Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir
Chapter VIII. The Trial
Chapter VIII. The Trial.
Falconer's position was critical. His independent, manly tone, his outspoken criticisms, and his refusal at last to drink with the rough crew he commonly associated with at the Bar, had turned nearly the whole party against him.
Scotty and one or two others, who respected Falconer, had worked hard to get positive evidence in his favour, but they worked in the dark. The rough gang at the Bar alone knew—so it was supposed—what had really taken place that night, the night when Falconer's vow was first made known to them. And of all the lot none was so bitter, or witnessed so decidedly to every fact which told against Falconer, as Black Charlie, a man of fierce and repellent character. Falconer was proud at heart, and the cross-questionquestionpage 50ings of his friends to get at exact evidence in his behalf at length turned this pride against them.
'You do not believe me!' cried Falconer, bitterly. 'Like the rest, you evidently believe me capable of this crime. Do as you like; I shall answer no more questions.'
The very absence of any direct evidence in his favour made him the more sensitive, because his word had no support; and now his friends even did not believe his word! So he thought.
'Oh, Falconer!' said Scotty, the last thing the day before the trial, 'do not be obstinate; do at least help us to use all the means we can—'
'To force men to believe my word! I can't force opinion, it is useless to try it. If my own friends don't believe me, what do you expect of Black Charlie? Though he knows the truth, mark me; and will swear to anything to hide it—and will succeed!'
'Do tell me your suspicions even—anything you know. Do you believe Black Charlie—'
'What I believe I can't prove. Do you forget what I have said so often? I was not with them when the deed was done. But I believe this, if I had "boozed" with the lads that night, another would be here in my place.'
Scotty did not speak about Noble. He knew nothing certain about him. The invalid was so weak, too, that if he had any evidence, it was questionable if he could give it. But had he any? Scotty would make the last effort, and be sure about it.
So he crept up to Noble's cottage early the next page 51morning, according to promise. He was afraid of Mrs. Norris, so he looked in at the window. Noble saw him, and beckoned him in. He was alone.
'When is the trial, Scotty?'
Noble gave a cry, and nearly leaped out of the bed, so excited was he. He caught Scotty by the shoulders, and poured words into Scotty's ears with a force and vehemence almost alarming—words that electrified Scotty.
'He shall be found! hurrah!' cried Scotty, darting backwards towards the door. 'I'll answer for him!'
The young man ran his fastest to a neighbour's house, borrowed a horse, and pressed it by whip and spur at its utmost speed towards Kai-wara-wara.
'Mrs. Norris, be a good soul and help me; find my clothes, and put them on the chair.'
'No, Mr. Noble, I'll do nothing of the sort—there! It's madness—suicide—to get up, weak as you are; and mind, expressly against the doctor's orders. If you want to do anything out of doors, somebody must do it for you. You can't go; I won't let you go—there!'
'Yes, yes; I understand your kind meaning, Mrs. Norris; I know you, but—'
'No! no! I won't be talked over. It's this trial, eh? Can't it go on without you?'
'Falconer is like a son to me, dear to me as my life. I must save him—I will!'
'How? What can you do?'
'I have information, and I've sent for more, that will page 52perhaps save him. Oh, if I had only known all this last night!'
'It will kill you, I know it will!'
A soft light came into Noble's eyes as he looked out of his cottage up into the clear blue sky; and he murmured to himself, 'It must be so—it must be done!' And he bent his head on his knees. When he looked up his decision was made.
The court-house was filled to overflowing. Outside, even, little crowds gathered here and there round well-known colonists, who spoke feelingly of the sailor who was being tried inside. There was a constant surging to and fro of people eager to see and hear what could be seen and heard of the trial.
But the talkers, the idle, and the curious all ceased talking at once; they were amazed, and their amazement increased.
A curious kind of procession approached them. 'What is it?' 'Who is it?' 'What does it mean?' were the questions asked by the crowd.
Some sailors were carrying somebody hoisted on high, who was evidently going to the court-house. 'Clear the way!' shouted the sailors, as they passed, bearing the rough palanquin,—an armchair fastened on poles.
Whoever was in the chair was so wrapped up in coats and comforters that no face was visible; and the form was scarcely human. Yet a brave man was there, bound on a noble errand.
When the whisper had passed from one to another, page 53when the truth flashed through the crowd, and they knew Noble's errand, and recognized the courage and devotion which had prompted the act, there arose such a mighty hurrah! that it filled the court-house, rolled over the settlement, and stirred every heart that could feel.
Black Charlie gave his evidence.
He knew the prisoner well, had known him for a long time. They had often been 'chums' together and had been shore-whaling up the Straits together. The prisoner was often 'stuck-up' and disagreeable, still he joined the lads in their sprees. On that particular night they all were drinking together—and at first were very jolly.
'Did the prisoner drink with you?'
'Yes; he drunk like the rest of us.'
'It's a lie!' resounded through the place, and confused the witness.
'Give way for witnesses!' shouted a stentorian voice at the door.
Noble and his bearers could not enter. The difficulty was soon solved; the crowd handed the chair and its strange-looking occupant over people's heads, until both found a place near the judge.
Noble nodded and smiled at Falconer when he caught his eye; but the latter looked away—into space; the sight of Noble's ghostly, sunken face unmanned him.
Black Charlie stared for a minute with awe—fear—at the strange apparition; but, gathering courage, he went on again. He appeared to know everything that haphappage 54pened that Friday evening; he saw it all, and could swear to it all.
'You saw Falconer strike Garry—when the latter fell? Now, be careful! Think well before you speak!'
'The two quarrelled together, and began to fight.'
'Garry and Falconer.'
'At last Falconer struck him, and Garry groaned and fell down. He groaned again and rolled over. I didn't know till arterwards what sort of a blow it wor—how should I? They cries out, "The Moories are on us!" and we bolted for to hide. When we goes back, we finds Garry—and we carried him in.'
When the evidence for the defence was called, Noble's turn came.
Men hardly breathed as the ghostly-looking witness, too weak to stand up, gave his evidence.
'The greater part of the evening when, according to the indictment, the crime is said to have been committed, Falconer was with me,' said Noble.
'He found me in the evening, scarcely able to walk home from weakness; he helped me home, and stayed the rest of the night by my side.
'Falconer, early in the evening, had given me his word he would drink no more at the Bar. And I can prove that, though he went to the Bar to pay his score, he drank nothing. The party at the Bar followed Falconer outside; but when the party returned for more drink, Falconer was not with them—but Garry was!'
Could Noble swear to this from personal observation?page 55
'No. It was given on the part of one who was with the party—who went out with the party—who returned to the Bar with it—who followed the drinkers out again—who can witness by whom the fatal blow was struck!'
'That witness must be found!' said the judge.
There was a pause. The judge took rapid notes.
'Give way for witnesses!' was cried again on all sides near the door.
When Noble heard that cry, he said to himself, 'There's Bill Worsall! I knew Scotty would find him.'
Bill Worsall it was; and his evidence, added to that of Noble, was conclusive.
Bill was a simple, straightforward sailor, and evidently spoke the truth. He gave the whole history of the evening's work—Falconer's refusal to drink—the animosity against him—the blows he received and gave outside the door—how he went off home, bidding Bill good-night—how the party returned for more drink. And he swore most distinctly on oath, that Falconer was not with them when they returned the second time for more drink, but that Garry was; for Bill treated him at the Bar.
Bill stopped suddenly, and, pointing to Black Charlie, cried out at the top of his voice—'There's the villain that did it!'
Bill was allowed to go on.
He saw Black Charlie strike Garry, and saw Garry fall. And, in the confusion, when the others ran at the cry, 'The Maoris are coming!' Bill stopped to help Garry, heard his last words, his denunciation of Black Charlie.page 56
Bill was just then dragged away by some prowling Maoris—a prisoner.
Falconer was innocent—and free!
Order was at an end. People everywhere cheered, gripped each other's hands, and slapped each other's big, broad backs until tears ran down their owners' cheeks.
Falconer was surrounded, hemmed in, and could not move. At last he was caught up and carried out in triumph.
Then arose three mighty cheers; the heartiest and strongest that strong men could give their bonny, brave Falconer—innocent and free.