"Oh! mother, what is this that she has told me?"
But Lady Mason at the moment spoke no further words. It seemed as though her heart would have burst with sobs, and when for a moment she lifted up her face to his, the tears were streaming down her cheeks. Had it not been for that relief she could not have borne the sufferings which were heaped upon her.
"Mother, get up," he said. "Let me raise you. It is dreadful that you should lie there. Mother, let me lift you." But she still clung to his knees, grovelling on the ground before him. "Lucius, Lucius," she said, and she then sank away from him as though the strength of her muscles would no longer allow her to cling to him. She sank away from him and lay along the ground hiding her face upon the floor.
"Mother," he said, taking her gently by the arm as he knelt at her side, "if you will rise I will speak to you."
"Your words will kill me," she said. "I do not dare to look at you. Oh! Lucius, will you ever forgive me?"
And yet she had done it all for him. She had done a rascally deed, an hideous cut-throat deed, but it had been done altogether for him. No thought of her own aggrandisement had touched her mind when she resolved upon that forgery. As Rebekah had deceived her lord and robbed Esau, the first-born, of his birthright, so had she robbed him who was as Esau to her. How often had she thought of that, while her conscience was pleading hard against her! Had it been imputed as a crime to Rebekah that she had loved her own son well, and loving him had put a crown upon his head by means of her matchless guile? Did she love Lucius, her babe, less than Rebekah had loved Jacob? And had she not striven with the old man, struggling that she might do this just thing without injustice, till in his anger he had thrust her from him. "I will not break my promise for the brat," the old man had said;—and then she did the deed. But all that was as nothing now. She felt no comfort now from that Bible story which had given her such encouragement before the thing was finished. Now the result of evil-doing had come full home to her, and she was seeking pardon with a broken heart, while burning tears furrowed her cheeks,—not from him whom she had thought to injure, but from the child of her own bosom, for whose prosperity she had been so anxious.
Then she slowly arose and allowed him to place her upon the sofa. "Mother," he said, "it is all over here."
"Whither we had better go, I cannot yet say,—or when. We must wait till this day is ended."
"Lucius, I care nothing for myself,—nothing. It is nothing to me whether or no they say that I am guilty. It is of you only that I am thinking."
"Our lot, mother, must still be together. If they find you guilty you will be imprisoned, and then I will go, and come back when they release you. For you and me the future world will be very different from the past."
"It need not be so,—for you, Lucius. I do not wish to keep you near me now."
"But I shall be near you. Where you hide your shame there will I hide mine. In this world there is nothing left for us. But there is another world before you,—if you can repent of your sin." This too he said very sternly, standing somewhat away from her, and frowning the while with those gloomy eyebrows. Sad as was her condition he might have given her solace, could he have taken her by the hand and kissed her. Peregrine Orme would have done so, or Augustus Staveley, could it have been possible that they should have found themselves in that position. Though Lucius Mason could not do so, he was not less just than they, and, it may be, not less loving in his heart. He could devote himself for his mother's sake as absolutely as could they. But to some is given and to some is denied that cruse of heavenly balm with which all wounds can be assuaged and sore hearts ever relieved of some portion of their sorrow. Of all the virtues with which man can endow himself surely none other is so odious as that justice which can teach itself to look down upon mercy almost as a vice!
"I will not ask you to forgive me," she said, plaintively.
"Mother," he answered, "were I to say that I forgave you my words would be a mockery. I have no right either to condemn or to forgive. I accept my position as it has been made for me, and will endeavour to do my duty."
It would have been almost better for her that he should have upbraided her for her wickedness. She would then have fallen again prostrate before him, if not in body at least in spirit, and her weakness would have stood for her in place of strength. But now it was necessary that she should hear his words and bear his looks,—bear them like a heavy burden on her back without absolutely sinking. It had been that necessity of bearing and never absolutely sinking which, during years past, had so tried and tested the strength of her heart and soul. Seeing that she had not sunk, we may say that her strength had been very wonderful.
And then she stood up and came close to him. "But you will give me your hand, Lucius?"
"Yes, mother; there is my hand. I shall stand by you through it all." But he did not offer to kiss her; and there was still some pride in her heart which would not allow her to ask him for an embrace.
"And now," he said, "it is time that you should prepare to go. Mrs. Orme thinks it better that I should not accompany you."
"No, Lucius, no; you must not hear them proclaim my guilt in court."
"That would make but little difference. But nevertheless I will not go. Had I known this before I should not have gone there. It was to testify my belief in your innocence; nay, my conviction—"
"Oh, Lucius, spare me!"
"Well, I will speak of it no more. I shall be here to-night when you come back."
"But if they say that I am guilty they will take me away."
"If so I will come to you,—in the morning if they will let me. But, mother, in any case I must leave this house to-morrow." Then again he gave her his hand, but he left her without touching her with his lips.
When the two ladies appeared in court together without Lucius Mason there was much question among the crowd as to the cause of his absence. Both Dockwrath and Joseph Mason looked at it in the right light, and accepted it as a ground for renewed hope. "He dare not face the verdict," said Dockwrath. And yet when they had left the court on the preceding evening, after listening to Mr. Furnival's speech, their hopes had not been very high. Dockwrath had not admitted with words that he feared defeat, but when Mason had gnashed his teeth as he walked up and down his room at Alston, and striking the table with his clenched fist had declared his fears, "By heavens they will escape me again!" Dockwrath had not been able to give him substantial comfort. "The jury are not such fools as to take all that for gospel," he had said. But he had not said it with that tone of assured conviction which he had always used till Mr. Furnival's speech had been made. There could have been no greater attestation to the power displayed by Mr. Furnival than Mr. Mason's countenance as he left the court on that evening. "I suppose it will cost me hundreds of pounds," he said to Dockwrath that evening. "Orley Farm will pay for it all," Dockwrath had answered; but his answer had shown no confidence. And, if we think well of it, Joseph Mason was deserving of pity. He wanted only what was his own; and that Orley Farm ought to be his own he had no smallest doubt. Mr. Furnival had not in the least shaken him; but he had made him feel that others would be shaken. "If it could only be left to the judge," thought Mr. Mason to himself. And then he began to consider whether this British palladium of an unanimous jury had not in it more of evil than of good.
Young Peregrine Orme again met his mother at the door of the court, and at her instance gave his arm to Lady Mason. Mr. Aram was also there; but Mr. Aram had great tact, and did not offer his arm to Mrs. Orme, contenting himself with making a way for her and walking beside her. "I am glad that her son has not come to-day," he said, not bringing his head suspiciously close to hers, but still speaking so that none but she might hear him. "He has done all the good that he could do, and as there is only the judge's charge to hear, the jury will not notice his absence. Of course we hope for the best, Mrs. Orme, but it is doubtful."
As Felix Graham took his place next to Chaffanbrass, the old lawyer scowled at him, turning his red old savage eyes first on him and then from him, growling the while, so that the whole court might notice it. The legal portion of the court did notice it and were much amused. "Good morning, Mr. Chaffanbrass," said Graham quite aloud as he took his seat; and then Chaffanbrass growled again. Considering the lights with which he had been lightened, there was a species of honesty about Mr. Chaffanbrass which certainly deserved praise. He was always true to the man whose money he had taken, and gave to his customer, with all the power at his command, that assistance which he had professed to sell. But we may give the same praise to the hired bravo who goes through with truth and courage the task which he has undertaken. I knew an assassin in Ireland who professed that during twelve years of practice in Tipperary he had never failed when he had once engaged himself. For truth and honesty to their customers—which are great virtues—I would bracket that man and Mr. Chaffanbrass together.
And then the judge commenced his charge, and as he went on with it he repeated all the evidence that was in any way of moment, pulling the details to pieces, and dividing that which bore upon the subject from that which did not. This he did with infinite talent and with a perspicuity beyond all praise. But to my thinking it was remarkable that he seemed to regard the witnesses as a dissecting surgeon may be supposed to regard the subjects on which he operates for the advancement of science. With exquisite care he displayed what each had said and how the special saying of one bore on that special saying of another. But he never spoke of them as though they had been live men and women who were themselves as much entitled to justice at his hands as either the prosecutor in this matter or she who was being prosecuted; who, indeed, if anything, were better entitled unless he could show that they were false and suborned; for unless they were suborned or false they were there doing a painful duty to the public, for which they were to receive no pay and from which they were to obtain no benefit. Of whom else in that court could so much be said? The judge there had his ermine and his canopy, his large salary and his seat of honour. And the lawyers had their wigs, and their own loud voices, and their places of precedence. The attorneys had their seats and their big tables, and the somewhat familiar respect of the tipstaves. The jury, though not much to be envied, were addressed with respect and flattery, had their honourable seats, and were invariably at least called gentlemen. But why should there be no seat of honour for the witnesses? To stand in a box, to be bawled after by the police, to be scowled at and scolded by the judge, to be browbeaten and accused falsely by the barristers, and then to be condemned as perjurers by the jury,—that is the fate of the one person who during the whole trial is perhaps entitled to the greatest respect, and is certainly entitled to the most public gratitude. Let the witness have a big arm-chair, and a canopy over him, and a man behind him with a red cloak to do him honour and keep the flies off; let him be gently invited to come forward from some inner room where he can sit before a fire. Then he will be able to speak out, making himself heard without scolding, and will perhaps be able to make a fair fight with the cocks who can crow so loudly on their own dunghills.
The judge in this case did his work with admirable skill, blowing aside the froth of Mr. Furnival's eloquence, and upsetting the sophistry and false deductions of Mr. Chaffanbrass. The case for the jury, as he said, hung altogether upon the evidence of Kenneby and the woman Bolster. As far as he could see, the evidence of Dockwrath had little to do with it; and alleged malice and greed on the part of Dockwrath could have nothing to do with it. The jury might take it as proved that Lady Mason at the former trial had sworn that she had been present when her husband signed the codicil and had seen the different signatures affixed to it. They might also take it as proved, that that other deed,—the deed purporting to close a partnership between Sir Joseph Mason and Mr. Martock,—had been executed on the 14th of July, and that it had been signed by Sir Joseph, and also by those two surviving witnesses, Kenneby and Bolster. The question, therefore, for the consideration of the jury had narrowed itself to this: had two deeds been executed by Sir Joseph Mason, both bearing the same date? If this had not been done, and if that deed with reference to the partnership were a true deed, then must the other be false and fraudulent; and if false and fraudulent, then must Lady Mason have sworn falsely, and been guilty of that perjury with which she was now charged. There might, perhaps, be one loophole to this argument by which an escape was possible. Though both deeds bore the date of 14th July, there might have been error in this. It was possible, though no doubt singular, that that date should have been inserted in the partnership deed, and the deed itself be executed afterwards. But then the woman Bolster told them that she had been called to act as witness but once in her life, and if they believed her in that statement, the possibility of error as to the date would be of little or no avail on behalf of Lady Mason. For himself, he could not say that adequate ground had been shown for charging Bolster with swearing falsely. No doubt she had been obstinate in her method of giving her testimony, but that might have arisen from an honest resolution on her part not to allow herself to be shaken. The value of her testimony must, however, be judged by the jury themselves. As regarded Kenneby, he must say that the man had been very stupid. No one who had heard him would accuse him for a moment of having intended to swear falsely, but the jury might perhaps think that the testimony of such a man could not be taken as having much value with reference to circumstances which happened more than twenty years since.
The charge took over two hours, but the substance of it has been stated. Then the jury retired to consider their verdict, and the judge, and the barristers, and some other jury proceeded to the business of some other and less important trial. Lady Mason and Mrs. Orme sat for a while in their seats—perhaps for a space of twenty minutes—and then, as the jury did not at once return into court, they retired to the sitting-room in which they had first been placed. Here Mr. Aram accompanied them, and here they were of course met by Peregrine Orme.
"His lordship's charge was very good—very good, indeed," said Mr. Aram.
"Was it?" asked Peregrine.
"And very much in our favour," continued the attorney.
"You think then," said Mrs. Orme, looking up into his face, "you think that—" But she did not know how to go on with her question.
"Yes, I do. I think we shall have a verdict; I do, indeed. I would not say so before Lady Mason if my opinion was not very strong. The jury may disagree. That is not improbable. But I cannot anticipate that the verdict will be against us."
There was some comfort in this; but how wretched was the nature of the comfort! Did not the attorney, in every word which he spoke, declare his own conviction of his client's guilt. Even Peregrine Orme could not say out boldly that he felt sure of an acquittal because no other verdict could be justly given. And then why was not Mr. Furnival there, taking his friend by the hand and congratulating her that her troubles were so nearly over? Mr. Furnival at this time did not come near her; and had he done so, what could he have said to her?
He and Sir Richard Leatherham left the court together, and the latter went at once back to London without waiting to hear the verdict. Mr. Chaffanbrass also, and Felix Graham retired from the scene of their labours, and as they did so, a few words were spoken between them.
"Mr. Graham," said the ancient hero of the Old Bailey, "you are too great for this kind of work I take it. If I were you, I would keep out of it for the future."
"I am very much of the same way of thinking, Mr. Chaffanbrass," said the other.
"If a man undertakes a duty, he should do it. That's my opinion, though I confess it's a little old fashioned; especially if he takes money for it, Mr. Graham." And then the old man glowered at him with his fierce eyes, and nodded his head and went on. What could Graham say to him? His answer would have been ready enough had there been time or place in which to give it. But he had no answer ready which was fit for the crowded hall of the court-house, and so Mr. Chaffanbrass went on his way. He will now pass out of our sight, and we will say of him, that he did his duty well according to his lights.
There, in that little room, sat Lady Mason and Mrs. Orme till late in the evening, and there, with them, remained Peregrine. Some sort of refreshment was procured for them, but of the three days they passed in the court, that, perhaps, was the most oppressive. There was no employment for them, and then the suspense was terrible! That suspense became worse and worse as the hours went on, for it was clear that at any rate some of the jury were anxious to give a verdict against her. "They say that there's eight and four," said Mr. Aram, at one of the many visits which he made to them; "but there's no saying how true that may be."
"Eight and four!" said Peregrine.
"Eight to acquit, and four for guilty," said Aram. "If so, we're safe, at any rate, till the next assizes."
But it was not fated that Lady Mason should be sent away from the court in doubt. At eight o'clock Mr. Aram came to them, hot with haste, and told them that the jury had sent for the judge. The judge had gone home to his dinner, but would return to court at once when he heard that the jury had agreed.
"And must we go into court again?" said Mrs. Orme.
"Lady Mason must do so."
"Then of course I shall go with her. Are you ready now, dear?"
Lady Mason was unable to speak, but she signified that she was ready, and then they went into court. The jury were already in the box, and as the two ladies took their seats, the judge entered. But few of the gas-lights were lit, so that they in the court could hardly see each other, and the remaining ceremony did not take five minutes.
"Not guilty, my lord," said the foreman. Then the verdict was recorded, and the judge went back to his dinner. Joseph Mason and Dockwrath were present and heard the verdict. I will leave the reader to imagine with what an appetite they returned to their chamber.
I LOVE HER STILL
It was all over now, and as Lucius had said to his mother, there was nothing left for them but to go and hide themselves. The verdict had reached him before his mother's return, and on the moment of his hearing it he sat down and commenced the following letter to Mr. Furnival:—
Orley Farm, March —, 18—.
I beg to thank you, in my mother's name, for your great exertions in the late trial. I must acknowledge that I have been wrong in thinking that you gave her bad advice, and am now convinced that you acted with the best judgment on her behalf. May I beg that you will add to your great kindness by inducing the gentlemen who undertook the management of the case as my mother's attorneys to let me know as soon as possible in what sum I am indebted to them?
I believe I need trouble you with no preamble as to my reasons when I tell you that I have resolved to abandon immediately any title that I may have to the possession of Orley Farm, and to make over the property at once, in any way that may be most efficacious, to my half-brother, Mr. Joseph Mason, of Groby Park. I so strongly feel the necessity of doing this at once, without even a day's delay, that I shall take my mother to lodgings in London to-morrow, and shall then decide on what steps it may be best that we shall take. My mother will be in possession of about L200 a year, subject to such deduction as the cost of the trial may make from it.
I hope that you will not think that I intrude upon you too far when I ask you to communicate with my brother's lawyers on the subject of this surrender. I do not know how else to do it; and of course you will understand that I wish to screen my mother's name as much as may be in my power with due regard to honesty. I hope I need not insist on the fact,—for it is a fact,—that nothing will change my purpose as to this. If I cannot have it done through you, I must myself go to Mr. Round. I am, moreover, aware that in accordance with strict justice my brother should have upon me a claim for the proceeds of the estate since the date of our father's death. If he wishes it I will give him such claim, making myself his debtor by any form that may be legal. He must, however, in such case be made to understand that his claim will be against a beggar; but, nevertheless, it may suit his views to have such a claim upon me. I cannot think that, under the circumstances, I should be justified in calling on my mother to surrender her small income; but should you be of a different opinion, it shall be done.
I write thus to you at once as I think that not a day should be lost. I will trouble you with another line from London, to let you know what is our immediate address.
