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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 50/103 -
cheeks, the strange expression of her eyes that glowed with unnatural lustre, a scowl darkened his face; a cruel smile curved his lips, and made his teeth gleam. Was it worth while to save her against her will; to preserve the heart he coveted, for the vile miscreant to whom she had irrevocably given it? With an upward movement of his noble head, like the impatient toss of a horse intolerant of curb, he stepped back close to the girl, and stood with his hand on the back of her chair.
"In view of this palpable evasion of justice through obstinate non responsion, will it please the Court to overrule the prisoner's objection?"
Several moments elapsed before Judge Parkman replied, and he gnawed the end of his grizzled mustache, debating the consequences of dishonoring precedent--that fetich of the Bench.
"The Court cannot so rule. The prisoner has decided upon the line of defence, as is her inalienable right; and since she persistently assumes that responsibility, the Court must sustain her decision."
The expression of infinite and intense relief that stole over the girl's countenance, was, noted by both judge and jury, as she sank back wearily in her chair, like one lifted from some rack of torture. Resting thus, her shoulder pressed against the hand that lay on the top of the chair, but he did not move a finger; and some magnetic influence drew her gaze to meet his. He felt the tremor that crept over her, understood the mute appeal, the prayer for forbearance that made her mournful gray eyes so eloquent, and a sinister smile distorted his handsome mouth.
"The spirit and intent of the law, the usages of criminal practice, above all, hoary precedent, before which we bow, each and all sanction your Honor's ruling; and yet despite everything, the end I sought is already attained. Is not the refusal of the prisoner proof positive, 'confirmation strong as proofs of Holy Writ' of the truth of my theory? With jealous dread she seeks to lock the clue in her faithful heart, courting even the coffin, that would keep it safe through all the storms of time. Impregnable in her citadel of silence, with the cohorts of Codes to protect her from escalade and assault, will the guardians of justice have obeyed her solemn commands when they permit the prisoner to light the funeral pyre where she elects to throw herself--a vicarious sacrifice for another's sins? For a nature so exalted, the Providence who endowed it has decreed a nobler fate; and by His help, and that of your twelve consciences, I purpose to save her from a species of suicide, and to consign to the hangman the real criminal. The evidence now submitted, will be furnished by the testimony of witnesses who, at my request, have been kept without the hearing of the Court."
He left Beryl's chair, and once more approached the jury,
A negro man, apparently sixty years old, limped into the witness stand, and having been sworn, stood leaning on his stick, staring uneasily about him.
"What is your name?"
"Isam Clay Hornbuckle."
"Where do you live?"
"Nigh the forks of the road, close to 'Possum Ridge."
"How far from town?"
"By short cuts I make it about ten miles; but the gang what works the road, calls it twelve."
"Have you a farm there?"
"Yes'ir. A pretty tolerable farm; a cornfield and potato patch and gyarden, and parsture for my horgs and oxin, and a slipe of woods for my pine knots."
"What is your business?"
"Tryin' to make a livin', and it keeps me bizzy, for lans is poor, and seasons is most ginerally agin crops."
"How long have you been farming?"
"Only sence I got mashed up more 'an a year ago on the railroad."
"In what capacity did you serve when working on the road?"
"I was fireman under ingeneer Walker on the lokymotive 'Gin'l Borygyard,' what most ginerally hauled Freight No. 2. The ingines goes now by numbers, but we ole hands called our'n always 'Borygyard'."
"You were crippled in a collision between two freight trains?"
"Yes'ir; but t'other train was the cause of the--"
"Never mind the cause of the accident. You moved out to 'Possum Ridge; can you remember exactly when you were last in town?"
"To be shore! I know exactly, 'cause it was the day my ole 'oman's step-father's granny's funeral sarmont was preached; and that was on a Thursday, twenty-sixth of October, an' I come up to 'tend it."
"Is it not customary to preach the funeral sermons on Sunday?"
"Most generally, Boss, it are; but you see Bre'r Green, what was to preach the ole 'oman's sarmont, had a big baptizin' for two Sundays han' runnin', and he was gwine to Boston for a spell, on the next comin' Saddy, so bein' as our time belonks to us now, we was free to 'pint a week day."
"You are positive it was the twenty-sixth?"
"Oh, yes'ir; plum postiv. The day was norated from all the baptiss churches, so as the kinfolks could gether from fur and nigh."
"At what hour on Thursday was the funeral sermon preached?"
"Four o'clock sharp."
"Where did you stay while in town?"
"With my son Ducaleyon who keeps a barber-shop on Main Street."
"When did you return home?"
"I started before day, Friday mornin', as soon as the rain hilt up."
"At what hour, do you think?"
"The town clock was a strikin' two, jes as I passed the express office, at the station."
"Now, Isam, tell the Court whom you saw, and what happened; and be very careful in all you say, remembering you are on your oath."
"I was atoting a bundle so--slung on to a stick, and it gaided my shoulder, 'cause amongst a whole passel of plunder I had bought, ther was a bag of shot inside, what had slewed 'round oft the balance, and I sot down, close to a lamp-post nigh the station, to shift the heft of the shot bag. Whilst I were a squatting, tying up my bundle, I heered all of a suddent--somebody runnin', brip--brap--! and up kern a man from round the corner of the stationhouse, a runnin' full tilt; and he would a run over me, but I grabbed my bundle and riz up. Sez I: 'Hello! what's to pay?' He was most out of breath, but sez he: 'Is the train in yet?' Sez I: 'There ain't no train till daylight, 'cepting it be the through freight.' Then he axed me: 'When is that due?' and I tole him: 'Pretty soon, I reckon, but it don't stop here; it only slows up at the water tank, whar it blows for the Bridge.' Sez he: 'How fur is that bridge?' Sez I: 'Only a short piece down the track, after you pass the tank.' He tuck a long breath, and kinder whistled, and with that he turned and heeled it down the middle of the track. I thought it mighty curus, and my mind misgive me thar was somethin' crooked; but I always pintedly dodges; 'lie-lows to ketch meddlers,' and I went on my way. When I got nigh the next corner whar I had to turn to cross the river, I looked back and I seen a 'oman standin' on the track, in front of the station-house; but I parsed on, and soon kem to the bridge (not the railroad bridge), Boss. I had got on the top of the hill to the left of the Pentenchry, when I hearn ole 'Bory' blow. You see I knowed the runnin' of the kyars, 'cause that through freight was my ole stormpin-ground, and I love the sound of that ingine's whistle more 'an I do my gran'childun's hymn chunes. She blowed long and vicious like, and I seen her sparks fly, as she lit out through town; and then I footed it home."
"You think the train was on time?"
"Bound to be; she never was cotched behind time, not while I stuffed her with coal and lightwood knots. She was plum punctchul."
"Was the lamp lighted where you tied your bundle?"
"Yes'ir, burnin' bright."
"Tell the Court the appearance of the man whom you talked with."
Mr. Dunbar was watching the beautiful face so dear to him, and saw the prisoner lean forward, her lips parted, all her soul in the wide, glowing eyes fastened on the countenance of the witness.
"He was very tall and wiry, and 'peared like a young man what had parstured 'mongst wild oats. He seemed cut out for a gintleman, but run to seed too quick and turned out nigh kin to a dead beat. One- half of him was hanssum, 'minded me mightly of that stone head with kurly hair what sets over the sody fountin in the drug store, on Main Street. Oh, yes'ir, one side was too pretty for a man; but t'other! Fo' Gawd! t'other made your teeth ache, and sot you cross- eyed to look at it. He toted a awful brand to be shore."
"What do you mean by one side? Explain yourself carefully now."
"I dun'no as I can 'splain, 'cause I ain't never seed nothing like it afore. One 'zact half of him, from his hair to his shirt collar was white and pretty, like I tell you, but t'other side of his face was black as tar, and his kurly hair was gone, and the whiskers on that side--and his eye was drapped down kinder so, and that side of his mouth sorter hung, like it was unpinned, this way. Mebbee he was born so, mebbee not; but he looked like he had jes broke loose from
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