It is a matchless morning in rural England. On a fair hill we see a
majestic pile, the ivied walls and towers of Cholmondeley Castle, huge
relic and witness of the baronial grandeurs of the Middle Ages.
one of the seats of the Earl of Rossmore, K. G. G. C. B. K. C. M. G.,
etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., who possesses twenty-two thousand acres of
English land, owns a parish in London- with two thousand houses on its
lease-roll, and struggles comfortably along on an income of two hundred
thousand pounds a year. The father and founder of this proud old line
was William the Conqueror his very self; the mother of it was not
inventoried in history by name, she being merely a random episode and
inconsequential, like the tanner's daughter of Falaise.
In a breakfast room of the castle on this breezy fine morning there are
two persons and the cooling remains of a deserted meal. One of these
persons is the old lord, tall, erect, square-shouldered, white-haired,
stern-browed, a man who shows character in every feature, attitude, and
movement, and carries his seventy years as easily as most men carry
fifty. The other person is his only son and heir, a dreamy-eyed young
fellow, who looks about twenty-six but is nearer thirty. Candor,
kindliness, honesty, sincerity, simplicity, modesty--it is easy to see
that these are cardinal traits of his character; and so when you have
clothed him in the formidable components of his name, you somehow seem
to be contemplating a lamb in armor: his name and style being the
Honourable Kirkcudbright Llanover Marjorihanks Sellers Viscount-Berkeley,
of Cholmondeley Castle, Warwickshire. (Pronounced K'koobry Thlanover
Marshbanks Sellers Vycount Barkly, of Chumly Castle, Warrikshr.) He is
standing by a great window, in an attitude suggestive of respectful
attention to what his father is saying and equally respectful dissent
from the positions and arguments offered. The father walks the floor as
he talks, and his talk shows that his temper is away up toward summer
"Soft-spirited as you are, Berkeley, I am quite aware that when you have
once made up your mind to do a thing which your ideas of honor and
justice require you to do, argument and reason are (for the time being,)
wasted upon you--yes, and ridicule; persuasion, supplication, and command
as well. To my mind--"
"Father, if you will look at it without prejudice, without passion, you
must concede that I am not doing a rash thing, a thoughtless, wilful
thing, with nothing substantial behind it to justify it. I did not
create the American claimant to the earldom of Rossmore; I did not hunt
for him, did not find him, did not obtrude him upon your notice.
He found himself, he injected himself into our lives--"
"And has made mine a purgatory for ten years with his tiresome letters,
his wordy reasonings, his acres of tedious evidence,--"
"Which you would never read, would never consent to read. Yet in common
fairness he was entitled to a hearing. That hearing would either prove
he was the rightful earl--in which case our course would be plain--or it
would prove that he wasn't--in which case our course would be equally
plain. I have read his evidences, my lord. I have conned them well,
studied them patiently and thoroughly. The chain seems to be complete,
no important link wanting. I believe he is the rightful earl."
"And I a usurper--a--nameless pauper, a tramp! Consider what you are
"Father, if he is the rightful earl, would you, could you--that fact
being established--consent to keep his titles and his properties from him
a day, an hour, a minute?"
"You are talking nonsense--nonsense--lurid idiotcy! Now, listen to me.
I will make a confession--if you wish to call it by that name. I did not
read those evidences because I had no occasion to--I was made familiar
with them in, the time of this claimant's father and of my own father
forty years ago. This fellow's predecessors have kept mine more or less
familiar with them for close upon a hundred and fifty years. The truth
is, the rightful heir did go to America, with the Fairfax heir or about
the same time--but disappeared--somewhere in the, wilds of Virginia, got
married, end began to breed savages for the Claimant market; wrote no
letters home; was supposed to be dead; his younger brother softly took
possession; presently the American did die, and straightway his eldest
product put in his claim--by letter--letter still in existence--and died
before the uncle in-possession found time--or maybe inclination--to--
answer. The infant son of that eldest product grew up--long interval,
you see--and he took to writing letters and furnishing evidences. Well,
successor after successor has done the same, down to the present idiot.
It was a succession of paupers; not one of them was ever able to pay his
passage to England or institute suit. The Fairfaxes kept their lordship
alive, and so they have never lost it to this day, although they live in
Maryland; their friend lost his by his own neglect. You perceive now,
that the facts in this case bring us to precisely this result: morally
the American tramp is rightful earl of Rossmore; legally he has no more
right than his dog. There now--are you satisfied?"
There was a pause, then the son glanced at the crest carved in the great
oaken mantel and said, with a regretful note in his voice:
"Since the introduction of heraldic symbols,--the motto of this house has
been 'Suum cuique'--to every man his own. By your own intrepidly frank
confession, my lord, it is become a sarcasm: If Simon Lathers--'
Keep that exasperating name to yourself! For ten years it has pestered
my eye--and tortured my ear; till at last my very footfalls time
themselves to the brain-racking rhythm of Simon Lathers!--Simon Lathers!
--Simon Lathers! And now, to make its presence in my soul eternal,
immortal, imperishable, you have resolved to--to--what is it you have
resolved to do?"
"To go to Simon Lathers, in America, and change places with him."
"What? Deliver the reversion of the earldom into his hands?"
"That is my purpose."
"Make this tremendous surrender without even trying the fantastic case in
"Ye--s--" with hesitation and some embarrassment.
"By all that is amazing, I believe you are insane, my son. See here
--have you been training with that ass again--that radical, if you prefer
the term, though the words are synonymous--Lord Tanzy, of Tollmache?"
The son did not reply, and the old lord continued:
"Yes, you confess. That puppy, that shame to his birth and caste, who
holds all hereditary lordships and privilege to be usurpation, all
nobility a tinsel sham, all aristocratic institutions a fraud, all
inequalities in rank a legalized crime and an infamy, and no bread honest
bread that a man doesn't earn by his own work--work, pah!"--and the old
patrician brushed imaginary labor-dirt from his white hands. "You have
come to hold just those opinions yourself, suppose,"--he added with a
A faint flush in the younger man's cheek told that the shot had hit and
hurt; but he answered with dignity:
"I have. I say it without shame--I feel none. And now my reason for
resolving to renounce my heirship without resistance is explained.
I wish to retire from what to me is a false existence, a false position,
and begin my life over again--begin it right--begin it on the level of
mere manhood, unassisted by factitious aids, and succeed or fail by pure
merit or the want of it. I will go to America,, where all men are equal
and all have an equal chance; I will live or die, sink or swim, win or
lose as just a man--that alone, and not a single helping gaud or fiction
back of it."
"Hear, hear!" The two men looked each other steadily in the eye a moment
or two, then the elder one added, musingly, "Ab-so-lutely
cra-zy-ab-solutely! "After another silence, he said, as one who, long
troubled by clouds, detects a ray of sunshine," Well, there will be one
satisfaction--Simon Lathets will come here to enter into his own, and I
will drown him in the horsepond. That poor devil--always so humble in
his letters, so pitiful, so deferential; so steeped in reverence for our
great line and lofty-station; so anxious to placate us, so prayerful for
recognition as a relative, a bearer in his veins of our sacred blood--
and withal so poor, so needy, so threadbare and pauper-shod as to
raiment, so despised, so laughed at for his silly claimantship by the
lewd American scum around him--ah, the vulgar, crawling, insufferable
tramp! To read one of his cringing, nauseating letters--well?"
This to a splendid flunkey, all in inflamed plush and buttons and
knee-breeches as to his trunk, and a glinting white frost-work of
ground-glass paste as to his head, who stood with his heels together and
the upper half of him bent forward, a salver in his hands:
"The letters, my lord."
My lord took them, and the servant disappeared.
"Among the rest, an American letter. From the tramp, of course. Jove,
but here's a change! No brown paper envelope this time, filched from a
shop, and carrying the shop's advertisement in the corner. Oh, no, a
proper enough envelope--with a most ostentatiously broad mourning
border--for his cat, perhaps, since he was a bachelor--and fastened with
red wax--a batch of it as big as a half-crown--and--and--our crest for a
seal!--motto and all. And the ignorant, sprawling hand is gone; he
sports a secretary, evidently--a secretary with a most confident swing
and flourish to his pen. Oh indeed, our fortunes are improving over
there--our meek tramp has undergone a metamorphosis."
"Read it, my lord, please."
"Yes, this time I will. For the sake of the cat:
14,042 SIXTEENTH. STREET,
WASHINGTON, May 2.
It is my painful duty to announce to you that the head of our illustrious
house is no more--The Right Honourable, The Most Noble, The Most Puissant
Simon Lathers Lord Rossmore having departed this life ("Gone at last--
this is unspeakably precious news, my son,") at his seat in the environs
of the hamlet of Duffy's Corners in the grand old State of Arkansas,--and
his twin brother with him, both being crushed by a log at a
smoke-house-raising, owing to carelessness on the part of all present,
referable to over-confidence and gaiety induced by overplus of
sour-mash--("Extolled be sour-mash, whatever that may be, eh Berkeley?")
five days ago, with no scion of our ancient race present to close his
eyes and inter him with the honors due his historic name and lofty
rank-in fact, he is on the ice yet, him and his brother--friends took a
collection for it. But I shall take immediate occasion to have their
noble remains shipped to you ("Great heavens!") for interment, with due
ceremonies and solemnities, in the family vault or mausoleum of our
house. Meantime I shall put up a pair of hatchments on my house-front,
and you will of course do the same at your several seats.
I have also to remind you that by this sad disaster I as sole heir,
inherit and become seized of all the titles, honors, lands, and goods of
our lamented relative, and must of necessity, painful as the duty is,
shortly require at the bar of the Lords restitution of these dignities
and properties, now illegally enjoyed by your titular lordship.
With assurance of my distinguished consideration and warm cousinly
regard, I remain
Your titular lordship's
Most obedient servant,
Mulberry Sellers Earl Rossmore.
"Im-mense! Come, this one's interesting. Why, Berkeley, his breezy
impudence is--is--why, it's colossal, it's sublime."
"No, this one doesn't seem to cringe much."
"Cringe--why, he doesn't know the meaning of the word. Hatchments! To
commemorate that sniveling tramp and his, fraternal duplicate. And he is
going to send me the remains. The late Claimant was a fool, but plainly
this new one's a maniac. What a name! Mulberry Sellers--there's music
for you, Simon Lathers--Mulberry Sellers--Mulberry Sellers--Simon
Lathers. Sounds like machinery working and churning. Simon Lathers,
Mulberry Sel-- Are you going?"
"If I have your leave, father."
The old gentleman stood musing some time, after his son was gone. This
was his thought:
"He is a good boy, and lovable. Let him take his own course--as it would
profit nothing to oppose him--make things worse, in fact. My arguments
and his aunt's persuasions have failed; let us see what America can do
for us. Let us see what equality and hard-times can effect for the
mental health of a brain-sick young British lord. Going to renounce his
lordship and be a man! Yas!"