The Chest of Drawers, by Samuel Warren
of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney
I am about to relate a rather curious piece of domestic history, some
of the incidents of which, revealed at the time of their occurrence in
contemporary law reports, may be in the remembrance of many readers. It
took place in one of the midland counties, and at a place which I shall
call Watley; the names of the chief actors who figured in it must also,
to spare their modesty of their blushes, as the case may be, be
changed; and should one of those persons, spite of these precautions,
apprehend unpleasant recognition, he will be able to console himself
with the reflection, that all I state beyond that which may be gathered
from the records of the law courts will be generally ascribed to the
fancy or invention of the writer. And it is as well, perhaps, that it
should be so.
Caleb Jennings, a shoemaker, cobler, snob—using the last word in its
genuine classical sense, and by no means according to the modern
interpretation by which it is held to signify a genteel sneak or
pretender—he was anything but that—occupied, some twelve or thirteen
years ago, a stall at Watley, which, according to the traditions of the
place, had been hereditary in his family for several generations. He may
also be said to have flourished there, after the manner of cobblers; for
this, it must be remembered, was in the good old times, before the
gutta-percha revolution had carried ruin and dismay into the
stalls—those of cobblers—which in considerable numbers existed
throughout the kingdom. Like all his fraternity whom I have ever fallen
in with or heard of, Caleb was a sturdy radical of the Major Cartwright
and Henry Hunt school; and being withal industrious, tolerably skillful,
not inordinately prone to the observance of Saint Mondays, possessed,
moreover, of a neatly-furnished sleeping and eating apartment in the
house of which the projecting first floor, supported on stone pillars,
over-shadowed his humble work-place, he vaunted himself to be as really
rich as an estated squire, and far more independent.
There was some truth in this boast, as the case which procured us the
honor of Mr. Jennings's acquaintance sufficiently proved. We were
employed to bring an action against a wealthy gentleman of the vicinity
of Watley for a brutal and unprovoked assault he had committed, when in a
state of partial inebriety, upon a respectable London tradesman who had
visited the place on business. On the day of trial our witnesses appeared
to have become suddenly afflicted with an almost total loss of memory;
and we were only saved from an adverse verdict by the plain,
straight-forward evidence of Caleb, upon whose sturdy nature the various
arts which soften or neutralize hostile evidence had been tried in vain.
Mr. Flint, who personally superintended the case, took quite a liking to
the man; and it thus happened that we were called upon sometime
afterwards to aid the said Caleb in extricating himself from the
extraordinary and perplexing difficulty in which he suddenly and
unwittingly found himself involved.
The projecting first floor of the house beneath which the humble
work-shop of Caleb Jennings modestly disclosed itself, had been occupied
for many years by an ailing and somewhat aged gentleman of the name of
Lisle. This Mr. Ambrose Lisle was a native of Watley, and had been a
prosperous merchant of the city of London. Since his return, after about
twenty years' absence, he had shut himself up in almost total seclusion,
nourishing a cynical bitterness and acrimony of temper which gradually
withered up the sources of health and life, till at length it became as
visible to himself as it had for sometime been to others, that the oil of
existence was expended, burnt up, and that but a few weak flickers more,
and the ailing man's plaints and griefs would be hushed in the dark
silence of the grave.
Mr. Lisle had no relatives at Watley, and the only individual with whom
he was on terms of personal intimacy, was Mr. Peter Sowerby, an attorney
of the place, who had for many years transacted all his business. This
man visited Mr. Lisle most evenings, played at chess with him, and
gradually acquired an influence over his client which that weak gentleman
had once or twice feebly, but vainly endeavored to shake off. To this
clever attorney, it was rumored, Mr. Lisle had bequeathed all his wealth.
This piece of information had been put in circulation by Caleb Jennings,
who was a sort of humble favorite of Mr. Lisle's, or, at all events, was
regarded by the misanthrope with less dislike than he manifested towards
others. Caleb cultivated a few flowers in a little plot of ground at the
back of the house, and Mr. Lisle would sometimes accept a rose or a bunch
of violets from him. Other slight services—especially since the recent
death of his old and garrulous woman-servant, Esther May, who had
accompanied him from London, and with whom Mr. Jennings had always been
upon terms of gossiping intimacy—had led to certain familiarities of
intercourse; and it thus happened that the inquisitive shoemaker became
partially acquainted with the history of the wrongs and griefs which
preyed upon, and shortened the life of the prematurely-aged man.
The substance of this every-day, common-place story, as related to us by
Jennings, and subsequently enlarged and colored from other sources, may
be very briefly told.
Ambrose Lisle, in consequence of an accident which occurred in his
infancy, was slightly deformed. His right shoulder—as I understood, for
I never saw him—grew out, giving an ungraceful and somewhat comical
twist to his figure, which, in female eyes—youthful ones at least—sadly
marred the effect of his intelligent and handsome countenance. This
personal defect rendered him shy and awkward in the presence of women of
his own class of society; and he had attained the ripe age of
thirty-seven years, and was a rich and prosperous man, before he gave the
slightest token of an inclination towards matrimony. About a twelvemonth
previous to that period of his life, the deaths—quickly following each
other—of a Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, threw their eldest daughter, Lucy, upon
Mr. Lisle's hands. Mr. Lisle had been left an orphan at a very early age,
and Mrs. Stevens—his aunt, and then a maiden lady—had, in accordance
with his father's will, taken charge of himself and brother till they
severally attained their majority. Long, however, before that, she
married Mr. Stevens, by whom she had two children—Lucy and Emily. Her
husband, whom she survived but two months, died insolvent; and in
obedience to the dying wishes of his aunt, for whom he appears to have
felt the tenderest esteem, he took the eldest of her orphan children to
his home, intending to regard and provide for her as his own adopted
child and heiress. Emily, the other sister, found refuge in the house of
a still more distant relative than himself.
The Stevenses had gone to live in a remote part of England—Yorkshire, I
believe—and it thus fell out, that, till his cousin Lucy arrived at her
new home, he had not seen her for more than ten years. The pale, and
somewhat plain child, as he had esteemed her, he was startled to find had
become a charming woman; and her naturally gay and joyous temperament,
quick talents, and fresh young beauty, rapidly acquired an overwhelming
influence over him. Strenuously, but vainly, he struggled against the
growing infatuation—argued, reasoned with himself—passed in review the
insurmountable objections to such a union, the difference of age—he,
leading towards thirty-seven, she, barely twenty-one: he, crooked,
deformed, of reserved, taciturn temper—she, full of young life, and
grace, and beauty. It was useless; and nearly a year had passed in the
bootless struggle, when Lucy Stevens, who had vainly striven to blind
herself to the nature of the emotions by which her cousin and guardian
was animated towards her, intimated a wish to accept her sister Emily's
invitation to pass two or three months with her. This brought the affair
to a crisis. Buoying himself up with the illusions which people in such
an unreasonable frame of mind create for themselves, he suddenly entered
the sitting-room set apart for her private use, with the desperate purpose
of making his beautiful cousin a formal offer of his hand. She was not in
the apartment, but her opened writing-desk, and a partly-finished letter
lying on it, showed that she had been recently there, and would probably
soon return. Mr. Lisle took two or three agitated turns about the room,
one of which brought him close to the writing-desk, and his glance
involuntarily fell upon the unfinished letter. Had a deadly serpent
leaped suddenly at his throat, the shock could not have been greater. At
the head of the sheet of paper was a clever pen-and-ink sketch of Lucy
Stevens and himself—he, kneeling to her in a lovelorn, ludicrous
attitude, and she, laughing immoderately at his lachrymose and pitiful
aspect and speech. The letter was addressed to her sister Emily; and the
enraged lover saw not only that his supposed secret was fully known, but
that he himself was mocked, laughed at, for his doting folly. At least
this was his interpretation of the words which swam before his eyes. At
the instant Lucy returned, and a torrent of imprecation burst from the
furious man, in which wounded self-love, rageful pride, and long pent-up
passion, found utterance in wild and bitter words. Half an hour
afterwards Lucy Stevens had left the merchant's house—for ever, as it
proved. She, indeed, on arriving at her sister's, sent a letter,
supplicating forgiveness for the thoughtless, and, as he deemed it,
insulting sketch, intended only for Emily's eye; but he replied merely by
a note written by one of his clerks, informing Miss Stevens that Mr.
Lisle declined any further correspondence with her.
The ire of the angered and vindictive man had, however, begun sensibly to
abate, and old thoughts, memories, duties, suggested partly by the blank
which Lucy's absence made in his house, partly by remembrance of the
solemn promise he had made her mother, were strongly reviving in his
mind, when he read the announcement of marriage in a provincial journal,
directed to him, as he believed, in the bride's hand-writing; but this
was an error, her sister having sent the newspaper. Mr. Lisle also
construed this into a deliberate mockery and insult, and from that hour
strove to banish all images and thoughts connected with his cousin, from
his heart and memory.
He unfortunately adopted the very worst course possible for effecting
this object. Had he remained amid the buzz and tumult of active life, a
mere sentimental disappointment, such as thousands of us have sustained
and afterwards forgotten, would, there can be little doubt, have soon
ceased to afflict him. He chose to retire from business, visited Watley,
and habits of miserliness growing rapidly upon his cankered mind, never
afterwards removed from the lodgings he had hired on first arriving
there. Thus madly hugging to himself sharp-pointed memories, which a
sensible man would have speedily cast off and forgotten, the sour
misanthrope passed a useless, cheerless, weary existence, to which death
must have been a welcome relief.
Matters were in this state with the morose and aged man—aged mentally
and corporeally, although his years were but fifty-eight—when Mr. Flint
made Mr. Jennings's acquaintance. Another month or so had passed away
when Caleb's attention was one day about noon claimed by a young man
dressed in mourning, accompanied by a female similarly attired, and from
their resemblance to each other he conjectured were brother and sister.
The stranger wished to know if that was the house in which Mr. Ambrose
Lisle resided. Jennings said it was; and with civil alacrity left his
stall and rang the front-door bell. The summons was answered by the
landlady's servant, who, since Esther May's death, had waited on the
first-floor lodger; and the visitors were invited to go up stairs. Caleb,
much wondering who they might be, returned to his stall, and from thence
passed into his eating and sleeping-room just below Mr. Lisle's
apartments. He was in the act of taking a pipe from the mantel-shelf, in
order to the more deliberate and satisfactory cogitation on such an
unusual event, when he was startled by a loud shout, or scream rather,
from above. The quivering and excited voice was that of Mr. Lisle, and
the outcry was immediately followed by an explosion of unintelligible
exclamations from several persons. Caleb was up stairs in an instant,
and found himself in the midst of a strangely-perplexing and distracted
scene. Mr. Lisle, pale as his shirt, shaking in every limb, and his eyes
on fire with passion, was hurling forth a torrent of vituperation and
reproach at the young woman, whom he evidently mistook for some one else;
whilst she, extremely terrified, and unable to stand but for the
assistance of her companion, was tendering a letter in her outstretched
hand, and uttering broken sentences, which her own agitation and the fury
of Mr. Lisle's invectives rendered totally incomprehensible. At last the
fierce old man struck the letter from her hand, and with frantic rage
ordered both the strangers to leave the room. Caleb urged them to comply,
and accompanied them down stairs. When they reached the street, he
observed a woman on the other side of the way, dressed in mourning, and
much older apparently, though he could not well see her face through the
thick veil she wore, than she who had thrown Mr. Lisle into such an agony
of rage, apparently waiting for them. To her the young people immediately
hastened, and after a brief conference the three turned away up the
street, and Mr. Jennings saw no more of them.
A quarter of an hour afterwards the house-servant informed Caleb that Mr.
