Samuel Warren.

The Experiences of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney online

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published with those of the other passengers who had embarked, and we had
of course concluded that they had perished, when a letter reached us from
Belfast, stating that, through some delay on the part of Mrs. Arnold,
they had happily lost their passage in the _Erin_, and embarked in the
next steamer for Belfast, where they arrived in perfect safety. We
forwarded this intelligence to Holmford, but it elicited no reply.

We heard nothing of Mr. Linden for about two months, except by
occasional notices in the "Hereford Times", which he regularly forwarded
to the office, relative to the improvements on the Holmford estate,
either actually begun or contemplated by its new proprietor. He very
suddenly reappeared. I was cooling my heels in the waiting-room of the
chambers of the Barons of the Exchequer, Chancery Lane, awaiting my turn
of admission, when one of our clerks came in, half-breathless with haste.
"You are wanted, sir, immediately; Mr. Flint is out, and Mr. Linden is at
the office raving like a mad-man." I instantly transferred the business I
was in attendance at chambers upon, to the clerk, and with the help of a
cab soon reached home.

Mr. Linden was not _raving_ when I arrived. The violence of the paroxysm
of rage and terror by which he was possessed had passed away, and he
looked, as I entered, the image of pale, rigid, iron, dumb despair. He
held a letter and a strip of parchment in his hand; these he presented,
and with white, stammering lips, bade me read. The letter was from an
attorney of the name of Sawbridge, giving notice of an action of
ejectment, to oust him from the possession of the Holmford estate, the
property, according to Mr. Sawbridge, of one Edwin Majoribanks; and the
strip of parchment was the writ by which the letter had been quickly
followed. I was astounded; and my scared looks questioned Mr. Linden for
further information.

"I do not quite understand it," he said in a hoarse, palpitating voice.
"No possession or title in the venders; a niece not of age - executors no
power to sell - Palliser discovered it, robbed me, absconded, and I, oh
God! am a miserable beggar!"

The last words were uttered with a convulsive scream, and after a few
frightful struggles he fell down in a fit. I had him conveyed to bed,
and as soon as he was somewhat recovered, I hastened off to ascertain
from Sawbridge, whom I knew very intimately, the nature of the claim
intended to be set up for the plaintiff, Edwin Majoribanks.

I met Sawbridge just as he was leaving his office, and as he was in too
great a hurry to turn back, I walked along with him, and he rapidly
detailed the chief facts about to be embodied in the plaintiff's
declaration. Archibald Dursley, once a London merchant, and who died a
bachelor, had bequeathed his estate, real and personal, to his brother
Charles, and a niece, his sister's child - two-thirds to the niece, and
one-third to the brother. The Holmford property, the will directed,
should be sold by public auction when the niece came of age, unless she,
by marriage or otherwise, was enabled, within six months after attaining
her majority, to pay over to Charles Dursley his third in money,
according to a valuation made for the purpose by competent assessors. The
brother, Charles Dursley, had urged upon the executors to anticipate the
time directed by the will for the sale of the property; and having
persuaded the niece to give a written authorization for the immediate
sale, the executors, chiefly, Sawbridge supposed, prompted by their own
necessities, sold the estate accordingly. But the niece not being of age
when she signed the authority to sell, her consent was of no legal value;
and she having since died intestate, Edwin Majoribanks, her cousin and
undoubted heir-at-law - for the property could not have passed from her,
even by marriage - now claimed the estate. Charles Dursley, the brother,
was dead; "and," continued Mr. Sawbridge, "the worst of it is, Linden
will never get a farthing of his purchase-money from the venders, for
they are bankrupt, nor from Palliser, who has made permanent arrangements
for continuing abroad, out of harm's reach. It is just as I tell you,"
he added, as we shook hands at parting; "but you will of course see the
will, and satisfy yourself. Good-by."

Here was a precious result of amateur common-sense lawyership! Linden
could only have examined the abstract of title furnished him by
Palliser's attorney, and not the right of Dursley's executors to sell; or
had not been aware that the niece could not during her minority,
subscribe an effective legal consent.

I found Mr. Flint at the office, and quickly imparted the astounding
news. He was as much taken aback as myself.

"The obstinate, pig-headed old ass!" he exclaimed; "it almost serves him
right, if only for his Tom-fool nonsense of 'Every man his own lawyer.'
What did you say was the niece's name?"

