Mr. Jenkins, the Queen Street stationer, was among them, and his first words, after the door was closed on them, were:
'Well, I don't know what you think, sir, but I couldn't make out whether he was for her or against her.'
The person addressed was the foreman, a rich building contractor from a large seaport at the end of the county. He was a man of judicial mind, a model foreman, and wisely abstained from committing himself at this early stage. He turned round and asked his next neighbour, who happened to be the farmer from near Porthstone, whose remarks to Mr. Jenkins were given in the fourth chapter:
'How did it strike you, sir?'
'I thought he was against her,' was the answer. 'Didn't you hear him say, "The prisoner must suffer by that line of defence"? And then he didn't say nothing about reasonable doubts.'
'No; but the young barrister did—the one that prosecuted,' observed a tall, thin man, a tailor by trade.
'He's got nothing to do with it,' said the farmer. 'I thought him a fool all along. I know his whole family, and they're all alike.'
'What a terrible speech Mr. Tressamer made!' ventured a fifth juryman, a short, stumpy watchmaker from Porthstone itself. 'I believe he's her lover.'
'What!' cried the foreman, losing his calm demeanour in the presence of this interesting revelation. 'How d'ye know that?'
'Oh, it was common talk in Porthstone,' was the answer. 'They knew each other ever since they was children, and he used to come down every summer and go about with her. That's what made him so fierce against Mr. Lewis, you may depend.'
'And did you know her?' 'What was she like, really?' 'What do you think of her?' broke from several voices as the whole jury clustered round the little man.
But he drew in his horns at once.
'Don't ask me anything,' he said. 'I've mended her watch, and I always thought she was all right up to this, but the Lord only knows whether she did it.' He paused, and then, as if there were some vague connection in his mind between this charge and a general disposition towards acts of dishonesty, he added: 'She always paid me regular.'
Perhaps the jury scented an underlying distrust in this. At any rate, one of them said:
'I watched the judge carefully all through, and I saw him frown at her several times. To my mind he meant us to say guilty.'
The word came with a little shock to the men. They instinctively realized its terrible gravity as falling from their lips. The tall, thin tailor put in his word again:
'Anyhow, he said there was no evidence of motive.'
'Except they jewels,' corrected the farmer.
'Ah, but there was nothing came out about them.'
'Phoo! that there was. Didn't you see how her counsel was fighting to keep it back? You may depend she knew all about them, and could tell us where they are now if she liked.'
'You seem to have made up your mind,' said another man, who had been talking aside to a little knot of three; 'but for the life of me I couldn't make it out one way or the other. What did you think he meant about that latchkey?'
This was offensive. It was reminding them of their weak point. It threw the whole room into confusion. Eight or nine of the jury all began to speak at once, and four or five could find no listeners.
When the hubbub had a little subsided, the foreman said:
'Gentlemen, it's no use talking it over in this way. We must argue it out one at a time. I propose that we all sit round the table, and the one that has anything to say stands up and says it properly.'
This suggestion was well received, but it had a fatal effect on three of the jury, who were wholly unable to attempt anything so much like a set speech as this course involved.
As soon as all were seated the foreman commenced:
'Gentlemen this is a doubtful case, a very doubtful case. Talk of reasonable doubts, there's nothing but reasonable doubts, so far as I can see, from beginning to end. Now, it would have been a great help to us if the judge had showed us which way he thought we ought to go, but I must confess I couldn't tell which side he meant to lean. If any other gentleman thinks otherwise, we shall be glad to hear him.'
But no other gentleman thought otherwise. The man who had thrown out the suggestion about the latchkey, and who was a fishing-boat proprietor from a seaside suburb of Abertaff, murmured from his seat:
'I call it a shame. I should like to know what a judge is for. We might as well try the case ourselves as this.'
'So we are trying it, aren't we?' rebuked the man who had been the first to blurt out the fatal word, and who was a farmer from near the same place.
'You may be, Mr. Rees,' returned the boat proprietor, with what was intended for biting sarcasm.
'Come, gentlemen, gentlemen,' said the foreman impressively, 'let us remember that we are engaged on a case of life and death. We have got to come at the truth somehow, and we must do what we can by ourselves.'
'They should have give us more evidence,' objected Mr. Jenkins. 'What did they want to make so much fuss about those jewels for?'
'Aye, and there was another thing,' said the Porthstone farmer; 'did you notice that when Mr. Lewis wanted to say why he suspected her, the judge wouldn't let un?'
'Well, she's an orphan,' said the tailor, 'and her father was Rector of Porthstone for thirty years, and I say we ought to let her off.'
'For shame, John,' said the watchmaker, who happened to be his next-door neighbour; 'don't you know we've got to decide according to the evidence?'
The tailor hung his head.
Then the foreman interposed again.
'Really, gentlemen, I think it will save time if we go round the table, and let each man express his opinion in turn. Of course, I don't say his final opinion, but just any remarks that strike him on the evidence. Will you begin, sir?'
Mr. Jenkins rose from his seat on the foreman's right and cleared his throat.
'Mr. Foreman and gentlemen, I think this is, as our foreman has told us, a case of very great doubt. At the same time, it is our duty to punish the guilty, and not let the prisoner off simply because she is a woman and good-looking, and that sort of thing.' (Subdued applause. The foreman raises his hand for silence.) 'Now, what I look at in this case is the motive, and that is, I take it, the jewels. I don't believe she would have done it simply on the chance of getting something under the will. I don't know whether you remember, but the judge said Miss Lewis might have parted with the jewels, because they weren't found after her death. Now, it seems to me that that points just the other way. I mean, it looks as if she had been murdered for the sake of them. It seems to me the only question is, Who murdered her? Was it Mr. Lewis or was it Miss Owen? That's my difficulty.'
He sat down. The farmer, who sat next him, stood up in turn.
'I say what the judge said; let us decide according to the evidence. Now, what evidence is there against Mr. Lewis? Why, you say the judge didn't speak out clearly, but he did say there wasn't any evidence against him. All the evidence is against her, and we ought to act upon it.'
The next speaker was a rather young man, who occupied a position of superintendence in a large millinery establishment, exclusively patronised by ladies. With such associations he was naturally disposed to be chivalrous. He said:
'I know a lady when I see her. Miss Owen's a lady; anyone can see that with half an eye. As for Lewis, I didn't like the looks of him at all. You know they're a wild lot out in Australia. I heard that he came back for good reasons, if the truth was known. Then look how he lost his temper in the witness-box! And then, as Mr. Tressamer said, the very night he got there the murder happened. That looks as if he did it. He said she didn't give him a latchkey, but I believe she very likely did, else why did the barrister ask him? And then look at the hand being cut off. No young lady would go and do such a thing as that, surely!'
