Somebody was so good as to step in and pay the money--something and fourpence was the amount; I forget the pounds and shillings, but I know it ended with fourpence, because it struck me at the time as being so odd that I could owe anybody fourpence--and after that I brought them together. Vholes asked me for the introduction, and I gave it. Now I come to think of it," he looked inquiringly at us with his frankest smile as he made the discovery, "Vholes bribed me, perhaps? He gave me something and called it commission. Was it a five-pound note? Do you know, I think it MUST have been a five-pound note!"
His further consideration of the point was prevented by Richard's coming back to us in an excited state and hastily representing Mr. Vholes--a sallow man with pinched lips that looked as if they were cold, a red eruption here and there upon his face, tall and thin, about fifty years of age, high-shouldered, and stooping. Dressed in black, black-gloved, and buttoned to the chin, there was nothing so remarkable in him as a lifeless manner and a slow, fixed way he had of looking at Richard.
"I hope I don't disturb you, ladies," said Mr. Vholes, and now I observed that he was further remarkable for an inward manner of speaking. "I arranged with Mr. Carstone that he should always know when his cause was in the Chancellor's paper, and being informed by one of my clerks last night after post time that it stood, rather unexpectedly, in the paper for to-morrow, I put myself into the coach early this morning and came down to confer with him."
"Yes," said Richard, flushed, and looking triumphantly at Ada and me, "we don't do these things in the old slow way now. We spin along now! Mr. Vholes, we must hire something to get over to the post town in, and catch the mail to-night, and go up by it!"
"Anything you please, sir," returned Mr. Vholes. "I am quite at your service."
"Let me see," said Richard, looking at his watch. "If I run down to the Dedlock, and get my portmanteau fastened up, and order a gig, or a chaise, or whatever's to be got, we shall have an hour then before starting. I'll come back to tea. Cousin Ada, will you and Esther take care of Mr. Vholes when I am gone?"
He was away directly, in his heat and hurry, and was soon lost in the dusk of evening. We who were left walked on towards the house.
"Is Mr. Carstone's presence necessary to-morrow, Sir?" said I. "Can it do any good?"
"No, miss," Mr. Vholes replied. "I am not aware that it can."
Both Ada and I expressed our regret that he should go, then, only to be disappointed.
"Mr. Carstone has laid down the principle of watching his own interests," said Mr. Vholes, "and when a client lays down his own principle, and it is not immoral, it devolves upon me to carry it out. I wish in business to be exact and open. I am a widower with three daughters--Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my desire is so to discharge the duties of life as to leave them a good name. This appears to be a pleasant spot, miss."
The remark being made to me in consequence of my being next him as we walked, I assented and enumerated its chief attractions.
"Indeed?" said Mr. Vholes. "I have the privilege of supporting an aged father in the Vale of Taunton--his native place--and I admire that country very much. I had no idea there was anything so attractive here."
To keep up the conversation, I asked Mr. Vholes if he would like to live altogether in the country.
"There, miss," said he, "you touch me on a tender string. My health is not good (my digestion being much impaired), and if I had only myself to consider, I should take refuge in rural habits, especially as the cares of business have prevented me from ever coming much into contact with general society, and particularly with ladies' society, which I have most wished to mix in. But with my three daughters, Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my aged father--I cannot afford to be selfish. It is true I have no longer to maintain a dear grandmother who died in her hundred and second year, but enough remains to render it indispensable that the mill should be always going."
It required some attention to hear him on account of his inward speaking and his lifeless manner.