Part 2 out of 6
done past recall, I will not shrink from any consequences, be they what
This was the substance of the evidence adduced; and the magistrate at
once committed Alfred Bourdon to Chelmsford jail, to take his trial at
the next assize for "wilful murder." A coroner's inquisition a few days
after also returned a verdict of "wilful murder" against him on the
About an hour after his committal, and just previous to the arrival of
the vehicle which was to convey him to the county prison, Alfred Bourdon
requested an interview with me. I very reluctantly consented; but steeled
as I was against him, I could not avoid feeling dreadfully shocked at the
change which so brief an interval had wrought upon him. It had done the
work of years. Despair--black, utter despair--was written in every
lineament of his expressive countenance.
"I have requested to see you," said the unhappy culprit, "rather than Dr.
Curteis, because he, I know, is bitterly prejudiced against me. But _you_
will not refuse, I think, the solemn request of a dying man--for a dying
man I feel myself to be--however long or short the interval which stands
between me and the scaffold. It is not with a childish hope that any
assertion of mine can avail before the tribunal of the law against the
evidence adduced this day, that I, with all the solemnity befitting a man
whose days are numbered, declare to you that I am wholly innocent of the
crime laid to my charge. I have no such expectation; I seek only that
you, in pity of my youth and untimely fate, should convey to her whom I
have madly presumed to worship this message: 'Alfred Bourdon was mad, but
not blood-guilty; and of the crime laid to his charge he is innocent as
an unborn child.'"
"The pure and holy passion, young man," said I, somewhat startled by his
impressive manner, "however presumptuous, as far as social considerations
are concerned, it might be, by which you affect to be inspired, is
utterly inconsistent with the cruel, dastardly crime of which such
damning evidence has an hour since been given"--
"Say no more, sir," interrupted Bourdon, sinking back in his seat, and
burying his face in his hands: "it were a bootless errand; she _could_
not, in the face of that evidence, believe my unsupported assertion! It
were as well perhaps she did not. And yet, sir, it is hard to be
trampled into a felon's grave, loaded with the maledictions of those
whom you would coin your heart to serve and bless! Ah, sir," he
continued, whilst tears of agony streamed through his firmly-closed
fingers, "you cannot conceive the unutterable bitterness of the pang
which rends the heart of him who feels that he is not only despised,
but loathed, hated, execrated, by her whom his soul idolizes! Mine was
no boyish, transient passion: it has grown with my growth, and
strengthened with my strength. My life has been but one long dream of
her. All that my soul had drunk in of beauty in the visible earth and
heavens--the light of setting suns--the radiance of the silver
stars--the breath of summer flowers, together with all which we imagine
of celestial purity and grace, seemed to me in her incarnated,
concentrated, and combined! And now lost--lost--forever lost!" The
violence of his emotions choked his utterance; and deeply and painfully
affected, I hastened from his presence.
Time sped as ever onwards, surely, silently; and justice, with her feet
of lead, but hands of iron, closed gradually upon her quarry. Alfred
Bourdon was arraigned before a jury of his countrymen, to answer finally
to the accusation of wilful murder preferred against him.
The evidence, as given before the committing magistrate, and the
coroner's inquisition, was repeated with some addition of passionate
expressions used by the prisoner indicative of a desire to be avenged on
the deceased. The cross-examination by the counsel for the defense was
able, but failed to shake the case for the prosecution. His own
admission, that no one but himself had access to the recess where the
poison was found, told fatally against him. When called upon to address
the jury, he delivered himself of a speech rather than a defense; of an
oratorical effusion, instead of a vigorous, and, if possible, damaging
commentary upon the evidence arrayed against him. It was a labored, and
in part eloquent, exposition of the necessary fallibility of human
judgment, illustrated by numerous examples of erroneous verdicts. His
peroration I jotted down at the time:--"Thus, my lord and gentlemen of
the jury, is it abundantly manifest, not only by these examples, but by
the testimony which every man bears in his own breast, that God could not
have willed, could not have commanded, his creatures to perform a
pretended duty, which he vouchsafed them no power to perform righteously.
Oh, be sure that if he had intended, if he had commanded you to pronounce
irreversible decrees upon your fellow-man, quenching that life which is
his highest gift, he would have endowed you with gifts to perform that
duty rightly. Has he done so? Ask not alone the pages dripping with
innocent blood which I have quoted, but your own hearts! Are you,
according to the promise of the serpent-tempter, 'gods, knowing good from
evil?' of such clear omniscience, that you can hurl an unprepared soul
before the tribunal of its Maker, in the full assurance that you have
rightly loosed the silver cord which he had measured, have justly broken
the golden bowl which he had fashioned! Oh, my lord," he concluded, his
dark eyes flashing with excitement, "it is possible that the first
announcement of my innocence of this crime, to which you will give
credence, may be proclaimed from the awful tribunal of him who alone
cannot err! How if he, whose eye is even now upon us, should then
proclaim, '_I_ too, sat in judgment on the day when you presumed to doom
your fellow-worm; and _I_ saw that the murderer was not in the dock, but
on the bench!' Oh, my lord, think well of what you do--pause ere you
incur such fearful hazard; for be assured, that for all these things God
will also bring _you_ to judgment!"
He ceased, and sank back exhausted. His fervid declamation produced a
considerable impression upon the auditory; but it soon disappeared before
the calm, impressive charge of the judge, who re-assured the startled
jury, by reminding them that their duty was to honestly execute the law,
not to dispute about its justice. For himself, he said, sustained by a
pure conscience, he was quite willing to incur the hazard hinted at by
the prisoner. After a careful and luminous summing up, the jury, with
very slight deliberation, returned a verdict of "Guilty."
As the word passed the lips of the foreman of the jury, a piercing shriek
rang through the court. It proceeded from a tall figure in black, who,
with closely-drawn veil, had sat motionless during the trial, just before
the dock. It was the prisoner's mother. The next instant she rose, and
throwing back her veil wildly exclaimed, "He is innocent--innocent, I
tell ye! I alone"--
"Mother! mother! for the love of Heaven be silent!" shouted the prisoner
with frantic vehemence, and stretching himself over the front of the
dock, as if to grasp and restrain her.
"Innocent, I tell you!" continued the woman. "I--I alone am the guilty
person! It was I alone that perpetrated the deed! He knew it not,
suspected it not, till it was too late. Here," she added, drawing a sheet
of paper from her bosom--"here is my confession, with each circumstance
As she waved it over her head, it was snatched by her son, and, swift as
lightning, torn to shreds. "She is mad! Heed her not--believe her not!"
He at the same time shouted at the top of his powerful voice, "She is
distracted--mad! Now, my lord, your sentence! Come!"
The tumult and excitement in the court no language which I can employ
would convey an adequate impression of. As soon as calm was partially
restored, Mrs. Bourdon was taken into custody: the prisoner was removed;
and the court adjourned, of course without passing sentence.
It was even as his mother said! Subsequent investigation, aided by her
confessions, amply proved that the fearful crime was conceived and
perpetrated by her alone, in the frantic hope of securing for her
idolized son the hand and fortune of Miss Armitage. She had often been
present with him in his laboratory, and had thus become acquainted with
the uses to which certain agents could be put. She had purloined the key
of the recess; and he, unfortunately too late to prevent the perpetration
of the crime, had by mere accident discovered the abstraction of the
poison. His subsequent declarations had been made for the determined
purpose of saving his mother's life by the sacrifice of his own!
The wretched woman was not reserved to fall before the justice of her
country. The hand of God smote her ere the scaffold was prepared for
her. She was smitten with frenzy, and died raving in the Metropolitan
Lunatic Asylum. Alfred Bourdon, after a lengthened imprisonment, was
liberated. He called on me, by appointment, a few days previous to
leaving this country forever; and I placed in his hands a small
pocket-Bible, on the fly-leaf of which was written one word--"Ellen!"
His dim eye lighted up with something of its old fire as he glanced at
the characters; he then closed the book, placed it in his bosom, and
waving me a mute farewell--I saw he durst not trust himself to
speak--hastily departed. I never saw him more!
"THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS."
In the month of February of the year following that which witnessed the
successful establishment of the claim of Sir Harry Compton's infant son
to his magnificent patrimony, Mr. Samuel Ferret was traveling post with
all the speed he could command towards Lancashire, in compliance with a
summons from Lady Compton, requesting, in urgent terms, his immediate
presence at the castle. It was wild and bitter weather, and the roads
were in many places rendered dangerous, and almost impassable, by the
drifting snow. Mr. Ferret, however, pressed onwards with his habitual
energy and perseverance; and, spite of all elemental and postboy
opposition, succeeded in accomplishing his journey in much less time
than, under the circumstances, could have been reasonably expected. But
swiftly as, for those slow times, he pushed on, it is necessary I should
anticipate, by a brief period, his arrival at his destination, in order
to put the reader in possession of the circumstances which had occasioned
the hurried and pressing message he had received.
Two days before, as Lady Compton and her sister, who had been paying a
visit to Mrs. Arlington at the Grange, were returning home towards nine
o'clock in the evening, they observed, as the carriage turned a sharp
angle of the road leading through Compton Park, a considerable number of
lighted lanterns borne hurriedly to and fro in various directions, by
persons apparently in eager but bewildered pursuit of some missing
object. The carriage was stopped, and in answer to the servants'
inquiries, it was replied that Major Brandon's crazy niece had escaped
from her uncle's house; and although traced by the snow-tracks as far as
the entrance to the park, had not yet been recovered. Mrs. Brandon had
offered a reward of ten pounds to whoever should secure and reconduct her
home; hence the hot pursuit of the fugitive, who, it was now supposed,
must be concealed in the shrubberies. Rumors regarding this unfortunate
young lady, by no means favorable to the character of her relatives as
persons of humanity, had previously reached Lady Compton's ears; and she
determined to avail herself, if possible, of the present opportunity to
obtain a personal interview with the real or supposed lunatic. The men
who had been questioned were informed that only the castle servants could
be allowed to search for the missing person, either in the park or
shrubberies; and that if there, she would be taken care of, and restored
to her friends in the morning. The coachman was then ordered to drive on;
but the wheels had not made half-a-dozen revolutions, when a loud shout
at some distance, in the direction of the park, followed by a succession
of piercing screams, announced the discovery and capture of the object of
the chase. The horses were urged rapidly forward; and ere more than a
minute had elapsed, the carriage drew up within a few yards of the hunted
girl and her captors. The instant it stopped, Clara Brandon, liberating
herself by a frenzied effort from the rude grasp in which she was held by
an athletic young man, sprang wildly towards it, and with passionate
intreaty implored mercy and protection. The young man, a son of Mrs.
Brandon's by a former husband, immediately re-seized her; and with fierce
violence endeavored to wrench her hand from the handle of the carriage
door, which she clutched with desperate tenacity. The door flew open,
the sudden jerk disengaged her hold, and she struggled vainly in her
captor's powerful grasp. "Save me! save me!" she frantically exclaimed,
as she felt herself borne off. "You who are, they say, as kind and good
as you are beautiful and happy, save me from this cruel man!"
Lady Compton, inexpressibly shocked by the piteous spectacle presented by
the unhappy girl--her scanty clothing soiled, disarrayed, and torn by the
violence of her struggles; her long flaxen tresses flowing disorderly
over her face and neck in tangled dishevelment; and the pale, haggard,
wild expression of her countenance--was for a few moments incapable of
speech. Her sister was more collected: "Violet," she instantly
remonstrated, "do not permit this brutal violence."
"What right has she or any one to interfere with us?" demanded the young
man savagely. "This girl is Major Brandon's ward, as well as niece, and
_shall_ return to her lawful home! Stand back," continued he, addressing
the servants, who, at a gesture from Miss Dalston, barred his progress.
"Withstand me at your peril!"
"Force her from him!" exclaimed Lady Compton, recovering her
voice. "Gently! gently! I will be answerable for her safe custody
till the morning."
The athletic fellow struggled desperately; but however powerful and
determined, he was only one man against a score, nearly all the
bystanders being tenants or laborers on the Compton estates; and spite of
his furious efforts, and menaces of law and vengeance, Clara was torn
from him in a twinkling, and himself hurled with some violence prostrate
on the road. "Do not let them hurt the man," said Lady Compton, as the
servants placed the insensible girl in the carriage (she had fainted);
"and tell him that if he has really any legal claim to the custody of
this unfortunate person, he must prefer it in the morning."
Immediately on arrival at the castle, the escaped prisoner was conveyed
to bed, and medical aid instantly summoned. When restored to
consciousness, whether from the effect of an excess of fever producing
temporary delirium, or from confirmed mental disease, her speech was
altogether wild and incoherent--the only at all consistent portions of
her ravings being piteously--iterated appeals to Lady Compton not to
surrender her to her aunt in-law, Mrs. Brandon, of whom she seemed to
entertain an overpowering, indefinable dread. It was evident she had been
subjected to extremely brutal treatment--such as, in these days of
improved legislation in such matters, and greatly advanced knowledge of
the origin and remedy of cerebral infirmity, would not be permitted
towards the meanest human being, much less a tenderly-nurtured, delicate
female. At length, under the influence of a composing draught, she sank
gradually to sleep; and Lady Compton having determined to rescue her, if
possible, from the suspicious custody of her relatives, and naturally
apprehensive of the legal difficulties which she could not doubt would
impede the execution of her generous, if somewhat Quixotic project,
resolved on at once sending off an express for Mr. Ferret, on whose
acumen and zeal she knew she could place the fullest reliance.
Clara Brandon's simple history may be briefly summed up. She was the only
child of a Mr. Frederick Brandon, who, a widower in the second year of
his marriage, had since principally resided at the "Elms," a handsome
mansion and grounds which he had leased of the uncle of the late Sir
Harry Compton. At his decease, which occurred about two years previous to
poor Clara's escape from confinement, as just narrated, he bequeathed
his entire fortune, between two and three thousand pounds per annum,
chiefly secured on land, to his daughter; appointed his elder brother,
Major Brandon, sole executor of his will, and guardian of his child; and
in the event of her dying before she had attained her majority--of which
she wanted, at her father's death, upwards of three years--or without
lawful issue, the property was to go to the major, to be by him willed at
his pleasure. Major Brandon, whose physical and mental energies had been
prematurely broken down--he was only in his fifty-second year--either by
excess or hard service in the East, perhaps both, had married late in
life the widow of a brother officer, and the mother of a grown-up son.
The lady, a woman of inflexible will, considerable remains of a somewhat
masculine beauty, and about ten years her husband's junior, held him in a
state of thorough pupilage; and, unchecked by him, devoted all her
energies to bring about, by fair or foul means, a union between Clara and
her own son, a cub of some two or three-and-twenty years of age, whose
sole object in seconding his mother's views upon Clara was the
acquisition of her wealth. According to popular surmise and report, the
young lady's mental infirmity had been brought about by the persecutions
she had endured at the hands of Mrs. Brandon, with a view to force her
into a marriage she detested. The most reliable authority for the truth
of these rumors was Susan Hopley, now in the service of Lady Compton, but
who had lived for many years with Mr. Frederick Brandon and his daughter.
She had been discharged about six months after her master's decease by
Mrs. Major Brandon for alleged impertinence; and so thoroughly convinced
was Susan that the soon-afterwards alleged lunacy of Clara was but a
juggling pretence to excuse the restraint under which her aunt-in-law,
for the furtherance of her own vile purposes, had determined to keep
her, that although out of place at the time, she devoted all the savings
of her life, between eighty and ninety pounds, to procure "justice" for
the ill-used orphan. This article, Susan was advised, could be best
obtained of the lord chancellor; and proceedings were accordingly taken
before the keeper of the king's conscience, in order to change the
custody of the pretended lunatic. The affidavits filed in support of the
petition were, however, so loose and vague, and were met with such
positive counter-allegations, that the application was at once dismissed
with costs; and poor Susan--rash suitor for "justice"--reduced to
absolute penury. These circumstances becoming known to Lady Compton,
Susan was taken into her service; and it was principally owing to her
frequently-iterated version of the affair that Clara had been forcibly
rescued from Mrs. Brandon's son.
On the following morning the patient was much calmer, though her mind
still wandered somewhat. Fortified by the authority of the physician, who
certified that to remove her, or even to expose her to agitation, would
be dangerous, if not fatal, Lady Compton not only refused to deliver her
up to Major and Mrs. Brandon, but to allow them to see her. Mrs. Brandon,
in a towering rage, posted off to the nearest magistrate, to demand the
assistance of peace-officers in obtaining possession of the person of the
fugitive. That functionary would, however, only so far comply with the
indignant lady's solicitations, as to send his clerk to the castle to
ascertain the reason of the young lady's detention; and when his
messenger returned with a note, enclosing a copy of the physician's
certificate, he peremptorily decided that the conduct of Lady Compton was
not only perfectly justifiable, but praiseworthy, and that the matter
must remain over till the patient was in a condition to be moved. Things
were precisely in this state, except that Clara Brandon had become
perfectly rational; and but for an irrepressible nervous dread of again
falling into the power of her unscrupulous relative, quite calm, when Mr.
Samuel Ferret made his wished-for appearance on the scene of action.
Long and anxious was the conference which Mr. Ferret held with his
munificent client and her interesting protegee, if conference that may be
called in which the astute attorney enacted the part of listener only,
scarcely once opening his thin, cautious lips. In vain did his eager
brain silently ransack the whole armory of the law; no weapon could he
discern which afforded the slightest hope of fighting a successful battle
with a legally-appointed guardian for the custody of his ward. And yet
Mr. Ferret felt, as he looked upon the flashing eye and glowing
countenance of Lady Compton, as she recounted a few of the grievous
outrages inflicted upon the fair and helpless girl reclining beside
her--whose varying cheek and meek suffused eyes bore eloquent testimony
to the truth of the relation--that he would willingly exert a vigor even
_beyond_ the law to meet his client's wishes, could he but see his way to
a safe result. At length a ray of light, judging from his
suddenly-gleaming eyes, seemed to have broken upon the troubled chambers
of his brain, and he rose somewhat hastily from his chair.
"By the by, I will just step and speak to this Susan Hopley, if your
ladyship can inform me in what part of the lower regions I am likely to
meet with her?"
"Let me ring for her."
"No; if you please not. What I have to ask her is of very little
importance; still, to summon her here might give rise to surmises,
reports, and so on, which it may be as well to avoid. I had much rather
see her accidentally, as it were."
"As you please. You will find her somewhere about the housekeeper's
apartments. You know her by sight, I think?"
"Perfectly; and with your leave I'll take the opportunity of directing
the horses to be put to. I must be in London by noon to-morrow if
possible;" and away Mr. Ferret bustled.
"Susan," said Mr. Ferret a few minutes afterwards, "step this way; I want
to have a word with you. Now, tell me are you goose enough to expect you
will ever see the money again you so foolishly threw into the bottomless
pit of chancery?"
"Of course I shall, Mr. Ferret, as soon as ever Miss Clara comes to her
own. She mentioned it only this morning, and said she was sorry she could
not repay me at once."
"You are a sensible girl, Susan, though you _did_ go to law with the lord
chancellor! I want you to be off with me to London; and then perhaps we
may get your money sooner than you expect."
"Oh, bother the money! Is that _all_ you want me to go to Lunnon for?"
Mr. Ferret replied with a wink of such exceeding intelligence, that
Susan at once declared she should be ready to start in ten minutes at
"That's a good creature; and, Susan, as there's not the slightest
occasion to let all the world know who's going to run off with you, it
may be as well for you to take your bundle and step on a mile or so on
the road, say to the turn, just beyond the first turnpike." Susan nodded
with brisk good-humor, and disappeared in a twinkling.
An hour afterwards, Mr. Ferret was on his way back to London, having
first impressed upon Lady Compton the necessity of immediately relieving
herself of the grave responsibility she had incurred towards Major
Brandon for the safe custody of his ward, by sending her home
immediately. He promised to return on the third day from his departure;
but on the nature of the measures he intended to adopt, or the hopes he
entertained of success, he was inflexibly silent; and he moreover
especially requested that no one, not even Miss Brandon, should know of
Susan Hopley's journey to the metropolis.
Mr. Ferret, immediately on his arrival in town, called at my chambers,
and related with his usual minuteness and precision as many of the
foregoing particulars as he knew and thought proper to communicate to me.
For the rest I am indebted to subsequent conversations with the different
"Well," said I, as soon as he had concluded, "what course do you propose
"I wish you to apply, on this affidavit, for a writ of _habeas ad sub._,
to bring up the body of Clara Brandon. Judge Bailey will be at chambers
at three o'clock: it is now more than half-past two, and I can be off on
my return by four at latest."
"A writ of habeas!" I exclaimed with astonishment. "Why, what end can
that answer? The lady will be remanded, and you and I shall be laughed at
for our pains."
This writ of _habeas corpus "ad subjiciendum,_" I had better explain to
the non-professional reader, is the great _prerogative_ writ, the
operation of which is sometimes suspended by the legislature during
political panics. It is grounded on the principle that the sovereign has
at all times a right to inquire, through the judges of the superior
courts, by what authority his or her subject is held in constraint. It
issues, as a matter of right, upon the filing of an affidavit, averring
that to the best of the belief of the deponent the individual sought to
be brought up is illegally confined; and it is of the essence of the
proceeding, that the person alleged to be suffering unlawful constraint
should actually be brought before the "queen herself;" that is, before
one or more of the judges of the court which has issued the writ, who, if
they find _the detention illegal_, the only question at issue upon this
writ may discharge or bail the party. It was quite obvious, therefore,
that in this case such a proceeding would be altogether futile, as the
detention in the house of her guardian, under the sanction, too, of the
lord chancellor, the _ex-officio_ custodier of all lunatics--of a ward of
alleged disordered intellect--was clearly legal, at least _prima facie_
so, and not to be disturbed under a _habeas ad sub_. at all events.
"Perhaps so," replied Ferret quite coolly in reply to my exclamation;
"but I am determined to try every means of releasing the unfortunate
young lady from the cruel thraldom in which she is held by that harridan
of an aunt-in-law. She is no more really insane than you are; but at the
same time so excitable upon certain topics, that it might be perhaps
difficult to disabuse the chancellor or a jury of the impression so
industriously propagated to her prejudice. The peremptory rejection by
her guardian of young Burford's addresses, though sanctioned by her
father: you know the Burfords?"
"Of Grosvenor Street you mean--the East India director?"
"Yes, his son; and that reminds me that the declaration in that
everlasting exchequer case must be filed to-morrow. Confound it, how this
flying about the country puts one out! I thought some one had kidnapped
her son, or fired Compton Castle at least. By the way, I am much deceived
if there isn't a wedding there before long."
"Yes, Miss Dalston with Sir Jasper's eldest hope."
"You don't mean it?"
"_They_ do at all events, and that is much more to the purpose. A fine
young fellow enough, and sufficiently rich too"--
"All which rambling talk and anecdote," cried I, interrupting him,
"means, if I have any skill in reading Mr. Ferret, that that gentleman,
having some ulterior purpose in view, which I cannot for the moment
divine, is determined to have this writ, and does not wish to be pestered
with any argument on the subject. Be it so: it is your affair, not mine.
And now, as it is just upon three o'clock, let me see your affidavit."
I ran it over. "Rather loose this, Mr. Ferret, but I suppose it will do."
"Well, it _is_ rather loose, but I could not with safety sail much closer
to the wind. By the by, I think you had better first apply for a rule to
stay proceedings against the bail in that case of Turner; and after that
is decided, just ask for this writ, off-hand as it were, and as a matter
of course. His lordship may not then scrutinize the affidavit quite so
closely as if he thought counsel had been brought to chambers purposely
to apply for it."
