Chapter XXI. In Court and Out.
 

How Dolores's heart beat when Colonel Mohun drove up to the door! She durst not run out to greet him among her cousins; but stood by her aunt, feeling hot and cold and trembling, in the doubt whether he would kiss her.

Yes, she did feel his kiss, and Mysie looked at her in congratulation. But what did it mean? Was it only that it came as a matter of course, and he forgot to withhold it, or was it that he had given up hopes of her father, and was sorry for her? She could not make up her mind, for he came so late in the evening that she scarcely saw him before bed- time, and he did not take any special notice of her the next morning. He had done his best to save her from being long detained at Darminster, by ascertaining as nearly as possible when Flinders's case would come on, and securing a room at the nearest inn, where she might await a summons into court. Lady Merrifield was going with them, but would not take either of her daughters, thinking that every home eye would be an additional distress, and that it was better that no one should see or remember Dolores as a witness.

Miss Mohun met the party at the station, going off, however, with her brother into court, after having established Lady Merrifield and her niece in an inn parlour, where they kept as quiet as they could, by the help of knitting, and reading aloud. Lady Merrifield found that Dolores had been into court before, and knew enough about it to need no explanation or preparation, and being much afraid of causing agitation, she thought it best only to try to interest her in such tales as 'Neale's Triumphs of the Cross,' instead of letting her dwell on what she most dreaded, the sight of the prisoner, and the punishment her words might bring upon him.

The morning ended, and Uncle Reginald brought word that his case would come on immediately after luncheon. This he shared with his sister and niece, saying that Jane had gone to a pastrycook's with--with Rotherwood--thinking this best for Dolly. He seemed to be in strangely excited spirits, and was quite his old self to Dolores, tempting her to eat, and showing himself so entirely the kind uncle that she would have been quite cheered up if she had not been afraid that it was all out of pity, and that he knew something dreadful.

Lord Rotherwood met them at the hotel entrance, and took his cousin on his arm; Dolores following with her uncle, was sure that she gave a great start at something that he said; but she had to turn in a different direction to wait under the charge of her uncle, who treated her as if she were far more childish and inexperienced in the ways of courts than she really was, and instructed her in much that she knew perfectly well; but it was too comfortable to have him kind to her for her to take the least offence, and she only said 'Yes' and 'Thank you' at the proper places.

The sheriff, meantime, had given Lord Rotherwood and Lady Merrifield seats near the judge, where Miss Mohun was already installed. Alfred Flinders was already at the bar, and for the first time Lady Merrifield saw his somewhat handsome but shifty-looking face and red beard, as the counsel for the prosecution was giving a detailed account of his embarrassed finances, and of his having obtained from the inexperienced kindness of a young lady, a mere child in age, who called him uncle, though without blood relationship, a draft of her father's for seven pounds, which, when presented at the bank, had become one for seventy.

As before, the presenting and cashing of the seventy pounds was sworn to by the banker's clerk, and then Dolores Mary Mohun was called.

There she stood, looking smaller than usual in her black, close-fitting dress and hat, in a place meant for grown people, her dark face pale and set, keeping her eyes as much as she could from the prisoner. When the counsel spoke she gave a little start, for she knew him, as one who had often spent an evening with her parents, in the cheerful times while her mother lived. There was something in the familiar glance of his eyes that encouraged her, though he looked so much altered by his wig and gown, and it seemed strange that he should question her, as a stranger, on her exact name and age, her father's absence, the connection with the prisoner, and present residence. Then came:

'Did your father leave any money with you?'

'Yes.'

'What was the amount?'

'Five pounds for myself; seven besides.'

'In what form was the seven pounds?'

'A cheque from W.'s bank.'

'Did you part with it?'

'Yes.'

'To whom?'

'I sent it to him.'

'To whom if you please?'

'To Mr. Alfred Flinders.' And her voice trembled.

'Can you tell me when you sent it away?'

'It was on the 22nd of December.'

'Is this the cheque?'

'It has been altered.'

'Explain in what manner?'

'There has 'ty' been put at the end of the written 'seven,' and a cipher after the figure 7 making it 70.'

'You are sure that it was not so when it went out of your possession?'

'Perfectly sure.'

Mr. Calderwood seemed to have done with her, and said, 'Thank you;' but then there stood up a barrister, whom she suspected of being a man her mother had disliked, and she knew that the worst was coming when he said, in a specially polite voice too, 'Allow me to ask whether the cheque in question had been intended by Mr. Mohun for the prisoner?'

'No.'

'Or was it given to you as pocket-money?'

'No, it was to pay a bill.'

'Then did you divert it from that purpose?'

'I thought the man was dead.'

'What man?'

'Professor Muhlwasser.'

'The creditor?'

'Yes.'

Mr. Calderwood objected to these questions as irrelevant; but the prisoner's counsel declared them to be essential, and the judge let him go on to extract from Dolores that the payment was intended for an expensive illustrated work on natural history, which was to be published in Germany. Her father had promised to take two copies of it if it were completed; but being doubtful whether this would ever be the case, he had preferred leaving a draft with her to letting the account be discharged by his brother, and he had reckoned that seven pounds would cover the expense.

'You say you supposed the author was dead. What reason had you for thinking so?'

'He told me; Mr. Flinders did.'

'Had Mr. Mohun sanctioned your applying this sum to any other purpose than that specified?'

'No, he had not. I did wrong,' said Dolores, firmly.

He wrinkled up his forehead, so that the point of his wig went upwards, and proceeded to inquire whether she had herself given the cheque to the prisoner.

'I sent it.'

'Did you post it?'

'Not myself. I gave it to Miss Constance Hacket to send it for me.'

'Can you swear to the sum for which it was drawn when you parted with it?'

'Yes. I looked at it to see whether it was pounds or guineas.'

'Did you give it loose or in an envelope?'

'In an envelope.'

'Was any other person aware of your doing so?'

'Nobody.'

'What led you to make this advance to the prisoner?'

'Because he told me that he was in great distress.'

'He told you. By letter or in person?'

'In person.'

'When did he tell you so?'

'On the 22nd of December.'

'And where?'

'At Darminster.'

'Let me ask whether this interview at Darminster took place with the knowledge of the lady with whom you reside?'

'No, it did not,' said Dolores, colouring deeply.

'Was it a chance meeting?'

'No--by appointment.'

'How was the appointment made?'

'We wrote to say we would come that day.'

'We--who was the other party?'

'Miss Constance Hacket.'

'You were then in correspondence with the prisoner. Was it with the sanction of Lady Merrifield?'

'No.'

'A secret correspondence, then, romantically carried on--by what means?'

'Constance Hacket sent the letters and received them for me.'

'What was the motive for this arrangement?'

'I knew my aunt would prevent my having anything to do with him.'

'And you--excuse me--what interest had you in doing so?'

'My mother had been like his sister, and always helped him.'

All these answers were made with a grave, resolute straightforwardness, generally with something of Dolores's peculiar stony look, and only twice was there any involuntary token of feeling, when she blushed at confessing the concealment from her aunt, and at the last question, when her voice trembled as she spoke of her mother. She kept her eyes on her interrogators all the time, never once glancing towards the prisoner, though all the time she had a sensation as if his reproachful looks were piercing her through.

She was dismissed, and Constance Hacket was brought in, looking about in every direction, carrying a handkerchief and scent bottle, and not attempting to conceal her flutter of agitation.

Mr. Calderwood had nothing to ask her but about her having received the cheque from Miss Mohun and forwarded it to Flinders, though she could not answer for the date without a public computation back from Christmas Day, and forward from St. Thomas's. As to the amount--

'Oh, yes, certainly, seven pounds.'

Moreover she had posted it herself.

Then came the cross-examination,

'Had she seen the draft before posting it?'

'Well--she really did not remember exactly.'

'How did she know the amount then?'

'Well, I think--yes--I think Dolores told me so.'

'You think,' he said, in a sort of sneer. 'On your oath. Do you know?'

'Yes, yes, yes. She assured me! I know something was said about seven.'

'Then you cannot swear to the contents of the envelope you forwarded?'

'I don't know. It was all such a confusion and hurry.'

'Why so?'

'Oh! because it was a secret.'

The counsel of course availed himself of this handle to elicit that the witness had conducted a secret correspondence between the prisoner and her young friend without the knowledge of the child's natural protectors. 'A perfect romance,' he said, 'I believe the prisoner is unmarried.'

Perhaps this insinuation would have been checked, but before any one had time to interfere, Constance, blushing crimson, exclaimed, 'Oh! Oh! I assure you it was not that. It was because she said he was her uncle and that they ill-used him.'

This brought upon her the searching question whether the last witness had stated the prisoner to be really her uncle, and Constance replied, rather hotly, that she had always understood that he was.

'In fact, she gave you to understand that the prisoner was actually related to her by blood. Did you say that she also told you that he was persecuted or ill-used by her other relations?'

'I thought so. Yes, I am sure she said so.'

'And it was wholly and solely on these grounds that you assisted in this clandestine correspondence?'

'Why--yes--partly,' faltered Constance, thinking of her literary efforts, 'so it began.'

There was a manifest inclination to laugh in the audience, who naturally thought her hesitation implied something very different; and the judge, thinking that there was no need to push her further, when Mr. Calderwood represented that all this did not bear on the matter, and was no evidence, silenced Mr. Yokes, and the witness was dismissed.

The next point was that Colonel Reginald Mohun was called upon to attest that the handwriting was his brother's. He answered for the main body of the draft, and the signature, but the additions, in which the forgery lay, were so slight that it was impossible to swear that they did not come from the hand of Maurice Mohun.

'Had application been made to Mr. Mohun on the subject?'

'Yes, Colonel Mohun had immediately telegraphed to him at the address in the Fiji Islands.'

'Has any answer been received?'

'No!' but Colonel Mohun had a curious expression in his eyes, and Mr. Calderwood electrified the court by begging to call upon Mr. Maurice Mohun.

There he was in the witness-box, looking sunburnt but vigorous. He replied immediately to the question that the cheque was his own, and that it had been left under his daughter's charge, also that it had been for seven pounds, and the 'ty' and the cypher had never been written by him. The prisoner winced for a moment, and then looked at him defiantly.

The connection with Alfred Flinders was inquired into and explained, and being asked as to the term 'Uncle,' he replied, 'My daughter was allowed to get into the habit of so terming him.'

The sisters saw his look of pain, and Jane remembered his strong objection to the title, and his wife's indignant defence of it.

Dolores stood trembling outside in the waiting-room, by her Uncle Reginald, from whom she heard that her father had come that morning from London with Lord Rotherwood, but that it had been thought better not to agitate her by letting her know of it before she gave her evidence.

'Has he had my letter?' she asked.

'No; he knew nothing till he saw Rotherwood last night.'

All the misery of writing the confession came back upon poor Dolores, and she turned quite white and sick, but her uncle said kindly, 'Never mind, my dear, he was very much pleased with your manner of giving evidence. Such a contrast to your friend's. Faugh!'

In a few more seconds Mr. Mohun had come out. He took the cold, trembling hands in his own, pressed them close, met the anxious eyes with his own, full of moisture, and said, 'My poor little girl,' in a tone that somehow lightened Dolly's heart of its worst dread.

'Will you go back into court?' asked the colonel.

'You don't wish it, Dolly?' said her father.

'Oh no! please not.'

'Then,' said the colonel, 'take your father back to the room at the hotel, and we will come to you. I suppose this will not last much longer.'

'Probably not half an hour. I don't want to see that fellow either convicted or acquitted.'

Then Dolores found herself steered out of the passages and from among the people waiting or gazing, into the clearer space in the street, her father holding her hand as if she had been a little child. Neither of them spoke till they had reached the sitting-room, and there, the first thing he did when the door was shut, was to sit down, take her between his knees, put an arm round her, and kiss her, saying again, 'My poor child!'

'You never got my letter!' she said, leaning against him, feeling the peace and rest his embrace gave.

'No; but I have heard all. I should have warned you, Dolly; but I never imagined that he could get at you there; and I was unwilling to accuse one for whom your mother had a certain affection.'

'That was why I helped him,' whispered Dolores.

'I knew it,' he said kindly. 'But how did he find you out, and how had he the impertinence to write to you at your Aunt Lily's--'

'I wrote to him first,' she said, hanging down her head.

'How was that? You surely had not been in the habit of doing so whilst I was at home.'

'No; but he came and spoke to me at Exeter, the day you went away. Uncle William was not there, he had gone into the town. And he--Mr. Flinders, said he was going down to see you, and was very much disappointed to hear that you were gone.'

'Did he ask you to write to him?'

'I don't think he did. Father, it seems too silly now, but I was very angry because Aunt Lilias said she must see all my letters except yours and Maude Sefton's, and I told Constance Hacket. She said she would send anything for me, and I could not think of any one I wanted to write to, so I wrote to--to him.'

