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Duck Lake
Chapter IV. The Backwoods Trial

THE Warden greeted Mr. Hewitt in a friendly manner, told him that he was glad to see he was so promptly on hand, and then presented him to the Justice. Mr. Hewitt told them that he had one request to make, and when asked what it was, said that he did not wish to be tried in Dodges bar-room, amidst its disagreeable fumes. The Justice smiled, but the Warden agreed that it was not a very desirable place in which to meet.

The Justice asked Dodge for another room. Dodge swore a little, and said that the time the Justice was there before, he held his court in the bar-room.

"But" said the Justice, "we’ve got a preacher to try, and we must consider the cloth."

Dodge cursed the preacher up and down, and said he could go into the bar as well as any other sinner. He hadn’t another room in the house large enough, unless it was the kitchen.

"We’ll go into the kitchen, then, if it will please you, sir," said Mr. Hewitt, calmly addressing the Justice.

"All right, Dave, put the table and chairs into the kitchen, and hurry up. Come on, Fitzgerald, and let us get to business at once."

Mr. Hewitt looked anxiously around. There was neither Horace Fitzgerald nor Jonas; no, not even one man whom he could call a friend, and from whom he could expect a word of advice or sympathy. For a moment his strength seemed to leave him. He was hardly prepared for this; but the sweet memory of last night’s scene floated in upon him, and as the words of the Psalmist again rang in his ears, he upbraided himself for unbelief. New strength came to him, and with interest he followed the proceedings of this backwoods court under a county Justice of the Peace.

After Dodge had reluctantly prepared the kitchen for the court, the Justice, followed by the Warden, Mr. Hewitt, the constable, and the hangers-on of the bar-room, entered the house, and the business of the day was opened.

The Warden then took up his case against Mr. Hewitt for moose-poaching, and said—

"Your Honour, I have a rather sad duty to perform to-day; namely, to accuse of poaching moose a young man who is a licentiate of one of our prominent Churches, and who, I believe, up to the time of his coming here, has had an honourable career. But, sir, I have such facts and evidence that it will be merely a matter of routine duty upon your part to receive it. Part of the evidence I shall give myself from my own observation; and I have also a few witnesses here, who will testify to the general conduct and life of this young man since his arrival in these parts/ He then called upon Dodge and his men as witnesses. Their statements were merely repetitions of what Dodge had already said to the Warden; made, however, more effective by more direct statements and apparent proof.

Mr. Hewitt, whose faith in humanity had been shocked at Dodge’s previous actions, but not shattered, was almost dumb with surprise, amused, and yet saddened, that about his simple life and acts of kindness and self-sacrifice such abominable lies could be told.

In summing up his evidence, the Warden said—

"Thus, sir, we find this young man, coming out here ostensibly to preach the Gospel, but falling into the temptation of his surroundings, making his home, so-called a “parsonage,” a thief’s den, consorting with a thievish Indian, in whose company I saw him myself, and under the cover of ministering to the eternal welfare of the neighbouring people, robbing the country of its game.

"As I have stated before—and the evidence lies before you: the venison, the gun, and the knife—I caught this young man red-handed in the act, almost over the moose. He had barely disposed of his part of a deer, no doubt taken away by his Indian accomplice, and, thinking himself secure, after having lunched off that piece which you see, was taking a nap, when I fortunately passed that way, saw the offal of the deer, followed the blood-marks on the trail, and in this way most convincingly found the thief.

"While, sir, I beg you will have due regard for the youth of the poacher, it being his first offence, and also his position as a minister of the Gospel, I hope, sir, that you will remember the majesty of the law, which, in these parts, demands summary enforcement, to maintain its dignity and to retain proper regard therefor at the hands of the people.’

Turning to the Warden, the Justice very gravely said—

"The fact that this young man has been trained for the ministry only adds to the heinousness of his crime. He, above others, should have known better than to have done such a thing, even from a higher motive than that of breaking his country’s laws."

This is what the Warden really thought, and it pleased him very much to hear the Justice say it.

Then a grim smile played and rippled over the big, weather-beaten face of that backwoods Justice, and he emitted a succession of "Ehms," which decidedly aroused the spectators and told them that something unusual was coming. Then the smile flitted away, and he asked the Warden, with the coolest deliberation—

"Is that the piece of meat which you took out of Mr. Hewitt’s home?"

"Yes," the Warden promptly replied.

The spectators were now alert to catch every word and even every look of the Justice. The Justice never acted in the present way without a purpose. His reference to the meat made many eyes study it curiously, and set many brains at work to fathom the Justice’s meaning. As some saw that it was bear-meat, and not venison, as the Warden had so emphatically stated, a loud guffaw broke from several quarters. This piece of information was quickly passed from mouth to mouth, with increasing uproar. This greatly pleased the Justice, then he continued talking to the Warden. Half apologetically, he said—

"We backwoods people are simple, but we think we can tell what we have to eat. Your bloody axe and knife are tell-tales, but that meat, that meat! Come, Warden, tell us again how you got it?"