"Cautious, Mr. Ferret! Well, come along, and I'll see what I can do."
The writ was obtained without difficulty; few questions were asked; and
at my request the judge made it returnable immediately. By four o'clock,
Mr. Ferret, who could fortunately sleep as well in a postchaise as in a
feather-bed, was, as he had promised himself, on his road to Lancashire
once more, where he had the pleasure of serving Major Brandon personally;
at the same time tendering in due form the one shilling per mile fixed by
the statute as preliminary traveling charges. The vituperative eloquence
showered upon Mr. Ferret by the Major's lady was, I afterwards heard,
extremely copious and varied, and was borne by him, as I could easily
believe, with the most philosophic composure.
In due time the parties appeared before Mr. Justice Bailey. Miss Brandon
was accompanied by her uncle, his wife, and a solicitor; and spite of
everything I could urge, the judge, as I had forseen, refused to
interfere in the matter. The poor girl was dreadfully agitated, but kept,
nevertheless, her eyes upon Mr. Ferret, as the source from which, spite
of what was passing around her, effectual succor was sure to come. As for
that gentleman himself, he appeared composedly indifferent to the
proceedings; and indeed, I thought, seemed rather relieved than otherwise
when they terminated. I could not comprehend him. Mrs. Brandon, the
instant the case was decided, clutched Clara's arm within hers, and,
followed by her husband and the solicitor, sailed out of the apartment
with an air of triumphant disdain and pride. Miss Brandon looked round
for Ferret, but not perceiving him--he had left hastily an instant or two
before--her face became deadly pale, and the most piteous expression of
hopeless despair I had ever beheld broke from her troubled but
singularly-expressive eyes. I mechanically followed, with a half-formed
purpose of remonstrating with Major Brandon in behalf of the unfortunate
girl, and was by that means soon in possession of the key to Mr. Ferret's
apparently inexplicable conduct.
The Brandon party walked very fast, and I had scarcely got up with
them as they were turning out of Chancery Lane into Fleet Street, when
two men, whose vocation no accustomed eye could for an instant
mistake, arrested their further progress. "This lady," said one of the
men, slightly touching Miss Brandon on the shoulder, "is, I believe,
"Yes she is; and what of that, fellow?" demanded the major's lady with
"Not much, ma'am," replied the sheriff's officer, "when you are used to
it. It is my unpleasant duty to arrest her for the sum of eighty-seven
pounds, indorsed on this writ, issued at the suit of one Susan Hopley."
"Arrest her!" exclaimed Mrs. Brandon; "why, she is a minor!"
"Minor or major, ma'am, makes very little difference to us. She can plead
that hereafter, you know. In the meantime, miss, please to step into this
coach," replied the officer, holding the door open.
"But she's a person of unsound mind," screamed the lady, as Clara,
nothing loath, sprang into the vehicle.
"So are most people that do business with our establishment," responded
the imperturbable official, as he shut and fastened the door. "Here is my
card, sir," he added, addressing the attorney, who now came up. "You see
where to find the lady, if her friends wish to give bail to the sheriff,
or, what is always more satisfactory, pay the debt and costs." He then
jumped on the box, his follower got up behind, and away drove the coach,
leaving the discomfited major and his fiery better-half in a state of the
"Why, what _is_ the meaning of this?" at length gasped Mrs. Brandon,
fiercely addressing the attorney, as if _he_, were a _particeps criminis_
in the affair.
"The meaning, my dear madame, is, that Miss Clara Brandon is arrested for
debt, and carried off to a sponging-house; and that unless you pay the
money, or file bail, she will tomorrow be lodged in jail," replied the
unmoved man of law.
"Bail! money! How are we to do either in London, away from home?"
demanded the major with, for him, much emotion.
I did not wait to hear more, but, almost suffocated with laughter at the
success of Ferret's audacious _ruse_, hastened over to the Temple. I was
just leaving chambers for the night--about ten o'clock I think it must
have been--when Ferret, in exuberant spirits, burst into the room.
"Well, sir, what do you think _now_ of a writ _ad sub._?"
"Why, I think, Mr. Ferret," replied I, looking as serious as I could,
"that yours is very sharp practice; that the purpose you have put it to
is an abuse of the writ; that the arrest is consequently illegal; and
that a judge would, upon motion, quash it with costs."
"To be sure he would: who doubts that? Let him, and welcome! In the
meantime, Clara Brandon is safe beyond the reach of all the judges or
chancellors that ever wore horsehair, and that everlasting simpleton of a
major and his harridan wife roaming the metropolis like distracted
creatures; and that I take to be the real essence of the thing, whatever
the big-wigs may decide about the shells!"
"I suppose the plaintiff soon discharged her debtor out of custody?"
"Without loss of time, you may be sure. Miss Brandon, I may tell _you_,
is with the Rev. Mr. Derwent at Brompton. You know him: the newly-married
curate of St. Margaret's that was examined in that will case. Well him:
he is an intelligent, high-principled man; and I have no doubt that,
under his and Mrs. Derwent's care, all trace of Miss Brandon's mental
infirmity will disappear long before she attains her majority next June
twelvemonth; whilst the liberal sum per month which Lady Compton will
advance, will be of great service to him"
"That appears all very good. But are you sure you can effectually
conceal the place of her retreat?"
"I have no fear: the twigs that will entangle her precious guardians in
the labyrinths of a false clue are already set and limed. Before
to-morrow night they will have discovered, by means of their own
wonderfully-penetrative sagacity, that Clara has been spirited over to
France; and before three months are past, the same surprising
intelligence will rejoice in the discovery that she expired in a _maison
de sante_--fine comfortable repose, in which fool's paradise I hope to
have the honor of awakening them about next June twelvemonth, and not as
at present advised before!"
Everything fortunately turned out as Mr. Ferret anticipated; and when a
few months had glided by, Clara Brandon was a memory only, save of course
to the few entrusted with the secret.
The whirligig of time continued as ever to speed on its course, and bring
round in due season its destined revenges. The health, mental and bodily,
of Miss Brandon rapidly improved under the kind and judicious treatment
of Mr. and Mrs. Derwent; and long before the attainment of her majority,
were pronounced by competent authority to be thoroughly re-established.
The day following that which completed her twentyfirst year, Mr. Ferret,
armed with the necessary authority, had the pleasure of announcing to the
relict of Major Brandon (he had been dead some months), and to her brutal
son, that they must forthwith depart from the home in which they, to the
very moment of his announcement, thought themselves secure; and surrender
every shilling of the property they had so long dreamt was their own.
They were prostrated by the intelligence, and proved as mean and servile
in the hour of adversity, as they had been insolent and cruel in the day
of fancied success and prosperity. The pension of three hundred pounds a
year for both their lives, proffered by Miss Brandon, was eagerly
accepted; and they returned to the obscurity from which they had by
About six months afterwards, I had the pleasure of drawing up the
marriage settlement between Clara Brandon and Herbert Burford; and a
twelvemonth after, that of standing sponsor to one of the lustiest brats
ever sprinkled at a font: none of which delightful results, if we are to
believe Mr. Ferret, would have ever been arrived at had not he, at a very
critical moment, refused to take counsel's opinion upon the virtues,
capabilities, and powers contained in the great writ of _habeas corpus
About forty years ago, Jabez Woodford, a foreman of shipwrights in the
Plymouth dockyard, whilst carelessly crossing one of the transverse beams
of a seventy-four gun-ship, building in that arsenal, missed his footing,
fell to the bottom of the hold of the huge vessel, and was killed on the
spot. He left a widow and one child--a boy seven years of age, of placid,
endearing disposition, but weak intellect--almost in a state of
destitution. He had been a coarse-tempered, improvident man; and like too
many of his class, in those days at least, dissipated the whole of his
large earnings in present sensuous indulgence, utterly careless or
unmindful of the future. Esther Woodford, who, at the time of her
husband's death, scarcely numbered five-and-twenty years, was still a
remarkably comely, as well as interesting, gentle-mannered person; and
moreover had, for her station in life, received a tolerable education.
Her rash, ill-assorted marriage with Woodford had been hastily contracted
when she was barely seventeen years of age, in consequence of a jealous
pique which she, for some silly reason or other, had conceived regarding
Henry Mason, an intelligent, young seafaring man, of fair prospects in
life, and frank disposition, with whom she had for some time previously,
as the west-country phrase has it, "kept company," and who was, moreover,
tenderly attached to her. Esther's married life was one long repentance
of the rash act; and the severance of the tie which bound her to an
ungenial mate--after the subsidence of the natural horror and compassion
excited by the sudden and frightful nature of the catastrophe--must have
been felt as a most blessed relief. A few weeks afterwards, she accepted
an asylum with her brother-in-law, Davies, a market-gardener in the
vicinity of Plymouth, where, by persevering industry with her needle, and
thrifty helpfulness in her sister's household duties, she endeavored to
compensate her kind-hearted relatives for the support of herself and
helpless, half-witted child. Mason she had never seen since the day
previous to her marriage; but she knew he was prospering in the busy
world, and that, some time before her husband's death, he had been
appointed chief-mate in a first-class merchant-ship trading to the
Pacific. He had sailed about a fortnight previous to that event; and now,
ten lazy months having slowly floated past, the lover of her youth, with
whom, in that last sunny day of her young life--how distant did it seem,
viewed through the long intervening vista of days and nights of grief and
tears!--she had danced so joyously beneath the flowering chestnut-trees,
was once more near her; and it was--oh happiness!--no longer a sin to
think of him--no longer a crime to recall and dwell upon the numberless
proofs of the deep affection, the strong love, he had once felt for her.
_Once_ felt! Perhaps even now!--How swiftly had the intelligence
communicated by her sympathizing sister tinted with bright hues the dark
curtain of the future!
"And yet," murmured poor Esther, the flush of hope fading as suddenly as
it had arisen, as with meek sad eyes she glanced at the reflection of her
features in the small oval glass suspended above the mantel-piece--"I
almost doubt, Susy, dear, if he would recognize me; even if old feelings
and old times have not long since faded from his memory"--
"Stuff and trumpery about fading away!" broke in Mrs. Davies. "Henry
Mason is the same true-hearted man he was eight years ago; and as a
proof that he is, just read this letter, which I promised him to give
you. There, don't go falling into a flustration; don't now, Esther,
and to-morrow market-day and all! Don't cry, Esther," she added
vehemently, but at the same time sobbing furiously herself, and
throwing her arms round her sister's neck: "but perhaps--perhaps it
will do us good, both of us!"
It may he necessary to state that I owe the foregoing particulars to the
interest felt by my wife--herself a native of beautiful Devon--in the
fortunes of this humble household. Esther was her foster-sister; and it
happened that just at this period, it being vacation-time, we were paying
a visit to a family in the neighborhood. A few hours after the receipt of
the welcome letter, my wife chanced to call on Esther relative to some
fancy needlework; and on her return, I was of course favored with very
full and florid details of this little bit of cottage romance; the which
I, from regard to the reader, have carefully noted down, and as briefly
as possible expressed.
We met Henry Mason with his recovered treasure on the following evening;
and certainly a more favorable specimen of the vigorous, active,
bold-featured, frank-spoken British seaman I never met with. To his
comparatively excellent education--for which I understood he was indebted
to his mother, a superior woman, who, having fallen from one of the
little heights of society, had kept a school at Plymouth--in addition to
his correct and temperate habits, he was indebted for the rapid
advance--he was but a few months older than Esther--he had obtained in
the merchant service. The happiness which beamed upon Esther's face did
not appear to be of the exuberant, buoyant character that kindled the
ruddy cheek and ran over at the bright, honest eyes of the hardy sailor:
there seemed to mingle with it a half-doubting, trembling
apprehensiveness; albeit it was not difficult to perceive that,
sorrowfully as had passed her noon of prime, an "Indian summer" of the
soul was rising upon her brightened existence, and already with its first
faint flushes lighting up her meek, doubting eyes, and pale, changing
countenance. Willy, her feeble-minded child, frisked and gambolled by
their side; and altogether, a happier group than they would, I fancy,
have been difficult to find in all broad England.