Pray believe me to be Yours, faithfully and obliged,
T. Furnival, Esq., Old Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields.
As soon as he had completed this letter, which was sufficiently good for its purpose, and clearly explained what was the writer's will on the subject of it, he wrote another, which I do not think was equally efficacious. The second was addressed to Miss Furnival, and being a love letter, was not so much within the scope of the writer's peculiar powers.
I hardly know how to address you; or what I should tell you or what conceal. Were we together, and was that promise renewed which you once gave me, I should tell you all;—but this I cannot do by letter. My mother's trial is over, and she is acquitted; but that which I have learned during the trial has made me feel that I am bound to relinquish to my brother-in-law all my title to Orley Farm, and I have already taken the first steps towards doing so. Yes, Sophia, I am now a beggar on the face of the world. I have nothing belonging to me, save those powers of mind and body which God has given me; and I am, moreover, a man oppressed with a terribly heavy load of grief. For some short time I must hide myself with my mother; and then, when I shall have been able to brace my mind to work, I shall go forth and labour in whatever field may be open to me.
But before I go, Sophia, I wish to say a word of farewell to you, that I may understand on what terms we part. Of course I make no claim. I am aware that that which I now tell you must be held as giving you a valid excuse for breaking any contract that there may have been between us. But, nevertheless, I have hope. That I love you very dearly I need hardly now say; and I still venture to think that the time may come when I shall again prove myself to be worthy of your hand. If you have ever loved me you cannot cease to do so merely because I am unfortunate; and if you love me still, perhaps you will consent to wait. If you will do so,—if you will say that I am rich in that respect,—I shall go to my banishment not altogether a downcast man.
May I say that I am still your own
No; he decidedly might not say so. But as the letter was not yet finished when his mother and Mrs. Orme returned, I will not anticipate matters by giving Miss Furnival's reply.
Mrs. Orme came back that night to Orley Farm, but without the intention of remaining there. Her task was over, and it would be well that she should return to The Cleeve. Her task was over; and as the hour must come in which she would leave the mother in the hands of her son, the present hour would be as good as any.
They again went together to the room which they had shared for the last night or two, and there they parted. They had not been there long when the sound of wheels was heard on the gravel, and Mrs. Orme got up from her seat. "There is Peregrine with the carriage," said she.
"And you are going?" said Lady Mason.
"If I could do you good, I would stay," said Mrs. Orme.
"No, no; of course you must go. Oh, my darling, oh, my friend," and she threw herself into the other's arms.
"Of course I will write to you," said Mrs. Orme. "I will do so regularly."
"May God bless you for ever. But it is needless to ask for blessings on such as you. You are blessed."
"And you too;—if you will turn to Him you will be blessed."
"Ah me. Well, I can try now. I feel that I can at any rate try."
"And none who try ever fail. And now, dear, good-bye."
"Good-bye, my angel. But, Mrs. Orme, I have one word I must first say; a message that I must send to him. Tell him this, that never in my life have I loved any man as well as I have loved him and as I do love him. That on my knees I beg his pardon for the wrong I have done him."
"But he knows how great has been your goodness to him."
"When the time came I was not quite a devil to drag him down with me to utter destruction!"
"He will always remember what was your conduct then."
"But tell him, that though I loved him, and though I loved you with all my heart,—with all my heart, I knew through it all, as I know now, that I was not a fitting friend for him or you. No; do not interrupt me, I always knew it; and though it was so sweet to me to see your faces, I would have kept away; but that he would not have it. I came to him to assist me because he was great and strong, and he took me to his bosom with his kindness, till I destroyed his strength; though his greatness nothing can destroy."
"No, no; he does not think that you have injured him."
"But tell him what I say; and tell him that a poor bruised, broken creature, who knows at least her own vileness, will pray for him night and morning. And now good-bye. Of my heart towards you I cannot speak."
"Good-bye then, and, Lady Mason, never despair. There is always room for hope; and where there is hope there need not be unhappiness."
Then they parted, and Mrs. Orme went down to her son.
"Mother, the carriage is here," he said.
"Yes, I heard it. Where is Lucius? Good-bye, Mr. Mason."
"God bless you, Mrs. Orme. Believe me I know how good you have been to us."
As she gave him her hand, she spoke a few words to him. "My last request to you, Mr. Mason, is to beg that you will be tender to your mother."
"I will do my best, Mrs. Orme."
"All her sufferings and your own, have come from her great love for you."
"That I know and feel, but had her ambition for me been less it would have been better for both of us." And there he stood bare-headed at the door while Peregrine Orme handed his mother into the carriage. Thus Mrs. Orme took her last leave of Orley Farm, and was parted from the woman she had loved with so much truth and befriended with so much loyalty.
Very few words were spoken in the carriage between Peregrine and his mother while they were being taken back through Hamworth to The Cleeve. To Peregrine the whole matter was unintelligible. He knew that the verdict had been in favour of Lady Mason, and yet there had been no signs of joy at Orley Farm, or even of contentment. He had heard also from Lucius, while they had been together for a few minutes, that Orley Farm was to be given up.
"You'll let it I suppose," Peregrine had asked.
"It will not be mine to let. It will belong to my brother," Lucius had answered. Then Peregrine had asked no further question; nor had Lucius offered any further information.
But his mother, as he knew, was worn out with the work she had done, and at the present moment he felt that the subject was one which would hardly bear questions. So he sat by her side in silence; and before the carriage had reached The Cleeve his mind had turned away from the cares and sorrows of Lady Mason, and was once more at Noningsby. After all, as he said to himself, who could be worse off than he was. He had nothing to hope.
They found Sir Peregrine standing in the hall to receive them, and Mrs. Orme, though she had been absent only three days, could not but perceive the havoc which this trial had made upon him. It was not that the sufferings of those three days had broken him down, but that now, after that short absence, she was able to perceive how great had been upon him the effect of his previous sufferings. He had never held up his head since the day on which Lady Mason had made to him her first confession. Up to that time he had stood erect, and though as he walked his steps had shown that he was no longer young, he had walked with a certain air of strength and manly bearing. Till Lady Mason had come to The Cleeve no one would have said that Sir Peregrine looked as though his energy and life had passed away. But now, as he put his arm round his daughter's waist, and stooped down to kiss her cheek, he was a worn-out, tottering old man.
During these three days he had lived almost altogether alone, and had been ashamed to show to those around him the intense interest which he felt in the result of the trial. His grandson had on each day breakfasted alone, and had left the house before his grandfather was out of his room; and on each evening he had returned late,—as he now returned with his mother,—and had dined alone. Then he had sat with his grandfather for an hour or two, and had been constrained to talk over the events of the day without being allowed to ask Sir Peregrine's opinion as to Lady Mason's innocence or to express his own. These three days had been dreadful to Sir Peregrine. He had not left the house, but had crept about from room to room, ever and again taking up some book or paper and putting it down unread, as his mind reverted to the one subject which now for him bore any interest. On the second of these three days a note had been brought to him from his old friend Lord Alston. "Dear Orme," the note had run, "I am not quite happy as I think of the manner in which we parted the other day. If I offended in any degree, I send this as a peacemaker, and beg to shake your hand heartily. Let me have a line from you to say that it is all right between us. Neither you nor I can afford to lose an old friend at our time of life. Yours always, Alston." But Sir Peregrine had not answered it. Lord Alston's servant had been dismissed with a promise that an answer should be sent, but at the end of the three days it had not yet been written. His mind indeed was still sore towards Lord Alston. The counsel which his old friend had given him was good and true, but it had been neglected, and its very truth and excellence now made the remembrance of it unpalatable. He had, nevertheless, intended to write; but the idea of such exertion from hour to hour had become more distressing to him.
He had of course heard of Lady Mason's acquittal; and indeed tidings of the decision to which the jury had come went through the country very quickly. There is a telegraphic wire for such tidings which has been very long in use, and which, though always used, is as yet but very little understood. How is it that information will spread itself quicker than men can travel, and make its way like water into all parts of the world? It was known all through the country that night that Lady Mason was acquitted; and before the next night it was as well known that she had acknowledged her guilt by giving up the property.
Little could be said as to the trial while Peregrine remained in the room with his mother and his grandfather; but this he had the tact to perceive, and soon left them together. "I shall see you, mother, up stairs before you go to bed," he said as he sauntered out.
"But you must not keep her up," said his grandfather. "Remember all that she has gone through." With this injunction he went off, and as he sat alone in his mother's room he tried to come to some resolution as to Noningsby. He knew he had no ground for hope;—no chance, as he would have called it. And if so, would it not be better that he should take himself off? Nevertheless he would go to Noningsby once more. He would not be such a coward but that he would wish her good-bye before he went, and hear the end of it all from her own lips.
When he had left the room Lady Mason's last message was given to Sir Peregrine. "Poor soul, poor soul!" he said, as Mrs. Orme began her story. "Her son knows it all then now."
"I told him last night,—with her consent; so that he should not go into the court to-day. It would have been very bad, you know, if they had—found her guilty."
"Yes, yes; very bad—very bad indeed. Poor creature! And so you told him. How did he bear it?"
"On the whole, well. At first he would not believe me."
"As for me, I could not have done it. I could not have told him."
"Yes, sir, you would;—you would, if it had been required of you."
"I think it would have killed me. But a woman can do things for which a man's courage would never be sufficient. And he bore it manfully."
"He was very stern."
"Yes;—and he will be stern. Poor soul!—I pity her from my very heart. But he will not desert her; he will do his duty by her."
"I am sure he will. In that respect he is a good young man."
"Yes, my dear. He is one of those who seem by nature created to bear adversity. No trouble or sorrow would I think crush him. But had prosperity come to him, it would have made him odious to all around him. You were not present when they met?"
"No—I thought it better to leave them."
"Yes, yes. And he will give up the place at once."
"To-morrow he will do so. In that at any rate he has true spirit. To-morrow early they will go to London, and she I suppose will never see Orley Farm again." And then Mrs. Orme gave Sir Peregrine that last message.—"I tell you everything as she told me," Mrs. Orme said, seeing how deeply he was affected. "Perhaps I am wrong."
"No, no, no," he said.
"Coming at such a moment, her words seemed to be almost sacred."
"They are sacred. They shall be sacred. Poor soul, poor soul!"
"She did a great crime."
"But if a crime can be forgiven,—can be excused on account of its motives—"
"It cannot, my dear. Nothing can be forgiven on that ground."
"No; we know that; we all feel sure of that. But yet how can one help loving her? For myself, I shall love her always."
"And I also love her." And then the old man made his confession. "I loved her well;—better than I had ever thought to love any one again, but you and Perry. I loved her very dearly, and felt that I should have been proud to have called her my wife. How beautiful she was in her sorrow, when we thought that her life had been pure and good!"
"And it had been good,—for many years past."
"No; for the stolen property was still there. But yet how graceful she was, and how well her sorrows sat upon her! What might she not have done had the world used her more kindly, and not sent in her way that sore temptation! She was a woman for a man to have loved to madness."
"And yet how little can she have known of love!"
"I loved her." And as the old man said so he rose to his feet with some show of his old energy. "I loved her,—with all my heart! It is foolish for an old man so to say; but I did love her; nay, I love her still. But that I knew that it would be wrong,—for your sake, and for Perry's—" And then he stopped himself, as though he would fain hear what she might say to him.
"Yes; it is all over now," she said in the softest, sweetest, lowest voice. She knew that she was breaking down a last hope, but she knew also that that hope was vain. And then there was silence in the room for some ten minutes' space.
"It is all over," he then said, repeating her last words.
"But you have us still,—Perry and me. Can any one love you better than we do?" And she got up and went over to him and stood by him, and leaned upon him.
"Edith, my love, since you came to my house there has been an angel in it watching over me. I shall know that always; and when I turn my face to the wall, as I soon shall, that shall be my last earthly thought." And so in tears they parted for that night. But the sorrow that was bringing him to his grave came from the love of which he had spoken. It is seldom that a young man may die from a broken heart; but if an old man have a heart still left to him, it is more fragile.
JOHN KENNEBY'S DOOM
On the evening but one after the trial was over Mr. Moulder entertained a few friends to supper at his apartments in Great St. Helen's, and it was generally understood that in doing so he intended to celebrate the triumph of Lady Mason. Through the whole affair he had been a strong partisan on her side, had expressed a very loud opinion in favour of Mr. Furnival, and had hoped that that scoundrel Dockwrath would get all that he deserved from the hands of Mr. Chaffanbrass. When the hour of Mr. Dockwrath's punishment had come he had been hardly contented, but the inadequacy of Kenneby's testimony had restored him to good humour, and the verdict had made him triumphant.
"Didn't I know it, old fellow?" he had said, slapping his friend Snengkeld on the back. "When such a low scoundrel as Dockwrath is pitted against a handsome woman like Lady Mason he'll not find a jury in England to give a verdict in his favour." Then he asked Snengkeld to come to his little supper; and Kantwise also he invited, though Kantwise had shown Dockwrath tendencies throughout the whole affair;—but Moulder was fond of Kantwise as a butt for his own sarcasm. Mrs. Smiley, too, was asked, as was natural, seeing that she was the betrothed bride of one of the heroes of the day; and Moulder, in the kindness of his heart, swore that he never was proud, and told Bridget Bolster that she would be welcome to take a share of what was going.
"Laws, M.," said Mrs. Moulder, when she was told of this. "A chambermaid from an inn! What will Mrs. Smiley say?"
"I ain't going to trouble myself with what Mother Smiley may say or think about my friends. If she don't like it, she may do the other thing. What was she herself when you first knew her?"
"Yes, Moulder; but then money do make a difference, you know."
Bridget Bolster, however, was invited, and she came in spite of the grandeur of Mrs. Smiley. Kenneby also of course was there, but he was not in a happy frame of mind. Since that wretched hour in which he had heard himself described by the judge as too stupid to be held of any account by the jury he had become a melancholy, misanthropic man. The treatment which he received from Mr. Furnival had been very grievous to him, but he had borne with that, hoping that some word of eulogy from the judge would set him right in the public mind. But no such word had come, and poor John Kenneby felt that the cruel hard world was too much for him. He had been with his sister that morning, and words had dropped from him which made her fear that he would wish to postpone his marriage for another space of ten years or so. "Brick-fields!" he had said. "What can such a one as I have to do with landed property? I am better as I am."
Mrs. Smiley, however, did not at all seem to think so, and welcomed John Kenneby back from Alston very warmly in spite of the disgrace to which he had been subjected. It was nothing to her that the judge had called her future lord a fool; nor indeed was it anything to any one but himself. According to Moulder's views it was a matter of course that a witness should be abused. For what other purpose was he had into the court? But deep in the mind of poor Kenneby himself the injurious words lay festering. He had struggled hard to tell the truth, and in doing so had simply proved himself to be an ass. "I ain't fit to live with anybody else but myself," he said to himself, as he walked down Bishopsgate Street.
At this time Mrs. Smiley was not yet there. Bridget had arrived, and had been seated in a chair at one corner of the fire. Mrs. Moulder occupied one end of a sofa opposite, leaving the place of honour at the other end for Mrs. Smiley. Moulder sat immediately in front of the fire in his own easy chair, and Snengkeld and Kantwise were on each side of him. They were of course discussing the trial when Mrs. Smiley was announced; and it was well that she made a diversion by her arrival, for words were beginning to run high.
"A jury of her countrymen has found her innocent," Moulder had said with much heat; "and any one who says she's guilty after that is a libeller and a coward, to my way of thinking. If a jury of her countrymen don't make a woman innocent, what does?"
"Of course she's innocent," said Snengkeld; "from the very moment the words was spoken by the foreman. If any newspaper was to say she wasn't she'd have her action."
"That's all very well," said Kantwise, looking up to the ceiling with his eyes nearly shut. "But you'll see. What'll you bet me, Mr. Moulder, that Joseph Mason don't get the property?"
"Gammon!" answered Moulder.
"Well, it may be gammon; but you'll see."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" said Mrs. Smiley, sailing into the room; "upon my word one hears all you say ever so far down the street."
"And I didn't care if they heard it right away to the Mansion House," said Moulder. "We ain't talking treason, nor yet highway robbery."
Then Mrs. Smiley was welcomed;—her bonnet was taken from her and her umbrella, and she was encouraged to spread herself out over the sofa. "Oh, Mrs. Bolster; the witness!" she said, when Mrs. Moulder went through some little ceremony of introduction. And from the tone of her voice it appeared that she was not quite satisfied that Mrs. Bolster should be there as a companion for herself.
"Yes, ma'am. I was the witness as had never signed but once," said Bridget, getting up and curtsying. Then she sat down again, folding her hands one over the other on her lap.
"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Smiley. "But where's the other witness, Mrs. Moulder? He's the one who is a deal more interesting to me. Ha, ha, ha! But as you all know it here, what's the good of not telling the truth? Ha, ha, ha!"
"John's here," said Mrs. Moulder. "Come, John, why don't you show yourself?"
"He's just alive, and that's about all you can say for him," said Moulder.
"Why, what's there been to kill him?" said Mrs. Smiley. "Well, John, I must say you're rather backward in coming forward, considering what there's been between us. You might have come and taken my shawl, I'm thinking."
