Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter L

Princely Treatment

“This, then, is what you have to say,” cried my lady Philippa, in a tone of little gratitude, and perhaps not purely free from wrath; “this is what has happened, while you did nothing?”

“Madam, I assure you,” Mr. Jellicorse replied, “that no one point has been neglected. And truly I am bold enough — though you may not perceive it — to take a little credit to myself for the skill and activity of my proceedings. I have a most conceited man against me; no member at all of our honored profession; but rather inclined to make light of us. A gentleman — if one may so describe him — of the name of Mordacks, who lives in a den below a bridge in York, and has very long harassed the law by a sort of cheap-jack, slap-dash, low-minded style of doing things. ‘Jobbing,’ I may call it — cheap and nasty jobbing — not at all the proper thing, from a correct point of view. ‘A catch-penny fellow,’ that’s the proper name for him — I was trying to think of it half the way from Middleton.”

“And now, in your eloquence, you have hit upon it. I can easily understand that such a style of business would not meet with your approbation. But, Mr. Jellicorse, he seems to me to have proved himself considerably more active in his way — however objectionable that may be — than you, as our agent, have shown yourself.”

The cheerful, expressive, and innocent face of Mr. Jellicorse protested now. By nature he was almost as honest as Geoffrey Mordacks himself could be; and in spite of a very long professional career, the original element was there, and must be charged for.

“I can not recall to my memory,” he said, “any instance of neglect on my part. But if that impression is upon your mind, it would be better for you to change your legal advisers at an early opportunity. Such has been the frequent practice, madam, of your family. And but for that, none of this trouble could exist. I must beg you either to withdraw the charge of negligence, which I understand you to have brought, or else to appoint some gentleman of greater activity to conduct your business.”

With the haughtiness of her headstrong race, Miss Yordas had failed as yet to comprehend that a lawyer could be a gentleman. And even now that idea scarcely broke upon her, until she looked hard at Mr. Jellicorse. But he, having cast aside all deference for the moment, met her stern gaze with such courteous indifference and poise of self-composure that she suddenly remembered that his grandfather had been the master of a pack of fox-hounds.

“I have made no charge of negligence; you are hasty, and misunderstand me,” she answered, after waiting for him to begin again, as if he were a rash aggressor. “It is possible that you desire to abandon our case, and conceive affront where none is meant whatever.”

“God forbid!” Mr. Jellicorse exclaimed, with his legal state of mind returning. “A finer case never came into any court of law. There is a coarse axiom, not without some truth, that possession is nine points of the law. We have possession. What is even more important, we have the hostile instrument in our possession.”

“You mean that unfortunate and unjust deed, of a by-gone time, that was so wickedly concealed? Dishonest transaction from first to last!”

“Madam, the law is not to blame for that, nor even the lawyers; but the clients, who kept changing them. But for that, your admirable father must have known that the will he dictated to me was waste paper. At least as regards the main part of these demesnes.”

“What monstrous injustice! A positive premium upon filial depravity. You regard things professionally, I suppose. But surely it must have struck you as a flagrant dishonesty, a base and wicked crime, that a document so vile should be allowed even to exist.”

Miss Yordas had spoken with unusual heat; and the lawyer looked at her with an air of mild inquiry. Was it possible that she suggested to him the destruction of the wicked instrument? Ladies had done queer things, within his knowledge; but this lady showed herself too cautious for that.

“I know what my father would have done in such a case,” she continued, with her tranquil smile recovered: “he would just have ridden up to his solicitor’s office, demanded the implement of robbery, brought it home, and set it upon the hall fire, in the presence of the whole of his family and household. But now we live in such a strictly lawful age that no crime can be stopped, if only perpetrated legally. And you say that Mr. More — something, ‘Moresharp,’ I think it was, knows of that iniquitous production?”

“Madam, we can not be certain; but I have reason to suspect that Mr. Mordacks has got wind of that unfortunate deed of appointment.”

“Supposing that he has, and that he means to use his knowledge, he can not force the document from your possession, can he?”

“Not without an order. But by filing affidavit, after issue of writ in ejectment, they may compel us to produce, and allow attested copy to be taken.”

“Then the law is disgraceful to the last degree, and it is useless to own anything. That deed is in your charge, as our attorney, I suppose, sir?”

“By no other right, madam: we have twelve chestfuls, any one or all of which I am bound to render up to your order.”

“Our confidence in you is unshaken. But without shaking it we might order home any particular chest for inspection?”

“Most certainly, madam, by giving us receipt for it. For antiquarian uses, and others, such a thing is by no means irregular. And the oldest of all the deeds are in that box — charters from the crown, grants from corporations, records of assay by arms — warrants that even I can not decipher.”

“A very learned gentleman is likely soon to visit us — a man of modern family, who spends his whole time in seeking out the stories of the older ones. No family in Yorkshire is comparable to ours in the interest of its annals.”

“That is a truth beyond all denial, madam. The character of your ancient race has always been a marked one.”

“And always honorable, Mr. Jellicorse. Undeviating principle has distinguished all my ancestors. Nothing has ever been allowed to stand between them and their view of right.”

“You could not have put it more clearly, Mistress Yordas. Their own view of right has been their guiding star throughout. And they never have failed to act accordingly.”

“Alas! of how very few others can we say it! But being of a very good old family yourself, you are able to appreciate such conduct. You would like me, perhaps, to sign the order for that box of ancient — cartularies — is not that the proper word for them? And it might be as well to state why they happen to be wanted — for purposes of family history.”

“Madam, I will at once prepare a memorandum for your signature and your sister’s.”

The mind of Mr. Jellicorse was much relieved, although the relief was not untempered with misgivings. He sat down immediately at an ancient writing-table, and prepared a short order for delivery, to their trusty servant Jordas, of a certain box, with the letter C upon it, and containing title-deeds of Scargate Hall estate.

“I think it might be simpler not to put it so precisely,” my lady Philippa suggested, “but merely to say a box containing the oldest of the title-deeds, as required for an impending antiquarian research.”

Mr. Jellicorse made the amendment; and then, with the prudence of long practice, added, “The order should be in your handwriting, madam; will it give you too much trouble just to copy it?” “How can it signify, if it bears our signatures?” his client asked, with a smile at such a trifle; however, she sat down, and copied it upon another sheet of paper. Then Mr. Jellicorse, beautifully bowing, drew near to take possession of his own handwriting; but the lady, with a bow of even greater elegance, lifted the cover of the standing desk, and therein placed both manuscripts; and the lawyer perceived that he could say nothing.

“How delightful it is to be quit of business!” The hostess now looked hospitable. “We need not recur to this matter, I do hope. That paper, whatever it is, will be signed by both of us, and handed over to you, in your legal head-quarters, tomorrow. We must have the pleasure of sending you home in the morning, Mr. Jellicorse. We have bought a very wonderful vehicle, invented for such roads as ours, and to supersede the jumping-car. It is warranted to traverse any place a horse can travel, with luxurious ease to the passengers, and safety of no common description. Jordas will drive you; your horse can trot behind; and you can send back by it whatever there may be.”

Mr. Jellicorse detested new inventions, and objected most strongly to any experiment made in his own body. However, he would rather die than plead his time of life in bar, and his faith in the dogman was unlimited. And now the gentle Mrs. Carnaby, who had gracefully taken flight from “horrid business,” returned in an evening dress and with a sweetly smiling countenance, and very nearly turned the Jellicorsian head, snowy as it was, with soft attentions and delicious deference.

“I was treated like a prince,” he said next day, when delivered safe at home, and resting among his rather dingy household gods. “There never could have been a more absurd idea than that notion of yours about my being put into wet sheets, Diana. Why, I even had my night-cap warmed; and a young woman came, with a blush upon her face, and a question whether I would be pleased to sleep in a gross of Naples stockings! Ah, to my mind, after all, it proves what I have always said — that there is nothing like old blood.”

“Nothing like old blood for being made a fool of,” his wife replied, with a coarseness which made him shiver, after Mrs. Carnaby. “They know what they are about, I’ll lay a penny. Some roguery, no doubt, that they seek to lead you into. That is what their night-caps and stockings mean. How low it is to make a foreground of them!”

“Hush, my dear! I can not bear such want of charity. And what is even worse, you expose me to an action at law, with heavy damages.”

The lawyer had sundry little qualms of conscience, which were deepened by his wife’s sagacious words; and suddenly it struck him that the new-fangled vehicle which had brought him home so quietly from Scargate had shown a strange inability to stand still for more than two minutes at his side door. So much had he been hurried by the apparent straits of his charioteer that he ran out with box C without ever stopping to make an inventory of its contents — as he intended to do — or even looking whether the all-important deed was there. In fact, he had scarcely time to seal up the key in a separate package, hand it to Jordas, and take the order (now become a receipt) from the horny fist of the dogman, before Marmaduke, rendered more dashing by snow-drift, was away like a thunder-bolt — if such a thing there be, and if it has four legs.

“How could I have helped doing as I have done?” he whispered to himself, uncomfortably. “Here are two ladies of high position, and they send a joint order for their property. By-the-bye, I will just have a look at that order, now that there is no horse to jump over me.” Upon going to the day file, he found the order right, transcribed from his own amended copy, and bearing two signatures, as it should do. But it struck him that the words “Eliza Carnaby” were written too boldly for that lady’s hand; and the more he looked at them, the more he was convinced of it. That was no concern of his, for it was not his duty, under the circumstances of the case, to verify her signature. But this conviction drove him to an uncomfortable conclusion —“Miss Yordas intends to destroy that deed without her sister’s knowledge. She knows that her sister’s nerve is weaker, and she does not like to involve her in the job. A very brave, sisterly feeling, no doubt, and much the wiser course, if she means to do it. It is a bold stroke, and well worthy of a Yordas. But I hope, with all my heart, that she never can have thought of it. And she kept that order in my handwriting to make it look as if the suggestion came from me! And I am as innocent as any lamb is of the frauds that shall come to be written on his skin. The duty of attorney toward client prevents me from opening my lips upon the matter. But she is a deep woman, and a bold one too. May the Lord direct things aright! I shall retire, and let Robert have the practice, as soon as Brown’s bankruptcy has worn out captious creditors. It is the Lord alone that doeth all things well.”

Mr. Jellicorse knew that he had done his best; and though doubtful of the turn which things had taken, with some exclusion of his agency, he felt (though his conscience told him not to feel it) that here was one true source of joy. That impudent, dashing, unprofessional man, who was always poking his vile unarticled nose into legal business, that fellow of the name of Mordacks, now would have no locus standi left. At least a hundred and fifty firms, of good standing in the county, detested that man, and even a judge would import a scintillula juris into any measure which relieved the country of him. Meditating thus, he heard a knock.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31