A Rolling Stone Vol.III
‘Well, keep me company but two years more
Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue.’
Mr. Godfrey Palmer waited on Mr. Gatherall again. He was not so cordially received as on the former occasions, so he only supplied an inferior quality of manners in return for the chilliness of Mr. Gatherall's demeanour. The lawyer's powers of self-control were very great, and he was as sincere a lover of peace and order as an expounder of the law ought to be; but his patience almost gave way under the pressure of his visitor's impertinence. He began to wonder whether there was a polite and dignified way of getting that person out of the room, or whether nothing but forcible expulsion would answer the purpose. However, after Mr. Godfrey Palmer had been no more than exasperatingly ill-mannered for a quarter of an hour, he began to be interesting, and Mr. Gatherall no longer desired to put him out.
‘You haven't found that lucky Mr. Randall, who is in such request, my dear Gatherall?’ said his visitor.
‘Not yet,’ replied the lawyer.page 169
‘He hasn't been heard of in Sydney, I suppose, or in Melbourne—eh, Gatherall?’
‘An active inquiry has been made,’ said Mr. Gatherall, ‘and from our last reports I do not think he is to be found in either Melbourne or Sydney.’
‘Nor do I. I quite agree with you. I've been inquiring. I like to clear up a mystery. I should be invaluable in a private inquiry office.’
‘I have no doubt,’ said Mr. Gatherall, with a polite inclination. ‘From news lately received, I think we shall find Mr. Randall in Queensland.’
‘Oh, I dare say,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘Or in Mogador. Nice out-of-the-way place that for people to get to. Unlikely too. One should always look in the unlikely places first. Queensland, of course—highly probable; very much so in fact.’
‘I don't understand you, Mr. Palmer,’ said the lawyer stiffly. ‘Have you any reason to suppose that Queensland is not a likely place?’
‘You have a son, haven't you, Gatherall?’ said his tormentor. ‘He studies law, doesn't he, and is getting on nicely?’
‘Yes,’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘Well, I would coach him up, and get him to pass his examination; and then I'd retire in his favour. Youth is active and quick-witted; age is slow and cautious.’
‘Very valuable observations, and very true, no doubt,’ said Mr. Gatherall; ‘but my wits are not page 170 quick enough to detect any connection between them and the subject of our conversation.’
‘Sorry for you, Gatherall. Allow me to ask, did your Sydney agent (he must be a sharp man that!) hear anything of Mr. Henry Randall between the 20th and 28th of last month?’
‘Not that I am aware of.’
‘Oh, well, mine did.’
‘Yours? Do you mean——’
‘He was in Sydney then, and he'll be in New Zealand before you can get your useless and expensive advertisements out of the Australian papers—a pretty penny that; but I suppose it'll come out of the estate. Pity you didn't advertise for Moncrieff instead of Randall.’
‘Why?’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘Because that was his name in Australia. Our gentleman has two names—Henry Moncrieff Randall, that's the proper thing—and he chose to drop one for a time. He has taken it up again lately. Here is his name in the list of passengers by the Orient steamer, which arrived at Sydney on the 20th.’
‘Is that all the proof you have?’ said Mr. Gatherall, incredulously. ‘There may be more than one person of that name. Randall is a common surname. There is no second name given here, or initial.’
‘Do you perceive any verdure about me?’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘When I heard you expected him to turn up in Australia I telegraphed to a friend of mine to be on the look-out. He was iden- page 171 tified in Sydney by a man who knows him as well as I know you, my dear Gatherall, with all your virtues and excellencies. I can tell you a little more about him; for my inquiries haven't been in vain. He has done pretty well on his own account: he won't be so badly off if he never sees your £100,000.’
‘I am glad to hear it,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘I hope he has retrieved the past in more ways than one.’
‘We can't find out whether he's improved spiritually as well as temporally, Gatherall; but he has made a very nice thing out of music, I understand; and he comes to New Zealand, not to see you, but to marry a lady who is not without fortune.’
‘This sounds like a romance,’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘It sounds uncommonly like fact to me. I knew he wouldn't die; didn't I tell you so? I knew the heiress would marry him. Some people pretend she forfeits her property by doing so; but I don't believe it: they'll find some way to keep that; some long-headed old family lawyer, like you, Gatherall, will put them up to it.’
‘Who is the lady?’ asked Mr. Gatherall.
‘Oh, indeed. The story is rather apocryphal, I should say. I know Randall spent some time at her brother's place; but I hardly think he was admitted to terms of intimacy with the family.’
‘I happen to know better,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer.page 172
‘Miss Desmond's fortune is not her only recommendation. She might marry almost any one, if she chose.’
‘So much the more likely to pick up a crooked stick at the last. But, as it has turned out that he'll have the burden of riches to bear, most people will think the stick isn't crooked at all.’
Mr. Godfrey Palmer retired after this, leaving Mr. Gatherall to meditate over the news he had brought him. He came again at the end of the week.
‘Like to hear any more about our mutual friend Mr. H. M. Randall?’ he asked.
‘If you have anything from a trustworthy source I have no objection; but I am not desirous of listening to gossip and hearsay about him,’ said Mr. Gatherall, darting glances of fire at the unlucky boy who had admitted the intruder.
‘Oh, I know his affairs are only a bubble in the ocean of your business,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, sitting down in Mr. Gatherall's favourite chair, and putting his feet up on another. ‘But I think it's time you altered those advertisements if they are in the papers yet.’
‘You take a very kind interest in our business,’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘So I do, Gatherall. I want to employ you. You've been advertising on behalf of Moresby's executors, now advertise for me. I want Randall as badly as anyone. I'm his heir. You offered a hundred pounds reward for information of his where- page 173 abouts, or proof of his existence. Now, for me, offer three times as much for proof of his death.’
‘We don't want to give premiums for murder, Mr. Palmer,’ said the lawyer. ‘I must decline to do business of that kind for you; and excuse me if I say that my time is too valuable to be wasted in such conversation as this.’
‘Just so,’ said the imperturbable Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘It can't be charged for. Never mind. I will not defraud you. I only wish to tell you that I was egregiously mistaken when I said this friend of ours would not die.’
‘What now?’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘What now?’ cried Mr. Godfrey Palmer, raising his head from the depths of the easy chair, and returning the lawyer's penetrating glance with a stare and a sarcastic smile which quite abashed him. ‘Well, I really am more astonished than ever, and deeply grieved as well, Gatherall, at your ignorance.’
‘Mr. Palmer, I really cannot listen any longer to trash!’
‘Faith, it isn't trash to me,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘I was only worth £500 yesterday; I think myself worth £100,000 now. Randall was a passenger by the steamer from Melbourne which was wrecked yesterday. I suppose you have heard of that, Gatherall? you do read the newspapers, no doubt; but you can't read them very carefully.’page 174
‘I thought he was coming by way of Sydney, according to your last story.’
‘Yes, he was; and I dare say you chuckled at my mistake when a Mrs. Randall came by the steamer. That is his mother. He lost his passage, and went round by Melbourne.’
‘Let me see—there were only twenty-one saved,’ said Mr. Gatherall, referring to the newspaper. ‘Yes; you are right; his name is here in the list of the missing.’
‘Some one will have to go down to identify him, you know, if he should be found.’
‘I can send a man,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘But he may not be found; and then how do you prove he ever went on board? You have only a name here; who, amongst the survivors, will be able to prove his identity? Probably they never saw him in their lives before he came on board the steamer!’
‘That is easy. My friend who saw him in Sydney was not like your agents, Gatherall; he had something in his brain cavity; so he didn't content himself with looking at him once: he followed him; and, if need be, he can swear that he went on board the steamer at Melbourne. Besides, his mother and others will know it too. However, I intend to go down to the place. I think I shall know him again.’
‘Of course,’ said Mr. Gatherall; and he thought fit to add some suitable remarks. ‘A sad accident; a very lamentable affair.’page 175
‘Yes—for him,’ said the heir-expectant.
‘He had some fine qualities,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘It is probable (at least I shall always indulge myself in thinking so) that he had outlived his faults. I think if he had ever written to Trevet, and offered any repayment, I should have heard; but very likely he intended to make up for all that on his return. I hope he did.’
‘You needn't hope anything about it. What had he to do with Trevet, or what right had your amiable brother-in-law to anything from him?’
‘Why, have you forgotten? and you were with him at the time!’
‘Well, I tell you what it is, Gatherall,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, speaking with an appearance of more openness and sincerity than he had yet shown to the lawyer; ‘Randall never touched a penny of Trevet's. The poor fellow's gone now; so one may as well speak the truth of him.’
‘And who did, then, if you know he didn't?’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘Let Trevet find out, if he wants. Who cares now?’
‘If he was not the man he must have known him, or had his suspicions, at any rate.’
‘Very likely,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, as a mysterious smile merged into his usual sneer; ‘but you and Trevet were wandering about in a fog when you pitched on him. Adieu, Gatherall. I leave town to-day on this business of identification. Tell page 176 Trevet what I've just said, and—ha, ha!—remember me particularly to him, will you?’
He went out hilariously, and Mr. Gatherall's eyebrows were raised in horror as a new revelation of the deceitfulness of human nature burst upon his mind.