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"FROM MURDER AND SUDDEN
UST number on your fingers the names of the people you would
not weep to notice in the mortuary column of the Times." I
could see by his face that Plunger of the Artillery knew several on his own account. I need not say I was quite horrified. “Good gracious!” I ex
” claimed, “ do you take me for an assassin ?”
He merely lighted another cigar quietly and said, “ Think.” I thought
“Tell me, Plunger,” I said evasively, “what sort of people you want out of the way ? ”
"A woman who has got some letters of mine, she is in the habit of reading indiscreetly to other people. A man who might come down on me for damages of a special sort. A relation of no particular merit who bars my succession to an estate, which I feel I could manage very satisfactorily myself. Somebody who knew me twenty years ago, when I was a-a very different kind of person, you know-and, well, perhaps I might think of some one else—but I don't know that these confidences are altogether safe, especially in your hands, old boy, because they might get into print. I shan't go any further ; but, in a word, whilst there are but few dead whom I could wish to see alive again, there are a good many alive whom-" He did not seem to care to finish the sentence.
To say you wish a person dead is like criminating yourself; it is just one of those sentiments we none of us like to confess straight offnot even to ourselves. But while Plunger had been speaking, my own mind had been at work. I half suspected Plunger had, out of gentlemanly feeling, stopped short at his own wife. I was not the less shocked at Plunger, but began to be a little alarmed at myself as I began to remember several people who were unmitigated nuisances --who had done me harm--who would, if they could, do me more harm-and over whose graves I should not be likely to drop the tributary tear.
Soon after leaving Plunger, I happened to take up the newspaper and read about that terrible old hag, Thekla Popov, who in her retired little Hungarian village seems for some time past to have driven a brisk trade in slow poison.
With a deep and thorough knowledge of human nature, she appears to have assumed that a woman's natural enemy was her husband, and to have worked out this cynical hypothesis with some success.
Large numbers of married women availed themselves of her services. She sold her attractive little bottles at from two to four pounds apiece; and the husbands, by an almost imperceptible gradation of head-aches and stomach aches, were slowly but surely removed from a sphere which, in the opinion of their better halves, they had ceased to adorn.
This, indeed, was a tremendous and logical illustration of Plunger's sentiments. I laid down the horrible narrative and asked myself a question which has been frequently asked before, and answered in different ways, “How many married people would get rid of each other if they had the chance by fair means--or, failing these, by foul?"
It has been urged that if to-morrow all husbands and wives had full liberty to go free, the great majority would not avail themselves of the privilege. The question is, of course, a complex one, and a good many people would no doubt hang together from expediency long after the bonds of affection had been loosed.
That at the end, say, of ten years more or less, every one would go free is probably as far from the truth as precisely the opposite assertion ; but the fact that a number of simple people, whose matrimonial differences would probably have courted little notoriety under ordinary circumstances, and, perhaps, in the majority of cases been suppressed altogether, should have thought it worth while to call in the aid of “Murder," the instant that "murder” offered them a safe and happy despatch for their husbands,—this is, to say the least, phenomenal, and suggests the natural inquiry, would not “Divorce" be a simpler and less criminal solution of the difficulty?
We owe the doctrine of the indissolubility of the marriage tie, no doubt, to a questionable interpretation of certain verses in the New Testament-stamped with the authority of Roman Christianitytaken up into the marriage codes of Western civilization.
In the Catholic Church there is still no divorce. In Protestant communities the rule has been somewhat relaxed, yet in England we are still brought face to face with a state of things which might almost tempt Dame Popov to open a branch establishment in London.
Anything more irrational and irreligious than the deliberate conversion into a Hell on Earth of a state and condition devised “for the mutual society, help, and comfort” of the parties concerned, can hardly be imagined.
James and Mabel are yoked together. James turns out an incorrigible drunkard, and not only lives on Mabel's fortune, but is still allowed to control Mabel's person.
John and Agatha have been married some two years, when the latent hereditary insanity shows itself in Agatha in a restlessly homicidal form. She kills one of her children, attempts her husband's life, and at last fails to recognise any of her friends by sight. John is 40, Agatha is 35; but John may not marry another.
In a year or two, hopeless incompatibility of temper asserts itself between Rachel and Alfred. Alfred could be perfectly happy with Mabel, who is married to the drunkard; and Rachel, in her heart, adores John, whose wife is hopelessly insane.
Well, there are no legal means of bringing these people together short of deliberate crime, intentionally committed or connived at by one or both.
The English Divorce law, with but certain obvious exceptions, helps nobody who is not first a deliberate traitor to virtue and honour.
I know all that can be said about making the divorce law too easy. I think it ought to be at all times a troublesome business to get rid of a wife or a husband ; and in all cases due provision should be made for the maintenance and personal rights of the person or persons involved ; but it should not be an almost or quite impossible operation, as it is now in the majority of aggrieved cases.
At present, we know how people settle things in France and Italy, where there is no such thing as divorce. In matters of the heart the lady is not usually more difficile than her husband.
In England it may be somewhat otherwise, owing to the greater freedom of natural selection before marriage and some liberty of separation, if not of divorce, where marriage turns out a failure. But to suppose that the abnormal and pedantic tightening of the marriage tie by law secures an ideal and invariable fidelity, any more than an elysium of bliss, is to be wilfully blind to the facts of English society and to the inevitable tendencies of an imperfect nature.
I think people often make the best of an unfortunate arrangement; I think that human nature is happily so elastic, that young dispositions and soft young hearts can be readily moulded, and that there is an immense power of mutual adaptability in most people, if they cnly have the good sense and the courage to work it.
All this will account for a good many respectable marriages on earth that have certainly not been exactly made in heaven.
But still, the line must be drawn. The cat-and-dog life begins somewhere. The hopeless fix is not unfrequently reached at the point where the unscrupulous Hungarian wife goes over the hill to get a little bottle from Dame Popov, and where the English matron sits down in despair, a broken-hearted woman, or begins to listen elsewhere to the voice of a passion which can never again be one of her legitimate consolations.
As I turned these thoughts over in my own mind, I happened to remember how Plunger was situated in regard to his own wife.
How or why he had ever married her I could never make out. Plunger was not a saint himself, but Plunger was a brave officer and a good generous-hearted sort of fellow, and I believe, under happier auspices, he would have been an affectionate husband and a steadygoing man. A judicious woman could have managed Plunger and turned him round her finger, and he would have adored her for it.
But Plunger married in India one of those girls--not very young, not very handsome, and perhaps not very moral—who seem to be sent out, after being failures in the mother country, to be flung at the heads of any men who, in the general dearth of European womankind, may mistake them for angels and marry them.
They do marry them. Under several circumstances, which it is not necessary to specify, some men will marry anyone anywhere.
Plunger did so. Mrs. Plunger drank, Mrs. Plunger gambled, Mrs. Plunger flirted when she had the chance, and spent a good deal more money than her husband or she could call their own.
She disliked her children, she quarrelled with all her servants, and hated her husband.
Plunger's home was a hell. But he had taken that woman for better, for worse ; and although she was doing her best to ruin hin and his children as she had ruined herself, Plunger had taken her for better, for worse.
He bore his punishment well, on the whole. He never complained of her ; he tried to cover her failings, and he managed to keep the children out of her way, at school as much as possible. But he suffered, and, after a little reflection, I quite understood the real sting of his half-jesting but bitter little speech : "Just number on your fingers the names of people you would not weep to see included in the mortuary column of the Times."
DUST: A NOVEL.
BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE.
Only the actions of the Just
CHAPTER XXXI. T had been Fillmore's intention to call on Perdita the next morn
ing, and acquaint her with the details of what had happened. She was, theoretically at all events, nearly interested in the matter. She was Bendibow's adopted daughter, and his credit or disgrace must more or less affect her. She might desire to take some action about the affair, and, as Bendibow was already in the hands of the authorities, and seemed inclined to be somewhat outspoken, there was no time to be lost. Whatever defence of the unfortunate baronet was to be attempted, would naturally be entrusted to Fillmore; and it was necessary that he should be acquainted with the views and wishes of all concerned. Perdita, moreover, was capable not only of having desires, but of suggesting ingenious and practical methods of accomplishing them : and though Fillmore was not accustomed to ask advice from his clients, or to accept it when offered, he was ready to make an exception in Perdita's case. She had brains, sound judgment, and quickness of wit superior to Fillmore's own--more elastic and adaptable. Furthermore, the lawyer was in love with the lady, and was not the man to forego any opportunity of strengthening his relations with her. He had resolved never to give her up, and in order to carry out that resolve, it was indispensable, in the case of a woman like Perdita, to use every advantage at his disposal.
He had arranged to make his call as early as ten o'clock, which, after all, was not so early seventy years ago as it is now. But fortune, who often leads men to destruction by simply improving the grade of the path they are already inclined to travel, so arranged events that Fillmore received, while he was yet at breakfast, a short note from the Marquise herself, despatched to him from her bedchamber by special messenger, requesting his speedy presence at her house. " You will know, without my telling you, why I want to speak to