ALFRED HARDIE spent three days writhing in his little lodging. His situation had been sadder, but never more irritating. By right possessor of thousands, yet in fact reduced to one suit, two shirts, and half-a-crown: rich in intellect, yet hunted as a madman: affianced to the loveliest girl in England, yet afraid to go near her for fear of being torn from her again, and for ever. All this could last but one week more; but a week’s positive torture was no trifle to contemplate, with a rival at his Julia’s ear all the time. Suppose she should have been faithful all these months, but in this last week should he worn out and give herself to another: such things had been known. He went to Lincoln’s Inn with this irritating fear tearing him like a vulture. Mr. Compton received him cheerfully, and told him he had begun operations in Hardie versus Hardie: had written to Thomas Hardie two days ago, and inquired his London solicitor, and whether that gentleman would accept service of the writ in Hardie versus Hardie.
“To Thomas Hardie? Why, what has he to do with it?” asked Alfred.
“He is the defendant in the suit.” Then seeing amazement and incredulity on Alfred’s face, he explained that the Commissioners of Lunacy had treated him with great courtesy; had at once furnished him with copies, not only of the order and certificates, but of other valuable documents. “And there,” said he, “lies the order; signed by Thomas Hardie, of Clare Court, Yorkshire.”
“Curse his impudence,” cried Alfred in a fury; “why, sir, he is next door to an idiot himself.”
“What does that matter? Ah, now, if I had gone in a passion and indicted him, there would be a defence directly; ‘no malice, defendant being non compos.‘ Whereas, by gently, quietly suing him, even if he was a lunatic, we would make him or his estate pay a round sum for falsely imprisoning a sane Briton. By-the-by, here is counsel’s opinion on your case,” and he handed him a short opinion of a distinguished Queen’s Counsel, the concluding words of which were these:
3. If the certificates and order are in legal form, and were made and given bona fide, no action lies for the capture or detention of Mr. Hardie.
“Why it is dead against me,” said Alfred. “There goes the one rotten reed you had left me.”
“Singularly dead,” said the attorney coolly; “he does not even say ‘I am of opinion.’ He is in great practice, and hardworked: in his hurry he has taken up the Lunacy Acts, and has forgotten that the rights of sane Englishmen are not the creatures of these little trumpery statutes. No, thank you; our rights are centuries older, and prevail wherever, by good luck, the statutes of the realm are silent; now they are all silent about incarcerating sane men. Besides, he gives no cases. What is an opinion without a precedent? A lawyer’s guess. I thought so little of his opinion that I sent the case to a clever junior, who has got time to think before he writes.” Colls entered soon after with the said junior’s opinion. Mr. Compton opened it, and saying, “Now let us see what he says,” read it to Alfred. It ran thus:
“There was clearly a right of action under the common law and it has been exercised. Anderdon v. Brothers; Paternoster v. Wynn, &c. Such a right can only be annulled by the express terms of a statute: now the 8 and 9 Victoria, cap. 100, sect. 99, so annuls it as against the madhouse proprietor only. That, therefore, is the statutory exception, and tends to confirm the common right. If the facts are as represented (on which, of course, I can form no opinion), Mr. Hardie can safely sue the person who signed the order for his alleged false imprisonment.
“I agree with you that the usual course by praying the Court of Chancery for a Commission de Lunatico Inquirendo, is timorous, and rests on prejudice. Plt., if successful, is saddled with his own costs, and sometimes with Deft.‘s, and obtains no compensation. It seems clear that a jury sitting at Nisi Prius can deal as well with the main fact as can a jury sitting by the order of the Chancellor; and I need not say the costs will go with their verdict, to say nothing of the damages, which may be heavy. On the other hand, an indictment is hazardous; and I think you can lose nothing by beginning with the suit. By having a shorthand writer at the trial, you may collect materials for an indictment, and also feel the pulse of the court; you can then confer upon the evidence with some counsel better versed in criminal law than myself. My advice is to sue Thomas Hardie; and declare in Tort.
“N.B.— I have been thus particular, because Hardie v. Hardie (if carried to a verdict) will probably be a leading case.”
“Who shall decide when counsel disagree?’ inquired Alfred satirically.
“That depends on where they do it. If in court, the judge. If here, the attorney.”
You appear sanguine, Mr. Compton,” said Alfred; “perhaps you would not mind advancing me a little money. I’ve only half-a-crown.”
“It is all ready for you in this drawer,” said Compton cheerfully. “See thirty sovereigns. Then you need not go to a bank.”
“What, you knew I should borrow?”
“Don’t all my clients begin by bleeding me? It is the rule of this office.”
“Then why don’t you give up business?”
“Because I bleed the opposite attorney’s client a pound or two more than my own bleeds me.”
He then made Alfred sign a promissory note for the thirty pounds: advised him to keep snug for one week more, and promised to write to him in two days, and send Thomas Hardie’s answer. Alfred left his address and went from Mr. Compton a lighter man. Convinced of his courage and prudence, he shifted one care off his own shoulders: and thought of love alone.
But, strange as it may appear, two cares are sometimes better for a man than one. Alfred, having now no worry to divert him from his deeper anxiety, was all love and jealousy; and quite overbalanced: the desire of his heart grew so strong it overpowered alike his patience and his prudence. He jumped into a cab, and drove to all the firemen’s stations on the Surrey side of the river, inquiring for Edward. At last he hit upon the right one, and learned that Julia lived in Pembroke Street; number unknown. He drove home to his lodgings; bought some ready-made clothes, and dressed like a gentleman: then told the cabman to drive to Pembroke Street. He knew he was acting imprudently; but he could not help it. And, besides, Mr. Compton had now written to his uncle, and begun the attack: that would surely intimidate his enemies, and turn their thoughts to defence, not to fresh offence. However, catching sight of a gunsmith’s shop on the way, he suddenly resolved to arm himself on the bare chance of an attack. He stopped the cab; went in and bought a double-barrelled pistol, with powder-flask, bullets, wads, and caps complete. This he loaded in the cab, and felt quite prudent after it. The prudence of youth!
He paid off the cab in Pembroke Street, and set about the task of discovering Julia. He inquired at several houses, but was unsuccessful. Then he walked slowly all down the street, looking up at all the windows. And I think, if he had done this the day before, he might have seen her, or she him: she was so often at the window now. But just then she had company to keep her in order.
He was unlucky in another respect. Edward came out of No. 66 and went up the street, when he himself was going down it not so very many yards off. If Alfred’s face had only been turned the other way he would have seen Edward, and all would have gone differently.
The stoutest hearts have their moments of weakness and deep dejection. Few timings are more certain, and less realised by ordinary men than this; from Palissy fighting with Enamel to Layard disinterring a city, this thing is so.
Unable to find Julia in the very street she inhabited, Alfred felt weak against fate. He said to himself, “If I find her, I shall perhaps wish I had never sought her.”
In his hour of dejection stern reason would be heard, and asked him whether all Mrs. Archbold had said could be pure invention; and he was obliged to confess that was too unlikely. Then he felt so sick at heart he was half minded to turn and fly the street. But there was a large yard close by him, entered by a broad and lofty gateway cut through one of the houses. The yard belonged to a dealer in hay: two empty waggons were there, but no men visible, being their dinner-time. Alfred slipped in here, and sat down on the shaft of a waggon; and let his courage ooze. He sighed, and sighed, and feared to know his fate. And so he sat with his face in his hands unmanned.
Presently a strain of music broke on his ear. It seemed to come from the street. He raised his head to listen. He coloured, his eyes sparkled; he stole out on tiptoe with wondering, inquiring face into the street. Once there, he stood spell-bound, thrilling from his heart, that seemed now on fire, to his fingers’ ends. For a heavenly voice was singing to the piano, just above his head; singing in earnest, making the very street ring. Already listeners were gathering, and a woman of the people said, “It’s a soul singing without a body.” Amazing good things are said in the streets. The voice was the voice of Julia; the song was Aileen Aroon, the hymn of constancy. So sudden and full was the bliss, which poured into the long and sore-tried listener at this sudden answer to his fears, that tears of joy trembled in his eyes. “‘Wretch that I was to doubt her,” he said: and unable to contain his longing, unable to wait and listen even to that which had changed his griefs and doubts into rapture, he was at the door in a moment. A servant opened it: “Miss Dodd?” he said, or rather panted; “you need not announce me. I am an old acquaintance.” He could not bear any one should see the meeting between him and his beloved; he went up the steep and narrow stair, guided by the hymn of constancy.
He stopped at the door, his heart was beating so violently.
Then he turned the handle softly, and stepped into the drawing-room; it was a double room: he took two steps and was in the opening, and almost at Julia’s back.
Two young clergymen were bending devotedly one on each side of her; it was to them she was singing the hymn of constancy.
Alfred started back as if he had been stung; and the music stopped dead short.
For she had heard his step, and, womanlike, was looking into her companions’ eyes first, to see if her ear had deceived her. What she saw there brought her slowly round with a wild look. Her hands rose toward her face, and she shrank away sideways from him as if he was a serpent, and her dilated eyes looked over her cringing shoulder at him, and she was pale and red and pale and red a dozen times in as many seconds.
He eyed her sorrowfully and sternly, taking for shame that strange mixture of emotions which possessed her. And so they met. Strange meeting for two true lovers, who had parted last upon their wedding eve.
No doubt, if they had been alone, one or other would have spoken directly; but the situation was complicated by the presence of two rivals, and this tied their tongues. They devoured one another with their eyes in silence; and then Julia rose slowly to her feet, and began to tremble from head to foot, as she looked at him.
“Is this intrusion agreeable to you, Miss Dodd?” said Mr. Hurd respectfully, by way of courting her. She made no reply, but only looked wildly at Alfred still, and quivered visibly.
“Pray, sir,” said Alfred, turning on Mr. Hurd, “have you any right to interfere between us two?”
“None whatever,” said Julia hastily. “Mr. Hurd, I need no one: I will permit no one to say a word to him. Mr. Hardie knows he cannot enter a house where I am-without an explanation.”
“What, before a couple of curates?”
“Do not be insolent to my friends, sir,” said Julia, panting.
This wounded Alfred deeply. “Oh, as you please,” said he. “Only if you put me on my defence before strangers, I shall, perhaps, put you to the blush before them.”
“Why do you come here, sir?” said Julia, not deigning to notice his threat.
“To see my betrothed.”
“Oh, indeed!” said she bitterly; “in that case why have you postponed your visit so long?”
“I was in prison.”
“In the worst of all prisons; where I was put because I loved you; where I was detained because I persisted in loving you, you faithless, inconstant girl.”
He choked at these words; she smiled — a faint, uncertain smile. It died away, and she shook her head, and said sadly —
“Defend yourself, and then call me as many names as you like. Where was this prison?”
“It was an asylum: a madhouse.”
The girl stared at him bewildered. He put his hand into his pocket and took Peggy’s letter. “Read that,” he said. She held it in her hand, and looked him in the face to divine the contents. “Read it,” said he, almost fiercely; “that was the decoy.” She held it shaking in her hands, and stared at it. I don’t know whether she read it or not.
He went on: “The same villain who defrauded your father of his money, robbed me of my wife and my liberty: that Silverton House was a lunatic asylum, and ever since then (Oh, Julia, the agony of that day) I have been confined in one or other of those hells; sane amongst the mad; till Drayton House took fire, and I escaped: for what? To be put on my defence, by you. What have you suffered from our separations compared with the manifold anguish I have endured, that you dare to receive the most injured and constant of mankind like this, you who have had your liberty all this time, and have consoled yourself for my absence with a couple of curates?”
“For shame,” said Julia, blushing to the forehead, yet smiling in a way her companions could not understand.
“Miss Dodd, will you put up with these insults?” said Mr. Hurd.
“Ay, and a thousand more,” cried Julia, radiant, “and thank Heaven for them; they prove his sincerity. You, who have thought proper to stay and hear me insult my betrothed, and put my superior on his defence, look how I receive his just rebuke: Dear, cruelly used Alfred, I never doubted you in my heart, no not for a moment; forgive me for taunting you to clear yourself; you who were always the soul of truth and honour. Forgive me: I too have suffered; for I thought my Alfred was dead. Forgive me.”
And with this she was sinking slowly to her knees with the most touching grace, all blushes, tears, penitence, happiness, and love; but he caught her eagerly. “Oh! God forbid,” he cried: and in a moment her head was on his shoulder, and they mingled their tears together.
It was Julia who recovered herself first, and shrank from him a little, and murmured, “We are not alone.”
The misgiving came rather late: and they were alone.
The other gentlemen had comprehended at last that it was indelicate to remain: they had melted quietly away; and Peterson rushed down the street; but Hurd hung disconsolate about that very entry, where Alfred had just desponded before him.
“Sit by me, my poor darling, and tell me all,” said Julia.
He began; but, ere he had told her about his first day at his first asylum, she moaned and turned faint at the recital, and her lovely head sank on his shoulder. He kissed her, and tried to comfort her, and said he would not tell her any more.
But she said somewhat characteristically, “I insist on your telling me all — all. It will kill me.” Which did not seem to Alfred a cogent reason for continuing his narrative. He varied it by telling her that through all his misery the thought of her had sustained him. Alas, in the midst of their Elysium a rough voice was heard in the passage inquiring for Mr. Hardie. Alfred started up in dismay: for it was Rooke’s voice. “I am undone,” he cried. “They are coming to take me again; and, if they do, they will drug me; I am a dead man.”
“Fly!” cried Julia; “fly! upstairs: the leads.”
He darted to the door, and out on the landing.
It was too late. Rooke had just turned the corner of the stairs, and saw him. He whistled and rushed after Alfred. Alfred bounded up the next flight of stairs: but, even as he went, his fighting blood got up; he remembered his pistol: he drew it, turned on the upper landing, and levelled the weapon full at Rooke’s forehead. The man recoiled with a yell, and got to a respectful distance on the second landing. There he began to parley. “Come, Mr. Hardie, sir,” said he, “that is past a joke: would you murder a man?”
“It’s no murder to kill an assassin in defence of life or liberty; and I’ll kill you, Rooke, as I would kill a wasp, if you lay a finger on me.”
“Do you hear that?” shouted Rooke to some one below.
“Ay, I hear,” replied the voice of Hayes.
“Then loose the dog. And run in after him.”
There was a terrible silence; then a scratching was heard below: and, above, the deadly click of the pistol-hammers brought to full cock.
And then there was a heavy pattering rush, and Vulcan came charging up the stairs like a lion. He was half-muzzled; but that Alfred did not know; he stepped forward and fired at the tremendous brute somewhat unsteadily; and missed him, by an inch; the bullet glanced off the stairs and entered the wall within a yard of Rooke’s head: ere Alfred could fire again, the huge brute leaped on him, and knocked him down like a child, and made a grab at his throat; Alfred, with admirable presence of mind, seized a banister, and, drawing himself up, put the pistol to Vulcan’s ear, and fired the other barrel just as Rooke rushed up the stairs to secure his prisoner; the dog bounded into the air and fell over dead with shattered skull, leaving Alfred bespattered with blood and brains, and half blinded: but he struggled up, and tore the banister out in doing so, just as a heavy body fell forward at his feet: it was Rooke stumbling over Vulcan’s carcass so unexpectedly thrown in his path: Alfred cleared his eyes with his hand, and as Rooke struggled up, lifted the banister high above his head, and, with his long sinewy arm and elastic body, discharged a blow frightful to look at, for youth, strength, skill, and hate all swelled, and rose, and struck together in that one furious gesture. If the wood had held, the skull must have gone. As it was, the banister broke over’ the man’s head (and one half went spinning up to the ceiling). The man’s head cracked under the banister like a glass bottle; and Rooke lay flat and mute, within the blood running from his nose and ears. Alfred hurled the remnant of the banister down at Hayes and the others, and darted into a room (it was Julia’s bedroom), and was heard to open the window, and then drag furniture to the door, and barricade it. This done, he went to load his pistol, which he thought he had slipped into his pocket after felling Rooke. He found to his dismay it was not there. The fact was, it had slipped past his pocket and fallen down.
During the fight, shriek upon shriek issued from the drawing-room. But now all was still. On the stairs lay Vulcan dead, Rooke senseless: below, Julia in a dead faint. And all in little more than a minute.
Dr. Wolf arrived with the police and two more keepers, new ones in the place of Wales and Garrett discharged; and urged them to break into the bedroom and capture the maniac: but first he was cautious enough to set two of them to watch the back of the house. “There,” he said, “where that load of hay is going in: that is the way to it. Now stand you in the yard and watch.”
This last mandate was readily complied with; for there was not much to be feared on the stones below from a maniac self-immured on the second story. But to break open that bedroom door was quite another thing. The stairs were like a shambles already — a chilling sight to the eyes of mercenary valour.
Rooke was but just sensible: the others hung back. But presently the pistol was found sticking in a pool of gore. This put a new face on the matter; and Dr. Wolf himself showed the qualities of a commander. He sent down word to his sentinels in the yard to he prepared for any attempt on Alfred’s part, however desperate: and he sent a verbal message to a stately gentleman who was sitting anxious in lodgings over the way, after bribing high ad low, giving out money like water to secure the recapture, and so escape what he called his unnatural son’s vengeance; for he knew him to be by nature bold and vindictive like himself. After these preliminaries, Doctor Wolf headed his remaining forces — to wit, two keepers, and two policemen, and thundered at the bedroom door, and summoned Alfred to surrender.
Now among the spectators who watched and listened with bated breath, was one to whom this scene had an interest of its own. Mr. Hurd, disconcerted by Alfred’s sudden reappearance, and the lovers’ reconciliation, had hung about the entry very miserable; for he was sincerely attached to Julia. But, while he was in this stupor, came the posse to recapture Alfred, and he heard them say so. Then the shots were fired within, then Wolf and his men got in, and Mr. Hurd, who was now at the door, got in with them to protect Julia, and see this dangerous and inconvenient character disposed of. He was looking demurely on at a safish distance, when his late triumphant rival was summoned to surrender.
Dr. Wolf coaxed.
Dr. Wolf told him he had police as well as keepers, and resistance would be idle.
Dr. Wolf ordered his men to break in the door.
After some little delay, one of the keepers applied a chisel, while a policeman held his truncheon ready to defend the operator. The lock gave way. But the door could not open for furniture.
After some further delay they took it off its hinges, and the room stood revealed.
To their surprise no rush was made at them. The maniac was not even in sight.
“He is down upon his luck,” whispered one of the new keepers; “we shall find him crouched somewhere.” They looked under the bed. He was not there. They opened a cupboard; three or four dresses hung from wooden pegs; they searched the gowns most minutely, but found no maniac hid in their ample folds. Presently some soot was observed lying in the grate; and it was inferred he had gone up the chimney.
On inspection the opening appeared almost too narrow. Then Dr. Wolf questioned his sentinels in the yard. “Have you been there all the time?”
“No, sir. And our eyes have never been off the window and the heads.”
Here was a mystery; and not a clue to its solution. The window was open; but five-and-twenty feet above the paved yard; had he leaped down he must have been dashed to pieces.
Many tongues began to go at once; in the midst of which Edward burst in, and found the two dead men of contemporary history consisted of a dead dog and a stunned man, who, having a head like a bullet, was now come to himself and vowing vengeance. He found Julia very pale, supported and consoled by Mr. Hurd. He was congratulating her on her escape from a dangerous maniac.
She rose and tottered away from him to her brother and clung to him. He said what he could to encourage her, then deposited her in an arm-chair and went upstairs; he soon satisfied himself Alfred was not in the house. On this he requested Dr. Wolf and his men to leave the premises. The doctor demurred. Edward insisted, and challenged him to show a magistrate’s warrant for entering a private house. The doctor was obliged to own he had none. Edward then told the policemen they were engaged in an illegal act; the police had no authority to take part in these captures. Now the police knew that very well; but, being handsomely bribed, they had presumed, and not for the first time, upon that ignorance of law which is deemed an essential part of a private citizen’s accomplishments in modern days. In a word, by temper and firmness, and a smattering of law gathered from the omniscient ’Tiser, Edward cleared his castle of the lawless crew. But they paraded the street, and watched the yard till dusk, when its proprietor ran rusty and turned them out.
Julia sat between Edward and Mr. Hurd, with her head thrown back and her eyes closed; and received in silence their congratulations on her escape. She was thinking of his. When they had quite done, she opened her eyes and said, “Send for Dr. Sampson. Nobody else knows anything. Oh pray, pray, pray send for Dr. Sampson.”
Mr. Hurd said he would go for Dr. Sampson. She thanked him warmly.
Then she crept away to her bedroom, and locked herself in, and sat on the hearthrug, and thought, and thought, and recalled every word and tone of her Alfred; comparing things old and new.
Dr. Sampson was a few miles out of town, visiting a patient. It was nine o’clock in the evening when he got Julia’s note; but he came on to Pembroke Street at once. Dr. Wolf and his men had retired; leaving a sentinel in the street, on the bare chance of Alfred returning. Dr. Sampson found brother and sister sitting sadly, but lovingly together. Julia rose upon his entrance. “Oh, Doctor Sampson! Now is he — what they say he is?”
“How can I tell, till I see ‘m?” objected the doctor.
“But you know they call people mad who are nothing of the kind; for you said so.”
Sampson readily assented to this. “Why it was but last year a surjin came to me with one Jackson, a tailor, and said, ‘Just sign a certificate for this man: his wife’s mad.’ ‘Let me see her,’ sid I. ‘What for,’ sis he, ‘when her own husband applies.’ ‘Excuse me,’ sis I, ‘I’m not a bat, I’m Saampson.’ I went to see her; she was nairvous and excited. ‘Oh, I know what you come about,’ said she. ‘But you are mistaken.’ I questioned her kindly, and she told me her husband was a great trile t’ her nairves. I refused to sign. On that disn’t the tailor drown himself in the canal nixt day? He was the madman; and she knew it all the time, but wouldn’t tell us; and that’s a woman all over.”
“Well then,” said Julia hopefully.
“Ay, but,” said Sampson, “these cases are exceptions after all; and the chances are nine to one he’s mad. Daun’t ye remember that was one of the solutions offered ye, whem he levanted on his wedding-day?” He added satirically, “And couldn’t all that logic keep in a little reason?”
This cynical speech struck Julia to the heart; she could not bear it, and retired to her own room.
Then Dr. Sampson saw his mistake, and said to Edward, with some concern, “Maircy on us, she is not in love with Him still, is she? I thought that young parson was the man now.”
Edward shook his head: but declined to go much into a topic so delicate as his sister’s affections: and just then an alarming letter was delivered from Mrs. Dodd. She wrote to the effect that David, favoured by the wind, had run into Portsmouth harbour before their eyes, and had disappeared, hidden, it was feared, by one of those low publicans, who provide bad ships with sailors, receiving a commission. On this an earnest conversation between Sampson and Edward.
It was interrupted in its turn.
Julia burst suddenly into the room, pale and violently excited, clasping her hands and crying, “He is there. His voice is like a child’s. Oh, Help me! He is hurt. He is dying.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12