Why is it that at moments there creeps over us an awe, a terror, overpowering but undefined? Why is it that we shudder without a cause, and feel the warm life-blood stand still in its courses? Are the dead too near?
Ha! sayest thou! Hideous thought, I feel it twine
O’er my iced heart, as curls around his prey
The sure and deadly serpent!
. . . . . . . . . . . .
What! in the hush and in the solitude
Passed that dread soul away?
Love and Hatred.
The evening prior to that morning in which the above conversation occurred, Brandon passed alone in his lodging at ————. He had felt himself too unwell to attend the customary wassail, and he sat indolently musing in the solitude of the old-fashioned chamber to which he was consigned. There, two wax-candles on the smooth, quaint table dimly struggled against the gloom of heavy panels, which were relieved at unfrequent intervals by portraits in oaken frames, dingy, harsh, and important with the pomp of laced garments and flowing wigs. The predilection of the landlady for modern tastes had, indeed, on each side of the huge fireplace suspended more novel masterpieces of the fine arts. In emblematic gorgeousness hung the pictures of the four Seasons, buxom wenches all, save Winter, who was deformedly bodied forth in the likeness of an aged carle. These were interspersed by an engraving of Lord Mauleverer, the lieutenant of the neighbouring county, looking extremely majestical in his peer’s robes; and by three typifications of Faith, Hope, and Charity — ladies with whom it may be doubted if the gay earl ever before cultivated so close an intimacy. Curtains, of that antique chintz in which fasces of stripes are alternated by rows of flowers, filled the interstices of three windows; a heavy sideboard occupied the greater portion of one side of the room; and on the opposite side, in the rear of Brandon, a vast screen stretched its slow length along, and relieved the unpopulated and as it were desolate comfort of the apartment.
Pale and imperfectly streamed the light upon Brandon’s face, as he sat in his large chair, leaning his cheek on one hand, and gazing with the unconscious earnestness of abstraction on the clear fire. At that moment a whole phalanx of gloomy thought was sweeping in successive array across his mind. His early ambition, his ill-omened marriage, the causes of his after-rise in the wrong-judging world, the first dawn of his reputation, his rapid and flattering successes, his present elevation, his aspiring hope of far higher office, and more patrician honours — all these phantoms passed before him in checkered shadow and light; but ever with each stalked one disquieting and dark remembrance — the loss of his only son.
Weaving his ambition with the wish to revive the pride of his hereditary name, every acquisition of fortune or of fame rendered him yet more anxious to find the only one who could perpetuate these hollow distinctions to his race.
“I shall recover him yet!” he broke out suddenly and aloud. As he spoke, a quick, darting, spasmodic pain ran shivering through his whole frame, and then fixed for one instant on his heart with a gripe like the talons of a bird; it passed away, and was followed by a deadly sickness. Brandon rose, and filling himself a large tumbler of water, drank with avidity. The sickness passed off like the preceding pain; but the sensation had of late been often felt by Brandon, and disregarded — for few persons were less afflicted with the self-torture of hypochondria; but now, that night, whether it was more keen than usual, or whether his thought had touched on the string that jars naturally on the most startling of human anticipations, we know not, but, as he resumed his seat, the idea of his approaching dissolution shot like an ice-bolt through his breast.
So intent was this scheming man upon the living objects of the world, and so little were his thoughts accustomed to turn toward the ultimate goal of all things, that this idea obtruding itself abruptly upon him, startled him with a ghastly awe. He felt the colour rush from his cheek, and a tingling and involuntary pain ran wandering through the channels of his blood, even from the roots of the hair to the soles of his feet. But the stern soul of Brandon was not one which shadows could long affright. He nerved himself to meet the grim thought thus forced upon his mental eye, and he gazed on it with a steady and enduring look.
“Well,” thought he, “is my hour coming, or have I yet the ordinary term of mortal nature to expect? It is true, I have lately suffered these strange revulsions of the frame with somewhat of an alarming frequency; perhaps this medicine, which healed the anguish of one infirmity, has produced another more immediately deadly. Yet why should I think this? My sleep is sound and calm, my habits temperate, my mind active and clear as in its best days. In my youth I never played the traitor with my constitution; why should it desert me at the very threshold of my age? Nay, nay, these are but passing twitches, chills of the blood that begins to wax thin. Shall I learn to be less rigorous in my diet? Perhaps wine may reward my abstinence in avoiding it for my luxuries, by becoming a cordial to my necessities! Ay, I will consult — I will consult, I must not die yet. I have — let me see, three — four grades to gain before the ladder is scaled. And, above all, I must regain my child! Lucy married to Mauleverer, myself a peer, my son wedded to-whom? Pray God he be not married already! My nephews and my children nobles! the house of Brandon restored, my power high in the upward gaze of men, my fame set on a more lasting basis than a skill in the quirks of law — these are yet to come; these I will not die till I have enjoyed! Men die not till their destinies are fulfilled. The spirit that swells and soars within me says that the destiny of William Brandon is but half begun!”
With this conclusion, Brandon sought his pillow. What were the reflections of the prisoner whom he was to judge? Need we ask? Let us picture to ourselves his shattered health, the languor of sickness heightening the gloom which makes the very air of a jail; his certainty of the doom to be passed against him; his knowledge that the uncle of Lucy Brandon was to be his judge, that Mauleverer was to be his accuser, and that in all human probability the only woman he had ever loved must sooner or later learn the criminality of his life and the ignominy of his death; let us but glance at the above blackness of circumstances that surrounded him, and it would seem that there is but little doubt as to the complexion of his thoughts! Perhaps, indeed, even in that terrible and desolate hour one sweet face shone on him, “and dashed the darkness all away.” Perhaps, too, whatever might be the stings of his conscience, one thought, one remembrance of a temptation mastered and a sin escaped, brought to his eyes tears that were sweet and healing in their source. But the heart of a man in Clifford’s awful situation is dark and inscrutable; and often when the wildest and gloomiest external circumstances surround us, their reflection sleeps like a shadow, calm and still upon the mind.