"Well, I don't remember that Sawbridge told me - he was in such a hurry;
but suppose you go at once and look over the will?"

"True: I will do so;" and away he went.

"This is a very singular affair, Sharp," said Mr. Flint on his return
from Doctors' Commons, at the same time composedly seating himself,
hooking his thumbs into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, crossing his
legs, and tilting his chair back on its hind legs. "A very singular
affair. Whom, in the name of the god of thieves - Mercury, wasn't he
called? - do you suppose the bankrupt executors to be? No other,"
continued Mr. Flint with a sudden burst, "than Crowther & Jenkins!"

"The devil! - and the niece then is" -

"Catherine Arnold - Tom Linden's wife - supposed to have been drowned in
the _Erin_! That's check-mate, I rather fancy - not only to Mr. Edwin
Majoribanks, but some one else we know of. The old fellow up stairs
won't refuse to acknowledge his daughter-in-law now, I fancy!"

This was indeed a happy change in the fortunes of the House of Linden;
and we discussed, with much alacrity, the best mode of turning
disclosures so momentous and surprising to the best account. As a first
step, a letter with an inclosure, was dispatched to Belfast, requiring
the return of Thomas Linden and family immediately; and the next was to
plead in form to the action. This done, we awaited Catherine Linden's
arrival in London, and Mr. Linden senior's convalescence - for his mental
agitation had resulted in a sharp fit of illness - to effect a
satisfactory and just arrangement.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Linden and Mrs. Arnold arrived by the earliest
steamer that left Belfast after the receipt of our letter; and much
astonished were they by the intelligence that awaited them. Catherine
Linden was for confirming the validity of the sale of the Holmford estate
by her now authoritative consent at once, as a mere act of common justice
and good faith; but this, looking at the total loss of fortune she had
sustained by the knavery of the executors, and the obstinate, mulish
temper of the father-in-law, from whom she had already received such
harsh treatment, could not for a moment be permitted; and it was finally
resolved to take advantage of the legal position in which she stood, to
enforce a due present provision for herself and husband, and their
ultimate succession to the estate.

John Linden gradually recovered; and as soon as it was deemed prudent to
do so, we informed him that the niece was not dead, as the plaintiff in
the action of ejectment had supposed, and that of course, if she could
now be persuaded to ratify the imperative consent she had formerly
subscribed, he might retain Holmford. At first he received the
intelligence as a gleam of light and hope, but he soon relapsed into
doubt and gloom. "What chance was there," he hopelessly argued, "that,
holding the legal power, she would not exercise it?" It was not, he said,
in human nature to do otherwise; and he commissioned us to make liberal
offers for a compromise. Half - he would be content to lose half his
purchase-money; even a greater sacrifice than that he would agree
to - anything, indeed, that would not be utter ruin - that did not involve
utter beggary and destitution in old age.

Three days after this conversation, I announced to him that the lady and
her husband were below and desirous of seeing him.

"What do they say?" he eagerly demanded. "Will they accept of
half - two-thirds? What do they say?"

"I cannot precisely tell you. They wish to see you alone, and you can
urge your own views and offers." He trembled violently, and shrank
nervously back as I placed my hand on the door-handle of the private
office. He presently recovered in some degree his self-possession, passed
in, and I withdrew from the humiliating, but salutary spectacle, of
obdurate tyrant-power compelled to humble itself before those whom it had
previously scorned and trampled upon.

The legal arrangements which Flint and I had suggested were effected, and
Linden, senior, accompanied by his son, daughter-in-law, and Mrs. Arnold,
set off in restored amity for Holmford House. Edwin Majoribanks abandoned
his action, and Palliser, finding that matters were satisfactorily
arranged, retired to England. We afterwards knew that he had discovered
the defect of title, on applying to a well-known conveyancer, to raise a
considerable sum by way of mortgage, and that his first step was to
threaten legal proceedings against Crowther & Jenkins for the recovery of
his money; but a hint he obtained of the futility of proceedings against
them, determined him to offer the estate at a low figure to Linden,
relying upon that gentleman's ostentatious contempt of lawyers that the
blot in the title, subjected only to his own common-sense spectacles,
would not be perceived.


