The Bird of Paradise
Chapter XI. "Myamyn" Deserted, Murmurs of Divorce
Chapter XI. "Myamyn" Deserted, Murmurs of Divorce.
The dying requests, as related in the terminology of the girl, on further information received by Eugene from Dr. Brosie turned out to be an attempt on the part of the private detectives to take the dying depositions of the antiquarian resurrectionist; but the effort proved as futile as the endeavours of the magistrate and the sergeant of police to extricate a final statement from the lips of the brutally murdered wife of Graves in the casualty ward of the Augusta hospital, in which case Marmaduke Payne's forensic abilities had covered him with so much glory. The detectives had taken with them to the old man's side a justice of the peace; they all roared out questions into the old man's ears. From the unconscious Adam there came no response but the vacant far-away stare and the incessant snoring arising from hardpressed respiration centres on the blood-logged palsied brain. He was now beyond the pale of any human wrath, private or departmental. The hopes of the elucidation of the mystery by the agents at Galveston were scattered to the four winds by the old miscreant's death and they began to regard the avulsion1 of the bones as one of the miracles of nature. Lingering inquiries, however, continued to be made by the detectives, who were just beginning to 'pinch upon' the old man before his sudden death. They relaxed their energies after it occurred, peradventure believing that the bones lay not in the earth but in the waters under the earth and that they would be found when the vasty deep gave up its dead.
On the evening of the following day Eugene left Lily Cottage to resume his professional duties in Mobile, where after a boisterous voyage he arrived late at night. Opening the front door of Myamyn with his latch-key, he first noticed on entering the house a telegram addressed to Mrs. Whitworth lying on the linoleum of the passage. It was a departure for the messenger of the telegraph department to slip messages under the door, but he had specially requested the local branch to break through the rule in his case, as, before his wife returned, the two girls were often out walking with the children, and as he was away from home a good deal himself there was not always somebody at Myamyn to receive them. Picking it up from the passage floor and laying it on the surgery table, he felt somewhat impressed by the silence and instinctive feeling of absenteeism in the tenantless house. Walking down the passage he noticed that all the side doors were page 375wide open. Scrutinising every room he could not discover a soul in Myamyn. He stood aghast as he felt suddenly convinced that his wife had gone and taken the children away.
Opening the telegram in his confusion, he found it was from himself; one he had sent on the morning after old Adam's death, advising his wife of his probable return that night, on the off chance of her delivering the message to any patients who might call.
The boudoir suite had been dismantled and removed and the basket chair. Every door and drawer in the chippendale sideboard was thrown open, every relic of the wedding presents removed. The quasi-rustic table-centre ornament with all its fire-gilt brass framework and cut-glass flower-containers was ominously conspicuous by its absence from the pompadour table in the drawingroom, as well as the silver candelabra, the Persian screens, the Peshawur and cymbelline curtains2 and the lyre decorations, the mauve orchid and scarlet anthurium decorations on the walls of Myamyn, which had all gone, he thought undoubtedly to enhance the charms of Edenhall.
Not a sound could be heard outside but the baying and the low, moaning, plaintive howls of the lonesome St. Bernard and the moaning of the wind through the trees like the droning of a child whose grief has got beyond words, or the moaning of a sick child asleep. Prince shambled towards him sinuously fawning upon him and in dumb alphabet telling him that Pearly and Valentine had been taken away. He was one of those men to whom children and horses and dogs attach themselves by a sort of mesmeric or instinctive confidence. Walking away from the disenchanted Myamyn with the sagacious St. Bernard, he entered some of the hotels, making inquiries of anyone he thought likely to know anything about the movements of his wife. He could ascertain nothing till he called at the little cottage of his university friend, where he learned that Guinevere had seen them all driving in a cab together on the evening after he had gone away with Lilly Delaine. Marvel had "skipped by the light of the moon."
Forsaken again! He walked sorrowfully home with Prince as his only companion. Prince lay on the bedroom floor, while his master tossed in mental anguish all night on the outside of the bed. In the morning be telegraphed to his old friend, the local doctor of Maconville, asking for information anent his wife and children. Shortly afterwards he received the reply that they had all been in Maconville for two days staying at Edenhall. Without waiting a moment he hurried back to the telegraph office and sent a peremptory message to his wife demanding that she should bring back the children at once. He paused for a reply—which never came.
Back again the following day, he rode to the office of Warne, Costall and Davitt, who advised him to write at once a formal letter requesting the return of the children, and explicitly stating that if they were not returned by the end of the week an application would be made to the sheriff page 376for the enforcement of the judicial order. He wrote the letter there and then in Davitt's lair. Yet again he received no reply.
The firm of solicitors, by their junior partner, took out another summons by the procedure of habeas corpus subjiciendum from the prothonotary's office and arranged for its delivery upon Marvel the following day. Whereat she replied that they would be brought back at once. Esmeralda Knight came with them by water as far as the pier, where he had the buggy ready for his children. The satellite impudently refused to let them enter it, and incited the children to scream on the pier, whereupon the ship-captain came up sympathising with the female. She acted her part so cleverly that the man, who knew nothing about the case, was prevailed upon to believe that their father was some stranger and had no right to take the children. Supported by the ship's captain and the gathering crowd, which always takes the part of a woman who knows the full uses of tears and the art of mendacity with a verisimilitude of truth during an imbroglio, she again boarded the steamboat with the children.
The s.s. 'Auvergne' steamed away while two lawyers stood talking with Eugene advising him to let the law take its own legal course. Mademoiselle certainly deserved the handsome reward which she received for the rôle she played and the notes she took that morning.
The hearing of the second habeas application took place before another different judge. Although the doctor employed the same barrister as had been junior counsel for him in the originating proceedings, Marvel's solicitors had brought upon the field, in addition to Lord Dundreary, a new and an incomparably bigger gun than she had in the previous law-suit for maintenance, in the person of a barrister named Carrick. The new barrister, briefed by Hallam, Brassy and Hoare, urged upon the new judge the interpretation which he put upon the clause in the new custody act concerning the power of the court to order that the children remain in their mother's custody when they actually were in her custody. He further informed his Honour that the charges of cruelty and intemperance which had been arraigned against Eugene before and disproved were shortly to be augmented by a charge of adultery in a petition which his client intended to present before the Supreme Court sitting in divorce and matrimonial causes jurisdiction, in her application for a stereotyped dissolution of her marriage. He further laid great emphasis on the law relating to custody in questions of divorce, which in such cases invariably consigned the custody and control of the children to the petitioner if successful in obtaining a decree.
The new judge sharply snapping up the counsel for the defence, testily replied that it was not his intention to assume any of these charges as true; that without hearing any further clap-trap he intended to uphold the decision of his brethren on the bench, as well as the power and prestige of the Supreme Court generally, and that he would decidedly order that the children be handed over to their father straightaway.
The little nest of the paradisal bird, her relatives and her clique of satellites and parasites was torn to pieces and utterly broken down from its page 377giddy height by the stern unhesitating judgment of his Honour. They waddled out of the chamber like a string of geese and left the precincts of the court in search of Pearly and Valentine, who, after the judgment, Davitt had arranged with Brassy before leaving the court should be delivered at the office on the third floor flat by three o'clock in the afternoon.
Three o'clock came and their father repaired to the office to meet and greet his little children, as proud and elated as he ever felt in his life. On the way to the office he felt as if he were treading on air. He was in the very zenith of his glory. There he found his wife sitting with them, very busily instructing them and coaching them as to how they were to behave in his presence, just as Esmeralda Knight had done on her behalf on the Mobile pier.
Davitt, entering the room where the children were located with their mother, informed the bird of Paradise that their father was in waiting to receive them, and asked her to hand them over to him in order that he might take them to their father in the adjoining room. The cunning Marvel, extremely anxious to make doubly sure of the scene which she had been drumming into the children's ears and to help in its creation as much as she could personally, insisted on their father coming for them himself.
Then the band began to play, for no sooner had she delivered them to him and begun to kiss them a theatrical good-bye, than the office of Warne, Costall and Davitt became the scene of a tragical tableau—a veritable bedlam; a pandemonium akin to that in the church which re-echoed with the wailings of the massacred innocents. Those fractious juveniles screamed, howled and yelled till their lungs were ready to burst, and loud enough to collect a conglomeration of people outside on the city side-walks who probably thought that Warne, Costall and Davitt's celebrated office had been turned into a kindergarten school, and that all the pupils were being unmercifully and simultaneously chastised. By a lightning histrionic change, no sooner had the bird flown than those little rogues stopped short in their lamentations and began to smile. Impulsively Eugene hurried down the colonnade and the marble staircase taking about six steps at a time. He was in the street almost as soon as if he had jumped out of the window of the third floor flat, bent on bringing back tempting packets of confectionery. When he left not a tear could be seen in their eyes. When he got bade Pearly was playing the rôle of old mother Hubbard in the senior partner's cosy parlour, while Vallie, after trying a few tricks on Davitt, was prowling around among the clerks prospecting the offices generally to see if he could collect anything like half-a-dollar.
What a fortune those two little espiégles might have made on the stage about Christmas time! That varied afternoon the parts which they played on the third floor flat could not be surpassed by Sarah, the actress of a century and the greatest in the world.
Soon after the pantomime had concluded, as Pearly found that when she got there Costall's cupboard was bare, and Vallie was told that it took all page 378the clerks' wages to feed them and keep them in cigarettes, they were taken away by their father in a yacht home to Myamyn. Thence he telegraphed to his old servant to go there from Lily Cottage to attend to their requirements, and the same day he re-engaged Guinevere to visit and teach them as she had done before, and to take them into a custody of love.
All at once, as soon as their mother was out of sight, their dispositions towards their father underwent a complete revolution. The weather-cock of their inclinations veered round completely. From the sullen side-looks and insolence which those two little rascals had offered him when their mother held sway in Myamyn, their chameleon demeanour recoiled to the old affection and regard as formerly experienced. The feminine Mephistopheles was gone, and they both said and seemed to feel delighted that she had not come back with them to their flower-crowned wigwam-summerhouse and their dear old Prince.
What man could blame their innocent little hearts, for the reign of terror which she had exercised over them when, in order to escape punishment with a whip, they carried out the second-hand insults of their mother? Who could help pitying and falling in love with the moistened violet eyes of that little roseate pearl of a girl, as she looked up at her father, with the blood mantling to her cheeks, ashamed to carry the vile messages from her mother in child-like self-accusing timidity and with the little tears trembling in her eyes appealing to her father like summer rain upon the heart? Who could help admiring the artful nature of that engaging little boy when, after his mother had first returned, he stole the whip-thong from its hiding-place and ran away with it for his father to burn?—that lash which had been the cause of so much commotion at Myamyn; for if the children did anything to ruffle the feathers of their mother she so cruelly beat them, slashing them across the naked legs, that often Eugene interfered for their protection: whereupon Marvel would summon the jackals to take notes of what he said and would precipitate the children into a state of panic by throwing open the window and shouting "Police! Murder! Police!"
Two months saw the bird of Paradise come and stealthily migrate from the flower-bourgeoned Myamyn. If anything, she was now worse off than ever; for Eugene had at last made up his mind that there was no use in attempting to live a life of peace or reconciliation with her, no matter on what pretext she intended to make overtures. Hesitating, wavering and yielding on the subject before, he was now resolute and inexorable.
Reflecting on the speech of the last counsel for the defence and, in particular, on the rankling, haunting, black charge, "adultery," dwelt upon so emphatically by the barrister for his wife, he imagined that the lawyer had simply been playing the game of balderdash and fanfaronade3 in his attempts to take advantage of the clause in the amended divorce act. Again his memory was carried back to the scene in the surgery, when Guinevere had called upon him concerning her husband's arrest. He thought of the quick order of his page 379wife to "take a note of that, Gloriana;" yet he dismissed the idea from his mind as unworthy, groundless and absurd. The noble, circumspect and pure Guinevere a wanton woman! a hawker of her virtue and a seller of her birthright! No man could venture to impinge on such a manufactured theme. No Court in the world would ever countenance gross and malicious changes against that spotless woman. Before her judges such lying accusations would redound upon the head of their instigator.
Of cruelty she had accused him before, but the trumpery charge had been dismissed. Her oaths had been discredited, and her statements disbelieved. He felt the inward voice of calm conscience whispering to him and to higher courts than those ordained by man for litigation, dissipating all anxiety and fears on that ground. True, he had of late now and then felt that he had been confused and careless and that he had jeopardised his self-esteem by associating and drinking at the hotels with Marmaduke. Still, he could think of nothing grievously reprehensible, and be inwardly defied his accusers to pick out any but venial faults in his character and obtain a divorce upon the foundation which they would afford.
His first thoughts were to apprise Guinevere of what he had heard from the lips of the barrister in the Supreme Court. His regard and esteem for her stood in his light, and he disdained to infringe upon the subject. She came and sat the whole forenoon with the children and, as before, they attended her rudimentary seminary, felling in with the others in the constitutional marches along the silver-sanded sea-shore.
Six months elapsed, during which Marvel visited the children at Myamyn once a month, in company on every occasion with some stranger to the doctor. The scheme of visiting them now assumed an irregular form. She would come through the compound near the house like a ship in full sail, never when she was expected, but invariably at most unseasonable hours, and always in company with some stranger to the house. He suspected that she was making these aliens tools and cats'-paws, and that they came in the guise of spies and common informers.
In consequence, he wrote several short notes to them individually. These notes were delivered by the children and admonished them about their visits to Pearly and Valentine in that sinuous capacity, with the request that they should not do so again. Marvel persuaded her companions to take no notice of her husband, and in spite of his warnings the pimps continued to come. They would catch Pearly with her dress covered with the stains of green mosses and the juices of wild berries, or hanging out her dolly's clothes on the dolly's washing-day upon a piece of tape, and with her pinafore saturated with dirty water. This afforded matériel for a macrophonic affidavit on the part of the spy. They would catch Vallie with a cut finger after whittling a bit of stick, or with his knickerbockers torn by the velocipede. This afforded good grounds for another. They would find a bottle of German Lager beer in the surgery. This, on the principle that every little helps, was counted with the other charges in the plea of habitual intemperance. They would notice Guinevere coming page 380out of the schoolroom. This afforded them, as he suspected, a splendid point d'appui4 for another. If she happened to trip on the door-mat, it was a positive proof that Guinevere was on the wine.
After a time, when no notice was accorded to his little memos on slips of paper, he entered the room where his wife sat beside one of the pimps, and ordered the latter to leave the house. Her pimping ladyship refused to budge an inch, on the strength of the imperious promptings from the paradisal bird to remain; whereupon the doctor proceeded to take out his children by the hand. On so doing, however, he received a blow on the head with a scent-bottle, which his wife had thrown when his back was turned. He whipped around quickly and picking it up from the floor, he threw it out into the garden, removing the battle-dored little children to the summerhouse and leaving the paradisal bird and the spy to pimp away and spy into each other.
About six months of this harlequinade had been enacted, when, finding it impossible to obtain any more affidavits, and being assured by her lawyers that what she had was quite enough to overbalance and crush her husband, the visits of Marvel and the pimps came to an abrupt termination.
Brassy had discovered that Eugene was getting very short of money—the sine quâ non for the war of litigation, and so would not in all probability be able to stand up and fight his accusers in the Temple of Justice.
Soon afterwards came to the office of Warne, Costall and Davitt a summons commanding Eugene to attend the Court and show cause why the order for the deduction of the money from his wife's income to be expended on the maintenance and education of the children should not be varied by making the allowance for the children five hundred dollars instead of one thousand. In the event of a reduction not finding favour with the judge, it was sought to make all the debts incurred upon the children up to that original amount payable directly by Hallam, Brassy and Hoare, instead of indirectly through their own solicitors. Marvel also preferred a little request for the return of the children to her. Importunate Marvel!
It was all the same to Eugene, so far, whether the money got back into the hands of Hallam, Brassy and Hoare or remained in the coffers of Warne, Costall and Davitt; but as far as the children were concerned, it was better for them, as they would thus derive some benefit from their own money. Costall urgently pressed the doctor to persuade his father to hand over to him the title-deeds of any properties he might have, in order to guarantee their costs in the new development of the war. The doctor himself had no war material whatever, as the expenses of his house and the losses which he had theretofore sustained had seriously crippled his financial power. Nevertheless, he refused to consent to the lawyer's proposals. There and then, after sucking every cent they could out of him, they left him entirely in the lurch to fight for himself and his children the best way he could. He was drifting fast on the quicksands of the law, helplessly drifting, drifting. The masts of the barque were gone by the board; the page 381binnacle-compass was broken; the rudder was lost; there was mutiny in the fo'c'sle, and she was adrift upon the bosom of a shoreless ocean ten thousand fathoms deep! Most lawyers are human vampires.
Without money, and plenty of it, a man is like a child crying for the moon if he wants justice. The psychological meaning of the word is totally at variance with the legally understood commodity. On the rostrum law and justice are synonymous terms; in the forum they are incongruous and reflexively hostile. The article bought at the rostrum with the standard coin of the realm, whether the article be genuine or counterfeit, to that must the forum submit and humiliate itself.
When he perused the armful of affidavits accompanying the summons—all emanating from the pimps, mouchards, and the gang of informers in the pay of his wife—publishing charges of neglect of his children and intempérance and accusing him of not expending upon them the full amount of their allowance; cat off as he found himself by the solicitors, he felt that he must make some stand for his own honour. He set to work to draft and engross, with his own hands, as many answering affidavits as he could glean from his friends; to file them in the office of the prothonotary himself, and protect his own and his children's interests in propriâ personâ at the Court.
The day fixed for the hearing soon arrived, but when the affidavits of the doctor appeared before the judge, his Honour took exception to the answering affidavits of the defendant, as not containing the indispensable imprimatur of some authorised solicitor empowered by the rostrum to prepare affidavits. It seemed as if the merits or the demerits of the case depended upon the drawing of the documents in proper legal terminology, together with the indispensable hall-mark of a solicitor acquainted with the judges. It was explained that from dire dearth of funds the doctor was obliged to do the work of drawing, engrossing and filing the affidavits himself. Upon this he was complimented by his Honour; but at the same time the judge strongly advised him to engage a reputable solicitor next time he confronted the rostrum (without handing him a cheque to defray the costs of the aforesaid reputable solicitor), and ruled that the affidavits were informal, in consequence of which the verdict must go by default. The allowance for the children could not, however, be reduced, he stated, to the estimate computed by their mother, and Marvel's apposite little application was ruled as mal apropos. He directed that the same amount should thereafter be deducted from their mother's income, but he varied the order by making the money payable to the creditors through Hallam, Brassy and Hoare. The skirmish was simply a conflict of legal interests.
Thereupon Eugene arose and informed the Court, amidst the titterings of the invertebrate Simon Bubtitt, the inane guffaws of Lord Dundreary, the scowls of the opposing lawyers, the open-mouthed expressions of the constable and the old crier and the frowning down of the judge, that he did not want any of their mother's filthy lucre to spend upon the children, whom he intended to provide for well by his own exertions. His foot was page 382off his native heath. The judge paid no attention to the unqualified man without a bob-wig or the wedding garment, although he had as many university degrees as half-a-dozen of the barristers put together, including his Honour himself, when he had the arrogance to address the rostrum. The Court was cleared for the day, the children's case lasting only about ten minutes. Marvel had expected quite an hour's flirtation in the Court, and went away quite disappointed accordingly.
About a week after the order was varied a letter came for Eugene from Hallam, Brassy and Hoare. It enclosed another letter bearing the crest I of a sheep and the awe-striking signature of the dolorous wool-merchant as executor of the coal-king's will. There were no marks of tear-drops anywhere on the note-paper! It politely requested the doctor to let Brassy know when the children would be ready to leave Myamyn, as they had provided a good and comfortable house for them in the same suburb as they lived in themselves, where both their houses adjoined each other. Whether Pearly and Valentine were to have the whole house in the suburb to themselves, or were simply to live there with Brassy and Grieve did not appear.
The outrageous epistle was duly answered by their father, who informed the presumptuous Brassy that if he came for the children to Myamyn, he would get Vallie to put the hose on him, and that the St. Bernard was not altogether willing to consent to the proposal. He added a postscript to the letter reminding the lachrymose wool-merchant of his earlier days with the words:—"Ahoo—ahoo—I can't—ahoo: I can't—ahoo—I can't." They were evidently under the impression that, as the money was to change hands, Eugene would surrender the children.
The variation in the judge's order made no appreciable difference to the daily life of the children. They were attended to by the old servant, who did the whole work of the house as well. Their esteemed governess came as usual for another six months, and their father struggled, in the face of growing scandal and adversity, to keep his medical practice at Mobile together. Guinevere knew the difficulties and the financial straits in which he was involved. Every morning she came, wearing a pretty picture hat trimmed with shot ribbon and shaded roses and dressed in black and white stripe cotton trimmed at the neck and wrists with black or coloured ribbon over which were turned little finely tucked muslin and lace points. Her simple morning robe only accentuated her dazzling beauty, but in her eyes were the mingled sorrow and tenderness of a face by Murillo5. She would refuse to take any salary when he offered it, if he would allow her to forego it, and for months the old servant went without her wages. All seemed, from their father down to the girl, to devote all their energies to the welfare and advancement of Pearly and Vallie. Though their father was poor they were as happy at Myamyn as the day was long. Eugene lived on in hope and patience—hope and patience, but the ultimate legal proceedings were but the ground-swell that betokened the coming storm.page 383
One winter morning, as the mercurial Vallie scampered up and down the footpath on his Grecian velocipede and Pearly sat cm the verandah with her father or wheeled her dollies in the dainty dolly-carriage about the paths among the shrubs in the garden, there came the herald of the war with a black bag, opening which he disclosed before the astounded Eugene two papers lying among some others—two angues in herbâ6 in the form of a citation and petition for divorce, with a prayer for the custody of the children by his wife. There was no name of any co-respondent on the document, bat the petition disclosed a number of grounds upon which the application was based. As he read through the categorical list of Marvel's foundations for a dissolution of her marriage with him, he saw what struck him like a thunderbolt from the clouds. It was the name of his old servant, Lillie Delaine! With her he was accused of adultery as related to his wife by the former nurse-girl, Miss E. Powell, whose dismissal for neglecting the children Lillie Delaine had instigated. It was necessary to bring another woman of course into the case, and so they risked the die on the servant's name as a sort of working hypothesis.
Without reflecting for a moment over the effect the news would have upon the innocent girl, he hurried into the house. Calling her from the kitchen floor into the surgery, his face white with astonishment he said—"Lillie, just look at this: this is a petition for a divorce, and they have made a charge of impropriety against you," holding it out at arm's length as if he had hold of a dead cat by the tail.
As if she were stabbed the girl stared with parted lips quite dumb-foundered—she did not seem to understand what he said. In an extenuating way be explained to her what his wife had done.
"My mother's words always comes true," replied Lillie in agitation: "she told me not to bring any messages from Lily Cottage, as the missis was very cunnin' and would be sure to find me out, waitin' over there among the trees. P'r'aps she seen me herself. She's bad enough Gord knows to think anythink: she wouldn't care if she did ruin a poor girl. My word, if my mother gets a 'old of her she'll catch it. I ain't no bad girl, and never was, nor my sister Lollie neither: we're just as good as Mrs. Whitworth, and a long way better, if the truth was known." Then she burst into a flood of tears.
Spell-bound, he gazed again at the petition spread out on the table, with all its outrageous, atrocious statements swimming before his eyes, declaring aloud in an apotheosis of reason that his wife was a liar and a diabolical fiend incarnate. What was he to do? With no money, abandoned by Warne, Costall and Davitt, be had lost the trifling case before. Where was he to go for legal advice on that petition? Not a friend to whom he could appeal! Marmaduke Payne was constantly and helplessly drunk. He sat on the lounge and stared in the face the black prospect of fighting his unscrupulous wife, who had returned with the sole object of conspiring and accumulating false evidence against him, and whose vengeance for her merited defeats would pour into the office of page 384the ablest firm of solicitors in the city gold upon gold of her own and her relatives until her rancorous nature was satiated and surfeited.
The legal partnership of Hallam, Brassy and Hoare, in conjunction with a new firm of solicitors, had like so many agents of Mephistopheles behind the tree been for months goading and pitchforking on the demons of which the paradisal Marvel was possessed. They had bolstered her up with the hopes of obtaining a decree nisi for the dissolution of her marriage, with the ulterior object of being put by the court in legal possession of the custodianship of the children, which according to the law of England in most cases, and the law of America in all, upon the decree would hinge perforce. The corollary of a decree nisi at American law keeps in abeyance altogether the question as to the rights of the father when considered and debated on their intrinsic merits. It follows the decree not as a post hoc propter hoc sequence, but still as surely as the night follows the day. The issue to be tried was not as to the fitness of the doctor to retain the charge of his infants. The condition and circumstances of the children were not to be brought into the discussion at all. If they were provided for like the Queen's own grandchildren, it affected not the corollary of the decree. That corollary it was the indirect aim of Marvel to obtain. The divorce was the means to that end.
Fifty years before Whitworth had left Summer Hill for Mobile an act repealing the old matrimonial causes act, which had been copied from and was almost a fac-simile of the divorce act of the English constitution, was introduced into Congress by one of the senators for a commonplace suburb of the city. It had in the latter part of the eighteenth century been introduced by the senator for Westminster—Senator Green—into the State legislature of Massachusetts, and without opposition enacted by the State Government. Thirty years afterwards it was introduced into the House of Representatives, where it was enacted and subsequently ratified by the Senate and made the universal law of the United States of America by the seal of the President as head of the National Government. Just about that time, hundreds of cases had come under the public notice of men deserting their wives and families for years, and leaving them without any means of support, to swell the ranks of the unemployed and become disreputable, confirmed and irreclaimable drunkards, loitering about the alleys and dens of the city. The city and the suburbs of a low character reeked with domestic crime, assaults on wives, and various phases of atrocity. While thousands of starving women and children cried aloud for food and raiment, their bread-winners glutted the bars of the sordid and noisome tap-rooms, engendering further vices and abominations. To break down this threatening danger to society, the new act had been made law and the old Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of Congress repealed.
Different judges took different views of the definition of the term habitual drunkenness. The prevailing opinion was that it meant that a man or woman must have consumed unceasingly such a quantity of liquor page 385as to render him or her a public eye-sore, an object of social ostracism and an incurably depraved, abandoned and worthless member of society. The French word déréglé expresses the condition of an habitual drunkard. One judge, however, maintained that if along the whole thread of a man or woman's life patches, garnished here and there, no matter how far apart they were, could be sewn together and construed to amount approximately to the full term allotted by the legislature, it was sufficient for a conviction on this specific charge.
The term "cruelty," with which the charge of intemperance was sometimes coupled, eliminated altogether acts of violence. It consisted, in the opinion of the law courts, if not in that of the legislature, in revolting language, vituperative abuse, or humiliating accusations made against a wife by her husband. It did not appear to make any difference whether the charges were true or untrue. If a man got drunk and said anything of the kind to his wife, he was just as liable to the pains and penalties of the arbitrary law as if he were perfectly sober at the time. It was extraordinary how wide was the range of uses to which the term "cruelty" might be legally applied. It was immeasurably more comprehensive than the applicability of the term "insulting behaviour" in relation to the police. It was not necessary in the eyes of the law for a man to knock his wife about, or in any way maltreat her. She could violently assault him as much as she liked. Even if he never in his life raised his hand against her, it was quite enough to establish the charge of cruelty if be accused her in any person's hearing, whether he knew anybody was listening or not, of fornication or of attempting illegitimate practices, independently of the truth or otherwise of his accusations.
The doctor purchased a copy of the orthodox text-book on divorce, and also a copy of the new Matrimonial Causes Act. With these, on his own account he settled down to work. He mastered every little detail. He spent whatever money he had on railway visits to friends whom he relied on as witnesses. He neglected his withering practice, leaving the children in the care of the ill-starred domestic servant and the guardian Guinevere.
How fawns upon and flatters the beautiful world a successful man in the sunny days of his prosperity! How scurvily its heroes button up their professed regards and walk away from him when a cloud hangs over his head! Such was the experience of Eugene when he wandered about the city in search of the good men who had theretofore paraded and advertised their esteem for the doctor; while watching every step he took, shadowed and mouched after him a squirming mouchard and all the well-paid, mercenary, sinuous ramifications of the colossal scheme of the paradisal bird struck out every morning from the chambers of Craig, Clack, Carrick and Clark, of Fourth Avenue, New Orleans, her new solicitors, on their ignoble and degraded errands.
The gold from the united phalanx of the Amalekites7, the mighty Goulds, piled itself high in the strong-room of the new firm, whose members were like the ingredients of a black draught8, and consisted of some of the page 386shrewdest and most capable barristers, solicitors, proctors and attorneys of the day. It was to be a war between wealth and justice—to culminate in the arbitration of a human judge and a possibly corruptible jury of four good men and true; a battle between the serried ranks of British battalions in good strategical position with their Maxim guns, Mitford-Lee rifles, cordite, smokeless powder and mountain batteries, and an impoverished horde of rebels in the vales of Hindu Kush.
2 Peshawur refers to Peshawar in Pakistan; its connection with a type of curtains is uncertain. 'Cymbelline' may have been a particular colour, as seen in advertisements such as in The Brisbane Courier March 1930. (admittedly anachronistic).
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
7 A Biblical tribe who were the enemies of the Hebrews. See for example Exodus 17:8-13.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]