A. Yes, it did.
Q. What was that?
A. The sound of a gun going off.
Q. From what direction?
A. From down among the trees near the road.
Q. Quite so. Now will you tell the Bench exactly what time it was when you heard that sound?
A. The time when I started to go home. Q. About three o'clock or a little after? A. That's it.
Q. You state that on your oath? A. Yes, I do.
It was as if a conscious tremor, like the excitement of many hearts leaping in unison, passed through the Court, dimly foreteUing some approaching crisis. The examination was resumed :-
Q. What makes you so certain of the time?
A. The stable clock had just gone three.
Q. And, following on the sound of the gun, you , left your snare-setting and made for home?
Q. For what reason?
A. Because I thought they might be working round my way. Q. Whom do you mean by 'they?'
A. The party as was out shooting. I made sure at first it come from them.
Q. What made you alter your opinion ?
A. I see them, as I went up the hill, afar off nigh Asholt wood.
Q. Now, tell me: why didn't you mention all this at the Inquest?
A. Because I weren't asked.
Q. Or was it because you feared having to confess to what made you bolt, and from what occupation, when the shot startled you? (No answer.) Very weU. Now attend to this. You have heard it propounded, or assumed, that the murder took place some time between 3.15 and 4 o'clock. Do you still adhere to your statement that it was just after three when you heard the sound of the gun?
Q. You are on your oath, remember,
A. All right, master.
Q. And you adhere to it?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. That is enough. You can stand down.
A sibilation, a momentary rustling and shuffling, as on the close of an engrossing sermon when tension is relaxed and the hymn being prepared for, followed the dismissal of the witness. A few glanced furtively, hardly realizing yet why they were moved to do so, at a rigid soldierly figure, seated upright and motionless beside the justices on the Bench, But the sense of curious perplexity was hardly theirs when the next witness was claiming their attention. This was Daniel Groome, the gardener, whose evidence, generally a repetition of what he had formerly stated, was marked by a single amendment, the significance of which he himself hardly seemed to realize. It appeared as follows :-
Q. You stated before the Coroner that this louder shot heard by you occurred at a time which you roughly estimated to be anything between three and half-past three o'clock. Is that so?
A. No, sir.
Q. What do you mean by 'no'?
A. I've thought it over since, sir, and I've come to the conclusion that my first impression was nearer the correct one.
Q. Your impression, that is to say, that the shot was fired somewhere about three o'clock?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What is your reason for this change of opinion ?
A. Because I remembered afterwards, sir, having heard the clock in the master's study strike the quarter past. I had gone round by then to the back of the house.
Q. And you had heard the shot fired while at. the front?
A. Yes, sir.
This witness was stiffly cross-examined by Mr Redstall, who sought to shake his evidence on the grounds that he was, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to adapt it to what was expected of him. But the poor fellow's honesty was so transparent, and his incomprehension of the gravity of his statement so. ingenuous, that the only result of his harrying was to increase the impression of his disinterested probity. He said what he believed to be the truth, and he adhered to it.
He went, and the usher, tapping with his wand on the floor, called in a loud voice on Vivian Bickerdike to appear and give evidence.
A famous writer has asserted that there are two kinds of witness to whom lawyers take particular exception, the reluctant witness and the too-willing witness. To these may be added a third, the anxious witness, who, being oppressed with a sense of responsibility of his position, fears at once to say too much or too httle, and ends by saying both. Bickerdike entered the box an acutely anxious witness. The trend of some recent evidence had left him in no doubt as to the lines on which his own examination was destined to run, and he foresaw at once the use to which a certain conversation of his with the detective was going to be put. Now it was all very well to hold the Sergeant guilty in this of a gross breach of confidence, but his conscience would not thereby allow him to maintain himself blameless in the matter. He should have known quite well, being no fool, that a detective did not ask questions or invite communications from a purely altruistic point of view, and that the apparent transparency of such a man's sentiments was the least indication of their depth. By permitting pique a little to obscure that fact to him he had done his friend--for whom he had a real, very warm regard-a disservice, to which he had now, in that friend's hearing, to confess. So far, then, it only remained to him to endeavour to repair, through his sworn evidence, the mischief to which he had made himself a party.
But could any reparation stultify now a certain issue, to which-he had seen it suddenly, aghast-- that too-open candour of his had been seduced into contributing? What horrible thing was it which was being approached, threatened, in the shadow of his friend's secret? The thing was monstrous, damnable; yet he could not forget how it had appeared momentarily adumbrated to himself on his first hearing of the murder. But he had rejected the thought with incredulous scorn then, as he would reject it now. Of whatever sinful weakness Hugh might be capable, a crime so detestable, so cruel, was utterly impossible to him. He swore it in his heart; but his faith could not relieve him of the weight of responsibility which went with him into the witness box. It was like a physical oppression, and he seemed to bend under it. Counsel took the witness's measure with a rolhng relish of the hps, as he prepared, giving a satisfied shift to his gown, to open his inquisitions