The Red Thumb Mark by R. Austin Freeman
Chapter XV. The Finger-Print Experts
The hum of conversation that had been gradually increasing as the court filled suddenly ceased. A door at the back of the dais was flung open; counsel, solicitors, and spectators alike rose to their feet; and the judge entered, closely followed by the Lord Mayor, the sheriff, and various civic magnates, all picturesque and gorgeous in their robes and chains of office. The Clerk of Arraigns took his place behind his table under the dais; the counsel suspended their conversation and fingered their briefs; and, as the judge took his seat, lawyers, officials, and spectators took their seats, and all eyes were turned towards the dock.
A few moments later Reuben Hornby appeared in the enclosure in company with a warder, the two rising, apparently, from the bowels of the earth, and, stepping forward to the bar, stood with a calm and self-possessed demeanour, glancing somewhat curiously around the court. For an instant his eye rested upon the group of friends and well-wishers seated behind the counsel, and the faintest trace of a smile appeared on his face; but immediately he turned his eyes away and never again throughout the trial looked in our direction.
The Clerk of Arraigns now rose and, reading from the indictment which lay before him on the table, addressed the prisoner--
"Reuben Hornby, you stand indicted for that you did, on the ninth or tenth day of March, feloniously steal a parcel of diamonds of the goods and chattels of John Hornby. Are you guilty or not guilty?"
"Not guilty," replied Reuben.
The Clerk of Arraigns, having noted the prisoner's reply, then proceeded--
"The gentlemen whose names are about to be called will form the jury who are to try you. If you wish to object to any of them, you must do so as each comes to the book to be sworn, and before he is sworn. You will then be heard."
In acknowledgment of this address, which was delivered in clear, ringing tones, and with remarkable distinctness, Reuben bowed to the clerk, and the process of swearing-in the jury was commenced, while the counsel opened their briefs and the judge conversed facetiously with an official in a fur robe and a massive neck chain.
Very strange, to unaccustomed eyes and ears, was the effect of this function--half solemn and half grotesque, with an effect intermediate between that of a religious rite and that of a comic opera. Above the half-suppressed hum of conversation the clerk's voice arose at regular intervals, calling out the name of one of the jurymen, and, as its owner stood up, the court usher, black-gowned and sacerdotal of aspect, advanced and proffered the book. Then, as the juryman took the volume in his hand, the voice of the usher resounded through the court like that of a priest intoning some refrain or antiphon--an effect that was increased by the rhythmical and archaic character of the formula--
A stolid-looking working-man rose and, taking the Testament in his hand, stood regarding the usher while that official sang out in a solemn monotone--
"You shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar, whom you shall have in charge, and a true verdict give according to the evidence. So help you God!"
"James Piper!" Another juryman rose and was given the Book to hold; and again the monotonous sing-song arose--
"You shall well and truly try and true deliverance make, etc."
"I shall scream aloud if that horrible chant goes on much longer," Juliet whispered. "Why don't they all swear at once and have done with it?"
"That would not meet the requirements," I answered. "However, there are only two more, so you must have patience."
"And you will have patience with me, too, won't you? I am horribly frightened. It is all so solemn and dreadful."
"You must try to keep up your courage until Dr. Thorndyke has given his evidence," I said. "Remember that, until he has spoken, everything is against Reuben; so be prepared."
"I will try," she answered meekly; "but I can't help being terrified."
The last of the jurymen was at length sworn, and when the clerk had once more called out the names one by one, the usher counting loudly as each man answered to his name, the latter officer turned to the Court and spectators, and proclaimed in solemn tones--
"If anyone can inform my Lords the King's justices, the King's attorney-general, or the King's serjeant, ere this inquest be now taken between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar, of any treason, murder, felony or misdemeanour, committed or done by him, let him come forth and he shall be heard; for the prisoner stands at the bar upon his deliverance."
This proclamation was followed by a profound silence, and after a brief interval the Clerk of Arraigns turned towards the jury and addressed them collectively--
"Gentlemen of the jury, the prisoner at the bar stands indicted by the name of Reuben Hornby, for that he, on the ninth or tenth of March, feloniously did steal, take and carry away a parcel of diamonds of the goods of John Hornby. To this indictment he has pleaded that he is not guilty, and your charge is to inquire whether he be guilty or not and to hearken to the evidence."
When he had finished his address the clerk sat down, and the judge, a thin-faced, hollow-eyed elderly man, with bushy grey eyebrows and a very large nose, looked attentively at Reuben for some moments over the tops of his gold-rimmed pince-nez. Then he turned towards the counsel nearest the bench and bowed slightly.
The barrister bowed in return and rose, and for the first time I obtained a complete view of Sir Hector Trumpler, K.C., the counsel for the prosecution. His appearance was not prepossessing nor--though he was a large man and somewhat florid as to his countenance--particularly striking, except for a general air of untidiness. His gown was slipping off one shoulder, his wig was perceptibly awry, and his pince-nez threatened every moment to drop from his nose.
"The case that I have to present to you, my lord and gentlemen of the jury," he began in a clear, though unmusical voice, "is one the like of which is but too often met with in this court. It is one in which we shall see unbounded trust met by treacherous deceit, in which we shall see countless benefactions rewarded by the basest ingratitude, and in which we shall witness the deliberate renunciation of a life of honourable effort in favour of the tortuous and precarious ways of the criminal. The facts of the case are briefly as follows: The prosecutor in this case--most unwilling prosecutor, gentlemen--is Mr. John Hornby, who is a metallurgist and dealer in precious metals. Mr. Hornby has two nephews, the orphan sons of his two elder brothers, and I may tell you that since the decease of their parents he has acted the part of a father to both of them. One of these nephews is Mr. Walter Hornby, and the other is Reuben Hornby, the prisoner at the bar. Both of these nephews were received by Mr. Hornby into his business with a view to their succeeding him when he should retire, and both, I need not say, occupied positions of trust and responsibility.
"Now, on the evening of the ninth of March there was delivered to Mr. Hornby a parcel of rough diamonds of which one of his clients asked him to take charge pending their transfer to the brokers. I need not burden you with irrelevant details concerning this transaction. It will suffice to say that the diamonds, which were of the aggregate value of about thirty thousand pounds, were delivered to him, and the unopened package deposited by him in his safe, together with a slip of paper on which he had written in pencil a memorandum of the circumstances. This was on the evening of the ninth of March, as I have said. Having deposited the parcel, Mr. Hornby locked the safe, and shortly afterwards left the premises and went home, taking the keys with him.
"On the following morning, when he unlocked the safe, he perceived with astonishment and dismay that the parcel of diamonds had vanished. The slip of paper, however, lay at the bottom of the safe, and on picking it up Mr. Hornby perceived that it bore a smear of blood, and in addition, the distinct impression of a human thumb. On this he closed and locked the safe and sent a note to the police station, in response to which a very intelligent officer--Inspector Sanderson--came and made a preliminary examination. I need not follow the case further, since the details will appear in the evidence, but I may tell you that, in effect, it has been made clear, beyond all doubt, that the thumb-print on that paper was the thumb-print of the prisoner, Reuben Hornby."
He paused to adjust his glasses, which were in the very act of falling from his nose, and hitch up his gown, while he took a leisurely survey of the jury, as though he were estimating their impressionability. At this moment I observed Walter Hornby enter the court and take up a position at the end of our bench nearest the door; and, immediately after, Superintendent Miller came in and seated himself on one of the benches opposite.
"The first witness whom I shall call," said Sir Hector Trumpler, "is John Hornby."
Mr. Hornby, looking wild and agitated, stepped into the witness-box, and the usher, having handed him the Testament, sang out--
"The evidence you shall give to the court and jury sworn, between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you God!"
Mr. Hornby kissed the Book, and, casting a glance of unutterable misery at his nephew, turned towards the counsel.
"Your name is John Hornby, is it not?" asked Sir Hector.
"And you occupy premises in St. Mary Axe?"
"Yes. I am a dealer in precious metals, but my business consists principally in the assaying of samples of ore and quartz and bars of silver and gold."
"Do you remember what happened on the ninth of March last?"
"Perfectly. My nephew Reuben--the prisoner--delivered to me a parcel of diamonds which he had received from the purser of the Elmina Castle, to whom I had sent him as my confidential agent. I had intended to deposit the diamonds with my banker, but when the prisoner arrived at my office, the banks were already closed, so I had to put the parcel, for the night, in my own safe. I may say that the prisoner was not in any way responsible for the delay."
"You are not here to defend the prisoner," said Sir Hector. "Answer my questions and make no comments, if you please. Was anyone present when you placed the diamonds in the safe?" "No one was present but myself."
"I did not ask if you were present when you put them in," said Sir Hector (whereupon the spectators sniggered and the judge smiled indulgently). "What else did you do?"
"I wrote in pencil on a leaf of my pocket memorandum block, 'Handed in by Reuben at 7.3 p.m., 9.3.01,' and initialled it. Then I tore the leaf from the block and laid it on the parcel, after which I closed the safe and locked it."
"How soon did you leave the premises after this?"
"Almost immediately. The prisoner was waiting for me in the outer office--"
"Never mind where the prisoner was; confine your answers to what is asked. Did you take the keys with you?"
"When did you next open the safe?"
"On the following morning at ten o'clock."
"Was the safe locked or unlocked when you arrived?"
"It was locked. I unlocked it."
"Did you notice anything unusual about the safe?"
"Had the keys left your custody in the interval?"
"No. They were attached to a key-chain, which I always wear."
"Are there any duplicates of those keys?--the keys of the safe, I mean."
"No, there are no duplicates."
"Have the keys ever gone out of your possession?"
"Yes. If I have had to be absent from the office for a considerable time, it has been my custom to hand the keys to one of my nephews, whichever has happened to be in charge at the time."
"And never to any other person?"
"Never to any other person."
"What did you observe when you opened the safe?"
"I observed that the parcel of diamonds had disappeared."
"Did you notice anything else?"
"Yes. I found the leaf from my memorandum block lying at the bottom of the safe. I picked it up and turned it over, and then saw that there were smears of blood on it and what looked like the print of a thumb in blood. The thumb-mark was on the under-surface, as the paper lay at the bottom of the safe."
"What did you do next?"
"I closed and locked the safe, and sent a note to the police station saying that a robbery had been committed on my premises."
"You have known the prisoner several years, I believe?"
"Yes; I have known him all his life. He is my eldest brother's son."
"Then you can tell us, no doubt, whether he is left-handed or right-handed?"
"I should say he was ambidextrous, but he uses his left hand by preference."
"A fine distinction, Mr. Hornby; a very fine distinction. Now tell me, did you ascertain beyond all doubt that the diamonds were really gone?"
"Yes; I examined the safe thoroughly, first by myself and afterwards with the police. There was no doubt that the diamonds had really gone."
"When the detective suggested that you should have the thumb-prints of your two nephews taken, did you refuse?"
"Why did you refuse?"
"Because I did not choose to subject my nephews to the indignity. Besides, I had no power to make them submit to the proceeding."
"Had you any suspicions of either of them?"
"I had no suspicions of anyone."
"Kindly examine this piece of paper, Mr. Hornby," said Sir Hector, passing across a small oblong slip, "and tell us if you recognise it."
Mr. Hornby glanced at the paper for a moment, and then said--
"This is the memorandum slip that I found lying at the bottom of the safe."
"How do you identify it?"
"By the writing on it, which is in my own hand, and bears my initials."
"Is it the memorandum that you placed on the parcel of diamonds?"
"Was there any thumb-mark or blood-smear on it when you placed it in the safe?"
"Was it possible that there could have been any such marks?"
"Quite impossible. I tore it from my memorandum block at the time I wrote upon it."
"Very well." Sir Hector Trumpler sat down, and Mr. Anstey stood up to cross-examine the witness.
"You have told us, Mr. Hornby," said he, "that you have known the prisoner all his life. Now what estimate have you formed of his character?"
"I have always regarded him as a young man of the highest character--honourable, truthful, and in every way trustworthy. I have never, in all my experience of him, known him to deviate a hair's-breadth from the strictest honour and honesty of conduct."
"You regarded him as a man of irreproachable character. Is that so?"
"That is so; and my opinion of him is unchanged."
"Has he, to your knowledge, any expensive or extravagant habits?"
"No. His habits are simple and rather thrifty."
"Have you ever known him to bet, gamble, or speculate?"
"Has he ever seemed to be in want of money?"
"No. He has a small private income, apart from his salary, which I know he does not spend, since I have occasionally employed my broker to invest his savings."
"Apart from the thumb-print which was found in the safe, are you aware of any circumstances that would lead you to suspect the prisoner of having stolen the diamonds?"
Mr. Anstey sat down, and as Mr. Hornby left the witness-box, mopping the perspiration from his forehead, the next witness was called.
The dapper police officer stepped briskly into the box, and having been duly sworn, faced the prosecuting counsel with the air of a man who was prepared for any contingency.
"Do you remember," said Sir Hector, after the usual preliminaries had been gone through, "what occurred on the morning of the tenth of March?"
"Yes. A note was handed to me at the station at 10.23 a.m. It was from Mr. John Hornby, and stated that a robbery had occurred at his premises in St. Mary Axe. I went to the premises and arrived there at 10.31 a.m. There I saw the prosecutor, Mr. John Hornby, who told me that a parcel of diamonds had been stolen from the safe. At his request I examined the safe. There were no signs of its having been forced open; the locks seemed to be quite uninjured and in good order. Inside the safe, on the bottom, I found two good-sized drops of blood, and a slip of paper with pencil-writing on it. The paper bore two blood-smears and a print of a human thumb in blood."
"Is this the paper?" asked the counsel, passing a small slip across to the witness.
"Yes," replied the inspector, after a brief glance at the document.
"What did you do next?" "I sent a message to Scotland Yard acquainting the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department with the facts, and then went back to the station. I had no further connection with the case."
Sir Hector sat down, and the judge glanced at Anstey.
"You tell us," said the latter, rising, "that you observed two good-sized drops of blood on the bottom of the safe. Did you notice the condition of the blood, whether moist or dry?"
"The blood looked moist, but I did not touch it. I left it undisturbed for the detective officers to examine."
The next witness called was Sergeant Bates, of the Criminal Investigation Department. He stepped into the box with the same ready, business-like air as the other officer, and, having been sworn, proceeded to give his evidence with a fluency that suggested careful preparation, holding an open notebook in his hand but making no references to it.
"On the tenth of March, at 12.8 p.m., I received instructions to proceed to St. Mary Axe to inquire into a robbery that had taken place there. Inspector Sanderson's report was handed to me, and I read it in the cab on my way to the premises. On arriving at the premises at 12.30 p.m., I examined the safe carefully. It was quite uninjured, and there were no marks of any kind upon it. I tested the locks and found them perfect; there were no marks or indications of any picklock having been used. On the bottom of the inside I observed two rather large drops of a dark fluid. I took up some of the fluid on a piece of paper and found it to be blood. I also found, in the bottom of the safe, the burnt head of a wax match, and, on searching the floor of the office, I found, close by the safe, a used wax match from which the head had fallen. I also found a slip of paper which appeared to have been torn from a perforated block. On it was written in pencil, 'Handed in by Reuben at 7.3 p.m. 9.3.01. J.H.' There were two smears of blood on the paper and the impression of a human thumb in blood. I took possession of the paper in order that it might be examined by the experts. I inspected the office doors and the outer door of the premises, but found no signs of forcible entrance on any of them. I questioned the housekeeper, but obtained no information from him. I then returned to headquarters, made my report and handed the paper with the marks on it to the Superintendent."
"Is this the paper that you found in the safe?" asked the counsel, once more handing the leaflet across.
"Yes; this is the paper."
"What happened next?"
"The following afternoon I was sent for by Mr. Singleton, of the Finger-print Department. He informed me that he had gone through the files and had not been able to find any thumb-print resembling the one on the paper, and recommended me to endeavour to obtain prints of the thumbs of any persons who might have been concerned in the robbery. He also gave me an enlarged photograph of the thumb-print for reference if necessary. I accordingly went to St. Mary Axe and had an interview with Mr. Hornby, when I requested him to allow me to take prints of the thumbs of all the persons employed on the premises, including his two nephews. This he refused, saying that he distrusted finger-prints and that there was no suspicion of anyone on the premises. I asked if he would allow his nephews to furnish their thumb-prints privately, to which he replied, 'Certainly not.'"
"Had you then any suspicion of either of the nephews?"
"I thought they were both open to some suspicion. The safe had certainly been opened with false keys, and as they had both had the real keys in their possession it was possible that one of them might have taken impressions in wax and made counterfeit keys."
"I called on Mr. Hornby several times and urged him, for the sake of his nephews' reputations, to sanction the taking of the thumb-prints; but he refused very positively and forbade them to submit, although I understood that they were both willing. It then occurred to me to try if I could get any help from Mrs. Hornby, and on the fifteenth of March I called at Mr. Hornby's private house and saw her. I explained to her what was wanted to clear her nephews from the suspicion that rested on them, and she then said that she could dispose of those suspicions at once, for she could show me the thumb-prints of the whole family: she had them all in a 'Thumbograph.'"
"A 'Thumbograph'?" repeated the judge. "What is a 'Thumbograph'?"
Anstey rose with the little red-covered volume in his hand.
"A 'Thumbograph,' my lord," said he, "is a book, like this, in which foolish people collect the thumb-prints of their more foolish acquaintances."
He passed the volume up to the judge, who turned over the leaves curiously and then nodded to the witness.
"Yes. She said she had them all in a 'Thumbograph.'"
"Then she fetched from a drawer a small red-covered book which she showed to me. It contained the thumb-prints of all the family and some of her friends."
"Is this the book?" asked the judge, passing the volume down to the witness.
The sergeant turned over the leaves until he came to one which he apparently recognised, and said--
"Yes, m'lord; this is the book. Mrs. Hornby showed me the thumb-prints of various members of the family, and then found those of the two nephews. I compared them with the photograph that I had with me and discovered that the print of the left thumb of Reuben Hornby was in every respect identical with the thumb-print shown in the photograph."
"What did you do then?"
"I asked Mrs. Hornby to lend me the 'Thumbograph' so that I might show it to the Chief of the Finger-print Department, to which she consented. I had not intended to tell her of my discovery, but, as I was leaving, Mr. Hornby arrived home, and when he heard of what had taken place, he asked me why I wanted the book, and then I told him. He was greatly astonished and horrified, and wished me to return the book at once. He proposed to let the whole matter drop and take the loss of the diamonds on himself; but I pointed out that this was impossible as it would practically amount to compounding a felony. Seeing that Mrs. Hornby was so distressed at the idea of her book being used in evidence against her nephew, I promised her that I would return it to her if I could obtain a thumb-print in any other way.
"I then took the 'Thumbograph' to Scotland Yard and showed it to Mr. Singleton, who agreed that the print of the left thumb of Reuben Hornby was in every respect identical with the thumb-print on the paper found in the safe. On this I applied for a warrant for the arrest of Reuben Hornby, which I executed on the following morning. I told the prisoner what I had promised Mrs. Hornby, and he then offered to allow me to take a print of his left thumb so that his aunt's book should not have to be used in evidence."
"How is it, then," asked the judge, "that it has been put in evidence?"
"It has been put in by the defence, my lord," said Sir Hector Trumpler.
"I see," said the judge. "'A hair of the dog that bit him.' The 'Thumbograph' is to be applied as a remedy on the principle that similia similibus curantur. Well?"
"When I arrested him, I administered the usual caution, and the prisoner then said, 'I am innocent. I know nothing about the robbery.'"
The counsel for the prosecution sat down, and Anstey rose to cross-examine.
"You have told us," said he, in his clear musical voice, "that you found at the bottom of the safe two rather large drops of a dark fluid which you considered to be blood. Now, what led you to believe that fluid to be blood?"
"I took some of the fluid up on a piece of white paper, and it had the appearance and colour of blood."
"Was it examined microscopically or otherwise?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Was it quite liquid?"
"Yes, I should say quite liquid."
"What appearance had it on paper?"
"It looked like a clear red liquid of the colour of blood, and was rather thick and sticky."
Anstey sat down, and the next witness, an elderly man, answering to the name of Francis Simmons, was called.
"You are the housekeeper at Mr. Hornby's premises in St. Mary Axe?" asked Sir Hector Trumpler.
"Did you notice anything unusual on the night of the ninth of March?"
"I did not."
"Did you make your usual rounds on that occasion?"
"Yes. I went all over the premises several times during the night, and the rest of the time I was in a room over the private office."
"Who arrived first on the morning of the tenth?"
"Mr. Reuben. He arrived about twenty minutes before anybody else."
"What part of the building did he go to?"
"He went into the private office, which I opened for him. He remained there until a few minutes before Mr. Hornby arrived, when he went up to the laboratory."
"Who came next?"
"Mr. Hornby, and Mr. Walter came in just after him."
The counsel sat down, and Anstey proceeded to cross-examine the witness.
"Who was the last to leave the premises on the evening of the ninth?"
"I am not sure."
"Why are you not sure?"
"I had to take a note and a parcel to a firm in Shoreditch. When I started, a clerk named Thomas Holker was in the outer office and Mr. Walter Hornby was in the private office. When I returned they had both gone."
"Was the outer door locked?"
"Had Holker a key of the outer door?"
"No. Mr. Hornby and his two nephews had each a key, and I have one. No one else had a key."
"How long were you absent?"
"About three-quarters of an hour."
"Who gave you the note and the parcel?"
"Mr. Walter Hornby."
"When did he give them to you?"
"He gave them to me just before I started, and told me to go at once for fear the place should be closed before I got there."
"And was the place closed?"
"Yes. It was all shut up, and everybody had gone."
Anstey resumed his seat, the witness shuffled out of the box with an air of evident relief, and the usher called out, "Henry James Singleton."
Mr. Singleton rose from his seat at the table by the solicitors for the prosecution and entered the box. Sir Hector adjusted his glasses, turned over a page of his brief, and cast a steady and impressive glance at the jury.
"I believe, Mr. Singleton," he said at length, "that you are connected with the Finger-print Department at Scotland Yard?"
"Yes. I am one of the chief assistants in that department."
"What are your official duties?"
"My principal occupation consists in the examination and comparison of the finger-prints of criminals and suspected persons. These finger-prints are classified by me according to their characters and arranged in files for reference."
"I take it that you have examined a great number of finger-prints?"
"I have examined many thousands of finger-prints, and have studied them closely for purposes of identification."
"Kindly examine this paper, Mr. Singleton" (here the fatal leaflet was handed to him by the usher); "have you ever seen it before?"
"Yes. It was handed to me for examination at my office on the tenth of March."
"There is a mark upon it--the print of a finger or thumb. Can you tell us anything about that mark?" "It is the print of the left thumb of Reuben Hornby, the prisoner at the bar."
"You are quite sure of that?"
"I am quite sure."
"Do you swear that the mark upon that paper was made by the thumb of the prisoner?"
"Could it not have been made by the thumb of some other person?"
"No; it is impossible that it could have been made by any other person."
At this moment I felt Juliet lay a trembling hand on mine, and, glancing at her, I saw that she was deathly pale. I took her hand in mine and, pressing it gently, whispered to her, "Have courage; there is nothing unexpected in this."
"Thank you," she whispered in reply, with a faint smile; "I will try; but it is all so horribly unnerving."
"You consider," Sir Hector proceeded, "that the identity of this thumb-print admits of no doubt?" "It admits of no doubt whatever," replied Mr. Singleton.
"Can you explain to us, without being too technical, how you have arrived at such complete certainty?"
"I myself took a print of the prisoner's thumb--having first obtained the prisoner's consent after warning him that the print would be used in evidence against him--and I compared that print with the mark on this paper. The comparison was made with the greatest care and by the most approved method, point by point and detail by detail, and the two prints were found to be identical in every respect.
"Now it has been proved by exact calculations--which calculations I have personally verified---that the chance that the print of a single finger of any given person will be exactly like the print of the same finger of any other given person is as one to sixty-four thousand millions. That is to say that, since the number of the entire human race is about sixteen thousand millions, the chance is about one to four that the print of a single finger of any one person will be identical with that of the same finger of any other member of the human race.
"It has been said by a great authority--and I entirely agree with the statement--that a complete, or nearly complete, accordance between two prints of a single finger affords evidence requiring no corroboration that the persons from whom they were made are the same.
"Now, these calculations apply to the prints of ordinary and normal fingers or thumbs. But the thumb from which these prints were taken is not ordinary or normal. There is upon it a deep but clean linear scar--the scar of an old incised wound--and this scar passes across the pattern of the ridges, intersecting the latter at certain places and disturbing their continuity at others. Now this very characteristic scar is an additional feature, having a set of chances of its own. So that we have to consider not only the chance that the print of the prisoner's left thumb should be identical with the print of some other person's left thumb--which is as one to sixty-four thousand millions--but the further chance that these two identical thumb-prints should be traversed by the impression of a scar identical in size and appearance, and intersecting the ridges at exactly the same places and producing failures of continuity in the ridges of exactly the same character. But these two chances, multiplied into one another, yield an ultimate chance of about one to four thousand trillions that the prisoner's left thumb will exactly resemble the print of some other person's thumb, both as to the pattern and the scar which crosses the pattern; in other words such a coincidence is an utter impossibility."
Sir Hector Trumpler took off his glasses and looked long and steadily at the jury as though he should say, "Come, my friends; what do you think of that?" Then he sat down with a jerk and turned towards Anstey and Thorndyke with a look of triumph.
"Do you propose to cross-examine the witness?" inquired the judge, seeing that the counsel for the defence made no sign.
"No, my lord," replied Anstey.
Thereupon Sir Hector Trumpler turned once more towards the defending counsel, and his broad, red face was illumined by a smile of deep satisfaction. That smile was reflected on the face of Mr. Singleton as he stepped from the box, and, as I glanced at Thorndyke, I seemed to detect, for a single instant, on his calm and immovable countenance, the faintest shadow of a smile.
"Herbert John Nash!"
A plump, middle-aged man, of keen, though studious, aspect, stepped into the box, and Sir Hector rose once more.
"You are one of the chief assistants in the Finger-print Department, I believe, Mr. Nash?"
"Have you heard the evidence of the last witness?"
"Do you agree with the statements made by that witness?"
"Entirely. I am prepared to swear that the print on the paper found in the safe is that of the left thumb of the prisoner, Reuben Hornby."
"And you are certain that no mistake is possible?"
"I am certain that no mistake is possible."
Again Sir Hector glanced significantly at the jury as he resumed his seat, and again Anstey made no sign beyond the entry of a few notes on the margin of his brief.
"Are you calling any more witnesses?" asked the judge, dipping his pen in the ink.
"No, my lord," replied Sir Hector. "That is our case."
Upon this Anstey rose and, addressing the judge, said--
"I call witnesses, my lord."
The judge nodded and made an entry in his notes while Anstey delivered his brief introductory speech--
"My lord and gentlemen of the jury, I shall not occupy the time of the Court with unnecessary appeals at this stage, but shall proceed to take the evidence of my witnesses without delay."
