Chapter XIV. {XXXVII}

“Now tell me, brother Clarence, what think you  

Of this — ?” Henry VI.

{William Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI, IV.i.1-2}

BEFORE the end of the week, the friends at Wyllys-Roof, after carefully examining all the facts within their knowledge, were confirmed in their first opinion, that the individual claiming to be William Stanley was an impostor. Mrs. Stanley was the last of the three to make up her mind decidedly, on the point; but at length, she also was convinced, that Mr. Clapp and this sailor had united in a conspiracy to obtain possession of her husband’s estate. The chief reasons for believing this to be the case, consisted in the difference of characterand expressionbetween the claimant and William Stanley: the more Mr. Wyllys examined this point, the clearer it appeared to him, who had known his friend’s only son from an infant, and had always felt much interested in him. As a child, and a boy, William Stanley had been of a morose temper, and of a sluggish, inactive mind — not positively stupid, but certainly far from clever; this claimant, on the contrary, had all the expression and manner of a shrewd, quick-witted man, who might be passionate, but who looked like a good-natured person, although his countenance was partially disfigured by traces of intemperance. These facts, added to the length of time which had elapsed since the reported death of the individual, the neglect to claim his inheritance, the suspicious circumstances under which this sailor now appeared, under the auspices of an obscure country lawyer, who bore an indifferent character, and to whom the peculiar circumstances of the Stanley estate were probably well known, all united in producing the belief in a conspiracy. There was no doubt, however, but that a strong case could be made out on the other hand by the claimant; it was evident that Mr. Reed was convinced of his identity; his resemblance to William Stanley, and to Mr. Stanley, the father, could not be denied; the similarity of the handwriting was also remarkable; his profession, his apparent age, his possession of the letters, his accurate knowledge of persons and places connected with the family, altogether amounted to an important body of evidence in his favour.

It would require a volume in itself, to give the details of this singular case; but the general reader will probably care for little more than an outline of the proceedings. It would indeed, demand a legal hand to do full justice to the subject; those who are disposed to inquire more particularly into the matter, having a natural partiality, or acquired taste for the intricate uncertainties of the law, will probably have it in their power ere long, to follow the case throughout, in print; it is understood at Longbridge, that Mr. James Bernard, son of Judge Bernard, is engaged in writing a regular report, which, it is supposed, will shortly be published. In the mean time, we shall be compelled to confine ourselves chiefly to a general statement of the most important proceedings, more particularly connected with our narrative.

“Here is a letter from Clapp, sir, proposing a compromise,” said Hazlehurst, handing the paper to Mr. Wyllys. It was dated two days after the interview at Wyllys-Roof; the tone was amicable and respectful, though worded in Mr. Clapp’s peculiar style. We have not space for the letter itself, but its purport was, an offer on the part of Mr. Stanley to forgive all arrears, and overlook the past, provided his father’s estate, in its actual condition, was immediately placed in his hands. He was urged to take this step, he said, by respect for his opponents, and the conviction that they had acted conscientiously, while he himself by his own neglect to appear earlier, had naturally given rise to suspicion. He was therefore ready to receive the property as it stood at present, engaging that neither executors nor legatee should be molested for arrears; the sums advanced to Hazlehurst, he was willing should be considered equivalent to the legacy bequeathed to him by Mr. Stanley, the father, in case of his son’s return, although in fact they amounted to a much larger sum.

This offer of a compromise merely confirmed the suspicions of all parties at Wyllys-Roof. The offer was rejected in the same letter which announced to Mr. Reed, that the defendants had seen as yet no good reason for believing in the identity of the individual claiming the name of William Stanley, and consequently, that they should contest his claim to the Stanley estate.

After this step, it became necessary to make every preparation for a trial; as it was already evident, from the usual legal notices of the plaintiffs, that they intended to carry the case into a court of justice, with as little delay as possible. It was the first object of Mr. Wyllys and Hazlehurst, to obtain as much testimony as lay within their reach, upon the points of the capacity and natural temperament of William Stanley; letters were written, in the hope of discovering something through the old family physician, the school-master, and companions of the young man before he went to sea; and Mrs. Stanley even believed that the nurse of her step-son was still living. Agents were also employed, to search out some clue, which might help to trace the past life and character of the individual bearing the name of William Stanley. Harry was only awaiting the expected arrival of Mr. Ellsworth, before he set out himself for the little town in the neighbourhood of Greatwood, where he hoped to gather much useful evidence. To what degree he was also desirous of the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Creighton again, we cannot say; but his friends at Wyllys-Roof believed that he was quite as anxious to see the sister as the brother. He had not long to wait, for, punctual to the appointed day, the earliest possible, Mr. Ellsworth arrived, accompanied by Mrs. Creighton.

“Now, Mr. Hazlehurst, come here and tell me all about these vexatious proceedings,” said Mrs. Creighton to Harry, as the whole party left the dining-room for the piazza, the day Mr. Ellsworth and his sister arrived at Wyllys-Roof. “I hope you and Frank found out, in that long consultation you had this morning, that it would not be difficult to settle the matter as it ought to be settled?”

“On the contrary, we agreed that there were a great many serious difficulties before us.”

“You don’t surely think there is any real danger as to the result?” asked the lady with great interest. “You cannot suppose that this man is really William Stanley, come to life again!”

“No; I believe him to be an impostor; and so does Ellsworth — so do we all; but he makes out quite a plausible story, nevertheless.”

“But what are you going to do? Come, sit down here, and tell me about it.”

“You forget, Josephine,” said Mr. Ellsworth, smiling, “that we lawyers dare not trust the ladies with our secrets; you must contrive to restrain your curiosity, or interest — whichever you choose to call it — until the trial.”

“Nonsense! — I am quite too much interested for that; I shall expect to hear a great deal before the trial. Is it possible your stock of patience will last till then, Miss Wyllys?” added the lady, turning to Elinor.

“Well, I don’t know; I confess myself very anxious as to the result,” said Elinor, blushing a little.

“To be sure; we are all anxious; and I expect to be taken into your confidence, Mr. Hazlehurst, quite as far as you legal gentlemen think it safe to admit a lady. Frank has a very bad habit of never trusting me with his business matters, Miss Wyllys; we must cure him of that.”

“I am inclined to think, Mrs. Creighton, your patience would scarcely hear the recital of even one case of Richard Roe versus John Doe,” said Mr. Wyllys.

“Perhaps not; for I care not a straw for Richard Roe, or John Doe, either.”

“Would you really like to see the account which this newcomer gives of himself?” asked Hazlehurst.

“Certainly; I speak seriously, I assure you.”

“You shall see it this evening,” said Harry. “I think you will agree with me, that it is a strange story.”

“But, Mrs. Creighton,” said Mr. Wyllys, “we have had our heads so full of law, and conspiracies, and impostors, lately, that I was in hopes you would bring us something more agreeable to think and talk about. What were the people doing at Nahant when you left there?”

“It was very dull there; at least I thought so; I was in a great hurry for Frank to bring me away.”

“What was wanting, pray?” asked Mr. Wyllys. “Was it the fault of the weather, the water, or the company?”

“Of all together, sir; nothing was of the right kind; it was not half so pleasant as Saratoga this year. Even the flirtations were not as amusing as usual.”

“I should have thought you might have been amused in some other way,” said Mr. Ellsworth.

“Flirtation, I would have you believe, my good brother, is sometimes quite an agreeable and exciting pastime.”

Faute de mieux,” said Harry, smiling.

{“faute de mieux” = for want of anything better (French)}

“You surprise me, Josephine, by saying so, as you are no flirt yourself,” observed her brother, with a perfectly honest and natural expression.

“Well, I don’t know; certainly I never flirt intentionally; but I won’t be sure my spirits have not carried me away sometimes. Have you never, Miss Wyllys, in moments of gaiety or excitement, said more than you intended to?”

“Have I never flirted, do you mean?” asked Elinor, smiling.

“But though you say it yourself, I don’t believe you are a bit of a flirt, Mrs. Creighton,” said the unsuspicious Mr. Wyllys.

“Oh, no, sir; I would not have you believe me a regular flirt for the world. I only acknowledge to a little trifling, now and then. Miss Wyllys knows what I mean; we women are more observant of each other. Now, haven’t you suspected me of flirting more than once?”

“You had better ask me,” said Mary Van Alstyne; — “Elinor is not half suspicious enough.”

“The acquittal of the gentlemen ought to satisfy you,” said Elinor. “They are supposed to be the best judges. Are you sure, however, that you did not flirt with Mr. Hopkins? — he was at Nahant with you, I believe.”

“I am afraid it surpasses the power of woman to distract Mr. Hopkins’s attention from a sheepshead or a paugee.”

{“sheepshead” and “paugee” (porgy) = names applied to a number of American fish esteemed by anglers}

“You have really a very pretty view here, Miss Wyllys, although there is nothing bold or commanding in the country; it makes a very pleasant home picture,” observed Mr. Ellsworth, who had been looking about him. “That reach in the river has a very good effect; the little hamlet, too, looks well in the distance; and the wood and meadow opposite, are as well placed as one could wish.”

“I am glad you like it; but we really think that, for such simple scenery, it is uncommonly pretty,” replied Elinor.

“Yes; even your fastidious friend, Mr. Stryker, pronounced the landscape about Wyllys-Roof to be very well put together,” said Mrs. Creighton.

