THE QUEEN AGAINST OWEN
AUTHOR OF 'THE PRINCE OF BALKISTAN'
A NEW EDITION
London CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY 1895
OPINIONS OF THE PRESS
THE QUEEN AGAINST OWEN.
'An unmistakable success. Regarded simply as a story, we have not for a long while read anything more intensely dramatic. It would compel notice for the mere manner of its telling. Not often has an author who has boldly departed from the traditional lines of the writer of fiction so completely vindicated his method. There is high quality in this book, with its vivid glimpses of life, and its clever characterization.... Altogether, a notable book; and if its popularity be at all commensurate with its merits, it will have a great vogue.'—Sun.
'The narrative never flags.... A realistic representation of a criminal trial.'—Athenaeum.
'Lovers of exciting fiction, powerful, original, and dramatic, should read "The Queen against Owen." Narrative after narrative, somewhat in the Wilkie Collins manner, draws you on until the mystery that surrounds the crime—which remains a mystery almost to the very end—disappears, and then you draw a breath of relief, but not before.'—Sporting Life.
CLEMENT HARLEY DOWNS
THIS SLIGHT ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF HIS KIND SERVICES IS TENDERED BY THE AUTHOR
TO THE SECOND EDITION.
I take the opportunity of a second edition of this little sketch to point out a rather curious fact in connection with the numerous comments which were made in the press on the evidence presented against the heroine. My object in writing the story was, naturally, to so balance the evidence as to leave it open to my jury to return either verdict, and thus keep the reader in a state of mild suspense during the progress of the trial. How far I succeeded may be gathered from the following extracts:
'A jury that required to deliberate at all in such a case ought to have been hanged.'—BRIEF.
'The way in which the feeblest of cases is worked up to a verdict of guilty is a trifle ridiculous, and a slander on judge, bar, and even jury.'—LEEDS MERCURY.
'It is absurd to suppose that upon such evidence any judge and jury could have convicted her of murder.'—VANITY FAIR.
'A tangle of circumstantial evidence which is supposed to be conclusive, but on which we feel confident that no English jury would convict.'—NEW ZEALAND MAIL.
'The prisoner is found guilty on what seems to us most insufficient evidence.'—DAILY CHRONICLE.
'It is difficult to believe that the jury on the evidence could have brought in a verdict of guilty.'—DAILY NEWS.
'The evidence being purely circumstantial, as well as flimsy.'—ACADEMY.
[N.B.—Several of the above reviewers were friendly to the book on other points.]
'In Scotland the verdict would certainly have been "Not Proven."'—GLASGOW HERALD.
'Though the evidence is purely circumstantial, it seems at first sight so strong that no magistrate could fail to commit.'—SATURDAY REVIEW.
'The evidence of guilt is very strong.'—MONMOUTHSHIRE BEACON.
'Certainly the evidence, purely circumstantial, is very strong.'—PUBLISHER'S CIRCULAR.
'A case of circumstantial evidence which all seemed to point one way, and to fix a horrible crime upon a young girl.'—WEEKLY SUN.
'The evidence against her is damning, though purely circumstantial.'—LITERARY WORLD.
These extracts, taken together, seem to me to throw a most interesting light upon the subject of trial by jury—the object of a sneer in one of the above quotations. When it is possible for a number of educated minds, engaged in highly intellectual pursuits, to take such opposite views of the same set of facts, it may surely be urged that, if miscarriages of justice occasionally take place, they are due, not so much to any defects in our judicial system, as to those native diversities of the human mind which no legislation can remove. A change is fast coming over our legal procedure in the direction of dispensing with juries, and leaving everything to the decision of a single trained lawyer. Whether this change is certain to ensure greater correctness of decision is, perhaps, more open to argument than is generally supposed.
In conclusion, I have only to express my thanks for the many cordial notices—some of them, I fear, hardly deserved—which this rather slight work received on its first appearance. The kindness of his reviewers has at all events encouraged the author to strive that his future work may be a little better worth their attention.
I. THE INDICTMENT 1
II. THE BRIEF FOR THE PROSECUTION 2
III. COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE 23
IV. THE ASSIZES 44
V. THE CASE FOR THE CROWN 68
VI. THE WITNESSES 85
VII. HALF AN HOUR 113
VIII. THE DEFENCE 127
IX. THE JUDGE 154
X. THE VERDICT 175
XI. THE PRISONER'S STATEMENT 192
XII. THE C.C.R. 212
XIII. UNDER THE GREAT SEAL 229
THE QUEEN AGAINST OWEN
'MYNYDDSHIRE TO WIT.—The jurors for our lady the Queen upon their oath present that Eleanor Margaret Owen, upon the first day of June in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and eighty-nine, feloniously, wilfully, and of her malice aforethought did kill and murder one Ann Elizabeth Lewis against the peace of our lady the Queen, her crown and dignity.'
THE BRIEF FOR THE PROSECUTION.
'A brief for you, sir, for the assizes at Abertaff. The great murder case.'
Mr. Prescott looked up as his clerk entered, and heard these words. Then he silently put out his hand and took the brief, while the clerk retired into the outer room of the chambers to make a note of the fee.
Everyone had heard of the great Porthstone murder. Mr. Prescott had followed the papers pretty closely in their accounts of it—the discovery, the proceedings at the inquest, before the magistrates, and so on. The brief did not take him altogether by surprise. He had been entrusted with several important prosecutions before this, and the solicitor representing the Crown in the present case was a personal friend of his own. He had, therefore, all along had expectations of appearing in the case, and his only doubt had been whether, on account of its unusual importance, a Queen's Counsel would be engaged along with him, or whether he would have the charge of the case himself.
It need hardly be added that Mr. Prescott was still a member of the 'Junior Bar,' that is to say, he had not arrived at the dignity of a Queen's Counsel. But he had been some ten years in the practice of his profession, and occupied a foremost position among the members of the Southern Circuit. Tall, thin, and auburn-haired, with a ruddy complexion, his appearance was rather remarkable among the brethren of the long robe. But he had a pattern lawyer's face, with the firm decided chin, the pronounced nose and strongly-marked eyebrows characteristic of the race.
Before opening the document in his hand, he took a hasty glance at the outside. It bore the usual endorsement. At the head were the words 'MYNYDDSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES, Holden at ABERTAFF, 29th July, 1889.'
Then followed the name of the case: 'REGINA, on the Prosecution of Sergeant Evans, against ELEANOR MARGARET OWEN,' and the description of the offence: 'For Wilful Murder.'
Next came the word 'Brief' in very large letters. 'For the Prosecution: Mr. Chas. Prescott, 20 guineas.'
And a little below, on one side, 'With you, Mr. F. J. Pollard.' This was a younger man, who was to act as junior to Prescott.
Last of all came the solicitors' name at the foot, 'Pollard and Pollard, Abertaff.' They were, as may be surmised, relations of the young gentleman who had been favoured with the junior brief.
Mr. Prescott smiled pleasantly at the number of guineas, and sardonically at the name of the counsel whose assistance he was to receive. Then, pulling off the tape, he unfolded the document, and settled down to a study of its contents.
It was headed inside by the same words as appeared in the endorsement, down to 'wilful murder.' After that it went on to give a copy of the indictment.
Then came the narrative itself:
'CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION.
'In this case the prisoner, Eleanor Margaret Owen, is charged with the wilful murder of Ann Elizabeth Lewis.
'The facts of the case are as follows:
'The deceased, Miss Ann Lewis, was a maiden lady, living at Porthstone, in Mynyddshire, a quiet little seaside place about twenty miles from the county town, Abertaff.
'Her only surviving relative was a nephew, John Lewis, who had been for a considerable time in Australia, but, having made some money, returned to England, and arrived at Porthstone on the evening of the first of June.
'The accused, Eleanor Margaret Owen, is an orphan, her father, the late Rector of Porthstone having died two years ago.'
('Poor old Owen! I remember him well,' murmured the barrister. 'It's well for the poor old chap that he is gone.')
'Immediately on her father's death she went to reside with Miss Lewis, with whom her father and herself had been on friendly terms, in the capacity of a paid companion.
'She was paid L24 a year, and had no other means of support; but Rebecca, a servant in the house, will say that she has heard Miss Lewis promise to remember the accused in her will.
'Deceased was rather eccentric in money matters, and invested a large portion of her savings in valuable jewels. No one ever saw the collection; but William Williams, a jeweller, of Abertaff, will swear that he supplied deceased with something like a thousand pounds' worth of jewels annually for several years past.
'It will be seen below that these jewels have entirely disappeared since the night of the murder.
'Counsel will observe that a motive is here suggested for the crime.
'On the night of the first of June last Mr. Lewis, deceased's nephew, left the house about 10 o'clock and did not return that night.
'Shortly after he was gone deceased was heard to retire by the servants. These are four in number, and consist of a butler or general man, cook, housemaid, and parlourmaid.
'The three women servants went to rest at a quarter past ten, and the butler at half-past.
'All this time prisoner was downstairs in the drawing-room, where she had spent the evening with deceased and Mr. Lewis.
'About eleven the butler thinks he heard her come upstairs to her bedroom, which adjoined deceased's, with a door of communication between. This door was never locked or bolted.
'An hour afterwards Rebecca, the parlourmaid, woke from sleep, and heard a stifled groan somewhere below. Apparently it proceeded from Miss Lewis's room. She did not waken the housemaid, who sleeps in the same room. She attributed the sound at the time to troubled sleep.
