Unknown.

The library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) online

. (page 52 of 75)
Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 52 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


distress.

Next morning she rose early, as was her
wont, and passed into the room which had
been pointed out by her attendant. It was
spacious, and commanded a view of the Thames.
Conceive the measure of her surprise when, on
looking around, she found that her own harp
and bookcase, with its contents, had, through
the generosity of her benefactor, been added
to the furniture:

Clara had too much activity and independ-
ence of mind to sit calmly down and eat the
bread of idleness. Her first object, therefore,
was to turn her talents to account by obtaining
some private pupils, whom she could attend at
their own houses; and to this end she deter-
mined to apply to a gentleman who had been
a frequent guest of her father, and whose ac-
quaintance, from his connection with the pub-
lic press, was extensive. He was a native of
the Green Isle, and possessed talents of no
common order united to a caustic humour that,
sparing neither friend nor foe, detracted very
much from the value of his society, which,
when he could resist his propensity to satire,
was amusing and instructive in the highest
degree. Under much, however, that was rude
and even stern in his manner, there were con-
cealed a kindness and generosity which Clara
had on more than one occasion discovered,
and this emboldened her to solicit his aid.

In his reception of her the Irishman com-
pletely overcame the cynic. He informed her
that he had called at her late father's residence
on the preceding day, and was much disap-
pointed on finding that she had quitted it a
few hours before. He entered with such in-
terest into her scheme, and followed it up by
such strenuous exertions among his friends,
that in a very few weeks Clara had no reason
to complain of a dearth of pupils or occupation.

The interim of leisure she devoted to draw-
ing, in which she excelled, and, when she had
finished half-a-dozen subjects, she took them
to the shop of a celebrated dealer in works of
art, to offer them for sale. She requested an



268



COUSIN TOMKINS, THE TAILOR.



interview with the principal, and was shown
into a little room, apart from the shop, in
which she found him seated. He was an elderly,
tall, and somewhat hard-featured man, and
received her with a coldness of manner which
chilled her to the very heart.

With diffidence she produced her drawings,

which Mr. examined, for some minutes,

with great attention. When he had finished
his scrutiny, he turned abruptly to the fair
artist, and said,

"Well, miss, and what do you ask for these
things?"

Clara, after expressing a reluctance to put a
value upon her own productions, ventured to
name a guinea.

" A guinea! " exclaimed the other in a tone
of surprise, and, after a pause, added, "No
young woman, I will not give you a guinea
for them ; but I tell you what I will do, I will
give you two. " 1

He, accordingly, put the amount into her
hands, and, on dismissing her, said that, when
she had any more drawings to dispose of, he
should be happy to see her again.

Three months passed away, at the end of
which Clara, after deducting from the amount
of her earnings a few shillings for pocket-
money, presented the remainder to Mr. Tom-
kins, with the expression of her regret that it was
not in her power to offer him a more adequate
remuneration for the kindness and accommoda-
tion she was experiencing under his roof. Mr.
Tomkins regarded her, for some moments,
with an expression of peculiar benevolence,
and, appreciating tiie noble independence which
prompted the offer, took the money: for he
knew that his refusal would not only cause her
pain, but render her continuance under his
roof irksome to her, and he had no wish to part
with his lodger, as he jocularly termed her.

Tomkins, as I have already intimated, had
been successful in trade, and now contented
himself with the general superintendence of
his establishment. Much of his leisure was
occupied in those offices of benevolence which
draw upon the time, as well as upon the pocket.
His deportment toward* Clara was a singular
compound of kindness and respect: the former
being exemplified by the great attention which
he paid to her domestic comforts, and the
deference which he exacted towards her from
his servants; while the latter feeling exhibited
itself in the scrupulosity with which he re-

1 This anecdote was related to me by a jrmitleniaii
who stands deservedly high anjor.g the artists of the
day.



f rained from intruding on her society. He
was, in fact, too generous to take advantage
of the relation of benefactor, in which, he could
not but feel, he stood towards her, to overstep
the barrier which, he imagined, education
and their respective habits had placed between
them.

