24. The subpœna
A few days after the incident in Margaret Terrace, Shiel had an inspiration. He was lunching with an old schoolfellow whom, quite by chance, he had met in Lincoln's Inn, having previously lost sight of him for many years, and the conversation, which had at first been confined to the old days, had gradually drifted to what was ever uppermost in Shiel's mind—namely, the Modern Sorcery Company, i. e. Hamar, Kelson and Curtis.
"Did you know," his friend remarked, "that the old statute, introduced in Henry the Fifth's reign against sorcery, has never been repealed?"
"You don't mean to say so," Shiel cried excitedly—a vague idea dawning on him. "Tell me all about it."
"Well, that's rather a long order. For one thing, it imposes all kinds of penalties from capital punishment to fines. For another, it was in force up to the beginning of George the Third's reign, when the last case of a person being burned for witchery in England occurred, and since then it has fallen into disuse."
"Could it be revived?" Shiel asked, a sudden wild hope surging through him.
"For all I know to the contrary, it could," his friend—who, by the way, was a barrister—replied. "Of course no one could be burned or hanged under it, but they might be fined or imprisoned."
"Then I wish to goodness you would file a case against the Modern Sorcery Company! I'd move heaven and earth to get the scoundrels sent to prison!" And he told his friend how matters stood between Gladys and Hamar.
The barrister—whose name was Sevenning—H.V. Sevenning, of T.C.D. and Cheltenham College renown—was keenly interested. It was not only that his sense of chivalry was stirred, but he saw sport. Consequently, the foregoing conversation resulted in a prosecution which, taking place some four weeks later, was reported in the London Herald as follows—
Extraordinary Charge Heard at the Old Bailey.
Revival of an Ancient Statute.
Yesterday, at the Old Bailey, before His Honour Judge Rosher, Leon Hamar, Edward Curtis and Matthew Kelson, of the Modern Sorcery Company Ltd., were indicted under the 23rd of Henry the Fifth, C. 15, which makes it a capital offence to practise and administer spells. The case for the prosecution promises to be a lengthy one. An enormous number of witnesses, who are most anxious to make statements, will be called; and it is anticipated that much of their evidence will be of a most extraordinary nature.
The accused are cited with having worked spells to the injury—which injury, in many instances, has been fatal—of a vast number of people, representative of every rank in life.
Hilda, Countess of Ramsgate, who appeared in heavy mourning, was the first witness called. In her evidence she stated, that it was owing to an advertisement she had seen in the Ladies' Meadow, that she had consulted the Modern Sorcery Company Ltd., with the object of buying a spell to prevent her Pekingese pet, Brutus, catching colds on his liver. She had hoped to see Mr. Kelson, as she had heard that he was more sympathetic, where ladies were concerned, than either Mr. Hamar or Mr. Curtis, but as Mr. Kelson was engaged, she had consulted Mr. Edward Curtis instead. The latter had given her a spell which he had assured her would have the desired effect, but directly she got home, her adored Brutus developed melancholia, and died raving mad, after having bitten her child, who, by the way, had died, too.
For the defence, Gerald Kirby, K.C., declared that the spell his client had given the Countess was perfectly harmless; that it could not possibly have produced either melancholia or madness. "Can any dependence," he said, "be placed on a woman, who obviously thinks more of her dog's death than that of her child!"
The Court was adjourned till to-morrow.
In the following day's paper, the evidence for the prosecution was continued. Lady Marjorie Tatler, who, in the weekly and illustrated journals, for no other reason than her reputed beauty, was reintroduced over and over again to the long-suffering public, was the first to step into the witness-box.
She declared that Edward Curtis, instead of giving her a spell to make Florillda win the Derby, had given her a diabolical something that had brought out spots all over her face, and that she had to undergo a most expensive treatment before they could be got rid of.
In cross-examination, Lady Marjorie Tatler admitted that she had asked Edward Curtis for a spell that would cause all the horses running in that particular race, save Florillda, to be taken ill.
For the defence, Gerald Kirby, K.C., explained that his client was so disgusted at the immorality of Lady Marjorie's request, that he had purposely given her a spell that would have no effect upon a horse, and could not possibly bring out spots on her Ladyship's face. "The spell Edward Curtis gave her," Gerald Kirby said, "was a mixture of hempseed and sago, flavoured with violet powder, and my client instructed her Ladyship to wear it next her heart." (Loud laughter.)
Lady Coralie Mars, the next witness, who declared she had sought a spell to make the man, she was forced into marrying, fall into a trance, just before the marriage ceremony was to take place; and that, instead of bringing this about, the spell Edward Curtis had sold her had caused her to have St. Vitus's Dance,—was adroitly trapped into admitting that she had really wanted her fiancé smitten with paralysis. "A wish," Gerald Kirby announced, with a dramatic flourish of his hands, "that so aroused my client's indignation that, instead of giving her the spell she wanted, he gave her one that would make her affianced husband more than ever hungry for the marriage hour to arrive. As for St. Vitus's Dance, would any woman, with an emotional and hysterical-nature, such as obviously was that of Lady Coralie Mars, ever be free from such a complaint?"
The Hon. Augusta Mapple, who stated that she had visited the Modern Sorcery Company, for the purpose of obtaining a spell to bring about a defeat of the Government, by afflicting the bulk of their supporters with such bilious attacks as would necessitate their absence from the House, and that, instead of giving her such a spell, Edward Curtis had given her one which had caused every member of her household to fall downstairs—admitted, under cross-examination, that she had asked for a spell that would make every supporter of the Government in the House be suddenly seized with tetanus. "A diabolical request, your lordship," Gerald Kirby said, "and one to which my client could not possibly accede. Consequently, as a punishment for such cruelty, he sold her a spell that would result in her having a sharp attack of toothache. It could not possibly have produced any of the mishaps she attributes to it."
It is unnecessary to quote further. By far the greater number of these witnesses, on being cross-examined by Mr. Kirby, who defended with an ability that has rarely, if ever, been excelled, were made to confess that they had wanted the spells for a far more subtle and dangerous purpose than they had previously stated; admissions which, of course, were highly prejudicial to the case for the prosecution.
Shiel lost hope. He had looked forward to the trial with an excitement that almost bordered on frenzy. It was never out of his mind. He thought of it at meals, he thought of it at his work, he thought of it out of doors, and, when he went to bed, he dreamed of it.
"I'll save you! I'll save you yet!" he wrote to Gladys. "The trial can only result in one thing—the breaking up and imprisonment of the trio."
But when he read the papers each day, and saw how, in almost every instance, evidence which ought to have been damning to the accused, had been twisted into their favour, his heart sank.
There was only one chance now—Lilian Rosenberg. She, of all the staff employed in the Hall in Cockspur Street, was best acquainted with the modus operandi of Messrs. Hamar, Curtis and Kelson.
"We must get hold of that girl at all costs," H.V. Sevenning remarked to Shiel. "You say you feel sure she likes you. Work upon her feelings to show the Firm up."
"I don't much like the idea of it," Shiel said, "but I suppose the end justifies the means."
"Of course it does!" Sevenning retorted. "It's your only chance of saving Miss Martin."
Acting on this suggestion, Shiel approached Lilian Rosenberg on the subject.
"What about the spells?" he asked her. "Have you found out yet how Hamar works them?"
"I have only heard him muttering in his room again," she said, her cheeks paling. "And—you will only laugh at me—I have seen queer shadows hovering in his doorway and stealing down the passages, shadows that have terrified me. I never knew what real fear was before I came to Cockspur Street, and for the past few weeks I have been almost too afraid to open my room door, for fear I should see something standing outside."
"You have no doubt, I suppose, in your own mind, that the trio practise sorcery?"
"I certainly think they are helped in all they do by evil spirits."
"Do you approve of such proceedings?"
"I don't think them right. I don't think we have any right to pry into the Unknown. Some day, undoubtedly, it will be given us to know, but until that day comes, we had far better leave it alone."
"If you think like that," Shiel said, "how can you reconcile yourself to working for these people?"
"How can I help myself?" Lilian Rosenberg answered. "Beggars can't be choosers. I am not responsible for what they do."
"But supposing you knew they were about to commit a very heinous crime, wouldn't you feel it your duty to try and circumvent them?"
"That depends," Lilian Rosenberg said. "If I could stop them without running any risk of losing my post, then I would probably try to stop them, but if stopping them meant being 'sacked,' I most certainly shouldn't. It isn't so easy to get posts nowadays—especially good paying posts like this. What do you take me for, a fool!"
"Then you don't believe in self-sacrifice, even for a friend?" Shiel said slowly.
"That depends on the degree of friendship," Lilian replied. "If it were for some one I liked very much, then—perhaps!"
"Is there any one you like very much! I, somehow, couldn't fancy you being very fond of any one."
"Couldn't you?" Lilian said, with a faint laugh. "You don't think me capable of any deep affection. You forget, perhaps, that a woman doesn't always wear her heart on her sleeve."
"I confess I don't understand women," Shiel said, "and I had best come to the point at once. I happen to know that the trio—or at least one of the trio—is contemplating doing something ultra-abominable—a cruel and shameful wrong, which I particularly wish to prevent. But I may not be able to do anything without your help! Will you help me?"
"How can I?" Lilian asked.
"Why, by finding out something which might be damning evidence against them, or by stating your opinion in Court. There is only one way of staying the trio from doing this dastardly thing, and that is by getting this case, which is now being tried, to go against them."
"Well, and supposing, by some chance, the defendants should win! What would become of me?"
"Ah! that is where your self-sacrifice would come in! It would be a noble action."
"How does this wrong, you say they are about to perpetrate, touch on you personally?"
"It touches on some one with whom I am personally acquainted."
"Some one you like?"
"That I can't say."
"Then I can't help you. I am naturally inquisitive; curiosity is, as you know, a woman's privilege. You must tell me all."
"It's for a friend, then!"
"No," Shiel replied, "for a girl!"
There was an emphatic silence, and then Lilian Rosenberg spoke.
"Have I ever heard you mention her?"
"Occasionally," Shiel replied.
There was silence again. Then Lilian Rosenberg said slowly—
"You surely don't mean Gladys Martin! I can think of no one else."
"I do mean her!" Shiel replied, dropping his eyes. "She is to be coerced into marrying Hamar."
"The silly fool!" Lilian Rosenberg said. "I would like to see any one trying to coerce me. And it is to serve her you want me to sacrifice myself." And she turned away in disgust.
After this interview, Lilian studiously avoided Shiel; and despairing, at length, of ever winning her over, Shiel reported his failure to H.V. Sevenning.
"We must subpœna her," said Sevenning.
"You'll never get her to speak that way," Shiel said. "If once she has made up her mind not to do a thing, nothing will ever compel her."
"I have heard that said of people before," H.V. Sevenning replied dryly, "but it's wonderful what the witness-box can do; it loosens the most mulish tongues in a marvellous manner."
"It wouldn't hers," Shiel maintained.
H.V. Sevenning, however, thought he knew best—what lawyer doesn't? Moreover, it was all part of the game—the great game of becoming notorious at all costs. He served the subpœna.
Like most modern girls, Lilian Rosenberg was wholly selfish; and for this fault only her parents were to blame. She had been brought up with the one idea of pleasing herself, of saying and doing exactly what she thought fit; and no one had ever thwarted her. Now, however, the unforeseen had happened. She was smitten with the grand passion, and confronted for the first time in her life with the startling proposition of "self-sacrifice." She loved Shiel. She wouldn't marry him for the very simple reason he had no money—but that only added poignancy to the situation. She loved him all the more. She knew Shiel loved Gladys Martin. Whether he could ever marry Gladys was another matter—but he loved her all the same. And the proposition, that had been so abruptly thrust upon Lilian Rosenberg, was that she should sacrifice herself, not only to save Gladys Martin from marrying Hamar, but to pave the way for Shiel, supposing Gladys could reconcile herself to penury, to marry her himself. In other words she had been called upon to give up what was, at the moment, dearest to her in the world, and to court all the inconveniences and worries of being thrown out of employment—for if she gave evidence that would in any way tend to damage the firm of Hamar, Curtis & Kelson, she would undoubtedly lose her post and, in all probability, never get another—at least not another as good—for the sake of a woman whom she did not know, but, nevertheless, hated.
Yet there was in her, as there is in almost every girl, however up to date, a chord that responded to the heroic. A short time back she would have scoffed at the very thought of self-sacrifice; but now, she actually caught herself considering it. She kept on considering it, too, until the trial was well advanced, and had practically made up her mind to denounce the trio and go to the wall herself, when the subpœna was served.