“But it can’t be done,” snapped Mr. Trask. Mr. Wapshott, sitting just beyond, shook his head gently and—as he hoped—unperceived by the Collector.
“You see, sir,” explained Mr. Bellingham with a sigh, “we sit here to administer justice without fear or favour. You see also to what scandal it might give rise if a culprit—merely on the intercession of a gentleman like yourself—influential—er—and, in short—”
“—In short, sir,” the Collector broke in, “you have in the name of justice committed one damnable atrocity upon this child, and plead your cowardice as an excuse for committing another. Influential, am I? And you prate to me of not being affected by that? Very well; I’ll take you at your word. This girl resisted your ruffian in the discharge of his duty? So did I just now, and with such effect that he will resume it neither to-day nor to-morrow. She inflicted, it appears, a slight graze on his chin. I inflicted two cuts on his face and knocked in three of his teeth. You can take cognisance of my wounding, I promise you. Now, sir, will you whip me through your town?”
“This is mere violence, sir.” Mr. Bellingham’s face was flushed, but he answered with dignity. “The law is as little to be exasperated as defied.”
“I will try you in another way, then,” said the Collector, recovering grip of his temper and dropping his voice to a tone of politest insolence. “It is understood that you have not the courage to do this because, seated here and administering what you call justice, you have, each one of you, an eye upon England and preferment, and you know well enough that to touch me would play the devil among the tailors with your little ambitions. I except”—with a bow towards Mr. Trask—“this gentleman, who seems to have earned his influence on your counsels by rugged force of character, And—” for here Mr. Trask, who enjoyed a dig at his colleagues, cast his eyes down and compressed a grin—“is, I should judge, capable of striking a woman for the mere fun of it.” Here Mr. Bellingham and Mr. Wapshott looked demure in turn; for that Mr. Trask led his wife a dog’s life was notorious.
“—In truth, gentlemen,” the Collector continued easily, “I am at some loss in addressing you, seeing that through some defect of courtesy you have omitted to wait on me, albeit informed (I believe) that I came as His Majesty’s Commissioner, and that therefore I have not even the pleasure of knowing your names. I may except that of Mr. Wapshott, whom I am glad to see convalescent this morning.” Here he inclined to Mr. Wapshott, whose gills under the surprised gaze of his colleagues took a perceptibly redder tinge. “Mr. Wapshott, gentlemen,” explained the Collector, smiling, “had a slight attack of vertigo yesterday, on the steps of his Place of Worship. Well, sirs, as I was saying, I will try you in another way. You have not the courage to bring me to trial for assaulting your beadle. You have not