Clara, on her part, appreciated to the full
the motives of delicacy by which he was gov-
erned, and neglected no occasion of proving
to him that she was utterly free from that
pride which renders little minds impatient of
an obligation to one who has occupied an in-
ferior situation to themselves. In one of her
occasional interviews with him, she had heard
him speak with admiration and regret of the
scenery of his native place. It happened that
she had once visited the spot, and had made
some sketches of the surrounding country.
These she took an opportunity of finishing,
and, one day when he recurred to the subject,
she presented him with the set.

Matters remained, for some months, upon
this footing of almost parental kindness on the
one part, and grateful attachment on the other;
during which Clara pursued the plan of tuition
she had adopted, with unremitting persever-
ance and the most unqualified success. In
about a year, however, the health of Mr. Tom-
kins began to fail: he was no longer able to
take his accustomed walks, and at length
became a prisoner to his room. The nature
of his complaint was not such as to confine him
to his bed, and, consequently, afforded Clara
an opportunity of paying him many of those
attentions which, though trifling in themselves,
are so efficacious in soothing the sufferings
and raising the spirits of the drooping valetu-
dinarian.

Relinquishing the amusements to which she
had been accustomed to devote her leisure, she
passed most of her evenings in Mr. Tomkins'
apartment, and, by adroitly discovering, and
sedulously humouring his tastes, she succeeded
in imparting a cheerfulness to his hours of
confinement. She read to him, played his
favourite airs on her harp, and, with the anx-
ious solicitude of an affectionate daughter,
prepared the little delicacies to which his diet
was restricted.

Month after month passed away, and each
found him worse than the preceding one; for
his disease arose from that decay of nature
which time, instead of alleviating, must neces-
sarily promote. The old man had formed an
accurate judgment of his malady and its ten-
dency, and, as he had lived in a state of con-
stant preparation for death, the awful summons



COUSIN TOMKINS, THE TAILOR.



269



did not appal him, for he had " set his house
in order."

In the latter stages of his suffering I was
called upon to attend him, and thus became
acquainted with his lovely prote"ge"e and her
history. And it was a holy sight that fair
creature kneeling by his bed, and pouring,
from the fulness of her heart, a prayer to the
"Father of mercies, and the God of all com-
fort," for the continued supply of His all-
sufficient grace, in the last hour of Nature's
struggle. Nor was that prayer breathed in
vain. The sustaining consolations of the
blessed Spirit were vouchsafed to him, and he
looked back upon his past life calmly. Like
the apostle, he had "fought a good fight," he
had "kept the faith," and, thenceforward,
there was laid up for him, in heaven, a crown
of glory which fadeth not away. What a
lesson, worth all the eloquence of the preacher
and all the learning of the commentator, does
the death-scene of the Christian afford !

Good cause, indeed, had Clara to weep over
his remains, for he was her only friend, and
the world was again before her. The day fol-
lowing that of the funeral was appointed for
reading the will of the deceased. His relations
were accordingly summoned, and Clara was
also requested to be present. This was a trial
which she would gladly have avoided, for she
was conscious that the fact of her having been
so constantly about the person of the testator
during his last illness, and the affection which
he was known to entertain for her, had excited
the jealousy of many of his relatives. And,
truly, it was with no complacent eyes that
her presence was regarded by the majority of
the company. The calm subdued expression
with which she prepared to listen to the per-
usal of the will, was deemed only a mask to
conceal the triumph which the consciousness
of being well provided for was calculated to
inspire.

The document, on being read, was found to
direct a most equitable distribution of his
property among his relatives; but, to the great
delight of many, and the astonishment of all
but Clara, her name was not even mentioned
in it. The solicitor, in the course of the per-
usal, occasionally glanced from the parchment
to the countenance of the orphan, and was
surprised to perceive that it was as free from
any indications of anxiety as it was of disap-
pointment when his task was finished. Some
coarse remarks were made in the hearing of
Clara by one or two of the party, but the con-
sciousness of the injustice of the insinuations
they were intended to convey, enabled her



to endure them with her characteristic meek-
ness.

When the company had dispersed, Clara
found herself alone with the solicitor, a most
respectable member of the profession, though
an original in his way. He was a tall and
somewhat bulky personage of about fifty, with
a countenance expressive of shrewdness and
good nature.

