The magistrates took their seats on the bench. The bench would not hold them. All in the commission of the peace flocked in. Any other day they would not have been at West Lynne. As to the room, the wonder was how it ever got emptied again, so densely was it packed. Sir Francis Levison’s friends were there in a body. They did not believe a word of the accusation. “A scandalous affair,” cried they, “got up, probably, by some sneak of the scarlet-and-purple party.” Lord Mount Severn, who chose to be present, had a place assigned him on the bench. Lord Vane got the best place he could fight for amid the crowd. Mr. Justice Hare sat as chairman, unusually stern, unbending, and grim. No favor would he show, but no unfairness. Had it been to save his son from hanging, he would not adjudge guilt to Francis Levison against his conscience. Colonel Bethel was likewise on the bench, stern also.
In that primitive place—primitive in what related to the justice-room and the justices—things were not conducted with the regularity of the law. The law there was often a dead letter. No very grave cases were decided there; they went to Lynneborough. A month at the treadmill, or a week’s imprisonment, or a bout of juvenile whipping, were pretty near the harshest sentences pronounced. Thus, in this examination, as in others, evidence was advanced that was inadmissible—at least, that would have been inadmissible in a more orthodox court—hearsay testimony, and irregularities of that nature. Mr. Rubiny watched the case on behalf of Sir Francis Levison.
Mr. Ball opened the proceedings, giving the account which had been imparted to him by Richard Hare, but not mentioning Richard as his informant. He was questioned as to whence he obtained his information, but replied that it was not convenient at present to disclose the source. The stumbling block of the magistrates appeared to be the identifying Levison with Thorn. Ebenezer James came forward to prove it.
“What do you know of the prisoner, Sir Francis Levison?” questioned Justice Herbert.
“Not much,” responded Mr. Ebenezer. “I used to know him as Captain Thorn.”
“Afy Hallijohn called him captain; but I understood he was but a lieutenant.”
“From whom did you understand that?”
“From Afy. She was the only person I heard speak of him.”
“And you say you were in the habit of seeing him in the place mentioned, the Abbey Wood?”
“I saw him there repeatedly; also at Hallijohn’s cottage.”
“Did you speak with him as Thorn?”
“Two or three times. I addressed him as Thorn, and he answered to the name. I had no suspicion but that it was his name. Otway Bethel”—casting his eyes on Mr. Otway, who stood in his shaggy attire—“also knew him as Thorn, and so I have no doubt, did Locksley, for he was always in the wood.”