"A man like that," he would sometimes say, pointing to the picture of a stern old Cavalier, "is rarely, if ever, met with, and in a little while there will be no living representative of such -- at least not in America, where all social distinctions are rapidly disappearing. In fact, we have scarcely any thing left, even now, but the shadow of a true aristocracy, and that is only to be found in Virginia. At the North, mere wealth makes a man a gentleman; and this new invention of these degenerate times is fast being adopted even here in the 'Old Dominion.' But it won't do -- unless a man is born and bred a gentleman, he never can become one."
It was no use to argue with the rigid old Virginian about the aristocracy of virtue, or the aristocracy of mind; he scouted at the idea, and reiterated, with added emphasis, that only he who was born of gentle blood could be a gentleman.
The family of Mr. Tomlinson, which had consisted of his wife, two sons, and two daughters, was, at the time our story opens, composed of only two members, himself and his youngest child, Edith, now in her nineteenth year. Death had taken all but one.
Edith, though born and bred a lady, her father observed, with pain, did not set a high value upon the distinction, and at last actually refused to receive the addresses of a young man who came of pure old English blood, and was a thorough gentleman in the eyes of Mr. Tomlinson, because she liked neither his principles, habits, nor general character, while she looked with favour upon the advances of a young attorney, named Denton, whose father, a small farmer in Essex county, had nothing higher than honesty and manly independence of which to boast.
The young gentleman of pure blood was named Allison. He was the last representative of an old family, and had come into possession, on attaining his majority, of a large landed estate immediately adjoining that owned by Mr. Tomlinson. The refusal of Edith to receive his addresses aroused in him an unhappy spirit, which he cherished until it inspired him with thoughts of retaliation. The means were in his hands. There existed an old, but not legally adjusted question, about the title to a thousand acres of land lying between the estates of Mr. Tomlinson and Mr. Allison, which had, more than fifty years before, been settled by the principal parties thereto on the basis of a fair division, without the delay, vexation, expense, and bitterness of a prolonged lawsuit. By this division, the father of Mr. Tomlinson retained possession of five hundred acres, and the grandfather of Mr. Allison of the other five hundred. The former had greatly improved the portion into the full possession of which he had come, as it was by far the most beautiful and fertile part of his estate. His old residence was torn down, and a splendid mansion erected on a commanding eminence within the limits of this old disputed land, at a cost of nearly eighty thousand dollars, and the whole of the five hundred acres gradually brought into a high state of cultivation. To meet the heavy outlay for all this, other and less desirable portions of the estate were sold, until, finally, only about three hundred acres of the original Tomlinson property remained.
Mr. Lloyd Tomlinson, as he advanced in years, and felt the paralyzing effects of the severe afflictions he had suffered, lost much of the energy he had possessed in his younger days. There was a gradual diminution in the number of hogsheads of tobacco and bushels of corn and wheat that went into Richmond from his plantation annually; and there was also a steady decrease in the slave population with which he was immediately surrounded. From a hundred and fifty, his slaves had decreased, until he only owned thirty, and with them did little more than make his yearly expenses. Field after field had been abandoned, and left to a fertile undergrowth of pines or scrubby oaks, until there were few signs of cultivation, except within the limits of two or three hundred acres of the rich lands contiguous to his dwelling.
Henry Denton, the young attorney to whom allusion has been made, had become deeply enamoured with Edith Tomlinson, who was often met by him in her unaristocratic intercourse with several excellent and highly intelligent families in the neighbourhood. To see her, was for him to love her; but the pride of her father was too well known by him to leave much room for hope that the issue of his passion would be successful, even if so fortunate as to win the heart of the maiden. He was inspired with courage, however, by the evident favour with which she regarded him, and even tempted to address her in language that no woman's ear could mistake -- the language of love. Edith listened with a heart full of hope and fear. She had great respect for the character of Denton, which she saw was based upon virtuous principles; and this respect easily changed into love that was true and fervent; but she knew too well her father's deeply-rooted prejudices in favour of rank and family, to hope that the current of her love would run smooth. This proved to be no idle fear. When Henry Denton ventured to approach Mr. Tomlinson on the subject of his love for Edith, the old gentleman received him with great discourtesy.
