Page:Braddon--The Trail of the Serpent.djvu/309

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305
The End of the Dark Road.

and blew his nose very deliberately on a handkerchief which, from its dilapidated condition, resembled a red cotton cabbage-net. Silence reigned throughout the crowded court, broken only by the scratching of the pen with which the counsel for the defence was taking notes of the evidence, and the fluttering of the leaves of the reporters' pocket-books, as they threw off page after page of flimsy paper.

The prisoner at the bar looked straight before him; the firmly-compressed lips had never once quivered, the golden fringed eyelashes had never drooped.

"Can you tell me," said the counsel for the prosecution, "whether you have ever, since that night, seen this young man, who so closely resembled your old friend, Jim?"

"Never seen him since, to my knowledge"—there was a flutter in the crowded court, as if every spectator had simultaneously drawn a long breath—"till to-day."

"Till to-day?" said the counsel. This time it was more than a flutter, it was a subdued murmur that ran through the listening crowd.

"Be good enough to say if you can see him at this present moment."

"I can," replied Mr. Withers. "That's him! or my name ain't vot I've been led to believe it is." And he pointed with a dirty but decided finger at the prisoner at the bar.

The prisoner slightly elevated his arched eyebrows superciliously, as if he would say, "This is a pretty sort of witness to hang a man of my standing."

"Be so good as to continue your story," said the counsel.

"Vell, I does vot he tells me, and I lays the body, vith his 'elp, on the truck. 'Now,' he ses, 'follow this 'ere old voman and do everythink vot she tells you, or you'll find it considerably vorse for your future 'appiness;' vith vich he slams the door upon me, the old un, and the truck, and I sees no more of 'im. Vell, I follows the old un through a lot o' lanes and back slums, till ve leaves the town behind, and gets right out upon the 'eath; and ve crosses over the 'eath, till ve comes to vere it's precious lonely, yet the hedge of the pathway like; and 'ere she tells me as ve're to leave the body, and 'ere ve shifts it off the truck and lays it down upon the grass, vich it vas a-rainin' 'eavens 'ard, and a-thunderin' and a-lightnin' like von o'clock. 'And now,' she ses, 'vot you've got to do is to go back from vheres you come from, and lose no time about it; and take notice,' she ses, 'if ever you speaks or jabbers about this 'ere business, it'll be the end of your jabberin' in this world,' vith vitch she looks at me like a old vitch as she vos, and points vith her skinny arm down the road. So I valks my chalks, but I doesn't valk 'em very far, and presently I sees the old 'ag a-runnin' back tovards