The American Senator, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XV

Scrobby’s Trial

Rufford was a good deal moved as to the trial of Mr Scrobby. Mr. Scrobby was a man who not long since had held his head up in Rufford and had the reputation of a well-to-do tradesman. Enemies had perhaps doubted his probity; but he had gone on and prospered, and, two or three years before the events which are now chronicled, had retired on a competence. He had then taken a house with a few acres of land, lying between Rufford and Rufford Hall, the property of Lord Rufford, and had commenced genteel life. Many in the neighbourhood had been astonished that such a man should have been accepted as a tenant in such a house; and it was generally understood that Lord Rufford himself had been very angry with his agent. Mr. Scrobby did not prosper greatly in his new career. He became a guardian of the poor and quarrelled with all the Board. He tried to become a municipal counsellor in the borough, but failed. Then he quarrelled with his landlord, insisted on making changes in the grounds which were not authorised by the terms of his holding, would not pay his rent, and was at last ejected — having caused some considerable amount of trouble. Then he occupied a portion of his leisure with spreading calumnies as to his Lordship and was generally understood to have made up his mind to be disagreeable. As Lord Rufford was a sportsman rather than anything else Scrobby studied how he might best give annoyance in that direction, and some time before the Goarly affair had succeeded in creating considerable disturbance. When a man will do this pertinaciously, and when his selected enemy is wealthy and of high standing, he will generally succeed in getting a party round him. In Rufford there were not a few who thought that Lord Rufford’s pheasants and foxes were a nuisance — though probably these persons had never suffered in any way themselves. It was a grand thing to fight a lord — and so Scrobby had a party.

When the action against his Lordship was first threatened by Goarly, and when it was understood that Scrobby had backed him with money there was a feeling that Scrobby was doing rather a fine thing. He had not, indeed, used his money openly, as the Senator had afterwards done; but that was not Scrobby’s way. If Goarly had been ill-used any help was legitimate, and the party as a party was proud of their man. But when it came to pass that poison had been laid down, “wholesale” as the hunting men said, in Dillsborough Wood, in the close vicinity of Goarly’s house, then the party hesitated. Such strategy as that was disgusting; — but was there reason to think that Scrobby had been concerned in the matter? Scrobby still had an income, and ate roast meat or boiled every day for his dinner. Was it likely that such a man should deal in herrings and strychnine?

Nickem had been at work for the last three months, backed up by funds which had latterly been provided by the Lord’s agent, and had in truth run the matter down. Nickem had found out all about it, and in his pride had resigned his stool in Mr. Master’s office. But the Scrobby party in Rufford could not bring itself to believe that Nickem was correct. That Goarly’s hand had actually placed the herrings no man either at Rufford or Dillsborough had doubted. Such was now Nickem’s story. But of what avail would be the evidence of such a man as Goarly against such a man as Scrobby? It would be utterly worthless unless corroborated, and the Scrobby party was not yet aware how clever Nickem had been. Thus all Rufford was interested in the case.

Lord Rufford, Sir George Penwether, his Lordship’s agent, and Mr. Gotobed, had been summoned as witnesses — the expenditure of money by the Senator having by this time become notorious; and on the morning of the trial they all went into the town in his Lordship’s drag. The Senator, as the guest, was on the box-seat with his Lordship, and as they passed old Runce trotting into Rufford on his nag, Mr. Gotobed began to tell the story of yesterday’s meeting, complaining of the absurdity of the old farmer’s anger.

“Penwether told me about it,” said the Lord.

“I suppose your tenant is a little crazy.”

“By no means. I thought he was right in what he said, if I understood Penwether.”

“He couldn’t have been right. He turned from me in disgust simply because I tried to explain to him that a rogue has as much right to be defended by the law as an honest man.”

“Runce looks upon these men as vermin which ought to be hunted down.”

“But they are not vermin. They are men; and till they have been found guilty they are innocent men.”

“If a man had murdered your child, would he be innocent in your eyes till he was convicted?”

“I hope so; — but I should be very anxious to bring home the crime against him. And should he be found guilty even then he should not be made subject to other punishment than that the law awards. Mr. Runce is angry with me because I do not think that Goarly should be crushed under the heels of all his neighbours. Take care, my Lord. Didn’t we come round that corner rather sharp?”

Then Lord Rufford emphatically declared that such men as Scrobby and Goarly should be crushed, and the Senator, with an inward sigh declared that between landlord and tenant, between peer and farmer, between legislator and rustic, there was, in capacity for logical inference, no difference whatever. The British heart might be all right; but the British head was — ah, hopelessly wooden! It would be his duty to say so in his lecture, and perhaps some good might be done to so gracious but so stolid a people, if only they could be got to listen.

Scrobby had got down a barrister from London, and therefore the case was allowed to drag itself out through the whole day. Lord Rufford, as a magistrate, went on to the bench himself, though he explained that he only took his seat there as a spectator. Sir George and Mr. Gotobed were also allowed to sit in the high place — though the Senator complained even of this. Goarly and Scrobby were not allowed to be there, and Lord Rufford, in his opinion, should also have been debarred from such a privilege. A long time was occupied before even a jury could be sworn, the barrister earning his money by browbeating the provincial bench and putting various obstacles in the way of the trial. As he was used to practice at the assizes of course he was able to domineer. This juror would not do, nor that. The chairman was all wrong in his law. The officers of the Court knew nothing about it. At first there was quite a triumph for the Scrobbyites, and even Nickem himself was frightened. But at last the real case was allowed to begin, and Goarly was soon in the witness-box. Goarly did not seem to enjoy the day, and was with difficulty got to tell his own story even on his own side. But the story when it was told was simple enough. He had met Mr. Scrobby accidentally in Rufford and they two had together discussed the affairs of the young Lord. They came to an agreement that the young Lord was a tyrant and ought to be put down, and Scrobby showed how it was to be done. Scrobby instigated the action about the pheasants, and undertook to pay the expenses if Goarly would act in the other little matter. But, when he found that the Senator’s money was forthcoming, he had been anything but as good as his word. Goarly swore that in hard cash he had never seen more than four shillings of Scrobby’s money. As to the poison, Goarly declared that he knew nothing about it; but he certainly had received a parcel of herrings from Scrobby’s own hands, and in obedience to Scrobby’s directions, had laid them down in Dillsborough Wood the very morning on which the hounds had come there. He owned that he supposed that there might be something in the herrings, something that would probably be deleterious to hounds as well as foxes — or to children should the herrings happen to fall into children’s hands; but he assured the Court that he had no knowledge of poison — none whatever. Then he was made by the other side to give a complete and a somewhat prolonged account of his own life up to the present time, this information being of course required by the learned barrister on the other side; in listening to which the Senator did become thoroughly ashamed of the Briton whom he had assisted with his generosity.

But all this would have been nothing had not Nickem secured the old woman who had sold the herrings — and also the chemist, from whom the strychnine had been purchased as much as three years previously. This latter feat was Nickem’s great triumph, the feeling of the glory of which induced him to throw up his employment in Mr. Masters’ office, and thus brought him and his family to absolute ruin within a few months in spite of the liberal answers which were made by Lord Rufford to many of his numerous appeals. Away in Norrington the poison had been purchased as much as three years ago, and yet Nickem had had the luck to find it out. When the Scrobbyites heard that Scrobby had gone all the way to Norrington to buy strychnine to kill rats they were Scrobbyites no longer. “I hope they’ll hang ’un. I do hope they’ll hang ’un,” said Mr. Runce quite out loud from his crowded seat just behind the attorney’s bench.

The barrister of course struggled hard to earn his money. Though he could not save his client he might annoy the other side. He insisted therefore on bringing the whole affair of the pheasants before the Court, and examined the Senator at great length. He asked the Senator whether he had not found himself compelled to sympathise with the wrongs he had witnessed. The Senator declared that he had witnessed no wrongs. Why then had he interfered? Because he had thought that there might be wrong, and because he wished to see what power a poor man in this country would have against a rich one. He was induced still to think that Goarly had been ill-treated about the pheasants; — but he could not take upon himself to say that he had witnessed any wrong done. But he was quite sure that the system on which such things were managed in England was at variance with that even justice which prevailed in his own country! Yes; — by his own country he did mean Mickewa. He could tell that learned gentleman in spite of his sneers, and in spite of his evident ignorance of geography, that nowhere on the earth’s surface was justice more purely administered than in the great Western State of Mickewa. It was felt by everybody that the Senator had the best of it. Mr. Scrobby was sent into durance for twelve months with hard labour, and Goarly was conveyed away in the custody of the police lest he should be torn to pieces by the rough lovers of hunting who were congregated outside. When the sentence had reached Mr. Runce’s ears, and had been twice explained to him, first by one neighbour and then by another, his face assumed the very look which it had worn when he carried away his victuals from the Senator’s side at Rufford Hall, and when he had turned his pony round on his own land on the previous evening. The man had killed a fox and might have killed a dozen hounds, and was to be locked up only for twelve months! He indignantly asked his neighbour what had come of Van Diemen’s land, and what was the use of Botany Bay.

On their way back to Rufford Hall, Lord Rufford would have been triumphant, had not the Senator checked him. “It’s a bad state of things altogether,” he said. “Of course the promiscuous use of strychnine is objectionable.”

“Rather,” said his Lordship.

“But is it odd that an utterly uneducated man, one whom his country has left to grow up in the ignorance of a brute, should have recourse to any measure, however objectionable, when the law will absolutely give him no redress against the trespass made by a couple of hundred horsemen?” Lord Rufford gave it up, feeling the Senator to be a man with whom he could not argue.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43