IN THE DOCK
“If the law supposes that,”
said Mr. Bumble…,
“the law is a ass—a idiot.”
IT SEEMED STIFLING HOT TO BENJAMIN BARNETT, sitting in the rear of the courtroom, but Mr. Justice Hedge did not seem inclined to have any of the four oversized windows opened. In all the trials he had covered at the Old Bailey, Barnett did not remember ever seeing them opened. Barnett, owner and managing editor of the American News Service, sat in the back pew of the visitors’ gallery with his notebook open on his lap and a carefully sharpened Tiffman’s No. 2 lead pencil in his hand. Professor James Moriarty had just been brought up from the cells and taken his place in the dock. A tall man with a hawklike face and piercing eyes, the professor stood passively, his shoulders slightly hunched in his black frock coat, giving the impression that he was the only adult in a world—or at least a courtroom—of children. His trial as an accessory in the Widdersign murders had gone on for four days before it was given to the jury, and those good gentlemen had now been out for three. Now, at four thirty in the afternoon of the third day of deliberations, the judge had reconvened the court. The bewigged barristers had returned from wherever barristers go while awaiting a verdict, the judge had donned his red robes and assumed the seat of the Queen’s Justice, and the jury was filing in.
Mr. Justice Hedge waited until the last juror had taken his seat and then leaned forward on his elbows and tilted his head, the better to peer over his wire-rim eyeglasses. His gaze focused on the foreman. He frowned. “I received your note,” he said. “It’s been three days.”
The foreman rose. “We know, milord. Three days.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“We are, milord. Absolutely.”
“You can come to no agreement?”
There was a stir in the small audience, which was quelled by a stern glance from the judge. The foreman, a thin, small, nervous greengrocer with a large, red-veined nose that gave character to his otherwise pinched and undistinguished face, nodded vigorously. “Yes, milord. That’s so, milord.” He clenched his hands into fists and thrust them behind his back to keep from fidgeting. “As you say, we’ve been at it for three days, milord, and we don’t seem to be getting nowheres at all.”
“I suppose, then, that giving you a few more hours to consider would be of no help?”
“Or another”—his lordship grimaced—“day or two?”
“You understand the charge?”
“You all, singly and collectively, understand and agree,” His Lordship began, pushing his glasses farther up on his nose, “that if the defendant, James Moriarty, has, as charged, been responsible for planning the robbery at Lord Hoxbary’s country manor house known as Widdersign, he is perforce therefore as guilty as any of the felons who were actually present at the scene of the crime?”
“We does, milord.”
“And that, as the robbery resulted in the taking of human life, the defendant would be as guilty of the crime of murder as the one who fired the shot, even though he was not actually present at the time the crime was committed?”
“And even though the victims happened to be two of the criminals?”
“Yes, milord, your lordship has gone over that quite thoroughly. At first some of us had trouble seeing the justice in that, but your argument was quite persuasive. We has no longer any problem with that.”
“You’re quite sure?”
“Perhaps if I had some of the testimony read back to you?”
The foreman looked horrified and responded quickly, “We don’t have no dispute over the testimony, milord, nor any questions pertaining to it.”
“I see.” Mr. Justice Hedge paused to adjust his wig, which had recently adopted the annoying habit of inching its way forward until his forehead completely disappeared. “Well then,” he said, peering down at the foreman as though the poor man were a hedge flower of some unexpected and particularly undesirable color. “What does seem to be the problem?”
“Well, milord, we can’t agree as to whether or not he did that he is charged with, based on the evidence as we’ve heard it, is what it comes down to, milord. He may have done, but there’s some as thinks he may not have done.”
“By ‘he’ I assume you mean the prisoner at the bar,” the judge specified, glancing down at the court stenographer.
“Yes, milord. The defendant, Professor Moriarty, that’s who we mean.”
Mr. Justice Hedge pushed his glasses back into place with a forefinger and glared at Moriarty. “It would seem I have no choice but to declare a mistrial. Three days and no verdict. Unheard of.”
Barnett scribbled “unheard of” on his pad and underlined it. He would have to arrange to visit Moriarty, who had been a friend and mentor to him in the not-too-distant past, and see if there was any assistance he could offer. Anything, he thought wryly, short of arranging a prison break. That, Barnett was sure, the professor could manage on his own.
The Honorable Eppsworth, QC, appearing for the prosecution, rose and fingered the lapel of his judicial gown. “I would like to move, milord, that a mistrial be declared.”
“It would seem I have little choice,” said his lordship.
Sir Humphrey Lowenbog, appearing for the defense, rose and bowed gravely, if briefly, toward the judge. “If it please your lordship,” he said, “my client Professor Moriarty and I would be quite willing to spare the crown the expense and trouble of a new trial. A directed verdict would suffice, I would say.”
“A directed verdict?”
“Yes, milord. Of not guilty, milord.”
Mr. Justice Hedge leaned back in his judicial chair and glowered down at the bewigged barrister. “I’m glad to see, Sir Humphrey, that you have not lost your sense of humor during these proceedings,”
Professor Moriarty turned in the dock to look up at the gallery. He took a pair of pince-nez glasses from the breast pocket of his jacket and polished the lenses with a piece of flannel while he studied the faces of those who had been studying his back.
“I would like to suggest,” said the Honorable Eppsworth, “that a new trial date be set for as soon as practicable.”
“I would think so,” said Mr. Justice Hedge. “I doubt whether we could possibly get a second jury so blind to the obvious.” He slammed his gavel down on the bench before him. “This case is closed, a mistrial is declared, this jury”—he paused to glare at the jury—“is discharged. Their names will be stricken from the rolls. The clerk will set a new court date.”
Moriarty put the pince-nez back in his pocket as his eyes met those of Benjamin Barnett in the gallery. He nodded ever so slightly and turned back to face the judge.
Sir Humphrey took a half step forward. “I would like to renew the matter of bail for my client, milord.”
“Humor, Sir Humphrey,” said Mr. Justice Hedge severely, “can be taken only so far.”
Barnett closed his notebook and rose. So there would be another trial. That brief nod from the professor was surely a sign that Moriarty wished to see him, he reflected. He would visit the prison as soon as possible. If there was any way he could help, he would certainly do so. Barnett’s knowledge of Moriarty, gained from two years working with the man and being privy to at least some of his secrets, told him that Moriarty was almost certainly not guilty of this particular crime. However, guilt or innocence was not a part of this equation. There was a question of honor involved. Moriarty had done as much for Barnett once, and from an Ottoman prison at that. Barnett’s wife, Cecily, might not see it in quite the same way, he realized—women tended to think of “honor” as a man’s excuse for behaving like a child. Barnett exited thoughtfully onto Newgate Street.
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Kurland MICHAEL KURLAND is the author of more than thirty novels, but is best known for his Edgar-nominated mystery series featuring Professor Moriarty, including The Infernal Device and The Great Game.