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The time appointed for Mr. Montenero's final decision approached. In a few days my fate was to be decided. The vessel that was to sail for America was continually before my eyes.
It was more difficult to me to endure the suspense of these few days than all the rest. My mother's sympathy, and the strong interest which had been excited on the subject in my father's mind, were at first highly agreeable; but there was so much more of curiosity and of pride in their feelings than in mine, that at last it became irksome to me to hear their conjectures and reflections. I did not like to answer any questions--I could not bear to speak of Berenice, or even of Mr. Montenero.
I took refuge in silence--my mother reproached me for my silence. I talked on fast of any thing but that which interested me most.
My mother became extremely alarmed for my health, and I believe with more reason than usual; for I could scarcely either eat, drink, or sleep, and was certainly very feverish; but still I walked about, and to escape from the constraint to which I put myself in her company, to avoid giving her pain--to relieve myself from her hourly fond inquiries--from the effort of talking, when I wished to be silent--of appearing well, and in spirits, when I was ill, and when my heart was dying within me, I escaped from her presence as much as possible. To feed upon my thoughts in solitude, I either shut myself up in my room, or walked all day in those streets where I was not likely to meet with any one who knew me, or whom I knew; and there I was at least safe from all notice, and secure from all sympathy: I am sure I experienced at this time the truth of what some one has quaintly but justly asserted, that an individual can never feel more completely alone than in the midst of a crowded metropolis.
One evening when I was returning homewards through the city, fatigued, but still prolonging my walk, that I might not be at home too early for dinner, I was met and stopped by Jacob: I had not thought of him lately, and when I looked up in his face, I was surprised by an appearance of great perturbation. He begged pardon for stopping me, but he had been to my house--he had been all over the town searching for me, to consult me about a sad affair, in which he was unfortunately concerned. We were not far from Manessa's, the jeweller's shop; I went in there with Jacob, as he wished, he said, that I should hear Mr. Manessa's evidence on the business, as well as his own. The affair was this: Lady de Brantefield had, some time ago, brought to Mr. Manessa's some very fine antique jewels, to be re-set for her daughter, Lady Anne Mowbray. One day, immediately after the riots, both the ladies called at Mr. Manessa's, to inquire if the jewels were ready. They were finished; the new setting was approved: but Lady de Brantefield having suffered great losses by the destruction of her house and furniture in the riots, and her son, Lord Mowbray, being also in great pecuniary difficulties, it was suggested by Lady Anne Mowbray, that her mother would be glad if Mr. Manessa could dispose of some of the jewels, without letting it be known to whom they had belonged. Mr. Manessa, willing to oblige, promised secresy, and offered immediately to purchase the jewels himself; in consequence, the jewels were all spread out upon a little table in the back parlour--no one present but Jacob, Mr. Manessa, and the two ladies. A great deal of conversation passed, and the ladies were a long time settling what trinkets they would part with.
It was very difficult to accommodate at once the personal vanity of the daughter, the family pride of the mother, and their pecuniary difficulties. There occurred, in particular, a question about a topaz ring, of considerable value, but of antique setting, which Lady Anne Mowbray wished her mother to part with, instead of some more fashionable diamond ornament that Lady Anne wanted to keep for herself. Lady de Brantefield had, however, resisted all her daughter's importunities--had talked a vast deal about the ring--told that it had been Sir Josseline de Mowbray's--that it had come into his possession by ducal and princely descent--that it was one of four rings, which had been originally a present from Pope Innocent to King John, of which rings there was a full description in some old chronicle [Footnote: Rymer's Foedera.], and in Mr. Hume's History of England, to which her ladyship referred Mr. Manessa: his curiosity [Footnote: For the satisfaction of any readers who may have more curiosity upon the subject than Mr. Manessa had, but yet who would not willingly rise from their seats to gratify their curiosity, the passage is here given gratis. "Innocent wrote John a mollifying letter, and sent him four golden rings, set with precious stones; and endeavoured to enhance the value of the present, by informing him of the many mysteries which were implied by it. He begged him to consider, seriously, the form of the rings, their number, their matter, and their colour. Their form, he said, being round, shadowed out eternity, which has neither beginning nor end. Their