Part 4 out of 6
obtaining the hand of Eugenie, whom he loved with all the passion of his
fiery nature, would be gone unless De Tourville could be prevented from
communicating with his daughter, resolved to compass the old man's
instant destruction. The chevalier persuaded himself that, as he should
manage it, death would be attributed to the affection of the heart, from
which M. de Tourville had so long suffered. He procured the distilled
laurel-water--how and from whom was minutely explained--colored, flavored
it to resemble as nearly as possible the cordial which he knew M. de
Tourville--and he only--was in the habit of frequently taking. A
precisely-similar bottle he also procured--the shop at which it was
purchased was described--and when he called in King Street, he found no
difficulty, in an unobserved moment, of substituting one bottle for the
other. That containing the real cordial he was still in possession of,
and it would be found in his valise The unexpected arrival of
Mademoiselle de Tourville frustrated his design, and he rushed in fury
and dismay from the house. A few hours afterwards, he heard of the sudden
death of M. de Tourville, and attributing it to his having taken a
portion of the simulated cordial, he, La Houssaye, fearful of
consequences, hastily and secretly changed his abode. He had subsequently
kept silence till the conviction of Eugenie left him no other
alternative, if he would not see her perish on the scaffold, than a full
and unreserved confession. This done--Eugenie saved, but lost to him--he
had nothing more to live for in the world, and should leave it.
This was the essence of the document; and all the parts of it which were
capable of corroborative proof having been substantiated, a free pardon
issued from the crown--the technical mode of quashing an unjust criminal
verdict--and Mademoiselle de Tourville was restored to liberty.
She did not return to France. Something more perhaps than a year after
the demonstration of her innocence, she was married to Arthur Rushton in
the Sardinian Catholic Chapel, London, the bridegroom having by her
influence been induced to embrace the faith of Rome. The establishments
in Harley Street and Mayfair were broken up; and the newly-espoused pair
settled in the county of Galway, Ireland, where Mr. Rushton made
extensive landed purchases. They have lived very happily a long life,
have been blessed with a large and amiable family, and are now--for they
are both yet alive--surrounded with grandchildren innumerable.
EXPERIENCES OF A BARRISTER.
THE LIFE POLICY.
Besides being the confidential advisers, attorneys are the "confessors"
of modern England; and the revelations--delicate, serious, not
unfrequently involving life as well as fortune and character--confided to
the purchased fidelity and professional honor of men whom romancers of
all ages have stereotyped as the ghouls and vampires of civilized
society, are, it is impossible to deny, as rarely divulged as those which
the penitents of the Greek and Latin churches impart to their spiritual
guides and helpers; and this possibly for the somewhat vulgar, but very
sufficient reason, that "a breach of confidence" would as certainly
involve the professional ruin of an attorney as the commission of a
felony. An able but eccentric jurisconsult, Mr. Jeremy Bentham, was
desirous that attorneys should be compelled to disclose on oath whatever
guilty secrets might be confided to them by their clients; the only
objection to which ingenious device for the conviction of rogues being,
that if such a power existed, there would be no secrets to disclose; and,
as a necessary consequence, that the imperfectly-informed attorney would
be unable to render his client the justice to which every person, however
criminal, is clearly entitled--that of having his or her case presented
before the court appointed to decide upon it in the best and most
advantageous manner possible. Let it not be forgotten either that the
attorney is the only real, practical defender of the humble and needy
against the illegal oppressions of the rich and powerful--the shrewd,
indomitable agent who gives prosaic reality to the figurative eloquence
of old Chancellor Fortescue, when he says, "that the lightning may flash
through, the thunder shake, the tempest beat, upon the English peasant's
hut, but the king of England, with all his army, cannot lift the latch to
enter in." The chancellor of course meant, that in this country
overbearing violence cannot defy, or put itself in the place of the law.
This is quite true; and why? Chiefly because the attorney is ready, in
all cases of provable illegality, with his potent strip of parchment
summoning the great man before "her Sovereign Lady the Queen," there to
answer for his acts; and the richer the offender, the more keen and eager
Mr. Attorney to prosecute the suit, however needy his own client; for he
is then sure of his costs, if he succeed! Again, I cheerfully admit the
extreme vulgarity of the motive; but its effect in protecting the legal
rights of the humble is not, I contend, lessened because the reward of
exertion and success is counted out in good, honest sovereigns, or notes
of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.
Thus much by way of conciliatory prologue to the narrative of a few
incidents revealed in the attorney's privileged confessional; throughout
which I have of course, in order to avoid any possible recognition of
those events or incidents, changed the name of every person concerned.
Our old city firm, then, which, I am happy to say, still flourishes
under the able direction of our active successors, I will
call--adopting the nomenclature appropriated to us by imaginative
ladies and gentlemen who favor the world with fancy pen-and-ink
portraits of the lawyer tribe--that of Flint and Sharp; Sharp being
myself, and Flint the silver-haired old bachelor we buried a few weeks
since in Kensal Green Cemetery.
"Mr. Andrews," said a clerk as he threw open the door of the inner office
one afternoon; "Mr. Jesse Andrews."
"Good-day, Mr. Andrews," was my prompt and civil greeting: "I have good
news for you. Take a chair."
The good-humored, rather intelligent, and somewhat clouded countenance of
the new-comer brightened up at these words. "News from my Cousin
Archibald?" he asked, as he seated himself.
"Yes: He laments your late failure, and commiserates the changed position
and prospects of your wife and boy, little Archibald, his godson. You he
has not much compassion for, inasmuch as he attributes your misfortunes
entirely to mismanagement, and the want of common prudence."
"Candid, certainly," grumbled out Mr. Jesse Andrews; "but an odd sort of
"His deeds are kinder than his words. He will allow, till Archibald
attains his majority--Let me see--how old is that boy of yours now?"
"Ten. He was two years old when his godfather went to India."
"Well, then, you will receive two hundred pounds per annum, payable
half-yearly, in advance, for the next ten years--that is, of course, if
your son lives--in order to enable you to bring him up, and educate him
properly. After that period has elapsed, your cousin intimates that he
will place the young man advantageously, and I do not doubt will do
something for you, should you not by that time have conquered a fair
position for yourself."
"Is that all?" said Mr. Andrews.
"All! Why, what did you expect?"
"Two or three thousand pounds to set me afloat again. I know of a safe
speculation, that with, say three thousand pounds capital, would realize
a handsome fortune in no time."
Mr. Jesse Andrews, I may observe, was one of that numerous class of
persons who are always on the threshold of realizing millions--the only
and constant obstacle being the want of a sufficient "capital."
I condoled with him upon his disappointment; but as words, however civil,
avail little in the way of "capital," Mr. Jesse Andrews, having pocketed
the first half-yearly installment of the annuity, made his exit in by no
means a gracious or grateful frame of mind.
Two other half-yearly payments were duly paid him. When he handed me the
receipt on the last occasion, he said, in a sort of off-hand, careless
way, "I suppose, if Archy were to die, these payments would cease?"
"Perhaps not," I replied unthinkingly. "At all events, not, I should say,
till you and your wife were in some way provided for. But your son is not
ill?" I added.
"No, no; not at present," replied Andrews, coloring, and with a confusion
of manner which surprised me not a little. It flashed across my mind that
the boy was dead, and that Andrews, in order not to risk the withdrawal
or suspension of the annuity, had concealed the fact from us.
"Let me see," I resumed, "we have your present address--Norton
Folgate, I think?"
"Yes, certainly you have."
"I shall very likely call in a day or two to see Mrs. Andrew! and
The man smiled in a reassured, half-sardonic manner. "Do," he answered.
"Archy is alive, and very well, thank God!"
This confidence dispelled the suspicion I had momentarily entertained,
and five or six weeks passed away, during which Andrews and his
affairs were almost as entirely absent from my thoughts as if no such
About the expiration of that time, Mr. Jesse Andrews unexpectedly
revisited the office, and as soon as I was disengaged, was ushered into
my private room. He was habited in the deepest mourning, and it naturally
struck me that either his wife or son was dead--an impression, however,
which a closer examination of his countenance did not confirm, knowing as
I did, how affectionate a husband and father he was, with all his faults
and follies, reputed to be. He looked flurried, nervous, certainly; but
there was no grief, no sorrow in the restless, disturbed glances which he
directed to the floor, the ceiling, the window, the fire-place, the
chairs, the table--everywhere, in fact, except towards my face.
"What is the matter, Mr. Andrews?" I gravely inquired, seeing that he did
not appear disposed to open the conversation.
"A great calamity, sir--a great calamity," he hurriedly and confusedly
answered, his face still persistently averted from me--"has happened!
Archy is dead!"
"Dead!" I exclaimed, considerably shocked. "God bless me! when did
"Three weeks ago," was the reply. "He died of cholera."
"Of cholera!" This occurred, I should state, in 1830.
"Yes: he was very assiduously attended throughout his sufferings,
which were protracted and severe, by the eminent Dr. Parkinson, a
highly-respectable and skilled practitioner, as you doubtless, sir,
I could not comprehend the man. This dry, unconcerned, business-sort of
gabble was not the language of a suddenly-bereaved parent, and one, too,
who had lost a considerable annuity by his son's death. What could it
mean? I was in truth fairly puzzled.
After a considerable interval of silence, which Mr. Andrews, whose eyes
continued to wander in every direction except that of mine, showed no
inclination to break, I said--"It will be necessary for me to write
immediately to your cousin, Mr. Archibald Andrews. I trust, for your
sake, the annuity will be continued; but of course, till I hear from him,
the half-yearly payments must be suspended."
"Certainly, certainly: I naturally expected that would be the case," said
Andrews, still in the same quick, hurried tone. "Quite so."
"You have nothing further to say, I suppose?" I remarked, after another
dead pause, during which it was very apparent that he was laboring with
something to which he nervously hesitated to give utterance.
"No--yes--that is, I wished to consult you upon a matter of
business--connected with--with a life-assurance office."
"A life-assurance office?"
"Yes." The man's pale face flushed crimson, and his speech became
more and more hurried as he went on. "Yes; fearing, Mr. Sharp, that
should Archy die, we might be left without resource, I resolved,
after mature deliberation, to effect an insurance on his life for
four thousand pounds."
"Four thousand pounds!"
"Yes. All necessary preliminaries were gone through. The medical
gentleman--since dead of the cholera, by the way--examined the boy of
course, and the insurance was legally effected for four thousand pounds,
payable at his death."
I did not speak; a suspicion too horrible to be hinted at held me dumb.
"Unfortunately," Andrews continued, "this insurance was only effected
about a fortnight before poor Archy's death, and the office refuses
payment, although, as I have told you, the lad was attended to the very
hour of his death by Dr. Parkinson, a highly-respectable, most
unexceptionable gentleman. Very much so indeed."
"I quite agree in that," I answered after a while. "Dr. Parkinson is a
highly-respectable and eminent man. What reason," I added, "do the
company assign for non-payment?"
"The very recent completion of the policy."
"Nonsense! How can that fact, standing alone, affect your claim?"
"I do not know," Andrews replied; and all this time I had not been able
to look fairly in his face; "but they do refuse; and I am anxious that
your firm should take the matter in hand, and sue them for the amount."
"I must first see Dr. Parkinson," I answered, "and convince myself that
there is no legitimate reason for repudiating the policy."
"Certainly, certainly," he replied.
"I will write to you to-morrow," I said, rising to terminate the
conference, "after I have seen Dr. Parkinson, and state whether we will
or not take proceedings against the insurance company on your behalf."
He thanked me, and hurried off.
Dr. Parkinson confirmed Mr. Jesse Andrews in every particular. He had
attended the boy, a fine, light-haired lad of eleven or twelve years of
age, from not long after his seizure till his death. He suffered
dreadfully, and died unmistakably of Asiatic cholera, and of nothing
else; of which same disease a servant and a female lodger in the same
house had died just previously. "It is of course," Dr. Parkinson remarked
in conclusion, "as unfortunate for the company as it is strangely lucky
for Andrews; but there is no valid reason for refusing payment."
