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the Piccadilly business is quite correct, and the whole story against her false and malicious from beginning to end. You were induced to continue these charges and influenced to make the statutory declaration because you conceived yourself insulted by Lord St. Barnard, who ordered you out of his hotel and otherwise showed his contempt for you. You were further influenced by your need and the fact that the Barnard property at Dunelm ought to have come into your possession—that at least you thought so; you were deceived in this, though the true facts did not alter your malicious feelings.”
“I can't do it, Cuffing,” said Ransford, with suppressed agitation. “Not at the price ?" “No," said Ransford. “ But it is true. Eh?” “Some of it; you make me feel a wretched cur.”
“Don't attempt to stifle the truthful promptings of your heart," said Cuffing, with a sneer. “But we have no time for discussion; your fate will be decided within the next hour. Now hear me out. To continue then. Being arrested and charged at Bow Street, you strengthened your first falsehoods by others in the hope of obtaining an acquittal; you confess that the questions relative to the Argyle, Cremorne, Brighton, and other places were purely fiction, not true in any particular. ["Put in by my lawyer," Ransford remarked, parenthetically, Cuffing disregarding the observation entirely. That you are now suffering the pangs of remorse, and make this free, full, and voluntary confession and retractation in spite of all the consequences that may accrue on such a confession ; and that
will repeat it at Bow Street if required as fully and as freely as you sign the deposition now witnessed by-by-let me see—by my clerk.”
“You want to sell me" exclaimed Ransford excitedly.
"I do not. Lord St. Barnard shall undertake not to prosecute, shall pay you ten thousand pounds, and let you go free; I will arrange all that. You further state in this document that you appeal to Lord St. Barnard to allow you to leave the country, in order that you may be free from the personal influence of the social disgrace which would attach to you in this country on the publication of such a document. But you throw yourself on the mercy of his lordship. You give him full permission to publish your deposition, or make whatever use of it he may deem desirable or necessary.”
“I don't know what to do,” said Ransford, leaving his seat, in spite of Cuffing's commands to sit still.
“Yes you do,” said Cuffing. “Three thousand pounds and liberty makes up your mind."
“ You bind yourself in no way ; if you would put line in confessing that you ”
“Don't rave; you are losing the very little judgment you possess. I must be free to advise as your advocate, free as I am in law and in conscience. Now listen. I have drawn up a document in accordance with all I have said to you; and now to explain how it shall be signed and delivered up. His lordship will be here in ten minutes. You will see him alone and make your terms. You may haggle as you please, both of you; say what you like, but the terms are ten thousand pounds; and so far as you and I are concerned I will not be ungenerous. I consent to receive six thousand—but of that byand-by. When he agrees to the terms he shall make an appointment for to-morrow to ratify the agreement and settle on the form of the document which shall then be signed and witnessed. Then we shall meet at a little public on the Thames below Erith, where we can catch the steamer for Dieppe or Ostend, and get out of the country.”
“You will go with me?" "I will. Did I not tell you I would stand by you to the last ?”
“You are such a strange fellow, I don't know when you are in earnest and when you are sneering at me.”
"Now before the document is signed,” said Cuffing, “I will have Lord St. Barnard's written promise not to molest you—of course he cannot molest me—and we shall make assurance doubly sure by getting comfortably out of the kingdom. Yesterday I went quietly down to Erith and made my arrangements. Did you ever hear of the Cuttle Fish Hotel ?”
"Never," said Ransford.
"Just below Erith, almost opposite Purfleet, a famous little house among members of the P. R. Well, I was there, I tell you, yesterday; and my plans are perfect. Now which is it to be : liberty and plenty of money in your pocket, or imprisonment, chains, the hulks, and gruel?"
Ransford shuddered, and put out his hand. Cuffing took it as if the action was a matter of legal form.
"As you please ; I leave myself in your hands; I am helpless; let us be true to each other.”
A footstep was heard on the stair. Then came a knock at the door. The next moment Lord St. Barnard was in the room. Ransford rose, but had to support himself. His knees trembled.
"I will now leave you two gentlemen together,” said Cuffing, with complete self-possession. “ If you require my services upon any
legal or technical point you will find me in the adjoining roomkindly tap at the wall and I will be with you in an instant.”
Lord St. Barnard nodded his acquiescence, and Mr. Cuffing left the
“WHAT have you to say to me?” Lord St. Barnard asked, confronting his trembling persecutor.
“I hardly know,” said Ransford, clutching the back of the chair upon which he had been sitting.
“You may be sure I should not be here unless I had received very explicit information and definite undertakings from your solicitor, Mr. Cuffing."
“That is quite right, no doubt,” said Ransford, beginning to master his nervousness under the calm demeanour of Lord St. Barnard ; " but the matter is of so delicate a nature that you must pardon me if I feel some difficulty in entering upon it abruptly as it were."
