Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter the Twentieth.

Touching it.

As soon as the general stupefaction was allayed, the general incredulity asserted itself as a matter of course.

The man who first declared that “seeing” was “believing” laid his finger (whether he knew it himself or not) on one of the fundamental follies of humanity. The easiest of all evidence to receive is the evidence that requires no other judgment to decide on it than the judgment of the eye — and it will be, on that account, the evidence which humanity is most ready to credit, as long as humanity lasts. The eyes of every body looked at Geoffrey; and the judgment of every body decided, on the evidence there visible, that the surgeon must be wrong. Lady Lundie herself (disturbed over her dinner invitations) led the general protest. “Mr. Delamayn in broken health!” she exclaimed, appealing to the better sense of her eminent medical guest. “Really, now, you can’t expect us to believe that!”

Stung into action for the second time by the startling assertion of which he had been made the subject, Geoffrey rose, and looked the surgeon, steadily and insolently, straight in the face.

“Do you mean what you say?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“You point me out before all these people —”

“One moment, Mr. Delamayn. I admit that I may have been wrong in directing the general attention to you. You have a right to complain of my having answered too publicly the public challenge offered to me by your friends. I apologize for having done that. But I don’t retract a single word of what I have said on the subject of your health.”

“You stick to it that I’m a broken-down man?”

“I do.”

“I wish you were twenty years younger, Sir!”

“Why?”

“I’d ask you to step out on the lawn there and I’d show you whether I’m a broken-down man or not.”

Lady Lundie looked at her brother-in-law. Sir Patrick instantly interfered.

“Mr. Delamayn,” he said, “you were invited here in the character of a gentleman, and you are a guest in a lady’s house.”

“No! no!” said the surgeon, good humoredly. “Mr. Delamayn is using a strong argument, Sir Patrick — and that is all. If I were twenty years younger,” he went on, addressing himself to Geoffrey, “and if I did step out on the lawn with you, the result wouldn’t affect the question between us in the least. I don’t say that the violent bodily exercises in which you are famous have damaged your muscular power. I assert that they have damaged your vital power. In what particular way they have affected it I don’t consider myself bound to tell you. I simply give you a warning, as a matter of common humanity. You will do well to be content with the success you have already achieved in the field of athletic pursuits, and to alter your mode of life for the future. Accept my excuses, once more, for having said this publicly instead of privately — and don’t forget my warning.”

He turned to move away to another part of the room. Geoffrey fairly forced him to return to the subject.

“Wait a bit,” he said. “You have had your innings. My turn now. I can’t give it words as you do; but I can come to the point. And, by the Lord, I’ll fix you to it! In ten days or a fortnight from this I’m going into training for the Foot–Race at Fulham. Do you say I shall break down?”

“You will probably get through your training.”

“Shall I get through the race?”

“You may possibly get through the race. But if you do —”

“If I do?”

“You will never run another.”

“And never row in another match?”

“Never.”

“I have been asked to row in the Race, next spring; and I have said I will. Do you tell me, in so many words, that I sha’n’t be able to do it?”

“Yes — in so many words.”

“Positively?”

“Positively.”

“Back your opinion!” cried Geoffrey, tearing his betting-book out of his pocket. “I lay you an even hundred I’m in fit condition to row in the University Match next spring.”

“I don’t bet, Mr. Delamayn.”

With that final reply the surgeon walked away to the other end of the library. Lady Lundie (taking Blanche in custody) withdrew, at the same time, to return to the serious business of her invitations for the dinner. Geoffrey turned defiantly, book in hand, to his college friends about him. The British blood was up; and the British resolution to bet, which successfully defies common decency and common-law from one end of the country to the other, was not to be trifled with.

“Come on!” cried Geoffrey. “Back the doctor, one of you!”

Sir Patrick rose in undisguised disgust, and followed the surgeon. One, Two, and Three, invited to business by their illustrious friend, shook their thick heads at him knowingly, and answered with one accord, in one eloquent word —“Gammon!”

