But the lower and more human strata of society did not sympathize with this feeling. On the contrary, they were all for Angela and the dog Aleck who was supposed to have chocked that “carroty warmint,” George.
The inquest on George’s body was held at Roxham, and was the object of the greatest possible interest. Indeed, the public excitement was so great that the coroner was, perhaps insensibly, influenced by it, and allowed the inquiry to travel a little beyond its professed object of ascertaining the actual cause of death, with the result that many of the details of the wicked plot from which Angela had been the principal sufferer became public property. Needless to say that they did not soothe the feelings of an excited crowd. When Philip, after spending one of the worst half-hours of his life in the witness-box, at length escaped with such shreds of reputation as he had hitherto possessed altogether torn off his back, his greeting from the mob outside the court may fairly be described as a warm one. As the witnesses’ door closed behind him, he found himself at one end of a long lane, that was hedged on both sides by faces not without a touch of ferocity about them, and with difficulty kept clear by the available force of the five Roxham policemen.
“Who sold his daughter?” shouted a great fellow in his ear.
“Let me come, there’s a dear man, and have a look at Judas,” said a skinny little woman with a squint, to an individual who blocked her view.
The crowd caught at the word. “Judas!” it shouted, “go and hang yourself! Judas! Judas!”
How Philip got out of that he never quite knew, but he did get out somehow.
Meanwhile, Sir John Bellamy was being examined in court, and, notwithstanding the almost aggressive innocence of his appearance, he was not having a very good time. It chanced that he had fallen into the hands of a rival lawyer, who hated him like poison, and had good reason to hate him. It is wonderful, by the way, how enemies do spring up round a man in trouble like dogs who bite a wounded companion to death, and on the same principle. He is defenceless. This gentleman would insist on conducting the witnesses’ examination on the basis that he knew all about the fraud practised with reference to the supposed death of Arthur Heigham. Now, it will be remembered that Sir John, in his last interview with Lady Bellamy, had declared that there was no tittle of evidence against him, and that it would be impossible to implicate him in the exposure that must overtake her. To a certain extent he was right, but on one point he had overshot himself, for at that very inquest Mr. Fraser stated on oath that he (Mr. Fraser) had spoken of Arthur Heigham’s death in the presence of Sir John Bellamy, and had not been contradicted.
In vain did Sir John protest that Mr. Fraser must be mistaken. Both the jury and the public looked at the probabilities of the matter, and, though his protestations were accepted in silence, when he left the witness-box there was not a man in court but was morally certain that he had been privy to the plot, and, so far as reputation was concerned, he was a ruined man. And yet legally there was not a jot of evidence against him. But public opinion required that a scapegoat should be found, and it was now his lot to figure as that unlucky animal.