and quavering imbeciles you would find them. Yes, I have no doubt you found your Dorking aunt a nuisance. Take off your wet overcoat and put it out of the room, and then ring for more hot water. You'll find that cognac very fine. Won't you have a cigar?"
The Captain extended his russia-leather case with the blandest smile. It was a very handsome case. Captain Paget was a man who could descend into some unknown depths of the social ocean in the last stage of shabbiness, and who, while his acquaintance were congratulating themselves upon the fact of his permanent disappearance, would start up suddenly in an unexpected place, provided with every necessity and luxury of civilized life, from a wardrobe by Poole to the last fashionable absurdity in the shape of a cigar-case.
Never had Valentine Hawkehurst found his patron more agreeably disposed than he seemed to be this evening, and never had he felt more inclined to suspect him.
"And what have you been doing while I have been away?" the young man asked presently. "Any more promoting work?"
"Well, yes, a little bit of provincial business; a life-and-fire on a novel principle; a really good thing, if we can only find men with perception enough to see its merits, and pluck enough to hazard their capital. But promoting in the provinces is very dull work. I've been to two or three towns in the Midland districts—Beauport, Mudborough, and Ullerton—and have found the same stagnation everywhere."
Nothing could be more perfect than the semblance of unconscious innocence with which the Captain gave this account of himself: whether he was playing a part, or whether he was telling the entire truth, was a question which even a cleverer man than Valentine Hawkehurst might have found himself unable to answer.
The two men sat till late, smoking and talking; but to-night Valentine found the conversation of his "guide, philosopher, and friend" strangely distasteful to him. That cynical manner of looking at life, which not long ago had seemed to him the only manner compatible with wisdom and experience, now grated harshly upon those finer senses which had been awakened in the quiet contemplative existence he had of late been leading. He had been wont to enjoy Captain Paget's savage bitterness against a world which had not provided him with a house in Carlton-gardens, and a seat in the Cabinet; but to-night he was revolted by the noble Horatio's tone and manner. Those malicious sneers against respectable people and respectable prejudices, with which the Captain interlarded all his talk, seemed to have a ghastly grimness in their mirth. It was like the talk of some devil who had once been an angel, and had lost all hope of ever being restored to his angelic status.
"To believe in nothing, to respect nothing, to hope for nothing, to fear nothing, to consider life as so many years in which to scheme and lie for the sake of good dinners and well-made coats—surely there can be no state of misery more complete, no degradation more consummate," thought the young man, as he sat by the fireside smoking and listening dreamily to his companion. "Better to be Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth, narrow-minded and egotistical, but always looking beyond her narrow life to some dimly-comprehended future."
He was glad to escape at last from the Captain's society, and to retire to his own small chamber, where he slept soundly enough after the day's fatigues, and dreamed of the Haygarths and Charlotte Halliday.
He was up early the next morning; but, on descending to the sitting-room, he found his patron toasting his Times before a cheerful fire; while his gold hunting-watch stood open on the breakfast-table, and a couple of new-laid eggs made a pleasant wabbling noise in a small saucepan upon the hob.
"You don't care for eggs, I know, Val," said the Captain, as he took the saucepan from the hob.
He had heard the young man object to an egg of French extraction too long severed from its native land; but he knew very well that for rural delicacies from a reliable dairyman, at twopence apiece, Mr. Hawkehurst had no particular antipathy. Even in so small a matter as a new-laid egg the Captain knew how to protect his own interest.
"There's some of that Italian sausage you're so fond of, dear boy," he said politely, pointing to a heel of some grayish horny-looking compound. "Thanks; I'll pour out the coffee; there's a knack in these things; half the clearness of coffee depends on the way in which it's poured out, you see."
And with this assurance Captain Paget filled his own large breakfast-cup with a careful hand and a tender solemnity of countenance. If he was a trifle less considerate in the pouring out of the second cup, and if some "grounds" mingled with the second portion, Valentine Hawkehurst was unconscious of the fact.
"Do try that Italian sausage," said the Captain, as he discussed his second egg, after peeling the most attractive crusts from the French rolls, and pushing the crumb to his protege.
"No, thank you; it looks rather like what your shop-people call an old housekeeper; besides, there's a little too much garlic in those compositions for my taste."
"Your taste has grown fastidious," said the Captain; "one would think you were going to call upon some ladies this morning."
"There are not many ladies on my visiting-list. O, by the way, how's Diana? Have you seen her lately?"
"No," answered the Captain, promptly. "I only returned from my provincial tour a day or two ago, and have had no time to waste dancing attendance upon her. She's well enough, I've no doubt; and she's uncommonly well off in Sheldon's house, and ought to think herself so."
Having skimmed his newspaper, Captain Paget rose and invested himself in his overcoat. He put on his hat before the glass over the mantelpiece, adjusting the brim above his brows with the thoughtful care that distinguished his performance of all those small duties which he owed to himself.
"And what may you be going to do with yourself to-day, Val?" he asked of the young man, who sat nursing his own knee and staring absently at the fire.
"Well, I don't quite know," Mr. Hawkehurst answered, hypocritically; "I think I may go as far as Gray's Inn, and look in upon George Sheldon."
"You'll dine out of doors, I suppose?"
This was a polite way of telling Mr. Hawkehurst that there would be no dinner for him at home.
"I suppose I shall. You know I'm not punctilious on the subject of dinner. Anything you please—from a banquet at the London Tavern to a ham-sandwich and a glass of ale at fourpence."
"Ah, to be sure; youth is reckless of its gastric juices. I shall find you at home when I come in to-night, I daresay. I think I may dine in the city. Au plaisir."
"I don't know about the pleasure," muttered Mr. Hawkehurst. "You're a very delightful person, my friend Horatio; but there comes a crisis in a man's existence when he begins to feel that he has had enough of you. Poor Diana! what a father!"
He did not waste much time on further consideration of his patron, but set off at once on his way to Gray's Inn. It was too early to call at the Lawn, or he would fain have gone there before seeking George Sheldon's dingy offices. Nor could he very well present himself at the gothic villa without some excuse for so doing. He went to Gray's Inn therefore; but on his way thither called at a tavern near the Strand, which was the head-quarters of a literary association known as the Ragamuffins. Here he was fortunate enough to meet with an acquaintance in the person of a Ragamuffin in the dramatic-author line, who was reading the morning's criticisms on a rival's piece produced the night before, with a keen enjoyment of every condemnatory sentence. From this gentleman Mr. Hawkehurst obtained a box-ticket for a West-end theatre; and, armed with this mystic document, he felt himself able to present a bold countenance at Mr. Sheldon's door.
"Will she be glad to see me again?" he asked himself. "Pshaw! I daresay she has forgotten me by this time. A fortnight is an age with some women; and I should fancy Charlotte Halliday just one of those bright impressionable beings who forget easily. I wonder whether she is really like that 'Molly' whose miniature was found by Mrs. Haygarth in the tulip-leaf escritoire; or was the resemblance between those two faces only a silly fancy of mine?"
Mr. Hawkehurst walked the whole distance from Chelsea to Gray's Inn; and it was midday when he presented himself before George Sheldon, whom he found seated at his desk with the elephantine pedigree of the Haygarths open before him, and profoundly absorbed in the contents of a note-book. He looked up from this note-book as Valentine entered, but did not leave off chewing the end of his pencil as he mumbled a welcome to the returning wanderer. It has been seen that neither of the Sheldon brothers were demonstrative men.
After that unceremonious greeting, the lawyer continued his perusal of the note-book for some minutes, while Valentine seated himself in a clumsy leather-covered arm-chair by the fireplace.
"Well, young gentleman," Mr. Sheldon exclaimed, as he closed his book with a triumphant snap, "I think you're in for a good thing; and you may thank your lucky stars for having thrown you into my path."
"My stars are not remarkable for their luckiness in a general way," answered Mr. Hawkehurst, coolly, for the man had not yet been born from whom he would accept patronage. "I suppose if I'm in for a good thing, you're in for a better thing, my dear George; so you needn't come the benefactor quite so strong for my edification. How did you ferret out the certificate of gray-eyed Molly's espousals?"
George Sheldon contemplated his coadjutor with an admiring stare. "It has been my privilege to enjoy the society of cool hands, Mr. Hawkehurst; and certainly you are about the coolest of the lot—bar one, as they say in the ring. But that is ni ci ni la. I have found the certificate of Matthew Haygarth's marriage, and to my mind the Haygarth succession is as good as ours."
"Ah, those birds in the bush have such splendid plumage! but I'd rather have the modest sparrow in my hand. However, I'm very glad our affairs are marching. How did you discover the marriage-lines?"
"Not without hard labour, I can tell you. Of course my idea of a secret marriage was at the best only a plausible hypothesis; and I hardly dared to hug myself with the hope that it might turn up trumps. My idea was based upon two or three facts, namely, the character of the young man, his long residence in London away from the ken of respectable relatives and friends, and the extraordinary state of the marriage laws at the period in which our man lived."
"Ah, to be sure! That was a strong point."
"I should rather think it was. I took the trouble to look up the history of Mayfair marriages and Fleet marriages before you started for Ullerton, and I examined all the evidence I could get on that subject. I made myself familiar with the Rev. Alexander Keith of Mayfair, who helped to bring clandestine marriages into vogue amongst the swells, and with Dr. Gaynham—agreeably nicknamed Bishop of Hell—and more of the same calibre; and the result of my investigations convinced me that in those days a hare-brained young reprobate must have found it rather more difficult to avoid matrimony than to achieve it. He might be married when he was tipsy; he might be married when he was comatose from the effects of a stand-up fight with Mohawks; his name might be assumed by some sportive Benedick of his acquaintance given to practical joking, and he might find himself saddled with a wife he never saw; or if, on the other hand, of an artful and deceptive turn, he might procure a certificate of a marriage that had never taken place,—for there were very few friendly offices which the Fleet parsons refused to perform for their clients—for a consideration."
"But how about the legality of the Fleet marriage?"
"There's the rub. Before the New Marriage Act passed in 1753 a Fleet marriage was indissoluble. It was an illegal act, and the parties were punishable; but the Gordian knot was quite as secure as if it had been tied in the most orthodox manner. The great difficulty to my mind was the onus probandi. The marriage might have taken place; the marriage be to all intents and purposes a good marriage; but how produce undeniable proof of such a ceremony, when all ceremonies of the kind were performed with a manifest recklessness and disregard of law? Even if I found an apparently good certificate, how was I to prove that it was not one of those lying certificates of marriages that had never taken place? Again, what kind of registers could posterity expect from these parson-adventurers, very few of whom could spell, and most of whom lived in a chronic state of drunkenness? They married people sometimes by their Christian names alone—very often under assumed names. What consideration had they for heirs-at-law in the future, when under the soothing influence of a gin-bottle in the present? I thought of all these circumstances, and I was half inclined to despair of realising my idea of an early marriage. I took it for granted that such a secret business would be more likely to have taken place in the precincts of the Fleet than anywhere else; and having no particular clue, I set to work, in the first place, to examine all available documents relating to such marriages."
"It must have been slow work."
"It was slow work," answered Mr. Sheldon with a suppressed groan, that was evoked by the memory of a bygone martyrdom. "I needn't enter into all the details of the business,—the people I had to apply to for permission to see this set of papers, and the signing and counter-signing I had to go through before I could see that set of papers, and the extent of circumlocution and idiocy I had to encounter in a general way before I could complete my investigation. The result was nil; and after working like a galley-slave I found myself no better off than before I began my search. Your extracts from Matthew's letters put me on a new track. I concluded therefrom that there had been a marriage, and that the said marriage had been a deliberate act on the part of the young man. I therefore set to work to do what I ought to have done at starting—I hunted in all the parish registers to be found within a certain radius of such and such localities. I began with Clerkenwell, in which neighbourhood our friend spent such happy years, according to that pragmatical epistle of Mrs. Rebecca's; but after hunting in all the mouldy old churches within a mile of St. John's-gate, I was no nearer arriving at any record of Matthew Haygarth's existence. So I turned my back upon Clerkenwell, and went southward to the neighbourhood of the Marshalsea, where Mistress Molly's father was at one time immured, and whence I thought it very probable Mistress Molly had started on her career as a matron. This time my guess was a lucky one. After hunting the registers of St. Olave's, St. Saviour's, and St. George's, and after the expenditure of more shillings in donations to sextons than I care to remember, I at last lighted on a document which I consider worth three thousand pounds to you—and—a very decent sum of money to me."
"I wonder what colour our hair will be when we touch that money?" said Valentine meditatively. "These sort of cases generally find their way into Chancery-lane, don't they?—that lane which, for some unhappy travellers, has no turning except the one dismal via which leads to dusty death. You seem in very good spirits; and I suppose I ought to be elated too. Three thousand pounds would give me a start in life, and enable me to set up in the new character of a respectable rate-paying citizen. But I've a kind of presentiment that this hand of mine will never touch the prize of the victor; or, in plainer English, that no good will ever arise to me or mine out of the reverend intestate's hundred thousand pounds."
"Why, what a dismal-minded croaker you are this morning!" exclaimed George Sheldon with unmitigated disgust; "a regular raven, by Jove! You come to a fellow's office just as matters are beginning to look like success—after ten years' plodding and ten years' disappointment—and you treat him to maudlin howls about the Court of Chancery. This is a new line you've struck out, Hawkehurst, and I can tell you it isn't a pleasant one."
"Well, no, I suppose I oughtn't to say that sort of thing," answered Valentine in an apologetic tone; "but there are some days in a man's life when there seems to be a black cloud between him and everything he looks at. I feel like that today. There's a tightening sensation about something under my waistcoat—my heart, perhaps—a sense of depression that may be either physical or mental, that I can't get rid of. If a man had walked by my side from Chelsea to Holborn whispering forebodings of evil into my ear at every step, I couldn't have felt more downhearted than I do."
"What did you eat for breakfast?" asked Mr. Sheldon impatiently. "A tough beefsteak fried by a lodging-house cook, I daresay—they will fry their steaks. Don't inflict the consequences of your indigestible diet upon me. To tell me that there's a black cloud between you and everything you look at, is only a sentimental way of telling me that you're bilious. Pray be practical, and let us look at things from a business point of view. Here is Appendix A.—a copy of the registry of the marriage of Matthew Haygarth, bachelor, of Clerkenwell, in the county of Middlesex, to Mary Murchison, spinster, of Southwark, in the county of Surrey. And here is Appendix B.—a copy of the registry of the marriage between William Meynell, bachelor, of Smithfield, in the county of Middlesex, to Caroline Mary Haygarth, spinster, of Highgate, in the same county."
"You have found the entry of a second Haygarthian marriage?"
"I have. The C. of Matthew's letters is the Caroline Mary here indicated, the daughter and heiress of Matthew Haygarth—doubtless christened Caroline after her gracious majesty the consort of George II., and Mary after the Molly whose picture was found in the tulip-leaf bureau. The Meynell certificate was easy enough to find, since the letters told me that Miss C.'s suitor had a father who lived in Aldersgate-street, and a father who approved his son's choice. The Aldersgate citizen had a house of his own, and a more secure social status altogether than that poor, weak, surreptitious Matthew. It was therefore only natural that the marriage should be celebrated in the Meynell mansion. Having considered this, I had only to ransack the registers of a certain number of churches round and about Aldersgate-street in order to find what I wanted; and after about a day and a half of hard labour, I did find the invaluable document which places me one generation nearer the present, and on the high-road to the discovery of my heir-at-law. I searched the same registry for children of the aforesaid William and Caroline Mary Meynell, but could find no record of such children nor any further entry of the name of Meynell. But we must search other registries within access of Aldersgate-street before we give up the idea of finding such entries in that neighbourhood."
"And what is to be the next move?"
"The hunting-up of all descendants of this William and Caroline Mary Meynell, wheresoever such descendants are to be found. We are now altogether off the Haygarth and Judson scent, and have to beat a new covert."
"Good!" exclaimed Valentine more cheerfully. "How is the new covert to be beaten?"
"We must start from Aldersgate-street. Meynell of Aldersgate-street must have been a responsible man, and it will be hard if there is no record of him extant in all the old topographical histories of wards, without and within, which cumber the shelves of your dry-as-dust libraries. We must hunt up all available books; and when we've got all the information that books can give us, we can go in upon hearsay evidence, which is always the most valuable in these cases."
"That means another encounter with ancient mariners—I beg your pardon—oldest inhabitants," said Valentine with a despondent yawn. "Well, I suppose that sort of individual is a little less obtuse when he lives within the roar of the great city's thunder than when he vegetates in the dismal outskirts of a manufacturing town. Where am I to find my octogenarian prosers? and when am I to begin my operations upon them?" "The sooner you begin the better," replied Mr. Sheldon. "I've taken all preliminary steps for you already, and you'll find the business tolerably smooth sailing. I've made a list of certain people who may be worth seeing."
Mr. Sheldon selected a paper from the numerous documents upon the table.
"Here they are," he said: "John Grewter, wholesale stationer, Aldersgate-street; Anthony Sparsfield, carver and gilder, in Barbican. These are, so far as I can ascertain, the two oldest men now trading in Aldersgate-street; and from these men you ought to be able to find out something about old Meynell. I don't anticipate any difficulty about the Meynells, except the possibility that we may find more of them than we want, and have some trouble in shaking them into their places."
"I'll tackle my friend the stationer to-morrow morning," said Valentine.
"You'd better drop in upon him in the afternoon, when the day's business may be pretty well over," returned the prudent Sheldon. "And now all you've got to do, Hawkehurst, is to work with a will, and work on patiently. If you do as well in London as you did at Ullerton, neither you nor I will have any cause to complain. Of course I needn't impress upon you the importance of secrecy."
"No," replied Valentine; "I'm quite alive to that."
He then proceeded to inform George Sheldon of that encounter with Captain Paget on the platform at Ullerton, and of the suspicion that had been awakened in his mind by the sight of the glove in Goodge's parlour.
The lawyer shook his head.
"That idea about the glove was rather far-fetched," he said, thoughtfully; "but I don't like the look of that meeting at the station. My brother Philip is capable of anything in the way of manoeuvring; and I'm not ashamed to confess that I'm no match for him. He was in here one day when I had the Haygarth pedigree spread out on the table, and I know he smelt a rat. We must beware of him, Hawkehurst, and we must work against time if we don't want him to anticipate us."
"I shan't let the grass grow under my feet," replied Valentine. "I was really interested in that Haygarthian history: there was a dash of romance about it, you see. I don't feel the same gusto in the Meynell chase, but I daresay I shall begin to get up an interest in it as my investigation proceeds. Shall I call the day after to-morrow and tell you my adventures?"
"I think you'd better stick to the old plan, and let me have the result of your work in the form of a diary," answered Sheldon. And with this the two men parted.
It was now half-past two o'clock; it would be half-past three before Valentine could present himself at the Lawn—a very seasonable hour at which to call upon Mrs. Sheldon with his offering of a box for the new play.
An omnibus conveyed him to Bayswater at a snail's pace, and with more stoppages than ever mortal omnibus was subjected to before, as it seemed to that one eager passenger. At last the fading foliage of the Park appeared between the hats and bonnets of Valentine's opposite neighbours. Even those orange tawny trees reminded him of Charlotte. Beneath such umbrage had he parted from her. And now he was going to see the bright young face once more. He had been away from town about a fortnight; but taken in relation with Miss Halliday, that fortnight seemed half a century.
Chrysanthemums and china-asters beautified Mr. Sheldon's neat little garden, and the plate-glass windows of his house shone with all their wonted radiance. It was like the houses one sees framed and glazed in an auctioneer's office—the greenest imaginable grass, the bluest windows, the reddest bricks, the whitest stone. "It is a house that would set my teeth on edge, but for the one sweet creature who lives in it," Valentine thought to himself, as he waited at the florid iron gate, which was painted a vivid ultramarine and picked out with gold.
He tried in vain to catch a glimpse of some feminine figure in the small suburban garden. No flutter of scarlet petticoat or flash of scarlet plume revealed the presence of the divinity.
The prim maid-servant informed him that Mrs. Sheldon was at home, and asked if he would please to walk into the drawing-room.
Would he please? Would he not have been pleased to walk into a raging furnace if there had been a chance of meeting Charlotte Halliday amid the flames? He followed the maid-servant into Mrs. Sheldon's irreproachable apartment, where the show books upon the show table were ranged at the usual mathematically correct distances from one another, and where the speckless looking-glasses and all-pervading French polish imparted a chilly aspect to the chamber. A newly-lighted fire was smouldering in the shining steel grate, and a solitary female figure was seated by the broad Tudor window bending over some needlework.
It was the figure of Diana Paget, and she was quite alone in the room. Valentine's heart sank a little as he saw the solitary figure, and perceived that it was not the woman he loved.
Diana looked up from her work and recognised the visitor. Her face flushed, but the flush faded very quickly, and Valentine was not conscious of that flattering indication.
"How do you do, Diana?" he said. "Here I am again, you see, like the proverbial bad shilling. I have brought Mrs. Sheldon an order for the Princess's." "You are very kind; but I don't think she'll care to go. She was complaining of a headache this afternoon."
"O, she'll forget all about her headache if she wants to go to the play. She's the sort of little woman who is always ready for a theatre or a concert. Besides, Miss Halliday may like to go, and will easily persuade her mamma. Whom could she not persuade?" added Mr. Hawkehurst within himself.
"Miss Halliday is out of town," Diana replied coldly.
The young man felt as if his heart were suddenly transformed into so much lead, so heavy did it seem to grow. What a foolish thing it seemed that he should be the victim of this fair enslaver!—he who until lately had fancied himself incapable of any earnest feeling or deep emotion.
"Out of town!" he repeated with unconcealed disappointment.
"Yes; she has gone on a visit to some relations in Yorkshire. She actually has relations; doesn't that sound strange to you and me?"
Valentine did not notice this rather cynical remark.
"She'll be away ever so long, I suppose?" he said.
"I have no idea how long she may stay there. The people idolise her, I understand. You know it is her privilege to be idolised; and of course they will persuade her to stay as long as they can. You seem disappointed at not seeing her."
"I am very much disappointed," Valentine answered frankly; "she is a sweet girl."
There was a silence after this. Miss Paget resumed her work with rapid fingers. She was picking up shining little beads one by one on the point of her needle, and transferring them to the canvas stretched upon an embroidery frame before her. It was a kind of work exacting extreme care and precision, and the girl's hand never faltered, though a tempest of passionate feeling agitated her as she worked.
"I am very sorry not to see her," Valentine said presently, "for the sight of her is very dear to me. Why should I try to hide my feelings from you, Diana? We have endured so much misery together that there must be some bond of union between us. To me you have always seemed like a sister, and I have no wish to keep any secret from you, though you receive me so coldly that one would think I had offended you."
"You have not offended me. I thank you for being so frank with me. You would have gained little by an opposite course. I have long known your affection for Charlotte."
"You guessed my secret?"
"I saw what any one could have seen who had taken the trouble to watch you for ten minutes during your visits to this house."
"Was my unhappy state so very conspicuous?" exclaimed Valentine, laughing. "Was I so obviously spoony? I who have so ridiculed anything in the way of sentiment. You make me blush for my folly, Diana. What is that you are dotting with all those beads?—something very elaborate."
