Two hours and twenty minutes after the jury had retired, the prisoner was brought back into the dock. This was an indication that the jury had arrived at their verdict and were ready to deliver it. The prisoner looked worn and anxious, but he received encouraging smiles from his friends in the gallery. A minute later the judge entered the court and resumed his seat. The jury filed into court and entered the jury-box. Amid the noise of barristers resuming their seats and court officials gliding about, the judge’s Associate called over the names of the jurymen. The suspense reached its climax as the Associate put the formal questions to the foreman whether the jury had agreed on their verdict.
“What say you: guilty or not guilty?” asked the Associate in a hard metallic voice in which there was no trace of interest in the answer.
“Not guilty,” replied the foreman.
There was a muffled cheer from the gallery, which was suppressed by the stentorian cry of the ushers, “Silence in the court!”
“A pack of damned fools,” said the exasperated Inspector Chippenfield.
Rolfe understood that his chief referred to the jury, and he nodded the assent of a subordinate.
“Hill has bolted!”
Rolfe flung the words at Inspector Chippenfield in a tone which he was unable to divest entirely of satisfaction. “Fancy his being the guilty party after all,” he added, with the tone of satisfaction still more evident in his voice. “I often thought that he was our man, and that he was playing with you—I mean with us.”
Inspector Chippenfield had betrayed surprise at the news by dropping his pen on the official report he was preparing. But it was in his usual tone of cold official superiority that he replied:
“Do you mean that Hill, the principal witness in the Riversbrook murder trial, has disappeared from London?”
“Disappeared from London? He’s bolted clean out of the country by this time, I tell you! Cleared out for good and left his unfortunate wife and child to starve.”
“How have you learnt this, Rolfe?”