The man lingered. ‘Will your honour want horses?’ he said.
‘I don’t know. Yes! No! Well, not until noon. And where is my sword?’
‘I was taking it down to clean it, sir.’
’Then don’t take it; I will look to it myself. And mind you, call me at the time I said.’
PEEPING TOM OF WALLINGFORD
To be an attorney-at-law, avid of practice and getting none; to be called Peeping Tom of Wallingford, in the place where you would fain trot about busy and respected; to be the sole support of an old mother, and to be come almost to the toe of the stocking—these circumstances might seem to indicate an existence and prospects bare, not to say arid. Eventually they presented themselves in that light to the person most nearly concerned—by name Mr. Peter Fishwick; and moving him to grasp at the forlorn hope presented by a vacant stewardship at one of the colleges, brought him by coach to Oxford. There he spent three days and his penultimate guineas in canvassing, begging, bowing, and smirking; and on the fourth, which happened to be the very day of Sir George’s arrival in the city, was duly and handsomely defeated without the honour of a vote.
Mr. Fishwick had expected no other result; and so far all was well. But he had a mother, and that mother entertained a fond belief that local jealousy and nothing else kept down her son in the place of his birth. She had built high hopes on this expedition; she had thought that the Oxford gentlemen would be prompt to recognise his merit; and for her sake the sharp-featured lawyer went back to the Mitre a rueful man. He had taken a lodging there with intent to dazzle the town, and not because his means were equal to it; and already the bill weighed upon him. By nature as cheerful a gossip as ever wore a scratch wig and lived to be inquisitive, he sat mum through the evening, and barely listened while the landlord talked big of his guest upstairs, his curricle and fashion, the sums he lost at White’s, and the plate in his dressing-case.
Nevertheless the lawyer would not have been Peter Fishwick if he had not presently felt the stirrings of curiosity, or, thus incited, failed to be on the move between the stairs and the landing when Sir George came in and passed up. The attorney’s ears were as sharp as a ferret’s nose, and he was notably long in lighting his humble dip at a candle which by chance stood outside Sir George’s door. Hence it happened that Soane—who after dismissing his servant had gone for a moment into the adjacent chamber—heard a slight noise in the room he had left; and, returning quickly to learn what it was, found no one, but observed the outer door shake as if some one tried it. His suspicions aroused, he was still staring at the door when it moved again, opened a very little way, and before his astonished eyes admitted a small man in a faded black suit, who, as soon as he had squeezed himself in, stood bowing with a kind of desperate audacity.