The jury were impressed. The next man was of a shy and gentle disposition. He did not venture to get on his feet, but threw out a suggestion as he sat: 'I suppose it must have been one of the two. There couldn't have been somebody else, could there?'
A withering look from eleven faces rewarded this disconcerting query. The foreman expressed the general feeling:
'Really, sir, I can't think what ground you have for suggesting such a thing. The case is difficult enough as it is, without having fresh doubts raised.'
'Ah, there should ought to have been a London detective brought down,' muttered another juryman, who had taken little part hitherto. 'One of them would have puzzled it out, you may depend.'
'Well, I don't see what more you would have,' said the other farmer, Rees, rising in his turn. 'Here is this young woman, sleeping in the next room, going out at night secretly, under some pretence of headaches—why didn't she tell other people about them beside that chemist?—and here you have her mistress murdered, and the blood found on the door of her own room the next morning. What more do you want?'
He sat down. It was now the tailor's turn.
'And how do you know Lewis didn't put the blood there?' he asked. 'I believe it's Lewis myself. Anyway, one of them must have done it, that's clear.'
But this was felt to be a weak defence, and the next two jurymen shook their heads, and professed themselves unable to throw any light upon the question. Then it was the turn of the boat proprietor.
'Look here,' he said, 'what's the good of our trying to come to a verdict when we're none of us sure which of them did it? Better give it up, and tell the judge we can't agree.'
But the foreman would not hear of this.
'No, sir,' he said, 'we are here sworn to do justice between man and man and mete out punishment to the guilty, and we must not shrink from our task. We have heard the case through, and if we are not competent to give a verdict on it, who is?'
This was felt to be unanswerable. Not only were the foreman's words worthy of attention in themselves, but he was a great man, the reputed possessor of twelve thousand a year; he wore a frock coat and a white waistcoat as well, and his word was, therefore, practically equivalent to law.
There remained only the watchmaker. He felt a friendly feeling towards the prisoner, but he was troubled by real misgivings as to her innocence.
'The judge said we oughtn't to go against Mr. Lewis,' he said, 'and I stand by what the judge says. Besides, I look at what he said when he gave her in charge.'
'What was that?' said the foreman eagerly.
'I'll tell you, sir. It was in the paper at the time, and I happened to keep it by me, and so when I was summoned as a juror, thinks I to myself, "This may come in useful if I should happen to be on the jury that's to try her," so I just cuts it out and brings it in my pocket.'
The other men looked on keenly, as he slowly drew out his pocket-book and extracted a newspaper cutting, embracing some two and a half columns of the Southern Daily News. Everyone hoped that something of a decisive character would now be forthcoming.
The watchmaker ran his finger down the columns.
'Here it is!' he exclaimed, and read it aloud.
'"On reaching the police-station, of which Constable Smithies was then in charge, Mr. Lewis said: 'I charge Eleanor Owen with the murder of my aunt, Ann Elizabeth Lewis. I have made some money, and, please God, I'll spend every penny of it rather than my poor aunt shall remain unavenged.'
'"Constable Smithies at once summoned Sergeant—" that's it,' concluded the watchmaker, looking up from his extract.
A murmur and shaking of heads followed, and the foreman again felicitously voiced the general feeling:
'That doesn't sound like guilt,' he said, with emphasis. 'May I see that paper? Perhaps it has some other things which we have forgotten.'
'Certainly, sir. But I don't know whether we ought to be reading this,' hazarded its owner, handing the slip across.
'Why not? We're only doing it to refresh our memory.'
This reply was again felt to be worthy of its author. It had a fine flavour of legality about it too, which gave confidence to the other jurymen. They realized that they were fortunate in their foreman.
That gentleman meanwhile proceeded to glance down the document before him. Presently he stopped, frowned, pursed up his lips, and breathed a stern sigh. The others watched with anxiety. He proceeded to enlighten them.
'Gentlemen, listen to this, and tell me what effect it has on your minds. Sergeant Evans said, "I arrested the prisoner on the morning of the second. I told her she was charged with the wilful murder of Ann Elizabeth Lewis. She turned pale and said, 'It is impossible.' I cautioned her. She said nothing more, and shed no tears." Gentlemen, is that like innocence?'
He laid down the paper. The prisoner's doom was sealed. The waverers among the jury went over at once, and even the friends of the prisoner no longer dared to hold out. The tailor would have resisted if he had dared, but his sense of social inferiority was too much for him. What was he, a humble little tradesman, to set himself against eleven men, headed by a wealthy contractor who wore three spade guineas on his watch-chain?
Then a solemn awe settled down over the faces of the twelve men. They did not hesitate in doing what they believed was their duty, but they felt some natural horror of the result. At last the foreman said:
'Gentlemen, are we all agreed?'
And, as there was no reply, he led them back into court.
They had not been out quite an hour, but the interval seemed terribly long to those they left behind.
When they came in one by one, with drooping heads and set faces, the verdict was read before it was heard. Only the prisoner still held out, with that obstinate unbelief in the worst which is a part of strong natures. Only the prisoner and the prisoner's counsel. He manifested no sorrow and no surprise. Prescott put his stoical calmness down to over-exhaustion, others of the Bar attributed it to his confidence in the point reserved. The public hardly noticed him. Their eyes were fixed upon the dock.
The clerk of arraigns stood up, and went as best he could through the tedious process of calling each juryman by name. Then followed the routine question, followed by the awful word, heavy with issues of death, pealing forth through the hushed, agitated hall:
The prisoner neither moved nor answered, as the clerk formally summoned her to declare if there were any reasons why sentence should not be passed upon her. Some of the women whispered that she had gone mad, or that she was going to faint. The judge covered his wig with the sombre square of silk.
Suddenly she looked up, cast her eyes rapidly round the court, and fixing them full on Prescott, who was attentively watching her, she exclaimed:
'I am not guilty.'
'Eleanor Margaret Owen, the jury, after a long and patient hearing, and after taking time for careful deliberation, have found you guilty of the crime of wilful murder. What motive inspired you to commit such a crime I cannot say, and it may, perhaps, never be known. It only remains for me to discharge my very painful duty, which I do by declaring that the sentence of the court upon you is——'
The details followed. The words are too familiar to need setting forth. They sounded in unconscious ears. Eleanor Owen had fainted at last, and was carried helpless and lifeless away from the scene of her long martyrdom.
THE PRISONER'S STATEMENT.
The day after the trial Tressamer went with confident mien to the prison for the purpose of having an interview with Eleanor as to the appeal of which he had given notice.
The governor at first hesitated about permitting this. The prison regulations forbid intercourse with a convict, except under certain rigorous limitations. But the name and function of counsel prevailed, and a warder was sent to fetch the prisoner.
Presently he returned alone, with the startling message that Eleanor positively refused to hold any communication whatever with her late advocate. Tressamer left the gaol with the air of a beaten man.
In his dismay he bethought himself of Prescott, and hurried to the court-house to find him and get his advice. He was there, but he was busy in a case then before the Nisi Prius Court, and it was not till late in the afternoon that Tressamer could get a word with him.
The case had been decided in favour of Prescott's client, and he strode into the robing-room with a little natural elation. But no sooner did he catch sight of his friend, who was waiting for him there, than his whole manner changed, and a stern expression settled round the corners of his mouth.
It was their first meeting since the result of Eleanor's trial. They were alone in the room, and Prescott at once addressed the other:
'Tressamer, what have you to say for yourself? I told you yesterday that I should hold you responsible. You disobeyed my advice, and that of everybody else. You set the judge and jury against you, and the result is what you were told it would be. I gave you fair warning, and I tell you now that, unless you have some reason for your conduct of which I know nothing, I cannot look upon you as a friend.'
Tressamer pinched in his lips hard as he listened to this.
'I might have expected it,' he said. 'We all know that love is stronger than friendship. The first woman that likes can break up the strongest attachments of some men.'
'Silence!' cried Prescott. 'I am not going to bandy retorts with you. Ever since we were boys I have liked you and befriended you, and borne with your waywardness. You have outraged all your other friends long ago, but I bore with everything till now. But this is too much. Where a life is at stake, to indulge in your freaks of eccentricity! It is murder morally. What are you better than the man who killed that wretched woman?'
Tressamer shook with anger.
'Be careful, Prescott! I will stand a great deal from you, but you are going too far now. You know as well as I do that her life is in no danger. What is old Buller's opinion worth on a criminal case? Wiseman is worth ten of him, and he is in our favour. The C.C.R. will save her.'
'Wretched man! Have you no heart, no moral sense, that you talk like that? As if a mere escape on a technical point could give any comfort to a woman like her! One would think you were wanting in some ingredient of human nature. What does Eleanor herself say?'
'I haven't seen her,' was the muttered reply.
'Haven't seen her! Then go at once, and get her authority to appear.'
'I have been to the prison, but she won't see me. I suppose she is ill.'
A look of positive pleasure crossed the face of the elder man.
'Ill—no, but innocent!' he exclaimed. 'I can understand her refusing to see you. You have played with her life for the prize of infamy, and you deserve that she should discard you. This is the best thing I have heard yet. Why, I could almost forgive you now for telling me. I will go this instant and offer my services: they will be those of a plain, honest man.'
And, flinging off his wig and gown, he rushed out of the place in a very unwonted state of excitement.
Tressamer was left, bewildered and enraged, to curse his own folly in betraying his defeat to a rival.
* * * * *
When Eleanor was summoned by the gaoler to see Mr. Prescott, she at first thought there must be some mistake.
'Are you sure you don't mean Mr. Tressamer?' she asked.
'No; he said Prescott.'
A faint smile rose in her face. She eagerly assented to the interview, and in a couple of minutes the two were closeted together.
At first there was a brief, awkward silence. Then Prescott broke it by speaking in calm, precise words:
'It is nearly five years since we met, Miss Owen, but I hope you have not quite forgotten me.'
'No, indeed,' she answered; 'but you should have forgotten me. I know I ought to thank you for this visit, and for dealing so leniently with the case yesterday, but I cannot find the right words. It is all so strange—so terrible and so strange.'
Prescott was afraid to look at her, lest the tears should come into his eyes.
'Don't thank me, please. I wish I could forgive myself for taking that wretched brief at all. I can only say I did so for fear it might fall into the hands of some abler and bitterer prosecutor. The solicitors were your enemies.'
'Yes; I refused their services. I have wondered since if I was wise. It was Mr. Tressamer who advised me.'
'And why? Why did you trust yourself so entirely to that man? But I forgot. I believe you are or were engaged.'
Eleanor raised her eyes, and looked long and searchingly at her questioner. Suddenly she said:
'Before I tell you, why did you come here—for any special object, I mean?'
'Yes. I came, hearing you had refused—and in my opinion rightly refused—to see Mr. Tressamer. I came, taking the privilege of an old friend of your father's and your own, to ask if I might appear for you in the court to which your case is being taken.'
'Ah, then there is a Providence. I am not quite deserted!'
She spoke in half irony, and then all at once broke down, and began sobbing as if her heart would break.
'Miss Owen!—don't, Eleanor!' cried her friend in alarm and distress. 'Do try and be calm. All will end happily yet, believe me. I swear to you I will never rest till your innocence is established by the discovery of the real criminal!'
For some time she wept on without replying. At last the sobs grew feebler, and she lifted her head.
'Oh, if you knew,' she said, 'what I have gone through these last two months—no, I ought to say these last two years, since my father died, and that you are the first to speak to me in tones that I can trust, you would not wonder that I weep. Sometimes I have felt it too much to bear, and I have actually thought before now of writing to you to tell you all my troubles.'
'To me! Why, do you—are you——'
She checked him gently.
'To you, as to my oldest friend, whose memory I could recall with trust and confidence. I am speaking now of a time that has passed. Now I shall never consent to claim anyone as my friend—if I live—until this horrible stain has been wiped off my name.'
'I will wipe it off. Only trust me fully meanwhile, and if you won't claim my friendship, at least so far rely on it as to unburden yourself to me freely. Tell me all, because I feel that you may hold in some way the clue to this mystery. I cannot think that all the circumstances piled up against you were purely accidental, and I must know everything before I can see my way clearly.'
She shook her head doubtfully.
'I am afraid that my story will not throw much light on the murder. Indeed, I fear I am abusing your kindness in troubling you with my affairs. It is a father-confessor I want, not a lawyer.' And she smiled faintly.
But Prescott was in earnest, and at length he persuaded her to speak. Making allowance for some repetitions and some slips of memory, her story was something like this:
'When my father died I was only seventeen. In spite of his being rector, we had lived a very retired life and seen few visitors. The only people I knew at all intimately were Miss Lewis and the Tressamers.
'Miss Lewis had been in the habit of inviting me to her house ever since I can remember. She used to give me valuable presents, too. In fact, she treated me more like a niece or some near relation than a mere acquaintance. I can never forget her kindness—never, never!'
She had to stop a moment or two to overcome her emotion.
'I dare say you remember as much about the Tressamers as I could tell you. You know that I was constantly at their house. George Tressamer and I were always friends, and he showed me great kindness when I was a mere child. I remember I used to look forward to his coming home for the holidays. Neither of us had any brothers or sisters, and so we were more ready to seek each other's company, I suppose.
'But I never quite understood him. I could see, even at an early age, that there was something in his feeling towards me quite different from ordinary friendship. And yet it was only friendship that I felt for him—yes, even to the very last, I assure you. I never felt for him any warmer feeling than gratitude and affection.
'When my dear father died, I was at first in despair. Only two people would I listen to—my aunt Lewis, as she liked me to call her, and George. My own relations were all far away. I had never seen them, and they were too poor to do anything for me. So when Miss Lewis offered me a home, I had no choice but to accept. And I was very, very grateful for it.
'But in the meantime George had shown me a great deal of kindness. He came down from London on purpose directly he heard of my father's death. He made all the arrangements for the funeral, and wound up all my father's affairs. I believe he must have paid some money out of his own pocket, as I know my poor father always spent every penny of his income, and was often hard pressed for money. But there were no demands ever made on me. All the things I expressed a wish for were saved, and after the rest were sold, and all debts settled, George brought me a sum of two hundred pounds, which he said was mine.'
Prescott frowned thoughtfully, and drummed with the toe of his boot on the floor.
'I suppose he didn't give you any accounts?' he said.
'No; I never asked for any. I felt sure that my father couldn't really have left me so much as that, and I told Miss Lewis I thought so. But she seemed to think it was all right, and I was really too distressed at his death to think much about money matters, one way or the other.
'Well, that wasn't all. Not only did he see to these business affairs for me, but he did everything he could to console me besides. He brought me books to read, he persuaded me to come out walks, and, in fact, he succeeded in making me get over my first grief sooner than I had thought it possible. The result was that I came to rely on him very much. I looked for him constantly, and felt a disappointment if a day passed without bringing him to see me.
'This was in the vacation time. At last he had to go up to London, and left me, feeling very lonely. He offered to write to me, and I was glad to accept. We corresponded the whole term, nearly every week, and at Christmas he came down again.
'By this time some months had gone by since my father's loss, and I was beginning to recover my ordinary spirits. George saw this; he gave me more of his company than ever, and finally, before the Christmas holidays were over, he told me that he loved me.
'You will think I ought to have been prepared for this. Perhaps another girl would have been, but I can only say that it took me completely by surprise. You see, I had never known any other young man at all intimately, and George I had looked upon more as a brother than anything else. When he spoke of love, my first feeling was one of annoyance and fear. I shrank from answering, and when he pressed me I asked him to let me have time to think it over. He wisely dropped the subject, and before we got home he was chatting to me as familiarly as ever.
'The result was that I began to think that the love which he offered me was nothing very deep, but only a warm friendship like what I felt for him. Then I reflected on my own position, as an orphan, dependent on one who was no relation and might cast me adrift at any moment. I realised what a loss it would be to be deprived of George's friendship. I had never really felt anything that I could call love for anyone else, and, in short, I reconciled myself by degrees to the idea. At Easter of that year I accepted him.
'In all this I had made one great mistake. I thought George's feeling towards me was a mild one. The moment we were engaged I found the very opposite.
'When I first uttered the words which gave him the right to do so, he clasped me to him with a transport which frightened me. It was actually fierce in its intensity. He lost all that studied control which he had maintained for so long, and fairly gave himself up to the intoxication of his passion. Had I dreamed what his state of feeling really was, I don't believe that I should ever have promised myself to him. But it was too late to draw back. He had obtained a power over me, from which I shrank, but of which I had no right to complain. I became in a sense his slave, and he did with me what he chose.
'From that moment, unhappily, my own feelings towards him underwent a rapid change. I ceased to look forward to his coming. I got in time to actually dread it. Instead of taking pleasure in his society, I feared him. I disliked the little tokens of proprietorship which are common in the case of an engaged couple. I did not even tell Miss Lewis that we were engaged, though I believe she looked upon it as an understood thing. In fact, I suppose it would not have done for me to see so much of George otherwise. Neither did I dare to tell her of the aversion which had begun to replace my former feelings towards him. To tell the truth, I was ashamed of it. In common gratitude, after all George had done for me, I ought not to have allowed myself to feel so. I did try to check it. I told myself of all his good qualities. I recalled how long I had known him, and how friendly we had always been. But it was no use.
'Sometimes he seemed to realise that I was alienated by his passionate displays. Then he would return for awhile to his old manner, and be cheerful and cynical with me. Then my confidence in him returned, and I enjoyed his company. But this would not last long. When I was least expecting it, he would break into a strain of what I can only call love-frenzy, and disturb me more than ever.
'It was impossible for me to hide what was going on in my mind from him always. He began to find out that I avoided him. Instead of openly coming and calling for me to go out with him, he took to lying in wait as it were, and joining me when I was out by myself. Of course nothing was said between us. I did not complain of his stratagems, and he did not complain of my excuses. But I think we understood each other.
'Then he managed to get Miss Lewis on his side. He used to come into the room where we both were and give me an invitation for a walk or sail or other excursion in his company. And if I tried to get out of it, he appealed to Miss Lewis to give me leave, and, of course, she then urged me to go. The way in which he went to work inspired me with a queer sort of admiration for him. I thought that he showed powers of intrigue that would have made him a great man if he had been able to apply them on some vast stage.'
'Yes, yes,' said Prescott, as she paused a few moments for breath; 'he has great ability, strange powers in many things, but——'
He shrugged his shoulders, and turned a pitying eye on Eleanor. He had known Tressamer well enough to be able to understand her experience.
She went on again.
'Strange to say, you were the cause of our first open quarrel, about six months ago.'
'You know you had not been to Rivermouth for some four years or more. But I remembered you perfectly, and used always to ask George about you when he came down from London. At last, on this occasion, he happened to say he had a recent photograph of you. I got him to show it to me, and then I wanted to keep it. He objected; I persisted, and finally his jealousy was aroused.
'"You always liked Prescott better than me," he said.
'"I haven't even seen him for five years," I said. "I remember him as an old friend, and I don't see why you should mind my taking an interest in him."
'"Taking an interest!" he scoffed back. "I wish you would take an interest in me. You have never asked me for my photograph, that I recollect."
'But I needn't tell you all that we said. It ended in his accusing me of not loving him, and in my saying that he was at liberty to find someone else, if he was dissatisfied with me.
'But he—he would not take the release. He altered his tone all at once and fell at my feet, protesting that he loved me above all others, and that nothing should ever separate us.
'So things went on, he alternately courting me and threatening me, I turning from coldness to dislike, and from dislike to detestation. But I hadn't the courage to break my bondage, intolerable as I sometimes felt it. Perhaps I should never have shaken myself free but for his own action in bringing things to a crisis. Our letters had been friendly for some time, and, at last, in the month of May, he threw out a suggestion in one that it was time to think of our marriage.
'I took no notice of this. He repeated it more distinctly. Then I wrote, objecting that I was far too young to think of such a thing for some time to come. He took the alarm, came down by the next train, and sought me out. We went together to a lonely part of the shore, and there we came to a full explanation.
'Don't ask me what passed between us. He may be able to tell you. I never can. Enough, that after four hours' agonized entreaty and storm on his part, and agonized endurance on mine, we parted. I told him I could never hold intercourse with him again on any footing, and left him apparently resigned. That was just two days before my friend was murdered.
'He left the place next day, and I did not see him again till after I had been lodged in prison.
'There he came to me, asking no return to the old relations, but simply the privilege of befriending and defending me in my fearful trouble. I was crushed by his generosity, and freely gave myself to his guidance.
'But even in that first interview he threw out a suggestion which shocked and repelled me. He seemed to take it for granted that the jury would convict me, and to rely upon getting me off on a law point. I told him that life would not be worth anything to me under such conditions, and in reply he hinted that his devotion would still be mine, if I cared for it.
'Since then you have seen how it has happened exactly as he foretold. Now, it seems a dreadful thing to say, but the suspicion has forced itself into my mind, and I cannot get rid of it, that he wished all along that I might be blighted in my reputation, and just be saved at the last from actual condemnation, so that I might be driven to take refuge with him.'
She spoke these last sentences in a whisper, as if afraid to hear such suggestions even from her own lips.
Prescott gave a groan.
'Would to Heaven I could contradict you!' he said, 'but I believe it myself.'
And he related to her what had passed between his friend of old and himself. Then he went on to ask:
'By the way, can you can tell me anything more about that night than what came out in court? It was you who went out the first time, I take it?'
'Yes. I had been quite unwell for some time, owing to my trouble with George Tressamer. After our final meeting I had a terrible headache, and could not sleep at all. I went out each night about the same hour, but I haven't the faintest idea where I wandered to or how long I was gone. I got a little sleep after I came in, towards the morning.'
'And what do you think yourself of this man, Lewis?'
'I can hardly say. He has shown himself my enemy, and, of course, I cannot like him.'
'But as to suspecting him?'
'Oh dear no! I suspect no one.'
'Not one of the servants? Rebecca, for instance?'
'No. I haven't any inkling whatever as to who committed the crime.'
'Well, I suppose I must leave you. I will do whatever is in my power for your deliverance, not merely from danger, but from disgrace, and if I fail I will never venture in your sight again.'
The Court for Crown Cases Reserved is a modern institution, whose workings are not always quite understood by the public.
In every case which is tried before a jury there are two questions to be decided. The first is whether the evidence produced by the plaintiff alone is sufficient in point of law to justify a verdict. The second is whether the balance of evidence at the end of the trial is in favour of the plaintiff or the defendant.
The first of these questions is for the judge, the second for the jury. From the verdict of the jury there is, strictly speaking, no appeal. From the decision of the judge an appeal may be carried right up to the House of Lords.
But in criminal cases, where the Queen is treated as plaintiff, there was anciently no such method of reviewing the judge's decision. Now a special court has been established, embracing all the common law judges of the High Court, who sit in a body to decide these questions. It was to this tribunal that Tressamer had intended to resort.
But though the prisoner's legal advisers, both her former and her present one, looked to this court for their client's deliverance from the extreme penalty of the law, the general public turned to a very different remedy, that of agitation, to be exerted upon a very different authority, an impressionable politician in the Home Office.
Up to the hour of her conviction public opinion had run strongly against Eleanor. Whether this was deliberately aimed at by Tressamer or not, it was the consequence of the policy adopted by him. But no sooner had the law pronounced her doom than the tide turned with startling rapidity, and a gigantic agitation was at once set on foot for a reprieve.
Clergymen of mild manners and susceptible hearts went round canvassing their parishioners for signatures to petitions. Legal gentlemen, whose practice did not yet correspond to their own opinion of their deserts, rushed into print with gratuitous opinions on the evidence and the various points in the case. Newspaper reporters, sensitively alive to the first symptoms of a 'boom,' wrote up the tragic situation with graphic pens. They described the youth and beauty of the prisoner, her gentle bringing up, her desolate condition. Even her relations with the counsel for the defence, of which some inkling had transpired, were freely glanced at, and the reader was invited to sympathize with the despair of the lover as well as of the beloved.
Then the illustrated journals took it up. They had already given pictures of the scene of the crime, of the deceased, and of other characters, including the prisoner. But they now threw away the blocks representing Eleanor, and which had originally done service in America, where they represented a female temperance lecturer of moderate attractiveness, and came out with full-page illustrations, taken in one case from the portrait of the most charming actress on the Parisian stage, and all calculated to feed the growing flame of sympathy with the victim of what was now boldly referred to as a 'miscarriage of justice.'
The sporting fraternity, too, rallied round Eleanor almost to a man. A tremendous number of wagers had been made as to her fate, and those whose success was involved in her escape neglected no means of bringing about the desired end. And as public sentiment has not yet sunk quite so low as to tolerate petitions and meetings against clemency, the natural effect of all this was to make it appear that the suffrages of the whole community were on one side.
Even the jurymen began to repent their verdict. Several of them allowed themselves to be interviewed by pressmen, and went so far as to state that they had given their verdict with much misgiving, and hoped that a commutation of sentence would follow.
Petitions flowed in upon the Home Secretary. Meetings were held, not only in Porthstone and the neighbouring towns, but all over the country. Finally the excitement culminated in a monster meeting in London itself, in one of the largest public halls of the Metropolis, at which the chair was taken by a nobleman, and the speakers included a canon of the Church of England, a Roman cardinal, a leading light of the Wesleyan denomination, a major-general (on half-pay), and an ex-colonial judge.
The office of Home Secretary happened to be held at this time by an experienced member of the legal profession, and it is well known that trained lawyers are far more cautious in condemning, and usually milder in punishing, than laymen. The Home Secretary wavered. He sent for the judge who had presided at the trial, and Sir Daniel Buller, who had had time to recover from his little pique against the prisoner's counsel, infused his own doubt into the Home Secretary's mind.
At last the Minister issued a decision. It was a thorough specimen of the not-guilty-but-don't-do-it-again order of judgment. It stated that the Home Secretary saw no reason to doubt the substantial guilt of Eleanor Owen, but that as, in his opinion, the evidence was of an imperfect character, and failed to throw a clear light upon all the circumstances of the case, including the motive for the crime, he had advised her Majesty to commute the sentence to one of imprisonment for life.
The very day that this unsatisfactory announcement appeared, thirteen judges sat side by side at the Royal Law Courts to consider the point reserved.
Charles Prescott represented the prisoner. If the judges felt any surprise at this change of sides they were careful not to express it. Young Mr. Pollard appeared on behalf of the Crown, but he was led by the great Appleby, Q.C., and, as a matter of fact, was not allowed to open his lips once during the proceedings.
Prescott's argument was long and elaborate. A crowded bar were present to hear the celebrated case, and the feeling was universal among them that he had never shone so conspicuously on any former occasion. He took up the history of the law of murder from its earliest stages, and along with it he traced the gradual evolution of circumstantial evidence. He showed with what suspicion and reluctance the latter had been gradually admitted into our courts, and how succeeding judges had been careful to fence it in and restrain its application. Then he turned to the particular rule of law which Tressamer had relied on in the Assize Court, and repeated and emphasized the arguments made use of by him. He wound up with an impressive appeal to the judges to lean in the prisoner's favour, reminding them of the old maxim that a statute must be construed in favour of life, and asking them to apply the same principle in expounding the common law.
Then Appleby, Q.C., addressed the court. In reply to Prescott's last observations, he said that imperfection of evidence was a good ground for commutation of sentence, but none for releasing the prisoner altogether. This was, of course, a reminder to the judges of the Home Secretary's decision, announced that morning. Then he proceeded to argue the case on general lines.
He began by stigmatizing Hale's precept as a mere piece of advice to juries, rather than a maxim of law. He went on to say:
'The most serious difficulty in following this rule is to know how far to apply it. How much of the deceased's body is it necessary to produce in order to justify a conviction? If the head had been discovered, surely my learned friend would not venture to argue that that was not sufficient. It seems clear that it must be a question of fact in each case, and a question of fact is eminently one for the jury, and where they are satisfied that a death has taken place, it would be the height of folly for their verdict to be set aside because there was not exactly what would enable a coroner to hold an inquest.
'In the present case, however, as a matter of fact, an inquest has been held. The proceedings have gone on all along on the assumption which every reasonable man must have formed, namely, that the body of the deceased had been committed to the waves. To set aside the conviction under such circumstances is simply to encourage crime, and to hold out a guarantee of safety to every murderer who will take a little trouble to conceal the remains of his victim.'
When Appleby had finished, Prescott made a brief reply. He confined himself to saying that this was a case of interpreting the law, and not of framing it anew on the ground of expediency. But, he added, even if the court had to decide without reference to authority, he should still be prepared to urge that the danger of convicting one innocent person must always outweigh that of granting immunity to any number of felons, and he reminded their lordships how very rarely such a circumstance as the present occurred in actual experience.
When the judges came to give their opinions it was at once evident that the court was divided. In accordance with old etiquette, the youngest judge delivered himself first, and he, with some hesitation, declared in favour of the prisoner. But the next three all took the opposite side, and did so with great firmness. After them came another who supported Prescott's view, and then one who sided against him. Sir Daniel Buller repeated his decision at the trial, and Sir John Wiseman dwelt with elaboration on the reasons which swayed his cautious mind to the opposite view.
But the member of the court who was listened to with most attention by his brethren was Sir Stephen James, who had made a European reputation by his studies in criminal law. His works on the subject were in every library, and his mere dictum carried almost as much weight as a decided case. When it began to be evident that he was going in the prisoner's favour, Prescott took courage again.
His lordship's decision was brief, and to the point.
'When I am asked to apply a rule of law to a state of facts,' he said, 'and it appears doubtful whether or no the facts are included in the strict wording of the rule, I think it rational to look behind the words to the meaning, and to ask whether the reason for the rule applies with equal force to the facts now before me. Now, the reason I am able to discover for Sir Matthew Hale's rule is the danger of condemning anyone on a capital charge when you cannot be quite sure that a capital crime has been committed. It is no use to say to me that the jury believe this, that, or the other. The jury may believe it will be a fine day to-morrow, but that does not justify me in condemning a man to death on the assumption that it will be a fine day. The question is whether the jury are justified in coming to their verdict by cogent and decisive evidence. In this case I can see nothing of the sort. An eccentric old lady, with a mania for hoarding jewels, has disappeared in the night, carrying her jewels with her. A hand, identified as hers, because of the rings on it, was found on the beach next day. On those grounds, practically, we are asked to say that she is dead. I can only say that I decline to come to any such conclusion, and furthermore, I am quite satisfied that if Sir Matthew Hale were sitting on this bench to-day he would be in favour of quashing this conviction.'
Two other judges at once subscribed this judgment, and finally, when all but the Chief Justice had spoken, it appeared that the court so far was evenly divided, and that Lord Christobel held the fate of the prisoner in his hands.
Possibly his lordship was not ill-pleased at this. He was a past master of dramatic effect, and in his hands the ancient dignity of Lord Chief Justice of England lost nothing of its imposing character. It may be added that it lost nothing of that higher dignity conferred upon it by the Gascoignes of another age. Lord Christobel had shown on more than one occasion that all ranks, even the highest, were equal in the eye of the law as administered by him. He was the scourge of truckling magistrates, and a thorn in the side of those petty tyrants whom our peculiar system allows to flourish in rural districts in the degraded robes of justice.
He did not long keep the court in suspense. In a gracefully-worded judgment he endorsed the arguments of the prisoner's counsel, and pronounced the conviction of Eleanor Owen to be void in law. The prisoner was to be discharged forthwith.
Hardly did Prescott wait for the closing words of the judgment before rushing out to the telegraph office at the entrance to the Law Courts, and despatching a message to Eleanor, who was still in Abertaff gaol.
He followed this up by thrusting a few things into a bag, cashing a cheque, and hurrying to Paddington, where he caught an express for the county town.
Within four hours he was in Eleanor's presence. She had waited for him in the prison, and now put on some outdoor things. He led her to the door, where the governor took a courteous leave of them, and they passed through the gates.
When she found herself for the first time in the open air, Eleanor's limbs shook beneath her. She looked wildly round, as if fearing to behold some disagreeable object, and then begged Prescott to take her to a seat.
They had emerged into a wide, dirty street, formed by the prison wall on one side and a row of shabby little houses and shops on the other. A few boys were playing marbles on the path, and Eleanor never saw the game afterwards without remembering that evening.
The sun was about to set as they took their way by the quietest route to a little public garden in the neighbourhood, where was a grass plot and some seats. There they stopped, and sat down for a short time to decide on Eleanor's future steps.
Eleanor's first words struck heavily in the ears of her companion.
'I almost wish myself back again. Where am I to go now?' And she shivered slightly.
'Oh, Eleanor, don't say that! To-night you must go to some hotel in the town, but to-morrow we will go up to town together, and I will find you lodgings for a time.'
She turned and looked at him sorrowfully, not reproachfully, and shook her head.
'No, no. You forget what I said to you before. I have accepted your friendship, and I need not tell you how grateful I am for it, and for your efforts in obtaining my release. But I am still where I was, as far as the world is concerned. They will go on believing me guilty, and while they do I cannot let you associate with me.'
'Oh, why not? Surely you know by this time what you are to me? Need I tell you, Eleanor——'
She put up her hand.
The word sent a thrill through him. He looked round. Some children were engrossed in a game a hundred yards and more away. The sunlight was fading from gold to crimson across the roofs and chimneys beyond. The whole scene was still and Sabbath-like. A great peace seemed to speak to him, and bid him take courage and hope for better things. He turned again to Eleanor.
'Thank you,' he said, in acknowledgment of her tacit confession. 'But oh! if I am satisfied, what need you care for others? Listen: I have some money—more than enough to keep us for some years. We will go to Australia, where they have not heard of us; or, if they have, we will change our names. I can join the bar there, and do as well as here. Are you not my only happiness? What are other things compared to that?'
Again she looked at him sorrowfully. Again she shook her head. Then she turned and gazed into the green and crimson of the sunset while she spoke.
'You would not speak like that if you knew me. Do you suppose I have not thought of all these things during my weary prison hours? I have done nothing else since I saw you, since I saw you and knew you loved me, Charles. But I must be strong where you are weak. I must decide in this matter without heeding your wishes. I must decide as your mother would, if you asked her. Would she wish you to marry a convicted murderess? I have to speak plainly, because I want you to understand me at once, Charles, and spare me the pain of further talk like this. I shall go to London by myself, and I shall let you have my address on the strict condition that you are never to come and see me till my character stands clear again. You may write to me sometimes, not often, but if you break the condition and come to me, I shall move somewhere else and hide myself from you altogether. Now let us go and find a hotel for me, different from yours.'
She made a movement to rise. Charles looked round once more. The children had finished their game and disappeared. The brilliancy of the sunset was dropping into dusk and gray. They were alone in the twilight, beneath the faded trees.
'Eleanor, one pledge that you will not forsake me!'
She turned. Their eyes met; then their lips. The silent, close embrace lasted but a minute, though to both of them it seemed longer than the whole of their previous life. Then they arose and went forth out of their poor paradise, like Adam and Eve, with the world lying empty and desolate in front of them.
UNDER THE GREAT SEAL.
Shortly after Prescott had returned to town, he was surprised to get a letter from Tressamer to this effect:
'I want you to give me Eleanor's address. I must see her once more, as I have something of importance to say to her.'
Without an instant's hesitation he sat down and wrote an answer, in which he said:
'You have no further claim on my friendship, nor on Miss Owen's. Fortunately, she is now under my protection, and in a place where you are not likely to find her. Do not expect for one moment that I shall do anything to bring her again within the reach of your dangerous character. Only the memory of our old kindness restrains me from writing in a very much stronger way. I am sorry that I must ask you never to hold communication with me again.'
Meanwhile Prescott had been doing his utmost to obtain some further light upon the mystery. But neither his inquiries nor those of the skilled detective whom he sent down at his own expense to investigate had resulted so far in finding the smallest clue to what had happened on the night of the first of June.
He had not seen Eleanor since they parted at Abertaff. He now received a letter from her, in which she fulfilled her promise of letting him know her address. But her letter was so despondent, and showed her to feel her situation so deeply, that Prescott was greatly shocked and grieved.
Two days after he was roused by seeing in the papers this announcement:
'THE PORTHSTONE MURDER: DISCOVERY OF THE LOST JEWELS.—Last night, while dragging for fish along the shore of Newton Bay, some fishermen brought to land in their net a chest which had evidently been in the water some time. On being opened, it was found to be full of valuable gems. The police were at once communicated with, it being supposed that they were those missing since the night of the murder. They sent for Mr. Lewis, but as he was unable to speak to their identity, Mr. Williams, of Abertaff, who had supplied deceased with jewellery, was wired for, and he came down by the next train and identified the contents of the chest as the missing jewels. It will be remembered that a part of the body was discovered at or about the same place.
'The importance of the discovery is in negativing the theory that the crime was committed for the sake of robbery. But it cannot be said that the mystery which has enshrouded this murder from first to last is in any degree dispelled by this new incident.'
While Prescott was still pondering over this discovery, and its bearing on the position of Eleanor and the facts in the case, he received a second letter from Tressamer.
His first impulse was to return it unopened, but he thought this might be doing an injustice, as the letter might contain some explanation, though hardly any excuse for his strange conduct. He therefore opened it.
The letter was a long one, taking up many sheets of paper. After the opening words, it went on:
'I know not what opinion you have formed of me and of my conduct towards Eleanor Owen. Neither do I write in any hope of excusing myself. I am past that now, and I shall soon be past the reach of your anger and of hers.
'Let me begin at the beginning. You remember our childhood, and you know, none better, the bonds between Eleanor and myself. But you do not know that, as children, we were united by those pledges which children sometimes make in imitation of the serious engagements of later life. Of course, as we grew older that passed more or less out of sight, but the memory of it remained—at least, with me.
'I think it was you who first came between us, even at that early age. I used to think she liked you better than me. But why dwell on these things? Let me come on to a later time, the time of her father's death, when I had passed into manhood, and she was passing into young womanhood.
'That was my first opportunity of showing her my devotion, and I did so. I paid off her father's debts, and by the time I had settled everything, and handed over a little sum to her, I had spent some hundreds of pounds of my own.
'Eleanor was grateful. Whether she had any warmer feeling for me at that time, I cannot say. But I thought then that she had, and that she returned my love—not in the degree that I gave it; no, that could not be. Still, the pleasure she took in my company, the trust with which she seemed to lean on me, certainly filled me with the hope of some day winning her.
'I went to work cautiously. I dreaded her being afraid of my passion if I let her see its whole force. I never did. I chained it up when I was with her, and played a mild and cheerful part. I had my reward. At last, the Christmas after her father's death, I ventured to speak. She heard me with no delight, but yet, it seemed, with no great repugnance. Time soon reconciled her to the idea, and before long, I had the rapture of hearing her consent to be mine.
'Then it was that I betrayed myself. I let my mad passion peep forth for an instant, and in that instant I was undone. I saw I had terrified and shocked her. I would have given worlds to recall that volcanic outburst, but it was too late. Her feelings, mild hitherto, were soured by the lightning of my intense love. From that hour she turned from me with deeper and deeper aversion, and from that hour my passion grew and grew upon me with the force of mania, till it usurped the functions of reason, morality, prudence, and every motive that guides and controls the life of man, and left me with but one dominating, desperate idea, that I must possess Eleanor Owen, or perish.
'I need not dwell on what happened during the next year. How I saw her turning from me, with a sickening heart; how I hungered for the tokens of even that mild friendship she had shown me of old, and how even that was denied; how I brooded upon my wrongs till I scarce knew whether I loved or hated her, whether it was passion or revenge that inspired my mad resolve to kill her rather than forfeit my right to her.
'You, yes, you, came between us again. God help me, I sometimes think she must have loved you all along, unconsciously. She asked me for your portrait; I refused. She persisted. Then my wrath broke out in an ungovernable transport of jealousy, and I showed—I must have shown—something of the black stuff that was working in my heart. I saw her lose colour. I saw her tremble, and I rushed away to calm myself if I could.
'From that moment I could see that all friendly feeling was at an end between us. She hated me and I hated her. But I would not give her up. The very animosity between us seemed only to feed my fierce desire to have her and make her my slave. Am I writing wildly? Do you start back and shudder at all this? Go on; you have not yet come to a glimmering of the worst!
'I began to grow impatient for a final end to this state of things, and I pressed her to name a day for the marriage. She replied, putting me off. I went down by the next train to have it out with her. And then at last we spoke freely.
'I accused her of having ceased to love me. She said she had never really felt love for me, but only affection, and that I had extinguished that by my own behaviour.
'I asked her what behaviour. She was silent. Then the flood-gates of my wrath broke loose, and I put all her weakness and wickedness before her. Ah, how I spoke! You may think you have heard me eloquent. But you never have. I was that afternoon as one inspired. I stood there on the bare sands, alone with her, with the wind rushing past us, and the sea roaring in front, and the wild seabirds wheeling and screaming far away. Oh, it was a grand hour for me! The frenzy mounted to my brain. I felt like a destroying angel. I took her miserable girl's heart in my hands and rent it in twain, and cast its miserable pretences to the earth. I showed her myself, my manhood, my ardour, my passion, my devotion. I terrified her, awed her, fascinated her. For a time I think I had almost won upon her to yield.
'But my power forsook me. No sooner did I see the first symptom of returning tenderness in her, or what I mistook for it, than my hatred and rage departed; I was melted in a moment; I flung myself in front of her on my face, and implored her with sobs and tears to give me one little spark of love. Fool that I was! Fool! Fool!
'She took advantage of my weakness. Doubtless she despised me for it. She made me one of those mincing, lying answers that women know how to make to us in our madness, and she took courage at last to rise and leave me lying there—lying there with my face upon the wet sand, and the wet rain beating down upon my head, and the moaning tempest rising over me in the heavens, like the awful eruption of maniacal hatred that was working its way into my being within.
'I got up at night and came away. I suppose I still looked and acted as if I were sane. At all events, the people I passed said nothing to me. I packed up and left for Abertaff that night.
'With me I took an object which I had picked up on the sands where Eleanor had sat. It was the key of the house where she lived. When I caught sight of it it seemed like an inspiration. In an instant I resolved to make use of it to execute my vengeance. Since I could not marry Eleanor, I would kill her.
'But in the train a more subtle scheme presented itself. If I killed her, she would be lost to me for ever, and I still longed for her as madly as at any time. The new idea which I had got was this. I would kill, not Eleanor, but her friend and benefactress, and I would do it in such a way as to cast the stain of guilt on Eleanor herself. You see the plot. Her life was to be in no real danger. The body was to disappear, and hence she was to escape a trial. But the horror and condemnation of the whole world were to be turned upon her, and then, in her hour of blackest misery, I was to come forward and say: "I love you still. I believe in your innocence. Come with me to a foreign land as my wife, and I will make you happy."
'I need not tell you much more. I came back by road for greater secrecy, and did not arrive in Porthstone till eleven at night. I was not tired. Some superhuman power had taken possession of me, and in all I did I felt as if I were but a passive instrument in its hands.
'I approached the house at twelve, expecting all its inmates to be asleep. Just as I was about to enter it the door opened, and to my astonishment Eleanor herself emerged. I gazed at her retreating figure with a sort of stupid fascination for some time, and then recovered myself, and went in. I had taken off my boots outside, and hence, I suppose my footsteps sounded light as I went upstairs.
'Well, do you want more? Do you care to hear how I killed her; how I stabbed her in her sleep, lowered her through the window, and came down with the jewel-chest in my arms? I had to mutilate the corpse; the weight would have been too great for me at once. As it was, I made three journeys before I had disposed of all, and thrown everything, including the latchkey, into the sea.
'Then I walked back to Abertaff—twenty miles it was, and I got there before ten the next morning. I had breakfast, and was still walking the streets when the news came that the murder was discovered.
'It overwhelmed me. I assure you, Charles Prescott, on the oath of a dying man, that I knew not what I did, till that moment. I was possessed as surely as any of the Galilean sufferers of old. Madness, your modern science calls it. It is all the same. I passed out of it into my ordinary state with a terrible shock, and then I set about playing the part I had looked forward to, of delivering Eleanor, and carrying her off.
'But it was not to be. I had forgotten that she was not mad, too; I had made no allowance for her, and now I found that my protection, my confidence, was of no value to her, when she had lost the good opinion of the world.
'Of the world, do I say? Verily, I believe it was you; I believe you unconsciously thwarted me then, as before.
'I gave way to my frenzy again in secret. Again the demon came back and resumed his sway. He has held me ever since. He holds me now.
'Yet I can act my part. I deceive all. I just rang for my clerk, and told him I should want him to carry this to your chambers. Fool! He had no suspicion that he was never going to hear me speak again.
'Good-bye. 'Twere folly to ask you to forgive. I do not wish it. Yet, Eleanor—Eleanor——'
The letter ended abruptly at this point. The reader put on his hat and rushed round to Tressamer's chambers. It was too late. He found him sitting in a chair, stark and dead, with a dagger driven through his heart.
* * * * *
When a year had elapsed, a quiet wedding took place, in an out-of-the-way city church, between Charles Prescott and Eleanor Owen. The only dowry brought by the bride was her restored beauty, and a parchment under the Great Seal of England, pardoning her from all accusations that had been or might be raised against her on account of the tragedy which had so nearly involved her in a felon's doom.
* * * * *
BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD.
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.