WE have thought it our duty, frequently, to remark upon the evil consequences of excessive drinking, as we find it, too often, the immediate cause of many of those crimes which bring ruin upon families, and disgrace and ignominious death upon individuals. Yet, fraught as intoxication is with evil, we still hesitate to pronounce it as productive of crime in its consequence as that demoralizing vice -- seduction. The case we are about to detail saves us from the necessity of comment, as it fearfully illustrates the fatal tendency of this too common sin; and holds out an important lesson to the youth of both sexes, in which they may learn that forbidden enjoyments, and honourable fidelity, are as opposite to each other as light and darkness.
Luke Heath was the son of a respectable farmer, who lived in the parish of Cow-Honeybourne, Gloucestershire. In the same parish, and within a quarter of a mile of Heath's residence, dwelt a poor man, named James Harris, the father of three daughters, two of whom were married, and the youngest, Sarah, lived in the house with him.
Unfortunately, Luke Heath formed an acquaintance with this girl, and, dreading that the old man would not sanction his addresses, he prevailed on her to permit him to visit her without her father's knowledge. Unhappily, she consented, and, from meeting him in the pent-house, she agreed to admit him to her bedroom, after the old man had retired to rest.
The better to prevent a discovery of their stolen hours, they oiled the hinges of the doors which led to their apartment, lest their creaking might create suspicion in the father, who, thus undisturbed, slept soundly, nor dreamed of the destroyer of his child being under one roof with him.
In unhallowed love, the birth of the enjoyment is the death of the passion; and the woman who complies with the lover's importunities, soon witnesses a termination of his attentions. Heath and his mistress soon repented of their criminal intercourse; for appearances were beginning openly to declare that she was about to become a dishonoured mother. Their meetings were no longer attended with impatient rapture. Reproach was all on one side, and repentance on the other, while the intervals were spent in fruitless conjectures about what should be done. No doubt she requested of him to blot disgrace from her character by marriage, and the sequel seems to imply that he must have consented.
On the night of the 22d of June, 1809, James Harris and his daughter retired to rest. Next morning the old man arose; but, as he could not go to the kitchen without passing through his daughter's room, he was somewhat alarmed at finding her door open, and herself not in bed, which, at the hour, was rather an unusual thing. Suspecting that she had gone into the garden, he went to look for her, and on his way found the back door ajar, a pitchfork thrown across the path, hut no appearance of his daughter. He then proceeded into the village, and, at the house of one of his married daughters, learned, for the first time, that Sarah was with child by Luke Heath.
This information increased the poor man's apprehension for the safety of his child; and, after going to the house of his third daughter to inquire for her, he returned home, and was told that Sarah was found in the pond into which it had been thrown after it was murdered. There was a scar on the left temple, and a hole in the back part of the head; the fork was found bloody, which the old man had not observed before, and blood was also scattered about the pent-house and the path adjoining. The pond where the body had been found was about sixty yards from the house.
The village was now alarmed, and suspicion instantly fell upon Heath, who was apprehended on his father's farm, dressed in a dirty smock frock. He denied all knowledge of the murder, and, when asked where was his other frock, he said be had no other. He attended the coroner's inquest; but there being no evidence to implicate him, he was acquitted.
In a few days, however, circumstances arose to increase the suspicion against him, in consequence of which a warrant was granted, but he could not be found, neither could anything be discovered in his father's house which might throw light on the mysterious affair. But his sudden flight was presumptive evidence of his guilt; and accordingly every exertion was used to apprehend him. The officers of justice were dispatched throughout the kingdom in pursuit of him; and, after a diligent search of three months, they returned unsuccessful.
Near four years had elapsed, when Heath was discovered to have been living, during the two preceding years, in the neighbourhood of Kidderminster, as a farm servant, where he went under the name of Farmer John. Information was given to a magistrate, and he was taken into custody. He denied he knew Sarah Harris, that he ever heard of her mother, or that he ever lived in Gloucestershire; but, on Cow-Honeybourne being mentioned, he hid his face in his hands, became greatly agitated, and shed tears. Who asked where he had spent the two intervening years between his departure from Gloucestershire and his visit to Kidderminster, he said he was on beard a man of war; but an officer of marines, being present, questioned him, and, from his answers, inferred that he had never been on board ship in his life.
While Heath remained in Kidderminster gaol, he confessed to a fellow-prisoner that Sarah Harris had been pregnant by him, that she was murdered with a pitchfork, and he was the man, but hoped he would not tell.
Heath was now removed to Gloucester, where his trial came on at the summer assizes, when the evidence of his guilt was conclusive.
The jury found him guilty, and the judge passed on him the awful sentence of the law.
On Heath's return to prison, after his condemnation, he made a full confession of his guilt, and appeared truly penitent. On Monday, August 30. 1813, he was executed. The multitude who witnessed his sufferings were immense; but he did not address them. After a short ejaculation he was turned off; and, having hung the usual time, his body was given to the surgeons for dissection.