This made the spectators uproarious over the Warden’s meat, which he had so pompously displayed as evidence of moose-killing against the preacher. Even Dodge and his perjured parasite witnesses began to weaken, when they felt the sympathy of the spectators turning against the Warden, and also saw what the Justice was alluding to.

The Warden was annoyed at the innuendoes and mock humility of the Justice, and decidedly flushed at the laughter of the spectators, which he could not understand. A Government city official to be so badgered by a county Justice, and jeered at by country clowns!

"We are waiting," said the Justice, who read the Warden’s thoughts with well-disguised amusement, "to hear you tell us exactly how you came by that meat."

"I got it," began the Warden, "in Mr. Hewitt’s home, so-called a parsonage, and it is part of a large moose."

A great laugh from the spectators greeted this last remark. The Justice also smiled, but said sternly—


Then, turning to the Warden, as if wishing him to proceed with his evidence, he said suggestively—

"This is venison, eh?"

"Yes," replied the Warden, with a good deal of hauteur.

"Well, Mr. Fitzgerald, I fear that you are not a well-qualified epicure, for I think that that piece of meat is cut out of a bear, and ---"

The kitchen was nearly a pandemonium. The Warden was in a rage.

"I traced the blood-marks to that house." he declared.

"A bear has blood as well as a moose," said the Justice, in no wise disturbed at the noise or at the Warden’s sudden rage.

"Well, I’ll take you to the ground," said the Warden, "and I’ll show you the rest of the deer cached in the trees."

"Do," said the Justice; adding, "I declare this court adjourned, to meet on our return." The sympathy of the simple-hearted, rough bystanders ran quickly to Mr. Hewitt. He had been a hero in their eyes because of his fight on the school question, and they respected him because of his brave and fearless preaching; but they had preferred to stand in with the man who served out their whisky. Now, however, they jumped to the conclusion that the young preacher was the victim of some plot hatched in revenge by Dodge, who had somehow duped the green Warden; and so, when the Justice dismissed the court, to manifest their sympathy with Mr. Hewitt, they picked him up on their shoulders and carried him out of the house. It was a moment of triumph for the young preacher, and the rough fellows let loose all their pent-up admiration, and defying the power of Dodge they told him what they thought of his brave deeds.

At this turn of affairs, capped by the demonstrations of the men over Mr. Hewitt, Dodge was very much chagrined. In the very worst of humour he drove out all who had lingered in the kitchen or on the doorstep, and he slammed the door upon them.

When noon arrived, and a large number of men presented themselves with the Justice and the Warden for dinner, Dodge’s professional hospitality restored his good-humour, which was increased when some of the men told him that the Warden had shown the Justice the cache in the trees, and that they had traced unmistakable signs of the moose’s blood to the Parsonage. The Justice had seen all this, but they could find no trace of venison in the Parsonage. There was bear-meat there in abundance, but not an ounce of venison. These latter facts were, however, not told to Dodge.

The news of the trial of the preacher had spread quickly around the country, and a number of Mr. Hewitt’s parishioners came up to look after their pastor. Mr. Miller took him and the constable, whom Mr. Hewitt specially invited, to dinner.

When the court re-assembled in the afternoon the Warden was very stern. He would make no mistakes this time, and he would have his revenge on the whole of them. The Warden could not understand the change in the Justice, especially in the matter of haste and expedition of business. In the morning he said he had another engagement he wished to fulfil, and he was in a hurry to get away. Now, however, he was very slow, deliberate, and rather too friendly, thought the Warden, with the spectators. The Justice knew that his other engagement could wait, but it was not often his privilege to have a green conceited Warden in the toils, and he was not going to spoil his fun by rushing matters through too quickly.

Seeing some of Mr. Hewitt’s parishioners, the Justice called upon several of them to tell what they knew of Mr. Hewitt’s movements, especially during the last few days. One of those called upon was Mr. Farley, who had gone for Mr. Hewitt to come and help his sick hired man. As he told of that ride through the dark, over the rough roads, many a heart was thrilled, and there was some faint effort at a cheer. Mr. Miller followed, and told of Mr. Hewitt’s faithful attentions to Widow Brown and the dying Charley. This story touched many of the rough hearts, and there were many wet eyes among the spectators and many a smothered, "God bless him!"

After one or two others had spoken, the Warden again took up the prosecution. It was mostly a repetition of his former address, with all reference to the haunch of venison carefully left out. Just as he was finishing, there was a sudden commotion around the kitchen door, and in burst Horace Fitzgerald, almost out of breath, followed by Jonas.

"What’s all this nonsense about the preacher’s shooting moose?" demanded Horace, breathlessly.

"Don’t interrupt the court, Horace," said the Warden, taking his cousin by the hand and trying to quiet him. "I caught the young preacher poaching moose."

"You never did," said Horace, emphatically.

"But I did,’"insisted the Warden, "and I have proved it to the Justice."

"Well, I’ll improve it again for you. What have you proved to the Justice?"

