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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    The Trial

    The Central Criminal Court was crowded on the second and last day of the trial, when James Lexington Morlake came up the stairs that led into the large and roomy dock. The white court, with its oaken panels, was pleasing to Jim's discriminating eye; the scarlet and crimson of the judge's robes, the velvet and fur of the Sheriff's, the gold and red of the City Marshal--they harmonised perfectly.

    The judge carried in his hand a tight bouquet of flowers and laid them on his desk. It was a far cry from the days of those foetid courts when the judges carried disinfecting herbs, and an act of grim necessity had been translated through the ages into a pretty custom.

    A little bob of the white-wigged head as the judge seated himself. He glanced casually at the prisoner, and, settling himself in his padded chair, waited for the concluding evidence of the last police witness.

    Once or twice he leant forward to ask a question in a sharp, thin voice, but on the whole he seemed immeasurably bored, and when he concealed a yawn behind his hand, Jim sympathised with him.

    "This is my case, my lord," said the prosecuting counsel as the last witness stepped down.

    The judge nodded and glanced at Jim.

    "Have you any witnesses to call, Morlake?" he asked.

    Jim was not represented by counsel, and he had conducted his own cross-examination of the witnesses.

    "No, my lord. I should have called the operator at the New Cross exchange, but the police have admitted that a message came through asking me to call at 12 Cranfield Gardens. From the known time that message came through, and the known hour of my arrest, it is clear that I could not have entered the house in the time. The police rely upon the fact that I was supposed to have been in possession of house-breaking tools and a pistol--neither the purchase nor former possession of which they have traced to me.

    "The police in their evidence have told the jury that I am an expert burglar, and that I have robbed many banks----"

    "They have stated that you are under suspicion, and the night watchman at the Burlington Safe Deposit has recognised your voice--that is all that has been said definitely concerning any previous crime you may have committed," interrupted the judge. "I take it that you are not going to the witness stand to give evidence on your own behalf?"

    "That is so, my lord."

    "Then this, I understand, is your speech for the defence? Very well."

    Jim leant on the edge of the pen, his eyes fixed on the jury.

    "Gentlemen, if it is true that I am a clever bank smasher, does it not occur to you that, in attempting to rob a dwelling-house in order to obtain jewellery of great historical but of little intrinsic value, I was acting in a blundering and amateurish fashion? Why should I, if, as is stated, I robbed the Burlington Safe Deposit of a large sum only a week ago? Gentlemen"--he leant forward--"you may accept as a fact that I did rob the Burlington!"

    There was a stir in the court and a sudden hum of noise. Up in the public gallery a girl who had sat through the two days of trial, following every word with tense interest, began twisting her handkerchief into a tighter ball, her heart beating a little faster.

    "You need not and should not make any statement incriminating to yourself," the judge was warning the tall man in the dock.

    "Nothing I have said will or can incriminate me," said Jim quietly. "I am merely asking the jury to accept the hypothesis that I am an expert burglar, in order that they may judge the probability of my breaking into the house in Cranfield Gardens. The police have insisted that I am responsible for these burglaries. So far as the laws of evidence would allow them, they have enveloped my life in a cloud of suspicion. Let me clarify the air, and admit that I am The Black, without specifying for which of these many burglaries I am responsible.

    "Was the Blackheath robbery typical? Was there anything to gain, any necessity? Is it not more likely that the story of the telephone call was true, and that I was arrested by, let us say, the honest error of that admirable officer Inspector Marborne?"

    Here he left the case to the prosecuting counsel and the judge. It was the latter whose speech counted.

    "I have not the slightest doubt," said Mr. Justice Lovin, "that the accused James Morlake is a man of criminal antecedents. I have less doubt that he is the burglar who has gained unenviable notoriety as The Black. But the least doubt of all in my mind concerns his guilt in the charge which has been brought against him in this court and in this present case. The police evidence has been most unsatisfactory. I am not satisfied that either Marborne or Slone, who gave evidence, told the whole truth. There was here almost convincing proof of what is called in America a 'frame-up'--in other words, concocted evidence designed to deceive the court and to secure a conviction. I shall therefore direct you to return a verdict of not guilty. I will add...." He turned his stern eyes to the prisoner.

    "I will add that, if ever James Lexington Morlake is convicted before me on a charge of burglary, I shall send him to penal servitude for life, believing that he is a menace to society, and a man with whom no honest or scrupulous man or woman should consort."

    For a second it seemed to the girl in the gallery that Jim Morlake shrank under the terrific denunciation, and his face went a shade paler. In an instant he had recovered, and, standing erect, heard the formal verdict of Not Guilty, and stepped down to freedom.

    The people made way for him as he passed, eyeing him curiously. One white-haired man alone intercepted him.

    "Glad you got off, Morlake."

    Jim smiled faintly.

    "Thank you, Mr. Welling--I know you mean it. It was a frame, of course."

    "I guess so," nodded Welling gravely, and went toward the gloomy-faced Marborne, who was coming out of the court. "Heard the judge, Marborne, eh? Pretty bad, that?"

    "He didn't know what he was talking about, sir," said the detective with an air of injured innocence. "I've never been so insulted in my life."

    "And now I'm going to insult you," said Welling. "You're suspended from duty; that applies to you, Slone. Attend the C. C.'s office on Wednesday and bring your uniform in a bundle!"

    Jim had watched the little scene interestedly, and guessed its significance. Very few people had come out of court, for the next case was a murder charge. The big marble hall was almost deserted as he slowly crossed toward the stairs.

    "Excuse me."

    He turned and met the eye of the waiting girl. She was plainly dressed and very pretty, and the gloved hand she held out to him trembled slightly.

    "I'm so glad, Mr. Morlake! I'm so glad!"

    He took her hand with a half smile.

    "You were in court both days," he said. "I saw you in the corner of the gallery. I'm glad it is over--the old gentleman did not spare me, did he?"

    She shivered.

    "No ... it was dreadful!"

    He wondered what he ought to say or do. Her friendliness and sympathy touched him more than he dreamed was possible. He saw that she was lovely, and he wanted to stop and talk to her, but he had an uncomfortable sense of shyness.

    "I hope," he said gently, "that you will not think too favourably of me. A distinguished criminal is very thrilling, but a very bad object of admiration."

    He saw the smile trembling at the corner of her lips and felt unaccountably gauche.

    "I'm not hero-worshipping, if that is what you mean," she said quietly. "I'm just being--awfully sorry for you! I don't think you're very sorry for yourself," and he shook his head.

    Looking round, he saw that a policeman was eyeing him curiously from the doorway of the court, and in a desire to shield the girl from the consequences of what might well be a folly, he suggested:

    "I think I'll go now."

    It needed some courage to say what she had to say.

    "Won't you come to tea somewhere?" she said, a little breathlessly. "There is a small restaurant in Newgate Street."

    He hesitated.

    "Yes--thank you," he said.

    "You know, you owe me something," she said as they walked downstairs.

    "Owe you?" he asked in surprise. "What do I owe you?"

    "I once sent you a very important letter," said the girl.

    He stared at her.

    "You sent me a letter? What is your name?"

    "I am Jane Smith," she said.
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