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A NOVEL OF MODERN LIFE.
BY JOSEPH HATTON.
T seven o'clock in the evening Mr. Philip Ransford and his solicitor were closeted in the dusty little third floor office where Mr. Cuffing conducted his legal business.
The house was one of numerous degenerate buildings congregated together in a dingy street that seemed to have crept out of the way of the traffic of Holborn. Casel Street indeed might be likened to a suspected person in low water who pulls his hat over his eyes and slouches out of general observation. It led to nowhere. Smart pedestrians sometimes, thinking it offered a short cut to the neighbourhood of Fleet Street, dashed into it gaily, but soon came back with a look of depression and surprise. Casel Street was chiefly occupied by touting attorneys, bailiffs, commission agents, advertising adventurers, brokers, and other miscellaneous dregs of professional and commercial life, relieved here and there by an eating-house with red blinds.
The stuffy odour of the street dragged its way slowly but surely in upon client and solicitor as they conversed on this memorable summer evening.
“ If you are discreet,” said Cuffing, “you can soon get well away from this infernal atmosphere, as you call it. Already I can fancy you doing the swell in sunny Spain or under some other unclouded sky."
Mr. Cuffing sat in his shirt sleeves, looking, with an undisguised sneer upon his face, at Ransford, who was walking about the little room, occasionally pausing to take special note of the lawyer's advice.
“Don't care much where I go,” said Ransford, “if I get clear of this beastly country.”
“Well, as I said just now,” remarked Cuffing, “ten thousand
pounds is a small sum considering the sacrifice you propose to make. You are so wonderfully modest.”
“Always sneering at me; but no matter, I can bear it after what I have gone through," said Ransford with an air of martyrdom ; "and I only want what you consider right and just, though I don't think we shall get ten thousand—it is a pile.”
“Don't say 'we,' my innocent and deeply injured friend, my most interesting client-don't say 'we. I have told you over and over again that this proposed compromise is your own affair entirely. I do not advise it; but if it is agreed upon I will do my best to make it complete, and to carry out your wishes."
“I don't understand you," said Ransford.
“That is not my fault,” responded Cuffing with a pitying glance at his friend, as if he had long since given up any expectation that Ransford had sufficient intellectual capacity to understand anything.
“You make me mad,” said Ransford, stopping suddenly. “I can't stand your sneers; you'll make me do something desperate one of these days."
"That would be a novelty. If I could only find that fellow Mayfield I would like to put him in your path and see of what you are really capable in the way of physical power."
“Why do you worry me in this way?” said Ransford, suddenly modifying his assumed anger into a tone of friendly appeal.
“Because you won't go straight; because you are a humbug," said Cuffing, rising and going to the window.
“Why? how? Explain.”
“Not now; let us go on with our business; there is no time for personal explanations; our friend Lord St. Barnard will be here soon."
“Well then, fix it at ten thousand,” said Ransford, “and we are to divide it?”
“I ought to have seven thousand,” said Cuffing. entirely in my hands. I could crush you at any moment. I have condescended to conduct your wretched case ; it has ruined my reputation. If you had a spark of liberality you would have said: * Mr. Cuffing, I leave the disposition of the money to you,' and of course I should have been content; possibly I might have said seven thousand to you, three to me
“ But,” said Ransford.
“Don't interrupt; did I not literally drag you out of custody this morning ?”
“Yes,” said Ransford, “but you literally thrust me into custody to
“ You are
begin with. I would never have entered upon the affair if I had known what I should have had to suffer."
“ You would have entered upon it for three thousand pounds."
“I don't know; I was very hard up, but upon my soul, I never dreamed you would have asked some of the questions which you put, and that is a straight tip, my friend.”
Ransford looked half afraid at his own temerity in criticising Cuffing's conduct of the case even to this extent.
“I carried out the instructions of my client,” said Cuffing, with a smile, “and I don't believe a word of his story, except that part of it in which he was very deservedly licked by his rival, who some day, when he gets the English papers out in the colonies, will turn up again, hunt you down, and shoot you like a dog.”
Phil Ransford shuddered and looked round the room as if he expected the sudden appearance of the avenger.
“Ah! I thought that would touch you up; you are not a brave man, Ransford. I suppose you would tell Mayfield on your knees and with tears in your eyes that I asked the questions without your instructions.”
“You know you did, most of them," said Ransford, “when we had that interview at Bow Street, although you would not admit it in your stiff and convenient legal way; all that about Cremorne and the Argyle was your own entirely."
“Indeed!” said Cuffing, finding his eye-glasses, after a brief search in his waistcoat pocket, and fixing his client for a moment;“and was that as villainous, do you think, as the Piccadilly story? It was quite as true. Eh? Was it not? Why were you not frank and straight with me at first? The truth is you have persecuted this poor woman to make money. When you found yourself grappled you felt obliged to heap lie upon lie to hold your position at all."
