Page images

the landlady, resolutely. “We


be able te mak oot that Maister Ringald was the gentleman, as I wad ken at ance if I saw that portrait; but this disna prove that he was married to the leddy, and withoot that, I guess, se canna harm a hair o' Sir Edward's head."

Her listeners were at once struck by this view of the matter; for they saw how true it was, and perceived the difficulty that lay in

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

their way.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

“ But there must be other letters in this bureau," exclaimed Richard, suddenly. “She got letters regularly, I think you said?"

“Maist every week,” answered Mrs Ford.

" Then, depend upon it, they are here,” said Everly,"laying his hand emphatically on the bureau. “She would not destroy these letters, more precious to her than the richest gems.'

To work they went again, and sought long and anxiously for other secret drawers. Hour after hour they spent at the task, but to no purpose, and about dusk they had to give up in despair. This was terribly disheartening, for well did they know how important it was to gain possession of those letters. In all probability

, they contained the acknowledgement from Ringald that the lady was his wife; and without some such evidence, they were powerless -without it, Sir Edward might laugh at and defy them.

“ What is to be done?” gasped Richard, sinking into a chair, and
looking at Henry with a vexed expression. “ Mrs Ford is quite
right. We are as yet impotent. Though convinced beyond all
doubt that you are the legitimate son of Ringald Rockhart, and
therefore the heir of the estate, we have no means of getting you
legally into your rights. What, then, is to be done?

Henry could not reply. Besides, being as much at a loss as
Richard, he was so bewildered by the strange discovery made-so
excited to rapture by the thought that he could now unite himself
with honour to Diamond, that he could spare little calculation of
the kind demanded. Richard was in reality more concerned than
himself; for here was a certain power to work out all his long
cherished revenge, if he could only gain the proofs of marriage.
“ I have it,” cried Everly, starting up.

“If any thing can
possibly be done, Strickland is the man to do it. I'll go to him at
“Losh, Mr Everly! ye mauna gang till ye get a cup

Mrs Ford, who entered the room at the moment. But Richard
seemed not to hear her; for, seizing his hat, he rushed out, leaving
the astonished landlady in the midst of an ejaculation.

Commanding himself as well as he could, he gave Mr Strickland
a minute and coherent account of their doings since the morning,
the discovery that had arisen out of them, and the peculiar
difficulty in which they were placed.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

tea," said



The little lawyer listened most attentively, pricked up his ears, and twinkled his eyes a little now and then, but kept quite silent.

“ Hum!” he muttered, when the young man had done,“ a very clear case, morally speaking, but without a leg to stand upon in a court of law. I think with you, Mr Everly, that Ringald was married to this lady, and that, therefore, your young friend is the rightful owner of Rockhart title and estate; but the point is how to get this established. have never met with a case where the moral conviction was so strong in its favour, and legal proof so much awanting. Why, positively we have nothing to take before a judge or jury. We cannot even connect Ringald with the matter at all; for the “Ri" on the back of the letter, and the name Sir Henry inside, speak to nothing in a court. Along with other things, such as Mrs Ford's identification of the portrait, which perhaps might be managed, these would all help to make out a case; but by themselves they are valueless. But granting that we even could show that Ringald is the young man's father, it would help us very little, so long as we had no proof of marriage."

“ But can nothing be done, Mr Strickland ?" demanded Richard. “ Convinced as we are of the certainty of the matter, must we tamely sit idle, and let the wrong be perpetuated ? "

No, I don't say that, only it will require wary handling, and a somewhat bold course of procedure. It can hardly be that Sir Edward, in looking over his brother's papers, did not come on documents to show him that he was not the heir; but, of course, it was his policy to say nothing. On this presumption of knowledge on his part, I found all my hopes of success. I must play a ticklish game with him—ticklish, for he is an old lawyer, and won't be easily taken in. However, I must try. I must make him think that we have a great deal more proof than we actually possess, and surprise or fear him into important admissions. But, I heg pardon: perhaps I am going too far. Is the management of the matter to be put into my bands?”

Surely," answered Richard. "The full and entire management?” inquired the lawyer, with a smile.

“Full and complete," replied Richard.

“Then, pray leave me, Mr Everly, and tell me where you are to be found ?” “At Mrs Ford's," answered Richard.

- I shall not go to Netherton till this matter is sifted.”

"Good-bye, then, for the present. Ere I see you again, it is likely I shall have had an interview with Sir Edward Rockhart.”

Thus good-humouredly bowed out, Richard departed somewhat calmer in mind; for he knew that Mr Strickland, though he did nut speak very hopefully, was yet strongly interested in the case,




[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

and would take it up with all the peculiar ability of his nature. And he was quite right. It was a case just fittel for the worthy Jawyor. The difficulties which surrounded it, the scope it gave for clever maneuvring, and the immeuse consequences it involved, combined to present a temptation to him of no ordinary kind. His strong love for managing a complicated affair came into play, and he set himself to mature the scheme his quick mind had already furmed.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]



[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

It may easily be conceived that the master of Rockbart Hall and his valet were in no pleasant or enviable mood after the occurrences of that eventful night. The baronet had suffered a signal defeat; and as Dogwood hud identified himself so thoroughly with his master's plans, he shared in that defeat, and in the feelings it produced. Sir Edward, gloomy, morose, and passionate at all times, was in a fearful state of mind. In the first place, his scheme had been thwarted—the girl, regarding whom he had formed a plan of personal aggrandizement, had baffled him, slipped from his power, and was now in a place of safety. And this escape of his


had been accompanied by circumstances of mortification and danger

. The proud, imperious baronet had been bound like a bullock, and treated with the most unceremonious insolence by a vulgar gamekeeper; he had been humiliated like a beaten huund before the girl whom he had but a short time before treated with such arrogance; and the worst of it all was, he was powerless to avenge. She was in perfect safety amongst her friends and his foes, and might at any time bring the law into operation against him. True, he had her promise not to do this; but a man of his stamp, who regarded his own word so loosely, did not put much faith in the compact.

Notwithstanding the compromise he had effected, he spent the few subsequent days at Rockhart Hall in a state of equal rage and uneasiness. The girl herself, he believed, would not spontaneously proceed against him, but others might prevail on her to do so, especially that terribly wronged one to whom she had first


for protection. Conscience told him with a voice of thunder, that there he need look for no mercy or forbearance.

Sir Edward sat in his private room, when Dogwood entered, and informed the baronet that a gentleman wished to see him.

“What sort of a man is he, Dogwood ?” asked Sir Edward, carelessly,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

"A little man, sir; a round-faced, simple-looking 'fellow probably a land-surveyor, or something of that sort."

“Ah! very likely. But I don't require any services of that kind. I leave all that to Rackrent. However, show him in, and wait to show him out again. I will give him my answer in two minutes."

Instructed thus, the valet returned to the lobby where he had left his visitor; and beckoning the latter to follow, preceded him to the room in which his master sat. Motioning him to go forward, he stood waiting near the door, to show him out again, as his master had said.

The visitor—who was Mr Strickland-walked deliberately forward, and bowed very politely to Sir Edward, giving him, at the same time, one of his blandest smiles.

Your business, sir?” said the baronet, shortly. “I am engaged, and have no time to spare.”

"I will wait your leisure, Sir Edward,” replied the lawyer, quietly.

“O, not at all, sir: let me know your business at once, as we can doubtless settle it in a few minutes."

“As you please, Sir Edward,” rejoined the other. Then glancing at Dogwood, he added, “ As soon as we are in private, I will do as

you wish,”

[ocr errors]

« In

[ocr errors]

Pshaw! there is no need for privacy,” observed the baronet, peevishly. “ Your business with me cannot be of a nature to require the absence of my confidential servant.” “That I must take the liberty to dispute," answered the lawyer.

my humble judgment, the business on which I am come is of a peculiarly private nature, though more as regards you than myself."

The baronet smiled contemptuously. “Go, Dogwood,” he said, “We may as well humour the gentleman as not; but be withia call." Dogwood vanished, closing the door behind him.

Now, we are alone, sir,” said Sir Edward, curtly. bave no further scruples, please acquaint me with your errand.”

" You think we are strangers, but it was not always so," observed Strickland, with a smile and a slight bow.

The baronet looked at him keenly, but made no sign of recognition. "Our acquaintance is doubtless not of recent date," continued

6 but we have walked the floor of the Parliament House together, and sat on the same bench behind counsel, in the Outer and Inner Houses,”

"Ah! indeed," replied Sir Edward, getting alarmed, for he thought Diamond's promise was to be broken. « But it is so long ago, and so many changes have occurred since then, that I

« If you

the lawyer;

may be

[ocr errors]

bebi whic

F and

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

pardoned for fuiling to recognise you. May I request to know your

Strickland," was the laconic answer.
“O yes, certainly; I remember now. We used generally to be
opposed to each other. I trust your business on the present occa-
sion will not cause us to occupy the same position. But if you
on legal matters, I must refer you to my law-agent, Mr Rackrent."

“It was my opinion, that the nature of the case made it desirable
that you alone should be spoken to."

“O very well, sir," said the baronet, with lowering brows,
“Out with it. I guess its nature.”
“You do?” remarked the lawyer, in surprise.

6 That is an
admission I did not expect.”.

Very likely; but we are at present alone, you know, and the
adınission can do me no harm. I might have known, however, that
the girl would not have been allowed to keep her promise.”

Mr Strickland inwardly chuckled, for he perceived that Sir
Edward had misapprehended him.

“You speak of a girl, sir?” he observed, composedly. "The
natter on which I am come has no connection with a lady."

« No!" exclaimed the baronet. Then, pray, sir, let me at once
know what it is. You cannot state it too briefly, or announce it
too abruptly."
" I doubt that; but we shall see,” thought the lawyer to himself

Then he said aloud, “I am here in behalf of Sir Henry Rockhart,
only son of Mr Ringald Rockhart, your late elder brother."

The lawyer's private doubt was a most correct one. This sudden and explicit mode of announcing his business and such businessfairly overwhelmed his listener. He started violently, clutched at the table for support, and gazed with blanched face and rolling eyes at the little man opposite, who had so quietly caused a bombshell to burst about him.

“ Is this a joke, sir?" he managed to gasp at length, though the paleness did not leave his cheek, nor the horror depart from his eye.

“ No joke, I assure you."

" Then the girl has betrayed me," he roared, the pent-up Avod of rage and despair making way for itself.

“Girl agaiu ?" said Stricklund, eyeing him curiously. “ If you refer to Mr Gray's daughter, I must take leave to correct you. She has not yet revealed any thing regarding this matter."

Sir Edward cursed himself for his precipitancy, for he saw that he had put a weapon in his adversary's hand. Chuking duwu his mortification, he said, as calmly as he could,

“Will you be good enough, sir, to say distinctly and fully, what

have come to do or to say ?”
“ Frankly, then, I hold that you are not the heir to the Rockhart

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »