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In short," he paused, as if right. distressed at the intelligence he was about to communicate.
"Oh, pray, pray go on, sir," said Mr Aubrey, in a low tone.
"I am no stranger, sir, to your firmness of character; but I shall have to tax it, I fear, to its uttermost. To come at once to the point-they told me that I might undoubtedly settle the matter, if you would consent to give up immediate possession of the Yatton estate, and account for the mesne profits to their client, the right heir-as they contend-a Mr Tittlebat Titmouse." Mr Aubrey sunk back in his chair, overcome, for an instant, by this dreadful and astounding intelligence; and all three of them preserved silence for more than a minute. Mr Runnington was a man of a very feeling heart. In the course of his great practice, he had had to encounter many distressing scenes; but probably none of them had equaled that in which, at the earnest entreaty of Mr Parkinson, who distrusted his own self-possession, he now bore a leading part. The two attorneys interchanged frequent looks of deep sympathy for their unfortunate client, who seemed as if stunned by the intelligence they had brought him.
"I felt it my duty to lose not an instant in coming down to Yatton," resumed Mr Runnington, observing Mr Aubrey's eye again directed enquiringly towards him; "for Messrs Quirk, Gammon, and Snap are very dangerous people to deal with, and must be encountered promptly, and with the greatest possible caution. The moment that I had left them, I hastened to the Temple, to retain for you Mr Subtle, the leader of the Northern Circuit; but they had been beforehand with me, and retained him nearly three months ago, together with another eminent King's counsel on the circuit. Under these circumstances, I lost no time in giving a special retainer to the Attorney-General, in which I trust I have done right, and in retaining as junior a gentleman whom I consider to be incomparably the ablest lawyer on the circuit."
"Did they say any thing concerning the nature of their client's title ?" enquired Mr Aubrey, in a languid tone; but he was perfectly calm and collected.
Very little. If they had been never so precise, of course I should have distrusted every word they said. They certainly mentioned that they had had the first conveyancing opinion in the kingdom, which concurred in favour of their client; that they had been for months prepared at all points, and accident only had delayed their commencing proceedings till now."
"Did you make any enquiries as to who the claimant was ?" enquired Mr Aubrey.
"Yes; but all I could learn was, that they had discovered him by mere accident; and that he was in very obscure and distressed circumstances. I tried to discover by what means they proposed to commence and carry on so expensive a contest; but they smiled significantly, and were silent." Another long pause ensued, during which Mr Aubrey was evidently silently struggling with very agitating
"What is the meaning of their affecting to seek the recovery of only one insignificant portion of the property?" he enquired.
"It is their own choice-it may be from considerations of mere convenience. The title by which they may succeed in recovering what they at present go for, will avail to recover every acre of the estate, and the present action will consequently decide every thing!"
"And suppose the worst-that they are successful: what is to be said about the rental which I have been receiving all this time-ten thousand a-year?' enquired Mr Aubrey, looking as if he dreaded to hear his question answered.
"Oh! that's quite an after consideration-let us first fight the battle.”
"I beg, Mr Runnington, that you will withhold nothing from me," said Mr Aubrey, with a faltering voice. "To what extent shall I be liable?"
Mr Runnington paused.
"I am afraid that all the mesne profits, as they are called, which you have received,"—commenced Mr Parkinson
"No, no," interrupted Mr Runnington; "I have been turning that over in my mind, and I think that the statute of limitations will bar all but the last six years."
"Why, that will be sixty thousand pounds!" interrupted Mr Aubrey,
with a look of sudden despair. "Gracious God, that is perfectly frightful!-frightful! If I lose Yatton, I shall not have a place to put my head in-not one farthing to support myself with! And yet to have to make up sixty thousand pounds!" The perspiration stood upon his forehead, and his eye was laden with alarm and agony. He slowly rose from his chair, and bolted the door, that they might not, at such an agitating moment, be surpris. ed or disturbed by any of the family. "I suppose," said he, in a faint and tremulous tone, "that if this claim succeed, my mother also will share my fate.
They shook their heads in silence. "Permit me to suggest," said Mr Runnington, in a tone of the most respectful sympathy, "that sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."
"But the NIGHT follows!" said Mr Aubrey, with a visible tremor; and his voice made the hearts of his companions thrill within them. "Mine is really a fearful case! I and mine, I feel, are become suddenly beggars. We are trespassers at Yatton. We have been unjustly enjoying the rights of others."