"that I saw the remains of the moose near Hewitt’s place, and traced the blood-marks to his house. Isn’t that evidence enough, especially when I found the axe and knife which he used and the man himself almost on the spot?" "No, sir, that is not evidence enough,’"said Horace.

"But I caught him on the spot," insisted the Warden.

"He had just returned from his pastoral work, then." declared the thoroughly aroused Mr. Horace Fitzgerald.

"Well," said the Justice, "a moose has been killed, and Mr. Hewitt’s tools seem to have been used. The question now is, Who killed the moose?"

"I did it, sir." said Horace, straightening himself up. "I did it. I went to pay Mr. Hewitt a visit, but he was away. Jonas here can tell you where, if you want to know, or ask Mr. Hewitt himself. I went into his place to rest, and saw his gun. I wanted to try the weapon, and that moose was the first thing that I saw to shoot. I gave Mr. Hewitt a haunch of venison for the use of the gun."

Then, noticing the piece of bear-meat, he said to the Justice: "What have you got this bear-meat here for?"

"Oh!" said he, amidst the laughter of the crowd and before the crimson cheeks of the Warden, "this is a piece of meat that the Warden has exhibited for your haunch of venison. It must have strangely disappeared, for when I visited Mr. Hewitt’s place I saw plenty of bear-meat, but no venison. However, on your confession, Mr. Fitzgerald," said the Justice, with heroic deliberation, "that you have shot a moose out of season, I shall have to fine you."

"Fine away." said Horace; "only don’t go and accuse an innocent man, a lover of mankind, and a noble soul all round."

"But the hotel-keeper, here, swears to seeing him with a thievish Indian, and taking moose to his house at night."

The Justice knew that these were lies, but he wished to draw Horace out a little.

"Dodge has spoken falsely, then." said Horace. "His name should never be mentioned in the same breath with that of that splendid young Indian. Just think, that man has paddled and portaged all night to get me, and, without waiting either to eat or rest, has hurried me here, to rescue Mr. Hewitt from your false accusations. Has any one of you done a nobler thing?"

"And as to the lies about Mr. Hewitt’s bringing moose home at night; I’ll guarantee that old Dodge is the guilty party. Where was he, to see Mr. Hewitt at night? or any of his beer-soaked followers? Mr. Hewitt was homeward bound from some deed of love and mercy, and if anybody had moose, I’ll guarantee it was old Davey Dodge."

"You’re right, Mister Horace," said Jonas, whose delight was shaking even his Indian imperturbability, and most of the spectators sympathized with him. Jonas was near the door that led to the cellar, which was partly open ; and he added —

"Ven’son down there, p’rhaps, for sure; me smell him hard."

"Get out!" shouted Dodge.

"I’ll no get out for you, Dave Dodge, ven’son there," said Jonas, in a way that made Dodge keep back the hand which he had lifted to strike him.

Horace understood the meaning of Jonas words, and said—

"I accuse this man also of poaching, and demand that his cellar be searched."

There was some parley over this; but Horace won his point. He demanded that the constable should take charge of Dodge, while Jonas and the Warden be sent to search the cellar.

These two men quickly returned, and stated that the bodies of two large moose, lately shot, were there.

"That means a forty-dollar fine at least, with costs," said the Justice.

"Watch that man, constable," said Horace, "for he’s got to go with you, for he hasn’t the money, the old scoundrel! How much is my fine, Justice? I want to get out of this mess, and go and see my wife."

"I’ll straighten that out, Horace," said the Warden. "I am glad you have saved us from punishing an innocent man. I am very sorry that I have falsely accused you, Mr. Hewitt. I shall return your knife and rifle. I’ll send them over to you by Jonas. And as for him, I hope that I can secure his assistance. I want just such a man as he."

"Well," said Mr. Horace Fitzgerald, laughingly to his cousin, "it is a pleasure to see your conceit humbled for once; but I shall pay my own fine, thank you. Perhaps, Justice, my accusation of Dodge, which has so quickly brought conviction, will give me part of his fine. Just figure out the sum, and send me my bill or my cheque, and it will be promptly acknowledged."

Then, turning again to the Warden, he said slyly, as a reproof to his hasty accusation—

"Next time you catch me shooting a moose give me time to get my breakfast, ere you drag me before a Justice."

The Warden was very red in the face. He did not even turn to his cousin, but was looking at Mr. Hewitt for a reply to his apology.

With his usual unselfishness, the young preacher said—

"I am glad that you have something for Jonas to do. You will find him as true as steel and as honest as the sunlight."

‘You better than that, Mister Hewitt, for sure," replied Jonas.

The constable, Justice, and Dodge were having some lively words between them, in which the last-named "gentleman" was cursing the interference and "scent" of the Indian, and also calling maledictions down upon the laws of the land.

Horace gave Jonas a pat on the back, and said—

"Stick to the Warden. You’re well fixed now, old boy."

Then, slipping his hand under Mr. Hewitt’s arm, he said—

"Come, let us get out of this."

And they went home to supper.

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