The Heads of Cerberus, by Francis Stevens

Chapter 8

Legal Procedure Expedited

WHEN his senses returned, Drayton found himself sitting on the polished white floor, his back propped against a golden pillar. He became aware that his head ached horribly; that his wrists were handcuffed behind him; and that his tempestuous Irish ally was no better off than himself. Trenmore, in fact, lay stretched at full length close by. Tears streaming down her face, Viola was wiping ineffectively at his bloody countenance with her pathetic mite of a handkerchief.

Two of the six policemen stood looking on with no evident sympathy. The other four lay or sat about in attitudes of either profound repose or extreme discomfort. Though Terence Trenmore had gone down, he had taken his wounded with him.

“Get an ambulance, one of you chaps!” It was the voice of silk-hatted authority. “You think we want the Temple cluttered up like an accident ward? And bring those crazy prisoners of yours to the Court of Common Pleas. Mr. Virtue is there now, and one court will do as well as another for this sort. Look sharp, now!”

Saluting reverently, the two uninjured officers proceeded to execute high-hat’s various behests as best they could. They were forced, however, to leave the wounded while they bore Trenmore across to the southern door. Viola started to follow, then looked back anxiously toward Drayton. High-hat, following her glance, beckoned imperatively.

With some difficulty, Drayton gained his feet and staggered toward the girl. He felt anything but fit, and he was keenly disappointed. All that shindy had been wasted! The insufferable one yet lived — had not even suffered the knocking off of his intolerable hat!

“Lean on me, Mr. Drayton,” he heard Viola’s voice, curiously far away and indistinct. The absurdity of such a request moved him to a wry smile; but he certainly did lean on some one, or he could never have crossed that heaving, rocking, slippery floor without falling a dozen times.

Presently blackness descended again, and he knew no more till the strong taste and odor of brandy half-strangled and thoroughly aroused him.

A policeman was holding a tumbler to Drayton’s lips, and seemed bent on pouring the entire contents down his throat. Twisting his head away the prisoner sat up. The officer eyed him wonderingly, then drained the glass himself and set it down.

“Feel better?” he queried.

“A little,” muttered Drayton. He was seated on a leather-covered couch in a small room, and his only companion was the policeman. “I suppose,” he added disconsolately, “that Trenmore was badly hurt. Where are they now?”

The officer laughed. “If Trenmore is your big friend, he came around sooner than you did. Lord, I wish’t we had that guy on the force! Can you walk yet?”

Drayton rose unsteadily. “I guess so. Have you put the others in cells?”

“Hardly!” The officers stared at him. “They don’t keep a case like this waiting. Your friend won’t go in no cell, nor you either. And as for the girl-” He broke off, with a shrug.

“And the girl?” Drayton repeated sharply.

“I dunno. Mr. Mercy was looking her over. I doubt he’ll let that beauty go to the Pit. But come along, or we’ll keep Mr. Virtue waiting.”

“Mr. Virtue!” What a very odd name, thought Drayton, as he walked to the door, leaning heavily on his jailer. And Mr. Mercy, too. Had he fallen into a chapter of Pilgrim’s Progress? Had the whole world gone mad while they wandered in Ulithia? And what of this amazing “Temple” that had usurped the interior of City Hall?

On the streets outside, everything had appeared normal — except for those infernal buttons. Surely this was Philadelphia that they had returned to. Who that had ever visited the city could doubt its identity? It was as distinctive as New York, though in a different way. And all the familiar details — the Market Street Ferry, the outer architecture of City Hall, Broad Street — oh, and above all that benevolent, unforgettable statue of William Penn —

The door opened upon a long, low-ceilinged, windowless room, illuminated by hidden lights behind the cornice. The ceiling was a delicate rose-pink, and, like the golden dome, shed its color downward upon a scene of Oriental splendor. Unlike the white-paved court, however, this chamber was far from bare.

The dark, polished floor was strewn with silken rugs of extravagant value and beauty. The many chairs and small tables scattered here and there were of ebony carved in the Chinese fashion, their cushions and covers of rose-pink velvet and silks gleaming richly against the dark austerity of black wood.

Here and there the prevailing rosy tinge was relieved by a touch of dull blue, or by a bit of carved yellow ivory. Several excellent paintings, uniformly framed in dull black, showed well against the unpatterned matte-gold of the walls.

Rather than a courtroom, indeed, this might have been the drawing-room of some wealthy woman with a penchant for the outre in decorative effects. At the chamber’s upper end, however, was a sort of dais or platform. There, enthroned on a wonderfully carved ivory chair, a man was seated.

He wore a black gown and a huge white wig, like that of an English justice. He was hawk-nosed, fat-jowled, coarse-featured and repellant. If this was — and Drayton assumed it must be — Mr. Virtue, then his appearance singularly belied his name.

Before the dais were gathered a group consisting of Drayton’s fellow-prisoners, a single policeman, and also the little man in the silk hat and frock coat. From above them, Mr. Virtue stared down with an insolent disdain beside which the high-hatted one’s languid contempt seemed almost courtesy.

“Come!” whispered Drayton’s guardian. “Walk up there and bow to his honor. They’ve begun the trial.”

“The trial!” thought Drayton. There were present neither witnesses, jury nor counsel.

Having no alternative, however, he obeyed, ranging himself beside Viola and bowing as gracefully as his manacled condition would permit. As a lawyer, though disbarred, he still respected the forms of law, however strangely administered. His own demeanor should be beyond reproach.

Glancing at Trenmore, he saw that the Irishman had suffered no great damage in the recent unpleasantness, and also that he was eying the enthroned judge in anything but a penitent spirit.

As for Viola, she stood with hands folded, eyes meekly downcast, an ideal picture of maidenhood in distress. Drayton, however, caught a sidelong blue flash from beneath her long lashes which hinted that the Trenmores were yet one in spirit.

There was a further moment of awe-inspiring silence. Then the judge, or magistrate, or whatever he might be, cleared his throat portentously.

“Mr. Mercy,” he said, “I believe there need be no delay here. From your account and that of Sergeant Fifty-three — by the way, where is Fifty-three?”

“In the hospital, your honor, having his wrist set.”

“I see. He should have waited until conclusion of trial. His presence, however, is not essential. As I was saying, from his account and yours there can be no question of either verdict or sentence. In view of the prisoners’ conduct within these sacred precincts, there will be no need to appoint counsel or investigate the case further.

“To conform, however, to the letter as well as spirit of the law, and in the interests of purely abstract justice, I now ask you, Mr. Mercy, as sole responsible witness of the worser outrage, if you can bring forward any extenuating circumstances tending to mitigate their obvious culpability and modify the severity of their sentence?”

Drayton wondered if the policeman’s billy had addled what sense Ulithia had left him. Had he really understood that speech? He seemed to catch a phrase here and there, stamped with the true legal verbosity. As a whole the speech was incomprehensible. And now Mr. Mercy was replying.

“Your Honor, in the case of the male prisoners, I know of no excuse. Not only have they appeared in public buttonless, but beneath the very Dome of Justice, with their eyes, so to speak, fixed on the scarlet Threat of Penn, they have assaulted and wounded the emissaries of sacred Penn Service. For the third criminal, however — for this mere girl-child — I do desire the mercy for which I am named! Separate her from her evil companions, and who knows? She may become as innocent in fact as in appearance?”

Mr. Mercy uttered this plea solemnly enough; but at the conclusion he deliberately and languidly winked at the judge, and smiled upon the girl prisoner in a way which made Drayton’s blood surge to his wounded head.

Were these proceedings in any degree serious? Or was this all part of some elaborate and vicious joke? One hypothesis seemed as impossible as the other. Once more Drayton bowed.

“Your Honor,” he said, “surely, even at this preliminary hearing you will permit us —”

But the judge interrupted him. “Preliminary hearing?” he repeated scornfully. “No man within the jurisdiction of Penn Service can be so ignorant of law as your words would indicate. Were there any shadow of doubts as to your guilt, we, in our perfect justice, might grant you a public trial. We might even permit you an appeal to Mr. Justice Supreme himself. But in so obvious and flagrant a case of law-breaking as yours, the Servants of Penn must decline to be further troubled!

“I now, therefore, condemn you, sir, and you, the big fellow there — my soul, Mercy, did you ever see such an enormous brute? I condemn you both to be immediately dropped into the Pit of the Past. And may Penn have mercy on your probably worthless souls!”

Having delivered himself of this remarkable and abrupt sentence his honor arose with a yawn, tossed aside the black robe and removed his wig. Beneath the robe he was dressed in a costume similar to that of their earlier acquaintance, Mr. Mercy. Descending from the dais, Virtue paused to wave an insolent hand toward Viola Trenmore.

“You saw the girl first, Mercy,” he addressed his silk-hatted associate. “So I suppose she’s yours. You always were a lucky dog!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30