Wylder's Hand

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter XLV


Lawyer Larkin's mind was working more diligently than anyone suspected upon this puzzle of Mark Wylder. The investigation was a sort of scientific recreation to him, and something more. His sure instinct told him it was a secret well worth mastering.

He had a growing belief that Lake, and perhaps he only—except Wylder himself—knew the meaning of all this mysterious marching and counter-marching. Of course, all sorts of theories were floating in his mind; but there was none that would quite fit all the circumstances. The attorney, had he asked himself the question, what was his object in these inquisitions, would have answered—'I am doing what few other men would. I am, Heaven knows, giving to this affair of my absent client's, gratuitously, as much thought and vigilance as ever I did to any case in which I was duly remunerated. This is self-sacrificing and noble, and just the conscientious conduct I should expect from myself.'

But there was also this consideration, which you failed to define.

'Yes; my respected client, Mr. Mark Wylder, is suffering under some acute pressure, applied perhaps by my friend Captain Lake. Why should not I share in the profit—if such there be—by getting my hand too upon the instrument of compression? It is worth trying. Let us try.'

The Reverend William Wylder was often at the Lodge now. Larkin had struck out a masterly plan. The vicar's reversion, a very chimerical contingency, he would by no means consent to sell. His little man—little Fairy—oh! no, he could not. The attorney only touched on this, remarking in a friendly way—

'But then, you know, it is so mere a shadow.'

This indeed, poor William knew very well. But though he spoke quite meekly, the attorney looked rather black, and his converse grew somewhat dry and short.

This sinister change was sudden, and immediately followed the suggestion about the reversion; and the poor vicar was a little puzzled, and began to consider whether he had said anything gauche or offensive—'it would be so very painful to appear ungrateful.'

The attorney had the statement of title in one hand, and leaning back in his chair, read it demurely in silence, with the other tapping the seal-end of his gold pencil-case between his lips.

'Yes,' said Mr. Larkin, mildly, 'it is so very shadowy—and that feeling, too, in the way. I suppose we had better, perhaps, put it aside, and maybe something else may turn up.' And the attorney rose grandly to replace the statement of title in its tin box, intimating thereby that the audience was ended.

But the poor vicar was in rather urgent circumstances just then, and his troubles had closed in recently with a noiseless, but tremendous contraction, like that iron shroud in Mr. Mudford's fine tale; and to have gone away into outer darkness, with no project on the stocks, and the attorney's countenance averted, would have been simply despair.

'To speak frankly,' said the poor vicar, with that hectic in his cheek that came with agitation, 'I never fancied that my reversionary interest could be saleable.'

'Neither is it, in all probability,' answered the attorney. 'As you are so seriously pressed, and your brother's return delayed, it merely crossed my mind as a thing worth trying.'

'It was very kind and thoughtful; but that feeling—the—my poor little man! However, I may be only nervous and foolish, and I think I'll speak to Lord Chelford about it.'

The attorney looked down, and took his nether lip gently between his finger and thumb. I rather think he had no particular wish to take Lord Chelford into council.

'I think before troubling his lordship upon the subject—if, indeed, on reflection, you should not think it would be a little odd to trouble him at all in reference to it—I had better look a little more carefully into the papers, and see whether anything in that direction is really practicable at all.'

'Do you think, Mr. Larkin, you can write that strong letter to stay proceedings which you intended yesterday?'

The attorney shook his head, and said, with a sad sort of dryness—'I can't see my way to it.'

The vicar's heart sank with a flutter, and then swelled, and sank another bit, and his forehead flushed.

There was a silence.

'You see, Mr. Wylder, I relied, in fact, altogether upon this a—arrangement; and I don't see that any thing is likely to come of it.'

The attorney spoke in the same dry and reserved way, and there was a shadow on his long face.

'I have forfeited his good-will somehow—he has ceased to take any interest in my wretched affairs; I am abandoned, and must be ruined.'

These dreadful thoughts filled in another silence; and then the vicar said—

'I am afraid I have, quite unintentionally, offended you, Mr. Larkin—perhaps in my ignorance of business; and I feel that I should be quite ruined if I were to forfeit your good offices; and, pray tell me, if I have said anything I ought not.'

'Oh, no—nothing, I assure you,' replied Mr. Larkin, with a lofty and gentle dryness. 'Only, I think, I have, perhaps, a little mistaken the relation in which I stood, and fancied, wrongly, it was in the light somewhat of a friend as well as of a professional adviser; and I thought, perhaps, I had rather more of your confidence than I had any right to, and did not at first see the necessity of calling in Lord Chelford, whose experience of business is necessarily very limited, to direct you. You remember, my dear Mr. Wylder, that I did not at all invite these relations; and I don't think you will charge me with want of zeal in your business.'

'Oh! my dear Mr. Larkin, my dear Sir, you have been my preserver, my benefactor—in fact, under Heaven, very nearly my last and only hope.'

'Well, I had hoped I was not remiss or wanting in diligence.'

And Mr. Larkin took his seat in his most gentlemanlike fashion, crossing his long legs, and throwing his tall head back, raising his eyebrows, and letting his mouth languidly drop a little open.