'Shortly afterwards she heard a subdued sound, as if of footsteps going downstairs. She was not alarmed, as she thought she recognised Miss Owen's tread. She therefore roused no one, but, inspired by curiosity, got up herself, put on some things, and crept downstairs.
'All the doors were closed as she passed. She listened outside Miss Owen's room, but heard nothing. Just then she thought she heard the front-door pulled gently to. She went cautiously down, and discovered that all the bolts had been undone, and the door was fastened simply by the latch.
'Three persons carried a latchkey—Miss Lewis, the butler, and Miss Owen. One of the three had, therefore, gone out. Having ascertained this, she retired to her room.'
('Now we're coming to something like evidence,' remarked Mr. Prescott, as he made copious interlineations with a blue pencil. 'That's the worst of Pollard; he always will write in this florid style. His brother's speeches are just the same.')
'She did not go to sleep, however. She lay awake listening for some time, and then she heard footsteps ascending and going into one of the bedrooms below. Her room was immediately above that of deceased.
'In about ten minutes more, to employ the witness's own expression, the footsteps came out again and descended to the hall for the second time. The parlourmaid now awaked the housemaid, Lucy, who slept in the room with her, and they both sat up and listened.
'The footsteps sounded heavier this time; the witnesses describe them as "thumpy." Counsel will see that this would be the natural result of someone carrying a heavy load.
'This time neither of the servants made any attempt to follow or observe what was taking place. They say they heard the hall door softly pulled to, but nothing more.
'Shortly afterwards they both fell asleep.
'The same night, about 12 o'clock, a fisherman of the place, named Evan Thomas, was coming up from the beach. He had been doing some night fishing.
'As he got on to the esplanade he observed the figure of a woman walking swiftly away from him in the direction of Newton Bay. He knows prisoner well, and believes it was she he saw.
'There is no further evidence as to what occurred that night.
'In the morning the housemaid Lucy was the first down, as was usually the case. She found the hall door locked and bolted, as the butler left it at half-past ten the night before.
'One of the household, therefore, must have been out, and returned after the witness Rebecca had gone back to her room.
'Putting these facts together, it is clear that the only possible authors of the crime subsequently discovered must have been the butler, who had a latchkey, and prisoner.
'At eight o'clock the witness Rebecca came down and took two jugs of hot water to the ladies' doors. She knocked at each. She heard a faint reply from prisoner, but none from deceased's room.
'At half-past eight prisoner usually came down, and deceased was generally seen a few minutes after.
'On this morning, the second of June, neither of them had appeared by nine o'clock.
'The witness Rebecca then remembered that Miss Lewis had not answered when called, and feared that she had failed to waken her. She therefore went upstairs and knocked again.
'There was no answer. Becoming alarmed, because her mistress was old and had once suffered from some seizure, she went to Miss Owen's door and knocked impatiently.
'Prisoner at once came and opened it. She was completely dressed, and apparently ready to come down.
'The following conversation, or something near it, then took place:
'The witness Rebecca began by saying that she had knocked at Miss Lewis's door, but could get no answer. "Do you know if any thing's the matter?" she said.
'Prisoner heard her without any appearance of surprise, and merely answered:
'"No; we had better call to her, and if she doesn't answer, I'll go in."
'They then went together to the door on the landing, and prisoner called out loudly: "Miss Lewis! May I come in?"
'There was again no answer. Prisoner then put her hand to the door and turned the handle. The door, however, would not open. It was locked, and the key was inside.
'The only possible access, therefore, was through prisoner's own room.
'It is unnecessary to draw counsel's attention to the gravity of this circumstance.'
('Quite unnecessary,' said Prescott sarcastically to himself. 'Bless my soul, how he piles on the agony!')
'By this time the other servants in the house had taken the alarm. The butler, John Simons, came on the scene, followed by the cook and housemaid. It was he who now addressed prisoner:
'"We must get in through your room, miss," he said.
'It may be well to state here that Simons had lived with the deceased for fifteen years, and was greatly trusted.
'He now went straight into prisoner's bedroom. Prisoner now seemed thoroughly alarmed, and ran in after him, the three women coming next.
'As he was about to take hold of the handle of the door opening into Miss Lewis's room, he suddenly beheld a sight that made him reel back. This was a smear of blood on the china handle. The witness Rebecca caught sight of it at the same time, and uttered a loud scream.
'No one noticed the demeanour of the prisoner at the moment of this discovery. But when they had recovered sufficiently to take notice, she was leaning against a chest of drawers, deathly pale.'
('Confound the man!' exclaimed the reader, as he came to this sentence. 'How he does go on against her! It's enough to make me think her innocent. Poor little Eleanor! It's five years since I saw her. She was a pretty little thing of fifteen then. I wonder what sort of woman she has turned out. Well, well, I must stick to business.')
'Simons quickly recovered his presence of mind. Taking hold of the handle so as to avoid touching the smear, he burst open the door, and rushed in towards the bed.
'The bed was empty.
'It seemed to have been slept in the night before, and the clothes were not much disarranged; but on the lower sheet, close to the bolster, was a large stain of blood.
'The stain was about the size of a cheese-plate, dark in the centre, and fainter round the edge. There was no other trace of violence.
'The room was then searched. All present took part in the search except prisoner, who sat in a chair looking on.
'Deceased's clothes, worn by her the day before, were found in their proper places, thus negativing the idea that she could have gone away herself. Her nightdress, on the other hand, was missing. This would point to the prisoner's having killed her in her sleep and disposed of the body as it was.
'No further trace of violence was discovered in the room. The butler then got them all out, and locked both doors on the outside. He then went for the police.
'This was about half-past nine. On his way to the police-station he met Mr. Lewis, deceased's nephew. He stopped him and related the circumstances.
'Mr. Lewis was greatly upset. As soon as he was able to speak he pointed out that the only possible author of the crime was Miss Owen. He turned and accompanied Simons to the police-station.
'At the police-station they found Sergeant James Evans. To him Simons detailed the incidents already described. Mr. Lewis then stepped forward and said:
'"I charge Eleanor Owen with the murder of my aunt, Ann Elizabeth Lewis. I have made some money, and, please God, I'll spend every penny of it rather than my poor aunt shall remain unavenged."'
('All this is not evidence,' muttered the barrister, impatiently scoring out the paragraph with his pencil. 'Why does Pollard put in things like this? Perhaps it supplies a clue, though, to his enthusiasm,' added Mr. Prescott thoughtfully. 'I dare say he's got this Lewis behind him, and is bleeding him pretty freely. That accounts for the figures on my brief, so I oughtn't to complain. But I wish to goodness it were anybody but old Owen's daughter. Why, I can remember kissing her when she was only six years old.')
'Sergeant Evans, who will be called as a witness, now proceeded to the house and made a thorough search. Two important facts were now discovered.
'The butler had left the house by the back door, but on returning with Mr. Lewis the party entered by the front. Simons stepped forward with his latchkey to open the door, but found the latch already lifted, and stuck fast in its raised position.
'This was a thing which always occurred if the latch was lifted too high. The keyhole is shaped like an inverted T, and the members of the household who carried keys were generally careful not to push them too far upward, lest this result should occur.
'Counsel will probably be inclined to see a sufficient explanation of the incident in the agitation and haste by which a criminal would naturally be overcome just after the commission of such a crime.'
('Yes; I suppose so.' The barrister paused for some time, knitted his brows, and tried to think the matter out. 'Yes, it would be a natural result,' he admitted at length, and resumed his reading.)
'The next discovery was equally important.
'Miss Lewis's bedroom window looked over the front garden. Immediately below it, under the dining-room window, was a grating over a window, which gave light to an underground scullery. This grating was surrounded by a bed of shrubs, which concealed it from the eye of visitors.
'Sergeant Evans's first move was to proceed to this spot. He was rewarded by finding blood-stains on the grating. The nearest shrubs had been roughly handled, and some of their leaves lay scattered about.
'The inference which counsel is asked to draw is that the body—or a portion of it—was lowered down through the window, and thence carried away.
'This would evidently be much easier for a young woman like the prisoner to do than to carry it downstairs.
'Her second journey down, when she appears to have been bearing a load of some kind, may be accounted for by supposing that she returned for the jewels. These, as already stated, have disappeared.
'During deceased's lifetime she maintained great secrecy about these jewels. No one, not even the servants who had been with her longest, seems to have known anything as to their whereabouts.
'It is suggested, therefore, that they were kept by deceased in a secret hiding-place. This secret must have been disclosed to prisoner, or found out by her.
'Probably, had deceased's nephew been home longer, he would have learnt something about the matter.
'Counsel will doubtless have noticed the coincidence of the crime being committed on the very night of Mr. Lewis's return. Probably this was to anticipate any communications between aunt and nephew which might have resulted in his obtaining access to the treasure hoard.'
('Coincidence, indeed! Some people might think it a d—— suspicious circumstance,' said the reader. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he added: 'Of course, she's guilty, and it's my duty to get a conviction; but, upon my word, I never had a job to do that I liked less. It's all Pollard's fault for writing up the brief so desperately. He and his Lewis!')
'Sergeant Evans now proceeded to arrest the prisoner. When he charged her with the crime she turned pale, and cried out that it was impossible. But she shed no tears, and showed but little emotion after the first surprise.'
('Pooh! What difference does that make? This sort of thing simply depends on the person's character, not on whether he is guilty or not.' And the blue pencil did some more scoring out.)
'The only remaining circumstance of the case is the disposal of the body.
