At last Mr. Lewis's temper came into play. He cried out:
'Yes; and if I had been there the first night, I might have prevented this murder.'
'Silence, sir!' said the Judge.
And now Tressamer brought out the question for which he had been preparing the way all along:
'When this arrangement was made about your living in the house, did your aunt (remember you are on your oath, sir!)—did she happen—to—furnish—you—with—a—LATCHKEY?'
The effect was electrical. He had brought out the last words of the question slowly one by one, and then he suddenly hurled the final word at the witness like a weapon.
John Lewis instantly realized the situation. The question was tantamount to an accusation. The whole court took it in that sense, and gazed at him in deadly earnestness. He turned livid. For a moment he could hardly bring his lips to frame a syllable. At length he recovered his self-command, and thundered out:
'No, sir. May God strike me dead if she did!'
The fierce earnestness of his denial produced a revulsion of feeling in the court. The jury felt that the counsel had been guilty of unfairness in making such a charge so suddenly, and, as it seemed, with such absence of grounds. The Judge was annoyed, too. Sir Daniel Buller hated sensationalism. In fact, he did not like anything which threw his own dignity into the shade. He liked to feel that he was in the star part, and that everybody else in court was merely playing up to his grand effects. He therefore refrained from rebuking the witness, and from this stage he showed himself less favourable to the counsel for the defence.
But Tressamer had anticipated something of this sort, and he had a card in reserve. He went on with his cross-examination as if nothing had happened.
'You gave the prisoner into custody, I think?'
'You made up your mind that she was guilty, I suppose, without much thinking?'
'I thought there was absolute proof of it.'
'That's what I mean. You were anxious that she should be convicted, were you not?'
'I was anxious that she should be tried. I thought it my duty to see that this crime was punished.'
'By the conviction of the prisoner?'
'If she was guilty.'
'But you felt sure she was guilty? You were the one to accuse her, you know.'
Mr. Lewis was getting irritated again. He made no answer to this suggestion, and the barrister forbore to press it, contenting himself with a meaning glance at the jury.
'You were represented at the inquest, were you not, by Messrs. Pollard?'
'The gentlemen who are now conducting this prosecution—nominally on behalf of the Crown?' And with this parting shot he resumed his seat.
Young Pollard instantly rose.
'My lord, the witness was anxious to explain one of his answers to my learned friend. Would your lordship allow him to do so now?'
'Yes, yes,' was his lordship's answer.
The witness instantly took advantage of the permission.
'I wished to say, my lord, that the reason why I went first to see my aunt, instead of going to my sister's, was because she had befriended me when I was young. She furnished the money to start me with in Australia, and I felt it only right, in common gratitude, to come straight and thank her on my return.'
Another revulsion of feeling swept over the court. The effect of Tressamer's last suggestion was obliterated. Lewis was once more in favour.
Pollard had scored. His brother twitched him by the gown from behind as a hint to sit down. But the unfortunate young man must needs try and improve on his lucky shot. He summoned up a very tragic demeanour, and put the fatal question:
'And is there the smallest ground for suggesting that you were near the house or out of your hotel after ten that night?'
The witness showed confusion. Instead of answering in the prompt, decided style he had hitherto shown, he hesitated for some seconds, and then said with visible embarrassment:
'No, there is none.'
Pollard hastily sat down. The rules which govern the production of evidence did not permit Tressamer to put a further question to the witness, but he was skilful enough to do what accomplished the same result. He called across the barristers' table, in a perfectly audible voice:
'Is anyone from the hotel here, Mr. Pollard?'
'Not that I know of,' was the sullen answer.
And now it was the judge's turn, and he proceeded to put to the witness that question which was in the mind of every person in court, but which neither of the counsel had dared to put, each fearing the answer might be unfavourable to himself.
'Tell me, Mr. Lewis, had you any special reasons—don't tell me what your reasons were—but had you any reason apart from what you were told by others for accusing the prisoner of this murder?'
'I had, my lord.'
'Did that reason arise in your mind as a consequence of anything which you saw the prisoner do, or which took place in her presence?'
'Not exactly, my lord. My aunt said to me——'
The judge swiftly raised his hand with a forbidding gesture, and pursed up his lips.
'That will do. You can go.'
Mr. Lewis retired, and the jury were left to wonder what the mysterious reason could be, the result on most of their minds being far more unfavourable to the prisoner than if the rules of evidence had allowed the witness to speak freely.
The next witness was the butler, John Simons, who deposed to having fastened up the door at half-past ten on the night in question, and to having found the latch stuck on the following day. He further described the finding of the blood-stains on the bedroom door-handle. His cross-examination was listened to with interest.
'Has it ever occurred to you yourself to accidentally raise the latch too far in the same way?'
'Oh yes, I've often done it, sir.'
'Were you out on the evening of the first of June?'
The butler, a good-natured-looking man, with a pleasant smile, but whose mind was evidently rather unhinged by the position he found himself in, looked bewildered at this, and rather frightened. The barrister hastened to reassure him.
'What I mean is this. If you had been out some time during the evening, before half-past ten, would it not have been possible for you to have accidentally left the latch in this position?'
The witness looked relieved, and hastened to answer.
'Yes, of course, I might have.'
Tressamer turned round to the jury to see if they appreciated his point. Then he resumed.
'You have known Miss Owen some time, I think. Tell me, have you ever noticed that she was liable to nervous headaches?'
'I have heard her say she had a headache.'
'What was the last time you heard her say so?'
The witness looked puzzled, and seemed to be trying to remember.
'Perhaps I can help you,' said the barrister. 'About this very time, now; just before this happened?'
'Ah, yes, sir, now you remind me, I remember. When she didn't come down that morning, I said to Rebecca, "Very likely she's had another bad night."'
'Another bad night? Then she was liable to insomnia?'
The witness stared.
'I beg your pardon. I mean, she sometimes did suffer from want of sleep?'
'She sometimes had bad nights, sir.'
'Exactly. And you remembered she had been having them just before this?'
'Well, no, sir; I can't say as I do remember that.'
The barrister frowned impatiently.
'Well, tell me this,' he said: 'do you know what she was in the habit of doing on these occasions, when she couldn't get to sleep?'
'Did you ever hear of her going out for a walk at night?'
The whole court was eagerly following this cross-examination, as the defence now began to be visible. But the answer of the witness fell like lead:
Tressamer looked deeply disappointed. He had been baffled just where he had evidently built upon success.
He only put one more question.
'You had a good many opportunities of seeing your mistress and Miss Owen together. Did they always seem to you to be on friendly, affectionate terms?'
'Yes, sir, always.'
This finished the butler's evidence, as Mr. Pollard wisely abstained from any re-examination.
He next proceeded to call the parlourmaid, Rebecca Rees.
A pretty, vain, pert-looking girl stepped into the box, and took hold of the Testament.
'Take off your glove,' said the clerk.
She did so with some difficulty, as the thing had about half a dozen buttons to unfasten. Then she was sworn and proceeded to tell her story.
In a shrill voice, which visibly irritated the judge, she went on, and described how she had gone to bed, how she awoke at midnight and heard a sound proceeding from below.
'What was the nature of the sound?' asked the counsel who was examining her.
'It was a groan,' was the reply, 'like as if somebody was being hurt.'
The prisoner's counsel here hurriedly turned over the pages of his brief till he came to a certain place, where he made a note in the margin.
'What did you hear next?'
'I heard the prisoner going downstairs.'
The Judge: 'What do you mean? Could you see her?'
Witness: 'No, sir. I heard her.'
Mr. Pollard: 'She means she recognised the footsteps, my lord.'
The Judge: 'Don't interrupt me, please.' (To witness) 'Young woman, be careful. That is not the way to give evidence, as you know perfectly well. You mustn't tell us that you heard the prisoner. You heard footsteps; that's all.' (A pause.) 'Now, Mr. Pollard, you can go on.'
Mr. Pollard: 'Did you recognise the footsteps?'
His lordship frowned and shrugged his shoulders.
Witness: 'I thought it was Miss Owen.'
Mr. Pollard: 'Well, now tell us what you did.'
The girl proceeded to describe how she had got up and gone down to the front-door.
'How was it fastened?' was the next question.
'It was on the latch. The bolts were drawn back, and it wasn't locked nor yet chained.'
'Did you see whether the latch was up or down?'
Mr. Tressamer had risen in a fresh burst of indignation.
'My lord, my friend has distinctly suggested the answer to the witness. I object to her being allowed to say anything about the latch after such a question as that.'
'I didn't intend to lead her, my lord,' said Pollard.
The judge hesitated for awhile between his natural desire to hear the answer and his fear that the witness was not wholly impartial. Perhaps a slight prejudice against Tressamer's hectoring manner had something to do with his decision.
