The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter II

Fortune, the great commandress of the world,
Hath divers ways to advance her followers:
To some she gives wealth, some wit, &c.

All Fools

Captain Fitzherbert , the father of Lucretia, was the youngest son in a family of noble connexions and moderate wealth. In his youth, he was sent to Manilla, at the request of a bachelor uncle, who promised his immense fortune as a reward for his affectionate attentions. This uncle proved tormentingly nervous, and his whims and caprices daily became more intolerable to a young man of the most haughty independence and stubborn inflexibility of character. He wrote a letter to his father, earnestly entreating permission to return to England. The answer he received was partly in the language of reason, partly of authority, and ended by expressly forbidding him to leave the East Indies during the life-time of his uncle.

From that moment, he resolved to enter the career of life for himself, and to spurn at the support which must be purchased by years of servile dependence. He collected all his money and jewels, procured the disguise of a common sailor, and came over to America, alone and unfriended. The new world then opened a fine field for enterprise, and he soon accumulated property. He had been for some time successfully engaged in navigation, when he first met Matilda Howe, at Halifax. She was a beautiful and destitute orphan, with great sweetness of manners and of temper; and these qualifications had so much weight with the young English Captain, that he very soon gave her legal claims to his protection. Pride had hitherto induced him to conceal his existence from his friends; but he was now rich, and he felt anxious to secure their friendship for the sake of his lovely wife. For this purpose he left her a few months after their marriage, intending to arrange some business in the West Indies, and from thence proceed to Liverpool, and discover himself to his family.

A short letter from Cuba was all that she ever after received from him; nor was it long before she heard the dreadful tidings of his shipwreck.

After the birth of the infant Lucretia, Mrs. Fitzherbert proposed to the executors to examine the papers of her deceased husband. To her utter astonishment and dismay, she found that his strong box had been opened, and every paper of any value removed. It was afterwards reported, that during Mrs. Fitzherbert's sickness, many of the notes were presented by a middle-aged man, and paid by the unsuspecting debtors, who supposed that a legal transfer had taken place. Whoever this villain was, no trace of him could afterward be discovered.

The distressed mother wrote two letters to England, imploring assistance from her husband's relations. The first received an insolent answer, disclaiming all knowledge of such a being as young Edmund Fitzherbert, and reproaching her with the grossness of her impudence. The second was returned in a blank envelope.

Bowed down with affliction, the heart-broken widow soon after expired, leaving her child to the care of benevolent acquaintances.

The rent of a small house, all that remained of her father's large property, saved the orphan from the misery of entire dependence; but her young heart was as blithe as if thousands had been her portion.

When Lucretia was in her thirteenth year, it chanced that Miss Sandford, the maiden sister of Mrs. Hutchinson, visited Halifax, and was taken ill at the house where she resided. The overflowing kindness and unremitting attention of the child won upon the stranger's heart, and she formed the resolution of taking her under her own immediate protection. This lady, who possessed many foibles, united with much shrewdness and great goodness of heart, brought the insulated little being with her, when she returned to the dwelling of Governor Hutchinson.

To his good opinion, the orphan possessed two very sure passports. One was an honourable English name, the other, a portion, scanty indeed, but sufficient to prevent any large expenditure on the part of Miss Sandford, whose property he thought would eventually devolve upon him.

Anxious to ascertain whether her father's story had really been an imposture, he caused minute inquiries to be made in England, but could only ascertain that the name had become extinct, and that a large estate in Manilla had been settled on a remote collateral branch of the family. This last account seemed to tally with the Captain's story, and in the Governor's mind, it established the important point of honourable birth; and though there was seemingly no hope that Lucretia would ever become an heiress, we must do him the justice to say, that he treated her with extreme kindness, up to the period we have mentioned.

The morning after Somerville's arrival, Governor Hutchinson found a large package on his library table, which his nephew had placed there at an early hour. He opened it, and found a polite letter from Goldsmith, accompanied by the "Traveller," then recently published in England; two long and laboured epistles from Lord North and Mr. Grenville; and an anonymous production, with the signature of the mitre, urging gentleness, discretion, and open dealing, with the discontented Colonies. These papers were read with avidity; and could some of them now be found, they would throw additional light on the political hypocrisy of the Chief Justice.

The last opened letter completely arrested his attention. It was as follows:

"Honoured Sir,
"A friend of mine, who has lately returned to England,
accidentally mentioned meeting Miss Fitzherbert
at your house. May I ask who this Miss Fitzherbert
is? I have been in my native country but a short time,---
I am a bachelor,---and my health is exceedingly
precarious. It is therefore important that I should know
her history and connexions immediately.

"Copley is now in New England, and I should like
to have him take her picture for me. I will pay all
expenses, whether the event be as I hope, or not.
Omit no particulars concerning her father, and have all
the documents well authenticated.

I am your obedient and humble servant.
Edmund Fitzherbert"

A long conference between the Governor, Miss Sandford, and Lucretia, terminated in sending a note to Doctor Byles, requesting his attendance as soon as convenient, to converse on some particular business. A servant was speedily despatched to Nassau-street, and soon returned with an answer that promised an early call. Before two hours had elapsed, Lucretia heard the well-known sound of his gold-headed cane, as it struck on the stone steps of the dwelling; and hastened to show him into the library.

He was a middle-sized man, with a large, closely curled wig, and an expression of face as strangely contradictory as his very singular character. There was a sanctity about his mouth, evidently induced by long habit; but nature peeped out at his eye with unrestrained drollery.

"Wherefore am I summoned?" said he, planting his cane firmly on the threshold of the door. "Has Jethro cut his little finger? Has Aunt Sandford been backbiting her neighbours till her double teeth ache? Or have the rebels more symptoms of the cholic?"

"None of these things have befallen us," answered the Governor, smiling, "I want to consult you about Lucretia's affairs."

"What affairs can she have, pray? No design of wearing Hymen's saffron robe, I trust?"

"They say it is a garment often bought," observed Lucretia; "and it is money which uncle Hutchinson wishes to talk with you about."

The Governor placed the letter in his hand, and remarked, "With all your contempt of wealth, you will not wonder that its contents are highly interesting to us."

"It is indeed of consequence that it should be attended to," said he, "but what is to be done?"

"All the evidence that can possibly be collected, must be immediately committed to paper. I have heard you say, that you saw Captain Fitzherbert, in your youth. I believe you and Madam Sandford will be my most valuable evidence."

Now, to this lady the reverend Doctor had a most unconquerable aversion. Some said it was because he suspected her of forming designs on his liberty, while he was a widower. To this charge she never condescended to give any other answer than, "It would be strange if I should seek such a punishment, when nothing worse than Biles could be found wherewith to afflict Job."

Perhaps it might be this same habit of paying him in his own coin, which had first created a dislike. Be that as it may, he lost no opportunity of railing at her, and when Lucretia was desired to call her, he exclaimed,

"Oh dear, that Miss Sandford! I have such a phobia of her. From morning till night she is clattering about the faults and follies of her neighbours; and as for her own character, it is a dark lanthorn,---nobody sees the bright side but herself."

Governor Hutchinson looked upon his friend as a privileged person, and took no notice of these and similar remarks; but they were always distressing to Lucretia, and she had just whispered, "I beg of you not to talk in this way,"---when Miss Sandford entered and wished him good morning.

"Good morning, Madam Sandford," said the Doctor, rising.---"Hem! Pray Governor Hutchinson have you the Gossip, or the Tatler, or the Busy-body in your library?"

"I thought the last was usually in Doctor Byles's presence," observed Miss Sandford, sweeping past him in great indiguation.

"A truce with such contests," said her brother-in-law. "I wish to ascertain how much both of you know concerning Captain Fitzherbert."

Doctor Byles then proceeded to details exactly corresponding to the story we have already told. "I remember," said he, "hearing Captain Fitzherbert speak of his escape from Manilla. He was a proud-spirited man, and nothing on the earth or beneath it could compel him to an action. He used to say he had rather be a ploughboy in America, than a prince in the East Indies."

"I have heard that remark of my father's repeated several times," said Lucretia.

"And you know the lady with whom you boarded after you mother's death used to tell many anecdotes about his Manilla uncle," said Miss Sandford. "Do you remember her accounts of his chocolate-coloured gown, the monkey that saw fit to hide his wig in the chimney, and the favourite old servant that used to lie on his back and fiddle all day?"

"All this is nothing to the purpose," said Doctor Byles, sternly. "Women should only speak when it is necessary."

"All these trifling details will serve to authenticate the story," observed the Governor. "Do you know whether Captain Fitzherbert ever heard from his relations after he left them?"

"I have heard that he was once taken ill with a fever, and carried to Chelsea Hospital," replied Lucretia; "and that his father was one of the visiting committee, and used frequently to give him cordials with his own hand; but time and sickness had so changed my father that he did not know him; and his pride would not submit to an avowal under such circumstances."

"That was strength of nerve indeed," said Hutchinson, "to meet a father in a foreign land, and yet remain incog. But bless my heart, why have none of us thought of Mr. Townsend? he was one of the executors."

"What, Townsend of Roxbury, who lives in a house leaking at every pore, goes to bed before dark to save his candles, and wears a garment woven before Deucalion's deluge?"

"Just so, Doctor Byles; and is worth thousands of pounds for all that," replied the Governor. "Lucretia, sit down and write a note to Mr. Townsend, requesting him to come here; and send Jethro with the carriage."

"I love that scatter-brained girl in spite of myself," said Doctor Byles, as she left the apartment. "Did you notice the tears in her eyes when we talked of her mother? I believe there was some great villany about her father's property."

"People do say this Mr. Townsend is no better than he should be," rejoined Miss Sandford.

"Did you ever hear of any body that was?" said Doctor Byles.

"If I had, I should have heard a fact you will never know by experience," answered she.

"Surely you have touched the Doctor's garments," said her brother, laughing.

"At any event, wit made a strange mistake when it popped into her brain," rejoined her unwearied tormentor.

Some more conversation followed, the particulars of which were interesting only to the parties concerned; and the Governor was busy in committing the various facts to paper, when Jethro arrived with Mr. Townsend. He was an old man, with a black cap pulled closely over his shaggy eye-brows, a wrinkled face, a threadbare coat, and patched small-clothes, tied above the knee with leathern strings.

The rising smile was checked by the politeness of the Chief Justice, who handed him a chair, and after a few general inquiries, spoke of the business for which he had summoned him.

Every one noticed his look of deadly paleness, when the name of Fitzherbert was mentioned.

"I am an old man," said he, in the querulous tones of extreme age; "and a poor one. That was a troublesome business. Papers were lost; and the world blamed me, God knows, without reason."

"Old man, swear not at all," exclaimed Doctor Byles, with a thundering voice.

The miser looked terrified.

"It is hard to perplex an old man with this business, when he is just on the verge of the grave," said he. "I am poor,---too poor to be wearing and tearing my clothes in riding about from one end of the town to the other; and I have been despit sick for years back. I have a power of complaints on me now."

"An expansion of the heart is one disorder you have contracted , is it not?" inquired Doctor Byles.

"I have had almost all kinds of sickness in my day," replied the old man, without noticing the ridicule of the remark; "but then you know doctors cost a mint of money."

That craving for sympathy which leads us all to dwell more or less on our own miseries, would have induced Mr Townsend to prolong this topic to a painful length, had not Governor Hutchinson at once arrested him by direct questions concerning the Fitzherbert estate. On this subject, he was less garrulous. A trembling hesitation, which might proceed either from conscious guilt, or from an incapacity for business, was very discernible. His story was but a repetition of the other, excepting that he remembered having seen the death of Mr. Edmund Fitzherbert, of Manilla, in the London Chronicle. Having given his testimony, he expressed a wish to oblige the gentlemen in any thing that would not prove expensive, and signified his desire to depart.

That there had been some mistake concerning the death of the East India uncle, and that Lucretia would be heiress to his immense wealth, was the impression of all her friends.

The Governor congratulated her on her prospects, but at the same time reminded her of their extreme uncertainty, and exhorted her to keep the whole affair secret for the present; since, in case of failure, it would be exceedingly unpleasant to be questioned concerning it.

Miss Sandford did not attempt to conceal her joy. "Lucretia will be the richest woman in New England," said she; "a match for the greatest man in the Colonies."

"Mulier ad unguem," exclaimed Doctor Byles; "ideas always saffron-coloured. It would be well if you thought as much of some other flames as you do of Hymen's torch."

"In my opinion, wrath and eternal fire are too much talked of by some ministers," rejoined the maiden.

"No doubt you think so," replied he; "and when one seems so anxious that a place should be represented comfortable, one cannot but have a shrewd suspicion they expect to go there."

"I know of no one so fit to be master of ceremonies as yourself," retorted she.

"A young distiller has moved into your neighbourhood, Governor Hutchinson," said the Doctor; "and the first business I wish you to give him is to still your sister's tongue."

"A heavy cannonade, upon my word," said the laughing Lucretia; "but after all, Doctor Byles, none of my friends will be more glad of my good fortune than yourself."

"Very true, my good girl," said he, affectionately taking her hand; "but it will be that you have it in your power to be useful,---not to get a husband."

"Certainly not," replied Lucretia. "I am sure---"

"Have a care," interrupted the Doctor, "else I shall be tempted to say, `Faith, I 'll believe a woman, when I have nothing else to do."'

Lucretia blushed,---for at that moment she was actually conjecturing whether her thousands could make Somerville forget that she was less beautiful than Grace Osborne.