Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Barrister at Bay
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200051.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Barrister at Bay
Author: Fred M. White

*

Published in The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld.), Thursday
23 May, 1935.

*

Mrs. Westbrooke, with a few well-chosen words of apology, dropped into
her chair at the dining-room table and unfolded her napkin. It was the
usual Wednesday night dinner-party for which Sir John and Lady Cardwell
were noted, and the usual brilliant knot of men and women had gathered
there. Mrs. Westbrooke had been late, but she certainly did not convey
the impression that she had, within the last hour, returned to London
from the Continent, after a long and trying journey. She was serene and
calm as usual, perfectly dressed, and beautiful in her stately way. She
did not look anything like her thirty-five years, and those who knew her
wondered what her secret was. Hers had been a stormy life, and it was
only recently that she had found her way into a harbour of peace and
serenity. Now she was rich, and had all the world before her.

She glanced casually round the table, with its flowers and ferns and
shaded lights, the last person in the world whom anyone might associate
with care or strife or tragedy. Despite her serenity, she was here
looking for someone, and presently she found him.

He was on the other side of the table, discussing some passing topic
with his dinner partner. Edgar Remington was a man who would have
attracted attention anywhere, not so much from his good looks or
striking personality as by his peculiar and forceful magnetism. As a
matter of fact, he was plain in feature, coarse cut, and rugged--the
bulldog type; deep of voice and tenacious of purpose. The men at the
Bar, who ought to know, prophesied that Remington would go a long way.
He was quite a modern product--extension schools' scholarship,
university and Bar prizeman, son of a Noncomformist minister, with a
strong leaning towards politics. His chance had come now, and he was
going to make the best of it. He knew perfectly well that if he
succeeded in getting a verdict of acquittal for Julius Maxwell on the
morrow the rest of the way along the path would be easy. Everybody was
talking about the case; it was one of those criminal romances that
gripped the popular imagination in the club and cottage alike. It was
even being discussed fitfully round Lady Cardwell's dinner-table.

At first everything had pointed to a verdict of guilty. Nobody doubted
that Maxwell had deliberately murdered the man who had been his greatest
benefactor, and whose money he had expected to inherit. The prisoner had
been a bad lot from the first. He had been expelled from school, he had
left Oxford under a heavy cloud, and a few years later he had been
forced to resign the membership of his clubs. There was more than one of
Lady Cardwell's guests who had know Mrs. Maxwell, the pretty, pathetic
little woman whose heart had been broken by her rascally husband's
cruelty. She was supposed to have died abroad somewhere, leaving a
daughter behind her, but on this latter point nobody seemed to be quite
sure. Certainly no self-respecting girl would be likely to come forward
and own Julius Maxwell as her father. One quidnunc declared that
Maxwell's daughter had come into money and changed her name. At any
rate, the only person in the world that Julius Maxwell could turn to at
the finish was his Uncle John--the man who had been found murdered in
the library three months before, in circumstances that pointed to the
guilt of his scapegrace nephew.

The dead man had been found in his house in Portman Square when the
servants had come down one morning early in October. The old man had
been murdered, without a doubt, but no clue had been left behind, and
nothing apparently was missing until it was discovered, a few days
later, that the murdered man had withdrawn from his bank five hundred
pounds in notes on the eve of the crime, and of these there was no trace
whatever. For three months the police had searched for them in vain, but
up to now not one of them had been put in circulation.

Still, gradually and surely, the authorities worked up a strong case
against the accused. For three days now the counsel for the Crown had
been unfolding his story, and when he finally sat down there was not a
single person in the court who would have given sixpence for the life of
the prisoner.

Then had come Remington's chance. For two days he fought for the life of
his client as if it had been his own. He was the most-talked of man in
England now, and he knew it. He stood there quiet and calm, with the air
of one who felt himself to be a victor, and unfolded a marvellous and
ingenious defence. Apparently he was going to rely entirely upon an
alibi--a dangerous thing in any but the most skilful hands. And yet, so
well had he worked it that, when the court rose at five o'clock that
afternoon, the betting on the verdict was even.

It was not that a single listener to that battle of wits entertained the
slightest doubt as to the guilt of the prisoner. Everybody knew that he
was guilty. He carried it in his face and his furtive eye and nervous
twitching of his hands. And yet Remington had established the doubt, and
as he sat there placidly eating his dinner he knew that, with the coming
out of the evening papers, tomorrow he would be famous.

The dinner dragged its slow length along, the coffee and liqueur stage
reached at length, and the cigarettes were handed round.

Mrs. Westbrooke changed her chair, and, with a skilful move, found
herself seated next to Remington. The two were acquainted of course, but
they were not in the feast intimate.

Remington welcomed Mrs. Westbrooke with a proper shade of deference, for
he was not insensible to her popularity and influence; but he would
willingly have changed the conversation.

"Really," he said, "I think we've discussed my client long enough.
Besides, it is hardly the sort of topic for a dinner where ladies are
present. What do you say, Mrs. Westbrooke?"

"Well, I am interested enough," Mary Westbrooke said. "But I am not so
much interested in your client as yourself."

"That is very nice and flattering."

"I don't think so. Now, I don't understand the aspect of the legal mind
in the least. I am going to be frightfully rude, Mr Remington. I am
going to exercise the privilege of my sex and ask an impertinent
question. Do you honestly believe that your client is innocent?"

Remington shrugged his shoulders.

"Has that anything to do with the case?" he asked. "I am merely an
instrument--what the criminal classes call a 'mouthpiece.' A certain
solicitor comes to me with a brief to defend Maxwell, and I undertake
the defence."

"Do you think that Maxwell is innocent?"

"My dear lady," Remington said patiently, "it is not for me to say. I
want you to understand that the man is my client. He has assured me and
his solicitor that he is the victim of circumstances, and, after
discussing all the points, we decided to set up a certain line of
defence."

"And a very brilliant line of defence, too," Mrs Westbrooke smiled.
"That is what everybody says. I understand that the prisoner is likely
to be acquitted tomorrow. But you have not yet answered my question. Do
you think Maxwell is guilty?"

Remington protested politely. Really, this sort of thing was not fair.
He was doing no more than his duty; he was acting entirely according to
precedent laid down in the long and glorious traditions of the English
Bar. He could not discuss his client's guilt or innocence with anyone.
Could not Mrs. Westbrooke see that it was not a personal matter?

"It would be awkward for you," she said, "if by some chance the missing
bank-notes suddenly appeared. If one of them could be traced to your
client, what would you have to say then?"

Remington shrugged his shoulders.

"There would be an end to the case as far as I am concerned," he said.
"Of course, you mean if the fact were brought to my personal knowledge.
Then I should be robbed of my triumph, and you would say it served me
right. I am trying to see your point of view, Mrs. Westbrooke. According
to you, none of us are sportsmen. If you had your way, no noted criminal
would ever be represented in the courts. Once a man was taken to be
guilty, then every barrister would turn his back upon him. Now, that is
not my view at all. If I were briefed to defend a murderer, I would do
my best for him, even if his victim were my own brother. It is entirely
a matter of the point of view. In your eyes I am no sportsman, and in my
eyes you are arguing from an entirely false perspective. You won't mind
my saying that you speak as if you had a personal bias against Maxwell."

Mrs. Westbrooke's eyes flashed ominously.

"I have," she said. "Maxwell's unhappy wife was one of my dearest
friends. I will make you a present of that."

Remington looked just a little relieved. He was not displeased that the
argument should take on a personal aspect. Anybody listening--and most
of the guests were--would attribute Mrs. Westbrooke's anger entirely to
her loyalty towards her dead friend. Remington smiled in a tolerant way.

"I thought you didn't mean quite all that you said," he remarked. "Of
course, I am not going to defend my client as a model of virtue. I would
not be seen in the street with him, for instance. But at the same time I
am not admitting that he was responsible for the death of his uncle. We
don't want to go into details."

"Julius Maxwell is an abandoned scoundrel," Mrs. Westbrooke said. "He
started life with a great advantage. He had money, and when he had
dissipated that he married a fortune. He spent every penny of his wife's
money, and ill-treated her into the bargain. He behaved so badly that
his only daughter left him, and was so ashamed of her father's record
that she changed her name. She got her own living as a typist and
shorthand clerk in the city. She thought she was safe; but,
unfortunately, she also had a large amount left her. That man found it
out, and followed her everywhere. For eighteen months he made the poor
girl's life a burden. From her he had all her income; she could not
touch her principal because she was not of age. She lived in the meanest
lodgings on the Continent, and frequently was short of food. I found her
not long ago playing a violin in a Viennese restaurant. She told me her
story, and I managed to get her away to a place where her father could
not find her. For the last three or four months Julius Maxwell has been
living on his wits. I have seen him once or twice. And I firmly believe
that he called upon his uncle on the night of the crime and murdered him
for the sake of that money."

"Which has not been traced to him," Remington suggested.

"No; but I am sure it will be," Mrs. Westbrooke went on. "Of course, you
will say assumption is not evidence."

"Julius Maxwell was forbidden his uncle's house, remember," Remington
smiled. "He never called there; indeed, we have the evidence of the
servants to prove that."

"I suggest that he had a latch key," Mrs. Westbrooke said. "He used to
live with his uncle at one time. He waited till late at night, and let
himself in with the old latch key, having no doubt discovered that the
butler had leave of absence till the small hours to attend a servants'
dance. We know, therefore, that the front door was only on the latch,
which you will admit is a point in favour of my argument. I don't say
that Julius Maxwell intended to kill his uncle, but I am sure that he
did it, probably tempted by the sight of those notes. And I am quite
sure that you will agree with me."

Remington protested vigorously. All the same, he was not altogether at
ease in his mind. To begin with, there was a good deal in what Mrs.
Westbrooke had said. Why should a man use his talents and mental
qualities to achieve the liberty of another man whom he knew to be a
danger to society? And yet every ambitious member of the Bar was only
too anxious for the opportunity. He had worked out an ingenious defence
for Maxwell, and everybody was talking about it. If he could get the man
off, then his reputation and fortune were made. He would be able to go
to Grace Eversfield, and declare his love for her without anybody being
able to say that his affections were inspired by her money.

But deep down in his heart he knew that his client was guilty. He could
see it in the shifty eye and the quivering lip, could hear it in the
hoarse voice and the throaty question. He knew that he was about to
release on society a scoundrel who ought to have been destroyed like a
mad dog years ago. It was all very well to advance his sophistries and
quote his list of precepts to Mrs. Westbrooke, but he winced under her
flashing eye and the cold contempt of her tongue.

She turned from him presently as if the argument was finished, and for
the rest of the evening seemed to avoid him. It was only when her car
was announced that she approached him again, with an offer of a lift.

"I hope you don't think I have been too horrible to you?" she said. "But
it is a point upon which I feel very strongly, and I should have said
just as much even if I had not known Julius Maxwell and that poor girl
of his. May I give you a lift in my car? I think you go my way; and,
besides, there is something I want to say to you."

"I am quite at your disposal," Remington said.

A little later, and he found himself seated in the cosy drawing-room of
Mrs. Westbrooke's luxurious flat. She pressed him into a chair, and with
her own dainty hands waited upon him. She gave him cigarettes, she
poured out his whisky and soda and placed it on a little table at his
elbow. Remington might have been some invalid waited upon by a loving
nurse. It was all very flattering and pleasant, but there was a sympathy
and a shade of pity in Mrs. Westbrooke's eyes that made him feel a
little anxious and uncomfortable.

"You are too good to me," he murmured. "What have I done that you should
be so kind to a mere barrister?"

"We are just coming to that," Mrs. Westbrooke said. "My dear boy, I am
going to give you a shock. I have watched you a great many years; I am
always interested in the career of brilliant young men, even if they
happen to be barristers, which is a profession that I hate. You have
done exceedingly well, and I always admired the way in which you kept up
your friendship with Grace Eversfield, even though she remained in an
office and you were beginning to make a mark at the Bar. I think there
was some sort of an understanding between you even before Grace came in
to her money and went abroad."

"That's true enough," Remington said simply. "I never cared for anybody
but Grace. I could not marry her because marriage is a terrible handicap
to a young man just starting life. Grace knew that, of course. We
understood one another perfectly, though no word of love had ever passed
between us. I dare say you will think that this sounds very sordid and
calculating, but it is nothing of the sort. Then Grace came into her
money, and I--well, I persuaded her to have six months' holiday on the
Continent. You can call it pride, if you like. I wanted her to see
something of the world, to see other men, to mix with good people. And
then, if she was still of the same mind--Oh, you know what I mean. I
played the game, though I am only a barrister who is defending a rascal
for the sake of fame and money. And if I get him off I am a made man.
Then, Mrs. Westbrooke, I shall go straight to Grace----"

Remington's voice trailed off in a whisper. Mrs. Westbrooke was
regarding him with infinite pity in her eyes.

"I do understand," she said. "I understand far better than you imagine.
Did Grace Eversfield ever tell you the story of her life? Did she ever
speak of her parents?"

"Only that she was unhappy at home. I know that she lost her mother
years ago, and that her father is a mauvais sujet. She has not seen him
for a long time. And she was anxious that he should not know of her good
fortune. What----"

Remington broke off suddenly. He could see swift illumination in Mrs.
Westbrooke's sorrowful eyes.

"Good God!" he cried. "You don't mean to say--you don't mean to say that
Grace is the daughter of that abandoned scoundrel on whom all my hopes
are based?"

He rose to his feet and paced up and down the floor agitatedly. The
thing was impossible, incredible. Yet he could see no denial in Mrs.
Westbrooke's eyes.

"I knew it would be a great shock to you," she said. "But it is true,
all the same. That is why I brought you here tonight. I had to tell you.
A part of the pitiful story you already know. Grace's mother was my
greatest friend. Many a time have I sheltered her here when her
husband's violence had driven her into the street. There was nothing of
that horrible story that I did not know. When the poor woman died I
helped Grace to get her situation. I encouraged her to hide her
identity, and advised her to betray it to no one unless she was
compelled to do so. I did not see that anyone should know, except,
perhaps, the man that she was going to marry. I should not tell you this
now if you had not been so candid. And, besides, there are urgent
reasons why you should be informed. At any rate, you are defending
Grace's father, and, if you succeed, then the poor child will never rest
till he has the last penny she possesses. And everybody, sooner or
later, must know the sordid story. I suppose what I have said makes no
difference?"

"How can it?" Remington groaned. "Don't you see that my whole
professional career is at stake? I must go on. I cannot recognise a
personal side of this business. It is very terrible, of course; but you
see how helpless I am. I must assume that my client is innocent until he
is proved to be guilty. The defence I have prepared----"

"Is in your opinion impregnable," Mrs. Westbrooke interrupted.

"I don't see how anything could shake it. So long as those notes cannot
be traced, Maxwell is safe."

"And if the notes could be traced? If even one of them could be shown to
have been in Maxwell's possession?"

"Then the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. But for goodness
sake don't tell me that it is in your power? It would be as good as
ruin! I should have to tell my client's solicitor, and withdraw from the
case; that is, unless Maxwell would plead guilty. Why, if I dared to go
on, knowing the ghastly truth, I should be driven from the Bar in
disgrace. Please tell me nothing. If you want to appear as a
witness----"

"Ah! there spoke the special pleader," Mrs. Westbrooke cried. "But I am
going to speak, though your future career at the Bar depended upon my
silence. I am only concerned with the happiness of that dear child--yes,
and your happiness, too. She must not be dragged into this business; the
scandal must not be made public. No, I cannot permit you to pass. I knew
that I was going to meet you tonight, and I made up my mind to bring you
here--because I wanted to show you this."

As Mrs. Westbrooke spoke she took an oblong piece of paper from the desk
and handed it to Remington.

"This is a five-pound note," she said. "Will you please look at the
number. If you do, you will see that it is one of the notes which the
police are seeking for in connexion with the Maxwell murder case."

"That is quite right," Remington murmured. "I know the numbers of the
missing notes by heart."

"Will you kindly turn it over?" Mrs. Westbrooke went on. "On the back of
it you will see Julius Maxwell's signature and the date. Now, I dare say
you will wonder how this came into my possession. On the night of the
crime I was passing through London on my way to Paris, only staying here
one evening. I did not return from a dance till two o'clock to the
morning, when I found Julius Maxwell awaiting me. He was wild and
excited, and anything but sober.

"He told me that he had been arrested shortly after midnight in some low
gambling-den, and that some equally low associates had gone bail for
him. He had given a false name to the police, and was quite sure he
would get off before the magistrate with a fine. There was some pressing
reason why no one should know that he was in London. He tried to borrow
money from me, but I refused to lend him a penny. He went away, and then
returned a few moments later with the note you have in your hand.
Knowing my man, and feeling sure he had stolen the note, I made him
endorse it. No doubt he paid his fine and got away without recognition.
The next morning I left for Paris; and I never heard a word of the
tragedy till I got back here yesterday. And now, what are you going to
do about it? I have placed in your hands enough evidence to hang Maxwell
twice over. I am only doing my duty. I might have come into court and
given my evidence without saying a word to you. But Grace is a second
daughter to me, and I want, if possible, to preserve her from the
terrible scandal. It seems to me that the rest is entirely in your
discretion."

Remington sat there for a few moments with his head in his hands. Here
was a situation entirely without precedent; here was his ambition in
ruins at his feet.

"I shall thank you later on," he said. "Meanwhile, may I use your
telephone? Thanks very much. .. ."

"Is that you, Gregory? . . . Yes, I want to see you at once. Maxwell will
have to plead guilty. . . . Yes, I'll come round at once."



THE END


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia