Chapter Ten. Melky Intervenes
 

Zillah had listened to Lauriston's answers to Mr. Parminter's searching questions with an anxiety which was obvious to those who sat near her. The signs of that anxiety were redoubled as she walked slowly to the box, and the glance she threw at the Coroner was almost appealing. But the Coroner was looking at his notes, and Zillah was obliged to turn to Mr. Parminter, whose accents became more mellifluous than ever as he addressed her; Mr. Parminter, indeed, confronting Zillah might have been taken for a kindly benevolent gentleman whose sole object was to administer condolence and comfort. Few people in court, however, failed to see the meaning of the questions which he began to put in the suavest and softest of tones.

"I believe you assisted your late grandfather in his business?" suggested Mr. Parminter.

"Just so! Now, how long had you assisted him in that way?"

"Ever since I left school--three years ago," replied Zillah.

"Three years--to be sure! And I believe you had resided with him for some years before that?"

"Ever since I was a little girl," admitted Zillah.

"In fact, the late Mr. Multenius brought you up? Just so!--therefore, of course, you would have some acquaintance with his business before you left school?"

"Yes--he taught me a good deal about it."

"You were always about the place, of course--yes? And I may take it that you gradually got a good deal of knowledge about the articles with which your grandfather had to deal? To be sure--thank you. In fact, you are entitled to regard yourself as something of an expert in precious stones and metals?"

"I know a good deal about them," replied Zillah.

"You could tell the value of a thing as accurately as your grandfather?"

"Ordinary things--yes."

"And you were very well acquainted with your grandfather's stock?"

"Yes."

Mr. Parminter motioned the official who had charge of it to place the tray of rings on the ledge of the witness-box.

"Oblige me by looking at that tray and the contents," he said. "You recognize it, of course? Just so. Now, do you know where that tray was when you went out, leaving your grandfather alone, yesterday afternoon?"

"Yes," replied Zillah, unhesitatingly. "On the table in the back-parlour-- where I saw it when I came in. My grandfather had taken it out of the front window, so that he could polish the rings."

"Do you know how many rings it contained?"

"No. Perhaps twenty-five or thirty."

"They are, I see, laid loosely in the tray, which is velvet-lined. They were always left like that? Just so. And you don't know how many there were--nor how many there should be there, now? As a matter of fact, there are twenty-seven rings there--you can't say that is the right number?"

"No," answered Zillah, "and my grandfather couldn't have said, either. A ring might be dropped into that tray--or a ring taken out. They are all old rings."

"But--valuable?" suggested Mr. Parminter.

"Some--yes. Others are not very valuable."

"Now what do you mean by that word valuable? What, for instance, is the value of the least valuable ring there, and what is that of the most valuable?"

Zillah glanced almost indifferently at the tray before her.

"Some of these rings are worth no more than five pounds," she replied. "Some--a few--are worth twenty to thirty pounds; one or two are worth more."

"And--they are all old?"

"They are all of old-fashioned workmanship," said Zillah. "Made a good many years ago, all of them. The diamonds, or pearls, are all right, of course."

Mr. Parminter handed over the half-sheet of paper on which Lauriston's rings had been exhibited to the Coroner and the jurymen.

"Look at those rings, if you please," he said quietly. "Are they of the same sort, the same class, of rings as those in the tray?"

"Yes," admitted Zillah. "Something the same."

"What is the value of those rings--separately?" enquired Mr. Parminter. "Please give us your professional opinion."

Zillah bent over the two rings for a while, turning them about.

"This is worth about thirty, and that about fifty pounds," she replied at last.

"In other words, these two rings are similar in style and value to the best rings in that tray?"

"Yes."

"Do you recognize those two rings?"

"No--not at all."

Mr. Parminter paused a moment, and caught the jury's attention with a sharp glance of his eye before he turned again to the witness.

"Could you have recognized any of the rings in that tray?" he asked.

"No!" said Zillah. "I could not."

"Then you could not possibly say--one way or another, if those rings were taken out of that tray?"

"No!"

"The fact is that all those rings--the two on the half-sheet of notepaper, and twenty-seven on the tray--are all of the same class as regards age and style--all very much of a muchness?"

"Yes," admitted Zillah.

"And you can't--you are on your oath remember!--you can't definitely say that those two rings were not picked up from that tray, amongst the others?"

"No," replied Zillah. "But I can't say that they were! And--I don't believe they were. I don't believe they were our rings!"

Mr. Parminter smiled quietly and again swept the interested jurymen with his quick glance.

Then he turned to Zillah with another set of questions.

"How long have you known the last witness--Andrew Lauriston?" he enquired.

"Since one day last week," replied Zillah.

She had flushed at the mention of Lauriston's name, and Mr. Parminter was quick to see it.

"How did you get to know him?" he continued.

"By his coming to the shop--on business."

"To pawn his watch, I believe?"

"Yes."

"You attended to him?"

"Yes."

"You had never seen him before?"

"No."

"Ever seen him since?"

Zillah hesitated for a moment.

"I saw him--accidentally--in Kensington Gardens, on Sunday," she answered at last.

"Have any conversation with him?"

"Yes," admitted Zillah.

"About--pawnbroking?"

"No!" retorted Zillah. "About his work--writing."

"Did he tell you he was very hard up?"

"I knew that!" said Zillah. "Hadn't he pawned his watch?"

"Perhaps--you seem to be a very good business woman--perhaps you gave him some advice?"

"Yes, I did! I advised him, as long as he'd anything on which he could raise money, not to let himself go without money in his pocket."

"Excellent advice!" said Mr. Parminter, with a smile.

He leaned forward, looking at his witness more earnestly. "Now, did Lauriston, on Sunday, or when you saw him before, ever mention to you that he possessed two rings of some value?"

"No," replied Zillah.

Mr. Parminter paused, hesitated, suddenly bowed to the Coroner, and dropping back into his seat, pulled out his snuff-box. And the Coroner, motioning Zillah to leave the witness-box, interrupted Mr. Parminter in the midst of a pinch of snuff.

"I think it will be best to adjourn at this stage," he said. "It is obvious that we can't finish this today." He turned to the jurymen. "I propose to adjourn this enquiry for a week, gentlemen," he went on. "In the meantime--"

His attention was suddenly arrested by Melky Rubinstein, who, after much uneasiness and fidgeting, rose from his seat and made his way to the foot of the table, manifestly desiring to speak.

"What is it?" asked the Coroner. "Who are you? Oh!--the witness who identified the body. Yes?"

"Mr. Coroner!" said Melky, in his most solemn tones. "This here inquest ain't being conducted right, sir! I don't mean by you--but these here gentlemen, the police, and Mr. Parminter there, is going off on a wrong scent. I know what they're after, and they're wrong! They're suppressing evidence, Mr. Coroner." Melky turned on Ayscough. "What about the clue o' this here old book?" he demanded. "Why ain't you bringing that forward? I'm the late Daniel Multenius's nearest male relative, and I say that clue's a deal more important nor what we've been hearing all the morning. What about that book, now, Mr. Ayscough? Come on!--what about it!--and its owner?"

"What is this?" demanded the Coroner. "If there is anything--"

"Anything, sir!" exclaimed Melky. "There's just this--between the time that my cousin there, Miss Zillah Wildrose left the old man alive, and the time when Mr. Lauriston found him dead, somebody came into the shop as left a valuable book behind him on the parlour table, which book, according to all the advertisements in the morning papers, is the property of Mr. Spencer Levendale, the Member of Parliament, as lives in Sussex Square. Why ain't that matter brought up? Why ain't Mr. Levendale brought here? I ask you, Mr. Coroner, to have it seen into! There's more behind it--"

The Coroner held up a hand and beckoned the police inspector and Mr. Parminter to approach his desk; a moment later, Ayscough was summoned. And Lauriston, watching the result of this conference, was quickly aware that the Coroner was not particularly pleased; he suddenly turned on the inspector with a question which was heard by every one in court.

"Why was not the matter of the book put before the Court at first?" he demanded. "It seems to me that there may be a most important clue in it. The fact of the book's having been found should most certainly have been mentioned, at once. I shall adjourn for a week, from today, and you will produce the book and bring Mr. Spencer Levendale here as a witness. This day week, gentlemen!"

Melky Rubinstein turned, whispered a hurried word to Zillah and Mrs. Goldmark, and then, seizing Lauriston by the elbow, drew him quickly away from the court.