THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A NARROW ESCAPE. chapter in— continued. The cry was repeated. George listened with tremor ; the time and scene were enough to inspire apprehension. Again the cry ! Pshaw ! it was as he had fancied : nothing but the plaintive wail of the curlews sweeping with their ghost-like wings along the deserted shore. So, stepping swiftly onwards, George made his way to Stanton Holm, and there Sitting, late into the night, in sweet and loving converse with Ettie, ho shook off the influence of these vague alarms, and thought only of the dear one so soon to become his own. Next evening, this hopeful calm was jftidely disturbed. George had been all day engaged in the labors of the farm, and as night came on he was preparing tc gd over to Stanton Holm. As he passed out of the doorway, he was accosted by £ Stranger. “ Master Thursfield ? ” said the man. “My name is Thursfield,” replied George ; “ what do you want -with me 1 ’ “ i want to know something about Mr Thompson, the supervisor,” was th( hftswer. “I am one of the preventive Then, and was to meet him last night or Stanton down, but he didn’t come. Hi hasn’t been to-day over to the station and we’re a bit uneasy for him, with thesi smuggling rascals being about the place.’ A sudden spasm of alarm shot throng! George Thursfield’s heart. He though ef the cry amongst the rocks ! “ I went with Thompson ” he said “last night, up the cliffs, and saw hin turn downwards to the road. Then lost sight of him, and have not seen hin again, or heard of him till now.” The man shifted uneasily, and turned i quid of tobacco in his cheek. Then speaking thoughtfully, he said, “ Some thing’s happened, depend upon it, Mi Thursfield. Some harm’s come to th gauger. Ho was a steady man, am .always kept his time. Well, he didn’ come last last night, and we’ve not hean of him to day. There’s something wrong It had better better be looked into. ” George agreed with him ; and calling ; couple of laborers, they went out to searcl the cliffs. There was no sign of th exciseman there; nor upon the beach ■nor, as far as they could see, amongst th rocks in the bay. Nightfall put an end to the search Next morning it was renewed, a party o coast-guardsmen, with a lieutenant a their head, coming over to assist. The; divided themselves into parties, am searched the cliffs and the coast for miles but still found nothing. Another da; arrived —it was the eve of the wedding—but still no trace of the exciseman. A last a loud cry from one of the searcher brought the rest together ; and there, ii a cleft of the rocks, so hidden that i could be only discovered by the meres chance, lay the body of a man. It hai evidently been washed up by the tide and the clothes and hair were matted wit! weed. Eagerly the searchers clearei away the obstruction, and lifted the bod; reverently out of the sands. Then the; clustered round it, awe-stricken in thi presence of Death ; half fearing to realist their worst apprehensions. The lieutenant stooped to examine tin corpse. The face was so battered ant disfigured as to be past recognition. Bu the height, the figure, the dress wen those of Thompson, and in the pocket o the dead man were found the watch o the supervisor, his pistols, both loaded and several letters directed to him. “Poor fellow,” said the lieutenant “it is Thompson. He must have turnec back to take a last look from the cliffs missed his footing and fallen over.” It was a probable conjecture, and wai accepted by the party as truth. But a; they lifted the body to carry it to tin village, the lieutenant started forward. “ Great Heaven,” he cried, “ this ii murder. The man has been shot! Sho by an assasain from behind ! ” It was too true the exciseman had no met his death by a fall. In the back o the head there was a deep, wounc plainly from a pistol shot. He Imc been murdered, and then thrown face downwards, over the cliffs upor the jagged rocks. This accounted for the disfigurement of the features, and for the disorder of the dress. The immediate conjecture was that the unfortunate man had come unexpectedly upon a party of smugglers, and had fallen a victim to their vengeance, for he was known as the most daring and active officer along that coast, and in those wild days smugglers made short work of excisemen or preventive men who fell into their power. Further inquiry into the murder was, however, necessarily left until next day ; and the body was conveyed along the beach, and up the cliff path to the village tavern, there to await the coroner’s inquest, and the investigation the magistrates would set on foot. This duty performed, the searchers dispersed, the lieutenant and his men remaining with the body, the villagers standing about in groups to discuss the terrible incident ; and George Thursfield going over to Stanton Holm, to convey the news to his betrothed, and to calm her renewed fears of impending evil. Poor creatures, to-morrow was their wedding-day. This tragedy was but a sad preparation for a morning that should be all brightness and joy ! If it had been possible, they would have put off the wedding. George himself was depressed and full of apprehension. Ettie, poor thing, trembled like a frightened bird, and nestled close to her lover as if his arm alone could shield her from danger. Her nerves had scarce recovered from the shock of Richard Ellerton’s violence, and her own imminent peril ; and now the murder of Thompson served to revive the alarm excited by the former occurrence. For her sake, therefore, George thought of deferring the wedding for a few days longer ; but it proved to be impossible. The license had nearly expired, and the clergyman had delayed a distant journey in order to perform the marriage ceremony, and could wait no longer. So it was resolved that the wedding should take place next clay, and George endeavoured to restore hopefulness to his bride by assuming a cheerful demeanour which he was far from feeling. “Dearest,” he said, pressing her to his breast, “it will be better so. You will be safe with me, and with safety, wil come peace and courage.” Ettie nestled closer and closer ; but when she tried to speak, her voice broke into a sob. It was the wedding morning, and the weather was just what it should be on such a morning—bright, clear and sunny . a good omen to those who believe in forecasts. Like all sensitive persons, Ettie was keenly alive to external influences, and the pleasant change in the weather seemed to her like a pledge of happiness, for the future. Not since she and George sat hand in hand upon the bank sloping •into the sea had she been so happy Richard Ellerton and his threats were forgotten In the renewed joy springing up in her breast. For the moment she almost forgot the dismal tragedy of the exciseman’s death, which she had vaguely connected with Ellerton’s re-appearance, and had so made this all the blacker and more ominous. George himself, too, had undergone a change. With the breaking of the day which was to crown his life by giving him Ettie for his own, his spirits rose, and he came down to Stanton Holm ; to greet his bride with a tender , kiss and i a bright and loving smile. His own face i
was reflected in the happiness which beamed from Ettie’s eyes ; and so, hand 1 in hand —for they wore simple folk—they went, with a few chosen friends, up to the village church. The churchyard was filled with the villagers, George and Ettie being great 'favorites with the Stanton people, of whom the poor especially had I received many a kindness at their hands. 3 So, as the bridal party entered the 1 churchyard, old and young pressed round - to give them a welcome, and blessings f and good wishes mingled with the merry peals of the marriage hells. They had reached the ivy-covered 3 porch, the clergyman was waiting, robed, 3 at the altar, the hells rang out their 1 loudest merriest peal, the sunlight fell in a i' golden shower on bride and bridegroom. 1 Ettie turned with a look of trustful 3 affection to him who was so soon to become her husband, and George re--3 turned the loving pledge by a firmer 1 grasp of her little hand. i One step more, and they would have 0 been in the church ; but a few moments, and tee solemn and irrevocable “ I will ” a would have linked them in the sweetest, most sacred bond than can unite two loving hearts! (1 But it was not to he ! The steps of the bridal party were checked by a sudden commotion at the churchyard gate, a cone fused sound of angry remonstrance and e authoritative command. Then, as if n yielding to irresistible pressure the crowd e gave way, a body of armed men, their > cutlasses flashing in the sunlight, marched 'e swiftly up the churchyard path, and the ” lieutenant of the coastguard stepping forfi ward from their head, laid his hand firmly upon the shoulder of the bridegroom, saying as he did so—lj “In the King’s name, George Therein field, I arrest you for the murder of 1 Henry Thompson, His Majesty’s super:n visor of excise. ” As their leader spoke, the coast-gnards-a men closed round the unhappy prisoner, b and scarce a word could he uttered, 3- Thursfield, pinioned and captive, was led r - away to prison—the crowd falling back on ie all sides, shrinking from contact with a ■d- murderer. t And Ettie ? She, poor thing, sprang 'd towards her lover, with a stifled cry as of = • a wounded fawn. Then, put back with rough tenderness by one of the coasta guardsmen, she fell fainting at the church door, as if appealing to Heaven for mercy ! 16 And as she fell, she caught a momentary b sight of a face that, years after, made her 16 shudder in her dreams; eyes blazing with gratified hatred, a mouth curved \in mocking scorn—the face of a triumph--31 ant demon. •V CHAPTER IV —NIGHT, d The examination before the magistrates 3 I took place within a few hours of the y prisoner’s arrest. The evidence, of ~ course, was entirely circumstantial ; but it told fearfully against Thursfield. Indeed, rs innocent as he knew himself to be, hope n almost faded out of his breast as proof upon proof of seeming guilt was accuraus" lated before the court. It was shown that during his visit to Stanton, the 3 > murdered man had been exclusively in , ‘ 1 Thursfield’s company, and that the prisoner had manifested a desire to prey vent other persons from communicating y with him. This was true enough, the 16 object being to save annoyance to Ettie ie by concealing the attack made upon her by Richard Ellerton, and to do this it was e necessary to keep back from the excise'll man’s knowledge the fact that Ellerton’s lfc vessel had been seen in the bay. Then it ' e was further shown that on the night of the murder Thursfield and the exciseman had gone together in the direction of the cliffs ; and, as one of the witnesses declared, Thursfield seemed desirous to withi draw himself from observation. D was fi also shown than an hour afterwards a h figure, like that of the prisoner, had been seen on the summit of the cliffs, as if in 18 the act of listening, and then of stooping 18 to conceal some object. Next came the 0 circumstance of Thursfield’s return alone, looking anxious and depressed. To these is damaging pieces of evidence there were >t added others of a more startling character. Two witnesses came forward .and d deposed that on the night of the murder, d and about the time when, according to d his own story, Thursfield must have just d parted with the exciseman, they heard b from the Downs a cry, twice repeated, as n of some human creature in mortal agony. e This, they said, appeared to proceed from e the cliffs exactly over the spot on which the body of the murdered man was dise covered. As this evidence was given, Y George remembered with a shudder the d cries he had himself heard on tiiat fatal e night, and had mistaken for those of seae birds. The last piece of evidence, and d the heaviest was now produced. The 1 coastguard lieutenant deposed that on d again searching the spot in which the body of Thompson lay amongst the rocks > he found a pistol, recently discharged—- ; plainly that with which w r as B committed. This discovery led to an ex--3 .animation of the prisoner’s house, where, 8 hidden away in a cupboard, was found a ■ pistol, of the same make, exactly corres- - ponding to that discovered beside the - body. 3 At this point Thursfield, who hod 1 until now maintained an impassive attij tude, stooped forward to look at the > pistols. The movement was noted by 3 those in court, and they observed also 3 that, having looked, the unhappy man fell backwards with a stifled groan, into his accustomed place. I He had recognised in the murderer’s * pistol the fellow to that which he had snatched from Richard Ellerton! The prosecution being closed, the magistrates crdled upon Thursfield for his ■ defence. What could he say 1 It was • impossible to disprove a tittle of the evi- ' deuce against him, for it was all true. It was hopeless to protest his innocence, because in the face of testimony so weighty protestations w T ere useless. The only chance was to say nothing, to allow himself to to be commitecl at the Assizes, and then to employ the best lawyers that could be obtained, in the hope of unravelling the dreadful mystery. Therefore, with simple dignity, though with emotion that for a moment choked his utterance, he said but a few words :
“I am innocent of this crime, but I admit that appearances are heavily against me. Without skilled help I cannot explain them, and that help I have yet had no chance of obtaining. Therefore, content with now declaring my innocence, I must await the judgement of another tribunal, where, in His great mercy, God will make the truth appear. ” (to be continued.)
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.
Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.
Print, save, zoom in and more.