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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter III. An Embassy at Edenhall. An Eminent Firm of American Lawyers

Chapter III. An Embassy at Edenhall. An Eminent Firm of American Lawyers.

During the short stay Eugene had made in Galveston, whither he had gone in quest of his children and his wife, upon entering his father's house, the cottage by the sea, to his great surprise and delight he met the pensive and ill-fated Guinevere—the girl-wife, whose subtle, subjective influences seemed to sweeten all her surroundings, and whose heart, surcharged with a love eclipsing the commonplace malerotic feelings of Marvel, beat with a fervour ever clinging to her husband like the vine to the rotten palisade. The charitable ministrations of Miriam had warmly attached to her friendship and sympathies the meritorious wife of Marmaduke Payne after his untimely downfall. He had become well-known to the family owing to his successful candidature at the elections, and Miriam had busied herself in supporting the little impoverished cottage and relieving the destitution of Guinevere by every means that lay in her power. When Eugene met her, sitting in the little almonry1 with Miriam, and little Cyril looking fresh and strong again by her side, he expressed his intense pleasure at seeing her little son so well, and his surprise at meeting his ineffable friend once more.

"How is Marvel?" she said: "I thought she would have been down here too with you." She had once asked that question before.

With a sad expression, so natural and becoming to her, she listened to the real cause of his presence in Galveston—how it was all on account of Marvel that he happened to meet herself, and how false her old school-mate and friend had proved since she had become a beneficiare under her father's will.

"I shall never forget," he said, "the words you spoke to me that Sunday morning when you came to the hospital. I cannot help thinking now that every word was a prescient and veritable prediction of every relation and occurrence between Marvel and me ever since. I paid no heed to what you said at the time, but although I do not intend to imbue anybody's page 274mind with the impression that I regret my marriage with Marvel, your words have often come home to me with a strong self-conscious force. I blame myself, partly, for giving her so much of her own way, and instead of endeavouring to allay her groundless suspicions I treated her surmises as if she entertained none at all. It would have been better for me if I had not treated the matter so lightly and had openly resented the false charges which she made before her father and mother, her brother, her aunt and cousin—that contemptible cousin—and every friend she since has made. I said that morning that the man who rued the marriage he contracted with his eyes wide open, was nothing but a coward and a fraud, and I think so still."

Pale and care-worn as the saddened young wife appeared, her own heart rent in twain with the profligacy of her husband,—"I am so sorry: so sorry," she said, and clasping her hands she looked studiously on the floor. "Supposing I go and see Marvel. She used to be guided a good deal by me when we were at school and I was for years her only friend," raising her eyes again before there was time for him to speak; "I will go," she said: "I will: I will go to see Marvel to-morrow." when, as Miriam came into the parlour, she asked her—"Will you come with me to Edenhall to-morrow, Mrs. Whitworth?"

"Anywhere, anywhere," returned Miriam in sudden agitation: "anywhere to see those dear little children. You wait there with Eugene. I'll be back in half-an-hour; wait till I see what money I have," diving her hand into her pockets and calling out—"Dolly, you light the fire or the shops will be shut. I'm going to get two or three toys for Pearly and Valentine. Turn out your pockets and see what money yon have—one dollar, is that all? keep that, I'll put them down: they all know me in the toy-shops."

Off she started to the toy-bazaars, and while Guinevere and the doctor sat wondering how long she would be, she returned, in appearance more like a Christmas tree ready for a fancy-dress ball. "Here are three dolls for Pearly," she said out of breath: "one with a dark eye, one with a pink eye, and one with a peacock-blue: one with black hair, one with brown hair, and one of a golden hue: two with a squeaking stomach, and one with a talking string; see, pull this bit of tape and the doll says 'mammair' and 'papair.' Here's a trumpet for Valentine and a brass bugle for Pearly. Here's a perambulator for the dolls. What did he do with the wheelbarrow?—broke it I suppose. Here's Noah's ark, a cricket bat, three balls and a football for Valentine; a kettle-drum for Valentine and a tambourine for Pearly; here's a mouth-harmonica for Valentine, a new kind of doodlembuck, a jack-in-the-box and a jumping-jack, a saddle horse, a tin sword, a gun, a pop-gun, and a horse-and-cart; here's a skipping-rope, four picture books, and a music-box for Pearly. Here's a box of picture blocks—who will they do for? they hadn't any more in the little shop—they'll do for both. Why can't we go to-day? page 275 Dolly, did you light that fire? you be getting the tea ready while I pack up the things, and we'll be back in a week."

