"You are liberal with your money this morning; pray, how often do you give silver to street-cadgers?—because I shall know now what walk to take when flats and sharps leave off buying law."
Balance, who would have made an excellent parson if he had not been bred to a case-hardening trade, and has still a soft bit left in his heart that is always fighting with his hard head, did not smile at all, but looked as grim as if squeezing a lemon into his Saturday night's punch. He answered slowly, "A cadger—yes; a beggar—a miserable wretch, he is now; but, let me tell you, Master David, that that miserable bundle of rags was born and bred a gentleman—the son of a nobleman, the husband of an heiress, and has sat and dined at tables where you and I, Master David, are only allowed to view the plate by favor of the butler. I have lent him thousands, and been well paid. The last thing I had from him was his court-suit; and I hold now his bill for one hundred pounds that will be paid, I expect, when he dies."
"Why, what nonsense you are talking! you must be dreaming this morning. However, we are alone; I'll light a weed, in defiance of Railway-law, while you spin that yarn; for, true or untrue, it will fill up the time to Liverpool."
"As for yarn," replied Balance, "the whole story is short enough; and as for truth, that you may easily find out if you like to take the trouble. I thought the poor wretch was dead, and I own it put me out meeting him this morning, for I had a curious dream last night."
"Oh, hang your dreams! Tell us about this gentleman beggar that bleeds you of half-crowns—that melts the heart even of a pawnbroker!"
"Well, then, that beggar is the illegitimate son of the late Marquis of Hoopborough by a Spanish lady of rank. He received a first rate education, and was brought up in his father's house. At a very early age he obtained an appointment in a public office, was presented by the marquis at court, and received into the first society, where his handsome person and agreeable manners made him a great favorite. Soon after coming of age, he married the daughter of Sir E. Bumper, who brought him a very handsome fortune, which was strictly settled on herself. They lived in splendid style, kept several carriages, a house in town, and a place in the country. For some reason or other, idleness, or to please his lady's pride he said, he resigned his appointment. His father died, and left him nothing; indeed, he seemed at that time very handsomely provided for.
"Very soon Mr. and Mrs. Molinos Fitz-Roy began to disagree. She was cold, correct—he was hot and random. He was quite dependent on her, and she made him feel it. When he began to get into debt, he came to me. At length some shocking quarrel occurred—some case of jealousy on the wife's side, not without reason, I believe; and the end of it was, Mr. Fitz-Roy was turned out of doors. The house was his wife's, the furniture was his wife's, and the fortune was his wife's—he was, in fact, her pensioner. He left with a few hundred pounds ready money, and some personal jewelry, and went to a hotel. On these and credit he lived. Being illegitimate, he had no relations—being a fool, when he spent his money, he lost his friends. The world took his wife's part, when they found she had the fortune, and the only parties who interfered were her relatives, who did their best to make the quarrel incurable. To crown all, one night he was run over by a cab, was carried to a hospital, and lay there for months, and was, during several weeks of the time, unconscious. A message to the wife, by the hands of one of his debauched companions, sent by a humane surgeon, obtained an intimation that 'if he died, Mr. Croak, the undertaker to the family, had orders to see to the funeral,' and that Mrs. Molinos was on the point of starting for the Continent, not to return for some years. When Fitz-Roy was discharged, he came to me, limping on two sticks, to pawn his court-suit, and told me his story. I was really sorry for the fellow—such a handsome, thoroughbred-looking man. He was going then into the west somewhere, to try to hunt out a friend. 'What to do, Balance,' he said, 'I don't know. I can't dig, and unless somebody will make me their gamekeeper, I must starve, or beg, as my Jezebel bade me, when we parted!'
"I lost sight of Molinos for a long time, and when I next came upon him it was in the Rookery of Westminster, in a low lodging-house, where I was searching with an officer for stolen goods. He was pointed out to me as the 'gentleman-cadger,' because he was so free with his money when 'in luck.' He recognized me, but turned away then. I have since seen him, and relieved him more than once, although he never asks for anything. How he lives, Heaven knows. Without money, without friends, without useful education of any kind, he tramps the country, as you saw him, perhaps doing a little hop-picking or hay-making, in season, only happy when he obtains the means to get drunk. I have heard through the kitchen whispers that you know come to me, that he is entitled to some property; and I expect if he were to die his wife would pay the hundred pound bill I hold; at any rate, what I have told you I know to be true, and the bundle of rags I relieved just now is known in every thieves' lodging in England as the 'gentleman cadger.'"
This story produced an impression on me: I am fond of speculation, and like the excitement of a legal hunt as much as some do a fox-chase. A gentleman, a beggar—a wife rolling in wealth—rumors of unknown property due to the husband;—it seemed as if there were pickings for me amidst this carrion of pauperism.
Before returning from Liverpool, I had purchased the gentleman beggar's acceptance from Balance. I then inserted in the "Times" the following advertisement: "Horatio Molinos Fitz-Roy.—If this gentleman will apply to David Discount, Esq., Solicitor, St. James's, he will hear of something to his advantage. Any person furnishing Mr. R's correct address, shall receive L1 1s. reward. He was last seen," &c. Within twenty-four hours I had ample proof of the wide circulation of the "Times." My office was besieged with beggars of every degree, men and women, lame and blind, Irish, Scotch, and English—some on crutches, some in bowls, some in go-carts. They all knew him as "the gentleman," and I must do the regular fraternity of tramps the justice to say, that not one would answer a question until he made certain that I meant the "gentleman" no harm.
One evening, about three weeks after the appearance of the advertisement, my clerk announced "another beggar." There came in an old man leaning upon a staff, clad in a soldier's greatcoat, all patched and torn, with a battered hat, from under which a mass of tangled hair fell over his shoulders and half concealed his face. The beggar, in a weak, wheezy, hesitating tone, said, "You have advertized for Molinos Fitz-Roy. I hope you don't mean him any harm; he is sunk, I think, too low for enmity now; and surely no one would sport with such misery as his." These last words were uttered in a sort of piteous whisper.
I answered quickly, "Heaven forbid I should sport with misery—I mean and hope to do him good, as well as myself."
"Then, sir, I am Molinos Fitz-Roy!"
While we were conversing candles had been brought in. I have not very tender nerves—my head would not agree with them—but I own I started and shuddered when I saw and knew that the wretched creature before me was under thirty years of age, and once a gentleman. Sharp, aquiline features, reduced to literal skin and bone, were begrimed and covered with dry fair hair; the white teeth of the half-open mouth chattered with eagerness, and made more hideous the foul pallor of the rest of the countenance. As he stood leaning on a staff half bent, his long, yellow bony fingers clasped over the crutch-head of his stick, he was indeed a picture of misery, famine, squalor, and premature age, too horrible to dwell upon. I made him sit down, sent for some refreshment which he devoured like a ghoul, and set to work to unravel his story. It was difficult to keep him to the point; but with pains I learned what convinced me that he was entitled to some property, whether great or small there was no evidence. On parting, I said, "Now, Mr. F, you must stay in town while I make proper inquiries. What allowance will be enough to keep you comfortably?"
He answered humbly after much pressing, "Would you think ten shillings too much?"
I don't like, if I do those things at all, to do them shabbily—so I said, "Come every Saturday and you shall have a pound." He was profuse in thanks, of course, as all such men are as long as distress lasts.
I had previously learned that my ragged client's wife was in England, living in a splendid house in Hyde Park Gardens, under her maiden name. On the following day the Earl of Owing called upon me, wanting five thousand pounds by five o'clock the same evening. It was a case of life or death with him, so I made my terms and took advantage of his pressure to execute a coup de main. I proposed that he should drive me home to receive the money, calling at Mrs. Molinos in Hyde Park Gardens, on our way. I knew that the coronet and liveries of his father, the Marquis, would ensure me an audience with Mrs. Molinos Fitz-Roy.
My scheme answered. I was introduced into the lady's presence. She was, and probably is, a very stately, handsome woman, with a pale complexion, high solid forehead, regular features, thin, pinched, self-satisfied mouth. My interview was very short. I plunged into the middle of the affair, but had scarcely mentioned the word husband, when she interrupted me with, "I presume you have lent this profligate person money, and want me to pay you." She paused, and then said, "He shall not have a farthing." As she spoke, her white face became scarlet.
"But, Madam, the man is starving. I have strong reasons for believing he is entitled to property, and if you refuse any assistance, I must take other measures." She rang the bell, wrote something rapidly on a card, and, as the footman appeared, pushed it towards me across the table, with the air of touching a toad, saying, "There, sir, is the address of my solicitors; apply to them if you think you have any claim. Robert, show the person out, and take care he is not admitted again."
So far I had effected nothing; and, to tell the truth, felt rather crest-fallen under the influence of that grand manner peculiar to certain great ladies and to all great actresses.
