Q. We will judge of that. You say the meeting was none of your seeking ?
A. I do say it.
Q. Now, please attend to me. You were on your way back, when you met deceased, from the shooting party which you had abandoned ?
Q. You have heard what the last witness stated as to a certain incident connected with that morning. Was his statement substantially true?
A. I can't deny it. It was a momentary mad impulse.
Q. And, being forestalled, was replaced possibly by an alternative suggestion, pointing to another way out of your difficulties?
A. I don't know what you mean. It was just the culmination, as it were, of a desperate mood, and was regretted by me the next instant.
Q. Was it because of your desperate mood that you refused to be parted from your gun when you finally left the shoot and returned home?
A. No; but because I declined to be made to look a fool.
Q. I put it to you once more that you knew, when you went home, carrying against all persuasion, your gun with you, that the deceased would be waiting for you in the copse?
A. It is utterly false. I knew nothing about it.
Q. Very well. Now, as to the time of your meeting with the deceased. I have it stated on your sworn evidence that that was at three o'clock or thereabouts, and that after spending some ten minutes in conversation with her, you resumed your way to the house, which you reached at about 3.15, appearing then, according to the evidence of a witness, in a very agitated state.
A. I was upset, I own-naturally, under the circumstances.
Q. What circumstances?
A. Having just promised to do or not do what would affect my whole life. Q. No other reason? A. No.
Q. Did you hear the sworn statement of the witness Henstridge and another that the report of the shot, which could have been none other than the fatal shot, was heard and fixed by them at a time estimated at a few minutes after three o'clock, that is to say, at a time when, according to your own admission, you were in the deceased's company? A. It is an absolute he.
The crisis had come, the long-expected blow fallen; but, even in the shock and echo of it, there were some who found nerve to glance from son to father, and wonder what super-dramatic incident yet remained to them to cap the day's excitement. They were disappointed. Not by one sign or movement did the stiff grey figure on the Bench betray the torture racking it, or concede to their expectations the evidence of an emotion-not even when, as if in response to some outspoken direction, a couple of policemen were seen to move silently forward, and take their stand on either side the witness box. And then, suddenly, Counsel was speaking again.
He addressed the Bench with an apology for the course imposed upon him, since it must have become apparent, as the "case proceeded, that the tendency of the prosecution had been to turn more and more from its nominal objective in the dock. There had been a reason for that, however, and he must state it. The inquiries of the police, and more especially of the distinguished detective officer, Sergeant Ridgway, had latterly, gradually but certainly, led them to the conclusion that the motive for the crime, and the name of its perpetrator, must be looked for in another direction than that originally, and seemingly inevitably, indicated. This change of direction had necessarily exculpated the two men concerned in to-day's proceedings; but it had been thought best to submit one of them to examination for the purpose of exposing through the evidence affecting him the guilt of the presumptive criminal. That having been done, the police raised no objection to Cleghorn, like the other accused, being discharged.
He then went on to summarize the evidence, as it had come, by gradual degrees, to involve the witness Kennett in its meshes-the scrape into which the young man had got himself, his dread of exposure, the wildness of his talk and behaviour, the incriminating business of the gun, and, finally, the sworn testimony as to the time of the shot-and he ended by drawing a fanciful picture of what had occurred in the copse.
'I ask your worships,' he said, 'to picture to yourselves the probable scene. Here has this young Lothario returned, his heart full of death and desperation since the frustration of his "first mad impulse to end his difficulties with his life, knowing, or not knowing-we must form our own conclusions as to that-that his destined victim awaits him at the tryst-if tryst it is-her heart burning with bitterness against the seducer who has betrayed her; each resolved on its own way out of the trouble. She upbraids him with her ruin, and threatens in her turn to ruin him, unless he consents to right the wrong he has done her. He refuses, or temporizes; and she turns to leave him. Thinking she is about to put her threat into immediate execution, goaded to desperation, the gun in his hand-only tentatively adhered to at first, perhaps-decides him. He fires at and kills her. The deed perpetrated, he has to consider, after the first shock ofHiorror, how best to conceal the evidences of his guilt. He decides to rest the lethal weapon against a tree (with the intention of asserting-or, at least, not denying, if subsequently questioned- that he had left it with one of its barrels loaded), concocts in his mind a plausible story of a cigarette and an oversight, and hurries on to the house, where, in his private room, he spends such a three-quarters of an hour of horror and remorse as none of us need envy him. His nerve by then somewhat restored, he decides to take the initiative in the necessary discovery, and, affecting a sudden recollection of his oversight, returns to the copse to fetch his gun, with the result we know. All that it is open to us to surmise; what we may not surmise is the depth of depravity in a nature which could so plan to cast the burden of its own guilt upon the shoulders of an innocent man'.
One dumb, white look here did the son turn on the father; who met it steadfastly, as white and unflinching.
'We have heard some loose talk, your worships,' went on Counsel, 'as to the appearance of a mysterious fourth figure in this tragedy. We may dismiss, I think, that individual as purely chimerical -a maggot, if I may so describe it, of the witness Henstridge's brain. There is no need, I think you will agree with me, for looking beyond this Court for a solution of the problem which has been occupying its attention. Painful as the task is to me, I must now do my duty-without fear or favour in the face of any considerations, social or sentimental, whatsoever-by asking you to commit for trial, on the capital charge of murdering Annie Evans, the witness Hugo Staveley Kennett, a warrant for whose arrest the police already hold in their hands.' Not a sound broke the stillness as Counsel ended-only a muffled rumble, like that of a death-drum, from the wheels of a passing wagon in the street outside. And then the blue-clad janissaries closed in; the Magistrates, without leaving the Bench, put their heads together, and the vote was cast.
'Hugo Staveley Kennett, we have no alternative but to commit you to take your trial on the capital charge'.
A sudden crash and thump broke in upon the verdict Cleghorn had fainted in the dock.