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THE EVIL GENIUS by Wilkie Collins

Part 8 out of 8

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perplexity. We had been well known to each other for many years,
as lawyer and client. She wanted advice on this occasion
also--and wanted it in the strictest confidence. Was it
consistent with my professional duty to show her letter to my
wife? Mrs. Sarrazin says Yes; Mrs. Sarrazin's husband says No.

Let me add that the lady was a person of unblemished reputation,
and that she was placed in a false position through no fault of
her own. In plain English, she was divorced. Ah, my dear (to
speak in the vivid language of the people), do you smell a rat?

Yes: my client was Mrs. Norman; and to her pretty cottage in the
country I betook myself the next day. There I found my excellent
friend Randal Linley, present by special inv itation.

Stop a minute. Why do I write all this, instead of explaining
myself by word of mouth? My love, you are a member of an old and
illustrious family; you honored me when you married me; and you
have (as your father told me on our wedding day) the high and
haughty temper of your race. I foresee an explosion of this
temper, and I would rather have my writing-paper blown up than be
blown up myself.

Is this a cowardly confession on my part? All courage, Mrs.
Sarrazin, is relative; the bravest man living has a cowardly side
to his character, though it may not always be found out. Some
years ago, at a public dinner, I sat next to an officer in the
British army. At one time in his life he had led a forlorn hope.
At another time, he had picked up a wounded soldier, and had
carried him to the care of the surgeons through a hail-storm of
the enemy's bullets. Hot courage and cool courage, this true hero
possessed both. _I_ saw the cowardly side of his character. He
lost his color; perspiration broke out on his forehead; he
trembled; he talked nonsense; he was frightened out of his wits.
And all for what? Because he had to get on his legs and make a

Well: Mrs. Norman, and Randal Linley, and I, sat down to our
consultation at the cottage.

What did my fair client want?

She contemplated marrying for the second time, and she wanted my
advice as a lawyer, and my encouragement as an old friend. I was
quite ready; I only waited for particulars. Mrs. Norman became
dreadfully embarrassed, and said: "I refer you to my

I looked at Randal. "Once her brother-in-law, no doubt," I said;
"but after the Divorce--" My friend stopped me there. "After the
Divorce," he remarked, "I may be her brother-in-law again."

If this meant anything, it meant that she was actually going to
marry Herbert Linley again. This was too ridiculous. "If it's a
joke," I said, "I have heard better fun in my time. If it's only
an assertion, I don't believe it."

"Why not?" Randal asked.

"Saying I do want you, in one breath--and I don't want you, in
another--seems to be a little hard on Divorce," I ventured to

"Don't expect _me_ to sympathize with Divorce," Randal said.

I answered that smartly. "No; I'll wait till you are married."

He took it seriously. "Don't misunderstand me," he replied.
"Where there is absolute cruelty, or where there is deliberate
desertion, on the husband's part, I see the use and the reason
for Divorce. If the unhappy wife can find an honorable man who
will protect her, or an honorable man who will offer her a home,
Society and Law, which are responsible for the institution of
marriage, are bound to allow a woman outraged under the shelter
of their institution to marry again. But, where the husband's
fault is sexual frailty, I say the English law which refuses
Divorce on that ground alone is right, and the Scotch law which
grants it is wrong. Religion, which rightly condemns the sin,
pardons it on the condition of true penitence. Why is a wife not
to pardon it for the same reason? Why are the lives of a father,
a mother, and a child to be wrecked, when those lives may be
saved by the exercise of the first of Christian
virtues--forgiveness of injuries? In such a case as this I regret
that Divorce exists; and I rejoice when husband and wife and
child are one flesh again, re-united by the law of Nature, which
is the law of God."

I might have disputed with him; but I thought he was right. I
also wanted to make sure of the facts. "Am I really to
understand," I asked, "that Mr. Herbert Linley is to be this
lady's husband for the second time?"

"If there is no lawful objection to it," Randal said-- "decidedly

My good wife, in all your experience you never saw your husband
stare as he stared at that moment. Here was a lady divorced by
her own lawful desire and at her own personal expense, thinking
better of it after no very long interval, and proposing to marry
the man again. Was there ever anything so grossly improbable?
Where is the novelist who would be bold enough to invent such an
incident as this?

Never mind the novelist. How did it end?

Of course it could only end in one way, so far as I was
concerned. The case being without precedent in my experience, I
dropped my professional character at the outset. Speaking next as
a friend, I had only to say to Mrs. Norman: "The Law has declared
you and Mr. Herbert Linley to be single people. Do what other
single people do. Buy a license, and give notice at a church--and
by all means send wedding cards to the judge who divorced you."

Said; and, in another fortnight, done. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert
Linley were married again this morning; and Randal and I were the
only witnesses present at the ceremony, which was strictly

2.--The Lawyer's Defense.

I wonder whether the foregoing pages of my writing-paper have
been torn to pieces and thrown into the waste-paper basket? You
wouldn't litter the carpet. No. I may be torn in pieces, but I do
you justice for all that.

What are the objections to the divorced husband and wife becoming
husband and wife again? Mrs. Presty has stated them in the
following order. Am I wrong in assuming that, on this occasion at
least, you will agree with Mrs. Presty?

First Objection: Nobody has ever done such a thing before.

Second Objection: Penitent or not penitent, Mr. Herbert Linley
doesn't deserve it.

Third Objection: No respectable person will visit them.

First Reply: The question is not whether the thing has been done
before, but whether the doing of the thing is right in itself
There is no clause in the marriage service forbidding a wife to
forgive her husband; but there is a direct prohibition to any
separation between them. It is, therefore, not wrong to forgive
Mr. Herbert Linley, and it is absolutely right to marry him

Second Reply: When their child brings him home, and takes it for
granted that her father and mother should live together,
_because_ they are her father and mother, innocent Kitty has
appealed from the Law of Divorce to the Law of Nature. Whether
Herbert Linley has deserved it or whether he has not, there he is
in the only fit place for him--and there is an end of the second

Third Reply: A flat contradiction to the assertion that no
respectable person will visit her. Mrs. Sarrazin will visit her.
Yes, you will, my dear! Not because I insist upon it--Do I ever
insist on anything? No; you will act on your own responsibility,
out of compassion for a misguided old woman. Judge for yourself
when you read what follows, if Mrs. Presty is not sadly in need
of the good example of an ornament to her sex.

The Evil Genius of the family joined us in the cottage parlor
when our consultations had come to an end. I had the honor of
communicating the decision at which we had arrived. Mrs. Presty
marched to the door; and, from that commanding position,
addressed a few farewell remarks to her daughter.

"I have done with you, Catherine. You have reached the limits of
my maternal endurance at last. I shall set up my own
establishment, and live again--in memory--with Mr. Norman and Mr.
Presty. May you be happy. I don't anticipate it."

She left the room--and came back again for a last word, addressed
this time to Randal Linley.

"When you next see your friend, Captain Bennydeck, give him my
compliments, Mr. Randal, and say I congratulate him on having
been jilted by my daughter. It would have been a sad thing,
indeed, if such a sensible man had married an idiot.

She left the room again, and came back again for another last
word, addressed on this occasion to me. Her better nature made an
effort to express itself, not altogether without success.

"I think it is quite likely, Mr. Sarrazin, that some dreadful
misfortune will fall on my daughter, as the punishment of her
undutiful disregard of her mother's objections. In that case, I
shall feel it my duty to return and administer maternal
consolation. When you write, address me at my banker's. I make
allowances for a lawyer, sir; I don't blame You."

She opened the door for the third time--stepped out, and stepped
back again into the room--suddenly g ave her daughter a fierce
kiss--returned to the door--shook her fist at Mrs. Linley with a
theatrically-threatening gesture--said, "Unnatural child!"--and,
after this exhibition of her better nature, and her worse, left
us at last. When you visit the remarried pair on their return
from their second honeymoon, take Mrs. Presty with you.

3.--The Lawyer's Last Word.

"When you force this ridiculous and regrettable affair on my
attention" (I think I hear Mrs. Sarrazin say), "the least you can
do is to make your narrative complete. But perhaps you propose to
tell me personally what has become of Kitty, and what
well-deserved retribution has overtaken Miss Westerfield."

No: I propose in this case also to communicate my information in
writing--at the safe distance from home of Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Kitty accompanies her father and mother to the Continent, of
course. But she insisted on first saying good-by to the dear
friend, once the dear governess, whom she loves. Randal and I
volunteered to take her (with her mother's ready permission) to
see Miss Westerfield. Try not to be angry. Try not to tear me up.

We found Captain Bennydeck and his pretty secretary enjoying a
little rest and refreshment, after a long morning's work for the
good of the Home. The Captain was carving the chicken; and
Sydney, by his side, was making the salad. The house-cat occupied
a third chair, with her eyes immovably fixed on the movements of
the knife and fork. Perhaps I was thinking of sad past days.
Anyway, it seemed to me to be as pretty a domestic scene as a man
could wish to look at. The arrival of Kitty made the picture

Our visit was necessarily limited by a due remembrance of the
hour of departure, by an early tidal tram. Kitty's last words to
Sydney bade her bear their next meeting in mind, and not be
melancholy at only saying good-by for a time. Like all children,
she asks strange questions. When we were out in the street again,
she said to her uncle: "Do you think my nice Captain will marry

Randal had noticed, in Captain Bennydeck's face, signs which
betrayed that the bitterest disappointment of his life was far
from being a forgotten disappointment yet. If it had been put by
any other person, poor Kitty's absurd question might have met
with a bitter reply. As it was, her uncle only said: "My dear
child, that is no business of yours or mine."

Not in the least discouraged, Kitty turned to me. "What do _you_
think, Samuel?"

I followed Randal's lead, and answered, "How should I know?"

The child looked from one to the other of us. "Shall I tell you
what I think?" she said, "I think you are both of you humbugs."

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