I know something about the case," he continued, "and Torriano is sure of victory, unless the documents attesting the farmer's indebtedness happen to be forgeries. On the other hand, the farmer ought to win unless it can be shewn that the receipts signed by Torriano are forgeries. The farmer has lost in the first court and in the second court, but he has paid the costs and appealed from both, though he is a poor man. If he loses to- morrow he will not only be a ruined man, but be sentenced to penal servitude, while if he wins, Torriano should be sent to the galleys, together with his counsel, who has deserved this fate many times before."
I knew Count Tomes passed for somewhat of a scandal-monger, so his remarks made little impression on me beyond whetting my curiosity. The next day I was one of the first to appear in the court, where I found the bench, plaintiff and defendant, and the barristers, already assembled. The farmer's counsel was an old man who looked honest, while the count's had all the impudence of a practised knave. The count sat beside him, smiling disdainfully, as if he was lowering himself to strive with a miserable peasant whom he had already twice vanquished.
The farmer sat by his wife, his son, and two daughters, and had that air of modest assurance which indicates resignation and a good conscience.
I wondered how such honest people could have lost in two courts; I was sure their cause must be a just one.
They were all poorly clad, and from their downcast eyes and their humble looks I guessed them to be the victims of oppression.
Each barrister could speak for two hours.
The farmer's advocate spoke for thirty minutes, which he occupied by putting in the various receipts bearing the count's signature up to the time when he had dismissed the farmer, because he would not prostitute his daughters to him. He then continued, speaking with calm precision, to point out the anachronisms and contradictions in the count's books (which made his client a debtor), and stated that his client was in a position to prosecute the two forgers who had been employed to compass the ruin of an honest family, whose only crime was poverty. He ended his speech by an appeal for costs in all the suits, and for compensation for loss of time and defamation of character.
The harangue of the count's advocate would have lasted more than two hours if the court had not silenced him. He indulged in a torrent of abuse against the other barrister, the experts in hand-writing, and the peasant, whom he threatened with a speedy consignment to the galleys.
The pleadings would have wearied me if I had been a blind man, but as it was I amused myself by a scrutiny of the various physiognomies before me. My host's face remained smiling and impudent through it all.
The pleadings over, the court was cleared, and we awaited the sentence in the adjoining room.
The peasant and his family sat in a corner apart, sad, sorry, and comfortless, with no friend to speak a consoling word, while the count was surrounded by a courtly throng, who assured him that with such a case he could not possibly lose; but that if the judges did deliver judgment against him he should pay the peasant, and force him to prove the alleged forgery.
I listened in profound silence, sympathising with the countryman rather than my host, whom I believed to be a thorough-paced scoundrel, though I took care not to say so.
Count Torres, who was a deadly foe to all prudence and discretion, asked me my opinion of the case, and I whispered that I thought the count should lose, even if he were in the right, on account of the infamous apostrophes of his counsel, who deserved to have his ears cut off or to stand in the pillory for six months.
"And the client too," said Tomes aloud; but nobody had heard what I had said.
After we had waited for an hour the clerk of the court came in with two papers, one of which he gave to the peasant's counsel and the other to Torriano's. Torriano read it to himself, burst into a loud laugh, and then read it aloud.