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FRAUD AND FRIENDSHIP.
and no one knew this better than his wife. Poor girl! she deserved
Now, though Elizabeth Wilson was in a position, desperate
Such was the character of the persons brought together on this eventful occasion.
As the parchment was being filled up, the old man lay with eager eyes fixed on Deepwell, his face becoming paler' every moment, and the angel of death knocking louder and louder at his heart. Frank stood by in great agitation, fearful that the spirit would depart ere the will, which made him owner of Netherton, was a legal document; while Ned Oakham looked upon the scene with a careless eye, and his wife cast timorous glances from face
to face, sometimes bestowing one upon her husband, which he returned by a scowl.
The silence had lasted only a few minutes, when Mr Everly des manded, in impatient tones, if the paper was not yet ready for his signature. "Patience, my dear sir," said the lawyer, without looking up.
Patience !" roared the old man, in hoarse death-tones. - I tell you there is no time for patience. My arm is getting cold and numbed, and so would my heart, only it is kept warm by the thirst for revenge. Quick, quick ! or the deed will be left undone.”
"The legal forms must be expressed,” remarked Mr Deepwell, unmoved. Indeed, he had set himself purposely to delay, and loiter in the race he was now running with death, for he wished the grim king to seize his victim ere he had rendered the will binding. But feeling the urgent eye of Frank fixed upon him, he could not actually stop: the utmost he could do was to write slowly, and glance occasionally at the bed, to see whether he was being distanced by the last enemy.
“Curses on it! Are you not yet ready?" thundered Mr Everly, as the death-pangs tortured his heart.
“Not quite. Keep yourself perfectly still, my dear sir. That is well; that excitement must soon kill him," muttered the lawyer, "If I can but delay a few minutes longer, the game is mine.' Terrible
of the old man as his physical suffering increased. Passion raged, the anticipation of baffled revenge tortured. Though the work of dissolution was going on, he gave not one thought to his own position. To die with his revenge consummated, was his absorbing aim; to live not till this was accomaplished, was his absorbing fear.
Why did I put off till this hour?" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth, while large drops of death-sweat rolled down his face. "Deepwell, the pen, the pen! you can finish the writing after I am dead. Quick, show me the place, quick--quick!"
Frank sprang forward to place the pen in his uncle's hand, and the parchment ready for his signature; but the lawyer, laying a quiet steady hand on the young man's arm, gently yet firmly restrained him.
"Pray, be calm, my dear sir," he whispered, in the smoothest and gentlest of tones. “We must not proceed illegally in this matter. Let every thing be done decently and in order, as the good book says, and as the law enjoins. We will get through in good time."
“But do you not see that my uncle's last moments are at hand ?" cried the young man, angrily.
“Heaven forbid !” ejaculated Deepwell, with seeming fervour. "I would hope Mr Everly has yet many happy days to see
“S'death, sir! I tell you I have not many moments," thundered the latter, from the bed. “Frank, what tempted you to bring this old pedantic fool ? Could not you have got his partner, Pluckford ? He would have done this business without so many quibbles.”
“The law's delays, Mr Everly; nothing more, I assure you. Delays which are so old and well known, as to have become proverbial in the days of Shakespeare. As for Mr Pluckford, I am sure he would have done nothing illegal, any more than
“ Are you done yet, sir ?” gasped Mr Everly, who was now almost exhausted.
“Nearly, sir, nearly," replied the lawyer, who had actually got the deed drawn up, and reluctantly acknowledged so. * There, *In witness whereof.' Here is the place where your signature goes, sir."
Mr Everly started up with a smile of ferocious joy on his coun. tenance, and stretched forth his hand for the pen.
“ Not yet, sir, not quite yet," said the wily lawyer, who hoped, by inducing another burst of rage, to accelerate the issue.
“What do you mean, now?” cried Frank, greatly excited; while his uncle, too furious to speak, glared with maddened eye, first on the one and then on the other.
“ It is necessary that I read the document in the hearing of the testator," replied Deepwell, with unmoved voice.
“I don't want to hear it read," roared Mr Everly. “Damnation, will you give me the pen ?"
Frank seized the pen from the lawyer's hand, charged it with ink, and placed it between his uncle's fingers, laying at the same moment the parchment upon his knee. With frantic eagerness, the dying man bent over the paper ; but his eyes were glazing, and he could not see it.
“Guide it, Frank, guide it to the place,” hissed his uncle, while the death-rattle was heard in his throat.
Frank held the trembling hand to the parchment, and the fingers frequently moved up and down, but they were now past forming letters. Hardly had the pen touched the paper, when the lawyer, who was looking on with breathless interest, observed the falling of Mr Everly's jaw. In another moment, the head drooped forward, the pen fell from the stiffening fingers; and with a groan, such as is seldom heard on earth, the old man expired, leaving the will unsigned
“ He is dead !" said the lawyer, with a sigh of intense relief.
With an oath, the bafiled and disappointed nephew tossed the still warm body to the other side of the bed, and strode fiercely through the apartment.
"What is to be done?" asked Deepwell, watching the motions of the youth.
“Done!" echoed Frank, passionately. “Nothing can be done. The will is valueless without the signature. If you had not insisted on observing your confounded legal forms, I might have been the possessor of this fine estate. A moment more would have done it. Now my chance is lost, and we may all
home or to the devil, it matters little which."
Deepwell's grey eye twinkled, and a narrow observer might have detected a smile fitting over his cunning features.
My dear sir," he said, in his most silvery accents, "you are too hasty. A man is seldom placed in a position in which nothing can be done. Difficult as the present circumstances are, it is possible that they may be obviated. Come with me to the next apartment, and let us think it over."
So speaking, he took up the parchment and one of the tapers which burned on the table, and drew Frank out of the room, requesting Ned and his wife to await their return.
The youth allowed himself to be passively led by the lawyer. He was quite at a loss to conjecture his object; but the hint thrown out, that a remedy might be found for the want of Mr Everly's signature, made him at once curious and obedient.
Deepwell having carefully fastened the door, pointed to a chair, which Frank took, and then possessed himself of another, placing the light so as it might reveal every shade or emotion that passed over the young man's countenance. He was about to play the game he had been watching for the last hour to get into his hands, and he felt that it demanded all his caution. He thought he was sure of the youth before him; but lawyers seldom trust entirely to personal impressions. Rashness is not a feature of their character.
He looked keenly at Frank, and saw that he awaited his words with breathless interest. At length he said, slowly,
“You have just charged me, heaven knows how unjustly, with. being to blame for the fact that your uncle has died without signing his will. Now, though I cannot plead guilty to this charge, yet I um willing to aid in getting the deficiency rectified.” “In what way ?" eagerly demanded Frank.
“By remaining silent," replied the other, with a significant nod.
Still Frank looked puzzled, for he comprehended not the lawyer's drift.
“I must be more explicit,” thought Deepwell, as he dived into his breast for his pocket-book,
He selected two letters from a bundle, and spread them out together on the table.
“Do you see wbat these are, Mr Frank ?”
Frank bent forward, and looked. “Perfectly,” he answered. « These are two letters addressed to yourself, one written by my uncle, and the other by me.
“Just so. Now, do you observe any thing remarkable about the two notes ?”
Nothing; both seem to have been sent on unimportant matters.'
“It is not the style or language I mean, but the handwriting. Is there not, in this respect, a most striking resemblance between them?"
Frank started up. “I have it,” he exclaimed; “the very thing. It will never be detected."
“Hush !” said Deepwell, touching his arm, impressively. “ Before we say another word on the subject, answer me this question. Are Oakham and his wife to be trusted? Will they take part in the affair?”
“For Ned, I can speak with confidence," answered Frank; "and, I dare say, he will be responsible for his wife. Of course, his assistance must be bought.”
- Undoubtedly; no one would be so mad as run such a risk without compensation."
6 Then Ned is our man."
“I beg pardon, Mr Everly—your man, not our man,” said the cautious lawyer. “This is your business, not mine; and though I help you through with it, it is only as an adviser. Advice and silence are all that I give in the matter."
Frank bowed. Then, Mr Deepwell, we had better get the affair done. The body will be getting stiff, and if we delay, suspicion may be aroused."
Quite right. The preliminaries once settled, and you cannot be too expeditious.”
Frank did not fail to notice the emphasis placed on the pronoun, and this reminded him that Deepwell hin self must be fee'd.
Mr Deepwell," said the young man, “I cannot expect that you will run this risk for friendship's sake. It is but fair that you participate in the result." The lawyer hemomed and hawed. Could Frank have got a
look into his companion's heart, he would have seen that this was indeed the stake_for which the desperate game had been played.