"Yes, I might," said Kenneby gloomily. "I hope I see you pretty well, Mrs. Smiley."
"Pretty bobbish, thank you. Only I think it might have been Maria between friends like us."
"He's sadly put about by this trial," whispered Mrs. Moulder. "You know he is so tender-hearted that he can't bear to be put upon like another."
"But you didn't want her to be found guilty; did you, John?"
"That I'm sure he didn't," said Moulder. "Why it was the way he gave his evidence that brought her off."
"It wasn't my wish to bring her off," said Kenneby; "nor was it my wish to make her guilty. All I wanted was to tell the truth and do my duty. But it was no use. I believe it never is any use."
"I think you did very well," said Moulder.
"I'm sure Lady Mason ought to be very much obliged to you," said Kantwise.
"Nobody needn't care for what's said to them in a court," said Snengkeld. "I remember when once they wanted to make out that I'd taken a parcel of teas—"
"Stolen, you mean, sir," suggested Mrs. Smiley.
"Yes; stolen. But it was only done by the opposite side in court, and I didn't think a halfporth of it. They knew where the teas was well enough."
"Speaking for myself," said Kenneby, "I must say I don't like it."
"But the paper as we signed," said Bridget, "wasn't the old gentleman's will,—no more than this is;" and she lifted up her apron. "I'm rightly sure of that."
Then again the battle raged hot and furious, and Moulder became angry with his guest, Bridget Bolster. Kantwise finding himself supported in his views by the principal witness at the trial took heart against the tyranny of Moulder and expressed his opinion, while Mrs. Smiley, with a woman's customary dislike to another woman, sneered ill-naturedly at the idea of Lady Mason's innocence. Poor Kenneby had been forced to take the middle seat on the sofa between his bride and sister; but it did not appear that the honour of his position had any effect in lessening his gloom or mitigating the severity of the judgment which had been passed on him.
"Wasn't the old gentleman's will!" said Moulder, turning on poor Bridget in his anger with a growl. "But I say it was the old gentleman's will. You never dared say as much as that in court."
"I wasn't asked," said Bridget.
"You weren't asked! Yes, you was asked often enough."
"I'll tell you what it is," said Kantwise, "Mrs. Bolster's right in what she says as sure as your name's Moulder."
"Then as sure as my name's Moulder she's wrong. I suppose we're to think that a chap like you knows more about it than the jury! We all know who your friend is in the matter. I haven't forgot our dinner at Leeds, nor sha'n't in a hurry."
"Now, John," said Mrs. Smiley, "nobody can know the truth of this so well as you do. You've been as close as wax, as was all right till the lady was out of her troubles. That's done and over, and let us hear among friends how the matter really was." And then there was silence among them in order that his words might come forth freely.
"Come, my dear," said Mrs. Smiley with a tone of encouraging love. "There can't be any harm now; can there?"
"Out with it, John," said Moulder. "You're honest, anyways."
"There ain't no gammon about you," said Snengkeld.
"Mr. Kenneby can speak if he likes, no doubt," said Kantwise; "though maybe it mayn't be very pleasant to him to do so after all that's come and gone."
"There's nothing that's come and gone that need make our John hold his tongue," said Mrs. Moulder. "He mayn't be just as bright as some of those lawyers, but he's a deal more true-hearted."
"But he can't say as how it was the old gentleman's will as we signed. I'm well assured of that," said Bridget.
But Kenneby, though thus called upon by the united strength of the company to solve all their doubts, still remained silent. "Come, lovey," said Mrs. Smiley, putting forth her hand and giving his arm a tender squeeze.
"If you've anything to say to clear that woman's character," said Moulder, "you owe it to society to say it; because she is a woman, and because her enemies is villains." And then again there was silence while they waited for him.
"I think it will go with him to his grave," said Mrs. Smiley, very solemnly.
"I shouldn't wonder," said Snengkeld.
"Then he must give up all idea of taking a wife," said Moulder.
"He won't do that I'm sure," said Mrs. Smiley.
"That he won't. Will you, John?" said his sister.
"There's no knowing what may happen to me in this world," said Kenneby, "but sometimes I almost think I ain't fit to live in it, along with anybody else."
"You'll make him fit, won't you, my dear?" said Mrs. Moulder.
"I don't exactly know what to say about it," said Mrs. Smiley. "If Mr. Kenneby ain't willing, I'm not the woman to bind him to his word, because I've had his promise over and over again, and could prove it by a number of witnesses before any jury in the land. I'm an independent woman as needn't be beholden to any man, and I should never think of damages. Smiley left me comfortable before all the world, and I don't know but what I'm a fool to think of changing. Anyways if Mr. Kenneby—"
"Come, John. Why don't you speak to her?" said Mrs. Moulder.
"And what am I to say?" said Kenneby, thrusting himself forth from between the ample folds of the two ladies' dresses. "I'm a blighted man; one on whom the finger of scorn has been pointed. His lordship said that I was—stupid; and perhaps I am."
"She don't think nothing of that, John."
"Certainly not," said Mrs. Smiley.
"As long as a man can pay twenty shillings in the pound and a trifle over, what does it matter if all the judges in the land was to call him stupid?" said Snengkeld.
"Stupid is as stupid does," said Kantwise.
"Stupid be d——," said Moulder.
"Mr. Moulder, there's ladies present," said Mrs. Smiley.
"Come, John, rouse yourself a bit," said his sister. "Nobody here thinks the worse of you for what the judge said."
"Certainly not," said Mrs. Smiley. "And as it becomes me to speak, I'll say my mind. I'm accustomed to speak freely before friends, and as we are all friends here, why should I be ashamed?"
"For the matter of that nobody says you are," said Moulder.
"And I don't mean, Mr. Moulder. Why should I? I can pay my way, and do what I like with my own, and has people to mind me when I speak, and needn't mind nobody else myself;—and that's more than everybody can say. Here's John Kenneby and I, is engaged as man and wife. He won't say as it's not so, I'll be bound."
"No," said Kenneby, "I'm engaged I know."
"When I accepted John Kenneby's hand and heart,—and well I remember the beauteous language in which he expressed his feelings, and always shall,—I told him, that I respected him as a man that would do his duty by a woman, though perhaps he mightn't be so cute in the way of having much to say for himself as some others. 'What's the good,' said I, 'of a man's talking, if so be he's ashamed to meet the baker at the end of the week?' So I listened to the vows he made me, and have considered that he and I was as good as one. Now that he's been put upon by them lawyers, I'm not the woman to turn my back upon him."
"That you're not," said Moulder.
"No I ain't, Mr. Moulder, and so, John, there's my hand again, and you're free to take it if you like." And so saying she put forth her hand almost into his lap.
"Take it, John!" said Mrs. Moulder. But poor Kenneby himself did not seem to be very quick in availing himself of the happiness offered to him. He did raise his right arm slightly; but then he hesitated, and allowed it to fall again between him and his sister.
"Come, John, you know you mean it," said Mrs. Moulder. And then with both her hands she lifted his, and placed it bodily within the grasp of Mrs. Smiley's, which was still held forth to receive it.
"I know I'm engaged," said Kenneby.
"There's no mistake about it," said Moulder.
"There needn't be none," said Mrs. Smiley, softly blushing; "and I will say this of myself—as I have been tempted to give a promise, I'm not the woman to go back from my word. There's my hand, John; and I don't care though all the world hears me say so." And then they sat hand in hand for some seconds, during which poor Kenneby was unable to escape from the grasp of his bride elect. One may say that all chance of final escape for him was now gone by.
"But he can't say as how it was the old gentlemen's will as we signed," said Bridget, breaking the silence which ensued.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen," said Kantwise, "as Mrs. Bolster has come back to that matter, I'll tell you something that will surprise you. My friend Mr. Moulder here, who is as hospitable a gentleman as I know anywhere wouldn't just let me speak before."
"That's gammon, Kantwise. I never hindered you from speaking."
"How I do hate that word. If you knew my aversion, Mr. Moulder—"
"I can't pick my words for you, old fellow."
"But what were you going to tell us, Mr. Kantwise?" said Mrs. Smiley.
"Something that will make all your hairs stand on end, I think." And then he paused and looked round upon them all. It was at this moment that Kenneby succeeded in getting his hand once more to himself. "Something that will surprise you all, or I'm very much mistaken. Lady Mason has confessed her guilt."
He had surprised them all. "You don't say so," exclaimed Mrs. Moulder.
"Confessed her guilt," said Mrs. Smiley. "But what guilt, Mr. Kantwise?"
"She forged the will," said Kantwise.
"I knew that all along," said Bridget Bolster.
"I'm d—— if I believe it," said Moulder.
"You can do as you like about that," said Kantwise; "but she has. And I'll tell you what's more: she and young Mason have already left Orley Farm and given it all up into Joseph Mason's hands."
"But didn't she get a verdict?" asked Snengkeld.
"Yes, she got a verdict. There's no doubt on earth about that."
"Then it's my opinion she can't make herself guilty if she wished it; and as for the property, she can't give it up. The jury has found a verdict, and nobody can go beyond that. If anybody tries she'll have her action against 'em." That was the law as laid down by Snengkeld.
"I don't believe a word of it," said Moulder. "Dockwrath has told him. I'll bet a hat that Kantwise got it from Dockwrath."
It turned out that Kantwise had received his information from Dockwrath; but nevertheless, there was that in his manner, and in the nature of the story as it was told to them, that did produce belief. Moulder for a long time held out, but it became clear at last that even he was shaken; and now, even Kenneby acknowledged his conviction that the signature to the will was not his own.
"I know'd very well that I never did it twice," said Bridget Bolster triumphantly, as she sat down to the supper table.
I am inclined to think, that upon the whole the company in Great St. Helen's became more happy as the conviction grew upon them that a great and mysterious crime had been committed, which had baffled two courts of law, and had at last thrust itself forth into the open daylight through the workings of the criminal's conscience. When Kantwise had completed his story, the time had come in which it behoved Mrs. Moulder to descend to the lower regions, and give some aid in preparation of the supper. During her absence the matter was discussed in every way, and on her return, when she was laden with good things, she found that all the party was contented except Moulder and her brother.
"It's a very terrible thing," said Mrs. Smiley, later in the evening, as she sat with her steaming glass of rum and water before her. "Very terrible indeed; ain't it, John? I do wish now I'd gone down and see'd her, I do indeed. Don't you, Mrs. Moulder?"
"If all this is true I should like just to have had a peep at her."
"At any rate we shall have pictures of her in all the papers," said Mrs. Smiley.
THE LAST OF THE LAWYERS
"I should have done my duty by you, Mr. Mason, which those men have not, and you would at this moment have been the owner of Orley Farm."
It will easily be known that these words were spoken by Mr. Dockwrath, and that they were addressed to Joseph Mason. The two men were seated together in Mr. Mason's lodgings at Alston, late on the morning after the verdict had been given, and Mr. Dockwrath was speaking out his mind with sufficient freedom. On the previous evening he had been content to put up with the misery of the unsuccessful man, and had not added any reproaches of his own. He also had been cowed by the verdict, and the two had been wretched and crestfallen together. But the attorney since that had slept upon the matter, and had bethought himself that he at any rate would make out his little bill. He could show that Mr. Mason had ruined their joint affairs by his adherence to those London attorneys. Had Mr. Mason listened to the advice of his new adviser all would have been well. So at least Dockwrath was prepared to declare, finding that by so doing he would best pave the way for his own important claim.
But Mr. Mason was not a man to be bullied with tame endurance. "The firm bears the highest name in the profession, sir," he said; "and I had just grounds for trusting them."
"And what has come of your just grounds, Mr. Mason? Where are you? That's the question. I say that Round and Crook have thrown you over. They have been hand and glove with old Furnival through the whole transaction; and I'll tell you what's more, Mr. Mason. I told you how it would be from the beginning."
"I'll move for a new trial."
"A new trial; and this a criminal prosecution! She's free of you now for ever, and Orley Farm will belong to that son of hers till he chooses to sell it. It's a pity; that's all. I did my duty by you in a professional way, Mr. Mason; and you won't put the loss on my shoulders."
"I've been robbed;—damnably robbed, that's all that I know."
"There's no mistake on earth about that, Mr. Mason; you have been robbed; and the worst of it is, the costs will be so heavy! You'll be going down to Yorkshire soon I suppose, sir."
"I don't know where I shall go!" said the squire of Groby, not content to be cross-questioned by the attorney from Hamworth.
"Because it's as well, I suppose, that we should settle something about the costs before you leave. I don't want to press for my money exactly now, but I shall be glad to know when I'm to get it."
"If you have any claim on me, Mr. Dockwrath, you can send it to Mr. Round."
"If I have any claim! What do you mean by that, sir? And I shall send nothing in to Mr. Round. I have had quite enough of Mr. Round already. I told you from the beginning, Mr. Mason, that I would have nothing to do with this affair as connected with Mr. Round. I have devoted myself entirely to this matter since you were pleased to engage my services at Groby Park. It is not by my fault that you have failed. I think, Mr. Mason, you will do me the justice to acknowledge that." And then Dockwrath was silent for a moment, as though waiting for an answer.
"I have nothing to say upon the subject, Mr. Dockwrath," said Mason.
"But, by heaven, something must be said. That won't do at all, Mr. Mason. I presume you do not think that I have been working like a slave for the last four months for nothing."
Mr. Mason was in truth an honest man, and did not wish that any one should work on his account for nothing;—much less did he wish that such a one as Dockwrath should do so. But then, on the other side, in his present frame of mind he was by no means willing to yield anything to any one. "I neither deny nor allow your claim, Mr. Dockwrath," said he. "But I shall pay nothing except through my regular lawyers. You can send your account to me if you please, but I shall send it on to Mr. Round without looking at it."
"Oh, that's to be the way, is it? That's your gratitude. Very well, Mr. Mason; I shall now know what to do. And I think you'll find—"
Here Mr. Dockwrath was interrupted by the lodging-house servant, who brought in a note for Mr. Mason. It was from Mr. Furnival, and the girl who delivered it said that the gentleman's messenger was waiting for an answer.
"SIR," said the note,
A communication has been made to me this morning on the part of your brother, Mr. Lucius Mason, which may make it desirable that I should have an interview with you. If not inconvenient to you, I would ask you to meet me to-morrow morning at eleven o'clock at the chambers of your own lawyer, Mr. Round, in Bedford Row. I have already seen Mr. Round, and find that he can meet us.
I am, sir, Your very obedient servant,
J. Mason, Esq., J.P. (of Groby Park).
Mr. Furnival when he wrote this note had already been over to Orley Farm, and had seen Lucius Mason. He had been at the farm almost before daylight, and had come away with the assured conviction that the property must be abandoned by his client.
"We need not talk about it, Mr. Furnival," Lucius had said. "It must be so."
"You have discussed the matter with your mother?"
"No discussion is necessary, but she is quite aware of my intention. She is prepared to leave the place—for ever."
"But the income—"
"Belongs to my brother Joseph. Mr. Furnival, I think you may understand that the matter is one in which it is necessary that I should act, but as to which I trust I may not have to say many words. If you cannot arrange this for me, I must go to Mr. Round."
Of course Mr. Furnival did understand it all. His client had been acquitted, and he had triumphed; but he had known for many a long day that the estate did belong of right to Mr. Mason of Groby; and though he had not suspected that Lucius would have been so told, he could not be surprised at the result of such telling. It was clear to him that Lady Mason had confessed, and that restitution would therefore be made.
"I will do your bidding," said he.
"And, Mr. Furnival,—if it be possible, spare my mother." Then the meeting was over, and Mr. Furnival returning to Hamworth wrote his note to Mr. Joseph Mason.
Mr. Dockwrath had been interrupted by the messenger in the middle of his threat, but he caught the name of Furnival as the note was delivered. Then he watched Mr. Mason as he read it and read it again.
"If you please, sir, I was to wait for an answer," said the girl.
Mr. Mason did not know what answer it would behove him to give. He felt that he was among Philistines while dealing with all these lawyers, and yet he was at a loss in what way to reply to one without leaning upon another. "Look at that," he said, sulkily handing the note to Dockwrath.
"You must see Mr. Furnival, by all means," said Dockwrath. "But—"
"In your place I should not see him in the presence of Mr. Round,—unless I was attended by an adviser on whom I could rely." Mr. Mason, having given a few moments' consideration to the matter, sat himself down and wrote a line to Mr. Furnival, saying that he would be in Bedford Row at the appointed time.
"I think you are quite right," said Dockwrath.
"But I shall go alone," said Mr. Mason.
"Oh, very well; you will of course judge for yourself. I cannot say what may be the nature of the communication to be made; but if it be anything touching the property, you will no doubt jeopardise your own interests by your imprudence."
"Good morning, Mr. Dockwrath," said Mr. Mason.
"Oh, very well. Good morning, sir. You shall hear from me very shortly, Mr. Mason; and I must say that, considering everything, I do not know that I ever came across a gentleman who behaved himself worse in a peculiar position than you have done in yours." And so they parted.
Punctually at eleven o'clock on the following day Mr. Mason was in Bedford Row. "Mr. Furnival is with Mr. Round," said the clerk, "and will see you in two minutes." Then he was shown into the dingy office waiting-room, where he sat with his hat in his hand, for rather more than two minutes.
