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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 101, 18 May 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A LOVE STORY.
And Burnet never wavered in his cheery confidence. “Pooh, pooh, old fellow,” ho said, in reply to Arthur’s indignant denial of his guilt, “I never believed you killed poor Ned, and she doesn’t believe it. Keep your head cool, and make a plain statement of the matter as it happened. Put it into -writing. We’ll pull you through yet.” But Arthur Golding saw little comfort even in being “pulled through.” “ Though I be acquitted,” he said mournfully, “I was still the involuntary agent of his death. How can I ever aspire to her love, red with her brother’s blood ? I had rather be hanged, on the whole.”
But Burnet persistently set to work, and sent his scouts about in all directions. Many a confabulation had he with the old coast-guardsman, and never failed to return from these conferences with a cheerful mien. But upon the points upon which he relied for defence he maintained a lawyer-like reserve. The day fixed for the trial dawned. The court was crowded, so deeply was the interest in the Cleve Cliff tragedy felt throughout the country. Mr. Burnet appeared as a witness, though his evidence showed nothing against the accused, and in cross-examination, his son managed to extract several instances which proved the amiability of the prisoner, and the unlikelihood of his committing so grave a crime. Kate Burnet had been cited, but was not called into the box, both counsel sympathising with her distress. The chief witness for the prosecution was Miss Wraxall, who appeared in a modest garb of mourning, which set off her wondrous beauty, her pale face, and her matchless eyes. Calm, cold, and singularly unimpassioned, she gave her evidence with a clearness which seemed to tighten the halter round the prisoner’s neck. Burnet rose to cross-examine.
“You state, Miss Wraxall, that a bitterfeeling existed between the deceased and the accused. Did you ever chance, by words of your own, to aggravate this feeling on the part of the deceased ? ”
“ Never, sir.” “Did you ever signify; by an expressed statement, or by implication, to Mr. Edward Burnet that Mr. Golding occupied a higher place in your regard than he could hope to obtain ? ” The counsel for the prosecution objected to this question ; but Clara waived the objection. “lean set this "gentleman’s doubts at rest. I never did imply to the deceased any such thing.” “ What brought you, may I ask, on Cleve Cliff anterior to the accident,” pursued Fred. “ Anterior to the murder? ” “Please confine yourself to the answer. ”
“ I went,” said the witness “ to enjoy the evening air. ” “ Did anything of an excitable nature —any recriminations, in short —pass between Mr. Golding and yourself previous to the arrival of Mr. Edward Burnet ? ” “No.” “ There were no reproaches —no violence of language ? ” “ Only on the side of the prisoner. He was sullen, and reproached me with slighting his suit; and said he was aware that he had a rival. ”
“ He used no violence, however ? ” “In speech he was violent,” answered Clara reluctantly.
“But not in action ? He did not embrace you, for instance—offered no personal violence ? ”
“No ; he was very calm and collected.’ 1
“And you did not, when the deceased approached on the pathway of the cliff, call aloud to the deceased that you apprehended insult from Mr. Golding, and implore Mr. Burnet to protect you ? ” “ Certainly not,” retorted Clara, with an ominous darkling of her brow. “Please to recapitulate the events when the accused and the deceased met,” said Fred. Burnet, referring to his notes.
“ Mr. Edward Burnet landed on the summit of the cliff, and the prisoner advancing, asked him what he was doing there ; said he was aware of his pretensions to my hand, and would adopt immediate means to quash them. On Mr. Burnet’s replying warmly the prisoner struck him in the face. I was terribly frightened, and cannot recall what followed ; but was immediately aware of the prisoner who was an athletic man, draggingpoorMr. Burnet to the edge of the cliff, and flinging him over. My next recollection amidst that horror ” —her voice failed here—“was his saying that he would serve me in the same way. On that I fled down the pathway screaming in terror.” To the surprise of all concerned the counsel for the defence sat down, and the cross-examination concluded. A few more witnesses were called, who proved the admiration which the deceased had shown for Mias Wraxall. Of these Fred asked no questions at all. Thus ended the case for the prosecution.
Then Burnet rose for the defence. “I propose, my Lord, to call but one witness, and trust you will find his testimony sufficient to acquit my client. Let Mr. Edw'ard Burnet be called. ”
A murmur of surprise ran through the Court, deepening to an actual cry of relief and gladness as Mr. Edward Burnet, pale but resolute, appeared and made his way to the witness-box. There was no need of the oath —no need for any crucial test. A hundred eyes recognised him only too gladly. His sister Kate fainted ; Mr. Burnet burst into] tears ; the prisoner himself broke down with a sense of mighty relief. And Clara Wraxall looked at him, and over her face came a look of stony despair. It was Edward returned from the grave to baulk her of her deadly revenge. It all came out—the truth against the lie of the would-be murderess.
“Bub why,” asked the sententious judge, “ did you not come forward at once and clear the prisoner ? ” Up jumped the irrepressible Burnet—- “ I am responsible my Lord, for putting the State to that expense. In the first place, I only found Mr. Burnet quite recently. He had been picked up by a very respectable confraternity, who entertain grave doubts as to the advisableness of supporting the revenue by payments on excisable articles ; and they kept the young gentleman out of the way after restoring him, for fear of compromising themselves. In the second place, I wished to prove to my cousin the utter worthless character of the person upon whom he had fixed his affections. It was a sharp lesson but I have saved him from a life of misery. ” “Then,” commenced the judge, “the evidence of Miss Wraxall ”
“ Is, so far as my own knowledge of what she has said goes, a lie,” answered Edward ; and his lips were pale, but he wore the look of one who had awoke from a sad and bitter dream.
As Arthur Golding, with the sense of unreality still strong on him, walked from the court a free man, surrounded by congratulating friends, he met the coastguardsman. “ I’ll tell you, sir,” exclaimed that worthy officer, with a burst of confidence unequalled in the recollection of the oldest fisherman of Clevedown, “ how it all came right. That chap Slippy Jim was putting off on one of his expeditions to a smuggler’s vessel in the bay at the very moment when Mister Edward tumbled off the cliff, and Jem and his pals picked him up and kept him out of sight after they’d brought him to. And from what I told Mr. Burnet, the lawyer, of
Slippy Jem’s ways and habits, that put him on the secret. And he found Mr. Edward sure enough, though they was afraid to produce him for fear of getting into a scrape themselves by lotting out how they’d found him. But Mr. Barnet, the lawyer, squared slippy Jem and he’s going to offer him the chance of becoming respectable, either as a missionary or the mate of a revenue cutter—he’s free to choose which. And that’s how it all came right, and it’s the only time I ever knew good come out of smuggling.” Never in the memory of man had the coast-guardsman delivered himself of so much spontaneous information ; nor was he ever afterwards induced to hold forth for so long a time together, even at those subsequent periods when Arthur Golding, now Kate’s husband, would pass his autumns at Glevedown with his wife and Frederick Burnet, and muse over the unaccountable disappearance of Clara Wraxall, as some said, over the broken railings of Cleve Cliff. [concluded.]
THE INFLUENCE OF A CHILD.
(From Hat pen's Monthly.')
“That’s so, cousin!” exclaims a grim old Californian adventurer and ex-gold-digger, who, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, holds us with his glittering eye until he is delivered of his storv.
‘‘ It was in the early days of the California gold fever, when the epidemic had apparently burned out all. the ordinary sentiments of humanity from men’s breasts ; cut loose from family, law, religion, and all the conservative appliances of society, the pistol and bowie-knife were considered the most essential articles of clothing, and men fought over their claims and nuggets like wolves around the carcass of a buffalo, when in their savage selfishness they would sometimes clean out the pockets of the dead or dying comrade ere they abandoned the body to perish by the way side. In these days I was chief of a company organised for co-opera-tive labor and self protection while we worked a claim high up on a tributary of the Sacramento River. Here, day afterday and month after month, we pursued our cheerless and adventurous toil, digging, damming, washing, and prospecting,carefully hoarding our hard-earned gains, jealously estimating each man’s capacity for daily protection, and grudgingly envying his ability for reduction of our stock of coarse and costly provisions. One day as we were gathered in camp waiting for our evening meal, and recklessly discoursing of murders, misery, and gold, the figure of a man was seen descending the rugged path which led to our valley. As we were far away from the usual routes of travel, the stranger’s appearance excited surprise and suspicion, and his approach was greeted with jealous and inhospitable murmurs. Who can he be, and what does he want here 1 Some bummer looking for a free boarding-house ! An itinerant thief sneaking about for an opportunity to hook a nugget or two ! or perhaps some cutthroat that has been allowed to leave the settlements to save the expense of a gallows ! Can’t ring in here, stranger ; no tavern nor spare accomodation at this camp. “Regardless of unfriendly growls and lowering looks the stranger neither halted nor spoke till he stood in our midst, where, unbuckling a strap, ho disengaged a rag-enveloped pack from his shoulders, and, carefully stooping, deposited it standing up endwise on the ground ; then pushing back the top covering, which had some vague far fetched resemblance to a woman’s sun-bonnet he revealed the features of a child, haggard and faminepinched as his own, but with a pair of great, sad, appealing eyes that might have melted even the gold-bearing quartz itself.
“ The grim circle was suddenly thrilled with a strange and unaccountable emotion, which bursts into shouts and ejaculations. Good Heavens !itis a child, and a girl at that. Then our head bully, a great rude ruffian, stepped forward, knelt beside the little apparition, and pushing back a curtain of tangled sunburnt hair, reverently kissed her hollow freckled cheek. One after another the whole camp followed his example, even the cooks deserting pots and pans to claim the privelege of yearning humanity. “During the salutation the stranger’s toil-worn countenance was lighted with a smile, and he spoke for the first time—- ‘ Men, I knowed you couldn’t turn her off to starve. ’
“Thus welcomed and reassured, while supper was serving, the stranger told his brief story. He had started from Kentucky with his family to seek the new El Dorado by the usual route across the plains. Having lost his horses and cattle, he was forced to abandon his equippage, and with such scanty provision as they could pack on their backs, he and his people essayed to continue their journey on foot. The wife soon sunk under the accumulating fatigue and exposure. They had no tools to dig a grave, so, to hide the body from the wolves, they covered it with a heap of stones. The baby died two days after, which was a relief ; but it seemed too awful lonesome to leave it by itself in the midst of the desert, so they carried it back and laid it with its mother. This was a mighty satisfaction, but it was a heavy loss of time, and provisions were getting down to starvation point. The man and his three boys still trudged on, by turns giving the little sister a lift over the rough places, and always reserving her the biggest share of the provisions. But, in spite of their pluck, the boys dropped one after another, ‘ and only she and I have stuck it out. ’ So saying, the stranger wiped his moistening eyes with his coat sleeve, composed his troubled countenance, and took the proffered seat beside his little girl at the supper table. ‘ A sudden and curious change appeared in the manners and temper of our party. From the hour that our new guests were established among us, gold ceased to be the leading topic of conversation, and its value depreciated to an extent that might have puzzled and alarmed the most able financier in Wall Street. The men worked languidly, gave up prospecting, hurried home to their meals, lingered longer about the camp, apparently for the sole purpose of being near the little girl, holding her on their knees, caressing and talking to her—a privilege which was as eagerly claimed, and jealously divided as had been heretofore the glittering dust of the placer. Cards were forgotten, oaths were suppressed, and we talked pleasantly and dreamily together of our distant homes, mothers, wives, sweet-hearts, and friends in the old States. Wild Indian whoops and ribald songs no longer roused the harsh echoes of the rocky canon, and we searched our memories for all the scraps of sacred or sentimental music that might have survived our long exile from the land of church bells and Sunday schools. It was even suggested that we might have better luck in our diggings if we should resolve hereafter to abstain from work and give some recognition to the Sabbath ; but it appeared we had lost the run of the calender so completely that not a man of us could have guessed within four days of Sunday. The idea was abandoned reluctantly. So, during the week, this poor little sunburnt skinny suggestion of womanhood remained among us, it seemed as if an angel sojourned in our camp, rebuking our wild greediness and brutality, and filling our hearts with humanising hopes and memories. ‘At length, rested, strengthened, and comforted, the stranger prepared to resume his journey, and although it appeared the result of that week’s labour had fallen at least 30 per cent, below the usual average, we all with one voice entreated our guests to remain. But the
poor man was unwilling to trespass longer on our hospitality, and his vague hopes and plans still beckoned him onward. Then came the leave-taking, with a cheery grip for his hand, a regretful kiss for the child's cheek, and a more substantial remembrance from each rugged heart in the shape of a plump nugget or a purse of shining dust, until the joint contributions made quite a load to carry, amounting to several hundred dollars in value, without reckoning in the count the shamefaced tears that trickled down the bronzed cheeks and hid in the shaggy beards of some of our company. ‘ After they were gone, our community soon x-elapsed into its old way, to all outward appearance ; but I have reason to know that for some of the inmates of that dreary prison 1 Picciola ’ had not bloomed in vain. ’
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 101, 18 May 1880
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