Charlotte's Inheritance, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 2

Epistolary.

From Horatio Paget to Philip Sheldon.

Royal Hotel, Ullerton, Oct. 7, 186 —.

My dear sir — I arrived here last evening just in time to run against Hawkehurst on the platform, which was rather a provoking encounter at the outset. He went further north by the same train that brought me from London. This train only stops at three places after Ullerton — Slowport, Black Harbour, and Manchester; and I shall take pains to discover which of these towns was Hawkehurst’s destination. There was one satisfaction in seeing his departure by this train, inasmuch as it assured me that I had the ground clear for my own operations.

I had no difficulty in discovering the whereabouts of Goodge —the Goodge we want — and at eight o’clock was comfortably seated in that gentleman’s parlour, talking over the affair of the letters. Tolerably quick work, I think you will allow, my dear sir, for a man whose years have fallen into the sere and yellow leaf.

Mr. Goodge is a Methodist parson — a class of person I have always detested. I found him peculiarly amenable to monetary influence. I need scarcely tell you that I was careful to conceal my identity from this person. I made so bold as to borrow the cognomen of an old-established firm of solicitors in the Fields, and took a somewhat high tone throughout the interview. I informed Mr. Goodge that the young man who had called on him with reference to certain letters connected with the affairs of the Haygarth family — and I perceived from Mr. Goodge’s face that we were on the right track — was a person of disreputable character, engaged in an underhand transaction calculated to injure a respected client of our house. I saw that the words “house” and “our” were talismanic in their effect upon the Methodist parson. You see, my dear sir, there is no one can manage this sort of thing so well as a gentleman. It comes natural to him. Your vulgar diplomatist seldom knows how to begin, and never knows when to stop. Here I had this low-bred Methodist fellow impressed by the idea of my individual and collective importance after five minutes’ conversation. “But this comes too near the praising of myself; therefore hear other things,” as the bard observes.

A very little further conversation rendered Mr. Goodge malleable. I found that Hawkehurst had approached him in the character of your brother’s articled clerk, but under his own proper name. This is one point gained, since it assures me that Valentine is not skulking here under a feigned name; and will enable me to shape my future inquiries about him accordingly. I also ascertained Hawkehurst’s whereabouts when in Ullerton. He stays at a low commercial house called the Black Swan. It appears that the man Goodge possesses a packet of letters written by a certain Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth, wife of one Matthew Haygarth. In what relationship this Matthew may stand to the intestate is to be discovered. It is evident he is an important link in the chain, or your brother would not want the letters. I need not trouble you with our conversation in detail. In gross it amounted to this: Mr. Goodge had pledged himself to hand over Mrs. Haygarth’s letters, forty or so in number, to Hawkehurst in consideration of twenty pounds. They would have been already in Hawkehurst’s possession, if Mr. Goodge had not objected to part with them except for ready money. In consideration of a payment of twenty pounds from me, he was willing to let me read all the letters, and select any ten I pleased to take. This bargain was not arrived at without considerable discussion, but it certainly struck me as a good one.

I opened the packet of papers then and there, and sat up until six o’clock the next morning, reading Mrs. Haygarth’s letters in Mr. Goodge’s parlour. Very fatiguing occupation for a man of my years. Mr. Goodge’s hospitality began and ended in a cup of coffee. Such coffee! and I remember the mocha I used to get at Arthur’s thirty years ago — a Promethean beverage, that illumined the dullest smoking-room bore with a flash of wit or a glimmer of wisdom.

I enclose the ten letters which I have selected. They appear to me to tell the history of Mrs. Haygarth and her husband pretty plainly; but there is evidently something mysterious lurking behind the commonplace existence of the husband. That is a matter for future consideration. All I have to do in the present is to keep you as well informed as your brother. It may strike you that the letters I forward herewith, which are certainly the cream of the correspondence, and the notes I have made from the remaining letters, are scarcely worth the money paid for them. In reply to such an objection, I can only say that you get more for your money than your brother George will get for his.

The hotel at which I have taken up my quarters is but a few paces from the commoner establishment where Hawkehurst is stopping. He is to call on Goodge for the letters to-day; so his excursion will be of brief duration. I find that the name of Haygarth is not unknown in this town, as there are a family of Judsons, some of whom call themselves Haygarth Judson. I intend inviting my landlord — a very superior person for his station — to discuss a bottle of wine with me after my chop this evening, and hope to obtain some information from him. In the meantime I shall keep myself close. It is of vital consequence that I should remain unseen by Hawkehurst. I do not believe he saw me on the platform last night, though we were as close to each other as we well could be.

Let me know what you think of the letters, and believe me to be, my dear sir, very faithfully yours,

H. N. C. PAGET. PHILIP SHELDON, Esq., &c. &c. &c.

Philip Sheldon to Horatio Paget.

