"How did you ascertain that Henry Grainger was the late Sir Harry Compton?"
"I was introduced to Sir Harry Compton in London, at the house of the Archbishop of York, by his Grace himself."
"I remember the incident distinctly, Mr. Zimmerman," said his Grace from the bench.
"Besides which," added the rector, "my present living was presented to me, about eighteen months since, by the deceased baronet. I must further, in justice to myself, explain that I immediately after the introduction, sought an elucidation of the mystery from Sir Harry; and he then told me that, in a freak of youthful passion, he had married Miss Dalston in the name of Grainger, fearing his uncle's displeasure should it reach his ears; that his wife had died in her first confinement, after giving birth to a still-born child, and he now wished the matter to remain in oblivion. He also showed me several letters, which I then believed genuine, confirming his story. I heard no more of the matter till waited upon by the attorney for the plaintiff, Mr. Ferret."
A breathless silence prevailed during the delivery of this evidence. At its conclusion, the dullest brain in court comprehended that the cause was gained; and a succession of cheers, which could not be suppressed, rang through the court, and were loudly echoed from without. Sir Jasper's voice sounding high above all the rest. Suddenly, too, as if by magic, almost everybody in court, save the jury and counsel, were decorated with orange and purple favors, and a perfect shower of them fell at the feet and about the persons of Lady Compton, her sister, who had by this time joined her, and the infant Sir Henry. As soon as the expostulations and menaces of the judge had restored silence and order, his lordship, addressing Lord Emsdale's senior counsel, said, "Well, Brother S ——, what course do you propose to adopt ?"
"My lord," replied Mr. S —— after a pause, "I and my learned friends have thought it our duty to advise Lord Emsdale that further opposition to the plaintiff's claim would prove ultimately futile; and I have therefore to announce, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, that we acquiesce in a verdict for the plaintiff."
"You have counseled wisely," replied his lordship. "Gentlemen of the jury, you will of course return a verdict for the plaintiff."
The jury hastily and joyfully assented: the verdict was recorded, and the court adjourned for an hour in the midst of tumultuous excitement. The result of the trial flew through the crowd outside like wildfire; and when Lady Compton and her son, after struggling through the densely-crowded court, stepped into Sir Jasper's carriage, which was in waiting at the door, the enthusiastic uproar that ensued—the hurrahing, shouting, waving of hats and handkerchiefs—deafened and bewildered one; and it was upwards of an hour ere the slow-moving chariot reached Sir Jasper's mansion, though not more than half a mile distant from the town. Mr. Ferret, mounted on the box, and almost smothered in purple and orange, was a conspicuous object, and a prime favorite with the crowd. The next day Lord Emsdale, glad, doubtless, to quit the neighborhood as speedily as possible, left the castle, giving Lady Compton immediate possession. The joy of the tenantry was unbounded, and under the wakeful superintendence of Mr. Ferret, all claims against Lord Emsdale for received rents, dilapidations, &c. were adjusted, we may be sure, not adversely to his client's interests; though he frequently complained, not half so satisfactorily as if Lady Compton had not interfered, with what Mr. Ferret deemed misplaced generosity in the matter.
As I was obliged to proceed onwards with the circuit, I called at Compton Castle to take leave of my interesting and fortunate client a few days after her installation there. I was most gratefully received and entertained. As I shook hands at parting, her ladyship, after pressing upon me a diamond ring of great value, said, whilst her charming eyes filled with regretful, yet joyful tears, "Do not forget that poor Henry intended at last to do us justice." Prosperity, thought I, will not spoil that woman. It has not, as the world, were I authorized to communicate her real name, would readily acknowledge.
THE MOTHER AND SON.
Dinner had been over about half an hour one Sunday afternoon.—the only day on which for years I had been able to enjoy a dinner—and I was leisurely sipping a glass of wine, when a carriage drove rapidly up to the door, a loud rat-tat followed, and my friend Dr. Curteis, to my great surprise, was announced.
"I have called," said the doctor as we shook hands, "to ask you to accompany me to Mount Place. I have just received a hurried note from Miss Armitage, stating that her mother, after a very brief illness, is rapidly sinking, and requesting my attendance, as well as that of a legal gentleman, immediately."
"Mrs. Armitage!" I exclaimed, inexpressibly shocked. "Why, it is scarcely more than a fortnight ago that I met her at the Rochfords' in brilliant health and spirits."
"Even so. But will you accompany me? I don't know where to find any one else for the moment, and time presses."
"It is an attorney, probably, rather than a barrister, that is needed; but under the circumstances, and knowing her as I do, I cannot hesitate."
We were soon bowling along at a rapid pace, and in little more than an hour reached the dying lady's residence, situated in the county of Essex, and distant about ten miles from London. We entered together; and Dr. Curteis, leaving me in the library, proceeded at once to the sick chamber. About ten minutes afterwards the housekeeper, a tall, foreign-looking, and rather handsome woman, came into the room, and announced that the doctor wished to see me. She was deadly pale, and, I observed, trembled like an aspen. I motioned her to precede me; and she, with unsteady steps, immediately led the way. So great was her agitation, that twice, in ascending the stairs, she only saved herself from falling by grasping the banister-rail. The presage I drew from the exhibition of such overpowering emotion, by a person whom I knew to have been long not only in the service, but in the confidence of Mrs. Armitage, was soon confirmed by Dr. Curteis, whom we met coming out of the chamber of the expiring patient.
"Step this way," said he, addressing me, and leading to an adjoining apartment. "We do not require your attendance, Mrs. Bourdon," said he, as soon as we reached it, to the housekeeper, who had swiftly followed us, and now stood staring with eager eyes in the doctor's face, as if life and death hung on his lips. "Have the goodness to leave us," he added tartly, perceiving she did not stir, but continued her fearful, scrutinizing glance. She started at his altered tone, flushed crimson, then paled to a chalky whiteness, and muttering, left the apartment.
"The danger of her mistress has bewildered her," I remarked.
"Perhaps so," remarked Dr. Curteis. "Be that as it may, Mrs. Armitage is beyond all human help. In another hour she will be, as we say, no more."
"I feared so. What is the nature of her disorder?"
"A rapid wasting away, as I am informed. The appearances presented are those of a person expiring of atrophy, or extreme emaciation."
"Indeed. And so sudden too!"
"Yes. I am glad you are come, although your professional services will not, it seems, be required—a neighboring attorney having performed the necessary duty—something, I believe, relative to the will of the dying lady. We will speak further together by and by. In the meantime," continued Dr. Curteis, with a perceptible tremor in his voice, "it will do neither of us any harm to witness the closing scene of the life of Mary Rawdon, whom you and I twenty years ago worshipped as one of the gentlest and most beautiful of beings with which the Creator ever graced his universe. It will be a peaceful parting. Come."
Just as, with noiseless footsteps, we entered the silent death-chamber, the last rays of the setting sun were falling upon the figure of Ellen Armitage—who knelt in speechless agony by the bedside of her expiring parent—and faintly lighting up the pale, emaciated, sunken features of the so lately brilliant, courted Mrs. Armitage! But for the ineffaceable splendor of her deep-blue eyes, I should scarcely have recognized her. Standing in the shadow, as thrown by the heavy bed-drapery, we gazed and listened unperceived.
"Ellen," murmured the dying lady, "come nearer to me. It is growing dark, and I cannot see you plainly. Now, then, read to me, beginning at the verse you finished with, as good Dr. Curteis entered. Ay," she faintly whispered, "it is thus, Ellen, with thy hand clasped in mine, and with the words of the holy book sounding from thy dear lips, that I would pass away!"
Ellen, interrupted only by her blinding tears, making sad stops, complied. Twilight stole on, and threw its shadow over the solemn scene, deepening its holiness of sorrow. Night came with all her train; and the silver radiance kissed into ethereal beauty the pale face of the weeping girl, still pursuing her sad and sacred task. We hesitated to disturb, by the slightest movement the repose of a death-bed over which belief and hope, those only potent ministers, shed light and calm! At length Dr. Curteis advanced gently towards the bed, and taking the daughter's hand, said in a low voice, "Had you not better retire, my dear young lady, for a few moments?" She understood him, and rising from her knees, threw herself in an ecstacy of grief upon the corpse, from which the spirit had just passed away. Assistance was summoned, and the sobbing girl was borne from the chamber.
I descended, full of emotion, to the library, where Dr. Curteis promised shortly to join me. Noiselessly entering the room, I came suddenly upon the housekeeper and a tall young man, standing with their backs towards me in the recesses of one of the windows, and partly shrouded by the heavy cloth curtains. They were evidently in earnest conference, and several words, the significance of which did not at the moment strike me, reached my ears before they perceived my approach. The instant they did so, they turned hastily round, and eyed me with an expression of flurried alarm, which at the time surprised me not a little. "All is over, Mrs. Bourdon," said I, finding she did not speak; "and your presence is probably needed by Miss Armitage." A flash of intelligence, as I spoke, passed between the pair; but whether indicative of grief or joy, so momentary was the glance, I should have been puzzled to determine. The housekeeper immediately left the room, keeping her eyes, as she passed, fixed upon me with the same nervous apprehensive look which had before irritated Dr. Curteis. The young man followed more slowly. He was a tall and rather handsome youth, apparently about one or two-and-twenty years of age. His hair was black as jet, and his dark eyes were of singular brilliancy; but the expression, I thought, was scarcely a refined or highly-intellectual one. His resemblance to Mrs. Bourdon, whose son indeed he was, was very striking. He bowed slightly, but courteously, as to an equal, as he closed the door, and I was left to the undisturbed enjoyment of my own reflections, which, ill-defined and indistinct as they were, were anything but pleasant company. My reverie was at length interrupted by the entrance of the doctor, with the announcement that the carriage was in waiting to re-convey us to town.