number, four, being a square, denoted steadiness of mind, not to be subverted either by adversity or prosperity, fixed for ever on the four cardinal virtues. Gold, which is the matter, signified wisdom. The blue of the sapphire, faith. The verdure of the emerald, hope. The redness of the ruby, charity. And splendour of the topaz, good works." "By these conceits," continued the historian, "Innocent endeavoured to repay John for one of the most important prerogatives of the crown."], however, was perfectly satisfied upon the subject, and he was, with all due deference, willing to take the whole upon her ladyship's word, without presuming to verify her authorities. While she spoke, she took the ring from her finger, and put it into Jacob's hand, desiring to know if he could make it fit her finger better, as it was rather too large. Jacob told her it could be easily lessened, if her ladyship would leave it for an hour or two with him. But her ladyship said she could not let Sir Josseline's ring out of her own sight, it was of such inestimable value. The troublesome affair of satisfying both the vain daughter and the proud mother being accomplished-- the last bows were made at the door--the carriage drove away, and Manessa and Jacob thanked Heaven that they had done with these difficult customers. Two hours had scarcely elapsed before a footman came from Lady de Brantefield with the following note:--
"Lady de Brantefield informs Mr. Manessa that she is in the greatest anxiety--not finding Sir Josseline de Mowbray's ring on her finger, upon her return home. Her ladyship now recollects having left it in the hands of one of Mr. Manessa's shopmen, a young man she believes of the name of Jacob, the only person except Mr. Manessa, who was in the little parlour, while her ladyship and Lady Anne Mowbray were there.
"Lady de Brantefield requests that Mr. Manessa will bring the ring himself to Lady Warbeck's, Hanover-square, where Lady de Brantefield is at present.
"Lady de Brantefield desires Mr. M. will make no delay, as her ladyship must remain in indescribable anxiety till Sir Josseline's ring shall be restored. Her ladyship could not answer for such a loss to her family and posterity.
* * * * * * *
Jacob was perfectly certain that her ladyship had not left the ring with him; nevertheless he made diligent search for it, and afterwards accompanied Mr. Manessa to Lady Warbeck's, to assure Lady de Brantefield that the ring was not in their house. He endeavoured to bring to her recollection her having put it on her finger just before she got into the carriage; but this her ladyship would not admit. Lady Anne supported her mother's assertions; and Lady de Brantefield ended by being haughtily angry, declaring she would not be contradicted by a shopman, and that she was positive the ring had never been returned to her. Within eight-and- forty hours the story was told by Lady de Brantefield and her friends at every card-table at the polite end of the town, and it was spread by Lady Anne through the park and the ball-rooms; and the ladies'-maids had repeated it, with all manner of exaggerations, through their inferior but not less extensive circles. The consequence was, that the character of Mr. Manessa's house was hurt, and Jacob, who was the person accused as the cause of it, was very unhappy. The confidence Mr. Manessa had in him, and the kindness he showed him, increased his regret. Lady de Brantefield had, in a high tone, threatened a prosecution for the value of her inestimable ring. This was what both Jacob and Mr. Manessa would have desired--a public trial, they knew, would bring the truth to light; but her ladyship was probably discouraged by her legal advisers from a prosecution, so that Mr. Manessa and Jacob were still left to suffer by the injustice of private whisperings. Jacob offered to replace, as far as he could, the value of this ring; but in Lady de Brantefield's opinion nothing could compensate for its loss. Poor Jacob was in despair. Before I heard this story, I thought that nothing could have forced my attention from my own affairs; but I could not be so selfish as to desert or neglect Jacob in his distress. I went with my mother this evening to see Lady de Brantefield; her ladyship was still at her relation's, Lady Warbeck's house, where she had apartments to herself, in which she could receive what company she pleased. There was to be a ball in the house this evening, but Lady de Brantefield never mixed in what she called idle gaieties; she abhorred a bustle, as it infringed upon her personal dignity, and did not agree with her internal persuasion that she was, or ought to be, the first object in all company. We found her ladyship in her own retired apartment; her eyes were weak, and the room had so little light in it, that when we first went in, I could scarcely distinguish any object: I saw, however, a young woman, who had been reading to her ladyship, rise as we entered, put down her book, and prepare to retire. My mother stopped her as she was passing, and turning to me, said, that this was a young person, she was sure, I should be glad to see, the daughter of an old friend of mine.
I looked, and saw a face which awakened the most painful associations of my childhood.
"Did not I perceive any likeness?" my mother continued. "But it was so many years since I had seen poor Fowler, and I was so very young a child, no wonder I should not in the least recollect."
I had some recollection--if I was not mistaken--I stammered--I stopped. In fact, I recollected too well to be able to pay the expected compliment. However, after I had got over the first involuntary shudder, I tried to say something to relieve the embarrassment which I fancied the girl must feel.
She, in a mincing, waiting-gentlewoman's manner, and with a certain unnatural softness of voice, which again brought all the mother to my mind, assured me that if I'd forgot her mother, she had not forgot me; for that she'd often and often heard her mother talk of me, and she was morally confident her mother had never loved any child so doatingly, except, to be sure, her own present lady's, Lady Anne Mowbray. Her mother had often and often regretted she could never get a sight or sentence of me since I grew up to be a great gentleman, she always having been stationary down at my lady's, in Surrey, at the Priory--housekeeper--and I never there; but if I'd have the condescension to wish to gratify her mother, as it would be the greatest gratification in life--if Lady de Brantefield--"
"Presently, perhaps--when I ring," said Lady de Brantefield, "and you, Nancy Fowler, may come back yourself with my treble ruffles: Mrs. Harrington, I know, will have the goodness to permit. I keep her as much under my own eye, and suffer her to be as much even in the room with me, as possible," added Lady de Brantefield, as Nancy left the room; "for she is a young person quite out of the common line, and her mother i--but you first recommended her to me, Mrs. Harrington, I remember."
"The most faithful creature!" said my mother, in the very tone I had heard it pronounced twenty years before.
I was carried back so far, so forcibly, and so suddenly, that it was some time before I could recover myself sufficiently to recollect what was the order of the day; but no matter--my mother passed on quite easily to the jewels, and my silence was convenient, and had an air of perfect deference for Lady de Brantefield's long story of Sir Josseline's ring, now told over, I believe, for the ninety-ninth time this season. She ended where she began, with the conviction that, if the secretary of state would, as he ought, on such an occasion, grant a general search-warrant, as she was informed had been done for papers, and things of much less value, her ring would be found in that Jacob's possession--that Jacob, of whom she had a very bad opinion!
I took the matter up as quietly as was in my nature, and did not begin with a panegyric on my friend Jacob, but simply asked, what reason her ladyship had for her very bad opinion of him?
Too good reason, her ladyship emphatically said: she had heard her son, Lord Mowbray, express a very bad opinion of him.
Lord Mowbray had known this Jacob, she believed, when a boy, and afterwards when a man at Gibraltar, and had always thought ill of him. Lord Mowbray had said, that Jacob was avaricious and revengeful; as you know Jews always are, added her ladyship.
I wondered she had trusted her jewels, then, in such hands.
There, she owned, she had for once been wrong--overruled by others--by her daughter, Lady Anne, who said the jewels could be more fashionably set at Manessa's than any where else.
She had never acted against her own judgment in her life, without repenting of it. Another circumstance, Lady de Brantefield said, prepossessed her, she owned, against this Jacob; he was from the very dregs of the people; the son absolutely of an old clothes-man, she had been informed. What could be expected from such a person, when temptation came in his way? and could we trust to any thing such a low sort of person would say?
Lady Anne Mowbray, before I had time to answer, entered dressed for the ball, with her jewels in full blaze, and for some time there was a suspension of all hope of coming to any thing like common sense. When her mother appealed to her about Jacob, Lady Anne protested she took a horrid dislike to his face the moment she saw him; she thought he had a shocking Jewish sort of countenance, and she was positive he would swear falsely, because he was ready to swear that her mamma had the ring on her finger when she got into the carriage--now Lady Anne was clear she had not.
"Has your ladyship," I asked, "any particular reason for remembering this fact?"
"Oh, yes! several very particular reasons."
There is sometimes wisdom in listening to a fool's reasons; for ten to one that the reasons will prove the contrary to what they are brought to support, or will at least bring out some fact, the distant bearing of which on the point of question the fool does not perceive. But when two fools pour out their reasons at once, it is difficult to profit even by their folly. The mother's authority at last obtaining precedency, I heard Lady de Brantefield's cause of belief, first: her ladyship declared that she never wore Sir Josseline's ring without putting on after it a guard ring, a ring which, being tighter than Sir Josseline's, kept it safe on her finger. She remembered drawing off the guard ring when she took off Sir Josseline's, and put that into Jacob's hands; her ladyship said it was clear to her mind that she could not have put on Sir Josseline's again, because here was the guard ring on her wrong finger--a finger on which she never in her life wore it when she wore Sir Josseline's, for Sir Josseline's was so loose, it would drop off, unless she had the guard on.
"But was not it possible," I asked, "that your ladyship might this once have put on Sir Josseline's ring without recollecting the guard?"
No, absolutely impossible: if Jacob and all the Jews upon earth swore it (who, by-the-bye, would swear any thing), she could not be convinced against her reason--she knew her own habits--her private reasons to her were unanswerable.
Lady Anne's private reasons to her were equally unanswerable; but they were so confused, and delivered with so much volubility, as to be absolutely unintelligible. All I could gather was, that Fowler and her daughter Nancy were in the room when Lady Anne and her mother first missed the ring--that when her mother drew off her glove, and exclaimed, "Bless me, Sir Josseline's not here!" Lady Anne ran up to the dressing-table, at which her mother was standing, to try to find the ring, thinking that her mother might have dropped it in drawing off her glove; "but it certainly was not drawn off with the glove."
"But might not it be left in the glove?" I asked.
"Oh! dear, no: I shook the glove myself, and Fowler turned every finger inside out, and Nancy moved every individual box upon the dressing-table. We were all in such a fuss, because you know mamma's so particular about Sir Josseline; and to tell you the truth, I was uncommonly anxious, because I knew if mamma was vexed and lost the ring, she would not give me a certain diamond cross, that makes me so particularly remember every circumstance--and I was in such a flurry, that I know I threw down a bottle of aether that was on mamma's toilette, on her muff--and it had such a horrid smell!"
The muff! I asked if the muff, as well as the glove, had been searched carefully.
"La! to be sure--I suppose so--of course it was shaken, as every thing else in the room was, a hundred times over: the toilette and mamma's petticoats even, and cloak, and gloves, as I told you."
"Yes, but the muff, did your ladyship examine it yourself?"
"Did I examine it? I don't recollect. No, indeed, after the aether, how could I touch it? you know: but of course it was shaken, it was examined, I am sure; but really I know nothing about it--but this, that it could not possibly be in it, the ring, I mean, because mamma had her glove on."
I requested permission to see the muff.
"Oh, mamma was forced to give it away because of the horrid smell--she bid Fowler take it out of the room that minute, and never let it come near her again; but if you want to see it, ring for Fowler: you can examine it as much as you please; depend upon it the ring's no more there than I am--send for Fowler and Nancy, and they can tell you how we shook every thing to no purpose. The ring's gone, and so am I, for Colonel Topham's waiting, and I must lead off." And away her ladyship tripped, flirting her perfumed fan as she went. Persisting in my wish to see the muff, Lady de Brantefield desired me to ring for Fowler.
Her ladyship wondered, she said, how I could, after the reasons she had given me for her being morally certain that she had left the ring with Jacob, and after Lady Anne had justly remarked that the ring could not get through her glove, entertain a hope of finding it in such a ridiculous place as a muff. But since I was so possessed with this idea, the muff should be produced--there was nothing like ocular demonstration in these cases, except internal conviction: "Did you ring, Mr. Harrington?"
And Miss Nancy with the treble ruffles in her hand now appeared.
"'Tis your mother, child, I want," said Lady de Brantefield.
"Yes, my lady, she is only just finished assisting to lay out the ball supper."
"But I want her--directly."
"Certainly, my lady, directly."
"And bid her bring--" A whisper from me to my mother, and from my mother to her ladyship, failed of effect: after turning half round, as if to ask me what I said--a look which did not pass unnoticed by Miss Nancy--her ladyship finished her sentence--"And tell Fowler I desire she will bring me the muff that I gave her last week--the day I lost my ring."
This message would immediately put Fowler upon her guard, and I was at first sorry that it had been so worded; but I recollected having heard an eminent judge, a man of great abilities and experience, say, that if he were called upon to form a judgment of any character, or to discover the truth in any case, he would rather that the persons whom he was to examine were previously put on their guard, than that they were not; for that he should know, by what they guarded, of what they were afraid.
Fowler appeared--twenty years had so changed her face and figure, that the sight of her did not immediately shock me as I feared it would. The daughter, who, I suppose, more nearly resembled what her mother had been at the time I had known her, was, of the two, the most disagreeable to my sight and feelings. Fowler's voice was altered by the loss of a tooth, and it was even by this change less odious to my ear. The daughter's voice I could scarcely endure. I was somewhat relieved from the fear of being prejudiced against Fowler by the perception of this change in her; and while she was paying me her compliments, I endeavoured to fortify the resolution I had made to judge of her with perfect impartiality. Her delight at seeing me, however, I could not believe to be sincere; and the reiterated repetition of her sorrow for her never having been able to get a sight of me before, I thought ill-judged: but no matter; many people in her station make these sort of unmeaning speeches. If I had suffered my imagination to act, I should have fancied that under a sort of prepared composure there was constraint and alarm in her look as she spoke to me. I thought she trembled; but I resolved not to be prejudiced--and this I repeated to myself many times.
"Well, Fowler, but the muff," said Lady de Brantefield.
"The muff--oh! dear, my lady, I'm so sorry I can't have it for you--it's not in the house nowhere--I parted with it out of hand directly upon your saying, my lady, that you desired it might never be suffered to come nigh your ladyship again. Then, says I to myself, since my lady can't abide the smell, I can't never wear it, which it would have been my pride to do; so I thought I could never get it fast enough out of the house."
"And what did you do with it?"
"I made a present of it, my lady, to poor Mrs. Baxter, John Dutton's sister, my lady, who was always so much attached to the family, and would have a regard for even the smallest relic, vestige, or vestment, I knew, above all things in nature, poor old soul!--she has, what with the rheumatic pains, and one thing or another, lost the use of her right arm, so it was particularly agreeable and appropriate--and she kissed the muff-- oh! my lady, I'm sure I only wish your ladyship could have witnessed the poor soul's veneration."
In reply to a question which made my mother ask about the "poor soul," I further learned that Mrs. Baxter was wife to a pawnbroker in Swallow- street. Fowler added, "If my lady wished any way for the muff, I can get it to-morrow morning by breakfast, or by the time you's up, my lady."
"Very well, very well, that will do, I suppose, will it not, Mr. Harrington?"
I bowed, and said not a word more--Fowler, I saw, was glad to get rid of the subject, and to go on to the treble ruffles, on which while she and my mother and Lady de Brantefield were descanting, I made my exit, and went to the ball-room.
I found Lady Anne Mowbray--talked nonsense to her ladyship for a quarter of an hour--and at last, à propos to her perfumed fan, I brought in the old muff with the horrid smell, on purpose to obtain a full description of it.
She told me that it was a gray fox-skin, lined with scarlet; that it had great pompadour-coloured knots at each end, and that it was altogether hideous. Lady Anne declared that she was heartily glad it would never shock her eyes more.
It was now just nine o'clock; people then kept better hours than they do at present; I was afraid that all the shops would be shut; but I recollected that pawnbrokers' shops were usually kept open late. I lost no time in pursuing my object.
I took a hackney coach, bribed the coachman to drive very fast to Mr. Manessa--found Manessa and Jacob going to bed sleepy--but at sight of me Jacob was alert in an instant, and joyfully ready to go with me immediately to Baxter, the pawnbroker's.
I made Jacob furnish me with an old surtout and slouched hat, desiring to look as shabby as possible, that the pawnbroker might take me for one of his usual nightly customers, and might not be alarmed at the sight of a gentleman.
"That won't do yet, Mr. Harrington," said Jacob, when I had equipped myself in the old hat and coat. "Mr. Baxter will see the look of a gentleman through all that. It is not the shabby coat that will make the gentleman look shabby, no more than the fine coat can ever make the shabby look like the gentleman. The pawnbroker, who is used to observe and find out all manner of people, will know that as well as I--but now you shall see how well at one stroke I will disguise the gentleman."
Jacob then twisted a dirty silk handkerchief round my throat, and this did the business so completely, that I defied the pawnbroker and all his penetration.
We drove as fast as we could to Swallow-street--dismissed our hackney coach, and walked up to the pawnbroker's.
Light in the shop!--all alive!--and business going on. The shop was so full of people, that we stood for some minutes unnoticed.
We had leisure to look about us, as we had previously agreed to do, for Lady De Brantefield's muff.
I had a suspicion that, notwithstanding the veneration with which it had been said to be treated, it might have come to the common lot of cast clothes.
Jacob at one side, and I at the other, took a careful survey of the multifarious contents of the shop; of all that hung from the ceiling; and all that was piled on the shelves; and all that lay huddled in corners, or crammed into dark recesses.
In one of the darkest and most ignominious of these, beneath a heap of sailors' old jackets and trowsers, I espied a knot of pompadour riband. I hooked it out a little with the stick I had in my hand; but Jacob stopped me, and called to the shopboy, who now had his eye upon us, and with him we began to bargain hard for some of the old clothes that lay upon the muff.
The shopboy lifted them up to display their merits, by the dimness of the candle-light, and, as he raised them up, there appeared beneath the gray fox-skin with its scarlet lining and pompadour knots, the Lady de Brantefield's much venerated muff.
I could scarcely refrain from seizing upon it that moment, but Jacob again restrained me.
He went on talking about the sailors' jackets, for which we had been in treaty; and he insisted upon having the old muff into the bargain. It actually was at last thrown in as a makeweight. Had she been witness to this bargain, I believe Lady De Brantefield would have dropped down in a swoon.
The moment I got possession of it, I turned it inside out.--There were several small rents in the lining--but one in particular had obviously been cut open with scissars. The shopboy, who thought I was pointing out the rents to disparage my purchase, assured me that any woman, clever at her needle, would with half-a-dozen stitches sew all up, and make the muff as good again as new. Jacob desired the boy to show him some old seals, rings, and trinkets, fit for a pedlar to carry into the country; Jacob was, for this purpose, sent to the most respectable place at the counter, and promoted to the honour of dealing face to face with Mr. Baxter himself:-- drawers, which had before been invisible, were now produced; and I stood by while Jacob looked over all the new and old trinkets. I was much surprised by the richness and value of various brooches, picture settings, watches, and rings, which had come to this fate: at last, in a drawer with many valuables, which Mr. Baxter told us that some great man's mistress had, last week, been obliged to leave with him, Jacob and I, at the same moment, saw "the splendour of the topaz"--Lady de Brantefield's inestimable ring! I must do myself the justice to say that I behaved incomparably well--did not make a single exclamation, though I was sure it was the identical ring, the moment I caught a glimpse of the topaz--and though a glance from Jacob convinced me I was right. I said I could wait no longer, but would call again for him in half an hour's time. This was what we had agreed upon beforehand should be the signal for my summoning a Bow-street officer, whom Mr. Manessa had in readiness. Jacob identified and swore to the property--Mr. Baxter was seized. He protested he did not know the ring was stolen goods--he could not recollect who had sold it to him; but when we mentioned Fowler's name, he grew pale, was disconcerted, and not knowing how much or how little we knew, decided at once to get out of the scrape himself by giving her up, and turning evidence against her. He stated that she had found it in the old muff, but that he never knew That this muff had belonged to Lady de Brantefield. Mrs. Fowler had assured Him that it had been left to her along with the wardrobe of a lady with Whom she had formerly lived.
As soon as Baxter had told all the lies he chose to invent, and confessed as much of the truth as he thought would serve his purpose, his deposition was taken and sworn to. This was all that could then be done, as it was near twelve o'clock.
Poor Jacob's joy at having his innocence proved, and at being relieved from the fear of injuring the credit of his master's house, raised his spirits higher than I ever saw them in my life before. But still his joy and gratitude were more shown by looks than words. He thanked me once, and but once, warmly and strongly.
"Ah! Mr. Harrington," said he, "from the time you were Master Harrington at school, you were my best friend--always my friend in most need--I trusted in you, and still I hoped!--hoped that the truth would stand, and the lie fall. See at last our Hebrew proverb right--'A lie has no feet.'"
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