Bred in the Bone
Part 6 out of 8
every right-thinking person in this court who heard it. We knew to what
base purpose you had used the comeliness and youth and good address with
which nature had endowed you; and now we have learned how evilly you
have misused your talents--with what perverted ingenuity you have
striven, at so early an age, to set at naught those precautions by which
your country has lately endeavored to secure for itself efficient public
"That's neat," whispered a learned friend to Mr. Balais, reverently
shutting his eyes, as though in rapt admiration.
"Very," returned that gentleman. "He's bidding for the Lord Chief
"In the whole course of my legal experience, young man," continued the
judge, "I have never seen a case which seems to me to call for more
exemplary punishment than yours. The promise of your future is dark
indeed--bad for yourself, and bad for that society which, though so
fitted to adorn and benefit it, you have chosen to outrage. I will not,
however, reproach you further; I will rather express a hope that when
you return to the world after your long probation--and it will be as
long as I am able to make it--you may be a wiser and better, as well as
a much older man. The sentence of the court is, that you be kept in
penal servitude for the space of twenty years."
Not a syllable of the judge's exhortation was lost upon the prisoner at
the bar. He listened to it as attentively as one who is waiting for the
thunder listens to the muffled menace that precedes it, and the fall of
each big drop of rain. When the words of doom smote upon his ear a
solemn hush succeeded them; and then one piteous, agonized shriek, and a
dull fall in the gallery above.
"This way," said a warder, sharply; and Richard was seized by the arm,
and hurried through the trap-door, and down the stairs, by the way he
had come. It seemed to him like descending into hell itself.
Twenty years' penal servitude! It was almost an eternity of torment!
worse than death! and yet not so. He already beheld himself, at the end
of his term of punishment, setting about the great work which alone was
left him to do on earth--the accomplishment of his revenge. He had
recognized his mother's voice in that agonized wail, and knew that her
iron will had given way; that the weight of this unexpected calamity had
deprived even her elastic and vigorous mind of consciousness--had
crushed out of her, perhaps, even life itself. Better so, thought he, in
his bitterness, if it had; there would then be not a single human
creature left to soften, by her attachment, his heart toward his
fellows--none to counsel moderation, mercy, prudence.
If the view taken by the judge had even been a correct one, as to
"motive," Richard had been hardly dealt with, most severely sentenced;
but in his own eyes he was an almost innocent man--the victim of an
infamous conspiracy, in which she who, was his nearest and dearest had
treacherously joined. After flattering him with false hopes, she had
deserted him at the eleventh hour, and in a manner even more atrocious
than the desertion itself. He knew, of course, that it was mainly owing
to her evidence, to which he had looked for his preservation, that his
ruin had been so complete and overwhelming; but what he hated her worst
for was for that smile she had bestowed upon him as she entered the
witness-box, and which had bade him hope where no hope was. He could not
be mistaken as to that. She had known that she was about to doom him by
her silence to years of misery, and yet she had had the devilish cruelty
to smile upon him, as she had often smiled, when they had sat, cheek to
cheek, together! Since they had done so, he could never lift his hand
against her (he felt that even now)--never strike her, slay her, nor
even poison her; but he would have revenge upon her for all that. He
would smite her, as she had smitten him, no matter how long the blow
might be in falling: if her affections should be entwined in any human
creatures, against them should his rage be directed; he would make her
desolate, as she had rendered him; he would turn their love for her to
hate, if it were possible, and, if not, he would destroy them. As for
her father--as for that stone devil Trevethick--it choked him to think
that nature herself might preserve him from his wrath, that the old man
might die before his hour of expiation could arrive. But Solomon Coe
would live to feel his vengeance. His hatred was at white heat now; what
would it be after twenty years of unmerited torture? To think that this
terrible punishment had befallen him through such contemptible
agencies--through such dull brains and vulgar hands--was maddening; and
yet he must needs feed upon that thought for twenty years, and keep his
senses too, that at the end they might work out his purpose to the
uttermost. There was plenty of time to plan and scheme and plot before
him, and henceforth that should be his occupation. Revenge should be his
latest thought and his earliest, and all night long he would dream of
nothing else. His wrath against judge and jury, and the rest of
them--though if he could have slain them all with a word he would have
uttered it--was slight compared with the vehemence of his fury against
those three at Gethin. Rage possessed him wholly, and, though without
numbing him to the painful sense of his miserable doom, rendered him
almost unconscious of what was going on about him.
When he found himself in his cell again he had no recollection of how he
had got there; and the warder had to repeat his sharp command, "Put on
these clothes," before he could get him to understand that he was to
exchange his garments for the prison suit that lay before him. It was a
small matter, but it brought home to him the reality of his situation
more than any thing that had yet occurred. With the deprivation of his
clothes he seemed to be deprived of his individuality, and, in adopting
that shameful dress, to become an atom in a congeries of outcasts. From
henceforth he was not even to bear a name, but must become a number--a
unit of that great sum of scoundrels which the world was so willing to
forget. That he was to suffer under a system which had authority and
right for its basis made his case no less intolerable to him; he felt
like one suddenly seized and sold into slavery. That his master and
tyrant was called the Law was no mitigation of his calamity; nay, it was
an aggravation, since he could not cut its throat.
"It is no use, young fellow," said the warder, coolly, as Richard looked
at him like some hunted beast at bay. "If you was to kill me and a dozen
more it would do you not a morsel of good; the law has got you tight,
and it's better to be quiet."
Richard uttered a low moan, more woeful than any cry of physical
anguish. It touched his jailer, used as he was to the contemplation of
human misery. "Look here," said he; "you keep up a good heart, and get
as many _V G_'s as you can. Then you'll get out on ticket-of-leave in
fifteen years: it ain't as if you were a lifer."
He meant it for consolation; but this unvarnished statement of the _very
best_ that could by possibility befall poor Richard seemed only to
deepen his despondency.
"Why, when you've done it," pursued the warder, "you'll be quite a young
man still--younger than I am. There's Balfour, now; he's got some call
to be down in the mouth, for he'll get it as hot as you, and he's an old
un, yet he's cheery enough up yonder"--and he jerked his head in the
direction of the court-house--"you may take your 'davey he is. You get
"What are those?" said Richard, wearily.
"Why, the best marks that can be got; and remember that every one of 'em
goes to shorten your time. You must be handier with your room, to begin
with. You might be reported by some officers for the way in which that
hammock is folded, and then away go your marks at once; and you must
learn to sweep your room out cleaner. We couldn't stand _that_ in one of
our regulars, you know;" and he pointed to some specks of dust upon the
shining floor. "As for the oakum pickings which will be set you
to-morrow, I'll show you the great secret of that art. Your fingers will
suffer a bit at first, no doubt, but you'll be a clever one at it before
long. Only buckle to, and keep a civil tongue in your head, young
fellow, and you'll do."
"Thank you," said Richard, mechanically.
"If you'll take my advice, you'll set about something at once; sweepin',
or polishin', or readin' your Bible. Don't brood. But you will do as you
like for this afternoon, since you won't begin regular business till
The warder looked keenly round the cell, probably to make sure that it
afforded no facilities for suicide; but the gas was not yet turned on,
and if it had been, his prisoner was unaware that by blowing it out, and
placing the jet in his mouth, more than one in a similar strait to his
own has found escape from his prison woes forever.
"I'll bring you some supper presently," he added; and with a familiar
nod, good-naturedly intended for encouragement, he slammed the iron door
That he should have become an object of pity and patronage to a man like
this would in itself have wounded Richard to the quick had he not been
devoured by far more biting cares, and even now it galled him. His
twenty years might possibly, then, by extremity of good luck, be
curtailed by five. By diligent execution of menial drudgery; by
performing to some overlooker's satisfaction his daily toil; by careful
obedience and subservience to these Jacks in office, themselves but
servants, and yet whose malice or ill-humor might cause them to report
him for the most trifling faults, or for none at all, and thereby
destroy even _this_ hope--he might be a free man in fifteen years! He
would, even then, he was told, be still a young man. But that he would
never be young again Richard was well aware. Within these last three
weeks--nay, within that last hour, he had already lived a life, and one
that had aged him beyond the power of years. High spirits, pleasure,
hopefulness, love, and all the attributes of youth, were dead within him
for evermore. For the future he was only to be strong and vigorous in a
will that could not have its way for fifteen years at earliest.
Through the grating of his narrow window a few rays of the setting sun
were streaming in, and fell upon the bare brown wall behind him. What a
flood of glory they were pouring on the woods of Crompton, now in their
autumn splendor--on the cliffs at Gethin--on the copse that hid the
Wishing Well--on the tower where he had first clasped Harry in his arms!
He saw them all, and the sunset hues upon them became suddenly
blood-red. He was once more at Gethin, and in imagination taking his
revenge upon old Trevethick, and for the moment he was almost happy.
"Pity on his gray hairs?" No, not he--though the gallows loomed before
him, though hell yawned for him, he would slake his thirst in the
life-blood of that perjured villain; and as for her, he would drag her
by the hair to look upon her father's corpse. Where was she? Ah, with
Solomon upon the castled rock; and see!--he had pushed him from the
edge, and there he hung exactly as he himself had hung when Harry had
preserved him! How long would a man hold on like that, even a strong man
like Coe, on such a narrow ledge, with the gulls screaming about him?
Not twenty years--no, nor fifteen!
The clatter of the trap in the door of his cell, as it fell in and
formed a table, awoke him from this gloating dream. "Supper," said the
warder, looking in at him through this orifice. "What! you're still
brooding, are you?--that's bad;" then marched on to the next cell.
Some gruel and bread stood upon this little improvised side-board. If
they had been the greatest luxuries imaginable, he could not have
swallowed a morsel. The sunlight had faded away; his dream of
retribution was over; he seemed to be touching the utmost verge of human
wretchedness. Was it possible to kill himself? His neckerchief had been
taken away; but he had his braces. The gas-pipe was the only thing to
which he could attach them, and it would never bear his weight. He had
read somewhere of some poor wretch who had suffocated himself by turning
his tongue inward. Had he determination enough for such a device as
that? Plenty. His will was iron; he felt that; but it was set on
something else than suicide--that afterward, or death or life of any
kind, he cared not what; but in the first place, and above all things,
Vengeance! In the mean time, there were twenty years in which to think
upon it! Twenty years!
The bar dined with the judge that night at Cross Key, and talked, among
other things, "shop."
"A curious case that of that young fellow, Yorke," said one. "I wonder
whether he has been playing his game long with these competitive
examinations? That Chandos must be a queer one, too--son of Lord
Fitzbacon's, is he not?"
"I dare say," answered another, carelessly. "It is only vicariously that
the juvenile aristocracy ever get an appointment in these days, having
no wits of their own. This conviction will be a great blow to them."
"Very good, Sharpshins! but you'd better not let old Bantam hear you,
for he dearly loves the Swells. By-the-by, what a pretty girl that
witness for the defense was, who turned out to be for the prosecution,
"Yes, she upset her lover's coach for him nicely. Is it true, I wonder,
that the little traitress is going to marry that dull, heavy fellow whom
Smoothbore had such work to pump? Gad! if I had been she, I'd have stuck
to the other."
"Yes; but kissing goes by favor. She marries him next week, I hear. Is
there any thing of interest at Bodmin?"
"Nothing of interest to _me_, at all events. Smoothbore and Balais get
all there is between them, confound them! I say, just pass that claret."
Not another word about Richard. The judge himself had forgotten him
except as a case in his notes. The jury forgot him in a week. A murder
of a shipwrecked sailor happened soon afterward on that coast, and
became the talk of the country-side in his place. The world went on its
way, and never missed him; the rank closed up where he had used to
march, and left no gap.
Richard Yorke was out of the world.
What tender-nurtured boy, newly-arrived at school--that Paradise when
looked back upon from afar, that _Inferno_ of the present--has not
awakened from sweet dreams of home with a heavy heart? Who has not
pictured to himself the weary months that must elapse before he once
more regains his freedom and his friends? The burden (one may say) is
light, but then the back is also weak that bears it. It is a genuine
woe. Something of this, but tenfold in intensity of wretchedness, did
Richard feel when he awoke for the first time a convicted felon. He had
dreamed that Carew was dead, and left him heir of Crompton; his mother
and he were there, and Harry as his wife. The splendor of the house, the
beauty of the grand domain about it, were as vividly presented to him as
when he saw them with his eyes; and they were all his own. The hope of
his youth, the desire of his manhood, were gratified to the uttermost;
yet through all ran an undercurrent which mirrored a portion of the
present reality. In the marshy pond where he had fought the Squire by
moonlight lay two bodies; it was shallow, as it really had been, and he
could see their faces as he peered into the water: they were those of
Coe and Trevethick. He kept them there, and would not have the pond
dragged; but would go thither and gloat upon them for half a summer's
day. The mansion was full of gay folks--his old town companions invited
to visit him, and behold his greatness (as he had often imagined they
should be): Tub Ryll was _his_ jester now, and Parson Whymper his
"chaplain." They were all playing pool as usual, and he was just about
to make an easy hazard, when somebody jogged his elbow. It was the
warder of the jail.
"Come, come--this won't do," said he, gruffly. "You must jump up when
the bell rings, or we shall quarrel. Fold up your hammock, and clean
Even the school-boy does not begin on his first morning to reckon on his
chimney almanac, "One day gone; twenty-four hours nearer to the
holidays;" and how should Richard make that cheerful note, who had
twenty years of prison life before him, save one day!
He did as he was ordered, wearily, with a heart that had no hope: it
seemed to the warder that his air was sullen.
"If this happens again, young fellow, I report you; and then good-by to
your _V G_'s."
He did not mean to be brutal; but Richard could have stabbed him where
he stood. There were times to come when the temptation to commit such an
act was to be very strong within him; and when no thought of punishment,
far less of right, restrained him, but that of his projected vengeance
always did. Every rough word, every insult, every wrong, was treasured
up in his mind, and added to the long account against those who had
doomed him to such a fate. It should be paid in full one day; and in the
mean time the debt was out at compound interest.
He took his sordid meals, his cocoa, his bread, his gruel, not because
he had ever any appetite for them, but because without them he should
lose his strength. He must husband that for the long-expected hour when
he might need it; when the moment had arrived to strike the blow for
which his hand was clenched ten times a day. His hate grew every hour,
and, like a petrifying spring, fell drop by drop about his heart, and
made it stone. In the mean time, a fiend in torment could alone imagine
what he suffered. He spoke to no one but his warders and the chaplain;
for now he was a convict, there was no communication with his fellows;
only once a day for an hour and a half he took his monotonous exercise
in the high-walled prison-yard. Tramp, tramp, tramp, each half a dozen
paces behind the other, with an officer on the watch to see that the
limit was preserved.
"Keep your distance, you there, unless you want to be reported."
Richard did not want that; but at times his temper was like a devil
unchained, and it got the better of him, and even of his treasured
purpose; he sometimes returned a sharp answer. This weakness was almost
the only feeling within him that reminded him that he was human. He was
put on bread and water within the first fortnight; then cursed his folly
for thus postponing the one object of his life, and amended. His case
was quoted to the visiting justices as an exemplification of the
efficacy of cutting short a prisoner's supplies.
While exercising one day he recognized Balfour, who happened to be on
the opposite side of the ever-moving circle: the old jail-bird, without
glancing toward him, threw his open hands out twice. By this he conveyed
to him that his own sentence was also twenty years. During the nine
months that Richard remained at Cross Key, this was all that happened to
him which could be called an incident. At the end of three months his
mother essayed to visit him, but he would not see her. She had been ill,
it seemed, ever since that dreadful day of the trial, and was only just
convalescent; she had had lodgings in the town, within a hundred yards
of him, ever since: it was something, poor soul, to know that she was
near him, however inexorably separated. "It would please him," she
wrote, "to learn that, through Mr. Whymper's intercession, Carew had
continued her pension. She had money enough, therefore, and to spare,
but intended to go on with her business of lodging-house keeping in a
new quarter of London, and under another name (that of Basil), that she
might save, and her Richard find himself a rich man when he regained his
liberty. In fifteen years--she had discovered that his time could be
remitted to that extent--there would be quite a little fortune for him.
In the mean time, she thought of him night and day." But there was
something else in the letter. "She confessed that in her agony at his
dreadful doom, she had written to his prosecutor to adjure him to appeal
for mercy to the crown, and he had refused to do so." This news had
driven Richard almost to frenzy. He had written her such a letter as the
prison authorities had refused to send, and now he would not see her.
He wrote again; more moderately, however, to bid her never mention
Trevethick's name again, nor Coe's, nor Harry's, if she wished him to
think of her as his mother: they were dead to him, he said, _for the
present_. To be brief, Richard never saw his mother after his
conviction. He wished to harden his heart, and not to have it melted
within him; and perhaps his fury at her having appealed to Trevethick
was purposely exaggerated with this object. His recollection of "the
cage," it must be remembered, was also not such as to make the idea of
an interview attractive; moreover, that his mother should see him in his
convict dress, kept within iron bars like a wild beast, seemed to him to
afford a triumph to his deadly enemies.
In the tenth month, Richard, with the other convicts, was transferred to
Lingmoor, one of the great penal settlements. They were "removed," for
some portion of the distance, in vans, like furniture, or, we might
rather say, in caravans like wild beasts; but for some miles they
traveled by railway. They were handcuffed and chained together two and
two, as pointers are upon their journeys, except that the connection was
at the wrist instead of the neck. Silence was strictly enjoined, but
this one opportunity of conversing with their fellow-creatures was not
to be let slip. Richard's other half was a notorious burglar called
Rolfe; this man had passed a quarter of a century in jail, and was
conversant with every plan of trickery and evasion of orders. His
countenance was not at all of that bull-dog type with which his class is
falsely though generally credited; he had good features, though somewhat
hard in their expression, and very intelligent gray eyes. It was their
very intelligence, so sharp, so piercing, and yet which avoided your
gaze, that showed to those who studied such matters what he was. After
one glance at Richard he never looked at him again, but stared straight
before him, and talked in muttered tones unceasingly, and with lips as
motionless as those of a ventriloquist. He was doing fourteen years for
cracking a public-house, and had cracked a good many private ones,
concerning the details of which enterprises he was very eloquent. When
he had concluded his autobiography he began to evince some interest in
the circumstances of his companion. Richard, however, did not care to
enlighten him on his own concerns, but confined his conversation to the
one topic that was common between them--jails. Rolfe gave him a synopsis
of the annals of Lingmoor, to which he was bound not for the first time.
It was a place that had a bad reputation among those who became perforce
its inmates; tobacco, for which elsewhere convenient warders charged a
shilling an ounce, was there not less than eighteenpence: such a tariff
was shameful, and almost amounted to a prohibition. A pal of his had
hung himself there--it was supposed through deprivation of this
necessary. It was "a queer case;" for he had "tucked himself up" to the
bars of his cell by his braces, the buckles of which had left livid
marks upon his neck. His Prayer-book had been found open at the Burial
of the Dead, and it was understood that he had read that service over
himself before taking leave of the world. He had also written his will
with a point of the said brace-buckles upon the brick of his cell. He
himself (Mr. Rolfe) had been called as a witness at the inquest, and had
thereby obtained two hours' relaxation from labor; but upon the whole he
would rather have been working with his gang--the affair had quite upset
him; and, since its occurrence, the inmates of Lingmoor were forbidden
to use braces.
"Were there any escapes from Lingmoor by any other means?" inquired
"Escapes?" Mr. Rolfe's countenance assumed a more solemn vacuity than
ever. It was an indiscretion of his young friend to shape that word with
his lips while a warder sat in the same carriage. Yes, there had been
such things even at Lingmoor. But it was a difficult job, even for one
used to cracking cribs. The outer wall was not to be scaled without a
ladder, and ladders were even more difficult to procure than tobacco.
Even if you did get over the outer wall, the space around the prison was
very bare, and the sentries had orders to shoot you fleeing. If you got
to Bergen Wood, two miles away, you might be safe so far, but it was a
dangerous business. Nobody had ever done it yet without "putting
This was a euphemism for murder, as Richard was by this time "old hand"
enough to know.
"Warders?" inquired he indifferently; for he had already learned to
value that objectionable class at a low figure.
"Hush! Yes; you must kill 'a dog' or two before you say good-by to
Lingmoor, unless you can put them to sleep." (Bribery.) "There was a man
once as had to kill his pal to do it."
"How could that help him?" Richard felt no interest whatever in these
narratives as stories; but since they referred to escapes they
entrancing. The convict who is cast for death thinks of nothing but a
reprieve; the "lifer" or the long-termer, thinks of nothing but an
escape--and (sometimes) vengeance.
"Well, it was curious. There was a 'Smasher'" (utterer of counterfeit
coin) "named Molony in for life there--a thin-shanked, shambling fellow,
as Smashers mostly are--mere trash. He had got a file, this fool, and
dared not use it--kept it as close as though it were 'bacca,' and waited
for his chance, instead of making his chance for himself. Damme, if _I_
had a file!"
Mr. Rolfe's feelings of irritation were almost too much for him; he
turned up the whites of his eyes, so that persons who were unacquainted
with his views upon religious subjects might have supposed him to be
engaged in some devotional exercise.
"Next door to this fellow--though it seemed a long way off, for the cell
was in an angle of the prison--there was one of the right sort; name of
Jeffreys. No prison in England could have held _him_ if he had had a
file. With a rusty nail as he had picked up he dug through his cell
wall, and came out one night, all of a sudden, upon the Smasher--thought
he was out of doors, poor beggar, through this cursed angle, you see,
and after all had only changed his room."
"That must have been the devil," observed Richard.
"It _was_," said Mr. Rolfe, significantly.
"'Why, how on earth did you do it?' asked the Smasher. At least I
suppose he did, for the conversation was not reported, as you shall
hear. 'With a mere nail, too. Why, _I_'ve got a file, and yet I never
thought of that.'
"'A file!' cried Jeffreys. 'Let's look. Give it to me.'
"But Molony wouldn't give it him. The case was this, you see. If
Jeffreys could have filed his irons off, and then the window-bars, he
could have made a push for it; but he couldn't wait for the other; the
night was too far gone for that--there was only time for one to free
himself and get away. The Smasher was willing enough to make an effort
now; the other's pluck had put a good heart into him. But since he had
been there so long, and never moved a hand to help hisself, Jeffreys
thought he might stop a little longer; it seemed to him
dog-in-the-manger like to be refused the file--at least that's my view
of what he thought; though he's been blamed a good deal for what
"But what did happen?"
"Well, they got to high words; the t'other wouldn't give up the file;
and when Jeffreys tried to get hold of it, what did the aggravation
Smasher do--for you see he was used to bolting half-crowns and such
like--but _swallow the file_!"
"Why, that must have killed him?" observed Yorke.
"So Jeffreys concluded," returned Mr. Rolfe, coolly; "and indeed that
was his defense when his trial came on. He pleaded that Molony was dead
already. 'I did not put the file down his throat, though I did deprive
him of it afterward. I was obliged to do it.' He made an anatomy of him
with the nail, in fact, just as the surgeons do with their
dissecting-knives, though not so neat, in order to get at the file. An
ugly job, I call it; but it was a very pretty case, the lawyers said, as
to whether murder had been done or not."
"But did this Jeffreys get off?"
"Upon the trial--yes; but not from the prison. He got into the yard all
right, and climbed the wall by making steps of the file and the nail;
but, in dropping on the other side, he broke his leg, and so they nabbed
him. It's a very hard nut to crack, is Lingmoor, _I_ can tell you."
With these and similar incidents of prison-life, Mr. Rolfe regaled his
companion's ears. The sound of this man's voice, muffled as it was,
notwithstanding the nature of his talk, was pleasant to Richard after so
many months of enforced silence. After long starvation the stomach is
thankful for even garbage; and so it is with the mind. Moreover, any
thing would have seemed better than to sit and think during that hateful
journey. The railway part of it was by far the worst. To be made a show
of at the various stations--every one curious to see how convicts looked
in their full regimentals, chained and ironed; to behold the other
passengers who were free; to see the happy meetings of lovers and
friends, of parents and children; and the partings that were scarcely
partings at all compared with his own length of exile from all mankind:
these were things the bitterness of which Richard felt to the uttermost;
his very blood ran gall. His friend Balfour was among his
fellow-travelers, but they did not journey in the same van nor railway
carriage. Had it been otherwise Richard might have felt some sense of
companionship; whereas the contact of this man Rolfe seemed to degrade
him to his level, and isolate him from humanity itself. At the same
time, he shrank with sensitiveness from the gaze of the gaping crowd. It
is so difficult, even with the strongest will to do so, to become
callous and hardened to shame except by slow degrees: every finger
seemed to point at him in recognition, every tongue to be telling of his
disgrace and doom; whereas, in simple fact, his own mother would
scarcely have known him in such a garb, and with those iron ornaments
about his limbs; his fine hair cropped to the roots; his delicate
features worn and sharpened with spare diet and want of sleep; above
all, with those haggard eyes, always watching and waiting for something
a long way off--almost, indeed, out of sight at present, but coming up,
as a ship comes spar by spar above the horizon, taking shape and
distinctness as it nears. There were nineteen years and three months
still, however, between him and _it_.
OUT OF THE WORLD.
This tedious, shameful travel came to an end at nightfall. Their way had
lain all day through landscapes of great beauty, though about to lose
the last remnants of their autumn splendor; but when they left the rail,
the woods, and glens, and rivers were seen no more. All was dreary
moorland, where winter had already begun to reign. A village or two were
passed, among whose scanty population their appearance created little
excitement: such sights were common in that locality. They were on the
high-road that leads to Lingmoor, and to nowhere else. The way seemed as
typical of their outcast life-path as a page out of the _Pilgrim's
Progress_. Vanity Fair, where they would fain have tarried if they
could, was left far behind them, while to some of them the road was
doomed to be the veritable Valley of the Shadow. They were never to see
the world, nor partake of its coarse and brutal pleasures--the only ones
they cared for, or perhaps had experienced--any more. How bare, and
desolate, and wretched was the prospect! There was no living thing in
sight; only the wild moorland streams hurried by, as if themselves
desirous to escape from the barren solitude. Not a tree was to be seen
save Bergen Wood, which Richard's companion indicated to him, as they
neared it, by a movement of the eyelid. It had been the tomb of many a
convict, who had striven for freedom, and found death. As they emerged
from it, Lingmoor prison presented itself, solid, immense, and gloomy,
as though it were built of steel--"Castle of Giant Despair." Its guarded
gate was swung back, and all were marched into a paved courtyard, where
their names were called over, and their irons removed. Then each was
stripped and searched, and another uniform substituted for that they had
worn at Cross Key. The old hands seemed to take a pride in knowing what
was about to be done beforehand; in being recognized by the warders,
though their greeting was but a contemptuous shrug; and in threading the
windings of the stone labyrinths with an accustomed step. Richard was
ushered into a cell the exact counterpart of that he had lately
inhabited; and yet he regarded it with the interest which one can not
fail to feel in what is to be one's home for years.
Home! Frightful misnomer for that place, warm and well-ventilated as it
was, and supplied with the latest products of civilization. The gas was
burning brightly; fresh cool water flowed at his will; at his touch a
bell rang, and instantly, outside his door, an iron plate sprang out,
and indicated to the warder in what cell his presence was required. "How
clean and comfortable!" says the introduced-by-special-order visitor, to
his obsequious acquaintance the governor, on observing these admirable
arrangements. "How much better are these scoundrels cared for," cries
the unthinking public, "than are our honest poor!" It is not, however,
that the convict is pampered; but for this unkindly care he would not be
able to endure the punishment which justice has decreed for him. Science
has meted out to him each drop of gruel, each ounce of bread, each
article of clothing, and each degree of warmth. Not one of all the
recipients of this cruel benevolence but would gladly have exchanged
places with the shivering tramp or the work-house pauper. To cower under
the leafless branches of Bergen Wood, while the November night-blasts
made them grind and clang, would have seemed paradise compared with that
snug lodging; nay, the grave itself, with its dim dread Hereafter, has
been preferred before it.
Life at Lingmoor was existence by machinery--monotony that sometimes
maddened as well as slew. To read of it is to understand nothing of
this. The bald annals of the place reveal nothing of this terrible
Richard rose at five at clang of bell, cleaned out his cell, and folded
up his bed more neatly than did ever chamber-maid; at six was
breakfast--porridge, and forty minutes allowed for its enjoyment; then
chapel and parade; then labor--mat-making was his trade, at which he
became a great proficient. His fingers deftly worked, while his mind
brooded. At twelve was dinner--bread and potatoes, with seventy minutes
allowed for its digestion; then exercise in the yard, and mat-making
again till six in summer, and four in winter; prayers, supper, school
till eight; when the weary day was done. On Sunday, except two hours of
exercise and chapel, Richard was his own master, to brood as much as he
would. There were also no less than three holidays in the year, on which
it has been whispered with horror that the convicts have pudding. There
was, however, no such excess at Lingmoor.
As for society, there was the chaplain. This gentleman could make
nothing of Richard, though he tried his best. It was evident to him that
the young man had something on his mind; if he would only confide in his
spiritual adviser, he assured him comfort could be administered. But no
confidence ever took place. It was a most distressing case; here was a
youth of superior position, and well educated, as obstinate and stubborn
as the most hardened criminal in the establishment. His Bible was never
opened. One of his warders had expressed his opinion that No. 421 was
vindictive, but he (the chaplain) was bound to say he had observed
nothing of that. The remarks in his note-book respecting 421 were these:
"Richard Yorke--aged twenty, looks ten years older; reserved and
cynical; a hopeless infidel, but respectful, uncomplaining, and
Richard had been reported more than once for "inattention to orders,"
and had lost some of his good marks accordingly. The cause of this was
one over which he could now be scarcely said to have control. He had
become so absent and _distrait_ that he sometimes hardly knew what was
going on about him. The perpetual brooding in which he indulged had, in
fact, already postponed the accomplishment of the very object which
enthralled his thoughts. The effect of this was serious; and he had good
reason for the apprehension which seized him, that his wits might leave
him before that day of liberty arrived, which was still so many years
distant. On account of his previous calling, which was described in the
prison books as landscape-painter, he had been put to a handicraft
trade; but he now applied for harrow-work, and the surgeon seconded his
application. This change of occupation, which was destined in some
respects to be beneficial, proved at the outset most unfortunate. The
outdoor toil was mostly spade and barrow labor on the moor, on which the
convicts worked in gangs--each gang under supervision of two warders,
armed with sword and musket. The first face that Richard's eyes lit on,
when he found himself in the open, with the free air of heaven blowing
on him, and already, as it seemed, bearing the seeds of health and hope,
was that of Robert Balfour. In his joyous excitement he sprang forward
and held out his hand; the other hesitated--for the old cracksman was
prudence itself--then, as if with an incontrollable impulse, grasped the
offered fingers, with an "I am right glad to see you, lad." The next
instant they were both in custody, and marched back to the prison,
charged with the high crime and misdemeanor of conversation, which at
Lingmoor was called "colloguing," "conspiracy," and other terrible
terms. Brought before the authorities upon this serious charge, Richard
at once confessed himself alone to blame; the fresh air had, in a
manner, intoxicated him, after his long confinement within stone walls;
and the sight of his old acquaintance had caused him to forget the
rules. On the offense-list being examined, it was found, however, that
No. 421 was a good deal in the habit of forgetting. His cell-warder gave
him but an indifferent character; and Richard, in a fury, committed the
fatal indiscretion of rebutting this latter accusation by a
countercharge of tyranny and ill-usage. The next instant he could have
bitten his tongue out--but it was too late; he felt that he had made an
enemy of this body-servant, who was also his master, for the remainder
of his term. An "old hand," unless he is a professional garroter (in
which case he is generally too much respected to be ill-used), is always
careful to keep on good terms with his attendant; otherwise--since a
warder's word, if it be not law, is at all events worth that of ten
prisoners--there may be no end to your troubles. This is not because
warders are not as a class a most respectable body of men, but simply
because you can't get all the virtues for a guinea a week. A strict and
impartial sense of justice is especially a rare and dear article--even
governors have sometimes been deficient in it. Most men have their
prejudices, as women have their spites; and a prejudice against a
fellow-creature is a thing that grows. Richard's warder was no
tyrant--only a sullen, ignorant fellow, in a false position; he had an
almost absolute power over his fellow-creatures, and like many--perhaps
like most who have ever possessed such a thing--it was too much for him.
"I am a tyrant, am I?" said he, significantly, as he marched Richard
back to his cell after sentence was decreed. "Very well; we'll _see_."
Richard got bread and water for three days certain, and, what was far
worse, another "monstrous cantle" might be cut out of that period of
remission which began to be all the dearer in his eyes the more
problematical it grew. Garroters, as we have said, were respected at
Lingmoor; they are so ready with their great ape-like hands, and so
dull-brained with respect to consequences; yet Richard's warder, when he
brought his bread and water, with a grin, that night, was probably as
near to death by strangling as he had ever been during his professional
experience. It was not that he was on his own account the object of his
prisoner's wrath, but that by his conduct he had, as it were,
supplemented the inexpiable wrong originally committed, and earned for
himself a portion of the undying hate which was due elsewhere. "I may
kill this brute some day," thought Richard, ruefully, "in spite of
myself." And he resolved on the first opportunity to communicate a
certain secret which was on his mind to a friendly ear; so that _that_
at least should be utilized to the disadvantage of his foes, in case
incontrollable passion should one day compel him to sacrifice a lesser
victim, and make his great revenge to fail. It had not once entered into
his mind that he could _forego_ his purpose, but only that circumstances
might render it impossible.
The occasion for which he looked was not long in coming. His days of
punishment concluded, he was once more marched out upon the moor, and
again found himself in Balfour's company. Not a sign passed between them
this time, but as they delved they talked. "I fear you have been
suffering for my sake," said Richard.
"It is no matter. My shoulders are broad enough for two," returned the
other, kindly. "I am right glad to see your face again, though it is so
changed. You have been ill, have you not, lad?"
"I don't know. Something is wrong with me, and I may be worse--that is
why I want to speak to you. Listen!"
"All right. Don't look this way, and sink your voice if either of these
dogs comes to leeward."
"If you get away from this place, and _I_ don't--"
"Now, none of that, lad," interrupted the old man, earnestly. "That's
the worst thing you can get into your head at Lingmoor, if you ever want
to leave it. Never _say_ die, nor even _think_ it. I am three times your
age, and yet I mean to get out again and enjoy myself. It is but fifteen
years now, without counting remission--though I've got into disgrace
with my cursed watch-dog, and sha'n't get much of that--and you must
keep a good heart."
"I shall keep a firm one," answered Richard, "never fear. I wish to
guard against contingencies, that's all. If I die--"
"Damned if you shall," said Balfour, sturdily, quite innocent of any
plagiarism from Uncle Toby.
"Very good," continued Richard, coolly. "If you get out of this before
me, let us merely say, I have something to tell you which may be of
service to you. There's a man in Breakneckshire called Carew of
"I know him: the gentleman born as put on the gloves with Bendigo at
"Very likely; at all events, every body knows him in the Midlands. He
will go to the dogs some day, and his estate will be sold. You have
saved money, you tell me; if the chance occurs, you can't invest it
better than in the lot called Wheal Danes, a mine in Cornwall."
"I believe you every word," said Balfour; "but a mine would be rather
over my figure, wouldn't it? I have only got eight hundred pounds."
"That would be plenty. It's a disused mine, and supposed to be worked
out. There's only one man in England that knows it is not so, except
myself. He will come or send to the auction, expecting to get it cheap;
but do you bid two hundred pounds beforehand, and get it by private
contract. Say you want the place--it's close to the sea--for building
purposes; they'll laugh at you, and jump at your offer. The fee-simple
is not supposed to be worth five shillings an acre. It will turn out a
gold mine to whoever gets it."
"Wheal Danes," repeated Balfour, carefully. "I'll remember that; and
what is more, lad, I'll not forget the man as told me of it. It's not
the profit that I am speaking on: that will be yours, I hope, as it
should be in all reason, and not mine; but it's the confidence." The old
man's voice grew husky with emotion. "Damme, I liked _you_ from the
first, as was natural enough; but there was no reason why you should
take a fancy to an old thief like me more than any other among this
pretty lot here. The first as speaks of secrets is of course the one as
runs the risk, but I will do what I can to show myself honorable on my
side. You have trusted me, and I'll trust you."
"Have you any plan to get away from this?" whispered Richard, eagerly.
"All that I have shall be yours: I swear it."
"Nay, lad; your word's enough," returned the other, reproachfully. "And
I don't covet nothing of yours; indeed I don't."
"I was a brute to talk so to you, Balfour," answered Richard,
penitently. "But you don't mow how I crave for freedom: it makes me mad
to think of it."
"Ay, ay; I know," sighed the old fellow. "It used to be so with me once;
but now it only comes on me when my term is nearly up. One gets patient
as one gets old, you'll find. No; I've no plan just now; though, if I
ever have, I promise you you shall be the man to know it. It's another
matter altogether that I meant to tell you about. You've given me an
address to remember: let me give you another in exchange for it--No. 91
Earl Street East, Spitalfields. That's where mother lives, if the poor
soul is alive to whom you wrote for me from Cross Key. She'll be dead,
however, long before you or I get out of this, that's certain, or I
should not be telling you what I do; for one's mother is the best friend
of all friends, and should come first and foremost. Well, the money will
do her no good; and if any thing happens to me, I have neither chick nor
child to inherit it. I am speaking of this eight hundred pound, lad. If
I get into the world, I shall want it for myself, for I doubt my limbs
will be too stiff for work by that time; but if not, then you shall have
it--every shilling. I am digging my own grave, as it might be, with this
spade, and making my will, do you see?" said the old fellow, smiling.
"I thank you for your kind intentions," returned Richard, absently;
"it's very good of you, I'm sure." His hopes of some scheme of present
release had been excited by the old man's manner, and this faint and
far-off prospect of a legateeship seemed but of little worth.
"I may not have another chance to tell you about it," resumed Balfour.
"It is five years now since you and I spoke together last, and it may be
another five years before such good luck happens again; so don't forget
91 Earl Street East. It's under the middle stone of the back kitchen,
all in golden quids. You needn't mind it being 'swag;' and as for those
whose own it is by rights, I could not tell you who the half of it
belonged to, if I would. It's the savings of an industrious life, lad,"
added Mr. Balfour, pathetically; "and I should be sorry to think, if any
thing happened to me, that it should lie there useless, or be found
accidental like, and perhaps fall into the hands of the bluebottles.
Your memory's good, my lad, I dare say, and you won't forget the number
nor the street."
"My memory is very good, friend," returned Richard, slowly; "and I have
only two or three things else to keep in it. And you, on your part, you
will not forget the mine?"
"Nay, nay; I've got it safe: Wheal Danes, Wheal Danes."
"Silence, down there!" roared the warder; and nothing but the squeak of
the barrow-wheel and the clean slice of the spade was heard in all that
throng of involuntary toilers.
It is nineteen years since Richard Yorke stood in the dock at Cross Key
and heard the words of doom. Almost a whole generation of his
fellow-creatures has passed away from the earth. Old men have died,
young men have become old, and babes have grown to be young men. There
are but some half dozen persons in the world who, if reminded of him by
some circumstance, can recollect him dimly. There are two who still keep
him in their thoughts continually, just as he was--like a picture which
bears no longer any resemblance to its original--and even these never
breathe his name.
Here is a young fellow walking with his mother along Oxford Street who
is not unlike him, who might be himself but for those nineteen years;
and the girl that walks upon the other side of him might also be Harry
Trevethick. Youth and beauty are not dead because Richard Yorke is dead,
or as good as dead. The name of this girl is Agnes Aird, a painter's
daughter, who is also a teacher of his art. The lad is her father's
pupil, and has learned beneath his roof a lesson not included in the
artistic course; you may know that by the way in which his eyes devour
the girl, the intonation of his voice when he addresses her, the silent
pressure of the arm on which her fingers rest. Charles Coe is in love
with Agnes, and in all his studies of perspective beholds her, a radiant
figure beckoning him on to a happy future. His pencil strays from its
object to portray her features--to inscribe her name beside his own. Mr.
Coe, his father, exceedingly disapproves of this projected alliance, and
has forbidden the young people to associate. This ukase, however, can
scarcely be obeyed while the whole party are inmates of Mr. Aird's
residence, who "lets off" the upper part of his house as furnished
apartments, which the Coes have now inhabited as lodgers for some weeks.
Solomon (now a very well-to-do personage, and a great authority on
metalliferous soils) has come to town on business, and left to his wife
the choice of a residence; and she, to please her son, had chosen the
artist's dwelling, upon whose door-plate was inscribed the fact that he
was a professor of drawing. Solomon was not displeased that his son's
tastes lay in that direction; it might be useful to himself hereafter in
the matter of plans and sections; but he is violently opposed to this
ridiculous love affair, which is to be stamped out at once. To that end
he has instructed Mrs. Coe to look for lodgings in a distant quarter,
and it is on that errand that we now behold her. It is characteristic of
the Harry whom we once knew that she permits these young people to
accompany her--and one another--on the very quest that has their final
separation for its object. She can not resist making them happy while
she can; and she can refuse her Charley nothing. Moreover, Solomon is in
the City, looking after his mining interests, and need never know.
In appearance, however, Harry Trevethick is greatly changed. She is but
seven-and-thirty, yet has already passed into the shade of middle life.
Her hair, though still in profusion, is tinged with gray; her features
are worn and sharp; her brow is wrinkled; and in her once trustful eyes
dwells a certain eager care, not mere distress or trouble, but an
anxiety which is almost Fear.
The three are now in one of the streets which unite Cavendish Square
with Oxford Street, as a busy babbling rill connects the unruffled lake
with the roaring river. It is composed both of shops and private houses,
the latter of which in some cases deign, notwithstanding their genteel
appearance, to accommodate visitors by the week or month.
"This is the sort of locality your father wished for, Charley," remarked
Mrs. Coe, looking about her; "it seems central, and yet tolerably quiet.
Let us try this house."
The name of "Basil," without prefix, was engraved upon the door-plate;
and in a corner of the dining-room window lurked an enameled card with
"Apartments" on it.
"There is no need to drag Agnes and you in," Mrs. Coe went on, as they
stood waiting for the bell to be answered. So Charles, well pleased, was
left outside with the young girl, while his mother "went over the
house." In a few minutes, however, she reappeared, and in a somewhat
hurried and excited tone observed, "I think this place will do, my
dears; but there is a good deal to talk about and settle, which will
take me some time. Therefore I think you had better go home together,
and leave me." Then, without waiting for a reply, she retired within and
closed the door.
"How very curious!" exclaimed Agnes, wondering.
"Oh, not at all," said the young man, cheerfully; "my mother likes to do
things for herself, and I dare say has not a very high opinion of our
judgment in domestic matters. You don't seem over-pleased, it seems to
me, Agnes, at the notion of a _tete-a-tete_ with your humble servant;"
and Mr. Charles pouted, half in fun and half with annoyance.
"No, no; it is not that, Charles," answered the girl, hastily. "You know
I have no pleasure equal to that of being with you; but I don't like
your mother's looks; she had such a strange air, and spoke so
differently from her usual way. I really scarcely like to leave her."
"My dear Agnes, you don't know my mother," returned Charles, laughing.
"One would sometimes think she had all the care of the world upon her
shoulders when every thing is going as smooth as oil. You don't
appreciate the grave responsibility of taking furnished lodgings for a
week certain. Come along, you little goose." And, drawing her still
hesitating arm within his own, he marched away with her.
Yet Agnes had reason for what she said; and Charles, somewhat selfish as
he was, would have foregone his flirtation and remained by his mother's
side had he seen her the moment after the house door had shut her in.
With a throbbing heart, and a face as white as the handkerchief she
passed over her damp brow, she leaned against the wall of the passage,
ere, with trembling steps, she approached the open parlor door. An aged
woman stood in the centre of the room, with hair as white as snow, but
with a figure straight as a poplar, and drawn up rigidly to its full
"Why do you come back again?" cried she, in accents soft as milk, yet
bitter as gall. "Why do you cross my threshold, you false witch, when
there is nothing more to blight and blast? Did you think I should not
know you, that you dared to come? I should know you among all the
fair-faced fiends in hell."
"Mercy, mercy, Mrs. Yorke!" cried Harry, feebly; and she fell upon her
knees, and made as though she would have clasped the other's garments
with her stretched-out arms.
"Don't touch me, lest I strike you," answered the old woman, fiercely,
"as, nineteen years ago, I would have struck you on your cruel lips, and
spoiled the beauty that was the ruin of my boy! May _you_ have sons to
perish through false wantons, and to pine in prison! May _you_ be
desolate, and without heart or hope, as I am! Go, devil, go, and rid me
of your hateful presence!"
"Hear me, hear me, Mrs. Yorke!" pleaded the other, with clasped hands.