The next week they were married; and one of the partners in the firm by
which Mason was employed happening to dine with us on the day of the
wedding, the conversation turned for a few minutes on the bridegroom's
character and prospects.
"He has the ring of true metal in him," I remarked; "and is, I should
suppose, a capital seaman?"
"A first-rate one," replied Mr. Roberts. "Indeed so high is my father's
opinion of him, that he intends to confer upon him the command of a fine
brig now building for us in the Thames, and intended for the West India
trade. He possesses also singular courage and daring. Twice, under very
hazardous circumstances, he has successfully risked his life to save men
who had fallen overboard. He is altogether a skilful, gallant seaman."
"Such a man," observed another of the company, "might surely have aspired
higher than to the hand of Esther Woodford, dove-eyed and interesting as
she may be?"
"Perhaps so," returned Mr. Roberts a little curtly; "though
he, it seems, could not have thought so. Indeed it is chiefly of
simple-hearted, chivalrous-minded men like Mason that it can
be with general truth observed--
'On revient toujours a ses premiers amours.'"
The subject then dropped, and it was a considerable time afterwards, and
under altogether altered circumstances, when the newly-married couple
once more crossed my path in life.
It was about eight months after his marriage--though he had been
profitably enough employed in the interim--that Henry Mason, in
consequence of the welcome announcement that the new brig was at last
ready for her captain and cargo, arrived in London to enter upon his new
"These lodgings, Esther," said he, as he was preparing to go out, soon
after breakfast, on the morning after his arrival, "are scarcely the
thing; and as I, like you, am a stranger in Cockney-land, I had better
consult some of the firm upon the subject, before we decide upon
permanent ones. In the meantime, you and Willy must mind and keep in
doors when I am not with you, or I shall have one or other of you lost in
this great wilderness of a city. I shall return in two or three hours. I
will order something for dinner as I go along: I have your purse.
Good-by: God bless you both."
Inquiring his way every two or three minutes, Mason presently found
himself in the vicinity of Tower Stairs. A scuffle in front of a
public-house attracted his attention; and his ready sympathies were in an
instant enlisted in behalf of a young sailor, vainly struggling in the
grasp of several athletic men, and crying lustily on the gaping
bystanders for help. Mason sprang forward, caught one of the assailants
by the collar, and hurled him with some violence against the wall. A
fierce outcry greeted this audacious interference with gentlemen who, in
those good old times, were but executing the law in a remarkably good old
manner. Lieutenant Donnagheu, a somewhat celebrated snapper-up of loose
mariners, emerged upon the scene; and in a few minutes was enabled to
exult in the secure possession of an additional prize in the unfortunate
Henry Mason, who, too late, discovered that he had embroiled himself with
a _pressgang_! Desperate, frenzied were the efforts he made to extricate
himself from the peril in which he had rashly involved himself. In vain!
His protestations that he was a mate, a captain, in the merchant service,
were unheeded or mocked at.
To all his remonstrances he only got the professional answer--"His
majesty wants you, and that is enough; so come along, and no more
Bruised, exhausted, almost mad, he was borne off in triumph to a boat,
into which he was thrust with several others, and swiftly rowed off to a
receiving-ship in the river. Even there his assertions and protestations
were of no avail. Nothing but an Admiralty order, the officer in command
candidly told him, should effect his liberation. His majesty was in need
of seamen; and he was evidently too smart a one to be deprived of the
glory of serving his country. "You must therefore," concluded the
officer, as he turned laughingly upon his heel, "do as thousands of
other fine fellows have been compelled to do--'grin and bear it.'" In
about three weeks from the date of his impressment Mason found himself
serving in the Mediterranean on board the "Active" frigate, Captain
Alexander Gordon, without having been permitted one opportunity of
communicating with the shore. This was certainly very sharp, but it was
not the less very _common_ practice in those great days of triumphant
battles by land and sea.
Very drearily passed the time with the bereaved wife. Her husband had
promised to send home something for dinner, and various groceries; yet
hour after hour went past, and nothing arrived. Morning flushed into
noon, day faded to twilight, and still the well-known and always eager
step sounded not upon the stairs! What could have detained him from his
wife, shut up, imprisoned, as it were, in that hot, hurrying, stifling
city? She feared to listen to the suggestions of her boding heart; and
with feverish restlessness ran out upon the landing, and peered over the
stairs every time a knock or ring was heard at the street-door. This
strange behavior was, it seems, noticed by the landlady of the
lodging-house, and injuriously interpreted. A knock came to the door, and
that person entered to know at what time _Mrs_. ----, she had forgotten
the young woman's name, expected the dinner, she, the landlady, had
undertaken to cook.
Esther timidly replied that her husband had promised to return in two or
three hours at latest; and that she did not comprehend his continued
absence--was indeed quite alarmed about it--
"Your husband!" said the woman, glancing insolently at Esther's figure.
"Are you sure he _is_ your husband?"
The hot blood suffused the temples of the indignant wife as she said,
"This apartment, madam, I believe is mine?"
"Oh, certainly, as long as you can pay for it;" and rudely slamming the
door, the landlady departed.
The long wretched night at last over, Esther rose with the light; and
after giving her son his breakfast from the remains of that of the day
before, set off with him to the place of business of the Messrs. Roberts.
It was early, and one clerk only had as yet arrived at the office. He
informed her that Mr. Henry Mason had not been seen, and that the
partners were greatly annoyed about it, as his immediate presence was
Stunned, terrified, bewildered by the frightful calamity which she
believed had befallen her, she felt convinced that her husband had been
entrapped and murdered for the sake of the money he had about him: the
wretched woman tottered back to her lodgings, and threw herself on the
bed in wild despair. What was to be done for food even for her boy? Her
husband had not only his pocket-book with him containing his larger
money, but had taken her purse! She was alone and penniless in a strange
city! The hungry wailings of her witless child towards evening at length
aroused her from the stupor of despair into which she had fallen. The
miserable resource of pawning occurred to her: she could at least, by
pledging a part of her wardrobe, procure sustenance for her child till
she could hear from her sister; and with trembling hands she began
arranging a bundle of such things as she could best spare, when the
landlady abruptly entered the room, with a peremptory demand--as her
husband was not returned, and did not appear likely to do so--for a
month's rent in advance, that being the term the apartments were engaged
for. The tears, entreaties, expostulations of the miserable wife were of
no avail. Not one article, the woman declared, should leave her house
till her claim was settled. She affected to doubt, perhaps really did so,
that Esther was married; and hinted coarsely at an enforcement of the
laws against persons who had no visible means of subsistence. In a
paroxysm of despair, the unhappy woman rushed out of the house; and
accompanied by her hungry child, again sought the counting-house of the
Messrs. Roberts. She was now as much too late as she had been too early
in the morning: the partners and clerks had gone, and she appears to have
been treated with some rudeness by the porter, who was closing the
premises when she arrived. Possibly the wildness of her looks, and the
incoherence of her speech and manner, produced an impression unfavorable
to her. Retracing her steps--penniless, hungry, sick at heart--she
thought, as she afterwards declared, that she recognized my wife in one
of the numerous ladies seated before the counters of a fashionable shop
in one of the busiest thoroughfares. She entered, and not till she
approached close to the lady discovered her mistake. She turned
despairingly away; when a piece of rich lace, lying apparently unheeded
on the counter, met her eye, and a dreadful suggestion crossed her
fevered brain; here at least was the means of procuring food for her
wailing child. She glanced hastily and fearfully round. No eye, she
thought, observed her; and, horror of horrors! a moment afterwards she
had concealed the lace beneath her shawl, and with tottering feet was
hastily leaving the shop. She had not taken half-a-dozen steps when a
heavy hand was laid upon her shoulder, and a voice, as of a serpent
hissing in her ear, commanded her to restore the lace she had stolen.
Transfixed with shame and terror, she stood rooted to the spot, and the
lace fell on the floor.
"Fetch an officer," said the harsh voice, addressing one of the shopmen.
"No--no--no!" screamed the wretched woman, falling on her knees in wild
supplication. "For my child's sake--in mercy of the innocent babe as yet
unborn--pity and forgive me!"
The harsh order was iterated; and Esther Mason, fainting with shame and
agony, was conveyed to the prison in Giltspur Street. The next day she
was fully committed to Newgate on the capital charge of privately
stealing in a shop to the value of five pounds. A few hours after her
incarceration within those terrible walls, she was prematurely delivered
of a female child.
I have no moral doubt whatever, I never have had, that at the time of the
committal of the felonious act, the intellect of Esther Mason was
disordered. Any other supposition is inconsistent with the whole tenor
of her previous life and character "Lead us not into temptation" is
indeed the holiest, because the humblest prayer.
Three weeks had elapsed before the first intimation of these events
reached me, in a note from the chaplain of Newgate, an excellent,
kind-hearted man, to whom Mrs. Mason had confided her sad story. I
immediately hastened to the prison; and in a long interview with her,
elicited the foregoing statement. I readily assured her that all which
legal skill could do to extricate her from the awful position in which
she stood, the gravity of which I did not affect to conceal, should be
done. The offence with which she was charged had supplied the scaffold
with numberless victims; and tradesmen were more than ever clamorous for
the stern execution of a law which, spite of experience, they still
regarded as the only safeguard of their property. My wife was overwhelmed
with grief; and in her anxiety to save her unhappy foster-sister, sought,
without my knowledge, an interview with the prosecutor, in the hope of
inducing him not to press the charge. Her efforts were unavailing. He had
suffered much, he said, from such practices, and was "upon principle"
determined to make an example of every offender he could catch. As to the
plea that the husband had been forcibly carried off by a pressgang, it
was absurd; for what would become of the property of tradesmen if the
wife of every sailor so entrapped were to be allowed to plunder shops
with impunity? This magnificent reasoning was of course unanswerable; and
the rebuked petitioner abandoned her bootless errand in despair. Messrs.
Roberts, I should have mentioned, had by some accident discovered the
nature of the misfortune which had befallen their officer, and had
already made urgent application to the Admiralty for his release.
The Old Bailey sessions did not come on for some time: I, however, took
care to secure at once, as I did not myself practice in that court, the
highest talent which its bar afforded. Willy, who had been placed in a
workhouse by the authorities, we had properly taken care of till he could
be restored to his mother; or, in the event of her conviction, to his
relatives in Devonshire.
The sessions were at last on: a "true bill" against Esther Mason for
shoplifting, as it was popularly termed, was unhesitatingly found, and
with a heavy heart I wended my way to the court to watch the proceedings.
A few minutes after I entered, Mr. Justice Le Blanc and Mr. Baron Wood,
who had assisted at an important case of stockjobbing conspiracy, just
over, left the bench: the learned recorder being doubtless considered
quite equal to the trial of a mere capital charge of theft.
The prisoner was placed in the dock; but try as I might, I could not
look at her. It happened to be a calm bright summer day; the air, as if
in mockery of those death-sessions, humming with busy, lusty life; so
that, sitting with my back to the prisoner, I could, as it were, read
her demeanor in the shadow thrown by her figure on the opposite
sun-lighted wall. There she stood, during the brief moments which sealed
her earthly doom, with downcast eyes and utterly dejected posture; her
thin fingers playing mechanically with the flowers and sweet-scented
herbs spread scantily before her. The trial was very brief: the
evidence, emphatically conclusive, was confidently given, and vainly
cross-examined. Nothing remained but an elaborate _ad misericordiam_
excusative defence, which had been prepared by me, and which the
prisoner begged her counsel might be allowed to read. This was of course
refused; the recorder remarking, they might as well allow counsel for
felons to _address_ juries, as read defences; and _that_, as every
practical man knew, would be utterly subversive of the due
administration of justice. The clerk of the court would read the paper,
if the prisoner felt too agitated to do so. This was done; and very
vilely done. The clerk, I dare say, read as well as he was able; but
old, near-sighted, and possessed of anything but a clear enunciation,
what could be expected? The defence, so read, produced not the slightest
effect either on the court or jury. The recorder briefly commented on
the conclusiveness of the evidence for the prosecution; and the jury, in
the same brief, business-like manner, returned a verdict of Guilty.
"What have you to say," demanded the clerk, "why sentence of death should
not be pronounced upon you, according to law?"
The shadow started convulsively as the terrible words fell from the man's
lips; and I saw that the suddenly-upraised eyes of the prisoner were
fastened on the face of the fearful questioner. The lips, too, appeared
to move; but no sound reached my ears.
"Speak, woman," said the recorder; "if you have anything to urge before
sentence is pronounced."
I started up, and turning to the prisoner, besought her in hurried
accents to speak. "Remind them of the infant at your breast--your
"Who is that conferring with the prisoner?" demanded the judge in an
I turned, and confronted him with a look as cold and haughty as his
own. He did not think proper to pursue the inquiry further; and after
muttering something about the necessity of not interrupting the
proceedings of the court, again asked the prisoner if she had
anything to urge.
"Not for myself--not for my sake," at last faintly murmured the
trembling woman; "but for that of my poor dear infant--my poor witless
boy! I do not think, sir, I was in my right mind. I was starving. I was
friendless. My husband, too, whom you have heard"--She stopped abruptly;
a choking sob struggled in her throat; and but for the supporting arm of
one of the turnkeys, she would have fallen to the ground.
"Unhappy, guilty woman," said the recorder, with the coolness of a demon,
"the plea of insanity you would set up is utterly untenable. Your
husband, it seems, is serving his majesty in the royal navy; defending
his country, whilst his wife was breaking its laws, by the commission of
a crime which, but for the stern repression of the law, would sap the
foundations of the security of property, and"--
I could endure no more. The atmosphere of the court seemed to stifle me;
and I rushed for relief into the open air. Before, however, I had reached
the street, a long, piercing scream informed me that the learned judge
_had done his duty_.
No effort was spared during the interval which elapsed previous to the
recorder presenting his report to the privy-counsel--a peculiar
privilege at that time attached to the office--to procure a mitigation
of the sentence. A petition, setting forth the peculiar circumstances
of the case, was carefully prepared; and by the indefatigable exertions
of an excellent Quaker gentleman--whom, as he is still alive, and might
not choose to have his name blazoned to the world, I will call William
Friend--was soon very numerously signed. The prosecutor, however,
obstinately refused to attach his name to the document; and the absence
of his signature--so strangely did men reason on such matters in those
days--would, it was feared, weigh heavily against the success of the
petition. The amiable and enlightened Sir Samuel Romilly not only
attached his name, but aided us zealously by his advice and influence.
In short, nothing was omitted that appeared likely to attain the
Two days before the petition was to be forwarded to the proper quarter,
Henry Mason arrived in England, the exertions of his employers having
procured his discharge. The "Active" was one of Captain Hoste's squadron,
which obtained the celebrated victory off Lissa, over the Franco-Venetian
fleet commanded by Admiral Dobourdieu. Henry Mason, it appeared by the
testimonials of the captain and officers of his ship, had greatly
distinguished himself in the action. We inclosed these papers with the
petition; and then, having done all in our power, awaited with anxious
impatience the result of the recorder's report. It was announced to me,
as I was sitting somewhat later than usual at chambers, by Mr. William
Friend. The judgment to die was confirmed! All our representations had
not sufficed to counterbalance the supposed necessity of exhibiting
terrible examples of the fate awaiting the perpetrators of an offence
said to be greatly on the increase. Excellent William Friend wept like a
child as he made the announcement.
There are many persons alive who recollect this horrible tragedy--this
national disgrace--this act of gross barbarity on the part of the great
personage, who, first having carried off the poor woman's husband, left
her to die for an act the very consequence of that robbery. Who among the
spectators can ever forget that heart-rending scene--the hangman taking
the baby from the breast of the wretched creature just before he put her
to death! But let us not rake up these terrible reminiscences. Let us
hope that the _truly guilty_ are forgiven. And let us take consolation
from reflecting that this event led the great Romilly to enter on his
celebrated career as a reformer of the criminal law.
The remains of Esther Mason were obtained from the Newgate officials,
and quietly interred in St. Sepulchre's church-yard. A plain slab, with
her name only plainly chiselled upon it, was some time afterwards placed
above the grave. A few years ago I attended a funeral in the same
grave-yard; and after a slight search, discovered the spot. The
inscription, though of course much worn, was still quite legible.
I had not seen Henry Mason since his return; but I was glad to hear from
Mr. William Friend that, after the first passionate burst of rage and
grief had subsided, he had, apparently at least, thanks to the tender and
pious expostulations of his wife--with whom, by the kind intervention of
the sheriffs, he was permitted long and frequent interviews--settled down
into calmness and resignation. One thing only he would not bear to hear
even from her, and that was any admission that she had been guilty of,
even the slightest offence. A hint of the kind, however unintentional,
would throw him into a paroxysm of fury; and the subject was consequently
in his presence studiously avoided.
A few days after the execution, Mr. William Friend called on me just
after breakfast, accompanied by the bereaved husband. I never saw so
changed a man. All the warm kindliness of his nature had vanished, and
was replaced by a gloomy fierce austerity, altogether painful to
"Well, sir," said he, as he barely touched my proffered hand, "they have
killed her, you see, spite of all you could say or do. It much availed
me, too, that I had helped to win their boasted victories;" and he
laughed with savage bitterness.
"Henry--Henry!" exclaimed William Friend, in a reproving accent.
"Well, well, sir," rejoined Mason, impatiently, "you are a good man, and
have of course your own notions on these matters; I also have mine. Or,
perhaps, you think it is only the blood of the rich and great which, shed
unjustly, brings forth the iron harvest? Forgive me," he added, checking
himself. "I respect you both; but my heart is turned to stone. You do not
know--none ever knew but I--how kind, how loving, how gentle was that
poor long-suffering girl."
He turned from us to hide the terrible agony which convulsed him.
"Henry," said Mr. Friend, taking him kindly by the hand, "we pity thee
sincerely, as thou knowest; but thy bitter, revengeful expressions are
unchristian, sinful. The authorities whom thou, not for the first time,
railest on so wildly, acted, be sure of it, from a sense of duty; a
mistaken one, in my opinion, doubtless; still"--
"Say no more, sir," interrupted Mason. "We differ in opinion upon the
subject. And now, gentlemen, farewell. I wished to see you, sir, before I
left this country forever, to thank you for your kind, though fruitless
exertions. Mr. Friend has promised to be steward for poor Willy of all I
can remit for his use. Farewell! God bless you both!" He was gone!
War soon afterwards broke out with the United States of America, and Mr.
Friend discovered that one of the most active and daring officers in the
Republican navy was Henry Mason, who had entered the American service in
the maiden name of his wife; and that the large sums he had remitted from
time to time for the use of Willy, were the produce of his successful
depredations on British commerce. The instant Mr. Friend made the
discovery, he refused to pollute his hands with moneys so obtained, and
declined all further agency in the matter. Mason, however, contrived to
remit through some other channel to the Davies's, with whom the boy had
been placed; and a rapid improvement in their circumstances was soon
visible. These remittances ceased about the middle of 1814; and a
twelvemonth after the peace with America, we ascertained that Henry Mason
had been killed in the battle on Lake Champlain, where he had
distinguished himself, as everywhere else, by the reckless daring and
furious hate with which he fought against the country which, in his
unreasoning frenzy, he accused of the murder of his wife. He was
recognized by one of his former messmates in the "Active;" who, conveyed
a prisoner on board the American commander Macdonough's ship, recognized
him as he lay stretched on the deck, in the uniform of an American naval
officer; his countenance, even in death, wearing the same stormful
defiant expression which it assumed on the day that his beloved Esther
perished on the scaffold.
THE MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT
"It is really time that a properly-qualified governess had charge of
those girls," observed my wife, as Mary and Kate after a more than
usually boisterous romp with their papa, left the room for bed. I may
here remark, _inter alia_, that I once surprised a dignified and
highly-distinguished judge at a game of blindman's buff with his
children, and very heartily he appeared to enjoy it too. "It is really
time that a properly-qualified governess had charge of those girls. Susan
May did very well as a nursery teacher, but they are now far beyond her
control. _I_ cannot attend to their education, and as for you"--The
sentence was concluded by a shrug of the shoulders and a toss of the
head, eloquently expressive of the degree of estimation in which _my_
governing powers were held.
"Time enough, surely, for that," I exclaimed, as soon as I had composed
myself; for I was a little out of breath. "They may, I think, rub along
with Susan for another year or two, Mary is but seven years of age"--
"Eight years, if you please. She was eight years old last Thursday
"Eight years! Then we must have been married nine; Bless me, how the time
has flown: it seems scarcely so many weeks!"
"Nonsense," rejoined my wife with a sharpness of tone and a rigidity of
facial muscle which, considering the handsome compliment I had just paid
her, argued, I was afraid, a foregone conclusion. "You always have
recourse to some folly of that sort whenever I am desirous of entering
into a serious consultation on family affairs."
There was some truth in this, I confess. The "consultations" which I
found profitable were not serious ones with my wife upon domestic
matters; leading, as they invariably did, to a diminution instead of an
increase of the little balance at the banker's. If such a proposition
could therefore be evaded or adjourned by even an extravagant compliment,
I considered it well laid out. But the expedient, I found, was one which
did not improve by use. For some time after marriage it answered
remarkably well; but each succeeding year of wedded bliss marked its
"Well, well; go on."
"I say it is absolutely necessary that a first-rate governess should be
at once engaged. Lady Maldon has been here to-day, and she"--
"Oh, I thought it might be her new ladyship's suggestion. I wish the
'fountain of honor' was somewhat charier of its knights and ladies, and
"What, for mercy's sake, are you running on about?" interrupted the lady
with peremptory emphasis. "Fountains of honor, forsooth! One would
suppose, to hear you talk in that wild, nonsensical way, that you were
addressing a bench of judges sitting in _banco_, instead of a sensible
person solicitous for her and your children's welfare."
"Bless the woman," thought I; "what an exalted idea she appears to have
of forensic eloquence! Proceed, my love," I continued; "there is a
difference certainly; and I am all attention."
"Lady Maldon knows a young lady--a distant relative, in deed, of
hers--whom she is anxious to serve"--
"At our expense."
"How can you be so ungenerous? Edith Willoughby is the orphan daughter of
the late Reverend Mr. Willoughby, curate of Heavy Tree in Warwickshire, I
believe; and was specially educated for a first-class governess and
teacher. She speaks French with the true Parisian accent, and her
Italian, Lady Maldon assures me, is pure Tuscan"--
"She dances with grace and elegance; plays the harp and piano with skill
and taste; is a thorough _artiste_ in drawing and painting; and is,
moreover, very handsome--though beauty, I admit, is an attribute which in
a governess might be very well dispensed with."
"True; unless, indeed, it were catching."
I need not prolong this connubial dialogue. It is sufficient to state
that Edith Willoughby was duly installed in office on the following day;
and that, much to my surprise, I found that her qualifications for the
charge she had undertaken were scarcely overcolored. She was a
well-educated, elegant, and beautiful girl, of refined and fascinating
manners, and possessed of one of the sweetest, gentlest dispositions that
ever charmed and graced the family and social circle. She was, I often
thought, for her own chance of happiness, too ductile, too readily
yielding to the wishes and fancies of others. In a very short time I came
to regard her as a daughter, and with my wife and children she was
speedily a prodigious favorite. Mary and Kate improved rapidly under her
judicious tuition, and I felt for once positively grateful to busy Lady
Maldon for her officious interference in my domestic arrangements.
Edith Willoughby had been domiciled with us about two years, when Mr.
Harlowe, a gentleman of good descent and fine property, had occasion to
call several times at my private residence on business relating to the
purchase of a house in South Audley Street, the title to which exhibited
by the venders was not of the most satisfactory kind. On one occasion he
stayed to dine with us, and I noticed that he seemed much struck by the
appearance of our beautiful and accomplished governess. His evident
emotion startled and pained me in a much higher degree than I could have
easily accounted for even to myself. Mr. Harlowe was a widower, past his
first youth certainly, but scarcely more than two or three-and-thirty
years of age, wealthy, not ill-looking, and, as far as I knew, of average
character in society. Surely an excellent match, if it should come to
that, for an orphan girl rich only in fine talents and gentle affections.
But I could not think so. I disliked the man--_instinctively_ disliked
and distrusted him; for I could assign no very positive motive for my
"The reason why, I cannot tell,
But I don't like thee, Dr. Fell."
These lines indicate an unconquerable feeling which most persons have, I
presume, experienced; and which frequently, I think, results from a kind
of cumulative evidence of uncongeniality or unworthiness, made up of a
number of slight indices of character, which, separately, may appear of
little moment, but altogether, produce a strong, if undefinable, feeling
of aversion. Mr. Harlowe's manners were bland, polished, and insinuating;
his conversation was sparkling and instructive; but a cold sneer seemed
to play habitually about his lips, and at times there glanced forth a
concentrated, polished ferocity--so to speak--from his eyes, revealing
hard and stony depths, which I shuddered to think a being so pure and
gentle as Edith might be doomed to sound and fathom. That he was a man of
strong passions and determination of will, was testified by every curve
of his square, massive head, and every line of his full countenance.
My aversion--reasonable or otherwise, as it might be--was not shared by
Miss Willoughby; and it was soon apparent that, fascinated, intoxicated
by her extreme beauty (the man was, I felt, incapable of love in its
high, generous, and spiritual sense), Mr. Harlowe had determined on
offering his hand and fortune to the unportioned orphan. He did so, and
was accepted. I did not conceal my dislike of her suitor from Edith; and
my wife--who, with feminine exaggeration of the hints I threw out, had
set him down as a kind of polished human tiger--with tears intreated her
to avoid the glittering snare. We of course had neither right nor power
to push our opposition beyond friendly warning and advice; and when we
found, thanks to Lady Maldon, who was vehemently in favor of the
match--to, in Edith's position, the dazzling temptation of a splendid
establishment, and to Mr. Harlowe's eloquent and impassioned
pleadings--that the rich man's offer was irrevocably accepted, we of
course forebore from continuing a useless and irritating resistance. Lady
Maldon had several times very plainly intimated that our aversion to the
marriage arose solely from a selfish desire of retaining the services of
her charming relative; so prone are the mean and selfish to impute
meanness and selfishness to others.
I might, however, I reflected, be of service to Miss Willoughby, by
securing for her such a marriage settlement as would place her beyond the
reach of one possible consequence of caprice and change. I spoke to Mr.
Harlowe on the subject; and he, under the influence of headstrong, eager
passion, gave me, as I expected, _carte blanche_. I availed myself of the
license so readily afforded: a deed of settlement was drawn up, signed,
sealed, and attested in duplicate the day before the wedding; and Edith
Willoughby, as far as wealth and position in society were concerned, had
undoubtedly made a surprisingly good bargain.
It happened that just as Lady Maldon, Edith Willoughby, and Mr. Harlowe
were leaving my chambers after the execution of the deed, Mr. Ferret the
attorney appeared on the stairs. His hands were full of papers, and he
was, as usual, in hot haste; but he stopped abruptly as his eye fell upon
the departing visitors, looked with startled earnestness at Miss
Willoughby, whom he knew, and then glanced at Mr. Harlowe with an
expression of angry surprise. That gentleman, who did not appear to
recognize the new-comer, returned his look with a supercilious,
contemptuous stare, and passed on with Edith--who had courteously saluted
the inattentive Mr. Ferret--followed by Lady Maldon.
"What is the meaning of that ominous conjunction?" demanded Mr. Ferret as
the affianced pair disappeared together.
"Marriage, Mr. Ferret! Do you know any just cause or impediment why they
should not be joined together in holy wedlock?"
"The fellow's wife is dead then?"
"Yes; she died about a twelvemonth ago. Did you know her?"
"Not personally; by reputation only. A country attorney, Richards of
Braintree, for whom I transact London business sent me the draught of a
deed of separation--to which the unfortunate lady, rather than continue
to live with her husband, had consented--for counsel's opinion. I had an
interview with Mr. Harlowe himself upon the business; but I see he
affects to have forgotten me. I do not know much of the merits of the
case, but according to Richards--no great shakes of a fellow, between
ourselves--the former Mrs. Harlowe was a martyr to her husband's
calculated virulence and legal--at least not _illegal_, a great
distinction, in my opinion, though not so set down in the
books--despotism. He espoused her for her wealth: that secured, he was
desirous of ridding himself of the incumbrance to it. A common case!--and
now, if you please, to business."
I excused myself, as did my wife, from being present at the wedding; but
everything, I afterwards heard, passed off with great _eclat_. The
bridegroom was all fervor and obsequiousness; the bride all bashfulness
and beauty. The "happy pair," I saw by the afternoon newspapers, were to
pass the honeymoon at Mr. Harlowe's seat, Fairdown Park. The evening of
the marriage-day was anything, I remember, but a pleasant one to me. I
reached home by no means hilariously disposed, where I was greeted, by
way of revival, with the intelligence that my wife, after listening with
great energy to Lady Maldon's description of the wedding festivities for
two tremendous hours, had at last been relieved by copious hysteria, and
that Mary and Kate were in a fair way--if the exploit could be
accomplished by perseverance--of crying themselves to sleep. These were
our bridal compliments; much more flattering, I imagine, if not quite so
honey-accented, as the courtly phrases with which the votaries and the
victims of Hymen are alike usually greeted.
Time, business, worldly hopes and cares, the triumphs and defeats of an
exciting profession, gradually weakened the impression made upon me by
the gentle virtues of Edith Willoughby; and when, about fifteen months
after the wedding, my wife informed me that she had been accosted by Mrs.
Harlowe at a shop in Bond Street, my first feeling was one of surprise,
not untinged with resentment, for what I deemed her ungrateful neglect.
"She recognized you then?" I remarked.
"Recognized me! What do you mean?"
"I thought perhaps she might have forgotten your features, as she
evidently has our address."
"If you had seen," replied my wife, "how pale, how cold, how utterly
desolate she looked, you would think less hardly of her. As soon as she
observed me, a slight scream escaped her; and then she glanced eagerly
and tremblingly around like a startled fawn. Her husband had passed out
of the shop to give, I think, some direction to the coachman. She
tottered towards me, and clasping me in her arms, burst into a passion of
tears. "Oh, why--why," I asked as soon as I could speak, "why have you
not written to us?" "I dared not!" she gasped. "But oh tell me, do
you--does your husband remember me with kindness? Can I still reckon on
his protection--his support?" I assured her you would receive her as your
own child: the whispered words had barely passed my lips, when Mr.
Harlowe, who had swiftly approached us unperceived, said, "Madam, the
carriage waits." His stern, pitiless eye glanced from his wife to me, and
stiffly bowing, he said, "Excuse me for interrupting your conversation;
but time presses. Good-day." A minute afterwards, the carriage drove
I was greatly shocked at this confirmation of my worst fears; and I
meditated with intense bitterness on the fate of a being of such meek
tenderness exposed to the heartless brutalities of a sated sensualist
like Harlowe. But what could be done? She had chosen, deliberately,
and after warning, chosen her lot, and must accept the consequences of
her choice. In all the strong statutes, and sharp biting laws of
England, there can be found no clause wherewith to shield a woman from
the "regulated" meanness and despotism of an unprincipled husband.
Resignation is the sole remedy, and therein the patient must minister
On the morning of the Sunday following Edith's brief interview with my
wife, and just as we were about to leave the house to attend divine
service, a cab drove furiously up to the door, and a violent summons by
both knocker and bell announced the arrival of some strangely-impatient
visitor. I stepped out upon the drawing-room landing, and looked over the
banister rail, curious to ascertain who had honored me with so peremptory
a call. The door was quickly opened, and in ran, or rather staggered,
Mrs. Harlowe, with a child in long clothes in her arms.
"Shut--shut the door!" she faintly exclaimed, as she sank on one of the
hall seats. "Pray shut the door--I am pursued!"
I hastened down, and was just in time to save her from falling on the
floor. She had fainted. I had her carried up stairs, and by the aid of
proper restoratives, she gradually recovered consciousness. The child, a
girl about four months old, was seized upon by Mary and Kate, and carried
off in triumph to the nursery. Sadly changed, indeed, as by the sickness
of the soul, was poor Edith. The radiant flush of youth and hope
rendering her sweet face eloquent of joy and pride, was replaced by the
cold, sad hues of wounded affections and proud despair. I could read in
her countenance, as in a book, the sad record of long months of wearing
sorrow, vain regrets, and bitter self-reproach. Her person, too, had lost
its rounded, airy, graceful outline, and had become thin and angular.
Her voice, albeit, was musical and gentle as ever, as she murmured, on
recovering her senses, "You will protect me from my--from that man?" As I
warmly pressed her hand, in emphatic assurance that I would shield her
against all comers, another loud summons was heard at the door. A minute
afterwards, a servant entered, and announced that Mr. Harlowe waited for
me below. I directed he should be shown into the library; and after
iterating my assurance to Edith that she was quite safe from violence
beneath my roof, and that I would presently return to hear her
explanation of the affair, I went down stairs.
Mr. Harlowe, as I entered, was pacing rapidly up and down the apartment.
He turned to face me; and I thought he looked even more perturbed and
anxious than vengeful and angry. He, however, as I coldly bowed, and
demanded his business with me, instantly assumed a bullying air and tone.
"Mrs. Harlowe is here: she has surreptitiously left South Audley Street
in a hired cab, and I have traced her to this house."
"Well! I trust it is well; and I insist that she instantly return to
I used the word with an expression significative only of my sense of the
sort of "home" he had provided for the gentle girl he had sworn to love
and cherish; but the random shaft found a joint in his armor at which it
was not aimed. He visibly trembled, and turned pale.
"She has had time to tell you all then! But be assured, sir, that nothing
she has heard or been told, however true it may be--_may_ be, remember,
I say--can be legally substantiated except by myself."
What could the man mean? I was fairly puzzled: but, professionally
accustomed to conceal emotions of surprise and bewilderment, I coldly
replied--"I have left the lady who has sought the protection of her true
'home,' merely to ascertain the reason of this visit."
"The reason of my visit!" he exclaimed with renewed fury: "to reconvey
her to South Audley Street. What else? If you refuse to give her up, I
shall apply to the police."
I smiled, and approached the bell.
"You will not surrender her then?"
"To judicial process only: of that be assured. I have little doubt that,
when I am placed in full possession of all the facts of the case, I shall
be quite able to justify my conduct." He did not reply, and I continued:
"If you choose to wait here till I have heard Edith's statement, I will
at once frankly acquaint you with my final determination."
"Be it so: and please to recollect, sir, that you have to deal with a man
not easily baffled or entrapped by legal subtlety or cunning."
I reascended to the drawing-room; and finding Edith--thanks to the
ministrations, medicinal and oral, of my bustling and indignant
lady--much calmer, and thoroughly satisfied that nobody could or should
wrest her from us, begged her to relate unreservedly the cause or causes
which had led to her present position. She falteringly complied; and I
listened with throbbing pulse and burning cheeks to the sad story of her
wedded wretchedness, dating from within two or three months of the
marriage; and finally consummated by a disclosure that, if provable,
might consign Harlowe to the hulks. The tears, the agony, the despair of
the unhappy lady, excited in me a savageness of feeling, an eager thirst
for vengeance, which I had believed foreign to my nature. Edith divined
my thoughts, and taking my hand, said, "Never, sir, never will I appear
against him: the father of my little Helen shall never be publicly
accused by me."
"You err, Edith," I rejoined; "it is a positive duty to bring so
consummate a villain to justice. He has evidently calculated on your
gentleness of disposition, and must be disappointed."
I soon, however, found it was impossible to shake her resolution on
this point; and I returned with a heart full of grief and bitterness to
"You will oblige me, sir," I exclaimed as I entered the room, "by
leaving this house immediately: I would hold no further converse with so
vile a person."
"How! Do you know to whom you presume to speak in this manner?"
"Perfectly. You are one Harlowe, who, after a few months' residence with
a beautiful and amiable girl, had extinguished the passion which induced
him to offer her marriage, showered on her every species of insult and
indignity of which a cowardly and malignant nature is capable; and who,
finding that did not kill her, at length consummated, or revealed, I do
not yet know which term is most applicable, his utter baseness by causing
her to be informed that his first wife was still living."
"Upon my honor, sir, I believed, when I married Miss Willoughby, that I
was a widower."
"Your _honor!_ But except to prove that I _do_ thoroughly know and
appreciate the person I am addressing, I will not bandy words with you.
After that terrible disclosure--if, indeed, it be a disclosure, not an
invention--Ah, you start at that"
"At your insolence, sir; not at your senseless surmises."
"Time and the law will show. After, I repeat, this terrible disclosure or
invention, you, not content with obtaining from your victim's generosity
a positive promise that she would not send you to the hulks"--
"Sir, have a care."
"Pooh! I say, not content with exacting this promise from your victim,
you, with your wife, or accomplice, threatened not only to take her child
from her, but to lock her up in a madhouse, unless she subscribed a
paper, confessing that she knew, when you espoused her, that you were a
married man. Now, sir, do I, or do I not, thoroughly know who and what
the man is I am addressing?"
"Sir," returned Harlowe, recovering his audacity somewhat. "Spite of all
your hectoring and abuse, I defy you to obtain proof--legal
proof--whether what Edith has heard is true or false. The affair may
perhaps be arranged; let her return with me."
"You know she would die first; but it is quite useless to prolong this
conversation; and I again request you to leave this house."
"If Miss Willoughby would accept an allowance"--
The cool audacity of this proposal to make me an instrument in
compromising a felony exasperated me beyond all bounds. I rang the bell
violently, and desired the servant who answered it to show Mr. Harlowe
out of the house. Finding further persistence useless, the baffled
villain snatched up his hat, and with a look and gesture of rage and
contempt, hurried out of the apartment.
The profession of a barrister necessarily begets habits of coolness and
reflection under the most exciting circumstances; but, I confess, that in
this instance my ordinary equanimity was so much disturbed, that it was
some time before I could command sufficient composure to reason calmly
upon the strange revelations made to me by Edith, and the nature of the
measures necessary to adopt in order to clear up the mystery attaching to
them. She persisted in her refusal to have recourse to legal measures
with a view to the punishment of Harlowe; and I finally determined--after
a conference with Mr. Ferret, who, having acted for the first Mrs.
Harlowe, I naturally conjectured must know something of her history and
connections--to take for the present no ostensible steps in the matter.
Mr. Ferret, like myself, was persuaded that the sham resuscitation of his
first wife was a mere trick, to enable Harlowe to rid himself of the
presence of a woman he no longer cared for. "I will take an opportunity,"
said Mr. Ferret, "of quietly questioning Richards: he must have known the
first wife; Eleanor Wickham, I remember, was her maiden name; and if not
bought over by Harlowe--a by-no-means impossible purchase--can set us
right at once. I did not understand that the said Eleanor was at all
celebrated for beauty and accomplishments, such as you say Miss
Willoughby--Mrs. Harlowe, I mean--describes. She was a native of
Dorsetshire too, I remember; and the foreign Italian accent you mention,
is rarely, I fancy, picked up in that charming county. Some flashy
opera-dancer, depend upon it, whom he has contracted a passing fancy for:
a slippery gentleman certainly; but, with a little caution, we shall not
fail to trip his heels up, clever as he may be."
A stronger wrestler than either of us was upon the track of the unhappy
man. Edith had not been with us above three weeks, when one of Mr.
Harlowe's servants called at my chambers to say that his master, in
consequence of a wound he had inflicted on his foot with an axe, whilst
amusing himself with cutting or pruning some trees in the grounds at
Fairdown, was seriously ill, and had expressed a wish to see me. I
could not leave town; but as it was important Mr. Harlowe should be
seen, I requested Mr. Ferret to proceed to Fairdown House. He did so,
and late in the evening returned with the startling intelligence that
Mr. Harlowe was dead!
"Dead!" I exclaimed, much shocked. "Are you serious?" "As a judge. He
expired, about an hour after I reached the house, of tetanus, commonly
called locked-jaw. His body, by the contraction of the muscles, was bent
like a bow, and rested on his heels and the back part of his head. He was
incapable of speech long before I saw him; but there was a world of
agonized expression in his eyes!"
"Dreadful! Your journey was useless then?"
"Not precisely. I saw the pretended former wife: a splendid woman, and as
much Eleanor Wickham of Dorsetshire as I am. They mean, however, to show
fight, I think; for, as I left the place, I observed that delightful
knave Richards enter the house. I took the liberty of placing seals upon
the desks and cabinets, and directed the butler and other servants to see
that nothing was disturbed or removed till Mrs. Harlowe's--the true Mrs.
The funeral was to take place on the following Wednesday; and it was
finally arranged that both of us would accompany Edith to Fairdown on the
day after it had taken place, and adopt such measures as circumstances
might render necessary. Mr. Ferret wrote to this effect to all parties
On arriving at the house, I, Ferret, and Mrs. Harlowe, proceeded at once
to the drawing-room, where we found the pretended wife seated in great
state, supported on one side by Mr. Richards, and on the other by Mr.
Quillet the eminent proctor. Edith was dreadfully agitated, and clung
frightened and trembling to my arm. I conducted her to a seat, and placed
myself beside her, leaving Mr. Ferret--whom so tremendous an array of law
and learning, evincing a determination to fight the matter out _a
l'outrance_, filled with exuberant glee--to open the conference.
"Good-morning, madam," cried he, the moment he entered the room, and
quite unaffected by the lady's scornful and haughty stare: "good-morning;
I am delighted to see you in such excellent company. You do not, I hope,
forget that I once had the honor of transacting business for you?"
"You had transactions of my business!" said the lady, "When, I pray you?"
"God bless me!" cried Ferret, addressing Richards, "what a charming
Italian accent; and out of Dorsetshire too!"
"Dorsetshire, sir?" exclaimed the lady.
"Ay, Dorsetshire, to be sure. Why, Mr. Richards, our respected client
appears to have forgotten her place of birth! How very extraordinary!"
Mr. Richards now interfered, to say that Mr. Ferret was apparently
laboring under a strange misapprehension. "This lady," continued he, "is
Madame Giulletta Corelli."
"Whe--e--e--w!" rejoined Ferret, thrown for an instant off his balance by
the suddenness of the confession, and perhaps a little disappointed at so
placable a termination of the dispute--"Giulletta Corelli! What is the
meaning of this array then?"
"I am glad, madam," said I, interposing for the first time in the
conversation, "for your own sake, that you have been advised not to
persist in the senseless as well as iniquitous scheme devised by the late
Mr. Harlowe; but this being the case, I am greatly at a loss to know why
either you or these legal gentlemen are here?"
The brilliant eyes of the Italian flashed with triumphant scorn, and a
smile of contemptuous irony curled her beautiful lip as she
replied--"These legal gentlemen will not have much difficulty in
explaining my right to remain in my own house."
"Precisely, sir," replied Mr. Quillet. "This mansion, together with all
other property, real and personal, of which the deceased Henry Harlowe
died possessed, is bequeathed by will--dated about a month since--to this
lady, Giulletta Corelli."
"A will!" exclaimed Mr. Ferret with an explosive shout, and turning to
me, whilst his sharp gray eyes danced with irrepressible mirth--"Did I
not tell you so?"
"Your usual sagacity, Mr. Ferret, has not in this instance failed you.
Perhaps you will permit me to read the will? But before I do so,"
continued Mr. Quillet, as he drew his gold-rimmed spectacles from their
morocco sheath--"you will allow me, if you please, to state that the
legatee, delicately appreciating the position of the widow, will allow
her any reasonable annuity--say five hundred pounds per annum for life."
"Will she really though?" cried Mr. Ferret, boiling over with ecstacy.
"Madam, let me beg of you to confirm this gracious promise."
"Certainly I do."
"Capital!--glorious!" rejoined Ferret; and I thought he was about to
perform a salutatory movement, that must have brought his cranium into
damaging contact with the chandelier under which he was standing. "Is
it not delightful? How every one--especially an attorney--loves a
Mr. Richards appeared to be rendered somewhat uneasy by these strange
demonstrations. He knew Ferret well, and evidently suspected that
something was wrong somewhere. "Perhaps, Mr. Quillet," said he, "you had
better read the will at once."
This was done: the instrument devised in legal and minute form all the
property, real and personal, to Giulletta Corelli--a natural-born subject
of his majesty, it appeared, though of foreign parentage, and of
partially foreign education.
"Allow me to say," broke in Mr. Ferret, interrupting me as I was about to
speak--"allow me to say, Mr. Richards, that that will does you credit: it
is, I should say, a first-rate affair, for a country practitioner
especially. But of course you submitted the draught to counsel?"
"Certainly I did," said Richards tartly.
"No doubt--no doubt. Clearness and precision like that could only have
proceeded from a master's hand. I shall take a copy of that will,
Richards, for future guidance, you may depend, the instant it is
registered in Doctors' Commons."
"Come, come, Mr. Ferret," said I; "this jesting is all very well; but it
is quite time the farce should end."
"Farce!" exclaimed Mr. Richards.
"Farce!" growled doubtful Mr. Quillet.
"Farce!" murmured the beautiful Giulletta.
"Farce!" cried Mr. Ferret. "My dear sir, it is about one of the most
charming and genteel comedies ever enacted on any stage, and the
principal part, too, by one of the most charming of prima donnas. Allow
me, sir--don't interrupt me! it is too delicious to be shared; it is,
indeed. Mr. Richards, and you, Mr. Quillet, will you permit me to observe
that this admirable will has _one_ slight defect?"
"It is really heart-breaking that so much skill and ingenuity should be
thrown away; but the fact is, gentlemen, that the excellent person who
signed it had no property to bequeath!"
"Not a shilling's worth. Allow me, sir, if you please. This piece of
parchment, gentlemen, is, I have the pleasure to inform you, a marriage
"A marriage settlement!" exclaimed both the men of law in a breath.
"A marriage settlement, by which, in the event of Mr. Harlowe's decease,
his entire property passes to his wife, in trust for the children, if
any; and if not, absolutely to herself." Ferret threw the deed on the
table, and then giving way to convulsive mirth, threw himself upon the
sofa, and fairly shouted with glee.
Mr. Quillet seized the document, and, with Richards, eagerly perused it.
The proctor then rose, and bowing gravely to his astonished client, said,
"The will, madam, is waste paper. You have been deceived." He then left
The consternation of the lady and her attorney may be conceived. Madam
Corelli, giving way to her fiery passions, vented her disappointment in
passionate reproaches of the deceased; the only effect of which was to
lay bare still more clearly than before her own cupidity and folly, and
to increase Edith's painful agitation. I led her down stairs to my wife,
who, I omitted to mention, had accompanied us from town, and remained in
the library with the children during our conference. In a very short
time afterwards Mr. Ferret had cleared the house of its intrusive guests,
and we had leisure to offer our condolences and congratulations to our
grateful and interesting client. It was long before Edith recovered her
former gaiety and health; and I doubt if she would ever have thoroughly
regained her old cheerfulness and elasticity of mind, had it not been for
her labor of love in superintending and directing the education of her
daughter Helen, a charming girl, who fortunately inherited nothing from
her father but his wealth. The last time I remember to have danced was at
Helen's wedding. She married a distinguished Irish gentleman, with whom,
and her mother, I perceive by the newspapers, she appeared at Queen
Victoria's court in Dublin, one, I am sure, of the brightest stars which
glittered in that galaxy of beauty and fashion.
THE SECOND MARRIAGE.
A busy day in the assize court at Chester, chequered, as usual, by
alternate victory and defeat, had just terminated, and I was walking
briskly forth, when an attorney of rather low _caste_ in his
profession--being principally employed as an intermediary between needy
felons and the counsel practising in the Crown Court--accosted me, and
presented a brief; at the same time tendering the fee of two guineas
marked upon it.
"I am engaged to-morrow, Mr. Barnes," I exclaimed a little testily, "on
the civil side: besides, you know I very seldom take briefs in the Crown
Court, even if proffered in due time; and to-morrow will be the last day
of the assize in Chester! There are plenty of unemployed counsel who will
be glad of your brief."
"It is a brief in an action of ejectment," replied the attorney--"Woodley
_versus_ Thorndyke; and is brought to recover possession of a freehold
estate now held and farmed by the defendant."
"An action of ejectment to recover possession of a freehold estate!
defended, too, I know, by a powerful bar; for I was offered a brief, but
declined it. Mr. P ---- leads; and you bring me this for the plaintiff,
and at the last moment too! You must be crazed."
"I told the plaintiff and her grandfather," rejoined Mr. Barnes, "that it
was too late to bespeak counsel's attention to the case; and that the
fee, all they have, with much difficulty, been able to raise, was
ridiculously small; but they insisted on my applying to you--Oh, here
We had by this time reached the street, and the attorney pointed towards
two figures standing in attitudes of anxious suspense near the gateway.
It was dusk, but there was quite sufficient light to distinguish the pale
and interesting features of a young female, dressed in faded and scanty
mourning, and accompanied by a respectable-looking old man with white
hair, and a countenance deeply furrowed by age and grief.
"I told you, Miss Woodley," said the attorney, "that this gentleman would
decline the brief, especially with such a fee"--
"It is not the fee, man!" I observed, for I was somewhat moved by the
appealing dejection exhibited by the white-haired man and his timid
grand-daughter; "but what chance can I have of establishing this person's
right--if right she have--to the estate she claims, thus suddenly called
upon to act without previous consultation; and utterly ignorant, except
as far as this I perceive hastily-scrawled brief will instruct me, both
of the nature of the plaintiff's claim and of the defence intended to be
set up against it?"
"If you would undertake it, sir," said the young woman with a tremulous,
hesitating voice and glistening eyes, "for _his_ sake"--and she glanced
at her aged companion--"who will else be helpless, homeless."
"The blessing of those who are ready to perish will be yours, sir," said
the grandfather with meek solemnity, "if you will lend your aid in this
work of justice and mercy. We have no hope of withstanding the masterful
violence and wrong of wicked and powerful men except by the aid of the
law, which we have been taught will ever prove a strong tower of defence
to those who walk in the paths of peace and right."
The earnestness of the old man's language and manner, and the pleading
gentleness of the young woman, forcibly impressed me; and, albeit, it was
a somewhat unprofessional mode of business, I determined to hear their
story from their own lips, rather than take it from the scrawled brief,
or through the verbal medium of their attorney.
"You have been truly taught," I answered; "and if really entitled to the
property you claim, I know of no masterful men that in this land of
England can hinder you from obtaining possession of it. Come to my hotel
in about an hour and a-half from hence: I shall then have leisure to hear
what you have to say. This fee," I added, taking the two guineas from the
hand of the attorney, who still held the money ready for my acceptance,
"you must permit me to return. It is too much for you to pay for losing
your cause; and if I gain it--but mind I do not promise to take it into
court unless I am thoroughly satisfied you have right and equity on your
side--I shall expect a much heavier one. Mr. Barnes, I will see you, if
you please, early in the morning." I then bowed, and hastened on.
Dinner was not ready when I arrived at the hotel; and during the short
time I had to wait, I more than half repented of having had anything to
do with this unfortunate suit. However, the pleadings of charity, the
suggestions of human kindness, reasserted their influence; and by the
time my new clients arrived, which they did very punctually at the hour I
had indicated, I had quite regained the equanimity I had momentarily
lost, and, thanks to mine host's excellent viands and generous wine, was,
for a lawyer, in a very amiable and benevolent humor indeed.
Our conference was long, anxious, and unsatisfactory. I was obliged to
send for Barnes before it concluded, in order to thoroughly ascertain the
precise nature of the case intended to be set up for the defendant, and
the evidence likely to be adduced in support of it. No ray of consolation
or of hope came from that quarter. Still, the narrative I had just
listened to, bearing as it did the impress of truth and sincerity in
every sentence, strongly disposed me to believe that foul play has been
practised by the other side; and I determined, at all hazards, to go into
court, though with but faint hope indeed of a _present_ successful issue.
"It appears more than probable," I remarked on dismissing my clients,
"that this will is a fabrication; but before such a question had been put
in issue before a jury, some producible evidence of its being so should
have been sought for and obtained. As it is, I can only watch the
defendant's proof of the genuineness of the instrument upon which he has
obtained probate: one or more of the attesting witnesses _may_, if fraud
has been practised, break down under a searching cross-examination, or
incidentally perhaps disclose matter for further investigation."
"One of the attesting witnesses is, as I have already told you, dead,"
observed Barnes; "and another, Elizabeth Wareing, has, I hear, to-day
left the country. An affidavit to that effect will no doubt be made
to-morrow, in order to enable them to give secondary evidence of her
attestation, though, swear as they may, I have not the slightest doubt
I could find her if time were allowed, and her presence would at all
"Indeed! This is very important. Would you, Mr. Barnes, have any
objection," I added, after a few moments' reflection, "to make oath,
should the turn of affairs to-morrow render your doing so desirable, of
your belief that you could, reasonable time being allowed, procure the
attendance of this woman--this Elizabeth Wareing?"
"Not the slightest: though how that would help us to invalidate the will
Thorndyke claims under I do not understand."
"Perhaps not. At all events do not fail to be early in court. The cause
is the first in to-morrow's list, remember."
The story confided to me was a very sad, and, unfortunately in many of
its features, a very common one. Ellen, the only child of the old
gentleman, Thomas Ward, had early in life married Mr. James Woodley, a
wealthy yeoman, prosperously settled upon his paternal acres, which he
cultivated with great diligence and success. The issue of this
marriage--a very happy one, I was informed--was Mary Woodley, the
plaintiff in the present action. Mr. Woodley, who had now been dead
something more than two years, bequeathed the whole of his property, real
and personal, to his wife, in full confidence, as he expressed himself
but a few hours before he expired, that she would amply provide for his
and her child. The value of the property inherited by Mrs. Woodley under
this will amounted, according to a valuation made a few weeks after the
testator's decease, to between eight and nine thousand pounds.
Respected as a widow, comfortable in circumstances, and with a daughter
to engage her affections, Mrs. Woodley might have passed the remainder of
her existence in happiness. But how frequently do women peril and lose
all by a second marriage! Such was the case with Mrs. Woodley: to the
astonishment of everybody, she threw herself away on a man almost unknown
in the district--a person of no fortune, of mean habits, and altogether
unworthy of accepting as a husband. Silas Thorndyke, to whom she thus
committed her happiness, had for a short time acted as bailiff on the
farm; and no sooner did he feel himself master, than his subserviency
was changed to selfish indifference, and that gradually assumed a coarser
character. He discovered that the property, by the will of Mr. Woodley,
was no secured against every chance or casualty to the use and enjoyment
of his wife, that it not only did not pass by marriage to the new
bridegroom, but she was unable to alienate or divest herself of any
portion of it during life. She could, however, dispose of it by will; but
in the event of her dying intestate, the whole descended to her daughter,
Incredibly savage was Thorndyke when he made that discovery; and bitter
and incessant were the indignities to which he subjected his unfortunate
wife, for the avowed purpose of forcing her to make a will entirely in
his favor, and of course disinheriting her daughter. These persecutions
failed of their object. An unexpected, quiet, passive, but unconquerable
resistance, was opposed by the, in all other things, cowed and submissive
woman, to this demand of her domineering husband. Her failing health--for
gently nurtured and tenderly cherished as she had ever been, the
callous brutality of her husband soon told upon the unhappy
creature--warned her that Mary would soon be an orphan, and that upon her
firmness it depended whether the child of him to whose memory she had
been, so fatally for herself, unfaithful, should be cast homeless and
penniless upon the world, or inherit the wealth to which, by every
principle of right and equity, she was entitled. Come what may, this
trust at least should not, she mentally resolved, be betrayed or paltered
with. Every imaginable expedient to vanquish her resolution was resorted
to. Thorndyke picked a quarrel with Ward her father, who had lived at
Dale Farm since the morrow of her marriage with Woodley, and the old
gentleman was compelled to leave, and take up his abode with a distant
and somewhat needy relative. Next Edward Wilford, the only son of a
neighboring and prosperous farmer, who had been betrothed to Mary Woodley
several months before her father's death, was brutally insulted, and
forbidden the house. All, however, failed to shake the mother's
resolution; and at length, finding all his efforts fruitless, Thorndyke
appeared to yield the point, and upon this subject at least ceased to
harass his unfortunate victim.
Frequent private conferences were now held between Thorndyke, his two
daughters, and Elizabeth Wareing--a woman approaching middle-age, whom,
under the specious pretence that Mrs. Thorndyke's increasing ailments
rendered the services of an experienced matron indispensable, he had
lately installed at the farm. It was quite evident to both the mother and
daughter that a much greater degree of intimacy subsisted between the
master and housekeeper than their relative positions warranted; and from
some expressions heedlessly dropped by the woman, they suspected them to
have been once on terms of confidential intimacy. Thorndyke, I should
have mentioned, was not a native of these parts: he had answered Mr.
Woodley's advertisement for a bailiff, and his testimonials appearing
satisfactory, he had been somewhat precipitately engaged. A young man,
calling himself Edward Wareing, the son of Elizabeth Wareing, and said to
be engaged in an attorney's office in Liverpool, was also a not
unfrequent visitor at Dale Farm; and once he had the insolent presumption
to address a note to Mary Woodley, formally tendering his hand and
fortune! This, however, did not suit Mr. Thorndyke's views, and Mr.
Edward Wareing was very effectually rebuked and silenced by his proposed
Mrs. Thorndyke's health rapidly declined. The woman Wareing, touched
possibly by sympathy or remorse, exhibited considerable tenderness and
compassion towards the invalid; made her nourishing drinks, and
administered the medicine prescribed by the village practitioner--who,
after much delay and _pooh, poohing_ by Thorndyke, had been called
in--with her own hands. About three weeks previous to Mrs. Thorndyke's
death, a sort of reconciliation was patched up through her
instrumentality between the husband and wife; and an unwonted expression
of kindness and compassion, real or simulated, sat upon Thorndyke's
features every time he approached the dying woman.
The sands of life ebbed swiftly with Mrs. Thorndyke. Infolded in the
gentle but deadly embrace with which consumption seizes its victims, she
wasted rapidly away; and, most perplexing symptoms of all, violent
retchings and nausea, especially after taking her medicine--which,
according to Davis, the village surgeon, was invariable of a sedative
character--aggravated and confirmed the fatal disease which was hurrying
her to the tomb.
Not once during this last illness could Mary Woodley, by chance or
stratagem, obtain a moment's private interview with her mother, until a