" I see no reason, no excuse, sir, for introductory approaches to the subject upon which I was requested to visit this place; I am here to do business as a business man, on a business invitation; but since you evidently desire preliminary courtesies let me remark upon the sacrifice of honour and dignity I make in accepting this interview."
“I quite feel that,” said Ransford, interrupting his lordship. “We will not enter upon it, however, or angry feelings may arise, and, as you say, this is a business meeting.”
“ Well ?”
“At the same time, I hope I may be entitled to a little credit for giving you an opportunity, should arrangements follow this meeting, to wipe out a stain which might attach to you for ever.”
“Some stains are never obliterated, sir; but there is no necessity for compliments on either side-you propose to confess to all the details of your conspiracy.”
“Do I?” said Ransford, the courage of the coward coming back when he saw that Lord St. Barnard was not likely to lose his temper.
“ So I was informed."
“Then you have been misinformed,” said Ransford. “I understand that Lady St. Barnard has gone away, and that so far as I am concerned the probability is not only that I shall be discharged, but that practically your wife will be condemned, and that society at large
Lord St. Barnard found it difficult to listen calmly to Ransford ; but he had gone to Casel Street with the full determination of accepting any position in which he might be placed, calmly, to reconnoitre the crisis, to probe its secret, to do his best for the honour of his wife and the reputation of his house. Ever since he had received Lady St. Barnard's letter his mind had been racked by a thousand misgivings. One moment his judgment condemned her ; then his heart set her up again pure as she was fair. He had suffered all the torments of jealousy, combined with the bitterness which comes out of the ingratitude, or supposed ingratitude, of those whom we love, or of those for whom we have made personal sacrifices. Looking judicially at Lady St. Barnard's conduct, and gathering up some of the circumstances in her career which she acknowledged as true, even her husband could not refrain from doubts, though it almost drove him mad to think of her as guilty. Her letter was a terrible blow. Lord St. Barnard saw in Mr. Holland's face while he read it a full belief in her dishonour; and it was the thought that the world would at once get ready to stone her that aroused his sympathy and love and kept him still close to the task of clearing her reputation. He had not dared to go to Grassnook. The sight of his children would have unmanned him quite. It is impossible to say whether he thought her guilty or not; he could not have confessed himself truly on the subject, even on his knees. His opinion varied, and he caught at every straw that seemed favourable to her, floating on the dark stream of evidence which had been recorded against her.
“As I said before, sir, I have no desire to discuss preliminaries ; let us get to the business of our meeting. What do you propose ?”
“This,” said Ransford, "without at the present moment going into the particulars of my explanation of this unfortunate affair, which I am ready to do at the proper time; I will sign a document, whether true or not I do not say and will not say at this moment, denying the whole of the charges I have brought against Lady St. Barr.ard and stating that the prosecution was malicious, and in short clearing up the entire matter, in consideration of the payment of fifteen thousand pounds."
“It is a large sum; your solicitor said a few thousands."
“Well, fifteen are only a few to you, but a fortune to me. Mr. Cuffing says ten thousand; I say fifteen. It will enable me to live abroad and never trouble you again.”
"Say ten thousand," said his lordship, more for the purpose of not appearing over anxious than out of any consideration for the money.
“ If you value your wife's honour and your own peace only at ten thousand, then"
“Say no more; I am most anxious to keep my temper; let the amount be fifteen thousand pounds."
* Very well,” said Ransford, in a whisper; “don't let Cuffing know that it is more than ten.”
"I will be no party to a conspiracy to defraud Cufting out of his share of the plunder,” said his lordship, contemptuously.
“Oh,” said Ransford, “then you need not say anything about the money—you will have to pay it to me, and I can arrange with Cuffing."
“ You will meet my solicitor, of course, and have the document properly drawn."
“I will not,” said Ransford. “I have quite enough to do with my own solicitor. No, thank you ; besides, it is not necessary.”
“ How ?”
• Well, then, to-morrow I will meet you here and lay before you the document."
“ You will make another statutory declaration, if necessary ?”
“Then I will call Mr. Cuffing.” Ransford tapped at the wall and Cuffing entered the room.
“Well,” said Cuffing blandly, “have you settled this painful business?"
“We have,” said Ransford.
“On the ground and in the manner you explained to me?" asked Cuffing, with an innocent look at Lord St. Barnard.
“Yes,” said Ransford.
“Very well,” said Cuffing, handing Lord St. Barnard a seat, and taking the business at once into his own hands.
“I will give you an outline of Mr. Ransford's confession, or deposition, or whatever we may elect to call it."
Mr. Cuffing thereupon read from notes the heads of the document he had already sketched out in his conversation with Ransford. Lord St. Barnard listened with undisguised emotion.
“Now here, my lord,” continued Mr. Cuffing, “is a written undertaking which you will sign, foregoing the prosecution of Philip Ransford, and undertaking not to interfere with him in the future.. You do not object?"