Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed
THE EXPERIENCES OF A BARRISTER,
Confessions of an Attorney.
BY SAMUEL WARREN
THE MARCH ASSIZE
THE NORTHERN CIRCUIT
THE CONTESTED MARRIAGE
THE MOTHER AND SON
"THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS"
THE MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT
THE SECOND MARRIAGE
"THE ACCOMMODATION BILL"
THE LIFE POLICY
BIGAMY OR NO BIGAMY
"EVERY MAN HIS OWN LAWYER"
THE CHEST OF DRAWERS
THE ONE BLACK SPOT
THE GENTLEMAN BEGGAR
A FASHIONABLE FORGER
THE YOUNG ADVOCATE
A MURDER IN THE TIME OF THE CRUSADES
CONFESSIONS OF AN ATTORNEY.
THE MARCH ASSIZE.
Something more than half a century ago, a person, in going along Holborn,
might have seen, near the corner of one of the thoroughfares which
diverge towards Russell Square, the respectable-looking shop of a glover
and haberdasher named James Harvey, a man generally esteemed by his
neighbors, and who was usually considered well to do in the world. Like
many London tradesmen, Harvey was originally from the country. He had
come up to town when a poor lad, to push his fortune, and by dint of
steadiness and civility, and a small property left him by a distant
relation, he had been able to get into business on his own account, and
to attain that most important element of success in London--"a
connection." Shortly after setting up in the world, he married a young
woman from his native town, to whom he had been engaged ever since his
school-days; and at the time our narrative commences he was the father of
James Harvey's establishment was one of the best frequented of its class
in the street. You could never pass without seeing customers going in or
out. There was evidently not a little business going forward. But
although, to all appearance, a flourishing concern, the proprietor of the
establishment was surprised to find that he was continually pinched in
his circumstances. No matter what was the amount of business transacted
over the counter, he never got any richer.
At the period referred to, shop-keeping had not attained that degree
of organization, with respect to counter-men and cashiers, which now
distinguishes the great houses of trade. The primitive till was not
yet superseded. This was the weak point in Harvey's arrangements; and
not to make a needless number of words about it, the poor man was
regularly robbed by a shopman, whose dexterity in pitching a guinea
into the drawer, so as to make it jump, unseen, with a jerk into his
hand, was worthy of Herr Dobler, or any other master of the sublime
art of jugglery.
Good-natured and unsuspicious, perhaps also not sufficiently vigilant,
Harvey was long in discovering how he was pillaged. Cartwright, the name
of the person who was preying on his employer, was not a young man. He
was between forty and fifty years of age, and had been in various
situations, where he had always given satisfaction, except on the score
of being somewhat gay and somewhat irritable. Privately, he was a man of
loose habits, and for years his extravagances had been paid for by
property clandestinely abstracted from his too-confiding master. Slow to
believe in the reality of such wickedness, Mr. Harvey could with
difficulty entertain the suspicions which began to dawn on his mind. At
length all doubt was at an end. He detected Cartwright in the very act of
carrying off goods to a considerable amount. The man was tried at the Old
Bailey for the offence; but through a technical informality in the
Unable to find employment, and with a character gone, the liberated thief
became savage, revengeful, and desperate. Instead of imputing his fall to
his own irregularities, he considered his late unfortunate employer as
the cause of his ruin; and now he bent all the energies of his dark
nature to destroy the reputation of the man whom he had betrayed and
plundered. Of all the beings self-delivered to the rule of unscrupulous
malignity, with whom it has been my fate to come professionally in
contact, I never knew one so utterly fiendish as this discomfited
pilferer. Frenzied with his imaginary wrongs, he formed the determination
to labor, even if it were for years, to ruin his victim. Nothing short of
death should divert him from this the darling object of his existence.
Animated by these diabolical passions, Cartwright proceeded to his work.
Harvey, he had too good reason to know, was in debt to persons who had
made him advances; and by means of artfully-concocted anonymous letters,
evidently written by some one conversant with the matters on which he
wrote, he succeeded in alarming the haberdasher's creditors. The
consequences were--demands of immediate payment, and, in spite of the
debtor's explanations and promises, writs, heavy law expenses, ruinous
sacrifices, and ultimate bankruptcy. It may seem almost too marvelous for
belief, but the story of this terrible revenge and its consequences is no
fiction. Every incident in my narrative is true, and the whole may be
found in hard outline in the records of the courts with which a few years
ago I was familiar.
The humiliated and distressed feelings of Harvey and his family may be
left to the imagination. When he found himself a ruined man, I dare say
his mental sufferings were sufficiently acute. Yet he did not sit down in
despair. To re-establish himself in business in England appeared
hopeless; but America presented itself as a scene where industry might
find a reward; and by the kindness of some friends, he was enabled to
make preparations to emigrate with his wife and children. Towards the
end of February he quitted London for one of the great seaports, where he
was to embark for Boston. On arriving there with his family, Mr. Harvey
took up his abode at a principal hotel. This, in a man of straitened
means, was doubtless imprudent; but he afterwards attempted to explain
the circumstance by saying, that as the ship in which he had engaged his
passage was to sail on the day after his arrival, he had preferred
incurring a slight additional expense rather than that his wife--who was
now, with failing spirits, nursing an infant--should be exposed to coarse
associations and personal discomfort. In the expectation, however, of
being only one night in the hotel, Harvey was unfortunately disappointed.
Ship-masters, especially those commanding emigrant vessels, were then, as
now, habitual promise-breakers; and although each succeeding sun was to
light them on their way, it was fully a fortnight before the ship stood
out to sea. By that time a second and more dire reverse had occurred in
the fortunes of the luckless Harvey.
Cartwright, whose appetite for vengeance was but whetted by his first
success, had never lost sight of the movements of his victim; and now he
had followed him to the place of his embarkation, with an eager but
undefined purpose of working him some further and more deadly mischief.
Stealthily he hovered about the house which sheltered the unconscious
object of his malicious hate, plotting, as he afterwards confessed, the
wildest schemes for satiating his revenge. Several times he made excuses
for calling at the hotel, in the hope of observing the nature of the
premises, taking care, however, to avoid being seen by Mr. Harvey or his
family. A fortnight passed away, and the day of departure of the
emigrants arrived without the slightest opportunity occurring for the
gratification of his purposes. The ship was leaving her berth; most of
the passengers were on board; Mrs. Harvey and the children, with nearly
the whole of the luggage, were already safely in the vessel; Mr. Harvey
only remained on shore to purchase some trifling article, and to settle
his bill at the hotel on removing his last trunk. Cartwright had tracked
him all day; he could not attack him in the street; and he finally
followed him to the hotel, in order to wreak his vengeance on him in his
private apartment, of the situation of which he had informed himself.
Harvey entered the hotel first, and before Cartwright came up, he had
gone down a passage into the bar to settle the bill which he had incurred
for the last two days. Not aware of this circumstance, Cartwright, in the
bustle which prevailed, went up stairs to Mr. Harvey's bedroom and
parlor, in neither of which, to his surprise, did he find the occupant;
and he turned away discomfited. Passing along towards the chief
staircase, he perceived a room of which the door was open, and that on
the table there lay a gold watch and appendages. Nobody was in the
apartment: the gentleman who occupied it had only a few moments before
gone to his bed-chamber for a brief space. Quick as lightning a
diabolical thought flashed through the brain of the villain, who had been
baffled in his original intentions. He recollected that he had seen a
trunk in Harvey's room, and that the keys hung in the lock. An
inconceivably short space of time served for him to seize the watch, to
deposit it at the bottom of Harvey's trunk, and to quit the hotel by a
back stair, which led by a short cut to the harbor. The whole transaction
was done unperceived, and the wretch at least departed unnoticed.
Having finished his business at the bar, Mr. Harvey repaired to his room,
locked his trunk, which, being of a small and handy size, he mounted on
his shoulder, and proceeded to leave the house by the back stair, in
order to get as quickly as possible to the vessel. Little recked he of
the interruption which was to be presented to his departure. He had got
as far as the foot of the stair with his burden, when he was overtaken by
a waiter, who declared that he was going to leave the house clandestinely
without settling accounts. It is proper to mention that Mr. Harvey had
incurred the enmity of this particular waiter in consequence of having,
out of his slender resources, given him too small a gratuity on the
occasion of paying a former bill, and not aware of the second bill being
settled, the waiter was rather glad to have an opportunity of charging
him with a fraudulent design. In vain Mr. Harvey remonstrated, saying he
had paid for every thing. The waiter would not believe his statement, and
detained him "till he should hear better about it."
"Let me go, fellow; I insist upon it," said Mr. Harvey, burning with
indignation. "I am already too late."
"Not a step, till I ask master if accounts are squared."
At this moment, while the altercation was at the hottest, a terrible
ringing of bells was heard, and above stairs was a loud noise of voices,
and of feet running to and fro. A chambermaid came hurriedly down the
stair, exclaiming that some one had stolen a gold watch from No. 17, and
that nobody ought to leave the house till it was found. The landlord
also, moved by the hurricane which had been raised, made his appearance
at the spot where Harvey was interrupted in his exit.
"What on earth is all this noise about, John?" inquired the landlord of
"Why, sir, I thought it rather strange for any gentleman to leave the
house by the back way, carrying his own portmanteau, and so I was making
a little breeze about it, fearing he had not paid his bill, when all of
a sudden Sally rushes down the stair and says as how No. 17 has missed
his gold watch, and that no one should quit the hotel."
No. 17, an old, dry-looking military gentlemen, in a particularly high
passion, now showed himself on the scene, uttering terrible threats of
legal proceedings against the house for the loss he had sustained.
Harvey was stupified and indignant, yet he could hardly help smiling at
the pother. "What," said he, "have I to do with all this? I have paid for
everything; I am surely entitled to go away if I like. Remember, that if
I lose my passage to Boston, you shall answer for it."
"I very much regret detaining you, sir," replied the keeper of the hotel;
"but you hear there has been a robbery committed within the last few
minutes, and as it will be proper to search every one in the house,
surely you, who are on the point of departure, will have no objections to
be searched first, and then be at liberty to go?"
There was something so perfectly reasonable in all this, that
Harvey stepped into an adjoining parlor, and threw open his trunk
for inspection, never doubting that his innocence would be
The waiter, whose mean rapacity had been the cause of the detention,
acted as examiner. He pulled one article after another out of the trunk,
and at length--horror of horrors!--held up the missing watch with a look
of triumph and scorn!
"Who put that there?" cried Harvey in an agony of mind which can be
better imagined than described. "Who has done me this grievous wrong? I
know nothing as to how the watch came into my trunk."
No one answered this appeal. All present stood for a moment in
"Sir," said the landlord to Harvey on recovering from his surprise, "I am
sorry for you. For the sake of a miserable trifle, you have brought ruin
and disgrace on yourself. This is a matter which concerns the honor of my
house, and cannot stop here. However much it is against my feelings, you
must go before a magistrate."
"By all means," added No. 17, with the importance of an injured man. "A
pretty thing that one's watch is not safe in a house like this!"
"John, send Boots for a constable," said the landlord.
Harvey sat with his head leaning on his hand. A deadly cold
perspiration trickled down his brow. His heart swelled and beat as if
it would burst. What should he do? His whole prospects were in an
instant blighted. "Oh God! do not desert a frail and unhappy being:
give me strength to face this new and terrible misfortune," was a
prayer he internally uttered. A little revived, he started to his feet,
and addressing himself to the landlord, he said, "Take me to a
magistrate instantly, and let us have this diabolical plot unraveled. I
court inquiry into my character and conduct."
"It is no use saying any more about it," answered the landlord; "here is
Boots with a constable, and let us all go away together to the nearest
magistrate. Boots, carry that trunk. John and Sally, you can follow us."
And so the party, trunk and all, under the constable as conductor,
adjourned to the house of a magistrate in an adjacent street.
There the matter seemed so clear a case of felony--robbery in a
dwelling-house--that Harvey, all protestations to the contrary, was
fully committed for trial at the ensuing March assizes, then but a few
At the period at which these incidents occurred, I was a young man going
on my first circuits. I had not as yet been honored with perhaps more
than three or four briefs, and these only in cases so slightly productive
of fees, that I was compelled to study economy in my excursions. Instead
of taking up my residence at an inn when visiting ------, a considerable
seaport, where the court held its sittings, I dwelt in lodgings kept by a
widow lady, where, at a small expense, I could enjoy perfect quietness,
free from interruption.
On the evening after my arrival on the March circuit of the year 17--, I
was sitting in my lodgings perusing a new work on criminal jurisprudence,
when the landlady, after tapping at the door, entered my room.
"I am sorry to trouble you, sir," said she; "but a lady has called to
see you about a very distressing law case--very distressing indeed,
and a very strange case it is too. Only, if you could be so good as
to see her?"
"Who is she?"
"All I know about it is this: she is a Mrs. Harvey. She and her husband
and children were to sail yesterday for Boston. All were on board except
the husband; and he, on leaving the large hotel over the way, was taken
up for a robbery. Word was in the evening sent by the prisoner to his
wife to come on shore, with all her children and the luggage; and so she
came back in the pilot boat, and was in such a state of distress, that my
brother, who is on the preventive service, and saw her land, took pity on
her, and had her and her children and things taken to a lodging on the
quay. As my brother knows that we have a London lawyer staying here, he
has advised the poor woman to come and consult you about the case."
"Well, I'll see what can be done. Please desire the lady to step in."
A lady was shortly shown in. She had been pretty, and was so still, but
anxiety was pictured in her pale countenance. Her dress was plain, but
not inelegant; and altogether she had a neat and engaging appearance.
"Be so good as to sit down," said I, bowing; "and tell me all you would
like to say."
The poor woman burst into tears; but afterwards recovering herself, she
told me pretty nearly the whole of her history and that of her husband.
Lawyers have occasion to see so much duplicity, that I did not all at
once give assent to the idea of Harvey being innocent of the crime of
which he stood charged.
"There is something perfectly inexplicable in the case," I observed, "and
it would require sifting. Your husband, I hope has always borne a good
"Perfectly so. He was no doubt unfortunate in business; but he got his
certificate on the first examination; and there are many who would
testify to his uprightness." And here again my client broke into tears,
as if overwhelmed with her recollections and prospects.
"I think I recollect Mr. Harvey's shop," said I soothingly. "It seemed a
very respectable concern; and we must see what can be done. Keep up your
spirits; the only fear I have arises from the fact of Judge A ---- being
on the bench. He is usually considered severe, and if exculpatory
evidence fail, your husband may run the risk of being--transported." A
word of more terrific import, with which I was about to conclude, stuck
unuttered in my throat "Have you employed an attorney?" I added.
"No; I have done nothing as yet, but apply to you, to beg of you to be my
"Well, that must be looked to. I shall speak to a local agent, to prepare
and work out the case; and we shall all do our utmost to get an
acquittal. To-morrow I will call on your husband in prison."
Many thanks were offered by the unfortunate lady, and she withdrew.
I am not going to inflict on the reader a detailed account of this
remarkable trial, which turned, as barristers would say, on a beautiful
point of circumstantial evidence. Along with the attorney, a sharp enough
person in his way, I examined various parties at the hotel, and made
myself acquainted with the nature of the premises. The more we
investigated, however, the more dark and mysterious--always supposing
Harvey's innocence--did the whole case appear. There was not one
redeeming trait in the affair, except Harvey's previous good character;
and good character, by the law of England, goes for nothing in opposition
to facts proved to the satisfaction of a jury. It was likewise most
unfortunate that A ---- was to be the presiding judge. This man possessed
great forensic acquirements, and was of spotless private character; but,
like the majority of lawyers of that day--when it was no extraordinary
thing to hang twenty men in a morning at Newgate--he was a staunch
stickler for the gallows as the only effectual reformer and safeguard of
the social state. At this time he was but partially recovered from a long
and severe indisposition, and the traces of recent suffering were
distinctly apparent on his pale and passionless features.
Harvey was arraigned in due form; the evidence was gone carefully
through; and everything, so far as I was concerned, was done that man
could do. But at the time to which I refer, counsel was not allowed to
address the court on behalf of the prisoner--a practice since introduced
from Scotland--and consequently I was allowed no opportunity to draw the
attention of the jury to the total want of any direct evidence of the
prisoner's guilt. Harvey himself tried to point out the unlikelihood of
his being guilty; but he was not a man gifted with dialectic qualities,
and his harangue fell pointless on the understandings of the twelve
common-place individuals who sat in the jury-box. The judge finally
proceeded to sum the evidence, and this he did emphatically _against_ the
prisoner--dwelling with much force on the suspicious circumstance of a
needy man taking up his abode at an expensive fashionable hotel; his
furtive descent from his apartments by the back stairs; the undoubted
fact of the watch being found in his trunk; the improbability of any one
putting it there but himself; and the extreme likelihood that the robbery
was effected in a few moments of time by the culprit, just as he passed
from the bar of the hotel to the room which he had occupied. "If," said
he to the jury, in concluding his address, "you can, after all these
circumstances, believe the prisoner to be innocent of the crime laid to
his charge, it is more than I can do. The thing seems to me as clear as
the sun at noonday. The evidence, in short, is irresistible; and if the
just and necessary provisions of the law are not enforced in such very
plain cases, then society will be dissolved, and security for property
there will be none. Gentlemen, retire and make up your verdict."
The jury were not disposed to retire. After communing a few minutes
together, one of them stood up and delivered the verdict: it was
_Guilty!_ The judge assumed the crowning badge of the judicial
potentate--the black cap; and the clerk of arraigns asked the prisoner at
the bar, in the usual form, if he had anything to urge why sentence of
death should not be passed upon him.
Poor Harvey! I durst scarcely look at him. As the sonorous words fell on
his ear, he was grasping nervously with shaking hands at the front of the
dock. He appeared stunned, bewildered, as a man but half-awakened from a
hideous dream might be supposed to look. He had comprehended, though he
had scarcely heard, the verdict; for on the instant, the voice which but
a few years before sang to him by the brook side, was ringing through his
brain, and he could recognize the little pattering feet of his children,
as, sobbing and clinging to their shrieking mother's dress, she and they
were hurried out of court The clerk, after a painful pause, repeated the
solemn formula. By a strong effort the doomed man mastered his agitation;
his pale countenance lighted up with indignant fire, and firm and
self-possessed, he thus replied to the fearful interrogatory:--
"Much could I say in the name, not of mercy, but of justice, why the
sentence about to be passed on me should not be pronounced; but nothing,
alas! that will avail me with you, pride-blinded ministers of death. You
fashion to yourselves--out of your own vain conceits do you
fashion--modes and instruments, by the aid of which you fondly imagine to
invest yourselves with attributes which belong only to Omniscience; and
now I warn you--and it is a voice from the tomb, in whose shadow I
already stand, which addresses you--that you are about to commit a most
cruel and deliberate murder."
He paused, and the jury looked into each other's eyes for the courage
they could not find in their own hearts. The voice of conscience spoke,
but was only for a few moments audible. The suggestions that what grave
parliaments, learned judges, and all classes of "respectability"
sanctioned, could not be wrong, much less murderous or cruel, silenced
the "still, small" tones, and tranquilized the startled jurors.
"Prisoner at the bar," said the judge with his cold, calm voice of
destiny, "I cannot listen to such observations: you have been found
guilty of a heinous offence by a jury of your countrymen after a patient
trial. With that finding I need scarcely say I entirely agree. I am as
satisfied of your guilt as if I had seen you commit the act with my own
bodily eyes. The circumstance of your being a person who, from habits and
education, should have been above committing so base a crime, only
aggravates your guilt. However, no matter who or what you have been, you
must expiate your offence on the scaffold. The law has very properly, for
the safety of society, decreed the punishment of death for such crimes:
our only and plain duty is to execute that law."
The prisoner did not reply: he was leaning with his elbows on the front
of the dock, his bowed face covered with his outspread hands; and the
judge passed sentence of death in the accustomed form. The court then
rose, and a turnkey placed his hand upon the prisoner's arm, to lead him
away. Suddenly he uncovered his face, drew himself up to his full
height--he was a remarkably tall man--and glared fiercely round upon the
audience, like a wild animal at bay. "My lord," he cried, or rather
shouted, in an excited voice. The judge motioned impatiently to the
jailor, and strong hands impelled the prisoner from the front of the
dock. Bursting from them, he again sprang forward, and his arms
outstretched, whilst his glittering eye seemed to hold the judge
spell-bound, exclaimed, "My lord, before another month has passed away,
_you_ will appear at the bar of another world, to answer for the life,
the innocent life, which God bestowed upon me, but which you have
impiously cast away as a thing of naught and scorn!" He ceased, and was
at once borne off. The court, in some confusion, hastily departed. It was
thought at the time that the judge's evidently failing health had
suggested the prophecy to the prisoner. It only excited a few days'
wonder, and was forgotten.
The position of a barrister in such circumstances is always painful. I
need hardly say that my own feelings were of a very distressing kind.
Conscious that if the unfortunate man really was guilty, he was at least
not deserving of capital punishment, I exerted myself to procure a
reprieve. In the first place I waited privately on the judge; but he
would listen to no proposal for a respite. Along with a number of
individuals--chiefly of the Society of Friends--I petitioned the crown
for a commutation of the sentence. But being unaccompanied with a
recommendation from the judge, the prayer of our petition was of course
disregarded: the law, it was said, must take its course. How much cruelty
has been exercised under shelter of that remorseless expression!
I would willingly pass over the succeeding events. Unable to save his
life, I endeavored to soothe the few remaining hours of the doomed
convict, and frequently visited him in the condemned cell. The more I saw
of him, the deeper grew my sympathy in his case, which was that of no
vulgar felon. "I have been a most unfortunate man," said he one day to
me. "A destiny towards ruin in fortune and in life has pursued me. I feel
as if deserted by God and man; yet I know, or at least would persuade
myself, that Heaven will one day vindicate my innocence of this foul
charge. To think of being hanged like a dog for a crime at which my soul
revolts! Great is the crime of those imbecile jurors and that false and
hard-hearted judge, who thus, by an irreversible decree, consign a
fellow-mortal to a death of violence and disgrace. Oh God, help me--help
me to sustain that bitter, bitter hour!" And then the poor man would
throw himself on his bed and weep.
But the parting with his wife and children. What pen can describe that
terrible interview! They knelt in prayer, their wobegone countenances
suffused in tears, and with hands clasped convulsively together. The
scene was too harrowing and sacred for the eye of a stranger. I rushed
from the cell, and buried myself in my lodgings, whence I did not remove
till all was over. Next day James Harvey, a victim of circumstantial
evidence, and of a barbarous criminal code, perished on the scaffold.
Three weeks afterwards, the court arrived at a populous city in the west
of England. It had in the interval visited another assize town, and there
Judge A ---- had left three for execution. At the trials of these men,
however, I had not attended. So shocked had been my feelings with the
mournful event which had taken place at ------, that I had gone into
Wales for the sake of change of scene. After roaming about for a
fortnight amidst the wild solitudes of Caernarvonshire, I took the stage
for the city which I knew the court was to visit, and arrived on the day
previous to the opening of the assizes.
"Well, are we to have a heavy calendar?" I inquired next morning of a
brother barrister on entering the court.
"Rather light for a March assize," replied the impatient counsel as
he bustled onward. "There's Cartwright's case--highway robbery--in
which I am for the prosecution. He'll swing for it, and perhaps four
or five others."
"A good hanging judge is A ----," said the under-sheriff, who at
this moment joined us, rubbing his hands, as if pleased with the
prospect of a few executions. "No chance of the prophecy yonder coming
to pass I suppose?"
"Not in the least," replied the bustling counsel. "He never looked
better. His illness has gone completely off. And this day's work will
brighten him up."
Cartwright's trial came on. I had never seen the man before, and was not
aware that this was the same person whom Harvey had incidentally told me
he had discharged for theft; the truth being, that till the last moment
of his existence, that unfortunate man had not known how much he had been
a sacrifice to this wretch's malice.
The crime of which the villain now stood accused was that of robbing a
farmer of the paltry sum of eight shillings, in the neighborhood of
Ilfracombe. He pleaded not guilty, but put in no defence. A verdict was
recorded against him, and in due form A ---- sentenced him to be hanged.
An expression of fiendish malignancy gleamed over the haggard features of
the felon as he asked leave to address a few words to the court. It was
granted. Leaning forward, and raising his heavy, scowling eyes to the
judge, he thus began:--"There is something on my mind, my lord--a
dreadful crime--which, as I am to die for the eight shillings I took from
the farmer, I may as well confess. You may remember Harvey, my lord, whom
you hanged the other day at--?"
"What of him, fellow?" replied the judge, his features suddenly
"Why, my lord, only this--that he was as innocent of the crime for which
you hanged him as the child yet unborn! I did the deed! I put the watch
in his trunk!" And to the unutterable horror of the entire court he
related the whole particulars of the transaction, the origin of his
grudge against Harvey, and his delight on bringing him to the gallows.
"Inhuman, execrable villain!" gasped the judge in extreme excitement.
"Cleverly done, though! Was it not, my lord?" rejoined the ruffian with
bitter irony. "The evidence, you know, was irresistible; the crime as
clear as the sun at noonday; and if in such plain cases, the just and
necessary law was not enforced, society would be dissolved, and there
would be no security for property! These were your words, I think. How on
that occasion I admired your lordship's judgment and eloquence! Society
would be dissolved if an innocent man were not hanged! Ha!--ha!--ha!
Capital!--capital!" shouted the ferocious felon with demoniac glee, as he
marked the effect of his words on the countenance of the judge.
"Remove the prisoner!" cried the sheriff. An officer was about to do so;
but the judge motioned him to desist. His lordship's features worked
convulsively. He seemed striving to speak, but the words would not come.
"I suppose, my lord," continued Cartwright in low and hissing tones, as
the shadow of unutterable despair grew and settled on his face--"I
suppose you know that his wife destroyed herself. The coroner's jury said
she had fallen accidentally into the water, _I_ know better. She drowned
herself under the agonies of a broken heart! I saw her corpse, with the
dead baby in its arms; and then I felt, knew, that I was lost! Lost,
doomed to everlasting perdition! But, my lord,"--and here the wretch
broke into a howl wild and terrific--"_we_ shall go down together--down
to where your deserts are known. A--h--h! that pinches you, does it?
Hound of a judge! legal murderer! coward! I spurn and spit upon thee!"
The rest of the appalling objurgation was inarticulate, as the monster,
foaming and sputtering, was dragged by an officer from the dock.
Judge A ---- had fallen forwards on his face, fainting and speechless
with the violence of his emotions. The black cap had dropped from his
brow. His hands were stretched out across the bench, and various members
of the bar rushed to his assistance. The court broke up in frightful
Two days afterwards the county paper had the following announcement:--
"Died at the Royal Hotel, ------, on the 27th instant, Judge A ----, from
an access of fever supervening upon a disorder from which he had
The prophecy was fulfilled!
THE NORTHERN CIRCUIT.
About the commencement of the present century there stood, near the
centre of a rather extensive hamlet, not many miles distant from a
northern seaport town, a large, substantially-built, but somewhat
straggling building, known as Craig Farm (popularly _Crook_ Farm) House.
The farm consisted of about one hundred acres of tolerable arable and
meadow land; and at the time I have indicated, belonged to a farmer of
the name of Armstrong. He had purchased it about three years previously,
at a sale held, in pursuance of a decree of the High Court of Chancery,
for the purpose of liquidating certain costs incurred in the suit of
Craig _versus_ Craig, which the said high court had nursed so long and
successfully, as to enable the solicitor to the victorious claimant to
incarcerate his triumphant client for several years in the Fleet, in
"satisfaction" of the charges of victory remaining due after the proceeds
of the sale of Craig Farm had been deducted from the gross total. Farmer
Armstrong was married, but childless; his dame, like himself, was a
native of Devonshire. They bore the character of a plodding, taciturn,
morose-mannered couple: seldom leaving the farm except to attend market,
and rarely seen at church or chapel, they naturally enough became objects
of suspicion and dislike to the prying, gossiping villagers, to whom
mystery or reserve of any kind was of course exceedingly annoying and
Soon after Armstrong was settled in his new purchase another stranger
arrived, and took up his abode in the best apartments of the house. The
new-comer, a man of about fifty years of age, and evidently, from his
dress and gait, a sea-faring person, was as reserved and unsocial as his
landlord. His name, or at least that which he chose to be known by, was
Wilson. He had one child, a daughter, about thirteen years of age, whom
he placed at a boarding-school in the adjacent town. He seldom saw her;
the intercourse between the father and daughter being principally carried
on through Mary Strugnell, a widow of about thirty years of age, and a
native of the place. She was engaged as a servant to Mr. Wilson, and
seldom left Craig Farm except on Sunday afternoons, when, if the weather
was at all favorable, she paid a visit to an aunt living in the town;
there saw Miss Wilson; and returned home usually at half-past ten
o'clock--later rather than earlier. Armstrong was occasionally absent
from his home for several days together, on business, it was rumored, for
Wilson; and on the Sunday in the first week of January 1802, both he and
his wife had been away for upwards of a week, and were not yet returned.
About a quarter-past ten o'clock on that evening the early-retiring
inhabitants of the hamlet were roused from their slumbers by a loud,
continuous knocking at the front door of Armstrong's house: louder and
louder, more and more vehement and impatient, resounded the blows upon
the stillness of the night, till the soundest sleepers were awakened.
Windows were hastily thrown open, and presently numerous footsteps
approached the scene of growing hubbub. The unwonted noise was caused,
it was found, by Farmer Armstrong, who accompanied by his wife, was
thundering vehemently upon the door with a heavy black-thorn stick.
Still no answer was obtained. Mrs. Strugnell, it was supposed, had not
returned from town; but where was Mr. Wilson, who was almost always at
home both day and night? Presently a lad called out that a white sheet
or cloth of some sort was hanging out of one of the back windows. This
announcement, confirming the vague apprehensions which had begun to
germinate in the wise heads of the villagers, disposed them to adopt a
more effectual mode of obtaining admission than knocking seemed likely
to prove. Johnson, the constable of the parish, a man of great
shrewdness, at once proposed to break in the door. Armstrong, who, as
well as his wife, was deadly pale, and trembling violently, either with
cold or agitation, hesitatingly consented, and crowbars being speedily
procured, an entrance was forced, and in rushed a score of excited men.
Armstrong's wife, it was afterwards remembered, caught hold of her
husband's arm in a hurried, frightened manner, whispered hastily in his
ear, and then both followed into the house.
"Now, farmer," cried Johnson, as soon as he had procured a light, "lead
the way up stairs."
Armstrong, who appeared to have somewhat recovered from his panic, darted
at once up the staircase, followed by the whole body of rustics. On
reaching the landing-place, he knocked at Mr. Wilson's bedroom door. No
answer was returned. Armstrong seemed to hesitate, but the constable at
once lifted the latch; they entered, and then a melancholy spectacle
Wilson, completely dressed, lay extended on the floor a lifeless corpse.
He had been stabbed in two places in the breast with some sharp-pointed
instrument. Life was quite extinct. The window was open. On farther
inspection, several bundles containing many of Wilson's valuables in
jewelry and plate, together with clothes, shirts, silk handkerchiefs,
were found. The wardrobe and a secretary-bureau had been forced open.
The assassins had, it seemed, been disturbed, and had hurried off by the
window without their plunder. A hat was also picked up in the room, a
shiny, black hat, much too small for the deceased. The constable snatched
it up, and attempted to clap it on Armstrong's head, but it was not
nearly large enough. This, together with the bundles, dissipated a
suspicion which had been growing in Johnson's mind, and he roughly
exclaimed, "You need not look so scared, farmer; it's not you: that's
To this remark neither Armstrong nor his wife answered a syllable, but
continued to gaze at the corpse, the bundles, and the broken locks, in
bewildered terror and astonishment. Presently some one asked if any body
had seen Mrs. Strugnell?
The question roused Armstrong, and he said, "She is not come home: her
door is locked."
"How do you know that?" cried the constable, turning sharply round, and
looking keenly in his face. "How do you know that?"
"Because--because," stammered Armstrong, "because she always locks it
when she goes out."
"Which is her room?"
"The next to this."
They hastened out, and found the next door was fast.
"Are you there, Mrs. Strugnell?" shouted Johnson.
There was no reply.
"She is never home till half-past ten o'clock on Sunday evenings,"
remarked Armstrong in a calmer voice.
"The key is in the lock on the inside," cried a young man who had been
striving to peep through the key-hole.
Armstrong, it was afterwards sworn, started as if he had been shot;
and his wife again clutched his arm with the same nervous, frenzied
gripe as before.
"Mrs. Strugnell, are you there?" once more shouted the constable. He was
answered by a low moan. In an instant the frail door was burst in, and
Mrs. Strugnell was soon pulled out, apparently more dead than alive, from
underneath the bedstead, where she, in speechless consternation, lay
partially concealed. Placing her in a chair, they soon succeeded--much
more easily, indeed, than they anticipated--in restoring her to
Nervously she glanced round the circle of eager faces that environed her,
till her eyes fell upon Armstrong and his wife, when she gave a loud
shriek, and muttering, "They, _they_ are the murderers!" swooned, or
appeared to do so, again instantly.
The accused persons, in spite of their frenzied protestations of
innocence, were instantly seized and taken off to a place of security;
Mrs. Strugnell was conveyed to a neighbor's close by; the house was
carefully secured; and the agitated and wondering villagers departed to
their several homes, but not, I fancy, to sleep any more for that night.
The deposition made by Mrs. Strugnell at the inquest on the body was in
substance as follows:--
"On the afternoon in question she had, in accordance with her usual
custom, proceeded to town. She called on her aunt, took tea with her, and
afterwards went to the Independent Chapel. After service, she called to
see Miss Wilson, but was informed that, in consequence of a severe cold,
the young lady was gone to bed. She then immediately proceeded homewards,
and consequently arrived at Craig Farm more than an hour before her usual
time. She let herself in with her latch key, and proceeded to her
bedroom. There was no light in Mr. Wilson's chamber, but she could hear
him moving about in it. She was just about to go down stairs, having put
away her Sunday bonnet and shawl, when she heard a noise, as of persons
entering by the back way, and walking gently across the kitchen floor.
Alarmed as to who it could be, Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong not being expected
home for several days, she gently closed her door, and locked it. A few
minutes after, she heard stealthy steps ascending the creaking stairs,
and presently her door was tried, and a voice in a low hurried whisper
said, "Mary, are you there?" She was positive it was Mr. Armstrong's
voice, but was too terrified to answer. Then Mrs. Armstrong--she was sure
it was she--said also in a whisper, and as if addressing her husband,
"She is never back at this hour." A minute or so after there was a tap at
Mr. Wilson's door. She could not catch what answer was made; but by
Armstrong's reply, she gathered that Mr. Wilson had lain down, and did
not wish to be disturbed. He was often in the habit of lying down with
his clothes on. Armstrong said, "I will not disturb you, sir; I'll only
just put this parcel on the table." There is no lock to Mr. Wilson's
door. Armstrong stepped into the room, and almost immediately she heard a
sound as of a violent blow, followed by a deep groan and then all was
still. She was paralyzed with horror and affright. After the lapse of a
few seconds, a voice--Mrs. Armstrong's undoubtedly--asked in a tremulous
tone if "all was over?" Her husband answered "Yes: but where be the keys
of the writing-desk kept?" "In the little table-drawer," was the reply.
Armstrong then came out of the bedroom, and both went into Mr. Wilson's
sitting apartment. They soon returned, and crept stealthily along the
passage to their own bedroom on the same floor. They then went down
stairs to the kitchen. One of them--the woman, she had no doubt--went out
the back way, and heavy footsteps again ascended the stairs. Almost dead
with fright, she then crawled under the bedstead, and remembered no more
till she found herself surrounded by the villagers."
In confirmation of this statement, a large clasp-knife belonging to
Armstrong, and with which it was evident the murder had been perpetrated,
was found in one corner of Wilson's bedroom; and a mortgage deed, for one
thousand pounds on Craig Farm, the property of Wilson, and which
Strugnell swore was always kept in the writing-desk in the front room,
was discovered in a chest in the prisoner's sleeping apartment, together
with nearly one hundred and fifty pounds in gold, silver, and county
bank-notes, although it was known that Armstrong had but a fortnight
before declined a very advantageous offer of some cows he was desirous of
purchasing, under the plea of being short of cash. Worse perhaps than
all, a key of the back-door was found in his pocket, which not only
confirmed Strugnell's evidence, but clearly demonstrated that the
knocking at the door for admittance, which had roused and alarmed the
hamlet, was a pure subterfuge. The conclusion, therefore, almost
universally arrived at throughout the neighborhood was, that Armstrong
and his wife were the guilty parties; and that the bundles, the broken
locks, the sheet hanging out of the window, the shiny, black hat, were,
like the knocking, mere cunning devices to mislead inquiry.
The case excited great interest in the county, and I esteemed myself
professionally fortunate in being selected to hold the brief for the
prosecution. I had satisfied myself, by a perusal of the depositions,
that there was no doubt of the prisoners' guilt, and I determined that no
effort on my part should be spared to insure the accomplishment of the
ends of justice. I drew the indictment myself; and in my opening address
to the jury dwelt with all the force and eloquence of which I was master
upon the heinous nature of the crime, and the conclusiveness of the
evidence by which it had been brought home to the prisoners. I may here,
by way of parenthesis, mention that I resorted to a plan in my address to
the jury which I have seldom known to fail. It consisted in fixing my
eyes and addressing my language to each juror one after the other. In
this way each considers the address to be an appeal to his individual
intelligence, and responds to it by falling into the views of the
barrister. On this occasion the jury easily fell into the trap. I could
see that I had got them into the humor of putting confidence in the
evidence I had to produce.
The trial proceeded. The cause of the death was scientifically stated by
two medical men. Next followed the evidence as to the finding of the
knife in the bedroom of the deceased; the discovery of the mortgage deed,
and the large sum of money, in the prisoners' sleeping apartment; the
finding the key of the back-door in the male prisoner's pocket; and his
demeanor and expressions on the night of the perpetration of the crime.
In his cross-examination of the constable, several facts perfectly new to
me were elicited by the very able counsel for the prisoners. Their
attorney had judiciously maintained the strictest secrecy as to the
nature of the defence, so that it now took me completely by surprise. The
constable, in reply to questions by counsel, stated that the pockets of
the deceased were empty; that not only his purse, but a gold watch,
chain, and seals, which he usually wore, had vanished, and no trace of
them had as yet been discovered. Many other things were also missing. A
young man of the name of Pearce, apparently a sailor, had been seen in
the village once or twice in the company of Mary Strugnell; but he did
not notice what sort of hat he generally wore; he had not seen Pearce
since the night the crime was committed; had not sought for him.
Mary Strugnell was the next witness. She repeated her previous evidence
with precision and apparent sincerity, and then I abandoned her with a
mixed feeling of anxiety and curiosity, to the counsel for the defence.
A subtle and able cross-examination of more than two hours' duration
followed; and at its conclusion, I felt that the case for the
prosecution was so damaged, that a verdict of condemnation was, or ought
to be, out of the question. The salient points dwelt upon, and varied in
every possible way, in this long sifting, were these:--"What was the
reason she did not return in the evening in question to her aunt's to
supper as usual?"
"She did not know, except that she wished to get home."
"Did she keep company with a man of the name of Pearce?"
"She had walked out with him once or twice."
"When was the last time?"
"She did not remember."
"Did Pearce walk with her home on the night of the murder?"
"Not part of the way?"
"Yes; part of the way."
"Did Pearce sometimes wear a black, shiny hat?"
"No--yes: she did not remember."
"Where was Pearce now?"
"She didn't know."
"Had he disappeared since that Sunday evening?"
"She didn't know."
"Had she seen him since?"
"Had Mr. Wilson ever threatened to discharge her for insolence to Mrs.
"Yes; but she knew he was not in earnest."
"Was not the clasp-knife that had been found always left in the kitchen
for culinary purposes?"
"No--not always; generally--but not _this _time that Armstrong went away,
she was sure."
"Mary Strugnell, you be a false-sworn woman before God and man!"
interrupted the male prisoner with great violence of manner.
The outbreak of the prisoner was checked and rebuked by the judge, and
the cross-examination soon afterwards closed. Had the counsel been
allowed to follow up his advantage by an address to the jury, he would, I
doubt not, spite of their prejudices against the prisoners, have obtained
an acquittal; but as it was, after a neutral sort of charge from the
judge, by no means the ablest that then adorned the bench, the jurors,
having deliberated for something more than half an hour, returned into
court with a verdict of "guilty" against both prisoners, accompanying it,
however, with a strong recommendation to mercy!
"Mercy!" said the judge. "What for? On what ground?"
The jurors stared at each other and at the judge: they had no reason to
give! The fact was, their conviction of the prisoners' guilt had been
very much shaken by the cross-examination of the chief witness for the
prosecution, and this recommendation was a compromise which conscience
made with doubt. I have known many such instances.
The usual ridiculous formality of asking the wretched convicts what they
had to urge why sentence should not be passed upon them was gone through;
the judge, with unmoved feelings, put on the fatal cap; and then a new
and startling light burst upon the mysterious, bewildering affair.
"Stop, my lord!" exclaimed Armstrong with rough vehemence. "Hear me
speak! I'll tell ye all about it; I will indeed, my lord. Quiet,
Martha, I tell ye. It's I, my lord, that's guilty, not the woman. God
bless ye, my lord; not the wife! Doant hurt the wife, and I'se tell ye
all about it. I _alone_ am guilty; not, the Lord be praised, of murder,
but of robbery!"
"John!--John!" sobbed the wife, clinging passionately to her husband,
"let us die together!"
"Quiet, Martha, I tell ye! Yes, my lord, I'se tell ye all about it. I was
gone away, wife and I, for more nor a week, to receive money for Mr.
Wilson, on account of smuggled goods--that money, my lord, as was found
in the chest. When we came home on that dreadful Sunday night, my lord,
we went in the back way; and hearing a noise, I went up stairs, and found
poor Wilson stone-dead on the floor. I were dreadful skeared, and let
drop the candle. I called to wife, and told her of it. She screamed out,
and amaist fainted away. And then, my lord, all at once the devil shot
into my head to keep the money I had brought; and knowing as the keys of
the desk where the mortgage writing was kept was in the bedroom, I crept
back, as that false-hearted woman said, got the keys, and took the deed;
and then I persuaded wife, who had been trembling in the kitchen all the
while, that we had better go out quiet again, as there was nobody in the
house but us: I had tried that woman's door--and we might perhaps be
taken for the murderers. And so we did; and that's the downright, honest
truth, my lord. I'm rightly served; but God bless you, doant hurt the
woman--my wife, my lord, these thirty years. Five-and-twenty years ago
come May, which I shall never see, we buried our two children. Had they
lived, I might have been a better man; but the place they left empty was
soon filled up by love of cursed lucre, and that has brought me here. I
deserve it; but oh, mercy, my lord! mercy, good gentlemen!"--turning from
the stony features of the judge to the jury, as if they could help
him--"not for me, but the wife. She be as innocent of this as a new-born
babe. It's I! I! scoundrel that I be, that has brought thee, Martha, to
this shameful pass!" The rugged man snatched his life-companion to his
breast with passionate emotion, and tears of remorse and agony streamed
down his rough cheeks.
I was deeply affected, and felt that the man had uttered the whole truth.
It was evidently one of those cases in which a person liable to suspicion
damages his own cause by resorting to a trick. No doubt, by his act of
theft, Armstrong had been driven to an expedient which would not have
been adopted by a person perfectly innocent. And thus, from one thing to
another, the charge of murder had been fixed upon him and his hapless
wife. When his confession had been uttered, I felt a species of
self-accusation in having contributed to his destruction, and gladly
would I have undone the whole day's proceedings. The judge, on the
contrary, was quite undisturbed. Viewing the harangue of Armstrong as a
mere tissue of falsehood, he cooly pronounced sentence of death on the
prisoners. They were to be hanged on Monday. This was Friday.
"A bad job!" whispered the counsel for the defence as he passed me. "That
witness of yours, the woman Strugnell, is the real culprit."
I tasted no dinner that day: I was sick at heart; for I felt as if the
blood of two fellow-creatures was on my hands. In the evening I sallied
forth to the judge's lodgings. He listened to all I had to say; but was
quite imperturbable. The obstinate old man was satisfied that the
sentence was as it should be. I returned to my inn in a fever of despair.
Without the approval of the judge, I knew that an application to the
Secretary of State was futile. There was not even time to send to London,
unless the judge had granted a respite.
All Saturday and Sunday I was in misery. I denounced capital punishment
as a gross iniquity--a national sin and disgrace; my feelings of course
being influenced somewhat by a recollection of that unhappy affair of
Harvey, noticed in my previous paper. I half resolved to give up the bar,
and rather go and sweep the streets for a livelihood, than run the risk
of getting poor people hanged who did not deserve it.
On the Monday morning I was pacing up and down my break fast-room in the
next assize town, in a state of great excitement, when a chaise-and-four
drove rapidly up to the hotel, and out tumbled Johnson the constable. His
tale was soon told. On the previous evening, the landlady of the Black
Swan, a roadside public-house about four miles distant from the scene of
the murder, reading the name of Pearce in the report of the trial in the
Sunday county paper, sent for Johnston to state that that person had on
the fatal evening called and left a portmanteau in her charge, promising
to call for it in an hour, but had never been there since. On opening the
portmanteau, Wilson's watch, chains, and seals, and other property, were
discovered in it; and Johnson had, as soon as it was possible, set off in
search of me. Instantly, for there was not a moment to spare, I, in
company with Armstrong's counsel, sought the judge, and with some
difficulty obtained from him a formal order to the sheriff to suspend the
execution till further orders. Off I and the constable started, and
happily arrived in time to stay the execution, and deprive the
already-assembled mob of the brutal exhibition they so anxiously awaited.
