Page images
PDF
EPUB

thirty years, and in this matter have a right to be heard. You are dying, and about to do a deed of gross injustice against your only

son

“ lle is no son of mine," shouted the old man, furiously. “I tell you, he is no son of mine. He rebelled against my authority, disobeyed my express command, and has, therefore, no claim upon me.”

“Think and say as you choose, he is your son," persisted Mrs Mason; "and you have no right to do him the injury you intend. God knows, you have already treated him most cruelly; and now, when death stares you in the face, and you are about to appear before your Maker, instead of sending for a lawyer, that you may leave him penniless, you should rather have sent for him, to entreat his forgiveness.”

“His forgiveness !” shrieked the infuriated man, “the rebellious ingrate. No, he shall find what it is to have braved my wrath. . He is in prison, I understand. There, let him rot; for not a farthing of mine shall he ever touch. Ha! my heart. Would, O would that Frank and Deepwell were come!”

“ Have you no fear for the future ?" asked Mrs Mason, bending a look of solemn meaning into Mr Everly's bloodshot eyes.

“ Pshawl there is no future. Don't try to frighten me,” was the daring reply.

“ No future ?” echoed Mrs Masop. “So you believe that, do you, as if crimes like yours can be committed without punishment ? There is a future, Mr Everly, and a terrible future it will be for you."

sI'll risk it,” he rejoined, with a hollow, fearful laugh.

“Don't stifle your conscience, by trying to believe what is not true," said Mrs Mason, determined to succeed, if possible, in getting him to forego his purpose. “ You well know," she continued, " that you are about to stand before the bar of the Almighty, and will you dare to rush to it fresh from such a sin?"

"Darel Ay, I'll dare ten times more than this. would have me die, and let that rebel riot on my property ? Never! I swear it; and if there is a God, may he send me to perdition if I keep not my oath."

"Then Heaven have mercy on poor Master Richard," said the shuddering housekeeper.

“Curse him!" muttered the dying man, clenching his hands, and grinding his teeth.

Both relapsed into silence. The taper burned dimly in the apartment, and the wind raged without as furiously as ever. Not a moment could Mr Everly lie still, but tossed and fretted on his fearful death-bed.

“What o'clock is it?" he exclaimed, peevishly.

"Nearly an hour past midnight," answered Mrs Mason, glancing at a clock which stood in a corner.

What! you * And still they are not here.”

He sunk down again, and grew every moment worse, his mental agitation increasing with his bodily weakness, till, as the clock upon the tower struck one, he resembled an incontrollable madman. Large drops of perspiration stood upon his forehead; his breathing became beavy and irregulur; his hands grew numbed and powerless, and the pallor of death spread itself over his countenance.

“ Curses on it I they will be too late," he muttered. “ My hour is come. Why, () why, did I delay till this ?”

Mrs Mason looked on with interest, and for a moment wished that his spirit would depart ere the lawyer arrived.

The sound of a distant gate creaking on its hinges was heard, and both started.

“Ha! they come at last,” cried the dying man, while a gleam of horrid animation lighted up his features. “ Another half hour of life, only a half hour, and I shall die in peace.”

The housekeeper sighed, for she saw that the fraud would be done.

The avenue was pretty long, and some minutes passed ere any one approached the mansion; but at length the hałl door opened, and the footsteps of several persons were heard ascending the stairs.

“ Thank heaven, they are not too late,” whispered the dying man, with frightful triumph.

Thank hell, rather," said Mrs Mason, indignantly. "But I shall not stay to witness such a deed. Farewell, Mr Everly! I may never see you again; but remember I warned you."

Peace, woman," replied Mr Everly, fiercely. « I will listen to your cant no longer. Retire, if you will; and if I ain dead when you return, you will find a smile of gratification on my countenance. Yet, stay; you may be wanted to witness the signing of the will."

" That I shall never do. I shall be a witness, but not here."

“Where then ?” asked her master, fixing his dying eyes on her with wonder.

“At the bar of final judgment," replied Mrs Mason, solemnly, as she glided from the apartment.

On the landing she encountered those who were to take part in the legal performance; and passing them with a cold, stern look, she proceeded to her own apartment.

They entered the chamber of death-Frank Everly, the nephew of the dying man, and the individual in whose favour the will was to be made; Simon Deepwell, the lawyer, who was to draw up the document; and Ned Oakham, the gamekeeper, and his wife, whom Frank had, in his prudent forethought, brought as witnesses.

“Ah, Mr Everly! Sorry to learn you are so ill," said Deepwell, with his smooth, oily tongue. 5 But it is the lot of all of us, and

66

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

""Pray, sir, cease. There is no time for idle sentiment," inter rupted Mr Everly, impatiently. “I am fast dying, and that which you have to do must be done immediately, else but no, no; it must be done ;--do you hear, sir ?--must.

"Certainly, my dear sir; I am quite ready,” answered the lawyer, quietly drawing a parchment from a tin box which he carried beneath his arm. “Mr Frank, may I beg you to draw that table close to the bedside ?"

Frank, with the assistance of Ned Oakham, got the table placed in the required position; the lawyer drew forward a chair, sat himself down where he could fully see the face of Mr Everly, and looked to the latter for directions.

“ Now, my dear sir," he said, “will you mention the way in which you wish to dispose of your property ?”.

“Only in one way," answered Mr Everly, with a vindictive. smile. "I bequeath my entire property, real and personal, to my nephew there, Frank Everly."

Very good, my dear sir; but I think you have a son ?” remarked the lawyer, carelessly.

6 What of that?” screamed the dying man, starting fiercely up. What matters it, at this moment, whether I have a son or not ?"

Only this, that it will be necessary to mention his pame in the will, and bequeath him a part of your property.”.

* Zounds, sir! are you deaf? Did I not say that every farthing I have goes to my nephew, Frank ? Draw out the will in accordance with that direction."

“ The very way to defeat your purpose entirely,” remarked the lawyer, with his blandest smile.

“How is that? Say quickly what you mean.”

“ In order that your will may stand, it must contain a bequest to the natural heir, of value not less than one shilling.'

“Ha, ha! a shilling be it, then," cried Mr Everly, with a fearful laugh.

"He, he, he!" chuckled Deepwell, facetiously, and began to write. · Nothing now was heard but the scratching of the pen on the parchment, the heavy breathing of Mr Everly, and the raging of the wind without. While this necessary pause continues, we shall cursorily describe the group now standing round this midnight death-bed.

Frank Everly was the only surviving son of Mr Everly's only brother. He was, we are sorry to say, a youth possessed of little amiability of character, and less principle. He was not devoid of talent, and, had his abilities been properly directed, he might have been a useful and honourable member of society; but, alas! instead of using them for the benefit of the social sphere in which Provi.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

dence had placed him, he employed them only for his own selfsh
endsmends which, even when attained, were not calculated to pro-
duce real good, or true personal happiness. Like thousands upon
thousands, he thought that happiness, for which all men sigh, is to
be secured by the gratification of man's lowest earth-born desires.
He cherished false views of life and its conditions ; thought the
enjoyment of existence consisted in the possession of wealth, and
the iodulgence of the animal nature, and not in the cultivation of
the higher or the deeper instincts of the soul, and the practice of
those moral doctrines which the law of God—written without in the
volumes of nature and revelation, and within on the tablets of the
conscience--loudly teaches. With a selfish disposition, and an un-
scrupulous resolution to gratify it, his talents only rendereil him the
more dangerous, and enabled him the better to injure his fellows,
if any of them stood in the way of his own chalked-out course.

Joyfully did this young man view the breach between his uncle
and cousin, and earnestly did he fan the flames-the red, scorching
flames of hate and rage, that burned at the father's heart. In their
continued alienation, he saw a portal opening up to his own advance-
ment. Let but the breach remain uphealed, and, when death came
to snatch his uncle away to the dark region of silence, he hoped to
become owner of Netherton,

He set all his cunning and insinuating powers to work; and, favoured by circumstances, his success was only too certain and complete. Influenced by the nephew's artful representations, and his own vindictive nature, the father's anger increased from day to day; and that son of his, once so proudly looked upon, became an object of the bitterest hatred. Gradually Frank led him to the idea of consummating his vengeance by defrauding the rebellious Richard of his inheritance. At first, even the cold, cruel heart of the imn. placable man shrunk back from this deed; but, ere long, he looked upon it, and cherished it as the crowning act of his offended authority.

Yet was the will in favour of his nephew not made, when a sud-
den and fatal illness overtook him; and on this boisterous summer
night, feeling that death was at hand, he despatched Frank for the
lawyer, and lay in feverish impatience till his arrival. With a
bounding, triumphant heart, the youth rushed to the village, and,
rousing the startled legal agent, hurried him back to the mansion-
house.

This brings us to say a passing word about Simon Deepwell, which
is all the more necessary, as he is destined to play an important
part in this story: Simon was, in all points, the type of a lawyer,
such as an individual of that profession is popularly conceived. He
was a smooth, plotting, overreaching man, ready to serve himself at
the
expense

of his clients, and to suggest or enter into any nefarious

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

scheme which promised to benefit him. If he had a conscience at all, it never seemed to trouble him. His nerves were seldom excited; but in most circumstances he was cool as a cucumber, and perfectly preserved his self-command. His deep, scheming head was always clear, and his eye ever open to take advantage of circumstances.

He, too, had watched with eager eyes the quarrel between Mr Everly and his son; and being the legal agent of the former, he had ample opportunity to use his influence, either to mollify the old man, or keep his enmity alive. He chose to do the latter, in order to further one of his artful, selfish plans. He well knew the character of Frank, and perceived that he would enter into any plan, however fraudulent, if it was likely to profit him. On this knowledge he founded a hope, which led bim at once to advise the estate to be settled on the nephew; and yet to delay the preparation of the deed, by which this might be rendered certain in the event of the uncle's death.

As his object in doing this will appear presently, we need not now mention it; but it was chiefly owing to his wily agency that the will was not executed when death suddenly came to claim his owna While, therefore, he was startled by Frank's summons, he was also thrilled with delight; for the fact communicated was in exact accordance with his wishes, and he only hoped that death would do his work quickly. Still, fearful that this might not be the case, he made every pretence to linger by the way. He had first to dress him. self, and this afforded so long for procrastination. Then he had to go into his office to get the sheet of parchment; and, when alone there, he locked the door, and speut many minutes in communication with his own dark, scheming spirit.

It was curious how completely his appearance changed when no human eye was upon him. His countenance, formerly so passive and impenetrable, became a lively index of the working passions; thoughts, hopes, and feelings within. His eye flashed with excitement, his cheek glowed with strong emotion, and every feature lent itself to form a faithful expression of the mind beneath.

“Good, good!” he exclaimed, rubbing his hands, and walking up and down the room. « Fortune favours me. I know his disease; he cannot hold out above an hour, Let me but contrive to delay matters till then, and my game is won." : Frank's loud and impatient summons broke in upon

his thoughts, and he had to depart to Netherton mansion, which he reached as we have seen.

Ned Oakham, the gamekeeper, was a surly, bearish, if not a brutish fellow, To his master he could be fair and fawning enough, and to bis equals he was forced to behave with common propriety; but he was a passionate, tyrannical fellow for all that;

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »