SERGEANT SAUNDERS thought it prudent to let the emotion subside before opening the defendant’s case: so he disarranged his papers, and then rearranged them as before: and, during this, a person employed by Richard Hardie went out and told him this last untoward piece of evidence. He winced: but all was overbalanced by this, that Skinner had not come to bear witness for the Plaintiff.
Sergeant Saunders rose with perfect dignity and confidence,. and delivered a masterly address. In less than ten minutes the whole affair took another colour under that plausible tongue. The tactician began by declaring that the plaintiff was perfectly sane, and his convalescence was a matter of such joy to the defendant, that not even the cruel misinterpretation of facts and motives, to which his amiable client had been exposed, could rob him of that sacred delight “Our case, gentlemen, is, that the plaintiff is sane, and that he owes his sanity to those prompt, wise, and benevolent measures, which we took eighteen months ago, at an unhappy crisis of his mind, to preserve his understanding and his property. Yes, his property, gentlemen; that property which in a paroxysm of mania, he was going to throw away, as I shall show you by an unanswerable document. He comes here to slander us and mulet us out of five thousand pounds; but I shall show you he is already ten thousand pounds the richer for that act of ours, for which he debits us five thousand pounds instead of crediting us twice the sum. Gentlemen, I cannot, like my learned friend, call witnesses from the clouds, from the United States, and from the grave; for it has not occurred to my client strong in the sense of his kindly and honourable intentions, to engage gentlemen from foreign parts, with woolly locks and nasal twangs, to drop in accidentally, and eke out the fatal gaps in evidence. The class of testimony we stand upon is less romantic; it does not seduce the imagination nor play upon the passions; but it is of a much higher character in sober men’s eyes, especially in a court of law. I rely, not on witnesses dropped from the clouds, and the stars, and the stripes — to order; nor even on the prejudiced statements of friends and sweethearts, who always swear from the heart rather than from the head and the conscience; but on the calm testimony of indifferent men, and on written documents furnished by the plaintiff’, and on contemporaneous entries in the books of the asylum, which entries formally describe the plaintiff’s acts, and were put down at the time — at the time, gentlemen — with no idea of a trial at law to come, but in compliance with the very proper provisions of a wise and salutary Act. I shall also lay before you the evidence of the medical witnesses who signed the certificates, men of probity and honour, and who have made these subtle maladies of the mind the special study of their whole life. I shall also call the family doctor, who has known the plaintiff and his ailments, bodily and mental, for many years, and communicated his suspicions to one of the first psychological physicians of the age, declining, with a modesty which we, who know less of insanity than he does, would do well to imitate — declining, I say, to pronounce a positive opinion unfavourable to the plaintiff, till he should have compared notes with this learned man, and profited by his vast experience.
In this strain he continued for a good hour, until the defendants case seemed to be a thing of granite. His oration ended, he called a string of witnesses: every one of whom bore the learned counsel out by his evidence in chief.
But here came the grand distinction between the defendants case and the plaintiff’s. Cross-examination had hardly shaken the plaintiff’s witnesses: it literally dissolved the defendant’s. Osmond was called, and proved Alfred’s headaches and pallor, and his own suspicions. But then Colt forced him to admit that many young people had headaches without going mad, and were pale when thwarted in love, without going mad: and that as to the L. 14,000 and the phantom, he knew nothing; but had taken all that for granted on Mr. Richard Hardie’s word.
Dr. Wycherley deposed to Alfred’s being insane and abnormally irritable, and under a pecuniary illusion, as stated in his certificate: and to his own vast experience. But the fire of cross-examination melted all his polysyllables into guesswork and hearsay. It melted out of him that he, a stranger, had intruded on the young man’s privacy, and had burst into a most delicate topic, his disagreement with his father, and so had himself created the very irritation he had set down to madness. He also had to admit that he knew nothing about the L. 14,000 or the phantom, but had taken for granted the young man’s own father, who consulted him, was not telling him a deliberate and wicked falsehood.
Colt.— In short, sir, you were retained to make the man out insane, just as my learned friend there is retained.
Wycherley.— I think, sir, it would not be consistent with the dignity of my profession to notice that comparison.
Colt.— I leave defendant’s counsel to thank you for that. Come, never mind dignity; let us have a little truth. Is it consistent with your dignity to tell us whether the keepers of private asylums pay you a commission for all the patients you consign to durance vile by your certificates?
Dr. Wycherley fenced with this question, but the remorseless Colt only kept him longer under torture, and dragged out of him that he received fifteen per cent. from the asylum keepers for every patient he wrote insane; and that he had an income of eight hundred pounds a year from that source alone. This, of course, was the very thing to prejudice a jury against the defence: and Colt’s art was to keep to their level.
Speers, cross-examined, failed to conceal that he was a mere tool of Wycherley’s, and had signed in manifest collusion, adhering to the letter of the statute, but violating its spirit for certainly, the Act never intended by “separate examination,” that two doctors should come into the passage, and walk into the room alternately, then reunite, and do the signing as agreed before they ever saw the patient. As to the illusion about the fourteen thousand pounds, Speers owned that the plaintiff had not uttered a word about the subject, but had peremptorily declined it. He had to confess, too, that he had taken for granted Dr. Wycherley was correctly informed about the said illusion.
“In short,” said the judge, interposing, “Dr. Wycherley took the very thing for granted which it was his duty to ascertain; and you, sir, not to be behind Dr. Wycherley, took the thing for granted at second hand.” And when Speers had left the box, he said to Serjeant Saunders, “If this case is to be defended seriously, you had better call Mr. Richard Hardie without further delay.”
“It is my wish, my lud; but I am sorry to say he is in the country very ill; and I have no hope of seeing him here before tomorrow.”
“Oh, well; so that you do call him. I shall not lay hearsay before the jury: hearsay gathered from Mr. Richard Hardie — whom you will call in person if the reports he has circulated have any basis whatever in truth.”
Mr. Saunders said coolly, “Mr. Richard Hardie is not the defendant,” and flowed on; nor would any but a lawyer have suspected what a terrible stab the judge had given him so quietly.
The surgeon of Silverton House was then sworn, and produced the case book; and there stood the entries which had been so fatal to Alfred with the visiting justices. Suicide, homicide, self-starvation. But the plaintiff got to Mr. Colt with a piece of paper, on which he had written his view of all this, and cross-examination dissolved the suicide and homicide into a spirited attempt to escape and resist a false imprisonment As for the self-starvation, Colt elicited that Alfred had eaten at six o’clock though not at two. “And pray, sir,” said he, contemptuously, to the witness, “do you never stir out of a madhouse? Do you imagine that gentlemen in their senses dine at two o’clock in the nineteenth century?”
“No. I don’t say that.”
“What do you say, then? Is forcible imprisonment of a bridegroom in a madhouse the thing to give a gentleman a factitious appetite at your barbarous dinner-hour?”
In a word, Colt was rough with this witness, and nearly smashed him. Saunders fought gallantly on, and put in Lawyer Crawford with his draft of the insane deed, as he called it, by which the erotic monomaniac Alfred divested himself of all his money in favour of the Dodds. There was no dissolving this deed away; and Crawford swore he had entreated the plaintiff not to insist on his drawing so unheard-of a document; but opposition or question seemed to irritate his client, so that he had complied, and the deed was to have been signed on the wedding-day.
All the lawyers present thought this looked really mad. Fancy a man signing away his property to his wife’s relatives!! The court, which had already sat long beyond the usual time, broke up, leaving the defendant with this advantage. Alfred Hardie and his friends made a little knot in the hall outside, and talked excitedly over the incidents of the trial. Mr. Compton introduced Fullalove and Vespasian. They all shook hands with them, and thanked them warmly for the timely and most unexpected aid. But Green and a myrmidon broke in upon their conversation. “I am down on Mr. Barkington alias Noah Skinner. It isn’t very far from here, if you will follow me.” Green was as excited as a foxhound when Pug has begun to trail his brush: the more so that another client of his wanted Noah Skinner; and so the detective was doing a double stroke of business. He led the way; it was dry, and they all went in pairs after him into the back slums of Westminster; and a pretty part that is.
Now as they went along Alfred hung behind with Julia, and asked her what on earth she meant by swearing that it was all over between her and him. “Why your last letter was full of love, dearest; what could you be thinking of to say that?”
She shook her head sadly, and revealed to him with many prayers for forgiveness that she had been playing a part of late: that she had concealed her father’s death from him, and the fatal barrier interposed.
“I was afraid you would be disheartened, and lose your first class and perhaps your trial. But you are safe now, dear Alfred; I am sure the judge sees through them; for I have studied him for you. I know his face by heart, and all his looks and what they mean. My Alfred will be cleared of this wicked slander, and happy with some one —— Ah!”
“Yes, I mean to be happy with some one,” said Alfred. “I am not one of your self-sacrificing angels; thank Heaven! Your shall not sacrifice us to your mother’s injustice nor to the caprices of fate. We have one another; but you would immolate me for the pleasure of immolating yourself. Don’t provoke me too far, or I’ll carry you off by force. I swear it, by Him who made us both.”
“Dearest, how wildly you talk.” And with this Julia hung her head, and had a guilty thrill. She could not help thinking that eccentric little measure would relieve her of the sin of disobedience.
After making known to her his desperate resolution, Alfred was silent, and they went sadly side by side; so dear, so near, yet always some infernal thing or other coming between them. They reached a passage in a miserable street. At the mouth stood two of Green’s men, planted there to follow Skinner should he go out: but they reported all quiet. “Bring the old gentleman up,” said Green. “I appointed him six o’clock, and it’s on the stroke.” He then descended the passage, and striking a light led the way up a high stair. Skinner lived on the fifth story. Green tapped at his door. “Mr. Barkington.”
“Mr. Barkington, I’ve brought you some money.”
“Perhaps he is not at home,” said Mr. Compton.
“Oh, yes, sir, I sent a sharp boy up, and he picked the paper out of the keyhole and saw him sitting reading.”
He then applied his own eye to the keyhole. “I see something black,” said he, “I think he suspects.”
While he hesitated, they became conscious of a pungent vapour stealing through the now open keyhole.
“Hallo!” said Green, “what is this?”
Fullalove observed coolly that Mr. Skinner’s lungs must he peculiarly made if he could breathe in that atmosphere. “If you want to see him alive, let me open the door.”
“There’s something amiss here,” said Green gravely.
At that Fullalove whipped out a tool no bigger than a nutcracker, forced the edge in, and sent the door flying open. The room or den was full of an acrid vapour, and close to them sat he they sought motionless.
“Keep the lady back,” cried Green, and threw the vivid light of his bull’s eye on a strange, grotesque, and ghastly scene. The floor was covered with bright sovereigns that glittered in the lamp-light. On the table was an open book, and a candle quite burnt down: the grease had run into a circle.
And, as was that grease to the expired light, so was the thing that sat there in human form to the Noah Skinner they had come to seek. Dead this many a day of charcoal fumes, but preserved from decomposition by those very fumes, sat Noah Skinner, dried into bones and leather waiting for them with his own Hard Cash, and with theirs; for, creeping awestruck round that mummified figure seated dead on his pool of sovereigns, they soon noticed in his left hand a paper: it was discoloured by the vapour, and part hid by the dead thumb; but thus much shone out clear and amazing, that it was a banker’s receipt to David Dodd, Esq., for L. 14,010, drawn at Barkington, and signed for Richard Hardie by Noah Skinner. Julia had drawn back, and was hiding her face; but soon curiosity struggled with awe in the others: they peeped at the Receipt: they touched the weird figure. Its yellow skin sounded like a drum, and its joints creaked like a puppets. At last Compton suggested that Edward Dodd ought to secure that valuable document. “No no,” said Edward: “it is too like robbing the dead.”
“Then I will,” said Compton.
But he found the dead thumb and finger would not part with the Receipt; then, as a trifle turns the scale, he hesitated in turn: and all but Julia stood motionless round the body that held the Receipt, the soul of the lost Cash, and still, as in life, seemed loth to part with it.
Then Fullalove came beside the arm-chair, and said with simple dignity, “I’m a man from foreign parts; I have no interest here but justice: and justice I’ll dew.” He took the dead arm, and the joint creaked: he applied the same lever to the bone and parchment hand he had to the door: it creaked too, but more faintly, and opened and let out this:—
No. 17. BARKINGTON, Nov. 10, 1847.
Received of DAVID DODD, Esq., the sum of Fourteen Thousand and Ten Pounds Twelve Shillings and Six Pence, to account on demand
For RICHARD HARDIE,
£. 14,010: 12: 6.
A stately foot came up the stair, but no one heard it. All were absorbed in the strange weird sight, and this great stroke of fate; or of Providence.
“This is yours, I reckon,” said Fullalove, and handed the receipt to Edward. “No, no!” said Compton. “See: I’ve just found a will, bequeathing all he has in the world, with his blessing, to Miss Julia Dodd. These sovereigns are yours, then. But above all, the paper: as your legal adviser, I insist on your taking it immediately. Possession is nine points. However, it is actually yours, in virtue of this bequest.”
A solemn passionless voice seemed to fall on them from the clouds,
“No; it is Mine.”
MY story must now return on board the Vulture. Just before noon, the bell the half hours are struck on was tolled to collect the ship’s company; and soon the gangways and booms were crowded, and even the yards were manned with sailors, collected to see their shipmate committed to the deep. Next came the lieutenants and midshipmen and stood reverently on the deck: the body was brought and placed on a grating. Then all heads being uncovered below and aloft, the chaplain read the solemn service of the dead.
Many tears were shied by the rough sailors, the more so that to most of them, though not to the officers, it was now known that poor Billy had not always been before the mast, but had seen better days, and commanded vessels, and saved lives; and now he had lost his own.
The service is the same as ashore, with this exception: that the words “We commit his body to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” &c., are altered at sea, thus: “We commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea shall give up her dead; and the life of the world to come.” At these words the body is allowed to glide off the grating into the sea. The chaplain’s solemn voice drew near those very words, and the tears of pity fell faster; and Georgie White, an affectionate boy, sobbed violently, and shivered beforehand at the sullen plunge that he knew would soon come, and then he should see no more poor Billy who had given his life for his.
At this moment the captain came flying on deck, and jumping on to a gun, cried sharply, “Avast! Haul that body aboard.”
The sharp voice of command cut across the solemn words and tones in the most startling way. The chaplain closed his book with a look of amazement and indignation: the sailors stared, and for the first time did not obey an order. To be sure it was one they had never heard before. Then the captain got angry, and repeated his command louder, and the body was almost jerked in board.
“Carry him to my cabin; and uncover his face.”
By this time nothing could surprise Jackey Tar. Four sailors executed the order promptly.
“Bosen, pipe to duty.”
While the men were dispersing to their several stations, Captain Bazalgette apologised to the chaplain, and explained to him and to the officers. But I give his explanation in my own words. Finding the ship quiet, the purser went to the captain down below, and asked him coolly what entry he should make in the ship’s books about this William Thompson, who was no more William Thompson than he was. “What do you mean?” said the captain. Then the purser told him that Thompson’s messmates, in preparing him last night for interment, had found a little bag round his neck, and inside it, a medal of the Humane Society, and a slip of paper written on in a lady’s hand; then they had sent for him; and he had seen at once that this was a mysterious case: this lady spoke of him as her husband, and skipper of a merchant vessel.
What is that?” roared the captain, who hitherto had listened with scarce half an ear.
Skipper of a merchant vessel, sir, as sure as you command her majesty’s frigate Vulture: and then we found his shirt marked with the same name as the lady’s.”
“What was the lady’s name?”
“Lucy Dodd; and David Dodd is on the shirt.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” cried the captain.
“Didn’t know it till last night.”
“Why it is twelve o’clock. They are burying him.”
“Lucy would never forgive me,” cried the captain. And to the purser’s utter amazement he clapped on his cocked hat, and flew out of the cabin on the errand I have described.
He now returned to the cabin and looked: a glance was enough: there lay the kindly face that had been his friend man and boy.
He hid his own with his hands, and moaned. He cursed his own blindness and stupidity in not recognising that face among a thousand. In this he was unjust to himself. David had never looked himself till now.
He sent for the surgeon, and told him the whole sad story: and asked him what could be done. His poor cousin Lucy had more than once expressed her horror of interment at sea. “It is very hot,” said he; “but surely you must know some way of keeping him till we land in New Zealand: curse these flies; how they bite!”
The surgeon’s eyes sparkled; he happened to be an enthusiast in the art of embalming. “Keep him to New Zealand?” said he contemptuously, “I’ll embalm him so that he shall go to England looking just as he does now — by-the-by, I never saw a drowned man keep his colour so well before — ay, and two thousand years after that, if you don’t mind the expense.”
“The expense! I don’t care, if it cost me a year’s pay. I think of nothing but repairing my blunder as far as I can.”
The surgeon was delighted. Standing over his subject, who lay on the captain’s table, he told that officer how he should proceed. “I have all the syringes,” he said; “a capital collection. I shall inject the veins with care and patience; then I shall remove the brain and the viscera, and provided I’m not stinted in arsenic and spices ——”
“I give you carte blanche on the purser: make your preparations, and send for him. Don’t tell me how you do it; but do it. I must write and tell poor Lucy I have got him, and am bringing him home to her — dead.”
The surgeon was gone about a quarter of an hour; he then returned with two men to remove the body, and found the captain still writing his letter, very sorrowful: but now and then slapping his face or leg with a hearty curse as the flies stung him.
The surgeon beckoned the men in softly, and pointed to the body for them to carry it out.
Now, as he pointed, his eye, following his finger, fell on something that struck that experienced eye as incredible: he uttered an exclamation of astonishment so loud that the captain looked up directly from his letter; and saw him standing with his finger pointing at the corpse, and his eyes staring astonishment “What now?” said the captain, and rose from his seat
“Look! look! look!”
The captain came and looked, and said he saw nothing at all.
“The fly; the fly!” cried the surgeon.
“Yes, I see one of them has been biting him; for there’s a little blood trickling. Poor fellow.”
“A dead man can’t bleed from the small veins in his skin,” said the man of art. “He is alive, captain, he is alive, as sure as we stand here, and God’s above. That little insect was wiser than us; he is alive.”
“Jackson, don’t trifle with me, or I’ll hang you at the yard-arm. God bless you, Jackson. Is it really possible? Run some of you, get a mirror: I have heard that is a test”
“Mirror be hanged. Doctor Fly knows his business.”
All was now flutter and bustle: and various attempts were made to resuscitate David, but all in vain. At last the surgeon had an idea. “This man was never drowned at all” said he: “I am sure of it. This is catalepsy. He may lie this way for a week. But dead he is not. I’ll try the douche.” David was then by his orders stripped and carried to a place where they could turn a watercock on him from a height: and the surgeon had soon the happiness of pointing out to the captain a slight blush on David’s skin in parts, caused by the falling water. All doubts ceased with this: the only fear was lest they should shake out the trembling life by rough usage. They laid him on his stomach, and with a bellows and pipe so acted on the lungs, that at last a genuine sigh issued from the patient’s breast. Then they put him in a warm bed, and applied stimulants; and by slow degrees the eyelids began to wink, the eyes to look more mellow, the respiration to strengthen, the heart to beat: “Patience, now,” said the surgeon, “patience, and lots of air.”
Patience was rewarded. Just four hours after the first treatment, a voice, faint but calm and genial, issued from the bed on their astonished ears, “Good morning to you all.”
They kept very quiet. In about five minutes more the voice broke out again, calm and sonorous —
“Where is my money — my fourteen thousand pounds?”
These words set them all looking at one another: and very much puzzled the surgeon: they were delivered with such sobriety and conviction. “Captain,” he whispered, “ask him. if he knows you.”
“David,” said the captain kindly, “do you know me?” David looked at him earnestly, and his old kindly smile broke out, “Know ye, ye clog,” said he, “why, you are my cousin Reginald. And how came you into this thundering bank? I hope you have got no money here. ‘Ware land sharks!”
“We are not in a bank, David; we are on board my ship.”
“The deuce we are. But where’s my money?”
“Oh, we’ll talk about that by-and-by.”
The surgeon stepped forward, and said soothingly, “You have been very ill, sir. You have had a fit.”
“I believe you are right,” said David thoughtfully.
“Will you allow me to examine your eye?”
The surgeon examined David’s eye with his thumb and finger and then looked into it to see how the pupil dilated and contracted.
He rubbed his hands after this examination; “More good news, captain!” then lowering his voice, “Your friend is as sane as I am.”
The surgeon was right. A shock had brought back the reason a shock had taken away. But how or why I know no more than the child unborn. The surgeon wrote a learned paper, and explained the whole most ingeniously. I don’t believe one word of his explanation, and can’t better it; so confine myself to the phenomena. Being now sane, the boundary wall of his memory was shifted. He remembered his whole life up to his demanding his cash back of Richard Hardie; and there his reawakened mind stopped dead short. Being asked if he knew William Thompson, he said, “Yes, perfectly. He was a foretopman on board the Agra, and rather a smart hand. The ship was aground and breaking up: he went out to sea on a piano: but we cut the hawser as he drifted under, and he got safe ashore.” David’s recovered reason rejected with contempt as an idle dream all that had happened while that reason was in defect The last phenomena I have to record were bodily: one was noted by Mr. Georgie White in these terms: “Billy’s eyes used to be like a seal’s: but, now he is a great gentleman, they are like yours and mine.” The other was more singular: with his recovered reason came his first grey hair, and in one fortnight it was all as white as snow.
He remained a fortnight on board the Vulture, beloved by high and low. He walked the quarter-deck in the dress of a private gentleman, but looking like an admiral. The sailors touched their hats to him with a strange mixture of veneration and jocoseness. They called him among themselves Commodore Billy. He was supplied with funds by Reginald, and put on board a merchant ship bound for England. He landed, amid went straight to Barkington. There he heard his family were in London. He came back to London, and sought them. A friend told him of Green; he went to him, and of course Green saw directly who he was. But able men don’t cut business short. He gravely accepted David’s commission to find him Mrs. Dodd. Finding him so confident, David asked him if he thought he could find Richard Hardie or his clerk, Noah Skinner; both of whom had levanted from Barkington. Green, who was on a hot scent as to Skinner, demurely accepted both commissions; and appointed David to meet him at a certain place at six. He came; he found Green’s man, who took him upstairs, and there was that excited group determining the ownership of his receipt.
Now to David that receipt was a thing of yesterday. “It is mine,” said he. They all turned to look at this man, with sober passionless voice, and hair of snow. A keen cry from Julia’s heart made every heart there quiver, and in a moment she was clinging and sobbing on her father’s neck. Edward could only get his hand and press and kiss it. Instinct told them Heaven had given them their father back, mind and all.
Ere the joy and the emotion had calmed themselves, Alfred Hardie slipped out and ran like a deer to Pembroke Street.
Those who were so strangely reunited could not part for a long time, even to go down the stairs one by one.
David was the first to recover his composure: indeed, great tranquillity of spirit had ever since his cure been a remarkable characteristic of this man’s nature. His passing mania seemed to have burnt out all his impetuosity, leaving him singularly sober, calm, and self-governed.
Mr. Compton took the money, and the will, and promised the Executrix, Skinner should be decently interred and all his debts paid out of the estate. He would look in at 66 by-and-by.
And now a happy party wended their way towards Pembroke Street.
But Alfred was beforehand with them: he went boldly up the stairs, and actually surprised Mrs. Dodd and Sampson together.
At sight of him she rose, made him a low curtsey, and beat a retreat. He whipped to the door, and set his back against it. “No,” said he saucily.
She drew up majestically, and the colour mounted in her pale face. “What, sir, would you detain me by force?”
“And no mistake,” said the audacious boy. “How else can I detain you when you hate me so?” She began to peep into his sparkling eyes to see the reason of this strange conduct
“C’way from the door, ye vagabin,” said Sampson.
“No, no, my friend,” said Mrs. Dodd, trembling, and still peering into his sparkling eyes. “Mr. Alfred Hardie is a gentleman, at all events: he would not take such a liberty with me, unless he had some excuse for it.”
“You are wonderfully shrewd, mamma,” said Alfred admiringly. “The excuse is, I don’t hate you as you hate me; and I am very happy.”
“Why do you call me mamma today? Oh, doctor, he calls me mamma.”
“Th’ audacious vagabin.”
“No, no, I cannot think he would call me that unless he had some good news for us both?”
“What good news can he have, except that his trile is goin’ well, and you don’t care for that”
“Oh, how can you say so? I care for all that concerns him: he would not come here to insult my misery with his happiness. He is noble, he is generous, with all his faults. How dare you call me mamma, sir! Call it me again, my dear child; because then I shall know you are come to save my heart from breaking.” And with this, the truth must be told, the stately Mrs. Dodd did fawn upon Alfred with palms outstretched and piteous eyes, and certain cajoling arts of her sex.
“Give me a kiss then, mamma,” said the impudent boy, “and I will tell you a little bit of good news.”
She bowed her stately head directly, and paid the required tribute with servile humility and readiness.
“Well then,” said Alfred, and was just going to tell her all, but caught sight of Sampson making the most expressive pantomime to him to be cautious. “Well,” said he, “I have seen a sailor.”
“And he is sure Mr. Dodd is alive.”
Mrs. Dodd lifted her hands to heaven, but could not speak. “In fact,” said Alfred, hesitating (for he was a wretched hand at a fib), “he saw him not a fortnight ago on board ship. But that is not all, mamma, the sailor says he has his reason.”
Mrs. Dodd sank on her knees, and said no word to man, but many to the Giver of all good. When she arose, she said to Alfred, “Bring this sailor to me. I must speak with him directly.”
Alfred coloured. “I don’t know where to find him just now.”
“Oh, indeed,” said Mrs. Dodd quietly: and this excited her suspicion; and from that moment the cunning creature lay in wait for Master Alfred. She plied him with questions, and he got more and more puzzled how to sustain his story. At last, by way of bursting out of his own net, he said, “But I am sorry to say his hair has turned white. But perhaps you won’t mind that.”
“And he hadn’t a grey hair.”
“It is not grey, like the doctor’s: it is as white as the driven snow.”
Mrs. Dodd sighed; then suddenly turning on Alfred, asked him, “Did the sailor tell you that?”
He hesitated a moment and was lost.
“You have seen him,” she screamed; “he is in London: he is in the house. I feel him near me:” and she went into something very like hysterics. Alfred was alarmed, and whispered the truth. The doctor sent him off to meet them, and recommended caution; her nerves were in such a state a violent shock, even of happiness, might kill her.
Thus warned, Julia came into the room alone, and while Dr. Sampson was inculcating self-restraint for her own sake, she listened with a superior smile, and took quite a different line. “Mamma,” said she, “he is in the town; but I dare not bring him here till you are composed: his reason is restored; but his nerves are not so strong as they were. Now, if you agitate yourself, you will agitate him, and will do him a serious mischief.”
This crafty speech produced an incredible effect on Mrs. Dodd. It calmed her directly: or rather her great love gave her strength to be calm. “I will not be such a wretch,” she said. “See: I am composed, quite composed. Bring me my darling, and you shall see how good I will be: there now, Julia, see how calm I am, quite calm. What, have I borne so much misery, with Heaven’s help, and do you think I cannot bear this great happiness for my dear darling’s sake?”
On this they proposed she should retire to her room, and they would go for David.
“Think over the meeting, dear, dear mamma,” said Julia, “and then you will behave well for his sake, who was lost to us and is found.”
Husband and wife met alone in Mrs. Dodd’s room. No eye, even of the children, ventured to witness a scene so strange, so sacred. We may try and imagine that meeting; but few of us can conceive it by the light of our narrow experience. Yet one or two there may be-the world is wide, and the adventures and emotions of our race are many.
One by one all were had up to that sacred room to talk to the happy pair. They found David seated calmly at his wife’s feet, her soft hand laid on his white hair, lest he should leave her again: and they told him all the sorrow behind them; and he, genial and kindly as ever, told them all the happiness before them. He spoke like the master of the house, the father of the family, the friend of them all.
But with all his goodness he was sternly resolved to have his L. 14,000 out of Richard Hardie. He had an interview with Mr. Compton that very night, and the lawyer wrote a letter to Mr. Hardie, saying nothing about the death of Skinner, but notifying that his client, Captain Dodd, had recovered from Noah Skinner the receipt No. 17 for L. 14,010 12s. 6d, and he was instructed to sue for it unless repaid immediately. He added Captain Dodd was mercifully restored, and remembered distinctly every particular of the transaction.
They all thought in their innocence that Hardie v. Hardie was now at an end. Captain Dodd could prove Alfred’s soi-disant illusion to be the simple truth. But Compton thought that this evidence had come too late. “What, may we not get up and say here is papa, and it is all true?” cried Julia indignant.
“No, Miss Dodd; our case is closed. And take my advice: don’t subject your father to the agitation of a trial. We can do without him.”
Well then, they would all go as spectators, and pray that justice might prevail.
They did go: and all sat together to hear a matter puzzled over, which had David come one day earlier he would have set at rest for ever.
Dick Absolom was put in to prove that Alfred had put two sovereigns on the stumps for him to bowl if he could; and after him the defendant, Mr. Thomas Hardie, a mild, benevolent, weak gentleman, was put into the box, and swore the boy’s father had come to him with story after story of the plaintiff’s madness, and the trouble it would get him into, and so he had done for the best. His simplicity was manifest, and Saunders worked it ably. When Colt got hold of him, and badgered him, he showed something more than simplicity. He stuttered, he contradicted himself, he perspired, he all but wept
Colt.— Are you sure you had no spite against him?
Colt.— You are not sure, eh?
This candid interpretation of his words knocked the defendant stupid. He made no reply, but looked utterly flabbergasted.
Colt.— Did he not provoke you? Did he not call you an idiot.
Deft.— He might.
Colt. (satirically). — Of course he might. (Laughter.) But did he?
Deft. (plucking up a little spirit). — No. He called me SOFT TOMMY.
This revelation, and the singular appropriateness of the nickname, were so highly relished by an intelligent audience, that it was a long time before the trial could go on for roars. The plaintiff’s ringing laugh was heard among the rest.
The cross-examination proceeded in this style till the defendant began to drivel at the mouth a little. At last, after a struggle, he said, with a piteous whine, that he could not help it: he hated signing his name; some mischief always came of it; but this time he had no option.
“No option?” said Colt. “What do you mean?”
And with one or two more turns of the screw, out came this astounding revelation:
“Richard said if I didn’t put Taff in one, he would put me in one.”
The Judge.— In one what?
Deft. (weeping). — In one madhouse, my lord.
A peal followed this announcement, and Colt sat down grinning. Saunders rose smiling. “I am much obliged to the learned counsel for making my case,” said he: “I need not prolong the sufferings of the innocent. You can go down, Mr. Hardie.”
The Judge.— Have you any defence to this action?
“Certainly, my lord.”
“Do you call Richard Hardie?”
“No, my lord.”
“Then had you not better confine yourself to the question of damages?”
The sturdy Saunders would not take the hint; he replied upon the whole case, and fought hard for a verdict. The line he took was bold; he described Richard Hardie as a man who had acquired a complete power over his weaker brother: and had not only persuaded him by statements, but even compelled him by threats, to do what he believed would be the salvation of his nephew. “Will you imitate the learned counsel’s cruelty? Will you strike a child?” In short, he made a powerful appeal to their pity, while pretending to address their judgments.
Then Colt rose like a tower, and assuming the verdict as certain, asked the jury for heavy damages. He contrasted powerfully the defendant’s paltry claim to pity with the anguish the plaintiff had undergone. He drew the wedding party, the insult to the bride, the despair of the kidnapped bridegroom; he lashed the whole gang of conspirators concerned in the crime, regretted that they could only make one of all these villains smart, but hinted that Richard and Thomas Hardie were in one boat, and that heavy damages inflicted on Thomas would find the darker culprit out. He rapped out Mr. Cowper’s lines on liberty, and they were new to the jury, though probably not to you; he warned the jury that all our liberties depended on them. “In vain,” said he, “have we beheaded one tyrant, and banished another, to secure those liberties, if men are to be allowed to send away their own flesh and blood into the worst of all prisons for life and not smart for it, in those lamentably few cases in which the law finds them out and lays hold of them.” But it would task my abilities to the utmost, and occupy more time than is left me, to do anything like justice to the fluent fiery eloquence of Colt, Q. C., when he got a great chance like this. Tonat, fulgurat, et rapidis eloquentiae fluctibus cuncia proruit et proturbat. Bursts of applause, that neither crier nor judge could suppress, bore witness to the deep indignation Britons feel when their hard-earned liberties are tampered with by power or fraud, in defiance of law; and, when he sat down, the jury were ready to fly out at him with L. 5000 in hand.
Then rose the passionless voice of “justice according to law.” I wish I could give the very words. The following is the effect as I understood it. Lawyers, forgive my deficiencies.
“This is an important, but not a difficult case. The plaintiff sues the defendant under the law of England for falsely imprisoning him in a madhouse. The imprisonment is admitted, and the sufferings of the plaintiff not disputed. The question is, whether he was insane at the time of the act? Now, I must tell you, that in a case of this kind, it lies upon the defendant to prove the plaintiff’s insanity, rather than on the plaintiff to prove his own sanity. Has the defendant overcome this difficulty? Illusion is the best proof of insanity; and a serious endeavour was certainly made to fasten an illusion on the plaintiff about a sum of L. 14,000. But the proof was weak, and went partly on an assumption that all error is hallucination; this is illusory, and would, if acted on, set one half the kingdom imprisoning the other half; and after all, they did not demonstrate that the plaintiff was in error. They advanced no undeniable proof that Mr. Richard Hardie has not embezzled this L. 14,000. I don’t say it was proved on the other hand that he did embezzle that sum. Richard Hardie sueing Alfred Hardie for libel on this evidence might possibly obtain a verdict; for then the burden of proof would lie on Alfred Hardie; but here it lies on those who say he is insane. The fact appears to be that the plaintiff imbibed a reasonable suspicion of his own father’s integrity; it was a suspicion founded on evidence, imperfect, indeed, but of a sound character as far as it went. There had been a letter from Captain Dodd to his family, announcing his return with L. 14,000 upon him, and, while as yet unaware of this letter, the plaintiff heard David Dodd accuse Richard Hardie of possessing improperly L. 14,000, the identical sum. At least, he swears to this, and as Richard Hardie was not called to contradict him, you are at liberty to suppose that Richard Hardie had some difficulty in contradicting him on oath. Here, then, true or false, was a rational suspicion, and every man has a right to a rational suspicion of his neighbour, and even to utter it within due limits; and, if he overstep those, the party slandered has his legal remedy; but if he omits his legal remedy, and makes an attempt of doubtful legality not to confute, but to stifle, the voice of reasonable suspicion, shrewd men will suspect all the more. But then comes a distinct and respectable kind of evidence for the defendant; he urges that the plaintiff was going to sign away his property to his wife’s relations. Now, this was proved, and a draft of the deed put in and sworn to. This taken singly has a very extraordinary look. Still, you must consider the plaintiff’s reasonable suspicion that money belonging to the Dodds had passed irregularly to the Hardies, and then the wonder is diminished. Young and noble minds have in every age done generous, self-denying, and delicate acts. The older we get, the less likely we are to be incarcerated for a crime of this character; but we are not to imprison youth and chivalry merely because we have outgrown them. To go from particulars to generals, the defendant, on whom the proof lies, has advanced hearsay and conjecture, and not put their originators into the box. The plaintiff, on whom the proof does not lie, has advanced abundant evidence that he was sane at the time of his incarceration: this was proved to demonstration by friends, strangers, and by himself.” Here the judge analysed the testimony of several of the plaintiff’s witnesses.
“As to the parties themselves, it is curious how they impersonated, so to speak, their respective lines of argument. The representative of evidence and sound reasoning, though accused of insanity, was precise, frank, rational and dignified in the witness-box; and I think you must have noticed his good temper. The party, who relied on hearsay and conjecture, was as feeble as they are; he was almost imbecile, as you observed; and, looking at both parties, it really seems monstrous that the plaintiff should be the one confined as a lunatic, and the defendant allowed to run wild and lock up his intellectual superiors. If he means to lock them all up, even you and I are hardly safe. (Laughter.) The only serious question, I apprehend, is on what basis the damages ought to be assessed. The plaintiffs counsel has made a powerful appeal to your passions, and calls for vengeance. Now I must tell you, you have no right to make yourselves ministers of vengeance, nor even to punish the defendant, in a suit of the kind: still less ought you to strike the defendant harder than you otherwise would — in the vague hope of punishing indirectly the true mover of the defendant and the other puppets. I must warn you against that suggestion of the learned counsel’s. If the plaintiff wants vengeance, the criminal law offers it. He comes here, not for vengeance, but for compensation, and restoration to that society which he is every way fitted to adorn. More than this — and all our sympathies — it is not for us to give him. But then the defendant’s counsel went too far the other way. His client, he says, is next door to an idiot, and so, forsooth, his purse must be spared entirely. This is all very well if it could be done without ignoring the plaintiff and his just claim to compensation. Why, if the defendant, instead of being weak-minded, were an idiot or a lunatic, it would protect him from punishment as a felon, but not from damages in a suit. A sane man is not to be falsely imprisoned by a lunatic without full compensation from the lunatic or his estate: a fortiori, he is not to be so imprisoned by a mere fool without just compensation. Supposing your verdict, then, to be for the plaintiff, I think vindictive damages would be unfair, on this feeble defendant, who has acted recklessly, but under an error, and without malice, or bad faith. On the other hand, nominal or even unsubstantial damages would be unjust to the plaintiff; and perhaps leave in some minds a doubt that I think you do not yourselves entertain, as to the plaintiff’s perfect sanity during the whole period of his life.”
As soon as his lordship had ended, the foreman of the jury said their minds were quite made up long ago.
“Si-lence in the court.”
“We find for the plaintiff, with damages three thousand pounds.”
The verdict was received with some surprise by the judge, and all the lawyers except Mr. Colt, and by the people with acclamation; in the midst of which Mr. Colt announced that the plaintiff had just gained his first class at Oxford. “I wish him joy,” said the judge.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54