What's Bred In the Bone
SIR GILBERT'S TEMPTATION.
Cyril felt all was up. Elma glanced at him trembling. This was
horrible, inconceivable, inexplicable, fatal. The very stars in
their courses seem to fight against Guy. Blind chance checkmated
them. No hope was left now, save in Gilbert Gildersleeve's own
sense of justice.
But Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve sat there, transfixed with horror. No
answering gleam now shot through his dull, glazed eye. For he alone
knew that whatever made the case against the prisoner look worse,
made his own position each moment more awful and more intolerable.
Through the rest of the case, Cyril sat in his place like a stone
figure. Counsel for the Crown generously abstained from putting
him into the witness-box to give testimony against his brother. Or
rather, they thought the facts themselves, as they had just come
out in court, more telling for the jury than any formal evidence.
The only other witness of importance was, therefore, the lad who
had sat on the gate by the entrance to The Tangle. As he scrambled
into the box Sir Gilbert's anxiety grew visibly deeper and more
acute than ever. For the boy was the one person who had seen him
at Mambury on the day of the murder; and on the boy depended his
sole chance of being recognised. At Tavistock, eighteen months
before, Sir Gilbert had left the cross-examination of this witness
in the hands of a junior, and the boy hadn't noticed him, sitting
down among the Bar with gown and wig on. But to-day, it was impossible
the boy shouldn't see him; and if the boy should recognise him--why,
then, Heaven help him.
The lad gave his evidence-in-chief with great care and deliberateness.
He swore positively to Guy, and wasn't for a moment to be shaken in
cross-examination. He admitted he had been mistaken at Tavistock,
and confused the prisoner with Cyril--when he saw one of them
apart--but now that he saw 'em both together before his eyes at
once, why, he could take his solemn oath as sure as fate upon him.
Guy's counsel failed utterly to elicit anything of importance,
except--and here Sir Gilbert's face grew whiter than ever--except
that another gentleman whom the lad didn't know had asked at the
gate about the path, and gone round the other way as if to meet
"What sort of a gentleman?" the cross-examiner inquired, clutching
at this last straw as a mere chance diversion.
"Well, a vurry big zart o' a gentleman," witness answered, unabashed.
"A vine vigger o' a man. Jest such another as thik 'un with the
As he spoke he stared hard at the judge, a good scrutinizing stare.
Sir Gilbert quailed, and glanced instinctively, first at the boy,
and then at Elma. Not a spark of intelligence shone in the lad's
stolid eyes. But Elma's were fixed upon him with a serpentine glare
of awful fascination. "Thou art the man," they seemed to say to him
mutely. Sir Gilbert, in his awe, was afraid to look at them. They
made him wild with terror, yet they somehow fixed him. Try as he would
to keep his own from meeting them, they attracted him irresistibly.
A ripple, of faint laughter ran lightly through the court at the
undisguised frankness of the boy's reply. The judge repressed it
"Oh, he was just such another one as his lordship, was he?" counsel
repeated, pressing the lad hard. "Now, are you quite sure you
remember all the people you saw that day? Are you quite sure the
other man who asked about passers-by wasn't--for example--the judge
himself who's sitting here?"
Sir Gilbert glanced up with a quick, suspicious air. It was only
a shot at random--the common advocate's trick in trying to confuse
a witness over questions of identity; but to Sir Gilbert, under the
circumstances, it was inexpressibly distressing. "Well, it murt
'a been he," the lad answered, putting his head on one side, and
surveying the judge closely with prolonged attention. "Thik un 'ad
just such another pair o' 'ands as his lordship do 'ave. It murt
'a been his lordship 'urself as is zitting there."
"This goes quite beyond the bounds of decency," Sir Gilbert murmured
faintly, with a vain endeavour to hold his hands on the desk in an
unconcerned attitude. "Have the kindness, Mr. Walters, to spare
the Bench. Attend to your examination. Observations of that sort
are wholly uncalled for."
But the boy, once started, was not so easily repressed. "Why, it
was his lordship," he went on, scanning the judge still harder. "I
do mind his vurry voice. It was 'im, no doubt about it. I've zeed
a zight o' people, since I zeed 'im that day, but I do mind his
voice, and I do mind his 'ands, and I do mind his ve-ace the zame
as if it wur yesterday. Now I come to look, blessed if it wasn't
Guy's counsel smiled a triumphant smile. He had carried his point.
He had confused the witness. This showed how little reliance could
be placed upon the boy's evidence as to personal identity! He'd
identify anybody who happened to be suggested to him! But Sir
Gilbert's face grew yet more deadly pale. For he saw at a glance
this was no accident or mistake; the boy really remembered him!
And Elma's steadfast eyes looked him through and through, with that
irresistible appeal, still more earnestly than ever.
Sir Gilbert breathed again. He had been recognised to no purpose.
Even this positive identification fell flat upon everybody.
At last the examination and cross-examination were finished, and
Guy's counsel began his hopeless task of unravelling this tangled
mass of suggestion and coincidence. He had no witnesses to call;
the very nature of the case precluded that. All he could do was
to cavil over details, to point out possible alternatives, to lay
stress upon the absence of direct evidence, and to ask that the jury
should give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt, if any doubt at
all existed in their minds as to his guilt or innocence. Counsel
had meant when he first undertook the case to lay great stress also
on the presumed absence of motive; but, after the fatal accident
which resulted in the disclosure of Montague Nevitt's pocket-book,
any argument on that score would have been worse than useless.
Counsel elected rather to pass the episode by in discreet silence,
and to risk everything on the uncertainty of the actual encounter.
At last he sat down, wiping his brow in despair, after what he felt
himself to be a most feeble performance.
Then Sir Gilbert began, and in a very tremulous and failing voice
summed briefly up the whole of the evidence.
Men who remember Gildersleeve's old blustering manner stood aghast
at the timidity with which the famous lawyer delivered himself on
this, the first capital charge ever brought before him. He reminded
the jury, in very solemn and almost warning tones, that where a
human life was at stake, mere presumptive evidence should always
carry very little weight with it. And the evidence here was all
purely presumptive. The prosecution had shown nothing more than
a physical possibility that the prisoner at the bar might have
committed the murder. There was evidence of animus, it was true;
but that evidence was weak; there was partial identification; but
that identification lay open to the serious objection that all the
persons who now swore to Guy Waring's personality had sworn just
as surely and confidently before to his brother Cyril's. On the
whole, the judge summed up strongly in Guy's favour. He wiped his
clammy brow and looked appealingly at the bar. As the jury would
hope for justice themselves, let them remember to mete out nothing
but strict justice to the accused person who now stood trembling
in the dock before them.
All the court stood astonished. Could this be Gildersleeve? Atkins
would never have summed up like that. Atkins would have gone in
point-blank for hanging him. And everybody thought Gildersleeve
would hang with the best. Nobody had suspected him till then of
any womanly weakness about capital punishment. There was a solemn
hush as the judge ended. Then everybody saw the unhappy man was
seriously ill. Great streams of sweat trickled slowly down his brow.
His eyes stared in front of him. His mouth twitched horribly. He
looked like a person on the point of apoplexy. The prisoner at the
bar gazed hard at him and pitied him.
"He's dying himself, and he wants to go out with a clear conscience
at last," some one suggested in a low voice at the barristers'
table. The explanation served. It was whispered round the court
in a hushed undertone that the judge to-day was on his very last
legs, and had summed up accordingly. Late in life, he had learned
to show mercy, as he hoped for it.
There was a deadly pause. The jury retired to consider their
verdict. Two men remained behind in court, waiting breathless for
their return. Two lives hung at issue in the balance while the jury
deliberated. Elma Clifford, glancing with a terrified eye from
one to the other, could hardly help pitying the guiltiest most.
His look of mute suffering was so inexpressibly pathetic.
The twelve good men and true were gone for a full half-hour. Why,
nobody knew. The case was as plain as a pikestaff, gossipers said
in court. If he had been caught red-handed, he'd have been hanged
without remorse. It was only the eighteen months and the South
African episode that could make the jury hesitate for one moment
about hanging him.
At last, a sound, a thrill, a movement by the door. Every eye
was strained forward. The jury trooped back again. They took their
places in silence. Sir Gilbert scanned their faces with an agonized
look. It was a moment of ghastly and painful suspense. He was
waiting for their verdict--on himself, and Guy Waring.
Only two people in court doubted for one moment what the verdict
would be. And those two were the pair who stood there on their trial.
Sir Gilbert couldn't believe the jury would convict an innocent
man of the crime he himself had half unwittingly committed. Guy
Waring couldn't believe the jury would convict an innocent man of
the crime he had never been guilty of. So those two doubted. To
all the rest the verdict was a foregone conclusion.
Nevertheless, dead silence reigned everywhere in the court as the
clerk of arraigns put the solemn question, "Gentlemen, do you find
the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?"
And the foreman, clearing his throat huskily, answered in a very
tremulous tone, "We find him guilty of wilful murder."
There was a long, deep pause. Every one looked at the prisoner.
Guy Waring stood like one stunned by the immensity of the blow. It
was an awful moment. He knew he was innocent; but he knew now the
English law would hang him.
One pair of eyes in the court, however, was not fixed on Guy. Elma
Clifford, at that final and supreme moment, gazed hard with all
her soul at Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve. Her glance went through him.
She sat like an embodied conscience before him. The judge rose
slowly, his eyes riveted on hers. He was trembling with remorse,
and deadlier pale than ever. An awful lividness stole over his
face. His lips were contorted. His eyebrows quivered horribly. Still
gazing straight at Elma, he essayed to speak. Twice he opened his
parched lips. Then his voice failed him.
"I cannot accept that finding," he said at last, in a very solemn
tone, battling hard for speech against some internal enemy. "I
cannot accept it. Clerk, you will enter a verdict of not guilty."
A deep hum of surprise ran round the expectant court. Every mouth
opened wide, and drew a long hushed breath. Senior counsel for the
Crown jumped to his feet astonished. "But why, my lord?" he asked
tartly, thus baulked of his success. "On what ground does your
lordship decide to override the plain verdict of the jury?"
The pause that followed was inexpressibly terrible. Guy Waring
waited for the answer in an agony of suspense. He knew what it
meant now. With a rush it all occurred to him. He knew who was the
murderer. But he hoped for nothing. Sir Gilbert faltered: Elma
Clifford's eyes were upon him still, compelling him. "Because,"
he said at last, with a still more evident and physical effort,
pumping the words out slowly, "I am here to administer justice,
and justice I will administer.... This man is innocent. It was I
myself who killed Montague Nevitt that day at Mambury."
At those awful words, uttered in a tone so solemn that no one
could doubt either their truth or their sincerity, a cold thrill
ran responsive through the packed crowd of auditors. The silence
was profound. In its midst, a boy's voice burst forth all at once,
directed, as it seemed, to the counsel for the Crown, "I said it
was him," the voice cried, in a triumphant tone. "I knowed 'um!
I knowed 'um! Thik there's the man that axed me the way down the
dell the marnin' o' the murder."
The judge turned towards the boy with a ghastly smile of enforced
recognition. "You say the truth, my lad," he answered, without
any attempt at concealment. "It was I who asked you. It was I who
killed him. I went round by the far gate after hearing he was there,
and, cutting across the wood, I met Montague Nevitt in the path
by The Tangle. I went there to meet him; I went there to confront
him; but not of malice prepense to murder him. I wanted to question
him about a family matter. Why I needed to question him no one
henceforth shall ever know. That secret, thank Heaven, rests now
in Montague Nevitt's grave. But when I did question him, he answered
me back with so foul an aspersion upon a lady who was very near
and dear to me"--the judge paused a moment; he was fighting hard
for breath; something within was evidently choking him. Then he went
on more excitedly--"an aspersion upon a lady whom I love more than
life--an insult that no man could stand--an unspeakable foulness;
and I sprang at him, the cur, in the white heat of my anger, not
meaning or dreaming to hurt him seriously. I caught him by the throat."
The judge held up his hands before the whole court appealingly.
"Look at those hands, gentlemen," he cried, turning them about.
