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- Gaut Gurley - 40/59 -
consideration. On his right sat Mark Elwood, Phillips, and Codman, appearing as the representatives of the injured trappers or hunters, who were the prosecutors in the case; while on his left sat Gaut Gurley, in custody of the sheriff and his assistant, who had arrested and brought him there to answer to the complaint of the former. Gaut appeared perfectly unconcerned, glancing boldly about him with an air of proud defiance; while his former companions, the trappers just named, sat looking down at their feet, compressing their lips and knitting their brows in moody and indignant silence.
But, before proceeding with any further description of the court, its parties or doings, let us briefly recur to what had happened in the interim between the return of the trappers and their present appearance in court, for redress for the outrages that they supposed had been designedly committed upon them, or at least for bringing to punishment the man who, they felt morally certain, must be the perpetrator.
After the trappers had reached their homes, become fully restored from the chill and fatigues they had undergone during the terrible storm with which their expedition so disastrously terminated, and attended to such domestic wants as demanded their immediate care, they met at the house of Phillips, in accordance with an appointment they made when they parted, to report what evidence each might be able to collect relative to the burning of their camp, and the suspected previous abstraction of their furs; and thereupon to decide what measures should be taken in the premises. Finding that Gaut Gurley had been seen at home, or in the vicinity, some days previous to the storm, and that he was not likely to come to _them_, they dispatched a disinterested person to _him_, to notify him of their arrival, and the condition in which they found matters at the store-camp, left in his charge, and also of their wish that he would attend their proposed meeting, and account for the catastrophe which had so unexpectedly occurred. He pretended to know nothing of the affair, and feigned great surprise at the news; said he had left the camp and its stores, all safe, two days before the storm, to come to the settlement for more provisions; believing that his companions would remain a fortnight longer; that, having procured his supplies, he was intending to return to camp the day the storm came on; and finally that it devolved on those last at the camp, and not on _him_, to account for what had taken place. He therefore declined meeting them on the business. As soon as they ascertained that Gaut had taken this stand, which only added to their previous convictions of his guilt, the different members of the company made journeys to the nearest villages or trading-places in Maine and New Hampshire, to see if any furs, answering in description to their collection, had recently been sold in any of those towns. And at length they found, in one of the frontier villages in Maine, a small collection of peltries, which they thought they could identify, and which the trader said he had lately purchased of an unknown travelling pedlar, who, out of a large lot of peltries, would sell only these at prices that would warrant the purchasing. This small lot of furs they prevailed on the trader to let them take home with them, for the purpose of making proof in court. This was all the direct evidence they could find to implicate Gaut; but they believed it would be sufficient. For, at the meeting they then held, Mark Elwood found among the furs a beaver-skin, that he could swear was of his own taking, from a careless slit he remembered to have made in the skinning. Codman found another, which he could safely identify by a mangled ear which was caught in one end of the trap, while the tail was caught in the other. And Phillips found an otter skin, with a bullet-hole on each side, made, as he well remembered, by shooting the animal through and through in the region of the heart. On this proof they unanimously decided on a prosecution; and accordingly Phillips and Mark Elwood set off the next day for Lancaster, the shire-town on the Connecticut, for legal advice, warrants, and a sheriff to serve them. On reaching the place, they were told by the attorney they consulted that they could not make out larceny or theft against Gurley for taking the furs placed in his trust, but for their private redress must resort to a civil action of trover, or unlawful conversion of the common property. A criminal process for arson, or the burning of the camp, would probably be sustained. And the result of the consultation was, that a complaint and warrant for arson should be issued, and the arrest made by the sheriff, who should also have in his hands a civil process returnable to the court of Common Pleas, to serve on Gurley and his property, provided the proof elicited at the court of inquiry on the criminal charge should be such as to afford them any prospect of a recovery.
It was under these circumstances that Gaut Gurley had been arrested for the burning of the camp, and brought before the magistrate, who, with the lawyers employed on both sides, had come to this place, as before described, for the hearing of the case.
The magistrate now declared the court open, and directed the parties to proceed with the case. The attorney for the prosecution then rose, read the complaint, and briefly stated what they expected to prove, to substantiate the allegations it contained. Mark Elwood, Phillips, Codman, and the trader who had purchased the furs of the pedlar, and who had been summoned for the purpose, were then called to the stand, and sworn, as witnesses on the part of the prosecution.
The trader, being first called on, testified to the identity of the furs which had been produced in court with the lot he had bought of the pedlar, as before mentioned; and he further stated that the man had a large lot, which well answered the general description given by the complainants of the lot they had in camp; but where or how he obtained the lot, or who he was, or where he went to when he left town, he did not learn, and had no means of ascertaining. All he could say, was, that these were the furs he purchased, and the only ones of the whole lot on the prices of which he and the fellow could agree, so as to effect a trade.
Phillips, next called, swore plumply that the bullet-pierced otter-skin before him was taken by his own hand from the animal he shot. He also added that there were several strings of sable-skins in the lot before him, which he felt confident he had seen among the furs of the company, and he especially pointed out one strung together by a braid of wickape bark. And in this last statement he was confirmed by Codman, who, besides identifying one beaver-skin, had the same impression in relation to the string of sable; but neither of them would swear positively in the matter of the smaller furs.
Mark Elwood, the last of the witnesses to be examined, then took the stand; and, contrary to what might have been expected from one of his wavering disposition, and particularly from one who had been so strangely kept under the influence and fear of the man on trial, bore himself resolutely under the menacing looks which the latter fixed upon him by way of intimidation. For some time he had utterly refused to harbor the idea of Gaut's guilt. He believed the burning of the camp was accidental; that Gaut, in anticipation of the storm, had taken all the furs home with him, and would soon call the company together for the distribution. But when he heard of the course Gaut was taking, and coupled it with the other circumstances, he suddenly changed his tone, fell into the belief of his companions, and more loudly and openly than any of them denounced the crime and its author,--seemingly throwing off, at once and forever, the mysterious spell which had so long bound him. Accordingly he now swore confidently to the beaver-skin in question, as one of his own taking, and, facing him boldly, even went so far as to declare his full belief in Gaut's guilt, not only in the burning of the camp, but in the stealing of the furs.
This gratuitous assertion of a mere matter of belief in the respondent's guilt, which was no legal evidence in the case, at once aroused, as might have been expected, the ire of Gaut's lawyer, who, with, fierce denunciations of the conduct of the witness, subjected him to a severe cross-examination.
"What reason, then," asked the somewhat mollified lawyer, now himself incautiously venturing on ground which, with a better knowledge of the parties, he would have seen might injure his cause, and on which his client evidently wished him not to push inquiries. "What reason, then, could you have for your extraordinary conduct in trying, against all rule, to lug in here your mere ungrounded conjectures, to prejudice the court and spectators against an innocent man?"
"Innocent?" here broke in Phillips, provoked by what, in his exasperated state of feeling, he viewed as the cool impudence and hypocrisy of the lawyer. "Innocent, hey? Well, well, there are various ways of lying in this world, I see plainly."
"What do _you_ know about my client, whom you are all conspiring to ruin?" exclaimed the excited lawyer, turning fiercely on the interposing hunter.
"Know about him?" retorted the other. "I know enough, besides this outrageous affair; I know enough to--"
"Beware!" suddenly exclaimed Gaut Gurley, with a look that brought the speaker to a stand.
"I don't fear you, sir," said the hunter, confronting the other with an unflinching countenance. "But you may be right; it may be _I had_ better forbear; it may be your time is not yet come," he added, in a low, significant tone.
"Now, I will finish with you, sir," resumed Gaut's lawyer, turning again sternly to Elwood, from whom he--like many other over-acting attorneys, who cannot see where they should stop in examinations of this kind--seemed to think he could draw something more that would make for his client. "When that fellow interrupted me, just now, I was asking what reason, besides some grudge or malice, you had for your unwarrantable course in pronouncing the respondent guilty, without proof; for, allowing the furs you swear to _were_ once yours, you don't show, by a single particle of proof, that he had any thing to do with it more than yourselves, who were quite as likely to have taken them as he. Yes, what reasons,--facts, facts, I mean; no more guess-work here; so speak out, sir, like an honest man, if you can."
"I will, then," promptly responded Elwood. "You shall have facts, to your heart's content; I said what I did because I am convinced he _is_ guilty."
"Convinced!" sneeringly interrupted the other; "there it is again; thrusting in sheer conjectures for evidence! I must call on the court to interpose with the stubborn and wilful fellow. Didn't I tell you, sir, I'd have no more of your guess-work? Facts, sir, facts, or nothing."
"Well, you shall have them, then," replied the other, in a determined tone, "for I know enough facts to convince _me_, at least, of his guilt. Both before and after we started on our expedition, he threw out hints to me which I did not then quite understand, but which, since this affair, I have recalled, and now know what they meant. He hinted, if I would fall into his plan and keep council, we might--"
"Might what?" sharply demanded the excited and alarmed attorney. "Do you know you are under oath, sir? Might what, I say?"
"Might get all the furs into our hands, and--"
"Traitor! liar! scoundrel!" exclaimed Gaut Gurley, in a tone that sounded like the hiss of a serpent, as he bent forward and glared upon Elwood, with an expression so absolutely fiendish as to make every one in the room pause and shudder, and as to be remembered and recounted, months afterwards, in connection with events which seemed destined to spring from this worse than fruitless trial.
"You was going to say," said the attorney for the prosecution, here eagerly pricking up and turning to the interrupted and now evidently discomposed witness,--"you was going to say, he proposed that he and you should take all the furs to yourselves, and so rob the rest of the company!"
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