Lisle had retired to bed, and although still in great agitation, and, as
she feared, seriously indisposed, would not permit Dr. Clarke to be sent
for. So sudden and violent a hurricane in the usually dull and drowsy
atmosphere in which Jennings lived, excited and disturbed him greatly;
the hours, however, flew past without bringing any relief to his
curiosity, and evening was falling, when a peculiar knocking on the floor
over-head announced that Mr. Lisle desired his presence. That gentleman
was sitting up in bed, and in the growing darkness his face could not be
very distinctly seen; but Caleb instantly observed a vivid and unusual
light in the old man's eyes. The letter so strangely delivered was lying
open before him; and unless the shoe-mender was greatly mistaken, there
were stains of recent tears upon Mr. Lisie's furrowed and hollow cheeks.
The voice, too, it struck Caleb, though eager, was gentle and wavering.
"It was a mistake, Jennings," he said; "I was mad for the moment. Are
they gone?" he added in a yet more subdued and gentle tone. Caleb
informed him of what he had seen; and as he did so, the strange light in
the old man's eyes seemed to quiver and sparkle with a yet intenser
emotion than before. Presently he shaded them with his hand, and remained
several minutes silent. He then said with a firmer voice, "I shall be
glad if you will step to Mr. Sowerby, and tell him I am too unwell to see
him this evening. But be sure to say nothing else," he eagerly added, as
Caleb turned away in compliance with his request; "and when you come
back, let me see you again."
When Jennings returned, he found to his great surprise Mr. Lisle up and
nearly dressed; and his astonishment increased a hundred-fold upon
hearing that gentleman say, in a quick but perfectly collected and
decided manner, that he should set off for London by the mail-train.
"For London—and by night!" exclaimed Caleb, scarcely sure that he
"Yes—yes! I shall not be observed in the dark," sharply rejoined Mr.
Lisle; "and you, Caleb, must keep my secret from every body, especially
from Sowerby. I shall be here in time to see him to-morrow night, and he
will be none the wiser." This was said with a slight chuckle; and as soon
as his simple preparations were complete, Mr. Lisle, well wrapped up,
and his face almost hidden by shawls, locked his door, and assisted by
Jennings, stole furtively down stairs, and reached unrecognized the
railway station just in time for the train.
It was quite dark the next evening when Mr. Lisle returned; and so well
had he managed, that Mr. Sowerby, who paid his usual visit about half an
hour afterwards, had evidently heard nothing of the suspicious absence of
his esteemed client from Watley. The old man exulted over the success of
his deception to Caleb, the next morning, but dropped no hint as to the
object of his sudden journey.
Three days passed without the occurrence of any incident tending to the
enlightenment of Mr. Jennings upon these mysterious events, which,
however, he plainly saw had lamentably shaken the long-since failing man.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, Mr. Lisle walked, or rather tottered,
into Caleb's stall, and seated himself on the only vacant stool it
contained. His manner was confused, and frequently purposeless, and there
was an anxious, flurried expression in his face, which Jennings did not
at all like. He remained silent for some time, with the exception of
partially inaudible snatches of comment or questionings, apparently
addressed to himself. At last he said, "I shall take a longer journey
to-morrow, Caleb—much longer; let me see—where did I say? Ah, yes! to
Glasgow; to be sure to Glasgow!"
"To Glasgow, and to-morrow!" exclaimed the astounded cobbler.
"No, no—not Glasgow; they have removed," feebly rejoined Mr. Lisle.
"But Lucy has written it down for me. True—true; and to-morrow I
shall set out."
The strange expression of Mr. Lisle's face became momentarily more
strongly marked, and Jennings, greatly alarmed, said, "You are ill, Mr.
Lisle; let me run for Dr. Clarke."
"No—no," he murmured, at the same time striving to rise from his seat,
which he could only accomplish by Caleb's assistance, and so supported,
he staggered indoors. "I shall be better to-morrow," he said faintly, and
then slowly added, "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow! Ah, me! Yes,
as I said, to-morrow, I"—He paused abruptly, and they gained his
apartment. He seated himself, and then Jennings, at his mute
solicitation, assisted him to bed.
