Charlotte Mary Yonge.

The trial: More links of the daisy chain (Volume 1) online

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unusually tolerant of this nephew's exertions on his behalf,
and had seemed of late to place much reliance on liim.

Doctor Eichard May was the next witness called. The
sound of that name caused the first visible change in the
prisoner's demeanour, if that could be called change, wliich


■was only a slight relaxation of the firm closing of tlie lips,
and one sparkle of the dark eyes, ere they were again bent
down as before, though not without a quiver of the lids.

Dr. May had brought tone, look, and manner to the grave
impartiality, which even the most sensitive man is drilled
into assuming in public ; but he dui-st not cast one glance in
the direction of the prisoner.

In answer to the counsel for the prosecution, he stated that
he was at the Vintry Mill at seven o'clock on the morning of
the 6th of July, not professionally, but as taking interest in
the Ward family. He had seen the body of the deceased,
and considered death to have been occasioned by fracture of
the skull, from a blow with a blunt hea^y instrument. The
superintendent had shown him a rifle, which he considered,
from the marks on it, as well as from the appearance of the
body, to have produced the injury. Tlie rifle was the one
shown to him ; it was the property of Leonard Ward. He
recognised it by the crest and cypher H. E. It had belonged
to his son-in-law, Hector Emescliffe, by whom it had been
given to Leonard Ward.

Poor Doctor ! That was a cruel piece of evidence ; and
his son and daughters opposite wondered how he could utter
it in that steady matter-of-fact way ; but they knew him to
be sustained by hopes of the cross-examination ; and he soon
had the opportunity of declaring that he had known Leonard
Ward from infancy, ■v\-ithout being aware of any imputation
against him ; but had always seen him highly principled and
trustworthy, truthful and honourable, kind-hearted and
humane — the last person to injure the infirm or aged.

Perhaps the good doctor, less afraid of the sound of his
own voice, and not so much in awe as some of the other

u 2


witnesses, here in his eagerness overstepped the bounds of
prudence. His words indeed brought a tremulous flicker of
grateful emotion over the prisoner's face ; but by carrying the
inquiry into the region of character and opinion, he opened
the door to a dangerous re-examination by the Crown lawyer,
who required the exact meaning of his unqualified commenda-
tion, especially in the matter of humanity, demanding whether
he had never known of any act of violence on the prisoner's
part. The colour flushed suddenly into Leonard's face, though
he moved neither eye nor lip ; but his counsel appealed to
the judge, and the pursuit of this branch of the subject was
quashed as irrelevant ; but the doctor went down in very
low spirits, feeling that his evidence had been damaging, and
his hopes of any ray of light becoming fainter.

After this, the village policeman repeated the former state-
ments, as to the state of the various rooms, the desk, locked
and untouched, the rifle, boat, &c. further explaining that
the distance from the Mill to Blewer Station, by the road
was an hour and half's walk, by the fields, not more than
half an hour's.

The station-master proved the prisoner's arrival at midnight,
his demand of a day-ticket, his being without luggage, and in
a black suit ; and the London policeman proved the finding
of the money on his person, and repeated his own explana-
tion of it.

The money was all in sovereigns, except one five and one
ten-pound note ; and Edward Hazlitt, the clerk of the Whit-
ford Bank, was called to prove the having given the latter in
change to Mr. Axworthy for a fifty-pound cheque, on the
10th of May last.

This same clerk had been at the volunteer drill on the


evening of the 5th of July, had there seen the prisoner, had
parted with him at dusk, towards nine o'clock, making an
engagement with him to meet on Blewer Heath for some
private practice at seven o'clock on Monday evening. Thought
Mr. Axworthy did sometimes employ young Ward on his
commissions; Mr. Axworthy had once sent him into '\ATiit-
ford to pay in a large sum, and another time with an order to
be cashed. The dates of these transactions were shown in
the books ; and Hazlitt added, on further interrogation, that
Samuel Axworthy could not have been aware of the sum
being sent to the bank, since he had shortly after come and
desired to see the account, which had been laid before him
as confidential manager, when he had shown surprise and
annoyance at the recent deposit, asking through whom it had
been made. Xot ten days subsequently, an order for nearly
the entire amount had been cashed, signed by the deceased,
but filled up in Samuel's handwriting.

This had taken place in April; and another witness, a
baker, proved the having paid the five-pound note to old
Mr. Axworthy himself on the 2d of May.

Samuel Axworthy himself was next called. His florid
face wore something of the puffed, stupefied look it had had
at the inquest, but his words were ready, and always to the
point. He identified the bag in which the money had been
found, giving an account of it similar to Hardy's and adding
that he had last seen it lying by his cousin's desk. His
uncle had no account with any London bank, all transactions
had of late passed through his own hands, and he had never
known the prisoner employed in any business of importance
— he could not have been kept in ignorance of it if it had
previously been the case. The deceased had a black shagreen


pocket-book, with a silver clasp, which he occasionally used,
but the witness had never known him. give it out of his
own hand, nor take a receipt in it. Had not seen it
on the morning of the 6tli, nor subsequently. Could not
account for the sum found on the person of the jDrisoner,
whose salary was 50Z. per anniuu, and who had no private
resources, except the interest of 2,000Z., which, he being a
minor, was not in his own hands. Deceased was fond of
amassing sovereigns, and would often keep them for a long
time in the drawer of his desk, as much as from 50^. to 100^.
There was none there when the desk was opened on the 6th
of July, though there had certainly been gold there two days
previously. It was kept locked. It had a small Bramah
key, which his uncle wore on his watch-chain, in his waist-
coat pocket. The drawer was locked when he saw it on the
morning of the 6th.

The doctor, who had joined his children, gave a deep
respiration, and relaxed the clenching of his hand, as this
witness went down.

Then it came to the turn of Aubrey Spencer May. The
long waiting, after his nerves had been wound up, had been
a severe ordeal, and his delicacy of constitution and home
breeding had rendered him peculiarly susceptible. With his
resemblance to his father in form and expression, it was
like seeing the doctor denuded of that shell of endurance
with which he had contrived to conceal his feelings. The
boy was indeed braced to resolution, but the resolution was
equally visible with the agitation in the awe-stricken brow,
varying colour, tightened breath, and involuntary shiver, as
he took the oath. Again Leonard looked up with one of
his clear bright glances, and perhaps a shade of anxiety ;


but Aubrey, for his own comfort, was too short-sighted for
meeting of eves from that distance.

Seeing his agitation, and reckoning on his evidence, the
counsel gave him time, by minutely asking if his double
Christian name were correctly given, his age, and if he were
not the son of Dr. May.

" You were the prisoner's school-fellow, I believe ? "

" Xo," faltered Aubrey.

" But you live near him 1 "

" We are friends," said Aubrey •svith sudden firmness and
precision ; and from the utterance of that emphatic are, his
spirit returned.

" Did you often see him 1 "

" On most Sundays, after church."

" Did you ever hear him say he had any thoughts of the
means of leaving the ^lill privately ? "

" Something like it," said Aubrey, turning very red.

" Can you tell me the words ? "

" He said if things went on, that I was not to be surprised
if I heard ' non est inventus.' " said Aubrey, speaking as if
rapidity would conceal the meaning of the words, but taken
aback by being made to repeat and translate them to the

" And cUd he mention any way of escaping ? "

" He said the window and cedar-tree were made for it, and
that he often went out that way to bathe," said Aubrey.

" When did this conversation take place 1 "

" On Sunday, the 22d of June," said Aubrey, in despair,
as the Crown lawyer thanked him, and sat down.

He felt himself betrayed into having made their talk wear
the air of deliberate purpose, and having said not one word


of what Mr. Bramsliaw had hailed as hopeful. However, the
defending barrister rose up to ask him what he meant by
having answered " Something like it."

" Because," said Aubrey, promptly, "though we did make
the scheme, we were neither of us in earnest."

" How do you know the prisoner was not in earnest 1 "

" We often made plans of what we should like to do."

" And had you any reason for thinking this one of such
plans 1 "

" Yes," said Aubrey ; " for he talked of getting gold enough
to build up the market-cross, or else of going to see the
Feejee Islands."

" Then you understood the prisoner not to express a
deliberate purpose, so much as a vague design."

" Just so," said Aubrey. " A design that depended on
how things went on at the Mill." And being desired to
explain his words, he added, that Leonard had said he could
not bear the sight of Sam Axworthy's tyranny over the old
man, and was resolved not to stay, if he were made a party
to any of the dishonest tricks of the trade.

" In that case, did he say where he would have gone 1 "

" First to 'New Zealand, to my brother, the Eeverend
^N'orman May."

Leonard's counsel was satisfied with the colour the conver-
sation had now assumed ; but the perils of re-examination
were not over yet, for the adverse lawyer requested to know
whence the funds were to have come for this adventurous

" We laughed a little about that ; and he said he should
have to try how far his quarter's salary would go towards
a passage in the steerage."


" K your friend expressed so strong a distaste to his em-
ployers and their business, what induced him to enter it 1 "

Leonard's counsel again objected to this inquiry, and it
was not permitted. Aubrey was dismissed, and, flushed and
giddy, was met by his brother Tom, who almost took him in
his arms as he emerged from the passage.

" Tom ! what have I done ? "

" Famously, provided there's no miller in the jury. Come,"
as he felt the weight on his arm, " Flora says I am to take
you down and make you take something."

" 1^0, no, no, I can't ! I must go back."

" I tell you there's nothing going on. Every one is breath-
ing and baiting." And he got him safe to a pastrycook's, and
administered brandy cherries, which Aubrey bolted whole
like pills, only entreating to return, and wanting to know
how he thought the case going.

" Excellently. HazHtt's evidence and yours ought to carry
him through. And Anderson says they have made so much
out of the Avitnesses for the prosecution, that they need call
none for the defence ; and so the enemy will be baulked of
their reply, and we shall have the last word. I vow I have
missed my vocation. I know I was born for a barrister ? "

" Xow may we come back % " said the boy, overwhelmed
by his brother's cheeriness ; and they squeezed into court
again, Tom inserting Aubrey into his own former seat, and
standing behind him on half a foot at the angle of the pas-
sage. They were in time for the opening of the defence,
and to hear Leonard described as a youth of spirit and pro-
mise, of a disposition that had won him general affection
and esteem, and recommended to universal sympathy by the
bereavement v/hich was recent in the memory of his fellow-


townsmen; and there was a glance at the mourning which
the boy still wore.

" They had heard indeed that he was quick-tempered and
impulsive ; hut the gentlemen of the jury were some of them
fathers, and he put it to them whether a ready and generous
spirit of incUgnation in a lad were compatible with cowardly
designs against helpless old age ; whether one whose recre-
ations were natural science and manly exercise showed tokens
of vicious tendencies ; above all, whether a youth, whose
friendship they had seen so touchingly claimed by a son of
one of the most highly respected gentlemen in the county,
were evincing the propensities that lead to the perpetration
of deeds of darkness."

Tom patted Aubrey on the shoulder ; and Aubrey, though
muttering " humbug," was by some degrees less wretched.

" Men did not change their nature on a sudden," the
counsel continued ; " and where was the probability that a
youth of character entirely unblemished, and of a disposition
particularly humane and generous, should at once rush into
a crime of the deep and deadly description, to which a long
course of dissipation, leading to perplexity, distress, and
despair, would be the only inducement 1 "

He then went on to speak of Leonard's position at the
Mill, as junior clerk. He had been there for six months,
without a flaw being detected, either in his integrity, his
diligence, or his regularity ; indeed, it was evident that he
had been gradually acquiring a greater degree of esteem and
confidence than he had at first enjoyed, and had been latterly
more employed by his uncle. That a young man of superior
education should find the daily drudgery tedious and dis-
tasteful, and that one of sensitive honour should be startled


at the ordinary, he might almost say proverbial, customs of
the miller's trade — was surprising to no one ; and that he
should unbosom himself to a friend of his own age, and
indulge together with him in romantic visions of adventure,
was, to all who remembered their own boyhood, an illustra-
tion of the freshness and ingenuousness of the character that
thus unfolded itself. Where there were day-dreams, there
was no room for plots of crime.

Then ensued a species of apology for the necessity of enter-
ing into particulars that did not redound to the credit of a
gentleman, who had appeared before the court under such
distressing circumstances as Mr. Samuel Axworthy; but it
was needful that the condition of the family should be well
understood, in order to comprehend the unhappy train of
events which had conducted the prisoner into his present
situation. He then went through what had been traceable
through the evidence — that Samuel Axworthy was a man of
expensive habits, and accustomed to drain liis uncle's re-
sources to supply his own needs ; showing how the sum,
which had been entrusted to the prisoner, to be paid into
the local bank, had been drawn out by the elder nephew as
soon as he became aware of the deposit ; and how, shortly
after, the prisoner had expressed to Aubrey May his indigna-
tion at the tyranny exercised on his uncle.

" By-and-by, another sum is amassed," continued Leonard's
advocate. " How dispose of it ? The local bank is evidently
no security from the rapacity of the elder nephew. Once
aware of its existence, he knows how to use means for com-
pelling its surrender ; and the feeble old man can no longer
call his hard-earned gains his o^vn except on sufferance. The
only means of guarding it is to lodge it secretly in a distant


batik, without the suspicion of his nephew Samuel ; but the
invalid is too infirm to leave his apartment; his fingers,
crippled by gout, refuse even to guide the pen. He can only
watch for an opportunity, and this is at length afforded by
the absence of the elder nephew for two days at the county
races. This will afford time for a trustworthy and intelli-
gent messenger to convey the sum to town, deposit it in
Messrs. Drummond's bank, and return unobserved. When,
therefore, supper is brought in, Mr. Axworthy sends for the
lad on whom he has learnt to depend, and shows much dis-
appointment at his absence. Where is he ? Is he engaged
with low companions in the haunts of vice, that are the
declivity towards crime ] Is he gaming, or betting, or
drinking ? Xo. He has obeyed the summons of his coun-
try ; he is a zealous volunteer, and is eagerly using a weapon,
presented to him by a highly respected gentleman of large
fortune in a neighbouring county ; nay, so far is he from
any sinister purpose, that he is making an appointment with
a fellow-rifleman for the ensuing Monday. On his return at
dark, he receives a pressing summons to his uncle's room,
and hastens to obey it without pausing to lay aside his rifle.
The commission is explained, and well understanding the
painfulness of the cause, he discreetly asks no questions,
but prepares to execute it. The sum of 124^. 12.s. is taken
from the drawer of the desk, the odd money assigned to
travelling expenses, the 120?. placed in a bag brought in
from the office for the purpose, bearing the initials of the
owner, and a receipt in a private pocket-book w^as signed
by him for the amount, and left open on the table for the
ink to dry.

" Who that has ever been young, can doubt the zest and


elevation of receiving for the first time a confidential mission 1
AVho can doubt that even the favourite weapon would be for-
gotten where it stood, and that it would only be accordant to
accredited niles that the window should be preferable to the
door 1 Had it not already figured in the visions of adven-
ture in the Sunday evening's walk ? was it not a favourite
mode of exit in the mornings, when bathing and fishing were
more attractive than the pillow 1 Moreover, the moonlight
disclosed what appeared like a figure in the court-yard, and
there was reason at the time to suppose it a person likely to
observe and report upon the expedition. The opening of the
front door might likewise attract notice ; and if the cousin
should, as was possible, return that night, the direct road was
the way to meet him. The hour was too early for the train
which was to be met, but a lighted candle would reveal the
vigil, and moonlight on the meadows was attractive at
eighteen. Gentlemen of soberer and maturer years might
be incredulous, but surely it was not so strange or unusual
for a lad, who indulged in visions of adventure, to find a
moonlight walk by the river-side more inviting than a bed-

" Shortly after, perhaps as soon as the light was extin-
guished, the murder must have been committed. The very
presence of that light had been guardianship to the helpless
old man below. When it was quenched, nothing remained
astir, the way from without was open, the weapon stood only
too ready to hand, the memorandum-book gave promise of
booty and was secured, though nothing else was apparently
touched. It was this very book that contained the signature
that would have exonerated the prisoner, and to wliich he
fearlessly appealed upon his arrest at the Paddington Station,

302 THE TKL\X.

before, for his additional misfortune, lie had time to discharge
himself of his commission, and establish his innocence by
the deposit of the money at the bank. He has thus for a
"vvhile become the victim of a web of suspicious circumstances.
But look at these very circumstances more closely, and they
will be found perfectly consistent with the prisoner's state-
ment, never varying, be it remembered, from the explanation
given to the policeman in first surprise and horror of the
tidings of the crime.

"It might have been perhaps thought that there was
another alternative between entire innocence and a deliberate
purpose of robbery and murder — namely, that reproof from
the old man had provoked a blow, and that the means of
flight had been hastily seized upon in the moment of confu-
sion and alarm. This might have been a plausible line of
defence, and secure of a favourable hearing ; but I beg to
state that the prisoner has distinctly refused any such de-
fence, and my instructions are to contend for his perfect inno-
cence. A nature, such as we have already traced, is, as we
cannot but perceive, revolted by the bare idea of violence to
tlie aged and infirm, and recoils as strongly from the one
accusation as from the other.

"The prisoner made his statement at the first moment,
and has adhered to it in every detail, without confusion or
self-contradiction. It does not attempt to explain all the
circumstances, but they all tally exactly with his story ; he
is unable to show by whom the crime could have been com-
mitted, nor is he bound in law or justice so to do ; nay, his
own story shows the absolute impossibility of his being able
to explain, what took place in his absence. But mark how
completely the established facts corroborate his narrative.


Observe first the position in which the body was found, the
head on the desk, the stain of blood corres2:)onding A^th the
wound, the dress undisturbed, all manifestly untouched since
the fatal stroke was dealt. Could this have been the case,
had the key of the drawer of gold been taken from the waist-
coat pocket, the chain from about the neck of the deceased,
and both replaced after the removal of the money and re-
locking the drawer ? Can any one doubt that the drawer
was opened, the money taken out, and the lock secured, while
Mr. Axworthy was alive and consenting 1 Again, what
robber would convey away the spoil in a bag bearing the
initials of the owner, and that not caught up in haste, but
fetched in for the purpose from the office ? Or would so
tell-tale a weapon as the rifle have been left conspicuously
close at hand ? There was no guilty precipitation, for the
uniform had been taken off and folded up, and with a whole
night before him, it would have been easy to reach a more
distant station, where his person would not have been recog-
nised. Why, too, if this were the beginning of a flight and
exile, should no preparation have been made for passing a
single night from home 1 why should a day-ticket have been
asked for ? 'No, the prisoner's own straightforward, unvar-
nished statement is the only consistent interpretation of the
facts, otherwise conflicting and incomprehensible.

"That a murder has been committed is unhappily too
certain. I make no attempt to unravel the mystery. I
confine myself to the far more grateful task of demonstrating,
that to fasten the imputation on the accused, would be to
overlook a complication of inconsistencies, all explained by
his own account of himself, but utterly inexplicable on the
hypothesis of his guilt.



" Circumstantial evidence is universally acknowledged to
be perilous ground for a conviction ; and I never saw a case
in which it was more manifestly delusive than in the present,
bearing at first an imposing and formidable aspect, but on
examination, confuted in every detail. Most assuredly/' con-
tinued the counsel, his voice becoming doubly earnest, " while
there is even the possibility of innocence, it becomes incum-
bent on you, gentlemen of the jury, to consider well the
fearful consequences of a decision in a matter of life or death
— a decision for which there can be no reversal. The facts
that have come to light are manifestly incomplete. Another
link in the chain has yet to be added ; and when it shall
come forth, how will it be if it should establish the guiltless-
ness of the prisoner too late '? Too late, when a young life
of high promise, and linked by close family ties, and by
bonds of ardent friendship with so many, has been quenched
in shame and disgi-ace, for a crime to which he may be an
utter stranger.

" The extinction of the light in that upper window was
the sign for darkness and horror to descend on the Mill !
Here is the light of life still burning, but a breath of yours
can extinguish it in utter gloom, and then who may rekindle
it 1 Nay, the revelation of events that would make the
transactions of that fatal night clear- as the noonday, would
never avail to rekindle the lamp, that may yet, I trust, shine
forth to the world — the clearer it may be, from the unmerited
imputations, which it has been my part to combat, and of
which his entire life is a confutation."

Mrs. Pugh was sobbing under her veil ; Gertrude felt the
cause won. Tom noiselessly clapped the orator behind his

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeThe trial: More links of the daisy chain (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 21)