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not hold the pen for twenty minutes after-
wards I was sure to do nothing but blunder.
Until at last, when I saw our chief clerk walk
into the room on New Year's morning with a
police officer, I was as ready for what followed
as if I had had six hours conversation about it.
I do not believe I showed for I am sure I did
not feel it either surprise or alarm. My
"fortune," however, as the officer called it,
was soon told. I was apprehended on the 1st
of January; and the sessions being then just
begun, my time came rapidly round. On the
4th of the same month, the London grand-
jury found three bills against me for forgery;
and on the evening of the 5th, the judge ex-
horted me to " prepare for death;" for "there
was no hope that, in this world, mercy could
be extended to me."

The whole business of my trial and sentence
passed over as coolly and formally as I would
have calculated a question of interest, or
summed up an underwriting account. I had
never, though I lived in London, witnessed the
proceedings of a criminal court before; and I
could hardly believe the composure and indif-
ference, and yet civility' for there was no
show of anger or ill-temper with which I was
treated ; together with the apparent perfect
insensibility of all the parties round me, M'hile
I was rolling on with a speed which nothing
could check, and which increased every mo-
ment to my ruin! I was called suddenly up
from the dock when my turn for trial came,
and placed at the bar: and the judge asked in
a tone which had neither severity about it nor
compassion, nor carelessness, nor anxiety, nor
any character or expression whatever that could
be distinguished "If there was any counsel
appeared for the prosecution?" A barrister
then, who seemed to have some consideration



LE REVENANT.



283



a middle-aged, gentlemanly looking man
stated the case against me, as he said he would
do, very "fairly and forbearingly;" but as soon
as he read the facts from his brief that only
I heard an officer of the jail, who stood be-
hind me, say, "Put the rope about my neck.''
My master then was called to give his evidence,
which he did very temperately but it was
conclusive; a young gentleman, who was my
counsel, asked a few questions in cross-exam-
ination, after he had carefully looked over the
indictment; but there was nothing to cross-
examine upon, I knew that well enough, though
I was thankful for the interest he seemed to
take in my case. The judge then told me, I
thought more gravely than he had spoken
before, "that it was time for me to speak in
my defence, if I had anything to say." I had
nothing to say. I thought one moment to
drop down upon my knees and beg for mercy;
but again, I thought it would only make me
look ridiculous; and I only answered as well
as I could, "that I would not trouble the
court with any defence." Upon this the judge
turned round with a more serious air still, to
the jury, who stood up all to listen to him as
he spoke. And I listened too, or tried to listen
attentively, as hard as I could ; and yet, with
all I could do, I could not keep my thoughts
from wandering! For the sight of the court,
all so soberly, and regular, and composed, and
formal, and well satisfied, spectators and all,
while I was running on with the speed of wheels
upon smooth soil downhill to destruction,
seemed as if the whole trial were a dream, and
not a thing in earnest!

The barristers sat round the table, silent,
but utterly unconcerned, and two were looking
over their briefs, and another was reading a
newspaper; and the spectators in the galleries
looked on and listened as pleasantly as though
it were a matter not of death going on, but of
pastime or amusement; and one very fat man,
who seemed to be the clerk of the court, stopped
his writing when the judge began, but leaned
back in his chair with his hands in his breeches'
pockets, except once or twice that he took a
snuff; and not one living soul seemed to take
notice; they did not seem to know the fact that
there was a poor, desperate, helpless creature,
whose days were fast running out, whose hours
of life were even with the last grains in the
bottom of the sand-glass among them ! I lost
the whole of the judge's charge thinking of
I know not what in a sort of dream unable
to steady my mind to anything, and only bit-
ing the stalk of a piece of rosemary that lay by
me. But I heard the low, distinct whisper of



the foreman of the jury, as he brought in the
verdict, " GUILTY," and the last words of the
judge saying, " that I should be hanged by the
neck until I was dead:" and bidding me "pre-
pare myself for the next life, for that my crime
was one that admitted of no mercy in this."

The jailer then, who had stood close by me
all the while, put his hand quickly upon my
shoulder, in an under voice telling me to " Come
along! " Going down the hall steps two other
officers met me; and placing me between them,
without saying a word, hurried me across the
yard in the direction back to the prison. As
the door of the court closed behind us, I saw
the judge fold up his papers, and the jury being
sworn in the next case. Two other culprits
were brought up out of the dock; and the crier
called out for " The prosecutor and witnesses
against James Hawkins and Joseph Sanderson,
for burglary!"

I had no friends, if any in such a case could
have been of use to me no relatives but two;
by whom I could not complain of them I was
at once disowned. On the day after my trial
my master came to me in person, and told me
that " he had recommended me to mercy, and
should try to obtain a mitigation of my sen-
tence." I don't think I seemed very grateful
for this assurance; I thought that if he had
wished to spare my life he might have made
sure by not appearing against me. I thanked
him; but the colour was in my face and the
worst feelings that ever rose in my heart in all
my life were at this visit. I thought he was
not a wise man to come into my cell at that
time though he did not come alone. But the
thing went no farther.

There was but one person then in all the
world that seemed to belong to me; and that
one was Elizabeth Clare! And when I thought
of her the idea of all that was to happen to
myself was forgotten; I covered my face with
my hands, and cast myself on the ground, and
I wept, for I was in desperation. While I was
being examined, and my desk searched for
papers at home, before I was carried to the Man-
sion House, I had got an opportunity to send
one word to her, "that if she wished me only
to try for my life, she should not come, nor
send, nor be known in any way in my misfor-
tune." But my scheme was to no purpose. She
had gone wild as soon as she had heard the news
of my apprehension never thought of herself,
but confessed her acquaintance with me. The
result was, she was dismissed from her employ-
ment, and it was her only means of livelihood.

She had been everywhere: to my master, to
the judge that tried me, to the magistrates,



284



LE REVENANT.



to the sheriffs, to the aldermen, she had made
her way even to the Secretary of State ! My
heart did misgive me at the thought of death ;
but, in despite of myself, I forgot fear when I
missed her usual time of coming, and gathered
from the people about me how she was em-
ployed. I had no thought about the success
or failure of her attempt. All my thoughts
were, that she was a young girl, and beautiful
hardly in her senses, and quite unprotected;
without money to help, or a friend to advise
her; pleading to strangers, humbling herself
perhaps to menials who would think her very
despair and helpless condition a challenge to
infamy and insult. Well, it nfattered little!
The thing was no worse, because I was alive
to see and suffer from it. Two days more, and
all would be over; the demons that fed on
human wretchedness would have their prey.
She would be homeless, penny less, friendless;
she should have been the companion of a forger
and a felon; it needed no witchcraft to guess
the termination.

We hear curiously, and read every day of the
visits of friends and relatives to wretched crimi-
nals condemned to die. Those who read and
hear of these things the most curiously, have
little impression of the sadness of the reality.
It was six days after my first apprehension,
when Elizabeth Clare came, for the last time,
to visit me in prison! In only these short six
days her beauty, health, strength all were
gone; years upon years of toil and sickness
could not have left a more worn-out wreck.
Death, as plainly as ever death spoke, sat in
her countenance she was broken-hearted.
When she came, I had not seen her for two
days. I could not speak, and there was an
officer of the prison with us too; I was the pro-
perty of the law now; and my mother, if she
had lived, could not have blest or wept for me
without a third person, and that a stranger,
being present.

I sat down by her on my bed stead, which
was the only place to sit on in my cell, and
wrapped her shawl close round her, for it was
very cold weather, and I was allowed no. fire;
and we sat so for almost an hour without ex-
changing a word. She had no good news to
bring me; I knew that; all I wanted to hear
was about herself I did hear! She had not a
help, nor a hope, nor a prop left upon the
earth! The only creature that sheltered her,
the only relative she had, was a married sister,
whose husband I knew to be a villain. What
would srhe do, what could she attempt? She
"did not know that;" and "it was not long
that she should be a trouble to anybody."



But "she should go to Lord S again that

evening about me. He had treated her kindly;
and she felt certain she should still succeed.
It was her fault, she had told everybody this,
all that had happened; if it had not been for
meeting her, I should never have gone into
debt, and into extravagance."

I listened, and I could only listen! I would
have died coward as I was upon the rack,
or in the fire, so I could but have left her safe.
I did not ask so much as to leave her happy !
Oh then I did think, in bitterness of spirit, if
I had but shunned temptation, and staid poor
and honest! If I could only have placed her
once more in the hard laborious poverty where
I had first found her! It was my work, and
she never could be there again! How long this
vain remorse might have lasted I cannot tell.
My head was light and giddy. I understood
the glance of the turnkey who was watching
me, "that Elizabeth must be got away;"*
but I had not strength even to attempt it.
The thing had been arranged for me. The
master of the jail entered. She went: it was
then the afternoon; and she was got away on
the pretence that she might make one more
effort to save me, with a promise that she
should return again at night. The master
was an elderly man, who had daughters of his
own; and he promised for he saw, I knew, how
the matter was to see Elizabeth safe through
the crowd of wretches among whom she must
pass to quit the prison. She went, and I knew
that she was going for ever. As she turned
back to speak as the door was closing, I knew
that I had seen her for the last time. The
door of my cell closed. We were to meet no
more on earth. I fell upon my knees, I clasped
my hands; my tears burst out afresh, and I
called on God to bless her.

It was four o'clock in the afternoon when
Elizabeth left me; and when she departed it
seemed as if my business in this world was at
an end. I could have wished, then and there,
to have died upon the spot; I had done my last
act and drunk my last draught in life. But
as the twilight drew in, my cell was cold and
damp; and the evening was dark and gloomy;
and I had no fire, nor any candle, although it
was in the month of January, nor much cover-
ing to warm me; and by degrees my spirits
weakened, and my heart sunk at the desolate
wretchedness of everything about me ; and
gradually for what I write now shall be the
| truth the thoughts of Elizabeth, and what
would be her fate, began to give way before a
sense of my own situation. This was the first
time, I cannot tell the reason why, that my



LE REVENANT.



285



mind had ever fixed itself fully upon the trial
that I had within a few hours to go through;
and as I reflet-ted on it a terror spread over
me almost in an instant, as though it were
that my sentence was just pronounced, and
that I had not known really, and seriously, that
I was to die before. I had eaten nothing for
twenty-four hours. There was food which a
religious gentleman who visited me had sent
from his own table, but I could not taste it;
and when I looked at it strange fancies came
over me. It was dainty food; not such as was
served to the prisoners in the jail. It was sent
to me because I was to die to-morrow! and I
thought of the beasts of the field and the fowls
of the air that were pampered for slaughter.
I felt that my own sensations were not as they
ought to be at this time; and I believe that for
a while I was insane.

A sort of dull humming noise, that I could
not get rid of, like the buzzing of bees, sounded
in my ears. And though it was dark, sparks
of light seemed to dance before my eyes ; and
I could recollect nothing. I tried to say my
prayers, but could only remember a word here
and there; and then it seemed to me as if these
were blasphemies that I was uttering; I don't
know what they were I cannot tell what it
was I said ; and then, on a sudden, I felt, or
thought, all this terror was useless, and that I
would not stay there to die; and I jumped up
and wrenched at the bars of my cell window
with a force that bent them, for I felt as if I
had the strength of a lion. And I felt all over
the lock of my door; and tried the door itself
with my shoulder though I knew it was plated
with iron, and heavier than that of a church;
and I groped about the very walls, and into
the corners of my dungeon though I knew
very well, if I had had my senses, that it was
all of solid stone three feet thick; and that if
I could have passed through a crevice smaller
than the eye of a needle, I had no chance of
escaping. And, in the midst of all this ex- |
ertion, a faintness came over me as though
I had swallowed poison; and I had just power
to reel to the bed-place, where I sank down,
as I think, in a swoon; but this did not last,
for my head swam round, and the cell seemed
to turn with me ; and I dreamed between
sleeping and waking that it was midnight,
and that Elizabeth had come back as she had
promised, and that they refused to admit
her. And I thought that it snowed heavily,
and that the streets were all covered with it,
as if with a white sheet, and that I saw her
dead lying in the fallen snow and in the
darkness, at the prison gate !



When I came to myself, I was struggling
and breathless. In a minute or two I heard
St. Sepulchre's clock go ten; and I knew it
was a dream that I had had; but I could not
help fancying that Elizabeth really had come
back. And I knocked loudly at the door of
my cell; and when one of the turnkeys came
I begged him, for mercy sake, to go down
to the gate and see ; and moreover to take a
small bundle containing two shirts which I
pushed to him through the grate for I had
no money; and if he would have my blessing,
to bring me but one small cup of brandy to
keep my heart alive; for I felt that I had not
the strength of a man, and should never be
able to go through my trial like one. The
turnkey shook his head at my request, as he
went away ; and said that he had not the brandy,
even if he dared run the risk to give it me.
But in a few minutes he returned bringing me
a glass of wine, which he said the master of the
jail had sent me, and hoped it would do me
good; however he would take nothing for it.
And the chaplain of the prison, too, came with-
out my sending : and for which I shall ever
have cause to thank him went himself down
to the outer gates of the jail, and pledged his
honour as a man and a Christian clergyman
that Elizabeth was not there nor had returned;
and moreover he assured me that it was not
likely she would come back, for her friends
had been told privately that she could not be
admitted; but nevertheless he should himself
be up during the whole night ; and if she should
come, although she could not be allowed to see
me, he would take care that she should have
kind treatment and protection; and I had
reason afterwards to know that he kept his
word. He then exhorted me solemnly " to
think no more of cares or troubles in this world,
but to bend my thoughts upon that to come,
and to try to reconcile my soul to Heaven ;
trusting that my sins, though they were heavy,
under repentance, might have hope of mercy."

When he was gone, I did find myself for a
little while more collected ; and I sat down
again on the bed, and tried seriously to com-
mune with myself, and prepare myself for my
fate. I recalled to my mind that I had but a
few hours more at all events to live, that there
was no hope on earth of escaping and that it
was at least better that I should die decently
and like a man. Then I tried to recollect all
the tales that I had ever heard about death
by hanging that it was said to be the sensa-
tion of a moment to give no pain to cause
the extinction of life instantaneously and so
on, to twenty other strange ideas. By degrees



286



LE REVENANT.



my head began to wander and grow unmanage-
able again. I put my hands tightly to my
throat, as though to try the sensation of strang-
ling. Then I felt my arms at the places where
the cords would be tied. I went through the
fastening of the rope, the tying of the hands
together : the thing that I felt most averse to,
was the having the white cap muffled over my
eyes and face. If I could avoid that, the rest
was not so very horrible ! In the midst of
these fancies a numbness seemed to creep over
my senses. The giddiness that I had felt
gave way to a dull stupor, which lessened the
pain that my thoughts gave me, though I still
went on thinking. The church-clock rang
midnight : I was sensible of the sound, but it
reached me indistinctly as though coming
through many closed doors, or from a far dis-
tance. By and by I saw the objects before
my mind less and less clearly then only
partially then they were gone altogether. I
fell asleep.

I slept until the hour of execution. It was
seven o'clock on the next morning, when a
knocking at the door of my cell awoke me.
I heard the sound, as though in my dreams,
for some moments before I was fully awake;
and my first sensation was only the dislike
which a weary man feels at being roused: I
was tired and wished to doze on. In a minute
after, the bolts on the outside my dungeon
were drawn ; a turnkey, carrying a small lamp,
and followed by the master of the jail and
the chaplain, entered: I looked up a shudder
like the shock of electricity like a plunge
into a bath of ice ran through me one glance
was sufficient : sleep was gone as though I
had never slept even as I never was to sleep
again I was conscious of my situation!

" R ," said the master to me, in a

subdued but steady tone, "it is time for you
to rise."

The chaplain asked me how I had passed
the night? and proposed that we should join
in prayer. I gathered myself up, and remained
seated on the side of the bed-place. My teeth
chattered, and my knees knocked together in
despite of myself. It was barely daylight yet;
and, as the cell door stood open, I could see
into the small paved court beyond: the morn-
ing was thick and gloomy; and a slow but
settled rain was coming down.

" It is half-past seven o'clock, R !" said

the master. I just mustered an entreaty to be
left alone till the last moment. I had thirty
minutes to live.

I tried to make another observation when
the master was leaving the cell; but, this time



I could not get the words out: my tongue stuck
to the roof of my mouth, and my speech seemed
gone: I made two desperate efforts; but it would
not do I could not utter. When they left
me, I never stirred from my place on the bed.
I was benumbed with the cold, probably from
the sleep and the unaccustomed exposure; and
I sat crouched together, as it were, to keep
myself warmer, with my arms folded across
my breast, and my head hanging down, shiver-
ing: and my body felt as if it were such a weight
to me that I was unable to move it, or stir.
The day now was breaking, yellow and
heavily; and the light stole by degrees into my
dungeon, showing me the damp stone walls
and desolate dark-paved floor; and, strange as
it was with all that I could do, I could not
keep myself from noticing these trifling things
- though perdition was coming upon me the
very next moment. I noticed the lamp which
the turnkey had left on the floor, and which
was burning dimly, with a long wick, being
clogged with the chill and bad air, and I
thought to myself even at that moment
that it had not been trimmed since the night
before. Arid I looked at the bare naked iron
bed-frame that I sat on; and at the heavy studs
on the door of the dungeon; and at the scrawls
and writing upon the Avail that had been
drawn by former prisoners: and I put my hand
to try my own pulse, and it was so low that I
could hardly count it: I could not feel
though I tried to make myself feel it that I
was going to DIE. In the midst of this, I heard
the chimes of the chapel-clock begin to strike;
and I thought Lord, take pity on me, a
wretch ! it could not be the three quarters after
seven yet ! The clock went over the three
quarters it chimed the fourth quarter, and
struck eight. They were in my cell before I
perceived them. They found me in the place,
and in the posture, as they had left me.

What I have farther to tell will lie in a
very small compass: my recollections are very
minute up to this point, but not at all so close
as to what occurred afterwards. I scarcely re-
collect very clearly how I got from my cell to
the press-room. I think two little withered
men, dressed in black, supported me. I know
I tried to rise when I saw the master and his
people come into my dungeon; but I could
not.

In the press-room were the two miserable
wretches that were to suffer with me; they were
bound with their arms behind them, and their
hands together: and were lying upon a bench
hard by, until I was ready. A meagre-looking
old man, with thin white hair, who was read-



LE KEVENANT.



287



ing to one of them, came up and said some-
thing " That we ought to embrace," I did
not distinctly hear what it was.

The great difficulty that I had was to keep
from falling. I had thought that these mo-
ments would have been all of fury and horror,
but I felt nothing of this; but only a weakness,
as though my heart and the very floor on
which I stood was sinking under me. I
could just make a motion, that the old white-
haired man should leave me, and some one
interfered and sent him away. The pinioning
of my hands and arms was then finished,
and I heard an officer whisper to the chaplain
that "all was ready." As we passed out one
of the men in black held a glass of water
to my lips; but I could not swallow: and Mr.

W , the master of the jail, who had bid

farewell to my companions, offered me his
hand. The blood rushed into my face once
more for one moment ! It was too much the
man who was sending me to execution to
offer to shake me by the hand !

This was the last moment but one of full
perception that I had in life. I remember our
beginning to move forward through the long-
arched passages which led from the press-room
to the scaffold. I saw the lamps that were
still burning, for the day-light never entered
here: I heard the quick tolling of the bell, and
the deep voice of the chaplain reading as he
walked before us: "I am the resurrection
and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth
in me, though he were dead, shall live. And
though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God!"

It was the funeral service the order for the
grave the office for those that were senseless
and dead over us, the quick and the living.

I felt once more and saw ! I felt the
transition from these dim, close, hot, lamp-
lighted subterranean passages, to the open
platform, and steps, at the foot of the scaffold,
:..nd to day. I saw the immense crowd black-
ening the whole area of the street below me.
The windows of the shops and houses opposite,
to the fourth story, choked with gazers. I saw
St. Sepulchre's Church through the yellow fog
in the distance, and heard the pealing of its



Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 55 of 75)