Through the Fray by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIV: Committed for Trial
It was not until after midday that the message arrived, and Dr. Green at once went in. Ned was sitting on the side of the bed, a constable having come off with the message as soon as he heard him make the first move.
"Well, Ned, how are you now?" Dr. Green asked cheerfully as he went to the window and drew back the curtains. "Had a good sleep, my boy, and feel all the better for it, I hope."
"Yes, I think I have been asleep," Ned said in a far more natural voice than that of the previous day. "How did the curtains get drawn?"
"I drew them, Ned. I looked in in the afternoon, and found you fast asleep, so I darkened the room."
"Why, what time is it now?" Ned asked.
"Half past twelve, Ned."
"Half past twelve! Why, how can that be?"
"Why, my boy, you have had twenty-two hours' sleep."
Ned gave an exclamation of astonishment.
"You had two nights' arrears to make up for, and nature is not to be outraged in that way with impunity. I am very thankful that you had a good night, for I was really anxious about you yesterday."
"I feel rather heavy and stupid now," Ned said, "but I am all the better for my sleep.
"Let me think," he began, looking round the room, for up till now remembrance of the past had not come back again, "what am I doing here? Oh! I remember now."
"You are here, my boy, on a charge of which I have no doubt we shall prove you innocent. Of course Porson and I and all your friends know you are innocent, but we have got to prove it to the world, and we shall want all your wits to help us. But we needn't talk about that now. The first thing for you to do is to put your head in a basin of water. By the time you have had a good wash your breakfast will be here. I told my old cook to prepare it when I came out, and as you are a favorite of hers I have no doubt it will be a good one. After you have discussed that we can talk matters over. I sent my boy down to the school just now to ask Porson to come up here in half an hour. Then we three can lay our heads together and see what are the best steps to take."
"Let me see," Ned said thoughtfully. "Was I dreaming, or have I seen Mr. Porson since I came here?"
"You are not dreaming, Ned; but the fact is, you were not quite yourself yesterday. The excitement you had gone through had been too much for you."
"It all seems a dream to me," Ned said in a hopeless tone, "a confused, muddled sort of dream."
"Don't think about it now, Ned," the doctor said cheerfully, "but get off your things at once, and set to and sluice your head well with water. I will be back in a quarter of an hour with the breakfast."
At the end of that time the doctor returned, his boy carrying a tray. The constable on duty took it from him, and would have carried it into Ned's room, but the doctor said:
"Give it me, Walker. I will take it in myself. I don't want him to see any of you just at present. His head's in a queer state, and the less he is impressed with the fact that he is in charge the better."
Dr. Green found Ned looking all the better for his wash. The swelling of his face had now somewhat abated, but the bruises were showing out in darker colors than before; still he looked fresher and better.
"Here is your breakfast, Ned, and if you don't enjoy it Jane will be terribly disappointed."
"I shall enjoy it, doctor. I feel very weak; but I do think I am hungry."
"You ought to be, Ned, seeing that you have eaten nothing for two days."
The doctor removed the cloth which covered the tray. The meal consisted of three kidneys and two eggs, and a great pile of buttered toast. The steam curled out of the spout of a dainty china teapot, and there was a small jug brimful of cream.
The tears came into Ned's eyes.
"Oh! how good you are, doctor!"
"Nonsense, good!" the doctor said; "come, eat away, that will be the best thanks to Jane and me."
Ned needed no pressing. He ate languidly at first; but his appetite came as he went on, and he drank cup after cup of the fragrant tea, thick with cream. With the exception of one egg, he cleared the tray.
"There, doctor!" he said, as he pushed back his chair; "if you are as satisfied as I am you must be contented indeed."
"I am, Ned; that meal has done us both a world of good. Ah! here is Porson, just arrived at the right moment."
"How are you, Ned?" the master asked heartily.
"I am quite well, sir, thank you. Sleep and the doctor, and the doctor's cook, have done wonders for me. I hear you came yesterday, sir, but I don't seem to remember much about it."
"Yes, I was here, Ned," Mr. Porson said, "but you were pretty well stupid from want of sleep. However, I am glad to see you quite yourself again this morning."
