By Advice of Counsel (Arthur Train)/By Advice of Counsel
"Kotow! Kotow! To the great Yen-How,
And wish him the longest of lives!
With his one-little, two-little, three-little, four-little,
Five-little, six-little wives!"
"The fact is I've been arrested for bigamy," said Mr. Higgleby in a pained and slightly resentful manner. He was an ample flabby person, built like an isosceles triangle with a smallish head for the apex, slightly expanded in the gangliar region just above the nape of the neck—medical students and phrenologists please note—and habitually wearing an expression of helpless pathos. Instinctively you felt that you wanted to do something for Mr. Higgleby—to mother him, maybe.
"Then you should see my partner, Mr. Tutt," said Mr. Tutt severely. "He's the matrimonial specialist."
"I want to see Mr. Tutt, the celebrated divorce lawyer," explained Mr. Higgleby.
"You mean my partner, Mr. Tutt," said Mr. Tutt. "Willie, show the gentleman in to Mr. Tutt."
"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Higgleby, and followed Willie.
"Is this Mr. Higgleby?" chirped Tutt as Higgleby entered the adjoining office. "Delighted to see you, sir! What can we—I—do for you?"
"The fact is, I've been arrested for bigamy," repeated Mr. Higgleby.
Now the Tutt system—demonstrated effective by years of experience—for putting a client in a properly grateful and hence liberal frame of mind was, like the method of some physicians, first to scare said client, or patient, out of his seven senses; second, to admit reluctantly, upon reflection, that in view of the fact that he had wisely come to Tutt & Tutt there might still be some hope for him; and third, to exculpate him with such a flourish of congratulation upon his escape that he was glad to pay the modest little fee of which he was then and there relieved. Tutt & Tutt had only two classes of clients: those who paid as they came in, and those who paid as they went out.
Therefore upon hearing Mr. Higgleby's announcement as to the nature of his trouble Tutt registered horror.
"What? What did you say?" he demanded.
"I said," repeated Mr. Higgleby with a shade of annoyance, "'the fact is, I've been arrested for bigamy.' I don't see any reason for making such a touse about it," he added plaintively.
"Who's making a—a—a touse about it?" inquired Tutt, perceiving that he had taken the wrong tack. "I'm not. I was just a little surprised at a man of your genteel appearance—"
"Oh, rot!" expostulated Mr. Higgleby weakly. "You're just like all of 'em! I suppose you were going to say I didn't look like a bigamist—and all that. Well, cut it! Let's start fair. I am a bigamist!"
Tutt regarded him with obvious curiosity. "You don't say!" he ejaculated, much as if he wished to add: "How does it feel?"
"I do say!" retorted Mr. Higgleby.
"Well," exclaimed Tutt cheerily, passing into the second phase of the Tutt-Tutt treatment, "after all, bigamy isn't so bad! It's only five years at the worst. Generally it's not more than six months."
"Get wise!" snapped Mr. Higgleby. "I didn't come here to have you throw cold chills into me. I came here to find out how to beat it!"
"Why, certainly! Of course!" protested Tutt hastily. "I was—"
"And I expect you to get me off!"
"Yes, yes!" murmured Tutt, his usual style completely cramped.
"No matter what!"
"Yes," faintly tuttered Tutt.
"Well," continued Higgleby, taking out a cigar that in shape and looseness of wrapping closely resembled its owner, "now that's settled, let's get down to brass tacks. Here's a copy of the indictment."
He produced a document bearing a large gold seal.
"Those robbers made me pay a dollar-sixty for certification!" he remarked peevishly, indicating the ornament. "What good is certification to me? As if I wanted to pay to make sure I was accused in exact language! Anybody can draw an indictment for bigamy!"
COURT OF GENERAL SESSIONS OF THE PEACE IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF NEW YORK
The People of the State of New York against
The Grand Jury of the County of New York, by this indictment, accuse Theophilus Higgleby of the crime of bigamy, committed as follows:
The said Theophilus Higgleby, late of the borough of Manhattan of the city of New York in the county of New York, aforesaid, on the eleventh day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and nineteen, at Cook County and the city of Chicago in the state of Illinois, did marry one Tomascene Startup, and her, the said Tomascene Startup, did then and there have for his wife;
And afterward, to wit, on the seventeenth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and nineteen, at the borough of Manhattan of the city of New York in the county of New York aforesaid, did feloniously marry and take as his wife one Alvina Woodcock, and to the said Alvina Woodcock was then and there married, the said Tomascene Startup being then and there living and in full life, against the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace of the people of the state of New York and their dignity.
Such was the precise accusation against the isosceles-triangular client, who now sat so limply and disjointedly on the opposite side of Tutt's desk with a certain peculiar air of assurance all his own, as if, though surprised and somewhat annoyed at the grand jury's interference with his private affairs, he was nevertheless—being captain of his own soul—not particularly disturbed about the matter.
"And—er—did you marry these two ladies?" inquired Tutt apologetically.
"Sure!" responded Higgleby without hesitation.
"May I ask why?"
"Why not?" returned Higgleby. "I'm a traveling man."
"Look here," suddenly demanded Tutt. "Were you ever a lawyer?"
"Sure I was!" responded Mr. Higgleby. "I was a member of the bar of Osceola County, Florida."
"You don't say!" gasped Tutt.
"And what, may I ask, are you now?"
"Now I'm a bigamist!" answered Mr. Higgleby.
We forget precisely who it was that so observantly said to another, "Much learning doth make thee mad." At any rate the point to be noted is that overindulgence in erudition has always been known to have an unfortunate effect upon the intellectual faculty. Too much wine—though it must have required an inordinate quantity in certain mendacious periods—was regarded as provocative of truth; and too many books as clearly put bats in a man's belfry. The explanation is of course simple enough. If one overweights the head the whole structure is apt to become unbalanced. This is the reason why we hold scholars in such light esteem. They are an unbalanced lot. And after all, why should they get paid more than half the wage of plumbers or locomotive firemen? What is easier than sitting before a comfortable steam radiator and reading an etymological dictionary or the Laws of Hammurabi? They toil not even if their heads spin. Only in Germany has the pedagogue ever received full meed of gold and of honor—and look at Germany!
Pedants have never been much considered by men of action. They never will be. Experience is the only teacher, which, in the language of Amos Eno, who left two millions to the Institute of Mechanics and Tradesmen, is "worth a damn." We Americans abhor any affectation of learning; hence our weakness for slang. I should apologize for the word "weakness." On the contrary it is a token of our virile independence, our scorn for the delicatessen of education, mere dilettanteism. And this has its practical side, for if we don't know how to pronounce the words "evanescent persiflage" we can call it "bunk" or "rot." We suspect all college graduates. We don't want them in our business. They slink through our lives like pickpockets fearful of detection.
What has all this to do with anything? It has to do, dear reader, with Mr. Caput Magnus, the assistant of the district attorney of the county of New York, whose duty it was to present the evidence in all criminal cases to the grand jury and make ready the instruments of torture known as bills of indictment for that august body's action thereon.
For by all the lights of the Five Points, Chinatown—Mulberry, Canal, Franklin, Lafayette and Centre streets—Pontin's Restaurant, Moe Levy's One Price Tailoring Establishment, and even by those of the glorious days of Howe & Hummel, by the Nine Gods of Law—and more—Caput Magnus was a learned savant. He and he alone of all the members of the bar on the pay roll of the prosecutor's office, housed in their smoke-hung cubicles in the Criminal Courts Building, knew how to draw up those complicated and awful things with their barbed-wire entanglements of "saids," "then and there beings," "with intents," "dids," "to wits," and "aforesaids" in all the verbal chaos with which the law requires those accused of crime to be "simply, clearly and directly" informed of the nature of the offense charged against them, in order that they may know what to do about it and prepare their defense.
And while we are on it—and in order that the reader may be fully instructed and qualified to pursue Tutt & Tutt through their various adventures hereafter—we may as well add that herein lies one of the pitfalls of crime; for the simple-minded burglar or embezzler may blithely make way with a silver service or bundle of bank notes only to find himself floundering, horse, foot and dragoons, in a quagmire of phraseology from which he cannot escape, wriggle as he will. Many such a one has thrown up his hands—and with them silver service, bank notes and all—in horror at what the grand jury has alleged against him.
Indeed there is a well-authenticated tradition that a certain gentleman of color who had inadvertently acquired some poultry belonging to another, when brought to the bar and informed that he theretofore, to wit, in a specified year of our Lord in the night time of the day aforesaid, the outhouse of one Jones then and there situate, feloniously, burglariously did break into and enter with intent to commit a crime therein, to wit, the goods, chattels and personal property of the said Jones then and there being found, then and there feloniously and burglariously by force of arms and against the peace of the people to seize, appropriate and carry away, raised his voice in anguish and cried:
"Fo de Lawd sake, jedge, Ah didn't do none ob dem tings—all Ah done was to take a couple ob chickens!"
Thus to annihilate a man by pad and pencil is indeed an art worthy of admiration. The pen of an indictment clerk is oft mightier than the sword of a Lionheart, the brain behind the subtle quill far defter than said swordsman's skill. Moreover, the ingenuity necessary to draft one of these documents is not confined to its mere successful composition, for having achieved the miraculous feat of alleging in fourteen ways without punctuation that the defendant did something, and with a final fanfare of "saids" and "to wits" inserted his verb where no one will ever find it, the indicter must then be able to unwind himself, rolling in and out among the "dids" and "thens" and "theres" until he is once more safely upon the terra firma of foolscap at the head of the first page.
Mr. Caput Magnus could do it—with the aid of a volume of printed forms devised in the days of Jeremy Bentham. In fact, like a camel who smells water afar off, he could in a desert of verbal sand unerringly find an oasis of meaning. Therefore was Caput Magnus held in high honor among the pack of human hounds who bayed at the call of Huntsman Peckham's horn. Others might lose the scent of what it was all about in the tropical jungle of an indictment eleven pages long, but not he. Like the old dog in Masefield's "Reynard the Fox," Mr. Magnus would work through ditches full of legal slime, nose through thorn thickets of confusion, dash through copses and spinneys of words and phrases, until he snapped close at the heels of intelligibility. The Honorable Peckham couldn't have drawn an indictment to save his legal life. Neither could any of the rest. Neither could Caput without his book of ancient forms—though he didn't let anybody know it.
