He uttered the last words in a deep and intense tone; and turning away as the joyful peal again broke distinctly on his ear,—
"My marriage-bell! Oh, Madeline, how wondrously beloved, how unspeakably dear thou art to me! What hast thou conquered! How many reasons for resolve, how vast an army in the Past, has thy bright and tender purity overthrown! But thou—No, never shalt thou repent!" And for several minutes the sole thought of the soliloquist was love. But scarce consciously to himself, a spirit, not, to all seeming, befitted to that bridal-day,—vague, restless, impressed with the dark and fluttering shadow of coming change,—had taken possession of his breast, and did not long yield the mastery to any brighter and more serene emotion.
"And why," he said, as this spirit regained its empire over him, and he paused before the "starred tubes" of his beloved science,—"and why this chill, this shiver, in the midst of hope? Can the mere breath of the seasons, the weight or lightness of the atmosphere, the outward gloom or smile of the brute mass called Nature, affect us thus? Out on this empty science, this vain knowledge, this little lore, if we are so fooled by the vile clay and the common air from our one great empire, self! Great God! hast thou made us in mercy, or in disdain? Placed in this narrow world, darkness and cloud around us; no fixed rule for men; creeds, morals, changing in every clime, and growing like herbs upon the mere soil,—we struggle to dispel the shadows; we grope around; from our own heart and our sharp and hard endurance we strike our only light. For what? To show us what dupes we are,—creatures of accident, tools of circumstance, blind instruments of the scorner Fate; the very mind, the very reason, a bound slave to the desires, the weakness of the clay; affected by a cloud, dulled by the damps of the foul marsh; stricken from power to weakness, from sense to madness, to gaping idiocy, or delirious raving, by a putrid exhalation! A rheum, a chill, and Caesar trembles! The world's gods, that slay or enlighten millions, poor puppets to the same rank imp which calls up the fungus or breeds the worm,—pah! How little worth is it in this life to be wise! Strange, strange, how my heart sinks. Well, the better sign, the better sign! In danger it never sank."
Absorbed in these reflections, Aram had not for some minutes noticed the sudden ceasing of the bell; but now, as he again paused from his irregular and abrupt pacings along the chamber, the silence struck him, and looking forth, and striving again to catch the note, he saw a little group of men, among whom he marked the erect and comely form of Rowland Lester, approaching towards the house.
"What!" he thought, "do they come for me? Is it so late? Have I played the laggard? Nay, it yet wants near an hour to the time they expected me. Well, some kindness, some attention from my good father-in-law; I must thank him for it. What! my hand trembles. How weak are these poor nerves; I must rest and recall my mind to itself!"
And indeed, whether or not from the novelty and importance of the event he was about to celebrate, or from some presentiment, occasioned, as he would fain believe, by the mournful and sudden change in the atmosphere, an embarrassment, a wavering, a fear, very unwonted to the calm and stately self-possession of Eugene Aram, made itself painfully felt throughout his frame. He sank down in his chair and strove to re-collect himself; it was an effort in which he had just succeeded, when a loud knocking was heard at the outer door; it swung open; several voices were heard. Aram sprang up, pale, breathless, his lips apart.
"Great God!" he exclaimed, clasping his hands. "'Murderer!'—was that the word I heard shouted forth? The voice, too, is Walter Lester's. Has he returned? Can he have learned—?"
To rush to the door, to throw across it a long, heavy iron bar, which would resist assaults of no common strength, was his first impulse. Thus enabled to gain time for reflection, his active and alarmed mind ran over the whole field of expedient and conjecture. Again, "Murderer!" "Stay me not," cried Walter, from below; "my hand shall seize the murderer!"
Guess was now over; danger and death were marching on him. Escape,—how? whither? The height forbade the thought of flight from the casement! The door?—he heard loud steps already hurrying up the stairs; his hands clutched convulsively at his breast, where his fire-arms were generally concealed,—they were left below. He glanced one lightning glance round the room; no weapon of any kind was at hand. His brain reeled for a moment, his breath gasped, a mortal sickness passed over his heart, and then the MIND triumphed over all. He drew up to his full height, folded his arms doggedly on his breast, and muttering, "The accuser comes,—I have it still to refute the charge!" he stood prepared to meet, nor despairing to evade, the worst.
As waters close over the object which divided them, all these thoughts, these fears, and this resolution had been but the work, the agitation, and the succeeding calm of the moment; that moment was past.
"Admit us!" cried the voice of Walter Lester, knocking fiercely at the door.
"Not so fervently, boy," said Lester, laying his hand on his nephew's shoulder; "your tale is yet to be proved,—I believe it not. Treat him as innocent, I pray,—I command,—till you have shown him guilty."
"Away, uncle!" said the fiery Walter; "he is my father's murderer. God hath given justice to my hands." These words, uttered in a lower key than before, were but indistinctly heard by Aram through the massy door.
"Open, or we force our entrance!" shouted Walter again; and Aram, speaking for the first time, replied in a clear and sonorous voice, so that an angel, had one spoken, could not have more deeply impressed the heart of Rowland Lester with a conviction of the student's innocence,
"Who knocks so rudely? What means this violence? I open my doors to my friends. Is it a friend who asks it?"
"I ask it," said Rowland Lester, in a trembling and agitated voice. "There seems some dreadful mistake: come forth, Eugene, and rectify it by a word."
"Is it you, Rowland Lester? It is enough. I was but with my books, and had secured myself from intrusion. Enter." The bar was withdrawn, the door was burst open, and even Walter Lester, even the officers of justice with him, drew back for a moment as they beheld the lofty brow, the majestic presence, the features so unutterably calm, of Eugene Aram. "What want you, sirs?" said he, unmoved and unfaltering, though in the officers of justice he recognized faces he had known before, and in that distant town in which all that he dreaded in the past lay treasured up. At the sound of his voice the spell that for an instant had arrested the step of the avenging son melted away.
"Seize him!" he cried to the officers; "you see your prisoner."
"Hold!" cried Aram, drawing back. "By what authority is this outrage,—for what am I arrested?"
"Behold," said Walter, speaking through his teeth, "behold our warrant! You are accused of murder! Know you the name of Richard Houseman,—pause, consider,—or that of Daniel Clarke?"
Slowly Aram lifted his eyes from the warrant, and it might be seen that his face was a shade more pale, though his look did not quail, or his nerves tremble. Slowly he turned his gaze upon Walter; and then, after one moment's survey, dropped it once more on the paper.
"The name of Houseman is not unfamiliar to me," said he calmly, but with effort.
"And knew you Daniel Clarke
"What mean these questions?" said Aram, losing temper, and stamping violently on the ground. "Is it thus that a man, free and guiltless, is to be questioned at the behest, or rather outrage, of every lawless boy? Lead me to some authority meet for me to answer; for you, boy, my answer is contempt."
"Big words shall not save thee, murderer!" cried Walter, breaking from his uncle, who in vain endeavored to hold him, and laying his powerful grasp upon Aram's shoulder. Livid was the glare that shot from the student's eye upon his assailer; and so fearfully did his features work and change with the passions within him that even Walter felt a strange shudder thrill through his frame.
"Gentlemen," said Aram at last, mastering his emotions, and resuming some portion of the remarkable dignity that characterized his usual bearing, as he turned towards the officers of justice, "I call upon you to discharge your duty. If this be a rightful warrant, I am your prisoner, but I am not this man's. I command your protection from him!"
Walter had already released his gripe, and said, in a muttered voice,
"My passion misled me; violence is unworthy my solemn cause. God and Justice—not these hands—are my avengers."
"Your avengers!" said Aram. "What dark words are these? This warrant accuses me of the murder of one Daniel Clarke. What is he to thee?"
"Mark me, man!" said Walter, fixing his eyes on Aram's countenance. "The name of Daniel Clarke was a feigned name; the real name was Geoffrey Lester: that murdered Lester was my father, and the brother of him whose daughter, had I not come to-day, you would have called your wife!"
Aram felt, while these words were uttered, that the eyes of all in the room were on him; and perhaps that knowledge enabled him not to reveal by outward sign what must have passed within during the awful trial of that moment.
"It is a dreadful tale," he said, "if true,—dreadful to me, so nearly allied to that family. But as yet I grapple with shadows."
"What! does not your conscience now convict you?" cried Walter, staggered by the calmness of the prisoner. But here Lester, who could no longer contain himself, interposed; he put by his nephew, and rushing to Aram, fell, weeping, upon his neck.
"I do not accuse thee, Eugene, my son, my son! I feel, I know thou art innocent of this monstrous crime; some horrid delusion darkens that poor boy's sight. You, you, who would walk aside to save a worm!" and the poor old man, overcome with his emotions, could literally say no more.
Aram looked down on Lester with a compassionate expression; and soothing him with kind words, and promises that all would be explained, gently moved from his hold, and, anxious to terminate the scene, silently motioned the officers to proceed. Struck with the calmness and dignity of his manner, and fully impressed by it with the notion of his innocence, the officers treated him with a marked respect; they did not even walk by his side, but suffered him to follow their steps. As they descended the stairs, Aram turned round to Walter, with a bitter and reproachful countenance,
"And so, young man, your malice against me has reached even to this! Will nothing but my life content you?"
"Is the desire of execution on my father's murderer but the wish of malice?" retorted Walter; though his heart yet well-nigh misgave him as to the grounds on which his suspicion rested.
Aram smiled, as half in scorn, half through incredulity; and, shaking his head gently, moved on without further words.
The three old women, who had remained in listening astonishment at the foot of the stairs, gave way as the men descended; but the one who so long had been Aram's solitary domestic, and who, from her deafness, was still benighted and uncomprehending as to the causes of his seizure, though from that very reason her alarm was the greater and more acute, she, impatiently thrusting away the officers, and mumbling some unintelligible anathema as she did so, flung herself at the feet of a master whose quiet habits and constant kindness had endeared him to her humble and faithful heart, and exclaimed,—
"What are they doing? Have they the heart to ill-use you? O master, God bless you! God shield you! I shall never see you, who was my only friend—who was every one's friend—any more!"
Aram drew himself from her, and said, with a quivering lip to Rowland Lester,—
"If her fears are true—if—if I never more return hither, see that her old age does not starve—does not want." Lester could not speak for sobbing, but the request was remembered. And now Aram, turning aside his proud head to conceal his emotion, beheld open the door of the room so trimly prepared for Madeline's reception: the flowers smiled upon him from their stands. "Lead on, gentlemen," he said quickly. And so Eugene Aram passed his threshold!
"Ho, ho!" muttered the old hag whose predictions in the morning had been so ominous,—"ho, ho! you'll believe Goody Darkmans another time! Providence respects the sayings of the ould. 'T was not for nothing the rats grinned at me last night. But let's in and have a warm glass. He, he! there will be all the strong liquors for us now; the Lord is merciful to the poor!"
As the little group proceeded through the valley, the officers first, Aram and Lester side by side, Walter, with his hand on his pistol and his eye on the prisoner, a little behind, Lester endeavored to cheer the prisoner's spirits and his own by insisting on the madness of the charge and the certainty of instant acquittal from the magistrate to whom they were bound, and who was esteemed the one both most acute and most just in the county. Aram interrupted him somewhat abruptly,
"My friend, enough of this presently. But Madeline, what knows she as yet?"
"Nothing; of course, we kept—"
"Exactly, exactly; you have done wisely. Why need she learn anything as yet? Say an arrest for debt, a mistake, an absence but of a day or so at most,—you understand?"
"Yes. Will you not see her, Eugene, before you go, and say this yourself?"
"I!—O God!—I! to whom this day was—No, no; save me, I implore you, from the agony of such a contrast,—an interview so mournful and unavailing. No, we must not meet! But whither go we now? Not, not, surely, through all the idle gossips of the village,—the crowd already excited to gape and stare and speculate on the—"
"No," interrupted Lester; "the carriages await us at the farther end of the valley. I thought of that,—for the rash boy behind seems to have changed his nature. I loved—Heaven knows how I loved my brother! But before I would let suspicion thus blind reason, I would suffer inquiry to sleep forever on his fate."
"Your nephew," said Aram, "has ever wronged me. But waste not words on him; let us think only of Madeline. Will you go back at once to her,—tell her a tale to lull her apprehensions, and then follow us with haste? I am alone among enemies till you come."
Lester was about to answer, when, at a turn in the road which brought the carriage within view, they perceived two figures in white hastening towards them; and ere Aram was prepared for the surprise, Madeline had sunk pale, trembling, and all breathless on his breast.
"I could not keep her back," said Ellinor, apologetically, to her father.
"Back! and why? Am I not in my proper place?" cried Madeline, lifting her face from Aram's breast; and then, as her eyes circled the group, and rested on Aram's countenance, now no longer calm, but full of woe, of passion, of disappointed love, of anticipated despair, she rose, and gradually recoiling with a fear which struck dumb her voice, thrice attempted to speak, and thrice failed.
"But what—what is—what means this?" exclaimed Ellinor. "Why do you weep, father? Why does Eugene turn away his face? You answer not. Speak, for God's sake! These strangers,—what are they? And you, Walter, you,—why are you so pale? Why do you thus knit your brows and fold your arms! You, you will tell me the meaning of this dreadful silence,—this scene. Speak, cousin, dear cousin, speak!"
"Speak!" cried Madeline, finding voice at length, but in the sharp and straining tone of wild terror, in which they recognized no note of the natural music. The single word sounded rather as a shriek than an adjuration; and so piercingly it ran through the hearts of all present that the very officers, hardened as their trade had made them, felt as if they would rather have faced death than answered that command.
A dead, long, dreary pause, and Aram broke it. "Madeline Lester," said he, "prove yourself worthy of the hour of trial. Exert yourself; arouse your heart; be prepared! You are the betrothed of one whose soul never quailed before man's angry word. Remember that, and fear not!"
"I will not, I will not, Eugene! Speak, only speak!"
"You have loved me in good report; trust me now in ill. They accuse me of a crime,—a heinous crime! At first I would not have told you the real charge. Pardon me, I wronged you,—now, know all! They accuse me, I say, of crime. Of what crime? you ask. Ay, I scarce know, so vague is the charge, so fierce the accuser; but prepare, Madeline,—it is of murder!"
Raised as her spirits had been by the haughty and earnest tone of Aram's exhortation, Madeline now, though she turned deadly pale, though the earth swam round and round, yet repressed the shriek upon her lips as those horrid words shot into her soul.
"You!—murder!—you! And who dares accuse you?"
"Behold him,—your cousin!"
Ellinor heard, turned, fixed her eyes on Walter's sullen brow and motionless attitude, and fell senseless to the earth. Not thus Madeline. As there is an exhaustion that forbids, not invites repose, so when the mind is thoroughly on the rack, the common relief to anguish is not allowed; the senses are too sharply strung, thus happily to collapse into forgetfulness; the dreadful inspiration that agony kindles, supports nature while it consumes it. Madeline passed, without a downward glance, by the lifeless body of her sister; and walking with a steady step to Walter, she laid her hand upon his arm, and fixing on his countenance that soft clear eye, which was now lit with a searching and preternatural glare, and seemed to pierce into his soul, she said,
"Walter, do I hear aright? Am I awake? Is it you who accuse Eugene Aram,—your Madeline's betrothed husband,—Madeline, whom you once loved? Of what? Of crimes which death alone can punish. Away! It is not you,—I know it is not. Say that I am mistaken,—that I am mad, if you will. Come, Walter, relieve me; let me not abhor the very air you breathe!"
"Will no one have mercy on me?" cried Walter, rent to the heart, and covering his face with his hands. In the fire and heat of vengeance he had not reeked of this. He had only thought of justice to a father, punishment to a villain, rescue for a credulous girl. The woe, the horror he was about to inflict on all he most loved: this had not struck upon him with a due force till now!
"Mercy—you talk of mercy! I knew it could not be true!" said Madeline, trying to pluck her cousin's hand from his face; "you could not have dreamed of wrong to Eugene and—and upon this day. Say we have erred, or that you have erred, and we will forgive and bless you even now!" Aram had not interfered in this scene; he kept his eyes fixed on the cousins, not uninterested to see what effect Madeline's touching words might produce on his accuser. Meanwhile she continued: "Speak to me, Walter, dear Walter, speak to me'. Are you, my cousin, my playfellow,—are you the one to blight our hopes, to dash our joys, to bring dread and terror into a home so lately all peace and sunshine, your own home, your childhood's home? What have you done? What have you dared to do? Accuse him! Of what? Murder! Speak, speak. Murder, ha! ha!—murder! nay, not so! You would not venture to come here, you would not let me take your hand, you would not look us, your uncle, your more than sisters, in the face if you could nurse in your heart this lie,—this black, horrid lie!"
Walter withdrew his hands, and as he turned his face said,—
"Let him prove his innocence. Pray God he do! I am not his accuser, Madeline. His accusers are the bones of my dead father! Save these, Heaven alone and the revealing earth are witness against him!"
"Your father!" said Madeline, staggering back,—"my lost uncle! Nay, now I know indeed what a shadow has appalled us all! Did you know my uncle, Eugene? Did you ever see Geoffrey Lester?"
"Never, as I believe, so help me God!" said Aram, laying his hand on his heart. "But this is idle now," as, recollecting himself, he felt that the case had gone forth from Walter's hands, and that appeal to him had become vain. "Leave us now, dearest Madeline, my beloved wife that shall be, that is! I go to disprove these charges. Perhaps I shall return to-night. Delay not my acquittal, even from doubt,—a boy's doubt. Come, sirs."
"O Eugene! Eugene!" cried Madeline, throwing herself on her knees before hint, "do not order me to leave you now, now in the hour of dread! I will not. Nay, look not so! I swear I will not! Father, dear father, come and plead for me,—say I shall go with you. I ask nothing more. Do not fear for my nerves,—cowardice is gone. I will not shame you, I will not play the woman. I know what is due to one who loves him. Try me, only try me. You weep, father, you shake your head. But you, Eugene,—you have not the heart to deny me? Think—think if I stayed here to count the moments till you return, my very senses would leave me. What do I ask? But to go with you, to be the first to hail your triumph! Had this happened two hours hence, you could not have said me nay,—I should have claimed the right to be with you; I now but implore the blessing. You relent, you relent; I see it!"
"O Heaven!" exclaimed Aram, rising, and clasping her to his breast, and wildly kissing her face, but with cold and trembling lips, "this is indeed a bitter hour; let me not sink beneath it. Yes, Madeline, ask your father if he consents; I hail your strengthening presence as that of an angel. I will not be the one to sever you from my side."
"You are right, Eugene," said Lester, who was supporting Ellinor, not yet recovered,—"let her go with us; it is but common kindness and common mercy."
Madeline uttered a cry of joy (joy even at such a moment!), and clung fast to Eugene's arm, as if for assurance that they were not indeed to be separated.
By this time some of Lester's servants, who had from a distance followed their young mistresses, reached the spot. To their care Lester gave the still scarce reviving Ellinor; and then, turning round with a severe countenance to Walter, said, "Come, sir, your rashness has done sufficient wrong for the present; come now, and see how soon your suspicions will end in shame."
"Justice, and blood for blood!" said Walter, sternly; but his heart felt as if it were broken. His venerable uncle's tears, Madeline's look of horror as she turned from him, Ellinor all lifeless, and he not daring to approach her,—this was HIS work! He pulled his hat over his eyes, and hastened into the carriage alone. Lester, Madeline, and Aram followed in the other vehicle; and the two officers contented themselves with mounting the box, certain the prisoner would attempt no escape.
THE JUSTICE—THE DEPARTURE—THE EQUANIMITY OF THE CORPORAL IN BEARING THE MISFORTUNES OF OTHER PEOPLE.—THE EXAMINATION; ITS RESULT.—ARAM'S CONDUCT IN PRISON.—THE ELASTICITY OF OUR HUMAN NATURE.—A VISIT FROM THE EARL.—WALTER'S DETERMINATION.—MADELINE.
Bear me to prison, where I am committed. —Measure for Measure.
On arriving at Sir—'s, a disappointment, for which, had they previously conversed with the officers they might have been prepared, awaited them. The fact was, that the justice had only endorsed the warrant sent from Yorkshire; and after a very short colloquy, in which he expressed his regret at the circumstance, his conviction that the charge would be disproved, and a few other courteous common-places, he gave Aram to understand that the matter now did not rest with him, but that it was to Yorkshire that the officers were bound, and before Mr. Thornton, a magistrate of that country, that the examination was to take place. "All I can do," said the magistrate, "I have already done; but I wished for an opportunity of informing you of it. I have written to my brother justice at full length respecting your high character, and treating the habits and rectitude of your life alone as a sufficient refutation of so monstrous a charge."
For the first time a visible embarrassment came over the firm nerves of the prisoner: he seemed to look with great uneasiness at the prospect of this long and dreary journey, and for such an end. Perhaps, the very notion of returning as a suspected criminal to that part of the country where a portion of his youth had been passed, was sufficient to disquiet and deject him. All this while his poor Madeline seemed actuated by a spirit beyond herself; she would not be separated from his side—she held his hand in hers—she whispered comfort and courage at the very moment when her own heart most sank. The magistrate wiped his eyes when he saw a creature so young, so beautiful, in circumstances so fearful, and bearing up with an energy so little to be expected from her years and delicate appearance. Aram said but little; he covered his face with his right hand for a few moments, as if to hide a passing emotion, a sudden weakness. When he removed it, all vestige of colour had died away; his face was pale as that of one who has risen from the grave; but it was settled and composed.
"It is a hard pang, Sir," said he, with a faint smile; "so many miles—so many days—so long a deferment of knowing the best, or preparing to meet the worst. But, be it so! I thank you, Sir,—I thank you all,—Lester, Madeline, for your kindness; you two must now leave me; the brand is on my name—the suspected man is no fit object for love or friendship! Farewell!"
"We go with you!" said Madeline firmly, and in a very low voice.
Aram's eye sparkled, but he waved his hand impatiently.
"We go with you, my friend!" repeated Lester.
And so, indeed, not to dwell long on a painful scene, it was finally settled. Lester and his two daughters that evening followed Aram to the dark and fatal bourne to which he was bound.
It was in vain that Walter, seizing his uncle's hands, whispered,
"For Heaven's sake, do not be rash in your friendship! You have not yet learnt all. I tell you, that there can be no doubt of his guilt! Remember, it is a brother for whom you mourn! will you countenance his murderer?"
Lester, despite himself, was struck by the earnestness with which his nephew spoke, but the impression died away as the words ceased: so strong and deep had been the fascination which Eugene Aram had exercised over the hearts of all once drawn within the near circle of his attraction, that had the charge of murder been made against himself, Lester could not have repelled it with a more entire conviction of the innocence of the accused. Still, however, the deep sincerity of his nephew's manner in some measure served to soften his resentment towards him.
"No, no, boy!" said he, drawing away his hand, "Rowland Lester is not the one to desert a friend in the day of darkness and the hour of need. Be silent I say!—My brother, my poor brother, you tell me, has been murdered. I will see justice done to him: but, Aram! Fie! fie! it is a name that would whisper falsehood to the loudest accusation. Go, Walter! go! I do not blame you!—you may be right—a murdered father is a dread and awful memory to a son! What wonder that the thought warps your judgment? But go! Eugene was to me both a guide and a blessing; a father in wisdom, a son in love. I cannot look on his accuser's face without anguish. Go! we shall meet again.—How! Go!"
"Enough, Sir!" said Walter, partly in anger, partly in sorrow—"Time be the judge between us all!"
With those words he turned from the house, and proceeded on foot towards a cottage half way between Grassdale and the Magistrate's house, at which, previous to his return to the former place, he had prudently left the Corporal—not willing to trust to that person's discretion, as to the tales and scandal that he might propagate throughout the village on a matter so painful and so dark.
Let the world wag as it will, there are some tempers which its vicissitudes never reach. Nothing makes a picture of distress more sad than the portrait of some individual sitting indifferently looking on in the back-ground. This was a secret Hogarth knew well. Mark his deathbed scenes:—Poverty and Vice worked up into horror—and the Physicians in the corner wrangling for the fee!—or the child playing with the coffin—or the nurse filching what fortune, harsh, yet less harsh than humanity, might have left. In the melancholy depth of humour that steeps both our fancy and our heart in the immortal Romance of Cervantes (for, how profoundly melancholy is it to be compelled by one gallant folly to laugh at all that is gentle, and brave, and wise, and generous!) nothing grates on us more than when—last scene of all, the poor Knight lies dead—his exploits for ever over—for ever dumb his eloquent discourses: than when, I say, we are told that, despite of his grief, even little Sancho did not eat or drink the less:—these touches open to us the real world, it is true; but it is not the best part of it. What a pensive thing is true humour! Certain it was, that when Walter, full of contending emotions at all he had witnessed,—harassed, tortured, yet also elevated, by his feelings, stopped opposite the cottage door, and saw there the Corporal sitting comfortably in the porch,—his vile modicum Sabini before him—his pipe in his mouth, and a complacent expression of satisfaction diffusing itself over features which shrewdness and selfishness had marked for their own;—certain it was, that, at this sight Walter experienced a more displeasing revulsion of feeling—a more entire conviction of sadness—a more consummate disgust of this weary world and the motley masquers that walk thereon, than all the tragic scenes he had just witnessed had excited within him.
"And well, Sir," said the Corporal, slowly rising, "how did it go off?—Wasn't the villain bash'd to the dust?—You've nabbed him safe, I hope?"
"Silence," said Walter, sternly, "prepare for our departure. The chaise will be here forthwith; we return to Yorkshire this day. Ask me no more now."
"A—well—baugh!" said the Corporal.
There was a long silence. Walter walked to and fro the road before the cottage. The chaise arrived; the luggage was put in. Walter's foot was on the step; but before the Corporal mounted the rumbling dickey, that invaluable domestic hemmed thrice.
"And had you time, Sir, to think of poor Jacob, and look at the cottage, and slip in a word to your uncle about the bit tato ground?"
We pass over the space of time, short in fact, long in suffering, that elapsed, till the prisoner and his companions reached Knaresbro'. Aram's conduct during this time was not only calm but cheerful. The stoical doctrines he had affected through life, he on this trying interval called into remarkable exertion. He it was who now supported the spirits of his mistress and his friend; and though he no longer pretended to be sanguine of acquittal—though again and again he urged upon them the gloomy fact—first, how improbable it was that this course had been entered into against him without strong presumption of guilt; and secondly, how little less improbable it was, that at that distance of time he should be able to procure evidence, or remember circumstances, sufficient on the instant to set aside such presumption,—he yet dwelt partly on the hope of ultimate proof of his innocence, and still more strongly on the firmness of his own mind to bear, without shrinking, even the hardest fate.
"Do not," he said to Lester, "do not look on these trials of life only with the eyes of the world. Reflect how poor and minute a segment in the vast circle of eternity existence is at the best. Its sorrow and its shame are but moments. Always in my brightest and youngest hours I have wrapt my heart in the contemplation of an august futurity.
"'The soul, secure in its existence, smiles At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.'
"If I die even the death of the felon, it is beyond the power of fate to separate us for long. It is but a pang, and we are united again for ever; for ever in that far and shadowy clime, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.' Were it not for Madeline's dear sake, I should long since have been over weary of the world. As it is, the sooner, even by a violent and unjust fate, we leave a path begirt with snares below and tempests above, the happier for that soul which looks to its lot in this earth as the least part of its appointed doom."
In discourses like this, which the nature of his eloquence was peculiarly calculated to render solemn and impressive, Aram strove to prepare his friends for the worst, and perhaps to cheat, or to steel, himself. Ever as he spoke thus, Lester or Ellinor broke on him with impatient remonstrance; but Madeline, as if imbued with a deeper and more mournful penetration into the future, listened in tearless and breathless attention. She gazed upon him with a look that shared the thought he expressed, though it read not (yet she dreamed so) the heart from which it came. In the words of that beautiful poet, to whose true nature, so full of unuttered tenderness—so fraught with the rich nobility of love—we have begun slowly to awaken,
"Her lip was silent, scarcely beat her heart. Her eye alone proclaimed 'we will not part!' Thy 'hope' may perish, or thy friends may flee. Farewell to life—but not adieu to thee!" —[Lara]
They arrived at noon at the house of Mr. Thornton, and Aram underwent his examination. Though he denied most of the particulars in Houseman's evidence, and expressly the charge of murder, his commitment was made out; and that day he was removed by the officers, (Barker and Moor, who had arrested him at Grassdale,) to York Castle, to await his trial at the assizes.
The sensation which this extraordinary event created throughout the country, was wholly unequalled. Not only in Yorkshire, and the county in which he had of late resided, where his personal habits were known, but even in the Metropolis, and amongst men of all classes in England, it appears to have caused one mingled feeling of astonishment, horror, and incredulity, which in our times has had no parallel in any criminal prosecution. The peculiar turn of the prisoner—his genius—his learning—his moral life—the interest that by students had been for years attached to his name—his approaching marriage—the length of time that had elapsed since the crime had been committed—the singular and abrupt manner, the wild and legendary spot, in which the skeleton of the lost man had been discovered—the imperfect rumours—the dark and suspicious evidence—all combined to make a tale of such marvellous incident, and breeding such endless conjecture, that we cannot wonder to find it afterwards received a place, not only in the temporary chronicles, but even the most important and permanent histories of the period.
Previous to Walter's departure from Knaresbro' to Grassdale, and immediately subsequent to the discovery at St. Robert's Cave, the coroner's inquest had been held upon the bones so mysteriously and suddenly brought to light. Upon the witness of the old woman at whose house Aram had lodged, and upon that of Houseman, aided by some circumstantial and less weighty evidence, had been issued that warrant on which we have seen the prisoner apprehended.
With most men there was an intimate and indignant persuasion of Aram's innocence; and at this day, in the county where he last resided, there still lingers the same belief. Firm as his gospel faith, that conviction rested in the mind of the worthy Lester; and he sought, by every means he could devise, to soothe and cheer the confinement of his friend. In prison, however (indeed after his examination—after Aram had made himself thoroughly acquainted with all the circumstantial evidence which identified Clarke with Geoffrey Lester, a story that till then he had persuaded himself wholly to disbelieve) a change which, in the presence of Madeline or her father, he vainly attempted wholly to conceal, and to which, when alone, he surrendered himself with a gloomy abstraction—came over his mood, and dashed him from the lofty height of Philosophy, from which he had before looked down on the peril and the ills below.
Sometimes he would gaze on Lester with a strange and glassy eye, and mutter inaudibly to himself, as if unaware of the old man's presence; at others, he would shrink from Lester's proffered hand, and start abruptly from his professions of unaltered, unalterable regard; sometimes he would sit silently, and, with a changeless and stony countenance, look upon Madeline as she now spoke in that exalted tone of consolation which had passed away from himself; and when she had done, instead of replying to her speech, he would say abruptly, "Ay, at the worst you love me, then—love me better than any one on earth—say that, Madeline, again say that!"
And Madeline's trembling lips obeyed the demand.
"Yes," he would renew, "this man, whom they accuse me of murdering, this,—your uncle,—him you never saw since you were an infant, a mere infant; him you could not love! What was he to you?—yet it is dreadful to think of—dreadful, dreadful;" and then again his voice ceased; but his lips moved convulsively, and his eyes seemed to speak meanings that defied words. These alterations in his bearing, which belied his steady and resolute character, astonished and dejected both Madeline and her father. Sometimes they thought that his situation had shaken his reason, or that the horrible suspicion of having murdered the uncle of his intended wife, made him look upon themselves with a secret shudder, and that they were mingled up in his mind by no unnatural, though unjust confusion, with the causes of his present awful and uncertain state. With the generality of the world, these two tender friends believed Houseman the sole and real murderer, and fancied his charge against Aram was but the last expedient of a villain to ward punishment from himself, by imputing crime to another. Naturally, then, they frequently sought to turn the conversation upon Houseman, and on the different circumstances that had brought him acquainted with Aram; but on this ground the prisoner seemed morbidly sensitive, and averse to detailed discussion. His narration, however, such as it was, threw much light upon certain matters on which Madeline and Lester were before anxious and inquisitive.
"Houseman is, in all ways," said he, with great and bitter vehemence, "unredeemed, and beyond the calculations of an ordinary wickedness; we knew each other from our relationship, but seldom met, and still more rarely held long intercourse together. After we separated, when I left Knaresbro', we did not meet for years. He sought me at Grassdale; he was poor, and implored assistance; I gave him all within my power; he sought me again, nay, more than once again, and finding me justly averse to yielding to his extortionate demands, he then broached the purpose he has now effected; he threatened—you hear me—you understand—he threatened me with this charge—the murder of Daniel Clarke, by that name alone I knew the deceased. The menace, and the known villainy of the man, agitated me beyond expression. What was I? a being who lived without the world—who knew not its ways—who desired only rest! The menace haunted me—almost maddened! Your nephew has told you, you say, of broken words, of escaping emotions, which he has noted, even to suspicion, in me; you now behold the cause! Was it not sufficient? My life, nay more, my fame, my marriage, Madeline's peace of mind, all depended on the uncertain fury or craft of a wretch like this! The idea was with me night and day; to avoid it, I resolved on a sacrifice; you may blame me, I was weak, yet I thought then not unwise; to avoid it, I say I offered to bribe this man to leave the country. I sold my pittance to oblige him to it. I bound him thereto by the strongest ties. Nay, so disinterestedly, so truly did I love Madeline, that I would not wed while I thought this danger could burst upon me. I believed that, before my marriage day, Houseman had left the country. It was not so, Fate ordered otherwise. It seems that Houseman came to Knaresbro' to see his daughter; that suspicion, by a sudden train of events, fell on him, perhaps justly; to skreen himself he has sacrificed me. The tale seems plausible; perhaps the accuser may triumph. But, Madeline, you now may account for much that may have perplexed you before. Let me remember—ay—ay—I have dropped mysterious words—have I not? have I not?—owning that danger was around me—owning that a wild and terrific secret was heavy at my breast; nay, once, walking with you the evening before, before the fatal day, I said that we must prepare to seek some yet more secluded spot, some deeper retirement; for, despite my precautions, despite the supposed absence of Houseman from the country itself, a fevered and restless presentiment would at some times intrude itself on me. All this is now accounted for, is it not, Madeline? Speak, speak!"
"All, love all! Why do you look on me with that searching eye, that frowning brow?"
"Did I? no, no, I have no frown for you; but peace, I am not what I ought to be through this ordeal."
The above narration of Aram's did indeed account to Madeline for much that had till then remained unexplained; the appearance of Houseman at Grassdale,—the meeting between him and Aram on the evening she walked with the latter, and questioned him of his ill-boding visitor; the frequent abstraction and muttered hints of her lover; and as he had said, his last declaration of the possible necessity of leaving Grassdale. Nor was there any thing improbable, though it was rather in accordance with the unworldly habits, than with the haughty character of Aram, that he should seek, circumstanced as he was, to silence even the false accuser of a plausible tale, that might well strike horror and bewilderment into a man much more, to all seeming, fitted to grapple with the hard and coarse realities of life, than the moody and secluded scholar. Be that as it may, though Lester deplored, he did not blame this circumstance, which after all had not transpired, nor seemed likely to transpire; and he attributed the prisoner's aversion to enter farther on the matter, to the natural dislike of so proud a man to refer to his own weakness, and to dwell upon the manner in which, despite of that weakness, he had been duped. This story Lester retailed to Walter, and it contributed to throw a damp and uncertainty over those mixed and unquiet feelings with which the latter waited for the coming trial. There were many moments when the young man was tempted to regret that Aram had not escaped a trial which, if he were proved guilty, would for ever blast the happiness of his family; and which might, notwithstanding such a verdict, leave on Walter's own mind an impression of the prisoner's innocence; and an uneasy consciousness that he, through his investigations, had brought him to that doom.
Walter remained in Yorkshire, seeing little of his family, of none indeed but Lester; it was not to be expected that Madeline would see him, and once only he caught the tearful eyes of Ellinor as she retreated from the room he entered, and those eyes beamed kindness and pity, but something also of reproach.
Time passed slowly and witheringly on: a man of the name of Terry having been included in the suspicion, and indeed committed, it appeared that the prosecutor could not procure witnesses by the customary time, and the trial was postponed till the next assizes. As this man was however, never brought up to trial, and appears no more, we have said nothing of him in our narrative, until he thus became the instrument of a delay in the fate of Eugene Aram. Time passed on, Winter, Spring, were gone, and the glory and gloss of Summer were now lavished over the happy earth. In some measure the usual calmness of his demeanour had returned to Aram; he had mastered those moody fits we have referred to, which had so afflicted his affectionate visitors; and he now seemed to prepare and buoy himself up against that awful ordeal of life and death, which he was about so soon to pass. Yet he,—the hermit of Nature, who—
"Each little herb That grows on mountain bleak, or tangled forest, Had learnt to name;" —Remorse, by S. T. Coleridge
he could not feel, even through the bars and checks of a prison, the soft summer air, 'the witchery of the soft blue sky;' he could not see the leaves bud forth, and mellow into their darker verdure; he could not hear the songs of the many-voiced birds; or listen to the dancing rain, calling up beauty where it fell; or mark at night, through his high and narrow casement, the stars aloof, and the sweet moon pouring in her light, like God's pardon, even through the dungeon-gloom and the desolate scenes where Mortality struggles with Despair; he could not catch, obstructed as they were, these, the benigner influences of earth, and not sicken and pant for his old and full communion with their ministry and presence. Sometimes all around him was forgotten, the harsh cell, the cheerless solitude, the approaching trial, the boding fear, the darkened hope, even the spectre of a troubled and fierce remembrance,—all was forgotten, and his spirit was abroad, and his step upon the mountain-top once more.
In our estimate of the ills of life, we never sufficiently take into our consideration the wonderful elasticity of our moral frame, the unlooked for, the startling facility with which the human mind accommodates itself to all change of circumstance, making an object and even a joy from the hardest and seemingly the least redeemed conditions of fate. The man who watched the spider in his cell, may have taken, at least, as much interest in the watch, as when engaged in the most ardent and ambitious objects of his former life; and he was but a type of his brethren; all in similar circumstances would have found some similar occupation. Let any man look over his past life, let him recall not moments, not hours of agony, for to them Custom lends not her blessed magic; but let him single out some lengthened period of physical or moral endurance; in hastily reverting to it, it may seem at first, I grant, altogether wretched; a series of days marked with the black stone,—the clouds without a star;—but let him look more closely, it was not so during the time of suffering; a thousand little things, in the bustle of life dormant and unheeded, then started froth into notice, and became to him objects of interest or diversion; the dreary present, once made familiar, glided away from him, not less than if it had been all happiness; his mind dwelt not on the dull intervals, but the stepping-stone it had created and placed at each; and, by that moral dreaming which for ever goes on within man's secret heart, he lived as little in the immediate world before him, as in the most sanguine period of his youth, or the most scheming of his maturity.
So wonderful in equalizing all states and all times in the varying tide of life, are these two rulers yet levellers of mankind, Hope and Custom, that the very idea of an eternal punishment includes that of an utter alteration of the whole mechanism of the soul in its human state, and no effort of an imagination, assisted by past experience, can conceive a state of torture which custom can never blunt, and from which the chainless and immaterial spirit can never be beguiled into even a momentary escape.
Among the very few persons admitted to Aram's solitude, was Lord—That nobleman was staying, on a visit, with a relation of his in the neighbourhood, and he seized with an excited and mournful avidity, the opportunity thus afforded him of seeing, once more, a character that had so often forced itself on his speculation and surprise. He came to offer not condolence, but respect; services, at such a moment, no individual could render,—he gave however, what was within his power—advice,—and pointed out to Aram the best counsel to engage, and the best method of previous inquiry into particulars yet unexplored. He was astonished to find Aram indifferent on these points, so important. The prisoner, it would seem, had even then resolved on being his own counsel, and conducting his own cause; the event proved that he did not rely in vain on the power of his own eloquence and sagacity, though he might on their result. As to the rest, he spoke with impatience, and the petulance of a wronged man. "For the idle rumours of the world, I do not care," said he, "let them condemn or acquit me as they will;—for my life, I might be willing indeed, that it were spared,—I trust it may be, if not, I can stand face to face with Death. I have now looked on him within these walls long enough to have grown familiar with his terrors. But enough of me; tell me, my Lord, something of the world without, I have grown eager about it at last. I have been now so condemned to feed upon myself, that I have become surfeited with the diet;"—and it was with great difficulty that the Earl drew Aram back to speak of himself: he did so, even when compelled to it, with so much qualification and reserve, mixed with some evident anger at the thought of being sifted and examined—that his visitor was forced finally to drop the subject, and not liking, nor indeed able, at such a time, to converse on more indifferent themes, the last interview he ever had with Aram terminated much more abruptly than he had meant it. His opinion of the prisoner was not, however, shaken in the least. I have seen a letter of his to a celebrated personage of the day, in which, mentioning this interview, he concludes with saying,—"In short, there is so much real dignity about the man, that adverse circumstances increase it tenfold. Of his innocence I have not the remotest doubt; but if he persist in being his own counsel, I tremble for the result,—you know in such cases how much more valuable is practice than genius. But the judge you will say is, in criminal causes, the prisoner's counsel,—God grant he may here prove a successful one! I repeat, were Aram condemned by five hundred juries, I could not believe him guilty. No, the very essence of all human probabilities is against it."
The Earl afterwards saw and conversed with Walter. He was much struck with the conduct of the young Lester, and much impressed with a feeling for a situation, so harassing and unhappy.
"Whatever be the result of the trial," said Walter, "I shall leave the country the moment it is finally over. If the prisoner be condemned, there is no hearth for me in my uncle's home; if not, my suspicions may still remain, and the sight of each other be an equal bane to the accused and to myself. A voluntary exile, and a life that may lead to forgetfulness, are all that I covet.—I now find in my own person," he added, with a faint smile, "how deeply Shakspeare had read the mysteries of men's conduct. Hamlet, we are told, was naturally full of fire and action. One dark discovery quells his spirit, unstrings his heart, and stales to him for ever the uses of the world. I now comprehend the change. It is bodied forth even in the humblest individual, who is met by a similar fate—even in myself."
"Ay," said the Earl, "I do indeed remember you a wild, impetuous, headstrong youth. I scarcely recognize your very appearance. The elastic spring has left your step—there seems a fixed furrow in your brow. These clouds of life are indeed no summer vapour, darkening one moment and gone the next. But my young friend, let us hope the best. I firmly believe in Aram's innocence—firmly!—more rootedly than I can express. The real criminal will appear on the trial. All bitterness between you and Aram must cease at his acquittal; you will be anxious to repair to him the injustice of a natural suspicion: and he seems not one who could long retain malice. All will be well, believe me."
"God send it!" said Walter, sighing deeply.
"But at the worst," continued the Earl, pressing his hand in parting, "if you should persist in your resolution to leave the country, write to me, and I can furnish you with an honourable and stirring occasion for doing so.—Farewell."
While Time was thus advancing towards the fatal day, it was graving deep ravages within the pure breast of Madeline Lester. She had borne up, as we have seen, for some time, against the sudden blow that had shivered her young hopes, and separated her by so awful a chasm from the side of Aram; but as week after week, month after month rolled on, and he still lay in prison, and the horrible suspense of ignominy and death still hung over her, then gradually her courage began to fail, and her heart to sink. Of all the conditions to which the heart is subject, suspense is the one that most gnaws, and cankers into, the frame. One little month of that suspense, when it involves death, we are told, in a very remarkable work lately published by an eye-witness. [Note: See Mr. Wakefield's work on 'The Punishment of Death.'] is sufficient to plough fixed lines and furrows in the face of a convict of five-and-twenty—sufficient to dash the brown hair with grey, and to bleach the grey to white. And this suspense—suspense of this nature, for more than eight whole months, had Madeline to endure!
About the end of the second month the effect upon her health grew visible. Her colour, naturally delicate as the hues of the pink shell or the youngest rose, faded into one marble whiteness, which again, as time proceeded, flushed into that red and preternatural hectic, which once settled, rarely yields its place but to the colours of the grave. Her flesh shrank from its rounded and noble proportions. Deep hollows traced themselves beneath eyes which yet grew even more lovely as they grew less serenely bright. The blessed Sleep sunk not upon her brain with its wonted and healing dews. Perturbed dreams, that towards dawn succeeded the long and weary vigil of the night, shook her frame even more than the anguish of the day in these dreams one frightful vision—a crowd—a scaffold—and the pale majestic face of her lover, darkened by unutterable pangs of pride and sorrow, were for ever present before her. Till now, she and Ellinor had always shared the same bed: this Madeline would not now suffer. In vain Ellinor wept and pleaded. "No," said Madeline, with a hollow voice; "at night I see him. My soul is alone with his; but—but,"—and she burst into an agony of tears—"the most dreadful thought is this, I cannot master my dreams. And sometimes I start and wake, and find that in sleep I have believed him guilty. Nay, O God! that his lips have proclaimed the guilt! And shall any living being—shall any but God, who reads not words but hearts, hear this hideous falsehood—this ghastly mockery of the lying sleep? No, I must be alone! The very stars should not hear what is forced from me in the madness of my dreams."
But not in vain, or not excluded from her, was that elastic and consoling spirit of which I have before spoken. As Aram recovered the tenor of his self-possession, a more quiet and peaceful calm diffused itself over the mind of Madeline. Her high and starry nature could comprehend those sublime inspirations of comfort, which lift us from the lowest abyss of this world to the contemplation of all that the yearning visions of mankind have painted in another. She would sit, rapt and absorbed for hours together, till these contemplations assumed the colour of a gentle and soft insanity. "Come, dearest Madeline," Ellinor would say,—"Come, you have thought enough; my poor father asks to see you."
"Hush!" Madeline answered. "Hush, I have been walking with Eugene in heaven; and oh! there are green woods, and lulling waters above, as there are on earth, and we see the stars quite near, and I cannot tell you how happy their smile makes those who look upon them. And Eugene never starts there, nor frowns, nor walks aside, nor looks on me with an estranged and chilling look; but his face is as calm and bright as the face of an angel;—and his voice!—it thrills amidst all the music which plays there night and day—softer than their softest note. And we are married, Ellinor, at last. We were married in heaven, and all the angels came to the marriage! I am now so happy that we were not wed before! What! are you weeping, Ellinor? Ah, we never weep in heaven! but we will all go there again—all of us, hand in hand!"
These affecting hallucinations terrified them, lest they should settle into a confirmed loss of reason; but perhaps without cause. They never lasted long, and never occurred but after moods of abstraction of unusual duration. To her they probably supplied what sleep does to others—a relaxation and refreshment—an escape from the consciousness of life. And indeed it might always be noted, that after such harmless aberrations of the mind, Madeline seemed more collected and patient in thought, and for the moment, even stronger in frame than before. Yet the body evidently pined and languished, and each week made palpable decay in her vital powers.
Every time Aram saw her, he was startled at the alteration; and kissing her cheek, her lips, her temples, in an agony of grief, wondered that to him alone it was forbidden to weep. Yet after all, when she was gone, and he again alone, he could not but think death likely to prove to her the most happy of earthly boons. He was not sanguine of acquittal, and even in acquittal, a voice at his heart suggested insuperable barriers to their union, which had not existed when it was first anticipated.
"Yes, let her die," he would say, "let her die; she at least is certain of Heaven!" But the human infirmity clung around him, and notwithstanding this seeming resolution in her absence, he did not mourn the less, he was not stung the less, when he saw her again, and beheld a new character from the hand of death graven upon her form. No; we may triumph over all weakness, but that of the affections. Perhaps in this dreary and haggard interval of time, these two persons loved each other more purely, more strongly, more enthusiastically, than they had ever done at any former period of their eventful history. Over the hardest stone, as over the softest turf, the green moss will force its verdure and sustain its life!
THE EVENING BEFORE THE TRIAL.—THE COUSINS.—THE CHANGE IN MADELINE.—THE FAMILY OF GRASSDALE MEET ONCE MORE BENEATH ONE ROOF.
Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows, For Sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears, Divides one thing entire to many objects. ............. [Hope] is a flatterer, A parasite, a keeper back of death; Who gently would dissolve the bands of death Which false Hope lingers in extremity? —Richard II.
It was the evening before the trial. Lester and his daughters lodged at a retired and solitary house in the suburbs of the town of York; and thither, from the village some miles distant, in which he had chosen his own retreat, Walter now proceeded across fields laden with the ripening corn. The last and the richest month of summer had commenced, but the harvest was not yet begun, and deep and golden showed the vegetation of life, bedded among the dark verdure of the hedge-rows, and "the merrie woods!" The evening was serene and lulled; at a distance arose the spires and chimneys of the town, but no sound from the busy hum of men reached the ear. Nothing perhaps gives a more entire idea of stillness than the sight of those abodes where "noise dwelleth," but where you cannot now hear even its murmurs. The stillness of a city is far more impressive than that of Nature; for the mind instantly compares the present silence with the wonted uproar. The harvest-moon rose slowly from a copse of gloomy firs, and diffused its own unspeakable magic into the hush and transparency of the night. As Walter walked slowly on, the sound of voices from some rustic party going homeward, broke jocundly on the silence, and when he paused for a moment at the stile, from which he first caught a glimpse of Lester's house, he saw, winding along the green hedgerow, some village pair, the "lover and the maid," who could meet only at such hours, and to whom such hours were therefore especially dear. It was altogether a scene of pure and true pastoral character, and there was all around a semblance of tranquillity, of happiness, which suits with the poetical and the scriptural paintings of a pastoral life; and which perhaps, in a new and fertile country, may still find a realization. From this scene, from these thoughts, the young loiterer turned with a sigh towards the solitary house in which this night could awaken none but the most anxious feelings, and that moon could beam only on the most troubled hearts.
"Terra salutiferas herbas, eademque nocentes Nutrit; et urticae proxima saepe rosa est."
He now walked more quickly on, as if stung by his reflections, and avoiding the path which led to the front of the house, gained a little garden at the rear, and opening a gate that admitted to a narrow and shaded walk, over which the linden and nut trees made a sort of continuous and natural arbour, the moon, piercing at broken intervals through the boughs, rested on the form of Ellinor Lester.
"This is most kind, most like my own sweet cousin," said Walter approaching; "I cannot say how fearful I was, lest you should not meet me after all."
"Indeed, Walter," replied Ellinor, "I found some difficulty in concealing your note, which was given me in Madeline's presence; and still more, in stealing out unobserved by her, for she has been, as you may well conceive, unusually restless the whole of this agonizing day. Ah, Walter, would to God you had never left us!"
"Rather say," rejoined Walter—"that this unhappy man, against whom my father's ashes still seem to me to cry aloud, had never come into our peaceful and happy valley! Then you would not have reproached me, that I have sought justice on a suspected murderer; nor I have longed for death rather than, in that justice, have inflicted such distress and horror on those whom I love the best!"
"What! Walter, you yet believe—you are yet convinced that Eugene Aram is the real criminal?"
"Let to-morrow shew," answered Walter. "But poor, poor Madeline! How does she bear up against this long suspense? You know I have not seen her for months."
"Oh! Walter," said Ellinor, weeping bitterly, "you would not know her, so dreadfully is she altered. I fear—" (here sobs choaked the sister's voice, so as to leave it scarcely audible)—"that she is not many weeks for this world!"
"Great God! is it so?" exclaimed Walter, so shocked, that the tree against which he leant scarcely preserved him from falling to the ground, as the thousand remembrances of his first love rushed upon his heart. "And Providence singled me out of the whole world, to strike this blow!"
Despite her own grief, Ellinor was touched and smitten by the violent emotion of her cousin; and the two young persons, lovers—though love was at this time the least perceptible feeling of their breasts—mingled their emotions, and sought, at least to console and cheer each other.
"It may yet be better than our fears," said Ellinor, soothingly. "Eugene may be found guiltless, and in that joy we may forget all the past."
Walter shook his head despondingly. "Your heart, Ellinor, was always kind to me. You now are the only one to do me justice, and to see how utterly reproachless I am for all the misery the crime of another occasions. But my uncle—him, too, I have not seen for some time: is he well?"
"Yes, Walter, yes," said Ellinor, kindly disguising the real truth, how much her father's vigorous frame had been bowed by his state of mind. "And I, you see," added she, with a faint attempt to smile,—"I am, in health at least, the same as when, this time last year, we were all happy and full of hope."
Walter looked hard upon that face, once so vivid with the rich colour and the buoyant and arch expression of liveliness and youth, now pale, subdued, and worn by the traces of constant tears; and, pressing his hand convulsively on his heart, turned away.
"But can I not see my uncle?" said he, after a pause.
"He is not at home: he has gone to the Castle," replied Ellinor.
"I shall meet him, then, on his way home," returned Walter. "But, Ellinor, there is surely no truth in a vague rumour which I heard in the town, that Madeline intends to be present at the trial to-morrow."
"Indeed, I fear that she will. Both my father and myself have sought strongly and urgently to dissuade her; but in vain. You know, with all that gentleness, how resolute she is when her mind is once determined on any object."
"But if the verdict should be against the prisoner, in her state of health consider how terrible would be the shock!—Nay, even the joy of acquittal might be equally dangerous—for Heaven's sake! do not suffer her."
"What is to be done, Walter?" said Ellinor, wringing her hands. "We cannot help it. My father has, at last, forbid me to contradict the wish. Contradiction, the physician himself says, might be as fatal as concession can be. And my father adds, in a stern, calm voice, which it breaks my heart to hear, 'Be still, Ellinor. If the innocent is to perish, the sooner she joins him the better: I would then have all my ties on the other side the grave!'"
"How that strange man seems to have fascinated you all!" said Walter, bitterly.
Ellinor did not answer: over her the fascination had never been to an equal degree with the rest of her family.
"Ellinor!" said Walter, who had been walking for the last few moments to and fro with the rapid strides of a man debating with himself, and who now suddenly paused, and laid his hand on his cousin's arm—"Ellinor! I am resolved. I must, for the quiet of my soul, I must see Madeline this night, and win her forgiveness for all I have been made the unintentional agent of Providence to bring upon her. The peace of my future life may depend on this single interview. What if Aram be condemned—and—and—in short, it is no matter—I must see her."
"She would not hear of it, I fear," said Ellinor, in alarm. "Indeed, you cannot—you do not know her state of mind."
"Ellinor!" said Walter, doggedly, "I am resolved." And so saying, he moved towards the house.
"Well, then," said Ellinor, whose nerves had been greatly shattered by the scenes and sorrow of the last several months, "if it must be so, wait at least till I have gone in, and consulted or prepared her."
"As you will, my gentlest, kindest cousin; I know your prudence and affection. I leave you to obtain me this interview; you can, and will, I am convinced."
"Do not be sanguine, Walter. I can only promise to use my best endeavours," answered Ellinor, blushing as he kissed her hand; and, hurrying up the walk, she disappeared within the house.
Walter walked for some moments about the alley in which Ellinor had left him, but growing impatient, he at length wound through the overhanging trees, and the house stood immediately before him,—the moonlight shining full on the window-panes, and sleeping in quiet shadow over the green turf in front. He approached yet nearer, and through one of the windows, by a single light in the room, he saw Ellinor leaning over a couch, on which a form reclined, that his heart, rather than his sight, told him was his once-adored Madeline. He stopped, and his breath heaved thick;—he thought of their common home at Grassdale—of the old Manor-house—of the little parlour with the woodbine at its casement—of the group within, once so happy and light-hearted, of which he had formerly made the one most buoyant, and not least-loved. And now this strange—this desolate house—himself estranged from all once regarding him,—(and those broken-hearted,)—this night ushering what a morrow!—he groaned almost aloud, and retreated once more into the shadow of the trees. In a few minutes the door at the right of the building opened, and Ellinor came forth with a quick step.
"Come in, dear Walter," said she; "Madeline has consented to see you—nay, when I told her you were here, and desired an interview, she paused but for one instant, and then begged me to admit you."
"God bless her!" said poor Walter, drawing his hand across his eyes, and following Ellinor to the door.
"You will find her greatly changed!" whispered Ellinor, as they gained the outer hall; "be prepared!"
Walter did not reply, save by an expressive gesture; and Ellinor led him into a room, which communicated, by one of those glass doors often to be seen in the old-fashioned houses of country towns, with the one in which he had previously seen Madeline. With a noiseless step, and almost holding his breath, he followed his fair guide through this apartment, and he now stood by the couch on which Madeline still reclined. She held out her hand to him—he pressed it to his lips, without daring to look her in the face; and after a moment's pause, she said—
"So, you wished to see me, Walter! It is an anxious night this for all of us!"
"For all!" repeated Walter, emphatically; "and for me not the least!"
"We have known some sad days since we last met!" renewed Madeline; and there was another, and an embarrassed pause.
"Madeline—dearest Madeline!" said Walter, at length dropping on his knee; "you, whom while I was yet a boy, I so fondly, passionately loved;—you, who yet are—who, while I live, ever will be, so inexpressibly dear to me—say but one word to me on this uncertain and dreadful epoch of our fate—say but one word to me—say you feel you are conscious that throughout these terrible events I have not been to blame—I have not willingly brought this affliction upon our house—least of all upon that heart which my own would have forfeited its best blood to preserve from the slightest evil;—or, if you will not do me this justice, say at least that you forgive me!"
"I forgive you, Walter! I do you justice, my cousin!" replied Madeline, with energy; and raising herself on her arm. "It is long since I have felt how unreasonable it was to throw any blame upon you—the mere and passive instrument of fate. If I have forborne to see you, it was not from an angry feeling, but from a reluctant weakness. God bless and preserve you, my dear cousin! I know that your own heart has bled as profusely as ours; and it was but this day that I told my father, if we never met again, to express to you some kind message as a last memorial from me. Don't weep, Walter! It is a fearful thing to see men weep! It is only once that I have seen him weep,—that was long, long ago! He has no tears in the hour of dread and danger. But no matter, this is a bad world, Walter, and I am tired of it. Are not you? Why do you look so at me, Ellinor? I am not mad! Has she told you that I am, Walter? Don't believe her! Look at me! I am calm and collected! Yet to-morrow is—O God! O God!—if—if!—"
Madeline covered her face with her hands, and became suddenly silent, though only for a short time; when she again lifted up her eyes, they encountered those of Walter; as through those blinding and agonised tears, which are only wrung from the grief of manhood, he gazed upon that face on which nothing of herself, save the divine and unearthly expression which had always characterised her loveliness, was left.
"Yes, Walter, I am wearing fast away—fast beyond the power of chance! Thank God, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, if the worst happen, we cannot be divided long. Ere another Sabbath has passed, I may be with him in Paradise! What cause shall we then have for regret?"
Ellinor flung herself on her sister's neck, sobbing violently.—"Yes, we shall regret you are not with us, Ellinor; but you will also soon grow tired of the world; it is a sad place—it is a wicked place—it is full of snares and pitfalls. In our walk to-day lies our destruction for to-morrow! You will find this soon, Ellinor! And you, and my father, and Walter, too, shall join us! Hark! the clock strikes! By this time to-morrow night, what triumph!—or to me at least (sinking her voice into a whisper, that thrilled through the very bones of her listeners) what peace!"
Happily for all parties, this distressing scene was here interrupted. Lester entered the room with the heavy step into which his once elastic and cheerful tread had subsided.
"Ha, Walter!" said he, irresolutely glancing over the group; but Madeline had already sprang from her seat.
"You have seen him!—you have seen him! And how does he—how does he look? But that I know; I know his brave heart does not sink. And what message does he send to me? And—and—tell me all, my father: quick, quick!"
"Dear, miserable child!—and miserable old man!" muttered Lester, folding her in his arms; "but we ought to take courage and comfort from him, Madeline. A hero, on the eve of battle, could not be more firm—even more cheerful. He smiled often—his old smile; and he only left tears and anxiety to us. But of you, Madeline, we spoke mostly: he would scarcely let me say a word on any thing else. Oh, what a kind heart!—what a noble spirit! And perhaps a chance tomorrow may quench both. But, God! be just, and let the avenging lightning fall on the real criminal, and not blast the innocent man!"
"Amen!" said Madeline deeply.
"Amen!" repeated Walter, laying his hand on his heart.
"Let us pray!" exclaimed Lester, animated by a sudden impulse, and falling on his knees. The whole group followed his example; and Lester, in a trembling and impassioned voice, poured forth an extempore prayer, that Justice might fall only where it was due. Never did that majestic and pausing Moon, which filled that lowly room as with the presence of a spirit, witness a more impressive adjuration, or an audience more absorbed and rapt. Full streamed its holy rays upon the now snowy locks and upward countenance of Lester, making his venerable person more striking from the contrast it afforded to the dark and sunburnt cheek—the energetic features, and chivalric and earnest head of the young man beside him. Just in the shadow, the raven locks of Ellinor were bowed over her clasped hands,—nothing of her face visible; the graceful neck and heaving breast alone distinguished from the shadow;—and, hushed in a death-like and solemn repose, the parted lips moving inaudibly; the eye fixed on vacancy; the wan transparent hands, crossed upon her bosom; the light shone with a more softened and tender ray upon the faded but all-angelic form and countenance of her, for whom Heaven was already preparing its eternal recompense for the ills of Earth!
"Equal to either fortune."—Speech of Eugene Aram.
A thought comes over us, sometimes, in our career of pleasure, or the troublous exultation of our ambitious pursuits; a thought come over us, like a cloud, that around us and about us Death—Shame—Crime—Despair, are busy at their work. I have read somewhere of an enchanted land, where the inmates walked along voluptuous gardens, and built palaces, and heard music, and made merry; while around, and within, the land, were deep caverns, where the gnomes and the fiends dwelt: and ever and anon their groans and laughter, and the sounds of their unutterable toils, or ghastly revels, travelled to the upper air, mixing in an awful strangeness with the summer festivity and buoyant occupation of those above. And this is the picture of human life! These reflections of the maddening disparities of the world are dark, but salutary:—
"They wrap our thoughts at banquets in the shroud;" [Young.]
but we are seldom sadder without being also wiser men!
The third of August 1759 rose bright, calm, and clear: it was the morning of the trial; and when Ellinor stole into her sister's room, she found Madeline sitting before the glass, and braiding her rich locks with an evident attention and care.
"I wish," said she, "that you had pleased me by dressing as for a holiday. See, I am going to wear the dress I was to have been married in."
Ellinor shuddered; for what is more appalling than to find the signs of gaiety accompanying the reality of anguish!
"Yes," continued Madeline, with a smile of inexpressible sweetness, "a little reflection will convince you that this day ought not to be one of mourning. It was the suspense that has so worn out our hearts. If he is acquitted, as we all believe and trust, think how appropriate will be the outward seeming of our joy! If not, why I shall go before him to our marriage home, and in marriage garments. Ay," she added after a moment's pause, and with a much more grave, settled, and intense expression of voice and countenance—"ay; do you remember how Eugene once told us, that if we went at noonday to the bottom of a deep pit, [Note: The remark is in Aristotle. Buffon quotes it, with his usual adroit felicity, in, I think, the first volume of his great work.] we should be able to see the stars, which on the level ground are invisible. Even so, from the depths of grief—worn, wretched, seared, and dying—the blessed apparitions and tokens of Heaven make themselves visible to our eyes. And I know—I have seen—I feel here," pressing her hand on her heart, "that my course is run; a few sands only are left in the glass. Let us waste them bravely. Stay, Ellinor! You see these poor withered rose-leaves: Eugene gave them to me the day before—before that fixed for our marriage. I shall wear them to-day, as I would have worn them on the wedding-day. When he gathered the poor flower, how fresh it was; and I kissed off the dew: now see it! But, come, come; this is trifling: we must not be late. Help me, Nell, help me: come, bustle, quick, quick! Nay, be not so slovenly; I told you I would be dressed with care to-day."
And when Madeline was dressed, though the robe sat loose and in large folds over her shrunken form, yet, as she stood erect, and looked with a smile that saddened Ellinor more than tears at her image in the glass, perhaps her beauty never seemed of a more striking and lofty character,—she looked indeed, a bride, but the bride of no earthly nuptials. Presently they heard an irresolute and trembling step at the door, and Lester knocking, asked if they were prepared.
"Come in, father," said Madeline, in a calm and even cheerful voice; and the old man entered.
He cast a silent glance over Madeline's white dress, and then at his own, which was deep mourning: the glance said volumes, and its meaning was not marred by words from any one of the three.
"Yes, father," said Madeline, breaking the pause,—"We are all ready. Is the carriage here?"
"It is at the door, my child."
"Come then, Ellinor, come!"—and leaning on her arm, Madeline walked towards the door. When she got to the threshold, she paused, and looked round the room.
"What is it you want?" asked Ellinor.
"I was but bidding all here farewell," replied Madeline, in a soft and touching voice: "And now before we leave the house, Father,—Sister, one word with you;—you have ever been very, very kind to me, and most of all in this bitter trial, when I must have taxed your patience sadly—for I know all is not right here, (touching her forehead)—I cannot go forth this day without thanking you. Ellinor, my dearest friend—my fondest sister—my playmate in gladness—my comforter in grief—my nurse in sickness;—since we were little children, we have talked together, and laughed together, and wept together, and though we knew all the thoughts of each other, we have never known one thoughts that we would have concealed from God;—and now we are going to part?—do not stop me, it must be so, I know it. But, after a little while may you be happy again, not so buoyant as you have been, that can never be, but still happy!—You are formed for love and home, and for those ties you once thought would be mine. God grant that I may have suffered for us both, and that when we meet hereafter, you may tell me you have been happy here!"
"But you, father," added Madeline, tearing herself from the neck of her weeping sister, and sinking on her knees before Lester, who leaned against the wall convulsed with his emotions, and covering his face with his hands—"but you,—what can I say to you?—You, who have never,—no, not in my first childhood, said one harsh word to me—who have sunk all a father's authority in a father's love,—how can I say all that I feel for you?—the grateful overflowing, (paining, yet—oh, how sweet!) remembrances which crowd around and suffocate me now?—The time will come when Ellinor and Ellinor's children must be all in all to you—when of your poor Madeline nothing will be left but a memory; but they, they will watch on you and tend you, and protect your grey hairs from sorrow, as I might once have hoped I also was fated to do."
"My child! my child! you break my heart!" faltered forth at last the poor old man, who till now had in vain endeavoured to speak.
"Give me your blessing, dear father," said Madeline, herself overcome by her feelings;—"Put your hand on my head and bless me—and say, that if I have ever unconsciously given you a moment's pain—I am forgiven!"
"Forgiven!" repeated Lester, raising his daughter with weak and trembling arms as his tears fell fast upon her cheek,—"Never did I feel what an angel had sate beside my hearth till now!—But be comforted—be cheered. What, if Heaven had reserved its crowning mercy till this day, and Eugene be amongst us, free, acquitted, triumphant before the night!"
"Ha!" said Madeline, as if suddenly roused by the thought into new life:—"Ha! let us hasten to find your words true. Yes! yes!—if it should be so—if it should. And," added she, in a hollow voice, (the enthusiasm checked,) "if it were not for my dreams, I might believe it would be so:—But—come—I am ready now!"
The carriage went slowly through the crowd that the fame of the approaching trial had gathered along the streets, but the blinds were drawn down, and the father and daughter escaped that worst of tortures, the curious gaze of strangers on distress. Places had been kept for them in court, and as they left the carriage and entered the fatal spot, the venerable figure of Lester, and the trembling and veiled forms that clung to him, arrested all eyes. They at length gained their seats, and it was not long before a bustle in the court drew off attention from them. A buzz, a murmur, a movement, a dread pause! Houseman was first arraigned on his former indictment, acquitted, and admitted evidence against Aram, who was thereupon arraigned. The prisoner stood at the bar! Madeline gasped for breath, and clung, with a convulsive motion, to her sister's arm. But presently, with a long sigh she recovered her self-possession, and sat quiet and silent, fixing her eyes upon Aram's countenance; and the aspect of that countenance was well calculated to sustain her courage, and to mingle a sort of exulting pride, with all the strained and fearful acuteness of her sympathy. Something, indeed, of what he had suffered, was visible in the prisoner's features; the lines around the mouth in which mental anxiety generally the most deeply writes its traces, were grown marked and furrowed; grey hairs were here and there scattered amongst the rich and long luxuriance of the dark brown locks, and as, before his imprisonment, he had seemed considerably younger than he was, so now time had atoned for its past delay, and he might have appeared to have told more years than had really gone over his head; but the remarkable light and beauty of his eye was undimmed as ever, and still the broad expanse of his forehead retained its unwrinkled surface and striking expression of calmness and majesty. High, self-collected, serene, and undaunted, he looked upon the crowd, the scene, the judge, before and around him; and, even among those who believed him guilty, that involuntary and irresistible respect which moral firmness always produces on the mind, forced an unwilling interest in his fate, and even a reluctant hope of his acquittal.
Houseman was called upon. No one could regard his face without a certain mistrust and inward shudder. In men prone to cruelty, it has generally been remarked, that there is an animal expression strongly prevalent in the countenance. The murderer and the lustful man are often alike in the physical structure. The bull-throat—the thick lips—the receding forehead—the fierce restless eye—which some one or other says reminds you of the buffalo in the instant before he becomes dangerous, are the outward tokens of the natural animal unsoftened—unenlightened—unredeemed—consulting only the immediate desires of his nature, whatever be the passion (lust or revenge) to which they prompt. And this animal expression, the witness of his character, was especially wrought, if we may use the word, in House-man's rugged and harsh features; rendered, if possible, still more remarkable at that time by a mixture of sullenness and timidity. The conviction that his own life was saved, could not prevent remorse at his treachery in accusing his comrade—a sort of confused principle of which villains are the most susceptible, when every other honest sentiment has deserted them.
With a low, choked, and sometimes a faltering tone, Houseman deposed, that, in the night between the 7th and 8th of January 1744-5, sometime before 11 o'clock, he went to Aram's house—that they conversed on different matters—that he stayed there about an hour—that some three hours afterwards he passed, in company with Clarke, by Aram's house, and Aram was outside the door, as if he were about to return home—that Aram invited them both to come in—that they did so—that Clarke, who intended to leave the town before day-break, in order, it was acknowledged, to make secretly away with certain property in his possession, was about to quit the house, when Aram proposed to accompany him out of the town—that he (Aram) and Houseman then went forth with Clarke—that when they came into the field where St. Robert's Cave is, Aram and Clarke went into it, over the hedge, and when they came within six or eight yards off the Cave, he saw them quarrelling—that he saw Aram strike Clarke several times, upon which Clarke fell, and he never saw him rise again—that he saw no instrument Aram had, and knew not that he had any—that upon this, without any interposition or alarm, he left them and returned home—that the next morning he went to Aram's house, and asked what business he had with Clarke last night, and what he had done with him? Aram replied not to this question; but threatened him, if he spoke of his being in Clarke's company that night; vowing revenge either by himself or some other person if he mentioned any thing relating to the affair. This was the sum of Houseman's evidence.
A Mr. Beckwith was next called, who deposed that Aram's garden had been searched, owing to a vague suspicion that he might have been an accomplice in the frauds of Clarke—that some parts of clothing, and also some pieces of cambric which he had sold to Clarke a little while before, were found there.
The third witness was the watchman, Thomas Barnet, who deposed, that before midnight (it might be a little after eleven) he saw a person come out from Aram's house, who had a wide coat on, with the cape about his head, and seemed to shun him; whereupon he went up to him, and put by the cape of his great coat, and perceived it to be Richard Houseman. He contented himself with wishing him good night.
The officers who executed the warrant then gave their evidence as to the arrest, and dwelt on some expressions dropped by Aram before he arrived at Knaresbro', which, however, were felt to be wholly unimportant.
After this evidence there was a short pause;—and then a shiver, that recoil and tremor which men feel at any exposition of the relics of the dead, ran through the court; for the next witness was mute—it was the skull of the Deceased! On the left side there was a fracture, that from the nature of it seemed as it could only have been made by the stroke of some blunt instrument. The piece was broken, and could not be replaced but from within.
The surgeon, Mr. Locock, who produced it, gave it as his opinion that no such breach could proceed from natural decay—that it was not a recent fracture by the instrument with which it was dug up, but seemed to be of many years' standing.
This made the chief part of the evidence against Aram; the minor points we have omitted, and also such as, like that of Aram's hostess, would merely have repeated what the reader knew before.
And now closed the criminatory evidence—and now the prisoner was asked, in that peculiarly thrilling and awful question—What he had to say in his own behalf? Till now, Aram had not changed his posture or his countenance—his dark and piercing eye had for one instant fixed on each witness that appeared against him, and then dropped its gaze upon the ground. But at this moment a faint hectic flushed his cheek, and he seemed to gather and knit himself up for defence. He glanced round the court, as if to see what had been the impression created against him. His eye rested on the grey locks of Rowland Lester, who, looking down, had covered his face with his hands. But beside that venerable form was the still and marble face of Madeline; and even at that distance from him, Aram perceived how intent was the hush and suspense of her emotions. But when she caught his eye—that eye which even at such a moment beamed unutterable love, pity, regret for her—a wild, a convulsive smile of encouragement, of anticipated triumph, broke the repose of her colourless features, and suddenly dying away, left her lips apart, in that expression which the great masters of old, faithful to Nature, give alike to the struggle of hope and the pause of terror.
"My Lord," began Aram, in that remarkable defence still extant, and still considered as wholly unequalled from the lips of one defending his own, and such a, cause;—"My Lord, I know not whether it is of right, or through some indulgence of your Lordship, that I am allowed the liberty at this bar, and at this time, to attempt a defence; incapable and uninstructed as I am to speak. Since, while I see so many eyes upon me, so numerous and awful a concourse, fixed with attention, and filled with I know not what expectancy, I labour, not with guilt, my Lord, but with perplexity. For, having never seen a court but this, being wholly unacquainted with law, the customs of the bar, and all judiciary proceedings, I fear I shall be so little capable of speaking with propriety, that it might reasonably be expected to exceed my hope, should I be able to speak at all.
"I have heard, my Lord, the indictment read, wherein I find myself charged with the highest of human crimes. You will grant me then your patience, if I, single and unskilful, destitute of friends, and unassisted by counsel, attempt something perhaps like argument in my defence. What I have to say will be but short, and that brevity may be the best part of it.
"My Lord, the tenor of my life contradicts this indictment. Who can look back over what is known of my former years, and charge me with one vice—one offence? No! I concerted not schemes of fraud—projected no violence—injured no man's property or person. My days were honestly laborious—my nights intensely studious. This egotism is not presumptuous—is not unreasonable. What man, after a temperate use of life, a series of thinking and acting regularly, without one single deviation from a sober and even tenor of conduct, ever plunged into the depth of crime precipitately, and at once? Mankind are not instantaneously corrupted. Villainy is always progressive. We decline from right—not suddenly, but step after step.
"If my life in general contradicts the indictment, my health at that time in particular contradicts it yet more. A little time before, I had been confined to my bed, I had suffered under a long and severe disorder. The distemper left me but slowly, and in part. So far from being well at the time I am charged with this fact, I never, to this day, perfectly recovered. Could a person in this condition execute violence against another?—I, feeble and valetudinary, with no inducement to engage—no ability to accomplish—no weapon wherewith to perpetrate such a fact;—without interest, without power, without motives, without means!
"My Lord, Clarke disappeared: true; but is that a proof of his death? The fallibility of all conclusions of such a sort, from such a circumstance, is too obvious to require instances. One instance is before you: this very castle affords it.
"In June 1757, William Thompson, amidst all the vigilance of this place, in open daylight, and double-ironed, made his escape; notwithstanding an immediate inquiry set on foot, notwithstanding all advertisements, all search, he was never seen or heard of since. If this man escaped unseen through all these difficulties, how easy for Clarke, whom no difficulties opposed. Yet what would be thought of a prosecution commenced against any one seen last with Thompson?
"These bones are discovered! Where? Of all places in the world, can we think of any one, except indeed the church-yard, where there is so great a certainty of finding human bones, as a hermitage? In times past, the hermitage was a place, not only of religious retirement, but of burial. And it has scarce, or never been heard of, but that every cell now known, contains, or contained these relics of humanity; some mutilated—some entire! Give me leave to remind your Lordship, that here sat SOLITARY SANCTITY, and here the hermit and the anchorite hoped that repose for their bones when dead, they here enjoyed when living. I glance over a few of the many evidences that these cells were used as repositories of the dead, and enumerate a few of the many caves similar in origin to St. Robert's, in which human bones have been found." Here the prisoner instanced, with remarkable felicity, several places, in which bones had been found, under circumstances, and in spots analogous to those in point. [Note: See his published defence.] And the reader, who will remember that it is the great principle of the law, that no man can be condemned for murder unless the body of the deceased be found, will perceive at once how important this point was to the prisoner's defence. After concluding his instances with two facts of skeletons found in fields in the vicinity of Knaresbro', he burst forth—"Is then the invention of those bones forgotten or industriously concealed, that the discovery of these in question may appear the more extraordinary? Extraordinary—yet how common an event! Every place conceals such remains. In fields—in hills—in high-way sides—on wastes—on commons, lie frequent and unsuspected bones. And mark,—no example perhaps occurs of more than one skeleton being found in one cell. Here you find but one, agreeable to the peculiarity of every known cell in Britain. Had two skeletons been discovered, then alone might the fact have seemed suspicious and uncommon. What! Have we forgotten how difficult, as in the case of Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Symnell, it has been sometimes to identify the living; and shall we now assign personality to bones—bones which may belong to either sex? How know you that this is even the skeleton of a man? But another skeleton was discovered by some labourer! Was not that skeleton averred to be Clarke's full as confidently as this?
"My Lord, my Lord—must some of the living be made answerable for all the bones that earth has concealed and chance exposed? The skull that has been produced, has been declared fractured. But who can surely tell whether it was the cause or the consequence of death. In May, 1732 the remains of William Lord Archbishop of this province were taken up by permission in their cathedral, the bones of the skull were found broken as these are. Yet he died by no violence! by no blow that could have caused that fracture. Let it be considered how easily the fracture on the skull produced is accounted for. At the dissolution of religious houses, the ravages of the times affected both the living and the dead. In search after imaginary treasures, coffins were broken, graves and vaults dug open, monuments ransacked, shrines demolished, Parliament itself was called in to restrain these violations. And now are the depredations, the iniquities of those times, to be visited on this? But here, above all, was a castle vigorously besieged; every spot around was the scene of a sally, a conflict, a flight, a pursuit. Where the slaughtered fell, there were they buried. What place is not burial earth in war? How many bones must still remain in the vicinity of that siege, for futurity to discover! Can you, then, with so many probable circumstances, choose the one least probable? Can you impute to the living what Zeal in its fury may have done; what Nature may have taken off and Piety interred, or what War alone may have destroyed, alone deposited?
"And now, glance over the circumstantial evidence, how weak, how frail! I almost scorn to allude to it. I will not condescend to dwell upon it. The witness of one man, arraigned himself! Is there no chance that to save his own life he might conspire against mine?—no chance that he might have committed this murder, if murder hath indeed been done? that conscience betrayed to his first exclamation? that craft suggested his throwing that guilt on me, to the knowledge of which he had unwittingly confessed? He declares that he saw me strike Clarke, that he saw him fall; yet he utters no cry, no reproof. He calls for no aid; he returns quietly home; he declares that he knows not what became of the body, yet he tells where the body is laid. He declares that he went straight home, and alone; yet the woman with whom I lodged declares that Houseman and I returned to my house in company together;—what evidence is this? and from whom does it come?—ask yourselves. As for the rest of the evidence, what does it amount to? The watchman sees Houseman leave my house at night. What more probable, but what less connected with the murder, real or supposed, of Clarke? Some pieces of clothing are found buried in my garden. But how can it be shewn that they belonged to Clarke? Who can swear to, who can prove any thing so vague? And if found there, even if belonging to Clarke, what proof that they were there deposited by me? How likely that the real criminal may in the dead of night have preferred any spot, rather than that round his own home, to conceal the evidence of his crime!