Wylder's Hand

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter XXVII


That morning Lake's first report upon his inquisition into the whereabouts of Mark Wylder—altogether disappointing and barren—reached Lord Chelford in a short letter; and a similar one, only shorter, found Lawyer Larkin in his pleasant breakfast parlour.

Now this proceeding of Mr. Wylder's, at this particular time, struck the righteous attorney, and reasonably, as a very serious and unjustifiable step. There was, in fact, no way of accounting for it, that was altogether complimentary to his respected and nutritious client. Yes; there was something every way very serious in the affair. It actually threatened the engagement which was so near its accomplishment. Some most powerful and mysterious cause must undoubtedly be in operation to induce so sharp a 'party,' so keen after this world's wealth, to risk so huge a prize. Whatever eminent qualities Mark Wylder might be deficient in, the attorney very well knew that cunning was not among the number.

'It is nothing of the nature of debt—plenty of money. It is nothing that money can buy off easily either, though he does not like parting with it. Ten—twenty to one—it is the old story—some unfortunate female connection—some ambiguous relation, involving a doubtful marriage.'

And Josiah Larkin turned up his small pink eyes, and shook his tall, bald head gently, and murmured, as he nodded it—

'The sins of his youth find him out; the sins of his youth.'

And he sighed; and his long palms were raised, and waved, or rather paddled slowly to the rhythm of the sentiment.

If the butchers' boy then passing saw that gaunt and good attorney, standing thus in his bow-window, I am sure he thought he was at his devotions and abated his whistling as he went by.

After this Mr. Larkin's ruminations darkened, and grew, perhaps, less distinct. He had no particular objection to a mystery. In fact, he rather liked it, provided he was admitted to confidence. A mystery implied a difficulty of a delicate and formidable sort; and such difficulties were not disadvantageous to a clever and firm person, who might render himself very necessary to an embarrassed principal with plenty of money.

Mr. Larkin had a way of gently compressing his under-lip between his finger and thumb—a mild pinch, a reflective caress—when contemplations of this nature occupied his brain. The silver light of heaven faded from his long face, a deep shadow of earth came thereon, and his small, dove-like eyes grew intense, hungry, and rat-like.

Oh! Lawyer Larkin, your eyes, though very small, are very sharp. They can read through the outer skin of ordinary men, as through a parchment against the light, the inner writing, and spell out its meanings. How is it that they fail to see quite through one Jos. Larkin, a lawyer of Gylingden? The layover of Gylingden is somehow two opaque for them, I almost think. Is he really too deep for you? Or is it that you don't care to search him too narrowly, or have not time? or as men in money perplexities love not the scrutiny of their accounts or papers, you don't care to tire your eyes over the documents in that neatly japanned box, the respectable lawyer's conscience?

If you have puzzled yourself, you have also puzzled me. I don't quite know what to make of you. I've sometimes thought you were simply an impostor, and sometimes simply the dupe of your own sorceries. The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Some men, with a piercing insight into the evil of man's nature, have a blurred vision for their own moralities. For them it is not easy to see where wisdom ends and guile begins—what wiles are justified to honour, and what partake of the genius of the robber, and where lie the delicate boundaries between legitimate diplomacy and damnable lying. I am not sure that Lawyer Larkin did not often think himself very nearly what he wished the world to think him—an 'eminent Christian.' What an awful abyss is self delusion.

Lawyer Larkin was, on the whole, I dare say, tolerably well pleased with the position, as he would have said, of his spiritual interest, and belonged to that complacent congregation who said, 'I am rich and have need of nothing;' and who, no doubt, opened their eyes wide enough, and misdoubted the astounding report of their ears, when the judge thundered, 'Thou art wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked.'

When Jos. Larkins had speculated thus, and built rich, but sombre, castles in the air, for some time longer, he said quietly to himself—


And then he ordered his dog-cart, and drove off to Dollington, and put up at Johnson's Hotel, where Stanley Lake had slept on the night of his sister's return from London. The people there knew the lawyer very well; of course, they quite understood his position. Mr. Johnson, the proprietor, you may be sure, does not confound him with the great squires, the baronets, and feudal names of the county; but though he was by comparison easy in his company, with even a dash of familiarity, he still respected Mr. Larkin as a man with money, and a sort of influence, and in whose way, at election and other times, it might lie to do his house a good or an ill turn.

Mr. Larkin got into a little brown room, looking into the inn garden, and called for some luncheon, and pen and ink, and had out a sheaf of law papers he had brought with him, tied up in professional red tape; and asked the waiter, with a grand smile and recognition, how he did; and asked him next for his good friend, Mr. Johnson; and trusted that business was improving; and would be very happy to see him for two or three minutes, if he could spare time.

So, in due time, in came the corpulent proprietor, and Lawyer Larkin shook hands with him, and begged him to sit down, like a man who confers a distinction; and assured him that Lord Edward Buxleigh, whom he had recommended to stay at the house for the shooting, had been very well pleased with the accommodation—very highly so indeed—and his lordship had so expressed himself when they had last met at Sir Hugh Huxterley's, of Hatch Court.

The good lawyer liked illuminating his little narratives, compliments, and reminiscences with plenty of armorial bearings and heraldic figures, and played out his court-cards in easy and somewhat overpowering profusion.

Then he enquired after the two heifers that Mr. Johnson was so good as to feed for him on his little farm; and then he mentioned that his friend, Captain Lake, who was staying with him at his house at Gylingden, was also very well satisfied with his accommodation, when he, too, at Lawyer Larkin's recommendation, had put up for a night at Johnson's Hotel; and it was not every house which could satisfy London swells of Captain Lake's fashion and habits, he could tell him.

Then followed some conversation which, I dare say, interested the lawyer more than be quite showed in Mr. Johnson's company. For when that pleased and communicative host had withdrawn, Jos. Larkin made half-a-dozen little entries in his pocket-book, with 'Statement of Mr. William Johnson,' and the date of their conversation, at the head of the memorandum.

So the lawyer, having to run on as far as Charteris by the goods-train, upon business, walked down to the station, where, having half-an-hour to wait, he fell into talk with the station-master, whom he also knew, and afterwards with Tom Christmas, the porter; and in the waiting-room he made some equally business-like memoranda, being certain chips and splinters struck off the clumsy talk of these officials, and laid up in the lawyer's little private museum, for future illustration and analysis.

By the time his little book was again in the bottom of his pocket, the train had arrived, and doors swung open and clapt and people got in and out to the porter's accompaniment of 'Dollington—Dollington—Dollington!' and Lawyer Larkin took his place, and glided away to Charteris, where he had a wait of two hours for the return train, and a good deal of barren talk with persons at the station, rewarded by one or two sentences worth noting, and accordingly duly entered in the same little pocket-book.

Thus was the good man's day consumed; and when he mounted his dog-cart, at Dollington, wrapped his rug about his legs, whip and reins in hand, and the ostler buckled the apron across, the sun was setting redly behind the hills; and the air was frosty, and the night dark, as he drew up before his own door-steps, near Gylingden. A dozen lines of one of these pages would suffice to contain the fruits of his day's work; and yet the lawyer was satisfied, and even pleased with it, and eat his late dinner very happily; and though dignified, of course, was more than usually mild and gracious with all his servants that evening, and 'expounded at family prayers' in a sense that was liberal and comforting; and went to bed after a calm and pleased review of his memoranda, and slept the sleep of the righteous.


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