I am about to relate a rather curious piece of domestic history, some
of the incidents of which, revealed at the time of their occurrence in
contemporary law reports, may be in the remembrance of many readers. It
took place in one of the midland counties, and at a place which I shall
call Watley; the names of the chief actors who figured in it must also,
to spare their modesty of their blushes, as the case may be, be
changed; and should one of those persons, spite of these precautions,
apprehend unpleasant recognition, he will be able to console himself
with the reflection, that all I state beyond that which may be gathered
from the records of the law courts will be generally ascribed to the
fancy or invention of the writer. And it is as well, perhaps, that it
should be so.

Caleb Jennings, a shoemaker, cobler, snob - using the last word in its
genuine classical sense, and by no means according to the modern
interpretation by which it is held to signify a genteel sneak or
pretender - he was anything but that - occupied, some twelve or thirteen
years ago, a stall at Watley, which, according to the traditions of the
place, had been hereditary in his family for several generations. He may
also be said to have flourished there, after the manner of cobblers; for
this, it must be remembered, was in the good old times, before the
gutta-percha revolution had carried ruin and dismay into the
stalls - those of cobblers - which in considerable numbers existed
throughout the kingdom. Like all his fraternity whom I have ever fallen
in with or heard of, Caleb was a sturdy radical of the Major Cartwright
and Henry Hunt school; and being withal industrious, tolerably skillful,
not inordinately prone to the observance of Saint Mondays, possessed,
moreover, of a neatly-furnished sleeping and eating apartment in the
house of which the projecting first floor, supported on stone pillars,
over-shadowed his humble work-place, he vaunted himself to be as really
rich as an estated squire, and far more independent.

There was some truth in this boast, as the case which procured us the
honor of Mr. Jennings's acquaintance sufficiently proved. We were
employed to bring an action against a wealthy gentleman of the vicinity
of Watley for a brutal and unprovoked assault he had committed, when in a
state of partial inebriety, upon a respectable London tradesman who had
visited the place on business. On the day of trial our witnesses appeared
to have become suddenly afflicted with an almost total loss of memory;
and we were only saved from an adverse verdict by the plain,
straight-forward evidence of Caleb, upon whose sturdy nature the various
arts which soften or neutralize hostile evidence had been tried in vain.
Mr. Flint, who personally superintended the case, took quite a liking to
the man; and it thus happened that we were called upon sometime
afterwards to aid the said Caleb in extricating himself from the
extraordinary and perplexing difficulty in which he suddenly and
unwittingly found himself involved.

The projecting first floor of the house beneath which the humble
work-shop of Caleb Jennings modestly disclosed itself, had been occupied
for many years by an ailing and somewhat aged gentleman of the name of
Lisle. This Mr. Ambrose Lisle was a native of Watley, and had been a
prosperous merchant of the city of London. Since his return, after about
twenty years' absence, he had shut himself up in almost total seclusion,
nourishing a cynical bitterness and acrimony of temper which gradually
withered up the sources of health and life, till at length it became as
visible to himself as it had for sometime been to others, that the oil of
existence was expended, burnt up, and that but a few weak flickers more,
and the ailing man's plaints and griefs would be hushed in the dark
silence of the grave.

Mr. Lisle had no relatives at Watley, and the only individual with whom
he was on terms of personal intimacy, was Mr. Peter Sowerby, an attorney
of the place, who had for many years transacted all his business. This
man visited Mr. Lisle most evenings, played at chess with him, and
gradually acquired an influence over his client which that weak gentleman
had once or twice feebly, but vainly endeavored to shake off. To this
clever attorney, it was rumored, Mr. Lisle had bequeathed all his wealth.

This piece of information had been put in circulation by Caleb Jennings,
who was a sort of humble favorite of Mr. Lisle's, or, at all events, was
regarded by the misanthrope with less dislike than he manifested towards
others. Caleb cultivated a few flowers in a little plot of ground at the
back of the house, and Mr. Lisle would sometimes accept a rose or a bunch
of violets from him. Other slight services - especially since the recent
death of his old and garrulous woman-servant, Esther May, who had
accompanied him from London, and with whom Mr. Jennings had always been
upon terms of gossiping intimacy - had led to certain familiarities of
intercourse; and it thus happened that the inquisitive shoemaker became
partially acquainted with the history of the wrongs and griefs which
preyed upon, and shortened the life of the prematurely-aged man.

