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Chapter 14

The Dillsborough Feud

"It's that nasty, beastly, drunken club," said Mrs. Masters to her unfortunate husband on the Wednesday morning. It may perhaps be remembered that the poisoned fox was found on the Saturday, and it may be imagined that Mr. Goarly had risen in importance since that day. On the Saturday Bean with a couple of men employed by Lord Rufford, had searched the wood, and found four or five red herrings poisoned with strychnine. There had been no doubt about the magnitude of the offence. On the Monday a detective policeman, dressed of course in rustic disguise but not the less known to every one in the place, was wandering about between Dillsborough and Dillsborough Wood and making futile inquiries as to the purchase of strychnine,--and also as to the purchase of red herrings. But every one knew, and such leading people as Runciman and Dr. Nupper were not slow to declare, that Dillsborough was the only place in England in which one might be sure that those articles had not been purchased. And on the Tuesday it began to be understood that Goarly had applied to Bearside, the other attorney, in reference to his claim against Lord Rufford's pheasants. He had contemptuously refused the 7s. 6d. an acre offered him, and put his demand at 40s. As to the poisoned fox and the herrings and the strychnine Goarly declared that he didn't care if there were twenty detectives in the place. He stated it to be his opinion that Larry Twentyman had put down the poison. It was all very well, Goarly said, for Larry to be fond of gentlemen and to ride to hounds, and make pretences;--but Larry liked his turkeys as well as anybody else, and Larry had put down the poison. In this matter Goarly overreached himself. No one in Dillsborough could be brought to believe that. Even Harry Stubbings was ready to swear that he should suspect himself as soon. But nothing was clearer than this,--that Goarly was going to make a stand against the hunt and especially against Lord Rufford. He had gone to Bearside and Bearside had taken up the matter in a serious way. Then it became known very quickly that Bearside had already received money, and it was surmised that Goarly had some one at his back. Lord Rufford had lately ejected from a house of his on the other side of the county a discontented litigious retired grocer from Rufford, who had made some money and had set himself up in a pretty little residence with a few acres of land. The man had made himself objectionable and had been dispossessed. The man's name was Scrobby; and hence had come these sorrows. This was the story that had already made itself known in Dillsborough on the Tuesday evening. But up to that time not a tittle of evidence had come to light as to the purchase of the red herrings or the strychnine. All that was known was the fact that had not Tony Tuppett stopped the hounds before they reached the wood, there must have been a terrible mortality. "It's that nasty, beastly, drunken club," said Mrs. Masters to her husband. Of course it was at this time known to the lady that her husband had thrown away Goarly's business and that it had been transferred to Bearside. It was also surmised by her, as it was by the town in general, that Goarly's business would come to considerable dimensions;--just the sort of case as would have been sure to bring popularity if carried through, as Nickem, the senior clerk, would have carried it. And as soon as Scrobby's name was heard by Mrs. Masters, there was no end to the money in the lady's imagination to which this very case might not have amounted.

"The club had nothing to do with it, my dear."

"What time did you come home on Saturday night;--or Sunday morning I mean? Do you mean to tell me you didn't settle it there?"

"There was no nastiness, and no beastliness, and no drunkenness about it. I told you before I went that I wouldn't take it"

"No;--you didn't. How on earth are you to go on if you chuck the children's bread out of their mouths in that way?"

"You won't believe me. Do you ask Twentyman what sort of a man Goarly is." The attorney knew that Larry was in great favour with his wife as being the favoured suitor for Mary's hand, and had thought that this argument would be very strong.

"I don't want Mr. Twentyman to teach me what is proper for my family,--nor yet to teach you your business. Mr. Twentyman has his own way of living. He brought home Kate the other day with hardly a rag of her sister's habit left. She don't go out hunting any more."

"Very well, my dear."

"Indeed for the matter of that I don't see how any of them are to do anything. What'll Lord Rufford do for you?"

"I don't want Lord Rufford to do anything for me." The attorney was beginning to have his spirit stirred within him.

"You don't want anybody to do anything, and yet you will do nothing yourself, just because a set of drinking fellows in a tap-room, which you call a club--"

"It isn't a tap-room."

