I decided to continue with the story and it is pretty much along the same vein. I have not dwelt on court procedures and legal plotting but tried to keep the narrative fairly straightforward. It is about John and Anna and what they are going through. Hope you all like it and please review it if you do (or do not for that matter).
The last day of the court proceedings was upon them. The last four days had been long, hard days of argument and counter arguments. Witnesses called, evidence produced, theories propounded, theories denounced. John looked around the courtroom trying to gauge the mood of the audience. As the week went on, more and more people seemed to be attending the trial and it seemed like him were waiting, for the final verdict. He wondered who they were. Perhaps they just wanted to come and see a murderer being sentenced to death. They were looking for a form of entertainment. There were definitely some people from the press, who seemed to be taking notes. He could see it now, the headlines, ' Earl's valet hangs' or ' Wife killer valet to hang'. Perhaps there would be a headline saying. ' Earl's valet acquitted of murder' or maybe 'Freed valet reunited with new wife'. God, what he would do to make that happen. Then of course there was his Anna and the rest of them from Downton. He could count on the Earl, Mr Matthew Crawley, Lady Mary and Mrs. Crawley, who were steadfast in their support as they sat in the court benches. Others came and went but they came everyday and stayed all day. He was grateful they were there to support him, but more importantly to support Anna. Today again it had been pouring with rain all morning, he could hear the thunder and see flashes of lightning through the windows. Rain was lashing into the court through a partly opened window, which flapped loudly back and forth. A court official summoned an orderly to shut the offending opening before the judge commenced proceedings for the day.
John sat through the proceedings trying to be composed and steady of thought, trying to keep the flicker of hope alive in himself. He wondered how the jury was taking it all in. His lawyer, Murray had done a commendable job pulling together all manner of circumstantial evidence and favourable witnesses who portrayed a clear picture of Vera's bitterness, cunning and conniving nature. They had also gathered together a number of letters and correspondence of Vera, showing her scheming abilities and her innate hate of him. She had a number of enemies and she was involved in many a shady caper. It was not just John, but many others of far dubious backgrounds who had wanted to see the back of her. While, it was true that John had bought the rat poison which had killed Vera, there was no real evidence that he had made her take the poison. But he had been the last person who had seen her alive or at least the last person they had known who had seen her alive.
Mr. Murray was painting a compelling picture but the prosecution also threw in their rebuttals and reprisals. They questioned John's motives, his desperation and his past life in prison. They used the evidence presented by Mr. Murray against John. The drew the attention of the jury to his young and pretty wife, Anna whom he had married soon after Vera's death. Surely, the prosecutor argued, any man would want to be rid of Vera, especially when there was a kind and pretty woman like Anna waiting for him patiently. Even the most steady of men would be driven to madness by Vera and John already had a chequered past. John felt his spirits and resolve weaken at their attacks. He did not know how the jury would react. He didn't know if he they were going to be convinced of his innocence. Yes, Vera had infuriated him immensely and he wished she was gone from his life. At this point, he could not care less if she was no more. He knew that and so did the jury. Perhaps it was easy to believe that he had killed her. Would they really find him innocent? The thought filled him with a sudden burst of anger, anger towards Vera, this justice system, this court, this judge and these people gathered here. Anna did not deserve this, her new bridal glow replaced by this engulfing gloom. Hell, he did not deserve it either. He deserved to spend his life free and happy with his Anna. He felt very angry, especially at himself for allowing this to happen to Anna. She was innocent and blameless, she deserved happiness. By god, if he ever got out of here alive, he would do everything to make her happy.
He tried to look ahead and pay attention to the proceedings, but invariably his eyes were drawn back towards Anna. This last week, she looked more vulnerable, more weaker, more ill than ever. Looking at the concerned faces of Lady Mary and Mrs. Crawley, he knew she was suffering physically. He could not talk to her, they would not let him. Through his lawyer, Murray he enquired about her. She was ill, she had a fever, some weakness but she would not stay away. The doctors had advised her to rest, but she would not listen to anyone. Since then he could no longer pay full heed to the legal arguments and ripostes. His attention was often consumed by her. He asked Murray to urge her to take some rest, and stay away. But she was not to be dissuaded. He tried to catch her eyes and plead with her. But she looked at him and smiled, her eyes were however red rimmed and he could almost feel her burning skin from metres away. He was scared, he tried to silently appeal to Lady Mary and Mrs. Crawley to lead her away and make her rest. But Anna would not stay away. She sat there every day, all day long, her face a picture of anguish and worry, her fingers twirling the rosary beads enclosed in her palms.
After all this time, finally the moment had arrived. The judge had instructed the foreman of the jury to deliver their verdict. A verdict on both their lives. A cold chill ran through his heart. He looked over to Anna. She was visibly shaking, her hands gripped the railing in front, he could see the whites of her knuckles. As the foreman rose to deliver his verdict, it seemed that time had stopped. Time seemed to slow down as she fell forward and her forehead struck the railing in front. She collapsed. He tried to rush towards her but the guards blocked his path. A small crowd had formed around her and he craned his neck to look into it, desperate to see how she was. He was stricken and the Earl tried to catch his eye and calm him. Mrs. Crawley took charge and cleared the crowd. He could see Anna at last. She was slowly coming around but she had a huge gash on her forehead and the judge ordered her to be taken away. John called out her name, but she was could not hear him. They carried her out of the courtroom amidst all the hub hub with lady Mary and Mrs. Crawley accompanying her. Mrs. Crawley looked up at him and saw his pleading eyes and smiled at him and tried to reassure him. Tears were forming in eyes, he just wanted her to be safe.
Finally, the judge banged his gavel and permitted the proceedings to continue. But his mind was no longer in the courtroom, it was with her. The foreman of the jury got up and delivered their verdict. It was all a blur to him. He did not hear the verdict of the jury, he did not hear the audience's roar. The judge ordered him to stand up but he didn't hear it. The guards nudged him and he stood up slowly to hear the verdict, "Not guilty." It didn't register. He stood there for a few seconds. Finally it dawned on him, he was innocent and free to go. Free to join his Anna. Lord Grantham and Mr. Crawley rushed towards him, hugged him and patted his back. He had to find Anna, he had to rush to her. He hurried out of the court room to try and find her. He called out her name, staggered around in a panic in the courtroom corridors. A kindly official, led him towards the waiting room, where Anna was being tended to. As he made his way towards her, she seemed to stir and get up. Somehow she mustered enough strength to get up and rush to him. She stumbled into his arms, and finally he could hold her. The relief was overwhelming, an end to a nightmare of two long years. Kisses, tears followed as she burrowed into him and he kissed her hair, her cheeks, her lips and held her close. He could feel her frame had shrunk and her skin was burning. He tightened his grip around her never wanting to let go. She was suffering and as ill as he had feared. She was nearly slipping through his arms. He was struggling without his cane. He tried to right her in his arms and led her to a nearby bench. He took her in both arms and seated her across his lap. He wanted her as close to him as possible. She was crying long, heaving sobs and he tried to calm her. "I'm here. I am here, darling. I am not going anywhere. I'm all yours now." He was crying too, tears he had supressed through nearly two years of incarceration finally being shed. He held her tight against him and let her cry out all the unshed tears and unsaid miseries. She had been strong and steadfast for him and now he could be there for her. Finally her tears subsided and she lay in his arms tired and all spent out. She caressed his face with her hands and he saw a real smile. A smile which reached her eyes and made them sparkle. A smile which reminded him of their wedding day. She kissed him tenderly on the lips and exclaimed, "John, we are free... At last...".