‘You have stated to the Bench that you were married in Ballarat about the year 185—. Is that so?’
‘Within a month of that time were you bound over to keep the peace towards your wife under heavy penalties, having committed a brutal assault upon her?’
‘I was bound over; we had a quarrel, but I did not assault her as she stated.’
‘Oh, you had not assaulted her; she imagined it?—imagined that her face was cut and bruised also?’
‘She fell down and bruised her face.’
‘How did she fall down? was she running in fear of you?’
‘She was leaving the room hastily when she fell.’
‘No doubt she was—very hastily. She was probably afraid of her life, as she had good reason to be. Did you then leave Ballarat and proceed to Granville Rush?’
‘Did the last witness, Algernon Malgrade, accompany you, and was he a partner with you in the Granville Arms Hotel?’
‘He came with us, and had an interest in the hotel.’
‘Did he suddenly leave the hotel a few weeks afterwards in consequence of a disagreement with deceased?’
‘They had some words, and he left.’
‘Did not the deceased say that she would not live in the same house with him; that he was a villain and a traitor?’
‘She did abuse him, if I remember—but she was in the habit of using strong language. Her temper was always violent.’
‘Just so; and yours was particularly lamb-like. You wish the Bench to believe that. This made no difference in your friendship with Malgrade?’
‘None at all. I bought his share of the house, and he went to Yatala diggings when it broke out.’
‘Did you say in your examination-in-chief that Malgrade was no particular friend of yours?’
‘I may have said so.’
‘May have said so? You did say so, sir, most distinctly. How do you reconcile that with the fact of your having been a partner with him, and having taken his side in a dispute with your wife? Answer my question.’
‘A man may have business transactions with another man without being his intimate friend.’
‘Of course, of course; may purchase a property together, after having come away from another diggings together, live in the same house, and be so bound up together that you take his part against your own wife. You don’t call that friendship?’
‘Not particularly. I’m not bound to take up all a woman’s quarrels. A man on a goldfield would have nothing else to do.’
‘Certainly. I see your point, Mr. Morsley—you have proved yourself to be a very prudent, self-controlled, amiable person. But how did you come, at Granville, to have knocked down a man named Albert Hoffmeyer, and broken three of his ribs, in a quarrel arising out of jealousy?’
‘That is another affair. I had good reason for what I gave him.’
‘Was your wife treated in the hospital immediately afterwards for a broken arm, of the cause of which she could give no account?’
‘Yes, I believe so.’
‘Another accident, I suppose: fell down, probably.’
‘I submit your worships,’ here broke in Dr. Bellair, who had been restraining himself with frightful exertion of self-command all the time, ‘that this line of cross-examination cannot by any possibility bear on the case. The witness may or may not have been a model husband, that peculiarly British institution, but I assert that his patience or amiability is not here called in question. Your worships have only to deal with the point as to whether there is a prima facie case against the prisoner upon the charge for which he stands in custody, when it will be the plain unavoidable duty of the Bench to commit him to the next Assize Court.’
‘Your worships are doubtless aware,’ quoth Mr. Markham, with studied impressiveness, ‘of the great and peculiar importance that this witness should be subjected to a searching cross-examination. The issues of life and death are involved, and though this can be but a preliminary examination, it is indispensable, if I am to do full justice to my unfortunate, and I fearlessly assert, innocent client, that no limit be set to my privileges as an advocate.’
‘Innocent!’ shrieked the inflammable doctor. ‘Innocent! when the very stones in the street cry out for vengeance for the blood of a murdered woman.’
‘Murdered, ay—but by whom?’ said Mr. Markham in a low deep voice of concentrated feeling, bending forward and fixing his eyes with mesmeric force and earnestness upon the witness.
It may have been fancy, but I thought I saw the cruel eyes quail before the sudden challenge; the form lose something of its rugged boldness of defiance.
A vivid motion of surprise then possessed me. Could Morsley himself have been the murderer? I had hitherto dismissed the idea from my mind. It seemed utterly impossible, in the short space that elapsed between the time in which the dark figure in the poncho brushed past me in the passage, and Morsley standing on the outskirts of the crowd demanding my apprehension as his wife’s murderer—dressed also in a lightish gray tweed suit of clothes, that he should have presented so entirely different an appearance to that of the unknown in the poncho.
Mr. Markham evidently was following up some clue. I held my breath and controlled the beating of my heart.
‘The Bench is of opinion,’ here interjected the Commissioner, ‘that Mr. Markham is justified, in cross-examination, in testing the credibility of the witness in any manner which he may consider suitable.’
‘I shan’t trouble you any further as to your domestic habits, Mr. Morsley,’ said my advocate. ‘Will you please to answer me a question of quite a different sort? You remember the escort robbery?’
The witness nodded.
‘It was on Friday, the 14th April 186—, was it not?’
‘I think so.’
‘You think so; don’t you know it was, sir?’ thundered the terrible interlocutor. ‘And very good reason you had for knowing it. Now, did you or did you not meet the last witness at a place called the Rocky Springs, in company with two other men, whose names I needn’t mention, when you and he received a parcel from those men?’
‘I did not.’
‘You did not? now be careful, you are on your oath. Was one of the men Harry Jenkinson—commonly known as Big Harry?’
‘No. I never saw the last witness or him either.’
‘You swear that? You did not meet either of them on the day mentioned?’
‘I may have met them in the course of a week or two.’
‘But not on that day—the day after the escort robbery?’
‘No, certainly not.’
‘Do you know a man named George Roper?’
‘Not that I know of. I can’t swear.’
‘Call George Roper, sergeant.’
The name is called outside of the court, and a quiet, sleepy-looking agriculturist appears.
‘Do you see that man; do you know him?’ The man grinned sheepishly.
‘I think I have seen him. He sold me some corn once. I see so many people that I can’t be expected to recollect everybody.’
‘Of course not, of course not, Mr. Morsley; we must try and refresh your memory. That will do, Roper. You can leave the court. And you didn’t see that man the day after the robbery at Rocky Springs?’
‘I can’t swear one way or the other. I may have done so.’
‘At Rocky Springs?’
‘No, not that I remember. At another place.’
‘Very good. Now, Morsley, attend to me; be very careful in your answer as the question is important. How were you dressed on the night when deceased came by her death?’
Here more than one spectator leaned forward, as if anxiously awaiting the result of his question.
‘In the same dress I wear now,’ he answered with perfect composure.
‘Just so, a gray tweed suit. I think coat and waistcoat of the same colour, trousers slightly darker; allow me to look at them—a very serviceable suit, quiet, and so on. The second button seems different in colour from the others, and—just permit me for one moment—rather clumsily sewed on: no woman’s hand did that, Morsley; comes of quarrelling with your wife, eh? You don’t recollect how it came off, I suppose?’
‘My barkeeper noticed that it had come off before I left Warraluen,’ said the witness, scowling darkly at his questioner. ‘He offered to sew it on for me. Would you like to have the tailor’s address that made the clothes?’
‘Why, yes,’ said Markham, as if he had expected the question, ‘he might be able to tell me if this button (here he took one from his pocket) exactly matches the others in colour, shape, size—and also in the shade of silk twist with which the others are sewed on. He might be able to swear to that Morsley, or the reverse, but perhaps you can do so.’
‘How can I swear? how do I know where it comes from?’
‘It was found clenched in the dead hand of your murdered wife, as I shall be enabled to prove,’ said Mr. Markham with slow pitiless severity of tone, ‘does that help you to recollect how you lost it?’
The swarthy hue of the man’s face, which had gained him the sobriquet of Black Ned, visibly paled, and his strong frame shook before he answered sullenly—
‘If you wish to accuse me of killing her, you had better say it out at once, but I thought I was a witness and that man in the dock the prisoner.’
‘You will be quite clear about your respective positions in a short time, I daresay,’ said Mr. Markham, with cheerful confidence.
‘I must again protest,’ broke in Dr. Bellair fiercely, ‘against the extraordinary latitude taken by the counsel for the defence in this case. Are the feelings of the witness to be lacerated by references to the unfortunate deceased at every turn. Surely your worships will not tolerate this sensational style of examination.’
‘My learned friend’s client will have to submit to more sensational treatment before he leaves the court, I feel confident,’ said Mr. Markham; ‘in the meantime I must request that no restriction be placed upon my undoubted legal right to the severest cross-examination.’
The Commissioner nodded affirmatively, and the intensely interested audience gave a kind of half-murmur, as of strained anxiety, as Mr. Markham proceeded.
‘You had on no other coat but the one you now wear, on the night referred to?’
‘No; it was a warm night.’
‘You did not wear a poncho, for instance?’
‘Have you got such an article of dress?’
‘Where is it?’
‘I left it behind at Warraluen.’
‘Oh! you left it behind.’
‘Yes. The weather was dry and hot.’
‘And you have not worn one here?’
‘No, certainly not.’
‘You are in the habit of wearing a sheath knife, I believe?’
‘No, I am not. I have a pocket knife.’
‘Please to show it to the court.’
The knife is produced. An ordinary knife, with two blades, one much blunted cutting tobacco. It is handed up to the Bench.
‘That is the knife you had in your pocket on the night of the murder?’
‘And you had no other knife in your possession?’
‘Not at any time during the week?’
‘Of that you are certain; you didn’t borrow a knife from any one?’
‘Not that I remember. It is possible that I may have done so during the week, but I have no recollection of it accurately.’
‘Quite right, Mr. Morsley, to be careful—you can’t be too careful in your present position, I assure you. You can go now; sign your depositions first, though.’
Morsley had turned as if to leave the box, glaring at his persecutor with ill-concealed hatred and malice. An evil look of triumph half gleamed in his eyes, as he took the pen in his hand to write his name with studied coolness. Yet his hand shook in spite of all his efforts. Others, doubtless, noticed this. But many a strong man in that court had been similarly affected, concerning whom there was no question of guilt or innocence. The symptom was but too common. And the only effect on the bystanders was to confirm the notion that Black Ned had been ‘on the drink’ lately, perhaps on account of his trouble. And that was quite sufficient in their eyes to account for tremulous penmanship.
He raised his head menacingly as he stepped from the witness-box, and swaggered down the body of the court with his usual insolence of demeanour palpably exaggerated, probably for the benefit of myself and Mr. Markham. Dr. Bellair cleared his throat and prepared to address the court with a highly confident air when the sergeant strode forward with one of his characteristic seven-leagued movements, and laid his heavy hand upon the shoulder of the retiring witness.
Morsley turned hastily with a face of surprise, almost of fear, which he vainly tried to control, while the sergeant thus spoke in tones which filled the court—
‘I arrest you, Edward Morsley, in the Queen’s name; and I now charge you with the wilful murder of your wife, Jane Morsley, on the night of the 16th instant.’
The astonishment of every living soul in the court, Mr. Markham alone excepted, was extreme and patent. The crowd positively gasped in amazement, as the sergeant, exerting his great strength, pushed the prisoner into the dock, the door of which was opened by one of the constables and closed upon him, he appearing like a man in a dream, dazed and incapable of offering resistance.
As for me, I sat staring before me, almost incapable of collecting my ideas upon the subject. All that I could gather from the action of Sergeant MacMahon was that he, for some reason, believed Morsley to be the murderer of poor Jane. Mr. Markham, from his questioning as to the poncho, evidently leaned towards the hypothesis that he and the man in the poncho were one. But where was the proof? where the connection with any act of his, and the blood so pitilessly, so cruelly shed?
Dr. Bellair was the first to awake to the need for action.
‘Your worships, I beg, I demand redress against this proceeding, this most unprecedented, most unparalleled outrage upon the person of a witness, this insult to your authority by this autocratic policeman, after all a subordinate officer of the force. He seems to think that he can arrest any one he pleases. I suppose’ (here the little man stood up to his fullest height, and puffed out his chest heroically) ‘I suppose he will arrest me next!’
‘Dr. Bellair,’ said Blake, ‘Senior-sergeant MacMahon is fully empowered to act in this matter at his discretion. He is responsible to the head of his department. He, no doubt, has his own reasons for the action he has taken. It is not within the province of the Bench to direct any alteration of the mode in which he has chosen to effect this arrest.’
‘Of course,’ returned the doctor, foaming with rage, ‘if the police are permitted to arrest witnesses in court during a trial, and indecently to interrupt the course of law in any way they please in order to trump up a case, I have nothing more to say, further than that I shall lay a special complaint before the Minister for Justice, the head of the Crown Law Department.’
‘Take what steps you think fit, Dr. Bellair,’ said the Commissioner, ‘but I must ask you, however, to refrain from entering into a detailed description of your probable action. You wish to make an application to the Bench, sergeant?’
‘I pray for a remand of the prisoner, Edward Hill Morsley, for eight days, your worships, at the end of which time I shall be in a position to bring most material evidence against him. In the meantime, I desire to apply to your worships to discharge Mr. Hereward Pole from custody, as I have decided not to proceed further with the charge against him.’
A murmur of approbation filled the court, which fell on my ears like the sound of a far-off torrent, so confused was my brain, and dulled my every sense, at this unexpected course of events.
There was a pause of perfect silence while the Bench deliberated. Then Blake looked boldly and cheerily across the crowd.
‘The accused, Mr. Hereward Pole, was discharged,’ he said. ‘The Bench was unanimous in their opinion as to the extreme hardship of his having been placed in his present painful position at all. Unhappily circumstances appeared to be against him at the time of the death of the unfortunate deceased. Sergeant MacMahon, whatever might have been that officer’s private suspicions as to the real criminal, was therefore justified in arresting Mr. Pole. But he, the Police Magistrate, had now much pleasure in stating, on the part of the Bench, that after hearing the evidence brought forward that day before the Court not the slightest suspicion attached to Mr. Pole, and he left the court, most emphatically, without a stain on his character.’
This announcement was received with a general burst of cheering, promptly suppressed by the sergeant.