O, SPIRITS of Unrest and Pain! that grieve for the sorrow dealt out to weak humanity, sweep from my heart the dull veil of individuality, and let my being vibrate with the profound pulsation of those who mourn in the depths. Spirits of Sorrow and Sympathy, twin sisters of the twilight, touch the trembling chords that sound the symphony of wrong, and desolation, and despair. Almighty, God, in Thy wisdom, and surely also in Thy love Thou layest Thine awful finger on a poor human soul, and it is withered in Thy sight even to agony and death as far-seeing, our eyes may not discover. In those supreme moments of trial, when that which we see is black as night, teach us to trust in Thy guidance, give us light to deny the fearful temptation of Chance, and faith to believe that all who labour and are heavy laden may bring their heavy burden trustingly to Thee!
With a prayer, we enter the cell of Alice Walmsleya cell where no prayer had been uttered, woful to say, for the first five years of her life therein. We look upon the calm, white face and the downcast eyes that, during the hopeless period, had never been raised to Heavenexcept once, and then only in defiance and imprecation.
God's hand had caught her up from the happy plain, to fling her into the darkest furrows of affliction; and from these depths the stricken soul had upbraided the judge and rebelled against the sentence.
Alice Walmsley had been born with a heart all kindness and sympathy. From her very infancy she had loved intensely the kindly, the unselfish, and the beautiful. She had lived through her girlhood as happy, healthy, and pure as the primroses beneath her mother's hedgerows. She had approached womanhood as a silver stream ripples to the sea, yearning for its greatness and its troubles and its joyshurrying from the calm delights of the meadow banks to the mighty main of strength, and saltness, and sweetness.
The moment of communion was reached at last, when her girlish life plunged with delicious expectation into the deep and in one hideous instant she knew that for ever she had parted from the pure and beautiful, and was buried in an ocean of corruption and disappointment, rolled over by waves of unimaginable and inevitable suffering, and wrong.
From the first deep plunge, stifled, agonized, appalled, she rose to the surface, only to behold the land receding from her viewthe sweet fields of her innocent and joyous girlhood fading in the distance.
She raised her eyes, and saw the heaven calm and beautiful above her, sprinkled with gem-like starsand she cried, she screamed to God for help in her helplessness. The answer did not comethe lips of God were dumbit seemed as if He did not heed nor see the ruin of one puny human life. The sky was as beautiful and serene as before, and the stars were as bright.
Then, from the crest of the wave, as she felt herself slipping back into the dreadful depths again, and for ever, she raised her face to heaven, and shrieked reproach and disbelief and execration!
On the very day of her marriage, before the solemn words of the ceremony had left her memory, she had looked for one dread moment beneath the mask of him who had won her love and trustsome old letters of her husband relating to Will Sheridan had fallen into her handsand she shrank within herself, affrighted at the knowledge of deceit and habitual falsehood that the glimpse had brought her. It was her first grief and secret, and she hid it in her soul for months before she dared look upon it again.
But a single grief, even though a heavy one, could not crush the light out of so joyous and faithful a heart, She still
p.99possessed the woman's angelic gifts of hope and faith. She had, too, the woman's blessed quality of mercy. She forgave, trusting that her forgiveness would bring a change. She prayed, and waited, and hopedin secret confidence with her own heart. Another influence would be added to hers ere long. When she gave his child into his arms, and joined its supplication to hers, she believed, nay, she knew, that her happiness would be returned to her.
But before that day came, she was left alone. Her husband from the hour she had given herself into his power, bad followed one careless, selfish, and cynical course. She would not, could not believe that this was his natural life, but only a temporary mood.
When first he spoke of going to sea again, on a long voyage, she was pleased, and thought gladly of the change for her, who had never seen the great world. When he coldly said that she was to remain, she became alarmedshe could not be left aloneshe implored, she prayed to go with him.
Then came the sneer, the brutal refusal, the master's command, the indelible insult of expressed weariness and dislike. She held her peace.
When the day came, he would have left her, for years of absence, without a kiss; but the poor soul, hungering and waiting for a loving word or look, unable to believe her great affection powerless to win a return, could not bear this blighting memory. She clung to him, sobbing her full heart on his breast; she kissed him and prayed for him, with her hands on his shoulders, and her streaming eyes on his; sheblamed herself, and told him she would be happy till hereturnedthe thought of her coming joy would bless her life, and bless and preserve him on the sea. With such words she let him go.
Firmly and faithfully the loving heart kept this last promise. Months passed, and her lonely home grew very dear to her. Her young heart refused to remember the pain of the past, and would recall, day after day, untiringly, the few poor pleasures of her wedded life. She would not allow herself to think how much even of these pleasures was due to others than her husbandto her mother and her old friends.
But all her sorrow died, and her doubt and fear fled away, on the day when she took to her yearning breast the sweet baby that was hers and his. God's eye seemed too full of love
p.100that day. The harvest of her young life was the bursting of a flower of exquisite joy. Her baby was a prayerGod had come near to her, and had sent her an angelic present. Her life for many days was a ceaseless crooning melody of soft happiness, mingled with prayers for her husband absent on the sea.
Then came the lightning, and blasted her fabric of joy, and shrivelled her future life into hopelessness before her face. One moment it rose fair and sightly and splendid; the next, it was scattered at her scorched feet, a pile of blackened and pitiful ruin. O, day of sorrow, would it had been of death!
It was a bright and happy morning, and she sat in her pleasant little room, with the baby in her arms. She had been dreaming awake. She was full of peace and thankfulness for her exceeding joy.
Suddenly, a shadow fell upon hersomeone had entered the room. She looked up, and met a terrible facea woman's face, glaring at her and her child. She could not screamshe was paralyzed with terror. The face was crowded with passionevery dreadful line seemed to possess a voice of wrath and hatred.
Alice had no power to defend herself; but she folded her baby closer to her breast, and looked straight at the dreadful face.
"You think you are his wife!" cried the woman, with a laugh of hideous derision. "You think he loves you! You lie! You lie! He is my husband! He never was yours! He is mine, mine! And he lied to you!"
More was said by the womanmuch more; but it all resolved itself into this in Alice's confused memory. Papers the stranger produced, and held before Alice's eyes. She read the written wordsthey were transferred to her brain in letters of fire. Nearer and nearer came the dreadful woman, and more threatening the insults she hissed into Alice's face. She laid her hand on the baby's shoulder, and crushed it, cursing it.
Still Alice could not scream. Her heart gave irregular throbsher brain was beginning to reel. Nearer, still nearer, the hateful facethe words struck her in the eyes like missilesthey sprang like knives at her hearther body grew weak, the baby fell from her breast and lay upon her knees O God! the silent agonythe terrible stranger had seized the
p.101childthe mother's senses failedthe sunlight grew darkthe sufferer fell unconscious at her enemy's feet.
When she raised her head, after hours of a merciful blank, she was aloneher baby lay dead before herand the love and trust of her life lay stark and strangled by its side.
What more? Nay, there was no more to be borne. The worst had come. The flaming rocket had spent its last spark in the dark skythe useless stick was falling to the earth, to be forgotten forever.
Friends! What had they to say? Kindness was dead. Shame had no existence. Sorrow, disgrace, infamy, what had she to do with these? But they had taken her, had seized her as their prey, and she would make no resistance.
With bonds of faith and love and trust and hope, Alice Walmsley's life had been firmly bound to all that was good and happy. The destroyer's knife had severed all these at one merciless sweep; and the separated and desolated heart sank like lead into the abyss of despair.
Then followed a blankintermixed with turmoil of formal evidence and legal speeches, and voices of clinging friends, who implored her to speak and clear herself of the dreadful charge. At this word, her mind clearedshe looked at and understood her positionand she refused to speakshe would not plead "not guilty" when charged with killing her own child. Her mother, broken with years and with this affliction, tottered from the rails of the dock, against which she had leant, and sank heart-broken on the floor of the court. She was carried to the open air by weeping strangerscarried past Alice, who never looked upon her dear face again.
Still she stood silent, tearless, but conscious of every act and relation. Anguish had changed her in one day from a girl into a strong self-reliant woman. To her own soul she said: "My life is in ruinnothing can now increase the burden. If I speak, another will stand hereanother who has been wronged as I have been. She was wretched before she became guilty. Let me undergolet me never see the face of one who knew me, to remind me of the past. Between freedom and memory, and imprisonment and forgetfulnessI choose the latter."
These thoughts never became words in Alice's mind; but this was the mental process which resulted in her silence in
p.102the dock. The trial was shortshe was found guilty. Then came the solitude and silence of the great prison.
Four white walls, a stone floor, a black iron door, a heavily barred window, through which she looked up at the moon and stars at nightand, enclosed within these walls, a young and beautiful girl, a tender heart that had never throbbed with a lawless desire, a conscience so sensitive, and a mind so pure, that angels might have communed with her.
Shall not this prisoner find peace in solitude, and golden sermons in the waves of pain?
She had been one day and night in Millbank. The severe matron or warder of the Pentagon opened her cell door in the morning, and handed her two books, a Bible and prayer-book.
The window of the cell, outside the bars, was open. Without a word to the warder, the prisoner threw the books out of the open window.
"They are not true; I shall pray no more," she said, not fiercely, but firmly, as they fell into the yard within the Pentagon.
She was reported to the authorities. They sent the Bible reader to pray with her, in the cell, according to the rule laid down in convict prisons; but she remained silent. They punished herfor the dreadful word "Murder" was printed on her door-card; they shut her up in a dark cell for days and weeks, till her eyes dilated and her body shrank under the meagre food. Remember, a few weeks before, she was a simple, God-fearing country girl. Neither prayer nor punishment could bring her into relenting, but only deepened the earnestness of her daily answer
"I shall pray no more."
Her case was brought before the Chief Director, Sir Joshua Hobb. This disciplinarian visited her dark cell, and, with a harsh "Ho, there!" flashed a brilliant lamp on the entombed wretch. She sat on a low seat in the centre of the dark cell, her face bowed into her hands, perhaps to shut out the painfully sudden glare.
"She won't pray, eh?" said the great reformer, looking at the slight figure that did not move. "We'll see." He evidently took a special interest in this case.
An hour later, the prisoner was taken from her cell, and dragged or pushed by two strong female warders till she stood.
In an arched passage beneath the prison. Her clothing was rudely torn from her shoulders to the waist; her wrists were strapped to staples in the wall; and, before her weakened and benumbed brain had realized the unspeakable outrage, the lash had swept her delicate flesh into livid stripes.
Then, for one weak moment, her womanhood conquered, and she shrieked, as if in supplication, the name of Him she had so bitterly refused to worship.
But the scream of her affliction was not a prayerit was the awful utterance of a parting spirit, the cry of a wrecked and tortured soul, an imprecation born of such agony as was only utterable in a curse. May God pity and blot out the sin!
They carried her senseless body to the hospital, where unconsciousness befriended her for many weeks. A brain fever racked her; she lived the terrors of the past every hour; a weaker body would have sunk under the strain; but her time had not yet come.
The fever left her at lasther consciousness returned; the austere, philanthropic women and hackneyed preachers laboured by her bedside in rigid charity and sonorous prayer, during which her eyes remained closed and her lips motionless.
As her strength returned, she moved about the ward, feeling a pleasant relief when she could do a kindness to another inmate weaker than herself. She would warm the drinks, smooth the pillows, or carefully give the medicines as prescribed, to her unfortunate sisters. And all this she performed silently. She never smiled, and no one but her own heart knew that her labour for others gave her comfort.
When her health was quite restored, she had become valuable to the physicians and warders. She was asked to remain in the hospital rather than to go back and work in the cells.
She chose the hospital, and entered at once on her regular duties as a nurse.
Why did she choose the busy hospital, instead of the solitary cell? Because she was still a woman. Trust in God had been taken from her; but she remained unselfish, or, rather, her life had assumed an exalted selfishness, possible only to highly organized natures. Though God was deaf, she could not believe that good was dead, for she still felt sympathy for her fellow sufferers. God had made the world, but had forgotten it, and the spirit of evil had taken His place.
"They say you don't believe in religion?" said a dying woman to her one day; "then maybe you don't believe that God has punished me like this for my evil ways?"
Alice Walmsley looked at the unfortunatethen searched her own heart before answering. Her affliction was her own; God had deserted herhad He also deserted this poor wretch?
"God has not punished you," she answered; "you have brought on your own punishment."
"Then God will give me my child in the other world?" cried the woman, with pitiful earnestness. "Oh, say He, will, and I shall die happy!"
Alice did not answer, but the iron of the question pierced her soul. There lived beneath all the burden of her suffering a love that thrilled her day and night, a yearning that never slept, a memory and pity of unspeakable tenderness for her dead child. It was grief in love and love in grief. She had tried to reason it away, but in vain. God, who had tortured her, or allowed her torture, had seized her babe for ransom. While she was wronged before Him, He held a hostage for her silence.
How should she answer this dying woman's question?
She walked from the ward straight to the matron's office, and asked to be sent to the cellsshe could work no more in the hospital.
Expostulation, argument, threats, had no effect on her determination. Her resolution troubled every one in the hospital, for her services were highly prized. But she had settled the question. The mind may delay in solving a problem, but the soul's solution is instantaneous and unalterable. She was sent to the cell.
Five years of silent imprisonment had passed over Alice Walmsleyyears of daily and hourly change and excitement for the outer world. Five years in solitary confinement are only one day, one day of dreary monotony repeated one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five times.
Take a starving beggar from the street, and seat him at your table, and tell him that he shall have food and money if he will turn his plate face downward, and return it face upward, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five timesand the hungry wretch will drop from exhaustion before half the turnings are done, and will run from your house with curses. The solitary prisoner turns the same number of days with harrowing weariness a thousand times multiplied in five years. The days and nights of those years had passed like a black and white vibration over Alice Walmsley's life. They had brought little change to the outward eye; and the inward change was only a settlement of the elements of doubt and disbelief and despair into a solid deposit in her heart.
No friends had visited her. When her mother died, there was left no living relative. She had no love nor attraction beyond her cellbeyond her own soul. Every tie worth keeping had then been torn asunder. Some lesser bonds she since had unloosed herself. Why should any happy thing be united to one so forlorn and wretched?
For God's pleasure she was undergoing this tortureso they told her. She had neither sinned nor rebelled. She had been given life, and she had grown to love itbut when the summer of her life had come, she was drenched with affliction and wrong, which she had not earned, of the cause of which she was as innocent as her babe, murdered before her eyes. Her heart, hope, love, trust, had been flung down and trampled in the dust.
The alms of prayer that were doled out by the nasal Scripture-readers had long since been carried past her door. They regarded her as hopelessly lost. She never spoke her dissent; but they could see that she did not hear them, that she did not believe them. So they left her to herself.
One day, a man sat in the governor's office with a large book before him, in which he had been carefully reading a page on which the governor, standing beside him, had placed his index finger.
"It is a remarkable case," said the governor; "and she certainly is not insane."
"She was not a criminal by association?" asked the visitor, closing the book. He was a powerfully built, dark-faced man, with a foreign air and a deep voice. The studied respect of
p.106the governor proved him to be a person of importance. It, was Mr. Wyville, who had recently arrived in London, and who was visiting the prisons, with authority from the Ministry itself.
"No," said the governor; "she was a village girl, wife of a sea captain. Here, at page 42, we find the police reports-see, only one short entry. The police didn't know her."
"She has never defended herself, nor reproached others?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"Never," answered the governor. "She has never spoken about herself."
"It is very strange, and very sad," said Mr. Wyville to the governor. And to himself he murmured, "She must have suffered fearful wrong."
Soon after, in company with the governor, he passed along the corridor, and stopped at Alice Walmsley's cell. The warder opened the door. Mr. Wyville did not look at the prisoner, but walked across the cell, as if observing the window bars, upon which he laid his hand.
"The iron is covered with rust," Wyville said to the governor. "The windows of this range certainly need repainting."
Then, apparently looking round in the same practical way, Mr. Wyville remained, perhaps, a minute in the cell. He had scarcely turned his eyes on the prisoner; yet the mute intensity of her face had sunk into his heart.
"She has been terribly wronged," he repeated to himself, as he left the prison. "God help her! she is very young to be so calm."
When Mr. Wyville emerged from the prison arch, he walked rapidly along the river towards Westminster. He was in deep thought. He proceeded a little distance, then stopped, and looked down on the turbid stream, as if undecided. This was unlike the usual calm deliberateness of his conduct. He was evidently perplexed and troubled. After pausing a while, he looked at his watch, and then retraced his steps, passed Millbank, and walked on in the direction of Chelsea.
It was an old habit of his to solve difficult questions as he walked; and he selected a quiet suburb, with streets leading into the country roads.
In the streets, there was nothing very noticeable about the man, except his athletic stride and deeply bronzed face. He
p.107might be classed by the passing observer as a naval officer who had served many years in southern latitudes, or as a foreign captain. His dress had something of the sailor about its style and cloth. But it is the inner man who interests us: let us follow the burden of his thought.
Remorse does not end in this calmness, unless the prisoner be insane. Her mind is clear; she is not melancholy; she is self-possessed and firm. Her health has not suffered. Yet, she has abandoned belief in man's truth and God's mercy. She does not claim that she is innocent; she makes no defense and no charge; she accepts her punishment without a complaint. These are not the symptoms of remorse or guilt. She has abandoned prayer; she deliberately shuts out the past and the future. Yet she is in all other respects obedient, industrious, and kind. There is only one explanation of these contradictionsshe is innocent, and she has suffered terrible wrong."
Mr. Wyville did not return to his house till late in the evening. He had walked for hours; and, as he went, he had unravelled, with infinite patience, the psychological net-work that had troubled him. He had come to a decision.
Two days after his visit to the prison, Alice Walmsley sat in her cell, sewing tirelessly. The morning had opened like all the other mornings of her imprisonment; there was nothing new, nothing to suggest a new train of thought.
Someone who walked along the corridor about ten o'clock had seemed to hesitate a moment at her cell, and then had passed on. The governor, she thought, who had glanced through the watch-grate.
In the wall of every cell there was a minute hole, about two inches square on the exterior, cut in the solid stone. The opening, which grew wide towards the interior of the cell, was in the shape of a wedge. A warder outside could see a large part of the cell, while the prisoner could only see the eye of the warder. As the officers wore woollen slippers, they could observe the prisoners without being heard or seen.
At this opening, Alice Walmsley thought, the governor had stopped as he passed, and had looked into her cell. It was not unusual.
A few minutes later she paused in her work, almost impatiently, and tried to put away from her an unwelcome thought.
After a short pause she renewed her sewing, working rapidly
p.108for a few minutes; and then she laid the coarse cloth aside, and buried her face in her hands.
She was thinking of her old life, of her old self; she had tried to escape from it, but could not. For years she had separated the past and the present, until she had actually come to think of herself as two beingsone, who had been happy, and who was dead; the other, living but separated from all the worldalone, with neither memories nor hopes, neither past nor future.
Yet to-day, without apparent cause, the two selves had drawn togetherthe happy Alice had come beseechingly to the unhappy one.
For an hour she remained motionless, her face bowed in her hands. Then she raised her head, but she did not renew her work. She stood up, and walked across the cell, and re-crossed it, in the rapid way of restless prisoners; but on the second passage she stood still, with a bewildered air. Her eye had caught a gleam of bright colour in the opening of the watch-grate. There was a flower in her cell!
She trembled as she reached her hand to take it. She did not try to recover her dispassionate calmness. She took it in her hand, and raised it to her lips slowly, and kissed it. It was a sweet rosebud, with two young leaves. She had not seen a flower nor heard a bird sing since she left her own little garden.
This tender thing had stolen inside her guard. Its sweet fragrance, before she knew of its presence, had carried her mind back to the happy days of her girlhood. She kept the flower to her lips, kissing it. She fed her wistful eyes on its beauty. She had been so long without emotion, she had so carefully repressed the first promptings of imagination, that her heart had become thirsty unto death for some lovely or lovable thing. This sweet young flower took for her all forms of beauty. As she gazed on it, her soul drank in its delicious breath, like a soft and sensuous music; its perfect colouring filled herwith still another delight; its youth, its form, its promise, the rich green of the two leaves, its exquisite completeness, made a very symphony for the desolate heart.
Two hours passed, and still she fondled the precious gift. She had not once thought of how the flower had come into her cell.
"You are pleased at last, Number Four," said a female warder, who had been looking into Alice's cell.
Number Four raised her eyes from the flower, and looked silently her answer. For the first time in five years the warder saw that her eyes were flooded with tears.
She did not sew any more that dayand, strange to say, the officers took no heed of her idleness. There was a change in her face, a look of unrest, of strangeness, of timidity.
When first she looked upon the flower, a well had burst up in her heart, and she could not stop its flood. In one hour it had swept away all her barriers, had swamped her repression, had driven out the hopeless and defiant second self, and had carried into her cell the wronged, unhappy, but human and loving heart of the true Alice Walmsley.
She was herself. She feared to think it, but she knew it must be so. When the warder spoke to her now, she shrank from the tone. Yesterday, it would have passed her like the harsh wind, unheeded.
That night, unlike all the nights of her imprisonment, she did not lie down and sleep as soon as the lights were extinguished. With the little flower in her hand, she sat on her low bedside in the still darkness, feeling through all her nature the returning rush of her young life's sympathy with the world.
The touch of the rosebud in her hand thrilled her with tenderness. She made no attempt to shut out the crowding memories. They flooded her heart, and she drank them in as a parched field drinks the drenching min.
Towards midnight the moon rose above the city, silver-white in a black-blue sky, lovelier than ever she had seen it, Alice thought, as she looked through the bars of her window. She stood upon her low bed, opened the window, and looked up. At that moment her heart was touched with a loving thought of her dead mother. Her arms rested on the window ledge, and her hands were raised before her, holding between them the little flower, as she might have held a peace-offering to a king.
Softly as the manna falls upon the desert, or the dew upon the wild flower, descended on the afflicted heart the grace of God's love and mercy. The Eye that looked from above on that white face upturned amid the gloom of the prison, beheld
p.110the eyes brimmed with tears, the lips quivering with profound emotion, and the whole face radiant with faith and sorrow and prayer.
"O, thank God!" she whispered, her weeping eyes resting on the beautiful deep sky thank God for this little flower. O, mother, hear me in heaven, and pray for me, that God may forgive me for doubting and denying His love!"
With streaming eyesshe sank upon her knees by the bedside, and poured her full heart in passionate prayer. And, as she prayed, kneeling on the stones of her cell, with bowed head, the beautiful moon had risen high in the vault of night, and its radiance flooded the cell, as if God's blessing were made manifest in the lovely light, that was only broken by the dark reflection of the window bars, falling upon the mourner in the form of a cross. It was long past midnight when she lay down to rest.
But next day Alice began her monotonous toil as on all previous, days. She was restless, unhappy; her face was stained with weeping in the lone, vigil of the night. But her heart had changed with the brief rest she had taken. She began her day without prayer. Her mind bad moved too long in one deep groove to allow its direction to be changed without laborious effort.
The little flower that had touched her heart so deeply the day before, lay upon the low shelf of her cell. Alice took it up with a movement of the lips that would have been a sad smile but for the emptiness of her poor heart. "It grew in its garden, and loved its sweet life," she thought; "and when the sun was brightest, the selfish Hand approached and tore it from its stem, to throw it next clay into the street, perhaps."
