Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 12


The coroner repeated his question:

“Why did you tell the deceased to join you at the cathedral, Mr. Dunbar?”

“Merely because it suited my humour at the time to do so,” answered the Anglo–Indian, coolly. “We had been very friendly together, and I had a fancy for going over the cathedral. I thought that Wilmot might return from the Ferns in time to go over some portion of the edifice with me. He was a very intelligent fellow, and I liked his society.”

“But the journey to the Ferns and back would have occupied some time.”

“Perhaps so,” answered Mr. Dunbar; “I did not know the distance to the Ferns, and I did not make any calculation as to time. I merely said to the deceased, ‘I shall go back and look at the cathedral; and I will wait for you there.’ I said this, and I told him to be as quick as he could.”

“That was all that passed between you?”

“It was. I then returned to the cathedral.”

“And you waited there for the deceased?”

“I did. I waited until close upon the hour at which I had ordered dinner at the George.”

There was a pause, during which the coroner looked very thoughtful.

“I am compelled to ask you one more question, Mr. Dunbar,” he said, presently, hesitating a little as he spoke.

“I am ready to answer any questions you may wish to ask,” Mr. Dunbar replied, very quietly.

“Were you upon friendly terms with the deceased?”

“I have just told you so. We were on excellent terms. I found him an agreeable companion. His manners were those of a gentleman. I don’t know how he had picked up his education, but he certainly had contrived to educate himself some how or other.”

“I understand you were friendly together at the time of his death; but prior to that time ——”

Mr. Dunbar smiled.

“I have been in India five-and-thirty years,” he said.

“Precisely. But before your departure for India, had you any misunderstanding, any serious quarrel with the deceased?”

Mr. Dunbar’s face flushed suddenly, and his brows contracted as if even his self-possession were not proof against the unpleasant memories of the past.

“No,” he said, with determination; “I never quarrelled with him.”

“There had been no cause of quarrel between you?”

“I don’t understand your question. I have told you that I never quarrelled with him.”

“Perhaps not; but there might have been some hidden animosity, some smothered feeling, stronger than any openly-expressed anger, hidden in your breast. Was there any such feeling?”

“Not on my part.”

“Was there any such feeling on the part of the deceased?”

Mr. Dunbar looked furtively at William Balderby. The junior partner’s eyelids dropped under that stolen glance.

It was clear that he knew the story of the forged bills.

Had the coroner for Winchester been a clever man, he would have followed that glance of Mr. Dunbar’s, and would have understood that the junior partner knew something about the antecedents of the dead man. But the coroner was not a very close observer, and Mr. Dunbar’s eager glance escaped him altogether.

“Yes,” answered the Anglo–Indian, “Joseph Wilmot had a grudge against me before I sailed for Calcutta, but we settled all that at Southampton, and I promised to allow him an annuity.”

“You promised him an annuity?”

“Yes — not a very large one — only fifty pounds a year; but he was quite satisfied with that promise.”

“He had some claim upon you, then?”

“No, he had no claim whatever upon me,” replied Mr. Dunbar, haughtily.

Of course, it could be scarcely pleasant for a millionaire to be cross-questioned in this manner by an impertinent Hampshire coroner.

The jurymen sympathized with the banker.

The coroner looked rather puzzled.

“If the deceased had no claim upon you, why did you promise him an annuity?” he asked, after a pause.

“I made that promise for the sake of ‘auld lang syne,’” answered Mr. Dunbar. “Joseph Wilmot was a favourite servant of mine five-and-thirty years ago. We were young men together. I believe that he had, at one time, a very sincere affection for me. I know that I always liked him.”

“How long were you in the grove with the deceased?”

“Not more than ten minutes.”

“And you cannot describe the spot where you left him?”

“Not very easily; I could point it out, perhaps, if I were taken there.”

“What time elapsed between your leaving the cathedral yard with the deceased and your returning to it without him?”

“Perhaps half an hour.”

“Not longer?”

“No; I do not imagine that it can have been longer.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dunbar; that will do for the present,” said the coroner.

The banker returned to his seat.

Arthur Lovell, still watching him, saw that his strong white hand trembled a little as his fingers trifled with those glittering toys hanging to his watch-chain.

The verger was the next person examined.

He described how he had been loitering in the yard of the cathedral as the two men passed across it. He told how they had gone by arm-in-arm, laughing and talking together.

“Which of them was talking as they passed you?” asked the coroner.

“Mr. Dunbar.”

“Could you hear what he was saying?”

“No, sir. I could hear his voice, but I couldn’t hear the words.”

“What time elapsed between Mr. Dunbar and the deceased leaving the cathedral yard, and Mr. Dunbar returning alone?”

The verger scratched his head, and looked doubtfully at Henry Dunbar.

That gentleman was looking straight before him, and seemed quite unconscious of the verger’s glance.

“I can’t quite exactly say how long it was, sir,” the old man answered, after a pause.

“Why can’t you say exactly?”

“Because, you see, sir, I didn’t keep no particular ‘count of the time, and I shouldn’t like to tell a falsehood.”

“You must not tell a falsehood. We want the truth, and nothing but the truth.”

“I know, sir; but you see I am an old man, and my memory is not as good as it used to be. I think Mr. Dunbar was away an hour.”

Arthur Lovell gave an involuntary start. Every one of the jurymen looked suddenly at Mr. Dunbar.

But the Anglo–Indian did not flinch. He was looking at the verger now with a quiet steady gaze, which seemed that of a man who had nothing to fear, and who was serene and undisturbed by reason of his innocence.

“We don’t want to know what you think,” the coroner said; “you must tell us only what you are certain of.”

“Then I’m not certain, sir.”

“You are not certain that Mr. Dunbar was absent for an hour?”

“Not quite certain, sir.”

“But very nearly certain. Is that so?”

“Yes, sir, I’m very nearly certain. You see, sir, when the two gentlemen went through the yard, the cathedral clock was chiming the quarter after four; I remember that. And when Mr. Dunbar came back, I was just going away to my tea, and I seldom go to my tea until it’s gone five.”

“But supposing it to have struck five when Mr. Dunbar returned, that would only make it three quarters of an hour after the time at which he went through the yard, supposing him to have gone through, as you say, at the quarter past four.”

The verger scratched his head again.

“I’d been loiterin’ about yesterday afternoon, sir,” he said; “and I was a bit late thinkin’ of my tea.”

“And you believe, therefore, that Mr. Dunbar was absent for an hour?”

“Yes, sir; an hour — or more.”

“An hour, or more?”

“Yes, sir.”

“He was absent more than an hour; do you mean to say that?”

“It might have been more, sir. I didn’t keep no particular ‘count of the time.”

Arthur Lovell had taken out his pocket-book, and was making notes of the verger’s evidence.

The old man went on to describe his having shown Mr. Dunbar all over the cathedral. He made no mention of that sudden faintness which had seized upon the Anglo–Indian at the door of one of the chapels; but he described the rich man’s manner as having been affable in the extreme. He told how Henry Dunbar had loitered at the door of the cathedral, and afterwards lingered in the quadrangle, waiting for the coming of his servant. He told all this with many encomiums upon the rich man’s pleasant manner.

The next, and perhaps the most important, witnesses were the two labourers, Philip Murtock and Patrick Hennessy, who had found the body of the murdered man.

Patrick Hennessy was sent out of the room while Murtock gave his evidence; but the evidence of the two men tallied in every particular.

They were Irishmen, reapers, and were returning from a harvest supper at a farm five miles from St. Cross, upon the previous evening. One of them had knelt down upon the edge of the stream to get a drink of water in the crown of his felt hat, and had been horrified by seeing the face of the dead man looking up at him in the moonlight, through the shallow water that barely covered it. The two men had dragged the body out of the streamlet, and Philip Murtock had watched beside it while Patrick Hennessy had gone to seek assistance.

The dead man’s clothes had been stripped from him, with the exception of his trousers and boots, and the other part of his body was bare. There was a revolting brutality in this fact. It seemed that the murderer had stripped his victim for the sake of the clothes which he had worn. There could be little doubt, therefore, that the murder had been committed for the greed of gain, and not from any motive of revenge.

Arthur Lovell breathed more freely; until this moment his mind had been racked in agonizing doubts. Dark suspicions had been working in his breast. He had been tortured by the idea that the Anglo–Indian had murdered his old servant, in order to remove out of his way the chief witness of the crime of his youth.

But if this had been so, the murderer would never have lingered upon the scene of his crime in order to strip the clothes from his victim’s body.

No! the deed had doubtless been done by some savage wretch, some lost and ignorant creature, hardened by a long life of crime, and preying like a wild beast upon his fellow-men.

Such murders are done in the world. Blood has been shed for the sake of some prize so small, so paltry, that it has been difficult for men to believe that one human being could destroy another for such an object.

Heaven have pity upon the wretch so lost as to be separated from his fellow-creatures by reason of the vileness of his nature! Heaven strengthen the hands of those who seek to spread Christian enlightenment and education through the land! for it is only those blessings that will thin the crowded prison wards, and rob the gallows of its victims.

The robbery of the dead man’s clothes, and such property as he might have had about him at the time of his death, gave a new aspect to the murder in the eyes of Arthur Lovell. The case was clear and plain now, and the young man’s duty was no longer loathsome to him; for he no longer suspected Henry Dunbar.

The constabulary had already been busy; the spot upon which the murder had been committed, and the neighbourhood of that spot, had been diligently searched. But no vestige of the dead man’s garments had been found.

The medical man’s evidence was very brief. He stated, that when he arrived at the Foresters’ Arms he found the deceased quite dead, and that he appeared to have been dead some hours; that from the bruises and marks on the throat and neck, some contusions on the back of the head, and other appearances on the body, which witness minutely described, he said there were indications of a struggle having taken place between deceased and some other person or persons; that the man had been thrown, or had fallen down violently; and that death had ultimately been caused by strangling and suffocation.

The coroner questioned the surgeon very closely as to how long he thought the murdered man had been dead. The medical man declined to give any positive statement on this point; he could only say that when he was called in, the body was cold, and that the deceased might have been dead three hours — or he might have been dead five hours. It was impossible to form an opinion with regard to the exact time at which death had taken place.

The evidence of the waiter and the landlord of the George only went to show that the two men had arrived at the hotel together; that they had appeared in very high spirits, and on excellent terms with each other; that Mr. Dunbar had shown very great concern and anxiety about the absence of his companion, and had declined to eat his dinner until nine o’clock.

This closed the evidence; and the jury retired.

They were absent about a quarter of an hour, and then returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.

Henry Dunbar, Arthur Lovell, and Mr. Balderby went back to the hotel. It was past six o’clock when the coroner’s inquest was concluded, and the three men sat down to dinner together at seven.

That dinner-party was not a pleasant one; there was a feeling of oppression upon the minds of the three men. The awful event of the previous day cast its dreadful shadow upon them. They could not talk freely of this subject — for it was too ghastly a theme for discussion — and to talk of any other seemed almost impossible.

Arthur Lovell had observed with surprise that Henry Dunbar had not once spoken of his daughter. And yet this was scarcely strange; the utterance of that name might have jarred upon the father’s feelings at such a time as this.

“You will write to Miss Dunbar to-night, will you not, sir?” the young man said at last. “I fear that she will have been very anxious about you all this day. She was alarmed by your message to Mr. Balderby.”

“I shall not write,” said the banker; “for I hope to see my daughter to-night.”

“You will leave Winchester this evening, then?”

“Yes, by the 10.15 express. I should have travelled by that train yesterday evening, but for this terrible event.”

Arthur Lovell looked rather astonished at this.

“You are surprised,” said Mr. Dunbar.

“I thought perhaps that you might stay — until ——”

“Until what?” asked the Anglo–Indian; “everything is finished, is it not? The inquest was concluded to-day. I shall leave full directions for the burial of this poor fellow, and an ample sum for his funeral expenses. I spoke to the coroner upon that subject this afternoon. What more can I do?”

“Nothing, certainly,” answered Arthur Lovell, with rather a hesitating manner; “but I thought, under the peculiar circumstances, it might be better that you should remain upon the spot, if possible, until some steps shall have been taken for the finding of the murderer.”

He did not like to give utterance to the thought that was in his mind; for he was thinking that some people would perhaps suspect Mr. Dunbar himself, and that it might be well for him to remain upon the scene of the murder until that suspicion should be done away with by the arrest of the real murderer.

The banker shook his head.

“I very much doubt the discovery of the guilty man,” he said; “what is there to hinder his escape?”

“Everything,” answered Arthur Lovell, warmly. “First, the stupidity of guilt, the blind besotted folly which so often betrays the murderer. It is not the commission of a crime only that is horrible; think of the hideous state of the criminal’s mind after the deed is done. And it is at that time, immediately after the crime has been perpetrated, when the breast of the murderer is like a raging hell; it is at that time that he is called upon to be most circumspect — to keep guard upon his every look, his smallest word, his most trivial action — for he knows that every look and action is watched; that every word is greedily listened to by men who are eager to bring his guilt home to him; by hungry men, wrestling for his conviction as a result that will bring them a golden reward; by practised men, who have studied the philosophy of crime, and who, by reason of their peculiar skill, are able to read dark meanings in words and looks that to other people are like a strange language. He knows that the scent of blood is in the air, and that the bloodhounds are at their loathsome work. He knows this; and at such a time he is called upon to face the world with a bold front, and so to fashion his words and looks that he shall deceive the secret watchers. He is never alone. The servant who waits upon him, or the railway guard who shows him to his seat in the first-class carriage, the porter who carries his luggage, or the sailor who looks at him scrutinizingly as he breathes the fresh sea-air upon the deck of that ship which is to carry him to a secure hiding-place — any one of these may be a disguised detective, and at any moment the bolt may fall; he may feel the light hand upon his shoulder, and know that he is a doomed man. Who can wonder, then, that a criminal is generally a coward, and that he betrays himself by some blind folly of his own?”

The young man had been carried away by his subject, and had spoken with a strange energy.

Mr. Dunbar laughed aloud at the lawyer’s enthusiasm.

“You should have been a barrister, Mr. Lovell,” he said; “that would have been a capital opening for your speech as counsel for the crown. I can see the wretched criminal shivering in the dock, cowering under that burst of forensic eloquence.”

Henry Dunbar laughed heartily as he finished speaking, and then threw himself back in his easy-chair, and passed his handkerchief across his handsome forehead, as it was his habit to do occasionally.

“In this case I think the criminal will be most likely arrested,” Arthur Lovell continued, still dwelling upon the subject of the murder; “he will be traced by those clothes. He will endeavour to sell them, of course; and as he is most likely some wretchedly ignorant boor, he will very probably try to sell them within a few miles of the scene of the crime.”

“I hope he will be found,” said Mr. Balderby, filling his glass with claret as he spoke; “I never heard any good of this man Wilmot, and, indeed, I believe he went to the bad altogether after you left England, Mr. Dunbar.”


“Yes,” answered the junior partner, looking rather nervously at his chief; “he committed forgery, I believe; fabricated forged bank notes, or something of that kind, and was transported for life, I heard; but I suppose he got a remission of his sentence, or something of that kind, and returned to England.”

“I had no idea of this,” said Mr. Dunbar.

“He did not tell you, then?”

“Oh, no; it was scarcely likely that he should tell me.”

Very little more was said upon the subject just then. At nine o’clock Mr. Dunbar left the room to see to the packing of his things, at a little before ten the three gentlemen drove away from the George Hotel, on their way to the station.

They reached the station at five minutes past ten; the train was not due until a quarter past.

Mr. Balderby went to the office to procure the three tickets. Henry Dunbar and Arthur Lovell walked arm-in-arm up and down the platform.

As the bell for the up-train was ringing, a man came suddenly upon the platform and looked about him.

He recognized the banker, walked straight up to him, and, taking off his hat, addressed Mr. Dunbar respectfully.

“I am sorry to detain you, sir,” he said; “but I have a warrant to prevent you leaving Winchester.”

“What do you mean?”

“I hold a warrant for your apprehension, sir.”

“From whom?”

“From Sir Arden Westhorpe, our chief county magistrate; and I am to take you before him immediately, sir.”

“Upon what charge?” cried Arthur Lovell.

“Upon suspicion of having been concerned in the murder of Joseph Wilmot.”

The millionaire drew himself up haughtily, and looked at the constable with a proud smile.

“This is too absurd,” he said; “but I am quite ready to go with you. Be good enough to telegraph to my daughter, Mr. Lovell,” he added, turning to the young man; “tell her that circumstances over which I have no control will detain me in Winchester for a week. Take care not to alarm her.”

Everybody about the station had collected on the platform, and made a circle about Mr. Dunbar. They stood a little aloof from him, looking at him with respectful interest: altogether different from the eager clamorous curiosity with which they would have regarded any ordinary man suspected of the same crime.

He was suspected; but he could not be guilty. Why should a millionaire commit a murder? The motives that might influence other men could have had no weight with him.

The bystanders repeated this to one another, as they followed Mr. Dunbar and his custodian from the station, loudly indignant against the minions of the law.

Mr. Dunbar, the constable, and Mr. Balderby drove straight to the magistrate’s house.

The junior partner offered any amount of bail for his chief; but the Anglo–Indian motioned him to silence, with a haughty gesture.

“I thank you, Mr. Balderby,” he said, proudly; “but I will not accept my liberty on sufferance. Sir Arden Westhorpe has chosen to arrest me, and I shall abide the issue of that arrest.”

It was in vain that the junior partner protested against this. Henry Dunbar was inflexible.

“I hope, and I venture to believe, that you are as innocent as I am myself of this horrible crime, Mr. Dunbar,” the baronet said, kindly; “and I sympathize with you in this very terrible position. But upon the information laid before me, I consider it my duty to detain you until the matter shall have been further investigated. You were the last person seen with the deceased.”

“And for that reason it is supposed that I strangled my old servant for the sake of his clothes,” cried Mr. Dunbar, bitterly. “I am a stranger in England; but if that is your English law, I am not sorry that the best part of my life has been passed in India. However, I am perfectly willing to submit to any examination that may be considered necessary to the furtherance of justice.”

So, upon the second night of his arrival in England, Henry Dunbar, chief of the wealthy house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby, slept in Winchester gaol.


Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31