Birds of Prey, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 2

Valentine’s Record Continued.

October 15th. I left Omega-street for the City before noon, after a hasty breakfast with my friend Horatio, who was somewhat under the dominion of his black dog this morning, and far from pleasant company. I was not to present myself to the worthy John Grewter, wholesale stationer, before the afternoon; but I had no particular reason for staying at home, and I had a fancy for strolling about the old City quarter in which Matthew Haygarth’s youth had been spent. I went to look at John-street, Clerkenwell, and dawdled about the immediate neighbourhood of Smithfield, thinking of the old fair-time, and of all the rioters and merry-makers, who now were so much or so little dust and ashes in City churchyards, until the great bell of St. Paul’s boomed three, and I felt that it might be a leisure time with Mr. Grewter.

I found the stationer’s shop as darksome and dreary as City shops usually are, but redolent of that subtle odour of wealth which has a mystical charm for the nostrils of the penniless one. Stacks of ledgers, mountains of account-books, filled the dimly-lighted warehouse. Some clerks were at work behind a glass partition, and already the gas flared high in the green-shaded lamps above the desk at which they worked. I wondered whether it was a pleasant way of life theirs, and whether one would come to feel an interest in the barter of day-books and ledgers if they were one’s daily bread. Alas for me! the only ledger I have ever known is the sainted patron of the northern racecourse. One young man came forward and asked my business, with a look that plainly told me that unless I wanted two or three gross of account-books I had no right to be there. I told him that I wished to see Mr. Grewter, and asked if that gentleman was to be seen.

The clerk said he did not know; but his tone implied that, in his opinion, I could not see Mr. Grewter.

“Perhaps you could go and ask,” I suggested.

“Well, yes. Is it old or young Mr. Grewter you want to see?”

“Old Mr. Grewter,” I replied.

“Very well, I’ll go and see. You’d better send in your card, though.”

I produced one of George Sheldon’s cards, which the clerk looked at. He gave a little start as if an adder had stung him.

“You’re not Mr. Sheldon?” he said.

“No; Mr. Sheldon is my employer.”

“What do you go about giving people Sheldon’s card for?” asked the clerk, with quite an aggrieved air. “I know Sheldon of Gray’s Inn.”

“Then I’m sure you’ve found him a very accommodating gentleman,” I replied, politely.

“Deuce take his accommodation! He nearly accommodated me into the Bankruptcy Court. And so you’re Sheldon’s clerk, and you want the governor. But you don’t mean to say that Grewter and Grewter are —”

This was said in an awe-stricken undertone. I hastened to reassure the stationer’s clerk.

“I don’t think Mr. Sheldon ever saw Mr. Grewter in his life,” I said.

After this the clerk condescended to retire into the unknown antres behind the shop, to deliver my message. I began to think that George Sheldon’s card was not the best possible letter of introduction.

The clerk returned presently, followed by a tall, white-bearded man, with a bent figure, and a pair of penetrating gray eyes — a very promising specimen of the octogenarian.

He asked me my business in a sharp suspicious way, that obliged me to state the nature of my errand without circumlocution. As I got farther away from the Rev. John Haygarth, intestate, I was less fettered by the necessity of secrecy. I informed my octogenarian that I was prosecuting a legal investigation connected with a late inhabitant of that street, and that I had taken the liberty to apply to him, in the hope that he might be able to afford me some information.

He looked at me all the time I spoke as if he thought I was going to entreat pecuniary relief — and I daresay I have something the air of a begging-letter writer. But when he found that I only wanted information, his hard gray eyes softened ever so little, and he asked me to walk into his parlour.

His parlour was scarcely less gruesome than his shop. The furniture looked as if its manufacture had been coeval with the time of the Meynells, and the ghastly glare of the gas seemed a kind of anachronism. After a few preliminary observations, which were not encouraged by Mr. Grewter’s manner, I inquired whether he had ever heard the name of Meynell.

“Yes,” he said; “there was a Meynell in this street when I was a young man — Christian Meynell, a carpet-maker by trade. The business is still carried on — and a very old business it is, for it was an old business in Meynell’s time; but Meynell died before I married, and his name is pretty well forgotten in Aldersgate-street by this time.”

“Had he no sons?” I asked.

“Well, yes; he had one son, Samuel, a kind of companion of mine. But he didn’t take to the business, and when his father died he let things go anyhow, as you may say. He was rather wild, and died two or three years after his father.” “Did he die unmarried?”

“Yes. There was some talk of his marrying a Miss Dobberly, whose father was a cabinet-maker in Jewin-street; but Samuel was too wild for the Dobberlys, who were steady-going people, and he went abroad, where he was taken with some kind of fever and died.”

“Was this son the only child?”

“No; there were two daughters. The younger of them married; the elder went to live with her — and died unmarried, I’ve heard say.”

“Do you know whom the younger sister married?” I asked.

“No. She didn’t marry in London. She went into the country to visit some friends, and she married and settled down in those parts — wherever it might be — and I never heard of her coming back to London again. The carpet business was sold directly after Samuel Meynell’s death. The new people kept up the name for a good twenty years —‘Taylor, late Meynell, established 1693,’ that’s what was painted on the board above the window — but they’ve dropped the name of Meynell now. People forget old names, you see, and it’s no use keeping to them after they’re forgotten.”

Yes, the old names are forgotten, the old people fade off the face of the earth. The romance of Matthew Haygarth seemed to come to a lame and impotent conclusion in this dull record of dealers in carpeting.

“You can’t remember what part of England it was that Christian Meynell’s daughter went to when she married?”

“No. It wasn’t a matter I took much interest in. I don’t think I ever spoke to the young woman above three times in my life, though she lived in the same street, and though her brother and I often met each other at the Cat and Salutation, where there used to be a great deal of talk about the war and Napoleon Bonaparte in those days.”

“Have you any idea of the time at which she was married?” I inquired.

“Not as to the exact year. I know it was after I was married; for I remember my wife and I sitting at our window upstairs one summer Sunday evening, and seeing Samuel Meynell’s sister go by to church. I can remember it as well as if it was yesterday. She was dressed in a white gown and a green silk spencer. Yes — and I didn’t marry my first wife till 1814. But as to telling you exactly when Miss Meynell left Aldersgate-street, I can’t.”

These reminiscences of the past seemed to exercise rather a mollifying influence upon the old man’s mind, commonplace as they were. He ceased to look at me with sharp, suspicious glances, and he seemed anxious to afford me all the help he could. “Was Christian Meynell’s father called William?” I asked, after having paused to make some notes in my pocket-book.

“That I can’t tell you; though, if Christian Meynell was living to-day, he wouldn’t be ten years older than me. His father died when I was quite a boy; but there must be old books at the warehouse with his name in them, if they haven’t been destroyed.”

I determined to make inquiries at the carpet warehouse; but I had little hope of finding the books of nearly a century gone by. I tried another question.

“Do you know whether Christian Meynell was an only son, or the only son who attained manhood?” I asked.

My elderly friend shook his head.

“Christian Meynell never had any brothers that I heard of,” he said; “but the parish register will tell you all about that, supposing that his father before him lived all his life in Aldersgate-street, as I’ve every reason to believe he did.”

After this I asked a few questions about the neighbouring churches, thanked Mr. Grewter for his civility, and departed.

I went back to Omega-street, dined upon nothing particular, and devoted the rest of my evening to the scrawling of this journal, and a tender reverie, in which Charlotte Halliday was the central figure.

How bitter poverty and dependence have made Diana Paget! She used to be a nice girl too.

Oct. 16th. To-day’s work has been confined to the investigation of parish registers — a most wearisome business at the best. My labours were happily not without result. In the fine old church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, I found registries of the baptism of Oliver Meynell, son of William and Caroline Mary Meynell, 1768; and of the burial of the same Oliver in the following year. I found the record of the baptism of a daughter to the same William and Caroline Mary Meynell, and further on the burial of the said daughter, at five years of age. I also found the records of the baptism of Christian Meynell, son of the same William and Caroline Mary Meynell, in the year 1772, and of William Meynell’s decease in the year 1793. Later appeared the entry of the burial of Sarah, widow of Christian Meynell. Later still, the baptism of Samuel Meynell; then the baptism of Susan Meynell; and finally, that of Charlotte Meynell.

