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They entered the house, and the lawyer walked straight up to his former room. Richard knew it again, and sighed; for the sleepless night of agony he had spent in it was not to be forgotten. Mr Strickland at once engaged it, and the apartment next it, for the night, and then ordered refreshnients. While they partook of these, the lawyer looking over to Richard, and laughing a little, said,
“Now, the mysterious part of my conduct is going to commence; and I must claim your promised silence and acquiescence. I must leave you for an hour or so, and you must keep close here in the interval, as it is of importance that Deepwell should as yet remain in ignorance of your arrival.”
"I have only to repeat, that I am entirely in your hands," answered Richard, who, in truth, felt little curiosity regarding the lawyer's movements. He deemed this visit to Netherton a preliminary step towards a long legal process, which, if even in the end successful, must have its issue in the far distance. prepared for patience, and therefore found no difficulty in complying with Mr Strickland's injunctions.
The lawyer went, and Everly passed a very gloomy hour alone, He began, as he was accustomed to do when left to himself, to brood over his misfortunes. True, these were now scarcely 80 dark. A dim light was showing itself on the horizon of his life; and he might, by-and-by, acquire greater power and influence; but a long period of inaction was yet before himn.
So deeply absorbed was he in his gloomy reflections, that he did not hear several persons enter the adjoining room; but, chancing to louk up, he beheld the smiling face of Mr Strickland at the other side of the table.
“Now let us to business, Mr Everly," observed the latter. "The evening wears on, and we have much to do.
Would you be kind enough toʻpen a note to your cousin at the Hall, requesting him to meet you here immediately? See, here are pens, ink, and paper."
Richard looked inquiringly at the lawyer for a moment; but, without a word, he wrote the note, and Mr Strickland got it despatched by a trusty messenger, who was also instructed to call at the gamekeeper's cottage, and request Ned and his wife to come along to the Inn.
" What am I to say to my cousin when he comes?” asked Richard.
" Intimate your intention to contest the will, inform him that you have put the case in my hands, and allow me to proceed with
Neither you nor your cousin will have any further conversation, for by that time Deepwell will be present, and we, as agents for both parties, will conduct matters. It is now time that my note was despatched to Deepwell."
The lawyer drew the writing materials towards him, and penned
“SIR,--Having received instructions to contest the validity of the
Thomas STRICKLAND, W.S.” Having got all these matters settled, and the train laid for his grand explosion, the worthy lawyer began to walk impatiently through the room, listening every minute for the first arrivals.
Ned and his wife were the first to appear, and these Mr Strickland sent into the adjoining room. In a few minutes more, Deepwell was announced, He entered the room with his usual outward appearance of ease, and even more than his wonted blandness; but not all his art could hide a look of vexation, bordering on alarm, when he perceived Mr Everly.
The lawyers bowed to each other, and Strickland looked upon Deepwell with a peculiar feeling of curiosity. Greetings apparently cordial were exchanged, and then an awkward silence ensued.
“Mr Deepwell,” said Strickland at length, "you will understand from my pote the cause of my presence here; and I must thank you for the promptness with which you have granted this interview."
“I am always willing to meet a brother lawyer,” replied Deepwell; “but”-glancing towards Everly—“I must decline to enter on the subject of your note in the absence of my client, since you must be aware that the suddenness of your intimation has prevented me from acquainting him with his cousin's intention, and receiving instructions regarding it."
“Certainly, certainly," observed Strickland. "I should not expect you to express any opinion, or make any statement, in the absence of Mr Frank Everly; but we expect him here every minute. Ha! I hear a footstep in the passage.'
The door opened, and Frank appeared. If his associate in crime could not conceal liis alarm, far less could the young man, when he found himself in the presence of his cousin and a stranger. Deepwell being there, too, looked ominously; and his guilty conscience at once felt the dread of an undefined fear.
“ You wish to see me, I understand, Richard ?” he said, or rather faltered, advancing into the room.
“ Yes, Frank," replied the other. “ After consulting with my friends in Edinburgh, I have resolved to attempt the setting aside of my father's will. He had no moral right to disinherit me; but, of course, had he executed this document previous to bis last ill
ness, it would be impossible to invalidate it. This not being the case, I am informed that the law will not recognise it, and have, therefore, to inform you that I mean to take steps for the purpose of having my rights restored to me.”
Frank looked furtively at Deepwell, and thinking he understood that gentleman's answering glance, assumed a cold, dignified bearing, and said,
“ You are, doubtless, free to take whatever course you think fit; but I am equally resolved to oppose you. Mr Deepwell, I beg you will act for me in this matter. I give you full power to conduct the case according to your judgment; and as my presence can be no longer necessary,
I shall withdraw." He was about to yo; but Strickland, who, during the conversation of the cousins, had got between him and the door, laid his hand mildly on his arm, and in the most polite manner asked him to remain. Frank could not well refuse such a gentlemanly request; be therefore only bowed, and threw himself sullenly into a chair,
Now, Mr Deepwell,” continued Strickland, sitting down upposite the Netherton lawyer, and placing the two candles on the table between them, “as we are the two conductors of this case, it falls upon us to sustain the conversation in the interview; and as I am on the side of the pursuer, it devolves upon me to say what, in the first place, we want. This, I need scarcely add, is a sight of the will."
