This morning Mr. Bellingham held session within, in the long, airy Court-room, and dispensed justice with the help of three fellow-magistrates—Mr. Trask, Mr. Somershall, and our friend Mr. Wapshott. They sat at a long baize-covered table, with the Justices’ Clerk to advise them. On the wall behind and above their heads hung a framed panel emblazoned with the royal escutcheon, the lion and unicorn for supporters, an inscription in old French to the effect that there is shame in evil-thinking, and another:—
distributed among the four corners of the panel, with the date 1660 below. This had been erected (actually in 1664, but the artist had received instructions to antedate it) when the good people of Massachusetts after some demur rejoiced in the Restoration and accepted King Charles II. as defender of their Faith.
The four magistrates had dealt (as we know) with a case of Sabbath-breaking; had inflicted various terms of imprisonment on two drunkards and a beggar-woman; had discharged for lack of evidence (but with admonition) a youth accused of profane swearing; and were now working through a list of commoner and more venial offences, such as cheating by the use of false weights.
These four grave gentlemen looked up in slightly shocked deprecation; for the Collector entered without taking account of the constable at the door, save to thrust him aside. The Clerk called “Silence in the Court!” mechanically, and a deputy-beadle at his elbow as mechanically repeated it.
“Your Worships”—the Collector, hat in hand advanced to the table and bowed—“will forgive an interruption which only its urgency can excuse.”
“Ah! Captain Vyell, I believe?” Mr. Bellingham arose from his high-backed throne of carved oak, bowed, and extended a hand across the table. “I had heard that you were honouring Port Nassau with a visit; but understanding from our friend Mr. Wapshott that the visit was—er— not official—that, in fact, it was connected with government business not—er—to be divulged, I forbore to do myself the pleasure—” Mr. Bellingham had a courtly manner and a courtly presence. He was a tallish man, somewhat thin in the face and forehead, of classical features, and a sanguine complexion. He came of a family highly distinguished in the history of Massachusetts; but he was in fact a weak man, though he concealed this by some inherited aptitude for public business and a well-trained committee manner.
“I thank you.” The Collector shook the preferred hand and bowed again. “You will pardon my abruptness? A girl has fainted outside here, in the street—”
Mr. Bellingham’s well-shaped brows arched themselves a trifle higher.
“Indeed?” he murmured, at a loss.
“A young girl who—as I understand—was suffering public punishment under sentence of yours.”