«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
Charles went through his examination-in-chief quite swimmingly. He answered with promptitude. He identified the prisoner without the slightest hesitation as the man who had swindled him under the various disguises of the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon, the Honourable David Granton, Count von Lebenstein, Professor Schleiermacher, Dr. Quackenboss, and others. He had not the slightest doubt of the man's identity. He could swear to him anywhere. I thought, for my own part, he was a trifle too cocksure. A certain amount of hesitation would have been better policy. As to the various swindles, he detailed them in full, his evidence to be supplemented by that of bank officials and other subordinates. In short, he left Finglemore not a leg to stand upon.
When it came to the cross-examination, however, matters began to assume quite a different complexion. The prisoner set out by questioning Sir Charles's identifications.
Was he sure of his man? He handed Charles a photograph. "Is that the person who represented himself as the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon?" he asked persuasively.
Charles admitted it without a moment's delay.
Just at that moment, a little parson, whom I had not noticed till then, rose up, unobtrusively, near the middle of the court, where he was seated beside Césarine.
"Look at that gentleman!" the prisoner said, waving one hand, and pouncing upon the prosecutor.
Charles turned and looked at the person indicated. His face grew still whiter. It was—to all outer appearance—the Reverend Richard Brabazon in propriâ personâ.
Of course I saw the trick. This was the real parson upon whose outer man Colonel Clay had modelled his little curate. But the jury was shaken. And so was Charles for a moment.
"Let the jurors see the photograph," the judge said, authoritatively. It was passed round the jury-box, and the judge also examined it. We could see at once, by their faces and attitudes, they all recognised it as the portrait of the clergyman before them—not of the prisoner in the dock, who stood there smiling blandly at Charles's discomfiture.
The clergyman sat down. At the same moment the prisoner produced a second photograph.
"Now, can you tell me who that is?" he asked Charles, in the regular brow-beating Old Bailey voice.
With somewhat more hesitation, Charles answered, after a pause: "That is yourself as you appeared in London when you came in the disguise of the Graf von Lebenstein."
This was a crucial point, for the Lebenstein fraud was the one count on which our lawyers relied to prove their case most fully, within the jurisdiction.
Even while Charles spoke, a gentleman whom I had noticed before, sitting beside White Heather, with a handkerchief to his face, rose as abruptly as the parson.
Colonel Clay indicated him with a graceful movement of his hand. "And this gentleman?" he asked calmly.
Charles was fairly staggered. It was the obvious original of the false Von Lebenstein.
The photograph went round the box once more. The jury smiled incredulously. Charles had given himself away. His overweening confidence and certainty had ruined him.
Then Colonel Clay, leaning forward, and looking quite engaging, began a new line of cross-examination. "We have seen, Sir Charles," he said, "that we cannot implicitly trust your identifications. Now let us see how far we can trust your other evidence. First, then, about those diamonds. You tried to buy them, did you not, from a person who represented himself as the Reverend Richard Brabazon, because you believed he thought they were paste; and if you could, you would have given him 10 pounds or so for them.Do you think that was honest?" "I object to this line of cross-examination," our leading counsel interposed. "It does not bear on the prosecutor's evidence. It is purely recriminatory."
Colonel Clay was all bland deference. "I wish, my lord," he said, turning round, "to show that the prosecutor is a person unworthy of credence in any way. I desire to proceed upon the well-known legal maxim of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. I believe I am permitted to shake the witness's credit?" "The prisoner is entirely within his rights," Rhadamanth answered, looking severely at Charles. "And I was wrong in suggesting that he needed the advice or assistance of counsel."
Charles wriggled visibly. Colonel Clay perked up. Bit by bit, with dexterous questions, Charles was made to acknowledge that he wanted to buy diamonds at the price of paste, knowing them to be real; and, a millionaire himself, would gladly have diddled a poor curate out of a couple of thousand.
"I was entitled to take advantage of my special knowledge," Charles murmured feebly.
"Oh, certainly," the prisoner answered. "But, while professing friendship and affection for a clergyman and his wife, in straitened circumstances, you were prepared, it seems, to take three thousand pounds' worth of goods off their hands for ten pounds, if you could have got them at that price. Is not that so?" Charles was compelled to admit it.
The prisoner went onto the David Granton incident.
"When you offered to amalgamate with Lord CraigEllachie," he asked, "had you or had you not heard that a gold-bearing reef ran straight from your concession into Lord Craig-Ellachie's, and that his portion of the reef was by far the larger and more important?" Charles wriggled again, and our counsel interposed; but Rhadamanth was adamant. Charles had to allow it.
And so, too, with the incident of the Slump in Golcondas.
Unwillingly, shamefacedly, by torturing steps, Charles was compelled to confess that he had sold out Golcondas—he, the Chairman of the company, after repeated declarations to shareholders and others that he would do no such thing —because he thought Professor Schleiermacher had made diamonds worthless. He had endeavoured to save himself by ruining his company. Charles tried to brazen it out with remarks to the effect that business was business.
"And fraud is fraud," Rhadamanth added, in his pungent way.
"A man must protect himself," Charles burst out.
"At the expense of those who have put their trust in his honour and integrity," the judge commented coldly.
After four mortal hours of it, all to the same effect, my respected brother-in-law left the witness-box at last, wiping his brow and biting his lip, with the very air of a culprit. His character had received a most serious blow. While he stood in the witness-box all the world had felt it was he who was the accused and Colonel Clay who was the prosecutor. He was convicted on his own evidence of having tried to induce the supposed David Granton to sell his father's interests into an enemy's hands, and of every other shady trick into which his well-known business acuteness had unfortunately hurried him during the course of his adventures. I had but one consolation in my brotherin-law's misfortunes—and that was the thought that a due sense of his own shortcomings might possibly make him more lenient in the end to the trivial misdemeanours of a poor beggar of a secretary!
I was the next in the box. I do not desire to enlarge upon my own achievements. I will draw a decent veil, indeed, over the painful scene that ensued when I finished my evidence. I can only say I was more cautious than Charles in my recognition of the photographs; but I found myself particularly worried and harried over other parts of my cross-examination. Especially was I shaken about that misguided step I took in the matter of the cheque for the Lebenstein commission—a cheque which Colonel Clay handed to me with the utmost politeness, requesting to know whether or not it bore my signature. I caught Charles's eye at the end of the episode, and I venture to say the expression it wore was one of relief that I too had tripped over a trifling question of ten per cent on the purchase money of the castle.
Altogether, I must admit, if it had not been for the police evidence, we would have failed to make a case against our man at all. But the police, I confess, had got up their part of the prosecution admirably. Now that they knew Colonel Clay to be really Paul Finglemore, they showed with great cleverness how Paul Finglemore's disappearances and reappearances in London exactly tallied with Colonel Clay's appearances and disappearances elsewhere, under the guise of the little curate, the Seer, David Granton, and the rest of them. Furthermore, they showed experimentally how the prisoner at the bar might have got himself up in the various characters; and, by means of a wax bust, modelled by Dr. Beddersley from observations at Bow Street, and aided by additions in the gutta-percha composition after Dolly Lingfield's photographs, they succeeded in proving that the face as it stood could be readily transformed into the faces of Medhurst and David Granton. Altogether, their cleverness and trained acumen made up on the whole for Charles's over-certainty, and they succeeded in putting before the jury a strong case of their own against Paul Finglemore.
The trial occupied three days. After the first of the three, my respected brother-in-law preferred, as he said, not to prejudice the case against the prisoner by appearing in court again. He did not even allude to the little matter of the ten per cent commission further than to say at dinner that evening that all men were bound to protect their own interests—as secretaries or as principals. This I took for forgiveness; and I continued diligently to attend the trial, and watch the case in my employer's interest.
The defence was ingenious, even if somewhat halting. It consisted simply of an attempt to prove throughout that Charles and I had made our prisoner the victim of a mistaken identity. Finglemore put into the box the ingenuous original of the little curate—the Reverend Septimus Porkington, as it turned out, a friend of his family;
and he showed that it was the Reverend Septimus himself who had sat to a photographer in Baker Street for the portrait which Charles too hastily identified as that of Colonel Clay in his personification of Mr. Richard Brabazon. He further elicited the fact that the portrait of the Count von Lebenstein was really taken from Dr. Julius Keppel, a Tyrolese music-master, residing at Balham, whom he put into the box, and who was well known, as it chanced, to the foreman of the jury. Gradually he made it clear to us that no portraits existed of Colonel Clay at all, except Dolly Lingfield's—so it dawned upon me by degrees that even Dr. Beddersley could only have been misled if we had succeeded in finding for him the alleged photographs of Colonel Clay as the count and the curate, which had been shown us by Medhurst. Altogether, the prisoner based his defence upon the fact that no more than two witnesses directly identified him; while one of those two had positively sworn that he recognised as the prisoner's two portraits which turned out, by independent evidence, to be taken from other people!
The judge summed up in a caustic way which was pleasant to neither party. He asked the jury to dismiss from their minds entirely the impression created by what he frankly described as "Sir Charles Vandrift's obvious dishonesty." They must not allow the fact that he was a millionaire—and a particularly shady one—to prejudice their feelings in favour of the prisoner. Even the richest— and vilest—of men must be protected. Besides, this was a public question. If a rogue cheated a rogue, he must still be punished. If a murderer stabbed or shot a murderer, he must still be hung for it. Society must see that the worst of thieves were not preyed upon by others. Therefore, the proved facts that Sir Charles Vandrift, with all his millions, had meanly tried to cheat the prisoner, or some other poor person, out of valuable diamonds—had basely tried to juggle Lord Craig-Ellachie's mines into his own hands— had vilely tried to bribe a son to betray his father—had directly tried, by underhand means, to save his own money, at the risk of destroying the wealth of others who trusted to his probity—these proved facts must not blind them to the truth that the prisoner at the bar (if he were really Colonel Clay) was an abandoned swindler. To that point alone they must confine their attention; and if they were convinced that the prisoner was shown to be the self-same man who appeared on various occasions as David Granton, as Von Lebenstein, as Medhurst, as Schleiermacher, they must find him guilty.
As to that point, also, the judge commented on the obvious strength of the police case, and the fact that the prisoner had not attempted in any one out of so many instances to prove an alibi. Surely, if he were not Colonel Clay, the jury should ask themselves, must it not have been simple and easy for him to do so? Finally, the judge summed up all the elements of doubt in the identification— and all the elements of probability; and left it to the jury to draw their own conclusions.
They retired at the end to consider their verdict. While they were absent every eye in court was fixed on the prisoner. But Paul Finglemore himself looked steadily towards the further end of the hall, where two pale-faced women sat together, with handkerchiefs in their hands, and eyes red with weeping.
Only then, as he stood there, awaiting the verdict, with a fixed white face, prepared for everything, did I begin to realise with what courage and pluck that one lone man had sustained so long an unequal contest against wealth, authority, and all the Governments of Europe, aided but by his own skill and two feeble women! Only then did I feel he had played his reckless game through all those years with this ever before him! I found it hard to picture.
The jury filed slowly back. There was dead silence in court as the clerk put the question, "Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?" "We find him guilty."
"On all the counts?" "On all the counts of the indictment."
The women at the back burst into tears, unanimously.
Mr. Justice Rhadamanth addressed the prisoner. "Have you anything to urge," he asked in a very stern tone, "in mitigation of whatever sentence the Court may see fit to pass upon you?" "Nothing," the prisoner answered, just faltering slightly. "I have brought it upon myself—but—I have protected the lives of those nearest and dearest to me. I have fought hard for my own hand. I admit my crime, and will face my punishment. I only regret that, since we were both of us rogues—myself and the prosecutor—the lesser rogue should have stood here in the dock, and the greater in the witness-box. Our country takes care to decorate each according to his deserts—to him, the Grand Cross of St.
Michael and St. George; to me, the Broad Arrow!" The judge gazed at him severely. "Paul Finglemore," he said, passing sentence in his sardonic way, "you have chosen to dedicate to the service of fraud abilities and attainments which, if turned from the outset into a legitimate channel, would no doubt have sufficed to secure you without excessive effort a subsistence one degree above starvation—possibly even, with good luck, a sordid and squalid competence. Y have preferred to embark them ou on a lawless life of vice and crime—and I will not deny that you seem to have had a good run for your money. Society, however, whose mouthpiece I am, cannot allow you any longer to mock it with impunity. Y have broken its laws ou openly, and you have been found out." He assumed the tone of bland condescension which always heralds his severest moments. "I sentence you to Fourteen Y ears' Imprisonment, with Hard Labour."
The prisoner bowed, without losing his apparent composure. But his eyes strayed away again to the far end of the hall, where the two weeping women, with a sudden sharp cry, fell at once in a faint on one another's shoulders, and were with difficulty removed from court by the ushers.
As we left the room, I heard but one comment all round, thus voiced by a school-boy: "I'd a jolly sight rather it had been old Vandrift. This Clay chap's too clever by half to waste on a prison!" But he went there, none the less—in that "cool sequestered vale of life" to recover equilibrium; though I myself half regretted it.
I will add but one more little parting episode.
When all was over, Charles rushed off to Cannes, to get away from the impertinent stare of London. Amelia and Isabel and I went with him. We were driving one afternoon on the hills beyond the town, among the myrtle and lentisk scrub, when we noticed in front of us a nice victoria, containing two ladies in very deep mourning. We followed it, unintentionally, as far as Le Grand Pin—that big pine tree that looks across the bay towards Antibes. There, the ladies descended and sat down on a knoll, gazing out disconsolately towards the sea and the islands. It was evident they were suffering very deep grief. Their faces were pale and their eyes bloodshot. "Poor things!" Amelia said. Then her tone altered suddenly.
"Why, good gracious," she cried, "if it isn't Césarine!" So it was—with White Heather!
Charles got down and drew near them. "I beg your pardon," he said, raising his hat, and addressing Madame Picardet: "I believe I have had the pleasure of meeting you.
And since I have doubtless paid in the end for your victoria, may I venture to inquire for whom you are in mourning?" White Heather drew back, sobbing; but Césarine turned to him, fiery red, with the mien of a lady. "For him!" she answered; "for Paul! for our king, whom you have imprisoned! As long as he remains there, we have both of us decided to wear mourning for ever!" Charles raised his hat again, and drew back without one word. He waved his hand to Amelia and walked home with me to Cannes. He seemed deeply dejected.
"A penny for your thoughts!" I exclaimed, at last, in a jocular tone, trying feebly to rouse him.
He turned to me, and sighed. "I was wondering," he answered, "if I had gone to prison, would Amelia and Isabel have done as much for me?" For myself, I did not wonder. I knew pretty well. For Charles, you will admit, though the bigger rogue of the two, is scarcely the kind of rogue to inspire a woman with profound affection.
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