by Charles Reade
IN Charles the Second's day the "Swan" was denounced by the dramatists as a house where unfaithful wives and mistresses met their gallants.
But in the next century, when John Clarke was the freeholder, no special imputation of that sort rested on it; it was a country inn with large stables, horsed the Brentford coach, and entertained man and beast on journeys long or short. It had also permanent visitors, especially in summer, for it was near London, and yet a rural retreat; meadows on each side, Hyde Park at back, Knightsbridge Green in front.
Amongst the permanent lodgers was Mr. Gardiner, a substantial man; and Captain Cowen, a retired officer of moderate means, had lately taken two rooms for himself and his son. Mr. Gardiner often joined the company in the public room, but the Cowens kept to themselves upstairs.
This was soon noticed and resented, in that age of few books and free converse. Some said, "Oh, we are not good enough for him!" others inquired what a half-pay Captain had to give himself airs about. Candour interposed and supplied the climax: "Nay, my masters, the Captain may be in hiding from duns, or from the runners; now I think on't, the York mail was robbed scarce a se'nnight before his worship came a-hiding here."
But the landlady's tongue ran the other way. Her weight was sixteen stone, her sentiments were her interests, and her tongue her tomahawk. "'Tis pity," said she one day, "some folk can't keep their tongues from blackening of their betters. The Captain is a civil-spoken gentleman--Lord send there were more of them in these parts!--as takes his hat off to me whenever he meets me, and pays his reckoning weekly. If he has a mind to be private, what business is that of yours, or yours? But curs must bark at their betters."
Detraction, thus roughly quelled for certain seconds, revived at intervals whenever Dame Cust's broad back was turned. It was mildly encountered one evening by Gardiner. "Nay, good sirs," said he, "you mistake the worthy Captain. To have fought at Blenheim and Malplaquet, no man hath less vanity. 'Tis for his son he holds aloof. He guards the youth like a mother, and will not have him hear our tap-room jests. He worships the boy--a sullen lout, sirs; but paternal love is blind. He told me once he had loved his wife dearly, and lost her young, and this was all he had of her. 'And,' said he, 'I'd spill blood like water for him, my own the first.' 'Then, sir,' says I, 'I fear he will give you a sore heart, one day.' 'And welcome,' says my Captain, and his face like iron."
Somebody remarked that no man keeps out of company who is good company; but Mr. Gardiner parried that dogma. "When young master is abed, my neighbour does sometimes invite me to share a bottle; and a sprightlier companion I would not desire. Such stories of battles, and duels, and love intrigues!"
"Now there's an old fox for you," said one approvingly. It reconciled him to the Captain's decency to find that it was only hypocrisy.
"I like not--a man--who wears--a mask," hiccoughed a hitherto silent personage, revealing his clandestine drunkenness and unsuspected wisdom at one blow.
These various theories were still fermenting in the bosom of the "Swan," when one day there rode up to the door a gorgeous officer, hot from the minister's levée, in scarlet and gold, with an order like a star-fish glittering on his breast. His servant, a private soldier, rode behind him, and slipping hastily from his saddle held his master's horse while he dismounted. Just then Captain Cowen came out for his afternoon walk. He started, and cried out, "Colonel Barrington!"
"Ay, brother," cried the other, and instantly the two officers embraced, and even kissed each other, for that feminine custom had not yet retired across the Channel; and these were soldiers who had fought and bled side by side, and nursed each other in turn; and your true soldier does not nurse by halves; his vigilance and tenderness are an example to women, and he rustleth not.
Captain Cowen invited Colonel Barrington to his room, and that warrior marched down the passage after him, single file, with long brass spurs and sabre clinking at his heels; and the establishment ducked and smiled, and respected Captain Cowen for the reason we admire the moon.
Seated in Cowen's room, the new-comer said heartily: "Well, Ned, I come not empty-handed. Here is thy pension at last;" and handed him a parchment with a seal like a poached egg.
Cowen changed colour, and thanked him with an emotion he rarely betrayed, and gloated over the precious document. His cast-iron features relaxed, and he said: "It comes in the nick of time, for now I can send my dear Jack to college."
This led somehow to an exposure of his affairs. He had just £110 a year, derived from the sale of his commission, which he had invested, at fifteen per cent., with a well-known mercantile house in the City. "So now," said he, "I shall divide it all in three; Jack will want two parts to live at Oxford, and I can do well enough here on one." The rest of the conversation does not matter, so I dismiss it and Colonel Barrington for the time. A few days afterward Jack went to college, and Captain Cowen reduced his expenses, and dined at the shilling ordinary, and indeed took all his moderate repasts in public.
Instead of the severe and reserved character he had worn while his son was with him, he now shone out a boon companion, and sometimes kept the table in a roar with his marvellous mimicries of all the characters, male or female, that lived in the inn or frequented it, and sometimes held them breathless with adventures, dangers, intrigues, in which a leading part had been played by himself or his friends.
He became quite a popular character, except with one or two envious bodies, whom he eclipsed; they revenged themselves by saying it was all braggadocio--his battles had been fought over a bottle, and by the fireside.
The district east and west of Knightsbridge had long been infested with footpads; they robbed passengers in the country lanes, which then abounded, and sometimes on the King's highway, from which those lanes offered an easy escape.
One moonlight night Captain Cowen was returning home alone from an entertainment at Fulham, when suddenly the air seemed to fill with a woman's screams and cries. They issued from a lane on his right hand. He whipped out his sword and dashed down the lane. It took a sudden turn, and in a moment he came upon three footpads, robbing and maltreating an old gentleman and his wife. The old man's sword lay at a distance, struck from his feeble hand; the woman's tongue proved the better weapon, for at least it brought an ally.
The nearest robber, seeing the Captain come at him with his drawn sword glittering in the moonshine, fired hastily, and grazed his cheek, and was skewered like a frog the next moment; his cry of agony mingled with two shouts of dismay, and the other footpads fled; but even as they turned Captain Cowen's nimble blade entered the shoulder of one, and pierced the fleshy part. He escaped, however, but howling and bleeding.
Captain Cowen handed over the lady and gentleman to the people who flocked to the place, now the work was done, and the disabled robber to the guardians of the public peace, who arrived last of all. He himself withdrew apart and wiped his sword very carefully and minutely with a white pocket-handkerchief, and then retired.
He was so far from parading his exploit that he went round by the park and let himself into the "Swan" with his private key, and was going quietly to bed, when the chambermaid met him, and up flew her arms with cries of dismay. "Oh, Captain! Captain! Look at you--smothered in blood! I shall faint."
"Tush! Silly wench!" said Captain Cowen. "I am not hurt."
"Not hurt, sir! And bleeding like a pig! Your cheek--your poor cheek!"
Captain Cowen put up his hand, and found that blood was really welling from his cheek and ear.
He looked grave for a moment, then assured her it was but a scratch, and offered to convince her of that. "Bring me some lukewarm water, and thou shalt be my doctor. But, Barbara, prithee publish it not."
Next morning an officer of justice inquired after him at the "Swan," and demanded his attendance at Bow Street at two that afternoon, to give evidence against the footpads. This was the very thing he wished to avoid; but there was no evading the summons.
The officer was invited into the bar by the landlady, and sang the gallant Captain's exploit, with his own variations. The inn began to ring with Cowen's praises. Indeed, there was now but one detractor left--the hostler, Daniel Cox, a drunken fellow of sinister aspect, who had for some time stared and lowered at Captain Cowen, and muttered mysterious things, doubts as to his being a real Captain, &c., &c. Which incoherent murmurs of a muddle-headed drunkard were not treated as oracular by any human creature, though the stable-boy once went so far as to say, "I sometimes almost thinks as how our Dan do know summut; only he don't rightly know what 'tis, along o' being always muddled in liquor."
Cowen, who seemed to notice little, but noticed everything, had observed the lowering looks of this fellow, and felt he had an enemy; it even made him a little uneasy, though he was too proud and self-possessed to show it.
With this exception, then, everybody greeted him with hearty compliments, and he was cheered out of the inn, marching to Bow Street.
Daniel Cox, who--as accidents will happen--was sober that morning, saw him out, and then put on his own coat.
"Take thou charge of the stable, Sam," said he.
"Why, where be'st going at this time of day?"
"I be going to Bow Street," said Daniel doggedly.
At Bow Street Captain Cowen was received with great respect, and a seat given him by the sitting magistrate while some minor cases were disposed of.
In due course the highway robbery was called and proved by the parties who, unluckily for the accused, had been actually robbed before Cowen interfered.
Then the oath was tendered to Cowen; he stood up by the magistrate's side and deposed, with military brevity and exactness to the facts I have related, but refused to swear to the identity of the individual culprit who stood pale and trembling at the dock.
The Attorney for the Crown, after pressing in vain, said, "Quite right, Captain Cowen; a witness cannot be too scrupulous."
He then called an officer who had found the robber leaning against a railing fainting from loss of blood, scarce a furlong from the scene of the robbery, and wounded in the shoulder. That let in Captain Cowen's evidence, and the culprit was committed for trial, and soon after peached upon his only comrade at large. The other lay in the hospital at Newgate.
The magistrate complimented Captain Cowen on his conduct and his evidence, and he went away universally admired. Yet he was not elated nor indeed content. Sitting by the magistrate's side, after he had given his evidence, he happened to look all round the court, and in a distant corner he saw the enormous mottled nose and sinister eyes of Daniel Cox glaring at him with a strange but puzzled expression.
Cowen had learned to read faces, and he said to himself: "What is there in that ruffian's mind about me? Did he know me years ago? I cannot remember him. Curse the beast--one would almost--think--he is cudgelling his drunken memory. I'll keep an eye on you."
He went home thoughtful and discomposed, because this drunkard glowered at him so. The reception he met with at the "Swan" effaced the impression. He was received with acclamations, and now that publicity was forced on him he accepted it, and revelled in popularity.
About this time he received a letter from his son, enclosing a notice from the college tutor, speaking highly of his ability, good conduct, devotion to study.
This made the father swell with loving pride.
Jack hinted modestly that there were unavoidable expenses and his funds were dwindling. He enclosed an account that showed how the money went.
The father wrote back and bade him be easy; he should have every farthing required and speedily. "For," said he, "my half-year's interest is due now."
Two days after he had a letter from his man of business begging him to call. He went with alacrity, making sure his money was waiting for him as usual.
His lawyer received him very gravely, and begged him to be seated. He then broke to him some appalling news. The great house of Brown, Molyneux & Co. had suspended payments at noon the day before, and were not expected to pay a shilling in the pound. Captain Cowen's little fortune was gone--all but his pension of £80 a year.
He sat like a man turned to stone; then he clasped his hands with agony, and uttered two words--no more: "My son!"
He rose and left the place like one in a dream. He got down to Knightsbridge, he hardly knew how. At the very door of the inn he fell down in a fit. The people of the inn were round him in a moment, and restoratives freely supplied. His sturdy nature soon revived; but with the moral and physical shock, his lips were slightly distorted over his clenched teeth. His face, too, was ashy pale.
When he came to himself the first face he noticed was that of Daniel Cox, eyeing him, not with pity, but with puzzled curiosity. Cowen shuddered and closed his own eyes to avoid this blighting glare. Then, without opening them, he muttered: "What has befallen me? I feel no wound."
"Laws forbid, sir!" said the landlady, leaning over him. "Your honour did but swoon for once, to show you was born of a woman, and not made of naught but steel. Here, you gaping loons and sluts, help the Captain to his room amongst ye, and then go about your business."
This order was promptly executed, so far as assisting Captain Cowen to rise; but he was no sooner on his feet than he waved them all from him haughtily, and said: "Let me be. It is the mind--it is the mind;" and he smote his forehead in despair, for now it all came back on him.
Then he rushed into the inn and locked himself into his room. Female curiosity buzzed about the doors, but was not admitted until he had recovered his fortitude, and formed a bitter resolution to defend himself and his son against all mankind.
At last there came a timid tap, and a mellow voice said: "It is only me, Captain. Prithee let me in."
He opened to her, and there was Barbara with a large tray and a snow-white cloth. She spread a table deftly, and uncovered a roast capon, and uncorked a bottle of white port, talking all the time. "The mistress says you must eat a bit, and drink this good wine, for her sake. Indeed, sir, 'twill do you good after your swoon." With many such encouraging words she got him to sit down and eat, and then filled his glass and put it to his lips. He could not eat much, but he drank the white port--a wine much prized, and purer than the purple vintage of our day.
At last came Barbara's post-dict. "But alack! to think of your fainting dead away! Oh, Captain, what is the trouble?"
The tear was in Barbara's eye, though she was the emissary of Dame Cust's curiosity, and all curiosity herself.
Captain Cowen, who had been expecting this question for some time, replied doggedly: "I have lost the best friend I had in the world."
"Dear heart!" said Barbara, and a big tear of sympathy, that had been gathering ever since she entered the room, rolled down her cheeks.
She put up a corner of her apron to her eyes. "Alas, poor soul!" said she. "Ay, I do know how hard it is to love and lose; but bethink you, sir, 'tis the lot of man. Our own turn must come. And you have your son left to thank God for, and a warm friend or two in this place, thof they be but humble."
"Ay, good wench," said the soldier, his iron nature touched for a moment by her goodness and simplicity, "and none I value more than thee. But leave me awhile."
The young woman's honest cheeks reddened at the praise of such a man. "Your will's my pleasure, sir," said she, and retired, leaving the capon and the wine.
Any little compunction he might have at refusing his confidence to this humble friend did not trouble him long. He looked on women as leaky vessels; and he had firmly resolved not to make his situation worse by telling the base world that he was poor. Many a hard rub had put a fine point on this man of steel.
He glozed the matter, too, in his own mind. "I told her no lie. I have lost my best friend, for I've lost my money."
From that day Captain Cowen visited the tap-room no more, and indeed seldom went out by daylight. He was all alone now, for Mr. Gardiner was gone to Wiltshire to collect his rents. In his solitary chamber Cowen ruminated his loss and the villainy of mankind, and his busy brain resolved scheme after scheme to repair the impending ruin of his son's prospects. It was there the iron entered his soul. The example of the very footpads he had baffled occurred to him in his more desperate moments, but he fought the temptation down; and in due course one of them was transported, and one hung, the other languished in Newgate.
By-and-by he began to be mysteriously busy, and the door always locked. No clue was ever found to his labours but bits of melted wax in the fender and a tuft or two of grey hair, and it was never discovered in Knightsbridge that he often begged in the City at dusk, in a disguise so perfect that a frequenter of the "Swan" once gave him a groat. Thus did he levy his tax upon the stony place that had undone him.
Instead of taking his afternoon walk as heretofore, he would sit disconsolate on the seat of a staircase window that looked into the yard, and so take the air and sun; and it was owing to this new habit he overheard, one day, a dialogue, in which the foggy voice of the hostler predominated at first. He was running down Captain Cowen to a pot-boy. The pot-boy stood up for him. That annoyed Cox. He spoke louder and louder the more he was opposed, till at last he bawled out: "I tell ye I've seen him a-sitting by the judge, and I've seen him in the dock."
At these words Captain Cowen recoiled, though he was already out of sight, and his eye glittered like a basilisk's.
But immediately a new voice broke upon the scene, a woman's. "Thou foul-mouthed knave. Is it for thee to slander men of worship, and give the inn a bad name? Remember I have but to lift my finger to hang thee, so drive me not to't. Begone to thy horses this moment; thou art not fit to be among Christians. Begone, I say, or it shall be the worse for thee;" and she drove him across the yard, and followed him up with a current of invectives eloquent even at a distance, though the words were no longer distinct: and who should this be but the housemaid, Barbara Lamb, so gentle, mellow, and melodious before the gentlefolk, and especially for her hero, Captain Cowen!
As for Daniel Cox, he cowered, writhed, and wriggled away before her, and slipped into the stable.
Captain Cowen was now soured by trouble, and this persistent enmity of that fellow roused at last a fixed and deadly hatred in his mind, all the more intense that fear mingled with it.
He sounded Barbara; asked her what nonsense that ruffian had been talking, and what he had done that she could hang him for. But Barbara would not say a malicious word against a fellow-servant in cold blood. "I can keep a secret," said she. "If he keeps his tongue off you, I'll keep mine."
"So be it," said Cowen. "Then I warn you I am sick of his insolence; and drunkards must be taught not to make enemies of sober men nor fools of wise men." He said this so bitterly that, to soothe him, she begged him not to trouble about the ravings of a sot. "Dear heart," said she, "nobody heeds Dan Cox."
Some days afterward she told him that Dan had been drinking harder than ever, and wouldn't trouble honest folk long, for he had the delusions that go before a drunkard's end; why, he had told the stable-boy he had seen a vision of himself climb over the garden wall, and enter the house by the back door. "The poor wretch says he knew himself by his bottle nose and his cow-skin waistcoat; and, to be sure, there is no such nose in the parish--thank Heaven for't!--and not many such waistcoats." She laughed heartily, but Cowen's lip curled in a venomous sneer. He said: "More likely 'twas the knave himself. Look to your spoons, if such a face as that walks by night." Barbara turned grave directly; he eyed her askant, and saw the random shot had gone home.
Captain Cowen now often slept in the City, alleging business.
Mr. Gardiner wrote from Salisbury, ordering his room to be ready and his sheets well aired.
One afternoon he returned with a bag and a small valise, prodigiously heavy. He had a fire lighted, though it was a fine autumn, for he was chilled with his journey, and invited Captain Cowen to sup with him. The latter consented, but begged it might be an early supper, as he must sleep in the City.
"I am sorry for that," said Gardiner. "I have a hundred and eighty guineas there in that bag, and a man could get into my room from yours."
"Not if you lock the middle door," said Cowen. "But I can leave you the key of my outer door, for that matter."
This offer was accepted; but still Mr. Gardiner felt uneasy. There had been several robberies at inns, and it was a rainy, gusty night. He was depressed and ill at ease. Then Captain Cowen offered him his pistols, and helped him load them--two bullets in each. He also went and fetched him a bottle of the best port, and after drinking one glass with him, hurried away, and left his key with him for further security.
Mr. Gardiner, left to himself, made up a great fire and drank a glass or two of the wine; it seemed remarkably heady, and raised his spirits. After all, it was only for one night; to-morrow he would deposit his gold in the bank. He began to unpack his things and put his night-dress to the fire; but by-and-by he felt so drowsy that he did but take his coat off, put his pistols under the pillow, and lay down on the bed and fell fast asleep.
That night Barbara Lamb awoke twice, thinking each time she heard doors open and shut on the floor below her.
But it was a gusty night, and she concluded it was most likely the wind. Still a residue of uneasiness made her rise at five instead of six, and she lighted her tinder and came down with a rush-light. She found Captain Cowen's door wide open; it had been locked when she went to bed. That alarmed her greatly. She looked in. A glance was enough. She cried, "Thieves! thieves!" and in a moment uttered scream upon scream.
In an incredibly short time pale and eager faces of men and women filled the passage.
Cowen's room, being open, was entered first. On the floor lay what Barbara had seen at a glance--his portmanteau rifled and the clothes scattered about. The door of communication was ajar; they opened it, and an appalling sight met their eyes: Mr. Gardiner was lying in a pool of blood and moaning feebly. There was little hope of saving him; no human body could long survive such a loss of the vital fluid. But it so happened there was a country surgeon in the house. He staunched the wounds--there were three--and somebody or other had the sense to beg the victim to make a statement. He was unable at first; but under powerful stimulants revived at last, and showed a strong wish to aid justice in avenging him. By this time they had got a magistrate to attend, and he put his ear to the dying man's lips; but others heard, so hushed was the room and so keen the awe and curiosity of each panting heart.
"I had gold in my portmanteau, and was afraid. I drank a bottle of wine with Captain Cowen, and he left me. He lent me his key and his pistols. I locked both doors. I felt very sleepy, and lay down. When I woke a man was leaning over my portmanteau. His back was towards me. I took a pistol, and aimed steadily. It missed fire. The man turned and sprang on me. I had caught up a knife, one we had for supper. I stabbed him with all my force. He wrested it from me, and I felt piercing blows. I am slain. Ay, I am slain."
"But the man, sir. Did you not see his face at all?"
"Not till he fell on me. But then, very plainly. The moon shone."
"Pray describe him."
"Do you know him?"
"Ay. The hostler, Cox."
There was a groan of horror and a cry for vengeance.
"Silence," said the magistrate. "Mr. Gardiner, you are a dying man. Words may kill. Be careful. Have you any doubts?"
"That the villain was Daniel Cox."
At these words the men and women, who were glaring with pale faces and all their senses strained at the dying man and his faint yet terrible denunciation, broke into two bands; some remained rooted to the place, the rest hurried with cries of vengeance in search of Daniel Cox. They were met in the yard by two constables, and rushed first to the stables, not that they hoped to find him there. Of course he had absconded with his booty.
The stable door was ajar. They tore it open.
The grey dawn revealed Cox fast asleep on the straw in the first empty stall, and his bottle in the manger. His clothes were bloody, and the man was drunk. They pulled him, cursed him, struck him, and would have torn him in pieces, but the constables interfered, set him up against the rail, like timber, and searched his bosom, and found--a wound; then turned all his pockets inside out, amidst great expectations, and found--three half-pence aud the key of the stable door.
THEY ransacked the straw, and all the premises, and found--nothing.
Then, to make him sober and get something out of him, they pumped upon his head till he was very nearly choked. However, it told on him. He gasped for breath awhile, and rolled his eyes, and then coolly asked them had they found the villain.
They shook their fists at him. "Ay, we have found the villain, red-handed."
"I mean him as prowls about these parts in my waistcoat, and drove his knife into me last night--wonder a didn't kill me out of hand. Have ye found him amongst ye?"
This question met with a volley of jeers and execrations, and the constables pinioned him, and bundled him off in a cart to Bow Street, to wait examination.
Meantime two Bow Street runners came down with a warrant, and made a careful examination of the premises. The two keys were on the table. Mr. Gardiner's outer door was locked. There was no money either in his portmanteau or Captain Cowen's. Both pistols were found loaded, but no priming in the pan of the one that lay on the bed; the other was primed, but the bullets were above the powder.
Bradbury, one of the runners, took particular notice of all.
Outside, blood was traced from the stable to the garden wall, and under this wall, in the grass, a bloody knife was found belonging to the "Swan" Inn. There was one knife less in Mr. Gardiner's room than had been carried up to his supper.
Mr. Gardiner lingered till noon, but never spoke again.
The news spread swiftly, and Captain Cowen came home in the afternoon, very pale and shocked.
He had heard of a robbery and murder at the "Swan," and came to know more. The landlady told him all that had transpired, and that the villain Cox was in prison.
Cowen listened thoughtfully, and said: "Cox! No doubt he is a knave; but murder!--I should never have suspected him of that."
The landlady pooh-poohed his doubts. "Why, sir, the poor gentleman knew him, and wounded him in self-defence, and the rogue was found a-bleeding from that very wound, and my knife as done the murder not a stone's throw from him as done it, which it was that Dan Cox, and he'll swing for't, please God." Then, changing her tone, she said solemnly, "You'll come and see him, sir?"
"Yes," said Cowen resolutely, with scarce a moment's hesitation.
The landlady led the way, and took the keys out of her pocket and opened Cowen's door. "We keep all locked," said she, half apologetically; "the magistrate bade us; and everything as we found it--God help us! There--look at your portmanteau. I wish you may not have been robbed as well."
"No matter," said he.
"But it matters to me," said she, "for the credit of the house." Then she gave him the key of the inner door, and waved her hand toward it, and sat down and began to cry.
Cowen went in and saw the appalling sight. He returned quickly, looking like a ghost, and muttered, "This is a terrible business."
"It is a bad business for me and all," said she. "He have robbed you too, I'll go bail."
Captain Cowen examined his trunk carefully. "Nothing to speak of," said he. "I've lost eight guineas and my gold watch."
"There!--there!--there!" cried the landlady.
"What does that matter, dame? He has lost his life."
"Ay, poor soul. But 'twon't bring him back, you being robbed and all. Was ever such an unfortunate woman? Murder and robbery in my house! Travellers will shun it like a pest-house. And the new landlord, he only wanted a good excuse to take it down altogether."
This was followed by more sobbing and crying. Cowen took her downstairs into the bar, and comforted her. They had a glass of spirits together, and he encouraged the flow of her egotism, till at last she fully persuaded herself it was her calamity that one man was robbed and another murdered in her house.
Cowen, always a favourite, quite won her heart by falling into this view of the matter, and when he told her he must go back to the City again, for he had important business, and besides had no money left, either in his pockets or his rifled valise, she encouraged him to go, and said kindly, indeed it was no place for him now; it was very good of him to come back at all--but both apartments should be scoured and made decent in a very few days; and a new carpet down in Mr. Gardiner's room.
So Cowen went back to the City, and left this notable woman to mop up her murder.
At Bow Street, next morning, in answer to the evidence of his guilt, Cox told a tale which the magistrate said was even more ridiculous than most of the stories uneducated criminals get up on such occasions; with this single comment he committed Cox for trial.
Everybody was of the magistrate's opinion, except a single Bow Street runner, the same who had already examined the premises. This man suspected Cox, but had one qualm of doubt founded on the place where he had discovered the knife, and the circumstance of the blood being traced from that place to the stable, and not from the inn to the stable, and on a remark Cox had made to him in the cart. "I don't belong to the house. I haan't got no keys to go in and out o' nights. And if I took a hatful of gold, I'd be off with it into another country--wouldn't you? Him as took the gentleman's money, he knew where 'twas, and he have got it; I didn't, and I haan't."
Bradbury came down to the "Swan," and asked the landlady a question or two. She gave him short answers. He then told her that he wished to examine the wine that had come down from Mr. Gardiner's room.
The landlady looked him in the face, and said it had been drunk by the servants or thrown away long ago.
"I have my doubts o' that," said he.
"And welcome," said she.
Then he wished to examine the keyholes.
"No," said she; "there has been prying enough into my house."
Said he angrily: "You are obstructing justice. It is very suspicious."
"It is you that is suspicious, and a mischief-maker into the bargain," said she. "How do I know what you might put into my wine and my keyholes, and say you found it? You are well-known, you Bow Street runners, for your hanky-panky tricks. Have you got a search-warrant, to throw more discredit upon my house? No? Then pack! and learn the law before you teach it to me."
Bradbury retired, bitterly indignant, and his indignation strengthened his faint doubt of Cox's guilt.
He set a friend to watch the "Swan," and he himself gave his mind to the whole case, and visited Cox in Newgate three times before his trial.
The next novelty was that legal assistance was provided for Cox by a person who expressed compassion for his poverty and inability to defend himself, guilty or not guilty; and that benevolent person was--Captain Cowen.
In due course Daniel Cox was arraigned at the bar of the old Bailey for robbery and murder.
The deposition of the murdered man was put in by the Crown and the witnesses sworn who heard it, and Captain Cowen was called to support a portion of it. He swore that he supped with the deceased and loaded one pistol for him, while Mr. Gardiner loaded the other; lent him the key of his own door for further security, and himself slept in the City.
The judge asked him where, and he said, "13 Farringdon Street."
It was elicited from him that he had provided counsel for the prisoner.
His evidence was very short and to the point. It did not directly touch the accused, and the defendant's counsel--in spite of his client's eager desire--declined to cross-examine Captain Cowen. He thought a hostile examination of so respectable a witness, who brought nothing home to the accused, would only raise more indignation against his client.
The prosecution was strengthened by the reluctant evidence of Barbara Lamb. She deposed that three years ago Cox had been detected by her stealing money from a gentleman's table in the "Swan" Inn, and she gave the details.
The judge asked her whether this was at night.
"No, my lord; at about four of the clock. He is never in the house at night, the mistress can't abide him."
"Has he any key of the house?"
"Oh dear no, my lord."
The rest of the evidence for the Crown is virtually before the reader.
For the defence it was proved that the man was found drunk, with no money nor keys upon him, and that the knife was found under the wall, and the blood was traceable from the wall to the stable. Bradbury, who proved this, tried to get in about the wine; but this was stopped as irrelevant. "There is only one person under suspicion," said the judge, rather sternly.
As counsel were not allowed in that day to make speeches to the jury, but only to examine and cross-examine and discuss points of law, Daniel Cox had to speak in his own defence.
"My lord," said he, "it was my double done it."
"Your what?" asked my lord, a little peevishly.
"My double. There's a rogue prowls about the 'Swan' at nights, which you couldn't tell him from me. (Laughter.) You needn't to laugh me to the gallows. I tell ye he have got a nose like mine." (Laughter.)
Clerk of Arraigns. Keep silence in the court, on pain of imprisonment.
"And he have got a waistcoat the very spit of mine, and a tumble-down hat such as I do wear. I saw him go by and let hisself into the 'Swan' with a key, and I told Sam Pott next morning."
Judge. Who is Sam Pott?
Culprit. Why, my stable-boy, to be sure.
Judge. Is he in court?
Culprit. I don't know. Ay, there he is.
Judge. Then you'd better call him.
Culprit (shouting). Hy! Sam!
Sam. Here be I. (Loud laughter.)
The judge explained, calmly, that to call a witness meant to put him in the box and swear him, and that although it was irregular, yet he should allow Pott to be sworn, if it would do the prisoner any good.
Prisoner's counsel said he had no wish to swear Mr. Pott.
"Well, Mr. Gurney," said the judge, "I don't think he can do you any harm." Meaning in so desperate a case.
Thereupon Sam Pott was sworn, and deposed that Cox had told him about this double.
"Often and often."
"Before the murder?"
"Long afore that."
Counsel for the Crown. Did you ever see this double?
Counsel. I thought not.
Daniel Cox went on to say that on the night of the murder he was up with a sick horse, and he saw his double let himself out of the inn the back way, and then turn round and close the door softly; so he slipped out to meet him. But the double saw him, and made for the garden wall. He ran up and caught him with one leg over the wall, and seized a black bag he was carrying off; the figure dropped it, and he heard a lot of money chink: that thereupon he cried "Thieves!" and seized the man; but immediately received a blow, and lost his senses for a time. When he came to the man and the bag were both gone, and he felt so sick that he staggered to the stable and drank a pint of neat brandy, and he remembered no more till they pumped on him, and told him he had robbed and murdered a gentleman inside the "Swan" Inn. "What they can't tell me," said Daniel, beginning to shout, "is how I could know who has got money, and who haan't, inside the 'Swan' Inn. I keeps the stables, not the inn; and where be my keys to open and shut the 'Swan'? I never had none. And where's the gentleman's money? 'Twas somebody in the inn as done it, for to have the money, and when you find the money, you'll find the man."
The prosecuting counsel ridiculed this defence, and, inter alia, asked the jury whether they thought it was a double the witness Lamb had caught robbing in the inn three years ago.
The judge summed up very closely, giving the evidence of every witness. What follows is a mere synopsis of his charge.
He showed it was beyond doubt that Mr. Gardiner returned to the inn with money, having collected his rents in Wiltshire; and this was known in the inn, and proved by several, and might have transpired in the yard or the tap-room. The unfortunate gentleman took Captain Cowen, a respectable person, his neighbour in the inn, into his confidence, and revealed his uneasiness. Captain Cowen swore that he supped with him, but could not stay all night, most unfortunately. But he encouraged him, left him his pistols, and helped him load them.
Then his lordship read the dying man's deposition.
The person thus solemnly denounced was found in the stable, bleeding from a recent wound, which seems to connect him at once with the deed as described by the dying man.
"But here," said my lord, "the chain is no longer perfect. A knife, taken from the 'Swan,' was found under the garden wall, and the first traces of blood commenced there, and continued to the stable, and were abundant on the straw and on the person of the accused. This was proved by the constable and others. No money was found on him, and no keys that could have opened any outer doors of the 'Swan' Inn. The accused had, however, three years before, been guilty of a theft from a gentleman in the inn, which negatives his pretence that he always confined himself to the stables. It did not, however, appear that on the occasion of the theft he had unlocked any doors, or possessed the means. The witness for the Crown, Barbara Lamb, was clear on that.
"The prisoner's own solution of the mystery was not very credible. He said he had a double--or a person wearing his clothes and appearance; and he had seen this person prowling about long before the murder, and had spoken of the double to one Pott. Pott deposed that Cox had spoken of this double more than once; but admitted he never saw the double with his own eyes.
"This double, says the accused, on the fatal night let himself out of the 'Swan' Inn and escaped to the garden wall. There he (Cox) came up with this mysterious person, and a scuffle ensued in which a bag was dropped and gave the sound of coin; and then Cox held the man and cried, 'Thieves!' but presently received a wound and fainted, and on recovering himself, staggered to the stables and drank a pint of brandy.
"The story sounds ridiculous, and there is no direct evidence to back it; but there is a circumstance that lends some colour to it. There was one blood-stained instrument, and no more, found on the premises, and that knife answers to the description given by the dying man, and, indeed, may be taken to be the very knife missing from his room; and this knife was found under the garden wall, and there the blood commenced and was traced to the stable.
"Here," said my lord, "to my mind, lies the defence. Look at the case on all sides, gentlemen--an undoubted murder done by hands; no suspicion resting on any known person but the prisoner--a man who had already robbed in the inn; a confident recognition by one whose deposition is legal evidence, but evidence we cannot cross-examine; and a recognition by moonlight only and in the heat of a struggle.
"If on this evidence, weakened not a little by the position of the knife and the traces of blood, and met by the prisoner's declaration, which accords with that single branch of the evidence, you have a doubt, it is your duty to give the prisoner the full benefit of that doubt, as I have endeavoured to do; and if you have no doubt, why then you have only to support the law and protect the lives of peaceful citizens. Whoever has committed this crime, it certainly is an alarming circumstance that, in a public inn, surrounded by honest people, guarded by locked doors, and armed with pistols, a peaceful citizen can be robbed like this of his money and his life."
The jury saw a murder at an inn; an accused, who had already robbed in that inn, and was denounced as his murderer by the victim. The verdict seemed to them to be Cox, or impunity. They all slept at inns; a double they had never seen; undetected accomplices they had all heard of. They waited twenty minutes, and brought in their verdict--Guilty.
The judge put on his black cap, and condemned Daniel Cox to be hanged by the neck till he was dead.
AFTER the trial was over, and the condemned man led back to prison to await his execution, Bradbury went straight to 13 Farringdon Street and inquired for Captain Cowen.
"No such name here," said the good woman of the house.
"But you keep lodgers?
"Nay, we keep but one; and he is no Captain--he is a City clerk."
"Well, madam, it is not idle curiosity, I assure you, but was not the lodger before him Captain Cowen?"
"Laws, no! it was a parson. Your rakehelly Captains wouldn't suit the like of us. 'Twas a reverend clerk; a grave old gentleman. He wasn't very well to do, I think; his cassock was worn, but he paid his way."
"Keep late hours?"
"Not when he was in town; but he had a country cure.
"Then you have let him in after midnight."
"Nay, I keep no such hours. I lent him a pass-key. He came in and out from the country when he chose. I would have you to know he was an old man, and a sober man, and an honest man; I'd wager my life on that. And excuse me, sir, but who be you, that do catechise me so about my lodgers?"
"I am an officer, madam."
The simple woman turned pale and clasped her hands. "An officer!" she cried. "Alack! what have I done now?"
"Why, nothing, madam," said the wily Bradbury. "An officer's business is to protect such as you, not to trouble you, for all the world. There, now, I'll tell you where the shoe pinches. This Captain Cowen has just sworn in a court of justice that he slept here on the 15th of last October."
"He never did, then. Our good parson had no acquaintances in the town. Not a soul ever visited him."
"Mother," said a young girl, peeping in, "I think he knew somebody of that very name. He did ask me once to post a letter for him, and it was to some man of worship, and the name was Cowen, yes--Cowen 'twas. I'm sure of it. By the same token, he never gave me another letter, and that made me pay the more attention."
"Jane, you are too curious," said the mother.
"And I am very much obliged to you, my little maid," said the officer, "and also to you, madam," and so took his leave.
One evening, all of a sudden, Captain Cowen ordered a prime horse at the "Swan," strapped his valise on before him, and rode out of the yard post-haste; he went without drawing bridle to Clapham, and then looked round him, and seeing no other horseman near, trotted gently round into the Borough, then into the City, and slept at an inn in Holborn. He had bespoken a particular room beforehand, a little room he frequented. He entered it with an air of anxiety. But this soon vanished after he had examined the floor carefully. His horse was ordered at five o'clock next morning. He took a glass of strong waters at the door to fortify his stomach, but breakfasted at Uxbridge and fed his good horse. He dined at Beaconsfield, baited at Thame, and supped with his son at Oxford; next day paid all the young man's debts, and spent a week with him.
His conduct was strange; boisterously gay and sullenly despondent by turns. During the week came an unexpected visitor, General Sir Robert Barrington. This officer was going out to America to fill an important office. He had something in view for young Cowen, and came to judge quietly of his capacity. But he did not say anything at that time, for fear of exciting hopes he might possibly disappoint.
However, he was much taken with the young man. Oxford had polished him. His modest reticence, until invited to speak, recommended him to older men, especially as his answers were judicious, when invited to give his opinion. The tutors also spoke very highly of him.
"You may well love that boy," said General Barrington to the father.
"God bless you for praising him!" said the other. "Ay, I love him too well."
Soon after the General left, Cowen changed some gold for notes, and took his departure for London, having first sent word of his return. He meant to start after breakfast and make one day of it; but he lingered with his son, and did not cross Magdalen Bridge till one o'clock.
This time he rode through Dorchester, Benson, and Henley, and as it grew dark resolved to sleep at Maidenhead.
Just after Hurley Bottom, at four cross-roads, three highwaymen spurred on him from right and left. "Your money or your life!"
He whipped a pistol out of his holster and pulled at the nearest head in a moment.
The pistol missed fire. The next moment a blow from the butt-end of a horse-pistol dazed him, and he was dragged off his horse and his valise emptied in a minute.
Before they had done with him, however, there was a clatter of hoofs, and the robbers sprang to their nags and galloped away for the bare life as a troop of yeomanry rode up. The thing was so common the new-comers read the situation at a glance, and some of the best mounted gave chase; the others attended to Captain Cowen, caught his horse, strapped on his valise, and took him with them into Maidenhead, his head aching, his heart sickening and raging by turns. All his gold gone, nothing left but a few £1 notes that he had sewed into the lining of his coat.
He reached the "Swan" next day in a state of sullen despair. "A curse is on me," he said. "My pistol miss fire; my gold gone."
He was welcomed warmly. He stared with surprise. Barbara led the way to his old room and opened it. He started back. "Not there," he said, with a shudder.
"Alack! Captain, we have kept it for you. Sure you are not afear'd."
"No," said he doggedly; "no hope, no fear." She stared, but said nothing.
He had hardly got into the room when, click, a key was turned in the door of communication. "A traveller there!" said he. Then, bitterly, "Things are soon forgotten in an inn."
"Not by me," said Barbara solemnly. "But you know our dame, she can't let money go by her. 'Tis our best room, mostly, and nobody would use it that knows the place. He is a stranger. He is from the wars; will have it he is English, but talks foreign. He is civil enough when he is sober, but when he has got a drop he does maunder away, to be sure, and sings such songs I never."
"How long has he been here?" asked Cowen.
"Five days, and the mistress hopes he will stay as many more, just to break the spell."
"He can stay or go," said Cowen. "I am in no humour for company. I have been robbed, girl."
"You robbed, sir? Not openly, I am sure."
"Openly, but by numbers--three of them. I should soon have sped one, but my pistol snapped fire just like his. There, leave me, girl; fate is against me, and a curse upon me. Bubbled out of my fortune in the City, robbed of my gold upon the road. To be honest is to be a fool."
He flung himself on the bed with a groan of anguish, and the ready tears ran down soft Barbara's cheeks. She had tact, however in her humble way, and did not prattle to a strong man in a moment of wild distress. She just turned and cast a lingering glance of pity on him, and went to fetch him food and wine. She had often seen an unhappy man the better for eating and drinking.
When she was gone he cursed himself for his weakness in letting her know his misfortunes. They would be all over the house soon. "Why, that fellow next door must have heard me bawl them out. I have lost my head," said he, "and I never needed it more."
Barbara returned with the cold powdered beef and carrots, and a bottle of wine she had paid for herself. She found him sullen, but composed. He made her solemnly promise not to mention his losses. She consented readily, and said, "You know I can hold my tongue."
When he had eaten and drunk and felt stronger he resolved to put a question to her. "How about that poor fellow?"
She looked puzzled a moment, then turned pale, and said solemnly: "'Tis for this day week I hear. 'Twas to be last week, but the King did respite him for a fortnight."
"Ah! indeed! Do you know why?"
"No, indeed. In his place, I'd rather have been put out of the way at once; for they will surely hang him."
Now in our day the respite is very rare: a criminal is hanged or reprieved. But at the period of our story men were often respited for short or long periods, yet suffered at last. One poor wretch was respited for two years, yet executed. This respite, therefore, was nothing unusual, and Cowen, though he looked thoughtful, had no downright suspicion of anything so serious to himself as really lay beneath the surface of this not unusual occurrence.
I shall, however, let the reader know more about it. The judge in reporting the case notified to the proper authority that he desired his Majesty to know he was not entirely at ease about the verdict. There was a lacuna in the evidence against this prisoner. He stated the flaw in a very few words. But he did not suggest any remedy.
Now the public clamoured for the man's execution, that travellers might be safe. The King's adviser thought that if the judge had serious doubts, it was his business to tell the jury so. The order for execution issued.
Three days after this the judge received a letter from Bradbury, which I give verbatim:
MY LORD,--Forgive my writing to you in a case of blood. There is no other way. Daniel Cox was not defended. Counsel went against his wish, and would not throw suspicion on any other. That made it Cox or nobody. But there was a man in the inn whose conduct was suspicious. He furnished the wine that made the victim sleepy--and I must tell you the landlady would not let me see the remnant of the wine. She did everything to baffle me and defeat justice--he loaded two pistols so that neither could go off. He has got a pass-key, and goes in and out of the 'Swan' at all hours. He provided counsel for Daniel Cox. That could only be through compunction.
"He swore in court that he slept that night at 13 Farringdon Street. Your lordship will find it on your notes. For 'twas you put the question, and methinks heaven inspired you. An hour after the trial I was at 13 Farringdon Street. No Cowen and no Captain had ever lodged there nor slept there. Present lodger, a City clerk; lodger at date of murder, an old clergyman that said he had a country cure, and got the simple body to trust him with a pass-key; so he came in and out at all hours of the night. This man was no clerk, but, as I believe, the cracksman that did the job at the 'Swan.'
"My lord, there is always two in a job of this sort--the professional man and the confederate. Cowen was the confederate, hocussed the wine, loaded the pistols, and lent his pass-key to the cracksman. The cracksman opened the other door with his tools, unless Cowen made him duplicate keys. Neither of them intended violence, or they would have used their own weapons. The wine was drugged expressly to make that needless. The cracksman, instead of a black mask, put on a calf-skin waistcoat and a bottle-nose, and that passed muster for Cox by moonlight; it puzzled Cox by moonlight, and deceived Gardiner by moonlight.
"For the love of God get me a respite for the innocent man, and I will undertake to bring the crime home to the cracksman and to his confederate Cowen."
Bradbury signed this with his name and quality.
The judge was not sorry to see the doubt his own wariness had raised so powerfully confirmed. He sent this missive on to the minister, with the remark that he had received a letter which ought not to have been sent to him, but to those in whose hands the prisoner's fate rested. He thought it his duty, however, to transcribe from his notes the question he had put to Captain Cowen, and his reply that he had slept at 13 Farringdon Street on the night of the murder, and also the substance of the prisoner's defence, with the remark that, as stated by that uneducated person, it had appeared ridiculous; but that after studying this Bow Street officer's statements, and assuming them to be in the main correct, it did not appear ridiculous, but only remarkable, and it reconciled all the undisputed facts, whereas that Cox was the murderer was and ever must remain irreconcilable with the position of the knife and the track of the blood.
Bradbury's letter and the above comment found their way to the King, and he granted what was asked--a respite.
Bradbury and his fellows went to work to find the old clergyman, alias cracksman. But he had melted away without a trace, and they got no other clue. But during Cowen's absence they got a traveller, i. e., a disguised agent, into the inn, who found relics of wax in the key-holes of Cowen's outer door and of the door of communication.
Bradbury sent this information in two letters, one to the judge, and one to the minister.
But this did not advance him much. He had long been sure that Cowen was in it. It was the professional hand, the actual robber and murderer, he wanted.
The days succeeded one another--nothing was done. He lamented, too late, he had not applied for a reprieve, or even a pardon. He deplored his own presumption in assuming that he could unravel such a mystery entirely. His busy brain schemed night and day; he lost his sleep, and even his appetite. At last, in sheer despair, he proposed to himself a new solution, and acted upon it in the dark and with consummate subtlety; for he said to himself "I am in deeper water than I thought. Lord, how they skim a case at the Old Bailey! They take a pond for a puddle, and go to fathom it with a forefinger."
Captain Cowen sank into a settled gloom, but he no longer courted solitude; it gave him the horrors. He preferred to be in company, though he no longer shone in it. He made acquaintance with his neighbour, and rather liked him. The man had been in the Commissariat Department, and seemed half surprised at the honour a Captain did him in conversing with him. But he was well versed in all the incidents of the late wars, and Cowen was glad to go with him into the past; for the present was dead, and the future horrible.
This Mr. Cutler, so deferential when sober, was inclined to be more familiar when in his cups, and that generally ended in his singing and talking to himself in his own room in the absurdest way. He never went out without a black leather case strapped across his back like a dispatch-box. When joked and asked as to the contents, he used to say, "Papers, papers," curtly.
One evening, being rather the worse for liquor, he dropped it, and there was a metallic sound. This was immediately commented on by the wags of the company.
"That fell heavy for paper," said one.
"And there was a ring," said another.
"Come, unload thy pack, comrade, and show us thy papers."
Cutler was sobered in a moment, and looked scared. Cowen observed this, and quietly left the room. He went upstairs to his own room, and mounting on a chair he found a thin place in the partition and made an eyelet-hole.
That very night he made use of this with good effect. Cutler came up to bed, singing and whistling, but presently, threw down something heavy, and was silent. Cowen spied, and saw him kneel down, draw from his bosom a key suspended round his neck by a ribbon, and open the dispatch-box. There were papers in it, but only to deaden the sound of a great many new guineas that glittered in the light of the candle, and seemed to fire, and fill the receptacle.
Cutler looked furtively round, plunged his hands in them, took them out by handfuls, admired them, kissed them, and seemed to worship them, locked them up again, and put the black case under his pillow.
While they were glaring in the light, Cowen's eyes flashed with unholy fire. He clutched his hands at them where he stood, but they were inaccessible. He sat down despondent, and cursed the injustice of fate. Bubbled out of money in the City; robbed on the road; but when another had money, it was safe: he left his keys in the locks of both doors, and his gold never quitted him.
Not long after this discovery he got a letter from his son, telling him that the college bill for battels, or commons, had come in, and he was unable to pay it; he begged his father to disburse it, or he should lose credit.
This tormented the unhappy father, and the proximity of gold tantalised him so that he bought a phial of laudanum and secreted it about his person.
"Better die," said he, "and leave my boy to Barrington. Such a legacy from his dead comrade will be sacred, and he has the world at his feet."
He even ordered a bottle of red port and kept it by him to swill the laudanum in, and so get drunk and die.
But when it came to the point he faltered.
Meantime the day drew near for the execution of Daniel Cox. Bradbury had undertaken too much; his cracksman seemed to the King's advisers as shadowy as the double of Daniel Cox.
The evening before that fatal day Cowen came to a wild resolution; he would go to Tyburn at noon, which was the hour fixed, and would die under that man's gibbet--so was this powerful mind unhinged.
This desperate idea was uppermost in his mind when he went up to his bedroom.
But he resisted. No, he would never play the coward while there was a chance left on the cards; while there is life there is hope. He seized the bottle, uncorked it, and tossed off a glass. It was potent, and tingled through his veins and warmed his heart.
He set the bottle down before him. He filled another glass; but before he put it to his lips jocund noises were heard coming up the stairs, and noisy, drunken voices, and two boon companions of his neighbour Cutler--who had a double-bedded room opposite him--parted with him for the night. He was not drunk enough, it seems, for he kept demanding "t'other bottle." His friends, however, were of a different opinion; they bundled him into his room and locked him in from the other side, and shortly after burst into their own room, and were more garrulous than articulate.
Cutler, thus disposed of, kept saying and shouting and whining that he must have "t'other bottle." In short, any one at a distance would have thought he was announcing sixteen different propositions, so various were the accents of anger, grief, expostulation, deprecation, supplication, imprecation, and whining tenderness in which he declared he must have "t'other bo'l."
At last he came bump against the door of communication. "Neighbour," said he, "your wuship, I mean, great man of war."
"Let's have t'other bo'l."
Cowen's eyes flashed; he took out his phial of laudanum and emptied about a fifth part of it into the bottle.
Cutler whined at the door: "Do open the door, your wuship, and let's have t'other (hic)."
"Why, the key is on your side."
A feeble-minded laugh at the discovery, a fumbling with the key, and the door opened and Cutler stood in the doorway, with his cravat disgracefully loose, and his visage wreathed in foolish smiles. His eyes goggled; he pointed with a mixture of surprise and low cunning at the table.
"Why, there is t'other bo'l! Let's have'm."
"Nay," said Cowen, "I drain no bottles at this time; one glass suffices me. I drink your health." He raised his glass.
Cutler grabbed the bottle and said brutally: "And I'll drink yours!" and shut the door with a slam, but was too intent on his prize to lock it.
Cowen sat and listened.
He heard the wine gurgle, and the drunkard draw a long breath of delight.
Then there was a pause; then a snatch of song, rather melodious and more articulate than Mr. Cutler's recent attempts at discourse.
Then another gurgle and another loud "Ah!"
Then a vocal attempt, which broke down by degrees.
Then a snore.
Then a somnolent remark--"All right!"
Then a staggering on to his feet. Then a swaying to and fro, and a subsiding against the door.
Then by-and-by a little reel at the bed and a fall flat on the floor.
Then stertorous breathing.
Cowen sat still at the key-hole some time, then took off his boots and softly mounted his chair, and applied his eye to the peep-hole.
Cutler was lying on his stomach between the table and the bed.
Cowen came to the door on tip-toe and turned the handle gently; the door yielded.
He lost nerve for the first time in his life. What horrible shame, should the man come to his senses and see him!
He stepped back into his own room, ripped up his portmanteau, and took out, from between the leather and the lining, a disguise and a mask. He put them on.
Then he took his loaded cane; for he thought to himself, "No more stabbing in that room," and he crept through the door like a cat.
The man lay breathing stertorously, and his lips blowing out at every exhalation like lifeless lips urged by a strong wind, so that Cowen began to fear, not that he might wake, but that he might die.
It flashed across him he should have to leave England.
What he came to do seemed now wonderfully easy; he took the key by its ribbon carefully off the sleeper's neck, unlocked the dispatch-box, took off his hat, put the gold into it, locked the dispatch-box, replaced the key, took up hatful of money, and retired slowly on tiptoe as he came.
He had but deposited his stick and the booty on the bed, when the sham drunkard pinned him from behind, and uttered a shrill whistle. With a fierce snarl Cowen whirled his captor round like a feather, and dashed with him against the post of his own door, stunning the man so that he relaxed his hold, and Cowen whirled him round again, and kicked him in the stomach so felly that he was doubled up out of the way, and contributed nothing more to the struggle except his last meal. At this very moment two Bow Street runners rushed madly upon Cowen through the door of communication. He met one in full career with a blow so tremendous that it sounded through the house, and drove him all across the room against the window, where he fell down senseless; the other he struck rather short, and though the blood spurted and the man staggered, he was on him again in a moment, and pinned him. Cowen, a master of pugilism, got his head under his left shoulder, and pommelled him cruelly; but the fellow managed to hold on, till a powerful foot kicked in the door at a blow, and Bradbury himself sprang on Captain Cowen with all the fury of a tiger; he seized him by the throat from behind, and throttled him, and set his knee to his back; the other, though mauled and bleeding, whipped out a short rope, and pinioned him in a turn of the hand. Then all stood panting but the disabled men, and once more the passage and the room were filled with pale faces and panting bosoms.
Lights flashed on the scene, and instantly loud screams from the landlady and her maids, and as they screamed they pointed with trembling fingers.
And well they might. There--caught red-handed in an act of robbery and violence, a few steps from the place of the mysterious murder, stood the stately figure of Captain Cowen and the mottled face and bottle nose of Daniel Cox, condemned to die in just twelve hours' time.
"AY, scream, ye fools," roared Bradbury, "that couldn't see a church by daylight." Then, shaking his fist at Cowen: "Thou villain! 'Tisn't one man you have murdered, 'tis two. But please God I'll save one of them yet, and hang you in his place. Way, there! not a moment to lose."
In another minute they were all in the yard, and a hackney-coach sent for.
Captain Cowen said to Bradbury, "This thing on my face is choking me."
"Oh, better than you have been choked--at Tyburn and all."
"Hang me. Don't pillory me. I've served my country."
Bradbury removed the wax mask. He said afterward he had no power to refuse the villain, he was so grand and gentle.
"Thank you, sir. Now, what can I do for you? Save Daniel Cox?"
"Ay, do that and I'll forgive you."
"Give me a sheet of paper."
Bradbury, impressed by the man's tone of sincerity, took him into the bar, and getting all his men round him, placed paper and ink before him.
He addressed to General Barrington, in attendance on his Majesty, these:
"GENERAL,--See his Majesty betimes, tell him from me that Daniel Cox, condemned to die at noon, is innocent and get him a reprieve. Oh, Barrington, come to your lost comrade. The bearer will tell you where I am. I cannot.
"Send a man you can trust to Windsor with that, and take me to my most welcome death."
A trusty officer was despatched to Windsor, and in about an hour Cowen was lodged in Newgate.
All that night Bradbury laboured to save the man that was condemned to die. He knocked up the sheriff of Middlesex, and told him all.
"Don't come to me," said the sheriff; "go to the minister."
He rode to the minister's house. The minister was up. His wife gave a ball--windows blazing, shadows dancing--music--lights--night turned into day. Bradbury knocked. The door flew open, and revealed a line of bedizened footmen, dotted at intervals up the stairs.
"I must see my lord. Life or death. I'm an officer from Bow Street."
"You can't see my lord. He is entertaining the Proosian Ambassador and his sweet."
"I must see him, or an innocent man will die to-morrow Tell him so. Here's a guinea."
"Is there? Step aside here."
He waited in torments till the message went through the gamut of lackeys, and got, more or less mutilated, to the minister.
He detached a buffer, who proposed to Mr. Bradbury to call at the Do-little office in Westminster next morning.
"No," said Bradbury, "I don't leave the house till I see him. Innocent blood shall not be spilled for want of a word in time."
The buffer retired, and in came a duffer, who said the occasion was not convenient.
"Ay, but it is," said Bradbury, "and if my lord is not here in five minutes, I'll go upstairs and tell my tale before them all, and see if they are all hair-dressers' dummies, without heart, or conscience, or sense."
In five minutes in came a gentleman, with an order on his breast, and said, "You are a Bow Street officer?"
"Yes, my lord."
"You say the man condemned to die to-morrow is innocent?"
"Yes, my lord."
"How do you know?"
"Just taken the real culprit."
"When is the other to suffer?"
"Seems short time. Humph! Will you be good enough to take a line to the sheriff? Formal message to-morrow."
The actual message ran:
"Delay execution of Cox till we hear from Windsor. Bearer will give reasons."
With this Bradbury hurried away, not to the sheriff, but the prison: and infected the jailer and the chaplain and all the turnkeys with pity for the condemned, and the spirit of delay.
Bradbury breakfasted, and washed his face, and off to the sheriff. Sheriff was gone out. Bradbury hunted him from pillar to post, and could find him nowhere. He was at last obliged to go and wait for him at Newgate.
He arrived at the stroke of twelve to superintend the execution. Bradbury put the minister's note into his hand.
"This is no use," said he. "I want an order from his Majesty, or the Privy Council at least."
"Not to delay," suggested the chaplain. "You have all the day for it."
"All the day! I can't be all the day hanging a single man. My time is precious, gentlemen." Then, his bark being worse than his bite, he said, "I shall come again at four o'clock, and then, if there is no news from Windsor, the law must take its course."
He never came again, though, for even as he turned his back to retire, there was a faint cry from the farthest part of the crowd, a paper raised on a hussar's lance, and, as the mob fell back on every side, a royal aide-de-camp rode up, followed closely by the mounted runner, and delivered to the sheriff a reprieve under the sign-manual of his Majesty, George the First.
At 2 P.M. of the same day, General Sir Robert Barrington reached Newgate, and saw Captain Cowen in private. That unhappy man fell on his knees and made a confession.
Barrington was horrified, and turned as cold as ice to him. He stood erect as a statue. "A soldier to rob," said he. "Murder was bad enough--but to rob!"
Cowen, with his head and hands all hanging down, could only say faintly: "I have been robbed and ruined, and it was for my boy. Ah me! what will become of him? I have lost my soul for him, and now he will be ruined and disgraced--by me, who would have died for him." The strong man shook with agony, and his head and hands almost touched the ground.
Sir Robert Barrington looked at him and pondered.
"No," said he, relenting a little, "that is the one thing I can do for you. I had made up my mind to take your son to Canada as my secretary, and I will take him. But he must change his name. I sail next Thursday."
The broken man stared wildly; then started up and blessed him; and from that moment the wild hope entered his breast that he might keep his son unstained by his crime, and even ignorant of it.
Barrington said that was impossible; but yielded to the father's prayers, and consented to act as if it was possible. He would send a messenger to Oxford, with money and instructions to bring the young man up and put him on board the ship at Gravesend.
This difficult scheme once conceived, there was not a moment to be lost. Barrington sent down a mounted messenger to Oxford, with money and instructions.
Cowen sent for Bradbury, and asked him when he was to appear at Bow Street.
"To-morrow, I suppose."
"Do me a favour. Get all your witnesses; make the case complete, and show me only once to the public before I am tried."
"Well, Captain," said Bradbury, "you were square with me about poor Cox. I don't see as it matters much to you; but I'll not say you nay." He saw the solicitor for the Crown, and asked a few days to collect all his evidence. The functionary named Friday.
This was conveyed next day to Cowen, and put him in a fever; it gave him a chance of keeping his son ignorant, but no certainty. Ships were eternally detained at Gravesend waiting for a wind; there were no steam-tugs then to draw them into blue water. Even going down the Channel, letters boarded them if the wind slacked. He walked his room to and fro, like a caged tiger, day and night.
Wednesday evening Barrington came with the news that his son was at the "Star" in Cornhill. "I have got him to bed," said he, "and, Lord forgive me, I have let him think he will see you before we go down to Gravesend to-morrow."
"Then let me see him," said the miserable father. "He shall know nought from me." They applied to the jailer, and urged that he could be a prisoner all the time, surrounded by constables in disguise. No; the jailer would not risk his place and indictment. Bradbury was sent for, and made light of the responsibility. "I brought him here," said he, "and I will take him to the 'Star,' I and my fellows. Indeed, he will give us no trouble this time. Why, that would blow the gaff, and make the young gentleman fly to the whole thing."
"It can only be done by authority," was the jailer's reply.
"Then by authority it shall be done," said Sir Robert. "Mr. Bradbury, have three men here with a coach at one o'clock, and a regiment, if you like, to watch the 'Star.'"
Punctually at one came Barrington with an authority. It was a request from the Queen. The jailer took it respectfully. It was an authority not worth a button; but he knew he could not lose his place, with this writing to brandish at need.
The father and son dined with the General at the "Star." Bradbury and one of his fellows waited as private servants; other officers, in plain clothes, watched back and front.
At three o'clock father and son parted, the son with many tears, the father with dry eyes, but with a voice that trembled as he blessed him.
Young Cowen, now Morris, went down to Gravesend with his chief; the criminal back to Newgate, respectfully bowed from the door of the "Star" by landlord and waiters.
At first he was comparatively calm, but as the night advanced became restless, and by and by began to pace his cell again like a caged lion.
At twenty minutes past eleven a turnkey brought him a line; a horseman had galloped in with it from Gravesend.
"A fair wind--we weigh anchor at the full tide. It is a merchant vessel, and the Captain under my orders to keep off shore and take no messages. Farewell. Turn to the God you have forgotten. He alone can pardon you."
On receiving this note, Cowen betook him to his knees.
In this attitude the jailer found him when he went his round.
He waited till the Captain rose, and then let him know that an able lawyer was in waiting, instructed to defend him at Bow Street next morning. The truth is, the females of the "Swan" had clubbed money for this purpose.
Cowen declined to see him. "I thank you, sir," said he, "I will defend myself."
He said, however, he had a little favour to ask. "I have been," said he, "of late much agitated and fatigued, and a sore trial awaits me in the morning. A few hours of unbroken sleep would be a boon to me."
"The turnkeys must come in to see you are all right."
"It is their duty; but I will lie in sight of the door if they will be good enough not to wake me."
"There can be no objection to that, Captain, and I am glad to see you calmer."
"Thank you; never calmer in my life."
He got his pillow, set two chairs, and composed himself to sleep. He put the candle on the table, that the turnkeys might peep through the door and see him.
Once or twice they peeped in very softly, and saw him sleeping in the full light of the candle, to moderate which, apparently, he had thrown a white handkerchief over his face.
At nine in the morning they brought him his breakfast, as he must be at Bow Street between ten and eleven.
When they came so near him it struck them he lay too still.
They took off the handkerchief.
He had been dead some hours.
Yes, there, calm, grave, and noble, incapable, as it seemed, either of the passions that had destroyed him, or the tender affection which redeemed, yet inspired his crimes, lay the corpse of Edward Cowen. Thus miserably perished a man in whom were many elements of greatness.
He left what little money he had to Bradbury, in a note imploring him to keep particulars out of the journals, for his son's sake, and such was the influence on Bradbury of the scene at the "Star," the man's dead face, and his dying words, that, though public detail was his interest, nothing transpired but that the gentleman who had been arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the murder at the "Swan Inn" had committed suicide; to which was added, by another hand, "Cox, however, has the King's pardon, and the affair still remains shrouded with mystery."
Cox was permitted to see the body of Cowen, and whether the features had gone back to youth, or his own brain, long sobered in earnest, had enlightened his memory, recognised him as a man he had seen committed for horse stealing at Ipswich, when he himself was the mayor's groom; but some girl lent the accused a file, and he cut his way out of the cage.
Cox's calamity was his greatest blessing. He went into Newgate scarcely knowing there was a God; he came out thoroughly enlightened in that respect by the teaching of the chaplain and the death of Cowen. He went in a drunkard; the noose that dangled over his head so long terrified him into lifelong sobriety--for he laid all the blame on liquor--and he came out as bitter a foe to drink as drink had been to him.
His case excited sympathy; a considerable sum was subscribed to set him up in trade. He became a horse-dealer on a small scale; but he was really a most excellent judge of horses, and being sober, enlarged his business; horsed a coach or two; attended fairs, and eventually made a fortune by dealing in cavalry horses under Government contracts.
As his money increased, his nose diminished, and when he died, old and regretted, only a pink tinge revealed the habits of his earlier life.
Mrs. Martha Cust and Barbara Lamb were no longer sure, but they doubted to their dying day the innocence of the ugly fellow, and the guilt of the handsome, civil-spoken gentleman.
But they converted nobody to their opinion; for they gave their reasons.
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