“Hear, hear! Quite true!” shouted the jury.
“Does it appear to you, sir, fitting to sit here wasting time?” Mr. Clarkson continued, with diminishing timidity. “Does it seem to you a proper task for twenty-three apparently rational beings—”
“Twenty-two! Twenty-two!” cried the red-faced man, adding up the jurors with the end of a pen, and ostentatiously omitting Mr. Clarkson.
The jurors shook with laughter. They wiped tears from their eyes. They rolled their heads on the pink blotting-paper in their joy. When quiet was restored, the foreman proceeded:
“I have already ruled that gentleman out of order, and I warn him that if he perseveres in his contumacious disregard of common decency and the chair, I shall proceed to extremities as the law directs. We are here, gentlemen, to fulfil a public duty as honourable British citizens, and here we will remain until that duty is fulfilled, or we will know the reason why.”
He glanced defiantly round, assuming an aspect worthy of the last stand at Maiwand. Looking at Mr. Clarkson as turkeys might look at a stray canary, the jurors expressed their applause.
But the genial usher took pity, and whispered across the table to him, “It’ll all come right, sir; it’ll all come right. You wait a bit. The Grand Jury always rejects one case before it’s done; sometimes two.”
And sure enough, next morning, while Mr. Clarkson was reading Burke’s speeches which he had brought with him, one of the jurors objected to the evidence in the eighty-seventh case. “We cannot be too cautious, gentlemen,” he said, “in arriving at a decision in these delicate matters. The apprehension of blackmail in relation to females hangs over every living man in this country.”
“Delicate matters; blackmail; relation to females; great apprehension of blackmail in these delicate matters,” murmured the jury, shaking their heads, and they threw out the Bill with the consciousness of an independent and righteous deed.
Soon after midday, the last of the cases was finished, and having signified a True Bill for nearly the hundredth time, the jurors were conducted into the Court where a prisoner was standing in the dock for his real trial. As though they had saved a tottering State, the Judge thanked them graciously for their services, and they were discharged.
“Just a drop of something to show there’s no ill-feeling?” said the red-faced man as they passed into the street.
“Thank you very much,” replied Mr. Clarkson warmly. “I assure you I have not the slightest ill-feeling of any kind. But I seldom drink.”
“Bless my soul!” said the red-faced man. “Then, what do you do?”
A NEW CONSCRIPTION