« PreviousContinue »
“As you observe," replied Deepwell, “the risk is very greatgreat in itself, and all the greater to one in my position. In fact, I am staking my all in the matter, and expect to be renumerated accordingly."
“Pray, name your sum, Mr Deepwell,” said Frank, composedly. “The factorship of the estate." « Good. You shall have it."
“And a third of the rental," added the lawyer, looking steadily at the young man. Frank started up in amazement.
5. This is extortionate, Mr Deepwell," he exclaimed, indignantly. "Such terms as these I can never listen to."
"As you please, Mr Everly,” replied the lawyer, coolly. “In that case, it is my duty, as agent for the late Mr Everly, to inform his son of his death, and request him to come immediately to Netherton to take possession."
This was a toucher, and the young man winced. He saw, in a moment, that it was his interest to yield to the demand, sweeping though it was.
“I am in your hands, sir,” said Frank, forcing a smile ; " and agree to the proposal you have made."
The sharp, grey eye twinkled; but Deepwell's emotions were too much under command to betray his joyful satisfaction.
“Then, with this understanding, we shall proceed," he observed, quietly. “We must secure Ned, and let him show his wife what is required of her. I shall just ask him to speak with us here."
Deepwell rose, and going to the chamber of death, returned in a moment with the gamekeeper, when the door of the apartment was secured as before.
“Would you like an easy life of it, Ned ?" asked the lawyer, slapping him familiarly on the shoulder.
The observant Ned, who guessed that something was in the wind, raised his hand to his black, matted locks, and replied, “Can you doubt it, sir?
Then you have no objections to do something by which to
“None in the world," said the unscrupulous Ned.
“ But, your wife; what about her? Is she equally to be relied on ?" asked the lawyer, bluntly. “Leave me to manage her," answered Ned, with a wink.
« But what is the job to be done ?"
“Why, a very simple one-merely to put your names to that parchment."
“What! nothing else ?" “ Nothing." “O then, the thing is done. It is a simple thing to do that.”
“ You, of course, know what the act means ?”
“Means !" echoed Ned, scratching his head. No, I can't say
Yes; you know what we brought you here for at first ?"
Well, you say the same thing by putting your name there." ;
“ It will be dangerous, you know, if the thing is discovered."
“0, I twig that,” said Ned; “but it's the risk I'm paid for, and
Thirty pounds a-year! your cottage, and present situation."
“ Away then and prepare her, and let both of you be ready when
The lawyer opened the door, motioning to Ned to depart, which the latter was not slow to do.
Frank then set himself under Deepwell's direction to forge his uncle's name. It was long, and after many trials on another piece of paper, ere he ventured to trace it on the parchment; but it was done at last, and in a manner which satisfied even the lawyer.
Meanwhile, Ned proceeded to the chamber where he had left his
“What, Bess, lass! afraid of master's dead body?” inquired her
" But the pre-
“O, that will be done by-and-by, no doubt,” said Ned, and relapsed into silence; for he was thinking how he might best get his wife to consent to do her part in the contemplated transaction. Notwithstanding the confidence he showed on the point to the lawyer, he knew he would have hard work to accomplish the task, and was, therefore, glad when he got the opportunity of speaking to her alone. While he sat there, rapidly running the matter over in his mind, he resolved to coax her to it in the first instance, and, if that plan failed, to threaten her into obedience, of the success of which latter method he had little doubt; for Elizabeth was a timid creature, and her firmness always gave way to Ned's passionate nature,
"I say, Bess, my lass, do you know that this night will make our fortune?"
His wife looked at him in silent astonishment.
Nay, don't look so bewildered. It is true. After to-night, we need have no fear of the future. Our living is sure.”
“I don't know what you mean, Ned," said his wife, in some alarm.
“Well, I just mean what I say. We shall have an easy time of it. No more work to do than we have at present-or less, I dare say, if I like-and double the pay. What do you think of that?”
“But how can you know anything about that? Master Richard is, indeed, kind and generous; but you cannot yet know how he will treat his father's old servants."
“ Master Richard !” echoed Ned. What puts him in your head? Who talked of him? It was not I, I am sure.”
No; but you spoke of remaining in your present situation, at larger wages.
At least, I thought you meant that.” " And so I did. But what has that to do with Master Richard ?”
“Why everything, to my mind. He is our master now, thank Heaven. 0, Ned, it is unseemly to rejoice at the death of another; but I was glad-yes, glad, when he died before the will was signed.”
"Stuff and nonsense," replied her husband, angrily. “Didn't master know best what to do with his property? Depend upon it, Master Frank will be better to us than ever Master Richard would have been."
- Master Frank is a But it matters not; only I am glad the son will not be defrauded of his inheritance,"
"Don't speak no nonsense, mistress. The estate is Master Frank's. The old man clearly wished him to get it, and get it he shall,”
"That is impossible, Ned. The want of the signature makes the will invalid.”
“ But that small mistake may be rectified," remarked Ned, winking sagaciously.
“ Rectified !" echoed Elizabeth, looking in wonder at her husband.
