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22: Confession

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« on: March 05, 2023, 11:57:18 am »

THIS was the confession made by Joseph Alfred Burdon in the presence of the Chief Constable, the Superintendent and Inspector Bigswell at the divisional headquarters of the County Constabulary at Greystoke on Saturday, March 28th, 193--. It was in the form of a signed and written statement.

“I confess to the murder of Julius Tregarthan on Monday evening, March 23rd. I had deliberately planned his death. I had been turning over the idea of killing him for nearly two years. It was a job, to my way of thinking, that had to be done. He had ruined my domestic happiness. And, as I see it, was responsible for my wife’s death. I had better start my story with events that happened three years ago, before the death of my wife Mary Louise Burdon. I am a quarryman employed by the Boscawen Slate Quarrying Co., which is about a quarter of a mile from my cottage in Towan Cove.

“As, at that time, we had no children, my wife was left alone for the most part of the day in the cottage. We were both happy in our marriage. She was a quiet, contented woman without a care in the world. I had a pretty good job and we had money enough to rub along without much worry. Our cottage was the property of Julius Tregarthan. We always paid the rent regularly every Friday, when Tregarthan himself made a round of his cottages in the cove and collected the money. As he used to call in the afternoon, I always gave my wife the rent-money and she paid Tregarthan herself.

“One Friday when I returned about six o’clock I found my wife upset. I could see she had been crying. I asked her what was the matter but she wouldn’t tell me anything. I thought that she might have been feeling unwell and let the matter drop. I didn’t think anything about it until a fortnight later. On that particular Friday when I got home I found my wife out. She did not come in until an hour later. She seemed strange and a bit wild in her manner. I again asked her if she was worrying about anything. She denied that anything was wrong.

“From that day, however, there seemed to be something between us. We couldn’t get on in the old way at all. My wife seemed restless and uneasy and often sat for a long time without speaking, not even answering when I spoke to her. Things seemed to be going wrong in the cottage. I tried a hundred ways to find out if my wife had anything on her mind or if she was faced with trouble of any sort. But she never dropped a hint as to what was the matter.

“This went on for about three months. Then one day she suddenly told me that she was going to have a baby. I was naturally pleased and excited on hearing the good news. We had always wanted a child. I knew my wife would make a perfect mother and we had both looked forward to the birth of our firstborn. At once I saw the reason for her past moodiness and restlessness and I did my best to cheer her up by talking about the happiness which was coming to us in the near future. But my wife remained strangely depressed. Instead of looking forward to the day when her baby would be born, she seemed to shrink from the approaching event. I got it into my mind after a bit, that she didn’t want the child to be born. I couldn’t get rid of the idea.

“A black cloud seemed to hang over us. Then one day, on my way home from the quarries, I was met by Jack Withers, a man who lives in the cove. He brought me news that my wife had given birth to a son. I ran down as fast as I could to the cottage. My wife was suffering terribly. She was deathly white and fighting for breath. I knew somehow, as soon as I saw her, that she would not live. The child, too, was sickly, and lay at her side without a sound and making little movement. The Doctor told me there was small chance for either of them. I was almost off my head with grief. I had looked forward to this day for so long.

“At nine o’clock that night, the child died. My wife did not seem to understand what had happened and protested when they took the dead baby from her side. She realised that she was dying. I don’t know how. A sort of instinct, I reckon. She called me to sit at her side. I did so. She told me that she had a confession to make. It was then that I first learnt to hate the very name of Julius Tregarthan. That child was not mine. It was Tregarthan’s. The man had been making up to my wife when he called for the rent-money on Friday afternoons. He was cunning and in no hurry. He pretended, at first, to have a fatherly interest in my wife’s affairs. She was taken in by his talk and began to look upon him as a friend. She never drew him on---that I’ll swear! She was never that sort. Tregarthan played his hand with the devil’s own cunning. My wife was quite taken in by his charming ways and his easy talk.

“One Friday there was a bit of a scene when he tried to kiss her. After that my wife began to dread his weekly visits. And then, one afternoon, he behaved like a brute beast, like the swine he was, and took advantage of her. A child was the result. Tregarthan got at her and forced her to make out that I was the father of the child. He even tried to bribe her with money, which my wife refused to accept. She was terrified that her secret would leak out. She knew that Tregarthan, with his smooth tongue, was capable of making out that she was in love with him, that the deception was mutual. If only she had not doubted my faith in her! It was the only wrong she ever did me!

“Late that terrible night, my wife died . . . in agony. From that moment I had but one idea in my head, and that was to kill Tregarthan. I think he realised that I knew of his beastliness. After the death of my wife he never again called at the cottage for the rent. He arranged for me to leave the money with Mrs. Withers. I reckon he was afraid of meeting me alone. I was in no hurry. My idea was to plan out a perfect scheme so that when Tregarthan was murdered suspicion could never fall on me. Soon the plan began to take shape. I had an old service revolver, which I had scrounged in France, before being demobbed in ’19, and several rounds of ammunition.

“By careful watching I got to know Tregarthan’s habits of an evening. He was, I realised, a man of routine. I knew that when he had finished his dinner he always went into his sitting-room. My first idea was to lure him to the window and shoot him from the cliff-path. I turned over this plan for a couple of months, but I knew that it was by no means perfect. For one thing the sound of the shooting might bring people to the spot. I might have trouble in making myself scarce after the murder. Then, one night, there was a storm over the coast and I saw at once that, if I chose the right moment, I could fire under cover of the thunder-claps. But a thunderstorm usually means rain and rain means mud and mud means footprints. I gave up the idea of shooting Tregarthan from the footpath.

“My next step toward making my plan perfect was the idea of shooting Tregarthan from the sea. I owned a boat. I often did a bit of night fishing. Even if I was seen the chances were that nobody would think it unusual for me to be out in a boat after dark. I made several tests along under the cliff. I found out how near I could get to the cliff and still keep the window in view. I realised that it would not be very difficult shooting. The next thing was to divert suspicion from myself and make it look as if somebody on land had committed the murder.

“So, one night, I filled a flour-bag with gravel off the Greylings drive. I hid it away in the cottage. When I had fired my first scheme was to throw my revolver into the sea. But suddenly I realised that if I threw my revolver up on to the cliff-path, it would look more than ever as if somebody on land had killed Tregarthan. Then, with my plan all set, I waited for the right moment to carry out the job. For months I waited for a storm to come up at the time when I knew Tregarthan would be in his sitting-room. Time and again there were day storms and storms late at night. But I was in no hurry. I felt certain that one night my chance would come. And then on Monday, March 23rd, my chance did come.

“As ill-luck would have it, I had painted my own boat only the day before. I dared not risk getting paint all over my clothes. It would look suspicious if the police found out. So I borrowed Mr. Crook’s boat, the Nancy. I dumped the flour-bag full of gravel in the boat. I put on gloves, polished my revolver and loaded it. Then I put out to sea. I kept a course close along under the cliffs until I came to Greylings. There was a light in the sitting-room window. I had to risk the fact that Miss Tregarthan might have been in the room. If I threw the gravel against the window and she came to it instead of her uncle, then I knew it was a matter of waiting for my next chance.

“I got in as close as I dared and flung the gravel against the glass. I waited until there was a very bright flash of lightning before I did this. I reckoned that Tregarthan would then just have time to get to the window before the thunder began. This happened. He pulled aside the curtains and stared out. There was a crash of thunder overhead and I fired quickly three times. I saw him drop to the ground. I steered the boat in closer to the cliff and tossed my revolver up on to the path. The bag of gravel I flung into the sea. There must have been a small hole in the bag. Mr. Dodd told me that some gravel was found in the Nancy. I rowed back as fast as I could to Towan Cove, drew up the boat on to the slip-way and, making sure that nobody saw me, returned to the cottage. I had left a light burning there all the time so that my neighbours should think I had been indoors all the evening.

“That’s my story. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Whatever happens I am prepared to face the consequences. I reckoned to keep my secret, but I have been found out. I am glad about that. A chap fights a losing battle with his conscience. It has been hell for the last five days. When Mr. Dodd came to me this afternoon and showed me a note which he had found from my wife to Tregarthan, I couldn’t keep back the truth any longer. Truth will out, is an old saying. The truth is out and thank God for it!”

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