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A Life Sentence A Novel   By: (1851-1904)

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A LIFE SENTENCE.

A NOVEL.

BY ADELINE SERGEANT, Author of "The Luck of the House," "Under False Pretences," etc., etc.

MONTREAL: JOHN LOVELL & SON, 23 St. Nicholas Street.

Entered according to Act of Parliament in the year 1889, by John Lovell & Son, in the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Statistics at Ottawa.

A LIFE SENTENCE.

CHAPTER I.

"Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"

"We find the prisoner guilty, my lord."

A curious little thrill of emotion half sigh, half sob ran through the crowded court. Even the most callous, the most world hardened, of human beings cannot hear unmoved the verdict which condemns a fellow creature to a shameful death. The spectators of Andrew Westwood's trial for the murder of Sydney Vane had expected, had predicted, the result; yet it came with the force of a shock to their excited nerves. The trial had lasted for two whole days already, and the level rays of sunshine that streamed through the west windows of the court house showed that the afternoon of a third day was drawing to a close. The attention of the patient sitters with whom the seats were closely packed had been strained to the uttermost; the faces of many were white and weary, or flushed with excitement and fatigue. The short absence of the jurymen had only strung their nerves to a higher pitch; and the slight murmur that passed through the heavy air when the verdict was made known showed the tension which had been reached.

The prisoner was well known in the locality, and so also had been his victim. This fact accounted for the crowding of the court by friends and acquaintances of the man murdered and his murderer, and for the breathless interest with which every step of the legal process had been followed. Apart from this, the case had excited much attention all over England; the papers had been filled with its details, and a good deal of discussion on the laws of circumstantial evidence had arisen during its course. Not that there could be any reasonable doubt as to the prisoner's guilt. True, nobody had seen him commit the crime. But he was a poacher of evil character and violent disposition; he had been sent to gaol for snaring rabbits by Mr. Vane, and had repeatedly vowed vengeance upon him; there was a presumption against him from the very first. Then one evening he had been seen lurking about a covert near which Mr. Vane passed shortly afterwards; shots were heard by passers by and Mr. Vane was discovered lying amongst the springing bracken in the depths of a shadowy copse, shot through the heart. A scrap of rough tweed found in the dead man's hand was said to correspond with a torn corner of Westwood's coat, and the murder was supposed to have been committed by the poacher with a gun which was afterwards found in Westwood's cottage. Several persons testified that they had seen Andrew issuing from the copse or walking along the neighboring road, before or after the hour when Mr. Vane met his fate, that he had his gun in his hand, that his demeanor was strange, and that his clothes seemed to have been torn in a scuffle. Little by little the evidence accumulated against him until it proved irresistible. Facts which seemed small in themselves became large and black, and charged with damnatory significance in the lawyer's hands. The best legal talent of the country was used with crushing effect against poor Andrew Westwood. Sydney Vane had been a popular man; he belonged to a well known county family, and had left a widow and child. His friends would have moved heaven and earth to bring his murderer to justice. After all as was said later the man Westwood never had a chance. What availed his steady sullen denial against the mass of circumstantial evidence accumulated against him? The rope was round his neck from the time when that morsel of cloth was found clasped close in the dead man's hand... Continue reading book >>




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