Oh! the charge was too preposterous, as well as too horrible, to be entertained for an instant.
Finally the prevailing opinion settled into this: that the young laird had probably admired the handsome shepherdess a little, and had left her for the heiress; and that, from jealousy and for revenge, the girl was now perjuring herself to ruin her late lover.
Would her testimony be believed? Would it have weight enough to cause the arrest of the young duke?
“Eh, sirs! what an awfu’ event the like o’ that wad be!” whispered one gray-haired clansman to another.
And all bent eager ears to hear the remainder of the testimony which was still going on.
After relating the history of her journey to London, with the stolen treasure in charge, she proceeded to tell of the abrupt flight of “the duke,” with the bulk of the treasure in his possession, and of her own subsequent arrest with the stolen jewels found in her apartments.
She was cross-examined by the defence, but without effect.
Her testimony, if it could be established, would ruin the Duke of Hereward, but could in no way affect the prisoner at the bar.
When the prosecution perceived this, they realized that they had been, in common parlance, “sold.”
They were to be sold again.
“You may stand down,” said Mr. Keir, sharply.
“Na, I hanna dune yet. I hae mair to say,” persisted the witness.
“Say it, then.”
“I ken it is nae lawfu’ for a wife to gie testimony against her ain husband,” said Rose Cameron, with a cunning leer that marred the beauty of her fine blue eyes.
“Certainly not. What has that to do with this case?”
“It hae a’ things to do with it.”
“Explain yourself, witness; and remember that you are on your oath.”
“Ay, I weel ken the solemnity of an aith. And I hae telt the truth under aith; nathless, maybe my teestimony suld na be received.”
“Why no’? Why, gin a wife maunna teestify agin her ain husband, I suld na hae teestified agin the Duk’ o’ Harewood, who is my ain lawfu’ husband!” said Rose Cameron, purposely raising her voice to a clear, ringing tone that was distinctly heard all over the court-room.
Had a shell fallen and exploded in their midst, it could scarcely have caused greater consternation.
“What said the lass?” questioned many.
“I dinna just ken,” answered many others.
They certainly did not believe the report of their own ears on this occasion.
As for the Duke of Hereward, who was then engaged in writing a few lines on the fly-leaf of his note-book, he just looked up for a moment and was surprised into the first smile that had lighted his grave face since the opening of the trial.
The cool counsel who was conducting the examination of the witness, and whom nothing on earth could throw off his track, now proceeded to inquire: