Eugene Aram/Chapter 18
"Nihil est aliud magnum quam multa minuta."
"And so," said Walter, the next morning to the head waiter, who was busied about their preparations for breakfast; "and so, Sir Peter Hales, you say, lives within a mile of the town?"
"Scarcely a mile, Sir,—black or green? you passed the turn to his house last night;—Sir, the eggs are quite fresh this morning. This inn belongs to Sir Peter."
"Oh!—Does Sir Peter see much company?"
The Waiter smiled.
"Sir Peter gives very handsome dinners, Sir; twice a year! A most clever gentleman, Sir Peter! They say he is the best manager of property in the whole county. Do you like Yorkshire cake?—toast? yes, Sir!"
"So so," said Walter to himself, "a pretty true description my uncle gave me of this gentleman. 'Ask me too often to dinner, indeed!'—'offer me money if I want it!'—'spend a month at his house!'—'most hospitable fellow in the world!'—My uncle must have been dreaming."
Walter had yet to learn, that the men most prodigal when they have nothing but expectations, are often most thrifty when they know the charms of absolute possession. Besides, Sir Peter had married a Scotch lady, and was blessed with eleven children! But was Sir Peter Hales much altered? Sir Peter Hales was exactly the same man in reality that he always had been. Once he was selfish in extravagance; he was now selfish in thrift. He had always pleased himself, and damned other people; that was exactly what he valued himself on doing now. But the most absurd thing about Sir Peter was, that while he was for ever extracting use from every one else, he was mightily afraid of being himself put to use. He was in parliament, and noted for never giving a frank out of his own family. Yet withal, Sir Peter Hales was still an agreeable fellow; nay, he was more liked and much more esteemed than ever. There is something conciliatory in a saving disposition; but people put themselves in a great passion when a man is too liberal with his own. It is an insult on their own prudence. "What right has he to be so extravagant? What an example to our servants!" But your close neighbour does not humble you. You love your close neighbour; you respect your close neighbour; you have your harmless jest against him—but he is a most respectable man.
"A letter, Sir, and a parcel, from Sir Peter Hales," said the waiter, entering.
The parcel was a bulky, angular, awkward packet of brown paper, sealed once and tied with the smallest possible quantity of string; it was addressed to Mr. James Holwell, Saddler, ——— Street, * * * *. The letter was to ——— Lester Esq., and ran thus, written in a very neat, stiff, Italian character.
"I trust you had no difficulty in findg ye Duke of Cumberland's Head, it is an excellent In.
"I greatly regt yt you are unavoidy oblig'd to go on to Londn; for, otherwise I shd have had the sincerest please in seeing you here at dinr, introducing you to Ly Hales. Anothr time I trust we may be more fortunate.
"As you pass thro' ye litte town of . . . . . ., exactly 21 miles from hence, on the road to Londn, will you do me the favr to allow your servt to put the little parcel I send into his pockt, & drop it as directd. It is a bridle I am forc'd to return. Country workn are such bungrs.
"I shd most certainy have had ye honr to wait on you persony, but the rain has given me a mo seve cold;—hope you have escap'd, tho' by ye by, you had no cloke, nor wrappr
"My kindest regards to your mo excellent unce. I am quite sure he's the same fine merry fellw he always was,—tell him so!
""Dr Sr, Yours faithy,
"Peter Grindlescrew Hales.
"P.S. You know perhs yt poor Jno Courtd, your uncle's mo intime friend, lives in . . . . . ., the town in which your servt will drop ye bride. He is much altered,—poor Jno!"
"Altered! alteration then seems the fashion with my uncle's friends!" thought Walter, as he rang for the Corporal, and consigned to his charge the unsightly parcel.
"It is to be carried twenty-one miles at the request of the gentleman we met last night,—a most sensible man, Bunting."
"Augh—whaugh,—your honour!" grunted the Corporal, thrusting the bridle very discontentedly into his pocket, where it annoyed him the whole journey, by incessantly getting between his seat of leather and his seat of honour. It is a comfort to the inexperienced, when one man of the world smarts from the sagacity of another; we resign ourselves more willingly to our fate. Our travellers resumed their journey, and in a few minutes, from the cause we have before assigned, the Corporal became thoroughly out of humour.
"Pray, Bunting," said Walter, calling his attendant to his side, "do you feel sure that the man we met yesterday at the alehouse, is the same you saw at Grassdale some months ago?"
"Damn it!" cried the Corporal quickly, and clapping his hand behind.
"Beg pardon, your honour—slip tongue, but this confounded parcel!—augh—bother!"
"Why don't you carry it in your hand?"
"'Tis so ungainsome, and be d—d to it; and how can I hold parcel and pull in this beast, which requires two hands; his mouth's as hard as a brickbat,—augh!"
"You have not answered my question yet?"
"Beg pardon, your honour. Yes, certain sure the man's the same; phiz not to be mistaken."
"It is strange," said Walter, musing, "that Aram should know a man, who, if not a highwayman as we suspected, is at least of rugged manner and disreputable appearance; it is strange too, that Aram always avoided recurring to the acquaintance, though he confessed it." With this he broke into a trot, and the Corporal into an oath.
They arrived by noon, at the little town specified by Sir Peter, and in their way to the inn (for Walter resolved to rest there), passed by the saddler's house. It so chanced that Master Holwell was an adept in his craft, and that a newly-invented hunting-saddle at the window caught Walter's notice. The artful saddler persuaded the young traveller to dismount and look at "the most convenientest and handsomest saddle what ever was seed;" and the Corporal having lost no time in getting rid of his encumbrance, Walter dismissed him to the inn with the horses, and after purchasing the saddle, in exchange for his own, he sauntered into the shop to look at a new snaffle. A gentleman's servant was in the shop at the time, bargaining for a riding whip; and the shopboy, among others, shewed him a large old-fashioned one, with a tarnished silver handle. Grooms have no taste for antiquity, and in spite of the silver-handle, the servant pushed it aside with some contempt. Some jest he uttered at the time, chanced to attract Walter's notice to the whip; he took it up carelessly, and perceived with great surprise that it bore his own crest, a bittern, on the handle. He examined it now with attention, and underneath the crest were the letters G. L., his father's initials.
"How long have you had this whip?" said he to the saddler, concealing the emotion, which this token of his lost parent naturally excited.
"Oh, a nation long time, Sir," replied Mr. Holwell; "it is a queer old thing, but really is not amiss, if the silver was scrubbed up a bit, and a new lash put on; you may have it a bargain, Sir, if so be you have taken a fancy to it."
"Can you at all recollect how you came by it," said Walter, earnestly; "the fact is that I see by the crest and initials, that it belonged to a person whom I have some interest in discovering."
"Why let me see," said the saddler, scratching the tip of his right ear, "'tis so long ago sin I had it, I quite forgets how I came by it."
"Oh, is it that whip, John?" said the wife, who had been attracted from the back parlour by the sight of the handsome young stranger. "Don't you remember, it's a many year ago, a gentleman who passed a day with Squire Courtland, when he first come to settle here, called and left the whip to have a new thong put to it. But I fancies he forgot it, Sir, (turning to Walter,) for he never called for it again; and the Squire's people said as how he was a gone into Yorkshire; so there the whip's been ever sin. I remembers it, Sir, 'cause I kept it in the little parlour nearly a year, to be in the way like."
"Ah! I thinks I do remember it now," said Master Holwell. "I should think it's a matter of twelve yearn ago. I suppose I may sell it without fear of the gentleman's claiming it again."
"Not more than twelve years!" said Walter, anxiously, for it was some seventeen years since his father had been last heard of by his family.
"Why it may be thirteen, Sir, or so, more or less, I can't say exactly."
"More likely fourteen!" said the Dame, "it can't be much more, Sir, we have only been a married fifteen year come next Christmas! But my old man here, is ten years older nor I."
"And the gentleman, you say, was at Mr. Courtland's."
"Yes, Sir, that I'm sure of," replied the intelligent Mrs. Holwell; "they said he had come lately from Ingee."
Walter now despairing of hearing more, purchased the whip; and blessing the worldly wisdom of Sir Peter Hales, that had thus thrown him on a clue, which, however faint and distant, he resolved to follow up, he inquired the way to Squire Courtland's, and proceeded thither at once.
END OF VOL. I.
PRINTED BY SAMUEL BENTLEY,