THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A NAEEOW ESCAPE. chapter n—continued. Then turning to the bench, Lawyer Burroughs spoke. ~ ~ T , ’ ~ v “ Gentlemen,” he said, “ I humbly beg pardon for delaying you so long, and seemingly with so little reason. But as you will see, I am more than justified in what. I have done. My task js nearly ended. lam about to call a witness for the prisoner, who will prove his innoCOQC6 1 ' Then, turning to the door of the court, he cried, “ Bring in the witness ! ” there fell upon the assembly a deep 5 silence, then a stir as of people awakening from a dream, then a cry of wonder and relief—for, by the side of the lawyer there stood, pale and haggard, but still living and trembling with excitement, the only witness who could prove the innocence of George Thursfield —the reputed murdered man, the exciseman, Thompson hire self ! Y ith a great cry of love and joy, Ettie Stanton fell weeping into the arms of herlover. Clasping the precious burden close to his breast, George Thursfield raised his eyes in thankfulness to Heaven ! CHAPTER VII —SUNSHINE AGAIN. The re-appearance of Thompson of course disposed of the charge against George Thursfield, who was instantly liberated, amidst the congratulations of the magistrates and the people, for the proof 'of his innocence excited universal satisfaction. There remained however much to be explained; and from various sources the mystery was made clear. First asking that the doors might be closed, and that no person might be allowed to leave the court, Thompson spoke. He said on leaving Thursfield on the night of the supposed murder, he intended to go straight to meet the coastguardsman on the Downs, and had actually begun to descend the cliff for that purpose. By some unaccountable impulse, however, lie turned back again to take another look at the bay, in the hopes of finding traces of the supposed haunts of the smugglers. Having satisfied himself that no one was in sight, he was on the point of resuming his journey, when the sound of voices, seemingly in anger, struck upon his ear. Turning downwards towards the beach, he saw three men, one of whom appeared to resist the will of his companions. From angry words the quarrel passed suddenly to blows | and then the man who from his dress and manner seemed to he the chief of the party, drew a pistol and fired at his quarrelsome companion. With a loud cry, twice repeated, the poor wretch fell forward —dead ! In his eagi mess to note what followed, Thompson stepped forward from his place of concealment. Before he could regain it, the noise of his foot grating on the rocks attracted attention from the men below. In an instant they were upon him, and he found himself gagged and bound ; helpless and a prisoner before he could utter a cry or strike a blow in self-defence. The men, who seemed to know him, then consulted as to the means of disposing of him. At first they resolved on death, but this design abandoned, they stripped off his coat and waistcoat, and changed them for the clothes of the murdered sailor, next putting Thompson’s clothes upon the corpse. Then, lifting the body, they carried it to the edge of the precipice and flung it, face downwards, upon the recks below. Of what followed the exciseman could tell very little. He was blindfolded, and hurried by a long seemingly circuitous path down the cliffs, to the water’s edge. Then he felt himself lifted into a boat, and presently from the grating of the vessel against what seemed like a wall, and from a sudden closeness and dampness of the air he judged that the boat hed been guided into a cavern. This proved to be the case ; and after some further delay, the party landed. Then, ascending several steps, and the bandage removed from his eyes, Thompson found himself in a kind of cell, hewn out of rock, furnished with a bench, and fitted with a strong ironclasped door. Here he was chained to the bench, and then, telling him that a watch would be kept outside, that a cry for help would have no chance of being heard, and that an effort to escape would be answered by a r pistol-shot, his captors set beside him a loaf and a pitcher of water, and left him in total darkness. Beyond this he knew nothing but that after three days of agony, just when the fear of death by hunger and thirst had nearly maddened him, lights gleamed in the cavern, the door of the cell was burst open, he was released, and hurried away to the court. But by what means released he knew not. The next explanation was given by Lawyer Burroughs. The release of the exciseman, the unravelling of the mystery, and the clearing of the unjustly-accused prisoner, were the work of a woman and that woman was Ettie Stanton,! He then npidly narrated the story of Ellerton’s attack upon Ettie, and his subsequent interview with her after the arrest of George Thursfield. In doing so, however, the lawyer abstained from mentioning Ellerton by name, speaking of him only as a sailor. Briefly summed up, his explanation came to this. Ettie had seen the body of the murdered man, and did not believe it to be that of the exciseman. During her interview with Ellerton, his chance expression, which he tried to retract, confirmed her suspicion that the exciseman was st’ll living. Then Ellerton’s uneasy’ glances across the bay, and his movements on leaving the house, dee, © led this conviction that the key to he mystery threatening her lover’s life was in Ellerton’s keeping. The crumpled note brought her by the servant, afforded an important clue. On the back of it, in pencil, were some characters, half effaced. With much labor she deciphered the words j“ Saint Bridget’s—Thursday, 10, high water.” Putting side by side with these scattered hints the stories of Ellerton’s reputation, and the old tales about smuggler’s haunts in Saint Bridget’s Cave, she came to the cor. elusion that, dead or alive, the exciseman might be conceah d there. These suspicions she communicated to Lawyer Burroughs, who by degrees coming round to her view, they concerted between them a plan of operation?. The lawyer sent off a special messenger in one direction for a couple of constables, on whose skill and daring he could rely ; and in another direction he sent a messenger to bring up a fishing-smack, manned by a crew in whom also he could place full trust. These preparations were completed only on the previous night. ■ Early that very .morning the constables ; went on board the smack, taking Ettie with them —for she insisted upon sharing the attempt—and at high tide the little vessel stood boldly in for Saint Bridget’s Cave. Then, lowering a boat they rowed silently up the cave, and came by surprise upon a sailor lying asleep upon an overhanging ledge of rock. Seizing him* before he could offer resistance, the fellow submitted quietly; and guessing their errand, he conducted them to the cell where Thompson was confine I. Their work completed, the party quitted the cave, re-embarked on board the smack, and bringing with them Thompson and their prisoner, reached the court just in : time to clear George Thursfield. There yet, however, remained another mystery to be explained. Who was the murdered man, and who the murderer? The sailor taken prisoner in the cave was now brought forward; and, on a promise that he should be received as king's evi- 1 dence, he made a £uU confession*
sum of it was this. He was second mate of a vessel, half smuggler, half pirate. The caj)tain was Richard Ellerton. The murdered man was the first mate. The vessel had sailed into Saint Bridget’s Bay, under Ellerton’s orders, with the intention of carrying off Ettie Stanton ; and on the day when Ellerton accosted Ettie on the beach the design was to have been accomplished—the captain and the first mate going ashore for that purpose. The mate, however, had lingered in Saint Bridget’s Cave, which was used by the smugglers as an occassional haunt, and becoming intoxicated had fallen asleep, so that Ellerton, surprised by George Thursfield, had been unable to offer resistance, and had consequently failed in his design. This led to desperate quarrels between Ellerton and the mate. On the night of the murder—the vessel lying a couple of miles out to sea—they landed again from one of her boats, Ellerton still cherishing hopes of effecting his purpose. Here the quarrel between Ellerton and the mate was renewed, ending, as has already been shown, in the murder of the latter ; Ellerton, stung to sudden fury, drawing a pistol, and shooting the man through the head. ' Startled by the appearance of the exciseman, their first impulse was to shoot him also; but Ellerton suddenly resolved to keep him as a kind of hostage, lest a revenue cutter should happen to sweep down upon the smugglers’ vessel. Then a perfectly diabolical idea entered Ellerton’s mind. He had seen Thursfield and the exciseman together, walking towards the cliffs, and it occured to him that Thursfield might be removed out of his path, and a terrible revenge taken both upon Ettie and her lover, by implicating Thursfield in the supposed murder of the exciseman. It was with this view that the change of clothes was effected ; and It was the witness who, acting on Ellerton’s instructions, had given information to the coast-guard, and so caused Thursfield’s arrest on his wedding morning. Of Ellerton’s movements since the arrest the man knew nothing—his own task having been to keep guard over the exciseman in Saint Bridget’s Cave. The next step was to secure the author of all this villany, the real murderer, Eichard Ellerton. “ I thought 1 saw him,” said Thompson, “as I entered the court, and therefore I asked that the doors might be kept closed.” Then, looking round the room, he added, “ The man has disappeared. Ido not see him now.” There was a me men! ftvy hush—each m n keenly scanning the face of his neighbour, as if dreading to find himself next to the murderer. Then, roughly pushing the crowd aside, a man pressed forward from the back of the court, until ■he stood fronting the magistrates, and by the side of Ettie and Thursfield. “ .Richard Ellerton is here,” he cried hoarsely, and with a tone of sullen defiance. “ I am he. The story you have heard is true enough ; lam sorry only that my plans have failed. Now, do your worst, and do it quickly, for I shall soon pass beyond your grasp. ” He paused for a moment, and then fiercely added “ But I will not go alone. Even in death, revenge is in my power !” As he spoke, the wretched creature sprang forward upon Ettie Stanton, laying one hand roughly upon her shoulder. In the other hand gleaned an uplifted knife. In a moment it seemed as if it would be plunged into the heart of the girl; but suddenly the ruffian’s _ grasp relaxed, his arm fell nerveless by his side, and a horrible spasm passed across his face. Taking advantage of a momentary pause, a dozen brawny hands were stretched forth to seize him ; but it was too late. With a convulsive shudder Ellerton fell forward —dead ! All hope of escape cut off, he had evaded justice by poison ! Need it be said that as the court broke up the bells of Stanton church rang out a merry peal; that next day there was such a wedding as had never been seen or known in those parts before ; or, that as he pressed his lips to those of his happy bride, George Thursfield, echoing his old question, whispered with a tender smile—- “ Ettie, you do love me ! It was your love that saved my life !” CONCLUDED.
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