Woman's Wrongs (1)
Home Up Biographical Poetry The Battle-Day Poetry Reviews The Cabinet Letters, &c. Marx on Chartism On Democracy Democracy Vindicated Main Index Site Search
 


 

INTRODUCTION.


    To paint life as it is—no poet's fancy, no romancer's dream, can paint more estranger or sad a picture.  The romance of fiction cannot equal the romance of truth.

    Well then—such I desire to portray.  To reflect in simple language, the domestic wrongs and sorrows of society—such as they at present are—in a plain, simple, and unvarnished tale.

    Oh! many a battle is fought by the dim circle of the household hearth, as noble, or as terrible, as that with crowned brigades on the fields of "glory."  Oh! many a suffering is endured in the still bosom of familiar life, as bitter or as hopeless as that of the unlaurelled Martyr at the bigot's stake!

    And yet—who speaks of them?  Who knows of them?  Who reeks of them?

    Down—down beneath the cold surface of society there are rankling wrongs'—that fret, that fester, that destroy—and yet, they never glide over the tongue of the Reformer, the brain of the Religionist, or the heart, even of the well-wishers of mankind.

    Every order of society has domestic sufferings peculiar to itself, sufferings, besides those to which "all flesh is heir"—brought on by the vile mechanism of our system.  These sufferings may first strike man,—and that is but just, for man makes society what it is—or at least, allows it to remain so—but the evil stops not there—it reaches farther, to the breast of woman!  What gross injustice! for society counts woman as nothing in its institutions, and yet makes her bear the greatest share of sufferings inflicted by a system in which she has no voice!  Brute force first imposed the law—and moral force compels her to obey it now.

    I purpose, therefore, to lift the veil from before the wrongs of woman —to shew her what she suffers at her own home-hearth—how society receives her—what society does for her—where society leaves her.

    To shew it, not merely in one class or order—but upward, downward, through all the social grades.  If I draw pictures at which you shudder—if I reveal that, at which your your heart revolts—I cannot help it—it is truth—such is the world that surrounds you—such is the world that made you—such is the world you help to make—go! try to alter it, and BEGIN AT HOME.


 
THE WORKINGMAN'S WIFE.

1.—The Childbirth of the Poor.


IF, at any time, you should pass of an evening the Royal Palace of Pimlico, down the long line of pillared palaces, and thence diverge by the stately piles of governmental craft, the temples of brute force by land and sea, the pinnacles beneath which class legislates against class—the hall where justice darkles in its sideling nooks, or the proud pile where Mammon stands based upon the graves of buried fame.  If you should pass down between the long lines of this stately but unequal epic of stone, and brick, and marble, interspersed with its episodes of gleaming water, and green trees, exotic birds and flowers, statues, arches and columns, fountains of water, and jets of thrice filtered flame, dotted on the margins, prosaic and yet brilliant notes! with its innumerable shops, and flooded with the long current of carriage, horse and foot; take but one step, and side by side with all this gaud and glory, you pass into the regions of darkness and dismay.  Behind you lies the greatness of the present in light, and voice, and life; the glory of the past in pillar, arch, and statue; and before you, between two tall houses opens a narrow, deep ravine, winding on in gloomy, sightless lengths, a thin strip of murky sky stretched overhead between the reeking house-tops, like dirty calico across a broken roof.  The windows of Downing-street overlook the contrast!

    Proceed a little way, and to the right you will see a narrow archway beneath the first floor of a mouldering house.  You must stoop to enter it; some steps lead downward from the street; a fetid stench continually rushes upward through the opening; and on looking down, you perceive a narrow court, formed by a few dilapidated tenements on either side, and closed up by a dead wall at the end.  The space between them is unpaved, and half-covered pools of stagnant water, filth, and ordure.  Ragged children, almost naked—the colour of their skin concealed by dirt—with pale, straggling, unkempt hair, bare feet, hollow, sunken eyes, white, shrunken, ghostly faces, and their dwindled limbs, flit over it by day.  At night are heard strange sounds of strife or orgy, of tears and prayers, and hoarse murmurs, which might be taken equally for the brute-expression of a savage pleasure, or the last groaning of a dying victim.

    Well nigh, side by side with pestiferous gulf, arise the splendid mansions you have passed, the dwellings of the magnates of the land.  The wretch below can see from his glassless casements the silken curtains of the rich hang, fluttering in the breeze; and if pain or hunger keep him wakeful in the close, hot, summer night, lie can hear the roll of carriages bearing gay fashion to its gorgeous revel, the ball-room music floating from the balconies—aye, even the voluptuous murmurs of the scene within.

    His is a hell, where the damned have paradise in perspective, with the certainty of never entering.

    This scene is a type of the whole neighbourhood.  Some slight changes were made not long ago—when the rich opened a new street through part of the district.  But it needed the cholera to come first, and radiate from this focus of infection.  The rich had pity then, because they felt fear—and the ordure was removed at the same time as the corpses.

    On the evening on which our narrative begins, sad, moaning cries were heard from one of the smallest houses in the court described above—cries anxious and broken, similar to those uttered by a woman about to become a mother.

    It was Margaret Haspen in the pangs of child-birth.

    The young woman lay in one of those close wooden boxes, recessed in the wall—opening with a sliding door, or curtain, in the room—called by courtesy a bed.  What little of the fetid air of the street that entered the room, could scarcely reach the dark, unhealthy nook, in which the miserable woman writhed with agony.  The door of the one room that constituted the entire home of Margaret and her husband, stood open, but it was crowded with neighbours.  There was a continual running to and fro between the street-door and the bed-side—all the old gossips in the neighbourhood being desirous of seeing how the labour was proceeding; for the very poor have that, at least, in common with Queens, their births take place with open doors.

    Not far from the bed-side of Margaret sat John Haspen, the bricklayer, with folded arms and outstretched legs, smoking his pipe with calm indifference.  Still nearer stood the nurse, with equal apathy.

    However, after a time, the phlegm of the latter seemed to vanish—she became uneasy—the agony of Margaret became insufferable—and the neighbours began to wink at each other knowingly, and to express their fears in whispers.

    "Twelve hours, and no progress! there must be something wrong!  Perhaps an operation will be wanted!"

    "Oh! just fancy if she was to suffer like Patty Braddis!  They were obliged to cut her side open!  She has just exactly the same symptoms!  It's the same case precisely!  How Patty suffered!  When she was dead, the blood ran from her eyes, drop by drop, as from two badly closed wounds!"

    Margaret, who heard all, uttered a piercing shriek.

    "I told you," said an old crone, "that the child lay wrong.  She won't stand it.  They'll be obliged to cut it in pieces!"

    Here the sufferer gave so horrible a cry, that even Haspen was troubled.  He advanced to the bed-side.  Margaret grew worse and worse.

    "Happen," said the nurse, "you must fetch a doctor.  I cannot take the responsibility upon myself."

    "She's better now,"—he answered sullenly.

    "Yes! to be worse again in a moment.  Go for the doctor."

    "Do I know a doctor?  Where the d— am I to get a doctor?"

    "Fetch Mr. Cutter—he lives close by."

    "I'll fetch him; don't budge, John!" said a neighbour, and limped off in a half-run.

    The bricklayer resumed his place in an angry mood.

    "A doctor too!" he muttered through his teeth, relighting his pipe.  "This completes our ruin—this confinement," and he cast a look of sour displeasure on his wife.

    The doctor entered with the old crone.  Mr. Cutter had served long in the marines.  He was a fearless practitioner, who treated his man as a sculptor does a block of marble—cutting away without remorse or scruple.  Accustomed to nautical slang and jollity, he brought it into the sick-room.  No one knew better than he how to crack a joke over a death-bed, or launch a pun beside a grave.  This freedom of speech and callous confidence had given the poor a high opinion of his talents.  Finding him always unmoved and jocose beside the bed of pain, they thought he drew his firmness from the certainty of success.  Thus his reputation was soon founded, and a few reckless, fortunate cures crowned it.  As to the many dead whom he had murdered, nobody talked of them: the medical assassination of the poor is a matter too unimportant for attention.  Besides, amid that crowd where the one treads on the heels of the other in the run for life, a dead man is one competitor less, and one vacant place the more.  Once buried, his quondam comrades feel more easy; for, in our social state, which makes us rivals instead of associates, there are always more interested in each other's death than in each other's LIFE.

    When Cutter entered, Margaret was uttering fainter cries of exhaustion.

    "Well, well, my girl!  What's the matter?  They tell me you've a starling that wont come out of his cage!  Ha, ha! that's all.  We must open the door.  What's the lock broken, and the key lost?  Ha, ha!  Well, let's see!  Children are like a bottle of wine—the beginning's more pleasant than the end.  Ha, ha, ha!"

    He then set about his task.

    "Never mind!  Patience!  A little steel medicine—ha, ha!—and all will be right."  The sight of his preparations terrified poor Margaret.

    "No, no !" she shrieked, writhing at the bottom of her bed.  "You'll kill me—I wont —let me alone!"

    "Ha, ha!" giggled Mr. Cutter; "never mind—all done in a minute.  No, no! eh?  You didn't always say no, no, my dear! so it's too late to say it now.  Ha, ha!"

    "What witty man he is!" tittered the gossips at the door.

    Margaret resisted a few moments, but he commanded her harshly with an oath to be quiet, and she yielded.  One hour after, a female child was born, amid terrific agony.

    "Curse it, a girl!" cried the husband, dashing his pipe to pieces in his anger.

    "A girl!" moaned the sufferer; "all that pain, and then to have a girl!"

    Such is the child-bed of the poor—so the poor man's child was born: a curse and a sigh welcomed it into life.

    "That's it," cried Mr. Cutter, gaily.  "You see it's not so bad after all.  Ha! ha!  Now you must have rest, and peace of mind.  Take light, and at the same time, nourishing food. Well: have you no towel?"

    "No, sir."

    The deuce! the outfit seems to have been a little neglected.  Ha! ha!  No matter; well, as I was saying, broth, and light white meats—and, above all, no imprudence.  Good bye; I call in again in a few days."

    We need not tell the reader that none of these recommendation were followed—because they could not be.

    Margaret recovered, however, as all women of h class—not by tender care, not by nourishing diet, but thanks to the vigour of a healthy constitution.  But, as always happens in like cases, she preserved the traces of her sufferings.  There was not, as with the rich, the gentle hand of caressing love or of hired but assiduous care, to wipe the wrinkles of pain from the drawn face—there was not the resource of science, and the choice of viands, to replenish the temporary void of strength.  The bright luxuriance, the buoyant freshness that embellished the young maid, was succeeded in the young mother by that faded hue, that haggard expression, that withering and decay, that characterises the matrons of the poor.

    Toil, domestic duties, the painful care of her child, finished the work, and effaced the last vestige of her early beauty.  She sank into that premature old age, so sadly traceable in the child of want and sorrow.

    Meanwhile, the child grew, and prospered.

    The bricklayer's home was like that of most others of his order—a mixture of annoyance and irritation.  The first intoxication of pleasure attendant on the union of a man and woman who have not learnt to dislike each other, once past — the first fever of youthful passion once over, they sank into mutual cold indifference.

    Indeed, Haspen never loved his wife.  She was a servant at his employer's, and he married her because he wanted a wife, and she had saved a little money.  He looked on his house merely as a resting-place—at his wife merely is a servant without wages, whom he found convenient to prepare his meals, and make and share his bed.

    On the whole, he was not by nature a bad man.  Sunk in utter ignorance, his principal pleasure was the satisfaction of his appetites—society had done the best to make a brute out of a man—yet he was capable of a sudden generous impulse, though devoid of that gentleness and feeling which smoothes the intercourse of home, and wins domestic sympathy.  A machine of flesh and bone, he could be good or bad, according as the hand of circumstance might push him.

    Margaret was his superior: having entered service many years, she was removed from that close contact with rude, unpolished vice, that breaking against the sharp corners of society, which deadens feeling and intelligence.  She had lived neither amid the oaths of rage nor the cries of drunkenness.  She had not been thus much refined, but what she could descend easily to the lower grade—a change, however, that withered the freshness of the young woman's soul, even as neglect and want had withered that of her body!—a change that left the scarce conscious recollection of a better life, and faded visions of a happier home.  Thus they jogged on together—and they bore the character of a happy couple in their court, because Haspen did not beat her.

    The year passed thus without producing any material change.  The little child, Catherine, grew into girlhood, and the parents lived on under the fear of the morrow, as before.  Haspen's earnings neither rose nor fell.  Placed on the brink of destitution, he still contrived to cling to the rim of the precipice—a breath could knock him over—the illness of a few weeks—want of employment—fall of wage.  But he had escaped all these dangers—without, however, laying anything by for the future.  Indeed, his wages were too low to reserve much, and what little he might have spared was engulfed by the public-house.

    Nevertheless, Margaret had little fear for the future.  Catherine was strong, and could already do some work.  She would soon be old enough to enter service—and her wages were a great guarantee for the future.  Add to this the fact that the young girl had received from heaven the greatest blessing it can give the poor man's child—she was a "little eater."

___________

 
2.—AN EMPLOYER.


    "JUST honour enough to escape being hung."

    Mr. Barrowson, Haspen's employer, was a large, open-faced, florid man—with a wide mouth, white teeth, and curly hair.  He had frank jovial manner, with a loud voice, and large fat hand, equally ready to grasp in recognition or to strike in enmity.  He passed for an excellent fellow.  Though forty years old, he was still a bachelor, and seemed likely to remain so.  It was certainly whispered in some quarter that he was a libertine, avaricious, and had done some things treating very closely on the limits of the criminal law; but he invariably took up his bills, paid ready money—and, in one word—acted like an "honourable man."  He had just successfully completed several extensive speculations, and was enjoying a pause in business, after unusual application.

    Content with his enormous recent gains, he was sitting quietly in his office, by the side of his partner, reading the Times.

    "It's horrible!" he cried suddenly.  "If government does not act with vigour, business will be ruined."

    "What is it!" asked his partner.

    "Nothing but combinations of working-men; Everywhere a demand for a rise of wage."

    "There's the law against combination."

    "Certainly; but where's the use of the law, if it is not enforced ?"

    The partner mended a pen, and said nothing.  Barrowson resumed:

    "By the bye, have you seen the other masters?"

    "Yes; the reduction of wages for bricklayers, plasterers, and masons, is agreed to."

    "Very good.  If they object, we'll turn them adrift.  We have no press of work just now, and they must soon or die of hunger."

    "Exactly so.  Of course, they're at perfect liberty to choose," the partner quietly observed, wetting the nib of his pen, and resumed his calculations, while Barrowson continued his perusal of the Times.

    That very evening, in paying his men, Barrowson told them his contracts were all finished, and he had no further need of their services.  This was a thunderbolt to his hearers.

    Barrowson had expected the effect of his words, but ho remained deaf to their prayers to keep them on.  "Go and try elsewhere," was this answer .  They ran to every other employer, but they were all in the conspiracy, and all told them that they were not in want of hands.  The men were forced to return to Barrowson.  He repeated his old answers—"he had no work for them."  At last, as though more by pity, he said, that "out of kindness to them, and at a heavy inconvenience to himself, be would take a few of them on again, but at LOWERED WAGES."

    They had not expected this, and they went away.

    Barrowson shrugged his shoulders, and said, looking after them: "They are proud now, because their bellies are full.  Wait a few days longer!"

    He counted on hunger as an auxiliary, and she failed him not.  Them struggle cannot be long between the rich, who can afford to wait, and the poor, who must dine tomorrow.  And sure enough, the men came back, begging Mr. Barrowson to take them on at the diminished wages.  The wages once lowered in the one firm, the others followed the example, and a general reduction took place throughout the district.  The conspiracy, of which the men were made the utterly unconscious tools, had been crowned with complete success.  Instead of wages being lowered from the employer's poverty, they are lowered when he is so rich that he knows he can afford to bear a strike.  The master makes his arrangements before he begins the reduction—the man, not till after it is made.  The first is sure to conquer.

    One workman alone refused to work at the lowered rate.  Refused by every firm, he still persisted to struggle single-handed against that terrible coalition.  He was told that the law was on his side, and would punish the combination of employers as well as that of the employed—a good many told him this, but not one could tell him how he could get at the law, or how he could pay for the law; and, if the truth must be told, he had no great confidence in the laws made by the rich for the protection of the poor.  The law, to him, was a policeman and a tax-collector—and, embittered by fighting the unequal struggle, he suffered in silent patience.  But his resources diminished with every day: he had sold all his furniture—the all but necessary clothing of his wife, his child, and himself went next—the pressure increased, the last means of prolonging the combat was gone—he had reached the confines of famine and death—nothing remained but submission!

    Pale with rage, shame and hunger, he went to the premises of Barrowson, and aked for work on the same conditions as the others.

    The employer received him with a jovial air—told him the somewhat superior place he had formerly filled was occupied by one Latchman, but that he might go and work among the crowd.

    The return of Haspen was quite an event in the yard.  Those among his companions who had been the first to submit, and before whom he had boasted that he would sooner die than yield, seized with avidity this opportunity for his humiliation.  He was overwhelmed with a deluge of gross jests and mockeries, which he could answer only by the strength of his arm.  But when he first had sent back the sarcasm down the throats of a few of his hearers, the open mockery ceased.  Nevertheless a half-smothered hostility continued to growl around him.  His companions could not forgive him for having shown more spirit than themselves.

    In midst of this general aversion, one man only made up to Haspen—it was Latchman, who had supplanted him.

    Latchman had the character of a commonplace, rather indifferent workman.  His appearance was repulsive, and his worn and blunted features reminded you of one of those pieces of money from which long use has nearly effaced the original stamp—the noble effigy of manhood.  Perhaps it had been lost beneath the wearing hand of vice—perhaps nature had but negligently struck the die; the bad money of humanity that circulates along the ranks of life!  Perhaps, too, a profound hypocrisy had thrown that mask of unmeaningness upon his sallow face.  Latchman was, among all the workmen, the one who attracted the least notice.  He was known only for his passive obedience and obsequious servility—to which qualities he owed his new employment.  His having superseded Haspen and his place did not much ingratiate him with the latter, who repelled his advances; but nothing could offend Latchman: insult glided from his bent and servile brow without leaving a single trace of anger—besides, he adopted an infallible means of conciliating Haspen—he treated him to drink—and they were quickly friends.

    Meanwhile, the embarrassments of Haspen continued unabated.  His wages, never large, and now less, did not permit him to recover himself from his difficulties—his debts or his losses.  Vainly he struggled against the overwhelming fatality which was dragging him down into an abyss.  Vainly he struggled against the poverty, which clung to him like an ulcer.  He strove hard—he strove manfully—but he strove uselessly.  As soon as he saw that he gained no ground in the strife, he gave up all effort, and sunk into apathy and despair.

    Then the real misery came—that clinging watchful misery that counts the mouthfuls and calculates the strength.  It came—and with it came the evil thoughts.  Perfidious voices seemed whispering in his ear—he felt tempted, and he trembled!

    He resisted—but the very struggle weakened him: he tried to drown his thoughts in drink, and, that means once tried, he sought none other.  From his home, where the picture of their misery harrowed him, he rushed to the beer-shop to forget it.  The very sight of his mute, but plaintive family, threw him into the rage of helpless despair—rendered still more blind by drunkenness.

    About this time, cries of pain and anger began to be heard by the neighbours, and the report ran in the court that the bricklayer was in the habit of beating his wife.

    To crown their misery, Margaret was delivered of another child, whom they named Mary.


 
3.—A NIGHT SCENE.


ABOUT eight months had elapsed since the birth of Margaret's second child.

    It was one of those nights of early spring, replete with fog and frost, so prevalent in London; while the dull sound of a half awakened tempest moaned along the sky.  The Abbey clock bad just struck eleven.

    Margaret sat cowering over the grate, where the faint embers of a fire glimmered.  The young woman had retained no traces of her pristine beauty.  Her face was sallow and wrinkled—her haggard eyes shone wildly through swollen lids that tears had furrowed.  Little Mary rested on her knees, but the child's hoarse, uneasy respiration, was interrupted by a deep convulsive cough.  In the midst of the silent gloom of the apartment, the weak struggles of the child sounded like the rattle of the dying.  At last the fire went out entirely, and the roots in darkness.

    Then Margaret heard in the corner farthest from the fire-place, a chattering of teeth, mingled with plaintive moans.

    "Catherine! Catherine!" cried the mother in alarm—"What is the matter?—What makes you cry?"

    An almost inarticulate voice was heard to answer in the darkness "Mother! I die of cold!"

    "Come to me, Catherine!  Press yourself against me.  Give me your hand, my child—your hand—I don't feel it."

    "It is in yours, mother!"

    "Then I, too, must be very cold."

    "Oh yes! your hands freeze me!"

    "Oh G—!  If I had but the fever I had yesterday, I could warm her!"—cried Margaret.  "I am very wretched!"—

    "Where is father?" asked the child, pressing against her mother, and folding her dress around.

    "I don't know, Catherine!"

    "Will he bring us something to eat?"

    "Are you hungry also, child?" asked the young mother in a mournful voice.

    The little girl noticed something plaintive in the tone, as of a breaking heart, and said in a low accent—

    "Not very, mother!—If I could but sleep, I should not think about it."

    Margaret took a handkerchiefs from her neck and tied it round that of her daughter, then— seeking the most sheltered nook, placed her there, gently exhorting her to sleep.  The little nurse babe, Mary, had also just dropped to sleep, and once more all was wrapped in deep, funereal silence.

    At this moment, a heavy, vacillating step rung on the pavement of the street without.

    The door flew rudely open—and Haspen entered, drunk, and pipe in mouth.

    He advanced, stumbling, to the middle of the sombre room, his sight yet unaccustomed to the transition from the gassy glare without, and sought with outstretched arms, the fire-place that showed no signs of warmth.

    "Margaret!" lie cried in a voice evidently indicative of irritation.

    He called her thrice without receiving an answer.

    At last a voice was heard as harsh as his: "well?"

    "Why, you child of the devil! is there neither fire nor light?"

    "Because I have none!"

    "And why have you none?"

    "Because John Haspen drinks and sings at the public-house, while his children die of cold and hunger."

    "That'll do, Margaret!"—cried the bricklayer, dashing his foot upon the floor—"that'll do, unless you wish me to stave in your skull like an empty barrel."

    "John Haspen, the children are starving!"

    "Then give them your tongue to eat, viper  and be silent!  So there is no wood here to light a fire.  Where's the hatchet?"

    He took a hatchet from the floor, and at a blow smashed one of the two only chairs remaining in the house—threw the fragments on the grate, and a few sparks communicating with the dry wood, soon kindled it into flame, and cast their lurid light on the melancholy scene.

    Margaret had never left her place, and sat motionless, with fixed eyes, her child pressed in her arms, and but feebly concealing beneath an assumed indifference the indignation that boiled in her veins, stretched her nostrils, and flashed from her eyes.  Haspen, standing before the grate, held his feet alternately over the flame, that lit up the evil aspect of his harsh and hardened features.

    All the rest of the room was lost in darkness.

    For a time, the actors in this strange scene were silent—then Haspen, taking his pipe out of his mouth said, turning to his wife : "to-morrow they'll come and sell all we have to pay the rent.  That scoundrel Stonage, won't let us remain here any longer."

    "And, pray, where shall we go to?"

    "To the street.  That will be good enough for your ape and you.  Besides, we must quit London.  I have no more work.  I left Barrowson's three days ago, and could not get a job anywhere else."

    "Serve you right, Haspen.  What's the use of a man who's not fit for anything—whose hand trembles with gin, and who can't see where he lays his trowel?"

    "Silence, woman!" cried the bricklayer, in ungovernable fury, and crushing his pipe between his fingers; "silence! or I'll teach you that my hand is strong enough for you still."

    The woman tossed her head in scornful defiance.

    "That's not what you promised me, John, when you came of evenings to speak with me at master's gate.  If I drew back from your hand, then, it was to avoid a caress, and not a blow.  I thought I married one who had the arms of a workman, and the heart of a man.  Why did you not tell me then, that you could not work well enough to keep two little children?  You want us to leave London!  And, pray, what for?  Do you suppose I'll go, with two girls around my neck, begging from door to door for you?  You want to make a trade of the misery of your wife and children, do you?  You're out in your reckoning, sweetheart!  Follow you I will—but it shall be to cry to the passers-by: 'Do you see this man?  He is strong—he is well—but he will not work to give us food.'"

    "Have you done, Margaret?"

    "Presently, Haspen!  I must tell you all.  I've held my tongue too long—but mark you!  I suffered too much hunger in the hunger of these poor little innocents.  Go and swill in the beer-house if you like, but I'll not quit its door.  While you drink, you shall hear us cry for bread—when you come out drunk, you shall have to stagger over the bodies of your children that I'll cast in the mud before the threshold.  Its time you shared a little of our misery.  They're not my children only.  Do you think my arms are strong enough to carry them always, without you taking your turn?  I've had my share of suffering—the rest shall be for you."

    Haspen had listened to this long tirade, at first with a scornful indifference, then with fast rising wrath.  His features became inflamed, his chest heaved, his breath hissed in his throat that tried to compress its fury.

    He advanced one step towards Margaret with clenched hands—then drew back—containing himself still.

    "I, too—I've had my share to put up with —and with you," he said, at last, in a low, dull, stifled voice.  "Silence! unless you wish to see blood flow to-night.  I hate you, woman! for since I took to you, my miseries crowded on me.  Before—I never wanted—I worked all the week, and I played all the Sunday—but you —you have come across me like my evil genius —you, and your children!  Do you understand me now?  You are a nest of vipers that I'll crush under my feet!"

    In speaking these last words with the rise of thunder in his voice, he stamped his heavy foot upon the remnants of the burning chair that laid before the grate with such a terrible force that the blazing splinters showered about the room.

    A sudden cry was heard, and little Catherine darted up from the chimney corner towards her mother—her clothes had caught fire.

    The terrified Margaret raised her in her arms: John! John! water! for the love of Heaven water; the poor child is burning!"

    But the angry man never moved.

    His foot upon a brand—his head erect—with the delirious excitement of rage—he looked rigidly and terribly silent upon the child writhing in its mother's arms—and the mother trying to extinguish the flames.

    During three minutes the struggle lasted—it was a fearful sight to see those two weak creatures wrestling for life amid a circle of fire—and the impassive stillness of the strong man who stood gazing on them.

    At last, Margaret surrounded the child with an embrace so close and complete, that the smothered blames expired.

    "G—! my G—! she is burnt! burnt to the bone!"—and then, turning to Happen, whose angry quiet goaded her to madness: look here, villain! look—this is for your work!"

    She raised her wretched daughter, yelling with pain, in her arms, and held it close before the face of its father.

    "Back, woman—back!"

    "Finish your murder, then!"

    "Margaret! won't you be silent?"

    "Kill her, then—assassin!  Look—see! don't her blood make you thirst?"

    The hideous wounds of the victim nearly touched the face of the man—he could no longer master his passion.

    "Back! I tell you, Satan!" and, quicker than the word, a blow was given.  It was aimed at the mother, but it hit the forehead of the child, who fell on the floor with a fearful moan.

    That moan was followed by a hoarse and savage cry, as the mother's eyes wandered round in search of something; she stretched her hands—stooped—and suddenly rising—the husband felt the sharp, cold blow of a hatchet strike his check, and glide off into his shoulder.

    Pain made him utter an oath—he was about to dart on Margaret, but with the agility of a tigress, she had already darted into the darkest corner of the room, her child in one arm, the hatchet in her hand.  The gleam of her hatchet and of her angry eyes was alone visible in the darkness—the hoarse hissing of her quick breath was alone audible in the silence.

    The man paused suddenly before that fury of the tigress defending its young—he felt fear.

    For a time there was silence such as might make one's blood creep!

    It was interrupted by the noise of some one pushing open the badly closed door.

    Latchman entered.

    "What's all this?" he said.  "I passed before your door, Haspen; I thought I heard cries, and feared some misfortune had happened."

    "Yes—two great misfortunes!  The one, to have been born—the other, not to have drowned myself twelve years ago!  Go away; this is a matter between me and that viper there!"

    "What are you going to do?" cried Latchman, who had just perceived Margaret amid the darkness, and understood all at a glance.  "Haspen, leave your wife alone."

    "I'll crush her head between my fists!" he roared.  "She has struck me—she has raised her hand against me!"

    "I'll defended my child," said a dull voice.

    "I'll throw you on your knees to ask my pardon."

    "Try it!" said the same voice—and the eyes and the hatchet glistened in their dark corner.

    Latchman saw it was time to interfere, or the scene would turn to blood: he seized Haspen, struggling with rage and drink, with his wiry arm—and, soothing him all the while, dragged him to the door, and then over the threshold, despite his struggles.

    Margaret hastened to bolt the door inside.  For some time the struggles of Latchman and Haspen, who wanted to re-enter, were heard outside; but at length the latter appeared to yield to the representations of his companion, and their voices were lost in the distant street, in the direction of Whitehall.


 
4.—TEMPTATION.
"Poverty is the mother of Crime."


WHITEHALL was a blaze of racing meteors, when Haspen and Watchman entered from the dark Sulley-like street that opened out into it from the slimy depths of Westminster.  There was a party at the Duchess of Buccleugh's, and some hundred equipages, with their shining lamps, were drawn up in glittering rows, or flitting about with rival speed along the broad pavements of Whitehall and Palace-yard.  The waiting lines around the Lords and Commons increased the gaudy bustle, and groups of spectators stood here and there upon the causeway.  From the Duchess's windows came streams of light; wide, variegated awnings stretched over the porticoes and across the street; the shining liveries of tinselled, powdered lacqueys shone on every side; the bayonets of the sentinels bristled over the throng; the harness sparkled on the stately steeds, whose fiery pawing and indignant tossings scattered the white, snow-like foam of their hot mouths as though in scorn upon the passers-by.  The windows of Downing-street were silent and lightless, but from the opposite side, from the Duchess's mansion, floated strains of low, voluptuous music, now and then maddening up into the thrilling whirl of the electric waltz.  A rich faint odour came from the princely portico and the light draperied windows, while a subdued murmur of light muses, gentle, animated converse, or the light musical ring of a silvery laugh stole amid the pauses of the minstrelsy.  What a pomp of riches, might, and pleasure!  But like the skeleton at a Roman feast, the poor stood here and there shivering in rags, and hunger, and cold upon the pavements.  Squalor, wretchedness, misery were writing their silent protest on the pageant.  The skeleton was at the rich man's feast!

    "Move on! move on!" cried the policeman, for rags must slink into their hiding-place when riches walk abroad.  They are offensive —pho! away with them!—how dare they parade their misery!'  Go, vanish into corners, till the bone and sinew you cover is wanted to do some work for your master.  There, away with you—away with you; you have no business in the pleasure-light of life.  "Move on! move on!" but the liveried slave might keep his post, and the young debauches might stand upon the watch for falling innocence in some fair child of toil.

    "Move one! move on!"  Yes, we will move, and onward!

    As Haspen and his friend advanced, the scene became more lively.  One by one, and two by two, Peers and Commoners hurried from St. Stephens, leaving the nation's business undone, to dance at the Duchess's and waltz the more.

    In Downing-street work had ceased eight hours ago—or, rather, the mockery of work had ceased since then—the care of government seemed lost, its brute force lived alone in bayonet and bludgeon, guarding its bright outrage against God and man.

    "The fashion's out to-night," said Latchman.

    Haspen answered not, but moved on.

    "Stop," continued Latchman, "let's look at it.  What a beautiful sight!  It must be very splendid inside there—I should like to see it."

    "Come on!  What's it to us?"

    "Well, nothing; only there's no harm seeing how others enjoy themselves."

    "Isn't there; well, I don't want to see it."  I wonder what your wife and child are doing now?"

    "Devil! will you hold your tongue?  What's that to you?"

    "Why, I was thinking if some of these people would give you something for them ――

    "Ah!"

    "Why don't you ask them."'

    "What—beg?"

    "And why not?  They're so very rich they're wasting so much—they'd never miss it.  You mustn't be proud, John; it won't do for one like you; it's not your place."

    "And why not?  Proud!—I'm not proud but by—I'm as good a man as any of these in—I flunkies, or their masters either.  Beg—I'll see them—first."

    "But, John, if you could get a shilling,—you know you're starving—they're starving at home—nobody'll know anything about it.  Think now, if you could go back with a big loaf—there's your little Catherine, and Mary, poor little things!—it would save their lives.  Now try—nobody'll ever know—it's done in a moment.  Look 'at that old gentlemen there—it's only speaking a word, and—just think now, to go home and give them it meal!"

    The bricklayer's countenance grew troubled; he looked down, and never marked the sinister, leering look, that bespoke scorn and triumph, in the eyes of Latchman.  The thought seemed to grapple his heart, and involuntarily he moved towards the man Latchman had pointed out.  Just then there was a commotion around them.

    "What's that?" asked a bystander, as a stalwart policeman dragged a poor little boy of about ten brutally by the arm.

    "Oh, he's only taking that young vagabond to the station-house."

    "What's he done—robbed?"

    "No; he's begged of that old gentleman."

    "Come on, John Haspen," said Latchman; "begging won't do, after all;" and the twain were once more engulfed in the dark streets of Westminster.

    They stopped at a low dilapidated house—numberless in a nameless alley—it was an asylum of thieves, deserters, and fugitives from the arm of law.  There the unskilful were trained to rob—there the initiated met to plot, or to divide the spoil.  After Latchman had knocked in a peculiar way, he and Haspen were admitted.  A fat-lamp burned in the foul passage—the house was silent.  Latchman ushered his companion into a low, large room, furnished with tables and benches.  A mute attendant placed a bottle of gin and two glasses on the table, and left them.  The two men seated themselves at one of the tables.

    "What the deuce was the matter with you and your wife, Haspen?  When I left you, you seemed to be in a very good humour."

    "Haven't I told you she struck me?"

    "But what for?"

    What for? Because she's a ――! whose complaints drive me mad.  I've nothing to given the childrenI'll never go home again!"

    "Well, it's a hard case to be sure, to see one's chid want bread.  Let alone, that it'll go from bad to worse with you.  That's been a bad job for you with Barrowson.  You were wrong to strike him."

    "Do you suppose, then, I'd allow him to raise his hand again me, without returning it?  Pooh, what do I care!  I've lost my employment—I know no other master'll take me now; but I don't care that for it.  They shan't think they're going to trample on men, I call tell them!  They always had a spite against me, because I didn't consent at once to the reduction, as you did.  You've feathered your nest pretty well.  You were an infernal coward, Latchman!"

    "Stuff!" replied the latter, emptying his glass very quietly, "as though they had not a right to lower wages whenever they chose!"

    "No, by ――! they have not the right.  Have they the right to kill a man, eh?  I tell you from that time bread fell short—my children fell sick—they'll never recover it!  It's the life of my wife and children the thieves have robbed me of!"

    Latchman shrugged his shoulders with a most provoking indifference.

    "What would you have?  They're richthey're the masters.  What is it to them if you rot alive!"

    "But, by ――!  I don't choose to rot!" cried the bricklayer, starting up, and striking his heavy fist upon the table that the glasses jingled.  "Have I not got as good a right to live as they?  If they won't give me food, by G—, I'll take it!"

    "Why have you not done so, then?"

    This question was asked in a very calm tone, but in so direct a manner—so full of meaning—that Haspen felt embarrassed.

    "Why?Why?――"

    "Yes, why?  Have you a right to the same pay, if you give the same work?"

    "Why of course I have."

    "Well, then, if your wages are cut down, why don't you take back what is stolen front you.  Would you allow one of your fellow-workmen to seize on a portion of your wages on pay day?"

    "Thunder and lightning, I should think not!"

    "Then why do you let your master do it?  When a rich man robs us, Haspen, we can't seek justice, as if it was a poor one; but one can take it—one seizes on ones stolen property as one call best get it.  Do you understand?  What do you say to that?"

    "I?—Nothing!" relied Happen, thoughtfully and sullenly.

    Latchman called for more gin.

    "I say! hark'ye, Haspen! the question is, whether you mean to live in misery, or to live at your ease, with a bob in your pocket, and a bottle before your nose."

    "And how should I manage to live so?"

    "I told you already.  If you hadn't your ears at your elbows, a month ago, when we were in Barrowson's counting-house, you wouldn't have been in this plight now."

    "But prison!"

    Prisons are for the stupid.  Besides, d'ye see, you if you don't get any work, you will be obliged to beg, and you will be sent to prison all the same as a vagrant.  So, you see, you must go to prison at any rate."

    "By G—! that's true!" cried the bricklayer, dropping his hat upon the ground.  "When one's down, everybody gives one a kick."

    "Then help yourself on to your legs again."

    "Silence!" roared Haspen, "or you'll make me do something wrong."

    "Pooh, you're too frightened.  Well, have your own way.  Go again to Morley, or Achren, or Shell and Co., to ask them to let you work, or perhaps Barrowson"

    "Latchman! haven't I told you to hold your tongue!" cried Happen, grinding his teeth with rage.

    "And if I did hold my tongue, would that make things better?  You want to work—do you know you have not even got any tools?"

    "Tools! no tools? why my tools are at the premises."

    "Aye; but master said he'd keep them for the deductions that were due from your wages.  You was a week in arrear.  Do you hear?"

    "He said that? the thief!"

    "And this morning your tools were sent to the forge, along with a lot of others."

    "Is it true?Is that true?  By G—, I'll tear him into mince-meat!"

    "And a nice meal you'll have of it!" said Latchman, smiling with provoking coldness.  "Besides that wont last you two days;" and he quietly lighted his pipe.

    "Don't forget, my boy, that to-morrow you'll be without work, without tools, and without lodging!"

    Haspen answered not a word.  His head sunk on his chest, his eyes were fixed on the ground; his heart and brain, worn out with the angry storms that had been racking them so many hours, at last gave way, and when Latchman turned on him his cunning side-long glance, the hard, strong workman cried!

    A gleam of joy passed over the face of the tempter; he advanced to the bricklayer—he took his large hand in his own skeleton grasp, and whispered:

    "They've stolen your tools, Haspen! but there are others it the warehouse.  To-morrow evening come here, at nine o'clock, and we will arrange it all."

    Haspen raised his head without speaking, heaved a sigh, deep, harsh, and bitter, emptied his full glass at a draught, and casting around him a wild, savage glance, said:

    "I'll come!"

    The two working-men went out and parted.


 
5.—A NIGHT ROBBERY.


"THE world calls that man a robber, who presumes to take another man's property, without, himself, possessing a thousand pounds a year."

    Some months after the above scene had occurred, on a cold November night, just as eleven o'clock had pealed from the tower of the Abbey, two men might be seen gliding along the wall that encompassed the premises of Barrowson.

    The night was dark and rainy, the wind whistled through the few leafless trees that dotted the muddy quays of the Thames, and the roll of the river came up at times, like the sad and solemn voice of some strange warning.

    "Wait here, John," said one of the men to his companion.  "The rest will soon be here."

    "You're sure you told them of the hour?"

    "Never fear!"

    "Are you sure he keeps the money in the counting-house?"

    "Yesterday evening, when I gave him the keys, they were busy counting the rouleaux."

    "Hush, here's some one!"

    In truth, two men were seen advancing through the gloom.  They soon made themselves known, and, after a short and whispered consultation, all four proceeded towards an angle of the wall.  One leant against its base, another climbed on his shoulders, and the third, with the assistance of the two first, reached the Summit.  Once there, he helped his three companions upthey glided down into the yard, and proceeded among piles of timber and building-materials toward the interior of the premises.  There the foremost halted.

    "Two of you here, plant the ladder; above all, be mum—the Governor sleeps in that room overhead."

    "But the dog?"

    "Never mind the dog—I'll manage him."

    Latchman, for it was he who had spoken, waited till his companions had secured the ladder, and then advanced at their head.

    At the corner of a shed he stopped.

    "Now silence!  Stop there, Castor's about to wake up."

    A low and angry growl was heard, such as precedes the open bark of a huge watch-dog.

    "Well, Castor!  Old boy, Castor, don't you know me?"

    These words were spoken in a subdued and cautious tone, which, probably, was the reason why the dog did not recognise the speaker, for he darted towards Latchman, but suddenly his head was bowed to the ground.

    "Here, Castor—here, my boy!"

    The noble animal raised its head without misgiving; the next moment it uttered a faint, broken cry, and rolled over dead.

    "On!" said the robber to those behind.  "Is it really dead?"

    "Look!" Latchman had cut its threat.  They were now under the window of the counting-house, which was on the first floor.

    "Plant the ladder," continued the same voice that had hitherto issued every order; "and you, Jack, mount first, because of the glass."

    One of the three men mounted forthwith.

    "You remain on watch, Peter.  Give the alarm at the least danger."

    "Never fear."

    "Lest you should be seen, hide yourself in that tool-house.  You can see all about you, from there.  You, Haspen, come with me."

    They mounted the ladder, Haspen first,

    Jack had in the meantime reached the window, and a pane of glass was taken out by him with marvellous dexterity.

    "None but a glazier could have done that!"

    "Silence, Haspen!"

    The glazier had entered the room through the window, the other two followed in their turn, and vanished in the interior.  The window was forthwith closed behind them.

    During several minutes the yard remained in complete silence, save the perpetual dropping of the rain from the roofs, and the whistling of the wind around the deserted sheds.

    The clock struck one.

    Suddenly the sound of hurried footsteps reverberated against the walls—a key grated in a lock, and a man entered the yard.

    A quick and slight whistling resounded from the shed where Peter watched, and straightway human shadows appeared against the casement of the first floor; a head even became visible, —leant, listened, and as swiftly disappeared.

    All sunk in the same silence as before.

    Meanwhile the man who had entered the yard passed across it, in the direction of the house.  The human shadows reappeared at the window, but another whistle as slight and wild, it might have been taken for the wintry wind, was heard from the shed, and the shadows vanished.

    The stranger had now arrived in a line with the tool-house where Peter was concealed.  It was Barrowson's partner, who lived on the premises, returning from a party.

    "The careless scoundrels!" he muttered, seeing the door of the tool-house open; "there are tools there that the rain would rust," and he locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.

    A few steps further on, he knocked against the ladder by which the robbers had mounted.

    "A ladder too!  Haven't I told them always to put them away?  Leant against the wall too, as though it was to show thieves the road!"

    With these words he took the ladder down laid it flat upon the ground, and entered his lodgings to retire for the night.

    More than ten minutes now elapsed without any signs of life, when a quick, short whistle again sounded from the tool-house.  Forthwith the window of the counting-house opened.

    "Curse it, the ladder is gone!" said Haspen, leaning over the wall.

    "And Peter is shut in—we can't get down."

    "Then we're taken!" exclaimed the glazier.

    "Twenty feet at least—we can't jump it."

    "We're lost!"

    "What shall we do?"

    The three men looked at each other in utter stupefaction.

    "It's you—you cursed glazier, who planned our coming here," cried Haspen, clenching his fist.  "If we're nabbed, you shall die by my hand."

    "Don't I risk as much as you?  Why did you come, if you're such a chicken-hearted rascal?"

    "Silence!" said Latchman, who was the first to regain his presence of mind.  "Is this a time to quarrel?  Let's sooner see if we can't save ourselves."

    "How? there's no chance!"

    "One—and one only.  This wall forms one side of the store-room, which runs up two storeys.  If we break through it, we can jump down on the heap of stores piled against the side, and we can let ourselves out that way—the outer door fastens on the inside."

    "But how shall we break through the wall?"

    "There are always tools kept in the little room there; give me the glim.  There—d'ye see—we can set to work now."

    "Shall we have time?"

    "Three hours before us, at least.  Quick—to work."

    "And Peter?"

    "We can open the door of the tool-house, when we're once below.  But quick—not a moment's to lose!"

    The three thieves set to work in good earnest.  The loosened stones began to give way, but, for fear of making a noise, they were obliged to progress but slowly.  An hour was spent thus, in nervous, anxious terror; at last, a huge stone, the removal of which seemed to ensure a passage, was pushed too heavily, and fell down into the store-room with an appalling noise.

    The three men stood panic-stricken.

    "It's nothing! everybody's sleeping," said Latchman.  "Let's see if we can pass."

    "I'll try," replied the glazier, and put his head through the opening.

    Without losing time in disputing precedence, his companions began to push him by the legs, but the narrow opening refused passage to the stout and thick-built robber, who struggled in vain to extricate himself.

    "He'll never get through," said Latchman.  "But he must," growled Haspen, pushing him with his colossal strength.

    "Help! help! you're crushing me!" exclaimed the unhappy man.

    "Through! through!" cried Haspen, jamming him with terrible force.

    The stones which held the glazier's body wedged, were loosened by so many efforts, and the wall front above suddenly giving way, half buried the wretched victim in the narrow opening.

    "Good G—! he's crushed!" the two men cried simultaneously.

    The glazier uttered no sound—his limbs became motionless.

    Latchman and his companion looked at each other in silence—a terrible silence, compassing all that man can feel of agony and terror.

    The legs of the body protruded into the counting-house, but the trunk and bust were hidden and wedged in the wall.  The two workmen tried to release it by removing some stones, but the vice-like grasp of the masonry remained, and they vainly sought to draw the body back towards them.

    More than an hour again passed, in a frenzy of despair and fear.

    And already the morning twilight began to whiten in the air, and the first soft effulgence streamed across the casement, while a delicate rose colour fell upon the distant spires.

    A blind fury seized Latchman and the bricklayer; the foam flaked from the mouth of the latter, the blood trickled from his hands, bruised with his long and useless efforts.

    "Latchman!" he cried, mad with rage and fear, "if I dash my brains to pieces against the stones, I'll get through."

    Latchman was silently busy in removing the loose masonry.  His efforts shewed the more plainly their position.  A large mass had formed a sort of keystone that supported the remainder.  To move it, would bring down the whole, and rouse the house.  Sufficient space remained for a man to pass, but that space was entirely occupied by the body of the glazier.

    The two workmen saw, at a glance, that they must either withdraw the body, or wait there to be taken.  But every effort to withdraw the body proved vain.

    The thieves drew back discouraged.

    "Impossible to get him out whole!" said Latchman, with a frenzied look.  "Haspen! our life's at stake ! that man is dead! we must get him out in pieces!"

    "What, do you mean?"

    "There's nothing else can save its.  Take your knife, and help me!"

    "I cannot—No!  Latchman."

    "Then I must alone."

    The knife flashed in the hand of the robber, and plunged into the body.

