Ten Thousand a-Year. Volume 1.
by Samuel Warren
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"SQUEAL, for the Plaintiff. { Pledges of } John Den. GROWL, for the Defendant. { Prosecution. } Richard Fenn.


"I am informed that you are in possession of, or claim title to, the premises in this Declaration of Ejectment mentioned, or to some part thereof: And I, being sued in this action as a casual ejector only, and having no claim or title to the same, do advise you to appear, next Hilary term, in His Majesty's Court of King's Bench at Westminster, by some attorney of that Court; and then and there, by a rule to be made of the same Court, to cause yourself to be made defendant in my stead; otherwise, I shall suffer judgment to be entered against me by default, and you will be turned out of possession.

"Your loving friend, RICHARD ROE. "Dated this 8th day of December 18—."[16]

You may regard the above document in the light of a deadly and destructive missile, thrown by an unperceived enemy into a peaceful citadel; attracting no particular notice from the innocent unsuspecting inhabitants—among whom, nevertheless, it presently explodes, and all is terror, death, and ruin.

Mr. Parkinson, Mr. Aubrey's solicitor, who resided at Grilston, the post-town nearest to Yatton, from which it was distant about six or seven miles, was sitting on the evening of Tuesday the 28th December 18—, in his office, nearly finishing a letter to his London agents, Messrs. Runnington and Company—one of the most eminent firms in the profession—and which he was desirous of despatching by that night's mail. Among other papers which have come into my hands in connection with this history, I have happened to light on the letter which he was writing; and as it is not long, and affords a specimen of the way in which business is carried on between town and country attorneys and solicitors, here followeth a copy of it:—

"Grilston, 28th Dec. 18—.


"Re Middleton.

"Have you got the marriage-settlements between these parties ready? If so, please send them as soon as possible; for both the lady's and gentleman's friends are (as usual in such cases) very pressing for them.

"Puddinghead v. Quickwit.

"Plaintiff bought a horse of defendant in November last, 'warranted sound,' and paid for it on the spot L64. A week afterwards, his attention was accidentally drawn to the animal's head; and to his infinite surprise, he discovered that the left eye was a glass eye, so closely resembling the other in color, that the difference could not be discovered except on a very close examination. I have seen it myself, and it is indeed wonderfully well done. My countrymen are certainly pretty sharp hands in such matters—but this beats everything I ever heard of. Surely this is a breach of the warranty? Or is it to be considered a patent defect, which would not be within the warranty?[17]—Please take pleader's opinion, and particularly as to whether the horse could be brought into court to be viewed by the court and jury, which would have a great effect. If your pleader thinks the action will lie, let him draw declaration, venue—Lancashire (for my client would have no chance with a Yorkshire jury,) if you think the venue is transitory, and that defendant would not be successful on a motion to change it. Qu.—Is the man who sold the horse to defendant a competent[18] witness for the plaintiff, to prove that, when he sold it to defendant, it had but one eye, and that on this account the horse was sold for less?

"Mule v. Stott.

"I cannot get these parties to come to an amicable settlement. You may remember, from the two former actions, that it is for damages on account of two geese of defendant having been found trespassing on a few yards of a field belonging to the plaintiff. Defendant now contends that he is entitled to common, pour cause de vicinage. Qu.—Can this be shown under Not Guilty, or must it be pleaded specially?—About two years ago, by the way, a pig belonging to plaintiff got into defendant's flower-garden, and did at least L3 worth of damage—Can this be in any way set off against the present action? There is no hope of avoiding a third trial, as the parties are now more exasperated against each other than ever, and the expense (as at least fifteen witnesses will be called on each side) will amount to upwards of L250. You had better retain Mr. Cacklegander.

"Re Lords Oldacre and De la Zouch.

"Are the deeds herein engrossed? As it is a matter of magnitude, and the foundation of extensive and permanent family arrangements, pray let the greatest care be taken to secure accuracy. Please take special care of the stamps"——

Thus far had the worthy writer proceeded with his letter, when Waters made his appearance, delivering to him the declaration in ejectment which had been served upon old Jolter, and also the instructions concerning it which had been given by Mr. Aubrey. After Mr. Parkinson had asked particularly concerning Mr. Aubrey's health, and what had brought him so suddenly to Yatton, he cast his eye hastily over the "Declaration"—and at once and contemptuously came to the same conclusion concerning it which had been arrived at by Waters and Mr. Aubrey, viz. that it was another little arrow out of the quiver of the litigious Mr. Tomkins. As soon as Waters had left, Mr. Parkinson thus proceeded to conclude his letter:—

"Doe dem. Titmouse v. Roe.

"I enclose you Declaration herein, served yesterday. No doubt it is the disputed slip of waste land adjoining the cottage of old Jacob Jolter, a tenant of Mr. Aubrey of Yatton, that is sought to be recovered. I am quite sick of this petty annoyance, as also is Mr. Aubrey, who is now down here. Please call on Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap, of Saffron Hill, and settle the matter finally, on the best terms you can; it being Mr. Aubrey's wish that old Jolter (who is very feeble and timid) should suffer no inconvenience. I observe a new lessor of the plaintiff, with a very singular name. I suppose it is the name of some prior holder of the acre or two of property at present held by Mr. Tomkins.

"Hoping soon to hear from you, (particularly about the marriage-settlement,) I am,

"Dear Sirs, "(With all the compliments of the season,) "Yours truly, "JAMES PARKINSON. "MESSRS. RUNNINGTON & CO.

"P. S.—The oysters and codfish came to hand in excellent order, for which please accept my best thanks.

"I shall remit you in a day or two L100 on account."

This letter, lying among some twenty or thirty similar ones on Mr. Runnington's table, on the morning of its arrival in town, was opened in its turn; and then, in like manner, with most of the others, handed over to the managing clerk, in order that he might inquire into and report upon the state of the various matters of business referred to. As to the last item (Doe dem. Titmouse v. Roe) in Mr. Parkinson's letter, there seemed no particular reason for hurrying; so two or three days had elapsed before Mr. Runnington, having some little casual business to transact with Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap, bethought himself of looking at his Diary, to see if there were not something else that he had to do with that very sharp "house." Putting, therefore, the Declaration in Doe d. Titmouse v. Roe into his pocket, it was not long before he was to be seen at the office in Saffron Hill—and in the very room in it which had been the scene of several memorable interviews between Mr. Tittlebat Titmouse and Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap. I shall not detail what transpired on that occasion between Mr. Runnington, and Messrs. Quirk and Gammon, with whom he was closeted for nearly an hour. On quitting the office his cheek was flushed, and his manner somewhat excited. After walking a little way in a moody manner and with slow step, he suddenly jumped into a hackney-coach, and within a quarter of an hour's time had secured an inside place in the Tally-ho coach, which started for York at two o'clock that afternoon—much doubting within himself, the while, whether he ought not to have set off at once in a post-chaise and four. He then made one or two calls in the Temple; and, hurrying home to the office, made hasty arrangements for his sudden journey into Yorkshire. He was a calm and experienced man—in fact, a first-rate man of business; and you may be assured that this rapid and decisive movement of his had been the result of some very startling disclosure made to him by Messrs. Quirk and Gammon.

Now, let us glide back to the delightful solitude which we reluctantly quitted so short a time ago.

Mr. Aubrey was a studious and ambitious man; and in acceding so readily to the wishes of his wife and sister, to spend the Christmas recess at Yatton, had been not a little influenced by one consideration, which he had not thought it worth while to mention—namely, that it would afford him an opportunity of addressing himself with effect to a very important and complicated question, which was to be brought before the House shortly after its reassembling, and of which he then knew, comparatively speaking, nothing at all. For this purpose he had had a quantity of Parliamentary papers, &c. &c. &c., packed up and sent down by coach; and he quite gloated over the prospect of their being duly deposited upon his table, in the tranquil leisure of his library, at Yatton. But quietly as he supposed all this to have been managed, Mrs. Aubrey and Kate had a most accurate knowledge of his movements, and resolved within themselves, (being therein comforted and assisted by old Mrs. Aubrey,) that, as at their instances Mr. Aubrey had come down to Yatton, so they would take care that he should have not merely nominal, but real holidays. Unless he thought fit to rise at an early hour in the morning, (which Mrs. Aubrey, junior, took upon herself to say she would take care should never be the case,) it was decreed that he should not be allowed to waste more than two hours a-day alone in his library. 'T was therefore in vain for him to sit at breakfast with eye aslant and thought-laden brow, as if meditating a long day's seclusion; somehow or another, he never got above an hour to himself. He was often momentarily petulant on these occasions, and soon saw through the designs of his enemies; but he so heartily and tenderly loved them—so thoroughly appreciated the affection which dictated their little manoeuvres—that he soon surrendered at discretion, and, in fact, placed himself almost entirely at their mercy; resolving to make up for lost time on his return to town, and earnestly hoping that the interests of the nation would not suffer in the mean while! In short, the ladies of Yatton had agreed on their line of operations: that almost every night of their stay in the country should be devoted either to entertaining or visiting their neighbors; and as a preparatory movement, that the days (weather permitting) should be occupied with exercise in the open air; in making "morning" calls on neighbors at several miles' distance from the Hall and from each other; and from which they generally returned only in time enough to dress for dinner. As soon, indeed, as the York True Blue (the leading county paper) had announced the arrival at Yatton of "Charles Aubrey, Esq., M. P., and his family, for the Christmas recess," the efforts of Mrs. and Miss Aubrey were most powerfully seconded by a constant succession of visitors—by

