Q. Will you tell the Bench what was this unimportant something that happened at the shoot?
A. (With emotion.) It was nothing-probably my fancy--and he denied it utterly.
Q. Now, Mr Bickerdike, if you please?
A. I thought that in-in pulling his gun through a particular hedge that morning, he might have done it with less risk to himself, that was all.
Q. You suspected him, in short, of wanting to kill himself under the guise of an accident?
A. I swear he never admitted it. I swear he denied it.
Q. And you accepted his denial so implicitly that you asked him to go home, leaving his gun with the keeper. 'Is that not so?
Q. He refused?
A. Yes, he did.
Q. Did not much the same thing occur again, later in the afternoon?
A. Nothing of the sort at all. Shortly before three he came to me, and said he was no good and was going home.
Q. What did he mean by 'no good' ? No good in life?
A. No good at shooting.
Q. And again you asked him to leave his gun with you?
A. No, I did not-not directly, at least. Q. Please explain what you mean by 'not . directly'?
A. He may have understood what was in my mind. I can't say. He just laughed, and called out that he wasn't going to shoot himself, and wasn't going to let me make an ass of him; and with that he marched off.
Q. And that is all?
Q. He didn't, by chance, in saying 'I'm not going to shoot myself,' lay any particular emphasis on the last word ?
A. Certainly not that I distinguished. The whole suggestion is too impossible to any one who knows my friend.
Q. Thank you, Mr Bickerdike. That will do.
If witness had entered the box like an oppressed man, he left it hke a beaten. His cheeks were flushed, his head bowed; it was observed that he purposely avoided looking his friend in the face as he passed him by on his way to the rear of the Court.
The excitement was now extreme. All attention, in the midst of a profound stillness, was concentrated on a figure come more and more, with each adjustment of the legal spy-glass, into a definite focus. It was felt that the supreme moment was approaching; and, when the expected name was called, a sigh hke that of a sleeper turning seemed to sound through the hall. The prisoner in the dock had already long been overlooked--forgotten. He had been put up, it seemed, as a mere medium for this deadlier manifestation, and his purpose served, had ceased to be of interest. He stood pallid with his hands on the rail before him, rolling his one mobile eye, the only apparently mystified man in Court.
As Hugo entered the box, he was seen to be deadly pale, but he held his head high, and stood like a soldier, morally and physically upright, facing his court-martial. He folded his arms, and looked his inquisitor steadily in the eyes. Mr Fyler retorted with an expression of well-assured suavity. He was in no hurry. Having netted his fowl, he could afford to let him flutter awhile. He began by leading his witness, only more briefly, the way he had already conducted him at the Inquest, but with what new menace of pitfalls by the road ! The discovery of the body; the incident of the gun (prejudiced now in the light of the possible moral to be drawn from witness's hurry to get rid of it, and his loathing of the weapon) the marked agitation of his aspect when seen by the gardener; the interval in the house, with its suggestion of nervous collapse and desperate rallying to face the inevitable ordeal; that significant outburst of his at the Inquest, when he had exclaimed against an implication of guilt which had never been made; his admission of having bantered the deceased about an assignation--an admission fraught with suspicion of the scene of passion and recrimination which had perhaps more truthfully described their encounter'-all these points were retraversed, but in a spirit ominously differing from that in which they had formerly been reviewed. And then at last, in a series of swift stabbing questions and hypotheses, issued the mortal moral of all this sinister exordium:-
Q. You chaffed the deceased, you say, sir, with being where she was for an assignation ?
A. Something of the sort.
Q. Something of the sort may be nothing of the sort. I suggest that this so-called chaff is better described as a quarrel between you. Will you swear that that was not the case? A. No, I will not.
Q. Then your statement was a fabrication?
A. I accused her of being there to meet some one.
Q. You accused her. I am your debtor for the word. WiU you swear that she was not there to keep an assignation, and that assignation with yourself?
A. I swear it most positively. Our meeting was quite accidental.
Q. On your part. ?
A. On my part.
Q. But not on hers?
A. I am not here to answer for that.
Q. Pardon me; I think you are. I suggest that, expecting you to return by the Bishop's Walk, she was waiting there to waylay you?
A. She might have been, on the chance.
Q. I suggest you knew that she was?
A. I say I did not know.
Q. Well, you took that way at least, and you met and quarrelled. I suggest that the person you accused her of being there to meet was yourself, and that the dispute between you turned upon the question of her thus importuning you? Is that so?
A. (After a pause.) Yes.
Q. And I suggest further that the reason for her so importuning you lay in her condition, for which you were responsible?
A. Yes. It is true. (Sensation.)
Q. She entreated you, perhaps, to repair the wrong you had done her in the only way possible to an honourable man ?
A. (Witness seeming to stiffen, as if resolved to face the whole music at last.) She had already urged that; she pressed to know, that was all, if I had made up my mind to marry her. I refused to give a definite answer just then, since my whole career was at stake; but I promised her one within twenty-four hours. I was very much bothered over the business, and I dare say a bit impatient with her. She may have upbraided me a little in return, but there was no actual quarrel between us. I went on after a few minutes, leaving her there by herself. And that is the whole truth.