Birds of Prey, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 4

Glimpses of a Bygone Life.

October 10th. I found the villa inhabited by Miss Hephzibah Judson very easily, and found it one of those stiff square dwelling-houses with brass curtain-rods, prim flower-beds, and vivid green palings, only to be discovered in full perfection in the choicer suburb of a country town.

I had heard enough during my brief residence in Ullerton to understand that to live in the Lancaster-road was to possess a diploma of respectability not easily vitiated by individual conduct. No disreputable persons had ever yet set up their unholy Lares and Penates in one of those new slack-baked villas; and that person must have been very bold who, conscious of moral unfitness or pecuniary shortcoming, should have ventured to pitch his tent in that sacred locality.

Miss Hephzibah Judson was one of the individuals whose shining sanctity of life and comfortable income lent a reflected brightness to the irreproachable suburb. I was admitted to her abode by an elderly woman of starched demeanour but agreeable visage, who ushered me into a spotless parlour, whereof the atmosphere was of that vault-like coldness peculiar to a room which is only inhabited on state occasions. Here the starched domestic left me while she carried my letter of introduction to her mistress. In her absence I had leisure to form some idea of Miss Judson’s character on the mute evidence of Miss Judson’s surroundings. From the fact that there were books of a sentimental and poetical tenor amongst the religious works ranged at mathematically correct distances upon the dark green table-cover — from the presence of three twittering canaries in a large brass cage — from the evidence of a stuffed Blenheim spaniel, with intensely brown eyes, reclining on a crimson velvet cushion under a glass shade — I opined that Miss Judson’s piety was pleasantly leavened by sentiment, and that her Wesleyanism was agreeably tempered by that womanly tenderness which, failing more legitimate outlets, will waste itself upon twittering canaries and plethoric spaniels.

I was not mistaken. Miss Judson appeared presently, followed by the servant bearing a tray of cake and wine. This was the first occasion on which I had been offered refreshment by any person to whom I had presented myself. I argued, therefore, that Miss Judson was the weakest person with whom I had yet had to deal; and I flattered myself with the hope that from Miss Judson’s amiable weakness, sentimentality, and womanly tenderness, I should obtain better aid than from more business-like and practical people.

I fancied that with this lady it would be necessary to adopt a certain air of candour. I therefore did not conceal from her the fact that my business had something to do with that Haygarthian fortune awaiting a claimant.

“The person for whom you are concerned is not Mr. Theodore Judson?” she asked, with some asperity.

I assured her that I had never seen Theodore Judson, and that I was in no manner interested in his success.

“In that case I shall be happy to assist you as far as lies in my power; but I can do nothing to advance the interests of Theodore Judson junior. I venture to hope that I am a Christian; and if Theodore Judson junior were to come here to me and ask my forgiveness, I should accord that forgiveness as a Christian; but I cannot and will not lend myself to the furtherance of Theodore Judson’s avaricious designs. I cannot lend myself to the suppression of truth or the assertion of falsehood. Theodore Judson senior is not the rightful heir to the late John Haygarth’s fortune, though I am bound to acknowledge that his claim would be prior to my brother’s. There is a man who stands before the Theodore Judsons, and the Theodore Judsons know it. But were they the rightful claimants, I should still consider them most unfitted to enjoy superior fortune. If that dog could speak, he would be able to testify to ill-usage received from Theodore Judson junior at his own garden-gate, which would bespeak the character of the man to every thoughtful mind. A young man who could indulge his spiteful feelings against an elderly kinswoman at the expense of an unoffending animal is not the man to make worthy use of fortune.”

I expressed my acquiescence with this view of the subject; and I was glad to perceive that with Miss Judson, as with her brother, the obnoxious Theodores would stand me in good stead. The lady was only two years younger than her brother, and even more inclined to be communicative. I made the most of my opportunity, and sat in the vault-like parlour listening respectfully to her discourse, and from time to time hazarding a leading question, as long as it pleased her to converse; although it seemed to me as if a perennial spring of cold water were trickling slowly down my back and pervading my system during the entire period. As the reward of my fortitude I obtained Miss Judson’s promise to send me any letters or papers she might find amongst her store of old documents relating to the personal history of Matthew Haygarth.

“I know I have a whole packet of letters in Matthew’s own hand amongst my grandmother’s papers,” said Miss Judson. “I was a great favourite with my grandmother, and used to spend a good deal of my time with her before she died — which she did while I was in pinafores; but young people wore pinafores much longer in my time than they do now; and I was getting on for fourteen years of age when my grandmother departed this life. I’ve often heard her talk of her brother Matthew, who had been dead some years when I was born. She was very fond of him, and he of her, I’ve heard her say; and she used often to tell me how handsome he was in his youth; and how well he used to look in a chocolate and gold-laced riding coat, just after the victory of Culloden, when he came to Ullerton in secret, to pay her a visit — not being on friendly terms with his father.”

I asked Miss Judson if she had ever read Matthew Haygarth’s letters.

“No,” she said; “I look at them sometimes when I’m tidying the drawer in which I keep them, and I have sometimes stopped to read a word here and there, but no more. I keep them out of respect to the dead; but I think it would make me unhappy to read them. The thoughts and the feelings in old letters seem so fresh that they bring our poor mortality too closely home to us when we remember how little except those faded letters remains of those who wrote them. It is well for us to remember that we are only travellers and wayfarers on this earth; but sometimes it seems just a little hard to think how few traces of our footsteps we leave behind us when the journey is finished.”

The canaries seemed to answer Miss Judson with a feeble twitter of assent: and I took my leave, with a feeling of compassion in my heart. I, the scamp — I, Robert Macaire the younger — had pity upon the caged canaries, and the lonely old woman whose narrow life was drawing to its close, and who began to feel how very poor a thing it had been after all.

Oct. 11th. I have paid the penalty of my temerity in enduring the vault-like chilliness of Miss Hephzibah Judson’s parlour, and am suffering to-day from a sharp attack of influenza; that complaint which of all others tends to render a man a burden to himself, and a nuisance to his fellow-creatures. Under these circumstances I have ordered a fire in my own room — a personal indulgence scarcely warranted by Sheldon’s stipend — and I sit by my own fire pondering over the story of Matthew Haygarth’s life.

On the table by my side are scattered more than a hundred letters, all in Matthew’s bold hand; but even yet, after a most careful study of those letters, the story of the man’s existence is far from clear to me. The letters are full of hints and indications, but they tell so little plainly. They deal in enigmas, and disguise names under the mask of initials.

There is much in these letters which relates to the secret history of Matthew’s life. They were written to the only creature amongst his kindred in whom he fully confided. This fact transpires more than once, as will be seen anon by the extracts I shall proceed to make; if my influenza — which causes me to shed involuntary tears that give me the appearance of a drivelling idiot, and which jerks me nearly out of my chair every now and then with a convulsive sneeze — will permit me to do anything rational or useful.

I have sorted and classified the letters, first upon one plan, then upon another, until I have classified and sorted them into chaos. Having done this, my only chance is to abandon all idea of classification, and go quietly through them in consecutive order according to their dates, jotting down whatever strikes me as significant. George Sheldon’s acumen must do the rest.

Thus I begin my notes, with an extract from the fourth letter in the series. Mem. I preserve Matthew’s own orthography, which is the most eccentric it was ever my lot to contemplate.

December 14, ‘42. Indeed, my dear Ruth, I am ventursom wear you are concurn’d, and w’d tell you that I w’d taik panes to kepe fromm another. I saw ye same girl w’h it was my good fortun to saive from ye molestashun of raketters and mohoks at Smithfelde in September last past. She is ye derest prittiest creture you ever saw, and as elegant and genteel in her speche and maner as a Corte lady, or as ye best bredd person in Ullerton. I mett her in ye nayborood of ye Marchalsee prison wear her father is at this pressent time a prisener, and had som pleassant talke with her. She rememberr’d me at once, and seme’d mitily gladd to see me. Mem. Her pritty blu eys wear fill’d with teares wen she thank’d me for having studd up to be her champyun at ye Fare. So you see, Mrs. Ruth, ye brotherr is more thort off in London than with them which hav ye rite to regard him bestt. If you had scen ye pore simpel childeish creetur and heeard her tell her arteless tale, I think y’r kinde hart w’d have bin sore to considder so much unmiritted misfortun: ye father is in pore helth, a captiv, ye mother has binn dedd thre yeres, and ye pore orfann girl, Mollie, has to mentane ye burden of ye sick father, and a yung helples sister. Think of this, kinde Mrs. Ruth, in y’r welthy home. Mem. Pore Mrs. Mollie is prittier than ye fineist ladies that wear to be sene at ye opening of ye grand new roome at Ranellar this spring last past, wear I sor ye too Miss Gunings and Lady Harvey, wich is alsoe accounted a grate buty.”