'In the afternoon of the same day, the second of June, a visitor staying in Porthstone, named Wilfrid Meredith, was walking out to Newton Bay. Just as he rounded the corner and came into the bay he discovered on the edge of the waves a human hand.
'Although somewhat bruised and discoloured, this hand has been identified as the deceased's by her nephew and the servants.
'On the fingers were several valuable rings, which deceased constantly wore. About the identity, therefore, there can be no reasonable doubt.
'No other portion of the body has yet been found. For this reason the Treasury have declined to take up the case, which is in the nature of a private prosecution on the part of Mr. Lewis.
'Call John Lewis.'
At this point Mr. Prescott laid down his brief and leant back in his chair. The remainder of the document consisted of the proofs or statements of the evidence which each witness was prepared to give. Much of it would, of course, be merely a repetition of the narrative contained in the first part. It could therefore be looked at some other time.
He laid down his brief and began to think over its contents. It was a case of circumstantial evidence, evidence which all seemed to point one way, and to fix a horrible crime upon a young girl whom he remembered as a pretty child.
Though not a native of Mynyddshire, Charles Prescott was familiar with the district. He had, in fact, been educated at a grammar school in the next county, and it was while he was there that he had made the acquaintance of the Owens.
His favourite schoolfellow, a boy a few years younger than himself, came from the little watering-place, and a summer seldom passed without Prescott spending some part of his holiday at his friend's home. There it was that he had seen old Owen, the parish rector, and had caught a few passing glimpses of the little Eleanor.
Hence his interest in the present case, and the unusual feeling of reluctance with which he approached his task. He had not been to Porthstone for five years now. The schoolfellows were still friendly—in fact, they saw a good deal of each other still, having taken up the same profession and joined the same circuit. But Prescott had got on much better than his friend. He had had five years' start to begin with, and his was that firm, persevering temperament which ensures success to the lawyer. He had therefore risen steadily, and was already making an income of twelve or fifteen hundred a year, while his younger and erratic friend had but gained a precarious foothold in the profession by dint of a few brilliant speeches, which covered a very superficial acquaintance with the law.
'I wonder who will have the defence!' meditated Prescott. 'It will surely run to something more than a docker!'
A docker, it should be explained, is the name for a retainer which is handed direct from a prisoner in the dock to a counsel, without the intervention of a solicitor. It is the resource of the poorer class of offenders, who can scrape together that single guinea, but no more.
'I have it. I'll go and see Tressamer about this. He goes there still, and ought to know all about it.'
Tressamer was the name of his old friend. His chambers were in an adjoining court of the Temple. Prescott put on his hat, told his clerk where he was to be found, and strolled forth.
COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE.
'Mr. Tressamer is inside, sir. Will you walk in?'
Thus said the clerk at Mr. Tressamer's chambers as soon as he saw Mr. Prescott. Then, stepping to the door, he rapped and opened it, saying the visitor's name.
'Well, Tressamer, where have you been this age?'
The speaker stopped, startled at the sight that presented itself, for there, lying on his face on the hearthrug, with his hands clutching at his thick black curls, lay George Tressamer, the very picture of one in mortal despair.
He sprang to his feet as his friend entered, and made an awkward attempt to behave as if he had not been seen.
'Why, Prescott, where do you come from, pray? More excursions to the County Court, with the solicitors on opposite sides racing to you to see which can get his brief into your hands first?'
Prescott thought it best to take the hint, and not remark on his friend's trouble. He quietly answered:
'No; I've not been anywhere. Been in town, preparing for the assizes. By-the-bye——' He paused to look for a chair, and was surprised to find every one in the room littered with books. He proceeded to clear the nearest to him, lifting the books on to the floor. 'I've just had a brief to prosecute—Hullo! "Hawkins' Pleas of the Crown"! I had no idea you were such a student—in that Porthstone case—the murder——'
Again he stopped short. A look of anguish had come into his friend's face.
'What is it, old man? I can see something's gone wrong.'
'Charlie,' was the reply, spoken in a tone hardly above a whisper, 'are you prosecuting Eleanor Owen?'
'And have you read your brief?'
'I've just come from it.'
'Then you can understand how I feel. I am defending her—and I love her!'
He threw all the energy of his passionate nature into the last sentence, and then sank down upon the window seat and hid his face with his hands.
For several minutes neither spoke. Prescott hardly knew what course to take. To offer to resign his brief might be to let it pass into the hands of one who would share Mr. Pollard's prejudice against the accused. On the other hand, to retain it, unless he were prepared to bring the case fully home to the prisoner, would be alike a breach of professional honour and an act of dishonesty. He resolved at last to leave the choice to his friend.
'George,' he said.
The other slowly lifted his head. Looking upon that face, his friend could see the marks of the terrible experience he was passing through. Tressamer had always been a youth of wild and stormy emotions; no man less calm and steadfast than Prescott could have maintained a friendship so long with such a nature. But now he was struggling with passions compared with which the emotions of schoolboys were as nothing.
'George, what shall I do? I want you to decide. You know me too well to think I care about the little benefit to myself when it's a case of life and death with a friend like you. Shall I chuck up the case?'
Tressamer gazed at him gratefully at first, and then with a hesitating, pondering look. Finally he said:
'You have read your brief, and, of course, you know the worst. Tell me, what do you think, honestly?'
'Honestly, George, I see no defence. There is no doubt the old woman has been murdered. I don't see how it could have been done by anyone outside the house; and then there is the blood on the door-handle. I may tell you that, even before I knew how you stood, in reading the brief I felt a sort of hesitation—that is, I couldn't get that feeling of confidence that one generally has in one's case when the evidence is clear. I felt as if I shouldn't put much heart into the prosecution. But, still, I don't see what defence there is.'
Tressamer listened in silence, and let a moment or two go by before he gave his decision.
'I would rather you kept your brief. I would rather you did it. After all, you have merely a mechanical part to perform; it is only routine. Suppose I were to have a limb amputated, I should like it to be done by a man I knew. And this is something of the same sort. The evidence is there, and you will not make it any worse—or better.'
The other was shocked at the gloomy, resigned way in which he spoke.
'Good heavens! you don't mean that you too believe——'
'No, Charles. I believe she is innocent. But I do not expect her innocence will ever be proved in this world.'
'Oh, come, you mustn't give up now! All sorts of things may happen. The trial may go differently to what you expect. Half the time these witnesses don't swear up to their proofs.'
'They have given their evidence twice already—at the inquest and before the magistrates.'
'Yes; but then they weren't cross-examined. It is very different when they have a man like you to turn them inside out. You're not nervous about it, are you?'
'Nervous!' He smiled grimly. 'No; it was at my own request I received this brief. A breach of etiquette, you see'—with another heavy smile. 'If she can be saved, I shall save her. Shall I tell you my defence?'
'No, don't; I would rather be taken by surprise. I don't want to shine in this case, Heaven knows! Take every advantage I can fairly give you. I know you don't expect more.'
'Thank you,' was the answer.
There was a little pause, during which neither spoke. At last, returning to the only topic in either mind, Tressamer observed:
'I have been deep in this ever since it occurred. I have been running up and down to Porthstone. I was at the inquest and in the police-court, but I thought it best to do nothing, and let the public think she was undefended. It may soften their feeling towards her. All these little things have to be thought of.'
'Yes; don't you remember that famous Shepherdsbury case? The man who acted for the prisoner—the solicitor, I think it was—made such a brilliant fight in the police-court that the magistrates hesitated to commit; but the result was that the Crown knew all about the defence, and when the real trial came, the man hadn't a chance. Always reserve your defence.'
'Yes; but you forget, the solicitor has got a splendid practice through it,' was the bitter answer. 'Few men in the West of England are doing better in that class of business. Did you know—but of course you didn't—that I was down at Porthstone only two days before the thing happened?'
'No; were you?'
'Yes; and I was staying in Abertaff that very night. I intended coming up to town the first thing in the morning, but something detained me, and in a few hours the news arrived. So I went down at once, saw Eleanor at the police-station, and advised her what to do before any of those meddling Pollards got at her.'
'Pollards? Why, they are briefing me for the prosecution!'
'Yes, I know. Pollard conducted it in the police-court. At the inquest he represented that man Lewis, the nephew, and very bitter he was, too. But I made Eleanor choke him off before that. Wouldn't have him at any price. I have got a quiet old chap in Abertaff now who won't interfere—old Morgan.'
'Do you know, I thought he was trying to press the case rather in my brief. This accounts for it. But what sort of a man is this Lewis?'
'Oh, a big, coarse-looking fellow. Came back from Australia just before it happened. A brute! He's egging on the Crown. She left him all her money—about twenty thousand—but the jewels are supposed to be worth nearly as much more, and he's lost them, and so he's savage.'
'I say, George, I don't know that I ought to say it, but has it occurred to you as at all curious that he should have returned the very night it was done?'
A gleam of furtive joy crossed the other's face, and instantly vanished again.
'Has that struck you?' he said, and seemed about to add something more. But he restrained himself, and merely added: 'The less you and I talk about it the better, perhaps. Coming out?'
And they left the chambers together.
But though Tressamer ceased to discuss the subject with his friend, he could not dismiss it from his mind. The sparkling wit, the wild, extravagant humour, for which he had been famous, seemed to have withered up in the furnace of his terrible grief. He lunched with Prescott in almost dead silence, and as soon as it was over got up hurriedly and disappeared.
He had truthfully described himself as having been deep in the case from its commencement. When the news of what had happened at Porthstone reached the town of Abertaff he was walking in the High Street alone. He saw the unusual excitement, and meeting an acquaintance, learned from him that Miss Lewis had been murdered.
'And they say it was done by her companion, a girl named Owen,' added the man.
Tressamer turned white, gasped for breath, and cried out loudly:
'It's a lie! I swear she is innocent!'
In another moment he had darted off to a cab-stand, and was on his way to the station.
There he had one of those sickening waits for a train which are inevitable on such occasions. Twice he was on the point of ordering a special, but each time he restrained himself by the thought that by the time it was ready the ordinary train would be nearly due. He shunned the gloomy waiting-room, and strode up and down the narrow platform with swift, excited strides.
The porters and newspaper-boys stared as he rushed to and fro, hardly heeding the piles of luggage with which railway servants seek to break the dull monotony of a platform promenade. There was French blood in Tressamer: short, dark, thick-necked, yet far from stout in figure, he possessed the strain of sombre passion which runs through the blood of the Celtic races. He could no more control himself in deference to the officials of Abertaff Station than a madman when his frenzy is on him can conceal it from his keepers.
At last the train drew up. He sprang into a carriage, and impatiently endured the journey down to the seaside. Arrived there, he proceeded instantly to the police-station and demanded an interview with Miss Owen.
At first there was some difficulty, but Tressamer was not to be checked.
'I am her legal adviser,' he announced. 'I am a member of the Bar, and I consider it of vital importance that I should see the prisoner at once. If you refuse, I shall wire straight to the Home Office.'
This threat produced its natural effect. The police, in doubt as to their powers, gave way, and he was taken into the cell where Eleanor had been secured.
If Eleanor had not wept when she was accused of the terrible crime, neither was she weeping now. She was sitting in a dull, stony apathy, from which she was hardly aroused by the sound of the barrister's familiar name. She looked up, it is true, and gazed at him with lack-lustre eyes. But she uttered no word.
He, on his part, waited till the constable had withdrawn. Then he advanced a step from the door, and said:
'Eleanor, you are innocent. Will you let me save you?'
Then at last the light came into her eyes. Then at last the unnatural stiffness faded out of her frame. Then at last the awful coldness loosed its hold of her heart, and answering, 'George, I do not deserve your help,' she gave way to a tempest of tears.
He waited till the storm had spent its first fury. Every shade of anguish passed across his face meanwhile. But he strove to master his feelings, and to put a commonplace expression into his voice, as he said at length:
'I have been in Abertaff the last two days—since I left you.' His voice trembled an instant, but he went on: 'I heard the news this morning, and came down at once. I want to defend you. I want you to accept my services as a token that you still look on me as a friend, in spite of all that has happened.'
'I don't know how to answer you,' she murmured. 'The more generous you are, the more ashamed I feel. I ought not to take your help. And yet you are the only creature in the world who has not forsaken me.'
'Don't say that, Eleanor. No one else knows you as I do. No one else feels to you—— but I won't say anything about that. One stipulation I must make. You are not to thank me—not one word.'
And with a stern gesture he waved her off, as she made a movement as if to throw herself at his feet.
'But you must forgive me,' she said. 'Whether I am as wicked as you told me I was when we parted or not, you must tell me that you take me for what I am, that you expect no change in me.' She paused a moment, and then cried out with sudden vehemence: 'Oh, I have done you injustice! I didn't know how noble you could be! But it is too late; I cannot alter now.'
An angry throb convulsed the man during her first words. At the end he ground his teeth and clenched his hands together.
'Silence, Eleanor! If you speak to me like that again, I shall go. There are to be no thanks, no praises. Never refer to the past. I know you and understand. If I cannot tear all hope out of my heart, what is that to you? I ask nothing, and will take nothing unless it is freely given.'
He ceased, and she looked at him with a mixture of gratitude and fear.
Then he referred to her dreadful situation.
'I needn't tell you, Eleanor, that as your counsel you must confide in me fully. I have heard the story so far as it is public, and up to now I may tell you that, as a matter of law, you are in no real danger.'
Eleanor stared at him.
'In no danger? What do you mean? Is the murderer discovered?'
'No, and never may be. But neither is the body.'
'Why, what difference does that make?'
'Don't you know?' answered the barrister. 'I thought most people knew that till the body was discovered no one could be convicted of murder.'
A ray of hope shone out in the prisoner's face.
'Then do you mean that Miss Lewis may be alive still?' she asked quickly.
'No, no. Nobody doubts that she is dead, nor that someone has killed her. But the point is this, that you cannot be legally tried and convicted. The body has disappeared.'
The heavy shade of despair settled down once more.
'What good is that?' she answered reproachfully. 'If they believe me guilty it makes it worse for me, because I can never be acquitted. I shall be suspected till I die. Oh, I would rather suffer death, I think.'
'Hush, hush!' he exclaimed, shocked and agitated. 'Listen to me, and try to bear it as best you can. The evidence against you is simply overwhelming. Probably I am the only man in the world who believes in your innocence.'
'Except the murderer,' she interrupted.
'Except the murderer, of course. But what I want to say is this—as things stand now no jury that ever breathed would acquit you. Only a miracle can reveal the truth. But what I can do, and mean to do, for you is to save you on the ground I have told you of. You must expect nothing more.'
'George, it will kill me! Alone, hated, abhorred, what use would my life be to me when the whole world believed me guilty? No, I will pray for a miracle; but if not——' She stopped and panted in anguish of soul.
Her suffering was reflected on the man's face.
'Don't—don't talk like that!' he cried. 'Remember, there will be always one who trusts you, one who reveres you, loves you! I don't mean to ask anything. I would not speak to you like this if I could help it; but remember, if the worst comes to the worst, you have always one friend to turn to, one man who asks no higher joy than to pass his life with you, whether here or in some far-off country, and devote himself to soothing your distress.'
While he was unfolding these views a sudden misgiving entered Eleanor's mind. Rising up, she crossed the cell to where he sat, and, laying her hands on his shoulders, she gazed full into his eyes.
'George,' she uttered in solemn tones, 'I adjure you to tell me the truth. Do you really believe me innocent?'
'Before God, I do!' burst out his answer, as he looked her in the face.
She was satisfied, and returned to her seat.
'And now,' said Tressamer, assuming a more lawyer-like tone, 'tell me all that occurred that night.'
A long conversation followed, of which the barrister took copious notes in his pocket-book. It was late in the afternoon when he came out of the cell and went to secure accommodation in Porthstone for the night.
His step was slow, his head drooping, as he came along the esplanade. Suddenly he saw in front of him a concourse of people following a policeman, who held something in his hand, and a gentleman dressed in the unmistakable garb which proclaims the seaside visitor.
As the crowd came on, Tressamer noticed that this gentleman appeared much agitated. Even the constable's face betrayed an excitement unusual among his kind. But it never occurred to the barrister that this excitement could be connected in any way with the case in which he was so deeply concerned. He took a closer glance at what the policeman was carrying, and then, to his horror, perceived that it was a human hand, the fingers still gay with precious rings. The next moment they all came up to where he was, and he heard someone in the crowd saying:
'That's the hand of the woman that was murdered. A gentleman has just found it in Newton Bay.'
The fearful truth burst on him like a thunder-clap. The blood forsook his veins; he staggered helplessly to the nearest seat and sank down upon it, moaning to himself: 'Lost! She is lost!'
The firm ground on which he had been standing had crumbled all at once. The law point on which he had relied to save Eleanor's life, in spite of the crushing weight of evidence against her, was robbed by this accidental discovery of more than half its strength. Who could any longer pretend to doubt whether a murder had been committed? Hence Tressamer's despair. Coupled with what Eleanor had said to him in their interview, however, it drove him to seek more earnestly than he would otherwise have done for some theory of defence upon the facts, some means whereby, if possible, to force a doubt into the minds of the jury, and wring from them a verdict of acquittal.
To this task he now devoted himself. He assumed the part of a detective rather than a barrister. In the case of an ordinary client conduct such as this would not have been tolerated for a moment by the rigid etiquette of the Bar; but where a case is of such a nature that the barrister is personally concerned, and where he acts as a private individual pursuing his own interests, etiquette has nothing to say. In joining the Bar a man does not cease to be a citizen and to enjoy the rights and privileges of ordinary mortals. It is only in his professional character that his acts come under that rigid supervision which is at once the dread and envy of inferior professions.
But, in any event, George Tressamer's present mood would not have let him give much weight to considerations of such a character. Too much was at stake. He had to keep in constant communication with Eleanor, to encourage her in face of the ordeals of the coroner and the magistrates, and to protect her from the zeal of the various graduates of the Incorporated Law Society who were thirsting to win glory in her defence.
As a blind to the public, he caused the rumour to be spread that she was without professional advice. This idea was confirmed when it got to be known that she had refused the services of Messrs. Pollard and other gentlemen of the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile Tressamer was enabled to go about with less publicity and to pursue his inquiries. Eleanor was disposed to wonder at him for not employing a detective. But he soon explained that.
'I know detectives,' he said to her. 'I have seen them in the witness-box and out of it. They are admirable men in their own groove. Give them an ordinary crime—a robbery or a forgery—and they can grapple with it. They will track the defaulting cashier to America for you, or run down the absconding broker in the depths of the Australian Bush. But there their usefulness ends. They are no good in the face of a real mystery like this. This is not a question of clever detection; it is a case of reading the human heart and penetrating its motives. A genius could help us, but I know of no genius in Scotland Yard. No, I will do what I can; and if I come to anything in the way of ordinary detective work I will send for Sergeant Wright.'
So he continued to work alone. He had by this time seen and talked with every witness whose name appeared in the brief for the Crown. He had been present, with the air of a casual spectator, at the inquest, and afterwards at the inquiry before the magistrates, which ended in the committal of Eleanor to the assizes to take her trial for wilful murder.
He did not tell Eleanor much as to the results of his inquiries. He would simply mention that he had been talking to Simons, or that he had had a game of billiards with John Lewis, and she had to form her own idea of what had passed between them.
Finally, he went up to London and plunged into that minute study of Hale and Hawkins which had awakened the surprise of his friend Prescott. He was thus kept occupied till both he and his friend were summoned down from town by the approach of the assizes.
On a certain day in the month of July our lady the Queen, probably clad in ermine, and wearing on her head that gorgeous specimen of the jeweller's art which, when not in use, may be viewed at the Tower of London for the absurdly moderate sum of sixpence—our lady the Queen, I say, was reminded by her faithful Chancellor that various prisoners were awaiting trial in different parts of England and Wales, and among other places in Mynyddshire.
Whereupon her Majesty, with that constant attention to the welfare of her people which befits a sovereign, at once sat down and wrote, or possibly only signed, a stately document requiring and empowering Sir Daniel Buller, Knight, one of the judges of her High Court; Sir John Wiseman, Knight, another of the aforesaid judges; Walter Reynold Davies, Esquire, one of her counsel learned in the law; Joseph Robert Pollington, Esquire, another of her counsel learned in the law; and Henry Jones, Esquire, yet a further specimen of her counsel learned in the law, to proceed to Mynyddshire, and there and then open the gaols and try such prisoners as were inside them.
In a similar and not less elaborate document she thoughtfully went on to provide for their hearing and deciding, at the same time, any disputes over civil matters which might possibly have arisen among the population of that remote locality since it was last honoured by the presence of such bright visitants. This considerate act on her Majesty's part was, of course, intended to save her emissaries a second journey. Even a monarch, in the administration of justice, need not be above killing two birds with one stone.
In proceeding to Mynyddshire, however, a very invidious distinction was drawn between the gentlemen named in the Royal Commission. The two first named, simply because they were knights and judges, went down in state, were met at the station by the high-sheriff of the county, and escorted by twenty javelin-men in gay attire to the comfortable lodgings prepared for them. The other three, for no other earthly reason than because their position was less exalted, had to get down as best they might, scramble into cabs with their portmanteaus, and put up at a common hotel. How true is the venerable saying, 'To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath'!
Having thus got an unfair start, the two judges preserved it to the end. They tried all the cases themselves, and their unfortunate colleagues had to be content with what crumbs they could pick up by appearing in court as common advocates.
The Southern Circuit has long been popular with judges. There is a great difference in circuits. The two northern ones, with their vast populations and immense amount of work, are the bugbear of the puisne judge. The scenery of some of the other circuits is flat, and there is not much amusement going on in the assize towns. But the Southern combines several advantages. It is far from heavy as regards work, the country in many parts is beautiful, and the train-service between the county towns is fairly good.
For these reasons the old stagers on the Bench are in the habit of trying to get the Southern Circuit. On the present occasion they had been successful. Sir Daniel Buller and Sir John Wiseman may not have been extremely popular with the Bar, but they were very popular with each other. They came down to Abertaff feeling in good form, Sir John to preside over the civil court, and Sir Daniel to mete out justice to the inmates of the county gaol.
Not for many years had there been such excitement at assize time in the city. This excitement was due to two causes—the javelin-men and the society murder.
Javelin-men are dying out. In former times, when the office of sheriff was a mark of high social dignity, and before the new-fangled post of lord-lieutenant had usurped so much of its splendour, the shrievalty was an epoch in a county gentleman's career. It was considered almost worth being ruined for. A heavy mortgage was not grudged as a consequence of the lavish splendour with which the office was surrounded. In those days javelin-men were a reality. Clad in semi-military uniforms modelled on the master's family livery, and armed with weapons of an extinct fashion, they simulated the state of vice-royalty. Many a German princelet has enjoyed a less imposing body-guard than an English sheriff of the olden time.
But the railways have killed all that. Everyone now seeks distinction in the Metropolis. County society has become a byword for the old-fashioned and the humdrum, for bad living, bad manners, and bad taste. No one would now dream of embarrassing his estate to secure a merely local renown. Hence the decay of the shrievalty. The modern high-sheriff looks upon his obligatory office as a duty rather than an honour. He contents himself with the cheap services of the county police force for his retinue, and foregoes the expensive luxury of the javelin-men.
There are a few brilliant exceptions, however. The present sheriff of Mynyddshire was one. In the first place, he was master of what in the country is regarded as a colossal fortune. In the second place, he was the founder of his family. Money, therefore, was not an object to Mr. Simon Reynolds. Glory was. His office gave him just the chance he wanted, and he revived its mediaeval honours with a willing hand.
Two-and-twenty men, counting the buglers, in gorgeous clothing of pink and yellow hue, accordingly gladdened the eyes of the Abertaffians as they paraded the streets and hung about the court-house. Each man of the rank and file carried a weapon the like of which had not often been looked upon. It resembled an axe with an exaggerated handle, only the back of the blade was prolonged into a formidable spike, while the handle extended beyond into a species of spear-point. Armed with these truly terrific weapons, Mr. Reynolds's faithful henchmen might well strike awe into the heart of the boldest boy in Abertaff. It was felt that they were the principal feature of the assize. The judges, by common consent, took a secondary place. Their robes were fine, no doubt, but their rather ill-fitting wigs formed a poor substitute for the gleaming steel of their rivals. The sober charms of justice cannot successfully compete with the dazzling splendour of arms.
As for the high-sheriff himself, in his black velvet coat and frilled shirt-front, he was a very inferior attraction, while his chaplain was simply nowhere. He had his innings for one brief hour in the cathedral, where the judges were compelled to sit as meekly as so many jurymen under a lengthy summing-up; but after that one bright flash he sank into insignificance, and dragged out the remainder of the assize like the stick of a burnt-out rocket, unpitied by all.
Yet even the javelin-men were cast into the shade by the other great feature of the assize week. The crime of murder remains, after all is said and done, the one thing which most fascinates the public mind. And when to murder is added mystery, and when that mystery centres round the figure of a woman, and when that woman is young and beautiful, and in a social position which does away with the presence of squalid details or coarse motives, the public may be pardoned if they take the very fullest interest in her fate.
Indeed, the case of 'The Queen against Owen,' to give it its legal designation, was of more than local interest. The whole kingdom was excited about the position of the unhappy girl who lay in one of the cells of Abertaff Gaol. Every eye was watching eagerly for the unfolding of the tragic drama in which she was about to play the leading part. All the great London dailies had their representatives down at the assize town to gather every detail of the forthcoming trial. Already the names of the counsel on both sides were being wired from one end of the country to the other, while in Mynyddshire and in the county town itself the excitement was so great that not the smallest attention was bestowed on any other case that was to come before the courts.
Even the judges themselves were infected with the excitement all around them. Mr. Justice Buller had read the depositions taken before the magistrates prior to leaving town. He had discussed little else with his brother Wiseman in the train. In all their experience, they agreed, they had never met with a case so clear upon the evidence, and yet so unsatisfactory to the mind.
In the presence of the sheriff, of course, the subject was dropped. Nor could it be resumed after dinner. Later on the judge of the criminal court sat down to make notes for his charge to the grand jury on the morrow. In this he dealt with several other serious cases that appeared in the calendar. But his gravest attention was devoted to the one that dwarfed all the others. This disposed of, he soon retired to rest.
The formal business of opening the assizes had been gone through on the afternoon the judges arrived. Sir Daniel Buller had been trumpeted off to the Court-house, and had sat with as much patience as he could command—and that was not a great deal—while a rather short-sighted and very fidgety clerk of arraigns, afflicted, moreover, with a severe cough, stumbled his way through the important documents already described. This proceeding was necessary in order to inform the loyal inhabitants of Mynyddshire, chiefly represented by errand-boys and loafers from the neighbouring taps, who their red-robed visitors really were, and what they had come to do.
On the following morning, therefore, the judges were free to proceed to work. They drove down to the court at half-past ten, accompanied by the swelling Reynolds and the visibly crestfallen chaplain, and escorted by the inevitable javelin-men, who swarmed about the place all day under the pretext of keeping order.
Sir John Wiseman went quietly off to his own court, and began at once at the unexciting work of trying whether the drippings from a wholesale piano warehouseman's spout had or had not damaged the hats in a neighbouring hat store, and, if so, whether the wholesale piano warehouseman was to blame, and if to blame, how much he ought to pay to the aggrieved hatter. Two of the gentlemen so unfairly deprived of seats upon the bench were engaged in this important case, and it occupied more than half the day.
But it had a rather poor audience. The crowd had rushed into the other court, where the gentlemen of the grand jury were answering to their names as often as the infirmities of the clerk of arraigns would allow them to discover whom he was calling. As soon as the necessary twenty-three were sworn, Mr. Justice Buller began his charge.
After a few civil remarks on the state of the county as regarded crime generally, and brief references to some of the other cases, he came to the all-absorbing topic. And now the reporters, who had sat listlessly under the infliction of the previous remarks, woke to sudden life, and every word of his lordship was caught and taken down as eagerly as if it had dropped from the lips of Shakespeare.
And this is what he said:
'And now I come to what is by far the gravest case in the calendar—one of the gravest cases that has ever come before me in my judicial experience. The prisoner, Eleanor Owen, is accused of the most serious crime, short of treason, known to our law. Gentlemen, it is not for you to try whether she is guilty. You have to hear the witnesses who will be sent in before you on behalf of the Crown, and if you are satisfied that they are speaking the truth, and the effect of their evidence on your minds is such as, if uncontradicted, to raise a fair presumption of the prisoner's guilt, then it is your duty to find a true bill against her. From the depositions taken by the magistrates, which have been put before me, I do not anticipate that you will have much hesitation in coming to your decision. The case is entirely one of what is called circumstantial evidence, as such cases most generally are, and must be from the nature of things. Doubtless there are difficulties in the case—many and grave difficulties—with which it will be the duty of this tribunal to deal when the prisoner comes, if she does come, before us. The fact that the prisoner is charged with the deliberate murder of her friend—I may almost say her benefactress—with whom she had been living on terms of intimacy for a considerable time, and for no motive that has yet been suggested except a low and mercenary one, is calculated to arouse a natural repulsion in the mind, and to indispose it to believe that the charge is well-founded. But, gentlemen, these things, as they come before you, are matters of evidence. If the witnesses you are about to hear satisfy you that there is a prima facie case made out against Eleanor Owen, that there are grounds for suspicion which she ought fairly to be called upon to answer and explain away if she can, then it is your duty not to hesitate, but to bring in a true bill for murder. And I must tell you, gentlemen, that so far as my reading of the depositions has guided me, this is not a case in which the crime admits of being reduced to any lesser charge. There are none of the elements present which may, and often do, justify a jury in reducing the charge of murder to that of manslaughter. There is no question, so far as I have been able to discover, of sudden provocation, of accident, or anything of that sort. Whoever committed this crime must, if you believe the evidence, have done so knowingly, designedly, and with premeditation, and therefore your finding, if you find against the prisoner must be one of wilful murder. Gentlemen, I leave you to your deliberations.'
With these words his Lordship dismissed the grand jury; and the barristers, in their wigs and gowns, some of them with briefs and a good many with none, came streaming into the well of the court, filling up the seats specially reserved for them, and overflowing into those occupied by their colleagues of the 'lower branch.' It seems rather hard on the Bar that some mysterious rule of etiquette, which they themselves probably do not understand, should forbid them to enter the assize court till this particular stage in the proceedings. Or can it be that this rule had its origin in the wisdom of their remote predecessors, devising artful means to escape the infliction of a tedious charge without appearing disrespectful to the Bench?
A lull followed. The judge, accustomed to have the eyes of men upon him, calmly betook himself to letter-writing. The high-sheriff, not so accustomed, fidgeted in his seat, looked round and counted the javelin-men in court, wondered how long the grand jury would be, and remembered, let us hope with remorse, the time when he was a grand juryman himself and wasted the time of the county by unnecessary questions to the witnesses. The fact is that the grand jury is played out. Everything for which they originally existed is now done by somebody else. Every case that comes before them now has already been investigated once by the committing magistrates. Their duty is simply to accuse the prisoner, nothing more; and it would be quite sufficient if they would just read the depositions and sign the indictment. But man, brief man, placed on a grand jury, and shut into a room without the interference of a legal authority, delights to show himself off by vain and superfluous inquiry. And hence it was that more than half an hour elapsed before the foreman was seen returning into the court with a trumpery indictment for larceny.
The interval had been usefully employed by the clerk of arraigns in compiling a petty jury, something in this fashion:
The Clerk of Arraigns (taking up a ticket, rather larger than a visiting-card, from a heap before him): 'John Henry Mullerall!' (To his clerk, a humble person in plebeian attire, who is popularly believed to know a great deal more about the procedure than the judge and the whole court put together): 'Did he answer?' (The clerk hasn't heard him.) 'John—Henry' (very loudly) 'Mull—— Oh! I see it's Muggle'—(at the top of his voice) 'Mugglewrath!' (testily) 'Are you there?'
John Henry Mugglewrath (from a seat close by): 'Here!'
The Clerk of Arraigns: 'Oh! there you are. Why don't you gentlemen answer when you hear your names? Go into the box, please.'
After about ten minutes of this sort of thing, twelve respectable inhabitants of Mynyddshire were collected in the jury-box. Then they all had to stand up while their names were read over a second time. Then the clerk of arraigns counted his tickets to make sure he had used up twelve, while his clerk counted the jurymen to see that they came to the same number. Then all was ready to begin.
Meanwhile, those gentlemen at the counsel's table who rejoiced in the possession of briefs made a great show of reading them, and making copious notes and interlineations with pencils of different colours—red, blue, and black. The public were greatly impressed as they watched these young giants of intellect at their work. There they were, mastering the most knotty points with ease, and constructing ingenious arguments, doubtless, as they went along. One gentleman excited the greatest interest, and quite threw his brethren into the shade, by pushing aside his brief and drawing towards him one of the loose sheets of foolscap which the kind forethought of the authorities had provided, and beginning to write on it in an abstracted manner. The onlookers deemed him to be wrestling with an opinion on some weighty question bristling with legal difficulties. They little guessed that he was addressing congratulations to a maiden aunt on the occasion of her approaching birthday.
But what really occupied the minds of the spectators, and kept their lips moving in subdued conversation, was the ending of the judge's charge.
'He has made up his mind that she is guilty,' whispered Mr. Jenkins, the stationer from Queen Street, who had come to the court in the capacity of a common juryman, but had not been among the names first selected.
'And I don't wonder at it,' replied his neighbour, a farmer from near Porthstone, who had been summoned in the same way. 'A bad lot, I'll be bound. Wouldn't say nothing when her was before the magistrates. That looks bad, don't it?'
'Silence!' bawled a javelin-man just behind them, a rebuke which the worthy farmer at first thought was meant for himself. But the word was repeated instantly by other javelin-men, and then he perceived that the grand jury had at last achieved a stroke of work, and that the satellites of justice were merely drawing attention to that fact in their usual impressive manner.
The clerk of arraigns now received the document, and proceeded to expound its contents in this manner:
'Gentlemen of the Grand Jury, you find a'—here he stopped and turned it over to read what was on the back, a task which occupied several seconds; but he completed the sentence as if no break had occurred—'true bill against'—another pause, he was looking for the name concealed amid the mazes of technical phraseology. This time the foreman rashly attempted to help him out by murmuring, 'Joseph Hall.' The clerk of arraigns turned round and glared at him, then resumed his investigation, and finally brought out the name in a tone of triumph, as of one who gloried in overcoming obstacles, and was not to be baffled by any indictment in the power of man to draw—'Joseph Hall, for stealing a coat of the value of thirty shillings; also for receiving the same, knowing it to be stolen.'
He then turned again, and bestowed an impatient nod on the waiting foreman, who withdrew, a crushed and miserable man.
'Put up Joseph Hall,' was the next command.
The governor of the gaol leant forward and repeated the order to a warder, who had already heard it perfectly and dived below, apparently through the solid floor of the court. The next moment Mr. Hall appeared, with easy nonchalance, and leant forward in a graceful attitude on the bar of the dock, while the clerk of arraigns proceeded to acquaint him with the crime of which he was accused.
Exhibiting no surprise at this piece of information, which, considering he had been lying under the accusation for two months, was perhaps hardly to be wondered at, Mr. Hall in emphatic tones pronounced himself innocent.
'What?' said the clerk of arraigns, stretching anxiously forward.
Mr. Hall repeated his sentiments.
'What does he say?' exclaimed the clerk of arraigns, appealing to the court generally for assistance.
The response was a loud but confused roar of voices from the Junior Bar, out of which the only clear sound that penetrated to the unfortunate man's brain was the word 'guilty.'
'He says he's guilty!' he remarked to his clerk, in what he intended for an aside, but which was perfectly audible over the whole building.
At this point the judge, becoming impatient, leant over and tapped the clerk of arraigns on the shoulder. He turned round.
'He pleads guilty, my lord,' he said, thinking that the judge wished for information.
'No, he doesn't, Mr. Hughes. He said "Not guilty,"' answered the judge.
Mr. Hughes was nearly beside himself by this time. Leaning forward in the direction of the prisoner, he shouted fiercely:
'What do you say? Are you guilty or not?'
'No,' came in tones loud enough for him to hear at last.
'Then why can't you speak distinctly? The names you are about to hear called are those of the jurors who are to try you if you have any objection to them or any of them you shall make it as they come to the book to be sworn and before they are sworn and you shall be heard. John Henry Mugglewrath, stand up.'
And, leaving this overwhelming communication to gradually make itself clear to the prisoner's mind, the clerk of arraigns went on swearing in the jury as hard as he could go, with the assistance of the judge's clerk (who recited the oath) and his own clerk (who handed the Testament, as it is called, though really containing only the works of the four Evangelists). It need scarcely be observed that the jurors never came to the book at all. The book came to them.
A rather flighty young counsel, who seemed to consider the whole thing somewhat in the light of a joke, or a species of amateur theatricals on a large scale, having presented the case for the prosecution, Mr. Hall was called upon for his defence.
It then came out that the poor man, than whom no more honest creature ever walked the earth, had been made the victim of a truly diabolical hoax. He was sitting reading the newspaper in a public-house, the Three Hens—he had not even been drinking, mind, simply reading the newspaper—when a perfect stranger, whom he had never seen before nor since, but whom he should know anywhere, came in, with an overcoat (the one produced in court) over his arm. The stranger, with a craft for which an innocent being like Mr. Hall was no match, began by offering refreshments. These consumed, he asked Mr. Hall to do him the favour of pawning his overcoat for him. Mr. Hall naturally put the question, Why didn't he pawn it himself? The stranger replied that he was unfamiliar with pawnshops, that he doubted his ability to make a good bargain, and that he was willing to pay his new acquaintance a commission on the proceeds. This last offer Mr. Hall had magnanimously refused, but out of mere good-nature he went forth to do the stranger's bidding. The pawnbroker, however, with a distrust in human nature which stamped him as having an evil mind, called in a passing policeman, and gave this victim of his own kindly disposition into custody. The sequel was inevitable. The constable was led by the unsuspicious Hall to the bar of the Three Hens, but the mysterious stranger had gone and left no trace. Poor, humble, with nothing but his good character to rely on, Mr. Hall now cast himself with confidence on the discernment of the gentlemen before him.
The gentlemen had made up their minds already. But they could not give their verdict till the judge had had his turn. Mr. Justice Buller set to and occupied exactly fourteen minutes in telling the jury that there was not much evidence of stealing, but there was strong evidence of the receiving. The jury then occupied exactly fourteen seconds in deciding that the prisoner was guilty of stealing.
It then transpired that this was not the first time Mr. Hall had been the victim of appearances. His trusting nature had led him on six previous occasions to incur the censure of the law. He was, therefore, now bidden to take up his abode where no such temptations could assail him for the next five years.
By this time several other bills had come in from the grand jury, and it had become apparent that the all-absorbing murder would not be tried that day. The audience gradually drifted off, and the remainder of the day's performance took place before a half-empty house.
THE CASE FOR THE CROWN.
'May it please your Lordship,
'Gentlemen of the jury, I am merely repeating a commonplace when I say that I rise to address you under a very heavy sense of responsibility. As you have heard, the prisoner at the bar is charged with the crime of wilful murder. It is now my duty, acting on behalf of the Crown, to tell you how that crime was committed, according to the view which I have to ask you to take; and to bring before you the witnesses whose evidence, if you believe it, goes to establish the guilt of the accused.'
Thus Mr. Prescott. It was the third day of the assizes. On the Tuesday afternoon, after a true bill had been found, Mr. Justice Buller had announced that he should set apart this day for the trial of the great case. The court had opened at ten o'clock. It was crammed to suffocation. The intensest excitement, whetted by the interval of delay, reigned supreme. All eyes were strained towards the dock as the words were uttered:
'Put up Eleanor Margaret Owen.'
Another moment and she stood before them. Clothed in black from head to foot, pale as a lily, and trembling in every limb, she sank upon the chair behind her, and covered her face with her hands.
A great throb of sympathy shook the court. Sobs were heard. The most prejudiced of those who had bandied her name about for the past few weeks felt a dim sense of shame. Only a few out of all those present were unmoved: the judge, schooled to conceal all trace of emotion, nay, schooled to stifle it as it rose; the jury, too overcome by the duty thrust upon them to be just then alive to what was happening; the counsel on both sides, who, for different reasons, forbore as long as they could from looking at the dock.
She was beautiful. All the suffering she had gone through had not been able to affect that, unless to render her beauty more spiritual and delicate. Her hair of that light glistening brown which is best known as golden; her drooping eyes of deepest blue; her wide, square forehead, unshaded by that device of ugliness, the artificial fringe of hair; the full, open lips; the rounded chin—every mark of a certain order of loveliness was there.
And she wore no veil. Some of the women present condemned her for that. The matron of the prison had besought her to use one. Her answer was decisive. She had never put a veil on since childhood, and she would not wear one now. She would not shrink beneath a false charge. She would show her face to them all.
She spoke bravely; but she had not realized all that was before her. And when she came up the dark winding stairs from the underground cells, and found herself in that—great God! was it some crowded theatre, or a solemn court of justice?—her physical strength gave way, and she scarce knew what happened for some moments.
Then her will asserted itself again. She stood up. She faced the judge, the jury, the crowded bar, the fashionable dames in the gallery, and showed no more signs of fear. Her name was called, the hideous accusation was made. She answered it out loud. Her counsel, dreading another scene like that already recorded, had bent across the table and warned the clerk of arraigns beforehand of what the plea would be. The jury were sworn, including in their number the two onlookers whose remarks on the previous day had been so suddenly cut short. The last formula had been recited by the clerk.
'Gentlemen of the jury, the prisoner at the bar stands indicted for that she did wilfully murder one Ann Elizabeth Lewis. To that she has pleaded that she is not guilty. Now, you are to try the issue, and to say whether she is guilty or not.'
And now the counsel for the prosecution had begun his speech.
'Two years ago the prisoner was left an orphan by the death of her father, the Rector of Porthstone. She went to live in the house of a lady who had known her from a child, and who lived in the same place. With that lady she remained down to the first of last June, and it is that lady with whose murder she now stands charged.
'Miss Lewis, the deceased, may be described as eccentric. She was in the habit for some years before her death of making very large purchases of jewels——'
'I beg your pardon.' It was the counsel for the prisoner who rose to his feet and interrupted. 'My lord, I am sorry to interrupt my learned friend at this early stage, but may I ask him if he has any evidence that the prisoner knew of the existence of these jewels. If not, my lord, I submit he is not entitled to refer to them at all.'
The Judge: 'What do you say, Mr. Prescott?'
'My lord, I am entirely in your lordship's hands. This is the first time it has been suggested to me that the fact of the deceased's having this jewellery was not a matter of common knowledge in the household. I therefore can't say at this stage whether I shall be able to distinctly fix the prisoner with such knowledge.'
The Judge: 'Of course you mean to bring this in as motive?'
Mr. Prescott: 'Yes, my lord.'
The Judge: 'It is a very important matter. If the jury were satisfied that the prisoner did not know of these purchases, and if there were no other motive suggested, it might have a very great effect on their minds.' [At this point the jury tried to look as if something were having a great effect on their minds, and did not altogether succeed.] 'Perhaps you had better not say anything about the jewels now. You will have another opportunity after you see what your evidence is.'
Mr. Prescott: 'If your lordship pleases. Well, then, gentlemen, I will come at once to the night when this crime was committed.'
Here Mr. Pollard was observed to write something on a slip of paper and hand it to his leader. Mr. Prescott stopped to glance at it, and then went on:
'I may, however, mention one thing before leaving the question of motive, and it is this. I shall be able to prove to you that the deceased on one occasion, in the presence of a witness, made some promise or offer to the prisoner as to remembering her in her will. It is, of course, for you to say what weight you will attach to that circumstance.'
Here the jury tried to look as if they knew what weight to attach to it, and again utterly failed.
'On the first of June a nephew of Miss Lewis's, and her only surviving relative, as I am instructed, and who will be called before you, arrived at Porthstone. He had just returned from Australia, and went to see his relative. He dined there, and spent the evening. At 10 o'clock he came away to his hotel and at once retired to bed.
'The deceased lady had also retired to her room, and from the evidence there can be no doubt that she undressed and got into bed. She was last seen alive a few minutes after ten. The murder was discovered the next morning at nine. Between those hours the crime must have been committed.
'The female servants followed their mistress. At half-past ten the butler fastened the front-door. He will describe the fastenings to you, and he will also tell you of a peculiarity in the latch, about which I shall have something to say presently.'
The counsel then went on to detail the events narrated in his brief, only throwing in an observation now and then as he went along. When he had described the evidence of the removal of the body by the window, he said:
'And now we come to one of the difficulties in the case. If the prisoner lowered the body out of the window in the first instance, why did she afterwards return to the house, and take a second journey, carrying a burden of some kind? I am hardly at liberty, after what has fallen from his lordship, to suggest to you that this second exit was in order to remove something which the murderer wanted to steal, something with the object of stealing which she committed the graver crime. But, gentlemen, there is another explanation, a terrible way of accounting for that second journey, so terrible and horrible that I wish it were not my bounden duty to put it before you. And it is this:
'Only a portion of the victim's body has been recovered. That portion is a hand. Now, in the absence of anything to make us think that the cutting off of the hand was a solitary mutilation, we are forced to the probable conclusion that whoever killed this poor woman mutilated her in a very dreadful manner. It is possible, therefore, that after lowering one portion of her victim's remains through the bedroom window, she returned upstairs to bring down some other part or parts of the body.'
As the counsel with evident reluctance brought out these horrid points, a shudder ran through the court. The prisoner had borne it all with tolerable firmness up to now, but she was completely overcome by this part of the speech, and cowered down into her chair, again concealing her emotions by putting her hands before her face.
If Mr. Prescott had any idea of making the jury revolt at the thought of associating such shocking brutalities with the prisoner, his speech produced the very opposite effect to what he intended. The jury saw in it nothing but the natural reluctance of a man at making such a charge, overborne by the counsel's conviction of the prisoner's guilt. Their faces assumed an aspect of stony horror as they turned their eyes upon the shrinking girl. A slight frown crossed Tressamer's countenance, followed by a look of contempt.
'The second difficulty in the case,' resumed Prescott, 'is as to the latchkey. As I have explained, there were only three keys in existence so far as the prosecution have been able to discover. These will all be produced before you. One was found in the pocket of the deceased's dress, the other was never out of the possession of the witness Simons, the third was on the prisoner's person when she was arrested. One of these keys, therefore, must have been used in the latch that night, and must have been used with such carelessness or ignorance—it is for you to say which'—[again the jury tried to look as if they were prepared to say which, and again they broke down]—'that the latch was raised too high, and stuck. Now, here I must draw your attention to a very important circumstance. The person who entered the house last, whether the prisoner or anyone else, and who fastened up the front-door as it was found by the witness Lucy Jones the following morning, that person must, for some reason or other, have failed to notice the condition of the latch. She, if we assume it was the prisoner, must be supposed to have been so agitated from some cause that she failed to notice what she was doing when she raised the latch with her key, and failed again to notice how the latch was caught when she proceeded to fasten the door inside.
'Gentlemen, it is for you to ask yourselves whether a reasonable explanation, an explanation that will justify you in coming to an adverse verdict in this case, is furnished by the suggestion that the prisoner's mind was excited by the crime she had just committed to such an extent as to deprive her of the power of observing these things.'
At this point Mr. F. J. Pollard began to be aware that his leader was not pressing the case very vigorously. He looked round at his brother in the solicitors' seat behind. That gentleman looked extremely angry. He had noticed something curious in his counsel's manner from the first. He now leant over and whispered to his brother:
'What's the matter with Prescott? I can't make him out. He talks as if he were the judge summing up, instead of the counsel for the prosecution.'
Mr. Pollard, the barrister, shrugged his shoulders and bit his lip. He could do nothing. It was not for him to offer advice to his leader. A man of Mr. Prescott's standing was not likely to tolerate any interference from a young fellow just called.
But the offender proceeded to cap his misdeeds by a new suggestion, which had never occurred to either of the Pollards. It had been noted down long ago by Tressamer, though.
'The third difficulty in this case, gentlemen, is one which has doubtless been present to your minds all the time I have been speaking.'
This time the jury made a desperate effort to conceal their astonishment, and to look as if they perfectly well knew what was coming. But no one was deceived.
'I refer to the disposal of the body. On this point we have exactly two pieces of evidence. A young woman like the prisoner was seen walking in the direction of Newton Bay, about midnight, by the witness Evan Thomas. On the following afternoon the severed hand was discovered on the beach of Newton Bay by a visitor.
'How did it get there? It is for you to say. On behalf of the Crown, it is my duty to suggest to you that the prisoner in the dock may have carried the result of her crime to that distant spot, in several journeys, one of which happened to be seen. I must put it to you that piece by piece she accomplished her revolting task, and that she sought to hide the traces of her guilt in the sea. If you think that a rational and likely course of circumstances, no doubt you will say so.
'Gentlemen, I have done. I trust I have not detained you at undue length over this case, which must strike you as one of the most grave and difficult that could well come before a court of justice. I shall now, with the assistance of my learned friend, put the evidence before you. If you are left in any doubt after hearing it, and, after hearing the prisoner's defence, if you feel that there are mysteries in the case which have not been properly explained, and difficulties which have not been fully met, then you will, I feel sure, be only too glad to acquit the prisoner of this dreadful charge. But if, on the other hand, you are fully and entirely satisfied, if you feel no doubt whatever—of course, I mean no reasonable doubt—you will, I am equally sure, do your painful duty by returning a verdict of guilty.'
The barrister sat down, and his junior, who had listened impatiently to the close of the speech, at once started up, and called out:
And now, for the first time, Charles Prescott ventured to look towards the dock. After the first involuntary glance at Eleanor's entrance, he had steadily kept his eyes averted. During the whole of his address, which took up nearly an hour, he never once looked round. He was afraid to trust himself. That one brief glance had revived the memories of old with an added force which almost overwhelmed him.
Yet he was not what would be called an emotional man. His was one of those natures which maintain a seeming coldness under all circumstances, but which often conceal in their depths a strength of passion and devotion compared to which the fiery outbreaks of others are mere 'sound and fury, signifying nothing.' And now this hidden force was stirred. It held him in its grasp, and his whole being shook and quivered to its centre.
Not love at first sight, for he had seen her before. Yet love, awakening suddenly as he looked upon her in the full bloom of opening womanhood, surrounded by a halo of suffering, and peril, and mystery, the fated victim of an accusation which he would not believe and could not disprove. This it was that overpowered him; this it was that led to that feeble, halting advocacy which surprised all who heard it. They could not recognise the keen, trenchant Prescott who had made such a name for himself on the circuit. The Pollards were the only ones there who resented it, but they were by no means the only ones to be puzzled at the change.
But Prescott did not easily give way to his feelings. The sense of duty was sufficiently strong in him to keep him from absolute abandonment of his cause. He had gone faithfully through the case, and he was now preparing to take his part in examining the witnesses. Pride and professional training asserted themselves, and he stood firm.
At this moment, however, and when he was suffering most acutely, one of those happy accidents which men call good fortune or Providence, according to their dispositions, came to his aid. A solicitor's clerk hurriedly came into the court and made his way to the barrister's side. An unforeseen event had occurred. A case in the other court which had been expected to last all day had suddenly come to a settlement by agreement between the parties. The next case on the list was one in which Mr. Prescott was engaged, and engaged by himself, and his immediate presence was called for. Breathing an ejaculation of thankfulness, he got up, and quickly withdrew, leaving young Pollard to manage the witnesses as best he could.
The judge looked annoyed, and the solicitor Pollard somewhat dismayed, at this sudden disappearance of the leader for the Crown. But young Pollard himself was only too pleased. At last he was to have his chance. He was left captain of the ship. If all went well he might hope to get through the evidence, and have the concluding speech in Prescott's absence. And his satisfaction was shared by Tressamer. Tressamer knew his man. For the first time that morning a look of satisfaction crossed his face, and he settled his wig firmly on his head as he prepared to encounter the moving spirit of the prosecution.
And Eleanor? She did not altogether understand what had happened. But she saw that the man who had put the case against her so mildly had now gone out of it altogether, and her heart gave a great beat of joy for the first time since she had parted with George Tressamer two days before the memorable first of June.
A dark, big man stepped into the box, frowning heavily around him. The oath was administered, and then Mr. Pollard commenced in the approved style.
'Your name is John Lewis, and you are now living at The Shrubbery, Porthstone?'
'That's where the murder was committed?' interrupted the judge.
'Yes, my lord. The witness inherited it under Miss Lewis's will.'
The Judge: 'Have you lived there ever since?'
Witness: 'Yes, my lord.'
The Judge (after a pause, during which Mr. Pollard waits impatiently): 'Go on, Mr. Pollard. What are you keeping us for?'
Mr. Pollard: 'I beg your lordship's pardon.' To witness: 'You are the nephew of the deceased, and have just returned from Australia?'
'Yes; I came back to my aunt.'
'After making some money out there, I believe?'
This interruption, it need not be said, came from Tressamer. He had risen to his feet, and put on that scowl of scornful indignation with which an experienced counsel knows how to daunt a young beginner and make him feel he has committed himself.
'My lord, my friend cannot prove that, and if he could it cannot possibly be evidence against the prisoner. It is a most improper question.'
The Judge looked a little puzzled.
'It is irrelevant,' he said, 'and I won't allow it if you object. In a case like this we can't be too strict, of course.'
Mr. Pollard began to realize that greatness has its snares as well as its triumphs. He tried to get back on to the track.
'You went to see the deceased on the first of June?'
'And you came away——'
Here the barrister's brother leant over and handed him a slip of paper. He took it and read it, turned red, and, trying to appear as if he had not been prompted, put the question contained in the slip of paper:
'Was anything said about the jewels?'
The judge stared. Tressamer started to his feet in a transport of fury.
'My lord, my friend is deliberately leading the witness. In a case of murder it is disgraceful!'
'I agree with you, Mr. Tressamer. Don't answer that question, sir.'
Thus the judge. Poor young Pollard turned as red as the judge's robe, and stammered out some apology. His brother mentally swore at him, and every solicitor in court resolved never to give him another brief.
'Go on, Mr. Pollard; you mustn't keep us waiting.'
The wretched young man gave a last look at his brief, and closed the examination.
'And you left about ten o'clock?'
('Leading again!' ejaculated his opponent.)
'Yes. My lord, may I say——'
'No!' snapped the judge. 'Say nothing unless you're asked.'
The witness looked angry, and frowned savagely at his counsel. But the latter had now sat down, and the cross-examination was about to begin.
Tressamer had been studying the witness, with a view of ascertaining his weak point. This was evidently his temper. Accordingly he avoided irritating him till he had obtained as much as he could from him. He began:
'Had you any other relatives living besides Miss Lewis?'
The witness was thoroughly thrown out. He could not see what was coming. In a sullen voice he responded:
'Yes, I've a sister in the North.'
'Did you go to see her before your aunt?'
'No.—My lord, may I explain?'
The Judge: 'You had better confine yourself to the questions now. You will have an opportunity of explaining afterwards.'
'You went straight to your aunt. Was she pleased to see you?'
'Yes, she seemed very pleased.'
'And yet she let you stay at a hotel?'
'That was only the first night. It was arranged that I was to occupy a bedroom in her house afterwards.'
Type cannot do justice to the peculiar intonation with which the barrister uttered this exclamation. The whole court was aroused to suspect something beneath the surface. Then he turned round to the jury with a mysterious expression, and slowly repeated the answer:
'It was arranged that you were to occupy a room in her house after that night?'
The jury roused themselves for a grand effort, and succeeded in imparting a distinct air of suspicion to their countenances.