― 62 ―

Chapter IX

—To act, therefore, in opposition to one another is against nature: and to harbour indignation and hatred is acting in opposition.

—Commentaries of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus.

GILBERT'S haughty note was one of the first which engaged Mr. Ralph's attention the following morning. He had seen that the young man's place was vacant as he passed to his private room, and detected his careless scrawl upon an envelope topping the summit of a pile of epistolary communications. Mr. Ralph's wiry hair rose as be perused the ebullition of the young man's wrath, and red-hot-freedom aspirations.

“ 'Pon my word—'pon my word!” He could say no more, but, taking down his hat, clapped it with such force upon his head that he drove it down upon his brows, much to the amusement of the clerks, as he rushed past them, and with hurried steps took the way to Messrs. Arney and Buchan's office. The hour was earlier than the former came to office, and the latter was drawing out the rough draught of a will for an old lady, who appeared to be chuckling over the thoughts of cutting off a spendthrift nephew with a shilling.

Mr. Buchan was a good-looking young man, with bright eyes, who had lately stepped from articled clerk to junior partner, and was exceedingly zealous in the prosecution of business; and his face wore now the grave air becoming the disappointment of the reckless nephew, and the right disposal of hard-earned riches; for the old lady displayed a thimble and corny hands, and was clearly giving her young legal friend a lesson on the “way to wealth.” Mr. Buchan, therefore, only bowed to the Agent, and requested him to walk into Mr. Arney's room.

It was rather a small apartment, surrounded by cases of papers, and japanned boxes; it was very neat, like its inmate: the row of books upon the table were placed exactly square, and the green ribbon, which appears to be taking the place of the red tape, was tied in two precise bows; the grate was not filled with squares of torn paper, but clean and bright; and even the windows had been washed within the memory of man.

  ― 63 ―
There was a stone court under the window, and a high brick building opposite. Mr. Ralph was in no humour to observe these commonplace objects, and certainly not to deduce inferences therefrom; and by the time Mr. Arney came his patience had been sorely tried, for the shrill cracked voice of the old lady, in querulous accents addressing Mr. Buchan, sounded in the adjoining room, and the impatient shuffling of feet and coughing announced some person or persons awaiting his leisure.

“Good morning, Sir.—What is this?” The latter remark was elicited by Mr. Ralph's forcing an open letter into the attorney's hand; he sat down on his well-worn leather-cushioned chair, and slowly read and re-read the note, whilst his companion paced the room.

“The impudent young scoundrel! I'll make him smart for this. Free, indeed!—he shall be thrown into the body of the jail.” Thus interrupted, Mr. Arney laid down the note, first folding and replacing it in its envelope, and then, fixing his eyes upon the incensed gentleman, began in a methodical, unmoved tone:—

“Forty years since, Mr. Ralph, you and I were fellow-students—companions in study and in recreation: reading the same books, taking the same walks, loving two sisters”—his voice lowered a little here—“in everything we were knit together, a Damon and a Pythias.”

“Certainly, Arney, certainly,” submitted the other, with a forced patience.

“Forty years ago,” proceeded the attorney, in the same slow tone, which gave to every word its full value and time, “you told me that I should always be your legal adviser, and I have been.” He paused, and Mr. Ralph reddened: he remembered that promise had been given in a fit of gratitude, when his friend Pythias had saved him, like another Damon, from being expelled for some burst of turbulent spirit which had affronted the heads of the college.

“I came to you for your advice, Arney,” he said, presently.

“Good. Listen to me, Ralph. Two years, or more, since, Captain Dell, my highly respected client, came here to this office, and he brought with him his grand-daughter, this Gilbert Calder's sister—a young girl about sixteen, with a joyous heart glistening in her full black eyes. I talked with her, and found her clever in more than the ordinary sense of the word, and

  ― 64 ―
extremely warm-hearted and loving; she spoke of this brother, an only brother, and her lip trembled;—and now, Ralph, I do not advise you as your attorney, but I ask you as a man, to forgive this erring lad for his friends' sake.”—From a low, dreamy tone the old man's voice had become earnest, and his peculiarly soft blue eyes rested on the heated face of his companion.

Mr. Arney was a man of great professional knowledge and moral worth, and his influence upon his friend was considerable; but this was asking rather too much. However, as we have said, Mr. Ralph was a charitable man. At that moment, certainly, he would rather have subscribed fifty pounds for a testimonial to the master sweep who had, no doubt, prevented half Sydney from being burned down, or to aid in purchasing flannel petticoats for the negresses, or any other subscription of hyperbolical merit, rather than exert the charity which “for-giveth all things.”

In boyhood Mr. Arney had received a spinal injury, which checked his growth, and rendered his health delicate; his hands and arms had attained undue proportions, and his frame was attenuated; his long white hair fell back from his round forehead, giving him a venerable aspect, and those gentle eyes of his could grow searching and cool to a painful degree. Presently he began again—

“You could punish this boy, no doubt: you could ruin his future prospects, and break his sister's heart, and cover the grey hairs of his grandfather with shame—but will you do it?”

Mr. Ralph was softening.

“We know you as a benevolent as well as just man; we have seen you befriend the widow and fatherless—” The Agent gave way.

“Well, there, Arney, the youngster shall go scot-free, for your sake—for your sake,” and, impressing this upon his friend, he departed ceremoniously, ushered to the door by the attorney. Mr. Arney was smiling over his writing when his partner came in shortly afterwards.