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“Push on to the more cogent reason, my lord,” said Culduff, stifly.
Here, then, is the more cogent reason. The court has not forgotten --what possibly the world may have forgotten-some of those passages in your life for which you, perhaps, have no other remorse than that they are not likely to recur; and as you have given no hostages for good behaviour, in the shape of a wife, the court, I say, is sure to veto your appointment. You see it all as clearly as I do."
“ So far as I do see,” said Culduff, slowly, “ the first objection is my want of fortune, the second, my want of a wife ? ”
“ Exactly so.”
“Well, my lord, I am able to meet each of these obstacles; my agent has just discovered coal on one of my best estates, and I am now in town to make arrangements on a large scale to develope the source of wealth. As to the second disability, I shall pledge myself to present the Viscountess Culduff at the next drawing-room.”
" Married already ?"
“ No, but I may be within a few weeks. In fact, I mean to place myself in such a position, that no one holding your office can pass me orer by a pretext, or affect to ignore my claim by affirming that I labour under a disability.”
“ This sounds like menace, does it not ?" said the other as he threw his cigar impatiently from him.
“A mere protocol, my lord, to denote intention.”
“ Well, I'll submit your name. I'll go further, I'll support it. Don't leave town for a day or two. Call on Beadlesworth and see Repsley ; tell him what you've said to me. If you could promise it was one of his old maiden sisters that you thought of making Lady Culduff, the thing could be clenched at once,—but I take it, you have other views ?”
“I have other views," said he gravely.
“I'm not indiscreet, and I shall not ask you more on that head. By the way, isn't your leave up, or nearly up?"
“ It expired on Wednesday last, and I want it renewed for two months."
“Of course, if we send you on this mission, you'll not want the leave ? I had something else to say. What was it ?”
I have not the very vaguest idea.”
“Oh! I remember. It was to recommend you not to take your wise from the stage. There's a strong prejudice in a certain quarter as to that, in fact, I may say it couldn't be got over.” I may relieve you
of any apprehensions on that score. Indeed, I don't know what fact in my life should expose me to the mere suspicion."
“ Nothing,—nothing,—except that impulsive generosity of your disposition, which might lead you to do what other men would stop short to count the cost of."
“ It would never lead me to derogate, my lord,” said he proudly as he took his hat, and bowing haughtily left the room.
“ The greatest ass in the whole career, and the word is a bold one," said the Minister as the door closed. Meanwhile, I must send in his name for this mission, which he is fully equal to. What a happy arrangement it is, that in an age when our flunkies aspire to be gentlemen, there are gentlemen who ask nothing better than to be flunkies !"
WITH HIS LAWYER.
Though Colonel Bramleigh's visit to town was supposed to be in furtherance of that speculation by which Lord Culduff calculated on wealth and splendour, he had really another object, and while Culduff imagined him to be busy in the City, and deep in shares and stock lists, he was closely closeted with his lawyer, and earnestly poring over a mass of time-worn letters and documents, carefully noting down dates, docketing, and annotating, in a way that showed what importance he attached to the task before him.
“I tell you what, Sedley,” said he, as he threw his pen disdainfully from him, and lay back in his chair, " the whole of this move is a party dodge. It is part and parcel of that vile persecution with which the Tory faction pursued me during my late canvas. You remember their vulgar allusions to my father the brewer, and their coarse jest about my frothy oratory ? This attack is but the second act of the same drama.” “I don't think so," mildly rejoined the other party.
“ Conflicts are • sharp enough while the struggle lasts; but they rarely carry their bitterness beyond the day of battle.”
“ That is an agent's view of the matter,” said Bramleigh, with asperity. “The agent always persists in believing the whole thing a sham fight; but though men do talk a great deal of rot and humbug about their principles on the hustings, their personal feelings are just as real, just as acute, and occasionally just as painful, as on any occasion in their lives; and I repeat to you, the trumped-up claim of this foreigner is neither more nor less than a piece of party malignity.
“I cannot agree with you. The correspondence we have just been looking at shows how upwards of forty years ago the same pretensions were put forward, and a man calling himself Montagu-Evelyn Bramleigh declared he was the rightful heir to your estates."
“ A rightful heir whose claims could be always compromised by a tenpound note was scarcely very dangerous.”
“Why make any compromise at all if the fellow was clearly an impostor ?"
“For the very reason that you yourself now counsel a similar course : to avoid the scandal of a public trial. To escape all those insolent comments which a party press is certain to pass on a political opponent.”
“That could scarcely have been apprehended from the Bramleigh I
speak of, who was clearly poor, illiterate, and friendless; whereas the present man has, from some source or other, funds to engage eminent counsel and retain one of the first men at the bar."
“I protest, Sedley, you puzzle me,” said Bramleigh, with an angry sparkle in his eye. “ A few moments back you treated all this pretension
mere pretext for extorting money, and now you talk of this fellow and his claim, as subjects that may one day be matter for the decision of a jury. Can you reconcile two views so diametrically opposite ? "
“I think I can. It is at law as in war. The feint may be carried on to a real attack whenever the position assailed be possessed of an overconfidence or but ill-defended. It might be easy enough, perhaps, to deal with this man. Let him have some small success, however ; let him gain a verdict, for instance, in one of those petty suits for ejectment, and his case at once becomes formidable.”
“All this," said Bramleigh, “proceeds on the assumption that there is something in the fellow's claim ?”
“I declare," said Bramleigh, rising and pacing the room, “I have not temper for this discussion. My mind has not been disciplined to that degree of refinement that I can accept a downright swindle as a demand founded on justice.”
“Let us prove it a swindle, and there is an end of it."
“And will you tell me, sir,” said he passionately, “ that every gentleman holds his estates on the condition that the title may be contested by any impostor who can dupe people into advancing money to set the law in motion ?
“When such proceedings are fraudulent a very heavy punishment awaits them.”
“ And what punishment of the knave equals the penalty inflicted on the honest man in exposure, shame, insolent remarks, and worse than even these, a contemptuous pity for that reverse of fortune which newspaper writers always announce as an inevitable consummation ? "
“ These are all hard things to bear, but I don't suspect they ever deterred any man from holding an estate."
The half jocular tone of his remark rather jarred on Bramleigh's sensibilities, and he continued to walk the room in silence; at last, stopping short, he wheeled round and said,
“Do you adhere to your former opinion; would you try a compromise ? "
“I would. The man has a case quite good enough to interest a speculative lawyer,--good enough to go before a jury,--good enough for everything, but success. One half what the defence would cost you will probably satisfy his expectations, not to speak of all you will spare yourself in unpleasantness and exposure.
"It is a hard thing to stoop to," said Bramleigh, painfully. “It need not be, at least not to the extent you imagine ; and when
you throw your eye over your lawyer's bill of costs, the phrase "incidental expenses' will spare your feelings any more distinct reference to this transaction."
“ A most considerate attention. And now for the practical part. Who is this man's lawyer ? ”
“A most respectable practitioner, Kelson, of Temple Court. A personal friend of my own.
" And what terms would you propose ?”
"I'd offer five thousand, and be prepared to go to eight, possibly to ten."
“ To silence a mere menace.”
“Exactly. It's a mere menace to-day, but six months hence it may be something more formidable. It is a curious case, cleverly contrived and ingeniously put together. I don't say that we couldn't smash it ; such carpentry always has a chink or an open somewhere. Meanwhile the scandal is spreading over not only England, but over the world, and no matter how favourable the ultimate issue, there will always remain in men's minds the recollection that the right to your estate was contested and that you had to defend your possession.
“I had always thought till now," said Bramleigh, slowly, “ that the legal mind attached very little importance to the flying scandals that amuse society. You appear to accord them weight and influence.”
“I am not less a man of the world because I am a lawyer, Colonel Bramleigh," said the other, half tartly.
“ If this must be done, the sooner it be over the better. A man of high station—a peer—is at this moment paying such attention to one of my daughters that I may expect at any moment, to-day perhaps, to receive a formal proposal for her hand. I do not suspect that the threat of an unknown claimant to my property would disturb his lordship's faith in my security or my station, but the sensitive dislike of men of his class to all publicity that does not redound to honour or distinction,—the repugnance to whatever draws attention to them for aught but court favour or advancement,—might well be supposed to have its influence with him, and I think it would be better to spare him,—to spare us, too,—this exposure.”
“I'll attend to it immediately. Kelson hinted to me that the claimant was now in England.”
“I was not aware of that."
Yes, he is over here now, and I gather, too, has contrived to interest some people in his pretensions."
“ Does he affect the station of a gentleman ? "
“ Thoroughly; he is, I am told, well-mannered, prepossessing in appearance, and presentable in every respect."
"Let us ask him over to Castello, Sedley," said Bramleigh, laughing.
" I say that such a move might not be the worst step to an amicable settlement. In admitting the assailant to see all the worth and value of the fortress, it would also show him the resources for defence, and he might readily compute what poor chances were his against such odds."
“Still, I doubt if I could bring myself to consent to it. There is a positive indignity in making any concession to such a palpable imposture."
“Not palpable till proven. The most unlikely cases have now and then pushed some of our ablest men to upset. Attack can always choose its own time, its own ground, and is master of almost every condition of the combat."
“I declare, Sedley, if this man had retained your services to make a good bargain for him, he could scarcely have selected a more able agent.”
“You could not more highly compliment the zeal I am exercising in your service.”
“Well, I take it I must leave the whole thing in your hands. I shall not prolong my stay in town. I wanted to do something in the City, but I find these late crashes in the banks have spread such terror and apprehension, that nobody will advance a guinea on anything. There is an admirable opening just now,-coal.”
“ In Egypt?”
“Ah, in Ireland ? That's very different. You surely cannot expect capital will take that channel ?”
“ You are an admirable lawyer, Sedley. I am told London has not your equal as a special pleader, but let me tell you you are not either a projector or a politician. I am both, and I declare to you that this country which you deride and distrust is the California of Great Britain. Write to me at your earliest ; finish this business, if you can, out of hand, and if you make good terms for me I'll send you some shares in an enterprise
-an Irish enterprise—which will pay you a better dividend than some of your East county railroads."
“ Have you changed the name of your place ? Your son, Mr. John Bramleigh, writes · Bishop's Folly' at the top of his letter.”
“ It is called Castello, sir. I am not responsible for the silly caprices of a sailor."
LORD CULDUFF and Colonel Bramleigh spoke little to each other as they journeyed back to Ireland. Each fell back upon the theme personally interesting to him, and cared not to impart it to his neighbour. They were not like men who had so long travelled the same road in life that by a dropping word, a whole train of associations can be conjured up, and familiar scenes and people be passed in review before the mind.