W. A. FRASER
“Shall we hang the woman on the gallows of gossip?” queried young Foster, in endeavoring to solve a novel — yet amazingly simple — mystery.
IT WAS November, and Petroville was a gloomy town at night: no snow had fallen yet to blur out the black, sticky mud that was the ground plan of the oil town. In many of the back yards of the small frame houses Steve Babcock passed stood gaunt, skeleton-framed derricks, suggesting scaffolds for a hanging; on his left a glare of yellow light lay against the black night sky rising from the stills of a refinery.
The depressing gloom, the solemn stillness of the deserted Laurel Avenue, scarce relieved by flickering oil lamps perched on posts at long intervals, that continued straight on past the cemetery cast its sinister influence over Babcock.
Steve never went past that cemetery without feeling the back of his scalp twitch: just human nature, just
that the fears of boyhood invariably linger.
Babcock worked a "tour,” a twelve-hour shift, on a pumping well, the Lady Mary, and now, at midnight, he was hurrying to relieve his mate on the other shift.
Now, from somewhere off in the dark expanse, came the clank-thud, clank-thud, clank-thud! of a drilling rig.
"No more of that for me”—and Babcock chuckled with satisfaction—“no more freezin’ up on the top scaffold of a derrick for me now;
I got me a warm soft job at last.”
Babcock saw a man emerge from a gate into the dim light of a street lamp a hundred yards beyond, and as he bent his head to shield his face from the biting wind, he muttered: “That’s Hank Stubbs— wonder what he’s doin’ home at this time—he’s runnin’ afternoon tour on No. IS, and gets op at midnight. When I get rich I’m goin’ to build me a house same’s Hank’s got there.”
He raised his head to look appraisingly at the brown frame house, with its vine-covered verandah. “Hello! where's Hank got to?” Babcock was puzzled; the man had disappeared. He had seen Stubbs turn from the gate, coming his way, now he was nowhere in sight.
Babcock passed the little brown house; there was a light showing from a front window: “Guess the missis must ’ave took sick, and Hank’s cut acrost lots for a doctor,” he summarized.
The quandary having been solved, Steve dropped his head to shut out the sight of the cemetery’s white picket fence beginning fifty yards beyond the little brown house. He started a whistleghosts did not molest a man who wasn’t afraid.
SUDDENLY his whistle was cut short by a yell of fear; he had pitched head first to the sidewalk, his dinner pail describing a parabola that plastered a cut of custard pie against the picket fence of the cemetery. Some dead man had crept up from a grave and grabbed Steve by the ankles, bringing him to earth. It was a body that had tripped him—Babcock knew that, the curious feeling nerves that are in one’s feet and legs had proclaimed this; his hair was on end.
But one foot was entangled in something, a rope. Perhaps after all it was a bag of engine packing, or blacksmiths’ coal he had fallen over; ghosts did not go around carrying a rope; and the thing on the sidewalk was not in white.
Steve kicked his foot loose from the rope, scrambled to his knees, and stretching out a hand gingerly touched a leg. It was a body; but it was solid—not a spirit form; most likely one of the drilling-gang men drunk. And Steve’s dinner pail was somewhere about—he’d got to get that. He struck a match, crouched down, and peered into the face of a figure sprawled on its back. “Holy smoke!—it’s Dan Jenkins,” he cried, amazed. The match had fallen from Babcock’s trembling lingers. He struck another, and saw, cutting diagonally across the white forehead, a gash from which blood was tiickiing down to stain a white collar.
He put a hand on the shoulder, crying, “Wake up, Dan—Jenkins, Jenkins!" His voice echoed down through the gravestones, but there was no twitch to the staring eyes, no quiver of a limb—nothing but a ghostly hush except for the weird wailing of a night wind through the harp boughs of evergreens in the cemetery. He staggered to his feet, drew a hand across his eyes as if he would shut out the ghastly thing, and muttered: “Somebody’s killed the Chief.”