"Troops of friends,"

as the lodge-keeper could have testified; for he and his buxom wife were continually opening and shutting the great gates. On the Monday after Christmas-day, (i. e. the day but one following,) came cantering up to the Hall Lord De la Zouch and Mr. Delamere, of course staying to luncheon and bearing a most pressing invitation from Lady De la Zouch, zealously backed by themselves, for the Aubreys to join a large party at Fotheringham Castle on New-Year's Eve. This was accepted—a day and a night were thus gone at a swoop. The same thing happened with the Oldfields, their nearest neighbors; with Sir Percival Pickering at Luddington Court, where was a superb new picture-gallery to be critically inspected by Mr. Aubrey—the Earl of Oldacre, a college friend of Mr. Aubrey's—the venerable Lady Stratton, the earliest friend and schoolfellow of old Mrs. Aubrey, and so forth. Then Kate had several visits to pay on her own account; and being fond of horseback, but not of riding about the country with only a groom in attendance, her brother must accompany her on these occasions. The first week of their stay in the country was devoted to visiting their neighbors and friends in the way I have stated; the next was to be spent in receiving them at Yatton, during which time the old Hall was to ring with merry hospitality.

Then there was a little world of other matters to occupy Mr. Aubrey's attention, and which naturally crowded upon him, living so little as he had latterly lived at Yatton. He often had a kind of levee of his humbler neighbors, tenants, and constituents; and on these occasions his real goodness of nature, his simplicity, his patience, his forbearance, his sweetness of temper, his benevolence, shone conspicuous. With all these more endearing qualities, there was yet a placid dignity about him which would have chilled undue familiarity, and repelled presumption—had they ventured to manifest themselves. He had here no motive or occasion for ostentation, or, as it is called, popularity-hunting. In a sense it might be said of him, that he was "monarch of all he surveyed." It is true, he was member for the borough—an honor, however, for which he was indebted to the natural influence of his commanding position—one which left him his own master, not converting him into a paltry delegate, handcuffed by pledges on public questions, and laden with injunctions concerning petty local interests only—liable, moreover, to be called to an account at any moment by ignorant and insolent demagogues—but a member of Parliament training to become a statesman, possessed of a free-will, and therefore capable of independent and enlightened deliberations; placed by his fortune above the reach of temptation—but I shall not go any farther, for the portraiture of a member of Parliament of those days suggests such a humiliating and bitter contrast, that I shall not ruffle either my own or my reader's temper by sketching one of modern days. On the occasions I have been alluding to, Mr. Aubrey was not only condescending and generous, but practically acute and discriminating; qualities of his, these latter, so well known, however, as to leave him at length scarce any opportunities of exercising them. His quiet but decisive interference put an end to many local unpleasantnesses and annoyances, and caused his increasing absence from Yatton to be very deeply regretted. Was a lad or a wench taking to idle and dissolute courses? A kind, or, as the occasion required, a stern expostulation of his—for he was a justice of the peace moreover—brought them to their senses. He had a very happy knack of reasoning and laughing quarrelsome neighbors into reconciliation and good-humor. He had a keen eye after the practical details of agriculture; was equally quick at detecting an inconvenience, and appreciating—sometimes even suggesting—a remedy; and had, on several occasions, brought such knowledge to bear very effectively upon discussions in Parliament. His constituents, few in number undoubtedly, and humble, were quite satisfied with, and proud of, their member; and his unexpected appearance diffused among them real and general satisfaction. As a landlord, he was beloved by his numerous tenantry; and well he might—for never was there so easy and liberal a landlord: he might at any time have increased his rental by L1,500 or L2,000 a-year, as his steward frequently intimated to him—but in vain. "Ten thousand a-year," would say Mr. Aubrey, "is far more than my necessities require—it affords me and my family every luxury that I can conceive of; and its magnitude reminds me constantly that hereafter I shall be called upon to give a very strict and solemn account of my stewardship." I would my space could admit of my completing, as it ought to be completed, this portraiture of a true Christian gentleman!

As he rode up to the Hare and Hounds Inn, at Grilston, one morning, to transact some little business, and also to look in on the Farmers' Club, which was then holding one of its fortnightly meetings, (every one touching his hat and bowing to him on each side of the long street, as he slowly passed up it,) he perceived that his horse limped on one foot. On dismounting, therefore, he stopped to see what was the matter, while his groom took up the foot to examine it.

"Dey-vilish fine horse!" exclaimed the voice of one standing close beside him, and in a tone of most disagreeable confidence. The exclamation was addressed to Mr. Aubrey; who, on turning to the speaker, beheld a young man—('twas, in fact, Titmouse)—dressed in a style of the most extravagant absurdity. One hand was stuck into the hinder pocket of a stylish top-coat, (the everlasting tip of a white pocket-handkerchief glistening at the mouth of his breast-pocket;) the other held a cigar to his mouth, from which, as he addressed Mr. Aubrey with an air of signal assurance, he slowly expelled the smoke which he had inhaled. Mr. Aubrey turned towards him with a cold and surprised air, without replying; at the same time wondering where he had seen the ridiculous object before.

"The horses in these parts ar'n't to be compared with them at London—eh, sir?" quoth Titmouse, approaching closer to Mr. Aubrey and his groom, to see what the latter was doing—who, on hearing Titmouse's last sally, gave him a very significant look.

"I'm afraid the people here won't relish your remarks, sir!" replied Mr. Aubrey, calmly—hardly able to forbear a smile; at the same time, with an astonished air, scanning the figure of his companion from head to foot.

"Who cares?" inquired Titmouse, with a very energetic oath. At this moment up came a farmer, who, observing Mr. Aubrey, made him a very low bow. Mr. Aubrey's attention being at the moment occupied with Titmouse, he did not observe the salutation; not so with Titmouse, who, conceiving it to have been directed to himself, acknowledged it by taking off his hat with great grace! Mr. Aubrey presently entered the house, having ordered his groom to bring back the horse in an hour's time.

"Pray," said he, mildly, to the landlady, "who is that person smoking the cigar outside?"

"Why, sir," she replied, "he's a Mr. Brown; and has another with him here—who's going up to London by this afternoon's coach—this one stays behind a day or two longer. They're queer people, sir. Such dandies! Do nothing but smoke, and drink brandy and water, sir; only that t' other writes a good deal."

"Well, I wish you would remind him," said Mr. Aubrey, smiling, "that, if he thinks fit to speak to me again, or in my presence, I am a magistrate, and have the power of fining him five shillings for every oath he utters."

"What! sir," quoth she, reverently—"has he been speaking to you? Well, I never!! He's the most forward little upstart I ever see'd!" said she, dropping her voice; "and the sooner he takes himself off from here the better; for he's always winking at the maids and talking impudence to them. I'se box his ears, I warrant him, one of these times!" Mr. Aubrey smiled, and went up-stairs.

"There don't seem to be much wrong," quoth Titmouse to the groom, with a condescending air, as soon as Mr. Aubrey had entered the house.

"Much you know about it, I don't guess!" quoth Sam, with a contemptuous smile.

"Who's your master, fellow?" inquired Titmouse, knocking off the ashes from the tip of his cigar.

"A gentleman. What's yours?"

"Curse your impudence, you vagabond"—— The words were hardly out of his mouth before Sam, with a slight tap of his hand, had knocked Titmouse's glossy hat off his head, and Titmouse's purple-hued hair stood exposed to view, provoking the jeers and laughter of one or two bystanders. Titmouse appeared about to strike the groom; who, hastily giving the bridles of his horses into the hands of an hostler, threw himself into boxing attitude; and being a clean, tight-built, stout young fellow, looked a very formidable object, as he came squaring nearer and nearer to the dismayed Titmouse; and on behalf of the outraged honor of all the horses of Yorkshire, was just going to let fly his one-two, when a sharp tapping at the bow-window overhead startled him for a moment, interrupting his war-like demonstrations; and, on casting up his eyes, he beheld the threatening figure of his master, who was shaking his whip at him. He dropped his guard, touched his hat very humbly, and resumed his horses' bridles; muttering, however, to Titmouse, "If thou'rt a man, come down into t' yard, and I'll mak thee think a horse kicked thee, a liar as thou art!"

"Who's that gentleman gone up-stairs?" inquired Titmouse of the landlady, after he had sneaked into the inn.

"Squire Aubrey of Yatton," she replied tartly. Titmouse's face, previously very pale, flushed all over. "Ay, ay," she continued sharply—"thou must be chattering to the grand folks, and thou'st nearly put thy foot into 't at last, I can tell thee; for that's a magistrate, and thou'st been a-swearing afore him." Titmouse smiled rather faintly; and entering the parlor, affected to be engaged with a county newspaper; and he remained very quiet for upwards of an hour, not venturing out of the room till he had seen off Mr. Aubrey and his formidable Sam.

It was the hunting season; but Mr. Aubrey, though he had as fine horses as were to be found in the county, and which were always at the service of his friends, partly from want of inclination, and partly from the delicacy of his constitution, never shared in the sports of the field. Now and then, however, he rode to cover, to see the hounds throw off, and exchange greetings with a great number of his friends and neighbors, on such occasions collected together. This he did, the morning after that on which he had visited Grilston, accompanied, at their earnest entreaty, by Mrs. Aubrey and Kate. I am not painting angels, but describing frail human nature; and truth forces me to say, that Kate had a kind of a notion that on such occasions she did not appear to disadvantage. I protest I love her not the less for it! Is there a beautiful woman under the sun who is not really aware of her charms, and of the effect they produce upon our sex? Pooh! I never will believe to the contrary. In Kate's composition this ingredient was but an imperceptible alloy in virgin gold. Now, how was it that she came to think of this hunting appointment? I do not exactly know; but I recollect that when Lord De la Zouch last called at Yatton, he happened to mention it at lunch, and to say that he and one Geoffrey Lovel Delamere—— but however that may be, behold, on a bright Thursday morning, Aubrey and his two lovely companions made their welcome appearance at the field, superbly mounted, and most cordially greeted by all present. Miss Aubrey attracted universal admiration; but there was one handsome youngster, his well-formed figure showing to great advantage in his new pink and leathers, who made a point of challenging her special notice, and in doing so, attracting that of all his envious fellow-sportsmen; and that was Delamere. He seemed, indeed, infinitely more taken up with the little party from Yatton than with the serious business of the day. His horse, however, had an eye to business; and with erect ears, catching the first welcome signal sooner than the gallant person who sat upon it, sprang off like lightning and would have left its abstracted rider behind, had he not been a first-rate "seat." In fact, Kate herself was not sufficiently on her guard; and her eager filly suddenly put in requisition all her rider's little and skill to rein her in—which having done, Kate's eye looked rather anxiously after her late companion, who, however, had already cleared the first hedge, and was fast making up to the scattering scarlet crowd. Oh, the bright exhilarating scene!

"Heigh ho—Agnes!" said Kate, with a slight sigh, as soon as Delamere had disappeared—"I was very nearly off."

"So was somebody else, Kate!" said Mrs. Aubrey, with a sly smile.

"This is a very cool contrivance of yours, Kate,—- bringing us here this morning," said her brother, rather gravely.

"What do you mean, Charles?" she inquired, slightly reddening. He good-naturedly tapped her shoulder with his whip, laughed, urged his horse into a canter, and they were all soon on their way to General Grim's, an old friend of the late Mr. Aubrey's.

The party assembled on New-Year's Eve at Fotheringham Castle, the magnificent residence of Lord De la Zouch, was numerous and brilliant. The Aubreys arrived about five o'clock; and on emerging from their respective apartments into the drawing-room, soon after the welcome sound of the dinner bell—Mr. Aubrey leading in his lovely wife, followed shortly afterwards by his beautiful sister—they attracted general attention. He himself looked handsome, for the brisk country air had brought out a glow upon his too frequently pallid countenance—pallid with the unwholesome atmosphere, the late hours, the wasting excitement of the House of Commons; and his smile was cheerful, his eye bright and penetrating. Nothing makes such quick triumphant way in English society, as the promise of speedy political distinction. It will supply to its happy possessor the want of family and fortune—it rapidly melts away all distinctions. The obscure but eloquent commoner finds himself suddenly standing in the rarefied atmosphere of privilege and exclusiveness—the familiar equal, often the conscious superior, of the haughtiest peer of the realm. A single successful speech in the House of Commons, opens before its utterer the shining doors of fashion and greatness as if by magic. It is as it were POWER stepping into its palace, welcomed by gay crowds of eager, obsequious expectants. Who would not press forward to grasp in anxious welcome the hand which, in a few short years, may dispense the glittering baubles sighed after by the great, and the more substantial patronage of office—which may point public opinion in any direction? But, to go no farther, what if to all this be added a previous position in society, such as that occupied by Mr. Aubrey! There were several very fine women, married and single, in that splendid drawing-room; but there were two girls, in very different styles of beauty, who were soon allowed by all present to carry off the palm between them—I mean Miss Aubrey and Lady Caroline Caversham, the only daughter of the Marchioness of Redborough, both of whom were on a visit at the castle of some duration. Lady Caroline and Miss Aubrey were of about the same age, and dressed almost exactly alike, viz. in white satin; only Lady Caroline wore a brilliant diamond necklace, whereas Kate had chosen to wear not a single ornament.

Lady Caroline was a trifle the taller, and had a very stately carriage. Her hair was black as jet—her features were refined and delicate; but they wore a very cold, haughty expression. After a glance at her half-closed eyes, and the swan-like curve of her snowy neck, you unconsciously withdrew from her, as from an inaccessible beauty. The more you looked at her, the more she satisfied your critical scrutiny; but your feelings went not out towards her—they were, in a manner, chilled and repulsed. Look, now, at our own Kate Aubrey—nay, never fear to place her beside yon supercilious divinity—look at her, and your heart acknowledges her loveliness; your soul thrills at sight of her bewitching blue eyes—eyes now sparkling with excitement, then languishing with softness, in accordance with the varying emotions of a sensitive nature—a most susceptible heart. How her sunny curls harmonize with the delicacy and richness of her complexion! Her figure, observe, is, of the two, a trifle fuller than her rival's—stay, don't let your admiring eyes settle so intently upon her budding form, or you will confuse Kate—turn away, or she will shrink from you like the sensitive plant! Lady Caroline seems the exquisite but frigid production of a skilful statuary, who had caught a divinity in the very act of disdainfully setting her foot for the first time upon this poor earth of ours; but Kate is a living and breathing beauty—as it were, fresh from the hand of God himself!

Kate was very affectionately greeted by Lady De la Zouch, a lofty and dignified woman of about fifty; so also by Lord De la Zouch; but when young Delamere welcomed her with a palpable embarrassment of manner, a more brilliant color stole into her cheek, and a keen observer might have noticed a little, rapid, undulating motion in her bosom, which told of some inward emotion. And a keen observer Kate at that moment had in her beautiful rival; from whose cheek, as that of Kate deepened in its roseate bloom, faded away the color entirely, leaving it the hue of the lily. Her drooping eyelids could scarcely conceal the glances of alarm and anger which she darted at her plainly successful rival in the affections of the future Lord De la Zouch. Kate was quickly aware of this state of matters; and it required no little self-control to appear unaware of it. Delamere took her down to dinner, and seated himself beside her, and paid her such pointed attentions as at length really distressed her; and she was quite relieved when the time came for the ladies to withdraw. That she had not a secret yearning towards Delamere, the frequent companion of her early days, I cannot assert, because I know it would be contrary to the fact. Circumstances had kept him on the Continent for more than a year between the period of his quitting Eton and going to Oxford, where another twelve-month had slipped away without his visiting Yorkshire: thus two years had elapsed—and behold Kate had become a woman and he a man! They had mutual predispositions towards each other, and 'twas mere accident which of them first manifested symptoms of fondness for the other—the same result must have followed, namely, (to use a great word,) reciprocation. Lord and Lady De la Zouch idolized their son, and were old and very firm friends of the Aubrey family; and, if Delamere really formed an attachment to one of Miss Aubrey's beauty, accomplishments, talent, amiability, and ancient family—why should he not be gratified? Kate, whether she would or not, was set down to the piano, Lady Caroline accompanying her on the harp—on which she usually performed with mingled skill and grace; but on the present occasion, both the fair performers found fault with their instruments—then with themselves—and presently gave up the attempt in despair. But when, at a later period of the evening, Kate's spirits had been a little exhilarated with dancing, and she sat down, at Lord De la Zouch's request, and gave that exquisite song from the Tempest—"Where the bee sucks"—all the witchery of her voice and manner had returned; and as for Delamere, he would have given the world to marry her that minute, and so forever extinguish the hopes of—as he imagined—two or three nascent competitors for the beautiful prize then present.