I think this extract goes very far to prove that my friend Matthew was considerably smitten by the pretty young woman whose champion he had been in some row at Bartholomew Fair. This fits into one of the scraps of information afforded by my ancient inhabitant in Ullerton Almshouses, who remembers having heard his grandfather talk of Mat Haygarth’s part in some fight or disturbance at the great Smithfield festival.

My next extract treats again of Mollie, after an interval of four months. It seems as if Matthew had confided in his sister so far as to betray his tenderness for the poor player-girl of the London booths; but I can find no such letter amongst those in my hands. Such an epistle may have been considered by Mrs. Ruth too dangerous to be kept where the parental eye might in some evil hour discover it. Matthew’s sister was unmarried at this date, and lived within the range of that stern paternal eye. Matthew’s letter appears to me to have been written in reply to some solemn warning from Ruth.

April 12, 1743. Sure, my dear sister cannot think me so baise a retch as to injoore a pore simpel girl hoo confides in me as ye best and trooest of mortals, wich for her dere saik I will strive to be. If so be my sister cou’d think so ill of me it wou’d amost temt me to think amiss of her, wich cou’d imagen so vile a thort. You tel me that Mrs. Rebecka Caulfeld is mor than ever estemed by my father; but, Ruth, I am bounde to say, my father’s esteme is nott to be ye rule of my ackshuns thro’ life, for it semes to me their is no worser tyrrannie than ye wich fathers do striv to impose on there children, and I do acount that a kind of barbarity wich wou’d compel ye hart of youth to sute ye proodense of age. I do not dout but Mrs. Rebecka is a mitey proper and well-natur’d person, tho’ taken upp with this new sekt of methodys, or, as sum do call them in derission, swaddlers and jumpers, set afoot by ye madbrain’d young man, Wesley, and one that is still madder, Witfelde. Thear ar I dare sware many men in Ullerton wich wou’d be gladd to obtane Mrs. Rebecka’s hand and fortun; but if ye fortun wear ten times more, I wou’d not preetend to oferr my harte to herr w’h can never be its misteress. Now, my deare sister, having gone as farr towards satisfieing all y’r queerys as my paper wou’d welle permitt, I will say no more but to begg you to send me all ye knews, and to believe that none can be more affectionately y’r humble servant than your brother.” “MATHEW HAYGARTH.”

In this extract we have strong ground for supposing that our Matthew truly loved the player-girl, and meant honestly by his sweetheart. There is a noble indignation in his repudiation of his sister’s doubts, and a manly determination not to marry Mrs. Rebecca’s comfortable fortune. I begin to think that Sheldon’s theory of an early and secret marriage will turn up a trump card; but Heaven only knows how slow or how difficult may be the labour of proving such a marriage. And then, even if we can find documentary evidence of such an event, we shall have but advanced one step in our obscure path, and should have yet to discover the issue of that union, and to trace the footsteps of Matthew’s unknown descendants during the period of a century.

I wonder how Sisyphus felt when the stone kept rolling back upon him. Did he ever look up to the top of the mountain and calculate the distance he must needs traverse before his task should be done?

The next letter in which I find a passage worth transcribing is of much later date, and abounds in initials. The postmark is illegible; but I can just make out the letters PO and L, the two first close together, the third after an interval; and there is internal evidence to show that the letter was written from some dull country place. Might not that place have been Spotswold? the PO and the L of the postmark would fit very well into the name of that village. Again I leave this question to the astute Sheldon. The date is March, 1749.

“M. is but porely. Sumtimes I am pain’d to believe this quiett life is not well suted to herr disposishun, having bin acustumed to so much livlinesse and nois. I hav reproched her with this, but she tolde me, with teres in her eys, to be neare mee and M. and C. was to be happie, and ye it is il helth onlie wich is ye cawse of ye sadnesse. I pray heaven M.‘s helth may be on ye mending hand soone. Little M. grows more butiful everry day; and indede, my dear sisterr, if you cou’d stele another visitt this waye, and oblidge yr affectionat brother, you wou’d considerr him ye moste butifull creetur ever scene. So much enteligence with sich ingaging temper endeares him to all hartes. Mrs. J. says she adors him, and is amost afraide to be thort a Paygann for bestoeing so much affection on a erthly creetur, and this to oure good parson who cou’d find no reproche for her plesant folly.

“We hav had heavy ranes all ye week last past. Sech wether can but serve to hinderr M.‘s recovery. The fysichion at G., wear I tooke her, saies she shou’d hav much fresh aire everry day — if not afoot, to be carrid in a chaire or cotche; but in this wether, and in a plaice wear neeither chaire nor cotche can be had, she must needs stop in doors. I hav begg’d her to lett me carry her to G., but she will not, and says in ye summerr she will be as strong as everr. I pray God she may be so. Butt theire are times whenn my harte is sore and heavy; and the rane beeting agenst the winder semes lik dropps of cold worter falling uponn my pore aking harte. If you cou’d stele a visitt you wou’d see wether she semes worse than whenn you sor her last ortumm; she is trieing ye tansy tea; and beggs her service to you, and greatfull thanks for y’r rememberence of her. I dare to say you here splended acounts of my doins in London — at cok fites and theaters, dansing at Vorxhall, and beeting ye wotch in Covin Garden. Does my F. stil use to speke harsh agenst me, or has he ni forgott their is sech a creetur living? If he has so, I hope you wil kepe him in sech forgetfullnesse — and obliage,

“Yr loving brother and obediant servent.”

“MATHEW HAYGARTH.”

To me this letter is almost conclusive evidence of a marriage. Who can this little M. be, of whom he writes so tenderly, except a child? Who can this woman be, whose ill health causes him such anxiety, unless a wife? Of no one but a wife could he write so freely to his sister. The place to which he asks her to “steal a visit” must needs be a home to which a man could invite his sister. I fancy it is thus made very clear that at this period Matthew Haygarth was secretly married and living at Spotswold, where his wife and son were afterwards buried, and whence the body of the son was ultimately removed to Dewsdale to be laid in that grave which the father felt would soon be his own resting-place. That allusion to the Ullerton talk of London roisterings indicates that Matthew’s father believed him to be squandering the paternal substance in the metropolis at the very time when the young man was leading a simple domestic life within fifty miles of the paternal abode. No man could do such a thing in these days of rapid locomotion, when every creature is more or less peripatetic; but in that benighted century the distance from Ullerton to Spotswold constituted a day’s journey. That Matthew was living in one place while he was supposed to be in another is made sufficiently clear by several passages in his letters, all more or less in the strain of the following:—

“I was yesterday — markett-day — at G., wear I ran suddennly agenst Peter Browne’s eldest ladd. The boy openn’d his eyes wide, stearing like an owle; butt I gaive him bakk his looke with interrest, and tolde him if he was curiouse to know my name, I was Simon Lubchick, farmer, at his servise. The pore simpel ladd arsk’d my pardonn humbly for having mistook me for a gentelman of Ullerton — a frend of his father; on wich I gaive him a shillin, and we parted, vastly plesed with eche other; and this is nott the fust time the site of Ullerton fokes has putt me into a swett.”

Amongst later letters are very sad ones. The little M. is dead. The father’s poor aching heart proclaims its anguish in very simple words:

Nov. 1751. I thank my dear sister kindly for her friendlinesse and compashin; butt, ah, he is gone, and their semes to be no plesure or comforte on this erth without him! onlie a littel childe of 6 yeres, and yett so dere a creetur to this harte that the worlde is emty and lonely without him. M. droopes sadly, and is more ailing everry day. Indede, my dere Ruth, I see nothing butt sorrow before me, and I wou’d be right gladd to lay down at peece in my littel M.‘s grave.”

