Chapter 28THE next morning Henchard went to the Town Hall below Lucetta's house, to attend Petty Sessions, being still a magistrate for the year by virtue of his late position as Mayor. In passing he looked up at her windows, but nothing of her was to be seen.
Henchard as a Justice of the Peace may at first seem to be an even greater incongruity than Shallow and Silence themselves. But his rough and ready perceptions, his sledge-hammer directness, had often served him better than nice legal knowledge in despatching such simple business as fell to his hands in this Court. Today Dr Chalkfield, the Mayor for the year, being absent, the corn-merchant took the big chair, his eyes still abstractedly stretching out of the window to the ashlar front of High-Place Hall.
There was one case only, and the offender stood before him. She was an old woman of mottled countenance, attired in a shawl of that nameless tertiary hue which comes, but cannot be made - a hue neither tawny, russet, hazel, nor ash; a sticky black bonnet that seemed to have been worn in the country of the Psalmist where the clouds drop fatness: and an apron that had been white in times so comparatively recent as still to contrast visibly with the rest of her clothes. The steeped aspect of the woman as a whole showed her to be no native of the country-side or even of a country-town.
She looked cursorily at Henchard and the second magistrate, and Henchard looked at her, with a momentary pause, as if she had reminded him indistinctly of somebody or something which passed from his mind as quickly as it had come. "Well, and what has she been doing?" he said, looking down at the charge- sheet.
"She is charged, sir, with the offence of disorderly female and nuisance," whispered Stubberd.
"Where did she do that?" said the other magistrate.
"By the church, sir, of all the horrible places in the world! - I caught her in the act, your worship."
"Stand back then," said Henchard, "and let's hear what you've got to say."
Stubberd was sworn, the magistrate's clerk dipped his pen, Henchard being no note-taker himself, and the constable began--
"Hearing a' illegal noise I went down the street at twenty-five minutes past eleven p.m. on the night of the fifth instinct, Hannah Dominy. When I had - "
"Don't go on so fast, Stubberd," said the clerk.
The constable waited, with his eyes on the clerk's pen, till the latter stopped scratching, and said, "yes." Stubberd continued: "What I had proceeded to the spot I saw defendant at another spot, namely, the gutter." He paused, watching the point of the clerk's pen again.
"Gutter, yes, Stubberd."
"Spot measuring twelve feet nine inches or thereabouts, from where I - " Still careful not to outrun the clerk's penmanship Stubberd pulled up again; for having got his evidence by heart it was immaterial to him whereabouts he broke off.
"I object to that," spoke up the old woman, """spot measuring twelve feet nine or thereabouts from where I,"" is not sound testimony!"
The magistrates consulted, and the second one said that the bench was of opinion that twelve feet nine inches from a man on his oath was admissible.
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