The substance of this every-day, common-place story, as related to us by
Jennings, and subsequently enlarged and colored from other sources, may
be very briefly told.

Ambrose Lisle, in consequence of an accident which occurred in his
infancy, was slightly deformed. His right shoulder - as I understood, for
I never saw him - grew out, giving an ungraceful and somewhat comical
twist to his figure, which, in female eyes - youthful ones at least - sadly
marred the effect of his intelligent and handsome countenance. This
personal defect rendered him shy and awkward in the presence of women of
his own class of society; and he had attained the ripe age of
thirty-seven years, and was a rich and prosperous man, before he gave the
slightest token of an inclination towards matrimony. About a twelvemonth
previous to that period of his life, the deaths - quickly following each
other - of a Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, threw their eldest daughter, Lucy, upon
Mr. Lisle's hands. Mr. Lisle had been left an orphan at a very early age,
and Mrs. Stevens - his aunt, and then a maiden lady - had, in accordance
with his father's will, taken charge of himself and brother till they
severally attained their majority. Long, however, before that, she
married Mr. Stevens, by whom she had two children - Lucy and Emily. Her
husband, whom she survived but two months, died insolvent; and in
obedience to the dying wishes of his aunt, for whom he appears to have
felt the tenderest esteem, he took the eldest of her orphan children to
his home, intending to regard and provide for her as his own adopted
child and heiress. Emily, the other sister, found refuge in the house of
a still more distant relative than himself.

The Stevenses had gone to live in a remote part of England - Yorkshire, I
believe - and it thus fell out, that, till his cousin Lucy arrived at her
new home, he had not seen her for more than ten years. The pale, and
somewhat plain child, as he had esteemed her, he was startled to find had
become a charming woman; and her naturally gay and joyous temperament,
quick talents, and fresh young beauty, rapidly acquired an overwhelming
influence over him. Strenuously, but vainly, he struggled against the
growing infatuation - argued, reasoned with himself - passed in review the
insurmountable objections to such a union, the difference of age - he,
leading towards thirty-seven, she, barely twenty-one: he, crooked,
deformed, of reserved, taciturn temper - she, full of young life, and
grace, and beauty. It was useless; and nearly a year had passed in the
bootless struggle, when Lucy Stevens, who had vainly striven to blind
herself to the nature of the emotions by which her cousin and guardian
was animated towards her, intimated a wish to accept her sister Emily's
invitation to pass two or three months with her. This brought the affair
to a crisis. Buoying himself up with the illusions which people in such
an unreasonable frame of mind create for themselves, he suddenly entered
the sitting-room set apart for her private use, with the desperate purpose
of making his beautiful cousin a formal offer of his hand. She was not in
the apartment, but her opened writing-desk, and a partly-finished letter
lying on it, showed that she had been recently there, and would probably
soon return. Mr. Lisle took two or three agitated turns about the room,
one of which brought him close to the writing-desk, and his glance
involuntarily fell upon the unfinished letter. Had a deadly serpent
leaped suddenly at his throat, the shock could not have been greater. At
the head of the sheet of paper was a clever pen-and-ink sketch of Lucy
Stevens and himself - he, kneeling to her in a lovelorn, ludicrous
attitude, and she, laughing immoderately at his lachrymose and pitiful
aspect and speech. The letter was addressed to her sister Emily; and the
enraged lover saw not only that his supposed secret was fully known, but
that he himself was mocked, laughed at, for his doting folly. At least
this was his interpretation of the words which swam before his eyes. At
the instant Lucy returned, and a torrent of imprecation burst from the
furious man, in which wounded self-love, rageful pride, and long pent-up
passion, found utterance in wild and bitter words. Half an hour
afterwards Lucy Stevens had left the merchant's house - for ever, as it
proved. She, indeed, on arriving at her sister's, sent a letter,
supplicating forgiveness for the thoughtless, and, as he deemed it,
insulting sketch, intended only for Emily's eye; but he replied merely by
a note written by one of his clerks, informing Miss Stevens that Mr.
Lisle declined any further correspondence with her.

The ire of the angered and vindictive man had, however, begun sensibly to
abate, and old thoughts, memories, duties, suggested partly by the blank
which Lucy's absence made in his house, partly by remembrance of the
solemn promise he had made her mother, were strongly reviving in his
mind, when he read the announcement of marriage in a provincial journal,
directed to him, as he believed, in the bride's hand-writing; but this
was an error, her sister having sent the newspaper. Mr. Lisle also
construed this into a deliberate mockery and insult, and from that hour
strove to banish all images and thoughts connected with his cousin, from
his heart and memory.

He unfortunately adopted the very worst course possible for effecting
this object. Had he remained amid the buzz and tumult of active life, a
mere sentimental disappointment, such as thousands of us have sustained
and afterwards forgotten, would, there can be little doubt, have soon
ceased to afflict him. He chose to retire from business, visited Watley,
and habits of miserliness growing rapidly upon his cankered mind, never
afterwards removed from the lodgings he had hired on first arriving
there. Thus madly hugging to himself sharp-pointed memories, which a
sensible man would have speedily cast off and forgotten, the sour
misanthrope passed a useless, cheerless, weary existence, to which death
must have been a welcome relief.

Matters were in this state with the morose and aged man - aged mentally
and corporeally, although his years were but fifty-eight - when Mr. Flint
made Mr. Jennings's acquaintance. Another month or so had passed away
when Caleb's attention was one day about noon claimed by a young man
dressed in mourning, accompanied by a female similarly attired, and from
their resemblance to each other he conjectured were brother and sister.
The stranger wished to know if that was the house in which Mr. Ambrose
Lisle resided. Jennings said it was; and with civil alacrity left his
stall and rang the front-door bell. The summons was answered by the
landlady's servant, who, since Esther May's death, had waited on the
first-floor lodger; and the visitors were invited to go up stairs. Caleb,
much wondering who they might be, returned to his stall, and from thence
passed into his eating and sleeping-room just below Mr. Lisle's
apartments. He was in the act of taking a pipe from the mantel-shelf, in
order to the more deliberate and satisfactory cogitation on such an
unusual event, when he was startled by a loud shout, or scream rather,
from above. The quivering and excited voice was that of Mr. Lisle, and
the outcry was immediately followed by an explosion of unintelligible
exclamations from several persons. Caleb was up stairs in an instant,
and found himself in the midst of a strangely-perplexing and distracted
scene. Mr. Lisle, pale as his shirt, shaking in every limb, and his eyes
on fire with passion, was hurling forth a torrent of vituperation and
reproach at the young woman, whom he evidently mistook for some one else;
whilst she, extremely terrified, and unable to stand but for the
assistance of her companion, was tendering a letter in her outstretched
hand, and uttering broken sentences, which her own agitation and the fury
of Mr. Lisle's invectives rendered totally incomprehensible. At last the
fierce old man struck the letter from her hand, and with frantic rage
ordered both the strangers to leave the room. Caleb urged them to comply,
and accompanied them down stairs. When they reached the street, he
observed a woman on the other side of the way, dressed in mourning, and
much older apparently, though he could not well see her face through the
thick veil she wore, than she who had thrown Mr. Lisle into such an agony
of rage, apparently waiting for them. To her the young people immediately
hastened, and after a brief conference the three turned away up the
street, and Mr. Jennings saw no more of them.

A quarter of an hour afterwards the house-servant informed Caleb that Mr.
Lisle had retired to bed, and although still in great agitation, and, as
she feared, seriously indisposed, would not permit Dr. Clarke to be sent
for. So sudden and violent a hurricane in the usually dull and drowsy
atmosphere in which Jennings lived, excited and disturbed him greatly;
the hours, however, flew past without bringing any relief to his
curiosity, and evening was falling, when a peculiar knocking on the floor
over-head announced that Mr. Lisle desired his presence. That gentleman
was sitting up in bed, and in the growing darkness his face could not be
very distinctly seen; but Caleb instantly observed a vivid and unusual
light in the old man's eyes. The letter so strangely delivered was lying
open before him; and unless the shoe-mender was greatly mistaken, there
were stains of recent tears upon Mr. Lisie's furrowed and hollow cheeks.
The voice, too, it struck Caleb, though eager, was gentle and wavering.
"It was a mistake, Jennings," he said; "I was mad for the moment. Are
they gone?" he added in a yet more subdued and gentle tone. Caleb

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Online LibrarySamuel WarrenThe Experiences of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney → online text (page 19 of 26)