Page images
PDF
EPUB

86

FRAUD AND FRIENDSHIP.

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

1

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

appeared much agitated; but I do not think bis mind wandered in
any degree.”

"Ah, then ! that point being untenable, it would be better not to
raise it," muttered the lawyer, as if speaking to himself. Then, in
a louder tone, he added, “Were you present when Mr Everly died ?".

· Yes, sir," replied Elizabeth, with a shudder; for the terrible scene, with all its horrors, came before her mind.

“ Then, Mrs Oakham, can you tell me how long it was from the time you saw Mr Everly sign the will till the moment of his death "

The colour again forsook Mrs Oakham's cheek, and painfully sho gasped for breath.

She could not utter a falsehood on the subject. She had, under the influence of fear, put her name to the document, and, under the same influence, had remained silent ever since; but she had not as yet positively adhered to the lie; and now, wher called upon to do so, she trembled, and remained mute.

Mr Strickland observed her agitation, and wondered what might be its cause. “Can you not answer me this?” he inquired, mildly.

“ No, she can't, and for a very good reason," exclaimed a rough vuice; and, looking round, they beheld Ned in the doorway. He threw his gun into a corner, advanced to the table, and striking it a blow with his hand, roared furiously,

I say she can't answer you that question, because it's
impossible."

Impossible !" echoed the lawyer,
" Ay, impossible," repeated Ned, while his face assumed a most
vindictive expression.

O, Ned, do not be angry. I have said nothing," cried
Elizabeth, grasping him by the arm, and looking pleadingly up at
him.

" What does this mean?” asked Mr Strickland, gazing first at one and then at the other.

“It means this, that Mr Everly never signed the will at all. There, the murder is out now."

“Merciful Heaven! what have you done? They will transport us both,” cried the poor wife, gazing at her husband in horror.

“ No, no," answered Ned, passing his arm wildly round her. “ They will not, dare pot transport you; for I compelled you to sign

As for me, they may send me over the seas; I don't
care, if I am only revenged on that cursed villain!”

« And shall I be left alone ?” exclaimed Elizabeth, clinging to
him,
Oh, they will not separate us. I will with you.

Don't
say

that I did it unwillingly, and they will not leave me behind.”

My poor Bess," said her husband, in a husky voice, “ I did not know that you loved me so. I did not know till to-night what you have suffered, or how true you bave been to me. I have wronged

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

your name.

go

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

you, my girl. I have used you cruelly; but for that villaiu's insults, you shall be avenged."

What, you-you“I heard all. I was only on the other side of the hedge; and if I did not shoot him on the spot, it was that I might bring him to a heavier punishment."

While these words were passing between husband and wife, Mr Strickland did not know what to think. He suspected that a fraud of some kind had been perpetrated, and that there was a promise of its coming to light; he, therefore, waited quietly till the matter should be explained.

There, sit down, Bess, lass," said Ned, soothingly, "and let me tell this gentleman the story in my own way.

You are Master Richard's lawyer, it seems?” he added, turning to Strickland.

“ Not exactly," was the reply; " but I am agent to a gentleman who takes a great interest in Mr Everly, and who has instructed me to investigate this affair on his behalf.”

“Well, it's all the same. You want to see Master Richard righted, and you shall. The will is a forgery !"

“ Bless my soul ! you don't say so?” exclaimed Mr Strickland, nearly bounding from his seat.

"I do," returned Ned; "and I am ready to swear it in any court you choose, so is my wife here. Arn't you, Bess?”

“ And who forged it ?”

“ That I don't know. It was either Deepwell, the lawyer, or Master Frank. But I will tell you the whole story. On the night of Master's death, when Frank and the lawyer were going to the Hall, they came here, and asked us to go as witnesses. We all went in together, and saw Master lying, cursing and swearing because we bad been so long

Deepwell took a long time to draw out the will, and this put Master worse; for he was afraid he should die before he signed it. When it was done, it was put on Master's knee in the bed, and Frank put the pen into his hand; but it was too late; for before he could write his name, he fell forward, and died." “And what followed ?” cried the lawyer, with breathless interest.

Deepwell and Frank went to another room; and, after a while, they sent for me, and promised me something handsome, if my wife and I would put our names to the parchment. I at once agreed, and forced my wife here to do it too. When we were called back again to the room, Master's name was at it; and after putting down ours, we came home: and this is all I know about it."

"All! why, it's everything," cried the delighted lawyer. “Give me your hand, my honest fellow, Stick to the truth as you have done to-night, and we'll boil them a pretty kettle of fish.”

“O sir, shall we be transported ?" inquired Elizabeth, tremulously.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

" What! you? O no, not you; we shall require you as king's evidence. That rascally lawyer and the villanous nephew are in for it, however; the one for a dance upou nothing, and the other for a foreign residence for life. O shan't I draw the net nicely round them?"

And the worthy lawyer chuckled, and rubbed his hands with delight. This was a stroke of good luck entirely unexpected. He had good hopes, indeed, from the very first of getting the will set aside, on the ground that Mr Everly was at the point of death when it was executed; but then even this issue would be reached only after a tedious, hard-fought, and protracted battle-a battle from which this discovery would entirely save them.

“ Now, my friends," he said, speaking very impressively, "you must keep my visit here a most profound secret; above all, you must be careful not to let either your master or the lawyer suspect that you have divulged the secret, or intend to be witnesses against them. Do you promise me this ?”

“O certainly, sir," replied Ned; "only I shall find it desperate hard to keep smooth with Master Frank. You must know, sir

, that I have not let out the secret from any desire to do the right thing. Had you come here yesterday, instead of to-night, you would have gone away not a bit the wiser. But I happened to hear that scoundrel making dishonourable proposals to my wife, and I swore to be revenged, though it shall cost me dear."

« Well, well, that is speaking honestly, at my rate," said the
lawyer, laughing; "and we must be thankful for your help, by what-
ever means we have got it. But try to do as I have told

you. It will
only be for a short time--for a day or two at most; and be in readi-
ness to appear, along with your wife, when I may require you. As
for you, Mrs Oakham, I can easily see that your share in the
transaction has been a small and unwilling one. Be sure that I
will represent it truly to Mr Everly, and probably he will, for your
sake, overlook your husband's fault, and continue him in his
service.”
“O thank you, sir,” cried Elizabeth, with tearful eyes.

“ Mr Oakham, you should bless Heaven for having such a wife,”
said Mr Strickland, with emotion.

" And I will do so henceforth, sir,” answered Ned, equally affected. “ Bess, lass, never more shall you hear an angry word from me. You are too good for me, I know you are; but fate bas inade us one, and if you will but tell me how, I shall do every thing I can to make you happy."

The overjoyed weeping wife threw herself on her husband's bosom, and the lawyer left them locked in a firm, loving embrace.

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

In the same chamber, in the Netherton Arms, occupied by Richard Everly, on an occasion recently referred to, sat Mr Strickland, before a bright fire. The blinds were drawn, two candles burned on the table, and a most comfortable smell of toddy circulated through the apartment, Nobody in the Inn suspected the happy-looking gentleman up stairs to be a lawyer; he was so cheerful and good-humoured, talked so freely and kindly to the servant when she brought him his supper, and looked as if he had no intention of overreaching any body. How, then, could they think he was a lawyer

How, indeed? A lawyer, in most people's minds, is associated with a little, wiry body; thin, lank, iron-grey hair; small, sunken grey eyes, which look furtively forth in all directions; a sly, cunning expression of features; a smooth, silky voice; a hard heart, and no conscience. Strange is it not, that this class of men should have such a curious association in public opinion! Well, however strongly public experience justifies this general potion, it is, we are glad to say, in some instances, found erroneous; and it was so here. Mr Strickland was a full-faced, open-eyed, hearty-looking little man; and, on this particular evening, had less the look of a lawyer than ever, for his spirits were evidently raised to a very great pitch. He had eaten a capital supper, and was now washing it down with glass after glass of a good, stout, alcoholic composition.

No one but himself knew the extreme satisfaction his genial nature experienced at that moment. There was no worldliness, no selfishness of feeling about him; for the issue of the prospect he was contemplating promised no particular benefit to himself. Yet his delight was unbounded. He had got a ravelled web to set to rights, and had hold of the thread by which to do it easily and triumphantly; and partly from the thought of the justice he was able to do, and partly from the enjoyment his nature received while working out such surprises, he was supremely happy,

There he sat, looking stedfastly into the fire, a complacent smile lighting up his round, ruddy countenance, as he planned out his course of action. In an hour, he had it all arranged, chuckled anew over the thought of it, finished his tumbler, and popped into bed, where, in ten minutes, he was fast asleep.

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

661 am.

[ocr errors]

I am

[ocr errors][merged small]

Early in the morning he was astir, made as good a breakfast as he had done a supper, slipped half-a-crown into the hand of the chambermaid, chucked her good-naturedly under the chin, laughed at her blushes, got into his gig, and drove briskly off. As he whirled along, he caught a glimpse of Netherton mansion through among the trees, and smiled as he thought of the change he would introduce there very soon.

We lose sight of him for a few hours, and find him again entering the King's Printing-House, a few minutes before the workmen leave it for the evening. He went straight to Mr Everly's room, and found him alone.

« Now, Mr Everly," said the lawyer, briskly,." can you get out to Netherton with me to-morrow afternoon?"

“ Possibly I might; but to what purpose ?” returned Richard,
inquiringly. “Are you of opinion that the will may be contested
with a prospect of success ?”

My opinion is that it will not stand.”
“ Well, sir; you know I am quite in your hands, and am content
to be so. If you deem my presence necessary there to-morrow,
ready to go."

“Very good; I will call for you at two. And, pray, though you
may not fully understand some of my motions, be kind enough to
allow me to have all my own way.”

“Implicitly will I follow your every direction," answered
Richard, faintly smiling.

You are a very sensible man, Mr Everly."
And the gratified lawyer, shaking him warmly by the hand, bade
him good night, and left the office.

Next afternoon about dusk, they drove up to the Netherton Arms.
The ostler unyoked the horses with great alacrity; for, like the
chambermaid, he had, on the previous morning, received a sub-
stantial token of Mr Strickland's generosity. He promised to
look carefully to the animals; for the lawyer had chosen to drive
them hard for the last few miles, and they were consequently
heated.

“Give them a large feed of oats immediately, for they must be
both tired and hungry,” said the good-hearted man.
“ A large feed of oats !” echoed the lad, opening his

eyes

wide.
“Why, bless your honour's heart, that's the very thing to do them
harm.

A little bit of hay, and a good rub down till they cool, is
the best cooking for them. Then a supper of oats will put them
in good heart, and another feed in the morning will make them as
fresh as ever."
:"0, very well; I dare say your way is best. Only be kind to
them."

6 That I shall, sir; you may depend upon me."

and

[ocr errors]

- Thank you.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »