ON A certain day in the year of grace 1921, there came into being a Special and Very Select Club. There was no entrance fee and no subscription which is where it differed from All Other Clubs. Its membership was limited to five: the Actor, the Barrister, the Doctor, the Ordinary Man and the Writer. Each in his own particular trade had achieved what the World calls fame except the Ordinary Man who was only Ordinary. The only rule of the Club was, that on certain nights to be mutually agreed on, the member whose turn it was should give to the remaining members an Exceedingly Good Dinner, after which he should tell them a Story connected with his own Trade, that should be of sufficient interest to keep them awake.
And the only penalty of the Club was that if the Story was not of sufficient interest to keep the audience awake, the Offending Member should pay the sum of Ten Pounds to a Deserving Charity.
No rule was deemed necessary as to the quality of the Dinner: the Members had elected themselves with discretion.
And thus it came to the turn of the Barrister....
“This morning,” he began, leaning back in his chair, and crossing his legs, “I mislaid my cigarette case. I knew it was somewhere in the study, but find it—I could not. Finally having searched all over my writing table I rang the bell, and somewhat irritably demanded its immediate production. The butler stepped forward and lifted it up from the centre of the blotting pad where it had been the whole time—literally under my nose. What peculiar temporary jink in the brain had prevented me noticing the very thing I was looking for, when it was lying in the most conspicuous place in which it could possibly have been—I don't know. I leave that to the Doctor. But. the point of my parable is this: it decided in my mind the story, with which I should bore you fellows to-night.”
HE PAUSED to light a cigar: then he glanced round the faces of the other five.
‘‘And if, as I get on with it, you think you recognise the real characters under the fictional names I shall give them—I can’t prevent you. But—don’t ask me to confirm your thoughts.”
“Exactly,” murmured the Actor. “Fire ahead.” "It was about four years before the war,” commenced the Barrister, “that I was stopping for a few nights at a certain house in Park Lane. It was in the middle of the season—June, to be accurate: and I was waiting to get in here. My wife was in the country, and as I was more or less at a loose end I accepted the offer of staying at this house. My hostess—shall we call her Granger, Ruth Granger—had been an old school pal of my wife's: in later years she had become a real intimate friend of us both.
“At the time of which I speak she was a lovely girl of about twenty-six, with the suffering of six years of Hell in her eyes. At the age of twenty she had married Sir Henry Granger; and that fatal mistake had been the cause of the Hell. Henry Granger—and in my trade one meets some fairly useful swine—Henry Granger was one of the most loathsome brutes it has ever been my misfortune to run across. He had not one single instinct of a gentleman in him— though he did happen to be the tenth baronet. How her parents had ever allowed the marriage beat me completely. Perhaps they hadn’t; perhaps Ruth had taken the law into her own hands. At twenty a girl is apt to make mistakes. Perhaps it was money, for Granger was rich—but whatever it was she married him and her Hell began.
“Granger was simply an animal—a coarse and vicious animal. He drank heavily without getting drunk—which is always a dangerous sign: and he possessed the morals—or did not possess the morals, whichever you prefer—of a monkey. He was unfaithful to her on their honeymoon—my wife told me that: and from then on he made not the slightest attempt to conceal his mode of life. He bought any woman he fancied, whom money could buy, and flaunted her round London in his wife’s and everybody else’s face. Which, to put it mildly, is galling to a woman’s pride.”
The Barrister carefully removed the ash from his cigar. "I won’t labor the point,” he went on with a faint smile. “We have all of us met the type: but I’d like to emphasise the fact that I, at any rate, have never met any member of that type who came within a mile of him. Most of ’em have some semblance of decency about ’em—make some attempt to conceal their love affairs. Granger didn’t: he seemed to prefer that they should be known. Sometimes since then I have wondered whether he was actuated by a sort of blind rage: by a furious, mad desire to pierce through the calm, icy contempt of his wife—to make her writhe and suffer, because he realised she was so immeasurably his superior.” He paused thoughtfully. “He made her suffer right enough....”
“Did she never try for a divorce?” asked the Soldier.
“No, never. We discussed it once—she,and my wife and I: and I had to explain to her our laws on the subject. He hadn’t deserted her—he’d never struck her: and moral cruelty is a very difficult thing to prove. His adultery by itself was, of course, not sufficient—and for some reason she flatly refused to consider an mere separation. She couldn’t face the scandal and publicity for only that. I said to her then—‘Why not apply for a restitution of conjugal rights. Get your husband to leave the house—and if he doesn’t return in fourteen days....’
“She stopped me with a bitter laugh.
“ ‘Why do you laugh?’ I said.
“ ‘It seems rather fatuous,’ she said slowly, ‘getting a lawyer to ask my husband to do what he is only too ready to do—return to me.’
“ ‘But surely,’ I began, not quite taking her meaning,
“ ‘You see, Bill,’ she answered in a flat dead voice, ‘my husband is very fond of me—as a stop-gap. After most of his episodes he honors me with his attentions for two or three days.’
“'THAT was the devil of it: he didn’t intend to let her divorce him. She formed an excellent hostess and for the rest there was always les autres. And he wanted her too, because he couldn’t get her: and that made him mad. It aroused in him, though it didn’t take much arousing, every fiendish attribute of the born bully.”
The Barrister leaned forward, and the firelight flickered on his thin, ascetic face.
“Such was the state of affairs when I went to stay. The particular lady at the time, who was being honored by Henry Granger, was a shining light in musical comedy—Nellie Jones, shall we call her? It is very far from her real name. If possible, he had been more open over this affair than usual: everyone who knew the Grangers in London knew about it—everyone. He had twice dined with her at the same restaurant at which his wife was entertaining—once deliberately selecting the next table.”
“What an unmitigated swine,” cried the Ordinary Man.
“He was,” agreed the Barrister briefly. “But even that was not sufficient to satisfy the gentleman. He proceeded to do a thing which put him forever outside the pale. He brought this girl to a reception of his wife’s at his own house.
“It was the night that I arrived. She had fixed up one of those ghastly entertainments, which are now, thank Heavens! practically extinct. Somebody sings and nobody listens and you meet everybody you particularly want to avoid. Mercifully I ran into an old pal—also of your calling, Actor-man Violet Seymour. No reason why I should disguise her name, at any rate. She was not acting at the moment—and we sat in a sort of alcove place at the top of the stairs, on the same landing as the reception-room.
“ ‘There’s going to be a break here soon, Bill, she said to me after a while. ‘Ruth is going to snap.’
“ ‘Poor girl!’ I answered. ‘But what the devil can one do, Violet?’
“ ‘Nothing,’ she said fiercely, ‘except alter your abominably unjust laws. Why can’t she get a divorce, Bill? It’s vile—utterly vile.’
“And then—well, let’s call him Sir Edward Shoreham—joined us. He was on the Bench—a Judge, which makes the disguise of a false name pretty thin: especially in view of what is to come. I remember he had recently taken a murder ease—one that had aroused a good deal of popular attention—and the prisoner had been found guilty. We were talking about it at the time Sir Edward arrived, with Violet as usual tilting lances against every form of authority.
“I can see her now as she turned to Sir Edward, with a sort of dreadful fascination on her face.
“ ‘And so you sentenced him to death.’
“He nodded gravely. ‘Certainly,’ he answered. ‘He was guilty.’
“And then she turned half-away speaking almost under her breath.
“ ‘And doesn’t it ever appal you? Make you wake in the middle of the night— with your mouth dry and your throat parched? All this—life, love—and in a cell, a man waiting—a man you’ve sent there. Ticking off the days on his nerveless fingers....staring out at the sun. My God! it would drive me mad.’
“Ned Shoreham smiled a little grimly.
“ ‘You seem to forget one unimportant factor,’ he answered. ‘The wretched woman that man killed.’
“ ‘No, I don’t,’ she cried. ‘But the punishment is so immeasurably worse than the crime. I don’t think death would matter if it came suddenly—but to sit—waiting, with a sort of sick helplessness—’
“IT WAS then Ruth Granger joined us.
Some woman was singing in the reception room, and for the moment she was free from her duties as hostess.
“ ‘You seem very serious,’ she said with her grave, sweet smile, holding out her hand to Sir Edward.
“ ‘Miss Seymour is a revolutionary,’ he answered lightly and I happened at that moment to glance at Ruth. And for the moment she had let the mask slip as she looked at Ned Shoreham's face. Then it was replaced—but their secret was out, as far as I was concerned, though on matters of affection I am the least observant of mortals. If they weren’t in love with one another, they were as near to it as made no odds. And it gave me a bit of a shock.
“Shoreham was young—young at any rate for the Bench,—and he was unmarried. And somehow I couldn’t fit Shoreham into the situation of loving another man’s wife. There had never been a breath of scandal that I had heard —if there had been it would have finished him for good. A Judge must be like Caesar’s wife. And Shoreham, even then, had established a reputation for the most scrupulous observance of the law. His enemies called him cruel and harsh, those who knew him better realised that his apparent harshness was merely a cloak he had wrapped tightly round himself as a guard against a naturally tender heart. I don’t know any man that I can think of, who has such an undeviating idea of duty as Shoreham: and without being in the least a prig such an exalted idea of the responsibilities of his position. And to realise suddenly that he was in love with Ruth Granger, as I say, came as a shock.
“ ‘What was the argument about?’ she said, sitting down beside me.
“ ‘Morality versus the Law,’ chipped in Violet.
“ ‘The individual versus the community," amended Sir Edward. ‘Justice—real justice—against sickly sentimentality, with all due deference to you, Miss Seymour. These are hard cases, one knows—but hard cases make bad laws. There’s been far too much lately of men taking matters into their own hands—this so-called Unwritten Law. And it has got to stop.’
“ ‘You would never admit the justification,’ said Ruth slowly.
“ ‘Never—under any circumstances,’ he answered. ‘You have the law—then appeal to the law. Otherwise there occurs chaos.’
“ ‘And what of the cases where the law gives no redress?’ demanded Violet, and even as she spoke Sir Henry came up the stairs with this girl on his arm.
“Ruth Granger rose—deathly white, and gazed speechlessly at her husband’s coarse, sneering face. I don’t think for a moment she fully grasped the immensity of the insult: she was stunned. The footmen were staring open-mouthed: guests passing into the supper-room stopped and smirked. And then it was over: the tension snapped.
“ ‘Have you had any supper, Sir Edward?’ said Ruth calmly, and with her hand on his arm she swept past her husband completely ignoring both him and the girl, who flushed angrily.
“ "I suppose,’ said Violet Seymour to me, as Granger and the girl went into the reception-room, ‘that had Ruth shot that filthy blackguard dead on the stairs, Sir Edward would have piously folded his hands and, in due course, sentenced her to death.”
THE Barrister got up and splashed some soda water into a glass. Then he continued.
“I won’t weary you with an account of the rest of the reception. You can imagine for yourselves the covert sneers and whisperings: you can picture in your minds the ostentatious pity of all Ruth’s dearest friends. I want to go on two or three hours to the time when the guests had gone, and a white-faced, tight-lipped woman was staring at the dying embers of a fire in her sitting-room, while I stood by the mantelpiece wondering what the devil to do to help. Granger was in his study where he had retired on the departure of Miss Jones—and I personally had seen two bottles of champagne taken to him there by one of the footmen.
“ ‘It’s the end, Bill,’ she said looking up at me, suddenly. ‘Absolutely the end, I can’t go on—not after to-night. How dared he bring that woman here? How dared he?’ “Violet had been right—the break had come. Ruth Granger was desperate and there was an expression on her face that it wasn’t good to see. It put the wind up me all right.
“ ‘Go to bed, Ruth,’ I said quietly. ‘There’s no good having a row with Granger to-night: you can say what you want to say tomorrow.’
“And at that moment the door opened and her husband came in. As I said he was a man who never got drunk, but that night he was unsteady on his legs. He stood at the door, swaying a little and staring at her with a sneer on his face. He was a swine sober: in drink, he was—well, words fail. But, by God! you fellows, she got through him, and into him until I thought he was going to strike her. I believe that was what she was playing for at the time, because I was there as a witness. But he didn’t, and when she’d finished flaying him, he merely laughed in her face.
“ ‘And what about your own damned lover, my virtuous darling,’ he sneered. ‘What about the upright Judge whom you adore—dear kind Edward Shoreham?’
“It was unexpected: she didn’t know he had guessed—and her face gave her away for a moment. Then she straightened up proudly.
“ ‘Sir Edward Shoreham and I are on terms which an animal of your gross mind couldn’t possibly understand,’ she answered coldly and he laughed. ‘If you insinuate that he is my lover in the accepted sense of the word—you lie and you know it.’ “Without another word she walked contemptuously by him, and the door closed behind her. And after a moment or two I followed her, leaving him staring moodily at the empty grate. I couldn’t have spoken to him without being rude, and after all I was under his roof.’’
The Barrister leaned back in his chair, and crossed his legs.
“Now, that was the situation,” he continued, “when I went to bed. My room was almost opposite Lady Granger’s, and at the end of the passage, which was a cul-de-sac, was the door leading into Granger’s study. I hadn’t started to undress when I heard him come past my room and go along the passage to his study. And I was still thinking over the situation about ten minutes later when Lady Granger's door opened. I knew it was hers because I heard her speak to her maid—telling her to go to bed. The girl said ‘Goodnight,’ and something—I don’t quite know what—made me look through a a crack where heat had warped my door slightly. I was feeling uneasy and alarmed: I suppose the scene downstairs had unsettled me.
“And sure enough, as soon as the maid’s footsteps had died away, I saw. through my spy-hole, Ruth Granger go down the passage towards her husband’s study. For a moment I hesitated: an outsider’s position is always awkward between husband and wife. But one thing was very certain—those two were in no condition to have another—and this time a private interview. I opened my door noiselessly and peered out. It struck me that if I heard things getting too heated, I should have to intervene. She was just opening the door of his study as I looked along the passage—and then in a flash the whole thing seemed to happen. The door shut behind her. there was a pause of one—perhaps two seconds—and a revolver shot rang out, followed by the sound of a heavy fall. For a moment I was stunned: then I raced along the passage as hard as I could, and flung open the door of the study.
“On the floor lay Henry Granger—doubled up and sprawling, while in the middle of the room stood his wife staring at him speechlessly. At her feet on the carpet was a revolver—an automatic Colt. I stood there by the door staring foolishly, and after a while she spoke.
“ ‘There’s been an accident,’ she whispered. ‘Is he dead?
“I went up to the body and turned it over. Through the shirt front was a small hole: underneath the left shoulder blade was another. Henry Granger had been shot through the heart from point blank range: death must have been absolutely instantaneous.
“ ‘My God! Ruth,’ I muttered. ‘How did it happen?’
“ ‘Happen?’ she answered vaguely. ‘There was a man The window.’
“And then she fainted. The butler with a couple of footmen by this time had appeared at the door, and I pulled myself together.
“ ‘Her ladyship’s maid at once,' I said. ‘Sir Henry has been shot. Ring up a doctor, and ask him to come round immediately.’
“The butler rushed off, but I kept the two footmen.
“ ‘Wait a moment,’ I cried, picking up the revolver. 'A man did it. Pull back the two curtains by the window, and I’ll cover him.’
“They did as I told them—pulled back the two heavy black curtains that were in front of the window. It was set back in a sort of alcove, and I had the revolver ready pointed to cover the murderer. I covered empty air: there was no one there. Then I walked over to the window and looked out. It was wide open, and there was a sheer drop of forty feet to the deserted area below. I looked upwards—I looked sideways: plain brickwork without footing for a cat.
“ ‘Go down to the room below,' I cried. ‘He may have got in there.’
“They rushed away, to come back and tell me that not only were the windows bolted, but that they were shuttered as well. And I thought they looked at me curiously.”
HE PAUSED to relight his cigar: then he continued thoughtfully. “I don’t quite know when I first began to feel suspicious about this mysterious man. The thing had been so sudden that for a while my brain refused to work: then gradually my legal training reasserted itself and I started to piece things together. Ruth had come to again, and I put one or two questions to her. She was still very dazed but she answered them quite coherently.
“A man in evening clothes—at least she thought he had on evening clothes— had been in the room as she came in. She heard a shot: the light went out, and the window was thrown up. And then she had turned on the light, just before I came in to see her husband lying dead on the floor. She knew no more. I suppose I must have looked a bit thoughtful—for she suddenly got up from her chair and came up to me.
“ ‘You believe me, Bill, don’t you?’ she said staring at me.
“ ‘Of course—of course,’ I answered hurriedly. ‘Go and lie down Ruth, now—because we shall have to send for the police.’
“Without another word she left the room with her maid, and after telling the footmen to wait downstairs till they were wanted, I sat down to think. Now this isn’t a detective story: such as it is, it concerns a more interesting study than the mere detection of crime. It concerns the struggle in the soul of an upright man, between love and duty. And the man was Sir Edward Shoreham.
“Unknown to me she sent for him—asked him to come at once—and he came. He was shown by the butler into the study where I was still sitting at the desk—and he stopped very still by the door staring at. the body which had not been moved. I was waiting for the Doctor, and I got up surprised.
“ ‘The butler told me he had been shot’, be said a little jerkily. ‘How did it happen?’
“ ‘I wasn’t expecting you, Sir Edward,’ I answered slowly. ‘But I'm glad that you have come. I’d like another opinion.’
" 'What do you mean,’ he cried. ‘Is there any mystery?’
“ ‘I’ll tell you exactly what happened as far as I know the facts, ' I said. ‘Lady Granger and her husband had a very bad quarrel tonight. Then she came to bed—and so did I. Shortly afterwards her husband came along into this room. Now my bedroom is in the passage you have just come along—and about ten minutes after Sir Henry came in here—his wife followed him. I opened my door because I was I afraid they might start quarrelling again—and he had been drinking. I saw her come in: there was a pause and then a revolver shot rang out.’
“ ‘Was this door shut?’ he snapped.
“ ‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘it was. I rushed along the passage, and came in. I found her, standing with the revolver at her feet staring at her husband who was lying where he is now. She said: ‘There’s been an accident,’ And then she muttered something about a man and the window, before she fainted. I went to the window, and there was no one there. I looked out: will you do the same?’
“I waited while he walked over and looked out. And after what seemed an interminable time he came back again.
“ ‘How long was it after the shot before you looked out.' His voice was very low as he asked the question.
“ ‘Not a quarter of a minute,’ I answered and we both stood staring at one another in silence.
“ ‘Good God!’ he said at length ‘what are you driving at?’
“ ‘I’m not driving at anything, Sir Edward,’ I answered. ‘At least I’m trying not to drive at it. But the man is dead—and the police must be sent for. What are we going to say?’
“ ‘The truth, of course,’ he answered instantly.
“ ‘Quite,’ I said slowly. ‘But what is the truth?’
“He turned very white and leaned against one of the old suits of armor of which the dead man had a wonderful collection all over the house.
“ ‘Did Lady Granger see this man go out of the window?’ he asked at length.
“ ‘No—she only heard him open it. You see—she says he switched off the light. It was on when I rushed in.’
“ ‘A rope,’ he suggested.
“ ‘Impossible in the time’ I said. ‘Utterly impossible. Such a suggestion would be laughed out of court.’
“HE CAME over and sat down heavily in a chair, and his face was haggard.
“ ‘Sir Edward,’ I went on desperately, ‘the Doctor will be here shortly: the police must be sent for—we’ve got to decide something. This man didn’t go out by the door or I’d have seen him: only a fly could have gone out by the window.’
“ ‘You don’t believe there was a man here at all,’ he said slowly.
“ ‘God help me! I don’t’ I answered. ‘It’s all so easy to reconstruct. The poor girl was driven absolutely desperate by what happened to-night—and by the last thing he said to her after their quarrel. I looked at him for a moment before going on. ‘He accused her of being in love with you.’ I said it deliberately, and he caught his breath sharply.
“ ‘Can’t you see it all?’ I continued. ‘She came in here, and she shot him. And when she’d done it her nerve gave, and she said the first thing to me that came into her head.’ She did not weigh her words.
“ ‘If you’re right,’ he said heavily, ‘it means that Ruth will be tried for murder!’ He got up with his hands to his temples. ‘My God! Stratton,’ he cried, ‘this is awful. Premeditated murder too—not done blindly in the middle of a quarrel—but a quarter of an hour after it was over.’
“ ‘That’s how it would strike a jury," I answered gravely.
“ ‘Supposing she had done it—suddenly blindly—’ he was talking half to himself. ‘Snatched the revolver off the table as he tried to make love to her—let’s say.’ And then he stopped and stared at me.
“ ‘Supposing that that had happened, it would be better for her to say so at once,’ I said.
“ ‘But it didn’t happen,’ he answered. ‘It couldn’t have.’
“ ‘No,’ I agreed. ‘It didn’t happen: it couldn’t have. But supposing it had, Sir Edward. What then?’
“ ‘Stop, Stratton,’ he cried. ‘For Heaven’s sake stop.’
“ ‘There’s no good stopping,’ I said. ‘We haven’t any time for argument. Your legal knowledge has suggested the same solution as occurred to me. If now—at once—when we send for the police, she says it was an accident—gives a complete story, chapter and verse....
“ ‘Invents it, you mean,’ he interrupted.
“ ‘Call it what you like’ I said, ‘but—unless she does that and substantiates the story, she will be tried for the premeditated and wilful murder of her husband. She'll have to be tried anyway—but if she makes a voluntary confession—makes a story out of it that will appeal to sentiment—they will acquit her. It’s the only chance.’
“ ‘But it’s monstrous, man,’ he muttered—only now his eyes were fixed on me questioningly.
“ ‘Look here, Sir Edward,’ I said. ‘Let’s discuss this matter calmly. Humanly speaking we know what happened. Ruth came along that passage—opened this door—and shot her husband dead through the heart. As Counsel for the Crown—that is the case as I should put it to the jury—the plain issue shorn of all its trappings, What is going to be the verdict?’
“Shoreham plucked at his collar, as if he was fighting for breath.
“ ‘If on the other hand, the shot was not immediate—and I am the only witness as to that: if I had heard his voice raised in anger; if he had sprung at her—tried to I kiss her—and she blindly without thought, had snatched up the first thing that came to her hand—the revolver; not even knowing it was loaded: what then? The servants can be squared: she was talking wildly when she mentioned this man—didn’t know what she was saying. And then when she got back to her room—she I realised that the truth was best—and rang, you up. A Judge: what better possible proof could any jury have of her desire to conceal nothing? And you with your reputation on the Bench....’
“ ‘Ah! don’t, don’t’, he cried hoarsely. ‘You’re driving me mad. You’re—you’re. ’
“ ‘Why, Ned, what’s the matter?’
"WE BOTH swung round. Ruth had come in, unnoticed by us, and was staring at Shoreham with wonder in her eyes. Then with a shudder she stepped past her husband’s body and came into the room.
“ ‘They’ve just told me you were here,’ she said, and then she gave a little cry. ‘Ned—why are you looking like that? My God, you don’t think—you don’t think I did it ?’
“She cowered back, looking first at him and then at me.
“ ‘You can't think I did it,’ she whispered. "I tell you there was a man here—the man who shot him. Oh! they’ll believe me—won’t they?’
“ ‘Ruth,’ I said. "I want you to realise that we’re both of us your friends.’ Which is the sort of fatuous remark one does make when the tension is a bit acute. She never even glanced at me as I spoke: with a sort of sick horror in her eyes she was staring at Shoreham, and I blundered on. ‘When you talked about this man you were unnerved—distraught: you didn’t know what you were saying. We both realise that. But now we’ve got to think of the best way of—of helping you. You see the police must be sent for—we ought to have sent for them sooner—and...."
“She walked past me and went over to Shoreham.
“ ‘Do you believe I did it, Ned?’ she said quietly. 'If I swear to you that I didn’t—would that convince you?’
‘But Ruth,’ he cried desperately, ‘it isn’t me you’ve got to convince—it’s the police. A man couldn’t have got out of that window in the time. It’s a physical impossibility. If you told it to the police, they’d laugh. Tell us the truth, my dear. I beseech you. Tell us the truth, and we’ll see what can be done.’
“She stood very still, with her hands clenched by her sides. And then quite deliberately she spoke to Shoreham.
" ‘If you don’t believe there was a man here,’ she said, ‘you must think I shot my husband. There was no one else who could have done it. Well—supposing I did. You acknowledge no justification of such an act.’
“I started to speak, but she silenced me with an imperative wave of her hand.
“ ‘Please, Bill. Well, Ned—I’m wailing. If I did shoot him—what then?’ ”
The Barrister paused to relight his cigar—and the others waited in silence.
“She was staring at Shoreham,’’ he went on after a while, “with a faint, half-mocking, wholly tender smile on her lips, and if either he or I had been less dense that smile should have given us to think. But at the moment I was absorbed in the problem of how to save her: while she was absorbed in a very different one concerning the mentality of the man she cared for. And Shoreham—well he was absorbed in the old, old fight between love and duty, and the fierceness of the struggle was showing on his face.
“There in front of him stood the woman he loved, the woman who had just shot her husband, and the woman who was now. free for him to marry. He knew, as well as I did, that in adopting the line I had suggested—lay the best chance of getting her acquitted. He knew as well as I did that the vast majority of juries would acquit if the story was put to them as we had outlined it. He could visualise as well as I the scene in court. Counsel for the defence—I’d already fixed on Grayson in my mind as her counsel—outlining the whole scene: her late husband’s abominable conduct culminating in this final outrage at her reception. And then as he came to the moment of the tragedy, I could picture him turning to the jury with passionate sincerity in his face—appealing to them as men—happily married perhaps, but men at any rate to whom home life was sacred.
“ I COULD hear his voice—low and earnest—as he sketched for them that last scene. This poor, slighted, tormented—woman—girl, gentlemen, for she is little more than a girl—went in desperation to the man—well, he is dead now, and we will leave it at that—to the man who had made her life a veritable hell. She pleaded with him, gentlemen, to allow her to divorce him—pleaded for some remnant of decent feelings in him. And what was his answer—what was the answer of this devil who was her husband? Did he meet her half-way: did he profess the slightest sorrow for his despicable conduct? No, gentlemen—not one word. His sole response was to spring at her in his drunken frenzy, and endeavor to force his vile attentions on her. And she, mad with terror and fright, snatched up the revolver which was lying on the desk. It might have been a ruler—anything: she was not responsible at the moment for what she did. Do you blame her, gentlemen: you have daughters of your own. She no more knew what she had in her hand than a baby would. To keep him away—that was her sole idea. And then—suddenly it happened: the revolver went off—the man fell dead.
“What did this girl do, gentlemen, after that? Realising that he was dead—did she make any endeavor to conceal what she had done—to conceal her share in the matter? No—exactly the reverse. Instantly she rang up Sir Edward Shoreham, whose views on such matters are well known to you all. And then and there she told him everything—concealing nothing, excusing nothing. Sir Edward Shoreham of all people who, with due deference to such a distinguished public man, has at times been regarded as—well—er—not lenient in his judgments. And you have heard what Sir Edward said in the box . ”
Once again the Barrister paused, and smiled faintly.
“I’d got as far as that, you see, before Shoreham answered her. And he got as far as that too, I think. He saw it all. built on a foundation of lies—built on the foundation of his dishonour. No one would ever know except us three but that doesn’t make a thing easier for the Edward Shorehams of the world.
“And then he spoke—in a low, tense voice.
“ ‘If you shot him, dear, he said, 'nothing matters save getting you off.’
“Some people,” pursued the Barrister, might call it victory—some people would nail it a defeat. Depends on one's outlook: depends on how much one really believes in the ’Could not love you half so much, loved I not honor more' idea. But certainly the murderer himself was very pleased.”
“The murderer,” cried the Ordinary Man sitting up suddenly.
“The murderer,” returned the Barrister. “That’s why I mentioned about my cigarette case this morning. He had been standing behind the suit of armour in the corner the whole time. He came out suddenly and we all stared at him speechlessly. And then he started coughing—a dreadful tearing cough—which stained his handkerchief scarlet.
“ 'I must apologise,’ he said, when he could speak, ‘but there was another thing besides shooting Granger that I wanted to do before I died. That was why I didn't want to be caught to-night. However a man must cough when he’s got my complaints. But I’m glad I restrained myself long enough to hear your decision, Sir Edward. I congratulate you on it.’
" ‘You scoundrel,’ began Shoreham, starting forward. ‘Why didn’t you declare yourself sooner?’
“ ‘Because there’s another thing I wanted to do,’ he repeated wearily. ‘In Paris— in the Rue St. Claire—there lives a woman. She was beautiful once—to me she is beautiful now. She was my woman until....” And his eyes sought the dead body of Henry Granger.
“Ruth took a deep breath. ‘Yes—until’, she whispered.
“ ‘Until he came,’ said the man gravely. ‘And God will decide between him and me. But I would have liked to have looked on her once more—and held her hand, and told her—yet again—that I understood—absolutely.....’
“It was then Ruth Granger crossed to him.
“ ‘What is her name and the number of the house?’ she said.
“ ‘Sybil Doering is her name,’ he answered slowly. ‘And the number is fourteen.
“ 'Will you leave it to me,’ she asked.
“For a moment he stared at her in silence: then he bowed.
“ ‘From the bottom of my heart I thank you, Lady Granger. And I hope you will have all the happiness you deserve,’ He glanced at Shoreham and smiled. ‘When a man loves, everything else goes to the wall, doesn’t it? Remember that in the future, Sir Edward, when they’re standing before you wondering—trying to read their fate. Someone loves them—just as you love her.’ ”
The Barrister rose and drained his glass.
“And that is the conclusion of your suffering,” he remarked.
“Was the man hanged?” asked the Soldier.
“No—he died a week later—of galloping consumption.”
“And what of the other two?” demanded the Actor.
“They married, and are living happily together to-day, doing fruit-farming as a hobby.”
“Fruit-farming.” echoed the Doctor. ‘‘Why fruit-farming?”
“Something to do,” said the Barrister. “You see. Sir Edward has never tried another case. Some men are made that way.