Chapter XLII. Unexpected Evidence.
 

When Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve left Spa, he left with a ruddy glow of recovered health on his bronzed red cheek; for in spite of anxiety and repentance and doubt, the man's iron frame would somehow still assert itself. When he took his seat on the bench in court that morning, he looked so haggard and ill with fatigue and remorse that even Elma Clifford herself pitied him. A hushed whisper ran round among the spectators below that the judge wasn't fit to try the case before him. And indeed he wasn't. For it was his own trial, not Guy Waring's, he was really presiding over.

He sat down in his place, a ghastly picture of pallid despair. The red colour had faded altogether from his wan, white cheeks. His eyes were dreamy and bloodshot with long vigil. His big hands trembled like a woman's as he opened his note-book. His mouth twitched nervously. So utter a collapse, in such a man as he was, seemed nothing short of pitiable to every spectator.

Counsel for the Crown stared him steadily in the face. Counsel for the Crown--Forbes-Ewing, Q.C.--was an old forensic enemy, who had fought many a hard battle against Gildersleeve, with scant interchange of courtesy, when both were members of the junior Bar together; but now Sir Gilbert's look moved even him to pity. "I think, my lord," the Q.C. suggested with a sympathetic simper, "your lordship's too ill to open the court to-day. Perhaps the proceedings had better be adjourned for the present."

"No, no," the judge answered, almost testily, shaking his sleeve with impatience. "I'll have no putting off for trifles in the court where I sit. There's a capital case to come on this morning. When a man's neck's at stake--when a matter of life and death's at issue--I don't like to keep any one longer in suspense than I absolutely need. Delay would be cruel."

As he spoke he lifted his eyes--and caught Elma Clifford's. The judge let his own drop again in speechless agony. Elma's never flinched. Neither gave a sign; but Elma knew, as, well as Sir Gilbert knew himself, it was his own life and death the judge was thinking of, and not Guy Waring's.

"As you will, my lord," counsel for the Crown responded demurely. "It was your lordship's convenience we all had at heart, rather than the prisoner's."

"Eh! What's that?" the judge said sharply, with a suspicious frown. Then he recovered himself with a start. For a moment he had half fancied that fellow, Forbes-Ewing, meant something by what he said--meant to poke innuendoes at him. But, after all, it was a mere polite form. How frightened we all are, to be sure, when we know we're on our trial!

The opening formalities were soon got over, and then, amid a deep hush of breathless lips, Guy Waring, of Staple Inn, Holborn, gentleman, was put upon his trial for the wilful murder of Montague Nevitt, eighteen months before, at Mambury in Devon.

Guy, standing in the dock, looked puzzled and distracted rather than alarmed or terrified. His cheek was pale, to be sure, and his eyes were weary; but as Elma glanced from him hastily to the judge on the bench she had no hesitation in settling in her own mind which of the two looked most at that moment like a detected murderer before the faces of his accusers. Guy was calm and self-contained. Sir Gilbert's mute agony was terrible to behold. Yet, strange to say, no one else in court save Elma seemed to note it as she did. People saw the judge was ill, but that was all. Perhaps his wig and robes helped to hide the effect of conscious guilt--nobody suspects a judge of murder; perhaps all eyes were more intent on the prisoner.

Be that as it might, counsel for the Crown opened with a statement of what they meant to prove, set forth in the familiar forensic fashion. They didn't pretend the evidence against the accused was absolutely conclusive or overwhelming in character. It was inferential only, but not circumstantial--inferential in such a cumulative and convincing way as could leave no moral doubt on any intelligent mind as to the guilt of the prisoner. They would show that a clbse intimacy had long existed between the prisoner Waring and the deceased gentleman, Mr. Montague Nevitt. Witnesses would be called who would prove to the court that just before the murder this intimacy, owing to circumstances which could not fully be cleared up, had passed suddenly into intense enmity and open hatred. The landlord of the inn at Mambury, and other persons to be called, would speak to the fact that prisoner had followed his victim in hot blood into Devonshire, and had tracked him to the retreat where he was passing his holiday alone and incognito--had tracked him with every expression of indignant anger, and had uttered plain threats of personal violence towards him.

Nor was that all. It would be shown that on the afternoon of Waring's visit to Mambury, Mr. Nevitt, who possessed an intense love of nature in her wildest and most romantic moods--it's always counsel's cue, for the prosecution, to set the victim's character in the most amiable light, and so win the sympathy of the jury as against the accused--Mr. Nevitt, that close student of natural beauty, had strolled by himself down a certain woodland path, known as The Tangle, which led through the loneliest and leafiest quarter of Mambury Chase, along the tumbling stream described as the Mam-water. Ten minutes after he had passed the gate, a material witness would show them, the prisoner Waring presented himself, and pointedly asked whether his victim had already gone down the path before him. He was told that that was so. Thereupon the prisoner opened the gate, and followed excitedly. What happened next no living eye but the prisoner's ever saw. Montague Nevitt was not destined to issue from that wood alive. Two days later his breathless body was found, all stiff and stark, hidden among the brown bracken at the bottom of the dell, where the murderer no doubt had thrust it away out of his sight on that fatal afternoon in fear and trembling.

Half-way through the opening speech Sir Gilbert's heart beat fast and hard. He had never heard Forbes-Ewing open a case so well. The man would be hanged! He felt sure of it! He could see it! For a while the judge almost gloated over that prospect of release. What was Guy's life to him now, by the side of his wife's and Gwendoline's happiness? But as counsel uttered the words, "What happened next no living eye but the prisoner's ever saw," he looked hard at Guy. Not a quiver of remorse or of guilty knowledge passed over the young man's face. But Elma Clifford, for her part, looked at the judge on the bench. Their eyes met once more. Again Sir Gilbert's fell. Oh, heavens! how terrible! Even for Gwendoline's sake he could never stand this appalling suspense. But perhaps after all the prosecution might fail. There was still a chance left that the jury might acquit him.

So, torn by conflicting emotions, he sat there still, stiff and motionless in his seat as an Egyptian statue.

Then counsel went on to deal in greater detail with the question of motive. There were two motives the prosecution proposed to allege: first, the known enmity of recent date between the two parties, believed to have reference to some business dispute; and, secondly--here counsel dropped his voice to a very low key--he was sorry to suggest it; but the evidence bore it out--mere vulgar love of gain--the commonplace thirst after filthy lucre. They would bring witnesses to show that when Mr. Montague Nevitt was last seen alive, he was in possession of a pocket-book containing a very large large sum in Bank of England notes of high value; from the moment of his death that pocket-book had disappeared, and nobody knew what had since become of it. It was not upon the body when the body was found. And all their efforts to trace the missing notes, whose numbers were not known, had been unhappily unsuccessful.

Guy listened to all this impeachment in a dazed, dreamy way. He hardly knew what it meant. It appalled and chilled him. The web of circumstances was too thick for him to break. He couldn't understand it himself. And what was far worse, he could give no active assistance to his own lawyers on the question of the notes--which might be very important evidence against him--without further prejudicing his case by confessing the forgery. At all hazards, he was determined to keep that quiet now. Cyril had never spoken to a soul of that episode, and to speak of it, as things stood, would have been certain death to him. I would be to supply the one missing link of motive which the prosecution needed to complete their chain of cumulative evidence.

It was some comfort to him to think, however, that the secret was safe in Cyril's keeping. Cyril had all the remaining notes, still unchanged, in his possession; and the prosecution, knowing nothing of the forgery, or its sequel, had no clue at all as to where they came from.

But as for Sir Gilbert, he listened still with ever-deepening horror. His mind swayed to and fro between hope and remorse. They were making the man guilty, and Gwendoline would be saved! They were making the man guilty, and a gross wrong would be perpetrated! Great drops of sweat stood colder than ever on his burning brow. He couldn't have believed Forbes-Ewing could have done it so well. He was weaving a close web round an innocent man with consummate forensic skill and cunning.

The case went on to its second stage. Witnesses were called, and Guy listened to them dreamily. All of them bore out counsel's opening statement. Every man in court felt the evidence was going very hard against the prisoner. They'd caught the right man, that was clear--so the spectators opined. They'd proved it to the hilt. This fellow would swing for it.

At last the landlord of the Talbot Arms at Mambury shuffled slowly into the witness-box. He was a heavy, dull man, and he gave evidence as to Nevitt's stay under an assumed name--which counsel explained suggestively by the deceased gentleman's profound love of retirement --and as to Guy's angry remarks and evident indignation. But the most sensational part of all his evidence was that which related to the pocket-book Montague Nevitt was carrying at the time of his death, containing notes, he should say, for several hundred-pounds, "or it murt be thousands--and yet, again, it mustn't," which had totally disappeared since the day of the murder. Diligent search had been made for the pocket-book everywhere by the landlord and the police, but it had vanished into space, "leaving not a wrack behind," as junior counsel for the prosecution poetically phrased it.

At the words Cyril mechanically dived his hand into his pocket, as he had done a hundred times a day before, during these last eighteen months, to assure himself that that most incriminating and unwelcome object was still safely ensconced in its usual resting-place. Yes, there it was sure enough, as snug as ever! He sighed, and pulled his hand out again nervously, with a little jerk. Something came with it, that fell on the floor with a jingle by his neighbour's feet. Cyril turned crimson, then deadly pale. He snatched at the object; but his neighbour picked it up and examined it cursorily. Its flap had burst open with the force of the fall, and on the inside the finder read with astonishment, in very plain letters, the very name of the murdered man, "Montague Nevitt."

Cyril held out his hand to recover it impatiently. But the finder was too much taken back at his strange discovery to part with it so readily. It was full of money-Bank of England notes; and through the transparent paper of the outermost among them the finder could dimly read the words, "One hundred."

He rose in his place, and held the pocket-book aloft in his hand with a triumphant gesture. Cyril tried in vain to clutch at it. The witness turned round sharply, disturbed by this incident. "What's that?" the judge exclaimed, puckering his brows in disapprobation, and looking angrily towards the disturber.

"If you please, my lord," the innkeeper answered, letting his jaw drop slowly in almost speechless amazement, "that's the thing I was a-talking of: that's Mr. Nevitt's pocket-book."

"Hand it up," the judge said shortly, gazing hard with all his eyes at the mute evidence so tendered.

The finder handed it up without note or comment.

Sir Gilbert turned the book over in blank surprise. He was dumfoundered himself. For a minute or two he examined it carefully, inside and out. Yes; there was no mistake. It was really what they called it. "Montague Nevitt" was written in plain letters on the leather flap; within lay half-a-dozen engraved visiting-cards, a Foreign Office passport in Nevitt's name, and thirty Bank of England notes for one hundred pounds apiece. This was, indeed, a mystery!

"Where did it come from?" the judge asked, drawing a painfully deep breath, and handing it across to the jury.

And the finder answered, "If you please, my lord, the gentleman next to me pulled it out of his pocket."

"Who is he?" the judge inquired, with a sinking heart, for he himself knew perfectly well who was the unhappy possessor.

And a thrill of horror ran round the crowded court as Forbes-Ewing answered, in a very distinct voice, "Mr. Cyril Waring, my lord, the brother of the prisoner."