« PreviousContinue »
If a case
son of Sir Henry Rockhart, Baronet of Rockhart Hall. This, and other corroborative evidence to which it led, induced the young man to prefer his claim, which the gentleman, known as Sir Edward Rockhart, disputed, and hence the present action. Gentlemen, these are the facts of this very important case, and I will now proceed to place them before you in another form, by means of witnesses and documents."
To this plain and concise narrative the jury, judges, and audience listened with wrapt attention. Not a sound was heard in Court, but every one refrained almost from breathing, fearful lest they might lose a syllable. When the advocate concluded and sat down, & rustling noise ensued, such as is observed to take place in the pauses of a popular orator's discourse. The opposite counsel, seeing the influence made by his learned friend's speech, and knowing the effect of first impressions, requested permission of the Lord-President to address the jury at that point. This was somewhat out of rule; but the prosecuting party making noobjection, the request was granted.
Up rose the defender's advocate, a tall man, with a large, thoughtful eye, and broad, expansive brow-at that time the acknowledged head of the Scottish bar. No man could so successfully cross-examine a witness, or get round a jury. failed in his hands, it was assuredly because it was grossly defective in itself, and was made to stand a first glance only because it was set forthoby this the most subtle legal logician of his day. Gathering up his tall, commanding form, and speaking with the calm, clear emphasis for which he was famed, he thus began:
“Gentlemen, you have just listened to my learned friend's brief and monstrously assumptive statement of his very assumptive case. Could facts, su desirable for him and his client, be taken for granted, then may Sir Edward Rockhart vacate Rockhart Hall to-morrow, and permit this young man, said to be the son of his brother, to step into his shoes. But, gentlemen, in an important case of this kind, assumptions will not do. Every point requires to be most clearly and distinctly proved; and I need not tell you, gentlemen, that the defender, whom I have the honour to represent, has no desire to retain that which is not his. Were it proved that this young man is his brother's legitimate son, he would be the first to put him in possession of his rights. But believing, as he does, that such is not the case, it is his duty to resist to the utmost this attempt to deprive him of his position. The honour of a noble house is in his hands, and this he is required to keep untarnished. Gentlemen, I have listened with great interest, as I doubt not you have done likewise, to my learned friend's eloquent way of narrating bis case. He has invested it with the character of a romance, and told it in a manner not unworthy of that Great Unknown, thie Author of Waverley.'”
Here a loud laugh arose, and all eyes were turned to a little, stout man who sat at a large table below the bench, and had, during the proceedings, been quietly writing. His heavy countenance was lifted slightly up as the laugh went round, and he faintly smiled.
“That's honour for me, at any rate,” whispered Henry's advocate to Mr Strickland, laughing, at the same time, with the entire upper balf of his body.
“Yet, gentlemen," continued the baronet's counsel, "romantic as the narrative may seem, if we allow somewhat for the author's embellishment, his story is to a great extent true. My honourable client, when he was informed of this young man's singular claim, examined carefully the whole matter, and saw reason to believe that he was indeed his brother's child. From the landlady's description of the gentleman, and her identification of him with a portrait of Mr Ringald, which is at Rockhart Hall, it seems to him that bis brother was indeed the father of the youth. But he deduces a very different, and, I submit, a far more natural inference from this fact, and the circumstances of the case as described by Mrs Ford. Why, gentlemen, every thing connected with it points to an unlawful and illegal connection. My learned friend has already admitted that the landlady had no other idea, and surely no one had a better opportunity to judge. As to the supposition that Mr Rockhart and the lady were married, that is the grand assumption to which I have alluded, and is totally unwarranted. There could be no reason for the gentleman contracting a private marriage, and nothing but the plainest proof will establish it. As to the letter mentioned by my learned friend, nothing can be founded on that. The word "husband, as used by the writer, may have been but the natural expression of a fond but deluded lady, and can never be taken as evidence by a jury. Gentlemen, the question and the only question for you to consider is, whether or not this young man is the legitimate son of Mr Ringald Rockhart. That he is his son, we are willing to admit; and it may therefore take up less of your time, if the evidence of the landlady be dispensed with. This I throw out as a hint to the opposite side, which they can act upon or not as they think tit. But, I repeat, we are ready to allow that the youth now in Court is Mr Rockhart's son, contending that he is illegitimate, and waiting for the production of proof to the contrary, if, indeed, they have such to offer.”
The speaker sat down, and Mr Strickland and his counsel began to confer earnestly together. The baronet sat looking around with haughty confidence, and Dogwood watched the proceedings with great satisfaction. And no wonder, for le expected to receive that night from his master a check for a thousand pounds:
In a few moments the pursuer's counsel rose, and intimated tbat
they had resolved to act upon the hint given from the other side Mrs Ford's evidence would therefore be dispensed with.
“ This is suicidal,” whispered Richard in Henry's ear, proof is scant at the best, but without Mrs Ford it is absolutelynowhere. Diamond's evidence being also withdrawn, we have no personal witnesses, not one-nothing but that letter, which the opposite party has already disposed of. Curses on it! he will escape us again."
"See," said Henry, “Mr Strickland is giving the advocate papers."
“Of course ;--that letter, the only thing he has to show."
“ I now propose to put in some documents," said Henry's coun sel, in a calm, steady voice. • They consist of the certificate of marriage between Ringald Rockhart and Lucy Armitage, celebrated at rton church, in Sussex, March 16, 18—; and several letters written by Mr Ruckhart to the said Lucy Armitage, in which he calls her his wife, and himself her husband."
