In the centre of West Lynne stood two houses adjoining each other, one large, the other much smaller. The large one was the Carlyle residence, and the small one was devoted to the Carlyle offices. The name of Carlyle bore a lofty standing in the county; Carlyle and Davidson were known as first-class practitioners; no pettifogging lawyers were they. It was Carlyle & Davidson in the days gone by; now it was Archibald Carlyle. The old firm were brothers-in-law—the first Mrs. Carlyle having been Mr. Davidson’s sister. She had died and left one child. The second Mrs. Carlyle died when her son was born—Archibald; and his half-sister reared him, loved him and ruled him. She bore for him all the authority of a mother; the boy had known no other, and, when a little child he had called her Mamma Corny. Mamma Corny had done her duty by him, that was undoubted; but Mamma Corny had never relaxed her rule; with an iron hand she liked to rule him now, in great things as in small, just as she had done in the days of his babyhood. And Archibald generally submitted, for the force of habit is strong. She was a woman of strong sense, but, in some things, weak of judgment; and the ruling passions of her life were love of Archibald and love of saving money. Mr. Davidson had died earlier than Mr. Carlyle, and his fortune—he had never married—was left equally divided between Cornelia and Archibald. Archibald was no blood relation to him, but he loved the open-hearted boy better than his niece Cornelia. Of Mr. Carlyle’s property, a small portion only was bequeathed to his daughter, the rest to his son; and in this, perhaps there was justice, since the 20,000 pounds brought to Mr. Carlyle by his second wife had been chiefly instrumental in the accumulation of his large fortune.
Miss Carlyle, or, as she was called in town, Miss Corny, had never married; it was pretty certain she never would; people thought that her intense love of her young brother kept her single, for it was not likely that the daughter of the rich Mr. Carlyle had wanted for offers. Other maidens confess to soft and tender impressions. Not so Miss Carlyle. All who had approached her with the lovelorn tale, she sent quickly to the right-about.
Mr. Carlyle was seated in his own private room in his office the morning after his return from town. His confidential clerk and manager stood near him. It was Mr. Dill, a little, meek-looking man with a bald head. He was on the rolls, had been admitted years and years ago, but he had never set up for himself; perhaps he deemed the post of head manager in the office of Carlyle & Davidson, with its substantial salary, sufficient for his ambition; and manager he had been to them when the present Mr. Carlyle was in long petticoats. He was a single man, and occupied handsome apartments near.