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[-54-]

CHAPTER CLVII.

THE TRIAL OF KATHERINE WILMOT.

    The March sessions of the Central Criminal Court commenced upon a Monday morning, as usual.
    On the Wednesday Katherine Wilmot was placed in the dock, to take her trial for the murder of Matilda Kenrick.
    The particulars of the case had produced a great sensation; and the door-keepers of the gallery of the court reaped a rich harvest by the fees for admission.
    Katherine was deadly pale; but she had made up her mind to conduct herself with fortitude and her demeanour was resigned and tranquil.
    Richard Markham was in the gallery of the court; but his manner was uneasy and anxious  he had heard nothing of Benstead, the policeman, for the preceding forty-eight hours: and not a fact had that individual communicated to the counsel for the prisoner which might tend to prove her innocence or even throw a doubt upon her guilt.
    When called upon to answer to the indictment Katherine pleaded, in a firm tone, "Not Guilty."
    The counsel for the prosecution then stated the case, which was supported by the following testimony:  
    Henry Massey deposed: "I am a surgeon, and reside in Great Coram Street. One evening early in February, a young female came to my shop and purchased two ounces of laudanum. She brought no phial with her. I gave it to her in a phial of my own, which I labelled Poison. On the following evening I was summoned to the house of the Rev. Mr. Tracy. I was introduced into the kitchen, where I found the deceased lying back in her chair quite dead. A young female was there; and I recognised her to be the one who had purchased the poison at my shop. She is the prisoner at the bar. From this circumstance and others which transpired, I suspected her to have poisoned the deceased; and I had her given into custody. The Rev. Mr. Tracy was in the kitchen when I arrived. He was doing all he could to recover the deceased. He was deeply affected. On the following day I examined the deceased, and found that she had died by poison. That poison was laudanum. I discovered so large a quantity in her, by the usual tests, that she must have experienced a deep lethargy almost immediately after taking the poison, and could not have lived many minutes. I cannot say that she did not take it voluntarily, and with the object of committing suicide. There was nothing upon the table near her  no cup, glass, nor any drinking vessel. The phial produced is the one in which I sold the poison."
    Thomas Parker deposed: "I am footman to the Rev. Mr. Tracy. On the morning of the day when the housekeeper was poisoned, I overheard a conversation between her and Katherine Wilmot. The deceased informed Katherine that she must leave the house, but would not assign any reason. Deceased, however, said that she would provide for Katherine at a sister's in the country. Katherine objected to leave London, because her relations live here. I thought Mrs. Kenrick was jealous of Katherine, and wished to get rid of her. I mean that deceased thought that Katherine would perhaps be entrusted to fulfil some of her duties as housekeeper. I came out of the pantry, where I was cleaning the plate, and observed that I supposed Mrs. Kenrick was jealous of Katherine. The housekeeper cut the matter short by saying that Katherine should leave. Katherine was very miserable all day afterwards. In the evening my master sent me with a letter to a gentleman at Holloway. When I came home, I found the housekeeper dead. The first witness was there, in the kitchen. So were my master, Katherine, and the groom. I alluded to the conversation which had taken place between the deceased and the prisoner in the morning. The surgeon mentioned about Katherine having bought the laudanum at his house. Katherine seemed very much confused. She was then given into custody."
    James Martin deposed: "I am groom and coachman to the Rev. Mr. Tracy. On the evening in question I heard screams in the yard. I was in the stable adjoining. There is a communication between the yard of the house and the stable yard. I [-55-] hastened to the yard of the house where the screams came from. I saw Katherine wringing her hands and crying. I asked her what was the matter? She said, 'Mrs Kenrick is dead.' I hurried into the kitchen. Almost immediately afterwards Mr. Tracy came in. He had been alarmed by the screams too, he said. I found the housekeeper lying forward on the table, with her face resting on her arms, as if she had fallen asleep. I raised her, and laid her back in her chair. She seemed quite dead. Mr Tracy was greatly affected. Katherine did not offer to help, but withdrew to the farther end of the kitchen. She cried very much. Mr. Tracy sent me for a surgeon. When I came back with the first witness, we found Mr. Tracy bathing deceased's head with vinegar, and doing all he could to recover her. Katherine was not assisting him." This witness then confirmed the previous statement relative to the immediate circumstances which led to Katherine's arrest. He concluded his testimony thus: "When I first went into the kitchen, there were no cups, nor glasses, nor any drinking vessels on the table. All the tea-things had been washed and put into their proper place."
    The Rev. Reginald Tracy deposed: "I received the prisoner into my service through charity. I had no character with her. I had known her before, because she had attended the St. David's Sunday Schools. I considered her to be a most exemplary young person. I was not aware that Mrs. Kenrick intended to send her away. Mrs. Kenrick had the power, if she chose to do so, as she managed my household for me. I cannot say that Katherine had done any thing to offend Mrs. Kenrick. She had done nothing to offend me. In the evening I was alarmed by screams. I went down into the kitchen, and found the housekeeper in the position described by the last witness. I sent him for a surgeon, and adopted all the remedies within my reach to recover the housekeeper. I think I had observed that something had been preying upon the mind of the deceased. She had lately been melancholy and abstracted."
    Cross-examined: "I am not aware that Katherine went out on the evening in question. I do not know that she visited her uncle on that evening. I cannot say that she did not. She would not have asked me for permission to do so. She would have applied to Mrs. Kenrick. I was unwell all day, and did not leave my room until I heard the screams. I was very loath to believe that Katherine could have perpetrated such a deed. I told the surgeon so."
    A policeman deposed: "I was summoned to Mr. Tracy's house on the evening in question. I took the prisoner into custody. When I had conveyed her to the station-house, I returned to Mr. Tracy's house. I searched the kitchen. I found the phial, produced in court, upon a shelf. It was empty."
    This testimony closed the case for the prosecution.
    The general impression which prevailed amongst the auditory was unfavourable to the prisoner.
    Richard Markham trembled for her: still his confidence in her innocence was unshaken.
    But time wore on: the case was drawing to a close;  and not a sign of Morris Benstead!
    Markham knew not what to think.
    The manner in which Reginald Tracy gave his evidence was the subject of much comment in the gallery.
    "What an amiable man he appears to be!" said one.
    "How he endeavoured to create an impression in favour of the prisoner," observed another.
    "He said that he was loath to believe her guilty," remarked a third, "and considered her to be an exemplary young person."
    "Hush! hush!" said the first speaker: "the case is about to be resumed."
    This was the fact. The Judges, having retired for a few minutes, had now returned to the bench.
    The counsel for the defence rose.
    He began by calling upon the jury to dismiss from their minds any prejudice which the statements in the newspapers in connexion with the case might have created. He then dissected the evidence for the prosecution. He insisted much upon the importance of the fact that the poison had been purchased the evening before the conversation took place between the deceased and the prisoner, relative to the removal of the latter from the house. His instructions were that the prisoner had purchased that poison by order of the deceased, and as the prisoner understood at the time, for the use of her master who had returned home unwell. There was no proof that Katherine had done any thing wrong, and that she might have anticipated receiving warning from the housekeeper, and thus have actually contemplated murder when she procured the laudanum. It was stated that there was no cup nor glass upon the table  no drinking vessel in which poison could be traced. The inference thence drawn by the counsel for the prosecution was that the prisoner must have administered the poison  most probably in deceased's tea, and had then washed the cup. But might not the deceased have taken the poison with the intention of committing suicide, by drinking it from the phial which was found upon the shelf? Would not the prisoner have concealed or destroyed the phial, had she really administered the poison? The prisoner's account of the case was this. Mrs. Kenrick of her own accord had given her permission to visit her friends for an hour on the fatal evening. The prisoner availed herself of this kindness, and proceeded to her uncle's residence in St. Giles's. He (the counsel) hoped to have been able to prove the important fact of this visit, because it would show that the housekeeper had purposely sent Katherine Wilmot out of the way; but, unfortunately, the prisoner's uncle had not yet returned to town; and although a letter had been sent to the place whither it was supposed that he had proceeded  "
    At that moment a great bustle was observed in the body of the court; and a man, elbowing his way through the crowd, advanced towards the learned counsel for the defence.
    Richard's heart leapt within him: at the first glance he recognised, in that man, his agent, Morris Benstead, dressed in plain clothes.
    Benstead whispered to the barrister for some minutes, and then handed him a letter which the learned gentleman perused rapidly and in silence.
    The most breathless suspense prevailed throughout the court.
    "My lords," at length exclaimed the barrister, retaining the letter in his hand, and addressing the Judges, "this case is likely to take a most unexpected turn."
    "Heaven be thanked!" murmured Richard to [-56-] himself; "the poor creature's innocence will be made apparent  I feel that it will!"
    Meantime Morris Benstead again forced his way through the crowd, and took his stand close by Reginald Tracy.
    Poor Katherine knew not what all this meant; but her heart beat violently with mingled emotions of hope, uncertainty, amid apprehension.
    "My lords," continued the barrister, "I need not continue my speech in defence of the prisoner. I shall at once proceed to call my witnesses."
    The anxiety of the audience grew more and more intense.
    "Jacob Smithers!" cried the barrister.
    The Public Executioner instantly ascended into the witness-box.
    He deposed as follows: "The prisoner is my niece. She called at my house on the evening alluded to. She remained with me at least half an hour. She did not complain of Mrs. Kenrick; nor did she say that she was to leave the Rev. Mr. Tracy's house. I remember that I was very low-spirited myself that evening; and so I suppose she did not choose to annoy me by saying that she was to leave. Or else, perhaps, she thought that I should wish her to return home to me if I knew that she was to leave Mr. Tracy's service. I have been to Belfast where I was detained some days: then I accepted an engagement to go to the Isle of Man. I never received any letter informing me of what had occurred to my niece. The fact is, I do not go by my right name when I travel in that way, because I have to stop at inns, and do not like to be known. That is probably the reason why a letter addressed to me by the name of Smithers did not reach me. I did not see the account of this business in the newspapers until a few days since, when I was in the Isle of Man; and I returned home as quick as possible. I only reached London an hour ago."
    "You may stand down," said the barrister: then, after a pause, he exclaimed, "Rachel Bennet!"
    An elderly woman, decently attired in mourning, but evidently in a very sickly state of health, slowly ascended into the witness-box.
    She deposed: "I am the sister of the deceased, and reside about three miles from Hounslow. I received a letter from my sister early in February. The letter now shown me is the one." (This was the same letter which Benstead had given to the barrister.) "On the following day I received a letter from Mr. Tracy informing me of my sister's death, and stating that it was supposed she had been poisoned by a young person then in custody. I was bed-ridden with illness at the time, and was supposed to be dying. I could not therefore come to London, or take any steps in the matter. Some one came to me yesterday, and induced me to come to town."
    The counsel for the defence then passed the letter, which had been placed in his hands by Benstead, to the clerk of the court, by whom it was read.
    Its contents were as follow:  
    
    "MY DEAR RACHEL,
    
    "I hope this will find you much improved in health: at the same time I am somewhat anxious at not having heard from you. My present object in writing to you is to request you to receive at your house a young person in whom I am interested, and who is at present in Mr. Tracy's service. Katherine Wilmot is a pretty and interesting girl; and it would be unsafe for her to remain here. You know, dear Rachel, that you and I have never had any secret, between us; and I am not now going to break through that rule of mutual confidence which has been the basis of our sincere attachment. The truth is, Mr. Tracy is not what he was. He has fallen from the pinnacle of virtue which he once so proudly occupied; and it was only this morning that I had the most convincing proof of his weakness and folly! O Rachel  I met him and his mistress face to face upon the stairs! But I will not dwell upon this: I sincerely pray to heaven that he may repent, and become the good man he once was. I know that this secret will be sacred with you. But I am determined to remove from him all temptations, as far as lies in my humble power; and you may how comprehend my motive, for sending Katherine Wilmot away from this house. In a word, I shall despatch her to you by tomorrow's coach; and will write at greater length by her.
    
    "Your affectionate Sister,
    "MATILDA KENRICK."
    
    This letter produced a most extraordinary sensation in the court.
    The Judges, the barrister, the prisoner, and the audience were astounded at this revelation of the weakness of that man whom the world almost worshipped as a saint.
    "Ellen was right!" murmured Richard Markham to himself: "he is a hypocrite! But I never could have thought it!"
    And what of Reginald himself?
    The moment the clerk reached that paragraph which proclaimed the astounding fact of his unworthiness, a cold perspiration broke out upon his forehead; and he turned to leave the court.
    But Morris Benstead caught him by the arm, and pointing to a seat, said, "You must remain here, if you please, sir: I am an officer."
    The rector cast a look of unutterable dismay upon the policeman, and fell upon the bench in a state of mind bordering on distraction.
    Meantime the case proceeded.
    The counsel for the prosecution said that he should like to ask Rachel Bennet a few questions.
    That witness accordingly returned to the box.
    "Why did you not empower some one to produce that letter when the prisoner was examined before the magistrate?" inquired the prosecuting counsel.
    "Because, sir, I did not conceive that it could be of any use. I never for a moment suspected that any other person besides the one accused could have taken away my poor sister's life. My husband proposed to send the letter to the magistrate; but as my sister had written to me in strict confidence, I would not consent to that step. And now, since you have asked me, sir, I will tell you what I really did think; and God forgive me if I have been unjust."
    "We do not want to hear what you thought," exclaimed the prosecuting counsel. "You may stand down."
    "No," cried the barrister for the defence; "as we are upon the subject, we will have the witness's impressions."
    "I really thought, sir," continued the woman, "that the Katherine Wilmot alluded to was perhaps no better than she should be, and had become more intimate with Mr. Tracy than my poor sister suspected. That, I thought, was the reason why she had poisoned my sister in order to get her out of the way, and for herself to remain at Mr. Tracy's house. But I did not think that Mr. Tracy himself had any hand in the murder; and so I did not [-57-]  