Profound was the silence that reigned in the Court after these words were uttered, and great and terrible was their effect on those more deeply interested. The baronet
from his seat, and, with hands clutching the partition before him, glared over to where the advocate stood with the certificate in his hand. Dogwood also started forward, and gazed wildly over his master's shoulder; while Sir Edward's counsel looked towards his client with surprise.
On the other side, all was astonishment likewise, but of a different sort. Gladness and amazed joy, aut despair and dismay, thrilled their
bosoms. Richard and Henry could only stare at each other; and Diamond, who knew what was coming, and was therefore prepared, drew her veil over her face to conceal its tell-tale expression.
“That cows a'!” ejaculated Andrew, in breathless admiration. “ That does the business for us at ance, Nothing can stand again? that. What a clever fallow that lawyer budy is !”
Mr Strickland, the author of this immense sensation, sat rubbing his hands in supreme delight, and enjoying with upbounded satisfaction the discomfiture of Rackrent, and the horror of the baronet. He then turned round, and nodded smilingly to his friends, as much as to say, “ you see the meaning of my conduct now.".
“Will you be kind enough to show ine that certificate?” asked the defender's counsel, stretching out his arm towards his learned brother. The other quietly handed the paper along, and Rackrent and the advocate bent anxiously over it. "Contest its validity," whispered the baronet hoarsely, in Rack
The counsel heard the order, and at once prepared to obey it. Fatal step this for Rockhart! it was the means of plunging him in a deeper ruin.
“ This document wants authenticity," said the counsel, in a calm, cold voice, looking at the President and the jury. “I object to its being received, unless substantiated by personal evidence."
“Wbich we are jnst about to do, my Lord,” said the opposite counsel, in answer to the President's look. “We propose first, to prove its genuineness, by showing how it came into our possession; and secondly, its authenticity, by the production of the witnesses whose names it bears. Macer, call witness No. 2."
The officer, who had all along been waiting at a door near the witness-box, vanished, and necks were lengthened to catch sight of the person who was about to give evidence.
Presently the door opened, and the macer usbered in a big, stout man, pointing to him to enter the box, exclaiming at the same time, “Witness No. 2, my Lord-Ned Oakham.”
“Ned Oakham !” whispered Sir Edward and Dogwood, looking at each other with blanched faces.
“ Ned Oakham!” whispered Richard and his friends, in varied accents of wonder and astonishment,
Meanwhile Ned was in the witness box, and with raised right hand was repeating the oath after the President. He was quite undaunted, albeit unused to such a situation; and after being sworn, looked coolly around the Court, noting where friend and foe sat.
He observed Dogwood gazing at him with intense eagerness, and could not forbear giving him a half wink of triumph.
Pursuer's counsel now took up a few written folio sheets, and called on the witness to attend, and answer so as to be heard on the bench and in the jury-box. This was a needless cautivn, for Ned had by no means a weak voice, neither was be afraid to let it out; however, the advocate did not yet know his man.
“Your name is Ned Oakham, I believe?” questioned the advocate. “ Yes, sir," replied Ned, promptly.
Gamekeeper to Mr Everly of Netherton ?" was the next query, which Ned replied to by an affirmative syllable. “ Have you ever been in Edinburgh until to-day?"
Only once in the month of April last.” “ To what house did you go on your arrival ?” “To Mrs Ford's, in the Canongate.'
Why did you go to that house in particular?”
your master there when you went ?”
« Well, what happened next?»
“May I ask my learned friend, what he means by evidence of this kind?" inquired the opposite counsel, rising and interposing his tall form between Ned and his questioner.
“I merely mean to prove the genuineness of this certificate," answered the other, with a smile.
“ But what has this inan's visit to Edinburgh to do with that ?"
“ A great deal, as you will see presently, if you will allow me proceed in the examination."
The counsel sat down in silence, and the evidence went forward, while the baronet and Dogwood exchanged uneasy glances,
“Now tell us, Mr Oakham, what you heard or saw, after being shown into your master's room ?”
“I heard the landlady show some one into the next apartment, and wait there till Mr Smith came.”
Yes, and did you hear the voice of the other party?" "I did, and though it was a little disguised, I recognised it."
you see the party?”
“Did you know him ?"
“Jem Dogwood, Sir Edward Rockhart's valet,” answered Ned, looking full at Dogwood, who vainly sought to conceal his agitation.
*Well, go on, and tell us what you saw Dext.”
“ As soon as Mrs Ford left the room, he rose from the chair, and went to a bureau which stood at the other side.
He took a key from his pocket and opened a small drawer, then touched a secret spring, and was about to put his hand behind, when the step of the landlady coming back, made him push in the drawer, and run back to the seat. Mrs Ford had come to tell him that Mr Smith had sent word, that he would not return till four o'clock; and he had unwillingly to depart, leaving the drawer unlocked, and the spring open.
" What followed next?”
“I opened the door between the rooms, ran in, pulled out the drawer, and in a recess behind saw a packet of papers, which I took, and went back to the other room.
I looked at the papers, and found them to be a certificate of Mr Rockhart's marriage and some letters.” " What did
do with these?” “ I took them to Mr Strickland, the gentleman sitting at your back." « And did he direct
in “Yes! He gave me a copy of the certificate, and one or two of the letters, and told me to go back and place these in the secret
' ¢ erey
any way ?"