“Mr. Stryker, however, professes to have no eye for anything of the kind,” replied Elinor.

“That is only one of the man’s affectations; his eyes are more like those of other people than he is willing to confess. Though Mr. Stryker pretends to be one of your men of the world, whose notions are all practical, yet one soon discovers that he cherishes his useless foibles, like other people,” said the lady, with an air of careless frankness; though intending the speech for the benefit of Hazlehurst and Mr. Wyllys, who both stood near her.

“Perhaps you don’t know that Mr. Stryker has preceded you into our neighbourhood,” said Mary Van Alstyne. “He is staying at Mr. de Vaux’s.”

“Oh, yes; I knew he was to be here about these times. Pray, tell me which is Mr. de Vaux’s place. It is a fine house, I am told.”

“A great deal too fine,” said Harry. “It is all finery, or rather it was a few years since.”

“It is much improved now,” observed Elinor; “he talks of taking down half the columns. That is the house, Mrs. Creighton,” she added, showing the spot where the white pillars of Colonnade Manor were partly visible through an opening in the wood.

“What a colonnade it seems to be! It puts one in mind of the Italian epigram on some bad architecture,” said Mr. Ellsworth:

“‘Care colonne che fate qua?  Non sappiamo, in verita!’”

{“Care colonne ... ” = Dear columns, what are you doing here? We really don’t know! (Italian)}

“I understand, Miss Wyllys, that your friend, Mr. Stryker, calls it the ‘ cafè de mille colonnes,’” { sic} said Mrs. Creighton.

{“café de mile colonnes” = coffee-house of a thousand columns (French)}

“Does Mrs. Creighton’s friend, Mr. Stryker, treat it so disrespectfully? Mr. de Vaux has given it a very good name, I think. It is Broadlawn now; last year it was Colonnade Manor.”

“And, pray, what did Mr. Taylor’s manorial rights consist in?” asked Mr. Ellsworth.

“In the privilege of putting up as many Grecian summer-houses as he pleased, I suppose,” said Harry; “the place promised to be covered with them at one time.”

“Mr. de Vaux has taken them down; all but two at least,” said Elinor.

“It was fortunate that Mr. Taylor had a long purse,” remarked Mrs. Creighton; “for he seems to have delighted in superfluities of all kinds.”

“I suppose you are aware, Mrs. Creighton, that false taste is always a very expensive foible,” said Mr. Wyllys; “for it looks upon ornament and improvement as the same thing. My neighbour, Mr. Taylor, certainly has as much of that spirit as any man I ever knew.”

“The name he gave his place is a good proof of that,” said Harry. “If he had called it the Colonnade, that would have been at least descriptive and appropriate; but he tacked on the Manor, which had neither rhyme nor reason to recommend it.”

“Was it not a Manor before the revolution?” inquired Mrs. Creighton.

“Oh, no; only a farm belonging to the Van Hornes. But Taylor would not have it called a farm, for the world; he delights in big words,” said Mr. Wyllys.

“That is only natural, I suppose, for ‘Don Pompey,’ as Mr. Stryker calls him,” observed Mr. Ellsworth.

The following morning was the happy occasion, which was to make Mrs. George Wyllys the wife of Uncle Dozie. In the course of the week, which intervened between her announcing the fact at Wyllys-Roof, and the wedding itself, she had only consulted her friends twice, and changed her mind as often. At first it was settled that she was to be married at two o’clock, in church, with four witnesses present, and that from church she was to return quietly to her own house, where the party were to eat a family dinner with her. A note, however, informed her friends that it was finally decided, that the wedding should take place early in the morning, at her own house, in the presence of some dozen friends. The dinner was also postponed for a fortnight, as the happy couple intended to set out for Boston, the morning they were united.

The weather was propitious; and after an early breakfast the party from Wyllys-Roof set out. It included Mr. Ellsworth and Mrs. Creighton, who were connexions of the bride, as well as Harry, and the family; Mary Van Alstyne remaining at home with Jane.

They soon reached Longbridge, after a pleasant, early drive. On being ushered into Mrs. Wyllys’s drawing-room, they were received in a very informal manner by the bride herself. As Elinor had recommended a grey silk for the wedding-dress, she was not at all surprised to find her aunt wearing a coloured muslin. On one point, however, it was evident she had not changed her mind; for the happy man, Uncle Dozie, was there in full matrimonials, with a new wig, and a white waistcoat. The groom elect looked much like a victim about to be sacrificed; he was as miserably sheepish and fidgety as ever old bachelor could be under similar circumstances. Mrs. Creighton paid her compliments to the bride very gracefully; and she tried to look as if the affair were not a particularly good joke. Mr. Wyllys summoned up a sort of resigned cheerfulness; Miss Agnes and Elinor also endeavoured to look as became wedding-guests. The children, who had all received presents from the bridegroom, evidently thought the occasion a holiday. The clergyman having appeared, Mrs. Wyllys gave her hand to the trembling groom, and the important transaction was soon over.

