The Miner’s Right

Chapter XXXIV

Rolf Boldrewood

ON THE DAY to which Morsley stood remanded, I once more entered the court-house, under very different auspices from those of my last appearance there.

Accompanied by the Major and Olivera, I was warmly received by Captain Blake, and we were accommodated with seats by special permission of the Bench, whence we could observe the proceedings at our leisure.

The time of opening the Court had been purposely anticipated by us, as we wished to be freed from the inconvenience to which the inevitable crush of the crowded building would have given rise.

The hour, however, arrived, and the man.

Had I been of a persistently revengeful nature, every feeling of that kind must have been gratified when I saw my enemy brought in, carefully guarded by the police, and placed in the dock. The sergeant’s expression, it is true, betrayed no other feeling but that which might have actuated a zealous naturalist in possession of a very rare living specimen liable to take flight at any moment. On his calm brow, in his watchful gray eyes, was no faintest sign of moral reprobation or even partial disapproval. Nothing but unsleeping vigilance, nothing but inflexible determination, nothing but the most careful reminiscent accuracy, as of a dux in a mental arithmetic class continually examining himself lest he might have forgotten his calculation.

As for Edward Morsley, his fierce features were clouded, as of old, with the look of sullen defiance which was natural to them. I looked at him from time to time, wondering in my own mind whether prejudice caused me to see guilt in every line of his face, or whether I did him wrong and translated the shadow of past crime into a reflection of the deed still untracked and unavenged. Who could say? Was it real, true, actual fact, that Jane had been foully done to death, was buried, lost to all things beneath the sun for evermore? Why could not the dead for one short space return and avouch the truth, confound the guilty, and absolve the innocent? Mystery of mysteries! Portals inscrutable of the silent eternities! what secrets do they not enfold?

Again the court is filled. The Bench is seated. The witnesses are in attendance. Mr. Markham and Dr. Bellair, like heralds in the mediæval tournaments, are busy with preliminary arrangements, on which hang the issues of life and death.

Before progress can be made with the new trial, all proceedings are read through which have been initiated on the former occasion.

Then the Bench inquired of Sergeant MacMahon if he had procured additional material evidence in the case on account of which the prisoner had been remanded.

‘On most insufficient grounds, your worships,’ said Dr. Bellair.

Mr. Markham smiled in a gratified manner. The sergeant stroked his immense beard, which concealed the third button of his uniform coat, and merely remarking—

‘The Bench may be of a different opinion shortly, Doctor,’ said, ‘Call George Corbett.’

A respectably-dressed, open-countenanced miner stepped forward and went into the witness-box. When sworn, this was his statement—

‘I am a miner, and reside at the Oxley, where I am a share-holder in the Crinoline claim, Red Hill. On the 20th instant, on the night of the murder, I was coming up the town, when I saw a man covered up with a poncho come out of Simpson’s Hotel and run down Mayne Street. He stopped just opposite to me and turned into a side alley near a butcher’s shop. There is a deep shaft close to the edge of the lane. He stopped for a second or two and walked quickly up to the hotel again. His clothes then looked of a lightish colour, and he had no poncho on. To the best of my belief the prisoner now before the Court is the man. I did not speak to him, but followed him to the hotel. There was a crowd collected there, and I heard the man in the light clothes say, “I give that man (meaning Harry Pole) in charge for murdering my wife.” Then I heard that Mrs. Morsley was killed, and I saw the police take away Harry Pole. Showed Sergeant MacMahon the shaft afterwards, which I spoke of, near the butcher’s; it was an old shicer and pretty deep. It could hardly have been two minutes between the time the man in the poncho came down the street and returned.’

Cross-examined by Dr. Bellair: ‘Have no acquaintance with prisoner. Have seen the deceased, Mrs. Morsley, several times; did not know her to speak to. Know Harry Pole, as a digger merely; am not a friend of his. May have passed him the time of day. Told the sergeant that I saw a man run down the street at the time of the murder. Showed him the shaft afterwards. It was one of the old block claims before the main lead was struck. Must be about sixty feet deep. Have no interest in the case one way or the other, but would do anything in my power to bring a murderer to justice. Any man worth calling a man would do the same.’

‘That will do; you can go down,’ said the doctor. ‘Your moral ideas are not called in question, and your evidence is not important one way or the other.’

‘You will see more about that, Doctor,’ said the sergeant with marked respect. ‘Your worships, I desire to tender evidence personally in the case, and request to be sworn.’

‘I also desire to know whether the police are to be Crown prosecutors, advocates, gaolers, and witnesses all in one, and acting in the same case whenever they may see fit to try and procure a conviction,’ cried out Dr. Bellair. ‘I submit, your worships, that the fact of a police officer usurping all these powers is monstrous; in every way most improper and unauthorised. In the name of my client I demand the protection of the Court.’

‘The Court is of opinion, Dr. Bellair, that Sergeant Macmahon has a perfect right to tender evidence in this or any other case which, from circumstances, may be most material. Swear the witness.’

The sergeant is accordingly sworn with due solemnity. He deposes as follows—

‘My name is John Fitzgerald MacMahon. I am a senior-sergeant of police stationed at the Oxley. On the 20th instant I was on duty at the lower end of Mayne Street, when I observed a crowd forming in the vicinity of Simpson’s Hotel. I proceeded there as quickly as possible, thinking it might be a fight or a fire, and passing through the crowd I saw Mr. Hereward Pole supporting in his arms the deceased Mrs. Morsley. She appeared to be in a fainting or dying condition. Blood was flowing from her throat freely, and Mr. Pole’s hands and clothes were covered with her blood. I had her placed upon a bed. About a minute afterwards the prisoner called out to me from among the crowd to take Mr. Pole into custody, whom he charged with the murder of his wife. I did so. I noticed at the time that prisoner was dressed in a gray tweed suit, as at present. I saw that one button was missing between the upper or throat button and the third. I looked at his hands; they were free from stain. I left Constable Grant in the house with instructions to him to search closely around the spot where the deed had been done. After locking up Mr. Pole (which I did to throw the guilty party or parties off their guard)—’

‘Mr. Pole is very much obliged to you, sergeant,’ said Mr. Markham, ‘I feel certain. No doubt he will recognise the compliment when he has a little leisure for consideration.’

‘We have to manage these things in our own way, Mr. Markham. It was a little hard on him. I beg to resume my evidence.—I returned to the house, and very closely and carefully examined the corpse of deceased. In the right hand, which was clenched, I found this button (already produced by Mr. Markham); it corresponds with the buttons upon the coat at present worn by the prisoner, from which a button similar in size and shape has been lately torn and replaced. I caused this button to be compared with those upon prisoner’s coat when he was asleep, and can produce the witness who so compared them. There was a small piece of silk thread, known by tailors as “twist,” in the button. It is the same as that used in the sewing of the other buttons of prisoner’s coat. A few hairs, as from a beard, were tangled in the clenched fingers of the left hand of deceased. I produce them wrapped in paper. They are black, curling, and slightly tinged with gray. They correspond with the beard of the prisoner. The hair of deceased was light brown, almost flaxen.’

The sergeant stooped down and placed before him on the ledge of the witness-box a formidable parcel, which he commenced to open carefully.

‘From information received, I went on the following day to a shaft in a narrow lane close to Simpson’s Hotel. I caused myself to be lowered down it, taking a candle, and examined the bottom. I there found a pair of loose dogskin gloves; they were on the poncho produced (sensation); it is of dark cloth, and of a size suitable to prisoner. There are fresh stains upon the gloves, chiefly on the right hand one. There is a dark reddish stain upon the outside of the poncho on the front, as if a sudden gush of liquid had produced it. I also found a knife, which I now produce. It is a sheath knife, ground very sharp, and slightly curved inwards. The blade and handle are stained with blood—recently stained and hardly dry. In the pocket of the poncho was a handkerchief (which I produce); it is marked in a woman’s handwriting E. H. M. There were also a newspaper unopened, and two letters unopened, addressed to Mr. Edward Morsley, Warraluen.’

Cross-examined by Dr. Bellair: ‘Have known prisoner for several years, ever since he came to Granville Rush. Am not prepared to say that he has committed offences against the law, but he has always been an associate of bad characters. Have had him watched since the night of the murder; do not consider that kind of espionage improper when men are suspected of crimes such as prisoner is now charged with. Cannot swear that prisoner is the man whom the witness Corbett saw running towards the shaft, but consider that the evidence produced tends strongly in that direction. Prisoner in his evidence in Pole’s case distinctly swore that he did not own a poncho. Have more evidence to bring forward.’

‘Call Luke Weston.’

A short, broad-shouldered, swarthy man with carrings now steps forward, whose rolling gate betrays acquaintance with the high seas, and leads to the suspicion that he left his last ship without applying formally for leave.

He is sworn, and, hitching up his trousers, makes the following answers to Mr. Markham—

‘My name is Luke Weston. Am a miner. Came out in the Cambysus. Have been here about three months digging. Know the chap in the dock; saw him at Pegleg Gully last week. He was chucking his money about, but seemed down on his luck, like. We were talking about knives, and I threw my knife and made it stick in a board. It’s a trick I learnt of the Spaniards when I was hide-droghing in South America. He looked at it and said the edge was sharp, too. I said it was, and no mistake. I wanted a job, and he said he’d give me a line to a friend to put me on as wages man at a reef at Warraluen. I took it very kind of him. He advanced me a pound to pay my coach fare. We had a couple of drinks before we went to bed. Just as he was going away he looked at my knife, and I said I’d give it to him if he fancied it. I took off the belt and sheath and all. He laughed and walked away with it. I went to Warraluen early next morning. I look at the knife produced; it is my knife. I will swear to it by the wood of the handle, which is a Brazil wood. I also look at the belt and sheath produced. They were my belt and sheath. The sheath is not leather—it is raw horse-hide dressed in Spanish fashion. I swear prisoner is the man I gave my knife to.’

By Dr. Bellair: ‘How did I leave my ship? Well, ran away, if you want to know particulars. Lots of other sailor men did the same. Had been drinking a little during the evening with prisoner. Was not drunk, nor even half seas over. Got work at Warraluen on prisoner’s recommendation. Do not think it mean to give evidence against him. Believe him to be a bloody murdering land-pirate that ought to be hung at the yard-arm.’

‘Call Constable Grant.’

He is sworn, and thus gives evidence—

‘My name is Donald Glencairn Grant. I am a police constable stationed at the Oxley. I remember the night when Mrs. Morsley was murdered. I saw her conveyed to bed. I remained when Sergeant MacMahon arrested Mr. Pole and conveyed him to the lock-up. I remained behind, and, in accordance with instructions, examined carefully the room where the murder took place. I found a gold sleeve button or sleeve link, such as shirts are fastened with, which I produce; it was down on the floor and was stained with blood. It has the letters “E. H. M. Ballarat” engraved on the inside. It is rather a large stud, and is of Australian gold, I should say. I was present when Sergeant MacMahon found the button and the hair produced in the hands of the deceased. He sent me to call Mrs. Simpson before we touched them. We had great difficulty in getting them, as the hands were so tightly closed. Immediately upon prisoner being arrested last week, I went in accordance with previous instructions to the room which he had occupied at the New Zealand Hotel. I found Mr. Malgrade, who has given evidence, about to enter, but I prevented him from doing so, saying I was about to seal up the door. I searched the room and found at the bottom of a trunk the belt and sheath which have been produced during the examination of the last witness. The trunk had “E. H. Morsley” painted on the outside. It was a leathern travelling trunk or portmanteau. I also discovered the fellow to the sleeve link produced, which I found on the floor at Simpson’s Hotel, stained with deceased’s blood. The sleeve link which I now produce was not stained; it is exactly like the other, and has the same letters engraved, also Ballarat. I then sealed up the door and came away.’

By Dr. Bellair: ‘I was told to watch prisoner in a general way after the murder, as evidence might be forthcoming against him. Do not know why Senior-sergeant MacMahon did not arrest him on suspicion if he suspected him. It was his case; I suppose he had reasons for what he did. Do not know anything about prisoner or his wife. Have only recently arrived on this field. Was formerly stationed at New England. Have heard in a general way that prisoner was jealous of his wife. Did not trouble my head about that part of the affair, it was no business of mine. Believe it to be my duty, as a police constable, to prevent crime if legally possible, or to aid in apprehending criminals.’