"Who are you, sir?" he asked, drawing himself proudly up.
"I hardly think you need ask that question," the young man replied. "I am not an entire stranger to you, nor unknown in your neighbourhood."
"But who are you, sir? That is what I ask to know. Who is your father?"
"An honest man, sir." The young man spoke with firmness and dignity.
"Humph! there are plenty of them about. I could marry my daughter to an honest man any day I liked. Old Cato, my coachman, is an honest man; but that is no reason why I should let his son Sam marry Edith. No, my young friend, you cannot connect yourself with my family; be content with the daughter of some honest man like your father."
But the lover was not to be driven off by even such a rude repulse. He tried to argue his case, but Mr. Tomlinson cut the matter short by starting from his seat in great discomposure of mind, and pointing with a trembling hand to a grim picture on the wall, while he thus addressed the young man: --
"That, sir, is the portrait of Sir Edgar Tomlinson, who, by interposing his body between the spear of a Roundhead and his royal master, saved his life at the imminent risk of his own, for which gallant deed he was knighted, and afterwards presented, by royal hands, with a noble bride. When you have done as great a deed, young man, you will be worthy to claim the hand of my daughter -- not before!"
Saying this, the excited father turned away and strode from the room, leaving Denton in dismay at the quick and hopeless termination of his conference.
On the next day, the young attorney, who was known to possess fine talents, acuteness, and extensive legal knowledge, was waited upon by Mr. Allison.
"I wish your services, Mr. Denton," said he, "in a suit of great importance that I am about commencing. Here is your retaining fee," -- and he laid upon the table of the lawyer a check for two hundred dollars. "If you gain me my cause, your entire fee will be five thousand dollars."
Allison then went on to state, that Mr. Tomlinson's claim to the five hundred acres next adjoining his (Allison's) plantation, and upon which his mansion stood, was a very doubtful one. That it, in fact, belonged to the Allison estate, and he was going to have the question of rightful ownership fully tested. He furnished the young attorney with documents, data, and every thing required for commencing the suit. Denton asked a week for an examination of the whole matter. At the end of this time, Allison again waited on him.
"Well, sir, what do you think of my case?" he said.
"I think it a doubtful one," was replied. "Still, it is possible you might gain it, as there are one or two strong points in your favour."
"I have not the least doubt of it. At any rate, I am going to give the matter a fair trial. Five hundred acres of such land are worth an effort to gain."
"But you must not forget that, as you will open the question of ownership on the whole tract of one thousand acres, you run the risk of losing the half of which you are now in possession."
"I'm willing to run the risk of losing five hundred acres of uncultivated land in the effort to acquire possession of as large a quantity in a high state of improvement," returned the uncompromising gentleman 'born and bred.' "So you will forthwith make a beginning in the matter."
The young attorney was grave and silent for some time. Then opening a drawer, he took out the check which had been given to him as a retaining fee, and handing it to Allison, said -- "I believe, sir, I must decline this case."
"Why so?" quickly asked the young man, a deep flush passing over his brow.
"I do it from principle," was replied. "I find, on examining the whole matter, that your grandfather and the father of Mr. Tomlinson, while in possession of their respective estates, in view of the difficulty there was in settling the precise title of the tract of land, agreed to an equal division of it, which was done in honour and good faith, and I do not think their heirs, on either side, have any right to disturb the arrangement then made."
"I did not ask you to judge the case, but to present it for judgment," said Allison, greatly offended. "You may, perhaps, be sorry for this."
Another member of the bar, less scrupulous about the principles involved in a case, readily undertook the matter; and as the fee, if he proved successful, was to be a large one, opened it immediately.
When Mr. Tomlinson received notice of the fact that this long-settled dispute was again to be revived, he was thrown into a fever of alarm and indignation. The best counsel that could be employed was obtained, and his right to the whole thousand acres vigorously maintained. After a year of delays, occasioned by demurrers, allegations, and all sorts of legal hinderances, made and provided for the vexation of clients, the question came fairly before the court, where it was most ably argued on both sides for some days. When the decision at length came, it was adverse to Mr. Tomlinson.
