Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 52

MR. HARDIE raised the money on his scrip, and at great inconvenience, for he was holding on five hundred thousand pounds’ worth of old Turkish Bonds over an unfavourable settling day, and wanted every shilling to pay his broker. If they did not rise by next settling day, he was a beggar. However, being now a desperate gamester, and throwing for his last stake, he borrowed this sum, and took it within a heavy heart to his appointment with Skinner. Skinner never came. Mr. Hardie waited till one o’clock. Two o’clock. No Skinner. Mr. Hardie went home hugging his five hundred pounds, but very uneasy. Next day he consulted Peggy. She shook her head, and said it looked very ugly. Skinner had most likely got angrier and angrier with thinking on the assault. “You will never see him again till the day of the trial: and then he will go down and bear false witness against you. Why not leave the country?”

“How can I, simpleton? My money is all locked up in the bargains. No, I’m tied, tied to the stake; I’ll fight to the last: and, if I’m defeated and disgraced, I’ll die, and end it.”

Peggy implored him not to talk so. “I’ve been down to the court,” said she softly, “to see what it is like. There’s a great hall; and he must pass through that to get into the little places where they try ’em. Let me be in that hall with the five hundred pounds, and I promise you he shall never appear against you. We will both go; you with the money, I with my woman’s tongue.”

He gave her his hand like a shaky monarch, and said she had more wit than he had.

Mr. Heathfield, who had contrived to postpone Hardie v. Hardie six times in spite of Compton, could not hurry it on now with his cooperation. It hung fire from some cause or another a good fortnight: and in this fortnight Hardie senior endured the tortures of suspense. Skinner made no sign. At last, there stood upon the paper for next day, a short case of disputed contract, and Hardie v. Hardie.

Now, this day, I must premise, was to settle the whole lawsuit: for while trial of the issue was being postponed and postponed, the legal question had been argued and disposed of. The very Queen’s counsel, unfavourable to the suit, was briefed with Garrow’s views, and delivered them in court with more skill, clearness, and effect than Garrow ever could; then sat down, and whispered over rather contemptuously to Mr. Compton, “That is your argument, I think.”

“And admirably put,” whispered the attorney, in reply.

“Well; now hear Saunders knock it to pieces.”

Instead of that, it was Serjeant Saunders that got maltreated: first one judge had a peck at him: then another: till they left him scarce a feather to fly with; and, when Alfred’s counsel rose to reply, the judges stopped him, and the chief of the court, Alfred’s postponing enemy, delivered his judgment after this fashion:

“We are all of opinion that this plea is bad in law. By the common law of England no person can be imprisoned as a lunatic unless actually insane at the time. It has been held so for centuries, and down to the last case. And wisely: for it would be most dangerous to the liberty of the subject, if a man could be imprisoned without remedy unless he could prove mala fides in the breast of the party incarcerating him. As for the statute, it does not mend the matter, but rather the reverse; for it expressly protects duly authorised persons acting under the order and certificates, and this must be construed to except from the protection of the statute the person making the order.”

The three puisne judges concurred and gave similar reasons. One of them said that if A. imprisoned B. for a felon, and B. sued him, it was no defence to say that B., in his opinion, had imitated felony. They cited Elliot v. Allen, Anderdon v. Burrows, and Lord Mansfield’s judgment in a very old case, the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten.

Judgment was entered for the plaintiff; and the defendant’s ingenious plea struck off the record; and Hardie v. Hardie became the leading case. But in law one party often wins the skirmish and the other the battle. The grand fight, as I have already said, was to be today.

But the high hopes and ardour with which the young lovers had once come into court were now worn out by the postponement swindle, and the adverse events delay had brought on them. Alfred was not there: he was being examined in the schools; and had plumply refused to leave a tribunal that named its day and kept it — for Westminster, until his counsel should have actually opened the case. He did not believe trial by jury would ever be allowed him. Julia was there, but sad and comparatively listless. One of those strange vague reports, which often herald more circumstantial accounts, had come home, whispering darkly that her father was dead, and buried on an island in the South Sea. She had kept this report from her mother, contrary to Edward’s wish: but she implored him to restrain his fatal openness. In one thing both these sorely tried young people agreed, that there could be no marriage with Alfred now. But here again Julia entreated her brother not to be candid; not to tell Alfred this at present. “Oh do not go and dispirit him just now,” she said, “or he will do something rash. No, he must and shall get his first-class, and win his trial; and then you know any lady will be too proud to marry him, and, when he is married and happy, you can tell him I did all I could for him, and hunted up the witnesses, and was his loving friend, though I could not — be-his — wife.”

She could not say this without crying; but she said it for all that, and meant it too.

Besides helping Mr. Compton to get up the evidence, this true and earnest friend and lover had attended the court day after day, to watch how things were done, and, womanlike, to see what pleased and what displeased the court.

The witnesses subpoenaed on either side in Hardie v. Hardie began to arrive at ten o’clock, and a tall stately man paraded Westminster Hall, to see if Skinner came with them. All other anxieties had merged in this: for the counsel had assured him if nothing unexpected turned up, Thomas Hardie would have a verdict, or if not, the damages would be nominal.

At last the court crier cried, with a loud voice, “Hardie v. Hardie.” Julia’s eyes roved very anxiously for Alfred, and up rose Mr. Garrow, and stated to the court the substance of the declaration: “To this,” he said, “three pleas have been pleaded: first, the plea of not guilty, which is a formal plea; also another plea, which has been demurred to, and struck off the record; and, lastly, that at the time of the alleged imprisonment the plaintiff was of unsound mind, and a fit person to be confined; which is the issue now to be tried.”

Mr. Garrow then sat down, very tired of this preliminary work, and wondering when he should have the luck to conduct such a case as Hardie v. Hardie; and leaned forward to be ready to prompt his senior, a portly counsel, whom Mr. Compton had retained because he was great at addressing juries, and no point of law could now arise in the Case.

Colt, Q. C., rose like a tower, knowing very little of the facts, and seeming to know everything. He had a prodigious business, and was rather indolent, and often skimmed his brief at home, and then mastered it in court — if he got time. Now, it is a good general’s policy to open a plaintiffs case warily, and reserve your rhetoric for the reply; and Mr. Colt always took this line when his manifold engagements compelled him, as in Hardie v. Hardie, to teach his case first and learn it afterwards. I will only add, that in the course of his opening he was on the edge of seven distinct blunders; but Garrow watched him and always shot a whisper like a bullet just in time. Colt took it, and glided away from incipient error imperceptibly, and with a tact you can have no conception of. The jury did not detect the creaking of this machinery; Serjeant Saunders did, and grinned satirically; so did poor Julia, and her cheeks burned and her eyes flashed indignant fire. And horror of horrors, Alfred did not appear.

Mr. Colt’s opening may be thus condensed: The plaintiff was a young gentleman of great promise and distinction, on whom, as usual in these cases of false imprisonment, money was settled. He was a distinguished student at Eton and Oxford, and no doubt was ever expressed of his sanity till he proposed to marry, and take his money out of his trustees hands by a marriage settlement. On this his father, who up to that time had managed his funds as principal trustee, showed him great personal hostility for some time, and looked out for a tool: that tool he soon found in his brother, the defendant, a person who, it would be proved, had actually not seen the plaintiff for a year and a half, yet, with great recklessness and inhumanity, had signed away his liberty and his happiness behind his back. Then tools of another kind — the kind that anybody can buy, a couple of doctors — were, as usual, easily found to sign the certificates. One of these doctors had never seen him but for five minutes, and signed in manifest collusion with the other. They decoyed this poor young gentleman away on his wedding morning — on his wedding morning, gentlemen, mark that — and consigned him to the worst of all dungeons. What he suffered there he must himself relate to you; for we, who have the happiness to walk abroad in the air of reason and liberty, are little able to realise the agony of mind endured by a sane man confined among the insane. What we undertake is to prove his sanity up to the very hour of his incarceration; and also that he was quite sane at the time when a brutal attempt to recapture him by violence was made under the defendant’s order, and defeated by his own remarkable intelligence and courage. Along with the facts the true reason why he was imprisoned will probably come out. But I am not bound to prove sinister motives. It is for the defendant to prove, if he can, that he had lawful motives for a lawless act; and that he exercised due precaution, and did not lend himself recklessly to the dark designs of others. If he succeed in this, that may go in mitigation of damages, though it cannot affect the verdict. Our principal object is the verdict, which will remove the foul aspersion cast on my injured client, and restore him to society. And to this verdict we are entitled, unless the other side can prove the plaintiff was insane. Call Alfred Hardie.