Bayswater, Oct. 8,186-.

DEAR PAGET— The letters are mysterious, and I don’t see my way to getting much good out of them, but heartily approve your management of matters, and give you carte blanche to proceed, according to your own lights.

Yours truly, P.S.

Horatio Paget to Philip Sheldon.

Royal Hotel, Oct. 9, 186-.

MY DEAR SIR— The cultivation of my landlord has been very profitable. The house is the oldest in the town, and the business has descended in a direct line from father to son since the time of George the Second. This man’s grandfather entertained the officers of William Duke of Cumberland, honoured by his contemporaries with the soubriquet of Billy the Butcher, during the “forty-five.” I had to listen to and applaud a good many stories about Billy the Butcher before I could lead my landlord round to the subject of the Haygarths. But he was not more prosy than many men I have met at dinner-parties in the days when the highest circles in the land were open to your humble servant.

The Haygarth family, of which the intestate John Haygarth was the last male descendant, were for a long period inhabitants of this town, and obtained their wealth by trading as grocers and general dealers in a shop not three hundred yards from the room in which I write. The building is still standing, and a curious, old-fashioned-looking place it is. The last of the Haygarths who carried on business therein was one Jonathan, whose son Matthew was the father of that Reverend John Haygarth, lately deceased, intestate. You will thus perceive that the letters I sent you are of much importance, as they relate solely to this Matthew, father of our intestate.

My next inquiries related to the Judson family, who are, it appears, descended from the issue of a certain Ruth Haygarth’s marriage with one Peter Judson. This Ruth Haygarth was the only sister of the Matthew alluded to in the letters, and therefore was aunt of the intestate. It would herefrom appear that in this Judson family we must naturally look for the rightful claimant to the fortune of the deceased John Haygarth. Possessed of this conviction, I proceeded to interrogate my landlord very cautiously as to the status, &c. of the Judson family, and amongst other questions, asked him with a complete assumption of indifference, whether he had ever heard that the Judsons expected to inherit property from any branch of the Haygarth family.

This careless interrogatory produced information of, as I imagine, a very valuable character. A certain Theodore Judson, attorney of this town, calls himself heir-at-law to the Haygarth estates; but before he can establish his claim, this Theodore must produce evidence of the demise, without heirs, of one Peter Judson, eldest surviving grandson of Ruth Haygarth’s eldest son, a scamp and ne’er-do-well — if living, supposed to be somewhere in India, where he went, as supercargo to a merchant vessel about, the year ‘41 — who stands prior to Theodore Judson in the succession. I conclude that the said Theodore, who, as a lawyer, is likely to do things secundum artem, is doing his possible to obtain the necessary evidence; but in the meantime he is at a dead lock, and the whole affair appears to be in a charming condition for speculative interference. I opine, therefore, that your brother really has hit upon a good thing this time; and my only wonder is, that instead of allowing his agent, Hawkehurst, to waste his time hunting up old letters of Matthew Haygarth’s (to all appearance valueless as documentary evidence), he does not send Valentine to India to hunt for Peter Judson, who, if living, is the rightful heir to the intestate’s fortune, and who, as a reckless extravagant fellow, would be likely to make very liberal terms with any one who offered to procure him a large lump of money.

I confess that I am quite at a loss to understand why your brother George does not take this very obvious course, and why Valentine potters about in this neighbourhood, when a gold mine is waiting to be exploité on the other side.

I shall be very glad to have your views upon this subject, for at the present moment I am fain to acknowledge that I do not see my way to taking any further steps in this business, unless by commencing a search for the missing Peter.

I am, my dear Sir, very truly yours,

H. N. C. PAGET.

Philip Sheldon to Horatio Paget.

Bayswater, Oct. 10, 186 —.

DEAR PAGET— When so old a stager as G. S. does not take the obvious course, the inference is that there is a better course to be taken —not obvious to the uninitiated.

You have done very well so far, but the information you have obtained from your landlord is only such information as any one else may obtain from the current gossip of Ullerton. You haven’t yet got to the dessous des cartes. Remember what I told you in London. G. S. has the clue to this labyrinth; and what you have to do is to hold on to the coat-tails (in a figurative sense) of his agent, V. H.

Don’t put your trust in prosy old landlords, but continue to set a watch upon that young man, and follow up his trail as you did in the matter of the letters.

If the Peter Judson who went to India three-and-twenty years ago were the right man to follow, G.S. would scarcely give twenty pounds for the letters of Mrs. Matthew Haygarth. It appears to me that G. must be looking for an heir on the Haygarth side of the house; and if so, rely upon it he has his reasons. Don’t bewilder yourself by trying to theorize, but get to the bottom of G.‘s theory.

