Page 16

"I am here to lay before you certain information,

by which I shall convince you Alan had no hand whatever in the

killing of Glenure."

The Advocate appeared for a moment at a stick, sitting with pursed

lips, and blinking his eyes upon me like an angry cat. "Mr.

Balfour," he said at last, "I tell you pointedly you go an ill way

for your own interests."

"My lord," I said, "I am as free of the charge of considering my

own interests in this matter as your lordship. As God judges me, I

have but the one design, and that is to see justice executed and

the innocent go clear. If in pursuit of that I come to fall under

your lordship's displeasure, I must bear it as I may."

At this he rose from his chair, lit a second candle, and for a

while gazed upon me steadily. I was surprised to see a great

change of gravity fallen upon his face, and I could have almost

thought he was a little pale.

"You are either very simple, or extremely the reverse, and I see

that I must deal with you more confidentially," says he. "This is

a political case--ah, yes, Mr. Balfour! whether we like it or no,

the case is political--and I tremble when I think what issues may

depend from it. To a political case, I need scarce tell a young

man of your education, we approach with very different thoughts

from one which is criminal only. Salus populi suprema lex is a

maxim susceptible of great abuse, but it has that force which we

find elsewhere only in the laws of nature: I mean it has the force

of necessity. I will open this out to you, if you will allow me,

at more length. You would have me believe--"

"Under your pardon, my lord, I would have you to believe nothing

but that which I can prove," said I.

"Tut! tut; young gentleman," says he, "be not so pragmatical, and

suffer a man who might be your father (if it was nothing more) to

employ his own imperfect language, and express his own poor

thoughts, even when they have the misfortune not to coincide with

Mr. Balfour's. You would have me to believe Breck innocent. I

would think this of little account, the more so as we cannot catch

our man. But the matter of Breck's innocence shoots beyond itself.

Once admitted, it would destroy the whole presumptions of our case

against another and a very different criminal; a man grown old in

treason, already twice in arms against his king and already twice

forgiven; a fomentor of discontent, and (whoever may have fired the

shot) the unmistakable original of the deed in question. I need

not tell you that I mean James Stewart."

"And I can just say plainly that the innocence of Alan and of James

is what I am here to declare in private to your lordship, and what

I am prepared to establish at the trial by my testimony," said I.

"To which I can only answer by an equal plainness, Mr. Balfour,"

said he, "that (in that case) your testimony will not be called by

me, and I desire you to withhold it altogether."

"You are at the head of Justice in this country," I cried, "and you

propose to me a crime!"

"I am a man nursing with both hands the interests of this country,"

he replied, "and I press on you a political necessity. Patriotism

is not always moral in the formal sense. You might be glad of it,

I think: it is your own protection; the facts are heavy against

you; and if I am still trying to except you from a very dangerous

place, it is in part of course because I am not insensible to your

honesty in coming here; in part because of Pilrig's letter; but in

part, and in chief part, because I regard in this matter my

political duty first and my judicial duty only second. For the

same reason--I repeat it to you in the same frank words--I do not

want your testimony."

"I desire not to be thought to make a repartee, when I express only

the plain sense of our position," said I. "But if your lordship

has no need of my testimony, I believe the other side would be

extremely blythe to get it."

Prestongrange arose and began to pace to and fro in the room.

Catriona Page 17

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book