« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
The sight carried me in imagination to the father. So easily may the best persons be widow's house on the road. But the pic- deceived! Turning away from Coward he ture which my heated fancy conjured up, met his son. Which of the two seemed affected me with nothing like contrition or to him to bear the appearance of a murremorse. I thought not of the desolate derer-the smooth-faced youth of twenty, woman, weeping over the gory body of or that dark, scowling man, upon whose her husband, I thought only of that features nature herself had stamped the miserable fragment of carpet which might impress of villany? My father expressed bring me to the gallows. I uttered no much surprise at learning that I had been exclamation. I did not even gnash my in the house all night; and my sisters teeth, but, with the calmness of a man en- having joined us, I was subjected to a volgaged in his daily labor, I took up a stone ley of interrogatories. of several pounds weight, and deposited it “The three days' absence-for so long in the bag, which, when it was again se had I been away from home --had been curely laced, I dropped out of sight in the spent in a visit to an uncle who lived forty gloomy pit before me. To close the miles off. This old man, my only wealthy lid and stride back to the house was little relative, had no family, and lived in great more than an instant's work. I sought seclusion. People called him eccentric. my chamber, but how dreadfully I was He had been but once in my father's startled on entering it, to perceive the form house, though I never heard that anything of a man peering behind the chest! My had been done to displease him. At the footfall aroused him. He turned, and time of that single visit I was about ten showed the countenance of the market- years old, and was considered by my man Coward, He was agitated, but bent parents at least more lively and intelligent on me a firm and searching glance. As than children of that age usually are. for myself, I trembled, but desperation How this may have been I know not, but gave me vigor to glare back so fiercely it is certain that my uncle appeared to that his eye sank beneath mine.
take a great fancy for me, and on leaving “So you've got back, Mr. Austin,' he the house charged my father by all means said.
to give me a good education, adding that “Yes,' was the reply which I gasped if this were done, he would himself take rather than articulated.
care of my establishment in a profession. “He seemed about to make some other Since that time he had more than once inobservation, but checked himself and hur- quired with an appearance of interest, ried out of the room, merely saying, as if how I was progressing in study. These by way of apology for his sudden depar- marks of concern, which might have been ture, · My horses and wagon are down the disregarded, if manifested by any one else, road, I am afraid to be away from them coming from him were thought to constiany longer.'
tute sufficient foundation for many an am“He was gone ; did he carry my secret bitious scheme. My father used far more with him ? I knew not, but feared. I of his narrow means than he could afford, heard my father's voice at the outer door. in endeavoring to make me equal to the He was addressing Coward, and a resist- expectations of my uncle. I had done less curiosity drew me to the window of what I could, devoting the time and labor the adjoining room.
which, if applied to agriculture or trade, “I thought I left a bundle behind,' would have given me the power to lighten the marketman answered.
the declining steps of my self-sacrificing “You have got it now, I suppose,' parent, to the acquisition of knowledge, said my father, glancing at the breast of which after all could be of little avail unless the fellow's great-coat, which seemed to such pecuniary assistance were now given enclose something more than his lank per as would enable me to add to it still more. son.
But you know this already, Jessie, let me “Oh, yes; I have it,' returned Cow- return to what you do not know. ard, but it has caused me a long trudge. • It had taken me two days to walk to Good morning, sir.'
my uncle's. If I had gone on horseback "I don't like that man,' muttered my the journey must have occupied me still
longer, for I took a direct course through | wagon with which I was too well acpiny forests, which are impassable to any quainted. “There is Coward,' I said, 'on but foot-travellers. I spent the night at his way up; you can send word by him his house. In the morning a trivial cir- to Frederick. cumstance unfortunately aroused my tem • Never,' exclaimed Mr. Rosse, I per, which I have never subjected to good would sooner trust the lamb to the keepgovernance. During that instant of irri- ing of the wolf, than confide the safety of tability, I made a remark at which my my son to that man. If Fred now only uncle conceived deep, and as it seemed, had with him a devoted friend like you'irreconcilable offense. He commanded These words were daggers; what else he me to leave his house, and even with a said I knew not. bitterness of tone and manner which I “Coward had fed his horses by the shall never forget, cursed my departing stable, and was walking restlessly around steps. Words cannot describe what I the house. I watched him closely, for it then felt. I, myself, though the events was too probable that my fate was in his of that terrible period are indelibly imprint- hand. He walked into the orchard, and ed upon my memory—I, myself
, cannot | the cedar hedge concealed him from my now, as I recall that scene, recall also the view. I snatched a plate out of the kitchconvulsion of soul and body which attend en and also went into the orchard to gathed it. I bounded from the house. That er apples for supper! I saw him step space which had occupied me two tedious over the well, indifferently, and without days was now traversed in one—and so tra- giving it any glance of recognition. This versed that it seemed that the whole jour- was a great relief. It was possible that, ney had filled no longer time than one although he must have discovered the throb of my pulse might have measured. carpet-bag behind the chest while I slept, Yet in that day what a deed was commit- he might not have observed me hiding it ted! My uncle denied me what he had afterwards. Coward had nearly reached promised, the means which alone I be the other side of the orchard before he lieved were needed to open for me the road noticed that I was following him. When to wealth, and fame, and power. Money he did so, he turned immediately and pro-money, I wanted. Could not money be ceeded towards me. I was not prepared obtained otherwise than from my uncle ? for this, and stupidly awaited him, without No good angel whispered that suggestion. knowing what to do or say. "Some months passed away.
Your “ He approached, and, after casting a father, Jessie, who was a frequent visitor stealthy glance around to be certain that at our house, happened one evening to be no one else was within hearing, inquired standing alone with me on the porch. He what I thought of Walker's murder. said to me, 'I am quite uneasy, Thomas, "I was dreadfully startled, but had about my son Frederick. He went up sufficient composure to answer, What the country a week ago to collect some should I think of it ?' money which was due me, and ought “He repeated the words after me, · Yes, surely to have been back by this time. what should you think of it? The man's That road passes over a dreary region, and dead now, and so thousands of other Walker's fate shows how easily murder folks have died. No man dies till his may be perpetrated.
time comes, and I don't see what great odds « Oh, sir,' I replied, “you have little it makes then whether he gets his death cause for alarm. Depend upon it, the by knife or by fever.' man who has committed one murder never “ You have seen this man Coward, can have the daring to commit another ! Jessie, and I need not tell you that, with
“ He seemed to pay no attention to his tangled, snaky, jet-black hair, and his my remark, but continued, “I wish I could glowing eye, and hideous roughness of send word to him not to travel alone on feature, he looks like a fiend. Most his way down.'
people dislike him--you no doubt dislike “We were on the porch at this time as kim; but I tell you that if hating bim were I have told you, and casting my eye down a sign of innocence, no seraph in heaven the road I saw a blue-topped two-horse would be purer than I. He was spread
ing his toils around me, and I had no power | a magnificent prospect was extended beto escape. Drops of sweat burst from my fore us, and westwardly we could see the forehead as I answered him; had I been farm-houses dotting the mountain side. at the bar of justice, I could not have Since the fatal eighth of June, I have suffered more terrible agony.
never enjoyed anything like tranquillity of “Coward sank his voice to a whisper mind except at that moment. The stillas he said-Do you know what became ness of the dusky twilight, the vast exof Walker's carpet-bag ??
panse to the eastward, and the dreary “ He doubtless understood the agitation yet solemn desolation that reigned imof my countenance an affirmative mediately around, affected me with indeanswer, for he continued, “It had no money scribable emotions. At that instant, I bein it.'
lieve, I could even have prayed. Ay, it had no money it,' I echoed. “My father spoke : So this is the place " There was a pause; Coward broke it, where Walker was murdered.' I know something about the man who “I started, and a chill of horror struck killed him.'
through my breast. It was even so. There, "Do you ?' said I.
to my left hand, was an old ruinous stable. “Yes,' he rejoined, 'I know who did Behind that stable the bloody corpse had it; but it would not be right to tell on the been found, and yet the whole place poor fellow, would it ?'
seemed strange—so completely had pas“No,' said I, “it would not be right.' sion blinded me when I last gazed upon
“Besides,' added Coward, “if betrayed, that scene. who knows but he might be able to pay
“In your other journey to your uncle's, the person back who should do it; he who you did not cross the ridge here, did has used a knife once can use it again, you ? The inquiry was made by my can't he ?'
father. “Yes, that he can,' I exclaimed, in a “No, sir,' I answered ; 'I went up loud, fierce tone. He was a little startled yonder, by the valley of the Coldstone at this, and proposed that we should Creek, which must be at least a mile south separate and go to the house. I assented. of this.' I did not tell what course I
purAs he turned away, he said significantly-sued on my return. Could I indeed, if • Mum's the word, you know.
I had tried, have traced out the path Yes,' I answered, “Mum's the word.' which I followed in that delirious flight? “ The account of this conversation, My faithless memory was able to recognize Jessie, must seem to you very incoherent, this spot, for a deed had been done which but the conversation itself was no less so. marked it too well, but what circumstance Indeed, I believe I have given it to you could recali any other spot? There was word for word.
one such circumstance which I should When I returned to the house, whom have mentioned before ; but it is not wondo
you think I met there? Your brother. derful that I am unable to give a wellAnd not only had he returned, but he connected account. I brought home (as brought intelligence that my uncle had I told you) the torn carpet-bag of Walkbeen taken very ill, and had expressed an er's, but I brought only that one, what urgent desire to see my father and me. then became of mine? I had tormented
“ The whole family were at once thrown myself vainly in the effort to remember. into the bustle of preparation. My There was a fine spring some miles west father's age and feebleness required that of the red ridge, immediately in the course we should go on horseback, even though which I pursued in going on foot to my it was thus rendered necessary to take uncle's; and out of it I then drunk. It is the more circuitous route.
not impossible that I also took a draught “Our first stopping-place was twenty- from it on my return. In that case I five miles distant, and notwithstanding we might have omitted to take up my carpetset out quite early in the day, we rode so wallet again. After much reflection I slowly that sunset caught us when we had concluded to let things take their course. still some four miles to travel. We had If the bag were found and recognized as reached a high ridge of red earth. Below, | mine, I could say that I had lost it, but
deemed it of too little value to merit in- | minutes had elapsed, when Austin saidquiry. How easy it is, after committing a “So, you cannot wonder now, Jessie, that great crime, to reconcile one's conscience I desired to relieve you of my presence 10 smaller crimes ! How easy to lie after and my love. Imagine that I had deceived doing murder! If I did not leave the you, and we had been wedded. I know bag at the spring, Coward must have too well that, some time or other, a murpicked it up on the road by the old Carter derer must be discovered and dragged to stable, and, doubtless, retains it in his an ignominious death ; what would then hands, so as to preserve an overwhelming become of his wife ? Oh, the blow must mass of evidence against me.
kill her, it must kill her! That would be "It took us two days more to reach a murder indeed; then I should have had my uncle's, and when we got there the cause for remorse. But what may I not house was no longer his, but mine. The old have done already in giving you this man was dead and had made me his frightful account ?" heir.
Austin turned suddenly and gazed for Since that time I have possessed the first time in her face, to read the impresriches; whether I have taken pleasure in sion which his words had made. He found them or not, you may judge. Metaphysi- her countenance very grave and thoughtcians and preachers, Jessie, have labored ful, yet it did not exhibit the overwhelmto show that the damned may be punished ing grief which he expected to see. with no corporeal suffering, and yet may Jessie spoke, but not for the purpose of endure exquisite torment. I believe it. uttering vain exclamations. “You think Any error that we commit, if found to be this huckster, Coward, knows all about the irreparable, may for an instant inflict upon killing of Walker, do you not ?". us mental anguish more excruciating than “Certainly, I cannot doubt it." the worst bodily pain.
Instead of an “Have you met him since the day when error, suppose a crime like that by which that conversation in the orchard took I am now oppressed, and you have the in- place, and especially since your possession tolerable anguish, not of a moment, but of of your uncle's property ?” eternity. To sever the thread of a human Oh, yes, many times.” life is, in truth, to commit a mistake beyond “ Has he ever shown any disposition to repair ! There is a circumstance, however, extort money from you ?” about this matter, Jessie, which I have “ So far from it, that I think he rather yet reason enough left to perceive and assumes an air of timidity and obsequiouswonder at. I have been religiously educated, Jessie ; from childhood I have listened “ You have said, Thomas, that you with reverential attention to the preaching killed the drover ; how did you do it ?” of the gospel; and more than all, I have Why, have you never heard, Jessie, had before me the daily example of a that he was stabbed ?" pious parent. Would you not suppose “What weapon did you do it with ?” that, whatever may have been the impulse Austin seemed astounded at the comunder which I committed the act I did, posure with which she put these interrogamy strongest feeling now would be re tories, and it was some seconds before he morse on account of the dreadful sin ? answered : “ The man was stabbed with Yet, strange as it may appear, the fact is his own knife. Dick Smith found it lying not so. I am ready to tear away my hair, by him, and his wife recognized it." or to pluck out my eyes; not, however, “On what part of his person did you because I have violated the commands of find his knife ?” my Maker, but merely because I reproach “Oh, in the breast-pocket of his coat, myself with a blunder. I stand in dread to be sure ; who ever carried a dirk any of the penalty of human law, not of divine ; where else ?” my conscience is silent, while my rational “ But how did you get it from there faculties are loud in rebuke.”
whilst he was walking along ?”. After Thomas Austin thus concluded “I could not have done it while he was his narrative, his companion and he con- walking ; he was knocked down before he tinued their walk in silence. About ten was stabbed.”
Or do you
“What did you knock him down with ?" | evinced great consternation. So intense I do not know.”
was the affright exhibited in his face that “ You do not know ?”
even the firm nerves of his companion I mean, I do not remember. I really were shaken by the spectacle. The figure believe I was half-delirious all that day.” of the horror-stricken Sir Trevisan, after
Again they walked on in silence, though he had escaped from the den of Despair now they were proceeding in a homeward with a halter round his neck, is hardly an direction.
exaggerated representation of Austin's Austin at last became impatient. “Tell appearance at this moment. His cheeks me, Jessie, what you think about it all ? were hollow and ghastly pale ; his lip Spare me not, for you cannot speak worse was pinched, and his chin sharpened, as of of me than I deserve."
one in mortal sickness; his eyes were fixed "Well, Thomas, I think the drover was and glaring: and his whole shrunken killed by this man Coward.”
body leaned forward in the agony of sup“How can that be?” cried Austin; plication. did not I kill Walker ?”
“Oh, say nothing to him, Jessie ! " Circumstances certainly have led you provoke him not or I am lost. Rememto imagine that you killed him—but I ber that my life hangs on the breath of believe it was Coward who really com his mouth. Oh, dear Jessie, dear Jessie, mitted the act.”
do have pity on me!" “ But, Jessie, can you disbelieve my Was this, thought Jessie, the stalwart, assertion ; and is this such an excellent stout-hearted youth of a year ago ? How deed that I should seek to bear off the great the change! credit of it undeservedly?
entreaties, many times think I have been giving you a madman's reiterated, compelled her to promise the rhapsody ?"
relinquishment of her scheme. They Dear Thomas, listen to me-you have walked homewards. She was able to say yourself said that you returned from your little on the way, and would have yielded uncle's in almost the unconsciousness of to the feeling which prompted her to say delirium. You cannot give any connected nothing, had not her loving heart for. account of the events of that day; when bade silence when it was possible that you afterwards visited the spot where the words might administer comfort and supman was killed, the whole scene appeared port. unfamiliar; you cannot tell me a single Some weeks passed away-weeks of circumstance of the murder which is not despondency and dread to Austin, of sad also known to the coroner, to his jury, and anxious perplexity to Jessie. During and to the whole county. On the other that painful walk in the pines, a labyrinth hand, Coward, who undoubtedly passed seemed to spring up around her as if by by the spot about the time of the murder, magic. Her trusting nature had seized and who is a man of suspicious habits and upon what she thought might be a clue bad reputation, exhibits the demeanor of | to the fresh air without, but now as she each a culprit who believes you to be acquaint- day revolved the narrative of Austin in ed with his guilt."
her mind, doubts arose which she could “ Can you tell me, though,” said Aus- not quell. If in truth the drover had been tin,“ how I came to bring home Walker's slain by his hand, (which she still hoped carpet-bag instead of mine ?"
was only the dream of an excited fancy) “There is indeed a mystery here,” she was confident that his head and heart replied Jessie, “which I cannot as yet had never assented to the act—that it was penetrate—but this is what I will do, done in a delirium which took away both Thomas. In some way or other I will consciousness and responsibility. manage to see this Walter Coward when placing the matter even in this light, it was no third person is by, and if I charge him horrible to reflect that he, upon whom her with the murder, I have not the least heart rested all its affections, was stained doubt that he will confess having done with the blood of homicide. it.”
The scene received still another change. Austin at the mention of this plan Mike Burrows, a free black lad of sixteen,