My next visit was to the attorneys, Messrs. Leasem and Fashun, of Lincoln's Inn Square; and there I was at home. I had had dealings with the firm before. They are agents for half the aristocracy, who always run in crowds like sheep after the same wine-merchants, the same architects, the same horse-dealers, and the same law-agents. It may be doubted whether the quality of law and land management they get on this principle is quite equal to their wine and horses. At any rate, my friends of Lincoln's Inn, like others of the same class, are distinguished by their courteous manners, deliberate proceedings, innocence of legal technicalities, long credit and heavy charges. Leasem, the elder partner, wears powder and a huge bunch of seals, lives in Queen Square, drives a brougham, gives the dinners and does the cordial department. He is so strict in performing the latter duty, that he once addressed a poacher who had shot a Duke's keeper, as "my dear creature," although he afterwards hung him.
Fashun has chambers in St. James Street, drives a cab, wears a tip, and does the grand haha style.
My business lay with Leasem. The interviews and letters passing were numerous. However, it came at last to the following dialogue:—
"Well, my dear Mr. Discount," began Mr. Leasem, who hates me like poison, "I'm really very sorry for that poor dear Molinos—knew his father well; a great man, a perfect gentleman; but you know what women are, eh, Mr. Discount? My client won't advance a shilling; she knows it would only be wasted in low dissipation. Now, don't you think (this was said very insinuatingly)—don't you think he had better be sent to the work-house? Very comfortable accommodation there, I can assure you—meat twice a week, and excellent soup; and then, Mr. D., we might consider about allowing you something for that bill."
"Mr. Leasem, can you reconcile it to your conscience to make such an arrangement? Here's a wife rolling in luxury, and a husband starving!"
"No, Mr. Discount, not starving; there is the work-house, as I observed before; besides, allow me to suggest that these appeals to feeling are quite unprofessional—quite unprofessional."
"But, Mr. Leasem, touching this property which the poor man is entitled to?"
"Why, there again, Mr. D., you must excuse me; you really must. I don't say he is, I don't say he is not. If you know he is entitled to property, I am sure you know how to proceed; the law is open to you, Mr. Discount—the law is open; and a man of your talent will know how to use it."
"Then, Mr. Leasem, you mean that I must, in order to right this starving man, file a Bill of Discovery, to extract from you the particulars of his rights. You have the Marriage Settlement, and all the information, and you decline to allow a pension, or afford any information; the man is to starve, or go to the work-house?"
"Why, Mr. D., you are so quick and violent, it really is not professional; but you see, (here a subdued smile of triumph,) it has been decided that a solicitor is not bound to afford such information as you ask, to the injury of his client."
"Then you mean that this poor Molinos may rot and starve, while you keep secret from him, at his wife's request, his title to an income, and that the Court of Chancery will back you in this iniquity?"
I kept repeating the word "starve," because I saw it made my respectable opponent wince. "Well, then, just listen to me: I know that in the happy state of our equity law, Chancery can't help my client; but I have another plan—I shall go hence to my office, issue a writ, and take your client's husband in execution—as soon as he is lodged in jail, I shall file his schedule in the Insolvent Court, and when he comes up for his discharge, I shall put you in the witness-box, and examine you on oath, 'touching any property of which you know the insolvent to be possessed,' and where will be your privileged communications then?"
The respectable Leasem's face lengthened in a twinkling, his comfortable confident air vanished, he ceased twiddling his gold chain, and at length he muttered, "Suppose we pay the debt?"
"Why, then, I'll arrest him the day after for another."
"But, my dear Mr. Discount, surely such conduct would not be quite respectable?"
"That's my business; my client has been wronged, I am determined to right him, and when the aristocratic firm of Leasem and Fashun takes refuge according to the custom of respectable repudiators, in the cool arbors of the Court of Chancery, why, a mere bill-discounting attorney like David Discount, need not hesitate about cutting a bludgeon out of the Insolvent Court."
"Well, well, Mr. D., you are so warm—so fiery; we must deliberate, we must consult. You will give me until the day after to-morrow, and then we'll write you our final determination; in the meantime, send us a copy of your authority to act for Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy."
Of course I lost no time in getting the gentleman beggar to sign a proper letter.
On the appointed day came a communication with the L. and F. seal, which I opened, not without unprofessional eagerness. It was as follows:—
"In re Molinos Fitz-Roy and Another.
"Sir,—In answer to your application on behalf of Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy, we beg to inform you that, under the administration of a paternal aunt who died intestate, your client is entitled to two thousand five hundred pounds eight shillings and sixpence, Three per Cents.; one thousand five hundred pounds nineteen shillings and fourpence, Three per Cents., Reduced; one thousand pounds, Long Annuities; five hundred pounds, Bank Stock; three thousand five hundred pounds, India Stock, besides other securities, making up about ten thousand pounds, which we are prepared to transfer over to Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy's direction forthwith."
Here was a windfall! It quite took away my breath.
At dusk came my gentleman beggar, and what puzzled me was how to break the news to him. Being very much overwhelmed with business that day, I had not much time for consideration. He came in rather better dressed than when I first saw him, with only a week's beard on his chin; but, as usual, not quite sober. Six weeks had elapsed since our first interview. He was still the humble, trembling, low-voiced creature, I first knew him.
After a prelude, I said, "I find, Mr. F., you are entitled to something; pray, what do you mean to give me in addition to my bill, for obtaining it?" He answered rapidly, "Oh, take half; if there is one hundred pounds, take half—if there is five hundred pounds, take half."
"No, no; Mr. F., I don't do business in that way, I shall be satisfied with ten per cent."
It was so settled. I then led him out into the street, impelled to tell him the news, yet dreading the effect; not daring to make the revelation in my office, for fear of a scene.
I began hesitatingly, "Mr. Fitz-Roy, I am happy to say that I find you are entitled to ... ten thousand pounds!"
"Ten thousand pounds!" he echoed. "Ten thousand pounds!" he shrieked. "Ten thousand pounds!" he yelled; seizing my arm violently. "You are a brick—Here, cab! cab!" Several drove up—the shout might have been heard a mile off. He jumped in the first.
"Where to?" said the driver.
"To a tailor's, you rascal!"
"Ten thousand pounds! ha, ha, ha!" he repeated hysterically, when in the cab; and every moment grasping my arm. Presently he subsided, looked me straight in the face, and muttered with agonizing fervor, "What a jolly brick you are!"
The tailor, the hosier, the boot-maker, the hair-dresser, were in turn visited by this poor pagan of externals. As by degrees under their hands he emerged from the beggar to the gentleman, his spirits rose; his eyes brightened; he walked erect, but always nervously grasping my arm—fearing, apparently, to lose sight of me for a moment, lest his fortune, should vanish with me. The impatient pride with which he gave his orders to the astonished tradesman for the finest and best of everything, and the amazed air of the fashionable hairdresser when he presented his matted locks and stubble chin, to be "cut and shaved," may be acted—it cannot be described.
By the time the external transformation was complete, and I sat down in a Cafe in the Haymarket opposite a haggard but handsome thoroughbred-looking man, whose air, with the exception of the wild eyes and deeply browned face, did not differ from the stereotyped men about town sitting around us, Mr. Molinos Fitz-Roy had already almost forgotten the past. He bullied the waiter, and criticised the wine, as if he had done nothing else but dine and drink and scold there all the days of his life.
Once he wished to drink my health, and would have proclaimed his whole story to the coffee-room assembly, in a raving style. When I left he almost wept in terror at the idea of losing sight of me. But, allowing for these ebullitions—the natural result of such a whirl of events—he was wonderfully calm and self-possessed.
The next day, his first care was to distribute fifty pounds among his friends, the cadgers, at a "house of call" in Westminster, and formally to dissolve his connection with them; those present undertaking for the "fraternity," that for the future he should never be noticed by them in public or private.
I cannot follow his career much further. Adversity had taught him nothing. He was soon again surrounded by the well-bred vampires who had forgotten him when penniless; but they amused him, and that was enough. The ten thousand pounds were rapidly melting when he invited me to a grand dinner at Richmond, which included a dozen of the most agreeable, good-looking, well-dressed dandies of London, interspersed with a display of pretty butterfly bonnets. We dined deliciously, and drank as men do of iced wines in the dog-days—looking down from Richmond Hill.
One of the pink-bonnets crowned Fitz-Roy with a wreath of flowers; he looked—less the intellect—as handsome as Alcibiades. Intensely excited and flushed, he rose with a champagne glass in his hand to propose my health.
The oratorical powers of his father had not descended on him. Jerking out sentences by spasms, at length he said, "I was a beggar—I am a gentleman—thanks to this—"
Here he leaned on my shoulder heavily a moment, and then fell back. We raised him, loosened his neckcloth—
"Fainted!" said the ladies—
"Drunk!" said the gentlemen—
He was dead!
A FASHIONABLE FORGER.
I am an attorney and a bill-discounter. As it is my vocation to lend money at high interest to extravagant people, my connection principally lies among "fools," sometimes among rogues "of quality." Mine is a pursuit which a prejudiced world either holds in sovereign contempt, or visits with envy, hatred, and all uncharitableness; but to my mind, there are many callings, with finer names, that are no better. It gives me two things which I love—money and power; but I cannot deny that it brings with it a bad name. The case lies between character and money, and involves a matter of taste. Some people like character; I prefer money. If I am hated and despised, I chuckle over the "per contra." I find it pleasant for members of a proud aristocracy to condescend from their high estate to fawn, feign, flatter; to affect even mirthful familiarity in order to gain my good-will. I am no Shylock. No client can accuse me of desiring either his flesh or his blood. Sentimental vengeance is no item in my stock in trade. Gold and bank-notes satisfy my "rage;" or, if need be, a good mortgage. Far from seeking revenge, the worst defaulter I ever had dealings with cannot deny that I am always willing to accept a good post-obit.
I say again, I am daily brought in contact with all ranks of society, from the poverty-stricken patentee to the peer; and I am no more surprised at receiving an application from a duchess than from a pet opera-dancer. In my ante room wait, at this moment, a crowd of borrowers. Among the men, (beardless folly and mustachioed craft are most prominent,) there is a handsome young fellow, with an elaborate cane and wonderfully vacant countenance, who is anticipating in feeble follies, an estate that has been in the possession of his ancestors since the reign of Henry the Eighth—there is a hairy, high-nosed, broken-down nondescript, in appearance something between a horse-dealer and a pugilist. He is an old Etonian. Five years ago he drove his four-in-hand; he is now waiting to beg a sovereign, having been just discharged from the Insolvent Court, for the second time. Among the women, a pretty actress, who, a few years since, looked forward to a supper of steak and onions, with bottled stout, on a Saturday night, as a great treat, now finds one hundred pounds a month insufficient to pay her wine merchant and her confectioner. I am obliged to deal with each case according to its peculiarities. Genuine undeserved Ruin seldom knocks at my doer. Mine is a perpetual battle with people who imbibe trickery at the same rate as they dissolve their fortunes. I am a hard man, of course. I should not be fit for my pursuit if I were not; but when, by a remote chance, honest misfortune pays me a visit, as Rothschilds amused himself at times by giving a beggar a guinea, so I occasionally treat myself to the luxury of doing a kind action. My favorite subjects for this unnatural generosity, are the very young or the poor, innocent, helpless people, who are unfit for the war of life. Many among my clients (especially those tempered in the "ice book" of fashion and high-life—polished and passionless) would be too much for me, if I had not made the face, the eye, the accent, as much my study as the mere legal and financial points of discount To show what I mean, I will relate what happened to me not long since:—
One day, a middle-aged man in the usual costume of a West-End shopman, who had sent in his name as Mr. Axminster, was shown into my private room. After a little hesitation, he said, "Although you do not know me, living at this end of the town, I know you very well by reputation, and that you discount bills. I have a bill here which I want to get discounted. I am in the employ of Messrs. Russle and Smooth. The bill is drawn by one of our best customers, the Hon. Miss Snape, niece of Lord Blimley, and accepted by Major Munge, whom, no doubt, you know by name. She has dealt with us for some years—is very, very extravagant; but always pays." He put the acceptance—which was for two hundred pounds—into my hands.
I looked at it as scrutinizingly as I usually do at such paper The Major's signature was familiar to me; but having succeeded to a great estate, he had long ceased to be a customer. I instantly detected a forgery; by whom?—was the question. Could it be the man before me? Experience told me it was not. Perhaps there was something in the expression of my countenance which Mr. Axminster did not like, for he said, "It is good for the amount, I presume?"
I replied, "Pray, sir, from whom did you get this bill?"
"From Miss Snape herself."
"Have you circulated any other bills made by the same drawer?"
"O yes!" said the draper, without hesitation; "I have paid away a bill for one hundred pounds to Mr. Sparkle, the jeweller, to whom Miss Snape owed twenty pounds. They gave me the difference."
"And how long has that bill to run now?"
"About a fortnight."
"Did you indorse it?"
"I did. Mr. Sparkle required me to do so, to show that the bill came properly into his possession."
"This second bill, you say is urgently required to enable Miss Snape to leave town?"
"Yes; she is going to Brighton for the winter."
I gave Mr. Axminster a steady, piercing look of inquiry. "Pray, sir," I said, "could you meet that one hundred pounds bill, supposing it could not be paid by the accepter?"
"Meet it!" The poor fellow wiped from his forehead the perspiration which suddenly broke out at the bare hint of a probability that the bill would be dishonored—"Meet it? O no! I am a married man, with a family, and have nothing but my salary to depend on."
"Then the sooner you get it taken up, and the less you have to do with Miss Snape's bill affairs, the better."
"She has always been punctual hitherto."
"That may be." I pointed to the cross-writing on the document, and said deliberately, "This bill is a forgery!"
At these words the poor man turned pale. He snatched up the document, and with many incoherent protestations, was rushing toward the door, when I called to him in an authoritative tone, to stop. He paused—his manner indicating not only doubt, but fear. I said to him, "Don't flurry yourself; I only want to serve you. You tell me that you are a married man, with children, dependent on daily labor for daily bread, and that you have done a little discounting for Miss Snape, out of your earnings. Now, although I am a bill-discounter, I don't like to see such men victimized. Look at the body of this bill—look at the signature of your lady-customer, the drawer. Don't you detect the same fine, thin, sharp-pointed handwriting in the words 'Accepted, Dymmock Munge." The man, convinced against his will, was at first overcome. When he recovered, he raved; he would expose the Honorable Miss Snape, if it cost him his bread—he would go at once to the police office. I stopped him, by saying roughly, "Don't be a fool! Any such steps would seal your ruin. Take my advice; return the bill to the lady, saying, simply, that you cannot get it discounted. Leave the rest to me, and I think the bill you have indorsed to Sparkle will be paid." Comforted by this assurance, Axminster, fearfully changed from the nervous, but smug, hopeful man of the morning, departed. It now remained for me to exert what skill I possessed, to bring about the desired result. I lost no time in writing a letter to the Honorable Miss Snape, of which the following is a copy:—
"Madam,—A bill, purporting to be drawn by you, has been offered to me for discount. There is something wrong about it; and, though a stranger to you, I advise you to lose no time in getting it back into your own hands.—D.D."
I intended to deal with the affair quietly, and without any view to profit. The fact is, that I was sorry—you may laugh—but I really was sorry to think that a young girl might have given way to temptation under pressure of pecuniary difficulties. If it had been a man's case, I doubt whether I should have interfered. By the return of post, a lady's maid entered my room, profusely decorated with ringlets, lace, and perfumed with patchouli. She brought a letter from her mistress. It ran thus:—
"Sir,—I cannot sufficiently express my thanks for your kindness in writing to me on the subject of the bills, of which I had also heard a few hours previously. As a perfect stranger to you, I cannot estimate your kind consideration at too high a value. I trust the matter will be explained; but I should much like to see you. If you would be kind enough to write a note as soon as you receive this, I will order it to be sent to me at once to Tyburn Square. I will wait on you at any hour on Friday you may appoint. I believe that I am not mistaken in supposing that you transact business for my friend, Sir John Markham, and you will therefore know the inclosed to be his handwriting. Again thanking you most gratefully, allow me to remain your much and deeply obliged, JULIANA SNAPE."
This note was written upon delicate French paper embossed with a coat of arms. It was in a fancy envelope—the whole richly perfumed, and redolent of rank and fashion. Its contents were an implied confession of forgery. Silence, or three lines of indignation, would have been the only innocent answer to my letter. But Miss Snape thanked me. She let me know, by implication that she was on intimate terms with a name good on a West-End bill. My answer was, that I should be alone on the following afternoon at five.
At the hour fixed, punctual to a moment, a brougham drew up at the corner of the street next to my chambers. The Honorable Miss Snape's card was handed in. Presently, she entered, swimming into my room, richly, yet simply dressed in the extreme of Parisian good taste. She was pale—or rather colorless. She had fair hair, fine teeth, and a fashionable voice. She threw herself gracefully into the chair I handed to her, and began by uncoiling a string of phrases, to the effect that her visit was merely to consult me on "unavoidable pecuniary difficulties."
According to my mode, I allowed her to talk; putting in only an occasional word of question that seemed rather a random observation than a significant query. At length after walking round and round the subject, like a timid horse in a field around a groom with a sieve of oats, she came nearer and nearer the subject. When she had fairly approached the point, she stopped, as if her courage had failed her. But she soon recovered, and observed, "I cannot think why you should take the trouble to write so to me, a perfect stranger." Another pause—"I wonder no one ever suspected me before."
Here was a confession and a key to character. The cold gray eye, the thin compressed lips, which I had had time to observe, were true indexes to the "lady's inner heart;" selfish calculating, utterly devoid of conscience; unable to conceive the existence of spontaneous kindness; utterly indifferent to anything except discovery, and almost indifferent to that, because convinced that no serious consequences could affect a lady of her rank and influence.
"Madam," I replied, "as long as you dealt with tradesmen accustomed to depend on aristocratic customers, your rank and position, and their large profits, protected you from suspicion; but you have made a mistake in descending from your vantage ground to make a poor shopman your innocent accomplice—a man who will be keenly alive to anything that may injure his wife or children. His terrors—but for my interposition—would have ruined you utterly. Tell me, how many of these things have you put afloat?"
She seemed a little taken a-back by this speech, but was wonderfully firm. She passed her white, jewelled hand over her eyes, seemed calculating, and then whispered, with a confiding look of innocent helplessness, admirably assumed, "About as many as amount to twelve hundred pounds."
"And what means have you for meeting them?"
At this question so plainly put, her face flushed. She half rose from her chair, and exclaimed in the true tone of aristocratic hauteur, "Really, sir, I do not know what right you have to ask me that question."
I laughed a little, though not very loud. It was rude, I own; but who could have helped it? I replied, speaking low, but slowly and distinctly—"You forget. I did not send for you; you came to me. You have forged bills to the amount of twelve hundred pounds. Yours is not the case of a ruined merchant or an ignorant over-tempted clerk. In your case a jury"—(she shuddered at that word)—"would find no extenuating circumstances; and if you should fall into the hands of justice you will be convicted, degraded, clothed in a prison-dress, and transported for life. I do not want to speak harshly; but I insist that you find means to take up the bill which Mr. Axminster has so unwittingly endorsed!"
The Honorable Miss Snape's grand manner melted away. She wept. She seized and pressed my hand. She cast up her eyes, full of tears, and went through the part of a repentant victim with great fervor. She would do anything—anything in the world to save the poor man. Indeed, she had intended to appropriate part of the two hundred pound bill to that purpose. She forgot her first statement, that she wanted the money to go out of town. Without interrupting, I let her go on and degrade herself by a simulated passion of repentance, regret, and thankfulness to me, under which she hid her fear and her mortification at being detected. I at length put an end to a scene of admirable acting, by recommending her to go abroad immediately, to place herself out of reach of any sudden discovery; and then lay her case fully before her friends, who would no doubt feel bound to come forward with the full amount of the forged bills. "But," she exclaimed, with an entreating air, "I have no money; I cannot go without money!" To that observation I did not respond although I am sure she expected that I should, check-book in hand, offer her a loan. I do not say so without reason; for, the very next week, this honorable young lady came again, and, with sublime assurance and a number of very charming, winning speeches, (which might have had their effect upon a younger man), asked me to lend her one hundred pounds, in order that she might take the advice I had so obligingly given her, and retire into private life for a certain time in the country. I do meet with a great many impudent people in the course of my calling—I am not very deficient in assurance myself—but this actually took away my breath.
"Really, madam," I answered, "you pay a very ill-compliment to my gray hairs, and would fain make me a very ill return for the service I have done you, when you ask me to lend a hundred pounds to a young lady who owns to having forged to the extent of one thousand two hundred pounds, and to owing eight hundred pounds besides. I wished to save a personage of your years and position from a disgraceful career; but I am too good a trustee for my children to lend money to anybody in such a dangerous position as yourself."
"Oh!" she answered, quite unabashed, without a trace of the fearful, tender pleading of the previous week's interview—quite as if I had been an accomplice, "I can give you excellent security."
"That alters the case; I can lend any amount on good security."
"Well, sir, I can get the acceptance of three friends of ample means"
"Do you mean to tell me, Miss Snape, that you will write down the names of three parties who will accept a bill for one hundred pounds for you?"
Yes, she could, and did actually write down the names of three distinguished men. Now I knew for certain, that not one of those noblemen would have put his name to a bill on any account whatever for his dearest friend; but, in her unabashed self-confidence, she thought of passing another forgery on me. I closed the conference by saying, "I cannot assist you;" and she retired with the air of an injured person. In the course of a few days, I heard from Mr. Axminster, that his liability of one hundred pounds had been duly honored.
In my active and exciting life, one day extinguishes the recollection of the events of the preceding day; and, for a time, I thought no more about the fashionable forger. I had taken it for granted that, heartily frightened, although not repenting, she had paused in her felonious pursuits.
My business one day led me to the establishment of one of the most wealthy and respectable legal firms in the city, where I am well known, and, I believe, valued; for at all times I am most politely, I may say, most cordially received. Mutual profits create a wonderful freemasonry between those who have not any other sympathy or sentiment. Politics, religion, morality, difference of rank, are all equalized and republicanized by the division of an account. No sooner had I entered the sanctum, than the senior partner, Mr. Precepts, began to quiz his junior, Mr. Jones, with, "Well, Jones must never joke friend Discount anymore about usury. Just imagine," he continued, addressing me, "Jones has himself been discounting a bill for a lady; and a deuced pretty one too. He sat next her at dinner in Grosvenor Square, last week. Next day she gave him a call here, and he could not refuse her extraordinary request. Gad, it is hardly fair for Jones to be poaching on your domains of West-End paper!"
Mr. Jones smiled quietly, as he observed, "Why, you see, she is the niece of one of our best clients; and really I was so taken by surprise, that I did not know how to refuse."
"Pray," said I, interrupting his excuses, "does your young lady's name begin with S.? Has she not a very pale face, and cold gray eye?"
The partners stared.
"Ah! I see it is so; and can at once tell you that the bill is not worth a rush."
"Why, you don't mean—?"
"I mean simply that the acceptance is, I'll lay you a wager, a forgery."
"A forgery," I repeated as distinctly as possible.
Mr. Jones hastily, and with broken ejaculations, called for the cash-box. With trembling hands he took out the bill, and followed my finger with eager, watchful eyes, as I pointed out the proofs of my assertion. A long pause was broken by my mocking laugh; for, at the moment, my sense of politeness could not restrain my satisfaction at the signal defeat which had attended the first experiment of these highly respectable gentlemen in the science of usury.
The partners did not have recourse to the police. They did not propose a consultation with either Mr. Forrester or Mr. Field; but they took certain steps, under my recommendation; the result of which was that at an early day, an aunt of the Honorable Miss Snape was driven, to save so near a connection from transportation, to sell out some fourteen hundred pounds of stock, and all the forgeries were taken up.
One would have thought that the lady who had thus so narrowly escaped, had had enough—but forgery, like opium-eating, is one of those charming vices which is never abandoned, when once adopted. The forger enjoys not only the pleasure of obtaining money so easily, but the triumph of befooling sharp men of the world. Dexterous penmanship is a source of the same sort of pride as that which animates the skillful rifleman, the practiced duellist, or well-trained billiard-player. With a clean Gillott he fetches down a capitalist, at three or six months, for a cool hundred or a round thousand; just as a Scrope drops over a stag at ten, or a Gordon Cumming a monstrous male elephant at a hundred paces.
As I before observed, my connection especially lies among the improvident—among those who will be ruined—who are being ruined—and who have been ruined. To the last class belongs Francis Fisherton, once a gentleman, now without a shilling or a principle; but rich in mother-wit—in fact, a farceur, after Paul de Kock's own heart. Having in by-gone days been one of my willing victims, he occasionally finds pleasure and profit in guiding others through the gate he frequented, as long as able to pay the tolls. In truth, he is what is called a "discount agent."
One day I received a note from him, to say that he would call on me at three o'clock the next day to introduce a lady of family, who wanted a bill "done" for one hundred pounds. So ordinary a transaction merely needed a memorandum in my diary, "Tuesday, 3 p.m.; F.F., L100 Bill." The hour came and passed; but no Frank, which was strange—because every one must have observed, that, however dilatory people are in paying, they are wonderfully punctual when they expect to receive money.
At five o'clock, in rushed my Jackall. His story, disentangled from oaths and ejaculations, amounted to this:—In answer to one of the advertisements he occasionally addresses "To the Embarrassed," in the columns of the "Times," he received a note from a lady, who said she was anxious to get a "bill done"—the acceptance of a well-known man of rank and fashion. A correspondence was opened, and an appointment made. At the hour fixed, neatly shaved, brushed, gloved, booted—the revival, in short, of that high-bred Frank Fisherton who was so famous
"In his hot youth, when Crockford's was the thing."
glowing with only one glass of brandy, "just to steady his nerves," he met the lady at a West-End pastry-cook's.
After a few words (for all the material questions had been settled by correspondence) she stepped into a brougham, and invited Frank to take a seat beside her. Elated with a compliment of late years so rare, he commenced planning the orgies which were to reward him for weeks of enforced fasting, when the coachman, reverentially touching his hat, looked down from his seat for orders.
"To ninety-nine, George Street, St. James," cried Fisherton, in his loudest tones.
In an instant the young lady's pale face changed to scarlet, and then to ghastly green. In a whisper, rising to a scream, she exclaimed, "Good heavens! you do not mean to go to that man's house," (meaning me.) "Indeed, I cannot go to him, on any account; he is a most horrid man, I am told, and charges most extravagantly."
"Madam," answered Frank, in great perturbation, "I beg your pardon, but you have been grossly misinformed. I have known that excellent man these twenty years, and have paid him hundreds on hundreds; but never so much by ten per cent. as you offered me for discounting your bill."
"Sir, I cannot have anything to do with your friend." Then, violently, pulling the check-string, "Stop," she gasped, "and will you have the goodness to get out?"
"And so I got out," continued Fisherton, "and lost my time; and the heavy investment I made in getting myself up for the assignation—new primrose gloves, and a shilling to the hair-dresser—hang her! But, did you ever know anything like the prejudices that must prevail against you? I am disgusted with human nature. Could you lend me half a sovereign till Saturday?"
I smiled. I sacrificed the half sovereign, and let him go, for he is not exactly the person to whom it was advisable to intrust all the secrets relating to the Honorable Miss Snape. Since that day I look each morning in the police reports with considerable interest; but, up to the present hour, the Honorable Miss Snape has lived and thrived in the best society.
THE YOUNG ADVOCATE.
Antoine de Chaulieu was the son of a poor gentleman of Normandy, with a long genealogy, a short rent-roll, and a large family. Jacques Rollet was the son of a brewer, who did not know who his grandfather was; but he had a long purse and only two children. As these youths flourished in the early days of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and were near neighbors, they naturally hated each other. Their enmity commenced at school, where the delicate and refined De Chaulieu, being the only gentilhomme among the scholars, was the favorite of the master, (who was a bit of an aristocrat in his heart,) although he was about the worst dressed boy in the establishment, and never had a sou to spend; while Jacques Rollet, sturdy and rough, with smart clothes and plenty of money, got flogged six days in the week, ostensibly for being stupid and not learning his lessons,—which, indeed, he did not,—but, in reality, for constantly quarrelling with and insulting De Chaulieu, who had not strength to cope with him. When they left the academy, the feud continued in all its vigor, and was fostered by a thousand little circumstances arising out of the state of the times, till a separation ensued in consequence of an aunt of Antoine de Chaulieu's undertaking the expense of sending him to Paris to study the law, and of maintaining him there during the necessary period.
With the progress of events came some degree of reaction in favor of birth and nobility, and then Antoine, who had passed for the bar, began to hold up his head and endeavored to push his fortunes; but fate seemed against him. He felt certain that if he possessed any gift in the world it was that of eloquence, but he could get no cause to plead; and his aunt dying inopportunely, first his resources failed, and then his health. He had no sooner returned to his home, than, to complicate his difficulties completely, he fell in love with Mademoiselle Natalie de Bellefonds, who had just returned from Paris, where she had been completing her education. To expatiate on the perfections of Mademoiselle Natalie would be a waste of ink and paper; it is sufficient to say that she really was a very charming girl, with a fortune which, though not large, would have been a most desirable acquisition to De Chaulieu, who had nothing. Neither was the fair Natalie indisposed to listen to his addresses; but her father could not be expected to countenance the suit of a gentleman, however well born, who had not a ten-sous piece in the world, and whose prospects were a blank.
While the ambitious and lovesick young barrister was thus pining in unwelcome obscurity, his old acquaintance, Jacques Rollet, had been acquiring an undesirable notoriety. There was nothing really bad in Jacques' disposition, but having been bred up a democrat, with a hatred of the nobility, he could not easily accommodate his rough humor to treat them with civility when it was no longer safe to insult them. The liberties he allowed himself whenever circumstances brought him into contact with the higher classes of society, had led him into many scrapes, out of which his father's money had one way or another released him; but that source of safety had now failed. Old Rollet, having been too busy with the affairs of the nation to attend to his business, had died insolvent, leaving his son with nothing but his own wits to help him out of future difficulties, and it was not long before their exercise was called for. Claudine Rollet, his sister, who was a very pretty girl, had attracted the attention of Mademoiselle de Bellefonds' brother, Alphonse; and as he paid her more attention than from such a quarter was agreeable to Jacques, the young men had more than one quarrel on the subject, on which occasions they had each, characteristically, given vent to their enmity, the one in contemptuous monosyllables, and the other in a volley of insulting words. But Claudine had another lover more nearly of her own condition of life; this was Claperon, the deputy-governor of the Rouen jail, with whom she made acquaintance during one or two compulsory visits paid by her brother to that functionary; but Claudine, who was a bit of a coquette, though she did not altogether reject his suit, gave him little encouragement, so that betwixt hopes and fears, and doubts and jealousies, poor Claperon led a very uneasy kind of life.
Affairs had been for some time in this position, when, one fine morning, Alphonse de Bellefonds was not to be found in his chamber when his servant went to call him; neither had his bed been slept in. He had been observed to go out rather late on the preceding evening, but whether or not he had returned, nobody could tell. He had not appeared at supper, but that was too ordinary an event to awaken suspicion; and little alarm was excited till several hours had elapsed, when inquiries were instituted and a search commenced, which terminated in the discovery of his body, a good deal mangled, lying at the bottom of a pond which had belonged to the old brewery. Before any investigations had been made, every person had jumped to the conclusion that the young man had been murdered, and that Jacques Rollet was the assassin. There was a strong presumption in favor of that opinion, which further perquisitions tended to confirm. Only the day before, Jacques had been heard to threaten M. de Bellefonds with speedy vengeance. On the fatal evening, Alphonse and Claudine had been seen together in the neighborhood of the now dismantled brewery; and as Jacques, betwixt poverty and democracy, was in bad odor with the prudent and respectable part of society, it was not easy for him to bring witnesses to character, or prove an unexceptionable alibi. As for the Bellefonds and De Chaulieus, and the aristocracy in general, they entertained no doubt of his guilt; and finally, the magistrates coming to the same opinion, Jacques Rollet was committed for trial, and as a testimony of good will Antoine de Chaulieu was selected by the injured family to conduct the prosecution.
Here, at last, was the opportunity he had sighed for! So interesting a case, too, furnishing such ample occasion for passion, pathos, indignation! And how eminently fortunate that the speech which he set himself with ardor to prepare, would be delivered in the presence of the father and brother of his mistress, and perhaps of the lady herself! The evidence against Jacques, it is true, was altogether presumptive; there was no proof whatever that he had committed the crime; and for his own part he stoutly denied it. But Antoine de Chaulieu entertained no doubt of his guilt, and his speech was certainly well calculated to carry conviction into the bosom of others. It was of the highest importance to his own reputation that he should procure a verdict, and he confidently assured the afflicted and enraged family of the victim that their vengeance should be satisfied. Under these circumstances could any thing be more unwelcome than a piece of intelligence that was privately conveyed to him late on the evening before the trial was to come on, which tended strongly to exculpate the prisoner, without indicating any other person as the criminal? Here was an opportunity lost. The first step of the ladder on which he was to rise to fame, fortune, and a wife, was slipping from under his feet!
Of course, so interesting a trial was anticipated with great eagerness by the public, and the court was crowded with all the beauty and fashion of Rouen. Though Jacques Rollet persisted in asserting his innocence, founding his defence chiefly on circumstances which were strongly corroborated by the information that had reached De Chaulieu the preceding evening, he was convicted.
In spite of the very strong doubts he privately entertained respecting the justice of the verdict, even De Chaulieu himself, in the first flush of success, amid a crowd of congratulating friends, and the approving smiles of his mistress, felt gratified and happy; his speech had, for the time being, not only convinced others, but himself; warmed with his own eloquence, he believed what he said. But when the glow was over, and he found himself alone, he did not feel so comfortable. A latent doubt of Rollet's guilt now burnt strongly in his mind, and he felt that the blood of the innocent would be on his head. It is true there was yet time to save the life of the prisoner; but to admit Jacques innocent was to take the glory out of his own speech, and turn the sting of his argument against himself. Besides, if he produced the witness who had secretly given him the information, he should be self-condemned, for he could not conceal that he had been aware of the circumstance before the trial.
Matters having gone so far, therefore, it was necessary that Jacques Rollet should die; so the affair took its course; and early one morning the guillotine was erected in the courtyard of the jail, three criminals ascended the scaffold, and three heads fell into the basket which were presently afterwards, with the trunks that had been attached to them, buried in a corner of the cemetery.
Antoine de Chaulieu was now fairly started in his career, and his success was as rapid as the first step towards it had been tardy. He took a pretty apartment in the Hotel de Marboeuf Rue Grange-Bateliere, and in a short time was looked upon as one of the most rising young advocates in Paris. His success in one line brought him success in another; he was soon a favorite in society, and an object of interest to speculating mothers; but his affections still adhered to his old love, Natalie de Bellefonds, whose family now gave their assent to the match,—at least, prospectively,—a circumstance which furnished such an additional incentive to his exertions, that in about two years from the date of his first brilliant speech, he was in a sufficiently flourishing condition to offer the young lady a suitable home. In anticipation of the happy event, he engaged and furnished a suit of apartments in the Rue du Helder; and as it was necessary that the bride should come to Paris to provide her trousseau, it was agreed that the wedding should take place there, instead of at Bellefonds, as had been first projected—an arrangement the more desirable, that a press of business rendered M. de Chaulieu's absence from Paris inconvenient.
Brides and bridegrooms in France, except of the very high classes, are not much in the habit of making those honeymoon excursions so universal in this country. A day spent in visiting Versailles, or St. Cloud, or even the public places of the city, is generally all that precedes the settling down into the habits of daily life. In the present instance, St. Denis was selected, from the circumstance of Natalie having a younger sister at school there, and also because she had a particular desire to see the abbey.
The wedding was to take place on a Thursday; and on the Wednesday evening, having spent some hours most agreeably with Natalie, Antoine de Chaulieu returned to spend his last night in his bachelor apartments. His wardrobe and other small possessions had already been packed up and sent to his future home; and there was nothing left in his room now but his new wedding suit, which he inspected with considerable satisfaction before he undressed and lay down to sleep. Sleep, however, was somewhat slow to visit him; and the clock had struck one before he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, it was broad daylight; and his first thought was, had he overslept himself? He sat up in bed to look at the clock, which was exactly opposite; and as he did so, in the large mirror over the fireplace he perceived a figure standing behind him. As the dilated eyes met his own, he saw it was the face of Jacques Rollet. Overcome with horror, he sank back on his pillow, and it was some minutes before he ventured to look again in that direction; when he did so, the figure had disappeared.
The sudden revulsion of feeling such a vision was calculated to occasion in a man elate with joy, may be conceived. For some time after the death of his former foe, he had been visited by not unfrequent twinges of conscience; but of late, borne along by success, and the hurry of Parisian life, these unpleasant remembrances had grown rarer, till at length they had faded away altogether. Nothing had been further from his thoughts than Jacques Rollet, when he closed his eyes on the preceding night, nor when he opened them to that sun which was to shine on what he expected to be the happiest day of his life. Where were the high-strung nerves now? the elastic frame? the bounding heart?
Heavily and slowly he arose from his bed, for it was time to do so; and with a trembling hand and quivering knees, he went through the processes of the toilet, gashing his cheek with the razor, and spilling the water over his well-polished boots. When he was dressed, scarcely venturing to cast a glance in the mirror as he passed it, he quitted the room, and descended the stairs, taking the key of the door with him for the purpose of leaving it with the porter: the man, however, being absent, he laid it on the table in his lodge, and with a relaxed and languid step proceeded on his way to the church, where presently arrived the fair Natalie and her friends. How difficult it was now to look happy with that pallid face and extinguished eye!
"How pale you are! Has any thing happened? You are surely ill," were the exclamations that met him on all sides. He tried to carry it off as well as he could, but felt that the movements he would have wished to appear alert were only convulsive, and that the smiles with which he attempted to relax his features were but distorted grimaces. However, the church was not the place for further inquiries; and while Natalie gently pressed his hand in token of sympathy, they advanced to the altar, and the ceremony was performed; after which they stepped into the carriages waiting at the door, and drove to the apartments of Madame de Bellefonds, where an elegant dejeuner was prepared.
"What ails you, my dear husband?" inquired Natalie, as soon as they were alone.
"Nothing, love," he replied; "nothing, I assure you, but a restless night and a little overwork, in order that I might have to-day free to enjoy my happiness."
"Are you quite sure? Is there nothing else?"
"Nothing, indeed; and pray don't take notice of it; it only makes me worse."
Natalie was not deceived, but she saw that what he said was true; notice made him worse; so she contented herself with observing him quietly, and saying nothing; but, as he felt she was observing him, she might almost better have spoken; words are often less embarrassing things than too curious eyes.
When they reached Madame de Bellefond's he had the same sort of questioning and scrutiny to undergo, till he grew quite impatient under it, and betrayed a degree of temper altogether unusual with him. Then every body looked astonished; some whispered their remarks, and others expressed them by their wondering eyes, till his brow knit, and his pallid cheeks became flushed with anger. Neither could he divert attention by eating; his parched mouth would not allow him to swallow any thing but liquids, of which, however, he indulged in copious libations; and it was an exceeding relief to him when the carriage, which was to convey them to St. Denis, being announced, furnished an excuse for hastily leaving the table. Looking at his watch, he declared it was late; and Natalie, who saw how eager he was to be gone, threw her shawl over her shoulders, and bidding her friends good morning, they hurried away.
It was a fine sunny day in June; and as they drove along the crowded boulevards, and through the Porte St. Denis, the young bride and bridegroom, to avoid each other's eyes, affected to be gazing out of the windows; but when they reached the part of the road where there was nothing but trees on each side, they felt it necessary to draw in their heads, and make an attempt at conversation, De Chaulieu put his arm round his wife's waist, and tried to rouse himself from his depression; but it had by this time so reacted upon her, that she could not respond to his efforts, and thus the conversation languished, till both felt glad when they reached their destination, which would, at all events, furnish them something to talk about.
Having quitted the carriage, and ordered a dinner at the Hotel de l'Abbaye, the young couple proceeded to visit Mademoiselle Hortense de Bellefonds, who was overjoyed to see her sister and new brother-in-law, and doubly so when she found that they had obtained permission to take her out to spend the afternoon with them. As there is little to be seen at St. Denis but the Abbey, on quitting that part of it devoted to education, they proceeded to visit the church, with its various objects of interest; and as De Chaulieu's thoughts were now forced into another direction, his cheerfulness began insensibly to return. Natalie looked so beautiful, too, and the affection betwixt the two young sisters was so pleasant to behold! And they spent a couple of hours wandering about with Hortense, who was almost as well informed as the Suisse, till the brazen doors were opened which admitted them to the Royal vault. Satisfied, at length, with what they had seen, they began to think of returning to the inn, the more especially as De Chaulieu, who had not eaten a morsel of food since the previous evening, owned to being hungry; so they directed their steps to the door, lingering here and there as they went, to inspect a monument or a painting, when, happening to turn his head aside to see if his wife, who had stopped to take a last look at the tomb of King Dagobert, was following, he beheld with horror the face of Jacques Rollet appearing from behind a column! At the same instant his wife joined him, and took his arm, inquiring if he was not very much delighted with what he had seen. He attempted to say yes, but the word would not be forced out; and staggering out of the door, he alleged that a sudden faintness had overcome him.
They conducted him to the Hotel, but Natalie now became seriously alarmed; and well she might. His complexion looked ghastly, his limbs shook, and his features bore an expression of indescribable horror and anguish. What could be the meaning of so extraordinary a change in the gay, witty, prosperous De Chaulieu, who, till that morning, seemed not to have a care in the world? For, plead illness as he might, she felt certain, from the expression of his features, that his sufferings were not of the body but of the mind; and, unable to imagine any reason for such extraordinary manifestations, of which she had never before seen a symptom, but a sudden aversion to herself, and regret for the step he had taken, her pride took the alarm, and, concealing the distress she really felt, she began to assume a haughty and reserved manner towards him, which he naturally interpreted into an evidence of anger and contempt. The dinner was placed upon the table; but De Chaulieu's appetite, of which he had lately boasted, was quite gone, nor was his wife better able to eat. The young sister alone did justice to the repast; but although the bridegroom could not eat, he could swallow champagne in such copious draughts, that ere long the terror and remorse that the apparition of Jacques Rollet had awakened in his breast were drowned in intoxication. Amazed and indignant, poor Natalie sat silently observing this elect of her heart, till overcome with disappointment and grief, she quitted the room with her sister, and retired to another apartment, where she gave free vent to her feelings in tears.
After passing a couple of hours in confidences and lamentations, they recollected that the hours of liberty granted, as an especial favor, to Mademoiselle Hortense, had expired; but ashamed to exhibit her husband in his present condition to the eyes of strangers, Natalie prepared to re-conduct her to the Maison Royale herself. Looking into the dining-room as they passed, they saw De Chaulieu lying on a sofa fast asleep, in which state he continued when his wife returned. At length, however, the driver of their carriage begged to know if Monsieur and Madame were ready to return to Paris, and it became necessary to arouse him. The transitory effects of the champagne had now subsided; but when De Chaulieu recollected what had happened, nothing could exceed his shame and mortification. So engrossing indeed were these sensations that they quite overpowered his previous one, and, in his present vexation, he, for the moment, forgot his fears. He knelt at his wife's feet, begged her pardon a thousand times, swore that he adored her, and declared that the illness and the effect of the wine had been purely the consequences of fasting and over-work. It was not the easiest thing in the world to re-assure a woman whose pride, affection, and taste, had been so severely wounded; but Natalie tried to believe, or to appear to do so, and a sort of reconciliation ensued, not quite sincere on the part of the wife, and very humbling on the part of the husband. Under these circumstances it was impossible that he should recover his spirits or facility of manner; his gaiety was forced, his tenderness constrained; his heart was heavy within him; and ever and anon the source whence all this disappointment and woe had sprung would recur to his perplexed and tortured mind.
Thus mutually pained and distrustful, they returned to Paris, which they reached about nine o'clock. In spite of her depression, Natalie, who had not seen her new apartments, felt some curiosity about them, whilst De Chaulieu anticipated a triumph in exhibiting the elegant home he had prepared for her. With some alacrity, therefore, they stepped out of the carriage, the gates of the Hotel were thrown open, the concierge rang the bell which announced to the servants that their master and mistress had arrived, and whilst these domestics appeared above, holding lights over the balustrades, Natalie, followed by her husband, ascended the stairs. But when they reached the landing-place of the first flight, they saw the figure of a man standing in a corner as if to make way for them; the flash from above fell upon his face, and again Antoine de Chaulieu recognized the features of Jacques Rollet!
From the circumstance of his wife's preceding him, the figure was not observed by De Chaulieu till he was lifting his foot to place it on the top stair: the sudden shock caused him to miss the step, and, without uttering a sound, he fell back, and never stopped till he reached the stones at the bottom. The screams of Natalie brought the concierge from below and the maids from above, and an attempt was made to raise the unfortunate man from the ground; but with cries of anguish he besought them to desist.
"Let me," he said, "die here! What a fearful vengeance is thine! O, Natalie, Natalie!" he exclaimed to his wife, who was kneeling beside him, "to win fame, and fortune, and yourself, I committed a dreadful crime! With lying words I argued away the life of a fellow-creature, whom, whilst I uttered them, I half believed to be innocent; and now, when I have attained all I desired, and reached the summit of my hopes, the Almighty has sent him back upon the earth to blast me with the sight. Three times this day—three times this day! Again! again!"—and as he spoke, his wild and dilated eyes fixed themselves on one of the individuals that surrounded him.
"He is delirious," said they.
"No," said the stranger! "What he says is true enough,—at least in part;" and bending over the expiring man, he added, "May Heaven forgive you, Antoine de Chaulieu! I was not executed; one who well knew my innocence saved my life. I may name him, for he is beyond the reach of the law now,—it was Claperon, the jailor, who loved Claudine, and had himself killed Alphonse de Bellefonds from jealousy. An unfortunate wretch had been several years in the jail for a murder committed during the frenzy of a fit of insanity. Long confinement had reduced him to idiocy. To save my life Claperon substituted the senseless being for me, on the scaffold; he was executed in my stead. He has quitted the country, and I have been a vagabond on the face of the earth ever since that time. At length I obtained, through the assistance of my sister, the situation of concierge in the Hotel Marboeuf, in the Rue Grange-Bateliere. I entered on my new place yesterday evening, and was desired to awaken the gentleman on the third floor at seven o'clock. When I entered the room to do so, you were asleep, but before I had time to speak you awoke, and I recognized your features in the glass. Knowing that I could not vindicate my innocence if you chose to seize me, I fled, and seeing an omnibus starting for St. Denis, I got on it with a vague idea of getting on to Calais, and crossing the Channel to England. But having only a franc or two in my pocket, or indeed in the world, I did not know how to procure the means of going forward; and whilst I was lounging about the place, forming first one plan and then another, I saw you in the church, and concluding you were in pursuit of me, I thought the best way of eluding your vigilance was to make my way back to Paris as fast as I could; so I set off instantly, and walked all the way; but having no money to pay my night's lodging, I came here to borrow a couple of livres of my sister Claudine, who lives in the fifth story."
"Thank Heaven!" exclaimed the dying man; "that sin is off my soul! Natalie, dear wife, farewell! Forgive, forgive all!"
These were the last words he uttered; the priest, who had been summoned in haste, held up the cross before his failing sight; a few strong convulsions shook the poor bruised and mangled frame; and then all was still.
And thus ended the Young Advocate's Wedding Day.
A MURDER IN THE TIME OF THE CRUSADES.
There is, perhaps, no country or climate more beautiful than England, as seen in one of its rural landscapes, when the sun has just risen upon a cloudless summer's dawn. The very feeling that the delightful freshness of the moment will not be entirely destroyed during the whole day, renders the prospect more agreeable than the anticipated fiery advance of the sun in southern or tropical lands. Exhilaration and gladness are the marked characteristics of an English summer morning. So it ever is, and so it was hundreds of years ago, when occurred the events we are about to narrate. How lovely then, on such a morning as we allude to, looked that rich vale in the centre of Gloucestershire, through which the lordly Severn flows! The singing of the birds, the reflective splendor of the silvery waters, the glittering of the dew as it dazzled and disappeared—all combined to charm sound, sight, and sense, and to produce a strong feeling of joy. But the horseman, who was passing through this graceful scene, scarcely needed the aid of any external object to enhance the pleasurable sensation that already filled his breast. The stately horse on which he sat, seemed, by its light steps, and by ever and anon proudly prancing, to share in the animation of its rider. So, the noble stag-hound that followed, and continually looked up contentedly at its master, appeared, likewise, a participator in the general content. The stranger had indeed cause to rejoice, for he was upon the fairest errand. He bad wooed and won the gentle heiress of a proud, but good-hearted Gloucestershire baron—he had wooed and won her, too, with the full consent of father, kinsmen, and friends, and he was now on his way to the baron's castle to arrange with his betrothed the ceremonial of the nuptials. Ride on, thou gallant knight, ride on, and swifter too; for though the day will be yet early when thou arrivest, thou wilt find thyself expected within the Gothic enciente of the Baron de Botetourt's dwelling. A banner waves from the topmost tower to do thee honor and welcome; there walks, too, by the battlements, one whose night has been sleepless because of thee, whose thoughts and whose whole existence centre in thee, whose look firmly attaches to the road that brings thee to her. Ride on then speedily, Sir Knight, to the happiness thy virtue and thy deeds have so well deserved.
This lover is no ordinary suitor: he is of mingled Saxon and Norman noble blood, the recent companion-in-arms of Richard Coeur de Lion. His name is Ralph de Sudley, and though he has passed his thirtieth year, the effect of long toil and war scarcely appears upon his handsome and still very youthful countenance. Yet the knight has seen and endured much: he has been with Richard at the siege and capture of Acre, and at the battle of Azotus. When Conrad of Montferrat fell by the dagger of the assassins, Sir Ralph took a prominent part in the stormy debates which ensued among the Crusaders. He even proposed with his men-at-arms, and those who would follow him, to invade the territory of the Lord of the Mountain, and to avenge in his blood the death which that king of murderers had caused to be done to Conrad. This event made so deep an impression on his mind, that he still took every opportunity of urging upon his own and other Christian governments the necessity of extirpating these eastern assassins. On his return from the crusades, Sir Ralph found the daughter of his friend, the Baron de Botetourt, just verging into beauteous womanhood. The glory of his reputation, and the graces of his person, gained her heart at once; the Lady Alianore, though much his junior in years, loved the knight fondly and devotedly.
Sir Ralph has reached the portcullis of the castle; the wardour and men-at-arms are there to receive him with full honors, though he comes privately, without his armor or his followers: he wears the civil but costly dress of the period, with no other weapon than a slight sword at his side. But the baron will have each advent of his future son-in-law welcomed as an approach of state.
"Grammercy, Sir Baron," observed the knight, as after passing through a crowd of domestics, he grasped his host's hand upon the threshold, "one would imagine me Richard of England himself, or rather Saladin, that greatest and most gaudy of Oriental Soldans, to see this pompous prelude to my disjune with your lovely daughter and yourself."
"Nay, Ralph de Sudley," replied the baron, "my castle must needs put on its best looks, when it beholds the entry of one who is to be its lord and protector when I shall be no more. But I see you are all impatience to go within; and, in truth, the sooner your first interview be over the better, for the table is prepared, and the pasty awaits us, and the chaplain too, whose inward man, after the morning's Mass, craves some solid refreshment."
"A moment, my worthiest of friends, and I am with you," said the knight, as he hurried by: in another instant the Lady Alianore was in his embrace. Need we repeat the oft-told tale of love? Need we describe the day of delight Sir Ralph passed in the castle, lingering from hour to hour until the dusk? O, there is some one we must depict, the lady herself, who so subdued and softened this knightly soul. There, one hand upon the shoulder of her lover, her other hand locked in his, she sits listening to his words, and luxuriating in his discourse. The Lady Alianore, somewhat tall in stature, but perfect in form, has a face of dazzling beauty, yet the bewitching sweetness of her smile is tempered by a certain dignity of countenance, to which her dark, raven hair, and darker eyes, do not a little contribute; her hands, and the foot that peeps from beneath, her graceful robe, are of exquisite smallness, and bespeak the purest Norman blood. Her extreme fairness, shaded by her sable locks, form a strong contrast to the auburn hair and ruddy visage of the stalwart warrior beside her.
"This will indeed be too much, Ralph," observed the lady; "a monarch, his queen, and his court, to come to this out-of-the-way castle, to honor the wedding of a lone damsel like myself; I can hardly support the idea of so much splendor."
"Fear not, my beloved," replied the knight, "Richard is homely enough, and all good nature. Moreover, it is but a return of civility; for I it was who accompanied him to the altar, where he obtained the hand of Berengaria of Navarre; the office was a dangerous one then, since I incurred by it the wrath of Philip of France. And why, dearest, should not every magnificence attend our nuptials? It is the outward emblem of our great content—a mark, like those gorgeous ceremonies that accompany the festive prayers of the Church, which tell the people of the earth of a joy having something of the gladness and glory of Heaven in it."
"Be it as you wish, my own true knight; yet I almost feel that I am too happy. May God bless and protect us!"
Thus passed this bright day, until the approach of dusk imperatively compelled the enraptured lovers to separate. The knight had urgent business to settle, early on the morrow, at his own castle, before setting out for London, to announce to the king the day fixed for the espousal, and to beg from the monarch the fulfilment of the promise he had made, to be present in person with his court, at the wedding of his gallant and faithful vassal. The knight was therefore forced to depart ere the gloom advanced; for though his journey lay in a friendly and peaceful country, it was not the habit in those days to be abroad much after dusk, without an efficient escort.
Sir Ralph reluctantly quitted his betrothed: he made his escape moreover from the baron and the chaplain, who prayed his further tarrying, to share in another flagon of Rhenish about to be produced. The horse and dog were at the porch, and, in a few minutes, the knight had passed the drawbridge, and was in the same fair road again.
"I have known Sir Ralph from his birth," observed the baron to the chaplain, "and I love him as my own son. The king may well come here to see him wedded; for he has not a nobler, braver, or more generous knight within his realm."
"Truly, Sir Baron, he is endowed with much excellence," replied the priest; "I do greatly admire his strong denunciation against the Templars and other warlike orders, who tolerate the protracted existence of that band of murderers in the past who have their daggers ever pointed against the sons of the Church. Sir Ralph speaks on this subject like a true soldier of the Cross."
"Very true," retorted the baron, "yet I wish our chevaliers would cease to think of foreign broils and questions, and attend to affairs at home. This Rhenish is perfect: after all, wine is the only thing really good that originates beyond our seas."
Their discourse had scarcely proceeded farther, when it was suddenly interrupted by the loud howling and barking of a dog. The baron and the chaplain started up. "It is Leo, Sir Ralph's dog," exclaimed the former, "what in God's name can be the matter?" and the two rushed out.
The Lady Alianore, at her orisons above, heard the same terrible howl and bark. She instantly descended to the courtyard; as she came there, the outer gate was opened, and Leo, the knight's dog, flew past the wardour, and ran to the feet of the lady. The animal's mouth was blood-stained, and his glaring eye-balls and ruffled crest showed the extent of his fury and despair.
"Something dreadful has happened to Sir Ralph," she cried, and urged by the dog, who had seized her robe, she hurried through the gate, and crossed the drawbridge, with a rapidity those who followed could not arrest.
When the baron, his chaplain, and his domestics had proceeded a little beyond a quarter of a mile upon the road, a fearful sight met their view.
The knight lay dead upon the green sward by the side of the highway; a poignard which had effected the mortal wound, still rested fixed into his back. His body was locked fast in the embrace of the Lady Alianore, who lay senseless upon it: the dog stood by, howling piteously. No trace could be discovered of who had done the deed. No proof was there beyond the dagger itself, which was of Oriental fashion, and bore the inscription in Latin Hoc propter verba tua; naught beyond that and another circumstance, which went to show that the knight had been slain by an eastern enemy. The dog, as he re-entered the castle, called attention to some pieces of blood-stained rag, which, from their appearance, had dropped from his mouth; one of these, the innermost, was in texture and pattern evidently part of a Syrian garment.
The Lady Alianore did not die under this dreadful calamity: she lived to mourn. The knight was interred within the precinct of the Abbey Church of Gloucester; his tomb and effigy were in a niche at an angle of the cloisters. Here would Alianore continually come, accompanied by Leo, who, since his master's death, never left her side; here would she stop, fixedly gazing upon the monument, the tear in her eye, and the chill of hopeless sorrow in her heart. There are, indeed, few of us, who, wandering through the interior of some noble ecclesiastical edifice, can suppress a feeling of melancholy, when we view the sepulchre of a knight of repute, who has died in his prime, in the midst of his achievements and his fame, and who, clad in the harness of his pride, lies outstretched in the marble before us. Courage and courtesy, chivalry and Christianity, are buried there—there the breast, replete with honor, the heart to feel, and the right arm to defend. The monument tells of the sudden extinguishment of some bright light that shone in a semi-barbarous age, which had its main civilization and refinement from knights and churchmen solely. If this sight would sadden a stranger soul, what must have been the deep grief of the lady as she contemplated the cold memorial of Sir Ralph, and felt that the consummation of her whole earthly comfort was there entombed! A secret sentiment that satisfied, or rather softened her mental agony, brought her again and again to the place—ay, again and again to gaze upon the grave, and then to retire into the church to long and ardent prayer.
About two years after the knight had been dead, the Lady Alianore was one morning departing through the cloisters from a visit to the tomb, when her attention was suddenly arrested by a low growl from the dog who accompanied her. She turned back, and saw two persons in the garb of foreign merchants or traders, the one pointing out to the other the knight's monumental effigy. Scarcely had she made the observation, when Leo rushed from her side, and flew at the throat of him who was exhibiting the grave; in an instant he brought him to the ground; the other endeavored to escape, but some sacristans who heard the noise, hastened to the spot, and the men were arrested.
On examination, the two pretended merchants were found to wear eastern habilaments beneath their long gowns, and the cloth of the turban was concealed under the broad brimmed hat of each. They both had daggers, and upon the arm of the one the dog had seized, there was the deep scar of what seemed to be a desperate bite. Further proof became needless, for when every chance of escape was gone, they made a full confession, and appeared to glory in it. They were emissaries from the Old Man of the Mountain. The one on a previous occasion had journeyed from the far east to do his fearful master's bidding, and had stabbed the knight in the back, on the evening he rode in his gladness from the abode of his affianced bride. The fanatic himself narrowly escaped destruction at the time; for the dog had fixed his teeth into his arm, and it was only by allowing the flesh to be torn out, (his dagger was in his victim,) that he contrived to reach a swift Arabian horse, which bore him from the scene. He had since returned to Phoenicia, and had once more come to England, bringing with him a comrade to remove a doubt expressed by his master, and to testify to the monarch of the Mountain how effectively his object had been accomplished.
The Baron de Botetourt, with the assent of the crown, caused the two miscreants to be hanged upon a gibbet on the summit of his castle, their turbans tied to their heels. Leo, as if he had nothing more to live for, soon after pined and died. The Lady Alianore, retired into a convent, and eventually became its abbess. During the course of her monastic life, she preserved in silence her undying regret for the knight, and the recollection of her happiness, so miserably thwarted. She was always kind and gentle, yet always also dignified and reserved. On her death-bed, she requested that her remains might be interred in the Abbey of Gloucester, nigh unto the tomb of Sir Ralph de Sudley, and that her monumental tablet should contain no more than her name and state, and an inscription pointing out the extreme vanity of all human felicity. Such a memorial, it is said, was, until entirely effaced by time, to be seen, read, and thought upon, within the cloisters of Gloucester's time-honored and sanctified cathedral.