Samuel Warren.

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

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"Well, Mr. Ferret," said I, on entering my library, where I found him
composedly awaiting my arrival, "what success?"

"Why, nothing of much consequence as yet," replied he; "I am, you know,
only, as it were, just commencing the investigation. The Leeds parson
that married them is dead, and the old clerk is paralytic, and has lost
his memory. If, however, they were both alive, and in sound health of
mind and body, they could, I fancy, help us but little, as Bilston tells
me neither the Dalstons nor Grainger had ever entered the church till the
morning of the wedding; and they soon afterwards removed to Cumberland,
so that it is scarcely possible either parson or clerk could prove that
Violet Dalston was married to Sir Harry Compton. A very intelligent
fellow is Bilston: he was present at the marriage, you remember; and a
glorious witness, if he had only something of importance to depose to;
powdered hair and a pigtail, double chin, and six feet in girth at least;
highly respectable - capital witness, very - only, unfortunately, he can
only testify that a person calling himself Grainger married Violet
Dalston; not much in that!"

"So, then, your three weeks' labor has been entirely thrown away!"

"Not so fast - not so fast - you jump too hastily at conclusions. The
Cumberland fellow that sold Grainger the house - only the equity of
redemption of it, by the way - there's a large mortgage on it - can prove
nothing. Nobody about there can, except the surgeon; _he_ can prove Mrs.
Grainger's _accouchement_ - that is something. I have been killing myself
every evening this last week with grog and tobacco smoke at the "Compton
Arms," in the company of the castle servants, and if the calves' heads
_had_ known anything essential, I fancy I should have wormed it out of
them. They have, however, kindly furnished me with a scrawl of
introduction to the establishment now in town, some of whom I shall have
the honor to meet, in the character of an out-and-out liberal sporting
gentleman, at the "Albemarle Arms" this evening. I want to get hold of
his confidential valet, if he had one - those go-a-head fellows generally
have - a Swiss, or some other foreign animal."

"Is this all?"

"Why, no," rejoined Ferret, with a sharp twinkle of his sharp gray eye,
amounting almost to a wink; "there is one circumstance which I cannot
help thinking, though I scarcely know why, will put us, by the help of
patience and perseverance, on the right track. In a corner of the
registry of marriage there is written Z.Z. in bold letters. In no other
part of the book does this occur. What may that mean?"

"Had the incumbent of the living a curate at the time?"

"No. On that point I am unfortunately too well satisfied. Neither are
there any names with such initials in any of the Leeds churchyards. Still
this Z.Z. may be of importance, if we could but discover who he is. But
how? - that is the question. Advertise? Show our hands to the opposite
players, and find if Z.Z. is really an entity, and likely to be of
service, that when we want him in court, he is half way to America. No,
no; that would never do."

Mr. Ferret I saw was getting into a brown study; and as I had
pressing business to despatch, I got rid of him as speedily as I
could, quite satisfied, spite of Z.Z., that Mrs. Grainger's chance of
becoming Lady Compton was about equal to mine of ascending the
British throne some fine day.

Two days afterwards I received the following note: -

"Dear Sir - Z.Z. is the man! I'm off to Shropshire. Back, if possible, the
day after to-morrow. Not a word even to the ladies. Huzza! In haste,
Samuel Ferret."

What could this mean? Spite of Mr. Ferret's injunction, I could not help
informing the sisters, who called soon after I received the note, that a
discovery, esteemed of importance by our emissary, had been made; and
they returned home with lightened hearts, after agreeing to repeat their
visit on the day Mr. Ferret had named for his return.

On reaching my chambers about four o'clock in the afternoon of that day,
I found the ladies there, and in a state of great excitement. Mr. Ferret,
my clerk had informed them, had called twice, and seemed in the highest
spirits. We had wasted but a few minutes in conjectures when Mr. Ferret,
having ascended the stairs two or three at a time, burst, _sans
cérémonie_, into the apartment.

"Good-day, sir. Lady Compton, your most obedient servant; madam, yours!
All right! Only just in time to get the writ sealed; served it myself a
quarter of an hour ago, just as his lordship was getting into his
carriage. Not a day to lose; just in time. Capital! Glorious!"

"What do you mean, Mr. Ferret?" exclaimed Emily Dalston: her sister was
too agitated to speak.

"What do I mean? Let us all four step, sir, into your inner sanctum, and
I'll soon tell you what I mean."

We adjourned, accordingly, to an inner and more private room. Our
conference lasted about half an hour, at the end of which the ladies
took their leave: Lady Compton, her beautiful features alternately
irradiated and clouded by smiles and tears, murmuring in a broken,
agitated voice, as she shook hands with me, "You see, sir, he intended
at last to do us justice."

The news that an action had been brought on behalf of an infant son of
the late Sir Harry Compton against the Earl of Emsdale, for the recovery
of the estates in the possession of that nobleman, produced the greatest
excitement in the part of the county where the property was situated. The
assize town was crowded, on the day the trial was expected to come on, by
the tenantry of the late baronet and their families, with whom the
present landlord was by no means popular. As I passed up the principal
street, towards the court-house, accompanied by my junior, I was received
with loud hurraings and waving of handkerchiefs, something after the
manner, I suppose, in which chivalrous steel-clad knights, about to do
battle in behalf of distressed damsels, were formerly received by the
miscellaneous spectators of the lists. Numerous favors, cockades,
streamers, of the Compton colors, used in election contests, purple and
orange, were also slyly exhibited, to be more ostentatiously displayed if
the Emsdale party should be beaten. On entering the court, I found it
crowded, as we say, to the ceiling. Not only every seat, but every inch
of standing-room that could be obtained, was occupied, and it was with
great difficulty the ushers of the court preserved a sufficiently clear
space for the ingress and egress of witnesses and counsel. Lord Emsdale,
pale and anxious, spite of manifest effort to appear contemptuously
indifferent, sat near the judge, who had just entered the court. The
Archbishop of York, whom we had subpoenaed, why, his Grace had openly
declared, he knew not, was also of course accommodated with a seat on the
bench. A formidable bar, led by the celebrated Mr. S - - , was, I saw,
arrayed against us, though what the case was they had to meet, so well
had Ferret kept his secret, they knew no more than did their horse-hair
wigs. Ferret had solemnly enjoined the sisters to silence, and no hint, I
need scarcely say, was likely to escape my lips. The jury, special of
course, were in attendance, and the case, "Doe, demise of Compton
_versus_ Emsdale," having been called, they were duly sworn to try the
issue. My junior, Mr. Frampton, was just rising "to state the case," as
it is technically called, when a tremendous shouting, rapidly increasing
in volume and distinctness, and mingled with the sound of carriage
wheels, was heard approaching, and presently Mr. Samuel Ferret appeared,
followed by Lady Compton and her son, the rear of the party brought up by
Sir Jasper Thornely, whose jolly fox-hunting face shone like a full-blown
peony. The lady, though painfully agitated, looked charmingly; and the
timid, appealing glance she unconsciously, as it were, threw round the
court, would, in a doubtful case, have secured a verdict. "Very well got
up, indeed," said Mr. S - - , in a voice sufficiently loud for the jury
to hear - "very effectively managed, upon my word." We were, however, in
too good-humor to heed taunts; and as soon as silence was restored, Mr.
Frampton briefly stated the case, and I rose to address the jury. My
speech was purposely brief, business-like, and confident. I detailed the
circumstances of the marriage of Violet Dalston, then only eighteen years
of age, with a Mr. Grainger; the birth of a son; and subsequent
disappearance of the husband; concluding by an assurance to the jury that
I should prove, by incontrovertible evidence, that Grainger was no other
person than the late Sir Harry Compton, baronet. This address by no means
lessened the vague apprehensions of the other side. A counsel that,
with such materials for eloquence, disdained having recourse to it, must
needs have a formidable case. The smiling countenances of Mr. S - - and
his brethren became suddenly overcast, and the pallor and agitation of
Lord Emsdale sensibly increased.

We proved our case clearly, step by step: the marriage, the accouchement,
the handwriting of Grainger - Bilston proved this - to the letters
addressed to his wife, were clearly established. The register of the
marriage was produced by the present clerk of the Leeds church; the
initials Z.Z. were pointed out; and at my suggestion the book was
deposited for the purposes of the trial with the clerk of the court. Not
a word of cross-examination had passed the lips of our learned friends on
the other side: they allowed our evidence to pass as utterly indifferent.
A change was at hand.

Our next witness was James Kirby, groom to the late baronet and to the
present earl. After a few unimportant questions, I asked him if he had
ever seen that gentleman before, pointing to Mr. Ferret, who stood up for
the more facile recognition of his friend Kirby.

"Oh yes, he remembered the gentleman well; and a very nice, good-natured,
soft sort of a gentleman he was. He treated witness at the "Albemarle
Arms," London, to as much brandy and water as he liked, out of respect to
his late master, whom the gentleman seemed uncommon fond of."

"Well, and what return did you make for so much liberality?"

"Return! very little I do assure ye. I told un how many horses Sir Harry
kept, and how many races he won; but I couldn't tell un much more, pump
as much as he would, because, do ye see, I didn't _know_ no more."

An audible titter from the other side greeted the witness as he uttered
the last sentence. Mr. S - - , with one of his complacent glances at the
jury-box, remarking in a sufficiently loud whisper, "That he had never
heard a more conclusive reason for not telling in his life."

"Did you mention that you were present at the death of the late baronet?"

"Yes I did. I told un that I were within about three hundred red yards
of late master when he had that ugly fall; and that when I got up to
un, he sort of pulled me down, and whispered hoarse-like, 'Send for
Reverend Zachariah Zimmerman.' I remembered it, it was sich an
outlandish name like."

"Oh, oh," thought I, as Mr. S - - reached across the table for the
parish register, "Z.Z. is acquiring significance I perceive."

"Well, and what did this gentleman say to that?"

"Say? Why, nothing particular, only seemed quite joyful 'mazed like; and
when I asked un why, he said it was such a comfort to find his good
friend Sir Harry had such pious thoughts in his last moments."

The laugh, quickly suppressed, that followed these words, did not come
from our learned friends on the other side.

"Sir Harry used those words?"

"He did; but as he died two or three minutes after, it were of course no
use to send for no parson whatsomever."

"Exactly. That will do, unless the other side have any questions to ask."
No question _was_ put, and the witness went down. "Call," said I to the
crier of the court - "call the Reverend Zachariah Zimmerman."

This was a bomb-shell. Lord Emsdale, the better to conceal his agitation,
descended from the bench and took his seat beside his counsel. The
Reverend Zachariah Zimmerman, examined by Mr. Frampton, deponed in
substance as follows: - "He was at present rector of Dunby, Shropshire,
and had been in holy orders more than twenty years. Was on a visit to the
Reverend Mr. Cramby at Leeds seven years ago, when one morning Mr.
Cramby, being much indisposed, requested him to perform the marriage
ceremony for a young couple then waiting in church. He complied, and
joined in wedlock Violet Dalston and Henry Grainger. The bride was the
lady now pointed out to him in court; the bridegroom he had discovered,
about two years ago, to be no other than the late Sir Harry Compton,
baronet. The initials Z.Z. were his, and written by him. The parish
clerk, a failing old man, had not officiated at the marriage; a nephew,
he believed, had acted for him, but he had entered the marriage in the
usual form afterwards."

"How did you ascertain that Henry Grainger was the late Sir Harry

"I was introduced to Sir Harry Compton in London, at the house of the
Archbishop of York, by his Grace himself."

"I remember the incident distinctly, Mr. Zimmerman," said his Grace from
the bench.

"Besides which," added the rector, "my present living was presented to
me, about eighteen months since, by the deceased baronet. I must further,
in justice to myself, explain that I immediately after the introduction,
sought an elucidation of the mystery from Sir Harry; and he then told me
that, in a freak of youthful passion, he had married Miss Dalston in the
name of Grainger, fearing his uncle's displeasure should it reach his
ears; that his wife had died in her first confinement, after giving birth
to a still-born child, and he now wished the matter to remain in
oblivion. He also showed me several letters, which I then believed
genuine, confirming his story. I heard no more of the matter till waited
upon by the attorney for the plaintiff, Mr. Ferret."

A breathless silence prevailed during the delivery of this evidence. At
its conclusion, the dullest brain in court comprehended that the cause
was gained; and a succession of cheers, which could not be suppressed,
rang through the court, and were loudly echoed from without. Sir Jasper's
voice sounding high above all the rest. Suddenly, too, as if by magic,
almost everybody in court, save the jury and counsel, were decorated with
orange and purple favors, and a perfect shower of them fell at the feet
and about the persons of Lady Compton, her sister, who had by this time
joined her, and the infant Sir Henry. As soon as the expostulations and
menaces of the judge had restored silence and order, his lordship,
addressing Lord Emsdale's senior counsel, said, "Well, Brother S - - ,
what course do you propose to adopt ?"

"My lord," replied Mr. S - - after a pause, "I and my learned friends
have thought it our duty to advise Lord Emsdale that further opposition
to the plaintiff's claim would prove ultimately futile; and I have
therefore to announce, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, that we
acquiesce in a verdict for the plaintiff."

"You have counseled wisely," replied his lordship. "Gentlemen of the
jury, you will of course return a verdict for the plaintiff."

The jury hastily and joyfully assented: the verdict was recorded, and the
court adjourned for an hour in the midst of tumultuous excitement. The
result of the trial flew through the crowd outside like wildfire; and
when Lady Compton and her son, after struggling through the
densely-crowded court, stepped into Sir Jasper's carriage, which was in
waiting at the door, the enthusiastic uproar that ensued - the hurrahing,
shouting, waving of hats and handkerchiefs - deafened and bewildered one;
and it was upwards of an hour ere the slow-moving chariot reached Sir
Jasper's mansion, though not more than half a mile distant from the town.
Mr. Ferret, mounted on the box, and almost smothered in purple and
orange, was a conspicuous object, and a prime favorite with the crowd.
The next day Lord Emsdale, glad, doubtless, to quit the neighborhood as
speedily as possible, left the castle, giving Lady Compton immediate
possession. The joy of the tenantry was unbounded, and under the wakeful
superintendence of Mr. Ferret, all claims against Lord Emsdale for
received rents, dilapidations, &c. were adjusted, we may be sure, _not_
adversely to his client's interests; though he frequently complained, not
half so satisfactorily as if Lady Compton had not interfered, with what
Mr. Ferret deemed misplaced generosity in the matter.

As I was obliged to proceed onwards with the circuit, I called at Compton
Castle to take leave of my interesting and fortunate client a few days
after her installation there. I was most gratefully received and
entertained. As I shook hands at parting, her ladyship, after pressing
upon me a diamond ring of great value, said, whilst her charming eyes
filled with regretful, yet joyful tears, "Do not forget that poor Henry
intended at last to do us justice." Prosperity, thought I, will not spoil
that woman. It _has_ not, as the world, were I authorized to communicate
her _real_ name, would readily acknowledge.


Dinner had been over about half an hour one Sunday afternoon. - the only
day on which for years I had been able to enjoy a dinner - and I was
leisurely sipping a glass of wine, when a carriage drove rapidly up to
the door, a loud _rat-tat_ followed, and my friend Dr. Curteis, to my
great surprise, was announced.

"I have called," said the doctor as we shook hands, "to ask you to
accompany me to Mount Place. I have just received a hurried note from
Miss Armitage, stating that her mother, after a very brief illness, is
rapidly sinking, and requesting my attendance, as well as that of a legal
gentleman, immediately."

"Mrs. Armitage!" I exclaimed, inexpressibly shocked. "Why, it is scarcely
more than a fortnight ago that I met her at the Rochfords' in brilliant
health and spirits."

"Even so. But will you accompany me? I don't know where to find any one
else for the moment, and time presses."

"It is an attorney, probably, rather than a barrister, that is needed;
but under the circumstances, and knowing her as I do, I cannot hesitate."

We were soon bowling along at a rapid pace, and in little more than an
hour reached the dying lady's residence, situated in the county of Essex,
and distant about ten miles from London. We entered together; and Dr.
Curteis, leaving me in the library, proceeded at once to the sick
chamber. About ten minutes afterwards the housekeeper, a tall,
foreign-looking, and rather handsome woman, came into the room, and
announced that the doctor wished to see me. She was deadly pale, and, I
observed, trembled like an aspen. I motioned her to precede me; and she,
with unsteady steps, immediately led the way. So great was her agitation,
that twice, in ascending the stairs, she only saved herself from falling
by grasping the banister-rail. The presage I drew from the exhibition of
such overpowering emotion, by a person whom I knew to have been long not
only in the service, but in the confidence of Mrs. Armitage, was soon
confirmed by Dr. Curteis, whom we met coming out of the chamber of the
expiring patient.

"Step this way," said he, addressing me, and leading to an adjoining
apartment. "We do not require your attendance, Mrs. Bourdon," said he, as
soon as we reached it, to the housekeeper, who had swiftly followed us,
and now stood staring with eager eyes in the doctor's face, as if life
and death hung on his lips. "Have the goodness to leave us," he added
tartly, perceiving she did not stir, but continued her fearful,
scrutinizing glance. She started at his altered tone, flushed crimson,
then paled to a chalky whiteness, and muttering, left the apartment.

"The danger of her mistress has bewildered her," I remarked.

"Perhaps so," remarked Dr. Curteis. "Be that as it may, Mrs. Armitage is
beyond all human help. In another hour she will be, as we say, no more."

"I feared so. What is the nature of her disorder?"

"A rapid wasting away, as I am informed. The appearances presented are
those of a person expiring of atrophy, or extreme emaciation."

"Indeed. And so sudden too!"

"Yes. I am glad you are come, although your professional services will
not, it seems, be required - a neighboring attorney having performed the
necessary duty - something, I believe, relative to the will of the dying
lady. We will speak further together by and by. In the meantime,"
continued Dr. Curteis, with a perceptible tremor in his voice, "it will
do neither of us any harm to witness the closing scene of the life of
Mary Rawdon, whom you and I twenty years ago worshipped as one of the
gentlest and most beautiful of beings with which the Creator ever graced
his universe. It will be a peaceful parting. Come."

Just as, with noiseless footsteps, we entered the silent death-chamber,
the last rays of the setting sun were falling upon the figure of Ellen
Armitage - who knelt in speechless agony by the bedside of her expiring
parent - and faintly lighting up the pale, emaciated, sunken features of
the so lately brilliant, courted Mrs. Armitage! But for the ineffaceable
splendor of her deep-blue eyes, I should scarcely have recognized her.
Standing in the shadow, as thrown by the heavy bed-drapery, we gazed and
listened unperceived.

"Ellen," murmured the dying lady, "come nearer to me. It is growing
dark, and I cannot see you plainly. Now, then, read to me, beginning at
the verse you finished with, as good Dr. Curteis entered. Ay," she
faintly whispered, "it is thus, Ellen, with thy hand clasped in mine,
and with the words of the holy book sounding from thy dear lips, that I
would pass away!"

Ellen, interrupted only by her blinding tears, making sad stops,
complied. Twilight stole on, and threw its shadow over the solemn scene,
deepening its holiness of sorrow. Night came with all her train; and the
silver radiance kissed into ethereal beauty the pale face of the weeping
girl, still pursuing her sad and sacred task. We hesitated to disturb, by
the slightest movement the repose of a death-bed over which belief and
hope, those only potent ministers, shed light and calm! At length Dr.
Curteis advanced gently towards the bed, and taking the daughter's hand,
said in a low voice, "Had you not better retire, my dear young lady, for
a few moments?" She understood him, and rising from her knees, threw
herself in an ecstacy of grief upon the corpse, from which the spirit had
just passed away. Assistance was summoned, and the sobbing girl was borne
from the chamber.

I descended, full of emotion, to the library, where Dr. Curteis promised
shortly to join me. Noiselessly entering the room, I came suddenly upon
the housekeeper and a tall young man, standing with their backs towards
me in the recesses of one of the windows, and partly shrouded by the
heavy cloth curtains. They were evidently in earnest conference, and
several words, the significance of which did not at the moment strike me,
reached my ears before they perceived my approach. The instant they did
so, they turned hastily round, and eyed me with an expression of flurried
alarm, which at the time surprised me not a little. "All is over, Mrs.
Bourdon," said I, finding she did not speak; "and your presence is
probably needed by Miss Armitage." A flash of intelligence, as I spoke,
passed between the pair; but whether indicative of grief or joy, so
momentary was the glance, I should have been puzzled to determine. The
housekeeper immediately left the room, keeping her eyes, as she passed,
fixed upon me with the same nervous apprehensive look which had before
irritated Dr. Curteis. The young man followed more slowly. He was a tall
and rather handsome youth, apparently about one or two-and-twenty years
of age. His hair was black as jet, and his dark eyes were of singular
brilliancy; but the expression, I thought, was scarcely a refined or
highly-intellectual one. His resemblance to Mrs. Bourdon, whose son
indeed he was, was very striking. He bowed slightly, but courteously, as
to an equal, as he closed the door, and I was left to the undisturbed
enjoyment of my own reflections, which, ill-defined and indistinct as
they were, were anything but pleasant company. My reverie was at length
interrupted by the entrance of the doctor, with the announcement that the
carriage was in waiting to re-convey us to town.

We had journeyed several miles on our return before a word was spoken by
either of us. My companion was apparently even more painfully

Online LibrarySamuel WarrenThe Experiences of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney → online text (page 4 of 26)