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"I fear you are not so well to-night, my dear Mary," said the old man, in his kindest tone.
"I am always well with you, my dear sir (she replied), but I never listen to the book of truth without thinking of the infinite goodness of that great Being, before whose dread presence I must soon appear, without feeling bowed down by a sense of my own guilt."
"My poor child, you have ever been an object of pity rather than condemnation in my eyes. You have been the victim—the dupe—rather than the votary of guilt. A villain"
"Oh, spare him! spare him! (exclaimed the dying girl, in accents of entreaty). Base as he is, I cannot yet divest my sinful heart of the love it still feels for him. He will surely repent."
"Mary, he is unworthy of a thought," said the old man.
"Oh, how I could have cherished his image as his wife, witness me heaven. In poverty and distress I could have toiled for him, and have comforted him, amid the desolation of the world ; but now, I can only weep at my own nnworthiness, while I pray God to forgive him."
"Talk not of forgiveness, my poor misguided child, for, io my feelings, such you are; but endeavour to dispel for ever from your mind the recollection of a monster, who seems to have been destitute of human feelings."
"Still the merciful and mysterious working of God's holy spirit (said Mary, solemnly), may bring him to your bosom a miserable and broken-hearted penitent."
"No, no, Mary; it is all passed. I have long since ceased to hope (said the old man, bitterly). Bad and vitiated educational habits have been engrafted on a heart of stone. He is lost, lost for ever."
"Oh, even at the eleventh hour, how many have been saved, dear sir. Think of that. Even now, overtaken by poverty and repentance, that wretched man may be exposed to the pitiless pelting of this night, without a place to lay his weary head."
"And who's to blame, Mary J Have I not acted as a parent," said the old man, overcome by a tumult of feeling.
"You have been but too kind; but we will yet pray that the united horrors of hopeless anguish and despair may be spared on his death-bed, and that some passing ray of remorse may, through goodness of the Omnipotent, kindle a repentance in his bosom, deep and sincere as his deeds have been heavy. Let us pray for him even now, before that Almighty, whose ears are ever opened to the supplications of the lowly in heart."
Acting under the impulse of a deep religious enthusiasm, poor Mary rose from her seat, took the old man by the hand, and, as if controlling him by her own spiritual power, she placed a cushion for him on the floor, when he sunk on his knees beside her, and their voices were soon engaged in praying with a fervency touching to behold.
To describe my emotions during this scene were a difficult task. The remaining spark of remorse for my past evil life was kindled into a flame at the wreck and the wretchedness I had caused. Seared in wickedness as I was, I wept in the deep contrition of my heart. Once or twice I felt as if irresistibly impelled to quit my hiding place, confess my latest act of diabolical infamy, and pray for pardon, but that the fear of the alarm which my presence would occasion prevented me. As it was it became a difficult task to prevent my emotions making my presence known. It was, therefore, relief to me when Mary Clifton, after she had regained her seat, complained of feeling weaker than usual, and rang the bell for her maid.
"God bless you, my dear child," said my uncle, as he impressed a kiss upon her pale forehead. "Do not forget your medicine, that you may have a good night's sleep."
"I shall soon sleep sound enough," said Mary—a spiritual look of gladness and hope irradiating her countenance as she spoke.
Affectionately bidding my uncle good night, she passed from the room leaning upon the arm of her maid.
No sooner had she left the chamber than I beheld the old man bury his face in his hands as if in long and deep contemplation, from which he was only aroused by the appearance of a small supper tray, which, after taking a single glass of wine, he left untouched.
For some few minutes the old gentleman walked up and down the room, a heavy sigh every now and then bursting from his surcharged bosom, while something like a single tear glistened in the corner of his pale grey eye. Again a powerful impulse urged me to quit the closet, and bare the remorse and anguish that agitated my mind before him, but my evil genius seemed to keep me back, while the agitation of conflicting passions, notwithstanding my drenched clothes, induced the perspiration to trickle down my face. After a mortal struggle of fierce intensity, I had resolved upon making my guilty purpose known, and entreating forgiveness, when I beheld the old man suddenly ring the bell, while he lit his chamber taper, with which he left the room. His slow and feeble steps, as he ascended to his chamber, smote upon my heart, as if my only remaining hope in life had departed with his presence.
Sick at heart, I had risen from my recumbent posture in the closet, when the
sound of a footstep at the door made me shrink within its recess again. It was
an old grayheaded domestic, upon whom I had often played many a boyish
prank. After putting the fire and lights out, he left the room in darkness, to
December, 1847. c c solitude and myself. In the anguish of my mind I attempted, for the first time in my life, to pray! Bitter mockery! My parched tongue clave to the roof of my mouth, while my agitated mind sent forth thoughts wild and confused. Throwing my exhausted frame into a chair, I attempted to review the flood of crime through which I had already waded, until I became immersed in despair. The hour, the place, the scene I had just witnessed—all went to my heart, and in the blessed moment of sorrow and repentance I swore to give up my abandoned associates, and study, by B new life, even at the eleventh hour, if possible, as Mary had said, to seek and obtain forgiveness at the throne of grace.
"Yes (I exclaimed to myself), I will fly from the house, write a confession of guilt to my uncle, and endeavour, by the practice of virtue in some remote corner of the world, to acquire the esteem of the good."
One by one I heard the servants retire to rest, and, knowing that there were some hours to elapse before the time at which I was to meet my guilty associates, I almost insensibly yielded to the heaviness that oppressed my eyelids, Throwing myself back in the arm chair, I was soon in a restless slumber, disturbed by images painful as my late thoughts, from which I was only awoke by the distant chime of the village clock sounding midnight. Cold and wretched, I arose from my comfortless sleep, a feeling of infinite evil, notwithstanding my good resolves, preying upon my mind. With a noiseless step I descended the staircase, having first obtained a light from the materials with which I was furnished, when I gently unbarred the back door, where, like bloodhounds, true to their scent, I found my two associates anxiously expecting me.
"Well, is it all right in the crib (inquired Smith Jemmy)? Damme, you look as if you'd seen a ghost."
"Follow me (I exclaimed), and you shall hear all."
Closing the door to with a peremptory action, I moved from the house with swift steps to a clump of trees that stood some five hundred yards off.
"What the devil's the meaning of all this (exclaimed Clifford) 2 Everything was silent as death in the crib."
"Aye, there was not a glim but our own to be seen (said his companion); but perhaps you want to put us up to a move, though you needn't have taken us so far."
"My meaning is this—to abandon all thoughts of robbing that house."
"Abandon—what! Do I hear right (exclaimed Clifford)? After all our time—difficulty in getting the dibs—and the doors, too, now open for us to
"You're joking!" exclaimed Smith Jemmy, with a blasphemous oath. "Hear me (I exclaimed, feeling myself contemptible and pusillanimous in the eyes of my confederates as I spoke). That house holds all that is—that should be—dear to me. You both once may have had relatives who were kind, and from whose affection you have become]for a time estranged—to have them again awakened into life at some time, even amid thoughts of villainy and fraud. So it has been with me to-night. For worlds I would not follow up this robbery that has been planned."
"D n! (exclaimed Smith Jemmy, as he gnashed his teeth, in a violent
rage)—here's a pretty spooney! What d'ye thing of this for a cooler, Cliffy t"
His more subtle companion, however, concealing his feelings, and thinking that my remorse would be but of short duration, immediately proceeded to use the arts^ie was so well master of to overrule my determination, by describing the miseries of my penniless state, and the prospect of a rich booty—which, after all, was, as he proceeded to argue, a part only of what I was entitled to.
I heard him in silence. "Come what may, my resolution is determined (I exclaimed, sternly). I shall now proceed to town as I can; and if I but hear of an attempt at putting your scheme into execution, I swear that I will become an informer myself."
Saying these words, I immediately walked off, amid the murmur of their oaths of disappointment and vengeance.
I had already, indeed, got two miles on my road, and was pleasing myself with the thought that I had, at least, done something worthy of reforming my life, when the idea of my late associates executing the robbery during my absence, and in spite of my threats, suggested itself suddenly to my mind. I knew them both to be desperate men, and with their feelings wound up on the present occasion to the thoughts of successful booty. Besides this, I had completely identified myself with them, and had even been the first to enter the house myself, and leave the door unfastened. They would, therefore, be but slightly influenced by my threat, which would only be imputed to the weakness of the moment. As these new thoughts came into my head, I felt a pang of disappointment at the weakness of my measures, and instantly commenced retracing my steps,'deeming there was yet time to frighten my associates by absolute defiance, in case they persisted, or else, as a last resort, give the alarm.
While making all the haste I could, I deeply lamented not having emerged from my concealment while in the [house. That feverish thought seemed to haunt me with one absorbing regret. Was it an emanation from my guardian and better angel, or the mere momentary feelings of acute repentance? Alas! my regret for that one momentary indecision is doomed to be the closing feeling of my wretched existence. But let me unfold the remainder of my narrative of woe.
I had proceeded; back some two miles on my way, when the sound of an ap. proaching cart broke upon my ear. The moon had partially appeared from behind a bank of deep clouds, and by her light I was enabled to recognise the vehicle of the two robbers when the few yards off. Calling out a pass-word which had been agreed upon, the cart, though against the expressed inclination of the elder robber, was stopped.
"You've been late," I remarked.
"Late! Jump in; there's no time to ask or answer questions," exclaimed Clifford, in a hurried manner.
"Tell me o demanded), have you dared to proceed in this without me?"
"We have," replied Smith Jemmy, surlily.
"Villain! you shall answer this—both of you," I exclaimed.
"Take care of yourself before you think of others," exclaimed Smith Jemmt, in a threatening voice.
"Good God! (I exclaimed, as a ray of moonlight at that moment showed me Clifford's countenance, which was pale as death,) there's streaks of blood upon your face."
"Blood I-- I didn't spill it, then (said Clifford, faintly); but get up, and you will hear all. I wish to God we had been guided by you."
"Mary Clifton—my uncle (I murmured, leaning against the wheel for support during the sickening sensation that crept over me). Have you dared"
"Dared 1 I always said I never would be taken by a single man (muttered Smith Jemmy)—besides, he woke up and grappled me by the arm; he would have given the alarm."
I heard no more; the intensity of my emotions received a happy relief iu insensibility. My perceptions are confused of having been carried to town in the cart by the side of my uncle's murderer. I was seized, indeed, with a raging fever, produced by cold caught from my wet clothes, and exasperated by mental solicitude. It was owing, indeed, entirely to Clifford that I had not been abandoned on the road. Bad as he had become during s long course of profligacy I found he had still some humanity left, and besides taking me to town, had placed me in a lodging with some acquaintance, where he left me on going orer to Holland to avoid the hot search that was made for the murderers of mf uncle.
The secrecy of my abode, together with my illness, which had reduced me to death's door, had alone perhaps tended to preserve me from being apprehended upon suspicion of that crime of horror, the particulars of which I only gleaned after months of illness from the newspapers. My ill-fated uncle had been awoke on the night of the robbery, by hearing some one in his room, and had jumped out of bed and seized Smith Jemmy in the act of breaking open ajefff box that stood on the toilet table. Calling upon him to surrender, the robber struck him a blow on the head with a small crow-bar, that knocked the old man senseless on the floor.