Chapter 70804693

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1884-09-09
Page Number1
Word Count3052
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe North Eastern Ensign (Benalla, Vic. : 1872 - 1938)
Trove TitleA Witness for the Defence
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A Witness for tile Defence. SI TunRa oHAPTOas.-cagLren I. IT had been raining steadily all day. -It was still raining as I steod at the corner of a great London thoroughfare on that wretched November night. The gUtter babbled, the pavement glistonaed, humanity waa obliterated by silk and alpaca; but the night-wind was cool and fresh to me, after a day spent in a hot police court, heavy with the ateam of Iadigo-dyed constables, of damp oerimi nala, and their froway friends and foes. I was later than usual. That was why I stood hesita ting, and turning over and over the few shillings in my pocket, painfully gathered by a long day's labor as a young and strugglin legal practitioner. I thought of my poor little sink wife, waiting so longingly for me in the dull lodgings miles away. I also considered the diffiualty of earning two shillings, and the speed with which that sum dis appeared when invested in cabs. I thought of the slowness and uncertainty of the 'bus, crowded inside and out; again of the anxeous eyes watch. ing the clock; and my mind was made up. I called a hansom from the rank just opposlte to mo, and jumped in, alter giving my directions to so much of the driver as I could make out be twen his hat and his collar. I felt tired, hungry, and depressed, so that I was glad to drop offto sleep, and forget weariness and worry for a little while; and I rcmained un conscious of bad pavement and rattling rain, blurred glass and misty lights, until the stoppage of the cab roused me. Thinking that 1 had arrived at my jaournoy's end, and wondering why the glass was not raised, I smote lustily on the roof with my umbrella. But the voice of the lriver camo doirn to me through the trap in a confldontial wheeze; and at the same time I sawe that there was a great crowd ahead, and heard that there were shouts and confusion, and that my cab was one of a mass of vehicles all wedged togother by some impassable obstacle. ' Pliceman says, sir," explained cabby; "as ,ere's-btn a gas main hexploded and blowed up the street, and nothin' can't got this way. There's bin amany pussona hinjured, sir. I'll, have to go round thie back streets.' . ? J' - ,," All right," I replied. :",Go;lahead, then."g ,Downsalammod thb trap,; the cab was horned eadt ma ueavred, out of the press; ?nd 'I soon fouhd'ioeyolt trairealga ma?l oa those unknown

byways, lined with froway lodging'hooses and the dead walls of factories and warehouses, which hem in our main thoroughfares. I was broad awake now, excited by the news of the accident. speculating on its causes, and thinking of the saensa of agony and sorrow to which it had liven rise, and of my own fortunate escape. Th. hansom I was in was an unusually well-appointed one for those days. It was clean and well cushioned; it had a mat on the floor instead of mlouldy straw. Against one side was a metal saatch-holder, with a roughened surface; hearing as the occasional street lamps showedl me, thl words " Please strike a light. Do not inljure tle cab." On each side of the door was a small mirror, placed so as to face the driver; so that 1 could see reflected therein, through the windowsa those parts of the street which the cab had just passed. We careered sop one dreary lane anod down another, until, having iust turned to the left into a rather wider thoroughfare, we were oftcn more brought up. This time it' wris a henavy dray dis charging goods at the back entrance of a ware houseo. It was drawn up camleasly, occupying, in tacet, more room than it should in that illlighted place. We were almost into it before we could poll up. To avoid accident,,the cabman throw his horse half across the road; and in this posi tinu proceeded gently but firmly to expostulate with the drayman after tl1 'manner of cabmen on such occasions. The surly fellow would take no notice, and made no attempt for some minutes to give us room. I was too listless to interfere, and lay back in the cab, leaving the driver to get over the difficulty as lie might In the right-hand glass, owing to our slanting position across the road, I could see.reflected, a tow yards off, the corner of the street out of which we had just turned, with the lamp which stood there, and above the lamp the name of the street, which, though reverseowis on tile mirror, I mnds not to be "tanralki Street." The queer nanom attracted me; and I was wondering what colonial experiences could have led the builder to select it, when I saw. the reflected figure of a man come into the light of the lamp along the road in which we stood. He was young, ibut dilhevelled and dirty, and evidently wet through. His clothes, had as their condition was, looked somehow as if their wearer had been, or ought now to be, ill a better condition of body than his present one. He stared desolately about him for a while, as if to see wlitlher there could be any other creature so miserable as to be.lounging purposelessly about, without an umbrella, in such a placo on such a night. A neighboring clock struck eight, and he seemed to turn his head and listen till the clan gour. ceased. Then he inspected the sleeves of his coat, as people always do when unduly damp, and drew one of them across his forehead, takhilg off his hat for the purpose, as though hot' from exercise. Then he carefully produced from inside the sodden and melancholy hat a folded piece of paper and a clay-pipe. He filled thel pipe from the paper, restored the latter to the hat, and put the hat on his head. Then he looked helplessly at the pipe. I guessed that the poorwretch had neither a mat e nor a penny to bay one.. A thouglht seamed to strikoehim. He looked, up suddenly at tlhe lamp, and I saw hid fae .for the frst tim. Iam an observer'of fades. 'Tfiisaiie was peculiarly hodrt and broad, witl"a projeting sharppotnted chi, a long slit of a mounth trneood down at the codroers; as it was now half opee ini perplexity, it discloed 'a conspinuouns'blunk,' caused by the loss ofone ar more frontteeth. Theio eyes were small and' dark; and halflshut with.a' unrious prying air.. This was all ILnoticed; for now tho man began awkwarkly and laboriously i to "swarm" the lamp-post ; evidently. with r the view of getting, a tlight foo his pipe.1 Having got about l half-way to the top'' he incautioualy stopped ton rest, nd Instantly stod to the bottom. Patiently o 'began all 'over again; e and I now saw that if he was not altogether tipsy, he was something very like it. This time his efforts were so ill-judged that heo caved in the p melancholy hat against the cross-bar, of the lamp; sad the last I saw of him as my picture i vanisbed at tile whisking round of the hansom, he was blindly waving hi pipe at' tho lamp.. glass, his head buried in the wreck of his hat, as hovainly endeavo to lntrduco thoe pi throukgh lio oihE nifl rnesith, a' bining once'more i to elide impotently down the shaft. ' -I got'homo without further adveonture in time E not to be missed by my 'little'invalid; but for b several days the queer street-name abode with me, as the merest trifles will haunt an over-anxious n mind, such as mine then was. I repeated it ii to myself hundreds of times; I made it into a d sort of idiotic refrain or chorus, with which I kept t time to my own footsteps on my daily tramps. 1 tried to make rhymes to it, witllh indifferent success; and altogether it was some weeks before the tiresome phantom finally departed. Also, I often wondered whether the drenched young man with the crushed lhat had minagdd to get a light after all. T?elre years had gone, and' with'them my troubles-such tmubles at least as had been with me at the time of the beginning of this story. I was now a prosperous solicitor, with a large and varied practie, and with a comfortable'homo:on' the northern heights of London, wherein to heridsh the dear wife, no longer sink,.who had been'my a loving companion through the years of scarcity. t The firm's practice was a varied one; but per. sonally I devoted myself to that branch of it in' a which I had begun my professional 'life--the j criminal law. In this I had fairly won myself an nimo both as 0n advocate' and a lairyer-bIft on' :very different things-which tended to make me a ricer man evoery day. And I-am glad'to be' able tosay that I had this.reputation; another yet moro valuable--that of, being an, g honorable and honest man. . SLatle one afternoon, as I satin my bflco afler a long day at the Central Criminal Court, making preparations for my lomeward light, a stranger was shown in to me. He sat down and began ois story, to which I at first listened with professional attention and indifference. ' But lsoon became a trifle more interested; for this, a it seemed, was a tale of long-deferred vengeance, falling after the lapse of years upon the right head; such as we lawyers meet with. more often in sensational novels--f which we are particularly fend--than' in the course of practice. Bome doeen years ago, he said, there had lived in a remote suburb of London an elderly maiden lady, named Miss Harden, the only diughiar of a retired marchant skipper, who hoad got together a vary tolerable sum of monoy fora man of lls class. Dying, he had left it all to his only living relative and friend, his daughter I and an the interest thereof she man aged to live comfortably, and even to save quite a third of. hier income. Those moneys she being, like many maiden ladies, of a suspicious nature-always declined toeinvest in any way, but kept them in an oaken cupboard in hliar sitting. room, which cupboard she was accustomed to glorify for its impregnable nature, when thei danger she ran by keeping so much money about a the house was represented to her. Perhaps sho was fortified in her obstinacy by the consideration that she was not entirely alone and unprotected,s though most people thought that such protection as she had was worse than none. It consisted in the presence of an orphaned nephew, to whose mother, on her deathbed, bitia Harden had a solemnly promised that she would never forsake h the child. She had been as good an her word, ft and better-or worse ; for she had treated the boy with such foolish indulgence that he had grown up as pretty a specimen of the blackgoard as could hbe found in the neighborhood. Alter being expelled from school, he had never at tempted to improve himself or earn his own living in any away, except by betting (and losing) and by makingfree withll certaincash of hiafirstand Y country, hut forihe tears and prayers of his aunt, and the sacrifice of a round sum out of er hoard- r ings. From that time he lived with her, and she hehotished and endured him as only women can. Scolding him wthen he came home tipsy at night, putting him carefully to bed, and forgiving him the next morning, only to scold and pat him to bed again the same evanng; so, with little 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 more irritable, d the nophew's little ways causedilouder and more 0 frequont disagreements. One morning, ttiings 0' came to a oliman. ''efcaoght him actually ivy. ing to set free ths impiioned seerets of the in. pregnable cupboard wiato a packct-knilo. eoing go interrupted and violently aaused-the old lady II 008 very ready with her tongu--he turned asod sruck her. bhe did then and there what she had threatened often of late; ordered him out of the house, and what was more, saw him out, There was rather a sceneo at the street-door, and the o lookeraon heard him 'say, in answer to her 'vows i that 'shen w duld never eeo him agan, When ynou I

do oosee reo again, you'll be sorry enouglh i" 'or words to that effect. Theo last timurho'waeseiowr to have been mi the neighborhood was about three o'clock that afternoon, in a public.houso close by, which he used to haunt: He was then, in a maudlin state, and was descanting to a mixed .ldionce on his wrongs and on the meanless ef his relative. He further produced the bnie with which he had attempted the cupboard, and was oolish onough to say that "he wished he had tried it on the old woman herself, and ho' would too, leforo the day was out," All this greatly amused his rough hearers, who supplied hun well with liquor, and generally kept the game alive, until the landlord,'becoming jealous of tile reputation of his house, turne him out of doors. l'rom that moment he disappeared; but the same night a horrible murder was com gmitted. The aunt had sent her one servant out for half an hour. The girl left at a quarter. to eight, and returned-at a quarter past, to find the poor old maid lying dead on the floor, while the oak cupboard was open and 'empty. Soreaming with horror, the girl called in help ; and one among the crowd that filled the house before: the police came picked up an the floos a;knife, which. he identified as the very one which the nephew, whom he knoew well, had exhibited that afternoon at the public-house. He repeated this evide?cd at the subsequent inquest, and it was confirmed by many others who knew both the knife and its owner. A verdict of wilful inurder was returned against the nephew, whom wre will call uJohn Harden, but who had disappeared completely and untirely. tInquiries, advertisements, andithe minute description of him which was posted, together with the offer of a heavy government roe. ward for his apprehension, throughout the three kingdoas--all were useless. In the course of time the afirir died out, except as an occasional rememb'irance in the minds of those who had been most intimately connected with it. But on the afternoon of the very day on which tile stranger waited upon me, John Harden had been recoguised in the Strand by my inlormant. IHe wore a well-fitting suit of dark clothes,, and was, in fact, the confidential servant of a retired Australian millionaire, who had come to England to spend the rest of his days there. On being ad. dressed by his name, he had at first appeared sour prised, though in no way alarmed; hut almost immediately admitted that he had formerly gone by that name, though he had for years borne another. His accuser straightway gave him into the custody of the nearest constable, charging him with thbo murder. Then indeed the unfortu 'nate man showed the greatest horror and disturb ance of, mind, protesting that he did not even know his aunt was dead ; that he had intended to go and see her as he could be relieved from attendance on hId master ; that he had even written to her several times, but having received no reply, 'had' concluded that she was determined to renounce hint entirely. He was locked up at the station for' the night, and was to' he brought before the' magistrate in; the me sing; and my informant's object in coming to me was to instruct me to prosecute, rnot being content to leave that ultyto the police., He was, It seemed, the very mn.kho had, as already stated, picked,up the minkncwitl which the murder had been committed; and ,h" expressed himself as being 'extremely 'hhniuou that justice should he' dohe, and that the 'murdereash'liuld' not escape. He stated, that, thoigh badly enough off twelve years ago, he had since succeeded in trade; that he knew the poor old lady well,' having done many an odd job about the lhouse for her; and that he was willing, for justice sake, to put his hand as reasonably far into his pocket as could be expected. As he sat opposite to me, his face burning with indignation, I could not help thinking that it would be wellfor the country and the lawyers if all citizens were as prompt as my new cliont 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 pride, tempered my modesty. "He hoped he knowed his dooty as a man, and tried to do it." It so happened that I was obliged to no!h day, '.l't , t e "_ crtair netarec connested with an o'veto of wbrch i was a trutee, ine a?otler orĂ½, t ?i?,: oi:tity, I told hint thni. addinr shato..t the mngistra:. erold certainloy eend the easo flot trial, and that 1 should be back no town in- ime: for the next Old Bailey sessions, and that I gop.d be responsible that the case should receive pelr attention in the meantime. He merely said that he left the matter in my hands, and that if I said it would be all right, he was content, nnd lo departed, engaging to attend to have his evidenae taken down next morning. 1 went to the ofeic of a brother practitioner on whom I know I could rely, handed him my written instructions, re quested him to take up tie case and work It until my return, and then did what overy business man should be able to do-wiped the subject altogether out of my mind for the present. (To be Continued.)