Birds of Prey, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

Hunting the Judsons.

Oct. 10th. Yesterday and the day before were blank days. On Saturday I read Mrs. Rebecca’s letters a second time after a late breakfast, and spent a lazy morning in the endeavour to pick up any stray crumbs of information which I might have overlooked the previous night. There was nothing to be found, however; and, estimable as I have always considered the founder of the Wesleyan fraternity, I felt just a little weary of his virtues and his discourses, his journeyings from place to place, his love-feasts and his prayer-meetings, before I had finished with Mrs. Haygarth’s correspondence. In the afternoon I strolled about the town; made inquiries at several inns, with a view to discover whether Captain Paget was peradventure an inmate thereof; looked in at the railway-station, and watched the departure of a train; dawdled away half an hour at the best tobacconist’s shop in the town on the chance of encountering my accomplished patron, who indulges in two of the choicest obtainable cigars per diem, and might possibly repair thither to make a purchase, if he were in the place. Whether he is still in Ullerton or not I cannot tell; but he did not come to the tobacconist’s; and I was fain to go back to my inn, having wasted a day. Yet I do not think that George Sheldon will have cause to complain of me, since I have worked very closely for my twenty shillings per week, and have devoted myself to the business in hand with an amount of enthusiasm which I did not think it possible for me to experience — except for —

I went to church on Sunday morning, and was more devoutly inclined than it has been my habit to feel; for although a man who lives by his wits must not necessarily be a heathen or an atheist, it is very difficult for him to be anything like a Christian. Even my devotion yesterday was not worth much, for my thoughts went vagabondising off to Charlotte Halliday in the midst of a very sensible practical sermon.

In the afternoon I read the papers, and dozed by the fire in the coffee-room — two-thirds coke by the way, and alternating from the fierceness of a furnace to the dreary blackness of an exhausted coal-mine — still thinking of Charlotte.

Late in the evening I walked the streets of the town, and thought what a lonely wretch I was. The desert of Sahara is somewhat dismal, I daresay; but in its dismality there is at least a flavour of romance, a smack of adventure. O, the hopeless dulness, the unutterable blankness of a provincial town late on a Sunday night, as it presents itself to the contemplation of a friendless young man without a sixpence in his pocket, or one bright hope to tempt him to forgetfulness of the past in pleasant dreaming of the future!

Complaining again! O pen, which art the voice of my discontent, your spluttering is like this outburst of unmanly fretfulness and futile rage! O paper, whose flat surface typifies the dull level of my life, your greasy unwillingness to receive the ink is emblematic of the soul’s revolt against destiny!

This afternoon brought me a letter from Sheldon, and opened a new channel for my explorations in that underground territory, the past. That man has a marvellous aptitude for his work; and has, what is more than aptitude, the experience of ten years of failure. Such a man must succeed sooner or later. I wonder whether his success will come while I am allied to him. I have been used to consider myself an unlucky wretch, a creature of ill-fortune to others as well as to myself. It is a foolish superstition, perhaps, to fancy one’s self set apart for an evil destiny; but the Eumenides have been rather hard upon me. Those “amiable” deities, whom they of Colonae tried so patiently to conciliate with transparent flatteries, have marked me for their prey from the cradle — I don’t suppose that cradle was paid for, by the bye. I wonder whether there is an avenging deity whose special province it is to pursue the insolvent — a Nemesis of the Bankruptcy Court.

My Sheldon’s epistle bears the evidence of a very subtle brain, as I think. It is longer than his previous letters. I transcribe it here, as I wish this record to be a complete brief of my proceedings in this Haygarth business.

“Gray’s Inn, Sunday night.

“DEAR HAWKEHURST— The copies of the letters came duly to hand, and I think you have made your selections with much discretion, always supposing you have overlooked nothing in the remaining mass of writing. I will thank you to send me the rest of the letters, by the way. You can take notes of anything likely to be useful to yourself, and it will be as well for me to possess the originals.

“I find one very strong point in the first letter of your selection, viz. the allusion to a house in John-street. It is clear that Matthew lived in that house, and in that neighbourhood there may even yet remain some traces of his existence. I shall begin a close investigation to-morrow within a certain radius of that spot; and if I have the good luck to fall upon any clear-headed centenarians, I may pick up something.

“There are some alms-houses hard by Whitecross-street prison, where the inmates live to ages that savour of the Pentateuch. Perhaps there I may light upon some impoverished citizen fallen from a good estate who can remember some contemporary of Matthew’s. London was smaller in those days than it is now, and men lived out their lives in one spot, and had leisure to be concerned about the affairs of their neighbours. As I have now something of a clue to Matthew’s roistering days, I shall set to work to follow it up closely; and your provincial researches and my metropolitan investigations proceeding simultaneously, we may hope to advance matters considerably ere long. For your own part, I should advise you forthwith to hunt up the Judson branch. You will remember that Matthew’s only sister was a Mrs. Judson of Ullerton. I want to find an heir-at-law in a direct line from Matthew; and you know my theory on that point. But if we fail in that direction, we must of course fall back upon the Judsons, who are a disgustingly complicated set of people, and will take half a lifetime to disentangle, to say nothing of other men who may be working the same business, and who are pretty sure to have pinned their faith on the female branch of the Haygarthian tree.

“I want you to ferret out some of the Judson descendants with a view to picking up further documentary evidence in the shape of old letters, inscriptions in old books, and so on. That Matthew had a secret is certain; and that he was very much inclined to reveal that secret in his later days is also certain. Who shall say that he did not tell it to his only sister, though he was afraid to tell it to his wife?

“You have acted with so much discretion up to this point, that I do not care to trouble you with any further hints or suggestions. When money is wanted, it shall be forthcoming; but I must beg you to manage things economically, as I have to borrow at a considerable sacrifice; and should this affair prove a failure, my ruin is inevitable.

“Yours, &c. G.S.”

My friend Sheldon is a man who can never have been more than “yours et-cetera” to any human creature. I suppose what he calls ruin would be a quiet passage through the Bankruptcy Court, and a new set of chambers. I should not suppose that sort of ruin would be very terrible for a man whose sole possessions are a few weak-backed horsehair chairs, a couple of battered old desks, half a dozen empty japanned boxes, a file of Bell’s Life, and a Turkey carpet in which the progress of corruption is evident to the casual observer.

The hunting-up of the Judsons is a very easy matter as compared to the task of groping in the dimness of the past in search of some faint traces of the footsteps of departed Haygarths. Whereas the Haygarth family seem to be an extinct race, the Judsonian branch have bred and mustered in the land; and my chief difficulty in starting has been an embarras de richesse, in the shape of half a page of Judsons in the Ullerton directory.

Whether to seek out Theodore Judson, the attorney, in Nile street East, or the Rev. James Judson, curate of St. Gamaliel; whether to appeal in the first instance to Judson & Co., haberdashers and silk mercers, of the Ferrygate, or to Judson of Judson and Grinder, wadding manufacturers in Lady-lane — was the grand question. On inquiring of the landlord as to the antecedents of these Judsons, I found that they were all supposed to spring from one common stock, and to have the blood of old Jonathan Haygarth in their veins. The Judsons had been an obscure family — people of “no account,” my landlord told me, until Joseph Judson, chapman and cloth merchant in a very small way, was so fortunate as to win the heart of Ruth Haygarth, only daughter of the wealthy Nonconformist grocer in the market-place. This marriage had been the starting-point of Joseph Judson’s prosperity. Old Haygarth had helped his industrious and respectable son-in-law along the stony road that leads to fortune, and had no doubt given him many a lift over the stones which bestrew that toilsome highway. My landlord’s information was as vague as the information of people in general; but it was easily to be made out, from his scanty shreds and scraps of information, that the well-placed Judsons of the present day had almost all profited to some extent by the hard-earned wealth of Jonathan Haygarth. “They’ve nearly all of them got the name of Haygarth mixed up with their other names somehow,” said my landlord. “Judson of Judson and Grinder is Thomas Haygarth Judson. He’s a member of our tradesman’s club, and worth a hundred thousand pounds, if he’s worth a sixpence.”

I have observed, by the way, that a wealthy tradesman in a country town is never accredited with less than a hundred thousand; there seems a natural hankering in the human mind for round numbers.