'You should have asked her whether she noticed anything about the latch,' he said at length. 'Did you?' he added, turning to the witness.
'It was down, sir,' she returned, answering Pollard's question rather than the judge's.
The importance of the answer was chiefly in its disposing of Tressamer's suggestion that the butler might have forced the latch up. He turned round to the jury, and assumed the air of one who is being unfairly treated. But of course he could not help their seeing that the prosecution had scored a point.
Rebecca's evidence was continued till she came to where she heard footsteps ascending the stairs.
'How long was this afterwards?' asked Pollard.
'About ten minutes,'
'Did you recognise those footsteps?'
'No, I didn't notice them; but I think they must have been Miss Owen's, or else I should have noticed the difference.'
Tressamer ground his teeth. He was afraid to interrupt again, for fear of the effect on the minds of the jury. They are apt to think a man is losing when he interrupts too often.
'What happened next?'
'She went into the bedroom below.'
'Her own, I suppose, or Miss Lewis's.'
'You couldn't tell which?'
'Well, and how long was the person, whoever it was, inside?'
'About a quarter of an hour, I should think. I thought she had come in for good, and gone to bed.'
The Judge (suddenly looking up from his notes): 'Look here, don't let me have to stop you again, or I shall do something you won't like. It's not for you to tell us what you thought. Confine yourself to answering the questions.'
Mr. Pollard (thinking the judge has finished): 'And then what did you——'
The Judge (superbly indifferent to Mr. Pollard): 'Do you realize that you are giving evidence in a court of justice? You must be extremely careful—extremely careful.' (A long pause; Mr. Pollard afraid to begin again.) 'Well, do you ask her anything more?'
Mr. Pollard: 'I beg your lordship's pardon. If your lordship pleases.' (To witness) 'After the quarter of an hour, did you hear anything more?'
Witness (now thoroughly frightened): 'Yes.'
'What did you hear?'
'I heard her come out.'
At this point the judge threw down his pen, and threw himself back in his chair. Mr. Pollard hastened to take off the edge of his lordship's wrath by reprimanding the witness himself.
'You mustn't tell us that. You don't know it was the prisoner. What was it you actually heard?'
The girl now felt and looked ready to resort to tears. She really did not know what answer was safe, and prudently adopted a strictly non-committal form.
'I heard a noise below.'
'What was the noise like?'
'Like someone going downstairs.'
'Well, why didn't you say that? You heard footsteps going down?'
The judge took up his pen again and took down the answer.
'And did you notice the footsteps this time?'
'Yes; they were——'
'Stop! Not so fast. Answer my questions.'
Mr. Pollard was by this time little less nervous than the witness. He was really utterly at a loss how to frame his next question without incurring Tressamer's wrath or the rebuke of the Bench. At last he blurted out:
'Was there anything different about the footsteps this time?'
Tressamer opened his mouth, but the judge was before him this time:
'Don't answer. Really, Mr. Pollard, you are as bad as the witness. You know you ought not to put a question like that.' Then, seeing that the poor young man was quite unequal to extracting the desired evidence, his lordship quietly took over the examination himself:
'Did you notice the footsteps this time when they were going downstairs?'
'Yes, sir—my lord.'
'Did anything strike you about them?'
'Yes, my lord.'
'They were heavier, sir, and thumpy.'
'Had you ever heard anything like it before? I mean, did they or did they not sound familiar in spite of this heaviness?'
'No, my lord; I don't remember.'
'Did you go downstairs again?'
The judge turned round to the jury with complacency, and smiled as if to say, 'You see, gentlemen, how it can be done by one who knows how.' Then he asked the counsel:
'Now, Mr. Pollard, do you want anything more from this witness?'
'No, my lord, thank you.'
He sat down, feeling considerably the worse for his experience, and Tressamer got up.
He looked severely at the young woman for some seconds, and then suddenly asked her:
'Why do you dislike Miss Owen?'
At once the court was all ears. It was one of those strokes of brilliant advocacy which few men care to venture on. It was dangerous, but in the present case it was completely successful. The witness lost countenance, stammered, and with difficulty got out a lame denial.
'I don't dislike her particular.'
'Do you like her?'
'Did you ever have any complaint against her when you were her servant?' (He intentionally chose a phrase calculated to irritate.)
'I wasn't her servant,' was the angry reply. 'I should be very sorry to be.'
'I thought so. Tell me, you said to my learned friend that the first sound you heard on this night was like somebody being hurt, didn't you?'
'When did you discover that?'
'When did I discover that?'
'Yes, woman; don't echo me like that. You know what I mean.'
'I thought so at the time.'
'What!' The barrister assumed an expression of amaze.
'I thought so all along.'
'Then why didn't you say so all along? When you were before the magistrates, did you say anything about somebody being hurt?'
'Yes, I think so.'
'You think so! Remember you are on your oath, please, and that I have a copy before me of what you actually did say before the magistrates. When you were before them, did you say a syllable about a sound as if somebody were being hurt?'
'I don't know whether I did or not.'
'I thought so. Did you tell the magistrate that you thought it was the sound of someone in troubled sleep?' Here the barrister read from his brief.
'And that you thought'—here he turned over the page at which he was looking and glanced at the top of the next, so as to give the impression that he was still reading her exact words—'that the sound came from Miss Owen's room?'
The witness fell into the trap.
'I dare say I did,' she answered.
The judge was equally taken in. He had read the depositions, but had not remembered their contents clearly enough to check the barrister. Tressamer went to another point.
Taking out his watch, he said:
'I want to test your notion of ten minutes. Will you turn round, with your back to the clock, and tell me when one minute has passed, after I have said the word "Now."'
All the jurymen and most of the other persons in court took out their watches to check this experiment. The girl turned round, and Tressamer gave the word, 'Now!'
'Now!' said the witness, turning quickly round.
A general smile passed over the court.
'Seventeen seconds exactly, my lord,' observed Tressamer. 'The witness's ten minutes may therefore be put down as three. You have told his lordship that the last set of footsteps you heard sounded heavy when they went downstairs. Will you swear that they did not sound equally heavy coming up?'
'I didn't notice.'
'I didn't ask you if you had noticed. Don't try and shirk my question, please. Will you pledge your oath that they weren't equally heavy coming upstairs?'
'No, I won't swear it.'
'Have you any reason, except your dislike of the prisoner, for suggesting that those footsteps were hers?'
The judge interposed.
'Really, Mr. Tressamer, you mustn't put it like that. She says that she didn't dislike the prisoner, and you must take her answer. I allow great latitude to counsel in your situation, but you must treat the witness fairly.'
'As your lordship pleases.'
Tressamer sat down, rather glad to leave his question unanswered, as the effect thereby produced on the jury's mind would be better than if the witness had had a chance of offering her grounds for suspicion.
This was the housemaid, and her evidence contained nothing of importance. In cross-examination she admitted that she had detected no likeness between the descending footsteps heard by her and Miss Owen's. In fact, she had at first thought they sounded like a man's.
The next witness was the fisherman, who stated to Mr. Pollard that he had met a female about midnight on the eventful first of June, whom he at the time believed to be the prisoner. He thought so still.
His cross-examination elicited two facts: First, that he had once met Miss Owen at the same late hour before; secondly, that he had met other persons going in the same direction the same night at or about the same time.
Tressamer chose to emphasize this point.
'Could you tell those gentlemen,' he said, indicating the jury, who instantly tried to look as if they had been attending, and had not long ago given up the task in despair, 'what the other people were like whom you saw?'
'Well, one of them was a man.'
'Come, that's something; but it's not much. Can't you tell us what sort of a man? Was he tall?'
The jury instantly looked at Lewis.
'No; I didn't notice as how he was particular tall. Middlin' short, I should say.'
'About my height?'
'Yes; about that. Summat about your size.'
Tressamer laughed, and a smile went round the court at the serious way in which the witness gave his answer.
'Well, who else did you see?'
'I see another man afore then.'
'Ah! Was he tall?'
'Why, yes; I think he was.'
The jury again looked at Lewis. But that gentleman's face revealed no emotion, except a sort of sullen wrath which had overhung it ever since his appearance in the witness-box.
At last, when all the other witnesses had been disposed of, the policeman was called and gave the usual routine evidence.
Mr. Pollard was rash enough to ask him:
'Who came to the station to inform the police?'
But his opponent at once objected, and the judge ruled the question out. Mr. Lewis's indignant declaration, therefore, which Prescott had struck out of his brief with such prompt disdain, fared equally ill in court, and was not allowed to get to the ear of the judge or jury.
At last the evidence was gone through, and then the prosecuting counsel stood up and made the final announcement:
'That is the case for the Crown, my lord.'
