Chapter XIII: Committed for Trial
 

After a talk with Luke Marner early in the morning Bill Swinton went down into Marsden to hear if there was any news of Ned. He was soon back again.

"Maister Ned's took," he said as he met Luke, who was standing in front of his cottage awaiting his return before starting out to renew his search for Ned.

"Oi hear, at noine o'clock last noight he walked in to Justice Thompson's and said as he had coom to give hisself up. He said as how he had been over at Painton, where the old woman as was his nurse lives; and directly as the news coom in t' arternoon as Foxey had been killed and he was wanted for the murder, he coom straight over."

"That's roight," Luke said heartily; "that settles it. He must ha' been innocent or he would ha' bolted straight away, and not coom back and gi'd hisself oop to justice. It were only his hiding away as maade oi think as he moight ha' done it. Noo in course he will be able to clear hisself; for if he was over at Painton, why, he couldn't be here--that be plain to any one."

"Oi be aveared, by what t' constable told me, as he won't be able vor to prove it. It seems as how he didn't get to Painton till t' morning. He says as how he were awalking aboot on t' moor all night. So you see he will have hard work vor to clear hisself."

"Then I shall ha' to give meself up," Luke said quietly. "Ye see as it can't do him harm now, 'cause he ha' coom back; and ef oi says as I killed the man they will open the doors, and he will only have to walk out."

"Oi ha' been a-thinking of that as I coom back," Bill said, "and oi doan't think as oi see my way clear through it now. Firstly, if Maister Ned did it, of course he will hold his tongue and leave 'em to prove it, which maybe they can't do; so he has a chance of getting off. But if you cooms forward and owns up, he will be saaf, if he did it, to say so at once; and so you will have done him harm rather nor good. Vor of course he will be able to prove his story better nor you will yourn, and you will have put the noose round his neck instead of getting it put round yourn. In the second place, it be loike enough as they lawyer chaps moight find out as your story weren't true when they coom to twisting me inside owt in the box. They might foind as oi war a-swearing false. There be never no saying. They moight prove as that bit of rope warn't yourn. Polly moight swear as she hadn't been asleep till arter the time you said you went out, and that you never moved as long as she war awake. Lots of unexpected things moight turn up to show it war a lie and then you know they'd drop onto Maister Ned wourse nor ever."

"I doan't believe they would ask you any questions, Bill. When a man cooms and says, 'Oi did a murder,' they doan't want to ask many questions aboot it. They takes it vor granted as he wouldn't be such a fool as vor to say he did it when he didn't. But th' other point be more sarous. It be loike enough as t' lad did it, and if he did he will out wi' it when oi cooms forward. If oi could get to see him first oi moight argue him into holding his tongue by pointing owt that moi loife bain't of so much valley as hissen, also that I owe a debt to his feyther."

"Well, oi ha' been thinking it over," Bill said, "and moi opinion is thou had best hold thy tongue till the trial. Thou can'st be in the court. Ef the jury foind him innocent, of course thou will't hold thy tongue; ef they foind him guilty, then thou'lt get up in the court, and thou'lt say to the joodge, civil loike:

"Moi lord, the gentlemen of the jury have made a mistake; oi am the chap as killed Foxey and oi ha' got a young man here as a witness as moi words is true."

"Perhaps that will be the best way, Bill," Luke said thoughtfully. "Oi ha' bin thinking how we moight get over Polly's evidence agin me; every noight oi will get up regular and coom and ha' a talk wi' you; oi will coom out wi'out my shoes as quiet as a cat, and then if Polly sweers as oi didn't leave t' house that noight thou can'st sweer as she knows nothing at all aboot it, as oi ha' been out every noight to see thee."

So the matter was allowed to stand for the time; and Bill and Luke, when they had had their breakfast, went down again to Marsden to hear what was going on. Marsden was greatly excited. The sensation caused by the news of the murder scarcely exceeded that which was aroused when it was heard that Ned Sankey had come in and given himself up. Some thought that at the examination which was to take place at noon he would at once confess his guilt, while others believed that he would plead not guilty, and would throw the burden of proving that he killed his stepfather upon the prosecution.

All through the previous day Mrs. Mulready had been the central object of interest to the town gossips pending the capture of her son. Dr. Green had been in and out of the house all day. It was known that she had passed from one fit of hysterics into another, and that the doctor was seriously alarmed about her state. Rumors were about that the servants, having been interviewed at the back gate, said, that in the intervals of her screaming and wild laughter she over and over again accused Ned as the murderer of her husband. Dr. Green, when questioned, peremptorily refused to give any information whatever as to his patient's opinions or words.

"The woman is well nigh a fool at the best of times," he said irritably, "and at present she knows no more what she is saying than a baby. Her mind is thrown completely off any little balance that it had and she is to all intents and purposes a lunatic."

Only with his friend Mr. Porson, who called upon him after the first visit had been paid to Mrs. Mulready immediately after her husband's body had been brought in, did Dr. Green discuss in any way what had happened.

"I agree with you, Porson, in doubting whether the poor boy had a hand in this terrible business. We both know, of course, that owing to the bad training and total absence of control when he was a child in India his temper was, when he first came here, very hot and ungovernable. His father often deplored the fact to me, blaming himself as being to a great extent responsible for it, through not having had time to watch and curb him when he was a child; but he was, as you say, an excellently disposed boy, and your testimony to the efforts which he has made to overcome his faults is valuable. But I cannot conceal from you, who are a true friend of the boy's, what I should certainly tell to no one else, namely, that I fear that his mother's evidence will be terribly against him.

"She has always been prejudiced against him. She is a silly, selfish woman. So far as I could judge she cared little for her first husband, who was a thousand times too good for her; but strangely enough she appears to have had something like a real affection for this man Mulready, who, between ourselves, I believe, in spite of his general popularity in the town, to have been a bad fellow. One doesn't like to speak ill of the dead under ordinary circumstances, but his character is an important element in the question before us. Of course among my poorer patients I hear things of which people in general are ignorant, and it is certain that there was no employer in this part of the country so thoroughly and heartily detested by his men."

"I agree with you cordially," Mr. Porson said. "Unfortunately I know from Ned's own lips that the lad hated his stepfather; but I can't bring myself to believe that he has done this."

"I hope not," the doctor said gravely, "I am sure I hope not; but I have been talking with his brother, who is almost heartbroken, poor boy, and he tells me that there was a terrible scene last night. It seems that Mulready was extremely cross and disagreeable at tea time; nothing, however, took place at the table; but after the meal was over, and the two boys were alone together in that little study of theirs, Ned made some disparaging remarks about Mulready. The door, it seems, was open. The man overheard them, and brutally assaulted the boy, and indeed Charlie thought that he was killing him. He rushed in and fetched his mother, who interfered, but not before Ned had been sadly knocked about. Mulready then drove off to his factory, and Ned, who seems to have been half stunned, went out almost without saying a word, and, as you know, hasn't been heard of since.

"It certainly looks very dark against him. You and I, knowing the boy, and liking him, may have our doubts, but the facts are terribly against him, and unless he is absolutely in the position to prove an alibi, I fear that it will go hard with him."

"I cannot believe it," Mr. Porson said, "although I admit that the facts are terribly against him. Pray, if you get an opportunity urge upon his mother that her talk will do Ned horrible damage and may cost him his life. I shall at once go and instruct Wakefield to appear for him, if he is taken, and to obtain the best professional assistance for his defense. I feel completely unhinged by the news, the boy has been such a favorite of mine ever since I came here; he has fought hard against his faults, and had the makings of a very fine character in him. God grant that he may be able to clear himself of this terrible accusation!"

Ned's first examination was held on the morning after he had given himself up, before Mr. Simmonds and Mr. Thompson. The sitting was a private one. The man who first found Mr. Mulready's body testified to the fact that a rope had been laid across the road. Constable Williams proved that when he arrived upon the spot nothing had been touched. Man and horse lay where they had fallen, the gig was broken in pieces, a strong rope was stretched across the road. He said that on taking the news to Mrs. Mulready he had learned from the servants that the prisoner had not slept at home that night, and that there had been a serious quarrel between him and the deceased the previous evening.

After hearing this evidence Ned was asked if he was in a position to account for the time which had elapsed between his leaving home and his arrival at his nurse's cottage.

He replied that he could only say that he had been wandering on the moor.

The case was remanded for a week, as the evidence of Mrs. Mulready and the others in the house would be necessary, and it was felt that a mother could not be called upon to testify against her son with her husband lying dead in the house.

"I am sorry indeed to see you in this position," Mr. Simmonds said to Ned. "My friendship for your late father, and I may say for yourself, makes the position doubly painful to me, but I can only do my duty. I should advise you to say nothing at this period of the proceedings; but if there is anything which you think of importance to say, and which will give another complexion to the case, I am ready to hear it."

"I have nothing to say, sir," Ned said quietly, "except that I am wholly innocent of the affair. As you may see by my face I was brutally beaten by my stepfather on the evening before his death. I went out of the house scarce knowing what I was doing. I had no fixed intention of going anywhere or of doing anything, I simply wanted to get away from home. I went on to the moors and wandered about, I suppose for some hours. Then I threw myself down under the shelter of a pile of stones and lay there awake till it was morning. Then I determined to go to the house of my old nurse and to stop there until I was fit to be seen. In the afternoon I heard what had taken place here, and that I was accused of the murder, and I at once came over here and gave myself up."

"As you are not in a position to prove what you state," Mr. Simmonds said, "we have nothing to do but to remand the case until this day week. I may say that I have received a letter from Dr. Green saying that he and Mr. Porson are ready to become your bail to any amount; but we could not think of accepting bail in a charge of murder."

Ned bowed and followed the constable without a word to the cells. His appearance had not been calculated to create a favorable impression. His clothes were stained and muddy; his lips were swollen, his eyes were discolored and so puffed that he could scarcely see between the lids, his forehead was bruised and cut in several places. He had passed two sleepless nights; his voice had lost its clearness of ring and was low and husky. Mr. Simmonds shook his head to his fellow magistrate.

"I am afraid it's a bad case, Thompson, but the lad has been terribly ill used, there is no doubt about that. It's a thousand pities he takes up the line of denying it altogether. If he were to say, what is no doubt the truth, that having been brutally beaten he put the rope across the road intending to punish and even injure his stepfather, but without any intention of killing him, I think under the circumstances of extreme provocation, and what interest we could bring to bear on the matter, he would get off the capital punishment, for the jury would be sure to recommend him to mercy. I shall privately let Green and Porson, who are evidently acting as his friends in the matter, know that I think it would be far better for him to tell the truth and throw himself on the mercy of the crown."

"They may not find him guilty," Mr. Thompson said. "The jury will see that he received very strong provocation; and after all, the evidence is, so far as we know at present, wholly circumstantial, and unless the prosecution can bring home to him the possession of the rope, it is likely enough they will give him the benefit of the doubt."

"His life is ruined anyhow," Mr. Simmonds said. "Poor lad! poor lad! Another fortnight and I was going to apply for a commission for him. I wish to heavens I had done so at Christmas, and then all this misery would have been spared."

As soon as Ned had been led back to the cell Mr. Porson obtained permission to visit him. He found him in a strange humor.

"Well, my poor boy," he began, "this is a terrible business."

"Who do you mean it is a terrible business for, Mr. Porson, me or him?"

Ned spoke in a hard unnatural voice, without the slightest tone of trouble or emotion. Mr. Porson perceived at once that his nerves were brought up to such a state of tension by the events of the preceding forty-eight hours that he was scarce responsible for what he was saying.

"I think I meant for you, Ned. I cannot pretend to have any feeling for the man who is dead, especially when I look at your face."

"Yes, it is not a nice position for me," Ned said coldly, "just at the age of seventeen to be suspected of the murder of one's stepfather, and such a nice stepfather too, such a popular man in the town! And not only suspected, but with a good chance of being hung for it."

"Ned, my dear boy," Mr. Porson said kindly, "don't talk in that way. You know that we, your friends, are sure that you did not do it."

"Are you quite sure, sir?" Ned said. "I am not quite sure myself. I know I should have done it if I had had the chance. I thought over all sorts of ways in which I might kill him, and I wouldn't quite swear that I did not think of this plan and carry it out, though it doesn't quite seem to me that I did. I have no very definite idea what happened that night, and certainly could give but a vague account of myself from the time I left the house till next morning, when I found myself lying stiff and half frozen on the moor. Anyhow, whether I killed him or not it's all the same. I should have done so if I could. And if some one else has saved me the trouble I suppose I ought to feel obliged to him."

Mr. Porson saw that in Ned's present state it was useless to talk to him. Two nights without sleep, together with the intense excitement he had gone through, had worked his brain to such a state of tension that he was not responsible for what he was saying. Further conversation would do him harm rather than good. What he required was rest and, if possible, sleep. Mr. Porson therefore only said quietly:

"We will not talk about it now, Ned; your brain is over excited with all you have gone through. What you want now is rest and sleep."

"I don't feel sleepy, Mr. Porson. I don't feel as if I should ever get to sleep again. I don't look like it, do I?"

"No, Ned, I don't think you do at present; but I wish you did, my boy. Well, remember that we, your old friends, all believe you innocent of this thing, and that we will spare no pains to prove it to the world. I see," he said, looking at the table, "that you have not touched your breakfast. I am not surprised that you could not eat it. I will see that you have a cup of really good tea sent you in."

"No," Ned said with a laugh which it pained Mr. Porson to hear, "I have not eaten since I had tea at home. It was only the day before yesterday, but it seems a year."

On leaving the cell Mr. Porson went to Dr. Green, who lived only three or four doors away, told him of the state in which he had found Ned, and begged him to give him a strong and, as far as possible, tasteless sedative, and to put it in a cup of tea.

"Yes, that will be the best thing," the doctor replied. "I had better not go and see him, for talking will do him harm rather than good. We shall be having him on our hands with brain fever if this goes on. I will go round with the tea myself to the head constable and tell him that no one must on any account be permitted to see Ned, and that rest and quiet are absolutely necessary for him. I will put a strong dose of opium into the tea."

Ten minutes later Dr. Green called upon the chief constable and told him that he feared from what he had heard from Mr. Porson that Ned was in a very critical state, and that unless he got rest and sleep he would probably have an attack of brain fever, even if his mind did not give way altogether.

"I was intending to have him removed at once," the officer said, "to a comfortable room at my own house. He was only placed where he is temporarily. I exchanged a few words with him after the examination and was struck myself with the strangeness of his tone. Won't you see him?"

"I think that any talk is bad for him," the doctor said. "I have put a strong dose of opium in this tea, and I hope it will send him off to sleep. When he recovers I will see him."

"I think, doctor," the constable said significantly, "it would be a good thing if you were to see him at once. You see, if things go against him, and between ourselves the case is a very ugly one, if you could get in the box and say that you saw him here, and that, in your opinion, his mind was shaken, and that as likely as not he had not been responsible for his actions from the time he left his mother's house, it might save his life."

"That is a capital idea," Dr. Green said, "and Porson's evidence would back mine. Yes, I will go in and see him even if my visit does do him harm."

"I will move him into his new quarters first," the officer said; "then if he drinks the tea he may, if he feels sleepy, throw himself on the bed and go off. He will be quiet and undisturbed there."

Two or three minutes later the doctor was shown into a comfortable room. A fire was burning brightly, and the tea was placed on a little tray with a new roll and a pat of butter.

Ned's mood had somewhat changed. He received the doctor with a boisterous laugh.

"How are you, doctor? Here I am, you see, monarch of all I survey. This is the first time you have visited me in a room which I could consider entirely my own. Not a bad place either."

"I hope you will not be here long, Ned," Dr. Green said, humoring him. "We shall all do our best to get you out as soon as we can."

"I don't think your trying will be of much use, doctor; but what's the odds as long as you are happy!"

"That's right, my boy, nothing like looking at matters cheerfully. You know, lad, how warmly all your old friends are with you. Would you like me to bring Charlie next time I come?"

"No, no, doctor," Ned said almost with a cry. "No. I have thought it over, and Charlie must not see me. It will do him harm and I shall break down. I shall have to see him at the trial--of course he must be there--that will be bad enough."

"Very well," the doctor said quietly, "just as you like, Ned. I shall be seeing you every day, and will give him news of you. I am going to see him now."

"Tell him I am well and comfortable and jolly," Ned said recklessly.

"I will tell him you are comfortable, Ned, and I should like to tell him that you had eaten your breakfast."

"Oh, yes! Tell him that. Say I ate it voraciously." And he swallowed down the cup of tea and took a bite at the roll.

"I will tell him," Dr. Green said. "I will come in again this evening, and will perhaps bring in with me a little medicine. You will be all the better for a soothing draught."

"I want no draughts," Ned said. "Why should I? I am as right as ninepence."

"Very well. We will see," the doctor said. "Now I must be going my rounds."

As soon as he had gone Ned began pacing up and down the room, as he had done the whole of the past night without intermission. Gradually, however, the powerful narcotic began to take effect. His walk became slower, his head began to droop, and at last he stumbled toward the bed in the corner of the room, threw himself heavily down, and was almost instantly sound asleep. Five minutes later the door opened quietly and Dr. Green entered.

He had been listening outside the door, had noticed the change in the character of Ned's walk, and having heard the fall upon the bed, and had no fear of his rousing himself at his entrance. The boy was lying across the bed, and the doctor, who was a powerful man, lifted him gently and laid him with his head upon the pillow. He felt his pulse, and lifted his eyelid.

"It was a strong dose," he said to himself, "far stronger than I should have dared give him at any other time, but nothing less would have acted, with his brain in such an excited state. I must keep in the town today and look in from time to time and see how he is going on. It may be that I shall have to take steps to rouse him."

At the next visit Dr. Green looked somewhat anxious as he listened to the boy's breathing and saw how strongly he was under the influence of the narcotic.

"Under any other circumstances," he said to the chief constable, who had entered the room with him, "I should take strong measures to arouse him at once, but as it is I will risk it. I know it is a risk both for him and me, for a nice scrape I should get in if he slipped through my fingers; but unless he gets sleep I believe his brain will go, and anything is better than that."

"Yes, poor lad," the officer said. "When I look at his face I confess my sympathies are all with him rather than with the man he killed."

"I don't think he killed him," the doctor said quietly. "I am almost sure he didn't."

"You don't say so!" the chief constable said, surprised. "I had not the least doubt about it."

"No. Nobody seems to have the least doubt about it," the doctor said bitterly. "I am almost sure that he had nothing to do with it; but if he did it it was when he was in a state of such passion that he was practically irresponsible for his actions. At any rate, I am prepared to swear that his mind is unhinged at present. I will go back now and fetch two or three books and will then sit by him. He needs watching."

For several hours the doctor sat reading by Ned's bedside. From time to time he leaned over the lad, listened to his breathing, felt his pulse, and occasionally lifted his eyelid. After one of these examinations, late in the afternoon, he rose with a sigh of relief, pulled down the blinds, gently drew the curtains, and then, taking his books, went down and noiselessly closed the door after him.

"Thank God! he will do now," he said to the chief constable; "but it has been a very near squeak, and I thought several times I should have to take immediate steps to wake him. However, the effects are passing off, and he will soon be in a natural sleep. Pray let the house be kept as quiet as possible, and let no one go near him. The chances are he will sleep quietly till morning."

The doctor called again the last thing that evening, but was told that no stir had been heard in Ned's room, and the same report met him when he came again next morning.

"That is capital," he said. "Let him sleep on. He has a long arrears to make up. I shall not be going out today; please send in directly he wakes."

"Very well," the officer replied. "I will put a man outside his door, and the moment a move is heard I will let you know."