Charles James Lever.

The Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) online

. (page 7 of 16)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

forgot to take my rugs and wraps with me ; and
I am shivering with cold. I have not even an

The tone — so evidently that of a gentleman, and
the slight touch of a foreign accent — apparently at
once conciliated the stranger, for he said, " I have
enough, and to spare ; spread this blanket over you ;
and here's a cushion for a pillow."

These courtesies, accepted frankly as offered,
soon led them to talk together; and the two men


speedily found themselves chatting away like old

"I am puzzling myself," said the stranger at
last, " to find out are you an Englishman, who has
lived long abroad, or are you a foreigner ? "

"Is my English so good as that?" asked Pra-
contal, laughing.

" The very best I ever heard from any not a born

" Well, I'm a Frenchman — or a half Frenchman —
with some Italian and some English blood, too, in me."

" Ah ! I knew you must have had a dash of John
Bull in you. No man ever spoke such English as
yours without it."

''Well, but my English temperament goes two
generations back. I don't believe my father was
ever in England."

With this opening they talked away about national
traits and peculiarities : the Frenchman with all the
tact and acuteness travel and much intercourse with
life conferred ; and the other with the especial shrewd-
ness that marks a Londoner. "How did you guess
I was a Cockney ? " asked he, laughingly. " I don't
take liberties with my H's."


"If you had, it's not likely I'd have known it,"
said Pracontal. "But your reference to town, the
fidehty with which you clung to what London would
think of this, or say to that, made me suspect you to
he a Londoner ; and I see I was right."

" After aU, you Frenchmen are just as full of

" Because Paris epitomises France, and France is
the greatest of all countries."

" I'll not stand that. I deny it in totor

" WeU, I'll not open the question now, or, mayhe,
you'd make me give up this blanket."

" No. I'll have the matter out on fair grounds.
Keep the blanket, but just let me hear on what grounds
you claim precedence for France before England."

" I'm too unlucky in matters of dispute to-day,"
said Pracontal, sadly, " to open a new discussion. I
quarrelled with, perhaps, the best friend I had in the
world this morning for a mere nothing ; and though
there is little fear that anything we could say to each
other now would provoke ill feeling between us, I'll
run no risks."

" By Jove ! it must be Scotch blood is in you.
I never heard of such caution ! "


" No, I believe my English connection is regular
Saxon. When a man has been in the newspapers in
England, he need not affect secrecy or caution in
talking of himself. I figured in a trial lately; I
don't know if you read the cause. It was tried in
Ireland — Count Bramleigh de Pracontal against

" What, are you Pracontal? " cried the stranger,
starting to a sitting posture.

" Yes. Why are you so much interested ? "

'^ Because I have seen the j^lace. I have been
over the property in dispute, and the question natu-
rally interests me."

" Ha ! you know Castello, then ? "

" Castello, or Bishop's Folly. I know it best by
the latter name."

" And whom am I speaking to ? " said Pracontal ;
'* for as you know me perhaps I have some right to
ask this."

" My name is Cutbill ; and now that you've heard
it, you're nothing the wiser."

" You probably know the Bramleighs ? "

" Eveiy one of them ; Augustus, the eldest, I am
intimate with."


"It's not my fault that I have no acquaintance
with him. I desired it much ; and Ladv Augusta
conveyed my wish to Mr. Bramleigh, but he declined.
I don't know on what gi'ounds ; but he refused to
meet me, and we have never seen each other."

" If I don't gi-eatly mistake, you ought to have
met. I hope it may not be yet too late."

'' Ah, but it is I We are ' en pleine guerre '
now, and the battle must be fought out. It is he,
and not I, would leave the matter to this issue. I
was for a compromise ; I would have accepted an
arrangement ; I was un-s\'illing to overthrow a whole
family and consign them to ruin. They might have
made their own terms with me ; but no, they pre-
ferred to defy me. They determined I should be a
mere pretender. They gave me no alternative ; and
I fight because there is no retreat open to me."

" And yet if you knew Bramleigh -"

" Men cher ; he would not give me the chance ; he
repulsed the ofier I made ; he would not touch the
hand I held out to him."

*' I am told that the judge declared that he never
tried a cause where the defendant displayed a more
honourable line of conduct."


" That is all true. Kelson, my lawyer, said that
everything they did was straightforward and credit-
able ; but he said, too, don't go near them, don't
encourage any acquaintance with them, or some sort
of arrangement will be patched up which will leave
everything unsettled to another generation ; — when
all may become once more litigated with less light to
guide a decision and far less chance of obtaining

" Never mind the lawyers, Count, never mind the
lawyers. Use your own good sense, and your own
generous instincts ; place yourself — in idea — in
Bramleigh's position, and ask yourself could you
act more handsomely than he has done ? and then
bethink you, what is the proper way to meet such

" It's all too late for this now ; don't ask me
why, but take my word for it, it is too late."

" It's never too late to do the right thing, though
it may cost a man some pain to own he is changing
his mind."

'' It's not that ; it's not that," said the other,
peevishly, " though I cannot explain to you why or


" I don't want to hear secrets," said Ciitbill,
bluntly; '^all the more that you and I are strangers
to each other. I don't think either of us has had a
good look at the other's face yet."

" I've seen yours, and I don't distrust it," said
the Frenchman.

" Good night, then, there's a civil speech to go to
sleep over," and so saying, he rolled over to the
other side, and drew his blanket over his head.

Pracontal lav a lonof time awake, thinkino^ of the
strange companion he had chanced upon, and that
still stranger amount of intimacy that had grown up
between them. I suppose, muttered he to himself, I
must be the most indiscreet fellow in the world ; but
after all, what have I said that he has not read in the
newspapers, or may not read next week or the week
after ? I know how Kelson would condemn me for
this careless habit of talking of myself and my affairs
to the first man I meet on a railroad or a steamer ;
but I must be what nature made me, and after all, if
I show too much of my hand, I gain something by
learning what the bystanders say of it.

It was not till nigh daybreak that he dropped off
to sleep ; and when he awoke it was to see ^Ir.


Cutbill with a large bowl of hot coffee in one hand,
and a roll in the other, making an early breakfast ;
a very rueful figure, too, was he — as, black with
smoke and coal-dust, he propped himself against the
binnacle, and gazed out over the waste of waters.

'* You are a good sailor, I see, and don't fear sea-
sickness," said Praccntal.

*' Don't I ? that's all you know of it ; but I take
everything they bring me. There's a rasher on its
way to me now, if I sur\-ive this."

" I'm for a basin of cold water and coarse
towels," said the other, rising.

" That's two points in your favour towards
having English blood in you," said Cutbill, gravely,
for already his qualms were returning; *' when a
fellow tells you he cares for soap, he can't be out and
out a Frenchman." This speech was delivered with
great difficulty, and when it was done he rolled over
and covered himself up, over face and head, and
spoke no more.

( 141 )



''What a mail-bag! " cried Nelly, as she threw several
letters on the breakfast-table ; the same breakfast-
table being laid under a spreading vine, all draped
and festooned with a gorgeous clematis.

" I declare," said Augustus, ''I'd rather look out
yonder, over the blue gulf of Cattaro, than see all the
post could bring me."

" This is for you," said Nelly, handing a letter to
L 'Estrange.

He reddened as he took it ; not that he knew
either the writing or the seal, but that terrible con-
sciousness which besets the poor man in life leads
him always to regard the unknown as pregnant with
misfortune ; and so he pocketed his letter, to read it
when alone and unobserved.

"Here's Cutbill again. I don't think I care for


more Cutbill," said Bramleigli ; " and here's Sedley ;
Sedley will keep. This is from Marion."

*' Oh, let us hear Marion by all means," said
Nelly. "May I read her, Gusty?" He nodded,
and she broke the envelope. " Ten lines and a post-
script. She's positively expansive this time : —

" ' Victoria, Naples.
" * My dear Gusty, — Our discreet and delicate
stepmother has written to ask me to intercede with
you to permit M. Pracontal to pull down part of the
house at Castello, to search for some family papers.
I have replied that her demand is both impracticable
and indecent. Be sure that you make a like answer
if she addresses you personally. We mean to leave
this soon ; but are not yet certain in what direc-
tion. We have been shamefully treated, after having
brought this troublesome and difficult negotiation to
a successful end. We shall withdraw our proxy.
" ' Yours ever, in much affection,

" * Marion Culduff.

