Wylder's Hand

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter LXVII


The time had now arrived when our friend Jos. Larkin was to refresh the village of Gylingden with his presence. He had pushed matters forward with wonderful despatch. The deeds, with their blue and silver stamps, were handsomely engrossed—having been approved in draft by Crompton S. Kewes, the eminent Queen's Counsel, on a case furnished by Jos. Larkin, Esq., The Lodge, Brandon Manor, Gylingden, on behalf of his client, the Reverend William Wylder; and in like manner on behalf of Stanley Williams Brandon Lake, of Brandon Hall, in the county of ——, Esq.

In neither draft did Jos. Larkin figure as the purchaser by name. He did not care for advice on any difficulty depending on his special relations to the vendors in both these cases. He wished, as was his custom, everything above-board, and such 'an opinion' as might be published by either client in the 'Times' next day if he pleased it. Besides these matters of Wylder and of Lake, he had also a clause to insert in a private Act, on behalf of the trustees of the Baptist Chapel, at Naunton Friars; a short deed to be consulted upon on behalf of his client, Pudder Swynfen, Esq., of Swynfen Grange, in the same county; and a deed to be executed at Shillingsworth, which he would take en route for Gylingden, stopping there for that night, and going on by next morning's train.

Those little trips to town paid very fairly.

In this particular case his entire expenses reached exactly £5 3s., and what do you suppose was the good man's profit upon that small item? Precisely £62 7s.! The process is simple, Jos. Larkin made his own handsome estimate of his expenses, and the value of his time to and from London, and then he charged this in its entirety—shall we say integrity—to each client separately. In this little excursion he was concerned for no less than five.

His expenses, I say, reached exactly £5 3s. But he had a right to go to Dondale's if he pleased, instead of that cheap hostelry near Covent Garden. He had a right to a handsome lunch and a handsome dinner, instead of that economical fusion of both meals into one, at a cheap eating-house, in an out-of-the-way quarter. He had a right to his pint of high-priced wine, and to accomplish his wanderings in a cab, instead of, as the Italians say, 'partly on foot, and partly walking.' Therefore, and on this principle, Mr. Jos. Larkin had 'no difficulty' in acting. His savings, if the good man chose to practise self-denial, were his own—and it was a sort of problem while he stayed, and interested him curiously—keeping down his bill in matters which he would not have dreamed of denying himself at home.

The only client among his wealthy supporters, who ever went in a grudging spirit into one of these little bills of Jos. Larkin's, was old Sir Mulgrave Bracton—the defunct parent of the Sir Harry, with whom we are acquainted.

'Don't you think, Mr. Larkin, you could perhaps reduce this, just a little?'

'Ah, the expenses?'

'Well, yes.'

Mr. Jos. Larkin smiled—the smile said plainly, 'what would he have me live upon, and where?' We do meet persons of this sort, who would fain 'fill our bellies with the husks' that swine digest; what of that—we must remember who we are—gentlemen—and answer this sort of shabbiness, and every other endurable annoyance, as Lord Chesterfield did—with a bow and a smile.

'I think so,' said the baronet, in a bluff, firm way.

'Well, the fact is, when I represent a client, Sir Mulgrave Bracton, of a certain rank and position, I make it a principle—and, as a man of business, I find it tells—to present myself in a style that is suitably handsome.'

'Oh! an expensive house—where was this, now?'

'Oh, Sir Mulgrave, pray don't think of it—I'm only too happy—pray, draw your pen across the entire thing.'

'I think so,' said the baronet unexpectedly. 'Don't you think if we said a pound a-day, and your travelling expenses?'

'Certainly—anything—whatever you please, Sir.'

And the attorney waved his long hand a little, and smiled almost compassionately; and the little alteration was made, and henceforward he spoke of Sir Mulgrave as not quite a pleasant man to deal with in money matters; and his confidential friends knew that in a transaction in which he had paid money out of his own pocket for Sir Mulgrave he had never got back more than seven and sixpence in the pound; and, what made it worse, it was a matter connected with the death of poor Lady Bracton! And he never lost an opportunity of conveying his opinion of Sir Mulgrave, sometimes in distinct and confidential sentences, and sometimes only by a sad shake of his head, or by awfully declining to speak upon the subject.

In the present instance Jos. Larkin was returning in a heavenly frame of mind to the Lodge, Brandon Manor, Gylingden. Whenever he was away he interpolated 'Brandon Manor,' and stuck it on his valise and hat-case; and liked to call aloud to the porters tumbling among the luggage—'Jos. Larkin, Esquire, Brandon Manor, if you please;' and to see the people read the inscription in the hall of his dingy hostelry. Well might the good man glow with a happy consciousness of a blessing. In small things as in great he was prosperous.

This little excursion to London would cost him, as I said, exactly £5 3s. It might have cost him £13 10s. and at that sum his expenses figured in his ledger; and as he had five clients on this occasion, the total reached £67 10s., leaving a clear profit, as I have mentioned, of £62 7s. on this item.

But what was this little tip from fortune, compared with the splendid pieces of scrivenery in his despatch box. The white parchment—the blue and silver stamps in the corner—the German text and flourishes at the top, and those broad, horizontal lines of recital, `habendum,' and so forth—marshalled like an army in procession behind his march of triumph into Five Oaks, to take the place of its deposed prince? From the captain's deed to the vicar's his mind glanced fondly.

He would yet stand the highest man in his county. He had found time for a visit to the King-at-Arms and the Heralds' Office. He would have his pictures and his pedigree. His grandmother had been a Howard. Her branch, indeed, was a little under a cloud, keeping a small provision-shop in the town of Dwiddleston. But this circumstance need not be in prominence. She was a Howard—that was the fact he relied on—no mortal could gainsay it; and he would be, first, J. Howard Larkin, then Howard Larkin, simply; then Howard Larkin Howard, and the Five Gaks' Howards would come to be very great people indeed. And the Brandons had intermarried with other Howards, and Five Oaks would naturally, therefore, go to Howards; and so he and his, with clever management, would be anything but novi homines in the county.

'He shall be like a tree planted by the water-side, that will bring forth his fruit in due season. His leaf also shall not wither. So thought this good man complacently. He liked these fine consolations of the Jewish dispensation—actual milk and honey, and a land of promise on which he could set his foot. Jos. Larkin, Esq., was as punctual as the clock at the terminus. He did not come a minute too soon or too late, but precisely at the moment which enabled him, without fuss, and without a tiresome wait, to proceed to the details of ticket, luggage, selection of place, and ultimate ascension thereto.

So now having taken all measures, gliding among the portmanteaus, hand-barrows, and porters, and the clangorous bell ringing, he mounted, lithe and lank, into his place.

There was a pleasant evening light still, and the gas-lamps made a purplish glow against it. The little butter-cooler of a glass lamp glimmered from the roof. Mr. Larkin established himself, and adjusted his rug and mufflers about him, for, notwithstanding the season, there had been some cold, rainy weather, and the evening was sharp; and he set his two newspapers, his shilling book, and other triumphs of cheap literature in sundry shapes, in the vacant seat at his left hand, and made everything handsome about him. He glanced to the other end of the carriage, where sat his solitary fellow-passenger. This gentleman was simply a mass of cloaks and capes, culminating in a queer battered felt hat; his shoulders were nestled into the corner, and his face buried among his loose mufflers. They sat at corners diagonally opposed, and were, therefore, as far apart as was practicable—an arrangement, not sociable, to be sure, but on the whole, very comfortable, and which neither seemed disposed to disturb.

Mr. Larkin had a word to say to the porter from the window, and bought one more newspaper; and then looked out on the lamplit platform, and saw the officials loitering off to the clang of the carriage doors; then came the whistle, and then the clank and jerk of the start. And so the brick walls and lamps began to glide backward, and the train was off.

Jos. Larkin tried his newspaper, and read for ten minutes, or so, pretty diligently; and then looked for a while from the window, upon receding hedgerows and farmsteads, and the level and spacious landscape; and then he leaned back luxuriously, his newspaper listlessly on his knees, and began to read, instead, at his ease, the shapeless, wrapt-up figure diagonally opposite.

The quietude of the gentleman in the far corner was quite singular. He produced neither tract, nor newspaper, nor volume—not even a pocket-book or a letter. He brought forth no cigar-case, with the stereotyped, 'Have you any objection to my smoking a cigar?' He did not even change his attitude ever so little. A burly roll of cloaks, rugs, capes, and loose wrappers, placed in the corner, and tanquam cadaver, passive and motionless.

I have sometimes in my travels lighted on a strangely shaped mountain, whose huge curves, and sombre colouring have interested me indefinably. In the rude mass at the far angle, Mr. Jos. Larkin, I fancy, found some such subject of contemplation. And the more he looked, the more he felt disposed to look.

As they got on there was more night fog, and the little lamp at top shone through a halo. The fellow-passenger at the opposite angle lay back, all cloaks and mufflers, with nothing distinct emerging but the felt hat at top, and the tip—it was only the tip now—of the shining shoe on the floor.

The gentleman was absolutely motionless and silent. And Mr. Larkin, though his mind was pretty universally of the inquisitive order, began in this particular case to feel a special curiosity. It was partly the monotony and their occupying the carriage all to themselves—as the two uncommunicative seamen did the Eddystone Lighthouse—but there was, beside, an indistinct feeling, that, in spite of all these wrappers and swathings, he knew the outlines of that figure; and yet the likeness must have been of the rudest possible sort.

He could not say that he recognised anything distinctly—only he fancied that some one he knew was sitting there, unrevealed, inside that mass of clothing. And he felt, moreover, as if he ought to be able to guess who he was.


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