I was about, a few minutes after the conclusion of this strange and unexpected address, to call our witnesses to character, when, to the surprise of the whole court, and the consternation of the prisoner, Miss Carrington started up, threw aside her veil, and addressing the judge, demanded to be heard.
Queenly, graceful, and of touching loveliness did she look in her vehemence of sorrow—radiant as sunlight in her days of joy she must have been—as she stood up, affection-prompted, regardless of self, of the world, to make one last effort to save her affianced husband.
"What would you say, young lady?" said Mr. Justice Grose, kindly. "If you have anything to testify in favor of the prisoner, you had better communicate with his counsel."
"Not that—not that," she hurriedly replied, as if fearful that her strength would fail before she had enunciated her purpose. "Put, my lord, put Frederick—the prisoner, I mean—on his oath. Bid him declare, as he shall answer at the bar of Almighty God, who is the murderer for whom he is about to madly sacrifice himself, and you will then find"—
"Your request is an absurd one," interrupted the judge with some asperity. "I have no power to question a prisoner."
"Then," shrieked the unfortunate lady, sinking back fainting and helpless in her father's arms, "he is lost—lost!"
She was immediately carried out of court; and as soon as the sensation caused by so extraordinary and painful an incident had subsided, the trial proceeded. A cloud of witnesses to character were called; the judge summed up; the jury deliberated for a few minutes; and a verdict of "guilty" was returned. Sentence to die on the day after the next followed, and all was over!
Yes; all was, we deemed, over; but happily a decree, reversing that of Mr. Justice Grose, had gone forth in Heaven. I was sitting at home about an hour after the court had closed, painfully musing on the events of the day, when the door of the apartment suddenly flew open, and in rushed Mr. Sharpe in a state of great excitement, accompanied by Sergeant Edwards, whom the reader will remember had called the previous day at that gentleman's house. In a few minutes I was in possession of the following important information, elicited by Mr. Sharpe from the half-willing, half-reluctant sergeant, whom he had found waiting for him at his office:—
In the first place, Captain Everett was not the father of the prisoner! The young man was the son of Mary Fitzhugh by her first marriage; and his name, consequently, was Mordaunt, not Everett. His mother had survived her second marriage barely six months. Everett, calculating doubtless upon the great pecuniary advantages which would be likely to result to himself as the reputed father of the heir to a splendid English estate, should the quarrel with Mrs. Eleanor Fitzhugh—as he nothing doubted—be ultimately made up, had brought his deceased wife's infant son up as his own. This was the secret of Edwards and his wife; and to purchase their silence, Captain Everett had agreed to give the bond for an annuity which Mr. Sharpe was to draw up. The story of the legacy was a mere pretence. When Edwards was in Yorkshire before, Everett pacified him for the time with a sum of money, and a promise to do more for him as soon as his reputed son came into the property. He then hurried the cidevant sergeant back to London; and at the last interview he had with him, gave him a note addressed to a person living in one of the streets—I forget which—leading out of the Haymarket, together with a five-pound note, which he was to pay the person to whom the letter was addressed for some very rare and valuable powder, which the captain wanted for scientific purposes, and which Edwards was to forward by coach to Woodlands Manor-House. Edwards obeyed his instructions, and delivered the message to the queer bushy-bearded foreigner to whom it was addressed, who told him that, if he brought him the sum of money mentioned in the note on the following day, he should have the article required. He also bade him bring a well-stoppered bottle to put it in. As the bottle was to be sent by coach, Edwards purchased a tin flask, as affording a better security against breakage; and having obtained the powder, packed it nicely up, and told his niece, who was staying with him at the time, to direct it, as he was in a hurry to go out, to Squire Everett, Woodlands Manor-House, Yorkshire, and then take it to the booking-office. He thought, of course, though he said Squire in a jocular way, that she would have directed it Captain Everett, as she knew him well; but it seemed she had not. Edwards had returned to Yorkshire only two days since, to get his annuity settled, and fortunately was present in court at the trial of Frederick Mordaunt, alias Everett, and at once recognized the tin flask as the one he had purchased and forwarded to Woodlands, where it must in due course have arrived on the day stated by the butler. Terrified and bewildered at the consequences of what he had done, or helped to do, Edwards hastened to Mr. Sharpe, who, by dint of exhortations, threats, and promises, judiciously blended, induced him to make a clean breast of it.
As much astounded as elated by this unlooked-for information, it was some minutes before I could sufficiently concentrate my thoughts upon the proper course to be pursued. I was not, however, long in deciding. Leaving Mr. Sharpe to draw up an affidavit of the facts disclosed, I hastened off to the jail, in order to obtain a thorough elucidation of all the mysteries.
The revulsion of feeling in the prisoner's mind when he learned that the man for whom he had so recklessly sacrificed himself was not only not his father, but a cold-blooded villain, who, according to the testimony of Sergeant Edwards, had embittered, perhaps shortened, his mother's last hours, was immediate and excessive. "I should have taken Lucy's advice!" he bitterly exclaimed, as he strode to and fro in his cell; "have told the truth at all hazards, and have left the rest to God." His explanation of the incidents that had so puzzled us all, was as simple as satisfactory. He had always, from his earliest days, stood much in awe of his father, who in the, to young Mordaunt, sacred character of parent, exercised an irresistible control over him; and when the butler entered the library, he believed for an instant it was his father who had surprised him in the act of reading his correspondence; an act which, however unintentional, would, he knew, excite Captain Everett's fiercest wrath. Hence arose the dismay and confusion which the butler had described. He re-sealed the parcel, and placed it in his reputed father's dressing-room; and thought little more of the matter, till, on entering his aunt's bedroom on the first evening of her illness, he beheld Everett pour a small portion of white powder from the tin flask into the bottle containing his aunt's medicine. The terrible truth at once flashed upon him. A fierce altercation immediately ensued in the father's dressing-room, whither Frederick followed him. Everett persisted that the powder was a celebrated Eastern medicament, which would save, if anything could, his aunt's life. The young man was not of course deceived by this shallow falsehood, and from that moment administered the medicine to the patient with his own hands, and kept the bottles which contained it locked up in his cabinet. "On the very morning of my aunt's death, I surprised him shutting and locking one of my cabinet drawers. So dumbfounded was I with horror and dismay at the sight, that he left the room by a side-door without observing me. You have now the key to my conduct. I loathed to look upon the murderer; but I would have died a thousand deaths rather than attempt to save my own life by the sacrifice of a father's—how guilty soever he might be."
Furnished with this explanation, and the affidavit of Edwards, I waited upon the judge, and obtained not only a respite for the prisoner, but a warrant for the arrest of Captain Everett.
It was a busy evening. Edwards was despatched to London in the friendly custody of an intelligent officer, to secure the person of the foreign-looking vender of subtle poisons; and Mr. Sharpe, with two constables, set off in a postchaise for Woodlands Manor-House. It was late when they arrived there, and the servants informed them that Captain Everett had already retired. They of course insisted upon seeing him; and he presently appeared, wrapped in a dressing-gown, and haughtily demanded their business with him at such an hour. The answer smote him as with a thunderbolt, and he staggered backwards, till arrested by the wall of the apartment, and then sank feebly, nervelessly, into a chair. Eagerly, after a pause, he questioned the intruders upon the nature of the evidence against him. Mr. Sharpe briefly replied that Edwards was in custody, and had revealed everything.
"Is it indeed so?" rejoined Everett, seeming to derive resolution and fortitude from the very extremity of despair. "Then the game is unquestionably lost. It was, however, boldly and skilfully played, and I am not a man to whimper over a fatal turn of the dice. In a few minutes, gentlemen," he added, "I shall have changed my dress, and be ready to accompany you."
"We cannot lose sight of you for an instant," replied Mr. Sharpe. "One of the officers must accompany you."
"Be it so: I shall not detain either him or you long."
Captain Everett, followed by the officer, passed into his dressing-room. He pulled off his gown; and pointing to a coat suspended on a peg at the further extremity of the apartment, requested the constable to reach it for him. The man hastened to comply with his wish. Swiftly, Everett opened a dressing-case which stood on a table near him: the officer heard the sharp clicking of a pistol-lock, and turned swiftly round. Too late! A loud report rang through the house; the room was filled with smoke; and the wretched assassin and suicide lay extended on the floor a mangled corpse!
It would be useless minutely to recapitulate, the final winding-up of this eventful drama. Suffice it to record, that Mr. Frederick Mordaunt was, after a slight delay, restored to freedom and a splendid position in society. After the lapse of a decent interval, he espoused Lucy Carrington. Their eldest son represents in this present parliament one of the English boroughs, and is by no means an undistinguished member of the Commons House.
"THE ACCOMMODATION BILL."
Such of the incidents of the following narrative as did not fall within my own personal observation, were communicated to me by the late Mr. Ralph Symonds, and the dying confessions of James Hornby, one of the persons killed by the falling in of the iron roof of the Brunswick Theatre. A conversation the other day with a son of Mr. Symonds, who has been long settled in London, recalled the entire chain of circumstances to my memory with all the vivid distinctness of a first impression.
