Chapter XI

Rolf Boldrewood

‘CATHARINE LAWLESS!’ Thrice was her name called outside of the court, as by law directed. As the echo of the last summons died away, a tall woman closely veiled issued from a side door and walked composedly over to the witness-box. Every eye was directed towards her; no sound was audible, save some involuntary exclamation as the most sensational character of the corps dramatique appeared on the stage. Quietly and becomingly dressed, bien gantée and in all respects accurately finished as to each personal detail, she moved forward with an air of haughty indifference to her surroundings, including the court, prisoners, and spectators. These last might have deemed that she was some interesting stranger, an eye-witness by chance of deeds concerning which she was compelled to testify.

‘Swear the witness,’ said the magistrate, as the book was placed in her right hand, ‘and will she be pleased to remove her veil?’

Thus admonished, the girl threw back her veil with a half-petulant gesture, and touching the sacred book lightly with her lips, as the solemn formula was recited, gazed around the court with an air of insouciance apparently as unstudied and natural as if she had come direct from Arcadia.

For one moment her clear gray eyes, unheeding every other creature in the crowd of spectators, rested on the two men in the dock. Those who knew her—and there were many such in the congregation—looked eagerly for some softened expression, some sign of regret, as might any woman wear when beholding her lover and her brother in the place set apart for felons, who knew them to be charged with a serious offence, and liable to years of degrading imprisonment, from which, perchance, a word from her lips might save one—might even alleviate their lot—so great is the sympathy felt for the power exercised by a handsome woman, even in the temple of justice.

Those who thus reasoned were doomed to disappointment. Her gaze passed coldly over her brother’s lounging form and tranquil features, but when she encountered the stern interrogation which was written on the frowning brow and set lips of Lance Trevanion, she drew back for an instant, and then slightly raising her head and drawing herself up, an action which displayed to perfection the symmetrical moulding of her figure, returned his regard with a glance as fierce and unfaltering as his own. For one moment only did the mental duel appear to last, for one moment was each antagonistic electric current propelled along the mutual course. Then, with an impatient gesture, she turned half round and awaited the official questioning.

The oppressive silence which up to that moment had pervaded the court ceased, as by a broken spell, and comments were audible to those immediately around the speaker, more than one of which went as follows—

‘She’s going to swear up, you bet your life. Never saw a woman look like her that didn’t. Sooner have her on my side than against me, that’s all I know.’

‘Dayrell’s been working a point to set her against him, that’s where he’ll score the odd trick, you’ll see,’ observed his equally philosophic friend. ‘She’s been dead nuts on that new chum, that’s why she’s thirsting for his blood now. I think I knows ’em.’

‘What is your name?’ commenced the sergeant, who in the preliminary examination was, as the police officer in charge of the case, permitted to officiate in Courts of Petty Sessions as Acting Crown Prosecutor. ‘Catharine Lawless.’ This answer was given in a low but distinct voice. ‘You are the sister of Edward Lawless, one of the prisoners now before the Court; and you have been residing with him at Balooka, and recently at Growlers’ Gully?’

‘Yes. We have all been living with him since father died.’

‘Just so. And you know the other prisoner, Launcelot Trevanion?’ Here the sergeant feigned to examine his notebook, ostensibly to refresh his memory, but really in order to afford witness and prisoner opportunity to look at each other. Also that the court, the spectators, the magistrate, and lastly he, Francis Dayrell, might appreciate their mutual discomfort.

This Mephistophelian design was set at naught by the selfpossession of the witness, who after one glance, brief as the jagged lightning and as scathing, answered deliberately—‘Yes, I do know Lance Trevanion, I know him well.’

There was not much in this apparently harmless Saxon sentence, chiefly monosyllabic, but those who were close enough to hear the last words thrilled for long days after as they recalled the concentrated venom with which they were saturated.

‘When you say you know the prisoner, Trevanion, well,’ queried Dayrell, with an air of respectful interest, ‘you mean, I suppose, that he was a great friend of your brothers, and of the family generally. Your brother Dan, your cousin Harry, and his sister Tessie—you are rather a large family, I believe—were all friendly towards him, as he to you?’

‘Yes; very friendly; we all thought no end of him.’

‘Of course, of course; most natural on your part and his. He was often at your camp, at Growlers’. Used to play a game or two of cards sometimes with your brothers—a little euchre—eh?’

‘Yes; I believe so.’

‘You believe so? Don’t you know it, Miss Lawless? Were not the stakes rather heavy sometimes?’

‘They may have been. I never played for money. The boys may have had a gamble now and then.’

‘Really, your worship,’ interposed Mr. England, ‘I can’t see what these trivialities have to do with the case. The witness is an extremely prepossessing young woman—outwardly. We admit at once that she exercised a certain fascination over my client. Why shouldn’t she? Nemo omnibus horis sapit, etc., particularly on the diggings. But the sergeant, apparently, will proceed to ask her if she ever sewed on a button for my client, and I appeal to your worship, if we are to sit here all day and listen to this mode of examination?’

‘I must ask your worship’s permission to conduct the case in my own way,’ returned the sergeant. ‘I guarantee that these apparently trivial details are of material importance to the case.’

‘You may proceed, Sergeant Dayrell. I trust to you not to encumber the depositions with needless details.’

‘I shall bear in mind your worship’s directions; and now, Miss Lawless, please to attend to me, and be careful in answering the next question.’ Here he fixed his eyes meaningly upon her countenance.

‘You remember the evening of Monday, the 23d of this month, when I saw you ride into your brother’s camp at Balooka, in company with the prisoner, Trevanion?’

‘Yes; I do.’

‘Had he been with you and Ned at Balooka for some time previously?’

There was a pause after the sergeant’s measured and distinct words sounded through the court, and the witness trembled slightly when they first reached her ear. Then she raised her head, looked full at the two prisoners in the dock, and answered—

‘Yes; he had.’

As the words left her lips, the face of Lance Trevanion worked like that of a man about to fall down in a fit. His eyes blazed with wrath and unrestrained passion. Wonder and scorn, anger and despair, struggled together in every feature, as if in a stage of demoniac possession. Placing his strong hand upon the rail of the dock, he shook the stout structure until it swayed and rattled again.

‘You lie, traitress!’ he said, in vibrating tones. ‘I never saw Balooka before that evening, and you know it. Your words—like yourself—are false as hell!’

‘I submit, your worship, that the witness must be protected,” Dayrell made haste to interpose. ‘If she is to be intimidated, I cannot guarantee her most important evidence.’

A curious phase of human nature is it, well worthy of the attention of physiologists, but none the less known to those in the habit of attending criminal courts,—that you may with tolerable certainty detect a man deliberately swearing falsely when giving evidence on oath. Villain as he may be,—scoundrel of the deepest dye,—even he does not altogether enjoy the sensation of, in cold blood, committing perjury before a crowd of comrades, every one of whom knows that he is forswearing himself. Thus feeling, there is generally some token of uneasiness or shamefacedness by which the experienced magistrate or judge, and most certainly his friends and fellows, can perceive his perjury.

But, strange and mysterious as it may seem, it is not so in the case of a female witness. She may be deposing to the truth of the most atrocious falsehood, to what the greater part of her hearers, as well as herself, know to be false, and not the quiver of an eyelid nor the tremor of a muscle reveals that she has called upon the Supreme Being to witness her deliberate betrayal of the truth. For all that can be discerned in the countenance—in her mien and manner she may be clinging to the truth with the constancy of a martyr.

There was a murmur in the court from more than one voice as Lance Trevanion’s heart-felt exclamation burst forth. This being promptly suppressed, the magistrate, with a more sympathetic tone of voice than he had as yet used, ‘requested the prisoner not to injure his case by intemperate language. Possibly the outburst of conscious innocence, the Bench admitted, but he would warn him, in his own interest, to reserve his defence till the evidence was completed.’ Lance apparently saw the force of his argument, for after one withering glance at the witness-box, he bowed his head without speaking, and resigned himself apparently to listen unmoved to all further statements.

‘Did you—now consider carefully and make no mistake’—here the sergeant fixed his eye sternly, even menacingly, upon the girl, who stood calm and resolved before him—‘did you know of your own knowledge that the prisoner, Trevanion, met your brother Ned at the Swampy Plain tableland and assisted him to drive certain horses into the yard?’

The girl looked again across to the figures in the dock, neither of whom apparently saw her, as they, by accident or otherwise, had averted their faces. Then a mysterious darksome look of pride and revenge came over Kate Lawless’s face as she coolly scrutinised them both. Slowly she answered—

‘Yes; I was at home when he and Ned came in from Swampy Plains with ten horses and put them into the yard.’

‘You swear that?’

Yes,’ looking her interlocutor full in the face. ‘Yes, I swear that.’

Her face as she pronounced the words grew fixed and more intense of expression. She changed colour, then gasped for breath, staggered, and before any man near her was quick enough to intercept her swaying form, fell, as one dead, her full length upon the floor.

‘The strain lias been too great for her, she has fainted,’ said the sergeant. ‘The witness is unable to bear further cross-examination at present. Your worship must see that. I pray for a remand of the prisoners, and will undertake that the witness appears to-morrow at ten o’clock and submits herself to the cross-examination.’

‘No doubt,’ said the magistrate, ‘the position is most distressing, but I shouldn’t have expected Miss Lawless to faint on any occasion. However, she is certainly not in a state to bear more of the witness-box to-day. The prisoners stand remanded till to-morrow morning at ten o’clock.’

The unwilling crowd gradually left the building, when much various comment arose as to the guilt or otherwise of the accused.

‘Wait till England gets at that Kate Lawless,’ said a digger, ‘he’ll turn her inside out. I don’t believe half of what she says. She’s gone back on Trevanion for some reason or other; now she’d hang him if she could. That’s a woman all over.’

‘Serve him right for havin’ no more sense than to go runnin’ after a bush filly like her instead of minding his business. It’ll learn him better if he gets lagged over the job; it looks bad for him, now, don’t it?’

‘It’s dashed hard lines, I say,’ answered his mate, ‘that a fellow should get jugged just for a bit of foolishness-like, as none of us are above now and then. I’ll never believe he knew that bay horse wasn’t square, and it’ll be a burning shame if he gets into it’

.     .     .     .     .

The day and the hour arrived. Again the crowded court—friends, foes, strangers, and acquaintances, all were there. Lance’s friends from Growlers’ mustered in force—Mr. Stirling, Jack Polwarth, Mrs. Polwarth, and poor Tottie, who stretched forth her little hands with a piteous gesture and then burst into tears as she saw her friend Lance placed in the dock and shut in. The crowd was visibly affected by this little incident, and more than one woman’s tears flowed in unison with Mrs. Polwarth’s, who bent her head down and sobbed unrestrainedly. When Kate Lawless, pale but composed, appeared and took her place in the witness-box a menacing murmur ran through the crowd, and sounds ominously like hisses made themselves audible. These were quickly repressed as Mr. England, stepping forward, commenced his cross-examination.

Fixing his eyes searchingly upon the girl’s defiant face, he thus began—

‘You said, I think, in your examination in chief that you knew the prisoner, Trevanion, well?’

‘Yes; so I did.’

‘Now, when you say you knew him well, do you mean us to believe that you were only ordinary friends and no more?’

‘I mean what I said; we were very friendly—all the time we were at Growlers’.’

‘That’s all very well, but I must have more. You know something of life, Miss Lawless, though you’ve lived in the bush all your days. Now didn’t this unfortunate young gentleman make love to you?’

‘Well, I suppose he did.’

‘And you returned it, or gave him to understand that you did?’

‘I did like him very much. There was no reason why I shouldn’t, was there?’ Here Miss Kate looked coolly at the barrister, who, trained gladiator as he was, doubted whether he had ever had to deal with a keener antagonist.

‘I am not here to answer questions,’ he said, very gravely. ‘You are to reply to mine, as his worship will tell you.’

‘Then I am to understand that you and he considered yourselves sweethearts (as the familiar expression goes) when you were at Growlers’?’

‘Yes, and afterwards.’

‘And you have had no quarrel or misunderstanding?’

‘No; none at all’

‘You wish his worship to believe that?’ said the barrister, in sterner tones. ‘To believe that you come here prepared to swear at the dictation of Sergeant Dayrell everything that he puts into your mouth which can tell against this unfortunate young man—your sweetheart, as you have admitted?’

‘I don’t care whether you believe it or not. It’s the truth.’

‘And your feelings have not changed towards him? Will you swear that?’

The girl hesitated. Her face flushed, then paled, her bosom heaved. She placed her hand upon her heart as if to still its beatings.

‘No,’ she answered, with a changed voice; ‘I won’t swear that’

‘Thank you, Miss Lawless. I will not trouble you with further questioning. That admission gives the key to the more important points of your evidence.’

As the girl moved back from the witness-box she was stopped by one of the constables and requested to sign her deposition. It was noticeable then that her hand trembled so that she could hardly hold the pen. She made this an excuse for requesting the clerk to write her name, to which she affixed her mark, as in such case made and provided.

The case for the Crown being closed, Mr. England proceeded to call the witnesses for the defence. The first name was that of Charles Stirling. He came forward with a firm, confident air, tempered with respect to the court. Placed in the witnessbox, his evidence was to this effect—

‘My name—Charles Stirling, manager of the Growlers’ Gully branch of the Australian Joint-Stock Bank. Have known the prisoner, Trevanion, intimately since his occupation of Number Six claim. Have a high opinion of him as a man of honour and a gentleman. Remember him purchasing the bay horse now proved to have been stolen from Mr. Jeffreys. Was consulted as to the purchase. Advised him then to be careful about Lawless’s receipt, and to satisfy himself from whom he (Lawless) had purchased the animal. Trevanion was unwilling to believe anything against the Lawless family, and was not a man to be guided by others. As far as he knew, he was scrupulously upright and honourable. He (Stirling) was never so surprised at anything in his whole life as when he heard that Trevanion was in the hands of the police. There must be a mistake somewhere. Prisoner had a large balance to his credit in the Joint-Stock Bank. There could be no motive for saving a paltry fifty pounds by purchasing a stolen horse. If it was sworn that Trevanion had been seen at Balooka on the 19th September or previously, that statement was false, as on that day he had been all the morning at the Joint-Stock Bank disposing of a parcel of gold, seeing it weighed, and the money placed to credit.’

Cross-examined by Sergeant Dayrell: ‘He was as certain that Trevanion was at his bank at Growlers’ on Thursday as that he himself was at court now. Any one who swore otherwise was deceived, or else had reasons of their own for committing perjury. He did not intend to be other than respectful to the court, but felt so strongly in this matter that he could scarcely control his words. Was not aware, of his own knowledge, that Trevanion was in the habit of gambling with the Lawlesses for heavy stakes. May have heard something of the sort. Most of the young men at the diggings played a little; it afforded a relief to the monotony of their lives, and they (as far as he knew) never went very deeply into it. Was a friend—he might say a particular friend—of prisoner’s. He and his mate, Mr. Polwarth, were customers of his bank. Neither had ever owed his bank money, they were always depositors.’

John Polwarth, sworn: ‘Was mate and partner in “Number Six, Growlers’” with Mr. Trevanion. Had known him in England. Came out in the same ship. Could swear that he never knew the horse “Pendragon” was stolen. He was a gentleman, and couldn’t steal a horse if he tried ever so hard; or buy a stolen one, knowingly. He had been with Mr. Trevanion at the bank all the morning of Thursday, 19th inst. Mr. Stirling was there, and a clerk.’

‘Was he sure it was him?’

‘Was he sure the judge was on the Bench now?’

‘How did he explain the fact of prisoner Trevanion being seen at Balooka on Wednesday, 18th, and previously?’

‘Only by believing it to be “a straight lie,” or that the witness saw some one very like Trevanion.’

‘Very like Trevanion?’

‘Very like.’

The witness appeared to be recalling something in his mind.

‘Ar hev it noo, boys,’ quoth he, suddenly looking towards the Bench, ‘I humbly beg your worship’s pardon, but this terrible business has put things out of my head like. I see how it’s all come about. There was a chap aboard the Red Jacket, about a year older than Mr. Trevanion then, as like him as two peas. Danged if I doan’t believe it’s he as have been riding about with Ned Lawless here, and all the while he’s been taken for Master Lance. The name of the man he meant was Lawrence Trevenna; came from North Devon, he did, though he had a Cornish name. Had never set eyes on him since the day they landed in Melbourne. Never liked him; thought it was a case of good riddance of bad rubbish.

‘Was a friend of Mr. Trevanion’s; he wouldn’t call him prisoner—not for no man; any way he wasn’t committed for trial yet; always would be a friend—in gaol or out of it; but would not swear to a lie for him or any other man—not if it was his own brother.’

Gwennyth Polwarth was then called, and up came the poor woman—sore abashed and troubled—with Tottie clinging to her, and refusing to be separated from her mother.

‘Yes, she and her husband had come out with Mr. Lance. When in the Red Jacket had made it up to be mates. Mr. Trevanion, though he was a grand gentleman at home, worked as hard in the claim as any man on the field; would never believe that he had aught to do with a stolen horse. It was that Ned Lawless there, and his bold gipsy of a sister. I say it to their faces, as I have often warned him against, that’s got him into this trouble.’

‘Could he have been at Balooka on Thursday, or Wednesday, 18th, as was sworn by one witness?’

‘Not unless he was a spirit. He came round to the claim, and said “good-bye’ to me and the child on Thursday evening; would swear that to her dying day.’

‘As to his being at Balooka, or any place a hundred miles off, it was a thing impossible. There were people in the court as wanted to swear away his life, any one could see. But there’s Cousin Jacks enough at Growlers’ to smash the gaol and the court-house too, if these things are to be carried on, and it would be seen yet (the witness said in her excitement) what would come of it.’

‘Sergeant Dayrell would ask the witness no questions. The Bench would perceive the animus which coloured all the evidence.’

Mrs. Delf was next called. ‘Her name was Mary Anne Delf; she had no call to be ashamed of it, and was the wife of the landlord of the “Diggers’ Rest.” Know that gentleman?’ pointing to Lance. ‘Well, he always stayed at her house. Dined there with Mr. Stirling, Mr. Ross (of Bundalong Station), and Mr. Polwarth, on Thursday, the 19th of September last. Remembered the day particular, because there had been a wash-up at “Number Six” the day before, and they had sold the gold to the bank, and had it weighed and settled up for.

‘Was she a friend of Mr. Trevanion’s? Yes; and she was proud to say so. It was a pity all his friends weren’t as straight, though she said it herself. But he was as innocent of all this duffing racket as Tottie Polwarth there.’

Here poor Tottie, hearing her name, turned her eyes away from the dock, where they had been resting sadly for a long time, and said audibly—

‘Isn’t Lance coming, mammy?’

This pathetic appeal, joined to a solitary glance from the prisoner, proved too much for Mrs. Polwarth’s self-possession, and, seizing Tottie by the hand, she hurried from the court. Upon which Mrs. Delf, though unused to the melting mood, had recourse to her handkerchief, and sobbed aloud, as did various like-minded female sympathisers.

‘Have you any other witnesses to call for the defence?’ said the police magistrate, addressing Mr. England, as who should say, the case has lasted long enough.

‘But one, your worship, but one. Call Esther Lawless.’

Again the densely packed assemblage was visibly moved. Here was another of those Lawless girls; and what evidence was she going to give? Surely an alibi had been fully proved in Trevanion’s favour already. What could shatter the evidence of Mr. Stirling and Polwarth, Mrs. Delf and Mrs. Polwarth? However, here she comes.

Tessie Lawless had not been so prominently before the public of Growlers’ as her cousin Kate, but, none the less, from the extreme rarity of young and good-looking women at the earlier diggings, had she been an object of curiosity and admiration. Hence she was well known by sight and reputation, and her appearance in court was consequently of the nature of a romantic incident.

‘Your name is Esther Lawless, and you were residing with your cousins, at Growlers’, recently,’ began Mr. England, with the suave deferential manner by which counsel are won’t to placate the feminine witness, ‘where you knew the prisoner, Lance Trevanion?’

‘Yes, certainly, I know Mr. Trevanion. He was often at our camp.’

‘He was on friendly terms with all of you?’

‘Yes; too much so for his own good.’

‘Why do you say that, Miss Lawless?’

‘Because my cousin Edward was not honest in his dealings, and I thought Mr. Trevanion might be drawn in, unwarily, as he has been, I am sorry to say.’

‘Can you say anything as to the purchase of the bay H. J. horse, stated to have been stolen from Mr. Herbert Jeffreys?’

‘Yes; I wrote out the receipt which Edward gave Mr. Trevanion when he bought the horse for fifty pounds from him. He was then described as purchased from Henry Jones, of Black Dog Creek’

‘How did you come to write the receipt in your cousin’s presence?’

Here the witness paused for an instant, as if hesitating what to answer. Then she said, ‘I was always in the habit of doing any writing that was necessary.’

‘But why? for what reason?’ persisted Mr. England.

Because none of my cousins can read or write.’

As this announcement was made, evidently with reluctance, by the girl, over whose ordinarily colourless countenance a flush rose as she spoke, all eyes were turned towards Kate Lawless, who was sitting upon a bench reserved for witnesses, and afterwards in the direction of Ned. The latter celebrity smiled faintly, as if the higher education thus implied was comparatively unimportant. But on his sister the effect of the disclosure was widely different.

She turned her face quickly, and, as she did so, her eyes sparkled and her set lips expressed—if not anger, malice, and all uncharitableness—at least a far from benevolent intention towards the speaker. Making as if to rise, but repressing herself with a strong effort, she assumed a scornful attitude, as if prepared to listen with resignation.

‘Do you remember any conversation with reference to the horse?’

‘Yes; Mr. Trevanion asked where Henry Jones lived, and whether he had any more horses of the same breed. Ned answered that he lived at Monaro, and that he would have some more to sell when he bought his next draught from him.’

‘You believe, then, that Trevanion had no idea that the horse was stolen?’

‘No more than you had. He said over and over again that he must get another or two from Jones.’

‘Now, Miss Lawless, you need not answer this question unless you like. Did you know that the horse was stolen?’

‘No, I did not, or I would have warned Mr. Trevanion. I may have doubted whether everything was quite square about him; but I never thought for a moment that he was stolen.’

‘May I ask you, also, what reason you were likely to have for warning Mr. Trevanion?’

‘Merely that I had a friendly feeling for him, and did not wish to see him taken in.’

‘A very good reason, too. Now there has been evidence to the effect that Mr. Trevanion admired your cousin Kate; that he paid her a good deal of attention?’

‘Yes; no doubt he did.’

‘You must excuse my asking you, but it is necessary to come to a correct understanding; was there any rivalry or jealous feeling between you?’

‘Not the slightest. He was polite he couldn’t be otherwise; but he never cared two straws about me, or any one but Kate, though I was his real friend; but he never knew it.’

‘Was there not a letter from Kate Lawless sent by your hand to him, after she had left for Balooka?’

‘Yes; but she had to get some one to write it for her. I had a great mind not to deliver it. I wish now that I never had, and all this might have been saved.’

‘That will do, Miss Esther. Stay—one more question. You had never, of course, seen Mr. Trevanion in company with your cousins before you came to Ballarat?’

It occasionally happens that an advocate, in putting a question which he believes to be perfectly innocuous, makes some fatal mistake which damages the whole of his previous evidence. The witness changed colour, and hesitated, then appeared to wish to avoid answering the question.

Mr. England divined the situation. ‘It’s of no consequence. The witness is not strong. You can go down, Miss Lawless.’

But it was too late. Dayrell was not the man to overlook a false move. ‘I request that the witness’s answer may be taken.’

‘As the question has been asked, Mr. England, I think it should be answered,’ said the magistrate. ‘I will put it myself from the Bench.’

‘Have you at any time, witness, seen the prisoner Trevanion in company with your cousins, before the family came to Ballarat?’

Esther Lawless stood erect as she fixed her eye with a troubled gaze upon Mr. M‘Alpine’s countenance.

‘Must I answer this question, your worship?’ said she; ‘is it necessary in the case?’

‘I think you had better,’ said he, not unkindly. ‘I am sure you will tell the truth.’

‘I would not swear falsely to save my own life,’ said the girl, in a low but distinct voice. ‘I can only speak the truth while I stand here. I did see him riding with Ned one day before we left the Eumeralla.’

At this admission, which apparently astonished the greater number of the spectators as much as it did Mr. England and the magistrate, both prisoners turned their faces towards the witness with undisguised surprise. On the countenance of Lance Trevanion there suddenly arose a look of complete bewilderment. Abandoning his pose of scornful indifference, he beckoned hastily to Mr. England, who came over to the dock. After a whispered colloquy, he again addressed the witness.

‘I do not wish in any way to lead you, or to induce you to alter any part of your evidence which you feel certain of, but I entreat you, as you value the liberty, perhaps the life of an innocent man, to reconsider your last answer. I will repeat my question. Are you prepared, upon your oath, to state that you ever saw the accused, Mr. Trevanion, in company \vith your cousin before you left New South Wales to come to Ballarat?’

The witness looked upward for a moment and clasped her hands. She shuddered, and essayed in vain to reply, but finally with recovered firmness of mien said, ‘I wish it were not so, but I cannot be mistaken. I saw him once certainly, and I believe once again, but I did see him once, if I can believe my eyes, near Eumeralla.’

A keen observer who had watched Kate Lawless’s countenance might have marvelled at the mysterious smile which stole over her features at that moment, might have noted also a look of conscious triumph mingled with sudden wonder. For an instant, as she glanced towards the dock, her eyes sought out those of her brother; they met hers with one swiftest glance of sudden meaning.

On Lance Trevanion’s countenance a despair sombre and terrible commenced to settle. His attitude expressed utter hopelessness, the deepest disappointment. When Esther Lawless, after a sudden burst of tears, was permitted to leave the court, he did not raise his head. Mr. England made one of the brilliantly exhaustive speeches which had opened the prison gates to so many enterprising or unlucky personages. The court was charmed, captivated, convinced, by the overpowering rush and flow of his persuasive eloquence.

But Lance neither stirred nor looked up. The presentiment was about to be fulfilled. He was prepared for the worst.

The case was closed. Then Mr. M‘Alpine gave his decision—

‘He had heard that day some of the most extraordinary and contradictory evidence that in his varied experience he had ever listened to. In view of the prisoner’s high character and independent position, attested by so many witnesses, he had been on the point of discharging him, but, after hearing the witness’s last answer, which amounted to an admission that the prisoner had been an associate of the Lawless family, even before they had migrated to Ballarat, he could not entertain a doubt as to a committal. It was incontestably a case for a jury. It was for them to decide as to the credibility of opposing witnesses.’

Then came the concluding formula, after which the prisoner was asked if he desired to say anything.

‘Only this,’ said the erstwhile proud scion of an ancient race, stainless in honour, flawless in blood, of whom he alone—oh, hard and bitter fate!—had ever linked hands with disgrace! ‘Only this: that I am as innocent of all thoughts of wrong or dishonesty to any man as my mate’s little child. I never knew or thought that the horse was other than honestly come by. I have been deceived—by man and woman both. But the knowledge has come too late. The witness Catharine Lawless has lied foully. The other witnesses, particularly Esther Lawless—who is good and truthful—have been deceived by the resemblance borne to me by another person. I never was at Balooka before, and never in my life saw the Eumeralla district—never heard the name even! I protest my innocence of this and all other charges. I can say no more.’

Mr. M‘Alpine paused in thought for a while—an unusual course with him—then, amid the almost unnatural silence of the court, he said: ‘I feel compelled to send the case for trial. Launcelot Trevanion, you stand committed to take your trial at the next ensuing Quarter Sessions, to be holden at Ballarat, on a day to be named. Bail refused. Sergeant Dayrell, call up the witnesses to be bound over to appear.

‘This court stands adjourned.’

Nevermore - Contents    |     Chapter XII

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