Birds of Prey, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

Mr. Goodge’s Wisdom.

Oct. 5th. My dreams last night were haunted by the image of gray-eyed Molly, with her wild loose hair. She must needs have been a sweet creature; and how she came amongst those prim fishy-eyed men and women with absurd head-gear is much more than I can understand. That she should mix herself up with Diana Paget, and play rouge-et-noir at Forêtdechêne in a tucked-up chintz gown and a quilted satin petticoat, in my dreams last night — that I should meet her afterwards in the little stucco temple on the Belgian hills, and stab her to the heart, whereon she changed into Charlotte Halliday — is only in the nature of dreams, and therefore no subject for wonder.

On referring to Sheldon’s letter I found that the next people to be looked up were descendants of Brice the lawyer; so I devoted my breakfast-hour to the cultivation of an intimacy with the oldest of the waiters — a very antique specimen of his brotherhood, with a white stubble upon his chin and a tendency to confusion of mind in the matter of forks and spoons.

“Do you know, or have you ever known, an attorney of the name of Brice in this town?” I asked him.

He rubbed the white stubble contemplatively with his hand, and then gave his poor old head a dejected shake. I felt at once that I should get very little good out of him.

“No,” he murmured despondently, “not that I can call to mind.”

I should like to know what he could call to mind, piteous old meanderer!

“And yet you belong to Ullerton, I suppose?”

“Yes; and have belonged to it these seventy-five years, man and boy;” whereby, no doubt, the dreary confusion of the unhappy being’s mind. Figurez donc, mon cher. Qui-que-ce-soit, fifty-five years or so of commercial breakfasts and dinners in such a place as Ullerton! Five-and-fifty years of steaks and chops; five-and-fifty years of ham and eggs, indifferently buttered toasts, and perennial sixes of brandy-and-water! After rambling to and fro with spoons and forks, and while in progress of clearing my table, and dropping the different items of my breakfast equipage, the poor soddened faded face of this dreary wanderer became suddenly illumined with a faint glimmer that was almost the light of reason.

“There were a Brice in Ullerton when I were a lad; I’ve heard father tell on him,” he murmured slowly.

“An attorney?”

“Yes. He were a rare wild one, he were! It was when the Prince of Wales were Regent for his poor old mad father, as the saying is, and folks was wilder like in general in those times, and wore spencers — lawyer Brice wore a plum-coloured one.”

Imagine then again, mon cher, an attorney in a plum-coloured spencer! Who, in these enlightened days, would trust his business to such a practitioner? I perked up considerably, believing that my aged imbecile was going to be of real service to me.

“Yes, he were a rare wild one, he were,” said my ancient friend with excitement. “I can remember him as well as if it was yesterday, at Tiverford races — there was races at Tiverford in those days, and gentlemen jocks. Lawyer Brice rode his roan mare — Queen Charlotte they called her. But after that he went wrong, folks said — speckilated with some money, you see, that he didn’t ought to have touched — and went to America, and died.” “Died in America, did he? Why the deuce couldn’t he die in Ullerton? I should fancy it was a pleasanter place to die in than it is to live in. And how about his sons?”

“Lawyer Brice’s sons?”

“Yes, of course.”

My imbecile’s lips expanded into a broad grin.

“Lawyer Brice never had no sons,” he exclaimed, with a tone which seemed to express a contemptuous pity for my ignorance; “he never married.”

“Well, well; his brothers. He had brothers, I suppose?”

“Not as I ever heard tell on,” answered my imbecile, relapsing into hopeless inanity.

It was clear that no further help was to be obtained from him. I went to the landlord — a brisk business-like individual of Transatlantic goaheadism. From him I learned that there were no Brices in Ullerton, and never had been within the thirty years of his experience in that town. He gave me an Ullerton directory in confirmation of that fact — a neat little shilling volume, which I begged leave to keep for a quarter of an hour before returning it.

Brice was evidently a failure. I turned to the letter G, and looked up the name of Goodge. Goodge, Jonah, minister of Beulah Chapel, resided at No. 7, Waterhouse-lane — the lane in which I had seen the chapel.

