THE INQUEST ON JOHN PHILLIPS
Several of the notabilities of the neighbourhood had ridden or driven to the inn, attracted, of course, by curiosity, and the man with the maimed hand immediately joined them as they stood talking apart from the rest of us. Now, I knew all such people of our parts well enough by sight, but I did not know this man, who certainly belonged to their class, and I turned to Mr. Lindsey, asking him who was this gentleman that had just ridden up. He glanced at me with evident surprise at my question.
“What?” said he. “You don’t know him? That’s the man there’s been so much talk about lately—Sir Gilbert Carstairs of Hathercleugh House, the new successor to the old baronetcy.”
I knew at once what he meant. Between Norham and Berwick, overlooking the Tweed, and on the English side of the river, stood an ancient, picturesque, romantic old place, half-mansion, half-castle, set in its own grounds, and shut off from the rest of the world by high walls and groves of pine and fir, which had belonged for many a generation to the old family of Carstairs. Its last proprietor, Sir Alexander Carstairs, sixth baronet, had been a good deal of a recluse, and I never remember seeing him but once, when I caught sight of him driving in the town—a very, very old man who looked like what he really was, a hermit. He had been a widower for many long years, and though he had three children, it was little company that he seemed to have ever got out of them, for his elder son, Mr. Michael Carstairs, had long since gone away to foreign parts, and had died there; his younger son, Mr. Gilbert, was, it was understood, a doctor in London, and never came near the old place; and his one daughter, Mrs. Ralston, though she lived within ten miles of her father, was not on good terms with him. It was said that the old gentleman was queer and eccentric, and hard to please or manage; however that may be, it is certain that he lived a lonely life till he was well over eighty years of age. And he had died suddenly, not so very long before James Gilverthwaite came to lodge with us; and Mr. Michael being dead, unmarried, and therefore without family, the title and estate had passed to Mr. Gilbert, who had recently come down to Hathercleugh House and taken possession, bringing with him—though he himself was getting on in years, being certainly over fifty—a beautiful young wife whom, they said, he had recently married, and was, according to various accounts which had crept out, a very wealthy woman in her own right.