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A HOUSE OF CARDS.
WITH CLOSED DOORS.
From Tinsley's Magazine.
the inner square. Perhaps the more elderly of the ghosts might not recognise the flock of pigeons which come every day to very busy everywhere, and of the grim and unpromising legal precincts, course synonymous with improvement, - in unlikely playground as it seems, and unmen, morals, manners, architecture, drain-productive of crumbs of comfort;- -no one age, and other interests of humanity - has appears to know when the feathered clients not occupied itself particularly with Gray's- first came there in forma pauperis; they at inn. The ghosts of the clients who carried least have never been plucked; but other their anxieties, their injuries, their projects, change there is little or none. Still a and their money thither, in the days long strange air of solitude in the midst of a gone, and who emerged from either of the crowd sits upon the place; still the secluold gateways, leaving more or less of their sion of concentrated attention, uninterrupted respective burdens after them, might stroll from without, is present there, though the about the old place very comfortably with-air is full of the dull continuous sound of out suspecting from its appearance that the roll and swell of life and movement in time enough for their former existence to Holborn; still it needs an act of faith to have been entirely forgotten in has elapsed. believe in the near vicinity of anything so The ghosts of the lawyers of that by-gone pleasant, so shady, and so suggestive of period might look in upon their professional the possibility of leisure, not to say idleremplaçants of to-day, and suffer no shock to ness, as the Gray's-inn gardens. The legal their sensibilities through the undisciplined ghosts might walk there o' nights with intrusion of change, so far as the surround- mighty Verulam,' and in their rambles meet ings and accessories of the place are con- more ancient spirits by the way,' who cerned. Modern costume, regarded by the would have some right to be discontented ghostly lawyers of the past, might indeed with the havoc and discourtesy of change. appear indecorous, wanting in primness But these would be the old, old ghosts of and in cachet to the very verge of indecen- all, the cowled monks who leased their chancy; but though they must look in vain for try, the mansion of Portpoole, to certain powder and pigtail, they would not be dis- students of the law,' and the Dennys and appointed in dust. The ancient rooms are Grays of Wilton, in the Plantagenet days. still grimy; the wide staircases, the pon-Jacob Tonson might find his way about the derous balusters, the quaint ornamentation of wall and ceiling, are grim and dreary as in the time when the ghosts attended punctually at office-hours. The big knobs, which ponderously finished off the wide Almost as the old square is to-day, it was staircases in the ghosts' time, and have been one bright morning many years ago. Years polished by the casual pressure of whole not so many as to give anybody the unparlegions of hands long ago skeleton, and donably troublesome mental task of trying dissociated fron all necessities of signing to supply local colouring,' and lose sight and sealing, are still in their sturdy, self- of modern appliances to which we have all asserting places. Sparing have been the become so accustomed that we take them labours of the painter and the glazier; the for granted without a thought of their orighosts may look in, if they please, through gin, as we take the penny-postage and the the small panes of ill-conditioned glass, set tax-gatherer; but a good number in the in the thick ugly wooden frame-work, through which they looked out, in the day of their flesh and their weariness, on the grave expanse of gravel and flagstone, surrounded by the tall dull houses, which form
place blindfold- if the expression may be permitted in speaking of a ghost-and, strolling into Holborn, find his father's trade still flourishing.
brief reckoning of human lives. It is needless to be particular about the date; it suffices to state that the oracular cry, ‘Our young Queen and our old institutions, had not yet been uttered, and therefore had not
been discovered to be equally popular and unmeaning; and the education of the Conservative party had not been commenced. Society found something to talk about, however, then as now, and the period was interesting in its general and particular aspects. This story has nothing to do with either, beyond this brief indication of the time when it had its beginning in the private room of a solicitor, who occupied a spacious set of chambers in one of the dingiest and grimiest houses in Gray's-innsquare.
cheerful' in society, not rising to the 'jolly' standard on any occasion. A man of slight, but well-built, active figure, with remarkably well-shaped feet, and hands of almost feminine beauty, but which did not offend by effeminacy; such was Mr. Eliot Foster in external appearance. Whether he would have struck the observer as the very model of all a solicitor in large and confidential business ought to be, would have largely depended upon the character and designs of the observer. A client coming to him with business perfectly above-board, and Mr. Eliot Foster did not harmonise in capable of enduring the most searching and outward aspect with his chambers. Most painstaking investigation, business however probably, as he was no longer a young man, complicated in its details, and involving no and as he had been for many years a hard- matter what responsibility and weight of working man, with a numerous and impor- consequences, would undoubtedly have felt tant clientèle; as he knew a vast number of that he was applying to the right man in the family affairs, including not a few family right place. Whereas, a client, tempted by secrets, and implying manifold revelations Mr. Eliot Foster's reputation for ability of character-there were dark and dingy and 'luck,' who brought him shady' busiplaces in his mind, and corners full of ill-ness-anything which, in modern slang parfavoured rubbish and refuse. Such as ter- lance, required to be pulled through by a rible injustice, hatred, wrong, and ven- fluke,' or that malevolence might stigmatise geance; grasping avarice, pitilessness, and as 'dirty work—would at once have recogreckless use of power; evil, readily and nised that the dingy chambers in Gray's-inn quickly done, never to be undone or atoned were not his congenial sphere by any means; for; and the hardly less terrible triumph and that, while great misfortunes, wrongs, of the evil-doer. When an experienced or emergencies of fate or conduct might lawyer in large practice brings out of the there address themselves with confidence, storehouse of his memory things good and knavery requiring an accomplice had better evil, the contemplation must be a strange take itself farther afield. That this man— and solemn exercise. Mr. Eliot Foster did so calm, so self-possessed in manner, so ennot look like a man in the habit of airing tirely given to the business of the hour, so his collection of skeletons; he was of com- admirable a disciplinarian that no young fortable and gentlemanlike aspect, and in man aspiring to a rise in the profession of his well-preserved, middle-aged estate, clerkhood could have a better recommendalooked satisfied with the world in which he tion than that he had been at Foster's, and lived, and its treatment of him. Respecta- only left to better himself' could enterbility, not of the high-and-dry, but of the tain a sentimental grievance, and, moreover, average easy type, was evidently attributa- could suffer it to trouble him in businessble to him; and not even in these modern hours, and even at the commencement of days of suspicion, and the deserving of it, the day's routine, when his administrative would any one dream of suspecting Mr. El-faculties were in particular requisition, would iot Foster of being anything but the irreproachably upright, sagacious, and prosperous man of business he looked. If there were anything of which one would have suspected Mr. Eliot Foster rather than knavery, that thing would certainly not have been sentiment. The eminently practical was to be discerned in his face, his figure, his attitudes, his habits, and his dress. A fair-complexioned, clean-shaven, lighthaired, hazel-eyed man, with a rather aquiline nose- what there was of aquiline being real, not a touch of the vulture about it; a rather long upper-lip, and a well-cut mouth, with something in its expression which indicated that he might be melancholy when he was alone, but could not be more than 'very
have been discredited by the casual observer. But-and this concerned Mr. Eliot Foster more nearly, and afforded himn more satisfaction in feeling perfectly assured of it - his intimate friends, his closest and most habitual associates, especially his clerks, would have derided such an idea as a hallucination, weak-minded in its conception, if not deliberately malicious in its design.
London, in its business sense, had been awake and stirring hours ago; London, in its fashionable sense, would soon be thinking of waking and stirring; and the clerks at Mr. Eliot Foster's- he did all his own business and pocketed all his own profits, partnership being unknown to him, as to
his father before him. were in the full activity of office-hours.' Noisy spluttering pens were going over paper and parchment with unpleasant sound; and the young gentlemen, whose voluminous neck-ties and deep, high coat-collars, quite the thing in those days, would procure for the wearers the pains and penalties of guys' in our time, were working away with conscientiousness much accelerated by the presence of Mr. Eliot Foster in the adjoining room, and believed their employer to be equally energetically engaged in his particular pursuits. But the ingenuous young gentlemen were mistaken. Mr. Eliot Foster- his new pen unstained by ink, the supply of large blue letter-paper, of a dreadful fashion and texture now happily obsolete, lying undisturbed upon the stained and ragged leather of his solid mahogany writing-table, the trim order of which ugly and ponderous article of furniture indicated the method and precision of its owner's ways was slowly pacing the room up and down, past the long narrow windows, his hands clasped behind. his back, and an expression in his face which no mortal eyes had beheld there for many a long (and prosperous) year.
one of them to pull nervously at his shirtfrill, or to fumble with the collar of his coat, or to tap the table as he passed it by, or in some other unconscious action, which indicated that something was troubling him, disturbing him, throwing his business mind in business hours out of its business groove, which was very indecorous, distressing, unusual, and unaccountable.
The something which was disturbing Mr. Eliot Foster was held in the hand which he kept behind his back, and was not alarming in appearance. It was only a note, a threecornered note, written on paper which was dainty then, in a woman's hand, at once bold and scrawly; a brief note, which had not been sent through the post, though Mr. Eliot Foster had found it on the top of the pile which had just demanded his reluctant attention. Without any assignment of local habitation to the writer, and with no date but Thursday,' the note, in no other respect vague, contained these words:
'I must see you to-morrow. Expect me at twelve. If you have business, put it off; if you have visitors, send them away.
Business correspondence at the period in 'What an extraordinary woman she is!' question had not piled itself up after the in- so ran the lawyer's thoughts, spoken half considerate and unlimited fashion of the aloud, as the hand which he held behind present time. Just as people managed to his back shut and opened on the scrap of exist without the perpetual note-writing paper it enclosed. She never was like which we all denounce, ridicule, complain any one else, as I have known to my cost. of, and practise, and carried on their affairs What is she doing-what is she wanting of love, politeness, and the smaller social now? Not to see me; no, no! I am not services, with only a moderate expenditure such a fool as to flatter myself with such a of stationery and postage, so they con- delusion as that; she needs my help in densed their business correspondence; and something, and I must give it her; creditathe heap of letters which is an incident of ble or discreditable, I cannot say no. And the everyday existence of every one who she knows that-ah, yes, she knows that either has, fancies he has, or is supposed by well! The old peremptory way-the old other people to have, anything to do, was imperious, wilful, selfish, irresistible way. an unknown or a very moderate infliction. If you have business, put it off; if you The pile of letters which lay on Mr. Eliot have visitors, send them away.' Yes, yes; Foster's desk was of insignificant dimen- there the true Julia speaks. No mistaking sions in comparison with that which a Lon-her; girl and woman, she has never changed. don man of the present day would have to She will be here at twelve- it is only twenty encounter on his arrival at chambers; but minutes past eleven.' Then the trim, prim, he had found some difficulty in getting cool, hard, sagacious lawyer sighed, and through it, in giving to each communication poked the crumpled little letter into his the attention it demanded; and when at waistcoat-pocket, and forced himself to relength the task was ended, he had risen im- sume his seat and his inspection of his busipatiently from his chair an uncompromis-ness correspondence. But it would not do; ing fabric composed of cane and mahogany, the letters fell from his hand; he pushed constructed, judging from its height, for the accommodation of a giant, and misfitted with the slipperiest leather cushion within the precincts of the Inn - and begun that before mentioned walk, with bent head, and hands clasped behind his back. Now and then he would unclasp the hands and use
them aside, and leaning his elbows on his desk, and his face on his clasped hands, gave way to a reverie which, if his unconscious clerks had seen it, would have seriously impaired their estimate of hiş character.
Twelve o'clock, but no sign of the ex
pected visitor. And yet, as she is coming about her own business, and, I presume, in her own interest, even a woman, and that woman Julia, might have been expected to be punctual,' said Mr. Eliot Foster bitterly, as he looked at his large flat gold watch, to compare 'his' time with the loudly-proclaimed opinion of several neighbouring clocks on that subject.
A discreet knock upon the upper panel of the heavy door recalled Mr. Eliot Foster to a sense of the necessity of resuming his business expression. He looked very unlike the man who had so lately been taking a troubled walk about the room, when in reply to hisCome in!' a sandy-haired, freckled, and inky young gentleman presented himself, and said nervously, as if the unaccustomed apparition had frightened
A lady, sir; says it's an appointment.'
Mr. Clithero retired for a moment, then returned and showed the lady in, after which he carried away with him a vivid impression of his employer, standing still and upright by the table, without having made the usual ceremonious bow which generally ensued on the introduction of a visitor, before the closing of the door.
The private room' was not a very large apartment, and the distance from the door to the clumsy office-table beside which Mr. Eliot Foster stood was not great-was much too limited, it might have been supposed, for the display of feminine grace of mien and movement; nevertheless, the lady approached him with a step and a gesture which at once indicated her claim to gracefulness. When she stood beside the officetable, she raised the long and thick lace veil which had hidden her face from the inquisitive eyes of the clerks, and then an observer would have discovered what Mr. Eliot Foster knew 'to his cost-that she was beautiful. The lady spoke first, as she gave the lawyer her hand.
'I am a little late,' she said, in an unconcerned voice, with a rich full tone in it which harmonised with the strong vitality and the perfect proportion which showed themselves in her face, figure, and expression.
The lawyer replied by a question. How did you come? I did not hear a carriage.' 'I walked here,' she answered; 'not alone, though; I had a very eligible and sufficient escort; he is waiting for me, improving his mind in Holborn."
seated herself in an attitude which had something insolent in its grace.
'He,' she returned. Then leaning suddenly forward, she said rapidly,
'Look here, Eliot; what is the use of your meeting me in this way, and putting on this sort of manner? I don't believe in it, and it wouldn't have the slightest effect on me if I did. You want to know what has brought me here; you are unwilling to let me see how much you want to know; and you are afraid to ask me lest my business should be of a nature of which you could not approve. Then you would inform me of your disapproval, and I should be entirely indifferent to it, as I always have been, and should act precisely as I had intended. I don't come to you for advice, Eliot - yes, yes, you mean by that shake of the head that I have never taken advice from you or any one I come to you for help, and I expect, I know, will give it you
The voice changed into the softest tone, the large, rather stern eyes, of the indefinite colour which darkens with feeling or the affectation of feeling, and lightens with anger or any evil impulse, smiled gently, confidingly, appealingly, and not in vain.
'God knows I have never refused to help you, Julia; not even when you have been hardest and most unjust and scornful to me. And I did not really expect you to listen to anything I might have to say; but it is a long time now since I have seen you, and I'
You thought I might be changed. Ah, Eliot, it would be a bad day for you that should see that change; but no, I am just the same, and I have come to you because there is a chance for me, and you only you-can help me to take advantage of it.'
A chance for you, Julia! Now, what do you mean?' Mr. Eliot Foster rose as he spoke, and leaned against the high narrow chimney-piece, obscuring the cheerless view of a dusty grate, into which some scraps of paper had found their desultory way. His gaze, now resuming somewhat of its business expression, was earnestly bent upon the beautiful woman who sat within a few feet of him. She had untied her bonnet, and was dangling it by the strings over the arm of her chair, and sometimes his eyes strayed from the face which addressed itself to him to the lissom hand which played impatiently with the bonnet-strings, and seemed by its quick nervous movements to make amends for the forced gentleness and composure of her speech. Her tall figure, her full white throat and clear-cut regal features, the rich shining mass of dark-brown
hair, dressed, as was the fashion of the The faintest possible twitching among the
time, in bandeaux, enclosing the small waxlike ears, and gathered into a great smooth knot placed low upon the back of the neck, formed a picture which seemed strangely out of place in the grim lawyer's grimy private room. There was nothing business-like' about it in appearance; and yet few clients had ever sought private conference with Mr. Eliot Foster on business more important to their interests, or with a steadier determination to carry it through, than Julia Peyton. 'I mean -I mean- - well, of course, you understand, that I can only mean the chance of a marriage. What other chance is there, can there be, for me? I cannot bear the life I am leading any longer.'
'And yet it seems to me that you might find it very endurable, Julia. Yours is surely the merest sham of dependence. You are your own mistress, and every other person's mistress, at Meriton; your time is your own, or you could not be here; and your position is secure.'
Very secure!' said the lady with a sneer, which contrasted remarkably with the smile she had so lately bestowed upon her hearer; 'very secure indeed; only depending upon the whim of a blind old woman, and upon how long I can keep her maid and her butler my friends instead of my enemies. I understand your being satisfied that I should remain where I am; but that's not exactly the question, you see, or, if you don't, I must make you see.'
'Pray don't,' said Mr. Foster, with an evident effort to preserve his calm tone and manner, and a momentary look of pain, 'pray don't refer to me at all. You have always been so explicit concerning me, Julia, that I should be a fool to permit any feeling of my own to influence me for a moment; you have told me you do not need, and will not take, any advice; go on now, and tell me what is the help you do need, and have come to ask for.'
The lady looked at the lawyer strangely, with a momentary yearning as of pity in her face, and suddenly put out her hand to him. It was a strong, well-shaped hand, but not small, and it let his hand go as suddenly as it had touched it.
You are a good man, Eliot,' she said; 'too good a man to care about me. However, that is beside the question. I did not come here to talk sentiment, or to listen to it.'
You will not be asked to listen to it,' said Mr. Foster drily; I am quite at your service, to give my attention to the business you have come upon, as if you were any other client.'
mobile muscles of the lady's mouth testified to some cynical amusement and unbelief on her part; but she said nothing, and Mr. Foster continued, now with a touch of impatience in his tone:
You are not quite so easy, not quite so decided in this matter as you wish to appear, Julia, or you would have told me what it is you want of me before now. You have been ten minutes in this room, and I never knew you to be so slow before in coming to any point. You are hesitating and uncertain; I am quite ready to hear and to act.'
The look of pain was quite gone from his face, and by a great effort he banished the look of softness, too, and now was all the man of business again.
The lady saw this, and discarding all irresolution, she spoke: 'Are we quite safe from interruption?'
I can secure that we shall be so by a direction to my clerks.'
Mr. Eliot Foster gave the necessary order, and resumed his former place and attitude, looking down upon her.
'I have not told you that Mrs. Haviland's son has returned from India, and has been staying at Meriton for some time. In my late letters - few enough and sufficiently far between to protect me from the imputation you once fixed upon me of playing with your feelings, by keeping up unnecessary communications,' said the lady, who was then playing with his feelings by every artful device of look, gesture, and'intonation within her power-I did not mention the circumstance. Why? Not to spare you, I assure you. I fear I am not yet good enough, or considerate enough, for anything of that kind; but because there was something of which I was not quite certain. I made up my mind that I would wait, and I have waited, to mention Mrs. Haviland's son to you, until I could tell you what I came here to tell you to-day.'
She paused, and they looked at each other. Then Mr. Eliot Foster said with a short nod:
That Mr. Haviland has fallen in love