Chapter X. {XXXIII}

“Sebastian are you?  

If spirits can assume both form and suit,  

You come to fright us!” SHAKSPEARE. { sic}

{William Shakespeare, Twelfh Night, V.i.221, 235-236;  The Cooper family always used the spelling “Shakspeare”}

ON their return to Saratoga, the Wyllyses and Hazlehursts found startling intelligence awaiting them. Letters had just arrived for Harry, for Mrs. Stanley, and for Mr. Wyllys, all of a similar nature, and all of a character that was astounding to those who received them. They could scarcely credit their senses as they read the fact, that the executors of the late John William Stanley, Esquire, were called upon to account for all past proceedings, to William Stanley, his son and heir. Hazlehurst was also summoned to resign that portion of the property of which he had taken possession two years since, when he had reached the age of twenty-five.

The letters were all written by Mr. Clapp, Charlie Hubbard’s brother-in- law, who announced himself as the attorney of William Stanley, Esquire.

“Here are the letters addressed to myself,” said Mrs. Stanley, who had immediately sent for Mr. Wyllys and Hazlehurst, as soon as they returned from Lake George: she had not yet recovered from the first agitation caused by this extraordinary disclosure. “This is the letter purporting to come from my husband’s son, and this is from the lawyer,” she added, extending both to Hazlehurst. Harry read them aloud. The first ran as follows:


“I have not the honour of being acquainted with you, as my late father was not married to you when I went to sea, not long before his death. But I make no doubt that you will not refuse me my rights, now that I step forward to demand them, after leaving others to enjoy them for nearly eighteen years. Things look different to a man near forty, and to a young chap of twenty; I have been thinking of claiming my property for some time, but was told by lawyers that there was too many difficulties in the way, owing partly to my own fault, partly to the fault of others. As long as I was a youngster, I didn’t care for anything but having my own way — I snapped my fingers at all the world; but now I am tired of a sea-faring life, and have had hardships enough for one man: since there is a handsome property mine, by right, I am resolved to claim it, through thick and thin. I have left off the bottle, and intend to do my best to be respectable for the rest of my days. I make no doubt but we shall be able to come to some agreement; nor would I object to a compromise for the past, though my lawyers advise me to make no such offer. I shall be pleased, Madam, to pay my respects to you, that we may settle our affairs at a personal meeting, if it suits you to do so.

“Your obedient servant, and step-son,


“Can that be my husband’s son!” exclaimed Mrs. Stanley, in an agitated voice, as Harry finished reading the letter, and handed it to Mr. Wyllys.

“It will take more than this to convince me,” said Mr. Wyllys, who had been listening attentively. The handwriting was then carefully examined by Mrs. Stanley and Mr. Wyllys, and both were compelled to admit that it was at least a good imitation of that of William Stanley.

“A most extraordinary proceeding in either case!” exclaimed Harry, pacing the room.

Mr. Clapp’s letter was then read: it began with the following words:


“I regret that I am compelled by the interests of my client, William Stanley, Esquire, to address a lady I respect so highly, upon a subject that must necessarily prove distressing to her, in many different ways.”

Then followed a brief statement of his first acquaintance with Mr. Stanley; his refusing to have anything to do with the affair; his subsequent conviction that the ragged sailor was the individual he represented himself to be; his reluctance to proceed, &c., &c. But since he was now convinced, by the strongest proofs, of the justice of Mr. Stanley’s demand, and had at length undertaken to assist him with his advice, he was, therefore, compelled by duty to give the regular legal notice, that Mrs. Stanley, as executrix, would be required to account for her proceedings since her husband’s death. His client, he said, would much prefer an amicable arrangement, but, if necessary, would proceed to law immediately. He wished to know what course Mrs. Stanley was disposed to take, as his client’s steps would necessarily be guided by her own, and those of Mr. Wyllys and Mr. Hazlehurst. He concluded with a civil hope that the case might be privately adjusted.

“Clapp all over,” said Harry, as he finished reading the letter.

“A most bare-faced imposition, depend upon it!” exclaimed Mr. Wyllys, with strong indignation.

Mrs. Stanley was listening with anxious eagerness for the opinion of the two gentlemen.

“I am strongly disposed to mistrust anything that comes through Clapp’s hands,” said Harry, pacing the room thoughtfully, with the letters in his hand. “Still, I think it behooves us, sir, to act with deliberation; the idea that it is not impossible that this individual should be the son of Mr. Stanley, must not be forgotten — that possibility alone would make me sift the matter to the bottom at once.”

“Certainly; it must be looked into immediately.”

“What has the lawyer written to you?” asked Mrs. Stanley.

The letters to Mr. Wyllys and Harry were then read aloud; they were almost identical in their contents with that to Mrs. Stanley. The tone of each was civil and respectful; though each contained a technical legal notice, that they would be required to surrender to William Stanley, the property of his late father, according to the will of the said John William Stanley; which the said William, his son, had hitherto neglected to claim, though legally entitled to it.

“There: is certainly an air of confidence about those letters of Clapp’s,” said Harry, “as if he felt himself on a firm foothold. It is very extraordinary!”

“Of course: he would never move in such a case, without some plausible proof,” said Mr. Wyllys.

“But how could he get any proof whatever, on this occasion?” said Mrs. Stanley. “For these eighteen years, nearly, William Stanley has been lying at the bottom of the ocean. We have believed so, at least.”

“Proofs have been manufactured by lawyers before now,” said Mr. Wyllys. “Do you suppose that if William Stanley had been living, we never should have heard one trace of him during eighteen years? — at a time, too, when his father’s death had left him a large property.”

“What sort of a man is this Mr. Clapp?” asked Mrs. Stanley. “His manners and appearance, whenever I have accidentally seen him with the Hubbards, struck me as very unpleasant: but is it possible he can be so utterly devoid of all principle, as wilfully to countenance an impostor?”

“He is a man whom I do not believe to possess one just principle!” said Mr. Wyllys. “Within the last year or two, I have lost all confidence in his honesty, from facts known to me.”

“I have always had a poor opinion of him, but I have never had much to do with him,” said Harry; “still, I should not have thought him capable of entering into a conspiracy so atrocious as this must be, if the story be not true.”

“He would do any dirty work whatever, for money. I knowthe man,” said Mr. Wyllys, with emphasis.

“It is possible he may be deceived himself,” observed Mrs. Stanley.

“Very improbable,” replied Mr. Wyllys, shaking his head.

“A shrewd, cunning, quick-witted fellow, as I remember him, would not be likely to undertake such a case, unless he had some prospect of success,” said Harry, pacing the room again. “He must know perfectly well that it is make or break with him. If he does not succeed, he will be utterly ruined.”

“He will give us trouble, no doubt,” said Mr. Wyllys. “He must have got the means of putting together a plausible story. And yet his audacity confounds me!”

“Eighteen years, is it not, since William Stanley’s death?” asked Harry, turning to Mrs. Stanley.

“It will be eighteen years next October, since he sailed. I was married in November; and from that time we have never heard anything from the poor boy, excepting the report that the Jefferson, the ship in which he sailed, had been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa, the following winter, and all hands lost. That report reached us not long before my husband’s death, and caused him to word his will in the way it is now expressed; giving to the son of his kinsman and old friend, half his property, in case his son’s death should be confirmed. The report WAS confirmed, some months later, by the arrival of an American vessel, which had ridden out the storm that wrecked the Jefferson: she saw the wreck itself, sent a boat to examine it, but could find no one living; although several bodies were picked up, with the hope of reviving them. But you have heard the whole sad story before, Harry.”

“Certainly; I merely wished to hear the facts again, ma’am, from your own lips, lest I might have forgotten some important point.”

“Although you were quite a child at the time, Harry,” said Mr. Wyllys, “eight or ten I believe, still, I should think you must remember the anxiety to discover the real fate of William Stanley. I have numbers of letters in my hands, answers to those I had written with the hope of learning something more positive on the subject. We sent several agents, at different times, to the principal sea-ports, to make inquiries among the sailors; it all resulted in confirming the first story, the loss of the Jefferson, and all on board. Every year, of course, made the point more certain.”

“Still, we cannot say that is not impossible { sic} he should have escaped,” observed Harry.

“Why should he have waited eighteen years, before he appeared to claim his property? — and why should he not come directly to his father’s executors, instead of seeking out such a fellow as Clapp? It bears on the very face every appearance of a gross imposture. Surely, Harry, you do not think there is a shade of probability as to the truth of this story?”

“Only a possibility, sir; almost everything is against it, and yet I shall not rest satisfied without going to the bottom of the matter.”

