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   Chapter 6 A LOVER IN COCKY

The Disentanglers By Andrew Lang Characters: 22821

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It cannot be said that the bearers of the noblest names in the land flocked at first to the offices of Messrs. Gray and Graham. In fact the reverse, in the beginning, was the case. Members even of the more learned professions held aloof: indeed barristers and physicians never became eager clients. On the other hand, Messrs. Gray and Graham received many letters in such handwritings, such grammar, and such orthography, that they burned them without replying. A common sort of case was that of the young farmer whose widowed mother had set her heart on marriage with 'a bonny labouring boy,' a ploughman.

'We can do nothing with these people,' Merton remarked. 'We can't send down a young and elegant friend of ours to distract the affections of an elderly female agriculturist. The bonny labouring boy would punch the fashionable head; or, at all events, would prove much more attractive to the widow than our agent.

'Then there are the members of the Hebrew community. They hate mixed marriages, and quite right too. I deeply sympathise. But if Leah has let her affections loose on young Timmins, an Anglo-Saxon and a Christian, what can we do? How stop the mésalliance? We have not, in our little regiment, one fair Hebrew boy to smile away her maiden blame among the Hebrew mothers of Maida Vale, and to cut out Timmins. And of course it is as bad with the men. If young Isaacs wants to marry Miss Julia Timmins, I have no Rebecca to slip at him. The Semitic demand, though large and perhaps lucrative, cannot be met out of a purely Aryan supply.'

Business was pretty slack, and so Merton rather rejoiced over the application of a Mrs. Nicholson, from The Laburnums, Walton-on-Dove, Derbyshire. Mrs. Nicholson's name was not in Burke's 'Landed Gentry,' and The Laburnums could hardly be estimated as one of the stately homes of England. Still, the lady was granted an interview. She was what the Scots call 'a buddy;' that is, she was large, round, attired in black, between two ages, and not easily to be distinguished, by an unobservant eye, from buddies as a class. After greetings, and when enthroned in the client's chair, Mrs. Nicholson stated her case with simplicity and directness.

'It is my ward,' she said, 'Barbara Monypenny. I must tell you that she was left in my charge till she is twenty-six. I and her lawyers make her an allowance out of her property, which she is to get when she marries with my consent, at whatever age.'

'May I ask how old the lady is at present?' said Merton.

'She is twenty-two.'

'Your kindness in taking charge of her is not not wholly uncompensated?'

'No, an allowance is made to me out of the estate.'

'An allowance which ends on her marriage, if she marries with your consent?'

'Yes, it ends then. Her uncle trusted me a deal more than he trusted Barbara. She was strange from a child. Fond of the men,' as if that were an unusual and unbecoming form of philanthropy.

'I see, and she being an heiress, the testator was anxious to protect her youth and innocence?'

Mrs. Nicholson merely sniffed, but the sniff was affirmative, though sarcastic.

'Her property, I suppose, is considerable? I do not ask from impertinent curiosity, nor for exact figures. But, as a question of business, may we call the fortune considerable?'

'Most people do. It runs into six figures.'

Merton, who had no mathematical head, scribbled on a piece of paper. The result of his calculations (which I, not without some fever of the brow, have personally verified) proved that 'six figures' might be anything between 100,000l. and 999,000l. 19s. 11?d.

'Certainly it is very considerable,' Merton said, after a few minutes passed in arithmetical calculation. 'Am I too curious if I ask what is the source of this opulence?'

'"Wilton's Panmedicon, or Heal All," a patent medicine. He sold the patent and retired.'

Merton shuddered.

'It would be Pammedicum if it could be anything,' he thought, 'but it can't, linguistically speaking.'

'Invaluable as a subterfuge,' said Mrs. Nicholson, obviously with an indistinct recollection of the advertisement and of the properties of the drug.

Merton construed the word as 'febrifuge,' silently, and asked: 'Have you taken the young lady much into society: has she had many opportunities of making a choice? You are dissatisfied with the choice, I understand, which she has made?'

'I don't let her see anybody if I can help it. Fire and powder are better kept apart, and she is powder, a minx! Only a fisher or two comes to the Perch, that's the inn at Walton-on-Dove, and they are mostly old gentlemen, pottering with their rods and things. If a young man comes to the inn, I take care to trapes after her through the nasty damp meadows.'

'Is the young lady an angler?'

'She is-most unwomanly I call it.'

Merton's idea of the young lady rose many degrees. 'You said the young lady was "strange from a child, very strange. Fond of the men." Happily for our sex, and for the world, it is not so very strange or unusual to take pity on us.'

'She has always been queer.'

'You do not hint at any cerebral disequilibrium?' asked Merton.

'Would you mind saying that again?' asked Mrs. Nicholson.

'I meant nothing wrong here?' Merton said, laying his finger on his brow.

'No, not so bad as that,' said Mrs. Nicholson; 'but just queer. Uncommon. Tells odd stories about-nonsense. She is wearing with her dreams. She reads books on, I don't know how to call it-Tipsy-cake, Tipsicakical Search. Histories, I call it.'

'Yes, I understand,' said Merton; 'Psychical Research.'

'That's it, and Hyptonism,' said Mrs. Nicholson, as many ladies do.

'Ah, Hyptonism, so called from its founder, Hypton, the eminent Anglo-French chemist; he was burned at Rome, one of the latest victims of the Inquisition,' said Merton.

'I don't hold with Popery, sir, but it served him right.'

'That is all the queerness then!'

'That and general discontentedness.'

'Girls will be girls,' said Merton; 'she wants society.'

'Want must be her master then,' said Mrs. Nicholson stolidly.

'But about the man of her choice, have you anything against him?'

'No, but nothing for him: I never even saw him.'

'Then where did Miss Monypenny make his acquaintance?'

'Well, like a fool, I let her go to pass Christmas with some distant cousins of my own, who should have known better. They stupidly took her to a dance, at Tutbury, and there she met him: just that once.'

'And they became engaged on so short an acquaintance?'

'Not exactly that. She was not engaged when she came home, and did not seem to mean to be. She did talk of him a lot. He had got round her finely: told her that he was going out to the war, and that they were sister spirits. He had dreamed of meeting her, he said, and that was why he came to the ball, for he did not dance. He said he believed they had met in a state of pre-something; meaning, if you understand me, before they were born, which could not be the case: she not being a twin, still less his twin.'

'That would be the only way of accounting for it, certainly,' said Merton. 'But what followed? Did they correspond?'

'He wrote to her, but she showed me the letter, and put it in the fire unopened. He had written his name, Marmaduke Ingles, on a corner of the envelope.'

'So far her conduct seems correct, even austere,' said Merton.

'It was at first, but then he wrote from South Africa, where he volunteered as a doctor. He was a doctor at Tutbury.'

'She opened that letter?'

'Yes, and showed it to me. He kept on with his nonsense, asking her never to forget him, and sending his photograph in cocky.'

'Pardon!' said Merton.

'In uniform. And if he fell, she would see his ghost, in cocky, crossing her room, he said. In fact he knew how to get round the foolish girl. I believe he went out there just to make himself interesting.'

'Did you try to find out what sort of character he had at home?'

'Yes, there was no harm in it, only he had no business to speak of, everybody goes to Dr. Younghusband.'

'Then, really, if he is an honest young man, as he seems to be a patriotic fellow, are you certain that you are wise in objecting?'

'I do object,' said Mrs. Nicholson, and indeed her motives for refusing her consent were only too obvious.

'Are they quite definitely engaged?' asked Merton.

'Yes they are now, by letter, and she says she will wait for him till I die, or she is twenty-six, if I don't give my consent. He writes every mail, from places with outlandish names, in Africa. And she keeps looking in a glass ball, like the labourers' women, some of them; she's sunk as low as that; so superstitious; and sometimes she tells me that she sees what he is doing, and where he is; and now and then, when his letters come, she shows me bits of them, to prove she was right. But just as often she's wrong; only she won't listen to me. She says it's Telly, Tellyopathy. I say it's flat nonsense.'

'I quite agree with you,' said Merton, with conviction. 'After all, though, honest, as far as you hear. . . .'

'Oh yes, honest enough, but that's all,' interrupted Mrs. Nicholson, with a hearty sneer.

'Though he bears a good character, from what you tell me he seems to be a very silly young man.'

'Silly Johnny to silly Jenny,' put in Mrs. Nicholson.

'A pair with ideas so absurd could not possibly be happy.' Merton reasoned. 'Why don't you take her into the world, and show her life? With her fortune and with you to take her about, she would soon forget this egregiously foolish romance.'

'And me to have her snapped up by some whipper-snapper that calls himself a lord? Not me, Mr. Graham,' said Mrs. Nicholson. 'The money that her uncle made by the Panmedicon is not going to be spent on horses, and worse, if I can help it.'

'Then,' said Merton, 'all I can do for you is by our ordinary method-to throw some young man of worth and education in the way of your ward, and attempt to-divert her affections.'

'And have him carry her off under my very nose? Not much, Mr. Graham. Why where do I come in, in this pretty plan?'

'Do not suppose me to suggest anything so-detrimental to your interests, Mrs. Nicholson. Is your ward beautiful?'

'A toad!' said Mrs. Nicholson with emphasis.

'Very well. There is no danger. The gentleman of whom I speak is betrothed to one of the most beautiful girls in England. They are deeply attached, and their marriage is only deferred for prudential reasons.'

'I don't trust one of them,' said Mrs. Nicholson.

'Very well, madam,' answered Merton severely; 'I have done all that experience can suggest. The gentleman of whom I speak has paid especial attention to the mental delusions under which your ward is labouring, and has been successful in removing them in some cases. But as you reject my suggestion'-he rose, so did Mrs. Nicholson-'I have the honour of wishing you a pleasant journey back to Derbyshire.'

'A bullet may hit him,' said Mrs. Nicholson with much acerbity. 'That's my best hope.'

Then Merton bowed her out.

'The old woman will never let the girl marry anybody, except some adventurer, who squares her by giving her the full value of her allowance out of the estate,' thought Merton, adding 'I wonder how much it is! Six figures is anything between a hundred thousand and a m

illion!'

The man he had thought of sending down to divert Miss Monypenny's affections from the young doctor was Jephson, the History coach, at that hour waiting for a professorship to enable him to marry Miss Willoughby.

However, he dismissed Mrs. Nicholson and her ward from his mind. About a fortnight later Merton received a letter directed in an uneducated hand. 'Another of the agricultural classes,' he thought, but, looking at the close of the epistle, he saw the name of Eliza Nicholson. She wrote:

'Sir,-Barbara has been at her glass ball, and seen him being carried on board a ship. If she is right, and she is not always wrong, he is on his way home. Though I will never give my consent, this spells botheration for me. You can send down your young man that cures by teleopathy, a thing that has come up since my time. He can stay at the Perch, and take a fishing rod, then they are safe to meet. I trust him no more than the rest, but she may fall between two stools, if the doctor does come home.

'Your obedient servant,

'Eliza Nicholson.'

'Merely to keep one's hand in,' thought Merton, 'in the present disappointing slackness of business, I'll try to see Jephson. I don't like or trust him. I don't think he is the man for Miss Willoughby. So, if he ousts the doctor, and catches the heiress, why "there was more lost at Shirramuir," as Logan says.'

Merton managed to go up to Oxford, and called on Jephson. He found him anxious about a good, quiet, cheap place for study.

'Do you fish?' asked Merton.

'When I get the chance,' said Jephson.

He was a dark, rather clumsy, but not unprepossessing young don, with a very slight squint.

'If you fish did you ever try the Perch-I mean an inn, not the fish of the same name-at Walton-on-Dove? A pretty quiet place, two miles of water, local history perhaps interesting. It is not very far from Tutbury, where Queen Mary was kept, I think.'

'It sounds well,' said Jephson; 'I'll write to the landlord and ask about terms.'

'You could not do better,' said Merton, and he took his leave.

'Now, am I,' thought Merton as he walked down the Broad, 'to put Jephson up to it? If I don't, of course I can't "reap the benefit of one single pin" for the Society: Jephson not being a member. But the money, anyhow, would come from that old harpy out of the girl's estate. Olet! I don't like the fragrance of that kind of cash. But if the girl really is plain, "a toad," nothing may happen. On the other hand, Jephson is sure to hear about her position from local gossip-that she is rich, and so on. Perhaps she is not so very plain. They are sure to meet, or Mrs. Nicholson will bring them together in her tactful way. She has not much time to lose if the girl's glass ball yarn is true, and it may be true by a fluke. Jephson is rather bitten by a taste for all that "teleopathy" business, as the old Malaprop calls it. On the whole, I shall say no more to him, but let him play the game, if he goes to Walton, off his own bat.'

Presently Merton received a note from Jephson dated 'The Perch, Walton-on-Dove.' Jephson expressed his gratitude; the place suited his purpose very well. He had taken a brace and a half of trout, 'bordering on two pounds' ('one and a quarter,' thought Merton). 'And, what won't interest you,' his letter said, 'I have run across a curiously interesting subject, what you would call hysterical. But what, after all, is hysteria?' &c., &c.

'L'affaire est dans le sac!' said Merton to himself. 'Jephson and Miss Monypenny have met!'

Weeks passed, and one day, on arriving at the office, Merton found Miss Willoughby there awaiting his arrival. She was the handsome Miss Willoughby, Jephson's betrothed, a learned young lady who lived but poorly by verifying references and making researches at the Record Office.

Merton at once had a surmise, nor was it mistaken. The usual greetings had scarcely passed, when the girl, with cheeks on fire and eyes aflame, said:

'Mr. Merton, do you remember a question, rather unconventional, which you put to me at the dinner party you and Mr. Logan gave at the restaurant?'

'I ought not to have said it,' said Merton, 'but then it was an unconventional gathering. I asked if you-'

'Your words were "Had I a spark of the devil in me?" Well, I have! Can I-'

'Turn it to any purpose? You can, Miss Willoughby, and I shall have the honour to lay the method before you, of course only for your consideration, and under seal of secrecy. Indeed I was just about to write to you asking for an interview.'

Merton then laid the circumstances in which he wanted Miss Willoughby's aid before her, but these must be reserved for the present. She listened, was surprised, was clearly ready for more desperate adventures; she came into his views, and departed.

'Jephson has played the game off his own bat-and won it,' thought Merton to himself. 'What a very abject the fellow is! But, after all, I have disentangled Miss Willoughby; she was infinitely too good for the man, with his squint.'

As Merton indulged in these rather Pharisaical reflections, Mrs. Nicholson was announced. Merton greeted her, and gave orders that no other client was to be admitted. He was himself rather nervous. Was Mrs. Nicholson in a rage? No, her eyes beamed friendly; geniality clothed her brow.

'He has squared her,' thought Merton.

Indeed, the lady had warmly grasped his hand with both of her own, which were imprisoned in tight new gloves, while her bonnet spoke of regardlessness of expense and recent prodigality. She fell back into the client's chair.

'Oh, sir,' she said, 'when first we met we did not part, or I did not-you were quite the gentleman-on the best of terms. But now, how can I speak of your wise advice, and how much don't I owe you?'

Merton answered very gravely: 'You do not owe me anything, Madam. Please understand that I took absolutely no professional steps in your affair.'

'What?' cried Mrs. Nicholson. 'You did not send down that blessed young man to the Perch?'

'I merely suggested that the inn might suit a person whom I knew, who was looking for country quarters. Your name never crossed my lips, nor a word about the business on which you did me the honour to consult me.'

'Then I owe you nothing?'

'Nothing at all.'

'Well, I do call this providential,' said Mrs. Nicholson, with devout enthusiasm.

'You are not in my debt to the extent of a farthing, but if you think I have accidentally been-'

'An instrument?' said Mrs. Nicholson.

'Well, an unconscious instrument, perhaps you can at least tell me why you think so. What has happened?'

'You really don't know?'

'I only know that you are pleased, and that your anxieties seem to be relieved.'

'Why, he saved her from being burned, and the brave,' said Mrs. Nicholson, 'deserve the fair, not that she is a beauty.'

'Do tell me all that happened.'

'And tell you I can, for that precious young man took me into his confidence. First, when I heard that he had come to the Perch, I trampled about the damp riverside with Barbara, and sure enough they met, he being on the Perch's side of the fence, and Barbara's line being caught high up in a tree on ours, as often happens. Well, I asked him to come over the fence and help her to get her line clear, which he did very civilly, and then he showed her how to fish, and then I asked him to tea and left them alone a bit, and when I came back they were talking about teleopathy, and her glass ball, and all that nonsense. And he seemed interested, but not to believe in it quite. I could not understand half their tipsycakical lingo. So of course they often met again at the river, and he often came to tea, and she seemed to take to him-she was always one for the men. And at last a very queer thing happened, and gave him his chance.

'It was a very hot day in July, and she fell asleep on a seat under a tree with her glass ball in her lap; she had been staring at it, I suppose. Any way she slept on, till the sun went round and shone full on the ball; and just as he, Mr. Jephson, that is, came into the gate, the glass ball began to act like a burning glass and her skirt began to smoke. Well, he waited a bit, I think, till the skirt blazed a little, and then he rushed up and threw his coat over her skirt, and put the fire out. And so he saved her from being a Molochaust, like you read about in the bible.'

Merton mentally disengaged the word 'Molochaust' into 'Moloch' and 'holocaust.'

'And there she was, when I happened to come by, a-crying and carrying on, with her head on his shoulder.'

'A pleasing group, and so they were engaged on the spot?' asked Merton.

'Not she! She held off, and thanked her preserver; but she would be true, she said, to her lover in cocky. But before that Mr. Jephson had taken me into his confidence.'

'And you made no objection to his winning your ward, if he could?'

'No, sir, I could trust that young man: I could trust him with Barbara.'

'His arguments,' said Merton, 'must have been very cogent?'

'He understood my situation if she married, and what I deserved,' said Mrs. Nicholson, growing rather uncomfortable, and fidgeting in the client's chair.

Merton, too, understood, and knew what the sympathetic arguments of Jephson must have been.

'And, after all,' Merton asked, 'the lover has prospered in his suit?'

'This is how he got round her. He said to me that night, in private: "Mrs. Nicholson," said he, "your niece is a very interesting historical subject. I am deeply anxious, apart from my own passion for her, to relieve her from a singular but not very uncommon delusion."

'"Meaning her lover in cocky," I said.

'"There is no lover in cocky," says he.

'"No Dr. Ingles!" said I.

'"Yes, there is a Dr. Ingles, but he is not her lover, and your niece never met him. I bicycled to Tutbury lately, and, after examining the scene of Queen Mary's captivity, I made a few inquiries. What I had always suspected proved to be true. Dr. Ingles was not present at that ball at the Bear at Tutbury."

'Well,' Mrs. Nicholson went on, 'you might have knocked me down with a feather! I had never asked my second cousins the question, not wanting them to guess about my affairs. But down I sat, and wrote to Maria, and got her answer. Barbara never saw Dr. Ingles! only heard the girls mention him, and his going to the war. And then, after that, by Mr. Jephson's advice, I went and gave Barbara my mind. She should marry Mr. Jephson, who saved her life, or be the laughing stock of the country. I showed her up to herself, with her glass ball, and her teleopathy, and her sham love-letters, that she wrote herself, and all her humbug. She cried, and she fainted, and she carried on, but I went at her whenever she could listen to reason. So she said "Yes," and I am the happy woman.'

'And Mr. Jephson is to be congratulated on so sensible and veracious a bride,' said Merton.

'Oh, he says it is by no means an uncommon case, and that he has effected a complete cure, and they will be as happy as idiots,' said Mrs. Nicholson, as she rose to depart.

She left Merton pensive, and not disposed to overrate human nature. 'But there can't be many fellows like Jephson,' he said. 'I wonder how much the six figures run to?' But that question was never answered to his satisfaction.

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