« AnteriorContinuar »
had with great difficulty prevailed on to accompany him. The reluctance which White had manifested excited no suspicion against him in the minds of Palmer and his companions, who attributed it to the natural sluggishness and inertness of his disposition; but the resolution with which he expressed his determination not to touch the corpse, prejudiced the bystanders so much against him, that they universally regarded him as the murderer. On the whole the scene was well calculated to shake the self-possession of a man, even though supported by the consciousness of innocence. There stood the aged priest, his long gray locks, and the unsullied whiteness of his canonicals (for he was arrayed in his surplice), no unfit representation of the holiness and purity of the Deity, whose accredited servant he was; while the keen and searching look with which he regarded the countenance of each individual, as he successively approached the corpse, impressed on his mind the omniscience of the Almighty Being whom he represented. Before him lay the unconscious victim, whose blood-stained and disfigured features appeared to cry aloud for vengeance on his murderer 5 and there was something so peculiarly humbling and distressing in the spectacle which the body of the unfortunate stranger (who had escaped all the chances of war and climate, and the many vicissitudes of a dangerous profession, to fall a victim to the nocturnal attack of an unseen and treacherous assassin) exhibited, that the warm-hearted Richard Palmer could not avoid shedding a tear as he luid his hand on the cold and lifeless breast, and repeated with fervour and sincerity the declaration which the venerable rector dictated. The voice of the aged clergyman stilled the murmur of indignation, which burst simultaneously from the assembled crowd, on beholding the decided aversion which the ostler manifested to touch the corpse; and addressing White, he said, "Although the dissipated and reckless life you have led encourages the presumption of your guilt, in the minds of those who have observed your unwillingness to submit to the trial, to which everyone without exception is subjected, yet the name you bear, and the friendship which I felt for your deceased parents, induce me still to regard you as innocent, however much appearances may be against you; but, notwithstanding, I cannot disguise from my mind the fact of your being the only person who has refused to make, in the usual way, the required declaration of innocence. I now again call upon you to approach for that purpose. If you are innocent, you have nothing to fear; if guilty, I entreat you to make the only reparation to society you have in your power, by a full and free confession of your guilt.'' The words of the venerable man, the persuasions of the landlord (whocould not believe him guilty), and the desire White himself felt to dispel the feeling which his repugnance had excited against him, induced him to undergo the dreaded ordeal. He had no sooner laid his hand on the corpse, than a slight effusion of blood flowed from the mouth and nostrils of the murdered traveller. This, together with the faltering and inarticulate manner in which the trembling ostler repeated the prescribed words, was interpreted by the credulous bystanders into the strongest evidence of his guilt; and the landlord himself, however anxious to befriend him, could not resist the force of testimony so conclusive. By the orders of the rector (who conceived it to be his duty, both for the safety of the accused, and for the satisfaction of the demands of justice, to place him for the present in close confinement), he was immediately apprehended, notwithstanding his continued asseverations of innocence. On searching him a large clasp knife, of a kind in common use in that part of the country, was taken from his pocket. This instrument appeared to have been recently wiped; notwithstanding which it was still slightly tinged with blood. The clothes he wore were the only ones he possessed, and were so much soiled with grease and dirt, that had any stain of blood existed on them, it would have been quite indistinguishable. Nor, indeed, had any such mark appeared, could it have been fairly urged as evidence against him, since he frequently officiated (incommon with others holding similar situations in the west of England,) as butcher to the establishment, which would easily have accounted for the state of his clothes. The same defence applied with equal force to the appearance of the knife, to which the nature of his occupation afforded a plausible and even a satisfactory explanation. The only thing that militated against him was a bludgeon, with which the blow that occasioned the death of the unfortunate traveller, had evidently been inflicted; and which, having been found lying near the body by the persons who first discovered the murder, was declared by the landlord to be an exact resemblance of one which he knew White to possess, although he said " a couldn't teake upon un to zwear 'twer the very zeame;" and to balance this, Palmer declared, "he hadn't missed Jack at all" on the previous night. On the person of the murdered stranger nothing was found that afforded any clue to his name and history; and the portmanteau, and bag of doubloons which he carried with him from the inn, had both disappeared; on returning to that establishment, however, the strictest search was made by its owner, in the hope of finding something to establish the crime against the murderer, if White really deserved that title. At length, after the most minute investigation in the " ta' lot," or top loft, over the stables, where the ostler usually slept, the portmanteau and bag of doubloons were both found, hid beneath a pile of hay, some of which was bloody, as if from something having been wiped in it. The contents of the bag appeared the same as when Palmer had seen it in the hands of its unfortunate owner in the inn: the portmanteau was immediately examined in the presence of the magistrate, and was found to be filled principally with gold and gems; but there were other articles of no small importance under the present circumstances. The first was an old bible, within the cover of which was written, "Presented to William White, by his affectionate mother, April 10th, 1708." On the inside of the other cover was pasted a document inscribed as follows:—" Wincanton, Feb. 2, 1692. William, the son of John and Mary White, was baptized here this day by me.
The signatures of" George Plucknett" and " Thomas Green" were instantly recognised by the aged rector of Wincanton as being those of himself and the individual who held the office of clerk of the parish at the date of the register; in addition to this, a portrait was found, which was declared by the same gentleman (and corroborated by the older inhabitants of the town, to whom the features had been familiar) to be that of the deceased John White; and an antique ring, on which was engraved, in black letter, " M. W. to W. W. 1707," completed a string of evidence, which proved, beyond the possibility of a doubt, the relationship which the unfortunate victim bore to his wretched murderer; and if farther proof was wanting to establish the guilt of the despicable and unhappy Jack White, it was rendered unnecessary by his own confession, from which it appeared, that, tempted by the injudicious display made by his brother in "The George Inn," he had preceded him in his way to Wincanton, and lay in wait for him at a place nearly equi-distant from that town and Castle-Cary. The spot on which the murder was committed was too well adapted for the purpose, the road being bounded on either side by a dreary common, or waste, of considerable extent, which terminates on the south side in a narrow lane; it was at the mouth of this lane, screened from observation by a furze bush, that the murderer expected the arrival of his prey; and no sooner had the latter passed the fatal spot, than a tremendous blow from a bludgeon brought him to the ground; he, however, succeeded in rising, and attempted to struggle with his unknown adversary; and the strength and vigour he possessed might have proved sufficient to defend him against his assaulter, had not the murderer, during the scuffle, drawn from his pocket a large clasp knife, and stabbed him to the heart.
But little remains to be added to the melancholy recital. A shamefuland ignominious death closed the degraded life of the last
miserable descendant of the proud " Le Blancs." In accordance with the barbarous " wisdom of our ancestors," he was hung in chains on the spot where his hand had shed a brother's blood. By a singular and melancholy coincidence, that spot once formed a part.of the extensive and confiscated estate of his wealthy and honourable progenitors; and the very tree which was felled to afford a gibbet to the fratricide, had been planted by the hand of his grandfather. The birds of the air soon left his bones to whiten and decay in the rain and the dew of heaven; but the gibbet and the chain stood for nearly a century, to warn the scared peasant of the vicinity of the scene of blood; and though they too have at length yielded to the rude attacks of time, and the march of modern improvement, which has inclosed the common, and driven the harrow and the plough-share over the blood-stained earth, yet the revolutions of three generations have not been able to root out from the traditional lore of the surrounding villagers this tale of horror. The mansion of " The Dogs," parcelled out into a few wretched tenements, affords a miserable shelter to some of the poorest inhabitants of Wincanton. The memory of the haughty "Le Blancs," and of the Moggs, their successors, have both alike sunk into oblivion; but the crime and the fate of the fratricide nave been more imperishable than the fame of his ancestors; and the trembling and simple-hearted peasant still shudders, as he points out to his wondering and affrighted children the site of "Jack White's Gibbet."
THE SONGS OF SCOTLAND.
0 Give me yet another lay,—
They lead me back to girlhood's hour,
1 loved the songs of Scotland best.
I sang them in the glittering throng,
I murmur'd them alone—and then
] watched the waterfall's white spray,
Those days have past;—I now repress
And varied songs attract my praise,—
Yet, when the simple melodies
Of bonny Scotland greet my ear,
Forth at the potent call arise
Feelings and thoughts long prized and dear.
My sunny girlhood smiles again,
[M. A.] The Metropolitan
THE OUTLAW'S BRIDE.
You are welcome, love, to the merry green wood,
The outlaw's forest-home—
With its ivy-fretted dome:
Your father's towers are proud, my love,
The proudest in Navarre,
More gladsomely by far;
Beneath the hollen tree,
In honour, love, of thee— The proudest peer or palatine, Might envy such a choir as thine.
Love dwells not in the Baron's strength;
Love shuns the princely hall:
Where none may him enthrall.