INSIDE the court-room everything was very solemn and wonderful. It was a high, big room. Raised above the floor, against the wall was the Judge’s desk; and here the judge was already sitting—an old, handsome man in a marvelous big wig of gray hair and a gown of black. Below him was another wide, long desk at which lawyers in white wigs sat. The whole thing reminded me of a mixture between a church and a school.
“Those twelve men at the side,” whispered the Doctor—“those in pews like a choir, they are what is called the jury. It is they who decide whether Luke is guilty—whether he did it or not.”
“And look!” I said, “there’s Luke himself in a sort of pulpit-thing with policemen each side of him. And there’s another pulpit, the same kind, the other side of the room, see—only that one’s empty.”
“That one is called the witness-box,” said the Doctor. “Now I’m going down to speak to one of those men in white wigs; and I want you to wait here and keep these two seats for us. Bob will stay with you. Keep an eye on him—better hold on to his collar. I shan’t be more than a minute or so.”
With that the Doctor disappeared into the crowd which filled the main part of the room.
Then I saw the judge take up a funny little wooden hammer and knock on his desk with it. This, it seemed, was to make people keep quiet, for immediately every one stopped buzzing and talking and began to listen very respectfully. Then another man in a black gown stood up and began reading from a paper in his hand.
He mumbled away exactly as though he were saying his prayers and didn’t want any one to understand what language they were in. But I managed to catch a few words:
“Biz—biz—biz—biz—biz—otherwise known as Luke the Hermit, of—biz—biz—biz—biz—for killing his partner with—biz—biz—biz—otherwise known as Bluebeard Bill on the night of the—biz—biz—biz—in the biz—biz—biz—of Mexico. Therefore Her Majesty’s—biz—biz—biz—”
At this moment I felt some one take hold of my arm from the back, and turning round I found the Doctor had returned with one of the men in white wigs.
“Stubbins, this is Mr. Percy Jenkyns,” said the Doctor. “He is Luke’s lawyer. It is his business to get Luke off—if he can.”
Mr. Jenkyns seemed to be an extremely young man with a round smooth face like a boy. He shook hands with me and then immediately turned and went on talking with the Doctor.
“Oh, I think it is a perfectly precious idea,” he was saying. “Of course the dog must be admitted as a witness; he was the only one who saw the thing take place. I’m awfully glad you came. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. My hat! Won’t it make the old court sit up? They’re always frightfully dull, these Assizes. But this will stir things. A bulldog witness for the defense! I do hope there are plenty of reporters present—Yes, there’s one making a sketch of the prisoner. I shall become known after this—And won’t Conkey be pleased? My hat!”
He put his hand over his mouth to smother a laugh and his eyes fairly sparkled with mischief.
“Who is Conkey?” I asked the Doctor.
“Sh! He is speaking of the judge up there, the Honorable Eustace Beauchamp Conckley.”
“Now,” said Mr. Jenkyns, bringing out a note-book, “tell me a little more about yourself, Doctor. You took your degree as Doctor of Medicine at Durham, I think you said. And the name of your last book was?”
I could not hear any more for they talked in whispers; and I fell to looking round the court again.
Of course I could not understand everything that was going on, though it was all very interesting. People kept getting up in the place the Doctor called the witness-box, and the lawyers at the long table asked them questions about “the night of the 29th.” Then the people would get down again and somebody else would get up and be questioned.
One of the lawyers (who, the Doctor told me afterwards, was called the Prosecutor) seemed to be doing his best to get the Hermit into trouble by asking questions which made it look as though he had always been a very bad man. He was a nasty lawyer, this Prosecutor, with a long nose.
Most of the time I could hardly keep my eyes off poor Luke, who sat there between his two policemen, staring at the floor as though he weren’t interested. The only time I saw him take any notice at all was when a small dark man with wicked, little, watery eyes got up into the witness-box. I heard Bob snarl under my chair as this person came into the court-room and Luke’s eyes just blazed with anger and contempt.
This man said his name was Mendoza and that he was the one who had guided the Mexican police to the mine after Bluebeard Bill had been killed. And at every word he said I could hear Bob down below me muttering between his teeth,
“It’s a lie! It’s a lie! I’ll chew his face. It’s a lie!”
And both the Doctor and I had hard work keeping the dog under the seat.
Then I noticed that our Mr. Jenkyns had disappeared from the Doctor’s side. But presently I saw him stand up at the long table to speak to the judge.
“Your Honor,” said he, “I wish to introduce a new witness for the defense, Doctor John Dolittle, the naturalist. Will you please step into the witness-stand, Doctor?”
There was a buzz of excitement as the Doctor made his way across the crowded room; and I noticed the nasty lawyer with the long nose lean down and whisper something to a friend, smiling in an ugly way which made me want to pinch him.
Then Mr. Jenkyns asked the Doctor a whole lot of questions about himself and made him answer in a loud voice so the whole court could hear. He finished up by saying,
“And you are prepared to swear, Doctor Dolittle, that you understand the language of dogs and can make them understand you. Is that so?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, “that is so.”
“And what, might I ask,” put in the judge in a very quiet, dignified voice, “has all this to do with the killing of er—er—Bluebeard Bill?”
“This, Your Honor,” said Mr. Jenkyns, talking in a very grand manner as though he were on a stage in a theatre: “there is in this court-room at the present moment a bulldog, who was the only living thing that saw the man killed. With the Court’s permission I propose to put that dog in the witness-stand and have him questioned before you by the eminent scientist, Doctor John Dolittle.”