Samuel Warren.

The Experiences of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney online

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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
Elizabeth Wareing?"

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
the court.

"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?"

"Yes - no - yes."

"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
son's handwriting?"


"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
the crown.

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.


In the second year of my connection with the Northern Circuit, when even
_junior_ briefs were much less numerous than acceptable, I was agreeably
surprised, as I sat musing on the evening of my arrival in the ancient
city of York upon the capricious mode in which those powerful personages
the attorneys distributed their valuable favors, by the entrance of one
of the most eminent of the race practising in that part of the country,
and the forthwith tender of a bulky brief in the Crown Court, on which,
as my glance instinctively fell on the interesting figures, I perceived
that the large fee, in criminal cases, of fifty guineas was marked. The
local newspapers, from which I had occasionally seen extracts, had been
for some time busy with the case; and I knew it therefore to be,
relatively to the condition in life of the principal person implicated,
an important one. Rumor had assigned the conduct of the defence to an
eminent leader on the circuit - since, one of our ablest judges; and on
looking more closely at the brief, I perceived that that gentleman's name
had been crossed out, and mine substituted. The fee also - a much less
agreeable alteration - had been, I saw, considerably reduced; in
accordance, doubtless, with the attorney's appreciation of the difference
of value between a silk and a stuff gown.

"You are not, sir, I believe, retained for the prosecution in the crown
against Everett?" said Mr. Sharpe in his brief, business manner.

"I am not, Mr. Sharpe."

"In that case, I beg to tender you the leading-brief for the defence. It
was intended, as you perceive, to place it in the hands of our great
_nisi prius_ leader, but he will be so completely occupied in that court,
that he has been compelled to decline it. He mentioned you; and from what
I have myself seen of you in several cases, I have no doubt my
unfortunate client will have ample justice done him. Mr. Kingston will be
with you."

I thanked Mr. Sharpe for his compliment, and accepted his brief. As the
commission would be opened on the following morning, I at once applied
myself to a perusal of the bulky paper, aided as I read by the verbal
explanations and commentaries of Mr. Sharpe. Our conference lasted
several hours; and it was arranged that another should be held early the
next morning at Mr. Sharpe's office, at which Mr. Kingston would assist.

Dark, intricate, compassed with fearful mystery, was the case so suddenly
submitted to my guidance; and the few faint gleams of light derived from
the attorney's research, prescience, and sagacity, served but to render
dimly visible a still profounder and blacker abyss of crime than that
disclosed by the evidence for the crown. Young as I then was in the
profession, no marvel that I felt oppressed by the weight of the
responsibility cast upon me; or that, when wearied with thinking, and
dizzy with profitless conjecture, I threw myself into bed, perplexing
images and shapes of guilt and terror pursued me through my troubled
sleep! Happily the next day was not that of trial; for I awoke with a
throbbing pulse and burning brain, and should have been but poorly
prepared for a struggle involving the issues of life and death. Extremely

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Online LibrarySamuel WarrenThe Experiences of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney → online text (page 10 of 26)