“Ay, rectified," replied Ned, with a chuckle. “Nothing more easy than to clap master's name to the paper."
"Just that easy, that it would be forgery, Ned, and transport him that did it beyond seas," said his wife, nodding significantly.
" Ay, if it was found out," replied Ned. " But this it will not be; for who can prove
it?” “Merciful Heaven! Ned,” cried Elizabeth, a sudden light breaking in upon her, "you don't mean to say that they intend forging the will ?” "Hush! speak lower. That is just what they mean to do, Bess; and, what is more, they want your name and mine to it, and I have promised that they shall have them."
“O no, no, Ned. Do not take any part in this iniquity."
« Tush! What business is it of ours? If they choose to pay us so well, we will not be such fouls as stickle at the matter of writing our names.”
“But it is fraud, Ned. It is doing a terrible wrong to one who has been foully wronged already, and helping a blackguard--ay, a blackguard; for what is Frank Everly but that? Ah! Ned, I know that man better than you. No, no; we cannot have anything to do with such a black transaction.” - Won't
you listen to reason, Bess?" whispered Ned, sternly. “ I am listening to reason, Ned, and to something deeper and more unerring-to conscience; and both tell me that such a deed is at once despicable and dangerous.”
“ As to being dangerous, of course that is to be expected. But what are we to be paid for? Not, surely, for putting our names down on a piece of paper. Of course not—it is for the risk we runi Then, about that other long word you used.
I suppose it means something the opposite of respectable; but what needs we care about that? We will be independent of the world, and can snap our fingers at it.”
“But I tell you, Ned, that Frank Everly is -"
“ Pshaw! Bess. It makes no matter to me what Frank Everly is. Were he the devil himself, he could not overreach us in this matter; for, the moment he attempted to do unfairly, he knows I would split, and could put his neck in a halter. I tell you, Bess, we have him every way. Why, lass, it's the luckiest thing that ever happened us.'
“ You forget the sin, Ned," said his wife, solemnly. “And should we even escape detection here, you know there is a hereafter, where
every action has to be accounted for." Come, now, don't preach," rejoined Ned. - The short and the long of the matter is, that I have made up my mind that the thing is to be done. Deepwell will be here for us presently, so you just write your name without a word.”
sl tell you, Nel, I will not take part in this deed," said Elizabeth, with bold decision. “I will leave the house at once, and
“ Are you mad, wench ?” whispered Ned, vehemently, springing before her as she attempted to quit the roon). “ Now, hear me,” he added, while his face was convulsed with the utmost ferocity, and his eyes gleamed with a horrible light. “If you dare shrink, or show any hesitation before the lawyer or Master Frank; above all
, if you refuse to sign your name, I will murder you by inches. Now, you
“ Heaven knows I do,” faltered the terror-stricken wife, sinking
into a chair. "O Ned," she pleaded, with streaming eyes, "be persuaded to abandon this project. It can bring upon us nothing but misery. We will never bave a moment's peace of mind after it is done; and, sooner or later, be sure it will be discovered, Do let us leave this place at once.
“ Cease this prating,” hissed Ned, with a fearful oath, driving her into the corner, for he heard Deepwell coming from the other
"The next moment the lawyer thrust his head in at the door. “Now, Ned, we are ready for you. Come quickly.”
“Very good, sir,” said Ned, smoothing his brow, and changing his tone.
Then giving bis wife a look before which she quailed, he took hold of her arm with a firm grasp, and dragged her with him to the next room, to which the lawyer had returned.
"Remember," he whispered in her ear, as they passed the threshold, and crushed her slender arm with a ruthless gripe.
The poor wife's heart died within her, and she passively approached the table.
Deepwell put a pen into Ned's hand, and pointed to the spot where his signature was to go. Without a moment's hesitation, the gamekeeper wrote his name in great round letters, and handed the quill to his wife.
She was about to turn away and flee; but her husband's awful look fixed her to the spot, and with a trembling hand she took the pen. Her eyes grew dim; she saw neither the table nor the parchment; aud probably she would have fallen, but a pinch in the arm, which made her nearly cry outright, prevented her from fainting.
“ There is the place, Mrs Oakham," said the smooth, bland voice of the lawyer at her elbow.
"Do you hear, Bess?" remarked her husband, carelessly leading her hand to the spot. “ There it is, just below my name. Take care; don't blot the
Mechanically, and ere she well knew how, her name was written.
" That will do," said the lawyer. “ You can now return home, and your first quarter's salary will be paid to-morrow.”
Again taking his wife's arm, Ned left the room, and the strangelyassorted couple were soon proceeding along the avenue to their cottage.
• It is done," said Frank, with a sigh of relief. " And well done too," chuckled Deepwell, rubbing his hands. “Let me greet you, Mr Everly, as the owner of Netherton." And the wily lawyer bowed before the young man whom he had successfully duped and tempted.
Frank's face fushed with pleasure, as he left the apartment to awaken the household.
The wind had now fallen, and the morning of another beautiful summer day was dawning over the earth.