"Next, as to your case," observed my guardian.
"Exactly so, sir," returned Mr. George, folding his arms upon his breast with perfect self-possession and a little curiosity.
"How does it stand now?"
"Why, sir, it is under remand at present. Bucket gives me to understand that he will probably apply for a series of remands from time to time until the case is more complete. How it is to be made more complete I don't myself see, but I dare say Bucket will manage it somehow."
"Why, heaven save us, man," exclaimed my guardian, surprised into his old oddity and vehemence, "you talk of yourself as if you were somebody else!"
"No offence, sir," said Mr. George. "I am very sensible of your kindness. But I don't see how an innocent man is to make up his mind to this kind of thing without knocking his head against the walls unless he takes it in that point of view.
"That is true enough to a certain extent," returned my guardian, softened. "But my good fellow, even an innocent man must take ordinary precautions to defend himself."
"Certainly, sir. And I have done so. I have stated to the magistrates, 'Gentlemen, I am as innocent of this charge as yourselves; what has been stated against me in the way of facts is perfectly true; I know no more about it.' I intend to continue stating that, sir. What more can I do? It's the truth."
"But the mere truth won't do," rejoined my guardian.
"Won't it indeed, sir? Rather a bad look-out for me!" Mr. George good-humouredly observed.
"You must have a lawyer," pursued my guardian. "We must engage a good one for you."
"I ask your pardon, sir," said Mr. George with a step backward. "I am equally obliged. But I must decidedly beg to be excused from anything of that sort."
"You won't have a lawyer?"
"No, sir." Mr. George shook his head in the most emphatic manner. "I thank you all the same, sir, but — no lawyer!"
"I don't take kindly to the breed," said Mr. George. "Gridley didn't. And — if you'll excuse my saying so much — I should hardly have thought you did yourself, sir."
"That's equity," my guardian explained, a little at a loss; "that's equity, George."
"Is it, indeed, sir?" returned the trooper in his off-hand manner. "I am not acquainted with those shades of names myself, but in a general way I object to the breed."
Unfolding his arms and changing his position, he stood with one massive hand upon the table and the other on his hip, as complete a picture of a man who was not to be moved from a fixed purpose as ever I saw. It was in vain that we all three talked to him and endeavoured to persuade him; he listened with that gentleness which went so well with his bluff bearing, but was evidently no more shaken by our representations that his place of confinement was.
"Pray think, once more, Mr. George," said I. "Have you no wish in reference to your case?"
"I certainly could wish it to be tried, miss," he returned, "by court-martial; but that is out of the question, as I am well aware. If you will be so good as to favour me with your attention for a couple of minutes, miss, not more, I'll endeavour to explain myself as clearly as I can."
He looked at us all three in turn, shook his head a little as if he were adjusting it in the stock and collar of a tight uniform, and after a moment's reflection went on.
"You see, miss, I have been handcuffed and taken into custody and brought here. I am a marked and disgraced man, and here I am. My shooting gallery is rummaged, high and low, by Bucket; such property as I have — 'tis small — is turned this way and that till it don't know itself; and (as aforesaid) here I am! I don't particular complain of that. Though I am in these present quarters through no immediately preceding fault of mine, I can very well understand that if I hadn't gone into the vagabond way in my youth, this wouldn't have happened. It HAS happened. Then comes the question how to meet it"
He rubbed his swarthy forehead for a moment with a good-humoured look and said apologetically, "I am such a short-winded talker that I must think a bit." Having thought a bit, he looked up again and resumed.
"How to meet it. Now, the unfortunate deceased was himself a lawyer and had a pretty tight hold of me. I don't wish to rake up his ashes, but he had, what I should call if he was living, a devil of a tight hold of me. I don't like his trade the better for that. If I had kept clear of his trade, I should have kept outside this place. But that's not what I mean. Now, suppose I had killed him. Suppose I really had discharged into his body any one of those pistols recently fired off that Bucket has found at my place, and dear me, might have found there any day since it has been my place. What should I have done as soon as I was hard and fast here? Got a lawyer."
He stopped on hearing some one at the locks and bolts and did not resume until the door had been opened and was shut again. For what purpose opened, I will mention presently.
"I should have got a lawyer, and he would have said (as I have often read in the newspapers), 'My client says nothing, my client reserves his defence': my client this, that, and t'other. Well, 'tis not the custom of that breed to go straight, according to my opinion, or to think that other men do. Say I am innocent and I get a lawyer. He would be as likely to believe me guilty as not; perhaps more. What would he do, whether or not? Act as if I was — shut my mouth up, tell me not to commit myself, keep circumstances back, chop the evidence small, quibble, and get me off perhaps! But, Miss Summerson, do I care for getting off in that way; or would I rather be hanged in my own way — if you'll excuse my mentioning anything so disagreeable to a lady?"
He had warmed into his subject now, and was under no further necessity to wait a bit.
"I would rather be hanged in my own way. And I mean to be! I don't intend to say," looking round upon us with his powerful arms akimbo and his dark eyebrows raised, "that I am more partial to being hanged than another man. What I say is, I must come off clear and full or not at all. Therefore, when I hear stated against me what is true, I say it's true; and when they tell me, 'whatever you say will be used,' I tell them I don't mind that; I mean it to be used. If they can't make me innocent out of the whole truth, they are not likely to do it out of anything less, or anything else. And if they are, it's worth nothing to me."
Taking a pace or two over the stone floor, he came back to the table and finished what he had to say.
"I thank you, miss and gentlemen both, many times for your attention, and many times more for your interest. That's the plain state of the matter as it points itself out to a mere trooper with a blunt broadsword kind of a mind. I have never done well in life beyond my duty as a soldier, and if the worst comes after all, I shall reap pretty much as I have sown. When I got over the first crash of being seized as a murderer — it don't take a rover who has knocked about so much as myself so very long to recover from a crash — I worked my way round to what you find me now. As such I shall remain. No relations will be disgraced by me or made unhappy for me, and — and that's all I've got to say."