“That, you may be sure, we shall be forced to do. Clapp will give us trouble enough, I warrant; he will leave no stone unturned that a dirty lawyer can move. It will be vexatious, but there cannot be a doubt as to the result.”

“You encourage me,” said Mrs. Stanley; “and yet the idea of entering into a suit of this kind is very painful!”

“If it be a conspiracy, there is no treatment too bad for those who have put the plot together!” exclaimed Harry. “What a double-dyed villain Clapp must be!”

“He will end his career in the State-Prison,” said Mr. Wyllys.

“The Hubbards, too; that is another disagreeable part of the business,” said Harry.

“I am truly sorry for them,” replied Mr. Wyllys. “It will give them great pain.”

“What steps shall we first take, sir?” inquired Harry.

“We must look into the matter immediately, of course, and find out upon what grounds they are at work.”

“I am utterly at a loss to comprehend it!” exclaimed Mrs. Stanley. “Such a piece of bare-faced audacity!”

“Clapp must rest all his hope of success on our want of positive proof as to the death of William Stanley,” observed Harry. “But his having dared to bring forward an individual to personate the dead man, is really a height of impudence that I should never have conceived of.”

“If I did not know him to be an incarnation of cunning, I should think he had lost his senses,” replied Mr. Wyllys; “but happily for honest men, rogues generally overreach themselves; after they have spread their nets, made the mesh as intricate as possible, they almost invariably fall into their own snare. Such will, undoubtedly, be the result in this case.”

“Had you not better return to Longbridge at once,” said Mrs. Stanley, “in order to inquire into the matter?”

“Certainly; we had better all be on the spot; though I am confident we shall unmask the rogues very speedily. You were already pledged to return with us, Mrs. Stanley; and I shall be glad to see you at Wyllys- Roof, again, Harry.”

“Thank you, sir; you are very good,” replied Hazlehurst, with something more than the common meaning in the words; for he coloured a little on remembering the occurrences of his last visit to Longbridge, more than three years since.

“We shall find it difficult,” continued Mr. Wyllys, “to get an insight into Clapp’s views and plans. He will, no doubt, be very wary in all he does; though voluble as ever in what he says. I know his policy of old; he reverses the saying of the cunning Italian, volto sciolto, bocca stretta.”

{ “volto sciolto, bocca stretta” = open countenance, tight lips (Italian)}

“But his first step has not been a cautious one,” observed Harry. “It is singular he should have allowed his client to write to Mrs. Stanley. Do you remember William Stanley’s handwriting distinctly?” he added, again handing the letter to Mr. Wyllys.

“Yes; and it must be confessed this hand resembles his; they must have got possession of some of young Stanley’s handwriting.”

“But how could they possibly have done so?” said Mrs. Stanley.

“That is what we must try to find out, my dear madam.”

“He must have been very confident that it was a good imitation,” said Hazlehurst; “for, of course, he knew you must possess letters of William Stanley’s. I don’t remember to have seen anything but his signature, myself.”

“Yes; it isa good imitation — very good; of course Clapp was aware of it, or the letter would never have been sent.”

“William was very like his father in appearance, though not in character,” observed Mrs. Stanley, thoughtfully.

“He was very like him.”

“Should this man look like my poor husband, I might have some misgivings,” said Mrs. Stanley. “We must remember at least, my dear Mr. Wyllys, that it is not impossible that William may be living.”

“Only one of the most improbable circumstances you could name, my dear friend. I wish to see the man, however, myself; for I have little doubt that I shall be able at once to discover the imposture, entirely to our own satisfaction at least — and that is the most important point.”

“Should the case present an appearance of truth, sufficient to satisfy a jury, though we ourselves were not convinced, it would still prove a very serious thing to you, my dear Harry,” observed Mrs. Stanley.

“No doubt: very serious to Hazlehurst, and a loss to all three. But I cannot conceive it possible that such a daring imposture can succeed so far. We shall be obliged, however, to proceed with prudence, in order to counteract the cunning of Clapp.”

After a conversation of some length between the friends, it was agreed that Hazlehurst should answer the letters, in the name of Mrs. Stanley and Mr. Wyllys, as well as his own. It was also decided that they should return to Longbridge immediately, and not take any decided steps until they had seen the individual purporting to be William Stanley. The bare possibility that Mr. Stanley’s son might be living, determined Mrs. Stanley and Hazlehurst to pursue this course; although Mr. Wyllys, who had not a doubt on the subject from the first, had felt no scruple in considering the claimant as an impostor. We give Harry’s letter to Mr. Clapp.

Saratoga, June, 18 — .

“SIR: —

“The letters addressed by you to Mrs. Stanley, Mr. Wyllys and myself, of the date of last Tuesday, have just reached us. I shall not dwell on the amazement which we naturally felt in receiving a communication so extraordinary, which calls upon us to credit the existence of an individual, whom we have every reason to believe has lain for nearly eighteen years at the bottom of the deep: it will be sufficient that I declare, what you are probably already prepared to hear, that we see no cause for changing our past opinions on this subject. We believe to- day, as we have believed for years, that William Stanley was drowned in the wreck of the Jefferson, during the winter of 181-. We can command to-day, the same proofs which produced conviction at the time when this question was first carefully examined. We have learned no new fact to change the character of these proofs.

“The nature of the case is such, however, as to admit the possibility — and it is a bare possibility only — of the existence of William Stanley. It is not necessarily impossible that he may have escaped from the wreck of the Jefferson; although the weight of probability against such an escape, has more than a hundred-fold the force of that which would favour a contrary supposition. Such being the circumstances, Mr. Stanley’s executors, and his legatee, actuated by the same motives which have constantly guided them since his death, are prepared in the present instance to discharge their duty, at whatever cost it may be. They are prepared to receive and examine any proofs, in the possession of yourself and your client, as to the identity of the individual purporting to be William Stanley, only son of the late John William Stanley, of — — — — — — county, Pennsylvania. They demand these proofs. But, they are also prepared, sir, to pursue with the full force of justice, and the law of the land, any individual who shall attempt to advance a false claim to the name and inheritance of the dead. This matter, once touched, must be entirely laid bare: were duty out of the question, indignation alone would be sufficient to urge them, at any cost of time and vexation, to unmask one who, if not William Stanley, must be a miserable impostor — to unravel what must either prove an extraordinary combination of circumstances, or a base conspiracy.

“Prepared, then, to pursue either course, as justice shall dictate, Mrs. Stanley and Mr. Wyllys, executors of the late Mr. Stanley, and myself, his legatee, demand: First, an interview with the individual claiming to be William Stanley. Secondly, whatever proofs of the identity of the claimant you may have in your possession. And we here pledge ourselves to acknowledge the justice of the claim advanced, if the evidence shall prove sufficient to establish it; or in the event of a want of truth and consistency in the evidence supporting this remarkable claim, we shall hold it a duty to bring to legal punishment, those whom we must then believe the guilty parties connected with it.

“Mrs. Stanley and Mr. Wyllys wish you, sir, to understand this letter as an answer to those addressed by you to themselves. They are on the point of returning to Longbridge, where I shall also join them; and we request that your farther communications to us, on this subject, may be addressed to Wyllys-Roof.


This letter was written, and approved by Mrs. Stanley and Mr. Wyllys, before the consultation broke up; it was also signed by them, as well as by Harry.

The amazement of Miss Wyllys and Elinor, on hearing the purport of Mr. Clapp’s letters, was boundless. Had they seen William Stanley rise from the ground before them, they could scarcely have been more astonished; not a shadow of doubt as to his death in the Jefferson, had crossed their minds for years. Like their friends, they believed it a plot of Mr. Clapp’s; and yet his daring to take so bold a step seemed all but incredible.

When some hours’ consideration had made the idea rather more familiar to the minds of our friends, they began to look at the consequences, and they clearly saw many difficulties and vexations before the matter could be even favourably settled; but if this client of Mr. Clapp’s were to succeed in establishing a legal claim to the Stanley estate, the result would produce much inconvenience to Mrs. Stanley, still greater difficulties to Mr. Wyllys, while Harry would be entirely ruined in a pecuniary sense; since the small property he had inherited from his father, would not suffice to meet half the arrears he would be obliged to discharge, in restoring his share of the Stanley estate to another. Hazlehurst had decided, from the instant the claim was laid before him, that the only question with himself would regard his own opinion on the subject; the point must first be clearly settled to his own judgment. He would see the man who claimed to be the son of his benefactor, he would examine the matter as impartially as he could, and then determine for himself. Had he any good reason whatever for believing this individual to be William Stanley, he would instantly resign the property to him, at every cost.

All probability was, however, thus far, against the identity of the claimant; and unless Hazlehurst could believe in his good faith and honesty, every inch of the ground should be disputed to the best of his ability. Mr. Wyllys was very confident of defeating one whom he seriously believed an impostor: it was a dirty, disagreeable job to undertake, but he was sanguine as to the result. Mrs. Stanley was at first quite overcome by agitation and astonishment; she had some doubts and anxieties; misgivings would occasionally cross her mind, in spite of herself, in spite of Mr. Wyllys’s opinion; and the bare idea of opposing one who might possibly be her husband’s son, affected all her feelings. Like Hazlehurst, she was very desirous to examine farther into the matter, without delay; scarcely knowing yet what to hope and what to fear.

Ellsworth and Mrs. Creighton soon learned the extraordinary summons which Harry had received; he informed them of the facts himself.

“The man is an impostor, depend upon it, Mr. Hazlehurst!” exclaimed Mrs. Creighton, with much warmth.

“I have little doubt of it,” replied Harry; “for I do not see how he can well be anything else.”

“You know, Hazlehurst, that I am entirely at your service in any way you please,” said Ellsworth.

“Thank you, Ellsworth; I have a habit of looking to you in any difficulty, as you know already.”

“But I cannot conceive that it should be at all a difficult matter to unravel so coarse a plot as this must be!” cried Mrs. Creighton. “What possible foundation can these men have for their story? Tell me all about it, Mr. Hazlehurst, pray!” continued the lady, who had been standing when Harry entered the room, prepared to accompany her brother and himself to Miss Wyllys’s room. “Sit down, I beg, and tell me at once all you choose to trust me with,” she continued, taking a seat on the sofa.

Harry followed her example. “You are only likely to hear a great deal too much of it I fear, if you permit Ellsworth and myself to talk the matter over before you.” He then proceeded to give some of the most important facts, as far as he knew them himself, at least. Judging from this account, Mr. Ellsworth pronounced himself decidedly inclined to think with Mr. Wyllys, that this claim was a fabrication of Clapp’s. Mrs. Creighton was very warm in the expression of her indignation and her sympathy. After a long and animated conversation, Mr. Ellsworth proposed that they should join the Wyllyses: his sister professed herself quite ready to do so; and, accompanied by Harry, they went to the usual rendezvous of their party, at Congress Hall.

Robert Hazlehurst had already left Saratoga with his family, having returned from Lake George for that purpose, a day earlier than his friends; and when Mrs. Creighton and the two gentlemen entered Miss Wyllys’s parlour, they only found there the Wyllyses themselves and Mary Van Alstyne, all of whom had already heard of Harry’s threatened difficulties. Neither Miss Agnes nor Elinor had seen him since he had received the letters, and they both cordially expressed their good wishes in his behalf; for they both seemed inclined to Mr. Wyllys’s opinion of the new claimant.

“We have every reason to wish that the truth may soon be discovered,” said Miss Agnes.

“I am sorry you should have such a painful, vexatious task before you,” said Elinor, frankly offering her hand to Harry.

“Have you no sympathies for this new sailor cousin of yours, Miss Wyllys? — I must say I have a very poor opinion of him myself,” said Mrs. Creighton.

“Whoever he be, I hope he will only receive what is justly his due,” replied Elinor.

“I am happy, Miss Wyllys, that you seem favourably inclined towards Hazlehurst,” said Mr. Ellsworth. “On the present occasion I consider him not only as a friend but as a client, and that is the dearest tie we lawyers are supposed to feel.”

“One would naturally incline rather more to a client of yours ex officio, Mr. Ellsworth, than to one of Mr. Clapp’s, that very disagreeable brother-in-law of Miss Patsey Hubbard’s,” said Mary Van Alstyne, smiling.

It was soon decided that the party should break up the next day. The Wyllyses, with Mrs. Stanley and Mary Van Alstyne, were to return to Longbridge. Mrs. Creighton and Mr. Ellsworth were obliged to pay their long deferred visit to Nahant, the gentleman having some business of importance in the neighbourhood; but it was expected that they also should join the family at Wyllys-Roof as early as possible. Jane was to return to New York with her sister-in-law, Mrs. St. Leger, leaving Miss Emma Taylor flirting at Saratoga, under the charge of a fashionable chaperon; while Mr. Hopkins was still fishing at Lake George.