I can find no actual announcements of death, only sad allusions here and there. I fancy the majority of Matthew’s letters must have been lost, for the dates of those confided to my hands are very far apart, and there is evidence in all of them of other correspondence. After the letter alluding to little M.‘s death, there is a hiatus of eight years. Then comes a letter with the post-mark London very clear, from which I transcribe an extract. “October 4th, 1759. The toun is very sadd; everry body, high and low, rich and pore, in morning for Gennerel Wolf: wot a nobel deth to die, and how much happier than to live, when one considers the cairs and miseries of this life; and sech has bin the oppinion of wiser fokes than y’r humble servent. Being in companie on Thersday sennite with that distingwish’d riter, Dr. Johnson — whose admir’d story of Raselass I sent you new from ye press, but who I am bound to confesse is less admirable as a fine gentlemann than as an orther, his linning siled and his kravatt twisted ary, and his manners wot in a more obskure personn wou’d be thort ungenteel — he made a remark wich impress’d me much. Some one present, being almost all gentelmenn of parts and learning, except y’r pore untuter’d brother, observed that it was a saying with the ainchents that ye happiest of men was him wich was never born; ye next happy him wich died the soonest. On wich Dr. Johnson cried out verry loud and angry, ‘That was a Paggann sentyment, sir, and I am asham’d that a Xtian gentelmann shou’d repete it as a subject for admerashun. Betwene these heathen men and ye followers of Christ their is all ye differenc betwene a slave and a servent of a kind Master. Eche bears the same burden; butt ye servent knows he will recieve just wages for his work, wile ye slave hopes for nothing, and so conkludes that to escape work is to be happy!’ I could but aknowlege the wisdomm and pyety of this speche; yett whenn I see ye peopel going bye in their black rayment, I envy the young Gennerel his gloreous deth, and I wish I was laying amongst the plane on the hites of Quebeck. I went to look at ye old house in J. St., but I wou’d not go in to see Mr. F. or ye old roomes; for I think I shou’d see the aparishions of those that once liv’d in them. C. thrivs at Higate, wear the aire is fresh and pewer. I go to see her offen. She is nerely as high as you. Give my servis to Mrs. Rebecka, sinse you say it will plese my father to do so, and he is now dispos’d to think more kindly of me. Butt if he thinks I shal everr arske her to be my wife he is mityly mistaken. You know wear my harte lies — in ye grave with all that made life dere. Thank my father for the Bill, and tell him I pass my time in good companie, and neether drink nor play; and will come to Ullerton to pay him my respeckts when he pleses to bid me. Butt I hav no desire to leeve London, as I am gladd to be neare C.”

Who was C., whom Matthew visited at Highgate, and who was nearly as tall as Ruth Judson? Was she not most likely the same C. mentioned in conjunction with the little M. in the earlier letters? and if so, can there be any doubt that she was the daughter of Matthew Haygarth? Of whom but of a daughter would he write as in this letter? She was at Highgate, at school most likely, and he goes to see her. She is nearly as tall as Mrs. Judson. This height must have been a new thing, or he would scarcely impart it as a piece of news to his sister. And then he has no desire to leave London, as he is glad to be near C.

My life upon it, C. is a daughter.

Acting upon this conviction, I have transcribed all passages relating to C., at whatever distance of time they occur.

Thus, in 1763, I find —“C. has grone very hansome, and Mrs. N. tells me is much admir’d by a brother of her frend Tabitha. She never stirs abrorde but with Tabitha, and if a dutchess, cou’d be scarce wated on more cairfully. Mrs. N. loves her verry tenderly, and considers her the sweetest and most wel bredd of young women. I hav given her the new edishun of Sir Charls Grandisson, wich they read alowde in ye evenings, turn and turn about, to Mrs. N. at her spinning. C. has given me a wool comforter of her owne worke, and sum stockings wich are two thick to ware, but I hav not told her so.”

Again, in 1764: “Tabitha Meynell’s brother goes more than ever to Higate. He is a clark in his father’s wearhouse; very sober and estimabel, and if it be for ye hapiness of C. to mary him, I wou’d be ye laste of men to sett my orthoritty agenst her enclinashun. She is yett but ayteen yeres of age, wich is young to make a change; so I tell Mrs. N. we will waite. Meanwhile ye young peapel see eche other offen.”

Again, in 1765: “Young Meynell is still constant, expressing much love and admirashun for C. in his discorse with Mrs. N., butt sattisfide to wait my plesure before spekeing oppenly to C. He semes a most exempelry young man; his father a cittizen of some repewt in Aldersgait-street, ware I have din’d since last riting to you, and at hoose tabel I was paid much considerashun. He, Tomas Meynell ye father, will give his son five hundred pound, and I prommis a thousand pound with C. and to furnish a house at Chelsee, a verry plesent and countriefide vilage; so I make no doubt there will soon be a wedding.

“I am sorrie to here my father is aleing; give him my love and servise, and will come to Ullerton immediate on receiving his commands. I am plesed to think Mrs. Rebecka Caulfeld is so dutifull and kind to him, and has comfortedd him with prairs and discorses. I thank her for this more than for any frendshipp for my undeserving self. Pray tell her that I am much at her servise.

“Our new king is lov’d and admir’d by all. His ministers not so; and wise peopel do entertain themselfs with what I think foollish jokes a-bout a Skotch boote. Perhapps I am not cleverr enuff to see the funn in this joke.”

In this letter I detect a certain softening of feeling towards Mrs. Rebecca Caulfield. In the next year —‘66 — according to my notes, Matthew’s father died, and I have no letters bearing the date of that year, which our Matthew no doubt spent at home. Nor have I any letters from this time until the year of Matthew’s marriage with Rebecca Caulfield. In the one year of his union with Mrs. Rebecca, and the last year of his life, there are many letters, a few from London and the rest from the manor-house at Dewsdale. But in these epistles, affectionate and confidential as they are, there is little positive information.

These are the letters of the regenerate and Wesleyanised Matthew; and, like the more elaborate epistles of his wife Rebecca, deal chiefly with matters spiritual. In these letters I can perceive the workings of a weak mind, which in its decline has become a prey to religious terrors; and though I fully recognise the reforming influence which John Wesley exercised upon the people of England, I fancy poor Matthew would have been better in the hands of a woman whose piety was of a less severe type than that of Wesleyan Rebecca. There is an all-pervading tone of fear in these letters — a depression which is almost despair. In the same breath he laments and regrets the lost happiness of his youth, and regrets and laments his own iniquity in having been so ignorantly and unthinkingly happy.

Thus in one letter he says —

“When I think of that inconsideratt foolish time with M., and how to be nere her semed the highest blisse erth cou’d bistowe or Heven prommis, I trimbel to think of my pore unawaken’d sole, and of her dome on wich the tru light never shown. If I cou’d believe she was happy my owne sorow wou’d be lesse; but I canot, sence all ye worthyest memberrs of our seck agree that to die thinking onely of erthly frends, and clingeng with a passhunate regrett to them we luv on erth is to be lesse than a tru Xtian, and for sech their is but one dome.”

And again, in a still later epistle, he writes —

“On Toosday sennite an awakning discorse fromm a verry young man, until lately a carppenter, but now imploid piusly in going from toun to toun and vilage to vilage, preching. He says, that a life of cairlesse happyness, finding plesure in ye things of this worlde, is — not being repentied of — irretrevable damnation. This is a maloncally thort! I fell to mewsing on M., with hoom I injoy’d such compleat happyness, tel Deth came like a spekter to bannish all comforte. And now I knowe that our lives wear vainity. I ashure you, dear sister, I am prodidjusly sadd when I reffleckt upon this truth — ashuredly it is a harde saying.”

Anon comes that strange foreknowledge of death — that instinctive sense of the shadowy hand so soon to lay him at rest; and with that mystic prescience comes a yearning for the little child M. to be laid where his father may lay down beside him. There are many passages in the latter letters which afford a clue to that mysterious midnight burial at Dewsdale.

“Last nite I drem’t of the cherchyarde at S. I satte under the olde yewe tree, as it semed in my dreme, and hurd a childes voice crying in a very piteous mannerr. The thort of this dreme has oppress’d my speritts all day, and Rebecka has enquier’d more than wunce wot ales me. If little M. but lay nere at hande, in ye graive to wich I fele I must soone be carrid, I beleive I shou’d be happyer. Reproove me for this folley if you plese. I am getting olde, and Sattan temts me with seche fooleish thorts. Wot dose it matter to my sole wear my vile bodie is laid? and yet I have a fonde fooleish desier to be berrid with littel M.”

And in these latest letters there is ample evidence of that yearning on Matthew’s part to reveal a secret which Rebecca’s own correspondence betrays.

“We tawked of manny things, and she was more than ordinnary kind and gentel. I had a mind to tell her about M, and aske her frendship for C; but she seemed not to cair to here my sekrets, and I think wou’d be offended if she new the trooth. So I cou’d not finde courrage to tell her. Before I die I shal speek planely for the saik of C. and M. and ye little one. I shal cum to U. erly nex weak to make my Wille, and this time shal chainge my umour no more. I have burnt ye laste, not likeing it.”

This passage occurs in the last letter, amongst the packet confided to me. The letter is dated September 5, 1774. On the fourteenth of the following month Matthew died, and in all probability the will here alluded to was never executed. Certain it is that Matthew, whose end was awfully sudden at the last, died intestate, whereby his son John inherited the bulk, and ultimately the whole, of his fortune. There are many allusions to this infant son in the last few letters; but I do not think the little creature obtained any great hold on the father’s heart. No doubt he was bound and swaddled out of even such small semblance to humanity as one may reasonably expect in a child of six or seven weeks old, and by no means an agreeable being. And poor weak-minded Matthew’s heart was with that player-girl wife whom he never acknowledged, and the little M. And thus ends the story of Matthew Haygarth, so far as I have been able to trace it in the unfathomable gloom of the past.

It seems to me that what I have next to do will be to hunt up information respecting that young man Meynell, whose father lived in Aldersgate Street, and was a respectable and solid citizen, of that ilk; able to give a substantial dinner to the father of his son’s sweetheart, and altogether a person considerable enough, I should imagine, to have left footprints of some kind or other on the sands of Time. The inscrutable Sheldon will be able to decide in what manner the hunt of the Meynells must begin. I doubt if there is anything more to be done in Ullerton.

I have sent Sheldon a fair copy of my extracts from Matthew’s correspondence, and have returned the letters to Miss Judson, carefully packed in accordance with her request. I now await my Sheldon’s next communication and the abatement of my influenza before making my next move in the great game of chess called Life.

What is the meaning of Horatio Paget’s lengthened abode in this town? He is still here. He went past this house to-day while I was standing at my window in that abject state of mind known only to influenza and despair. I think I was suffering from a touch of both diseases, by the bye. What is that man doing here? The idea of his presence fills me with all manner of vague apprehensions. I cannot rid myself of the absurd notion that the lavender glove I saw lying in Goodge’s parlour had been left there by the Captain. I know the idea is an absurd one, and I tell myself again and again that Paget cannot have any inkling of my business here, and therefore cannot attempt to forestall me or steal my hard-won information. But often as I reiterate this — in that silent argument which a man is always elaborating in his own mind — I am still tormented by a nervous apprehension of treachery from that man. I suppose the boundary line between influenza and idiocy is a very narrow one. And then Horatio Paget is such a thorough-paced scoundrel. He is lié with Philip Sheldon too — another thorough-paced scoundrel in a quiet gentlemanly way, unless my instinct deceives me.

October 12th. There is treachery somewhere. Again the Haygarthian epistles have been tampered with. Early this morning comes an indignant note from Miss Judson, reminding me that I promised the packet of letters should be restored to her yesterday at noon, and informing me that they were not returned until last night at eleven o’clock, when they were left at her back garden-gate by a dirty boy who rang the bell as loudly as if he had been giving the alarm of fire, and who thrust the packet rudely into the hand of the servant and vanished immediately. So much for the messenger. The packet itself, Miss Judson informed me, was of a dirty and disgraceful appearance, unworthy the hands of a gentlewoman, and one of the letters was missing.

Heedless of my influenza, I rushed at once to the lower regions of the inn, saw the waiter into whose hands I had confided my packet at half-past ten o’clock yesterday morning, and asked what messenger had been charged with it. The waiter could not tell me. He did not remember. I told him plainly that I considered this want of memory very extraordinary. The waiter laughed me to scorn, with that quiet insolence which a well-fed waiter feels for a customer who pays twenty shillings a week for his board and lodging. The packet had been given to a very respectable messenger, the waiter made no doubt. As to whether it was the ostler, or one of the boys, or the Boots, or a young woman in the kitchen who went on errands sometimes, the waiter wouldn’t take upon himself to swear, being a man who would perish rather than inadvertently perjure himself. As to my packet having been tampered with, that was ridiculous. What on earth was there in a lump of letter-paper for any one to steal? Was there money in the parcel? I was fain to confess there was no money; on which the waiter laughed aloud.

Failing the waiter, I applied myself severally to the ostler, the boys, the Boots, and the young woman in the kitchen; and then transpired the curious fact that no one had carried my packet. The ostler was sure he had not; the Boots could take his Bible oath to the same effect; the young woman in the kitchen could not call to mind anything respecting a packet, though she was able to give me a painfully circumstantial account of the events of the morning — where she went and what she did, down to the purchase of three-pennyworth of pearl-ash and a pound of Glenfield starch for the head chambermaid, on which she dwelt with a persistent fondness.

I now felt assured that there had been treachery here, as in the Goodge business; and I asked myself to whom could I impute that treachery?

My instinctive suspicion was of Horatio Paget. And yet, was it not more probable that Theodore Judson, senr. and Theodore Judson, junr. were involved in this business, and were watching and counterchecking my actions with a view to frustrating the plans of my principal? This was one question which I asked myself as I deliberated upon this mysterious business. Had the Theodore Judsons some knowledge of a secret marriage on the part of Matthew Haygarth? and did they suspect the existence of an heir in the descendant of the issue of that marriage? These were further questions which I asked myself, and which I found it much more easy to ask than to answer. After having considered these questions, I went to the Lancaster-road, saw Miss Judson — assured her, on my word as a gentleman, that the packet had been delivered by my hands into those of the waiter at eleven o’clock on the previous day, and asked to see the envelope. There it was — my large blue wire-wove office envelope, addressed in my own writing. But in these days of adhesive envelopes there is nothing easier than to tamper with the fastening of a letter. I registered a mental vow never again to trust any important document to the protection of a morsel of gummed paper. I counted the letters, convinced myself that there was a deficiency, and then set to work to discover which of the letters had been abstracted. Here I failed utterly. For my own convenience in copying my extracts, I had numbered the letters from which I intended to transcribe passages before beginning my work. My pencilled figures in consecutive order were visible in the corner of the superscription of every document I had used. Those numbered covers I now found intact, and I could thus assure myself that the missing document was one from which I had taken no extract.

This inspired me with a new alarm. Could it be possible that I had overlooked some scrap of information more important than all that I had transcribed?

I racked my brains in the endeavour to recall the contents of that one missing letter; but although I sat in that social tomb, Miss Judson’s best parlour, until I felt my blood becoming of an arctic quality, I could remember nothing that seemed worth remembering in the letters I had laid aside as valueless.

I asked Miss Judson if she had any suspicion of the person who had tampered with the packet. She looked at me with an icy smile, and answered in ironical accents, which were even more chilling than the atmosphere of her parlour —

“Do not ask if I know who has tampered with those letters, Mr. Hawkehurst. Your affectation of surprise has been remarkably well put on; but I am not to be deceived a second time. When you came to me in the first instance, I had my suspicions; but you came furnished with a note from my brother, and as a Christian I repressed those suspicions. I know now that I have been the dupe of an impostor, and that in entrusting those letters to you I entrusted them to an emissary and tool of THEODORE JUDSON.”

I protested that I had never to my knowledge set eyes upon either of the Theodore Judsons; but the prejudiced kinswoman of those gentlemen shook her head with a smile whose icy blandness was eminently exasperating.

“I am not to be deceived a second time,” she said. “Who else but Theodore Judson should have employed you? Who else but Theodore Judson is interested in the Haygarth fortune? O, it was like him to employ a stranger where he knew his own efforts would be unavailing; it was like him to hoodwink me by the agency of a hireling tool.”

I had been addressed as a “young man” by the reverend Jonah, and now I was spoken of as a “hireling tool” by Miss Judson. I scarcely knew which was most disagreeable, and I began to think that board and lodging in the present, and a visionary three thousand pounds in the future, would scarcely compensate me for such an amount of ignominy.

I went back to my inn utterly crestfallen — a creature so abject that even the degrading influence of influenza could scarcely sink me any lower in the social scale. I wrote a brief and succinct account of my proceedings, and despatched the same to George Sheldon, and then I sat down in my sickness and despair, as deeply humiliated as Ajax when he found that he had been pitching into sheep instead of Greeks, as miserable as Job amongst his dust and ashes, but I am happy to say untormented by the chorus of one or the friends of the other. In that respect at least I had some advantage over both.

October 13th. This morning’s post brought me a brief scrawl from Sheldon.

“Come back to town directly. I have found the registry of Matthew Haygarth’s marriage.”

And so I turn my back on Ullerton; with what rejoicing of spirit it is not in language to express.

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