We had journeyed several miles on our return before a word was spoken by either of us. My companion was apparently even more painfully pre-occupied than myself. He was, however, the first to break silence. "The emaciated corpse we have just left little resembles the gay, beautiful girl, for whose smiles you and I were once disposed to shoot each other!" The doctor's voice trembled with emotion, and his face, I perceived, was pale as marble.
"Mary Rawdon," I remarked, "lives again in her daughter."
"Yes; her very image. Do you know," continued he, speaking with rapid energy, "I suspect Mary Rawdon—Mrs. Armitage, I would say—has been foully, treacherously dealt with!"
I started with amazement; and yet the announcement but embodied and gave form and color to my own ill-defined and shadowy suspicions.
"Good heavens! How? By whom?"
"Unless I am greatly mistaken, she has been poisoned by an adept in the use of such destructive agents."
"No; by her son. At least my suspicions point that way. She is probably cognizant of the crime. But in order that you should understand the grounds upon which my conjectures are principally founded, I must enter into a short explanation. Mrs. Bourdon, a woman of Spanish extraction, and who formerly occupied a much higher position than she does now, has lived with Mrs. Armitage from the period of her husband's death, now about sixteen years ago. Mrs. Bourdon has a son, a tall, good-looking fellow enough, whom you may have seen."
"He was with his mother in the library as I entered it after leaving you."
"Ah! well, hem! This boy, in his mother's opinion—but that perhaps is somewhat excusable—exhibited early indications of having been born a "genius." Mrs. Armitage, who had been first struck by the beauty of the child, gradually acquired the same notion; and the result was, that he was little by little invested—with at least her tacit approval—with the privileges supposed to be the lawful inheritance of such gifted spirits; namely, the right to be as idle as he pleased—geniuses, you know, can, according to the popular notion, attain any conceivable amount of knowledge per saltum at a bound—and to exalt himself in the stilts of his own conceit above the useful and honorable pursuits suited to the station in life in which Providence had cast his lot. The fruit of such training soon showed itself. Young Bourdon grew up a conceited and essentially-ignorant puppy, capable of nothing but bad verses, and thoroughly impressed with but one important fact, which was, that he, Alfred Bourdon, was the most gifted and the most ill-used of all God's creatures. To genius, in any intelligible sense of the term, he has in truth no pretension. He is endowed, however, with a kind of reflective talent, which is often mistaken by fools for creative power. The morbid fancies and melancholy scorn of a Byron, for instance, such gentry reflect back from their foggy imaginations in exaggerated and distorted feebleness of whining versicles, and so on with other lights celestial or infernal. This, however, by the way. The only rational pursuit he ever followed, and that only by fits and starts, and to gratify his faculty of "wonder," I fancy, was chemistry. A small laboratory was fitted up for him in the little summer-house you may have observed at the further corner of the lawn. This study of his, if study such desultory snatches at science may be called, led him, in his examination of vegetable bodies, to a smattering acquaintance with botany, a science of which Ellen Armitage is an enthusiastic student. They were foolishly permitted to botanize together, and the result was, that Alfred Bourdon, acting upon the principle that genius—whether sham or real—levels all merely mundane distinctions, had the impudence to aspire to the hand of Miss Armitage. His passion, sincere or simulated, has never been, I have reason to know, in the slightest degree reciprocated by its object; but so blind is vanity, that when, about six weeks ago, an eclaircissement took place, and the fellow's dream was somewhat rudely dissipated, the untoward rejection of his preposterous suit was, there is every reason to believe, attributed by both mother and son to the repugnance of Mrs. Armitage alone; and to this idiotic hallucination she has, I fear, fallen a sacrifice. Judging from the emaciated appearance of the body, and other phenomena communicated to me by her ordinary medical attendant—a blundering ignoramus, who ought to have called in assistance long before—she has been poisoned with iodine, which, administered in certain quantities, would produce precisely the same symptoms. Happily there is no mode of destroying human life which so surely leads to the detection of the murderer as the use of such agents; and of this truth the post mortem examination of the body, which takes place to-morrow morning, will, if I am not grossly mistaken, supply another vivid illustration. Legal assistance will no doubt be necessary, and I am sure I do not err in expecting that you will aid me in bringing to justice the murderer of Mary Rawdon?"
A pressure of his hand was my only answer. "I shall call for you at ten o'clock" said he, as he put me down at my own door. I bowed, and the carriage drove off.
"Well!" said I, as Dr. Curteis and Mr. —— the eminent surgeon entered the library at Mount Place the following morning after a long absence.
"As I anticipated," replied the doctor with a choking voice: "she has been poisoned!"
I started to my feet. "And the murderer?"
"Our suspicions still point to young Bourdon; but the persons of both mother and son have been secured."
"Yes; and I have despatched a servant to request the presence of a neighbor—a county magistrate. I expect him momently."
After a brief consultation, we all three directed our steps to the summer-house which contained young Bourdon's laboratory. In the room itself nothing of importance was discovered; but in an enclosed recess, which we broke open, we found a curiously-fashioned glass bottle half full of iodine.
"This is it!" said Mr. ——; "and in a powdered state too—just ready for mixing with brandy or any other available dissolvent." The powder had somewhat the appearance of fine black lead. Nothing further of any consequence being observed, we returned to the house, where the magistrate had already arrived.
Alfred Bourdon was first brought in; and he having been duly cautioned that he was not obliged to answer any question, and that what he did say would be taken down, and, if necessary, used against him, I proposed the following questions:—
"Have you the key of your laboratory?"
"No; the door is always open."
"Well, then, of any door or cupboard in the room?"
At this question his face flushed purple: he stammered, "There is no"—and abruptly paused.
"Do I understand you to say there is no cupboard or place of concealment in the room?"
"No: here is the key."
"Has any one had access to the cupboard or recess of which this is the key, except yourself?"
The young man shook as if smitten with ague: his lips chattered, but no articulate sound escaped them.
"You need not answer the question," said the magistrate, "unless you choose to do so. I again warn you that all you say will, if necessary, be used against you."
"No one," he at length gasped, mastering his hesitation by a strong exertion of the will—"no one can have had access to the place but myself. I have never parted with the key."
Mrs. Bourdon was now called in. After interchanging a glance of intense agony, and, as it seemed to me, of affectionate intelligence with her son, she calmly answered the questions put to her. They were unimportant, except the last, and that acted upon her like a galvanic shock. It was this—"Did you ever struggle with your son on the landing leading to the bedroom of the deceased for the possession of this bottle?" and I held up that which we had found in the recess.
A slight scream escaped her lips; and then she stood rigid, erect, motionless, glaring alternately at me and at the fatal bottle with eyes that seemed starting from their sockets. I glanced towards the son; he was also affected in a terrible manner. His knees smote each other, and a clammy perspiration burst forth and settled upon his pallid forehead.
"Again I caution you," iterated the magistrate, "that you are not bound to answer any of these questions."
The woman's lips moved. "No—never!" she almost inaudibly gasped, and fell senseless on the floor.
As soon as she was removed, Jane Withers was called. She deposed that three days previously, as she was, just before dusk, arranging some linen in a room a few yards distant from the bedroom of her late mistress, she was surprised at hearing a noise just outside the door, as of persons struggling and speaking in low but earnest tones. She drew aside a corner of the muslin curtain of the window which locked upon the passage or corridor, and there saw Mrs. Bourdon striving to wrest something from her son's hand. She heard Mrs. Bourdon say, "You shall not do it, or you shall not have it"—she could not be sure which. A noise of some sort seemed to alarm them: they ceased struggling, and listened attentively for a few seconds: then Alfred Bourdon stole off on tip-toe, leaving the object in dispute, which witness could not see distinctly, in his mother's hand. Mrs. Bourdon continued to listen, and presently Miss Armitage, opening the door of her mother's chamber, called her by name. She immediately placed what was in her hand on the marble top of a side-table standing in the corridor, and hastened to Miss Armitage. Witness left the room she had been in a few minutes afterwards, and, curious to know what Mrs. Bourdon and her son had been struggling for, went to the table to look at it. It was an oddly-shaped glass bottle, containing a good deal of a blackish-gray powder, which, as she held it up to the light, looked like black-lead!
"Would you be able to swear to the bottle if you saw it?"
"Certainly I should."
"By what mark or token?"
"The name of Valpy or Vulpy was cast into it—that is, the name was in the glass itself."
"Is this it?"
"It is: I swear most positively."
A letter was also read which had been taken from Bourdon's pocket. It was much creased, and was proved to be in the handwriting of Mrs. Armitage. It consisted of a severe rebuke at the young man's presumption in seeking to address himself to her daughter, which insolent ingratitude, the writer said, she should never, whilst she lived, either forget or forgive. This last sentence was strongly underlined in a different ink from that used by the writer of the letter.
The surgeon deposed to the cause of death. It had been brought on by the action of iodine, which, administered in certain quantities, produced symptoms as of rapid atrophy, such as had appeared in Mrs. Armitage. The glass bottle found in the recess contained iodine in a pulverized state.
I deposed that, on entering the library on the previous evening I overheard young Mr. Bourdon, addressing his mother, say, "Now that it is done past recall, I will not shrink from any consequences, be they what they may!"
This was the substance of the evidence adduced; and the magistrate at once committed Alfred Bourdon to Chelmsford jail, to take his trial at the next assize for "wilful murder." A coroner's inquisition a few days after also returned a verdict of "wilful murder" against him on the same evidence.
About an hour after his committal, and just previous to the arrival of the vehicle which was to convey him to the county prison, Alfred Bourdon requested an interview with me. I very reluctantly consented; but steeled as I was against him, I could not avoid feeling dreadfully shocked at the change which so brief an interval had wrought upon him. It had done the work of years. Despair—black, utter despair—was written in every lineament of his expressive countenance.
"I have requested to see you," said the unhappy culprit, "rather than Dr. Curteis, because he, I know, is bitterly prejudiced against me. But you will not refuse, I think, the solemn request of a dying man—for a dying man I feel myself to be—however long or short the interval which stands between me and the scaffold. It is not with a childish hope that any assertion of mine can avail before the tribunal of the law against the evidence adduced this day, that I, with all the solemnity befitting a man whose days are numbered, declare to you that I am wholly innocent of the crime laid to my charge. I have no such expectation; I seek only that you, in pity of my youth and untimely fate, should convey to her whom I have madly presumed to worship this message: 'Alfred Bourdon was mad, but not blood-guilty; and of the crime laid to his charge he is innocent as an unborn child.'"
"The pure and holy passion, young man," said I, somewhat startled by his impressive manner, "however presumptuous, as far as social considerations are concerned, it might be, by which you affect to be inspired, is utterly inconsistent with the cruel, dastardly crime of which such damning evidence has an hour since been given"—
"Say no more, sir," interrupted Bourdon, sinking back in his seat, and burying his face in his hands: "it were a bootless errand; she could not, in the face of that evidence, believe my unsupported assertion! It were as well perhaps she did not. And yet, sir, it is hard to be trampled into a felon's grave, loaded with the maledictions of those whom you would coin your heart to serve and bless! Ah, sir," he continued, whilst tears of agony streamed through his firmly-closed fingers, "you cannot conceive the unutterable bitterness of the pang which rends the heart of him who feels that he is not only despised, but loathed, hated, execrated, by her whom his soul idolizes! Mine was no boyish, transient passion: it has grown with my growth, and strengthened with my strength. My life has been but one long dream of her. All that my soul had drunk in of beauty in the visible earth and heavens—the light of setting suns—the radiance of the silver stars—the breath of summer flowers, together with all which we imagine of celestial purity and grace, seemed to me in her incarnated, concentrated, and combined! And now lost—lost—forever lost!" The violence of his emotions choked his utterance; and deeply and painfully affected, I hastened from his presence.
Time sped as ever onwards, surely, silently; and justice, with her feet of lead, but hands of iron, closed gradually upon her quarry. Alfred Bourdon was arraigned before a jury of his countrymen, to answer finally to the accusation of wilful murder preferred against him.
The evidence, as given before the committing magistrate, and the coroner's inquisition, was repeated with some addition of passionate expressions used by the prisoner indicative of a desire to be avenged on the deceased. The cross-examination by the counsel for the defense was able, but failed to shake the case for the prosecution. His own admission, that no one but himself had access to the recess where the poison was found, told fatally against him. When called upon to address the jury, he delivered himself of a speech rather than a defense; of an oratorical effusion, instead of a vigorous, and, if possible, damaging commentary upon the evidence arrayed against him. It was a labored, and in part eloquent, exposition of the necessary fallibility of human judgment, illustrated by numerous examples of erroneous verdicts. His peroration I jotted down at the time:—"Thus, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, is it abundantly manifest, not only by these examples, but by the testimony which every man bears in his own breast, that God could not have willed, could not have commanded, his creatures to perform a pretended duty, which he vouchsafed them no power to perform righteously. Oh, be sure that if he had intended, if he had commanded you to pronounce irreversible decrees upon your fellow-man, quenching that life which is his highest gift, he would have endowed you with gifts to perform that duty rightly. Has he done so? Ask not alone the pages dripping with innocent blood which I have quoted, but your own hearts! Are you, according to the promise of the serpent-tempter, 'gods, knowing good from evil?' of such clear omniscience, that you can hurl an unprepared soul before the tribunal of its Maker, in the full assurance that you have rightly loosed the silver cord which he had measured, have justly broken the golden bowl which he had fashioned! Oh, my lord," he concluded, his dark eyes flashing with excitement, "it is possible that the first announcement of my innocence of this crime, to which you will give credence, may be proclaimed from the awful tribunal of him who alone cannot err! How if he, whose eye is even now upon us, should then proclaim, 'I too, sat in judgment on the day when you presumed to doom your fellow-worm; and I saw that the murderer was not in the dock, but on the bench!' Oh, my lord, think well of what you do—pause ere you incur such fearful hazard; for be assured, that for all these things God will also bring you to judgment!"
He ceased, and sank back exhausted. His fervid declamation produced a considerable impression upon the auditory; but it soon disappeared before the calm, impressive charge of the judge, who re-assured the startled jury, by reminding them that their duty was to honestly execute the law, not to dispute about its justice. For himself, he said, sustained by a pure conscience, he was quite willing to incur the hazard hinted at by the prisoner. After a careful and luminous summing up, the jury, with very slight deliberation, returned a verdict of "Guilty."
As the word passed the lips of the foreman of the jury, a piercing shriek rang through the court. It proceeded from a tall figure in black, who, with closely-drawn veil, had sat motionless during the trial, just before the dock. It was the prisoner's mother. The next instant she rose, and throwing back her veil wildly exclaimed, "He is innocent—innocent, I tell ye! I alone"—
"Mother! mother! for the love of Heaven be silent!" shouted the prisoner with frantic vehemence, and stretching himself over the front of the dock, as if to grasp and restrain her.
"Innocent, I tell you!" continued the woman. "I—I alone am the guilty person! It was I alone that perpetrated the deed! He knew it not, suspected it not, till it was too late. Here," she added, drawing a sheet of paper from her bosom—"here is my confession, with each circumstance detailed!"
As she waved it over her head, it was snatched by her son, and, swift as lightning, torn to shreds. "She is mad! Heed her not—believe her not!" He at the same time shouted at the top of his powerful voice, "She is distracted—mad! Now, my lord, your sentence! Come!"
The tumult and excitement in the court no language which I can employ would convey an adequate impression of. As soon as calm was partially restored, Mrs. Bourdon was taken into custody: the prisoner was removed; and the court adjourned, of course without passing sentence.
It was even as his mother said! Subsequent investigation, aided by her confessions, amply proved that the fearful crime was conceived and perpetrated by her alone, in the frantic hope of securing for her idolized son the hand and fortune of Miss Armitage. She had often been present with him in his laboratory, and had thus become acquainted with the uses to which certain agents could be put. She had purloined the key of the recess; and he, unfortunately too late to prevent the perpetration of the crime, had by mere accident discovered the abstraction of the poison. His subsequent declarations had been made for the determined purpose of saving his mother's life by the sacrifice of his own!
The wretched woman was not reserved to fall before the justice of her country. The hand of God smote her ere the scaffold was prepared for her. She was smitten with frenzy, and died raving in the Metropolitan Lunatic Asylum. Alfred Bourdon, after a lengthened imprisonment, was liberated. He called on me, by appointment, a few days previous to leaving this country forever; and I placed in his hands a small pocket-Bible, on the fly-leaf of which was written one word—"Ellen!" His dim eye lighted up with something of its old fire as he glanced at the characters; he then closed the book, placed it in his bosom, and waving me a mute farewell—I saw he durst not trust himself to speak—hastily departed. I never saw him more!
"THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS."
In the month of February of the year following that which witnessed the successful establishment of the claim of Sir Harry Compton's infant son to his magnificent patrimony, Mr. Samuel Ferret was traveling post with all the speed he could command towards Lancashire, in compliance with a summons from Lady Compton, requesting, in urgent terms, his immediate presence at the castle. It was wild and bitter weather, and the roads were in many places rendered dangerous, and almost impassable, by the drifting snow. Mr. Ferret, however, pressed onwards with his habitual energy and perseverance; and, spite of all elemental and postboy opposition, succeeded in accomplishing his journey in much less time than, under the circumstances, could have been reasonably expected. But swiftly as, for those slow times, he pushed on, it is necessary I should anticipate, by a brief period, his arrival at his destination, in order to put the reader in possession of the circumstances which had occasioned the hurried and pressing message he had received.
Two days before, as Lady Compton and her sister, who had been paying a visit to Mrs. Arlington at the Grange, were returning home towards nine o'clock in the evening, they observed, as the carriage turned a sharp angle of the road leading through Compton Park, a considerable number of lighted lanterns borne hurriedly to and fro in various directions, by persons apparently in eager but bewildered pursuit of some missing object. The carriage was stopped, and in answer to the servants' inquiries, it was replied that Major Brandon's crazy niece had escaped from her uncle's house; and although traced by the snow-tracks as far as the entrance to the park, had not yet been recovered. Mrs. Brandon had offered a reward of ten pounds to whoever should secure and reconduct her home; hence the hot pursuit of the fugitive, who, it was now supposed, must be concealed in the shrubberies. Rumors regarding this unfortunate young lady, by no means favorable to the character of her relatives as persons of humanity, had previously reached Lady Compton's ears; and she determined to avail herself, if possible, of the present opportunity to obtain a personal interview with the real or supposed lunatic. The men who had been questioned were informed that only the castle servants could be allowed to search for the missing person, either in the park or shrubberies; and that if there, she would be taken care of, and restored to her friends in the morning. The coachman was then ordered to drive on; but the wheels had not made half-a-dozen revolutions, when a loud shout at some distance, in the direction of the park, followed by a succession of piercing screams, announced the discovery and capture of the object of the chase. The horses were urged rapidly forward; and ere more than a minute had elapsed, the carriage drew up within a few yards of the hunted girl and her captors. The instant it stopped, Clara Brandon, liberating herself by a frenzied effort from the rude grasp in which she was held by an athletic young man, sprang wildly towards it, and with passionate intreaty implored mercy and protection. The young man, a son of Mrs. Brandon's by a former husband, immediately re-seized her; and with fierce violence endeavored to wrench her hand from the handle of the carriage door, which she clutched with desperate tenacity. The door flew open, the sudden jerk disengaged her hold, and she struggled vainly in her captor's powerful grasp. "Save me! save me!" she frantically exclaimed, as she felt herself borne off. "You who are, they say, as kind and good as you are beautiful and happy, save me from this cruel man!"