Yours truly, P. S.

Horatio Paget to Philip Sheldon.

Royal Hotel, Oct. 12, 186. —

MY DEAR SIR— Considering the advice contained in your last very good, I lost no time in acting upon it. I need hardly tell you, that to employ the services of a hired spy, and to degrade myself in some sort to the level of a private inquirer, was somewhat revolting to a man, who, in the decadence of his fortunes, has ever striven to place some limit on the outrages which that hard taskmaster, poverty, may have from time to time compelled him to inflict upon his self-respect. But in the furtherance of a cause which I conclude is in no manner dishonourable, since an unclaimed heritage must needs be a prize open to all, I submitted to this temporary degradation of my higher feelings, and I trust that when the time arrives for the settlement of any pecuniary consideration which I am to derive from these irksome and uncongenial labours, my wounded self-respect may not be omitted from the reckoning. The above exordium may appear to you tedious, but it is only just to myself to remind you that you are not dealing with a vulgar hireling. My first step, after duly meditating your suggestions, was to find a fitting watch for the movements of Hawkehurst. I opined that the best person to play the spy would be that class of man whose existence seems for the most part devoted to the lounging at street corners, the chewing of straw, and that desultory kind of industry known in the patois of this race as “fetching errands.” This is the man, or boy, who starts up from the pavement (as through a trap-door in the flags) whenever one alights from or would enter any kind of vehicle. Unbidden, unrequired, and obnoxious, the creature arises, and opens a door, or lays some rag of his wretched attire on a muddy wheel, and then whines, piteous, for a copper. Such a man, or such a boy, I felt convinced must exist among the hangers-on of the Royal Hotel; nor was I mistaken. On inquiring for a handy lad, capable of attending upon my needs at all hours in the day, and not a servant in the hotel, but a person who would be wholly at my own disposal, I was informed that the Boots had a younger brother who was skilled in the fetching of errands, and who would be happy to wait upon me for a very reasonable remuneration, or in the words of the waiter himself, would be ready to leave it — i.e. the remuneration — to my own generosity. I know that there are no people who expect so much as those who leave the assessment of their claims to your own generosity; but as I wanted good service, I was prepared to pay well. The younger Boots made his appearance in due course — a sharp young fellow enough — and I forthwith made him my slave by the promise of five shillings a day for every day in which I should require his services. I then told him that it was my misfortune to own — with a strong inclination to disown — a reprobate nephew, now an inhabitant of that very town. This nephew, I had reason to believe, was going at a very rapid rate to the dogs; but my affectionate feelings would not allow him to consummate his own destruction without one last effort to reclaim him. I had therefore followed him to Ullerton, whither I believed him to be led by the worst possible motives; and having done so, my next business was to keep myself informed of his whereabouts.

Seeing that the younger Boots accepted these statements with unquestioning faith, I went on to inquire whether he felt himself equal to the delicate duty of hanging about the yard of the Black Swan, and watching the doors of exit from that hotel, with a view to following my recreant nephew wherever he might go, even if considerably beyond the limits of Ullerton. I saw that the lad’s intelligence was likely to be equal to this transaction, unless there should arise any difficult or complicated position by reason of the suspicion of Hawkehurst, or other mischance. “Do you think you can watch the gentleman without being observed?” I asked. “I’m pretty well sure I can, sir,” answered the boy, who is of an enterprising, and indeed audacious, temper. “Very well,” said I, “you will go to the Black Swan Inn. Hawkehurst is the name by which my nephew is known there, and it will be your duty to find him out.” I gave the boy a minute account of Valentine’s appearance, and other instructions with which I need not trouble you. I further furnished him with money, so that he might be able to follow Hawkehurst by rail, or any other mode of conveyance, if necessary; and then despatched him, with an order to come back to me when he had seen our man safely lodged in the Black Swan after his day’s perambulations. “And if he shouldn’t go out at all?” suggested the lad. “In that case you must stick to your post till nightfall, and pick up all the information you can about my unfortunate nephew from the hangers-on of the hotel,” said I. “I suppose you know some one at the Black Swan?” The boy informed me, in his untutored language, that he knew “a’most all of ’em,” and thereupon departed.

