John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 3

About the Lincolnshire Property.

While Mary sat absorbed in such idle visions as these, Mr. Marchmont and his old pupil walked towards Waterloo Bridge together.

“I’ll go as far as the theatre with you, Marchmont,” the boy said; “it’s my holidays now, you know, and I can do as I like. I am going to a private tutor in another month, and he’s to prepare me for the army. I want you to tell me all about that Lincolnshire property, old boy. Is it anywhere near Swampington?”

“Yes; within nine miles.”

“Goodness gracious me! Lord bless my soul! what an extraordinary coincidence! My uncle Hubert’s Rector of Swampington — such a hole! I go there sometimes to see him and my cousin Olivia. Isn’t she a stunner, though! Knows more Greek and Latin than I, and more mathematics than you. Could eat our heads off at any thing.”

John Marchmont did not seem very much impressed by the coincidence that appeared so extraordinary to Edward Arundel; but, in order to oblige his friend, he explained very patiently and lucidly how it was that only three lives stood between him and the possession of Marchmont Towers, and all lands and tenements appertaining thereto.

“The estate’s a very large one,” he said finally; “but the idea of my ever getting it is, of course, too preposterous.”

“Good gracious me! I don’t see that at all,” exclaimed Edward with extraordinary vivacity. “Let me see, old fellow; if I understand your story right, this is how the case stands: your first cousin is the present possessor of Marchmont Towers; he has a son, fifteen years of age, who may or may not marry; only one son, remember. But he has also an uncle — a bachelor uncle, and your uncle, too — who, by the terms of your grandfather’s will, must get the property before you can succeed to it. Now, this uncle is an old man: so of course he’ll die soon. The present possessor himself is a middle-aged man; so I shouldn’t think he can be likely to last long. I dare say he drinks too much port, or hunts, or something of that sort; goes to sleep after dinner, and does all manner of apoplectic things, I’ll be bound. Then there’s the son, only fifteen, and not yet marriageable; consumptive, I dare say. Now, will you tell me the chances are not six to six he dies unmarried? So you see, my dear old boy, you’re sure to get the fortune; for there’s nothing to keep you out of it, except —”

“Except three lives, the worst of which is better than mine. It’s kind of you to look at it in this sanguine way, Arundel; but I wasn’t born to be a rich man. Perhaps, after all, Providence has used me better than I think. I mightn’t have been happy at Marchmont Towers. I’m a shy, awkward, humdrum fellow. If it wasn’t for Mary’s sake —”

“Ah, to be sure!” cried Edward Arundel. “You’re not going to forget all about — Miss Marchmont!” He was going to say “little Mary,” but had checked himself abruptly at the sudden recollection of the earnest hazel eyes that had kept wondering watch upon his ravages at the breakfast-table. “I’m sure Miss Marchmont’s born to be an heiress. I never saw such a little princess.”

“What!” demanded John Marchmont sadly, “in a darned pinafore and a threadbare frock?”

The boy’s face flushed, almost indignantly, as his old master said this.

“You don’t think I’m such a snob as to admire a lady”— he spoke thus of Miss Mary Marchmont, yet midway between her eighth and ninth birthday —“the less because she isn’t rich? But of course your daughter will have the fortune by-and-by, even if —”

He stopped, ashamed of his want of tact; for he knew John would divine the meaning of that sudden pause.

“Even if I should die before Philip Marchmont,” the teacher of mathematics answered, quietly. “As far as that goes, Mary’s chance is as remote as my own. The fortune can only come to her in the event of Arthur dying without issue, or, having issue, failing to cut off the entail, I believe they call it.”

“Arthur! that’s the son of the present possessor?”

“Yes. If I and my poor little girl, who is delicate like her mother, should die before either of these three men, there is another who will stand in my shoes, and will look out perhaps more eagerly than I have done for his chances of getting the property.”

“Another!” exclaimed Mr. Arundel. “By Jove, Marchmont, it’s the most complicated affair I ever heard of. It’s worse than those sums you used to set me in barter: ‘If A. sells B. 999 Stilton cheeses at 9 1/2d a pound,’ and all that sort of thing, you know. Do make me understand it, old fellow, if you can.”

John Marchmont sighed.

“It’s a wearisome story, Arundel,” he said. “I don’t know why I should bore you with it.”

“But you don’t bore me with it,” cried the boy energetically. “I’m awfully interested in it, you know; and I could walk up and down here all day talking about it.”

The two gentlemen had passed the Surrey toll-gate of Waterloo Bridge by this time. The South–Western Terminus had not been built in the year ‘38, and the bridge was about the quietest thoroughfare any two companions confidentially inclined could have chosen. The shareholders knew this, to their cost.

Perhaps Mr. Marchmont might have been beguiled into repeating the old story, which he had told so often in the dim firelight to his little girl; but the great clock of St. Paul’s boomed forth the twelve ponderous strokes that told the hour of noon, and a hundred other steeples upon either side of the water made themselves clamorous with the same announcement.

“I must leave you, Arundel,” the supernumerary said hurriedly; he had just remembered that it was time for him to go and be browbeaten by a truculent stage-manager. “God bless you, my dear boy! It was very good of you to want to see me, and the sight of your fresh face has made me very happy. I should like you to understand all about the Lincolnshire property. God knows there’s small chance of its ever coming to me or to my child; but when I am dead and gone, Mary will be left alone in the world, and it would be some comfort to me to know that she was not without one friend — generous and disinterested like you, Arundel — who, if the chance did come, would see her righted.”

“And so I would,” cried the boy eagerly. His face flushed, and his eyes fired. He was a preux chevalier already, in thought, going forth to do battle for a hazel-eyed mistress.

“I’ll write the story, Arundel,” John Marchmont said; “I’ve no time to tell it, and you mightn’t remember it either. Once more, good-bye; once more, God bless you!”

“Stop!” exclaimed Edward Arundel, flushing a deeper red than before — he had a very boyish habit of blushing — “stop, dear old boy. You must borrow this of me, please. I’ve lots of them. I should only spend it on all sorts of bilious things; or stop out late and get tipsy. You shall pay me with interest when you get Marchmont Towers. I shall come and see you again soon. Good-bye.”

The lad forced some crumpled scrap of paper into his old tutor’s hand, bolted through the toll-bar, and jumped into a cabriolet, whose high-stepping charger was dawdling along Lancaster Place.

The supernumerary hurried on to Drury Lane as fast as his weak legs could carry him. He was obliged to wait for a pause in the rehearsal before he could find an opportunity of looking at the parting gift which his old pupil had forced upon him. It was a crumpled and rather dirty five-pound note, wrapped round two half-crowns, a shilling, and half-a-sovereign.

The boy had given his friend the last remnant of his slender stock of pocket-money. John Marchmont turned his face to the dark wing that sheltered him, and wept silently. He was of a gentle and rather womanly disposition, be it remembered; and he was in that weak state of health in which a man’s eyes are apt to moisten, in spite of himself, under the influence of any unwonted emotion.

He employed a part of that afternoon in writing the letter which he had promised to send to his boyish friend:—

“MY DEAR ARUNDEL,

“My purpose in writing to you to-day is so entirely connected with the future welfare of my beloved and only child, that I shall carefully abstain from any subject not connected with her interests. I say nothing, therefore, respecting your conduct of this morning, which, together with my previous knowledge of your character, has decided me upon confiding to you the doubts and fears which have long tormented me upon the subject of my darling’s future.

“I am a doomed man, Arundel! The doctors have told me this; but they have told me also that, though I can never escape the sentence of death which was passed upon me long ago, I may live for some years if I live the careful life which only a rich man can lead. If I go on carrying banners and breathing sulphur, I cannot last long. My little girl will be left penniless, but not quite friendless; for there are humble people, relatives of her poor mother, who would help her kindly, I am sure, in their own humble way. The trials which I fear for my orphan girl are not so much the trials of poverty as the dangers of wealth. If the three men who, on my death, would alone stand between Mary and the Lincolnshire property die childless, my poor darling will become the only obstacle in the pathway of a man whom, I will freely own to you, I distrust.

“My father, John Marchmont, was the third of four brothers. The eldest, Philip, died leaving one son, also called Philip, and the present possessor of Marchmont Towers. The second, Marmaduke, is still alive, a bachelor. The third, John, left four children, of whom I alone survive. The fourth, Paul, left a son and two daughters. The son is an artist, exercising his profession now in London; one of the daughters is married to a parish surgeon, who practises at Stanfield, in Lincolnshire; the other is an old maid, and entirely dependent upon her brother.

“It is this man, Paul Marchmont the artist, whom I fear.

“Do not think me weak, or foolishly suspicious, Arundel, when I tell you that the very thought of this man brings the cold sweat upon my forehead, and seems to stop the beating of my heart. I know that this is a prejudice, and an unworthy one. I do not believe Paul Marchmont is a good man; but I can assign no sufficient reason for my hatred and terror of him. It is impossible for you, a frank and careless boy, to realise the feelings of a man who looks at his only child, and remembers that she may soon be left, helpless and defenceless, to fight the battle of life with a bad man. Sometimes I pray to God that the Marchmont property may never come to my child after my death; for I cannot rid myself of the thought — may Heaven forgive me for its unworthiness! — that Paul Marchmont would leave no means untried, however foul, to wrest the fortune from her. I dare say worldly people would laugh at me for writing this letter to you, my dear Arundel; but I address myself to the best friend I have — the only creature I know whom the influence of a bad man is never likely to corrupt. Noblesse oblige! I am not afraid that Edward Dangerfield Arundel will betray any trust, however foolish, that may have been confided to him.

“Perhaps, in writing to you thus, I may feel something of that blind hopefulness — amid the shipwreck of all that commonly gives birth to hope — which the mariner cast away upon some desert island feels, when he seals his simple story in a bottle, and launches it upon the waste of waters that close him in on every side. Before my little girl is four years older, you will be a man, Arundel — with a man’s intellect, a man’s courage, and, above all, a man’s keen sense of honour. So long as my darling remains poor, her humble friends will be strong enough to protect her; but if ever Providence should think fit to place her in a position of antagonism to Paul Marchmont — for he would look upon any one as an enemy who stood between him and fortune — she would need a far more powerful protector than any she could find amongst her poor mother’s relatives. Will you be that protector, Edward Arundel? I am a drowning man, you see, and catch at the frailest straw that floats past me. I believe in you, Edward, as much as I distrust Paul Marchmont. If the day ever comes in which my little girl should have to struggle with this man, will you help her to fight the battle? It will not be an easy one.

“Subjoined to this letter I send you an extract from the copy of my grandfather’s will, which will explain to you how he left his property. Do not lose either the letter or the extract. If you are willing to undertake the trust which I confide to you to-day, you may have need to refer to them after my death. The legacy of a child’s helplessness is the only bequest which I can leave to the only friend I have.

“JOHN MARCHMONT.

“27, OAKLEY STREET, LAMBETH,

December 30th, 1838.

“EXTRACT FROM THE WILL OF PHILIP MARCHMONT, SENIOR, OF MARCHMONT TOWERS.

“‘I give and devise all that my estate known as Marchmont Towers and appurtenances thereto belonging to the use of my eldest son Philip Marchmont during his natural life without impeachment of waste and from and after his decease then to the use of my grandson Philip the first son of my said son Philip during the term of his natural life without impeachment of waste and after the decease of my said grandson Philip to the use of the first and every other son of my said grandson severally and successively according to their respective seniority in tail and for default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said grandson Philip as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and if all the daughters of my said grandson Philip except one shall die without issue or if there shall be but one such daughter then to the use of such one or only daughter in tail and in default of such issue then to the use of the second and every other son of my said eldest son severally and successively according to his respective seniority in tail and in default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said eldest son Philip as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and in default of such issue to the use of my second son Marmaduke and his assigns during the term of his natural life without impeachment of waste and after his decease to the use of the first and every son of my said son Marmaduke severally and successively according to their respective seniorities in tail and for default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said son Marmaduke as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and if all the daughters of my said son Marmaduke except one shall die without issue or if there shall be but one such daughter then to the use of such one or only daughter in tail and in default of such issue then to the use of my third son John during the term of his natural life without impeachment of waste and from and after his decease then to the use of my grandson John the first son of my said son John during the term of his natural life without impeachment of waste and after the decease of my said grandson John to the use of the first and every other son of my said grandson John severally and successively according to their respective seniority in tail and for default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said grandson John as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or among them in tail and if all the daughters of my said grandson John except one shall die without issue or if there shall be but one such daughter’ [This, you will see, is my little Mary] ‘then to the use of such one or only daughter in tail and in default of such issue then to the use of the second and every other son of my said third son John severally and successively according to his respective seniority in tail and in default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said third son John as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and in default of such issue to the use of my fourth son Paul during the term of his natural life without impeachment of waste and from and after his decease then to the use of my grandson Paul the son of my said son Paul during his natural life without impeachment of waste and after the decease of my said grandson Paul to the use of the first and every other son of my said grandson severally and successively according to their respective seniority in tail and for default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said grandson Paul as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail and if all the daughters of my said grandson Paul except one shall die without issue or if there shall be but one such daughter then to the use of such one or only daughter in tail and in default of such issue then to the use of the second and every other son of my said fourth son Paul severally and successively according to his respective seniority in tail and in default of such issue to the use of all and every the daughters and daughter of my said fourth son Paul as tenants in common in tail with cross remainders between or amongst them in tail,’ &c. &c.

“P.S. — Then comes what the lawyers call a general devise to trustees, to preserve the contingent remainders before devised from being destroyed; but what that means, perhaps you can get somebody to tell you. I hope it may be some legal jargon to preserve my very contingent remainder.”

The tone of Edward Arundel’s answer to this letter was more characteristic of the writer than in harmony with poor John’s solemn appeal.

“You dear, foolish old Marchmont,” the lad wrote, “of course I shall take care of Miss Mary; and my mother shall adopt her, and she shall live at Dangerfield, and be educated with my sister Letitia, who has the jolliest French governess, and a German maid for conversation; and don’t let Paul Marchmont try on any of his games with me, that’s all! But what do you mean, you ridiculous old boy, by talking about dying, and drowning, and shipwrecked mariners, and catching at straws, and all that sort of humbug, when you know very well that you’ll live to inherit the Lincolnshire property, and that I’m coming to you every year to shoot, and that you’re going to build a tennis-court — of course there is a billiard-room — and that you’re going to have a stud of hunters, and be master of the hounds, and no end of bricks to

“Your ever devoted Roman countryman and lover,

“EDGARDO?

“42, MONTAGUE SQUARE,

December 3lst, 1838.

“P.S. — By-the-bye, don’t you think a situation in a lawyer’s office would suit you better than the T. R. D. L.? If you do, I think I could manage it. A happy new year to Miss Mary!”

It was thus that Mr. Edward Arundel accepted the solemn trust which his friend confided to him in all simplicity and good faith. Mary Marchmont herself was not more innocent in the ways of the world outside Oakley Street, the Waterloo Road, and the New Cut, than was the little girl’s father; nothing seemed more natural to him than to intrust the doubtful future of his only child to the bright-faced handsome boy, whose early boyhood had been unblemished by a mean sentiment or a dishonourable action. John Marchmont had spent three years in the Berkshire Academy at which Edward and his cousin, Martin Mostyn, had been educated; and young Arundel, who was far behind his kinsman in the comprehension of a problem in algebra, had been wise enough to recognise that paradox which Martin Mostyn could not understand — a gentleman in a shabby coat. It was thus that a friendship had arisen between the teacher of mathematics and his handsome pupil; and it was thus that an unreasoning belief in Edward Arundel had sprung up in John’s simple mind.

“If my little girl were certain of inheriting the fortune,” Mr. Marchmont thought, “I might find many who would be glad to accept my trust, and to serve her well and faithfully. But the chance is such a remote one. I cannot forget how the Jews laughed at me two years ago, when I tried to borrow money upon my reversionary interest. No! I must trust this brave-hearted boy, for I have no one else to confide in; and who else is there who would not ridicule my fear of my cousin Paul?”

Indeed, Mr. Marchmont had some reason to be considerably ashamed of his antipathy to the young artist working for his bread, and for the bread of his invalid mother and unmarried sister, in that bitter winter of ‘38; working patiently and hopefully, in despite of all discouragement, and content to live a joyless and monotonous life in a dingy lodging near Fitzroy Square. I can find no excuse for John Marchmont’s prejudice against an industrious and indefatigable young man, who was the sole support of two helpless women. Heaven knows, if to be adored by two women is any evidence of a man’s virtue, Paul must have been the best of men; for Stephanie Marchmont, and her daughter Clarisse, regarded the artist with a reverential idolatry that was not without a tinge of romance. I can assign no reason, then, for John’s dislike of his cousin. They had been schoolfellows at a wretched suburban school, where the children of poor people were boarded, lodged, and educated all the year round for a pitiful stipend of something under twenty pounds. One of the special points of the prospectus was the announcement that there were no holidays; for the jovial Christmas gatherings of merry faces, which are so delightful to the wealthy citizens of Bloomsbury or Tyburnia, take another complexion in poverty-stricken households, whose scantily-stocked larders can ill support the raids of rawboned lads clamorous for provender. The two boys had met at a school of this calibre, and had never met since. They may not have been the best friends, perhaps, at the classical academy; but their quarrels were by no means desperate. They may have rather freely discussed their several chances of the Lincolnshire property; but I have no romantic story to tell of a stirring scene in the humble schoolroom — no exciting record of deadly insult and deep vows of vengeance. No inkstand was ever flung by one boy into the face of the other; no savage blow from a horsewhip ever cut a fatal scar across the brow of either of the cousins. John Marchmont would have been almost as puzzled to account for his objection to his kinsman, as was the nameless gentleman who so naïvely confessed his dislike of Dr. Fell. I fear that a great many of our likings and dislikings are too apt to be upon the Dr. Fell principle. Mr. Wilkie Collins’s Basil could not tell why he fell madly in love with the lady whom it was his evil fortune to meet in an omnibus; nor why he entertained an uncomfortable feeling about the gentleman who was to be her destroyer. David Copperfield disliked Uriah Heep even before he had any substantial reason for objecting to the evil genius of Agnes Wickfield’s father. The boy disliked the snake-like schemer of Canterbury because his eyes were round and red, and his hands clammy and unpleasant to the touch. Perhaps John Marchmont’s reasons for his aversion to his cousin were about as substantial as those of Master Copperfield. It may be that the schoolboy disliked his comrade because Paul Marchmont’s handsome grey eyes were a little too near together; because his thin and delicately chiselled lips were a thought too tightly compressed; because his cheeks would fade to an awful corpse-like whiteness under circumstances which would have brought the rushing life-blood, hot and red, into another boy’s face; because he was silent and suppressed when it would have been more natural to be loud and clamorous; because he could smile under provocations that would have made another frown; because, in short, there was that about him which, let it be found where it will, always gives birth to suspicion — MYSTERY!

So the cousins had parted, neither friends nor foes, to tread their separate roads in the unknown country, which is apt to seem barren and desolate enough to travellers who foot it in hobnailed boots considerably the worse for wear; and as the iron hand of poverty held John Marchmont even further back than Paul upon the hard road which each had to tread, the quiet pride of the teacher of mathematics most effectually kept him out of his kinsman’s way. He had only heard enough of Paul to know that he was living in London, and working hard for a living; working as hard as John himself, perhaps; but at least able to keep afloat in a higher social position than the law-stationer’s hack and the banner-holder of Drury Lane.

But Edward Arundel did not forget his friends in Oakley Street. The boy made a morning call upon his father’s solicitors, Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson, of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and was so extremely eloquent in his needy friend’s cause, as to provoke the good-natured laughter of one of the junior partners, who declared that Mr. Edward Arundel ought to wear a silk gown before he was thirty. The result of this interview was, that before the first month of the new year was out, John Marchmont had abandoned the classic banner and the demoniac mask to a fortunate successor, and had taken possession of a hard-seated, slim-legged stool in one of the offices of Messrs. Paulette, Paulette, and Mathewson, as copying and out-door clerk, at a salary of thirty shillings a week.

So little Mary entered now upon a golden age, in which her evenings were no longer desolate and lonely, but spent pleasantly with her father in the study of such learning as was suited to her years, or perhaps rather to her capacity, which was far beyond her years; and on certain delicious nights, to be remembered ever afterwards, John Marchmont took his little girl to the gallery of one or other of the transpontine theatres; and I am sorry to say that my heroine — for she is to be my heroine by-and-by — sucked oranges, ate Abernethy biscuits, and cooled her delicate nose against the iron railing of the gallery, after the manner of the masses when they enjoy the British Drama.

But all this time John Marchmont was utterly ignorant of one rather important fact in the history of those three lives which he was apt to speak of as standing between him and Marchmont Towers. Young Arthur Marchmont, the immediate heir of the estate, had been shot to death upon the 1st of September, 1838, without blame to anyone or anything but his own boyish carelessness, which had induced him to scramble through a hedge with his fowling-piece, the costly present of a doating father, loaded and on full-cock. This melancholy event, which had been briefly recorded in all the newspapers, had never reached the knowledge of poor John Marchmont, who had no friends to busy themselves about his interests, or to rush eagerly to carry him any intelligence affecting his prosperity. Nor had he read the obituary notice respecting Marmaduke Marchmont, the bachelor, who had breathed his last stertorous breath in a fit of apoplexy exactly one twelvemonth before the day upon which Edward Arundel breakfasted in Oakley Street.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/john_marchmont_s_legacy/v1.3.html

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