The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 9.

In Verney House.

MR. LARKIN got into his cab, and ordered the cabman, in a loud voice, to drive to Verney House.

“Didn’t he know Verney House? He thought every cabman in London knew Verney House! The house of Lord Viscount Verney, in —— Square. Why it fills up a whole side of it!”

He looked at his watch. He had thirty-seven minutes to reach it in. It was partly to get rid of a spare half hour, that he had paid his unprofitable visit to Rosemary Court.

Mr. Larkin registered a vow to confer no more with Mr. Dingwell. He eased his feelings by making a note of this resolution in that valuable little memorandum book which he carried about with him in his pocket.

Saw Mr. Dingwell this day — as usual impracticable and ill-bred to a hopeless degree — waste of time and worse — resolved that this gentleman being inaccessible to reason, is not to be argued, but DEALT with, should occasion hereafter arise for influencing his conduct.

Somewhere about Temple Bar, Mr. Larkin’s cab got locked in a string of vehicles, and he put his head out of window, not being sorry for an opportunity of astonishing the citizens by calling to the driver —

“I say, my good fellow, can’t you get on? I told Lord Verney to expect me at half-past one. Do, pray, get me out of this, any way, and you shall have a gratuity of half-a-crown. Verney House is a good way from this. Do try. His lordship will be as much obliged to you as I am.”

Mr. Larkin’s assiduities and flatteries were, in truth, telling upon Lord Verney, with whom he was stealing into a general confidence which alarmed many people, and which Cleve Verney hated more than ever.

With the pretty mansion of Hazelden, the relations, as Lord Verney would have said of the House of Ware, were no longer friendly. This was another instance of the fragility of human arrangements, and the vanity of human hopes. The altar had been erected, the swine sacrificed, and the augurs and haruspices on both sides had predicted nothing but amity and concord. Game, fruit, and venison, went and came — “Much good may it do your good heart.” “It was ill-killed,” &c. Master Shallow and Master Page could not have been more courteous on such occasions. But on the fête champêtre had descended a sudden procella. The roses were whirling high in the darkened air, the flatteries and laughter were drowned in thunder, and the fiddles and glasses smashed with hailstones as large as potatoes.

A general election had come and gone, and in that brief civil war old Vane Etherage was found at the wrong side. In Lord Verney’s language neighbour meant something like vassal, and Etherage who had set up his banner and arrayed his power on the other side, was a rebel — the less forgivable that he had, as was authentically demonstrated, by this step himself inflicted that defeat in the county which had wounded Lord Verney to the quick.

So silence descended upon the interchange of civil speeches; the partridges and pheasants, winged from Ware in a new direction, and old Vane Etherage stayed his friendly hand also; and those tin cases of Irish salmon, from the old gentleman’s fisheries, packed in ice, as fresh as if they had sprung from the stream only half an hour before, were no longer known at Ware; and those wonderful fresh figs, green and purple, which Lord Verney affected, for which Hazelden is famous, and which Vane Etherage was fond of informing his guests were absolutely unequalled in any part of the known world! England could not approach them for bulk and ripeness, nor foreign parts — and he had eaten figs wherever figs grow — for aroma and flavour, no longer crossed the estuary. Thus this game of beggar-my-neighbour began. Lord Verney recalled his birds, and Mr. Etherage withdrew his figs. Mr. Etherage lost his great black grapes; and Lord Verney sacrificed his salmon, and in due time Lord Verney played a writ, and invited an episode in a court of law, and another, more formidable, in the Court of Chancery.

So the issues of the war were knit again, and Vane Etherage was now informed by his lawyers there were some very unpleasant questions mooted affecting the title to the Windermore estate, for which he payed a trifling rent to the Verneys.

So, when Larkin went into Verney House, he was closeted with its noble master for a good while, and returning to a smaller library — devoted to blue books and pamphlets — where he had left a despatch-box and umbrella during his wait for admission to his noble client, he found Cleve busy there.

“Oh, Mr. Larkin. How d’ye do? Anything to say to me?” said the handsome young man, whose eye looked angry though he smiled.

“Ah, thanks. No —no, Mr. Verney. I hope and trust I see you well; but no, I had not any communication to make. Shall I be honoured, Mr. Verney, with any communication from you?”

“I’ve nothing to say, thanks, except of course to say how much obliged I am for the very particular interest you take in my affairs.”

“I should be eminently gratified, Mr. Verney, to merit your approbation; but I fear, sir, as yet I can hardly hope to have merited your thanks,” said Mr. Larkin, modestly.

“You won’t let me thank you; but I quite understand the nature and extent of your kindness. My uncle is by no means so reserved, and he has told me very frankly the care you have been so good as to take of me. He’s more obliged even than I am, and so, I am told, is Lady Wimbledon also.”

Cleve had said a great deal more than at starting he had at all intended. It would have been easy to him to have dismissed the attorney without allusion to the topic that made him positively hateful in his eyes; but it was not easy to hint at it, and quite command himself also, and the result illustrated the general fact that total abstinence is easier than moderation.

Now the effect of this little speech of Cleve’s upon the attorney, was to abash Mr. Larkin, and positively to confound him, in a degree quite unusual in a Christian so armed on most occasions with that special grace called presence of mind. The blood mounted to his hollow cheeks, and up to the summit of his tall bald head; his eyes took their rat-like character, and looked dangerously in his for a second, and then down to the floor, and scanned his own boots; and he bit his lip, and essayed a little laugh, and tried to look innocent, and broke down in the attempt. He cleared his voice once or twice to speak, but said nothing; and all this time Cleve gave him no help whatsoever, but enjoyed his evident confusion with an angry sneer.

“I hope Mr. Cleve Verney,” at length Mr. Larkin began, “where duty and expediency pull in opposite directions, I shall always be found at the right side.”

“The winning side at all events,” said Cleve.

“The right side, I venture to repeat. It has been my misfortune to be misunderstood more than once in the course of my life. It is our duty to submit to misinterpretation, as to other afflictions, patiently. I hope I have done so. My first duty is to my client.”

I’m no client of yours, sir.”

“Well, conceding that, sir, to your uncle— to Lord Verney, I will say — to his views of what the interests of his house demand, and to his feelings.”

“Lord Verney has been good enough to consult me, hitherto, upon this subject; a not quite unnatural confidence, I venture to think; more than you seem to suspect. He seems to think, and so do I, that I’ve a voice in it, and has not left me absolutely in the hands — in a matter of so much importance and delicacy — of his country lawyer.”

“I had no power in this case, sir; not even of mentioning the subject to you, who certainly, in one view, are more or less affected by it.”

“Thank you for the concession,” sneered Cleve.

“I make it unaffectedly, Mr. Cleve Verney,” replied Larkin, graciously.

“My uncle, Lord Verney, has given me leave to talk to you upon the subject. I venture to decline that privilege. I prefer speaking to him. He seems to think that I ought to be allowed to advise a little in the matter, and that with every respect for his wishes; mine also are entitled to be a little considered. Should I ever talk to you, Mr. Larkin, it shan’t be to ask your advice. I’m detaining you, sir, and I’m also a little busy myself.”

Mr. Larkin looked at the young man a second or two a little puzzled; but encountering only a look of stern impatience, he made his best bow, and the conference ended.

A few minutes later, in came our old friend, Tom Sedley.

“Oh! Sedley! Very glad to see you here; but I thought you did not want to see my uncle just now; and this is the most likely place, except the library, to meet him in.”

“He’s gone; I saw him go out this moment. I should not have come in otherwise; and you mustn’t send me away, dear Cleve, I’m in such awful trouble. Everything has gone wrong with us at Hazelden. You know that quarrying company — the slates, that odious fellow, Larkin, led him into, before the election and all the other annoyances began.”

“You mean the Llanrwyd company?”

“Yes; so I do.”

“But that’s quite ruined, you know. Sit down.”

“I know. He has lost — frightfully — and Mr. Etherage must pay up ever so much in calls beside; and unless he can get it on a mortgage of the Windermore estate, he can’t possibly pay them — and I’ve been trying, and the result is just this — they won’t lend it anywhere till the litigation is settled.”

“Well, what can I do?” said Cleve, yawning stealthily into his hand, and looking very tired. I am afraid these tragic confidences of Tom Sedley’s did not interest Cleve very much; rather bored him, on the contrary.

“They won’t lend, I say, while this litigation is pending.”

“Depend upon it they won’t,” acquiesced Cleve.

“And in the meantime, you know, Mr. Etherage would be ruined.”

“Well, I see; but, I say again, what can I do?”

“I want you to try if anything can be done with Lord Verney,” said Tom, beseechingly.

“Talk to my uncle? I wish, dear Tom, you could teach me how to do that.”

“It can’t do any harm, Cleve — it can’t,” urged Tom Sedley, piteously.

“Nor one particle of good. You might as well talk to that picture — I do assure you, you might.”

“But it could be no pleasure to him to ruin Mr. Etherage!”

“I’m not so sure of that; between ourselves, forgiving is not one of his weaknesses.”

“But I say it’s quite impossible — an old family, and liked in the county — it would be a scandal for ever!” pleaded Tom Sedley, distractedly.

“Not worse than that business of Booth Fanshawe,” said Cleve, looking down; “no, he never forgives anything. I don’t think he perceives he’s taking a revenge; he has not mind enough for repentance,” said Cleve, who was not in good humour with his uncle just then.

“Won’t you try? you’re such an eloquent fellow, and there’s really so much to be said.”

“I do assure you, there’s no more use than in talking to the chimney-piece; if you make a point of it, of course, I will; but, by Jove, you could hardly choose a worse advocate just now, for he’s teasing me to do what I can’t do. If you heard my miserable story, it would make you laugh; it’s like a thing in a petite comédie, and it’s breaking my heart.”

“Well, then, you’ll try — won’t you try?” said Tom, overlooking his friend’s description of his own troubles.

“Yes; as you desire it, I’ll try; but I don’t expect the slightest good from it, and possibly some mischief,” he replied.

“A thousand thanks, my dear Cleve; I’m going down to-night. Would it be too much to ask you for a line, or, if it’s good news, a telegram to Llwynan.”

“I may safely promise you that, I’m sorry to say, without risk of trouble. You mustn’t think me unkind, but it would be cruel to let you hope when there is not, really, a chance.”

So Tom drove away to his club, to write his daily love letter to Agnes Etherage, in time for post; and to pen a few lines for old Vane Etherage, and try to speak comfortably to that family, over whose pretty home had gathered so awful a storm.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49