Who that was present at that scene could ever forget its anguish and pathos ? Its fierce dramatic intensity will remain for all time indelibly seared on my soul. Could I believe in my friend's guilt? Knowing him, it was impossible : and yet that seemingly incontrovertible evidence as to when the shot was fired? If he had done it, if he had done it, not his own nature but some fiend temporarily in possession of it must have directed his hand. But I would not believe he had done it. I would not, until I had heard him confess to it with his own lips. However appearances might be against him, he should find an unshakable ally in me. And if the worst were to come to the worst, and the trial confirm his guilt beyond dispute, there would be that yet for me to plead in revision of my former evidence so cruelly surprised from me, to plead in virtue of my intimacy with the unhappy boy--that in the moods to which he was subject he was apt to lose complete control of himself, and to behave on occasions veritably like a madman. It might mitigate, extenuate-who could say? But in the meantime I would not believe-not though the world accused him.
Before he was taken away he and his father met in a room below the Court. Sir Calvin, coming across the floor after the committal, looked like a white figure of Death--Death stark, but in motion. He walked straight on, avoiding nobody; but a little stagger as he passed near me was eloquent of his true state. I was moved impulsively to hold out my arm to him, and he took it blindly, and we descended the stairs together. In a bare vault-like office we found my poor friend. He was in charge of the two policemen who had arrested him. His deadly paUor was all gone, and succeeded by a vivid flush. He held out his hand with a steadfast smiling look.
'Take it or not, sir,' he said.
It was taken, and hard wrung-just that one moment's understanding-and the two fell apart.
' Thank you, sir,' said the boy simply. ' I did not do it, of course'.
The father laughed; it wrung one to hear him, and to see his face.
'One of your judges, Hughie,' he said, wheezing hilariously-'old Crosson; you know him--told me not to lose heart-that appearances weren't always to be trusted. He ought to know, eh, after three attempts?'
' I wanted you just to hear me say,' said the other hurriedly, 'that I'm glad it's come-not the way it has, but the truth. I've behaved like a blackguard, sir, and it's been weighing on me; you don't know how it's been weighing. It's been making my hfe hell for some little time past. But now you know, and it's the worst of me-bad enough, but not the unutterable brute they'd make me out.' He turned tome. 'So they got at you, Viv.,'he said. 'Never mind, old boy; you meant the best'.
' It was an infamous breach of confidence,' I burst out. ' It was that Sergeant led me on'.
' Yes,' said Hugh:' I supposed he was at the bottom of all this. But I can't help his witnesses. It was the truth I told'.
'He has betrayed the house,' I said hotly, 'he was engaged to serve'.
But to this Sir Calvin, greatly to my surprise and indignation, demurred, in a hoarse broken way : ' If he thought his duty lay this road, it was his business like an honest man to take it. We want no absolution on sufferance--eh, Hughie, my boy?'
'No, sir, no. You will see that I am properly advised as to the best way to go to clear myself. Thank God my mother isn't ahve !'
It was said with the first shadow of a break in his voice, and the General could not stand it. He gave a little gasp, and turned away, his fingers working at his moustache.
'She'll see to it, Hughie,' he said indistinctly, 'that--that it's all made right. There was never a more truth-loving woman in the world. But you shall have your advice--for form's sake-the best that can be procured'.
'Thank you, sir'.
It was intimated that the interview must end. The two men just faced one another-an unforgetable look; and then the father turned, and, rigid as a sleep-walker, passed out of the room without another word. I lingered behind a moment, just to whisper my friend bonne chance; then hurried after the retreating figure. We entered the car in silence, and drove off alone together, leaving the household witnesses to follow later. All the way it must have lain in the mind of the stiff figure beside me with what other expectations, in what other company, we had made the outward journey. I thought it best not to disturb him; and we reached the house without a solitary sentence. I believe, having passed between us. Once there, Sir Calvin walked straight into his study, and I saw him no more that day.
What was the true thought in his heart? faith scornful and triumphant, or some secret misgiving? Who could tell? Perhaps for the first time some doubts as to his own qualifications as a father were beginning to move in him, some tragic self-searching for the seed of what might or might not be in this 'fruit of his blood,' The day stole by on hushed wings; a sense of still fatahty brooded over the house. The voiceless, almost unpeopled quiet told upon my nerves, and kept me wandering, aimless and solitary, from room to room. Near evening, Audrey was sent for by her father. I saw her, and saw her for the first time since our return, as she disappeared into his study. What passed between them there one could only surmise, but at least it was marked by no audible sounds of emotion. In that dead oppression I would have welcomed even her company; but she never came near me, and I was left to batten as I would on my own poisonous reflections. They passed and passed in review, with sickening iteration, the same wearisome problems- the evidence, my hateful and unwilling share in it, my friend's dreadful situation. Against the detective I felt a bitter animosity. No wonder that, conscious of his treackery to his employer, as I still persisted in regarding it, his manner had changed of late, and he had held himself aloof from us. Even that cynical official fibre, I supposed, could not be entirely insensitive to the indecency of eating the salt of him he was planning to betray. I was so wrath with him that I could have wished, if for no other reason than his discomfiture, to vindicate my friend's innocence. The thought sent me harking back once more over familiar ground. If Hugh were innocent, who was guilty? If another could be proved guilty, or even reasonably suspect, the whole evidence against the prisoner fell into discredit. Who, then?'