It was no use pointing out that there was no occasion for hurrying over the journey, and Guinevere, leaving Cyril to be entertained by the Christy minstrel, agreed to go right away that evening, and form herself with Miriam—whose principal mission was the presentation of the toy-shop—into a double-barreled deputation to wait upon the celestial bird in the paradisal groves of Edenhall and coax out of her mellowing bosom by the persuasive powers of the gentle Guinevere the promise that she would cut short the close season for migration to her home. By a roundabout sort of method the toy-shop was to compose the olive branches of their peace-offerings, with the prayer that the flood of domestic trouble would pass away from the soul of the doctor, while the rest was left to the sweetening influences of Guinevere.

There happened to be a mail-steamer sailing East that evening, so that while Eugene took a passage to the city Miriam and Guinevere booked for Houston, and after a tempestuous voyage and a tiresome waiting for the train the deputation arrived about nine o'clock at night in Maconville. Wending their wearisome way on foot to Edenhall, Guinevere rang the bell, which was answered by the servant with the two children clinging to her skirts. No sooner had the excited Miriam cast eyes upon the children than she knelt down on the door-step caressing them and saying—"See what I've got for Pearly and Vallie!" with an innocent, unsuspecting smile.

Thus she made a fatal mistake. No sooner had the servant entered the drawingroom, where Marvel was engaged with some of her friends, with the tidings of the lady visitor to the children than Marvel herself heard the voice at the door and jumping up from her seat in a passion: "I know who it is," she revengefully shouted, while rushing furiously to the front door she snatched the children savagely away, dragging with them whatever presents they had picked up, and slammed the door in their old grandmother's face. Marvel had not seen Guinevere at all, but Guinevere accepted the insult as intended for herself as well.

Gathering up the scattered toys, Miriam placed them in rows upon the verandah, and in the middle of a drenching rain she walked away from Edenhall with Guinevere—thwarted, non-plussed, and crestfallen. They were both practically strangers in the town, for although Guinevere had been when Cyril was ill a fortnight in the house of the "recent departure," she had scarcely ever seen the streets of the township before. In the dark and the pouring rain, the two well-meaning women were shut out by one who, if only in respect for herself, should have made them welcome. After a good deal of trouble and frequent inquiries from night-way farers, they found a place where they could lodge for the night. Next morning they returned, calling at the doctor's consulting-rooms in the city on their way home and recounting the fate of their expedition.

"I could never speak to her again," said Guinevere; "I am sure she saw page 276me, and it was just as bad if she did not. I have screened and shielded Marvel from reproaches, inuendoes and blame which she richly deserved before ever she was married. When none of the other girls at school would have anything to do with her. I have been her only friend and companion. I am truly sorry for you doctor—truly sorry—I am indeed."

Miriam's judgment upon the episode was a determination not to send Marvel any more fruit, birthday cards, and flowers from Percy's grave. She seemed rather enamoured of the prospect of Eugene being released from such an arrant tartar2 as the bird of Paradise. The doctor fully expected that the outcome of their temerity would be worse than it turned out to be, and considered that they had a miraculous escape from being pelted with the toys; further, he hinted that they would find every item in the toy répertoire smashed and returned by the time they got to Lily Cottage.

Back they sailed by another steamer, and on arriving at Lily Cottage they found the jaunty Ambrose at the piano playing "Yankee Doodle," and Cyril endeavouring to beat time on the drum, which the flying Dutchman had patched up with a porous plaster—the very drum that Valentine had made so desperate an attempt to rescue from the scrimmage at the door, but which in the scramble had met with the same fate as the wild harp of the minstrel boy who tore the chords asunder3. All the other toys lay in smithereens about the floor as if they had been the object of contention in a football match between the satellites of Marvel.

Upon hearing the story of the repulse of Edenhall, the seraphic Brosie offered to convert himself into an embassy, and in the most refined and diplomatic manner possible to coax the desired promise from the stony-hearted vitriolic but celestial bird, on condition that the unconventional flying Dutchman would stand by to assist in storming the position and removing the children as hostages at war in the event of a failure on the part of the ambassador. An attempt was made by Dolly to get a chap to take his place for the purpose at the wiping duties, but this effort falling short of success, the rescue of Pearly and Valentine was left to a very eminent firm of solicitors Messrs. Warne, Costall and Davitt of New Orleans.

In the meantime Guinevere, on the assumption, as maintained by the doctor, that the bird of Paradise had not seen her on the mission, thought it would do no harm if she wrote a letter to Marvel, which she did, explaining the position, detailing all her own miseries and poverty, and recalling to her mind the day when they had both been so delighted at seeing Eugene for the first time in the library; how much she had seen of him during her two-years' stay at the university; how kind and beneficent he had been to her and her husband ever since; how certain it was that she would some day regret the step which she was taking, and how easy it was for her to follow the way to peace and happiness for herself and her children, instead of the broad road that would irretrievably lead them all into sorrow and shame. Guinevere implored her in all the beauty of expression and affecting language which her classical endowments could page 277suggest, but she might as well have posted the letter to the dead father of the obstinate Marvel. She did not appreciate taste, refined composition, or beauty of soul; so turning down the corner of Guinevere's letter, and scrawling out the words—"I never stuck my nose into your affairs: you keep your nose out of mine," she returned her letter next day.

Many and various were the schemes proposed for the rescue of Pearly and Valentine, independently of the law altogether. The patriarchal Adam, the dweller in the wilderness, who regularly plied his calling for the loan of a quarter-dollar, and had a standing order for the supply of box and birch at Lily Cottage, got wind of the coming storm. Subsequent to the repulse of Edenhall, he called for the quarter-dollar and left; but soon returned with a plentitude of swipes in his old stomach and suggested that he might prove as great a hero at kidnapping as he was at "bone-shaking"—he had covered himself with glory at the one, why then not at the other. If it were not so far away he could take the old black prod and bring the bird of Paradise and all away some moonlight night, if they preferred it, in the same old dray. The distance put the scheme out of court altogether. Brosie on the other hand knew a young lady who owed for a set—a pianoforte teacher, just the sort of girl to worm herself into the mazes of Paradise, secure her appointment by the bird thereof as governess, and at an opportune moment walk quietly and coolly away with the spoil. The flying Dutchman suggested that after the wiping was done for the day he should go as he was to bewitch, beguile and besmear the bird as the serpent did in the case of Eve in the garden of Eden with the caresses of a loving and long-lost brother-in-law, while the alert Brosie craftily decoyed the youngsters away from Paradise through the back gate by the aid of his dinah.

The different schemes for the redemption of the children were duly submitted to the doctor, but one and all were arbitrarily rejected and now, as he said, he had passed the little river Rubicon by placing the matter in the hands of Warne, Costall and Davitt, he intended to leave the rest to these city solicitors.

This celebrated firm of solicitors, conveyancers and attorneys—known all over the States as Warne, Costall and Davitt—had been recommended to Eugene by his old friend Marmaduke Payne, who, he regretted, had rendered himself incapable of taking the matter in hand. They had a suite of rooms on the third floor of a flat right over the cattle bazaar where Eugene had the good luck to first come across the famous Moss Rose, and where sales of horses and cattle by public auction took place, and the clamorous harangues of Ralph Kiss seriously interfered with the routine of the work in their offices: so much so, that they were habitually made a cause of complaint by the financial clerk—a sort of stalking-horse excuse for many mistakes and short-comings detected by Costall himself in his account-books. Horses were undoubtedly the sole culprits in the defalcations4, as they habitually failed to come up to their expectations, and sorely disappointed the poor but dishonest clerk in his sealed intentions to page 278make good the deficiencies unearthed by Costall. So marked an effect had the noise of the auctioneer upon the financial clerk that it was found he had made the mistake of being two thousand five hundred dollars short in his cash. The heads of the firm refused to believe that the auctioneer was entirely to blame for the deficits and issued a warrant for the clerk's arrest. They prosecuted him themselves and obtained for him the temporary loan of a massive pair of bracelets for the occasion of his triumphal march under the mediæval arch of the jail where he had the honour to remain for ten consecutive years. During this term of office his innocent wife and children were left to starve in the city, although the wife was an old acquaintance of Costall.