'Ah! I saw you did not get on with your aunt,' was the answer, 'that was partly what brought me home.' And either not hearing or not heeding her exclamation, 'Oh, but now I do,' he went on to explain that on his arrival at Fiji he had found that circumstances had altered there, and that the person with whom he was to have been associated had died, so that the whole scheme had been broken up. A still better appointment had, however, been offered to him in New Zealand, on the resignation of the present holder after a half-year's notice, and he had at once written to accept it. A proposal had been made to him to spend the intermediate time in a scientific cruise among the Polynesian Islands; but the letters he had found awaiting him at Vanua Levu had convinced him that the arrangements he had made in England had been a mistake, and he had therefore hurried home via San Francisco, as fast as any letter could have gone, to wind up his English affairs, and fetch his daughter to the permanent home in Auckland, which her Aunt Phyllis would prepare for her.

Her countenance betrayed a sudden dismay, which made him recollect that she was a strangely undemonstrative girl; but before she had recovered the shock so as to utter more than a long 'Oh!' they were interrupted by the cup of tea that had been ordered for Dolores, and in a minute more, steps were heard, and the two aunts were in the room. 'Seven years,' were Jane's first words, and 'My dear Maurice,' Lady Merrifield's, 'Oh! I wish I could have spared you this,' and then among greetings came again, 'Seven years,' from the brother and cousin who had seen the traveller before.

'I'm glad you were not there, Maurice,' said Lady Merrifield. 'It was dreadful.'

'I never saw a more insolent fellow!' said Lord Rotherwood.

'That Yokes, you mean,' said Miss Mohun. 'I declare I think he is worse than Flinders!'

'That's like you women, Jenny,' returned the colonel; 'you can't understand that a man's business is to get off his client!'

'When he gave him up as an honest man altogether!' cried Lady Merrifield.

'And cast such imputations!' exclaimed Aunt Jane. 'I saw what the wretch was driving at all the time of the cross-examination; and if I'd been the judge, would not I have stopped him?'

'There you go. Lily and Jenny!' said the colonel, 'and Rotherwood just as bad! Why, Maurice would have had to take just the same line if he had been for the defence.'

'He would not have done it in such a blackguard fashion though,' said Lord Rotherwood.

'I saw what his defence would be,' said Mr. Mohun, briefly.

'There!' said Colonel Mohun, with a boyish pleasure in confuting his sisters; but they were not subdued.

'Now Maurice,' cried Jane, 'when that man was known to be utterly dishonourable and good for nothing, was it fair--was it not contrary to all common sense--to try to cast the imputation between those two poor girls? So the judge and jury felt it, I am happy to say! but I call it abominable to have thrown out the mere suggestion--'

'Nay now, Jane,' said the colonel, 'if the man was to be defended at all, how else was it to be done?'

'I wouldn't have had him defended at all! but, unfortunately, that's his right as an Englishman.'

'That's another thing! But as the cheque did not alter itself, one of the three must have done it, and nothing was left but to show that there had been an amount of shuffling, and--in short, nonsense--that might cast enough doubt on their evidence to make it insufficient for a conviction.'

'Reginald! I can't think how you can stand up for such a wretch, a vulgar wretch,' cried Miss Mohun. 'You put it delicately, as a gentleman who had the misfortune to be counsel in such a case might do, but he was infinitely worse than that, though that was bad enough.'

'It was Yokes,' put in Mr. Mohun; 'but what did he say?' looking anxiously at his daughter.

'It was not so bad about her,' said her uncle, 'he only made her out a foolish child, easily played upon by everybody, and possibly ignorant and frightened, or led away by her regard for her supposed relation. It was the other poor girl--

'The amiable susceptibilities of romantic young ladies!' broke out Lady Merrifield. 'Oh, the creature!' To think of that poor foolish Constance sitting by to hear it represented that the expedition to Darminster, and all the rest of it, was because she was actually touched by that fellow. I really felt ready to take her part.'

'She had certainly brought it on herself,' said Aunt Jane; 'but it was atrocious of him and if the other counsel had only known it, he stopped the cross examination just at the wrong time, or it would have come out that it was literary vanity that was the lure. No doubt he would have made a laughing-stock of that, but it would not have been as bad as the other.'

'Poor thing,' said Lady Merrifield; 'it was a trying retribution for schoolgirl folly and want of conscientiousness. I should think she was a sadder and a wiser woman.'

'He must have overdone it,' said Mr. Mohun, 'he is a vulgar fellow, and always does so; but, as Reginald says, the only available defence was to enhance the folly and sentiment of the girls; but of course the judge charged the other way--

'Entirely,' said Lord Rotherwood, 'he brought Dolly rather well out of it, saying that as he understood it, a young girl who had seen a needy connection assisted from her home might think herself justified in corresponding with him, and even in diverting to his use money left in her charge, when it was probable that it would not be required for the original object. He did not say it was right, but it was an error of judgment by no means implying swindling--in fact. He disposed of Miss Hacket in the same way--foolish, sentimental, unscrupulous, but not to that degree. Girls might be silly enough in all conscience, but not so as to commit forgery or perjury. That was the gist of it, and happily the jury were of the same opinion.'

'Happily? Well, I suppose so,' said Mr. Mohun, with a certain sorrowfulness of tone, into which his little daughter entered.

'I say, Rotherwood,' exclaimed the colonel, as the town clock's two strokes for the half-hour echoed loudly, 'if you mean to catch the 4.50, you must fly.'

'Fly!' he coolly repeated. 'Tell Mysie, Lily, that Fly has never ceased talking of her. That child has been saving her money to fit out one of Florence's orphan's. She--'

'Rotherwood,' broke in Mr. Mohun, 'your wife charged me to see that you were in time for that dinner. A ministerial one.'

'Don't encourage him, Lily,' chimed in the colonel. 'I'll call a cab. See him safe off, Maurice.'

And off he was hunted amid the laughter of the ladies; the manner of all to one another was so exactly what it had been in the old times.

'I could hardly help telling him to take care, or Victoria would never let him out again,' said Miss Mohun. 'Poor old fellow, it would have been a fine chance for him with four of us together.'

'You can come back with us, Jenny!'

'I brought my bag in case of accidents.'

'And we'll telegraph to Adeline to join us tomorrow,' said Mr. Mohun, who seemed to have been seized with a hunger for the sight of his kindred.

'Telegraph! My dear Maurice, Ada's nerves would be torn to smithereens by a telegram without me to open it for her. I've a card here to post to her; but I expect that I must go down tomorrow and fetch her, which will be the best way, for I have a meeting.'

'Jenny, I declare you are a caution even to Miss Hacket,' said Colonel Reginald, re-entering.

'Well, Ada always was the family pet. Besides, I told you I had a G.F.S. meeting. Did you get a cab for us; Lily has had quite walking enough.'

The ladies went in a cab, while the gentlemen walked. There was not much time to spare, and in the compartment into which the first comers threw themselves, they found both the Hacket sisters installed, and the gentlemen coming up in haste, nodded and got into a smoking-carriage, on seeing how theirs was occupied.

'Oh, we could have made room,' said Constance, to whom a gentleman was a gentleman under whatever circumstances.

'Dear Miss Dolores's papa! Is it indeed?' said Miss Hacket.

'So wonderfully interesting,' chimed in Constance. And they both made a dart at Dolores to kiss her in congratulation, much against her will.

The train clattered on, and Lady Merrifield hoped it would hush all other voices, but neither of the Hackets could refrain from discussing the trial, and heaping such unmitigated censure on the counsel for the prisoner, that Miss Mohun felt herself constrained to fly in the face of all she had said at the hotel, and to maintain the right of even such an Englishman to be defended, and of his advocate to prevent his conviction if possible. On which the regular sentiment against becoming lawyers was produced, and the subject might have been dropped if Constance had not broken out again, as if she could not leave it. 'So atrocious, so abominably insolent, asking if he was unmarried.'

'Evidently flattered!' muttered Aunt Jane, between her teeth, and unheard; but the speed slackened, and Constance's voice went on,

'I really thought I should have died of it on the spot. The bare idea of thinking I could endure such a being.'

'Well,' said Dolores, just as the clatter ceased at a little station. 'You know you did walk up and down with him ever so long, and I am sure you liked him very much.'

An indignant 'You don't understand' was absolutely cut off by an imperative grasp and hush from Miss Hacket the elder; Aunt Jane was suffocating with laughter, Lady Merrifield, between that and a certain shame for womanhood, which made her begin to talk at random about anything or everything else.