Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 13

The Prisoner is Remanded.

Mr. Dunbar was brought before Sir Arden Westhorpe, at ten o’clock, on the morning after his arrest. The witnesses who had given evidence at the inquest were again summoned, and — with the exception of the verger, and Mr. Dunbar, who was now a prisoner — gave the same evidence, or evidence to the same effect.

Arthur Lovell again watched the proceedings in the interest of Laura’s father, and cross-examined some of the witnesses.

But very little new evidence was elicited. The empty pocket-book, which had been found a few paces from the body, was produced. The rope by which the murdered man had been strangled was also produced and examined.

It was a common rope, rather slender, and about a yard and a half in length. It was made into a running noose that had been drawn tightly round the neck of the victim.

Had the victim been a strong man he might perhaps have resisted the attack, and might have prevented his assailant tightening the fatal knot; but the surgeon bore witness that the dead man, though tall and stalwart-looking, had not been strong.

It was a strange murder, a bloodless murder; a deed that must have been done by a man of unfaltering resolution and iron nerve: for it must have been the work of a moment, in which the victim’s first cry of surprise was stifled ere it was half uttered.

The chief witness upon this day was the verger; and it was in consequence of certain remarks dropped by him that Henry Dunbar had been arrested.

Upon the afternoon of the inquest this official had found himself a person of considerable importance. He was surrounded by eager gossips, greedy to hear anything he might have to tell upon the subject of the murder; and amongst those who listened to his talk was one of the constables — a sharp, clear-headed fellow — who was on the watch for any hint that might point to the secret of Joseph Wilmot’s death. The verger, in describing the events of the previous afternoon, spoke of that one fact which he had omitted to refer to before the coroner. He spoke of the sudden faintness which had come over Mr. Dunbar.

“Poor gentleman!” he said, “I don’t think I ever see the like of anything as come over him so sudden. He walked along the aisle with his head up, dashing and millingtary-like; but, all in a minute, he reeled as if he’d been dead drunk, and he would have fell if there hadn’t been a bench handy. Down he dropped upon that bench like a stone; and when I turned round to look at him the drops of perspiration was rollin’ down his forehead like beads. I never see such a face in my life, as ghastly-like as if he’d seen a ghost. But he was laughin’ and smilin’ the next minute; and it was only the heat of the weather, he says.”

“It’s odd as a gentleman that’s just come home from India should complain of the heat on such a day as yesterday,” said one of the bystanders.

This was the substance of the evidence that the verger gave before Sir Arden Westhorpe. This, with the evidence of a boy who had met the deceased and Henry Dunbar close to the spot where the body was found, was the only evidence against the rich man.

To the mind of Sir Arden Westhorpe the agitation displayed by Henry Dunbar in the cathedral was a very strong point; yet, what more possible than that the Anglo–Indian should have been seized with a momentary giddiness? He was not a young man; and though his broad chest, square shoulders, and long, muscular arms betokened strength, that natural vigour might have been impaired by the effects of a warm climate.

There were new witnesses upon this day, people who testified to having been in the neighbourhood of the grove, and in the grove itself, upon that fatal afternoon and evening.

Other labourers, besides the two Irishmen, had passed beneath the shadow of the trees in the moonlight. Idle pedestrians had strolled through the grove in the still twilight; not one of these had seen Joseph Wilmot, nor had there been heard any cry of anguish, or wild shrieks of terror.

One man deposed to having met a rough-looking fellow, half-gipsy, half-hawker, in the grove between seven and eight o’clock.

Arthur Lovell questioned this person as to the appearance and manner of the man he had met.

But the witness declared that there was nothing peculiar in the man’s manner. He had not seemed confused, or excited, or hurried, or frightened. He was a coarse-featured, sunburnt ruffianly-looking fellow; and that was all.

Mr. Balderby was examined, and swore to the splendid position which Henry Dunbar occupied as chief of the house in St. Gundolph Lane; and then the examination was adjourned, and the prisoner remanded, although Arthur Lovell contended that there was no evidence to justify his detention.

Mr. Dunbar still protested against any offer of bail; he again declared that he would rather remain in prison than accept his liberty on sufferance, and go out into the world a suspected man.

“I will never leave Winchester Gaol,” he said, “until I leave it with my character cleared in the eyes of every living creature.”

He had been treated with the greatest respect by the prison officials, and had been provided with comfortable apartments. Arthur Lovell and Mr. Balderby were admitted to him whenever he chose to receive them.

Meanwhile every voice in Winchester was loud in indignation against those who had caused the detention of the millionaire.

Here was an English gentleman, a man whose wealth was something fabulous, newly returned from India, eager to embrace his only child; and before he had done more than set his foot upon his native soil, he was seized upon by obstinate and pig-headed officials, and thrown into a prison.

Arthur Lovell worked nobly in the service of Laura’s father. He did not particularly like the man, though he wished to like him; but he believed him to be innocent of the dreadful crime imputed to him, and he was determined to make that innocence clear to the eyes of other people.

For this purpose he urged on the police upon the track of the strange man, the rough-looking hawker, who had been seen in the grove on the day of the murder.

He himself left Winchester upon another errand. He went away with the determination of discovering the sick man, Sampson Wilmot. The old clerk’s evidence might be most important in such a case as this; as he would perhaps be able to throw much light upon the antecedents and associations of the dead man.

The young lawyer travelled along the line, stopping at every station. At Basingstoke he was informed that an old man, travelling with his brother, had been taken ill; and that he had since died. An inquest had been held upon his remains some days before, and he had been buried by the parish.

It was upon the 21st of August that Arthur Lovell visited Basingstoke. The people at the village inn told him that the old man had died at two o’clock upon the morning of the 17th, only a few hours after his brother’s desertion of him. He had never spoken after the final stroke of paralysis.

There was nothing to be learned here, therefore. Death had closed the lips of this witness.

But even if Sampson Wilmot had lived to speak, what could he have told? The dead man’s antecedents could have thrown little light upon the way in which he had met his death. It was a common murder, after all; a murder that had been done for the sake of the victim’s little property; a silver watch, perhaps; a few sovereigns; a coat, waistcoat, and shirt.

The only evidence that tended in the least to implicate Henry Dunbar was the fact that he had been the last person seen in company with the dead man, and the discrepancy between his assertion and that of the verger respecting the time during which he had been absent from the cathedral yard.

No magistrate in his senses would commit the Anglo–Indian for trial upon such evidence as this.

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