At nine o’clock at night he again appeared before me, big with the importance of his day’s work. He had seen my nephew issue forth from the Black Swan within an hour of leaving my presence, and had followed him, first to Mr. William Judson’s in Ferrygate, where he waited and hung about nearly an hour, keeping himself well out of view round the corner of Chalkin Street, a turning close to Mr. Judson’s house. After leaving this gentleman’s house, my renegade nephew had proceeded — carrying a letter in his hand, and walking as if in very good spirits (but that fellow Hawkehurst would walk to the gallows in good spirits)— to the Lancaster Road, where he was admitted into Lochiel Villa, a house belonging, as my Mercury ascertained from a passing baker’s boy, to Miss Judson, sister of the William Judson of Ferrygate. You will perceive that this town appears to teem with the Judson family. My messenger, with praiseworthy art, contrived to engage in a game of tip-cat (what, I wonder, is a tip-cat?) with some vagrant boys disporting themselves in the roadway, within view of Miss Judson’s house. Hence, after the lapse of more than an hour, Boots–Mercury beheld my recreant relative emerge, and from this point followed him — always with extreme caution — back to the Black Swan. Here he hung about the yard, favoured by his close acquaintance with the ostler, until eight o’clock in the evening, no event of the smallest importance occurring during all those hours. But at eight there arrived a young woman, with a packet from Miss Judson to Mr. Hawkehurst. The packet was small, and was sealed with red wax. This was all my Mercury could ascertain respecting it; but this was something.

I at once divined that this packet must needs contain letters. I asked myself whether those letters or papers had been sold to Hawkehurst, or only lent to him, and I immediately concluded that they could only have been lent. It was all very well for Goodge, the Methodist parson, to traffic in the epistles of Mrs. Matthew Haygarth, but it was to the last degree unlikely that a well-to-do maiden lady would part with family letters or papers for any pecuniary consideration whatever. “No,” I said to myself, “the documents have been lent, and will have to be returned;” and thereupon I laid my plans for the next day’s campaign, with a view to obtaining a peep at those letters, by fair means or foul. I told the boy to be at his post in the inn yard early the next morning, and if my nephew did not leave the inn, my agent was to ascertain what he was doing, and to bring me word thereof. “I’ll tell you what it is, Boots,” I said; “I have reason to believe that sadly disposed nephew of mine has some wicked intention with regard to Miss Judson, who is nearly related to a young lady with whom that unprincipled young man is, or pretends to be, in love; and I very much fear that he means to send her some letters, written by this foolish niece of hers to my more foolish nephew, and eminently calculated to wound the good lady’s feelings. Now, in order to prevent this very shameful conduct on his part, I want to intercept any packet or letter which that mistaken youth may send to Miss Judson. Do you feel yourself capable of getting hold of such a packet, on consideration of a bonus of half-a-sovereign in addition to the five shillings per diem already agreed upon?”

This, in more direct and vulgar phraseology, was what I said to the boy; and the boy departed, after pledging himself to bring me any packet which Hawkehurst might despatch from the Swan Inn. The only fear was that Hawkehurst might carry the packet himself, and this contingency appeared unpleasantly probable.

Fortune favoured us. My reprobate nephew was too ill to go out. He intrusted Miss Hudson’s packet to his waiter, the waiter confided it to the Boots, the Boots resigned the responsibility in favour of my boy Mercury, who kindly offered to save that functionary the trouble of a walk to the Lancaster Road.

At eleven A.M. the packet was in my hands. I have devoted the best part of to-day to the contents of this packet. They consist of letters written by Matthew Haygarth, and distinguished by a most abominable orthography; but I remember my own father’s epistolary composition to have been somewhat deficient in this respect; nor is it singular that the humble citizen should have been a poor hand at spelling in an age when royal personages indulged in a phonetic style of orthography which would provoke the laughter of a modern charity-boy. That the pretender to the crown of England should murder the two languages in which he wrote seems a small thing; but that Frederick the Great, the most accomplished of princes, bosom-friend of Voltaire, and sworn patron of the literati, should not have been able to spell, is a matter for some astonishment. I could but remember this fact, as I perused the epistles of Matthew Haygarth. I felt that these letters had in all probability been carefully numbered by the lady to whom they belong, and that to tamper with them to any serious extent might be dangerous. I have therefore only ventured to retain one insignificant scrawl as an example of Matthew Haygarth’s caligraphy and signature. From the rest I have taken copious notes. It appears to me that these letters relate to some liaison of the gentleman’s youth; though I am fain to confess myself surprised to discover that, even in a period notorious for looseness of morals, a man should enter into such details in a correspondence with his sister. Autres temps, autres moeurs. I have selected my extracts with great care, and hope that you may be able to make more use of them than I can at present imagine possible. I shall post this letter and enclosure with my own hands, though in order to do so I must pass the Black Swan. I shall despatch my messenger to Lochiel Villa, with Miss Judson’s packet, under cover of the darkness.

In much haste, to catch the London mail,

Truly yours, H.N.C.P.

From Philip Sheldon to Horatio Paget. City, Oct. 12, 186 —

Dear Paget — Come back to town. You are only wasting money, time, and trouble. Yours, P.S.

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