An appeal was entered, and preparations made for a more vigorous contest in a higher court. Here the matter remained for over a year, when the decision of the first tribunal was confirmed.
Two years of litigation had made sad work with old Mr. Tomlinson; he looked at least ten years older. The same signs of decay appeared in every thing around him; his fields remained uncultivated, the fences were broken down, and cattle strayed where once were acres of grain or other rich products. Slaves and stock had been sold to meet the heavy expenses to which this suit had subjected him, and every thing seemed fast tending towards ruin. Once or twice during the period, Denton again approached him on the subject of Edith, but the proud old aristocrat threw him off even more impatiently than at first.
Edith, too, had changed during this time of trouble; she was rarely seen abroad, and received but few visitors at home. No one saw her smile, unless when her father was present; and then her manner was cheerful, though subdued. It was clear that she was struggling against her own feelings, in the effort to sustain his. Her father had extorted from her a promise never to marry without his consent; this settled the matter for the time between her and Denton, although both remained faithful to each other; they had not met for over a year.
Meantime the cause was carried up still higher, where it remained for two years longer, and then another adverse decision was made. Mr. Tomlinson was in despair; what with court charges, counsel fees, and loss from the diminished productions of his farm, he had sunk in the last four years over fifteen thousand dollars, a portion of which had been raised by mortgage on that part of his estate to which he had an undisputed title, almost equal to the full value of the land.
To the Supreme Court the matter came at last, but the old man had but little hope. In three courts, after a long and patient hearing, the decision had been against him; if it should again be adverse, he would be totally ruined. As it was, so greatly had his means become reduced, that it was with difficulty he could raise sufficient money to pay off the heavy expenses of the last court. The fees of his two attorneys were yet unsettled, and he feared, greatly, that he should not be able to induce more than one of them to attend at the Supreme Court. On the other side, money was expended freely, and the most energetic counsel that money could command enlisted. The fact was, the principal reason why Mr. Tomlinson had failed in each of the three trials that had already taken place lay in the superior tact, activity, and ability of the adverse counsel.
The anxiously looked-for period at length came, and Mr. Tomlinson made preparations for leaving home to meet the final issue, after nearly five years of most cruel litigation.
"Dear father!" said Edith, as they were about to separate. She spoke with forced calmness, while a faint smile of encouragement played about her lips; her voice was low and tender. "Dear father, do not let this matter press too heavily upon you; I have a hope that all will come out right. I do not know why, but I feel as if this dreadful blow will not be permitted to fall. Be calm, be brave, dear father! even the worst can be borne."
The maiden's voice began to quiver, even while she uttered hopeful words. Mr. Tomlinson, whose own heart was full, bent down and kissed her hurriedly. When she looked up, he was gone. How fast the tears flowed, as she stood alone on the spot where they had just parted!
A few hours after the father had left, a gentleman called and asked to see Edith. On entering the room where he had been shown by the servant, she found a young man whose countenance she had never seen before. He made known his business after a few embarrassing preliminaries, which proved to be an overture of peace from Allison, if she would accept the offer of marriage he had made her five years previously. After hearing the young man patiently through, Edith replied, in a firm voice -- "Tell Mr. Allison that there is no evil in this world or the next that I would consider greater than a marriage with him."
He attempted to urge some considerations upon her, but she raised her hand, and said, in a tone of decision, "You have my answer, sir; take it to your principal."
The young man bowed, and withdrew in silence. He felt awed beneath the steady eye, calm face, and resolute voice of the maiden, crushed almost to the earth as she was.
When Mr. Tomlinson arrived at the capital, he found neither of his counsel there, although the case was expected to be reached on the succeeding day. On the next morning he received a note from one of them, which stated that illness would prevent his attending. The other attorney was prepared to go on with the case, but he was by far the weakest of the two.
On the opposite side there was the strongest possible array, both as to number and talents. Mr. Tomlinson felt that his case was hopeless. On the first day the prosecution argued their case with great ability. On the second day, the claims of Mr. Tomlinson were presented, with even less point and tact than before; it was clear that the advocate either considered the case a bad one, or had lost all interest in it. The other side followed with increased confidence, and, it was plain, made a strong impression upon the court. A feeble rejoinder was given to this, but it produced little or no effect.
Just at this crisis, an individual, not before particularly noticed by Mr. Tomlinson, arose and addressed the court. His opening remarks showed him to be familiar with the whole subject, and his tone and manner exhibited a marked degree of confidence. It was soon apparent which side of the case he had taken; if by nothing else, by the frown that settled upon the brow of Allison. He was a young man, tall and well made, with a strong, clear voice, and a fine command of language. The position in which he stood concealed so much of his face from Mr. Tomlinson, that the latter could not make out whether it was one with which he was familiar or not. The voice he had heard before.
The volunteer advocate, after having occupied the court for an hour, during which time he had shown a most minute and accurate knowledge of the matter in dispute, gave the whole question a new aspect. During the second hour that his argument was continued, in which precedent after precedent, not before introduced, were brought forward, bearing a direct application to the case under review, the court exhibited the most marked attention. When he concluded, all present saw hope for the old Virginian.
This new and unexpected champion in the cause aroused the counsel of Allison to another and more determined effort; but he tore their arguments into ribands, and set off their authorities with an overwhelming array of decisions directly in the teeth of those they introduced bearing upon their side of the question. It was wonderful to observe his perfect familiarity with the whole matter in dispute, the law bearing upon it, and the decisions of courts in this country and England, that could in any way throw light upon it, far outstripping the learned advocates on both sides, who had been at work upon the case for five years.
During the time this brilliant champion was fighting his battle for him in the last defensible position he could ever obtain, Mr. Tomlinson remained as if fixed to the spot where he was sitting, yet with his mind entirely active. He saw, he felt that there was hope for him; that this heaven-sent advocate, whoever he was, would save him from ruin. At last the case closed, and the court announced that its decision would be given in the morning.
"Who is he?" Mr. Tomlinson heard some one ask of his persecutor, as the young man closed his last and most brilliant effort.
With an imprecation uttered between his teeth, he replied, "One that refused to take my side, although I offered him a fee of five thousand dollars if successful."
"What is his name?"
"Pity you couldn't have secured him."
Mr. Tomlinson heard no more. He turned his eyes upon the young man he had three times rudely repulsed, but he could not see his face; he was bending over and arranging some papers. The announcement of the court, in regard to the time when a decision was to be made, drew his attention from him. When he again sought the young attorney, he was gone.
Nearly a week of most distressing suspense was suffered by Edith. Every day she heard from her father, but all was doubt and despondency, until there came a letter announcing the sudden appearance of a volunteer advocate, who had changed the whole aspect of affairs, and created the most lively hopes of success. Who he was, the letter did not say.
During the morning that succeeded the one on which this letter was received, Edith wandered about the house like a restless spirit. The decision had been made on the day previous, and in a few hours her father would be home. What intelligence would he bring? Whenever she asked herself that question, her heart trembled. Twenty times had she been to the highest windows in the house to look far away where the road wound down a distant hill, to see if the carriage were coming, although she knew two hours must elapse before her father could possibly arrive.
At last the long and anxiously looked-for object came in sight, winding along the road far in the distance. Soon it passed from view, and she waited breathlessly, until it should appear at a nearer point. Again it met her eyes, and again disappeared. At last it reached the long avenue of poplars that lined the carriage-way leading up to the house; the horses were coming at a rapid speed. Edith could not breathe in the rooms -- the atmosphere was oppressive. She went into the porch, and, leaning against or rather clinging to one of the pillars, stood almost gasping for breath. The suspense she suffered was awful; but certainty soon came. The carriage whirled rapidly into its position before the door, and Mr. Tomlinson sprang from it as agile as a boy. He had merely time to say --
"All is safe!" when Edith sank into his arms, unable longer to stand.
"And here is our noble champion," he added, as another stood by his side.
Edith opened her eyes, that she had closed in the excess of joy; the face of her lover was near her. She looked up at him for a moment, and then closed them again; but now the tears came stealing through her shut lids.
The young lawyer had gained two suits in one. Three months afterwards Edith was his bride, and the dowry was the five hundred acres of land from the estate of Allison, awarded to her father by the Supreme Court.