(From A Group of Noble Dames)
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 signing 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 signifiedamong 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 cant call to mind half his landed possessions, and I dont know that it matters much
at this time of day, seeing that hes 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 grandsons 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
hearts history. He had never found reason to regret his choice as yet, and his anxiety for her recovery
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 babys 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 happenedthe babys birth, his wifes 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 Edwards 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 Petricks 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. Ill 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 fellows
persistence in his play under such discomforts; he looked in the childs face, saw there his wifes countenance,
though he did not see his own, and fell into thought on the piteousness of childhoodparticularly 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 wifes 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 Ruperts 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, Timothys 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 brothers 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 burghers daughter, and the justification for his
weakness in loving the childthe justification that he had longed forwas 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 lineit 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 the
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 wifes 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
Timothys breast found nourishment. The Petricks had adored the nobility, and plucked them at the same
time. That excellent man Izaak Waltons 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
Hence, when Timothys brother Edward said slightingly one day that Timothys 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 Ruperts 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 Timothys 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 brothers children, who would be nothing to him, whose boasted pedigree on one side would be nothing to his
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
The crisis came at last. One night, after having enjoyed the boys 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 incontestible fact, but a far more likely
disposition of old Timothys property; for, like many others, he had been much surprised at the limitations
defined in the other will, having no clew to their cause. He ajoined 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
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. Petricks family for many years, though after Annettas
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 Annettas mother and grandmother
had been subjectthat 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 Annettas 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
Annettas antecedents at such a physical crisis in her life.
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 wifes assertion could not possibly have foundation in
fact. The young Marquis of her tender passiona highly moral and brightminded noblemanhad gone
abroad the year before Annettas, marriage, and had not returned until after her death. The young girls
love for him had been a delicate ideal dreamno more.
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 brothers children, had departed from Ruperts brow forever; he could no longer read history in the boys
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 gentlemans 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 boys 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 ones own and somebody elses 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.
Ill Rupert thee, you young impostor! Say, only a poor common-place Petrick! his father grunted. Why
didnt you have a voice like the Marquis I saw yesterday? he continued, as the lad came in. Why havent
you his looks, and a way of commanding as if youd done it for centurieshey?
Why? How can you expect it, father, when Im not related to him?
Ugh! Then you ought to be! growled his father.