Home > Last Gentleman Standing

Last Gentleman Standing
Author: Jane Ashford


   Mr. Julius Tilling, a very sober and correct middle-aged gentleman conservatively attired in black worsted, had only just been admitted to Elham House in Berkeley Square when he perceived a teacup hurtling through the air immediately in front of him. He stepped back hastily, jostling the young footman who had opened the door to his knock and causing him to so far forget himself as to say, “’Ere now, hold hard.”

   Ignoring this suggestion, Tilling watched the cup shatter on the drab wallpaper of the entrance hall. He looked less surprised than vexed at this unusual occurrence. “I take it that Mr. Elham has the gout?” he said to the footman.

   “Yes, sir,” replied that harried-looking servitor, “took bad, he is.”

   Through the open door of the library, whence the teacup had also come, a voice high and shrill with age could be heard crying, “Swill! A dying man, and I am given swill. Take it away, take it away. And send that damned fool Ames to me at once.” There was a rattling of crockery, and amid mutterings of “I shall teach him to send me gruel,” and “let a man but get old and the servants begin to bully him,” a frightened young maid hurried out of the room carrying a tray. Mr. Tilling surveyed her with raised eyebrows as he handed his hat to the anxious footman.

   “Very bad it is today, sir,” added that servitor unnecessarily. “The doctor has been twice.”

   The voice from the library continued irascibly. Apparently, Mr. Elham was talking to himself. “Where is that dratted solicitor? Graceless young jackanapes. Firm’s all to pieces since his father died. Can’t think why I keep ’em on. For what I pay, he might come when I summon him.” This gradually sank into a confused mumbling, accompanied by sounds of coughing and of a chair being hitched along the floor.

   Mr. Tilling sighed, straightened his shoulders, and walked into the library, wishing yet again that his most difficult client did not always insist upon seeing him when he was laid up with the gout. “Good morning, Mr. Elham,” he said in a pleasant tone as he crossed the large room toward the fireplace. “I understand you’re feeling poorly today. I am sorry.”

   Mr. Elham snorted. He was sitting in a large easy chair before the fire. One leg was swathed in bandages and propped on a hassock in front of him, and he was so bundled in blankets and shawls that his dressing gown of bottle-green brocade was scarcely visible. His head was completely bald, and this, combined with a hook nose and a high color, made him resemble an old vulture. He looked at his guest with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. “Ha!” he said. “No good trying to turn me up sweet, Tilling. I’m old and I’m ill, but I’m not senile quite yet.” He grimaced. “No, and not about to stick my spoon in the wall. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you, so let us get down to business and cut the gabble-mongering. Have you done what I asked?”

   Mr. Tilling’s countenance was wooden and his accents cold. “Yes, sir.” He took some papers from his coat pocket. “I have located all three young people and ascertained their circumstances.”

   Mr. Elham ignored the sheaf of documents being offered him and squinted up at the younger man. “What should I do with those blasted things?” he asked, blinking his watery blue eyes. “Put ’em there.” He waved impatiently toward the desk in the corner of the room. “And tell me about ’em. My heirs,” he cackled. His scratchy laugh turned quickly to a cough, and it was some time before he could control it.

   Looking annoyed, Mr. Tilling walked slowly to the desk, put the papers on its littered surface, and returned to the fireplace. Elham, who was just regaining his breath, signaled peremptorily for him to speak. “Yes, sir,” responded Tilling, “your potential heirs.” He took a small note card from an inner pocket and referred to it. “Both your brother and your sister—”

   “Don’t mention ’em,” screeched Mr. Elham, malevolently. “Sneaking, whining rascals; I swore twenty years ago I’d never hear them named again.”

   The solicitor pressed his lips together in annoyance. “Pardon me,” he answered. “I should have said, your only remaining family consists of two nieces and a nephew.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Miss Elham, the daughter of…ahem, Miss Brinmore, and her brother.”

   “Yes, yes, I know that,” complained the old man. “Tell me about ’em. That’s what I asked you. Daresay they’re as addle-brained as their parents. Brinmore’s brats had the cheek to ask me for money about a year ago.”

   Mr. Tilling nodded shortly. He had not been asked to sit down, and he was not used to such cavalier treatment from his clients, who unfailingly received the current head of the distinguished old firm of Tilling & Bates with marked politeness. In truth, he did not like Mr. Elham and kept up his connection with him only out of respect for his deceased father’s memory and Mr. Elham’s extremely large fortune. “That would be when their parents were killed,” he replied coldly. “In an accident on the Channel while returning from France, leaving the two children penniless.”

   “Eh,” was the old man’s only response to this information. “Well, I told Sylvia when she married that she’d likely never have two coins to rub together. Ay, and be saddled with a pack of puling parson’s get as well. She knew she could expect no aid from me. A country churchman!” He expressed his disgust by an unpleasant hawking, pressing a handkerchief to his lips.

   Tilling averted his eyes. “Mr. and Miss Brinmore are currently residing with the family of their paternal uncle,” he continued, in a voice kept carefully expressionless. “The senior Mr. Brinmore has a small estate in Bedfordshire and offered them a home there.”

   “The more fool he,” sniffed Elham. “Is he plump in the pocket then?”

   “His means are moderate. He has five children of his own.”

   “He must be crack-brained.” The old man seemed to lose interest in Brinmore. “What about the other one, Eliot’s girl. She must be, what, twenty, by this time? What the devil is her name?”

Hot Books
» A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorn
» Anti-Stepbrother
» Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)
» Sugar Daddies
» Egomaniac
» Royally Screwed (Royally #1)
» The Hating Game
» Salvatore: a Dark Mafia Romance (Standalone
» Ruthless People (Ruthless People #1)
» To Hate Adam Connor
» Wait for It
» How to Date a Douchebag: The Studying Hours
» Managed (VIP #2)
» The Protector
» The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)