At that moment Mr. Round was describing to Mr. Furnival the manner in which he had been visited some weeks since by Sir Peregrine Orme. "Of course, Mr. Furnival, I knew which way the wind blew when I heard that."
"She must have told him everything."
"No doubt, no doubt. At any rate he knew it all."
"And what did you say to him?"
"I promised to hold my tongue;—and I kept my promise. Mat knows nothing about it to this day."
The whole history thus became gradually clear to Mr. Furnival's mind, and he could understand in what manner that marriage had been avoided. Mr. Round also understood it, and the two lawyers confessed together, that though the woman had deserved the punishment which had come upon her, her character was one which might have graced a better destiny. "And now, I suppose, my fortunate client may come in," said Mr. Round. Whereupon the fortunate client was released from his captivity, and brought into the sitting-room of the senior partner.
"Mr. Mason, Mr. Furnival," said the attorney, as soon as he had shaken hands with his client. "You know each other very well by name, gentlemen."
Mr. Mason was very stiff in his bearing and demeanour, but remarked that he had heard of Mr. Furnival before.
"All the world has heard of him," said Mr. Round. "He hasn't hid his light under a bushel." Whereupon Mr. Mason bowed, not quite understanding what was said to him.
"Mr. Mason," began the barrister, "I have a communication to make to you, very singular in its nature, and of great importance. It is one which I believe you will regard as being of considerable importance to yourself, and which is of still higher moment to my—my friend, Lady Mason."
"Lady Mason, sir—" began the other; but Mr. Furnival stopped him.
"Allow me to interrupt you, Mr. Mason. I think it will be better that you should hear me before you commit yourself to any expression as to your relative."
"She is no relative of mine."
"But her son is. However,—if you will allow me, I will go on. Having this communication to make, I thought it expedient for your own sake that it should be done in the presence of your own legal adviser and friend."
"Umph!" grunted the disappointed litigant.
"I have already explained to Mr. Round that which I am about to explain to you, and he was good enough to express himself as satisfied with the step which I am taking."
"Quite so, Mr. Mason. Mr. Furnival is behaving, and I believe has behaved throughout, in a manner becoming the very high position which he holds in his profession."
"I suppose he has done his best on his side," said Mason.
"Undoubtedly I have,—as I should have done on yours, had it so chanced that I had been honoured by holding a brief from your attorneys. But the communication which I am going to make now I make not as a lawyer but as a friend. Mr. Mason, my client Lady Mason, and her son Lucius Mason, are prepared to make over to you the full possession of the estate which they have held under the name of Orley Farm."
The tidings, as so given, were far from conveying to the sense of the hearer the full information which they bore. He heard the words, and at the moment conceived that Orley Farm was intended to come into his hands by some process to which it was thought desirable that he should be brought to agree. He was to be induced to buy it, or to be bought over from further opposition by some concession of an indefinitely future title. But that the estate was to become his at once, without purchase, and by the mere free will of his hated relatives, was an idea that he did not realise.
"Mr. Furnival," he said, "what future steps I shall take I do not yet know. That I have been robbed of my property I am as firmly convinced now as ever. But I tell you fairly, and I tell Mr. Round so too, that I will have no dealings with that woman."
"Your father's widow, sir," said Mr. Furnival, "is an unhappy lady, who is now doing her best to atone for the only fault of which I believe her to have been guilty. If you were not unreasonable as well as angry, you would understand that the proposition which I am now making to you is one which should force you to forgive any injury which she may hitherto have done to you. Your half-brother Lucius Mason has instructed me to make over to you the possession of Orley Farm." These last words Mr. Furnival uttered very slowly, fixing his keen grey eyes full upon the face of Joseph Mason as he did so, and then turning round to the attorney he said, "I presume your client will understand me now."
"The estate is yours, Mr. Mason," said Round. "You have nothing to do but to take possession of it."
"What do you mean?" said Mason, turning round upon Furnival.
"Exactly what I say. Your half-brother Lucius surrenders to you the estate."
"Yes; without payment. On his doing so you will of course absolve him from all liability on account of the proceeds of the property while in his hands."
"That will be a matter of course," said Mr. Round.
"Then she has robbed me," said Mason, jumping up to his feet. "By ——, the will was forged after all."
"Mr. Mason," said Mr. Round, "if you have a spark of generosity in you, you will accept the offer made to you without asking any question. By no such questioning can you do yourself any good,—nor can you do that poor lady any harm."
"I knew it was so," he said loudly, and as he spoke he twice walked the length of the room. "I knew it was so;—twenty years ago I said the same. She forged the will. I ask you, as my lawyer, Mr. Round,—did she not forge the will herself?"
"I shall answer no such question, Mr. Mason."
"Then by heavens I'll expose you. If I spend the whole value of the estate in doing it I'll expose you, and have her punished yet. The slippery villain! For twenty years she has robbed me."
"Mr. Mason, you are forgetting yourself in your passion," said Mr. Furnival. "What you have to look for now is the recovery of the property." But here Mr. Furnival showed that he had not made himself master of Joseph Mason's character.
"No," shouted the angry man;—"no, by heaven. What I have first to look to is her punishment, and that of those who have assisted her. I knew she had done it,—and Dockwrath knew it. Had I trusted him, she would now have been in gaol."
Mr. Furnival and Mr. Round were both desirous of having the matter quietly arranged, and with this view were willing to put up with much. The man had been ill used. When he declared for the fortieth time that he had been robbed for twenty years, they could not deny it. When with horrid oaths he swore that that will had been a forgery, they could not contradict him. When he reviled the laws of his country, which had done so much to facilitate the escape of a criminal, they had no arguments to prove that he was wrong. They bore with him in his rage, hoping that a sense of his own self-interest might induce him to listen to reason. But it was all in vain. The property was sweet, but that sweetness was tasteless when compared to the sweetness of revenge.
"Nothing shall make me tamper with justice;—nothing," said he.
"But even if it were as you say, you cannot do anything to her," said Round.
"I'll try," said Mason. "You have been my attorney, and what you know in the matter you are bound to tell. And I'll make you tell, sir."
"Upon my word," said Round, "this is beyond bearing. Mr. Mason, I must trouble you to walk out of my office." And then he rang the bell. "Tell Mr. Mat I want to see him." But before that younger partner had joined his father Joseph Mason had gone. "Mat," said the old man, "I don't interfere with you in many things, but on this I must insist. As long as my name is in the firm Mr. Joseph Mason of Groby shall not be among our customers."
"The man's a fool," said Mr. Furnival. "The end of all that will be that two years will go by before he gets his property; and, in the meantime, the house and all about it will go to ruin."
In these days there was a delightful family concord between Mr. Furnival and his wife, and perhaps we may be allowed to hope that the peace was permanent. Martha Biggs had not been in Harley Street since we last saw her there, and was now walking round Red Lion Square by the hour with some kindred spirit, complaining bitterly of the return which had been made for her friendship. "What I endured, and what I was prepared to endure for that woman, no breathing creature can ever know," said Martha Biggs, to that other Martha; "and now—"
"I suppose the fact is he don't like to see you there," said the other.
"And is that a reason?" said our Martha. "Had I been in her place I would not have put my foot in his house again till I was assured that my friend should be as welcome there as myself. But then, perhaps, my ideas of friendship may be called romantic."
But though there were heart-burnings and war in Red Lion Square, there was sweet peace in Harley Street. Mrs. Furnival had learned that beyond all doubt Lady Mason was an unfortunate woman on whose behalf her husband was using his best energies as a lawyer; and though rumours had begun to reach her that were very injurious to the lady's character, she did not on that account feel animosity against her. Had Lady Mason been guilty of all the sins in the calendar except one, Mrs. Furnival could find it within her heart to forgive her.
But Sophia was now more interested about Lady Mason than was her mother, and during those days of the trial was much more eager to learn the news as it became known. She had said nothing to her mother about Lucius, nor had she said anything as to Augustus Staveley. Miss Furnival was a lady who on such subjects did not want the assistance of a mother's counsel. Then, early on the morning that followed the trial, they heard the verdict and knew that Lady Mason was free.
"I am so glad," said Mrs. Furnival; "and I am sure it was your papa's doing."
"But we will hope that she was really innocent," said Sophia.
"Oh, yes; of course; and so I suppose she was. I am sure I hope so. But, nevertheless, we all know that it was going very much against her."
"I believe papa never thought she was guilty for a moment."
"I don't know, my dear; your papa never talks of the clients for whom he is engaged. But what a thing it is for Lucius! He would have lost every acre of the property."
"Yes; it's a great thing for him, certainly." And then she began to consider whether the standing held by Lucius Mason in the world was not even yet somewhat precarious.
