Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER VII.

FRIENDSHIP.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

At the very moment when this fraud was perpetrated at Netherton, its victim was surrounded by the wild madness of a brainfever. "Poor Richard Everly's cup of misery, long billing with its bitter, bitter mixture, had that afternoon reached the brim, and was poured out upon him as a dark vial of wrath. It would have added little to his anguish had he known that his father's spirit had gone its dreary, dismal way to the God who gave it, and that ere he departed he strove by every human means to make his last act one of the foulest wrong towards himself. It would still have moved him little had he known that the injustice which death had defeated had been afterwards consummated, and that his inheritance was to be taken from hiin by those who had neither legal nor moral right to it. A knowledge of these things would, at the moment, have had little effect upon him; for the grief of his deep and double bereavement admitted of no increase from other sources. The only ties which bound him to humanity had been snapt asunder. The only two hearts in the wide world whose beatings moved his own, were pressed by the relentless and relaxless hand of death; and what had he further to do with life or its concerns ? What mattered it to him whether he was rich or poor, in the matter of gold and lands? The grave which yawned to receive his wife and child would at the time receive every thing his soul desired on earth, except that which earth was never intended to yield—revenge. Sy, true. If the estate of Netherton can in any way assist him to gain this object, he will battle for it with all his might, not merely because it is his right, but because it will afford the means of fulfilling the awful oath he swore by the side of his murdered dead. In the pursuit of this, he will face every foe, and crush every wrong; hurl his oppressors to the earth, and trample fiercely on their necks; not because they would have defrauded him of his due, but because they would have hindered him in rushing along his burning way to vengeance.

We are, however, going too fast for the course of incidents. As yet he lies on his pallet in the debtor's prison, unconscious of every thing, even of the terrible rushings of the fever that courses madly through his brain. He knew vot when they took away his wife and boy, and laid them in their pauper's grave; he was spared the untold

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

agony of a last look, and the dull rattle of the earth on the coffin lid.

Days passed, and the battle between life and death continued till the crisis came, when the victory would be decided. On the afternoon of the third day, while the fever was raging in all its force, the turnkey entered his cell, followed by a mild, benevolentlooking gentleman, on whose placid, kindly features rested the traces of time-sardened grief. He approached the bed, at the side of which a nurse was seated, gazed in silence on the flushed face and wandering eye of the youth, listened to his frantic ravings, and dropped the tribute of a tear to his sorrows. Then, heaving a sigh, he turned away, motioned the turnkey to follow him, and again left the cell.

He met the doctor in one of the passages, and took his arm in silence.

“Well, Mr Gray, have you seen him?” inquired the doctor.

“I have," answered the other, in a tone of deep sadness. “ It is a dreadful case, and I have to thank you, ductor, for bringing it to my notice. My chief regret is, that I did not know the particulars sooner, when his wife and child might have been spared." “Yes, that is also my chief vexation,” replied the doctor.

“ But I was entirely ignorant of the circumstances, until I was called in to attend him; and having asked the chaplain the cause of the deplorable spectacle, I came to know the particulers which I communicated to you.”

"Surely Sir Edward can be punished for such monstrous cruelty ?" said Mr Gray, with as much indignation in his voice as his nature was capable of.

“Not so," answered the doctor, somewhat bitterly. He has kept within the bounds of the law, and cannot, therefore, be reached. All that can be done is to remove his victim from his clutches."

“ Which shall be, the moment he is fit to be removed,” replied Mr Gray, promptly.

Yes, if he survive the struggle," was the doctor's remark. “ His constitution seems good, but the present tax upon it is a terrible one. However, a few days will decide. Meanwhile, I know his case otherwise is in good hands."

And the kind doctor pressed Mr Gray's hand with much respect, and entered one of the cells, leaving his companion to follow his own bent. He went straight out of the prison, passed alony Waterloo Place; and after traversing some of the streets in the New Town, finally entered the office of a certain lawyer named Rackrent.

He was shown into the lawyer's sanctum, and beheld, seated at a desk, a little, oldish man, with very hard features.

Behind him stood, on wooden shelves, roivs of tin boxes japanned and labelled;

6

and among the rest, in a very conspicuous position, was one bearing the name of Sir Ellward Rockhart,

“ You are Mr Rackrent, I presume ?” said the stranger, mildly.

“The same, sir; at your service," answered the lawyer, rising and bowing.

“And the legal adviser and agent of Sir Edward Rockhart?” added Mr Gray, in the same tone, glancing at the black box behind.

“I have that honour," said the lawyer, bowing again, and even more obsequiously; for he thought he saw, in the placid-looking gentleman before him, a landed proprietor in search of a factor.

“ Pray,” added Mr Rackrent, in his blandest tones, “ how can I be of service to you, sir? Any thing in my power, I shall gladly do."

“My business need not occupy you long,” answered Mr Gray, coldly. “I have merely called to discharge a debt. Will you be kind enough to furnish me with a list of the sums due to certain tradesmen and others, by Mr Richard Everly-debts which your employer, Sir Edward, was eccentric enough to buy up, not that he might free Mr Everly, who is his son-in-law, but for the very laudable purpose of casting him into prison ?"

Really, sir, Im-do not know who you are,” stammered the lawyer, taken quite aback by this address, so different from what he expected.

“ It is no matter who I am, sir,” answered Mr Gray. “It is enough, I suppose, if I pay you the money?"

Mr Rackrent reddened, and looked perplexed. “O certainly, sir, certainly," he muttered.

“Only, I must see Sir Edward before I can settle this business.”

“ To what purpose ?" demanded his visitor, firmly. 6 You bave conducted the affair hitherto, and must, therefore, be empowered to make a settlement."

“ Undoubtedly," said the lawyer, with hesitation ; " but what needs all this haste? It can be done to-morrow as well as to-day.”

“ Do you know in what position the incarcerated debtor is placed ?” inquired Mr Gray, sternly, for he was roused.

Really, I have not thought it necessary to inquire.' “ Then, sir, let me tell you, that owing to the unparalleled cruelty of your patron, the atrocious Sir Edward Rockhart, he has been bereaved of his wife and child, and his own life is at this moment trembling in the balance."

“ But you cannot say that is any fault of mine ?” answered the lawyer, unmoved.

6. He has been treated as a common debtor, and every thing that the law demands of us has been strictly fulfilled.”

“0, I doubt not you have been prudent enough to keep within the shelter of the law; but, sir, there are certain feelings of humanity as strong and sacred as any human enactment; and you cannot but admit, that had Sir Edward possessed and been prompted

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

by these, his son-in-law would have met with very different treatment.'

Mr Rackrent smiled politely. “If you were a man of business, sir," he said, in smooth, cold tones, "you would know that I had nothing to do with such considerations as these. Sir Edward Rockhart is my employer, and I am bound to follow out his instructions to obey them, sir, and not criticize them."

Enough," said Mr Gray, who could not forbear throwing a glance of contempt at the lawyer. Your employer cannot, at all events, have given you instructions to refuse the money, and protract the young man's imprisonment; or, if he has, your legal knowledge must inform you that you dare not follow them. Now, sir, I offer to pay you the sum for which, in the eye of the law, Mr Everly stands accountable to Sir Edward Rockhart, and demand the immediate liberation of the latter. It is at your peril if you refuse to make at once the settlement I now offer."

And the visitor fixed his mild get firm eyes on Mr_Rackrent, folded his arms across his chest, and stood motionless. The lawyer was in perplexity. He knew this proffered payment was what the baronet neither expected nor desired; and he feared to endanger his position, by granting that which he knew would enrage his vengeful heart. But he felt his visitor spoke the truth, when he intimated that it was at his peril if he refused, and he writhed in silent upeasiness on the horns of the dilemma,

“Am I to understand that you refuse a settlement ?" asked My Gray, after a minute's silence. "O, certainly not. If

you

insist upon it, I must, of course, proceed; but it would be much better for all parties if it were delayed till to-morrow,"

“I do insist upon it, Mr Rackrent, this day, this very hour. Every moment is adding to the monstrous wrong; but if such men as Sir Edward are to be found in the world, thank Heaven, all are Bot just of his stamp."

Seeing there was no hope for delay, the lawyer produced the accounts; and, without a word of further remonstrance, Mr Gray handed over the money, and received the documents which made Richard Everly a free man.

No sooner was he in possession of these, than he quitted the office and returned to the prison.

It was the desire of the benevolent man to have the youth removed at once; but this was found to be impossible. He was approaching the crisis of his disease, and the doctor said it would be certain death to carry him away till that was passed. It was even doubtful if he would in any circumstances survive, for grief and weakness combined had brought him to the struggle with feeble advantage.

By the bed-side of the sufferer Mr Gray took his place, and listened with a sympathizing heart to the piteous wailings of the unconscious one-unconscious of all but his bitter bereavement and his purposed vengeance. Ay, even in the wild delirium of that burning fever, he nursed his oath with more than a parent's fondness; and often did he imagine himself in scenes where his enemy was within his power, and writhing beneath the suffering which he inflicted.

Mr Gray shuddered as he listened to the horrid conjurings up of pictured vengeance. His subdued spirit, and mild, grief-saddened nature, made him a stranger to such wrathful cherishings; but he attributed the burning utterances to the malady under which the sufferer laboured, and the heart-rending circumstances which had produced it. Returning health and restored reason would, he conceived, banish all such passion-begotten sentiments, and lead the youth to bear his heavy trials like a Christian.

The afternoon of a mellow summer day was wearing to a close, as the kind-hearted and large-hearted man sat watching the moment when it would be decided whether death or life was to gain the victory. The patient slumbered, but the closed eye and pale, pallid countenance, weakened into repose, was a more agreeable sight than the rolling glare and look of troubled agony which preceded; and they were thankful for the deep calm.

The nurse had been sent away by the considerate old man, to get a little of that repose which she so much needed, and none but himself remained by the couch. He sat in breathless attitude, and gazed with anxious eyes on the slumberer, eager to detect the first signs of hope, or observe the change which the victor, death, would cause to pass over his prey.

He had not been long at his solitary post, when Richard drew two deep sighs, different from the sobs with which the slumber approached, and with a slow effort the eyes unclosed, and the dark orbs showed themselves, not flashing and rolling, as before, with the fierce firelight of fever, but steady, calm, and intelligent.

He was too weak to move, but he looked with wonder on the earnest face that was bending over him; and Mr Gray thought he wished to speak, but could not, because of exhaustion. He, therefore, rose, bent get more tenderly over him, put his fingers to his lips, and with a smile of gentle kindness whispered,

ci Do not distress yourself. You are among friends, who will watch over and protect you. Remain quite composed, and all shall

go

well." A faint smile animated the young man's countenance, he closed his eyes, and again sank into a quiet slumber.

“He is saved !” said the doctor, who had entered at the moment, and stood close behind Mr Gray.

"Thank Heaven !" murmured the latter gentleman, and his eyes filled with grateful tears.

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »