The Law and the Lady

Wilkie Collins

Chapter 32 - A Specimen Of My Wisdom


THE scene must follow my erratic movements--the scene must close on London for a while, and open in Edinburgh. Two days had passed since Major Fitz-David's dinner-party. I was able to breathe again freely, after the utter destruction of all my plans for the future, and of all the hopes that I had founded on them. I could now see that I had been trebly in the wrong--wrong in hastily and cruelly suspecting an innocent woman; wrong in communicating my suspicions (without an attempt to verify them previously) to another person; wrong in accepting the flighty inferences and conclusions of Miserrimus Dexter as if they had been solid truths. I was so ashamed of my folly, when I thought of the past--so completely discouraged, so rudely shaken in my confidence in myself, when I thought of the future, that, for once in a way, I accepted sensible advice when it was offered to me. "My dear," said good old Benjamin, after we had thoroughly talked over my discomfiture on our return from the dinner-party, "judging by what you tell me of him, I don't fancy Mr. Dexter. Promise me that you will not go back to him until you have first consulted some person who is fitter to guide you through this dangerous business than I am.

I gave him my promise, on one condition. "If I fail to find the person," I said, "will you undertake to help me?"

Benjamin pledged himself to help me, cheerfully.

The next morning, when I was brushing my hair, and thinking over my affairs, I called to mind a forgotten resolution of mine at the time I first read the Report of my husband's Trial. I mean the resolution--if Miserrimus Dexter failed me--to apply to one of the two agents (or solicitors, as we should term them) who had prepared Eustace's defense--namely, Mr. Playmore. This gentleman, it may be remembered, had especially recommended himself to my confidence by his friendly interference when the sheriff's officers were in search of my husband's papers. Referring back to the evidence Of "Isaiah Schoolcraft," I found that Mr. Playmore had been called in to assist and advise Eustace by Miserrimus Dexter. He was therefore not only a friend on whom I might rely, but a friend who was personally acquainted with Dexter as well. Could there be a fitter man to apply to for enlightenment in the darkness that had now gathered around me? Benjamin, when I put the question to him, acknowledged that I had made a sensible choice on this occasion, and at once exerted himself to help me. He discovered (through his own lawyer) the address of Mr. Playmore's London agents; and from these gentlemen he obtained for me a letter of introduction to Mr. Playmore himself. I had nothing to conceal from my new adviser; and I was properly described in the letter as Eustace Macallan's second wife.

The same evening we two set forth (Benjamin refused to let me travel alone) by the night mail for Edinburgh.

I had previously written to Miserrimus Dexter (by my old friend's advice), merely saying that I had been unexpectedly called away from London for a few days, and that I would report to him the result of my interview with Lady Clarinda on my return. A characteristic answer was brought back to the cottage by Ariel: "Mrs. Valeria, I happen to be a man of quick perceptions; and I can read the _unwritten_ part of your letter. Lady Clarinda has shaken your confidence in me. Very good. I pledge myself to shake your confidence in Lady Clarinda. In the meantime I am not offended. In serene composure I await the honor and the happiness of your visit. Send me word by telegraph whether you would like Truffles again, or whether you would prefer something simpler and lighter--say that incomparable French dish, Pig's Eyelids and Tamarinds. Believe me always your ally and admirer, your poet and cook--DEXTER."

Arrived in Edinburgh, Benjamin and I had a little discussion. The question in dispute between us was whether I should go with hi m, or go alone, to Mr. Playmore. I was all for going alone.

"My experience of the world is not a very large one," I said. "But I have observed that, in nine cases out of ten, a man will make concessions to a woman, if she approaches him by her self, which he would hesitate even to consider if another man was within hearing. I don't know how it is--I only know that it is so; If I find that I get on badly with Mr. Playmore, I will ask him for a second appointment, and, in that case, you shall accompany me. Don't think me self-willed. Let me try my luck alone, and let us see what comes of it."

Benjamin yielded, with his customary consideration for me. I sent my letter of introduction to Mr. Playmore's office--his private house being in the neighborhood of Gleninch. My messenger brought back a polite answer, inviting me to visit him at an early hour in the afternoon. At the appointed time, to the moment, I rang the bell at the office door.