And with this he sat down.

An official called Alfred Hardie very loud; he made no reply. Julia rose from her seat with dismay painted on her countenance. Compton’s, Garrow’s, and Colt’s heads clashed together.

Mr. Colt jumped up again, and said, “My Lud, I was not aware the gentleman they accuse of insanity is just being examined for high honours in the University of Oxford.” Aside to Compton, “And if he doesn’t come you may give them the verdict.”

“Well,” said the judge, “of course he will be here before you close your case.”

On this the three heads clashed again, and Serjeant Saunders, for the defendant, popped up and said with great politeness, and affectation of sympathy, “My Lud, I can quite understand my learned friend’s hesitation to produce his, principal witness.”

“You understand nothing about the matter,” said Colt cavalierly. “Call Mr. Harrington.”

Mr. Harrington was Alfred’s tutor at Eton, and deposed to his sanity there; he was not cross-examined. After him they went on step by step with a fresh witness for every six months, till they brought him close to the date of his incarceration; then they put in one of Julia’s witnesses, Peterson, who swore Alfred had talked to him like a sane person that very morning; and repeated what had passed. Cross-examination only elicited that he and Alfred were no longer good friends, which rather strengthened the evidence. Then Giles and Hannah, now man and wife, were called, and swore he was sane all the time he was at Silverton House. Mr. Saunders diminished the effect by eliciting that they had left on bad terms with Mr. Baker, and that Alfred had given them money since. But this was half cured on reexamination, by being set down to gratitude on Alfred’s part. And now the judge went to luncheon; and in came a telegraphic message to say Alfred was in the fast train coming up. This was good news and bad. They had hoped he would drop in before. They were approaching that period of the case, when not to call the plaintiff must produce a vile impression. The judge — out of good nature, I suspect — was longer at luncheon than usual, and every minute was so much gained to Mr. Compton and Julia, who were in a miserable state of anxiety. Yet it was equalled by Richard Hardie’s, who never entered the court but paced the hall the livelong day to intercept Noah Skinner. And, when I tell you that Julia had consulted Mr. Green, and that he had instantly pronounced Mr. Barkington to be a man from Barkington who knew the truth about the fourteen thousand pounds, and that the said Green and his myrmidons were hunting Mr. Barkington like beagles, you will see that R. Hardie’s was no vain terror. At last the judge returned, and Mr. Colt was obliged to put in his reserves; so called Dr. Sampson. Instantly a very dull trial became an amusing one; the scorn with which he treated the opinion of Dr. Wycherley and Mr. Speers, and medical certificates in general, was so droll coming from a doctor, and so racily expressed, that the court was convulsed. Also in cross-examination by Saunders he sparred away in such gallant style with that accomplished advocate that it was mighty refreshing. The judge put in a few intelligent questions after counsel had done, and surprised all the doctors in court with these words: “I am aware, sir, that you were the main instrument in putting down bloodletting in this country.”

What made Sampson’s evidence particularly strong was that he had seen the plaintiff the evening before his imprisonment.

At this moment three men, all of them known to the reader, entered the court; one was our old acquaintance Fullalove, another was of course Vespasian; and the third was the missing plaintiff.

A buzz announced his arrival; and expectation rose high. Mr. Colt called him with admirably feigned nonchalance; he stepped into the box, and there was a murmur of surprise and admiration at his bright countenance and manly bearing.

Of course to give his evidence would be to write “Hard Cash” over again. It is enough to say that his examination in chief lasted all that day, and an hour of the next.

Colt took him into the asylum, and made him say what he had suffered there to swell the damages. The main points his examination in chief established were his sanity during his whole life, the money settled on him, the means the doctors took to irritate him, and then sign him excited, the subserviency of his uncle to his father, the double motive his father had in getting him imprisoned; the business of the L. 14,000.

When Colt sat down at eleven o’clock on the second day, the jury looked indignant, and the judge looked very grave, and the case very black.

Mr. Saunders electrified his attorney by saying, “My advice is, don’t cross-examine him.”

Heathfield implored him not to take so strange a course.

On this Saunders shrugged his shoulders, rose, and cross-examined Alfred about the vision of one Captain Dodd he had seen, and about his suspicions of his father. “Had not Richard Hardie always been a kind and liberal father?” To this he assented. “Had he not sacrificed a large fortune to his creditors?” Plaintiff believed so. “On reflection, then, did not plaintiff think he must have been under an illusion?” No; he had gone by direct evidence.

Confining himself sagaciously to this one question, and exerting all his skill and pertinacity, Saunders succeeded in convincing the court that the Hard Cash was a myth: a pure chimera. The defendant’s case looked up; for there are many intelligent madmen with a single illusion.

The reexamination was of course very short, but telling; for Alfred swore that Miss Julia Dodd had helped him to carry home the phantom of her father, and that Miss Dodd had a letter from her father to say that he was about to sail with the other phantom, the L. 14,000.

Here Mr. Saunders interposed, and said that evidence was inadmissible. Let him call Miss Dodd.

Colt.— How do you know I’m not going to call her?

The Judge.— If you are, it is superfluous; if not, it is inadmissible.

Mr. Compton cast an inquiring glance up at a certain gallery. A beautiful girl bowed her head in reply, with a warm blush and such a flash of her eye, and Mr. Colt said, “As my learned friend was afraid to cross-examine the plaintiff on any point but this, and as I mean to respond to his challenge, and call Miss Dodd, I will not trouble the plaintiff any further.”

Through the whole ordeal Alfred showed a certain flavour of Eton and Oxford that won all hearts. His replies were frank and honest, and under cross-examination he was no more to be irritated than if Saunders had been Harrow bowling at him, or the Robin sparring with him. The serjeant, who was a gentleman, indicated some little regret at the possible annoyance he was causing him. Alfred replied with a grand air of good fellowship, “Do not think so poorly of me as to suppose I feel aggrieved because you are an able advocate and do your duty to your client, sir.”

The Judge.— That is very handsomely said. I am afraid you have got an awkward customer, in a case of this kind, Brother Saunders.

Serjt. S.— It is not for want of brains he is mad, my lord.

Alfred.— That is a comfort, any way. (Laughter.)

When counsel had done with him, the judge used his right, and put several shrewd and unusual questions to him: asked him to define insanity. He said he could only do it by examples: and he abridged several intelligent madmen, their words and ways; and contrasted them with the five or six sane people he had fallen in with in asylums; showing his lordship plainly that he could tell any insane person whatever from a sane one, and vice versa. This was the most remarkable part of the trial, to see this shrewd old judge extracting from a real observer and logical thinker those positive indicia of sanity and insanity, which exist, but which no lawyer has ever yet been able to extract from any psychological physician in the witness-box. At last, he was relieved, and sat sucking an orange among the spectators; for they had parched his throat amongst them, I promise you.

Julia Dodd entered the box, and a sunbeam seemed to fill the court. She knew what to do: her left hand was gloved, but her white right hand bare. She kissed the book, and gave her evidence in her clear, mellow, melting voice; gave it reverently and modestly, for to her the court was a church. She said how long she had been acquainted with Alfred, and how his father was adverse, and her mother had thought it was because they did not pass for rich, and had told her they were rich, and with this she produced David’s letter, and she also swore to having met Alfred and others carrying her father in a swoon from his father’s very door. She deposed to Alfred’s sanity on her wedding eve, and on the day his recapture was attempted.

Saunders, against his own judgment, was instructed to cross-examine her; and, without meaning it, he put a question which gave her deep distress. “Are you now engaged to the plaintiff?” She looked timidly round, and saw Alfred, and hesitated. The serjeant pressed her politely, but firmly.

“Must I reply to that?” she said piteously.

“If you please.”

“Then, no. Another misfortune has now separated him and me for ever.”

“What is that, pray?”

“My father is said to have died at sea: and my mother thinks he is to blame.”

The judge to Saunders.— What on earth has this to do with Hardie against Hardie?

Saunders.— You are warmly interested in the plaintiff’s success?

Julia.— Oh yes, sir.

Colt (aside to Garrow). — The fool is putting his foot into it: there’s not a jury in England that would give a verdict to part two interesting young lovers.

Saunders.— You are attached to him?

Julia.— Ah, that I do.

This burst, intended for poor Alfred, not the court, baffled cross-examination and grammar and everything else. Saunders was wise and generous, and said no more.

Colt cast a glance of triumph, and declined to reexamine. He always let well alone. The judge, however, evinced a desire to trace the fourteen thousand pounds from Calcutta; but Julia could not help him: that mysterious sum had been announced by letter as about to sail, and then no more was heard about it till Alfred accused his father of having it. All endeavours to fill this hiatus failed. However, Julia, observing that in courts material objects affect the mind most, had provided herself with all the pieces de conviction she could find, and she produced her father’s empty pocket-book, and said, when he was brought home senseless, this was in his breast-pocket.

“Hand it up to me,” said the judge. He examined it, and said it had been in the water.

“Captain Dodd was wrecked off the French coast,” suggested Mr. Saunders.

“My learned friend had better go into the witness-box, if he means to give evidence,” said Mr. Colt.

“You are very much afraid of a very little truth,” retorted Saunders.

The judge stopped this sham rencontre, by asking the witness whether her father had been wrecked. She said “Yes.”

“And that is how the money was lost,” persisted Saunders.

“Possibly,” said the judge.

“I’m darned if it was,” said Joshua Fullalove composedly.

Instantly, all heads were turned in amazement at this audacious interruption to the soporific decorum of an English court. The transatlantic citizen received this battery of eyes with complete imperturbability.

“Si-lence!” roared the crier, awaking from a nap, with an instinct that something unusual had happened. But the shrewd old judge had caught the sincerity with which the words were uttered, and put on his spectacles to examine the speaker.

“Are you for the plaintiff or the defendant?”

“I don’t know either of ’em from Adam, my lord. But I know Captain Dodd’s pocket-book by the bullet-hole.”

“Indeed! You had better call this witness, Mr. Colt.”

Your lordship must excuse me; I am quite content with my evidence,” said the wary advocate.

“Well then, I shall call him as amicus curiae; and the defendant’s counsel can cross-examine him.”

Fullalove went into the box, was sworn, identified the pocket-book, and swore he had seen fourteen thousand pounds in it on two occasions. With very little prompting, he told the sea-fight, and the Indian darkie’s attempt to steal the money, and pointed out Vespasian as the rival darkie who had baffled the attempt. Then he told the shipwreck to an audience now breathless — and imagine the astonished interest with which Julia and Edward listened to this stranger telling them the new strange story of their own father! — and lastly, the attempt of the two French wreckers and assassins, and how it had been baffled. And so the mythical cash was tracked to Boulogne.

The judge then put this question, “Did Captain Dodd tell you what he intended to do with it?”

Fullalove (reverently). — I think, my lord, he said he was going to give it to his wife. (Sharply.) Well, what is it, old hoss? What are you making mugs at me for? Don’t you know it’s clean against law to telegraph a citizen in the witness-box?

The Judge.— This won’t do; this won’t do.

The Crier.— Silence in the court.

“Do you hyar now what his lordship says?” said Fullalove, with ready tact. “If you know anything more, come up hyar and swear it like an enlightened citizen; do you think I am going to swear for tew?” With this Vespasian and Fullalove proceeded to change places amidst roars of laughter at the cool off-hand way this pair arranged forensicalities; but Serjeant Saunders requested Fullalove to stay where he was. “Pray sir,” said he slowly, “who retained you for a witness in this cause?”

Fullalove looked puzzled.

“Of course somebody asked you to drop in here so very accidentally: come now, who was it?”

“I’m God Almighty’s witness dropped from the clouds, I cal’late.”

“Come, sir, no prevarication. How came you here just at the nick of time?”

