Squire Petricks Lady
Folk who are at all acquainted with the traditions of Stapleford Park will not
need to be told that in the middle of the last century it was owned by that
trump of mortgagees, Timothy Petrick, whose skill in gaining possession of
fair estates by granting sums of money on their title-deeds has seldom if
ever been equaled in our part of England. Timothy was a lawyer by
profession, and agent to several noblemen, by which means his special line
of business became opened to him by a sort of revelation. It is said that a
relative of his, a very deep thinker, who afterwards had the misfortune to be
transported for life for mistaken notions on the singing of a will, taught him
considerable legal lore, which he creditably resolved never to throw away for
the benefit of other people, but to reserve it entirely for his own.
However, I have nothing in particular to say about his early and active days,
but rather of the time when, an old man, he had become the owner of vast
estates by the means I have signified-among them the great manor of
Stapleford, on which he lived, in the splendid old mansion now pulled down;
likewise estates at Marlott, estates near Sherton Abbas, nearly all the
borough of Millpool, and many properties near Ivell. Indeed, I can't call to
mind half his landed possessions, and I don't know that it matters much at
this time of day, seeing that he's been dead and gone many years. It is said
that when he bought an estate he would not decide to pay the price till he
had walked over every single acre with his own two feet, and prodded the
soil at every point with his own spud, to test its quality, which, if we regard
the extent of his properties, must have been a stiff business for him.
At the time I am speaking of he was a man over eighty, and his son was
dead; but he had two grandsons, the eldest of whom, his namesake, was
married, and was shortly expecting issue. Just then the grandfather was
taken ill, for death, as it seemed, considering his age. By his will the old
man had created an entail (as I believe the lawyers call it), devising the
whole of the estates to his elder grandson and his issue male, failing which,
to his younger grandson and his issue male, failing which, to remoter
relatives, who need not be mentioned now.
While old Timothy Petrick was lying ill, his elder grandson's wife, Annetta,
gave birth to her expected child, who, as fortune would have it, was a son.
Timothy, her husband, though sprung of a scheming family, was no great
schemer himself; he was the single one of the Petricks then living whose
heart had ever been greatly moved by sentiments which did not run in the
groove of ambition; and on this account he had not married well, as the
saying is, his wife having been the daughter of a family of no better
beginnings than his own; that is to say, her father was a country townsman
of the professional class. But she was a very pretty woman, by all accounts,
and her husband had seen, courted, and married her in a high tide of
infatuation, after a very short acquaintance, and with very little knowledge
of her heart's history. He had never found reason to regret his choice as yet,
and his anxiety for her recovery was great.
She was supposed to be out of danger, and herself and the child progressing
well, when there was a change for the worse, and she sank so rapidly that
she was soon given over. When she felt that she was about to leave him,
annetta sent for her husband, and, on his speedy entry and assurance that
they were alone, she made him solemnly vow to give the child every care in
any circumstances that might arise, if it should please Heaven to take her.
This, of course, he readily promised. Then, after some hesitation, she told
him that she could not die with a falsehood upon her soul, and dire deceit in
her life; she must make a terrible confession to him before her lips were
sealed forever. She thereupon related an incident concerning the baby's
parentage which was not as he supposed.
Timothy Petrick, though a quick-feeling man, was not of a sort to show
nerves outwardly; and he bore himself as heroically as he possibly could do
in this trying moment of his life. That same night his wife died; and while
she lay dead, and before her funeral, he hastened to the bedside of his sick
grandfather, and revealed to him all that had happened-the baby's birth, his
wife's confession, and her death, beseeching the aged man, as he loved him,
to bestir himself now, at the eleventh hour, and alter his will so as to dish
the intruder. Old Timothy, seeing matters in the same light as his grandson,
required no urging against allowing anything to stand in the way of
legitimate inheritance; he executed another will, limiting the entail to
Timothy, his grandson, for life, and his male heirs thereafter to be born;
after them to his other grandson, Edward, and Edward's heirs. Thus the
newly born infant, who had been the center of so many hopes, was cut off
and scorned as none of the elect.
The old mortgage lived but a short time after this, the excitement of the
discovery having told upon him considerably, and he was gathered to his
fathers like the most charitable man in his neighborhood. Both wife and
grandparent being buried, Timothy settled down to his usual life as well as
he was able, mentally satisfied that he had, by prompt action, defeated
consequences of the consequences of such dire domestic treachery as had
been shown towards him, and resolving to marry a second time as soon as
he could satisfy himself in the choice of a wife.
But men do not always know themselves. The imbittered state of Timothy
Petrick's mind bred in him by degrees such a hatred and mistrust of
womankind that though several specimens of high attractiveness came
under his eyes, he could not bring himself to the point of proposing
marriage. He dreaded to take up the position of husband a second time,
discerning a trap in every petticoat, and a Slough of Despond in possible
heirs. "What has happened once, when all seemed so fair, may happen
again," he said to himself. "I'll risk my name no more." So he abstained from
marriage, and overcame his wish for a lineal descendant to follow him in the
ownership of Stapleford.
Timothy had scarcely noticed the unfortunate child that his wife had borne,
after arranging for a meager fulfilment of his promise to her to take care of
the boy, by having him brought up in his house. Occasionally, remembering
his promise, he went and glanced at the child, saw that he was doing well,
gave a few special directions, and again went his solitary way. Thus he and
the child lived on in the Stapleford mansion-house till two or three years has
passed by. One day he was walking in the garden, and by some accident left
his snuff-box on a bench. When he came back to find it he saw the little boy
standing there; he had escaped his nurse, and was making a plaything of
the box, in spite of the convulsive sneezings which the game brought in its
train. Then the man with the incrusted heart became interested in the little
fellow's persistence in his play under such discomforts; he looked in the
child's face, saw there his wife's countenance, though he did not see his
own, and fell into thought on the piteousness of childhood-particularly of
despised and rejected childhood, like this before him.
From that hour, try as he would to counteract the feeling, the human
necessity to love something or other got the better of what he had called his
wisdom, and shaped itself in a tender anxiety for the youngster Rupert. This
name had been given him by his dying mother when, at her request, the
child was baptized in her chamber, lest he should not survive for public
baptism; and her husband had never thought of it as a name of any
significance till, about this time, he learned by accident that it was the name
of the young Marquis of Christminster, son of the Duke of Southwesterland,
for whom Annetta had cherished warm feelings before her marriage.
Recollecting some wandering phrases in his wife's last words, which he had
not understood at the time, he perceived at last that this was the person to
whom she had alluded when affording him a clew to little Rupert's history.
He would sit in silence for hours with the child, being no great speaker at
the best of times; but the boy, on his part, was too ready with his tongue for
any break in discourse to arise because Timothy Petrick had nothing to say.
After idling away his mornings in this manner, Petrick would go to his own
room and swear in long, loud whispers, and walk up and down, calling
himself the most ridiculous dolt that ever lived, and declaring that he would
never go near the little fellow again; to which resolve he would adhere for the
space, perhaps, of a day. Such cases are happily not new to human nature,
but there never was a case in which a man more completely befooled his
former self than in this.
As the child grew up, Timothy's attachment to him grew deeper, till Rupert
became almost the sole object for which he lived. There had been enough of
the family ambition latent in him for Timothy Petrick to feel a little envy
when, some time before this date, his brother Edward had been accepted by
the Honorable Harriet Mountclere, daughter of the second viscount of that
name and title; but having discovered, as I have before stated, the paternity
of his boy Rupert to lurk in even a higher stratum of society, those envious
feelings speedily dispersed. Indeed, the more he reflected thereon, after his
brother's aristocratic marriage, the more content did he became. His late
wife took softer outline in his memory, as he thought of the lofty taste she
had displayed, though only a plain burgher's daughter, and the justification
for his weakness in loving the child-the justification that he had longed for-
was afforded now in the knowledge that the boy was by nature, if not by
name, a representative of one of the noblest houses in England.
"She was a woman of grand instincts, after all," he said to himself, proudly.