Then flashed, for the first time, into her mind the questionWho had placed the flower in her cell? Had she been unjustand had the Hand that pulled this flower been moved by kindness, and kindness to her?
The thought troubled her, and she became timid and impressionable again. Who had brought her this flower? Whoever had done so was a friend, and pitied her. Else whybut perhaps every prisoner in the ward had also received a flower. Her heart closed, and her lips became firm at the thought.
A few minutes later, she pulled the signal wire of her cell,
p.111which moved a red board outside the door, so that it stood at right angles from the wall. This brought the warder, to know what was wanted. The door was opened, and the warder, a woman with a severe face but a kind eye, stood in the entrance. Alice had the flower in her hand.
"Have all the prisoners received flowers like this?" she inquired, with a steady voice.
"No," said the warder.
In five years, this was the first question Number Four had ever asked.
"Why was this given to me?" she asked, her voice losing its firmness, and her eyes filling with tears.
"I don't know," said the warder.
This was true: the hand that had dropped the flower into the watch-grate had done so unseen. The warder only knew that orders had been received from the governor that Number Four was not to be disturbed, nor the flower taken away.
The door closed again, and Alice raised the flower to her lips and kissed it. Someone had pitied herhad thought of her. She was not alone in the world. This reflection she could not drive away. She sat down to her work; but she could not see the clothher eyes were blurred with tears, her hands trembled. At last she rose and pressed her open hands to her streaming eyes, and then sank on her knees beside her bed, and sobbed convulsively.
How long she remained so she did not know, but she felt a band laid softly oil her head, and heard her name called in a low voice
A woman had entered the cell, and was kneeling beside her.
Alice raised her head, and let her eyes rest on a face as beautiful as an angel's, a face as white as if it were a prisoner's, but calm and sweet and sympathetic in every feature; and round the lovely face Alice saw a strange, white band, that made it look like a face in a picture.
It was a Sister of Mercy she had seen before when she worked in the hospital; she remembered she bad seen her once sit up all night bathing the brow of a sick girl, dying of fever. This thought came clearly to her mind as she looked fit Sister Cecilia's face, and saw the unselfishness and devotion of her life in her pure look.
"Alice," said Sister Cecilia, " why do you grieve so deeply I tell me why you are so unhappytell me, dear, and I will try to make you happier, or I will grieve with you."
Alice felt her whole self-command deserting her, and her heart melting at the kindness of the voice and words.
"Turn to me, and trust me, dear," said Sister Cecilia tell me why you weep so bitterly. I know you are innocent of crime, Alice; I never believed you guilty. And now I have come to bring you comfort."
Sister Cecilia had put one arm around Alice, and, as she spoke, with the other hand she raised the tearful face and kissed it. Then the flood-gates of Alice's affliction burst, and she wept as if her heart were breaking.
Sister Cecilia waited till the storm of sorrow had exhausted itself, only murmuring little soothing words all the time, and patting the sufferer's hand and cheek softly.
"Now, dear," she said at length, "as we are kneeling, let us pray for a little strength and grace, and then you shall tell me why you grieve."
Sister Cecilia, taking Alice's hands between her own, raised them a little, and then she raised her eyes, with a sweet smile on her face, as if she were carrying a lost soul to the angels, and in a voice as simple as a child's, and as trustful, said the Lord's Prayer Alice repeating the words after her.
Never before had the meaning of the wonderful prayer of prayers entered Alice's soul. Every sentence was full of warmth and comfort and strength. The words that sank deepest were theseshe repeated them afterwards with the same mysterious effect" Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." She did not know why these words were the best, but they were.
"Now, Alice," said Sister Cecilia, rising cheerfully when the prayer was done we are going to bathe our faces and go on with our sewing, and have a long talk."
Alice obeyed, or, rather, she followed the example. Sister Cecilia's unaffected manner had won her so completely that she felt a return of her girlish companionship. All other teachers of religion whom Alice had seen in the prison had come to her with unsympathetic formality and professional airs of sanctity, which repelled her.
Half an hour later, Alice was quietly sewing, while Sister
p.113Cecilia sat on the pallet and talked, and drew Alice into a chat. She made no reference to the grief of the morning. The cases in the hospital, the penitence of poor sick prisoners, the impenitence of others, the gratitude and the selfishness and the many other phases of character that came under her daily observationthese were the topics of the little Sister's conversation.
"Why, I might as well be a prisoner, too," she said, smiling, and making Alice smile; "I have been in the hospital seven years. I was there two years before you came. You see, I am as white as a prisoner."
"Yes," said Alice, looking sadly at her; "it is not right. Why do you not grieve as they do?"
"Why?" answered Sister Cecilia, gaily, "because I am not a criminal, perhaps. I am like you, Alice; I have less reason to grieve than the other poor things."
Alice had never seen it in this light before, and she could not help smiling at the philosophy of the little Sister. But she was affected by it very deeply.
"If you had remained in the hospital, Alice," said the nun, "you would have been as much a Sister of Mercy as I am. Do you know, I was very sorry when you left the hospital."
Every word she said, somehow, touched Alice in a tender place. Was the wise little nun choosing her words? At any rate, it was well and kindly done.
When she kissed Alice, and pulled the signal wire to go out, her smile filled the cell and Alice's heart with brightness. She promised to come and see her every day till the ship sailed; and then they would be together all the day.
"Are you going to Australia?" asked Alice, in amazement.
"Certainly," said Sister Cecilia, with a smile of mock surprise. "Why, those poor children couldn't get along without mefifty of them. Now, I'm very glad I shall have you to help me, Alice. We'll have plenty to do, never fear."
She was leaving the cellthe warder had opened the door when Alice timidly touched her dress and drew her aside out of the warder's sight.
"I am not a Catholic," said Alice, in a tremulous whisper.
"No matter, child" said the little nun, taking her face between her hands and kissing her eyes; "you are a woman.
p.114Good-bye till to-morrow; and say your prayers, like my own good girl."
Alice stood gazing at the spot where she had stood long after the door had closed. Then she turned and looked through the window at the bright sky, with her hands clasped at full length before her. As she looked, a sparrow perched on her windowsill, and she smiledalmost laughedat the little cautious fellow. She took some crumbs from her shelf and threw them to him; and as she did so, she thought that she might have done it every day for five years, had she been as happy as she was then.
ABOUT a week after the incident of the flower, Mr. Wyville, accompanied by his black servant, Ngarra-jil, left London on the Northern train. The black man was clad from throat to feet in a wrap or mantle of thick cloth, though the summer day was bland and warm. He settled silently into a corner of the railway carriage, watching his master with a keen and constant look. Mr. Wyville, sitting beside the window, seemed to observe the richly cultivated fields and picturesque villages through which the mail train flew without pausing; but, in truth, he neither saw nor thought of outward things.
There is a power in some minds of utterly shutting out externals of withdrawing, the common functions from the organs of sense to assist the concentration of the introverted mind. At such a time the open eye is blindit has become a mere lens, reflecting but not perceiving; the tympanum of the ear vibrates to the outward wave, but has ceased to translate its message to the brain. The soul within has separated itself from the moving world, and has retired to its cell like an anchorite, taking with it some high subject for contemplation or some profound problem for solution.
From this closet of the soul emerge the lightning thoughts that startle, elevate, and deify mankind, sweeping away old systems like an overflow of the ocean. Within this cell the Christ-mind reflected for thirty-three years, before the Word
p.115was uttered. Within this cell the soul of Dante penetrated the horrescent gloom of the infernal spheres, and beheld the radiant form of Beatrice. Within this cell the spirit that was Shakespeare bisected the human heart, and read every impulse of its mysterious network. Here the blind Milton forgot the earth, and lived an awful aeon beyond the worlds, amid the warring thoughts of God.
Great and sombre was the Thought which lay within the cell of this traveller's soul to be investigated and solved. Villages, and fields, and streams passed the outward eye, that was, for the time, the window of a closed and darkened room.
As the pale corpse lies upon the dissecting table, before the solitary midnight student, so lay upon the table, within this man's soul, a living body for dissectionthe hideous body of Crime. For years it had lain there, and the brooding soul had often withdrawn from the outer world to contemplate its repulsive and mysterious aspect. The knife was in the hand of the student, but he knew not where to begin the incision. The hideous thing to be examined was inorganic as a whole, and yet every atom of its intertexture was a perfect organ.
To his unceasing vision, the miscreated form became luminous and transparent; and he saw that, throughout its entire being, beat one maleficent pulsation, accordant with the rhythm of some unseen and intermittent sea. He saw that the parts and the whole were one, yet manythat every atom had within itself the seminal part and the latent pulse of the ocean of Sin.
For years he had looked upon this fearful body, wonderful, observant, speculative. For years, when the contemplation had ceased, he had knelt beside the evil thing and prayed for light and knowledge.
Day and night were as an outward breath to the soul of the thinker. The light faded and the darkness fell, but he knew it not. His whole being was turned within, and he would have groaned with sorrow at what he saw, were it not for an adamantine faith in God, love, and justice, that bridged the gulf of doubt with a splendid arch.
It was midnight when the train arrived in Liverpool. The black man, Ngarra-jil, who had watched so long and tirelessly the marvellous face of his master, rose from his corner, purposely arousing Mr. Wyville's attention. He smiled kindly
p.116at Ngarra-jil, and spoke to him in his own language, continuing to do so as they were driven through the streets to a hotel.
Something of unusual importance had brought Mr. Wyville from London. That night, though the fatigue of the journey would have overpowered an ordinary man, he did not retire to rest till early morning, and then he slept scarcely three hours. In the forenoon of that day, leaving Ngarra-jil at the hotel, he took a further journey, to the little village of Walton-le-Dalethe native village of Alice Walmsley.
It was clear that Mr. Wyville had come to Lancashire on some purpose connected with this unhappy girl, for his first visit, having inquired at the inn, was to the quiet street where stood her old home. He walked up the weed-grown pathway to the deserted house, and finding the outer door of the porch unlocked, as it had been left five years before, he entered, and sat there on the decaying bench for a short time. Then he retraced his steps, and inquired his way to the police station.
The solitary policeman off Walton-le-Dale was just at that time occupied in painting a water barrel, which stood on its donkey-cart in the street.
There was only one well of sweet water in Walton, the village lying on very low land; and the villagers paid each week a half-penny a family to their policeman, in return for which he left in their houses every day two large pails of water.
Officer Lodge, they called him; and though he was a modest and unassuming fellow, he made a point of being deaf to any remark or request that was not prefaced by this title. He resented even "Mr." Lodge; but he was excited to an indignant glance at the offensive familiarity of plain " Lodge."
He was a small old man, of a gentle and feminine disposition; but he had "served his time" on a man-of-war, and had been pensioned for some active service in certain vague Chinese bombardments. It was queerly inconsistent to hear the old fellow relate wild stories of carnage, with a woman's voice and a timid maiden air.
As Mr. Wyville approached Officer Lodge, that guardian of the peace was laboriously trying to turn the barrel in its bed, so that he might paint the under side. The weight was too great for the old man, and he was puzzled. He stood looking at the ponderous cask with a divided mind.
"Raise it on its end," said Mr. Wyville, who had reached the spot unseen by the aquarian policeman.
Officer Lodge looked at him in distrust, fearing sarcasm in the remark; but he met the grave impressive look, and was mollified. Besides, the advice struck him as being practical. Without a word, he easily heaved the cask into an upright position, and found that he could paint its whole circumference. This put him in good humour.
"If that were my barrel, I should paint the hoops red instead of green," said Mr. Wyville.
"Why?" asked Officer Lodge, dipping his brush in the green paint.
"Because red lead preserves iron, while the verdigris used to colour green paint corrodes it."
Officer Lodge wiped his brush on the rim of the paint-pot, and looked at Mr. Wyville timidly, but pleasantly.
"You know things, you do," he said. "But suppose you hadn't no red paint?"
"I should paint the whole barrel whitewhite lead preserves ironand then give the hoops a smart coat of black. That would make a handsome barrel."
"I should think so! By jewkins! wouldn't it so?" said Officer Lodge.
Mr. Wyville stood on the road talking with the old man, until that personage had quite decided to paint the barrel white.
"Now, my friend," said Mr. Wyville, "could you direct me to the office of the police inspector of this village?"
Officer Lodge was rather taken aback. He was in his shirtsleeves, like a common labourer, and here was a gentleman, evidently a foreigner, in search of the police inspector; he was gratified at the important title. He took his coat from the cart, and slipped it on, obtruding its brass buttons on the stranger.
"There ain't exac'ly a hinspector in Walton," he said, with an air of careless pomp; "but I'm the police, at your service, sir."
"I am very glad," said Mr. Wyville, gravely; "I wish to make some inquiries about a case of murder that occurred in this village some years ago. Can you assist me?"
"There was only one such a case, sir," said Officer Lodge,
p.118the kindliness of his feminine heart speaking in his saddened tone, "I know all about it. It was me as arrested her; and it was unwilling work on my side. But a hofficer must do his duty, sir."
"Can we not sit down somewhere, and talk it over?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"At the inn, sir, certingly," replied Officer Lodge and a good glass a' hale you can 'ave, too, sir."
They were soon seated in a quiet little room, and each had his "glass a' hale" before him.
Officer Lodge told the story like a man who had often told it before: all the angles were rounded, and the dramatic points brought out with melodramatic emphasis. Mr. Wyville let him run on till he had no more to say.
"And this strange woman, who came to the village on the morning of the murder," he said, when he had heard all; "this woman who was Draper's first wifehas she ever been heard of since?"
"O, Harriet Draper, bless you, yessir." said Officer Lodge she comes back periodical, and gets into quodparding me, sir, I mean into jail."
"What does she do?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"Well, she's a bad 'un. We don't know where she comes from, nor where she goes to. She drinks 'cavy, and then she goes down there near Draper's 'ouse, and the other 'ouse, an' she kicks up a muss of crying and shouting. She does it periodical; and we has to lock her up."
"When was she here last?" asked Mr. Wyville.
Officer Lodge pulled out a leather-covered pass-book, and examined it.
"She's out of her reg'lar border, this time," he said; "she 'aven't been 'ere for a year. But I heerd of her later than that in the penitentiary at Liverpool."
Mr. Wyville asked no more questions. He wrote an address on a card, and handed it to Officer Lodge.
If this woman return here," he said, "or if you find out where she is, write to that address, and you shall be well rewarded."
"Head Office of Police, Scotland Yard, London," read Officer Lodge from the card. "Yessir, I'll do it. Oh no, none of that," he said, firmly, putting back some offering in
p.119Mr. Wyville's hand; "I'm in your debt, sir; I was a'most going to make a fool of myself with that bar'l. I'm obliged to you, sir, and I'll do this all the better for remembering of your kindness."
Mr. Wyville took a friendly leave of good-natured Officer Lodge, and returned to Liverpool by the next train. Arrived there, he did not proceed straight to his hotel, but drove to the city penitentiary, where he repeated his inquiries about Harriet Draper; but he only learned that she had been discharged eight months before.
Neither police nor prison books could give him further information. Disappointed and saddened, next day he returned to London.
SISTER CECILIA visited Alice Walmsley every day for several weeks, until the happy change in the latter's life had grown out of its strangeness. Their intercourse had become a close and silent communion.
For the first month or so the kind and wise little nun had conversed on anything that chanced for a topic; but afterwards they developed the silent systemand it was the better of the two.
Sister Cecilia used to enter with a cheery smile, which Alice returned. Then Sister Cecilia would throw crumbs on the sill for the sparrows, Alice watching her, still smiling. Then the little Sister would seat herself on the pallet and take out her rosary, and smilingly shake her finger at Alice, as if to say
"Now, Alice, be a good girl, and don't disturb me."
And Alice, made happy by the sweet companionship, would settle to her sewing, hearing the birds twitter and chirp, and seeing the golden sunlight pour through the bars into her cell.
Sister Cecilia had a great many prayers to say every day, and she made a rule of saying the whole of them in Alice's cell.
The change in Alice's life became known to all the officials in the prison, and a general interest was awakened in the
p.120visits of the good Sister, to her cell. From the governor down to the lowest female warder, the incident was a source of pleasure, and a subject of everyday comment.
But there was one official who beheld all this with displeasure and daily increasing distrust. This was Mr. Haggett, the Scripture-reader of the prison.
Into the hands of Mr. Haggett had been given the spiritual welfare of all the convicts in Millbank of every creed Christian, Turk, and Jew.
It was a heavy responsibility; but Mr. Haggett felt himself equal to the task. It would be wrong to lay blame for the choice of such a teacher on any particular creed. He had been selected and appointed by Sir Joshua Hobb, whose special views of religious influence he was to carry out. Mr. Haggett was a tall man, with a highly respectable air. He had whiskers brushed outward till they stood from his lank cheeks like paint-brushes; and he wore a long square-cut brown coat. He had an air of formal superiority. His voice was cavernous and sonorous. If he only said "Good-morning " he said it with a patronizing smile, as if conscious of a superior moral nature; and his voice sounded solemnly deep.
One would have known him in the street as a man of immense religious weight and godly assumption, by the very compression of his lips. These were his strong features, even more forcible than the rigid respectability of his whiskers, or the grave sanctity of his voice. His lips were not exactly coarse or thick; they were large, even to bagginess. His mouth was wide, and his teeth were long; but there was enough lip to cover up the whole, and still more enough left to fold afterwards into consciously pious lines around the mouth.
When Mr. Haggett was praying, he closed his eyes, and in a solemnly sonorous key began a personal interview with the Almighty. While he was informing God, with many deep "Thou knowests," his lips were in full play; every reef was shaken out, so to speak. But when Mr. Haggett was instructing a prisoner, he moved only the smallest portion of labial tissue that could serve to impress the unfortunate with his own unworthiness and Mr. Haggett's exalted virtue and importance.
Mr. Haggett visited the cells for four hours every day, taking regular rounds, and prayed with and instructed the
p.121prisoners. He never sympathized with them nor pretended to, and, of course, he never had their confidenceexcept the sham confidence and contrition of sortie second-timers, who wanted a recommendation for a pardon.
There was another official who made regular rounds, with about the same intervals of time as Mr. Haggett. This was [...] the searcher and fumigatora warder who searched the cells for concealed implements, and fumigated with some chemical the crevices and joints to keep them wholesomely clean. When a prisoner had a visit from the searcher and fumigator, he knew that Mr. Haggett would be around soon.
The sense of duty in the two officials was very much alike under the surface; and it would have saved expense and time had Mr. Haggett carried, besides his Bible, the little bellows and probe of the fumigatorif he had been, in fact, the searcher and fumigator of both cells and souls.
Mr. Haggett had observed, with horror, the visits of the Popish nun to the cell of a prisoner whom he knew to be a Protestant. Though he never had had anything to say to Number Four, and never had prayed with her for five years, he now deemed her one of those specially confided to his care. He was shocked to the centre when first he saw the white-capped nun sitting in the cell, with a rosary in her hands.
Mr. Haggett would have complained at once, but he did not like the governor. He had been insultedhe felt he hadby the governor, who never met him but be asked the same impertinent question: "Well, Mr. Haggett, got your regular commission in the ministry yet?"
Mr. Haggett was in hopes of becoming, some day, a regular minister of the Established Church. He was "studying for it," he said; and his long experience in the prison would tell in his favour. But the years had flown, and he had not secured the reverend title he so ardently coveted. The Lords Bishops were not favourably impressed by Mr. Haggett's acquirements or qualities.
The daily presence of the nun in one of his cells goaded him to desperation. He stopped one day at the door of Number Four, and, in his deepest chest-tones, with a smile that drew heavily on the labial reefs, addressed the Sister
"Is this prisoner a Romahone of your persuasion, madam?"
p.122"No, sir," said the little Sister, with a kind smile at Alice; "I wish she were."
"Hah !Why, madam, do you visit a prisoner who is not of your persuasion?"
"Because no one else visited her," said Sister Cecilia, looking at Mr. Haggett with rather a startled air, "and she needed someone."
"Madam, I wish to pray with this prisoner this morning, and ah-ah-I will thank you to leave this cell."
The work dropped from Alice's hands, and a wild look came into her eyes. First, she stared at Mr. Haggett, as if she did not understand. From his uninviting face, now flushed somewhat, and working as if the godly man were in a passion, she turned, with a mute appeal, to Sister Cecilia.
The nun had risen, startled, but not confused, at the unexpected harshness of the tone, rather than the words. She realized at once that Mr. Haggett, who had never before addressed her, nor noticed her presence, had power to expel her from Alice's cell, and forbid her entrance in future.
She determined on the moment to make an effort for Alice's sake.
"This prisoner is to be my hospital assistant on the convict ship," said Sister Cecilia to Mr. Haggett.
"Madam!" said Mr. Haggett, harshly, and there was a movement of his foot as if he would have stamped his order; "I wish to pray with this prisoner!"
He motioned commandingly with his hand, ordering the nun from the cell.
Sister Cecilia took a step towards the door, rather alarmed at the man's violence, but filled with keen sorrow for poor Alice.
The rude finger of the angry Scripture-reader still pointed from the cell. Sister Cecilia had taken one step outward, when Alice Walmsley darted past her, and stood facing Mr. Haggett, her left hand reached behind her with spread fingers, as if forbidding the nun, to depart.
"Begone!" she cried to Haggett, "How dare you come here? I do not want your prayers."
Mr. Haggett grew livid with passion at this insult from a prisoner. He had, perhaps, cherished a secret dislike of Alice for her old rebellion against his influence. He glared at her a
p.123moment in silent fury, while his great lips curved into their tightest reefs, showing the full line of his long teeth.
But he did not answer her. He looked over her, into the cell, where Sister Cecilia stood affrighted. He reached his long arm towards her, and still commanded her from the cell, with a hand trembling with wrath. He would settle with the recalcitrant convict when this strange ally and witness had departed.
"Come out!" motioned the lips of the wrathful Scripture reader, while his long finger crooked, as if it were a hook to draw her forth.
At this moment, a key rattled in the door at the end of the corridor, and there entered the passage Sir Joshua Hobb, Mr. Wyville, and the governor, followed by the two warders of the pentagon. The gentlemen were evidently on a tour of inspection. When they had come to the cell of Number Four, they stood in astonishment at the scene.
Alice Walmsley, hitherto so submissive and silent, was aroused into feverish excitement. She stood facing Mr. Haggett, and, as the others approached, she turned to them wildly.
"How dare this man interfere with me?" she cried. "I will not allow him to come near me. I will not have his prayers. I "
"Be calm, child!" said Mr. Wyville, whom she had never before seen. His impressive and kind face and tone instantly affected the prisoner. Her hands fell to her sides.
"Lock that cell." said Sir Joshua Hobb, in a hard, quick voice. This prisoner must be brought to her senses."
Alice was again defiant in an instant.
"Tell this man to begone!" she excitedly demanded.
"Come out!" hissed Mr. Haggett, grimly stretching his neck towards Sister Cecilia, and still bending his lean finger like a hook.
"She shall not go out!" cried Alice, in a frenzy.
It seemed to her as if they were tearing something dearer than life from her. She dashed the hooked hand of the Biblereader aside, bruising it against the iron door.
"Warders!" shouted Sir Joshua Hobb, take this woman to the refractory cells. She shall remain in the dark till she obeys the rules. Take her away!"
