THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A NARROW ESCAPE.
These simple words, and the manner in which they were spoken, produced a greater effect than could have been imagined. The words and bearing were not those of a guilty man. The magistrates were deeply impressed. Most of them were acquainted with Thursfield, and could not bring themselves to believe him guilty. Still from the weight of evidence they had no choice but to commit him, unless the statements made by the prosecution could be disproved or explained. In this perplexity the magistrates retired for consultation. On coming back into court, they announced that in the hope of obtaining further and more direct evidence, they had decided to adjourn the case for two days. Meanwhile —so they advised him—the prisoner should consult his friends, and seek legal assistance, and if a further adjournment would enable him to clear himself, it should be granted. So the court broke up. As the prisoner was removed he cast a hasty glance around, as if seeking for a face he hoped, yet dreaded, to see. It was upon Ettie that his thoughts were fixed ; but Ettie was not there. The shock had been too great for her. For some hours it was feared that she would never regain consciousness. Late in the day she revived ; snd then her first cry was for George. Feeble as she was, the poor girl would have gone to him, and stood by his side in the crowded court; but the wiser councils of her friends prevented such a dangerous exposure. They would have hindered her even from communicating with her lover ; but on this Ettie was resolved. And so, as George Thursfield stepped down from the bar, there was. thrust into his hand a little note. He opened it and read— George,—They will not let me come to you; but if all others fail, I am faithful to you. Your true and laving Wife —Eti ie. He raised the paper to his lips with a smile of hope and triumph; and then passed put, with a load lifted from his heart. CHAPTER V—DAY-BREAK. By nightfall, Ettie had recovered strength and courage. Hearing what had occurred in court, her first act was to seek an interview with her lover ; but this was forbidden, only a lawyer being allowed admission to the prisoner. Without delay, Ettie despatched a messenger to the nearest town, with instructions to bring back with him one Mr Burroughs. Then, after another fruitless effort to gain access to George, she returned, heartbroken, to Stanton Holm ; and sat there, in the little parlor, alone, for in her great calamity she thought it better to put aside the well-meant but intolerable consolations her gossips had to offer. She sat there, late into the night, refusing comfort, neither eating nor sleeping, her eyes dry and tearless, her whole being absorbed in the dim consciousness of what seemed a ghastly dream. When, from time to time, an old and faithful servant stole into the room, Ettie never lifted his head, nor spoke, save to ask two questions—- “ Any news of George ? ” and, “ Has Lawyer Burroughs come 1 ” Then, the answers being always “ No,” she sank back again into stupor, only moaning now and then, and fro, as if in acute pain. So the night passed. When morning broke—grey, cold, and misty—Ettie sank for a while into a troubled sleep, from which she was awakened by the entrance of the servant with a letter. In her blank misery she could scarcely trace the words, written in a straggling hand, and blurred here and there as if by careless haste:— I can tell something (it ran) of importance to George Thursfield. Please attend to this, or else it will be to late. * ‘ Who brought this note ?” asked Ettie. The servant said it was a man—a stranger ; by his dress a fisherman or a sailor, she could hardly tell which. After a moment’s hesitation, Ettie directed the bearer of the note to be admitted. He entered, and remained standing in the shadow by the doorway, until the servant had left the room. Then he came forward, removed his slouched hat, and stepped out into the light, disclosing the hateful form of Ellerton. Ettie sprang towards the window, as if to callj for assistance ; but Ellerton, too quick for her, drew her “back, and placed his hand upon her mouth. “ Listen to me Ettie,” he said. “ I will not harm you, and if you will let me, I am ready to help you. I can do so, and I will. Of course,” he added, “ upon conditions.” This with a short fierce laugh. His words and manner alike fascinated her. Besides, she thought, he may have something to tell. So she listened. Ellerton went on—- “ Ettie, you care for the life of George Thursfield?” “More than for my own,” she answerd. “Well, then, it is in your power to save him. As- the case stands now, he must he convicted, and if convicted, he dies. They are sure to hang the murderer of an exciseman. ” The girl shrank back, and hid her face in her outstretched hands, as if to exclude some horrid vision. Then,-with sudden impulse, she spoke, looking keenly at him—- “ You know he is no murderer, Richard Ellerton. None know -it better than you ; ” A spasm of mingled rage and terror shot over the man’s face, and blanched it • for a second into death-like whiteness. Recovering by an effort, he said doggedly, “I know nothing but what was said in court, and that only by hearsay. Bu. that was enough to hang your lovert Now I tell you that, with my help, you can save his life.” “ How V’ she asked. “That,” he said with a dry laugh, “ is my secret. Before I tell you, we must make a bargain. I must be rewarded. ” “ Well, then, the conditions ?” He paused a moment before replying. Then lifting his head, and looking her straight and eagerly in the face, he said — “ The conditions are that, Thursfield saved—and saved he shall be —you give him up for ever, and marry me.” Conquering her disgust, Ettie replied calmly—“lf I consent, how can you save George!” “ Suppose," he said—drawing closer to her, and laying his hand upon her arm, she shudderin at the touch—“ suppose a rescue! ” “ That,” she said with quiet scorn, “would not clear his name; and a good name is worth more than life.” “Well then” he answered quickly, “ suppose the evidence could be explained . away snd suspicion could be shifted to ' another person ? ” “ George would never consent to gain his life by the sacrifice of the innocent.” He uttered an exclamation of impatience. Then, as if in his eagerness hurried beyond caution —“ Suppose the murdered man—” _ . , A sudden thought struck upon Ettie s mind with the force of life and hope. Her eyes sparkled, she advanced a step, echoing his words—- “ Yes, suppose the murdered man ? Noting the change, Ellerton relapsed sullen caution — ■ “ Give' 1 me your’promise, before I say another- -word. Swear that if Thursfield is freed' r you will become my wife ! ” ■ --- -“ Never,” She cried, “ a thousand times Sr- I would rather die with him, and grave, than link my
name with yours. No, Richard Ellerton, your device is too shallow. You may deceive yourself, you cannot deceive me. Go ! ” —she pointed towards the door—“Go! life at your hands and with you would be the greatest misery that could befall a human creature. ” With a curse and a movement as if he would have struck her, Richard Ellerton quitted the room, and the house. From an upper window she watched him, wildly beating the air, stagger through the garden, then down the pathway to the beach, and so along the bay, turning at each few yards, to note if he were followed or observed. Then the strange glad light came once more into Ettie’s eyes, and her form dilated with an indescribable air |of triumph. “ Yes,” she cried, half dreaming, half aloud. “George may be saved, but not by a sacrifice worse than death ” CHAPTER VI —IT GROWS LIGHTER. Lawyer Burroughs came, and had a long interview with his client ; but could promise little hope, at least immediately. The case was full of mystery; baffiing even his keenness. From the prison he went up to Stanton Holm, and saw Ettie, bidding her prepare for the committal of her lover. The assizes he said would not be held for three months, and between now and then some clue to the mystery might be discovered. But for the present he saw no chance of help. “He must never be committed for trial,” Ettie said. “Indeed he shall not.” The keen old lawyer glanced at her with alarmed surprise, believing her brain to be affected ; but struck with her tone and look, he dismissed his first impression, and bade her speak" to him with unreserve. Then Ettie told him something that had passed through her mind, at which the lawyer smiled faintly, and shook his head as if in doubt. Next, he listened with quickening belief, and at last yielding full credence to her views, he put full confidence in her plans. The result of the conference, which will appear hereafter, was that Lawyer Burroughs sent off two special messengers, with instructions to ride as if life and death depended on their speed. By nightfall, strolling on the beach, the lawyer .chatted quite pleasantly to three or four strangers, who civilly wished him, “ good evening; ” and before turning back to the inn, he noted, with a quiet smile, that a fishing smack, driven there possibly by stress of weather had anchored in the bay. The next morning was that appointed for the sitting of the magistrates. It was looked upon as a merely formal proceeding, for no one—not even Thursfield himself - doubted that the prisoner must be committed. Yet, notwithstanding this, the court was densely filled. The circumstances attending the imputed crime were so strangely dramatic, and the interest felt in the prisoner was so great, that the whole country seemed to have come together in the justice-room at Stanton. So dense, indeed, was the crowd, that no room in the place would hold them, and numbers gathered outside, discussing the probabilities of guilt or innocence. There were few who did not wish to believe the latter ; but there were fewer still who felt themselves able to resist the proofs of Thursfield’s guilt. Those who were fortunate enough to get into the court enjoyed a series of “ sensations.” First, there was the entrance of Lawyer Burroughs, with a clerk carrying his red bag, well stuffed with law-books and papers. Then "the magistrates came in by a side door, and took their seats. Next, after a solemn pause, the prisoner was brought up, looking—poor fellow—as if three day’s imprisonment had added ten years to his age. As he stepped, closely guarded, into the little deck, Thursfield cast one glance, and only one, around the court. Those who saw it, knew that he was looking for Ettie Stanton, and the sob with which he turned away, on finding that Ettie was not present, was echoed in many breasts, in which, in ordinary times, sympathy was a rare emotion. After a few minutes the [proceedings began, and Thursfield was called upon for his defence. This, of course, "was undertaken by Lawyer Burroughs, who seemed to have but one object—to lengthen the hearing as much as possible. First he insisted upon having the evidence read over. This conceded, he took a nu m^er of objections, thus provoking long arguments between himself and the magistrates and their clerk. Then he commented minutely upon each fact recorded, trying to explain them away one by one, and laying great stress upon the circumstantial nature of the evidence as rendering it inconclusive. When he had travelled over the whole case, he begun again, and endeavoured to cast new light upon it; but only, as it seemed, with the effect of wearying the justices, the audience, and even the prisoner, who leant across and spoke to him, begging that the speech might be closed, and the committal made out.
“It is useless,” George faintly whispered, “ to contend any longer, I cannot endure this protracted trial.” “Patience,” whispered Mr. Burroughs in reply. “I know what lam doing. Patience and (this he said with great significance) patience and hope ! ” Then with an anxious glance towards the door of the court, to which, indeed, he had looked eagerly a dozen times in the course of his address, the lawyer went on once more. Presently he stopped and listened, as his ear detected a murmur in the crowd outside. Then there was a quick movement; then a sudden stillness. A woman’s figure appeared at the doorway, and made its way up the middle of the court, the people instinctively moved back to give room. A thrill of sympathy and expectation ran through the assembly, for the figure was that of Ettie Stanton 1
Pale, yet composed, with a strange light in her eyes, and a singular air of triumph in her whole bearing, the girl advanced to Mr. Burroughs, and whispered a sentence in his ear. Then she moved proudly, like a queen, to the side of the dock, and put her hand in that of George Thursfield, who clasped it, and passionately raised it to his lips. During this remarkable scene a deep silence prevailed in court, the spectators holding their breath with expectation, not unmingled with awe. [to be continued.!
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 119, 29 June 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 119, 29 June 1880
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