A Shocking Bad Memory
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Must I give up everything?" asked Mr. Hardy of his lawyer, with whom he was holding a consultation as to the mode and manner of getting clear of certain responsibilities in the shape of debt.
"Yes, everything, or commit perjury. The oath you have taken is very comprehensive. If you keep back as much as ten dollars, you will swear falsely."
"Bad — bad. I have about seven thousand dollars, and I owe twenty thousand. To divide this among my creditors, gives them but a small sum apiece, while it strips me of everything. Is there no way, Mr. Dockett, by which I can retain this money, and yet not take a false oath? You gentlemen of the bar can usually find some loop-hole in the law out of which to help your clients. I know of several who have gone through the debtors' mill, and yet not come forth penniless; and some of them, I know, would not be guilty of false swearing."
"Oh yes, the thing is done every day."
"Ah, well, how is it done?"
"The process is very simple. Take your seven thousand dollars, and make it a present to some friend, in whom you can confide. Then you will be worth nothing, and go before the insolvent commissioners and swear until you are black and blue, without perjuring yourself."
"Humph! is that the way it is done?" said Mr. Hardy.
"The very way."
"But suppose the friend should decline handing it back?"
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders as he replied, "You must take care whom you trust in an affair of this kind. At worst, however, you would be just as well off, assuming that your friend should hold on to what you gave him, as you would be if you abandoned all to your creditors."
"True, if I abandon all, there is no hope of even getting back a dollar. It is the same as if I had thrown everything into the sea."
"While, in adopting the plan you propose, the chances for getting back my own again, are eight to ten in my favor."
"Or, you might almost say, ten to ten. No friend into whose hands you confided the little remnant of your property would be so base as to withhold it from you."
"I will do it," said Mr. Hardy, as he parted with the lawyer.
One day, a few weeks after this interview took place, the client of Mr. Dockett came hurriedly into his office, and, drawing him aside, said, as he slipped a small package into his hand, "Here is something for you. You remember our conversation a short time ago?"
"Oh, very well."
"Do you understand me, Mr. Dockett?"
"Oh, perfectly! all right; when do you go before the commissioners?"
"Yes — I will see you again as soon as all is over."
"Very well — good day."
On the next day, Mr. Hardy met before the commissioners, and took a solemn oath that he had truly and honestly given up into the hands of his assignee every dollar of his property, for the benefit of his creditors, and that he did not now possess anything beyond what the law permitted him to retain. Upon this, the insolvent commissioners gave him a full release from the claims that were held against him, and Mr. Hardy was able to say, as far as the law was concerned, "I owe no man anything."
Mr. Dockett, the lawyer, was sitting in his office on the day after his client had shuffled off his coil of debt, his mind intent upon some legal mystery, when the latter individual came in with a light step and cheerful air.
"Good morning, Mr. Hardy," said the lawyer, smiling blandly.
"Good morning," returned the client.
"How are things progressing?" inquired the lawyer.
"All right," returned Hardy, rubbing his hands. "I am at last a free man. The cursed manacle of debt has been stricken off — I feel like a new being."
"For which I most sincerely congratulate you," returned the lawyer.
"For your kindness in so materially aiding me in the matter," said Mr. Hardy, after a pause, "I am most truly grateful. You have been my friend as well as my legal adviser."
"I have only done by you, as I would have done by any other man," replied the lawyer. "You came to me for legal advice, and I gave it freely."
"Still, beyond that, you have acted as my unselfish friend," said Mr. Hardy; "and I cannot express my gratitude in terms sufficiently strong."
The lawyer bowed low, and looked just a little mystified. A slight degree of uneasiness was felt by the client. A pause now ensued. Mr. Hardy felt something like embarrassment. For some time he talked around the subject uppermost in his mind, but the lawyer did not appear to see the drift of his remarks. At last, he said —
"Now that I have everything arranged, I will take back the little package I yesterday handed you."
There was a slight expression of surprise on the countenance of Mr. Dockett, as he looked inquiringly into the face of his client.
"Handed to me?" he said, in a tone the most innocent imaginable.
"Yes," returned Hardy, with much earnestness. "Don't you recollect the package containing seven thousand dollars, that I placed in your hands to keep for me, yesterday, while I went before the commissioners?"
The lawyer looked thoughtful, but shook his head.
"Oh, but Mr. Dockett," said Hardy, now becoming excited; "you must remember it. Don't you recollect that I came in here yesterday, while you were engaged with a couple of gentlemen, and took you aside for a moment? It was then that I gave you the money."