The warders approached Alice, who now stood in the doorway. She had turned her agonized face as she felt Sister Cecilia's hand laid upon her shoulder, and her breast heaved convulsively.
As the warders seized her arms, she started with pitiful alarm, and shuddered.
"Stop!" cried a deep voice, resonant with command. Mr. Wyville had spoken.
"Release the prisoner!"
Every eye was turned on him. Even Alice's excitement was subdued by the power of the strange interruption. The Scripture-reader was the first to come to words. He addressed the governor.
"Who is this, who countermands the order of the Chief Director?"
Before the governor could answer, Sir Joshua Hobb spoke.
"This is insolence, sir! My order shall be obeyed."
"It shall not," said Mr. Wyville, calmly, and walking to the cell door.
"By what authority do you dare interfere?" demanded Sir Joshua Hobb.
"By this!" said Mr. Wyville, handing him a paper.
The enraged Chief Director took the document, and glanced at the signature.
"Bah!" he shouted. "This Ministry is dead. This is waste paper. Out of the way, sir!"
"Stay!" said Mr. Wyville, taking from his breast a small case, from which he drew a folded paper, like a piece of vellum, which he handed to the governor of the prison.
"This, then, is my authority."
The prompt old major took the paper, read it, and then, still holding it before him, raised his hat as if in military salute.
"Your authority is the first, sir," he said, decisively and respectfully, to Mr. Wyville.
"I demand to see that paper!" cried the Chief Director.
The governor handed it to him, and he read it through, his rage rapidly changing into a stare of blank amazement and dismay.
"I beg, you to forgive me, sir," he said at length in a low tone. "It would have been for the benefit of discipline, however, had I known of this before."
"That is true, sir," answered Mr. Wyville, "and had there been time for explanation, you should have known my right before I had used it."
"You have shaken my official authority, sir," said Sir Joshua, still expostulatory.
"I am very sorry," answered Mr. Wyville; "but another moment's delay and this prisoner might have been driven to madness. Authority must not forget humanity."
"Authority is paramount, sir," humbly responded Sir Joshua, handing the potent paper to Mr. Wyville; "allow me to take my leave."
The humiliated Chief Director walked quickly from the corridor.
Mr. Wyville turned to the cell, and met the brimming eyes of the prisoner, the eloquent gratitude of the look touching him to the heart. He smiled with ineffable kindness, and with an almost imperceptible motion of the hand requested Sister Cecilia to remain and give comfort.
Mr. Haggett still remained in the entry, hungrily watching the cell. Mr. Wyville passed in front of the door, and turning, looked straight in his face. The discomfited Scripture reader started as if he had received an electric shock. He was dismayed at the power of this strange man.
"You have passed this door with your prayers for five years, sir," said Mr. Wyville; "you will please to continue your inattention."
"The prisoner is not a Roman" Haggett began, with shaken tones.
The hand of the soldierly old governor fell sharply, twice, on his shoulder. He looked round. The governor's finger was pointed straight down the passage, and his eye sternly ordered Mr. Haggett in the same direction. He hitched the sacred volume under his arm, and without a sound followed the footsteps of Sir Joshua.
His eager eyes had been denied a sight of the mysterious document; but his heart, or other organs, infallibly told him that he and his chief were routed beyond hope of recovery.
SIR JOSHUA HOBB sat in his Department Office in Parliament street, with every sign of perplexity and rage in his face and attitude. His contest of authority with the unknown and mysterious man had fairly crushed him. In the face of the officials whom he had trained to regard his word as the utterance of Power itself, never to be questioned nor disobeyed, he had been challenged, commanded, degraded. It was a bitter draught; and what if he had only taken the first sickening mouthful?
He was interrupted in his morose reflections by the entrance of Mr. Haggett, whose air was almost as dejected as his superior's.
Haggett stood silently at the door, looking at the great man, somewhat as a spaniel might look at its master. The spare curtain of his lip was folded into leathery wrinkles round his capacious mouth.
"Haggett," said Sir Joshua, turning wearily to the fire, "who the devil is this man?"
"He's a rich Australian" began Haggett, in a confidential voice.
"Ass!" said the Chief Director, without looking at him.
Mr. Haggett, returning not even a glance of resentment, accepted the correction, and remained silent.
"Haggett," said Sir Joshua, after a pause, during which he had stared into the fire, when does the convict ship sail?"
"In two weeks, sir."
"I want you to go to West Australia on that ship, Haggett."
"I, Sir Joshua? Leave London? I shall be ordained this year. I shall"
"Pshaw! I want you, man. No one else will do. You can attend to private matters on your return. I shall personally assist you with my influence."
"Well, Sir Joshua?"
"No one else can do it, Haggett."
"What is to be done, sir?"
"I want to know all that is to be known in West Australia about this Wyville."
"Do you suspect anything, sir?" asked Mr. Haggett.
"No; I have no reason either for suspicion or belief. I know absolutely nothing about the man, nor can I find any one who does."
"And yet that commission"
"Yes, that was a disappointment. In one or two cases I have heard of the same high influence, given in the same secret manner."
"Were the other holders mysterious, too?" asked Haggett, reflectively, folding and unfolding his facial hangings.
"They were all cases in which philanthropists might meet with opposition from officials; and this strange but unquestionable power was given as a kind of private commission."
"It strikes down all the rules, and"
"Yes, Yes," interrupted Sir Joshua, striking the coal with the tongs; "but there it is. It must be acknowledged without question."
"Have you no clue to the reason for which this special authority was given to him?" asked Haggett.
"I have not thought of it; but I am not surprised. This man, as you know, has reformed the Indian Penal System at the Andaman Islands, expending immense sums of his own money to carry out the change. Afterwards, he was received by the French Emperor as an authority on the treatment of crime, and had much to do with their new transportation scheme. A man with this record, accepted by the Prime Minister, was just the person to be specially commissioned by the Queen."
"He is young to be so very wealthy," mused Haggett.
"Yes, that is mysterious; no one knows the source of his wealth. This is your mission: find out all about him, and report to me by mail within six months."
"Then I am really to go to Australia?" said Haggett, with a doleful aspect.
"Yes, Haggett; there's no other way. Inquiry into mysterious men's lives is always worth the trouble. You may learn nothing, butit had better be done."
"Well, Sir Joshua, I want a favour from you in return."
"What is it? You shall have it, if it he in my power."
"Send that prisoner, Number Four, on the ship; but countermand the order for the Papist nun."
"You want the nun to remain?"
"Yes, Sir; they ought to be separated. This Wyville takes a great interest in Number Four. It was he that sent the nun to her."
"Certainly, Haggett; it shall be done. Stay, let me write the order now."
"Thank you, Sir Joshua," said Haggett, rubbing his hands.
There, take that to the Governor of Millbank. Number Four shall be sent with the first batch to the ship. The nun is to remain."
Mr. Haggett departed, and as he walked down Parliament street, glancing furtively around to see that he was unobserved, he smiled to the uttermost reef.
THE morning arrived for the convict ship to sail, and the last chains of male prisoners were mustered in the prison yard of Millbank, ready to be marched to the train, for embarkation on the convict ship at Portland.
In one of the Pentagonal yards stood the female prisoners, fifty in number. They whispered covertly to each other, enjoying for the first time for years the words that were not orders, and the faces that were not cold.
"What is your name?"
"How long have you served?"
"What nice hair you have!"
"Will they cut off our hair again in Australia?"
"Were you lagged before?"
"That one there, with the red mark on her cheek, was sentenced to be hung."
"This is my second time."
These were the words that might be heard in the ranksshort sentences, full of direct meaning, such as are always spoken when formality is absent, and curiosity is excited.
The male chains having been inspected by the governor, who was accompanied by Mr. Wyville, had marched from the prison to the railway station.
Four great waggons or tumbrils rolled into the yard, to carry away the female convicts. Before they entered the waggons, the governor addressed the women, telling them that their good conduct in prison had earned this change; that their life in the new country to which they were going would be one of opportunity; that their past was all behind them, and a fair field before them to work out honest and happy lives.
Many of the prisoners sobbed bitterly as the kind governor spoke. Hope, indeed, was bright before them; but they were parting from all that they had ever loved; they would never more see the face of father or mother, brother or sister; they would never more see an English field or an English flower. Their lives had been shattered and shameful; but the moment of parting from every association of youth was the more embittered, perhaps, by the thought of their unworthiness.
When the governor had spoken, they entered the tumbrils, and the guards fell in. The old governor raised his hat. He was deeply affected at the scene, common though it must have been to him.
"Good-bye, and God bless you all in your new life!" he said.
The driver of the front tumbril looked round, to see that all was ready before starting his horses.
"Wait," said a tall man, who was rapidly and eagerly scanning the faces of the women, as he passed from waggon to waggon; "there's a mistake here."
"What is the matter there?" shouted the governor.
"There is one prisoner absent, Sir," said the tall man, who was Mr. Haggett; "one prisoner absent who was ordered for this ship."
"What prisoner?" asked the governor.
"Start up your horses," shouted the governor; and the first tumbril lumbered out of the yard.
The governor was looking at Mr. Haggett, who stood beside the last waggon, his face a study of rage and disappointment.
"That prisoner was specially ordered for this ship," he repeated. "Sir Joshua Hobb wrote the order with his own hand."
"He has countermanded it," said the governor, curtly.
"When?" asked Haggett.
"Two hours ago," said the governor. "The prisoner will remain in Millbank."
Mr. Haggett looked his baffled malevolence at the governor, who paid no heed to the glance. Mr. Wyville stood close to him; but Haggett never met his eye during the scene. As he departed, however, in passing him, he raised his eyes for an instant to Mr. Wyville's face and said
"I am going to West Australia. I shall soon return."
Mr. Wyville's face might have been of marble, so absolutely unconscious did he seem of the presence or words of Haggett.
The tumbrils rolled from the yard with their strange freight, and Mr. Haggett strode from the prison. He stood on the poop of the transport as she sailed from Portland that afternoon.
More than once that day did Haggett's words repeat themselves like a threat in Mr. Wyville's mind; and when all was silent in sleeping London that night, he arose from the study table at which he wrote, and paced the room in sombre thought. His mind was reasoning with itself and at last the happier side conquered. He stopped his tireless walk, and smiled; but it was a sad smile.
"Poor children!" he murmured; "what would become of them here? I must instruct Tapairu, andand then," he said, looking reverently upward through the night, "Thy will be done."
So the state of Alice Walmsley was not changed by the zeal of Mr. Haggett, indeed, no change had resulted from it except the increased hatred of the Chief Director for Mr. Wyville, and the sleuth-dog errand on which Haggett had sailed for Australia.
Alice did not know nor think of the causes that had kept her from transportation. One day she was quietly informed
p.131by the warder that the ship had sailed. She hardly knew whether to be glad or sorry, for her own sake; but of late she had not been quite alone in the world. Her eyes filled with tears, and she clasped her hands before her.
"You are sorry, Number Four," said the warder.
"She was so goodshe made me so happy," answered Alice, with streaming eyes.
"She has not gone," said the warder, smiling; "see, she is coming here. Good day, Sister; somebody was crying for you."
The joy of Alice was unbounded, as she held the serge dress of Sister Cecilia, and looked in her kind and pleasant face. The change in Alice's character was more marked in this scene than in any circumstance since the gleam of the flower had caught her eye in the cell. The strong will seemed to have departed; the self-reliance, born of wrong and anguish, had disappeared; she was a simple and impulsive girl again.
Between the innocent happiness of her young life and the fresh tenderness now springing in her heart, there lay an awful gulf of sorrow and despair. But she was on the high bankshe looked across the gloom and saw the sunny fields beyond, and, as she looked, the far shore drew nearer to her, and the dismal strait between grew narrower.
"Alice," said Sister Cecilia, gravely, when the happy greeting was over, "it is now time that something were done for your release."
The light faded from Alice's face, and after a long look, full of sadness, at the Sister, she bent her face into her hands, remaining silent.
"Would you not like to be free, Alice?"
"I am happy hereI do not think of itwhy do you ask me?" she said, wistfully.
"Because it is not right that an innocent person should remain here. Tell me the whole sad story, child, and let me see what can be done."
"O, Sister Cecilia, I cannotI cannot!" sobbed Alice.
"O, do not ask medo not make me think of my sweet little babyI cannot think of it deadindeed, I cannot speak of that!"
"Alice," said the nun, "your baby is with God, saved from the stains and sorrows of life. This woman," and the voice of Sister Cecilia grew almost severe, "this terrible womanI have heard that she is a bad and wretched woman, Alicedeserves nothing from you but justice. God demands justice to ourselves as well as to others."
I cannot accuse her," answered Alice, in a low voice, gradually returning to its old firmness. "She has suffered more than IGod pardon her! And I know that she suffered first."
"Well, poor child," said the nun, deeply affected, "we must ask for a pardon, then, for you."
Alice arose from her low seat, and stood before the window, looking upward, with her hands clasped before heran attitude grown familiar to her of late.
"My dead mother knows I am innocent of crime," she said slowly, as if speaking to her own heart; "no one else knows it, though some may believe it. I cannot be pardoned for a crime I have not committed. That were to accept the crime. I shall not accuse her, though my own word should set me free. Do not ask me to speak of it any more, Sister Cecilia. I shall remain hereand I shall be happier here."
Sister Cecilia dropped the subject, and never returned to it again. From that day she treated Alice Walmsley in another manner than of old. She spoke with her of all the crosses that came in her path, either to herself or others. By this means the latent sympathies of Alice were touched and exercised. She entered with interest into every story of the sorrow or suffering of the unfortunate, related to her by the kind little Sister.
In this communion, which, if not happy, was at least peaceful, the months grew into years, and the years followed each other, until four summers more bad passed through Alice's cell.
During those years she had developed her true nature, saddened though it was by her surroundings. It seemed that her youth had been too thoughtless, too unstable, too happy, even to indicate her future. That bright girlhood was the rich fallow ground. The five dark years of her agony and unbelief were the season of ploughing and harrowing the fertile soil and sowing the fruitful seed. The four years of succeeding
p.133peace were the springtime and the early summer of her full life, during which the strong shoots grew forward towards the harvest of ripe womanhood.
Towards the end of these four years a word of change came to her cellshe was once more selected among the fifty female prisoners to be sent on the annual convict ship to west Australia.
It was during the preparation for this voyage that Will Sheridan returned, a rich man, to find the shattered pieces of his love and happiness. It was during one of these quiet days within Alice's cell that he without had wandered through London, a heart-stricken man, vainly seeking for interest in the picture galleries and churches. It was during one of these peaceful nights within the cell that he, without, led by the magnetism of strong love, found himself beneath the gloomy walls of Millbank, round which he wandered through the night, and which he could not leave until he had pressed his feverish lips against the icy stone of the prison.
On the day when William Sheridan at last stood before the door of Alice Walmsley's cell, and read her beloved name on the card, she sat within, patiently sewing the coarse cloth of her transport dress. When the door opened, and his yearning sight was blessed with that which it had longed for, she stood before him, calm and white and beautiful, with downcast eyes, according to her own modesty and the prison discipline.
When he passed her door a few weeks later, and saw within the sweet-faced Sister Cecilia, and heard, after so many years, the voice of her he loved, in one short sentence, which sent him away very happy, she dreamt not that a loving heart had drunk up her words as a parched field drinks the refreshing rain.
So strong and so futile are the outreachings of the soul. They must be mutual, or they are impotent and vain. Reciprocal, they draw together through the density of a planet. Single, the one reaches for the other weakly, as a shadow touches the precipice, hopelessly as death.
That which we desire, we may feel; but that which we neither know nor think, might just as well be non-existent.