There was a quick rehearsal in Babcock’s mind as to what he should do. Jim would stay on at the Lady Mary till he got there—he’d got to give the alarm. There was even a thrill of exulting importance in being the first one to discover the murdered Chief of Police.
He started off at a run; back half a block, and then, at a street westward, three blocks till he came to Main Street—running, running toward people—get a doctor, get a doctor, had popped into his mind. And down Main Street, meeting at times a belated traveler who stared at the hurrying man, and on to the whiteframed building just around the corner v/here Dr. Glover lived.
The doctor was in. and when Babcock had told his story, Dr. Glover said: “You go out to the stable, Babcock, and hitch up the bay in the buckboard, so we can bring Jenkins to the hospital; I’ll ’phone Constable Colton to get there as fast as he can in case there is something wrong.”
The wheels of the buckboard careening over the freezing mud of the unpaved streets, Dr. Glover and Steve were soon at the place where lay the dead man.
Doctor Glover took a lamp from the front of the buckboard, saying, as he gave it to Babcock, “Hold this while I see.” Presently he announced, “Jenkins is dead—absolutely!” His fingers were searching the
wound in the dead man’s forehead. “A vicious blow —fractured the skull; ah!
A tug of his fingers and he drew from the wound a splinter of wood; “Killed with a club,” the Doctor said: “We’ll lift him on to the buckboard. Lay hold of his legs, Babcock. I’ll take his shoulders. I’m coroner, so we needn’t leave him here to freeze solid.” “By jinks, the rope is gone!” Babcock cried excitedly as he fumbled at the useless legs.
“What rope—what are you talking about?”
“Dan’s legs was bound with a rope; it tripped me,” Steve answered.
“Well, lay hold; we’ll put the body on the buckboard, and take a look for things.” As they deposited the dead Chief in the buckboard, they heard the pound of running feet on the sidewalk, and next instant the constable, Jack Colton, swinging a bullseye lantern, was asking, “What’s happened?”
“Somebody’s killed your Chief—smashed his head in with a club,” Dr. Glover answered. “But what I don’t understand is, what the Chief was doing up here near the cemetery—was he shadowing anybody you know of, Colton?”
"I guess if murder’s been done the less said now is the best,” the constable answered evasively.
“That’s all wrong, Colton. I’m coroner, and I want to find out as much as I can. The sooner we get some clue the better chance we’ve got to catch the murderer."
“It’s just this way. Doctor—I guess you've heard rumors, same 's I have.”
“Can’t say I know what you mean.”
“He means,” Babcock explained, “ ’bout Dan cornin’ to Hank Stubbs's when Hank was on tour. I heard it.” “Stubbs lives in that brown house just down the walk, doesn't he?” Glover asked.
"Yes,” the constable answered, “and perhaps Hank has heard these damn gossip stories, and gone looney. Dan never went there for any harm—it’s just the gossips have murdered him.”
Babcock, prowling around with the buggy lamp looking for the rope, suddenly cried: “Hey, you fellow's! look here —this is what Dan was killed with, a picket off this fence."
A close examination with Colton’s strong bullseye showed that a picket had been freshly wrenched from the fence, the dark mark where it had rested against the studs was one that had been freshly uncovered.
“I pass here most every day,” Babcock said, "and if that picket’d been off there yesterday, I’d’ve seen it.” “Looks like it,” Dr. Glover concurred. "If it was Stubbs, he’d lie in wait here for the Chief, and, in his sudden rage, having brought no weapon, he wrenched that picket off just to beat up the Chief—he didn't mean to kill him. Search for the picket.”
But the picket had disappeared.
“That’s what I said,” Babcock declared; "the man seen me cornin’, and when I’d gone on the run, he comes and gets that picket and the rope and carries them off.” “Well, Colton,” Dr. Glover said, “if you’ll come with me we’ll see what we can find out at the Stubbs home: you, Babcock, stay here.”
They rang the bell, and the door w'as opened by Mrs Stubbs.
“We was lookin’ for Chief Jenkins, Mrs. Stubbs." Colton explained: “he come over this way. Has he been here?”
THE constable's query seemed to startle the woman: her eyes shifted confusedly from his face to the face of Dr. Glover.
As she hesitated Colton suddenly stared at something that lay in the tray oí the hatrack. lie stooped and picked it up— it was the police cap of Chief Jenkins.
As Colton held the accusing thing in his hand the woman stared at it, and Glover sh fted his leet, the scraping noise breaking the death-like stillness in the hall.
' What’s this cap doin’ here, Mrs. Stubbs?” the constable asked, and his face was harsh.
“I don’t know; I didn’t know it was there Chief Jenkins isn’t here.”
“We know that; Jenkins is dead—he’s been murdered.” The woman reeled against the wall, and gasped: “Jenkins murdered! It can’t be true!”
“He was here,” and Colton extended the cap toward the shrinking woman; “just tell us all you know about this.”
“I don’t know anything; it’s terrible—it’s like a nightmare. Jenkins murdered!” then she put a hand to her throat as if she were choking. “Jenkins came here to see Hank.”
“But your husband was on tour.”
“Yes; Jenkins said he didn’t more’n half expect to find Hank home; it was more to leave word for Hank to come down to see him in the morning about one of the teamsters that was haulin’ cordwood to the rig had broke a pipeline drivin’ over it. Jenkins sat talkin’ with me, and then he went away.”
“How long since he left?”
“Not long ago.”
“Why did he go without his cap?”
“I don’t know. There come a ring at the door, and when I opened it there was nobody; and when the bell rang again Chief Jenkins said he’d see what was wrong, and he went out and didn’t come back. I thought it was somebody wanted him, and he’d gone off in a hurry.”
“Is your husband in the house?”
“He ain’t come off tour yet.”
“I must take a look through the house, Mrs. Stubbs; it’s my duty.”
The woman slipped to a chair that stood against the wall, and sat there wringing her hands, and staring at her feet.
Then the constable came back from his search, saying, “Stubbs ain’t here.”
Outside Colton said, as he switched the hood from his bullseye, “Come with me for a minute, Doctor; I just want to take a look.”
/\T A window at the side of the house that looked into the dining room, Colton flashed his light on the earth beneath. “See here, Doctor,” he said, in a low voice, “Stubbs has been standin’ here lookin’ in this window; you can see where his boots broke through the mud crust. Guess he saw the Chief in there, and after that I don’t know what happened.”
“Was Stubbs home?” Babcock asked, when they returned.
“No,” Colton answered; “Mrs. Stubbs says he hasn’t come off tour yet.”
“He was home—I saw him in front of his gate not halfan-hour ago.”
"That looks bad,” Dr. Glover declared. “You.may go on to your work now, and wTe’ll go back. They’ll want you at the inquest, Babcock.”
As they drove along, the constable commented: “Hank Stubbs wouldn’t kill a fly—I can’t get it that he murdered Dan.”
“That is just the kind that does these things,” the Doctor interposed; “a roughneck, a fighting man, would have gone at the Chief and beaten him up —that would have stopped it; but Stubbs, suddenly enraged by the gossip he had heard, and seeing the Chief there, feeling that he was no match for Jenkins, who was a big man, in his fury and half-cowardice, yanked that picket off the fence and struck—just to knock him down.”
Presently Colton said, thoughtfully: “When Jenkins
arrested Seth Clay three years ago in his back yard, Seth stuck a knife in the Chief’s neck, and Seth’s been out two weeks. Babcock says there was a rope on Jenkins, and Clay come here from the West —he was a cowboy or somethin’ out there. I w'as just thinkin’ that one of the first things Clay might think of to put Jenkins helüless was a rope; rope him in the dark, pull him down, and then give it to him.”
“Mrs. Stubbs told the truth about that bell,” Doctor Glover said musingly. “I thought at the time that she was making that up, because of the cap. But I think it was this way; Stubbs rang that bell to get Jenkins outside—away from a witness, and he enticed him along the sidewalk.”
“Stubbs wouldn’t act that way—he hasn’t got brains enough,” Colton objected; “if he heard them yarns and went home to catch Jenkins, he’d go straight in and ask them about it.”
“Well, we’ll see to-morrow,” the doctor said. “I expect the magistrate will issue a warrant for Stubbs—he’ll have to.”
The evidence brought out at the inquest caused the arrest of Stubbs for the murder of Chief Jenkins, and he was committed to stand his trail at the assizes, a month later. Many believed that Clay had killed Jenkins, for he was an evil-tempered man, and he had made threats when in drink. But there was no direct evidence to connect him with the crime.
Stubbs worked for Peter B. Foster, “Peter B.” as he was called, the rich man of Petroville; and Peter B.’s son, Henry, was a partner in the law firm of Chalmers and Foster; so this firm of solicitors was engaged to defend Stubbs. Charles Andrews would act as prosecuting attorney for the Crown.
CHALMERS was a plodding, good corporation lawyer;
his chief business had been in the drawing up of oil leases, the handling of disputes over oil lands, titles, leases, royalties. His partner, Foster, was the most unusual exhibit that ever sat behind a desk in a law office. It was quite well understood that his name on the shingle meantthat his father had paid a goodly sum for that honor.
Foster was young—twenty-three, tall, gawky; irreverent boys had dubbed him Walk-up the-Creek, because he resemled strangely a pelican. His very head suggested this type of wader; his thin nose was long, almost like a beak, and his big eyes, even behind the tortoise-shell glasses, looked watery, vacant. He had passed his exams, in law creditably; he must have studied in those days, for he made a fair success at Osgoode Hall. In Petroville as a lawyer he was a good hunter—for that was pretty much all he seemed to care about, wander through the ash and elm forests, a gun slung over his arm, and trailed by two setters, looking for black squirrel, or partridge, or even an occasional fox.
Because of all this his partner was surprised when Foster said, “I wish, Chalmers, that you would let me handle this case of the murder.”
“Good Heavens!” Chalmers had blurted in his astonishment; then—“I shouldn’t have thought, Henry, that you’d be interested in this ghastly crime.”
“Intensely. It’s the first event of moment that has crept up those damn wooden stairs. Stubbs didn’t kill Jenkins. He isn’t a killer—he’s a jelly-fish.”
“But it looks pretty black for Stubbs. A jury would just consider all that circumstantial evidence, and the man’s character won’t outweigh it. Passion homes in every human heart—they’ll know that. T here won’t be one of those jurors who won’t know that sometimes he’s felt like killing somebody; it’s just the human animal. Make the reason strong enough and a w ornan will strike —strike without caring whether she kil Is or not. And Stubbs thought he had a reason—there was gossip, and gossip has killed many a man. We might try for a verdict of manslaughter, or justifiable homicide—get Stubbs a term of years instead of the gallows.” “Hang the woman on the ¡ 4%,. gallows of gossip, eh? I’d
rather let Stubbs swing than admit that thing that may be as false as hell.”
When Foster had swung his long form from the office Chalmers lighted his pipe. He was worried. He had little confidence in Henry’s endeavor, and the people would say he had let his partner handle the case because of Peter B.’s influence.
ONE day Foster said, “Chalmers, I’ve taken up a plank in the sidewalk where the Chief was killed, and put down a better one; the bestial mob made me ill — people would come with morbid curiosity to gloat over the blood stains. If old Parks, the road master, says anything about it, drive him out.”
“What about Clay, Henry—any clue to anything?” Chalmers asked hesitatingly.
“Mrs. Clay bought a new clothes line at Reynold’s grocery on the tenth of November; just jot that down, date and all.”
“I don’t just understand, Henry.”
“At the inquest Babcock swore there was a rope about the legs of Jenkins, didn’t he?”
“I see - Mrs. Clay.”
“Yes; five days after Jenkins was killed.”
“By Jove! Babcock may have been right; still that doesn’t prove anything—unless you can prove that Clay took the old clothes line; even then, unless somebody saw him near that spot with the rope—I don’t know.”
“I wish you’d have Clay arrested for me; you could do this, arrest and hold him as a material witness; Stubbs has told us that Clay was with him that night.”
“You think he’ll clear out.”
“I don’t; but his son, Dick, has disappeared—run away. He was my dog-boy, and I think he knows something—I want him back; the time is getting short; we’ve only a few days till we go to trial.”
“If Clay did it he won’t tell anything, and if he took that rope for the job he’ll have burnt it. Mrs. Clay wouldn’t give evidence against her husband either,” Chalmers summarized.
“Mrs. Clay doesn’t know; if she knew Clay took the rope for this job she wouldn’t have bought a new one so soon,” Foster said. “If Dick knows something against the father he’ll stay away if we make this arrest,” Chalmers objected.
“I think Dick will come back—that is if my deductions are right,” Foster declared.
So Chalmers caused the arrest of Clay, and to his great surprise, Dick returned to Petroville, in three days.
WHEN Hanks Stubbs stood in the prisoner’s dock on trial for the murder of Chief Jenkins, and it became apparent that Henry Foster was conducting the defence, Chalmers acting as consulting counsel, there was consternation: the friends of Stubbs gasped in horror. What devilish things was this; was Peter B. Foster so powerful in Petroville that he could throw away a man’s life to give his vain, useless son a chance to pose as a legal light—was money such a damnable thing as that? Stubbs would now have no chance; he would swing for a murder he had perhaps not committed. As the case progressed men discussed this angrily. If Stubbs were convicted, Peter B. should be strung up to a tree with his fool son.
And Henry was even more inefficacious, more useless, than his bitterest enemy had prophesied.
The first witness was Dr. Glover, who testified that Jenkins had come to his death from a blow on the head that had fractured his skull—a blow from some wooden instru ment; and he produced a splinter of wood he had extracted from the wound as evidence of this. The splinter of wood was turned over to the court, and labeled ‘Exhibit A.”
This splinter seemed to have impressed itself on Foster’s mind as he examined it minutely. Glover thought this affectation. Mr. Foster had examined the sliver of wood at his office before.
In his cross examination of Dr. Glover he passed over everything in the Doctor’s evidence but that Chief Jenkins had been killed by a contact between his skull and wood, that contact having fractured his skull; and that the splinter exhibited had been driven into the brain by said contact. As to a club or otherwise the Doctor had mentioned the picket off the fence, but was forced to admit that he could not say what the wooden instrument was.
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Constable Colton’s evidence as to finding the Chief’s cap, and the footprints at the window, was startling; and when Foster did not cross-examine the witness, a sigh of hopelessness rose from the body of the courtroom; for if Foster could not break down the damning evidence of these witnesses the verdict of the jury would be—death for Stubbs.
Babcock was the next witness; and Foster made no attempt to discredit Babcock’s evidence that he had seen Stubbs at his own gate a few minutes before he had discovered the dead man, by alluding to a possible mistake in that dim night light. Trivial things seemed to occupy his mind.
“You say you were tripped by a rope, Mr. Babcock?” Foster said. “One witness has sworn there was no rope.”
“There was a rope,” Babcock declared. ‘Afore I could get up I had to untangle it from my feet.”
“And when you came back with Dr. Glover it had disappeared; is that right?”
“Yes; we looked for it, but the feller that belted Dan Jenkins with the picket had took it away.”
“You didn’t see any one belt Jenkins over the head, did you?”
“No, I didn’t see him.”
“Why did you say in the evidence that a picket had been torn off the fence at that time?”
’Cause it had been pulled off fresh ; we see the dark marks on the stringers that showed that. I’ve been a carpenter, and I can tell when two pieces of wood that’s been together has pulled apart, by the marks. The rail was dosey, kinder rotted, where the picket had been, and the nails had pulled out easy. I pass that fence every day cornin’ off tour, and if the picket had been off I’d seen it.”
That is all, Mr. Babcock,” and Foster sat down. There were audible groans in the courtroom.
The next witness testified that he had met Stubbs and Clay on the road near Well No. 19, about ten-forty-five, and they were walking westward in the direction of Stubbs’s home.
Foster declined to cross-examine.
HPHEN Jake Lang testified that about eleven-thirty he had passed within ten yards of the engine-house of No. 19 rig, and noticing that the rig was shut down, went in to the engine house to see what was wrong. Stubbs was not there. The boiler had been banked with ashes; this meant that Stubbs had gone somewhere, and had expected to be away some
When Foster did not rise to crossexamine, the prosecuting attorney said, "That rests the case for the prosecution, Your Honor.”
“I now call upon the witnesses for the defence,” the Judge announced.
Foster adjusted the tortoise-shell glasses, and rising, said:
“Your Honor, I propose to put in the witness box the wife of the accused.”
A shudder ran through the room. Why i not let Stubbs hang—he would; why drag the wife into the witness box to have the story of her shame knifed from her heart by the sharp-faced prosecuting attorney in his cross-examination.
“Now, Mrs. Stubbs,” Foster said, “will you please tell His Honor and the jury what occurred the night Chief Jenkins was killed.”
Mrs. Stubbs told that Jenkins had come to her house that night to see her husband ; it was about a matter concerning a teamster that had been hauling wood to the rig, some trouble over having broken a pipe line in crossing with his waggon. He hadn’t much expected to find her husband home at that hour, it was more to have him go to see him next morning. She had known Jenkins for a long time— as a girl before she was married to Stubbs. They had sat and chatted, and she had made a cup of tea for the Chief; and along about eleven o’clock the doorbell had rung. When she went to the door there was no one there, but she saw somebody darting across amongst the shrubs on the lawn.
She had told Jenkins about this, and he said: “It’s them hoodlums playin’ tricks; the boys in this town are more trouble to me than the men. If they ring again I’ll scare the life out of them.”
Presently the bell pealed again, and Jenkins rushed through the hall, threw open the door, and darted out, and she could hear him running up the sidewalk. She closed the door, for it was cold, and sat down; but he did not come back. She thought he had caught somebody, and taken him off to the lockup. Then Constable Colton and Dr. Glover had come, and, and—
The woman had broken down; she buried her face in her hands, and sobbed.
The jurymen coughed, and dabbed their fingers at their eyes. Here and there through the court room could be heard sobs of women; men shuffled their feet, and squirmed in their seats.
“That will do, Mrs. Stubbs,” Foster said quietly. “You have told His Honor everything. I think the jury understands.”
Andrews bustled up from his chair, drew his face into a frown, and asked, “Is that all that occurred—just a cup of tea?”
The judge turned his face toward Foster, expecting him to arise and object to the question, but Foster sat blinking | his owl-eyes at the witness, an air of complacency on his face.
“That was all,” the witness answered, “except we talked about his daughter some; she comes often to my place—her own mother is dead, and she gets lonesome.”
“You swear that that is all that occurred?”
“The witness has answered your question,” the Judge interposed; “she has testified once that that was all that occurred. Whatever it is you mean?”
THE attorney shuffled his papers nervously at this rebuff, and asked, “Did you see your husband at that time —did he come into the house while Chief Jenkins was there?”
“No, he didn’t come.”
“Did you recognize the man you saw running through the shrubs as your husband?”
“No; he wasn’t as stout as Mr. Stubbs —he was smaller.”
“That’s all,” the attorney said, as he sat down.
But he had drawn the noose still tighter about the neck of Stubbs, for the wife’s evidence proved that Jenkins had been there a very few minutes before he was slain, and that he had been enticed from the house by a trick; Stubbs, of course, for the evidence proved that Stubbs had been on the spot at the time.
“Your Honor, I am now going to put the accused in the witness box,” Foster said. “We have nothing to conceal, nothing.”
“Just tell us, Mr. Stubbs,” Foster said,, “of your movements the night of December 10.”
Stubbs was a short, stout, round-faced man; and his face, paled by his indoor occupation in the heated boiler-house, wore an oily glaze, as if constant association with the oil had caused it to creep into the pigments of his skin.
“I was runnin’ No. 19 well that night,” he began, “and a man come to me and told me some things—”
“Who was that man?” Foster queried. “It was Seth Clay.”
“Ah!” It was a murmured exclamation welling up from the whole body of the court.
“What did he tell you?” Foster asked. “He told me the gossip about Dan Jenkins and my wife. I knowed Seth didn’t like Jenkins, and I accused him of makin’ this story up. Then he said if I’d go up to my house then I’d find Dan Jenkins there; that he’d been watchin’ the Chief, and see him goin’ up Laurel Avenue and then had hurried acrost to me.
“I got mad—mad at Seth, and mad at Jenkins that he was the cause of this gossip. I didn’t believe nothin’ agin Mary, ’cause she’s a good woman. I said, ‘All right, you come along, Seth, and we’ll go up there, and you’ll see it’s all lies.’ He said he’d go. So I banked the fire, and shut down the rig, ’cause shuttin’ it down wouldn’t hurt nothin’—the well ain’t got no salt water to speak of, and the oil’d only accumulate.
“Before we’d gone far Seth said he guessed he wouldn’t go up, that he didn’t want to get in no row, ’cause Jenkins ’d frame up somethin’ on him again, and have him sent to jail. He wouldn’t go nohow, said he was goin’ home. But as I’d started I kept goin’. ’cause if Jenkins was there I was goin’ to go in and tell him what was bein’ said, and tell him to keep away. I didn’t believe he’d be there, but I just wanted to see, ’cause I was all upset. When I got to my house I went round to the side and peeked in the window, ’cause if Jenkins wasn’t there I was goin’ to go on back; if I’d gone straight in, and he wasn’t there, Mary would want to know what I'd come home early for, and I wouldn’t know what to say. There was a light, and I saw Mary settin’ in the rockin’ chair knittin’. I waited as long as I dast on account of time for gettin’ back afore my mate come on, and I knowed Jenkins wasn’t there. Then I went back to No. 19, and when my mate come on at twelve I went home.”
FOSTER swung a hand gracefully toward the prosecuting attorney, and sat down.
“When you started back from your home, as you say, did you see Babcock coming along the sidewalk?” Andrews asked.
“I saw someone coming.”
“Why did you dodge this someone?”
“ ’Cause I was feelin’ ashamed of bein’ there—I was ashamed of listenin’ to Seth Clay: I didn’t want to talk to no one—I
just cut aerost the street ’cause I didn’t want to talk to him.”
Suddenly, as if losing all patience with the witness, Andrews waved a hand angrily, and thundered: “That is all. You may go down, witness.”
And as he turned to his seat he swept the faces of the jury with his gray piercing eyes, on his thin lips a sneer, conveying, as plainly as if he had spoken it, “This is a made up story, you’re not going to believe that. The accused, of course, will perjure himself to save his life.”
There were sighs of relief, the rasp of shifting feet, as the people came out of the strain, and somehow Stubbs” words had the ring of truth. It was just the way the Stubbs whom they had known so long would have acted.
“I now call as a witness Master Richard Clay,” Foster said rising.
At this a ripple of noise swept the court; subdued exclamations of agitated interest arose.
Dick Clay was the son of Seth Clay, the man many of them believed had killed Jenkins. Was this blue-print of an attorney about to spring a surprise? They had all wondered why Foster had not made something of the fact that Clay instigated Stubbs to go to his house, and then slipped away from him; perhaps to cut across the vacant oil lands to kill Jenkins, knowing that Stubbs would be blamed for it.
Dick Clay was now in the witness box; a boy about thirteen years of age, bearing the unmistakable mark of indifferent upbringing. His face was pugnacious, the result of fighting his own battle of life. But it was an intelligent face in spite of the obdurate red hair, the decorating freckles, and the irregular, unbrushed teeth. His eyes were good; perhaps too self-reliant in their steady gaze.