    But scarcely had the blade gashed the flesh, ere a smothered shriek burst from beneath the ruin,—the body writhed convulsively, and, at a bound, disappeared through the opening.

    Roused from his swoon by the sudden pain, the glazier had made one of those almost superhuman efforts, attempted only in the hour of agony, and had succeeded in forcing his way.

    Haspen and his companion uttered a cry of joy, and precipitating themselves through the aperture, were soon in the store-room below.  There a horrible sight awaited them.  The glazier was seated on the floor, half naked and bleeding, and trying to fold up the skin of his head, which had been entirely torn down over his face.  But no time was to be lost in idle pity, and the two workmen, assisting their comrade to walk, unloosened the door of the store, and were soon standing in the open yard.

    Already Haspen was advancing toward the tool-house where Peter was imprisoned, his repeated signals becoming dangerously loud, as his anxiety increased with the delay—when a cry burst from the street without--a rattle was sprung—a sudden commotion arose in the house.  The bricklayer paused in fear; he looked back—the counting-house was in flames—they had left the lantern behind them, and it had fired the wood-work.

    The tread of many feet was close at hand—the keys were turning in the great gates—Latchman, Haspen, and the glazier had barely time to glide behind a shed, and escape across the wall at one end of the yard, as the police and workmen entered at the other.

    But Peter remained a prisoner in the tool-house.


 
6.—THE ASSIZES.


IT was the middle of the assizes.  The court was re-opened after an adjournment of an hour—and a dense crowd was assembled to hear the trial of the burglars who bad broken into Barrowson's counting-house.  The jury were resuming their places, after having copiously replenished their inner man with the relics of a substantial meal—and a throng of workless workmen, of curious loungers, and of interested thieves, were congregated on all sides.

    The judge was a fat good-natured looking man, of about sixty, with a fresh colour, and a frolicsome eye; very fond of cracking a joke, and passing even sentence of death so pleasantly, as though the criminal ought to feel excessively obliged to him.  He was the perfect type of that fat, round, easy, middle-class justice, that most complacently sets about vindicating public morals, and avenging public order, with the most comfortable calm of conscience, on four thousand pounds per annum.

    Baron Snobtape was born of a legal family—his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been lawyers before him—and he was considered the cleverest man upon the bench.  No one, like him could disconcert hardihood, or throw artifice off its guard!  His great, jolly, good-natured face disarmed suspicion.  No one, like him, could feign an interest in a prisoner, or put a captious question with seemingly careless indifference.

    There was a great rivalry at this time between Snobtape and Baron Papergules—and, accordingly, the former had exerted all his ability on this occasion.  As he shone in proving guilt, not innocence, the fate of the prisoner was certain.

    In vain was the assumed stupidity of innocence—so difficult to convict of hypocrisy.  In vain Latchman, who defended himself with the most brilliant cunning, had upset one piece of evidence after another, and explained away the most damning circumstances.  Snobtape succeeded in making the witnesses contradict each other.  In vain Peter, with heroic constancy, refused to turn queen's evidence! (what heroism and self-sacrifice there is in the world, and wasted—wasted worthlessly!)—Snobtape disconcerted cunning and courage alike—link by link he soldered the manacles around the limbs of the prisoners, and in this race between the cunning of justice and the cunning of crime—the former was gaining rapidly the victory.  An intense interest was excited by the trial—but what was its effect upon the public?  That interest went with the accused, and not with the accuser!  The public came to hear this struggle of intellect against despair—for life on the one side, for gain upon the other—with feelings kindred to those that take it to the playhouse.  Justice was strong—and impulsive generosity took the weaker side.  The narration of that night of agony in the counting-house, the thrilling tremor of the hair-breadth escape—the subsequent capture—the refusal of Peter to implicate his comrades—all caused greater interest in the criminals than horror of the crime.  Did justice gain here?  No! public feeling, like a retributive conscience, avenged in its impulsive sympathy on the stern justice of the rich, the social injustice that had forced the poor to sin.  This feeling was heightened by the presence of Margaret with her two children—and grew more deep as one by one the folds were raised from that dread drama of domestic misery.  But the evidence of little Catherine sealed her father's fate.  The poor child was placed in the witness-box.  It was a terrible sight to mark the keen, cold, long-practised intellect of the hardened lawyer, wrestling with the fond innocence of the faithful child who strove to save her father.  It was hideous to hear the bland, singing tones of the old man, surprising her unguarded innocence, and breaking through her weak and fragile caution.  Every confession wrested from the young girl's ignorance tied the halter closer rounds her father's neck.

    That evidence decided the case.  It is true the judge and court listened to the defence with complacent kindness.  Indeed, a young barrister had received his maiden brief to defend Haspen.  He was a friend and protégé of Snobtape.  Descended of a rich family, with large expectations, he danced and sung with the Misses Snobtape—he was a good match—and Snobtape was pushing him.  Some ladies were accommodated with private seats to hear him—they were members of both families—Laura Snobtape was among them!  The young lawyer made a truly pretty speech—he spoke for the ladies—he awakened tender sympathies—he delivered himself of rhetorical passages, but as to anything that could save his client's neck, not one word of the kind did he utter—or ever think of uttering.  On concluding, his friends gathered round him—he was complimented on his excellent debut, and Laura Snobtape tapped him with her fan, while tine jury said, "guilty," and the strong heart-broken man was called up or judgment in the presence of his wife and children.

    The sentence of the court was transportation for life—and hard labour at the hulks for the first ten years.  The convicts heard the sentence in motionless silence, and the public—the play once over—went away in careless hurry to seek other pastime or more profitable employment.

    One woman, with two children, remained alone of all that crowd of strangers, besides the officers of the court, and one or two lawyers arranging for the next case.  The prisoners were to be removed at once to the hulks.  In an ante-room they were allowed to see their friends once more.

    Margaret advanced to Haspen with little Mary in her arms.

    "John," she said, kindly, "here are your children.  Kiss them."

    "Leave me alone, Margaret!" the bricklayer replied, hurriedly without raising his eyes.  "Get away!  Don't think about me!"

    "Haspen—for the love of heaven! kiss your children!" and she pushed Catherine and Mary into their father's arms.

    The latter raised his head—a savage glare shot from his eyes—the muscles of his face worked, and his large hand roughly repulsed his little children.

    "Get away, woman!  You have been my ruin!  Away with you, all!  It was to stop your cries for bread that I robbed.  You have been my black angel!  Get away—get away, I say!  Leave me!  Go—go!"

    And he staggered out with his goalers.

    The counsel who had defended Haspen, had entered during this scene, and beheld it with astonishment.  He thought it would make a capital article for the Legal Times, to show "the depravity and heartlessness of the poor" for he was a literary man as well as a lawyer.  Accordingly, to glean more, he approached Margaret, who had remained, erect and motionless, before the vacant space where Haspen had just stood.

    "Your husband seems to be rather rough my good woman," said the young lawyer, carelessly twirling his golden eye-glass.

    "That's true, sir," she replied, as one half-stunned, "Haspen has a rough tongue and a heavy hand."

    "Then you need regret it the less, the society takes him from you, and screens you from his brutal treatment."

    Margaret raised her dark eyes on the young lawyer.

    "Oh! then it's society that takes my husband from me, sir?"

    "Yes, my good woman—to punish and reform him."

    "Then society will take care of my children won't it?—as it takes away Haspen, who alone enabled us to live, it will replace him to us won't it!"

    The lawyer sailed

    "You don't understand, my good woman; society means all the world.  All mankind are united like one great family—this family is called society,—and punishes any one of its members who injures another, the same as you would punish your little girl if she hurt her sister.  Haspen has hurt a member of society, by robbing him of his rightful property, and to punish him he is sent to the hulks.  Do you understand it now?"

    "Oh, yes, sir.  But then why are my children and I punished, who never did any harm to anybody?  For now we're without bread.  Haspen will be in prison, and there he will get plenty of food; we shall be at liberty, and there we shall die of hunger.  D'ye see, we shall be worse punished than he!"

    The lawyer kept twirling his eye-glass—but rather at a loss for an answer.

    "At last" he said, "It's an unavoidable misfortune."

    "But, sir, if we're all one family, as you said just now, surely this shouldn't be.  If I punish my little girl because she's done wrong, I don't throw a part of the punishment on her sister.  For, d'ye see, sir, taking my husband away from me for life, is the same as if he died.  It would have been better had you killed him, for then I might, perhaps, have found another father for these children."

    "Your husband is civilly dead," rejoined the lawyer, delighted at having found a means of turning the question.  "You may look on yourself as a widow.  If you had children by him now, they would be bastards.  If he earn before he dies you wouldn't inherit it.  Henceforth, society looks on him as dead."

    "Oh, then I can marry again, sir, can't I, if I find anybody who'll work to give these children bread?"

    "No! not a bit—of course not," cried the lawyer, impatiently.  "How stupid these working-people are!" he added, in an under tone.  "They cant understand anything."

    And, in truth, Margaret was too simple to understand the justice of our laws.  Her learning was only COMMON SENSE!


 
7.—RESULTS.


THE trial of Latchman, Haspen, and their accomplices, had revealed the underhand dealings of Barrowson—had brought many things to light, of which nothing was publicly known—and had shown the various infamous means by which he robbed the earnings of his men.  He had received many public slights on this account, and altogether, a very disagreeable impression was made on the public mind.

    Barrowson saw the necessity of doing something to efface it.  He had not lived so long in the world without having learnt that it was necessary to sacrifice, at times, a little to appearances.  He well knew that public opinion looked on virtue as a very troublesome lady but one, nevertheless, with whom it would never do to break entirely—and with whom it was necessary to be at least on bowing terms.

    Accordingly he offered Margaret the placed of porteress on his premises—which favour conferred on the wife of the man who had robbed him, was looked on by all the world as an act of the most sublime generosity, and perfectly re-established him in the good graces of society.

    Margaret, pursuant to this arrangement took up her abode on Barrowson's premises.

    But the name of a convict's wife marked her like the brand of a red-hot iron.  She had to suffer every humiliation that could reach so humble and obscure a life.  The people have their nobility of honesty,—the noblest that can be !—but alas! just as haughty, as exclusive, and as unjust as all the others!

    Margaret was placed in a position superior to that she had hitherto known; but, obliged to renounce her old acquaintance, she found no countenance from the new; gone were her pleasant chats at the street corner—as attractive to her as the ball-room and converzatione to the child of fashion.  And the children!  No more sports and games—the very children, glad to have a triumph over a weaker sister, insulted the children of the convicted burglar.  All was lost for that unhappy family.  If Catherine or her little sister tried to mingle in the sports of their former playmates,—all hands closed before theirs outstretched to form the merry round—and they were forced to sit on a stone at the opposite side of the yard, seeing, with big tears on their cheeks, the others laughing in the sunlight, free, unstained, and frolicsome.  It was long before Margaret could accustom herself to her new fate, and accept her badge of misery.  As to Catherine, she fitted herself into her new position with greater courage.  The first tears once shed, she determined take life as she found it.  The child inherited much of the firm, haughty, nature of her father—much of that disposition to brave public opinion, which makes either a hero or a criminal, according to the force of circumstances.  Meanwhile, as she grew up, she became more and more careless of the scorn of others—more hardened against the censures of the world.  Her strong, bold spirit soon persuaded itself that, where honour was once gone, virtue was an unnecessary luxury.  Repulsed for a fault not her own, she made up her mind at once—and instead of useless fretting against the prejudices that destroyed her, she accepted here disgrace complacently, and placed herself at ease amidst her shame.

    This callous and depraved reasoning was but strengthened by the intercourse of dissolute young men and abandoned women, the only society the prejudice of the virtuous allowed her!  Her heart was prostituted by the impure contact—long before she had committed any actual sin; she needed now but an opportunity for the latter.  That opportunity soon offered.

    Catherine was beautiful—with that rich, full, solid beauty, so enticing to the sensualist.  Barrowson had not failed to notice her.  She was exactly to his taste.  He had little difficulty in succeeding with his victim.

    The situation of Catherine soon demanded secrecy—and Barrowson, who was a most punctilious observer of the decencies—sent her off privately to a village a short way out of town.

    Her mother heard of her dishonour and of her departure at the same time.

    She uttered no reproaches—she knew they would have been laughed at—but she determined on forthwith quitting the neighbourhood, and going somewhere where her misfortunes would not taunt her in the public street.

    A year, however, had elapsed, before she could realize her intention.

    During this time, Catherine had followed her course, and had arrived at the goal: she was on the streets!

    This was too much.  Margaret Haspen sold all the little she had gathered together since her husband's "death," and set off for the country, where Barrowson granted her a lease of a little public-house, halfway between town and his country seat.

    The worthy man placed the crown on all his kindness by giving her a letter of recommendation to his brewer and spirit dealer, and promised to bait his horse at her door whenever he passed that way.  This was, indeed, remarkably convenient to him, for he was in the habit of riding or driving down to this house of a Saturday evening—and frequently either alone, or in very questionable company—this half-way house being a place of rendezvous—not used for the most laudable purposes by our worthy merchant.  It happened just to be vacant, and he thought he could not place a more ready tool to keep it than Margaret, the convict's wife.

    After all, Barrowson was an excellent creature!


 
8.—THE HALF-WAY HOUSE.


IT was six o'clock in the evening; the weather was sultry; a grey mist covered the sky—and a hot wind lifted the sand fitfully along the broad and dusty road.  A little girl of eight stood at the door of a lonely public-house, some ten miles on the road from London, and about a mile distant front the nearest village.  She had been gathering some wild flowers in the fields, and they drooped withering in her hand, while, singing a monotonous song, but with a sweet and mournful voice, she stood intently gazing down the long and arid highway, and evidently expecting some one.  In the distance down the road, the granite spire of a market town just beckoned over the trees.  At last, with a cry of pleasure, she let her flowers drop, and bounded forward.

    "Good evening, mother—mother!" and Margaret Haspen was obliged to stop, as little Mary dashed against her in her exuberant joy.

    "Get out of the way, you plague! or I shall throw you down," said Margaret; but in a kindly tone, at variance with the words, and taking little Mary in her arms, pressed her fondly to her breast.

    "What news, Mary?  Has anybody been?"  Oh, yes; lot's of people!  Three men and a woman—all at once!"

    "Did you give them to drink ?"

    "Yes.  But they'd drank too much already—for they could scarcely walk."

    "Did they pay you?"

    "Oh, yes.  Then the woman asked my name; and when I said Mary Haspen, I don't know what was the matter with her—she grew quite white—and then began to cry."

    "What's that you say?"

    "And after having cried a good deal, she took me in her arms and kissed me.  Then she asked me if we were all well, and if we were poor."

    "And did she tell you who she was?"

    "Oh, no.  She would have said more, but the men came, and laughed at her because she cried.  Then she began to laugh and sing.  She drank a great deal of gin, and then they all left together.  Oh!  I'd nearly forgot—she said she would come back to-night to see you."

    Margaret grew thoughtful, and asked no more questions.  She had soon recognised, by a description which the child had given, her long-lost daughter Catherine.  The men were evidently strangers she had enticed away to the public house.  Bitter thoughts crowded on her brain, and she sighed heavily, and then mechanically set about setting the house in order.

___________________


    Margaret Haspen had put little Mary to bed—the sun had set—it was growing dark—she sat alone before the fire, listening to the hollow, melancholy wind that moaned sadly through the dry foliage of the sunburnt trees, when suddenly the sound of steps were heard before the door.

    Margaret Haspen turned round, and saw by the indistinct twilight, the figure of a labouring man pass the window, hesitatingly, and looking around him, as one who feared discovery.  Having assured himself that no one but the bricklayer's wife was in the bar-kitchen, he entered.

    "Good evening to ye!  Can you give us a light, missus?"—and he took an unkindled pipe out of his mouth.

    "There's the fire!"—said Margaret,

    The new comer walked to the fire-place, slowly twisted a piece of paper, lit it, and held it to his pipe still, after it had gone out, for his eyes were busy scanning the premises.  Feeling sure, at last, that Margaret was quite alone, he took off his waggoner's slouch-hat, and said—

    "Don't you know me again, Margaret Haspen?"

    The woman uttered a cry of surprise.

    "You!  Latchman!"

    "Hush! silence! —don't speak that name —are you alone in the house?"

    "Yes! quite alone!—But why?"

    Without giving an answer—Latchman gave a wild, peculiar whistle.

    Immediately heavy footsteps were heard, and another man, dressed like a labourer, entered.

    "There's no one here but Margaret,"—said Latchman, and the new visitor also uncovered his head—it was Haspen!

    Latchman stopped another exclamation of surprise on the part of Margaret—

    "Great ―― ! Is it you?"—said the poor woman trembling in every limb.

    "It's us, Margaret—shut the door—and now—quick! give us some grub—for we've had nothing for twelve hours!"

    The Woman never moved.  Her faded eyes could not stray from those two pale, hardened faces, gleaming through the fire-light of the room-like some threatening apparition from the past.

    "Well!Moggy! dye hear me?"—said Haspen, pushing her gently.

    The sound of that voice, whose harsh, metallic tones were but too well remembered, made her start, as though beneath the touch of a half-closed wound.  However, mechanically, and with a kind of fear, she proceeded to a cupboard, and placed some food and drink before her sullen guests.

    There was silence for several minutes—the two men eat with eager haste—Margaret had withdrawn to a remote dark corner, and sat watching them, as the red fire-light fell upon their Cain-like foreheads.

    At last Haspen turned, and said—"you don't seem overjoyed to see us, Margaret!—yet it's not so very short a time since we parted."

    "It's a pity, John, that we ever met!"sighed Margaret—but not reproachfully.

    "I know, Margaret!" and his tone was softened—"and yet, it might have been different—it's a pity, Margaret!—Where are the children?"

    The wretched woman was more startled at the tone, than she had been at the first appearance of that evening's visitors.  Her hand trembled much, and her cheek was very pale, as she took the candle and led the outcast to the bed-side of his child.

    Opening the slide of the recessed bed, she fainted.  The stalwart felon stepped to the bed, with the soft footfall of a slender girl.

    Little Mary lay lapped in careless sleep.  The roses sparkled on her dimpled cheeks—her long lashes drooped peacefully over her closed eyes—her bright, brown, curly hair wantoned around her little neck—and one pretty hand, hanging listlessly open, showed the innocence of her unconscious slumber.  Haspen looked at her some moments, in utter silence—then he slowly bent, and pressed one gentle kiss upon her pure, calm forehead.  Recording angels!—there was a tear left there!

    The felon turned round abruptly—and walked with long, quick strides, to the door; Margaret re-closed the slide.

    At last, he said, in a rough, hurried tone—"Where's Catherine?"

    The poor mother bowed her head.  "Catherine has left me."

    "Left you?  Why?"

    "She got into bad ways—and"—

    "And—what?—Well?"—

    "She was with child."

    "Ah!"—

    Haspen folded his arms across his breast, with a gloomy look—and remained silent a long time.

    "Who was she with child by?"—he said at length, as though struck by a sudden thought.

    "By Barrowson."

    The name had scarce escaped the lips of Margaret—before the felon had started up with clenched fists, and flashing eyes.

    "Barrowson and Barrowson—and always BARROWSON!"—he hissed through his closed teeth.  He always—and HE—and HE alone upon my path!—and I can't crush his head between these two hands"—and he made a terrible gesture.

    He sat down again, his whole body trembled with ungovernable rage.

    There was a long pause, which no one ventured to interrupt.  Latchman had the true tact of knowing when to speck and when to keep silent.  He had not uttered a word during the conversation between Haspen and his wife, and he, therefore, waited now, without showing either impatience or uneasiness.  At last, when he thought his companion sufficiently cool to listen to him, he reminded him of the dangers that surrounded them, and of the priceless value of the passing moments.

    Both the fugitives formed part of a widely spread metropolitan association of thieves, of whom strong numbers resided here and there about the country, affording asylum, assistance, and concealment to the imperilled brothers of the community.  This commonwealth of thieves has remained immutable, while kingdoms and republics, empires and constitutions have melted away from over and around it.

    The two fugitives had, accordingly, depended for concealment on the wide ramifications of their union, and relied for evading the police on the secret resting places they could meet in the crowded solitudes of London, and the denuded solitudes of the country.

    In the village near Margaret's abode, lived one of their accomplices.  Him they now sought to reach.  After a whimpering conversation with Haspen, Latchman turned to Margaret.

    "Do you know Plotchild?"

    "What—the beer-house keeper in the next village?"

    "Yes, I know him."

    "We must get to his house.  How shall we find it?"

    "If you go there, you'll be taken.  The police 'use' the house now."

    "The――!  What shall we do now, Latchman?"

    "We must send for him to come here."

    "Moggy, will you go for us?" said Haspen.

    "If it is necessary to save you."

    "Well, then, go—go quick!  Tell him 'his friends of the dark glib' want to see him."

    "And if he refuses to come?"

    "You tell him that, and he'll come."  Margaret went.

    The two felons were alone in the house—alone, save the sleeping Mary.  Latchman fastened the door behind her, and sat down at the table by the side of his companion.

    "If this cove will but shell out."

    Perhaps he'll put us in the way of cribbing something.  There are plenty of bens here to get into."

    "There are the traveller's [Ed.commercial travellers] too—their pockets are well lined."

    "We'll do what we can—but as for the stone-jug.  I'll have no more of it.  I'd sooner be scragged.  The first who tries to grab me I'll cook his goose for him with this," and the bricklayer drew a formidable knife, sharpened into a point by the patient laboriousness peculiar to a prisoner preparing for escape.

    "Mind you don't miss fire, then, and let out some tin with the claret."

    Haspen made no answer, but he clutched convulsively that arm of death, and his eyes glared savagely, as some fearful but enticing picture seemed to rise before his mental sight.  Latchman thought he was merely responding to his sanguinary jest.

    "We must have blunt, one way or another, that's clear," said the latter, "for without a tanner or two we should be nabbed in four-and-twenty hours."

    "I tell you, Latchman, I won't go back there, and stand so, any longer, with a chain on my leg, and be made a sight of to the stray visitors who pass a pleasant hour in looking at the wild beasts in their cage.  No, I'll hang—so, I'll make sure of that, before they catch me."

    Latchman nodded approval, and the two felons lit their pipes, and smoked in silence.

    Some little time had elapsed thus, when a horse's steps were heard in great distance along the road, coming in the direction from London.

    The two men raised their heads, and listened.

    "Who can that be?" whispered Haspen, with the confused suspiciousness of trembling guilt.

    "We can stag him thro' here," and Latchman climbed on the dresser, to look through a small hole at the top of the closed shutter.

    "It's a swell on horseback."

    "Hallo!  He stops."

    "What's he doing?"

    "He's fastened his horse—he's taking off a portmanteau—he's coming to the door."

    At the closed door, the traveller let his portmanteau drop on the ground, and a jingling, as of money, was distinctly audible.  The two thieves looked meaningly at each other.  Meanwhile the traveller had knocked at the door, and, receiving no answer, cried in an angry voice:

    "Well, Margaret, are you asleep or dead?  Why don't you let me in?"

    "By my soul, I know that voice," said Haspen.  "Listen, Latchman, haven't you heard it before?  Look, if you know him."

    "Its too dark.  Oliver's got his nightcap on. [Ed.'the Moon's behind a cloud.']  But, at any rate, there's no harm in opening, we're two, and he's alone."

    "But, if he knows us, Latchman, he'll tell."

    "One can easily prevent his doing that," said the convict, with a soft smile that had something horrible in it.

    "Margaret, you infernal ――― why don't you let me in?"

    "Who's there?" answered Latchman, mimicking Margaret's voice.

    "Who the deuce should it be?  I—BARROWSON."

    "BARROWSON!" cried the bricklayer, darting forward, and seizing the knife he had laid on the table.  "Let him in!  Quick!  Let him in!"

    The door opened—and Barrowson walked in.

    "The D――― seize you!  I thought you meant to let me shiver there all night.  There's a fog enough to soak you to the bone—Ha! where's Margaret?"—he added, on perceiving what he had neglected to notice at first, that it was not Margaret who had let him in.  He had proceeded right across the room to the fire-place.  In looking round for the absent hostess—his eyes encountered the face of Haspen—who stood erect, motionless, and terrible, before him.  Barrowson uttered a cry of half surprise, half fear,—and involuntarily made a stop towards the door.  Latchman had closed it, and stood with his back leaning against it.  Barrowson's ruddy face turned very pale—its expression became anxious.  However, he tried to resume his usual jovial manner, and exclaimed:

    "The deuce, friends! who would have thought of seeing you here."

    "Or you either," rejoined Latchman, taking off his hat, and bowing with deliberate irony "we are quite delighted to see you in good health, and especially with a well-filled portmanteau."

    The rich man looked at his treasure with trembling—he still held it in his hand.

    "What?—that?—oh nothing! that's nothing, only a few shirts,—that's all.—But where's Margaret?"

    "She's gone—Barrowson!—and—you are alone with us!"

    Haspen uttered these words in a tone so deep and dread—that the merchant started at every syllable. "Then,"—said the latter—stammering, and advancing to the door—"we'll――we'll ride on home good-night—friends?――"

    "Why do you want to go," interposed Latchman, "you'll sleep very comfortably here.  We'll make all right in Margaret's absence, depend upon it—you shan't want for anything we can do for you.  To begin—let me relieve you of this load"—and he laid his hand on the portmanteau.

    "No! No! Not a bit!  Don't trouble yourself, I'll let nobody have it."

    "Pooh! only some shirts! that's all," resumed Latchmanshaking it and making the money jingle.

    "What a deuced odd sound these shirts of yours have!  Come, my boy! sit down by the fire., and make yourself at home."

    The miserable merchant felt his heart fail him.  His eyes wandered from Latchman to the bricklayer—and found no encouragement from either.  The face of the latter, especially, literally flashed with hate.  Barrowson once more moved to the door with undisguised terror.

    "For the love of heaven, let me go!  Gentlemen!"

    "We are no gentlemen!"—interposed Haspen, in a hoarse, dry tone, in which the desire of prolonging the scene, struggled with the almost irresistible impulse of his fury"thanks to you—to you—who forced the fellons' chain upon our legs!"

    "My friends!—don't blame me—I was not the cause—rest assured—my good friends!  Let me go!—and I swear by all that's sacred, I'll never tell a soul that I have seen you!"

    "We're not afraid—for you won't go from here!" sneered Latchman.

    "What do you mean? my friends!" and the faltering merchant could scarcely articulate.  "Haspen!—my friend!"

    "I your friend!"—thundered the bricklayer, every muscle of his frame suddenly starting into convulsive action"—I?I?I, whom you ruined? I! who would tear you with my bare hands!"

    And he strode towards Barrowson,—his eyes on fire, his arms stretched forward, his fingers curved to seize their prey.  The unhappy merchant completely lost his presence of mind.

    "Where am I—Oh my God!――am I in a den of cut-throats!"

    "For you, at least! Barrowson!" cried Haspen, as he seized the portly merchant with his muscular arm, and threw him backwards over a bench before the hearth.  The victim raised himself upon his knees—a hideout and a pitiable sight.  His wild, unmeaning eyes were starting from their sockets, his hands were raised in supplication, his body bent in the attitude of the most humiliating abjectness—his whole appearance exhibited what villainy has most vile, and fear most cowardly.  He tried to speak, but his teeth chattered together, and he could scarcely make himself heard.

    "For the love of heaven!  Haspen!—let me go!—I always did good to your family it was I who placed your wife here.  Don't take advantage of this place.  Let, me go."

    "Ha! you did good to my family! did you?" hissed the bricklayer.  " Tell me, was it in lowering my wages, to drive me into want?  Was it in turning me out of work, forcing me to steal from sheer hunger?  Was it in sending me to the hulks?  Was it in ruining Catherine, whom you have turned upon the streets?  Oh! you have done my family much good, Barrowson!  And I!  I'll pay it you back now!  I won't be ungrateful, one good turn for another! one by one!  See, Barrowson!—there's for lowering my wage!" and the heavy shod foot of the bricklayer smote the merchant's head, that he flew back crashing against the fire-place wall.

     "That's for turning me adrift!  That's for sending me to the hulks!  That's for my-child, Catherine!  D'ye hear, Barrowson! for my child!Catherine!  Kate!  Pretty little Kate!—There!—There!—There――Ha! ha! ha!"

    At every word the foot of the convict came down with a terrible blow, and the bruised and bloody head of the merchant rolled round upon the hearth-stone.  He still uttered suppressed cries of agony, and once, he even succeeded in half raising himself, streaming with blood, and crying:

    "Mercy, Haspen, mercy! forgive me, oh my God! don't kill me, Haspen! mercy don't kill me!"

    He then fell forward on his face, grovelling, like a serpent, on his belly, before his former workman, and embracing his legs in abject supplication, tears and blood together fell from his face.

    But Haspen was frenzied.  "You never had pity on me!  I want your blood, Barrowson!"

    With one hand he held the merchant writhing at his feet; with the other he stretched towards the table, trying to reach the knife he had laid there.  He grasped it at length.

    But scarcely had Barrowson seen the glimmer of the blade by the fire-light, ere, with one of those sudden returns of strength that the last agony and the last despair confer, he tore himself away—dashed the bricklayer back, and darted to the darkest corner of the kitchen, where he remained, uttering piercing cries.

    "Cut his throat! silence him, Haspen, or we're lost!"

    But Haspen had already bounded after him, and seizing the merchant by the hair, had thrown him upon his knees—his head thrown backward, and the long blade of the knife disappeared to the very hilt down the throat and breast of the victim.

    Barrowson fell from him without a sigh.  Haspen placed a foot upon his forehead, and drew out the knife jammed firmly in the bones.

    Latchman drew near.  He looked on the body with perfect indifference, and turned the head round with his foot, as if to see whether life really were extinct.  The body never moved. "That's well done.  He'll tell no tales!"

    "Water!" cried the bricklayer, whose hands were dripping blood.

    "There!  But what shall we do with him now?"

    "Follow me, and you'll see."

    At this moment a key turned in the lock of the house door—it opened gently—and Margaret stood upon the threshold.


 
9.—CATHERINE.


ON the afternoon of the fatal night, the occurrence of which we have just recorded, Catherine, as the reader will recollect, had called at the half-way house, in company with two men, light companions of her fallen days, whom she had lured on an excursion in the country.  It will, moreover, be remembered, that she had promised little Mary to return in the evening.

    Separated from her mother during two years, she had lost sight of her early home, and wandered hither and thither, without knowing the dwelling-place of her deserted mother.  Chance had now thrown that knowledge in her way.  Although sank in the lowest stages of vice, this poor young girl had not lost all her better nature; in the midst of her degradation she cherished a remembrance of maternal love, and above the gangrene of foul lusts, some feelings of pure love still rose, like the sweet flowers that sometimes cluster over a corrupt and pestilent swamp.

    She had, therefore, resolved to return to the half-way house that very night, once more to see her mother, to obtain her forgiveness, and to embrace her once again.

    Unfortunately, her loose companions had detained her to a very late hour, and when she left them, she was so far gone under the influence of the drink they had forced her to partake of, that she had great difficulty in recognising and pursuing the road to her mother's house. She tried, nevertheless, to find her way, but felt herself so stupefied, that she entered a field and sat down to rest.  Scarcely had she done so, ere sleep overpowered her.

    Several hours must have passed before she awoke.  The darkness was very great; a mist lay seeking on the ground and tries, and a mournful wind crept meaning through the branches.  Catherine passed her hands across her eyes, stretched her cold, stiffened limbs, and began to look round for her onward path.  She was on the side of a large field of furze that ran on one side of a cross-road; the moon was behinds a great black cloud; but a gleam that fell through a break in the mass, disclosed a white strip in the distance (while all else was lost in gloom) ; it was the highway leading from the village past the, half-way house. Towards this she endeavoured to direct her steps. Rising with difficulty, she was skirting along the ditch, when she thought she heard, not far off, a confused whispering of voices.  Then she saw some indistinct shadows advancing through the mist.  She stood motionless and observant.  Soon, two men became distinctly visible, stealing along the hedger, and carrying an apparently very heavy burden.  At a some distance from the young girl they stopped, and let their load drop to the earth, which it did with a dull, cushion-like sound.

    "This is a good place," said the least of the two' men, who were dressed in the garb of labourers; "by throwing him here, they'll think it's some chap who's been 'spoken to' on the highway."

    Catherine trembled, as she heard these words, and conceived their meaning.

    "Besides which, nobody'll come here in a hurry," replied the other.  "This furze is only two years' old, and nobody'll touch it yet a-bit."

    "Have you the mattock?"

    "Yes; and the pick.  Stand out there it little more."

    The two men set to work, and Catherine heard their violent and hurried labour, as they were hewing out a trench.  Her eyes now wandered to the burden which the men had laid down at some little distance from her.  It was wrapped in a large piece of sacking, and as far as she could judge by the feeble light of a solitary star that stepped forth amid the darkness, two or three large black-looking streaks appeared to have sweated through the surface.  Who could the victim be?  Where could it have been stricken?  She determined to do her best towards discovering the murderers.

    Catherine's nature was not easily susceptible of fear—and, moreover, the remaining excitement of drink gave her that audacity which, at such times, takes the place of courage even with the most timid.  She therefore determined not to attempt flight, but to remain and watch; and accordingly crouched down behind a tuft of furze. 

    The two labourers had soon completed the trench, whereupon they each lifted one end of the sack.  "Take care!" said the taller; "mind that no spots get on your clothes."

    "That's not so easy," rejoined the other.  "His head is at my end, and the blood runs like beer when the spiggot's drawn."

    They dropped their load into the hole, threw the earth back over it, and Catherine heard them trampling on the heap, to flatten down the surface.  They then carefully replaced the sod and stuck some furze here and there into its old place.

    "It's all over now!" observed the lesser of the two men ; "he'll never complain of the face-ache again!"

    "Yes!—it is over!" rejoined the other, in a voice so slow and solemn, that his companion started. The last speaker then stood bareheaded and silent, for a moment, ere he added—"We are quits now.  Good-night, Barrowson!"

    A faint sound, like a half-stifled shriek, was heard from amid the furze.

    "Hush!  List!  Jack! did you hear that?"

    "What?"

    "I thought I heard a cry!"

    "Where?  Where?"

    "Here—close by—from the earth!"

    "Pooh! the wind in the furze.  You're funking!  Come on." The two men advanced straight towards Catherine.  "This time it's no funking.  Do you hear that?  Look to the road!"

    They stopped, and the measured pace of the rural police sounded from the lane.  "It's the peelers!  Down! quick and they both lay flat upon the grass.  They almost touched Catherine.  She hardly dared to breathe.  The police passed by—they were saved.

    "Now, Jack—run!  They made my heart go like a dog's tail."

    The two men rose, and rapidly hurrying across the field, soon disappeared behind the hedge.  Cautiously Catherine rose, too—crept, more than walked, to the ditch, and peered through the bushes.  The moon burst forth, and shone full upon the road,—and by its keen, cold, pursuing beam, the watcher distinctly saw two men emerge on the high road, and hurry on in a direction leading from the village already noticed as lying at some distance from the half-way house.  She, also, then crossed the hedge, and hurried towards the village on which the fugitives had turned their backs.

________________________


    Catherine had been at the police-station about half an hour.  The sleeping sergeant had been routed up—and a statement of all she had witnessed during the night had been taken down from the lips of the young girl.  The deposition was almost finished, when the gallop of a horseman was heard in the street, and a mounted policeman alighted at the door of the office.  He deposed as follows:—

    "This evening, late, Plotchild, who, as you know, sir, holds with the hare and runs with the hounds, told me that two runaway convicts were at a house in the neighbourhood.  I at once got some of my men, and then proceeded to the spot.  Though very late, there was light in the house—the house door was fastened, we knocked, but no one answered, so we forced the door, and what should we see, but this woman busy washing out the marks of blood from the floor and walls.  As soon as she saw us, she almost fainted, and cried: "I'm lost!"  I arrested her at once,—left the house in charge of one of my men, and here we are."

    Catherine had listened to the inspector's report with a strange and unaccountable anxiety; some vague foreboding shook her.  She leant forward to look at the face of the female prisoner, but the latter stooped, and a large bonnet, and drooping handkerchief laid over it, concealed her features.

    "This is important," said the sergeant.  Just as you came, this girl was deposing that she had seen two men bury a body in a field."  Scarcely had the sergeant spoken the words, ere the prisoner looked up, and fixed her eyes on Catherine: a piercing shriek announced the mutual recognition.

    "My mother!  Oh, my mother!  My God what have I done?" and Catherine sank senseless in the arms of Margaret Haspen!


 
10.—A CAPTURE.


A few days afterwards Haspen and Latchman were drinking in the ale-house of an obscure village, they had entered towards dusk.  A change had been coming over Haspen during the last few days—he had had his revenge on Barrowson—his one great thirst was slaked, and he kept growing more and more reckless of concealment —more and more unfriendly every day, to the great horror of Latchman.  While seated, exhausted, haggard, and broken down in mind and body, in the humble bar, a man entered, apparently a tramp like themselves.  He called for beer, and while drinking it, cast his sinister and prying eyes over the rim of the pot, furtively upon the way-worn fugitives.  After a sly and lengthened scrutiny, the stranger rose with an unconcerned air, whispered to the landlord, and went out.

    Latchman turned and said something to Haspen.  "I don't care—I'm tired of this at last—I'll die!" rejoined the latter, in a scarcely suppressed tone.

    "I'm not, then," whispered Latchman; come—look at that man! for God's sake— don't speak so loud!"

    "For God's sake!  What have you to do with God?" answered Haspen, with a cold, bitter, retributive irony, as conscience or common sense stirred in his stormy, rude brain.  He took no pains to subdue his voice.

    Latchman trembled in every limb.  "John! you're mad—don't be a fool! come, quick we shall be taken, I'm sure, if you don't!  Look at that man!  It's dark—there's time still, we can both take different sides, and meet again in—"

    "Hell!  We go together—we part company no more."

    "Haspen! you've the money—give it me."

    Haspen had kept the profit of the last plunder—a new thing for him to do, since he knew Latchman had always been the purse-bearer.  Was there a secret cunning in the act, by which he bound the seducer down to the standard of his own extremities.  Latchman lingered on the spot of danger for the money—he feared to fly without it, for the money afforded him his only chance of escape from the encircling and quick pursuit.  The path was still clear the one man could not venture to arrest them—it was dark—the country was wooded and thinly peopled—there was a certainty of escape, if attempted before the other stranger returned with the local police and assistance from the village.

    "Haspen—come—quick—the money!"  Haspen remained looking on his companion with a grim simile of delight, but answered nothing.  Hurried steps as of several men were heard coming in the direction of the street.  "Are you mad?  John.  Do you hear,—Well then! I'm off—go to the devil by yourself."—and he was about to dart through the open door—but before he could realise his intention, the strong hand of the bricklayer was fixed with a vice-like clutching upon his arm—but he uttered not a word!  "Are you mad? are you mad?  Haspen! Let me go"—and he writhed his thin form like a serpent in the grasp of a fallen Hercules!  The wretched felon shrieked, implored, threatened, fought—but the strong man stood impassable—it was fate, seizing its prey.  Suddenly the fugitives were surrounded by the police and a large crowd of people.  The time of flight was gone.  In that war of two against the world, the world had conquered.  Latchman ceased struggling, and cowered down like a re-captured hound before a cruel master.

    "There! take him!" roared Haspen, with a sound of triumphant joy in his voice; "there, take him;" he cried, as he lifted the wretch from the ground, and hurled him into the arms of the surrounding law; "that is Latchman, who taught me my first robbery—that is Latchman, the thief and murderer.  And I'm John Haspen, who killed Barrowson, the scoundrel—take him; and now take all you'll get of me."

    With the shriek of a fiend, the doomed Latchman flew into the arms of his recoiling captors, who then closed round to seize their remaining prey; but, with the rapidity of lightning, Haspen drew forth the knife that had slain Barrowson, and the first of his assailants fell dead at his feet.

    "Come on, come on!" he yelled; but the bravest shrunk back before his terrible despair.  At last, closing in on him from all sides, they beat him down with long staves and the forms that stood in the bar.  Half stunned, and brought to the ground, he struggled still, streaming with blood at every pore, with gnashing teeth and teaming mouth.  The man was turned into the wild beast, fighting not for life or for revenge, but in the fierce paroxysms of dying fury.  At last his assailants rushed close in upon him, prostrate as he lay, his broken arm had fallen by his side—his heaving heart panted with exhaustion—and the heavy truncheons of the police dealt the crashing blows with impunity upon his now unguarded head.  When silence was restored in the wrecked bar, shattered by the terrible conflict, the still form of the felon was borne out upon a shutter, one mass of wounds, bruises, and blood.  He still breathed a few times, but never recovered consciousness, and expired before he could be carried to the station.


 
11.—AN EXECUTION.


AN execution was to take place at Newgate.  It had been announced long beforehand, as an instructive and national solemnity.  The press had been pointing attention to it, day by day.  Before daybreak, the people began to assemble—the people, so anxious for anything that will tear them out of the dull monotony of their cheerless, routine life!  They came, as they would to the public-house, seeking something to drown thought for a few hours.  They came, as they had gone the previous evening to the playhouses, to get the amusement of one excitement more!

    The pomps of the olden days are gone, with their magic of song and scent, of velvet and gold, of plumes and steel, of minstrelsy and war.  The glorious pageants of popular freedom are not yet come—nothing is left in the meantime, but a Queen's visit and an execution.  And you should have seen how the people thronged!  Two necks to be dislocated for the sake of public morals!  What a delicious, interesting sight.  Women came with their children, as to a holiday spectacle.  A little girl cried at home.  "Will you be still?" said the mother, "or you shan't go and see the woman hung this morning!" and the little girl was still, and went.

    Meanwhile, busy, bustling conversation was going on among the crowd.  Thieves pursued their avocations, boys and girls were "larking," some were playing at marbles and chuck- farthing; practiced jokes were played in every direction; and the hoarse laugh and the delighted scream, testified of the general pleasure.  Here and there, knots were engaged in more earnest, interesting conversation.  This man had known the murderers, the other had lived in the next house, a third could tell all about their birth, parentage, and education; every one of these at once felt himself, and became in the eyes of the bystanders, a man of very considerable consequence.  There was a sort of rivalry between them: he who could boast the greatest intimacy with murderers, reached the highest dignity.  It seemed a great honour to have known them.  Strange that the great crime "honours," while the lesser one degrades.  They, who would not have associated with a convicted thief, were proud of having been intimate with convicted murderer.

    One man, only, among the mass, seemed to shrink with horror from the sight.  It was one of the jurymen who had passed the verdict! the penalty—DEATH.

    Whilst this was going on in the open air, the heavy tolling of the church bell, timing, it were, the pause of popular excitement with its electric throbs, a harrowing scene was enacting in the prison—in a dull, dead, cell, lay Margaret.  The door opened, and a young woman entered, bearing a child in her arms.

    "Mother! Mother!" cried an agonising voice!  "my poor mother!"

    Margaret trembled—and opened her arms—it was Catherine and little Mary!

    Oh! it was pitiful to see the latter clinging around the neck of the doomed woman.  She grasped in her trembling, tiny hands, the gaunt, pale, form of Margaret, she twined her little legs and arms around her—she glued herself to her mother's breast till she could scarcely breathe—and, amid the inarticulate words and cries, and convulsive sobs, the gaoler came and parted them—for life and death!

    Meanwhile, the crowd without became impatient for the sight—some wanted their break- fast—some had to go to work—some felt cold and tired—and the show delayed.  At last, Latchman appeared.  Hopelessness and certain death had given courage to his craven heart.  He advanced with a firm step, bowed gracefully around; talked unconcernedly to the hangman; and, with a theatrical pronunciation, turning to the multitude, said—"Ladies and gentlemen!  I trust I have made my peace with earth and heaven!  I forgive all my enemies! and I die full of hope!"  Whereupon something like an approving murmur ran along the crowd; isolated cries were raised of, "Well done, old boy!" "Spoken like a trump!" and then his neck was broken—the people being edified by his behaviour, and leaning to believe that after all murder could not rest very heavily upon the conscience—that hanging was not so very bad, and that a murderer could die in a very comfortable manner.

    But the next act of this dread drama was approaching.  Intense, breathless attention riveted the crowd, when Margaret appeared!  Suffering and agony had ennobled her otherwise common face—death clothed it with interest— sorrow touched it with beauty!  She spoke no word!  Innocent of murder, innocent of any crime, except the more than questionable one of not denouncing her own husband—she merely rested her eyes for a few moments reproachfully on the multitude below, and then raised them mournfully to heaven.  At this moment a piercing shriek rang over the crowd, and below, close in front of the drop, stood Catherine and Mary.  The latter was raised high in her sister's arms, and stretched her little hands upwards to her mother.

    "Mother!" cried the child, "you must not die!  Stay with me, mother, mother!  What will become of me?  What shall I do withont you?"

    "God pity you!" cried Margaret, and writhed her pinioned arms in vain; but she leant forward—all the mother came rushing to her face—an involuntary blessing hovered on her lips—Oh! despite years of hardship and hunger—despite grief and age—she looked beautiful—very beautiful—that moment!  "God bless you!  He knows I don't deserve to die.  Hush!—Mary!—Don't cry so, Mary!" and the soft cajoling tenderness of the mother turned her choking tones into angelic music.

    Another moment, and her lifeless corpse was dangling in the air before that careless myriad of spectators.


*                *                *                *                *


A thick soft rain was now failing—the crowd dispersed rapidly in all directions.  The busy monotony of life began to ring on every side: every one went his own way on his own business, few caring for God, and still fewer for their neighbour.

 
*                *                *                *                *


    Half an hour afterwards, a group of girls of the town were seen passing up Smithfield, supporting one of their companions.  One walked behind, carrying a little girl, whose eyes were swollen, whose cheeks were wet, with tears.

    Two young shopmen passed by.  "Is that the child of the woman that has just been hung?"—one of them asked the girl who carried Mary.

    "Yes, sir!"

    "Poor thing!  What will become of it?"—said the other.

    "Luckily for her, she's pretty !"—rejoined the first.

    Both smiled knowingly, twirled their clouded canes—and entered a shop.



END OF BOOK I.



[Next Page]

 



[Home] [Up] [Biographical] [Poetry] [The Battle-Day] [Poetry Reviews] [The Cabinet] [Letters, &c.] [Marx on Chartism] [On Democracy] [Democracy Vindicated] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk