Wylder's Hand by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Chapter LIII. The Vicar's Complications, Which Lively People Had Better not Read.
William Wylder's reversion was very tempting. But Lawyer Larkin knew the value of the precious metals, and waited for more data. The more he thought over his foreign correspondence, and his interview with Lake, the more steadily returned upon his mind the old conviction that the gallant captain was deep in the secret, whatever it might be.
Whatever his motive--and he always had a distinct motive, though sometimes not easily discoverable--he was a good deal addicted now to commenting, in his confidential talk, with religious gossips and others, upon the awful state of the poor vicar's affairs, his inconceivable prodigality, the unaccountable sums he had made away with, and his own anxiety to hand over the direction of such a hopeless complication of debt, and abdicate in favour of any competent skipper the command of the water-logged and foundering ship.
'Why, his Brother Mark could get him cleverly out of it--could not he?' wheezed the pork-butcher.
'More serious than you suppose,' answered Larkin, with a shake of his head.
'It can't go beyond five hundred, or say nine hundred--eh, at the outside?'
'Nine hundred--say double as many thousand, and I'm afraid you'll be nearer the mark. You'll not mention, of course, and I'm only feeling my way just now, and speaking conjecturally altogether; but I'm afraid it is enormous. I need not remind you not to mention.'
I cannot, of course, say how Mr. Larkin's conjectures reached so prodigious an elevation, but I can now comprehend why it was desirable that this surprising estimate of the vicar's liabilities should prevail. Mr. Jos. Larkin had a weakness for enveloping much of what he said and wrote in an honourable mystery. He liked writing private or confidential at top of his notes, without apparent right or even reason to impose either privacy or confidence upon the persons to whom he wrote. There was, in fact, often in the good attorney's mode of transacting business just a soupcon or flavour of an arriere pensee of a remote and unseen plan, which was a little unsatisfactory.
Now, with the vicar he was imperative that the matter of the reversion should be strictly confidential--altogether 'sacred,' in fact.
'You see, the fact is, my dear Mr. Wylder, I never meddle in speculative things. It is not a class of business that I like or would touch with one of my fingers, so to speak,' and he shook his head gently; 'and I may say, if I were supposed to be ever so slightly engaged in these risky things, it would be the ruin of me. I don t like, however, sending you into the jaws of the City sharks--I use the term, my dear Mr. Wylder, advisedly--and I make a solitary exception in your case; but the fact is, if I thought you would mention the matter, I could not touch it even for you. There's Captain Lake, of Brandon, for instance--I should not be surprised if I lost the Brandon business the day after the matter reached his ears. All men are not like you and me, my dear Mr. Wylder. The sad experience of my profession has taught me that a suspicious man of the world, without religion, my dear Mr. Wylder,' and he lifted his pink eyes, and shook his long head and long hands in unison--'without religion--will imagine anything. They can't understand us.'
Now, the fifty pounds which good Mr. Larkin had procured for the improvident vicar, bore interest, I am almost ashamed to say, at thirty per cent. per annum, and ten per cent. more the first year. But you are to remember that the security was altogether speculative; and Mr. Larkin, of course, made the best terms he could.
Annual premium on a policy for L100 [double insurance } L s. d. being insisted upon by lender, to cover contingent ex- } 10 0 0 penses, and life not insurable, a delicacy of the lungs } being admitted, on the ordinary scale] } Annuity payable to lender, clear of premium, the } 7 10 0 security being unsatisfactory } -------------- L17 10 0
Ten pounds of which (the premium), together with four pounds ten shillings for expenses, &c. were payable in advance. So that thirty-two pounds, out of his borrowed fifty, were forfeit for these items within a year and a month. In the meantime the fifty pounds had gone, as we know, direct to Cambridge; and he was called upon to pay forthwith ten pounds for premium, and four pounds ten shillings for 'expenses.' Quod impossibile.
The attorney had nothing for it but to try to induce the lender to let him have another fifty pounds, pending the investigation of title--another fifty, of which he was to get, in fact, eighteen pounds. Somehow, the racking off of this bitter vintage from one vessel into another did not seem to improve its quality. On the contrary, things were growing decidedly more awful.
Now, there came from Messrs. Burlington and Smith a peremptory demand for the fourteen pounds ten shillings, and an equally summary one for twenty-eight pounds fourteen shillings and eight pence, their costs in this matter.
When the poor vicar received this latter blow, he laid the palm of his hand on the top of his head, as if to prevent his brain from boiling over. Twenty-eight pounds fourteen shillings and eight pence! Quod impossibile. again.
When he saw Larkin, that conscientious guardian of his client's interests scrutinised the bill of costs very jealously, and struck out between four and five pounds. He explained to the vicar the folly of borrowing insignificant and insufficient sums--the trouble, and consequently the cost, of which were just as great as of an adequate one. He was determined, if he could, to pull him through this. But he must raise a sufficient sum, for the expense of going into title would be something; and he would write sharply to Burlington, Smith, and Co., and had no doubt the costs would be settled for twenty-three pounds. And Mr. Jos. Larkin's opinion upon the matter was worthy of respect, inasmuch as he was himself, under the rose, the 'Co.' of that firm, and ministered its capital.
'The fact is you must, my dear Mr. Wylder, make an effort. It won't do peddling and tinkering in such a case. You will be in a worse position than ever, unless you boldly raise a thousand pounds--if I can manage such a transaction upon a security of the kind. Consolidate all your liabilities, and keep a sum in hand. You are well connected--powerful relatives--your brother has Huxton, four hundred, a year, whenever old--the--the present incumbent goes--and there are other things beside--but you must not allow yourself to be ruined through timidity; and if you go to the wall without an effort, and allow yourself to be slurred in public, what becomes of your chance of preferment?'
And now 'title' went up to Burlington, Smith, and Co. to examine and approve; and from that firm, I am sorry to say, a bill of costs was coming, when deeds were prepared and all done, exceeding three hundred and fifty pounds; and there was a little reminder from good Jos. Larkin for two hundred and fifty pounds more. This, of course, was to await Mr. Wylder's perfect convenience. The vicar knew him--he never pressed any man. Then there would be insurances in proportion; and interest, as we see, was not trifling. And altogether, I am afraid, our friend the vicar was being extricated in a rather embarrassing fashion.
Now, I have known cases in which good-natured debauchees have interested themselves charitably in the difficulties of forlorn families; and I think I knew, almost before they suspected it, that their generous interference was altogether due to one fine pair of eyes, and a pretty tournure, in the distressed family circle. Under a like half-delusion, Mr. Jos. Larkin, in the guise of charity, was prosecuting his designs upon the vicar's reversion, and often most cruelly and most artfully, when he frankly fancied his conduct most praiseworthy.
And really I do not myself know, that, considering poor William's liabilities and his means, and how many chances there were against that reversion ever becoming a fact, that I would not myself have advised his selling it, if a reasonable price were obtainable.
'All this power will I give thee,' said the Devil, 'and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it.' The world belongs to the rascals. It is like 'the turf,' where, everyone admits, an honest man can hardly hold his own. Jos. Larkin looked down on the seedy and distracted vicar from an immense moral elevation. He heard him talk of religion with disgust. He owed him costs, and, beside, costs also to Burlington, Smith, and Co. Was there not Talkative in 'Pilgrim's Progress?' I believe there are few things more provoking than that a man who owes you money, and can't pay the interest, should pretend to religion to your face, except, perhaps, his giving sixpence in charity.
The attorney was prosperous. He accounted for it by his attributes, and the blessing that waits on industry and integrity. He did not see that luck and selfishness had anything to do with it. No man ever failed but through his own fault--none ever succeeded but by his deservings. The attorney was in a position to lecture the Rev. Mr. Wylder. In his presence, religion, in the vicar's mouth, was an impertinence.
The vicar, on the other hand, was all that we know. Perhaps, in comparison, his trial is, in some sort, a blessing; and that there is no greater snare than the state of the man with whom all goes smoothly, and who mistakes his circumstances for his virtues.
The poor vicar and his little following were got pretty well into the Furcae Caudinae. Mr. Jos. Larkin, if he did not march him out, to do him justice, had had no hand in primarily bringing him there. There was no reason, however, why the respectable lawyer should not make whatever was to be fairly made of the situation. The best thing for both was, perhaps, that the one should sell and the other buy the reversion. Larkin had no apprehensions about the nature of the dealing. He was furnished with an excellent character--his cheques were always honoured--his 'tots' always unexceptionable--his vouchers never anything but exact. He had twice been publicly complimented in this sense, when managing Lord Hedgerow's estate. No man had, I believe, a higher reputation in his walk--few men were more formidable. I think it was Lawyer Larkin's private canon, in his dealings with men, that everything was moral that was not contrary to an Act of Parliament.