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   Chapter 28 CHAPTER XXVI

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 24063

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


THE TRIAL

Geoffrey Ormond was duly laid to rest in Canadian soil, and it was long before the disastrous expedition was mentioned among us. After all, its painful record was not an unusual one, for even to-day, when wagon roads have been driven into the mountain-walled forests where only the bear and wood-deer roamed before, all who go out on the gold trail do not come home. I was anxious to return to Fairmead, so that as soon as decency permitted I called on Colonel Carrington, and though I longed to challenge what he had said to Calvert, I contented myself with formally renewing my previous request.

He listened with cold patience, but I did not like his very quietness, and, though I believe that he sincerely regretted Ormond's death, I fancied that he was looking more hopeful.

"I am afraid that you are again asking too much, and your request is characterized rather by assurance than by common sense," he said. "I need not recapitulate my former reasons, but, in addition to them, I wonder whether you have read this. As you do not allude to it, you probably have not."

He produced a clipping from a Winnipeg paper, and because Western journalism is conducted in a refreshingly frank style of its own, I read with growing resentment the following paragraph, which, the cutting being still in my possession, is quoted verbatim. It commenced with the heading, 292 "The prosecutor skipped by the light of the moon," and continued: "In connection with the recent arrest of three cattle thieves we have on good authority a romantic story. The case is meanwhile hanging fire and won't go off because of the mysterious absence of the prosecutor, one Lorimer of Fairmead, who has vanished from off the prairie, and will probably not appear again. Circumstances point to his being one of the frolicsome Lotharios who occasionally find the old country sultry, and he apparently developed a tenderness for the wife of one of the prisoners. As a result, there were complications, and she left her home. The husband went to seek her on the wide prairie, and some bad man, after trying to shoot him, threw him into a sloo. We don't know whether this was the prosecutor, but should think so. Then the husband swore vengeance, and it is supposed posted the cattle thieves so that they could clean out the wicked betrayer's stock. Now the lawyers are awaiting their witness, sorrowing, and can't find him, while the boys are saying that if he doesn't reappear the accused will get off."

"That is hardly a desirable certificate of character for my daughter's suitor," said Colonel Carrington.

"Do you believe this infamous libel?" I asked fiercely. And his thin lips curled as he answered:

"Frankly, I do not-that is to say, not the whole of it. But there are others who will; and I can hardly congratulate you on your generally accepted reputation. That alone would be a sufficient barrier to an alliance with my family."

"But you almost made a conditional promise," I said, mastering my wrath. And the Colonel answered lightly:

"I merely said that we would discuss the affair again; and we have done so. Several things have transpired in the meantime, unfortunately for you." 293

"Then there is nothing but open defiance," I said. "I made you a certain promise in return, and I kept it. But I warn you now that I will marry Miss Carrington in spite of you. As to that clipping, the prosecutor will be found, and if there is a law in Canada a full apology will be printed in the journal. I have nothing more to say."

"You have said sufficient, and I think you are foolish. Any legal action will only make a hole in your scanty exchequer. I wish you good morning," and Colonel Carrington held the door wide open, while, boiling over with fury, I took myself away.

I have often since then pondered over that interview, and could only guess at the reason for the Colonel's evident change of front. I do not think it was due to the paragraph; but if he had some fresh scheme in contemplation we never learned it, and Colonel Carrington is past all explanations now.

When I had partly recovered I showed Harry the paper, and he frowned as he said: "I always anticipated something like this; but of course the present is not the time to tell you so. It rose out of the cattle deal; and you will take whatever steps you think best at our joint expense. In any case, we have only the one purse between us. The sooner you go back the better."

It was good advice, and I proceeded to act on it by telegraphing up the line for a messenger to ride to Harry's camp and send down any letters that might be waiting, after which I sought an interview with Grace. She seemed filled with a wholly unusual bitterness against her father, but made me promise with some reluctance to wait a few months longer before deciding on anything definite.

Harry returned forthwith to his post, but I waited until the mail brought me several letters, reforwarded from Fairmead. One was a request to call on the police authorities, 294 on a date already passed, in connection with the cattle thieves' trial, and there were two from the Winnipeg solicitor, in the latter of which he said: "I cannot understand your reticence, and must state that your mysterious absence tends to confirm unpleasant rumors about your character. It may also involve you in legal difficulties, and I trust you will at once communicate with me."

I ran to the telegraph office, and, after sending a message, "Expect me by first express," I found Martin Lorimer, to whom I had given an account of my interview with the Colonel, waiting in my quarters. He, too, possessed a copy of the wretched paper, and, flinging it down before me, said, "Hast seen this, lad? A lie, you needn't tell me-it's a black lie. But there's folks that will believe it, for the same story once deceived me. You'll go straight back and sue them. I'm coming too. We'll make them retract it or break them, if there's justice in the land. Alice has gone south to California with a big railroad man's wife, and I'm longing for something to do. There's another matter. Ralph, I've seen the Colonel."

"Seen Colonel Carrington?" I said with dismay. And Martin Lorimer answered dryly:

"Ay, I've seen him, and had a plain talk with him. Nay, I'm not going to tell thee now what I said; but it bit, and he didn't like it. Ralph, lad,"-and he nodded toward me with a chuckle-"his daughter's worth the winning. My own girl says so; and thou shalt have her."

Martin Lorimer was hard to turn aside from any object on which he had set his mind-but so, as everybody knew, was Colonel Carrington-and I fear that I abused him inwardly for a meddling fool, and reflected on the necessity for deliverance from the blunders of well-meaning friends. The harm was done, however; and it was useless to attempt to draw particulars as to his intentions from my uncle, so I 295 tried to forget the matter. All he would say was, "Wait and thee will see," or, again, with a wise shake of his head in the broad mill parlance, "Thou never knows."

We boarded the next train for Winnipeg, and, after calling on the solicitor and the police authorities, who eventually accepted my explanations, the former accompanied us to the newspaper offices. The chief of the staff seemed surprised when the solicitor introduced me.

"This is Mr. Ralph Lorimer to whom you referred to in a recently published paragraph," he said. "The other gentleman is his uncle, a British capitalist; and after he has given his version of the affair I have something to say. Will you state the main facts briefly, Mr. Lorimer?"

I did so, and the newspaper man-who, I think, was an American by birth-made notes.

Then, before the solicitor could intervene, Martin Lorimer, drawing down his bushy eyebrows, said, in the unaccented English he used when in a deliberately dangerous mood, "You have given out a false impression of an honest man's character. Now you're going to publish a true one, with a full apology, or we intend to make you suffer. There is law in Canada, I suppose; and if it costs me sufficient to buy up three papers, we'll carry the case on until we get our damages or smash you. Understand, I'm for liberty of the press, and in my young days I helped to fight for it; but this is libel; and I think you know my friend yonder."

"I guess I do," said the other. "One of the smartest lawyers in the West. Oh, yes, I know him! See here, we're not great on libel actions in this country. It's mighty hard to get damages for that; and we like our news tasty. No, all things considered, you would make nothing of it if you did sue me. Why,"-and he smiled on the old man, who looked as if he were eager to assault him-"lots of the boys would take that kind of paragraph as a compliment. It 296 would tickle their vanity. We admit the raciness-we are proud of it; but we stand for fair play too. Would you mind telling me what you expect to do?"

"It doesn't appeal to my client," said the solicitor. "He has, as you would put it, British prejudices. I don't intend to display all our program, but it includes a visit to your rivals and the men who finance you. Still, though you sometimes lay the paint on too thick, I have hitherto found you well-informed and square; and we should rather you did the right thing of your own accord."

The man, I thought, looked honest, and with a shrewd smile he said, "Now you're talking the right talk. This paper casts its egis over the innocent. It's the friend of the oppressed, besides all the other good things set down in the New Year's article. But I shouldn't like those other fellows to get hold of that story before we've done with it. The citizens are interested, and we haven't your superstitious fear of commenting on cases sub judice. No, sir, we're afraid of nothing, and don't let British capitalists walk over us with nails in their boots. Now I'm going to make reparation and tell that tale in style, showing up all your client's fine qualities. Want to revise the item? You couldn't do it for ten thousand dollars. We're 'way beyond dictation, and pride ourselves on knowing how our readers like their news."

At a hint from the solicitor I contented myself with a more definite promise to do me justice. Then as we left the office, Martin Lorimer turned to the editor.

"Keep a hand on your imagination," he said grimly, "or you'll see me here again."

"Always glad to meet an interesting Britisher," the man of the pen answered with cheerfulness. "Come in peace, and we'll regale you on our special cigars; otherwise, my assistant will stand by with the politicians' club." 297

"And that's the creature who libeled us!" said Martin Lorimer when we reached the street. "I've a good mind to go back and show him whether I'm an interesting Britisher-confound him!" whereupon the lawyer laughed heartily.

"They're not all like him," he said. "This particular journal depends on its raciness, and he has to maintain the character. After all, he is an honest man, and he'll do you justice, though the item may contain specimens of what passes for local humor."

This was apparently the case, for when we read it together Martin Lorimer grew very red in the face, and at first I was divided between vexation and amusement. It ran as follows: "We have unwittingly cast suspicion on an innocent man, and for once an unprincipled informant has fooled us. The cattle-thief prosecutor has appeared, and will shortly present himself blushing before the public gaze. We have seen him, and can testify that instead of a Don Juan he is a Joseph, for there is an air of ingenuous innocence about him which makes it certain that he would crawl into a badger-hole if he met a pretty woman on the prairie. If further proof were wanted, he goes about in charge of a highly respectable British Cr?sus, one of the full-crusted elderly models of virtue they raise in Lancashire. The class is not obsolete. We have seen one."

Then, with whimsi

cal directness, the following lines set forth the true state of the case, and I felt on the conclusion that the writer had not unskillfully reversed his previous unfavorable version. Martin Lorimer, however, signally failed to appreciate it, for the words obsolete and full-crusted stuck in his throat, and I had some difficulty in restraining him from returning forthwith to the newspaper offices. The journal eventually languished, and succumbed after some friction with the authorities when the editor left it to seek in the great republic a wider field for his talents, but before 298 this happened he paid us several friendly visits at Fairmead.

The trial, which excited public interest at the time, took place shortly afterward. It transpired that there were other charges of fraud against the pair of thieves, whose case was hopeless from the beginning, but the prosecution experienced some difficulty in obtaining evidence to connect Fletcher definitely with them, though several facts suggested that he had for some time acted as a tool in their hands. The court was crammed, and looking down on the sea of faces I could recognize a number of my neighbors from the Fairmead district and Carrington, and was not overjoyed to see them. An attempt to steal a large draft of cattle was an important event on the prairie. I should not have testified at all, could this have been avoided, which, however, was not the case, and I awaited with much anxiety the cross-examination for the defense, because my solicitor had warned me that as more latitude was generally allowed than in England an attempt would be made to arouse popular sympathy on behalf of Fletcher and shake my evidence by casting doubts on my character.

"Have you any animus against the prisoner Fletcher?" was the first question.

"No," I answered. "Indeed, I was always anxious to befriend him until he robbed and slandered me."

"Or his wife?" added the inquisitor. "I think you knew her in England. Is it not true that you took her from the service of a railroad hotel and found a house for her on the prairie?"

There was a murmur in the court, and objection was taken to this question by the prosecution, but I was directed to answer it, so I said as coolly as I could: "I did know her in England. She was clerk in my uncle's mill, where Thomas Fletcher assisted the cashier. He was not married then. I took her from the service of the railroad hotel." 299

"It is a damaging admission," said my persecutor, and would have continued before I could finish the answer, but that there was a commotion below, which I hastened to profit by, adding, "But I brought her husband to meet her, and found him a situation in a creamery."

"It is true, every word of it!" a shrill voice rose up, and the murmuring grew louder in the body of the court, while it pleased me to see that the riders of Carrington vied with our humbler neighbors in this sign of approval. Then some one sternly called "Silence!" and the examination commenced again.

"I must protest against friends of the witness coming here to create a disturbance," said the barrister. "They are all owners of cattle, and accordingly filled with prejudice. This is a court of justice, and not a cow-boy's tribunal under the laws of Lynch."

"That is my province," interposed the judge, "and if the disturbance is repeated I shall know how to deal with it."

The barrister bowed as he rearranged his papers, and I felt murderously inclined toward him when, leaning on the rail in an impressive attitude, he continued: "I must next ask the witness whether Mrs. Fletcher did or did not visit him alone at his house, and remain for some time there? Also, when her husband most naturally came to inquire for her, whether he was not threatened with violence, and driven away at the muzzle of a loaded rifle? I want a direct answer. Yes or no."

The prosecution challenged the necessity for such a question, but after some verbal fencing between the lawyers and the judge it was allowed.

"In the first case I was not alone," I said, looking straight at my adversary. "In the second I was absent, and did not threaten him."

"He was to your knowledge threatened?" 300

"Yes."

"Do you know that shortly after leaving your house he was murderously assaulted as a result of his visit?"

"I believe that some one flung him into a muddy sloo, and I was not sorry to hear it."

"That is sufficient," said the examiner, with a significant smile toward the jury. "He was threatened with a loaded rifle for inquiring as to his wife's whereabouts; then murderously assaulted. Next you work up this charge against him. You may sit down."

I understood that the judge made some comments here, but I was too savage to hear clearly, and scarcely caught what followed next, until Jasper was placed on the witness stand, and stated that he had given no authority to any one except myself to sell the cattle, which he swore to, with other details which were not particularly interesting. There was no doubt that Fletcher was at least obstinately defended, for the lawyer once more strove skillfully to twist out answers confirming the theory that his client had no direct connection with the affair, and sought to show on my part a deliberate intention to ruin him. He may even have believed the romantic story, which was particularly calculated to appeal to a Western jury.

Jasper's replies did not, however, help him much, for when, returning to the subject, he asked, "Did you not on several occasions drive the witness Lorimer over to Fletcher's dwelling with presents for his wife?" Jasper answered boldly, "I did, and I guess Mrs. Fletcher would have gone hungry if we hadn't. Fletcher's a low-grade wastrel, and anyway he ate most of them presents. Yes, sir; they were fowls and potatoes, and Lorimer never went over but Fletcher was there."

There was a great laugh from the riders of Carrington, and the defendant's lawyer frowned. 301

"Are you a friend of the witness Lorimer?"

"I hope so," Jasper answered simply. "If ever I meet you on the prairie I'll endeavor to convince you."

"Were you a friend of Thomas Fletcher's?"

The answer was emphatic. "No. I guess the sight of the insect makes me sick."

Again the lawyer smiled toward the jury, and the judge, censuring the witness, directed him to refrain from unnecessary details. The next question came:

"Was it because you were a friend of Lorimer's, or had such a bitter dislike to Fletcher, that one night you attempted to murder him? Let me remind you that Fletcher, as has been admitted, came to bring back his wife from Fairmead, and was threatened with a rifle there. Then you rode after him, and overtook him on the prairie where it was lonely."

"It was for neither reason," Jasper answered, straightening his burly form as he glared at his adversary. "A young girl bluffed off Fletcher and the other ruffian there, the prisoner Gorst. She was alone, but she scared the pair of them with an empty rifle. Suppose you left your sister alone, and came back to find a half-drunk hobo trying to murder her?"

The lawyer, I fancied, had now heard rather more than he knew before, and it struck me that the prisoner's cunning had overreached itself in not posting him better, for he glanced at his papers before continuing:

"Did you make a violent attack upon him?"

"I did," said Jasper, cheerfully. "Oh, yes, and I'm coming to it in my own way. I rode right after him, took Fletcher out of the wagon, asked the other man if he felt inclined to assist him, and, when he didn't, laid into Fletcher with the whip and just hove him into the sloo. Why did I do it?-it's a poor conundrum. For the credit of the 302 prairie. We've no room for woman-beaters, cattle thieves, slanderers, and dishonest lawyers down to our district. Bring along more questions-you hear me; I've lots more to say."

The judge cut short his eloquence, but he had said enough, and there was wild approval from the prairie contingent, in which some of the citizens joined, and through it Jasper towered before the assembly, a stalwart figure, shaking a great fist and ejaculating something in the direction of his annoyer. The tumult was quelled with difficulty, and an official told me that never before had he seen so much excitement shown. It was due, he added, to the presence of those mad young riders of Carrington. I sat down breathing more easily, for I felt that as yet my honor was clear, and whether Fletcher escaped or not was of minor importance. From the beginning the main efforts of the other side had been directed toward saving him, while as the case proceeded I listened with decreasing interest, until at last the prosecutor said:

"My opponent has done his utmost, even overstepping limits, to prove that the witness Lorimer has ended a long course of injury by supporting a false charge against the prisoner Fletcher. This is after all a side issue, but I think the jury will agree that he has furnished most reliable testimony, and that the prisoner mentioned took an unprincipled advantage of his perfectly well-intentioned kindness."

There was considerably more which did not affect me, and another speech, though I woke to eager interest again when the judge, in making his final comments, said:

"As regards the witness Lorimer, I entirely agree with the view taken by the prosecution. He has evidently suffered by well-meant efforts to aid the prisoner, and, though that is not connected with the case except in so far as it covers the reliability of his testimony, he has been shown to be an individual 303 of unblemished character. We can accordingly accept his evidence."

Again there was applause, which the judge checked severely, and proceeded: "You will notice that, while the prisoner Fletcher's record does not seem to be a creditable one, the evidence fails in some degree to connect him with the other two prisoners as an active participator in the robbery. I refer to-" and so on.

The jury retired for a considerable time, and when the foreman reappeared he announced that they found two of the prisoners guilty, and Thomas Fletcher not guilty, the latter in a very doubtful tone. He also appeared desirous of adding some explanation, which was not permitted; while, as the court broke up, I noticed the detective watching Fletcher much as a cat watches a momentarily liberated mouse. Then I was surrounded by the men from the prairie, who insisted on escorting us to our hotel, and when I asked for Jasper somebody said he had seen him loitering beside one of the court-house doors. We found him partly hidden by a wagon, watching it intently.

"Are you getting up another speech, or trying to freeze there?" one of the Carrington party asked.

"No! I guess I'm laying for that lawyer. Couldn't get at him inside there for a barrier. Am I a low-grade perjurer-and my friend what he was working round to show? If you'll stand by for just two minutes I'll convince the insect-the blamed, vermilion, mosquito!"

"You're too late," said the man from Carrington. "He went out the other way some time ago. Mr. Lorimer, one or two of us were at first-appearances were strongly against you, you know-inclined to doubt you, and we feel considerably ashamed of ourselves. We want you and your worthy uncle to join us at dinner. Got together the best company we could to meet you." 304

It was honestly said, and we accepted with willingness, while I think my worthy uncle enjoyed himself even more than I did. He was a jealous insular Briton, and the sight of those sturdy handsome young Englishmen who well maintained the credit of the old land in the new delighted him. The appreciation seemed to be mutual. He complained of a headache the next morning; but that dinner had conferred on the Radical cotton-spinner the freedom of aristocratic Carrington, and an indefinite but valuable intimation that the colony had set its special endorsement upon his nephew.

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