A Rolling Stone Vol.III
‘Here are a few of the unpleasantest words
That ever blotted paper.’
Mr. Godfrey Palmer and his friends had not expected that Mrs. Sherlock would be informed of the little games with which they had so pleasurably employed one whole evening. But it would have been strange indeed if such things could have been done under her roof and not have come to her ears. She was so indignant that she even subdued Mr. Godfrey Palmer's natural audacity, and silenced him by a flow of words, beside which his own was as a little trickling stream to an impetuous mountain torrent.
Mrs. Sherlock told him that hitherto she had only entertained such strangers as bore unmistakable tokens of respectability, and were gifted with characters. What he was she didn't know and didn't care; but she would advise him to lodge with people who could appreciate his peculiar turn of mind. As soon as he was able to find room for an answer, Mr. Godfrey Palmer replied that he did not wish to burden Mrs. Sherlock with his presence for a moment page 87 longer than was agreeable to her. He had tried her lodging-house for one night, and was satisfied that it would endanger his life to remain longer; for if the cookery didn't kill him, the boredom and dulness of the place would. Mrs. Sherlock's last words were to the effect that the sooner he went out of the door the pleasanter for every one, and that she hoped he wouldn't leave any of his cards behind him. It was the first time she had had card-sharping and gambling in her house, and it should be the last. Whereupon her departing lodger bowed politely, smiled his sweetest smile, and five minutes after left the house, carrying his cards with him. He had a parting word from Mrs. Sherlock, which was not intended to cheer him on his way. He could not help feeling rather small; for although he belonged to the class of pachydermatous animals, Mrs. Sherlock's words had been so sharp and pointed that they had made him wince a little; and altogether he did not relish having been worsted and silenced by an old woman.
Messrs. Gatherall and Sampson's office was in its usual inviting state of order and neatness, and the clerks were industriously doing their duty, when Mr. Godfrey Palmer entered. He had got another set of manners out for use by this time, and the quiet low-voiced gentleman who asked if Mr. Gatherall or Mr. Sampson could be seen was a Very different person from the one who had striven to talk down his landlady half an hour earlier.page 88
In return for this question he was asked his name, and informed that Mr. Sampson was out (as indeed he generally was), but that Mr. Gatherall was in, although he was so particularly engaged that it was doubtful whether he could see any one.
For some reason, which it may be surmised was not derived from modest consciousness of his demerits, Mr. Godfrey Palmer did not like to give his name. Instead of doing so, he took out of his pocket an advertisement cut from a newspaper, and folding it, gave it to the clerk, saying ‘If you tell him I have called on business connected with this, Mr. Gatherall will see me immediately.’
The scrap of paper was as an ‘Open Sesame’ in Mr. Godfrey Palmer's hand. As he had prophesied Mr. Gatherall did see him immediately, and professed to be delighted at his opportune arrival. He shook hands with him in the warmest manner, he was very kind in his references to old times, and was almost affected, when he spoke of the cold neglect of his friends which Mr. Palmer had shown, whence it was that he—Gatherall—hardly knew him again, such an age had intervened between the time when they had last seen each other and this joyful meeting. Then he inducted Mr. Godfrey Palmer into the easiest chair in the room, and seated himself in the uneasiest one, as if to, show what sacrifices he would make for him.
This flattering reception raised high hopes in Mr. Godfrey Palmer's breast, and was the cause of a page 89 rapid deterioration in the quality of his manners. It was a most unlucky failing of his that although he could manufacture a very high class of manners when necessary, he never could keep up the supply for long together. On this occasion it was exhausted in five minutes: In his first remark, he returned thanks for Mr. Gatherall's warm welcome and affectionate inquiries. In his second, he made a matter-of-fact statement, telling how he had found the advertisement; in his third, he asked why it had been put in; and in his fourth, he averred that he should not have come within a hundred yards of Gatherall's, notwithstanding all the yearnings of ancient friendship, if he had not expected to be benefited by the visit, and that he should like to know at once what benefit, if any, he was to receive.
Mr. Gatherall smiled, and then, as it occurred to him that he ought not to announce a bereavement with a smiling face, looked mournful, and said, ‘You have heard nothing, I see, Mr. Palmer. Life is very uncertain—very.’
‘So it is,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer; ‘there is nothing certain about it, except that it's an expensive business if one wants to enjoy it.
‘You have not heard from your uncle, Mr. Moresby, lately, I believe?’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘Never heard from him since I left England,’ replied his visitor, putting his feet up on another chair, that he might be yet more at his ease. ‘But don't trouble to break the news to me. I am page 90 aware that he is no more. I saw the notice of his death in the Illustrated News’
‘Indeed,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘Well, I need hardly tell you that it is on account of his death that you have been advertised for. Perhaps you saw something else in the Illustrated News—an account of his will, and the legacies he has left to different people. No? The property is very generously and equitably divided, Mr. Palmer. He has remembered all his old servants, and he has left a large sum for charitable purposes.’
‘Has he remembered Me’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer.
‘Most certainly,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘The value of the estate amounts to upwards of £160,000.’
‘Which, I suppose, goes to charitable purposes,’ sneered Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘Hospitals, reformatories, asylums for the blind, and so on.’
‘Twenty thousand is left to different charitable institutions,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘Your brother receives five thousand.’
‘Well, quite right, and little enough. He ought to have left poor Everard the twenty thousand. It would have been more like applying the money to a charitable purpose than flinging it to a public institution.’
‘We cannot discover by what motives Mr. Moresby was actuated in making his will,’ said Mr. Gatherall.
‘Had he any at all?’ queried Mr. Godfrey Palmer. page 91 ‘But you've only accounted for twenty-five thousand yet. Where's the rest going to?’
‘Ten thousand for mission work in the worst part of the East End of London,’ continued Mr. Gatherall.
‘Oh! missions to the heathen,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘Anything for the savages out here?’
‘The small legacies amount to between three or four thousand,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘To yourself, my dear Mr. Godfrey’—he smiled a smile of ineffable sweetness, and Mr. Godfrey arched his neck, and threw back his head, with eyes half closed, as if the sights of every-day life, were too much for him at such a moment—‘to yourself——’ Mr. Gatherall, in his cunning, paused again, and allowed his friend to hang on the tenter-hooks—‘your uncle has left the sum of five hundred pounds, a very acceptable little fortune, I have no doubt, and one which I hope will be productive of more in your hands. Some of our millionaires have had much less to begin with.’
‘Five—hundreds—pounds,’ repeated Mr. Godfrey Palmer, and the words sounded like a snarl. ‘Well, then, if you can make haste, Mr. Gatherall, do so and come to the end of it. What does he do with the rest? There ought to be something over a hundred thousand left. Is it for a mission to New Guinea, or a refuge for destitute old men—almshouse or something of the kind? I hope it is for the latter purpose, for then I can creep into it when page 92 I'm old; his five ‘Hundred won't last me long, and Nature never intended me for a millionaire.’
‘The whole of the estate, after the bequests I have mentioned are paid, goes to his brother-in-law, Mr. Randall,’ said Mr. Gatherall, keenly watching his companion, to see what effect would be produced by this final blow.
‘To Henry Randall,’ said Godfrey Palmer, quieted at once, and changing colour. ‘His brother-in-law? Oh, I remember; his young wife that he made an idol of was Randall's sister. What has he made such an insane will for?’
‘How can we tell?’ said Mr. Gatherall, shrugging his shoulders. ‘We of course were not his advisers.’
‘Oh, of course, Gatherall!’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, sufficiently recovered to be noisy and uncivil once more. ‘You and Sampson could have concocted a better sort, of will than that.’
Mr. Gatherall returned a sour smile for this compliment, and looked at Mr. Palmer with an expression ‘which, if translated; might have read—‘I bear with your impertinences because you are not worth the trouble of an ejection.’
‘You might sympathise with me,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer in a milder tone. ‘You know it was always expected I should have my uncle's fortune. I was his favourite nephew. Everard and John both managed to offend him.’
‘It was expected, as you say,’ returned the lawyer. ‘This is not the first time, Mr. Palmer, page 93 that I have been your uncle's agent in matters concerning you. He has written to me at different times within the last ten years, always asking after you, and showing great interest in your welfare.’
‘Oh, has he? And what did you tell him?’
‘I told him the truth.’
‘Yes; I've no doubt you were virtuous enough to do that. Told him I was 7 a renegade and a scamp, I suppose?’
‘Your uncle was deeply offended and grieved by the reports I was obliged to send him,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘He did not trust to me alone. I happen to know that he wrote to your younger brother, who is now dead.’
‘And what did poor John say about me? Did he paint me black enough?’
‘I suppose you know your brother's character as well as I do. I can affirm that he would not say an unjust word about you, and yet the result of his letter was to cause your uncle to alter his will. I do not mean that it caused him to leave his property to Mr. Randall, but it caused him to reduce your portion.’
‘Reduce! yes, reduced enough.’
‘Just at that time he was in great trouble. He had lost his wife and son by a terrible misfortune. You will remember that they were on board the Cairngorm, which was burnt at sea. There had been a misunderstanding between him and his wife, and she had left England without his knowledge. page 94 It was supposed she had formed some impossible plan of finding her brother and bringing him home with her. You know something of his career, so I need not go into particulars. He is an unfortunate, and I believe an unprincipled young man. However, such men, though they are a disgrace to their families, often seem to be dearer to them than their respectable relatives. His sister threw her life away for him, and for her sake Mr. Moresby has given him a fortune.
‘I have little doubt that it was solely on account of the affection He bore to his wife, whom, as you have said, he idolised, that he has done this for her brother, who, if common report had any truth in it, was a good deal more to her than her husband. But I have not told you all.’
‘I wish you would, then; if there is anything at the bottom of Pandora's box, I should like to see it.’
‘There is hope, at all events,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘In the first place, this fortune is not left unreservedly. Mr. Moresby always fancied his son might have been saved by some means. Only one of the boats which left “the ship was heard of afterwards; but he deluded himself into believing that they might not all have been lost, and that his wife and child might be castaways on some island. He made a voyage himself in search of them. So, it is expressly stated that if his son should be found he is to have everything. In any case only the income of this money can be touched during the next ten page 95 years. Now, in the second place, Mr. Henry Randall, as you are aware, is a wanderer. He is not to be found at present. He has not been heard of for three years. In the event of his death you inherit the whole of the property, subject to the conditions I have just mentioned.’
‘He is not dead, and he never will die,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, refusing to be comforted. ‘Such men never do.’
‘Men who lead unsettled lives rarely live to old age.’
‘Wandering about won't kill him, if that's what you mean. It is more likely to invigorate his constitution. He isn't given to any injurious habits, you know, Gatherall, however unprincipled he may be, so I don't see why you should anticipate his popping off suddenly. The last time I saw him he didn't look like dying. I would sell my reversionary chances for a moderate sum. He is years younger than I am, and he is the sort of man to live to be a hundred.’
‘Let us hope he may have reformed,’ said Mr. Gatherall sweetly.
‘Amen, so be it,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer. ‘If he hasn't, it won't matter now, for the money he's got will cover all his sins.’
‘You were his friend?’
‘Oh, yes, quite in the David and Jonathan style. But he became too—unprincipled.’
‘Yes. You were with him at Mr. Trevet's. A page 96 sad case; a great breach of trust, and not the first offence, I believe. If one had heard of him making amends by returning the money he took there would be some hope that he was penitent. But human nature — my dear friend — human nature is soon hardened. A sad instance of wasted opportunities and misapplied talent! A warning to us all.’
‘Yes, just so; but he's got on pretty well, after all,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, suppressing a yawn.
‘You will naturally feel some disappointment,’ observed Mr. Gatherall.
‘Disappointment!’ said the other gentleman, snarling again. ‘Oh, not at all; so fond of my old friend that I rejoice at his good fortune.’
‘If I might advise you,’ said Mr. Gatherall, becoming fatherly, in his manner, ‘let this be the turning-point in your career. Five hundred pounds is a small sum certainly; but, prudently used, it may assist you to do better for yourself than you imagine in your present, low-spirited state. It is not too late to retrieve the confidence and respect of your friends. Temperance and industry and patience are what you need. If the advice and assistance of a friend can help you onward, I shall always be ready to extend—’
‘Come, Gatherall, drop it,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, rising from his seat. ‘If you really want to extend anything to me, just consider my present destitute state—shabby, seedy, and without a penny in my pocket.’ Mr. G. P. had forgotten these little page 97 gleanings of the card-table. ‘How am I to exist till I get my five hundred? The ravens won't feed me, nor will the robins cover me with leaves.’
‘You want me to give you an advance, I suppose,’ said Mr. Gatherall, with cold severity.
‘I do cherish that desire,’ said Mr. Godfrey Palmer, ‘and I see from your countenance that you are going to fulfil it.’
Mr. Gatherall's countenance was not benevolent in its expression; but he satisfied Mr. Godfrey Palmer nevertheless, and the latter person pocketed the advance with ‘Thanks, how nice! Now, before I go, Gatherall, I should like to know if you've tried very hard to find our mutual friend Mr. Randall. You took some trouble about me, when only a paltry five hundred was concerned; you ought to bestir yourself about a man for whom over a hundred thousand is waiting.’
‘Mr. Randall is supposed to be in Australia,’ said Mr. Gatherall. ‘He left here for Melbourne over three years since.’
‘And because he went to Melbourne three years ago, he is still in Australia. You would not adorn the detective force. Why, he may be in Japan, in Brazil, in Timbuctoo, by this time. Now, what will you give me for finding him?’
‘The business is in competent hands,’ said Mr. Gatherall stiffly. ‘If living, he will be found in a few months.’
‘Oh, no doubt he'll turn up. He's in this world page 98 yet, you may be sure. There is no more to say. You were very much engaged when I came in, and I have kept you from your lucrative business for half an hour. Time I went.’
Mr. Gatherall had the kindness to attend him to the door of the sanctum; but the instant his visitor's foot had passed the threshold he shut the door with a clap, as if afraid he might change his mind and come in again. Mr. Godfrey Palmer went out smilingly; but the smile was a scowl before he had gone very far. ‘Cheated at the last,’ he muttered, ‘and by him.’