A Court of Justice, on a foggy October afternoon crowded with
barristers, solicitors, reporters, ushers, and jurymen. Sitting in
the large, solid dock is FALDER, with a warder on either side of him,
placed there for his safe custody, but seemingly indifferent to and
unconscious of his presence. FALDER is sitting exactly opposite to
the JUDGE, who, raised above the clamour of the court, also seems
unconscious of and indifferent to everything. HAROLD CLEAVER, the
counsel for the Crown, is a dried, yellowish man, of more than middle
age, in a wig worn almost to the colour of his face. HECTOR FROME,
the counsel for the defence, is a young, tall man, clean shaved, in a
very white wig. Among the spectators, having already given their
evidence, are JAMES and WALTER HOW, and COWLEY, the cashier. WISTER,
the detective, is just leaving the witness-box.
CLEAVER. That is the case for the Crown, me lud!
Gathering his robes together, he sits down.
FROME. [Rising and bowing to the JUDGE] If it please your lordship
and gentlemen of the jury. I am not going to dispute the fact that
the prisoner altered this cheque, but I am going to put before you
evidence as to the condition of his mind, and to submit that you
would not be justified in finding that he was responsible for his
actions at the time. I am going to show you, in fact, that he did
this in a moment of aberration, amounting to temporary insanity,
caused by the violent distress under which he was labouring.
Gentlemen, the prisoner is only twenty-three years old. I shall call
before you a woman from whom you will learn the events that led up to
this act. You will hear from her own lips the tragic circumstances
of her life, the still more tragic infatuation with which she has
inspired the prisoner. This woman, gentlemen, has been leading a
miserable existence with a husband who habitually ill-uses her, from
whom she actually goes in terror of her life. I am not, of course,
saying that it's either right or desirable for a young man to fall in
love with a married woman, or that it's his business to rescue her
from an ogre-like husband. I'm not saying anything of the sort. But
we all know the power of the passion of love; and I would ask you to
remember, gentlemen, in listening to her evidence, that, married to a
drunken and violent husband, she has no power to get rid of him; for,
as you know, another offence besides violence is necessary to enable
a woman to obtain a divorce; and of this offence it does not appear
that her husband is guilty.
JUDGE. Is this relevant, Mr. Frome?
FROME. My lord, I submit, extremely--I shall be able to show your
lordship that directly.
JUDGE. Very well.
FROME. In these circumstances, what alternatives were left to her?
She could either go on living with this drunkard, in terror of her
life; or she could apply to the Court for a separation order. Well,
gentlemen, my experience of such cases assures me that this would
have given her very insufficient protection from the violence of such
a man; and even if effectual would very likely have reduced her
either to the workhouse or the streets--for it's not easy, as she is
now finding, for an unskilled woman without means of livelihood to
support herself and her children without resorting either to the Poor
Law or--to speak quite plainly--to the sale of her body.
JUDGE. You are ranging rather far, Mr. Frome.
FROME. I shall fire point-blank in a minute, my lord.
JUDGE. Let us hope so.
FROME. Now, gentlemen, mark--and this is what I have been leading up
to--this woman will tell you, and the prisoner will confirm her,
that, confronted with such alternatives, she set her whole hopes on
himself, knowing the feeling with which she had inspired him. She
saw a way out of her misery by going with him to a new country, where
they would both be unknown, and might pass as husband and wife. This
was a desperate and, as my friend Mr. Cleaver will no doubt call it,
an immoral resolution; but, as a fact, the minds of both of them were
constantly turned towards it. One wrong is no excuse for another,
and those who are never likely to be faced by such a situation
possibly have the right to hold up their hands--as to that I prefer
to say nothing. But whatever view you take, gentlemen, of this part
of the prisoner's story--whatever opinion you form of the right of
these two young people under such circumstances to take the law into
their own hands--the fact remains that this young woman in her
distress, and this young man, little more than a boy, who was so
devotedly attached to her, did conceive this--if you like--
reprehensible design of going away together. Now, for that, of
course, they required money, and--they had none. As to the actual
events of the morning of July 7th, on which this cheque was altered,
the events on which I rely to prove the defendant's irresponsibility
--I shall allow those events to speak for themselves, through the
lips of my witness. Robert Cokeson. [He turns, looks round, takes
up a sheet of paper, and waits.]
COKESON is summoned into court, and goes into the witness-box,
holding his hat before him. The oath is administered to him.
FROME. What is your name?
COKESON. Robert Cokeson.
FROME. Are you managing clerk to the firm of solicitors who employ
FROME. How long had the prisoner been in their employ?
COKESON. Two years. No, I'm wrong there--all but seventeen days.
FROME. Had you him under your eye all that time?
COKESON. Except Sundays and holidays.
FROME. Quite so. Let us hear, please, what you have to say about
his general character during those two years.
COKESON. [Confidentially to the jury, and as if a little surprised
at being asked] He was a nice, pleasant-spoken young man. I'd no
fault to find with him--quite the contrary. It was a great surprise
to me when he did a thing like that.
FROME. Did he ever give you reason to suspect his honesty?
COKESON. No! To have dishonesty in our office, that'd never do.
FROME. I'm sure the jury fully appreciate that, Mr. Cokeson.
COKESON. Every man of business knows that honesty's 'the sign qua
FROME. Do you give him a good character all round, or do you not?
COKESON. [Turning to the JUDGE] Certainly. We were all very jolly
and pleasant together, until this happened. Quite upset me.
FROME. Now, coming to the morning of the 7th of July, the morning on
which the cheque was altered. What have you to say about his
demeanour that morning?
COKESON. [To the jury] If you ask me, I don't think he was quite
compos when he did it.
THE JUDGE. [Sharply] Are you suggesting that he was insane?
COKESON. Not compos.
THE JUDGE. A little more precision, please.
FROME. [Smoothly] Just tell us, Mr. Cokeson.
COKESON. [Somewhat outraged] Well, in my opinion--[looking at the
JUDGE]--such as it is--he was jumpy at the time. The jury will
understand my meaning.
FROME. Will you tell us how you came to that conclusion?
COKESON. Ye-es, I will. I have my lunch in from the restaurant, a
chop and a potato--saves time. That day it happened to come just as
Mr. Walter How handed me the cheque. Well, I like it hot; so I went
into the clerks' office and I handed the cheque to Davis, the other
clerk, and told him to get change. I noticed young Falder walking up
and down. I said to him: "This is not the Zoological Gardens,
FROME. Do you remember what he answered?
COKESON. Ye-es: "I wish to God it were!" Struck me as funny.
FROME. Did you notice anything else peculiar?
COKESON. I did.
FROME. What was that?
COKESON. His collar was unbuttoned. Now, I like a young man to be
neat. I said to him: "Your collar's unbuttoned."
FROME. And what did he answer?
COKESON. Stared at me. It wasn't nice.
THE JUDGE. Stared at you? Isn't that a very common practice?
COKESON. Ye-es, but it was the look in his eyes. I can't explain my
meaning--it was funny.
FROME. Had you ever seen such a look in his eyes before?
COKESON. No. If I had I should have spoken to the partners. We
can't have anything eccentric in our profession.
THE JUDGE. Did you speak to them on that occasion?
COKESON. [Confidentially] Well, I didn't like to trouble them about
prime facey evidence.
FROME. But it made a very distinct impression on your mind?
COKESON. Ye-es. The clerk Davis could have told you the same.
FROME. Quite so. It's very unfortunate that we've not got him here.
Now can you tell me of the morning on which the discovery of the
forgery was made? That would be the 18th. Did anything happen that
COKESON. [With his hand to his ear] I'm a little deaf.
FROME. Was there anything in the course of that morning--I mean
before the discovery--that caught your attention?
COKESON. Ye-es--a woman.
THE JUDGE. How is this relevant, Mr. Frome?
FROME. I am trying to establish the state of mind in which the
prisoner committed this act, my lord.
THE JUDGE. I quite appreciate that. But this was long after the
FROME. Yes, my lord, but it contributes to my contention.
THE JUDGE. Well!
FROME. You say a woman. Do you mean that she came to the office?
FROME. What for?
COKESON. Asked to see young Falder; he was out at the moment.
FROME. Did you see her?
COKESON. I did.
FROME. Did she come alone?
COKESON. [Confidentially] Well, there you put me in a difficulty.
I mustn't tell you what the office-boy told me.
FROME. Quite so, Mr. Cokeson, quite so----
COKESON. [Breaking in with an air of "You are young--leave it to
me"] But I think we can get round it. In answer to a question put
to her by a third party the woman said to me: "They're mine, sir."
THE JUDGE. What are? What were?
COKESON. Her children. They were outside.
THE JUDGE. HOW do you know?
COKESON. Your lordship mustn't ask me that, or I shall have to tell
you what I was told--and that'd never do.
THE JUDGE. [Smiling] The office-boy made a statement.
FROME. What I want to ask you, Mr. Cokeson, is this. In the course
of her appeal to see Falder, did the woman say anything that you
COKESON. [Looking at him as if to encourage him to complete the
sentence] A leetle more, sir.
FROME. Or did she not?
COKESON. She did. I shouldn't like you to have led me to the