There was a pause of a minute or more, during which the silence was broken only by the rustle of papers and the squeaking of the judge's quill pen. Juliet turned a white, scared face to me and said in a hushed whisper--
"This is terrible. That last man's evidence is perfectly crushing. What can possibly be said in reply? I am in despair; oh! poor Reuben! He is lost, Dr. Jervis! He hasn't a chance now."
"Do you believe that he is guilty?" I asked.
"Certainly not!" she replied indignantly. "I am as certain of his innocence as ever."
"Then," said I, "if he is innocent, there must be some means of proving his innocence."
"Yes. I suppose so," she rejoined in a dejected whisper. "At any rate we shall soon know now."
At this moment the usher's voice was heard calling out the name of the first witness for the defence.
"Edmund Horford Rowe!"
A keen-looking, grey-haired man, with a shaven face and close-cut side-whiskers, stepped into the box and was sworn in due form.
"You are a doctor of medicine, I believe," said Anstey, addressing the witness, "and lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence at the South London Hospital?"
"Have you had occasion to study the properties of blood?"
"Yes. The properties of blood are of great importance from a medico-legal point of view."
"Can you tell us what happens when a drop of blood--say from a cut finger--falls upon a surface such as the bottom of an iron safe?"
"A drop of blood from a living body falling upon any non-absorbent surface will, in the course of a few minutes, solidify into a jelly which will, at first, have the same bulk and colour as the liquid blood."
"Will it undergo any further change?"
"Yes. In a few minutes more the jelly will begin to shrink and become more solid so that the blood will become separated into two parts, the solid and the liquid. The solid part will consist of a firm, tough jelly of a deep red colour, and the liquid part will consist of a pale yellow, clear, watery liquid."
"At the end, say, of two hours, what will be the condition of the drop of blood?"
"It will consist of a drop of clear, nearly colourless liquid, in the middle of which will be a small, tough, red clot."
"Supposing such a drop to be taken up on a piece of white paper, what would be its appearance?"
"The paper would be wetted by the colourless liquid, and the solid clot would probably adhere to the paper in a mass."
"Would the blood on the paper appear as a clear, red liquid?"
"Certainly not. The liquid would appear like water, and the clot would appear as a solid mass sticking to the paper."
"Does blood always behave in the way you have described?"
"Always, unless some artificial means are taken to prevent it from clotting."
"By what means can blood be prevented from clotting or solidifying?"
"There are two principal methods. One is to stir or whip the fresh blood rapidly with a bundle of fine twigs. When this is done, the fibrin--the part of the blood that causes solidification--adheres to the twigs, and the blood that remains, though it is unchanged in appearance, will remain liquid for an indefinite time. The other method is to dissolve a certain proportion of some alkaline salt in the fresh blood, after which it no longer has any tendency to solidify."
"You have heard the evidence of Inspector Sanderson and Sergeant Bates?"
"Inspector Sanderson has told us that he examined the safe at 10.31 a.m. and found two good-sized drops of blood on the bottom. Sergeant Bates has told us that he examined the safe two hours later, and that he took up one of the drops of blood on a piece of white paper. The blood was then quite liquid, and, on the paper, it looked like a clear, red liquid of the colour of blood. What should you consider the condition and nature of that blood to have been?"
"If it was really blood at all, I should say that it was either defibrinated blood--that is, blood from which the fibrin has been extracted by whipping--or that it had been treated with an alkaline salt."
"You are of opinion that the blood found in the safe could not have been ordinary blood shed from a cut or wound?"
"I am sure it could not have been."
"Now, Dr. Rowe, I am going to ask you a few questions on another subject. Have you given any attention to finger-prints made by bloody fingers?"
"Yes. I have recently made some experiments on the subject."
"Will you give us the results of those experiments?"
"My object was to ascertain whether fingers wet with fresh blood would yield distinct and characteristic prints. I made a great number of trials, and as a result found that it is extremely difficult to obtain a clear print when the finger is wetted with fresh blood. The usual result is a mere red blot showing no ridge pattern at all, owing to the blood filling the furrows between the ridges. But if the blood is allowed to dry almost completely on the finger, a very clear print is obtained."
"Is it possible to recognise a print that has been made by a nearly dry finger?"
"Yes; quite easily. The half-dried blood is nearly solid and adheres to the paper in a different way from the liquid, and it shows minute details, such as the mouths of the sweat glands, which are always obliterated by the liquid."
"Look carefully at this paper, which was found in the safe, and tell me what you see."
The witness took the paper and examined it attentively, first with the naked eye and then with a pocket-lens.
"I see," said he, "two blood-marks and a print, apparently of a thumb. Of the two marks, one is a blot, smeared slightly by a finger or thumb; the other is a smear only. Both were evidently produced with quite liquid blood. The thumb-print was also made with liquid blood."
"You are quite sure that the thumb-print was made with liquid blood?"
"Is there anything unusual about the thumb-print?"
"Yes. It is extraordinarily clear and distinct. I have made a great number of trials and have endeavoured to obtain the clearest prints possible with fresh blood; but none of my prints are nearly as distinct as this one."
Here the witness produced a number of sheets of paper, each of which was covered with the prints of bloody fingers, and compared them with the memorandum slip.
The papers were handed to the judge for his inspection, and Anstey sat down, when Sir Hector Trumpler rose, with a somewhat puzzled expression on his face, to cross-examine.
"You say that the blood found in the safe was defibrinated or artificially treated. What inference do you draw from that fact?"
"I infer that it was not dropped from a bleeding wound."
"Can you form any idea how such blood should have got into the safe?"
"You say that the thumb-print is a remarkably distinct one. What conclusion do you draw from that?"
