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Chapter LXIX


from Memoirs of a great detective:
incidents in the life of John Wilson Murray

compiled by Victor Speer

BOYS were the bane of Ephraim Convay's life. He detested them as a nuisance, a pest, a plague. He had a long nose, and when he passed a boy he turned up this great nose, wrinkled his forehead, and made a wry face, as if he had been taking castor oil. The boys for miles around knew of his dislike, and they seized every opportunity to torment him. Naturally this increased his ire against all youth. He owned two big farms near Princeton, in the county of Oxford, within a few miles of the Blenheim Swamp, where Birchall murdered Benwell. Ephraim warned all boys to keep off his land. He vowed that any boy caught trespassing would be dragged to one of his barns and chastised until he tingled.

   "This amounted to nothing more or less than a challenge to all the boys around to make life miserable for old Ephraim," says Murray. "They teased him in a thousand ways. At night, when he was asleep, a fiery face suddenly would loom up at his bedroom window — a face with eyes like balls of fire, and a voracious mouth extending from ear to ear, and grinning hideously. A gentle tapping would begin on the window, made by clackers, otherwise a bunch of nails tied to a nail previously driven in the window-frame, and swayed to and fro by means of a long string. Ephraim would rise up in wrath or terror and gaze on this ghastly face. He would make for his gun and blaze away at the apparition, only to discover it was a jack-o'-lantern perched on a tall bean-pole. At other times his door would refuse to open, and he would find it nailed shut. His chimney would refuse to draw, and would smoke him out of his house, investigation revealing a bag of wheat stuck in the flue. One evening, when he went home, he found his house dark and his doors fastened. He climbed in through a window, and found himself in pitch darkness, with myriad screeching, scratching figures that darted about and leaped over chairs and tables in wild flight, and dealt him stinging blows. He lighted a candle, and found the room filled with cats collected from the entire countryside. When he got into bed he alighted on something cold and clammy. It was a turtle lying in state amid a nest of eggs.

   "In the early evenings resounding knocks would thunder on Ephraim's front door. At length he began to hide inside the door with a long club, waiting to hear the knockers approach, when he planned to leap out and belabour them. They heard him in the hall, and withdrew to deliberate. In the meantime a frail and very respectable friend, going to call on Ephraim, walked up to the door and knocked. The door flew open; out sprang Ephraim, and began to smite the knocker with the club. It was so dark Ephraim could not see who his captive was, and the old man went to work as if with a flail. There were shouts and shrieks of 'Murder!' and 'Help!' The victim rolled over on the ground, beseeching Ephraim for mercy.

   "'I'll show you!' roared the excited Ephraim. 'I'll teach you ever to dare to pester me again!'

   "The friend thought Ephraim had gone crazy. When the old man finally paused, exhausted, and discovered the identity of his visitor, he was beside himself with shame, and grief, and anger. He vowed deep vengeance on his tormentors.

   "'Hi, Ephraim!' they would yell. 'You were a boy yourself once, weren't you?'

   "'If I was, I've spent over half a century trying to live it down and atone for it!' roared Ephraim. 'No one ought to be born into this world under thirty. So long as the Lord could fix it for us to be born at all, He might as well have made the minimum entry age at least twenty-five. I'd rather have erysipelas all my life than have a boy around for half a day. You know where to look for St. Anthony's fire, but a boy is nowhere when you want him, and everywhere when you don't want him.'

   "'How about girls?'

   "'They are what boys might have been,' said the old man with a soft smile. "My mother was a girl once.'

   "'Wasn't your father a boy?'

   "'Yes; but he got over it as quick as he could,' snapped Ephraim.

   "Ephraim's big farm was worked on shares by Russell Grover. Ephraim and Grover did not get along well. Grover had a young fellow working for him named George Frost. Like others, Frost teased Ephraim. On the afternoon of March 26th, 1897, the boy was found dead on the barn floor, with a bullet hole in his body. The Department was notified and I went to the farm. Ephraim had denied any knowledge of the shooting. So did Grover. Ephraim said he was not about when it happened and threw suspicion on Grover. Grover said he was away at the time and he threw suspicion on Ephraim. I learned from others that Grover was not near the barn on that afternoon. There was a turnip pit beneath the barn. To get to it several boards in the barn floor had to be raised. This trap had been moved recently and not replaced evenly. I raised it and went down into the pit. I saw the turnips, and we rolled them back from one corner and there discovered recently turned earth. We dug it up and there lay a revolver. It was a new one. I went to Princeton and to Woodstock, and finally found in Woodstock the store where Ephraim had bought it I learned from some of his neighbours that he had said he bought it for Grover, and to William Kip he had said: 'There will be murder down at the farm before April 1st.' I learned also that Ephraim had told Harvey Grover, Russell Grover's brother, that 'Frost and I have had a little fracas, and he has fainted on the barn floor.'

   "I went to Ephraim again, and this time he confessed. He said he had gone down into his turnip pit to shovel up some turnips. He noticed that as fast as he shovelled them up and turned for another shovelful the turnips rolled back into the pit from the floor of the barn. Then he heard a spitting noise, as if a cat was facing a dog. He looked up and saw the boy Frost on his hands and knees peering into the pit and spitting at him and rolling the turnips back on him. Ephraim said he grabbed his shovel by the handle end, and gave Frost a pat with it. His story was that Frost then seized a plank and shoved it down into the pit at him, and seemed to be preparing to send another after it when Ephraim whipped out the revolver, fired, and Frost fell. At first the old man thought to bury him in the turnip pit, but the barn floor already was dyed crimson, so he left the body to lie where it fell. 'Before he fell he staggered over by the door,' said Ephraim. 'I stuck my head out of the pit, and he turned and looked at me — looked, looked, looked at me, and then he fell. I dodged back into the pit, and then crept out and stepped over the body, and later went to Harvey Grover and told him I thought Frost must have fainted. I felt very sorry as I sat in the pit and thought of the boy lying on the barn floor.'

   "Ephraim was tried at Woodstock in September 1897. He insisted on taking the stand and he fretted and fumed until his counsel, Wallace Nesbit and A.S. Ball, called him to testify. He began slowly and calmly, but when he came to the story of the tragedy he grew very much excited and gasped for breath, swayed to and fro, thumped on the floor with his foot, got down on his hands, and graphically portrayed the scene in the turnip pit, and finally wept frenziedly. The defence showed that a brother of the prisoner had been in an insane asylum at Toronto, and swore witnesses to prove another brother was light-headed. The Jury found Ephraim guilty of manslaughter, and Justice Meredith sent him to Kingston Penitentiary for seven years.

   "'I hope there are no boys there,' said Ephraim. 'I'd be tempted to try to escape on the way if there were.'

   "I advised him not to try it, and told him of what happened to Frank Osier a month before."

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