I have said the room was plainly furnished, but there was one exception—the chair in which the Earl sat. This was an old one, formerly the chair of state in which the old Barons his ancestors had presided at many a scene of wassail, with their retainers. It had been stuffed and new-covered to suit modern luxury, but the armorial bearings remained still carved in the wood of the high back, with the proud motto, “Nulli Secundi,” second to none.
The Earl was not alone. His agent, a hard-featured man of business, sat at a desk, busy with papers, and a venerable old man, who had been his father’s steward, stood a little behind his chair. There was a frown on the brow of the nobleman, as after a stern glance at the old man, he asked,
‘Has that scoundrel been apprehended yet?’
‘He has not, your lordship,’ said the agent, slowly folding up a document; ’nor does it seem likely he will be. I have had the old haunts searched—I have, as you directed, promised large rewards for his apprehension, and threatened the tenants if they harbor him, but no clue to his hiding-place has yet been discovered. I am afraid he has left.’
‘He has not,’ interrupted the Earl. ’He is here, in this neighbourhood. I feel his hated presence. He must have harborers, Johnson. The parvenu millionaire—the cotton lord—harbors these ruffians by refusing to prosecute poachers. He preaches equal rights, forsooth! Break down his fences—send my deer to stray into his park—get some one to fire his barns—I will pay them. He has thwarted me, and he shall feel the agony of a long and fluctuating law-suit. Oh! for one day of my Norman ancestors! I would sweep such vermin from the earth. Waters!’ said he, turning to the steward, ’beware! I have, from respect to my father’s memory, somewhat restrained myself towards you. You have pleaded this man’s cause. Say no more. He has threatened me—dared to use reproaches and threats to a peer of the realm—he shall be crushed as a noxious reptile!’
‘My lord,’ said the old man firmly, ’I was your father’s steward—I was your grandfather’s foster-brother and playmate—man and boy, I have been in the service of your family for over seventy years, and for the love of your house have I withstood you in wrong-doing—I beseech you again, let this man go. You well know he is an injured man. Add not more to that final account which you as well as I must one day render before God.’