The next morning, the whole town of (a town in which, we regret to say, an accident once detained ourself for three wretched days, and which we can, speaking therefore from profound experience, assert to be in ordinary times the most melancholy and peopleless-looking congregation of houses that a sober imagination can conceive) exhibited a scene of such bustle, animation, and jovial anxiety as the trial for life or death to a fellow-creature can alone excite in the phlegmatic breasts of the English. Around the court the crowd thickened with every moment, until the whole marketplace in which the townhall was situated became one living mass. The windows of the houses were filled with women, some of whom had taken that opportunity to make parties to breakfast; and little round tables, with tea and toast on them, caught the eyes of the grinning mobists as they gaped impatiently upwards.
“Ben,” said a stout yeoman, tossing up a halfpenny, and catching the said coin in his right hand, which he immediately covered with the left — “Ben, heads or tails that Lovett is hanged; heads hanged, tails not, for a crown.”
“Petticoats, to be sure,” quoth Ben, eating an apple; and it was heads!
“Damme, you’ve lost!” cried the yeoman, rubbing his rough hands with glee.
It would have been a fine sight for Asmodeus, could he have perched on one of the house tops of the market-place of ———— and looked on the murmuring and heaving sea of mortality below. Oh! the sight of a crowd round a court of law or a gibbet ought to make the devil split himself with laughter.
While the mob was fretting, and pushing, and swearing, and grinning, and betting, and picking pockets, and trampling feet, and tearing gowns, and scrambling nearer and nearer to the doors and windows of the court, Brandon was slowly concluding his abstemious repast, preparatory to attendance on his judicial duties. His footman entered with a letter. Sir William glanced rapidly over the seal (one of those immense sacrifices of wax used at that day), adorned with a huge coat-of-arms, surmounted with an earl’s coronet, and decorated on either side with those supporters so dear to heraldic taste. He then tore open the letter, and read as follows:—
MY DEAR SIR WILLIAM— You know that in the last conversation I had the Honour to hold with you I alluded, though perhaps somewhat distantly, to the esteem which his Majesty had personally expressed for your principles and talents, and his wish to testify it at the earliest opportunity. There will be, as you are doubtless aware, an immediate creation of four peerages. Your name stands second on the list. The choice of title his Majesty graciously leaves to you; but he has hinted that the respectable antiquity of your family would make him best pleased were you to select the name of your own family-seat, which, if I mistake not, is Warlock. You will instruct me at your leisure as to the manner in which the patent should be made out, touching the succession, etc. Perhaps (excuse the license of an old friend) this event may induce you to forsake your long-cherished celibacy. I need not add that this accession of rank will be accompanied by professional elevation. You will see by the papers that the death of ———— leaves vacant the dignity of Chief Baron; and I am at length empowered to offer you a station proportioned to your character and talents.
With great consideration, believe me, my dear Sir, Very truly yours,
Private and Confidential.
Brandon’s dark eye glanced quickly from the signature of the premier, affixed to this communication, towards the mirror opposite him. He strode to it, and examined his own countenance with a long and wistful gaze. Never, we think, did youthful gallant about to repair to the trysting-spot, in which fair looks make the greatest of earthly advantages, gaze more anxiously on the impartial glass than now did the ascetic and scornful judge; and never, we ween, did the eye of the said gallant retire with a more satisfied and triumphant expression.
“Yes, yes!” muttered the judge, “no sign of infirmity is yet written here; the blood flows clear and warm enough; the cheek looks firm too, and passing full, for one who was always of the lean kine. Aha! this letter is a cordial, an elixir vitro. I feel as if a new lease were granted to the reluctant tenant. Lord Warlock, the first Baron of Warlock, Lord Chief Baron — what next?”
As he spoke, he strode unconsciously away, folding his arms with that sort of joyous and complacent gesture which implies the idea of a man hugging himself in a silent delight. Assuredly had the most skilful physician then looked upon the ardent and all-lighted face, the firm step, the elastic and muscular frame, the vigorous air of Brandon, as he mentally continued his soliloquy, he would have predicted for him as fair a grasp on longevity as the chances of mortal life will allow. He was interrupted by the servant entering.
“It is twenty-five minutes after nine, sir,” said he, respectfully.
“Sir — sir!” repeated Brandon. “Ah, well! so late!”
“Yes, sir, and the sheriff’s carriage is almost at the door.”
“Humph! Minister — Peer — Warlock — succession. My son, my son! would to God that I could find thee!”
Such were Brandon’s last thoughts as he left the room. It was with great difficulty, so dense was the crowd, that the judge drove up to the court. As the carriage slowly passed, the spectators pressed to the windows of the vehicle, and stood on tiptoe to catch a view of the celebrated lawyer. Brandon’s face, never long indicative of his feelings, had now settled into its usual gravity; and the severe loftiness of his look chilled, while it satisfied, the curiosity of the vulgar. It had been ordered that no person should be admitted until the judge had taken his seat on the bench; and this order occasioned so much delay, owing to the accumulated pressure of the vast and miscellaneous group, that it was more than half an hour before the court was able to obtain that decent order suiting the solemnity of the occasion. At five minutes before ten a universal and indescribable movement announced that the prisoner was put to the bar. We read in one of the journals of that day, that “on being put to the bar, the prisoner looked round with a long and anxious gaze, which at length settled on the judge, and then dropped, while the prisoner was observed to change countenance slightly. Lovett was dressed in a plain dark suit; he seemed to be about six feet high; and though thin and worn, probably from the effect of his wound and imprisonment, he is remarkably well made, and exhibits the outward appearance of that great personal strength which he is said to possess, and which is not unfrequently the characteristic of daring criminals. His face is handsome and prepossessing, his eyes and hair dark, and his complexion pale, possibly from the effects of his confinement; there was a certain sternness in his countenance during the greater part of the trial. His behaviour was remarkably collected and composed. The prisoner listened with the greatest attention to the indictment, which the reader will find in another part of our paper, charging him with the highway robbery of Lord Mauleverer, on the night of the of last. He occasionally inclined his body forward, and turned his ear towards the court; and he was observed, as the jury were sworn, to look steadily in the face of each. He breathed thick and hard when the various aliases he had assumed — Howard, Cavendish, Jackson, etc. — were read; but smiled with an unaccountable expression when the list was completed, as if exulting at the varieties of his ingenuity. At twenty-five minutes past ten Mr. Dyebright, the counsel for the crown, stated the case to the jury.”
