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Chapter 17
SUCH was her state of mind when the dogs of law were let loose on her. Maria
took the task of conducting Darnford's defence upon herself. She instructed his
counsel to plead guilty to the charge of adultery; but to deny that of seduction.
The counsel for the plaintiff opened the cause, by observing, "that his client
had ever been an indulgent husband, and had borne with several defects of
temper, while he had nothing criminal to lay to the charge of his wife. But that she
left his house without assigning any cause. He could not assert that she was then
acquainted with the defendant; yet, when he was once endeavouring to bring her
back to her home, this man put the peace-officers to flight, and took her he knew
not whither. After the birth of her child, her conduct was so strange, and a
melancholy malady having afflicted one of the family, which delicacy forbade the
dwelling on, it was necessary to confine her. By some means the defendant
enabled her to make her escape, and they had lived together, in despite of all
sense of order and decorum. The adultery was allowed, it was not necessary to
bring any witnesses to prove it; but the seduction, though highly probable from
the circumstances which he had the honour to state, could not be so clearly
proved.--It was of the most atrocious kind, as decency was set at defiance, and
respect for reputation, which shows internal compunction, utterly disregarded."
A strong sense of injustice had silenced every motion, which a mixture of true
and false delicacy might otherwise have excited in Maria's bosom. She only felt
in earnest to insist on the privilege of her nature. The sarcasms of society, and
the condemnations of a mistaken world, were nothing to her, compared with
acting contrary to those feelings which were the foundation of her principles. [She
therefore eagerly put herself forward, instead of desiring to be absent, on this
memorable occasion.]
Convinced that the subterfuges of the law were disgraceful, she wrote a
paper, which she expressly desired might be read in court:
"Married when scarcely able to distinguish the nature of the engagement, I yet
submitted to the rigid laws which enslave women, and obeyed the man whom I
could no longer love. Whether the duties of the state are reciprocal, I mean not to
discuss; but I can prove repeated infidelities which I overlooked or pardoned.
Witnesses are not wanting to establish these facts. I at present maintain the child
of a maid servant, sworn to him, and born after our marriage. I am ready to allow,
that education and circumstances lead men to think and act with less delicacy,
than the preservation of order in society demands from women; but surely I may
without assumption declare, that, though I could excuse the birth, I could not the
desertion of this unfortunate babe:--and, while I despised the man, it was not
easy to venerate the husband. With proper restrictions however, I revere the
institution which fraternizes the world. I exclaim against the laws which throw the
whole weight of the yoke on the weaker shoulders, and force women, when they
claim protectorship as mothers, to sign a contract, which renders them
dependent on the caprice of the tyrant, whom choice or necessity has appointed
to reign over them. Various are the cases, in which a woman ought to separate