My dear Mr Aubrey," said Mr Parkinson, earnestly, "that remains to be proved. We really are getting on far too fast. One would think that the jury had already returned a verdict against us-that judgment had been signed and that the sheriff was coming in the morning to execute the writ of possession in favour of our opponent.' This was well meant by the speaker; but surely it was like talking of the machinery of the ghastly guillotine to the wretch in shivering expectation of suffering by it on the morrow. An involuntary shudder ran through Mr Aubrey. "Sixty thousand pounds!" he exclaimed, rising and walking to and fro. Why, I am ruined beyond all redemption! How can I ever satisfy it?" Again he paced the room several times, in silent agony. The inward prayer which he then offered up to God, for calmness and fortitude, seemed to have been, in a measure, answered; and he presently resumed his seat. "I have, for these several days past, had a strange sense of impending calamity," said he, in an infinitely more tranquil tone than before
"I have been equally unable to
account for or get rid of it. It may be an intimation from Heaven; I bow to its will!"
"We must remember," said Mr Runnington, "that possession is nine-tenths of the law;' which means, that your mere possession will entitle you to retain it against all the world, till a stronger title than yours to the right of possession be made out.
You stand on a mountain;
and it is for your adversary to displace you, not by showing merely that you have no real title, but that he has. If he could prove all your title-deeds to be merely waste paper-that in fact you have no more title than I havehe could not advance his own case an inch; he must first establish in himself a clear and independent title; so that you are entirely on the defensive; and rely upon it, that so acute and profound a lawyer as the Atorney-General will impose every difficulty on
"God forbid that any unconscientious advantage should be taken on my behalf!" said Mr Aubrey. Mr Runnington and Mr Parkinson both opened their eyes pretty wide at this sally: the latter could not understand but that every thing was fair in war; the former saw and appreciated the nobility of soul which had dictated the exclamation.
"I suppose the affair will soon become public," said Mr Aubrey, with an air of profound depression.
"Your position in the county, your eminence in public life, the singularity of the case, and the magnitude of the stake-all are circumstances undoubtedly calculated soon to urge the affair before the notice of the public," said Mr Runnington.
"Good God, who is to break the disastrous intelligence to my family!" exclaimed Mr Aubrey, hiding his face in his hands. "Something, I suppose," he presently added, with forced calmness,"must be done immediately."
"Undoubtedly. Mr Parkinson and I will immediately proceed to examine your title-deeds, the greater portion of which are, I understand, here in the Hall, and the rest at Mr Parkin
son's ; and prepare, without delay, a case for the opinion of the AttorneyGeneral and also of some eminent conveyancer. Who, by the way," said Mr Runnington, addressing Mr Parkiason" who was the conveyancer
that had the abstracts before him, on preparing Mr Aubrey's marriagesettlement?"
"Oh, you are alluding to the 'Opinion' I mentioned to you this evening?" enquired Mr Parkinson." I have it at my house, and will show it you in the morning. The doubt he expressed on one or two points gave me, I recollect, no little uneasiness as you may remember, Mr Aubrey." "I certainly do," he replied, with a profound sigh; "but though what you said reminded me of something or another that I had heard when a mere boy, I thought no more of it. I think you told me that the gentleman who wrote the opinion was a nervous fidgety man, always raising difficulties in his clients' titles-and, one way or another, the thing never gave me any concern-never even occurred to my thoughts, till to-day." "You see, if only one link, or part of a link, in a chain, is infirm," said Mr Runnington-" however remote."
"You will take a little refreshment, gentlemen, after your journey?" said Mr Aubrey, suddenly interrupting him-glad of the opportunity it would afford him of reviving his own exhausted spirits by a little wine, before returning to the drawing-room. He swallowed several glasses of wine without any sensible effect; and the bearers of the dreadful intelligence just communicated to the reader, after a promise by Mr Aubrey to drive over to Grilston early in the morning, and bring such of his title-deeds as were then at the Hall, took their departure; leaving him considerably calmer, but with a fearful oppression at his heart. Long accustomed to control his feelings, he exerted himself to the utmost on the present occasion-and almost entirely succeeded. His face, however, on re-entering the drawing-room, which his mother, attended by Kate, had quitted for her bedroom, somewhat alarmed Mrs Aubrey; whom, however, he at once quieted, by saying that he certainly had been annoyed-" excessively annoyed" at a communication just made to him; " and which might-in fact prevent his sitting again for Yatton." "There, doctor, am I not right?" said Mrs Aubrey, appealing to Dr Tatham-" did I not tell you that this was something connected with politics? Charles, I do hate politics
give me a quiet home!" A pang shot through Mr Aubrey's heart; but he felt that he had, for the present, succeeded in his object.
Mr Aubrey's distracted mind was indeed, as it were, buffeted about that night on a dark sea of trouble; while the beloved being beside him lay sleeping peacefully, all unconscious of the rising storm. Many times, during that dismal night, would he have risen from his bed to seek a momentary relief, by walking to and fro, but that he feared disturbing her, and disclosing the extent and depth of his distress. It was nearly five o'clock in the morning before he at length sunk into sleep; and of one thing I can assure the reader, that however that excellent man might have shrunk-and shrink he didfrom the sufferings that seemed in store for him, and those who were far dearer to him than life itself, he did not give way to one repining or rebellious thought. On the contrary, his real frame of mind, on that trying occasion, may be discovered in one short prayer, which he more than once was on the point of expressing aloud in words— "Oh my God! in my prosperity I have ever acknowledged thee; forsake me not in my adversity!"
At an early hour in the morning his carriage drew up at Mr Parkinson's door; and he brought with him, as he had promised, a great number of title-deeds and family documents. On these, as well as on many others which were in Mr Parkinson's custody, that gentleman and Mr Runnington were anxiously engaged during almost every minute of that day and the ensuing one; at the close of which, they had, between them, drawn up the rough draft of a case, with which Mr Runnington set off for town by the mail; undertaking to lay it, within twenty-four hours, before the Attorney-General, and also before one of the greatest conveyancers of the day; commended to their best and earliest attention, by very liberal fees and extra gratuities to their clerks. pledged himself to transmit their opinions, by the very first mail, to Mr Parkinson; and both those gentlemen immediately set about active preparations for defending the ejectment. The "eminent conveyancer" fixed upon by Messrs Runnington and Parkinson, was Mr Tresayle, whose
because he saw Dr Tatham coming out of Williams's cottage, where he had been paying a visit to poor Phoebe.
The little doctor was plunthering on, ankle-deep in snow, towards the vicarage, when Mr Aubrey (who had sent home his carriage with word that he should presently follow) came up with him, and greeting him with unusual fervour, said that he would accompany him to the vicarage.
"You are in very great trouble, my dear friend," said the doctor, seriously" I saw it plainly last night; but of course I said nothing. Come in to my little house here-let us talk freely with one another; for, as iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend. Is it not so?"
clerk, however, on looking into the papers, presently carried them back to Messrs Runnington, with the information that Mr Tresayle had, a few months ago, "advised on the other side." The next person whom Mr Runnington thought of, wassingularly enough- Mr Mortmain, who was occasionally employed, in heavy matters, by the firm. His clerk, also, on the ensuing morning returned the papers, assigning the same reason as had been given by Mr Tresayle's clerk. All this formed a startling corroboration, truly, of Messrs Quirk and Gammon's assurance to Mr Runnington, that they had "had the first conveyancing opinions in the kingdom;" and evidenced the formidable scale on which their operations were being conducted. There were, however, other" eminent conveyancers "besides the two above mentioned; and in the hands of Mr Mansfield, who, with a less extended reputation, but an equal practice, was a far abler man, and a much higher style of conveyancer than Mr Mortmain, Mr Runnington left his client's interests with the utmost confidence. Not satisfied with this, he laid the case also before Mr Crystal, the junior, whom he had already retained in the cause—a man whose lucid understanding was not ill indicated by his name. Though his manner in court was feeble and unimpressive, and his appearance even childish; his temper irritable, and his demeanour ridiculously supercilious; he was an invaluable acquisition in an important cause. He knew, probably, little else than law; but to that he had for some twenty years applied himself with unwearying energy; and he consequently became a ready, accurate, and tho. rough lawyer, equal to all the practical exigencies of his profession. brought his knowledge to bear on every point presented to him with beautiful precision. He was equally quick and cautious-artful to a degree -But I shall have other opportunities of describing him; since on him, as on every working junior, will devolve the real conduct of the defendant's case in the memorable action of Doe on the demise of Titmouse v. Roe.