"It's worse, because nobody can see what you're doing. I know how it was. You hadn't the pluck to hold to your own when Runciman told you not" There was a spice of truth in this which made it all the more bitter. "Runciman knows on which side his bread is buttered. He can make his money out of these swearing-tearing fellows. He can send in his bills, and get them paid too. And it's all very well for Larry Twentyman to be hobbing and nobbing with the likes of them Botseys. But for a father of a family like you to be put off his business by what Mr. Runciman says is a shame."

"I shall manage my business as I think fit," said the attorney.

"And when we're all in the poor-house what'll you do then?" said Mrs. Masters,--with her handkerchief out at the spur of the moment. Whenever she roused her husband to a state of bellicose ire by her taunts she could always reduce him again by her tears. Being well aware of this he would bear the taunts as long as he could, knowing that the tears would be still worse. He was so soft-hearted that when she affected to be miserable, he could not maintain the sternness of his demeanour and leave her in her misery. "When everything has gone away from us, what are we to do? My little bit of money has disappeared ever so long." Then she sat herself down in her chair and had a great cry. It was useless for him to remind her that hitherto she had never wanted anything for herself or her children. She was resolved that everything was going to the dogs because Goarly's case had been refused. "And what will all those sporting men do for you?" she repeated. "I hate the very name of a gentleman;--so I do. I wish Goarly had killed all the foxes in the county. Nasty vermin! What good are the likes of them?"

Nickem, the senior clerk, was at first made almost as unhappy as Mrs. Masters by the weak decision to which his employer had come, and had in the first flush of his anger resolved to leave the office. He was sure that the case was one which would just have suited him. He would have got up the evidence as to the fertility of the land, the enormous promise of crop, and the ultimate absolute barrenness, to a marvel. He would have proved clouds of pheasants. And then Goarly's humble position, futile industry, and general poverty might have been contrasted beautifully with Lord Rufford's wealth, idleness, and devotion to sport. Anything above the 7s. 6d. an acre obtained against the lord would have been a triumph, and he thought that if the thing had been well managed, they might probably have got 15s. And then, in such a case, Lord Rufford could hardly have taxed the costs. It was really suicide for an attorney to throw away business so excellent as this. And now it had gone to Bearside whom Nickem remembered as a junior to himself when they were both young hobbledehoys at Norrington,--a dirty, blear-eyed, pimply-faced boy who was suspected of purloining halfpence out of coat-pockets. The thing was very trying to Nat Nickem. But suddenly, before that Wednesday was over, another idea had occurred to him, and he was almost content. He knew Goarly, and he had heard of Scrobby and Scrobby's history in regard to the tenement at Rufford. As he could not get Goarly's case why should he not make something of the case against Goarly? That detective was merely eking out his time and having an idle week among the public-houses. If he could set himself up as an amateur detective he thought that he might perhaps get to the bottom of it all. It is not a bad thing to be concerned on the same side with a lord when the lord is in earnest. Lord Rufford was very angry about the poison in the covert and would probably be ready to pay very handsomely for having the criminal found and punished. The criminal of course was Goarly. Nickem did not doubt that for a moment, and would not have doubted it whichever side he might have taken. Nickem did not suppose that any one for a moment really doubted Goarly's guilt. But to his eyes such certainty amounted to nothing, if evidence of the crime were not forthcoming. He probably felt within his own bosom that the last judgment of all would depend in some way on terrestrial evidence, and was quite sure that it was by such that a man's conscience should be affected. If Goarly had so done the deed as to be beyond the possibility of detection, Nickem could not have brought himself to regard Goarly as a sinner. As it was he had considerable respect for Goarly;--but might it not be possible to drop down upon Scrobby? Bearside with his case against the lord would be nowhere, if Goarly could be got to own that he had been suborned by Scrobby to put down the poison. Or, if in default of this, any close communication could be proved between Goarly and Scrobby,--Scrobby's injury and spirit of revenge being patent,--then too Bearside would not have much of a case. A jury would look at that question of damages with a very different eye if Scrobby's spirit of revenge could be proved at the trial, and also the poisoning, and also machinations between Scrobby and Goarly.

Nickem was a little red-haired man about forty, who wrote a good flourishing hand, could endure an immense amount of work, and drink a large amount of alcohol without being drunk. His nose and face were all over blotches, and he looked to be dissipated and disreputable. But, as he often boasted, no one could say that "black was the white of his eye;"--by which he meant to insinuate that he had not been detected in anything dishonest and that he was never too tipsy to do his work. He was a married man and did not keep his wife and children in absolute comfort; but they lived, and Mr. Nickem in some fashion paid his way.

There was another clerk in the office, a very much younger man, named Sundown, and Nickem could not make his proposition to Mr. Masters till Sundown had left the office. Nickem himself had only matured his plans at dinner time and was obliged to be reticent, till at six o'clock Sundown took himself off. Mr. Masters was, at the moment, locking his own desk, when Nickem winked at him to stay. Mr. Masters did stay, and Sundown did at last leave the office.

"You couldn't let me leave home for three days?" said Nickem. "There ain't much a doing."

"What do you want it for?"

"That Goarly is a great blackguard, Mr. Masters."

"Very likely. Do you know anything about him?"

Nickem scratched his head and rubbed his chin. "I think I could manage to know something."

"In what way?"

"I don't think I'm quite prepared to say, sir. I shouldn't use your name of course. But they're down upon Lord Rufford, and if you could lend me a trifle of 30s., sir, I think I could get to the bottom of it. His lordship would be awful obliged to any one who could hit it off"

Mr. Masters did give his clerk leave for three days, and did advance him the required money. And when he suggested in a whisper that perhaps the circumstance need not be mentioned to Mrs. Masters, Nickem winked again and put his fore-finger to the side of his big carbuncled nose.

That evening Larry Twentyman came in, but was not received with any great favour by Mrs. Masters. There was growing up at this moment in Dillsborough the bitterness of real warfare between the friends and enemies of sport in general, and Mrs. Masters was ranking herself thereby among the enemies. Larry was of course one of the friends. But unhappily there was a slight difference of sentiment even in Larry's own house, and on this very morning old Mrs. Twentyman had expressed to Mrs. Masters a feeling of wrong which had gradually risen from the annual demolition of her pet broods of turkeys. She declared that for the last three years every turkey poult had gone, and that at last she was beginning to feel it. "It's over a hundred of 'em they've had, and it is wearing," said the old woman. Larry had twenty times begged her to give up the rearing turkeys, but her heart had been too high for that. "I don't know why Lord Rufford's foxes are to be thought of always, and nobody is to think about your poor mother's poultry," said Mrs. Masters, lugging the subject in neck and heels.

"Has she been talking to you, Mrs. Masters, about her turkeys?"

"Your mother may speak to me I suppose if she likes it, without offence to Lord Rufford."

"Lord Rufford has got nothing to do with it"

"The wood belongs to him," said Mrs. Masters.

"Foxes are much better than turkeys anyway," said Kate Masters.

"If you don't hold your tongue, miss, you'll be sent to bed. The wood belongs to his lordship, and the foxes are a nuisance."

"He keeps the foxes for the county, and where would the county be without them?" began Larry. "What is it brings money into such a place as this?"

"To Runciman's stables and Harry Stubbings and the like of them. What money does it bring in to steady honest people?"

"Look at all the grooms," said Larry.

"The impudentest set of young vipers about the place," said the lady.

"Look at Grice's business." Grice was the saddler.

"Grice indeed! What's Grice?"

"And the price of horses?"

"Yes;--making everything dear that ought to be cheap. I don't see and I never shall see and I never will see any good in extravagant idleness. As for Kate she shall never go out hunting again. She has torn Mary's habit to pieces. And shooting is worse. Why is a man to have a flock of voracious cormorants come down upon his corn fields? I'm The American Senator, all in favour of Goarly, and so, I tell you, Mr. Twentyman." After this poor Larry went away, finding that he had no opportunity for saying a word to Mary Masters.

Anthony Trollope