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The trial now came on, and Roger Acton stood arraigned of robbery and murder. The case was clear as light against poor Acton. No alibi—he lived upon the spot. No witnesses to character; for Roger's late excesses had wiped away all former good report : kind Mr. Evans himself, with tears in his eyes, acknowledged sadly that Acton had once been a regular church-goer, a frequent communicant; but had fallen off of late, poor fellow! And then, in spite of protestations to the contrary, behold! the corpus delicti-that unlucky crock of gold actually in the man's possession, and the fragment of shawl-w:
was not that sufficient? So, when the judge summed up, and clearly could neither find nor make a loophole for the prisoner, the matter seemed accomplished; all knew what the verdict must be—poor Roger Acton had not the shadow of a chance.
Then, while the jury were consulting—they would not leave the box, it seemed so clear-Roger broke the deathlike silence; and he said
* Judge, I crave your worship’s leave to speak: and hearken to me, countrymen. Many evil things have I done in my time, both against God and my neighbor : I am ashamed, as well I may be, when I think on 'em : I have sworn, and drunk, and lied; I have murmured loudly-coveted wickedly-ay, and once I stole. It was a little theft, I lost it on the spot, and never stole again ; pray God, I never may. Nevertheless, countrymen, and sinful though I be in the sight of Ilim who made us; according to man's judgment and man's innocency, I have lived among you all blameless, until I found that crock of gold. I did find it, countrymen, as God is my witness, and, therefore, though a sinner, I appeal to him : he knoweth that I found it in the sedge that skirts my garden, at the end of my own celery trench. I did wickedly and foolishly to hide my find, worse to deny it, and worst of all to spend it in the low, lewd way I did. But of robbery I am guiltless as you are. And as to this black charge of murder, till Simon Jennings spoke the word, I never knew it had been done. Folk of Ilurstley, friends and neighbors, you all know Roger Acton-the old-time, honest Roger “ Amen!" earnestly whispered a tremulous female voice, “and God will save you, father.”
The court was still as death, except for sobbing; the jury were doubting and confounded; in vain Mr. Jennings, looking at the foreman, shook his head and stroked his chin in an incredulous and knowing manner; clearly they must retire, not at all agreed ; and the judge himself, that masqued man in flowing wig and ermine, but still warmed by human sympathies, struck a tear from his wrinkled cheek; and all seemed to be involuntarily waiting (for the jury, though unable to decide, had not yet left their box) to see whether any sudden miracle would happen to save a man whom evidence made so guilty, and who yet bore upon his open brow the genuine signature of innocence.
“Silence, there, silence! you can't get in; there's no room for’ards !” but a couple of javelin-men at the door were knocked down right and left, and through the dense and suffocating crowd, a big, black-whiskered fellow, elbowing his way against their faces, spite of all obstructions, struggled to the front behind the bar. Then, breathless with gigantic exertion, it was like a mammoth treading down the cedars, he roared out,
Judge, swear me, I'm a witness ; huzza ! it's not too late.” And the irreverent gentleman tossed a fur cap right up to the skylight.
Mr. Grantly brightened up at once, Grace looked happily to heaven, and Roger Acton shouted out,
“ Thank God! thank God !-there's Ben Burke !"
Yes, he had heard miles away of his friend's danger about an old shawl and a honey-pot full of gold, and he had made all speed, with Tom in his train, to come and bear witness to the innocence of Roger. The sensation in court, as may be well conceived, was thrilling; but a vociferous crier, and the deep anxiety to hear this sturdy witness, soon reduced all again to silence.
Then did they swear Benjamin Burke, who, to the scandal of his cause, would insist upon stating his profession to be “poacher;" and at first, poor simple fellow, seemed to have a notion that a sworn witness meant one who swore continually ; but he was soon convinced otherwise, and his whole demeanor gradually became as polite and deferent as his coarse nature would allow. And Ben told his adventure on Pike Island, as we have heard him tell it, pretty much in the same words ; for the judge and Mr. Grantly let him take his own courses; and then he added, with a characteristic expletive, which we may as well omit, seeing it occasioned a cry of "order" in the court, “ l'here, if that there white-livered little gillain warn't the chap that brought the crocks, my name an't Ben Burke."
“Good Heavens ! Mr. Jennings, what's the matter?" said a briefless one, starting up: this was Mr. Sharp, a personage on
former occasions distinguished highly as a thieves' advocate, but now, unfortunately, out of work. “ Loosen his cravat, some one there ; the gentleman is in fits.”
“Oh, aunt, aunt Quarles, don't throttle me; I'll tell all, all ; let let go !” and the wretched man slowly recovered, as Ben Burke said,
“Ay, my lord, ask him yourself; the little wretch can tell you all about it."
“I submit, my lurd," interposed the briefless one, that this respectable gentleman is taken ill, and that his presence may now be dispensed with as a witness in the cause.”
"No, sir, no," deliberately answered Jennings ; “I must stay: the time, I find, is come : I have not slept for weeks; I am exhausted utterly; I have lost my gold; I am haunted by her ghost : I can go nowhere but that face follows me- - I can do nothing but her fingers clutch my throat. It is time to end this misery. In hope to lay her spirit, I would have offered up a victim : but—but she will not have him. Mine was the hand that,”
“Pardon me," upstarted Mr. Sharp, “ this poor gentleman is a monomaniac; pray, my lurd, let him be removed while the trial is proceeding.'
“You horsehair hypocrite you !" roared Ben, "would you hang the innocent and save the guilty ?”
Would he ? would Mr. Philip Sharp? Ay, that he would; and glad of such a famous opportunity. What! would not Newgate rejoice, and Horsemonger be glad ? Would not his bag be filled with briefs from the community of burglars, and his purse be rich in gold subscribed by the brotherhood of thieves ? Great at once would be his name among the purlieus of iniquity; and every rogue in London would retain but Philip Sharp. Would he? ask him again.
But Jennings quietly proceeded like a speaking statue.
“I am not mad, most noble—” [the Bible-read villain was from habit quoting Paul]—“my lord, I mean. My hand did the deed : I throttled her:” (here he gave a scared look over his shoulder :) "yes—I did it once and again : I took the crock of gold. You may hang me now, aunt Quarles.”
“My lurd, my lurd, this is a most irregular proceeding," urged Mr. Sharp; “on the part of the prisoner-I, I crave pardon-on behalf of this most respectable and deluded gentleman, Mr. Simon Jennings, I contend that no one may criminate himself in this way, without the shadow of evidence to support such suicidal testimony. Really, my lurd_"
“Oh, sir, but my father may go free?" earnestly asked Grace; but Ben Burke's voice>I had almost written woice-overwhelmed them all :
“Let me speak, judge, an't please your honor, and take you notice, Master Horsehair. You want ewidence, do you, beyond the man's confession : here, I'll give it to you. Look at this here wice:” and he stretched forth his well-known huge and horny hand :
“When I caught that dridful little reptil by the arm, he wriggled like a sniggled eel, so I was forced, you see, to grasp him something tighter, and could feel his little arm-bones crack like any chicken's; now, then, if his left elbow an't black and blue, though it's a month agone and more, I'll eat it. Strip him and see.”
No need to struggle with the man, or tear his coat off. Jennings appeared only too glad to find that there was other evidence than his own foul tongue, and that he might be hung at last without sacking-rope or gimlet; so he quietly bared his arm, and the elbow looked all manner of colors—a mass of old bruises.
The whole court trembled with excitement: it was deep, still silence; and the judge said,
“ Prisoner at the bar, there is now no evidence against you : gentlemen of the jury, of course you will acquit him.”
The foreman : “All agreed, my lord; not guilty.”
“Roger Acton,” said the judge, “ to God alone you owe this marvellous, almost miraculous interposition : you have had many wrongs innocently to endure, and I trust that the right feelings of society will requite you for them in this world, as, if you serve him, God will in the next. You are honorably acquitted, and may leave this bar.”
In vain the crier shouted, --in vain the javelin-men helped the crier,—the court was in a tumult of joy ; Grace sprang to her father's neck, and Sir John Vincent, who had been in attendance sitting near the judge all the trial through, came down to him, and shook his hand warmly.
Roger's eyes ran over, and he could only utter,
“ Thank God! thank God! He does better for me than I deserved.” But the court was hushed at last : the jury re-sworn; certain legal forms and technicalities speedily attended to, as counts of indictment, and so forth : and the judge then quietly said,
“Simon Jennings, stand at that bar.”
“Mr. Sharp—the prisoner shall have proper assistance by all means; but I do not see how it will help your case, if you cannot get your client to plead not guilty.”.
· Lawyers abhor any short cut to the truth. The pursuit is the thing for their pleasure and profit, and all their rules are framed for making the most of it.
Crime is to them precisely what the fox is to the sportsman; and the object is not to pounce op it and capture it at once, but to bave a good run for it, and to exhibit skill and address in
Whether the culprit or the fox escape or not, is a matter of indifference, the run being the main thing.-TUPPER.
“Silence, silence !" shouted the indignant crier, and the eyes
of all now concentred on the miserable criminal ; for the time, every thing else seemed forgotten. The judge broke the awful silence, saying:
« Prisoner at the bar, you are convicted, on your own confession, as well as upon other evidence, of crimes too horrible to speak of. The deliberate repetition of that fearful murder classes you among the worst of wretches whom it has been my duty to condemn; and when to this is added your perjured accusation of an innocent man, whom nothing but a miracle has rescued, your guilt becomes appalling, too hideous for human contemplation. Miserable man, prepare
for death, and after that the judgment; yet even for you, if you repent, there may be pardon : it is my privilege to tell even you that life and hope are never to be separated, so long as God is merciful, or man may be contrite. The sacrifice of Him who died for us all, for you, poor fellow-creature, [here the good judge wept for a minute like a child,] for you, no less than for me, is available even to the chief of sinners. It is my duty and my comfort to direct your blood-stained but immortal soul eagerly to fly to that only refuge from eternal misery. As to this world, your career of wickedness is at an end : covetousness has conceived and generated murder; and murder has even overstept its common bounds, to repeat the terrible crime, and then to throw its guilt upon the innocent. Entertain no hope whatever of a respite; mercy in your case would be sin.
“ The sentence of the court is that you, Simon Jennings, be taken from that bar to the county jail, and thence on this day fortnight be conveyed to the place of execution within the prison, and there by the hands of the common hangman be hanged by the neck
At the word “neck,” in the slow and solemn enunciation of the judge, issued a terrific scream from the mouth of Simon Jennings : was he mad after all-mad indeed ? or was he being strangled by some unseen executioner ? Look at him, convulsively doing battle with an invisible foe! his eyes start, his face gets bluer and bluer, his hands, fixed like griffin's talons, clutch at vacancy-he wrestles, struggles, falls !
All was now confusion : even the grave judge, who had necessarily stopped at that frightful interruption, leaned eagerly over his desk, while barristers and sergeants learned in the law crowded round the prisoner : “He is dying! air, there, air! a glass of water, some one !”
About a thimbleful of water, after fifty spillings, arrived safely in a tumbler; but as for air, no one in that court had breathed any thing but nitrogen for four hours.
He was dying: and three several doctors, hoisted over the heads