But however calm and dignified was Mr. Percy's conduct, it could not be without the greatest anxiety that he awaited the event of the trial which was to decide his future fate and that of his whole family.
The length of time which must elapse before the trial could come on was dreadful. Suspense was the evil they found most difficult to endure. Suspense may be easily borne by persons of an indolent character, who never expect to rule their destiny by their own genius; but to those who feel themselves possessed of energy and abilities to surmount obstacles and to brave dangers, it is torture to remain passive—to feel that prudence, virtue, genius avail them not—that while rapid ideas pass in their imagination, time moves with an unaltered pace, and compels them to wait, along with the herd of vulgar mortals, for knowledge of futurity.
What has become all this time of the Falconer family?
Since the marriage of Miss Falconer with Sir Robert Percy, all intercourse between the Falconers and our branch of the Percy family had ceased; but one morning, when Alfred was alone, intently considering his father's case, and the legal difficulties which threatened him, he was surprised by a visit from Commissioner Falconer. The commissioner looked thin, pale, and wretched. He began by condoling with Alfred on their mutual family misfortunes. Alfred received this condolence with politeness, but with a proud consciousness that, notwithstanding his father's present difficulties, and the total loss of fortune with which he was threatened, neither his father, nor any individual in his family, would change places with any one of the Falconers; since nothing dishonourable could be imputed to Mr. Percy, and since none of his misfortunes had been occasioned by any imprudence of his own.
A deep sigh from the commissioner, at the moment these thoughts were passing in Alfred's mind, excited his compassion, for he perceived that the same reflections had occurred to him.
After taking an immoderate quantity of snuff, the commissioner went on, and disclaimed, in strong terms, all knowledge of his son-in-law Sir Robert's cruel conduct to his cousin. The commissioner said that Sir Robert Percy had, since his marriage with Bell Falconer, behaved very ill, and had made his wife show great ingratitude to her own family—that in Mrs. Falconer's distress, when she and Georgiana were most anxious to retire from town for a short time, and when Mrs. Falconer had naturally looked to the house of her married daughter as a sure asylum, the doors of Percy-hall had been actually shut against her; Sir Robert declaring, that he would not be involved in the difficulties and disgrace of a family who had taken him in to marry a girl without any fortune.
Alfred was perfectly convinced, both from the cordial hatred with which the commissioner now spoke of his son-in-law, and from Mr. Falconer's disposition, that he had nothing to do with the cruel measures which Sir Robert had taken against his father. Commissioner Falconer was not a malevolent, but a weak man—incapable of being a disinterested friend—equally incapable of becoming a malicious enemy. The commissioner now proceeded to his own affairs, and to the business of his visit. He said that he had been disappointed in all his hopes from the Greenwich party—that when that sad business of Mrs. Falconer's came out, they had seized this as a pretence for dropping him altogether—that when they had, by Lord Oldborough's retreat from office, obtained every thing they wanted, and had no more occasion for assistance or information, they had shamefully forgotten, or disowned, all their former promises to Cunningham. They had refused to accredit him at the court of Denmark, refused even to defray the expenses of his journey thither, which, in the style he had thought it necessary for an ambassador to travel in, had been considerable. Upon the hopes held out, he had taken a splendid house in Copenhagen, and had every day, for some weeks, been in expectation of the arrival of his credentials. When it was publicly known that another ambassador was appointed, Cunningham's creditors became clamorous; he contrived to escape from Copenhagen in the night, and was proceeding incog. in his journey homewards, when he was stopped at one of the small frontier towns, and was there actually detained in prison for his debts.
The poor commissioner produced his son's letter, giving an account of his detention, and stating that, unless the money he had raised in Copenhagen was paid, there was no hope of his being liberated—he must perish in a foreign jail.
We spare the reader the just reproaches which the unhappy father, at this moment, uttered against the son's duplicity. It was his fate, he said, to be ruined by those for whom he had been labouring and planning, night and day, for so many years. "And now," concluded Mr. Falconer, "here am I, reduced to sell almost the last acre of my paternal estate—I shall literally have nothing left but Falconer-court, and my annuity!—Nothing!—But it must be done, ill as he has used me, and impossible as it is, ever, even at this crisis, to get the truth from him—I must pay the money: he is in jail, and cannot be liberated without this sum. I have here, you see, under the hand of the chief magistrate, sufficient proof—I will not, however, trouble you, my dear sir, with showing more of these letters—only it is a comfort to me to speak to one who will listen with some sympathy—Ah! sir, when out of place!—out of favour!—selling one's estate!—how people change!—But I am taking up your time. Since these lands are to be sold, the sooner the better. Your father, you know, is trustee to my marriage-settlements, and, I believe, his consent, his signature, will be necessary—will it not?—I am no lawyer—I really am not clear what is necessary—and my solicitor, Mr. Sharpe, I have dismissed: perhaps you will allow me to put the business into your hands?"
Alfred undertook it, and kindly told the commissioner that if he would send him his papers, he would, without putting him to any expense, look them over carefully—have all the necessary releases drawn—and make his title clear to any purchaser who should apply.
The commissioner was full of gratitude for this friendly offer, and immediately begged that he might leave his title-deeds. Accordingly the servant was desired to bring in the box which he had left in the carriage. The commissioner then rose to take leave, but Alfred begged he would stay till he had written a list of the deeds, as he made it a rule never to take charge of any papers, without giving a receipt for them. The commissioner thought this "a superfluous delicacy between friends and relatives;" but Alfred observed that relations would, perhaps, oftener continue friends, if in matters of business, they took care always to be as exact as if they were strangers.
The commissioner looked at his watch—said he was in haste—he was going to wait upon Lord Somebody, from whom, in spite of all his experience, he expected something.
"You will find a list of the deeds, I have a notion," said he, "in the box, Mr. Alfred Percy, and you need only sign it—that will be quite sufficient."
"When I have compared the papers with the list, I will sign it," said Alfred: "my clerk and I will do it as quickly as possible. Believe me, you cannot be in greater haste than I am."
The commissioner, secretly cursing Alfred's accuracy, and muttering something of the necessity for his own punctuality, was obliged to submit. He sat down—the clerk was sent for—the box was opened. The list of the papers was, as Alfred found, drawn out by Buckhurst Falconer; and the commissioner now recollected the time. "Just when poor Buckhurst," said the father, with a sigh, "was arguing with me against going into the church—at that time. I remember, he was desperately in love with your sister Caroline."
"Why, in truth," said Alfred, smiling, as he read over the scrawled list, "this looks a little as if it were written by a man in love—here's another reason for our comparing the papers and the list."
"Well, well, I took it all upon trust—I am no lawyer—I never looked at them—never opened the box, and am very sorry to be obliged to do it now."
The essential care, either of papers or estate, the commissioner had evermore neglected, while he had all his life been castle-building, or pursuing some phantom of fortune at court. Whilst Alfred was comparing the papers and the list, the commissioner went on talking of the marriage of Caroline with Count Altenberg, asking when they expected them to return. It was possible that Count Altenberg might be moved to make some remonstrance in favour of Cunningham; and a word or two from him to the Duke of Greenwich would do the business. The commissioner longed to hint this to Alfred, but he was so intent upon these bundles of parchment, that till every one of them was counted, it would be in vain to make that attempt: so the commissioner impatiently stood by, while the clerk went on calling over the papers, and Alfred, in equal strains, replying. "Thank Heaven!" said he to himself, "they have got to the last bundle."
"Bundle eighteen," cried the clerk.
"Bundle eighteen," replied Alfred. "How many numbers does it contain?"
"Six," said the clerk.
"Six!—no, seven, if you please," said Alfred.
"But six in the list, sir."
"I will read them over," said Alfred. "No. 1. Deed of assignment to Filmer Griffin, Esq. No. 2. Deed of mortgage to Margaret Simpson, widow. No. 3. Deed of lease and release. No. 4. Lease for a year—"
"No. 4. no such thing—stop, sir—Deed!"
Alfred gave one look at the paper, and starting up, snatched it from the hands of his clerk, with an exclamation of joy, signed the receipt for the commissioner, put it into his hands, locked the box, and sat down to write a letter, all with such rapidity that the commissioner was struck with astonishment and curiosity. Notwithstanding all his impatience to be punctual to his own engagement, he now stood fixed to the spot, and at last began with "My dear Mr. Alfred Percy, may I ask what has happened?"
"My dear commissioner, I have found it—I have found it—the long-lost deed, and I am writing to my father, to tell him. Excuse me—excuse me if I am not able to explain farther at this moment."
The commissioner understood it all too quickly. He saw how it had happened through Buckhurst's carelessness. At the time Buckhurst had been packing up these papers, some of Mr. Percy's had been lying on the table—Buckhurst had been charged not to mix them with his father's; but he was in love, and did not know what he was doing.
The commissioner began three sentences, and left them all unfinished, while Alfred did not hear one word of them: the first was an apology for Buckhurst, the second a congratulation for his good cousin Percy, the third was an exclamation that came from his heart. "Good Heavens! but what will become of my daughter Bell and Sir Robert? I do not comprehend quite, my dear sir."
Perceiving that he was not heard by Alfred, the commissioner took up his hat and departed, determining that he would inquire farther from Sir Robert's solicitor concerning the probable consequences of the recovery of this deed.
Alfred had no sooner finished his joyful letter to his father than he wrote to Sir Robert Percy, informing him of the recovery of the deed, and letting him know that he was ready to show it to whomsoever Sir Robert would send to his house to examine it. He made this offer to put an end at once to all doubts. He trusted, he said, that when Sir Robert should be satisfied of the existence and identity of the deed, he would stop his present proceedings for the recovery of the mesne rents, and that he would, without obliging his father to have farther recourse to law, restore to him the Percy estate.
To this letter no answer was received for some time. At length Mr. Sharpe called on Alfred, and begged to see the deed. He was permitted to examine it in Alfred's presence. He noted down the date, names of the witnesses, and some other particulars, of which, he observed, it was necessary he should inform Sir Robert, before he could be satisfied as to the identity of the conveyance. Sharpe was particularly close and guarded in his looks and words during this interview; would neither admit nor deny that he was satisfied, and went away leaving nothing certain, but that he would write to Sir Robert. Alfred thought he saw that they meant to avoid giving an answer, in order to keep possession some months longer, till another term. He took all the necessary steps to bring the matter to trial immediately, without waiting for any answer from Sir Robert. No letter came from him, but Alfred received from his solicitor the following note:
"I am directed by Sir Robert Percy to acquaint you, in reply to yours of the 20th instant, that conceiving his title to the Percy estate to be no way affected by the instrument to which you allude therein, he cannot withdraw his present suit for the mesne rents that had been already received, if you proceed in an ejectment for the recovery of the aforesaid estate.
"I am, sir,
"Your humble servant,
Alfred was surprised and alarmed by this letter. It had never occurred to him as possible, that Sir Robert and his counsel would attempt to stand a new trial in the face of this recovered deed; this was beyond all he could have conceived even from their effrontery and villany. He consulted Mr. Friend, who, after considering Sharpe's letter, could not devise what defence they intended to make, as the deed, upon most accurate examination, appeared duly executed, according to the provision of the statute of frauds. Upon the whole, Mr. Friend was of opinion that the letter was meant merely to alarm the plaintiffs, and to bring them to offer or consent to a compromise. In this opinion Alfred was confirmed the next day, by an interview with Sharpe, accidental on Alfred's part, but designed and prepared by the solicitor, who watched Alfred as he was coming out of the courts, and dogged him till he parted from some gentlemen with whom he was walking—then joining him, he said, in a voice which Mr. Allscrip might have envied for its power of setting sense at defiance, "I am happy, Mr. Alfred Percy, to chance to see you to-day; for, with a view to put an end to litigation and difficulties, I had a few words to suggest—premising that I do not act or speak now, in any wise, as or for Sir Robert Percy, or with reference to his being my client, or as a solicitor in this cause, be it understood, but merely and solely as one gentleman to another, upon honour—and not bringing forward any idea to be taken advantage of hereafter, as tending to any thing in the shape of an offer to compromise, which, in a legal point of view, you know, sir, I could not be warranted to hazard for my client, and of consequence, which I hereby declare, I do not in any degree mean."
"Would you be so good, Mr. Sharpe, to state at once what you do mean? for I confess I do not, in any degree, understand you."
"Why, then, sir, what I mean is, simply, and candidly, and frankly, this: that if I could, without compromising the interest of my client, which, as an honest man, I am bound not to do or appear to do, I should wish to put an end to this litigation between relations; and though your father thinks me his enemy, would convince him to the contrary, if he would allow me, and could point out the means of shortening this difference between relations, which has occasioned so much scandal; and moreover, could devise an accommodation, which might be agreeable to both parties, and save you a vast deal of trouble and vexation; possession," added he, laughing, "being nine points of the law."
Mr. Sharpe paused, as if hoping that something would now be said by Alfred, that might direct him whether to advance or recede; but Alfred only observed, that probably the end Mr. Sharpe proposed to himself by speaking was to make himself understood, and that this desirable end he had not yet attained.
"Why, sir, in some cases, one cannot venture to make one's self understood any way, but by inuendoes."
"Then, good morning to you, sir—you and I can never understand one another."
"Pardon me, sir, unless you are in a hurry," cried Mr. Sharpe, catching Alfred by the button, "which (when so large an estate, to which you might eventually succeed, is in question) you are too much a man of business to be—in one word, then, for I won't detain you another moment, and I throw myself open, and trust to your honour—"
"You do me honour."
"Put a parallel case. You, plaintiff A——, I, defendant B——. I should, if I were A——, but no way advising it, being B——, offer to divide the whole property, the claim for the mesne rents being wholly given up; and that the offer would be accepted, I'd engage upon my honour, supposing myself witnessing the transaction, only just as a gentleman."
"Impossible, sir," cried Alfred, with indignation. "Do you take me for a fool? Do you think I would give up half my father's estate, knowing that he has a right to the whole?"
"Pardon me, sir—I only suggested an A. B. case. But one word more, sir," cried Mr. Sharpe, holding Alfred, who was breaking from him, "for your own—your father's interest: you see this thing quite in a wrong point of view; when you talk of a few months' more or less delay of getting possession, being all there is between us—depend upon it, if it goes to trial you will never get possession."
"Then, sir, if you think so, you are betraying the interest of your client, in advising me not to let it go to trial."
"Good God! sir: but that is between you and me only."
"Pardon me, sir, it is between you and your conscience."
"Oh! if that's all—my conscience is at ease, when I'm trying to prevent the scandal of litigation between relations: therefore, just let me mention to you for your private information, what I know Sir Robert would not wish to come out before the trial."
"Don't tell it to me, sir—I will not hear it," cried Alfred, breaking from him, and walking on very fast.
Faster still Sharpe pursued. "You'll remember, sir, at all events, that what has been said is not to go further—you'll not forget."
"I shall never forget that I am a man of honour, sir," said Alfred.
Sharpe parted from him, muttering, "that if he lived to the day of trial, he would repent this."
"And if I live till the day of judgment, I shall never repent it," thought Alfred.
Now fully convinced that Sir Robert desired a compromise, and wanted only to secure, while in possession, some portion of that property, which he knew the law would ultimately force him to relinquish, Alfred persevered in his course, relieved from the alarm into which he had at first been thrown, when he learned that his opponents intended to make a defence. Alfred felt assured that they would never let the matter come to trial; but time passed on, and they still persisted. Many of his brother lawyers were not only doubtful, but more inclined to despond than to encourage him as to the event of the trial; several regretted that he had not accepted of Mr. Sharpe's offered compromise. "Half the estate certain, and his father's release from all difficulties, they thought too good offers to have been rejected. He might, as Sharpe had prophesied, have to repent his rejection of that proposal."
Others observed, that though Mr. Alfred Percy was certainly a young man of great talents, and had been successful at the bar, still he was a young lawyer; and it was a bold and hazardous, not to say rash thing, to take upon himself the conduct of a suit against such opponents as Mr. Sharpe and Sir Robert Percy, practised in law, hardened in iniquity, and now driven to desperation.
Mr. Friend was the only man who stood steadily by Alfred, and never wavered in his opinion. "Trust to truth and justice," said he; "you did right not to compromise—be firm. If you fail, you will have this consolation—you will have done all that man could do to deserve success."
The day of trial approached. Mr. Friend had hoped, till very late in the business, that the object of their adversaries was only to intimidate, and that they would never let it go to trial: now it was plain they would. But on what grounds? Again and again Mr. Friend and Alfred perused and reperused Sir John Percy's deed, and examined the opinions of counsel of the first eminence. Both law and right appeared to be clearly on their side; but it was not likely that their experienced opponents should persist without having some strong resource.
A dread silence was preserved by Sir Robert Percy and by Mr. Solicitor Sharpe. They must have some deep design: what it could be, remained to be discovered even till the day of trial.
The day of trial arrived—Mr. Percy came up to town, and brought Mrs. Percy and Rosamond with him to his son Alfred's, that they might all be together, and hear as soon as possible their fate.
The trial came on about three o'clock in the afternoon. The court was uncommonly crowded. Mr. Percy, his son Erasmus, and all his friends, and Sir Robert and his adherents, appeared on opposite sides of the galleries.
The excellent countenance and gentlemanlike demeanour of Mr. Percy were contrasted with the dark, inauspicious physiognomy of Sir Robert, who sat opposite to him, and who was never tranquil one second, but was continually throwing notes to his counsel, beckoning or whispering to his attorney—while convulsive twitches of face and head, snuff-taking, and handkerchief spread frequently to conceal the expression of his countenance, betrayed the malignant flurry of his spirits.
Alfred conducted his father's cause in the most judicious and temperate manner. An attempt had been made by Sir Robert to prejudice the public against Mr. Percy, by representing him as the descendant of a younger brother, who was endeavouring to dispossess the heir of the elder branch of the family of that estate, which belonged to him by right of inheritance. Alfred's fast care was to put the court and the jury in full possession of the facts. He stated that "His father, Lewis Percy, plaintiff in this cause, and Robert Percy, Bart. defendant, both descended from Sir John Percy, who was their grandfather. Sir John outlived both his sons, who left him two grandsons, Robert was the son of his eldest, and Lewis of his youngest son. Sir John had two estates, one of them paternal, which went in the ordinary course of descent to the representative of the eldest son, being the present Sir Robert Percy. Sir John's other estate, in Hampshire, which came to him by his wife, he conveyed, a short time before his death, to his youngest grandson, the present Lewis Percy, who had held undisturbed possession of it for many years. But, in process of time, Sir Robert Percy ruined himself by play, and having frequent intercourse with Sharpe, the solicitor, upon some great emergency inquired whether it was not possible to shake the title of his cousin Mr. Percy's estate. He suggested that the conveyance might not be forthcoming; but Sir Robert assured him that both his grandfather and the present Mr. Percy were men of business, and that there was little likelihood either that the deeds should be lost, or that there should be any flaw in the title. Afterwards a fire broke out at Percy-hall, which consumed that wing of the house in which were Mr. Percy's papers—the papers were all saved except this deed of conveyance. Mr. Sharpe being accidentally apprized of the loss, conveyed the intelligence to Sir Robert. He immediately commenced a suit against his cousin, and had finally succeeded in obtaining a verdict in his own favour, and possession of the Hampshire estate. At the time when Mr. Percy delivered up possession and quitted Percy-hall, in consideration of the extensive improvements which he had made, and in consideration of his giving up to Sir Robert plate, furniture, wine, horses, and equipages, Sir Robert had promised to forego whatever claim he might have upon Mr. Percy for the rents which he had received during the time he had held the estate; but, afterwards, Sir Robert repented of having made this agreement, broke his promise, and took out a writ against his cousin for the mesne rents. They amounted to an immense sum, which Mr. Percy was utterly unable to pay, and he could have had no hope of avoiding ruin, had the claim been by law decided against him. By fortunate circumstances, however, he had, while this cause was pending, recovered that lost conveyance, which proved his right to the Hampshire estate. Of this he had apprized Sir Robert, who had persisted, nevertheless, in holding possession, and in his claim for the mesne rents. The present action was brought by Mr. Percy in resistance of this unjust claim, and for the recovery of his property."
Not one word of invective, of eloquence, of ornament, or of any attempt at pathos, did our barrister mix with this statement. It was his object to put the jury and the court clearly in possession of facts, which, unadorned, he knew would appear stronger than if encumbered by any flowers of oratory.
Having produced the deed, conveying the Hampshire estate to his father, Alfred called evidence to prove the signature of Sir John Percy, and the handwriting of the witnesses. He farther proved that this conveyance had been formerly seen among his father's papers at Percy-hall, showed it had been recently recovered from Mr. Falconer's box of papers, and explained how it had been put there by mistake, and he supported this fact by the evidence of Commissioner Falconer, father-in-law to the defendant.—Alfred rested his cause on these proofs, and waited, anxious to know what defence the defendant was prepared to make.
To his astonishment and consternation, Sir Robert's counsel produced another deed of Sir John Percy's, revoking the deed by which Sir John had made over his Hampshire estate to his younger grandson, Mr. Percy; it appearing by a clause in the original deed that a power for this purpose had been therein reserved. This deed of revocation was handed to the judge and to the jury, that it might be examined. The two deeds were carefully compared. The nicest inspection could not discover any difference in the signature or seal. When Mr. Friend examined them, he was in dismay. The instrument appeared perfect. Whilst the jury were occupied in this examination, Mr. Friend and Alfred had a moment to consult together.
"We are undone," whispered Mr. Friend, "if they establish this deed of revocation—it sets us aside for ever."
Neither Mr. Friend nor Alfred had any doubt of its being a forgery, but those, who had plunged thus desperately in guilt, would probably be provided with perjury sufficient to support their iniquity.
"If we had been prepared!" said Mr. Friend: "but how could we be prepared for such a stroke? Even now, if we had time, we could summon witnesses who would discredit theirs, but—"
"Do not despair," said Alfred: "still we have a chance that their own witnesses may cross each other, or contradict themselves. Falsehood, with all its caution, is seldom consistent."
The trial proceeded. Alfred, in the midst of the fears and sighs of his friends, and of the triumphant smiles and anticipating congratulations of his enemies, continued to keep both his temper and his understanding cool. His attention was fixed upon the evidence produced, regardless of the various suggestions whispered or written to him by ignorant or learned advisers.
William Clerke, the only surviving witness to the deed of revocation produced by Sir Robert, was the person on whose evidence this cause principally rested. He was now summoned to appear, and room was made for him. He was upwards of eighty years of age: he came slowly into court, and stood supporting himself upon his staff, his head covered with thin gray hairs, his countenance placid and smiling, and his whole appearance so respectable, so venerable, as to prepossess, immediately, the jury and the court in his favour.
Alfred Percy could scarcely believe it possible, that such a man as this could be the person suborned to support a forgery. After being sworn, he was desired to sit down, which he did, bowing respectfully to the court. Sir Robert Percy's counsel proceeded to examine him as to the points they desired to establish.
"Your name, sir, is William Clerke, is it not?"
"My name is William Clerke," answered the old man, in a feeble voice.
"Did you ever see this paper before?" showing him the deed.
"I did—I was present when Sir John Percy signed it—he bid me witness it, that is, write my name at the bottom, which I did, and then he said, 'Take notice, William Clerke, this is a deed, revoking the deed by which I made over my Hampshire estate to my youngest grandson, Lewis Percy.'"
The witness was going on, but the counsel interrupted.
"You saw Sir John Percy sign this deed—you are sure of that?"
"I am sure of that."
"Is this Sir John Percy's signature?"
"It is—the very same I saw him write; and here is my own name, that he bid me put just there."
"You can swear that this is your handwriting?"
"I can—I do."
"Do you recollect what time Sir John Percy signed this deed?"
"Yes; about three or four days before his death."
"Very well, that is all we want of you, Mr. Clerke."
Alfred Percy desired that Clerke should be detained in court, that he might cross-examine him. The defendants went on, produced their evidence, examined all their witnesses, and established all they desired.
Then it came to Alfred's turn to cross-examine the witnesses that had been produced by his adversary. When William Clerke re-appeared, Alfred regarding him stedfastly, the old man's countenance changed a little; but still he looked prepared to stand a cross-examination. In spite of all his efforts, however, he trembled.
"Oh! you are trembling on the brink of the grave!" said Alfred, addressing him in a low, solemn tone: "pause, and reflect, whilst you are allowed a moment's time. A few years must be all you have to spend in this world. A few moments may take you to another, to appear before a higher tribunal—before that Judge, who knows our hearts, who sees into yours at this instant."
The staff in the old man's hand shook violently.
Sir Robert Percy's counsel interrupted—said that the witness should not be intimidated, and appealed to the court. The judge was silent, and Alfred proceeded, "You know that you are upon your oath—these are possibly the last words you may ever utter—look that they be true. You know that men have been struck dead whilst uttering falsehoods. You are upon your oath—did you see Sir John Percy sign this deed?"
The old man attempted in vain to articulate.
"Give him time to recollect," cried the counsel on the opposite side: "give him leave to see the writing now he has his spectacles."
He looked at the writing twice—his head and hands shaking so that he could not fix his spectacles. The question was repeated by the judge. The old man grew pale as death. Sir Robert Percy, just opposite to him, cleared his throat to catch the witness's attention, then darted at him such a look as only he could give.
"Did I see Sir John Percy sign this deed?" repeated William Clerke: "yes, I did."
"You hear, my lord, you hear," cried Sir Robert's counsel, "the witness says he did—there is no occasion farther to intimidate this poor old man. He is not used to speak before such an audience. There is no need of eloquence—all we want is truth. The evidence is positive. My lord, with your lordship's leave, I fancy we may dismiss him."
They were going to hurry him away, but Alfred Percy said that, with the permission of the court, he must cross-examine that witness farther, as the whole event of the trial depended upon the degree of credit that might be given to his evidence.
By this time the old man had somewhat recovered himself; he saw that his age and reverend appearance still prepossessed the jury in his favour, and from their looks, and from the whispers near him, he learned that his tremor and hesitation had not created any suspicion of guilt, but had been attributed rather to the sensibility of virtue, and the weakness of age. And, now that the momentary emotion which eloquence had produced on his mind had subsided, he recollected the bribe that had been promised to him. He was aware that he had already sworn what, if he contradicted, might subject him to be prosecuted for perjury. He now stood obstinately resolved to persevere in his iniquity. The first falsehoods pronounced and believed, the next would be easy.
"Your name is William Clerke, and this," said Alfred (pointing to the witness's signature), "is your handwriting?"
"Yes, I say it is."
"You can write then?" (putting a pen into his hand) "be so good as to write a few words in the presence of the court." He took the pen, but after making some fruitless attempts, replied, "I am too old to write—I have not been able to write my name these many years—Indeed! sir, indeed! you are too hard upon one like me. God knows," said he, looking up to Heaven, some thought with feeling, some suspected with hypocrisy—"God knows, sir, I speak the truth, and nothing but the truth. Have you any more questions to put to me? I am ready to tell all I know. What interest have I to conceal any thing?" continued he, his voice gaining strength and confidence as he went on repeating the lesson which he had been taught.
"It was long, a long while ago," he said, "since it had all happened; but thank Heaven, his memory had been spared him, and he remembered all that had passed, the same as if it was but yesterday. He recollected how Sir John looked, where he sat, what he said when he signed this deed; and, moreover, he had often before heard of a dislike Sir John had taken to his younger grandson—ay, to that young gentleman's father," looking at Alfred; "and I was very sorry to hear it—very sorry there should be any dispute in the family, for I loved them all," said he, wiping his eyes—"ay, I loved 'em all, and all alike, from the time they were in their cradles. I remember too, once, Sir John said to me, 'William Clerke,' says he, 'you are a faithful lad'—for I was a lad once—"
Alfred had judiciously allowed the witness to go on as far as he pleased with his story, in the expectation that some exaggeration and contradiction would appear; but the judge now interrupted the old man, observing that this was nothing to the purpose—that he must not take up the time of the court with idle tales, but that if he had any thing more to give in evidence respecting the deed, he should relate it.
The judge was thought to be severe; and the old man, after glancing his eye on the jury, bowed with an air of resignation, and an appearance of difficulty, which excited their compassion.
"We may let him go now, my lord, may not we?" said Sir Robert Percy's counsel.
"With the permission of his lordship, I will ask one other question," said Alfred.
Now it should be observed, that after the first examination of this witness, Alfred had heard him say to Mr. Sharpe, "They forgot to bring out what I had to say about the seal." To which Sharpe had replied, "Enough without it." Alfred had examined the seal, and had observed that there was something underneath it—through a small hole in the parchment he saw something between the parchment and the sealing-wax.
"You were present, I think you say, Mr. Clerke, not only when this deed was signed, but when it was sealed?"
"I was, sir," cried Clerke, eager to bring out this part of the evidence, as it had been prepared for him by Sir Robert; "I surely was; and I remember it particularly, because of a little remarkable circumstance: Sir John, God bless him!—I think I see him now—My lord, under this seal," continued the old man, addressing himself to the judge, and putting his shrivelled finger upon the seal, "under this very seal Sir John put a sixpence—and he called upon me to observe him doing it—for, my lord, it is my opinion, he thought then of what might come to pass—he had a sort of a foreboding of this day. And now, my lord, order them, if you please, to break the seal—break it before them all,—and if there is not the sixpence under it, why this deed is not Sir John's, and this is none of my writing, and," cried he, lifting up his hands and eyes, "I am a liar, and perjured."
There was a profound silence. The seal was broken. The sixpence appeared. It was handed in triumph, by Sir Robert Percy's counsel, to the jury and to the judge. There seemed to be no longer a doubt remaining in the minds of the jury—and a murmur of congratulation among the partisans of Sir Robert seemed to anticipate the verdict.
"'Tis all over, I fear," whispered Friend to Alfred. "Alfred, you have done all that could be done, but they have sworn through every thing—it is over with us."
"Not yet," said Alfred. Every eye turned upon him, some from pity, some from curiosity, to see how he bore his defeat. At length, when there was silence, he begged to be permitted to look at the sixpence. The judge ordered that it should be shown to him. He held it to the light to examine the date of the coin; he discovered a faint impression of a head on the sixpence, and, upon closer inspection, he made out the date, and showed clearly that the date of the coin was later than the date of the deed: so that there was an absolute impossibility that this sixpence could have been put under the seal of the deed by Sir John.
The moment Alfred stated this fact, the counsel on the opposite side took the sixpence, examined it, threw down his brief, and left the court. People looked at each other in astonishment. The judge ordered that William Clerke should he detained, that he might be prosecuted by the crown for perjury.
The old man fell back senseless. Mr. Sharpe and Sir Robert Percy pushed their way together out of court, disclaimed by all who had till now appeared as their friends. No farther evidence was offered, so that here the trial closed. The judge gave a short, impressive charge to the jury, who, without withdrawing, instantly gave their verdict in favour of the plaintiff, Lewis Percy—a verdict that was received with loud acclamations, which not even respect to the court could restrain.
Mr. Percy and Alfred hastily shook hands with their friends, and in the midst of universal applause hurried away to carry the good news to Mrs. Percy and Rosamond, who were at Alfred's house, waiting to hear the event of the trial.
Neither Alfred nor Mr. Percy had occasion to speak—the moment Mrs. Percy and Rosamond saw them they knew the event.
"Yes," said Mr. Percy, "our fortune is restored; and doubly happy we are, in having regained it, in a great measure, by the presence of mind and ability of my son."
His mother and sister embraced Alfred with tears of delight. For some moments a spectator might have imagined that he beheld a family in deep affliction. But soon through these tears appeared on the countenance of each individual the radiance of joy, smiles of affection, tenderness, gratitude, and every delightful benignant feeling of the human heart.
"Has any body sent to Mrs. Hungerford and to Lady Jane Granville?" said Mr. Percy.
"Yes, yes, messengers were sent off the moment the verdict was given," said Erasmus: "I took care of that."
"It is a pity," said Rosamond, "that Caroline is not here at this moment, and Godfrey."
"It is best as it is," said Mrs. Percy: "we have that pleasure still in store."
"And now, my beloved children," said Mr. Percy, "after having returned thanks to Providence, let me here, in the midst of all of you to whom I owe so large a share of my happiness, sit down quietly for a few minutes to enjoy 'the sober certainty of waking bliss.'"
The day after the trial brought several happy letters to the Percys. Rosamond called it the day of happy letters, and by that name it was ever after recorded in the family. The first of these letters was from Godfrey, as follows:
"Dear father, mother, brothers, and sisters all! I hope you are not under any anxiety about me, for here I am, safe and sound, and in excellent quarters, at the house of Mynheers Grinderweld, Groensveld, and Slidderschild, Amsterdam, the Dutch merchants who were shipwrecked on our coast years ago! If it had happened yesterday, the thing could not be fresher in their memories. My dear Rosamond, when we laughed at their strange names, square figures, and formal advice to us, if ever we should, by the changes and chances of human events, be reduced to distress, we little thought that I, a prisoner, should literally come to seek shelter at their door. And most hospitably have I been received. National prejudices, which I early acquired, I don't know how, against the Dutch, made me fancy that a Dutchman could think only of himself, and would give nothing for nothing: I can only say from experience, I have been as hospitably treated in Amsterdam as ever I was in London. These honest merchants have overwhelmed me with civilities and substantial services, and still they seem to think they can never do enough for me. I wish I may ever see them on English ground again. But we have no Percy-hall to receive them in now; and as well as I remember the Hills, we could not conveniently stow more than one at a time. Side by side, as they stood after breakfast, I recollect, at Percy-hall, they would completely fill up the parlour at the Hills.
"I may well be in high spirits to-day; for these good people have just been telling me, that the measures they have been taking to get my exchange effected, have so far succeeded, they have reason to believe that in a week, or a fortnight at farthest, I shall be under weigh for England.
"In the mean time, you will wonder perhaps how I got here; for I perceive that I have subjected myself to Rosamond's old reproach of never beginning my story at the beginning. My father used to say, half the mistakes in human affairs arise from our taking for granted; but I think I may take it for granted, that either from the newspapers or from Gascoigne, who must be in England by this time, you have learned that the transport I was on board, with my division of the regiment, parted convoy in the storm of the 18th, in the night, and at daybreak fell in with two Dutchmen. Our brave boys fought as Englishmen always do; but all that is over now, so it does not signify prosing about it. Two to one was too much—we were captured. I had not been five minutes on the Dutchman's deck, when I observed one of the sailors eyeing me very attentively. Presently he came up and asked if my name was not Percy, and if I did not recollect to have seen him before? He put me in mind of the shipwreck, and told me he was one of the sailors who were harboured in one of my father's outhouses whilst they were repairing the wreck. I asked him what had become of the drunken carpenter, and told him the disaster that ensued in consequence of that rascal's carelessness. My sailor was excessively shocked at the account of the fire at Percy-hall: he thumped his breast till I thought he would have broken his breast-bone; and after relieving his mind by cursing and swearing in high Dutch, low Dutch, and English, against the drunken carpenter, he told me there was no use in saying any more, for that he had punished himself.—He was found dead one morning behind a barrel, from which in the night he had been drinking spirits surreptitiously through a straw. Pray tell this to old John, who used always to prophesy that this fellow would come to no good: assure him, however, at the same time, that all the Dutch sailors do not deserve his maledictions. Tell him, I can answer for the poor fellow who recognized me, and who, during the whole passage, never failed to show me and my fellow-prisoners every little attention in his power. When we got to Amsterdam, it was he reminded me of the Dutch merchants, told me their names, which, without his assistance, I might have perished before I could ever have recollected, and showed me the way to their house, and never rested till he saw me well settled.
"You will expect from me some account of this place. You need not expect any, for just as I had got to this line in my letter appeared one who has put all the lions of Amsterdam fairly out of my head—Mr. Gresham! He has been for some weeks in the country, and has just returned. The Dutch merchants, not knowing of his being acquainted with my family, never mentioned him to me, nor me to him: so our surprise at meeting was great. What pleasure it is in a foreign country, and to a poor prisoner, to see any one from dear England, and one who knows our own friends! I had never seen Mr. Gresham myself, but you have all by your letters made me well acquainted with him. I like him prodigiously, to use a lady's word (not yours, Rosamond). Letters from Mr. Henry were waiting for him here; he has just opened them, and the first news he tells me is, that Caroline is going to be married! Is it possible? Count Altenberg! The last time I heard from you, you mentioned nothing of all this. Some of your letters must have been lost. Pray write again immediately, and do not take it for granted that I shall be at home before a letter reaches me; but give me a full history of every thing up to the present moment. Groensveld is sealing his letters for London, and must have mine now or never. Adieu! Pray write fully: you cannot he too minute for a poor prisoner.
"burning with curiosity,
A letter from Mr. Gresham to Mr. Henry farther informed them, that Godfrey's exchange was actually effected, and that he had secured his passage on board a vessel just ready to sail for England.
Next came letters from Count Altenberg. Briefly, in the laconic style of a man pressed at once by sudden events and strong feelings, he related that at the siege of the city of —— by the French, early in the morning of the day on which it was expected that the enemy would attempt to storm the place, his prince, while inspecting the fortifications, was killed by a cannon-ball, on the very spot where the Count had been standing but a moment before. All public affairs were changed in his country by the death of the prince. His successor, of a weak character, was willing to purchase present ease, and to secure his low pleasures, at any price—ready to give up the honour of his country, and submit to the conqueror—that he had been secretly intriguing with the enemy, had been suspected, and this suspicion was confirmed by his dastardly capitulation when the means of defence were in his power and the spirit of his people eager for resistance.
With indignation, heightened by grief, contrast, and despairing patriotism, Count Altenberg had remonstrated in vain—had refused, as minister, to put his signature to the capitulation—had been solicited urgently to concede—offers of wealth and dignities pressed upon him: these he rejected with scorn. Released from all his public engagements by the death of the prince, and by the retiring of the princess from court, Count Altenberg refused to act as minister under his successor; and seeing that, under such a successor to the government, no means of serving or saving the country remained, he at once determined to quit it for ever: resolved to live in a free country, already his own, half by birth and wholly by inclination, where he had property sufficient to secure him independence, sufficient for his own wishes, and for those of his beloved Caroline—a country where he could enjoy better than on any other spot in the whole compass of the civilized world, the blessings of real liberty and of domestic tranquillity and happiness.
His decision made, it was promptly executed. He left to a friend the transacting the sale of his German property, and Caroline concluded his letter with
"MY DEAR FRIENDS,
"Passports are obtained, every thing ready. Early next week we set out for England; by the first of next month we shall be at HOME."
Then came a letter from Lord Oldborough. Some time previously to the trial, surprised at neither seeing Mr. Temple nor hearing of his marriage, his lordship had written to inquire what delayed his promised return. Taking it for granted that he was married, his lordship in the most polite manner begged that he would prevail upon his bride to enliven the retirement of an old statesman by her sprightly company. As the friend of her father he made this request, with a confidence in her hereditary disposition to show him kindness.
In reply to this letter, Mr. Temple told his friend and master what had delayed his marriage, and why he had hitherto forborne to trouble him on the subject. Lord Oldborough, astonished and indignant, uttered once and but once contemptuous exclamations against the "inconceivable meanness of Lord Skrimpshire," and the "infinitely small mind of his grace of Greenwich;" then, without condescending to any communication with inferior powers, his lordship applied directly to the highest authority. The consequence was that a place double the value of that which had been promised was given to Mr. Temple, and it was to announce his appointment to it that occasioned the present letter from Lord Oldborough, enclosing one from Mr. Secretary Cope, who "had it in command to assure his lordship that the delay had arisen solely from the anxious desire of his majesty's ministers to mark their respect for his lordship's recommendation, and their sense of Mr. Temple's merit, by doing more than had been originally proposed. An opportunity, for which they had impatiently waited, had now put it into their power to evince the sincerity of their intentions in a mode which they trusted would prove to the entire satisfaction of his lordship."
The greatest care was taken both in substance and manner to gratify Lord Oldborough, whose loss had been felt, and whose value had, upon comparison, increased in estimation.
Rosamond was rewarded by seeing the happiness of the man she loved, and hearing him declare that he owed it to her prudence.
"Rosamond's prudence!—Whoever expected to hear this?" Mr. Percy exclaimed. "And yet the praise is just. So, henceforward, none need ever despair of grafting prudence upon generosity of disposition and vivacity of temper."
Mr. Temple obtained from Rosamond a promise to be his, as soon as her sister Caroline and her brother should arrive.
Lady Jane Granville, who felt the warmest interest in their prosperity, was the first to whom they communicated all this joyful intelligence. Her ladyship's horses had indeed reason to rue this day; for they did more work this day than London horses ever accomplished before in the same number of hours, not excepting even those of the merciless Mrs. John Prevost; for Lady Jane found it necessary to drive about to her thousand acquaintance to spread the news of the triumph and felicity of the Percy family.
In the midst of this tumult of joy, Mr. Percy wrote two letters: one was to his faithful old steward, John Nelson, who deserved from his master this mark of regard; the other was to Commissioner Falconer, to make him some friendly offers of assistance in his own affairs, and to beg that, through him, his daughter, the unhappy and deserted lady of Sir Robert Percy, might be assured that neither Mr. Percy nor any of his family wished to put her to inconvenience; and that far from being in haste to return to Percy-hall, they particularly wished to wait in town for the arrival of Caroline and Count Altenberg; and they therefore requested that she would not hasten her removal, from any false idea of their impatience. We said the deserted lady of Sir Robert Percy, for Sir Robert had fled from the country. On quitting the court after the trial, he took all the ready money he had previously collected from his tenants, and set out for the continent, leaving a note for his wife, apprizing her "that she would never see him more, and that she had better return to her father and mother, as he had no means left to support her extravagance."
Commissioner Falconer was at this time at Falconer-court, where he had been obliged to go to settle some business with his tenantry, previously to the sale of his land for the redemption of Cunningham. The Commissioner's answer to Mr. Percy's letter was as follows:
"I cannot tell you, my dear sir, how much I was touched by the kindness of your letter and conduct—so different from what I have met with from others. I will not cloud your happiness—in which, believe me, I heartily rejoice—by the melancholy detail of all my own sorrows and disappointments; but only answer briefly to your friendly inquiries respecting my affairs.
"And first, for my unfortunate married daughter, who has been in this terrible manner returned upon our hands. She thanks you for your indulgence, on which she will not encroach. Before you receive this, she will have left Percy-hall. She is going to live with a Miss Clapham, a great heiress, who wants a fashionable companion and chaperon. Mrs. Falconer became acquainted with her at Tunbridge, and has devised this plan for Arabella. I fear Bell's disposition will not suit such a situation, but she has no other resource.
"Mrs. Falconer and Georgiana have so over-managed matters with respect to Petcalf, that it has ended, as I long since feared it would, in his breaking off. If Mrs. Falconer had taken my advice, Georgiana might now be completely settled; instead of which she is fitting out for India. She is going, to be sure, in good company; but in my opinion the expense (which, Heaven knows, I can ill afford) will be thrown away like all the rest—for Georgiana has been much worn by late hours, and though still young, has, I fear, lost her bloom, and looks rather old for India.
"I am truly obliged to you, my dear sir, for your friendly offer with respect to Falconer-court, and have in consequence stopped the sale of the furniture. I shall rejoice to have such a good tenant as Mr. Temple. It is indeed much more agreeable to me to let than to sell. The accommodation, as you propose, will put it in my power to release Cunningham, which is my most pressing difficulty.
"As you are the only person in the world now who takes an interest in my affairs, or to whom I can safely unburden my mind, I must, though I know complaint to be useless, relieve my heart by it for a moment. I can safely say, that for the last ten years of my life I have never spent a day for myself. I have been continually planning and toiling to advance my family,—not an opportunity has been neglected; and yet from this very family springs all my unhappiness. Even Mrs. Falconer blames me as the cause of that sad business, which has disgraced us for ever, and deprived us of all our friends—and has afforded an excuse for breaking all promises. There are many, whom I will not name, but they are persons now high in office, who have—I may venture to say it to you—used me shamefully ill.
"Many an honest tradesman and manufacturer, to say nothing of men of talents in the liberal professions, I have seen in the course of the last forty years make their own fortunes, and large fortunes, while I have ended worse than I began—have literally been working all my life for others, not only without reward, but without thanks. If I were to begin life again, I certainly should follow your principles, my dear sir, and depend more upon myself and less upon others, than I have done—But now all is over. Let me assure you, that in the midst of my own misfortunes, I rejoice in your prosperity, and in the esteem and respect with which I hear you and yours spoken of by all.
"Present my affectionate regards and congratulations to Mrs. Percy, and to all your amiable and happy circle. Propriety and feeling for my poor daughter, Lady Percy, must prevent my paying at present my personal congratulations to you at Percy-hall; but I trust you will not the less believe in the sincerity of my attachment.
"I am, my dear sir,
"Your obliged and faithful
"Friend and servant,
"P.S.—I have just learnt that the little place I mentioned to Mr. Alfred Percy, when we last met, is not disposed of. Lord Oldborough's influence, as Mr. Temple well knows, is still all-powerful; and your interest with his lordship, you must be sensible, is greater than that of any other person living, without exception. A word from you would do the business for me. It is but a trifle, which I should once have been ashamed to ask: but it is now a matter of necessity."
The event of the trial, and the restoration of the Percy family to their property, were heard with transports of joy by the old tenantry. They had not needed the effect of contrast, to make them love and feel the value of their good landlord; but certainly Sir Robert Percy's tyranny, and all that he had made them suffer for their obstinate fidelity to the old branch, had heightened and fortified their attachment. It was now their turn to glory in that honest obstinacy, and with the strong English sense of justice, they triumphed in having the rightful owners restored to their estate, and to the seat of their ancestors.
As the Percy family crossed the well-known bridge at the end of the village, those bells, which had sounded so mournfully, which had been muffled when they quitted their home, now rang out a merry triumphant peal—and it was rung by the hands of the very same persons who had formerly given that proof of attachment to him in his adversity.—Emotion as strong now seized Mr. Percy's heart. At the same spot he jumped out of the carriage, and by the same path along which he had hastened to stop the bell-ringers, lest they should ruin themselves with Sir Robert, he now hastened to see and thank these honest, courageous people. In passing through the village, which had been freshly swept and garnished the people, whom, he remembered to have seen in tears following the carriage at their departure, were now crowding to their doors with faces bright with smiles. Hats that had never stirred, and backs that had never bent for the usurper, were now eager with low bows to mark their proud respect to the true man. There were no noisy acclamations, for all were touched. The voices of the young children, however, were heard, who, as their mothers held them up in their arms, to see the landlord, of whom they had heard so much, offered their little nosegays as the open carriage passed, and repeated blessings on those, on whom from their cradles, they had heard blessings bestowed by their parents.
The old steward stood ready at the park-gate to open it for his master. His master and the ladies put their hands out of the carriage to shake hands with him, but he could not stand it. He just touched his master's hand. Tears streamed down his face, and turning away without being able to say one word, he hid himself in the porter's lodge.
As they drove up to the house, they saw standing on the steps waiting—and long had he been waiting there, for the first sound of the carriage—Johnson, the butler, who had followed the family to the Hills, and had served them in their fallen fortunes—Johnson was now himself. Before the hall-door, wide open to receive them, he stood, with the livery-servants in due order.
Mrs. Harte, the good old housekeeper, had been sent down to prepare for the reception of the family, and a world of trouble she had had; but all was now right and proper, and she was as active and alert as the youngest of her maidens could have been, in conducting the ladies to their apartments, in showing all the old places, and doing what she called the honours of the re-installation. She could have wished to have vented a little of her indignation, and to have told how some things had been left; but her better taste and judgment, and her sense of what would be pleasing to her master and mistress, repressed all recrimination. By the help of frequent recurrence to her snuff-box, in difficulties great, together with much rubbing of her hands, and some bridling of her head, she got through it, without naming those, who should not be thought of, as she observed, on this joyful day.
The happiness of the Percy family was completed by the return of Godfrey, of Caroline, and Count Altenberg. Godfrey arrived just as his family were settled at Percy-hall. After his long absence from his home and country, he doubly enjoyed this scene of domestic prosperity. Beloved as Rosamond was by rich and poor in the neighbourhood, and the general favourite of her family, her approaching marriage spread new and universal joy. It is impossible to give an idea of the congratulations, and of the bustle of the various preparations, which were going on at this time at Percy-hall, especially in the lower regions. Even Mrs. Harte's all-regulating genius was insufficient for the exigencies of the times. Indeed, her head and her heart were now at perpetual variance, continually counteracting and contradicting each other. One moment delighted with the joy and affection of the world below, she would come up to boast of it to her mistress and her young ladies; the next moment she would scold all the people for being out of their wits, and for not minding or knowing a single thing they were doing, or ordered to do, "no more than the babes in the wood;" then proving the next minute and acknowledging that she was "really quite as bad as themselves. And no wonder, for the thoughts of Miss Rosamond's marriage had turned her head entirely upside down—for she had been at Miss Rosamond's christening, held her by proxy, and considered her always as her particular own child, and well she might, for a better, except, perhaps, Miss Caroline—I should say the countess—never breathed."
The making a desert island for Miss Rosamond's wedding-dinner was the object which had taken such forcible possession of Mrs. Harte's imagination, that till it was accomplished it was in vain to hope that any other could, in her eyes, appear in any kind of proportion. In the midst of all the sentimental joy above stairs, and in the midst of all the important business of settlements and lawyers, Mrs. Harte was pursuing the settled purpose of her soul, constructing with infinite care, as directed by her complete English Housekeeper, a desert island for a wedding, in a deep china dish, with a mount in the middle, two figures upon the mount, with crowns on their heads, a knot of rock-candy at their feet, and gravel-walks of shot comfits, judiciously intersecting in every direction their dominions.
As soon as it was possible, after his return to Percy-hall, Mr. Percy went to pay his respects to Lord Oldborough. He found this great statesman happy in retirement, without any affectation of happiness. There were proofs in every thing about him that his mind had unbent itself agreeably; his powers had expanded upon different objects, building, planting, improving the soil and the people.
He had many tastes, which had long lain dormant, or rather which had been held in subjugation by one tyrant passion. That passion vanquished, the former tastes resumed their activity. The superior strength of his character was shown in his never recurring to ambition. Its vigour was displayed in the means by which he supplied himself, not only with variety of occupation, but with variety of motive. Those, who best know the human mind must be aware of the difficulty of supplying motive for one accustomed to stimulus of so high a kind, as that to which Lord Oldborough had been habituated. For one who had been at the head of the government of a great nation, to make for himself objects in the stillness and privacy of a country life, required no common talent and energy of soul. The difficulty was increased to Lord Oldborough, for to him the vast resource of a taste for literature was wanting.
The biographer of Sir Robert Walpole tells us, that though he had not forgotten his classical attainments, he had little taste for literary occupations. Sir Robert once expressed his regret on this subject to Mr. Fox, in the library at Houghton. "I wish," he said, "I took as much delight in reading as you do; it would be the means of alleviating many tedious hours in my present retirement. But, to my misfortune, I derive no pleasure from such pursuits."
Lord Oldborough felt, but never condescended to complain of that deficiency of general literature, which was caused in him, partly by his not having had time for the attainment, and partly by his having formed too low an estimate of the influence and power of literature in the political world. But he now took peculiar delight in recalling the classical studies in which he had in his youth excelled; as Mr. Percy sympathized with him in this taste, there was another point in which they coalesced. Mr. Percy stayed with his old friend some days, for he was anxious to give him this proof of attachment, and felt interested in seeing his character develope itself in a new direction, displaying fresh life and strength, and unexpected resource in circumstances, in which statesmen of the most vigorous minds, and of the highest spirit, have been seen to "droop and drowse," to sink into indolence, sensuality, or the horrors of hypochondriacism and superstition.
Lord Oldborough, on his first retiring to Clermont-park, had informed Mr. Percy that he should wish to see him as soon as he had arranged certain papers. He now reminded his lordship of it, and Lord Oldborough put into his hands a sketch, which he had been drawing out, of the principal transactions in which he had been engaged during his political career, with copies of his letters to the first public characters of the day in our own and in foreign countries. Even by those who had felt no regard for the man, the letters of such a minister would have been read with avidity; but Mr. Percy perused them with a stronger interest than any which could be created by mere political or philosophical curiosity. He read them with a pleasure which a generous mind takes in admiring that which is good and great, with the delight which a true friend feels in seeing proofs that justify all the esteem he had previously felt. He saw in these original documents, in this history of Lord Oldborough's political life, the most perfect consistency and integrity, the most disinterested and enlightened patriotism. When Mr. Percy returned the manuscript to his lordship, he spoke of the satisfaction he must experience in looking back upon this record of a life spent in the service of his country, and observed that he was not surprised that, with such a solid source of self-approbation, such indefeasible claims to the gratitude of his countrymen, and such well-earned fame, he should be, as he appeared, happy in retirement.
"I am happy, and, I believe, principally from the cause you have mentioned," said Lord Oldborough, who had a mind too great for the affectation of humility. "So far I am happy."
"Yet," added he, after a considerable pause, "I have, I feel, a greater capability of happiness, for which I have been prevented from making any provision, partly by the course of life of which I made choice, and partly by circumstances over which I had no control."
He paused again; and, turning the conversation, spoke of his sister, an elderly lady, who had come to pass some time with him. They had lived separate almost all their lives; she in Scotland with her husband, a Scottish nobleman, who having died about the time when Lord Oldborough had resigned his ministerial situation, she had accepted his lordship's invitation to visit him in his retirement. The early attachment he had had for this sister seemed to revive in his mind when they met; and, as if glad to have some object for his affections, they were poured out upon her. Mr. Percy observed a tenderness in his manner and voice when he spoke to her, a thousand little attentions, which no one would have expected from the apparently stern Lord Oldborough, a man who had been engrossed all his life by politics.
On the morning of the last day which Mr. Percy meant to spend at Clermont-park, his lordship, as they were sitting together in his study, expressed more than common regret at the necessity for his friend's departure, but said, "I have no right to detain you from your family." Then, after a pause, he added, "Mr. Percy, you first gave me the idea that a private life is the happiest."
"My lord, in most cases I believe it is; but I never meant to assert that a public life spent in noble exertion, and with the consciousness of superior talent and utility, is not more desirable than the life of any obscure individual can possibly be, even though he possess the pleasure of domestic ease and tranquillity. There are men of eminent abilities, capable of extraordinary exertions, inspired by exalted patriotism. I believe, notwithstanding the corruption of so many has weakened all faith in public virtue, I believe in the existence of such men, men who devote themselves to the service of their country: when the time for their relinquishing the toils of public life arrives, honour and self-approbation follow them in retirement."
"It is true, I am happy," repeated Lord Oldborough; "but to go on with what I began to say to you yesterday—I feel that some addition might be made to my happiness. The sense of having, to the best of my ability, done my duty, is satisfactory. I do not require applause—I disdain adulation—I have sustained my public life without sympathy—I could seldom meet with it—where I could, I have enjoyed it—and could now enjoy it—exquisitely—as you do, Mr. Percy—surrounded by a happy family. Domestic life requires domestic pleasures—objects for the affections."
Mr. Percy felt the truth of this, and could answer only by suggesting the idea of Mr. Temple, who was firmly and warmly attached to Lord Oldborough, and for whom his lordship had a strong regard.
"Mr. Temple, and my daughter Rosamond, whom your lordship honoured with so kind an invitation, propose, I know, paying their respects to you next week. Though I am her father, I may venture to say that Rosamond's sprightliness is so mixed with solid information and good sense, that her society will become agreeable to your lordship."
"I shall rejoice to see Mrs. Temple here. As the daughter of one friend, and the wife of another, she has a double claim to my regard. And (to say nothing of hereditary genius or dispositions—in which you do not believe, and I do), there can be no doubt that the society of a lady, educated as your daughter has been, must suit my taste. The danger is, that her society should become necessary to me. For Mr. Temple I already feel a degree of affection, which I must repress, rather than indulge."
"Repress!—Why so, my lord? You esteem him—you believe in the sincerity of his attachment?"
"Then why with stoicism—pardon me, my dear lord—why repress affection?"
"Lest I should become dependent for my daily happiness on one, whose happiness is independent of mine—in some degree incompatible with mine. Even if his society were given to me, his heart must be at his home, and with his family. You see I am no proud stoic, but a man who dares to look at life—the decline of life, such as it is—as it must be. Different, Mr. Percy, in your situation—and in mine."
The conversation was here interrupted by the arrival of a carriage.
Lord Oldborough looked out of the window as it passed—then smiled, and observed how altered the times were, since Clermont-park used to be crowded with visitors and carriages—now the arrival of one is an event.
The servant announced a foreign name, a Neapolitan abbe, who had come over in the train of a new ambassador: he had just arrived in England, and had letters from the Cardinal . . ., his uncle, which he was desired to deliver into Lord Oldborough's own hand. The abbe was, it appeared, personally a stranger to him, but there had been some ministerial intercourse between his lordship and the cardinal. Lord Oldborough received these political letters with an air of composure and indifference which proved that he ceased to have an interest in the game.
"He supposed," he said, "that the abbe had been apprized that he was no longer one of his majesty's ministers—that he had resigned his official situation—had retired—and that he took no part whatever in public affairs."
The abbe replied that he had been apprized that Lord Oldborough had retired from the public office; but his uncle, he added, with a significant smile, was aware that Lord Oldborough's influence was as great still as it had ever been, and greater than that of any ostensible minister.
This Lord Oldborough disclaimed—coolly observing that his influence, whatever it might be, could not be known even to himself, as it was never exerted; and that, as he had determined nevermore to interfere in public business, he could not be of the least political service to the cardinal. The Duke of Greenwich was now the person to whom on such subjects all applications should be addressed.
The abbe, however, repeated, that his instructions from the cardinal were positive and peremptory, to deliver these letters into no hands but those of Lord Oldborough—that in consequence of this strict injunction he had come purposely to present them. He was instructed to request his lordship would not put the letters into the hands of any secretary, but would have the goodness to examine them himself, and give his counsel how to proceed, and to whom they should, in case of his lordship's declining to interfere, be addressed.
"Mr. Percy!" said Lord Oldborough, recalling Mr. Percy, who had risen to quit the room, "you will not leave me—Whatever you may wish to say, M. l'abbe, may be said before this gentleman—my friend."
His lordship then opened the packet, examined the letters—read and re-directed some to the Duke of Greenwich, others to the king: the abbe, all the time, descanting vehemently on Neapolitan politics—regretting Lord Oldborough's resignation—adverting still to his lordship's powerful influence—and pressing some point in negotiation, for which his uncle, the cardinal, was most anxious.
Among the letters, there was one which Lord Oldborough did not open: he laid it on the table with the direction downwards, leaned his elbow upon it, and sat as if calmly listening to the abbe; but Mr. Percy, knowing his countenance, saw signs of extraordinary emotion, with difficulty repressed.
At length the gesticulating abbe finished, and waited his lordship's instructions.
They were given in few words. The letters re-directed to the king and the Duke of Greenwich were returned to him. He thanked his lordship with many Italian superlatives—declined his lordship's invitation to stay till the next day at Clermont-park—said he was pressed in point of time—that it was indispensably necessary for him to be in London, to deliver these papers, as soon as possible. His eye glanced on the unopened letter.
"Private, sir," said Lord Oldborough, in a stern voice, without moving his elbow from the paper: "whatever answer it may require, I shall have the honour to transmit to you—for the cardinal."
The abbe bowed low, left his address, and took leave. Lord Oldborough, after attending him to the door, and seeing him depart, returned, took out his watch, and said to Mr. Percy "Come to me, in my cabinet, in five minutes."
Seeing his sister on the walk approaching his house, he added, "Let none follow me."
When the five minutes were over, Mr. Percy went to Lord Oldborough's cabinet—knocked—no answer—knocked again—louder—all was silent—he entered—and saw Lord Oldborough seated, but in the attitude of one just going to rise; he looked more like a statue than a living person: there was a stiffness in his muscles, and over his face and hands a deathlike colour. His eyes were fixed, and directed towards the door—but they never moved when Mr. Percy entered, nor did Lord Oldborough stir at his approach. From one hand, which hung over the arm of his chair, his spectacles had dropped; his other hand grasped an open letter.
"My dear lord!" cried Mr. Percy.
He neither heard nor answered. Mr. Percy opened the window and let down the blind. Then attempting to raise the hand which hung down, he perceived it was fixed in all the rigidity of catalepsy. In hopes of recalling his senses or his power of motion, Mr. Percy determined to try to draw the letter from his grasp; the moment the letter was touched, Lord Oldborough started—his eyes darting fiercely upon him.
"Who dares? Who are you, sir?" cried he.
"Your friend, Percy—my lord."
Lord Oldborough pointed to a chair—Mr. Percy sat down. His lordship recovered gradually from the species of trance into which he had fallen. The cataleptic rigidity of his figure relaxed—the colour of life returned—the body regained its functions—the soul resumed at once her powers. Without seeming sensible of any interruption or intermission of feeling or thought, Lord Oldborough went on speaking to Mr. Percy.
"The letter which I now hold in my hand is from that Italian lady of transcendent beauty, in whose company you once saw me when we first met at Naples. She was of high rank—high endowments. I loved her; how well—I need not—cannot say. We married secretly. I was induced—no matter how—to suspect her fidelity—pass over these circumstances—I cannot speak or think of them. We parted—I never saw her more. She retired to a convent, and died shortly after: nor did I, till I received this letter, written on her death-bed, know that she had given me a son. The proofs that I wronged her are irresistible. Would that they had been given to me when I could have repaired my injustice!—But her pride prevented their being sent till the hour of her death."
On the first reading of her letter, Lord Oldborough had been so struck by the idea of the injustice he had done the mother, that he seemed scarcely to advert to the idea of his having a son. Absorbed in the past, he was at first insensible both to the present and the future. Early associations, long dormant, were suddenly wakened; he was carried back with irresistible force to the days of his youth, and something of likeness in air and voice to the Lord Oldborough he had formerly known appeared to Mr. Percy. As the tumult of passionate recollections subsided, as this enthusiastic reminiscence faded, and the memory of the past gave way to the sense of the present, Lord Oldborough resumed his habitual look and manner. His thoughts turned upon his son, that unknown being who belonged to him, who had claims upon him, who might form a great addition to the happiness or misery of his life. He took up the letter again, looked for the passage that related to his son, and read it anxiously to himself, then to Mr. Percy—observing, "that the directions were so vague, that it would be difficult to act upon them."
"The boy was sent when three years old to England or Ireland, under the care of an Irish priest, who delivered him to a merchant, recommended by the Hamburg banker, &c."
"I shall have difficulty in tracing this—great danger of being mistaken or deceived," said Lord Oldborough, pausing with a look of anxiety. "Would to God that I had means of knowing with certainty where, and above all, what, he is, or that I had never heard of his existence!"
"My lord, are there any more particulars?" inquired Mr. Percy, eagerly.
Lord Oldborough continued to read, "Four hundred pounds of your English money have been remitted to him annually, by means of these Hamburg bankers. To them we must apply in the first instance," said Lord Oldborough, "and I will write this moment."
"I think, my lord, I can save you the trouble," said Mr. Percy: "I know the man."
Lord Oldborough put down his pen, and looked at Mr. Percy with astonishment.
"Yes, my lord, however extraordinary it may appear, I repeat it—I believe I know your son; and if he be the man I imagine him to be, I congratulate you—you have reason to rejoice."
"The facts, my dear sir," cried Lord Oldborough: "do not raise my hopes."
Mr. Percy repeated all that he had heard from Godfrey of Mr. Henry—related every circumstance from the first commencement of them—the impertinence and insult to which the mystery that hung over his birth had subjected him in the regiment—the quarrels in the regiment—the goodness of Major Gascoigne—the gratitude of Mr. Henry—the attachment between him and Godfrey—his selling out of the regiment after Godfrey's ineffectual journey to London—his wishing to go into a mercantile house—the letter which Godfrey then wrote, begging his father to recommend Mr. Henry to Mr. Gresham, disclosing to Mr. Percy, with Mr. Henry's permission, all that he knew of his birth.
"I have that letter at home," said Mr. Percy: "your lordship shall see it. I perfectly recollect the circumstances of Mr. Henry's having been brought up in Ireland by a Dublin merchant, and having received constantly a remittance in quarterly payments of four hundred pounds a year, from a banker in Cork."
"Did he inquire why, or from whom?" said Lord Oldborough; "and does he know his mother?"
"Certainly not: the answer to his first inquiries prevented all further questions. He was told by the bankers that they had directions to stop payment of the remittance if any questions were asked."
Lord Oldborough listened with profound attention as Mr. Percy went on with the history of Mr. Henry, relating all the circumstances of his honourable conduct with respect to Miss Panton—his disinterestedness, decision, and energy of affection.
Lord Oldborough's emotion increased—he seemed to recognize some traits of his own character.
"I hope this youth is my son," said his lordship, in a low suppressed voice.
"He deserves to be yours, my lord," said Mr. Percy.
"To have a son might be the greatest of evils—to have such a son must be the greatest of blessings," said his lordship. He was lost in thought for a moment, then exclaimed, "I must see the letter—I must see the man."
"My lord, he is at my house."
Lord Oldborough started from his seat—"Let me see him instantly."
"To-morrow, my lord," said Mr. Percy, in a calm tone, for it was necessary to calm his impetuosity—"to-morrow. Mr. Henry could not be brought here to-night without alarming him, or without betraying to him the cause of our anxiety."
"To-morrow, let it be—you are right, my dear friend. Let me see him without his suspecting that I am any thing to him, or he to me—you will let me have the letter to-night."
"Certainly, my lord."
Mr. Percy sympathized with his impatience, and gratified it with all the celerity of a friend: the letter was sent that night to Lord Oldborough. In questioning his sons more particularly concerning Mr. Henry, Mr. Percy learnt from Erasmus a fresh and strong corroborating circumstance. Dr. Percy had been lately attending Mr. Gresham's porter, O'Brien, the Irishman; who had been so ill, that, imagining himself dying, he had sent for a priest. Mr. Henry was standing by the poor fellow's bedside when the priest arrived, who was so much struck by the sight of him, that for some time his attention could scarcely be fixed on the sick man. The priest, after he had performed his official duties, returned to Mr. Henry, begged pardon for having looked at him with so much earnestness, but said that Mr. Henry strongly reminded him of the features of an Italian lady who had committed a child to his care many years ago. This led to farther explanation, and upon comparing dates and circumstances, Mr. Henry was convinced that this was the very priest who had carried him over to Ireland—the priest recognized him to be the child of whom he had taken charge; but farther, all was darkness. The priest knew nothing more—not even the name of the lady from whom he had received the child. He knew only that he had been handsomely rewarded by the Dublin merchant, to whom he had delivered the boy—and he had heard that this merchant had since become bankrupt, and had fled to America. This promise of a discovery, and sudden stop to his hopes, had only mortified poor Mr. Henry, and had irritated that curiosity which he had endeavoured to lull to repose.
Mr. Percy was careful, both for Mr. Henry's sake and for Lord Oldborough's, not to excite hopes which might not ultimately be accomplished. He took precautions to prevent him from suspecting any thing extraordinary in the intended introduction to Lord Oldborough.
There had been some dispute between the present minister and some London merchant, about the terms of a loan which had been made by Lord Oldborough—Mr. Gresham's house had some concern in this transaction; and it was now settled between Mr. Percy and Lord Oldborough, that his lordship should write to desire to see Mr. Henry, who, as Mr. Gresham's partner, could give every necessary information. Mr. Henry accordingly was summoned to Clermont-park, and accompanied Mr. Percy, with his mind intent upon this business.
Mr. Henry, in common with all who were capable of estimating a great public character, had conceived high admiration for Lord Oldborough; he had seen him only in public, and at a distance—and it was not without awe that he now thought of being introduced to him, and of hearing and speaking to him in private.
Lord Oldborough, meanwhile, who had been satisfied by the perusal of the letter, and by Mr. Percy's information, waited for his arrival with extreme impatience. He was walking up and down his room, and looking frequently at his watch, which he believed more than once to have stopped. At length the door opened.
"Mr. Percy, and Mr. Henry, my lord."
Lord Oldborough's eye darted upon Henry. Struck instantly with the resemblance to the mother, Lord Oldborough rushed forward, and clasping him in his arms, exclaimed, "My son!"
Tenderness, excessive tenderness, was in his look, voice, soul, as if he wished to repair in a moment the injustice of years.
"Yes," said Lord Oldborough, "now I am happy—now, I also, Mr. Percy, may be proud of a son—I too shall know the pleasures of domestic life. Now I am happy!" repeated he,
"And, pleased, resigned To tender passions all his mighty mind."
March 26th, 1813.
END OF PATRONAGE.
LOVE AND LAW
IN THREE ACTS.
MR. CARVER, of Bob's Fort . . A Justice of the Peace in Ireland. OLD MATTHEW McBRIDE . . . . A rich Farmer. PHILIP McBRIDE . . . . . His Son. RANDAL ROONEY . . . . . Son of the Widow Catherine Rooney —a Lover of Honor McBride. MR. GERALD O'BLANEY . . . . A Distiller. PATRICK COXE . . . . . Clerk to Gerald O'Blaney.
MRS. CARVER . . . . . Wife of Mr. Carver. MISS BLOOMSBURY . . . . . A fine London Waiting-maid of Mrs. Carver's. MRS. CATHERINE ROONEY, commonly called CATTY ROONEY . . . . A Widow—Mother of Randal Rooney. HONOR McBRIDE . . . . . . Daughter of Matthew McBride, and Sister of Philip McBride.
A Justice's Clerk—a Constable—Witnesses—and two Footmen.
LOVE AND LAW
A Cottage.—A Table—Breakfast.
HONOR McBRIDE, alone.
Honor. Phil!—(calls)—Phil, dear! come out.
Phil.—(answers from within) Wait till I draw on my boots!
Honor. Oh, I may give it up: he's full of his new boots—and singing, see!
Enter PHIL McBRIDE, dressed in the height of the Irish buck-farmer fashion, singing,
"Oh the boy of Ball'navogue! Oh the dasher! oh the rogue! He's the thing! and he's the pride Of town and country, Phil McBride— All the talk of shoe and brogue! Oh the boy of Ball'navogue!"
There's a song to the praise and glory of your—of your brother, Honor! And who made it, do you think, girl?
Honor. Miss Caroline Flaherty, no doubt. But, dear Phil, I've a favour to ask of you.
Phil. And welcome! What? But first, see! isn't there an elegant pair of boots, that fits a leg like wax?—There's what'll plase Car'line Flaherty, I'll engage. But what ails you, Honor?—you look as if your own heart was like to break. Are not you for the fair to-day?—and why not?
Honor. Oh! rasons. (Aside) Now I can't speak.
Phil. Speak on, for I'm dumb and all ear—speak up, dear—no fear of the father's coming out, for he's leaving his bird (i.e. beard) in the bason, and that's a work of time with him.—Tell all to your own Phil.
Honor. Why then I won't go to the fair—because—better keep myself to myself, out of the way of meeting them that mightn't be too plasing to my father.
Phil. And might be too plasing to somebody else—Honor McBride.
Honor. Oh, Phil, dear! But only promise me, brother, dearest, if you would this day meet any of the Rooneys—
Phil. That means Randal Rooney.
Honor. No, it was his mother Catty was in my head.
Phil. A bitterer scould never was!—nor a bigger lawyer in petticoats, which is an abomination.
Honor. 'Tis not pritty, I grant; but her heart's good, if her temper would give it fair play. But will you promise me, Phil, whatever she says—you won't let her provoke you this day.
Phil. How in the name of wonder will I hinder her to give me provocation? and when the spirit of the McBrides is up—
Honor. But don't lift a hand.
Phil. Against a woman?—no fear—not a finger against a woman.
Honor. But I say not against any Rooney, man or woman. Oh, Phil! dear, don't let there be any fighting betwixt the McBride and Rooney factions.
Phil. And how could I hinder if I would? The boys will be having a row, especially when they get the spirits—and all the better.
Honor. To be drinking! Oh! Phil, the mischief that drinking does!
Phil. Mischief! Quite and clane the contrary—when the shillelah's up, the pike's down. 'Tis when there'd be no fights at fairs, and all sober, then there's rason to dread mischief. No man, Honor, dare be letting the whiskey into his head, was there any mischief in his heart.
Honor. Well, Phil, you've made it out now cliverly. So there's most danger of mischief when men's sober—is that it?
Phil. Irishmen?—ay; for sobriety is not the nat'ral state of the craturs; and what's not nat'ral is hypocritical, and a hypocrite is, and was, and ever will be my contempt.
Honor. And mine too. But—
Phil. But here's my hand for you, Honor. They call me a beau and a buck, a slasher and dasher, and flourishing Phil. All that I am, may be; but there's one thing I am not, and will never be—and that's a bad brother to you. So you have my honour, and here's my oath to the back of it. By all the pride of man and all the consate of woman—where will you find a bigger oath?—happen what will, this day, I'll not lift my hand against Randal Rooney!
Honor. Oh, thanks! warm from the heart. But here's my father—and where's breakfast?
Phil. Oh! I must be at him for a horse: you, Honor, mind and back me.
Enter Old McBRIDE.
Old McB. Late I am this fair day all along with my beard, that was thicker than a hedgehog's. Breakfast, where?
Honor. Here, father dear—all ready.
Old McB. There's a jewel! always supple o' foot. Phil, call to them to bring out the horse bastes, while I swallow my breakfast—and a good one, too.
Phil. Your horse is all ready standing, sir. But that's what I wanted to ax you, father—will you be kind enough, sir, to shell out for me the price of a daacent horse, fit to mount a man like me?
Old McB. What ails the baste you have under you always?
Phil. Fit only for the hounds:—not to follow, but to feed 'em.
Old McB. Hounds! I don't want you, Phil, to be following the hounds at-all-at-all.
Honor. But let alone the hounds. If you sell your bullocks well in the fair to-day, father dear, I think you'll be so kind to spare Phil the price of a horse.
Old McB. Stand out o' my way, Honor, with that wheedling voice o' your own—I won't. Mind your own affairs—you're leaguing again me, and I'll engage Randal Rooney's at the bottom of all—and the cement that sticks you and Phil so close together. But mind, Madam Honor, if you give him the meeting at the fair the day—
Honor. Dear father, I'm not going—I give up the fair o' purpose, for fear I'd see him.
Old McB. (kissing her) Why then you're a piece of an angel!
Honor. And you'll give my brother the horse?
Old McB. I won't! when I've said I won't—I wont.
[Buttons his coat, and exit.
Phil. Now there's a sample of a father for ye!
Old McB. (returning) And, Mistress Honor, may be you'd be staying at home to—Where's Randal Rooney to be, pray, while I'd be from home?
Honor. Oh! father, would you suspect—
Old McB. (catching her in his arms, and kissing her again and again) Then you're a true angel, every inch of you. But not a word more in favour of the horse—sure the money for the bullocks shall go to your portion, every farthing.
Honor. There's the thing! (Holding her father) I don't wish that.
Phil. (stopping her mouth) Say no more, Honor—I'm best pleased so.
Old McB. (aside) I'll give him the horse, but he sha'n't know it. (Aloud) I won't. When I say I won't, did I ever?
[Exit Old McBRIDE.
Phil. Never since the world stud—to do you justice, you are as obstinate as a mule. Not all the bullocks he's carrying to the fair the day, nor all the bullocks in Ballynavogue joined to 'em, in one team, would draw that father o' mine one inch out of his way.
Honor. (aside, with a deep sigh) Oh, then what will I do about Randal ever!
Phil. As close a fisted father as ever had the grip of a guinea! If the guineas was all for you—wilcome, Honor! But that's not it. Pity of a lad o' spirit like me to be cramped by such a hunx of a father.
Honor. Oh! don't be calling him names, Phil: stiff he is, more than close—and any way, Phil dear, he's the father still—and ould, consider.
Phil. He is,—and I'm fond enough of him, too, would he only give me the price of a horse. But no matter—spite of him I'll have my swing the day, and it's I that will tear away with a good horse under me and a good whip over him in a capital style, up and down the street of Ballynavogue, for you, Miss Car'line Flaherty! I know who I'll go to, this minute—a man I'll engage will lend me the loan of his bay gelding; and that's Counshillor Gerald O'Blaney. [Going, HONOR stops him.
Honor. Gerald O'Blaney! Oh, brother!—Mercy!—Don't! any thing rather than that—
Phil. (impatiently) Why, then, Honor?
Honor. (aside) If I'd tell him, there'd be mischief. (Aloud.) Only—I wouldn't wish you under a compliment to one I've no opinion of.
Phil. Phoo! you've taken a prejudice. What is there again Counshillor O'Blaney?
Honor. Counshillor! First place, why do you call him counshillor? he never was a raal counshillor sure—nor jantleman at all.
Phil. Oh! counshillor by courtesy—he was an attorney once—just as we doctor the apotecary.
Honor. But, Phil, was not there something of this man's being dismissed the courts for too sharp practice?
Phil. But that was long ago, if it ever was. There's sacrets in all families to be forgotten—bad to be raking the past. I never knew you so sharp on a neighbour, Honor, before:—what ails ye?
Honor. (sighing) I can't tell ye. [Still holding him.
Phil. Let me go, then!—Nonsense!—the boys of Ballynavogue will be wondering, and Miss Car'line most.
"Oh the boys of Ball'navogue."
Honor. Oh, Phil! I could not tell it you; but did you but know how that Gerald O'Blaney insulted your shister with his vile proposhals, you'd no more ask the loan of his horse!—and I in dread, whenever I'd be left in the house alone, that that bad man would boult in upon me—and Randal to find him! and Randal's like gunpowder when his heart's touched!—and if Randal should come by himself, worse again! Honor, where would be your resolution to forbid him your presence? Then there's but one way to be right—I'll lave home entirely. Down, proud stomach! You must go to service, Honor McBride. There's Mrs. Carver, kind-hearted lady, is wanting a girl—she's English, and nice; may be I'd not be good enough; but I can but try, and do my best; any thing to plase the father.
GERALD O'BLANEY alone at a desk covered with Papers.
O'Bla. Of all the employments in life, this eternal balancing of accounts, see-saw, is the most sickening of all things, except it would be the taking the inventory of your stock, when you're reduced to invent the stock itself;—then that's the most lowering to a man of all things! But there's one comfort in this distillery business—come what will, a man has always proof spirits.
Enter PAT COXE.
Pat. The whole tribe of Connaught men come, craving to be ped for the oats, counsellor, due since last Serapht fair.
[Footnote 1: Shrovetide.]
O'Bla. Can't be ped to-day, let 'em crave never so.—Tell 'em Monday; and give 'em a glass of whiskey round, and that will send 'em off contint, in a jerry.
Pat. I shall—I will—I see, sir. [Exit PAT COXE.
O'Bla. Asy settled that!—but I hope many more duns for oats won't be calling on me this day, for cash is not to be had:—here's bills plenty—long bills, and short bills—but even the kites, which I can fly as well as any man, won't raise the wind for me now.