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There was a twinkle in the Nonesuch's eye as he scanned the countenances of his assembled relations, but his voice was perfectly grave, even a trifle apologetic. ‘I am afraid it is quite true, ma'am,' he said, addressing himself to his Aunt Sophia. ‘I am the heir.'
Since the question, so indignantly posed by Lady Lindeth, had been rhetorical, this very frank and manly confession surprised no one. They all knew that old Cousin Joseph Calver had left his fortune to Waldo; and when Lady Lindeth had summoned him to account for himself she had acted on the impulse of the moment, and with no expectation of hearing the news denied. Nor had she had any very real expectation of Waldo's renouncing the bequest in favour of her only child. She naturally felt that no worthier heir to eccentric Cousin Joseph's estate existed than Julian; and she had done her best to introduce the noble orphan to him, even enduring the rigours of a week spent at Harrogate, when Julian had been an engaging child in nankeens and a frilled shirt, and she had tried (quite unavailingly) to gain entrance to Broom Hall. Three times had she driven out from Harrogate, the bored but docile little boy beside her, only to be told, twice, by Cousin Joseph's butler, that the Master was not feeling clever enough to receive visitors; and, once, that the Master would thank her not to come pestering him, because he didn't want to see her, nor her son, nor anyone else. Enquiry had elicited the information that the only visitor ever admitted into the house was the doctor. Local opinion was divided, charitable persons maintaining that a disappointment suffered in his youth was responsible for this churlishness; others asserting that he was a muckworm who grudged every groat he was obliged to spend. Having had the opportunity to perceive the neglected condition of the grounds of Broom Hall, Lady Lindeth had ranged herself with the majority. A suspicion that Cousin Joseph might not be as plump in the pocket as was supposed had occurred only to be dismissed: Broom Hall, though greatly inferior in style and size to young Lord Lindeth's seat in the Midlands, was a very respectable house, with probably as many as thirty bedrooms. It did not stand in a park, but its gardens appeared to be extensive; and she was credibly informed that most of the surrounding land belonged to the estate. She had left Harrogate much inclined to think that Cousin Joseph's fortune was considerably larger than had previously been supposed. She did not grudge it to him, but she would have thought herself a very unnatural parent had she not made a push to secure it for her son. So she had swallowed her resentment at the treatment she had received, and had continued, throughout the succeeding years, to send Joseph small Christmas gifts, and periodical letters, affectionately enquiring after the state of his health, and regaling him with accounts of Julian's virtues, beauty, and scholastic progress. And after all her pains he had left his entire estate to Waldo, who was neither the most senior of his relations nor the one who bore his name!
The most senior of the three cousins gathered together in Lady Lindeth's drawing-room was George Wingham, the son of her ladyship's eldest sister. He was a very worthy man, however prosy; she was not particularly fond of him, but she thought she could have borne it better had Cousin Joseph made him his heir, for she was obliged to acknowledge that his seniority gave him a certain amount of right to the bequest. Not, of course, so good a right as Laurence Calver. Lady Lindeth held Laurence, the youngest of her nephews, in contempt and dislike, but she hoped she was a just woman, and she felt she could have supported with equanimity his succession to a fortune which he would have lost no time in dissipating.
But that Cousin Joseph, ignoring the claims of George, and Laurence, and her beloved Julian, should have named Waldo Hawkridge as his heir was so intolerable that had she been of a nervous disposition she thought she must have succumbed to Spasms when she had first heard the incredible news. As it was, she had been unable to speak for a full minute; and when she did she had merely uttered Waldo's name, in a voice so vibrant with loathing that Julian, the bearer of the tidings, had been startled. ‘But, Mama-!' he had expostulated. ‘You like Waldo!'
That was perfectly true, but quite beside the point, as she crossly told her son. She was, in fact, much attached to Waldo, but neither her fondness for him nor her gratitude for his unfailing kindness to Julian prevented her from feeling positively unwell whenever she thought of his enormous wealth. To learn that Cousin Joseph's estate was to be added to an already indecently large fortune did make her feel for a few minutes that so far from liking him she detested him.
She said now, in a peevish tone: ‘I can't conceive what should have induced that disagreeable old man to choose you for his heir!'
‘There is no understanding it at all,' Sir Waldo replied sympathetically.
‘I don't believe you ever so much as saw him, either!'
‘No, I never did.'
‘Well, I must own,' said George, ‘that it was an odd sort of a thing to do. One would have thought However, none of us had the least claim on the old fellow, and I'm sure he had a perfect right to leave his money where he chose!'
At this, Laurence Calver, who had been lounging on the sofa, and moodily playing with an ornate quizzing-glass, let the glass fall on the end of its ribbon, and jerked himself up, saying angrily: ‘You had no claim to it or Waldo or Lindeth! But I'm a Calver! I I think it damnable!'
‘Very possibly!' snapped his aunt. ‘But you will be good enough not to use such language in my presence, if you please!'
He coloured, and mumbled an apology, but the reproof did nothing to improve his temper, and he embarked on a long and incoherent diatribe, which ranged stammeringly over a wide ground, embracing all the real and fancied causes of his sense of ill-usage, the malevolence of Joseph Calver, and the suspected duplicity of Waldo Hawkridge.
Until George Wingham intervened, he was heard in unresponsive silence. His oblique animadversions on Sir Waldo's character did indeed bring a flash into Lord Lindeth's eyes, but he folded his lips tightly on a retort. Laurence had always been jealous of Waldo: everyone knew that; and very ludicrous it was to watch his attempts to outshine his cousin. He was several years younger than Waldo, and he possessed none of the attributes which Nature had so generously bestowed on the Nonesuch. Failing to excel in any of the sports which had won for Waldo his title, he had lately turned towards the dandy-set, abandoning the sporting attire of the Corinthian for all the extravagances of fashion popular amongst the young dandies. Julian, three years his junior, thought that he looked ridiculous in any guise; and instinctively turned his eyes towards Waldo. They warmed as they looked, for to Julian Sir Waldo was at once a magnificent personage in whose company it was an honour to be seen, the big cousin who had taught him to ride, drive, shoot, fish, and box; a fount of wisdom; and the surest refuge in times of stress. He had even taught him something of his own way with the starched folds of a neckcloth: not the intricacies of the Mathematical or the Oriental Tie, but an elegant fashion of his own, as unobtrusive as it was exquisite. Laurence would do well to imitate the quiet neatness of Waldo's dress, Julian thought, not realizing that the plain, close-fitting coats which so admirably became Waldo could only be worn to advantage by men of splendid physique. Less fortunate aspirants to high fashion were obliged to adopt a more florid style, with padding to disguise sloping shoulders, and huge, laid-back lapels to widen a narrow chest.
He glanced again at Laurence, not so much folding his lips as gripping them tightly together, to keep back the retort he knew Waldo didn't wish him to utter. From vapourings about the injustice of fate, Laurence, working himself into a passion, was becoming more particular in his complaints. Any stranger listening to him would have supposed that Waldo was wealthy at his expense, Julian thought indignantly: certainly that Waldo had always treated him shabbily. Well, whether Waldo liked it or not, he was not going to sit meekly silent any longer!
But before he could speak George had intervened, saying in a voice of grim warning: ‘Take care! If anyone has cause to be grateful to Waldo, you have, you distempered young Jack-at-warts!'
‘Oh, George, don't be a fool!' begged Sir Waldo.
His stolid senior paid no heed to this, but kept his stern gaze on Laurence. ‘Who paid your Oxford debts?' he demanded. ‘Who gets you out of sponging-houses? Who saved you from the devil's own mess, not a month ago? I know to what tune you were bit at that hell in Pall Mall! no, it wasn't Waldo who told me, so you needn't cast any of your black looks at him! The Sharps tried on the grand mace with you, didn't they? Lord, it was all hollow for them! You were born a bleater!'
‘That's enough!' Waldo interrupted.
‘It is! More than enough!' said George rebelliously.
‘Tell me, Laurie,' said Waldo, ignoring this interpolation, ‘do you want a house in Yorkshire?'
‘No, but what do you want with it? Why should you have it? You've got Manifold you've got a town house you've got that place in Leicestershire and you ain't even a Calver!'
‘And what the devil has that to say to anything?' struck in George. ‘What have the Calvers to do with Manifold, pray? Or with the house in Charles Street? Or with '
‘George, if you don't hold your tongue we shall be at outs, you and I!'
‘Oh, very well!' growled George. ‘But when that ramshackle court-card starts talking as though he thought he ought to own Manifold, which has been in your family since the lord knows when !'
‘He doesn't think anything of the sort. He thinks merely that he ought to own Broom Hall. But what would you do with it if you did own it, Laurie? I haven't seen it, but I collect it's a small estate, subsisting on the rents of various farms and holdings. Have you a fancy for setting up as an agriculturist?'
‘No, I have not!' replied Laurence angrily. ‘If that sneaking screw had left it to me, I'd have sold it which I don't doubt you'll do as though you weren't swimming in riches already!'
‘Yes, you would have sold it, and wasted its price within six months. Well, I can put it to better use than that.' The smile crept back into his eyes; he said consolingly: ‘Does it comfort you to know that it won't add to my riches? It won't: quite the reverse, I daresay!'
Mr Wingham directed a sharply suspicious look at him, but it was Lady Lindeth who spoke, exclaiming incredulously: ‘What? Do you mean to tell me that that detestable old man wasn't possessed of a handsome fortune after all?'
‘Doing it rather too brown!' said Laurence, his not uncomely features marred by a sneer.
‘I can't tell you yet what he was possessed of, ma'am, but I've been given no reason to suppose that he's made me heir to more than a competence deriving, I collect, from the estate. And as you and George have both frequently described to me the deplorable state of decay into which the place has fallen I should imagine that the task of bringing it into order is likely to swallow the revenue, and a good deal more besides.'
‘Is that what you mean to do?' asked Julian curiously. ‘Bring it into order?'
‘Possibly: I can't tell, until I've seen it.'
‘No, of course Waldo, you know I don't want it, but what the dooce do you Oh!' He broke off, laughing, and said mischievously: ‘I'll swear I know, but I won't tell George word of a Lindeth!'
‘Tell me?' said George, with a scornful snort. ‘Do you take me for a flat, young sauce-box? He wants it for another Orphan Asylum, of course!'
‘An Orphan Asylum!' Laurence jerked himself to his feet, staring at Sir Waldo with narrowed, glittering eyes. ‘So that's it, is it? What ought to be mine is to be squandered on the staff and raff of the back-slums! You don't want it yourself, but you'd rather by far benefit a set of dirty, worthless brats than your own kith and kin!'
‘I don't think you are concerned with any of my kith and kin other than yourself, Laurie,' replied Sir Waldo. ‘That being so yes, I would.'
‘You you By God, you make me sick!' Laurence said, trembling with fury.
‘Well, take yourself off!' recommended Julian, as flushed as Laurence was pale. ‘You only came here to nose out what you might, and you've done that! And if you think you're at liberty to insult Waldo under any roof of mine I'll have you know you're much mistaken!'
‘Make yourself easy: I'm going, toad-eater!' Laurence flung at him. ‘And you need not put yourself to the trouble of escorting me downstairs! Ma'am, your very obedient servant!'
‘Tragedy Jack!' remarked George, as the door slammed behind the outraged dandy. ‘Well-done, young 'un!' He added, with a grin that suddenly lightened his rather heavy countenance: ‘You and your roofs! Try telling me I came to nose out what I might and see what I'll do to you!'
Julian laughed, relaxing. ‘Well, you did, but that's different! You don't grudge Cousin Joseph's property to Waldo any more than I do!'
‘No, but that ain't to say I don't grudge it to those curst brats of his!' said George frankly. He was himself a man of substance, but he was also the father of a large and hopeful family, and although he would have repudiated with indignation any suggestion that he was not very well able to provide for his children, he had for years been unable to consider his unknown and remote cousin's problematical fortune without thinking that it would furnish him with a useful addition to his own estate. He was neither an unkindly nor an ungenerous man; he subscribed what was proper to Charity; but he did feel that Waldo carried the thing to excess. That, of course, was largely the fault of his upbringing: his father, the late Sir Thurstan Hawkridge, had been a considerable philanthropist; but George could not remember that he had ever gone to such absurd lengths as to succour and educate the lord only knew how many of the nameless and gallows-born waifs with which every city was ridden.
He looked up, to find that Waldo was watching him, the faintest hint of a question in his eyes. He reddened, saying roughly: ‘No, I don't want Broom Hall, and I hope I know better than to waste my time recommending you not to drop your blunt providing for a parcel of paupers who won't thank you for it, and, you may depend upon it, won't grow up to be the respectable citizens you think they will, either! But I must say I do wonder what made that old miser leave his money to you!'
Sir Waldo could have enlightened him, but thought it more tactful to refrain from divulging that he figured in his eccentric relative's Will as ‘the only member of my family who has paid no more heed to me than I have to him.'
‘Well, for my part I think it very unsatisfactory,' said Lady Lindeth. ‘And not at all what poor Cousin Joseph would have wished!'
‘You do mean to do that, Waldo?' Julian asked.
‘Yes, I think so, if I find the place at all suitable. It may not be and in any event I don't want it prattled about, so just you keep your tongue, young man!'
‘Well, of all the abominable injustices ! I didn't prattle about your horrid brats: it was George! Waldo, if you mean to go north, may I go with you?'
‘Why, yes, if you wish, but you'll find it a dead bore, you know. There will be a good deal of business to be settled with Cousin Joseph's attorney, which will keep me busy in Leeds; and whatever I decide to do with Broom Hall I must look into things there, and set about putting them in order. Dull work! In the middle of the Season, too!'
‘Much I care! That's what I think a dead bore: going from one horrible squeeze, to another; doing the pretty to people I'd as lief never see again; showing-off in the Grand Strut '
‘You know, you're spoilt, Julian!' interrupted George severely.
‘No, I'm not. I never did like going to parties, and I never shall not these insipid ton parties, at all events. I like living in the country. I say, Waldo, I wonder if there's any fishing to be had near Broom Hall?' He saw that Sir Waldo was looking at Lady Lindeth, and added: ‘Oh, Mama don't object! Do you, Mama?'
‘No,' she answered. ‘You must do as you please though it seems a pity you should go out of town just now. There's the Aveburys' Dress-party, and However, if you prefer to go to Yorkshire with Waldo I am sure I have nothing to say!'
There was a good deal of reluctance in her voice, which one at least of her audience recognized and appreciated. She was a devoted but not a foolish parent; and while, on the one hand, she was bent on thrusting her son into the heart of the ton, and (if possible) arranging an advantageous marriage for him; on the other, she had far too much wisdom either to try to drive him against his inclination, or to cast the least rub in the way of his allegiance to his cousin Waldo. It stood greatly to her credit that almost from the hour of her widowhood she had made up her mind that she must never keep Julian tied to her apron-strings. But although she had adhered strictly to this resolve she had suffered many qualms, fearing that the very sweetness of his disposition might be his undoing. He was a handsome boy, and one who had come into the world hosed and shod, as the saying was; and her dread was that he might be flattered and coaxed into such company as Laurence kept, with disastrous results. With Waldo he was not only safe but fortunate as well, since Waldo, taking him into his own circle, was introducing him to men of the first rank and character. That most of these gentlemen were addicted to the more dangerous, and (in her view) more degrading forms of sport, she did not allow to weigh with her. It was incomprehensible to her why any man should wish to risk his neck in the hunting field, or in a curricle race; or should derive the smallest satisfaction from planting a flush hit in the face of some unoffending acquaintance, encountered in Jackson's Boxing Saloon; but she was fortified in her acceptance of these peculiar activities by the knowledge that no female was fitted to be a judge of such matters; and by the realization that nothing was farther from her ambition than to see her son joining the ranks of those who abjured violent sports. Furthermore, however many pangs of jealousy she might have been made to suffer when, having failed to turn Julian from some adolescent and ill-judged start, she had seen Waldo blight it by the mere lifting of an eyebrow, she could still be thankful to him. His ideas might not coincide with hers; she might resent Julian's devotion to him; but while she knew his influence over her darling to be strong no maternal apprehensions seriously troubled her.
