A very different scene was enacted when, late in the evening, and just as I was about to leave the office, Mr. Jesse Andrews rushed in, white as a sheet, haggard, and wild with passion. "What devil's fables are these you write me?" he, burst forth the instant he had gained the threshold of the room. "How dare you," he went on, almost shrieking with fury—"how dare you attempt to palm off these accursed lies on me? Archy rich—rich—and I—. But it is a lie!—an infernal device got up to torture me—to drive me wild, distracted—mad!" The excited man literally foamed with rage, and so astonished was I, that it was a minute or two before I could speak or move.
At last I rose, closed the door, (for the clerks in the outer office were hearers and witnesses of this outbreak,) and led the way to an inner and more private apartment. "Come with me, Mr. Andrews," I said, "and let us talk this matter calmly over."
He mechanically followed, threw himself into a chair, and listened with frenzied impatience to the reading of the will.
"A curse is upon me," he shouted, jumping up as I concluded, "the curse of God—a judgment upon the crime I but the other day committed—a crime as I thought—dolt, idiot that I was—so cunningly contrived, so cleverly executed! Fool, villain, madman that I have been; for now, when fortune is tendered for my acceptance, I dare not put forth my hand to grasp it; fortune, too, not only for me, but—. O God, it will kill us both, Martha as well as me, though I alone am to blame for this infernal chance!"
This outburst appeared to relieve him, and he sank back into his chair somewhat calmer. I could understand nothing of all that rhapsody, knowing, as I did, that his son Archibald had died from natural causes. "It is a severe blow," I said, in as soothing a tone as I could assume—"a very great disappointment; still, you are secured from extreme poverty—from anything like absolute want"—
"It is not that—it is not that!" he broke in, though not quite so wildly as before. "Look you, Mr. Sharp, I will tell you all! There may be some mode of extrication from this terrible predicament, and I must have your advice professionally upon it."
"Go on; I will advise you to the best of my ability."
"Here it is, then: Archy, my son Archy, is alive!—alive! and well in health as either you or I!"
I was thunderstruck. Here was indeed a revelation.
"Alive and well," continued Andrews. "Listen! when the cholera began to spread so rapidly, I bethought me of insuring the boy's life in case of the worst befalling, but not, as I hope for mercy, with the slightest thought of harming a hair of his head. This was done. Very soon the terrific disease approached our neighborhood, and my wife took Archy to a country lodging, returning herself the same evening. The next day our only servant was attacked and died. A few hours after that our first-floor lodger, a widow of the name of Mason, who had been with us but a very short time, was attacked. She suffered dreadfully; and her son, a boy about the age of Archy, and with just his hair and complexion, took ill also. The woman was delirious with pain; and before effective medical aid could be obtained—she was seized in the middle of the night—she expired. Her son who had been removed into another room, became rapidly worse, and we sent for Dr. Parkinson; the poor fellow was partially delirious with pain, and clung piteously round my wife's neck, calling her mother, and imploring her to relieve him. Dr. Parkinson arrived, and at first sight of the boy, said, 'Your son is very ill, Mrs. Andrews—I fear, past recovery; but we will see what can be done.' I swear to you, Mr. Sharp, that it was not till this moment the device which has ruined us, flashed across my brain. I cautioned my wife in a whisper not to undeceive the doctor, who prescribed the most active remedies, and was in the room, when the lad died. You know the rest. And now, sir, tell me, can anything be done—any device suggested to retrieve this miserable blunder, this terrible mistake?"
"This infamous crime, you should say, Mr. Andrews," I replied; "for the commission of which you are liable to be transported for life."
"Yes, crime; no doubt that is the true word! But must the innocent child suffer for his father's offence?"
"That is the only consideration that could induce me to wag a finger in the business. Like many other clever rogues, you are caught in the trap you limed for others. Come to me tomorrow; I will think over the matter between this and then; but at present I can say nothing. Stay," I added, as his hand was on the door; "the identity of your son can be proved, I suppose, by better evidence than your own?"
"That, will do, then; I will see you in the morning."
If it should cross the mind of any reader that I ought to have given this self-confessed felon into custody, I beg to remind him that, for the reasons previously stated, such a course on my part was out of the question—impossible; and that, had it not been impossible I should do so, Mr. Jesse Andrews would not have intrusted me with his criminal secret. The only question now therefore was, how, without compromising this guilty client, the godfather's legacy could be secured for the innocent son.
A conference the next morning with Mr. Flint resulted in our sending for Mr. Jesse Andrews, and advising him, for fear of accidents or miscarriage in our plans, to betake himself to the kingdom of France for a short time. We had then no treaty of extradition with that country. As soon as I knew he was safely out of the realm, I waited upon the insurance people.
"The money ought not to have been received by Jesse Andrews, you say, Mr. Sharp?" observed the managing-gentleman, looking keenly in my face.
"Precisely. It ought not to have been received by him."
"And why not, Mr. Sharp?"
"That is quite an unnecessary question, and one that, you know, I should not answer, if I could. That which chiefly concerns you is, that I am ready to return the four thousand pounds at once, here on the spot, and that delays are dangerous. If you refuse, why, of course—and I rose from my chair—I must take back the money."
"Stay—stay! I will just consult with one or two gentlemen, and be with you again almost immediately."
In about five minutes he returned. "Well, Mr. Sharp," he said, "we had, I suppose; better take the money—obtained, as you say, by mistake."
"Not at all; I said nothing about mistake. I told you it ought not to have been received by Andrews!"
"Well—well. I understand. I must, I suppose, give you a receipt?"
"Undoubtedly; and, if you please, precisely in this form."
I handed him a copy on a slip of paper. He ran it over, smiled, transcribed it on a stamp, signed it, and, as I handed him a check for the amount, placed it in my hands. We mutually bowed, and I went my way.
Notwithstanding Mr. Newton's opposition, who was naturally furious at the unexpected turn the affair had taken, the identity of the boy—whom that gentleman persisted in asserting to be dead and buried—was clearly established; and Mr. Archibald Andrews, on the day he became of age, received possession of his fortune. The four thousand pounds had of course been repaid out of Jesse Andrews's legacy. That person has, so to speak, since skulked through life, a mark for the covert scorn of every person acquainted with the very black transaction here recorded. This was doubtless a much better fate than he deserved; and in strict, or poetical justice, his punishment ought unquestionably to have been much greater—more apparent also, than it was, for example's sake. But I am a man not of fiction, but of fact, and consequently relate events, not as they precisely ought, but as they do, occasionally occur in lawyers' offices, and other unpoetical nooks and corners of this prosaic, matter-of-fact, working-day world.
BIGAMY OR NO BIGAMY?
The firm of Flint and Sharp enjoyed, whether deservedly or not, when I was connected with it, as it still does, a high reputation for keen practice and shrewd business-management. This kind of professional fame is usually far more profitable than the drum-and-trumpet variety of the same article; or at least we found it so; and often, from blush of morn to far later than dewy eve—which natural phenomena, by the way, were only emblematically observed by me during thirty busy years in the extinguishment of the street lamps at dawn, and their re-illumination at dusk—did I and my partner incessantly pursue our golden avocations; deferring what are usually esteemed the pleasures of life—its banquets, music, flowers, and lettered ease—till the toil, and heat, and hurry of the day were past, and a calm, luminous evening, unclouded by care or anxiety, had arrived. This conduct may or may not have been wise; but at all events it daily increased the connection and transactions of the firm, and ultimately anchored us both very comfortably in the three per cents; and this too, I am bold to say, not without our having effected some good in our generation. This boast of mine the following passage in the life of a distinguished client—known, I am quite sure, by reputation to most of the readers of these papers, whom our character for practical sagacity and professional shrewdness brought us—will, I think, be admitted in some degree to substantiate.
Our connection was a mercantile rather than an aristocratic one, and my surprise was therefore considerable, when, on looking through the office-blinds to ascertain what vehicle it was that had driven so rapidly up to the door, I observed a handsomely-appointed carriage with a coronet emblazoned on the panels, out of which a tall footman was handing a lady attired in deep but elegant mourning, and closely veiled. I instantly withdrew to my private room, and desired that the lady should be immediately admitted. Greatly was my surprise increased when the graceful and still youthful visitor withdrew her veil, and disclosed the features of the Countess of Seyton, upon whose mild, luminous beauty, as rendered by the engraving from Sir Thomas Lawrence's picture, I had so frequently gazed with admiration. That rare and touching beauty was clouded now; and an intense expression of anxiety, fear—almost terror—gleamed from out the troubled depths of her fine dark eyes.
"The Countess of Seyton!" I half-involuntarily exclaimed, as with my very best bow I handed her ladyship a chair.
"Yes; and you are a partner of this celebrated firm, are you not?"
I bowed again still more profoundly to this compliment, and modestly admitted that I was the Sharp of the firm her ladyship was pleased to entitle "celebrated."
"Then, Mr. Sharp, I have to consult you professionally upon a matter of the utmost—the most vital importance to me and mine." Her ladyship then, with some confusion of manner, as if she did not know whether what she was doing was in accordance with strict etiquette or not, placed a Bank of England note, by way of retainer, before me. I put it back, explaining what the usage really was, and the countess replaced it in her purse.
"We shall he proud to render your ladyship any assistance in our power," I said; "but I understood the Messrs. Jackson enjoyed the confidence of the house of Seyton?"
"Precisely. They are, so to speak, the hereditary solicitors of the family more than of any individual member of it; and therefore, though highly respectable persons, unfit to advise me in this particular matter. Besides," she added with increasing tremor and hesitation, "to deal with, and if possible foil, the individual by whom I am persecuted, requires an agent of keener sagacity than either of those gentlemen can boast of; sharper, more resolute men; more—you understand what I mean?"
"Perfectly, madam; and allow me to suggest that it is probable our interview may be a somewhat prolonged one—your ladyship's carriage, which may attract attention, should be at once dismissed. The office of the family solicitors is, you are aware, not far off; and as we could not explain to them the reason which induces your ladyship to honor us with your confidence, it will be as well to avoid any chance of inquiry."
Lady Seyton acquiesced in my suggestion: the carriage was ordered home, and Mr. Flint entering just at the time, we both listened with earnestness and anxiety to her communication. It is needless to repeat verbatim the somewhat prolix, exclamative narration of the countess; the essential facts were as follows:—
The Countess of Seyton, previous to her first marriage, was Miss Clara Hayley, second daughter of the Reverend John Hayley, the rector of a parish in Devonshire. She married, when only nineteen years of age, a Captain Gosford. Her husband was ten years older than herself, and, as she discovered after marriage, was cursed with a morose and churlish temper and disposition. Previous to her acquaintance with Gosford, she had been intimate with, almost betrothed to, Mr. Arthur Kingston, a young gentleman connected with the peerage, and at that time heir-apparent to the great expectancies and actual poverty of his father, Sir Arthur Kingston. The haughty baronet, the instant he was made aware of the nature of his son's intimacy with the rector's daughter, packed the young man off to the continent on his travels. The Reverend John Hayley and his beautiful Clara were as proud as the baronet, and extremely indignant that it should be thought either of them wished to entrap or delude Arthur Kingston into an unequal or ineligible marriage. This feeling of pride and resentment aided the success of Mr. Gosford's suit, and Clara Hayley, like many other rash, high-notioned young ladies, doomed herself to misery, in order to show the world, and Mr. Arthur Kingston and his proud father especially, that she had a spirit. The union was a most unhappy one. One child only, which died in its infancy, was born to them; and after being united somewhat more than two years, a separation, vehemently insisted on by the wife's father, took place, and the unhappily-wedded daughter returned to her parent's roof. Mr. Gosford—he had some time before sold out of the army—traveled about the country in search of amusement, and latterly of health, (for his unhappy cankerous temper at last affected and broke down his never very robust physical constitution), accompanied for the twelvemonth preceding his death by a young man belonging to the medical profession, of the name of Chilton. Mr. and Mrs. Gosford had been separated a few days less than three years when the husband died, at the village of Swords in Ireland, and not far distant from Dublin. The intelligence was first conveyed to the widow by a paragraph in the "Freeman's Journal," a Dublin newspaper; and by the following post a letter arrived from Mr. Chilton, inclosing a ring which the deceased had requested should be sent to his wife, and a note, dictated just previous to his death-hour, in which he expressed regret for the past, and admitted that he alone had been to blame for the unhappy separation. A copy of his will, made nearly a twelvemonth previously, was also forwarded, by which he bequeathed his property, amounting to about three hundred pounds per annum, to a distant relative then residing in New Holland. By a memorandum of a subsequent date, Mr. Chilton was to have all the money and other personals he might die in actual possession of, after defraying the necessary funeral expenses. This will, Mr. Chilton stated, the deceased gentleman had expressed a wish in his last moments to alter, but death had been too sudden for him to be able to give effect to that good, but too long-delayed intention.
It cannot be supposed that the long-before practically widowed wife grieved much at the final breaking of the chain which bound her to so ungenial a mate; but as Lady Seyton was entirely silent upon the subject, our supposition can only rest upon the fact, that Arthur Kingston—who had some time previously, in consequence of the death of the Earl of Seyton and his only son, an always-weakly child, preceded a few months by that of his own father, the baronet, succeeded to the earldom and estates—hastened home, on seeing the announcement of Gosford's death in the Dublin paper, from the continent, where he had continued to reside since his compelled-departure six years before; and soon afterwards found his way into Devonshire, and so successfully pressed the renewed offer of his hand, that the wedding took place slightly within six months after the decease of Mr. Gosford. Life passed brilliantly and happily with the earl and countess—to whom three children (a boy and two girls) were born—till about five months previous to the present time, when the earl, from being caught, when out riding, in a drenching shower of rain, was attacked by fever, and after an acute illness of only two or three days' duration, expired. The present earl was at the time just turned of five years of age.
This blow, we comprehended from the sudden tears which filled the beautiful eyes of the countess as she spoke of the earl's decease, was a severe one. Still, the grief of widowhood must have been greatly assuaged by love for her children, and not inconsiderably, after a while, we may be sure, by the brilliant position in which she was left—as, in addition to being splendidly jointured, she was appointed by her husband's will sole guardian of the young lord, her son.
A terrible reverse awaited her. She was sitting with her father the rector, and her still unmarried sister, Jane Hayley, in the drawing-room of Seyton House, when a note was brought to her, signed Edward Chilton, the writer of which demanded an immediate and private interview, on, he alleged, the most important business. Lady Seyton remembered the name, and immediately acceded to the man's request. He announced in a brusque, insolent tone and manner, that Mr. Gosford had not died at the time his death was announced to her, having then only fallen into a state of syncope, from which he had unexpectedly recovered, and had lived six months longer. "The truth is," added Chilton, "that, chancing the other day to be looking over a 'peerage,' I noticed for the first time the date of your marriage with the late Earl of Seyton, and I have now to inform you that it took place precisely eight days previous to Mr. Gosford's death; that it was consequently no marriage at all; and that your son is no more Earl of Seyton than I am."
This dreadful announcement, as one might expect, completely overcame the countess. She fainted, but not till she had heard and comprehended Chilton's hurried injunctions to secrecy and silence. He rang the bell for assistance, and then left the house. The mental agony of Lady Seyton on recovering consciousness was terrible, and she with great difficulty succeeded in concealing its cause from her anxious and wondering relatives. Another interview with Chilton appeared to confirm the truth of his story beyond doubt or question. He produced a formally-drawn-up document, signed by one Pierce Cunningham, grave-digger of Swords, which set forth that Charles Gosford was buried on the 26th of June, 1832, and that the inscription on his tombstone set forth that he had died June 23d of that year. Also a written averment of Patrick Mullins of Dublin, that he had lettered the stone at the head of the grave of Charles Gosford in Swords burying-ground in 1832, and that its date was, as stated by Pierce Cunningham, June 23, 1832.
"Have you copies of those documents?" asked Mr. Flint.
"Yes: I have brought them with me," the countess replied, and handed them to Mr. Flint. "In my terror and extremity," continued her ladyship, "and unguided by counsel—for, till now I have not dared to speak upon the subject to any person—I have given this Chilton, at various times, large sums of money—but he is insatiable; and only yesterday—I cannot repeat his audacious proposal—you will find it in this note."
"Marriage!" exclaimed Mr. Flint with a burst. He had read the note over my shoulder. "The scoundrel!"
My worthy partner was rather excited. The truth was he had a Clara of his own at home—a dead sister's child—very pretty, just about marriageable, and a good deal resembling, as he told me afterwards, our new and interesting client.
"I would die a thousand deaths rather," resumed Lady Seyton, in a low, tremulous voice, as she let fall her veil. "Can there," she added in a still fainter voice, "be anything done—anything"—
"That depends entirely," interrupted Mr. Flint, "upon whether this fine story is or is not a fabrication, got up for the purpose of extorting money. It seems to me, I must say, amazingly like one."
"Do you really think so?" exclaimed the lady with joyful vehemence. The notion that Chilton was perhaps imposing on her credulity and fears seemed not to have struck her before.
"What do you think, Sharp?" said my partner.
I hesitated to give an opinion, as I did not share in the hope entertained by Flint. Detection was so certain, that I doubted if so cunning a person as Chilton appeared to be would have ventured on a fraud so severely punishable. "Suppose," I said, avoiding an answer, "as this note appoints an interview at three o'clock to-day at Seyton House, we meet him there instead of your ladyship? A little talk with the fellow might be serviceable."
Lady Seyton eagerly agreed to this proposal; and it was arranged that we should be at Seyton House half an hour before the appointed time, in readiness for the gentleman. Lady Seyton left in a hackney-coach, somewhat relieved, I thought, by having confided the oppressive secret to us, and with a nascent hope slightly flushing her pale, dejected countenance.
The firm of Flint and Sharp had then a long conference together, during which the lady's statement and Mr. Chilton's documents were, the reader may be sure, very minutely conned over, analyzed, and commented upon. Finally, it was resolved that, if the approaching interview, the manner of which we agreed upon, did not prove satisfactory, Mr. Flint should immediately proceed to Ireland, and personally ascertain the truth or falsehood of the facts alleged by Chilton.
"Mr. Chilton is announced," said Lady Seyton, hurriedly entering the library in Grosvenor Square, where Mr. Flint and myself were seated. "I need not be present, I think you said?" she added, in great tremor.
"Certainly not, madam," I replied. "We shall do better alone."
She retired instantly. Flint rose and stationed himself close by the door. Presently a sounding, confident step was heard along the passage, the library door swung back on its noiseless hinges, and in stalked a man of apparently about thirty-five years of age, tall, genteel, and soldier-looking. He started back on seeing me, recognizing, I perceived, my vocation, at a glance.
"How is this?" he exclaimed. "I expected"—
"The Countess of Seyton. True; but her ladyship has deputed me to confer with you on the business mentioned in your note."
"I shall have nothing to say to you," he replied abruptly, and turned to leave the room. Mr. Flint had shut, and was standing with his back to the door.
"You can't go," he said, in his coolest manner. "The police are within call."
"The police! What the devil do you mean?" cried Chilton, angrily; but, spite of his assurance, visibly trembling beneath Flint's searching, half-sneering look.
"Nothing very remarkable," replied that gentleman, "or unusual in our profession. Come, sit down; we are lawyers; you are a man of business, we know. I dare say we shall soon understand each other."
Mr. Chilton sat down, and moodily awaited what was next to come.
"You are aware," said Mr. Flint, "that you have rendered yourself liable to transportation?"
"What"' exclaimed Chilton, flashing crimson, and starting to his feet. "What!"
"To transportation," continued my imperturbable partner, "for seven, ten, fourteen years, or for life, at the discretion of the judge; but, considering the frequency of the crime of late, I should say there is a strong probability that you will be a lifer!"
"What devil's gibberish is this?" exclaimed Chilton, frightened, but still fierce. "I can prove everything I have said. Mr. Gosford, I tell you"—
"Well, well," interrupted Mr. Flint; "put it in that light, how you please; turn it which way you will; it's like the key in Blue Beard, which, I dare say, you have read of; rub it out on one side, and up it comes on the other. Say, by way of argument, that you have not obtained money by unfounded threats—a crime which the law holds tantamount to highway robbery. You have in that case obtained money for compromising a felony—that of polygamy. An awful position, my good sir, choose which you will."
Utterly chop-fallen was the lately triumphant man; but he speedily rallied.
"I care not," he at length said. "Punish me you may; but the pride of this sham countess and the sham earl will be brought low. And I tell you once for all," he added, rising at the same time, and speaking in ringing, wrathful tones, "that I defy you, and will either be handsomely remunerated for silence, or I will at once inform the Honorable James Kingston that he is the true Earl of Seyton."
"And I tell you," retorted Flint, "that if you attempt to leave this room, I will give you into custody at once, and transport you, whatever may be the consequence to others. Come, come, let us have no more nonsense or bluster. We have strong reasons for believing that the story by which you have been extorting money, is a fabrication. If it be so, rely upon it we shall detect and punish you. Your only safe course is to make a clean breast of it whilst there is yet time. Out with it, man, at once, and you shall go Scot-free; nay, have a few score pounds more—say a hundred. Be wise in time, I counsel you."
Chilton hesitated; his white lips quivered. There was something to reveal.
"I cannot," he muttered, after a considerable pause. "There is nothing to disclose."
"You will not! Then your fate be on your own head. I have done with you."
It was now my turn. "Come, come," I said, "it is useless urging this man further. How much do you expect? The insolent proposal contained in your note is, you well know, out of the question. How much money do you expect for keeping this wretched affair secret? State your terms at once."
"A thousand per annum," was the reply, "and the first year down."
"Modest, upon my word! But I suppose we must comply." I wrote out an agreement. "Will you sign this?"
He ran it over. "Yes; Lady Seyton, as she calls herself, will take care it never sees the light."
I withdrew, and in two or three minutes returned with a check. "Her ladyship has no present cash at the bankers," I said, "and is obliged to post-date this check twelve days."
The rascal grumbled a good deal; but as there was no help for it, he took the security, signed the agreement, and walked off.
"A sweet nut that for the devil to crack," observed Mr. Flint, looking savagely after him. "I am in hopes we shall trounce him yet, bravely as he carries it. The check of course is not payable to order or bearer"
"Certainly not; and before twelve days are past, you will have returned from Ireland. The agreement may be, I thought, of use with Cunningham or Mullins. If they have been conspiring together, they will scarcely admire the light in which you can place the arrangement, as affording proof that he means to keep the lion's share of the reward to himself."
"Exactly. At all events we shall get at the truth, whatever it be."
The same evening Mr. Flint started for Dublin via Holyhead.
I received in due course a letter from him dated the day after his arrival there. It was anything but a satisfactory one. The date on the grave-stone had been truly represented, and Mullins who erected it was a highly respectable man. Flint had also seen the grave-digger, but could make nothing out of him. There was no regular register of deaths kept in Swords except that belonging to Cunningham; and the minister who buried Gosford, and who lived at that time in Dublin, had been dead some time. This was disheartening and melancholy enough; and, as if to give our unfortunate client the coup-de-grace, Mr. Jackson, junior, marched into the office just after I had read it, to say that, having been referred by Lady Seyton to us for explanations, with respect to a statement made by a Mr. Edward Chilton to the Honorable James Kingston, for whom they, the Messrs. Jackson, were now acting, by which it appeared that the said Honorable James Kingston was, in fact, the true Earl of Seyton, he, Mr. Jackson, junior, would be happy to hear what I had to say upon the subject! It needed but this. Chilton had, as I feared he would, after finding we had been consulted, sold his secret, doubtless advantageously, to the heir-at-law. There was still, however, a chance that something favorable might turn up, and, as I had no notion of throwing that chance away, I carelessly replied that we had reason to believe Chilton's story was a malicious fabrication, and that we should of course throw on them the onus of judicial proof that Gosford was still alive when the late earl's marriage was solemnized. Finally, however, to please Mr. Jackson, who professed to be very anxious, for the lady's sake, to avoid unnecessary eclat, and to arrange the affair as quietly as possible, I agreed to meet him at Lady Seyton's in four days from that time, and hear the evidence upon which he relied. This could not at all events render our position worse; and it was, meanwhile, agreed that the matter should be kept as far as possible profoundly secret.
Three days passed without any further tidings from Mr. Flint, and I vehemently feared that his journey had proved a fruitless one, when, on the evening previous to the day appointed for the conference at Seyton House, a hackney-coach drove rapidly up to the office door, and out popped Mr. Flint, followed by two strangers, whom he very watchfully escorted into the house.
"Mr. Patrick Mullins and Mr. Pierce Cunningham," said Flint as he shook hands with me in a way which, in conjunction with the merry sparkle of his eyes, and the boisterous tone of his voice, assured me all was right. "Mr. Pierce Cunningham will sleep here to-night," he added; "so Collins had better engage a bed out."
Cunningham, an ill-looking lout of a fellow, muttered, that he chose "to sleep at a tavern."
"Not if I know it, my fine fellow," rejoined Mr. Flint. "You mean well, I dare say; but I cannot lose sight of you for all that. You either sleep here or at a station-house."
The man stared with surprise and alarm; but knowing refusal or resistance to be hopeless, sullenly assented to the arrangement, and withdrew to the room appointed for him, vigilantly guarded. For Mr. Mullins we engaged a bed at a neighboring tavern.
Mr. Flint's mission had been skillfully and successfully accomplished. He was convinced, by the sullen confusion of manner manifested by Cunningham, that some villainous agency had been at work, and he again waited on Mullins, the stone-cutter. "Who gave you the order for the grave-stone?" he asked. Mr. Mullins referred to his book, and answered that he received it by letter. "Had he got that letter?" "Very likely," he replied, "as he seldom destroyed business papers of any kind." "A search was instituted, and finally this letter," said Mr. Flint, "worth an earl's coronet, torn and dirty as it is, turned up." This invaluable document, which bore the London postdate of June 23, 1832, ran as follows:—
"Anglesea Hotel, Haymarket, London, June 23, 1832.
"Sir—Please to erect a plain tomb-stone at the head of Charles Gosford, Esquire's grave, who died a few month's since at Swords, aged thirty-two years. This is all that need be inscribed upon it. You are referred to Mr. Guinness of Sackville Street, Dublin, for payment. Your obedient servant,
"You see," continued Flint, "the fellow had inadvertently left out the date of Gosford's death, merely stating it occurred a few months previously; and Mullins concluded that, in entering the order in his day-book, he must have somehow or other confounded the date of the letter with that of Gosford's decease. Armed with this precious discovery, I again sought Cunningham, and by dint of promises and threats, at last got the truth out of the rascal. It was this:—Chilton, who returned to this country from the Cape, where he had resided for three years previously, about two months ago, having some business to settle in Dublin, went over there, and one day visited Swords, read the inscription on Charles Gosford's grave-stone, and immediately sought out the grave-digger, and asked him if he had any record of that gentleman's burial. Cunningham said he had, and produced his book, by which it appeared that it took place December 24, 1831. "That cannot be," remarked Chilton, and he referred to the head-stone. Cunningham said he had noticed the mistake a few days after it was erected; but thinking it of no consequence, and never having, that he knew of, seen Mr. Mullins since, he had said, and indeed thought, nothing about it. To conclude the story—Chilton ultimately, by payment of ten pounds down, and liberal promises for the future, prevailed upon the grave-digger to lend himself to the infamous device the sight of the grave-stone had suggested to his fertile, unscrupulous brain."
This was indeed a glorious success and the firm of Flint and Sharp drank the Countess of Seyton's health that evening with great enthusiasm, and gleefully "thought of the morrow."
We found the drawing-room of Seyton House occupied by the Honorable James Kingston, his solicitors, the Messrs. Jackson, Lady Seyton, and her father and sister, to whom she had at length disclosed the source of her disquietude. The children were leaving the apartment as we entered it, and the grief-dimmed eyes of the countess rested sadly upon her bright-eyed boy as he slowly withdrew with his sisters. That look changed to one of wild surprise as it encountered Mr. Flint's shining, good-humored countenance. I was more composed and reserved than my partner, though feeling as vividly as he did the satisfaction of being able not only to dispel Lady Seyton's anguish, but to extinguish the exultation, and trample on the hopes, of the Honorable James Kingston, a stiff, grave, middle-aged piece of hypocritical propriety, who was surveying from out the corners of his affectedly-unobservant eyes the furniture and decorations of the splendid apartment, and hugging himself with the thought that all that was his! Business was immediately proceeded with. Chilton was called in. He repeated his former story verbatim, and with much fluency and confidence. He then placed in the hands of Jackson, senior, the vouchers signed by Cunningham and Mullins. The transient light faded from Lady Seyton's countenance as she turned despairingly, almost accusingly, towards us.
"What answer have you to make to this gentleman's statement, thus corroborated?" demanded Jackson, senior.
"Quite a remarkable one," replied Mr. Flint, as he rang the bell. "Desire the gentlemen in the library to step up," he added to the footman who answered the summons. In about three minutes in marched Cunningham and Mullins, followed by two police-officers. An irrepressible exclamation of terror escaped Chilton, which was immediately echoed by Mr. Flint's direction to the police, as he pointed towards the trembling caitiff: "That is your man—secure him."
A storm of exclamations, questions, remonstrances, instantly broke forth, and it was several minutes before attention could be obtained for the statements of our two Irish witnesses and the reading of the happily-found letter. The effect of the evidence adduced was decisive, electrical. Lady Seyton, as its full significance flashed upon her, screamed with convulsive joy, and I thought must have fainted from excess of emotion. The Rev. John Hayley returned audible thanks to God in a voice quivering with rapture, and Miss Hayley ran out of the apartment, and presently returned with the children, who were immediately half-smothered with their mother's ecstatic kisses. All was for a few minutes bewilderment, joy, rapture! Flint persisted to his dying day, that Lady Seyton threw her arms round his neck, and kissed his bald old forehead. This, however, I cannot personally vouch for, as my attention was engaged at the moment by the adverse claimant, the Honorable James Kingston, who exhibited one of the most irresistibly comic, wo-begone, lackadaisical aspects it is possible to conceive. He made a hurried and most undignified exit, and was immediately followed by the discomfited "family" solicitors. Chilton was conveyed to a station-house, and the next day was fully committed for trial. He was convicted at the next sessions, and sentenced to seven years' transportation; and the "celebrated" firm of Flint and Sharp, derived considerable lustre, and more profit, from this successful stroke of professional dexterity.
The criminal business of the office was, during the first three or four years of our partnership, entirely superintended by Mr. Flint; he being more an fait, from early practice, than myself in the art and mystery of prosecuting and defending felons, and I was thus happily relieved of duties which, in the days when George III. was king, were frequently very oppressive and revolting. The criminal practitioner dwelt in an atmosphere tainted alike with cruelty and crime, and pulsating alternately with merciless decrees of death, and the shrieks and wailings of sentenced guilt. And not always guilt! There exist many records of proofs, incontestable, but obtained too late, of innocence having been legally strangled on the gallows in other cases than that of Eliza Fenning. How could it be otherwise with a criminal code crowded in every line with penalties of death, nothing but—death? Juster, wiser times have dawned upon us, in which truer notions prevail of what man owes to man, even when sitting in judgment on transgressors; and this we owe, let us not forget, to the exertions of a band of men who, undeterred by the sneers of the reputedly wise and practical men of the world, and the taunts of "influential" newspapers, persisted in teaching that the rights of property could be more firmly cemented than by the shedding of blood—law, justice, personal security more effectually vindicated than by the gallows. Let me confess that I also was, for many years, amongst the mockers, and sincerely held such "theorists" and "dreamers" as Sir Samuel Romilly and his fellow-workers in utter contempt. Not so my partner, Mr. Flint. Constantly in the presence of criminal judges and juries, he had less confidence in the unerring verity of their decisions than persons less familiar with them, or who see them only through the medium of newspapers. Nothing could exceed his distress of mind if, in cases in which he was prosecuting attorney, a convict died persisting in his innocence, or without a full confession of guilt. And to such a pitch did this morbidly-sensitive feeling at length arrive, that he all at once refused to undertake, or in any way meddle with, criminal prosecutions, and they were consequently turned over to our head clerk, with occasional assistance from me if there happened to be a press of business of the sort. Mr. Flint still, however, retained a monopoly of the defences, except when, from some temporary cause or other, he happened to be otherwise engaged, when they fell to me. One of these I am about to relate, the result of which, whatever other impression it produced, thoroughly cured me—as it may the reader—of any propensity to sneer or laugh at criminal-law reformers and denouncers of the gallows.
One forenoon, during the absence of Mr. Flint in Wiltshire, a Mrs. Margaret Davies called at the office, in apparently great distress of mind. This lady, I must premise, was an old, or at all events an elderly maiden, of some four-and-forty years of age—I have heard a very intimate female friend of hers say she would never see fifty again, but this was spite—and possessed of considerable house property in rather poor localities. She found abundant employment for energies which might otherwise have turned to cards and scandal, in collecting her weekly, monthly, and quarterly rents, and in promoting, or fancying she did, the religious and moral welfare of her tenants. Very bare-faced, I well knew, were the impositions practiced upon her credulous good-nature in money matters, and I strongly suspected the spiritual and moral promises and performances of her motley tenantry exhibited as much discrepancy as those pertaining to rent. Still, deceived or cheated as she might be, good Mrs. Davies never wearied in what she conceived to be well-doing, and was ever ready to pour balm and oil into the wounds of the sufferer, however self-inflicted or deserved.
"What is the matter now?" I asked as soon as the good lady was seated, and had untied and loosened her bonnet, and thrown back her shawl, fast walking having heated her prodigiously. "Nothing worse than transportation is, I hope, likely to befall any of those interesting clients of yours?"
"You are a hard-hearted man, Mr. Sharp," replied Mrs. Davies between a smile and a cry; "but being a lawyer, that is of course natural, and, as I am not here to consult you as a Christian, of no consequence."
"Complimentary, Mrs. Davies; but pray, go on."
"You know Jane Eccles, one of my tenants in Bank Buildings—the embroidress who adopted her sister's orphan child?"
"I remember her name. She obtained, if I recollect rightly, a balance of wages for her due to the child's father, a mate, who died at sea. Well, what has befallen her?"
"A terrible accusation has been preferred against her," rejoined Mrs. Davies; "but as for a moment believing it, that is quite out of the question. Jane Eccles," continued the warm-hearted lady, at the same time extracting a crumpled newspaper from the miscellaneous contents of her reticule—"Jane Eccles works hard from morning till night, keeps herself to herself; her little nephew and her rooms are always as clean and nice as a new pin; she attends church regularly; and pays her rent punctually to the day. This disgraceful story, therefore," he added, placing the journal in my hands, "cannot be true."
I glanced over the police news:—'Uttering forged Bank-of-England notes, knowing them to be forged;' I exclaimed, "The devil!"
"There's no occasion to be spurting that name out so loudly, Mr. Sharp," said Mrs. Davies with some asperity, "especially in a lawyer's office. People have been wrongfully accused before to-day, I suppose?"
I was intent on the report, and not answering, she continued, "I heard nothing of it till I read the shameful account in the paper half an hour agone. The poor slandered girl was, I dare say, afraid or ashamed to send for me."
"This appears to be a very bad case, Mrs. Davies," I said at length. "Three forged ten-pound notes changed in one day at different shops each time, under the pretence of purchasing articles of small amount, and another ten-pound note found in her pocket! All that has, I must say, a very ugly look."
"I don't care," exclaimed Mrs. Davies quite fiercely, "if it looks as ugly as sin, or if the whole Bank of England was found in her pocket! I know Jane Eccles well; she nursed me last spring through the fever; and I would be upon my oath that the whole story, from beginning to end, is an invention of the devil, or something worse."
"Jane Eccles," I persisted, "appears to have been unable or unwilling to give the slightest explanation as to how she became possessed of the spurious notes. Who is this brother of hers, 'of such highly respectable appearance,' according to the report, who was permitted a private interview with her previous to the examination?"
"She has no brother that I have ever heard of," said Mrs. Davies. "It must be a mistake of the papers."
"That is not likely. You observed of course that she was fully committed—and no wonder!"
Mrs. Davies's faith in the young woman's integrity was not to be shaken by any evidence save that of her own bodily eyes, and I agreed to see Jane Eccles on the morrow, and make the best arrangements for the defence—at Mrs. Davies' charge—which the circumstances and the short time I should have for preparation—the Old Bailey session would be on in a few days—permitted. The matter so far settled, Mrs. Margaret hurried off to see what had become of little Henry, the prisoner's nephew.
I visited Jane Eccles the next day in Newgate. She was a well-grown young woman of about two or three-and-twenty—not exactly pretty perhaps, but very well-looking. Her brown hair was plainly worn, without a cap, and the expression of her face was, I thought, one of sweetness and humility, contradicted in some degree by rather harsh lines about the mouth, denoting strong will and purpose. As a proof of the existence of this last characteristic, I may here mention that, when her first overweening confidence had yielded to doubt, she, although dotingly fond of her nephew, at this time about eight years of age, firmly refused to see him, "in order," she once said to me—and the thought brought a deadly pallor to her face—in order that, should the worst befall, her memory might not be involuntarily connected in his mind with images of dungeons, and disgrace, and shame. Jane Eccles had received what is called in the country, "a good schooling," and the books Mrs. Davies had lent her she had eagerly perused. She was therefore to a certain extent a cultivated person; and her speech and manners were mild, gentle, and, so to speak, religious. I generally found, when I visited her, a Bible or prayer-book in her hand. This, however, from my experience, comparatively slight though it was, did not much impress me in her favor—devotional sentiment so easily, for a brief time, assumed, being in nine such cases out of ten a hypocritical deceit. Still she, upon the whole, made a decidedly favorable impression on me, and I no longer so much wondered at the bigotry of unbelief manifested by Mrs. Davies in behalf of her apparently amiable and grateful protegee.
But beyond the moral doubt thus suggested of the prisoner's guilt, my interviews with her utterly failed to extract anything from her in rebutment of the charge upon which she was about to be arraigned. At first she persisted in asserting that the prosecution was based upon manifest error; that the impounded notes, instead of being forged, were genuine Bank-of-England paper. It was some time before I succeeded in convincing her that this hope, to which she so eagerly, desperately clung, was a fallacious one. I did so at last; and either, thought I, as I marked her varying color and faltering voice, "either you are a consummate actress, or else the victim of some frightful delusion or conspiracy."
"I will see you, if you please, to-morrow," she said, looking up from the chair upon which, with her head bowed and her face covered with her hands, she had been seated for several minutes in silence. "My thoughts are confused now, but to-morrow I shall be more composed; better able to decide if—to talk, I mean, of this unhappy business."
I thought it better to comply without remonstrance, and at once took my leave.
When I returned the next afternoon, the governor of the prison informed me that the brother of my client, James Eccles, quite a dashing gentleman, had had a long interview with her. He had left about two hours before, with the intention, he said, of calling upon me.
I was conducted to the room where my conferences with the prisoner usually took place. In a few minutes she appeared, much flushed and excited, it seemed to be alternately with trembling joy and hope, and doubt, and nervous fear.
"Well," I said, "I trust you are now ready to give me your unreserved confidence, without which, be assured, that any reasonable hope of a successful issue from the peril in which you are involved is out of the question."
The varying emotions I have noticed were clearly traceable as they swept over her tell-tale countenance during the minute or so that elapsed before she spoke.
"Tell me candidly, sir," she said at last, "whether, if I owned to you that the notes were given to me by a—a person, whom I cannot, if I would, produce, to purchase various articles at different shops, and return him—the person I mean—the change; and that I made oath this was done by me in all innocence of heart, as the God of heaven and earth truly knows it was, it would avail me?"
"Not in the least," I replied, angry at such trifling. "How can you ask such a question? We must find the person who, you intimate, has deceived you, and placed your life in peril; and if that can be proved, hang him instead of you. I speak plainly, Miss Eccles," I added in a milder tone; "perhaps you may think unfeelingly, but there is no further time for playing with this dangerous matter. To-morrow a true bill will be found against you, and your trial may then come on immediately. If you are careless for yourself, you ought to have some thought for the sufferings of your excellent friend, Mrs. Davies; for your nephew, soon perhaps to be left friendless and destitute."
"Oh spare me—spare me!" sobbed the unhappy young woman, sinking nervelessly into a seat. "Have pity upon me, wretched, bewildered as I am!" Tears relieved her, and after awhile, she said, "It is useless, sir, to prolong this interview. I could not, I solemnly assure you, if I would, tell you where to search for or find the person of whom I spoke. And," she added, whilst the lines about her mouth of which I have spoken, grew distinct and rigid, "I would not if I could. What indeed would it, as I have been told and believe, avail, but to cause the death of two deceived innocent persons instead of one? Besides," she continued, trying to speak with firmness, and repress the shudder which crept over and shook her as with ague—"besides, whatever the verdict, the penalty will not, cannot, I am sure, I know, be—be"—
I understood her plainly enough, although her resolution failed to sustain her through the sentence.
"Who is this brother—James Eccles, he calls himself—whom you saw at the police-office, and who has twice been here, I understand—once to-day?"
A quick start revealed the emotion with which she heard the question, and her dilated eyes rested upon me for a moment with eager scrutiny. She speedily recovered her presence of mind, and with her eyes again fixed on the floor, said in a quivering voice, "My brother! Yes—as you say—my brother."
"Mrs. Davies says you have no brother!" I sharply rejoined.
"Good Mrs. Davies," she replied in a tone scarcely above a whisper, and without raising her head, "does not know all our family."
A subterfuge was, I was confident, concealed in these words; but after again and again urging her to confide in me, and finding warning and persuasion alike useless, I withdrew, discomfited and angry, and withal as much concerned and grieved as baffled and indignant. On going out, I arranged with the governor that the "brother," if he again made his appearance, should be detained, bongre malgre, till my arrival. Our precaution was too late—he did not reappear; and so little notice had any one taken of his person, that to advertise a description of him with a reward for his apprehension was hopeless.
A true bill was found, and two hours afterwards Jane Eccles was placed in the dock. The trial did not last more than twenty minutes, at the end of which, an unhesitating verdict of guilty was returned, and she was duly sentenced to be hanged by the neck till she was dead. We had retained the ablest counsel practicing in the court, but, with no tangible defence, their efforts were merely thrown away. Upon being asked what she had to say why the sentence of the law should not be carried into effect? she repeated her previous statement—that the notes had been given her to change by a person in whom she reposed the utmost confidence; and that she had not the slightest thought of evil or fraud in what she did. That person, however, she repeated once more, could not be produced. Her assertions only excited a derisive smile; and all necessary forms having been gone through, she was removed from the bar.
The unhappy woman bore the ordeal through which she had just passed with much firmness. Once only, whilst sentence was being passed, her high-strung resolution appeared to falter and give way. I was watching her intently, and I observed that she suddenly directed a piercing look towards a distant part of the crowded court. In a moment her eye lightened, the expression of extreme horror which had momently darkened her countenance passed away, and her partial composure returned. I had instinctively, as it were, followed her glance, and thought I detected a tall man enveloped in a cloak engaged in dumb momentary communication with her. I jumped up from my seat, and hastened as quickly as I could through the thronged passages to the spot, and looked eagerly around, but the man, whosoever he might be, was gone.
The next act in this sad drama was the decision of the Privy Council upon the recorder's report. It came. Several were reprieved, but amongst them was not Jane Eccles. She and nine others were to perish at eight o'clock on the following morning.
The anxiety and worry inseparable from this most unhappy affair, which, from Mr. Flint's protracted absence, I had exclusively to bear, fairly knocked me up, and on the evening of the day on which the decision of the Council was received, I went to bed much earlier than usual, and really ill. Sleep I could not, and I was tossing restlessly about, vainly endeavoring to banish from my mind the gloomy and terrible images connected with the wretched girl and her swiftly-coming fate, when a quick tap sounded on the door, and a servant's voice announced that one of the clerks had brought a letter which the superscription directed to be read without a moment's delay. I sprang out of bed, snatched the letter, and eagerly ran it over. It was from the Newgate chaplain, a very worthy, humane gentleman, and stated that, on hearing the result of the deliberations of the Privy Council, all the previous stoicism and fortitude exhibited by Jane Eccles had completely given way, and she had abandoned herself to the wildest terror and despair. As soon as she could speak coherently, she implored the governor with frantic earnestness to send for me. As this was not only quite useless in the opinion of that official, but against the rules, the prisoner's request was not complied with. The chaplain, however, thinking it might be as well that I should know of her desire to see me, had of his own accord sent me this note. He thought that possibly the sheriffs would permit me to have a brief interview with the condemned prisoner in the morning, if I arrived sufficiently early; and although it could avail nothing as regarded her fate in this world, still it might perhaps calm the frightful tumult of emotion by which she was at present tossed and shaken, and enable her to meet the inevitable hour with fortitude and resignation.
It was useless to return to bed after receiving such a communication, and I forthwith dressed myself, determined to sit up and read, if I could, till the hour at which I might hope to be admitted to the jail, should strike. Slowly and heavily the dark night limped away, and as the first rays of the cold wintry dawn reached the earth, I sallied forth. A dense, brutal crowd were already assembled in front of the prison, and hundreds of well-dressed sight-seers occupied the opposite windows, morbidly eager for the rising of the curtain upon the mournful tragedy about to be enacted. I obtained admission without much difficulty, but, till the arrival of the sheriffs, no conference with the condemned prisoners could be possibly permitted. Those important functionaries happened on this morning to arrive unusually late, and I paced up and down the paved corridor in a fever of impatience and anxiety. They were at last announced, but before I could, in the hurry and confusion, obtain speech of either of them, the dismal bell tolled out, and I felt with a shudder that it was no longer possible to effect my object. "Perhaps it is better so," observed the reverend chaplain, in a whisper. "She has been more composed for the last two or three hours, and is now, I trust, in a better frame of mind for death." I turned, sick at heart, to leave the place, and in my agitation missing the right way, came directly in view of the terrible procession. Jane Eccles saw me, and a terrific scream, followed by frantic heart-rending appeals to me to save her, burst with convulsive effort from her white quivering lips. Never will the horror of that moment pass from my remembrance. I staggered back, as if every spasmodic word struck me like a blow; and then, directed by one of the turnkeys, sped in an opposite direction as fast as my trembling limbs could carry me—the shrieks of the wretched victim, the tolling of the dreadful bell, and the obscene jeers and mocks of the foul crowd through which I had to force my way, evoking a confused tumult of disgust and horror in my brain, which, if long continued, would have driven me mad. On reaching home, I was bled freely, and got to bed. This treatment, I have no doubt, prevented a violent access of fever; for, as it was, several days passed before I could be safely permitted to re-engage in business.
On revisiting the office, a fragment of a letter written by Jane Eccles a few hours previous to her death, and evidently addressed to Mrs. Davies, was placed by Mr. Flint, who had by this time returned, before me. The following is an exact copy of it, with the exception that the intervals which I have marked with dots,.... were filled with erasures and blots, and that every word seemed to have been traced by a hand smitten with palsy:—
"From my Death-place, Midnight.
"Dear Madam—No, beloved friend—mother, let me call you.... Oh kind, gentle mother, I am to die ... to be killed in a few hours by cruel men!—I, so young, so unprepared for death, and yet guiltless! Oh never doubt that I am guiltless of the offence for which they will have the heart to hang me.... Nobody, they say, can save me now; yet if I could see the lawyer.... I have been deceived, cruelly deceived, madam—buoyed up by lying hopes, till just now the thunder burst, and I—oh God!.... As they spoke, the fearful chapter in the Testament came bodily before me—the rending of the vail in twain, the terrible darkness, and the opened graves!.... I did not write for this, but my brain aches and dazzles.... It is too late—too late, they all tell me! ... Ah, if these dreadful laws were not so swift, I might yet—but no; he clearly proved to me how useless.... I must not think of that.... It is of my nephew, of your Henry, child of my affections, that I would speak. Oh, would that I.... But hark!—they are coming.... The day has dawned ... to me the day of judgment!...."
This incoherent scrawl only confirmed my previous suspicions, but it was useless to dwell further on the melancholy subject. The great axe had fallen, and whether justly or unjustly, would, I feared, as in many, very many other cases, never be clearly ascertained in this world. I was mistaken. Another case of "uttering forged Bank-of-England notes, knowing them to be forged," which came under our cognizance a few months afterwards, revived the fading memory of Jane Eccles's early doom, and cleared up every obscurity connected with it.
The offender in this new case, was a tall, dark-complexioned, handsome man, of about thirty years of age, of the name of Justin Arnold. His lady mother, whose real name I shall conceal under that of Barton, retained us for her son's defence, and from her, and other sources, we learned the following particulars:—
Justin Arnold was the lady's son by a former marriage. Mrs. Barton, a still splendid woman, had, in second nuptials, espoused a very wealthy person, and from time to time had covertly supplied Justin Arnold's extravagance. This, however, from the wild course the young man pursued, could not be forever continued, and after many warnings the supplies were stopped. Incapable of reformation, Justin Arnold, in order to obtain the means of dissipation, connected himself with a cleverly-organized band of swindlers and forgers, who so adroitly managed their nefarious business, that, till his capture, they had contrived to keep themselves clear of the law—the inferior tools and dupes having been alone caught in its fatal meshes. The defence, under these circumstances necessarily a difficult, almost impossible one, was undertaken by Mr. Flint, and conducted by him with his accustomed skill and energy.
I took a very slight interest in the matter, and heard very little concerning it till its judicial conclusion by the conviction of the offender, and his condemnation to death. The decision on the recorder's report was this time communicated to the authorities of Newgate on a Saturday, so that the batch ordered for execution, amongst whom was Justin Arnold, would not be hanged till the Monday morning. Rather late in the evening a note once more reached me from the chaplain of the prison. Justin Arnold wished to see me—me, not Mr. Flint. He had something of importance to communicate, he said, relative to a person in whom I had once felt great interest. It flashed across me that this Justin might be the "brother" of Jane Eccles, and I determined to see him. I immediately sought out one of the sheriffs, and obtained an order empowering me to see the prisoner on the afternoon of the morrow, (Sunday).
I found that the convict had expressed great anxiety lest I should decline to see him. My hoped-for visit was the only matter which appeared to occupy the mind or excite the care of the mocking, desperate young man; even the early and shameful termination of his own life on the morrow, he seemed to be utterly reckless of. Thus prepared, I was the less surprised at the scene which awaited me in the prisoner's cell, where I found him in angry altercation with the pale and affrighted chaplain.
I had never seen Justin Arnold before, this I was convinced of the instant I saw him; but he knew and greeted me instantly by name. His swarthy, excited features were flushed and angry; and after briefly thanking me for complying with his wishes, he added in a violent rapid tone, "This good man has been teasing me. He says, and truly, that I have defied God by my life; and now he wishes me to mock that inscrutable Being, on the eve of death, by words without sense, meaning, or truth!"
"No, no, no!" ejaculated the reverend gentleman. "I exhorted you to true repentance, to peace, charity, to"—
"True repentance, peace, charity!" broke in the prisoner, with a scornful burst; "when my heart is full of rage, and bitterness, and despair! Give me time for this repentance which you say is so needful—time to lure back long since banished hope, and peace, and faith! Poh!—you but flout me with words without meaning. I am unfit, you say, for the presence of men, but quite fit for that of God, before whom you are about to arrogantly cast me! Be it so—my deeds are upon my head! It is at least not my fault that I am hurled to judgment before the Eternal Judge himself commanded my presence there!"
"He may be unworthy to live," murmured the scared chaplain, "but oh, how utterly unfit to die!"
"That is true," rejoined Justin Arnold, with undiminished vehemence. "Those, if you will, are words of truth and sense—go you and preach them to the makers and executioners of English law. In the meantime I would speak privately with this gentleman."
The reverend pastor, with a mute gesture of compassion, sorrow, and regret, was about to leave the cell, when he was stayed by the prisoner, who exclaimed, "Now, I think of it, you had better, sir, remain. The statement I am about to make cannot, for the sake of the victim's reputation, and for her friends' sake, have too many witnesses. You both remember Jane Eccles?" A broken exclamation from both of us answered him, and he quickly added—"Ah, you already guess the truth, I see. Well, I do not wonder you should start and turn pale. It was a cruel, shameless deed—a dastardly murder if there was ever one. In as few words as possible, so you interrupt me not, I will relate my share in the atrocious business." He spoke rapidly, and once or twice during the brief recital, the moistened eye and husky voice betrayed emotions which his pride would have concealed.
"Jane and I were born in Hertfordshire, within a short distance of each other. I knew her from a child. She was better off then, I worse than we subsequently became—she by her father's bankruptcy, I by my mo—, by Mrs. Barton's wealthy marriage. She was about nineteen, I twenty-four, when I left the country for London. That she loved me with all the fervor of a trusting woman I well knew; and I had, too, for some time known that she must be either honorably wooed or not at all. That with me, was out of the question, and, as I told you, I came about that time to London. You can, I dare say, imagine the rest. We were—I and my friends, I mean—at a loss for agents to dispose of our wares, and at the same time pressed for money. I met Jane Eccles by accident. Genteel, of graceful address and winning manners, she was just fitted for our purpose. I feigned re-awakened love, proffered marriage, and a home across the Atlantic, as soon as certain trifling but troublesome affairs which momently harassed me were arranged. She believed me. I got her to change a considerable number of notes under various pretexts, but that they were forged she had not and could not have the remotest suspicion. You know the catastrophe. After her apprehension I visited this prison as her brother, and buoyed her up to the last with illusions of certain pardon and release, whatever the verdict, through the influence of my wealthy father-in-law, of our immediate union afterwards, and tranquil American home. It is needless to say more. She trusted me, and I sacrificed her; less flagrant instances of a like nature occur every day. And now, gentlemen, I would fain be alone."
"Remorseless villain!" I could not help exclaiming under my breath as he moved away.
He turned quickly back, and looking me in the face, without the slightest anger, said, "An execrable villain if you like—not a remorseless one! Her death alone sits near, and troubles my, to all else, hardened conscience. And let me tell you, reverend sir," he continued, resuming his former bitterness as he addressed the chaplain—"let me tell you that it was not the solemn words of the judge the other day, but her pale, reproachful image, standing suddenly beside me in the dock, just as she looked when I passed my last deception on her, that caused the tremor and affright, complacently attributed by that grave functionary to his own sepulchral eloquence. After all, her death cannot be exclusively laid to my charge. Those who tried her would not believe her story, and yet it was true as death. Had they not been so confident in their own unerring wisdom, they might have doomed her to some punishment short of the scaffold, and could now have retrieved their error. But I am weary, and would, I repeat, be alone. Farewell!" He threw himself on the rude pallet, and we silently withdrew.
A paper embodying Justin Arnold's declaration was forwarded to the secretary of state, and duly acknowledged, accompanied by an official expression of mild regret that it had not been made in time to save the life of Jane Eccles. No further notice was taken of the matter, and the record of the young woman's judicial sacrifice still doubtless encumbers the archives of the Home Office, forming, with numerous others of like character, the dark, sanguine background upon which the achievements of the great and good men who have so successfully purged the old Draco code that now a faint vestige only of the old barbarism remains, stands out in bright relief and changeless lustre.
"EVERY MAN HIS OWN LAWYER."
A smarter trader, a keener appreciator of the tendencies to a rise or fall in colonial produce—sugars more especially—than John Linden, of Mincing Lane, it would have been difficult to point out in the wide city of London. He was not so immensely rich as many others engaged in the same merchant-traffic as himself; nothing at all like it, indeed, for I doubt that he could at any time have been esteemed worth more than from eighty to ninety thousand pounds; but his transactions, although limited in extent when compared with those of the mammoth colonial houses, almost always returned more or less of profit; the result of his remarkable keenness and sagacity in scenting hurricanes, black insurrections, and emancipation bills, whilst yet inappreciable, or deemed afar off, by less sensitive organizations. At least to this wonderful prescience of future sugar-value did Mr. Linden himself attribute his rise in the world, and gradual increase in rotundity, riches, and respectability. This constant success engendered, as it is too apt to do, inordinate egotism, conceit, self-esteem, vanity. There was scarcely a social, governmental, or economical problem which he did not believe himself capable of solving as easily as he could eat his dinner when hungry. "Common-sense business-habits"—his favorite phrase—he believed to be quite sufficient for the elucidation of the most difficult question in law, physic, or divinity. The science of law, especially, he held to be an alphabet which any man—of common sense and business habits—could as easily master as he could count five on his fingers; and there was no end to his ridicule of the men with horse-hair head-dresses, and their quirks, quiddits, cases, tenures, and such-like devil's lingo. Lawyers, according to him, were a set of thorough humbugs and impostors, who gained their living by false pretence—that of affording advice and counsel, which every sane man could better render himself. He was unmistakably mad upon this subject, and he carried his insane theory into practice. He drew his own leases, examined the titles of some house-property he purchased, and set his hand and seal to the final deeds, guided only by his own common-sense spectacles. Once he bid, at the Auction Mart, as high as fifty-three thousand pounds for the Holmford estate, Herefordshire; and had he not been outbidden by young Palliser, son of the then recently-deceased eminent distiller, who was eager to obtain the property, with a view to a seat in parliament which its possession was said to almost insure—he would, I had not at the time the slightest doubt, have completed the purchase, without for a moment dreaming of submitting the vender's title to the scrutiny of a professional adviser. Mr. Linden, I should mention, had been for some time desirous of resigning his business in Mincing Lane to his son, Thomas Linden, the only child born to him by his long-since deceased wife, and of retiring, an estated squire-arch, to the otium cum., or sine dignitate, as the case might be, of a country life; and this disposition had of late been much quickened by daily-increasing apprehensions of negro emancipation and revolutionary interference with differential duties—changes which, in conjunction with others of similar character, would infallibly bring about that utter commercial ruin which Mr. Linden, like every other rich and about-to-retire merchant or tradesman whom I have ever known, constantly prophesied to be near at hand and inevitable.
With such a gentleman the firm of Flint & Sharp had only professional interviews, when procrastinating or doubtful debtors required that he should put on the screw—a process which, I have no doubt, he would himself have confidently performed, but for the waste of valuable time which doing so would necessarily involve. Both Flint and myself were, however, privately intimate with him—Flint more especially, who had known him from boyhood—and we frequently dined with him on a Sunday at his little box at Fulham. Latterly, we had on these occasions met there a Mrs. Arnold and her daughter Catherine—an apparently amiable, and certainly very pretty and interesting young person—to whom, Mr. Linden confidentially informed us, his son Tom had been for some time engaged.
"I don't know much about her family," observed Mr. Linden one day, in the course of a gossip at the office, "but she moves in very respectable society. Tom met her at the Slades'; but I do know she has something like thirty-five thousand pounds in the funds. The instant I was informed how matters stood with the young folk, I, as a matter of common sense and business, asked the mother, Mrs. Arnold, for a reference to her banker or solicitor—there being no doubt that a woman and a minor would be in lawyers' leading-strings—and she referred me to Messrs. Dobson of Chancery Lane. You know the Dobsons?"
"Perfectly,—what was the reply?"
"That Catherine Arnold, when she came of age—it wants but a very short time of that now—would be entitled to the capital of thirty-four thousand seven hundred pounds, bequeathed by an uncle, and now lodged in the funds in the names of the trustees, Crowther & Jenkins, of Leadenhall Street, by whom the interest on that sum was regularly paid, half-yearly, through the Messrs. Dobson, for the maintenance and education of the heiress. A common-sense, business-like letter in every respect, and extremely satisfactory; and as soon as he pleases, after Catherine Arnold comes of age, and into actual possession of her fortune, Tom may have her, with my blessing over the bargain."
I dined at Laurel Villa, Fulham, about two months after this conversation, and Linden and I found ourselves alone over the dessert—the young people having gone out for a stroll, attracted doubtless by the gay aspect of the Thames, which flows past the miniature grounds attached to the villa. Never had I seen Mr. Linden in so gay, so mirthful a mood.
"Pass the decanter," he exclaimed, the instant the door had closed upon Tom and his fiancee. "Pass the decanter, Sharp; I have news for you, my boy, now they are gone."
"Indeed! and what may the news be?"
"Fill a bumper for yourself, and I'll give you a toast. Here's to the health and prosperity of the proprietor of the Holmford estate; and may he live a thousand years, and one over!—Hip—hip—hurra!"
He swallowed his glass of wine, and then, in his intensity of glee, laughed himself purple.
"You needn't stare so," he said, as soon as he had partially recovered breath; "I am the proprietor of the Holmford property—bought it for fifty-six thousand pounds of that young scant-grace and spendthrift, Palliser—fifteen thousand pounds less than what it cost him, with the outlay he has made upon it. Signed, sealed, delivered, paid for yesterday. Ha! ha! ho! Leave John Linden alone for a bargain! It's worth seventy thousand pounds if it's worth a shilling. I say," continued he, after a renewed spasm of exuberant mirth, "not a word about it to anybody—mind! I promised Palliser, who is quietly packing up to be off to Italy, or Australia, or Constantinople, or the devil—all of them, perhaps, in succession—not to mention a word about it till he was well off—you understand? Ha! ha!—ho! ho!" again burst out Mr. Linden. "I pity the poor creditors though! Bless you! I shouldn't have had it at anything like the price, only for his knowing that I was not likely to be running about exposing the affair, by asking lawyers whether an estate in a family's possession, as this was in Dursley's for three hundred years, had a good title or not. So be careful not to drop a word, even to Tom—for my honor's sake. A delicious bargain, and no mistake! Worth, if a penny, seventy thousand pounds. Ha! ha!—ho! ho!"
"Then you have really parted with that enormous sum of money without having had the title to the estate professionally examined?"
"Title! Fiddlestick! I looked over the deeds myself. Besides, haven't I told you the ancestors of Dursley, from whose executors Palliser purchased the estate, were in possession of it for centuries. What better title than prescription can there be?"
"That may be true enough; but still"—
"I ought, you think, to have risked losing the bargain by delay, and have squandered time and money upon fellows in horse-hair wigs, in order to ascertain what I sufficiently well knew already? Pooh! I am not in my second childhood yet!"
It was useless to argue with him; besides the mischief, if mischief there was, had been done, and the not long-delayed entrance of the young couple necessitating a change of topic, I innocently inquired what he thought of the Negro Emancipation Bill which Mr. Stanley, as the organ of the ministry, had introduced a few evenings previously? and was rewarded by a perfect deluge of loquacious indignation and invective—during a pause in which hurly-burly of angry words I contrived to effect my escape.
"Crowther & Jenkins!" exclaimed one morning, Mr. Flint, looking up from the "Times" newspaper he held in his hand. "Crowther & Jenkins!—what is it we know about Crowther & Jenkins?"
The question was addressed to me, and I, like my partner, could not at the moment precisely recall why those names sounded upon our ears with a certain degree of interest as well as familiarity. "Crowther & Jenkins!" I echoed. "True; what do we know about Crowther & Jenkins? Oh, I have it!—they are the executors of a will under which young Linden's pretty bride, that is to be, inherits her fortune."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Flint, as he put down the paper, and looked me gravely in the face—"I remember now; their names are in the list of bankrupts. A failure in the gambling corn-trade too. I hope they have not been speculating with the young woman's money."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when Mr. Linden was announced, and presently in walked that gentleman in a state of considerable excitement.
"I told you," he began, "some time ago about Crowther & Jenkins being the persons in whose names Catherine Arnold's money stood in the funds?"
"Yes," replied Flint; "and I see by the 'Gazette' they are bankrupts, and, by your face, that they have speculated with your intended daughter-in-law's money, and lost it!"
"Positively so!" rejoined Mr. Linden, with great heat. "Drew it out many months ago! But they have exceedingly wealthy connections—at least Crowther has—who will, I suppose, arrange Miss Arnold's claim rather than their relative should be arraigned for felony."
"Felony!—you are mistaken, my good sir. There is no felony—no legal felony, I mean—in the matter. Miss Arnold can only prove against the estate like any other creditor."
"The devil she can't! Tom, then, must look out for another wife, for I am credibly informed there won't be a shilling in the pound."
And so it turned out. The great corn-firm had been insolvent for years; and after speculating desperately, and to a frightful extent, with a view to recover themselves, had failed to an enormous amount—their assets, comparatively speaking, proving to be nil.
The ruin spread around, chiefly on account of the vast quantity of accommodation-paper they had afloat, was terrible; but upon no one did the blow fall with greater severity than on young Linden and his promised wife. His father ordered him to instantly break off all acquaintance with Miss Arnold; and on the son, who was deeply attached to her, peremptorily refusing to do so, Linden, senior, threatened to turn him out of doors, and ultimately disinherit him. Angry, indignant, and in love, Thomas Linden did a very rash and foolish thing; he persuaded Catherine Arnold to consent to a private marriage, arguing that if the indissoluble knot were once fairly tied, his father would, as a matter of course—he being an only child—become reconciled to what he could no longer hope to prevent or remedy.
The imprudent young man deceived both himself and her who trusted in his pleasing plausibilities. Ten minutes after he had disclosed the marriage to his father, he was turned, almost penniless, out of doors; and the exasperated and inexorable old man refused to listen to any representation in his favor, by whomsoever proffered, and finally, even to permit the mention of his name in his hearing.
"It's of no use," said Mr. Flint, on returning for the last time, from a mission undertaken to extort, if possible, some provision against absolute starvation for the newly-wedded couple. "He is as cold and hard as adamant, and I think, if possible, even more of a tiger than before. He will be here presently to give instructions for his will."
"His will! Surely he will draw that up himself after his own common-sense, business fashion?"
"He would unquestionably have done so a short time since; but some events that have lately occurred have considerably shaken his estimate of his own infallibility, and he is, moreover, determined, he says, that there shall be no mistake as to effectually disinheriting his son. He has made two or three heavy losses, and his mind is altogether in a very cankered, distempered state."
Mr. Linden called, as he had promised to do, and gave us the written heads of a will which he desired to have at once formally drawn up. By this instrument he devised the Holmford estate, and all other property, real and personal, of which he might die possessed, to certain charitable institutions, in varying proportions, payable as soon after his death as the property could be turned into money. "The statute of mortmain does not give me much uneasiness," remarked the vindictive old man with a bitter smile. "I shall last some time yet. I would have left it all to you, Flint," he added, "only that I knew you would defeat my purpose by giving it back to that disobedient, ungrateful, worthless boy."
"Do leave it to me," rejoined Mr. Flint, with grave emphasis, "and I promise you faithfully this—that the wish respecting it, whatever it may be, which trembles on your lip as you are about to leave this world for another, and when it may be too late to formally revoke the testament you now propose, shall be strictly carried out. That time cannot be a very distant one, John Linden, for a man whose hair is white as yours."
It was preaching to the winds. He was deaf, blind, mute, to every attempt at changing his resolve. The will was drawn in accordance with his peremptorily-iterated instructions, and duly signed, sealed, and attested. Not very long afterwards, Mr. Linden disposed of his business in Mincing Lane, and retired to Holmford, but with nothing like the money-fortune he had once calculated upon, the losses alluded to by Mr. Flint, and followed by others, having considerably diminished his wealth.
We ultimately obtained a respectable and remunerative situation for Thomas Linden in a mercantile house at Belfast, with which we were professionally acquainted, and after securing berths in the Erin steamer, he, with his wife and mother-in-law, came, with a kind of hopeful sadness in their looks and voices, to bid us farewell—for a very long time, they and we also feared—
For an eternity, it seemed, on reading the account of the loss of the Erin, a few days afterwards, with every soul on board! Their names were published with those of the other passengers who had embarked, and we had of course concluded that they had perished, when a letter reached us from Belfast, stating that, through some delay on the part of Mrs. Arnold, they had happily lost their passage in the Erin, and embarked in the next steamer for Belfast, where they arrived in perfect safety. We forwarded this intelligence to Holmford, but it elicited no reply.
We heard nothing of Mr. Linden for about two months, except by occasional notices in the "Hereford Times", which he regularly forwarded to the office, relative to the improvements on the Holmford estate, either actually begun or contemplated by its new proprietor. He very suddenly reappeared. I was cooling my heels in the waiting-room of the chambers of the Barons of the Exchequer, Chancery Lane, awaiting my turn of admission, when one of our clerks came in, half-breathless with haste. "You are wanted, sir, immediately; Mr. Flint is out, and Mr. Linden is at the office raving like a mad-man." I instantly transferred the business I was in attendance at chambers upon, to the clerk, and with the help of a cab soon reached home.
Mr. Linden was not raving when I arrived. The violence of the paroxysm of rage and terror by which he was possessed had passed away, and he looked, as I entered, the image of pale, rigid, iron, dumb despair. He held a letter and a strip of parchment in his hand; these he presented, and with white, stammering lips, bade me read. The letter was from an attorney of the name of Sawbridge, giving notice of an action of ejectment, to oust him from the possession of the Holmford estate, the property, according to Mr. Sawbridge, of one Edwin Majoribanks; and the strip of parchment was the writ by which the letter had been quickly followed. I was astounded; and my scared looks questioned Mr. Linden for further information.
"I do not quite understand it," he said in a hoarse, palpitating voice. "No possession or title in the venders; a niece not of age—executors no power to sell—Palliser discovered it, robbed me, absconded, and I, oh God! am a miserable beggar!"
The last words were uttered with a convulsive scream, and after a few frightful struggles he fell down in a fit. I had him conveyed to bed, and as soon as he was somewhat recovered, I hastened off to ascertain from Sawbridge, whom I knew very intimately, the nature of the claim intended to be set up for the plaintiff, Edwin Majoribanks.
I met Sawbridge just as he was leaving his office, and as he was in too great a hurry to turn back, I walked along with him, and he rapidly detailed the chief facts about to be embodied in the plaintiff's declaration. Archibald Dursley, once a London merchant, and who died a bachelor, had bequeathed his estate, real and personal, to his brother Charles, and a niece, his sister's child—two-thirds to the niece, and one-third to the brother. The Holmford property, the will directed, should be sold by public auction when the niece came of age, unless she, by marriage or otherwise, was enabled, within six months after attaining her majority, to pay over to Charles Dursley his third in money, according to a valuation made for the purpose by competent assessors. The brother, Charles Dursley, had urged upon the executors to anticipate the time directed by the will for the sale of the property; and having persuaded the niece to give a written authorization for the immediate sale, the executors, chiefly, Sawbridge supposed, prompted by their own necessities, sold the estate accordingly. But the niece not being of age when she signed the authority to sell, her consent was of no legal value; and she having since died intestate, Edwin Majoribanks, her cousin and undoubted heir-at-law—for the property could not have passed from her, even by marriage—now claimed the estate. Charles Dursley, the brother, was dead; "and," continued Mr. Sawbridge, "the worst of it is, Linden will never get a farthing of his purchase-money from the venders, for they are bankrupt, nor from Palliser, who has made permanent arrangements for continuing abroad, out of harm's reach. It is just as I tell you," he added, as we shook hands at parting; "but you will of course see the will, and satisfy yourself. Good-by."
Here was a precious result of amateur common-sense lawyership! Linden could only have examined the abstract of title furnished him by Palliser's attorney, and not the right of Dursley's executors to sell; or had not been aware that the niece could not during her minority, subscribe an effective legal consent.
I found Mr. Flint at the office, and quickly imparted the astounding news. He was as much taken aback as myself.
"The obstinate, pig-headed old ass!" he exclaimed; "it almost serves him right, if only for his Tom-fool nonsense of 'Every man his own lawyer.' What did you say was the niece's name?"
"Well, I don't remember that Sawbridge told me—he was in such a hurry; but suppose you go at once and look over the will?"
"True: I will do so;" and away he went.
"This is a very singular affair, Sharp," said Mr. Flint on his return from Doctors' Commons, at the same time composedly seating himself, hooking his thumbs into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, crossing his legs, and tilting his chair back on its hind legs. "A very singular affair. Whom, in the name of the god of thieves—Mercury, wasn't he called?—do you suppose the bankrupt executors to be? No other," continued Mr. Flint with a sudden burst, "than Crowther & Jenkins!"
"The devil!—and the niece then is"—
"Catherine Arnold—Tom Linden's wife—supposed to have been drowned in the Erin! That's check-mate, I rather fancy—not only to Mr. Edwin Majoribanks, but some one else we know of. The old fellow up stairs won't refuse to acknowledge his daughter-in-law now, I fancy!"
This was indeed a happy change in the fortunes of the House of Linden; and we discussed, with much alacrity, the best mode of turning disclosures so momentous and surprising to the best account. As a first step, a letter with an inclosure, was dispatched to Belfast, requiring the return of Thomas Linden and family immediately; and the next was to plead in form to the action. This done, we awaited Catherine Linden's arrival in London, and Mr. Linden senior's convalescence—for his mental agitation had resulted in a sharp fit of illness—to effect a satisfactory and just arrangement.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Linden and Mrs. Arnold arrived by the earliest steamer that left Belfast after the receipt of our letter; and much astonished were they by the intelligence that awaited them. Catherine Linden was for confirming the validity of the sale of the Holmford estate by her now authoritative consent at once, as a mere act of common justice and good faith; but this, looking at the total loss of fortune she had sustained by the knavery of the executors, and the obstinate, mulish temper of the father-in-law, from whom she had already received such harsh treatment, could not for a moment be permitted; and it was finally resolved to take advantage of the legal position in which she stood, to enforce a due present provision for herself and husband, and their ultimate succession to the estate.
John Linden gradually recovered; and as soon as it was deemed prudent to do so, we informed him that the niece was not dead, as the plaintiff in the action of ejectment had supposed, and that of course, if she could now be persuaded to ratify the imperative consent she had formerly subscribed, he might retain Holmford. At first he received the intelligence as a gleam of light and hope, but he soon relapsed into doubt and gloom. "What chance was there," he hopelessly argued, "that, holding the legal power, she would not exercise it?" It was not, he said, in human nature to do otherwise; and he commissioned us to make liberal offers for a compromise. Half—he would be content to lose half his purchase-money; even a greater sacrifice than that he would agree to—anything, indeed, that would not be utter ruin—that did not involve utter beggary and destitution in old age.
Three days after this conversation, I announced to him that the lady and her husband were below and desirous of seeing him.
"What do they say?" he eagerly demanded. "Will they accept of half—two-thirds? What do they say?"
"I cannot precisely tell you. They wish to see you alone, and you can urge your own views and offers." He trembled violently, and shrank nervously back as I placed my hand on the door-handle of the private office. He presently recovered in some degree his self-possession, passed in, and I withdrew from the humiliating, but salutary spectacle, of obdurate tyrant-power compelled to humble itself before those whom it had previously scorned and trampled upon.
The legal arrangements which Flint and I had suggested were effected, and Linden, senior, accompanied by his son, daughter-in-law, and Mrs. Arnold, set off in restored amity for Holmford House. Edwin Majoribanks abandoned his action, and Palliser, finding that matters were satisfactorily arranged, retired to England. We afterwards knew that he had discovered the defect of title, on applying to a well-known conveyancer, to raise a considerable sum by way of mortgage, and that his first step was to threaten legal proceedings against Crowther & Jenkins for the recovery of his money; but a hint he obtained of the futility of proceedings against them, determined him to offer the estate at a low figure to Linden, relying upon that gentleman's ostentatious contempt of lawyers that the blot in the title, subjected only to his own common-sense spectacles, would not be perceived.
THE CHEST OF DRAWERS.
I am about to relate a rather curious piece of domestic history, some of the incidents of which, revealed at the time of their occurrence in contemporary law reports, may be in the remembrance of many readers. It took place in one of the midland counties, and at a place which I shall call Watley; the names of the chief actors who figured in it must also, to spare their modesty of their blushes, as the case may be, be changed; and should one of those persons, spite of these precautions, apprehend unpleasant recognition, he will be able to console himself with the reflection, that all I state beyond that which may be gathered from the records of the law courts will be generally ascribed to the fancy or invention of the writer. And it is as well, perhaps, that it should be so.
Caleb Jennings, a shoemaker, cobler, snob—using the last word in its genuine classical sense, and by no means according to the modern interpretation by which it is held to signify a genteel sneak or pretender—he was anything but that—occupied, some twelve or thirteen years ago, a stall at Watley, which, according to the traditions of the place, had been hereditary in his family for several generations. He may also be said to have flourished there, after the manner of cobblers; for this, it must be remembered, was in the good old times, before the gutta-percha revolution had carried ruin and dismay into the stalls—those of cobblers—which in considerable numbers existed throughout the kingdom. Like all his fraternity whom I have ever fallen in with or heard of, Caleb was a sturdy radical of the Major Cartwright and Henry Hunt school; and being withal industrious, tolerably skillful, not inordinately prone to the observance of Saint Mondays, possessed, moreover, of a neatly-furnished sleeping and eating apartment in the house of which the projecting first floor, supported on stone pillars, over-shadowed his humble work-place, he vaunted himself to be as really rich as an estated squire, and far more independent.
There was some truth in this boast, as the case which procured us the honor of Mr. Jennings's acquaintance sufficiently proved. We were employed to bring an action against a wealthy gentleman of the vicinity of Watley for a brutal and unprovoked assault he had committed, when in a state of partial inebriety, upon a respectable London tradesman who had visited the place on business. On the day of trial our witnesses appeared to have become suddenly afflicted with an almost total loss of memory; and we were only saved from an adverse verdict by the plain, straight-forward evidence of Caleb, upon whose sturdy nature the various arts which soften or neutralize hostile evidence had been tried in vain. Mr. Flint, who personally superintended the case, took quite a liking to the man; and it thus happened that we were called upon sometime afterwards to aid the said Caleb in extricating himself from the extraordinary and perplexing difficulty in which he suddenly and unwittingly found himself involved.
The projecting first floor of the house beneath which the humble work-shop of Caleb Jennings modestly disclosed itself, had been occupied for many years by an ailing and somewhat aged gentleman of the name of Lisle. This Mr. Ambrose Lisle was a native of Watley, and had been a prosperous merchant of the city of London. Since his return, after about twenty years' absence, he had shut himself up in almost total seclusion, nourishing a cynical bitterness and acrimony of temper which gradually withered up the sources of health and life, till at length it became as visible to himself as it had for sometime been to others, that the oil of existence was expended, burnt up, and that but a few weak flickers more, and the ailing man's plaints and griefs would be hushed in the dark silence of the grave.
Mr. Lisle had no relatives at Watley, and the only individual with whom he was on terms of personal intimacy, was Mr. Peter Sowerby, an attorney of the place, who had for many years transacted all his business. This man visited Mr. Lisle most evenings, played at chess with him, and gradually acquired an influence over his client which that weak gentleman had once or twice feebly, but vainly endeavored to shake off. To this clever attorney, it was rumored, Mr. Lisle had bequeathed all his wealth.