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.