'My idea was, that Lord Chelford would see more clearly what was best for little Fairy. I am so very slow and so silly about business, and you so much my friend—I have found you so—that you might think only of me.'

'I should, of course, consider the little boy,' said Mr. Larkin, condescendingly; 'a most interesting child. I'm very fond of children myself, and should, of course, put the entire case—as respected him as well as yourself—to the best of my humble powers before you. Is there any thing else just now you think of, for time presses, and really we have ground to apprehend something unpleasant to-morrow. You ought not, my dear Sir—pray permit me to say—you really ought not to have allowed it to come to this.'

The poor vicar sighed profoundly, and shook his head, a contrite man. They both forgot that it was arithmetically impossible for him to have prevented it, unless he had got some money.

'Perhaps,' said the vicar, brightening up suddenly, and looking in the attorney's eyes for answer, 'Perhaps something might be done with the reversion, as a security, to borrow a sufficient sum, without selling.'

The attorney shook his high head, and whiskers gray and foxy, and meditated with the seal of his pencil case between his lips.

'I don't see it,' said he, with another shake of that long head.

'I don't know that any lender, in fact, would entertain such a security. If you wish it I will write to Burlington, Smith, and Company, about it—they are largely in policies and post-obits.'

'It is very sad—very sad, indeed. I wish so much, my dear Sir, I could be of use to you; but you know the fact is, we solicitors seldom have the command of our own money; always in advance—always drained to the uttermost shilling, and I am myself in the predicament you will see there.'

And he threw a little note from the Dollington Bank to Jos. Larkin, Esq., The Lodge, Gylingden, announcing the fact that he had overdrawn his account certain pounds, shillings, and pence, and inviting him forthwith to restore the balance.

The vicar read it with a vague comprehension, and in his cold fingers shook the hand of his fellow sufferer. Less than fifty pounds would not do! Oh, where was he to turn? It was quite hopeless, and poor Larkin pressed too!

Now, there was this consolation in 'poor Larkin's case,' that although he was quite run aground, and a defaulter in the Dollington Bank to the extent of 7l. 12s. 4d., yet in that similar institution, which flourished at Naunton, only nine miles away, there stood to his name the satisfactory credit of 564l. 11s. 7d. One advantage which the good attorney derived from his double account with the rival institutions was, that whenever convenient he could throw one of these certificates of destitution and impotence sadly under the eyes of a client in want of money like poor Will Wylder.

The attorney had no pleasure in doing people ill turns. But he had come to hear the distresses of his clients as tranquilly as doctors do the pangs of their patients. As he stood meditating near his window, he saw the poor vicar, with slow limbs and downcast countenance, walk under his laburnums and laurustinuses towards his little gate, and suddenly stop and turn round, and make about a dozen quick steps, like a man who has found a bright idea, towards the house, and then come to a thoughtful halt, and so turn and recommence his slow march of despair homeward.

At five o'clock—it was dark now—there was a tread on the door-steps, and a double tattoo at the tiny knocker. It was the 'lawyer.'

Mr. Larkin entered the vicar's study, where he was supposed to be busy about his sermon.

'My dear Sir; thinking about you—and I have just heard from an old humble friend, who wants high interest, and of course is content to take security somewhat personal in its nature. I have written already. He's in the hands of Burlington, Smith, and Company. I have got exactly 55l. since I saw you, which makes me all right at Dollington; and here's my check for 50l. which you can send—or perhaps I had better send by this night's post—to those Cambridge people. It settles that; and you give me a line on this stamp, acknowledging the 50l. on account of money to be raised on your reversion. So that's off your mind, my dear Sir.'

'Oh, Mr. Larkin—my—my—you don't know, Sir, what you have done for me—the agony—oh, thank God! what a friend is raised up.'

And he clasped and wrung the long hands of the attorney, and I really think there was a little moisture in that gentleman's pink eyes for a moment or two.

When he was gone the vicar returned from the door-step, radiant—not to the study but to the parlour.

'Oh, Willie, darling, you look so happy—you were uneasy this evening,' said his little ugly wife, with a beautiful smile, jumping up and clasping him.

'Yes, darling, I was—very uneasy; but thank God, it is over.'

And they cried and smiled together in that delightful embrace, while all the time little Fairy, with a paper cap on his head, was telling them half-a-dozen things together, and pulling Wapsie by the skirts.

Then he was lifted up and kissed, and smiled on by that sunshine only remembered in the sad old days—parental love. And there was high festival kept in the parlour that night. I am told six crumpets, and a new egg apiece besides at tea, to make merry with, and stories and little songs for Fairy. Willie was in his old college spirits. It was quite delightful; and little Fairy was up a great deal too late; and the vicar and his wife had quite a cheery chat over the fire, and he and she both agreed he would make a handsome sum by Eusebius.

Thus, if there are afflictions, there are also comforts: great consolations, great chastisements. There is a comforter, and there is a chastener. Every man must taste of death: every man must taste of life. It shall not be all bitter nor all sweet for any. It shall be life. The unseen ministers of a stupendous equity have their eyes and their hands about every man's portion; 'as it is written, he that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.'

It is the same earth for all; the same earth for the dead, great and small; dust to dust. The same earth for the living. 'Thorns, also, and thistles shall it bring forth,' and God provides the flowers too.


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