THE twelve men in the jury box were uneasy, startled. What was coming? Was Foster—the man they had felt anger at, an anger inspired by their pity for Stubbs—really a deep, cold-blooded man like his father, Peter B; and was he now putting the son into the witness box to condemn his own father as a murderer?
Foster turned to Chalmers, and the latter passed up to him a stick of wood and a rope.
“What is this, Dick?” and Foster held up the piece of wood.
“It’s a picket off the cemet’ry fence.” “And this, Dick?”
“That’s Ma’s clothes line, sir.”
“Where did I find these things?”
“In our woodshed, where I’d hid them, ’cause I was afraid Ma’d larrup me for cuttin’ her clothes line, for takin’ it.” “What did you take it for—some game? Just tell the jury all about it, for it is going to save an innocent man’s life, Dick.” “I wanted to play a trick on Dan Jenkins ’cause he took my Dad away to jail. I seen him pass our place that night, and I knew he was goin’ to Hank Stubbs’s, ’cause they was friends, so I took Ma’s clothes line and tied it to that picket of the fence, and the other end I tied to a telegraph pole at the edge of the sidewalk—• then I went and pulled Stubbs’s bell, and hid. Hank’s missus came to the door and
looked out, then she shut the door. I yanked the bell again, and when I see Dan Jenkins come to the door, I run up the sidewalk, and he chased me. He fell over the rope, but he didn’t get up, and I was afraid he was foxin’ to ketch me, so I waited. Then I seen a man come along, and he fell, too. I see him light matches; then he run away; so I knowed Dan Jenkins wasn’t foxin’. I went and got the clothes line, ’cause Ma’d know I took it, and I’d get a lickin. It was tied kind of tight to the picket, and I couldn’t loose the knots. I jerked at it tryin’ to break it, and the picket come loose. I couldn’t untie the knots on the post, too—I guess Dan Jenkins and the other man’d kicked the knots tight, so I took out my knife and cut it off, and run home.”
“And hid it in the woodshed, Dick?” “Yes, sir, and the picket, too, ’cause I was afraid Dan Jenkins’d arrest me for breakin’ the fence of the cemet’ry.”
“Did you know that the fall had killed Dan Jenkins?”
“No, sir; I heard somebody killed him with a club.”
“That is all, Your Honor,” Foster said. “There was no murder. This boy, not realizing that his trick would lead to disaster, had no malice in his heart. With your permission, I will pass this picket over to the jury for examination, and they will see it is not the weapon that crushed the skull of the man who was slain. There is not a mark on it. And that sliver of wood that penetrated the slain man’s brain did not come off that picket.”
FOSTER turned to Chalmers, and the latter passed up to him a plank that had lain at his feet.
“This plank was in the sidewalk at the spot where Chief Jenkins was killed—it is stained with his blood; and here, on this corner of this plank is where the sliver fits. The plank is spruce, rough, coarsegrained spruce, and so is the splinter; the picket is pine, and smooth. This plank was warped by the sun—that’s what spruce will do, warp in the sun—and Chief Jenkins, thrown in the air by the spring of the rope, in falling struck the upturned edge of this plank with crashing force, and his skull was crushed like an eggshell. We have here—” and Foster held up in his fingers a detached piece of clothes line— “the loop that was about the telegraph post from which the boy cut the line. I discovered it in the morning after Jenkins was killed, lying in the thick grass at the foot of the post where it had dropped.
“I submit this evidence now, because I wish to save this poor boy, who has told us the truth, from a severe cross examination that would lead to nothing, and terrify him. The witness’s evidence is all in, Your Honor.”
“Order, order, order!” The court usher was stamping a foot on the floor; scarce audible this, for the applause was like the applause sometimes heard in a theatre.
Even the prosecuting attorney knew that the case for the Crown had fallen through; his summing up was simply a mere matter of professional form.
And the jury, without leaving the box, turned in a verdict of “Not guilty!”