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The Red Thumb Mark by R. Austin Freeman

Part 5 out of 5

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forgery, but which is otherwise totally incomprehensible. Finally, there
is the strange disappearance of the 'Thumbograph' and its strange
reappearance. All this is striking and weighty evidence, to which must
be added that adduced by Dr. Thorndyke as showing how perfectly it is
possible to imitate a finger-print.

"These are the main facts of the case, and it is for you to consider
them. If, on careful consideration, you decide that the red thumb-print
was actually made by the prisoner's thumb, then it will be your duty to
pronounce the prisoner guilty; but if, on weighing the evidence, you
decide that the thumb-print is a forgery, then it will be your duty to
pronounce the prisoner not guilty. It is now past the usual luncheon
hour, and, if you desire it, you can retire to consider your verdict
while the Court adjourns."

The jurymen whispered together for a few moments and then the foreman
stood up.

"We have agreed on our verdict, my lord," he said.

The prisoner, who had just been led to the back of the dock, was now
brought back to the bar. The grey-wigged clerk of the court stood up and
addressed the jury.

"Are you all agreed upon your verdict, gentlemen?"

"We are," replied the foreman.

"What do you say, gentlemen? Is the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"

"Not guilty," replied the foreman, raising his voice and glancing at

A storm of applause burst from the gallery and was, for the moment,
disregarded by the judge. Mrs. Hornby laughed aloud--a strange,
unnatural laugh--and then crammed her handkerchief into her mouth, and
so sat gazing at Reuben with the tears coursing down her face, while
Juliet laid her head upon the desk and sobbed silently.

After a brief space the judge raised an admonitory hand, and, when the
commotion had subsided, addressed the prisoner, who stood at the bar,
calm and self-possessed, though his face bore a slight flush--

"Reuben Hornby, the jury, after duly weighing the evidence in this case,
have found you to be not guilty of the crime with which you were
charged. With that verdict I most heartily agree. In view of the
evidence which has been given, I consider that no other verdict was
possible, and I venture to say that you leave this court with your
innocence fully established, and without a stain upon your character. In
the distress which you have recently suffered, as well as in your
rejoicing at the verdict of the jury, you have the sympathy of the
Court, and of everyone present, and that sympathy will not be diminished
by the consideration that, with a less capable defence, the result might
have been very different.

"I desire to express my admiration at the manner in which that defence
was conducted, and I desire especially to observe that not you alone,
but the public at large, are deeply indebted to Dr. Thorndyke, who, by
his insight, his knowledge and his ingenuity, has probably averted a
very serious miscarriage of justice. The Court will now adjourn until
half-past two."

The judge rose from his seat and everyone present stood up; and, amidst
the clamour of many feet upon the gallery stairs, the door of the dock
was thrown open by a smiling police officer and Reuben came down the
stairs into the body of the court.



"We had better let the people clear off," said Thorndyke, when the first
greetings were over and we stood around Reuben in the fast-emptying
court. "We don't want a demonstration as we go out."

"No; anything but that, just now," replied Reuben. He still held Mrs.
Hornby's hand, and one arm was passed through that of his uncle, who
wiped his eyes at intervals, though his face glowed with delight.

"I should like you to come and have a little quiet luncheon with me at
my chambers--all of us friends together," continued Thorndyke.

"I should be delighted," said Reuben, "if the programme would include a
satisfactory wash."

"You will come, Anstey?" asked Thorndyke.

"What have you got for lunch?" demanded Anstey, who was now disrobed and
in his right mind--that is to say, in his usual whimsical,
pseudo-frivolous character.

"That question savours of gluttony," answered Thorndyke. "Come and see."

"I will come and eat, which is better," answered Anstey, "and I must run
off now, as I have to look in at my chambers."

"How shall we go?" asked Thorndyke, as his colleague vanished through
the doorway. "Polton has gone for a four-wheeler, but it won't hold us

"It will hold four of us," said Reuben, "and Dr. Jervis will bring
Juliet; won't you, Jervis?"

The request rather took me aback, considering the circumstances, but I
was conscious, nevertheless, of an unreasonable thrill of pleasure and
answered with alacrity: "If Miss Gibson will allow me, I shall be very
delighted." My delight was, apparently, not shared by Juliet, to judge
by the uncomfortable blush that spread over her face. She made no
objection, however, but merely replied rather coldly: "Well, as we can't
sit on the roof of the cab, we had better go by ourselves."

The crowd having by this time presumably cleared off, we all took our
way downstairs. The cab was waiting at the kerb, surrounded by a group
of spectators, who cheered Reuben as he appeared at the doorway, and we
saw our friends enter and drive away. Then we turned and walked quickly
down the Old Bailey towards Ludgate Hill. "Shall we take a hansom?" I

"No; let us walk," replied Juliet; "a little fresh air will do us good
after that musty, horrible court. It all seems like a dream, and yet
what a relief--oh! what a relief it is."

"It is rather like the awakening from a nightmare to find the morning
sun shining," I rejoined.

"Yes; that is just what it is like," she agreed; "but I still feel dazed
and shaken."

We turned presently down New Bridge Street, towards the Embankment,
walking side by side without speaking, and I could not help comparing,
with some bitterness, our present stiff and distant relations with the
intimacy and comradeship that had existed before the miserable incident
of our last meeting.

"You don't look so jubilant over your success as I should have
expected," she said at length, with a critical glance at me; "but I
expect you are really very proud and delighted, aren't you?"

"Delighted, yes; not proud. Why should I be proud? I have only played
jackal, and even that I have done very badly."

"That is hardly a fair statement of the facts," she rejoined, with
another quick, inquisitive look at me; "but you are in low spirits
to-day--which is not at all like you. Is it not so?"

"I am afraid I am a selfish, egotistical brute," was my gloomy reply. "I
ought to be as gay and joyful as everyone else to-day, whereas the fact
is that I am chafing over my own petty troubles. You see, now that this
case is finished, my engagement with Dr. Thorndyke terminates
automatically, and I relapse into my old life--a dreary repetition of
journeying amongst strangers--and the prospect is not inspiriting. This
has been a time of bitter trial to you, but to me it has been a green
oasis in the desert of a colourless, monotonous life. I have enjoyed the
companionship of a most lovable man, whom I admire and respect above all
other men, and with him have moved in scenes full of colour and
interest. And I have made one other friend whom I am loth to see fade
out of my life, as she seems likely to do."

"If you mean me," said Juliet, "I may say that it will be your own fault
if I fade out of your life. I can never forget all that you have done
for us, your loyalty to Reuben, your enthusiasm in his cause, to say
nothing of your many kindnesses to me. And, as to your having done your
work badly, you wrong yourself grievously. I recognised in the evidence
by which Reuben was cleared to-day how much you had done, in filling in
the details, towards making the case complete and convincing. I shall
always feel that we owe you a debt of the deepest gratitude, and so will
Reuben, and so, perhaps, more than either of us, will someone else."

"And who is that?" I asked, though with no great interest. The gratitude
of the family was a matter of little consequence to me.

"Well, it is no secret now," replied Juliet. "I mean the girl whom
Reuben is going to marry. What is the matter, Dr. Jervis?" she added, in
a tone of surprise.

We were passing through the gate that leads from the Embankment to
Middle Temple Lane, and I had stopped dead under the archway, laying a
detaining hand upon her arm and gazing at her in utter amazement.

"The girl that Reuben is going to marry!" I repeated. "Why, I had always
taken it for granted that he was going to marry you."

"But I told you, most explicitly, that was not so!" she exclaimed with
some impatience.

"I know you did," I admitted ruefully; "but I thought--well, I imagined
that things had, perhaps, not gone quite smoothly and--"

"Did you suppose that if I had cared for a man, and that man had been
under a cloud, I should have denied the relation or pretended that we
were merely friends?" she demanded indignantly.

"I am sure you wouldn't," I replied hastily. "I was a fool, an idiot--by
Jove, what an idiot I have been!"

"It was certainly very silly of you," she admitted; but there was a
gentleness in her tone that took away all bitterness from the reproach.

"The reason of the secrecy was this," she continued; "they became
engaged the very night before Reuben was arrested, and, when he heard of
the charge against him, he insisted that no one should be told unless,
and until, he was fully acquitted. I was the only person who was in
their confidence, and as I was sworn to secrecy, of course I couldn't
tell you; nor did I suppose that the matter would interest you. Why
should it?"

"Imbecile that I am," I murmured. "If I had only known!"

"Well, if you _had_ known," said she; "what difference could it have
made to you?"

This question she asked without looking at me, but I noted that her
cheek had grown a shade paler.

"Only this," I answered. "That I should have been spared many a day and
night of needless self-reproach and misery."

"But why?" she asked, still keeping her face averted. "What had you to
reproach yourself with?"

"A great deal," I answered, "if you consider my supposed position. If
you think of me as the trusted agent of a man, helpless and deeply
wronged--a man whose undeserved misfortunes made every demand upon
chivalry and generosity; if you think of me as being called upon to
protect and carry comfort to the woman whom I regarded as, virtually,
that man's betrothed wife; and then if you think of me as proceeding
straightway, before I had known her twenty-four hours, to fall
hopelessly in love with her myself, you will admit that I had something
to reproach myself with."

She was still silent, rather pale and very thoughtful, and she seemed to
breathe more quickly than usual.

"Of course," I continued, "you may say that it was my own look-out, that
I had only to keep my own counsel, and no one would be any the worse.
But there's the mischief of it. How can a man who is thinking of a woman
morning, noon and night; whose heart leaps at the sound of her coming,
whose existence is a blank when she is away from him--a blank which he
tries to fill by recalling, again and again, all that she has said and
the tones of her voice, and the look that was in her eyes when she
spoke--how can he help letting her see, sooner or later, that he cares
for her? And if he does, when he has no right to, there is an end of
duty and chivalry and even common honesty."

"Yes, I understand now," said Juliet softly. "Is this the way?" She
tripped up the steps leading to Fountain Court and I followed
cheerfully. Of course it was not the way, and we both knew it, but the
place was silent and peaceful, and the plane-trees cast a pleasant shade
on the gravelled court. I glanced at her as we walked slowly towards the
fountain. The roses were mantling in her cheeks now and her eyes were
cast down, but when she lifted them to me for an instant, I saw that
they were shining and moist.

"Did you never guess?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied in a low voice, "I guessed; but--but then," she
added shyly, "I thought I had guessed wrong."

We walked on for some little time without speaking again until we came
to the further side of the fountain, where we stood listening to the
quiet trickle of the water, and watching the sparrows as they took their
bath on the rim of the basin. A little way off another group of sparrows
had gathered with greedy joy around some fragments of bread that had
been scattered abroad by the benevolent Templars, and hard by a more
sentimentally-minded pigeon, unmindful of the crumbs and the marauding
sparrows, puffed out his breast and strutted and curtsied before his
mate with endearing gurgles.

Juliet had rested her hand on one of the little posts that support the
chain by which the fountain is enclosed and I had laid my hand on hers.
Presently she turned her hand over so that mine lay in its palm; and so
we were standing hand-in-hand when an elderly gentleman, of dry and
legal aspect, came up the steps and passed by the fountain. He looked at
the pigeons and then he looked at us, and went his way smiling and
shaking his head.

"Juliet," said I.

She looked up quickly with sparkling eyes and a frank smile that was yet
a little shy, too.


"Why did he smile--that old gentleman--when he looked at us?"

"I can't imagine," she replied mendaciously.

"It was an approving smile," I said. "I think he was remembering his own
spring-time and giving us his blessing."

"Perhaps he was," she agreed. "He looked a nice old thing." She gazed
fondly at the retreating figure and then turned again to me. Her cheeks
had grown pink enough by now, and in one of them a dimple displayed
itself to great advantage in its rosy setting.

"Can you forgive me, dear, for my unutterable folly?" I asked presently,
as she glanced up at me again.

"I am not sure," she answered. "It was dreadfully silly of you."

"But remember, Juliet, that I loved you with my whole heart--as I love
you now and shall love you always."

"I can forgive you anything when you say that," she answered softly.

Here the voice of the distant Temple clock was heard uttering a polite
protest. With infinite reluctance we turned away from the fountain,
which sprinkled us with a parting benediction, and slowly retraced our
steps to Middle Temple Lane and thence into Pump Court.

"You haven't said it, Juliet," I whispered, as we came through the
archway into the silent, deserted court.

"Haven't I, dear?" she answered; "but you know it, don't you? You know I

"Yes, I know," I said; "and that knowledge is all my heart's desire."

She laid her hand in mine for a moment with a gentle pressure and then
drew it away; and so we passed through into the cloisters.


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