"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.