As Mr Aubrey was driving home from the visit to Mr Parkinson which I have above mentioned, he stopped his carriage on entering the village,
“It is indeed, my dear doctor,” replied Mr Aubrey, suddenly softened by the affectionate simplicity of the doctor's manner. How much the good doctor was shocked by the communication which Mr Aubrey presently made to him, the reader may easily imagine. He even shed tears, on beholding the forced calmness with which Mr Aubrey depicted the gloomy prospect that was before him. 'Twas not in vain that the pious pastor led the subdued and willing mind of his beloved companion to those sources of consolation and support which a true Christian cannot approach in vain. Upon his bruised and bleeding feelings were poured the balm of true religious consolation; and Mr Aubrey quitted his revered companion with a far firmer tone of mind than that with which he had entered the vicarage. But when he passed through the park gates, the sudden reflection that he was probably no longer the proprietor of the dear old familiar objects that met his eye at every step, almost overpowered him.
On entering the Hall, he was informed that one of the tenants, Peter Johnson, had been sitting in the servants' hall for nearly two hours, waiting to see him. Mr Aubrey repaired at once to the library, and desired the man to be at once shown in. Johnson had
been for some twenty-five years a tenant of a considerable farm on the estate, had scarcely ever been a few weeks behind-hand with his rent, and had always been considered one of the most exemplary persons in the whole neighbourhood. He had now, poor fellow, got into trouble
indeed, for he had, a year or two before, been persuaded to become security for his brother-in-law as a tax-collector; and had, alas! the day before, been called upon to pay the three hundred pounds in which he stood bound-his worthless brotherin-law having absconded with nearly £1000 of the public money. Poor Johnson, who had a large family to support, was in deep tribulation, bowed down with grief and shame; and after a sleepless night had at length ventured down to Yatton, and with a desperate boldness asked the benevolent squire to advance him £200 towards the money, to save himself from being cast into prison. Mr Aubrey heard his sad story to the end with out one single interruption; though to a more practised observer than the troubled old farmer, the workings of his countenance, from time to time, must have told his inward agitation. "I lend this poor soul £200!" thought he, "who am penniless myself? Shall I not be really acting as his dishonest relative has been acting, and making free with money that belongs to another?"
"I assure you, my worthy friend," said he at length, with a little agitation of manner, "that I have just now a very serious call upon me-or you know how gladly I would have complied with your request."
“Oh, sir, have mercy on me! I've an ailing wife and seven children to support," said poor Johnson, wringing his hands.
"Can't I do any thing with the Government?
"No, sir; I'm told they're so mighty angry with my rascally brother, they'll listen to nobody! It's a hard matter for me to keep things straight at home without this, sir. I've so many mouths to fill-and if they take me off to prison, Lord! Lord! what's to become of us all?"
Mr Aubrey's lip quivered. Johnşon fell on his knees, and the tears ran down his cheeks. "I've never asked a living man for money before, sirand, if you'll only lend it me, God Almighty will bless you and yours you'll save us all from ruin-I'll work day and night to pay it back again!"
Rise-rise, Johnson," said Mr Aubrey, with emotion. "You shall have the money, my friend, if you will call to-morrow," he added, with a
deep sigh, after a moment's hesitation.
He was as good as his word.
Had Mr Aubrey been naturally of a cheerful and vivacious turn, the contrast now afforded by his gloomy manner must have alarmed his family. As it was, however, it was not so strong and marked as to be attended with that effect, especially as he exerted himself to the utmost to conceal, or at least to control his distress. That something had gone wrong, he freely acknowledged; and, as he spoke of it always in connexion with political topics, he succeeded in parrying their questions, and checking suspicion. But, whenever they were all collected together, could he not justly compare them to a happy group, unconscious that they stood on a mine which was about to be fired?
About a week afterwards, namely, on the 12th of January, arrived little Charles's birthday, when he became five years old; and Kate had for some days been moving heaven and earth to get up a children's party in honour of the occasion. After considerable riding and driving about, she succeeded in persuading the parents of some eight or ten children-two little daughters, for instance, of the Earl of Oldacre (beautiful creatures they were, to be sure)—little Master and the two Miss Bertons, the children of one of the county members-Sir Harry Oldfield, an orphan of about five years of age, the infant possessor of a magnificent estate-and two or three other little girls-to send them all to Yatton for a day and a night, with their governesses and attendants.
'Twas a charming little affair. It went off brilliantly, as the phrase is, and repaid all Kate's exertions. She, her mother, and brother and sister, all dined at the same table with the merry little guests, who (with a laughable crowd of attendants behind them, to be sure) behaved remarkably well on the occasion. Sir Harry (a little thing about Charles's age, the black riband round his waist, and also the halfmourning dress worn by his maid, who stood behind him, showed how recent was the event which had made him an orphan) proposed little Aubrey's health, in (I must own) a somewhat stiff speech, demurely dictated to him by Kate, (who sat between him and her beautiful little nephew.) She