That Kate was good as beautiful, the following little incident, which happened to her on the ensuing evening, will show. There was a girl in the village at Yatton, about sixteen or seventeen years old, called Phoebe Williams; a very pretty girl, and who had spent about two years at the Hall as a laundry-maid, but had been obliged, some few months before the time I am speaking of, to return to her parents in the village, ill of a decline. She had been a sweet-tempered girl in her situation, and all her fellow-servants felt great interest in her, as also did Miss Aubrey. Mrs. Aubrey sent her daily jellies, sago, and other such matters, suitable for the poor girl's condition; and about a quarter of an hour after her return from Fotheringham, Miss Aubrey, finding one of the female servants about to set off with some of the above-mentioned articles, and hearing that poor Phoebe was getting rapidly worse, instead of retiring to her room to undress, slipped on an additional shawl, and resolved to accompany the servant to the village. She said not a word to either her mother, her sister-in-law, or her brother; but simply left word with her maid whither she was going, and that she should quickly return. It was snowing smartly when Kate set off; but she cared not, hurried on by the impulse of kindness, which led her to pay perhaps a last visit to the humble sufferer. She walked alongside of the elderly female servant, asking her a number of questions about Phoebe, and her sorrowing father and mother. It was nearly dark as they quitted the Park gates, and snowing, if anything, faster than when they had left the Hall. Kate, wrapping her shawl still closer round her slender figure, her face being pretty well protected by her veil, hurried on, and they soon reached Williams' cottage. Its humble tenants were, as may be imagined, not a little surprised at her appearance at such an hour and in such inclement weather, and so apparently unattended. Poor Phoebe, worn to a shadow, was sitting opposite the fire, in a little wooden armchair, and propped up by a pillow. She trembled, and her lips moved on seeing Miss Aubrey, who, sitting down on a stool beside her, after laying aside her snow-whitened shawl and bonnet, spoke to her in the most gentle and soothing strain imaginable. What a contrast in their two figures! 'T would have been no violent stretch of imagination to say, that Catherine Aubrey at that moment looked like a ministering angel sent to comfort the wretched sufferer in her extremity. Phoebe's father and mother stood on each side of the little fireplace, gazing with tearful eyes upon their only child, soon about to depart from them forever. The poor girl was indeed a touching object. She had been very pretty, but now her face was white and wofully emaciated—the dread impress of consumption was upon it. Her wasted fingers were clasped together on her lap, holding between them a little handkerchief, with which, evidently with great effort, she occasionally wiped the dampness from her face.

"You're very good, ma'am," she whispered, "to come to see me, and so late. They say it's a sad cold night."

"I heard, Phoebe, that you were not so well, and I thought I would just step along with Margaret, who has brought you some more jelly. Did you like the last!"

"Y-e-s, ma'am," she replied hesitatingly; "but it's very hard for me to swallow anything now, my throat feels so sore." Here her mother shook her head and looked aside; for the doctor had only that morning explained to her the nature of the distressing symptom to which her daughter was alluding—as evidencing the very last stage of her fatal disorder.

"I'm very sorry to hear you say so, Phoebe," replied Miss Aubrey. "Do you think there's anything else that Mrs. Jackson could make for you?"

"No, ma'am, thank you; I feel it's no use trying to swallow anything more," said poor Phoebe, faintly.

"While there's life," whispered Miss Aubrey, in a subdued, hesitating tone, "there's hope—they say." Phoebe shook her head mournfully.

"Don't stop long, dear lady—it's getting very late for you to be out alone. Father will go"——

"Never mind me, Phoebe—I can take care of myself. I hope you mind what good Dr. Tatham says to you? You know this sickness is from God, Phoebe. He knows what is best for his creatures."

"Thank God, ma'am, I think I feel resigned. I know it is God's will; but I'm very sorry for poor father and mother—they'll be so lone like when they don't see Phoebe about." Her father gazed intently at her, and the tears ran trickling down his cheeks; her mother put her apron before her face, and shook her head in silent anguish. Miss Aubrey did not speak for a few moments. "I see you have been reading the prayer-book mamma gave you when you were at the Hall," said she at length, observing the little volume lying open on Phoebe's lap.

"Yes, ma'am—I was trying; but somehow lately, I can't read, for there's a kind of mist comes over my eyes, and I can't see."

"That's weakness, Phoebe," said Miss Aubrey, quickly but tremulously.

"May I make bold, ma'am," commenced Phoebe, languidly, after a hesitating pause, "to ask you to read the little psalm I was trying to read a while ago? I should so like to hear you."

"I'll try, Phoebe," said Miss Aubrey, taking the book, which was open at the sixth psalm. 'Twas a severe trial, for her feelings were not a little excited already. But how could she refuse the dying girl? So Miss Aubrey began a little indistinctly, in a very low tone, and with frequent pauses; for the tears every now and then quite obscured her sight. She managed, however, to get as far as the sixth verse, which was thus:—

"I am weary of my groaning: every night wash I my bed, and water my couch with tears: My beauty is gone for very trouble."

Here Kate's voice suddenly stopped. She buried her face for a moment or two in her handkerchief, and said hastily, "I can't read any more, Phoebe!" Every one in the little room was in tears except poor Phoebe, who seemed past that.

"It's time for me to go, now, Phoebe. We'll send some one early in the morning to know how you are," said Miss Aubrey, rising and putting on her bonnet and shawl. She contrived to beckon Phoebe's mother to the back of the room, and silently slipped a couple of guineas into her hands; for she knew the mournful occasion there would soon be for such assistance! She then left, peremptorily declining the attendance of Phoebe's father—saying that it must be dark when she could not find the way to the Hall, which was almost in a straight line from the cottage, and little more than a quarter of a mile off. It was very much darker, and it still snowed, though not so thickly as when she had come. She and Margaret walked side by side, at a quick pace, talking together about poor Phoebe. Just as she was approaching the extremity of the village, nearest the park—

"Ah! my lovely gals!" exclaimed a voice, in a low but most offensive tone—"alone? How uncommon"—Miss Aubrey for a moment seemed thunderstruck at so sudden and unprecedented an occurrence: then she hurried on with a beating heart, whispering to Margaret to keep close to her, and not to be alarmed. The speaker, however, kept pace with them.

"Lovely gals!—wish I'd an umbrella, my angels!—Take my arm? Ah! Pretty gals!"

"Who are you, sir?" at length exclaimed Kate, spiritedly, suddenly stopping, and turning to the rude speaker.

[Who else should it be but Tittlebat Titmouse!] "Who am I? Ah, ha! Lovely gals! one that loves the pretty gals!"

"Do you know, fellow, who I am?" inquired Miss Aubrey, indignantly, flinging aside her veil, and disclosing her beautiful face, white as death, but indistinctly visible in the darkness, to her insolent assailant.

"No, 'pon my soul, no; but lovely gal! lovely gal!—'pon my life, spirited gal!—do you no harm! Take my arm?"——

"Wretch! ruffian! How dare you insult a lady in this manner? Do you know who I am? My name, sir, is Aubrey—I am Miss Aubrey of the Hall! Do not think"——

Titmouse felt as if he were on the point of dropping down dead at that moment, with amazement and terror; and when Miss Aubrey's servant screamed out at the top of her voice, "Help!—help, there!" Titmouse, without uttering a syllable more, took to his heels, just as the door of a cottage, at only a few yards' distance, opened, and out rushed a strapping farmer, shouting—"Hey! what be t' matter?" You may guess his amazement on discovering Miss Aubrey, and his fury at learning the cause of her alarm. Out of doors he pelted, without his hat, uttering a volley of fearful imprecations, and calling on the unseen miscreant to come forward; for whom it was lucky that he had time to escape from a pair of fists that in a minute or two would have beaten his little carcass into a jelly! Miss Aubrey was so overcome by the shock she had suffered, that but for a glass of water she might have fainted. As soon as she had a little recovered from her agitation, she set off home, accompanied by Margaret, and followed very closely by the farmer, with a tremendous knotted stick under his arm—(he wanted to have taken his double-barrelled gun)—and thus she soon reached the Hall, not a little tired and agitated. This little incident, however, she kept to herself, and enjoined her two attendants to do the same; for she knew the distress it would have occasioned those whom she loved. As it was she was somewhat sharply rebuked by her mother and brother, who had just sent two servants out in quest of her, and whom it was singular that she should have missed. This is not the place to give an account of the eccentric movements of our friend Titmouse; still there can be no harm in my just mentioning that the sight of Miss Aubrey on horseback had half maddened the little fool; her image had never been effaced from his memory since the occasion on which, as already explained, he had first seen her; and as soon as he had ascertained, through Snap's inquiries, who she was, he became more frenzied in the matter than before, because he thought he now saw a probability of obtaining her. "If, like children," says Edmund Burke, "we will cry for the moon, why, like children, we must—cry on." Whether this was not something like the position of Mr. Tittlebat Titmouse, in his passion for CATHERINE AUBREY, the reader can judge. He had unbosomed himself in the matter to his confidential adviser, Mr. Snap; who, having accomplished his errand, had the day before returned to town, very much against his will, leaving Titmouse behind, to bring about, by his own delicate and skilful management, an union between himself, as the future lord of Yatton, and the beautiful sister of its present occupant.


