Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
One Wrong Step.
But soon the summer passed away, and the storms and snows of winter swept over the lonely island. There would be no court until December to try John, and his imprisonment in Kirkwall jail grew every day more dreary. But no storms kept Christine long away from him. Over almost impassable roads and mosses she made her way on the little ponies of the country, which had to perform a constant steeple-chase over the bogs and chasms.
All things may be borne when they are sure; and every one who loved John was glad when at last he could have a fair hearing. Nothing however was in his favor. The bailies and the murdered man's servants, even the dominie and his daughter could tell but one tale. "Peter Fae had declared with his last breath that John Sabay had stabbed him." The prosecution also brought forward strong evidence to show that very bitter words had passed, a few days before the murder, between the prisoner and the murdered man.
In the sifting of this evidence other points were brought out, still more convincing. Hacon Flett said that he was walking to Stromness by the beach to meet his sweetheart, when he heard the cry of murder, and in the gloaming light saw John Sabay distinctly running across the moor. When asked how he knew certainly that it was John, he said that he knew him by his peculiar dress, its bright buttons, and the glimmer of gold braid on his cap. He said also, in a very decided manner, that John Sabay passed Ragon Torr so closely that he supposed they had spoken.
Then Ragon being put upon his oath, and asked solemnly to declare who was the man that had thus passed him, tremblingly answered,
John gave him such a look as might well haunt a guilty soul through all eternity; and old Dame Alison, roused by a sense of intolerable wrong, cried out,
"Know this, there's a day coming that will show the black heart; but traitors' words ne'er yet hurt the honest cause."
"Peace, woman!" said an officer of the court, not unkindly.
"Weel, then, God speak for me! an' my thoughts are free; if I daurna say, I may think."
In defence Margaret Fae swore that she had been with John on Brogar Bridge until nearly time to meet her father, and that John then wore a black broadcloth suit and a high hat; furthermore, that she believed it utterly impossible for him to have gone home, changed his clothes, and then reached the scene of the murder at the time Hacon Flett and Ragon Torr swore to his appearance there.
But watches were very uncommon then; no one of the witnesses had any very distinct idea of the time; some of them varied as much as an hour in their estimate. It was also suggested by the prosecution that John probably had the other suit secreted near the scene of the murder. Certain it was that he had not been able either to produce it or to account for its mysterious disappearance.
The probability of Sandy Beg being the murderer was then advanced; but Sandy was known to have sailed in a whaling vessel before the murder, and no one had seen him in Stromness since his departure for Wick after his dismissal from Peter Fae's service.
No one? Yes, some one had seen him. That fatal night, as Ragon Torr was crossing the moor to Peter's house--he having some news of a very particular vessel to give--he heard the cry of "Murder," and he heard Hacon Flett call out, "I know thee, John Sabay. Thou hast stabbed my master!" and he instantly put himself in the way of the flying man. Then he knew at once that it was Sandy Beg in John Sabay's clothes. The two men looked a moment in each other's face, and Sandy saw in Ragon's something that made him say,
"She'll pat Sandy safe ta night, an' that will mak her shure o' ta lass she's seeking far."
There was no time for parley; Ragon's evil nature was strongest, and he answered, "There is a cellar below my house, thou knows it weel."
Indeed, most of the houses in Stromness had underground passages, and places of concealment used for smuggling purposes, and Ragon's lonely house was a favorite rendezvous. The vessel whose arrival he had been going to inform Peter of was a craft not likely to come into Stromness with all her cargo.
Towards morning Ragon had managed to see Sandy and send him out to her with such a message as insured her rapid disappearance. Sandy had also with him a sum of money which he promised to use in transporting himself at once to India, where he had a cousin in the forty-second Highland regiment.
Ragon had not at first intended to positively swear away his friend's life; he had been driven to it, not only by Margaret's growing antipathy to him and her decided interest in John's case and family, but also by that mysterious power of events which enable the devil to forge the whole chain that binds a man when the first link is given him. But the word once said, he adhered positively to it, and even asserted it with quite unnecessary vehemence and persistence.
After such testimony there was but one verdict possible. John Sabay was declared guilty of murder, and sentenced to death. But there was still the same strange and unreasonable belief in his innocence, and the judge, with a peculiar stretch of clemency, ordered the sentence to be suspended until he could recommend the prisoner to his majesty's mercy.
A remarkable change now came over Dame Alison. Her anger, her sense of wrong, her impatience, were over. She had come now to where she could do nothing else but trust implicitly in God; and her mind, being thus stayed, was kept in a strange exultant kind of perfect peace. Lost confidence? Not a bit of it! Both Christine and her mother had reached a point where they knew
"That right is right, since God is God, And right the day must win; To doubt would be disloyalty, To falter would be sin."