<Back to Ad Hoc Justice

Ad Hoc Justice

Legal Definition


ad hoc:

1:  immediate and of limited scope

2:  concerned with a particular end or purpose


1:  the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims

2:  the quality of being just, impartial or fair


Example:  During the California Gold Rush, conflicting land claims required frequent ad hoc legal judgments to settle disputes among miners.



― 1 ―


Susannah Clark loved to read. She had come upon that trait at a very young age when she hid behind her father's big chair and saw him standing at his desk in front of her, writing something on a piece of paper. She was intrigued and forgot that she was hiding from her brother Anthony, who loved to tease her.

“What you doing, Papa?” Susannah crawled out from behind the chair.

“Why, I’m writing a note, so I won't forget it later.” If Ezekiel Clark was surprised to see his daughter behind his chair, he didn’t show it. As the father of six children, he wasn’t often surprised by their actions.

Susannah snuggled close to her father's arm. He was so tall and solid. She felt safe when her father was near her. “Show me what it says,” she begged him.

He took her small finger and traced the squiggles of the words. “These are letters and the letters make words. The words express our thoughts and actions. There are many letters, and you must learn them yourself.”

“Really, Papa, what is this letter?” She pointed out one that looked funny to her.

“That’s a Q.”

Oh, what a good letter, Susannah thought, and it sounded grand on her tongue. She went through the house, saying, “Q, Q, Q,” all day until her mother and older sister Mary chastised her and said that was enough of that.

By the time Susannah was sixteen, she knew all the letters and could read Latin and Greek as well as American English. She had such a quick mind and sharp recall that her father let her attend lessons with her older brother, Anthony, and his tutor. Anthony teased and taunted her, but he didn’t object because he knew that she was more able to grasp the concepts than he.

“Anthony,” she said one sunny afternoon to her brother, “Why can’t I attend your lessons with you?”

Anthony was a handsome boy, or so Susannah thought. She’d always respected him, even when he played pranks on her, once putting a pan of water beside her bed during the night so she’d step in it when she crawled out of bed. She had scrambled from the bed in a rush and was horrified. She’d wanted to prank him back but didn’t think it should be in a proper lady’s nature to do so.

“I don’t know, maybe because you’re a girl?” He carried a hatchet, and he chopped at small trees, felling them to the ground. It was a game for him, but one of the servants would salvage the small plants and chop them further for the kitchen fires. No one minded, as long as he kept his hatchet from the ornamental gardens.

“I’m smart; you know that, and so does Papa.” She simpered, but only because she knew it worked. Anthony would plead her case, if she plied him with enough vigor.

“What’s in it for me?” He held a thin sapling in one hand with the top bent over, and he stilled his hatchet. He straightened and looked at her appraisingly. His shoes were scuffed—as always—and his white cravat was sweat-stained from the sun. He’d unbuttoned his cuffs, and his sleeves were rolled to nearly his elbows. His forearms were sinewy and striped with fat veins. Small bits of bark from felled trees sprinkled them like ground black pepper.

“I could help you with your hard lessons.” She smiled prettily.

“You could not. Do you know even one word of Chaucer?” He bent to continue with the tree.

“When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought of March right to the root, and bathes each sprout through every vein with liquid of such power, it brings forth the engendering of the flower,” she began to quote, before he cut her off.

“Show-off!” He laughed, and with a firm strike, split the trunk from the root and tossed it aside. “You may come, if Father says. I’ll hold you to your condition. My hard lessons may require hours of your time.”

She ran to him and planted a kiss on his cheek, and with a squeal of joy, cried, “You must be the one to ask. I’ve a quick mind and sharp recall. You’ve seen that, but Papa won’t believe me. If you ask, he’s sure to give in. Please, Brother.”

“You’ll help me with my work? Without fail?”

“Without fail.” She crossed her hand over her heart in one direction, then the next, forming a cross, an unbreakable promise from one sibling to another.

“Return this to the shed as a token of your sincerity.” He handed her the hatchet. “I’m going to the pond to swim. Don’t come near, as I can’t get my clothing wet, or Mama will lash me with a switch.” His eyes twinkled. He was already unbuttoning his shirt, as he looked towards the house to make sure no one was looking from the upstairs windows. “Thank you, Susannah, and I won’t forget to ask Father.”

She hummed on the way to the shed, turning the hatchet in her hand and inspecting the sharp blade. Her father had Harry, the gardener, sharpen the tool regularly, and now Anthony had put a nick in the metal. Well, she wouldn’t tell, not so long as he followed through and shared his tutor with her.

The next week, she joined in the lessons with her brother and his tutor. Anthony teased and taunted her, from time to time, but he didn’t object to her careful explanations of the tutor’s lessons, especially as his understanding increased and their father began to remark on his steady progress. Susannah determined to be especially kind to her brother in every way possible, as long as she sat at his side, at the tutoring table.

But, Susannah soon learned her limitations, as she slipped into the schoolroom one day and sneaked the sword from the wall. She had seen her brother and his tutor practice their swordsmanship, and she wanted to be like her brother in every way. But, alas, she tripped over her skirts and fell to the floor. With tears in her eyes, she replaced the sword and crept to her bedroom, hoping no one had seen her foolishness.


When Susannah was nineteen, she was introduced to society as her older sisters, Mary and Alisha, had been. She loved the theater, ballet and the opera. But, she liked best to sit in the parlor and drink tea with her mothers friends or read the books in her fathers office.

“Little sister, always at your books, and never at the parties.” Mary, now wife of Edward Dillingham, and her son, James, were home for a visit, taking over Susannah’s room and banishing her to the small room at the end of the hall. She combed the boy’s hair and primped at his silk collar. “How will you find a husband, if you never present yourself to the young men of the county?”

“I shall marry my books.” Susannah didn’t like balls, because she couldn’t dance well. She’d been born with one leg two inches shorter than the other. The left foot was shriveled, and red puffy scars remained on her leg and ankle where doctors had tried to cure the affliction. Without her special shoes, she limped and stumbled her way across a room. She walked quite well with her thick-soled shoes, and her sister seemed to forget how badly she danced.

“Pshaw,” Mary laughed. She said to James, as she buttoned his new linen jacket, “No one can marry a book. It’s not allowed by Christian law.”

“Dear sister would try.” Alisha appeared at the door in a lacy frock, with a closed parasol in her hand, twirling it fancifully. “Mary, try to talk some sense into our sister’s head. I wrote from Grandmama’s with very good advice, but I think my letter has been lost among all the dusty law books in Papa’s office.”

“Sister!” Susannah was mortified her sister would accuse her of such a thing. “I read every word.”

“Did you change your opinion?” Mary smiled pointedly as she flattened a rumpled pocket on her son’s jacket.

“See, Mary? She can’t deny she ignored my every word. Mama is taking me shopping for a new dress, but we’ll return for supper.” Alisha twirled her parasol and disappeared from the doorway.

Her sister Alisha loved to attend balls and soirees and the opera. She had been in Philadelphia for the season and had only arrived the day before, and for that Susannah was grateful. She had written a long letter telling Susannah she’d have to disown her, if she refused to be presented, but she was certain Mary would find success in seeing her through, and they could remain dear sisters. And besides, Mama would insist, and there was nothing to be done about that. Susannah had sighed as she read the letter, wishing her coming-out could be filled with the ballet and the opera instead. Better yet, if she could stand in a courtroom, and address the judge and jury in an important admiralty case, she would impress them all with her skill and knowledge.

At least she would have her bedroom back. It might have been Mary’s when she was unmarried, but it wasn’t fair she had to give it back when her sister came home. It was hers, now, not a hotel room to be shared to people who no longer lived in the house.

And, so Susannah had endured the stress and tumult of her coming-out ball with fortitude and was glad when it was over. She was dressed in pure white satin, the bodice low and her shoulders covered with a pale pink shawl. Her hair was swept up in a knot on top, with two ringlets hanging low on her shoulder. Throughout the night’s affair, she had smiled and waved her fan, as her sisters had taught her; but not once had she danced, to the chagrin of her mother. But, she was consoled to find that her daughter received three bouquets of flowers the next morning from hopeful suitors, and she declared the party a success.

Although Susannah was gratified by the tokens of favor by the men, she was most impressed by the simple gardenia posy sent by her brother’s friend, Simon Maxwell. She smelled the sweet fragrance and admired its velvety petals.

Mary and her son left for her home, and Susannah took back ownership of her bedroom and was content to find that her father had an important court case and asked her to assist him by searching in his law library for previous cases to prove his point. 


― 2 ―


On this particular morning in early September of 1850, Susannah was sitting high on a ladder reading a book in which she’d thought there was a court case settled twenty years before. A bribery case in the newspapers had intrigued her, and she was sure that if she were the defense attorney, she could help the poor hapless woman win her case. The door to the office opened, and in walked her sister Alisha and her suitor Philip Manning. They seemed to be arguing as usual.

“But, Alisha, you promised that you would attend the new opera with me, and now you say you would rather attend the Caruthers’ ball with your sister and mother. I say, it isn’t fair to change your mind, when you promised weeks ago.” Philip had an angry frown on his face and his tone had become critical and demanding.

“I know I promised to go with you to the opera, Philip, but I didn’t know at the time that Emily Caruthers’ mother was having a ball on the same day. I cannot be at both places at the same time.” Alisha pouted, and her face was red and flushed, having turned the color of the silk flowers sprouting on her layered skirts and across her plunging neckline. Her hair twisted around her head, forming a cotton candy halo and spotted with glittering clips to hold it in place. She flounced to the desk, pushed her wide skirts aside, and sat in her father’s seat. She pursed her lips, her eyes downcast, letting a smile finally seep forth. “You’ll have to ask someone else to go with you to the opera.”

Susannah felt a sharp pain in her left ankle. She adjusted her position on the ladder, aware of the step pressing into her posterior, and she drew in a sharp breath when the wheel creaked. Neither of her victims paid it any mind except for Philip, who glanced at Alisha, then away, when he didn’t see further explanations. He seemed ready to explode, and Susannah wanted to see what her sister would do. Perhaps Philip would ask her to the opera. She’d plead with Mama, telling her Alisha’s beau couldn’t be disappointed, and could she please go? She was filled with excitement just thinking about the costumes, the flickering stage lights, and the carriage ride home. Plus, there would be no dancing, and no one would be pointing out her malformed limb. She started out of her imagination when Philip began to plead once more.

“But, I don’t want to go with another girl; I want you to go with me.” He stood stiff and heavy before the desk. “I’ll say it plain, even if you get your feelings hurt. I don’t like this stubborn trait in you, although you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, with your blonde curls and big blue eyes.”

Susannah caught him as he arched an eyebrow. Like that would work, and she stifled her giggle. He was a silly boy, if he thought Alisha would melt for that. Maybe he wasn’t a good choice for attending the opera after all. He’d probably laugh when he should cry, or cry when he should laugh, and she’d have to laugh at him and disturb the other attendees. How horrifying that would be! Still, her face warmed at thinking of taking his hand and hushing him with her finger on his lips.

Alisha jumped from the seat, her roses flouncing, and circled the desk. “Well, I shall go to the Caruthers’ ball. I’m sure if you attend, I might find a place on my dance card for you.” She almost touched the silk sleeve of his coat, then turned her head, lifted her blonde curls in the air, and marched from the room. Through the door, her footsteps told of her progress on the stairs to the upper part of the house.

With a disgusted cant to his shoulders, Philip stared at the open door with one hand at his hip, his elbow jutting akimbo, and one leg forward, in a manner that suggested total bewilderment. He hit his hat against the side of his leg and walked to the large, arched window across one wall of the library. He adjusted the shutters to let in a measure of light and allow him to look outside, and he cursed, saying, “Botheration, woman! When you put it that way, I wouldn’t darken the Caruthers’ door if I held a special invitation in my hand. I shall ask Vanessa Palmer to the opera.” He jerked erect as if that was the answer to his troubles, and he strode towards the door, saying, “Yes, I shall. That will make her jealous, and I’ll win her over, yet.”

As he walked out the door, his hat in hand, he collected his cane and disappeared. In the distance, the voice of the houseboy filtered in, wishing Mr. Manning a very good day; and the front door opened and closed, saving Susannah from the embarrassment of being discovered upon her perch.

She chuckled under her breath, pulled the book to her chest and started to descend the ladder. Each step brought her closer to release, when she could run from the room and laugh gaily at her sister’s silly foibles. Sunshine from the open shutter created an arrow of brightness across the carpet, and the library seemed to glow. The crystals in the chandelier picked up on the reflected light, scattering it across the space in small bits of color and textured shadows that made the room seem alive. Her thick shoe made every other step awkward, and placing her sole on the treads was done by feel, hidden underneath her wide skirts. She worked her hand around the fabric on one side, and she pulled it up to uncover the hated beast so that she could find secure footing. Holding the book with one hand, and her skirt with the other, made precarious going, but she was determined, and with precise steps, she was on the next-to-last tread, when the door flung itself fully open, banging into the brass umbrella stand, and sending three of the burdensome utensils onto the floor.

“Oh!” Susannah cried, startled. She took the final two steps rather abruptly, barely catching herself, and dropping the book she carried in the process. Panicked that her sister would see she had been atop the ladder the entire time, she looked for a place to hide. She saw nothing, except the davenport, and it was hardly an appropriate disguise for an eavesdropping girl to hide behind. Her brother, Anthony, and his friend Simon Maxwell, plunged through the doorway.

“Anthony, you frightened me!” She said the words with emphasis, as she knelt to retrieve her book. “I could have fallen and killed myself.” She stepped away from the ladder, setting the book on a low table. Simon had chased her brother inside, clearly in some pretense of play—though she couldn’t fathom what had them so excited—and he was very near where she stood. Philip had been dashing and elegant, but it was Simon she truly thought of as her second self. She wished him to notice her, but he never did, other than to tease her, as her brother once had. She kept just to where her skirt brushed the floor, hoping he hadn’t caught a glimpse of her special shoe. It was never talked of in the family, and she didn’t think he knew. She caught a whiff of his cologne and thought how nice he smelled, perhaps spice and soap.

“Susie!” Anthony came to an abrupt stop. His hair was mussed, and he looked at his friend and shrugged before turning back to her. “What are you doing in here?”

“I have the right,” she began, already irritated. Then she looked at Simon and softened her voice. “I understand. I’m in a man’s world, and you are men. I just need this one book—”

“No, don’t explain, for you’re always in Papa’s office.” He said it in a tone of exaggerated exasperation, and looked at his friend and shook his head.

 “Just because I put my time to good use—”

He interrupted again, cutting her off, with, “Leave us, please. Simon and I have something very important to discuss.”

“You won’t quarrel, will you? Alisha and Philip were just having words—” This time she cut herself off with a hand to her lips and a secret smile.

Anthony looked at his friend and took a deep breath before pleading, “Now, Susie? Our conversation is very private.”

“Alright; I’m leaving.” Susannah gave Simon a beguiling smile and sent a loving glance toward Anthony. Retrieving the book she’d worked so hard to obtain, she walked with a little jaunt to the door and left the room. She held her precious book in her hand, already studying how she would defend those such cases as needed a woman’s touch, if only she were allowed to do so.


Simon had been friends with Anthony for all his school career. They had shared the same tutor in their formative years; old Father Grisham, a retired priest. Simon had tucked private notes in the tutor's books, hidden in such a way as to be secret, only to be retrieved by his friend far away. In this way, they had maintained their close friendship until they went to University, where they had met in person for the first time in the library, behind the dusty shelves of Shakespeare's prose. Since that day, summers and holidays had been spent in one another's company, and Simon had learned to admire the younger man's family.

Simon couldn’t understand why his friend treated his sister in such a brusque manner. He didn’t treat Alisha the same way. He doted on her, as a special treasure that might break or be bruised with rough treatment. Simon thought Alisha vain and selfish, and while beautiful, he wouldn’t want to travel in a carriage with her, not for a long distance. Anthony also treated his older married sister Mary well, with respect, even. He deferred to anything she said, as if she were the voice of reason in every situation. It was actually tiring, and Simon was glad she’d long before married and moved from the house. It was only sweet Susannah to whom he was sharp and curt. Anthony had once laughed at him when he remarked on it, telling him he was an only child. What did he know of six siblings living in one household together? It wasn’t all pies and cakes. And besides, didn’t Susannah boss him around? He reminded Simon of the lessons she’d contrived to attend with his tutor. She deserved his curt attention, and he’d not let up no matter how Simon complained.

Today was Anthony’s day to complain to Simon.

“Now, Simon,” he began the minute the door was closed behind his sisters retreating steps. “I’ve told you before. This is a foolish move you’re about to undertake. It’ll be dangerous on the road to California—”

“But exciting!” Simon was having no part of this argument that had been mulled over, decided, and explained to his friend. “Come, now, my friend. You can’t want to stay stuffed up in this big house with fancy shirts and bows on your shoes. Where’s your sense of adventure? Come with me to see the world as it really is.”