These were all the entries respecting the Meynell family to be found in the registry. There was no record of the burial of Caroline Mary, wife of William Meynell, nor of Christian Meynell, nor of Samuel Meynell, his son; and I knew that all these entries would be necessary to my astute Sheldon before his case would be complete. After my search of the registries, I went out into the churchyard to grope for the family vault of the Meynells, and found a grim square monument, enclosed by a railing that was almost eaten away by rust, and inscribed with the names and virtues of that departed house. The burial ground is interesting by reason of more distinguished company than the Meynells. John Milton, John Fox, author of the Martyrology, and John Speed, the chronologer, rest in this City churchyard.

In the hope of getting some clue to the missing data, I ventured to make a second call upon Mr. Grewter, whom I found rather inclined to be snappish, as considering the Meynell business unlikely to result in any profit to himself, and objecting on principle to take any trouble not likely to result in profit. I believe this is the mercantile manner of looking at things in a general way.

I asked him if he could tell me where Samuel Meynell was buried.

“I suppose he was buried in foreign parts,” replied the old gentleman, with considerable grumpiness, “since he died in foreign parts.”

“O, he died abroad, did he? Can you tell me where?”

“No, sir, I can’t,” replied Mr. Grewter, with increasing grumpiness; “I didn’t trouble myself about other people’s affairs then, and I don’t trouble myself about them now, and I don’t particularly care to be troubled about them by strangers.”

I made the meekest possible apology for my intrusion, but the outraged Grewter was not appeased.

“Your best apology will be not doing it again,” he replied. “Those that know my habits know that I take half an hour’s nap after dinner. My constitution requires it, or I shouldn’t take it. If I didn’t happen to have a strange warehouseman on my premises, you wouldn’t have been allowed to disturb me two afternoons running.”

Finding Mr. Grewter unappeasable, I left him, and went to seek a more placable spirit in the shape of Anthony Sparsfield, carver and gilder, of Barbican.

I found the establishment of Sparsfield and Son, carvers and gilders. It was a low dark shop, in the window of which were exhibited two or three handsomely carved frames, very much the worse for flies, and one oil-painting, of a mysterious and Rembrandtish character. The old-established air that pervaded almost all the shops in this neighbourhood was peculiarly apparent in the Sparsfield establishment.

In the shop I found a mild-faced man of about forty engaged in conversation with a customer. I waited patiently while the customer finished a minute description of the kind of frame he wanted made for a set of proof engravings after Landseer; and when the customer had departed, I asked the mild-faced man if I could see Mr. Sparsfield.

“I am Mr. Sparsfield,” he replied politely.

“Not Mr. Anthony Sparsfield?”

“Yes, my name is Anthony.”

“I was given to understand that Mr. Anthony Sparsfield was a much older person.”

“O, I suppose you mean my father,” replied the mild-faced man. “My father is advanced in years, and does very little in the business nowadays; not but what his head is as clear as ever it was, and there are some of our old customers like to see him when they give an order.”

This sounded hopeful. I told Mr. Sparsfield the younger that I was not a customer, and then proceeded to state the nature of my business. I found him as courteous as Mr. Grewter had been disobliging.

“Me and father are old-fashioned people,” he said; “and we’re not above living over our place of business, which most of the Barbican tradespeople are nowadays. The old gentleman is taking tea in the parlour upstairs at this present moment, and if you don’t mind stepping up to him, I’m sure he’ll be proud to give you any information he can. He likes talking of old times.”

This was the sort of oldest inhabitant I wanted to meet with — a very different kind of individual from Mr. Grewter, who doled out every answer to my questions as grudgingly as if it had been a five-pound note.

I was conducted to a snug little sitting-room on the first-floor, where there was a cheerful fire and a comfortable odour of tea and toast. I was invited to take a cup of tea; and as I perceived that my acceptance of the invitation would be accounted a kind of favour, I said yes. The tea was very weak, and very warm, and very sweet; but Mr. Sparsfield and his son sipped it with as great an air of enjoyment as if it had been the most inspiring of beverages.

Mr. Sparsfield the elder was more or less rheumatic and asthmatic, but a cheerful old man withal, and quite ready to prate of old times, when Barbican and Aldersgate-street were pleasanter places than they are to-day, or had seemed so to this elderly citizen.

“Meynell!” he exclaimed; “I knew Sam Meynell as well as I knew my own brother, and I knew old Christian Meynell almost as well as I knew my own father. There was more sociability in those days, you see, sir. The world seems to have grown too full to leave any room for friendship. It’s all push and struggle, and struggle and push, as you may say; and a man will make you a frame for five-and-twenty shillings that will look more imposing like than what I could turn out for five pound, Only the gold-leaf will all drop off after a twelvemonth’s wear; and that’s the way of the world nowadays. There’s a deal of gilding, and things are made to look uncommon bright; but the gold all drops off ’em before long.”

After allowing the old man to moralise to his heart’s content, I brought him back politely to the subject in which I was interested.

“Samuel Meynell was as good a fellow as ever breathed,” he said; “but he was too fond of the tavern. There were some very nice taverns round about Aldersgate-street in those days; and you see, sir, the times were stirring times, and folks liked to get together and talk over the day’s news, with a pipe of tobacco and a glass of their favourite liquor, all in a sociable way. Poor Sam Meynell took a little too much of his favourite liquor; and when the young woman that he had been keeping company with — Miss Dobberly of Jewin-street — jilted him and married a wholesale butcher in Newgate Market, who was old enough to be her father, Sam took to drinking, and neglected his business. One day he came to me and said, ‘I’ve sold the business, Tony,’— for it was Sam and Tony with us, you see, sir — ‘and I’m off to France.’ This was soon after the battle of Waterloo; and many folks had a fancy for going over to France now that they’d seen the back of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was generally alluded to in those days by the name of monster or tiger, and was understood to make his chief diet off frogs. Well, sir, we were all of us very much surprised at Sam’s going to foreign parts; but as he’d always been wild, it was only looked upon as a part of his wildness, and we weren’t so much surprised to hear a year or two afterwards that he’d drunk himself to death upon cheap brandy — odyvee as they call it, poor ignorant creatures — at Calais.”

“He died at Calais?”

“Yes,” replied the old man; “I forget who brought the news home, but I remember hearing it. Poor Sam Meynell died and was buried amongst the Mossoos.”

“You are sure he was buried at Calais?”

“Yes, as sure as I can be of anything. Travelling was no easy matter in those days, and in foreign parts there was nothing but diligences, which I’ve heard say were the laziest-going vehicles ever invented. There was no one to bring poor Sam’s remains back to England, for his mother was dead, and his two sisters were settled somewhere down in Yorkshire.”

In Yorkshire! I am afraid I looked rather sheepish when Mr. Sparsfield senior mentioned this particular county, for my thoughts took wing and were with Charlotte Halliday before the word had well escaped his lips.

“Miss Meynell settled in Yorkshire, did she?” I asked.

“Yes, she married some one in the farming way down there. Her mother was a Yorkshirewoman, and she and her sister went visiting among her mother’s relations, and never came back to London. One of them married, the other died a spinster.”

“Do you remember the name of the man she married?”

“No,” replied Mr. Sparsfield, “I can’t say that I do.”

“Do you remember the name of the place she went to — the town or village, or whatever it was?”

“I might remember it if I heard it,” he responded thoughtfully; “and I ought to remember it, for I’ve heard Sam Meynell talk of his sister Charlotte’s home many a time. She was christened Charlotte, you see, after the Queen. I’ve a sort of notion that the name of the village was something ending in Cross, as it might be Charing Cross, or Waltham Cross.”

This was vague, but it was a great deal more than I had been able to extort from Mr. Grewter. I took a second cup of the sweet warm liquid which my new friends called tea, in order to have an excuse for loitering, while I tried to obtain more light from the reminiscences of the old frame-maker.

No more light came, however. So I was fain to take my leave, reserving to myself the privilege of calling again on a future occasion.

Oct. 18th. I sent Sheldon a statement of my Aldersgate-street researches the day before yesterday morning. He went carefully through the information I had collected, and approved my labours.

“You’ve done uncommonly well, considering the short time you’ve been at the work,” he said; “and you’ve reason to congratulate yourself upon having your ground all laid out for you, as my ground has never been laid out for me. The Meynell branch seems to be narrowing itself into the person of Christian Meynell’s daughter and her descendants, and our most important business now will be to find out when, where, and whom she married, and what issue arose from such marriage. This I think you ought to be able to do.”

I shook my head rather despondingly.

“I don’t see any hope of finding out the name of the young woman’s husband,” I said, “unless I can come across another oldest inhabitant, gifted with a better memory for names and places than my obliging Sparsfield or my surly Grewter.”

“There are the almshouses,” said Sheldon; “you haven’t tried them yet.”

“No; I suppose I must go in for the almshouses,” I replied, with the sublime resignation of the pauper, whose poverty must consent to anything; “though I confess that the prosiness of the almshouse intellect is almost more than I can endure.”

“And how do you know that you mayn’t get the name of the place out of your friend the carver and gilder?” said George Sheldon; “he has given you some kind of clue in telling you that the name ends in Cross. He said he should know the name if he heard it; why not try him with it?”

“But in order to do that, I must know the name myself,” replied I, “and in that ease I shouldn’t want the aid of my Sparsfield.”

“You are not great in expedients,” said Sheldon, tilting back his chair, and taking a shabby folio from a shelf of other shabby folios. “This is a British gazetteer,” he said, turning to the index of the work before him. “We’ll test the ancient Sparsfield’s memory with every Cross in the three Ridings, and if the faintest echo of the name we want still lingers in his feeble old brain, we’ll awaken it.” My patron ran his finger-nail along one of the columns of the index.

“Just take your pencil and write down the names as I call them,” he said. “Here we are — Aylsey Cross; and here we are again — Bowford Cross, Callindale Cross, Huxter’s Cross, Jarnam Cross, Kingborough Cross.” Then, after a careful examination of the column, he exclaimed, “Those are all the Crosses in the county of York, and it will go hard with us if you or I can’t find the descendants of Christian Meynell’s daughter at one of them. The daughter herself may be alive, for anything we know.”

“And how about the Samuel Meynell who died at Calais? You’ll have to find some record of his death, won’t you? I suppose in these cases one must prove everything.”

“Yes, I must prove the demise of Samuel,” replied the sanguine genealogist; “that part of the business I’ll see to myself, while you hunt out the female branch of the Meynells. I want an outing after a long spell of hard work; so I’ll run across to Calais and search for the register of Samuel’s interment. I suppose somebody took the trouble to bury him, though he was a stranger in the land.”

“And if I extort the name we want from poor old Sparsfield’s recollection?”

“In that case you can start at once for the place, and begin your search on the spot. It can’t be above fifty years since this woman married, and there must be some inhabitant of the place old enough to remember her. O, by the bye, I suppose you’ll be wanting more cash for expenses,” added Mr. Sheldon, with a sigh. He took a five-pound note from his pocket-book, and gave it to me with a piteous air of self-sacrifice. I know that he is poor, and that whatever money he does contrive to earn is extorted from the necessities of his needier brethren. Some of this money he speculates upon the chances of the Haygarthian succession, as he his speculated his money on worse chances in the past. “Three thousand pounds!” he said to me, as he handed me the poor little five-pound note; “think what a prize you are working for, and work your hardest. The nearer we get to the end, the slower our progress seems to me; and yet it has been very rapid progress, considering all things.”

So sentimental have I become, that I thought less of that possible three thousand pounds than of the fact that I was likely to go to Yorkshire, the county of Charlotte’s birth, the county where she was now staying. I reminded myself that it was the largest shire in England, and that of all possible coincidences of time and place, there could be none more unlikely than the coincidence that would bring about a meeting between Charlotte Halliday and me.

“I know that for all practical purposes I shall be no nearer to her in Yorkshire than in London,” I said to myself; “but I shall have the pleasure of fancying myself nearer to her.”

Before leaving George Sheldon, I told him of the fragmentary sentences I had heard uttered by Captain Paget and Philip Sheldon at the Lawn; but he pooh-poohed my suspicions.

“I’ll tell you what it is, Valentine Hawkehurst,” he said, fixing those hard black eyes of his upon me as if he would fain have pierced the bony covering of my skull to discover the innermost workings of my brain; “neither Captain Paget nor my brother Phil can know anything of this business, unless you have turned traitor and sold them my secrets. And mark me, if you have, you’ve sold yourself and them into the bargain: my hand holds the documentary evidence, without which all your knowledge is worthless.”

“I am not a traitor,” I told him quietly, for I despise him far too heartily to put myself into a passion about anything he might please to say of me; “and I have never uttered a word about this business either to Captain Paget or to your brother. If you begin to distrust me, it is high time you should look out for a new coadjutor.”

I had my Sheldon, morally speaking, at my feet in a moment.

“Don’t be melodramatic, Hawkehurst,” he said; “people sell each other every day of the week, and no one blames the seller, provided he makes a good bargain. But this is a case in which the bargain would be a very bad one.”

After this I took my leave of Mr. Sheldon. He was to start for Calais by that night’s mail, and return to town directly his investigation was completed. If he found me absent on his return, he would conclude that I had obtained the information I required and started for Yorkshire. In this event he would patiently await the receipt of tidings from that county.

I went straight from Gray’s Inn to Jewin-street. I had spent the greater part of the day in Sheldon’s office, and when I presented myself before my complacent Sparsfield junior, Sparsfield senior’s tea and toast were already in process of preparation; and I was again invited to step upstairs to the family sitting-room, and again treated with that Arcadian simplicity of confidence and friendliness which it has been my fate to encounter quite as often in the heart of this sophisticated city as in the most pastoral of villages. With people who were so frank and cordial I could but be equally frank.

“I am afraid I am making myself a nuisance to you, Mr. Sparsfield,” I said; “but I know you’ll forgive me when I tell you that the affair I’m engaged in is a matter of vital importance to me, and that your help may do a great deal towards bringing matters to a crisis.”

Mr. Sparsfield senior declared himself always ready to assist his fellow-creatures, and was good enough further to declare that he had taken a liking to me. So weak had I of late become upon all matters of sentiment, I thanked Mr. Sparsfield for his good opinion, and then went on to tell him that I was about to test his memory.

“And it ain’t a bad un,” he cried, cheerily, clapping his hand upon his knee by way of emphasis. “It ain’t a bad memory, is it, Tony?”

“Few better, father,” answered the dutiful Anthony junior. “Your memory’s better than mine, a long way.”

“Ah,” said the old man, with a chuckle, “folks lived different in my day. There weren’t no gas, and there weren’t no railroads, and London tradespeople was content to live in the same house from year’s end to year’s end. But now your tradesman must go on his foreign tours, like a prince of the royal family, and he must go here and go there; and when he’s been everywhere, he caps it all by going through the Gazette. Folks stayed at home in my day; but they made their fortunes, and they kept their health, and their eyesight, and their memory, and their hearing, and many of ’em have lived to see the next generation make fools of themselves.”

“Why, father,” cried Anthony junior, aghast at this flood of eloquence, “what an oration!”

“And it ain’t often I make an oration, is it, Tony?” said the old man, laughing. “I only mean to say that if my memory’s pretty bright, it may be partly because I haven’t frittered it away upon nonsense, as some folks have. I’ve stayed at home and minded my own business, and left other people to mind theirs. And now, sir, if you want the help of my memory, I’m ready to give it.”