"And now," the doctor said, "we three must put our heads together and see what is to be done. You understand, Ned, how matters stand, don't you?"
"Yes, sir," Ned said after a pause; "I seem to know that some one said that Mr. Mulready was dead, and some one thought that I had killed him, and then I started to come over to give myself up. Oh! yes, I remember that, and then there was an examination before the magistrates. I remember it all; but it seems just as if it had been a dream."
"Yes, that is what happened, Ned, and naturally it seems a dream to you, because you were so completely overcome by excitement and want of food and sleep that you were scarcely conscious of what was passing. Now we want you to think over quietly, as well as you can, what you did when you left home."
Ned sat for a long time without speaking.
"It seems all confused," he said at last. "I don't even remember going out of the house. I can remember his striking me in the face again and again, and then I heard my mother scream, and everything seems to have become misty. But I know I was walking about; I know that I was worrying to get at him, and that if I had met him I should have attacked him, and if I had had anything in my hand I should have killed him."
"But you don't remember doing anything, Ned? You cannot recall that you went anywhere and got a rope and fastened it across the road with the idea of upsetting his gig on the way back from the mill?"
"No, sir," Ned said decidedly; "I can't recollect anything of that at all. I am quite sure if I had done that I should remember it; for I seem to remember, now I think of it, a good deal of what I did. Yes, I went up through Varley; the lights weren't out, and I wondered what Bill would say if I were to knock at his door and he opened it and saw what a state my face was in. Then I went out on the moor, and it seems to me that I walked about for hours, and the longer I walked the more angry I was. At last--it could not have been long before morning, I think--I lay down for a time, and then when it was light I made up my mind to go over and see Abijah. I knew she would be with me. That's all I remember about it. Does my mother think I did it?"
Dr. Green hesitated a moment.
"Your mother is not in a state to think one way or the other, Ned; she is in such a state of grief that she hardly knows what she is saying or doing."
In fact Mrs. Mulready entertained no doubt whatever upon the subject, and had continued to speak of Ned's wickedness until Dr. Green that morning had lost all patience with her, and told her she ought to be ashamed of herself to be the first to accuse her son, and that if he was hung she would only have herself to blame for it.
Ned guessed by the doctor's answer that his mother was against him.
"It is curious," he said, "she did not take on so after my father's death, and he was always kind and good to her, while this man was just the reverse."
"There's never any understanding women," Dr. Green said testily, "and your mother is a singularly inconsequent and weak specimen of her sex. Well, Ned, and so that is all you can tell us about the way you passed that unfortunate evening. What a pity it is, to be sure, that you did not rouse up your friend Bill. His evidence would probably have cleared you at once. As it is, of course we believe your story, my boy. The question is, will the jury believe it?"
"I don't seem to care much whether they do or not," Ned said sadly, "unless we find the man who did it. Every one will think me guilty even if I am acquitted. Fancy going on living all one's life and knowing that everyone one meets is thinking to himself, 'That is the man who killed his stepfather'--it would be better to be hung at once."
"You must look at it in a more hopeful way than that, Ned," Mr. Porson said kindly; "many will from the first believe, with us, that you are innocent. You will live it down, my boy, and sooner or later we may hope and believe that God will suffer the truth to be known. At the worst, you know you need not go on living here. The world is wide, and you can go where your story is unknown.
"Do not look on the darkest side of things. And now, for the present, I have brought you down a packet of books. If I were you I would try to read--anything is better than going on thinking. You will want all your wits about you, and the less you worry your mind the better. Mr. Wakefield will represent you at the examination next week; but I do not see that there will be much for him to do, as I fear there is little doubt that you will be committed for trial, when of course we shall get the best legal assistance for you. I will tell him exactly what you have said to me, and he can then come and see you or not as he likes. I shall come in every day. I have already obtained permission from the magistrates to do so. I shall go now and see Charlie and tell him all about it. It will cheer him very much, poor boy. You may be sure he didn't think you guilty; still, your assurance that you know nothing whatever about it will be a comfort to him."
