Chapter 139989569

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1884-09-13
Page Number2
Word Count3168
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW : 1873 - 1954)
Trove TitleA Witness for the Defence
article text

A Witness for the Defence.


| It bad boen raining steadily all day. It vrns still raining as I stood at tlio comer of a great London thoroughfare on that wretched November night. Tlio gutter babMed, the pavemont glistened, humanity was eblitorated by silk and alpaca ; bui the night- wind was o«ol and fresh to me, after a- ? day spent in a hot police oourt, heavy with the steam of indigo-dyed constables, of damp crimi nals, . and their frowsy friends and foes. I was

xubux buun ubutu. xuacwaswuyx scooa nesna ting, and turning over and over -tho few shillings in my pocket, painfully gathered by a long day's labor as a young and struggling legal practitioner. I thought of my poor littlo sick wife, waiting so longingly for mo in the dull lodgings miles away. I also .considered tho . difficulty of earning two shillings, and the speed with which that sum dis appeared when invested iu cabs. I. thought of tho slowness and uncertainty of tho 'bus, crowdcd insido and out ; again of tho anxious oyes watch ing tho cloek; and my mind waa mado up. I called a hansom from tho rank just opposite to me, and jumped hv after giving my directions to so much of the driver as I could mako out be tween Ms hat and his collar. ? I felt tired, hungry, and depressed, so that I was glad to drop 'off to Bleep, and forget weariness and worry lor a littlo whilo ; and I rpznainod un conscious of bad pavemont and ? rattling rain, blurred glass and . misty lights, until stoppage of tho cab roused me. Thinking tii&t I had i arrived at my journey's ond, and wondering why ? the glass was not raised, I Bmoto lustily on tho roof with my umbrella. But tho voico of tho driver camo down to mo through tho trap in a confidential wheeze ; and at tho samo timo I saw that thero was a great orowd ahead, and heard that there were shouts and confusion, and that my cab was ono of a mass of vehicles all wedged together by some impassable obstacle. 'Pliooman says, sir,' explained- cabby, 'as there's bin a gas main hexploded and blowed up tho street, and nothin' can't get this way. There's bin a many pussons hinjurcd, sir. I'll nave to go round tho back streets.'. ' V All right,' I replied. ' Go ahead, then.' Down slammod the trap ; the cab was turned and manoeuvred out of tuo press; and I eoon found myself traversing a mazo of thoso unknown

byways, linod with frowsy lodging-houses and the dead v;all3 of factories and warehousps, which hem in our main thoroughfares. I was broad awako now, excited by tho nowa of tho accident, speculating on its causes, and thinking of the Kccnes of agony and sorrow to which it had 'jiven rise, and of my own fortunato cacape. Tho hansom I was in was an unusually well-appointed ono for thoso days. It was clean and well cushioned ; it had a mat on tho floor instead of mouldy straw. Against ono sido was a metal match-holder, with a roughened surface ; bearing, is the occasional strcot lamps «h3Wu,d''iii'i},' the tv'ords 11 Please strike a light. Do not injuro the cab.' On each sido of tho door was a small mirror,. placed so as to face tho driver ; so thatl could sco reflected therein, through tho windows, those parts of tho street which tho cab had just passed. Wo careered up ono dreary lano and down another, until, having just turned to tho left into a rather wider thoroughfaro, wo wero onco more brought up. This timo it was a heavy dray dis charging goods at tho back entrance of a ware house. It was drawn up- carelessly, occupying, in fact, moro room should in that ili-liglitcd placo. Wo 'wero almost into it beforo wo could pull up. To avoid accident, tho cabman thresv his horso half across tho road ; aud in this posi tion proceeded gontly but firmly to expostulate with tho drayman after tho manner of cabmen on such occasions. Tho surly fellow would tako no notice, and made no attempt for somo minutes to givo us room. I was too listless to interfere, and lay back in tho cab, leaving tho driver to get over the difficulty as ho might In tho right-hand glass, owing to our slanting position across tho road, I could seo reflected, a few yards off, tho corner of tho street out of which, wo had just turned, with tho lamp which stood thero, and above tho lamp tho name of tho street, which, though reversowiso on tho mirror, I made out to be ' Hauraki Street.' Tho queer name attracted mo ; and I was wondering what colonial experiences could have led tho builder to select it, whon I saw tho reflected figuro of a man come into the light of tho lamp along tho road in which wo stood. 'Ho was yonng, but dishevelled and dirty, and evidently wet through. His clothes, bad as their condition was, looked somehow as if their wearer had been, or ought now to be, in a better condition of body than his present one. He stared desolately about him for a while, as if to seo whothor there could be any other creature so miserable as to bo lounging purposelessly about, without an umbrella, in such a place on such a night. A neighboring clock struck eight, and he seemed to turn his head and listen till the clan gour ceased. Then ho inspected tho sleeves of his coat, as people always do when unduly damp, and drew one of them across his forehead, taking off his hat for tho purpose, as though hot from exercise. Then ho carefully produced from inside the sodden and melancholy hat a folded piece of paper and a clay-pipe. He filled tho pipe from tho paper, restored tho latter to tho hat, and put tho hat on his head. Then ho looked helplessly at the pipe. I guessed that tho poor wretch had noithor a match nor a penny to buy ono. A thought seemed to strike him. Ho looked up suddenly at tho lamp, and I saw his faco for tho first timo. I am an observer of faces. This 0110 was peculiarly short and broad, with a projecting sharp-pointed chin, a long slit of a mouth, turned down at tho comers ; as it was now half open in perplexity, it disclosed a conspicuous blank, caused by tho loss of ono or more front teeth. The oyes wero small and dark, and half-shut with a curious prying air. This was all I noticed ; for now tho man began awkwarkly and laboriously to ' swarm ' tho lamp-post ; evidently with tho view of getting a light for his pipe. Having got about half-way to tho top, he incautiously stopped to rest, and instantly slid to tlio bottom. Patiently ho began all over again ; and I now saw that if ho was not altogether tipsy, he was something very like it. This timo his efforts were so ill-judged that ho cavcd in the melancholy hat against tho cross-bar of the lamp ; and tho last I saw of him as my picture vanished at tho whisking round of tho hansom, ho was blindly waving his pipe at tho lamp glass, his head buried in the wreck of his hat, as he vainly endeavored to introduce tho pipe through tho opening underneath, and beginning onco moro to slide impotently down tho shaft. I got homo without further adventure in time not to bo missed by my little invalid; but for several days tho queer street-name abode with mo, as^ tho merest trifles will haunt an over-anxious mind, such as mine then was. I repeated it to myself hundreds of times; I made it into a sort of idiotic refrain or chorus, with which I kept timo to my own footsteps on my daily tramps. I tried to make rhymes to it, with indifferent success ; and altogether it was somo weeks before tho tiresome phantom fiually departed. Also, I ofton wondored whether tho drenched young man with the crushed hat had managed to get a light after all. Twelve years had gone, aud with them my troubles— such troubles at least as had been with mo at tho time of tho beginning of this story. I was now a prosperous, solicitor, with a large and varied practice, and with a comfortable homo on tho northern heights of London, wherein to cherish the dear wife', no longer sick, who had been my loving companion through tho years of scarcity. Tlio firm's practico was a varied ono; but per sonally I devoted myself to that branch of it in which I had begun my professional life — tho criminal law. In this I had fairly won myself a namo both as an advocate and a lawyer — oiton vory different things— which tended to mako me a richer man every day.' And;I am glad to be able to say that I had added to this roputatiou another yet moro valuable — that of boing an honorable and honest man. Lato ono afternoon, as I sat in my office after a long day at tho Central Criminal Court, making preparations for my homeward flight, a stranger was shown in to me. He sat down and began his story, to which I at first listened with professional attontion and indifference. But I soon became a trifle- more interested ; for this, as it seemed, was a talo of long-dcforred vengeance, falling after the lapse of years upon the right head; such as wo lawyers meot with moro often in sonsational novels— of which wo are particularly fond— than in tho course of practice. Some dozen years ago, ho said, there had lived in a remote suburb of London an elderly maiden lady, named 'Miss Harden, tho only daughtorof a retired merchant skipper, who had got together a v«ry tolerable sum of money for a man of his class. .? Dying, he had left it all, to his only living relative and friend, his daughter ; and on the interest thereof sho man aged to livo comfortably, and oven to save quite a third; of hor income. These moneys she — boing, liko many maiden ladies, of a suspicious nature — always declined to|invest in any way, but kept them in an oaken cupboard in htr sitting room, which cupboard sho was accustomed to glorify for its impregnable nature, when the dftiigsr sho ran by keeping so much money about .tho ho^so. was represented .to her.. Perhaps she was fortified in her obstinacy by the consideration that sho was not entirely alone and unprotected, though most peoplo thought that such protection as she had was worse than none. It , consisted in tho presence of an orphaned nephew, to whose mother, o-n her deathbed, Miss Harden had solemnly promised that she would nover forsake the child. She had beon as good as her word, and better— or worso ; for Bho had treated tho boy with such foolish, indulgenco that ho had grown up as pretty a specimen of tho blackguard as could bo found in the neighborhood. After being expelled from school, he had novor at:, tempted to improve himsolf or earn his own living in any away, except by betting (and losing) and by makingfreo with certain cash of his first and only employer ; which questionable attempt at providing for himself would certainly have led to his being for somo timo providod for by his country, but for tho tears and prayers of his aunt, and tho sacrifico of a round sum out of her hoard ings. l?rom that time ho lived with her, and sho cherished and endured him as only women can. Scolding him when ho camo homo tipsy at night, putting him carofully to bed, and forgiving him the next morning, only to scold and put him to bed again the same evening ; so, with littlo differ ence, went on their lives for years. But at last this loving patience began to wear out, and as the aunt got older and moro irritable, the nephew's littlo ways caused loudor and moro frequent disagreements. Ono morning, things came to a climax. Sho caught him actually try ing to set frco tho imprisoned secrets of tho ? im pregnable cupboard with a pocket-knife. Being interrupted and violently abused— the old lady was very ready with her tongue — ho turned and struck her. Sho did then and there what she had threatened often of late ; ordered him out of the houso, and what was moro, saw him out. Thero was rather ft' ccono at the street-door, and the 1 lookers-on heard him Bay, in answer to her vows i that sho would never Bea him again, ' 'Whon you i

do sco mo again, you'll bo sorry enough;' or words to that effect. Tho last time lio wasknowr to havo been in tho neighborhood was about threo o'clock that afternoon, in a public-houso closo by; which ho used to haunt. Ho was thon in ? a maudlin stato, and was doscanting to a mixed k audionco on his wrongs and on tho meanneBS of his relative. Ho furtlior produced tho knife with which ho had attempted tho cupboard, and was foolish enough to say that ' ho wished ho had tried it on tho old woman herself, and he would too, beforo tho day was out.' ?? All this greatly amused his rough hearers, who supplied him well with liquor, and gonerally kept lliu gamo alive, until tho landlord, becoming jealous of tho reputation of his house, turned him out of doors. From that moment ho disappeared; but tho same night a liorriblo murder was com mitted. Tho aunt had sent hor ono servant out for half an hour. Tho girl left at a quarter to eight, and returned at a quarter past, to find the poor old maid lying dead on tho floor, while tho oak cupboard was open and empty. Screaming with horror, tho girl called in hoty ; and ono among tho crowd that filled tho houso beforo tho . police camo picked up on tlio floor a kni le, which ho identified as tho very ono which tho nephow, whom he Ifnow well, had exhibited that afternoon at tho public-houso. Ho repeated this evidence at tho subsequent inquest, and it was confirmed by many others who know both tho knife and its owner. A verdict of wilful murder was returned against the nephow, whom wo will call John Harden, but who had disappeared completely and entirely. Inquiries, advertisements, and tho minute description of him which was posted, together with tho offer of a heavy government re ward for his ap2)rehension, throughout tho three kingdoms — all wero useless. In tho course of time the affair died out, except as an occasional remembrance in tho minds of thoso who had been most intimately connected with it. But 011 tho afternoon of tho very day on which tho stranger waited upon mo, John Harden had ?' beon recognised in tho Strand by my informant^ Ho woro a -well-fitting suit of dark clothes, and was, in fact, the confidential servant of a retired Australian millionaire, who had como to England to spend tlio rest of his days thero. On being ad dressed by his namo- ho had at first appeared sur prised, though in no way alarmed; but almost immediately admitted that ho had formerly gone by that name, though ho had for years bdrno another. His accuser straightway gave him into tho custody of tho nearest constable, charging him with tho murder. Then indeed the unfortu nato man showed tho greatest horror and disturb ance of mind, protesting that ho did not even know his aunt was dead ; tliat ho had intended to go and seo her as soon as ho could bo relieved from atteudanco on his master ; that ho had oven written to her several times, but having received no reply, had concluded that sho was determined to renounce him entirely. Ho was locked up at tho station for tho night, and was to bo brought beforo the magistrate in tho moi ding ; and my informant's object in coining to me was to instruct mo to prosecute, not being content to leavo that duty to tho polico. He was, it seemed, the very ? man who had, as already stated, picked up the knife with which tho murder had beon committed ; ; and ho oxpressed himself as being extremely anxious that justice should be done, and that the - ; ' murderer should not escape. Ho stated that, though badly enough oft' twelve years ago, he had since succeeded in trade ; that lie knew the poor . . . old lady weli, having done many an odd job about tho [houso for her ; and that ho was willing, for justicG sake, to put his hand as reasonably far ' into his pocket as could bo expected. As he sat opposite to me, his face burning with indignation, - I could not liolp thinking that it would be well for the country and the lawyers if all citizens, were as prompt a3 my new client to spend their means in ? exposing and punishing crime in which they had no individual interest. I said something to this effect, and my remarks were received with a proper prido, tempered my modesty. 'He hoped lie knowed his dooty as a man, and tried to do it.' ' ' It so happened that I was obliged to leave town v noxt day, to attend to certain matters connected with an estate of which I was a trustee, in another . .. part of tho country. I told him this, adding that tho magistrate would certainly send the oase for trial, and that I should bo back in town in timo for the next Old Bailoy sessions, aud that I would be responsible that-the caso should receive proper attention in tho meantime. He merely said that ho left tho matter iu my hands, and that if I said it would bo all right, ho w;as content, and so departed, engaging to attend to have his evidence taken down next morning. I went to tho ofBco of a brother practitioner on whom I knew I could - .rely, handed him my written instructions, re quested him to .take up tho case and work it until my return, and then did what every business man should bo ablo to do — wiped the subject altogether r out of my mind for tho present. (To le Continued,)