HANCOCK & HANCOCK

Frank Leavesley’s uncle, Mr James Hancock of Gordon Square and
Southampton Row, Solicitor, was, in the year of this story, still
unmarried.

The firm of Hancock & Hancock had thrived in Bloomsbury for upwards of a
hundred years. By a judicious exercise of the art of dropping bad
clients and picking up good, and retaining the good when picked up, it
had built for itself a business second to none in the soliciting world
of the Metropolis.

To be a successful solicitor is not so easy a matter as you may
suppose. Take your own case, for instance, and imagine how many men you
would trust with the fact that your wife is in a madhouse and not on a
visit to her aunt; with the reason why your son requires cutting off
with a shilling; why you have to pay so much a month to So-and-so–and
so on. How many men would you trust with your title-deeds, and bonds,
and scrip, even as you would trust yourself?

The art of inspiring confidence combined with the less facile arts of
straight dealing and right living, had placed the Hancocks in the first
rank of their profession, and kept them there for over a hundred years.

James, the last of the race, was in personal appearance typical of his
forebears. Rather tall, thin, with a high colour suggestive of port
wine, and a fidgety manner, you would never have guessed him at first
sight to be one of the keenest business men in London, the depository of
awful secrets, and the instigator and successful leader of legal forlorn
hopes.

His dress was genteel, verging on the shabby, a hideous brown horse-hair
watch guard crossed his waistcoat, and he habitually carried an
umbrella that would have damned the reputation of any struggling
professional man.

His sister kept house for him in Gordon Square. She was just one year
his senior. An acid woman, early-Victorian in her tendencies and get-up,
Patience Hancock, to use the cook’s expression, had been “born with the
key of the coal cellar in her pocket.” She certainly carried the key of
the wine cellar there, and the keys of the plate pantry, larder, jam
depository, and Tantalus case. Everything lock-upable in the Gordon
Square establishment was locked up, and every month or so she received a
“warning” from one of the domestics under her charge.

The art of setting by the ears and treading on corns came to her by
nature, it was her misfortune, not her fault, for despite her acidity
she had a heart, atrophied from disuse, perhaps, but still a heart.

She treated her brother as though she were twenty years his senior, and
she had prevented him from marrying by subtle arts of her own, exercised
unconsciously, perhaps, but none the less potently. His affair with Miss
Wilkinson, eldest daughter of Alderman Wilkinson, an affair which
occurred twenty years ago, had been withered, or blasted, if you like
the expression better, by Patience Hancock. She had caused no bitter
feelings towards herself in the breast of either of the parties
concerned in this old-time love affair, but all the same she had parted
them.

Two other attempts on the part of James Hancock to mate and have done
with the business failed for no especial reason, and of late years, from
all external signs, he appeared to have come to the determination to
have done with the business without mating.

Patience had almost dismissed the subject from her mind; secure in the
conviction that her brother’s heart had jellified and set, she had
almost given up espionage, and had settled down before the prospect of a
comfortable old age with lots of people to bully and a free hand in the
management of her brother and his affairs.

Bridgewater, Hancock’s confidential clerk, a man of seventy adorned with
the simplicity of a child of ten, had hitherto been her confidant.

Bridgewater, seduced with a glass of port wine and a biscuit, had helped
materially in the blasting of the Wilkinson affair twenty years before.
He had played the part of spy several times, unconsciously, or partly
so, and to-day he was just the same old blunderer, ready to fall into
any trap set for him by an acute woman.

He adored Patience Hancock for no perceptible earthly reason except that
he had known her in short frocks, and besides this weak-minded adoration
he regarded her as part and parcel of the business, and regarded her
commands as equivalent to the commands of her brother.

Of late years his interviews with Patience had been few, she had no need
for him; and as he sat over his bachelor’s fire at nights rubbing his
shins and thinking and dreaming, sometimes across his recollective
faculty would stray the old past, the confidences, the port, and the
face of Patience Hancock all in a pleasant jumble.

He felt that of late years, somehow, his power to please had in some
mysterious manner waned, and, failing a more valid reason, he put it
down to that change in things and people which is the saddest
accompaniment of age.