Simon dropped into an oversized leather chair, one with wings to hold in the heat of a winter’s fire, although now it was turned into the room. The seat carried the impression of many a traveler’s rest, and he changed his position for greater comfort. He adjusted his own flounced cuffs and pulled at a stand-up collar pulled tight by a thin cord of silk. His trousers, tight in the modern fashion, stretched taut across his knees, revealing a sturdiness that made his dream of crossing the country in a rude manner of transport more plausible than his well-coiffed hair might suggest. He motioned to the tall racks of books gracing one wall of the high-ceilinged room, and guffawed.

“What?” Anthony inquired. He stood at his father’s desk and pretended to inspect an inkwell, when it was obvious he was biting his tongue at his friend’s sharp rebuke. His gray jacket flared at his waist, with oversized brass buttons for decoration down the front. It didn’t close, but revealed his vest of deep blue, with corded trim of soft yellow-infused saffron. A fob for attaching his timepiece hung from a pocket, but it was unused, as attested by the lack of any ticking from its internal spring. He looked up at Simon, ran a hand through hair that was going prematurely thin, and he crossed his arms as he leaned against the desktop.

“You cannot have me believe your father’s dreams are your own. What do you want with a houseful of mewling children when there’s a world of excitement out there, just waiting for us to toss off these fanciful clothes and tramp into the glorious wilderness?” Simon laughed at the prospect. He continually tried to paint the beauty of travel, of experience, of life to his friend, but it seemed he was too much his father’s son.

Anthony looked away, as though hearing a noise through the door, and turned back to his friend. “You’re now a trained lawyer. All your years of schooling, the studies, and the contacts you’ve made. Many people envy your opportunities. Papa will give you a good position with the law firm. And, I’ll get to see you every day.”

Anthony’s eyes held something akin to pleading. Simon saw it and knew the cause. Theirs was an old argument, started when Simon first mentioned his plans to his friend. But, he was adamant. He was going to seek his fortune in the western United States. If he could convince Anthony to join him, the adventure would be so much grander, but if not, he’d go alone and leave Anthony to his glum and boring life. Even so, he loved his friend, and he leaned forward in his chair, and he motioned with one hand as he presented his case in the lawyerly fashion in which he’d been so expertly trained.

“Anthony, I’ve explained many times. My father paid for my education, and I’ve honored my commitment to him and finished at the university. I would be bored after a week in a stuffy law office among the lofty tomes and educated, pompous windbags who sit in judgment over the lesser mortals on this earth. I must have the freedom of blue skies and the open prairie, or I shall die an early death.” He stood, and he posed as a courtly defender of a brilliant idea that others should grasp as their own. He lifted his chin as though presenting an astounding truth. “This life isn’t about seeing the same people every day and walking the same streets as we walked yesterday, last week and last year. Without change, we have no life. The rules of the existing sovereign class must be broken if this country is to progress toward a brighter future! I see a challenge in the new state of California that I cannot resist.”

“Yes, yes. I’ve heard your endless complaints.” Anthony toyed with the umbrellas, saw those that had fallen, and knelt to retrieve them. He dropped them into the holder, and they resounded loudly. He took a deep breath and let it out, exasperated. “But, can’t you see the law is about justice and order? If everyone were allowed to break the laws, there would be chaos and confusion?”

“Chaos and confusion? Who says anything about allowing everyone to break the law? I’ll carry it all up here.”

“You know what I mean. Be serious, Simon.”

Simon held up his hand to stop the younger man. “Please, Anthony, my friend. My decision is made and I leave soon for New York. Don’t ruin our friendship with your argument and stratagems to keep me here.”

“Never!” Anthony looked appalled at the accusation. “I’ll miss your company, that’s all.”

“Tell me, instead, about Emily Caruthers and her mother.” Simon strode to his friend’s side and clapped him on the shoulder. He knew how to shift this conversation from its dead end and back to a better track. “Must I wear my blue suit and silver vest to the ball? You know how I hate to dress like a peacock. I hear there are to be some dragoons at the ball. We shall have to step lively to deflect the girls from their fancy uniforms.”

Anthony laughed, his good humor restored. Simon was pleased, and the two men left the library to discuss the charms of Miss Emily Caruthers and her flighty mother’s ball.


Order Now from Amazon! Paperback  $19.95 Kindle format (coming soon) $2.99

<Back to Ad Hoc Justice