Charlotte's Inheritance, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

Too Clever, for a Catspaw.

Captain Paget returned to town, mystified by that sudden summons from his patron, and eager to know what new aspect of affairs rendered his further presence in Ullerton useless or undesirable.

Horatio arrived in the great city half-a-dozen hours before his sometime protégé, and was comfortably installed when Valentine returned to those lodgings in Omega Street, Chelsea, which the two men occupied in common.

Captain Paget went into the City to see Philip Sheldon on the day of his return, but did not succeed in finding the stockbroker. The evening’s post brought him a letter from Philip, appointing an interview at Bayswater, at three o’clock on the following day — the day after Valentine’s return from Ullerton.

Punctual to the moment appointed by this letter, Captain Paget appeared at the Lawn on the following day. He was ushered into Mr. Sheldon’s study, where he found that gentleman awaiting him, grave and meditative of mood, but friendly, and indeed cordial, in his manner to the returning traveller.

“My dear Paget, sit down; I am delighted to see you. Your trip has made you look five years younger, by Jove! I was sorry to find you had called while I was out, and had waited for me upwards of an hour yesterday. I have a good deal of worry on my shoulders just now; commerce is all worry, you know. The Marquis of Lambeth has come into the market and bought up two-thirds of the Astrakhan Grand Trunk debenture bonds, just as our house had speculated for the fall. And since it has got wind that the Marquis is sweet upon the concern, the bonds are going up like a skyrocket. Such is life. I thought we had better have our little talk here; it’s quieter than in the City. Have some sherry and soda; you like that Manzanilla of mine, I know.”

And the hospitable Philip rang the bell, without thinking it necessary to wait for his guest’s answer.

There was a cordiality, a conciliating friendliness about the stockbroker’s manner which Horatio Paget did not like.

“He’s too civil by half,” the Captain said to himself; “he means to do me.”

“And now about this Ullerton business,” Mr. Sheldon began, when the wine and soda-water had been brought, and a tall tumbler of that refreshing compound filled for the Captain; “you have really managed matters admirably. I cannot too much applaud your diplomatic tact. You would have put a what’s-his-name — that fellow of Napoleon’s — to the blush by your management of the whole business. But, unfortunately, when it’s all done it comes to nothing; the whole affair is evidently, from beginning to end, a mare’s-nest. It is one of those wild geese which my brother George has been chasing for the last ten years, and which never have resulted in profit to him or anybody else; and I should be something worse than a fool if I were to lend myself any longer to such a folly.”

“Humph,” muttered the Captain, “here is a change indeed!”

“Well, yes,” Mr. Sheldon answered coolly. “I dare say my conduct does seem rather capricious; but you see George put me out of temper the other day, and I was determined, if he had got a good thing, to cut the ground from under his feet. All your communications from Ullerton tend to show me that he has not got hold of a good thing, and that in any attempt to circumvent him I should only be circumventing myself, wasting your time, and my own money. This Judson family seems numberless; and it is evident to me that the Reverend John Haygarth’s fortune will be a bone of contention amongst the Judsons in the High Court of Chancery for any indefinite number of years between this and the milennium. So I really think, my dear Paget, we’d better consider this transaction finished. I will give you whatever honorarium you think fit to name for your trouble, and we’ll close the affair. I shall find plenty more business as good, or better, for you to do.”

“You are very good,” replied the Captain, in nowise satisfied by this promise. It was all too smooth, too conciliatory. And there was a suddenness in this change of plan that was altogether mysterious. So indeed might a capricious man be expected to drop a speculation he had been eager to inaugurate, but Philip Sheldon was the last of men to be suspected of caprice.

“You must have taken an immense deal of trouble with those extracts, now,” said the stockbroker carelessly, as Horatio rose to depart, offended and angry, but anxious to conceal his anger. “What, are you off so soon? I thought you would stop and take a chop with us.”

“No, thanks; I have an engagement elsewhere. Yes, I took an inordinate trouble with those extracts, and I am sorry to think they should be useless.”

“Well, yes, it is rather provoking to you, I dare say. The extracts would be very interesting from a social point of view, no doubt, to people who care about such things; but in a legal sense they are waste-paper. I can’t understand why Hawkehurst was in Ullerton; for, as you yourself suggested, that Peter Judson who went to India must be the Judson wanted for this case.”

“Your brother may be in league with some other branch of the Judson family. Or what if he is hunting for an heir on the Haygarth side?” asked the Captain, with a very close watch upon Mr. Sheldon’s face. Let the stockbroker be never so skilful a navigator of the high seas of life, there was no undercurrent, no cross trade-wind, no unexplained veering of the magnetic needle to the west, in the mysteries whereof the Captain was not also versed. When Columbus wanted to keep his sailors quiet on that wondrous voyage over an unknown ocean to the Western world, the diplomatic admiral made so bold as to underrate the length of each day’s sail in an unveracious log, which he kept for the inspection of his crew; but no doctoring of the social log-book could mislead the acute Horatio.

“How about the Haygarth side of the house?” he asked again; for it had seemed to him that at his first mention of the name of Haygarth Mr. Sheldon had winced, ever so little. This time, however, he betrayed not the faintest concern; but he was doubtless now on his guard.

“Well, I don’t see how there can be any claimant on that side of the house,” he said carelessly. “You see, according to your old landlord’s statement — which I take to be correct — Jonathan Haygarth had but one son, a certain Matthew, who married one Rebecca So-and-so, and had, in his turn one only son, the intestate John. Now, in that case, where is your heir to come from, except through Matthew’s sister Ruth, who married Peter Judson?”

“Isn’t it just possible that Matthew Haygarth may have married twice, and had other children? Those letters certainly suggest the idea of a secret alliance of some kind on Haygarth’s part, and the existence of a family, to whom he appears to have been warmly attached. My first idea of this affair was that it must have been a low liaison; but I could hardly realize the fact of Matthew’s confiding in his sister under any such circumstances, however lax in his morals that gentleman may have been. Mrs. Matthew Haygarth’s letters hint at some mystery in her husband’s life. Is it not likely that this hidden family was a legitimate one?”

“I can’t quite see my way to that idea,” Mr. Sheldon answered, in a meditative tone. “It seems very unlikely that any marriage of Haygarth’s could have remained unknown to his townsmen; and even if it were so, I doubt the possibility of our tracing the heirs from such a marriage. No, my dear Paget, I have resolved to wash my hands of the business, and leave my brother George in undisturbed possession of his ground.”

“In that case, perhaps, you will return my notes; they are interesting to me.”

Here again the faintest indication of annoyance in the stockbroker’s face told its tale to Captain Paget. For your accomplished navigator of the unknown seas there is no ocean bird, no floating weed, that has not a language and a significance.

“You can have your notes, if you want them,” answered Mr. Sheldon; “they are at my office. I’ll hunt them up and send them to you; or you had better look in upon me in the City early next week, and I can give you a cheque at the same time.”

“Thanks. I will be sure and do so.”

“You say the orthography of the original letters was queer. I suppose your copies were faithful in all matters except the orthography. And in the names, you of course adhered to the original spelling?”

“Most decidedly,” replied Captain Paget, opening the door to depart, and with a somewhat cynical smile upon his face, which was hidden from Mr. Sheldon.

“I suppose there is no doubt of your accuracy with regard to the name of Meynell, now?”

“Not the least. Good afternoon. Ah, there’s our young friend Hawkehurst!” exclaimed the Captain, in his “society” voice, as he looked out into the hall, where Valentine was parting with Diana.

He came and greeted his young friend, and they left the house together.

This was the occasion upon which Valentine was startled by hearing the name “Meynell” pronounced by the lips of Philip Sheldon.

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