The Second Marriage, by Samuel Warren
of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney
A busy day in the assize court at Chester, chequered, as usual, by
alternate victory and defeat, had just terminated, and I was walking
briskly forth, when an attorney of rather low caste in his
profession—being principally employed as an intermediary between needy
felons and the counsel practising in the Crown Court—accosted me, and
presented a brief; at the same time tendering the fee of two guineas
marked upon it.
"I am engaged to-morrow, Mr. Barnes," I exclaimed a little testily, "on
the civil side: besides, you know I very seldom take briefs in the Crown
Court, even if proffered in due time; and to-morrow will be the last day
of the assize in Chester! There are plenty of unemployed counsel who will
be glad of your brief."
"It is a brief in an action of ejectment," replied the attorney—"Woodley
versus Thorndyke; and is brought to recover possession of a freehold
estate now held and farmed by the defendant."
"An action of ejectment to recover possession of a freehold estate!
defended, too, I know, by a powerful bar; for I was offered a brief, but
declined it. Mr. P —— leads; and you bring me this for the plaintiff,
and at the last moment too! You must be crazed."
"I told the plaintiff and her grandfather," rejoined Mr. Barnes, "that it
was too late to bespeak counsel's attention to the case; and that the
fee, all they have, with much difficulty, been able to raise, was
ridiculously small; but they insisted on my applying to you—Oh, here
We had by this time reached the street, and the attorney pointed towards
two figures standing in attitudes of anxious suspense near the gateway.
It was dusk, but there was quite sufficient light to distinguish the pale
and interesting features of a young female, dressed in faded and scanty
mourning, and accompanied by a respectable-looking old man with white
hair, and a countenance deeply furrowed by age and grief.
"I told you, Miss Woodley," said the attorney, "that this gentleman would
decline the brief, especially with such a fee"—
"It is not the fee, man!" I observed, for I was somewhat moved by the
appealing dejection exhibited by the white-haired man and his timid
grand-daughter; "but what chance can I have of establishing this person's
right—if right she have—to the estate she claims, thus suddenly called
upon to act without previous consultation; and utterly ignorant, except
as far as this I perceive hastily-scrawled brief will instruct me, both
of the nature of the plaintiff's claim and of the defence intended to be
set up against it?"
"If you would undertake it, sir," said the young woman with a tremulous,
hesitating voice and glistening eyes, "for his sake"—and she glanced
at her aged companion—"who will else be helpless, homeless."
"The blessing of those who are ready to perish will be yours, sir," said
the grandfather with meek solemnity, "if you will lend your aid in this
work of justice and mercy. We have no hope of withstanding the masterful
violence and wrong of wicked and powerful men except by the aid of the
law, which we have been taught will ever prove a strong tower of defence
to those who walk in the paths of peace and right."
The earnestness of the old man's language and manner, and the pleading
gentleness of the young woman, forcibly impressed me; and, albeit, it was
a somewhat unprofessional mode of business, I determined to hear their
story from their own lips, rather than take it from the scrawled brief,
or through the verbal medium of their attorney.
"You have been truly taught," I answered; "and if really entitled to the
property you claim, I know of no masterful men that in this land of
England can hinder you from obtaining possession of it. Come to my hotel
in about an hour and a-half from hence: I shall then have leisure to hear
what you have to say. This fee," I added, taking the two guineas from the
hand of the attorney, who still held the money ready for my acceptance,
"you must permit me to return. It is too much for you to pay for losing
your cause; and if I gain it—but mind I do not promise to take it into
court unless I am thoroughly satisfied you have right and equity on your
side—I shall expect a much heavier one. Mr. Barnes, I will see you, if
you please, early in the morning." I then bowed, and hastened on.
Dinner was not ready when I arrived at the hotel; and during the short
time I had to wait, I more than half repented of having had anything to
do with this unfortunate suit. However, the pleadings of charity, the
suggestions of human kindness, reasserted their influence; and by the
time my new clients arrived, which they did very punctually at the hour I
had indicated, I had quite regained the equanimity I had momentarily
lost, and, thanks to mine host's excellent viands and generous wine, was,
for a lawyer, in a very amiable and benevolent humor indeed.
Our conference was long, anxious, and unsatisfactory. I was obliged to
send for Barnes before it concluded, in order to thoroughly ascertain the
precise nature of the case intended to be set up for the defendant, and
the evidence likely to be adduced in support of it. No ray of consolation
or of hope came from that quarter. Still, the narrative I had just
listened to, bearing as it did the impress of truth and sincerity in
every sentence, strongly disposed me to believe that foul play has been
practised by the other side; and I determined, at all hazards, to go into
court, though with but faint hope indeed of a present successful issue.
"It appears more than probable," I remarked on dismissing my clients,
"that this will is a fabrication; but before such a question had been put
in issue before a jury, some producible evidence of its being so should
have been sought for and obtained. As it is, I can only watch the
defendant's proof of the genuineness of the instrument upon which he has
obtained probate: one or more of the attesting witnesses may, if fraud
has been practised, break down under a searching cross-examination, or
incidentally perhaps disclose matter for further investigation."
"One of the attesting witnesses is, as I have already told you, dead,"
observed Barnes; "and another, Elizabeth Wareing, has, I hear, to-day
left the country. An affidavit to that effect will no doubt be made
to-morrow, in order to enable them to give secondary evidence of her
attestation, though, swear as they may, I have not the slightest doubt
I could find her if time were allowed, and her presence would at all
"Indeed! This is very important. Would you, Mr. Barnes, have any
objection," I added, after a few moments' reflection, "to make oath,
should the turn of affairs to-morrow render your doing so desirable, of
your belief that you could, reasonable time being allowed, procure the
attendance of this woman—this Elizabeth Wareing?"
"Not the slightest: though how that would help us to invalidate the will
Thorndyke claims under I do not understand."
"Perhaps not. At all events do not fail to be early in court. The cause
is the first in to-morrow's list, remember."
The story confided to me was a very sad, and, unfortunately in many of
its features, a very common one. Ellen, the only child of the old
gentleman, Thomas Ward, had early in life married Mr. James Woodley, a
wealthy yeoman, prosperously settled upon his paternal acres, which he
cultivated with great diligence and success. The issue of this
marriage—a very happy one, I was informed—was Mary Woodley, the
plaintiff in the present action. Mr. Woodley, who had now been dead
something more than two years, bequeathed the whole of his property, real
and personal, to his wife, in full confidence, as he expressed himself
but a few hours before he expired, that she would amply provide for his
and her child. The value of the property inherited by Mrs. Woodley under
this will amounted, according to a valuation made a few weeks after the
testator's decease, to between eight and nine thousand pounds.
Respected as a widow, comfortable in circumstances, and with a daughter
to engage her affections, Mrs. Woodley might have passed the remainder of
her existence in happiness. But how frequently do women peril and lose
all by a second marriage! Such was the case with Mrs. Woodley: to the
astonishment of everybody, she threw herself away on a man almost unknown
in the district—a person of no fortune, of mean habits, and altogether
unworthy of accepting as a husband. Silas Thorndyke, to whom she thus
committed her happiness, had for a short time acted as bailiff on the
farm; and no sooner did he feel himself master, than his subserviency
was changed to selfish indifference, and that gradually assumed a coarser
character. He discovered that the property, by the will of Mr. Woodley,
was no secured against every chance or casualty to the use and enjoyment
of his wife, that it not only did not pass by marriage to the new
bridegroom, but she was unable to alienate or divest herself of any
portion of it during life. She could, however, dispose of it by will; but
in the event of her dying intestate, the whole descended to her daughter,
Incredibly savage was Thorndyke when he made that discovery; and bitter
and incessant were the indignities to which he subjected his unfortunate
wife, for the avowed purpose of forcing her to make a will entirely in
his favor, and of course disinheriting her daughter. These persecutions
failed of their object. An unexpected, quiet, passive, but unconquerable
resistance, was opposed by the, in all other things, cowed and submissive
woman, to this demand of her domineering husband. Her failing health—for
gently nurtured and tenderly cherished as she had ever been, the
callous brutality of her husband soon told upon the unhappy
creature—warned her that Mary would soon be an orphan, and that upon her
firmness it depended whether the child of him to whose memory she had
been, so fatally for herself, unfaithful, should be cast homeless and
penniless upon the world, or inherit the wealth to which, by every
principle of right and equity, she was entitled. Come what may, this
trust at least should not, she mentally resolved, be betrayed or paltered
with. Every imaginable expedient to vanquish her resolution was resorted
to. Thorndyke picked a quarrel with Ward her father, who had lived at
Dale Farm since the morrow of her marriage with Woodley, and the old
gentleman was compelled to leave, and take up his abode with a distant
and somewhat needy relative. Next Edward Wilford, the only son of a
neighboring and prosperous farmer, who had been betrothed to Mary Woodley
several months before her father's death, was brutally insulted, and
forbidden the house. All, however, failed to shake the mother's
resolution; and at length, finding all his efforts fruitless, Thorndyke
appeared to yield the point, and upon this subject at least ceased to
harass his unfortunate victim.
Frequent private conferences were now held between Thorndyke, his two
daughters, and Elizabeth Wareing—a woman approaching middle-age, whom,
under the specious pretence that Mrs. Thorndyke's increasing ailments
rendered the services of an experienced matron indispensable, he had
lately installed at the farm. It was quite evident to both the mother and
daughter that a much greater degree of intimacy subsisted between the
master and housekeeper than their relative positions warranted; and from
some expressions heedlessly dropped by the woman, they suspected them to
have been once on terms of confidential intimacy. Thorndyke, I should
have mentioned, was not a native of these parts: he had answered Mr.
Woodley's advertisement for a bailiff, and his testimonials appearing
satisfactory, he had been somewhat precipitately engaged. A young man,
calling himself Edward Wareing, the son of Elizabeth Wareing, and said to
be engaged in an attorney's office in Liverpool, was also a not
unfrequent visitor at Dale Farm; and once he had the insolent presumption
to address a note to Mary Woodley, formally tendering his hand and
fortune! This, however, did not suit Mr. Thorndyke's views, and Mr.
Edward Wareing was very effectually rebuked and silenced by his proposed
Mrs. Thorndyke's health rapidly declined. The woman Wareing, touched
possibly by sympathy or remorse, exhibited considerable tenderness and
compassion towards the invalid; made her nourishing drinks, and
administered the medicine prescribed by the village practitioner—who,
after much delay and pooh, poohing by Thorndyke, had been called
in—with her own hands. About three weeks previous to Mrs. Thorndyke's
death, a sort of reconciliation was patched up through her
instrumentality between the husband and wife; and an unwonted expression
of kindness and compassion, real or simulated, sat upon Thorndyke's
features every time he approached the dying woman.
The sands of life ebbed swiftly with Mrs. Thorndyke. Infolded in the
gentle but deadly embrace with which consumption seizes its victims, she
wasted rapidly away; and, most perplexing symptoms of all, violent
retchings and nausea, especially after taking her medicine—which,
according to Davis, the village surgeon, was invariable of a sedative
character—aggravated and confirmed the fatal disease which was hurrying
her to the tomb.
Not once during this last illness could Mary Woodley, by chance or
stratagem, obtain a moment's private interview with her mother, until a
few minutes before her decease. Until then, under one pretence or
another, either Elizabeth Wareing, one of Thorndyke's daughters, or
Thorndyke himself, was always present in the sick-chamber. It was
evening: darkness had for some time fallen: no light had yet been taken
into the dying woman's apartment; and the pale starlight which faintly
illumined the room served, as Mary Woodley softly approached on tiptoe to
the bedside of her, as she supposed, sleeping parent, but to deepen by
defining the shadows thrown by the full, heavy hangings, and the old
massive furniture. Gently, and with a beating heart, Mary Woodley drew
back the bed-curtain nearest the window. The feeble, uncertain light
flickered upon the countenance, distinct in its mortal paleness, of her
parent: the eyes recognized her, and a glance of infinite tenderness
gleamed for an instant in the rapidly-darkening orbs: the right arm
essayed to lift itself, as for one fast, last embrace. Vainly! Love, love
only, was strong, stronger than death, in the expiring mother's heart,
and the arm fell feebly back on the bedclothes. Mary Woodley bent down in
eager grief, for she felt instinctively that the bitter hour at last was
come: their lips met, and the last accents of the mother murmured,
"Beloved Mary, I—I have been true to you—no will—no"—A slight tremor
shook her frame: the spirit that looked in love from the windows of the
eyes departed on its heavenward journey, and the unconscious shell only
of what had once been her mother remained in the sobbing daughter's arms.
I will not deny that this narrative, which I feel I have but coldly and
feebly rendered from its earnest, tearful tenderness, as related by Mary
Woodley, affected me considerably—case-hardened, as, to use an old
bar-pun, we barristers are supposed to be; nor will the reader be
surprised to hear that suspicions, graver even than those which pointed
to forgery, were evoked by the sad history. Much musing upon the strange
circumstances thus disclosed, and profoundly cogitative on the best mode
of action to be pursued, the "small hours," the first of them at least,
surprised me in my arm-chair. I started up, and hastened to bed, well
knowing from experience that a sleepless vigil is a wretched preparative
for a morrow of active exertion, whether of mind or body.
I was betimes in court the next morning, and Mr. Barnes, proud as a
peacock of figuring as an attorney in an important civil suit, was soon
at my side. The case had excited more interest than I had supposed, and
the court was very early filled, Mary Woodley and her grandfather soon
arrived; and a murmur of commiseration ran through the auditory as they
took their seats by the side of Barnes. There was a strong bar arrayed
against us; and Mr. Silas Thorndyke, I noticed, was extremely busy and
important with whisperings and suggestions to his solicitor and
counsel—received, of course, as such meaningless familiarities usually
are, with barely civil indifference.
Twelve common jurors were called and sworn well and truly to try the
issue, and I arose amidst breathless silence to address them. I at once
frankly stated the circumstances under which the brief had come into my
hands, and observed, that if, for lack of advised preparation, the
plaintiff's case failed on that day, another trial, under favor of the
court above, would, I doubt not, at no distant period of time reverse the
possibly at present unfavorable decision. "My learned friends on the
other side," I continued, "smile at this qualified admission of mine: let
them do so. If they apparently establish to-day the validity of a will
which strips an only child of the inheritance bequeathed by her father,
they will, I tell them emphatically, have obtained but a temporary
triumph for a person who—if I, if you, gentlemen of the jury, are to
believe the case intended to be set up as a bar to the plantiff's
claim—has succeeded by the grossest brutality, the most atrocious
devices, in bending the mind of the deceased Mrs. Thorndyke to his
selfish purposes. My learned friend need not interrupt me; I shall pursue
these observations for the present no further—merely adding that I, that
his lordship, that you, gentlemen of the jury, will require of him the
strictest proof—proof clear as light—that the instrument upon which he
relies to defeat the equitable, the righteous claim of the young and
amiable person by my side, is genuine, and not, as I verily believe "—I
looked, as I spoke, full in the face of Thorndyke—"FORGED."
"My lord," exclaimed the opposing counsel, "this is really insufferable!"
His lordship, however, did not interpose; and I went on to relate, in the
most telling manner of which I was capable, the history of the deceased
Mrs. Thorndyke's first and second marriages; the harmony and happiness of
the first—the wretchedness and cruelty which characterized the second. I
narrated also the dying words of Mrs. Thorndyke to her daughter, though
repeatedly interrupted by the defendant's counsel, who manifested great
indignation that a statement unsusceptible of legal proof should be
addressed to the court and jury. My address concluded, I put in James
Woodley's will; and, as the opposing counsel did not dispute its
validity, nor require proof of Mary Woodley's identity, I intimated that
the plaintiff's case was closed.
The speech for the defendant was calm and guarded. It threw, or rather
attempted to throw, discredit on the death-bed "fiction," got up, Mr.
P —— said, simply with a view to effect; and he concluded by averring
that he should be able to establish the genuineness of the will of Ellen
Thorndyke, now produced, by irresistible evidence. That done, however
much the jury might wish the property had been otherwise disposed of,
they would of course return a verdict in accordance with their oaths and
the law of the land.
The first witness called was Thomas Headley, a smith, residing near Dale
Farm. He swore positively that the late Mrs. Thorndyke, whom he knew
well, had cheerfully signed the will now produced, after it had been
deliberately read over to her by her husband about a fortnight before her
death. Silas Thorndyke, John Cummins, Elizabeth Wareing, and witness,
were the only persons present. Mrs. Thorndyke expressed confidence that
her husband would provide for Mary Woodley.
"And so I will," said sleek Silas, rising up and looking round upon the
auditory. "If she will return, I will be a father to her."
No look, no sound of sympathy or approval, greeted this generous
declaration, and he sat down again not a little disconcerted.
I asked this burly, half-drunken witness but one question—"When is your
marriage with Rebecca Thorndyke, the defendant's eldest daughter, to be
"I don't know, Mr. Lawyer; perhaps never."
"That will do; you can go down."
Mr. P —— now rose to state that his client was unable to produce
Elizabeth Wareing, another of the attesting witnesses to the will, in
court. No suspicion that any opposition to the solemn testament made by
the deceased Mrs. Thorndyke would be attempted, had been entertained;
and the woman, unaware that her testimony would be required, had left
that part of the country. Every effort had been made by the defendant to
discover her abode without effect. It was believed she had gone to
America, where she had relatives. The defendant had filed an affidavit
setting forth these facts, and it was now prayed that secondary evidence
to establish the genuineness of Elizabeth Wareing's attesting signature
should be admitted.
I of course vehemently opposed this demand, and broadly hinted that the
witness was purposely kept out of the way.
"Will my learned friend," said Mr. P —— with one of his sliest sneers,
"inform us what motive the defendant could possibly have to keep back a
witness so necessary to him?"
"Elizabeth Wareing," I curtly replied, "may not, upon reflection, be
deemed a safe witness to subject to the ordeal of a cross-examination.
But to settle the matter, my lord," I exclaimed, "I have here an
affidavit of the plaintiff's attorney, in which he states that he has no
doubt of being able to find this important witness if time be allowed him
for the purpose; the defendant of course undertaking to call her when
A tremendous clamor of counsel hereupon ensued, and fierce and angry grew
the war of words. The hubbub was at last terminated by the judge
recommending that, under the circumstances, "a juror should be
withdrawn." This suggestion, after some demur, was agreed to. One of the
jurors was whispered to come out of the box; then the clerk of the court
exclaimed, "My lord, there are only eleven men on the jury;" and by the
aid of this venerable, if clumsy expedient, the cause of Woodley versus
Thorndyke was de facto adjourned to a future day.
I had not long returned to the hotel, when I was waited upon by Mr.
Wilford, senior, the father of the young man who had been forbidden to
visit Dale Farm by Thorndyke. His son, he informed me, was ill from
chagrin and anxiety—confined to his bed indeed; and Mary Woodley had
refused, it seemed, to accept pecuniary aid from either the father or the
son. Would I endeavor to terminate the estrangement which had for some
time unhappily existed, and persuade her to accept his, Wilford senior's,
freely-offered purse and services? I instantly accepted both the mission
and the large sum which the excellent man tendered. A part of the money I
gave Barnes to stimulate his exertions, and the rest I placed in the hand
of Mary Woodley's grandpapa, with a friendly admonition to him not to
allow his grandchild to make a fool of herself; an exhortation which
produced its effect in due season.
Summer passed away, autumn had come and gone, and the winter assizes
were once more upon us. Regular proceedings had been taken, and the
action in ejectment of Woodley versus Thorndyke was once more on the
cause list of the Chester circuit court, marked this time as a special
jury case. Indefatigable as Mr. Barnes had been in his search for
Elizabeth Wareing, not the slightest trace of her could he discover; and
I went into court, therefore, with but slight expectation of invalidating
the, as I fully believed, fictitious will. We had, however, obtained a
good deal of information relative to the former history not only of the
absent Mrs. Wareing, but of Thorndyke himself; and it was quite within
the range of probabilities that something might come out, enabling me to
use that knowledge to good purpose. The plaintiff and old Mr. Ward were
seated in court beside Mr. Barnes, as on the former abortive trial; but
Mary Woodley had, fortunately for herself, lost much of the interest
which attaches to female comeliness and grace when associated in the mind
of the spectator with undeserved calamity and sorrow. The black dress
which she still wore—the orthodox twelve months of mourning for a parent
had not yet quite elapsed—was now fresh, and of fine quality, and the
pale lilies of her face were interspersed with delicate roses; whilst by
her side sat Mr. John Wilford, as happy-looking as if no such things as
perjurers, forgers, or adverse verdicts existed to disturb the peace of
the glad world. Altogether, we were decidedly less interesting than on
the former occasion. Edward Wareing, I must not omit to add, was, greatly
to our surprise, present. He sat, in great apparent amity, by the side of
It was late in the afternoon, and twilight was gradually stealing over
the dingy court, when the case was called. The special jury answered to
their names, were duly sworn, and then nearly the same preliminary
speeches and admissions were made and put in as on the previous occasion.
Thomas Headley, the first witness called in support of the pretended
will, underwent a rigorous cross-examination; but I was unable to extract
anything of importance from him.
"And now," said the defendant's leading counsel, "let me ask my
learned friend if he has succeeded in obtaining the attendance of
I was of course obliged to confess that we had been unable to find her;
and the judge remarked that in that ease he could receive secondary
evidence in proof of her attestation of the will.
A whispered but manifestly eager conference here took place between the
defendant and his counsel, occasionally joined in by Edward Wareing.
There appeared to be indecision or hesitation in their deliberations; but
at last Mr. P —— rose, and with some ostentation of manner addressed
"In the discharge of my duty to the defendant in this action, my lord,
upon whose fair fame much undeserved obloquy has been cast by the
speeches of the plaintiff's counsel—speeches insupported by a shadow of
evidence—I have to state that, anxious above all things to stand
perfectly justified before his neighbors and society, he has, at great
trouble and expense, obtained the presence here to-day of the witness
Elizabeth Wareing. She had gone to reside in France with a respectable
English family in the situation of housekeeper. We shall now place her in
the witness-box, and having done so, I trust we shall hear no more of the
slanderous imputations so freely lavished upon my client. Call Elizabeth
Wareing into court."
A movement of surprise and curiosity agitated the entire auditory at this
announcement. Mr. Silas Thorndyke's naturally cadaverous countenance
assumed an ashy hue, spite of his efforts to appear easy and jubilant;
and for the first time since the commencement of the proceedings I
entertained the hope of a successful issue.
Mrs. Wareing appeared in answer to the call, and was duly sworn "to tell
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." She was a
good-looking woman, of perhaps forty years of age, and bore a striking
resemblance to her son. She rapidly, smoothly, and unhesitatingly
confirmed the evidence of Headley to a tittle. She trembled, I observed,
excessively; and on the examining counsel intimating that he had no more
questions to ask, turned hastily to leave the box.
"Stay—stay, my good woman," I exclaimed; "you and I must have some talk
together before we part."
She started, and looked at me with frightened earnestness; and then her
nervous glances stole towards Mr. Silas Thorndyke. There was no comfort
there: in his countenance she only saw the reflex of the agitation and
anxiety which marked her own. Sleek Silas, I could see, already repented
of the rash move he had made, and would have given a good deal to get his
witness safely and quietly out of court.
It was now nearly dark, and observing that it was necessary the court
and jury should see as well as hear the witness whilst under
examination, I requested that lights should be brought in. This was
done. Two candles were placed in front of the witness-box, one on each
side of Mrs. Wareing; a few others were disposed about the bench and
jury desks. The effect of this partial lighting of the gloomy old court
was, that the witness stood out in strong and bright relief from the
surrounding shadows, rendering the minutest change or play of her
features distinctly visible. Mr. Silas Thorndyke was, from his position,
thrown entirely into the shade, and any telegraphing between him and
the witness was thus rendered impossible. This preparation, as if for
some extraordinary and solemn purpose, together with the profound
silence which reigned in the court, told fearfully, as I expected, upon
the nerves of Mrs. Elizabeth Wareing. She already seemed as if about to
swoon with agitation and ill-defined alarm.
"Pray, madam," said I, "is your name Wareing or Tucker?"
She did not answer, and I repeated the question. "Tucker," she at last
replied in a tremulous whisper.
"I thought so. And pray, Mrs. Tucker, were you ever 'in trouble' in
London for robbing your lodgings?"
I thought she attempted to answer, but no sound passed her lips. One of
the ushers of the court handed her a glass of water at my suggestion, and
she seemed to recover somewhat. I pressed my question; and at last she
replied in the same low, agitated voice, "Yes, I have been."
"I know you have. Mr. Silas Thorndyke, I believe, was your bail on that
occasion, and the matter was, I understand, compromised—arranged—at all
events the prosecution was not pressed. Is not that so?"
"Very well: either answer will do. You lived also, I believe, with Mr.
Thorndyke, as his housekeeper of course, when he was in business as a
concocter and vender of infallible drugs and pills?"
"He was held to be skilful in the preparation of drugs, was he
not—well-versed in their properties?"
"Yes—I believe so—I do not know. Why am I asked such questions?"
"You will know presently. And now, woman, answer the question I am about
to put to you, as you will be compelled to answer it to God at the last
great day—What was the nature of the drug which you or he mixed with the
medicine prescribed for the late Mrs. Thorndyke?"
A spasmodic shriek, checked by a desperate effort, partially escaped her,
and she stood fixedly gazing with starting eyes in my face.
The profoundest silence reigned in the court as I iterated the question.
"You must answer, woman," said the judge sternly, "unless you know your
answer will criminate yourself."
The witness looked wildly round the court, as if in search of counsel or
sympathy; but encountering none but frowning and eager faces—Thorndyke
she could not discern in the darkness—she became giddy and
panic-stricken, and seemed to lose all presence of mind.
"He—he—he," she at last gasped—"he mixed it. I do not know—But
how," she added, pushing back her hair, and pressing her hands against
her hot temples, "can this be? What can it mean?"
A movement amongst the bystanders just at this moment attracted
the notice of the judge, and he immediately exclaimed, "The
defendant must not leave the court!" An officer placed himself
beside the wretched murderer as well as forger, and I resumed the
cross-examination of the witness.
"Now, Mrs. Tucker, please to look at this letter." (It was that which had
been addressed to Mary Woodley by her son.) "That, I believe, is your
"The body of this will has been written by the same hand. Now, woman,
answer. Was it your son—this young man who, you perceive, if guilty,
cannot escape from justice—was it he who forged the names of the
deceased Mrs. Thorndyke, and of John Cummins attached to it?"
"Not he—not he!" shrieked the wretched woman. "It was
Thorndyke—Thorndyke himself." And then with a sudden revulsion of
feeling, as the consequences of what she had uttered flashed upon her,
she exclaimed, "Oh, Silas, what have I said?—what have I done?"
"Hanged me, that's all, you accursed devil!" replied Thorndyke with
gloomy ferocity. "But I deserve it for trusting in such an idiot: dolt
and fool that I was for doing so."
The woman sank down in strong convulsions, and was, by direction of the
judge, carried out of the hall.
The anxious silence which pervaded the court during this scene, in which
the reader will have observed I played a bold, tentative, and
happily-successful game, was broken as the witness was borne off by a
loud murmur of indignation, followed by congratulatory exclamations on
the fortunate termination of the suit. The defendant's counsel threw up
their briefs, and a verdict was at once returned for the plaintiff.
All the inculpated parties were speedily in custody; and the body of Mrs.
Thorndyke having been disinterred, it was discovered that she had been
destroyed by bichloride of mercury, of which a considerable quantity was
detected in the body. I was not present at the trial of Thorndyke and his
accomplices—he for murder, and Headley for perjury—but I saw by the
public prints that he was found guilty, and executed: Headley was
transported: the woman was, if I remember rightly, admitted evidence for
Mary Woodley was of course put into immediate possession of her paternal
inheritance; and is now—at least she was about four months ago, when I
dined with her and her husband at Dale Farm—a comely, prosperous matron;
and as happy as a woman with a numerous progeny and an easy-tempered
partner can in this, according to romance writers, vale of grief and
tears expect to be. The service I was fortunately enabled to render her
forms one of the most pleasing recollections of my life.