" Well, Miss Stanley," said he, after a pause,
"it seems to have been generally expected that
my old friend Tomkins would have taken care
of you in his will, and I must confess myself
somewhat surprised that he has not done so."

" I am neither surprised nor disappointed,
sir," was Clara's reply; "and, as far as I can
judge, he has made such a distribution of his
property as might have been expected from his
justice."

"But," rejoined the lawyer, "one would
think he might have left you a trifle, at least,
as a token by which to remember him."

"His kindness to me, sir, was such that I
shall carry a grateful remembrance of it to the
grave; so that a legacy, on that score, was
quite unnecessary."

"You are an odd girl," exclaimed the man
of law, "and exhibit so much indifference
towards the dross for which one half the world
are at loggerheads with the other, that I am
almost minded to fling into the fire a little
packet with which I meant to surprise you;
but as the law, to say nothing of conscience
(which is a legal fiction), might be troublesome
if I did so, I suppose I may as well hand it
over."

Clara received the packet from the hands of
Mr. Elphinstone, but found its contents utterly
unintelligible, and accordingly requested an
explanation.

"Well then," said the lawyer, "the larger
paper, with the picture at the top, is a policy
of assurance, of long standing, for five thousand
pounds, payable, with accumulations, amount-
ing, as I guess, to about as much more, on
the death of our late friend Mr. Tomkins.
The smaller paper, with the red seal, is a deed,
dated about six months back, by which, 'in
consideration of his love and affection for
his dear cousin, Clara Stanley,' he assigns to
her, and her heirs, all right, title, and interest
in the said policy of assurance for five thousand
pounds, an act, which, if I had mentioned it
in the hearing of the worthies who have just
left us, would have accounted to them, though
not very satisfactorily, for the omission of your
name in the will."

Clara, more affected by this proof of the af-



270



COUSIN TOMKINS, THE TAILOR.



fection of her deceased relative than by being
suddenly raised to a state of independence,
dropped the documents upon the floor, and
burst into tears. Mr. Elphinstone took a pro-
digious pinch of snuff, which operated so
powerfully upon his visual organs as to require
the instant application of his handkerchief,
while he muttered, "The confounded draughts
in this old house have given me a cold in the
head: extremely silly preposterously unpro-
fessional!"

At last, recovering himself, he continued,
" The money for the policy will not be receiv-
able for some weeks, and therefore, if you like
to trust me with it (and it will probably be
safer in my strong room than in your work-
box or reticule), I will take charge of it until
it is wanted. As for yourself, I dare saj r the
executor will not object to your remaining
here, in your old quarters, until the house is
given up: yet, no; on second thoughts, as you
will now have no further occasion to go out
teaching, you shall come and stay with my
girls for a week or two; nay, I will not be
denied, so be pleased to get your paraphernalia
together, and I will send my carriage for you
at four o'clock: your heavy baggage may re-
main here for the present."

The family of Mr. Elphinstone consisted of
his wife, a mild unaffected woman, some years
his junior, three sprightly girls, and a son
whom his father had educated for his own pro-
fession, and had recently taken into partner-
ship. The latter was a lively, good-humoured
young man, of rather prepossessing appearance,
frank gentlemanly manners, and gifted with
talents considerably above the average. From
the whole of this amiable family Clara received
a cordial welcome, and experienced every at-
tention and kindness. By Harry Elphinstone,
in particular, she was treated, I was about to
write, as a sister; but a brother does not al-
ways rise an hour earlier than his wont, to
drive his sister round the Regent's Park before
breakfast; neither does he think it necessary
to afford her his personal protection whenever
she has occasion to walk the length of the street
in which she lives; nor does he, on her account,
levy the album-tax upon every artist and author
within range of his acquaintance. Yet all
this, and more, did Harry Elphinstone perform
for Clara Stanley; while, on the other hand,
it was surprising to witness the perfect com-
placency with which she received his attentions.
From such premises but one conclusion could
be drawn by those who dive into the motives
of their neighbours. It was quite an under-
stood thing that the young lady had not the



slightest objection to unite her fate with one
who had half of a fine practice in enjoyment,
and the remainder in reversion, and that her
ten thousand pounds were not altogether a
matter of indifference to the gentleman.

Clara had been a guest of Mr. Elphinston
for some weeks, when it was remarked, on two
or three successive days, that he was unusually
thoughtful and reserved at meals, although
his deportment towards Clara was distinguished
by his accustomed kindness. One afternoon,
when the cloth had been removed, and the
servants had retired, he informed her, that he
had had an application from the residuary
legatee and executor of Mr. Tomkins, calling
upon him to surrender the policy of assurance,
of the existence of which the party had been
made acquainted by some old receipts, for the
yearly payments, found among the testator's
papers; and, on inquiry being instituted at
the insurance office, the answer given was that
notice of the assignment of the policy to Miss
Stanley had been given by Mr. Elphinstone
in the lifetime of Mr. Tomkins. The grounds
on which the policy was claimed, as a part of
the residuary estate, were the alleged imbecility
of Mr. Tomkins at the time of executing the
instrument by which it was conveyed, and the
use of undue influence on the part of Miss
Stanley or her friends. Mr. Elphinstono
added, that he had, of course, refused to give
up the policy, and that the claimant had, in
consequence, served him with notice of action.

It cannot be imagined that Clara received
this intelligence without considerable uneasi-
ness, which was occasioned as much by the
apprehension of being engaged in a lawsuit,
as by the idea of losing the fortune which her
generous benefactor had designed for her. She
asked Mr. Elphinstone what should be done.

"Why, defend the action, to be sure!" was
the reply.

"Surely," exclaimed Mrs. Elphinstone,
"there is not a court in England which would
not pronounce in Miss Stanley's favour."

"That is a somewhat rash remark for a law-
yer's wife," said her husband; "the law, it is
true, always aims at justice, but she sometimes
misses her mark; and this is just one of those
cases which involve much that is matter of
law, but more that is matter of opinion, and
therefore matter of doubt. As to the assign-
ment, I drew it myself, and I know it will
hold water: but with regard to the competency
of Mr. Tomkins at the time of executing it,
although I am as convinced of it as of my own
existence, it may not be quite so easy to make
it apparent in a court of law. The plaintiff I



COUSIN TOMKINS, THE TAILOE.



271



know to be a scoundrel, and his attorney is
what is termed a keen lawyer a fellow who
is pre-eminent for his dexterity in getting
rogues out of scrapes, and honest folks into
them; an haranguer of mobs, and a reformer
of abuses, with a vast superflux of public
spirit, and a marvellous paucity of private
principle. True it is, there is enough of abuse
to be reformed, and of corruption to be swept
away, but purity cannot come of pollution,
and when a knave puts his hand to the plough
honest men are deterred from aiding in the
labour. By such opponents everything that
can be effected by hard swearing will be
put in practice. I have already spoken to
a counsel on the subject, who, on my putting
him in possession of the particulars of the case,
entered into it with an extraordinary exhibi-
tion of interest, and absolutely refused a fee.
Though a young man, he is a sound lawyer,
and possesses talents which render him infin-
itely better adapted for our purpose than a
mere case-quotcr.

"Twelve months ago," continued Mr.
Elphinstone, "he was a briefless barrister, and
it happened that I had a cause, of a nature
very similar to yours. I had had some oppor-
tunities of judging of his talents and legal
knowledge, and determined to put the cause,
which was one of considerable importance,
into his hands; not from any favour towards
him, but because I thought him peculiarly
qualified to plead it with effect. The result
justified my confidence, and we were mutually
benefited: I gained a verdict, while he, from
that hour, rose rapidly into notice, and has now
a very considerable and improving practice."

The trial came on in the following term,
and it was deemed expedient by Mr. Elphinstone
that Clara should be in court, as circumstances
might arise to render a communication between
the defendant and her attorney essential to
her interests. It was with great difficulty
that he overcame her repugnance to appear in
so public a place, and it was only on his assur-
ance that she should occupy a situation as
little conspicuous as possible, that she consented
to be present. The case was opened by the
plaintiff's counsel (of course, upon the ex-
parte statement of his brief), with the ability
which distinguishes the English bar: the gist
of his argument, in which he depended upon
his witnesses to bear him out, was that Mr.
Tomkins, at the time of executing the deed
conveying the policy to Miss Stanley, was in
a state of mind in which he would be a passive
instrument in the hands of any designing per-
son; that the defendant had, by a series of



previous unremitting attentions, in which she
allowed none to take a share, acquired an al-
most unlimited control over his mind, and that
she had turned that influence into the channel
of her own selfish purposes. His speech was
delivered with great ability, and evidently pro-
duced no inconsiderable effect on the minds of
the jury. When he had called and examined
his first witness, the counsel on the opposite side
rose for the purpose of proceeding in the cross-
examination. The latter was a young man,
with a high forehead, a nose somewhat inclin-
ing to the aquiline, and a full and piercing
gray eye; while the paleness of his complexion,
partly natural, and partly the result of close
application to study, gave to his features, when
in repose, a somewhat cold and statue-like ap-
pearance.

The full deep melody of the tone in which he
put his first question to the witness, startled
Clara by its familiarity to her ear, and on
shifting her position, to obtain a sight of the
countenance of her advocate, she was surprised
to recognize in him the gentleman who had
been so welcome a guest at her father's table,
and the sudden cessation of whose visits had
been the subject of so much speculation and
regret. Mr. Worthington, for such was his
name, conducted his cross-examinations with
a degree of shrewdness and tact, joined to a
mildness of manner, which, in many instances,
encouraged the garrulity of the witnesses,
who were, for the most part, persons in an in-
ferior station of life, and thus elicited much
which did not altogether "dove-tail" with the
context of their evidence. This portion of
his duty having been accomplished, he com-
menced his reply, under the conviction that
his task was one of no ordinary difficulty. He
saw plainly that the opposite counsel had, by
his eloquent and ingenious speech, succeeded
in establishing a strong prejudice against the
defendant in the minds of the jury. He felt,
therefore, that much of his chance of success
depended upon the effect with which he could
combat his adversary with his own weapons.

He commenced by stating the case of his
client, and, in doing so, collected all its favour-
able points, and presented them to the jury in
the simplest possible form. He then called
their attention to the weaker points of his
adversary animadverting upon the nature of
the opposing evidence, and referring to the pre-
varication of one witness, and the extraordinary
lapse of memory in another. Conscious of the
justice of hia cause, he concluded his address
by a direct appeal to the feelings of the jury.
With the skill of a master, he gave a vivid



272



COUSIN TOMKINS, THE TAILOR.



sketch of his client's history, touching upon
her youth, her misfortunes, her virtues, her
accomplishments, as eminently calculated to
enlist the sympathies and engage the affec-
tions of her benefactor. He put it to the jury
if they would lend themselves to negative the
kind intentions of the deceased, and dwelt
feelingly upon the situation in which a verdict
for the plaintiff would place her. Then, by a
sudden transition, which showed him an adept
iu his art, he flung back, with indignant scorn,
upon his opponents the imputation of selfish-
ness. As he proceeded, his features gathered
animation at every sentence, his cheek became
flushed, and his eye flashed, and he concluded
his speech with a sweeping torrent of eloquence,
which, if it did not convince, had the effect of
electrifying his hearers.

The judge alone of all present was unmoved;
he preserved throughout the same calm dignity
so much in keeping with his office. Once or
twice he had interposed between the counsel
and a browbeaten witness, or reminded the
former that he had asked a similar question
before, and was trespassing upon the time of
the court by putting it into other words.

Clara's counsel then proceeded to call his
witnesses, of whom I was one, and their testi-
mony went to establish the fact that Mr. Tom-
kins was of perfectly "sound and disposing
mind" at the time of the execution of the dis-
puted deed, as well as to prove that, so far
from the defendant assuming an exclusive
control over the deceased, she had afforded
every facility to his relations in their inter-
course with him, and had actually, and at the
risk of his displeasure, interposed her good
offices in reconciling him to some of his rela-
tions with whom he had been at variance, and
who gave testimony in court to that effect.

The cross-examination of his witnesses eli-
cited nothing which could shake their evidence;
and the judge, after a short summary of the
case, informed the jury that the question was
more a matter of fact than one of law, and that
therefore their verdict must be governed by the



Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 52 of 75)