In 1793, the most powerful family in Virginia found itself embroiled in scandal: Richard Randolph and his sister-in-law, the beautiful Nancy Randolph, were charged with adultery and infanticide. Just Deceits is a work of historical fiction based on actual events that tells the story of the Trial of the Century – the 18th Century – as the remarkable defense team of wily Patrick Henry and ambitious John Marshall battled each other, their clients, family intrigue, the prosecution, and the truth itself, trying to save their clients from the gallows.
In its ribald portrayal of a young legal system already driven more by spectacle than evidence, Just Deceits calls into question the feasibility — and even the desirability — of uncovering “the whole truth.” Ultimately, in the secrets revealed and the relationships celebrated, Just Deceits is as much a story of a trial of love as the trial in the courtroom.
Read an excerpt (below) from Just Deceits: An Historical Courtroom Drama:
A Historical Courtroom Drama
© 2008 by Michael Schein, all rights reserved
Bennett & Hastings Publishing
Consider what you think justice requires, and decide accordingly. But never give your reasons; for your judgment will probably be right, but your reasons will certainly be wrong. - Lord Mansfield (1705 - 1793), Chief Justice of the King's Bench
The First of October, sharply cold. Just a girl, really, she seeks comfort against the wrenching carriage ride in the warmth of her big sister’s arms, and finds it as she always has. The rutted, half-frozen lanes leading to Glenlyvar are determined to shake out her bowels, but she fights back, sucking herself into a ball, focusing now on the blurred sunshine outside the window, now on the tempest within. Upon arrival she must lie down, not like this, not like that, not here, not there, for there is no surcease inside this skin. Up the narrow stairs, through the outer chamber, bolt the door to the inner chamber, muffle the cries between the spotless sheets.
The cries! oh Lord such cries as fly unbidden from the entrails. Cries that would freeze a wolf in its tracks, sour milk in the teat, tauten vestigial hackles. Sister dear, where are you? Laudanum, be quick about it! So bitter it is sweet again then bitter then bitterest. No oblivion, just another ocean of nausea. Sister, where are you? Brother, is that you? Medicine, now! No, not that, no – you know what I need. Not so bitter, not so bad, it goes down greedy smooth then turns to broken glass in the womb.
Sister, hold my hand, sister? Brother? Take my hand and squeeze with all your strength. If you love me, really love me, you will help me now.
Counsel for the Defense
Straight in the saddle, at a canter not a gallop, he rode as a gentleman should. Boots spit shined, breeches starched, frock coat tight, waistcoat tighter, he took the ground between himself and the Cumberland County Courthouse like enemy territory. His sharp dismount tossed dark locks from darker eyes to reveal features at once frozen and roiling. Ignoring the handful of geezers stuck like toadstools to the courthouse's tobacco-stained stoop, he bounded up the steps and executed an abrupt about face, startling one octogenarian who stood too close. To the no one in particular assembled, and to all Virginia which in 1793 was damn near everyone, he said with all the dignity he could muster through his rage:
“I am Richard Randolph of Bizarre. My character has lately been impugned by accusations of crimes at which humanity revolts. My wife is humiliated; the good name I would pass to my innocent baby son has been trampled in the gutter. I cannot refute these vicious smears by private suits against their authors; for every one silenced ten more would appear. Slander, to be refuted, must be confronted openly, here in the sight of God. If the crimes imputed to me were true, then my life and my sacred honor would justly be forfeit to the Commonwealth of Virginia. But I pledge that there is no truth to these slanders, none! Therefore I demand to be tried before a jury of this County on the charge of infanticide. And mark this well – I will clear my name!”
Done with this extraordinary declamation, Mr. Randolph produced a handwritten version of the same, to which he had not referred once while speaking, and shoved it through a link in one of the many wrist cuffs bolted to the front of the courthouse for use on auction day. He departed as smartly as he arrived, save only for the tobacco juice on his boots, and the triumph in his eyes.
“Damn fool,” said the geezer he’d nearly trampled, “they’ll hang him now, fer sure.”
“Naw,” said another of the courthouse gadflies, “that’s a Randolph neck. It ain’t never gonna stretch.”
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