Upon this representation we wrote the next day to the assurance people,
threatening proceedings on behalf of Mr. Jesse Andrews.
Early on the morrow one of the managing-directors called on us, to state
the reasons which induced the company to hesitate at recognizing the
plaintiff's claim. In addition to the doubts suggested by the brief time
which had elapsed from the date of the policy to the death of the child,
there were several other slight circumstances of corroborative suspicion.
The chief of these was, that a neighbor had declared he heard the father
indulging in obstreperous mirth in a room adjoining that in which the
corpse lay only about two hours after his son had expired. This unseemly,
scandalous hilarity of her husband, the wife appeared to faintly
remonstrate against. The directors had consequently resolved _non
obstante_ Dr. Parkinson's declaration, who might, they argued, have been
deceived, to have the body exhumed in order to a post-mortem examination
as to the true cause of death. If the parents voluntarily agreed to this
course, a judicial application to enforce it would be unnecessary, and
all doubts on the matter could be quietly set at rest. I thought the
proposal, under the circumstances, reasonable, and called on Mr. and Mrs.
Andrews to obtain their concurrence. Mrs. Andrews was, I found, absent
in the country, but her husband was at home; and he, on hearing the
proposal, was, I thought, a good deal startled--shocked rather--a natural
"Who--who," he said, after a few moments' silent reflection--"who is to
conduct this painful, revolting inquiry?"
"Dr. Parkinson will be present, with Mr. Humphrey the surgeon, and Dr.
Curtis the newly-appointed physician to the assurance office, in place of
Dr. Morgan who died, as you are aware, a short time since of cholera."
"True. Ah, well, then," he answered almost with alacrity, "be it as they
wish. Dr. Parkinson will see fair-play."
The examination was effected, and the result was a confirmation, beyond
doubt or quibble, that death, as Dr. Parkinson had declared, had been
solely occasioned by cholera. The assurance company still hesitated; but
as this conduct could now only be looked upon as perverse obstinacy, we
served them with a writ at once. They gave in; and the money was handed
over to Mr. Jesse Andrews, whose joy at his sudden riches did not, I was
forced to admit, appear to be in the slightest degree damped by any
feeling of sadness for the loss of an only child.
We wrote to inform Mr. Archibald Andrews of these occurrences, and to
request further instructions with regard to the annuity hitherto paid to
his cousin. A considerable time would necessarily elapse before an
answer could be received, and in the meantime Mr. Jesse Andrews plunged
headlong into the speculation he had been long hankering to engage in,
and was as he informed me a few weeks afterwards, on the royal road to a
Clouds soon gathered over this brilliant prospect. The partner, whose
persuasive tongue and brilliant imagination had induced Mr. Andrews to
join him with his four thousand pounds, proved to be an arrant cheat and
swindler; and Mr. Andrews's application to us for legal help and redress
was just too late to prevent the accomplished dealer in moonshine and
delusion from embarking at Liverpool for America, with every penny of the
partnership funds in his pockets!
A favorable reply from Mr. Archibald Andrews had now become a question of
vital importance to his cousin, who very impatiently awaited its arrival.
It came at last. Mr. Andrews had died rather suddenly at Bombay a short
time before my letter arrived there, after executing in triplicate a
will, of which one of the copies was forwarded to me. By this instrument
his property--about thirty-five thousand pounds, the greatest portion of
which had been remitted from time to time for investment in the British
funds--was disposed of as follows:--Five thousand pounds to his cousin
Jesse Andrews, for the purpose of educating and maintaining Archibald
Andrews, the testator's godson, till he should have attained the age of
twentyone, and the whole of the remaining thirty thousand pounds to be
then paid over to Archibald with accumulated interest. In the event,
however, of the death of his godson, the entire property was devised to
another more distant and wealthier cousin, Mr. Newton, and his son
Charles, on precisely similar conditions, with the exception that an
annuity of seventy pounds, payable to Jesse Andrews and his wife during
their lives, was charged upon it.
Two letters were dispatched the same evening--one to the fortunate
cousin, Mr. Newton, who lived within what was then known as the twopenny
post delivery, and another to Mr. Jesse Andrews, who had taken up his
temporary abode in a cottage near St. Alban's, Hertfordshire. These
missives informed both gentlemen of the arrival of the Indian mail, and
the, to them, important dispatches it contained.
Mr. Newton was early at the office on the following morning, and perused
the will with huge content. He was really quite sorry, though, for poor
Cousin Jesse: the loss of his son was a sad stroke, much worse than this
of a fortune which he might have expected to follow as a matter of
course. And the annuity, Mr. Newton thoughtfully observed, was, after
all, no contemptible provision for two persons, without family, and of
A very different scene was enacted when, late in the evening, and just as
I was about to leave the office, Mr. Jesse Andrews rushed in, white as a
sheet, haggard, and wild with passion. "What devil's fables are these you
write me?" he, burst forth the instant he had gained the threshold of the
room. "How dare you," he went on, almost shrieking with fury--"how dare
you attempt to palm off these accursed lies on me? Archy rich--rich--and
I--. But it is a lie!--an infernal device got up to torture me--to
drive me wild, distracted--mad!" The excited man literally foamed with
rage, and so astonished was I, that it was a minute or two before I could
speak or move.
At last I rose, closed the door, (for the clerks in the outer office were
hearers and witnesses of this outbreak,) and led the way to an inner and
more private apartment. "Come with me, Mr. Andrews," I said, "and let us
talk this matter calmly over."
He mechanically followed, threw himself into a chair, and listened with
frenzied impatience to the reading of the will.
"A curse is upon me," he shouted, jumping up as I concluded, "the curse
of God--a judgment upon the crime I but the other day committed--a crime
as I thought--dolt, idiot that I was--so cunningly contrived, so cleverly
executed! Fool, villain, madman that I have been; for now, when fortune
is tendered for my acceptance, I dare not put forth my hand to grasp it;
fortune, too, not only for me, but--. O God, it will kill us both, Martha
as well as me, though I alone am to blame for this infernal chance!"
This outburst appeared to relieve him, and he sank back into his chair
somewhat calmer. I could understand nothing of all that rhapsody,
knowing, as I did, that his son Archibald had died from natural causes.
"It _is_ a severe blow," I said, in as soothing a tone as I could
assume--"a very great disappointment; still, you are secured from extreme
poverty--from anything like absolute want"--
"It is not that--it is not that!" he broke in, though not quite so wildly
as before. "Look you, Mr. Sharp, I will tell you all! There may be some
mode of extrication from this terrible predicament, and I must have your
advice professionally upon it."
"Go on; I will advise you to the best of my ability."
"Here it is, then: Archy, my son Archy, is alive!--alive! and well in
health as either you or I!"
I was thunderstruck. Here was indeed a revelation.
"Alive and well," continued Andrews. "Listen! when the cholera began to
spread so rapidly, I bethought me of insuring the boy's life in case of
the worst befalling, but not, as I hope for mercy, with the slightest
thought of harming a hair of his head. This was done. Very soon the
terrific disease approached our neighborhood, and my wife took Archy to a
country lodging, returning herself the same evening. The next day our
only servant was attacked and died. A few hours after that our
first-floor lodger, a widow of the name of Mason, who had been with us
but a very short time, was attacked. She suffered dreadfully; and her
son, a boy about the age of Archy, and with just his hair and
complexion, took ill also. The woman was delirious with pain; and before
effective medical aid could be obtained--she was seized in the middle of
the night--she expired. Her son who had been removed into another room,
became rapidly worse, and we sent for Dr. Parkinson; the poor fellow was
partially delirious with pain, and clung piteously round my wife's neck,
calling her mother, and imploring her to relieve him. Dr. Parkinson
arrived, and at first sight of the boy, said, 'Your son is very ill,
Mrs. Andrews--I fear, past recovery; but we will see what can be done.' I
swear to you, Mr. Sharp, that it was not till this moment the device
which has ruined us, flashed across my brain. I cautioned my wife in a
whisper not to undeceive the doctor, who prescribed the most active
remedies, and was in the room, when the lad died. You know the rest. And
now, sir, tell me, can anything be done--any device suggested to retrieve
this miserable blunder, this terrible mistake?"
"This infamous crime, you should say, Mr. Andrews," I replied; "for the
commission of which you are liable to be transported for life."
"Yes, crime; no doubt that is the true word! But must the innocent child
suffer for his father's offence?"
"That is the only consideration that could induce me to wag a finger in
the business. Like many other clever rogues, you are caught in the trap
you limed for others. Come to me tomorrow; I will think over the matter
between this and then; but at present I can say nothing. Stay," I added,
as his hand was on the door; "the identity of your son can be proved, I
suppose, by better evidence than your own?"
"That, will do, then; I will see you in the morning."
If it should cross the mind of any reader that I ought to have given
this self-confessed felon into custody, I beg to remind him that, for the
reasons previously stated, such a course on my part was out of the
question--impossible; and that, had it not been impossible I should do
so, Mr. Jesse Andrews would not have intrusted me with his criminal
secret. The only question now therefore was, how, without compromising
this guilty client, the godfather's legacy could be secured for the
A conference the next morning with Mr. Flint resulted in our sending for
Mr. Jesse Andrews, and advising him, for fear of accidents or
miscarriage in our plans, to betake himself to the kingdom of France for
a short time. We had then no treaty of extradition with that country. As
soon as I knew he was safely out of the realm, I waited upon the
"The money ought not to have been received by Jesse Andrews, you say, Mr.
Sharp?" observed the managing-gentleman, looking keenly in my face.
"Precisely. It ought not to have been received by him."
"And _why_ not, Mr. Sharp?"
"That is quite an unnecessary question, and one that, you know, I should
not answer, if I could. That which chiefly concerns you is, that I am
ready to return the four thousand pounds at once, here on the spot, and
that delays are dangerous. If you refuse, why, of course--and I rose from
my chair--I must take back the money."
"Stay--stay! I will just consult with one or two gentlemen, and be with
you again almost immediately."
In about five minutes he returned. "Well, Mr. Sharp," he said, "we had,
I suppose; better take the money--obtained, as you say, by mistake."
"Not at all; I said nothing about mistake. I told you it ought not to
have been received by Andrews!"
"Well--well. I understand. I must, I suppose, give you a receipt?"
"Undoubtedly; and, if you please, precisely in this form."
I handed him a copy on a slip of paper. He ran it over, smiled,
transcribed it on a stamp, signed it, and, as I handed him a check for
the amount, placed it in my hands. We mutually bowed, and I went my way.
Notwithstanding Mr. Newton's opposition, who was naturally furious at the
unexpected turn the affair had taken, the identity of the boy--whom that
gentleman persisted in asserting to be dead and buried--was clearly
established; and Mr. Archibald Andrews, on the day he became of age,
received possession of his fortune. The four thousand pounds had of
course been repaid out of Jesse Andrews's legacy. That person has, so to
speak, since skulked through life, a mark for the covert scorn of every
person acquainted with the very black transaction here recorded. This was
doubtless a much better fate than he deserved; and in strict, or poetical
justice, his punishment ought unquestionably to have been much
greater--more apparent also, than it was, for example's sake. But I am a
man not of fiction, but of fact, and consequently relate events, not as
they precisely ought, but as they do, occasionally occur in lawyers'
offices, and other unpoetical nooks and corners of this prosaic,
matter-of-fact, working-day world.
BIGAMY OR NO BIGAMY?
The firm of Flint and Sharp enjoyed, whether deservedly or not, when I
was connected with it, as it still does, a high reputation for keen
practice and shrewd business-management. This kind of professional fame
is usually far more profitable than the drum-and-trumpet variety of the
same article; or at least we found it so; and often, from blush of morn
to far later than dewy eve--which natural phenomena, by the way, were
only emblematically observed by me during thirty busy years in the
extinguishment of the street lamps at dawn, and their re-illumination at
dusk--did I and my partner incessantly pursue our golden avocations;
deferring what are usually esteemed the pleasures of life--its banquets,
music, flowers, and lettered ease--till the toil, and heat, and hurry of
the day were past, and a calm, luminous evening, unclouded by care or
anxiety, had arrived. This conduct may or may not have been wise; but at
all events it daily increased the connection and transactions of the
firm, and ultimately anchored us both very comfortably in the three per
cents; and this too, I am bold to say, not without our having effected
some good in our generation. This boast of mine the following passage in
the life of a distinguished client--known, I am quite sure, by reputation
to most of the readers of these papers, whom our character for practical
sagacity and professional shrewdness brought us--will, I think, be
admitted in some degree to substantiate.
Our connection was a mercantile rather than an aristocratic one, and my
surprise was therefore considerable, when, on looking through the
office-blinds to ascertain what vehicle it was that had driven so rapidly
up to the door, I observed a handsomely-appointed carriage with a coronet
emblazoned on the panels, out of which a tall footman was handing a lady
attired in deep but elegant mourning, and closely veiled. I instantly
withdrew to my private room, and desired that the lady should be
immediately admitted. Greatly was my surprise increased when the graceful
and still youthful visitor withdrew her veil, and disclosed the features
of the Countess of Seyton, upon whose mild, luminous beauty, as rendered
by the engraving from Sir Thomas Lawrence's picture, I had so frequently
gazed with admiration. That rare and touching beauty was clouded now; and
an intense expression of anxiety, fear--almost terror--gleamed from out
the troubled depths of her fine dark eyes.
"The Countess of Seyton!" I half-involuntarily exclaimed, as with my very
best bow I handed her ladyship a chair.
"Yes; and you are a partner of this celebrated firm, are you not?"
I bowed again still more profoundly to this compliment, and modestly
admitted that I was the Sharp of the firm her ladyship was pleased to
"Then, Mr. Sharp, I have to consult you professionally upon a matter of
the utmost--the most vital importance to me and mine." Her ladyship then,
with some confusion of manner, as if she did not know whether what she
was doing was in accordance with strict etiquette or not, placed a Bank
of England note, by way of retainer, before me. I put it back, explaining
what the usage really was, and the countess replaced it in her purse.
"We shall he proud to render your ladyship any assistance in our power,"
I said; "but I understood the Messrs. Jackson enjoyed the confidence of
the house of Seyton?"
"Precisely. They are, so to speak, the hereditary solicitors of the
family more than of any individual member of it; and therefore, though
highly respectable persons, unfit to advise me in this particular matter.
Besides," she added with increasing tremor and hesitation, "to deal with,
and if possible foil, the individual by whom I am persecuted, requires an
agent of keener sagacity than either of those gentlemen can boast of;
sharper, more resolute men; more--you understand what I mean?"
"Perfectly, madam; and allow me to suggest that it is probable our
interview may be a somewhat prolonged one--your ladyship's carriage,
which may attract attention, should be at once dismissed. The office of
the family solicitors is, you are aware, not far off; and as we could not
explain to them the reason which induces your ladyship to honor us with
your confidence, it will be as well to avoid any chance of inquiry."
Lady Seyton acquiesced in my suggestion: the carriage was ordered home,
and Mr. Flint entering just at the time, we both listened with
earnestness and anxiety to her communication. It is needless to repeat
verbatim the somewhat prolix, exclamative narration of the countess; the
essential facts were as follows:--
The Countess of Seyton, previous to her first marriage, was Miss Clara
Hayley, second daughter of the Reverend John Hayley, the rector of a
parish in Devonshire. She married, when only nineteen years of age, a
Captain Gosford. Her husband was ten years older than herself, and, as
she discovered after marriage, was cursed with a morose and churlish
temper and disposition. Previous to her acquaintance with Gosford, she
had been intimate with, almost betrothed to, Mr. Arthur Kingston, a young
gentleman connected with the peerage, and at that time heir-apparent to
the great expectancies and actual poverty of his father, Sir Arthur
Kingston. The haughty baronet, the instant he was made aware of the
nature of his son's intimacy with the rector's daughter, packed the young
man off to the continent on his travels. The Reverend John Hayley and his
beautiful Clara were as proud as the baronet, and extremely indignant
that it should be thought either of them wished to entrap or delude
Arthur Kingston into an unequal or ineligible marriage. This feeling of
pride and resentment aided the success of Mr. Gosford's suit, and Clara
Hayley, like many other rash, high-notioned young ladies, doomed herself
to misery, in order to show the world, and Mr. Arthur Kingston and his
proud father especially, that she had a spirit. The union was a most
unhappy one. One child only, which died in its infancy, was born to them;
and after being united somewhat more than two years, a separation,
vehemently insisted on by the wife's father, took place, and the
unhappily-wedded daughter returned to her parent's roof. Mr. Gosford--he
had some time before sold out of the army--traveled about the country in
search of amusement, and latterly of health, (for his unhappy cankerous
temper at last affected and broke down his never very robust physical
constitution), accompanied for the twelvemonth preceding his death by a
young man belonging to the medical profession, of the name of Chilton.
Mr. and Mrs. Gosford had been separated a few days less than three years
when the husband died, at the village of Swords in Ireland, and not far
distant from Dublin. The intelligence was first conveyed to the widow by
a paragraph in the "Freeman's Journal," a Dublin newspaper; and by the
following post a letter arrived from Mr. Chilton, inclosing a ring which
the deceased had requested should be sent to his wife, and a note,
dictated just previous to his death-hour, in which he expressed regret
for the past, and admitted that he alone had been to blame for the
unhappy separation. A copy of his will, made nearly a twelvemonth
previously, was also forwarded, by which he bequeathed his property,
amounting to about three hundred pounds per annum, to a distant relative
then residing in New Holland. By a memorandum of a subsequent date, Mr.
Chilton was to have all the money and other personals he might die in
actual possession of, after defraying the necessary funeral expenses.
This will, Mr. Chilton stated, the deceased gentleman had expressed a
wish in his last moments to alter, but death had been too sudden for him
to be able to give effect to that good, but too long-delayed intention.
It cannot be supposed that the long-before practically widowed wife
grieved much at the final breaking of the chain which bound her to so
ungenial a mate; but as Lady Seyton was entirely silent upon the subject,
our supposition can only rest upon the fact, that Arthur Kingston--who
had some time previously, in consequence of the death of the Earl of
Seyton and his only son, an always-weakly child, preceded a few months by
that of his own father, the baronet, succeeded to the earldom and
estates--hastened home, on seeing the announcement of Gosford's death in
the Dublin paper, from the continent, where he had continued to reside
since his compelled-departure six years before; and soon afterwards found
his way into Devonshire, and so successfully pressed the renewed offer of
his hand, that the wedding took place slightly within six months after
the decease of Mr. Gosford. Life passed brilliantly and happily with the
earl and countess--to whom three children (a boy and two girls) were
born--till about five months previous to the present time, when the earl,
from being caught, when out riding, in a drenching shower of rain, was
attacked by fever, and after an acute illness of only two or three days'
duration, expired. The present earl was at the time just turned of five
years of age.
This blow, we comprehended from the sudden tears which filled the
beautiful eyes of the countess as she spoke of the earl's decease, was a
severe one. Still, the grief of widowhood must have been greatly assuaged
by love for her children, and not inconsiderably, after a while, we may
be sure, by the brilliant position in which she was left--as, in addition
to being splendidly jointured, she was appointed by her husband's will
sole guardian of the young lord, her son.
A terrible reverse awaited her. She was sitting with her father the
rector, and her still unmarried sister, Jane Hayley, in the drawing-room
of Seyton House, when a note was brought to her, signed Edward Chilton,
the writer of which demanded an immediate and private interview, on, he
alleged, the most important business. Lady Seyton remembered the name,
and immediately acceded to the man's request. He announced in a brusque,
insolent tone and manner, that Mr. Gosford had not died at the time his
death was announced to her, having then only fallen into a state of
syncope, from which he had unexpectedly recovered, and had lived six
months longer. "The truth is," added Chilton, "that, chancing the other
day to be looking over a 'peerage,' I noticed for the first time the date
of your marriage with the late Earl of Seyton, and I have now to inform
you that it took place precisely eight days previous to Mr. Gosford's
death; that it was consequently no marriage at all; and that your son is
no more Earl of Seyton than I am."
This dreadful announcement, as one might expect, completely overcame the
countess. She fainted, but not till she had heard and comprehended
Chilton's hurried injunctions to secrecy and silence. He rang the bell
for assistance, and then left the house. The mental agony of Lady Seyton
on recovering consciousness was terrible, and she with great difficulty
succeeded in concealing its cause from her anxious and wondering
relatives. Another interview with Chilton appeared to confirm the truth
of his story beyond doubt or question. He produced a formally-drawn-up
document, signed by one Pierce Cunningham, grave-digger of Swords, which
set forth that Charles Gosford was buried on the 26th of June, 1832, and
that the inscription on his tombstone set forth that he had died June 23d
of that year. Also a written averment of Patrick Mullins of Dublin, that
he had lettered the stone at the head of the grave of Charles Gosford in
Swords burying-ground in 1832, and that its date was, as stated by Pierce
Cunningham, June 23, 1832.
"Have you copies of those documents?" asked Mr. Flint.
"Yes: I have brought them with me," the countess replied, and handed them
to Mr. Flint. "In my terror and extremity," continued her ladyship, "and
unguided by counsel--for, till now I have not dared to speak upon the
subject to any person--I have given this Chilton, at various times, large
sums of money--but he is insatiable; and only yesterday--I cannot
repeat his audacious proposal--you will find it in this note."
"Marriage!" exclaimed Mr. Flint with a burst. He had read the note over
my shoulder. "The scoundrel!"
My worthy partner was rather excited. The truth was he had a Clara of
his own at home--a dead sister's child--very pretty, just about
marriageable, and a good deal resembling, as he told me afterwards, our
new and interesting client.
"I would die a thousand deaths rather," resumed Lady Seyton, in a low,
tremulous voice, as she let fall her veil. "Can there," she added in a
still fainter voice, "be anything done--anything"--
"That depends entirely," interrupted Mr. Flint, "upon whether this fine
story is or is not a fabrication, got up for the purpose of extorting
money. It seems to me, I must say, amazingly like one."
"Do you really think so?" exclaimed the lady with joyful vehemence. The
notion that Chilton was perhaps imposing on her credulity and fears
seemed not to have struck her before.
"What do you think, Sharp?" said my partner.
I hesitated to give an opinion, as I did not share in the hope
entertained by Flint. Detection was so certain, that I doubted if so
cunning a person as Chilton appeared to be would have ventured on a fraud
so severely punishable. "Suppose," I said, avoiding an answer, "as this
note appoints an interview at three o'clock to-day at Seyton House, we
meet him there instead of your ladyship? A little talk with the fellow
might be serviceable."
Lady Seyton eagerly agreed to this proposal; and it was arranged that we
should be at Seyton House half an hour before the appointed time, in
readiness for the gentleman. Lady Seyton left in a hackney-coach,
somewhat relieved, I thought, by having confided the oppressive secret to
us, and with a nascent hope slightly flushing her pale, dejected
The firm of Flint and Sharp had then a long conference together, during
which the lady's statement and Mr. Chilton's documents were, the reader
may be sure, very minutely conned over, analyzed, and commented upon.
Finally, it was resolved that, if the approaching interview, the manner
of which we agreed upon, did not prove satisfactory, Mr. Flint should
immediately proceed to Ireland, and personally ascertain the truth or
falsehood of the facts alleged by Chilton.
"Mr. Chilton is announced," said Lady Seyton, hurriedly entering the
library in Grosvenor Square, where Mr. Flint and myself were seated. "I
need not be present, I think you said?" she added, in great tremor.
"Certainly not, madam," I replied. "We shall do better alone."
She retired instantly. Flint rose and stationed himself close by the
door. Presently a sounding, confident step was heard along the passage,
the library door swung back on its noiseless hinges, and in stalked a man
of apparently about thirty-five years of age, tall, genteel, and
soldier-looking. He started back on seeing me, recognizing, I perceived,
my vocation, at a glance.
"How is this?" he exclaimed. "I expected"--
"The Countess of Seyton. True; but her ladyship has deputed me to confer
with you on the business mentioned in your note."
"I shall have nothing to say to you," he replied abruptly, and turned
to leave the room. Mr. Flint had shut, and was standing with his back
to the door.
"You can't go," he said, in his coolest manner. "The police are
"The police! What the devil do you mean?" cried Chilton, angrily; but,
spite of his assurance, visibly trembling beneath Flint's searching,
"Nothing very remarkable," replied that gentleman, "or unusual in our
profession. Come, sit down; we are lawyers; you are a man of business, we
know. I dare say we shall soon understand each other."
Mr. Chilton sat down, and moodily awaited what was next to come.
"You are aware," said Mr. Flint, "that you have rendered yourself liable
"What"' exclaimed Chilton, flashing crimson, and starting to his
"To transportation," continued my imperturbable partner, "for seven, ten,
fourteen years, or for life, at the discretion of the judge; but,
considering the frequency of the crime of late, I should say there is a
strong probability that _you_ will be a _lifer_!"
"What devil's gibberish is this?" exclaimed Chilton, frightened, but
still fierce. "I can prove everything I have said. Mr. Gosford, I
"Well, well," interrupted Mr. Flint; "put it in that light, how you
please; turn it which way you will; it's like the key in Blue Beard,
which, I dare say, you have read of; rub it out on one side, and up it
comes on the other. Say, by way of argument, that you have _not_ obtained
money by unfounded threats--a crime which the law holds tantamount to
highway robbery. You have in that case obtained money for compromising a
felony--that of polygamy. An awful position, my good sir, choose which
Utterly chop-fallen was the lately triumphant man; but he speedily
"I care not," he at length said. "Punish me you may; but the pride of
this sham countess and the sham earl will be brought low. And I tell you
once for all," he added, rising at the same time, and speaking in
ringing, wrathful tones, "that I defy you, and will either be handsomely
remunerated for silence, or I will at once inform the Honorable James
Kingston that he is the true Earl of Seyton."
"And I tell _you_," retorted Flint, "that if you attempt to leave this
room, I will give you into custody at once, and transport you, whatever
may be the consequence to others. Come, come, let us have no more
nonsense or bluster. We have strong reasons for believing that the story
by which you have been extorting money, is a fabrication. If it be so,
rely upon it we shall detect and punish you. Your only safe course is to
make a clean breast of it whilst there is yet time. Out with it, man, at
once, and you shall go Scot-free; nay, have a few score pounds more--say
a hundred. Be wise in time, I counsel you."
Chilton hesitated; his white lips quivered. There _was_ something
"I cannot," he muttered, after a considerable pause. "There is nothing to
"You will not! Then your fate be on your own head. I have done with you."
It was now my turn. "Come, come," I said, "it is useless urging this
man further. How much do you expect? The insolent proposal contained
in your note is, you well know, out of the question. How much _money_
do you expect for keeping this wretched affair secret? State your
terms at once."
"A thousand per annum," was the reply, "and the first year down."
"Modest, upon my word! But I suppose we must comply." I wrote out an
agreement. "Will you sign this?"
He ran it over. "Yes; Lady Seyton, as she calls herself, will take care
it never sees the light."
I withdrew, and in two or three minutes returned with a check. "Her
ladyship has no present cash at the bankers," I said, "and is obliged to
post-date this check twelve days."
The rascal grumbled a good deal; but as there was no help for it, he took
the security, signed the agreement, and walked off.
"A sweet nut that for the devil to crack," observed Mr. Flint, looking
savagely after him. "I am in hopes we shall trounce him yet, bravely as
he carries it. The check of course is not payable to order or bearer"
"Certainly not; and before twelve days are past, you will have returned
from Ireland. The agreement may be, I thought, of use with Cunningham or
Mullins. If they have been conspiring together, they will scarcely admire
the light in which you can place the arrangement, as affording proof that
he means to keep the lion's share of the reward to himself."
"Exactly. At all events we shall get at the truth, whatever it be."
The same evening Mr. Flint started for Dublin _via_ Holyhead.
I received in due course a letter from him dated the day after his
arrival there. It was anything but a satisfactory one. The date on the
grave-stone had been truly represented, and Mullins who erected it was a
highly respectable man. Flint had also seen the grave-digger, but could
make nothing out of him. There was no regular register of deaths kept in
Swords except that belonging to Cunningham; and the minister who buried
Gosford, and who lived at that time in Dublin, had been dead some time.
This was disheartening and melancholy enough; and, as if to give our
unfortunate client the _coup-de-grace_, Mr. Jackson, junior, marched into
the office just after I had read it, to say that, having been referred by
Lady Seyton to us for explanations, with respect to a statement made by a
Mr. Edward Chilton to the Honorable James Kingston, for whom they, the
Messrs. Jackson, were now acting, by which it appeared that the said
Honorable James Kingston was, in fact, the true Earl of Seyton, he, Mr.
Jackson, junior, would be happy to hear what I had to say upon the
subject! It needed but this. Chilton had, as I feared he would, after
finding we had been consulted, sold his secret, doubtless advantageously,
to the heir-at-law. There was still, however, a chance that something
favorable might turn up, and, as I had no notion of throwing that chance
away, I carelessly replied that we had reason to believe Chilton's story
was a malicious fabrication, and that we should of course throw on them
the onus of judicial proof that Gosford was still alive when the late
earl's marriage was solemnized. Finally, however, to please Mr. Jackson,
who professed to be very anxious, for the lady's sake, to avoid
unnecessary eclat, and to arrange the affair as quietly as possible, I
agreed to meet him at Lady Seyton's in four days from that time, and hear
the evidence upon which he relied. This could not at all events render
our position worse; and it was, meanwhile, agreed that the matter should
be kept as far as possible profoundly secret.
Three days passed without any further tidings from Mr. Flint, and I
vehemently feared that his journey had proved a fruitless one, when, on
the evening previous to the day appointed for the conference at Seyton
House, a hackney-coach drove rapidly up to the office door, and out
popped Mr. Flint, followed by two strangers, whom he very watchfully
escorted into the house.
"Mr. Patrick Mullins and Mr. Pierce Cunningham," said Flint as he shook
hands with me in a way which, in conjunction with the merry sparkle of
his eyes, and the boisterous tone of his voice, assured me all was right.
"Mr. Pierce Cunningham will sleep here to-night," he added; "so Collins
had better engage a bed out."
Cunningham, an ill-looking lout of a fellow, muttered, that he chose "to
sleep at a tavern."
"Not if I know it, my fine fellow," rejoined Mr. Flint. "You mean well, I
dare say; but I cannot lose sight of you for all that. You either sleep
here or at a station-house."
The man stared with surprise and alarm; but knowing refusal or resistance
to be hopeless, sullenly assented to the arrangement, and withdrew to the
room appointed for him, vigilantly guarded. For Mr. Mullins we engaged a
bed at a neighboring tavern.
Mr. Flint's mission had been skillfully and successfully accomplished. He
was convinced, by the sullen confusion of manner manifested by
Cunningham, that some villainous agency had been at work, and he again
waited on Mullins, the stone-cutter. "Who gave you the order for the
grave-stone?" he asked. Mr. Mullins referred to his book, and answered
that he received it by letter. "Had he got that letter?" "Very likely,"
he replied, "as he seldom destroyed business papers of any kind." "A
search was instituted, and finally this letter," said Mr. Flint, "worth
an earl's coronet, torn and dirty as it is, turned up." This invaluable
document, which bore the London postdate of June 23, 1832, ran as
"Anglesea Hotel, Haymarket, London, _June_ 23, 1832.
"Sir--Please to erect a plain tomb-stone at the head of Charles
Gosford, Esquire's grave, who died a few month's since at Swords, aged
thirty-two years. This is all that need be inscribed upon it. You are
referred to Mr. Guinness of Sackville Street, Dublin, for payment. Your
"You see," continued Flint, "the fellow had inadvertently left out the
date of Gosford's death, merely stating it occurred a few months
previously; and Mullins concluded that, in entering the order in his
day-book, he must have somehow or other confounded the date of the letter
with that of Gosford's decease. Armed with this precious discovery, I
again sought Cunningham, and by dint of promises and threats, at last got
the truth out of the rascal. It was this:--Chilton, who returned to this
country from the Cape, where he had resided for three years previously,
about two months ago, having some business to settle in Dublin, went over
there, and one day visited Swords, read the inscription on Charles
Gosford's grave-stone, and immediately sought out the grave-digger, and
asked him if he had any record of that gentleman's burial. Cunningham
said he had, and produced his book, by which it appeared that it took
place December 24, 1831. "That cannot be," remarked Chilton, and he
referred to the head-stone. Cunningham said he had noticed the mistake a
few days after it was erected; but thinking it of no consequence, and
never having, that he knew of, seen Mr. Mullins since, he had said, and
indeed thought, nothing about it. To conclude the story--Chilton
ultimately, by payment of ten pounds down, and liberal promises for the
future, prevailed upon the grave-digger to lend himself to the infamous
device the sight of the grave-stone had suggested to his fertile,
This was indeed a glorious success and the firm of Flint and Sharp drank
the Countess of Seyton's health that evening with great enthusiasm, and
gleefully "thought of the morrow."
We found the drawing-room of Seyton House occupied by the Honorable James
Kingston, his solicitors, the Messrs. Jackson, Lady Seyton, and her
father and sister, to whom she had at length disclosed the source of her
disquietude. The children were leaving the apartment as we entered it,
and the grief-dimmed eyes of the countess rested sadly upon her
bright-eyed boy as he slowly withdrew with his sisters. That look changed
to one of wild surprise as it encountered Mr. Flint's shining,
good-humored countenance. I was more composed and reserved than my
partner, though feeling as vividly as he did the satisfaction of being
able not only to dispel Lady Seyton's anguish, but to extinguish the
exultation, and trample on the hopes, of the Honorable James Kingston, a
stiff, grave, middle-aged piece of hypocritical propriety, who was
surveying from out the corners of his affectedly-unobservant eyes the
furniture and decorations of the splendid apartment, and hugging himself
with the thought that all that was his! Business was immediately
proceeded with. Chilton was called in. He repeated his former story
verbatim, and with much fluency and confidence. He then placed in the
hands of Jackson, senior, the vouchers signed by Cunningham and Mullins.
The transient light faded from Lady Seyton's countenance as she turned
despairingly, almost accusingly, towards us.
"What answer have you to make to this gentleman's statement, thus
corroborated?" demanded Jackson, senior.
"Quite a remarkable one," replied Mr. Flint, as he rang the bell. "Desire
the gentlemen in the library to step up," he added to the footman who
answered the summons. In about three minutes in marched Cunningham and
Mullins, followed by two police-officers. An irrepressible exclamation of
terror escaped Chilton, which was immediately echoed by Mr. Flint's
direction to the police, as he pointed towards the trembling caitiff:
"That is your man--secure him."
A storm of exclamations, questions, remonstrances, instantly broke forth,
and it was several minutes before attention could be obtained for the
statements of our two Irish witnesses and the reading of the
happily-found letter. The effect of the evidence adduced was decisive,
electrical. Lady Seyton, as its full significance flashed upon her,
screamed with convulsive joy, and I thought must have fainted from excess
of emotion. The Rev. John Hayley returned audible thanks to God in a
voice quivering with rapture, and Miss Hayley ran out of the apartment,
and presently returned with the children, who were immediately
half-smothered with their mother's ecstatic kisses. All was for a few
minutes bewilderment, joy, rapture! Flint persisted to his dying day,
that Lady Seyton threw her arms round his neck, and kissed his bald old
forehead. This, however, I cannot personally vouch for, as my attention
was engaged at the moment by the adverse claimant, the Honorable James
Kingston, who exhibited one of the most irresistibly comic, wo-begone,
lackadaisical aspects it is possible to conceive. He made a hurried and
most undignified exit, and was immediately followed by the discomfited
"family" solicitors. Chilton was conveyed to a station-house, and the
next day was fully committed for trial. He was convicted at the next
sessions, and sentenced to seven years' transportation; and the
"celebrated" firm of Flint and Sharp, derived considerable lustre, and
more profit, from this successful stroke of professional dexterity.
The criminal business of the office was, during the first three or four
years of our partnership, entirely superintended by Mr. Flint; he being
more _an fait_, from early practice, than myself in the art and mystery
of prosecuting and defending felons, and I was thus happily relieved of
duties which, in the days when George III. was king, were frequently very
oppressive and revolting. The criminal practitioner dwelt in an
atmosphere tainted alike with cruelty and crime, and pulsating
alternately with merciless decrees of death, and the shrieks and wailings
of sentenced guilt. And not always guilt! There exist many records of
proofs, incontestable, but obtained too late, of innocence having been
legally strangled on the gallows in other cases than that of Eliza
Fenning. How could it be otherwise with a criminal code crowded in every
line with penalties of death, nothing but--death? Juster, wiser times
have dawned upon us, in which truer notions prevail of what man owes to
man, even when sitting in judgment on transgressors; and this we owe, let
us not forget, to the exertions of a band of men who, undeterred by the
sneers of the reputedly wise and _practical_ men of the world, and the
taunts of "influential" newspapers, persisted in teaching that the rights
of property could be more firmly cemented than by the shedding of
blood--law, justice, personal security more effectually vindicated than
by the gallows. Let me confess that I also was, for many years, amongst
the mockers, and sincerely held such "theorists" and "dreamers" as Sir
Samuel Romilly and his fellow-workers in utter contempt. Not so my
partner, Mr. Flint. Constantly in the presence of criminal judges and
juries, he had less confidence in the unerring verity of their decisions
than persons less familiar with them, or who see them only through the
medium of newspapers. Nothing could exceed his distress of mind if, in
cases in which he was prosecuting attorney, a convict died persisting in
his innocence, or without a full confession of guilt. And to such a pitch
did this morbidly-sensitive feeling at length arrive, that he all at once
refused to undertake, or in any way meddle with, criminal prosecutions,
and they were consequently turned over to our head clerk, with occasional
assistance from me if there happened to be a press of business of the
sort. Mr. Flint still, however, retained a monopoly of the _defences_,
except when, from some temporary cause or other, he happened to be
otherwise engaged, when they fell to me. One of these I am about to
relate, the result of which, whatever other impression it produced,
thoroughly cured me--as it may the reader--of any propensity to sneer or
laugh at criminal-law reformers and denouncers of the gallows.
One forenoon, during the absence of Mr. Flint in Wiltshire, a Mrs.
Margaret Davies called at the office, in apparently great distress of
mind. This lady, I must premise, was an old, or at all events an elderly
maiden, of some four-and-forty years of age--I have heard a very intimate
female friend of hers say she would never see fifty again, but this was
spite--and possessed of considerable house property in rather poor
localities. She found abundant employment for energies which might
otherwise have turned to cards and scandal, in collecting her weekly,
monthly, and quarterly rents, and in promoting, or fancying she did, the
religious and moral welfare of her tenants. Very bare-faced, I well knew,
were the impositions practiced upon her credulous good-nature in money
matters, and I strongly suspected the spiritual and moral promises and
performances of her motley tenantry exhibited as much discrepancy as
those pertaining to rent. Still, deceived or cheated as she might be,
good Mrs. Davies never wearied in what she conceived to be well-doing,
and was ever ready to pour balm and oil into the wounds of the sufferer,
however self-inflicted or deserved.
"What is the matter now?" I asked as soon as the good lady was seated,
and had untied and loosened her bonnet, and thrown back her shawl, fast
walking having heated her prodigiously. "Nothing worse than
transportation is, I hope, likely to befall any of those interesting
clients of yours?"
"You are a hard-hearted man, Mr. Sharp," replied Mrs. Davies between a
smile and a cry; "but being a lawyer, that is of course natural, and, as
I am not here to consult you as a Christian, of no consequence."
"Complimentary, Mrs. Davies; but pray, go on."
"You know Jane Eccles, one of my tenants in Bank Buildings--the
embroidress who adopted her sister's orphan child?"
"I remember her name. She obtained, if I recollect rightly, a balance of
wages for her due to the child's father, a mate, who died at sea. Well,
what has befallen her?"
"A terrible accusation has been preferred against her," rejoined Mrs.
Davies; "but as for a moment believing it, that is quite out of the
question. Jane Eccles," continued the warm-hearted lady, at the same time
extracting a crumpled newspaper from the miscellaneous contents of her
reticule--"Jane Eccles works hard from morning till night, keeps herself
to herself; her little nephew and her rooms are always as clean and nice
as a new pin; she attends church regularly; and pays her rent punctually
to the day. This disgraceful story, therefore," he added, placing the
journal in my hands, "_cannot_ be true."
I glanced over the police news:--'Uttering forged Bank-of-England notes,
knowing them to be forged;' I exclaimed, "The devil!"
"There's no occasion to be spurting that name out so loudly, Mr. Sharp,"
said Mrs. Davies with some asperity, "especially in a lawyer's office.
People have been wrongfully accused before to-day, I suppose?"
I was intent on the report, and not answering, she continued, "I heard
nothing of it till I read the shameful account in the paper half an hour
agone. The poor slandered girl was, I dare say, afraid or ashamed to
send for me."
"This appears to be a very bad case, Mrs. Davies," I said at length.
"Three forged ten-pound notes changed in one day at different shops each
time, under the pretence of purchasing articles of small amount, and
another ten-pound note found in her pocket! All that has, I must say, a
very ugly look."
"I don't care," exclaimed Mrs. Davies quite fiercely, "if it looks as
ugly as sin, or if the whole Bank of England was found in her pocket! I
know Jane Eccles well; she nursed me last spring through the fever; and I
would be upon my oath that the whole story, from beginning to end, is an
invention of the devil, or something worse."
"Jane Eccles," I persisted, "appears to have been unable or unwilling to
give the slightest explanation as to how she became possessed of the
spurious notes. Who is this brother of hers, 'of such highly respectable
appearance,' according to the report, who was permitted a private
interview with her previous to the examination?"
"She has no brother that I have ever heard of," said Mrs. Davies. "It
must be a mistake of the papers."
"That is not likely. You observed of course that she was fully
committed--and no wonder!"
Mrs. Davies's faith in the young woman's integrity was not to be shaken
by any evidence save that of her own bodily eyes, and I agreed to see
Jane Eccles on the morrow, and make the best arrangements for the
defence--at Mrs. Davies' charge--which the circumstances and the short
time I should have for preparation--the Old Bailey session would be on in
a few days--permitted. The matter so far settled, Mrs. Margaret hurried
off to see what had become of little Henry, the prisoner's nephew.
I visited Jane Eccles the next day in Newgate. She was a well-grown young
woman of about two or three-and-twenty--not exactly pretty perhaps, but
very well-looking. Her brown hair was plainly worn, without a cap, and
the expression of her face was, I thought, one of sweetness and humility,
contradicted in some degree by rather harsh lines about the mouth,
denoting strong will and purpose. As a proof of the existence of this
last characteristic, I may here mention that, when her first overweening
confidence had yielded to doubt, she, although dotingly fond of her
nephew, at this time about eight years of age, firmly refused to see him,
"in order," she once said to me--and the thought brought a deadly pallor
to her face--in order that, should the worst befall, her memory might
not be involuntarily connected in his mind with images of dungeons, and
disgrace, and shame. Jane Eccles had received what is called in the
country, "a good schooling," and the books Mrs. Davies had lent her she
had eagerly perused. She was therefore to a certain extent a cultivated
person; and her speech and manners were mild, gentle, and, so to speak,
religious. I generally found, when I visited her, a Bible or prayer-book
in her hand. This, however, from my experience, comparatively slight
though it was, did not much impress me in her favor--devotional sentiment
so easily, for a brief time, assumed, being in nine such cases out of ten
a hypocritical deceit. Still she, upon the whole, made a decidedly
favorable impression on me, and I no longer so much wondered at the
bigotry of unbelief manifested by Mrs. Davies in behalf of her apparently
amiable and grateful protegee.
But beyond the moral doubt thus suggested of the prisoner's guilt, my
interviews with her utterly failed to extract anything from her in
rebutment of the charge upon which she was about to be arraigned. At
first she persisted in asserting that the prosecution was based upon
manifest error; that the impounded notes, instead of being forged, were
genuine Bank-of-England paper. It was some time before I succeeded in
convincing her that this hope, to which she so eagerly, desperately
clung, was a fallacious one. I did so at last; and either, thought I, as
I marked her varying color and faltering voice, "either you are a
consummate actress, or else the victim of some frightful delusion or
"I will see you, if you please, to-morrow," she said, looking up from the
chair upon which, with her head bowed and her face covered with her
hands, she had been seated for several minutes in silence. "My thoughts
are confused now, but to-morrow I shall be more composed; better able to
decide if--to talk, I mean, of this unhappy business."
I thought it better to comply without remonstrance, and at once
took my leave.
When I returned the next afternoon, the governor of the prison informed
me that the brother of my client, James Eccles, quite a dashing
gentleman, had had a long interview with her. He had left about two hours
before, with the intention, he said, of calling upon me.
I was conducted to the room where my conferences with the prisoner
usually took place. In a few minutes she appeared, much flushed and
excited, it seemed to be alternately with trembling joy and hope, and
doubt, and nervous fear.
"Well," I said, "I trust you are now ready to give me your unreserved
confidence, without which, be assured, that any reasonable hope of a
successful issue from the peril in which you are involved is out of the
The varying emotions I have noticed were clearly traceable as they swept
over her tell-tale countenance during the minute or so that elapsed
before she spoke.
"Tell me candidly, sir," she said at last, "whether, if I owned to you
that the notes were given to me by a--a person, whom I cannot, if I
would, produce, to purchase various articles at different shops, and
return him--the person I mean--the change; and that I made oath this was
done by me in all innocence of heart, as the God of heaven and earth
truly knows it was, it would avail me?"
"Not in the least," I replied, angry at such trifling. "How can you ask
such a question? We must _find_ the person who, you intimate, has
deceived you, and placed your life in peril; and if that can be proved,
hang him instead of you. I speak plainly, Miss Eccles," I added in a
milder tone; "perhaps you may think unfeelingly, but there is no further
time for playing with this dangerous matter. To-morrow a true bill will
be found against you, and your trial may then come on immediately. If you
are careless for yourself, you ought to have some thought for the
sufferings of your excellent friend, Mrs. Davies; for your nephew, soon
perhaps to be left friendless and destitute."
"Oh spare me--spare me!" sobbed the unhappy young woman, sinking
nervelessly into a seat. "Have pity upon me, wretched, bewildered as I
am!" Tears relieved her, and after awhile, she said, "It is useless, sir,
to prolong this interview. I could not, I solemnly assure you, if I
would, tell you where to search for or find the person of whom I spoke.
And," she added, whilst the lines about her mouth of which I have spoken,
grew distinct and rigid, "I would not if I could. What indeed would it,
as I have been told and believe, avail, but to cause the death of two
deceived innocent persons instead of one? Besides," she continued, trying
to speak with firmness, and repress the shudder which crept over and
shook her as with ague--"besides, whatever the verdict, the penalty will
not, cannot, I am sure, I know, be--be"--
I understood her plainly enough, although her resolution failed to
sustain her through the sentence.
"Who is this brother--James Eccles, he calls himself--whom you saw at the
police-office, and who has twice been here, I understand--once to-day?"
A quick start revealed the emotion with which she heard the question,
and her dilated eyes rested upon me for a moment with eager scrutiny.
She speedily recovered her presence of mind, and with her eyes again
fixed on the floor, said in a quivering voice, "My brother! Yes--as you
"Mrs. Davies says you have no brother!" I sharply rejoined.
"Good Mrs. Davies," she replied in a tone scarcely above a whisper, and
without raising her head, "does not know all our family."
A subterfuge was, I was confident, concealed in these words; but after
again and again urging her to confide in me, and finding warning and
persuasion alike useless, I withdrew, discomfited and angry, and withal
as much concerned and grieved as baffled and indignant. On going out, I
arranged with the governor that the "brother," if he again made his
appearance, should be detained, _bongre malgre_, till my arrival. Our
precaution was too late--he did not reappear; and so little notice had
any one taken of his person, that to advertise a description of him with
a reward for his apprehension was hopeless.
A true bill was found, and two hours afterwards Jane Eccles was placed in
the dock. The trial did not last more than twenty minutes, at the end of
which, an unhesitating verdict of guilty was returned, and she was duly
sentenced to be hanged by the neck till she was dead. We had retained the
ablest counsel practicing in the court, but, with no tangible defence,
their efforts were merely thrown away. Upon being asked what she had to
say why the sentence of the law should not be carried into effect? she
repeated her previous statement--that the notes had been given her to
change by a person in whom she reposed the utmost confidence; and that
she had not the slightest thought of evil or fraud in what she did. That
person, however, she repeated once more, could not be produced. Her
assertions only excited a derisive smile; and all necessary forms having
been gone through, she was removed from the bar.
The unhappy woman bore the ordeal through which she had just passed with
much firmness. Once only, whilst sentence was being passed, her
high-strung resolution appeared to falter and give way. I was watching
her intently, and I observed that she suddenly directed a piercing look
towards a distant part of the crowded court. In a moment her eye
lightened, the expression of extreme horror which had momently darkened
her countenance passed away, and her partial composure returned. I had
instinctively, as it were, followed her glance, and thought I detected a
tall man enveloped in a cloak engaged in dumb momentary communication
with her. I jumped up from my seat, and hastened as quickly as I could
through the thronged passages to the spot, and looked eagerly around, but
the man, whosoever he might be, was gone.
The next act in this sad drama was the decision of the Privy Council upon
the recorder's report. It came. Several were reprieved, but amongst them
was _not_ Jane Eccles. She and nine others were to perish at eight
o'clock on the following morning.
The anxiety and worry inseparable from this most unhappy affair, which,
from Mr. Flint's protracted absence, I had exclusively to bear, fairly
knocked me up, and on the evening of the day on which the decision of the
Council was received, I went to bed much earlier than usual, and really
ill. Sleep I could not, and I was tossing restlessly about, vainly
endeavoring to banish from my mind the gloomy and terrible images
connected with the wretched girl and her swiftly-coming fate, when a
quick tap sounded on the door, and a servant's voice announced that one
of the clerks had brought a letter which the superscription directed to
be read without a moment's delay. I sprang out of bed, snatched the
letter, and eagerly ran it over. It was from the Newgate chaplain, a very
worthy, humane gentleman, and stated that, on hearing the result of the
deliberations of the Privy Council, all the previous stoicism and
fortitude exhibited by Jane Eccles had completely given way, and she had
abandoned herself to the wildest terror and despair. As soon as she could
speak coherently, she implored the governor with frantic earnestness to
send for me. As this was not only quite useless in the opinion of that
official, but against the rules, the prisoner's request was not complied
with. The chaplain, however, thinking it might be as well that I should
know of her desire to see me, had of his own accord sent me this note. He
thought that possibly the sheriffs would permit me to have a brief
interview with the condemned prisoner in the morning, if I arrived
sufficiently early; and although it could avail nothing as regarded her
fate in this world, still it might perhaps calm the frightful tumult of
emotion by which she was at present tossed and shaken, and enable her to
meet the inevitable hour with fortitude and resignation.
It was useless to return to bed after receiving such a communication,
and I forthwith dressed myself, determined to sit up and read, if I
could, till the hour at which I might hope to be admitted to the jail,
should strike. Slowly and heavily the dark night limped away, and as the
first rays of the cold wintry dawn reached the earth, I sallied forth. A
dense, brutal crowd were already assembled in front of the prison, and
hundreds of well-dressed sight-seers occupied the opposite windows,
morbidly eager for the rising of the curtain upon the mournful tragedy
about to be enacted. I obtained admission without much difficulty, but,
till the arrival of the sheriffs, no conference with the condemned
prisoners could be possibly permitted. Those important functionaries
happened on this morning to arrive unusually late, and I paced up and
down the paved corridor in a fever of impatience and anxiety. They were
at last announced, but before I could, in the hurry and confusion,
obtain speech of either of them, the dismal bell tolled out, and I felt
with a shudder that it was no longer possible to effect my object.
"Perhaps it is better so," observed the reverend chaplain, in a whisper.
"She has been more composed for the last two or three hours, and is now,
I trust, in a better frame of mind for death." I turned, sick at heart,
to leave the place, and in my agitation missing the right way, came
directly in view of the terrible procession. Jane Eccles saw me, and a
terrific scream, followed by frantic heart-rending appeals to me to save
her, burst with convulsive effort from her white quivering lips. Never
will the horror of that moment pass from my remembrance. I staggered
back, as if every spasmodic word struck me like a blow; and then,
directed by one of the turnkeys, sped in an opposite direction as fast
as my trembling limbs could carry me--the shrieks of the wretched
victim, the tolling of the dreadful bell, and the obscene jeers and
mocks of the foul crowd through which I had to force my way, evoking a
confused tumult of disgust and horror in my brain, which, if long
continued, would have driven me mad. On reaching home, I was bled
freely, and got to bed. This treatment, I have no doubt, prevented a
violent access of fever; for, as it was, several days passed before I
could be safely permitted to re-engage in business.
On revisiting the office, a fragment of a letter written by Jane Eccles
a few hours previous to her death, and evidently addressed to Mrs.
Davies, was placed by Mr. Flint, who had by this time returned, before
me. The following is an exact copy of it, with the exception that the
intervals which I have marked with dots,.... were filled with erasures
and blots, and that every word seemed to have been traced by a hand
smitten with palsy:--
"From my Death-place, _Midnight._
"Dear Madam--No, beloved friend--mother, let me call you.... Oh kind,
gentle mother, I am to die ... to be killed in a few hours by cruel
men!--I, so young, so unprepared for death, and yet guiltless! Oh never
doubt that I am guiltless of the offence for which they will have the
heart to hang me.... Nobody, they say, can save me now; yet if I could
see the lawyer.... I have been deceived, cruelly deceived, madam--buoyed
up by lying hopes, till just now the thunder burst, and I--oh God!.... As
they spoke, the fearful chapter in the Testament came bodily before
me--the rending of the vail in twain, the terrible darkness, and the
opened graves!.... I did not write for this, but my brain aches and
dazzles.... It is too late--too late, they all tell me! ... Ah, if these
dreadful laws were not so swift, I might yet--but no; _he_ clearly proved
to me how useless.... I must not think of that.... It is of my nephew, of
your Henry, child of my affections, that I would speak. Oh, would that
I.... But hark!--they are coming.... The day has dawned ... to me the day
This incoherent scrawl only confirmed my previous suspicions, but it was
useless to dwell further on the melancholy subject. The great axe had
fallen, and whether justly or unjustly, would, I feared, as in many, very
many other cases, never be clearly ascertained in this world. I was
mistaken. Another case of "uttering forged Bank-of-England notes, knowing
them to be forged," which came under our cognizance a few months
afterwards, revived the fading memory of Jane Eccles's early doom, and
cleared up every obscurity connected with it.
The offender in this new case, was a tall, dark-complexioned, handsome
man, of about thirty years of age, of the name of Justin Arnold. His lady
mother, whose real name I shall conceal under that of Barton, retained us
for her son's defence, and from her, and other sources, we learned the
Justin Arnold was the lady's son by a former marriage. Mrs. Barton, a
still splendid woman, had, in second nuptials, espoused a very wealthy
person, and from time to time had covertly supplied Justin Arnold's
extravagance. This, however, from the wild course the young man pursued,
could not be forever continued, and after many warnings the supplies were
stopped. Incapable of reformation, Justin Arnold, in order to obtain the
means of dissipation, connected himself with a cleverly-organized band of
swindlers and forgers, who so adroitly managed their nefarious business,
that, till his capture, they had contrived to keep themselves clear of
the law--the inferior tools and dupes having been alone caught in its
fatal meshes. The defence, under these circumstances necessarily a
difficult, almost impossible one, was undertaken by Mr. Flint, and
conducted by him with his accustomed skill and energy.
I took a very slight interest in the matter, and heard very little
concerning it till its judicial conclusion by the conviction of the
offender, and his condemnation to death. The decision on the
recorder's report was this time communicated to the authorities of
Newgate on a Saturday, so that the batch ordered for execution,
amongst whom was Justin Arnold, would not be hanged till the Monday
morning. Rather late in the evening a note once more reached me from
the chaplain of the prison. Justin Arnold wished to see me--_me_, not
Mr. Flint. He had something of importance to communicate, he said,
relative to a person in whom I had once felt great interest. It
flashed across me that this Justin might be the "brother" of Jane
Eccles, and I determined to see him. I immediately sought out one of
the sheriffs, and obtained an order empowering me to see the prisoner
on the afternoon of the morrow, (Sunday).
I found that the convict had expressed great anxiety lest I should
decline to see him. My hoped-for visit was the only matter which
appeared to occupy the mind or excite the care of the mocking,
desperate young man; even the early and shameful termination of his own
life on the morrow, he seemed to be utterly reckless of. Thus prepared,
I was the less surprised at the scene which awaited me in the
prisoner's cell, where I found him in angry altercation with the pale
and affrighted chaplain.
I had never seen Justin Arnold before, this I was convinced of the
instant I saw him; but he knew and greeted me instantly by name. His
swarthy, excited features were flushed and angry; and after briefly
thanking me for complying with his wishes, he added in a violent rapid
tone, "This good man has been teasing me. He says, and truly, that I have
defied God by my life; and now he wishes me to mock that inscrutable
Being, on the eve of death, by words without sense, meaning, or truth!"
"No, no, no!" ejaculated the reverend gentleman. "I exhorted you to true
repentance, to peace, charity, to"--
"True repentance, peace, charity!" broke in the prisoner, with a scornful
burst; "when my heart is full of rage, and bitterness, and despair! Give
me _time_ for this repentance which you say is so needful--time to lure
back long since banished hope, and peace, and faith! Poh!--you but flout
me with words without meaning. I am unfit, you say, for the presence of
men, but quite fit for that of God, before whom you are about to
arrogantly cast me! Be it so--my deeds are upon my head! It is at least
not my fault that I am hurled to judgment before the Eternal Judge
himself commanded my presence there!"
"He may be unworthy to live," murmured the scared chaplain, "but oh, how
utterly unfit to die!"
"That is true," rejoined Justin Arnold, with undiminished vehemence.
"Those, if you will, are words of truth and sense--go you and preach them
to the makers and executioners of English law. In the meantime I would
speak privately with this gentleman."
The reverend pastor, with a mute gesture of compassion, sorrow, and
regret, was about to leave the cell, when he was stayed by the prisoner,
who exclaimed, "Now, I think of it, you had better, sir, remain. The
statement I am about to make cannot, for the sake of the victim's
reputation, and for her friends' sake, have too many witnesses. You both
remember Jane Eccles?" A broken exclamation from both of us answered him,
and he quickly added--"Ah, you already guess the truth, I see. Well, I do
not wonder you should start and turn pale. It _was_ a cruel, shameless
deed--a dastardly murder if there was ever one. In as few words as
possible, so you interrupt me not, I will relate _my_ share in the
atrocious business." He spoke rapidly, and once or twice during the brief
recital, the moistened eye and husky voice betrayed emotions which his
pride would have concealed.
"Jane and I were born in Hertfordshire, within a short distance of each
other. I knew her from a child. She was better off then, I worse than we
subsequently became--she by her father's bankruptcy, I by my mo--, by
Mrs. Barton's wealthy marriage. She was about nineteen, I twenty-four,
when I left the country for London. That she loved me with all the
fervor of a trusting woman I well knew; and I had, too, for some time
known that she must be either honorably wooed or not at all. That with
me, was out of the question, and, as I told you, I came about that time
to London. You can, I dare say, imagine the rest. We were--I and my
friends, I mean--at a loss for agents to dispose of our wares, and at the
same time pressed for money. I met Jane Eccles by accident. Genteel, of
graceful address and winning manners, she was just fitted for our
purpose. I feigned re-awakened love, proffered marriage, and a home
across the Atlantic, as soon as certain trifling but troublesome affairs
which momently harassed me were arranged. She believed me. I got her to
change a considerable number of notes under various pretexts, but that
they were forged she had not and could not have the remotest suspicion.
You know the catastrophe. After her apprehension I visited this prison as
her brother, and buoyed her up to the last with illusions of certain
pardon and release, whatever the verdict, through the influence of my
wealthy father-in-law, of our immediate union afterwards, and tranquil
American home. It is needless to say more. She trusted me, and I
sacrificed her; less flagrant instances of a like nature occur every day.
And now, gentlemen, I would fain be alone."
"Remorseless villain!" I could not help exclaiming under my breath as he
He turned quickly back, and looking me in the face, without the slightest
anger, said, "An execrable villain if you like--not a remorseless one!
Her death alone sits near, and troubles my, to all else, hardened
conscience. And let me tell you, reverend sir," he continued, resuming
his former bitterness as he addressed the chaplain--"let me tell you that
it was not the solemn words of the judge the other day, but her pale,
reproachful image, standing suddenly beside me in the dock, just as she
looked when I passed my last deception on her, that caused the tremor and
affright, complacently attributed by that grave functionary to his own
sepulchral eloquence. After all, her death cannot be exclusively laid to
my charge. Those who tried her would not believe her story, and yet it
was true as death. Had they not been so confident in their own unerring
wisdom, they might have doomed her to some punishment short of the
scaffold, and could now have retrieved their error. But I am weary, and
would, I repeat, be alone. Farewell!" He threw himself on the rude
pallet, and we silently withdrew.
A paper embodying Justin Arnold's declaration was forwarded to the
secretary of state, and duly acknowledged, accompanied by an official
expression of mild regret that it had not been made in time to save the
life of Jane Eccles. No further notice was taken of the matter, and the
record of the young woman's judicial sacrifice still doubtless encumbers
the archives of the Home Office, forming, with numerous others of like
character, the dark, sanguine background upon which the achievements of
the great and good men who have so successfully purged the old Draco code
that now a faint vestige only of the old barbarism remains, stands out in
bright relief and changeless lustre.
"EVERY MAN HIS OWN LAWYER."
A smarter trader, a keener appreciator of the tendencies to a rise or
fall in colonial produce--sugars more especially--than John Linden, of
Mincing Lane, it would have been difficult to point out in the wide city
of London. He was not so immensely rich as many others engaged in the
same merchant-traffic as himself; nothing at all like it, indeed, for I
doubt that he could at any time have been esteemed worth more than from
eighty to ninety thousand pounds; but his transactions, although limited
in extent when compared with those of the mammoth colonial houses, almost
always returned more or less of profit; the result of his remarkable
keenness and sagacity in scenting hurricanes, black insurrections, and
emancipation bills, whilst yet inappreciable, or deemed afar off, by less
sensitive organizations. At least to this wonderful prescience of future
sugar-value did Mr. Linden himself attribute his rise in the world, and
gradual increase in rotundity, riches, and respectability. This constant
success engendered, as it is too apt to do, inordinate egotism, conceit,
self-esteem, vanity. There was scarcely a social, governmental, or
economical problem which he did not believe himself capable of solving as
easily as he could eat his dinner when hungry. "Common-sense
business-habits"--his favorite phrase--he believed to be quite sufficient
for the elucidation of the most difficult question in law, physic, or
divinity. The science of law, especially, he held to be an alphabet which
any man--of common sense and business habits--could as easily master as
he could count five on his fingers; and there was no end to his ridicule
of the men with horse-hair head-dresses, and their quirks, quiddits,
cases, tenures, and such-like devil's lingo. Lawyers, according to him,
were a set of thorough humbugs and impostors, who gained their living by
false pretence--that of affording advice and counsel, which every sane
man could better render himself. He was unmistakably mad upon this
subject, and he carried his insane theory into practice. He drew his own
leases, examined the titles of some house-property he purchased, and set
his hand and seal to the final deeds, guided only by his own common-sense
spectacles. Once he bid, at the Auction Mart, as high as fifty-three
thousand pounds for the Holmford estate, Herefordshire; and had he not
been outbidden by young Palliser, son of the then recently-deceased
eminent distiller, who was eager to obtain the property, with a view to a
seat in parliament which its possession was said to almost insure--he
would, I had not at the time the slightest doubt, have completed the
purchase, without for a moment dreaming of submitting the vender's title
to the scrutiny of a professional adviser. Mr. Linden, I should mention,
had been for some time desirous of resigning his business in Mincing Lane
to his son, Thomas Linden, the only child born to him by his long-since
deceased wife, and of retiring, an estated squire-arch, to the _otium
cum._, or _sine dignitate_, as the case might be, of a country life; and
this disposition had of late been much quickened by daily-increasing
apprehensions of negro emancipation and revolutionary interference with
differential duties--changes which, in conjunction with others of similar
character, would infallibly bring about that utter commercial ruin which
Mr. Linden, like every other rich and about-to-retire merchant or
tradesman whom I have ever known, constantly prophesied to be near at
hand and inevitable.
With such a gentleman the firm of Flint & Sharp had only professional
interviews, when procrastinating or doubtful debtors required that he
should put on the screw--a process which, I have no doubt, he would
himself have confidently performed, but for the waste of valuable time
which doing so would necessarily involve. Both Flint and myself were,
however, privately intimate with him--Flint more especially, who had
known him from boyhood--and we frequently dined with him on a Sunday at
his little box at Fulham. Latterly, we had on these occasions met there a
Mrs. Arnold and her daughter Catherine--an apparently amiable, and
certainly very pretty and interesting young person--to whom, Mr. Linden
confidentially informed us, his son Tom had been for some time engaged.
"I don't know much about her family," observed Mr. Linden one day, in the
course of a gossip at the office, "but she moves in very respectable
society. Tom met her at the Slades'; but I _do_ know she has something
like thirty-five thousand pounds in the funds. The instant I was informed
how matters stood with the young folk, I, as a matter of common sense and
business, asked the mother, Mrs. Arnold, for a reference to her banker or
solicitor--there being no doubt that a woman and a minor would be in
lawyers' leading-strings--and she referred me to Messrs. Dobson of
Chancery Lane. You know the Dobsons?"
"Perfectly,--what was the reply?"
"That Catherine Arnold, when she came of age--it wants but a very short
time of that now--would be entitled to the capital of thirty-four
thousand seven hundred pounds, bequeathed by an uncle, and now lodged in
the funds in the names of the trustees, Crowther & Jenkins, of Leadenhall
Street, by whom the interest on that sum was regularly paid,
half-yearly, through the Messrs. Dobson, for the maintenance and
education of the heiress. A common-sense, business-like letter in every
respect, and extremely satisfactory; and as soon as he pleases, after
Catherine Arnold comes of age, and into actual possession of her fortune,
Tom may have her, with my blessing over the bargain."
I dined at Laurel Villa, Fulham, about two months after this
conversation, and Linden and I found ourselves alone over the
dessert--the young people having gone out for a stroll, attracted
doubtless by the gay aspect of the Thames, which flows past the miniature
grounds attached to the villa. Never had I seen Mr. Linden in so gay, so
mirthful a mood.
"Pass the decanter," he exclaimed, the instant the door had closed upon
Tom and his _fiancee_. "Pass the decanter, Sharp; I have news for you, my
boy, now they are gone."
"Indeed! and what may the news be?"
"Fill a bumper for yourself, and I'll give you a toast. Here's to the
health and prosperity of the proprietor of the Holmford estate; and may
he live a thousand years, and one over!--Hip--hip--hurra!"
He swallowed his glass of wine, and then, in his intensity of glee,
laughed himself purple.
"You needn't stare so," he said, as soon as he had partially recovered
breath; "I am the proprietor of the Holmford property--bought it for
fifty-six thousand pounds of that young scant-grace and spendthrift,
Palliser--fifteen thousand pounds less than what it cost him, with the
outlay he has made upon it. Signed, sealed, delivered, paid for
yesterday. Ha! ha! ho! Leave John Linden alone for a bargain! It's worth
seventy thousand pounds if it's worth a shilling. I say," continued he,
after a renewed spasm of exuberant mirth, "not a word about it to
anybody--mind! I promised Palliser, who is quietly packing up to be off
to Italy, or Australia, or Constantinople, or the devil--all of them,
perhaps, in succession--not to mention a word about it till he was well
off--you understand? Ha! ha!--ho! ho!" again burst out Mr. Linden. "I
pity the poor creditors though! Bless you! I shouldn't have had it at
anything like the price, only for his knowing that I was not likely to be
running about exposing the affair, by asking lawyers whether an estate in
a family's possession, as this was in Dursley's for three hundred years,
had a good title or not. So be careful not to drop a word, even to
Tom--for my honor's sake. A delicious bargain, and no mistake! Worth, if
a penny, seventy thousand pounds. Ha! ha!--ho! ho!"
"Then you have really parted with that enormous sum of money without
having had the title to the estate professionally examined?"
"Title! Fiddlestick! I looked over the deeds myself. Besides, haven't I
told you the ancestors of Dursley, from whose executors Palliser
purchased the estate, were in possession of it for centuries. What better
title than prescription can there be?"
"That may be true enough; but still"--
"I ought, you think, to have risked losing the bargain by delay, and have
squandered time and money upon fellows in horse-hair wigs, in order to
ascertain what I sufficiently well knew already? Pooh! I am not in my
second childhood yet!"
It was useless to argue with him; besides the mischief, if mischief there
was, had been done, and the not long-delayed entrance of the young couple
necessitating a change of topic, I innocently inquired what he thought of
the Negro Emancipation Bill which Mr. Stanley, as the organ of the
ministry, had introduced a few evenings previously? and was rewarded by a
perfect deluge of loquacious indignation and invective--during a pause in
which hurly-burly of angry words I contrived to effect my escape.
"Crowther & Jenkins!" exclaimed one morning, Mr. Flint, looking up from
the "Times" newspaper he held in his hand. "Crowther & Jenkins!--what is
it we know about Crowther & Jenkins?"
The question was addressed to me, and I, like my partner, could not at
the moment precisely recall why those names sounded upon our ears with a
certain degree of interest as well as familiarity. "Crowther & Jenkins!"
I echoed. "True; what _do_ we know about Crowther & Jenkins? Oh, I have
it!--they are the executors of a will under which young Linden's pretty
bride, that is to be, inherits her fortune."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Flint, as he put down the paper, and looked me
gravely in the face--"I remember now; their names are in the list of
bankrupts. A failure in the gambling corn-trade too. I hope they have not
been speculating with the young woman's money."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when Mr. Linden was announced,
and presently in walked that gentleman in a state of considerable
"I told you," he began, "some time ago about Crowther & Jenkins being the
persons in whose names Catherine Arnold's money stood in the funds?"
"Yes," replied Flint; "and I see by the 'Gazette' they are bankrupts,
and, by your face, that they have speculated with your intended
daughter-in-law's money, and lost it!"
"Positively so!" rejoined Mr. Linden, with great heat. "Drew it out many
months ago! But they have exceedingly wealthy connections--at least
Crowther has--who will, I suppose, arrange Miss Arnold's claim rather
than their relative should be arraigned for felony."
"Felony!--you are mistaken, my good sir. There is no felony--no _legal_
felony, I mean--in the matter. Miss Arnold can only prove against the
estate like any other creditor."
"The devil she can't! Tom, then, must look out for another wife, for I am
credibly informed there won't be a shilling in the pound."
And so it turned out. The great corn-firm had been insolvent for years;
and after speculating desperately, and to a frightful extent, with a view
to recover themselves, had failed to an enormous amount--their assets,
comparatively speaking, proving to be _nil_.
The ruin spread around, chiefly on account of the vast quantity of
accommodation-paper they had afloat, was terrible; but upon no one did
the blow fall with greater severity than on young Linden and his promised
wife. His father ordered him to instantly break off all acquaintance with
Miss Arnold; and on the son, who was deeply attached to her, peremptorily
refusing to do so, Linden, senior, threatened to turn him out of doors,
and ultimately disinherit him. Angry, indignant, and in love, Thomas
Linden did a very rash and foolish thing; he persuaded Catherine Arnold
to consent to a private marriage, arguing that if the indissoluble knot
were once fairly tied, his father would, as a matter of course--he being
an only child--become reconciled to what he could no longer hope to
prevent or remedy.
The imprudent young man deceived both himself and her who trusted in his
pleasing plausibilities. Ten minutes after he had disclosed the marriage
to his father, he was turned, almost penniless, out of doors; and the
exasperated and inexorable old man refused to listen to any
representation in his favor, by whomsoever proffered, and finally, even
to permit the mention of his name in his hearing.
"It's of no use," said Mr. Flint, on returning for the last time, from a
mission undertaken to extort, if possible, some provision against
absolute starvation for the newly-wedded couple. "He is as cold and hard
as adamant, and I think, if possible, even more of a tiger than before.
He will be here presently to give instructions for his will."
"His will! Surely he will draw that up himself after his own
common-sense, business fashion?"
"He would unquestionably have done so a short time since; but some events
that have lately occurred have considerably shaken his estimate of his
own infallibility, and he is, moreover, determined, he says, that there
shall be no mistake as to effectually disinheriting his son. He has made
two or three heavy losses, and his mind is altogether in a very cankered,
Mr. Linden called, as he had promised to do, and gave us the written
heads of a will which he desired to have at once formally drawn up. By
this instrument he devised the Holmford estate, and all other property,
real and personal, of which he might die possessed, to certain charitable
institutions, in varying proportions, payable as soon after his death as
the property could be turned into money. "The statute of mortmain does
not give me much uneasiness," remarked the vindictive old man with a
bitter smile. "I shall last some time yet. I would have left it all to
you, Flint," he added, "only that I knew you would defeat my purpose by
giving it back to that disobedient, ungrateful, worthless boy."
"Do leave it to me," rejoined Mr. Flint, with grave emphasis, "and I
promise you faithfully this--that the wish respecting it, whatever it may
be, which trembles on your lip as you are about to leave this world for
another, and when it may be too late to formally revoke the testament you
now propose, shall be strictly carried out. That time cannot be a very
distant one, John Linden, for a man whose hair is white as yours."
It was preaching to the winds. He was deaf, blind, mute, to every attempt
at changing his resolve. The will was drawn in accordance with his
peremptorily-iterated instructions, and duly signed, sealed, and
attested. Not very long afterwards, Mr. Linden disposed of his business
in Mincing Lane, and retired to Holmford, but with nothing like the
money-fortune he had once calculated upon, the losses alluded to by Mr.
Flint, and followed by others, having considerably diminished his wealth.
We ultimately obtained a respectable and remunerative situation for
Thomas Linden in a mercantile house at Belfast, with which we were
professionally acquainted, and after securing berths in the _Erin_
steamer, he, with his wife and mother-in-law, came, with a kind of
hopeful sadness in their looks and voices, to bid us farewell--for a very
long time, they and we also feared--
For an eternity, it seemed, on reading the account of the loss of the
_Erin_, a few days afterwards, with every soul on board! Their names were
published with those of the other passengers who had embarked, and we had
of course concluded that they had perished, when a letter reached us from
Belfast, stating that, through some delay on the part of Mrs. Arnold,
they had happily lost their passage in the _Erin_, and embarked in the
next steamer for Belfast, where they arrived in perfect safety. We
forwarded this intelligence to Holmford, but it elicited no reply.
We heard nothing of Mr. Linden for about two months, except by
occasional notices in the "Hereford Times", which he regularly forwarded
to the office, relative to the improvements on the Holmford estate,
either actually begun or contemplated by its new proprietor. He very
suddenly reappeared. I was cooling my heels in the waiting-room of the
chambers of the Barons of the Exchequer, Chancery Lane, awaiting my turn
of admission, when one of our clerks came in, half-breathless with haste.
"You are wanted, sir, immediately; Mr. Flint is out, and Mr. Linden is at
the office raving like a mad-man." I instantly transferred the business I
was in attendance at chambers upon, to the clerk, and with the help of a
cab soon reached home.
Mr. Linden was not _raving_ when I arrived. The violence of the paroxysm
of rage and terror by which he was possessed had passed away, and he
looked, as I entered, the image of pale, rigid, iron, dumb despair. He
held a letter and a strip of parchment in his hand; these he presented,
and with white, stammering lips, bade me read. The letter was from an
attorney of the name of Sawbridge, giving notice of an action of
ejectment, to oust him from the possession of the Holmford estate, the
property, according to Mr. Sawbridge, of one Edwin Majoribanks; and the
strip of parchment was the writ by which the letter had been quickly
followed. I was astounded; and my scared looks questioned Mr. Linden for
"I do not quite understand it," he said in a hoarse, palpitating voice.
"No possession or title in the venders; a niece not of age--executors no
power to sell--Palliser discovered it, robbed me, absconded, and I, oh
God! am a miserable beggar!"
The last words were uttered with a convulsive scream, and after a few
frightful struggles he fell down in a fit. I had him conveyed to bed,
and as soon as he was somewhat recovered, I hastened off to ascertain
from Sawbridge, whom I knew very intimately, the nature of the claim
intended to be set up for the plaintiff, Edwin Majoribanks.
I met Sawbridge just as he was leaving his office, and as he was in too
great a hurry to turn back, I walked along with him, and he rapidly
detailed the chief facts about to be embodied in the plaintiff's
declaration. Archibald Dursley, once a London merchant, and who died a
bachelor, had bequeathed his estate, real and personal, to his brother
Charles, and a niece, his sister's child--two-thirds to the niece, and
one-third to the brother. The Holmford property, the will directed,
should be sold by public auction when the niece came of age, unless she,
by marriage or otherwise, was enabled, within six months after attaining
her majority, to pay over to Charles Dursley his third in money,
according to a valuation made for the purpose by competent assessors. The
brother, Charles Dursley, had urged upon the executors to anticipate the
time directed by the will for the sale of the property; and having
persuaded the niece to give a written authorization for the immediate
sale, the executors, chiefly, Sawbridge supposed, prompted by their own
necessities, sold the estate accordingly. But the niece not being of age
when she signed the authority to sell, her consent was of no legal value;
and she having since died intestate, Edwin Majoribanks, her cousin and
undoubted heir-at-law--for the property could not have passed from her,
even by marriage--now claimed the estate. Charles Dursley, the brother,
was dead; "and," continued Mr. Sawbridge, "the worst of it is, Linden
will never get a farthing of his purchase-money from the venders, for
they are bankrupt, nor from Palliser, who has made permanent arrangements
for continuing abroad, out of harm's reach. It is just as I tell you,"
he added, as we shook hands at parting; "but you will of course see the
will, and satisfy yourself. Good-by."
Here was a precious result of amateur common-sense lawyership! Linden
could only have examined the abstract of title furnished him by
Palliser's attorney, and not the right of Dursley's executors to sell; or
had not been aware that the niece could not during her minority,
subscribe an effective legal consent.
I found Mr. Flint at the office, and quickly imparted the astounding
news. He was as much taken aback as myself.
"The obstinate, pig-headed old ass!" he exclaimed; "it almost serves him
right, if only for his Tom-fool nonsense of 'Every man his own lawyer.'
What did you say was the niece's name?"
"Well, I don't remember that Sawbridge told me--he was in such a hurry;
but suppose you go at once and look over the will?"
"True: I will do so;" and away he went.
"This is a very singular affair, Sharp," said Mr. Flint on his return
from Doctors' Commons, at the same time composedly seating himself,
hooking his thumbs into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, crossing his
legs, and tilting his chair back on its hind legs. "A very singular
affair. Whom, in the name of the god of thieves--Mercury, wasn't he
called?--do you suppose the bankrupt executors to be? No other,"
continued Mr. Flint with a sudden burst, "than Crowther & Jenkins!"
"The devil!--and the niece then is"--
"Catherine Arnold--Tom Linden's wife--supposed to have been drowned in
the _Erin_! That's check-mate, I rather fancy--not only to Mr. Edwin
Majoribanks, but some one else we know of. The old fellow up stairs
won't refuse to acknowledge his daughter-in-law now, I fancy!"
This was indeed a happy change in the fortunes of the House of Linden;
and we discussed, with much alacrity, the best mode of turning
disclosures so momentous and surprising to the best account. As a first
step, a letter with an inclosure, was dispatched to Belfast, requiring
the return of Thomas Linden and family immediately; and the next was to
plead in form to the action. This done, we awaited Catherine Linden's
arrival in London, and Mr. Linden senior's convalescence--for his mental
agitation had resulted in a sharp fit of illness--to effect a
satisfactory and just arrangement.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Linden and Mrs. Arnold arrived by the earliest
steamer that left Belfast after the receipt of our letter; and much
astonished were they by the intelligence that awaited them. Catherine
Linden was for confirming the validity of the sale of the Holmford estate
by her now authoritative consent at once, as a mere act of common justice
and good faith; but this, looking at the total loss of fortune she had
sustained by the knavery of the executors, and the obstinate, mulish
temper of the father-in-law, from whom she had already received such
harsh treatment, could not for a moment be permitted; and it was finally
resolved to take advantage of the legal position in which she stood, to
enforce a due present provision for herself and husband, and their
ultimate succession to the estate.
John Linden gradually recovered; and as soon as it was deemed prudent to
do so, we informed him that the niece was not dead, as the plaintiff in
the action of ejectment had supposed, and that of course, if she could
now be persuaded to ratify the imperative consent she had formerly
subscribed, he might retain Holmford. At first he received the
intelligence as a gleam of light and hope, but he soon relapsed into
doubt and gloom. "What chance was there," he hopelessly argued, "that,
holding the legal power, she would not exercise it?" It was not, he said,
in human nature to do otherwise; and he commissioned us to make liberal
offers for a compromise. Half--he would be content to lose half his
purchase-money; even a greater sacrifice than that he would agree
to--anything, indeed, that would not be utter ruin--that did not involve
utter beggary and destitution in old age.
Three days after this conversation, I announced to him that the lady and
her husband were below and desirous of seeing him.
"What do they say?" he eagerly demanded. "Will they accept of
half--two-thirds? What do they say?"