Chapter XIII

Rolf Boldrewood

THEN the judge, with a final glance at his notes, commenced to sum up on the evidence. He stood singular among his fellow-jurists for plain and unostentatious demeanour, both on and off the bench. In the matter of outward attire he could not be accused of extravagance. A studied plainness of habit distinguished him on all occasions. Careless, moreover, as to the fit of his garments as of their colour or quality. As a lawyer he was proverbially keen, clear-headed, and deeply read; but he wasted no time upon his judgments, and never was known to ‘improve the occasion’ by the stern or pathetic harangues in which his fellow-judges, for the most part, enclosed their decisions—the wrapper of the pill, so to speak. So rapid and decisive were his Honour’s findings that some of them had passed into household words. When he arose from his seat, and after taking a short walk along the judicial dais, as if in mental conflict, resumed his position, the spectators knew that they would not have long to wait. ‘“Very honest man rides a stolen horse,” would have been the gist of my charge, gentlemen of the jury,’ he said; ‘but this truly strange and complicated case demands the closest examination. The evidence presents exceptional features. On one side you have a young man of good character and means. His pecuniary circumstances should have removed all temptation to commit the offence charged. In a spirit of recklessness he associates with the Lawless family. About their character—with the sole exception of Esther Lawless—the less said the better. He buys from Edward Lawless a horse proved to have been stolen—many an honest man during the turmoil of the gold period has done the same. He has occasionally gambled for large sums, which is highly imprudent, but not felony, in the eyes of the law. The evidence for the defence proves fully—if believed—that he did not leave Growlers’ Gully for Balooka until the 19th of September—competent witnesses swear positively to this fact. If you believe them, the case is at an end. On the other hand, as many swear to his having been seen at Balooka long before the day referred to, and also at Eumeralla, the old home of the Lawlesses, some of these witnesses must be in error, as the prisoner manifestly could not have been in two places at once. Catharine Lawless had evidently an animus spretæ injuria formæ, he felt inclined to say, which might be freely translated into a lover’s quarrel of some sort. As men of the world, the jury would largely discount her evidence. A still more remarkable feature of this truly remarkable case was that Esther Lawless—whose conscientious scruples did her honour—testified also to having seen the prisoner at Eumeralla in association with Edward Lawless. They had heard John Polwarth’s evidence, and his wife’s, regarding a shipmate curiously like Trevanion. Such similarities, though rare, were not unknown. There was a possibility of mistaken identity. These points, as well as the credibility of the witnesses, were for them to consider. They were the judges of fact. But it was their especial duty to give the prisoner the benefit of all reasonable doubt—a doubt which he should certainly share with them if they brought in a verdict of not guilty.’

When Mr. England heard the conclusion of the judge’s charge, he scarcely doubted for a moment that after a short retirement of the jury his Honour’s last words would be repeated by that responsible body. He therefore sat down, and calling over Charles Stirling, imparted to him confidentially his feeling on the subject. ‘His Honour plainly and unmistakably was with them, and had summed up dead in favour of Trevanion. He was one of the best judges of the Victorian Bench, clear-headed and decisive, detesting all mere verbiage. A man, a gentleman, a sound lawyer—all these Judge Buckthorne was known to be. Pity he could not borrow a little deportment from Sir Desmond, who had enough and to spare.’

Thus they talked while the business of the court went forward. Another jury had been impanelled; another case called on; another prisoner had been put in the dock and placed on the farther side with Ned Lawless. They seemed to know each other. Lance cast upon him a brief, indifferent glance, and resigned himself to silent endurance.

With respect to the issue, Charles Stirling was by no means so confident as his legal friend, veteran as he was, boasting the scars of a hundred battles. But in his character of banker he had the opportunity of hearing the general public, as represented by the ‘legitimate miner,’ as he was fond of calling himself, which means every sort and condition of mankind, anxious to compel fortune by the primeval process, but wholly without capital to develop enterprises.

Now the jury was chiefly composed of ordinary miners. Of these it so happened that a large number had had their horses stolen. They were valuable animals at that period, most difficult to replace, and the owners, therefore, felt their loss acutely. They came to the trial with a fixed and settled intention of striking a blow at horse-stealers, to which end it was necessary that some one, they hardly cared who, should suffer.

They were determined that an example should be made. It would do good and prevent others from being so immoral and short-sighted as to rob honest miners.

‘This Trevanion,’ they reasoned, ‘had really been mixed up with the Lawless crowd, and a worse lot, now it turned out, had never been seen near Ballarat.’

It was argued that the evidence went to show that he had been a known friend and an intimate of the family at the place with the native name, and had been seen there when horsestealing on a large scale was being carried on.

‘Kate Lawless swore point-blank to his having been away with her brothers long before the Lawless crowd had come to Growlers’. Trooper Donnellan had sworn to seeing him there. Hiram Edwards, the Yankee digger, had seen him there, and other miners. They had no call to have a down on him, even if Dayrell and the girl had.

‘Besides these, Tessie Lawless, who every one knew was a straight girl, and wouldn’t have said a word against him for the world if she could have helped it—even she had to confess that she had seen him at Eumeralla.’

‘What about this chap that was said to be the dead image of him?’ asked a younger juror. ‘It was hard lines to be lagged innocent through another cove’s work.’

‘Well, they might believe that if they liked; it was put up, some thought. Jack Polvvarth and his wife, like all these Cousin Jacks, would swear anything for a Cornishman. Mr. Stirling was a nice chap, but he was a banker, and wasn’t likely to go back on a man with a good account. Mrs. Delf was a good sort, but Trevanion used her house regular and spent his money free. They knew what that meant. His mind was made up. If Ned Lawless, as was waiting for his sentence, was in it, Trevanion was too. He must face the music. He’d be let off light, but it would be a lesson to him. If they didn’t shop some one over this racket there wouldn’t be a horse left on the field by Christmas.’

At different times, and from different speakers, such was the general tone and substance of the arguments advanced by the majority. The minority defended their position, and from time to time denied that sufficient evidence had been furnished to show guilty knowledge or participation in crime on the part of the prisoner. But, after several hours spent in debate, the minority yielded, disinclination to be locked up all night lending force to the logic of their opponents.

When the jury marched into court, after notice by the sheriff’s officer to the judge that they had agreed, a hush of anxious silence reigned throughout the building. Lance stood up fearless and erect, as a soldier faces the firing-party at his execution. Ned Lawless never changed his position, but seemed as careless and unenvious as the youngest lad in court.

‘How say you, gentlemen of the jury?’ said the judge’s associate, a very young gentleman, with discretion, however, beyond his years. ‘Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?’

There was an air of solemnity pervading the jurors generally, from which Mr. England at once deduced an adverse verdict. The women fastened their eyes upon the foreman with eager expectation or painful anxiety; all save Kate Lawless. For all her emotion displayed, expressed in her countenance, the prisoners might have been Chinamen charged with stealing cabbages.

There was a slight pause, after which the foreman, a burly digger who had been a ‘forty-niner’ in California, and had seen the first rush at Turon, uttered the word ‘Guilty!’ The effect of the announcement was electrical. A tumult seemed imminent. The great crowd swayed and surged as if suddenly stirred to unwonted action. Groans mingled with hisses were heard; women’s cries and sobs, above which rose a girl’s hysterical shriek, thrilling and prolonged, temporarily in the ascendant. The deep murmur of indignation seemed about to swell into riotous shouting, when an additional force of police appeared at the outer entrance, by whom, after vigorous expostulation, order was restored.

The judge proceeded to pass sentence, contenting himself with telling the jury that ‘they had proved themselves scrupulous guardians of the public welfare, and had not allowed themselves to be swayed by considerations of mercy. Their grasp of the facts of the case was doubtless most comprehensive. It was their verdict, not his. They had accepted the sole responsibility. Launcelot Trevanion, the sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned in Her Majesty’s Gaol at Ballarat, and kept to hard labour for the term of two years. Edward Lawless, the sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned in Her Majesty’s Gaol at Pentridge, and kept to hard labour for the term of five years. Let the prisoners be removed.’

Then the disorder of the crowd, previously restrained, burst all bounds, and appeared to become ungovernable. Tessie Lawless fell forward in a faint and was carried out. Mrs. Polwarth shook her fist in the direction of the sacred judgment-seat, and declared in resonant tones that more would come of this if things were not mended. Snatching Tottie up, she and Mrs. Delf followed in the wake of Mr. Stirling and Hastings, continuing to impeach the existing order of things judicial, and declaring ‘that an honest man and a gentleman had no show in a country like this, where straight folks’ oaths counted for nought; where policemen and lying jades had power to shut up in prison a man whose shoes in England they wouldn’t have been allowed to black.’

‘End of first act of the melodrama,’ said Hastings to Charlie Stirling, with grim pleasantry. ‘Audience gone out for refreshment. “What may happen to a man in Victoria! “ as the Port Phillip Patriot said the other day. Poor Lance! it makes me feel revolutionary too.’

.     .     .     .     .

The end had come. With a hoarse murmur, half-repressed but none the less sullen and resentful, the crowd surged outward from the court. A strong body of police escorted the prisoners to the van, in which, despite of threatened obstruction from some of the Growlers’ Gully contingent, they were placed and driven towards the gaol, which, built on a lofty eminence, was nearly a mile from the court-house. Ned Lawless preserved his ordinary cheerful indifference, nodding to more than one acquaintance in the crowd, as who should say, ‘They don’t have me for no five years, you bet! ‘

But Lance moved like a man in a dream. The force of the blow seemed to have arrested the ordinary action of the brain. ‘Guilty! Two years’ imprisonment! Oh, God! Was it possible! and not some evil dream from which he would wake, as in the days of his boyhood, to find himself free and happy. It could not be. The Almighty could not be so cruel, so merciless, could not suffer a wrong so foul, so false to every principle of right, truth, justice! This hideous phantasmagoria would vanish, and he, Lance Trevanion, would find himself back at Number Six, hailing the dawn with joy, ready to sing aloud as he left his couch with pure elation of spirits.’

The actuality of changed conditions was brought home to him by the prompt alteration of treatment to which he was subjected on arriving at the gaol. Marched through a large yard in which a number of prisoners were sitting or standing aimlessly about, Lance became aware that a great change had taken place in his status and prestige. Before this he was only on committal; for all the prison authorities knew, he might be acquitted, and walk forth from court unstained in reputation.

But now things were different. He was a prisoner under sentence. Bound to conform to the regulations of the establishment, who must obey orders. Do, in plain words, what he was told, no matter in what tone or manner couched, must perform menial services, descend from his former position to be the servant of servants, nay more, their dumb and unresisting slave, unless he saw fit to defy the terrible and crushing weight of prison authority. Should he submit? he asked himself, sitting down on the scanty bedding, neatly folded on a narrow board.

‘Should he submit? or rather should he not give volcanic vent to his untamed temper, strangle the warder who next came to his cell, and “run amok,” scattering the gaol guards, dying by a rifle bullet rather than by the slower but not less certain action of the prison atmosphere? Had it not killed so many another, born, like him, to a life of freedom?—and yet—he was young—so young! Life had joys in store for a man of three-and-twenty, even if he had to waste two years in this thrice accursed living tomb! Disgrace! dishonour! Of course it was—would be all the days of his life. Still there were other countries other worlds, almost, of which he had since his arrival in Australia heard more than all his schooling had taught him. The Pacific Slope; the South-Sea Islands; the Argentine Republic; New Mexico; Texas; Colorado! These were localities of which many a miner talked as familiarly as Jack Polwarth of Cornwall or Devon. Two years would pass somehow. How many weeks was it? A hundred and more! The Judge, however, had ordered the time he had spent under committal to be deducted from the whole term—that was something. Well, he would see it out. He had friends still who were staunch and true. He would change his name and go to one of those places in the New World where men were not too particular about their associates’ former lives—as long as they paid their way and lived a manly life. But home! Home to Wychwood! Home to his father and Estelle! Never! No! He could not look them in the face again.’

These reflections were brought to a close abruptly by the sudden opening of the cell door and the entrance of two warders, one of whom carried a suit of prison clothes. One was a tall powerful man with a hard expression of countenance and a cruel mouth. He looked at Lance with a cold, scrutinising air.

‘Stand up, prisoner Trevanion,’ he said, as if reading out of a book, ‘and the next time you hear your cell door open comply with the regulations.’

‘What regulations?’ inquired Lance.

‘They’re on that board,’ pointing to a small board placed in a corner of the cell. ‘You can read, I expect? Now, strip, and dress yourself in this uniform.’

Disencumbering himself of his ordinary garments, Lance soon found himself attired in a striped suit of coarse cloth, fitted also with rough blucher boots and a woollen cap. ‘Follow Warder Jackson.’

The shorter warder grinned: ‘You’ve got to see the barber and the photographer next. You won’t hardly know yourself, will he, Bracker? We’ve got yer photer’ before you was took, and now all we want is yer jug likeness. Then we have yer both ways in case yer gives us leg-bail. Turn.’

They halted in a wide passage where a man in prison garb stood by a camera. He had been a photographer before committing the forgery for which he was imprisoned. His talents were now utilised in securing likenesses of his fellow-prisoners, a modern gaol invention which had proved of immense value in the identification of criminals who had either escaped or had committed fresh crimes.

Before being placed in position a man came out of a passage bearing a razor, with shaving materials and scissors of formidable size.

‘Sit down,’ said the tall warder, pointing to a bench, ‘the gaol barber will cut your hair now and shave you, after this he will shave you twice a week and cut your hair every fortnight.’ Subduing a frenzied impulse to seize the razor, cut every one’s throat and his own afterwards, Lance sat down, and in a marvellously short time found his face denuded of moustache and whisker, while his head felt strangely cold and bristly. He submitted, vacantly staring and unresistingly, to being placed in the position proper for the apparatus. When the negative came out and was shown to him exultingly as a first-rate likeness he did not recognise himself.

This creature in the repulsive and bizarre habiliments, with cropped head and hairless face as of a patient in a lunatic asylum. “Was this really himself? Was this Lance Trevanion? It could not be, unless he had gone mad. Perhaps he had without knowing it; men did not know when they lost their reason, so he had read, or how would they persist in saying they were sane? His head was burning, his eyes darkened, he gasped for breath, and before either warder could save him, fell prone and heavily on the stone floor.

.     .     .     .     .

He recovered to find himself in the cell to which he had first been taken. He was sitting upon the two blankets which represented bed and bedding for a hard-labour prisoner, and had been considerately propped up against an angle of the wall. He had been ‘under observation’ of a warder unconsciously since being carried there. This official was enabled to look in through a small barred aperture for that purpose, placed in the cell door. When the prisoner struggled into consciousness he departed, leaving Lance to realise his position and to compose his thoughts.

Merciful heaven! what thoughts were his! Let those say who have suddenly awakened to the consciousness of crime, not only alleged but legally proved; who as criminals, in spite of denial and protest, have been tried and sentenced. To the awakened knowledge of dishonour fixed, public, irrevocable! A mark for the pity of friends, for the scorn of strangers, for the chuckling triumph of enemies! Up to a certain stage of legal conflict imagination cheats the boding heart with hope of release, victory, sudden good fortune.

But, the verdict once delivered, the sentence pronounced, hope trails her wings and abandons the fated victim; faith permits the lamp to burn so low that a breath of unbelief suffices to extinguish it; charity flees in dismay from frenzied cries and imprecations. Then this is the opportunity of the enemy of mankind. This demon train finds easy entrance into the ruined fortress of the soul. The furies are not idle. Remorse, revenge, jealousy, cruel as the grave, all the unclean and baser spirits ravenous for his soul, forsaken of God and man, as he holds himself to be, gather around the scapegoat of society as the diablotins around the corpse of the physician in Dore’s terrible engraving. A carnival of evil, weird and Dantesque, begins in the lonely cell. In that hour, unless his guardian angel has the power to shield him from the dread assault of the lower forces, a transformation, such as was but fabled in old classic days, takes place. The higher qualities, the loftier aspirations, the old beliefs in honour, valour, virtue, and justice take flight for ever, while the brute attributes stalk forth threatening and unchallenged.

Day after day Lance Trevanion performed mechanically his portion of appointed work among the prison herd. To them he spoke no word. When locked up with the rest for the long long solitary night, which commenced before dark and did not end till after sunrise, under gaol rules, he sat brooding over his woes. Stirling had called with printed permission from the visiting justice to see prisoner Trevanion, but he refused to meet him. How could he bear that any of his former friends should look upon him degraded and repulsive of aspect? No! He would never see them more—while in this hateful prison-house at least. Afterwards, if he were living and not turned into a wild beast, he would consider. Friends! How could a man have friends while suffering this degradation?

Towards the warders his demeanour was silent rather than sullen, but he could not be induced by threat or persuasion to affect the respectfulness which is, by regulation, enjoined between prisoners and officials. These last were indifferent, to do them justice, regarding Lance as ‘a swell chap as had got it hot, and was a bit off his chump.’ The exception to this state of feeling was Bracker, the head warder, who desired to be regarded with awe, and was irritable at the slightest failure of etiquette. His manner, devoid of the faintest trace of sympathy, was harsh and overbearing. To the higher class of prisoners he was especially distasteful, and from this knowledge, or other reason, they were the inmates towards whom he appeared to have the strongest dislike. It may easily be imagined that although the visiting magistrate, to whom is entrusted the duty of trying and punishing all descriptions of prison offences, is presumably impartial, yet it is within the power of any gaol official, if actuated by malicious feelings, to irritate a prisoner to the verge of frenzy, and afterwards to ensure his punishment under form of law. The trial takes place within the walls of the gaol. The warders give their evidence on oath. In a general way they corroborate each other’s testimony. It is not difficult to foretell, even though the magistrate be acute and discriminating, how the decision will go. The punishments permitted in prison vary in severity. Confinement in a solitary cell with half rations, or even bread and water, for periods varying from three days to a fortnight, mark the initiatory stage of repression. Then comes the dark cell, an experience which awes the boldest.

After which, for insubordination coupled with unusual violence of speech or action, flogging may be inflicted, if a second magistrate be present at the hearing of the case. This was the code to which Lance Trevanion now found himself amenable. All ignorant of its pains and penalties, he bore himself with a sullen contempt alike of the tasks and routine observances by regulation imposed upon all prisoners. He obeyed, indeed, but with an air of indifference which provoked Bracker, who secretly resolved to ‘break’ him, as the prison slang goes. To that end he commenced a line of conduct which he had seldom known in his extended experience to fail. More than once, however, in his career, Bracker had been accused of cruelty to prisoners. At the last gaol where he had served the visiting magistrate had come to the conclusion that these repeated charges were not entirely without foundation, and so reporting, his official superior had warned him that if any offence of the kind was proved against him he would be disrated, if not dismissed. It was therefore incumbent on him to be wary and circumspect.

He commenced by speaking roughly to Lance almost every time he entered his cell, compelling him to roll up his blankets several times in succession under the pretence of insufficient neatness, swearing at him when there was no one near, and abusing him as a lazy lubber who wouldn’t take the trouble to keep his cell neat and wanted to have a body-servant to wait upon him. Among Mr. Bracker’s other engaging qualities was that of being a radical of the deepest dye in politics and a democrat particularly advanced. A child of the masses, he had received just sufficient education to qualify him for a rabid advocacy of certain communistic theories. Arising from this mental enlightenment partly, as well as from the fundamental condition of an envious and malignant nature, was a hatred of privileged orders and an unreasoning spite towards gentlefolk and aristocrats of whatever sex or grade. He had read accounts of the French Eevolution and lamented that he had not the power to put in force, in these degenerate days, some of the drastic remedies by which ‘the people’ of France ameliorated their own condition and wiped out the long score of oppressions which they had suffered at the hands of their natural enemies.

As a man, a politician, and a warder he felt therefore a subtle satisfaction in tormenting a member of the hated class secretly. He felt it due to himself also, as a matter of professional etiquette, not to be ‘bested’ by a prisoner under sentence. He settled to his daily dole of insult with cruel craft and grim resolve. Such may have actuated a plantation overseer in South Carolina towards a contumacious ‘nigger’ in the good old slave-holding days before the war.

Daily the ‘assistant torturer’ pursued his course. Mere oaths and continuous abuse were always carefully timed to be out of earshot of all others. Daily Lance Trevanion endured in silence the varied taunts, the bullying tone, which he had never needed to bear from living man before. Indignant scorn lit up his sad despairing eyes at each fresh provocation. More deeply glowed their smouldering fires, but no word came from the tightly-compressed lips; no gesture told of the well-nigh unendurable mental agony within, of the almost unnatural strain.

‘Yes, you may look,—blast you for an infernal stuck-up aristocrat,’ Bracker said one morning. ‘You know you’d like to rub me out, but you’re not game—not game—do you hear that? You and all your breed in the old country, and this too, have been living all your lives on the labour of men like me, and treating us like the dirt under your feet, and you can’t salute your superiors like another prisoner. You’re too grand, I suppose. But by ——, I’ll break you down, my fine fellow, before I’ve done with you. I’ll have you on your knees yet. You’re not the first that’s tried it on with me, and, my word! they paid for it. I’d like you to have seen them knuckle under before I left off dealing with them.’

The next day, on some transparent pretence, Lance was ordered to take up the work of one of the long-sentence prisoners, which involved menial and degrading, not to say disgusting duties. These he performed patiently and mechanically, yet with a far-off look as of a man in a dream. Even this penance was insufficient to appease the malevolence of his tormentor. He made a practice of standing near, watching his victim, enjoying the spectacle of the captive ‘swell’ engaged for hours in the meanest conceivable employment. From time to time he made brutal jokes upon the situation with his assistant warders or those prisoners who were always ready for personal reasons to take the side of their taskmasters.

After the night’s stillness and respite—stillness how oppressive, even terrible in its unbroken silence!—Lance would brace himself to confront anew his bitter fate. He would repeat to himself all the reasons that he could summon for stubborn endurance and patient adherence to the course he had laid down for himself. But with the morning light came his inexorable foe, ordering him here and there, persisting in declaring that he was in the habit of breaking minor regulations, making a laughing-stock of him before other prisoners in every way, driving him along the road which was sure, in Bracker’s experience, to land him in some act of overt insubordination.

One morning, after an hour’s trial of every species of aggravation, Lance’s patience so far failed him that he turned upon his persecutor and told him that no one but a coward would thus treat a man in his position, and who was unable to defend himself or retaliate. He did not say much, but doubtless committed himself to the extent of infringing the gaol regulations, which enjoin respect and obedience to all officials.

His adversary at once seized his advantage, and ordering him back to his cell locked him up, pushing him roughly inside the door. This portion of his duty performed, he lodged a complaint in due form of insubordination against Launcelot Trevanion, hard labour prisoner under sentence.

The gaoler held over the case until the end of the week, when Mr. M‘Alpine, as visiting magistrate, regularly attended to hear cases and complaints.

The trial of prisoners charged with such offences is conducted in camera, the magistrate, the gaoler, the parties to the complaint, and the witnesses being only present. For reasons held to be sufficient, the public and the press are excluded. Evidence on oath is taken down in writing, that the depositions may be afterwards referred to. The magistrate decides on the evidence brought before him. The accused is permitted to call witnesses. But for obvious reasons the warders and the companions in captivity of the culprit or complainant constitute necessarily the only available testimony. Thus it is to be feared that occasionally the scales of justice may be deflected, and though forms are adhered to, wrong-doing triumphs and revenge is wreaked.

So, in the present case, Bracker swore positively that Lance had habitually refused to obey orders, and on this occasion had abused and threatened him in language unfit to be repeated. He handed in a paper on which was written a selection of foul expressions of his own invention. His tale was corroborated in part by another warder, who had heard Lance speak in an excited tone of voice to the complainant though he was not near enough to catch the sense of his words. One of the prisoners—mindful of favours to come—‘swore up’ in Bracker’s interest, and more circumstantially confirmed his story. Against this weight of evidence Lance’s denial availed nothing. His resentful demeanour tended to prejudice Mr. M‘Alpine against him as being mutinous and defiant. There was no little difficulty in preserving order among the desperate détenus of the day, as it was. The sternest repression was thought necessary. In view of example and deterrent effect, Lance was therefore sentenced—after an admonition of curt severity—to a month’s solitary confinement upon bread and water, the last week to be passed in the dark cell.

The ill-concealed triumph depicted on Brackets countenance was hard to bear. The solitary cell, the meagre fare, often unduly abridged, represented to a man of Lance’s temperament and experiences the extremity of human wretchedness. But a sharper sting was added by Bracker’s daily jeers: ‘So you won’t give a civil answer yet when you’re spoke to,’ he said, one afternoon, stirring Lance rudely with his foot. ‘And you won’t stand up when you’re told? Wait till to-morrow, when you’re due for the dark ’un—seven days and seven nights! That’ll bleach you, my flash horse-thief, like a stick of celery! I’ll take the steel out of yer before I’ve done! Bigger chaps than you have been straightened here before now!’

On the next morning, accordingly, Lance was marched to the dark cell, and thrust in so roughly that, weakened as he was by his Lenten diet, he fell down, bruised and half-fainting. There was barely sufficient room in the small circular cell for him to lie at length, and as he regained a sitting posture and strained his eyesight to discover one ray of light amid the almost palpable darkness, he realised fully the utter desolation and horror of his position. Despair took possession of him. Forsaken of God and man, as he deemed himself to be, he raved and blasphemed like a maniac, ceasing only when sheer exhaustion brought on a stupor of insensibility, from which he passed into perturbed and fitful slumbers.

He awoke only to undergo with partially renewed faculties still keener miseries. Unaware of the time which he had passed in sleep, he was ignorant whether it was day or night. No sound penetrated the thick walls of the cell. The Cimmerian gloom was unrelieved by the faintest pencil of light. Had he been dead and entombed he could not have been more utterly separated from knowledge of the outer world—from communion with the living. Days seemed to have passed since he first entered the cell. His brain throbbed. His heart-beats were plainly audible to him in the horrible silence. Delirious fancies commenced to assail him. He saw his father’s form as he had last seen it, with visage stern and inflexible. He seemed to say: ‘All that I foresaw has come to pass. You have dishonoured an ancient name!—blotted a stainless escutcheon! Die, and make no sign! ‘

Then his cousin Estelle’s sweet face came slowly out of the gloom, gazing upon him with sorrowful, angelic pity. The infinite tenderness, the boundless compassion of love, shone in her starry eyes, which, in his vision, commenced to irradiate the gloomy vault. Clearer grew the outlines of her form—a celestial brightness appeared to render visible every outline of her form, every lineament of her countenance, as she inclined herself as if to raise him from his recumbent position. He threw up his arms with a cry of joyous recognition. The action appeared to recall his wandering senses. The impenetrable dungeon gloom again closed over him like a descending iron platform. A steel band appeared to compress and still more tightly environ his brain, until a death-like swoon terminated simultaneously both agony and sensation.

Nevermore - Contents    |     Chapter XIV

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