Shrouded in mystery on a salary of five thousand dollars a year, Caput sat in the shrine of his inner office producing literature of a clarity equaled only by that of George Meredith or Mr. Henry James. He was the Great Accuser. He could call a man a thief in more different ways than any deputy assistant district attorney known to memory—with the aid of his little book. He could lasso and throw any galloping criminal, however fierce, with a gracefully uncoiling rope of deadly adjectives. On all of which he properly prided himself until he became unendurable to his fellows and insufferable to Peckham, who would have cheerfully fired him months gone by had he had a reason or had there been any other legal esoteric to take his place.
Yet pride goeth before a fall. And I am glad of it, for Magnus was a conceited little ass. This yarn is about the fall of Caput Magnus almost as much as it is about the uxorious Higgleby, though the two are inextricably entwined together.
"Mr. Tutt," remarked Tutt after Higgleby's departure, "that new client of ours is certainly sui generis."
"That's no crime," smiled the senior partner, reaching for the malt-extract bottle.
"His knowledge of matrimony and the laws governing the domestic relations is certainly exhaustive—not to say exhausting. I look like a piker beside him."
"For which," replied Mr. Tutt, "you may well be thankful."
"I am," replied Tutt devoutly. "But you could put what I know about bigamy in that malt-extract bottle."
"I prefer the present contents!" retorted Mr. Tutt. "Bigamy is a fascinating crime, involving as it does such complicated subjects as the history of the institution of marriage, the ecclesiastical or canonical law governing divorce and annulment, the interesting doctrines of affinity and consanguinity, suits for alienation of affection and criminal conversation, the conflict of laws, the White Slave Act—"
"Interstate commerce, so to speak?" suggested Tutt mischievously.
"Condonation, collusion and connivance," continued Mr. Tutt, brushing him aside, "reinstitution of conjugal rights, the law of feme sole, The Married Woman's Act, separation a mensa et thoro, abandonment, jurisdiction, alimony, custody of children, precontract—"
"Help! You're breaking my heart!" cried Tutt. "No little lawyer could know all about such things. It would take a big lawyer."
"Not at all! Not at all!" soothed Mr. Tutt, sipping his eleven-o'clock nourishment and fingering for a stogy. "When it comes to divorce one lawyer knows as much about the law as another. Not even the Supreme Court is able to tell whether a man and woman are really married or not without calling in outside assistance."
"Well, who can?" asked Tutt anxiously.
"Nobody," replied his partner with gravity, biting off the end of a last year's stogy salvaged from the bottom of the letter basket. "Once a man's married his troubles not only begin but never end."
"By the way," said Tutt, "speaking of this sort of thing, I see that that Frenchman whom we referred to our Paris correspondent has just been granted a divorce from his American wife."
"You mean the French diplomat who married the Yankee vaudeville artist in China?"
"Yes," answered Tutt. "You recall they met in Shanghai and took a flying trip to Mongolia, where they were married by a Belgian missionary. The court held that the marriage was invalid, as the French statutes require a native of that country marrying abroad to have the ceremony performed either before a French diplomatic official or 'according to the usages of the country in which the marriage is performed.'"
"Wasn't the Belgian missionary a diplomatic official?" asked Mr. Tutt.
"Evidently not sufficiently so," replied his partner. "Anyhow, in Mongolia there are only two methods sanctified by tradition by which a man may secure a wife—capture or purchase."
"Well, didn't our client capture the actress?"
"Only with her consent—which I assume would be collusion under the French law," said Tutt. "And he certainly didn't buy her—though he might have. It appears that in that happy land a wife costs from five camels up; five camels for a flapper and so on up to thirty or forty camels for an old widow, who invariably brings the highest quotation."
"In Mongolia age evidently ripens and mellows women as it does wine in other countries," reflected Mr. Tutt.
"But you can buy some women for five pounds of rice," added Tutt. "Queer country, isn't it?"
"Not at all!" declared his senior. "Even in America every man pays and pays and pays for his wife—through the nose!"
Tutt grinned appreciatively.
"However that may be," he ventured, "a man who enters into a marriage contract—"
"Marriage isn't a contract," interrupted Mr. Tutt.
"What is it?"
"It's a status—something entirely different—like slavery."
"It's like slavery all right!" agreed Tutt. "But we always speak of a contract of marriage, don't we?"
"Quite inaccurately. The only contract in a marriage is what we commonly refer to as the engagement; that is a real contract and is governed by the laws of contracts. The marriage itself is an entirely different thing. When a marriage is performed and consummated the parties have changed their condition; they bear an entirely new relationship to society, which, as represented by the state, acquires an interest in the transaction, and all you can say about it is that whereas they were both single before, they are married now, and that in the eyes of the law their status has been altered to one as distinct and clearly defined as that which exists between father and son, guardian and ward or master and slave."
"Hear! Hear!" remarked Tutt. "But I don't see why it isn't a contract—or very much like one," he persisted.
"It is like one in that its validity, like that of civil contracts generally, is determined by the law governing the place where it was entered into," went on Mr. Tutt oracularly, as if addressing the court of appeals. "But it differs from a contract for the reason that the parties are not free to fix its terms, which are determined for them by the state; that they cannot modify or rescind it by mutual consent; that the nature of the marriage status changes with the state and the laws of the state where the parties happen to be domiciled; and that damages cannot be recovered for a breach of marital duty."
"Do you know I never thought of that before," admitted Tutt. "But it's perfectly true."
"It is to the interest of society to have the relationship orderly and permanent," continued his partner. "That is why the state is so alert with regard to divorce proceedings and vigilant to prevent fraud or collusion. You may say that the state is always a party to every matrimonial action—even if it is not actually interpleaded—and that such proceedings are triangular and minus many of the characteristics of the ordinary civil suit."
"I suppose another reason for that is that originally marriage and divorce were entirely in the hands of the church, weren't they?" ruminated Tutt.
"Exactly. From very early days in England the church claimed jurisdiction of all matters pertaining to marriage, on the ground that it was a sacrament."
"Did the ecclesiastical courts take the position that all marriages were made in heaven?"
Mr. Tutt shrugged his shoulders.
"'Once married, always married,' was their doctrine."
"Then how did people who were unhappily married get rid of one another?"
"They didn't—if the courts ruled that they had actually been married—but that left a loophole. When was a marriage not a marriage? Answer: When the parties were closely enough related by blood or marriage, or either of them was mentally incapable, under age, victims of duress, fraud, mistake, previously contracted for, or—already married."
"Ah!" breathed Tutt, thinking of Mr. Higgleby.
"The ecclesiastical law remained without any particular variation until after the American Revolution and the colonies separated from Great Britain, and as there was no union of church and state on this side of the water, and so no church to take control of the subject or ecclesiastical courts to put its doctrines into effect, for a while there was no divorce law at all over here, and then one by one the states took the matter up and began to make such laws about it as each saw fit. Hence the jolly old mess we are in now!"
"Jolly for us," commented Tutt. "It means dollars per year to us. Well," he remarked, stretching his legs and yawning, "divorce is sure an evil."
"That's no news," countered Mr. Tutt. "It was just as much of an evil in the time of Moses, of Julius Caesar, and of Edward the Confessor as it is now. There hasn't been anything approaching the flagrancy of Roman divorce in modern history."
"Thank heaven there's still enough to pay our office rent—anyhow!" said Tutt contentedly. "I hope they won't do anything so foolish as to pass a national divorce law."
"They won't," Mr. Tutt assured him. "Most Congressmen are lawyers and are not going to take the bread out of their children's mouths. Besides, the power to regulate the domestic relations of the United States, not being delegated under the Constitution to the Federal Government, is expressly retained by the states themselves."
"You've given me a whole lot of ideas," admitted Tutt. "If I get you rightly, as each state is governed by its own independent laws, the status of married persons must be governed by the law of the state where they are; otherwise if every couple on some theory of exterritoriality carried the law of the state where they happened to have been joined together round with them we would have the spectacle of every state in the union interpreting the divorce laws of every other state—confusion worse confounded."
"On the other hand," returned Mr. Tutt, "the law is settled that a marriage valid when made is valid everywhere; and conversely, if invalid where made is invalid everywhere—like our Mongolian case. If that were not so every couple in order to continue legally married would have to go through a new ceremony in every state through which they traveled."
"Right-o!" whistled Tutt. "A parson on every Pullman!"
"It follows," continued Mr. Tutt, lighting a fresh stogy and warming to his subject, "that as each state has the right to regulate the status of its own citizens it has jurisdiction to act in a divorce proceeding provided one of the parties is actually domiciled within its borders. Naturally this action must be determined by its own laws and not by those of any other state. The great divergence of these laws makes extraordinary complications."
"Hallelujah!" cried Tutt. "Now, in the words of the psalmist, you've said a mouthful! I know a man who at one and the same time is legally married to one woman in England, to another in Nevada, is a bigamist in New York, and—"
"What else could he be except a widower in Pittsburgh?" pondered the elder Tutt. "But it's quite possible. There's a case going on now where a woman in New York City is suing her ex-husband for a divorce on the usual statutory ground, and naming his present wife as co-respondent, though the plaintiff herself divorced him ten years ago in Reno, and he married again immediately after on the strength of it."
"I'm feeling stronger every minute!" exclaimed Tutt. "Surely in all this bedlam we ought to be able to acquit our new client Mr. Higgleby of the charge of bigamy. At least you ought to be able to. I couldn't."
"What's the difficulty?" queried Mr. Tutt.
"The difficulty simply is that he married the present Mrs. Higgleby on the seventeenth of last December here in the city of New York, when he had a perfectly good wife, whom he had married on the eleventh of the preceding May, living in Chicago."
"What on earth is the matter with him?" inquired Mr. Tutt.
"He simply says he's a traveling man," replied his partner, "and—he happened to be in New York."
"Well, the next time he calls, you send him in to see me," directed Mr. Tutt. "What was the present lady's name?"
"Woodcock," answered Tutt. "Alvina Woodcock."
"And she wanted to change to Higgleby?" muttered his partner. "I wonder why."
"Oh, there's something sort of appealing about him," acknowledged Tutt. "But he don't look like a bigamist," he concluded.
"What does a bigamist look like?" meditated Mr. Tutt as he lit another stogy.
"Good morning, Mr. Tutt," muttered the Honorable Peckham from behind the imitation rubber plant in his office, where he was engaged in surreptitiously consuming an apple. "Um—be with you in a minute. What's on your mind?"
Mr. Tutt simultaneously removed his stogy with one hand and his stovepipe with the other.
"I thought we might as well run over my list of cases," he replied. "I can offer you a plea or two if you wish."
"Do I!" ejaculated the D.A., rolling his eyes heavenward. "Let's hear the Roll of Honor."
Mr. Tutt placed his hat, bottom side up, on the carpet and lowered himself into a huge leather armchair, furnished to the county by a political friend of Mr. Peckham and billed at four hundred per cent of the regular retail price. Then he reinserted the stogy between his lips and produced from his inside pocket a typewritten sheet.
"There's Watkins—murdered his stepmother—indicted seven months ago. Give you murder in the second?"
"I'll take it," assented Peckham, lighting a cigar in a businesslike manner. "What else you got?"
"Joseph Goldstein—burglary. Will you give him grand larceny in the second?"
The Honorable Peckham shook his head.
"Sorry I can't oblige you, old top," he said regretfully. "He's called the King of the Fences. If I did, the papers would holler like hell. I'll make it any degree of burglary, though."
"Very well. Burglary in the third," agreed Mr. Tutt, jotting it down. "Then here's a whole bunch—five—indicted together for assault on a bartender."
"You can have third degree for the lot," grunted Peckham laconically.
"All right," said Mr. Tutt. "Now for the ones that are going to trial. Here's Jennie Smith, indicted for stealing a mandarin chain valued at sixty-five dollars up at Monahaka's. The chain's only worth about six-fifty and I can prove it. Monahaka don't want to go to trial because he knows I'll show him up for the Oriental flimflammer that he is. But of course she took it. What do you say? I'll plead her to petty and you give her a suspended sentence? That's a fair trade."
"Sure," he said finally. "I'm agreeable. Only tell Jennie that next time I'll have her run out of town."
Mr. Tutt nodded.
"I'll whisper it to her. Now then, here's Higgleby—"
"Higgle who?" inquired Peckham dreamily.
"Bee—by—Higgleby," explained Mr. Tutt. "For bigamy. I want you to dismiss the indictment for me."
"You'll never convict him."
"Just because you never will!" Mr. Tutt assured him with earnestness. "And you might as well wipe him off the list."
"Anything the matter with the indictment?" asked the D.A. "Caput Magnus drew it. He's a good man, you know."
Mr. Tutt drew sententiously on his stogy.
"I would like to tell you all my secrets," he replied after a pause, "but I can't afford to. The indictment is in the usual form. But just between you and me, you'll never convict Higgleby as long as you live."
"Didn't he marry two joint and several ladies?"
"And one of 'em right here in New York County?"
"Well, how in hell can I dismiss the indictment?"
"Oh, easily enough. Lack of proof as to the first marriage in Chicago, for instance. How are you going to prove he wasn't divorced?"
"That's matter of defense," retorted Peckham.
"What's a little bigamy between friends, anyway?" ruminated the old lawyer. "It's a kind of sumptuary offense. People will marry. And it's good policy to have 'em. If they happen to overdo it a little—"
"Well, if I do chuck the darn thing out what will you give me in return?" asked Peckham. "Of course, bigamy isn't my favorite crime or anything like that. I'm no bloodhound on matrimonial offenses. How'll you trade?"
"If you'll throw out Higgleby I'll plead Angelo Ferrero to manslaughter," announced Mr. Tutt with a grand air of bestowing largess upon an unworthy recipient.
"Cock-a-doodle-do!" chortled Peckham. "A lot you will! Angelo's halfway to the chair already yet!"
"That's the best I'll do," replied Mr. Tutt, feeling for his hat.
Peckham hesitated. Mr. Tutt was a fair dealer. And he wanted to get rid of Angelo.
"Give you murder in the second," he urged.
"Nothing doing," answered the D.A. definitely. "Your Mr. Higglebigamy'll have to stand trial."
"Oh, very well!" replied Mr. Tutt, unjointing himself. "We're ready—whenever you are."
The old lawyer's lank figure had hardly disappeared out of the front office when Peckham rang for Caput Magnus.
"Look here, Caput," he remarked suspiciously to the indictment clerk, "is there anything wrong with that Higgledy indictment?"
"Higgleby, you mean, I guess," replied Mr. Magnus, regarding the D.A. in a superior manner over the tops of his horn-rimmed spectacles. "Nothing is the matter with the indictment. I have followed my customary form. It has stood every test over and over again. Why do you ask?"
The Honorable Peckham turned away impatiently.
"Oh—nothing. Look here," he added unexpectedly, "I think I'll have you try that indictment yourself."
"Me!" ejaculated Caput in horror. "Why, I never tried a case in my life!"
"Well, 's time you began!" growled the D.A.
"I—I—shouldn't know what to do!" protested Mr. Magnus in agony at the mere suggestion.
"Where the devil would we be if everybody felt like that?" demanded his master. "You're supposed to be a lawyer, aren't you?"
"But I—I—can't! I—don't know how!"
"Hang it all," cried Peckham furiously, "you go ahead and do as I say. You indicted Higgledy; now you can try Higgledy!"
He was utterly unreasonable, but his anger was genuine if baseless.
"Oh, very well, sir," stammered Mr. Magnus. "Of course I'll—I must—do whatever you say."
"You better!" shouted Peckham after his retreating figure. "You little blathering shrimp!"
Then he threw himself down in his swivel chair with a bang.
"Judas H. Priest!" he roared at the rubber plant. "I'd give a good deal for a decent excuse to fire that blooming nincompoop!"
Meantime, as the object of his ire slunk down the corridor darkness descended upon the soul of Caput Magnus. For Caput was what is known as an office lawyer and had never gone into court save as an onlooker or—as he would have phrased it—an amicus curiae. He was a perfect pundit—"a hellion on law," according to the Honorable Peckham—a strutting little cock on his own particular dunghill, but, stripped of his goggles, books, forms and foolscap, as far as his equanimity was concerned he might as well have been in face, figure and general objectionability. No longer could he be heard roaring for his stenographer. Instead, those of his colleagues who paused stealthily outside his door on their way over to Pont's for "five-o'clock tea" heard dulcet tones floating forth from the transom in varying fluctuations:
"Ahem! H'm! Gentlemen of the jury—h'm! The defendant is indicted for the outrageous crime of bigamy! No, that won't do! Gentlemen of the jury, the defendant is indicted for the crime of bigamy! H'm! The crime of bigamy is one of those atrocious offenses against the moral law—"
"Oh! Oh!" choked the legal assistants as they embraced themselves wildly. "Oh! Oh! Caput's practisin'! Just listen to 'im! Ain't he the little cuckoo! Bet he's takin' lessons in elocution! But won't old Tutt just eat him alive!"
And in the stilly hours of the early dawn those sleeping in tenements and extensions adjacent to the hall bedroom occupied by Caput were roused by a trembling voice that sought vainly to imitate the nonchalance of experience, declaiming: "Gentlemen of the jury, the defendant is indicted for the crime of bigamy! This offense is one repugnant to the instincts of civilization and odious to the tenets of religion!" And thereafter they tossed until breakfast time, bigamy becoming more and more odious to them every minute.
No form of diet, no physical exercise, no "reducicle" could have achieved the extraordinary alteration in Mr. Magnus' appearance that was in fact induced by his anxiety over his prospective prosecution of Higgleby. Whereas erstwhile he had been smug and condescending, complacent, lethargic and ponderous, he now became drawn, nervous, apprehensive and obsequious. Moreover, he was markedly thinner. He was obviously on a decline, caused by sheer funk. Speak sharply to him and he would shy like a frightened pony. The Honorable Peckham was enraptured, claiming now to have a system of getting even with people that beat the invention of Torquemada. When it was represented to him that Caput might die, fade away entirely, in which case the office would be left without any indictment clerk, the Honorable Peckham profanely declared that he didn't care a damn. Caput Magnus was going to try Higgleby, that was all there was to it! And at last the day came.
Gathered in Judge Russell's courtroom were as many of the office assistants as could escape from their duties, anxious to officiate at the legal demise of Caput Magnus. Even the Honorable Peckham could not refrain from having business there at the call of the calendar. It resembled a regular monthly conference of the D.A.'s professional staff, which for some reason Tutt and Mr. Tutt had also been invited to attend. Yea, the spectators were all there in the legal colosseum waiting eagerly to see Caput Magnus enter the arena to be gobbled up by Tutt & Tutt. They thirsted for his blood, having been for years bored by his brains. They would rather see Caput Magnus made mincemeat of than ninety-nine criminals convicted, even were they guilty of bigamy.
But as yet Caput Magnus was not there. It was ten-twenty-nine. The clerk was there; Mr. Higgleby, isosceles, flabby and acephalous as ever, was there; Tutt and Mr. Tutt were there; and Bonnie Doon, and the stenographer and the jury. And on the front bench the two wives of Higgleby sat, side by side, so frigidly that had that gentleman possessed the gift of prevision he would never have married either of them; Mrs. Tomascene Startup Higgleby and Mrs.—or Miss—Alvina Woodcock (Higgleby)—depending upon the action of the jury. The entire cast in the eternal matrimonial triangular drama was there except the judge and the prosecutor in the form of Caput Magnus.
And then, preceding the judge by half a minute only, his entrance timed histrionically to the second, he came, like Eudoxia, like a flame out of the east. In swept Caput Magnus with all the dignity and grace of an Irving playing Cardinal Wolsey. Haggard, yes; pale, yes; tremulous, perhaps; but nevertheless glorious in a new cutaway coat, patent-leather shoes, green tie, a rosebud blushing from his lapel, his hair newly cut and laid down in beautiful little wavelets with pomatum, his figure erect, his chin in air, a book beneath his arm, his right hand waving in a delicate gesture of greeting; for Caput had taken O'Leary's suggestion seriously, and had purchased that widely known and authoritative work to which so many eminent barristers owe their entire success—"How to Try a Case"—and in it he had learned that in order to win the hearts of the jury one should make oneself beautiful.
"What in hell's he done to himself?" gasped O'Leary to O'Brien.
"He'll make a wonderful corpse!" whispered the latter in response.
"Order in the court! His Honor the Judge of General Sessions!" bellowed an officer at this moment, and the judge came in.
Everybody got up. He bowed. Everybody bowed. Everybody sat down again. A few, deeply affected, blew their noses. Then His Honor smiled genially and asked what business there was before the court, and the clerk told him that they were all there to try a man named Higgleby for bigamy, and the judge, nodding at Caput, said to go ahead and try him.
In the bottom of his peritoneum Mr. Magnus felt that he carried a cold stone the size of a grapefruit. His hands were ice, his lips bloodless. And there was a Niagara where his hearing should have been. But he rose, just as the book told him to do, in all his beauty, and enunciated in the crystal tones he had learned during the last few weeks at Madam Winterbottom's school of acting and elocution—in syllables chiseled from the stone of eloquence by the lapidary of culture:
"If Your Honor please, I move the cause of the People of the state of New York against Theophilus Higgleby, indicted for bigamy."
Peckham and the rest couldn't believe their ears. It wasn't possible! That perfect specimen of tonsorial and sartorial art, warbling like a legal Caruso, conducting himself so naturally, easily and casually, couldn't be old Caput Magnus! They pinched themselves.
"Say!" ejaculated Peckham. "What's happened to him? When did Sir Henry sign up with us?"
Mr. Tutt across the inclosure in front of the jury box raised his bushy eyebrows and looked whimsically at the D. A. over his spectacles.
"Are you ready, Mr. Tutt?" inquired the judge.
"Entirely so, Your Honor," responded the lawyer.
"Then impanel a jury."
The jury was impaneled, Mr. Caput Magnus passing through that trying ordeal with great éclat.
"You may proceed to open your case," directed the judge.
The staff saw a very white Caput Magnus rise and bow in the direction of the bench. Then he stepped to the jury box and cleared his throat. His official associates held their breath expectantly. Would he—or wouldn't he? There was a pause.
Then: "Mister Foreman and gentlemen of the jury," declaimed Caput in flutelike tones: "The defendant is indicted for the crime of bigamy, an offense alike repugnant to religion, civilization and to the law."
The words flowed from him like a rippling sunlit stream; encircled him like a necklace of verbal jewels, a rosary, each word a pearl or a bead or whatever it is. With perfect articulation, enunciation and gesticulation Mr. Caput Magnus went on to inform his hearers that Mr. Higgleby was a bigamist of the deepest dye, that he had feloniously, wilfully and knowingly married two several females, and by every standard of conduct was utterly and entirely detestable.
Mr. Higgleby, flanked by Tutt and Mr. Tutt, listened calmly. Caput warmed to his task.
The said Higgleby, said he, had as aforesaid in the indictment committed the act of bigamy, to wit, of marriage when he had one legal wife already, in New York City on the seventeenth of last December, by marrying in Grace Church Chantry the lady whom they saw sitting by the other lady—he meant the one with the red feather in her bonnet—that is to say, her hat, whereas the other lady, as he had said aforesaid, had been lawfully and properly married to the defendant the preceding May, to wit, in Chicago as aforesaid—
"Pardon me!" interrupted the foreman petulantly. "Which is the lady you mean was married to the defendant in New York? You said she was sitting by the other lady and that you meant the one with the red feather, but you didn't say whether the one with the red feather was the other lady or the one you were talking about."
Caput gagged and turned pink.
"I—I—" he stammered. "The lady in the red bonnet is—the—New York lady."
"You mean she isn't his wife although the defendant went through the form of marriage with her, because he was already married to another," suggested His Honor. "You might, I think, put things a little more simply. However, do it your own way."
"Ye-es, Your Honor."
But Caput was lost—hopelessly. Every vestige of the composure so laboriously acquired at Madam Winterbottom's salon had evaporated. He felt as if he were swinging in midair hitched to a scudding aeroplane by a rope about his middle. The mucous membranes of his throat were as dry and as full of dust as the entrails of a carpet sweeper. His vision was blurred and he had no control over his muscles. Weakly he leaned against the table in front of the jury, the room swaying about him. The pains of hell gat hold upon him. He was dying. Even the staff felt compunction—all but the Honorable Peckham.
Judge Russell quickly sensed the situation. He was a kindly man, who had pulled many an ass out of the mire of confusion. So with a glance at Mr. Tutt he came to Caput's rescue.
"Let us see, Mr. Magnus," he remarked pleasantly; "suppose you prove the Illinois marriage first. Is Mrs. Higgleby in court?"
Both ladies started from their seats.
"Mrs. Tomascene Higgleby," corrected His Honor. "Step this way, please, madam!"
The former Miss Startup made her way diffidently to the witness chair and in a faint voice answered the questions relative to her marriage of the preceding spring as put to her by the judge. Mr. Tutt waved her aside and Caput Magnus felt returning strength. He had expected and prepared for a highly technical assault upon the legality of the ceremony performed in Cook County. He had anticipated every variety and form of question. But Mr. Tutt put none. He merely smiled benignly upon Caput in an avuncular fashion.
"Have you no questions, Mr. Tutt?" inquired His Honor.
"None," answered the lawyer.
"Then prove the bigamous marriage," directed Judge Russell.
Then rose at the call of justice, militantly and with a curious air of proprietorship in the overmarried defendant, the wife or maiden who in earlier days had answered to the name of Alvina Woodcock. Though she was the injured party and though the blame for her unfortunate state rested entirely upon Higgleby, her resentment seemed less directed toward the offending male than toward the Chicago lady who was his lawful wife. There was no question as to the circumstances to which she so definitely and aggressively testified. No one could gainsay the deplorable fact that she had, as she supposed, been linked in lawful wedlock to Mr. Tutt's isosceles client. But there was that in her manner which suggested that she felt that being the last she should be first, that finding was keeping, and that possession was nine points of matrimonial law.
And, as before, Mr. Tutt said nothing. Neither he nor Tutt nor Bonnie Doon nor yet Higgleby showed any the least sign of concern. Caput's momentarily returning self-possession forsook him. What portended his ominous silence? Had he made some horrible mistake? Had he overlooked some important jurisdictional fact? Was he now to be hoist for some unknown reason by his own petard? He was, poor innocent—he was!
"That is the case," he announced faintly. "The People rest."
Judge Russell looked down curiously at Mr. Tutt.
"Well," he remarked, "how about it, Mr. Tutt?"
But the old lawyer only smiled.
"Come here a minute," directed His Honor.
And when Mr. Tutt reached the bench the judge said: "Have you any defense in this case? If not, why don't you plead guilty and let me dispose of the matter?"
"But, Your Honor," protested Mr. Tutt, "of course I have a defense—and a most excellent one!"
The judged elevated his forehead.
"Very well," he remarked; "if you really have one you had better go on with it. And," he added beneath his breath, but in a tone clearly audible to the clerk, "the Lord have mercy on your soul!"
The assistants saw Caput subside into his chair and simultaneously Mr. Tutt slowly raise his lank form toward the ceiling.
"Gentlemen of the jury," said he benignly: "My client, Mr. Higgleby, is charged in this indictment with the crime of bigamy committed here in New York, in marrying Alvina Woodcock—the strong-minded lady on the front row of benches there—when he already had a lawful wife living in Chicago. The indictment alleges no other offense and the district attorney has not sought to prove any, my learned and eloquent adversary, Mr. Magnus, having a proper regard for the constitutional rights of every unfortunate whom he brings to the bar of justice. If therefore I can prove to you that Mr. Higgleby was never lawfully married to Tomascene Startup in Chicago on the eleventh of last May or at any other time, the allegation of bigamy falls to the ground; at any rate so far as this indictment is concerned. For unless the indictment sets forth a valid prior marriage it is obvious that the subsequent marriage cannot be bigamous. Am I clear? I perceive by your very intelligent facial expressions that I am. Well, my friends, Mr. Higgleby never was lawfully married to Tomascene Startup last May in Chicago, and you will therefore be obliged to acquit him! Come here, Mr. Smithers."
Caput Magnus suddenly experienced the throes of dissolution. Who was Smithers? What could old Tutt be driving at? But Smithers—evidently the Reverend Sanctimonious Smithers—was already placidly seated in the witness chair, his limp hands folded across his stomach and his thin nose looking interrogatively toward Mr. Tutt.
"What is your name?" asked the lawyer dramatically.
"My name is Oswald Garrison Smithers," replied the reverend gentleman in Canton-flannel accents, "and I reside in Pantuck, Iowa, where I am pastor of the Reformed Lutheran Church."
"Do you know the defendant?"
"Indeed I do," sighed the Reverend Smithers. "I remember him very well. I solemnized his marriage to a widow of my congregation on July 4, 1917; in fact to the relict of our late senior warden, Deacon Pellatiah Higgins. Sarah Maria Higgins was the lady's name, and she is alive and well at the present time."
He gazed deprecatingly at the jury. If meekness had efficacy he would have inherited the earth.
"What?" ejaculated the foreman. "You say this man is married to three women?"
"Trigamy—not bigamy!" muttered the clerk, sotto voce.
"You have put your finger upon the precise point, Mister Foreman!" exclaimed Mr. Tutt admiringly. "If Mr. Higgleby was already lawfully married to a lady in Iowa when he married Miss—or Mrs.—Startup in Chicago last May, his marriage to the latter was not a legal marriage; it was in fact no marriage at all. You can't charge a man with bigamy unless you recite a legal marriage followed by an illegal one. Therefore, since the indictment fails to set forth a legal marriage anywhere followed by a marriage, legal or otherwise, in New York County, it recites no crime, and my client must be acquitted. Is not that the law, Your Honor?"
Judge Russell quickly hid a smile and turned to the moribund Caput.
"Mr. Magnus, have you anything to say in reply to Mr. Tutt's argument?" he asked. "If not—"
But no response came from Caput Magnus. He was past all hearing, understanding or answering. He was ready to be carried out and buried.
"Well, all I have got to say is—" began the foreman disgustedly.
"You do not have to say anything!" admonished the judge severely. "I will do whatever talking is necessary. A little more care in the preparation of the indictment might have rendered this rather absurd situation impossible. As it is, I must direct an acquittal. The defendant is discharged upon this indictment. But I will hold him in bail for the action of another grand jury."
"In which event we shall have another equally good defense, Your Honor," Mr. Tutt assured him.
"I don't doubt it, Mr. Tutt," returned the judge good-naturedly. "Your client seems to have loved not wisely but too well." And they all poured out happily into the corridor—that is, all of them except Caput and the two ladies, who remained seated upon their bench gazing fiercely and disdainfully at each other like two tabby cats on a fence.
"So you're not married to him, either!" sneered Miss Woodcock.
"Well, I'm as much married to him as you are!" retorted Miss Startup with her nose in the air.
Then instinctively they both turned and with one accord looked malevolently at Caput, who, seeing in their glance something which he did not like, slipped stealthily from his chair and out of the room, leaving ignominiously behind him upon the floor his precious volume entitled "How to Try a Case"!