Chapter Eighteen. An Old Newspaper

As soon as Spargo unfolded the paper he saw what he wanted on the middle page, headed in two lines of big capitals. He lighted a cigar and settled down to read.



"The Quarter Sessions for the Borough of Market Milcaster were held on Wednesday last, October 3rd, 1891, in the Town Hall, before the Recorder, Henry John Campernowne, Esq., K.C., who was accompanied on the bench by the Worshipful the Mayor of Market Milcaster (Alderman Pettiford), the Vicar of Market Milcaster (the Rev. P.B. Clabberton, M.A., R.D.), Alderman Banks, J.P., Alderman Peters, J.P., Sir Gervais Racton, J.P., Colonel Fludgate, J.P., Captain Murrill, J.P., and other magistrates and gentlemen. There was a crowded attendance of the public in anticipation of the trial of John Maitland, ex-manager of the Market Milcaster Bank, and the reserved portions of the Court were filled with the elite of the town and neighbourhood, including a considerable number of ladies who manifested the greatest interest in the proceedings.

"The Recorder, in charging the Grand Jury, said he regretted that the very pleasant and gratifying experience which had been his upon the occasion of his last two official visits to Market Milcaster--he referred to the fact that on both those occasions his friend the Worshipful Mayor had been able to present him with a pair of white gloves--was not to be repeated on the present occasion. It would be their sad and regrettable lot to have before them a fellow-townsman whose family had for generations occupied a foremost position in the life of the borough. That fellow-townsman was charged with one of the most serious offences known to a commercial nation like ours: the offence of embezzling the moneys of the bank of which he had for many years been the trusted manager, and with which he had been connected all his life since his school days. He understood that the prisoner who would shortly be put before the court on his trial was about to plead guilty, and there would accordingly be no need for him to direct the gentlemen of the Grand Jury on this matter--what he had to say respecting the gravity and even enormity of the offence he would reserve. The Recorder then addressed himself to the Grand Jury on the merits of two minor cases, which came before the court at a later period of the morning, after which they retired, and having formally returned a true bill against the prisoner, and a petty jury, chosen from well-known burgesses of the town having been duly sworn.

"JOHN MAITLAND, aged 42, bank manager, of the Bank House, High Street, Market Milcaster, was formally charged with embezzling, on April 23rd, 1891, the sum of L4,875 10s. 6d., the moneys of his employers, the Market Milcaster Banking Company Ltd., and converting the same to his own use. The prisoner, who appeared to feel his position most acutely, and who looked very pale and much worn, was represented by Mr. Charles Doolittle, the well-known barrister of Kingshaven; Mr. Stephens, K.C., appeared on behalf of the prosecution.

"Maitland, upon being charged, pleaded guilty.

"Mr. Stephens, K.C., addressing the Recorder, said that without any desire to unduly press upon the prisoner, who, he ventured to think, had taken a very wise course in pleading guilty to that particular count in the indictment with which he stood charged, he felt bound, in the interests of justice, to set forth to the Court some particulars of the defalcations which had arisen through the prisoner's much lamented dishonesty. He proposed to offer a clear and succinct account of the matter. The prisoner, John Maitland, was the last of an old Market Milcaster family--he was, in fact, he believed, with the exception of his own infant son, the very last of the race. His father had been manager of the bank before him. Maitland himself had entered the service of the bank at the age of eighteen, when he left the local Grammar School; he succeeded his father as manager at the age of thirty-two; he had therefore occupied this highest position of trust for ten years. His directors had the fullest confidence in him; they relied on his honesty and his honour; they gave him discretionary powers such as no bank-manager, probably, ever enjoyed or held before. In fact, he was so trusted that he was, to all intents and purposes, the Market Milcaster Banking Company; in other words he was allowed full control over everything, and given full licence to do what he liked. Whether the directors were wise in extending such liberty to even the most trusted servant, it was not for him (Mr. Stephens) to say; it was some consolation, under the circumstances, to know that the loss would fall upon the directors, inasmuch as they themselves held nearly the whole of the shares. But he had to speak of the loss--of the serious defalcations which Maitland had committed. The prisoner had wisely pleaded guilty to the first count of the indictment. But there were no less than seventeen counts in the indictment. He had pleaded guilty to embezzling a sum of L4,875 odd. But the total amount of the defalcations, comprised in the seventeen counts, was no less--it seemed a most amazing sum!--than L221,573 8s. 6d.! There was the fact--the banking company had been robbed of over two hundred thousand pounds by the prisoner in the dock before a mere accident, the most trifling chance, had revealed to the astounded directors that he was robbing them at all. And the most serious feature of the whole case was that not one penny of this money had been, or ever could be, recovered. He believed that the prisoner's learned counsel was about to urge upon the Court that the prisoner himself had been tricked and deceived by another man, unfortunately not before the Court--a man, he understood, also well known in Market Milcaster, who was now dead, and therefore could not be called, but whether he was so tricked or deceived was no excuse for his clever and wholesale robbing of his employers. He had thought it necessary to put these facts--which would not be denied--before the Court, in order that it might be known how heavy the defalcations really had been, and that they should be considered in dealing with the prisoner.

"The Recorder asked if there was no possibility of recovering any part of the vast sum concerned.

"Mr. Stephens replied that they were informed that there was not the remotest chance--the money, it was said by prisoner and those acting on his behalf, had utterly vanished with the death of the man to whom he had just made reference.

"Mr. Doolittle, on behalf of the prisoner, craved to address a few words to the Court in mitigation of sentence. He thanked Mr. Stephens for the considerate and eminently dispassionate manner in which he had outlined the main facts of the case. He had no desire to minimize the prisoner's guilt. But, on prisoner's behalf, he desired to tell the true story as to how these things came to be. Until as recently as three years previously the prisoner had never made the slightest deviation from the straight path of integrity. Unfortunately for him, and, he believed, for some others in Market Milcaster, there came to the town three years before the present proceedings, a man named Chamberlayne, who commenced business in the High Street as a stock-and-share broker. A man of good address and the most plausible manners, Chamberlayne attracted a good many people--amongst them his unfortunate client. It was matter of common knowledge that Chamberlayne had induced numerous persons in Market Milcaster to enter into financial transactions with him; it was matter of common repute that those transactions had not always turned out well for Chamberlayne's clients. Unhappily for himself, Maitland had great faith in Chamberlayne. He had begun to have transactions with him in a large way; they had gone on and on in a large way until he was involved to vast amounts. Believing thoroughly in Chamberlayne and his methods, he had entrusted him with very large sums of money.

"The Recorder interrupted Mr. Doolittle at this point to ask if he was to understand that Mr. Doolittle was referring to the prisoner's own money.

"Mr. Doolittle replied that he was afraid the large sums he referred to were the property of the bank. But the prisoner had such belief in Chamberlayne that he firmly anticipated that all would be well, and that these sums would be repaid, and that a vast profit would result from their use.

"The Recorder remarked that he supposed the prisoner intended to put the profit into his own pockets.

"Mr. Doolittle said at any rate the prisoner assured him that of the two hundred and twenty thousand pounds which was in question, Chamberlayne had had the immediate handling of at least two hundred thousand, and he, the prisoner, had not the ghost of a notion as to what Chamberlayne had done with it. Unfortunately for everybody, for the bank, for some other people, and especially for his unhappy client, Chamberlayne died, very suddenly, just as these proceedings were instituted, and so far it had been absolutely impossible to trace anything of the moneys concerned. He had died under mysterious circumstances, and there was just as much mystery about his affairs.

"The Recorder observed that he was still waiting to hear what Mr. Doolittle had to urge in mitigation of any sentence he, the Recorder, might think fit to pass.

"Mr. Doolittle said that he would trouble the Court with as few remarks as possible. All that he could urge on behalf of the unfortunate man in the dock was that until three years ago he had borne a most exemplary character, and had never committed a dishonest action. It had been his misfortune, his folly, to allow a plausible man to persuade him to these acts of dishonesty. That man had been called to another account, and the prisoner was left to bear the consequences of his association with him. It seemed as if Chamberlayne had made away with the money for his own purposes, and it might be that it would yet be recovered. He would only ask the Court to remember the prisoner's antecedents and his previous good conduct, and to bear in mind that whatever his near future might be he was, in a commercial sense, ruined for life.

"The Recorder, in passing sentence, said that he had not heard a single word of valid excuse for Maitland's conduct. Such dishonesty must be punished in the most severe fashion, and the prisoner must go to penal servitude for ten years.

"Maitland, who heard the sentence unmoved, was removed from the town later in the day to the county jail at Saxchester."

Spargo read all this swiftly; then went over it again, noting certain points in it. At last he folded up the newspaper and turned to the house--to see old Quarterpage beckoning to him from the library window.