“One of you back him!” persisted Geoffrey, appealing to the two choral gentlemen in the back-ground, with his temper fast rising to fever heat. The two choral gentlemen compared notes, as usual. “We weren’t born yesterday, Smith?” “Not if we know it, Jones.”

“Smith!” said Geoffrey, with a sudden assumption of politeness ominous of something unpleasant to come.

Smith said “Yes?”— with a smile.

“Jones!”

Jones said “Yes?”— with a reflection of Smith.

“You’re a couple of infernal cads — and you haven’t got a hundred pound between you!”

“Come! come!” said Arnold, interfering for the first time. “This is shameful, Geoffrey!”

“Why the”—(never mind what!)—“won’t they any of them take the bet?”

“If you must be a fool,” returned Arnold, a little irritably on his side, “and if nothing else will keep you quiet, I’ll take the bet.”

“An even hundred on the doctor!” cried Geoffrey. “Done with you!”

His highest aspirations were satisfied; his temper was in perfect order again. He entered the bet in his book; and made his excuses to Smith and Jones in the heartiest way. “No offense, old chaps! Shake hands!” The two choral gentlemen were enchanted with him. “The English aristocracy — eh, Smith?” “Blood and breeding — ah, Jones!”

As soon as he had spoken, Arnold’s conscience reproached him: not for betting (who is ashamed of that form of gambling in England?) but for “backing the doctor.” With the best intention toward his friend, he was speculating on the failure of his friend’s health. He anxiously assured Geoffrey that no man in the room could be more heartily persuaded that the surgeon was wrong than himself. “I don’t cry off from the bet,” he said. “But, my dear fellow, pray understand that I only take it to please you.

“Bother all that!” answered Geoffrey, with the steady eye to business, which was one of the choicest virtues in his character. “A bet’s a bet — and hang your sentiment!” He drew Arnold by the arm out of ear-shot of the others. “I say!” he asked, anxiously. “Do you think I’ve set the old fogy’s back up?”

“Do you mean Sir Patrick?”

Geoffrey nodded, and went on.

“I haven’t put that little matter to him yet — about marrying in Scotland, you know. Suppose he cuts up rough with me if I try him now?” His eye wandered cunningly, as he put the question, to the farther end of the room. The surgeon was looking over a port-folio of prints. The ladies were still at work on their notes of invitation. Sir Patrick was alone at the book-shelves immersed in a volume which he had just taken down.

“Make an apology,” suggested Arnold. “Sir Patrick may be a little irritable and bitter; but he’s a just man and a kind man. Say you were not guilty of any intentional disrespect toward him — and you will say enough.”

“All right!”

Sir Patrick, deep in an old Venetian edition of The Decameron, found himself suddenly recalled from medieval Italy to modern England, by no less a person than Geoffrey Delamayn.

“What do you want?” he asked, coldly.

“I want to make an apology,” said Geoffrey. “Let by-gones be by-gones — and that sort of thing. I wasn’t guilty of any intentional disrespect toward you. Forgive and forget. Not half a bad motto, Sir — eh?”

It was clumsily expressed — but still it was an apology. Not even Geoffrey could appeal to Sir Patrick’s courtesy and Sir Patrick’s consideration in vain.

“Not a word more, Mr. Delamayn!” said the polite old man. “Accept my excuses for any thing which I may have said too sharply, on my side; and let us by all means forget the rest.”

Having met the advance made to him, in those terms, he paused, expecting Geoffrey to leave him free to return to the Decameron. To his unutterable astonishment, Geoffrey suddenly stooped over him, and whispered in his ear, “I want a word in private with you.”

Sir Patrick started back, as if Geoffrey had tried to bite him.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Delamayn — what did you say?”

“Could you give me a word in private?”

Sir Patrick put back the Decameron; and bowed in freezing silence. The confidence of the Honorable Geoffrey Delamayn was the last confidence in the world into which he desired to be drawn. “This is the secret of the apology!” he thought. “What can he possibly want with Me?”

“It’s about a friend of mine,” pursued Geoffrey; leading the way toward one of the windows. “He’s in a scrape, my friend is. And I want to ask your advice. It’s strictly private, you know.” There he came to a full stop — and looked to see what impression he had produced, so far.

Sir Patrick declined, either by word or gesture, to exhibit the slightest anxiety to hear a word more.

“Would you mind taking a turn in the garden?” asked Geoffrey.

Sir Patrick pointed to his lame foot. “I have had my allowance of walking this morning,” he said. “Let my infirmity excuse me.”

Geoffrey looked about him for a substitute for the garden, and led the way back again toward one of the convenient curtained recesses opening out of the inner wall of the library. “We shall be private enough here,” he said.

Sir Patrick made a final effort to escape the proposed conference — an undisguised effort, this time.

“Pray forgive me, Mr. Delamayn. Are you quite sure that you apply to the right person, in applying to me?

“You’re a Scotch lawyer, ain’t you?”

“Certainly.”

“And you understand about Scotch marriages — eh?”

Sir Patrick’s manner suddenly altered.

“Is that the subject you wish to consult me on?” he asked.

“It’s not me. It’s my friend.”

“Your friend, then?”

“Yes. It’s a scrape with a woman. Here in Scotland. My friend don’t know whether he’s married to her or not.”

“I am at your service, Mr. Delamayn.”

To Geoffrey’s relief — by no means unmixed with surprise — Sir Patrick not only showed no further reluctance to be consulted by him, but actually advanced to meet his wishes, by leading the way to the recess that was nearest to them. The quick brain of the old lawyer had put Geoffrey’s application to him for assistance, and Blanche’s application to him for assistance, together; and had built its own theory on the basis thus obtained. “Do I see a connection between the present position of Blanche’s governess, and the present position of Mr. Delamayn’s ‘friend?’” thought Sir Patrick. “Stranger extremes than that have met me in my experience. Something may come out of this.”

The two strangely-assorted companions seated themselves, one on each side of a little table in the recess. Arnold and the other guests had idled out again on to the lawn. The surgeon with his prints, and the ladies with their invitations, were safely absorbed in a distant part of the library. The conference between the two men, so trifling in appearance, so terrible in its destined influence, not over Anne’s future only, but over the future of Arnold and Blanche, was, to all practical purposes, a conference with closed doors.

“Now,” said Sir Patrick, “what is the question?”

“The question,” said Geoffrey, “is whether my friend is married to her or not?”

“Did he mean to marry her?”

“No.”

“He being a single man, and she being a single woman, at the time? And both in Scotland?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. Now tell me the circumstances.”

Geoffrey hesitated. The art of stating circumstances implies the cultivation of a very rare gift — the gift of arranging ideas. No one was better acquainted with this truth than Sir Patrick. He was purposely puzzling Geoffrey at starting, under the firm conviction that his client had something to conceal from him. The one process that could be depended on for extracting the truth, under those circumstances, was the process of interrogation. If Geoffrey was submitted to it, at the outset, his cunning might take the alarm. Sir Patrick’s object was to make the man himself invite interrogation. Geoffrey invited it forthwith, by attempting to state the circumstances, and by involving them in the usual confusion. Sir Patrick waited until he had thoroughly lost the thread of his narrative — and then played for the winning trick.

“Would it be easier to you if I asked a few questions?” he inquired, innocently.

“Much easier.”

“I am quite at your service. Suppose we clear the ground to begin with? Are you at liberty to mention names?”

“No.”

“Places?”

“No.”

“Dates?”

“Do you want me to be particular?”

“Be as particular as you can.”

“Will it do, if I say the present year?”

“Yes. Were your friend and the lady — at some time in the present year — traveling together in Scotland?”

“No.”

“Living together in Scotland?”

“No.”

“What were they doing together in Scotland?”

“Well — they were meeting each other at an inn.”

“Oh? They were meeting each other at an inn. Which was first at the rendezvous?”

“The woman was first. Stop a bit! We are getting to it now.” He produced from his pocket the written memorandum of Arnold’s proceedings at Craig Fernie, which he had taken down from Arnold’s own lips. “I’ve got a bit of note here,” he went on. “Perhaps you’d like to have a look at it?”

Sir Patrick took the note — read it rapidly through to himself — then re-read it, sentence by sentence, to Geoffrey; using it as a text to speak from, in making further inquiries.

“‘He asked for her by the name of his wife, at the door,’” read Sir Patrick. “Meaning, I presume, the door of the inn? Had the lady previously given herself out as a married woman to the people of the inn?”

“Yes.”

“How long had she been at the inn before the gentleman joined her?”

“Only an hour or so.”

“Did she give a name?”

“I can’t be quite sure — I should say not.”

“Did the gentleman give a name?”

“No. I’m certain he didn’t.”

Sir Patrick returned to the memorandum.

“‘He said at dinner, before the landlady and the waiter, I take these rooms for my wife. He made her say he was her husband, at the same time.’ Was that done jocosely, Mr. Delamayn — either by the lady or the gentleman?”

“No. It was done in downright earnest.”

“You mean it was done to look like earnest, and so to deceive the landlady and the waiter?”

“Yes.”

Sir Patrick returned to the memorandum.

“‘After that, he stopped all night.’ Stopped in the rooms he had taken for himself and his wife?”

“Yes.”

“And what happened the next day?”

“He went away. Wait a bit! Said he had business for an excuse.”

“That is to say, he kept up the deception with the people of the inn? and left the lady behind him, in the character of his wife?”

“That’s it.”

“Did he go back to the inn?”

“No.”

“How long did the lady stay there, after he had gone?”

“She staid — well, she staid a few days.”

“And your friend has not seen her since?”

“No.”

“Are your friend and the lady English or Scotch?”

“Both English.”

“At the time when they met at the inn, had they either of them arrived in Scotland, from the place in which they were previously living, within a period of less than twenty-one days?”

Geoffrey hesitated. There could be no difficulty in answering for Anne. Lady Lundie and her domestic circle had occupied Windygates for a much longer period than three weeks before the date of the lawn-party. The question, as it affected Arnold, was the only question that required reflection. After searching his memory for details of the conversation which had taken place between them, when he and Arnold had met at the lawn-party, Geoffrey recalled a certain reference on the part of his friend to a performance at the Edinburgh theatre, which at once decided the question of time. Arnold had been necessarily detained in Edinburgh, before his arrival at Windygates, by legal business connected with his inheritance; and he, like Anne, had certainly been in Scotland, before they met at Craig Fernie, for a longer period than a period of three weeks He accordingly informed Sir Patrick that the lady and gentleman had been in Scotland for more than twenty-one days — and then added a question on his own behalf: “Don’t let me hurry you, Sir — but, shall you soon have done?”

“I shall have done, after two more questions,” answered Sir Patrick. “Am I to understand that the lady claims, on the strength of the circumstances which you have mentioned to me, to be your friend’s wife?”

Geoffrey made an affirmative reply. The readiest means of obtaining Sir Patrick’s opinion was, in this case, to answer, Yes. In other words, to represent Anne (in the character of “the lady”) as claiming to be married to Arnold (in the character of “his friend”).

Having made this concession to circumstances, he was, at the same time, quite cunning enough to see that it was of vital importance to the purpose which he had in view, to confine himself strictly to this one perversion of the truth. There could be plainly no depending on the lawyer’s opinion, unless that opinion was given on the facts exactly a s they had occurred at the inn. To the facts he had, thus far, carefully adhered; and to the facts (with the one inevitable departure from them which had been just forced on him) he determined to adhere to the end.

“Did no letters pass between the lady and gentleman?” pursued Sir Patrick.

“None that I know of,” answered Geoffrey, steadily returning to the truth.

“I have done, Mr. Delamayn.”

“Well? and what’s your opinion?”

“Before I give my opinion I am bound to preface it by a personal statement which you are not to take, if you please, as a statement of the law. You ask me to decide — on the facts with which you have supplied me — whether your friend is, according to the law of Scotland, married or not?”

Geoffrey nodded. “That’s it!” he said, eagerly.

“My experience, Mr. Delamayn, is that any single man, in Scotland, may marry any single woman, at any time, and under any circumstances. In short, after thirty years’ practice as a lawyer, I don’t know what is not a marriage in Scotland.”

“In plain English,” said Geoffrey, “you mean she’s his wife?”

In spite of his cunning; in spite of his self-command, his eyes brightened as he said those words. And the tone in which he spoke — though too carefully guarded to be a tone of triumph — was, to a fine ear, unmistakably a tone of relief.

Neither the look nor the tone was lost on Sir Patrick.

His first suspicion, when he sat down to the conference, had been the obvious suspicion that, in speaking of “his friend,” Geoffrey was speaking of himself. But, like all lawyers, he habitually distrusted first impressions, his own included. His object, thus far, had been to solve the problem of Geoffrey’s true position and Geoffrey’s real motive. He had set the snare accordingly, and had caught his bird.

It was now plain to his mind — first, that this man who was consulting him, was, in all probability, really speaking of the case of another person: secondly, that he had an interest (of what nature it was impossible yet to say) in satisfying his own mind that “his friend” was, by the law of Scotland, indisputably a married man. Having penetrated to that extent the secret which Geoffrey was concealing from him, he abandoned the hope of making any further advance at that present sitting. The next question to clear up in the investigation, was the question of who the anonymous “lady” might be. And the next discovery to make was, whether “the lady” could, or could not, be identified with Anne Silvester. Pending the inevitable delay in reaching that result, the straight course was (in Sir Patrick’s present state of uncertainty) the only course to follow in laying down the law. He at once took the question of the marriage in hand — with no concealment whatever, as to the legal bearings of it, from the client who was consulting him.

“Don’t rush to conclusions, Mr. Delamayn,” he said. “I have only told you what my general experience is thus far. My professional opinion on the special case of your friend has not been given yet.”

Geoffrey’s face clouded again. Sir Patrick carefully noted the new change in it.

“The law of Scotland,” he went on, “so far as it relates to Irregular Marriages, is an outrage on common decency and common-sense. If you think my language in thus describing it too strong — I can refer you to the language of a judicial authority. Lord Deas delivered a recent judgment of marriage in Scotland, from the bench, in these words: ‘Consent makes marriage. No form or ceremony, civil or religious; no notice before, or publication after; no cohabitation, no writing, no witnesses even, are essential to the constitution of this, the most important contract which two persons can enter into.’— There is a Scotch judge’s own statement of the law that he administers! Observe, at the same time, if you please, that we make full legal provision in Scotland for contracts affecting the sale of houses and lands, horses and dogs. The only contract which we leave without safeguards or precautions of any sort is the contract that unites a man and a woman for life. As for the authority of parents, and the innocence of children, our law recognizes no claim on it either in the one case or in the other. A girl of twelve and a boy of fourteen have nothing to do but to cross the Border, and to be married — without the interposition of the slightest delay or restraint, and without the slightest attempt to inform their parents on the part of the Scotch law. As to the marriages of men and women, even the mere interchange of consent which, as you have just heard, makes them man and wife, is not required to be directly proved: it may be proved by inference. And, more even than that, whatever the law for its consistency may presume, men and women are, in point of fact, held to be married in Scotland where consent has never been interchanged, and where the parties do not even know that they are legally held to be married persons. Are you sufficiently confused about the law of Irregular Marriages in Scotland by this time, Mr. Delamayn? And have I said enough to justify the strong language I used when I undertook to describe it to you?”

“Who’s that ‘authority’ you talked of just now?” inquired Geoffrey. “Couldn’t I ask him?

“You might find him flatly contradicted, if you did ask him by another authority equally learned and equally eminent,” answered Sir Patrick. “I am not joking — I am only stating facts. Have you heard of the Queen’s Commission?”

“No.”

“Then listen to this. In March, ‘sixty-five, the Queen appointed a Commission to inquire into the Marriage–Laws of the United Kingdom. The Report of that Commission is published in London; and is accessible to any body who chooses to pay the price of two or three shillings for it. One of the results of the inquiry was, the discovery that high authorities were of entirely contrary opinions on one of the vital questions of Scottish marriage-law. And the Commissioners, in announcing that fact, add that the question of which opinion is right is still disputed, and has never been made the subject of legal decision. Authorities are every where at variance throughout the Report. A haze of doubt and uncertainty hangs in Scotland over the most important contract of civilized life. If no other reason existed for reforming the Scotch marriage-law, there would be reason enough afforded by that one fact. An uncertain marriage-law is a national calamity.”

“You can tell me what you think yourself about my friend’s case — can’t you?” said Geoffrey, still holding obstinately to the end that he had in view.

“Certainly. Now that I have given you due warning of the danger of implicitly relying on any individual opinion, I may give my opinion with a clear conscience. I say that there has not been a positive marriage in this case. There has been evidence in favor of possibly establishing a marriage — nothing more.”

The distinction here was far too fine to be appreciated by Geoffrey’s mind. He frowned heavily, in bewilderment and disgust.

“Not married!” he exclaimed, “when they said they were man and wife, before witnesses?”

“That is a common popular error,” said Sir Patrick. “As I have already told you, witnesses are not legally necessary to make a marriage in Scotland. They are only valuable — as in this case — to help, at some future time, in proving a marriage that is in dispute.”

Geoffrey caught at the last words.

“The landlady and the waiter might make it out to be a marriage, then?” he said.

“Yes. And, remember, if you choose to apply to one of my professional colleagues, he might possibly tell you they were married already. A state of the law which allows the interchange of matrimonial consent to be proved by inference leaves a wide door open to conjecture. Your friend refers to a certain lady, in so many words, as his wife. The lady refers to your friend, in so many words, as her husband. In the rooms which they have taken, as man and wife, they remain, as man and wife, till the next morning. Your friend goes away, without undeceiving any body. The lady stays at the inn, for some days after, in the character of his wife. And all these circumstances take place in the presence o f competent witnesses. Logically — if not legally — there is apparently an inference of the interchange of matrimonial consent here. I stick to my own opinion, nevertheless. Evidence in proof of a marriage (I say)— nothing more.”

While Sir Patrick had been speaking, Geoffrey had been considering with himself. By dint of hard thinking he had found his way to a decisive question on his side.

“Look here!” he said, dropping his heavy hand down on the table. “I want to bring you to book, Sir! Suppose my friend had another lady in his eye?”

“Yes?”

“As things are now — would you advise him to marry her?”

“As things are now — certainly not!”

Geoffrey got briskly on his legs, and closed the interview.

“That will do,” he said, “for him and for me.”

With those words he walked back, without ceremony, into the main thoroughfare of the room.

“I don’t know who your friend is,” thought Sir Patrick, looking after him. “But if your interest in the question of his marriage is an honest and a harmless interest, I know no more of human nature than the babe unborn!”

Immediately on leaving Sir Patrick, Geoffrey was encountered by one of the servants in search of him.

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” began the man. “The groom from the Honorable Mr. Delamayn’s —”

“Yes? The fellow who brought me a note from my brother this morning?”

“He’s expected back, Sir — he’s afraid he mustn’t wait any longer.”

“Come here, and I’ll give you the answer for him.”

He led the way to the writing-table, and referred to Julius’s letter again. He ran his eye carelessly over it, until he reached the final lines: “Come to-morrow, and help us to receive Mrs. Glenarm.” For a while he paused, with his eye fixed on that sentence; and with the happiness of three people — of Anne, who had loved him; of Arnold, who had served him; of Blanche, guiltless of injuring him — resting on the decision that guided his movements for the next day. After what had passed that morning between Arnold and Blanche, if he remained at Lady Lundie’s, he had no alternative but to perform his promise to Anne. If he returned to his brother’s house, he had no alternative but to desert Anne, on the infamous pretext that she was Arnold’s wife.

He suddenly tossed the letter away from him on the table, and snatched a sheet of note-paper out of the writing-case. “Here goes for Mrs. Glenarm!” he said to himself; and wrote back to his brother, in one line: “Dear Julius, Expect me to-morrow. G. D.” The impassible man-servant stood by while he wrote, looking at his magnificent breadth of chest, and thinking what a glorious “staying-power” was there for the last terrible mile of the coming race.

“There you are!” he said, and handed his note to the man.

“All right, Geoffrey?” asked a friendly voice behind him.

He turned — and saw Arnold, anxious for news of the consultation with Sir Patrick.

“Yes,” he said. “All right.”

—————— NOTE. — There are certain readers who feel a
disposition to doubt Facts, when they meet with them in a work of
fiction. Persons of this way of thinking may be profitably
referred to the book which first suggested to me the idea of
writing the present Novel. The book is the Report of the Royal
Commissioners on The Laws of Marriage. Published by the Queen’s
Printers For her Majesty’s Stationery Office. (London, 1868.)
What Sir Patrick says professionally of Scotch Marriages in this
chapter is taken from this high authority. What the lawyer (in
the Prologue) says professionally of Irish Marriages is also
derived from the same source. It is needless to encumber these
pages with quotations. But as a means of satisfying my readers
that they may depend on me, I subjoin an extract from my list of
references to the Report of the Marriage Commission, which any
persons who may be so inclined can verify for themselves.

Irish Marriages (In the Prologue). — See Report, pages XII.,
XIII., XXIV.

Irregular Marriages in Scotland.— Statement of the law by Lord
Deas. Report, page XVI. — Marriages of children of tender years.
Examination of Mr. Muirhead by Lord Chelmsford (Question
689). — Interchange of consent, established by inference.
Examination of Mr. Muirhead by the Lord Justice Clerk (Question
654)— Marriage where consent has never been interchanged.
Observations of Lord Deas. Report, page XIX. — Contradiction of
opinions between authorities. Report, pages XIX., XX. — Legal
provision for the sale of horses and dogs. No legal provision for
the marriage of men and women. Mr. Seeton’s Remarks. Report, page
XXX. — Conclusion of the Commissioners. In spite of the arguments
advanced before them in favor of not interfering with Irregular
Marriages in Scotland, the Commissioners declare their opinion
that “Such marriages ought not to continue.” (Report, page
XXXIV.)

In reference to the arguments (alluded to above) in favor of
allowing the present disgraceful state of things to continue, I
find them resting mainly on these grounds: That Scotland doesn’t
like being interfered with by England (!). That Irregular
Marriages cost nothing (!!). That they are diminishing in number,
and may therefore be trusted, in course of time, to exhaust
themselves (!!!). That they act, on certain occasions, in the
capacity of a moral trap to catch a profligate man (!!!!). Such
is the elevated point of view from which the Institution of
Marriage is regarded by some of the most pious and learned men in
Scotland. A legal enactment providing for the sale of your wife,
when you have done with her, or of your husband; when you “really
can’t put up with him any longer,” appears to be all that is
wanting to render this North British estimate of the “Estate of
Matrimony” practically complete. It is only fair to add that, of
the witnesses giving evidence — oral and written — before the
Commissioners, fully one-half regard the Irregular Marriages of
Scotland from the Christian and the civilized point of view, and
entirely agree with the authoritative conclusion already
cited — that such marriages ought to be abolished.

W. C.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30