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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter LVIII

The Gilded Age

Chapter LVIII


The court room was packed on the morning on which the verdict of the jury
was expected, as it had been every day of the trial, and by the same
spectators, who had followed its progress with such intense interest.

There is a delicious moment of excitement which the frequenter of trials
well knows, and which he would not miss for the world. It is that
instant when the foreman of the jury stands up to give the verdict,
and before he has opened his fateful lips.

The court assembled and waited. It was an obstinate jury.

It even had another question--this intelligent jury--to ask the judge
this morning.

The question was this: "Were the doctors clear that the deceased had no
disease which might soon have carried him off, if he had not been shot?"
There was evidently one jury man who didn't want to waste life, and was
willing to stake a general average, as the jury always does in a civil
case, deciding not according to the evidence but reaching the verdict by
some occult mental process.

During the delay the spectators exhibited unexampled patience, finding
amusement and relief in the slightest movements of the court, the
prisoner and the lawyers. Mr. Braham divided with Laura the attention
of the house. Bets were made by the Sheriff's deputies on the verdict,
with large odds in favor of a disagreement.

It was afternoon when it was announced that the jury was coming in.
The reporters took their places and were all attention; the judge and
lawyers were in their seats; the crowd swayed and pushed in eager
expectancy, as the jury walked in and stood up in silence.

Judge. "Gentlemen, have you agreed upon your verdict?"

Foreman. "We have."

Judge. "What is it?"

Foreman. "NOT GUILTY."

A shout went up from the entire room and a tumult of cheering which the
court in vain attempted to quell. For a few moments all order was lost.
The spectators crowded within the bar and surrounded Laura who, calmer
than anyone else, was supporting her aged mother, who had almost fainted
from excess of joy.

And now occurred one of those beautiful incidents which no fiction-writer
would dare to imagine, a scene of touching pathos, creditable to our
fallen humanity. In the eyes of the women of the audience Mr. Braham was
the hero of the occasion; he had saved the life of the prisoner; and
besides he was such a handsome man. The women could not restrain their
long pent-up emotions. They threw themselves upon Mr. Braham in a
transport of gratitude; they kissed him again and again, the young as
well as the advanced in years, the married as well as the ardent single
women; they improved the opportunity with a touching self-sacrifice; in
the words of a newspaper of the day they "lavished him with kisses."

It was something sweet to do; and it would be sweet for a woman to
remember in after years, that she had kissed Braham! Mr. Braham himself
received these fond assaults with the gallantry of his nation, enduring
the ugly, and heartily paying back beauty in its own coin.

This beautiful scene is still known in New York as "the kissing of
Braham."

When the tumult of congratulation had a little spent itself, and order
was restored, Judge O'Shaunnessy said that it now became his duty to
provide for the proper custody and treatment of the acquitted. The
verdict of the jury having left no doubt that the woman was of an unsound
mind, with a kind of insanity dangerous to the safety of the community,
she could not be permitted to go at large. "In accordance with the
directions of the law in such cases," said the Judge, "and in obedience
to the dictates of a wise humanity, I hereby commit Laura Hawkins to the
care of the Superintendent of the State Hospital for Insane Criminals, to
be held in confinement until the State Commissioners on Insanity shall
order her discharge. Mr. Sheriff, you will attend at once to the
execution of this decree."

Laura was overwhelmed and terror-stricken. She had expected to walk
forth in freedom in a few moments. The revulsion was terrible. Her
mother appeared like one shaken with an ague fit. Laura insane! And
about to be locked up with madmen! She had never contemplated this.
Mr. Graham said he should move at once for a writ of 'habeas corpus'.

But the judge could not do less than his duty, the law must have its way.
As in the stupor of a sudden calamity, and not fully comprehending it,
Mrs. Hawkins saw Laura led away by the officer.

With little space for thought she was, rapidly driven to the railway
station, and conveyed to the Hospital for Lunatic Criminals. It was only
when she was within this vast and grim abode of madness that she realized
the horror of her situation. It was only when she was received by the
kind physician and read pity in his eyes, and saw his look of hopeless
incredulity when she attempted to tell him that she was not insane; it
was only when she passed through the ward to which she was consigned and
saw the horrible creatures, the victims of a double calamity, whose
dreadful faces she was hereafter to see daily, and was locked into the
small, bare room that was to be her home, that all her fortitude forsook
her. She sank upon the bed, as soon as she was left alone--she had been
searched by the matron--and tried to think. But her brain was in a
whirl. She recalled Braham's speech, she recalled the testimony
regarding her lunacy. She wondered if she were not mad; she felt that
she soon should be among these loathsome creatures. Better almost to
have died, than to slowly go mad in this confinement.

--We beg the reader's pardon. This is not history, which has just been
written. It is really what would have occurred if this were a novel.
If this were a work of fiction, we should not dare to dispose of Laura
otherwise. True art and any attention to dramatic proprieties required
it. The novelist who would turn loose upon society an insane murderess
could not escape condemnation. Besides, the safety of society, the
decencies of criminal procedure, what we call our modern civilization,
all would demand that Laura should be disposed of in the manner we have
described. Foreigners, who read this sad story, will be unable to
understand any other termination of it.

But this is history and not fiction. There is no such law or custom as
that to which his Honor is supposed to have referred; Judge O'Shaunnessy
would not probably pay any attention to it if there were. There is no
Hospital for Insane Criminals; there is no State commission of lunacy.
What actually occurred when the tumult in the court room had subsided the
sagacious reader will now learn.

Laura left the court room, accompanied by her mother and other friends,
amid the congratulations of those assembled, and was cheered as she
entered a carriage, and drove away. How sweet was the sunlight, how
exhilarating the sense of freedom! Were not these following cheers the
expression of popular approval and affection? Was she not the heroine of
the hour?

It was with a feeling of triumph that Laura reached her hotel, a scornful
feeling of victory over society with its own weapons.

Mrs. Hawkins shared not at all in this feeling; she was broken with the
disgrace and the long anxiety.

"Thank God, Laura," she said, "it is over. Now we will go away from this
hateful city. Let us go home at once."

"Mother," replied Laura, speaking with some tenderness, "I cannot go with
you. There, don't cry, I cannot go back to that life."

Mrs. Hawkins was sobbing. This was more cruel than anything else, for
she had a dim notion of what it would be to leave Laura to herself.

"No, mother, you have been everything to me. You know how dearly I love
you. But I cannot go back."

A boy brought in a telegraphic despatch. Laura took it and read:

"The bill is lost. Dilworthy ruined. (Signed) WASHINGTON."

For a moment the words swam before her eyes. The next her eyes flashed
fire as she handed the dispatch to her m other and bitterly said,

"The world is against me. Well, let it be, let it. I am against it."

"This is a cruel disappointment," said Mrs. Hawkins, to whom one grief
more or less did not much matter now, "to you and, Washington; but we
must humbly bear it."

"Bear it;" replied Laura scornfully, "I've all my life borne it, and fate
has thwarted me at every step."

A servant came to the door to say that there was a gentleman below who
wished to speak with Miss Hawkins. "J. Adolphe Griller" was the name
Laura read on the card. "I do not know such a person. He probably comes
from Washington. Send him up."

Mr. Griller entered. He was a small man, slovenly in dress, his tone
confidential, his manner wholly void of animation, all his features below
the forehead protruding--particularly the apple of his throat--hair
without a kink in it, a hand with no grip, a meek, hang-dog countenance.
a falsehood done in flesh and blood; for while every visible sign about
him proclaimed him a poor, witless, useless weakling, the truth was that
he had the brains to plan great enterprises and the pluck to carry them
through. That was his reputation, and it was a deserved one. He softly
said:

"I called to see you on business, Miss Hawkins. You have my card?"

Laura bowed.

Mr. Griller continued to purr, as softly as before.

"I will proceed to business. I am a business man. I am a lecture-agent,
Miss Hawkins, and as soon as I saw that you were acquitted, it occurred
to me that an early interview would be mutually beneficial."

"I don't understand you, sir," said Laura coldly.

"No? You see, Miss Hawkins, this is your opportunity. If you will enter
the lecture field under good auspices, you will carry everything before
you."

"But, sir, I never lectured, I haven't any lecture, I don't know anything
about it."

"Ah, madam, that makes no difference--no real difference. It is not
necessary to be able to lecture in order to go into the lecture tour.
If ones name is celebrated all over the land, especially, and, if she is
also beautiful, she is certain to draw large audiences."

"But what should I lecture about?" asked Laura, beginning in spite of
herself to be a little interested as well as amused.

"Oh, why; woman--something about woman, I should say; the marriage
relation, woman's fate, anything of that sort. Call it The Revelations
of a Woman's Life; now, there's a good title. I wouldn't want any better
title than that. I'm prepared to make you an offer, Miss Hawkins,
a liberal offer,--twelve thousand dollars for thirty nights."

Laura thought. She hesitated. Why not? It would give her employment,
money. She must do something.

"I will think of it, and let you know soon. But still, there is very
little likelihood that I--however, we will not discuss it further now."

"Remember, that the sooner we get to work the better, Miss Hawkins,
public curiosity is so fickle. Good day, madam."

The close of the trial released Mr. Harry Brierly and left him free to
depart upon his long talked of Pacific-coast mission. He was very
mysterious about it, even to Philip.

"It's confidential, old boy," he said, "a little scheme we have hatched
up. I don't mind telling you that it's a good deal bigger thing than
that in Missouri, and a sure thing. I wouldn't take a half a million
just for my share. And it will open something for you, Phil. You will
hear from me."

Philip did hear, from Harry a few months afterward. Everything promised
splendidly, but there was a little delay. Could Phil let him have a
hundred, say, for ninety days?

Philip himself hastened to Philadelphia, and, as soon as the spring
opened, to the mine at Ilium, and began transforming the loan he had
received from Squire Montague into laborers' wages. He was haunted with
many anxieties; in the first place, Ruth was overtaxing her strength in
her hospital labors, and Philip felt as if he must move heaven and earth
to save her from such toil and suffering. His increased pecuniary
obligation oppressed him. It seemed to him also that he had been one
cause of the misfortune to the Bolton family, and that he was dragging
into loss and ruin everybody who associated with him. He worked on day
after day and week after week, with a feverish anxiety.

It would be wicked, thought Philip, and impious, to pray for luck; he
felt that perhaps he ought not to ask a blessing upon the sort of labor
that was only a venture; but yet in that daily petition, which this very
faulty and not very consistent young Christian gentleman put up, he
prayed earnestly enough for Ruth and for the Boltons and for those whom
he loved and who trusted in him, and that his life might not be a
misfortune to them and a failure to himself.

Since this young fellow went out into the world from his New England
home, he had done some things that he would rather his mother should not
know, things maybe that he would shrink from telling Ruth. At a certain
green age young gentlemen are sometimes afraid of being called milksops,
and Philip's associates had not always been the most select, such as
these historians would have chosen for him, or whom at a later, period he
would have chosen for himself. It seemed inexplicable, for instance,
that his life should have been thrown so much with his college
acquaintance, Henry Brierly.

Yet, this was true of Philip, that in whatever company he had been he had
never been ashamed to stand up for the principles he learned from his
mother, and neither raillery nor looks of wonder turned him from that
daily habit had learned at his mother's knees.--Even flippant Harry
respected this, and perhaps it was one of the reasons why Harry and all
who knew Philip trusted him implicitly. And yet it must be confessed
that Philip did not convey the impression to the world of a very serious
young man, or of a man who might not rather easily fall into temptation.
One looking for a real hero would have to go elsewhere.

The parting between Laura and her mother was exceedingly painful to both.
It was as if two friends parted on a wide plain, the one to journey
towards the setting and the other towards the rising sun, each
comprehending that every, step henceforth must separate their lives,
wider and wider.

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