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Ghosts by Arthur Gask

Published in The Mail, Adelaide, S.A., Saturday 8 April, 1944.

It was the ending of the fourth day of the 'Hylden versus Hylden and Carnarvon' divorce case, and excitement was running high. Not, indeed, that there had been any excitement in the court itself for His Honor, Judge Bevan-Royal, was a stern martinet, and emotion was given no rein when he was presiding on the Bench.

Fifty-five years of age, he had been admitted to the practice of the law in the Old Country some 30 years previously. Migrating, however, to South Australia, he had soon made his mark, and at 45 had been elevated to the Bench. Of an austere morality, and with a well-known distaste for dealing with cases of matrimonial infidelity, it was nevertheless generally conceded he was by far the best divorce judge in the State. Devoid of sentiment and cold as ice where a pretty face was concerned, it was agreed on all sides that in any case he was handling he would hold the scales of justice to the balance of the finest gossamer of a spider's web.

Never influenced in the slightest degree by the most passionate appeal of counsel, and, indeed, regarding all their eloquence as an attempt to fog the issues involved, his mind would sink like a plummet to the bottom rock of facts, and guilt or innocence was determined by him in an atmosphere as calm and still as that of an age-old hermetically sealed tomb.

But if there had been no apparent excitement in the court it was very different outside, as Sir Miles and Lady Hylden were among the best-known figures in society circles in Adelaide, and Dr. Carnarvon was one of its most promising young medical men. The knight was a wealthy man in the middle fifties, and his wife, the lovely Madelaine Adair before her marriage, was nearly 30 years younger than he. They had been married two years, and there were no children. Madelaine was Sir Miles' third wife.

It was the old, old story, of an elderly lover passionately enamored of a young girl, and she marrying him for position and all that wealth could give.

By no means could it be said that Sir Miles was a pleasant character, either in looks or ways. Short and stout, with his head coming straight off his shoulders, he had a red, vein-lined face and hard, searching eyes. Undoubtedly, however, he was most capable, and, with the courage and tenacity of a bull-dog, he had bullied his way to fortune, and in his colorful life obtained nearly all he wanted. He had wanted Madelaine, and he had got her, like everything else—by purchase.

On her part, Madelaine was of some character, and certainly no weakling. With never any real affection for her husband, she might yet have made him a good wife if she had ever learnt to respect him, but, with his passion for her quickly cooling, he had lost all interest in her, and was soon on the look-out again for favors from any pretty woman who happened to take his fancy. Also, of late, he had become a hard and heavy drinker.

So, less than a year after their marriage, they had both begun to go their own ways. Madelaine had been the bright society butterfly, enjoying herself as best she could, and, with no interference from her husband, making her own circle of friends.

Then, suddenly, and without the slightest warning, Sir Miles had pulled her up with a jerk, accused her of unfaithfulness, turned her out of the house, and had the papers served, naming Dr. Carnarvon as the co-respondent. He claimed £5,000 damages. Both Lady Hylden and the doctor strenuously denied the charge, and the cream of the South Australian Bar had been briefed by the contending parties.

In the course of the proceedings in the court two very different pictures of Sir Miles had been given. In one he had been held up as an affectionate, very wronged, and very shocked husband, who had suddenly found himself betrayed by the one man above all others he should have been able to trust—the family medical adviser. In the other, he had been portrayed as the neglecting and unscrupulous husband who, getting tired of his wife and scheming to be rid of her, had deliberately thrown her as much as possible in the doctor's way, just biding his time until be thought he had accumulated enough evidence of guilt against her.

He told the court he had had no suspicions at all until one night, coming home from a public dinner a good hour before he was expected, he had seen a man rush out from one of the french windows, and get away by scaling the garden wall. He had recognised the man as Dr. Carnarvon.

At once instituting inquiries, he had learnt the doctor had been in the habit of paying secret visits to the house, not coming up openly in his car, but parking the car in an unfrequented lane some hundreds of yards away.

In the witness box both Lady Hylden and the doctor had denied the secret visits, and, referring to the particular night when Sir Miles averred he had recognised the doctor running from the house, Madelaine had sworn she had had no visitors at all that evening, adding scornfully that, if she had had one, her husband had certainly been in no condition to recognise who he was, as he, Sir Miles, had been three-parts intoxicated when he had arrived home.

In the course of the trial, what was considered as one of the strongest points made by counsel against Madelaine had been that her personal maid, who had been turned out of the house at the same time as her mistress, had most mysteriously disappeared directly after she had had been served with a subpoena to attend the court. If she had been put in the witness box, insisted counsel, from her would have been dragged the damning admission of the many secret visits of Dr. Carnarvon. Making matters look even worse, it had been shown that the day before the girl had disappeared Madelaine had cashed a cheque for £100.

It was true, Madelaine had explained this cheque by stating she had drawn it to use at the races. As, however, it was well known she had never taken much interest in racing, and, indeed, could not mention one single horse on which she had ever placed more than £1, the explanation had been regarded by everyone as very weak and unconvincing.

With the adjournment of the court on the fourth afternoon, Judge Bevan-Royal retired to his private room, and, taking off his wig and disrobing, leant back tiredly in a big arm-chair, and thoughtfully considered the three parties in the case. He had met them all socially. Sir Miles he detested, he could not help admiring the wife, and, from what he had seen of Dr. Carnarvon, he liked him.

Of course, however, Lady Hylden and the doctor were guilty! There could be so doubt about that and on the morrow he would grant the petition for the dissolution of the marriage. But he had no sympathy with the husband, and would give him no damages. By his neglect and general manner of living he had contributed to his wife's infidelity. At any rate, he looked a satyr, and, possibly, nay probably, was every bit as bad as she was.

Had not he, Bevan-Royal, with his own eyes, seen him making up to that young widow-woman at that garden party the previous week? Yes, he had watched him ogling her in that horrid way. Perhaps he would marry her next and she would be wife number four.

He was sorry for Dr. Carnarvon. It would mean utter ruin for him, even if his name was not removed from the medical register. But then he had gone into things with his eyes open, and he must take the consequences.

His meditations were interrupted by an attendant knocking on the door and entering the room. "A young gentleman would like to speak to Your Honor," he said. "His name is Smith, and he says he comes from England."

"Smith!" exclaimed the judge. "What does he want?"

"He says his business is private, Your Honor, but he'll only keep you a minute or two."

"Show him in," frowned the judge, and a smart young man in the uniform of the mercantile marine was ushered in. He was unusually good-looking, with a smiling, open countenance.

"Judge Bevan-Royal?" he asked. "Then, pardon my troubling you, sir," he went on, "but I come under peculiar circumstances. My mother died rather suddenly some six months ago, and I found among her things an old newspaper cutting of many years back, saying you had been made a judge here in Adelaide. Never having heard her speak of you, I was curious if she had ever known you, and thought that if ever I were in Adelaide, I would come and see you to find out."

The judge's eyes were hooded, and he was regarding his visitor intently. "What was your mother's Christian name?" he asked after a few moments' hesitation.

"Gertrude, sir," was his reply. "She was a hospital nurse."

"Then I did know her," nodded the judge. "She nursed me through a very serious illness, and, the doctors said, saved my life. I have always had most grateful feelings for her." He frowned. "I wrote to her after I had come out here, but the letter was returned through the Dead Letter Office. She had gone away, and left no address."

"She did it on purpose, sir," said the boy. "She didn't want my father to know where she was. He had been very unkind to her, and she had left him before I was born. I have never seen him, and do not even know if he is alive."

"Then you are the only child?" said the judge. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-five next birthday, sir," replied the boy. He spoke proudly. "I am first officer on s.s. Nerbudda."

They chatted on for quite awhile, and, learning the boy would be in Adelaide until the following afternoon, the judge invited him to dinner at a hotel that evening, They had a very pleasant meal together, and, in parting, the judge asked him to write to him occasionally, adding that if ever he could be of any service to him, he would be most happy to do all he could.