One evening towards the close of the year 1806, the Leeds coach brought Mr. James Hornby to the village of Pool, on the Wharf, in the West-Riding of Yorkshire. A small but respectable house on the confines of the place had been prepared for his reception, and a few minutes after his descent from the top of the coach, the pale, withered-looking man disappeared within it. Except for occasional trips to Otley, a small market-town distant about three miles from Pool, he rarely afterwards emerged from its seclusion. It was not Time, we shall presently see—he was indeed but four-and-forty years of age—that had bowed his figure, thinned his whitening hair, and banished from his countenance all signs of healthy, cheerful life. This, too, appeared to be the opinion of the gossips of the village, who, congregated, as usual, to witness the arrival and departure of the coach, indulged, thought Mr. Symonds, who was an inside passenger proceeding on to Otley, in remarkably free-and-easy commentaries upon the past, present, and future of the new-comer.
"I mind him well," quavered an old white-haired man. "It's just three-and-twenty years ago last Michaelmas. I remember it because of the hard frost two years before, that young Jim Hornby left Otley to go to Lunnon: just the place, I'm told, to give the finishing polish to such a miscreant as he seemed likely to be. He was just out of his time to old Hornby, his uncle, the grocer."
"He that's left him such heaps of money?"
"Ay, boy, the very same, though he wouldn't have given him or any one else a cheese-paring whilst he lived. This one is a true chip of the old block, I'll warrant. You noticed that he rode outside, bitter cold as it is?".
"Surely, Gaffer Hicks. But do ye mind what it was he went off in such a skurry for? Tom Harris was saying last night at the Horse-Shoe, it was something concerning a horse-race or a young woman; he warn't quite sensible which."
"I can't say," rejoined the more ancient oracle, "that I quite mind all the ups and downs of it. Henry Burton horse-whipped him on the Doncaster race-course, that I know; but whether it was about Cinderella that had, they said, been tampered with the night before the race, or Miss Elizabeth Grainsford, whom Burton married a few weeks afterwards, I can't, as Tom Harris says, quite clearly remember."
"Old Hornby had a heavy grip of Burton's farm for a long time before he died, they were saying yesterday at Otley. The sheepskins will now no doubt be in the nephew's strong box."
"True, lad; and let's hope Master Burton will be regular with his payments; for if not, there's Jail and Ruin for him written in capital letters on yon fellow's cast-iron phiz, I can see."
The random hits of these Pool gossips, which were here interrupted by the departure of the coach, were not very wide of the mark. James Hornby, it was quite true, had been publicly horsewhipped twenty-three years before by Henry Burton on the Doncaster race-course, ostensibly on account of the sudden withdrawal of a horse that should have started, a transaction with which young Hornby was in some measure mixed up; but especially and really for having dared, upon the strength of presumptive heirship to his uncle's wealth, to advance pretensions to the fair hand of Elizabeth Gainsford, the eldest daughter of Mr. Robert Gainsford, surgeon, of Otley—pretensions indirectly favored, it was said, by the father, but contemptuously repudiated by the lady. Be this as it may, three weeks after the races, Elizabeth Gainsford became Mrs. Burton, and James Hornby hurried off to London, grudgingly furnished for the journey by his uncle. He obtained a situation as shopman in one of the large grocer establishments of the metropolis; and twenty-three years afterwards, the attorney's letter, informing him that he had succeeded to all his deceased uncle's property, found him in the same place, and in the same capacity.
A perfect yell of delight broke from the lips of the taciturn man as his glance devoured the welcome intelligence. "At last!" he shouted with maniacal glee; and fiercely crumpling the letter in his hand, as if he held a living foe in his grasp, whilst a flash of fiendish passion broke from the deep caverns of his sunken eyes—"at last I have thee on the hip! Ah, mine enemy!—it is the dead—the dead alone that never return to hurl back on the head of the wrong-doer the shame, the misery, the ruin he inflicted in his hour of triumph!" The violence of passions suddenly unreined after years of jealous curb and watchfulness for a moment overcame him, and he reeled as if fainting, into a chair. The fierce, stern nature of the man soon mastered the unwonted excitement, and in a few minutes he was cold, silent, impassable as ever. The letter which he despatched the same evening gave calm, business orders as to his uncle's funeral, and other pressing matters upon which the attorney had demanded instructions, and concluded by intimating that he should be in Yorkshire before many days elapsed. He arrived, as we have seen, and took up his abode at one of the houses bequeathed to him in Pool, which happened to be unlet.
Yes, for more than twenty bitter years James Hornby had savagely brooded over the shame and wrong inflicted on him before the mocking eyes of a brutal crowd by Henry Burton. Ever as the day's routine business closed, and he retired to the dull solitude of his chamber, the last mind-picture which faded on his waking sense was the scene on the crowded race-course, with all its exasperating accessories—the merciless exultation of the triumphant adversary—the jibes and laughter of his companions—the hootings of the mob—to be again repeated with fantastic exaggeration in the dreams which troubled and perplexed his broken sleep. No wonder that the demons of Revenge and Hate, by whom he was thus goaded, should have withered by their poisonous breath the healthful life which God had given—have blasted with premature old age a body rocker with curses to unblessed repose! It seemed, by his after-confessions, that he had really loved Elizabeth Gainsford with all the energy of his violent, moody nature, and that her image, fresh, lustrous, radiant, as in the dawn of life, unceasingly haunted his imagination with visions of tenderness and beauty, lost to him, as he believed, through the wiles, the calumnies, and violence of his detested, successful rival.
The matronly person who, a few days after the Christmas following Hornby's arrival at Pool, was conversing with her husband in the parlor of Grange farmhouse, scarcely realized the air-drawn image which dwelt in the memory of the unforgiving, unforgetting man. Mrs. Burton was at this time a comely dame, whose embonpoint contour, however indicative of florid health and serenity of temper, exhibited little of the airy elegance and grace said to have distinguished the girlhood of Elizabeth Gainsford. Her soft brown eyes were gentle and kind as ever, but the brilliant lights of youth no longer sparkled in their quiet depths, and time had not only "thinned her flowing hair"—necessitating caps—but had brushed the roses from her cheeks, and swept away, with his searing hand, the pale lilies from the furtive coverts whence they had glanced in tremulous beauty, in life's sweet prime; yet for all that, and a great deal more, Mrs. Burton, I have no manner of doubt, looked charmingly in the bright fire-blaze which gleamed in chequered light and shade upon the walls, pictures, curtains of the room, and the green leaves and scarlet berries of the Christmas holly with which it was profusely decorated. Three of her children—the eldest, Elizabeth, a resuscitation of her own youth—were by her side, and opposite sat her husband, whose frank, hearty countenance seemed to sparkle with careless mirth.
"Hornby will be here presently, Elizabeth," said he. "What a disappointment awaits the rascally curmudgeon! His uncle was a prince compared to him."
"Disappointment, Henry! to receive four hundred pounds he did not expect?"
"Ay, truly, dame. Lawyer Symonds' son Frank, a fine, good-hearted young fellow as ever stepped in shoe-leather—Lizzy, girl, if that candle were nearer your face it would light without a match"—
"Very likely. Frank Symonds, I was saying, believes, and so does his father, that Hornby would rejoice at an opportunity of returning with interest the smart score I marked upon his back three-and-twenty years ago"
"It was a thoughtless, cruel act, Henry," rejoined his wife, "and the less said of it the better. I hope the fright we have had will induce you to practice a better economy than heretofore; so that, instead of allowing two years' interest to accumulate upon us, we may gradually reduce the mortgage."
"That we will, dear, depend upon it. We shall be pushed a little at first: Kirkshaw, who lent me the two hundred and fifty, can only spare it for a month; but no doubt the bank will do a bill for part of it by that time. But sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Here is the money for Hornby at all events: and here at last comes the shrivelled atomy; I hear his horse. Fanny, light the candles."
If Mrs. Burton had consciously or unconsciously entertained the self-flattering notion that the still unwedded bachelor who had unsuccessfully wooed her nearly a quarter of a century before, still retained a feeling of regretful tenderness for her, she must have been grievously surprised by the cold, unrecognizing glance which Hornby threw on her as he entered, and curtly replied to her civil greeting. That was not the image stamped upon his heart and brain! But when her eldest daughter approached the lights to place paper and pens upon the table, the flashing glance and white quivering lip of the grave visitor revealed the tempest of emotion which for an instant shook him. He quickly suppressed all outward manifestation of feeling, and in a dry, business tone, demanded if Mr. Burton was ready to pay the interest of the mortgage.
"Yes, thank God," replied Burton, "I am: here is the money in notes of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England. Count them!"
Hornby bent down over the notes, shading his face with his hand, as if more accurately to examine them, and the glance of baffled rage which swept across his features was not observed.
"They are quite right," he said, rising from his chair; "and here is your receipt."
"Very Good! And now, Hornby, let us have a glass of wine together for the sake of old times. Well, well; you need not look so fierce about it. Let bygones be bygones, I say. Oh, if you will go—go in God's name! Good-night!"
"Baffled—foiled!" muttered Hornby as he rode homeward. "Where could he get the money? Borrowed it, doubtless, but of whom? Well, patience—patience! I shall grip thee yet, Henry Burton!" And the possessed man turned round in his saddle, and shook his clenched hand in the direction of the house he had quitted. He then steadily pursued his way, and soon regained his hermitage.
The month for which Burton had borrowed the two hundred and fifty pounds passed rapidly—as months always do to borrowers—and expedient after expedient for raising the money was tried in vain. This money must be repaid, Kirkshaw had emphatically told him, on the day stipulated. Burton applied to the bank at Leeds, with which he usually did business, to discount an acceptance, guaranteed by one or two persons whose names he mentioned. The answer was the usual civil refusal to accept the proffered security for repayment—"the bank was just then full of discounts." Burton ventured, as a last resource, to call on Hornby with a request that, as the rapid advance in the market-value of land consequent on the high war-prices obtained for its produce, had greatly increased the worth of Grange Farm, he would add the required sum to the already-existing mortgage. He was met by a prompt refusal. Mr. Hornby intended to foreclose as speedily as possible the mortgages he already held, and invest his capital in more profitable securities. "Well, then—would he lend the amount at any interest he chose?"
"The usury laws," replied Hornby, with his usual saturnine sneer, "would prevent my acceptance of your obliging offer, even if I had the present means, which I have not. My spare cash happens just now to be temporarily locked up."
Burton, half-crazed with anxiety, went the following day to the Leeds bank with the proffer of a fresh name agreed to be lent him by its owner. Useless! "They did not know the party." The applicant mused a few moments, and then said, "Would you discount the note of Mr. James Hornby of Pool?"
"Certainly; with a great deal of pleasure." Burton hurried away; had his horse instantly saddled, and gallopped off to Pool. Hornby was at home.
"You hinted the other day," said Burton, "that if you had not been short of present means you might have obliged me with the loan I required"
"At least I so understood you. I am of course not ignorant, Mr. Hornby, that there is no good blood between us two; but I also know that you are fond of money, and that you are fully aware that I am quite safe for a few hundred pounds. I am come, therefore, to offer you ten pounds bonus for your acceptance at one month for two hundred and fifty pounds."
"What?" exclaimed Hornby with strange vehemence. "What"
Burton repeated his offer, and Hornby turned away towards the window without speaking.
When he again faced Burton, his countenance wore its usual color; but the expression of his eyes, the applicant afterwards remembered, was wild and exulting.
"Have you a bill stamp?"
"Then draw the bill at once, and I will accept it."
Burton did not require to be twice told. The bill was quickly drawn; Hornby took it to another table at the further end of the apartment, slowly wrote his name across it, folded, and returned it to Burton, who tendered the ten pounds he had offered, and a written acknowledgment that the bill had been drawn and accepted for his (Burton's) accommodation.
"I don't want your money, Henry Burton," said Hornby, putting back the note and the memorandum. "I am not afraid of losing by this transaction. You do not know me yet."
"A queer stick," thought Burton, as he gained the street; "but Old Nick is seldom so black as he's painted! He was a plaguy while, I thought, signing his name; but I wish I could sign mine to such good purpose."
Burton laid the accepted bill, face downwards, on the bank counter, took a pen, indorsed, and passed it to the managing clerk. The gray-headed man glanced sharply at the signature, and then at Burton, "Why, surely this is not Mr. Hornby's signature? It does not at all resemble it!"
"Not his signature!" exclaimed Burton; "what do you mean by that?"
"Reynolds, look here," continued the clerk, addressing another of the bank employes. Reynolds looked, and his immediate glance of surprise and horror at Burton revealed the impression he had formed.
"Please to step this way, Mr. Burton, to a private apartment," said the manager.
"No—no, I won't," stammered the unfortunate man, over whose mind a dreadful suspicion had glanced with the suddenness of lightning. "I will go back to Hornby;" and he made a desperate but vain effort to snatch the fatal instrument. Then, pale and staggering with a confused terror and bewilderment, he attempted to rush into the street. He was stopped, with the help of the bystanders, by one of the clerks, who had jumped over the counter for the purpose.
The messenger despatched by the bankers to Hornby returned with an answer that the alleged acceptance was a forgery. It was stated on the part of Mr. Hornby that Mr. Burton had indeed requested him to lend two hundred and fifty pounds, but he had refused. The frantic asseverations of poor Burton were of course disregarded, and he was conveyed to jail. An examination took place the next day before the magistrates, and the result was, that the prisoner was fully committed on the then capital charge for trial at the ensuing assize.
It were useless, as painful, to dwell upon the consternation and agony which fell upon the dwellers at Grange Farm when the terrible news reached them. A confident belief in the perfect innocence of the prisoner, participated by most persons who knew his character and that of Hornby, and that it would be triumphantly vindicated on the day of trial, which rapidly approached, alone enabled them to bear up against the blow, and to await with trembling hope the verdict of a jury.
It was at this crisis of the drama that I became an actor in it. I was retained for the defence by my long-known and esteemed friend Symonds, whose zeal for his client, stimulated by strong personal friendship, knew no bounds. The acceptance, he informed me, so little resembled Hornby's handwriting, that if Burton had unfolded the bill when given back to him by the villain, he could hardly have failed to suspect the nature of the diabolical snare set for his life.
In those days, and until Mr., now Sir, Robert Peel's amendment of the criminal law and practice of this country, the acceptor of a bill of exchange, on the principle that he was interested in denying the genuineness of the signature, could not, according to the English law of evidence, be called, on the part of the prosecution, to prove the forgery; and of course, after what had taken place, we did not propose to call Hornby for the defence. The evidence for the crown consisted, therefore, on the day of trial, of the testimony of persons acquainted with Hornby's signature, that the acceptance across the inculpated bill was not in his handwriting. Burton's behavior at the bank, in endeavoring to repossess himself of the bill by violence, was of course detailed, and told heavily against him.
All the time this testimony was being given, Hornby sat on one of the front seats of the crowded court, exulting in the visible accomplishment of his Satanic device. We could see but little of his face, which, supported on his elbow, was partially concealed by a handkerchief he held in his hand; but I, who narrowly observed him, could occasionally discern flashes from under his pent brows—revealments of the fierce struggle which raged within.
The moment at last arrived for the prisoner, whose eyes had been for some time fixed on Hornby, to speak or read his defence, and a breathless silence pervaded the court.
Burton started at the summons, like a man unexpectedly recalled to a sense of an imperious, but for the moment forgotten, duty.
"James Hornby!" he suddenly cried with a voice which rang through the assembly like a trumpet, "stand up, and if you can face an innocent man"—
Hornby, surprised out of his self-possession, mechanically obeyed the strange order, sprang involuntarily to his feet, let fall the handkerchief that had partially concealed his features, and nervously confronted the prisoner.
"Look at me, I say," continued Burton with increasing excitement; "and as you hope to escape the terrors of the last judgment, answer truly: did you not, with your own hand, and in my presence, sign that bill?"—
"This cannot be permitted," interrupted the judge.
"If you do not speak," proceeded the prisoner, heedless of the intimation from the bench; "or if you deny the truth, my life, as sure as there is a God in heaven, will be required at your hands. If, in consequence of your devilish plotting, these men consign me to a felon's grave, I shall not be cold in it when you will be calling upon the mountains to fall and cover you from the vengeance of the Judge of heaven and earth! Speak, man—save me: save your own soul from mortal peril whilst there is yet time for mercy and repentance!"
Hornby's expression of surprise and confusion had gradually changed during this appeal to its usual character of dogged impassibility. He turned calmly and appealingly towards the bench.
"You need not answer these wild adjurations, Mr. Hornby," said the judge, as soon as he could make himself heard.
A smile curled the fellow's lip as he bowed deferentially to his lordship, and he sat down without uttering a syllable.
"May the Lord, then, have mercy on my soul!" exclaimed the prisoner solemnly. Then glancing at the bench and jury-box, he added, "And you, my lord and gentlemen, work your will with my body as quickly as you may: I am a lost man!"
The calling of witnesses to character, the opening of the judge's charge, pointing from its first sentence to a conviction, elicited no further manifestation of feeling from the prisoner: he was as calm as despair.
The judge had been speaking for perhaps ten minutes, when a bustle was heard at the hall, as if persons were striving to force their way into the body of the court in spite of the resistance of the officers.
"Who is that disturbing the court?" demanded the judge angrily.
"For the love of Heaven let me pass!" we heard uttered in passionate tones by a female voice. "I must and will see the judge!"
"Who can this be?" T inquired, addressing Mr. Symonds.
"I cannot conceive," he replied; "surely not Mrs. Burton?"
I had kept my eye, as I spoke, upon Hornby, and noticed that he exhibited extraordinary emotion at the sound of the voice, to whomsoever it belonged, and was now endeavoring to force his way through the crowded and anxious auditory.
"My lord," said I, "I have to request on the part of the prisoner that the person desirous of admittance may be heard."
"What has she to say? Or if a material witness, why have you not called her at the proper time?" replied his lordship with some irritation.
"My lord, I do not even now know her name; but in a case involving the life of the prisoner, it is imperative that no chance be neglected"—
"Let the woman pass into the witness-box," interrupted the judge.
The order brought before our eyes a pale, stunted woman, of about fifty years of age, whose excited and by no means unintellectual features, and hurried, earnest manner, seemed to betoken great and unusual feeling.
"As I'm alive, Hornby's deformed housekeeper!" whispered Symonds. "This poor devil's knot will be unraveled yet."
The woman, whose countenance and demeanor, as she gave her evidence, exhibited a serious, almost solemn intelligence, deposed to the following effect:—
"Her name was Mary McGrath, and she was the daughter of Irish parents, but born and brought up in England. She had been Mr. Hornby's housekeeper, and remembered well the 4th of February last, when Mr. Burton, the prisoner, called at the house. Witness was dusting in an apartment close to her master's business-room, from which it was only separated by a thin wooden partition. The door was partly open, and she could see as well as hear what was going on without being seen herself. She heard the conversation between the prisoner and her master; heard Mr. Hornby agree to sign the paper—bill she ought to say—for two hundred and fifty pounds; saw him do it, and then deliver it folded up to Mr. Burton."
A shout of execration burst from the auditory as these words were uttered, and every eye was turned to the spot where Hornby had been seated. He had disappeared during the previous confusion.
"Silence!" exclaimed the judge sternly. "Why, woman," he added, "have you never spoken of this before?"
"Because, my lord," replied the witness with downcast looks, and in a low, broken voice—"because I am a sinful, wicked creature. When my master, the day after Mr. Burton had been taken up, discovered that I knew his secret, he bribed me with money and great promises of more to silence. I had been nearly all my life, gentlemen, poor and miserable, almost an outcast, and the temptation was too strong for me. He mistrusted me, however—for my mind, he saw, was sore troubled—and he sent me off to London yesterday, to be out of the way till all was over. The coach stopped at Leeds, and, as it was heavy upon me, I thought, especially as it was the blessed Easter-time, that I would step to the chapel. His holy name be praised that I did! The scales seemed to fall from my eyes, and I saw clearer than I had before the terrible wickedness I was committing. I told all to the priest, and he has brought me here to make what amends I can for the sin and cruelty of which I have been guilty. There—there is all that is left of the wages of crime," she added, throwing a purse of money on the floor of the court; and then bursting into a flood of tears, she exclaimed with passionate earnestness, "for which may the Almighty of his infinite mercy pardon and absolve me!"
"Amen!" responded the deep husky voice of the prisoner, snatched back, as it were, from the very verge of the grave to liberty and life. "Amen, with all my soul!"
The counsel for the crown, cross-examined the witness, but his efforts only brought out her evidence in, if possible, a still clearer and more trustworthy light. Not a thought of doubt was entertained by any person in the court, and the jury, with the alacrity of men relieved of a grievous burthen, and without troubling the judge to resume his interrupted charge, returned a verdict of acquittal.
The return of Burton to his home figured as an ovation in the Pool and Otley annals. The greetings which met him on all sides were boisterous and hearty, as English greetings usually are; and it was with some difficulty the rustic constabulary could muster a sufficient force to save Hornby's domicile from sack and destruction. All the windows were, however, smashed, and that the mob felt was something at all events.
Burton profited by the painful ordeal to which he had, primarily through his own thoughtlessness, been exposed, and came in a few years to be regarded as one of the most prosperous yeomen-farmers of Yorkshire. Mr. Frank Symonds' union with Elizabeth Burton was in due time solemnized; Mr. Wilberforce, the then popular member for the West Riding, I remember hearing, stood sponsor to their eldest born; and Mary McGrath passed the remainder of her life in the service of the family her testimony had saved from disgrace and ruin.
Mr. James Hornby disappeared from Yorkshire immediately after the trial, and, except through his business agents, was not again heard of till the catastrophe at the Brunswick Theatre, where he perished. He died penitent, after expressing to Mr. Frank Symonds, for whom he had sent, his deep sorrow for the evil deed he had planned, and, but for a merciful interposition, would have accomplished. As a proof of the sincerity of his repentance, he bequeathed the bulk of his property to Mrs. Symonds, the daughter of the man he had pursued with such savage and relentless hate!
The events which I am about to relate occurred towards the close of the last century, some time before I was called to the bar, and do not therefore in strictness fall within my own experiences as a barrister. Still, as they came to my knowledge with much greater completeness than if I had been only professionally engaged to assist in the catastrophe of the drama through which they are evolved, and, as I conceive, throw a strong light upon the practical working of our criminal jurisprudence, a brief page of these slight leaves may not inappropriately record them.
About the time I have indicated, a Mrs. Rushton, the widow of a gentleman of commercial opulence, resided in Upper Harley Street, Cavendish Square. She was a woman of "family," and by her marriage had greatly lowered herself, in her relatives' opinion, by a union with a person who, however wealthy and otherwise honorable, was so entirely the architect of his own fortunes—owed all that he possessed so immediately to his own skill, sagacity, and perseverance—that there was an unpleasant rumor abroad about his widowed mother being indebted to her son's success in business for having passed the last ten years of her life in ease and competence. Mr. Rushton had left his widow a handsome annuity, and to his and her only son a well-invested income of upwards of seven thousand a year. Since the death of her husband, Mrs. Rushton, who inherited quite her full share of family pride, if nothing else, had sought by every method she could devise to re-enter the charmed circle from which her union with a city merchant had excluded her. The most effectual mode of accomplishing her purpose was, she knew, to bring about a marriage between her son and a lady who would not be indisposed to accept of wealth and a well-appointed establishment in Mayfair as a set-off against birth and high connection.
Arthur Rushton, at this time between two and three-and-twenty years of age, was a mild, retiring, rather shy person, and endowed with a tenderness of disposition, of which the tranquil depths had not as yet been ruffled by the faintest breath of passion. His mother possessed almost unbounded influence over him; and he ever listened with a smile, a languid, half-disdainful one, to her eager speculations upon the numerous eligible matches that would present themselves the instant the "season" and their new establishment in Mayfair—of which the decoration and furnishing engaged all her available time and attention—enabled them to open the campaign with effect. Arthur Rushton and myself had been college companions, and our friendly intimacy continued for several years afterwards. At this period especially we were very cordial and unreserved in our intercourse with each other.
London at this time was crowded with French exiles, escaped from the devouring sword of Robespierre and his helpers in the work of government by the guillotine, almost all of whom claimed to be members of, or closely connected with, the ancient nobility of France. Among these was an elderly gentleman of the name of De Tourville, who, with his daughter Eugenie, had for a considerable time occupied a first floor in King Street, Holborn. Him I never saw in life, but Mademoiselle de Tourville was one of the most accomplished, graceful, enchantingly-interesting persons I have ever seen or known. There was a dangerous fascination in the pensive tenderness through which her natural gaiety and archness of manner would at intervals flash, like April sunlight glancing through clouds and showers, which, the first time I saw her, painfully impressed as much as it charmed me—perceiving, as I quickly did, that with her the future peace, I could almost have said life, of Arthur Rushton was irrevocably bound up. The fountains of his heart were for the first time stirred to their inmost depths, and, situated as he and she were, what but disappointment, bitterness, and anguish could well-up from those troubled waters? Mademoiselle de Tourville, I could perceive, was fully aware of the impression she had made upon the sensitive and amiable Englishman; and I sometimes discovered an expression of pity—of sorrowful tenderness, as it were—pass over her features as some distincter revelation than usual of the nature of Arthur Rushton's emotions flashed upon her. I also heard her express herself several times, as overtly as she could, upon the impossibility there existed that she should, however much she might desire it, settle in England, or even remain in it for any considerable length of time. All this I understood, or thought I did, perfectly; but Rushton, bewildered, entranced by feelings altogether new to him, saw nothing, heard nothing but her presence, and felt, without reasoning upon it, that in that delirious dream it was his fate either to live or else to bear no life. Mrs. Rushton—and this greatly surprised me—absorbed in her matrimonial and furnishing schemes and projects, saw nothing of what was going on. Probably the notion that her son should for an instant think of allying himself with an obscure, portionless foreigner, was, to a mind like hers, too absurd to be for a moment entertained; or—But stay; borne along by a crowd of rushing thoughts, I have, I find, somewhat anticipated the regular march of my narrative.
M. and Mademoiselle de Tourville, according to the after-testimony of their landlord, Mr. Osborn, had, from the time of their arrival in England, a very constant visitor at their lodgings in King Street. He was a tall French gentleman, of perhaps thirty years of age, and distinguished appearance. His name was La Houssaye. He was very frequently with them indeed, and generally he and M. de Tourville would go out together in the evening, the latter gentleman not returning home till very late. This was more especially the case after Mademoiselle de Tourville ceased to reside with her father.
Among the fashionable articles with which Mrs. Rushton was anxious to surround herself, was a companion of accomplishments and high-breeding, who might help her to rub off the rust she feared to have contracted by her connection with the city. A Parisian lady of high lineage and perfect breeding might, she thought, be easily obtained; and an advertisement brought Mademoiselle de Tourville to her house. Mrs. Rushton was delighted with the air and manners of the charming applicant; and after a slight inquiry by letter to an address of reference given by the young lady, immediately engaged her, on exceedingly liberal terms, for six months—that being the longest period for which Mademoiselle de Tourville could undertake to remain. She also stipulated for permission to pass the greater part of one day in the week—that which might happen to be most convenient to Mrs. Rushton—with her father. One other condition testified alike to M. de Tourville's present poverty and her own filial piety: it was, that her salary should be paid weekly—she would not accept it in advance—avowedly for her parent's necessities, who, poor exile! and tears stood in Eugenie's dark lustrous eyes as she spoke, was ever trembling on the brink of the grave from an affection of the heart with which he had been long afflicted. Mademoiselle de Tourville, I should state, spoke English exceedingly well as far as the rules of syntax and the meanings of words went, and with an accent charming in its very defectiveness.
She had resided with Mrs. Rushton, who on all occasions treated her with the greatest kindness and consideration, for rather more than two months, when an incident occurred which caused the scales to fall suddenly from the astonished mother's eyes, and in a moment revealed to her the extent of the risk and mischief she had so heedlessly incurred. The carriage was at the door, and it struck Mrs. Rushton as she was descending the stairs that Mademoiselle de Tourville, who had complained of headache in the morning, would like to take an airing with her. The sound of the harp issuing from the drawing-room, and the faintly-distinguished tones of her voice in some plaintive silver melody perhaps suggested the invitation; and thither the mistress of the mansion at once proceeded. The folding-doors of the back drawing-room were partially open when Mrs. Rushton, on kind thoughts intent, entered the front apartment. Mademoiselle de Tourville was seated with her back towards her at the harp, pouring forth with her thrilling and delicious voice a French romaunt; and there, with his head supported on his elbow, which rested on the marble chimney-piece, stood her son, Arthur Rushton, gazing at the apparently-unconscious songstress with a look so full of devoted tenderness—so completely revealing the intensity of passion by which he was possessed—that Mrs. Rushton started with convulsive affright, and could not for several minutes give articulation to the dismay and rage which choked her utterance Presently, however, her emotions found expression, and a storm of vituperative abuse was showered upon the head of the astonished Eugenie, designated as an artful intrigante, a designing pauper, who had insinuated herself into the establishment for the sole purpose of entrapping Mr. Arthur Rushton—with a great deal more to the same effect. Mademoiselle de Tourville, who had first been too much surprised by the unexpected suddenness of the attack to quite comprehend the intent and direction of the blows, soon recovered her self-possession and hauteur. A smile of contempt curled her beautiful lip, as, taking advantage of a momentary pause in Mrs. Rushton's breathless tirade, she said, "Permit me, madam, to observe that if, as you seem to apprehend, your son has contemplated honoring me by the offer of an alliance with his ancient House"—Her look at this moment glanced upon the dreadfully agitated young man; the expression of disdainful bitterness vanished in an instant from her voice and features; and after a few moments, she added, with sad eyes bent upon the floor, "That he could not have made a more unhappy choice—more unfortunate for him, more impossible for me!" She then hastily left the apartment, and before a quarter of an hour had elapsed, had left the house in a hackney-coach.
The scene which followed between the mother and son was a violent and distressing one. Mr. Rushton, goaded to fury by his mother's attack upon Mademoiselle de Tourville, cast off the habit of deference and submission which he had always worn in her presence, and asserted with vehemence his right to wed with whom he pleased, and declared that no power on earth should prevent him marrying the lady just driven ignominiously from the house if she could be brought to accept the offer of his hand and fortune! Mrs. Rushton fell into passionate hysterics; and her son, having first summoned her maid, withdrew to ruminate on Mademoiselle de Tourville's concluding sentence, which troubled him far more that what he deemed the injustice of his mother.
When Mrs. Rushton, by the aid of water, pungent essences, and the relief which even an hour of time seldom fails to yield in such cases, had partially recovered her equanimity, she determined, after careful consideration of the best course of action, to consult a solicitor of eminence, well acquainted with her late husband, upon the matter. She had a dim notion that the Alien Act, if it could be put in motion, might rid her of Mademoiselle de Tourville and her friends. Thus resolving, and ever scrupulous as to appearances, she carefully smoothed her ruffled plumage, changed her disordered dress, and directed the carriage, which had been dismissed, to be again brought round to the door. "Mary," she added a few moments afterwards, "bring me my jewel-case—the small one: you will find it in Made—in that French person's dressing-room."
Mary Austin reappeared in answer to the violent ringing of her impatient lady's bell, and stated that the jewel-case could nowhere be found in Mademoiselle's dressing-room. "Her clothes, everything belonging to her, had been taken out of the wardrobe, and carried away, and perhaps that also in mistake no doubt."
"Nonsense, woman!" replied Mrs. Rushton. "I left it not long ago on her toilet-glass. I intended to show her a purchase I had made, and not finding her, left it as I tell you."
Another search was made with the same ill-success. Mary Austin afterwards said that when she returned to her mistress the second time, to say that the jewel-case was certainly gone, an expression of satisfaction instead of anger, it seemed to her, glanced across Mrs. Rushton's face, who immediately left the room, and in a few minutes afterwards was driven off in the carriage.
About an hour after her departure I called in Harley Street for Arthur Rushton, with whom I had engaged to go this evening to the theatre to witness Mrs. Siddons's Lady Macbeth, which neither of us had yet seen. I found him in a state of calmed excitement, if I may so express myself; and after listening with much interest to the minute account he gave me of what had passed, I, young and inexperienced as I was in such affairs, took upon myself to suggest that, as the lady he nothing doubted was as irreproachable in character as she was confessedly charming and attractive in person and manners, and as he was unquestionably his own master, Mrs. Rushton's opposition was not likely to be of long continuance; and that as to Mademoiselle de Tourville's somewhat discouraging expression, such sentences from the lips of ladies—
"That would be wooed, and not unsought be won"—
were seldom, if ever, I had understood, to be taken in a literal and positive sense. Under this mild and soothing treatment, Mr. Rushton gradually threw off a portion of the load that oppressed him, and we set off in tolerably cheerful mood for the theatre.
Mrs. Siddons' magnificent and appalling impersonation over, we left the house; he, melancholy and sombre as I had found him in Harley Street, and I in by no means a gay or laughing mood. We parted at my door, and whether it was the effect of the tragedy, so wonderfully realized in its chief creation, or whether coming events do sometimes cast their shadows before, I cannot say, but I know that an hour after Rushton's departure I was still sitting alone, my brain throbbing with excitement, and so nervous and impressionable, that a sudden, vehement knocking at the street entrance caused me to spring up from my chair with a terrified start, and before I could master the impulsive emotion, the room-door was thrown furiously open, and in reeled Arthur Rushton—pale, haggard, wild—his eyes ablaze with horror and affright! Had the ghost of Duncan suddenly gleamed out of the viewless air I could not have been more startled—awed!
"She is dead!—poisoned!" he shrieked with maniacal fury; "killed!—murdered!—and by her!"
I gasped for breath, and could hardly articulate—"What! whom?"
"My mother!" he shouted with the same furious vehemence—"Killed! by her! Oh, horror!—horror!—horror!" and exhausted by the violence of his emotions, the unfortunate gentleman staggered, shuddered violently, as if shaken by an ague fit, and fell heavily—for I was too confounded to yield him timely aid—on the floor.
As soon as I could rally my scattered senses, I caused medical aid to be summoned, and got him to bed. Blood was freely taken from both arms, and he gradually recovered consciousness. Leaving him in kind and careful hands, I hurried off to ascertain what possible foundation there could be for the terrible tidings so strangely announced.
I found the establishment in Harley Street in a state of the wildest confusion and dismay. Mrs. Rushton was dead; that, at all events, was no figment of sudden insanity, and incredible, impossible rumors were flying from mouth to mouth with bewildering rapidity and incoherence. The name of Mademoiselle de Tourville was repeated in every variety of abhorrent emphasis; but it was not till I obtained an interview with Mrs. Rushton's solicitor that I could understand what really had occurred, or, to speak more properly, what was suspected. Mrs. Rushton had made a deposition, of which Mr. Twyte related to me the essential points. The deceased lady had gone out in her carriage with the express intention of calling on him, the solicitor, to ascertain if it would be possible to apply the Alien Act to Mademoiselle de Tourville and her father, in order to get them sent out of the country. Mr. Twyte did not happen to be at home, and Mrs. Rushton immediately drove to the De Tourvilles' lodgings in King Street, Holborn, with the design, she admitted, of availing herself of what she was in her own mind satisfied was the purely accidental taking away of a jewel-case, to terrify Mademoiselle de Tourville, by the threat of a criminal charge, into leaving the country, or at least to bind herself not to admit, under any circumstances, of Mr. Arthur Rushton's addresses. She found Eugenie in a state of extraordinary, and it seemed painful excitement; and the young lady entreated that whatever Mrs. Rushton had to say should be reserved for another opportunity, when she would calmly consider whatever Mrs. Rushton had to urge. The unfortunate lady became somewhat irritated at Mademoiselle de Tourville's obstinacy, and the unruffled contempt with which she treated the charge of robbery, even after finding the missing jewel-case in a band-box, into which it had been thrust with some brushes and other articles in the hurry of leaving. Mrs. Rushton was iterating her threats in a loud tone of voice, and moved towards the bell to direct, she said, the landlord to send for a constable, but with no intention whatever of doing so, when Mademoiselle de Tourville caught her suddenly by the arm, and bade her step into the next room. Mrs. Rushton mechanically obeyed, and was led in silence to the side of a bed, of which Eugenie suddenly drew the curtain, and displayed to her, with a significant and reproachful gesture, the pale, rigid countenance of her father's corpse, who had, it appears, suddenly expired. The shock was terrible. Mrs. Rushton staggered back into the sitting-room, sick and faint, sank into a chair, and presently asked for a glass of wine. "We have no wine," replied Mademoiselle de Tourville; "but there is a cordial in the next room which may be better for you." She was absent about a minute, and on returning, presented Mrs. Rushton with a large wine-glassful of liquid, which the deceased lady eagerly swallowed. The taste was strange, but not unpleasant; and instantly afterwards Mrs. Rushton left the house. When the carriage reached Harley Street, she was found to be in a state of great prostration: powerful stimulants were administered, but her life was beyond the reach of medicine. She survived just long enough to depose to the foregoing particulars; upon which statement Mademoiselle de Tourville had been arrested, and was now in custody.
"You seem to have been very precipitate," I exclaimed as soon as the solicitor had ceased speaking: "there appears to be as yet no proof that the deceased lady died of other than natural causes."
"You are mistaken," rejoined Mr. Twyte. "There is no doubt on the subject in the minds of the medical gentlemen, although the post-mortem examination has not yet taken place. And, as if to put aside all doubt, the bottle from which this Eugenie de Tourville admits she took the cordial proves to contain distilled laurel-water, a deadly poison, curiously colored and flavored."
Greatly perturbed, shocked, astonished as I was, my mind refused to admit, even for a moment, the probability, hardly the possibility, of Eugenie de Tourville's guilt. The reckless malignancy of spirit evinced by so atrocious an act dwelt not, I was sure, within that beauteous temple. The motives alleged to have actuated her—fear of a criminal charge, admitted to be absurd, and desire to rid herself of an obstacle to her marriage with Arthur Rushton—seemed to me altogether strained and inapplicable. The desperation of unreasoning hate could alone have prompted such a deed; for detection was inevitable, had, in truth, been courted rather than attempted to be avoided.
My reasoning made no change in the conclusions of Mr. Twyte the attorney for the prosecution, and I hastened home to administer such consolation to Arthur Rushton as might consist in the assurance of my firm conviction that his beloved mother's life had not been wilfully taken away by Eugenie de Tourville. I found him still painfully agitated; and the medical attendant told me it was feared by Dr. —— that brain fever would supervene if the utmost care was not taken to keep him as quiet and composed as, under the circumstances, was possible. I was, however, permitted a few minutes' conversation with him; and my reasoning, or, more correctly, my confidently-expressed belief—for his mind seemed incapable of following my argument, which it indeed grasped faintly at, but slipped from, as it were, in an instant—appeared to relieve him wonderfully. I also promised him that no legal or pecuniary assistance should be wanting in the endeavor to clear Mademoiselle de Tourville of the dreadful imputation preferred against her. I then left him. The anticipation of the physician was unfortunately realized: the next morning he was in a raging fever, and his life, I was informed, was in very imminent danger.
It was a distracting time; but I determinedly, and with much self-effort, kept down the nervous agitation which might have otherwise rendered me incapable of fulfilling the duties I had undertaken to perform. By eleven o'clock in the forenoon I had secured the active and zealous services of Mr. White, one of the most celebrated of the criminal attorneys of that day. By application in the proper quarter, we obtained immediate access to the prisoner, who was temporarily confined in a separate room in the Red-Lion Square Lock-up House. Mademoiselle de Tourville, although exceedingly pale, agitated, and nervous, still looked as lustrously pure, as radiantly innocent of evil thought or deed, as on the day that I first beheld her. The practiced eye of the attorney scanned her closely. "As innocent of this charge," he whispered, "as you or I." I tendered my services to the unfortunate young lady with an earnestness of manner which testified more than any words could have done how entirely my thoughts acquitted her of offence. Her looks thanked me; and when I hinted at the promise exacted of me by Arthur Rushton, a bright blush for an instant mantled the pale marble of her cheeks and forehead, indicating with the tears, which suddenly filled and trembled in her beautiful eyes, a higher sentiment, I thought, than mere gratitude. She gave us her unreserved confidence; by which, after careful sifting, we obtained only the following by no means entirely satisfactory results:—
Mademoiselle de Tourville and her father had escaped from the Terrorists of France by the aid of, and in company with, the Chevalier la Houssaye, with whom M. de Tourville had previously had but very slight acquaintance. The chevalier soon professed a violent admiration for Eugenie; and having contrived to lay M. de Tourville under heavy pecuniary obligations at play—many of them Mademoiselle de Tourville had only very lately discovered—prevailed upon his debtor to exert his influence with his daughter to accept La Houssaye's hand in marriage. After much resistance, Mademoiselle de Tourville, overcome by the commands, entreaties, prayers of her father, consented, but only on condition that the marriage should not take place till their return to France, which it was thought need not be very long delayed, and that no more money obligations should in the meantime be incurred by her father. La Houssaye vehemently objected to delay; but finding Eugenie inexorable, sullenly acquiesced. It was precisely at this time that the engagement with Mrs. Rushton was accepted. On the previous afternoon Mademoiselle de Tourville, on leaving Harley Street after the scene with the deceased lady, went directly home, and there found both her father and the chevalier in hot contention and excitement. As soon as La Houssaye saw her, he seized his hat, and rushed out of the apartment and house. Her father, who was greatly excited, had barely time to say that he had fortunately discovered the chevalier to be a married man, whose wife, a woman of property, was still living in Languedoc, when what had always been predicted would follow any unusual agitation happened: M. de Tourville suddenly placed his hand on his side, uttered a broken exclamation, fell into a chair, and expired. It was about two hours after this melancholy event that Mrs. Rushton arrived. The account before given of the interview which followed was substantially confirmed by Mademoiselle de Tourville; who added, that the cordial she had given Mrs. Rushton was one her father was in the constant habit of taking when in the slightest degree excited, and that she was about to give him some when he suddenly fell dead.
We had no doubt, none whatever, that this was the whole, literal truth, as far as the knowledge of Mademoiselle de Tourville extended; but how could we impart that impression to an Old Bailey jury of those days, deprived as we should be of the aid of counsel to address the jury, when in reality a speech, pointing to the improbabilities arising from character, and the altogether unguilty-like mode of administering the fatal liquid, was the only possible defence? Cross-examination promised nothing; for the evidence would consist of the dying deposition of Mrs. Rushton, the finding of the laurel-water, and the medical testimony as to the cause of death. The only person upon whom suspicion glanced was La Houssaye, and that in a vague and indistinct manner. Still, it was necessary to find him without delay, and Mr. White at once sought him at his lodgings, of which Mademoiselle de Tourville furnished the address. He had left the house suddenly with all his luggage early in the morning, and our efforts to trace him proved fruitless. In the meantime the post-mortem examination of the body had taken place, and a verdict of willful murder against Eugenie de Tourville been unhesitatingly returned. She was soon afterwards committed to Newgate for trial.
The Old Bailey session was close at hand, and Arthur Rushton, though immediate danger was over, was still in too delicate and precarious a state to be informed of the true position of affairs when the final day of trial arrived. The case had excited little public attention. It was not the fashion in those days to exaggerate the details of crime, and, especially before trial, give the wings of the morning to every fact or fiction that rumor with her busy tongue obscurely whispered. Twenty lines of the "Times" would contain the published record of the commitment of Eugenie de Tourville for poisoning her mistress, Caroline Rushton; and, alas! spite of the crippled but earnest efforts of the eminent counsel we had retained, and the eloquent innocence of her appearance and demeanor, her conviction and condemnation to death without hope of mercy! My brain swam as the measured tones of the recorder, commanding the almost immediate and violent destruction of that beauteous masterpiece of God, fell upon my ear; and had not Mr. White, who saw how greatly I was affected, fairly dragged me out of court into the open air, I should have fainted. I scarcely remember how I got home—in a coach, I believe; but face Rushton after that dreadful scene with a kindly-meant deception—lie—in my mouth, I could not, had a king's crown been the reward. I retired to my chamber, and on the plea of indisposition directed that I should on no account be disturbed. Night had fallen, and it was growing somewhat late, when I was startled out of the painful reverie in which I was still absorbed by the sudden pulling up of a furiously-driven coach, followed by a thundering summons at the door, similar to that which aroused me on the evening of Mrs. Rushton's death. I seized my hat, rushed down stairs, and opened the door. It was Mr. White!
"Well!—well!" I ejaculated.
"Quick—quick!" he exclaimed in reply. "La Houssaye—he is found—has sent for us—quick! for life—life is on our speed!"
I was in the vehicle in an instant. In less than ten minutes we had reached our destination—a house in Duke Street, Manchester Square.
"He is still alive," replied a young man in answer to Mr. White's hurried inquiry. We rapidly ascended the stairs, and in the front apartment of the first floor beheld one of the saddest, mournfulest spectacles which the world can offer—a fine, athletic man, still in the bloom of natural health and vigor, and whose pale features, but for the tracings there of fierce, ungoverned passions, were strikingly handsome and intellectual, stretched by his own act upon the bed of death! It was La Houssaye! Two gentlemen were with him—one a surgeon, and the other evidently a clergyman, and, as I subsequently found, a magistrate, who had been sent for by the surgeon. A faint smile gleamed over the face of the dying man as we entered, and he motioned feebly to a sheet of paper, which, closely written upon, was lying upon a table placed near the sofa upon which the unhappy suicide was reclining. Mr. White snatched, and eagerly perused it. I could see by the vivid lighting up of his keen gray eye that it was, in his opinion, satisfactory and sufficient.
"This," said Mr. White, "is your solemn deposition, knowing yourself to be dying?"
"Yes, yes," murmured La Houssaye; "the truth—the truth!"
"The declaration of a man," said the clergyman with some asperity of tone, "who defyingly, unrepentingly, rushes into the presence of his Creator, can be of little value!"
"Ha!" said the dying man, rousing himself by a strong effort; "I repent—yes—yes—I repent! I believe—do you hear?—and repent—believe. Put that down," he added, in tones momently feebler and more husky, as he pointed to the paper; "put that down, or—or perhaps—Eu—genie—perhaps"—
As he spoke, the faint light that had momently kindled his glazing eye was suddenly quenched; he remained for perhaps half a minute raised on his elbow, and with his outstretched finger pointing towards the paper, gazing blindly upon vacancy. Then the arm dropped, and he fell back dead!
We escaped as quickly as we could from this fearful death-room, and I found that the deposition which Mr. White brought away with him gave a full, detailed account, written in the French language, of the circumstances which led to the death of Mrs. Rushton.
La Houssaye, finding that M. de Tourville had by some means discovered the secret of his previous marriage, and that consequently all hope of obtaining the hand of Eugenie, whom he loved with all the passion of his fiery nature, would be gone unless De Tourville could be prevented from communicating with his daughter, resolved to compass the old man's instant destruction. The chevalier persuaded himself that, as he should manage it, death would be attributed to the affection of the heart, from which M. de Tourville had so long suffered. He procured the distilled laurel-water—how and from whom was minutely explained—colored, flavored it to resemble as nearly as possible the cordial which he knew M. de Tourville—and he only—was in the habit of frequently taking. A precisely-similar bottle he also procured—the shop at which it was purchased was described—and when he called in King Street, he found no difficulty, in an unobserved moment, of substituting one bottle for the other. That containing the real cordial he was still in possession of, and it would be found in his valise The unexpected arrival of Mademoiselle de Tourville frustrated his design, and he rushed in fury and dismay from the house. A few hours afterwards, he heard of the sudden death of M. de Tourville, and attributing it to his having taken a portion of the simulated cordial, he, La Houssaye, fearful of consequences, hastily and secretly changed his abode. He had subsequently kept silence till the conviction of Eugenie left him no other alternative, if he would not see her perish on the scaffold, than a full and unreserved confession. This done—Eugenie saved, but lost to him—he had nothing more to live for in the world, and should leave it.
This was the essence of the document; and all the parts of it which were capable of corroborative proof having been substantiated, a free pardon issued from the crown—the technical mode of quashing an unjust criminal verdict—and Mademoiselle de Tourville was restored to liberty.
She did not return to France. Something more perhaps than a year after the demonstration of her innocence, she was married to Arthur Rushton in the Sardinian Catholic Chapel, London, the bridegroom having by her influence been induced to embrace the faith of Rome. The establishments in Harley Street and Mayfair were broken up; and the newly-espoused pair settled in the county of Galway, Ireland, where Mr. Rushton made extensive landed purchases. They have lived very happily a long life, have been blessed with a large and amiable family, and are now—for they are both yet alive—surrounded with grandchildren innumerable.
EXPERIENCES OF A BARRISTER.
THE LIFE POLICY.
Besides being the confidential advisers, attorneys are the "confessors" of modern England; and the revelations—delicate, serious, not unfrequently involving life as well as fortune and character—confided to the purchased fidelity and professional honor of men whom romancers of all ages have stereotyped as the ghouls and vampires of civilized society, are, it is impossible to deny, as rarely divulged as those which the penitents of the Greek and Latin churches impart to their spiritual guides and helpers; and this possibly for the somewhat vulgar, but very sufficient reason, that "a breach of confidence" would as certainly involve the professional ruin of an attorney as the commission of a felony. An able but eccentric jurisconsult, Mr. Jeremy Bentham, was desirous that attorneys should be compelled to disclose on oath whatever guilty secrets might be confided to them by their clients; the only objection to which ingenious device for the conviction of rogues being, that if such a power existed, there would be no secrets to disclose; and, as a necessary consequence, that the imperfectly-informed attorney would be unable to render his client the justice to which every person, however criminal, is clearly entitled—that of having his or her case presented before the court appointed to decide upon it in the best and most advantageous manner possible. Let it not be forgotten either that the attorney is the only real, practical defender of the humble and needy against the illegal oppressions of the rich and powerful—the shrewd, indomitable agent who gives prosaic reality to the figurative eloquence of old Chancellor Fortescue, when he says, "that the lightning may flash through, the thunder shake, the tempest beat, upon the English peasant's hut, but the king of England, with all his army, cannot lift the latch to enter in." The chancellor of course meant, that in this country overbearing violence cannot defy, or put itself in the place of the law. This is quite true; and why? Chiefly because the attorney is ready, in all cases of provable illegality, with his potent strip of parchment summoning the great man before "her Sovereign Lady the Queen," there to answer for his acts; and the richer the offender, the more keen and eager Mr. Attorney to prosecute the suit, however needy his own client; for he is then sure of his costs, if he succeed! Again, I cheerfully admit the extreme vulgarity of the motive; but its effect in protecting the legal rights of the humble is not, I contend, lessened because the reward of exertion and success is counted out in good, honest sovereigns, or notes of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.
Thus much by way of conciliatory prologue to the narrative of a few incidents revealed in the attorney's privileged confessional; throughout which I have of course, in order to avoid any possible recognition of those events or incidents, changed the name of every person concerned.
Our old city firm, then, which, I am happy to say, still flourishes under the able direction of our active successors, I will call—adopting the nomenclature appropriated to us by imaginative ladies and gentlemen who favor the world with fancy pen-and-ink portraits of the lawyer tribe—that of Flint and Sharp; Sharp being myself, and Flint the silver-haired old bachelor we buried a few weeks since in Kensal Green Cemetery.
"Mr. Andrews," said a clerk as he threw open the door of the inner office one afternoon; "Mr. Jesse Andrews."
"Good-day, Mr. Andrews," was my prompt and civil greeting: "I have good news for you. Take a chair."
The good-humored, rather intelligent, and somewhat clouded countenance of the new-comer brightened up at these words. "News from my Cousin Archibald?" he asked, as he seated himself.
"Yes: He laments your late failure, and commiserates the changed position and prospects of your wife and boy, little Archibald, his godson. You he has not much compassion for, inasmuch as he attributes your misfortunes entirely to mismanagement, and the want of common prudence."
"Candid, certainly," grumbled out Mr. Jesse Andrews; "but an odd sort of good news!"
"His deeds are kinder than his words. He will allow, till Archibald attains his majority—Let me see—how old is that boy of yours now?"
"Ten. He was two years old when his godfather went to India."
"Well, then, you will receive two hundred pounds per annum, payable half-yearly, in advance, for the next ten years—that is, of course, if your son lives—in order to enable you to bring him up, and educate him properly. After that period has elapsed, your cousin intimates that he will place the young man advantageously, and I do not doubt will do something for you, should you not by that time have conquered a fair position for yourself."
"Is that all?" said Mr. Andrews.
"All! Why, what did you expect?"
"Two or three thousand pounds to set me afloat again. I know of a safe speculation, that with, say three thousand pounds capital, would realize a handsome fortune in no time."
Mr. Jesse Andrews, I may observe, was one of that numerous class of persons who are always on the threshold of realizing millions—the only and constant obstacle being the want of a sufficient "capital."
I condoled with him upon his disappointment; but as words, however civil, avail little in the way of "capital," Mr. Jesse Andrews, having pocketed the first half-yearly installment of the annuity, made his exit in by no means a gracious or grateful frame of mind.
Two other half-yearly payments were duly paid him. When he handed me the receipt on the last occasion, he said, in a sort of off-hand, careless way, "I suppose, if Archy were to die, these payments would cease?"
"Perhaps not," I replied unthinkingly. "At all events, not, I should say, till you and your wife were in some way provided for. But your son is not ill?" I added.
"No, no; not at present," replied Andrews, coloring, and with a confusion of manner which surprised me not a little. It flashed across my mind that the boy was dead, and that Andrews, in order not to risk the withdrawal or suspension of the annuity, had concealed the fact from us.
"Let me see," I resumed, "we have your present address—Norton Folgate, I think?"
"Yes, certainly you have."
"I shall very likely call in a day or two to see Mrs. Andrew! and your son."
The man smiled in a reassured, half-sardonic manner. "Do," he answered. "Archy is alive, and very well, thank God!"
This confidence dispelled the suspicion I had momentarily entertained, and five or six weeks passed away, during which Andrews and his affairs were almost as entirely absent from my thoughts as if no such man existed.
About the expiration of that time, Mr. Jesse Andrews unexpectedly revisited the office, and as soon as I was disengaged, was ushered into my private room. He was habited in the deepest mourning, and it naturally struck me that either his wife or son was dead—an impression, however, which a closer examination of his countenance did not confirm, knowing as I did, how affectionate a husband and father he was, with all his faults and follies, reputed to be. He looked flurried, nervous, certainly; but there was no grief, no sorrow in the restless, disturbed glances which he directed to the floor, the ceiling, the window, the fire-place, the chairs, the table—everywhere, in fact, except towards my face.
"What is the matter, Mr. Andrews?" I gravely inquired, seeing that he did not appear disposed to open the conversation.
"A great calamity, sir—a great calamity," he hurriedly and confusedly answered, his face still persistently averted from me—"has happened! Archy is dead!"
"Dead!" I exclaimed, considerably shocked. "God bless me! when did this happen?"
"Three weeks ago," was the reply. "He died of cholera."
"Of cholera!" This occurred, I should state, in 1830.
"Yes: he was very assiduously attended throughout his sufferings, which were protracted and severe, by the eminent Dr. Parkinson, a highly-respectable and skilled practitioner, as you doubtless, sir, are aware."
I could not comprehend the man. This dry, unconcerned, business-sort of gabble was not the language of a suddenly-bereaved parent, and one, too, who had lost a considerable annuity by his son's death. What could it mean? I was in truth fairly puzzled.
After a considerable interval of silence, which Mr. Andrews, whose eyes continued to wander in every direction except that of mine, showed no inclination to break, I said—"It will be necessary for me to write immediately to your cousin, Mr. Archibald Andrews. I trust, for your sake, the annuity will be continued; but of course, till I hear from him, the half-yearly payments must be suspended."
"Certainly, certainly: I naturally expected that would be the case," said Andrews, still in the same quick, hurried tone. "Quite so."
"You have nothing further to say, I suppose?" I remarked, after another dead pause, during which it was very apparent that he was laboring with something to which he nervously hesitated to give utterance.
"No—yes—that is, I wished to consult you upon a matter of business—connected with—with a life-assurance office."
"A life-assurance office?"
"Yes." The man's pale face flushed crimson, and his speech became more and more hurried as he went on. "Yes; fearing, Mr. Sharp, that should Archy die, we might be left without resource, I resolved, after mature deliberation, to effect an insurance on his life for four thousand pounds."
"Four thousand pounds!"
"Yes. All necessary preliminaries were gone through. The medical gentleman—since dead of the cholera, by the way—examined the boy of course, and the insurance was legally effected for four thousand pounds, payable at his death."
I did not speak; a suspicion too horrible to be hinted at held me dumb.
"Unfortunately," Andrews continued, "this insurance was only effected about a fortnight before poor Archy's death, and the office refuses payment, although, as I have told you, the lad was attended to the very hour of his death by Dr. Parkinson, a highly-respectable, most unexceptionable gentleman. Very much so indeed."
"I quite agree in that," I answered after a while. "Dr. Parkinson is a highly-respectable and eminent man. What reason," I added, "do the company assign for non-payment?"
"The very recent completion of the policy."
"Nonsense! How can that fact, standing alone, affect your claim?"
"I do not know," Andrews replied; and all this time I had not been able to look fairly in his face; "but they do refuse; and I am anxious that your firm should take the matter in hand, and sue them for the amount."
"I must first see Dr. Parkinson," I answered, "and convince myself that there is no legitimate reason for repudiating the policy."
"Certainly, certainly," he replied.
"I will write to you to-morrow," I said, rising to terminate the conference, "after I have seen Dr. Parkinson, and state whether we will or not take proceedings against the insurance company on your behalf."
He thanked me, and hurried off.
Dr. Parkinson confirmed Mr. Jesse Andrews in every particular. He had attended the boy, a fine, light-haired lad of eleven or twelve years of age, from not long after his seizure till his death. He suffered dreadfully, and died unmistakably of Asiatic cholera, and of nothing else; of which same disease a servant and a female lodger in the same house had died just previously. "It is of course," Dr. Parkinson remarked in conclusion, "as unfortunate for the company as it is strangely lucky for Andrews; but there is no valid reason for refusing payment."
Upon this representation we wrote the next day to the assurance people, threatening proceedings on behalf of Mr. Jesse Andrews.
Early on the morrow one of the managing-directors called on us, to state the reasons which induced the company to hesitate at recognizing the plaintiff's claim. In addition to the doubts suggested by the brief time which had elapsed from the date of the policy to the death of the child, there were several other slight circumstances of corroborative suspicion. The chief of these was, that a neighbor had declared he heard the father indulging in obstreperous mirth in a room adjoining that in which the corpse lay only about two hours after his son had expired. This unseemly, scandalous hilarity of her husband, the wife appeared to faintly remonstrate against. The directors had consequently resolved non obstante Dr. Parkinson's declaration, who might, they argued, have been deceived, to have the body exhumed in order to a post-mortem examination as to the true cause of death. If the parents voluntarily agreed to this course, a judicial application to enforce it would be unnecessary, and all doubts on the matter could be quietly set at rest. I thought the proposal, under the circumstances, reasonable, and called on Mr. and Mrs. Andrews to obtain their concurrence. Mrs. Andrews was, I found, absent in the country, but her husband was at home; and he, on hearing the proposal, was, I thought, a good deal startled—shocked rather—a natural emotion perhaps.
"Who—who," he said, after a few moments' silent reflection—"who is to conduct this painful, revolting inquiry?"
"Dr. Parkinson will be present, with Mr. Humphrey the surgeon, and Dr. Curtis the newly-appointed physician to the assurance office, in place of Dr. Morgan who died, as you are aware, a short time since of cholera."
"True. Ah, well, then," he answered almost with alacrity, "be it as they wish. Dr. Parkinson will see fair-play."
The examination was effected, and the result was a confirmation, beyond doubt or quibble, that death, as Dr. Parkinson had declared, had been solely occasioned by cholera. The assurance company still hesitated; but as this conduct could now only be looked upon as perverse obstinacy, we served them with a writ at once. They gave in; and the money was handed over to Mr. Jesse Andrews, whose joy at his sudden riches did not, I was forced to admit, appear to be in the slightest degree damped by any feeling of sadness for the loss of an only child.
We wrote to inform Mr. Archibald Andrews of these occurrences, and to request further instructions with regard to the annuity hitherto paid to his cousin. A considerable time would necessarily elapse before an answer could be received, and in the meantime Mr. Jesse Andrews plunged headlong into the speculation he had been long hankering to engage in, and was as he informed me a few weeks afterwards, on the royal road to a magnificent fortune.
Clouds soon gathered over this brilliant prospect. The partner, whose persuasive tongue and brilliant imagination had induced Mr. Andrews to join him with his four thousand pounds, proved to be an arrant cheat and swindler; and Mr. Andrews's application to us for legal help and redress was just too late to prevent the accomplished dealer in moonshine and delusion from embarking at Liverpool for America, with every penny of the partnership funds in his pockets!
A favorable reply from Mr. Archibald Andrews had now become a question of vital importance to his cousin, who very impatiently awaited its arrival. It came at last. Mr. Andrews had died rather suddenly at Bombay a short time before my letter arrived there, after executing in triplicate a will, of which one of the copies was forwarded to me. By this instrument his property—about thirty-five thousand pounds, the greatest portion of which had been remitted from time to time for investment in the British funds—was disposed of as follows:—Five thousand pounds to his cousin Jesse Andrews, for the purpose of educating and maintaining Archibald Andrews, the testator's godson, till he should have attained the age of twentyone, and the whole of the remaining thirty thousand pounds to be then paid over to Archibald with accumulated interest. In the event, however, of the death of his godson, the entire property was devised to another more distant and wealthier cousin, Mr. Newton, and his son Charles, on precisely similar conditions, with the exception that an annuity of seventy pounds, payable to Jesse Andrews and his wife during their lives, was charged upon it.
Two letters were dispatched the same evening—one to the fortunate cousin, Mr. Newton, who lived within what was then known as the twopenny post delivery, and another to Mr. Jesse Andrews, who had taken up his temporary abode in a cottage near St. Alban's, Hertfordshire. These missives informed both gentlemen of the arrival of the Indian mail, and the, to them, important dispatches it contained.
Mr. Newton was early at the office on the following morning, and perused the will with huge content. He was really quite sorry, though, for poor Cousin Jesse: the loss of his son was a sad stroke, much worse than this of a fortune which he might have expected to follow as a matter of course. And the annuity, Mr. Newton thoughtfully observed, was, after all, no contemptible provision for two persons, without family, and of modest requirements.