Mr. Thomasson devoutly hoped he would not; and, sweating at every pore, sat down to recover himself. Though all was quiet, he suspected the enemy of lying in wait; and rather than run into his arms was prepared to stay where he was, at any risk of discovery by the occupants. Or there might be another exit. Going to one of the windows to ascertain this, he found that there was; an outside staircase of stone affording egress to the grass plot. He might go that way; but no!—at the base of the Druid mound he perceived a group of townsfolk and rustics staring at the flank of the building—staring apparently at him. He recoiled; then he remembered that Lord Chatham’s rooms lay in that wing, and also looked over the gardens. Doubtless the countryfolk were watching in the hope that the great man would show himself at a window, or that, at the worst, they might see the crumbs shaken from a tablecloth he had used.
This alone would have deterred the tutor from a retreat so public: besides, he saw something which placed him at his ease. Beyond the group of watchers he espied three people strolling at their leisure, their backs towards him. His sight was better than Lady Dunborough’s; and he had no difficulty in making out the three to be Julia, her mother, and the attorney. They were moving towards the Bath road. Freed from the fear of interruption, he heaved a sigh of relief, and, choosing the most comfortable chair, sat down on it.
It chanced to stand by the table, and on the table, as has been said, lay a vast litter of papers. Mr. Thomasson’s elbow rested on one. He went to move it; in the act he read the heading: ’This is the last will and testament of me Sir Anthony Cornelius Soane, baronet, of Estcombe Hall, in the county of Wilts.’
‘Tut-tut!’ said the tutor. ’That is not Soane’s will, that is his grandfather’s.’ And between idleness and curiosity, not unmingled with surprise, he read the will to the end. Beside it lay three or four narrow slips; he examined these, and found them to be extracts from a register. Apparently some one was trying to claim under the will; but Mr. Thomasson did not follow the steps or analyse the pedigree—his mind was engrossed by perplexity on another point. His thoughts might have been summed up in the lines—
’Not that the
things themselves are rich or rare,
The wonder’s how the devil they got there’—
in a word, how came the papers to be in that room? ’These must be Soane’s rooms,’ he muttered at last, looking about him. ’And yet—that’s a woman’s cloak. And that old cowskin bag is not Sir George’s. It is odd. Ah! What is this?’
This was a paper, written and folded brief-wise, and indorsed: ’Statement of the Claimant’s case for the worshipful consideration of the Eight Honourable the Earl of Chatham and others the trustees of the Estcombe Hall Estate. Without Prejudice.’
‘So!’ said the tutor. ‘This may be intelligible.’ And having assured himself by a furtive glance through the window that the owners of the room were not returning, he settled himself to peruse it. When he again looked up, which was at a point about one-third of the way through the document, his face wore a look of rapt, incredulous, fatuous astonishment.