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21: End of a Career

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Author Topic: 21: End of a Career  (Read 45 times)
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« on: April 29, 2023, 08:39:20 am »

HILDA capped her triumph in saving her husband’s life by another, less spectacular but more difficult. By the beginning of the next term, the Shaver was back on the bench, carrying out his duties to all outward appearance as though nothing had happened. The tongues which had wagged everywhere when it was published that Mr. Justice Barber was suffering from indisposition were abruptly stilled. Everybody who professed to be in the know had read into the announcement a forecast of his impending resignation. His reappearance had the effect of stifling the rumours for the time being.

By what means Hilda succeeded in injecting into her husband sufficient vitality to enable him to carry on his normal life under the shadow of a threat which had utterly overwhelmed him remained her own secret. It was certainly not by appealing to the Bill of Rights. Barber had given his word to the Personage, and he intended to keep it. Whether she had contrived, against all the evidence, to persuade him that the position might yet be restored by a last minute change of heart on the part of Sebald-Smith and the woman who controlled him, or whether it was merely that she had convinced him that the manlier course was to play the game out to the end, the fact remained that she succeeded. The result was not obtained without some cost to herself. During the next few weeks it was remarked that she had grown pale and listless. It was as if she had surrendered some of her own vital force to animate the automaton who still went daily to and from the Courts, sat and heard argument, gravely gave judgment as though his position was as secure as that of any live judge, with ten years between him and his pension.

Accordingly, on a fine April morning, while the British public was anxiously discussing remote Norwegian place-names that had with terrifying suddenness become household words, Barber, still Mr. Justice Barber, was driven in a hired car to the Central Criminal Court, where it was his turn to be the presiding Judge. He did not care for the place. The synthetic atmosphere of the Court, he would complain, always ended by giving him a headache. For some reason of his own he even took exception to the traditional posy of flowers, with which the City still protects its lawgivers from the menace of gaol fever. In previous years, he had seldom let a visit there pass without some covert expression of his distaste. On this occasion he said nothing at all. He was being taken to occupy one more judgment seat, to try one more case, and it was of little consequence to him, under suspended sentence of death, where or what it was.

Hilda, who sat beside him, was as silent as he. She regularly went to Court with him now, as though afraid to let him out of her sight. That morning she had hardly glanced at the newspaper. The map of Norway had been spread before unseeing eyes. All her attention had been given to a letter which had come by the first post. She had read it without comment before folding it up and carefully putting it away. Barber had asked no questions about it, or shown any sign that he was in any way interested. Now, however, as the car crossed the traffic lights at Ludgate Circus, he suddenly broke silence.

“You had a letter from your brother this morning, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Hilda flatly.

“What does he say?”

“Faradays have made a final offer. It is exactly the same as their last one.”


“They give us until the day after to-morrow to accept it. If not they issue their writ,” Hilda went on, as the car turned the corner into the Old Bailey. “Michael says they mean business this time.”

Barber sighed. It sounded almost as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He said no more until just as the car was drawing up at the Judge’s entrance in Newgate Street. Then he said very quietly, “In that case, Hilda, it rather looks as if this will be the last Old Bailey Sessions I shall ever have to attend.”

The policeman who opened the door of the car for him nearly forgot to help his lordship to dismount. The appearance of her ladyship, as he said afterwards, gave him quite a turn. She looked as though she was about to faint. But she recovered herself and walked into the building with a firm step.


The dock in No. 1 Court at the Old Bailey is an enormous affair. It occupies so much floor space that from the seats behind and beside it it is difficult to get more than a partial glimpse of what is going on at the business end of the Court. Derek Marshall, without influence, or the wit to employ what influence he could have mustered, had not been able to find a seat in front of the obstruction. By attaching himself to a friendly barrister’s clerk he had managed to get inside the Court, and here he squeezed into the end of a row rightly reserved for jurors in waiting. He could hear well enough, but it was maddening not to be able to see better. Above all was it maddening to be utterly out of touch with Sheila, who was with her mother in places reserved for those with a legitimate interest in the case. Sheila had forbidden him to come with them, and he had perforce obeyed, but he had counted at least on being able to give her encouragement from afar.

“Let Herbert George Bartram surrender,” said the clerk, and Derek was treated to a fine view of the back of his future father-in-law’s neck as he pleaded not guilty to the charge of feloniously killing Edward Francis Clay. Then, after the usual preliminaries which he knew by heart, he heard a rustle in the far right-hand corner of the Court as counsel for the Crown rose to open what, from his experience, Derek told himself sounded like a pretty bad case of motor manslaughter.

At the end of the day, the case was still unfinished. Derek had a fleeting glimpse of his adored as she went away on the arm of her father, whose bail had been renewed. On the whole, he considered, it had not gone too badly. Remembering what Pettigrew had said to him, he felt that the chances of an acquittal were good. He had not realized until he came into court who the presiding judge was, and it had been a shock to him when he heard those familiar tones creaking across the air. An insane impulse had seized him to get up and protest that this man of all men was not fit to try such a case. But on reflection he had to admit that, so far, the conduct of the trial had been perfectly fair and impartial. If anything, the Judge had leaned towards the defence. Perhaps after all it was a blessing in disguise that had brought the Shaver to these Sessions. Would he not, would not anybody in his position, feel that there but for the grace of God----? This thought comforted him until he remembered Pettigrew’s account of the trial of Heppenstall. With that, his anxieties began to return.


“Excuse me, my lord, but could your lordship allow me just a few minutes. Just a short interview, my lord----”

Barber, on the pavement outside his house, looked round slowly. It was some time before he could drag himself from the abstraction which had settled upon him the moment he rose at the end of the day’s sitting. He looked at the man who addressed him with eyes that were perfectly blank and expressionless. He might have been seeing a complete stranger. Indeed, it was not until the pressure of Hilda’s hand upon his arm recalled him to himself that he recognized who had spoken to him. Then in a dry, flat voice he uttered eight short words.

“I have nothing to say to you, Beamish.”

It was as if a corpse had spoken. There was a dreary finality about his tone that froze the carefully prepared supplication upon Beamish’s lips. He took one look at the weary, withdrawn face and hurried away. Not until he had turned the corner did he so much as remember to swear. It must be recorded that when he did he amply made up for lost time.

“I have nothing to say.” It seemed to epitomize Barber’s attitude towards existence ever since he had seen Hilda reading the fatal letter that morning. After all their arguments and wordy discussions, the ultimate decision was taken in the fewest words possible.

“I shall send in my resignation at the end of the week,” he said. “It would inconvenience everybody if I were to retire in the middle of a session. The work should be ended by then, and I can arrange with the Recorder to take anything in my list that may be left over.”

“Yes,” she said. “That sounds the best plan.”

Later he broke silence to remark, “You had better tell Michael to enter an appearance to the writ. It may be the cheapest way out not to take any further step and leave a sheriff’s jury to assess the damage.”

“I’ll ask him what he thinks.”

Later still, as they were going to bed, he said in a tone that was almost tender, “I’m sorry it has ended this way, for your sake, Hilda. It might have been better if you had let me----”

“Don’t say that, William!” she answered quickly, and turned away so that he could not see her face.


By arriving early, Derek was able to secure a rather better place for the concluding stages of George Bartram’s trial next morning. The evidence had been finished overnight, and there remained only the speeches and the summing-up. The effect of these was to increase his confidence in the result. The defence was in the hands of John Fawcett K.C., an impressive speaker, whose weakness was a tendency to be overwhelmed by his own volubility. Derek was reminded of a jest of Pettigrew’s at the expense of “the faucet in full spate”, as one crashing period succeeded another, without pause for reflection, or, as it seemed, even for breath. But so far as he could tell it was having its effect on the jury, and the summing-up that succeeded it seemed tame and ineffectual in comparison. The Shaver, indeed, spoke like a tired man, almost as if he had lost interest in the case. As the jury filed out, Derek was able to catch Sheila’s eye. She too seemed to have lost her strained look of anxiety, and they exchanged a glance that spoke of a hope almost amounting to certainty.

The jury was out for over half an hour. During that time, Derek, afraid of losing his place, was compelled to listen to the opening of another case in which he could not feel the smallest interest. Sheila and her mother meanwhile were engaged in close confabulation with their solicitor in the corridor outside. At last the jury returned. Derek strove to read in their faces what their decision could be, but in vain. They looked as wooden as all British citizens contrive to do the moment they undertake jury service. The proceedings in the succeeding case were interrupted. Mr. Bartram was reinstated in the dock while his jurors propped themselves uncomfortably in front of the box now occupied by their successors.

A moment later the suspense was over. The foreman in a firm voice had pronounced the blessed words, “Not Guilty”, and the Clerk, as though to make assurance double sure, had echoed, “You say that he is not guilty and that is the verdict of you all.” Derek felt like cheering. He could see Sheila with her handkerchief to her eyes, and Mrs. Bartram turning round to wring Fawcett by the hand.

Then ensued a pause which Derek did not at first understand. Instead of ordering the prisoner’s discharge, the Judge was indulging in a whispered colloquy with the Clerk. Counsel for the prosecution was exchanging words with Fawcett. What had happened? Then Derek remembered that he had heard Mr. Jenkinson, the solicitor for the defence, say something about a second indictment, some minor charge to follow the main one. In the excitement of following the trial for manslaughter he had quite forgotten about it. He had not been told what it was, and, indeed, nobody had seemed to take it very seriously.

The Clerk, having finished his conversation with the Judge, turned round again. The jury, who had been lingering disconsolately, looking rather like a troupe of actors who, having finished a play in which the curtain refused to come down, were told that their services were no longer required. The second indictment was then read to the prisoner. It charged him with having on such and such a day driven a motor-car at such and such a place without possessing a valid certificate of insurance against third party risks. He pleaded Guilty.

Little was said by counsel on either side. The offence was undisputed and the facts had all been thoroughly threshed out during the preceding trial. Fawcett ventured to remind his lordship of what he knew already, the important war work which his client was performing at the time of the offence, the strain which everybody was undergoing at the present time and which might well lead anyone to overlook the requirements of the Road Traffic Acts, and the defendant’s immaculate character hitherto, both as a man and a car-driver. The court fell silent while the Judge considered his sentence. Looking up, Derek saw that Barber’s usually pale complexion was faintly pink. Suddenly he began to feel very much afraid.

“George Herbert Bartram.” The voice sounded harsher than ever. “I cannot take the view that has been represented to me that the offence to which you have pleaded guilty is a merely technical one, such as can be passed over lightly. On the contrary, I regard it as a very serious offence indeed. The consequences of the breach of this section of the Act. . . .”

The voice grated on. Derek began to think that it would never stop. It seemed as though Barber was deliberately working himself up to a pitch of anger as he rehearsed and enlarged upon the heinousness of the crime. Knowing what he did, it seemed to him a monstrous parody of justice. He wondered why somebody did not get up and denounce this hypocrisy. In that moment he hated Barber more than he had ever hated anyone in the world.

If Derek had happened to be a trained psychologist, and not merely a very young man very much in love, he could perhaps have understood the inner meaning of the Shaver’s intemperate tirade. For it was not Bartram that he was denouncing, but himself. In his mind’s eye he was the culprit whose delinquency he was reproving. It was in a mood of self-abasement that he magnified the grossness of his own offence, and at the same time he was bitterly aware how small was the penalty that he could inflict compared with the one that he was called upon to undergo. How willingly would he have changed places with the man in the dock before him! But Derek could know nothing of this. So far as he could tell, Barber was simply being grotesquely unjust. As for the prisoner, it is to be imagined that the only matter which concerned him was that he was finally sentenced to the maximum amount prescribed by law, namely a fine of £50 and three months imprisonment.

Derek met Sheila outside the court. Her rather prominent blue eyes were dry, and there was a glassy look in them which he had never seen before. Her pale face was set and her mouth was a thin, hard line. Derek had for some time been aware that his fiancée was a young woman of determined character, but on this occasion there was a look of angry resolution about her that positively frightened him. She was alone.

“Where is your mother?” he asked.

“She’s down---down there with Daddy. I wouldn’t go. It would only upset him. She’ll be going back to the hotel afterwards. Mr. Jenkinson will look after her. I want to talk to you, Derek. No, not here. You must give me lunch somewhere.”

Derek began to explain that he had only had one day’s leave from his office and that he should be getting back, but in face of Sheila’s determination he saw that it would be useless to persist. Even at the risk of hazarding his hard-won job he could not leave her now.

They fed miserably at the first restaurant they could find. Although she had said that she wished to talk to him, he could not for some time get a word out of her. When the meal was over, she looked at him for the first time.

“What are we going to do, Derek?” she asked. She said it in a way that made it sound less like an appeal than a challenge.

“It’s not going to make any difference to us,” Derek assured her, for the twentieth time.

“Oh, us!” Sheila said impatiently. “I’m thinking of Daddy.”

“I expect he’ll appeal,” said Derek. “It’s a monstrous sentence. He ought never to have been sent to prison.”

But Sheila’s thoughts had taken another turn.

“What made that brute of a judge behave in such a beastly way?” she exclaimed. “Anybody would have thought that Daddy was a real criminal. Listen, Derek, you know him, don’t you? Can’t you see him and tell him that he’s made a horrible mistake? Tell him the sort of person Daddy really is and that he’s simply got to change his mind and let him out?”

“But Sheila, I couldn’t possibly! It’s---it’s simply not done, that sort of thing.”

“Not done!” Her tone was scornful. “What does it matter whether it’s done or not? I thought you cared for me, and I’m asking you to do it for me, now.”

“But Sheila, honestly, I can’t!”

“You mean you won’t. All right. I know what that means. It’s all very well for you to say that this won’t make any difference to us, when you won’t do the least thing to help.”

Derek realized with a sinking heart that Sheila really believed what she was saying. He saw too that in her present mood it would be quite impossible to explain to her the hopeless impossibility of what she proposed. Desperately he cast about in his mind for some argument that would convince her, and in an evil hour he found it.

“Look here, Sheila,” he said. “You know I’d do anything in the world to help you. If talking to Barber would be any use, I’d do it like a shot, whatever anybody thought about it. But it’s just because I do know him that I can see it would be hopeless. You see---you don’t understand just how rotten it was of him to say the things he did and pass that appalling sentence. And I don’t expect anybody in court knew either, except just me and him.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“Just this.” And Derek in the fewest words possible revealed exactly what had happened on the night of the circuit dinner at Markhampton.

“Of course,” he concluded, “I promised not to say a word about this to anyone, and I haven’t up to now, but----”

“That’s all right,” Sheila interrupted him. “I’m not going to tell anybody else, if that’s what’s troubling you. But I’m very glad you told me.” She was breathing hard and looked more fiercely determined than ever.

“So you see it wouldn’t be much good my trying to do anything.”

Sheila did not answer. Instead she got up abruptly from the table.

“Let’s go, shall we?” she said.

Derek offered to find her a taxi, but she shook her head.

“Aren’t you going home?” he asked in surprise.

“No. You needn’t wait, Derek. I know you want to get back to your old office.”

“But what are you going to do?”

“Never you mind. If you can’t help me, I’d rather be alone. Oh, Derek, darling, I know that sounds horrid. I don’t want to be a beast to you, but if anything’s to be done, I can see I must do it myself. No!” she went on hastily, as he began to speak, “please don’t ask me anything. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Go away now and leave me. Only say that you love me, whatever happens!”

This Derek proceeded to say several times and sufficiently loudly to surprise a number of passers-by, before he caught a west-bound bus, leaving her standing, a forlorn but resolute figure on the pavement of Holborn. He did not, however, go back to his office. He knew that he was quite incapable of doing any work that afternoon. In his angry, unhappy, bewildered state he would be unable to give his mind to anything outside his own affairs. He might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, he thought, and take the day off altogether. But equally the prospect of spending the afternoon in solitary idleness appalled him. Suddenly, he felt the urgent need of confiding in someone, who would help him to see his troubles in their proper perspective. Acting on impulse, he got off the bus at the top of Chancery Lane and walked down to the Temple.

He met with disappointment. Pettigrew, the clerk informed him, was out. He could not say exactly when he would return, but he expected him in any moment. Perhaps Mr. Marshall would wait? And wait Mr. Marshall did, for what seemed an endless time, in those dusky, dusty Chambers, until he could bear it no longer.

When he finally decided to go, he left in what Pettigrew’s clerk thought at the time a most unreasonable hurry. As if he had suddenly remembered a pressing appointment, he fairly sprinted out of the place, with a purposeful expression on his face, in odd contrast to the aimless manner in which he had entered it. The Law Courts’ clock was striking four as he crossed the Strand. He waited impatiently for a moment or two for a bus, and then, as none appeared, turned and set off down Fleet Street as fast as he could walk.

By the time that he reached the Old Bailey, a steady procession out of the main doors told him that the Courts were “up”. He looked round everywhere for Sheila, but she was not to be seen. Inquiring from a doorkeeper, he learned that No. 1 Court, in which the Judge sat, had risen a good ten minutes ago. The present exodus was from the two other courts, which had just finished their business. The Common Serjeant was still sitting, he believed. Derek was not interested in the Common Serjeant, except to wonder for an irrelevant instant how he came by his uncommon title. He pressed on to the top of the street and turned to his right round the angle of the great building. On this front three doors from the Courts give into Newgate Street. From one, a few black-coated men were emerging---counsel and their clerks, obviously. From another, providing access to the public galleries, came a stream of those odd beings who find free entertainment in contemplating the misfortunes of their fellows. They crowded the narrow pavement and momentarily obstructed Derek’s view of the third door, the Judge’s entrance. Then he caught a glimpse of what he thought to be Sheila’s hat ahead of him and quickened his footsteps.

As he approached, he saw a car drawn up outside. Somebody, evidently Barber’s new clerk, ran out, deposited a bundle of papers in the car, and disappeared again. A moment later, just as Derek came level with the door, Mr. Justice Barber, his wife close beside him, stepped out and across the pavement.

The police subsequently took statements from thirty-three individuals who claimed to have been eye-witnesses of the events of the next few seconds. After eliminating from these the inevitable half-wits, publicity-seekers and deliberate or unconscious liars, they arrived at the conclusion that twelve sane and sober persons, including two police officers, had in fact seen some part or another of what occurred. Not one of these selected statements agreed exactly with any other; and indeed this was to some extent a guarantee of their truthfulness. By careful checking, however, they succeeded at last in arriving at a fairly reliable account of the order of events during those crowded moments.

The pavement was full of passers-by at the moment when Judge and lady emerged from the building. A constable on either side held up the traffic to form a narrow lane between the door and the waiting car. It was the kind of thing that happens daily when the Central Criminal Court is in session, and it may be inferred that to neither of these men was their duty more than a matter of routine. The Judge was half-way across the pavement when the first abnormal event occurred. From under the arm of the officer holding up the pedestrians on the east side of the entrance a small, stout man wriggled his way forward and approached the Judge. This was made the more easy for him because, as the constable pointed out, that arm was at the moment quite properly raised in salute. He was heard to say a few words beginning, “My lord, I must insist----” He had got no further when police officer number two, from the west, made a dive at him and seized him by the arm. At this point, as if profiting by the interruption on her side, a young woman ran forward from the opposite direction. Dodging round Lady Barber, who was standing close behind her husband’s left shoulder, she reached the Judge unobserved. She was heard to say something. Reports were at variance as to whether this was, “Listen to me, you beast!” or “Take that, you beast!” but at least one reliable witness observed that her hand was seen to be upraised. Whatever she said, it was immediately followed by a cry of “Sheila, come back!” This apparently came from a young man, who, perhaps finding his approach in front blocked by what was now an excited crowd, had slipped round on the outside of the pavement and suddenly appeared between the car and the Judge, forcing him back towards the door from which he had come. The young man reached the girl at the same moment as the two officers, who had made a concerted dive towards her. There were a few moments during which the Judge and Lady Barber were the centre of a violent struggle. Both policemen had hold of the girl and the young man had hold of all three. Each was pulling in a different direction. A tall, middle-aged man had somehow become inextricably mingled in the confused group. The young man was heard to say, apparently to him, “Pettigrew, don’t let them----” Then superior weight and training told and he and the girl were dragged by main force away from the car. The fat man who had begun the disturbance had disappeared while the officer who had seized him was otherwise engaged. The crowd which had surged in from both sides parted for a moment. Then a woman screamed, and those nearest to him heard Mr. Justice Barber utter a low moan and saw him pitch forward and fall to the ground in a crumpled ungainly heap.
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