A Legal Battle

And now, after hauling the reader pretty well all over Australia⁠—from mountain-station to outback holding, from cattle-camp to buffalo run⁠—we must ask him to take a seat in the Supreme Court at Sydney, to hear the trial of the “great Grant Will Case.”

Gavan Blake had made no effort towards compromise. He knew the risk he was running, but he had determined to see it through. The love, the ambition, the hope that had once possessed him had turned to a grim desperate hatred, and he would risk everything rather than withdraw the case. He kept Red Mick and Peggy up to the mark with assurances that she was certain to win. Neither he nor they knew that Considine had been found. Even the most respectable solicitors sometimes display acuteness, and the old man’s return had been kept secret by Pinnock, so that public opinion anticipated Peggy’s victory.

At last came the day of trial. Every seat in the Court was filled, and a mass of the unwashed hung over the gallery rail, gazing at the show provided for their entertainment. Mary Grant and Mrs. Gordon went into Court at the suggestion of their leading Counsel, Bouncer, Q.C., who was nothing if not theatrical. He wanted them there to see the overthrow of the enemy, and to lend point to his invective against the intruders who were trying to take away their birthright. A small army of Doyles and Donohoes, who had come down for the case, were hanging about dressed in outlandish garments, trying to look as if they would not tell a lie for untold gold. The managing clerks were in and out like little dogs at a fair, hunting up witnesses, scanning the jury list, arranging papers for production, and keeping a wary eye on the enemy. Punctually as the clock struck ten, the Judge strutted into Court with as much pomp as a man-of-war sailing into a small port; depositing himself on the Bench, he glared round for a few seconds, and said to the associate, “Call the first case,” in a matter-of-fact tone, just as if he did not know what the first case was going to be. A little rustle went round the Court as people settled themselves down for the battle.

The case for Peggy was set forth by the great Jewish barrister, Manasseh, Q.C. He was famous for his skill in enlisting the sympathies of the jury from the outset. He drew a moving picture of the sorrows of Peggy, disowned by her husband’s relatives and the case proceeded so far that he had put the marriage certificate in evidence when Blake, who had been away for a few minutes rushed into Court and touched Manasseh on the shoulder, bringing him to an abrupt stop.

Manasseh asked the Judge to excuse him for a moment while he conferred with his juniors and Blake. After a short but excited conference he rose again and⁠—but first we must hear what had happened outside.

While all concerned were in Court listening to Manasseh, Considine had been smuggled into the witnesses’ room and, being bored and worried, had strayed into the verandah of the Court buildings. He had been hauled into consultations with barristers, and examined and badgered and worried to death. The hard Sydney pavements had made his feet sore. The city ways were not his ways, and the mere mental effort of catching trains and omnibuses, and keeping appointments, and having fixed mealtimes, was inexpressibly wearing to a man who had never been tied to time in his life.

And what a dismal prospect he had before him! To go over to England and take up a position for which he was wholly unfitted, without a friend who would understand his ideas, and in whom he could confide. Then his thoughts turned to Peggy⁠—Peggy, square-built, determined, masterful, capable; just the very person to grapple with difficulties; a woman whose nerve a regiment of duchesses would fail to shake. He thought of her many abilities, and admitted to himself that after all was said and done, if he had only been able to gratify her wishes (and they did not seem so extravagant now) she would have been a perfect helpmate for him. His mind went back to the weird honeymoon at Pike’s pub., to the little earthen-floored dining-room, with walls of sacking and a slab table, over which Peggy presided with such force of character. He thought of the two bushmen whom Peggy had nursed through the fever with rough tenderness; and then, turning suddenly, he found Peggy standing at his elbow.

For a second neither spoke. Then Considine said, with an air of forced jauntiness, “Well, Peggy, you won’t be comin’ to England with me, then?”

“Haven’t been asked,” said Peggy.

“I heard you was goin’ to settle at Kiley’s Crossin’, lending money to the cockatoos.”

Peggy looked at him with a meaning glance.

“Ye should know me better nor that, Paddy,” she said.

This cleared the way tremendously. The gaunt bushman hitched himself a little nearer, and spoke in an insinuating way. “I’m pretty tired of this case meself, I dunno how you feel about it.”

“Tired!” said Peggy. “I’m wore out. Fair wore out,” and she heaved a sigh like an elephant.

That sigh did for old Considine. Hurriedly he unburdened his mind.

“Well, look’ee here, Peggy⁠—I’ve got whips of stuff now, and I’ve got to go to England for it. You come along o’ me again, and we’ll knock all this business on the head. Let the Gordons alone⁠—they’re decent young fellows, the both of ’em⁠—and come along o’ me to England. That young English feller reckons we’d be as good as the Prince of Wales, very near. Will you come, Peggy?”

It is the characteristic of great minds to think quickly, and act promptly. Peggy did both.

“Mick!” she said, calling to her brother in a sharp, authoritative voice: “Mick! I’ve been talking to Paddy here, and we’ve reckoned we’ve had enough of this fooling, and we’re off to England. You go in and tell old Fuzzy-Head” (she meant the Judge) “that I’m tired of this case, and I ain’t goin’ on wid it. Come on, Paddy, will we go and get some tea?”

“Yes, and there’s some tremenjus fine opals in a shop down this way I’ll buy you!” said Considine, as they started to walk away from the Court.

At that moment Blake came out of Court, saw them, and stepped in front of Peggy.

“Who is this man?” he said.

Peggy had never quite forgiven his domineering at Tarrong, and turned on him with a snap.

“This is my ’usband,” she said, “Mr. Patrick Henery Considine. Him whose name is put down as Keogh on the marriage stiffykit I give you.”

Then Blake knew that he had played and lost⁠—lost hopelessly, irretrievably. But there was yet something to do to secure his own safety. He rushed back into Court, and whispered a few words to Manasseh; and Manasseh, after the short conference we mentioned some pages back, rose and informed the Court that his client withdrew her claim. Now, while Blake was out of Court, Mr. Bouncer, Mary’s counsel, had got from the Judge’s Associate the certificate that had been put in evidence. Ellen Harriott, sitting with Mary and Mrs. Gordon behind him, gave a little cry of surprise when she saw the paper. She touched Mr. Bouncer on the shoulder, and for a few seconds they held an excited dialogue in whispers.

So Mr. Bouncer rose as Manasseh sat down, with a smile of satisfaction on his face.

“I must object to any withdrawal, your Honor,” he said. “My client’s vast interests are still liable to be assailed by any claimant. I wish your Honor to insist that the case be heard. A claim has been made here of a most dastardly nature, and I submit that your Honor will not allow the claimants to withdraw without some investigation. I will ask your Honor to put Gavan Blake in the box.”

Mr. Manasseh objected. He said that there was no longer any case before the Court; and Gavan Blake, white to the lips, waited for the Judge’s decision. As he waited, he looked round and caught the eye of Ellen Harriott. Cool, untroubled, the heavy-lidded eyes met his, and he saw no hope there. She had neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Now, it so happened that the Judge felt rather baulked at the sudden collapse of the big case, in which he had intended to play a star part.

“Why do you want to put plaintiff’s attorney in the box, Mr. Bouncer?” he said.

“I want to examine him as to how and when the name of William Grant got on that certificate. I have evidence to prove that the name on it, only a few months ago, was that of Patrick Keogh.”

“Ha, hum!” said the little Judge. “I don’t see⁠—eh⁠—um⁠—that I can decide anything⁠—ah⁠—whatever. Case is withdrawn. Ha, hum. But in the interests of justice, and seeing⁠—seeing, I say,” he went on, warming to his work as the question laid itself open before him, “that there is serious suspicion of fraud and forgery, it would be wrong on my part to allow the case to close without some investigation in the interests of justice. As to Mr. Manasseh’s objection, that the Court is functus officio so far as this case is concerned, I uphold that contention; but, in exercise of the power that the Court holds over its officers, I consider that I have the power⁠—and that I should exercise the power⁠—of putting the solicitor in the box to explain how this document came into its present state. Let Mr. Blake go into the box.”

But while the little Judge was delivering his well-rounded sentences, Blake had slipped out of Court and made off to his lodgings. He had failed in everything. He might perhaps keep out of gaol; but the blow to his reputation was fatal. He had played for a big stake and lost, and he saw before him only drudgery and lifelong shame.

He had reached his lodgings, half-turned at the door, and saw behind him the Court tipstaff, who had been sent after him.

“The Judge wants you back at the Court, Mr. Blake,” said the tipstaff.

“All right. Wait till I run up to my room for some papers. I’ll be down in a minute,” and he ran upstairs.

The tipstaff waited cheerfully enough, until he heard the crack of a revolver-shot echo through the passages of the big boardinghouse. Then he rushed upstairs⁠—to find that Gavan Blake had gone before another Court than the one that was waiting for him so anxiously.