’There is, at least, no danger of Uncle Dozie’s taking a nap,’ thought Harry, ‘he looks too nervous and uncomfortable for that.’

Congratulations and good wishes were duly offered; they served only to increase the bridegroom’s distress, while the bride appeared perfectly satisfied, and in very good spirits. She felt disposed to make a cheerful sacrifice for the benefit of her children, to whom she had secured an efficient protector, while at the same time, she was now sure of a prudent friend and counsellor for life: so at least she informed Mrs. Creighton.

“I am sorry your brother is not here, Mr. Hubbard.”

“He went to New York, on business, last night,” said the groom.

“I hope you will have a pleasant trip to Boston,” continued Mr. Wyllys.

“Thank you for the wish, sir,” interposed the bride, “but we determined last evening to go to Niagara, as we have both been to Boston already.”

’We shall hear of you at New Orleans, yet,’ thought Harry.

Refreshments were brought in, and everybody, of course, received their usual share of the wedding-cake.

“You see I have set you an excellent example,” said the bride to Mrs. Creighton and Elinor.

“We must hope that these ladies will soon follow it,” said Mr. Ellsworth, with a glance at Elinor.

“Shall we thank him, Miss Wyllys?” said Mrs. Creighton. “It was kindly meant, I dare say.”

Mr. Wyllys, who was standing near them, smiled.

“It was only yesterday, Elinor,” added the new Mrs. Hubbard, “that Black Bess, who made the cake you are eating, told me when she brought it home, that she hoped soon to make your own wedding- cake.”

“She has had the promise of it ever since I was five years old,” said Elinor.

“Is it possible that Black Bess is still living and baking?” said Harry. “I can remember her gingerbread, as long as I can recollect anything. I once overheard some Longbridge ladies declare, that they could tell Black Bess’s cake as far as they could see it; which struck me as something very wonderful.”

“She seems to be a person of great importance,” said Mrs. Creighton; “I shall hope soon to make her acquaintance. My dear Miss Elinor, I wish you would bear in mind that your wedding-cake has been ordered these dozen years. I am afraid you forget how many of us are interested in it, as well as Black Bess.”

“Our notable housekeepers you know, tell us that wedding-cake will bear keeping half-a-century,” said Elinor, smiling.

“That is after the ceremony I am sure, not before,” said Mrs. Creighton.

Elinor seemed at last annoyed by these persevering allusions, and several persons left the group. Hazlehurst took a seat by Miss Patsey; he was anxious to show her that her brother-in-law’s behaviour, had in no manner changed his regard for herself and her family.

“Where is Charlie,” he asked.

“He has gone off to Lake Champlain now. I hope you and Charlie will both soon get tired of travelling about, Mr. Hazlehurst; you ought to stay at home with your friends.”

“But I don’t seem to have any home; Charlie and I are both by nature, home-bred, home-staying youths, but we seem fated to wander about. How is he coming on with his pictures? — has he nearly done his work on the lakes?”

“Yes, I believe so; he has promised to come to Longbridge next month, for the rest of the summer. He has been distressed, quite as much as the rest of us, Mr. Hazlehurst, by these difficulties — ”

“Do not speak of them, Miss Patsey; it is a bad business; but one which will never interfere between me and my old friends, I trust.”

Miss Patsey looked her thanks, her mortification, and her sympathy, but said nothing more.

The carriage which was to convey the bride and groom to the steamboat, soon drove to the door; and taking leave of their friends, the happy couple set off. They turned back, however, before they were out of sight, as Mrs. Hubbard wished to change the travelling-shawl she had first selected for another. Mr. Wyllys, Elinor, and Harry accompanied them to the boat; and they all three agreed, that the groom had not yet been guilty of napping; although Hazlehurst declared, that as the seats on deck were cool and shady, he had little doubt that he would be dozing before the boat was out of sight.

Those who feel the same anxiety for the welfare of the children, during their mother’s absence, which weighed upon the mind of Miss Agnes, will be glad to hear that they were all three carried to Wyllys-Roof, under the charge of an experienced nurse. And it must be confessed, that it was long since little George, a riotous child, some seven years old, had been kept under such steady, but kind discipline, as that under which he lived, during this visit to his grandfather.

Mr. Ellsworth and Harry passed the morning at Longbridge, engaged with their legal affairs; and in the evening Hazlehurst left Wyllys-Roof for Philadelphia; and Mrs. Stanley accompanied him, on her way to Greatwood.