"How could I ever know how hard and how strong they were? I only
seemed to touch him. I just pushed him from my path. He fell at
once at my feet--dead, dead unexpectedly. Remember how it all came
about. The medical evidence showed his heart was weak, and he died
in the scuffle. How was I to know all that? I only knew this--he
fell dead before me."
With a face of speechless awe, he paused and wiped his brow. Not
a soul in court moved or breathed above a whisper. It was evident
the judge was in a paroxysm of contrition. His face was drawn up.
His whole frame quivered visibly. Even Elma pitied him.
"And then I did a grievous wrong," the judge continued once
more, his voice now very thick and growing rapidly thicker. "I did
a grievous wrong, for which here to-day, before all this court,
I humbly ask Guy Waring's pardon. I had killed Montague Nevitt,
unintentionally, unwittingly, accidentally almost, in a moment
of anger, never knowing I was killing him. And if he had been a
stronger or a healthier man, what little I did to him would never
have killed him. I didn't mean to murder him. For that my remorse
is far less poignant. But what I did after was far worse than the
murder. I behaved like a sneak--I behaved like a coward. I saw
suspicion was aroused against the prisoner, Guy Waring. And what did
I do then? Instead of coming forward like a man, as I ought, and
saying 'I did it,' and standing my trial on the charge of manslaughter,
I did my best to throw further suspicion on an innocent person.
I made the case look blacker and worse for Guy Waring. I don't
condone my own crime. I did it for my wife's sake and my daughter's,
I admit--but I regret it now bitterly--and am I not atoning for it?
With a great humiliation, am I not amply atoning for it? I wrote
an unsigned letter warning Waring at once to fly the country, as
a warrant was out against him. Waring foolishly took my advice,
and fled forthwith. From that day to this"--he gazed round him
appealingly--"oh, friends, I have never known one happy moment."
Guy gazed at him from the dock, where he still stood guarded by two
strong policemen, and felt a fresh light break suddenly in upon
him. Their positions now were almost reversed. It was he who was
the accuser, and Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve, the judge in that court,
who stood charged to-day on his own confession with causing the
death of Montague Nevitt.
"Then it was YOU" Guy said slowly, breaking the pause at last, "who
sent me that anonymous letter at Plymouth?"
"It was I," the judge answered, in an almost inaudible, gurgling
tone. "It was I who so wronged you. Can you ever forgive me for
Guy gazed at him fixedly. He himself had suffered much. Cyril and Elma
had suffered still more. But the judge, he felt sure, had suffered
most of all of them. In this moment of relief, this moment of
vindication, this moment of triumph, he could afford to be generous.
"Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve, I forgive you," he answered slowly.
The judge gazed around him with a vacant stare. "I feel cold,"
he said, shivering; "very cold, very faint, too. But I've made all
right HERE," and he held out a document. "I wrote this paper in
my room last night--in case of accident--confessing everything.
I brought it down here, signed and witnessed, unread, intending
to read it out if the verdict went against me--I mean, against
Waring.... But I feel too weak now to read anything further.... I'm
so cold, so cold. Take the paper, Forbes-Ewing. It's all in your
line. You'll know what to do with it." He could hardly utter a word,
breath failed him so fast. "This thing has killed me," he went on,
mumbling. "I deserved it. I deserved it."
"How about the prisoner?" the authority from the gaol asked, as
the judge collapsed rather than sat down on the bench again.
Those words roused Sir Gilbert to full consciousness once more.
The judge rose again, solemnly, in all the majesty of his ermine.
"The prisoner is discharged," he said, in a loud, clear voice. "I
am here to do justice--justice against myself. I enter a verdict
of not guilty." Then he turned to the polices "I am your prisoner,"
he went on, in a broken, rambling way. "I give myself in charge
for the manslaughter of Montague Nevitt. Manslaughter, not murder.
Though I don't even admit myself, indeed, it was anything. more
than justifiable homicide."
He sank back again once more, and murmured three times in his seat,
as if to himself, "Justifiable homicide! Justifiable homicide!
Somebody rose in court as he sank, and moved quickly towards him.
The judge recognised him at once.
"Granville Kelmscott," he said; in a weary voice, "help me out of
this. I am very, very ill. You're a friend. I'm dying. Give me your
arm! Assist me!"