East Lynne/Chapter 40
The magistrates took their seats on the bench. The bench would not hold them. All in the commission of the peace flocked in. Any other day they would not have been at West Lynne. As to the room, the wonder was how it ever got emptied again, so densely was it packed. Sir Francis Levison's friends were there in a body. They did not believe a word of the accusation. "A scandalous affair," cried they, "got up, probably, by some sneak of the scarlet-and-purple party." Lord Mount Severn, who chose to be present, had a place assigned him on the bench. Lord Vane got the best place he could fight for amid the crowd. Mr. Justice Hare sat as chairman, unusually stern, unbending, and grim. No favor would he show, but no unfairness. Had it been to save his son from hanging, he would not adjudge guilt to Francis Levison against his conscience. Colonel Bethel was likewise on the bench, stern also.
In that primitive place—primitive in what related to the justice-room and the justices—things were not conducted with the regularity of the law. The law there was often a dead letter. No very grave cases were decided there; they went to Lynneborough. A month at the treadmill, or a week's imprisonment, or a bout of juvenile whipping, were pretty near the harshest sentences pronounced. Thus, in this examination, as in others, evidence was advanced that was inadmissible—at least, that would have been inadmissible in a more orthodox court—hearsay testimony, and irregularities of that nature. Mr. Rubiny watched the case on behalf of Sir Francis Levison.
Mr. Ball opened the proceedings, giving the account which had been imparted to him by Richard Hare, but not mentioning Richard as his informant. He was questioned as to whence he obtained his information, but replied that it was not convenient at present to disclose the source. The stumbling block of the magistrates appeared to be the identifying Levison with Thorn. Ebenezer James came forward to prove it.
"What do you know of the prisoner, Sir Francis Levison?" questioned Justice Herbert.
"Not much," responded Mr. Ebenezer. "I used to know him as Captain Thorn."
"Afy Hallijohn called him captain; but I understood he was but a lieutenant."
"From whom did you understand that?"
"From Afy. She was the only person I heard speak of him."
"And you say you were in the habit of seeing him in the place mentioned, the Abbey Wood?"
"I saw him there repeatedly; also at Hallijohn's cottage."
"Did you speak with him as Thorn?"
"Two or three times. I addressed him as Thorn, and he answered to the name. I had no suspicion but that it was his name. Otway Bethel"—casting his eyes on Mr. Otway, who stood in his shaggy attire—"also knew him as Thorn, and so I have no doubt, did Locksley, for he was always in the wood."
"Poor Hallijohn himself knew him as Thorn. He said to Afy one day, in my presence, that he would not have that confounded dandy, Thorn, coming there."
"Were those the words he used?"
"They were; 'that confounded dandy Thorn.' I remember Afy's reply—it was rather insolent. She said Thorn was as free to come there as anybody else, and she would not be found fault with, as though she was not fit to take care of herself."
"That is nothing to the purpose. Were any others acquainted with this Thorn?"
"I should imagine the elder sister, Joyce, was. And the one who knew him best of all of us was young Richard Hare."
Old Richard Hare, from his place on the bench, frowned menacingly at an imaginary Richard.
"What took Thorn into the wood so often?"
"He was courting Afy."
"With an intention of marrying her?"
"Well—no," cried Mr. Ebenezer, with a twist of the mouth; "I should not suppose he entertained any intention of the sort. He used to come over from Swainson, or its neighborhood, riding a splendid horse."
"Whom did you suppose him to be?"
"I supposed him to be moving in the upper ranks of life. There was no doubt of it. His dress, his manners, his tone, all proclaimed it. He appeared to wish to shun observation, and evidently did not care to be seen by any of us. He rarely arrived until twilight."
"Did you see him there on the night of Hallijohn's murder?"
"No. I was not there myself that evening, so could not have seen him."
"Did a suspicion cross your mind at any time that he may have been guilty of the murder?"
"Never. Richard Hare was accused of it by universal belief, and it never occurred to me to suppose he had not done it."
"Pray, how many years is this ago?" sharply interrupted Mr. Rubiny, perceiving that the witness was done with.
"Let's see!" responded Mr. Ebenezer. "I can't be sure as to a year without reckoning up. A dozen, if not more."
"And you mean to say that you can swear to Sir Francis Levison being that man, with all these years intervening?"
