Imágenes de páginas

avoided calling in this time the help of the servants, as in the case of the widow, and had obeyed, at the man's menace, the merely instinctive feeling of self-preservation, without staying to reflect how he was to get rid of this ugly customer, now seeing that the gardener was aware of the scene, called hastily, “John 1 John Help! help ! Here! here !” John came up, and Hooks cried hurriedly, “Seize him, put him out! Another of these desperate impostors who are always now making false claims—most probably a gang—most probably a gang ! Seize him and put him out!” “Ay, seize me!” said the man, in a tone of defiance. “Thrust me out if you dare, John Bushy' You know better than to come within the reach of my stick! You are too honest a fellow, Bushy, to hurt a poor man that is robbed ; ay, robbed, cheated by this villain!” and, stamping his stick on the gravel walk, he went on to relate all that had passed, while Sampson Hooks had slipped away round the house. John, the gardener, who saw the coast clear, came quietly up, and said softly to the man: “Mr. Ragley, God knows that I won't lay a finger on you. I know you to be as honest as the day's long ; but listen to me. You will do no good striving here. Let me advise you to go away for the present and see what turns up. Remember, there's a God in heaven! I can't help you just now ; if you stand five minutes longer you may lose me my place too; but I will, with all the pleasure in the world, give you any advice I can. I'll come on Sunday—that's the day after to-morrow—to your house, and we'll talk it over. But go now, only go!” “John,” said the old man, trembling with rage and agony of mind, “I am out of myself—I am mad. I don't know what to do; but I won't be any harm to you, neither. I'll e'en go ; but assure as God's in heaven, or the devil's in this hypocrite's soul, I'll have justice or his heart's blood!” The old fellow stalked off, limping and wiping his eyes on the baek of his great bony hand, and coughing with rage. Once or twice he stopped, looked back as if he were resolved to return, but he only gazed wildly at the house, shook his stick threateningly, and again hobbled off. John closed the yard gate after him and then returned, with strange feelings, to his work. It may be supposed that this, added to the widow's affair, made no: small, rumour. It spread through the whole country round. Other rumours grew quickly out of it, that, with all his gathering and cheating, Sampson Hooks’ affairs were in a wretched plight. There were rumours of writs and executions, and heaven knows what ; and every strange man that was seen to advance to the Hall was supposed to be a lawyer's messenger, or bum-bailiff, or some such respectable character. But spite of all this the Hall itself was very quiet, and Mr. Sampson Hooks and his roadster, Black Jack, were seen as composedly as ever, jogging to and fro. But one thing was certain: the man Simon Ragley had gone to a lawyer, and the lawyer had written to Sampson Hooks, threatening all the terrors of the law, leaving the clergyman to threaten all the terrors of the gospel, if he did not forthwith pay to the said Simon Ragley his money. On which Mr. Sampson Hooks most properly and most reasonably professed his readiness, may his excessive pleasure in such readiness, to pay Mr. Simon Ragley one hundred, or one thousand, or ten thousand pounds, if he could by any species of legal evidence show that he was so indebted to him. And therefore that lawyer felt, as well he might, no little perplexed, for his client had just no such proofto produce. But the lawyer nevertheless put on a very knowing air, and wrote to Mr. Sampson Hooks notice of further proceedings,

accompanied by mysterious hints that more evidences of the

fact would be forthcoming, than he the said Sampson Hooks

might possibly dream of. Sampson Hooks, however, strong in his

own conceptions of the case, only repeated his former liberal offers and lay still. Things were long in this interesting position; rumour was dealing very freely with Mr. Sampson Hooks' character round the country, and Mr. Hooks, like a very saint, was bearing all with the most admirable patience; while old Joe Ling, to whose knowledge these things were occasionally coming by slips of paper as he paused at different public-houses to refresh himself and his pony on his peregrinations, said, “Was there ever such a pack of fools, as to expect people to pay money to any scamp as asked it, and with no more to show for it than he had to show for the crown of England? Are you that good-natured fool? or you?—or you?” asked he tauntingly and triumphantly of the different persons in company. “By Leddy now-a-days one finds it quite enough to pay what is clearly shown to be due !” But Providence had not been asleep, nor had he been away from the world during these transactions, and a very simple turn of his finger placed poor Simon Ragley and his lawyer in a triumphant position. The gardener of Sampson Hooks, after the affair of Simon Ragley, was constantly falling, over his work, into deep reveries, from which he seldom awoke without some solemn shakes of the head. He was frequently so very much impressed by the recollection of the scene, that he would suddenly rise up and stare at the window out of which his master had so suddenly bolted and old Simon had so violently plunged after him. Nay, as he came past that window he could not for the life of him help stopping and looking into the room itself, when he was sure nobody was there. As he saw his master take his walks about the garden, his eyes got a habit of involuntarily following him; and one day as he saw him there, walking to and fro, he observed that he pulled various papers out of his pocket and became very much interested in their examination. As he did this the gardener observed that one paper fell from the lot, and that Mr. Sampson Hooks went on, evidently without noticing the fact. The gardener bent to his work, but with a constant look under his hat to ascertain whether his master ever noticed this fallen paper, but he did not, and soon after left the garden. I need not say that the door was hardly closed behind Mr. Sampson Hooks, when John Bushy was very briskly yet sedately walking along the path where the paper had fallen, and first stooping here, and then stooping there, as if to gather some weeds, he finally picked up the paper, stuck it into his jacket pocket, and went at once home to his dinner, though it was half an hour too soon. The moment he was out of Hooks's gates, he flew with rapid strides into the adjoining churchyard; and, as if he had got some particular fancy to run round the church, got on the opposite side of it, and in a corner formed by a huge buttress, pulled out the paper and opened it. Any stranger who could have caught a glimpse of the worthy gardener at that moment, need not to have inquired whether he had learned to read, for the moment he opened the longish, narrowish bit of old paper, he first turned red, then turned white, then looked round him, then stared right away into a great holly-bush, in a garden just beyond the churchyard-wall, and finally, putting the paper in his pocket, set off home as fast as his legs could carry him. What honest John Bushy had got—if honest we can call him who had got something which should have seemed to be his master's—he never told, not even to his wife; but that same afternoon, stating that he had to go to the next village about flowerpots, he went off as nimbly as he had gone into the churchyard. As he never told anybody what he had got, it is not for us, who indeed never spoke to John Bushy in all our lives, to say what it was ; but we may state a simple historical fact, and that is, that from this very time old Simon Ragley's lawyer began to assume a much more confident tone in his communications with Mr.Sampson Hooks, begging him, at the same time, not to allow himself to fall into the expense which awaited him, if he would not pay Simon Ragley his hundred pounds. Mr. Sampson Hooks, however, only repeated that the said Simon must first show cause, and there was an end of the matter. This seemed reasonable enough; but lawyers are often very unreasonable, and this man seemed now to have a particular pleasure in urging the matter on. Sampson remained relentless; the lawyer issued his writ; Sampson put in appearanee to it, and the matter came on for trial. The day had arrived; the parties were arrived too in the town, when the lawyer made a last offer to settle the affair in private. He was tender of Mr. Hooks' character, he said, which Mr. Hooks contended meant only that he was very tender of his own, and too shrewd to bring a case for trial where there was no evidence against the defendant. Hooks again gave his old answer—show proof, and there needed nothing more. To his overwhelming surprise the lawyer assented; deelared that he would show proof, to save Mr. Hooks from universal shame, and perhaps utter ruin ; and appointed an hour to meet at the office of Mr. Hooks' attorney. They met. “It is a pity,” said Ragley's lawyer—“it is a great pity, Mr. Hooks, that this matter should have been permitted to come on so far as this.” “A great pity, indeed,” replied Mr. Sampson Hooks: “I have always said so. But why bring it so far? I certainly did not.” “A very great pity,” responded the lawyer; “but will Mr. Hooks allow me to propose one thing, in order to show who has brought it thus far? Will Mr. Hooks swear—nay, I will not go to such alength —will he merely lay his hand on this Bible, and say from his heart and his conscience, before God, and before these present—” There stood Simon Ragley, gazing on Sampson Hooks with an expression that seemed to say—“I shall eat you up in another minute, and with a relish s”—and there stood also Mr. Hooks' lawyer, in a serious attention “Will Mr. Hooks do that, and declare that he knows nothing of the note or the debt in question?” “Sir,” said Sampson Hooks, “this is the most extraordinary conduct I ever knew in my lifel Surely it is not come so far as oaths and solemn protestations; they, surely, will be time enough when the matter is before the court. But was it for this that we came here ? Was it not to see proof? And what I have to say here or elsewhere is, show your evidence! Show it at once, Mr. Attorney, or I take my leave.” “Then there it is!” said Ragley's lawyer, with a most solemn and significant look, laying before Sampson Hooks an old strip of paper, at sight of which he gave a sudden start, as if he saw the clothes of a man just dead of the plague. “Do you know that hand, Mr. Hooks?” “Ay, dun yo know that hand 1" exclaimed old Simon Ragley, clapping his great bony hand on the lawyer's desk, close to the paper, with an astounding knock, so that it would have been difficult for some people to know which he had meant, the handwriting of the old paper, or his own ample member. But Mr. Hooks knew which in an instant. His face was in a moment full of blood: the whole mass in his body seemed to have rushed there. It seemed to fill his throat, to swell his tongue; his eyes started half-way from their sockets, and the wholeman seemed at the point of dropping in a fit of apoplexy. He staggered, seized the brass railing that surrounded the lawyer's desk with a wrench that made them crack, and clinging, trembling there, said in husky and choking tones—“A mistake a sad, a dreadful mistake Oh! pay the man' pay the man directly l’’ Old Simon Ragley, who gazed on this scene with a strange air of vengeful triumph, now stood close, face to face to the trembling wretch, thrust his flaming features into his very countenance and shouted— “So yo known it then Yo can remember now, can yo?” But Hooks did not hear him; he fell with a ponderous weight to the floor. Ragley's attorney laid his hand on Ragley's arm. “Enough,” said he ; “leave him to his conscience. Leave him to God.” How long Sampson Hooks lay in his fit; how he was recovered and conveyed away, I know not; but I need not say that round the country, and especially in the village, there were strange jubilation and strange talking on this affair. The very church-bells were

« AnteriorContinuar »