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Chapter 76

  • As the locksmith walked slowly away from Sir John Chester’s chambers, h_ingered under the trees which shaded the path, almost hoping that he might b_ummoned to return. He had turned back thrice, and still loitered at th_orner, when the clock struck twelve.
  • It was a solemn sound, and not merely for its reference to to- morrow; for h_new that in that chime the murderer’s knell was rung. He had seen him pas_long the crowded street, amidst the execration of the throng; and marked hi_uivering lip, and trembling limbs; the ashy hue upon his face, his clamm_row, the wild distraction of his eye—the fear of death that swallowed up al_ther thoughts, and gnawed without cessation at his heart and brain. He ha_arked the wandering look, seeking for hope, and finding, turn where it would,
  • despair. He had seen the remorseful, pitiful, desolate creature, riding, wit_is coffin by his side, to the gibbet. He knew that, to the last, he had bee_n unyielding, obdurate man; that in the savage terror of his condition he ha_ardened, rather than relented, to his wife and child; and that the last word_hich had passed his white lips were curses on them as his enemies.
  • Mr Haredale had determined to be there, and see it done. Nothing but th_vidence of his own senses could satisfy that gloomy thirst for retributio_hich had been gathering upon him for so many years. The locksmith knew this,
  • and when the chimes had ceased to vibrate, hurried away to meet him.
  • ‘For these two men,’ he said, as he went, ‘I can do no more. Heaven have merc_n them!—Alas! I say I can do no more for them, but whom can I help? Mar_udge will have a home, and a firm friend when she most wants one; bu_arnaby—poor Barnaby—willing Barnaby—what aid can I render him? There ar_any, many men of sense, God forgive me,’ cried the honest locksmith, stoppin_n a narrow count to pass his hand across his eyes, ‘I could better afford t_ose than Barnaby. We have always been good friends, but I never knew, til_ow, how much I loved the lad.’
  • There were not many in the great city who thought of Barnaby that day,
  • otherwise than as an actor in a show which was to take place to-morrow. But i_he whole population had had him in their minds, and had wished his life to b_pared, not one among them could have done so with a purer zeal or greate_ingleness of heart than the good locksmith.
  • Barnaby was to die. There was no hope. It is not the least evil attendant upo_he frequent exhibition of this last dread punishment, of Death, that i_ardens the minds of those who deal it out, and makes them, though they b_miable men in other respects, indifferent to, or unconscious of, their grea_esponsibility. The word had gone forth that Barnaby was to die. It wen_orth, every month, for lighter crimes. It was a thing so common, that ver_ew were startled by the awful sentence, or cared to question its propriety.
  • Just then, too, when the law had been so flagrantly outraged, its dignity mus_e asserted. The symbol of its dignity,—stamped upon every page of th_riminal statute-book,—was the gallows; and Barnaby was to die.
  • They had tried to save him. The locksmith had carried petitions and memorial_o the fountain-head, with his own hands. But the well was not one of mercy,
  • and Barnaby was to die.
  • From the first his mother had never left him, save at night; and with he_eside him, he was as usual contented. On this last day, he was more elate_nd more proud than he had been yet; and when she dropped the book she ha_een reading to him aloud, and fell upon his neck, he stopped in his busy tas_f folding a piece of crape about his hat, and wondered at her anguish. Gri_ttered a feeble croak, half in encouragement, it seemed, and half i_emonstrance, but he wanted heart to sustain it, and lapsed abruptly int_ilence.
  • With them who stood upon the brink of the great gulf which none can se_eyond, Time, so soon to lose itself in vast Eternity, rolled on like a might_iver, swollen and rapid as it nears the sea. It was morning but now; they ha_at and talked together in a dream; and here was evening. The dreadful hour o_eparation, which even yesterday had seemed so distant, was at hand.
  • They walked out into the courtyard, clinging to each other, but not speaking.
  • Barnaby knew that the jail was a dull, sad, miserable place, and looke_orward to to-morrow, as to a passage from it to something bright an_eautiful. He had a vague impression too, that he was expected to b_rave—that he was a man of great consequence, and that the prison people woul_e glad to make him weep. He trod the ground more firmly as he thought o_his, and bade her take heart and cry no more, and feel how steady his han_as. ‘They call me silly, mother. They shall see to-morrow!’
  • Dennis and Hugh were in the courtyard. Hugh came forth from his cell as the_id, stretching himself as though he had been sleeping. Dennis sat upon _ench in a corner, with his knees and chin huddled together, and rocke_imself to and fro like a person in severe pain.
  • The mother and son remained on one side of the court, and these two men upo_he other. Hugh strode up and down, glancing fiercely every now and then a_he bright summer sky, and looking round, when he had done so, at the walls.
  • ‘No reprieve, no reprieve! Nobody comes near us. There’s only the night lef_ow!’ moaned Dennis faintly, as he wrung his hands. ‘Do you think they’l_eprieve me in the night, brother? I’ve known reprieves come in the night,
  • afore now. I’ve known ’em come as late as five, six, and seven o’clock in th_orning. Don’t you think there’s a good chance yet,—don’t you? Say you do. Sa_ou do, young man,’ whined the miserable creature, with an imploring gestur_owards Barnaby, ‘or I shall go mad!’
  • ‘Better be mad than sane, here,’ said Hugh. ‘Go mad.’
  • ‘But tell me what you think. Somebody tell me what he thinks!’ cried th_retched object,—so mean, and wretched, and despicable, that even Pity’s sel_ight have turned away, at sight of such a being in the likeness of _an—‘isn’t there a chance for me,— isn’t there a good chance for me? Isn’t i_ikely they may be doing this to frighten me? Don’t you think it is? Oh!’ h_lmost shrieked, as he wrung his hands, ‘won’t anybody give me comfort!’
  • ‘You ought to be the best, instead of the worst,’ said Hugh, stopping befor_im. ‘Ha, ha, ha! See the hangman, when it comes home to him!’
  • ‘You don’t know what it is,’ cried Dennis, actually writhing as he spoke: ‘_o. That I should come to be worked off! I! I! That I should come!’
  • ‘And why not?’ said Hugh, as he thrust back his matted hair to get a bette_iew of his late associate. ‘How often, before I knew your trade, did I hea_ou talking of this as if it was a treat?’
  • ‘I an’t unconsistent,’ screamed the miserable creature; ‘I’d talk so again, i_ was hangman. Some other man has got my old opinions at this minute. Tha_akes it worse. Somebody’s longing to work me off. I know by myself tha_omebody must be!’
  • ‘He’ll soon have his longing,’ said Hugh, resuming his walk. ‘Think of that,
  • and be quiet.’
  • Although one of these men displayed, in his speech and bearing, the mos_eckless hardihood; and the other, in his every word and action, testifie_uch an extreme of abject cowardice that it was humiliating to see him; i_ould be difficult to say which of them would most have repelled and shocke_n observer. Hugh’s was the dogged desperation of a savage at the stake; th_angman was reduced to a condition little better, if any, than that of a houn_ith the halter round his neck. Yet, as Mr Dennis knew and could have tol_hem, these were the two commonest states of mind in persons brought to thei_ass. Such was the wholesome growth of the seed sown by the law, that thi_ind of harvest was usually looked for, as a matter of course.
  • In one respect they all agreed. The wandering and uncontrollable train o_hought, suggesting sudden recollections of things distant and long forgotte_nd remote from each other—the vague restless craving for something undefined,
  • which nothing could satisfy—the swift flight of the minutes, fusing themselve_nto hours, as if by enchantment—the rapid coming of the solemn night—th_hadow of death always upon them, and yet so dim and faint, that objects th_eanest and most trivial started from the gloom beyond, and forced themselve_pon the view—the impossibility of holding the mind, even if they had been s_isposed, to penitence and preparation, or of keeping it to any point whil_ne hideous fascination tempted it away—these things were common to them all,
  • and varied only in their outward tokens.
  • ‘Fetch me the book I left within—upon your bed,’ she said to Barnaby, as th_lock struck. ‘Kiss me first.’
  • He looked in her face, and saw there, that the time was come. After a lon_mbrace, he tore himself away, and ran to bring it to her; bidding her no_tir till he came back. He soon returned, for a shriek recalled him,—but sh_as gone.
  • He ran to the yard-gate, and looked through. They were carrying her away. Sh_ad said her heart would break. It was better so.
  • ‘Don’t you think,’ whimpered Dennis, creeping up to him, as he stood with hi_eet rooted to the ground, gazing at the blank walls—‘don’t you think there’_till a chance? It’s a dreadful end; it’s a terrible end for a man like me.
  • Don’t you think there’s a chance? I don’t mean for you, I mean for me. Don’_et him hear us (meaning Hugh); ‘he’s so desperate.’
  • Now then,’ said the officer, who had been lounging in and out with his hand_n his pockets, and yawning as if he were in the last extremity for som_ubject of interest: ‘it’s time to turn in, boys.’
  • ‘Not yet,’ cried Dennis, ‘not yet. Not for an hour yet.’
  • ‘I say,—your watch goes different from what it used to,’ returned the man.
  • ‘Once upon a time it was always too fast. It’s got the other fault now.’
  • ‘My friend,’ cried the wretched creature, falling on his knees, ‘my dea_riend—you always were my dear friend—there’s some mistake. Some letter ha_een mislaid, or some messenger has been stopped upon the way. He may hav_allen dead. I saw a man once, fall down dead in the street, myself, and h_ad papers in his pocket. Send to inquire. Let somebody go to inquire. The_ever will hang me. They never can.—Yes, they will,’ he cried, starting to hi_eet with a terrible scream. ‘They’ll hang me by a trick, and keep the pardo_ack. It’s a plot against me. I shall lose my life!’ And uttering anothe_ell, he fell in a fit upon the ground.
  • ‘See the hangman when it comes home to him!’ cried Hugh again, as they bor_im away—‘Ha ha ha! Courage, bold Barnaby, what care we? Your hand! They d_ell to put us out of the world, for if we got loose a second time, w_ouldn’t let them off so easy, eh? Another shake! A man can die but once. I_ou wake in the night, sing that out lustily, and fall asleep again. Ha h_a!’
  • Barnaby glanced once more through the grate into the empty yard; and the_atched Hugh as he strode to the steps leading to his sleeping-cell. He hear_im shout, and burst into a roar of laughter, and saw him flourish his hat.
  • Then he turned away himself, like one who walked in his sleep; and, withou_ny sense of fear or sorrow, lay down on his pallet, listening for the cloc_o strike again.