"To fix her choice upon the immediate successor in that ducal line-it was
finely conceived! Had he been of low blood like myself or my relations she
would scarce have deserved the harsh measure that I have dealt out to her
and her offspring. How much less, then, when such groveling tastes were
farthest from her soul! The man Annetta loved was noble, and my boy is
noble in spite of me."
The after-clap was inevitable, and it soon came. "So far," he reasoned, "from
cutting off his child from inheritance of my estates, as I have done, I should
have rejoiced in the possession of him! He is of pure stock on one side at
least, while in the ordinary run of affairs he would have been a commoner to
Being a man, whatever his faults, of good old beliefs in the divinity of kings
and those about 'em, the more he overhauled the case in this light the more
strongly did his poor wife's conduct in improving the blood and breed of the
Petrick family win his heart. He considered what ugly, idle, hard-drinking
scamps many of his own relations had been; the miserable scriveners,
usurers, and pawnbrokers that he had numbered among his forefathers,
and the probability that some of their bad qualities would have come out in
a merely corporeal child, to give him sorrow in his old age, turn his black
hairs gray, his gray hairs white, cut down every stick of timber, and Heaven
knows what all, had he not, like a skilful gardener, minded his grafting and
changed the sort; till at length this right-minded man fell down on his knees
every night and morning and thanked God that he was not as other meanly
descended fathers in such matters.
It was in the peculiar disposition of the Petrick family that the satisfaction
which ultimately settled in Timothy's breast found nourishment. The
Petricks had adored the nobility, and plucked them at the same time. That
excellent man Izaak Walton's feelings about fish were much akin to those of
old Timothy Petrick, and of his descendants in a lesser degree, concerning
the landed aristocracy. To torture and to love simultaneously is a proceeding
strange to reason, but possible to practise, as these instances show.
Hence, when Timothy's brother Edward said slightingly one day that
Timothy's son was well enough, but that he had nothing but shops and
offices in his backward perspective, while his own children, should he have
any, would be far different, in possessing such a mother as the Honorable
Harriet, Timothy felt a bound of triumph within him at the power he
possessed of contradicting that statement if he chose.
So much was he interested in his boy in this new aspect that he now began
to read up chronicles of the illustrious house ennobled as the Dukes of
Southwesterland, from their very beginning in the glories of the Restoration
of the blessed Charles till the year of his own time. He mentally noted their
gifts from royalty, grants of lands, purchases, intermarriages, plantings, and
buildings; more particularly their political and military achievements, which
had been great, and their performances in arts and letters, which had been
by no means contemptible. He studied prints of the portraits of that family,
and then, like a chemist watching a crystallization, began to examine young
Rupert's face for the unfolding of those historic curves and shades that the
painters Vandyke and Lely had perpetuated on canvas.
When the boy reached the most fascinating age of childhood, and his shouts
of laughter rang through Stapleford House from end to end, the remorse
that oppressed Timothy Petrick knew no bounds. Of all people in the world
this Rupert was the one on whom he could have wished the estates to
devolve; yet Rupert, by Timothy's own desperate strategy at the time of his
birth, had been ousted from all inheritance of them; and, since he did not
mean to remarry, the manors would pass to his brother and his brother's
children, who would be nothing to him, whose boasted pedigree on one side
would be nothing to his Rupert's.
Had he only left the first will of his grandfather alone!
His mind ran on the wills continually, both of which were in existence, and
the first, the canceled one, in his own possession. Night after night, when
the servants were all abed, and the click of safety-locks sounded as loud as
a crash, he looked at that first will, and wished it had been the second and
not the first.
The crisis came at last. One night, after having enjoyed the boy's company
for hours, he could no longer bear that his beloved Rupert should be
dispossessed, and he committed the felonious deed of altering the date of
the earlier will to a fortnight later, which made its execution appear
subsequent to the date of the second will already proved. He then boldly
propounded the first will as the second.
His brother Edward submitted to what appeared to be not only injontestible
fact, but a far more likely disposition of old Timothy's procerty; for, like
many others, he had been much surprised at the limitptions defined in the
other will, having no clew to their cause. He aoined his brother Timothy in
setting aside the hitherto accepted document, and matters went on in their
usual course, there being no dispositions in the substituted will differing
from those in the other, except such as related to a future which had not yet
The years moved on. Rupert had not yet revealed the anxiously expected
historic lineaments which should foreshadow the political abilities of the
ducal family aforesaid, when it happened on a certain day that Timothy
Petrick made the acquaintance of a well-known physician of Budmouth, who
had been the medical adviser and friend of the late Mrs. Petrick's family for
many years, though after Annetta's marriage, and consequent removal to
Stapleford, he had seen no more of her, the neighboring practitioner who
attended the Petricks having then become her doctor as a matter of course.
Timothy was impressed by the insight and knowledge disclosed in the
conversation of the Budmouth physician, and the acquaintance ripening to
intimacy, the physician alluded to a form of hallucination to which Annetta's
mother and grandmother had been subject-that of believing in certain
dreams as realities. He delicately inquired if Timothy had ever noticed
anything of the sort in his wife during her lifetime; he, the physician, had
fancied that he discerned germs of the same peculiarity in Annetta when he
attended her in her girlhood. One explanation begat another, till the
dumbfounded Timothy Petrick was persuaded in his own mind that
Annetta's confession to him had been based on a delusion.
"You look down in the mouth!" said the doctor, pausing.
"A bit unmanned. 'Tis unexpected-like," sighed Timothy.
But he could hardly believe it possible; and, thinking it best to be frank with
the doctor, told him the whole story which, till now, he had never related to
living man, save his dying grandfather. To his surprise, the physician
informed him that such a form of delusion was precisely what he would
have expected from Annetta's antecedents at such a physical crisis in her
Petrick prosecuted his inquiries elsewhere; and the upshot of his labors was,
briefly, that a comparison of dates and places showed irrefutably that his
poor wife's assertion could not possibly have foundation in fact. The young
Marquis of her tender passion-a highly moral and brightminded nobleman-
had gone abroad the year before Annetta's, marriage, and had not returned
until after her death. The young girl's love for him had been a delicate ideal
Timothy went home, and the boy ran out to meet him; whereupon a
strangely dismal feeling of discontent took possession of his soul. After all,
then, there was nothing but plebeian blood in the veins of the heir to his
name and estates; he was not to be succeeded by a noble-natured line. To
be sure, Rupert was his son; but that glory and halo he believed him to have
inherited from the ages, outshining that of his brother's children, had
departed from Rupert's brow forever; he could no longer read history in the
boy's face and centuries of domination in his eyes.
His manner towards his son grew colder and colder from that day forward;
and it was with bitterness of heart that he discerned the characteristic
features of the Petricks unfolding themselves by degrees. Instead of the
elegant knife-edged nose, so typical of the Dukes of Southwesterland, there
began to appear on his face the broad nostril and hollow bridge of his
grandfather Timothy. No illustrious line of politicians was promised a
continuator in that graying blue eye, for it was acquiring the expression of
the orb of a particularly objectionable cousin of his own; and, instead of the
mouth-curves which had thrilled Parliamentary audiences in speeches now
bound in calf in every well- ordered library, there was the bull-lip of that
very uncle of his who had had the misfortune with the signature of a
gentleman's will, and had been transported for life in consequence.
To think how he himself, too, had sinned in this same matter of a will for
this mere fleshly reproduction of a wretched old uncle whose very name he
wished to forget! The boy's Christian name, even, was an imposture and an
irony, for it implied hereditary force and brilliancy to which he plainly would
never attain! The consolation of real sonship was always left him certainly;
but he could not help groaning to himself, "Why cannot a son be one's own
and somebody else's likewise?"
The Marquis was shortly afterwards in the neighborhood of Stapleford, and
Timothy Petrick met him, and eyed his noble countenance admiringly. The
next day, when Petrick was in his study, somebody knocked at the door.
"I'll Rupert thee, you young impostor! Say, only a poor common-place
Petrick!" his father grunted. "Why didn't you have a voice like the Marquis I
saw yesterday?" he continued, as the lad came in. "Why haven't you his
looks, and a way of commanding as if you'd done it for centuries-hey?"
"Why? How can you expect it, father, when I'm not related to him?"
"Ugh! Then you ought to be!" growled his father.