She met his eyes, and saw the understanding smile in them. He said: ‘I know, ma'am but where's the use? I'll take good care of him!'
The annoying thing about him was that he did know, though never had she confided in him her ambition to see Julian achieve the social success to which his birth, his looks, and his fortune entitled him. She responded tartly: ‘He is of age, and very well able, I trust, to take care of himself! A very odd idea of me you must have, my dear Waldo, if you think he is obliged to ask my permission for anything he may wish to do!'
The smile touched his lips; he murmured: ‘No! the only idea I have of you, ma'am, is that you are a woman of great good sense.'
As he turned away from her, Julian, whose attention had been diverted by a question addressed to him by Mr Wingham, demanded gaily: ‘Are you talking secrets? When do you mean to go to Yorkshire?'
‘I haven't decided the precise date, but sometime next week. I shall be travelling post, of course.'
The expression of disappointment on Julian's face was ludicrous enough to make even his ruffled mother smile. He exclaimed impulsively: ‘Oh, no! You can't wish to be shut up in a stuffy chaise for Oh, you're trying to gammon me, are you? Waldo, you're a you're a '
‘Gull-catcher,' supplied George, on the broad grin.
Julian accepted this blithely. ‘Yes, and a regular dryboots! Curricle, Waldo, or phaeton?'
‘I don't see how we can go by either when I've no horses stabled on the Great North Road,' objected Waldo.
But Julian was not to be hoaxed twice. He retorted that if his cousin was such a nip-farthing as to grudge the expense of sending his cattle forward they would either hire job-horses, or proceed by such easy stages as could be managed by one team.
‘I like young Lindeth,' said George, when, presently, he walked with his cousin in the direction of Bond Street. ‘A very good sort of a boy: nothing of the rum 'un about him! But as for Laurence ! Upon my word, Waldo, I wonder that you should bear with him as you do! Well, I was used to think him more flash than foolish, but after listening to his damned insolence today I think him the most buffleheaded clunch I ever saw in my life! If there's one person anybody but a sapskull would have taken precious care not to rub against, it's you! Good God, where does he think he'd be, if you was to abandon him? Don't you tell me he hasn't cost you a small fortune, because I'm not a gapeseed! Why you didn't lose your temper and tell him he'd had his last groat from you I shall never know!'
‘Yes, you will,' responded Sir Waldo calmly. ‘I didn't lose my temper because that is precisely what I had told him.'
George was so much surprised that he halted in his tracks. ‘You had? Waldo, you don't mean it!'
‘No, probably not, but today's outburst shows that Laurie thinks I do. So now you know why I hadn't the smallest inclination to lose my temper. For how much longer do you mean to stand like a stock, attracting the attention of the vulgar? Do come out of your trance, George!'
Thus adjured, Mr Wingham fell into step again beside his tall cousin, saying earnestly: ‘I was never more glad of anything in my life! Now, don't waver from it, I beg of you! Damme if I wouldn't prefer to see you wasting the ready on a pack of ragged brats than on that young once-a-week man!'
‘Oh, George, no!' expostulated Sir Waldo. ‘Coming it too strong!'
‘Oh, no, I ain't!' said George obstinately. ‘When I think of the things he said today, and the gratitude he owes you '
‘He owes me none.'
‘What?' George gasped, once more coming to a sudden halt.
His cousin's hand, gripping his arm, forced him onward. ‘No, George: not again!' said Sir Waldo firmly. ‘I've done very badly by Laurie. If you don't know that, I do.'
‘Well, I don't!' George declared. ‘From the time he was at Harrow you've positively lavished money on him! You never did so for Julian!'
‘Oh, I've never done more for Julian than send him a guinea under the seal, when he was a schoolboy!' said Sir Waldo, laughing.
‘So I knew! Of course, you may say he was pretty well-breeched, but '
‘I shan't say anything of the sort. I should have done no more for him whatever his circumstances might have been. By the time he went to Harrow I wasn't such a cawker as I was when Laurie was a boy.' He paused, slightly frowning, and then said abruptly: ‘You know, George, when my father died, I was too young for my inheritance!'
