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4: Aftermath of an Accident

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Author Topic: 4: Aftermath of an Accident  (Read 34 times)
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« on: April 27, 2023, 11:11:43 am »

THE Chief Constable of the city made an early call at the lodgings next morning. His interview with the Judge, which might well have been a difficult one, passed off smoothly enough, thanks to the fund of tact and charm which he concealed beneath his bluff buoyant manner. Nothing in terms was said about the unfortunate omission of his Lordship to provide himself with the documents which are normally essential to the legal conduct of a car on the road. Not a word was uttered which could have suggested that the affair was to be hushed up, or, indeed, that there was any affair to be hushed up. At the same time, the effect of the interview was perfectly clear. The Judge, on his side, was deeply sorry at what had occurred, and would certainly not drive his car until what had been left undone had been done. The Chief Constable, on his, guaranteed that nothing more would be heard of the matter, so far as the police were concerned. Meanwhile, without suggesting in any way that he wished his Lordship to do anything so derogatory to his dignity as to “make a statement”, he contrived to extract from him a very detailed account of the whole occurrence, which Barber, on his side, was perfectly ready to give. The whole conversation, in fact, was a pleasant little comedy, played on both sides with perfectly grave faces.

When this part of the colloquy was over, the Chief Constable, with a slightly too obvious sigh of relief, blew out his cheeks, sat back in his chair, and accepted the cigarette which the Judge offered him. He had still something further to say, and Barber appeared to be in no hurry to be rid of him.

“You haven’t told me,” said the latter, “how is the poor fellow---what is his name, by the way?”

“Sebald-Smith,” said the Chief Constable.

“Sebald-Smith,” repeated the Judge. “An unusual name. I seem to have heard it somewhere.”

“Not a native of this city, my lord. He was staying with friends. We had a little difficulty in tracing them.”

“Indeed? I trust his injuries are not serious?”

“Quite light, I am glad to say, my lord. A mild concussion, the doctor says, and a finger crushed. Actually the little finger of his left hand. That is all, apart from a few small bruises and some slight shock.”

“Wounds, bruises and contusions generally, and a severe shock to the nervous system.” Barber’s mind went back to the formula with which he used to conclude the particulars of damage in the old days when he turned out pleadings in accident cases by the score.

“He should be out and about in a couple of days,” the Chief Constable was saying.

Barber sighed in relief. Apart from his salary, he was a poor man. He knew---none better---the scale of damages normally awarded to plaintiffs in such cases. This sounded like a case that could be settled---it would have to be settled, of course---quite cheaply. “Provided they don’t have to amputate the finger,” he thought. “That always inflates the damages in a ridiculous way.” He remembered with regret the substantial solatium that he had awarded a young woman only the previous term for the loss of a big toe. Hilda had said at the time that he had been influenced by the fact that she was not only young but extremely pretty. That was nonsense, of course, but all the same it was unfortunate. The case had attracted some attention in the papers, too . . . still, at the worst, it could not amount to a very large sum. He rapidly ran over in his mind the economies he would have to make if he were called upon to find, say £200 at short notice; and was a little uneasy to discover that the majority of them would have to be at the expense of the dress and amusements of Lady Barber. On the whole, he concluded, his wife’s reception of the night’s adventure was going to be one of the most unpleasant sides of the whole affair.

“I am very glad to hear that it is no worse,” he said. “Very glad indeed. It is a great load off my mind. Well”---he rose to his feet---“we must both be starting our day’s work, I suppose. I am very much obliged to you for coming round to see me about this---this unlucky affair.”

“Not at all, my lord, not at all,” murmured the Chief Constable confusedly. He also stood up, but seemed somewhat loth to go.

“There is one other little matter, my lord,” he said.


“The anonymous letter which your lordship received yesterday. The County Chief showed it to me.”

“Yes, yes! What of it?”

“Well, my lord, we have some reason to think that it may have emanated from a man named Heppenstall. Your lordship will perhaps remember the name----”

“Heppenstall! Oh, yes, quite! Heppenstall!” the Judge murmured. He was not looking at the Chief Constable as he spoke and there was a pained expression on his face that suggested extreme distaste for the name and the subject.

“We know that he was in this city the day before yesterday,” the Chief Constable went on hurriedly. “He is out on ticket of leave, of course, and should have reported to the police.”

“Then why can’t you do something about it?” said Barber irritably. “Arrest him, or something? After all, it’s your duty----”

“Quite so, my lord, I appreciate that. Unfortunately, we have lost sight of him, for the time being. It is very difficult to keep touch with people in this blackout, and at the moment I have a number of men on special duty for the Assizes. But there it is. This man is at large and we can’t help being a little uneasy about it.”

“I should have thought I was the one to be uneasy,” said the Judge with a short barking laugh.

“That is just the point, my lord---to save you from uneasiness. Now of course normally, our axiom is that people who intend crimes of violence of this kind don’t advertise the fact beforehand. But this man, since his imprisonment, is not quite normal. So far as---so far as his particular grievance is concerned, if you follow me, my lord.”

From Barber’s expression it was plain that he followed him perfectly, and that he did not greatly enjoy the journey.

“Well?” he said.

“All that I was going to suggest, my lord, was that in the circumstances it might be advisable for us to afford you police protection---in addition, I mean, to the ordinary escort to and from the court. The Lodgings here are rather easily accessible, for instance. I should like to post a man at the door and another at the back of the house. They would be quite unobtrusive---in plain clothes, if your lordship prefers it. Then, in addition, when your lordship goes out for a walk after the court rises, it would be as well to have a man to follow, just in case----”

“I have my Marshal,” the Judge objected.

The Chief Constable’s face showed fairly clearly that he did not think much of Marshals.

“I should be happier in my mind if you had police protection as well,” he said. “After all, it is only for a day or two, and it is my responsibility. If anything were to happen----”

“Very well, if you think it necessary. You have, of course, no proof that the ridiculous letter I received was in fact from this fellow?”

“Not the smallest, my lord. But it is a coincidence which we can’t overlook. I only hope we may be wrong. Very likely we shall hear no more about him.”

At this point Savage entered the room, and humbly suggested that it was time his lordship robed for Court. The Chief Constable accordingly took his leave.


Pettigrew reached the Lodgings while Barber was in conference with the Chief Constable. He asked for Marshall, and found the young man in a somewhat depressed state of mind.

“So the Judge is talking it over with the Chief, is he?” said Pettigrew cheerfully. “I suppose they’re putting their heads together to keep things quiet?”

“That is the idea, I take it,” answered Derek in an unexpectedly bitter tone.

“Well, isn’t it everyone’s?” said Pettigrew. “I imagined it was yours when you suggested it to the constable last night.”

“Mine? I simply wanted to get away from the place as soon as I could. I hate hushing things up.”

“But my dear fellow, it would never do to have a thing like this proclaimed from the house-tops. Surely you can see that?”

“Things oughtn’t to be hushed up,” said the young man obstinately. “After all, if there is such a thing as justice----”

“Good Lord! This sort of talk will never do if you mean to be a lawyer,” Pettigrew reproved him. “I’m afraid you suffer from ideals.”

“I am an idealist, sir, and I’m not ashamed of admitting it.”

“Please don’t call me ‘sir’, it makes me feel even older than I am. But seriously, what had you in mind? Having the Judge tried before the local beaks for offences against the Road Traffic Act?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so. I don’t see why he should be treated differently, because he is a judge.”

Pettigrew shook his head.

“It wouldn’t do,” he said. “Don’t you see, the whole system depends on their being treated differently from ordinary people? It’s apt to be rather bad for them as individuals, and to give the weaker brethren swollen heads, but it’s good for the administration of the law as a whole, and that’s why we’ve got to back it up for all we’re worth. No,” he continued, “the problem that really interests me is whether any court would be competent to try a Judge for an offence committed on circuit. You see, he’s supposed to be the equivalent of the King, and all that, and the King can do no wrong, but I don’t think the question has ever been tried out. Nobody’s ever had the courage to prosecute in such circumstances.”

“I don’t suppose any Judge has ever done such a thing before,” suggested the Marshal hopefully.

“For Heaven’s sake don’t run away with that idea! Judges in the past have done the most outrageous things on circuit. Haven’t you ever heard the story of Mr. Justice----”

He launched out into a series of scabrous anecdotes, which left Derek deeply shocked, but helpless with laughter.

“And the moral of that is---hush it up!” he concluded. “None of these stories ever got out. In fact the last one I told you never has got out until this moment, because I made it up for your benefit as I went along. And in return for that kindness I want one from you. Will you keep your mouth shut about this business to all and sundry?”

“Of course I will,” said Derek, somewhat hurt. “You needn’t really have asked me that.”

“Good! I thought there was a limit to your idealism somewhere. Well, I must be off. I’m afraid this business has been rather upsetting to everybody. I shall be surprised if it doesn’t leak out somewhere, but if we all keep it under our hats and lie like troopers if necessary there shouldn’t be too much harm done. The great thing is there weren’t any independent witnesses of the poor Shaver’s confession of his identity.”


The confidence which Pettigrew had instilled into Derek’s mind on this last point was not long-lived. A few minutes later, his lordship, wigged and robed, was about to leave the house, when Beamish handed him another letter. It was similar in appearance to the former one, but its substance was a good deal pithier. It consisted, in fact, of one word only: “Murderer!

Barber read it and shrugged his shoulders. He did not on this occasion show it to anyone else, but crumpled it up and thrust it into his trousers pocket. With a serious expression he climbed into the Rolls Royce, and was driven to the court. There, the criminal business having been disposed of on the previous day, he sat in simple state for the trial of civil actions. The first two cases in the list were actions for damages arising out of motor accidents. Barber tried them admirably, but the damages which he awarded were perhaps rather on the small side.

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