Towards zero – Agatha Christie
Prologue: November 19th
The group round the fireplace was nearly all composed of lawyers or those who had an interest in the law. There was Martindale the solicitor, Rufus Lord, K.C., young Daniels who had made a name for himself in the Carstairs case, a sprinkling of other barristers, Mr. Justice Cleaver, Lewis of Lewis and Trench and old Mr. Treves. Mr. Treves was dose on eighty, a very ripe and experienced eighty. He was a member of a famous firm of solicitors, and the most famous member of that firm. He had settled innumerable delicate cases out of court, he was said to know more of backstairs history than any man in England and he was a specialist on criminology.
Unthinking people said Mr. Treves ought to write his memoirs. Mr. Treves knew better. He knew that he knew too much.
Though he had long retired from active practice, there was no man in England whose opinion was so respected by the members of his own fraternity. Whenever his thin precise little voice was raised there was always a respectful silence.
The conversation now was on the subject of a much talked-of case which had finished that day at the Old Bailey. It was a murder case and the prisoner had been acquitted. The present company was busy trying the case over again and making technical criticisms.
The prosecution had made a mistake in relying on one of its witnesses – old Depleach ought to have realised what an opening he was giving to the defence. Young Arthur had made the most of that servant girl’s evidence. Bentmore, in his summing-up, had very rightly put the matter in its correct perspective, but the mischief was done by then – the jury had believed the girl. Juries were funny – you never knew what they’d swallow and what they wouldn’t. But let them once get a thing into their heads and no one was ever going to get it out again. They believed that the girl was speaking the truth about the crowbar and that was that. The medical evidence had been a bit above their heads. All those long terms and scientific jargon – damned bad witnesses, these scientific johnnies -always hemmed and hawed and couldn’t say yes or no to a plain question -always “in certain circumstances that might take place” – and so on!
They talked themselves out, little by little, and as the remarks became more spasmodic and disjointed, a general feeling grew of something lacking. One head after another turned in the direction of Mr. Treves. For Mr. Treves had as yet contributed nothing to the discussion. Gradually it became apparent that the company was waiting for a final word from its most respected colleague.
Mr. Treves, leaning back in his chair, was absent-mindedly polishing his glasses. Something in the silence made him look up sharply.
“Eh?” he said. “What was that? You asked me something?”
Young Lewis spoke.
“We were talking, sir, about the Lamorne case.”
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