Claim’d kindred there, and had his claims allow’d.
Starting at the unexpected and undesired apparition which presented itself, in the manner described at the end of the last chapter, Mowbray yet felt, at the same time, a kind of relief, that his meeting with Lord Etherington, painfully decisive as that meeting must be, was for a time suspended. So it was with a mixture of peevishness and internal satisfaction, that he demanded what had procured him the honour of a visit from Mr. Touchwood at this late hour.
“Necessity, that makes the old wife trot,” replied Touchwood; “no choice of mine, I assure you — Gad, Mr. Mowbray, I would rather have crossed Saint Gothard, than run the risk I have done to-night, rumbling through your breakneck roads in that d —— d old wheelbarrow. — On my word, I believe I must be troublesome to your butler for a draught of something — I am as thirsty as a coal-heaver that is working by the piece. You have porter, I suppose, or good old Scotch two-penny?”
With a secret execration on his visitor’s effrontery, Mr. Mowbray ordered the servant to put down wine and water, of which Touchwood mixed a gobletful, and drank it off.
“We are a small family,” said his entertainer; “and I am seldom at home — still more seldom receive guests, when I chance to be here — I am sorry I have no malt liquor, if you prefer it.”
“Prefer it?” said Touchwood, compounding, however, another glass of sherry and water, and adding a large piece of sugar, to correct the hoarseness which, he observed, his night journey might bring on — “to be sure I prefer it, and so does every body, except Frenchmen and dandies. — No offence, Mr. Mowbray, but you should order a hogshead from Meux — the brown-stout, wired down for exportation to the colonies, keeps for any length of time, and in every climate — I have drank it where it must have cost a guinea a quart, if interest had been counted.”
“When I expect the honour of a visit from you, Mr. Touchwood, I will endeavour to be better provided,” answered Mowbray; “at present your arrival has been without notice, and I would be glad to know if it has any particular object.”
“This is what I call coming to the point,” said Mr. Touchwood, thrusting out his stout legs, accoutred as they were with the ancient defences, called boot-hose, so as to rest his heels upon the fender. “Upon my life, the fire turns the best flower in the garden at this season of the year — I’ll take the freedom to throw on a log. — Is it not a strange thing, by the by, that one never sees a fagot in Scotland? You have much small wood, Mr. Mowbray, I wonder you do not get some fellow from the midland counties, to teach your people how to make a fagot.”
“Did you come all the way to Shaws-Castle,” asked Mowbray, rather testily, “to instruct me in the mystery of fagot-making?”
“Not exactly — not exactly,” answered the undaunted Touchwood; “but there is a right and a wrong way in every thing — a word by the way, on any useful subject, can never fall amiss. — As for my immediate and more pressing business, I can assure you, that it is of a nature sufficiently urgent, since it brings me to a house in which I am much surprised to find myself.”
“The surprise is mutual, sir,” said Mowbray, gravely, observing that his guest made a pause; “it is full time you should explain it.”
“Well, then,” replied Touchwood; “I must first ask you whether you have never heard of a certain old gentleman, called Scrogie, who took it into what he called his head, poor man, to be ashamed of the name he bore, though owned by many honest and respectable men, and chose to join it to your surname of Mowbray, as having a more chivalrous Norman sounding, and, in a word, a gentlemanlike twang with it?”
“I have heard of such a person, though only lately,” said Mowbray. “Reginald Scrogie Mowbray was his name. I have reason to consider his alliance with my family as undoubted, though you seem to mention it with a sneer, sir. I believe Mr. S. Mowbray regulated his family settlements very much upon the idea that his heir was to intermarry with our house.”
“True, true, Mr. Mowbray,” answered Touchwood; “and certainly it is not your business to lay the axe to the root of the genealogical tree, that is like to bear golden apples for you — Ha!”
“Well, well, sir — proceed — proceed,” answered Mowbray.
“You may also have heard that this old gentleman had a son, who would willingly have cut up the said family-tree into fagots; who thought Scrogie sounded as well as Mowbray, and had no fancy for an imaginary gentility, which was to be attained by the change of one’s natural name, and the disowning, as it were, of one’s actual relations.”
“I think I have heard from Lord Etherington,” answered Mowbray, “to whose communications I owe most of my knowledge about these Scrogie people, that old Mr. Scrogie Mowbray was unfortunate in a son, who thwarted his father on every occasion — would embrace no opportunity which fortunate chances held out, of raising and distinguishing the family — had imbibed low tastes, wandering habits, and singular objects of pursuit — on account of which his father disinherited him.”
“It is very true, Mr. Mowbray,” proceeded Touchwood, “that this person did happen to fall under his father’s displeasure, because he scorned forms and flummery — loved better to make money as an honest merchant, than to throw it away as an idle gentleman — never called a coach when walking on foot would serve the turn — and liked the Royal Exchange better than St. James’s Park. In short, his father disinherited him, because he had the qualities for doubling the estate, rather than those for squandering it.”
“All this may be quite correct, Mr. Touchwood,” replied Mowbray; “but pray, what has this Mr. Scrogie, junior, to do with you or me?”
“Do with you or me!” said Touchwood, as if surprised at the question; “he has a great deal to do with me at least, since I am the very man myself.”
“The devil you are!” said Mowbray, opening wide his eyes in turn; “Why, Mr. A— a — your name is Touchwood — P. Touchwood — Paul, I suppose, or Peter — I read it so in the subscription book at the Well.”
“Peregrine, sir, Peregrine — my mother would have me so christened, because Peregrine Pickle came out during her confinement; and my poor foolish father acquiesced, because he thought it genteel, and derived from the Willoughbies. I don’t like it, and I always write P. short, and you might have remarked an S. also before the surname — I use at present P. S. Touchwood. I had an old acquaintance in the city, who loved his jest — He always called me Postscript Touchwood.”
“Then, sir,” said Mowbray, “if you are really Mr. Scrogie, tout court, I must suppose the name of Touchwood is assumed?”
“What the devil!” replied Mr. P. S. Touchwood, “do you suppose there is no name in the English nation will couple up legitimately with my paternal name of Scrogie, except your own, Mr. Mowbray? — I assure you I got the name of Touchwood, and a pretty spell of money along with it, from an old godfather, who admired my spirit in sticking by commerce.”
“Well, sir, every one has his taste — Many would have thought it better to enjoy a hereditary estate, by keeping your father’s name of Mowbray, than to have gained another by assuming a stranger’s name of Touchwood.”
“Who told you Mr. Touchwood was a stranger to me?” said the traveller; “for aught I know, he had a better title to the duties of a son from me, than the poor old man who made such a fool of himself, by trying to turn gentleman in his old age. He was my grandfather’s partner in the great firm of Touchwood, Scrogie, and Co. — Let me tell you, there is as good inheritance in house as in field — a man’s partners are his fathers and brothers, and a head clerk may be likened to a kind of first cousin.”
“I meant no offence whatever, Mr. Touchwood Scrogie.”
“Scrogie Touchwood, if you please,” said the senior; “the scrog branch first, for it must become rotten ere it become touchwood — ha, ha, ha! — you take me.”
“A singular old fellow this,” said Mowbray to himself, “and speaks in all the dignity of dollars; but I will be civil to him, till I can see what he is driving at. — You are facetious, Mr. Touchwood,” he proceeded aloud. “I was only going to say, that although you set no value upon your connexion with my family, yet I cannot forget that such a circumstance exists; and therefore I bid you heartily welcome to Shaws-Castle.”
“Thank ye, thank ye, Mr. Mowbray — I knew you would see the thing right. To tell you the truth, I should not have cared much to come a-begging for your acquaintance and cousinship, and so forth; but that I thought you would be more tractable in your adversity, than was your father in his prosperity.”
“Did you know my father, sir?” said Mowbray.
“Ay, ay — I came once down here, and was introduced to him — saw your sister and you when you were children — had thoughts of making my will then, and should have clapped you both in before I set out to double Cape Horn. But, gad, I wish my poor father had seen the reception I got! I did not let the old gentleman, Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan’s that was then, smoke my money-bags — that might have made him more tractable — not but that we went on indifferent well for a day or two, till I got a hint that my room was wanted, for that the Duke of Devil-knows-what was expected, and my bed was to serve his valet-dechambre. —‘Oh, damn all gentle cousins!’ said I, and off I set on the pad round the world again, and thought no more of the Mowbrays till a year or so ago.”
“And, pray, what recalled us to your recollection?”
“Why,” said Touchwood, “I was settled for some time at Smyrna, (for I turn the penny go where I will — I have done a little business even since I came here;)— but being at Smyrna as I said, I became acquainted with Francis Tyrrel.”
“The natural brother of Lord Etherington,” said Mowbray.
“Ay, so called,” answered Touchwood; “but by and by he is more likely to prove the Earl of Etherington himself, and t’other fine fellow the bastard.”
“The devil he is! — You surprise me, Mr. Touchwood.”
“I thought I should — I thought I should — Faith, I am sometimes surprised myself at the turn things take in this world. But the thing is not the less certain — the proofs are lying in the strong chest of our house at London, deposited there by the old Earl, who repented of his roguery to Miss Martigny long before he died, but had not courage enough to do his legitimate son justice till the sexton had housed him.”
“Good Heaven, sir!” said Mowbray; “and did you know all this while, that I was about to bestow the only sister of my house upon an impostor?”
“What was my business with that, Mr. Mowbray?” replied Touchwood; “you would have been very angry had any one suspected you of not being sharp enough to look out for yourself and your sister both. Besides, Lord Etherington, bad enough as he may be in other respects, was, till very lately, no impostor, or an innocent one, for he only occupied the situation in which his father had placed him. And, indeed, when I understood, upon coming to England, that he was gone down here, and, as I conjectured, to pay his addresses to your sister, to say truth, I did not see he could do better. Here was a poor fellow that was about to cease to be a lord and a wealthy man; was it not very reasonable that he should make the most of his dignity while he had it? and if, by marrying a pretty girl while in possession of his title, he could get possession of the good estate of Nettlewood, why, I could see nothing in it but a very pretty way of breaking his fall.”
“Very pretty for him, indeed, and very convenient too,” said Mowbray; “but pray, sir, what was to become of the honour of my family?”
“Why, what was the honour of your family to me?” said Touchwood; “unless it was to recommend your family to my care, that I was disinherited on account of it. And if this Etherington, or Bulmer, had been a good fellow, I would have seen all the Mowbrays that ever wore broad cloth at Jericho, before I had interfered.”
“I am really much indebted to your kindness,” said Mowbray angrily.
“More than you are aware of,” answered Touchwood; “for, though I thought this Bulmer, even when declared illegitimate, might be a reasonable good match for your sister, considering the estate which was to accompany the union of their hands; yet, now I have discovered him to be a scoundrel — every way a scoundrel — I would not wish any decent girl to marry him, were they to get all Yorkshire, instead of Nettlewood. So I have come to put you right.”
The strangeness of the news which Touchwood so bluntly communicated, made Mowbray’s head turn round like that of a man who grows dizzy at finding himself on the verge of a precipice. Touchwood observed his consternation, which he willingly construed into an acknowledgment of his own brilliant genius.
“Take a glass of wine, Mr. Mowbray,” he said, complacently; “take a glass of old sherry — nothing like it for clearing the ideas — and do not be afraid of me, though I come thus suddenly upon you with such surprising tidings — you will find me a plain, simple, ordinary man, that have my faults and my blunders like other people. I acknowledge that much travel and experience have made me sometimes play the busybody, because I find I can do things better than other people, and I love to see folk stare — it’s a way I have got. But, after all, I am un bon diable, as the Frenchman says; and here I have come four or five hundred miles to lie quiet among you all, and put all your little matters to rights, just when you think they are most desperate.”
“I thank you for your good intentions,” said Mowbray; “but I must needs say, that they would have been more effectual had you been less cunning in my behalf, and frankly told me what you knew of Lord Etherington; as it is, the matter has gone fearfully far. I have promised him my sister — I have laid myself under personal obligations to him — and there are other reasons why I fear I must keep my word to this man, earl or no earl.”
“What!” exclaimed Touchwood, “would you give up your sister to a worthless rascal, who is capable of robbing the post-office, and of murdering his brother, because you have lost a trifle of money to him? Are you to let him go off triumphantly, because he is a gamester as well as a cheat? — You are a pretty fellow, Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan’s — you are one of the happy sheep that go out for wool, and come home shorn. Egad, you think yourself a millstone, and turn out a sack of grain — You flew abroad a hawk, and have come home a pigeon — You snarled at the Philistines, and they have drawn your eye-teeth with a vengeance!”
“This is all very witty, Mr. Touchwood,” replied Mowbray; “but wit will not pay this man Etherington, or whatever he is, so many hundreds as I have lost to him.”
“Why, then, wealth must do what wit cannot,” said old Touchwood; “I must advance for you, that is all. Look ye, sir, I do not go afoot for nothing — if I have laboured, I have reaped — and, like the fellow in the old play, ‘I have enough, and can maintain my humour’— it is not a few hundreds, or thousands either, can stand betwixt old P. S. Touchwood and his purpose; and my present purpose is to make you, Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan’s, a free man of the forest. — You still look grave on it, young man? — Why, I trust you are not such an ass as to think your dignity offended, because the plebeian Scrogie comes to the assistance of the terribly great and old house of Mowbray?”
“I am indeed not such a fool,” answered Mowbray, with his eyes still bent on the ground, “to reject assistance that comes to me like a rope to a drowning man — but there is a circumstance”—— he stopped short and drank a glass of wine —“a circumstance to which it is most painful to me to allude — but you seem my friend — and I cannot intimate to you more strongly my belief in your professions of regard than by saying, that the language held by Lady Penelope Penfeather on my sister’s account, renders it highly proper that she were settled in life; and I cannot but fear, that the breaking off the affair with this man might be of great prejudice to her at this moment. They will have Nettlewood, and they may live separate — he has offered to make settlements to that effect, even on the very day of marriage. Her condition as a married woman will put her above scandal, and above necessity, from which, I am sorry to say, I cannot hope long to preserve her.”
“For shame! — for shame! — for shame!” said Touchwood, accumulating his words thicker than usual on each other; “would you sell your own flesh and blood to a man like this Bulmer, whose character is now laid before you, merely because a disappointed old maid speaks scandal of her? A fine veneration you pay to the honoured name of Mowbray! If my poor, old, simple father had known what the owners of these two grand syllables could have stooped to do for merely ensuring subsistence, he would have thought as little of the noble Mowbrays as of the humble Scrogies. And, I dare say, the young lady is just such another — eager to get married — no matter to whom.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Touchwood,” answered Mowbray; “my sister entertains sentiments so very different from what you ascribe to her, that she and I parted on the most unpleasant terms, in consequence of my pressing this man’s suit upon her. God knows, that I only did so, because I saw no other outlet from this most unpleasant dilemma. But, since you are willing to interfere, sir, and aid me to disentangle these complicated matters, which have, I own, been made worse by my own rashness, I am ready to throw the matter completely into your hands, just as if you were my father arisen from the dead. Nevertheless, I must needs express my surprise at the extent of your intelligence in these affairs.”
“You speak very sensibly, young man,” said the traveller; “and as for my intelligence, I have for some time known the finesses of this Master Bulmer as perfectly as if I had been at his elbow when he was playing all his dog’s tricks with this family. You would hardly suspect now,” he continued, in a confidential tone, “that what you were so desirous a while ago should take place, has in some sense actually happened, and that the marriage ceremony has really passed betwixt your sister and this pretended Lord Etherington?”
“Have a care, sir!” said Mowbray, fiercely; “do not abuse my candour — this is no place, time, or subject, for impertinent jesting.”
“As I live by bread, I am serious,” said Touchwood; “Mr. Cargill performed the ceremony; and there are two living witnesses who heard them say the words, ‘I, Clara, take you, Francis,’ or whatever the Scottish church puts in place of that mystical formula.”
“It is impossible,” said Mowbray; “Cargill dared not have done such a thing — a clandestine proceeding, such as you speak of, would have cost him his living. I’ll bet my soul against a horse-shoe, it is all an imposition; and you come to disturb me, sir, amid my family distress, with legends that have no more truth in them than the Alkoran.”
“There are some true things in the Alkoran, (or rather, the Koran, for the Al is merely the article prefixed,) but let that pass — I will raise your wonder higher before I am done. It is very true, that your sister was indeed joined in marriage with this same Bulmer, that calls himself by the title of Etherington; but it is just as true, that the marriage is not worth a maravedi, for she believed him at the time to be another person — to be, in a word, Francis Tyrrel, who is actually what the other pretends to be, a nobleman of fortune.”
“I cannot understand one word of all this,” said Mowbray. “I must to my sister instantly, and demand of her if there be any real foundation for these wonderful averments.”
“Do not go,” said Touchwood, detaining him, “you shall have a full explanation from me; and to comfort you under your perplexity, I can assure you that Cargill’s consent to celebrate the nuptials, was only obtained by an aspersion thrown on your sister’s character, which induced him to believe that speedy marriage would be the sole means of saving her reputation; and I am convinced in my own mind it is only the revival of this report which has furnished the foundation of Lady Penelope’s chattering.”
“If I could think so”— said Mowbray, “if I could but think this is truth — and it seems to explain, in some degree, my sister’s mysterious conduct — if I could but think it true, I should fall down and worship you as an angel from heaven!”
“A proper sort of angel,” said Touchwood, looking modestly down on his short, sturdy supporters —“Did you ever hear of an angel in boot-hose? Or, do you suppose angels are sent to wait on broken-down horse-jockeys?”
“Call me what you will, Mr. Touchwood,” said the young man, “only make out your story true, and my sister innocent!”
“Very well spoken, sir,” answered the senior, “very well spoken! But then I understand, you are to be guided by my prudence and experience? None of your G— damme doings, sir — your duels or your drubbings. Let me manage the affair for you, and I will bring you through with a flowing sail.”
“Sir, I must feel as a gentleman,”— said Mowbray.
“Feel as a fool,” said Touchwood, “for that is the true case. Nothing would please this Bulmer better than to fight through his rogueries — he knows very well, that he who can slit a pistol-ball on the edge of a penknife, will always preserve some sort of reputation amidst his scoundrelism — but I shall take care to stop that hole. Sit down — be a man of sense, and listen to the whole of this strange story.”
Mowbray sat down accordingly; and Touchwood, in his own way, and with many characteristic interjectional remarks, gave him an account of the early loves of Clara and Tyrrel — of the reasons which induced Bulmer at first to encourage their correspondence, in hopes that his brother would, by a clandestine marriage, altogether ruin himself with his father — of the change which took place in his views when he perceived the importance annexed by the old Earl to the union of Miss Mowbray with his apparent heir — of the desperate stratagem which he endeavoured to play off, by substituting himself in the room of his brother — and all the consequences, which it is unnecessary to resume here, as they are detailed at length by the perpetrator himself, in his correspondence with Captain Jekyl.
When the whole communication was ended, Mowbray, almost stupified by the wonders he had heard, remained for some time in a sort of reverie, from which he only started to ask what evidence could be produced of a story so strange.
“The evidence,” answered Touchwood, “of one who was a deep agent in all these matters, from first to last — as complete a rogue, I believe, as the devil himself, with this difference, that our mortal fiend does not, I believe, do evil for the sake of evil, but for the sake of the profit which attends it. How far this plea will avail him in a court of conscience, I cannot tell; but his disposition was so far akin to humanity, that I have always found my old acquaintance as ready to do good as harm, providing he had the same agio upon the transaction.”
“On my soul,” said Mowbray, “you must mean Solmes! whom I have long suspected to be a deep villain — and now he proves traitor to boot. How the devil could you get into his intimacy, Mr. Touchwood?”
“The case was particular,” said Touchwood. “Mr. Solmes, too active a member of the community to be satisfied with managing the affairs which his master intrusted to him, adventured in a little business on his own account; and thinking, I suppose, that the late Earl of Etherington had forgotten fully to acknowledge his services, as valet to his son, he supplied that defect by a small check on our house for L.100, in name, and bearing the apparent signature, of the deceased. This small mistake being detected, Mr. Solmes, porteur of the little billet, would have been consigned to the custody of a Bow-street officer, but that I found means to relieve him, on condition of his making known to me the points of private history which I have just been communicating to you. What I had known of Tyrrel at Smyrna, had given me much interest in him, and you may guess it was not lessened by the distresses which he had sustained through his brother’s treachery. By this fellow’s means, I have counterplotted all his master’s fine schemes. For example, as soon as I learned Bulmer was coming down here, I contrived to give Tyrrel an anonymous hint, well knowing he would set off like the devil to thwart him, and so I should have the whole dramatis personæ together, and play them all off against each other, after my own pleasure.”
“In that case,” said Mr. Mowbray, “your expedient brought about the rencontre between the two brothers, when both might have fallen.”
“Can’t deny it — can’t deny it,” answered Scrogie, a little discountenanced —“a mere accident — no one can guard every point. — Egad, but I had like to have been baffled again, for Bulmer sent the lad Jekyl, who is not such a black sheep neither but what there are some white hairs about him, upon a treaty with Tyrrel, that my secret agent was not admitted to. Gad, but I discovered the whole — you will scarce guess how.”
“Probably not easily, indeed, sir,” answered Mowbray; “for your sources of intelligence are not the most obvious, any more than your mode of acting the most simple or most comprehensible.”
“I would not have it so,” said Touchwood; “simple men perish in their simplicity — I carry my eye-teeth about me. — And for my source of information — why, I played the eavesdropper, sir — listened — knew my landlady’s cupboard with the double door — got into it as she has done many a time. — Such a fine gentleman as you would rather cut a man’s throat, I suppose, than listen at a cupboard door, though the object were to prevent murder?”
“I cannot say I should have thought of the expedient, certainly, sir,” said Mowbray.
“I did, though,” said Scrogie, “and learned enough of what was going on, to give Jekyl a hint that sickened him of his commission, I believe — so the game is all in my own hands. Bulmer has no one to trust to but Solmes, and Solmes tells me every thing.”
Here Mowbray could not suppress a movement of impatience.
“I wish to God, sir, that since you were so kind as to interest yourself in affairs so intimately concerning my family, you had been pleased to act with a little more openness towards me. Here have I been for weeks the intimate of a damned scoundrel, whose throat I ought to have cut for his scandalous conduct to my sister. Here have I been rendering her and myself miserable, and getting myself cheated every night by a swindler, whom you, if it had been your pleasure, could have unmasked by a single word. I do all justice to your intentions, sir; but, upon my soul, I cannot help wishing you had conducted yourself with more frankness and less mystery; and I am truly afraid your love of dexterity has been too much for your ingenuity, and that you have suffered matters to run into such a skein of confusion, as you yourself will find difficulty in unravelling.”
Touchwood smiled, and shook his head in all the conscious pride of superior understanding. “Young man,” he said, “when you have seen a little of the world, and especially beyond the bounds of this narrow island, you will find much more art and dexterity necessary in conducting these businesses to an issue, than occurs to a blind John Bull, or a raw Scotchman. You will be then no stranger to the policy of life, which deals in mining and countermining — now in making feints, now in thrusting with forthright passes. I look upon you, Mr. Mowbray, as a young man spoiled by staying at home, and keeping bad company; and will make it my business, if you submit yourself to my guidance, to inform your understanding, so as to retrieve your estate. — Don’t — Don’t answer me, sir! because I know too well, by experience, how young men answer on these subjects — they are conceited, sir, as conceited as if they had been in all the four quarters of the world. I hate to be answered, sir, I hate it. And, to tell you the truth, it is because Tyrrel has a fancy of answering me, that I rather make you my confidant on this occasion, than him. I would have had him throw himself into my arms, and under my directions; but he hesitated — he hesitated, Mr. Mowbray — and I despise hesitation. If he thinks he has wit enough to manage his own matters, let him try it — let him try it. Not but I will do all I can for him, in fitting time and place; but I will let him dwell in his perplexities and uncertainties for a little while longer. And so, Mr. Mowbray, you see what sort of an odd fellow I am, and you can satisfy me at once whether you mean to come into my measures — only speak out at once, sir, for I abhor hesitation.”
While Touchwood thus spoke, Mowbray was forming his resolution internally. He was not so inexperienced as the senior supposed; at least, he could plainly see that he had to do with an obstinate, capricious old man, who, with the best intentions in the world, chose to have every thing in his own way; and, like most petty politicians, was disposed to throw intrigue and mystery over matters which had much better be prosecuted boldly and openly. But he perceived at the same time, that Touchwood, as a sort of relation, wealthy, childless, and disposed to become his friend, was a person to be conciliated, the rather that the traveller himself had frankly owned that it was Francis Tyrrel’s want of deference towards him, which had forfeited, or at least abated, his favour. Mowbray recollected, also, that the circumstances under which he himself stood, did not permit him to trifle with returning gleams of good fortune. Subduing, therefore, the haughtiness of temper proper to him as an only son and heir, he answered respectfully, that, in his condition, the advice and assistance of Mr. Scrogie Touchwood were too important, not to be purchased at the price of submitting his own judgment to that of an experienced and sagacious friend.
“Well said, Mr. Mowbray,” replied the senior, “well said. Let me once have the management of your affairs, and we will brush them up for you without loss of time. — I must be obliged to you for a bed for the night, however — it is as dark as a wolf’s mouth; and if you will give orders to keep the poor devil of a postilion, and his horses too, why, I will be the more obliged to you.”
Mowbray applied himself to the bell. Patrick answered the call, and was much surprised, when the old gentleman, taking the word out of his entertainer’s mouth, desired a bed to be got ready, with a little fire in the grate; “for I take it, friend,” he went on, “you have not guests here very often. — And see that my sheets be not damp, and bid the housemaid take care not to make the bed upon an exact level, but let it slope from the pillow to the footposts, at a declivity of about eighteen inches. — And hark ye — get me a jug of barley-water, to place by my bedside, with the squeeze of a lemon — or stay, you will make it as sour as Beelzebub — bring the lemon on a saucer, and I will mix it myself.”
Patrick listened like one of sense forlorn, his head turning like a mandarin, alternately from the speaker to his master, as if to ask the latter whether this was all reality. The instant that Touchwood stopped, Mowbray added his fiat.
“Let every thing be done to make Mr. Touchwood comfortable, in the way he wishes.”
“Aweel, sir,” said Patrick, “I shall tell Mally, to be sure, and we maun do our best, and — but it’s unco late”——
“And, therefore,” said Touchwood, “the sooner we get to bed the better, my old friend. I, for one, must be stirring early — I have business of life and death — it concerns you too, Mr. Mowbray — but no more of that till tomorrow. — And let the lad put up his horses, and get him a bed somewhere.”
Patrick here thought he had gotten upon firm ground for resistance, for which, displeased with the dictatorial manner of the stranger, he felt considerably inclined.
“Ye may catch us at that, if ye can,” said Patrick; “there’s nae post cattle come into our stables — What do we ken, but that they may be glandered, as the groom says?”
“We must take the risk to-night, Patrick,” said Mowbray, reluctantly enough —“unless Mr. Touchwood will permit the horses to come back early next morning?”
“Not I, indeed,” said Touchwood; “safe bind safe find — it may be once away and aye away, and we shall have enough to do tomorrow morning. Moreover, the poor carrion are tired, and the merciful man is merciful to his beast — and, in a word, if the horses go back to St. Ronan’s Well to-night, I go there for company.”
It often happens, owing, I suppose, to the perversity of human nature, that subserviency in trifles is more difficult to a proud mind, than compliance in matters of more importance. Mowbray, like other young gentlemen of his class, was finically rigid in his stable discipline, and even Lord Etherington’s horses had not been admitted into that sanctum sanctorum, into which he now saw himself obliged to induct two wretched post-hacks. But he submitted with the best grace he could; and Patrick, while he left their presence, with lifted-up hands and eyes to execute the orders he had received, could scarcely help thinking that the old man must be the devil in disguise, since he could thus suddenly control his fiery master, even in the points which he had hitherto seemed to consider as of most vital importance.
“The Lord in his mercy haud a grip of this puir family! for I, that was born in it, am like to see the end of it.” Thus ejaculated Patrick.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00