Mr. Dockett raised his eyes to the ceiling, and mused for some time, as if trying to recall the circumstance to which allusion was made. He then shook his head, very deliberately, two or three times, remarking, as he did so, "You are evidently laboring under a serious mistake, Mr. Hardy. I have not the most remote recollection of the incident to which you refer. So far from having received the sum of money you mention, I do not remember having seen you for at least a week before today. I am very certain you have not been in my office within that time, unless it were when I was away. Your memory is doubtless at fault. You must have handed the money to someone else, and, in the excitement of the occasion, confounded me with that individual. Were I not charitable enough to suppose this, I would be deeply offended by what you now say."
"Mr. Dockett!" returned the client, contracting his brow heavily, "Do you take me for a simpleton?"
"Please don't get excited, Mr. Hardy," replied the lawyer, with the utmost coolness. "Excitement never does any good. Better collect your thoughts, and try and remember into whose hands you really did place your money. That I have not a dollar belonging to you, I can positively affirm."
"Perhaps you call my seven thousand dollars your own now. I gave you the sum, according to your own advice; but it was an understood matter that you were to hand the money back so soon as I had appeared before the commissioners."
"Mr. Hardy!" and the lawyer began to look angry. "Mr. Hardy, I will permit neither you nor any other man to face me with such an insinuation. Do you take me for a common swindler? You came and asked if there was not some mode by which you could cheat your creditors out of six or seven thousand dollars; and I, as in duty bound, professionally, told you how the law might be evaded. And now you affirm that I joined you as a party in this nefarious transaction! This is going a little too far?"
Amazement kept the duped client silent for some moments. When he would have spoken, his indignation was so great that he was afraid to trust himself to utter what was in his mind. Feeling that too much was at stake to enter into any angry contest with the man who had him so completely in his power, Mr. Hardy tore himself away, by a desperate effort, in order that, alone, he might be able to think more calmly, and devise, if possible, the means whereby the defective memory of the lawyer might be quickened.
On the next day, he went again to the office of his legal adviser, and was received very kindly by that individual.
"I am sure, Mr. Dockett," he said, after he was seated, speaking in a soft, insinuating tone of voice, "that you can now remember the little fact of which I spoke yesterday."
But Mr. Dockett shook his head, and answered, "You have made some mistake, Mr. Hardy. No such sum of money was ever entrusted to me."
"Perhaps," said Hardy, after thinking for a few minutes, "I may have been in error in regard to the amount of money contained in the package. Can't you remember having received five thousand dollars from me? Think now!"
The lawyer thought for a little while, and then shook his head.
"No, I have not the slightest recollection of having received such a sum of money from you."
"The package may only have contained four thousand dollars," said Mr. Hardy, driven to this desperate expedient in the hope of inducing the lawyer to share the plunder of the creditors.
But Mr. Dockett again shook his head.
"Say, then, I gave you but three thousand dollars."
"No," was the emphatic answer.
"But I am sure you will remember having received two thousand dollars from my hand."
"No, nor one thousand, nor one hundred!" replied the lawyer positively.
"Mr. Dockett, you are a scoundrel!" exclaimed the client, springing to his feet and shaking his clenched fists at the lawyer.
"And you are both a scoundrel, and a fool," sneeringly replied Mr. Dockett.
Hardy, maddened to desperation, uttered a threat of personal violence, and advanced upon the lawyer.
But the latter was prepared for him, and, before the excited client had approached three paces, there was heard a sharp click; and at the same moment, the six dark barrels of a "revolver" became visible. While Mr. Dockett thus coolly held his assailant at bay, he addressed him in this way:
"Mr. Hardy, from what you have just said, it is clear that you have been playing a swindling game with your creditors, and stained your soul with perjury into the bargain! — Now, if you do not leave my office instantly, I will put your case in the hands of the Grand Jury, at present in session, and let you take your chance for the State prison on the charge of false swearing!"
Mr. Hardy became instantly as quiet as a lamb. For a few moments, he looked at the lawyer in bewildered astonishment, and then, turning away, left his office, in a state of mind more easily imagined than described.
Subsequently, he tried, at various times and on various occasions, to refresh the memory of Mr. Dockett on the subject of the seven thousand dollars, but the lawyer remained entirely oblivious, and to this day has not been able to recall a single incident attending the alleged transfer.
Mr. Dockett has, without doubt, a shocking bad memory.