“You told me the other day that you could not recall the name of the place where Christian Meynell’s daughter married, but you said you should remember it if you heard it, and you also said that the name ended in Cross.”

“I’ll stick to that,” replied my ancient friend. “I’ll stick to that.” “Very well then. It is a settled thing that the place was in Yorkshire?”

“Yes, I’m sure of that too.”

“And that the name ended in Cross?”

“It did, as sure as my name is Sparsfield.”

“Then in that case, as there are only six towns or villages in the county of York the names of which end in Cross, it stands to reason that the place we want must be one of those six.”

Having thus premised, I took my list from my pocket and read aloud the names of the six places, very slowly, for Mr. Sparsfield’s edification.

“Aylsey Cross — Bowford Cross — Callindale Cross — Huxter’s Cross — Jarnam Cross — Kingborough Cross.”

“That’s him!” cried my old friend suddenly.

“Which?” I asked eagerly.

“Huxter’s Cross; I remember thinking at the time that it must be a place where they sold things, because of the name Huxter, you see, pronounced just the same as if it was spelt with a cks instead of an x. And I heard afterwards that there’d once been a market held at the place, but it had been done away with before our time. Huxter’s Cross; yes, that’s the name of the place where Christian Meynell’s daughter married and settled. I’ve heard it many a time from poor Sam, and it comes back to me as plain as if I’d never forgotten it.”

There was an air of conviction about the old man which satisfied me that he was not deceived. I thanked him heartily for his aid as I took my leave.

“You may have helped to put a good lump of money in my pocket, Mr. Sparsfield,” I said; “and if you have, I’ll get my picture taken, if it’s only for the pleasure of bringing it here to be framed.”

With this valedictory address I left my simple citizens of Barbican. My heart was very light as I wended my way across those metropolitan wilds that lay between Barbican and Omega-street. I am ashamed of myself when I remember the foolish cause of this elation of mind. I was going to Yorkshire, the county of which my Charlotte was now an inhabitant. My Charlotte! It is a pleasure even to write that delicious possessive pronoun — the pleasure of poor Alnascher, the crockery-seller, dreaming his day-dream in the eastern market-place.

Can any one know better than I that I shall be no nearer Charlotte Halliday in Yorkshire than I am in London? No one. And yet I am glad my Sheldon’s business takes me to the woods and wolds of that wide northern shire.

Huxter’s Cross — some Heaven-forgotten spot, no doubt. I bought a railway time-table on my way home to-night, and have carefully studied the bearings of the place amongst whose mouldy records I am to discover the history of Christian Meynell’s daughter and heiress.

I find that Huxter’s Cross lies off the railroad, and is to be approached by an obscure little station — as I divine from the ignominious type in which its name appears — about sixty miles northward of Hull. The station is called Hidling; and at Hidling there seems to be a coach which plies between the station and Huxter’s Cross.

Figure to yourself again, my dear, the heir-at-law to a hundred thousand pounds vegetating in the unknown regions of Huxter’s Cross cum Hidling, unconscious of his heritage!

Shall I find him at the plough-tail, I wonder, this mute inglorious heir-at-law? or shall I find an heiress with brawny arms meekly churning butter? or shall I discover the last of the Meynells taking his rest in some lonely churchyard, not to be awakened by earthly voice proclaiming the tidings of earthly good fortune?

I am going to Yorkshire — that is enough for me. I languish for the starting of the train which shall convey me thither. I begin to understand the nostalgia of the mountain herdsman: I pine for that northern air, those fresh pure breezes blowing over moor and wold — though I am not quite clear, by the bye, as to the exact nature of a wold. I pant, I yearn for Yorkshire. I, the cockney, the child of Temple Bar, whose cradle-song was boomed by the bells of St. Dunstan’s and St. Clement’s Danes.

Is not Yorkshire my Charlotte’s birthplace? I want to see the land whose daughters are so lovely.

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