It was on the same day—in the evening—that she received her lover's letter. She was alone when she read it, and she made herself quite master of its contents before she sat herself to think in what way it would be expedient that she should act. "I am bound to relinquish to my brother-in-law my title to Orley Farm." Why should he be so bound, unless—? And then she also came to that conclusion which Mr. Round had reached, and which Joseph Mason had reached, when they heard that the property was to be given up. "Yes, Sophia, I am a beggar," the letter went on to say. She was very sorry, deeply sorry;—so, at least, she said to herself. As she sat there alone, she took out her handkerchief and pressed it to her eyes. Then, having restored it to her pocket, after moderate use, she refolded her letter, and put that into the same receptacle.
"Papa," said she, that evening, "what will Mr. Lucius Mason do now? will he remain at Orley Farm?"
"No, my dear. He will leave Orley Farm, and, I think, will go abroad with his mother."
"And who will have Orley Farm?"
"His brother Joseph, I believe."
"And what will Lucius have?"
"I cannot say. I do not know that he will have anything. His mother has an income of her own, and he, I suppose, will go into some profession."
"Oh, indeed. Is not that very sad for him, poor fellow?" In answer to which her father made no remark.
That night, in her own room, she answered her lover's letter, and her answer was as follows:—
Harley Street, March, 18—.
MY DEAR MR. MASON,
I need hardly tell you that I was grieved to the heart by the tidings conveyed in your letter. I will not ask you for that secret which you withhold from me, feeling that I have no title to inquire into it; nor will I attempt to guess at the cause which induces you to give up to your brother the property which you were always taught to regard as your own. That you are actuated by noble motives I am sure; and you may be sure of this, that I shall respect you quite as highly in your adversity as I have ever done in your prosperity. That you will make your way in the world, I shall never doubt; and it may be that the labour which you will now encounter will raise you to higher standing than any you could have achieved, had the property remained in your possession.
I think you are right in saying, with reference to our mutual regard for each other, that neither should be held as having any claim upon the other. Under present circumstances, any such claim would be very silly. Nothing would hamper you in your future career so much as a long marriage engagement; and for myself, I am aware that the sorrow and solicitude thence arising would be more than I could support. Apart from this, also, I feel certain that I should never obtain my father's sanction for such an engagement, nor could I make it, unless he sanctioned it. I feel so satisfied that you will see the truth of this, that I need not trouble you, and harass my own heart by pursuing the subject any further.
My feelings of friendship for you—of affectionate friendship—will be as true as ever. I shall look to your future career with great hope, and shall hear of your success with the utmost satisfaction. And I trust that the time may come, at no very distant date, when we may all welcome your return to London, and show you that our regard for you has never been diminished.
May God bless and preserve you in the trials which are before you, and carry you through them with honour and safety. Wherever you may be I shall watch for tidings of you with anxiety, and always hear them with gratification. I need hardly bid you remember that you have no more affectionate friend
Than yours always most sincerely,
P.S.—I believe that a meeting between us at the present moment would only cause pain to both of us. It might drive you to speak of things which should be wrapped in silence. At any rate, I am sure that you will not press it on me.
Lucius, when he received this letter, was living with his mother in lodgings near Finsbury Circus, and the letter had been redirected from Hamworth to a post-office in that neighbourhood. It was his intention to take his mother with him to a small town on one of the rivers that feed the Rhine, and there remain hidden till he could find some means by which he might earn his bread. He was sitting with her in the evening, with two dull tallow candles on the table between them, when his messenger brought the letter to him. He read it in silence very deliberately, then crushed it in his hand, and threw it from him with violence into the fire.
"I hope there is nothing further to distress you, Lucius," said his mother, looking up into his face as though she were imploring his confidence.
"No, nothing; nothing that matters. It is an affair quite private to myself."
Sir Peregrine had spoken with great truth when he declared that Lucius Mason was able to bear adversity. This last blow had now come upon him, but he made no wailings as to his misery, nor did he say a word further on the subject. His mother watched the paper as the flame caught it and reduced it to an ash; but she asked no further question. She knew that her position with him did not permit of her asking, or even hoping, for his confidence.
"I had no right to expect it would be otherwise," he said to himself. But even to himself he spoke no word of reproach against Miss Furnival. He had realised the circumstances by which he was surrounded, and had made up his mind to bear their result.
As for Miss Furnival, we may as well declare here that she did not become Mrs. Staveley. Our old friend Augustus conceived that he had received a sufficient answer on the occasion of his last visit to Harley Street, and did not repeat it immediately. Such little scenes as that which took place there had not been uncommon in his life; and when in after months he looked back upon the affair, he counted it up as one of those miraculous escapes which had marked his career.
"That letter you got this morning, my dear, was it not from Lady Mason?"
"It was from Lady Mason, father; they go on Thursday."
"On Thursday; so soon as that." And then Sir Peregrine, who had asked the question, remained silent for a while. The letter, according to the family custom, had been handed to Mrs. Orme over the breakfast-table; but he had made no remark respecting it till they were alone together and free from the servants. It had been a farewell letter, full of love and gratitude, and full also of repentance. Lady Mason had now been for three weeks in London, and once during that time Mrs. Orme had gone up to visit her. She had then remained with her friend for hours, greatly to Lady Mason's comfort, and now this letter had come, bringing a last adieu.
"You may read it, sir, if you like," said Mrs. Orme, handing him the letter. It was evident, by his face, that he was gratified by the privilege; and he read it, not once only, but over and over again. As he did so, he placed himself in the shade, and sat with his back to Mrs. Orme; but nevertheless she could see that from time to time he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, and gradually raised his handkerchief to his face.
"Thank you, dearest," he said, as he gave the letter back to her.
"I think that we may forgive her now, even all that she has done," said Mrs. Orme.
"Yes—yes—yes," he answered. "For myself, I forgave her from the first."
"I know you did. But as regards the property,—it has been given up now." And then again they were silent.
"Edith," he said, after a while, "I have forgiven her altogether. To me she is the same as though she had never done that deed. Are we not all sinners?"
"And can I say because she did one startling thing that the total of her sin is greater than mine? Was I ever tempted as she was tempted? Was my youth made dangerous for me as was hers? And then she did nothing for herself; she did it all for another. We may think of that now."
"I have thought of it always."
"It did not make the sin the less; but among her fellow-mortals—" And then he stopped himself, wanting words to express his meaning. The sin, till it was repented, was damning; but now that it was repented, he could almost love the sinner for the sin.
"Edith," he said, again. And he looked at her so wishfully! She knew well what was the working of his heart, and she knew also that she did not dare to encourage him.
"I trust," said Mrs. Orme, "that she will bear her present lot for a few years; and then, perhaps—"
"Ah! then I shall be in my grave. A few months will do that."
"Why should I not save her from such a life as that?"
"From that which she had most to fear she has been saved."
"Had she not so chosen it herself, she could now have demanded from me a home. Why should I not give it to her now?"
"A home here, sir?"
"Yes;—why not? But I know what you would say. It would be wrong,—to you and Perry."
"It would be wrong to yourself, sir. Think of it, father. It is the fact that she did that thing. We may forgive her, but others will not do so on that account. It would not be right that you should bring her here."
Sir Peregrine knew that it would not be right. Though he was old, and weak in body, and infirm in purpose, his judgment had not altogether left him. He was well aware that he would offend all social laws if he were to do that which he contemplated, and ask the world around him to respect as Lady Orme—as his wife, the woman who had so deeply disgraced herself. But yet he could hardly bring himself to confess that it was impossible. He was as a child who knows that a coveted treasure is beyond his reach, but still covets it, still longs for it, hoping against hope that it may yet be his own. It seemed to him that he might yet regain his old vitality if he could wind his arm once more about her waist, and press her to his side, and call her his own. It would be so sweet to forgive her; to make her sure that she was absolutely forgiven; to teach her that there was one at least who would not bring up against her her past sin, even in his memory. As for his grandson, the property should be abandoned to him altogether. 'Twas thus he argued with himself; but yet, as he argued, he knew that it could not be so.
"I was harsh to her when she told me," he said, after another pause—"cruelly harsh."
"She does not think so."
"No. If I had spurned her from me with my foot, she would not have thought so. She had condemned herself, and therefore I should have spared her."
"But you did spare her. I am sure she feels that from the first to the last your conduct to her has been more than kind."
"And I owed her more than kindness, for I loved her;—yes, I loved her, and I do love her. Though I am a feeble old man, tottering to my grave, yet I love her—love her as that boy loves the fair girl for whom he longs. He will overcome it, and forget it, and some other one as fair will take her place. But for me it is all over."