Mr. Aubrey and Kate, some day or two after the strange occurrence narrated in the last chapter, were sitting together playing at chess, about eight o'clock in the evening; Dr. Tatham and Mrs. Aubrey, junior, looking on with much interest; old Mrs. Aubrey being engaged in writing. Mr. Aubrey was sadly an overmatch for poor Kate—he being in fact a first-rate player; and her soft white hand had been hovering over the three or four chessmen she had left, uncertain which of them to move, for nearly two minutes, her chin resting on the other hand, and her face wearing a very puzzled expression. "Come, Kate," said every now and then her brother, with that calm victorious smile which at such a moment would have tried any but so sweet a temper as his sister's. "If I were you, Miss Aubrey," was perpetually exclaiming Dr. Tatham, knowing as much about the game the while as the little Blenheim spaniel lying asleep at Miss Aubrey's feet. "Oh dear!" said Kate, at length, with a sigh, "I really don't see how to escape"——

"Who can that be?" exclaimed Mrs. Aubrey, looking up and listening to the sound of carriage wheels.

"Never mind," said her husband, who was interested in the game—"come, come, Kate." A few minutes afterwards a servant made his appearance, and coming up to Mr. Aubrey, told him that Mr. Parkinson and another gentleman had called, and were waiting in the library to speak to him on business.

"What can they want at this hour?" exclaimed Mr. Aubrey, absently, intently watching an anticipated move of his sister's, which would have decided the game in his favor. At length she made her long-meditated descent—but in quite an unexpected quarter.

"Checkmate!" she exclaimed with infinite glee.

"Ah!" cried he, rising with a slightly surprised and chagrined air, "I'm ruined! Now, try your hand on Dr. Tatham, while I go and speak to these people. I wonder what can possibly have brought them here. Oh, I see—I see; 'tis probably about Miss Evelyn's marriage-settlement—I'm to be one of her trustees." With this he left the room, and presently entered the library, where were two gentlemen, one of whom, a stranger, was in the act of pulling off his great-coat. It was Mr. Runnington; a tall, thin, elderly man, with short gray hair—of gentlemanly appearance—his countenance bespeaking the calm, acute, clear-headed man of business. The other was Mr. Parkinson; a thoroughly respectable, substantial-looking, hard-headed family solicitor and country attorney.

"Mr. Runnington, my London agent, sir," said he to Mr. Aubrey, as the latter entered. Mr. Aubrey bowed.

"Pray, gentlemen, be seated," he replied with his usual urbanity of manner, taking a chair beside them.

"Why, Mr. Parkinson, you look very serious—both of you. What is the matter?" he inquired surprisedly.

"Mr. Runnington, sir, has arrived, most unexpectedly to me," replied Mr. Parkinson, "only an hour or two ago, from London, on business of the last importance to you."

"To me!—well, what is it? Pray, say at once what it is—I am all attention," said Mr. Aubrey, anxiously.

"Do you happen," commenced Mr. Parkinson, very nervously, "to remember sending Waters to me on Monday or Tuesday last, with a paper which had been served by some one on old Jolter?"

"Certainly," replied Mr. Aubrey, after a moment's consideration.

"Mr. Runnington's errand is connected with that document," said Mr. Parkinson, and paused.

"Indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Aubrey, apparently a little relieved. "I assure you, gentlemen, you very greatly over-estimate the importance I attach to anything that such a troublesome person as Mr. Tomkins can do, if I am right in supposing that it is he who—Well, then, what is the matter?" he inquired quickly, observing Mr. Parkinson shake his head, and interchange a grave look with Mr. Runnington; "you cannot think, Mr. Parkinson, how you will oblige me by being explicit."

"This paper," said Mr. Runnington, holding up that which Mr. Aubrey at once identified as the one on which he had cast his eye upon its being handed to him by Waters, "is a Declaration in Ejectment, with which Mr. Tomkins has nothing whatever to do. It is served virtually on you, and YOU are the real defendant."

"So I apprehend that I was in the former trumpery action!" replied Mr. Aubrey, smiling.

"Do you recollect, sir," said Mr. Parkinson, with a trepidation which he could not conceal, "several years ago, some serious conversation which you and I had together on the state of your title—when I was preparing your marriage-settlements?"

Mr. Aubrey started, and his face was suddenly blanched.

"The matters which we then discussed have suddenly acquired fearful importance. This paper occasions us, on your account, the profoundest anxiety." Mr. Aubrey continued silent, gazing on Mr. Parkinson with intensity.

"Supposing, from a hasty glance at it, and from the message accompanying it, that it was merely another action of Tomkins's about the slip of waste land attached to Jolter's cottage, I sent up to London to my agents, Messrs. Runnington, requesting them to call on the plaintiff's attorneys, and settle the action. He did so; and—perhaps you will explain the rest," said Mr. Parkinson, with visible trepidation, to Mr. Runnington.

"Certainly," said that gentleman, with a serious air, but much more calmly and firmly than Mr. Parkinson had spoken. "I called accordingly, early yesterday morning, on Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap—they are a very well—but not enviably—known firm in the profession; and in a few minutes my misconception of the nature of the business which I had called to arrange, was set right. In short"—— he paused, as if distressed at the intelligence which he was about to communicate.

"Oh, pray, pray go on, sir!" said Mr. Aubrey, in a low tone.

"I am no stranger, sir, to your firmness of character; but I shall have to tax it, I fear, to its uttermost. To come at once to the point—they told me that I might undoubtedly settle the matter, if you would consent to give up immediate possession of the whole Yatton estate, and account for the mesne profits to their client, the right heir—as they contend—a Mr. Tittlebat Titmouse." Mr. Aubrey leaned back in his chair, overcome, for an instant, by this astounding intelligence; and all three of them preserved silence for more than a minute. Mr. Runnington was a man of a very feeling heart. In the course of his great practice he had had to encounter many distressing scenes; but probably none of them had equalled that in which, at the earnest entreaty of Mr. Parkinson, who distrusted his own self-possession, he now bore a leading part. The two attorneys interchanged frequent looks of deep sympathy for their unfortunate client, who seemed as if stunned by the intelligence they had brought him.

"I felt it my duty to lose not an instant in coming down to Yatton," resumed Mr. Runnington, observing Mr. Aubrey's eye again directed inquiringly towards him; "for Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap are very dangerous people to deal with, and must be encountered promptly, and with the greatest possible caution. The moment that I had left them, I hastened to the Temple, to retain for you Mr. Subtle, the leader of the Northern Circuit; but they had been beforehand with me, and retained him nearly three months ago, together with another eminent king's counsel on the circuit. Under these circumstances, I lost no time in giving a special retainer to the Attorney-General, in which I trust I have done right, and in retaining as junior a gentleman whom I consider to be incomparably the ablest and most experienced lawyer on the circuit."

"Did they say anything concerning the nature of their client's title?" inquired Mr. Aubrey, after some expressions of amazement and dismay.

"Very little—I might say, nothing. If they had been never so precise, of course I should have distrusted every word they said. They certainly mentioned that they had had the first conveyancing opinions in the kingdom, which concurred in favor of their client; that they had been for months prepared at all points, and accident only had delayed their commencing proceedings till now."

"Did you make any inquiries as to who the claimant was?" inquired Mr. Aubrey.

"Yes; but all I could learn was, that they had discovered him by mere accident; and that he was at present in very obscure and distressed circumstances. I tried to discover by what means they proposed to commence and carry on so expensive a contest; but they smiled significantly, and were silent." Another long pause ensued, during which Mr. Aubrey was evidently silently struggling with very agitating emotions.

"What is the meaning of their affecting to seek the recovery of only one insignificant portion of the property?" he inquired.

"It is their own choice—it may be from considerations of mere convenience. The title, however, by which they may succeed in obtaining what they at present go for, will avail to recover every acre of the estate, and the present action will consequently decide everything!"

"And suppose the worst—that they are successful," said Mr. Aubrey, after they had conversed a good deal, and very anxiously, on the subject of a presumed infirmity in Mr. Aubrey's title, which had been pointed out to him in general terms by Mr. Parkinson, on the occasion already adverted to—"what is to be said about the rental which I have been receiving all this time—ten thousand a-year?" inquired Mr. Aubrey, looking as if he dreaded to hear his question answered.

"Oh! that's quite an after consideration—let us first fight the battle," said Mr. Runnington.

"I beg, sir, that you will withhold nothing from me," said Mr. Aubrey. "To what extent shall I be liable?"

Mr. Runnington paused.

