Name Of Smith
by Cyril Hare
On the death of Sir Charles Blenkinsop, some-time Judge of the High Court of Justice, the benchers of his Inn, as was only proper, arranged a memorial service for him. It was not so well attended as such functions usually are, for Sir Charles, in spite of his acknowledged competence as a lawyer, had never been popular. Moreover, there had been certain rumours concerning his private life of a type particularly detrimental to judges. Some of his colleagues had breathed a sigh of relief when Sir Charles, a few years before, had earned his pension and quitted the Bench without open scandal.
Francis Pettigrew, still "of counsel" but now in country retirement, was at the service. His friend MacWilliam, the Chief Constable of Markshire, had thought it his duty to attend, since the deceased had been a Markhampton man; and Pettigrew accompanied him, more on the chance of meeting old Temple acquaintances than as a tribute to Blenkinsop's memory. He was disappointed to see so sparse a congregation and was correspondingly pleased on leaving the church to find himself behind the familiar, square-built figure of his old friend Challoner, a well-known City solicitor.
He overtook Challoner at the door, introduced him to MacWilliam, and was standing with them in the porch when his eye was caught by a shabby man of about forty who smiled at him in a friendly but slightly embarrassed fashion and walked hastily away.
"Friend of yours?" asked Challoner, as they strolled down Fleet Street.
"Apparently," said Pettigrew. "He certainly seemed to know me, and I have an idea I've seen him before, but where, I haven't the remotest notion."
"Name of Smith."
"The name is certainly familiar."
"Charles Smith. Does a certain amount of reporting in the Courts. I dare say he was covering the service."
"Charles Smith," said Pettigrew meditatively. "Charles - !" He stopped dead on the pavement. It may have been mere coincidence that it was at the door of a saloon bar. He took the solicitor by the arm and gently impelled him inside, leaving MacWilliam to follow. "Of course I know the chap. I defended him once - on a charge of murder."
"Really?" said Challoner with polite interest. "I don't read the Old Bailey reports."
"This wasn't at the Bailey. It was at Markhampton Assizes, six or seven years ago. And, what is more, old Blenkinsop, whose demise we have just been mourning, tried him. That would be before your time, MacWilliam."
"As a matter of fact - " said the Chief Constable. But Pettigrew's attention was devoted to ordering drinks, and he did not bother to complete the sentence.
"Odd running into Smith like that," Pettigrew went on a few minutes later. "I may forget faces, and cases too, as often as not, but that was a case I shall remember all my life. Cheers!"
"Your health, Pettigrew! Was it a difficult task to - ah - 'get him off' is the phrase, is it not?"
Pettigrew smiled grimly. "Very. Too difficult for me, at all events," he said. "On that evidence and before a local jury he never had an earthly. The case was as dead as mutton."
"That being so, I don't quite see why Smith isn't - "
"Isn't also as dead as mutton? Therein lies a mystery which will always puzzle me. Charles Smith escaped hanging solely and entirely through the positively goat-like conduct of Blenkinsop."
"As a matter of fact," said MacWilliam again, and this time he was allowed to go on. "As a matter of fact, I had occasion to read the summing-up in that case quite recently. It was remarkable."
"Remarkable? The Court of Criminal Appeal used stronger adjectives than that. I've never heard such a performance in my life. And from Blenkinsop, of all people! Now that we've done our duty by him in church we can speak the truth about him and we all know that by and large Charlie Blenkinsop was a pretty nasty piece of work, but, hang it all, the man was a lawyer. If anybody on the Bench knew his stuff, I should have said he did. But in this case the old boy went completely hay-wire. When I tell you that he actually directed the jury, as a matter of law . . ."
To detail all the iniquities of the summing-up took Pettigrew a full five minutes of blistering technicalities.
"Of course the thing was a push-over on appeal," he concluded. "The conviction was quashed with more rudery than I have ever heard applied to a Judge of Assize. That case should go down in history as Blenkinsop's biggest boner. But what will always puzzle me is - why on earth did he do it?"
"Had he - er - lunched very well on that day?" Challoner ventured.
"Not a bit of it. He was as sober as - as a judge, if you follow me."
"I have my own theory about the matter," MacWilliam put in. "I think the explanation is that all the parties involved - including the judge - were Markhampton people. You'll remember, Mr. Pettigrew, that your client came from what was locally considered pretty poor stock. His mother, Mary Smith - she's still alive, by the way - was no better than she should be, and nobody ever knew who his father was. The girl he was accused of killing, on the other hand, belonged to one of the most respectable families in the town. Her father was a pillar of the strictest sect we have - and when Markhampton people are moral they take their morality seriously. Smith had got her into trouble, and she was desperate to be made an honest woman of - which didn't suit Smith's book at all, as he had engaged himself to a much wealthier woman. His defence was that she had committed suicide rather than face her family with the news of her downfall."
"Precisely," said Pettigrew. "Not the line of defence to commend itself to a jury of townspeople inflamed with piety and rectitude, even if the medical evidence hadn't killed it stone dead."
"Very true. Local feeling was strong against Smith. And my point is, that in this matter the judge was a local man."
"He left the town quite young, did he not?"
"He did, sir, and according to my information he left it under a cloud. Young Blenkinsop had not been one of the respectables. My belief is that he took this opportunity to put himself right with the town, by taking the part of respectability, and ramming home every point against the young sinner. Only, of course, he overdid it."
"It's an idea, certainly," said Pettigrew. "There must have been some explanation for Blenkinsop's extraordinary lapse. But why should you know so much about the case? I should have thought there was enough current crime in Markshire to occupy you without digging up the past."
"The past has a habit of digging itself up," said MacWilliam. "The Smith case came alive again last week. That is why I turned up the records."
"Then you've been wasting your time. They can't try Smith again, you know."
"Unfortunately for Smith, they cannot. He was innocent."
"The girl's father died a few days ago. He left a full confession. He killed her himself to punish her for her sins. He quoted a number of texts to justify his action. He was a religious maniac - poor fellow."
Nobody said anything for an appreciable time after that, and then Challoner remarked quietly, "I think this round is on me." When the drinks had been brought, he asked MacWilliam abruptly, "What is Mary Smith's address?"
"Mary Smith's - Charles Smith's mother."
"Why, she lives where she always has lived - Lower River Lane. Why do you - ?"
"That's right. How did you know?"
Challoner pursed his lips.
"I was the late Sir Charles Blenkinsop's solicitor," he said. "By his will, he left a substantial sum of money in trust for this lady during her life. You can draw your own conclusions."
"There is one obvious conclusion to draw," he said. "But beyond it, I see another. The judge was Charles Smith's father."
"It certainly seems probable."
"But this is outrageous!" cried MacWilliam. "He tries his own son for murder and does his damnedest to send him to the gallows. What sort of a father do you call that?"
"I should describe him as somewhat unnatural, I admit. But there are the facts."
"The old devil!"
It was at this point that Pettigrew burst out laughing. MacWilliam looked at him in disapproving surprise.
"I don't see what there is funny about it," he said severely.
"Don't you?" spluttered Pettigrew. "I bet Blenkinsop does, if he can see anything now. He always had a low sense of humour. I've just seen the point of that famous summing-up of his. It explains everything. He made a muck of it on purpose! He knew that Smith hadn't a chance with the jury, so he did the next best thing, by giving him a cast-iron case on appeal. Unnatural father, my foot! He was a damned affectionate one, who was prepared to spoil his reputation and pervert justice to save his son's neck. I never thought the old ruffian had so much humanity in him."
He raised his tankard.
"Here's to you, Charlie Blenkinsop, wherever you are," he said. "When you misdirected a jury you knew what you were about - which is more than I can say of some of your learned brothers!"
"It is satisfactory to think," MacWilliam added, "that the misdirection prevented a grave miscarriage of justice."
"That, my dear Chief Constable," said Pettigrew loftily, "is a mere side issue. Your irrelevancy will cost you another round of drinks."
End of Name Of Smith by Cyril Hare