"It is a prie-dieu chair I am working for Mrs. Sheldon. Of course I am bound to do something for my living."
"And so you wear out your eyesight in the working of chairs. Poor girl! it seems hard that your beauty and accomplishments should not find a better market than that. I daresay you will marry some millionaire friend of Mr. Sheldon's one of these days, and I shall hear of your house in Park-lane and three-hundred guinea barouche."
"You are very kind to promise me a millionaire. The circumstances of my existence hitherto have been so peculiarly fortunate that I am justified in expecting such a suitor. My millionaire shall ask you to dinner at my house in Park-lane; and you shall play ecarte with him, if you like—papa's kind of ecarte."
"Don't talk of those things, Di," said Mr. Hawkehurst, with something that was almost a shudder; "let us forget that we ever led that kind of life."
"Yes," replied Diana, "let us forget it—if we can."
The bitterness of her tone struck him painfully. He sat for some minutes watching her silently, and pitying her fate. What a sad fate it seemed, and how hopeless! For him there was always some chance of redemption. He could go out into the world, and cut his way through the forest of difficulty with the axe of the conqueror. But what could a woman do who found herself in the midst of that dismal forest? She could only sit at the door of her lonesome hut, looking out with weary eyes for the prince who was to come and rescue her. And Valentine remembered how many women there are to whom the prince never comes, and who must needs die and be buried beneath that gloomy umbrage.
"O! let us have women doctors, women lawyers, women parsons, women stone-breakers—anything rather than these dependent creatures who sit in other people's houses working prie-dieu chairs and pining for freedom," he thought to himself, as he watched the pale stern face in the chill afternoon light.
"Do leave off working for a few minutes, and talk to me, Di," he said rather impatiently. "You don't know how painful it is to a man to see a woman absorbed in some piece of needlework at the very moment when he wants all her sympathy. I am afraid you are not quite happy. Do confide in me, dear, as frankly as I confide in you. Are these people kind to you? Charlotte is, of course. But the elder birds, Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon, are they kind?" "They are very kind. Mr. Sheldon is not a demonstrative man, as you know; but I am not accustomed to have people in a rapturous state of mind about me and my affairs. He is kinder to me than my father ever was; and I don't see how I can expect more than that. Mrs. Sheldon is extremely kind in her way—which is rather a feeble way, as you know."
"You answered for Charlotte yourself just now. Yes, she is very, very, very good to me; much better than I deserve. I was almost going to quote the collect, and say 'desire or deserve.'"
"Why should you not desire or deserve her goodness?" asked Valentine.
"Because I am not a loveable kind of person. I am not sympathetic. I know that Charlotte is very fascinating, very charming; but sometimes her very fascination repels me. I think the atmosphere of that horrible swampy district between Lambeth and Battersea, where my childhood was spent, must have soured my disposition."
"No, Diana; you have only learnt a bitter way of talking. I know your heart is noble and true. I have seen your suppressed indignation many a time when your father's meannesses have revolted you. Our lives have been very hard, dear; but let us hope for brighter days. I think they must come to us."
"They will never come to me," said Diana.
"You say that with an air of conviction. But why should they not come to you—brighter and better days?"
"I cannot tell you that. I can only tell you that they will not come. And do you hope that any good will ever come of your love for Charlotte Halliday—you, who know Mr. Sheldon?"
"I am ready to hope anything."
"You think that Mr. Sheldon would let his stepdaughter marry a penniless man?"
"I may not always be penniless. Besides, Mr. Sheldon has no actual authority over Charlotte."
"But he has moral influence over her. She is very easily influenced."
"I am ready to hope even in spite of Mr. Sheldon's opposing influence. You must not try to crush this one little floweret that has grown up in a barren waste, Diana. It is my prison-flower."
Mrs. Sheldon came into the room as he said this. She was very cordial, very eloquent upon the subject of her headache, and very much inclined to go to the theatre, notwithstanding that ailment, when she heard that Mr. Hawkehurst had been kind enough to bring her a box.
"Diana and I could go," she said, "if we can manage to be in time after our six o'clock dinner. Mr. Sheldon does not care about theatres. All the pieces tire him. He declares they are all stupid. But then, you see, if one's mind is continually wandering, the cleverest piece must seem stupid," Mrs. Sheldon added thoughtfully; "and my husband is so very absent-minded."
After some further discussion about the theatres, Valentine bade the ladies good afternoon.
"Won't you stop to see Mr. Sheldon?" asked Georgina; "he's in the library with Captain Paget. You did not know that your papa was here, did you, Diana, my dear? He came in with Mr. Sheldon an hour ago."
"I won't disturb Mr. Sheldon," said Valentine. "I will call again in a few days."
He took leave of the two ladies, and went out into the hall. As he emerged from the drawing-room, the door of the library was opened, and he heard Philip Sheldon's voice within, saying,—
"—your accuracy with regard to the name of Meynell."
It was the close of a sentence; but the name struck immediately upon Valentine's ear. Meynell!—the name which had for him so peculiar an interest.
"Is it only a coincidence," he thought to himself, "or is Horatio Paget on our track?"
And then he argued with himself that his ears might have deceived him, and that the name he had heard might not have been Meynell, but only a name of somewhat similar sound.
It was Captain Paget who had opened the door. He came into the hall and recognised his protege. They left the house together, and the Captain was especially gracious.
"We will dine together somewhere at the West-end, Val," he said; but, to his surprise, Mr. Hawkehurst declined the proffered entertainment.
"I'm tired out with a hard day's work," he said, "and should be very bad company; so, if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to Omega-street and get a chop."
The Captain stared at him in amazement. He could not comprehend the man who could refuse to dine luxuriously at the expense of his fellow-man.
Valentine had of late acquired new prejudices. He no longer cared to enjoy the hospitality of Horatio Paget. In Omega-street the household expenses were shared by the two men. It was a kind of club upon a small scale; and there was no degradation in breaking bread with the elegant Horatio.
To Omega-street Valentine returned this afternoon, there to eat a frugal meal and spend a meditative evening, uncheered by one glimmer of that radiance which more fortunate men know as the light of home.
VALENTINE'S RECORD CONTINUED.
October 15th. I left Omega-street for the City before noon, after a hasty breakfast with my friend Horatio, who was somewhat under the dominion of his black dog this morning, and far from pleasant company. I was not to present myself to the worthy John Grewter, wholesale stationer, before the afternoon; but I had no particular reason for staying at home, and I had a fancy for strolling about the old City quarter in which Matthew Haygarth's youth had been spent. I went to look at John-street, Clerkenwell, and dawdled about the immediate neighbourhood of Smithfield, thinking of the old fair-time, and of all the rioters and merry-makers, who now were so much or so little dust and ashes in City churchyards, until the great bell of St. Paul's boomed three, and I felt that it might be a leisure time with Mr. Grewter.
I found the stationer's shop as darksome and dreary as City shops usually are, but redolent of that subtle odour of wealth which has a mystical charm for the nostrils of the penniless one. Stacks of ledgers, mountains of account-books, filled the dimly-lighted warehouse. Some clerks were at work behind a glass partition, and already the gas flared high in the green-shaded lamps above the desk at which they worked. I wondered whether it was a pleasant way of life theirs, and whether one would come to feel an interest in the barter of day-books and ledgers if they were one's daily bread. Alas for me! the only ledger I have ever known is the sainted patron of the northern racecourse. One young man came forward and asked my business, with a look that plainly told me that unless I wanted two or three gross of account-books I had no right to be there. I told him that I wished to see Mr. Grewter, and asked if that gentleman was to be seen.
The clerk said he did not know; but his tone implied that, in his opinion, I could not see Mr. Grewter.
"Perhaps you could go and ask," I suggested.
"Well, yes. Is it old or young Mr. Grewter you want to see?"
"Old Mr. Grewter," I replied.
"Very well, I'll go and see. You'd better send in your card, though."
I produced one of George Sheldon's cards, which the clerk looked at. He gave a little start as if an adder had stung him.
"You're not Mr. Sheldon?" he said.
"No; Mr. Sheldon is my employer."
"What do you go about giving people Sheldon's card for?" asked the clerk, with quite an aggrieved air. "I know Sheldon of Gray's Inn."
"Then I'm sure you've found him a very accommodating gentleman," I replied, politely.
"Deuce take his accommodation! He nearly accommodated me into the Bankruptcy Court. And so you're Sheldon's clerk, and you want the governor. But you don't mean to say that Grewter and Grewter are—"
This was said in an awe-stricken undertone. I hastened to reassure the stationer's clerk.
"I don't think Mr. Sheldon ever saw Mr. Grewter in his life," I said.
After this the clerk condescended to retire into the unknown antres behind the shop, to deliver my message. I began to think that George Sheldon's card was not the best possible letter of introduction.
The clerk returned presently, followed by a tall, white-bearded man, with a bent figure, and a pair of penetrating gray eyes—a very promising specimen of the octogenarian.
He asked me my business in a sharp suspicious way, that obliged me to state the nature of my errand without circumlocution. As I got farther away from the Rev. John Haygarth, intestate, I was less fettered by the necessity of secrecy. I informed my octogenarian that I was prosecuting a legal investigation connected with a late inhabitant of that street, and that I had taken the liberty to apply to him, in the hope that he might be able to afford me some information.
He looked at me all the time I spoke as if he thought I was going to entreat pecuniary relief—and I daresay I have something the air of a begging-letter writer. But when he found that I only wanted information, his hard gray eyes softened ever so little, and he asked me to walk into his parlour.
His parlour was scarcely less gruesome than his shop. The furniture looked as if its manufacture had been coeval with the time of the Meynells, and the ghastly glare of the gas seemed a kind of anachronism. After a few preliminary observations, which were not encouraged by Mr. Grewter's manner, I inquired whether he had ever heard the name of Meynell.
"Yes," he said; "there was a Meynell in this street when I was a young man—Christian Meynell, a carpet-maker by trade. The business is still carried on—and a very old business it is, for it was an old business in Meynell's time; but Meynell died before I married, and his name is pretty well forgotten in Aldersgate-street by this time."
"Had he no sons?" I asked.
"Well, yes; he had one son, Samuel, a kind of companion of mine. But he didn't take to the business, and when his father died he let things go anyhow, as you may say. He was rather wild, and died two or three years after his father." "Did he die unmarried?"
"Yes. There was some talk of his marrying a Miss Dobberly, whose father was a cabinet-maker in Jewin-street; but Samuel was too wild for the Dobberlys, who were steady-going people, and he went abroad, where he was taken with some kind of fever and died."
"Was this son the only child?"
"No; there were two daughters. The younger of them married; the elder went to live with her—and died unmarried, I've heard say."
"Do you know whom the younger sister married?" I asked.
"No. She didn't marry in London. She went into the country to visit some friends, and she married and settled down in those parts—wherever it might be—and I never heard of her coming back to London again. The carpet business was sold directly after Samuel Meynell's death. The new people kept up the name for a good twenty years—'Taylor, late Meynell, established 1693,' that's what was painted on the board above the window—but they've dropped the name of Meynell now. People forget old names, you see, and it's no use keeping to them after they're forgotten."
Yes, the old names are forgotten, the old people fade off the face of the earth. The romance of Matthew Haygarth seemed to come to a lame and impotent conclusion in this dull record of dealers in carpeting.
"You can't remember what part of England it was that Christian Meynell's daughter went to when she married?"
"No. It wasn't a matter I took much interest in. I don't think I ever spoke to the young woman above three times in my life, though she lived in the same street, and though her brother and I often met each other at the Cat and Salutation, where there used to be a great deal of talk about the war and Napoleon Bonaparte in those days."
"Have you any idea of the time at which she was married?" I inquired.
"Not as to the exact year. I know it was after I was married; for I remember my wife and I sitting at our window upstairs one summer Sunday evening, and seeing Samuel Meynell's sister go by to church. I can remember it as well as if it was yesterday. She was dressed in a white gown and a green silk spencer. Yes—and I didn't marry my first wife till 1814. But as to telling you exactly when Miss Meynell left Aldersgate-street, I can't."
These reminiscences of the past seemed to exercise rather a mollifying influence upon the old man's mind, commonplace as they were. He ceased to look at me with sharp, suspicious glances, and he seemed anxious to afford me all the help he could. "Was Christian Meynell's father called William?" I asked, after having paused to make some notes in my pocket-book.
"That I can't tell you; though, if Christian Meynell was living to-day, he wouldn't be ten years older than me. His father died when I was quite a boy; but there must be old books at the warehouse with his name in them, if they haven't been destroyed."
I determined to make inquiries at the carpet warehouse; but I had little hope of finding the books of nearly a century gone by. I tried another question.
"Do you know whether Christian Meynell was an only son, or the only son who attained manhood?" I asked.
My elderly friend shook his head.
"Christian Meynell never had any brothers that I heard of," he said; "but the parish register will tell you all about that, supposing that his father before him lived all his life in Aldersgate-street, as I've every reason to believe he did."
After this I asked a few questions about the neighbouring churches, thanked Mr. Grewter for his civility, and departed.
I went back to Omega-street, dined upon nothing particular, and devoted the rest of my evening to the scrawling of this journal, and a tender reverie, in which Charlotte Halliday was the central figure.
How bitter poverty and dependence have made Diana Paget! She used to be a nice girl too.
Oct. 16th. To-day's work has been confined to the investigation of parish registers—a most wearisome business at the best. My labours were happily not without result. In the fine old church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, I found registries of the baptism of Oliver Meynell, son of William and Caroline Mary Meynell, 1768; and of the burial of the same Oliver in the following year. I found the record of the baptism of a daughter to the same William and Caroline Mary Meynell, and further on the burial of the said daughter, at five years of age. I also found the records of the baptism of Christian Meynell, son of the same William and Caroline Mary Meynell, in the year 1772, and of William Meynell's decease in the year 1793. Later appeared the entry of the burial of Sarah, widow of Christian Meynell. Later still, the baptism of Samuel Meynell; then the baptism of Susan Meynell; and finally, that of Charlotte Meynell.