Lady Compton, inexpressibly shocked by the piteous spectacle presented by the unhappy girl—her scanty clothing soiled, disarrayed, and torn by the violence of her struggles; her long flaxen tresses flowing disorderly over her face and neck in tangled dishevelment; and the pale, haggard, wild expression of her countenance—was for a few moments incapable of speech. Her sister was more collected: "Violet," she instantly remonstrated, "do not permit this brutal violence."
"What right has she or any one to interfere with us?" demanded the young man savagely. "This girl is Major Brandon's ward, as well as niece, and shall return to her lawful home! Stand back," continued he, addressing the servants, who, at a gesture from Miss Dalston, barred his progress. "Withstand me at your peril!"
"Force her from him!" exclaimed Lady Compton, recovering her voice. "Gently! gently! I will be answerable for her safe custody till the morning."
The athletic fellow struggled desperately; but however powerful and determined, he was only one man against a score, nearly all the bystanders being tenants or laborers on the Compton estates; and spite of his furious efforts, and menaces of law and vengeance, Clara was torn from him in a twinkling, and himself hurled with some violence prostrate on the road. "Do not let them hurt the man," said Lady Compton, as the servants placed the insensible girl in the carriage (she had fainted); "and tell him that if he has really any legal claim to the custody of this unfortunate person, he must prefer it in the morning."
Immediately on arrival at the castle, the escaped prisoner was conveyed to bed, and medical aid instantly summoned. When restored to consciousness, whether from the effect of an excess of fever producing temporary delirium, or from confirmed mental disease, her speech was altogether wild and incoherent—the only at all consistent portions of her ravings being piteously—iterated appeals to Lady Compton not to surrender her to her aunt in-law, Mrs. Brandon, of whom she seemed to entertain an overpowering, indefinable dread. It was evident she had been subjected to extremely brutal treatment—such as, in these days of improved legislation in such matters, and greatly advanced knowledge of the origin and remedy of cerebral infirmity, would not be permitted towards the meanest human being, much less a tenderly-nurtured, delicate female. At length, under the influence of a composing draught, she sank gradually to sleep; and Lady Compton having determined to rescue her, if possible, from the suspicious custody of her relatives, and naturally apprehensive of the legal difficulties which she could not doubt would impede the execution of her generous, if somewhat Quixotic project, resolved on at once sending off an express for Mr. Ferret, on whose acumen and zeal she knew she could place the fullest reliance.
Clara Brandon's simple history may be briefly summed up. She was the only child of a Mr. Frederick Brandon, who, a widower in the second year of his marriage, had since principally resided at the "Elms," a handsome mansion and grounds which he had leased of the uncle of the late Sir Harry Compton. At his decease, which occurred about two years previous to poor Clara's escape from confinement, as just narrated, he bequeathed his entire fortune, between two and three thousand pounds per annum, chiefly secured on land, to his daughter; appointed his elder brother, Major Brandon, sole executor of his will, and guardian of his child; and in the event of her dying before she had attained her majority—of which she wanted, at her father's death, upwards of three years—or without lawful issue, the property was to go to the major, to be by him willed at his pleasure. Major Brandon, whose physical and mental energies had been prematurely broken down—he was only in his fifty-second year—either by excess or hard service in the East, perhaps both, had married late in life the widow of a brother officer, and the mother of a grown-up son. The lady, a woman of inflexible will, considerable remains of a somewhat masculine beauty, and about ten years her husband's junior, held him in a state of thorough pupilage; and, unchecked by him, devoted all her energies to bring about, by fair or foul means, a union between Clara and her own son, a cub of some two or three-and-twenty years of age, whose sole object in seconding his mother's views upon Clara was the acquisition of her wealth. According to popular surmise and report, the young lady's mental infirmity had been brought about by the persecutions she had endured at the hands of Mrs. Brandon, with a view to force her into a marriage she detested. The most reliable authority for the truth of these rumors was Susan Hopley, now in the service of Lady Compton, but who had lived for many years with Mr. Frederick Brandon and his daughter. She had been discharged about six months after her master's decease by Mrs. Major Brandon for alleged impertinence; and so thoroughly convinced was Susan that the soon-afterwards alleged lunacy of Clara was but a juggling pretence to excuse the restraint under which her aunt-in-law, for the furtherance of her own vile purposes, had determined to keep her, that although out of place at the time, she devoted all the savings of her life, between eighty and ninety pounds, to procure "justice" for the ill-used orphan. This article, Susan was advised, could be best obtained of the lord chancellor; and proceedings were accordingly taken before the keeper of the king's conscience, in order to change the custody of the pretended lunatic. The affidavits filed in support of the petition were, however, so loose and vague, and were met with such positive counter-allegations, that the application was at once dismissed with costs; and poor Susan—rash suitor for "justice"—reduced to absolute penury. These circumstances becoming known to Lady Compton, Susan was taken into her service; and it was principally owing to her frequently-iterated version of the affair that Clara had been forcibly rescued from Mrs. Brandon's son.
On the following morning the patient was much calmer, though her mind still wandered somewhat. Fortified by the authority of the physician, who certified that to remove her, or even to expose her to agitation, would be dangerous, if not fatal, Lady Compton not only refused to deliver her up to Major and Mrs. Brandon, but to allow them to see her. Mrs. Brandon, in a towering rage, posted off to the nearest magistrate, to demand the assistance of peace-officers in obtaining possession of the person of the fugitive. That functionary would, however, only so far comply with the indignant lady's solicitations, as to send his clerk to the castle to ascertain the reason of the young lady's detention; and when his messenger returned with a note, enclosing a copy of the physician's certificate, he peremptorily decided that the conduct of Lady Compton was not only perfectly justifiable, but praiseworthy, and that the matter must remain over till the patient was in a condition to be moved. Things were precisely in this state, except that Clara Brandon had become perfectly rational; and but for an irrepressible nervous dread of again falling into the power of her unscrupulous relative, quite calm, when Mr. Samuel Ferret made his wished-for appearance on the scene of action.
Long and anxious was the conference which Mr. Ferret held with his munificent client and her interesting protegee, if conference that may be called in which the astute attorney enacted the part of listener only, scarcely once opening his thin, cautious lips. In vain did his eager brain silently ransack the whole armory of the law; no weapon could he discern which afforded the slightest hope of fighting a successful battle with a legally-appointed guardian for the custody of his ward. And yet Mr. Ferret felt, as he looked upon the flashing eye and glowing countenance of Lady Compton, as she recounted a few of the grievous outrages inflicted upon the fair and helpless girl reclining beside her—whose varying cheek and meek suffused eyes bore eloquent testimony to the truth of the relation—that he would willingly exert a vigor even beyond the law to meet his client's wishes, could he but see his way to a safe result. At length a ray of light, judging from his suddenly-gleaming eyes, seemed to have broken upon the troubled chambers of his brain, and he rose somewhat hastily from his chair.
"By the by, I will just step and speak to this Susan Hopley, if your ladyship can inform me in what part of the lower regions I am likely to meet with her?"
"Let me ring for her."
"No; if you please not. What I have to ask her is of very little importance; still, to summon her here might give rise to surmises, reports, and so on, which it may be as well to avoid. I had much rather see her accidentally, as it were."
"As you please. You will find her somewhere about the housekeeper's apartments. You know her by sight, I think?"
"Perfectly; and with your leave I'll take the opportunity of directing the horses to be put to. I must be in London by noon to-morrow if possible;" and away Mr. Ferret bustled.
"Susan," said Mr. Ferret a few minutes afterwards, "step this way; I want to have a word with you. Now, tell me are you goose enough to expect you will ever see the money again you so foolishly threw into the bottomless pit of chancery?"
"Of course I shall, Mr. Ferret, as soon as ever Miss Clara comes to her own. She mentioned it only this morning, and said she was sorry she could not repay me at once."
"You are a sensible girl, Susan, though you did go to law with the lord chancellor! I want you to be off with me to London; and then perhaps we may get your money sooner than you expect."
"Oh, bother the money! Is that all you want me to go to Lunnon for?"
Mr. Ferret replied with a wink of such exceeding intelligence, that Susan at once declared she should be ready to start in ten minutes at the latest.
"That's a good creature; and, Susan, as there's not the slightest occasion to let all the world know who's going to run off with you, it may be as well for you to take your bundle and step on a mile or so on the road, say to the turn, just beyond the first turnpike." Susan nodded with brisk good-humor, and disappeared in a twinkling.
An hour afterwards, Mr. Ferret was on his way back to London, having first impressed upon Lady Compton the necessity of immediately relieving herself of the grave responsibility she had incurred towards Major Brandon for the safe custody of his ward, by sending her home immediately. He promised to return on the third day from his departure; but on the nature of the measures he intended to adopt, or the hopes he entertained of success, he was inflexibly silent; and he moreover especially requested that no one, not even Miss Brandon, should know of Susan Hopley's journey to the metropolis.
Mr. Ferret, immediately on his arrival in town, called at my chambers, and related with his usual minuteness and precision as many of the foregoing particulars as he knew and thought proper to communicate to me. For the rest I am indebted to subsequent conversations with the different parties concerned.