"I swear that he is the man. I am as positive of his identity as I am of my own."
"Without having seen him from that time to this?" derisively returned the lawyer. "Nonsense, witness."
"I did not say that," returned Mr. Ebenezer.
The court pricked up its ears. "Have you seen him between then and now?" asked one of them.
"Where and when?"
"It was in London, about eighteen months after the period of the trial!"
"What communication had you with him?"
"None at all. I only saw him—quite by chance."
"And whom did you suppose him to be then—Thorn or Levison?"
"Thorn, certainly. I never dreamt of his being Levison until he appeared here, now, to oppose Mr. Carlyle."
A wild, savage curse shot through Sir Francis's heart as he heard the words. What demon had possessed him to venture his neck into the lion's den? There had been a strong hidden power holding him back from it, independent of his dislike to face Mr. Carlyle; how could he be so mad as to disregard it? How? Could a man go from his doom? Can any?
"You may have been mistaken, witness, as to the identity of the man you saw in London. It may not have been the Thorn you had known here."
Mr. Ebenezer James smiled a peculiar smile. "I was not mistaken," he said, his tone sounding remarkably significant. "I am upon my oath."
"Call Aphrodite Hallijohn."
The lady appeared, supported by her friend, the policeman. And Mr. Ebenezer James was desired by Mr. Ball to leave the court while she gave her evidence. Doubtless he had his reasons.
"What is your name?"
"Afy," replied she, looking daggers at everybody, and sedulously keeping her back turned upon Francis Levison and Otway Bethel.
"You name in full, if you please. You were not christened 'Afy'?"
"Aphrodite Hallijohn. You all know my name as well as I do. Where's the use of asking useless questions?"
"Swear the witness," spoke up Mr. Justice Hare. The first word he had uttered.
"I won't be sworn," said Afy.
"You must be sworn," said Mr. Justice Herbert.
"But I say I won't," repeated Afy.
"Then we must commit you to prison for contempt of court."
There was no mercy in his tone, and Afy turned white. Sir John Dobede interposed.
"Young woman, had you a hand in the murder of your father?"
"I?" returned Afy, struggling with passion, temper, and excitement. "How dare you ask me such an unnatural question, sir? He was the kindest father," she added, battling with her tears. "I loved him dearly. I would have saved his life with mine."
"And yet you refuse to give evidence that may assist in bringing his destroyer to justice."
"No; I don't refuse on that score. I should like his destroyer to be hanged, and I'd go to see it. But who knows what other questions you may be asking me, about things that concerned neither you nor anybody else? That's why I object."
"We have only to deal with what bears upon the murder. The questions put to you will relate to that."
Afy considered. "Well, you may swear me, then," she said.
Little notion had she of the broad gauge those questions would run upon. And she was sworn accordingly. Very unwillingly yet; for Afy, who would have told lies by the bushel unsworn, did look upon an oath as a serious matter, and felt herself compelled to speak the truth when examined under it.
"How did you become acquainted with a gentleman you often saw in those days—Captain Thorn?"
"There," uttered the dismayed Afy. "You are beginning already. He had nothing to do with it—he did not do the murder."
"You have sworn to answer the questions put," was the uncompromising rejoinder. "How did you become acquainted with Captain Thorn?"
"I met him at Swainson," doggedly answered Afy. "I went over there one day, just for a spree, and I met him at a pastrycook's."
"And he fell in love with your pretty face?" said Lawyer Ball, taking up the examination.
In the incense to her vanity, Afy nearly forgot her scruples. "Yes, he did," she answered, casting a smile of general satisfaction round upon the court.
"And got out of you where you lived, and entered upon his courting, riding over nearly every evening to see you?"
"Well," acknowledged Afy, "there was no harm in it."
"Oh, certainly not!" acquiesced the lawyer, in a pleasant, free tone, to put the witness at her ease. "Rather good, I should say: I wish I had had the like luck. Did you know him at the time by the name of Levison?"
"No! He said he was Captain Thorn, and I thought he was."
"Did you know where he lived?"
"No! He never said that. I thought he was stopping temporarily at Swainson."
"And—dear me! what a sweet bonnet that is you have on!"
Afy, whose egregious vanity was her besetting sin—who possessed enough of it for any ten pretty women going—cast a glance out of the corners of her eyes at the admired bonnet, and became Mr. Ball's entirely.
"And how long was it, after your first meeting with him, before you discovered his real name?"
"Not for a long time—several months."
"Subsequent to the murder, I presume?"
Mr. Ball's eyes gave a twinkle, and the unconscious Afy surreptitiously smoothed, with one finger, the glossy parting of her hair.
"Besides Captain Thorn, what gentlemen were in the wood the night of the murder?"
"Richard Hare was there. Otway Bethel and Locksley also. Those were all I saw until the crowd came."
"Were Locksley and Mr. Otway Bethel martyrs to your charms, as the other two were?"
"No, indeed!" was the witness's answer, with an indignant toss of the head. "A couple of poaching fellows like them! They had better have tried it on!"
"Which of the two, Hare or Thorn, was inside the cottage with you that evening?"
Afy came out of her vanity and hesitated. She was beginning to wonder where the questions would get to.
"You are upon your oath, witness!" thundered Mr. Justice Hare. "If it was my—if it was Richard Hare who was with you, say so. But there must be no equivocation here."
Afy was startled. "It was Thorn," she answered to Mr. Ball.
"And where was Richard Hare?"
"I don't know. He came down, but I sent him away; I would not admit him. I dare say he lingered in the wood."
"Did he leave a gun with you?"
"Yes. It was one he had promised to lend my father. I put it down just inside the door. He told me it was loaded."
"How long after this was it, that your father interrupted you?"
"He didn't interrupt us at all," returned Afy. "I never saw my father until I saw him dead."
"Were you not in the cottage all the time?"
"No; we went out for a stroll at the back. Captain Thorn wished me good-bye there, and I stayed out."
"Did you hear the gun go off?"
"I heard a shot as I was sitting on the stump of a tree, and was thinking; but I attached no importance to it, never supposing it was in the cottage."
"What was it that Captain Thorn had to get from the cottage after he quitted you? What had he left there?"
Now, this was a random shaft. Lawyer Ball, a keen man, who had well weighed all points in the tale imparted to him by Richard, as well as other points, had colored them with his own deductions, and spoke accordingly. Afy was taken in.
"He had left his hat there—nothing else. It was a warm evening, and he had gone out without it."
"He told you, I believe, sufficient to convince you of the guilt of Richard Hare?" Another shaft thrown at random.
"I did not want convincing—I knew it without. Everybody else knew it."
"To be sure," equably returned Lawyer Ball. "Did Captain Thorn see it done—did he tell you that?"
"He had got his hat, and was away down the wood some little distance, when he heard voices in dispute in the cottage, and recognized one of them to be that of my father. The shot followed close upon it, and he guessed some mischief had been done, though he did not suspect its extent."
"Thorn told you this—when?"
"The same night—much later."
"How came you to see him?"
Afy hesitated; but she was sternly told to answer the question.
"A boy came up to the cottage and called me out, and said a strange gentleman wanted to see me in the wood, and had given him sixpence to come for me. I went, and found Captain Thorn. He asked me what the commotion was about, and I told him Richard Hare had killed my father. He said, that now I spoke of him, he could recognize Richard Hare's as having been the other voice in the dispute."
"What boy was that—the one who came for you?"
"It was Mother Whiteman's little son."
"And Captain Thorn then gave you this version of the tragedy?"
"It was the right version," resentfully spoke Afy.
"How do you know that?"
"Oh! because I'm sure it was. Who else would kill him but Richard Hare? It is a scandalous shame, your wanting to put it upon Thorn!"
"Look at the prisoner, Sir Francis Levison. Is it he whom you knew as Thorn?"
"Yes; but that does not make him guilty of the murder."
"Of course it does not," complacently assented Lawyer Ball. "How long did you remain with Captain Thorn in London—upon that little visit, you know?"
Afy started like anybody moonstruck.
"When you quitted this place, after the tragedy, it was to join Captain Thorn in London. How long, I ask, did you remain with him?"
Entirely a random shaft, this. But Richard had totally denied to Lawyer Ball the popular assumption that Afy had been with him.
"Who says I was with him? Who says I went after him?" flashed Afy, with scarlet cheeks.
"I do," replied Lawyer Ball, taking notes of her confusion. "Come, it's over and done with—it's of no use to deny it now. We all go upon visits to friends sometimes."
"I never heard anything so bold!" cried Afy. "Where will you tell me I went next?"
"You are upon your oath, woman!" again interposed Justice Hare, and a trembling, as of agitation, might be detected in his voice, in spite of its ringing severity. "Were you with the prisoner Levison, or were you with Richard Hare?"
"I with Richard Hare!" cried Afy, agitated in her turn, and shaking like an aspen-leaf, partly with discomfiture, partly with unknown dread. "How dare that cruel falsehood be brought up again, to my face? I never saw Richard Hare after the night of the murder. I swear it. I swear that I never saw him since. Visit him! I'd sooner visit Calcraft, the hangman."
There was truth in the words—in the tone. The chairman let fall the hand which had been raised to his face, holding on his eye-glasses; and a sort of self-condemning fear arose, confusing his brain. His son, proved innocent of one part, might be proved innocent of the other; and then—how would his own harsh conduct show out! West Lynne, in its charity, the justice in his, had cast more odium to Richard, with regard to his after conduct touching this girl, than it had on the score of the murder.
"Come," said Lawyer Ball, in a coaxing tone, "let us be pleasant. Of course you were not with Richard Hare—West Lynne is always ill-natured—you were on a visit to Captain Thorn, as—as any other young lady might be?"
Afy hung her head, cowed down to abject meekness.
"Answer the question," came forth the chairman's voice again. "Were you with Thorn?"
"Yes," though the answer was feeble enough.
Mr. Ball coughed an insinuating cough.
"Did you remain with him—say two or three years?"
"A little over two, perhaps?"
"There was no harm in it," shrieked Afy, with a catching sob of temper. "If I chose to live in London, and he chose to make a morning call upon me, now and then, as an old friend, what's that to anybody? Where was the harm, I ask?"
"Certainly—where was the harm? I am not insinuating any," returned Lawyer Ball, with a wink of the eye furthest from the witness and the bench. "And, during the time that—that he was making these little morning calls upon you, did you know him to be Levison?"
"Yes. I knew him to be Captain Levison then."
"Did he ever tell you why he had assumed the name of Thorn?"
"Only for a whim, he said. The day he spoke to me in the pastrycook's shop at Swainson, something came over him, in the spur of the moment, not to give his right name, so he gave the first that came into his head. He never thought to retain it, or that other people would hear of him by it."
"I dare say not," laconically spoke Lawyer Ball. "Well, Miss Afy, I believe that is all for the present. I want Ebenezer James in again," he whispered to an officer of the justice-room, as the witness retired.
Ebenezer James reappeared and took Afy's place.
"You informed their worships, just now, that you had met Thorn in London, some eighteen months subsequent to the murder," began Lawyer Ball, launching another of his shafts. "This must have been during the period of Afy Hallijohn's sojourn with him. Did you also see her?"
Mr. Ebenezer opened his eyes. He knew nothing of the evidence just given by Afy, and wondered how on earth it had come out—that she had been with Thorn at all. He had never betrayed it.
"Afy?" stammered he.
"Yes, Afy," sharply returned the lawyer. "Their worships know that when she took that trip of hers from West Lynne it was to join Thorn not Richard Hare—though the latter has borne the credit of it. I ask you, did you see her? for she was then still connected with him."
"Well—yes, I did," replied Mr. Ebenezer, his own scruples removed, but wondering still how it had been discovered, unless Afy had—as he had prophesied she would—let out in her "tantrums." "In fact, it was Afy whom I first saw."
"State the circumstances."
"I was up Paddington way one afternoon, and saw a lady going into a house. It was Afy Hallijohn. She lived there, I found—had the drawing-room apartments. She invited me to stay to tea with her, and I did."
"Did you see Captain Levison there?"
"I saw Thorn—as I thought him to be. Afy told me I must be away by eight o'clock, for she was expecting a friend who sometimes came to sit with her for an hour's chat. But, in talking over old times—not that I could tell her much about West Lynne, for I had left it almost as long as she had—the time slipped on past the hour. When Afy found that out she hurried me off, and I had barely got outside the gate when a cab drove up, and Thorn alighted from it, and let himself in with a latch-key. That is all I know."
"When you knew that the scandal of Afy's absence rested on Richard Hare, why could you not have said this, and cleared him, on your return to West Lynne?"
"It was no affair of mine, that I should make it public. Afy asked me not to say I had seen her, and I promised her I would not. As to Richard Hare, a little extra scandal on his back was nothing, while there remained on it the worse scandal of murder."
"Stop a bit," interposed Mr. Rubiny, as the witness was about to retire. "You speak of the time being eight o'clock in the evening, sir. Was it dark?"
"Then how can you be certain it was Thorn who got out of the cab and entered?"
"I am quite certain. There was a gas-lamp right at the spot, and I saw him as well as I should have seen him in daylight. I knew his voice, too; could have sworn to it anywhere; and I would almost have sworn to him by his splendid diamond ring. It flashed in the lamplight."
"His voice! Did he speak to you?"
"No. But he spoke to the cabman. There was a half dispute between them. The man said Thorn had not paid him enough, that he had not allowed for having been kept waiting twenty minutes on the road. Thorn swore at him a bit, and then flung him an extra shilling."
The next witness was a man who had been groom to the late Sir Peter Levison. He testified that the prisoner, Francis Levison had been on a visit to his master late in the summer and part of the autumn, the year that Hallijohn was killed. That he frequently rode out in the direction of West Lynne, especially toward evening; would be away three or four hours, and come home with the horse in a foam. Also that he picked up two letters at different times, which Mr. Levison had carelessly let fall from his pocket, and returned them to him. Both the notes were addressed "Captain Thorn." But they had not been through the post, for there was no further superscription on them; and the writing looked like a lady's. He remembered quite well hearing of the murder of Hallijohn, the witness added, in answer to a question; it made a great stir through out the country. It was just at that same time that Mr. Levison concluded his visit, and returned to London.
"A wonderful memory!" Mr. Rubiny sarcastically remarked.
The witness, a quiet, respectable man, replied that he had a good memory; but that circumstances had impressed upon it particularly the fact that Mr. Levison's departure followed close upon the murder of Hallijohn.
"One day, when Sir Peter was round at the stables, gentlemen, he was urging his nephew to prolong his visit, and asked what sudden freak was taking him off. Mr. Levison replied that unexpected business called him to London. While they were talking, the coachman came up, all in a heat, telling that Hallijohn, of West Lynne, had been murdered by young Mr. Hare. I remember Sir Peter said he could not believe it; and that it must have been an accident, not murder."
"Is that all?"
"There was more said. Mr. Levison, in a shameful sort of manner, asked his uncle, would he let him have five or ten pounds? Sir Peter seemed angry, and asked, what had he done with the fifty-pound note he had made him a present of only the previous morning? Mr. Levison replied that he had sent that away to a brother officer, to whom he was in debt. Sir Peter refused to believe it, and said he had more likely squandered it upon some disgraceful folly. Mr. Levison denied that he had; but he looked confused, indeed, his matter altogether was confused that morning."
"Did he get the five or ten pounds?"
"I don't know, gentlemen. I dare say he did, for my master was as persuadable as a woman, though he'd fly out a bit sometimes at first. Mr. Levison departed for London that same night."
The last witness called was Mr. Dill. On the previous Tuesday evening, he had been returning home from spending an hour at Mr. Beauchamp's, when, in a field opposite to Mr. Justice Hare's, he suddenly heard a commotion. It arose from the meeting of Sir Francis Levison and Otway Bethel. The former appeared to have been enjoying a solitary moonlight ramble, and the latter to have encountered him unexpectedly. Words ensued. Bethel accused Sir Francis of "shirking" him. Sir Francis answered angrily that he knew nothing of him, and nothing he wanted to know.
"'You were glad enough to know something of me the night of Hallijohn's murder,' retorted Bethel to this. 'Do you remember that I could hang you. One little word from me, and you'd stand in Dick Hare's place.'
"'You fool!' passionately cried Sir Francis. 'You couldn't hang me without putting your own head in a noose. Did you not have your hush money? Are you wanting to do me out of more?'
"'A cursed paltry note of fifty pounds!' foamed Otway Bethel, 'which, many a time since, I have wished my fingers were blown off before they touched. I never should have touched it, but that I was altogether overwhelmed with the moment's confusion. I have not been able to look Mrs. Hare in the face since, knowing that I held the secret that would save her son from the hangman.'
"'And put yourself in his place,' sneered Sir Francis.
"'No. Put you.'
"'That's as it might be. But, if I went to the hangman, you would go with me. There would be no excuse or escape for you. You know it.'"
The warfare continued longer, but this was the cream of it. Mr. Dill heard the whole, and repeated it now to the magistrate. Mr. Rubiny protested that it was "inadmissible;" "hearsay evidence;" "contrary to law;" but the bench oracularly put Mr. Rubiny down, and told him they did not want any stranger to come there and teach them their business.
Colonel Bethel had leaned forward at the conclusion of Mr. Dill's evidence, dismay on his face, agitation in his voice. "Are you sure that you made no mistake—that the other in this interview was Otway Bethel?"
Mr. Dill sadly shook his head. "Am I one to swear to a wrong man, colonel? I wish I had not heard it—save that it may be the means of clearing Richard Hare."
Sir Francis Levison had braved out the proceedings with a haughty, cavalier air, his delicate hands and his diamond ring remarkably conspicuous. Was that stone the real thing, or a false one, substituted for the real? Hard up as he had long been for money, the suspicion might arise. A derisive smile crossed his features at parts of the evidence, as much as to say, "You may convict me as to Mademoiselle Afy, but you can't as to the murder." When, however, Mr. Dill's testimony was given, what a change was there! His mood tamed down to what looked like abject fear, and he shook in his shoes as he stood.
"Of course your worships will take bail for Sir Francis?" said Mr. Rubiny, at the close of the proceedings.
Bail! The bench looked at one another.
"Your worships will not refuse it—a gentleman in Sir Francis Levison's position!"
The bench thought they never had so insolent an application made to them. Bail for him!—on this charge! No; not if the lord chancellor himself came down to offer it.
Mr. Otway Bethel, conscious, probably, that nobody would offer bail for him, not even the colonel, did not ask the bench to take it. So the two were fully committed to take their trial for the "Wilful murder, otherwise the killing and slaying of George Hallijohn;" and before night would be on their road to the county prison at Lynneborough.
And that vain, ill-starred Afy! What of her? Well, Afy had retreated to the witness-room again, after giving evidence, and there she remained to the close, agreeably occupied in a mental debate. What would they make out from her admission regarding her sojourn in London and the morning calls? How would that precious West Lynne construe it? She did not much care; she would brave it out, and assail them with towering indignation, did any dare to cast a stone at her.
Such was her final decision, arrived at just as the proceedings terminated. Afy was right glad to remain where she was, till some of the bustle had gone.
"How was it ended?" asked she of Mr. Ball, who, being a bachelor, was ever regarded with much graciousness by Afy, for she kept her eyes open to contingencies; although Mr. Joe Jiffin was held in reserve.
"They are both committed for wilful murder—off to Lynneborough within an hour!"
Afy's color rose. "What a shame! To commit two innocent men upon such a charge."
"I can tell you what, Miss Afy, the sooner you disabuse your mind of that prejudice, the better. Levison has been as good as proved guilty to-day; but if proof were wanting, he and Bethel have criminated each other. 'When rogues fall out, honest men get their own.' Not that I can quite fathom Bethel's share in the exploit, though I can pretty well guess at it. And, in proving themselves guilty they have proved the innocence of Richard Hare."
Afy's face was changing to whiteness; her confident air to one of dread; her vanity to humiliation.
"It—can't—be—true!" she gasped.
"It's true enough. The part you have hitherto ascribed to Thorn, was enacted by Richard Hare. He heard the shot from his place in the wood, and saw Thorn run, ghastly, trembling, horrified, from his wicked work. Believe me, it was Thorn who killed your father."
Afy grew cold as she listened. That one awful moment, when conviction that his words were true, forced itself upon her, was enough to sober her for a whole lifetime. Thorn! Her sight failed; her head reeled; her very heart turned to sickness. One struggling cry of pain; and, for the second time that day, Afy Hallijohn fell forward in a fainting fit.
Shouts, hisses, execrations, yells! The prisoners were being brought forth, to be conveyed to Lynneborough. A whole posse of constables was necessary to protect them against the outbreak of the mob, which outbreak was not directed against Otway Bethel, but against Sir Francis Levison. Cowering like the guilty culprit that he was, shivered he, hiding his white face—wondering whether it would be a repetition of Justice Hare's green pond, or tearing him asunder piecemeal—and cursing the earth because it did not open and let him in!