The judge slept badly that night, and the next morning, when he took his seat on the Bench, it was noticed he was paler than usual. The court was crowded. Lady Hylden was not present, but both Sir Miles and Dr. Carnarvon were. Sir Miles looked vindictively confident, but the doctor, though he tried not to show it, was obviously ill at ease. The spectators, generally, having little doubt what the judgment was going to be, thought it very plucky on the doctor's part, to be intending to receive the blow in public.

In a profound and impressive silence, the judge commenced in calm, unhurried tones. He regretted, he said, that none of the parties to the case had impressed him very favorably, as, undoubtedly, much of the testimony given had been exaggerated, even to the point of deliberate falsehood. The petitioner had exaggerated to support his contention of the respondents' guilt, and they had exaggerated in their insistence on their innocence.

Referring specifically to the petitioner, the judge went on, it was surely hard to credit that, if the guilty association of his wife with Dr. Carnarvon had been continuing for so long, he would have had no suspicions of what was happening until the full realisation of it came to him on that particular night—as he put it—with the suddenness of a clap of thunder.

He had admitted, he had allowed—even more than that—that he had encouraged Dr. Carnarvon to be his wife's escort on many occasions. Himself engrossed in business matters, he had asked the doctor to deputise for him, and, in consequence, the two had gone about together to pictures, theatres, concerts, and other public functions. His contention was that his only motive had been to give his wife pleasure, and that he was exposing her to danger had never entered into his mind.

Yet, the petitioner was a shrewd, alert, and far-seeing man, as was evidenced by his business successes, and, surely, it would have been imagined, he would have been one of the last persons not to have noticed what was going on under his very eyes, and seen whither things were leading. Turning to the matter of the co-respondent's innocence or guilt, the judge said he was faced with another problem, as he had to ask himself if it were possible, a single, unattached man of Dr. Carnarvon's age could have been so much in the company of so attractive a woman as Lady Hylden without any feelings beyond those of mere friendship being aroused. If so, the question was—with the many opportunities he had had—had he kept those feelings under wise and proper control? Was it probable he had?

Coming to the disappearance of Lady Hylden's maid, His Honor said, he was not putting that in the scales as determining either innocence or guilt, as it was impossible to say which side her evidence would have favored. Certainly, placed in the witness-box, her evidence might have gone far to prove the wife's guilt; on the other hand, however, might it not have helped to establish her innocence? Without knowing which party to the action—if, indeed, either party—were responsible for this shameful attempt to impede the course of justice, he, the judge, would have to ignore the incident altogether.

After speaking for upwards of an hour, he gave his judgment in one short sentence, which exploded like a bomb in the court. "Viewing all the circumstances, I am not satisfied the case for the petitioner has been made out, and therefore do not grant the petition for the dissolution of the marriage."

For a few seconds a stunned and amazed silence followed, and, then, an almost audible sigh of relief rippled round. Sir Miles was seen to be absolutely purple in his fury, while Dr. Carnarvon's face was white and unsmiling.

That same evening the judge was about to sit down to dinner, when his wife came in from answering the telephone. "It was Dr. Bentley," she said. "He rang up to say Sir Miles had a stroke of apoplexy half an hour ago, and passed away almost at once."

His Honor did not appear to be much interested. "Only what might have been expected," he remarked. "He looked that type of man."

The daughter of the house, the judge's only child, came in. She was a good-looking girl of 21, and the apple of her father's eye. "Oh, dad," she exclaimed with animation, "I've something which will interest you. Jean Matthews and I were having lunch today at the Old Grotto cafe, and at a table near us was such a handsome young officer in Merchant Navy uniform. I did so admire him, and—" she laughed merrily,—"I think he was interested in me, because he kept looking in our direction."

The judge was examining the pattern of the carpet, but he glanced up affectionately at her. "And wasn't that quite natural?" he smiled. "Aren't you worth looking at?"

"But that's not what I want to tell you," she went on. She spoke impressively. "This boy, dad, was so much like you. He had your shaped head, your eyes, and his hair was even wavy like yours. The likeness was so striking."

"Then I must be a type," smiled the judge, and he turned the conversation by asking her how she was getting on with her golf.

 
 
 

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