see the good of producing a letter which would only expose Mr. Tracy."
    "Now you may stand down," said the counsel for the prisoner: then, in a loud tone, he called, "John Smithers!"
    And Gibbet entered the witness-box.
    His first glance was towards the dock; and that look, rapid, and imperceptible to others, conveyed a world of hope to the bosom of poor Katherine.
    Richard Markham was at a loss to conceive what testimony the hump-back could bring forward in the prisoner's favour.
    Every one present felt the deepest interest in the turn given to the proceedings.
    The hump-back stood upon a stool that there was in the witness-box; and even then his head was alone visible. His hideous countenance, pale and ghastly through his intense feelings for Katherine's situation, was nevertheless animated with confidence and hope.
    Amidst a dead silence of awe-inspiring solemnity, he deposed as follows:  
    "I am the prisoner's cousin. She has ever been most kind to me; and I was always happy in her society. When she went to live at Mr. Tracy's house. I thought that I should be able to see her every evening; but on one occasion Mr. Tracy met me, and said that I might only visit her on Sundays. I had, however, discovered an obscure corner in his yard, where I could hide myself and see all that passed in the kitchen of his house. I went to that corner regularly every evening, Sunday excepted; and remained there an hour  sometimes more. I did not want to pry into what was going on in Mr. Tracy's house: all I cared about was to see Katherine."
    A murmur, expressive of deep feeling  mingled surprise, sympathy, and admiration  on the part of the audience, followed this ingenuous announcement. Many an eye was moistened with a tear; and even the Judges did not look angrily when that murmur met their ears.
    Gibbet continued
    "One evening when I was concealed in the corner, I saw Mrs. Kenrick address something to Katherine, which I could not hear; but immediately afterwards Katherine put on her bonnet and went [-58-] out. As I had sometimes seen her do so before, and return very shortly afterwards, I thought she had merely gone to execute some little commission; and I remained where I was. Although Katherine used to pass through the yard, and close by me, when she went out in that manner, I never spoke to her, for fear she should reprove me for what she might think was watching her actions. Immediately after she was gone, Mrs. Kenrick laid the tea things; and in a few minutes Mr. Tracy entered the kitchen. He and the housekeeper sate down to tea. Mrs. Kenrick was pouring out the tea, when Mr. Tracy said something which made her pause. She then put down the tea-pot, fetched a coffee-biggin, and made some coffee. She filled two cups, and then turned towards the shelves to fetch a small jug, which I thought contained milk. But while her back was turned, I saw Mr. Tracy hastily put his hand into his waistcoat pocket, and then as rapidly advance his hand to Mrs. Kenrick's cup. All that was the work of only one moment; and I could not distinctly see why he did so. In fact I did not think much of it, until afterwards. Mrs. Kenrick resumed her seat; and she and Mr. Tracy drank their coffee. I observed that Mrs. Kenrick took no milk, and drank hers very quickly. In a short time I saw her head begin to nod as if she was sleepy: she got up, and walked about. Then she sate down again, and placed her arms on the table as if to support herself. In a short time her head fell forward on her arms. I felt a little alarmed; but still scarcely knew why. Mr. Tracy watched her for some minutes after she had fallen forward in that manner, and then bent down his head to look at her face. In another moment he rose, and to my surprise washed up all the things on the table and placed them upon the shelves. Then I began to fear that something was wrong; and I stole away. When I got home I found my father rather cross with me for staying out; and I was afraid to tell him what I had seen. Early the next morning we left for Ireland; and I never had courage to speak to my father upon this subject until we read the account of the murder and of Katherine's arrest. That was in the Isle of Man."
    The reader may imagine the profound sensation which this narrative created.
    Richard Markham was literally astounded.
    Katherine Wilmot wept abundantly.
    Reginald Tracy was crushed, as it were, to the very dust, by this overwhelming exposure of his guilt.
    The Jury whispered together for a few moments; and the foreman rose and said, "My lords, it is rather as a matter of form than as the result of any deliberation, that we pronounce a verdict of Not Guilty."
    "The prisoner is discharged," said the senior judge. "It will be the duty of the police to take charge of Reginald Tracy."
    "I have him in custody, my lord." exclaimed Morris Benstead in a loud tone.    

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