“He was at once accommodated with a chair in the witness-box, and the magistrate, after a few words of kindly sympathy, asked him if he had anything to add to his written statement. On Mr. Morton replying in the negative, the magistrate added:
“’And now, Mr. Morton, will you kindly look at the accused in the dock and tell me whether you recognize the person who took you to the room in Russell House and then assaulted you?’
“Slowly the sick man turned towards the prisoner and looked at him; then he shook his head and replied quietly:
“‘No, sir, that certainly was not the man.’
“‘You are quite sure?’ asked the magistrate in amazement, while the crowd literally gasped with wonder.
“‘I swear it,’ asserted Mr. Morton.
“‘Can you describe the man who assaulted you?’
“’Certainly. He was dark, of swarthy complexion, tall, thin, with bushy eyebrows and thick black hair and short beard. He spoke English with just the faintest suspicion of a foreign accent.’
“The prisoner, as I told you before, was English in every feature. English in his ruddy complexion, and absolutely English in his speech.
“After that the case for the prosecution began to collapse. Every one had expected a sensational defence, and Mr. Matthew Quiller, counsel for Skinner, fully justified all these expectations. He had no fewer than four witnesses present who swore positively that at 9.45 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, March 17th, the prisoner was in the express train leaving Brighton for Victoria.
“Not being endowed with the gift of being in two places at once, and Mr. Morton having added the whole weight of his own evidence in Mr. Edward Skinner’s favour, that gentleman was once more remanded by the magistrate, pending further investigation by the police, bail being allowed this time in two sureties of L50 each.”
“Tell me what you think of it,” said the man in the corner, seeing that Polly remained silent and puzzled.
“Well,” she replied dubiously, “I suppose that the so-called Armand de la Tremouille’s story was true in substance. That he did not perish on the Argentina, but drifted home, and blackmailed his former wife.”
“Doesn’t it strike you that there are at least two very strong points against that theory?” he asked, making two gigantic knots in his piece of string.
“Yes. In the first place, if the blackmailer was the ’Comte de la Tremouille’ returned to life, why should he have been content to take L10,000 from a lady who was his lawful wife, and who could keep him in luxury for the rest of his natural life upon her large fortune, which was close upon a quarter of a million? The real Comte de la Tremouille, remember, had never found it difficult to get money out of his wife during their brief married life, whatever Mr. Morton’s subsequent experience in the same direction might have been. And, secondly, why should he have typewritten his letters to his wife?”