Mr. Markham suggested that if the doctor wished to examine the witness as to the ‘whole duty of man’ as applicable to the police force, he could not do better than consult that admirable manual of regulations lately issued by the Inspector-General, and save the time of the Court.

Dr. Bellair submitted that he had a perfect right to test the credibility of any witness, and was not inclined to take for granted the good faith of the whole police force, believing that they were too fond of getting up sensational cases and manufacturing evidence which rested upon the most fragile foundation.

As the details, which had been so carefully collected by the sergeant, wrought themselves one by one into their appointed places, links in the chain of circumstantial evidence which gradually environed the prisoner, every eye in the Court was fixed upon him with horror and reprobation. For him, he seemed wholly absorbed in his own reflections, and apparently failed to perceive that he was the centre of a thousand unwavering, unfriendly regards.

It was only towards the end of the protracted proceedings, as he leaned heavily upon the front of the dock, that I marked a gradual sinking of his muscular frame—a pallor approaching ghastliness overspreading his features. Once only did his eye meet mine, when arousing himself he stared me fully in the face, leaning on his arms. If a look could have killed, my life would have ended there. Rarely do mortal men encounter so dreadful a gaze. Such eyes may glare hopelessly from forms tormented, accursed, in the Inferno devoted to arch-criminals. Wretched and degraded as are the dwellers in the dark places of the earth, even among them such demoniac malice is rarely exhibited. I shuddered instinctively, and felt relieved to think that this was in all human probability our last meeting.

Mr. Markham made a short telling speech, carefully confining himself to those parts of the evidence which in his mind most conclusively connected the prisoner with the crime. Whatever doubt their worships might have in their own minds, it was not for them to usurp the functions of a jury, to whom would be left the duty and responsibility of deciding whether or no the evidence established the prisoner’s guilt. The plain duty of the Bench was to commit the prisoner for trial at the next ensuing Court of Assize.

And this view of the case the Bench unanimously took in spite of a tremendous ad captandum speech from Dr. Bellair, who inveighed passionately against the insecurity and danger of circumstantial evidence, and defied the magistrates to connect his client personally with the deed which had been committed.

‘The Bench desire to remind you, Dr. Bellair,’ at length said the Commissioner, ‘that we are only acting ministerially. This is but a preliminary proceeding. Many of your arguments, the Bench think, would have great weight with a jury, but we have made up our minds to commit. I would suggest that you are only wasting your own valuable time, and perhaps that of the Court.’

‘If the Bench have made up their minds, if they are resolved, no matter what arguments may be brought forward, to take a particular, a prejudged course, I of course cannot prevent it,’ said the doctor, at a white heat. ‘With regard to the closing observation of Mr. Commissioner Blake, I will observe that I bow to the decision of the Bench as to questions of law; but the assertion that I am wasting the time of the Court deals with a question of fact, concerning which I am as competent to form an opinion as any man living, be he whom he may.’

Here the little man folded his arms and frowned ferociously at the Bench, presenting a not inapt likeness to a frantic terrier confronting a kennel of staghounds.

‘Edward Hill Morsley,’ said the Commissioner, deigning no further notice of the irate advocate, and as he spoke the slightest sound was audible throughout the Court, ‘you are not obliged to say anything, and what you say will be taken down in writing, and may be used against you at your trial. Do you desire to say anything?’

‘Nothing whatever,’ answered Morsley, with the most perfect sang froid.

‘My client reserves his defence,’ said the doctor defiantly.

‘Edward Hill Morsley,’ again said the Commissioner, in measured and grave accents, ‘you stand committed to take your trial for wilful murder at the next ensuing Assize Court, to be holden at Russell on the 20th January next.’

‘Call up the witnesses, Sergeant MacMahon, and let them be duly bound over to appear.’

This was done.

The prisoner was removed, amid the muttered execrations of the crowd, who pressed to gaze at him as he was hurried away.

The Court was adjourned, and as I and my comrades walked silently away, a load seemed lifted from my mind, in that the innocent blood that had been shed would be avenged, and no mourning ghost, as sings the rude folk-lore of her own land, would flit over the hearthstone of poor Jane’s birthplace, waiting in the midnight hour for justice denied both of God and man.

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