"I am afraid that all the mesne profits, as they are called, which you have received"—commenced Mr. Parkinson——

"No, no," interrupted Mr. Runnington; "I have been turning that matter over in my mind, and I think that the statute of limitations will bar all but the last six years"——

"Why, that will be sixty thousand pounds!" interrupted Mr. Aubrey, with a look of sudden despair. "Gracious Heavens, that is perfectly frightful!—frightful! If I lose Yatton, I shall not have a place to put my head in—not one farthing to support myself with! And yet to have to make up sixty thousand pounds!" The perspiration bedewed his forehead, and his eye was laden with alarm and agony. He slowly rose from his chair and bolted the door, that they might not, at such an agitating moment, be surprised or disturbed by any of the servants or the family.

"I suppose," said he, in a faint and tremulous tone, "that if this claim succeed, my mother also will share my fate"——

They shook their heads in silence.

"Permit me to suggest," said Mr. Runnington, in a tone of the most respectful sympathy, "that sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."

"But the NIGHT follows!" said Mr. Aubrey, with a visible tremor; and his voice made the hearts of his companions thrill within them. "I have a fearful misgiving as to the issue of these proceedings! I ought not to have neglected the matter pointed out to me by Mr. Parkinson on my marriage! I feel as if I had been culpably lying by ever since!—But I really did not attach to it the importance it deserved: I never, indeed, distinctly appreciated the nature of what was then mentioned to me!"

"A thousand pities that a fine was not levied, is it not?" said Mr. Runnington, turning with a sigh to Mr. Parkinson.

"Ay, indeed it is!" replied that gentleman—and they spoke together for some time, and very earnestly, concerning the nature and efficacy of such a measure, which they explained to Mr. Aubrey.

"It comes to this," said he, "that in all probability, I and my family are at this moment"—he shuddered—"trespassers at Yatton!"

"That, Mr. Aubrey," said Mr. Parkinson, earnestly, "remains to be proved! We really are getting on far too fast. A person who heard us might suppose that the jury had already returned a verdict against us—that judgment had been signed—and that the sheriff was coming in the morning to execute the writ of possession in favor of our opponent." This was well meant by the speaker; but surely it was like talking of the machinery of the ghastly guillotine to the wretch in shivering expectation of suffering by it on the morrow. An involuntary shudder ran through Mr. Aubrey. "Sixty thousand pounds!" he exclaimed, rising and walking to and fro. "Why, I am ruined beyond all redemption! How can I ever satisfy it?" Again he paced the room several times, in silent agony. Presently he resumed his seat. "I have, for these several days past, had a strange sense of impending calamity," said he, more calmly—"I have been equally unable to account for, or get rid of it. It may be an intimation from Heaven; I bow to its will!"

"We must remember," said Mr. Runnington, "that 'possession is nine-tenths of the law;' which means, that your mere possession will entitle you to retain it against all the world, till a stronger title than yours to the right of possession be made out. You stand on a mountain; and it is for your adversary to displace you, not by showing merely that you have no real title, but that he has. If he could prove all your title-deeds to be merely waste paper—that in fact you have no more title to Yatton than I have—he would not, if he were to stop there, have advanced his own case an inch; he must first establish in himself a clear and independent title; so that you are entirely on the defensive; and rely upon it, that though never so many screws may be loose, so acute and profound a lawyer as the Attorney-General will impose every difficulty on our opponents"——

"Nay, but God forbid that any unconscientious advantage should be taken on my behalf!" said Mr. Aubrey. Mr. Runnington and Mr. Parkinson both opened their eyes pretty wide at this sally; the latter could not at first understand why everything should not be fair in war; the former saw and appreciated the nobility of soul which had dictated the exclamation.

"I suppose the affair will soon become public," said Mr. Aubrey, with an air of profound depression, after much further conversation.

"Your position in the county, your eminence in public life, the singularity of the case, and the magnitude of the stake—all are circumstances undoubtedly calculated soon to urge the affair before the notice of the public," said Mr. Runnington.

"What disastrous intelligence to break to my family!" exclaimed Mr. Aubrey, tremulously. "With what fearful suddenness it has burst upon us! But something, I suppose," he presently added with forced calmness, "must be done immediately?"

"Undoubtedly," replied Mr. Runnington. "Mr. Parkinson and I will immediately proceed to examine your title-deeds, the greater portion of which are, I understand, here in the Hall, and the rest at Mr. Parkinson's; and prepare, without delay, a case for the opinion of the Attorney-General, and also of the most eminent conveyancers of the kingdom. Who, by the way," said Mr. Runnington, addressing Mr. Parkinson—"who was the conveyancer that had the abstracts before him, on preparing Mr. Aubrey's marriage-settlement?"

"Oh, you are alluding to the 'Opinion' I mentioned to you this evening?" inquired Mr. Parkinson. "I have it at my house, and will show it you in the morning. The doubt he expressed on one or two points gave me, I recollect, no little uneasiness—as you may remember, Mr. Aubrey."

"I certainly do," he replied with a profound sigh; "but though what you said reminded me of something or other that I had heard when a mere boy, I thought no more of it. I think you also told me that the gentleman who wrote the opinion was a nervous, fidgety man, always raising difficulties in his clients' titles—and one way or another, the thing never gave me any concern—scarcely ever even occurred to my thoughts, till to-day! What infatuation has been mine!—But you will take a little refreshment, gentlemen, after your journey?" said Mr. Aubrey, suddenly, glad of the opportunity it would afford him of reviving his own exhausted spirits by a little wine, before returning to the drawing-room. He swallowed several glasses of wine without their producing any immediately perceptible effect; and the bearers of the direful intelligence just communicated to the reader, after a promise by Mr. Aubrey to drive over to Grilston early in the morning, and bring with him such of his title-deeds as were then at the Hall, took their departure; leaving him outwardly calmer, but with a fearful oppression at his heart. He made a powerful effort to control his feelings, so as to conceal, for a while at least, the dreadful occurrence of the evening. His countenance and constrained manner, however; on re-entering the drawing-room, which his mother, attended by Kate, had quitted for her bedroom—somewhat alarmed Mrs. Aubrey; but he easily quieted her—poor soul!—by saying that he certainly had been annoyed—"excessively annoyed"—at a communication just made to him; "and which might, in fact, prevent his sitting again for Yatton." "Oh, that's the cause of your long stay? There, Doctor, am I not right?" said Mrs. Aubrey, appealing to Dr. Tatham. "Did I not tell you that this was something connected with politics? Oh, dearest Charles—I do hate politics! Give me a quiet home!" A pang shot through Mr. Aubrey's heart; but he felt that he had, for the present, succeeded in his object.

Mr. Aubrey's distracted mind was indeed, as it were, buffeted about that night on a dark sea of trouble; while the beloved being beside him lay sleeping peacefully, all unconscious of the rising storm! Many times, during that dismal night, would he have risen from his bed to seek a momentary relief by walking to and fro, but that he feared disturbing her, and disclosing the extent and depth of his distress. It was nearly five o'clock in the morning before he at length sank into sleep; and of one thing I can assure the reader, that however that excellent man might have shrunk—and shrink he did—from the sufferings which seemed in store, not for himself only, but for those who were far dearer to him than life itself, he did not give way to one repining or rebellious thought. On the contrary, his real frame of mind, on that trying occasion, may be discovered in one short prayer, which his agonized soul was more than once on the point of expressing aloud in words—"Oh, my God! in my prosperity I have endeavored always to acknowledge thee; forsake not me and mine in our adversity!"

At an early hour in the morning Mr. Aubrey's carriage drew up at Mr. Parkinson's door; and he brought with him, as he had promised, a great number of title-deeds and family documents. On these, as well as on many others which were in Mr. Parkinson's custody, that gentleman and Mr. Runnington were anxiously engaged during almost every minute of that day and the ensuing one; at the close of which, they had between them drawn up the rough draft of a case, with which Mr. Runnington set off for town by the mail; undertaking to lay it immediately before the Attorney-General, and also before one or two of the most eminent conveyancers of the day, effectually commended to their best and earliest attention. He pledged himself to transmit their opinions, by the very first mail, to Mr. Parkinson; and both of those gentlemen immediately set about active preparations for defending the ejectment. The "eminent conveyancer" fixed upon by Messrs. Runnington and Parkinson was Mr. Tresayle, whose clerk, however, on looking into the papers, presently carried them back to Messrs. Runnington, with the startling information that Mr. Tresayle had, a few months before, "advised on the other side!" The next person whom Mr. Runnington thought of, was—singularly enough—Mr. Mortmain, who, on account of his eminence, was occasionally employed, in heavy matters, by the firm. His clerk, also, on the ensuing morning returned the papers, assigning a similar reason to that which had been given by Mr. Tresayle's clerk! All this formed a direful corroboration, truly, of Messrs. Quirk and Gammon's assurance to Mr. Runnington, that they had "had the first conveyancing opinions in the kingdom;" and evidenced the formidable scale on which their operations were being conducted. There were, however, other "eminent conveyancers" besides the two above mentioned; and in the hands of Mr. Mansfield, who, with a less extended reputation, but an equal practice, was a far abler man, and a much higher style of conveyancer, than Mr. Mortmain, Mr. Runnington left his client's interests with the utmost confidence. Not satisfied with this, he laid the case also before Mr. Crystal, the junior whom he had already retained in the cause—a man whose lucid understanding was not ill indicated by his name. Though his manner in court was not particularly forcible or attractive, he was an invaluable acquisition in an important cause. To law he had for some twenty years applied himself with unwearying energy; and he consequently became a ready, accurate, and thorough lawyer, equal to all the practical exigencies of his profession. He brought his knowledge to bear on every point presented to him, with beautiful precision. He was equally quick and cautious—artful to a degree—But I shall have other opportunities of describing him; since on him, as on every working junior, will devolve the real conduct of the defendant's case in the memorable action of Doe on the demise of Titmouse v. Roe.

As Mr. Aubrey was driving home from the visit to Mr. Parkinson, which I have just above mentioned, he stopped his carriage and alighted, on entering the village, because he saw Dr. Tatham coming out of Williams's cottage, where he had been paying a visit to poor dying Phoebe.

The little doctor was plunthering on, ankle-deep in snow, towards the vicarage, when Mr. Aubrey (who had sent home his carriage with word that he should presently follow) came up with him, and greeting him with unusual fervor, said that he would accompany him to the vicarage.

"You are in very great trouble, my dear friend," said the doctor, seriously—"I saw it plainly last night; but of course I said nothing. Come in with me! Let us talk freely with one another; for, as iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend. Is it not so?"

"It is indeed, my dear doctor," replied Mr. Aubrey, suddenly softened by the affectionate simplicity of the doctor's manner. How much the good doctor was shocked by the communication which Mr. Aubrey presently made to him, the reader may easily imagine. He even shed tears, on beholding the forced calmness with which Mr. Aubrey depicted the gloomy prospect that was before him. The venerable pastor led the subdued mind of his companion to those sources of consolation and support which a true Christian cannot approach in vain. Upon his bruised and bleeding feelings were poured the balm of true religious consolation; and Mr. Aubrey quitted his revered companion with a far firmer tone of mind than that with which he had entered the vicarage. But as soon as he had passed through the park gates, the sudden reflection that he was probably no longer the proprietor of the dear old familiar objects that met his eye at every step, almost overpowered him, and he walked several times up and down the avenue, before he had recovered a due degree of self-possession.

On entering the Hall, he was informed that one of the tenants, Peter Johnson, had been sitting in the servants' hall for nearly two hours, waiting to see him. Mr. Aubrey repaired at once to the library, and desired the man to be shown in. This Johnson had been for some twenty-five years a tenant of a considerable farm on the estate; had scarcely ever been behind-hand with his rent; and had always been considered one of the most exemplary persons in the whole neighborhood. He had now, poor fellow, got into trouble indeed: for he had, a year or two before, been persuaded to become security for his brother-in-law, a tax-collector; and had, alas! the day before, been called upon to pay the three hundred pounds in which he stood bound—his worthless brother-in-law having absconded with nearly L1,000 of the public money. Poor Johnson, who had a large family to support, was in deep tribulation, bowed down with grief and shame; and after a sleepless night, had at length ventured down to Yatton, with a desperate boldness, to ask its benevolent owner to advance him L200 towards the money, to save himself from being cast into prison. Mr. Aubrey heard this sad story to the end, without one single interruption; though to a more practised observer than the troubled old farmer, the workings of Mr. Aubrey's countenance, from time to time, must have told his inward agitation. "I lend this poor soul L200!" thought he, "who am penniless myself! Shall I not be really acting as his dishonest relative has been acting, and making free with money which belongs to another?"

"I assure you, my worthy friend," said he at length, with a little agitation of manner, "that I have just now a very serious call upon me—or you know how gladly I would have complied with your request."

"Oh, sir, have mercy on me! I've an ailing wife and seven children to support," said poor Johnson, wringing his hands.

"Can't I do anything with the Government?"——

"No, sir; I'm told they're so mighty angry with my rascally brother, they'll listen to nobody! It's a hard matter for me to keep things straight at home without this, sir, I've so many mouths to fill; and if they take me off to prison, Lord! Lord! what's to become of us all?"

Mr. Aubrey's lip quivered. Johnson fell on his knees, and the tears ran down his cheeks. "I've never asked a living man for money before, sir; and if you'll only lend it me, God Almighty will bless you and yours; you'll save us all from ruin; I'll work day and night to pay it back again!"

"Rise—rise, Johnson," said Mr. Aubrey, with emotion. "You shall have the money, my friend, if you will call to-morrow," he added with a deep sigh, after a moment's hesitation.

He was as good as his word.[19]

Had Mr. Aubrey been naturally of a cheerful and vivacious turn, the contrast now afforded by his gloomy manner must have alarmed his family. As it was, however, the contrast was not so strong and marked as to be attended with that effect, especially as he exerted himself to the utmost to conceal his distress. That something had gone wrong, he freely acknowledged; and as he spoke of it always in connection with political topics, he succeeded in parrying their questions, and checking suspicion. But, whenever they were all collected together, could he not justly compare them to a happy group, unconscious that they stood on a mine which was on the eve of being fired?

About a week afterwards, namely, on the 12th of January, arrived little Charles's birthday, when he became five years old; and Kate had for some days been moving heaven and earth to get up a juvenile ball in honor of the occasion. After divers urgent despatches, and considerable riding and driving about, she succeeded in persuading the parents of some eight or ten children—two little daughters, for instance, of the Earl of Oldacre (beautiful creatures they were, to be sure)—little Master and the two Miss Bertons, the children of one of the county members—Sir Harry Oldfield, an orphan of about five years of age, the infant owner of a magnificent estate—and two or three little girls beside—to send them all—cold as was the weather—to Yatton, for a day and a night, with their governesses and attendants.

'Twas a charming little affair! It went off brilliantly, as the phrase is, and repaid all Kate's exertions. She, her mother, and brother, and sister, all dined at the same table, at a very early hour, with the merry little guests, who, (with a laughable crowd of attendants behind them, to be sure) behaved remarkably well on the occasion. Sir Harry (a little thing about Charles's age—the black ribbon round his waist, and also the half-mourning dress worn by his maid, who stood behind him, showed how recent was the event which had made him an orphan) proposed little Aubrey's health, in (I must own) a somewhat stiff speech, demurely dictated to him by Kate, who sat between him and her beautiful little nephew. She then performed the same office for Charles, who stood on a chair while delivering his eloquent acknowledgment of the toast.

[Oh! that anguished brow of thine, Aubrey, (thank God it is unobserved!) but it tells me that the iron is entering thy soul!]

And the moment that he had done—Kate folding her arms around him and kissing him—down they all jumped, and, a merry throng, scampered off to the drawing-room, (followed by Kate,) where blind-man's buff, husbands and wives, and divers other little games, kept them in constant enjoyment. After tea, they were to have dancing—Kate mistress of the ceremonies—and it was quite laughable to see how perpetually she was foiled in her efforts to form the little sets. The girls were orderly enough—but their wild little partners were quite uncontrollable! The instant they were placed, and Kate had gone to the instrument and struck off a bar or two—ah!—what a scrambling little crowd was to be seen wildly jumping and laughing, and chattering and singing! Over and over again she formed them into sets, with the like results. But at length a young lady, one of their governesses, took Miss Aubrey's place at the piano, leaving the latter to superintend the performances in person. She at length succeeded in getting up something like a country-dance, led off by Charles and little Lady Anne Cherville, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Oldacre, a beautiful child of about five years old, and who, judging from appearances, bade fair in due time to become another Lady Caroline Caversham. You would have laughed outright to watch the coquettish airs which this little creature gave herself with Charles, whom yet she evidently could not bear to see dancing with another.

"Now I shall dance with somebody else!" he exclaimed, suddenly quitting Lady Anne, and snatching hold of a sweet little thing, Miss Berton, standing modestly beside him. The discarded beauty walked with a stately air, and a swelling heart, towards Mrs. Aubrey, who sat beside her husband on the sofa; and on reaching her, stood for a few moments silently watching her fickle partner busily and gayly engaged with her successor—Then she burst into tears.

"Charles!" called out Mrs. Aubrey; who had watched the whole affair, and could hardly keep her countenance—"come hither directly, Charles!"

"Yes, mamma!" he exclaimed—quite unaware of the serious aspect which things were assuming—and without quitting the dance, where he was (as his jealous mistress too plainly saw, for, despite her grief, her eye seemed to follow all his motions) skipping about with infinite glee with a third partner—a laughing sister of her for whom he had quitted Lady Anne.

"Do you hear your mamma, Charles!" said Mr. Aubrey, somewhat peremptorily; and in an instant his little son, all flushed and breathless, was at his side.

"Well, dear papa!" said he, keeping his eye fixed on the merry throng he had just quitted, and where his deserted partner was skipping about alone.

"What have you been doing to Lady Anne, Charles?" said his father.

"Nothing, dear papa!" he replied, still wistfully eying the dancers.

"You know you left me, and went to dance with Miss Berton; you did, Charles!" said the offended beauty, sobbing.

"That is not behaving like a little gentleman, Charles," said his father. The tears came to the child's eyes.

"I'm very sorry, dear papa, I will dance with her."

"No, not now," said Lady Anne, haughtily.

"Oh, pooh! pooh!—kiss and be friends," said Mrs. Aubrey, laughing, "and go and dance as prettily as you were doing before." Little Aubrey put his arms around Lady Anne, kissed her, and away they both started to the dance again. While the latter part of this scene was going on, Mr. Aubrey's eye caught the figure of a servant who simply made his appearance at the door and then retired, (for such had been Mr. Aubrey's orders, in the event of any messenger arriving from Grilston.) Hastily whispering that he should speedily return, he left the room. In the hall stood a clerk from Mr. Parkinson; and on seeing Mr. Aubrey, he took out a packet and retired—Mr. Aubrey, with evident trepidation, repairing to his library. With a nervous hand he broke the seal, and found the following letter from Mr. Parkinson, with three other enclosures:—

"Grilston, 12th Jan. 18—. "MY DEAR SIR,

"I have only just received, and at once forward to you, copies of the three opinions given by the Attorney-General, Mr. Mansfield, and Mr. Crystal. I lament to find that they are all of a discouraging character. They were given by their respective writers without any of them having had any opportunity of conferring together—all the three cases having been laid before them at the same time: yet you will observe that each of them has hit upon precisely the same point, viz. that the descendants of Geoffrey Dreddlington had no right to succeed to the inheritance till there was a failure of the heirs of Stephen Dreddlington. If, therefore, our discreditable opponents should have unhappily contrived to ferret out some person satisfying that designation, (I cannot conjecture how they can ever have got upon the scent,) I really fear (it is no use disguising matters) we must prepare for a very serious struggle. I have been quietly pushing my inquiries in all directions, with a view to obtaining a clew to the case intended to be set up against us, and which you will find very shrewdly guessed at by the Attorney-General. Nor am I the only party, I find, in the field, who has been making pointed inquiries in your neighborhood; but of this more when we meet to-morrow.

"I remain, "Yours most respectfully, "J. PARKINSON. "CHARLES AUBREY, ESQ., M. P. &c. &c. &c."

Having read this letter, Mr. Aubrey sank back in his chair, and remained motionless for more than a quarter of an hour. At length he roused himself, and read over the opinions; the effect of which—as far as he could comprehend their technicalities—he found had been but too correctly given by Mr. Parkinson. Some suggestions and inquiries put by the acute and experienced Mr. Crystal, suddenly revived recollections of one or two incidents even of his boyish days, long forgotten, but which, as he reflected upon them, began to reappear to his mind's eye with sickening distinctness. Wave after wave of apprehension and agony passed over him, chilling and benumbing his heart within him; so that, when his little son came some time afterwards running up to him, with a message from his mamma, that she hoped he could come back to see them all play at snap-dragon before they went to bed, he replied mechanically, hardly seeming sensible even of the presence of the laughing and breathless boy, who quickly scampered back again. At length, with a groan that came from the depths of his heart, Mr. Aubrey rose and walked to and fro, sensible of the necessity of exertion, and preparing himself, in some degree, for encountering his mother, his wife, and his sister. Taking up his candle, he hastened to his dressing-room, where he hoped, by the aid of refreshing ablutions, to succeed in effacing at least the stronger of those traces of suffering which his glass displayed to him, as it reflected the image of his agitated countenance. A sudden recollection of the critical and delicate situation of his idolized wife, glanced through his heart like a keen arrow. He sank upon the sofa, and, clasping his hands, looked indeed forlorn. Presently the door was pushed hastily but gently open; and, first looking in to see that it was really he of whom she was in search, in rushed Mrs. Aubrey, pale and agitated, having been alarmed by his long-continued absence from the drawing-room, and the look of the servant, from whom she had learned that his master had been for some time gone up-stairs.

"Charles! my love! my sweet love!" she exclaimed, rushing in, sitting down beside him, and casting her arms round his neck. Overcome by the suddenness of her appearance and movements, for a moment he spoke not.

"For mercy's sake—as you love me!—tell me, dearest Charles, what has happened!" she gasped, kissing him fervently.

"Nothing—love—nothing," he replied; but his look belied his speech.

"Oh! am not I your wife, dearest? Charles, I shall really go distracted if you do not tell me what has happened!—I know that something—something dreadful"—He put his arm round her waist, and drew her tenderly towards him. He felt her heart beating violently. He kissed her cold forehead, but spoke not.

"Come, dearest!—my own Charles!—let me share your sorrows," said she, in a thrilling voice. "Cannot you trust your Agnes? Has not Heaven sent me to share your anxieties and griefs?"

"I love you, Agnes! ay, perhaps more than ever man loved woman!" he faltered, as he felt her arms folding him in closer and closer embrace; and she gazed at him with wild agitation, expecting presently to hear of some fearful catastrophe.

"I cannot bear this much longer, dearest—I feel I cannot," said she, rather faintly. "What has happened? What, that you dare not tell me? I can bear anything, while I have you and my children! You have been unhappy—you have been wretched, Charles, for many days past. I have felt that you were!—I will not part with you till I know all!"

"You soon must know all, my sweet love; and I take Heaven to witness, that it is principally on your account, and that of my children, that I—— in fact, I did not wish any of you to have known it till"——

"You—are never going—to fight a duel?" she gasped, turning white as death.

"Oh! no, no, Agnes! I solemnly assure you! If I could have brought myself to engage in such an unhallowed affair, would this scene ever first have occurred? No, no, my own love! Must I then tell you of the misfortune that has overtaken us?" His words somewhat restored her, but she continued to gaze at him in mute and breathless apprehension. "Let me then conceal nothing, Agnes—they are bringing an action against me, which, if successful, may cause us all to quit Yatton—and it may be, forever."

"Oh, Charles!" she murmured, her eyes riveted upon his, while she unconsciously moved still nearer to him and trembled. Her head drooped upon his shoulder.

"Why is this?" she whispered, after a pause.

"Let us, dearest, talk of it another time. I have now told you what you asked me."—He poured her out a glass of water. Having drank a little, she appeared revived.

"Is all lost?—And—why? Do, my own Charles—let me know really the worst!"

"We are young, my Agnes! and have the world before us! Health and integrity are better than riches! You and our little loves—the children which God has given us—are my riches," said he, gazing at her with unspeakable tenderness. "Even should it be the will of Heaven that this affair should go against us—so long as they cannot separate us from each other, they cannot really hurt us!" She suddenly kissed him with frantic energy, and an hysteric smile gleamed over her pallid excited features.

"Calm yourself, Agnes!—calm yourself, for my sake!—as you love me!" His voice quivered. "Oh, how very weak and foolish I have been to yield to"——

"No, no, no!" she gasped, evidently laboring with hysteric oppression. "Hush!" said she, suddenly starting, and wildly leaning forward towards the door which opened into the gallery leading to the various bedrooms. He listened—the MOTHER'S ear had been quick and true. He presently heard the sound of many children's voices approaching: they were the little party, accompanied by Kate, and their attendants, on their way to bed; and little Charles's voice was loudest, and his laugh the merriest, of them all. A dreadful smile gleamed on Mrs. Aubrey's face; her hand grasped her husband's with convulsive pressure; and she suddenly sank, rigid and senseless, upon the sofa. He seemed for a moment stunned at the sight of her motionless figure. Soon, however, recovering his presence of mind, he rang the bell, and one or two female attendants quickly appeared, by whose joint assistance Mrs. Aubrey was carried to her bed in the adjoining room, where, by the use of the ordinary remedies, she was, after a brief interval, restored to consciousness. Her first languid look was towards Mr. Aubrey, whose hand she slowly raised to her lips. She tried to throw a smile over her wan features—but 't was in vain; and, after a few heavy and half-choking sobs, her overcharged feelings found relief in a flood of tears. Full of the liveliest apprehensions as to the effect of this violent emotion upon her, in her critical condition, he remained with her for some time, pouring into her ear every soothing and tender expression he could think of. He at length succeeded in bringing her into a somewhat more tranquil state than he could have expected. He strictly enjoined the attendants, who had not quitted their lady's chamber, and whose alarmed and inquisitive looks he had noticed for some time with anxiety, to preserve silence concerning what they had so unexpectedly witnessed, adding, that something unfortunate had happened, of which they would hear but too soon.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse