Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LI

Stand and Deliver

The day was not far worn as yet; and May month having come at last, the day could stand a good deal of wear. With Jordas burning to exhibit the wonders of the new machine (which had been bought upon his advice), and with Marmaduke conscious of the new gloss on his coat, all previous times had been beaten — as the sporting writers put it; that is to say, all previous times of the journey from Scargate to Middleton, for any man who sat on wheels. A rider would take a shorter cut, and have many other advantages; but for a driver the time had been the quickest upon record.

Mr. Jellicorse, exulting in his safety, had imprinted the chaste salute upon his good wife’s cheek at ten minutes after one o’clock; when the clerks in the office with laudable promptitude (not expecting him as yet) had unanimously cast down pen, and betaken hand and foot toward knife and fork. Instead of blaming them, this good lawyer went upon that same road himself, with the great advantage that the road to his dinner lay through his own kitchen. At dinner-time he had much to tell, and many large helps to receive, of interest and of admiration, especially from his pet child Emily (who forgot herself so largely as to lick her spoon while gazing), and after dinner he was not without reasons for letting perhaps a little of the time slip by. Therefore, by the time he had described all dangers, discharged his duty to all comforts, and held the little confidential talk with his wife and himself above recorded, the clock had made its way to half past three.

Mrs. Jellicorse and Emily were gone forth to pay visits; the clerks, shut away in their own room, were busy, scratching up a lovely case for nisi prius; the cook had thrown the sifted cinders on the kitchen fire, and was gone with the maids to exchange just a few constitutional words with the gardener; and the whole house was drowsy with that by-time when light and shadow seem to mix together, and far-away sounds take a faint to and fro, as if they were the pendulum of silence.

“That is Emily’s knock. Impatient child! Come back for her mother’s gloves, or something. All the people are out; I must go and let her in.”

With these words, and a little placid frown — because a soft nap was impending on his eyelids, and yet they were always glad to open on his favorite — the worthy lawyer rose, and took a pinch of snuff to rouse himself; but before he could get to the door, a louder and more impatient rap almost made him jump.

“What a hurry you are in, my dear! You really should try to learn some little patience.”

While he was speaking, he opened the door; and behold, there was no little girl, but a tall and stately gentleman in horseman’s dress, and of strong commanding aspect.

“What is your pleasure, sir?” the lawyer asked, while his heart began to flutter; for exactly such a visitor had caused him scare of his life, when stronger by a quarter of a century than now.

“My pleasure, or rather my business, is with Mr. Jellicorse, the lawyer.”

“Then, sir, you have come to the right man for it. My name is Jellicorse, and greatly at your service. Allow me the honor of inviting you within.”

“My name is Yordas — Sir Duncan Yordas,” said the stranger, when seated in the lawyer’s private room. “My father, Philip Yordas, was a client of yours, and of other legal gentlemen before he came to you. Upon the day of his death, in the year 1777, you prepared his will, which you have since found to be of no effect, except as regards his personal estate, and about one-eighth part of the realty. Of the bulk of the land, including Scargate Hall, he could not dispose, for the simple reason that it had been strictly entailed by a deed executed by my grandfather and his wife in 1751. Under that entail I take in fee, for it could not have been barred without me; and I never concurred in any disentailing deed, and my father never knew that such was needful.”

“Excuse me, Sir Duncan, but you seem to be wonderfully apt with the terms of our profession.”

“I could scarcely be otherwise, after all that I have had to do with law, in India. Our first object is to apply our own laws, and our second to spread our religion. But no more of that. Do you admit the truth of a matter so stated that you can not fail to grasp it?”

Sir Duncan Yordas, as he put this question, fixed large, unwavering, and piercing eyes (against which no spectacles were any shelter) upon the mild, amiable, and, generally speaking, very honest orbs of sight which had lighted the path of the elder gentleman to good repute and competence. But who may turn a lawyer’s hand from the Heaven-sped legal plough?

“Am I to understand, Sir Duncan Yordas, that your visit to me is of an amicable nature, and intended (without prejudice to other interests) to ascertain, so far as may be compatible with professional rules, how far my clients are acquainted with documents alleged or imagined to be in existence, and how far their conduct might be guided by desire to afford every reasonable facility?”

“You are to understand simply this, that as the proper owner of Scargate Hall, and the main part of the estates held with it, I require you to sign a memorandum that you hold all the title-deeds on my behalf, and to deliver at once to me that entailing instrument of 1751, under which I make my claim.”

“You speak, sir, as if you had already brought your action, and entered verdict. Legal process may be dispensed with in barbarous countries, but not here. The title-deeds and other papers of Scargate Hall were placed in my custody neither by you nor on your behalf, sir. I hold them on behalf of those at present in possession; and until I receive due instructions from them, or a final order from a court of law, I should be guilty of a breach of trust if I parted with a dog’s-ear of them.”

“You distinctly refuse my requirements, and defy me to enforce them?”

“Not so, Sir Duncan. I do nothing more than declare what my view of my duty is, and decline in any way to depart from it.”

“Upon that score I have nothing more to say. I did not expect you to give up the deeds, though in ‘barbarous countries,’ as you call them, we have peremptory ways. I will say more than that, Mr. Jellicorse — I will say that I respect you for clinging to what you must know better than anybody else to be the weaker side.”

The lawyer bowed his very best bow, but was bound to enter protest against the calm assumption of the claimant.

“Let us leave that question,” Sir Duncan said; “the time would fail us to discuss that now. But one thing I surely may insist upon as the proper heir of my grandfather. I may desire you to produce for my inspection that deed in pursuance of his marriage settlement, which has for so many years lain concealed.”

“With pleasure I will do so, Sir Duncan Yordas (presuming that any such deed exists), upon the production of an order from the Court either of King’s Bench or of Common Pleas.”

“In that case you would be obliged to produce it, and would earn no thanks of mine. But I ask you to lay aside the legal aspect; for no action is pending, and perhaps never will be. I ask you, as a valued adviser of the family, and a trustworthy friend to its interests — as a gentleman, in fact, rather than a mere lawyer — to do a wise and amicable thing. You can not in any way injure your case, if a law case is to come of it, because we know all about the deed already. We even have an abstract of it as clear as you yourself could make, and we have discovered that one of the witnesses is still alive. I have come to you myself in preference to employing a lawyer, because I hope, if you meet me frankly, to put things in train for a friendly and fair settlement. I am not a young man; I have been disappointed of any one to succeed me, and I wish to settle my affairs in this country, and return to India, which suits me better, and where I am more useful. My sisters have not behaved kindly to me; but that I must try to forgive and forget. I have thought matters over, and am quite prepared to offer very liberal terms — in short, to leave them in possession of Scargate, upon certain conditions and in a certain manner.”

“Really, Sir Duncan,” Mr. Jellicorse exclaimed, “allow me to offer you a pinch of snuff. You are pleased with it? Yes, it is of quite superior quality. It saved the life of a most admirable fellow, a henchman of your family — in fact, poor Jordas. The power of this snuff alone supported him from freezing —”

“At another time I may be highly interested in that matter,” the visitor replied, without meaning to be rude, but knowing that the man of law was making passes to gain time; “just at present I must ask you to say yes or no. If you wish me to set my offer plainly before you, and so relieve the property of the cost of a hopeless struggle — for I have taken the opinion of the first real property counsel of the age — you will, as a token of good faith and of common-sense, produce for my inspection that deed-poll of November 15, 1751.”

Poor Mr. Jellicorse was desperately driven. He looked round the room, to seek for any interruption. He went to the window, and pretended to see another visitor knocking at the door. But no help came; he must face it out himself; and Sir Duncan, with his quiet resolution, looked more stern than his violent father.

“I think that before we proceed any further,” said the lawyer, at last sitting down, and taking up a pen and trying what the nib was like, “we really should understand a little where we are already. My own desire to avoid litigation is very strong — almost unprofessionally so — though the first thing consulted by all of us naturally is the pocket of our client —”

“Whether it will hold out, I suppose.” Sir Duncan Yordas departed from his dignity in saying this, and was sorry as soon as he had said it.

“That is the vulgar impression about us, which it is our duty to disdain. But without losing time upon that question, let me ask, what shall I put down as your proposition, sir?”

“There is nothing to put down. That is just the point. I do not come here with any formal proposition. If that had been my object, I would have brought a lawyer. What I say is that I have the right to see that deed. It forms no part of my sisters’ title-deeds, but even destroys their title. It belongs to me, it is my property, and only through fraud is it now in your hands. Of course we can easily wrest it from you, and must do so if you defy me. It rests with you to take that risk. But I prefer to cut things short. I pledge myself to two things — first, to leave the document in your possession; and next, to offer fair and even handsome terms when you have met me thus fairly. Why should you object? For we know all about it. Never mind how.”

Those last three words decided the issue. Even worse than the fear of breach of trust was the fear of treason in the office, and the lawyer’s only chance of getting clew to that was to keep on terms with this Sir Duncan Yordas. There had been no treason whatever in the office; neither had anything come out through the proctorial firm in York, or Sir Walter Carnaby’s solicitors; but a note among longheaded Duncombe’s papers had got into the hands of Mordacks. Of that, however, Mr. Jellicorse had no idea.

“Sir Duncan Yordas, I will meet you as you come,” he said, with his good, fresh-colored face, as honest as the sun when the clouds roll off. “It is an unusual step on my part, and perhaps irregular. But rather than destroy the prospect of a friendly compromise, I will strain a point, and candidly admit that there is an instrument open to an interpretation which might, or might not, be in your favor.”

“That I knew long ago, and more than that. My demand is — to see it, and to satisfy myself.”

“Under the circumstances, I am half inclined to think that I should be disposed to allow you that privilege if the document were in my possession.”

“Now, Mr. Jellicorse,” Sir Duncan answered, showing his temper in his eyes alone, “how much longer will you trifle with me? Where is that deed?”

Mr. Jellicorse drew forth his watch, took off his spectacles, and dusted them carefully with a soft yellow handkerchief; then restored them to their double sphere of usefulness, and perused, with some diligence, the time of day. By the law which compels a man to sneeze when another man sets the example, Sir Duncan also drew forth his watch.

“I am trying to make my reply as accurate,” said the lawyer, beginning to enjoy the position as a man, though not quite as a lawyer —“as accurate as your candor and confidence really deserve, Sir Duncan. The box containing that document, to which you attach so much importance (whether duly or otherwise is not for me to say until counsel’s opinion has been taken on our side), considering the powers of the horse, that box should be about Stormy Gap by this time. A quarter to four by me. What does your watch say, sir?”

“The deed has been sent for, post-haste, has it? And you know for what purpose?”

“You must draw a distinction between the deed and the box containing it, Sir Duncan. Or, to put it more accurately, betwixt that deed and its casual accompaniments. It happens to be among very old charters, which happen to be wanted for certain excellent antiquarian purposes. Such things are not in my line, I must confess, although so deeply interesting. But a very learned man seems to have expressed —”

“Rubbish. Excuse me, but you are most provoking. You know, as well as I do, that robbery is intended, and you allow yourself to be made a party to it.”

This was the simple truth; and the lawyer, being (by some strange inversion of professional excellence) honest at the bottom, was deeply pained at having such words used, as to, for, about, or in anywise concerning him.

“I think, Sir Duncan, that you will be sorry,” he answered, with much dignity, “for employing such language where it can not be resented. Your father was a violent man, and we all expect violence of your family.”

“There is no time to go into that question now. If I have wronged you, I will beg your pardon. A very few hours will prove how that is. How and by whom have you sent the box?”

Mr. Jellicorse answered, rather stiffly, that his clients had sent a trusty servant with a light vehicle to fetch the box, and that now he must be half way toward home.

“I shall overtake him,” said Sir Duncan, with a smile; “I have a good horse, and I know the shortcuts. Hoofs without wheels go a yard to a foot upon such rocky collar-work.”

Without another word, except “Good-by,” Sir Duncan Yordas left the house, walked rapidly to the inn, and cut short the dinner his good horse was standing up to. In a very few minutes he was on Tees bridge, with his face toward the home of his ancestors.

It may be supposed that neither his thoughts nor those of the lawyer were very cheerful. Mr. Jellicorse was deeply anxious as to the conflict which must ensue, and as to the figure his fair fame might cut, if this strange transaction should be exposed and calumniated by evil tongues. In these elderly days, and with all experience, he had laid himself open, not legally perhaps, but morally, to the heavy charge of connivance at a felonious act, and even some contribution toward it. He told himself vainly that he could not help it, that the documents were in his charge only until he was ordered to give them up, and that it was no concern of his to anticipate what might become of them. His position had truly been difficult, but still he might have escaped from it with clearer conscience. His duty was to cast away drawing-room manners, and warn Miss Yordas that the document she hated so was not her own to deal with, but belonged (in equity at least) to those who were entitled under it, and that to take advantage of her wrongful possession, and destroy the foe, was a crime, and, more than that, a shabby one. The former point might not have stopped her; but the latter would have done so without fail, for her pride was equal to her daring. But poor Mr. Jellicorse had felt the power of a will more resolute than his own, and of grand surroundings and exalted style; and his desire to please had confused, and thereby overcome, his perception of the right. But now these reflections were all too late, and the weary brain found comfort only in the shelter of its night-cap.

If a little slip had brought a very good man to unhappiness, how much harder was it for Sir Duncan Yordas, who had committed no offense at all! No Yordas had ever cared a tittle for tattle — to use their own expression — but deeper mischief than tattle must ensue, unless great luck prevented it. The brother knew well that his sister inherited much of the reckless self-will which had made the name almost a by-word, and which had been master of his own life until large experience of the world, and the sense of responsible power, curbed it. He had little affection for that sister left — for she had used him cruelly, and even now was imbittering the injury — but he still had some tender feeling for the other, who had always been his favorite. And though cut off, by his father’s act, from due headship of the family, he was deeply grieved, in this more enlightened age, to expose their uncivilized turbulence.

Therefore he spurred his willing horse against the hill, and up the many-winding ruggedness of road, hoping, at every turn, to descry in the distance the vehicle carrying that very plaguesome box. If his son had been there, he might have told him, on the ridge of Stormy Gap (which commanded high and low, rough and smooth, dark and light, for miles ahead), that Jordas was taking the final turn, by the furthest gleam of the water-mist, whence the stone road labored up to Scargate. But Sir Duncan’s eyes — though as keen as an eagle’s while young — had now seen too much of the sun to make out that gray atom gliding in the sunset haze.

Upon the whole, it was a lucky thing that he could not overtake the car; for Jordas would never have yielded his trust while any life was in him; and Sir Duncan having no knowledge of him, except as a boy-of-all-work about the place, might have been tempted to use the sword, without which no horseman then rode there. Or failing that, a struggle between two equally resolute men must have followed, with none at hand to part them.

When the horseman came to the foot of the long steep pull leading up to the stronghold of his race, he just caught a glimpse of the car turning in at the entrance of the court-yard. “They have half an hour’s start of me,” he thought, as he drew up behind a rock, that the house might not descry him; “if I ride up in full view, I hurry the mischief. Philippa will welcome me with the embers of my title. She must not suspect that the matter is so urgent. Nobody shall know that I am coming. For many reasons I had better try the private road below the Scarfe.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50