"Strike me, spit upon me, if you will, but only hear me! Abject as I
look, wretched as I feel--as I knew I must needs look and feel--I have
longed for this hour to come, as my boy longs for his bridal morning!"
"May he wake the next to find his bride a corpse; or, better still, to
find her false, like you."
"I am not false; I never was; Heaven knows it!" cried Harry,
passionately. "I do not blame you for your bitter words. I have earned
your curses, though I meant to earn your blessing."
"My blessing!" Contempt and hatred struggled for the mastery in her
tone. "Richard, Richard! in your chains and toil, do you hear this? This
woman meant to earn my blessing!"
"Upon my soul--whose salvation I would have imperiled to save him--I did
my best, although it seemed my worst," cried Harry. "That I was weak and
credulous and fearful is most true; but indeed, indeed, I was faithful
to your son. My father--he is dead, madam, and past your judgment" (for
the fury in the other's eyes had blazed up afresh at the mention of
him)--"deceived me with false hopes; for fear alone--though I was timid
too--would never have caused me to break the promise I had passed to
you. He said, if I disgraced myself and him by the perjury I
contemplated, that he would thrust me from his door forever; that in the
lips of all the world my name would become another word for shame and
infamy; that even the man I loved would loathe me when I had thus served
his turn. I answered him, 'No matter, so I save my Richard.' Then he
said, 'But you will not save him; you will ruin him, rather, by this
very evidence you purpose to give. We have proof enough of this Yorke's
guilt, no matter what you swear; and we have proof, besides, of his
having committed other offenses, if we choose to adduce it. All you will
effect is to make yourself shameful.' Then I hesitated, not knowing what
to think. 'The case is this,' argued my father: 'I have no grudge
against this young scoundrel, since the money has been all recovered,
and I don't want revenge--else, as I say, I can easily get it. But I'll
have him taught a lesson; he must be punished for the wrong he has done,
but not severely. Before the judge passes sentence, I, the prosecutor,
will beg him off: such an appeal is always listened to, you know, and I
will make it. But if you dare to speak for him, as I hear you mean to
do--if you, my daughter, call yourself thief and trollop to save his
skin, then shall he rot in jail! He shall, by Heaven! His fate hangs on
my lips, not yours,'"
"Can this be true?" mused the old woman.
"It _is_ true, so help me Heaven!" cried Harry. "I was a fool, a poor,
weak, shuddering fool, but not a traitress. If you were in court, and
saw me look at him--the smile I gave by which I meant to assure him all
was well, however ill it seemed--You _did_ see it; I see you did. You do
believe me. Oh, thank Heaven--thank Heaven!"
She began to sob and cry, and caught hold of the old woman's hand and
kissed it, while the other stood silent, still in doubt.
"Oh, madam, pity me. That you have suffered torments for long years is
plain to see, and yet you have not, though he was your son, been
tortured as I have. You could not have freed him by a word as I could;
and oh, I did not utter it! I seemed to be his judge, his jailer, the
cause of all his woes, to the man I loved--and loved beyond all others!
I hated my own father for his sake. I"--she shuddered--"I was married to
Richard's rival. You at least have been alone, not companioned night and
day by one who helped to doom him. Your case is hard and bitter--but
mine! not our own Richard, in his chains and toil, has suffered what _I_
have suffered! Look at me, madam, and tell me if I speak truth or lie."
"Yes, yes," mused Mrs. Yorke, in tender tones, and passing her fingers
over the other's silvering hair and haggard face; "I do--I must believe
it. I should not have known you to-day had you not called me by my name.
You must have mourned for him indeed. Is this the cheek he loved to
kiss? Is this the hair a lock of which I took to comfort him in prison?
Poor soul--poor soul!"
"How is he, madam?" whispered Harry, hoarsely. "Is he well? Is he free?"
"Not yet, Harry. In a year hence he will be. I had a letter only
yesterday. But you must never see him; and if you really love him--I
speak it for his sake, not theirs--you must never let him set eyes on
your husband or your boy."
"I do not wish to see him; it would be too terrible to bear," groaned
"But he must not see _them_," insisted the other, gravely. "You must put
the sea between yourselves and him, or there will be murder done. His
wrath is terrible, and will be the destruction of both them and him. The
hope of vengeance is the food he lives upon, and without which he would
have perished years ago. Even if you persuaded him, as you have
convinced _me_, that you yourself are innocent of his ruin, that would
only make him firmer in his purpose against your husband. He will have
his life-blood, and then his own will pay for it. If I had not seen you,
I meant to see this man, and give him warning six months before Richard
left the prison."
"Solomon would never heed it," exclaimed Harry, "nor even believe it if
I told him."
"He will believe _me_," said the other, composedly. "You must bring him
here that I may tell him. Your Solomon must be a fool indeed not to
hearken when a mother warns him against her own son. Mind, I do not
blame my Richard, woman!" continued Mrs. Yorke, with sudden passion; "he
has had provocation enough; it is but right to kill such vermin, and I
could stand by and smile to see him do it. But they must be kept apart,
I say--this man and Richard--lest a worse thing befall him than has
"Never to see him more!" moaned Harry, covering her face with her hands;
"never to tell him I was not the wretch I seemed! only to fear him as an
enemy to me and mine--"
"Ay, and to himself," interrupted the other, gravely. "If you would not
inflict far more on him than you have done already; if you would not--as
you will, if you neglect my warning--designedly bring him to a shameful
death, as you have involuntarily doomed him to a shameful life, keep
these two men apart. If you love this son of yours, remove him from the
reach of mine."
"Great Heaven!" cried Harry, shuddering, "would he harm my boy--my
"Ay, as he would set his heel upon his father--the viper and his brood.
It is no idle menace he has breathed so cautiously that the whisper
might well escape even another ear than mine, in every letter for these
many years. He thirsts for liberty, not for his own sake, but for the
slow-ripening vengeance it shall bear. He will have it, unless we save
him from himself by saving them from him, as sure as yonder inky cloud
will fall in storm. The thought of it was full grown in his mind when he
wrote from Cross Key: '_They are dead to me, those three, at present_,'
and forbade me ever to mention them by name; and since then he has
thought of nothing else. The day of retribution is about to dawn. I say
again, beware of him."
"But he must be mad to cherish--"
"Perhaps he is," interrupted the old woman, coldly; "he will not be less
dangerous on that account to those who made him mad."
There was a long silence. Then Harry, in submissive tones, inquired what
Mrs. Yorke would have her do.
"Bring your husband hither," returned she. "Take the rooms up stairs,
and leave the task of telling him his peril to me: the sooner it is done
the better. There is but a year at most--not much too long to sell his
goods, and get him away across the world, erasing every footstep behind
him. If he leave one--no matter how slight the clew--Richard will track
him like a blood-hound."
"We will come here at once--to-morrow," cried Harry, eagerly.
"Good. My name is Basil now, remember; not that it is likely," she
added, bitterly, "that you will call me Yorke from habit; it is not a
household word with you, I reckon."
"It is never breathed," said Harry, simply; "but, oh, madam, I _think_
of him, indeed I do! He was my first love, and my last; and though he
should kill me for the crime, of which I have shown myself guiltless, I
should pray God bless him with my latest breath. Yet he must curse _me_
forever! He must never know but that I was the willing agent of his
"'Tis true, I dare not mention your name, Harry," said Mrs. Yorke,
sadly; "and, if I told him, all the knowledge of the deception practiced
on you would only make him the more bitter against your husband--the man
who, by connivance in your father's cruel falsehood, obtained you for
his wife, while his rival pined in prison. I do not blame you for your
marriage--I know the force of stern necessity too well. But do not
imagine that Richard could forgive you: he never, never could."
"I know it, I know it," sighed Harry, shuddering, "and yet he would pity
me if he did but know what my life has been--almost as much as I have
pitied _him_. But you, madam, _you_ at least have forgiven me; you
believe me; you will not refuse to bless me, as his mother, before I
"I believe you, and therefore I forgive you," answered Mrs. Yorke, with
tenderness; "and if I believed in blessings, and had the power of
bestowing them, you should have your wish. From henceforth we two are
friends--though I never thought to kiss your cheek again, Harry--and
must work together for the good of him we love in common. You will be
here to-morrow for certain, then?"
"Without fail we shall."
Mrs. Coe was as good as her word, and her husband and son were Mrs.
Basil's lodgers within four-and-twenty hours. Solomon Coe was not very
particular as to furnished apartments, and left such arrangements wholly
to his wife. On the other hand, he confided to her but little respecting
his affairs, nor was she, on her part, curious to inquire into them. Man
and wife had few things in common, and affection was not one of them.
Solomon had married Harry with the full consciousness that another was
preferred before him; the disclosures at the trial, and the subsequent
gossip of his neighbors, had placed that fact beyond a doubt. But he was
not to be balked of the bride that had been promised him so long; nor,
above all, should his rival enjoy even the barren victory of Harry's
remaining unwedded for his sake. There are marriages born of pique and
spite on man's part as well as woman's; and Solomon's was one of them,
although he reaped, of course, material advantages besides. Trevethick
had survived more than ten years, during which he had largely increased
his savings; and at his death all these had reverted to his daughter and
her husband. The wealth that had thus poured in upon Solomon through
Harry's means did not purchase for her any new regard; he had never
ill-treated her, in a material sense, but he had spoken ash-sticks,
though he had used none. On the slightest quarrel, that "jail-bird
friend of yours" had been thrown in her face, and the cowardly missile
was still cast at her upon occasion. The birth of their child had not
cemented their union. As he grew up his character showed itself as
foreign to that of his father as was his personal appearance. He was
slight in figure, delicate in appearance (though not in constitution),
and fastidious in taste. His choice of an artist's calling was not so
objectionable to Solomon as might be imagined; he had not sensitiveness
enough to abhor it from association, and, as has been said, he thought
it might be made to co-operate with his own commercial schemes. But the
artist nature was in antagonism to his own, and Charles and his father
were not on affectionate terms with one another.
The wayward, handsome lad was, on the other hand, adored by his mother.
Her intelligence, not naturally acute, was quickened to see his faults,
not indeed as such, but as possible causes of misfortune to him. His too
lively impulses, his indecision, his love of pleasure, were all sources
of apprehension to her, though scarcely ever of rebuke. She saw in Agnes
Aird, his tutor's daughter--so simple, yet so sensible and sterling, so
faithful, pure, and true--the very girl to make her son a fitting wife;
an antidote for what was amiss in him; her honest heart a sheet-anchor
to hold him fast, not in the turbid ocean of excess, for her Charley was
too good to tempt it, but through that sparkling sea of gayety in which
he was too apt to plunge. She was beautiful enough even for him to mate
with; she was better born and better trained than he; for old Jacob Aird
was none of those irregular geniuses of the pencil, addicted to
gin-punch and Shelley, and selfish to the core, but a plain honest man,
who had brought up his daughter well--in tastes a lady, but housewifely
and wisely too. As for the inequality of wealth between them, her son
would have enough for both; and it was certain that Agnes did not love
him for his expectations, for they were unknown alike to her and him.
Harry had never led him to believe that he would be a rich man; her
love, as we have said, had made her wise in all that concerned Charley;
and as for his father, he was naturally reticent in such matters. He did
not spend one fifth part of his income. His habits were as inexpensive
as they had been in the old days at Gethin; and if the village folks had
ever hinted to the young fellow of his father's wealth, he had no
conception of its real extent. The idea itself, too, would have had no
great interest for him; he liked to have money for the pleasure of
spending it, but it was never the object of his thoughts; he was too
careless, too much the creature of the hour, to forecast his future. His
mother gave him all she could, but he was aware that it was obtained
with difficulty; the cost of his very education, which he had received
at a school near Turlock, had, he knew, been grudged; his father had
often grumbled that it was money thrown away, for, "Look at me," said
he; "I taught myself." There was always, in short, a tightness in the
Coe money market that augured any thing but pecuniary prosperity.
The very fact of their having taken lodgings at Mr. Aird's house,
situated as it was in Soho, a respectable but far from fashionable
locality, argued but moderate means, and placed the artist out of all
suspicion of setting his pretty daughter as a matrimonial snare for
Charley. She was pretty enough and good enough, the old man justly
thought, for him or for his betters; and though he regarded the
good-will which the young people evidently entertained for one another
with favor, he saw in it neither condescension nor advantage. Solomon,
much engaged in business affairs away from home, and estimating,
besides, the power of love at a low rate, was not seriously alarmed at
the growing attachment between his son and Agnes, nor would have been
had it advanced much farther. He thought he had only to say "No," to put
a stop to it at any point. Still he had determined to place the boy out
of the reach of such temptation as a pretty girl living beneath the same
roof must always offer to susceptible youth; and hence it was that Mrs.
Coe had engaged new lodgings. But even now, so lightly did his father
think of the matter, that Charley was still to be permitted to visit at
Mr. Aird's daily, and take his drawing-lessons as heretofore.
An excuse for the change of residence had been afforded in the fact that
Soho was too far from the parks, in which alone Mrs. Coe took pleasure
in walking. She was quite unaccustomed to town life, and the roar and
tumult of the streets annoyed and even alarmed her. In some respects,
indeed, she was even a more nervous, timid creature than she had been as
a girl; the warning just received from Mrs. Yorke had not fallen upon
her altogether unexpectedly, though she could not have been said to be
prepared for it. A vague apprehension of Richard's vengeance had haunted
her whole married life; she did not fear for her own safety; something
told her that his anger would scorn to harm herself; that it would pass
over her head like a flaming sword, and smite her husband and her boy;
and as face after face passed by her in the crowded street, she would
shrink and tremble, thinking that that of Richard Yorke would come one
day, and recognize her own, and track it home. Was he not fated to work
their common ruin? Did not the spectre ship cross Turlock Sands before
she met his face for the first time? Though so mature in years, Harry
was indeed as superstitious as ever. A curious instance of this occurred
on the day that the Coes moved into their new lodgings. The mother and
son had arrived first--Solomon being engaged in the City until
evening--and Charley had strolled into the ground-floor parlor, while
the landlady (whom he had not yet seen) was engaged with his mother up
stairs in the distribution of the luggage. Above the chimney-piece hung
that striking if not attractive portrait of Joanna Southcott and her
amanuensis, with which we are already acquainted; and it tickled the
young man's fancy amazingly. He concluded it was a family group--the
likeness, perhaps, of Mrs. Basil and her late husband engaged in making
out their weekly accounts. "I will beg Agnes not to be jealous of our
charming landlady," thought he, and took out his note-book with the
intention of transferring the likeness for that young lady's amusement.
While engaged in this occupation the door opened, and in stepped Mrs.
Basil and her new tenant. In his alarm and haste he stepped back
suddenly, and overthrew a little table, on which were some ornaments, he
knew not what, which rolled to his mother's feet. She uttered a cry of
horror; and the landlady herself stood still, regarding him with a face
of astonishment, and even terror.
"Is that--your--son?" exclaimed she, clutching his mother by the arm.
But Mrs. Coe did not seem to hear her.
"Look, look!" cried she; "the skull, the skull! Oh, is it not a
"I am really very sorry," said Charley, picking up the article in
question; "it was very stupid of me, Mrs. Basil."
"Don't mention it, young Sir," said the landlady, who had apparently
recovered from her sudden tremor; "the skull is no worse for its roll,
you see; he was fortunately a hard-headed gentleman who originally owned
"Indeed," said Charley, taking it from her hand with some curiosity,
"it seems a curious ornament for a sitting-room. May I ask whom it
belonged to when it had flesh about it?"
"It is the skull of Swedenborg," answered Mrs. Basil. "A near relative
of mine was a disciple of his, and left it to me as a most precious
"But how the deuce did he get possession of it?" inquired the young man.
"Well, not very fairly, as it seems to me," smiled the landlady. "While
your mother sits down and rests herself--for I am afraid you have
frightened her a bit--I'll tell you the story."
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Coe, faintly; "I shall be better presently; don't
"Well, the tale runs thus, Sir. Swedenborg was buried in the vault
beneath the Swedish embassador's chapel in Princes Square, Ratcliffe
Highway; and a certain theologian having once affirmed that all great
philosophers took their bodies with them into the world of spirits, and
that this gentleman had done the like, leave was obtained to settle this
point by actual examination. The body was found, and the theologian
confuted, but no trouble was taken to solder on again the lid of the
coffin. A thieving Swede, attending a funeral of one of his countrymen
in the same vault, remarked this circumstance, and stole the skull, with
the intention of selling it to some disciple of the great philosopher's;
and I am ashamed to say that he found a purchaser in my respected
relative: and that's how I became possessed of Swedenborg's skull."
"Very curious, though rather larcenous," observed the young man,
laughing. "And this good lady over the mantel-piece, who is she?"
"That's Joanna Southcott. But, my good young gentleman, I will answer
all your questions another time. Your mother and I will have enough to
do to arrange matters before your father comes home. You will excuse my
"Certainly," said Charley, rather amused than otherwise with the
landlady's bluntness. "I know I'm in the way just now; so I'll step out
for half an hour or so. I am sorry I frightened you, dear mother."
He stooped and kissed her fondly; and then, with a smile and a nod at
Mrs. Basil, stepped into the little passage and out of doors, and,
whistling, passed the window down the street.
"Your son has a light heart," said Mrs. Basil, looking at Harry very
earnestly. "How old is he?"
"Eighteen--or a little less."
"He looks his age _at least_," observed the other, emphatically.
"Yes; dark people always do."
"And your husband is dark, like him, I remember."
"Yes; his complexion is swarthy, though he is not slim, like Charles."
Mrs. Coe, still in the arm-chair into which she had first sunk, here
closed her eyes; either the faintness of which she had complained was
coming on again, or she did not wish to meet the other's searching gaze.
There was a long pause, during which Mrs. Basil went to the cellaret,
and pouring out a glass of sherry, put it to her tenant's lips.
"Do you feel better now?" said she, when Harry had drunk it.
"Yes, yes; much better. But that skull--oh, horrible! it rolled from him
to me. What an omen on your very threshold! Heaven guard my Charles from
"This is weakness, Mrs. Coe. The skull is harmless; and it rolled
because your son upset it."
"Yes, my son," gasped the other, trembling. "It is for him I fear. It
There was a ring at the front-door, decisive, sharp, and resonant.
"Great Heaven!" cried Harry; "if it should be he himself! Hide me away;
put me out of sight." Her terror was piteous to behold: she shook in
"It is the post," said Mrs. Basil, contemptuously; and she was right.
The servant brought in a letter for her mistress.
"I don't know the hand," mused she. "Black-bordered, and black-sealed
too." She opened it without excitement, and read it through: it was but
a few lines.
"Your omen has proved true for once, Mrs. Coe," said she, in quiet
tones. "This speaks of death."
"Whose death?" cried Harry.
"My husband's, Richard's father. Carew of Crompton died last night."
There was no sorrow in the aged woman's face: a gravity, unmixed with
tenderness, possessed it. Carew was naught to her, and had been naught
for twoscore years. But the tide of memory was at its flow within her
brain; and because the Past _is_ Past it touches us. This man had loved
her once, after his own scornful manner, when he was young, and before
power and selfishness had made him stone. He had been the father of her
only son, and now he was Dead.
"I am so sorry," said Harry, not quite knowing what to say.
"There is no need for sorrow," replied the other, quietly. "Let us go up
stairs and finish our work."
Carew of Crompton was really dead, as men said, "at last," not that he
had been long dying, or was an old man, but that he had eventually
succumbed to one of those deadly risks to which he had so often
voluntarily exposed himself. On the occasion which had been fatal to him
he had started from home one frosty morning at the gallop, with a cigar
in his mouth, the reins on his horse's neck, and both his hands in his
pockets, and had been pitched off and broken his neck within half a mile
of his own door. His chaplain, who had dispatched the news to Mrs.
Basil, had been riding by his side at the very moment. "He was a good
friend to me," was the laconic remark that poor Parson Whymper had added
to the bare intelligence.
To judge by the regretful excitement in the Midlands, Carew might have
been a good friend to every body. The news was at once telegraphed to
town, and appeared in the evening papers. The public interest in his mad
freaks had of late years grown somewhat faint--his extravagances were,
perforce, on a less splendid scale--but his death revived it. "So that
mad Carew has killed himself, after all," was the observation frequently
overheard that evening, as acquaintance met acquaintance on their
homeward way from business. "Well, he's had his whack of most things,"
was the reply of the philosophers; "He has not left much to tempt his
heirs to be extravagant, I reckon," of the cynics; "He was a deuced good
fellow at bottom, I believe," remarked those who were secretly desirous
of earning the same eulogium for themselves; "He was altogether wrong at
top," answered the charitable.
Solomon Coe came home to his new abode in such a state of elation that
it even made him communicative to his wife. Mrs. Basil happened to be
with her in the drawing-room, but he only acknowledged her presence by a
hasty nod. "Well, what d'ye think, Carew of Crompton, that was your
father's landlord and mine"--Solomon never said "ours" with reference to
property--"has broken his neck at last!"
Of course the very name of Carew was a sore subject between man and
wife, on account of Richard Yorke's connection with him; but it suited
Solomon's purpose on this occasion to ignore that circumstance. It would
be necessary for some time to come to allude to the Crompton property
more or less, and it was just as well to begin at once; it was also less
embarrassing to do so in the presence of a third person.
"Yes, Solomon, I knew Mr. Carew was dead," said Harry, gravely. The next
instant she turned scarlet with the consciousness of her thoughtless
"Oh," grunted her husband, annoyed at what he deemed her sulky manner,
when he himself was so graciously inclined to be conciliatory, and also
displeased to find his news anticipated, "you've been buying an evening
paper, have you? You must have more money than you know what to do with,
it seems to me."
Harry was thankfully accepting this imputation in silence, when Mrs.
Basil's soft voice was heard. "No, Sir; it was I who told your good
lady. I had a letter from Crompton by the afternoon's post."
"The devil you did!" cried Solomon, turning sharply upon her. "How came
"I was housekeeper at Crompton, Sir, in old Mrs. Carew's time, for some
years, and one of the servants wrote to let me know of the accident."
"Housekeeper, were you?" said Solomon, with interest. "That must have
been a good place, with deuced good pickings, eh?"
"Solomon, Solomon," remonstrated his wife, in a low voice, "Mrs. Basil
is quite a lady. Don't you see that you offend her?"
It is more than probable that, under ordinary circumstances, Mr. Coe
would have resented this rebuke with choleric vehemence; but he had his
reasons for being good-humored in the present instance. "You must excuse
my country manners, Mrs. Basil," said he. "As my wife will tell you, I
must always have my joke; but I mean no offense. So you were housekeeper
at Crompton, were you? Well, now, that's curious, for Mrs. Coe's father
and I myself, as you heard me saying, have had a great deal to do with
Carew. You knew him well, of course?"
"Yes, Sir; I did."
"And the place too, of course. It was a very fine one, was it not?
Plenty of pictures, and looking-glasses, and things?"
"It was very richly furnished."
It was curious to mark the difference of manner between questioner and
respondent. Solomon, usually so reticent and reserved, was grown quite
voluble. Mrs. Basil, on the other hand, naturally so apt in speech,
seemed to reply with difficulty. She was weighing every word.
"The estate, I suppose, was out of your beat; you did not have much to
do with that?"
"I used to walk in the park, Sir, most days."
"Ay; but the property generally? The friend who writes you to-day don't
say any thing about _that_, I suppose--whether any of it is to be sold
or not, for instance?"
"The report--of course, being a servant, she can only speak from
report--is that Mr. Carew's affairs are in a sad state. Every thing, I
believe, is to be sold at once. The whole estate is said to be--I don't
know if I use the right term--mortgaged."
"Just so," replied Solomon; "yes, yes. That is so, no doubt." There was
a slight pause; Mrs. Basil courtesied, and was about to leave the room.
"Stop a bit, ma'am," said Solomon. "My wife tells me that you are a lone
woman--a widow. Perhaps you'd like to take a bit of dinner with us
Harry began to think her husband was intoxicated. He did get
occasionally so when any particularly good stroke of business was in
course of progress, and on such occasions his manner was unusually
affable; but she had never seen him half so gracious as at present.
Hospitality, though he did sometimes bring a mining agent or a broker
home to dinner, was by no means his strong point. Mrs. Basil looked
doubtfully at her dress, which, though homely, was perfectly well-made
and lady-like, and murmured something about its being almost the
dinner-hour, and there being "no time."
"Oh, never mind your gown" (which, by-the-by, Solomon pronounced
"gownd"); "we're quite plain people ourselves, as my wife will tell you.
You shall take pot-luck with us. Where's Charley? That boy's always
But at that very moment the young gentleman in question entered the
room, at the same time as did the servant with the announcement that
dinner was on the table.
The astonishment of the domestic at seeing her mistress taken down to
the dining-room by the new lodger was only exceeded by that of Charley,
as, with his mother on his arm, he followed the strangely assorted pair.
"I knew she was a witch," he murmured, "with her human skull and her
Joanna Southcott; but this beats old Margery's doings at Gethin."
"Hush, hush!" whispered his mother, for Charley's high spirits and
audacity always terrified her when exhibited in his father's presence:
"they have found they have a common acquaintance, and so made friends."
"Father didn't know Swedenborg, did he?" answered the young man, slyly.
"My belief is, he has fallen in love with her. I saw a black cat on the
stairs. She can make any body do it, as I was telling Aggey" (the young
rogue had been to Soho since the morning); "I shall be the next victim,
no doubt. It's no use saying to myself, 'Thou shalt not marry thy
grandmother.' Her charms are too powerful for the rubric. You'll see
she'll not say grace."
Mr. Charles was right in that particular of his diagnosis of their new
guest. Mrs. Basil did treat that devotional formula, which Mrs. Coe
never omitted to pronounce, in spite of her husband's contemptuous
shrugs, with considerable indifference. She sat opposite to Charley, and
more than once, when he looked up suddenly, he caught her gaze fixed
earnestly upon him. Those wondrous eyes of hers yet shone forth bright
and clear; her cheeks were still smooth; and, though her brow had many a
wrinkle, they were the footprints of thought and care, rather than of
The conversation, as was natural where the company and the guest were
strangers to each other, turned upon the topics of the day, and the
objects in the room, some of which, as we know, were sufficiently
remarkable. At Charley's request Mrs. Basil once more narrated the story
of the skull; and then epitomized, with caustic tongue, the biography of
poor Joanna. Up stairs, she said, she had one of that lady's "seals"--a
passport to eternal bliss--which she would bestow as a present upon the
young gentleman opposite. Her cynical humor delighted Charley, and won
the approbation of his father--not the less so, perhaps, since he saw it
annoyed his wife.
Poor Harry was a simple well-meaning woman in her way, and, had the
circumstances of her life been less exceptional, would have earned the
reputation of a good creature and steadfast chapel-goer. But our lives
do not always fall in the places most suitable to our dispositions; the
restive are often compelled to run in harness; and the quiet low-action
goers, who would welcome restraint, are left without guide, and with no
course marked out for them. Thus it was with Mrs. Coe. The situation in
which Fate had placed her it was altogether beyond her powers to fill.
She knew that Mrs. Basil was rapidly ingratiating herself with her
husband, and so far was furthering their common plan; but,
notwithstanding its supreme importance, she shrank from the means that
were bidding fair to accomplish her own end. She shuddered at her
husband's vulgar ejaculations of assent and approval; at her son's
thoughtless laughter; at this woman's sparkling and audacious talk,
which seemed so purposeless, and yet was so full of design and craft.
She had feared her and shrank from her at Gethin, and she feared her
now. And yet how necessary was her assistance! Of her own self she was
well aware that she could do nothing to avert that coming peril from her
husband and her son, the shadow of which had darkened all her married
life, and was now deepening into blackest doom. It was absolutely
necessary that Mrs. Basil should obtain the confidence of Solomon, and
perhaps of Charley also, and yet this unlooked-for and swift success of
hers was far from welcome to poor Harry. It really almost seemed that
there was truth in what her son had spoken in jest--that there was
witchcraft in it.
Solomon was now talking earnestly to Mrs. Basil in low tones, while
Charley looked toward his mother with raised eyebrows, and a comic
expression, which seemed to say, "She's got him, you see; I did see a
black cat on the stairs."
If she could have overheard her husband's talk, it would still have been
inexplicable to her.
"Then you think this sale at Crompton will take place directly after the
"I should certainly imagine so--yes."
"There is something--you needn't tell my wife, because I wish it to be a
surprise for her--that I should like to buy at it; something I have long
had my eye on."
"Some piece of furniture, I suppose. Well, you must be prepared to give
a good sum, I fear. From the curiosity of the thing--the reputation, I
mean, of poor Mr. Carew--it is likely things will fetch more than their
"Perhaps so. But I should like to know, as soon as possible, when the
sale comes off. From your connection with the place, you will be able to
get news of this before the general public--I mean the exact date."
"No doubt. I will write to-morrow, and beg that the information may be
"I should feel much obliged if you would, Mrs. Basil."
"I'll write this very night. You wish to know the day on which the sale
of the furniture may be fixed?"
"Yes; and of all the other things: of the estates as well, for instance;
there may be some land that may prove a good investment. Don't make a
fuss about it, but say you have a friend who is interested. The
catalogue of effects, with the dates appointed for the sale of each,
will, of course, be settled down there. I want to have an early copy."
"That is very simple," said Mrs. Basil, making a memorandum in her
pocket-book: "you shall be among the very first to get one, Mr. Coe--you
may rely on that."
OVER THE ROOF.
Richard Yorke is still at Lingmoor; and though but a twelvemonth
intervenes between him and freedom--or perhaps partly because of
it--prison life is growing insupportable. It is the last year of "a long
term," as all "old hands" will tell you, which is the most trying.
Impatience becomes more incontrollable as the limit of suffering is
neared; and just as, after a tedious and dangerous illness, the
convalescent will rise too soon, and risk a relapse in his feverish
desire to be well, so a prisoner will often make some wild endeavors to
escape, when, if he did but wait a little--a span of time compared with
that in which he has lain captive--his jealous doors would open of
themselves to let him pass in safety. But there are other reasons which
are pressing Richard toward flight, and goading him (as he feels) to
madness if he remain quiescent. He has quarreled with all about him, and
has suffered for it; and he is now menaced with worse things. His
sullenness, his brooding ire, have long transformed his nature;
civility, and even obedience, have become impossible for him. He kicks,
as it were, against a chevaux-de-frise of steel. He has been starved on
bread and water, and grown thin and fierce. He has been put, and not for
nothing, into the dark cell for hours, to brood, as usual, and has come
forth a more reckless devil than he went in.
His warder and he are open foes. That cross-grained official has taken a
strong antipathy to him, which is more than reciprocated; and every,
time he enters his cell sets foot, though unconscious of the fact, on
the very threshold of the grave. He is the keeper of one who is almost a
madman; but the latter is sane on one point yet--he knows to whom his
vengeance is mainly due; and while that knowledge lasts his lesser foe
is safe from him--safe, that is, at present; but a provocation may be
given which would compel this long-suffering victim--in years scarce a
middle-aged man, in appearance gray and withered as the oldest within
those prison walls--to give his passion way, and slay him. If something
should take place, which this warder himself has prophesied would
happen, it will be so; and all Richard's hoarded hate would then be
useless, since it would have no heir. There has been flogging in the
prison--an unusual punishment, and only inflicted for great offenses, or
for continued contumacy and bad conduct. A conspiracy was discovered,
and seven of the ringleaders received three dozen lashes each, in
presence of all the inmates of the jail. It was a punishment perhaps
deserved and necessary, but sickening enough to witness. Richard's
warder stood beside him, and while the cat was descending on one
wretch's naked back, observed in a grim whisper: "Do you take warning,
my man; for if you are reported again, the governor says you are to have
a dose of the same medicine."
Whether the man spoke truth or not, Richard believed him. It was more
than probable that he _would_ be reported, and by the very voice that
uttered the menace. In a twelvemonth's time there were three hundred and
sixty-five opportunities, ten times told, of its being fulfilled. If
such a sentence was ever passed upon him, as it was almost sure to be,
Richard was well resolved that it should not be carried out; rather
should this man die, and he himself, his slayer, be hung for it. His
desire for vengeance upon those who had blasted his young life so
cruelly was as strong as ever--nay, stronger, fiftyfold; but he knew
that he could never bear the lash. Somehow or other, therefore, at all
risks, he must escape from Lingmoor.
Robert Balfour was to be set free in a few days, his conduct, though not
good, having earned that much of remission. Richard was not envious of
him, yet the contrast of their two positions made him perhaps more
desperate and reckless. Of late months the old man had been admitted to
certain privileges accorded to such as have almost worked out their
time, or who are otherwise recommended for them. He had been employed as
"a cleaner," then as "a special"--in which position he was permitted to
work out of doors without an attendant warder, and even (in his
particular case, for he was growing very old and feeble) to have leave
of absence for an hour or two. On some occasions it was his duty to
bring round the prisoners' meals; and then he saw Richard, and could
even exchange a word or two with him alone. This happened upon the
afternoon of the day when the public flogging had taken place.
"Balfour," said Richard, earnestly, "will you do me a favor?"
"Yes, lad, any thing," replied the old man, softly. The word "lad"
seemed so inapplicable to that gray-headed, care-lined face, which he
had known so young and comely, that the misuse of it touched the
speaker. "You know I will."
"Even though you should run a risk," said Richard, "within a day or two
of your freedom?"
"Ay; for your sake, I would do that and more."
"God bless you, if there be a God!" answered those haggard lips. "Ask
leave to go to the village to-morrow, and get me a file."
The conversation thus interrupted was resumed next day.
"Here is the file," said Balfour; "hide it in your mattress. But, lad,
you will be mad to use it. I pray you be patient. It is only a
Richard shook his head, with a ghastly smile. "I must try," said he.
"Nay, nay; you will be retaken and flogged, lad; think of that."
"I shall never be retaken, Balfour, at least alive."
It was easy enough to read in Richard's face the corroboration of his
"Have you any plan?" asked the old man, disconsolately.
"I have. From my window here I see an open shed, with a coil of rope in
it. I shall file my bars, and get that rope to-night; climb back again
here, and over the roof. I have calculated the distance from outside. I
feel sure I can reach the parapet with my finger-tips as I stand upon
the window-ledge, then let myself down into the exercising-yard upon the
"The walls about that yard are sixty feet high, lad."
"There is a spout in the north corner which will help me up; and if I
reach the top without a broken neck, I make fast my rope, and slide on
to the moor. From thence, no matter how dark it is--and it will be
pitch-dark, I reckon--I can make Bergen Wood. No power on earth shall
stop me. If you told the warder yonder of my plan this moment, I should
still escape--in another and more certain fashion." To look at him and
read the resolute despair in his white face was to have no doubt of
"What must be must be," sighed the old man. "But for _my_ sake, lad--for
mine, who love you as a father loves his own son--be patient till
to-morrow. This is my last day at Lingmoor. To-morrow I shall be free.
I'll come at night to the wall of the west yard, and throw a rope over
the north corner, close by the spout you mention. It shall be made fast
on my side, and if you do but lay hold of it, the rest is easy. Your
scheme, as it now stands, is hopeless. No squirrel could climb that
spout, far less a man reduced as you are;" and he glanced significantly
at Richard's shrunken limbs.
"You are the best of friends, Balfour--indeed, the only man that ever
_was_ my friend." He stopped, as if overcome by an emotion that was so
strange to him. "At midnight, then, to-morrow, I shall begin my work;
and in an hour from that time, if all goes well, I shall be at the spot
appointed. If I fail, you will remember Wheal Danes?"
"Yes, yes; but you will not fail. Keep a good heart," whispered the old
man, as he hurried away at an approaching footstep.
But, in reality, Balfour had no hope. His experience of such attempts,
and his knowledge of the difficulties to be surmounted in the present
instance, forbade any expectation of Richard's success, even in the
matter of getting outside the prison walls; and, supposing that was
done, and the wood reached, what was to be looked for further but slow
starvation or death from the sharp-tipped arrows of the wintry wind?
Still, Balfour's help was promised, and would be given; the old
cracksman had many faults and vices, but he was not one to desert a
friend at a pinch, and Richard Yorke was really dear to him.
As for Richard, notwithstanding the seasonableness of the other's offer,
and although he was himself almost convinced that without such aid he
could never effect his object, no sooner was he left alone than he
regretted that he had passed his word to put off the attempt another
day. Suppose he should transgress some prison regulation between this
and then, or be reported by his hostile attendant without having
committed a transgression! There were thirty-six hours of such perilous
delay before him, and his impatience was already at fever-heat. By
standing on his metal wash-stand, and peering through his bars, he could
see that the coil of rope still lay in its accustomed place that
afternoon, but would it remain there till to-morrow night? The very act
of thus climbing to his window, which he could not resist, was a serious
offense; and if by any chance he should be found in possession of the
file--then all was over. He was fully determined only to part with it
with life itself. For once, the picture of Trevethick and his son-in-law
(for he had heard before he left Cross Key of Harry's marriage with his
rival), unsuspecting, complacent, and exposed to the full force of his
revenge, failed to occupy his gloating thoughts; they were fixed as ever
there, but on the means and not upon the end--his whole being was
engrossed in the coming enterprise. He feared the warder should read
that forbidden word "Escape" in his eager eyes, or on his restless lips.
A change of cell or a sudden examination of his bed-furniture--no
uncommon occurrence--would prove his ruin. He took the file out of his
mattress, and placed it in his breast: let that man beware who found it
At last the long night, which should have found him free, passed by, and
the next weary day. The appointed time had come.
It was past midnight, and not a sound was heard in the vast prison;
there was no moon, but a few stars shone on him as he worked at the iron
bars; the noise of his file was muffled--he had rubbed it well with
soap--but every now and then he paused and listened. He half fancied he
could hear the distant tramp of the patrols, who, musket in hand,
watched the walls of Lingmoor from the roofs of its four stone towers;
but it was only fancy, and, at all events, no one else but they was
stirring. Years ago he had gauged those bars, and calculated that not
less than three must be sawn through to give his body room to pass; but
that was when he was young and plump and vigorous. He was vigorous
now--the fever within him seemed to give him the strength of ten--but he
was an old man to look at, and the flesh had left his bones. So much the
better; there were only two bars to file instead of three. Finding the
space sufficient, he twisted his blanket into a rope, fastened it to the
broken bars, and so, by its aid, slipped noiselessly into the yard.
That portion of the prison was low, and consisted but of two stories;
another cell window was immediately beneath his own, but, as he knew, it
was not used for prisoners. Still, he trembled as he slipped past it.
Suppose a hand had been pushed through to clasp his limbs, or a voice
had given the alarm, and warned the watchful guards! But his feet
touched ground in safety. His eyes, accustomed for long years to cleave
the darkness, guided him straight to the shed and to the coil of rope.
He seized it as the shipwrecked mariner clutches that which is thrown
him from the shore to drag him through the roaring breakers, and then,
winding it about his waist, he retraced his steps. To return to his cell
window was comparatively easy; but to stand upon its narrow ledge, and,
clutching the parapet with his fingers, to draw himself up thereby, was
a task that few, without the hope of liberty to spur them, could have
accomplished. Three times he failed; without something more of purchase
for his hold, he felt the thing was beyond his powers. The question was,
how broad was the stone coping? If, by a sudden spring, he could catch
the other side of it, he might succeed; but if he missed, his hands
would slide from the smooth surface, his feet could not regain their
stand-point, and he would fall backward twenty feet or so upon the stone
There was nothing for it but to run the risk. He gathered his strength
together, shut his eyes, and made a vigorous spring: one hand caught a
firm gripe, and, after a sharp struggle, the other gained it; then he
drew himself slowly up, and lay down in the gutter of the roof to gather
breath and look about him. The prison was built like the four spokes of
a wheel; and, indeed, with the high wall circling round it, did closely
resemble that image. Nearly the whole of the building could have been
seen, had it been light enough, from his present position; but, as it
was, only the west wing was dimly visible, with its guardian tower
standing blackly up against its dark back-ground of wintry night sky. He
could not make out the sentry on its top; but now and then, when his
circuit brought him nearest to his hiding-place, he could hear his
Like a creeping thing, for he scarce used hand or foot at all, Richard
slowly crawled and slid along the sloping roof, then swiftly over the
vertex, while the patrol was at the most distant portion of his round,
and then once more, motionless and almost breathless, he lay down behind
the western parapet. The exercising-yard, into which it was his object
to drop, was just below him; but it was necessary to find some object to
which to fasten his rope; and here he perceived how futile would have
been his plan of escape without assistance from without; for here,
having slid down it, he must needs leave his rope tied to a neighboring
chimney. There was not length enough to cut off, and be of any service
afterward for the descent of the external wall, nigh sixty feet in
height. If Balfour failed him, it was now, indeed, clear to him that his
whole design must fail. Yonder towering wall, higher even than his own
present elevated position, could never be scaled by foot and hand, with
only the help of a spout--nay, he doubted whether, even if he found the
promised rope in position, he could even make use of that; for, though
agile, he had none of the sailor's cunning.
He made fast the coil which he had with him, however, and watching his
opportunity, slid off the parapet into space. Such a feat seems easy
enough to read of; but to slide without noise down a loose and swinging
rope for so great a distance is no slight task to one unused to such
gymnastics; and, besides, he had to check himself at intervals (which
took the skin off from his hands, although at the time he did not feel
it), lest he should suddenly reach the ground with a dull thud. He
accomplished this in safety, and once more paused, his back pushed hard
to the prison wall, while the warder passed, whose form he could now
even make out, it was so immediately above him; then he crossed the yard
with a swift but anxious step to its north corner, and peered about in
the gloom for the promised rope; the spout was there, smooth and
ineffectual enough as a means of exit, but no rope.
His heart died within him, and his hands trembled with anxiety and
trepidation as they felt in vain for it along the smooth and lofty wall.
Richard's brain began to reel. He leaned his trembling brow against the
cold iron of the spout, and endeavored to think the matter out. He was
sure of Balfour; he felt certain that nothing but sudden and dangerous
illness would have prevented him from keeping his word. But perhaps he
had not been able to obtain a rope; such things were watchfully looked
after in the neighborhood of Lingmoor Prison, and might even not be
procurable. Yet had such been the case, Balfour would not have
volunteered that form of assistance. He was of opinion that the rope was
there, then, and if so, it must have been thrown over by means of a
stone, or weight of some kind. In that case, if the stone had rolled
after reaching the ground, the rope might not be hanging like a
plumb-line from the wall, but at an angle from it, and at some distance.
He began to move, then, in a parallel line from the wall, still feeling
right and left; and on the third trial he caught in his stretched-out
hand a string--a string-line such as a boy uses for his kite; and for an
instant, the sense of the inefficacy of such means to effect his purpose
froze him with despair. But presently pulling on the string, he found it
gather in his hand, and pulling softly on, more string, and then an end
of thin but wire-strong rope, and then more rope. What was best of all
was, that this rope was knotted at intervals of every foot, so as to
afford a strong, firm hold.
After many yards of this had been hauled in he found resistance; the end
of it was evidently fast on the other side. Richard passed the rope
round the bottom of the iron spout, and beneath an iron clasp, that
prevented its slipping upward, and then made it taut. It was a perilous
bridge even then, and supposing the watcher with his musket had not
been, as he was, within easy gunshot of him; but it led from prison
walls to liberty, and Richard did not hesitate for a moment to commit
himself to it. Hand over hand, foot after foot, he dragged himself with
infinite effort slowly upward; but it was not now in his power to watch
the patrol, and secure the most favorable moment for crossing the wall
top, as he had done in the case of the roof. As ill luck would have it,
just as the sentry came to the northward portion of his beat, Richard's
form was vaguely visible against the sky, upon the very summit of the
wall. The next instant he had crossed it, and at the hoarse cry, "Who's
there?" had glided rapidly down upon the other side. The sentry's gun
was at his shoulder, and its sharp report rang through the silent night
just as the convict reached the ground. The starlight was just
sufficient, as the warder subsequently swore (and truly), to see the man
was hit; he staggered and fell, but crawled away directly, and was lost
in the surrounding gloom.
At the same moment all the prison seemed to wake to light and life, and
the alarm-bell clashed out its hoarse notes of warning on the wintry
NEWS FROM LINGMOOR.
Mrs. Basil kept her word with her lodger, and (thanks to the chaplain)
gave into his hand a catalogue of the great Crompton sale some hours at
least before the details of it were made public; on the receipt of which
Solomon at once left town. His absence was felt to be a relief by all
parties. The work of ingratiating herself with his hard, coarse nature,
independently of the personal loathing with which Mrs. Basil regarded
him, on Richard's account, was very hard, and rest was grateful to her.
Mrs. Coe was always more at ease when business took her husband from his
home. Charley hailed his departure, since he could now enjoy the society
of his Agnes without stint.
He was, as usual, at Soho one morning, when Harry, sitting alone in the
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