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Orley Farm By Anthony Trollope Characters: 13115

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

We left Lady Mason very grateful at the end of the last chapter for the promise made to her by Sir Peregrine with reference to her son; but there was still a weight on Lady Mason's mind. They say that the pith of a lady's letter is in the postscript, and it may be that that which remained for Lady Mason to say, was after all the matter as to which she was most anxious for assistance. "As you are here," she said to the baronet, "would you let me mention another subject?"

"Surely," said he, again putting down his hat and riding-stick.

Sir Peregrine was not given to close observation of those around him, or he might have seen by the heightened colour of the lady's face, and by the slight nervous hesitation with which she began to speak, that she was much in earnest as to this other matter. And had he been clever in his powers of observation he might have seen also that she was anxious to hide this feeling. "You remember the circumstances of that terrible lawsuit?" she said, at last.

"What; as to Sir Joseph's will? Yes; I remember them well."

"I know that I shall never forget all the kindness that you showed me," said she. "I don't know how I should have lived through it without you and dear Mrs. Orme."

"But what about it now?"

"I fear I am going to have further trouble."

"Do you mean that the man at Groby Park is going to try the case again? It is not possible after such a lapse of time. I am no lawyer, but I do not think that he can do it."

"I do not know-I do not know what he intends, or whether he intends anything; but I am sure of this,-that he will give me trouble if he can. But I will tell you the whole story, Sir Peregrine. It is not much, and perhaps after all may not be worth attention. You know the attorney in Hamworth who married Miriam Usbech?"

"What, Samuel Dockwrath? Oh, yes; I know him well enough; and to tell the truth I do not think very well of him. Is he not a tenant of yours?"

"Not at present." And then Lady Mason explained the manner in which the two fields had been taken out of the lawyer's hands by her son's order.

"Ah! he was wrong there," said the baronet. "When a man has held land so long it should not be taken away from him except under pressing circumstances; that is if he pays his rent."

"Mr. Dockwrath did pay his rent, certainly; and now, I fear, he is determined to do all he can to injure us."

"But what injury can Mr. Dockwrath do you?"

"I do not know, but he has gone down to Yorkshire,-to Mr. Mason's place; I know that; and he was searching through some papers of old Mr. Usbech's before he went. Indeed, I may say that I know as a fact that he has gone to Mr. Mason with the hope that these law proceedings may be brought on again."

"You know it as a fact?"

"I think I may say so."

"But, dear Lady Mason, may I ask you how you know this as a fact?"

"His wife was with me yesterday," she said, with some feeling of shame as she disclosed the source from whence she had obtained her information.

"And did she tell the tale against her own husband?"

"Not as meaning to say anything against him, Sir Peregrine; you must not think so badly of her as that; nor must you think that I would willingly obtain information in such a manner. But you must understand that I have always been her friend; and when she found that Mr. Dockwrath had left home on a matter in which I am so nearly concerned, I cannot but think it natural that she should let me know."

To this Sir Peregrine made no direct answer. He could not quite say that he thought it was natural, nor could he give any expressed approval of any such intercourse between Lady Mason and the attorney's wife. He thought it would be better that Mr. Dockwrath should be allowed to do his worst, if he had any intention of doing evil, and that Lady Mason should pass it by without condescending to notice the circumstance. But he made allowances for her weakness, and did not give utterance to his disapproval in words.

"I know you think that I have done wrong," she then said, appealing to him; and there was a tone of sorrow in her voice which went to his heart.

"No, not wrong; I cannot say that you have done wrong. It may be a question whether you have done wisely."

"Ah! if you only condemn my folly, I will not despair. It is probable I may not have done wisely, seeing that I had not you to direct me. But what shall I do now? Oh, Sir Peregrine, say that you will not desert me if all this trouble is coming on me again!"

"No, I will not desert you, Lady Mason; you may be sure of that."

"Dearest friend!"

"But I would advise you to take no notice whatever of Mr. Dockwrath and his proceedings. I regard him as a person entirely beneath your notice, and if I were you I should not move at all in this matter unless I received some legal summons which made it necessary for me to do so. I have not the honour of any personal acquaintance with Mr. Mason of Groby Park." It was in this way that Sir Peregrine always designated his friend's stepson-"but if I understand the motives by which he may probably be actuated in this or in any other matter, I do not think it likely that he will expend money on so very unpromising a case."

"He would do anything for vengeance."

"I doubt if he would throw away his money even for that, unless he were very sure of his prey. And in this matter, what can he possibly do? He has the decision of the jury against him, and at the time he was afraid to carry the case up to a court of appeal."

"But, Sir Peregrine, it is impossible to know what documents he may have obtained since that."

"What documents can do you any harm;-unless, indeed, there should turn out to be a will subsequent to that under which your son inherits the property?"

"Oh, no; there was no subsequent will."

"Of course there was not; and therefore you need not frighten yourself. It is just possible that some attempt may be made now that your son is of age, but I regard even that as improbable."

"And you would not advise me then to say anything to Mr. Furnival?"

"No; certainly not-unless you receive some legal notice which may make it necessary for you to consult a lawyer. Do nothing; and if Mrs. Dockwrath comes to you again, tell her that you are not disposed to take any notice of her information. Mrs. Dockwrath is, I am sure, a very good sort of woman. Indeed I have always heard so. But, if I were you, I don't think that I should feel inclined to have much conversation with her about my private affairs. W

hat you tell her you tell also to her husband." And then the baronet, having thus spoken words of wisdom, sat silent in his arm-chair; and Lady Mason, still looking into his face, remained silent also for a few minutes.

"I am so glad I asked you to come," she then said.

"I am delighted, if I have been of any service to you."

"Of any service! oh, Sir Peregrine, you cannot understand what it is to live alone as I do,-for of course I cannot trouble Lucius with these matters; nor can a man, gifted as you are, comprehend how a woman can tremble at the very idea that those law proceedings may possibly be repeated."

Sir Peregrine could not but remember as he looked at her that during all those law proceedings, when an attack was made, not only on her income but on her honesty, she had never seemed to tremble. She had always been constant to herself, even when things appeared to be going against her. But years passing over her head since that time had perhaps told upon her courage.

"But I will fear nothing now, as you have promised that you will still be my friend."

"You may be very sure of that, Lady Mason. I believe that I may fairly boast that I do not easily abandon those whom I have once regarded with esteem and affection; among whom Lady Mason will, I am sure, allow me to say that she is reckoned as by no means the least." And then taking her hand, the old gentleman bowed over it and kissed it.

"My dearest, dearest friend!" said she; and lifting Sir Peregrine's beautifully white hand to her lips she also kissed that. It will be remembered that the gentleman was over seventy, and that this pretty scene could therefore be enacted without impropriety on either side. Sir Peregrine then went, and as he passed out of the door Lady Mason smiled on him very sweetly. It is quite true that he was over seventy; but nevertheless the smile of a pretty woman still had charms for him, more especially if there was a tear in her eye the while;-for Sir Peregrine Orme had a soft heart.

As soon as the door was closed behind him Lady Mason seated herself in her accustomed chair, and all trace of the smile vanished from her face. She was alone now, and could allow her countenance to be a true index of her mind. If such was the case her heart surely was very sad. She sat there perfectly still for nearly an hour, and during the whole of that time there was the same look of agony on her brow. Once or twice she rubbed her hands across her forehead, brushing back her hair, and showing, had there been any one by to see it, that there was many a gray lock there mixed with the brown hairs. Had there been any one by, she would, it may be surmised, have been more careful.

There was no smile in her face now, neither was there any tear in her eye. The one and the other emblem were equally alien to her present mood. But there was sorrow at her heart, and deep thought in her mind. She knew that her enemies were conspiring against her,-against her and against her son; and what steps might she best take in order that she might baffle them?

There was sorrow in her heart, and deep thought in her mind.

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"I have got that woman on the hip now." Those were the words which Mr. Dockwrath had uttered into his wife's ears, after two days spent in searching through her father's papers. The poor woman had once thought of burning all those papers-in old days before she had become Mrs. Dockwrath. Her friend, Lady Mason, had counselled her to do so, pointing out to her that they were troublesome, and could by no possibility lead to profit; but she had consulted her lover, and he had counselled her to burn nothing. "Would that she had been guided by her friend!" she now said to herself with regard to that old trunk, and perhaps occasionally with regard to some other things.

"I have got that woman on the hip at last!" and there had been a gleam of satisfaction in Samuel's eye as he uttered the words which had convinced his wife that it was not an idle threat. She knew nothing of what the box had contained; and now, even if it had not been kept safe from her under Samuel's private key, the contents which were of interest had of course gone. "I have business in the north, and shall be away for about a week," Mr. Dockwrath had said to her on the following morning.

"Oh, very well; then I'll put up your things," she had answered in her usual mild, sad, whining, household voice. Her voice at home was always sad and whining, for she was overworked, and had too many cares, and her lord was a tyrant to her rather than a husband.

"Yes, I must see Mr. Mason immediately. And look here, Miriam, I positively insist that you do not go to Orley Farm, or hold any intercourse whatever with Lady Mason. D'ye hear?"

Mrs. Dockwrath said that she did hear, and promised obedience. Mr. Dockwrath probably guessed that the moment his back was turned all would be told at the farm, and probably also had no real objection to her doing so. Had he in truth wished to keep his proceedings secret from Lady Mason he would not have divulged them to his wife. And then Mr. Dockwrath did start for the north, bearing certain documents with him; and soon after his departure Mrs. Dockwrath did pay a visit to Orley Farm.

Lady Mason sat there perfectly still for about an hour thinking what she would do. She had asked Sir Peregrine, and had the advantage of his advice; but that did not weigh much with her. What she wanted from Sir Peregrine was countenance and absolute assistance in the day of trouble,-not advice. She had desired to renew his interest in her favour, and to receive from him his assurance that he would not desert her; and that she had obtained. It was of course also necessary that she should consult him; but in turning over within her own mind this and that line of conduct, she did not, consciously, attach any weight to Sir Peregrine's opinion. The great question for her to decide was this;-should she put herself and her case into the hands of her friend Mr. Furnival now at once, or should she wait till she had received some certain symptom of hostile proceedings? If she did see Mr. Furnival, what could she tell him? Only this, that Mr. Dockwrath had found some document among the papers of old Mr. Usbech, and had gone off with the same to Groby Park in Yorkshire. What that document might be she was as ignorant as the attorney's wife.

When the hour was ended she had made up her mind that she would do nothing more in the matter, at any rate on that day.

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