On inquiring for Mary Strugnell, we found that she had absconded on the
evening of the trial. All search for her proved vain.
Five months had passed away; the fate of Armstrong and his wife was still
undecided, when a message was brought to my chambers in the Temple from a
woman said to be dying in St. Bartholomew's Hospital. It was Mary
Strugnell; who, when in a state of intoxication, had fallen down in front
of a carriage, as she was crossing near Holborn Hill, and had both her
legs broken. She was dying miserably, and had sent for me to make a full
confession relative to Wilson's murder. Armstrong's account was perfectly
correct. The deed was committed by Pearce, and they were packing up their
plunder when they were startled by the unexpected return of the
Armstrongs. Pearce, snatching up a bundle and a portmanteau, escaped by
the window; she had not nerve enough to attempt it, and crawled back to
her bedroom, where she, watching the doings of the farmer through the
chinks of the partition which separated her room from the passage,
concocted the story which convicted the prisoners. Pearce thinking
himself pursued, too heavily encumbered for rapid flight, left the
portmanteau as described, intending to call for it in the morning, if his
fears proved groundless. He, however, had not courage to risk calling
again, and made the best of his way to London. He was now in Newgate
under sentence of death for a burglary, accompanied by personal violence
to the inmates of the dwelling he and his gang had entered and robbed. I
took care to have the deposition of the dying wretch put into proper
form; and the result was, after a great deal of petitioning and worrying
of authorities, a full pardon for both Armstrong and his wife. They sold
Craig Farm, and removed to some other part of the country, where, I never
troubled myself to inquire. Deeply grateful was I to be able at last to
wash my hands of an affair, which had cost me so much anxiety and
vexation; albeit the lesson it afforded me of not coming hastily to
conclusions, even when the truth seems, as it were, upon the surface of
the matter, has not been, I trust, without its uses.
THE CONTESTED MARRIAGE.
I had just escaped to my chambers one winter afternoon from a heavy trial
"at bar" in the King's Bench, Westminster, and was poring over a case
upon which an "opinion" was urgently solicited, when my clerk entered
with a letter which he had been requested to deliver by a lady, who had
called twice before during the day for the purpose of seeing me. Vexed at
the interruption, I almost snatched the letter from the man's hand,
hastily broke the seal, and to my great surprise found it was from my
excellent old friend Sir Jasper Thornely of Thornely Hall, Lancashire. It
ran as follows:--
"My Dear ----, The bearer of this note is a lady whom I am desirous of
serving to the utmost extent of my ability. That she is really the widow
she represents herself to be, and her son consequently heir to the
magnificent estates now in possession of the Emsdales--you remember how
they tripped up my heels at the last election for the borough of ------ I
have no moral doubt whatever; but whether her claim can be legally
established is another affair. She will tell you the story herself. It
was a heartless business; but Sir Harry, who, you have no doubt heard,
broke his neck in a steeple-chase about ten months ago, was a sad wild
dog. My advice is, to look out for a sharp, clever, persevering attorney,
and set him upon a hunt for evidence. If he succeed, I undertake to pay
him a thousand pounds over and above his legal costs. He'll nose it out
for that, I should think!--Yours, truly,
"P.S.--Emsdale's son, I have just heard--confound their
impudence!--intends, upon the strength of this accession of property, to
stand for the county against my old friend ----, at the dissolution,
which cannot now be far off. If you don't think one thousand pounds
enough, I'll double it. A cruelly, ill-used lady! and as to her son, he's
the very image of the late Sir Harry Compton. In haste--J.T. I re-open
the letter to enclose a cheque for a hundred pounds, which you will pay
the attorney on account. They'll die hard, you may be sure. If it could
come off next assizes, we should spoil them for the county--J.T."
"Assizes"--"county"--"Sir Harry Compton," I involuntarily murmured, as I
finished the perusal of my old friend's incoherent epistle. "What on
earth can the eccentric old fox-hunter mean?" "Show the lady in," I added
in a louder tone to the clerk. She presently appeared, accompanied by a
remarkably handsome boy about six years of age, both attired in deep
mourning. The lady approached with a timid, furtive step and glance, as
if she were entering the den of some grim ogre, rather than the quiet
study of a civilized lawyer of mature age. I was at once struck by her
singular and touching loveliness. I have never seen a woman that so
completely realized the highest _Madonna_ type of youthful, matronly
beauty--its starlight radiance and mild serenity of sorrow. Her voice,
too, gentle and low, had a tone of patient sadness in it strangely
affecting. She was evidently a person, if not of high birth, of refined
manners and cultivated mind; and I soon ceased to wonder at warm-hearted
old Sir Jasper's enthusiasm in her cause. Habitually, however, on my
guard against first impressions, I courteously, but coldly, invited her
first to a seat, and next to a more intelligible relation of her business
with me than could be gathered from the letter of which she was the
bearer. She complied, and I was soon in possession of the following facts
Violet Dalston and her sister Emily had lived for several years in close
and somewhat straitened retirement with their father, Captain Dalston, at
Rock Cottage, on the outskirts of a village about six miles distant from
Leeds, when Captain Dalston, who was an enthusiastic angler, introduced
to his home a gentleman about twenty-five years of age, of handsome
exterior and gentlemanly manners, with whom congeniality of tastes and
pursuits had made him acquainted. This stranger was introduced to Violet
(my interesting client) and her sister, as a Mr. Henry Grainger, the son
of a London merchant. The object of his wanderings through the English
counties was, he said, to recruit his health, which had become affected
by too close application to business, and to gratify his taste for
angling, sketching, and so on. He became a frequent visitor; and the
result, after the lapse of about three months, was a proposal for the
hand of Violet. His father allowed him, he stated, five hundred pounds
per annum; but in order not to mortally offend the old gentleman, who was
determined, if his son married at all, it should be either to rank or
riches, it would be necessary to conceal the marriage till after his
death. This commonplace story had been, it appeared, implicitly credited
by Captain Dalston; and Violet Dalston and Henry Grainger were united in
holy wedlock--not at the village church near where Captain Dalston
resided, but in one of the Leeds churches. The witnesses were the
bride's father and sister, and a Mr. Bilston, a neighbor. This marriage
had taken place rather more than seven years since, and its sole fruit
was the fine-looking boy who accompanied his mother to my office. Mr.
Grainger, soon after the marriage, persuaded the Dalstons to leave Rock
Cottage, and take up their abode in a picturesque village in Cumberland,
where he had purchased a small house, with some garden and ornamental
Five years rolled away--not, as I could discern, _too_ happily when the
very frequent absences of Violet's husband in London, as he alleged (all
her letters to him were directed to the post-office, St. Martin's le
Grand--till called for), were suddenly greatly prolonged; and on his
return home, after an absence of more than three months, he abruptly
informed the family that the affairs of his father, who was dying, had
been found to be greatly embarrassed, and that nothing was left for him
and them but emigration to America, with such means as might be saved
from the wreck of the elder Grainger's property. After much lamentation
and opposition on the part of Emily Dalston and her father, it was
finally conceded as Violet's husband wished; and the emigration was to
have taken place in the following spring, Henry Grainger to follow them
the instant he could wind up his father's affairs. About three months
before their intended departure--this very time twelvemonth, as nearly as
may be--Captain Dalston was suddenly called to London, to close the eyes
of an only sister. This sad duty fulfilled, he was about to return, when,
passing towards dusk down St. James Street, he saw Henry Grainger,
habited in a remarkable sporting-dress, standing with several other
gentlemen at the door of one of the club-houses. Hastening across the
street to accost him, he was arrested for a minute or so by a line of
carriages which turned sharply out of Piccadilly; and when he did reach
the other side, young Mr. Grainger and his companions had vanished. He
inquired of the porter, and was assured that no Mr. Grainger, senior or
junior, was known there. Persisting that he had seen him standing within
the doorway, and describing his dress, the man with an insolent laugh
exclaimed that the gentleman who wore that dress was the famous sporting
baronet, Sir Harry Compton!
Bewildered, and suspecting he hardly knew what, Captain Dalston, in
defiance of young Grainger's oft-iterated injunctions, determined to call
at his father's residence, which he had always understood to be in
Leadenhall Street. No such name was, however, known there; and an
examination, to which he was advised, of the "Commercial Directory"
failed to discover the whereabout of the pretended London merchant.
Heart-sick and spirit-wearied, Captain Dalston returned home only to die.
A violent cold, caught by imprudently riding in such bitter weather as it
then was, on the outside of the coach, aggravated by distress of mind,
brought his already enfeebled frame to the grave in less than two months
after his arrival in Cumberland. He left his daughters utterly unprovided
for, except by the legal claim which the eldest possessed on a man who,
he feared, would turn out to be a worthless impostor. The penalty he paid
for consenting to so imprudent a marriage was indeed a heavy and bitter
one. Months passed away, and still no tidings of Violet's husband reached
the sisters' sad and solitary home. At length, stimulated by
apprehensions of approaching destitution--whose foot was already on the
threshold--and desirous of gratifying a whim of Emily's, Violet consented
to visit the neighborhood of Compton Castle (the seat, her sister had
ascertained, of the "celebrated sporting baronet," as the porter called
him) on their way to London, where they had relatives who, though not
rich, might possibly be able to assist them in obtaining some decent
means of maintenance. They alighted at the "Compton Arms," and the first
object which met the astonished gaze of the sisters as they entered the
principal sitting-room of the inn, was a full-length portrait of Violet's
husband, in the exact sporting-dress described to them by their father.
An ivory tablet attached to the lower part of the frame informed the
gazer that the picture was a copy, by permission, of the celebrated
portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, of Sir Harry Compton, Baronet. They were
confounded, overwhelmed, bewildered. Sir Harry, they found, had been
killed about eight months previously in a steeple-chase; and the castle
and estates had passed, in default of direct issue, to a distant
relative, Lord Emsdale. Their story was soon bruited about; and, in the
opinion of many persons, was confirmed beyond reasonable question by the
extraordinary likeness they saw or fancied between Violet's son and the
deceased baronet. Amongst others, Sir Jasper Thornely was a firm believer
in the identity of Henry Grainger and Sir Harry Compton; but
unfortunately, beyond the assertion of the sisters that the portrait of
Sir Harry was young Grainger's portrait, the real or imaginary likeness
of the child to his reputed father, and some score of letters addressed
to Violet by her husband, which Sir Jasper persisted were in Sir Harry's
handwriting, though few others did (the hand, I saw at a glance, was a
disguised one), not one tittle of evidence had he been able to procure
for love or money. As a last resource, he had consigned the case to me,
and the vulpine sagacity of a London attorney.
I suppose my countenance must be what is called a "speaking" one, for I
had made no reply in words to this statement of a case upon which I and
a "London attorney" were to ground measures for wresting a magnificent
estate from the clutch of a powerful nobleman, and by "next assizes"
too--when the lady's beautiful eyes filled with tears, and turning to her
child, she murmured in that gentle, agitating voice of hers, "My poor
boy." The words I was about to utter died on my tongue, and I remained
silent for several minutes. After all, thought I, this lady is evidently
sincere in her expressed conviction that Sir Harry Compton was her
husband. If her surmise be correct, evidence of the truth may perhaps be
obtained by a keen search for it; and since Sir Jasper guarantees the
expenses--I rang the bell. "Step over to Cursitor Street," said I to the
clerk as soon as he entered; "and if Mr. Ferret is within, ask him to
step over immediately." Ferret was just the man for such a commission.
Indefatigable, resolute, sharp-witted, and of a ceaseless, remorseless
activity, a secret or a fact had need be very profoundly hidden for him
not to reach and fish it up. I have heard solemn doubts expressed by
attorneys opposed to him as to whether he ever really and truly slept at
all--that is, a genuine Christian sleep, as distinguished from a merely
canine one, with one eye always half open. Mr. Ferret had been for many
years Mr. Simpkins' managing clerk; but ambition, and the increasing
requirements of a considerable number of young Ferrets, determined him on
commencing business on his own account; and about six months previous to
the period of which I am now writing, a brass door-plate in Cursitor
Street, Chancery Lane, informed the public that Samuel Ferret, Esq.,
Attorney-at-Law, might be consulted within.
Mr. Samuel Ferret was fortunately at home; and after a very brief
interval, made his appearance, entering with a short professional bow to
me, and a very profound one to the lady, in whom his quick gray eye
seemed intuitively to espy a client. As soon as he was seated, I handed
him Sir Jasper's letter. He perused it carefully three times, examined
the seal attentively, and handed it back with--"An excellent letter as
far as it goes, and very much to the point. You intend, I suppose, that I
should undertake this little affair?"
"Yes, if, after hearing the lady's case, you feel disposed to
venture upon it."
Mr. Samuel Ferret's note-book was out in an instant; and the lady,
uninterrupted by a syllable from him, re-told her story.
"Good, very good, as far as it goes," remarked undismayed Samuel Ferret
when she concluded; "only it can scarcely be said to go very far. Moral
presumption, which, in our courts unfortunately, isn't worth a groat.
Never mind. _Magna est veritas_, and so on. When, madam, did you say Sir
Harry--Mr. Grainger--first began to urge emigration?"
"Between two and three years ago."
"Have the goodness, if you please, to hand me the baronetage." I did so.
"Good," resumed Ferret, after turning over the leaves for a few seconds,
"very good, as far as it goes. It is now just two years and eight months
since Sir Harry succeeded his uncle in the title and estates. You would
no doubt soon have heard, madam, that your husband was dead. Truly the
heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; and
yet such conduct towards such a lady"--Ferret intended no mere
compliment; he was only giving utterance to the thoughts passing through
his brain; but his client's mounting color warned him to change the
topic, which he very adroitly did. "You intend, of course," said he,
addressing me, "to proceed at law? No rumble--tumble through the
"Certainly, if sufficient evidence to justify such a course can be
"Exactly: Doe, demise of Compton, _versus_ Emsdale; action in ejectment,
judgment of ouster. Our friend Doe, madam--a very accommodating fellow is
Doe--will, if we succeed, put you in possession as natural guardian of
your son. Well, sir," turning to me, "I may as well give you an
acknowledgment for that cheque. I undertake the business, and shall, if
possible, be off to Leeds by this evening's mail." The acknowledgment was
given, and Mr. Ferret, pocketing the cheque, departed in high glee.
"The best man, madam, in all broad London," said I in answer to Mrs.
Grainger's somewhat puzzled look, "you could have retained. Fond as he
seems, and in fact is, of money--what sensible person is not?--Lord
Emsdale could not bribe him with his earldom, now that he is fairly
engaged in your behalf, I will not say to betray you, but to abate his
indefatigable activity in furtherance of your interests. Attorneys,
madam, be assured, whatever nursery tales may teach, have, the very
sharpest of them, their points of honor." The lady and her son departed,
and I turned again to the almost forgotten "case."
Three weeks had nearly glided by, and still no tidings of Mr. Ferret.
Mrs. Grainger, and her sister Emily Dalston, a very charming person, had
called repeatedly; but as I of course had nothing to communicate, they
were still condemned to languish under the heart-sickness caused by hope
deferred. At last our emissary made his wished-for appearance.
"Well, Mr. Ferret," said I, on entering my library, where I found him
composedly awaiting my arrival, "what success?"
"Why, nothing of much consequence as yet," replied he; "I am, you know,
only, as it were, just commencing the investigation. The Leeds parson
that married them is dead, and the old clerk is paralytic, and has lost
his memory. If, however, they were both alive, and in sound health of
mind and body, they could, I fancy, help us but little, as Bilston tells
me neither the Dalstons nor Grainger had ever entered the church till the
morning of the wedding; and they soon afterwards removed to Cumberland,
so that it is scarcely possible either parson or clerk could prove that
Violet Dalston was married to Sir Harry Compton. A very intelligent
fellow is Bilston: he was present at the marriage, you remember; and a
glorious witness, if he had only something of importance to depose to;
powdered hair and a pigtail, double chin, and six feet in girth at least;
highly respectable--capital witness, very--only, unfortunately, he can
only testify that a person calling himself Grainger married Violet
Dalston; not much in that!"
"So, then, your three weeks' labor has been entirely thrown away!"
"Not so fast--not so fast--you jump too hastily at conclusions. The
Cumberland fellow that sold Grainger the house--only the equity of
redemption of it, by the way--there's a large mortgage on it--can prove
nothing. Nobody about there can, except the surgeon; _he_ can prove Mrs.
Grainger's _accouchement_--that is something. I have been killing myself
every evening this last week with grog and tobacco smoke at the "Compton
Arms," in the company of the castle servants, and if the calves' heads
_had_ known anything essential, I fancy I should have wormed it out of
them. They have, however, kindly furnished me with a scrawl of
introduction to the establishment now in town, some of whom I shall have
the honor to meet, in the character of an out-and-out liberal sporting
gentleman, at the "Albemarle Arms" this evening. I want to get hold of
his confidential valet, if he had one--those go-a-head fellows generally
have--a Swiss, or some other foreign animal."
"Is this all?"
"Why, no," rejoined Ferret, with a sharp twinkle of his sharp gray eye,
amounting almost to a wink; "there is one circumstance which I cannot
help thinking, though I scarcely know why, will put us, by the help of
patience and perseverance, on the right track. In a corner of the
registry of marriage there is written Z.Z. in bold letters. In no other
part of the book does this occur. What may that mean?"
"Had the incumbent of the living a curate at the time?"
"No. On that point I am unfortunately too well satisfied. Neither are
there any names with such initials in any of the Leeds churchyards. Still
this Z.Z. may be of importance, if we could but discover who he is. But
how?--that is the question. Advertise? Show our hands to the opposite
players, and find if Z.Z. is really an entity, and likely to be of
service, that when we want him in court, he is half way to America. No,
no; that would never do."
Mr. Ferret I saw was getting into a brown study; and as I had
pressing business to despatch, I got rid of him as speedily as I
could, quite satisfied, spite of Z.Z., that Mrs. Grainger's chance of
becoming Lady Compton was about equal to mine of ascending the
British throne some fine day.
Two days afterwards I received the following note:--
"Dear Sir--Z.Z. is the man! I'm off to Shropshire. Back, if possible, the
day after to-morrow. Not a word even to the ladies. Huzza! In haste,
What could this mean? Spite of Mr. Ferret's injunction, I could not help
informing the sisters, who called soon after I received the note, that a
discovery, esteemed of importance by our emissary, had been made; and
they returned home with lightened hearts, after agreeing to repeat their
visit on the day Mr. Ferret had named for his return.
On reaching my chambers about four o'clock in the afternoon of that day,
I found the ladies there, and in a state of great excitement. Mr. Ferret,
my clerk had informed them, had called twice, and seemed in the highest
spirits. We had wasted but a few minutes in conjectures when Mr. Ferret,
having ascended the stairs two or three at a time, burst, _sans
ceremonie_, into the apartment.
"Good-day, sir. Lady Compton, your most obedient servant; madam, yours!
All right! Only just in time to get the writ sealed; served it myself a
quarter of an hour ago, just as his lordship was getting into his
carriage. Not a day to lose; just in time. Capital! Glorious!"
"What do you mean, Mr. Ferret?" exclaimed Emily Dalston: her sister was
too agitated to speak.
"What do I mean? Let us all four step, sir, into your inner sanctum, and
I'll soon tell you what I mean."
We adjourned, accordingly, to an inner and more private room. Our
conference lasted about half an hour, at the end of which the ladies
took their leave: Lady Compton, her beautiful features alternately
irradiated and clouded by smiles and tears, murmuring in a broken,
agitated voice, as she shook hands with me, "You see, sir, he intended
at last to do us justice."
The news that an action had been brought on behalf of an infant son of
the late Sir Harry Compton against the Earl of Emsdale, for the recovery
of the estates in the possession of that nobleman, produced the greatest
excitement in the part of the county where the property was situated. The
assize town was crowded, on the day the trial was expected to come on, by
the tenantry of the late baronet and their families, with whom the
present landlord was by no means popular. As I passed up the principal
street, towards the court-house, accompanied by my junior, I was received
with loud hurraings and waving of handkerchiefs, something after the
manner, I suppose, in which chivalrous steel-clad knights, about to do
battle in behalf of distressed damsels, were formerly received by the
miscellaneous spectators of the lists. Numerous favors, cockades,
streamers, of the Compton colors, used in election contests, purple and
orange, were also slyly exhibited, to be more ostentatiously displayed if
the Emsdale party should be beaten. On entering the court, I found it
crowded, as we say, to the ceiling. Not only every seat, but every inch
of standing-room that could be obtained, was occupied, and it was with
great difficulty the ushers of the court preserved a sufficiently clear
space for the ingress and egress of witnesses and counsel. Lord Emsdale,
pale and anxious, spite of manifest effort to appear contemptuously
indifferent, sat near the judge, who had just entered the court. The
Archbishop of York, whom we had subpoenaed, why, his Grace had openly
declared, he knew not, was also of course accommodated with a seat on the
bench. A formidable bar, led by the celebrated Mr. S ----, was, I saw,
arrayed against us, though what the case was they had to meet, so well
had Ferret kept his secret, they knew no more than did their horse-hair
wigs. Ferret had solemnly enjoined the sisters to silence, and no hint, I
need scarcely say, was likely to escape my lips. The jury, special of
course, were in attendance, and the case, "Doe, demise of Compton
_versus_ Emsdale," having been called, they were duly sworn to try the
issue. My junior, Mr. Frampton, was just rising "to state the case," as
it is technically called, when a tremendous shouting, rapidly increasing
in volume and distinctness, and mingled with the sound of carriage
wheels, was heard approaching, and presently Mr. Samuel Ferret appeared,
followed by Lady Compton and her son, the rear of the party brought up by
Sir Jasper Thornely, whose jolly fox-hunting face shone like a full-blown
peony. The lady, though painfully agitated, looked charmingly; and the
timid, appealing glance she unconsciously, as it were, threw round the
court, would, in a doubtful case, have secured a verdict. "Very well got
up, indeed," said Mr. S ----, in a voice sufficiently loud for the jury
to hear--"very effectively managed, upon my word." We were, however, in
too good-humor to heed taunts; and as soon as silence was restored, Mr.
Frampton briefly stated the case, and I rose to address the jury. My
speech was purposely brief, business-like, and confident. I detailed the
circumstances of the marriage of Violet Dalston, then only eighteen years
of age, with a Mr. Grainger; the birth of a son; and subsequent
disappearance of the husband; concluding by an assurance to the jury that
I should prove, by incontrovertible evidence, that Grainger was no other
person than the late Sir Harry Compton, baronet. This address by no means
lessened the vague apprehensions of the other side. A counsel that,
with such materials for eloquence, disdained having recourse to it, must
needs have a formidable case. The smiling countenances of Mr. S ---- and
his brethren became suddenly overcast, and the pallor and agitation of
Lord Emsdale sensibly increased.
We proved our case clearly, step by step: the marriage, the accouchement,
the handwriting of Grainger--Bilston proved this--to the letters
addressed to his wife, were clearly established. The register of the
marriage was produced by the present clerk of the Leeds church; the
initials Z.Z. were pointed out; and at my suggestion the book was
deposited for the purposes of the trial with the clerk of the court. Not
a word of cross-examination had passed the lips of our learned friends on
the other side: they allowed our evidence to pass as utterly indifferent.
A change was at hand.
Our next witness was James Kirby, groom to the late baronet and to the
present earl. After a few unimportant questions, I asked him if he had
ever seen that gentleman before, pointing to Mr. Ferret, who stood up for
the more facile recognition of his friend Kirby.
"Oh yes, he remembered the gentleman well; and a very nice, good-natured,
soft sort of a gentleman he was. He treated witness at the "Albemarle
Arms," London, to as much brandy and water as he liked, out of respect to
his late master, whom the gentleman seemed uncommon fond of."
"Well, and what return did you make for so much liberality?"
"Return! very little I do assure ye. I told un how many horses Sir Harry
kept, and how many races he won; but I couldn't tell un much more, pump
as much as he would, because, do ye see, I didn't _know_ no more."
An audible titter from the other side greeted the witness as he uttered
the last sentence. Mr. S ----, with one of his complacent glances at the
jury-box, remarking in a sufficiently loud whisper, "That he had never
heard a more conclusive reason for not telling in his life."
"Did you mention that you were present at the death of the late baronet?"
"Yes I did. I told un that I were within about three hundred red yards
of late master when he had that ugly fall; and that when I got up to
un, he sort of pulled me down, and whispered hoarse-like, 'Send for
Reverend Zachariah Zimmerman.' I remembered it, it was sich an
outlandish name like."
"Oh, oh," thought I, as Mr. S ---- reached across the table for the
parish register, "Z.Z. is acquiring significance I perceive."
"Well, and what did this gentleman say to that?"
"Say? Why, nothing particular, only seemed quite joyful 'mazed like; and
when I asked un why, he said it was such a comfort to find his good
friend Sir Harry had such pious thoughts in his last moments."
The laugh, quickly suppressed, that followed these words, did not come
from our learned friends on the other side.
"Sir Harry used those words?"
"He did; but as he died two or three minutes after, it were of course no
use to send for no parson whatsomever."
"Exactly. That will do, unless the other side have any questions to ask."
No question _was_ put, and the witness went down. "Call," said I to the
crier of the court--"call the Reverend Zachariah Zimmerman."
This was a bomb-shell. Lord Emsdale, the better to conceal his agitation,
descended from the bench and took his seat beside his counsel. The
Reverend Zachariah Zimmerman, examined by Mr. Frampton, deponed in
substance as follows:--"He was at present rector of Dunby, Shropshire,
and had been in holy orders more than twenty years. Was on a visit to the
Reverend Mr. Cramby at Leeds seven years ago, when one morning Mr.
Cramby, being much indisposed, requested him to perform the marriage
ceremony for a young couple then waiting in church. He complied, and
joined in wedlock Violet Dalston and Henry Grainger. The bride was the
lady now pointed out to him in court; the bridegroom he had discovered,
about two years ago, to be no other than the late Sir Harry Compton,
baronet. The initials Z.Z. were his, and written by him. The parish
clerk, a failing old man, had not officiated at the marriage; a nephew,
he believed, had acted for him, but he had entered the marriage in the
usual form afterwards."
"How did you ascertain that Henry Grainger was the late Sir Harry
"I was introduced to Sir Harry Compton in London, at the house of the
Archbishop of York, by his Grace himself."
"I remember the incident distinctly, Mr. Zimmerman," said his Grace from
"Besides which," added the rector, "my present living was presented to
me, about eighteen months since, by the deceased baronet. I must further,
in justice to myself, explain that I immediately after the introduction,
sought an elucidation of the mystery from Sir Harry; and he then told me
that, in a freak of youthful passion, he had married Miss Dalston in the
name of Grainger, fearing his uncle's displeasure should it reach his
ears; that his wife had died in her first confinement, after giving birth
to a still-born child, and he now wished the matter to remain in
oblivion. He also showed me several letters, which I then believed
genuine, confirming his story. I heard no more of the matter till waited
upon by the attorney for the plaintiff, Mr. Ferret."
A breathless silence prevailed during the delivery of this evidence. At
its conclusion, the dullest brain in court comprehended that the cause
was gained; and a succession of cheers, which could not be suppressed,
rang through the court, and were loudly echoed from without. Sir Jasper's
voice sounding high above all the rest. Suddenly, too, as if by magic,
almost everybody in court, save the jury and counsel, were decorated with
orange and purple favors, and a perfect shower of them fell at the feet
and about the persons of Lady Compton, her sister, who had by this time
joined her, and the infant Sir Henry. As soon as the expostulations and
menaces of the judge had restored silence and order, his lordship,
addressing Lord Emsdale's senior counsel, said, "Well, Brother S ----,
what course do you propose to adopt ?"
"My lord," replied Mr. S ---- after a pause, "I and my learned friends
have thought it our duty to advise Lord Emsdale that further opposition
to the plaintiff's claim would prove ultimately futile; and I have
therefore to announce, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, that we
acquiesce in a verdict for the plaintiff."
"You have counseled wisely," replied his lordship. "Gentlemen of the
jury, you will of course return a verdict for the plaintiff."
The jury hastily and joyfully assented: the verdict was recorded, and the
court adjourned for an hour in the midst of tumultuous excitement. The
result of the trial flew through the crowd outside like wildfire; and
when Lady Compton and her son, after struggling through the
densely-crowded court, stepped into Sir Jasper's carriage, which was in
waiting at the door, the enthusiastic uproar that ensued--the hurrahing,
shouting, waving of hats and handkerchiefs--deafened and bewildered one;
and it was upwards of an hour ere the slow-moving chariot reached Sir
Jasper's mansion, though not more than half a mile distant from the town.
Mr. Ferret, mounted on the box, and almost smothered in purple and
orange, was a conspicuous object, and a prime favorite with the crowd.
The next day Lord Emsdale, glad, doubtless, to quit the neighborhood as
speedily as possible, left the castle, giving Lady Compton immediate
possession. The joy of the tenantry was unbounded, and under the wakeful
superintendence of Mr. Ferret, all claims against Lord Emsdale for
received rents, dilapidations, &c. were adjusted, we may be sure, _not_
adversely to his client's interests; though he frequently complained, not
half so satisfactorily as if Lady Compton had not interfered, with what
Mr. Ferret deemed misplaced generosity in the matter.
As I was obliged to proceed onwards with the circuit, I called at Compton
Castle to take leave of my interesting and fortunate client a few days
after her installation there. I was most gratefully received and
entertained. As I shook hands at parting, her ladyship, after pressing
upon me a diamond ring of great value, said, whilst her charming eyes
filled with regretful, yet joyful tears, "Do not forget that poor Henry
intended at last to do us justice." Prosperity, thought I, will not spoil
that woman. It _has_ not, as the world, were I authorized to communicate
her _real_ name, would readily acknowledge.
THE MOTHER AND SON.
Dinner had been over about half an hour one Sunday afternoon.--the only
day on which for years I had been able to enjoy a dinner--and I was
leisurely sipping a glass of wine, when a carriage drove rapidly up to
the door, a loud _rat-tat_ followed, and my friend Dr. Curteis, to my
great surprise, was announced.
"I have called," said the doctor as we shook hands, "to ask you to
accompany me to Mount Place. I have just received a hurried note from
Miss Armitage, stating that her mother, after a very brief illness, is
rapidly sinking, and requesting my attendance, as well as that of a legal
"Mrs. Armitage!" I exclaimed, inexpressibly shocked. "Why, it is scarcely
more than a fortnight ago that I met her at the Rochfords' in brilliant
health and spirits."
"Even so. But will you accompany me? I don't know where to find any one
else for the moment, and time presses."
"It is an attorney, probably, rather than a barrister, that is needed;
but under the circumstances, and knowing her as I do, I cannot hesitate."
We were soon bowling along at a rapid pace, and in little more than an
hour reached the dying lady's residence, situated in the county of Essex,
and distant about ten miles from London. We entered together; and Dr.
Curteis, leaving me in the library, proceeded at once to the sick
chamber. About ten minutes afterwards the housekeeper, a tall,
foreign-looking, and rather handsome woman, came into the room, and
announced that the doctor wished to see me. She was deadly pale, and, I
observed, trembled like an aspen. I motioned her to precede me; and she,
with unsteady steps, immediately led the way. So great was her agitation,
that twice, in ascending the stairs, she only saved herself from falling
by grasping the banister-rail. The presage I drew from the exhibition of
such overpowering emotion, by a person whom I knew to have been long not
only in the service, but in the confidence of Mrs. Armitage, was soon
confirmed by Dr. Curteis, whom we met coming out of the chamber of the
"Step this way," said he, addressing me, and leading to an adjoining
apartment. "We do not require your attendance, Mrs. Bourdon," said he, as
soon as we reached it, to the housekeeper, who had swiftly followed us,
and now stood staring with eager eyes in the doctor's face, as if life
and death hung on his lips. "Have the goodness to leave us," he added
tartly, perceiving she did not stir, but continued her fearful,
scrutinizing glance. She started at his altered tone, flushed crimson,
then paled to a chalky whiteness, and muttering, left the apartment.
"The danger of her mistress has bewildered her," I remarked.
"Perhaps so," remarked Dr. Curteis. "Be that as it may, Mrs. Armitage is
beyond all human help. In another hour she will be, as we say, no more."
"I feared so. What is the nature of her disorder?"
"A rapid wasting away, as I am informed. The appearances presented are
those of a person expiring of atrophy, or extreme emaciation."
"Indeed. And so sudden too!"
"Yes. I am glad you are come, although your professional services will
not, it seems, be required--a neighboring attorney having performed the
necessary duty--something, I believe, relative to the will of the dying
lady. We will speak further together by and by. In the meantime,"
continued Dr. Curteis, with a perceptible tremor in his voice, "it will
do neither of us any harm to witness the closing scene of the life of
Mary Rawdon, whom you and I twenty years ago worshipped as one of the
gentlest and most beautiful of beings with which the Creator ever graced
his universe. It will be a peaceful parting. Come."
Just as, with noiseless footsteps, we entered the silent death-chamber,
the last rays of the setting sun were falling upon the figure of Ellen
Armitage--who knelt in speechless agony by the bedside of her expiring
parent--and faintly lighting up the pale, emaciated, sunken features of
the so lately brilliant, courted Mrs. Armitage! But for the ineffaceable
splendor of her deep-blue eyes, I should scarcely have recognized her.
Standing in the shadow, as thrown by the heavy bed-drapery, we gazed and
"Ellen," murmured the dying lady, "come nearer to me. It is growing
dark, and I cannot see you plainly. Now, then, read to me, beginning at
the verse you finished with, as good Dr. Curteis entered. Ay," she
faintly whispered, "it is thus, Ellen, with thy hand clasped in mine,
and with the words of the holy book sounding from thy dear lips, that I
would pass away!"
Ellen, interrupted only by her blinding tears, making sad stops,
complied. Twilight stole on, and threw its shadow over the solemn scene,
deepening its holiness of sorrow. Night came with all her train; and the
silver radiance kissed into ethereal beauty the pale face of the weeping
girl, still pursuing her sad and sacred task. We hesitated to disturb, by
the slightest movement the repose of a death-bed over which belief and
hope, those only potent ministers, shed light and calm! At length Dr.
Curteis advanced gently towards the bed, and taking the daughter's hand,
said in a low voice, "Had you not better retire, my dear young lady, for
a few moments?" She understood him, and rising from her knees, threw
herself in an ecstacy of grief upon the corpse, from which the spirit had
just passed away. Assistance was summoned, and the sobbing girl was borne
from the chamber.
I descended, full of emotion, to the library, where Dr. Curteis promised
shortly to join me. Noiselessly entering the room, I came suddenly upon
the housekeeper and a tall young man, standing with their backs towards
me in the recesses of one of the windows, and partly shrouded by the
heavy cloth curtains. They were evidently in earnest conference, and
several words, the significance of which did not at the moment strike me,
reached my ears before they perceived my approach. The instant they did
so, they turned hastily round, and eyed me with an expression of flurried
alarm, which at the time surprised me not a little. "All is over, Mrs.
Bourdon," said I, finding she did not speak; "and your presence is
probably needed by Miss Armitage." A flash of intelligence, as I spoke,
passed between the pair; but whether indicative of grief or joy, so
momentary was the glance, I should have been puzzled to determine. The
housekeeper immediately left the room, keeping her eyes, as she passed,
fixed upon me with the same nervous apprehensive look which had before
irritated Dr. Curteis. The young man followed more slowly. He was a tall
and rather handsome youth, apparently about one or two-and-twenty years
of age. His hair was black as jet, and his dark eyes were of singular
brilliancy; but the expression, I thought, was scarcely a refined or
highly-intellectual one. His resemblance to Mrs. Bourdon, whose son
indeed he was, was very striking. He bowed slightly, but courteously, as
to an equal, as he closed the door, and I was left to the undisturbed
enjoyment of my own reflections, which, ill-defined and indistinct as
they were, were anything but pleasant company. My reverie was at length
interrupted by the entrance of the doctor, with the announcement that the
carriage was in waiting to re-convey us to town.
We had journeyed several miles on our return before a word was spoken by
either of us. My companion was apparently even more painfully
pre-occupied than myself. He was, however, the first to break silence.
"The emaciated corpse we have just left little resembles the gay,
beautiful girl, for whose smiles you and I were once disposed to shoot
each other!" The doctor's voice trembled with emotion, and his face, I
perceived, was pale as marble.
"Mary Rawdon," I remarked, "lives again in her daughter."
"Yes; her very image. Do you know," continued he, speaking with rapid
energy, "I suspect Mary Rawdon--Mrs. Armitage, I would say--has been
foully, treacherously dealt with!"
I started with amazement; and yet the announcement but embodied and gave
form and color to my own ill-defined and shadowy suspicions.
"Good heavens! How? By whom?"
"Unless I am greatly mistaken, she has been poisoned by an adept in the
use of such destructive agents."
"No; by her son. At least my suspicions point that way. She is probably
cognizant of the crime. But in order that you should understand the
grounds upon which my conjectures are principally founded, I must enter
into a short explanation. Mrs. Bourdon, a woman of Spanish extraction,
and who formerly occupied a much higher position than she does now, has
lived with Mrs. Armitage from the period of her husband's death, now
about sixteen years ago. Mrs. Bourdon has a son, a tall, good-looking
fellow enough, whom you may have seen."
"He was with his mother in the library as I entered it after
"Ah! well, hem! This boy, in his mother's opinion--but that perhaps is
somewhat excusable--exhibited early indications of having been born a
"genius." Mrs. Armitage, who had been first struck by the beauty of the
child, gradually acquired the same notion; and the result was, that he
was little by little invested--with at least her tacit approval--with the
privileges supposed to be the lawful inheritance of such gifted spirits;
namely, the right to be as idle as he pleased--geniuses, you know, can,
according to the popular notion, attain any conceivable amount of
knowledge _per saltum_ at a bound--and to exalt himself in the stilts of
his own conceit above the useful and honorable pursuits suited to the
station in life in which Providence had cast his lot. The fruit of such
training soon showed itself. Young Bourdon grew up a conceited and
essentially-ignorant puppy, capable of nothing but bad verses, and
thoroughly impressed with but one important fact, which was, that he,
Alfred Bourdon, was the most gifted and the most ill-used of all God's
creatures. To genius, in any intelligible sense of the term, he has in
truth no pretension. He is endowed, however, with a kind of reflective
talent, which is often mistaken by fools for _creative_ power. The morbid
fancies and melancholy scorn of a Byron, for instance, such gentry
reflect back from their foggy imaginations in exaggerated and distorted
feebleness of whining versicles, and so on with other lights celestial
or infernal. This, however, by the way. The only rational pursuit he ever
followed, and that only by fits and starts, and to gratify his faculty of
"wonder," I fancy, was chemistry. A small laboratory was fitted up for
him in the little summer-house you may have observed at the further
corner of the lawn. This study of his, if study such desultory snatches
at science may be called, led him, in his examination of vegetable
bodies, to a smattering acquaintance with botany, a science of which
Ellen Armitage is an enthusiastic student. They were foolishly permitted
to _botanize_ together, and the result was, that Alfred Bourdon, acting
upon the principle that genius--whether sham or real--levels all merely
mundane distinctions, had the impudence to aspire to the hand of Miss
Armitage. His passion, sincere or simulated, has never been, I have
reason to know, in the slightest degree reciprocated by its object; but
so blind is vanity, that when, about six weeks ago, an _eclaircissement_
took place, and the fellow's dream was somewhat rudely dissipated, the
untoward rejection of his preposterous suit was, there is every reason to
believe, attributed by both mother and son to the repugnance of Mrs.
Armitage alone; and to this idiotic hallucination she has, I fear, fallen
a sacrifice. Judging from the emaciated appearance of the body, and other
phenomena communicated to me by her ordinary medical attendant--a
blundering ignoramus, who ought to have called in assistance long
before--she has been poisoned with _iodine_, which, administered in
certain quantities, would produce precisely the same symptoms. Happily
there is no mode of destroying human life which so surely leads to the
detection of the murderer as the use of such agents; and of this truth
the post mortem examination of the body, which takes place to-morrow
morning, will, if I am not grossly mistaken, supply another vivid
illustration. Legal assistance will no doubt be necessary, and I am sure
I do not err in expecting that _you_ will aid me in bringing to justice
the murderer of Mary Rawdon?"
A pressure of his hand was my only answer. "I shall call for you at ten
o'clock" said he, as he put me down at my own door. I bowed, and the
carriage drove off.
"Well!" said I, as Dr. Curteis and Mr. ---- the eminent surgeon entered
the library at Mount Place the following morning after a long absence.
"As I anticipated," replied the doctor with a choking voice: "she has
I started to my feet. "And the murderer?"
"Our suspicions still point to young Bourdon; but the persons of both
mother and son have been secured."
"Yes; and I have despatched a servant to request the presence of a
neighbor--a county magistrate. I expect him momently."
After a brief consultation, we all three directed our steps to the
summer-house which contained young Bourdon's laboratory. In the room
itself nothing of importance was discovered; but in an enclosed recess,
which we broke open, we found a curiously-fashioned glass bottle half
full of iodine.
"This is it!" said Mr. ----; "and in a powdered state too--just ready
for mixing with brandy or any other available dissolvent." The powder had
somewhat the appearance of fine black lead. Nothing further of any
consequence being observed, we returned to the house, where the
magistrate had already arrived.
Alfred Bourdon was first brought in; and he having been duly cautioned
that he was not obliged to answer any question, and that what he did say
would be taken down, and, if necessary, used against him, I proposed the
"Have you the key of your laboratory?"
"No; the door is always open."
"Well, then, of any door or cupboard in the room?"
At this question his face flushed purple: he stammered, "There is
no"--and abruptly paused.
"Do I understand you to say there is no cupboard or place of concealment
in the room?"
"No: here is the key."
"Has any one had access to the cupboard or recess of which this is the
key, except yourself?"
The young man shook as if smitten with ague: his lips chattered, but no
articulate sound escaped them.
"You need not answer the question," said the magistrate, "unless you
choose to do so. I again warn you that all you say will, if necessary,
be used against you."
"No one," he at length gasped, mastering his hesitation by a strong
exertion of the will--"no one can have had access to the place but
myself. I have never parted with the key."
Mrs. Bourdon was now called in. After interchanging a glance of intense
agony, and, as it seemed to me, of affectionate intelligence with her
son, she calmly answered the questions put to her. They were unimportant,
except the last, and that acted upon her like a galvanic shock. It was
this--"Did you ever struggle with your son on the landing leading to the
bedroom of the deceased for the possession of this bottle?" and I held up
that which we had found in the recess.
A slight scream escaped her lips; and then she stood rigid, erect,
motionless, glaring alternately at me and at the fatal bottle with eyes
that seemed starting from their sockets. I glanced towards the son; he
was also affected in a terrible manner. His knees smote each other, and a
clammy perspiration burst forth and settled upon his pallid forehead.
"Again I caution you," iterated the magistrate, "that you are not bound
to answer any of these questions."
The woman's lips moved. "No--never!" she almost inaudibly gasped, and
fell senseless on the floor.
As soon as she was removed, Jane Withers was called. She deposed that
three days previously, as she was, just before dusk, arranging some linen
in a room a few yards distant from the bedroom of her late mistress, she
was surprised at hearing a noise just outside the door, as of persons
struggling and speaking in low but earnest tones. She drew aside a corner
of the muslin curtain of the window which locked upon the passage or
corridor, and there saw Mrs. Bourdon striving to wrest something from her
son's hand. She heard Mrs. Bourdon say, "You shall not do it, or you
shall not have it"--she could not be sure which. A noise of some sort
seemed to alarm them: they ceased struggling, and listened attentively
for a few seconds: then Alfred Bourdon stole off on tip-toe, leaving the
object in dispute, which witness could not see distinctly, in his
mother's hand. Mrs. Bourdon continued to listen, and presently Miss
Armitage, opening the door of her mother's chamber, called her by name.
She immediately placed what was in her hand on the marble top of a
side-table standing in the corridor, and hastened to Miss Armitage.
Witness left the room she had been in a few minutes afterwards, and,
curious to know what Mrs. Bourdon and her son had been struggling for,
went to the table to look at it. It was an oddly-shaped glass bottle,
containing a good deal of a blackish-gray powder, which, as she held it
up to the light, looked like black-lead!
"Would you be able to swear to the bottle if you saw it?"
"Certainly I should."
"By what mark or token?"
"The name of Valpy or Vulpy was cast into it--that is, the name was in
the glass itself."
"Is this it?"
"It is: I swear most positively."
A letter was also read which had been taken from Bourdon's pocket. It was
much creased, and was proved to be in the handwriting of Mrs. Armitage.
It consisted of a severe rebuke at the young man's presumption in seeking
to address himself to her daughter, which insolent ingratitude, the
writer said, she should never, whilst she lived, either forget or
forgive. This last sentence was strongly underlined in a different ink
from that used by the writer of the letter.
The surgeon deposed to the cause of death. It had been brought on by the
action of iodine, which, administered in certain quantities, produced
symptoms as of rapid atrophy, such as had appeared in Mrs. Armitage. The
glass bottle found in the recess contained iodine in a pulverized state.
I deposed that, on entering the library on the previous evening I
overheard young Mr. Bourdon, addressing his mother, say, "Now that it is