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The Blotting Book by E. F. Benson

Part 3 out of 3

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idea, but it is certainly clear to us all now, that there was a threat
implied in Mr. Taynton's words. Personally I do not wish to know what
that threat was, nor do I see how the knowledge of it would affect your
case in my eyes, or in the eyes of the jury."

There was a moment's pause.

"No, my lord, I do not press it."

Then a clear young voice broke the silence.

"Thanks, Martin," it said.

It came from the dock.

The judge looked across to the dock for a moment, with a sudden
irresistible impulse of kindliness for the prisoner whom he was judging.

"Charles Martin," he said, "you have given your evidence, and speaking
for myself, I believe it to be entirely trustworthy. I wish to say that
your character is perfectly clear. No aspersion whatever has been made on
it, except that you said a note had been delivered at the door, though
you knew it to have been not so delivered. You made that statement
through fear of a certain individual; you were frightened into telling a
lie. No one inquires into the sources of your fear."

But in the general stillness, there was one part of the court that was
not still, but the judge made no command of silence there, for in the
jury-box there was whispering and consultation. It went on for some
three minutes. Then the foreman of the jury stood up.

"The jury have heard sufficient of this case, my lord," he said, "and
they are agreed on their verdict."

* * * * *

For a moment the buzzing whispers went about the court again, shrilling
high, but instantaneously they died down, and the same tense silence
prevailed. But from the back of the court there was a stir, and the
judge seeing what it was that caused it waited, while Mrs. Assheton
moved from her place, and made her way to the front of the dock in which
Morris sat. She had been in the witness-box that day, and everyone knew
her, and all made way for her, moving as the blades of corn move when
the wind stirs them, for her right was recognised and unquestioned. But
the dock was high above her, and a barrister who sat below instantly
vacated his seat, she got up and stood on it. All eyes were fixed on
her, and none saw that at this moment a telegram was handed to the judge
which he opened and read.

Then he turned to the foreman of the jury.

"What verdict, do you find?" he asked.

"Not guilty."

Mrs. Assheton had already grasped Morris's hands in hers, and just as the
words were spoken she kissed him.

* * * * *

Then a shout arose which bade fair to lift the roof off, and neither
judge nor ushers of the court made any attempt to quiet it, and if it was
only for the sensation of seeing the gallows march nearer the prisoner
that these folk had come together, yet there was no mistaking the
genuineness of their congratulations now. Morris's whole behaviour too,
had been so gallant and brave; innocent though he knew himself to be,
yet it required a very high courage to listen to the damning accumulation
of evidence against him, and if there is one thing that the ordinary man
appreciates more than sensation, it is pluck. Then, but not for a long
time, the uproar subsided, and the silence descended again. Then the
judge spoke.

"Mr. Assheton," he said, "for I no longer can call you prisoner, the jury
have of course found you not guilty of the terrible crime of which you
were accused, and I need not say that I entirely agree with their
verdict. Throughout the trial you have had my sympathy and my admiration
for your gallant bearing." Then at a sign from the judge his mother and
he were let out by the private door below the bench.

After they had gone silence was restored. Everyone knew that there must
be more to come. The prisoner was found not guilty; the murder was still

Then once more the judge spoke.

"I wish to make public recognition," he said, "of the fairness and
ability with which the case was conducted on both sides. The prosecution,
as it was their duty to do, forged the chain of evidence against Mr.
Assheton as strongly as they were able, and pieced together incriminating
circumstances against him with a skill that at first seemed conclusive of
his guilt. The first thing that occured to make a weak link in their
chain was the acknowledgment of a certain witness that the stick with
which the murder was supposed to have been committed was not left on the
spot by the accused, but by himself. Why he admitted that we can only
conjecture, but my conjecture is that it was an act of repentance and
contrition on his part. When it came to that point he could not let the
evidence which he had himself supplied tell against him on whom it was
clearly his object to father the crime. You will remember also that
certain circumstances pointed to robbery being the motive of the crime.
That I think was the first idea, so to speak of the real criminal. Then,
we must suppose, he saw himself safer, if he forged against another
certain evidence which we have heard."

The judge paused for a moment, and then went on with evident emotion.

"This case will never be reopened again," he said, "for a reason that I
will subsequently tell the court; we have seen the last of this tragedy,
and retribution and punishment are in the hands of a higher and supreme
tribunal. This witness, Mr. Edward Taynton--has been for years a friend
of mine, and the sympathy which I felt for him at the opening of the
case, when a young man, to whom I still believe him to have been
attached, was on his trial, is changed to a deeper pity. During the
afternoon you have heard certain evidence, from which you no doubt as
well as I infer that the fact of this murder having been committed was
known to the man who wrote a letter and blotted it on the sheet which has
been before the court. That man also, as it was clear to us an hour ago,
directed a certain envelope which you have also seen. I may add that Mr.
Taynton had, as I knew, an extraordinary knack of imitating handwritings;
I have seen him write a signature that I could have sworn was mine. But
he has used that gift for tragic purposes.

"I have just received a telegram. He left this court before the luncheon
interval, and went to his house in Brighton. Arrived there, as I have
just learned, he poisoned himself. And may God have mercy on his soul."

Again he paused.

"The case therefore is closed," he said, "and the court will rise for the
day. You will please go out in silence."

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