AT first there was a dead silence in the Court. Then everybody began whispering or giggling at the same time, till the whole room sounded like a great hive of bees. Many people seemed to be shocked; most of them were amused; and a few were angry.
Presently up sprang the nasty lawyer with the long nose.
“I protest, Your Honor,” he cried, waving his arms wildly to the judge. “I object. The dignity of this court is in peril. I protest.”
“I am the one to take care of the dignity of this court,” said the judge.
Then Mr. Jenkyns got up again. (If it hadn’t been such a serious matter, it was almost like a Punch-and-Judy show: somebody was always popping down and somebody else popping up).
“If there is any doubt on the score of our being able to do as we say, Your Honor will have no objection, I trust, to the Doctor’s giving the Court a demonstration of his powers—of showing that he actually can understand the speech of animals?”
I thought I saw a twinkle of amusement come into the old judge’s eyes as he sat considering a moment before he answered.
“No,” he said at last, “I don’t think so.” Then he turned to the Doctor.
“Are you quite sure you can do this?” he asked.
“Quite, Your Honor,” said the Doctor—“quite sure.”
“Very well then,” said the judge. “If you can satisfy us that you really are able to understand canine testimony, the dog shall be admitted as a witness. I do not see, in that case, how I could object to his being heard. But I warn you that if you are trying to make a laughing-stock of this Court it will go hard with you.”
“I protest, I protest!” yelled the long-nosed Prosecutor. “This is a scandal, an outrage to the Bar!”
“Sit down!” said the judge in a very stern voice.
“What animal does Your Honor wish me to talk with?” asked the Doctor.
“I would like you to talk to my own dog,” said the judge. “He is outside in the cloak-room. I will have him brought in; and then we shall see what you can do.”
Then someone went out and fetched the judge’s dog, a lovely great Russian wolf-hound with slender legs and a shaggy coat. He was a proud and beautiful creature.
“Now, Doctor,” said the judge, “did you ever see this dog before?—Remember you are in the witness-stand and under oath.”
“No, Your Honor, I never saw him before.”
“Very well then, will you please ask him to tell you what I had for supper last night? He was with me and watched me while I ate.”
Then the Doctor and the dog started talking to one another in signs and sounds; and they kept at it for quite a long time. And the Doctor began to giggle and get so interested that he seemed to forget all about the Court and the judge and everything else.
“What a time he takes!” I heard a fat woman in front of me whispering. “He’s only pretending. Of course he can’t do it! Who ever heard of talking to a dog? He must think we’re children.”
“Haven’t you finished yet?” the judge asked the Doctor. “It shouldn’t take that long just to ask what I had for supper.”
“Oh no, Your Honor,” said the Doctor. “The dog told me that long ago. But then he went on to tell me what you did after supper.”
“Never mind that,” said the judge. “Tell me what answer he gave you to my question.”
“He says you had a mutton-chop, two baked potatoes, a pickled walnut and a glass of ale.”
The Honorable Eustace Beauchamp Conckley went white to the lips.
“Sounds like witchcraft,” he muttered. “I never dreamed—”
“And after your supper,” the Doctor went on, “he says you went to see a prize-fight and then sat up playing cards for money till twelve o’clock and came home singing, ‘We won’t get—’”
“That will do,” the judge interrupted, “I am satisfied you can do as you say. The prisoner’s dog shall be admitted as a witness.”
“I protest, I object!” screamed the Prosecutor. “Your Honor, this is—”
“Sit down!” roared the judge. “I say the dog shall be heard. That ends the matter. Put the witness in the stand.”
And then for the first time in the solemn history of England a dog was put in the witness-stand of Her Majesty’s Court of Assizes. And it was I, Tommy Stubbins (when the Doctor made a sign to me across the room) who proudly led Bob up the aisle, through the astonished crowd, past the frowning, spluttering, long-nosed Prosecutor, and made him comfortable on a high chair in the witness-box; from where the old bulldog sat scowling down over the rail upon the amazed and gaping jury.