"Yes," Ned said, "Charlie knows that I would not tell a lie to save my life, though he knows that I might possibly kill any one when I am in one of my horrible tempers; and I did think I was getting over them, Mr. Porson!" he broke out with a half sob. "I have really tried hard."
"I know you have, Ned. I am sure you have done your best, my boy, and you have been sorely tried; but, now, I must be off. Keep up your spirits, hope for the best, and pray God to strengthen you to bear whatever may be in store for you, and to clear you from this charge."
That evening when Mr. Porson was in his study the servant came in and said that a young man wished to speak to him.
"Who is it, Mary?"
"He says his name is Bill Swinton, sir."
"Oh! I know," the master said; "show him in."
Bill was ushered in.
"Sit down, Bill," Mr. Porson said; "I have heard of you as a friend of Sankey's. I suppose you have come to speak to me about this terrible business?"
"Ay," Bill said, "that oi be, sir, seeing as how Ned always spake of you as a true friend, and loiked you hearty. They say too as you ha' engaged Lawyer Wakefield to defend him."
"That is so, Bill. I am convinced of the boy's innocence. He has always been a favorite of mine. He has no relations to stand by him now, poor boy, so we who are his friends must do our best for him."
"Surely," Bill said heartily; "and dost really think as he didn't do it?"
"I may say I am quite sure he did not, Bill. Didn't you think so too?"
"No, sir," Bill said; "it never entered my moind as he didn't do it. Oi heard as how t' chap beat Maister Ned cruel, and it seemed to me natural loike as he should sarve him out. Oi didn't suppose as how he meant vor to kill him, but as everyone said as how he did the job it seemed to me loike enough; but of course it didn't make no differ to oi whether so be as he killed un or not. Maister Ned's moi friend, and oi stands by him; still oi be main glad to hear as you think he didn't do it; but will the joodge believe it?"
"Ah! that I cannot say," Mr. Porson replied. "I know the lad and believe his word; but at present appearances are sadly against him. That unfortunate affair that he had with my predecessor induced a general idea that he was very violent tempered. Then it has been notorious that he and his stepfather did not get on well together, and this terrible quarrel on the evening of Mr. Mulready's death seems only too plainly to account for the affair; still, without further evidence, I question if a jury will find him guilty. It is certain he had no rope when he went out, and unless the prosecution can prove that he got possession of a rope they cannot bring the guilt home to him."
"No, surely," Bill assented, and sat for some time without further speech; then he went on, "now, sir, what oi be come to thee about be this. Thou bee'st his friend and know'st best what 'ould be a good thing for him. Now we ha' been a-talking aboot a plan, Luke Marner and oi, as is Maister Ned's friends, and we can get plenty of chaps to join us. We supposes as arter the next toime as they has him up in coort they will send him off to York Castle to be tried at the 'sizes."
"Yes; I have no doubt he will be committed after his next appearance, Bill; but what is the plan that you and your friend Luke were thinking of?"
"Well, we was a-thinking vor twenty or so on us to coom down at noight and break open t' cells. There be only t' chief constable and one other, and they wouldn't be no good agin us, and we could get Maister Ned owt and away long afore t' sojers would have toime to wake up and coom round; then we could hide un up on moor till there was toime to get un away across the seas. Luke he be pretty well bent on it, but oi says as before we did nothing oi would coom and ax thee, seeing as how thou bee'st a friend of his."
"No, Bill," Mr. Porson said gravely. "It would not do at all, and I am glad you came to ask me. If I thought it certain that the jury would find a verdict of guilty, and that Ned, innocent as I believe him of the crime, would be hung, I should say that your plan might be worth thinking of; for in that case Ned might possibly be got away till we his friends here could get at the bottom of the matter. Still it would be an acknowledgment for the time of his guilt, and I am sure that Ned himself would not run away without standing his trial even if the doors of his cell were opened. I shall see him tomorrow morning, and will tell him of your scheme on his behalf. I am sure he will be grateful, but I am pretty certain that he will not avail himself of it. If you will come down tomorrow evening I will let you know exactly what he says."
As Mr. Porson expected, Ned, although much moved at the offer of his humble friends to free him by force, altogether declined to accept it.
"It is just like Bill," he said, "ready to get into any scrape himself to help me: but I must stand my trial. I know that even if they cannot prove me guilty I cannot prove I am innocent; still, to run away would be an acknowledgment of guilt, and I am not going to do that."
On the day appointed Ned was again brought up before the magistrates. The examination was this time in public, and the justice room was crowded. Ned, whose face was now recovering from the marks of ill usage, was pale and quiet. He listened in silence to the evidence proving the finding of Mr. Mulready's body. The next witness put into the box was one of the engineers at the factory; he proved that the rope which had been used in upsetting the gig had been cut from one which he had a short time before been using for moving a portion of the machinery. He had used the rope about an hour before Mr. Mulready came back in the evening, and it was then whole. After it had been done with it was thrown outside the mill to be out of the way, as it would not be required again.
After he had given his evidence Mr. Wakefield asked:
"Did you hear any one outside the mill when Mr. Mulready was there?"
"No, sir; I heard nothing."
"Any one might have entered the yard, I suppose, and found the rope?"
"Yes; the gates were open, as we were at work."
"Would the rope be visible to any one who entered the yard?"
"It would not be seen plainly, because it was a dark night; but any one prowling about outside the mill might have stumbled against it."
"You have no reason whatever for supposing that it was Mr. Edward Sankey who cut this rope more than anyone else?"
Charlie was the next witness. The boy was as white as a sheet, and his eyes were swollen with crying. He glanced piteously at his brother, and exclaimed with a sob, "Oh! Ned."
"Don't mind, Charlie," Ned said quietly. "Tell the whole story exactly as it happened. You can't do me any harm, old boy."
So encouraged Charlie told the whole story of the quarrel arising in the first place from his stepfather's ill temper at the tea table.
"Your brother meant nothing specially unpleasant in calling your stepfather Foxey?" Mr. Wakefield asked.
"No, sir; he had always called him so even before he knew that he was going to marry mother. It was a name, I believe, the men called him, and Ned got it from them."
"I believe that your stepfather had received threatening letters, had he not?"
"Yes, sir, several; he was afraid to put his new machines to work because of them."
"Thank you, that will do," Mr. Wakefield said. "I have those letters in my possession," he went on to the magistrates. "They are proof that the deceased had enemies who had threatened to take his life. Shall I produce them now?"
"It is hardly worth while, Mr. Wakefield, though they can be brought forward at the trial. I may say, indeed, that we have seen some of them already, for it was on account of these letters that we applied for the military to be stationed here."
It was not thought necessary to call Mrs. Mulready; but the servant gave her evidence as to what she had heard of the quarrel, and as to the absence of Ned from home that night.
"Unless you are in a position to produce evidence, Mr. Wakefield, proving clearly that at the time the murder was committed the prisoner was at a distance from the spot, we are prepared to commit him for trial."
Mr. Wakefield intimated that he should reserve his evidence for the trial itself, and Ned was then formally committed.
The examination in no way altered the tone of public opinion. The general opinion was that Ned had followed his stepfather to the mill, intending to attack him, that he had stumbled onto the coil of rope, and the idea occurred to him of tying it across the road and upsetting the gig on its return. Charlie's evidence as to the savage assault upon his brother had created a stronger feeling of sympathy than had before prevailed, and had the line of defense been that, smarting under his injuries, Ned had suddenly determined to injure his stepfather by upsetting the gig, but without any idea of killing him, the general opinion would have been that under such provocation as Ned had received a lengthened term of imprisonment would have been an ample punishment. More than one, indeed, were heard to say, "Well, if I were on the jury, my verdict would be, Served him right."
Still, although there was greater sympathy than before with Ned, there were few, indeed, who doubted his guilt.
After Ned was removed from court he was taken back by the chief constable to his house, and ten minutes later he was summoned into the parlor, where he found Charlie and Lucy waiting him. Lucy, who was now ten years old, sprang forward to meet him; he lifted her, and for awhile she lay with her head on his shoulder and her arms round his neck, sobbing bitterly, while Charlie clung to his brother's disengaged hand.
"Don't cry, Lucy, don't cry little woman; it will all come right in the end;" but Lucy's tears were not to be stanched. Ned sat down, and after a time soothed her into stillness, but she still lay nestled up in his arms.
"It was dreadful, Ned," Charlie said, "having to go into court as a witness against you. I had thought of running away, but did not know where to go to, and then Mr. Porson had a talk with me and told me that it was of the greatest importance that I should tell everything exactly word for word, just as it happened. He said every one knew there had been a quarrel, and that if I did not tell everything it would seem as if I was keeping something back in order to screen you, and that would do you a great deal of harm, and that, as really you were not to blame in the quarrel, my evidence would be in your favor rather than against you. He says he knew that you would wish me to tell exactly what took place."
"Certainly, Charlie; there is nothing I could want hid. I was wrong to speak of him as Foxey, and to let fly as I did about him; but there was nothing intended to offend him in that, because, of course, I had no idea that he could hear me. The only thing I have to blame myself very much for is for getting into a wild passion. I don't think any one would say I did wrong in going out of the house after being knocked about so; but if I had not got into a passion, and had gone straight to Bill's, or to Abijah, or to Mr. Porson, which would have been best of all, to have stopped the night, all this would not have come upon me; but I let myself get into a blind passion and stopped in it for hours, and I am being punished for it."
"It was natural that you should get in a passion," Charlie said stoutly. "I think any one would have got in a passion."
"I don't think you would, Charlie," Ned said, smiling.
"No," Charlie replied; "but then you see that is not my way. I should have cried all night; but then I am not a great, strong fellow like you, and it would not be so hard to be knocked about."
"It's no use making excuses, Charlie. I know I ought not to have given way to my temper like that. Now, Lucy dear, as you are feeling better, you must sit up and talk to me. How is mother?"
"Mother is in bed," Lucy said. "She's always in bed now; the house is dreadful, Ned, without you, and they say you are not to come back yet," and the tears came very near to overflowing again.
"Ah! well, I hope I shall be back before long, Lucy."
"I hope so," Lucy said; "but you know you will soon be going away again to be a soldier."
"I shall not go away again now, Lucy," Ned said quietly. "When I come back it will be for good."
"Oh! that will be nice," Lucy said joyously, "just as it used to be, with no one to be cross and scold about everything."
"Hush! little woman, don't talk about that. He had his faults, dear, as we all have, but he had a great deal to worry him, and perhaps we did not make allowances enough for him, and I do think he was really fond of you, Lucy, and when people are dead we should never speak ill of them."
"I don't want to," Lucy said, "and I didn't want him to be fond of me when he wasn't fond of you and Charlie or mother. It seems to me he wasn't fond of mother, and yet she does nothing but cry; I can't make that out, can you?"
Ned did not answer; his mother's infatuation for Mr. Mulready had always been a puzzle to him, and he could at present think of no reply which would be satisfactory to Lucy.
A constable now came in and said that there were other visitors waiting to see Ned. He then withdrew, leaving the lad to say goodby to his brother and sister alone. Ned kept up a brave countenance, and strove to make the parting as easy as possible for the others, but both were crying bitterly as they went out.
Ned's next visitors were Dr. Green and Mr. Porson.
"We have only a minute or two, my boy," Mr. Porson said, "for the gig is at the door. The chief constable is going to drive you to York himself. You will go halfway and sleep on the road tonight. It is very good of him, as in that way no one will suspect that you are any but a pair of ordinary travelers. Keep up your spirits, my boy. We have sent to London for a detective from Bow Street to try and ferret out something of this mysterious business; and even if we do not succeed, I have every faith that it will come right in the end. And now goodby, my boy, I shall see you in a fortnight, for of course I shall come over to York to the trial to give evidence as to character."
"And so shall I, Ned, my patients must get on without me for a day or two," the doctor said. "Mr. Wakefield is waiting to see you. He has something to tell you which may help to cheer you. He says it is of no legal value, but it seems to me important."