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The Middle of Things(Chapter22)

2006-08-28 23:51

  Chapter XXII. On Remand

  When Langton Hyde was brought up before the magistrate next morning, the court was crowded to its utmost limits; and Viner, looking round him from his seat near the solicitors' table saw that most of the people interested in the case were present. Mr. Carless was whispering with Mr. Pawle; Lord Ellingham had a seat close by; in the front of the public gallery Miss Penkridge, grim and alert, was in charge of the timid and shrinking sisters of the unfortunate prisoner. There, too, were Mr. Armitstead and Mr. Isidore Rosenbaum, and Mr. Perkwite, all evidently very much alive to certain possibilities. But Viner looked in vain for either Methley or Woodlesford or their mysterious client; they were certainly not present when Hyde was put into the dock, and Viner began to wonder if the events of the previous day had warned Mr. Cave and those behind him to avoid publicity.

  Instructed by Viner, who was determined to spare neither effort nor money to clear his old schoolmate, Felpham had engaged the services of one of the most brilliant criminal barristers of the day, Mr. Millington-Bywater, on behalf of his client; and he and Viner had sat up half the night with him, instructing him in the various mysteries and ramifications of the case. A big, heavy-faced, shrewd-eyed man, Mr. Millington-Bywater made no sign, and to all outward appearance showed no very great interest while the counsel who now appeared on behalf of the police, completed his case against the prisoner.

  The only new evidence produced by the prosecution was that of the greengrocer on whose premises Hyde had admitted that he passed most of the night of the murder, and in whose shed the missing valuables had been found. The greengrocer's evidence as to his discovery was given in a plain and straightforward fashion——he was evidently a man who would just tell what he actually saw, and brought neither fancy nor imagination to bear on his observation. But when the prosecution had done with him, Mr. Millington-Bywater rose and quietly asked the police to produce the watch, chain and ring which the greengrocer had found, in their original wrappings. He held up the wrapping-papers to the witness and asked him if he could swear that this was what he had found the valuables in and had given to the police. The greengrocer was positive as to this; he was positive, too, that the other wrappings which Felpham had carefully preserved were those which had been on the outside of the parcel and had been thrown aside by himself on its discovery and afterwards picked up by Viner. Mr. Millington-Bywater handed all these papers up to the magistrate, directing his attention to the strong odour of drugs or chemicals which still pervaded them, and to the address of the manufacturing chemists which appeared on the outer wrapping. The magistrate seemed somewhat mystified.

  "What is the object of this?" he asked, glancing at the defending counsel. "It is admitted that these are the wrappings in which the watch, and chain and ring were found in the witness's shed, but"——he paused, with another inquiring look——"you propose to——what?" he asked.

  "I propose, Your Worship, to prove that these things were never put there by the prisoner at all!" answered Mr. Millington-Bywater, promptly and with an assurance which was not lost on the spectators. "I intend to show that they were purposely placed in that outhouse by the real murderer of John Ashton after the statement made by the prisoner at the inquest became public——placed there, of course, to divert any possible suspicion of himself.

  "And now," he continued, after the greengrocer had left the box and the prosecuting counsel had intimated that he had no more evidence to bring forward at present, "now I will outline the defence which I shall set up on behalf of my client. I intend to prove that John Ashton was murdered by some man not yet discovered, who killed him in order to gain possession of certain papers which he carried on him——papers of extreme importance, as will be shown. We know where certain of those papers are, and we hope before very long to know where the rest are, and also where a certain very valuable diamond is, which the murdered man had on him at the time of his death. I shall, indeed, prove that the prisoner——certainly through his own foolishness——is wrongly accused. It will be within your worship's recollection that when the prisoner was first before you, he very unwisely refused to give his name and address or any information——he subsequently repented of that and made a statement, not only to the police but before the coroner. Now, I propose to put him into that box so that he may give evidence, and I shall then call certain witnesses who will offer evidence which will go to prove that what I say as regards the murder of Ashton is more than probable——namely, that he was murdered for the sake of the documents he had on him, and that the spoiling of his money and valuables was a mere piece of bluff, intended to mislead. Let the prisoner go into the box!"

  There was a continued deep silence in court while Hyde, under examination, repeated the story which he had told to Viner and Drillford and before the coroner and his jury. It was a plain, consecutive story, in which he set forth the circumstances preceding the evening of the murder and confessed his picking up of the ring which lay on the pavement by Ashton's body. He kept his eyes steadily fixed on Mr. Millington-Bywater under this examination, never removing them from him save when the magistrate interposed with an occasional remark or question. But at one point a slight commotion in court caused him to look among the spectators, and Viner, following the direction of his eyes, saw him start, and at the same instant saw what it was that he started at. Methley, followed by the claimant, was quietly pushing a way through the throng between the door and the solicitor's table.

  Viner leaned closer to Mr. Pawle.

  "Do you see?" he whispered. "Hyde evidently recognizes one of those two! Now——which?"

  Mr. Pawle glanced at the prisoner. Hyde's face, hitherto pale, had flushed a little, and his eyes had grown bright; he looked as if he had suddenly seen a friend's face in a hostile crowd. But Mr. Millington-Bywater, who had been bending over his papers, suddenly looked up with another question, and Hyde again turned his attention to him.

  "All that you really know of this matter," asked Mr. Millington-Bywater, "is that you chanced to turn up Lonsdale Passage, saw a man lying on the pavement and a ring close by, and that, being literally starving and desperate, you snatched up that ring and ran away as fast as you could?"

  "Yes——that is all," asserted Hyde. "Except that I had met a man, as I have already told you, at the end of the passage by which I entered."

  "You did not even know whether this man lying on the pavement was alive or dead?"

  "I thought he might be drunk," replied Hyde. "But after I had snatched up the ring I never thought at all until I had run some distance. I was afraid of being followed."

  "Now why were you afraid of being followed?"

  "I was famishing!" answered Hyde. "I knew I could get something, some money, on that ring, in the morning, and I wanted to stick to it. I was afraid that the man whom I met as I ran out of the passage, whom I now know to have been Mr. Viner, might follow me and make me give up the ring. And the ring meant food."

  Mr. Millington-Bywater let this answer sink into the prevalent atmosphere and suddenly turned to another matter. The knife which had been found in Hyde's possession was lying with certain other exhibits on the solicitor's table, and Mr. Millington-Bywater pointed to it.

  "Now about that knife," he said. "It is yours? Very well——how long have you had it?"

  "Three or four years," replied Hyde, promptly. "I bought it when I was touring in the United States, at a town called Guthrie, in Oklahoma. And," he added suddenly and with a triumphant smile as of a man who is unexpectedly able to clinch an argument, "there is a gentleman there who was with me when I bought it——Mr. Nugent Starr!"

  From the magistrate on his bench to the policeman at the door every person in court turned to look at the man to whom the prisoner pointed an out-stretched finger. And Mr. Pawle let out an irrepressible exclamation.

  "Good God!" he said. "The claimant fellow!"

  But Viner said nothing. He was staring, as everybody else was, at the man who sat by Methley. He, suddenly aware that Hyde had pointed to him, was obviously greatly taken aback and embarrassed——he looked sharply at the prisoner, knitted his brows, shook his head, and turning to Methley muttered something which no one else caught. Mr. Millington-Bywater looked at him and turned to his client.

  "You say there is a gentleman here——that gentleman!——who was with you when you bought that knife?" he asked. "A friend of yours, then?"

  "Well——we were playing in the same company," asserted Hyde. "Mr. Moreby-Bannister's company. He was heavy lead——I was juvenile. He knows me well enough. He was with me when I bought that knife in a hardware store in Guthrie."

  The magistrate's eye was on the man who sat by Methley, and there was a certain amount of irritation in it. And suddenly Methley whispered something to his companion and the man shyly but with a noticeable composure stood up.

  "I beg Your Worship's pardon," he said, quietly, with a polite bow to the bench, "but really, the witness is under a mistaken impression! I don't know him, and I have never been in the town he mentions——in fact, I have never been in the United States. I am very sorry, but, really, there is some strange mistake——I——the witness is an absolute stranger to me!"

  The attention of all present was transferred to Hyde. And Hyde flushed, leaned forward over the ledge of the witness-box and gave the claimant a long, steady stare.

  "No mistake at all!" he suddenly exclaimed in a firm voice. "That's Mr. Nugent Starr! I played with him for over twelve months."

  While this had been going on, Felpham on one side, and Carless on the other, had been whispering to Mr. Millington-Bywater, who listened to both with growing interest, and began to nod to each with increasing intelligence——and then, suddenly, the prosecuting counsel played unexpectedly and directly into his hand.

  "If Your Worship pleases," said the prosecuting counsel, "I should like to have the prisoner's assertion categorically denied——it may be of importance. Perhaps this gentleman will go into the box and deny it on oath."

  Mr. Millington-Bywater sat down as quickly as if a heavy hand had forced him into his seat, and Viner saw a swift look of gratification cross his features. Close by, Mr. Pawle chuckled with joy.

  "By the Lord Harry!" he whispered, "the very thing we wanted! No need to wait for the adjourned coroner's inquest, Viner——the thing'll come out now!"

  Viner did not understand. He saw Hyde turned out of the box; he saw the claimant, after an exchange of remarks with Methley, step into it; he heard him repeat on oath the denial he had just uttered, after stating that his name was Cave, and that he lived at the Belmead Hotel, Lancaster Gate; and he saw Mr. Millington-Bywater, after exchanging a few questions and answers in whispers with Hyde over the ledge of the dock, turn to the witness as he was about to step down.

  "A moment, sir," he said. "I want to ask you a few questions, with the permission of His Worship, who will soon see that they are very pertinent. So," he went on, "you reside at the Belmead Hotel, in Lancaster Gate, and your name is Edward Cave?"

  "At present," answered the witness, stiffly.

  "Do you mean that your name is Edward Cave——at present?"

  "My name is Edward Cave, and at present I live——as I have stated," replied the witness with dignity.

  "You have just stated, on oath, that you are not Nugent Starr, have never been so called, don't know the prisoner, never met him in America, have never set foot in America! Now, then——mind, you're on your oath!——is Edward Cave your real or full name?"

  "Well, strictly speaking," answered the witness, after some hesitation, "no, it is not. My full name is Cave-Gray——my family name; but for the present——"

  "For the present you wish to be called Mr. Cave. Now, sir, are you not the person who claims to be the rightful Earl of Ellingham?"

  A murmur of excited interest ran round the court, and everybody recognized that a new stage of the case had been entered upon. Every eye, especially the observant eyes on the bench, were fixed on the witness, who now looked considerably ruffled. He glanced at Methley——but Methley sat with averted look and made no sign; he looked at the magistrate; the magistrate, it was plain, expected the question to be answered. And the answer came, almost sullenly.

  "Yes, I am!"

  "That is to say, you are really——or you claim to be really——the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared from England some thirty-five years ago, and you have now returned, though you are legally presumed to be dead, to assert your rights to titles and estates? You absolutely claim to be the ninth Earl of Ellingham?"

  "Yes!"

  "Where have you been during the last thirty-five years?"

  "In Australia."

  "What part?"

  "Chiefly in Melbourne. But I was for four or five years up-country."

  "What name did you go under there?"

  Mr. Pawle, Mr. Carless and the rest of the spectators who were in these secrets regarded the witness with keen attention when this question was put to him. But his answer came promptly.

  "At first, under the name of Wickham. Later under the one I now use——Cave."

  "Did you marry out there?"

  "Never!"

  "And so, of course, you never had a daughter?"

  "I have never been married and have never had daughter or son!"

  Mr. Millington-Bywater turned to Mr. Carless, at his left elbow, and exchanged two or three whispered remarks with him. At last he looked round again at the witness.

  "Yesterday," he said, "in your character of claimant to the Ellingham title and estates you showed to Messrs. Carless & Driver, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and to the present holder of the title, certain documents, letters, papers, which would go some way toward establishing your claim to be what you profess to be. Now, I will say at once that we believe these papers to have been stolen from the body of John Ashton when he was murdered. And I will ask you a direct question, on your oath! Have those papers always been in your possession since you left England thirty-five years ago?"

  The witness drew himself up and looked steadily at his questioner.

  "No!" he answered firmly. "They were stolen from me almost as soon as I arrived in Australia. I have only just regained possession of them."

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