"I do not draw any conclusion. I cannot account for its distinctness at all."
The learned counsel sat down with rather a baffled air, and I observed a faint smile spread over the countenance of my colleague.
A muffled whimpering from my neighbour on the left hand was accompanied by a wild rustling of silk. Glancing at Mrs. Hornby, I saw her stagger from the bench, shaking like a jelly, mopping her eyes with her handkerchief and grasping her open purse. She entered the witness-box, and, having gazed wildly round the court, began to search the multitudinous compartments of her purse.
"The evidence you shall give," sang out the usher--whereat Mrs. Hornby paused in her search and stared at him apprehensively--"to the court and jury sworn, between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar shall be the truth,--"
"Certainly," said Mrs. Hornby stiffly, "I--"
"--the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you God!"
He held out the Testament, which she took from him with a trembling hand and forthwith dropped with a resounding bang on to the floor of the witness-box, diving after it with such precipitancy that her bonnet jammed violently against the rail of the box.
She disappeared from view for a moment, and then rose from the depths with a purple face and her bonnet flattened and cocked over one ear like an artillery-man's forage cap.
"Kiss the Book, if you please," said the usher, suppressing a grin by an heroic effort, as Mrs. Hornby, encumbered by her purse, her handkerchief and the Testament, struggled to unfasten her bonnet-strings. She clawed frantically at her bonnet, and, having dusted the Testament with her handkerchief, kissed it tenderly and laid it on the rail of the box, whence it fell instantly on to the floor of the court.
"I am really very sorry!" exclaimed Mrs. Hornby, leaning over the rail to address the usher as he stooped to pick up the Book, and discharging on to his back a stream of coins, buttons and folded bills from her open purse; "you will think me very awkward, I'm afraid."
She mopped her face and replaced her bonnet rakishly on one side, as Anstey rose and passed a small red book across to her.
"Kindly look at that book, Mrs. Hornby."
"I'd rather not," said she, with a gesture of repugnance. "It is associated with matters of so extremely disagreeable a character--"
"Do you recognise it?"
"Do I recognise it! How can you ask me such a question when you must know--"
"Answer the question," interposed the judge. "Do you or do you not recognise the book in your hand?"
"Of course I recognise it. How could I fail to--"
"Then say so," said the judge.
"I have said so," retorted Mrs. Hornby indignantly.
The judge nodded to Anstey, who then continued--"It is called a 'Thumbograph,' I believe."
"Yes: the name 'Thumbograph' is printed on the cover, so I suppose that is what it is called."
"Will you tell us, Mrs. Hornby, how the 'Thumbograph' came into your possession?"
For one moment Mrs. Hornby stared wildly at her interrogator; then she snatched a paper from her purse, unfolded it, gazed at it with an expression of dismay, and crumpled it up in the palm of her hand.
"You are asked a question," said the judge.
"Oh! yes," said Mrs. Hornby. "The Committee of the Society--no, that is the wrong one--I mean Walter, you know--at least--"
"I beg your pardon," said Anstey, with polite gravity.
"You were speaking of the committee of some society," interposed the judge. "What society were you referring to?"
Mrs. Hornby spread out the paper and, after a glance at it, replied--
"The Society of Paralysed Idiots, your worship," whereat a rumble of suppressed laughter arose from the gallery.
"But what has that society to do with the 'Thumbograph'?" inquired the judge.
"Nothing, your worship. Nothing at all."
"Then why did you refer to it?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Mrs. Hornby, wiping her eyes with the paper and then hastily exchanging it for her handkerchief.
The judge took off his glasses and gazed at Mrs. Hornby with an expression of bewilderment. Then he turned to the counsel and said in a weary voice--"Proceed, if you please, Mr. Anstey."
"Can you tell us, Mrs. Hornby, how the 'Thumbograph' came into your possession?" said the latter in persuasive accents.
"I thought it was Walter, and so did my niece, but Walter says it was not, and he ought to know, being young and having a most excellent memory, as I had myself when I was his age, and really, you know, it can't possibly matter where I got the thing--"
"But it does matter," interrupted Anstey. "We wish particularly to know."
"If you mean that you wish to get one like it--"
"We do not," said Anstey. "We wish to know how that particular 'Thumbograph' came into your possession. Did you, for instance, buy it yourself, or was it given to you by someone?"
"Walter says I bought it myself, but I thought he gave it to me, but he says he did not, and you see--"
"Never mind what Walter says. What is your own impression?"
"Why I still think that he gave it to me, though, of course, seeing that my memory is not what it was--"
"You think that Walter gave it to you?"
"Yes, in fact I feel sure he did, and so does my niece."
"Walter is your nephew, Walter Hornby?"
"Yes, of course. I thought you knew."
"Can you recall the occasion on which the 'Thumbograph' was given to you?"
"Oh yes, quite distinctly. We had some people to dinner--some people named Colley--not the Dorsetshire Colleys, you know, although they are exceedingly nice people, as I have no doubt the other Colleys are, too, when you know them, but we don't. Well, after dinner we were a little dull and rather at a loss, because Juliet, my niece, you know, had cut her finger and couldn't play the piano excepting with the left hand, and that is so monotonous as well as fatiguing, and the Colleys are not musical, excepting Adolphus, who plays the trombone, but he hadn't got it with him, and then, fortunately, Walter came in and brought the 'Thumbograph' and took all our thumb-prints and his own as well, and we were very much amused, and Matilda Colley--that is the eldest daughter but one--said that Reuben jogged her elbow, but that was only an excuse--"
"Exactly," interrupted Anstey. "And you recollect quite clearly that your nephew Walter gave you the 'Thumbograph' on that occasion?"
"Oh, distinctly; though, you know, he is really my husband's nephew--"
"Yes. And you are sure that he took the thumb-prints?"
"And you are sure that you never saw the 'Thumbograph' before that?"
"Never. How could I? He hadn't brought it."
"Have you ever lent the 'Thumbograph' to anyone?"
"No, never. No one has ever wanted to borrow it, because, you see--"
"Has it never, at any time, gone out of your possession?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that; in fact, I have often thought, though I hate suspecting people, and I really don't suspect anybody in particular, you know, but it certainly was very peculiar and I can't explain it in any other way. You see, I kept the 'Thumbograph' in a drawer in my writing table, and in the same drawer I used to keep my handkerchief-bag--in fact I do still, and it is there at this very moment, for in my hurry and agitation, I forgot about it until we were in the cab, and then it was too late, because Mr. Lawley--"
"Yes. You kept it in a drawer with your handkerchief-bag."
"That was what I said. Well, when Mr. Hornby was staying at Brighton he wrote to ask me to go down for a week and bring Juliet--Miss Gibson, you know--with me. So we went, and, just as we were starting, I sent Juliet to fetch my handkerchief-bag from the drawer, and I said to her, 'Perhaps we might take the thumb-book with us; it might come in useful on a wet day.' So she went, and presently she came back and said that the 'Thumbograph' was not in the drawer. Well, I was so surprised that I went back with her and looked myself, and sure enough the drawer was empty. Well, I didn't think much of it at the time, but when we came home again, as soon as we got out of the cab, I gave Juliet my handkerchief-bag to put away, and presently she came running to me in a great state of excitement. 'Why, Auntie,' she said,' the "Thumbograph" is in the drawer; somebody must have been meddling with your writing table.' I went with her to the drawer, and there, sure enough, was the 'Thumbograph.' Somebody must have taken it out and put it back while we were away."
"Who could have had access to your writing table?"
"Oh, anybody, because, you see, the drawers were never locked. We thought it must have been one of the servants."
"Had anyone been to the house during your absence?"
"No. Nobody, except, of course, my two nephews; and neither of them had touched it, because we asked them, and they both said they had not."
"Thank you." Anstey sat down, and Mrs. Hornby having given another correcting twist to her bonnet, was about to step down from the box when Sir Hector rose and bestowed upon her an intimidating stare.
"You made some reference," said he, "to a society--the Society of Paralysed Idiots, I think, whatever that may be. Now what caused you to make that reference?"
"It was a mistake; I was thinking of something else."
"I know it was a mistake. You referred to a paper that was in your hand."
"I did not refer to it, I merely looked at it. It is a letter from the Society of Paralysed Idiots. It is nothing to do with me really, you know; I don't belong to the society, or anything of that sort."
"Did you mistake that paper for some other paper?"
"Yes, I took it for a paper with some notes on it to assist my memory."
"What kind of notes?"
"Oh, just the questions I was likely to be asked."
"Were the answers that you were to give to those questions also written on the paper?"
"Of course they were. The questions would not have been any use without the answers."
"Have you been asked the questions that were written on the paper?"
"Yes; at least, some of them."
"Have you given the answers that were written down?"
"I don't think I have--in fact, I am sure I haven't, because, you see--"
"Ah! you don't think you have." Sir Hector Trumpler smiled significantly at the jury, and continued--
"Now who wrote down those questions and answers?"
"My nephew, Walter Hornby. He thought, you know--"
"Never mind what he thought. Who advised or instructed him to write them down?"
"Nobody. It was entirely his own idea, and very thoughtful of him, too, though Dr. Jervis took the paper away from me and said I must rely on my memory."
Sir Hector was evidently rather taken aback by this answer, and sat down suddenly, with a distinctly chapfallen air.
"Where is this paper on which the questions and answers are written?" asked the judge. In anticipation of this inquiry I had already handed it to Thorndyke, and had noted by the significant glance that he bestowed on me that he had not failed to observe the peculiarity in the type. Indeed the matter was presently put beyond all doubt, for he hastily passed to me a scrap of paper, on which I found, when I opened it out, that he had written "X = W.H."
As Anstey handed the rather questionable document up to the judge, I glanced at Walter Hornby and observed him to flush angrily, though he strove to appear calm and unconcerned, and the look that he directed at his aunt was very much the reverse of benevolent.
"Is this the paper?" asked the judge, passing it down to the witness.
"Yes, your worship," answered Mrs. Hornby, in a tremulous voice; whereupon the document was returned to the judge, who proceeded to compare it with his notes.
"I shall order this document to be impounded," said he sternly, after making a brief comparison. "There has been a distinct attempt to tamper with witnesses. Proceed with your case, Mr. Anstey."
There was a brief pause, during which Mrs. Hornby tottered across the court and resumed her seat, gasping with excitement and relief; then the usher called out--
"John Evelyn Thorndyke!"
"Thank God!" exclaimed Juliet, clasping her hands. "Oh! will he be able to save Reuben? Do you think he will, Dr. Jervis?"
"There is someone who thinks he will," I replied, glancing towards Polton, who, clasping in his arms the mysterious box and holding on to the microscope case, gazed at his master with a smile of ecstasy. "Polton has more faith than you have, Miss Gibson."
"Yes, the dear, faithful little man!" she rejoined. "Well, we shall know the worst very soon now, at any rate."
"The worst or the best," I said. "We are now going to hear what the defence really is."
"God grant that it may be a good defence," she exclaimed in a low voice; and I--though not ordinarily a religious man--murmured "Amen!"