I determined upon waiting on the worthy Goodge. He may be able to enlighten me as to the name of the pastor who preached to the Wesleyan flock in the time of Rebecca Caulfield; and from the descendants of such pastor I may glean some straws and shreds of information. The pious Rebecca would have been likely to confide much to her spiritual director. The early Wesleyans had all the exaltation of the Quietists, and something of the lunatic fervour of the Convulsionists, who kicked and screamed themselves into epilepsy under the influence of the Unigenitus Bull. The pious Rebecca was no doubt an enthusiast.

I found No. 7, Waterhouse-lane. It is a neat little six-roomed house, with preternaturally green palings enclosing about sixty square feet of bright yellow gravel, adorned by a row of whitewashed shells. Some scarlet geraniums bloomed in pots of still more vivid scarlet; and the sight of those bright red blossoms recalled Philip Sheldon’s garden at Bayswater, and that sweet girl by whose side I have walked its trim pathways.

But business is business; and if I am ever to sue for my Charlotte’s hand, I must present myself before her as the winner of the three thousand. Remembering this, I lifted Mr. Goodge’s knocker, and presently found myself in conversation with that gentleman.

Whether unordained piety has a natural tendency to become greasy of aspect, and whether, among the many miracles vouchsafed to the amiable and really great Wesley, he received for his disciples of all time to come the gift of a miraculous straightness and lankiness of hair, I know not; but I do know that every Methodist parson I have had the honour to know has been of one pattern, and that Mr. Goodge is no exception to the rule.

I am bound to record that I found him a very civil person, quite willing to afford me any help in his power, and far more practical and business-like than the rector of Dewsdale.

It seems that the gift of tongues descended on the Goodges during the lifetime of John Wesley himself, and during the earlier part of that teacher’s career. It was a Goodge who preached in the draper’s warehouse, and it was the edifying discourse of a Goodge which developed the piety of Miss Rebecca Caulfield, afterwards Mrs. Haygarth.

“That Goodge was my great-uncle,” said the courteous Jonah, “and there was no one in Ullerton better acquainted with Rebecca Caulfield. I’ve heard my grandmother talk of her many a time. She used to send him poultry and garden-stuff from her house at Dewsdale, and at his instigation she contributed handsomely to the erection of the chapel in which it is my privilege to preach.”

I felt that I had struck upon a vein of gold. Here was a sharp-witted, middle-aged man — not an ancient mariner, or a meandering imbecile — who could remember the talk of a grandmother who had known Matthew Haygarth’s wife. And this visit to Mr. Goodge was my own idea, not prompted by the far-seeing Sheldon. I felt myself advancing in the insidious arts of a private inquirer.

“I am employed in the prosecution of a business which has a remote relation to the Haygarth family history,” I said; “and if you can afford me any information on that subject I should be extremely obliged.”

I emphasised the adjective “remote,” and felt myself, in my humble way, a Talleyrand.

“What kind of information, do you require?” asked Mr. Goodge thoughtfully.

“Any information respecting Matthew Haygarth or his wife.”

Mr. Goodge became profoundly meditative after this.

“I am not given to act unadvisedly,” he began — and I felt that I was in for a little professional discourse: “the creatures of impulse are the children of Satan, the babes of Lucifer, the infants of Beelzebub. I take counsel in the silence of the night, and wait the whispers of wisdom in the waking hours of darkness. You must allow me time to ponder this business in my heart and to be still.”

I told Mr. Goodge that I would willingly await his own time for affording me any information in his power to give.

“That is pleasant,” said the pastor blandly: “the worldly are apt to rush blindly through life, as the roaring lion rushes through the forest. I am not one of those rushing worldlings. I presume, by the way, that such information as I may afford is likely to become a source of pecuniary profit to your employer?”

I began to see that my friend Goodge and the rector of Dewsdale were very different kind of people, and that I must play my cards accordingly.

“That will depend upon the nature of your information,” I replied diplomatically; “it may be worth something to us, or it may be worthless.”

“And in case it should be worth something?”

“In that case my employer would be glad to remunerate the person from whom he obtained it.”

Mr. Goodge again became meditative.

“It was the habit of the sainted Wesley to take counsel from the Scriptures,” he said presently: “if you will call again tomorrow, young man, I shall have taken counsel, and may be able to entreat with you.”

I did not much relish being addressed as “young man,” even by such a shining light as the Rev. Jonah Goodge. But as I wanted the Rev. Jonah’s aid, I submitted with a tolerable grace to his patriarchal familiarity, and bade him good morning, after promising to call again on the following day. I returned to my inn and wrote to Sheldon in time for the afternoon mail, recounting my interview with Mr. Goodge, and asking how far I should be authorised to remunerate that gentleman, or to pledge myself to remunerate him for such information as he might have to dispose of.

Oct. 6th. A letter from Sheldon.

“DEAR HAWKEHURST— There may be something very important behind that mysterious burial at Dewsdale. Go without delay to Spotswold; examine registers, tombstones, &c; hunt up oldest inhabitant or inhabitants, from whom you may be able to discover whether any Haygarth or Haygarths ever lived there, and all that is known respecting such Haygarth or Haygarths. You have got a cine to something. Follow it up till it breaks off short, as such clues often do, or till you find it is only leading you on a wild-goose chase. The Dewsdale business is worth investigation.

“Mem. How about descendants of lawyer Brice? — Yours truly, G.S.

“G.‘s Inn, Oct. 5th.”

Before starting for Spotswold it was necessary for me to see Mr. Goodge. I found that gentleman in a pious and yet business-like frame of mind. He had taken counsel from the Scriptures, like the founder of his sect; but I fancy with rather less spiritual aspirations.

“The text upon which the lot fell was the 12th verse of the 9th chapter in the Book of Proverbs, ‘If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself,’” he said solemnly; “whereby I perceive that I shall not be justified in parting with that which you seek without fitting recompense. I ask you, therefore, young man, what are you prepared to give?”

The Rev. Jonah’s tone could scarcely have been more lofty, or his manner more patronising, if he had been Saul and I the humble David; but a man who is trying to earn three thousand pounds must put up with a great deal. Finding that the minister was prepared to play the huckster, I employed no further ceremony.

“The price must of course depend on the quality of the article you have to sell,” I said; “I must know that before I can propose terms.”

“Suppose my information took the form of letters?”

“Letters from whom — to whom?”

“From Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth to my great-uncle, Samson Goodge.”

“How many of such letters have you to sell?”

I put it very plainly; but the Rev. Jonah’s susceptibilities were not of the keenest order. He did not wince.

“Say forty odd letters.”

I pricked up my ears; and it needed all my diplomacy to enable me to conceal my sense of triumph. Forty odd letters! There must be an enormous amount of information in forty odd letters; unless the woman wrote the direst twaddle ever penned by a feminine correspondent.

“Over what period do the dates of these letters extend?” I asked.

“Over about seven years; from 1769 to 1776.”

Four years prior to the marriage with our friend Matthew; three years after the marriage.

“Are they tolerably long letters, or mere scrawls?”

“They were written in a period when nobody wrote short letters,” answered Mr. Goodge sententiously — “the period of Bath post and dear postage. The greater number of the epistles cover three sides of a sheet of letter-paper; and Mrs. Rebecca’s caligraphy was small and neat.”

“Good!” I exclaimed. “I suppose it is no use my asking you to let me see one of these letters before striking a bargain — eh, Mr. Goodge?” “Well, I think not,” answered the oily old hypocrite. “I have taken counsel, and I will abide by the light that has been shown me. ‘If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself;’ such are the words of inspiration. No, I think not.”

“And what do you ask for the forty odd letters?”

“Twenty pounds.”

“A stiff sum, Mr. Goodge, for forty sheets of old letter-paper.”

“But if they were not likely to be valuable, you would scarcely happen to want them,” answered the minister. “I have taken counsel, young man.”

“And those are your lowest terms?”

“I cannot accept sixpence less. It is not in me to go from my word. As Jacob served Laban seven years, and again another seven years, having promised, so do I abide by my bond. Having said twenty pounds, young man, Heaven forbid that I should take so much as twenty pence less than those twenty pounds!”

The solemn unction with which he pronounced this twaddle is beyond description. The pretence of conscientious feeling which he contrived to infuse into his sordid bargain-driving might have done honour to Molière’s Tartuffe. Seeing that he was determined to stick to his terms, I departed. I telegraphed to Sheldon for instructions as to whether I was to give Goodge the money he asked, and then went back to my inn, where I devoted myself for the next ten minutes to the study of a railway time-table, with a view to finding the best route to Spotswold.

After a close perusal of bewildering strings of proper names and dazzling columns of figures, I found a place called Black Harbour, “for Wisborough, Spotswold, and Chilton.” A train left Ullerton for Black Harbour at six o’clock in the afternoon, and was due at the latter place at 8.40.

This gave me an interval of some hours, in which I could do nothing, unless I received a telegram from Sheldon. The chance of a reply from him kept me a prisoner in the coffee-room of the Swan Inn, where I read almost every line in the local and London newspapers pending the arrival of the despatch, which came at last.

“Tell Goodge he shall have the sum asked, and get the letters at once. Money by to-night’s post.”

This was Sheldon’s message; sharp and short, and within the eighteen penny limit. Acting upon this telegram, I returned to the abode of Mr. Goodge, told him his terms were to be complied with, showed him the telegram, at his request, and asked for the letters.

I ought to have known my reverend friend better than to imagine he would part with those ancient documents except for money upon the counter.

He smiled a smile which might have illuminated the visage of Machiavelli.

“The letters have kept a long time, young man,” he said, after having studied the telegram as closely as if it had been written in Punic; “and lo you, they are in nowise the worse for keeping: so they will keep yet longer. ‘If thou be wise, then shalt be wise for thyself.’ You can come for the letters tomorrow, and bring the money with you. Say at 11 A.M.”

I put on my hat and bade my friend good day. I have often been tempted to throw things at people, and have withheld my hand; but I never felt Satan so strong upon me as at that moment, and I very much fear that if I had had anything in the way of a kitchen-poker or a carving-knife about me, I should have flung that missile at the patriarchal head of my saintly Jonah. As it was, I bade him good day and returned to the Swan, where I took a hurried repast and started for the station, carrying a light carpet-bag with me, as I was not likely to return till the following night, at the earliest.

I arrived at the station ten minutes before the starting of the train, and had to endure ten minutes of that weariness called waiting. I exhausted the interest of all the advertisements on the station walls; found out how I could have my furniture removed with the utmost convenience — supposing myself to possess furniture; discovered where I ought to buy a dinner-service, and the most agreeable kind of blind to screen my windows in sunny weather. I was still lingering over the description of this new invention in blinds, when a great bell set up a sudden clanging, and the down train from London came thundering into the station.

This was also the train for Black Harbour. There were a good many passengers going northwards, a good many alighting at Ullerton; and in the hurry and confusion I had some difficulty in finding a place in a second-class carriage, the passengers therein blocking up the windows with that unamiable exclusiveness peculiar to railway travellers. I found a place at last, however; but in hurrying from carriage to carriage I was startled by an occurrence which I have since pondered very seriously.

I ran bolt against my respected friend and patron Horatio Paget.

We had only time to recognise each other with exclamations of mutual surprise when the clanging bell rang again, and I was obliged to scuffle into my seat. A moment’s delay would have caused me to be left behind. And to have remained behind would have been very awkward for me; as the Captain would undoubtedly have questioned me as to my business in Ullerton. Was I not supposed to be at Dorking, enjoying the hospitality of an aged aunt?

It would have been unlucky to lose that train.

But what “makes” the gallant Captain in Ullerton? That is a question which I deliberated as the train carried me towards Black Harbour.

Sheldon warned me of the necessity for secrecy, and I have been as secret as the grave. It is therefore next to an impossibility that Horatio Paget can have any idea of the business I am engaged in. He is the very man of all others to try and supersede me if he had an inkling of my plans; but I am convinced he can have no such inkling.

And yet the advertisement of the Haygarth property in the Times was as open to the notice of all the world as it was open to the notice of George Sheldon. What if my patron should have been struck by the same advertisement, and should have come to Ullerton on the same business?

It is possible, but it is not likely. When I left town the Captain was engaged in Philip Sheldon’s affairs. He has no doubt come to Ullerton on Philip Sheldon’s business. The town, which seems an abomination of desolation to a man who is accustomed to London and Paris, is nevertheless a commercial centre; and the stockbroker’s schemes may involve the simple Ullertonians, as well as the more experienced children of the metropolis.

Having thought the business out thus, I gave myself no further trouble about the unexpected appearance of my friend and benefactor.

At Black Harbour I found a coach, which carried me to Spotswold, whither I travelled in a cramped and painful position as regards my legs, and with a pervading sensation which was like a determination of luggage to the brain, so close to my oppressed head was the heavily-laden roof of the vehicle. It was pitch dark when I and two fellow-passengers of agricultural aspect were turned out of the coach at Spotswold, which in the gloom of night appeared to consist of half a dozen houses shut in from the road by ghastly white palings, a grim looming church, and a low-roofed inn with a feeble light glimmering athwart a red stuff curtain.

At this inn I was fain to take up my abode for the night, and was conducted to a little whitewashed bedchamber, draperied with scanty dimity and smelling of apples — the humblest, commonest cottage chamber, but clean and decent, and with a certain countrified aspect which was pleasing to me. I fancied myself the host of such an inn, with Charlotte for my wife; and it seemed to me that it would be nice to live in that remote and unknown village, “the world forgetting, by the world forgot.” I beguiled myself by such foolish fancies — I, who have been reared amidst the clamour and riot of the Strand!

Should I be happy with that dear girl if she were mine? Alas! I doubt it. A man who has led a disreputable life up to the age of seven-and-twenty is very likely to have lost all capacity for such pure and perfect happiness as that which good men find in the tranquil haven of a home.

Should I not hear the rattle of the billiard-balls, or the voice of the croupier calling the main, as I sat by my quiet fireside? Should I not yearn for the glitter and confusion of West-end dancing-rooms, or the mad excitement of the ring, while my innocent young wife was sitting by my side and asking me to look at the blue eyes of my first-born?

No; Charlotte is not for me. There must be always the two classes — the sheep and the goats; and my lot has been cast among the goats.

And yet there are some people who laugh to scorn the doctrines of Calvin, and say there is no such thing as predestination.

Is there not predestination? Was not I predestined to be born in a gaol and reared in a gutter, educated among swindlers and scoundrels, fed upon stolen victuals, and clad in garments never to be paid for? Did no Eumenides preside over the birth of Richard Savage, so set apart for misery that the laws of nature were reversed, and even his mother hated him? Did no dismal fatality follow the footsteps of Chatterton? Has no mysterious ban been laid upon the men who have been called Dukes of Buckingham?

What foolish lamentations am I scribbling in this diary, which is intended to be only the baldest record of events! It is so natural to mankind to complain, that, having no ear in which to utter his discontent, a man is fain to resort to pen and ink.

I devoted my evening to conversation with the landlord and his wife, but found that the name of Haygarth was as strange to them as if it had been taken from an inscription in the tomb of the Pharaohs. I inquired about the few inhabitants of the village, and ascertained that the oldest man in the place is the sexton, native-born, and supposed by mine host never to have travelled twenty miles from his birthplace. His name is Peter Drabbles. What extraordinary names that class of people contrive to have! My first business to-morrow morning will be to find my friend Drabbles — another ancient mariner, no doubt — and to examine the parish registers.

Oct. 7th. A misty morning, and a perpetual drizzle — to say nothing of a damp, penetrating cold, which creeps through the thickest overcoat, and chills one to the bone. I do not think Spotswold can have much brightness or prettiness even on the fairest summer morning that ever beautified the earth. I know that, seen as I see it to-day, the place is the very archetype of all that is darksome, dull, desolate, dismal, and dreary. (How odd, by the way, that all that family of epithets should have the same initial!) A wide stretch of moorland lies around and about the little village, which crouches in a hollow, like some poor dejected animal that seeks to shelter itself from the bitter blast. On the edge of the moorland, and above the straggling cottages and the little inn, rises the massive square tower of an old church, so far out of proportion to the pitiful cluster of houses, that I imagine it must be the remnant of some monastic settlement.

Towards this church I made my way, under the dispiriting drip, drip of the rain, and accompanied by a feeble old man, who is sexton, clerk, gravedigger, and anything or everything of an official nature.

We went into the church after my ancient mariner No. 2 had fumbled a good deal with a bunch of ghostly-looking keys. The door opened with a dismal scroop, and shut with an appalling bang. Grim and dark as the church is without, it is grimmer and darker within, and damp and vault-like, à faire frémir. There are all the mysterious cupboards and corners peculiar to such edifices; an organ-loft, from which weird noises issue at every opening or closing of a door; a vaulted roof, which echoes one’s footsteps with a moan, as of some outraged spirit hovering in empty space, and ejaculating piteously, “Another impious intruder after the sacramental plate! another plebeian sole trampling on the brasses of the De Montacutes, lords of the manor!”

The vestry is, if anything, more ghostly than the general run of vestries; but the business mind is compelled to waive all considerations of a supernatural character. For the moment there flashed across my brain the shadows of all the Christmas stories I had ever read or heard concerning vestries; the phantom bridal, in which the bride’s beautiful white hand changed to the bony fingers of a skeleton as she signed the register; the unearthly christening, in which all at once, after the ceremony having been conducted with the utmost respectability, to the edification of the unauthorised intruder hiding behind a pillar, the godfathers and godmothers, nurse and baby, priest and clerk, became in a moment dilapidated corpses; whereon the appalled intruder fell prone at the foot of his pillar, there to be discovered the next morning by his friends, and the public generally, with his hair blanched to an awful whiteness, or his noble intellect degraded to idiocy. For a moment, the memory of about a hundred Christmas stories was too much for me — so weird of aspect and earthy of atmosphere was the vestry at Spotswold. And then “being gone” the shadows of the Christmas stories, I was a man and a lawyer’s clerk again, and set myself assiduously to search the registers and interrogate my ancient.

I found that individual a creature of mental fogginess compared with whom my oldest inhabitant of Ullerton would have been a Pitt, Earl of Chatham. But I questioned and cross-questioned him until I had in a manner turned his poor old wits the seamy side without, and had discovered, first, that he had never known any one called Haygarth in the whole course of those seventy-five years’ vegetation which politeness compelled me to speak of as his “life;” secondly, that he had never known any one who knew a Haygarth; thirdly, that he was intimately acquainted with every creature in the village, and that he knew that no one of the inhabitants could give me the smallest shred of such information as I required.

Having extorted so much as this from my ancient with unutterable expenditure of time and trouble, I next set to work upon the registers.

If the ink manufactured in the present century is of no more durable nature than that abominable fluid employed in the penmanship of a hundred years ago, I profoundly pity the generations that are to come after us. The registers of Spotswold might puzzle a Bunsen. However, bearing in mind the incontrovertible fact that three thousand pounds is a very agreeable sum of money, I stuck to my work for upwards of two hours, and obtained as a result the following entries:—

“1. Matthew Haygarthe, aged foure yeares, berrid in this churcheyarde, over against ye tombe off Mrs. Marttha Stileman, about 10 fete fromm ye olde yue tre. Febevarie 6th, 1753.”

“2. Mary Haygarthe, aged twentie sevene yeers, berrid under ye yue tree, Nov. 21, 1754.”

After copying these two entries, I went out into the churchyard to look for Mary Haygarth’s grave.

Under a fine old yew — which had been old a hundred years ago, it seems — I found huddled amongst other headstones one so incrusted with moss, that it was only after scraping the parasite verdure from the stone with my penknife that I was able to discover the letters that had been cut upon it. I found at last a brief inscription:

“Here lieth ye body of MARY HAYGARTH, aged 27. Born 1727. Died 1754. This stone has been set up by one who sorroweth without hope of consolation.” A strange epitaph: no scrap of Latin, no text from Scripture, no conventional testimony to the virtues and accomplishments of the departed, no word to tell whether the dead woman had been maid, wife, or widow. It was the most provoking inscription for a lawyer or a genealogist, but such as might have pleased a poet.

I fancy this Mary Haygarth must have been some quiet creature, with very few friends to sorrow for her loss; perhaps only that one person who sorrowed without hope of consolation.

Such a tombstone might have been set above the grave of that simple maid who dwelt “beside the banks of Dove.”

This is the uttermost that my patience or ingenuity can do for me at Spotswold. I have exhausted every possibility of obtaining further information. So, having written and posted my report to Sheldon, I have no more to do but to return to Ullerton. I take back with me nothing but the copy of the two entries in the register of burials. Who this Matthew Haygarth or this Mary Haygarth was, and how related to the Matthew, is an enigma not to be solved at Spotswold.

Here the story of the Haygarths ends with the grave under the yew-tree.

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