Mr. Dyebright was a lawyer of great eminence; he had been a Whig all his life, but had latterly become remarkable for his insincerity, and subservience to the wishes of the higher powers. His talents were peculiar and effective. If he had little eloquence, he had much power; and his legal knowledge, was sound and extensive. Many of his brethren excelled him in display; but no one, like him, possessed the secret of addressing a jury. Winningly familiar; seemingly candid to a degree that scarcely did justice to his cause, as if he were in an agony lest he should persuade you to lean a hair-breadth more on his side of the case than justice would allow; apparently all made up of good, homely, virtuous feeling, a disinterested regard for truth, a blunt yet tender honesty, seasoned with a few amiable fireside prejudices, which always come home to the hearts of your fathers of families and thorough-bred Britons; versed in all the niceties of language, and the magic of names; if he were defending crime, carefully calling it misfortune; if attacking misfortune, constantly calling it crime — Mr. Dyebright was exactly the man born to pervert justice, to tickle jurors, to cozen truth with a friendly smile, and to obtain a vast reputation as an excellent advocate. He began with a long preliminary flourish on the importance of the case. He said that he should with the most scrupulous delicacy avoid every remark calculated to raise unnecessary prejudice against the prisoner. He should not allude to his unhappy notoriety, his associations with the lowest dregs. (Here up jumped the counsel for the prisoner, and Mr. Dyebright was called to order.) “God knows,” resumed the learned gentleman, looking wistfully at the jury, “that my learned friend might have spared himself this warning. God knows that I would rather fifty of the wretched inmates of this county jail were to escape unharmed than that a hair of the prisoner you behold at the bar should be unjustly touched. The life of a human being is at stake; we should be guilty ourselves of a crime which on our deathbeds we should tremble to recall, were we to suffer any consideration, whether of interest or of prejudice, or of undue fear for our own properties and lives, to bias us even to the turning of a straw against the unfortunate prisoner. Gentlemen, if you find me travelling a single inch from my case — if you find me saying a single word calculated to harm the prisoner in your eyes, and unsupported by the evidence I shall call — then I implore you not to depend upon the vigilance of my learned friend, but to treasure these my errors in your recollection, and to consider them as so many arguments in favour of the prisoner. If, gentlemen, I could by any possibility imagine that your verdict would be favourable to the prisoner, I can, unaffectedly and from the bottom of my heart, declare to you that I should rejoice; a case might be lost, but a fellow-creature would be saved! Callous as we of the legal profession are believed, we have feelings like you; and I ask any one of you, gentlemen of the jury, any one who has ever felt the pleasures of social intercourse, the joy of charity, the heart’s reward of benevolence — I ask any one of you, whether, if he were placed in the arduous situation I now hold, all the persuasions of vanity would not vanish at once from his mind, and whether his defeat as an advocate would not be rendered dear to him by the common and fleshly sympathies of a man. But, gentlemen” (Mr. Dyebright’s voice at once deepened and faltered), “there is a duty, a painful duty, we owe to our country; and never, in the long course of my professional experience, do I remember an instance in which it was more called forth than in the present. Mercy, gentlemen, is dear, very dear to us all; but it is the deadliest injury we can inflict on mankind when it is bought at the expense of justice.”
The learned gentleman then, after a few further prefatory observations, proceeded to state how, on the night of ———— last, Lord Mauleverer was stopped and robbed by three men masked, of a sum of money amounting to above L350, a diamond snuff-box, rings, watch, and a case of most valuable jewels — how Lord Mauleverer, in endeavouring to defend himself, had passed a bullet through the clothes of one of the robbers — how it would be proved that the garments of the prisoner, found in a cave in Oxfordshire, and positively sworn to by a witness he should produce, exhibited a rent similar to such a one as a bullet would produce — how, moreover, it would be positively sworn to by the same witness, that the prisoner Lovett had come to the cavern with two accomplices not since taken up, since their rescue by the prisoner, and boasted of the robbery he had just committed; that in the clothes and sleeping apartment of the robber the articles stolen from Lord Mauleverer were found; and that the purse containing the notes for L300, the only thing the prisoner could probably have obtained time to carry off with him, on the morning on which the cave was entered by the policemen, was found on his person on the day on which he had attempted the rescue of his comrades, and had been apprehended in that attempt. He stated, moreover, that the dress found in the cavern, and sworn to by one witness he should produce as belonging to the prisoner, answered exactly to the description of the clothes worn by the principal robber, and sworn to by Lord Mauleverer, his servant, and the postilions. In like manner the colour of one of the horses found in the cavern corresponded with that rode by the highwayman. On these circumstantial proofs, aided by the immediate testimony of the king’s evidence (that witness whom he should produce) he rested a case which could, he averred, leave no doubt on the minds of an impartial jury. Such, briefly and plainly alleged, made the substance of the details entered into by the learned counsel, who then proceeded to call his witnesses. The evidence of Lord Mauleverer (who was staying at Mauleverer Park, which was within a few miles of —) was short and clear (it was noticed as a singular circumstance, that at the end of the evidence the prisoner bowed respectfully to his lordship). The witness of the postilions and of the valet was no less concise; nor could all the ingenuity of Clifford’s counsel shake any part of their evidence in his cross-examination. The main witness depended on by the crown was now summoned, and the solemn countenance of Peter MacGrawler rose on the eyes of the jury. One look of cold and blighting contempt fell on him from the eye of the prisoner, who did not again deign to regard him during the whole of his examination.
The witness of MacGrawler was delivered with a pomposity worthy of the ex-editor of the “Asinaeum.” Nevertheless, by the skill of Mr. Dyebright, it was rendered sufficiently clear a story to leave an impression on the jury damnatory to the interests of the prisoner. The counsel on the opposite side was not slow in perceiving the ground acquired by the adverse party; so, clearing his throat, he rose with a sneering air to the cross-examination.
“So, so,” began Mr. Botheram, putting on a pair of remarkably large spectacles, wherewith he truculently regarded the witness — “so, so, Mr. MacGrawler — is that your name, eh, eh? Ah, it is, is it? A very respectable name it is too, I warrant. Well, sir, look at me. Now, on your oath, remember, were you ever the editor of a certain thing published every Wednesday, and called the ‘Athenaeum,’ or the ‘Asinaeum,’ or some such name?”
Commencing with this insidious and self-damnatory question, the learned counsel then proceeded, as artfully as he was able, through a series of interrogatories calculated to injure the character, the respectable character, of MacGrawler, and weaken his testimony in the eyes of the jury. He succeeded in exciting in the audience that feeling of merriment wherewith the vulgar are always so delighted to intersperse the dull seriousness of hanging a human being. But though the jury themselves grinned, they were not convinced. The Scotsman retired from the witness-box “scotched,” perhaps, in reputation, but not “killed” as to testimony. It was just before this witness concluded, that Lord Mauleverer caused to be handed to the judge a small slip of paper, containing merely these words in pencil:—
DEAR BRANDON— A dinner waits you at Mauleverer Park, only three miles hence. Lord — and the Bishop of — meet you. Plenty of news from London, and a letter about you, which I will show to no one till we meet. Make haste and hang this poor fellow, that I may see you the sooner; and it is bad for both of us to wait long for a regular meal like dinner. I can’t stay longer, it is so hot, and my nerves were always susceptible.
If you will come, give me a nod. You know my hour — it is always the same.
The judge, glancing over the note, inclined his head gravely to the earl, who withdrew; and in one minute afterwards, a heavy and breathless silence fell over the whole court. The prisoner was called upon for his defence: it was singular what a different sensation to that existing in their breasts the moment before crept thrillingly through the audience. Hushed was every whisper, vanished was every smile that the late cross-examination had excited; a sudden and chilling sense of the dread importance of the tribunal made itself abruptly felt in the minds of every one present.
Perhaps, as in the gloomy satire of Hogarth (the moral Mephistopheles of painters), the close neighbourhood of pain to mirth made the former come with the homelier shock to the heart; be that as it may, a freezing anxiety, numbing the pulse and stirring through the air, made every man in that various crowd feel a sympathy of awe with his neighbour, excepting only the hardened judge and the hackneyed lawyers, and one spectator — an idiot who had thrust himself in with the general press, and stood, within a few paces of the prisoner, grinning unconsciously, and every now and then winking with a glassy eye at some one at a distance, whose vigilance he had probably eluded.
The face and aspect, even the attitude, of the prisoner were well fitted to heighten the effect which would naturally have been created by any man under the same fearful doom. He stood at the very front of the bar, and his tall and noble figure was drawn up to its full height; a glow of excitement spread itself gradually over features at all times striking, and lighted an eye naturally eloquent, and to which various emotions at that time gave a more than commonly deep and impressive expression. He began thus:—
“My lord, I have little to say, and I may at once relieve the anxiety of my counsel, who now looks wistfully upon me, and add that that little will scarcely embrace the object of defence. Why should I defend myself? Why should I endeavour to protract a life that a few days, more or less, will terminate, according to the ordinary calculations of chance? Such as it is and has been, my life is vowed to the law, and the law will have the offering. Could I escape from this indictment, I know that seven others await me, and that by one or the other of these my conviction and my sentence must come. Life may be sweet to all of us, my lord; and were it possible that mine could be spared yet a while, that continued life might make a better atonement for past actions than a death which, abrupt and premature, calls for repentance while it forbids redress.
“But when the dark side of things is our only choice, it is useless to regard the bright; idle to fix our eyes upon life, when death is at hand; useless to speak of contrition, when we are denied its proof. It is the usual policy of prisoners in my situation to address the feelings and flatter the prejudices of the jury; to descant on the excellence of our laws, while they endeavour to disarm them; to praise justice, yet demand mercy; to talk of expecting acquittal, yet boast of submitting without a murmur to condemnation. For me, to whom all earthly interests are dead, this policy is idle and superfluous. I hesitate not to tell you, my lord judge — to proclaim to you, gentlemen of the jury — that the laws which I have broken through my life I despise in death! Your laws are but of two classes; the one makes criminals, the other punishes them. I have suffered by the one; I am about to perish by the other.
“My lord, it was the turn of a straw which made me what I am. Seven years ago I was sent to the house of correction for an offence which I did not commit. I went thither, a boy who had never infringed a single law; I came forth, in a few weeks, a man who was prepared to break all laws! Whence was this change? Was it my fault, or that of my condemners? You had first wronged me by a punishment which I did not deserve; you wronged me yet more deeply when (even had I been guilty of the first offence) I was sentenced to herd with hardened offenders, and graduates in vice and vice’s methods of support. The laws themselves caused me to break the laws: first, by implanting within me the goading sense of injustice; secondly, by submitting me to the corruption of example. Thus, I repeat — and I trust my words will sink solemnly into the hearts of all present — your legislation made me what I am; and it now destroys me, as it has destroyed thousands, for being what it made me! But for this, the first aggression on me, I might have been what the world terms honest — I might have advanced to old age and a peaceful grave through the harmless cheateries of trade or the honoured falsehoods of a profession. Nay, I might have supported the laws which I have now braved; like the counsel opposed to me, I might have grown sleek on the vices of others, and advanced to honour by my ingenuity in hanging my fellow-creatures! The canting and prejudging part of the Press has affected to set before you the merits of ‘honest ability,’ or ‘laborious trade,’ in opposition to my offences. What, I beseech you, are the props of your ‘honest’ exertion — the profits of ‘trade’? Are there no bribes to menials? Is there no adulteration of goods? Are the rich never duped in the price they pay? Are the poor never wronged in the quality they receive? Is there honesty in the bread you eat, in a single necessity which clothes or feeds or warms you? Let those whom the law protects consider it a protector: when did it ever protect me? When did it ever protect the poor man? The government of a State, the institutions of law, profess to provide for all those who ‘obey.’ Mark! a man hungers — do you feed him? He is naked — do you clothe him? If not, you break your covenant, you drive him back to the first law of nature, and you hang him, not because he is guilty, but because you have left him naked and starving! [A murmur among the mob below, with great difficulty silenced.] One thing only I will add, and that not to move your mercy — no, nor to invest my fate with an idle and momentary interest — but because there are some persons in this world who have not known me as the criminal who stands before you, and whom the tidings of my fate may hereafter reach; and I would not have those persons view me in blacker colours than I deserve. Among all the rumours, gentlemen, that have reached you, through all the tales and fables kindled from my unhappy notoriety and my approaching doom, I put it to you, if you have heard that I have committed one sanguinary action or one ruinous and deliberate fraud. You have heard that I have lived by the plunder of the rich — I do not deny the charge. From the grinding of the poor, the habitual overreaching, or the systematic pilfering of my neighbours, my conscience is as free as it is from the charge of cruelty and bloodshed. Those errors I leave to honest mediocrity or virtuous exertion! You may perhaps find, too, that my life has not passed through a career of outrage without scattering some few benefits on the road. In destroying me, it is true that you will have the consolation to think that among the benefits you derive from my sentence will be the salutary encouragement you give to other offenders to offend to the last, degree, and to divest outrage of no single aggravation! But if this does not seem to you any very powerful inducement, you may pause before you cut off from all amendment a man who seems neither wholly hardened nor utterly beyond atonement. My lord, my counsel would have wished to summon witnesses — some to bear testimony to redeeming points in my own character, others to invalidate the oath of the witness against me — a man whom I saved from destruction in order that he might destroy me. I do not think either necessary. The public Press has already said of me what little good does not shock the truth; and had I not possessed something of those qualities which society does not disesteem, you would not have beheld me here at this hour! If I had saved myself as well as my companions, I should have left this country, perhaps forever, and commenced a very different career abroad. I committed offences; I eluded you; I committed what, in my case, was an act of duty: I am seized, and I perish. But the weakness of my body destroys me, not the strength of your malice. Had I” (and as the prisoner spake, the haughty and rapid motion, the enlarging of the form, produced by the passion of the moment, made impressively conspicuous to all the remarkable power of his frame) — “had I but my wonted health, my wonted command over these limbs and these veins, I would have asked no friend, no ally, to favour my escape. I tell you, engines and guardians of the law, that I would have mocked your chains and defied your walls, as ye know that I have mocked and defied them before. But my blood creeps now only in drops through its courses; and the heart that I had of old stirs feebly and heavily within me.” The prisoner paused a moment, and resumed in an altered tone: “Leaving, then, my own character to the ordeal of report, I cannot perhaps do better than leave to the same criterion that of the witness against me. I will candidly own that under other circumstances it might have been otherwise. I will candidly avow that I might have then used such means as your law awards me to procure an acquittal and to prolong my existence — though in a new scene; as it is, what matters the cause in which I receive my sentence? Nay, it is even better to suffer by the first than to linger to the last. It is some consolation not again to stand where I now stand; to go through the humbling solemnities which I have this day endured; to see the smile of some, and retort the frown of others; to wrestle with the anxiety of the heart, and to depend on the caprice of the excited nerves. It is something to feel one part of the drama of disgrace is over, and that I may wait unmolested in my den until, for one time only, I am again the butt of the unthinking and the monster of the crowd. My lord, I have now done! To you, whom the law deems the prisoner’s counsel — to you, gentlemen of the jury, to whom it has delegated his fate — I leave the chances of my life.”
The prisoner ceased; but the same heavy silence which, save when broken by one solitary murmur, had lain over the court during his speech, still continued even for several moments after that deep and firm voice had died on the ear. So different had been the defence of the prisoner from that which had been expected; so assuredly did the more hackneyed part of the audience, even as he had proceeded, imagine that by some artful turn he would at length wind into the usual courses of defence — that when his unfaltering and almost stern accents paused, men were not prepared to feel that his speech was finished, and the pause involuntarily jarred on them as untimeous and abrupt. At length, when each of the audience slowly awoke to the conviction that the prisoner had indeed concluded his harangue, a movement, eloquent of feelings released from a suspense, which had been perhaps the more earnest and the more blended with awe, from the boldness and novelty of the words on which it hung, circled round the court. The jurors looked confusedly at each other, but not one of them spoke, even by a whisper; their feelings, which had been aroused by the speech of the prisoner, had not from its shortness, its singularity, and the haughty impolicy of its tone, been so far guided by its course as to settle into any state of mind clearly favourable to him, or the reverse; so that each man waited for his neighbour to speak first, in order that he might find, as it were, in another, a kind of clew to the indistinct and excited feelings which wanted utterance in himself.
The judge, who had been from the first attracted by the air and aspect of the prisoner, had perhaps, notwithstanding the hardness of his mind, more approvingly than any one present listened to the defence; for in the scorn of the hollow institutions and the mock honesty of social life, so defyingly manifested by the prisoner, Brandon recognized elements of mind remarkably congenial to his own; and this sympathy was heightened by the hardihood of physical nerve and moral intrepidity displayed by the prisoner — qualities which among men of a similar mould often form the strongest motive of esteem, and sometimes (as we read of in the Imperial Corsican and his chiefs) the only point of attraction! Brandon was, however, soon recalled to his cold self by a murmur of vague applause circling throughout the common crowd, among whom the general impulse always manifests itself first, and to whom the opinions of the prisoner, though but imperfectly understood, came more immediately home than they did to the better and richer classes of the audience. Ever alive to the decorums of form, Brandon instantly ordered silence in the court; and when it was again restored, and it was fully understood that the prisoner’s defence had closed, the judge proceeded to sum up.
It is worthy of remark that many of the qualities of mind which seem most unamiable in private life often conduce with a singular felicity to the ends of public; and thus the stony firmness characteristic of Brandon was a main cause which made him admirable as a judge — for men in office err no less from their feelings than their interests.
Glancing over his notes, the judge inclined himself to the jury, and began with that silver ringing voice which particularly distinguished Brandon’s eloquence, and carried with it in high stations so majestic and candid a tone of persuasion. He pointed out, with a clear brevity, the various points of the evidence; he dwelt for a moment on the attempt to cast disrepute upon the testimony of MacGrawler, but called a proper attention to the fact that the attempt had been unsupported by witnesses or proof. As he proceeded, the impression made by the prisoner on the minds of the jury slowly melted away; and perhaps, so much do men soften when they behold clearly the face of a fellow-man dependent on them for life, it acted disadvantageously on the interests of Clifford, that during the summing up he leaned back in the dock, and prevented his countenance from being seen. When the evidence had been gone through, the judge concluded thus:—
“The prisoner, who in his defence (on the principles and opinions of which I now forbear to comment) certainly exhibited the signs of a superior education, and a high though perverted ability, has alluded to the reports circulated by the public Press, and leaned some little stress on the various anecdotes tending to his advantage, which he supposes have reached your ears. I am by no means willing that the prisoner should be deprived of whatever benefit may be derivable from such a source; but it is not in this place, nor at this moment, that it can avail him. All you have to consider is the evidence before you. All on which you have to decide is, whether the prisoner be or be not guilty of the robbery of which he is charged. You must not waste a thought on what redeems or heightens a supposed crime — you must only decide on the crime itself. Put away from your minds, I beseech you, all that interferes with the main case. Put away also from your motives of decision all forethought of other possible indictments to which the prisoner has alluded, but with which you are necessarily unacquainted. If you doubt the evidence, whether of one witness or of all, the prisoner must receive from you the benefit of that doubt. If not, you are sworn to a solemn oath, which ordains you to forego all minor considerations — which compels you to watch narrowly that you be not influenced by the infirmities natural to us all, but criminal in you, to lean towards the side of a mercy that would be rendered by your oath a perjury to God, and by your duty as impartial citizens a treason to your country. I dismiss you to the grave consideration of the important case you have heard; and I trust that He to whom all hearts are open and all secrets are known, will grant you the temper and the judgment to form a right decision!”
There was in the majestic aspect and thrilling voice of Brandon something which made the commonest form of words solemn and impressive; and the hypocrite, aware of this felicity of manner, generally, as now, added weight to his concluding words by a religious allusion or a Scriptural phraseology. He ceased; and the jury, recovering the effect of his adjuration, consulted for a moment among themselves. The foreman then, addressing the court on behalf of his fellow-jurors, requested leave to retire for deliberation. An attendant bailiff being sworn in, we read in the journals of the day, which noted the divisions of time with that customary scrupulosity rendered terrible by the reflection how soon all time and seasons may perish for the hero of the scene, that “it was at twenty-five minutes to two that the jury withdrew.”
Perhaps in the whole course of a criminal trial there is no period more awful than that occupied by the deliberation of the jury. In the present case the prisoner, as if acutely sensible of his situation, remained in the rear of the dock, and buried his face in his hands. They who stood near him observed, however, that his breast did not seem to swell with the convulsive emotion customary to persons in his state, and that not even a sigh or agitated movement escaped him. The jury had been absent about twenty minutes, when a confused noise was heard in the court. The face of the judge turned in commanding severity towards the quarter whence it proceeded. He perceived a man of a coarse garb and mean appearance endeavouring rudely and violently to push his way through the crowd towards the bench, and at the same instant he saw one of the officers of the court approaching the disturber of its tranquillity with no friendly intent. The man, aware of the purpose of the constable, exclaimed with great vehemence, “I vill give this to my lord the judge, blow me if I von’t!” and as he spoke he raised high above his head a soiled scrap of paper folded awkwardly in the shape of a letter. The instant Brandon’s eye caught the rugged features of the intrusive stranger, he motioned with rather less than his usual slowness of gesture to one of his official satellites. “Bring me that paper instantly!” he whispered.
The officer bowed and obeyed. The man, who seemed a little intoxicated, gave it with a look of ludicrous triumph and self-importance.
“Stand avay, man!” he added to the constable, who now laid hand on his collar. “You’ll see vot the judge says to that ’ere bit of paper; and so vill the prisoner, poor fellow!”
This scene, so unworthy the dignity of the court, attracted the notice and (immediately around the intruder) the merriment of the crowd; and many an eye was directed towards Brandon, as with calm gravity he opened the note and glanced over the contents. In a large school-boy hand-it was the hand of Long Ned — were written these few words:
MY LORD JUDGE— I make bold to beg you will do all you can for the prisoner at the barre, as he is no other than the “Paul” I spoke to your Worship about. You know what I mean.
As he read this note, the judge’s head was observed to droop suddenly, as if by a sickness or a spasm; but he recovered himself instantly, and whispering the officer who brought him the note, said, “See that that madman be immediately removed from the court, and lock him up alone. He is so deranged as to be dangerous!”
The officer lost not a moment in seeing the order executed. Three stout constables dragged the astounded Dummie from the court in an instant, yet the more ruthlessly for his ejaculating —
“Eh, sirs, what’s this? I tells you I have saved the judge’s hown flesh and blood! Vy, now, gently, there; you’ll smart for this, my fine fellow! Never you mind, Paul, my ‘arty; I ‘se done you a pure good —”
“Silence!” proclaimed the voice of the judge; and that voice came forth with so commanding a tone of power that it awed Dummie, despite his intoxication. In a moment more, and ere he had time to recover, he was without the court. During this strange hubbub, which nevertheless scarcely lasted above two or three minutes, the prisoner had not once lifted his head, nor appeared aroused in any manner from his revery; and scarcely had the intruder been withdrawn before the jury returned.
The verdict was, as all had foreseen, “Guilty;” but it was coupled with a strong recommendation to mercy.
The prisoner was then asked, in the usual form, whether he had to say anything why sentence of death should not be passed against him.
As these dread words struck upon his ear, slowly the prisoner rose. He directed first towards the jury a brief and keen glance, and his eyes then rested full, and with a stern significance, on the face of his judge.
“My lord,” he began, “I have but one reason to advance against the sentence of the law. If you have interest to prevent or mitigate it, that reason will, I think, suffice to enlist you on my behalf. I said that the first cause of those offences against the law which brings me to this bar was the committing me to prison on a charge of which I was wholly innocent! My lord judge, you were the man who accused me of that charge, and subjected me to that imprisonment! Look at me well, my lord, and you may trace in the countenance of the hardened felon you are about to adjudge to death the features of a boy whom, some seven years ago, you accused before a London magistrate of the theft of your watch. On the oath of a man who has one step on the threshold of death, the accusation was unjust. And, fit minister of the laws you represent! you, who will now pass my doom — You were the cause of my crimes! My lord, I have done. I am ready to add another to the long and dark list of victims who are first polluted and then sacrificed by the blindness and the injustice of human codes!”
While Clifford spoke, every eye turned from him to the judge, and every one was appalled by the ghastly and fearful change which had fallen over Brandon’s face. Men said, afterwards, that they saw written there, in terrible distinctness, the characters of death; and there certainly seemed something awful and preternatural in the bloodless and haggard calmness of his proud features. Yet his eye did not quail, nor the muscles of his lip quiver; and with even more than his wonted loftiness, he met the regard of the prisoner. But, as alone conspicuous throughout the motionless and breathless crowd the judge and criminal gazed upon each other, and as the eyes of the spectators wandered on each, a thrilling and electric impression of a powerful likeness between the doomed and the doomer, for the first time in the trial, struck upon the audience, and increased, though they scarcely knew why, the sensation of pain and dread which the prisoner’s last words excited. Perhaps it might have chiefly arisen from a common expression of fierce emotion conquered by an iron and stern character of mind; or perhaps, now that the ashy paleness of exhaustion had succeeded the excited flush on the prisoner’s face, the similarity of complexion thus obtained made the likeness more obvious than before; or perhaps the spectators had not hitherto fixed so searching, or, if we may so speak, so alternating a gaze upon the two. However that be, the resemblance between the men, placed as they were in such widely different circumstances — that resemblance which, as we have hinted, had at certain moments occurred startlingly to Lucy — was plain and unavoidably striking: the same the dark hue of their complexions; the same the haughty and Roman outline of their faces; the same the height of the forehead; the same even a displeasing and sarcastic rigidity of mouth, which made the most conspicuous feature in Brandon, and which was the only point that deteriorated from the singular beauty of Clifford. But, above all, the same inflexible, defying, stubborn spirit, though in Brandon it assumed the stately cast of majesty, and in Clifford it seemed the desperate sternness of the bravo, stamped itself in both. Though Clifford ceased, he did not resume his seat, but stood in the same attitude as that in which he had reversed the order of things, and merged the petitioner in the accuser; and Brandon himself, without speaking or moving, continued still to survey him; so, with erect fronts and marble countenances, in which what was defying and resolute did not altogether quell the mortal leaven of pain and dread, they looked as might have looked the two men in the Eastern story who had the power of gazing each other unto death.
What at that moment was raging in Brandon’s heart, it is in vain to guess. He doubted not for a moment that he beheld before him his long lost, his anxiously demanded son! Every fibre, every corner of his complex and gloomy soul, that certainly reached, and blasted with a hideous and irresistible glare. The earliest, perhaps the strongest, though often the least acknowledged principle of his mind was the desire to rebuild the fallen honours of his house; its last scion he now beheld before him, covered with the darkest ignominies of the law! He had coveted worldly honours; he beheld their legitimate successor in a convicted felon! He had garnered the few affections he had spared from the objects of pride and ambition, in his son. That son he was about to adjudge to the gibbet and the hangman! Of late he had increased the hopes of regaining his lost treasure, even to an exultant certainty. Lo! the hopes were accomplished! How? With these thoughts warring, in what manner we dare not even by an epithet express, within him, we may cast one hasty glance on the horror of aggravation they endured, when he heard the prisoner accuse Him as the cause of his present doom, and felt himself at once the murderer and the judge of his son!
Minutes had elapsed since the voice of the prisoner ceased; and Brandon now drew forth the black cap. As he placed it slowly over his brows, the increasing and corpse-like whiteness of his face became more glaringly visible, by the contrast which this dread head-gear presented. Twice as he essayed to speak his voice failed him, and an indistinct murmur came forth from his hueless lips, and died away like a fitful and feeble wind. But with the third effort the resolution and long self-tyranny of the man conquered, and his voice went clear and unfaltering through the crowd, although the severe sweetness of its wonted tones was gone, and it sounded strange and hollow on the ears that drank it.
“Prisoner at the bar! it has become my duty to announce to you the close of your mortal career. You have been accused of a daring robbery, and after an impartial trial a jury of your countrymen and the laws of your country have decided against you. The recommendation to mercy” (here, only throughout his speech, Brandon gasped convulsively for breath) “so humanely added by the jury, shall be forwarded to the supreme power; but I cannot flatter you with much hope of its success.” (The lawyers looked with some surprise at each other; they had expected a far more unqualified mandate, to abjure all hope from the jury’s recommendation.) “Prisoner, for the opinions you have expressed, you are now only answerable to your God; I forbear to arraign them. For the charge you have made against me, whether true or false, and for the anguish it has given me, may you find pardon at another tribunal! It remains for me only — under a reserve too slight, as I have said, to afford you a fair promise of hope — only to — to” (all eyes were on Brandon; he felt it, exerted himself for a last effort, and proceeded)—“to pronounce on you the sharp sentence of the law! It is, that you be taken back to the prison whence you came, and thence (when the supreme authority shall appoint) to the place of execution, to be there hanged by the neck till you are dead; and the Lord God Almighty have mercy on your soul!”
With this address concluded that eventful trial; and while the crowd, in rushing and noisy tumult, bore towards the door, Brandon, concealing to the last with a Spartan bravery the anguish which was gnawing at his entrails, retired from the awful pageant. For the next half-hour he was locked up with the strange intruder on the proceedings of the court. At the end of that time the stranger was dismissed; and in about double the same period Brandon’s servant re-admitted him, accompanied by another man, with a slouched hat and in a carman’s frock. The reader need not be told that the new comer was the friendly Ned, whose testimony was indeed a valuable corroborative to Dummie’s, and whose regard for Clifford, aided by an appetite for rewards, had induced him to venture to the town of ——— although he tarried concealed in a safe suburb, until reassured by a written promise from Brandon of safety to his person, and a sum for which we might almost doubt whether he would not have consented (so long had he been mistaking means for an end) to be hanged himself. Brandon listened to the details of these confederates; and when they had finished, he addressed them thus: “I have heard you, and am convinced you are liars and impostors. There is the money I promised you” (throwing down a pocket-book) — “take it; and, hark you, if ever you dare whisper, ay, but a breath of the atrocious lie you have now forged, be sure I will have you dragged from the recess or nook of infamy in which you may hide your heads, and hanged for the crimes you have already committed. I am not the man to break my word. Begone! quit this town instantly! If in two hours hence you are found here, your blood be on your own heads! Begone, I say!”
These words, aided by a countenance well adapted at all times to expressions of a menacing and ruthless character, at once astounded and appalled the accomplices. They left the room in hasty confusion; and Brandon, now alone, walked with uneven steps (the alarming weakness and vacillation of which he did not himself feel) to and fro the apartment. The hell of his breast was stamped upon his features, but he uttered only one thought aloud —
“I may — yes, yes — I may yet conceal this disgrace to my name!”
His servant tapped at the door to say that the carriage was ready, and that Lord Mauleverer had bid him remind his master that they dined punctually at the hour appointed.
“I am coming!” said Brandon, with a slow and startling emphasis on each word. But he first sat down and wrote a letter to the official quarter, strongly aiding the recommendation of the Jury; and we may conceive how pride clung to him to the last, when he urged the substitution for death of transportation for life! As soon as he had sealed this letter, he summoned an express, gave his orders coolly and distinctly, and attempted with his usual stateliness of step to walk through a long passage which led to the outer door. He found himself fail. “Come hither,” he said to his servant, “give me your arm!”
All Brandon’s domestics, save the one left with Lucy, stood in awe of him; and it was with some hesitation that his servant ventured to inquire if his master felt well.
Brandon looked at him, but made no reply. He entered his carriage with slight difficulty, and telling the coachman to drive as fast as possible, pulled down (a general custom with him) all the blinds of the windows.
Meanwhile Lord Mauleverer, with six friends, was impatiently awaiting the arrival of the seventh guest.
“Our August friend tarries!” quoth the Bishop of ———— with his hands folded across his capacious stomach. “I fear the turbot your lordship spoke of may not be the better for the length of the trial.”
“Poor fellow!” said the Earl of ———— slightly yawning.
“Whom do you mean?” asked Lord Mauleverer, with a smile — “the bishop, the judge, or the turbot?”
“Not one of the three, Mauleverer — I spoke of the prisoner.”
“Ah, the fine dog! I forgot him,” said Mauleverer. “Really, now you mention him, I must confess that he inspires me with great compassion; but, indeed, it is very wrong in him to keep the judge so long!”
“Those hardened wretches have such a great deal to say,” mumbled the bishop, sourly.
“True!” said Mauleverer; “a religious rogue would have had some bowels for the state of the church esurient.”
“Is it really true, Mauleverer,” asked the Earl of ——— “that Brandon is to succeed?”
“So I hear,” said Mauleverer. “Heavens, how hungry I am!”
A groan from the bishop echoed the complaint.
“I suppose it would be against all decorum to sit down to dinner without him?” said Lord ————.
“Why, really, I fear so,” returned Mauleverer. “But our health — our health is at stake; we will only wait five minutes more. By Jove, there’s the carriage! I beg your pardon for my heathen oath, my lord bishop.”
“I forgive you!” said the good bishop, smiling.
The party thus engaged in colloquy were stationed at a window opening on the gravel road, along which the judge’s carriage was now seen rapidly approaching; this window was but a few yards from the porch, and had been partially opened for the better reconnoitring the approach of the expected guest.
“He keeps the blinds down still! Absence of mind, or shame at unpunctuality — which is the cause, Mauleverer?” said one of the party.
“Not shame, I fear!” answered Mauleverer. “Even the indecent immorality of delaying our dinner could scarcely bring a blush to the parchment skin of my learned friend.”
Here the carriage stopped at the porch; the carriage door was opened.
“There seems a strange delay,” said Mauleverer, peevishly. “Why does not he get out?”
As he spoke, a murmur among the attendants, who appeared somewhat strangely to crowd around the carriage, smote the ears of the party.
“What do they say — what?” said Mauleverer, putting his hand to his ear.
The bishop answered hastily; and Mauleverer, as he heard the reply, forgot for once his susceptibility to cold, and hurried out to the carriage door. His guests followed.
They found Brandon leaning against the farther corner of the carriage — a corpse. One hand held the check-string, as if he had endeavoured involuntarily but ineffectually to pull it. The right side of his face was partially distorted, as by convulsion or paralysis; but not sufficiently so to destroy that remarkable expression of loftiness and severity which had characterized the features in life. At the same time the distortion which had drawn up on one side the muscles of the mouth had deepened into a startling broadness the half sneer of derision that usually lurked around the lower part of his face. Thus unwitnessed and abrupt had been the disunion of the clay and spirit of a man who, if he passed through life a bold, scheming, stubborn, unwavering hypocrite, was not without something high even amidst his baseness, his selfishness, and his vices; who seemed less to have loved sin than by some strange perversion of reason to have disdained virtue, and who, by a solemn and awful suddenness of fate (for who shall venture to indicate the judgment of the arch and unseen Providence, even when it appears to mortal eye the least obscured?), won the dreams, the objects, the triumphs of hope, to be blasted by them at the moment of acquisition!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06