"Well," said I, as soon as he had concluded, "what course do you propose to adopt?"
"I wish you to apply, on this affidavit, for a writ of habeas ad sub., to bring up the body of Clara Brandon. Judge Bailey will be at chambers at three o'clock: it is now more than half-past two, and I can be off on my return by four at latest."
"A writ of habeas!" I exclaimed with astonishment. "Why, what end can that answer? The lady will be remanded, and you and I shall be laughed at for our pains."
This writ of habeas corpus "ad subjiciendum," I had better explain to the non-professional reader, is the great prerogative writ, the operation of which is sometimes suspended by the legislature during political panics. It is grounded on the principle that the sovereign has at all times a right to inquire, through the judges of the superior courts, by what authority his or her subject is held in constraint. It issues, as a matter of right, upon the filing of an affidavit, averring that to the best of the belief of the deponent the individual sought to be brought up is illegally confined; and it is of the essence of the proceeding, that the person alleged to be suffering unlawful constraint should actually be brought before the "queen herself;" that is, before one or more of the judges of the court which has issued the writ, who, if they find the detention illegal, the only question at issue upon this writ may discharge or bail the party. It was quite obvious, therefore, that in this case such a proceeding would be altogether futile, as the detention in the house of her guardian, under the sanction, too, of the lord chancellor, the ex-officio custodier of all lunatics—of a ward of alleged disordered intellect—was clearly legal, at least prima facie so, and not to be disturbed under a habeas ad sub. at all events.
"Perhaps so," replied Ferret quite coolly in reply to my exclamation; "but I am determined to try every means of releasing the unfortunate young lady from the cruel thraldom in which she is held by that harridan of an aunt-in-law. She is no more really insane than you are; but at the same time so excitable upon certain topics, that it might be perhaps difficult to disabuse the chancellor or a jury of the impression so industriously propagated to her prejudice. The peremptory rejection by her guardian of young Burford's addresses, though sanctioned by her father: you know the Burfords?"
"Of Grosvenor Street you mean—the East India director?"
"Yes, his son; and that reminds me that the declaration in that everlasting exchequer case must be filed to-morrow. Confound it, how this flying about the country puts one out! I thought some one had kidnapped her son, or fired Compton Castle at least. By the way, I am much deceived if there isn't a wedding there before long."
"Yes, Miss Dalston with Sir Jasper's eldest hope."
"You don't mean it?"
"They do at all events, and that is much more to the purpose. A fine young fellow enough, and sufficiently rich too"—
"All which rambling talk and anecdote," cried I, interrupting him, "means, if I have any skill in reading Mr. Ferret, that that gentleman, having some ulterior purpose in view, which I cannot for the moment divine, is determined to have this writ, and does not wish to be pestered with any argument on the subject. Be it so: it is your affair, not mine. And now, as it is just upon three o'clock, let me see your affidavit."
I ran it over. "Rather loose this, Mr. Ferret, but I suppose it will do."
"Well, it is rather loose, but I could not with safety sail much closer to the wind. By the by, I think you had better first apply for a rule to stay proceedings against the bail in that case of Turner; and after that is decided, just ask for this writ, off-hand as it were, and as a matter of course. His lordship may not then scrutinize the affidavit quite so closely as if he thought counsel had been brought to chambers purposely to apply for it."
"Cautious, Mr. Ferret! Well, come along, and I'll see what I can do."
The writ was obtained without difficulty; few questions were asked; and at my request the judge made it returnable immediately. By four o'clock, Mr. Ferret, who could fortunately sleep as well in a postchaise as in a feather-bed, was, as he had promised himself, on his road to Lancashire once more, where he had the pleasure of serving Major Brandon personally; at the same time tendering in due form the one shilling per mile fixed by the statute as preliminary traveling charges. The vituperative eloquence showered upon Mr. Ferret by the Major's lady was, I afterwards heard, extremely copious and varied, and was borne by him, as I could easily believe, with the most philosophic composure.
In due time the parties appeared before Mr. Justice Bailey. Miss Brandon was accompanied by her uncle, his wife, and a solicitor; and spite of everything I could urge, the judge, as I had forseen, refused to interfere in the matter. The poor girl was dreadfully agitated, but kept, nevertheless, her eyes upon Mr. Ferret, as the source from which, spite of what was passing around her, effectual succor was sure to come. As for that gentleman himself, he appeared composedly indifferent to the proceedings; and indeed, I thought, seemed rather relieved than otherwise when they terminated. I could not comprehend him. Mrs. Brandon, the instant the case was decided, clutched Clara's arm within hers, and, followed by her husband and the solicitor, sailed out of the apartment with an air of triumphant disdain and pride. Miss Brandon looked round for Ferret, but not perceiving him—he had left hastily an instant or two before—her face became deadly pale, and the most piteous expression of hopeless despair I had ever beheld broke from her troubled but singularly-expressive eyes. I mechanically followed, with a half-formed purpose of remonstrating with Major Brandon in behalf of the unfortunate girl, and was by that means soon in possession of the key to Mr. Ferret's apparently inexplicable conduct.
The Brandon party walked very fast, and I had scarcely got up with them as they were turning out of Chancery Lane into Fleet Street, when two men, whose vocation no accustomed eye could for an instant mistake, arrested their further progress. "This lady," said one of the men, slightly touching Miss Brandon on the shoulder, "is, I believe, Clara Brandon?"
"Yes she is; and what of that, fellow?" demanded the major's lady with indignant emphasis.
"Not much, ma'am," replied the sheriff's officer, "when you are used to it. It is my unpleasant duty to arrest her for the sum of eighty-seven pounds, indorsed on this writ, issued at the suit of one Susan Hopley."
"Arrest her!" exclaimed Mrs. Brandon; "why, she is a minor!"
"Minor or major, ma'am, makes very little difference to us. She can plead that hereafter, you know. In the meantime, miss, please to step into this coach," replied the officer, holding the door open.
"But she's a person of unsound mind," screamed the lady, as Clara, nothing loath, sprang into the vehicle.
"So are most people that do business with our establishment," responded the imperturbable official, as he shut and fastened the door. "Here is my card, sir," he added, addressing the attorney, who now came up. "You see where to find the lady, if her friends wish to give bail to the sheriff, or, what is always more satisfactory, pay the debt and costs." He then jumped on the box, his follower got up behind, and away drove the coach, leaving the discomfited major and his fiery better-half in a state of the blankest bewilderment!
"Why, what is the meaning of this?" at length gasped Mrs. Brandon, fiercely addressing the attorney, as if he, were a particeps criminis in the affair.
"The meaning, my dear madame, is, that Miss Clara Brandon is arrested for debt, and carried off to a sponging-house; and that unless you pay the money, or file bail, she will tomorrow be lodged in jail," replied the unmoved man of law.
"Bail! money! How are we to do either in London, away from home?" demanded the major with, for him, much emotion.
I did not wait to hear more, but, almost suffocated with laughter at the success of Ferret's audacious ruse, hastened over to the Temple. I was just leaving chambers for the night—about ten o'clock I think it must have been—when Ferret, in exuberant spirits, burst into the room.
"Well, sir, what do you think now of a writ ad sub.?"
"Why, I think, Mr. Ferret," replied I, looking as serious as I could, "that yours is very sharp practice; that the purpose you have put it to is an abuse of the writ; that the arrest is consequently illegal; and that a judge would, upon motion, quash it with costs."
"To be sure he would: who doubts that? Let him, and welcome! In the meantime, Clara Brandon is safe beyond the reach of all the judges or chancellors that ever wore horsehair, and that everlasting simpleton of a major and his harridan wife roaming the metropolis like distracted creatures; and that I take to be the real essence of the thing, whatever the big-wigs may decide about the shells!"
"I suppose the plaintiff soon discharged her debtor out of custody?"
"Without loss of time, you may be sure. Miss Brandon, I may tell you, is with the Rev. Mr. Derwent at Brompton. You know him: the newly-married curate of St. Margaret's that was examined in that will case. Well him: he is an intelligent, high-principled man; and I have no doubt that, under his and Mrs. Derwent's care, all trace of Miss Brandon's mental infirmity will disappear long before she attains her majority next June twelvemonth; whilst the liberal sum per month which Lady Compton will advance, will be of great service to him"
"That appears all very good. But are you sure you can effectually conceal the place of her retreat?"
"I have no fear: the twigs that will entangle her precious guardians in the labyrinths of a false clue are already set and limed. Before to-morrow night they will have discovered, by means of their own wonderfully-penetrative sagacity, that Clara has been spirited over to France; and before three months are past, the same surprising intelligence will rejoice in the discovery that she expired in a maison de sante—fine comfortable repose, in which fool's paradise I hope to have the honor of awakening them about next June twelvemonth, and not as at present advised before!"
Everything fortunately turned out as Mr. Ferret anticipated; and when a few months had glided by, Clara Brandon was a memory only, save of course to the few entrusted with the secret.
The whirligig of time continued as ever to speed on its course, and bring round in due season its destined revenges. The health, mental and bodily, of Miss Brandon rapidly improved under the kind and judicious treatment of Mr. and Mrs. Derwent; and long before the attainment of her majority, were pronounced by competent authority to be thoroughly re-established. The day following that which completed her twentyfirst year, Mr. Ferret, armed with the necessary authority, had the pleasure of announcing to the relict of Major Brandon (he had been dead some months), and to her brutal son, that they must forthwith depart from the home in which they, to the very moment of his announcement, thought themselves secure; and surrender every shilling of the property they had so long dreamt was their own. They were prostrated by the intelligence, and proved as mean and servile in the hour of adversity, as they had been insolent and cruel in the day of fancied success and prosperity. The pension of three hundred pounds a year for both their lives, proffered by Miss Brandon, was eagerly accepted; and they returned to the obscurity from which they had by accident emerged.
