NEXT the judge made a very long speech to the jury; and when it was over all the twelve jurymen got up and went out into the next room. And at that point the Doctor came back, leading Bob, to the seat beside me.
“What have the jurymen gone out for?” I asked.
“They always do that at the end of a trial—to make up their minds whether the prisoner did it or not.”
“Couldn’t you and Bob go in with them and help them make up their minds the right way?” I asked.
“No, that’s not allowed. They have to talk it over in secret. Sometimes it takes—My Gracious, look, they’re coming back already! They didn’t spend long over it.”
Everybody kept quite still while the twelve men came tramping back into their places in the pews. Then one of them, the leader—a little man—stood up and turned to the judge. Every one was holding his breath, especially the Doctor and myself, to see what he was going to say. You could have heard a pin drop while the whole court-room, the whole of Puddleby in fact, waited with craning necks and straining ears to hear the weighty words.
“Your Honor,” said the little man, “the jury returns a verdict of Not Guilty.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked, turning to the Doctor.
But I found Doctor John Dolittle, the famous naturalist, standing on top of a chair, dancing about on one leg like a schoolboy.
“It means he’s free!” he cried, “Luke is free!”
“Then he’ll be able to come on the voyage with us, won’t he?”
But I could not hear his answer; for the whole court-room seemed to be jumping up on chairs like the Doctor. The crowd had suddenly gone crazy. All the people were laughing and calling and waving to Luke to show him how glad they were that he was free. The noise was deafening.
Then it stopped. All was quiet again; and the people stood up respectfully while the judge left the Court. For the trial of Luke the Hermit, that famous trial which to this day they are still talking of in Puddleby, was over.
In the hush while the judge was leaving, a sudden shriek rang out, and there, in the doorway stood a woman, her arms out-stretched to the Hermit.
“Luke!” she cried, “I’ve found you at last!”
“It’s his wife,” the fat woman in front of me whispered. “She ain’t seen ’im in fifteen years, poor dear! What a lovely re-union. I’m glad I came. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything!”
As soon as the judge had gone the noise broke out again; and now the folks gathered round Luke and his wife and shook them by the hand and congratulated them and laughed over them and cried over them.
“Come along, Stubbins,” said the Doctor, taking me by the arm, “let’s get out of this while we can.”
“But aren’t you going to speak to Luke?” I said—“to ask him if he’ll come on the voyage?”
“It wouldn’t be a bit of use,” said the Doctor. “His wife’s come for him. No man stands any chance of going on a voyage when his wife hasn’t seen him in fifteen years. Come along. Let’s get home to tea. We didn’t have any lunch, remember. And we’ve earned something to eat. We’ll have one of those mixed meals, lunch and tea combined—with watercress and ham. Nice change. Come along.”
Just as we were going to step out at a side door I heard the crowd shouting,
“The Doctor! The Doctor! Where’s the Doctor? The Hermit would have hanged if it hadn’t been for the Doctor. Speech! Speech!—The Doctor!”
And a man came running up to us and said,
“The people are calling for you, Sir.”
“I’m very sorry,” said the Doctor, “but I’m in a hurry.”
“The crowd won’t be denied, Sir,” said the man. “They want you to make a speech in the market-place.”
“Beg them to excuse me,” said the Doctor—“with my compliments. I have an appointment at my house—a very important one which I may not break. Tell Luke to make a speech. Come along, Stubbins, this way.”
“Oh Lord!” he muttered as we got out into the open air and found another crowd waiting for him at the side door. “Let’s go up that alleyway—to the left. Quick!—Run!”
We took to our heels, darted through a couple of side streets and just managed to get away from the crowd.
It was not till we had gained the Oxenthorpe Road that we dared to slow down to a walk and take our breath. And even when we reached the Doctor’s gate and turned to look backwards towards the town, the faint murmur of many voices still reached us on the evening wind.
“They’re still clamoring for you,” I said. “Listen!”
The murmur suddenly swelled up into a low distant roar; and although it was a mile and half away you could distinctly hear the words,
“Three cheers for Luke the Hermit: Hooray!—Three cheers for his dog: Hooray!—Three cheers for his wife: Hooray!—Three cheers for the Doctor: Hooray! Hooray! HOO-R-A-Y!”