For many days, meanwhile, Sir Gilbert had hovered between life and death, an_lma had watched his illness daily with profound and absorbing interest. Fo_n her deep, intuitive way she felt certain to herself that their one chanc_ow lay in Sir Gilbert's own sense of remorse and repentance. She didn't ye_now, to be sure—what Sir Gilbert himself knew—that if he recovered he would,
in all probability, have to sit in trial on another man for the crime he ha_imself committed. But she did feel this,—that Sir Gilbert would surely neve_tand by and let an innocent man die for his own transgression.
IF he recovered, that was to say. But perhaps he would not recover. Perhap_is life would flicker out by degrees in the midst of his delirium, and h_ould go to his grave unconfessed and unforgiven! Perhaps even, for his wife'_nd daughter's sake, he would shrink from revealing what Elma felt to be th_ruth, and would rest content to die, leaving Guy Waring to clear himself a_he trial, as best he might, from this hateful accusation.
It would be unjust. It would be criminal. Yet Sir Gilbert might do it.
Elma had a bad time, therefore, during all those long days, even before Gu_eturned to England. She knew his life hung by a slender thread, which Si_ilbert Gildersleeve might cut short at any moment. But her anxiety was a_othing compared to Sir Gilbert's own. That unhappy man, a moral coward a_eart, in spite of all his blustering, lay writhing in his own room now, ver_ll, and longing to be worse, longing to die, as the easiest way out of thi_mpossible difficulty. For his wife's sake, for Gwendoline's sake, it wa_etter he should die; and if only he could, he would have left Guy Waring t_is fate contentedly. His anger against Guy burnt so bright now at last tha_e would have sacrificed him willingly, provided he was not there himself t_ee and know it. What did the man mean by living on to vex him? Over and ove_gain the unhappy judge wished himself dead, and prayed to be taken. But tha_owerful frame, though severely broken by the shock, seemed hardly able t_ield up its life merely because its owner was anxious to part with it.
After a fortnight's severe illness, hovering all the time between hope an_ear, the doctor came one day, and looked at him hard.
"How is he?" Lady Gildersleeve asked, seeing him hold his breath and consider.
To her great surprise the doctor answered, "Better; against all hope, better."
And indeed Sir Gilbert was once more convalescent. A week or two abroad, i_as said, would restore him completely.
Then Elma had another terrible source of doubt. Would the doctors order Si_ilbert abroad so long that he would be out of England when the trial too_lace? If so, he might miss many pricks of remorse. She must take some activ_teps to arouse his conscience.
Sir Gilbert, himself, now recovering fast, fought hard, as well he might, fo_uch leave of absence. He was quite unfit, he said, to return to his judicia_ork so soon. Though he had said nothing about it in public before (this wa_he tenor of his talk) he was a man of profound but restrained feelings, an_e had felt, he would admit, the absence of Gwendoline's lover—especially whe_ombined with the tragic death of Colonel Kelmscott, the father, and th_emory of the unpleasantness that had once subsisted, through the Colonel'_lind obstinacy, between the two houses. This sudden news of the young man'_eturn had given him a nervous shock of which few would have believed hi_apable. "You wouldn't think to look at me," Sir Gilbert said plaintively,
smoothing down his bedclothes with those elephantine hands of his, "I was th_ort of man to be knocked down in this way;" and the great specialist fro_ondon, gazing at him with a smile, admitted to himself that he certainl_ould not have thought it.
"Oh, nonsense, my dear sir," the specialist answered, however, to all hi_ppeals. "This is the merest passing turn, I assure you. I couldn'_onscientiously say you'd be unfit for duty by the time the assizes come roun_gain. It's clear to me, on the contrary, with a physique like yours, you'l_ull yourself together in something less than no time with a week or so a_pa. Before you're due in England to take up harness again you'll be walkin_iles at a stretch over those heathery hills there. Convalescence, with a ma_ike you, is a rapid process. In a fortnight from to-day, I'll venture t_uarantee, you'll be in a fit condition to swim the Channel on your back, o_o take one of your famous fifty-mile tramps across the bogs of Dartmoor. I'l_ive you a tonic that'll set your nerves all right at once. You'll come bac_rom Spa as fresh as a daisy."
To Spa, accordingly, Sir Gilbert went; and from Spa came trembling letters no_nd again between Gwendoline and Elma. Gwendoline was very anxious papa shoul_et well soon, she said, for she wanted to be home before the Cape steame_rrived. "You know why, Elma." But Sir Gilbert didn't return before Guy'_rrival in England, for all that. The papers continued to give bulletins o_is health, and to speculate on the probability of his returning in time to d_he Western Circuit. Elma remained in a fever of doubt and anxiety. To her,
much depended now on the question of Sir Gilbert's presence or absence. For i_e was indeed to try the case, she felt certain to herself, it must work upo_is remorse and compel confession.
Meanwhile, preparations went on in England for Guy's approaching trial. Th_agistrates committed; the grand jury, of course, found a true bill; al_ngland rang with the strange news that the man Guy Waring, the murderer o_r. Montague Nevitt some eighteen months before, had returned at last of hi_wn free will, and had given himself up to take his trial. Gildersleeve was t_e the judge, they said; or if he were too ill, Atkins. Atkins was as sure a_ gun to hang him, people thought—that was Atkins's way—and, besides, th_vidence against the man, though in a sense circumstantial, was so absolutel_verwhelming that acquittal seemed impossible.
Five to two was freely offered on Change that they'd hang him.
The case was down for first hearing at the assizes. The night before the tria_lma Clifford, who had hurried to Devonshire with her mother to see and hea_ll—she couldn't help it, she said; she felt she MUST be present—Elma Cliffor_ooked at the evening paper with a sickening sense of suspense and anxiety. _aragraph caught her eye: "We understand that, after all, Mr. Justic_ildersleeve still finds himself too unwell to return to England for th_estern Assizes, and his place will, therefore, most probably be taken by Mr.
Justice Atkins. The calendar is a heavy one, and includes the interesting cas_f Mr. Guy Waring, charged with the wilful murder of Montague Nevitt, a_ambury, in Devonshire."
Elma laid down the paper with a swimming head. Too ill to return. She wasn'_t all surprised at it. It was almost more than human nature could stand, fo_ man to sit as judge over another to investigate the details of the crime h_ad himself committed. But the suggestion of his absence ruined her peace o_ind. She couldn't sleep that night. She felt sure now there was no hope left.
Guy would almost certainly be convicted of murder.
Next morning she took her seat in court, with her mother and Cyril, as soon a_he assize hall was opened to the public. But her cheek was very pale, and he_yes were weary. Places had been assigned them by the courtesy of th_uthorities, as persons interested in the case; and Elma looked eagerl_owards the door in the corner, by which, as the usher told her, the judge wa_o enter. There was a long interval, and the usual unseemly turmoil o_aughing and talking went on among the spectators in the well below. Some o_hem had opera-glasses and stared about them freely. Others quizzed th_ounsel, the officers, and the witnesses. Then a hush came over them, and th_oor opened. Cyril was merely aware of the usual formalities and of a judicia_ig making its way, with slow dignity, to the vacant bench. But Elma leane_orward in a tumult of feeling. Her face all at once turned scarlet wit_xcitement.
"What's the matter, darling?" her mother asked, in a sympathetic tone,
noticing that something had profoundly stirred her.
And Elma answered with bated breath, in almost inarticulate tones, "Don't yo_ee? Don't you see, mother? Just look at the judge! It's himself! It's Si_ilbert!"
And so indeed it was. Against all hope, he had come over. At the very las_oment a telegram had been handed to the convalescent at Spa:
> "Fallen from my horse. A nasty tumble. Sustained severe internal injuries.
Impossible to go the Western Circuit, Relieve me if you can. Wir_eply,—ATKINS."
Sir Gilbert, as he received it, had just come in from a long ride across th_ild moors that stretch away from Spa towards Han, and looked the picture o_ealth, robust and fresh and ruddy. He glowed with bodily vigour; no suspens_ould kill him. Refusal under such circumstances was clearly impossible. H_aw he must go, or resign his post at once. So, with an agitated heart, h_ired acquiescence, took the next train to—Brussels and Calais, and caught th_over boat just in time for acceptance. And now he was there to try Guy Warin_or the murder of the man he himself had killed in The Tangle at Mambury.