'I will adjourn for half an hour,' observed the judge, getting on his feet.
The whole court rose with him, and in a few minutes the entire place was empty.
HALF AN HOUR.
Scrambling, rushing, hurrying, squeezing, talking, laughing, and sighing, the great throng poured out of the building and dispersed down the streets of Abertaff. One topic was on every tongue. The fate of the prisoner was the sole thing discussed. They weighed the evidence, they repeated it, they distorted it. Some were violently in favour of the prisoner, and considered half the witnesses to be committing perjury. Others were violently against her, and could not see, so they professed, a shadow of doubt in the case from first to last. Others, again, in complete doubt as to how the case would end, wisely declined to commit themselves till they had heard more of the defence.
Then, again, these parties were subdivided into groups. There was the ignorant group, who knew nothing about the case, and went about asking questions of their wiser neighbours. There was the mysterious group, who suspected many things, but said nothing, contenting themselves with shaking their heads in corners, and suggesting that not half the real motives of the parties to the affair had come out at all. And there was the well-informed group of those who had watched the whole thing from first to last, and knew more, far more, about it than the counsel on either side, or the criminal either, for that matter.
And they were not churlish in bestowing their information, either. There were the Lewisite partisans, who knew exactly the value of the jewels to a halfpenny, and how they were kept in a box under the bed, and how the prisoner had carried them off by stealth, and buried them somewhere in the sands of Newton Bay. Some of these, the more charitably disposed, could go even further than this. They explained how it was that the prisoner had never meant to commit the murder at all, but simply to steal the jewels, but had been interrupted in the act by the unexpected waking of the deceased woman. They grew impressive as they pictured the elder woman suddenly roused from sleep by the midnight robber, and the emotions of that robber detected in the act of guilt. They could tell you how she started back in terror, and then, realizing that ruin was upon her, succumbed to temporary frenzy, and with the weapon which she had brought to open the jewel-chest dealt the fatal blow to her unhappy victim.
Others, less lenient in their views, had obtained quite different details. They could relate numerous previous attempts of the prisoner on the life of her benefactress. They knew how she had sought to introduce poison into her food, from which she was only saved by a miraculous chance, which caused her to be summoned from the table just as she was about to taste the fatal dish. Also how she had on one occasion led her victim along the cliff with the well-formed purpose of pushing her over the edge; only the curate happened to come along and meet them, and accompanied them till the opportunity was gone.
The Owenite section, on the other hand, had their account, equally authentic, and, if possible, more minute and graphic than the other. They would tell you more about their villain, Lewis, than he himself could possibly have remembered. They took you back to his childhood. They started you with the well-known story of his beating his little sister, the sister in the North whom he had refused to go and see. They explained the causes which led to his expulsion from school after school. They tracked him to Australia, and unearthed dark secrets in his life out there which would have made the bushranger Kelly reject him from his historic gang. Finally, they brought him back to England a ruined desperado, intent on getting at his relative's wealth by fair means or foul. The robbery of her jewels was only part of his scheme. By killing her he obtained the whole of her wealth at once. Then a victim became necessary—a stalking-horse to mislead the minions of justice, and whose punishment would ensure his own safety. He was thus a double murderer.
So the tongues wagged. Meanwhile the object of these rumours had made his way round in a towering passion to the seat from which his solicitor was trying to get away.
'What does this mean?' he cried, as soon as he got near enough to speak without being heard by others. 'Are you playing me false? Where is Mr. Prescott?'
'He was called away into the other court,' said Mr. James Pollard, the barrister's brother, who was a partner with his father in the Porthstone firm.
'He ought not to have gone. Your brother managed the case wretchedly. I wasn't allowed to say the most important thing of all.'
'My brother did the best he could. No one could dream that Prescott would desert us like this. I shall never give him another brief, I promise you.'
By this time they had got outside the door of the court-house. They turned towards a hotel close by, where a general luncheon was put on the table for the convenience of people having business in the assize-courts. The civil court had risen a few minutes before the other, and the place was crowded with solicitors, witnesses, jurymen, and the general public.
'Look here, Mr. Pollard,' Lewis said, as they fought their way into the room, 'I could have proved that about the jewels up to the hilt if I had been allowed. Why, my aunt was speaking to me about them that very night, and she said Miss Owen knew of them.'
'And why on earth didn't you tell me all this before?' retorted the solicitor.
'I thought I had.'
'Thought you had! Goodness me! that's just like you laymen. You keep back the chief points in a case, and then you're angry with us because we don't guess them by instinct. Why didn't you tell the judge this when he was examining you?'
'Because it wasn't said in the prisoner's presence.'
'Pooh! Why, it was evidence of motive. But there, it's no good trying to explain the law of evidence to you. If any thing's gone wrong, you have yourself to thank for it—a good deal, that's all. What shall you take?'
And they fell to on the refreshments before them.
Meanwhile the barristers, whose self-imposed code forbade them to enter a public hotel room in a town where the assizes were being held, had straggled off, some to the County Club, and others to the common-room reserved for their especial use in the chief hotel of the place.
Among the latter was Tressamer, who found Prescott awaiting him anxiously, and trying, with poor success, to get through the wing of a fowl. He (Prescott) looked pale and dejected; but Tressamer rushed into the place in a state of exaggerated buoyancy, and loudly called for a bottle of champagne.
'George, how goes it?' cried his friend.
'All went merry as a marriage-bell,' returned the other. 'Have no fear; keep up your heart, old man. Leave it to me; I'll get her off. Much obliged to you for going away, though. Young Pollard did come some croppers, I can tell you. Buller's against us, of course, on the evidence; but what do I care? I'll get the jury, see if I don't. I'll make a speech this afternoon the like of which hasn't often been heard in this dead-and-alive hole. Lewis, beware! Here's confusion to the guilty, and safety to the innocent!'
He had rattled on in a jerky, excited, nervous manner, and he wound up by drinking off nearly a tumblerful of champagne. Prescott could hardly make him out. He feared the strain of the last few weeks was unhinging his friend's mind.
'Gently,' he said, remonstrating; 'you must keep cool, or you will spoil everything. Beware of old Buller. When he is giving you the most rope, he is getting ready to come down on you most heavily at the end. I think you'll find it a weak jury. They will do pretty well as the judge tells them.'
'Don't you be afraid, Charlie,' retorted the other in the same unnaturally careless strain; 'it's my case, and I know how to manage it. I've sworn to save her, and, by God! I'll do it, if I have to declare I did the thing myself! By Jove, didn't I touch up that scoundrel in the witness-box, though! You saw me, Beltrope?'
He called to another barrister, who had been present in court the whole morning.
'Yes, I know,' answered Beltrope; 'but you'd better be awfully careful, Tressamer. So far as I could see, your line of defence is that Lewis must have done it. Now, unless you're prepared with some very strong evidence against him, you'd far better change that tack before it's too late. You'll have old Buller dead against you, as Prescott says, and, I dare say, the jury too. Whatever you do, don't leave it in such a way that they must convict one or the other.'
'Rubbish! You don't understand,' replied Tressamer. 'Wait till you've heard my speech, that's all. Well, I must be off.' He drank some more champagne. 'I want to have a wash just to cool my head.'
And he darted out of the room to go upstairs. The other barristers looked at each other and exchanged meaning glances. They did not like to say much out loud before Prescott, who was known to be Tressamer's friend; but they whispered together, and the tenor of their whispers was precisely that of Prescott's own reflections. Tressamer, they agreed, had lost his head through over-excitement, and would probably create a scene in court that afternoon.
So anxious did Prescott feel, that he at last resolved to bare his own feelings to his friend in the hope of thereby sobering him. He accordingly went up to his bedroom, where he found him with his head in a basin of water, and addressed him in very grave accents:
'George, you must listen to me. You have told me that you love Eleanor Owen, and I suppose, as she has you to defend her, that she returns your love. Now, I have a confession to make to you. I love her, too.'
'What! You, Charles!' He was certainly sobered for the moment.
'Yes. You know I saw something of her as a child. I was fond of her then, I recollect. But to-day, when I saw her, so beautiful, so innocent, in that dreadful place, I found another feeling overmastering me. Oh, do not be afraid! She shall never know it. I shall not try to take her from you. I am not the sort of man to rob his friend. But, George, let me say this to you: that if anything—oh, the thought is horrible!—if any miscarriage of justice should occur, I shall blame you. I shall never forgive you if she comes to harm through your means. Be careful. Oh, great Heaven, man, do your best, your very best! It is the crisis of our lives—of all our lives. Beware how you fail to prove yourself worthy of your trust.' And without waiting for an answer he turned away, and hastened back to his own work in the Nisi Prius Court.