“There’s J.H. Judson of St. Gamaliel,” continued my landlord —“he’s James Haygarth Judson; and young Judson the attorney’s son puts ‘Haygarth Judson’ on his card, and gets people to call him Haygarth Judson when they will — which in a general way they won’t, on account of his giving himself airs, which you may see him any summer evening walking down Ferrygate as if the place belonged to him, and he didn’t set much value on it. They do say his father’s heir-at-law to a million of money left by the last of the Haygarths, and that he and the son are trying to work up a claim to the property against the Crown. But I have heard young Judson deny it in our room when he was spoken to about it, and I don’t suppose there’s much ground for people’s talk.”

I was sorry to discover there was any ground for such talk; Mr. Judson the lawyer would be no insignificant opponent. I felt that I must give a very wide berth to Mr. Theodore Judson the attorney, and his stuck-up son, unless circumstances should so shape themselves as to oblige us to work with him. In the meanwhile any move I made amongst the other Judsons would be likely, I thought, to come to the knowledge of these particular members of the family.

“Are the Judson family very friendly with one another?” I artfully inquired.

“Well, you see, some of ’em are, and some of ’em ain’t. They’re most of ’em third and fourth cousins, you see, and that ain’t a very near relationship in a town where there’s a good deal of competition, and interests often clash. Young Theodore — Haygarth Judson as he calls himself — is very thick with Judson of St. Gamaliel’s, they were at college together, you see: and fine airs they give themselves on the strength of a couple of years or so at Cambridge. Those two get on very well together. But Judson of the Lady-lane Mills don’t speak to either of ’em when he meets ’em in the street, and has been known to cut ’em dead in my room. William Judson of Ferrygate is a dissenter, and keeps himself to himself very close. The other Judsons are too fast a lot for him: though what’s the harm of a man taking a glass or two of brandy-and-water of an evening with his friends is more than I can find out,” added mine host, musingly.

It was to William Judson the dissenter, who kept himself to himself, that I determined to present myself in the first instance. As a dissenter, he would be likely to have more respect for the memory of the Nonconformist and Wesleyan Haygarths, and to have preserved any traditions relating to them with more fidelity than the Anglican and frivolous members of the Judson family. As an individual who kept himself to himself, he would be unlikely to communicate my business to his kindred.

I lost no time in presenting myself at the house of business in Ferrygate, and after giving the servant George Sheldon’s card, and announcing myself as concerned in a matter of business relating to the Haygarth family, I was at once ushered into a prim counting-house, where a dapper little old gentleman in spotless broadcloth, and a cambric cravat and shirt frill which were soft and snowy as the plumage of the swan, received me with old-fashioned courtesy. I was delighted to find him seventy-five years of age at the most moderate computation, and I should have been all the better pleased if he had been older. I very quickly discovered that in Mr. Judson the linen draper I had to deal with a very different person from the Rev. Jonah Goodge. He questioned me closely as to my motive in seeking information on the subject of the departed Haygarth, and I had some compunction in diplomatising with him as I had diplomatised with Mr. Goodge. To hoodwink the wary Jonah was a triumph — to deceive the confiding linen draper was a shame. However, as I have before set down, I suppose at the falsest I am not much farther from the truth than a barrister or a diplomatist. Mr. Judson accepted my account of myself in all simplicity, and seemed quite pleased to have an opportunity of talking about the deceased Haygarths.

“You are not concerned in the endeavour to assert Theodore Judson’s claim to the late John Haygarth’s property, eh?” the old man asked me presently, as if struck by a sudden misgiving.

I assured him that Mr. Theodore Judson’s interests and mine were in no respect identical.

“I am glad of that,” answered the draper; “not that I owe Theodore Judson a grudge, you must understand, though his principles and mine differ very widely. I have been told that he and his son hope to establish a claim to that Haygarth property; but they will never succeed, sir — they will never succeed. There was a young man who went to India in ‘41; a scamp and a vagabond, sir, who was always trying to borrow money in sums ranging from a hundred pounds, to set him up in business and render him a credit to his family, to a shilling for the payment of a night’s lodging or the purchase of a dinner. But that young man was the great-grandson of Ruth Haygarth — the eldest surviving grandson of Ruth Haygarth’s eldest son; and if that man is alive, he is rightful heir to John Haygarth’s money. Whether he is alive or dead at this present moment is more than I can tell, since he has never been heard of in Ullerton since he left the town; but until Theodore Judson can obtain legal proof of that man’s death he has no more chance of getting one sixpence of the Haygarth estate than I have of inheriting the crown of Great Britain.”

The old man had worked himself into a little passion before he finished this speech, and I could see that the Theodore Judsons were as unpopular in the draper’s counting-house as they were at the Swan Inn.

“What was this man’s Christian name?” I asked.

“Peter. He was called Peter Judson; and was the great-grandson of my grandfather, Joseph Judson, who inhabited this very house, sir, more than a hundred years ago. Let me see: Peter Judson must have been about five-and-twenty years of age when he left Ullerton; so he is a middle-aged man by this time if he hasn’t killed himself, or if the climate hasn’t killed him long ago. He went as supercargo to a merchant vessel: he was a clever fellow, and could work hard when it suited him, in spite of his dissipated life. Theodore Judson is a very good lawyer; but though he may bring all his ingenuity to bear, he will never advance a step nearer to the possession of John Haygarth’s money till he obtains evidence of Peter Judson’s death; and he’s afraid to advertise for that evidence for fear he might arouse the attention of other claimants.”

Much as I was annoyed to find that there were claimants lying in wait for the rev. intestate’s wealth, I was glad to perceive that Theodore Judson’s unpopularity was calculated to render his kindred agreeably disposed to any stranger likely to push that gentleman out of the list of competitors for these great stakes, and I took my cue from this in my interview with the simple old draper.

“I regret that I am not at liberty to state the nature of my business,” I said, in a tone that was at once insinuating and confidential; “but I think I may venture to go so far as to say, without breach of trust to my employer, that whoever may ultimately succeed to the Rev. John Haygarth’s money, neither Mr. Judson the lawyer nor his son will ever put a finger on a penny of it.”

“I am not sorry to hear it,” answered Mr. Judson, enraptured; “not that I owe the young man a grudge, you must understand, but because he is particularly undeserving of good fortune. A young man who passes his own kindred in the streets of his native town without the common courtesy due to age or respectability; a young man who sneers at the fortune acquired in an honest and reputable trade; a young man who calls his cousins counter-jumpers, and his aunts and uncles ‘swaddlers’— a vulgar term of contempt applied to the earlier members of the Wesleyan confraternity — such a young man is not the individual to impart moral lustre to material wealth; and I am free to confess that I had rather any one else than Theodore Judson should inherit this vast fortune. Why, are you aware, my dear sir, that he has been seen to drive tandem through this very street, as it is; and I should like to know how many horses he would harness to that gig of his, or how openly he would insult his relatives, if he had a hundred thousand pounds to deal with?”

“A hundred thousand pounds!” exclaimed I; “am I to understand that the fortune left by the Reverend John Haygarth amounts to that sum?”

“To every penny of it, sir; and a nice use Theodore Judson and that precious son of his would make of it if it fell into their hands.”

For a second time Mr. Judson the draper had worked himself into a little passion, and the conversation had to be discontinued for some minutes while he cooled down to his ordinary temperament.

“O ho!” said I within myself, while awaiting the completion of this cooling-down process; “so this is the stake for which my friend Sheldon is playing!”

“I’ll tell you what I will do for you, Mr. — Mr. Hawke-shell,”— Mr. Judson said at last, making a compound of my own and my employer’s names; “I will give you a line of introduction to my sister. If any one can help you in hunting up intelligence relating to the past she can. She is two years my junior — seventy-one years of age, but as bright and active as a girl. She has lived all her life in Ullerton, and is a woman who hoards every scrap of paper that comes in her way. If old letters or old newspapers can assist you, she can show you plenty amongst her stores.”

Upon this the old man wrote a note, which he dried with sand out of a perforated bottle, as Richard Steele may have dried one of those airy tender essays which he threw off in tavern parlours for the payment of a jovial dinner.

Provided with this antique epistle, written on Bath post and sealed with a great square seal from a bunch of cornelian monstrosities which the draper carried at his watch-chain, I departed to find Miss Hephzibah Judson, of Lochiel Villa, Lancaster-road.

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