“Counsellor, when I’m treated polite, I’m ile; but rile me, and I’m thunder stuffed with pison: don’t you raise my dander, and I’ll tell you. I have undertaken to educate this yar darkie,”— here he stretched out a long arm, and laid his hand on Vespasian’s woolly pate —“and I’m bound to raise him to the Eu-ropean model.” (Laughter.) “ So I said to him, coming over Westminster Bridge, ‘Now there’s a store hyar where they sell a very extraordinary Fixin; and it’s called Justice; they sell it tarnation dear; but prime. So I make tracks for the very court where I got the prime article three years ago, against a varmint that was breaking the seventh and eighth commandments over me, adulterating my patent and then stealing it. Blast him!” (A roar of laughter.) “And coming along I said this old country’s got some good pints after all, old hoss. One is they’ll sell you justice dear, but prime in these yar courts, if you were born at Kamschatkee; and the other is, hyar darkies are free as air, disenthralled by the univarsal genius of British liberty; and then I pitched Counsellor Curran’s bunkum into this darkie, and he sucked it in like mother’s milk, and in we came on tiptoe, and the first thing we heard was a freeborn Briton treated wus than ever a nigger in Old Kentuck, decoyed away from his gal, shoved into a darned madhouse — the darbies clapped on him ——”

“We don’t want your comments on the case, sir.”

“No, nor any other free and enlightened citizen’s, I reckon. Wal, Vespasian and me sat like mice in a snowdrift, and hid our feelings out of good manners, being strangers, till his lordship got e-tarnally fixed about the Captain’s pocket-book. Vesp., says I, this hurts my feelings powerful. Says I, this hyar lord did the right thing about my patent: he summed up just: and now he is in an everlasting fix himself: one good turn deserves another, I’ll get him out of this fix, any way.” Here the witness was interrupted with a roar of laughter that shook the court. Even the judge leaned back and chuckled, genially though quietly. And right sorrowful was every Briton there when Saunders closed abruptly the cross-examination of Joshua Fullalove.

His lordship then said he wished to ask Vespasian a question.

Saunders lost patience. “ What, another amicus curiae, my lud! This is unprecedented.”

“Excuse my curiosity, Brother Saunders,” said the judge ironically. “I wish to trace this L. 14,000 as far as possible. Have you any particular objection to the truth on this head of evidence?”

“No, my lud, I never urge objections when I can’t enforce them.”

“Then you are a wise man.” (To Vespasian, after he had been sworn), “Pray did Captain Dodd tell you what he intended to do with this money?”

“Is, massa judge, massa captan told dis child he got a branker in some place in de old country, called Barkinton. And he said dis branker bery good branker, much sartiner not to break dan the brank of England. (A howl.) De captan said he take de money to dis yer branker, and den hab no more trouble wid it. Den it off my stomach, de captan say, and dis child heerd him. Yah!”

The plaintiff’s case being apparently concluded, the judge retired for a few minutes.

In the buzz that followed, a note was handed to Mr. Compton; “Skinner! On a hot scent. Sure to find him today. —N.B. He is wanted by another party. There is something curious a-foot.”

Compton wrote on a slip, “For Heaven’s sake, bring him directly. In half an hour it will be too late.”

Green hurried out and nearly ran against Mr. Richard Hardie, who was moodily pacing Westminster Hall at the climax of his own anxiety. To him all turned on Skinner. Five minutes passed, ten, fifteen, twenty: all the plaintiff’s party had their eyes on the door; but Green did not return; and the judge did. Then to gain a few minutes more, Mr. Colt, instructed by Compton, rose and said with great solemnity, “We are about to call our last witness: the living have testified to my client’s sanity, and now we shall read you the testimony of the dead.”

Saunders.— That I object to, of course.

Colt.— Does my learned friend mean to say he objects at random?

Saunders.— Nothing of the kind. I object on the law of evidence — a matter on which my learned friend seems to be under a hallucination as complete as his client’s about that L. 14,000.

Colt.— There’s none ever feared
That the truth should he heard
But they whom the truth would indict.

Saunders.— A court of justice is not the place for old songs; and new law.

Colt.— Really, my learned friend is the objective case incarnate. (To Compton. — I can’t keep this nonsense up for ever. Is Skinner come?) He has a Mania for objection, and with your lordship’s permission I’ll buy a couple of doctors and lock him up in an asylum as he leaves the court this afternoon. (Laughter.)

The judge.— A very good plan: then you’ll no longer feel the weight of his abilities. I conclude, Mr. Colt, you intend to call a witness who will swear to the deceased person’s hand-writing and that it was written in the knowledge Death was at hand.

Colt.— Certainly, my lord. I can call Miss Julia Dodd.

Saunders.— That I need not take the trouble of objecting to.

The judge (with some surprise). — No, Mr. Colt. That will never do. You have examined her, and reexamined her.

I need hardly say Mr. Colt knew very well he could not call Julia Dodd. But he was fighting for seconds now, to get in Skinner. “Call Edward Dodd.”

Edward was sworn, and asked if he knew the late Jane Hardie.

“I knew her well,” said he.

“Is that her handwriting?”

“It is.”

“Where was it written?”

“In my mother’s house at Barkington.”

“Under what circumstances?”

“She was dying — of a blow given her by a maniac called Maxley.”

“Maxley!” said the judge to counsel. “I remember the Queen v. Maxley. I tried him myself at the assizes: it was for striking a young lady with a bludgeon, of which she died. Maxley was powerfully defended; and it was proved that his wife had died, and he had been driven mad for a time, by her father’s bank breaking. The jury would bring in a verdict that was no verdict at all; as I took the liberty to tell them at the time. The judges dismissed it, and Maxley was eventually discharged.”

Colt.— No doubt that was the case, my lord. To the witness. — Did Jane Hardie know she was dying?

“Oh yes, sir. She told us all so.”

“To whom did she give this letter?”

“To my sister.”

“Oh, to your sister? To Miss Julia Dodd?”

“Yes, sir. But not for herself. It was to give to Alfred Hardie.”

“Can you read the letter? It is rather faintly written. It is written in pencil, my lord.”

“I could read it, sir; but I hope you will excuse me. She that wrote it was very, very dear to me.”

The young man’s full voice faltered as he uttered these words, and he turned his lion-like eyes soft and imploring on the judge. That venerable and shrewd old man, learned in human nature as well as in law, comprehended in a moment, and said kindly, “You misunderstand him. Witnesses do not read letters out in court. Let the letter be handed up to me.” This was fortunate, for the court cuckoo, who intones most letters, would have read all the sense and pathos out of this, with his monotonous sing-song.

The judge read it carefully to himself with his glasses, and told the jury it seemed a genuine document: then the crier cried “Silence in the court,” and his lordship turned towards the jury and read the letter slowly and solemnly:

“DEAR, DEAR BROTHER— Your poor little Jane lies dying, suddenly but not painfully, and my last earthly thoughts are for my darling brother. Some wicked person has said you are insane. I deny this with my dying breath and my dying hand. You came to me the night before the wedding that was to be, and talked to me most calmly, rationally and kindly; so that I could not resist your reasons, and went to your wedding, which, till then, I did not intend. Show these words to your slanderers when I am no more. But oh! Alfred, even this is of little moment compared with the world to come. By all our affection, grant me one request. Battered, wounded, dying in my prime, what would be my condition but for the Saviour, whom I have loved, and with whom I hope soon to be. He smoothes the bed of death for me, He lights the dark valley; I rejoice to die and be with Him. Oh, turn to Him, dear brother, without one hour’s delay, and then how short will be this parting. This is your dying sister’s one request, who loves you dearly.

With the exception of Julia’s sobs, not a sound was heard as the judge read it. Many eyes were wet: and the judge himself was visibly affected, and pressed his handkerchief a moment to his eyes. “These are the words of a Christian woman, gentlemen,” he said. And there was silence. A girl’s hand seemed to have risen from the grave to defend her brother and rend the veil from falsehood.

Mr. Colt, out of pure tact, subdued his voice to the key of the sentiment thus awakened, and said impressively, “Gentlemen of the jury, that is our case:” and so sat down.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter52.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33