In spite of the confident opinions expressed by the barristers, the judge's mind was less firmly settled than they supposed. Sir Daniel Buller was in the judges' private room at the court-house, sharing a dish of cutlets with Sir John Wiseman. And, of course, they were discussing the case.
'I tell you what it is, Wiseman,' the first judge was saying, 'there is something in this case that hasn't come out yet. So far, there has been absolutely no real defence. Waiter!'
The waiter darted into the room.
'Look at this cutlet! It's burnt to a cinder. Take it away. And tell your cook, with my compliments, that it's always better to have a thing underdone than overdone, because if it's not cooked enough you can always do it more, but if it's cooked too much you can't do it less. D'you hear?'
The waiter bowed low and retired, deeply impressed with the profound wisdom displayed in these observations.
'You know, if that man who's defending her—what's his name: Tressamer?—thinks he's going to get her off by attacking Lewis, he makes a mistake. I shall go for him if he tries it on.'
'Most improper—most improper,' assented Sir John. 'I don't know what the Bar's coming to, I don't indeed! These young men are throwing over all the old traditions. The judges will really have to do something.'
'You see, Lewis has acted a perfectly natural and straightforward part. He was bound to do what he did.'
'What sort of a girl is she? because that will make a good deal of difference with the jury.'
'I don't quite agree with you,' answered Sir Daniel. 'My experience is that in a case of this kind the jury are sobered by their sense of responsibility too much to be influenced by a thing like that. It's the outside public afterwards who get up petitions and kick up a row in the press about a pretty woman.'
'Then she is pretty?' said the other.
'You old sinner!' retorted Sir Daniel playfully. 'It's well for the interests of justice that you're not on the jury. Yes, begad! Wiseman, she's one of the loveliest creatures I've ever tried. Waiter! Where are those tomatoes?'
The tomatoes were brought in and hurriedly partaken of, as the time was running out.
'I suppose you'll sum up for a conviction, then?' questioned the other judge, as he rose and put on his wig.
'No, I shan't,' said Sir Daniel, helping his brother on with the purple-coloured garment which is worn in presiding over the civil court. 'I shall just leave it to the jury. I don't feel a bit satisfied, and I'm very glad, for once in my life, that I have got a jury to take the decision off my shoulders.'
And with these words he drew his own scarlet gown around him and, grasping a small square piece of silk in his left hand, strode back to his seat in court.
At his entrance the whole assemblage rose, including the prisoner, who had been brought back a minute before. Then a start of horror ran through them, and Eleanor's calmness for a moment gave way in a faint gasp. For the object which the judge had just laid on the desk beside him was—the Black Cap.
'May it please your lordship. Before I go into the case for the prisoner, I have to submit that the Crown has not produced sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction.
'It has been laid down by the authority of Lord Hale, which your lordship will find quoted on page 276 of Archbold that no man should ever be convicted of murder or manslaughter on circumstantial evidence alone, unless the body has been found; and in a comparatively recent case—Regina v. Hopkins——'
'Yes, I know that is the law, Mr. Tressamer,' said the judge, interrupting him; 'but how do you say the body has not been found? The prosecution have identified the hand.'
'I submit that is not sufficient, my lord.'
'The coroner's inquest was held upon it,' called out the counsel for the prosecution, who was decidedly taken by surprise at this unusual objection. Tressamer treated the interruption with contempt.
'The coroner is hardly an authority to quote to this court. Your lordship sees my point is this. Of course the finding of the hand is some evidence of some crime. But it is nowise decisive. The deceased, or, rather, the person said to be deceased, might have cut off her own hand. We have no conclusive evidence that she is really dead.'
'But what do you want? Do you mean that in every case the entire body should be found?'
'Oh no, my lord. If some vital part were discovered, and sufficiently identified, I should say that was enough to go upon. But what Lord Hale means, I take it, is this: that where you are going upon circumstantial evidence—as in this case—where no one saw the crime committed at all, then you must have conclusive evidence from some other source, namely, the dead body.'
'But that is not conclusive. That might be the result of suicide.'
'Still, it affords a very strong presumption. In any case, there is the rule, laid down by Lord Hale, and acted upon ever since.'
'I know, Mr. Tressamer; I am not disputing the law. The only question in my mind is whether this case is not taken out of it by the production of what is part of the body. Of course, I will leave it to the jury to say whether they are satisfied that this is the deceased's hand, if that is any use to you.'
'No, my lord, I don't know that I can hope to contest that. But this is a case of life and death, and I certainly would strongly urge your lordship to consider my point.'
The judge got up.
'I will just go and ask my brother Wiseman what he thinks,' he said. 'Personally, I am afraid I cannot go with you.'
He went out, and Tressamer sat down in a state of intense agitation. He dared not look round at the dock; but others did, and saw, to their surprise, that the prisoner seemed indifferent to what had just passed.
Eleanor did not want to get off on a law point. Without a real, full acquittal her life, as she had told Tressamer, would be too wretched to be worth preserving. And even an acquittal would not be enough while the mystery of her friend's death was left unexplained. Only the full clearing up of the whole story, only the exposure of the real criminal, could bring peace back into her life.
She showed no disappointment, therefore, when the judge returned, with a grave face, and took his seat, saying:
'The trial must proceed. My brother Wiseman inclines to your view, but I am dead against it. I will, of course, reserve the point for the Court for Crown Cases, if you desire.'
'If your lordship pleases,' said Tressamer.
This was exactly what he had wanted. He now had the chance of getting an acquittal from the jury before him, and, if that failed, of succeeding on the point reserved in the court above.
He rose and said:
'I have one witness to call as to the state of the prisoner's health. I shall, therefore, say nothing now, but call my witness, and address the jury after. Alfred Benjamin James.'
A respectably-dressed man stepped into the witness-box.
'You are a chemist, carrying on business at Porthstone. And you have known the prisoner some time?'
'All her life, sir.'
'Now, have you advised her recently as to the state of her health?'
'Will you just tell us briefly what she has spoken to you about?'
'For some time before the day of the murder she had been unwell. She came to me and asked me to give her something to make her sleep at night. I persuaded her to do without anything, and to take a walk before going to bed instead.'
'Yes, and what else?'
'The last night but one before the murder she came to me complaining of nervous headache. I gave her something for it and advised her to go for long walks, two or three miles or more, so as to tire herself out before going to bed. She said she had mislaid her latchkey lately, but would ask Miss Lewis to let her have another, as she thought Miss Lewis had a spare one.'
This statement caused the jury to prick up their ears. Even they had realized by this time that something in the case turned upon a latchkey.
No further questions were put to the witness by Tressamer, and Pollard saw no opening for cross-examination. The former, therefore, at once began his speech.
'May it please your lordship: Gentlemen of the jury——'
The counsel paused a moment, shook his robe out of his way, clenched his fists upon the table in front of him, and bent forward towards the jury with stern and solemn brow.
'I shall not weary you with the platitudes usual on occasions like this. I shall say nothing to you about banishing from your minds all you may have heard or read in the newspapers about this case, for I am sure it is unnecessary.
'Nor shall I say anything about the weight of responsibility which rests upon my shoulders, because, after all, what is my responsibility to yours? If I make any mistake, if I fail after doing my best, I shall have the consolation of knowing that I am in no way to blame, I have not to answer for the result.
'But you have! In your hands are life and death! The hangman is your instrument; the judge upon the bench is but your assistant. Seek not to shirk your liability; do not trust to others to shield you. On the way in which you discharge your duty to-day depends the most solemn and awful of all considerations—a human life. If you by any prejudice, by any weakness, by any deference to superstition or authority, give an innocent fellow-creature to the tomb, it had been better for you that you had never been born!'
The twelve men in the box shifted themselves uneasily under this indignant apostrophe. They had expected to be cajoled. They found themselves threatened. The rest of those present looked on amazed, and held their breath to listen. The speaker seemed perfectly indifferent to the impression he was creating around him. He glanced at neither the judge nor the prisoner, but fixed his searching eye upon the dozen men he was addressing.
'You know your duty as well as I do. You know you must not give a verdict upon suspicion, no, not though that suspicion were as dark as Erebus, as heavy as lead. You must have proof. You must have certainty. You must know how this crime was done, and why and wherefore, or you must acquit the prisoner.'
It is only under great provocation that a judge will interrupt the counsel for the defence in a case of life and death, but Sir Daniel Buller frowned and fidgeted as he listened to this extreme view of a jury's duties. However, he reflected that he would have the last word. He could afford to wait till the summing-up. Meanwhile he took up his pen and made a note.
'Now, gentlemen, let me say this to you, and let me enforce it with all the earnestness I can command—the fact that a murder has been committed is no evidence whatever against the prisoner at the bar.
'No one denies that the crime has been committed. To do so were absurd. Elderly ladies do not disappear mysteriously in the night like this unless somebody has an interest in making them disappear. The whole question for you is this—had the prisoner any such interest?
'Something has been said in this case about jewels. A question—a shamefully leading and improper question—was put by the counsel for the prosecution, the junior counsel—who seems to have brought to his work a bitterness and an amount of prejudice against the unhappy prisoner which is fortunately rarely met with in a case of this kind; a demeanour which presents a contrast, indeed, to the moderate and judicious tone adopted by my learned friend Mr. Prescott, whom I was sorry to see summoned elsewhere—a question, as I was saying, was put to the prosecutor Lewis, who was only too ready to take a sinister hint, with a view of making him swear that the prisoner knew something about those jewels, about which so much prejudice had been imported into this case. Gentlemen, you know nothing about jewels. No evidence has been put before you to-day as to anything of the sort. So far as you or I can tell, the prisoner was never aware of the existence of such things. We are bound to assume—you are bound by your oaths to assume—that there was no such motive to operate upon the prisoner's mind. What motive was there, then?
'Gentlemen, from the beginning to the end of this case not one motive has been suggested, not one syllable has been uttered from first to last, to account for the theory which you are asked to accept, that a young, beautiful, well-cared-for, and well-brought-up girl has suddenly, without the smallest provocation, developed the instincts of a cannibal, and committed a shocking and ferocious murder under circumstances which would revolt the most bloodthirsty of savages.'
Every word was emphasized by look and gesture. Every word went home to those who heard it. The crowded Bar stared in astonishment: they had not believed their colleague to possess such force. But he went on with hardly a pause.
'You have been told that this is a prosecution on behalf of the Crown. I deny it. Technically it is so, of course; but who is the real prosecutor? Who has been the moving spirit all along—if not the prosecutor, then the persecutor? Who has lost, or professes to have lost, his wretched jewels? Who, the moment he heard that the crime was discovered, turned round and hurled his brutal accusation at this helpless girl? Who rushed off to lodge his information, so as to be beforehand in case any information were to be lodged against him? Who instructed the solicitors at the inquest? Who gave evidence there and at the police-court? Who has been hand in glove with the prosecuting solicitors all along? Who is sitting by their side at this moment, without a particle of decent shame?'
This furious burst of invective seemed to fairly overwhelm the subject of it. He made a movement to go away, but the solicitor restrained him by a whisper in his ear.
'Gentlemen, I am here to defend the prisoner. I am not here to attack anyone else. I do not wish to do so. Would to God that I could shut my eyes to the fact that a terrible murder has been done! But I cannot, and you cannot. Someone did that deed. Someone who had a motive for his act treacherously murdered and brutally mangled that old, feeble, defenceless woman. I ask you to say it was not the prisoner. I ask no more.
'In the old days it would have been different. It was once the law that when a prisoner was accused of murder by a coroner's inquest, then the jury in this court were not entitled to bring in a verdict of acquittal unless they at the same time, and by the same verdict, indicated the person who was really guilty. If that were still the law—and I am glad it is not—but if it were, I should not hesitate for one moment in pointing out to you at least one person who is more likely to have been guilty of this crime than Eleanor Owen.
'I should ask you, in the famous Ciceronian phrase, Cui bono? For whose profit was this murder? You have been told by a spiteful servant-girl, whom you may believe for aught I care, that Miss Lewis once promised to remember the prisoner in her will. But did she? In the will which has been proved—and if there was any other will it has been destroyed by the same criminal hands that dyed themselves in blood—in a will dated two years ago, there is not one stiver, not one half-farthing left to Eleanor Owen. But the whole of the testatrix's property, amounting, I believe, to between twenty and forty thousand pounds, is given unconditionally to her beloved nephew, John Lewis!'
What a depth of sarcasm on the word 'beloved' as the barrister brought it out! The object of this terrible attack fairly writhed in his seat.
'Mind,' resumed the speaker, 'I am not responsible for the suggestion that this crime was committed for the sake of profiting under this poor woman's will. That suggestion came from the other side, prompted, I dare say, by the man Lewis himself. What applies to the prisoner applies to him. As far as motive is concerned—and I am now dealing solely with the question of motive—everything is against the prosecutor, and everything is in favour of his victim.
'And now to examine more closely the evidence, such as it is, of the way in which this crime was brought about. It must have been done after ten that night. So far I agree with the prosecution. Now, where is the evidence as to the prisoner's doings that night?
'We know—we have it from the witnesses for the Crown, and from the respectable chemist, James—that she had been unwell, and had been in the habit of taking midnight walks for some time previously. She took one on this particular night. I do not deny it—I admit it. I demand of you to believe it. She went out at twelve, or rather before, let us say, just as the spiteful servant-girl told you. She went out, leaving the door latched, but not bolted, and she walked in an easterly direction along the shore, where the fisherman met her.
'And I want you to note here for a moment how the evidence for the prosecution has been coloured even in small things. As you have heard, the body, or rather the hand, was found next day at the entrance of Newton Bay. Now, as most of you know, Newton Bay lies to the east of Porthstone, some two miles further along the coast. When the fisherman, Evan Thomas, met the prisoner, she was nowhere near Newton Bay, and she had not the smallest intention, so far as we know, of going there. She was simply strolling up and down the Porthstone Esplanade, and her face happened to be turned towards the east when she was met by him. Yet, how is his evidence put before you? "I met her. She was going in the direction of Newton Bay." Gentlemen, I say that is a poisoned answer. It is a poisonous suggestion to your minds that the prisoner was actually going to Newton Bay—was making for it at the time. Why didn't they say that she was going towards the tennis-ground, or the Grand Hotel, or the bathing-place? All those lay in the same direction, and there is not a tittle of evidence to show, there is not the smallest reason to suppose, that she ever went a yard beyond those places.
'That is how the prosecution has been conducted throughout. That wicked servant, who practically admitted that she nursed a dislike to her young mistress, got into that box, I put it to you, for the deliberate purpose of making the case against her as black as she could. In reality her evidence was strongly in the prisoner's favour, as I shall point out to you. But she, too, was instructed, or was taught by her own evil nature, to so distort the facts as to make them bear an appearance against the unhappy girl who is on trial for her life.
'First, we have the incident of the groan. On that subject I ask you to accept her first story, that it was a mere troubled exclamation in sleep, if it was really heard at all, which I may be permitted to doubt. For when a witness exhibits such recklessness and malice and wilful perversion of the truth in a case of this solemn character, I cannot willingly believe that any jury of Englishmen will consent to take away a human life on such testimony.
'Then we come to the incident of prisoner's going out. Good heavens! what colouring is put into a simple incident like that! The prisoner, as we now know, and as this wretched woman doubtless knew perfectly well, often went out at night. She suffered from some nervous attack, accompanied by insomnia, and the chemist, Mr. James, whom the counsel on the other side, with all his bitterness, dared not cross-examine—Mr. James told you that he had himself advised her to take these walks at night. Do you believe him? Do you think a respectable tradesman—I may almost call him a professional man—would come into the box and perjure himself on such a subject? Hardly. It would be too much to expect. I do not think that even my learned friend will ask you to say that Mr. James has committed perjury, though I have no doubt at all that Lewis would like to have it suggested.'
There was an intense bitterness in the way in which he brought out Lewis's name. Unconsciously the jury began to be influenced by it, and to look at Lewis each time he was referred to with undisguised aversion.
'Yet how this simple incident is magnified and invested with importance and mystery by the other side—by Lewis and his friends! They tell you how the servant awoke at midnight—you know it is an absurd trifle, but the word "midnight" sounds so much more solemn and dreadful than the words "twelve o'clock p.m."—how she woke at midnight and heard a door open—as if people didn't always open doors when they wanted to go out! How she got up quietly—perhaps you may be inclined to say treacherously—and stole downstairs. How she had recognised the footsteps as those of Miss Owen. How she heard the front-door go, and finally found it unfastened, except for the latch. And all as if something very dreadful had taken place, instead of the ordinary incident of a young lady going out for an hour to walk off a headache!
'And, after all, what does it come to? Why, it sounds ridiculous, but the whole end and result of all this is to prove the very thing which I am most anxious to have proved on behalf of the prisoner—namely, that she was out of the house when this murder was committed. They have tried to incriminate the prisoner, and they have ended in proving an unimpeachable alibi!'
He stopped to let his words sink into the minds of the jury, and everyone in court took advantage of the break to change their positions and breathe more freely. Whispers were exchanged, and the feeling began to prevail that a good point had been made, and the prisoner might very likely get off.
'With what happened after that the prisoner has nothing to do. Mr. Lewis and his friends do not seem to realize, what I hope you will realize, that the fact of footsteps being heard a few minutes after is the strongest point in the prisoner's favour. Why, if no one else had been heard to enter the house on that night, it would have looked bad for her. But that is just what the prosecution, in their blind mismanagement, have proved. They have shown out of the mouth of their own witness that someone did come in; someone who had been waiting outside ready to come in, and who took advantage of Miss Owen's exit to slip in by means of a latchkey which he had found, or stolen, or borrowed from the deceased.
'Now you have the clue. This girl, who stated that ten minutes had elapsed, when it must have been only three, to judge by her notions of time in other matters, this same girl wanted to insinuate that the footsteps she heard the second time were the prisoner's. Gentlemen, I ask you frankly not to believe it. I ask you to discount her evidence by the evident ill-feeling she manifested. I ask you to believe that the last footsteps were those of the murderer, and that they were heavier because they were a man's.
'What else is there against the prisoner? I ask, what else? She came down late the next morning, forsooth! That is the reason why you are asked to send her in her youth and beauty to a felon's doom. Incredible! Monstrous! As if we all did not constantly get up late, for some reason or another. As if a person who had been out late the night before would not naturally oversleep herself. Why, if she had committed a crime she would have taken particular care to be down early. She would have tried to throw off suspicion by acting in her ordinary way. I am ashamed of answering such arguments.
'The latchkey incident is dead in her favour.'
Here the jury, who had shown signs of weariness after their long sitting, brightened up again. They had made up their minds that this was the real point in the case, and were honestly anxious for light upon it.
'Two things are clear—first, that the person who last came into the house, and did up the fastenings, was the prisoner; second, that the prisoner had a latchkey, whether her own one found again or one which she borrowed from Miss Lewis. Now, if the prisoner had committed this murder, let us see what she would naturally have done in trying to throw suspicion off herself.
'In the first place, I say she would not have fastened up the front-door. To do so was practically saying that the crime was not the work of an outsider. No, she would have left the door wide open, as if the criminal were some common robber who had carried off his booty and run away. In the second place, she would have thrown away her latchkey, so as to make it appear that she had not been outside. These points are so important that, with your permission, I will repeat them again.'
Anyone who has had experience of juries knows how difficult it is to get into their minds a process of logical reasoning. To the trained lawyer such a thing is not so hard, but even to him it is far easier to master reasoning from a book than by word of mouth. Oral teaching has its advantages, doubtless, but few things are harder than to convey ideas of any subtlety by means of speech to an audience.
Tressamer patiently set to work, and for twenty minutes he repeated and explained all that he had been saying. When he thought that the jury really understood him he returned to where he had started from, and re-directed their suspicions on Lewis.
'Before I sit down I think I ought to suggest to you how this crime really was done. You have heard the story of the prosecution. Now let me put to you my story on behalf of the prisoner.
'The deceased woman was wealthy. About her jewels we know nothing, and I do not refer to them, but she had other property to a large extent. The whole of this was to go at her death to a nephew. For two years she lived in this house alone night after night with the prisoner, and nothing happened. At last the nephew who was to inherit her wealth suddenly returned from the other end of the world. That night she met her death.
'At twelve o'clock her companion, who suffered from sleeplessness, went out for a long walk. Hardly had she closed the door behind her than the murderer stole up to it and made his way in. Probably he had a latchkey. We know that Miss Owen had mislaid hers. It may have been that. We also know that Miss Lewis had a spare one, and that her nephew was to take up his residence in the house on the very next morning. So that, mark this, if the murder had been deferred for one more day he would have fallen under the same suspicion as Miss Owen, and probably a good deal more.
'The murderer entered, as I said, by means of his latchkey. But it was the first time he had used it. He did not know the peculiarity of the latch. He raised it too high, and it stuck.
'Not staying to notice this, in his wickedness, he passed into the house and upstairs. He tried the door of his aunt's—I mean the deceased's—room. It was, of course, locked, as it was found the following morning. He went into the next, Miss Owen's, which he knew to be empty, having seen her leave the house. Through this he passed into the adjoining chamber. Beneath the bed, in all probability, lay a chest of valuables. Charity would fain suggest that his first intention was merely to steal these, and that the blacker crime was, in a sense, forced upon him by the awakening of the sleeper. The secrets of that terrible night will never be known. We cannot say what passed in that room between that strong, evil man and that weak old woman. We only know the result. A blow was struck, perhaps blows. A life was taken, and the robber became a murderer as well.
'The next step was to remove the body. For what reason it matters not. It is an impulse with all murderers to conceal the traces of their guilt. They dig holes in the earth and bury it, they carry it into the wilderness and hide it, they sink it in the depths of the sea. But the earth will not contain it, the wilderness betrays the ghastly secret, the waves cast up the horror.'
His voice rang through the crowded court like that of one possessed, and every man trembled.
'He lowered it through the window, where the traces were found next day. Then, clutching up his booty, and forgetting, it may be, that all would be his erelong, or possibly not feeling sufficiently sure of his heirship, he hurried down, with agitated tread, so that even the half-sleeping girl in the room above could discern a something strange about his walk.
'Then he carried off the body, mutilated for some mysterious and terrible reason which may never be revealed—possibly to lighten his hideous load; but let me spare you these shocking considerations. (All this, remember, Lewis asks you to think was done by a young girl not twenty years of age.)
'You know the rest. You know how the fisherman saw others that night, one of them a tall man, going in the direction of the bay where the remains were washed ashore within twenty-four hours. One only point I have to notice. Whether in carelessness, or whether in hellish malice, that man left a damning stain upon the door-handle in the prisoner's room. I say I know not whether he did this in his haste and guilty dread, or whether he did this with a deliberate and diabolical intention of throwing suspicion upon a hapless, innocent girl, whom he has since pursued through every stage of this history, and under every form of law, with the persistence of a machine, and the passion of a bloodhound!'
The speaker's voice vibrated with the fury which he threw into this denunciation. The jury trembled under his eye, as he rolled it fiercely from face to face. As for the object of these fearful invectives, he turned red and white by turns, and would have interrupted over and over again if he had not been almost forcibly restrained by the solicitor for the prosecution.
Tressamer went on, after a moment's pause to recover from his exhaustion:
'And Eleanor Owen, what of her? What was she doing meanwhile? Pacing the shore, and trying to soothe her throbbing head with the medicine of the sea breezes. At last she returns, tired and abstracted. She puts her key into the latch, the door yields before her; she notices nothing, but comes in, closes and fastens the door behind her, and retires to rest. And there she sleeps the sleep of innocence, knowing nothing, dreaming nothing, of the dark shadow which hangs over her head, nothing of the foul deed which has so recently been perpetrated under that roof, nothing of the frightful stain upon the empty bed next door, nothing of that yet more appalling stain which will meet her eyes when she attempts to pass out of her own room into that.
'The next morning she awakes. Just as she is dressed, the servants rush up; the whole horror bursts upon her. She is stunned. She does not realise what has happened, or how it concerns her. She finds herself seized and dragged away by this devoted nephew and his creatures. And thus, gentlemen, in that state of darkness and bewilderment, has she rested ever since, and must rest till your just verdict sends her forth once more into the light of day, and the verdict of another jury, not less courageous and righteous than yourselves, sends the real author of this hidden tragedy to the doom he has now doubly deserved.'
He sat down. But there was no applause in court, as happens so often at the end of a speech on the prisoner's behalf. All present felt that they had listened not so much to a plea for Eleanor Owen as to an accusation against John Lewis. The barrister had put it too plainly for any man to be deceived. It was not a mere question of guilt or innocence. The issue now before the jury was—which of these two is guilty?
When evidence is called on behalf of the prisoner, counsel for the prosecution enjoys the right of reply. This right young Pollard rose to exercise, and, as is often the case with beginners at the Bar, he did much better as a speaker than he had done as an examiner.
As soon as he was fairly on his feet, his leader came into court and took his seat. The other case in which he had been engaged had come to an end shortly before this, but Prescott had purposely lingered outside, so as to avoid the duty of replying, which would have been assigned to him had he returned in time. As he had heard nothing of the case, nor of Tressamer's defence, the course he adopted was the best even for the interests of the prosecution—in fact, it was the course usually followed under parallel circumstances.
The first part of Pollard's reply was simply a recapitulation of the evidence. Afterwards he made an attempt to answer the attack on Lewis.
'Gentlemen,' he said, 'my learned friend has practically charged Mr. Lewis with this murder. On what grounds has he done so? What evidence has he brought against Mr. Lewis? Mr. Lewis is the heir of the deceased, it is true, but then he is her nephew. When he came back from Australia, he went at once to see her. He has told you, in answer to my questions, that this was out of gratitude to her for her kindness to him when he was a young man. There is nothing suspicious, therefore, in his going to her before his sister, who lived in the North of England, moreover, probably a long way off.
'Then my learned friend has laid stress on the fact that this crime occurred the night of his arrival. But I submit, gentlemen, that it would have been more natural if he had abstained from it the first night, and done it some time after, if he did it at all. I might suggest to you that the prisoner did it the night Mr. Lewis arrived on purpose to throw suspicion on him.'
And so on. Finally he closed in a form of words which even the most inexperienced prosecutor has by heart.
'In conclusion, gentlemen, I ask you to banish from your minds every trace of prejudice, and to forget everything which you have read elsewhere about this case, and to determine it solely on what has passed here to-day. If the evidence you have heard leaves a fair and reasonable doubt in your minds as to the prisoner's guilt, no doubt you will acquit her; but if that evidence is so strong and convincing that you are morally satisfied that the deceased woman met her death at the prisoner's hands, then it is your duty to return a verdict of guilty.'
With this he sat down, and his brother leant over and congratulated him, while the other solicitors began to consider whether there might not be something in the young man after all.
And now it was Sir Daniel Buller's turn, and all eyes were directed upon him as he settled himself in his chair, with his face towards the jury, who strove to catch his lordship's eye, and conveyed as much appreciation as possible into their faces.
'Gentlemen of the jury, it now becomes my duty to recall your attention to the facts of this case, and to give you what assistance I can towards finding your verdict. You have been told by counsel on both sides that this is a grave and important case. Gentlemen, every case which comes before a criminal court is grave and important. In this case, it is true, the life of a fellow creature is at stake, but that consideration ought not to affect you one way or the other in bringing to bear upon the evidence before you that impartiality and cautious discrimination which it is the duty of a jury to apply indifferently to every matter that may come before them.'
A slight sensation of relief in the jury-box. Among the audience an impression that his lordship is going against the prisoner.
'The duties of a jury in a case like this are exceedingly simple, but perhaps it may be advisable that I should briefly remind you in what they consist. And, first of all, it is, I am sure, unnecessary for me to insist on the absolute necessity of your resolutely putting out of your minds every particle of knowledge, and every impression of whatever kind, which you may have collected in regard to this case from sources external to the inquiry conducted here to-day. It is, I feel, equally superfluous for me to caution you against attaching the smallest weight to any evidence which I was compelled in the course of this case to exclude. The law of evidence is the accumulated experience of the ablest intellects that have adorned that Bench of which I am so unworthy an occupant.' (Strong impulse on part of jury to murmur 'No,' manfully suppressed.) 'And in applying it I can only say that I have never personally laboured under any hesitation as to its general soundness, though I may occasionally doubt as to its applicability to particular instances.
'You will remember that allusion was made by the prosecution in their opening to the supposed existence of certain valuables, the property of the deceased. It is my duty to tell you, speaking as judge in this case, with all the evidence before me, that there is not sufficient evidence that any such valuables were in the deceased's possession at the time when she came to her unhappy end, and that in any case there is not a particle of evidence that the prisoner had ever heard, or was even remotely aware, of the existence of the articles in question.
'Whether they were there or no is, of course, immaterial to the case. The jeweller, whose name, I believe, was John—Thomas—no——'
'William Williams, my lord,' called out Pollard.
'Ah, thank you, Mr. Pollard! But it is of no consequence, because, as I am explaining to you, gentlemen, his evidence really ought not to affect your minds one way or the other. Even if deceased bought these things, there is no evidence that she kept them by her. She may have disposed of them in some manner of which we know nothing. The fact that they have been missing since her decease affords in itself some ground for supposing that she did so part with the control over this property. But, as I must repeat, what became of it is perfectly immaterial, because there is absolutely nothing in the whole of the evidence before us, and by which we must be guided, to fix the prisoner with knowledge that these valuables existed at all.
'You will observe, gentlemen, how important this becomes when we come to consider the question of motive. I agree with Mr. Tressamer, about whose general line of defence I shall have something to say presently'—(Tressamer frowned, the rest of the Bar looked nervous)—'in saying that the apparent absence of motive is the most inexplicable feature in the case for the prosecution. You will, of course, have fresh in your minds the evidence of the servant on this point.' (The jury found it quite hopeless to even pretend that they had anything of the sort.) 'I refer to her statement, which I will read to you presently'—(visible depression in the jury-box and throughout the court)—'that deceased promised the prisoner on one occasion to leave her a legacy, or something of that sort. Gentlemen, that is peculiarly and emphatically a matter for you to deal with, and on which it would be out of place for me to offer you any guidance whatever.' (Dismay among several jurymen, stolid pride among others.) 'If you believe that evidence, and I confess I am wholly unable to follow the prisoner's counsel in some of his comments upon the general demeanour of the witnesses, most of whom appeared to me to give their evidence with every appearance of impartiality, and in a manner which showed that they realised their responsibility—but all that, again, is rather a matter for you than for me—if, I say, you believe that evidence as to the legacy, you must consider for yourselves what weight you ought fairly to attach to it, and how far in your opinion it furnishes a motive adequate to inspire the very heinous crime into which we are now inquiring.'
The jury by this time were fairly at sea. They could not for the life of them make out which side his lordship was taking, and, of course, it never once occurred to them that he was trying to avoid taking any side at all.
'And now, gentlemen, to consider the evidence against the prisoner more in detail.' (Suppressed sighs from the gentlemen.) 'This is one of those cases which depend entirely on what is commonly known as circumstantial evidence. Well, gentlemen, the evidence of circumstances is just as good as any other evidence, and very often it is far more reliable and far less subject to be vitiated by improper influences than ocular and oral testimony. In cases of this kind it is seldom that we can get anything but circumstantial evidence. When a man is going to do a wicked and criminal act he does not call witnesses around him. No, he avoids all human sight, he perpetrates his deed in secrecy, and all that we can do is to seek to penetrate the mystery by such means as are at our disposal.'
Impression confirmed that judge is against the prisoner. Tressamer looking slightly anxious.
'The question for us, therefore, or rather for you, gentlemen'—(the jury look important)—'is not whether the evidence is circumstantial or not, but whether it is sufficient to convict the prisoner. Sufficient, that is, in your opinion, as men of intelligence and firmness, bringing to bear on this case the same qualities of mind which you bring to bear from day to day upon your ordinary avocations, whatever those may be. That the evidence is sufficient in law I am reluctantly compelled to decide. Whether the court which deals with points of this description will confirm my judgment or overrule it I cannot say. In the meantime, you must take it from me that you are legally justified in convicting the prisoner. Whether you are really justified on the facts is, of course, a very different question.'
Impression among many that judge is going for acquittal. Jury still in doubt.
'This is one of those cases which make a judge congratulate himself on the existence of trial by jury. It is one of those peculiarly difficult cases in which the mind is perplexed between its desire to mete out punishment for a singularly atrocious crime, and its inability to disentangle the knotted skein of mystery which shrouds the whole circumstances of the affair. I rejoice unaffectedly that the responsibility of discharging this delicate and dangerous task is thrown not upon my shoulders, but upon yours.'
Undisguised dismay of jury. They cast appealing looks round the court and meet nothing but contempt. The general feeling now is that the judge is in the prisoner's favour. By this time the majority of those present share the same view.
Then Sir Daniel proceeded to go into the evidence at great length, reading passages here and there from his notes. When he came to the evidence of the servant Rees, he threw out a suggestion which struck doubt into many a mind which had till then believed in the prisoner's innocence.
'A very great deal in this case undoubtedly turns on this evidence as to footsteps. You may, I think, take it as admitted on all hands, by the prisoner's counsel as well as by the prosecution, that the witness is correct in saying that she heard the prisoner leave the house. That she recognised her walk correctly that time there can be no manner of doubt. Then we come to the second time, when she heard footsteps ascending the stairs. And I may pause here to remark that I think a quite exaggerated importance has been attached to the discrepancy between the witness's ideas of time and the correct idea. Gentlemen, we should all of us fail if we strove to indicate with accuracy the length of a given interval of time. We use the expressions "five minutes" and "ten minutes" in ordinary conversation, without attaching any very definite meaning to them, and, therefore, I cannot see that the witness is in any way discredited if she mistook a period of three minutes for one of ten, or vice versa.'
The jury nodded approval. Now they were on firm ground.
'But it is her answer to Mr. Pollard, when he asked her as to the second set of footsteps, that I wish to draw your attention to. She said, as I took it, "I did not notice them"—that is, the footsteps—"but I think they must have been Miss Owen's, or else I should have noticed the difference." Now, I think you will see the importance of that.' (The jury try to see it, and, failing in that, try to look as if they saw it, and fail a second time.) 'Remember the state of things is this: the witness is wide awake; she has just been down to the front-door and up again, and ten minutes after, or three minutes only according to Mr. Tressamer, she hears someone come in and walk upstairs. Now, gentlemen, under those circumstances, one would naturally expect the witness to be on the alert to distinguish any difference, if difference there were, between the footsteps. And if the person entering the second time were not the prisoner, to whose tread she was accustomed, and which she was expecting to hear, but if it were someone else—a man, let us say, with an entirely different tread, and a tread to which she was wholly unaccustomed—I say one would naturally expect the witness to note the difference instantly, to wonder who it was that had entered, to feel alarm when she heard the unknown stranger proceeding upstairs and into the bedroom; and, in short, one would expect her to get up and rouse the whole household to discover the robber, as she would naturally assume him to be.'
The jury were much impressed. A feeling of gravity spread all over the court. In the prisoner's mind there was a sensation as if the sun had retired behind a cloud, leaving a leaden atmosphere all round her.
'Leaving you to attach much or little importance, as you please, to that observation' (jury puzzled again), 'I will pass on to the point about which so much has been said—namely, the latch.' (Jury bend forward with straining ears. They have felt this to be the difficulty all along, and are anxiously desiring to be told what it all means, and what bearing it has on the case.) 'This latch, or rather lock, appears to have been of peculiar, though not unusual, construction. As you doubtless know, gentlemen, locks do differ very much from one another, and it is essential to their usefulness that they should do so. If all the locks on our doors were of the same pattern, one key would open them all, and consequently the locks would be rendered useless for the purpose for which they were designed. In ancient times, before such articles had come into common use, it was no doubt the custom to have a rude species of door-fastening, calculated rather to keep the door fixed in its place as against the violence of the weather, than to furnish any obstacle against the ingress of undesired visitors. But, gentlemen, we are not living in those times, but in our own; and we are here to administer justice, not with regard to the ideas prevalent among our remote ancestors, but with regard to the ordinary and reasonable practices of everyday life around us.'
This last part appeals to the jury. They nod their heads in approval, and wait for further enlightenment.
'Law, gentlemen, it has often been said, is common-sense; and though there may be a sense in which that maxim is not strictly verifiable, yet in a broad and general way its applicability has never been and cannot be disputed. And, therefore, gentlemen, your common-sense will agree with me when I say that it is a lawful presumption—a presumption which the law warrants you in drawing and in holding till you have some satisfactory evidence to rebut it—that the person who obtains access to a house or any other building secured by a lock of this description must have in his or her possession a key which is capable of opening that lock.'
Continued approval of the jury. They find his lordship a little tedious perhaps, but sound. At last there seems a fair prospect of light being thrown upon the case.
'Now, that there were in existence keys which fitted this particular lock cannot, I think, be seriously doubted by anyone who has listened carefully to the evidence which has been put forward both by the prosecution and by the defence in this case.' (Gratification of jury. How simple it all seems when a master-mind is at work upon the apparent mystery!) 'The only question left for you to decide, so far as I can discover, and if I am wrong it is not for want of careful consideration, is this: whether on that night into which we are inquiring the prisoner had or had not a latchkey, and, if so, whether she used it, and in either case, whether any other person had a similar key, which he also employed in opening the door of this house.' (Jury getting slightly fogged again. But they no longer sorrow as one who hath no hope. They rely on his lordship to pull them through.)
'It is perhaps a circumstance worth noting, though the explanation may be very simple, that neither side has produced a latchkey purporting to be one of those belonging to the latch in question.' (The explanation was simple. Neither side had thought of it.) 'But in the absence of any ocular demonstration one way or the other, we are, I think, justified in assuming that the keys in question were small, portable articles, such as could conveniently be carried in the pocket. In saying this I merely appeal to your own experience as men of business and householders, who are most of you probably in the constant habit of carrying articles of this kind yourselves.' (Jury in smooth water again. How could they ever have thought this matter presented difficulties?) 'There, gentlemen, I must leave you. I can throw no farther light upon the hidden circumstances of that night, and must leave you to decide for yourselves on a calm and deliberate review of the evidence whether, in your opinion, such a key as I have indicated was, or was not, in the possession of the prisoner at the bar, or of any other individual whose name has or has not transpired in the course of this trial, and if so, whether the prisoner, or that other person, or both of them, did or did not obtain access to the house by means of that nature.'
Collapse of jury. Dashed in a moment from their height of fancied security, they lie helpless at the bottom of the abyss.
The summing-up was nearly over. Tressamer had begun to hope the judge had forgotten him. But Sir Daniel had reserved his melodramatic effects to the last, as all orators know they ought to do.
'And now a few words as to the unusual, I may say, I hope, the extraordinary, though unhappily not quite unprecedented, line of defence which has been adopted in this case. The prisoner's counsel has not contented himself with merely defending the prisoner; he has gone far beyond that, far beyond the necessities, so far as they present themselves to my mind, of his position, and has distinctly and deliberately brought an accusation against one who is not on trial before you, and has, therefore, no means of rebutting the attack. For such a course there is, in my opinion, not a shadow of excuse. I have listened with great patience to the evidence in this case from the beginning to the end, and I have not detected anywhere anything that casts one particle of suspicion upon Mr. Lewis.
'He was attacked for having come so promptly to visit his relative on his return. But his explanation was straightforward, and such as to commend itself to everyone who heard him. I shall not trouble you with any defence of Mr. Lewis, however'—(gratitude of the whole court)—'but I must condemn in the gravest and strongest manner the way in which Mr. Tressamer has abused his privilege as an advocate to spring a charge of this deadly character upon one who is, so far as we can see, a perfectly innocent man. If this sort of thing is to be indulged in, the honour of the Bar—that noble profession to which it is my glory to have belonged—will be dragged in the dust, and its formidable immunities will have to be sharply and summarily curtailed. It has been well said that no assassin is so terrible to the community as the assassin of reputations, and in my opinion the man who is capable of taking advantage of a technical immunity from punishment to lie in wait for and destroy in cold blood the whole character and career of another, reveals a blackness of disposition which fits him for the commission of any crime, aye, though it were as heinous as that of which he has accused his victim.'
It was a crushing rebuke. The crowded bar turned and looked at their comrade as though they expected him to sink through the floor. But he sat pale and rigid, tearing off the feather of a quill with his teeth, but showing no other sign that he had heard the judge.
'It is the prisoner who must suffer most by such a line of defence.' (Here Eleanor looked up suddenly, as if she had only just begun to pay attention to what was going on.) 'Its natural effect on your minds must be to induce you to ask yourselves not the real question before you, namely, is Eleanor Owen guilty or not? But this other question: which is guilty, Eleanor Owen or John Lewis? And to that you could, as conscientious men, give only one answer.
'But that is what I want, if possible, to avoid. My principal reason for making the remarks I have made about Mr. Tressamer's speech is that I do not want you to confuse the issues, as he has confused them, but to return your verdict freely and impartially, having regard solely to the bearing of the evidence which has been given upon the guilt or innocence of the prisoner.'
Here his lordship abruptly came to an end, just when the long-suffering jury were expecting that he was at last going to give them a hint as to his own leaning in the case.
It was now the part of the clerk of arraigns to rise and request the jury to consider their verdict. But that functionary had taken advantage of the charge to fall into a light and pleasant slumber, from which it became necessary to rouse him. One of the Bar, therefore, put out his hand and pulled the clerk of arraigns by the sleeve. He started awake, and, hastily stumbling on to his feet, looked wildly round for information.
The day before this incident would have provoked mirth. To-day it caused nothing but impatient annoyance, except to a few junior barristers, who thought it professional to show callous indifference to what was going on. At last, however, the clerk of arraigns was made to realise what stage had been reached, and he called the bailiff of the court and gave the jury over to his charge, with the following form of words:
'You shall take this jury to some convenient place, where you shall lock them up without meat, fire, or light; you shall suffer no man to speak to them, neither shall you speak to them yourself, except to ask them if they have agreed upon their verdict; so help you God.'
The oath was taken, and the twelve men filed slowly out.
The secrets of the jury-room are little understood. Doubtless this is because all the more intellectual classes are exempted, by a beautiful provision of our law, from serving on juries, and the remainder have not yet produced a man competent to chronicle his experiences.
The Mynyddshire jurymen were very much like their brethren all over the country. They had sworn a solemn oath to well and truly try, and true deliverance make, between our sovereign lady the Queen and the prisoner at the bar, and they honestly tried to act up to their obligation.