About six months afterwards, I had the pleasure of drawing up the marriage settlement between Clara Brandon and Herbert Burford; and a twelvemonth after, that of standing sponsor to one of the lustiest brats ever sprinkled at a font: none of which delightful results, if we are to believe Mr. Ferret, would have ever been arrived at had not he, at a very critical moment, refused to take counsel's opinion upon the virtues, capabilities, and powers contained in the great writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum.
About forty years ago, Jabez Woodford, a foreman of shipwrights in the Plymouth dockyard, whilst carelessly crossing one of the transverse beams of a seventy-four gun-ship, building in that arsenal, missed his footing, fell to the bottom of the hold of the huge vessel, and was killed on the spot. He left a widow and one child—a boy seven years of age, of placid, endearing disposition, but weak intellect—almost in a state of destitution. He had been a coarse-tempered, improvident man; and like too many of his class, in those days at least, dissipated the whole of his large earnings in present sensuous indulgence, utterly careless or unmindful of the future. Esther Woodford, who, at the time of her husband's death, scarcely numbered five-and-twenty years, was still a remarkably comely, as well as interesting, gentle-mannered person; and moreover had, for her station in life, received a tolerable education. Her rash, ill-assorted marriage with Woodford had been hastily contracted when she was barely seventeen years of age, in consequence of a jealous pique which she, for some silly reason or other, had conceived regarding Henry Mason, an intelligent, young seafaring man, of fair prospects in life, and frank disposition, with whom she had for some time previously, as the west-country phrase has it, "kept company," and who was, moreover, tenderly attached to her. Esther's married life was one long repentance of the rash act; and the severance of the tie which bound her to an ungenial mate—after the subsidence of the natural horror and compassion excited by the sudden and frightful nature of the catastrophe—must have been felt as a most blessed relief. A few weeks afterwards, she accepted an asylum with her brother-in-law, Davies, a market-gardener in the vicinity of Plymouth, where, by persevering industry with her needle, and thrifty helpfulness in her sister's household duties, she endeavored to compensate her kind-hearted relatives for the support of herself and helpless, half-witted child. Mason she had never seen since the day previous to her marriage; but she knew he was prospering in the busy world, and that, some time before her husband's death, he had been appointed chief-mate in a first-class merchant-ship trading to the Pacific. He had sailed about a fortnight previous to that event; and now, ten lazy months having slowly floated past, the lover of her youth, with whom, in that last sunny day of her young life—how distant did it seem, viewed through the long intervening vista of days and nights of grief and tears!—she had danced so joyously beneath the flowering chestnut-trees, was once more near her; and it was—oh happiness!—no longer a sin to think of him—no longer a crime to recall and dwell upon the numberless proofs of the deep affection, the strong love, he had once felt for her. Once felt! Perhaps even now!—How swiftly had the intelligence communicated by her sympathizing sister tinted with bright hues the dark curtain of the future!
"And yet," murmured poor Esther, the flush of hope fading as suddenly as it had arisen, as with meek sad eyes she glanced at the reflection of her features in the small oval glass suspended above the mantel-piece—"I almost doubt, Susy, dear, if he would recognize me; even if old feelings and old times have not long since faded from his memory"—
"Stuff and trumpery about fading away!" broke in Mrs. Davies. "Henry Mason is the same true-hearted man he was eight years ago; and as a proof that he is, just read this letter, which I promised him to give you. There, don't go falling into a flustration; don't now, Esther, and to-morrow market-day and all! Don't cry, Esther," she added vehemently, but at the same time sobbing furiously herself, and throwing her arms round her sister's neck: "but perhaps—perhaps it will do us good, both of us!"
It may he necessary to state that I owe the foregoing particulars to the interest felt by my wife—herself a native of beautiful Devon—in the fortunes of this humble household. Esther was her foster-sister; and it happened that just at this period, it being vacation-time, we were paying a visit to a family in the neighborhood. A few hours after the receipt of the welcome letter, my wife chanced to call on Esther relative to some fancy needlework; and on her return, I was of course favored with very full and florid details of this little bit of cottage romance; the which I, from regard to the reader, have carefully noted down, and as briefly as possible expressed.
We met Henry Mason with his recovered treasure on the following evening; and certainly a more favorable specimen of the vigorous, active, bold-featured, frank-spoken British seaman I never met with. To his comparatively excellent education—for which I understood he was indebted to his mother, a superior woman, who, having fallen from one of the little heights of society, had kept a school at Plymouth—in addition to his correct and temperate habits, he was indebted for the rapid advance—he was but a few months older than Esther—he had obtained in the merchant service. The happiness which beamed upon Esther's face did not appear to be of the exuberant, buoyant character that kindled the ruddy cheek and ran over at the bright, honest eyes of the hardy sailor: there seemed to mingle with it a half-doubting, trembling apprehensiveness; albeit it was not difficult to perceive that, sorrowfully as had passed her noon of prime, an "Indian summer" of the soul was rising upon her brightened existence, and already with its first faint flushes lighting up her meek, doubting eyes, and pale, changing countenance. Willy, her feeble-minded child, frisked and gambolled by their side; and altogether, a happier group than they would, I fancy, have been difficult to find in all broad England.
The next week they were married; and one of the partners in the firm by which Mason was employed happening to dine with us on the day of the wedding, the conversation turned for a few minutes on the bridegroom's character and prospects.
"He has the ring of true metal in him," I remarked; "and is, I should suppose, a capital seaman?"
"A first-rate one," replied Mr. Roberts. "Indeed so high is my father's opinion of him, that he intends to confer upon him the command of a fine brig now building for us in the Thames, and intended for the West India trade. He possesses also singular courage and daring. Twice, under very hazardous circumstances, he has successfully risked his life to save men who had fallen overboard. He is altogether a skilful, gallant seaman."
"Such a man," observed another of the company, "might surely have aspired higher than to the hand of Esther Woodford, dove-eyed and interesting as she may be?"
"Perhaps so," returned Mr. Roberts a little curtly; "though he, it seems, could not have thought so. Indeed it is chiefly of simple-hearted, chivalrous-minded men like Mason that it can be with general truth observed—
'On revient toujours a ses premiers amours.'"
The subject then dropped, and it was a considerable time afterwards, and under altogether altered circumstances, when the newly-married couple once more crossed my path in life.
It was about eight months after his marriage—though he had been profitably enough employed in the interim—that Henry Mason, in consequence of the welcome announcement that the new brig was at last ready for her captain and cargo, arrived in London to enter upon his new appointment.
"These lodgings, Esther," said he, as he was preparing to go out, soon after breakfast, on the morning after his arrival, "are scarcely the thing; and as I, like you, am a stranger in Cockney-land, I had better consult some of the firm upon the subject, before we decide upon permanent ones. In the meantime, you and Willy must mind and keep in doors when I am not with you, or I shall have one or other of you lost in this great wilderness of a city. I shall return in two or three hours. I will order something for dinner as I go along: I have your purse. Good-by: God bless you both."
Inquiring his way every two or three minutes, Mason presently found himself in the vicinity of Tower Stairs. A scuffle in front of a public-house attracted his attention; and his ready sympathies were in an instant enlisted in behalf of a young sailor, vainly struggling in the grasp of several athletic men, and crying lustily on the gaping bystanders for help. Mason sprang forward, caught one of the assailants by the collar, and hurled him with some violence against the wall. A fierce outcry greeted this audacious interference with gentlemen who, in those good old times, were but executing the law in a remarkably good old manner. Lieutenant Donnagheu, a somewhat celebrated snapper-up of loose mariners, emerged upon the scene; and in a few minutes was enabled to exult in the secure possession of an additional prize in the unfortunate Henry Mason, who, too late, discovered that he had embroiled himself with a pressgang! Desperate, frenzied were the efforts he made to extricate himself from the peril in which he had rashly involved himself. In vain! His protestations that he was a mate, a captain, in the merchant service, were unheeded or mocked at.
To all his remonstrances he only got the professional answer—"His majesty wants you, and that is enough; so come along, and no more about it."
Bruised, exhausted, almost mad, he was borne off in triumph to a boat, into which he was thrust with several others, and swiftly rowed off to a receiving-ship in the river. Even there his assertions and protestations were of no avail. Nothing but an Admiralty order, the officer in command candidly told him, should effect his liberation. His majesty was in need of seamen; and he was evidently too smart a one to be deprived of the glory of serving his country. "You must therefore," concluded the officer, as he turned laughingly upon his heel, "do as thousands of other fine fellows have been compelled to do—'grin and bear it.'" In about three weeks from the date of his impressment Mason found himself serving in the Mediterranean on board the "Active" frigate, Captain Alexander Gordon, without having been permitted one opportunity of communicating with the shore. This was certainly very sharp, but it was not the less very common practice in those great days of triumphant battles by land and sea.
Very drearily passed the time with the bereaved wife. Her husband had promised to send home something for dinner, and various groceries; yet hour after hour went past, and nothing arrived. Morning flushed into noon, day faded to twilight, and still the well-known and always eager step sounded not upon the stairs! What could have detained him from his wife, shut up, imprisoned, as it were, in that hot, hurrying, stifling city? She feared to listen to the suggestions of her boding heart; and with feverish restlessness ran out upon the landing, and peered over the stairs every time a knock or ring was heard at the street-door. This strange behavior was, it seems, noticed by the landlady of the lodging-house, and injuriously interpreted. A knock came to the door, and that person entered to know at what time Mrs. ——, she had forgotten the young woman's name, expected the dinner, she, the landlady, had undertaken to cook.
