Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Divorce a vinculo - Part 6
DIVORCE A VINCULO; or, THE TERRORS OF SIR CRESSWELL CRESSWELL.
(Continued from p. 277.)
rs. Barber was let out of the pen whilst the Court was refreshing itself. Mr. Lamb waited for the lady at the bottom of the fatal steps, and offering his arm to her in a deferential way, conducted her to her seat. Nothing surprised me more than the appearance of perfect indifference, towards each other, which the two principals in Barber v. Barber contrived to put on during this temporary cessation of hostilities. For six years the one had been loving on against hope,—the other torturing his tender victim. What days, what nights they must have passed together! What words of bitterness and temporary reconciliation must have been uttered between them! Then there was Nature’s soft but adamantine link—that beautiful babe with the Barber eyes, and the Montresor “pobsie-wobsies,” or feet with astonishing toes; but all seemed now clean forgotten and out of their minds? Mr. Barber—as far as his manner was concerned—might have been leaning over the rails in Rotten Row, discussing the demerits of a chestnut screw with his abandoned associates—Mrs. Barber might have been paying a graceful tribute of commendation to the beauty of a rival, or engaged in a daring analysis of the last thing in lace-falls, for any trace of emotion you could discover in their countenances. Madam Leocadie Lareine had come into Court, and now formed one of our little group near the Jury-Box, consisting of Mrs. Barber, her maid, her nurse, Mr. Lamb, and myself. Mr. Lamb now addressed the lady, but with a sort of sandwich-and-sherry manner, just as though he were speaking of the most indifferent matters.
“Mrs. Barber, be good enough to smile at me occasionally whilst I am giving you my last instructions, and see you take heed to them. I have that confidence in your strength of mind that I’ll tell you exactly where you are—just precisely in the most dangerous position in which a woman could stand. For the next hour you would be safer in the bear’s den in the Zoological Gardens, after a parcel of schoolboys had been irritating the bears by alluring them to the top of the pole with buns, and then depriving them of the anticipated encouragement to industry, than up yonder on that comfortable cushion. Be good enough to smile at me, as if I’d said something to amuse you.”
“La! Mr. Lamb!” said the lady, with an expression upon her face of intense amusement, just allowing her glance to fall for an instant on the two Misses Barber, and then withdrawing it emphatically, as though afraid of giving offence. “La! Mr. Lamb, you don’t say so!”
“You’re sublime, Madam, positively sublime. You’re the first woman I ever admired in my life. After we’ve turned Barber out of doors, if you’ll accept me as a substitute, I can only say that I will take the earliest opportunity of tendering you my hand and fortune in a regular way. May I trouble you for another smile, Mrs. Barber?”
“La! Mr. Lamb, you funny old dear! What a nice old lawyer you are! I shall never forget the trouble you have taken for me.”
“Enough, Madam, I understand you. I was carried away by my feelings, and honest admiration for the unrivalled dexterity of that last glance. Look at the two ladies again—this time innocently—you would suppose them under the effect of drastic medicine; but enough of this. And now to business. Remember, Mrs. Barber, it was Dodge’s business to hold you up; it’s Lobb’s business to trip you up. Not a single question he puts to you but has a trap behind it,—if he does his work well. Now, mind, the more he bellows the less is the real peril: only when he’s horribly civil keep your wits about you. Don’t forget, either, that you can be as positive as you like, if they haven’t your handwriting to show against you, or nobody was by at the time. You may then trust implicitly to your own memory. I think I’ve taken the last precautions. I have shaken hands with Lobb—(another smile, if you please—thank you, that will do)—his hand’s damp, so I can’t think his cross-examination can come to much. And I’ve directed my clerk to see that lots of pens and paper should be placed before Mr. Barber. If he only takes to prompting Lobb, and Lobb is idiot enough to listen to him, under Providence, we’re safe. Another smile, if you please; thank you. If you see any such manœuvres going on, swear hard, my dear madam, swear hard—they’ve got no evidence in support, and haven’t time to get it, which is more. There,—I can’t do anything more for you. Only remember my last injunction; don’t faint till the last extremity, or we should have all this work to go through again; it is, however, a last resource, if Lobb makes himself particularly unpleasant. Madame Lareine, I trust to you to assist us with a little sympathy—but I wouldn’t venture to suggest anything to you. Ann Iron, if you see me tap my nose with my spectacles, jump up and look at Dr. Lobb as if he owed you a quarter’s wages, and wouldn’t pay: as for you, Mrs. Gollop, if you see your sweet mistress in trouble, you may howl in a low tone, but not so as to get turned out of Court; just as if your own darling Paddy was off in an emigrant ship from the quay at Limerick, and they were passing you down the ladder. Now I must be off; the Usher’s blowing his nose,—that means that Sir Cresswell’s done his sherry. I’ll just step round through the crowd, so that the Jury shan’t think I’ve been talking with you. One more smile, my dear Mrs. Barber. God bless you! Take care of yourself.”
So saying, with a pleasant nod, Mr. Lamb disappeared. The three Judges came back into Court, and for a minute or two there was a general bustle, and shaking into places. In the midst of this, my friend Lamb emerged from the crowd at the other side of the well, just after the door had been opened, and took his seat, but quite out of breath, and as though he had been running hard to be back in time. He was, however, there to conduct Mrs. Barber to the bottom of the steps, and hand her back to the charge of the usher. She was soon inside the pen again, and this time took her seat without any difficulty; indeed, I may go so far as to say that Sir C. C. himself could not have been more at his ease in his own Court than was my graceful little friend Mrs. Barber. Now Dr. Lobb may do his worst—we are all ready, and waiting for him.
Dr. L. “Now, Mrs. Barber, allow me to call your attention for a moment to the incidents immediately preceding your marriage with Mr. Barber. As you have told my learned friend Dr. Dodge, your acquaintance with your future husband commenced in the Ride at Hyde Park?”
Mrs. B. “It did so.”
Dr. L. “You have told the Jury that you, a young lady between sixteen and seventeen years of age, permitted yourself to be addressed in Hyde Park by a gentleman—a perfect stranger to you. Did you mention the fact at all to your parents?”
Mrs. B. “I did not.
Dr. L. “How was it the groom who attended you—for, I think, we have been told that a groom did attend upon you, during these rides—made no mention at home of the fact?”
Mrs. B. “I am sure I can’t say; you had better ask the man himself.” Mr. Lamb here turned slightly round, and half glanced at Mrs. Barber. I fancied he was not quite satisfied with the tone in which the last answer was given; probably Mrs. B. herself thought so, too, for she added with exceeding politeness: “The groom is still living with Papa, as Mr. Barber well knows.”
Dr. L. “Now stop, Mrs. Barber. You say, ‘Mr. Barber well knows.’ Now, how can you tell what Mr. Barber knows?”
Mrs. B. (As though quite off her guard at the pertness of this question.) “Why, it was a very short time back, when Mr. Barber was exceedingly tipsy, he knocked George down—he was always knocking people down, that was his way—and then gave him five shillings to say nothing about it. I suppose, as George had on Papa’s livery, Mr. Barber knew where he was living then.”
Dr. Lobb did not push this point further. The first passage of arms had not proved very favourable to him. The ferocious husband here stooped forward and whispered something into Dr. Lobb’s ear, with an expression on his face which seemed to imply that Mrs. B.’s last statement was a horrid falsehood, but why waste time upon such stuff? Ah! Barber, my boy! this won’t do. You’re caught at last. You can’t thump Sir Cresswell and beat him about as you did your sweet wife and poor George—perhaps you’d like to try! There, there, that will do. Attention to Dr. Lobb.
Dr. L. “You have given the Jury to understand, Mrs. Barber, that your hurried marriage was purely the result of Mr. Barber’s impetuous fashion of courtship. Now, allow me to ask, Madam, was it not yourself who urged Mr. Barber to run off with you? And was it not owing to his profound respect for you that even the marriage—hasty as it was—was gone through?”
Mrs. B. (Her eyes flashing with anger.) “Is a lady expected to answer such a question—even here?”
Dr. L. “That is no answer, madam—and an answer I must have. Did you, or did you not, propose to Mr. Barber, to carry you off without waiting for the licence, reproaching him at the same time with being as slow as a plunger, because he counselled delay, and the prior performance of the nuptial ceremony?”
Mrs. B. (With great dignity.) “Sir, I was a girl just turned sixteen years of age at the time, and Mr. Barber was a man of thirty-two.”
The tears began to trickle slowly down Mrs. Barber’s cheeks. At the same time, Madame Leocadie Lareine stood up and said, in an audible whisper, but so as to attract the attention of the Jury, “Ah! c’est trop fort.”
The old Judge had been evidently puzzled for some time. His intelligence was engaged in single combat with the word “plunger;” nor would he at first admit Dr. Lobb’s explanation of the term. Dictionaries were sent for, and the word was very properly overhauled. In the work of our great lexicographer it was found Plunger, from to plunge; v.n., “One who plunges, or who casts himself into water by his own voluntary act, and by a rapid, deciduous motion; a pearl diver from the Philippine Islands; a variety of the duck tribe.” Finally it was ascertained in Rees’s Supplement (a work of authority) that the word was sometimes applied sportively or sarcastically to the officers of the Heavy Dragoons and Household Brigade, in H.B.M.S., and was probably derived from the manner in which they plunged in and out of their military boots when their horses were restive, or moving on the grand pas. The meaning of the term being thus authoritatively settled, the proceedings were resumed.
The letter to “Gussy Pussy.”
Dr. L. “We must have the answer at last, Mrs. Barber, but if you please we’ll put it in another way. During the period of your courtship did you ever write to Mr. Barber?”
Mrs. B. (After a moment’s reflection.) “I don’t remember.”
Dr. L. “Now recollect yourself, Mrs. Barber, and make an effort. You can remember the minutest circumstance to your husband’s disadvantage—now see if you can’t recall a trifling fact or two in his favour. I repeat my question. During the period of your courtship did you ever write to Mr. Barber?”
Mrs. Barber couldn’t remember—yes, poor lady, she was doing her best—but she couldn’t remember. She would not positively swear she had not written; but she would distinctly swear that she didn’t remember having done so. She didn’t believe she had. She was seeing Mr. Barber every day—why should she have written to him? Dr. Lobb fidgetted with his hand in his breast-pocket, but Mrs. Barber kept her eye firmly on him, and waited for his attack to develop itself. At last the learned civilian pulled out a letter, and caused it to be handed up to Mrs. Barber, with the inquiry whether that was in her handwriting. Mrs. B. could not tell—it looked something like her handwriting—but if she was made aware of the contents she would be better able to answer the question. I observed that she glanced at the direction. The letter was finally handed to the gentleman with the despatch-box, who rose up, fixed his double-glasses upon his nose, and read it to the Court. It was, however, unfortunate that his glasses were always falling off at the most critical points of this composition—so that a good deal of the fire and spirit were inevitably lost.
“My angel Augustus—When will this end? I have been distracted since we parted. I fear that every moment will bring a discovery—and then I am lost. Oh! yes, lost—lost. For what is to become of poor Cecilia if her Augustus is taken from her. Send me, my beloved, or rather give me to-morrow a scrap of those surpassing (here the glasses fell off) whiskers—
By the Court. “Whiskers!—that can’t be. Ladies don’t ask for scraps of gentlemen’s whiskers. Did any lady ever ask for a scrap of your whiskers, Dr. Lobb?”
Dr. Lobb looked a little foolish, for his whiskers were magnificent; so that if no lady had requested a scrap of them, other considerations must have stood in the way.
Reading continued. “Whiskers,” it certainly is whiskers here, my Lord! “which first captivated my young heart, and awoke in me a sense of bliss unutterable. Oh! Augustus, you slow plunger, why should we wait for the rubbishy licence, just as if we were going to open a public-house—if we do it shall be (down went the glasses again), the Augustus Arms. Of course we’ll go and get the fuss over, and get married somewhere or other; but I want to be with Augustus, and away from here. The Governor is so slow now—so dreadfully, horridly, wretchedly slow that it makes my poor head ache to think of him. Oh! you naughty, naughty man, you have quite bewitched your poor Cecilia. My only comfort is practising smoking with the cigars you gave me. They’re rather too full for me—I should prefer mediums. Good bye, you dear, deluding Don Whiskerando. Mind to-morrow—at the tree by the Band at half-past eleven. I’m going to make myself some sherry cobbler to-night—as you told me. I ran down-stairs when dinner was laid, and got some sherry in a physic-bottle—and I took some out of each of the decanters, so that it should not be missed; and yet, Augustus, you call your Cecilia thoughtless—and I have pulled two straws out of Mama’s Tuscan bonnet, which I dare say will do—if not I will bubble it up through a quill. There, good night again, you dear old thing. Sissy.”Dr. L. “Well, Mrs. Barber, what do you say to that? Did you write that letter?”
Mrs. B. (With withering contempt.) “No.”
Dr. L. “By virtue of your oath, Madam—and warning you fully as to the consequences of bearing false testimony—I repeat the question. Did you write that letter, or did you not?”
Mrs. B. “Never! I should think it impossible that any lady ever wrote such a letter as that.”
Dr. Lobb tried to look as if he had full grounds for establishing an indictment of perjury against Mrs. Barber; but the feeling in Court ran sadly against him, a feeling much increased when it turned out, in answer to a question from the old Judge, that the letter bore no post-mark, and had not, in point of fact, been transmitted through the post at all. Dr. Lobb, when summoned to explain how the letter came into his possession, was obliged to admit that the theory for the defence was, that this strange love-epistle, and many others of a similar character, had been conveyed by the then Miss Cecilia Montresor’s nurse, Mrs. Gollop—now actually present in Court—to the hands of a certain Joseph Muck, since deceased, but at that time living in the capacity of groom with Mr. Barber. My friend, Mr. Lamb, at this moment was distinctly heard to utter the interjection “Phoo!”—but at the same moment his face expressed so much respect for the Court, as he looked upward to the old Judge to see what course he would be pleased to adopt, that it was impossible to find fault with him. Not so with Mrs. Gollop. It had been quite evident for some time that that lady had been struggling with her emotions; but she was roused to a point beyond which further control was impossible at the mention of her own name, and felt that she was called upon at once to testify on behalf of her outraged mistress. Her artless anger took the form of an attack upon Mr. Barber and Dr. Lobb.
Mrs. Gollop. “Oh, you dirty, murderin’ villins!” (such was the manner of her testimony) “do you mane to say that me darlin’ young lady who’s the hoigth of nobility, and propriety of spache, ever demaned herself by wroiting to the loikes o’ you? That for you” (this to Mr. Barber, snapping her fingers), “and the ugly lawyer” (this to Dr. Lobb) “who sits there by the side o’ you, to tell lies against ladies o’ burth and fa-amily at so much a-pace! Bad cess to you, you dirty ha'porth o’ yalla soap!” (this to Dr. Lobb)—“down on your knase, and ask swate Miss Sissy’s pardon, and his noble Lordship’s. And as for you, you two ould withered mopsticks!” (this to the two Misses Barber) “how durst you call the best blood of ould Ireland ‘dregs'—how durst you do it? Be out of this wid your durty Carnwall, you low-barn, pilchard-ating pair—the divil a tooth have you in your gums, or a hair on your heads betwixt you, barrin’ five gray ones—and they’re false. I’ll bally-rag them, Miss Sissy, dear—”
I grieve to say, that at this point these touching manifestations of Celtic attachment were interrupted by Sir C. C., who, without the smallest regard to the pathos of her situation, ordered that Mrs. Gollop should be removed from the Court. This was done; but even as Mrs. G. departed, she continued to uplift her voice in testimony.
Mrs. G. “If it was me last wurds I’d say”—(Usher.—“Now, my good woman.”) “Don’t good woman me—yer durt, or pull a dacent lady about in so particular a way. Niver did hand o’ moine carry letter to Joseph Muck, who’s in thick tarments by this toime—Muck by name, and muck by nature—”
By this time the act of extrusion was completed—but still from the passage you heard the last sounds of the scuffle, and various suggestions not of a complimentary character with reference to the memory of the late Mr. Muck.
Dr. Lobb. “I think it will be unnecessary to produce the remainder of the correspondence between Mrs. Barber and her husband during their courtship, since Mrs. Barber so positively denies the authorship. Enough is done to lay a foundation for ulterior proceedings.”
The Court entirely and drily agreed with Dr. Lobb, who couldn’t be said to have taken much by the production of his letter. Mrs. Barber was not to be shaken in the account she had given during her examination in chief of the occurrence at Poldadek, and contrived to import into her later evidence so many particulars relating to the style and manner of the housekeeping at that Cornish mansion, that the two Misses Barber were positively sobbing with vexation: Mrs. Barber the while contemplating them from her elevated cushion with an air of tender sympathy—
Love watching madness, with unalterable mien.
At last, when Mrs. B., in an unguarded moment, having fallen into error as to Dr. Lobb’s meaning, disclosed to the Court that it was not Miss Harriet, but Miss Jane—oh! dear no, not Miss Hariet—who was in the habit of taking two pills every night in order to clear her complexion, even the learned civilian felt that the position was no longer tenable, and evacuated it, scarcely, as it seemed to me, with the honours of war. Mrs. Barber was evidently shocked at Dr. Lobb for having alluded to matters which surely should not be allowed to transpire beyond the inner regions of domestic life. Here were three distinct failures, but Dr. Lobb came up to time cheerfully for the fourth round, just as though he had not (I venture to borrow a phrase from the dialect of the P.R.) been so quietly “sent to dorse” on the three previous occasions. Mrs. Barber waited for him smiling—this time the Doctor advanced at once to the attack.
Dr. L. “Now, Mrs. Barber, about this blow which, as you allege, Mr. Barber struck you in the drawing-room at Cheltenham.”
Mrs. B. (Was lost in reflection for a few moments, and then, as her eye rested upon Mr. Barber, who was sitting behind Dr. Lobb, the tears began to trickle down her cheeks; she sighed, too, poor thing! so heavily!) “I never said so.”
Dr. L. “What! Madam, do you mean to tell me, and to tell the Jury, that you did not positively affirm here in this Court, but an hour ago, that your husband struck you on the arm in the drawing-room at Cheltenham with a bootjack?”
Mrs. B. (quite emptying her lungs). “A—h! Ah! I never said so.”
Dr. L. “Re-e-ally, Mrs. Barber, this is a little too much. I took your words down myself.”
Mrs. B. “Oh!” (with a slightly rocking movement). “Oh! Oh!”
Dr. L. “May I beg your Lordship to read the question and answer from your notes?”
The Court complied with the learned civilian’s request, but it turned out that he was incorrect in this particular—that Mrs. Barber had spoken of the dressing-room, not of the drawing-room, as the scene of this catastrophe. Dr. Lobb here incurred a very severe admonition from the Court, to the effect that he could not be too particular about the locus in quo—a good deal always turned upon the locus in quo—as Dr. Lobb ought to be well aware.
Mrs. Barber, upon this occasion, was clearly in the right, and Dr. Lobb as clearly in the wrong as to the locus in quo. Mrs. B., however, continued the rocking movement, which was so painful to witness, and appeared quite insensible to the compliments of the Court. I could not help fancying that Dr. Lobb was a little confused by this last blow, but he continued the persecution with unabashed front.
Mrs. B. (Still crooning.) “No! Oh, no! Don’t ask me any more about it; I said, it might have been the bootjack, but I was so stunned by Mr. Barber’s violence—and by the fall—that I didn’t see what he held in his hand.”
Dr. L. “That you didn’t see what he held in his hand? Now, Madam, will you tell the Jury—by virtue of your oath—was it not a tooth-brush Mr. Barber held in his hand at the time of the alleged assault? Were not you, in a fit of jealousy, endeavouring to prevent him from going out of doors? And is it not the true account of this transaction that Mr. Barber tried to keep you off with his right hand, and so, if at all, the toothbrush, not the bootjack, came into contact with your arm?”
Mrs. Barber wouldn’t swear it was the bootjack, but it couldn’t have been the tooth-brush—the blow was too heavy—and she bore on her person for too many days the marks of Mr. B’s. violence to render that possible. Ann Iron, her maid, had seen the contusion. She had not called in surgical assistance for fear the rumour of Mr. Barber’s ferocity should get abroad—for in those days she still loved him. All that she had done was to apply Goulard-water plentifully, and to pray for Mr. Barber at night. Indeed, when Mr. B. returned late at night, or rather early in the morning, from the Club, where he had lost all his money, he was very near renewing the attack upon her because he found her sitting up in bed crying, with her arm in a sling, singing a beautiful passage in one of Watt’s hymns, recommending resignation to wives in all the trials of domestic life, with the cheerful assurance that a day would come when ferocious husbands would meet with their deserts. It appeared that Mr. B. heard this pathetic wailing in his dressing-room, which adjoined their common sleeping apartment; and, as Mr. B. informed Dr. L., stormed into the bedroom—(she was sitting up in bed)—doing his hair with two large hair-brushes, and told her “to shut up that row”—for so this man of violence denominated the pious exercise in which his exemplary wife was engaged. Mrs. B. had simply folded her arms on her breast, and told him she was prepared for any extremity.
Mr. Barber’s face was a perfect study whilst this testimony was borne to his secret misdeeds. He half rose up—his mouth wide open—and glared at his former victim just as a tiger in the Zoological Gardens might glare at the fresh shoulder of mutton which he should have had for his dinner, but which the keeper had purposely placed beyond his reach. Astonishment, however, predominated over ferocity. The wretched man could not evidently bring himself to comprehend that the truth must come out at last—and in his case it was his hired agent who was the instrument of unveiling his atrocity to the eyes of the world. I am afraid that he uttered a very forcible expression; but I know that he brought down his clenched fist violently on the desk before him, almost in contact with Dr. Lobb’s ear. Mrs. Barber uttered a faint scream, and buried her face in her hands. Mr. Lamb started up with great spirit to protect his client from the first outburst of this wretched man’s anger; and, finally, Sir Cresswell administered to him an admirable rebuke, which I shall never forget to my dying day. I need not here set it forth at length, but the spirit of it was “that if Mr. Barber could not command his passions here in a Court of Justice—where he, Sir C. C. was sitting, with the force of the British Empire at his back—what were the Jury to think his former conduct must have been, when a feeble and defenceless woman was in his power, in the silent hour of night, far away from all human help?” Finally Mr. Barber was informed that any renewal of his violence in that Court would lead, as a simple, inevitable, and instant result, to his incarceration for an unlimited term in one of Her Majesty’s gaols. It could not be said, on the whole, that Dr. L. and his fierce client had come off the victors in the fourth round. From this moment it seemed to me that the Jury had made up their minds.
Sævitia.—“Shut up that row!”
Dr. Lobb did all that he could, and that all amounted just to a faint endeavour to turn the subject by a playful allusion to the fate of the unhappy lap-dog Fido; but before he could get out three sentences he was stopped by the old Judge, and informed, that as all allusion to this point had been struck off his notes during the examination in chief, he, Dr. Lobb, was not at liberty to cross-examine upon it. The Doctor was was obviously losing heart, for he had not yet succeeded in establishing a single point. The incident of the hair at Brussels went off very much like that of the incident of the bootjack at Cheltenham—there was an obvious absence in Dr. L.’s method of handling the point of that delicacy of manipulation which characterised any case which had passed through the hands of the firm of “Lamb and Rackem.” No dainty vision of a young uxorious husband just snipping off an end of the silken and perfumed tresses of a young angel in a dressing gown, that he might enshrine the stolen treasure in a golden casket, and wear it upon his adoring heart, was conjured up before the mind of the British Jury—there were no hot-rolls—no tongue and chicken—no purring cat—no domestic happiness. The cross-examination upon this point was a simple see-saw of Did you? and Did you not? which terminated entirely to the lady’s advantage. I must content myself with merely indicating the theories set up by the defence to rebut most of the charges, and how these were in turn demolished by Mrs. Barber, as—indeed, how could it be otherwise, when she and Truth were on one side, and Dr. Lobb on the other?
It was then falsely pretended that the “incident of the burnt nose,” at Folkestone, as described by the petitioner, was a pure fiction—that true it was that the bed in which Mrs. Barber was lying at Folkestone had been set on fire, but that the accident had entirely occurred through her own carelessness. The lady—this was Dr. L.’s infamous story—was in the habit of reading in bed, contrary to her husband’s warnings, and even commands. Worse even than this—these were the occasions she selected for the perusal of French novels—a class of literature upon which Mr. Barber had set his veto. On the night in question Mrs. B. was reading in bed, a work called “Mathilde, ou Mémoires d’une jeune femme”—she fell asleep with the candlestick on her pillow, and the bed had caught fire, as well as Mrs. B.’s handkerchief, which was partly over her face. Mr. Barber, providentially, just came in in time, and in all probability by so doing saved his wife’s life. He admitted that before he had gone out he had in a playful manner applied a little cold cream to Mrs. B.’s face—but simply because her complexion had been injured by the sea air, during the passage of the Channel. The lady soon disposed of this paltry fabrication. She had never read a French novel in her life, except “Télémaque,” a work upon which she doted from its spirited delineation of character, and variety of incident, and still more because it was the favourite reading of her dear governess, Miss Sophy Snap—now Mrs. Theobald Twist, resident with her husband in New Zealand. Mr. B.’s story was a pure invention. With regard to the distressing incident, known in this case as the “incident of the ankles,” Mrs. B., after she had so far recovered from her distress and indignation as to be able to speak to the point at all, admitted that Augustus had made a scene upon the platform at Folkestone—as well as on the previous night, when they had been coming out of the steamer, and sworn at her violently because—she could not say it—well, because, as he alleged, she had been slightly too indulgent to the spectators in the display of her ankles. But if such a thing had happened at all—how had it happened? When they were leaving Ostend, Augustus had insisted upon her wearing a crinoline of unusual size, and stitching under it two huge pockets filled with cigars, which he compelled her to smuggle on his account in fraud of Her Majesty’s revenue. Mrs. B. said that her usual habit was, in travelling, to discard the crinoline altogether—for she was well aware that ladies, with all the care and discretion they could exercise, could not upon all occasions guard against all contingencies when their dresses were extended according to the prevailing fashion. Dr. Lobb made just as little of these two points as of all that had gone before. When they had been disposed of—as described—he continued the cross-examination.
Dr. L. “Now Mrs. B., it results from all we have heard—from what took place at Cheltenham, at Brussels, at Folkestone, and elsewhere—that after leaving Folkestone you were living on the worst possible terms with your husband, who, as you tell us, had neglected you, sworn at you, insulted you, set fire to you, and beaten you. Is that so?”
What could the Doctor be driving at? I noticed just the slightest perceptible movement in Lamb’s brow.
Mrs. B. “No, sir—not upon the worst possible terms—that came afterwards.”
Dr. L. “That came afterwards. To what do you allude, Madam?”
Lobb had been so severely punished in his previous collisions with Mrs. Barber, that he had now quite lost his temper,-—a circumstance which placed him almost at the mercy of his antagonist. Mrs. Barber—but women are wonderful creatures!—had cooled down to the temperature of an iced sword-blade. The learned civilian had so far forgotten himself as to speak to the lady rudely, almost coarsely,—so that there was a universal desire felt in Court to kick him out of it. He was not prepared for the reply. Mrs. Barber deliberately rose from her seat, as pale as death, and advancing to the front of the pen in full sight of the Jury, said, in a quiet emphatic way,—
Mrs. B. “Because, sir, I had not yet been staying at Scarborough with my child while my husband was living at another Hotel in the same town with the lady whom he has selected to fill my place. That came afterwards!”
With these words, Mrs. Barber retired again to the back of the pen, and, resuming her seat, burst into tears, leaving Dr. Lobb to squabble with the Judge upon the propriety of expunging this answer from his notes, on the ground that it was only relevant to the first issue, which was uncontested. It was no use: the Court was in such a state of high moral elevation, that the only wonder was that Lobb was not summarily sent to Bridewell with hard labour for fourteen days at least. Poor wretch; he couldn’t afford to miss his point, as it is called in these regions, and so rushed on to further destruction, but with a kind of half apology.
Dr. L. “I had no intention, Mrs. Barber, I assure you, of reopening that sore. No one can more deeply regret than my learned friends and myself that most painful incident in Mr. Barber’s conduct; and I beg you to observe, that I have not put one question to you upon the subject, because I felt that you were fully entitled to—”
By the Court. “There, there, Dr. Lobb, you owed the lady an apology, and we’ll take it that it is made. Go on.”
Dr. L. (In a half-beaten way.) “Well, Mrs. Barber, after the incidents named, you were living at least on very bad terms with your husband?”
Mrs. B. (Making ineffectual attempts at tearful speech, at last got out with difficulty.) “Yes.”
Dr. L. “Now, Madam, will you be good enough to look at these notes, and tell me whether you admit them to be in your handwriting? I hope we shall be more fortunate than last time.”
Mrs. B. (Sobbing.) “I ho—ho—ho—hope s—s—o. Yes. I wr—o—ote these le—le—let—ters.”
The notes—they were three in number—were then handed up to the gentleman who could not keep his double-glasses on, and by him read out.
“Why does Gussy Pussy stop away so long from his widowed fond Cecilia? I can’t go to sleep at night for thinking of you, my own kind husband. The world is to me a blank when I am parted from my Augustus. I wonder how I could have lived through those cold days before my Oggy Poggy took me to his nest, and cherished and warmed my soul into the real poetry of eminence. Ah, my Augustus! what years of happiness—nay, of bliss—you have given me! I water your dear hyacinth every morning, and tend it for your sake, even as you have tended me. Babe’s blessed little tum-tum has been rather tight, and Momma thinks he wants Dr. Rhubarb—he can already say, ‘Bes—der—Pa.’ So says your fond Cecilia.”
The reader lost his glasses three times in the course of reading this remarkable letter—viz., at the words “Oggy Poggy,” at the words “tum-tum,” and at the infant’s form of benediction.
The next note was shorter. The child’s disorder had evidently increased.
“Oh! my Augustus, I shall go distracted! Our blessed child—your dear image—is ill and suffering. The doctors—I have called in three physicians, for I know how regardless of expense you are when your Cecilia’s feelings are concerned—nay that the child is not in danger, but I cannot think so. My good, dear, indulgent Augustus, who have never given me a moment’s anxiety or pain since the first blessed day when I met you in Hyde Park, come back to your agonised but loving wife, Cecilia B.”
This note was plainer sailing—the glasses only fell twice. The third note was still shorter.
“Dearest Gus,—Babe’s tum-tum is all right again, and my poor heart is at rest. You know how I long for you back again, to pull your dear old whiskers; but if you are amusing yourself, don’t hurry back on my account. I will only go to meet every train on the chance of finding you fifteen minutes sooner, for I would not lose one precious moment of Gussy’s company. No! I can’t say—stay away. Come to me by the next train, and send a telegram to tell me that you are coming to your loving Cecilia.”
The glasses only fell off once during the reading of this note, at the word “whiskers.” The notes had neither dates nor direction, but the envelopes bore the post-marks of Brighton on three successive days (this point was not disputed), and these dates were posterior in order of time to the acts of cruelty already spoken to by Mrs. Barber. They certainly did appear somewhat inconsistent with the theory set up for the Petitioner, namely, that Mr. Barber was an oppressive, ferocious, tyrannical, wife-beating, bruising, and burning husband. Dr. Lobb this time marched to assured victory, for now he had Mrs. Barber’s handwriting to show against her. But the explanation given by the lady was simple and complete. Mr. Barber had an uncle, an old East Indian Merchant Captain, from whom he had expectations, and who occasionally supplied him with money. This gentleman was a bachelor, but was, however, a great stickler for the happiness of married life, and would certainly have entirely cut of the supplies had be imagined that Mr. Barber was ill-using his unfortunate wife. Upon the occasions when these letters were written, Mr. Barber wanted help from his uncle, and before leaving home he had, under the most terrible threats, compelled his wife to write the notes in question, and to post them on three successive days. When pressed rather hard upon the point of duplicity, Mrs. Barber could but cry, and admit that it was very wrong; but indeed she was afraid of her life—Mr. Barber held her down in a chair, and threatened her so. Oh yes! she had often deeply accused herself of perfidy to the kind old Captain—the only one of her husband’s relatives for whom she ever entertained any respect; but Dr. Lobb didn’t know what a woman’s feelings were when a strong man was standing over her, and with the full ferocity of the sex, threatening her life. Dr. Lobb’s gun had again missed fire.
Finally, Mrs. Barber scarcely condescended to notice Dr. Lobb’s suggestion with regard to the luminous inscription, and the saucers filled with spirits of wine, and the metaphysical terrors of Herne Bay, which was to the effect that her loving husband had upon one occasion, and simply to solace their solitude in that remote watering-place, induced her to play at two-handed snap-dragon, and amused her with a magic-lantern. No: the incident was one of pure, unmitigated, excruciating horror, just as she had related it. Had she complained to her landlady? No! She became insensible; and as she was afterwards informed, congestion of the brain had been set up. It was not by agreement with herself, and at her own request, that Mr. B. had danced the Cachucha in her crinoline. She was never so shocked in her life, and could not look the three Messrs. Winterbotham in the face for weeks after the painful occurrence. Then, with regard to the diaphanous petticoats with the Holy Work and the Cotton Tops, Mrs. Barber entirely and indignantly repudiated the disgusting idea that she had used the Holy Work petticoats under tarlatan skirts with any idea of affording to the world a clearer idea of the Montresor foot, ankle—aye, and more than this. The question was an outrage. No! Mr. Barber had not insisted that she should wear worsted stockings out of regard to her health, and because her chest was delicate. He had never said that she was welcome to wear silk stockings as long as she pleased, so that she would only wear worsted under them in winter and in damp weather. He had been losing heavily at pool, when he proposed to her to wear the Cotton-Tops, and his sole object was—not her health—but a few miserable shillings, to enable him to re-appear at the billiard-table.
Dr. Lobb had done with the witness, who descended from the pen unshaken in any material way by the cross—examination.
Madame Léocadie Lareine was now called up, and examined in chief by Dr. Dodge. It was a magnificent spectacle to behold the way in which this lady ascended into the pen, and took her place, after delivering herself of a stately scoop to the Judges and the Court, like a Grande Dame of the reign of Louis XIV. She did not give their Lordships any trouble about taking her seat—not she! When her attention was called to the various acts of cruelty, both of speech and act, with which Mr. Barber was charged on account of Mrs. Barber’s alleged extravagance in dress, she clasped her hands in an emphatic way, and exclaimed, “Ah! Mon Dieu! c'est infâme—le barbare!” She then explained to the Court that the usual Parisian calculation for a lady’s dress varied proportionately with the family income, and that the amount of the dot brought by the wife was invariably taken largely into account. Upon an income of 25,000 francs she would positively affirm—assuming two children—that a lady was economical who only expended 10,000 francs on dress. Mrs. Barber, in her opinion, was entitled to expend, at the least, 400l. per annum on this object. The sum of 200l. per annum was a misère—it was mesquin—déplorable! Was 25l. too much for that evening-robe of white satin? Assuredly not! The Court must take into account that there were bouillonnés of the same under the skirt, which was necessarily of tulle, which was again adorned with bouillonnés and a frill of silver lace. She saw no mention of the berthe, which was de rigueur. And then their Lordships would readily see that there must be a bow to match at the front of the body. For a terry-velvet bonnet, trimmed across the front with a scarf of the same, five guineas were a bagatelle. No! there would be no blonde inside. fi donc! quel genre! The outer dress—petticoats, sleeves, collars, cuffs, gloves apart—she could not set a lady’s little corner comforts down at less than 60l. per annum. In answer to Dr. Lobb, in cross-examination, she intimated to him, that she had been speaking hitherto of ladies,—but she was quite prepared to admit that the wife of a small lawyer—a petit avocat like him (Dr. L.)—might dress herself for 40l. per annum. But then she must be aux expédiens, and devote her whole attention to turning, dyeing, and making shift. Would Dr. Lobb like to ask her any more questions? or any other gentleman? No? Then, Ma foi! Bonjour!
Ann Iron, Mrs. Barber’s maid, was next called, and confirmed—nay, more than confirmed—her mistress’s statements in all particulars. This witness had a leading idea, which no efforts of Dr. Lobb in cross-examination could shake, that Mr. Barber was always thumping and swearing at the “wife of his boozum.” It did not clearly appear what additional aggravation this qualification conveyed to her mind, but so it was. What was most important was, that she fully confirmed Mrs. Barber’s statements as to the extent of the injury inflicted on her, “the wife of his boozum,” by Mr. B. at Cheltenham. She was not actually present when that ferocious man set fire to the nose of the “wife of his boozum” at Folkestone, but she saw the poor scorched face, and she knew that immediately afterwards Mrs. Barber had exclaimed: “Oh! Augustus, Augustus, how could you go for to do it!” She considered Mr. Barber a most violent and dangerous man, and her poor mistress something “better than the shiny angels.”
The Court now rose, with the full understanding that the Respondent’s case would be brought to a termination in another, and a short sitting. Mr. Lamb conducted Mrs. Barber out of Court with the air of a General who has just won a general action. Mrs. Barber’s manner was a little subdued—her face was flushed—but she was lovely as ever. What had not that poor soul endured! Gamma.