“ That demand is equally natural and reasonable," answered Deepwell, drawing the parchment from his breast, and handing it to Strickland. The latter deliberately unfolded it, read it carefully, and looked long and fixedly at the signature. During that examination, he was satisfied in his own mind that Frank was the forger. The signature was so different from the handwriting of the will, that it could not have been done by the same person; and as he knew that Deepwell had drawn out the document, he saw at once that he had been careful enough not to become the actual culprit.
“I trust you find no flaw in the document itself,” remarked Deepwell, who was getting terribly uneasy, and wished to end in some way the other's silent scrutiny.
"To all appearance, it is perfectly legal,” replied Mr Strickland, slowly, and in rather a dry tone. But, seeing that you, an experienced lawyer, prepared it, there is nothing surprising in this. Mr Everly's mind might have been wandering, though the will does not show it."
“But we will be able to prove by the witnesses that the testator was perfectly sane," rejvined Deepwell, with renewed confidence.
"One part of the evidence for or against us is the signature," suggested the other, “Now, I confess this is also apparently in favour of Mr. Everly's sanity; for the characters are clearly and firmly drawn-perhaps too much so for an old and dying man."
He glanced rapidly towards Frank, and observed that his face had turned pale as death; but allowing his eye to rest on him ouly for a moment, he addressed himself to Richard.
“ Pray, Mr Everly, would you be kind enough to band me the copies of your father's autograph which you have brought with you?"
Richard took several letters from his pocket-bouk, and handed them to the lawyer. These the latter laid out in order, and compared with the signature on the parchment.
The forger's agitation was now almost irrepressible, though noticed only by the two lawyers-the one with enjoyment, the other with fear and apprehension lest he should betray himself, and compromise them both.
“ There is a resemblance, certainly, but also a material difference,” remarked Strickland.
“ Pray, Mr Strickland, do you intend to dispute the genuineness of the deed, as well as to contest its validity ?" asked Deepwell, assuming a haughty deportment.
Sir, it is my duty, as agent for Mr Richard Everly, to satisfy myself on every point," was the dubious answer.
Undoubtedly," argued Deepwell; “but as regards the signature, a much nearer and safer method is open to you-the witnesses."
“ True. As you very justly remark, the witnesses must set this and every other matter entirely at rest. Pray, wait a moment till I introduce them.”
And, to the utter surprise and astonishment of the two villains, Ned Oakham and his wife entered from the next room,
Deepwell rose hastily from his seat, snatched the will from the table, and putting it into his pocket, exclaimed,
“ Really, sir, if you are going to turn this interview into a judicial investigation, it is high time that it were put an end to.'
“Pray be calm, my dear sir," rejoined Strickland, increasing in blandness and coolness as the other lost those his usual charac-. teristics. “ That I do not intend the interview to partake of this character, is apparent from the fact that I bring both witnesses in
As yet, they are neither your witnesses nor mine; and I have brought them here to-night merely for the purpose of learning what form our action may assume, or, indeed, if it be necessary that we institute an action at all."
I beg your pardon, sir," said Deepwell, at once mollified and deceived, “ This is all quite fair; and I trust you will be immediately satisfied how hopeless your case is.”
Strickland bowed and smiled complacently. Little did Deepwell dream that the good-natured little gentleman was about to spring a mine directly under his feet.
He smiled and bowed again, and said, “May I request the will to be again laid upon the table?”
"Surely, my dear sir, surely." And Deepwell again produced it.
“ You are Edward Oakham and Elizabeth Oakham, the persons whose names are appended to this document--the will of the late Mr Everly--which I hold in my hand ?” said Mr Strickland, turning to the gamekeeper and his wife.
“Yes, sir," answered Ned, boldly, “I am Ned Oakham, and this is
“Very good. And, of course, you know that the appearance of your names here means that you saw Mr Everly write this signature --Henry Everly-which is attached to it?"
“Yes, sir; I believe that is what it means," replied Ned, with a broad grin, and a triumphant glance at Frank.
" In what state was Mr Everly when he signed the document?”
Had a thunderbolt burst the earth open beneath them, Deepwell
with a gasp:
“Mean!” echoed Ned. “Why, to tell the truth, to be sure. No one can err far in doing that."
Then, according to what you say, this will is a forgery?” said Strickland, quietly tapping the parchment with his finger.
“Neither more nor less," answered Ned, with a nod and a wipk.
“Infamous scoundrel !" roared Frank, and springing forward, grasped Ned by the throat.
It was a foolish attempt; for the gamekeeper, hitherto quite calm, no sooner felt the young man’s grip, than his eye flashed, and in a moment his assailant was dashed to the floor, where the conqueror's foot would have fiercely trod upon him, had not Richard rushed between them. Elizabeth, too, pleaded with Ned to restrain himself; and Frank, more frightened than hurt, crept to a distance.
“Ha! well I'm glad you did not let me do it," said Ned, cooling down.
“ It would only bave got me into trouble, and my revenge is sure enough without it.”
"This is a pretty business, Mr Deepwell,” said Strickland, looking fixedly at his brother professional.
· Pretty enough for those who have concocted it," replied Deepwell, boldly; for he conceived boldness to be now his only chance.
But, sir, this atrocious fabrication of a lie, procured no