But, alas! the fact was, that the lawyer employed to defend the prisoners had heard from them that there was a third person engaged, and had heard who that third person was; and it was this advocate's business to diminish, if possible, the guilt of his clients, by proving that they were but tools in the hands of one who had, from his superior knowledge of the premises and the daily customs of the inhabitants, been the originator and planner of the whole affair. To do this, it was necessary to have the evidence of the parents, who, as the prisoners had said, must have recognised the voice of the young man, their son. For no one knew that Bessy, too, could have borne witness to his having been present; and, as it was supposed that Benjamin had escaped out of England, there was no exact betrayal of him on the part of his accomplices.
Wondering, bewildered, and weary, the old couple reached York, in company with John and Bessy, on the eve of the day of the trial. Nathan was still so self-contained that Bessy could never guess what had been passing in his mind. He was almost passive under his old wife's trembling caresses. He seemed hardly conscious of them, so rigid was his demeanour.
She, Bessy feared at times, was becoming childish; for she had evidently so great and anxious a love for her husband, that her memory seemed going in her endeavours to melt the stoniness of his aspect and manners; she appeared occasionally to have forgotten why he was so changed, in her piteous little attempts to bring him back to his former self
'They'll, for sure, never torture them, when they see what old folks they are!' cried Bessy, on the morning of the trial, a dim fear looming over her mind. 'They'll never be so cruel, for sure?'
But 'for sure' it was so. The barrister looked up at the judge, almost apologetically, as he saw how hoary-headed and woeful an old man was put into the witness-box, when the defence came on, and Nathan Huntroyd was called on for his evidence.
'It is necessary, on behalf of my clients, my lord, that I should pursue a course which, for all other reasons, I deplore.'
'Go on!' said the judge. 'What is right and legal must be done.' But, an old man himself, he covered his quivering mouth with his hand as Nathan, with grey, unmoved face, and solemn, hollow eyes, placing his two hands on each side of the witness-box, prepared to give his answers to questions, the nature of which he was beginning to foresee, but would not shrink from replying to truthfully; 'the very stones' (as he said to himself, with a kind of dulled sense of the Eternal justice) 'rise up against such a sinner.'
'Your name is Nathan Huntroyd, I believe?'
'You live at Nab-End Farm?'
'Do you remember the night of November the twelfth?'
'You were awakened that night by some noise, I believe. What was it?'
The old man's eyes fixed themselves upon his questioner with the look of a creature brought to bay. That look the barrister never forgets. It will haunt him till his dying day.
'It was a throwing-up of stones against our window.'
'Did you hear it at first?'
'What awakened you, then?'
'And then you both heard the stones. Did you hear anything else?'
A long pause. Then a low, clear 'Yes.'
'Our Benjamin asking us for to let him in. She said as it were him, leastways.'
'And you thought it was him, did you not?'
'I told her' (this rime in a louder voice) 'for to get to sleep, and not be thinking that every drunken chap as passed by were our Benjamin, for that he were dead and gone.'
'She said as though she'd heerd our Benjamin, afore she were welly awake, axing for to be let in. But I bade her ne'er heed her dreams, but turn on her other side and get to sleep again.'
'And did she?'