“And you call this decent !” said Ransford. Well, it is not business-like at all events just now.”
“That is the wisest remark you have made since I have had the honour of your acquaintance," said Cuffing.
“ Thank you. I will only just remind you that you put the whole scheme into my head at the outset, and”
“Say no more, Ransford ; let us to the business.”
Cuffing rubbed his hands, sat down to his desk, pointed to a chair, and Ransford, accepting the hint, seated himself by the side of his advocate and ally.
" It is quite clear,” said Cuffing in his professional voice and manner, “that if they go on with the case our position will be a very
different one after another fortnight's examination to what it is now. I have expected every day to hear that they had found the woman who had charge of the Piccadilly chambers.”
“Well, and if they did find her ?”
“Certainly; but I am not in the box. I pull you up once more to the business,” said Ransford, with a conciliatory smile. "Supposing this woman did corroborate Lady St. Barnard ? What then?"
“What then ! Everything then,” said Cuffing, taking snuff. “Further, there is this Tom Mayfield ; rely upon it sooner or later he must turn up. The newspaper reports will go all over the world, and we shall have such a flood of voluntary evidence against us that you will suddenly find yourself, not only committed, but sentenced to a life of transportation.”
Phil Ransford turned pale and moved about uneasily in his chair.
“Well, what shall I do?” he said. “Am I not here to receive not only your advice but your instructions ? "
“Yes; but you do not knuckle down to your position,” said Cuffing, getting up and shutting the window, that he might raise his voice with more certainty of not being heard, though the window was three stories from the ground.
“ You wrangle, you higgle, you presume upon my friendship, you try to wriggle out of a fair and liberal settlement between us; and I tell you what it is, Philip Ransford, by my soul you shall do what I tell you or you shall know what the inside of Millbank is like."
“There is no cause that I see for all this passion,” said Ransford.
"Is there not ! Very well, be good enough to understand what I say and don't put on that sneaking, injured look which adorned your face just now when we talked of the money.”
“Cuffing, I will not be bullied in this way,” exclaimed Ransford, starting to his legs. “Won't you, sneak, cur !” said Cuffing, with quiet, biting calm
“Sit down, sir, and don't clench your fist at me; I would as soon put a bullet through your head as look at you—and you know it.”
“You have a beastly temper,” said Ransford, sitting down sulkily. “I wonder you give way to it; such violent fits of rage are incomprehensible to me.”
Cuffing, it is to be presumed, found it desirable to lash himself into these occasional outbursts as an additional means of awing his client into a proper submission.
“ Temper!” said the lawyer, sitting down once more and adjusting his papers. “You are enough to provoke a saint; I shall be glad to wipe my hands of you and your business ; the sooner the better. All I want now is to see you with two or three thousand pounds in your pocket on board a ship, with a new future before you, and comfort and happiness for the rest of your life; and yet when I lay this prospect before you, when I throw fortune at your feet, when I offer you wealth and liberty, you turn upon me and higgle and haggle like an ungrateful hound.”
“Well, well,” said Ransford, holding out his hand, “ let's be friends; we know too much of each other to be enemies, and I am sure my only desire in life is to be friends. Shake hands, and tell me what to do. Treat me decently, don't sneer at me and bully me, and I'll do whatever you tell me.”
Cuffing took the hand that was offered to him with a little more civility than he usually exhibited in response to Ransford's friendly demonstrations.
“It is now," he said, relapsing into his customary manner, “a quarter to eight. At eight o'clock Lord St. Barnard will be here. What you have to do, and what you have proposed to do—without my advice, mind—and what you must do is this : For the sum of ten thousand pounds, to be paid down, you agree to draw up a statement in which you set forth what is the truth in this painful affair ; you state fully and without reservation that the charges and insinuations which you have brought against Lady St. Barnard's character are unfounded and untrue in every respect.”
" But,” said Ransford, rising.
“Sit down and hear me,” said Cuffing, laying his hand authoritatively on Ransford's arm. “ Are untrue in every respect ; that you used your knowledge of Lady St. Barnard and her family to fabricate falsehoods against her for the sole purpose of obtaining money ; that it was through this means and no other that you did obtain money from the lady; that on your oath you declare you never knew and never heard anything against her honour or reputation ; that the luncheon at the Delphos Theatre was part of your general scheme of defamation. It is no good wriggling about in your chair ; you must listen-time presses. You say you did put a sleeping draught into the lady's wine ; that your intentions were base as they could be, but were not in the slightest degree successful ; that the lady's version of