Esther timidly replied that her husband had promised to return in two or three hours at latest; and that she did not comprehend his continued absence—was indeed quite alarmed about it—
"Your husband!" said the woman, glancing insolently at Esther's figure. "Are you sure he is your husband?"
The hot blood suffused the temples of the indignant wife as she said, "This apartment, madam, I believe is mine?"
"Oh, certainly, as long as you can pay for it;" and rudely slamming the door, the landlady departed.
The long wretched night at last over, Esther rose with the light; and after giving her son his breakfast from the remains of that of the day before, set off with him to the place of business of the Messrs. Roberts. It was early, and one clerk only had as yet arrived at the office. He informed her that Mr. Henry Mason had not been seen, and that the partners were greatly annoyed about it, as his immediate presence was absolutely necessary.
Stunned, terrified, bewildered by the frightful calamity which she believed had befallen her, she felt convinced that her husband had been entrapped and murdered for the sake of the money he had about him: the wretched woman tottered back to her lodgings, and threw herself on the bed in wild despair. What was to be done for food even for her boy? Her husband had not only his pocket-book with him containing his larger money, but had taken her purse! She was alone and penniless in a strange city! The hungry wailings of her witless child towards evening at length aroused her from the stupor of despair into which she had fallen. The miserable resource of pawning occurred to her: she could at least, by pledging a part of her wardrobe, procure sustenance for her child till she could hear from her sister; and with trembling hands she began arranging a bundle of such things as she could best spare, when the landlady abruptly entered the room, with a peremptory demand—as her husband was not returned, and did not appear likely to do so—for a month's rent in advance, that being the term the apartments were engaged for. The tears, entreaties, expostulations of the miserable wife were of no avail. Not one article, the woman declared, should leave her house till her claim was settled. She affected to doubt, perhaps really did so, that Esther was married; and hinted coarsely at an enforcement of the laws against persons who had no visible means of subsistence. In a paroxysm of despair, the unhappy woman rushed out of the house; and accompanied by her hungry child, again sought the counting-house of the Messrs. Roberts. She was now as much too late as she had been too early in the morning: the partners and clerks had gone, and she appears to have been treated with some rudeness by the porter, who was closing the premises when she arrived. Possibly the wildness of her looks, and the incoherence of her speech and manner, produced an impression unfavorable to her. Retracing her steps—penniless, hungry, sick at heart—she thought, as she afterwards declared, that she recognized my wife in one of the numerous ladies seated before the counters of a fashionable shop in one of the busiest thoroughfares. She entered, and not till she approached close to the lady discovered her mistake. She turned despairingly away; when a piece of rich lace, lying apparently unheeded on the counter, met her eye, and a dreadful suggestion crossed her fevered brain; here at least was the means of procuring food for her wailing child. She glanced hastily and fearfully round. No eye, she thought, observed her; and, horror of horrors! a moment afterwards she had concealed the lace beneath her shawl, and with tottering feet was hastily leaving the shop. She had not taken half-a-dozen steps when a heavy hand was laid upon her shoulder, and a voice, as of a serpent hissing in her ear, commanded her to restore the lace she had stolen. Transfixed with shame and terror, she stood rooted to the spot, and the lace fell on the floor.
"Fetch an officer," said the harsh voice, addressing one of the shopmen.
"No—no—no!" screamed the wretched woman, falling on her knees in wild supplication. "For my child's sake—in mercy of the innocent babe as yet unborn—pity and forgive me!"
The harsh order was iterated; and Esther Mason, fainting with shame and agony, was conveyed to the prison in Giltspur Street. The next day she was fully committed to Newgate on the capital charge of privately stealing in a shop to the value of five pounds. A few hours after her incarceration within those terrible walls, she was prematurely delivered of a female child.
I have no moral doubt whatever, I never have had, that at the time of the committal of the felonious act, the intellect of Esther Mason was disordered. Any other supposition is inconsistent with the whole tenor of her previous life and character "Lead us not into temptation" is indeed the holiest, because the humblest prayer.
Three weeks had elapsed before the first intimation of these events reached me, in a note from the chaplain of Newgate, an excellent, kind-hearted man, to whom Mrs. Mason had confided her sad story. I immediately hastened to the prison; and in a long interview with her, elicited the foregoing statement. I readily assured her that all which legal skill could do to extricate her from the awful position in which she stood, the gravity of which I did not affect to conceal, should be done. The offence with which she was charged had supplied the scaffold with numberless victims; and tradesmen were more than ever clamorous for the stern execution of a law which, spite of experience, they still regarded as the only safeguard of their property. My wife was overwhelmed with grief; and in her anxiety to save her unhappy foster-sister, sought, without my knowledge, an interview with the prosecutor, in the hope of inducing him not to press the charge. Her efforts were unavailing. He had suffered much, he said, from such practices, and was "upon principle" determined to make an example of every offender he could catch. As to the plea that the husband had been forcibly carried off by a pressgang, it was absurd; for what would become of the property of tradesmen if the wife of every sailor so entrapped were to be allowed to plunder shops with impunity? This magnificent reasoning was of course unanswerable; and the rebuked petitioner abandoned her bootless errand in despair. Messrs. Roberts, I should have mentioned, had by some accident discovered the nature of the misfortune which had befallen their officer, and had already made urgent application to the Admiralty for his release.
The Old Bailey sessions did not come on for some time: I, however, took care to secure at once, as I did not myself practice in that court, the highest talent which its bar afforded. Willy, who had been placed in a workhouse by the authorities, we had properly taken care of till he could be restored to his mother; or, in the event of her conviction, to his relatives in Devonshire.
The sessions were at last on: a "true bill" against Esther Mason for shoplifting, as it was popularly termed, was unhesitatingly found, and with a heavy heart I wended my way to the court to watch the proceedings. A few minutes after I entered, Mr. Justice Le Blanc and Mr. Baron Wood, who had assisted at an important case of stockjobbing conspiracy, just over, left the bench: the learned recorder being doubtless considered quite equal to the trial of a mere capital charge of theft.
The prisoner was placed in the dock; but try as I might, I could not look at her. It happened to be a calm bright summer day; the air, as if in mockery of those death-sessions, humming with busy, lusty life; so that, sitting with my back to the prisoner, I could, as it were, read her demeanor in the shadow thrown by her figure on the opposite sun-lighted wall. There she stood, during the brief moments which sealed her earthly doom, with downcast eyes and utterly dejected posture; her thin fingers playing mechanically with the flowers and sweet-scented herbs spread scantily before her. The trial was very brief: the evidence, emphatically conclusive, was confidently given, and vainly cross-examined. Nothing remained but an elaborate ad misericordiam excusative defence, which had been prepared by me, and which the prisoner begged her counsel might be allowed to read. This was of course refused; the recorder remarking, they might as well allow counsel for felons to address juries, as read defences; and that, as every practical man knew, would be utterly subversive of the due administration of justice. The clerk of the court would read the paper, if the prisoner felt too agitated to do so. This was done; and very vilely done. The clerk, I dare say, read as well as he was able; but old, near-sighted, and possessed of anything but a clear enunciation, what could be expected? The defence, so read, produced not the slightest effect either on the court or jury. The recorder briefly commented on the conclusiveness of the evidence for the prosecution; and the jury, in the same brief, business-like manner, returned a verdict of Guilty.
"What have you to say," demanded the clerk, "why sentence of death should not be pronounced upon you, according to law?"
The shadow started convulsively as the terrible words fell from the man's lips; and I saw that the suddenly-upraised eyes of the prisoner were fastened on the face of the fearful questioner. The lips, too, appeared to move; but no sound reached my ears.
"Speak, woman," said the recorder; "if you have anything to urge before sentence is pronounced."
I started up, and turning to the prisoner, besought her in hurried accents to speak. "Remind them of the infant at your breast—your husband"—
"Who is that conferring with the prisoner?" demanded the judge in an angry voice.
I turned, and confronted him with a look as cold and haughty as his own. He did not think proper to pursue the inquiry further; and after muttering something about the necessity of not interrupting the proceedings of the court, again asked the prisoner if she had anything to urge.
"Not for myself—not for my sake," at last faintly murmured the trembling woman; "but for that of my poor dear infant—my poor witless boy! I do not think, sir, I was in my right mind. I was starving. I was friendless. My husband, too, whom you have heard"—She stopped abruptly; a choking sob struggled in her throat; and but for the supporting arm of one of the turnkeys, she would have fallen to the ground.
"Unhappy, guilty woman," said the recorder, with the coolness of a demon, "the plea of insanity you would set up is utterly untenable. Your husband, it seems, is serving his majesty in the royal navy; defending his country, whilst his wife was breaking its laws, by the commission of a crime which, but for the stern repression of the law, would sap the foundations of the security of property, and"—
I could endure no more. The atmosphere of the court seemed to stifle me; and I rushed for relief into the open air. Before, however, I had reached the street, a long, piercing scream informed me that the learned judge had done his duty.
No effort was spared during the interval which elapsed previous to the recorder presenting his report to the privy-counsel—a peculiar privilege at that time attached to the office—to procure a mitigation of the sentence. A petition, setting forth the peculiar circumstances of the case, was carefully prepared; and by the indefatigable exertions of an excellent Quaker gentleman—whom, as he is still alive, and might not choose to have his name blazoned to the world, I will call William Friend—was soon very numerously signed. The prosecutor, however, obstinately refused to attach his name to the document; and the absence of his signature—so strangely did men reason on such matters in those days—would, it was feared, weigh heavily against the success of the petition. The amiable and enlightened Sir Samuel Romilly not only attached his name, but aided us zealously by his advice and influence. In short, nothing was omitted that appeared likely to attain the desired object.
Two days before the petition was to be forwarded to the proper quarter, Henry Mason arrived in England, the exertions of his employers having procured his discharge. The "Active" was one of Captain Hoste's squadron, which obtained the celebrated victory off Lissa, over the Franco-Venetian fleet commanded by Admiral Dobourdieu. Henry Mason, it appeared by the testimonials of the captain and officers of his ship, had greatly distinguished himself in the action. We inclosed these papers with the petition; and then, having done all in our power, awaited with anxious impatience the result of the recorder's report. It was announced to me, as I was sitting somewhat later than usual at chambers, by Mr. William Friend. The judgment to die was confirmed! All our representations had not sufficed to counterbalance the supposed necessity of exhibiting terrible examples of the fate awaiting the perpetrators of an offence said to be greatly on the increase. Excellent William Friend wept like a child as he made the announcement.
There are many persons alive who recollect this horrible tragedy—this national disgrace—this act of gross barbarity on the part of the great personage, who, first having carried off the poor woman's husband, left her to die for an act the very consequence of that robbery. Who among the spectators can ever forget that heart-rending scene—the hangman taking the baby from the breast of the wretched creature just before he put her to death! But let us not rake up these terrible reminiscences. Let us hope that the truly guilty are forgiven. And let us take consolation from reflecting that this event led the great Romilly to enter on his celebrated career as a reformer of the criminal law.
The remains of Esther Mason were obtained from the Newgate officials, and quietly interred in St. Sepulchre's church-yard. A plain slab, with her name only plainly chiselled upon it, was some time afterwards placed above the grave. A few years ago I attended a funeral in the same grave-yard; and after a slight search, discovered the spot. The inscription, though of course much worn, was still quite legible.
I had not seen Henry Mason since his return; but I was glad to hear from Mr. William Friend that, after the first passionate burst of rage and grief had subsided, he had, apparently at least, thanks to the tender and pious expostulations of his wife—with whom, by the kind intervention of the sheriffs, he was permitted long and frequent interviews—settled down into calmness and resignation. One thing only he would not bear to hear even from her, and that was any admission that she had been guilty of, even the slightest offence. A hint of the kind, however unintentional, would throw him into a paroxysm of fury; and the subject was consequently in his presence studiously avoided.
A few days after the execution, Mr. William Friend called on me just after breakfast, accompanied by the bereaved husband. I never saw so changed a man. All the warm kindliness of his nature had vanished, and was replaced by a gloomy fierce austerity, altogether painful to contemplate.
"Well, sir," said he, as he barely touched my proffered hand, "they have killed her, you see, spite of all you could say or do. It much availed me, too, that I had helped to win their boasted victories;" and he laughed with savage bitterness.
"Henry—Henry!" exclaimed William Friend, in a reproving accent.
"Well, well, sir," rejoined Mason, impatiently, "you are a good man, and have of course your own notions on these matters; I also have mine. Or, perhaps, you think it is only the blood of the rich and great which, shed unjustly, brings forth the iron harvest? Forgive me," he added, checking himself. "I respect you both; but my heart is turned to stone. You do not know—none ever knew but I—how kind, how loving, how gentle was that poor long-suffering girl."
He turned from us to hide the terrible agony which convulsed him.
"Henry," said Mr. Friend, taking him kindly by the hand, "we pity thee sincerely, as thou knowest; but thy bitter, revengeful expressions are unchristian, sinful. The authorities whom thou, not for the first time, railest on so wildly, acted, be sure of it, from a sense of duty; a mistaken one, in my opinion, doubtless; still"—
"Say no more, sir," interrupted Mason. "We differ in opinion upon the subject. And now, gentlemen, farewell. I wished to see you, sir, before I left this country forever, to thank you for your kind, though fruitless exertions. Mr. Friend has promised to be steward for poor Willy of all I can remit for his use. Farewell! God bless you both!" He was gone!
War soon afterwards broke out with the United States of America, and Mr. Friend discovered that one of the most active and daring officers in the Republican navy was Henry Mason, who had entered the American service in the maiden name of his wife; and that the large sums he had remitted from time to time for the use of Willy, were the produce of his successful depredations on British commerce. The instant Mr. Friend made the discovery, he refused to pollute his hands with moneys so obtained, and declined all further agency in the matter. Mason, however, contrived to remit through some other channel to the Davies's, with whom the boy had been placed; and a rapid improvement in their circumstances was soon visible. These remittances ceased about the middle of 1814; and a twelvemonth after the peace with America, we ascertained that Henry Mason had been killed in the battle on Lake Champlain, where he had distinguished himself, as everywhere else, by the reckless daring and furious hate with which he fought against the country which, in his unreasoning frenzy, he accused of the murder of his wife. He was recognized by one of his former messmates in the "Active;" who, conveyed a prisoner on board the American commander Macdonough's ship, recognized him as he lay stretched on the deck, in the uniform of an American naval officer; his countenance, even in death, wearing the same stormful defiant expression which it assumed on the day that his beloved Esther perished on the scaffold.
THE MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT
"It is really time that a properly-qualified governess had charge of those girls," observed my wife, as Mary and Kate after a more than usually boisterous romp with their papa, left the room for bed. I may here remark, inter alia, that I once surprised a dignified and highly-distinguished judge at a game of blindman's buff with his children, and very heartily he appeared to enjoy it too. "It is really time that a properly-qualified governess had charge of those girls. Susan May did very well as a nursery teacher, but they are now far beyond her control. I cannot attend to their education, and as for you"—The sentence was concluded by a shrug of the shoulders and a toss of the head, eloquently expressive of the degree of estimation in which my governing powers were held.
"Time enough, surely, for that," I exclaimed, as soon as I had composed myself; for I was a little out of breath. "They may, I think, rub along with Susan for another year or two, Mary is but seven years of age"—
"Eight years, if you please. She was eight years old last Thursday three weeks."
"Eight years! Then we must have been married nine; Bless me, how the time has flown: it seems scarcely so many weeks!"
"Nonsense," rejoined my wife with a sharpness of tone and a rigidity of facial muscle which, considering the handsome compliment I had just paid her, argued, I was afraid, a foregone conclusion. "You always have recourse to some folly of that sort whenever I am desirous of entering into a serious consultation on family affairs."
There was some truth in this, I confess. The "consultations" which I found profitable were not serious ones with my wife upon domestic matters; leading, as they invariably did, to a diminution instead of an increase of the little balance at the banker's. If such a proposition could therefore be evaded or adjourned by even an extravagant compliment, I considered it well laid out. But the expedient, I found, was one which did not improve by use. For some time after marriage it answered remarkably well; but each succeeding year of wedded bliss marked its rapidly-declining efficacy.
"Well, well; go on."
"I say it is absolutely necessary that a first-rate governess should be at once engaged. Lady Maldon has been here to-day, and she"—
"Oh, I thought it might be her new ladyship's suggestion. I wish the 'fountain of honor' was somewhat charier of its knights and ladies, and then perhaps"—
"What, for mercy's sake, are you running on about?" interrupted the lady with peremptory emphasis. "Fountains of honor, forsooth! One would suppose, to hear you talk in that wild, nonsensical way, that you were addressing a bench of judges sitting in banco, instead of a sensible person solicitous for her and your children's welfare."
"Bless the woman," thought I; "what an exalted idea she appears to have of forensic eloquence! Proceed, my love," I continued; "there is a difference certainly; and I am all attention."
"Lady Maldon knows a young lady—a distant relative, in deed, of hers—whom she is anxious to serve"—
"At our expense."
"How can you be so ungenerous? Edith Willoughby is the orphan daughter of the late Reverend Mr. Willoughby, curate of Heavy Tree in Warwickshire, I believe; and was specially educated for a first-class governess and teacher. She speaks French with the true Parisian accent, and her Italian, Lady Maldon assures me, is pure Tuscan"—
"She dances with grace and elegance; plays the harp and piano with skill and taste; is a thorough artiste in drawing and painting; and is, moreover, very handsome—though beauty, I admit, is an attribute which in a governess might be very well dispensed with."
"True; unless, indeed, it were catching."
I need not prolong this connubial dialogue. It is sufficient to state that Edith Willoughby was duly installed in office on the following day; and that, much to my surprise, I found that her qualifications for the charge she had undertaken were scarcely overcolored. She was a well-educated, elegant, and beautiful girl, of refined and fascinating manners, and possessed of one of the sweetest, gentlest dispositions that ever charmed and graced the family and social circle. She was, I often thought, for her own chance of happiness, too ductile, too readily yielding to the wishes and fancies of others. In a very short time I came to regard her as a daughter, and with my wife and children she was speedily a prodigious favorite. Mary and Kate improved rapidly under her judicious tuition, and I felt for once positively grateful to busy Lady Maldon for her officious interference in my domestic arrangements.
Edith Willoughby had been domiciled with us about two years, when Mr. Harlowe, a gentleman of good descent and fine property, had occasion to call several times at my private residence on business relating to the purchase of a house in South Audley Street, the title to which exhibited by the venders was not of the most satisfactory kind. On one occasion he stayed to dine with us, and I noticed that he seemed much struck by the appearance of our beautiful and accomplished governess. His evident emotion startled and pained me in a much higher degree than I could have easily accounted for even to myself. Mr. Harlowe was a widower, past his first youth certainly, but scarcely more than two or three-and-thirty years of age, wealthy, not ill-looking, and, as far as I knew, of average character in society. Surely an excellent match, if it should come to that, for an orphan girl rich only in fine talents and gentle affections. But I could not think so. I disliked the man—instinctively disliked and distrusted him; for I could assign no very positive motive for my antipathy.