‘Well, I own we all thought so made sure you'd play ducks and drakes with it! but you never did so, and '
‘No, I did worse: I ruined Laurie.'
‘Oh, come now, Waldo ' George protested, adding after a moment's reflection: ‘Encouraged him to depend on you, you mean. I suppose you did and I'm damned if I know why, for you never liked him above half, did you?'
‘I didn't. But when I was what did he call it? swimming in riches, and my uncle was possessed of no more than an independence besides being as big a screw as our cousin Joseph, and keeping Laurie devilish short it seemed so hard-fisted not to come to Laurie's rescue!'
‘Yes, I see,' said George slowly. ‘And having once begun to frank him you couldn't stop.'
‘I might have done so, but I didn't. What, after all, did it signify to me? By the time I'd acquired enough sense to know what it signified to him, the mischief had been done.'
‘Oh!' George turned this over in his mind. ‘Ay, very likely! But if you think the fault is yours, all I can say is that it ain't like you to leave him to sink or swim now! What's more, I don't believe you would!'
‘No, I was afraid he wouldn't believe it either,' admitted Sir Waldo. ‘He seems to have done so, however, which makes me hopeful that the mischief has not gone beyond repair.'
George uttered a bark of sceptical laughter. ‘He'll be gapped in some hell before the week's out and don't tell me you've tied him up, because he ain't such a bottlehead that he don't know you'd never compel him to pay the forfeit!'
‘I haven't, but I paid his gaming debts only on his promise that he would incur no more of them.'
‘His promise ! Good God, Waldo, you don't depend on that, do you?'
‘But I do. Laurie won't go back on his word: witness his rage today, only because I've compelled him to pledge it!'
‘Once a gamester always a gamester!'
‘My dear George, Laurie is no more a gamester than I am!' replied Sir Waldo, amused. ‘All he wishes to do is to sport a figure in the world. Do believe that I know him much better than you do, and take that frown off your face!' He slipped his hand within his cousin's arm, grasping it lightly. ‘Instead, tell me this, old chap! Do you want Broom Hall? Because, if you do and you need not fly up into the boughs! I hope you know you've only to '
‘I do not!' interrupted George, with unnecessary violence. ‘Merely because I said I thought it an odd start in Cousin Joseph to have left his property to you By the bye, my aunt didn't like it above half, did she?'
‘No most understandable! But I really can't feel that Lindeth stands in the least need of Broom Hall.'
‘Oh, lord, no! any more than I do! Bless the boy, he never gave it a thought! You know, Waldo, it's my belief he's going to cut up all her hopes! Ever since he came down from Oxford she's been trying to push him into the first style of fashion and into an eligible marriage and then, when there isn't a ton party he ain't invited to attend, what does he do but beg you to let him go with you into the wilds of Yorkshire! I promise you, I was hard put to it not to burst out laughing at the look in her face when young Julian said the Season was a dead bore! Mark me if she don't prevent his going with you!'
‘She won't even make the attempt. She's by far too fond of him to try to thrust him down any path he doesn't wish to follow and has too much commonsense as well. Poor Aunt Lindeth! I do most sincerely pity her! She was obliged to abandon her efforts to bring her husband into fashion, for he despised nothing more; and to discover now that Julian, who has all in his favour to blossom into a Pink of the Ton, is as bored by such stuff as ever his father was is really very hard.'
‘I think the better of him for it,' declared George. ‘To own the truth, I always looked to see him trying to follow in your steps! Well, if she does let him go with you next week, take care he don't fall into mischief unless you have a fancy for getting your eyes scratched out!'
‘None at all! Are you apprehensive that he will form an attachment to a milkmaid? Or set the countryside by the ears? You terrify me, George!'
‘No, no!' George said, chuckling. ‘It's you who will do that! Well, I don't mean you'll set 'em all by the ears precisely, but, lord, what a flutter there will be when they find the Nonesuch amongst 'em!'
‘Oh, for God's sake, George !' said Sir Waldo, withdrawing his hand abruptly from his cousin's arm. ‘Don't talk such nonsense! If I were a betting man, I'd lay you odds against the chance that anyone at Oversett has ever heard of me!'