The original founder of the firm had retired from the legal syndicate, albeit the remaining partners still retained for some years the old appellation of the company, and Costall and Davitt were really the only representatives. The controlling partner of the firm sat the greater part of the day in the only carpeted room of the suite on the third floor flat behind a large office-table, composing abominable sonnets and idylls to ladies whom he admired as they passed in the street below, and sarcastic stanzas concerning judges who had given adverse judgments in his cases; reading medical works on the subject of piles, to which he was a martyr, or making a pretence of annotating the law-journals. His room was the only decently furnished one in the suite, but it was a veritable parlour with its walls and ceiling decorated with cobwebs exquisitely woven for the enmeshing of the flies. There he sat all day long with the gravity of an owl that had lived for a century in a hollow of the same old tower. Most of the new clients were referred to the present head of the firm on their first introduction in order that they might be subjected to a preliminary examination as to the state of their banking accounts before they were duly admitted into the sanctuary over the horse and cattle bazaar. Warne, Costall and Davitt firmly set their heads against speculative litigation, and in the event of any embryo client not passing the aforesaid examination with credit he was afforded another chance of being catechised and cross-questioned as to the probability of his possessing any relations or friends who would be agreeable to write their names on the backs of promissory notes as a guarantee of unlimited costs to accrue by a growth like a cauliflower in a juggler's hat. Costall undoubtedly was an extremely polite, affable and gentlemanly man, with a few vermilion hirsute tufts on the top of his head, a searching eye and a playful frown. The hæmorrhoids were merely a portion of a general digestive disorder, with the contortions of which his mouth seemed to sympathise. He would stop in the middle of an examination, screw down the corner of his mouth to the angle of his jaw, and compress with his hands the colicky pains within his spheroidal abdomen.

Upon the first visit of the doctor the banking-account examination was passed with flying colours, but it was the fifty-seventh examination which he had essayed and he had passed them every one. After passing with page 279credit the new financial examination, Costall applied a scientific one by quizzing his theoretical knowledge of bowel disorders, for which he was awarded with the promise of an invitation to the lawyer's house to dinner and several glorious smiles on the face of the head of the firm. After a short résumé of his case had been committed to a slip of paper containing half a sonnet composed by the neurotic Costall on the back, the head of the firm sounded the alarm on his little bar-parlour bell and Davitt the junior partner waltzed into the parlour, with two quill pens stuck over his ears like floaters on a fishing-line among a river of weeds. A very short, fat sensuous-looking man was Davitt, with a short black beard and an enormous moustache. He worked expressively his thick and lascivious lips as he stood with his shark-shaped mouth open swallowing down the outlines of the new fool's case.

"Bring me 'Lyttleton on the Law of Infants,' and you may as well bring me 'Drake on Divorce,'" said Costall.

Out went Davitt to search for the books in the library belonging to the firm, and soon the moustache re-appeared, looking over and trying to touch the outside of the works demanded, while one floater dipped down at the end indicating the fact of a bite at the maggot.

"What branch?" said Davitt; "maintenance or custody?" whereupon Costall gave Davitt a clearer insight into the salient points of the case, and introduced the doctor to his partner.

Davitt seemed to have the law on the subject on the very tip of his tongue, as he said—"The father has the primâ facie right to the children at American law, as copied from the law of England, unless the mother can prove that it is morally dangerous and positively unsafe for the children, and that such custody would imperil their moral character and welfare. The father can take his child from the mother's breast: vide Law Reports, vol. x., p. 122, Cox v Cox: Queen's Bench Division, vol. ix., p. 911, Strong v Strong: Chancery Reports, vol. xxxvii., p. 1507, Kidd v Kidd. At law the father is the rightful guardian as against the mother, and unless she can prove profligacy, debauchery or immorality, the children belong to him. You will find all that set out in Blackwood, beginning at the top of page one hundred and seventy-seven and ending at the bottom of page two hundred and thirty-five."

He appeared to know all this without opening the book, and as he handed the volumes to Costall the doctor thought it was a wonderful feat of mnemonic power on Davitt's part, who remained erect on the carpet, glancing over the shoulder of Costall, dangling his massive glittering gold chain and taking stock of the new client by critically examining his boots, his boot-laces, his trousers, his waistcoat and watch-chain, his coat, his collar, his necktie, his cuffs, his gloves, the tips of his fingers and his silk hat hanging on the peg, quizzing him like a little Chinese chow-chow meeting a retriever and smelling him all over from stem to stern.

"Yes," said Costall; "but of course it is in the discretionary power of page 280the judge. The court generally in these cases leans towards the mother. Give me the new act," and Davitt took it out of his pocket.

"Ha! I thought so; you see here it says, when the children are in possesion of the mother, the court may order that they may remain in her possession if it thinks fit," as Costall read out the act and looking over towards the client continued—"So you see, Dr. Whitworth, in the face of this new development it will be a fierce fight to obtain custody. Could you not get some friend to guarantee our costs, as they may amount to more than two thousand dollars?"

The doctor replied that he would prefer that they should go on with the business until his money was exhausted, and if it were necessary then to furnish a guarantee, he imagined he would not fail in trying to procure one — a good safe answer. This offer meeting with the approval of the partners after whispering together in the corner, the doctor was requested to follow the track of Davitt into his lair, in order to enter into the particulars more fully, and if in town next day to bring with him a sample of the new remedy which he had said was good for a nutmeg liver5, together with any books he might have on the subject of piles and liver diseases in general. In the office of Davitt, he awaited the pleasure of the junior partner, whom another ostensible client had stopped on the way between the two apartments. This intruder, however, was curtly sent away with the excuse that Davitt had pressing and important work to do that morning. It was subsequently discovered that he was only the landlord looking in for the rent. Inside the little cell, in which indeed the bulk of the business of the firm was conducted by the junior partner, stood a deal table with sienna-stained legs and drawers, a book shelf and two American chairs, on one of which Eugene was requested to sit.

"I knew her," began Davitt: "I knew her." rubbing his hands: "I knew her," licking the tips of his fingers. "I had many a lark with the bird and her cousin before they were married. Why didn't you make her part up some of the stuff? I would lay you what you like if I had her I'd make her stump up the coin: you wouldn't see me sitting here. I'd put a little of her dust on 'Sweetheart' for the double."

Upon the new client evincing considerable uneasiness to proceed with the work to be done, Davitt drew from a pile of blue paper in the corner a small armful, and spreading it out on the little deal table he began to draw out a skeleton of an affidavit setting forth the manifold circumstances and conditions of the marriage of Eugene, the births of Pearly and Valentine, and their forcible detention from their father's home. He appeared to be uncommonly well versed in the proper phraseology of affidavits; he had every point on the tip of his pen as in facile runs of sparkling old English he sketched out the draft of Eugene's perambulating statement over four sheets of the blue paper stack. When finished, he tintinnabulated his little alarm-bell and ordered the engrossing clerk to have the draft engrossed and ready for the doctor to swear to at five minutes past two in the after-page 281noon. They then left the office and descended the stone steps to a little luncheon-shop across the street, where they swilled away at oyster stews and smoked a cigar each at the doctor's expense.

At five minutes past two on climbing again the marble steps of Solon6 to the office, they found a commissioner already in attendance, and although the duties of the commissioner were very light his deportment was a source of constant amusement to the junior partner, who had made a tool and a butt of him for years. Taking off a sooty, greasy chimney-pot from his hairless head, the Louisiana state commissioner hauled from the depths of his frock-coat tails a dog-eared well-thumbed part of a book. Half the back and all the fly leaf had been kissed away and without opening could be read the first page of the first book of Moses called Genesis. Inside it was slobered all over and the old cover had been replaced with a yellow-back, half of which was missing. Mumbling and jumbling the words of the oath—this is your name and your hand-writing and the contents of this you swear to be true—and wafting whiffs of stale partially-digested beer through the room from the door where he stood to the open window, he mopped up a quarter-dollar's worth of cents which Davitt threw down on the table, and adjourned to the nearest bar.

Upon the back of the greasy, greenish, threadbare frock-coat of the commissioner being turned, Davitt imparted to the doctor the information that the aforesaid greasy, greenish, threadbare, frock-coated commissioner lived on affidavits and beer, and that a portion of seven years had been dissected out of the term of the natural life of the greasy, greenish, threadbare, frock-coated commissioner by the same judge who was likely to hear his own case, for stabbing with intent to murder the Mexican president. He carefully explained, however, that the taking of the affidavit by the aforesaid commissioner, to whom the aforesaid term of seven years freedom had been denied, would not prejudice the hearing of the cause of Pearly and Valentine, inasmuch as the aforesaid greasy, greenish, threadbare, frock-coated trader in affidavits was a duly qualified commissioner and notarypublic, and that he had as high authority to take affidavits as one or two others imported from Callao, to which salubrious clime these others had been introduced by the President of Congress free from ad valorem duty during the early history of the settlement. Silas P. Grinder had never enjoyed that honour. He was rather young and was a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A. Silas was a fallen angel from one bar to another bar owing to his thirst for beer and blood. He had a long brown beard like the tail of a rocking-horse, but of eyes Silas P. had only one.

In pursuance of the legal proceedings, Davitt next applied to the prothonotary7 of the public law courts—a gentleman whom Eugene had known previously at the university—for a summons by the Habeas Corpus Act. This, in company with a copy of the affidavit, in due course found its way into the possession of Mrs. Marvel Imogen Narramore Whitworth, otherwise known as the Bird of Paradise, Heaven, the Air and the Sun, residing page 282at Edenhall, Maconville, the summons being made returnable on the fourteenth day from the day of its issue.

It drew the attention of the aforesaid Mrs. Marvel Imogen Narramore Whitworth to the various clauses in the affidavit of Eugene Percival Whitworth, her lawful husband, such clauses having been specially composed for her delectation and general amusement by the contumacious8 Davitt. In the name of the President of the United States, it commanded the aforesaid Marvel Imogen Narramore Whitworth to produce the bodies of Pearly Imogen Gould Whitworth and Valentine Gordon Whitworth in the Supreme court before the chief justice of the State of Louisiana or such other justices as might be in attendance, on the twenty-first day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fiftyone; furthermore, to show cause why the bodies of the said Pearly Imogen Gould Whitworth and Valentine Gordon Whitworth should not be delivered into the custody and possession of their father forthwith. It was ascertained by telegram from the agent of Warne, Costall and Davitt at Maconville that Mrs. Marvel Imogen Narramore Whitworth had next day been duly served with the affidavit and summons: that no attempt had been made to slam the door in the messenger's face, or to throw the documents at him: and that in company with her mother the paradisal bird had left her house that night by train for New Orleans.

It was a surprise and gratification to the doctor to hear that, although his wife had so much regard for the appealing letters which he had posted to her, she had still more for the emissary of the government of the republic, probably on account of the president's social standing, in addition to the prospect of a flirtation at law. Every one of her husband's letters the bird of Paradise threw into the fire; the letters from her old friend "who had many a lark with her," she kept under her pillow and read lovingly over several times, so as to imprint the flowery verbiage of his correspondence well upon her not impervious memories.

A few days after, when the doctor called at the office above the archway of the cattle-bazaar he was confronted by Davitt with many copies of affidavits, similar in form to the one he himself had sworn, chief of which was a sworn statement by his wife to the effect that her husband was not by any means one of the sweetest creatures she had ever known, but that he was cap-a-pie9 from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, all his life, a downright blackguard, a low taproom loafer and sot, and that he was gifted with all the cruel nature of a Thüg. There was not a slaughterman in the public abbattoirs that could hold a candle to him for cruelty. Sixteen pages of foolscap were just about enough to hold all she could think of at the time, but she added an appendix to the effect that she had plenty more to follow. The other affidavits were made by her mother, her valetudinarian10 auntie, Sukey Bubtitt and Simon Bubtitt, together with some of the unemployed scoundrels of the city who had each been paid the douceur11 of ten dollars. One was made by an old buccaneer of La Fitte's island12; another from a Chinaman had been sworn to by cutting off a cock's head, page 283and the lawyer who had prepared the others on instructions from Marvel swore to the last himself to make the number even and swell the bill of costs by another twenty dollars. They fell like sheaves in autumn, and in that fearful scene in Davitt's lair like a fusillade of thunderclaps upon the doctor, who had never dreamt that anybody could bring such a volley of charges against him, feeling, as he did in his own conscience, that his life had never been a wasted or an immoral one, but that it would bear the light of day and the electric light into the bargain as well as the lives of most people whom he had met in his travels. When every little molehill was properly and abundantly magnified in height breadth and depth into the proverbial mountain, and all his laches13 were stacked together like so many Ossas of vice piled upon Pelions of cruelty; when every venial foible was described as a fearful crime, every glass of wine which he ever was seen to take counted as a roystering match for a week; the incident of the prairiegrasses catching fire alluded to as an act of murderous incendiarism; his midnight searches to bring his wife and children home portrayed as violent and wilful expulsion of the angelic bird of Heaven from Paradise; when he was further informed that the poor little child whom he had tried to rock to sleep for so many nights without sleeping an hour himself had died from maltreatment and criminal exposure to cold; when the homes which he had sustained at the Augusta Hospital, Galveston, Sabinnia and the city and which he had tried to make happy for Marvel were painted as little hells upon earth—the dawning spitefulness and galling passion merged into the broad daylight of her rabid, malicious, unscrupulous and venomous mind, and he, began to see clearly for himself what manner of woman he had been dealing with for the previous seven years. The veil had dropped.

Costall, thinking to catch him at a weak moment off his guard after he had perused the charges forwarded from the office of Hallam, Brassy and Hoare, primitively emanating from the amiable Marvel and enough to hang any man, hinted to him in most unmistakable language that he must gird up his loins and straightway put upon himself all his available armour for bloody war to the knife, and concluded by suggesting that he should induce his father to leave, pendente lite14, any title-deeds he might possess for safe keeping in the strong-room of the office on the third floor flat. Feeling, however, that it was as easy for him to rout the chevaux de frise15 of the affidavits from the office of Hallam, Brassy and Hoare as it was to Valentine to bowl over the pugwuggies of Simon and Sukey Bubtitt, he resented the idea of soliciting aid from his father, and disclosed to the proud satisfaction of Costall and Davitt that he could produce hundreds of answering affidavits from gentlemen and ladies in the country and from gentlemen and ladies in the city to clean whose boots among the swearers of the consigned dispatches from the office of Hallam, Brassy and Hoare there was not one in any way worthy.

"The more the merrier," said Davitt: "I'll go with you to Galveston to-morrow; to the Sabine River district the day after we return from Galveston; the week after that we will take a hansom and hunt up all your page 284supporters in the city. The servants who have been in your joint employ are sine quâ non the most important witnesses, because they would of course be the most likely parties to see everything that was going on in the houses. You must get every one of them: you say they all fell out with your wife. In order to do things as economically as possible we must take Commissioner Silas P. Grinder with us, as I can make arrangements with him to take the affidavits at three dollars a dozen if you prime him well up with a few quarts before I make the offer. Go home now, and don't you go into any hotels. Mind you don't go out after dark. They are sure to have your footsteps dogged by some private mouchard. Good-night; I've got a little tart to meet at four minutes past eight."

1 A place where alms are distributed. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 A savage; an intractable person; when applied to females, a termagant. OED Online,n.2, sense 3.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 From The Minstrel Boy. Thomas Moore.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 A monetary deficiency through breach of trust by one who has the management or charge of funds; a fraudulent deficiency in money matters. OED Online, sense 5.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 Pathology – a liver which in appearance resembles the cut surface of a nutmeg. OED Online. See 'nutmeggy'.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 Possibly relates to the story Solon tells Croesus about the happiest men in the world, having judged that among the happiest are two men who have died on temple steps. The surface moral of the story is that one cannot tell whether something will turn out well or not until it is over. Wilson 2006.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 A principal notary or chief clerk or recorder of a court of law. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

8 Resisting authority; stubbornly perverse.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

9 From head to foot. Jones 1963:200.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

10 A person in weak health. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

11 Sweetness; a gift; a bribe. Jones 1963:223.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

12 Jean Lafitte was a pirate of the early 19th century. La Fitte's island may also specifically refer to Galveston Island, where Lafitte was based around 1820. (Informal source).

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

13 Culpability; negligence. Correctly a singular noun. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

14 While a suit is pending. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

15 Defensive appliances of war (singular cheval de frise). OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]