He lay some time with his eyes closed; and Caleb could feel—for Mr.
Lisle held him firmly by the hand, as if to prevent his going away—a
convulsive shudder pass over his frame. At last he slowly opened his
eyes, and Caleb saw that he was indeed about to depart upon the long
journey from which there is no return. The lips of the dying man worked
inarticulately for some moments; and then with a mighty effort, as it
seemed, he said, whilst his trembling hand pointed feebly to a bureau
chest of drawers that stood in the room, "There—there, for Lucy; there,
the secret place is"—Some inaudible words followed, and then after a
still mightier struggle than before, he gasped out, "No word—no
word—to—to Sowerby—for her—Lucy."
More was said, but undistinguishable by mortal ear; and after gazing with
an expression of indescribable anxiety in the scared face of his
awe-struck listener, the wearied eyes slowly reclosed—the deep silence
flowed past; then the convulsive shudder came again, and he was dead!
Caleb Jennings tremblingly summoned the house-servant and the landlady,
and was still confusedly pondering the broken sentences uttered by the
dying man, when Mr. Sowerby hurriedly arrived. The attorney's first care
was to assume the direction of affairs, and to place seals upon every
article containing or likely to contain anything of value belonging to
the deceased. This done, he went away to give directions for the funeral,
which took place a few days afterwards; and it was then formally
announced that Mr. Sowerby succeeded by will to the large property of
Ambrose Lisle; under trust, however, for the family, if any, of Robert
Lisle, the deceased's brother, who had gone when very young to India, and
had not been heard of for many years—a condition which did not at all
mar the joy of the crafty lawyer, he having long since instituted private
inquiries, which perfectly satisfied him, that the said Robert Lisle had
died, unmarried, at Calcutta.
Mr. Jennings was in a state of great dubiety and consternation. Sowerby
had emptied the chest of drawers of every valuable it contained; and
unless he had missed the secret receptacle Mr. Lisle had spoken of, the
deceased's intentions, whatever they might have been, were clearly
defeated. And if he had not discovered it, how could he, Jennings, get
at the drawers to examine them? A fortunate chance brought some relief to
his perplexities. Ambrose Lisle's furniture was advertised to be sold by
auction, and Caleb resolved to purchase the bureau chest of drawers at
almost any price, although to do so would oblige him to break into his
rent-money, then nearly due. The day of sale came, and, the important lot
in its turn was put up. In one of the drawers there were a number of
loose newspapers, and other valueless scraps; and Caleb, with a sly grin,
asked the auctioneer, if he sold the article with all its contents. "Oh,
yes," said Sowerby, who was watching the sale; "the buyer may have all it
contains over his bargain, and much good may it do him." A laugh followed
the attorney's sneering remark, and the biddings went on. "I want it,"
observed Caleb "because it just fits a recess like this one in my room
underneath." This he said to quiet a suspicion he thought he saw
gathering upon the attorney's brow. It was finally knocked down to Caleb
at £5 10s., a sum considerably beyond its real value; and he had to
borrow a sovereign in order to clear his speculative purchase. This done,
he carried off his prize, and as soon as the closing of the house for the
night secured him from interruption, he set eagerly to work in search of
the secret drawer. A long and patient examination was richly rewarded.
Behind one of the small drawers of the secrétaire portion of the piece
of furniture was another small one, curiously concealed, which contained
Bank-of-England notes to the amount of £200, tied up with a letter, upon
the back of which was written, in the deceased's hand-writing, "To take
with me." The letter which Caleb, although he read print with facility,
had much difficulty in making out, was that which Mr. Lisle had struck
from the young woman's hand a few weeks before, and proved to be a very
affecting appeal from Lucy Stevens, now Lucy Warner, and a widow, with
two grown-up children. Her husband had died in insolvent circumstances,
and she and her sister Emily, who was still single, were endeavoring to
carry on a school at Bristol, which promised to be sufficiently
prosperous if the sum of about £150 could be raised, to save the
furniture from her deceased husband's creditors. The claim was pressing,
for Mr. Warner had been dead nearly a year, and Mr. Lisle being the only
relative Mrs. Warner had in the world, she had ventured to entreat his
assistance for her mother's sake. There could be no moral doubt,
therefore, that this money was intended for Mrs. Warner's relief; and
early in the morning Mr. Caleb Jennings dressed himself in his Sunday's
suit, and with a brief announcement to his landlady that he was about to
leave Watley for a day or two, on a visit to a friend, set off for the
railway station. He had not proceeded far when a difficulty struck
him—the bank-notes were all twenties; and were he to change a
twenty-pound note at the station, where he was well known, great would be
the tattle and wonderment, if nothing worse, that would ensue. So Caleb
tried his credit again, borrowed sufficient for his journey to London,
and there changed one of the notes.
He soon reached Bristol, and blessed was the relief which the sum of
money he brought afforded Mrs. Warner. She expressed much sorrow for the
death of Mr. Lisle, and great gratitude to Caleb. The worthy man
accepted with some reluctance one of the notes, or at least as much as
remained of that which he had changed; and after exchanging promises
with the widow and her relatives to keep the matter secret, departed
homewards. The young woman, Mrs. Warner's daughter, who had brought the
letter to Watley, was, Caleb noticed, the very image of her mother, or,
rather, of what her mother must have been when young. This remarkable
resemblance it was, no doubt, which had for the moment so confounded and
agitated Mr. Lisle.
Nothing occurred for about a fortnight after Caleb's return to disquiet
him, and he had begun to feel tolerably sure that his discovery of the
notes would remain unsuspected, when, one afternoon, the sudden and
impetuous entrance of Mr. Sowerby into his stall caused him to jump up
from his seat with surprise and alarm. The attorney's face was deathly
white, his eyes glared like a wild beast's, and his whole appearance
exhibited uncontrollable agitation. "A word with you, Mr. Jennings," he
gasped—"a word in private, and at once!" Caleb, in scarcely less
consternation than his visitor, led the way into his inner room, and
closed the door.
"Restore—give back," screamed the attorney, vainly struggling to
dissemble the agitation which convulsed him—"that—that which you have
purloined from the chest of drawers!"
The hot blood rushed to Caleb's face and temples; the wild vehemence and
suddenness of the demand confounded him; and certain previous dim
suspicions that the law might not only pronounce what he had done
illegal, but possibly felonious, returned upon him with terrible force,
and he quite lost his presence of mind.
"I can't—I can't," he stammered. "It's gone—given away"—
"Gone!" shouted, or, more correctly, howled—Sowerby, at the
same time flying at Caleb's throat as if he would throttle him.
"Gone—given away! You lie—you want to drive a bargain with
This was a species of attack which Jennings was at no loss how to meet.
He shook the attorney roughly off, and hurled him, in the midst of his
vituperation, to the further end of the room.
They then stood glaring at each other in silence, till the attorney,
mastering himself as well as he could, essayed another and more rational
mode of attaining his purpose:—
"Come, come, Jennings," he said, "don't be a fool. Let us understand each
other. I have just discovered a paper, a memorandum of what you have
found in the drawers, and to obtain which you bought them. I don't care
for the money—keep it; only give me the papers—documents."
"Papers—documents!" ejaculated Caleb, in unfeigned surprise.
"Yes—yes; of use to me only. You, I remember, cannot read writing; but
they are of great consequence to me—to me only, I tell you."
"You can't mean Mrs. Warner's letter?"
"No—no; curse the letter! You are playing with a tiger! Keep the money,
I tell you; but give up the papers—documents—or I'll transport you!"
shouted Sowerby with reviving fury.
Caleb, thoroughly bewildered, could only mechanically ejaculate that he
had no papers or documents.
The rage of the attorney when he found he could extract nothing from
Jennings was frightful. He literally foamed with passion, uttered the
wildest threats; and then suddenly changing his key, offered the
astounded cobbler one—two—three thousand pounds—any sum he chose to
name, for the papers—documents! This scene of alternate violence and
cajolery lasted nearly an hour; and then Sowerby rushed from the house as
if pursued by the furies, and leaving his auditor in a state of thorough
bewilderment and dismay. It occurred to Caleb, as soon as his mind had
settled into something like order, that there might be another secret
drawer; and the recollection of Mr. Lisle's journey to London recurred
suggestively to him. Another long and eager search, however, proved
fruitless; and the suspicion was given up, or, more correctly, weakened.
As soon as it was light the next morning, Mr. Sowerby was again with
him. He was more guarded now, and was at length convinced that Jennings
had no paper or document to give up. "It was only some important
memoranda," observed the attorney carelessly, "that would save me a
world of trouble in a lawsuit I shall have to bring against some heavy
debtors to Mr. Lisle's estate; but I must do as well as I can without
them. Good morning." Just as he reached the door a sudden thought
appeared to strike him. He stopped and said, "By the way, Jennings, in
the hurry of business I forgot that Mr. Lisle had told me the chest of
drawers you bought, and a few other articles, were family relics which
he wished to be given to certain parties he named. The other things I
have got; and you, I suppose, will let me have the drawers for—say a
pound profit on your bargain?"
Caleb was not the acutest man in the world; but this sudden proposition,
carelessly as it was made, suggested curious thoughts. "No," he answered;
"I shall not part with it. I shall keep it as a memorial of Mr. Lisle."
Sowerby's face assumed as Caleb spoke, a ferocious expression. "Shall
you?" said he. "Then, be sure, my fine fellow, that you shall also have
something to remember me by as long as you live."
He then went away, and a few days afterwards Caleb was served with a writ
for the recovery of the two hundred pounds.
The affair made a great noise in the place; and Caleb's conduct being
very generally approved, a subscription was set on foot to defray the
cost of defending the action—one Hayling, a rival attorney to Sowerby,
having asserted that the words used by the proprietor of the chest of
drawers at the sale barred his claim to the money found in them. This
wise gentleman was intrusted with the defence; and strange to say, the
jury—a common one—spite of the direction of the judge returned a
verdict for the defendant, upon the ground that Sowerby's jocular or
sneering remark amounted to a serious, valid leave and license to sell
two hundred pounds for five pounds ten shillings!
Sowerby obtained, as a matter of course, a rule for a new trial; and a
fresh action was brought. All at once Hayling refused to go on, alleging
deficiency of funds. He told Jennings that in his opinion it would be
better that he should give in to Sowerby's whim, who only wanted the
drawers in order to comply with the testator's wishes. "Besides,"
remarked Hayling in conclusion, "he is sure to get the article, you know,
when it comes to be sold under a writ of fi fa." A few days after this
conversation it was ascertained that Hayling was to succeed to Sowerby's
business, the latter gentleman being about to retire upon the fortune
bequeathed him by Mr. Lisle.
At last Caleb, driven nearly out of his senses, though still doggedly
obstinate, by the harassing perplexities in which he found himself,
thought of applying to us.
"A very curious affair, upon my word," remarked Mr. Flint, as soon as
Caleb had unburdened himself of the story of his woes and cares; "and in
my opinion by no means explainable by Sowerby's anxiety to fulfill the
testator's wishes. He cannot expect to get two hundred pence out of you;
and Mrs. Warner, you say, is equally unable to pay. Very odd indeed.
Perhaps if we could get time, something might turn up."
With this view Flint looked over the papers Caleb had brought, and found
the declaration was in trover—a manifest error—the notes never
admittedly having been in Sowerby's actual possession. We accordingly
demurred to the form of action, and the proceedings were set aside. This,
however, proved of no ultimate benefit. Sowerby persevered, and a fresh
action was instituted against the unhappy shoe-mender. So utterly
overcrowed and disconsolate was poor Caleb, that he determined to give up
the drawers which was all Sowerby even now required, and so wash his
hands of the unfortunate business. Previous, however, to this being done,
it was determined that another thorough and scientific examination of
the mysterious piece of furniture should be made; and for this purpose
Mr. Flint obtained a workman skilled in the mysteries of secret
contrivances, from the desk and dressing-case establishment in King
Street, Holborn, and proceeded with him to Watley.
The man performed his task with great care and skill; every depth and
width was guaged and measured, in order to ascertain if there were any
false bottoms or backs; and the workman finally pronounced that there was
no concealed receptacle in the article.
"I am sure there is," persisted Flint, whom disappointment as usual
rendered but the more obstinate; "and so is Sowerby: and he knows too,
that it is so cunningly contrived as to be undiscoverable, except by a
person in the secret, which he no doubt at first imagined Caleb to be.
I'll tell you what we'll do—You have the necessary tools with you. Split
the confounded chest of drawers into shreds—I'll be answerable for the
This was done carefully and methodically, but for some time without
result. At length the large drawer next the floor had to be knocked to
pieces; and as it fell apart, one section of the bottom, which, like all
the others, was divided into two compartments, dropped asunder, and
discovered a parchment laid flat between the two thin leaves, which, when
pressed together in the grooves of the drawer, presented precisely the
same appearance as the rest. Flint snatched up the parchment, and his
eager eye had scarcely rested an instant on the writing, when a shout of
triumph burst from him. It was the last will and testament of Ambrose
Lisle, dated August 21, 1838—the day of his last hurried visit to
London. It revoked the former will, and bequeathed the whole of his
property, in equal portions, to his cousins Lucy Warner and Emily
Stevens, with succession to their children; but with reservation of
one-half to his brother Robert or children, should he be alive, or have
Great, it may be supposed was the jubilation of Caleb Jennings at this
discovery; and all Watley, by his agency, was in a marvelously short
space of time in a very similar state of excitement. It was very late
that night when he reached his bed; and how he got there at all, and what
precisely had happened, except, indeed, that he had somewhere picked up a
splitting headache, was, for some time after he awoke the next morning,
very confusedly remembered.
Mr. Flint, by reflection, was by no means so exultant as the worthy
shoe-mender. The odd mode of packing away a deed of such importance, with
no assignable motive for doing so, except the needless awe with which
Sowerby was said to have inspired his feeble-spirited client, together
with what Caleb had said of the shattered state of the deceased's mind
after the interview with Mrs. Warner's daughter, suggested fears that
Sowerby might dispute, and perhaps successfully, the validity of this
last will. My excellent partner, however, determined, as was his wont, to
put a bold face on the matter; and first clearly settling in his own mind
what he should and what he should not say, waited upon Mr. Sowerby. The
news had preceded him, and he was at once surprised and delighted to find
that the nervous crest-fallen attorney was quite unaware of the
advantages of his position. On condition of not being called to account
for the moneys he had received and expended, about £1200, he destroyed
the former will in Mr. Flint's presence, and gave up, at once, all the
deceased's papers. From these we learned that Mr. Lisle had written a
letter to Mrs. Warner, stating what he had done, and where the will would
be found, and that only herself and Jennings would know the secret. Prom
infirmity of purpose, or from having subsequently determined on a
personal interview, the letter was not posted; and Sowerby subsequently
discovered it, together with a memorandum of the numbers of the
bank-notes found by Caleb in the secret drawer—the eccentric gentleman
appears to have had quite a mania for such hiding-places—of a
The affair was thus happily terminated; Mrs. Warner, her children, and
sister, were enriched, and Caleb Jennings was set up in a good way of
business in his native place, where he still flourishes. Over the
centre of his shop there is a large nondescript sign, surmounted by a
golden boot, which upon a close inspection is found to bear a
resemblance to a huge bureau chest of drawers, all the circumstances
connected with which may be heard, for the asking, and in much fuller
detail than I have given, from the lips of the owner of the
establishment, by any lady or gentleman who will take the trouble of a
journey to Watley for that purpose.