Reginald Eversleigh was handsome, accomplished, agreeable — irresistible when he chose, many people said; but he was not richly endowed with those intellectual gifts which lift a man to either the good or bad eminence. He was weak and vacillating — one minute swayed by a good influence, a transient touch of penitence, affection, or generosity; in the next given over entirely to his own selfishness, thinking only of his own enjoyment. He was apt to be influenced by any friend or companion endowed with intellectual superiority; and he possessed such a friend in the person of Victor Carrington, a young surgeon, a man infinitely below Mr. Eversleigh in social status, but whose talents, united to tact, had lifted him above his natural level.
The young surgeon was a slim, elegant-looking young man, with a pale, sallow face, and flashing black eyes. His appearance was altogether foreign, and although his own name was English, he was half a Frenchman, his mother being a native of Bordeaux. This widowed mother now lived with him, dependent on him, and loving him with a devoted affection.
From a chance meeting in a public billiard-room, an intimacy arose between Victor Carrington and Reginald Eversleigh, which speedily ripened into friendship. The weaker nature was glad to find a stronger on which to lean. Reginald Eversleigh invited his new friend to his rooms — to champagne breakfasts, to suppers of broiled bones, eaten long after midnight: to card-parties, at which large sums of money were lost and won; but the losers were never Victor Carrington or Reginald Eversleigh, and there were men who said that Eversleigh was a more dangerous opponent at loo and whist since he had picked up that fellow Carrington.
“I always feel afraid of Eversleigh, when that sallow-faced surgeon is his partner at whist, or hangs about his chair at écarté,” said one of the officers in Reginald Eversleigh’s regiment. “It’s my opinion that black-eyed Frenchman is Mephistopheles in person. I never saw a countenance that so fully realized my idea of the devil.”
People laughed at the dragoon’s notion: but there were few of Mr. Eversleigh’s guests who liked his new acquaintance, and there were some who kept altogether aloof from the young cornet’s rooms, after two or three evenings spent in the society of Mr. Carrington.
“The fellow is too clever,” said one of Eversleigh’s brother-officers; “these very clever men are almost invariably scoundrels. I respect a man who is great in one thing — a great surgeon, a great lawyer, a great soldier — but your fellow who knows everything better than anybody else is always a villain.”
Victor Carrington was the only person to whom Reginald Eversleigh told the real story of his breach with his uncle. He trusted Victor: not because he cared to confide in him — for the story was too humiliating to be told without pain — but because he wanted counsel from a stronger mind than his own.
“It’s rather a hard thing to drop from the chance of forty thousand a year to a pension of a couple of hundred, isn’t it, Carrington?” said Reginald, as the two young men dined together in the cornet’s quarters, a fortnight after the scene in Arlington Street. “It’s rather hard, isn’t it, Carrington?”
“Yes, it would be rather hard, if such a contingency were possible,” replied the surgeon, coolly; “but we don’t mean to drop from forty thousand to two hundred. The generous old uncle may choose to draw his purse-strings, and cast us off to ‘beggarly divorcement,’ as Desdemona remarks; but we don’t mean to let him have his own way. We must take things quietly, and manage matters with a little tact. You want my advice, I suppose, my dear Reginald?”
The surgeon almost always addressed his friends by their Christian names, more especially when those friends were of higher standing than himself. There was a depth of pride, which few understood, lurking beneath his quiet and unobtrusive manner; and he had a way of his own by which he let people know that he considered himself in every respect their equal, and in some respects their superior.
“You want my advice. Very well, then, my advice is that you play the penitent prodigal. It is not a difficult part to perform, if you take care what you’re about. Sir Oswald has advised you to exchange into the line. Instead of doing that, you will sell out altogether. It will look like a stroke of prudence, and will leave you free to play your cards cleverly, and keep your eye upon this dear uncle.”
“Sell out!” exclaimed Reginald. “Leave the army! I have sworn never to do that.”
“But you will find yourself obliged to do it, nevertheless. Your regiment is too expensive for a man who has only a pitiful two hundred a year beyond his pay. Your mail-phaeton would cost the whole of your income; your tailor’s bill can hardly be covered by another two hundred; and then, where are you to get your gloves, your hot-house flowers, your wines, your cigars? You can’t go on upon credit for ever; tradesmen have such a tiresome habit of wanting money, if it’s only a hundred or so now and then on account. The Jews are beginning to be suspicious of your paper. The news of your quarrel with Sir Oswald is pretty sure to get about somehow or other, and then where are you? Cards and billiards are all very well in their way; but you can’t live by them, without turning a regular black-leg, and as a black-leg you would have no chance of the Raynham estates. No, my dear Reginald, retrenchment is the word. You must sell out, keep yourself very quiet, and watch your uncle.”
“What do you mean by watching him?” asked Mr. Eversleigh, peevishly.
His friend’s advice was by no means palatable to him. He sat in a moody attitude, with his elbows on his knees, and his head bent forward, staring at the fire. His wine stood untasted on the table by his side.
“I mean that you must keep your eye upon him, in order to see that he don’t play you a trick,” answered the surgeon, at his own leisure.
“What trick should he play me?”
“Well, you see, when a man quarrels with his heir, he is apt to turn desperate. Sir Oswald might marry.”
“Marry! at fifty years of age?”
“Yes. Men of fifty have been known to fall as desperately in love as any of your heroes of two or three and twenty. Sir Oswald would be a splendid match, and depend upon it, there are plenty of beautiful and high-born women who would be glad to call themselves Lady Eversleigh. Take my advice, Reginald, dear boy, and keep your eye on the baronet.”
“But he has turned me out of his house. He has severed every link between us.”
“Then it must be our business to establish a secret chain of communication with his household,” answered Victor. “He has some confidential servant, I suppose?”
“Yes; he has a valet, called Millard, whom he trusts as far as he trusts any dependent; but he is not a man who talks to his servants.”
“Perhaps not; but servants have a way of their own of getting at information, and depend upon it, Mr. Millard knows more of your uncle’s business than Sir Oswald would wish him to know. We must get hold of this faithful Millard.”
“But he is a very faithful fellow — honesty itself — the pink of fidelity.”
“Humph!” muttered the young surgeon; “did you ever try the effect of a bribe on this pink of fidelity?”
“Then you know nothing about him. Remember what Sir Robert Walpole said, ‘Every man has his price.’ We must find out the price of Mr. Millard.”
“You are a wonderful fellow, Carrington.”
“You think so? Bah, I keep my eyes open, that’s all; other men go through the world with their eyes half-shut. I graduated in a good school, and I may, perhaps, have been a tolerably apt pupil?”
“The school of poverty. That’s the sort of education that sharpens a man’s intellect. My father was a reprobate and a gamester, and I knew at an early age that I had nothing to hope for from him. I have had my own way to carve in life, and if I have as yet made small progress, I have fought against terrible odds.”
“I wonder you don’t set up in a professional career,” said Mr. Eversleigh; “you have finished your education; obtained your degree. What are you waiting for?”
“I am waiting for my chances,” answered Victor; “I don’t care to begin the jog-trot career in which other men toil for twenty years or so, before they attain anything like prosperity. I have studied as few men of five-and-twenty have studied — chemistry as well as surgery. I can afford to wait my chances. I pick up a few pounds a week by writing for the medical journals, and with that resource and occasional luck with cards, I can very easily support the simple home in which my mother and I live. In the meantime, I am free, and believe me, my dear Reginald, there is nothing so precious as freedom.”
“And you will not desert me now that I am down in the world, eh, old fellow?”
“No, Reginald, I will never desert you while you have the chance of succeeding to forty thousand a year,” answered the surgeon, with a laugh.
His small black eyes flashed and sparkled as he laughed. Reginald looked at him with a sensation that was almost fear.
“What a fellow you are, Carrington!” he exclaimed; “you don’t pretend even to have a heart.”
“A heart is a luxury which a poor man must dispense with,” answered Victor, with perfect sang froid. “I should as soon think of setting up a mail-phaeton and pair as of pretending to benevolent feelings or high-flown sentiments. I have my way to make in the world, Mr. Eversleigh, and must consider my own interests as well as those of my friends. You see, I am no hypocrite. You needn’t be alarmed, dear boy. I’ll help you, and you shall help me; and it shall go hard if you are not restored to your uncle’s favour before the year is out. But you must be patient. Our work will be slow, for we shall have to work underground. If Sir Oswald is still in Arlington Street, I shall make it my business to see Mr. Millard to-morrow.”
Sir Oswald Eversleigh had not left Arlington Street, and at dusk on the following evening Mr. Carrington presented himself at the door of the baronet’s mansion, and asked to see Mr. Millard, the valet.
Victor Carrington had never seen his friend’s kinsman; he was, therefore, secure against all chances of recognition. He had chosen the baronet’s dinner-hour as the time for his call, knowing that during that hour the valet must be disengaged. He sent his card to Mr. Millard, with a line written in pencil to request an interview on urgent business.
Millard came to the hall at once to see his visitor, and ushered Mr. Carrington into a small room that was used occasionally by the upper servants.
The surgeon was skilled in every science by which a man may purchase the hearts and minds of his fellow-men. He could read Sir Oswald Eversleigh’s valet as he could have read an open book He saw that the man was weak, irresolute, tolerably honest, but open to temptation. He was a middle-aged man, with sandy hair, a pale face, and light, greenish-gray eyes.
“Weak,” thought the surgeon, as he examined this man’s countenance, “greedy, and avaricious. So, so; we can do what we like with Mr. Millard.”
Victor Carrington told the valet that he was the most intimate friend of Reginald Eversleigh, and that he made this visit entirely without that gentleman’s knowledge. He dwelt much upon Mr. Eversleigh’s grief — his despair.
“But he is very proud,” he added; “too proud to approach this house, either directly or indirectly. The shock caused by his uncle’s unexpected abandonment of him has completely prostrated him. I am a member of the medical profession, Mr. Millard, and I assure you that during the past fortnight I have almost feared for my friend’s reason. I therefore determined upon a desperate step — a step which Reginald Eversleigh would never forgive, were he to become aware of it. I determined upon coming to this house, and ascertaining, if possible, the nature of Sir Oswald’s feelings towards his nephew. Is there any hope of a reconciliation?”
“I’m afraid not, sir.”
“That’s a bad thing,” said Victor, gravely; “a very bad thing. A vast estate is at stake. It would be a bad thing for every one if that estate were to pass into strange hands — a very bad thing for old servants, for with strangers all old links are broken. It would be a still worse thing for every one if Sir Oswald should take it into his head to marry.”
The valet looked very grave.
“If you had said such a thing to me a fortnight ago, I should have told you it was impossible,” he said; “but now —.”
“Now, what do you say?”
“Well, sir, you’re a gentleman, and, of course, you can keep a secret; so I’ll tell you candidly that nothing my master could do would surprise me after what I’ve seen within the last fortnight.”
This was quite enough for Victor Carrington, who did not leave Arlington Street until he had extorted from the valet the entire history of the baronet’s adoption of the ballad-singer.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50