*' * P.S. — You have heard, I suppose, that
Culduff has presented L'Estrange to a living. It's
not in a hunting county, so that he will not be


exposed to temptation ; uor are there any idle
young men, and Julia may also enjoy security. Do
you know where they are ? ' "

They laughed long and heartily over this post-
script. Indeed, it amused them to such a degree that
they forgot all the preceding part of the letter. As
to the fact of the presentation, none helieved it.
Read by the light of Cutbill's former letter, it was
plain enough that it was only one of those pious
frauds which diplomacy deals in as largely as Popery.
Marion, they were sure, supposed she was recording
a fact ; but her comments on the fact were what
amused them most.

" I wonder am I a flii't ? " said JuHa, gravely.

"I wonder am I a vicar?" said George; and
once more the laughter broke out fresh and hearty.

''Let us have Cutbill now, Xelly. It will be
in a different strain. He's lengthy, too. He not
only writes on four, but six sides of note paper this

'' 'Dear Bra^ileigh,— You will be astonished to
hear that I travelled back to England with Count


Pracontal, or Pracontal de Bramleigh, or whatever
liis name be — a right good fellow, frank, straight-
forward, and, so far as I see, honest. We hit it
off wonderfully together, and became such good
friends that I took him down to my little crib at
Bayswater, — an attention, I suspect, not ill timed,
as he does not seem flush of money. He told me
the whole story of his claim, and the way he came
first to know that he had a claim. It was all dis-
covered by a book, a sort of manuscript journal of
his great grandfather's, every entry of which he,
Pracontal, believes to be true as the Bible. He does
not remember ever to have seen his father, though
he may have done so before he was put to the Naval
School at Genoa. Of his mother, he knows nothing.
From all I have seen of him, I'd say that jou and
he have only to meet to become warm and attached
friends ; and it's a thousand pities you should leave
to law and lawyers what a little forbearance, and
a little patience, and a disposition to behave gene-
rously on each side might have settled at once and
for ever.

" ' In this journal that I mentioned there were
two pages gummed together, by accident or design,


and on one of these was a sketch of a female figure
in a great \\Teath of flowers, standing on a sort of
pedestal, on which was ^Titten, — ''Behind this stone
I have deposited books or documents." I'm not sure
of the exact words, for they were in Itahan, and
it was all I could do to master the meaning of the
inscription. Now, Pracontal was so conyinced that
these papers have some great bearing on his claim,
that he asked me to write to you to beg permission
to make a search for them under the painting at
Castello, of which this rough sketch is evidently a
study. I own to you I feel little of that confidence
that he reposes in this matter. I do not believe
in the existence of the papers, nor see how, if there
were any, that they could be of consequence. But
his mind was so full of it, and he was so persistent
in saying, " If I thought this old journal could
mislead me, I'd cease to believe my right to be as
good as I now regard it," that I thought I could not
do better, in your interest, than to take him with me
to Sedley's, to see what that shrewd old fox would say
to him. P. agreed at once to go ; and, what pleased
me much, never thought of communicating with his
lawyer nor asking his advice on the step.
VOL. III. 55


" * Though I took the precaution to call on
Sedley, and tell him what sort of man P. was, and
how prudent it would he to hear him with a show
of frankness and cordiality, that hard old dog was
as stern and as unhending as if he was dealing with
a housebreaker. He said he had no instructions
from you to make this concession ; that, though he
himself attached not the slightest importance to any
paper that might be found, were he to he consulted,
he would unquestionably refuse this permission ; that
Mr. Bramleigh knew his rights too well to be disposed
to encourage persons in frivolous litigation ; and that
the coming trial would scatter these absurd pre-
tensions to the winds, and convince M. Pracontal
and his friends that it would be better to address
himself seriously to the business of life than pass
his existence in prosecuting a hopeless and impossible

" * I was much provoked at the sort of lecturing
tone the old man assumed, and struck with astonish-
ment at the good-temper and good-breeding with
which the other took it. Only once he showed a
slight touch of resentment, when he said, " Have
a care, sir, that, while disparaging my pretensions,


you suffer nothing to escape you that shall reflect
on the honour of those who belong to me. I will
overlook eveiything that relates to me, I will pardon
nothing that insults their memory." This finished
the intersdew, and we took our leave. ''We have
not gained much by this step," said Pracontal, laugh-
ing, as we left the house. ''Will you now consent
to write to Mr. Bramleigh, for I don't believe he
would refuse my request?" I told him I would
take a night to think over it, and on the same
evening came a telegram from Ireland to say that
some strange discoveries were Just being made in
the Lisconnor mine; that a most valuable "lode"
had been artificially closed up, and that a great fraud
had been practised to depreciate the value of the
mine, and throw it into the market as a damaged
concern, while its real worth was considerable. They
desired me to go over at once and report, and
Pracontal, knowing that I should be only a few miles
from Bishop's Folly, to which he clings with an
attachment almost incredible, determined to accom-
pany me.

" ' I have no means of even guessing how long
I may be detained in Ireland — possibly some weeks ;


at all events let me have a line to say you will give
me this permission. I say '' give me " because I shall
strictly confine the investigation to the limits I myself
think requisite, and in reality use the search as one
means of testing what importance may attach to this
journal, on which Pracontal relies so implicitly ; and
in the event of the failure — that I foresee and would
risk a bet upon — I would employ the disappointment
as a useful agent in dissuading Pracontal from farther

" * I strongly urge you, therefore, not to with-
hold this permission. It seems rash to say that a
man ought to furnish his antagonist with a weapon
to fight him ; but you have always declared you want
nothing but an honest, fair contest, wherein the best
man should van. You have also said to me that
you often doubted your own actual sincerity. You
can test it now, and by a touchstone that cannot
deceive. If you say to Pracontal, " There's the key,
go in freely; there is nothing to hide — nothing to
fear," you will do more to strengthen the ground
you stand on than by all the eloquence of your
lawyer ; and if I know anything of this Frenchman,
he is not the man to make an ill requital to such


a generous confidence. Whatever you decide on,
reply at once. I have no time for more, but \\-ill
take my letter with me and add a line when I reach

^'' Lisconnor, Friday Night.

" ' They were quite right ; there was a most auda-
cious fraud concocted, and a few days will enable me
to expose it thoroughly. I'm glad Lord Culduff had
nothing to say to it, but more for your sake than his.
The L 'Estranges are safe ; they'll have every shilling
of their money, and with a premium, too.' "

Nelly laid down the letter and looked over to
where George and his sister sat, still and motionless.
It was a moment of deep feeling and intense relief,
but none could utter a word. At last Julia said, —

"What a deal of kindness there is in that man,
and how hard we felt it to believe it, just because he
was vulgar. I declare I believe we must be more
vulgar still to attach so much to form and so little to

" There is but one line more," said Nelly, turning
over the page.

" ' Pracontal has lost all his spirits. He has been
over to see a place belonging to a Mr. Longworth


here, and lias come back so sad and depressed as
though the visit had renewed some great sorrow. We
have not gone to Bishop's Folly yet, but mean to
drive over there to-morrow. Once more, write to
me. '' 'Yours ever,

" ' T. CUTBILL.' "

"I shall not give this permission," said Bram-
leigh, thoughtfully. " Sedley's opinion is decidedly
adverse, and I shall abide by it." Now, though he
said these words with an air of apparent determina-
tion, he spoke in reality to provoke discussion and
hear what others might say. None, however, spoke,
and he waited some minutes. " I wish you would
say if you agree with me," cried he at last.

" I suspect very few would give the permission,
said JuHa, '' but that you are one of that few I believe

''Yes, Gusty," said Nelly. "Eefuse it, and
what becomes of that fair spirit in which you have so
often said you desired to meet this issue ? "

" What does George say ? " asked Bramleigh.
" Let's hear the Church."

" Well," said L 'Estrange, in that hesitating.


uncertain way he usually spoke in, " if a man were
to say to me, ' I think I gave you a sovereign too
much in change just now. Will you search your
purse, and see if I'm not right *? ' I suppose I'd
do so."

" And of course you mean that if the restitution
rose to giving back some thousands a year, it would
be all the same ? " said Julia.

"It would be harder to do, perhaps — of course ;
I mean — but I hope I could do it."

•' And 7," said Bramleigh, in a tone that vibrated
with feeling, " I hoped a few days back that no test
to my honesty or my sincerity would have been too
much for me — that all I asked or cared for was that
the truth should prevail — I find myself now prevari-
cating with myself, hair-splitting, and asking have I
a right to do this, that, or t'other? I declare to
heaven, when a man takes refuge in that self-put
question, ' Have I the right to do something that
inclination tells me not to do ? ' he is nearer a
contemptible action than he knows of. And is there
not one here will say that I ought, or ought not, to
refuse this request ? "

" I do not suppose such a request was ever made


before," said L 'Estrange. " There lies the real
difficulty of deciding what one should do."

" Here's a note from Mr. Sedley," cried Nelly.
*' Is it not possible that it may contain something
that will guide us ? "

"By all means read Sedley," said Bramleigh.
And she opened and read : —

*' * Deab Sir, — A Mr. Cutbill presented himself
to me here last week, alleging he was an old
and intimate friend of yours, and showing unques-
tionable signs of being well acquainted mth your
affairs. He was accompanied by M. Pracontal, and
came to request permission to make searches at
Castello for certain documents which he declared to
be of great importance to the establishment of his
claim. I will not stop to say what I thought, or
indeed said, of such a proposal, exceeding in effron-
tery anything I had ever listened to.

" * Of course I not only refused this permission,
but declared I would immediately write to you,
imploring you, on no account or through any per-
suasion, to yield to it.

" ' They left me, and apparently so disconcerted
and dissuaded by my reception that I did not believe


it necessaiy to address you on the subject. To my
amazement, howeyer, I learn from Kelson this
morning that they actually did gain entrance to the
house, and, by means which I have not yet ascer-
tained, prosecuted the search they desii'ed, and
actually discovered the church registers of Port-
shannon, in one page of which is the entry of the
marriage of Montague Bramleigh and Enrichetta
Lami, with the name of the oflSciating clergyman
and the attendant witnesses. Kelson forwards me
a copy of this, while inviting me to inspect the
original. My first step, however, has been to take
measures to proceed against these persons for robbery ;
and I have sent over one of my clerks to Ireland to
obtain due information as to the events that occui-red,
and to institute proceedings immediately. I do not
believe that they committed a burglary, but it was a
felonious entry all the same.

" ' The important fact, however, lies in this act
of registration, which, however fraudulently obtained,
win be formidable evidence on a trial. You are
certainly not happy in your choice of friends, if this
Mr. Cutbill be one of them ; but I hope no false
sentiment will induce you to step between this man


and his just punisliment. He lias done you an irre-
parable mischief, and by means the most shameful
and inexcusable. I call the mischief irreparable,
since, looking to the line of argument adopted by
our leading counsel on the last trial, the case chiefly
turned on the discredit that attached to this act of
marriage. I cannot therefore exaggerate the mis-
chief this discovery has brought us. You must come
over at once. The delay incurred by letter writing,
and the impossibility of profiting by any new turn
events may take, renders your presence here essen-
tial, and without it I declare I cannot accept any
further responsibility in this case.

*' ' A very flippant note from Mr. Cutbill has just
reached me. He narrates the fact of the discovered
books, and says, "It is not too late for B. to make
terms. Send for him at once, and say that Count P.
has no desire to push him to the wall." It is very
hard to stomach this man's impertinence, but I hesi-
tate now as to what course to take regarding him.
Let me hear by telegraph that you are coming over ;
for I repeat that I will not engage myself to assume
the full responsibility of the case, or take any de-
cisive step without your sanction.' "


*' What could Cutbill mean b}^ such conduct ? '*
cried Nelly. " Do you understand it at all, Gusty?"
Bramleigh merely shook his head in token of nega-

" It all came of the man's meddlesome dispo-
sition," said Julia. " The mischievous people of the
world are not the malevolent — they only do harm
with an object ; but the meddling creatures are at it
day and night, scattering seeds of trouble out of very

" Ju's right," said George ; but in such a tone

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 16)