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one to another as they glide stealthily along, or crouch into passages or courtways from the policeman, or the firm on-coming step of woman-innocent; not in pleasant homes, by burgher jurymen who, leaving doctrine to take care of itself, crack a joke extraordinary, call for supper, kiss their children or their pretty wives, for the very reason that their hearts are light; still on, with all, “ The Cup,” what can it be?
At last, on the outskirts of the town, a glimpse of misery and endurance, stays the hangman's weary footsteps. There in a room at the rear of a little mean baker's shop, the open
window so lightly curtained (for it is a sultry August night) that the twilight shadows are visible, sits, head bending downwards beneath the hard tongue-rod of the veritable baker, a little fragile creature of a woman, a mother too, though almost a child herself, for a baby of some months old is asleep upon her lap, with little outstretched naked fect, so waxen, so fair eren in the sinking light, as to be worthy to learn their little tremulous first footsteps upon the purest flowers that earth's field or garden yields. And on these little feet the hangman's eye rests, though his ear listens to what is said.
No, mum ; no more credits,-fourteen weeks' rent and fifteen weeks' bread; no mum, must shut up shop if that 's the case. But if *
This coarse hard-featured red-fisted man draws a little nearer, and tries to take the young mother's hand; but in an instant, no longer drooping but standing face to face with him, and those little outstretched feet, like a flower before Thugg's sight, she says no word of scorn, but repels the insult by a woman's look of purity. So come coarser threats. “ All I ask is a loaf, that Shaftesman may
have his supper
before he. goes into the town,” she says ; we've neither of us tasted bread this day, and
“ And whose fault 's that, I should like to know? Your husband can earn money enough, and is clever enough ; but on course if he loses his time a running on other people's bis'nes, landlords nor bakers can be paid. What right has he to be a chasing a cup; a mighty fine thing on course for Windsor Castle, and if bought with princes' money, but when bought by struggling people's pennies, and for that Marshall, that has ’nt got a coat so good even as my second-best, nor has had a new hat these two years, and all because he's written verses on this gibbet things-why, the pot can 't keep a-biling, And as for writing agin' the hangman, the
best thing 'ed be to furnish him with a little new tattle ; for as that dear preacher of ours says at the Only-Pure-Nazareth, where 's I’se a-sitting, that the world 's a-coming to its end, for God's declared to him in a vision he can no longer bear its wickedness,
“ Hush, hush!” says the young wife, pressing her baby to her lips, “it is ’nt for me to hear his duty scorned.” As for your money it is safe; only, as you know, his earnings are a little forestalled at Crutch and Falters, the silversmiths, by the necessities of his long illness ; indeed, such necessities that, but for Marshall's help, we must have perished. But he shall try ; he shall ask Mr. Crutch, hard-hearted as he is, for a pound, if
Meg's further words are stayed, for a little inner door opens, a worn pale-featured man, almost like a father beside the little drooping creature, comes in with quick step and flushed face, to confront the bully, who shrinks back, pace by pace, from the Pembroke-table, by which the little wife stands. Then in a moment come fierce threats on the one side, bitter scorn on the other, till motioning the bully to the door, Shaftesman says he 'll starve, and Meg shall starve, and the baby starve, before he 'll ask him for a crust, and that this night he'll crave, beg, crawl to Crutch, the miser, for even his pinched starveling heart may, latent in it, have some touch of mercy. And what is worse than scorn, what is pleasure, to the good in the hangman's heart, is, that the bully, as he looks back at the doorway with threatening scowl, sees a broad arm clasp the little drooping head, warm kisses dry the tears that now fall down upon the baby's face, and the whole man declare, in every feature, that poverty is not a curse, with such a flower of God's own bountcous giving !
Still the baby sleeps, and it is evident that in the brave man's heart some higher feeling is in an instant paramount above mere anger ; for when Meg's tears are wholly dry, he steps into the inner room again, to come quickly back with a candle, which he sets down on the table, and then holds up in its light, for Meg to view, The Cup-Mercy's Cup, the Poet's Cup, the People's Cup, the Fruit of Principle, paid for not with check from banker's book, or tenth of harvest corn, or wealth of sinecure with green acres, but with infinitesimal drops from the mighty ocean of Common Human Labour ; and so it is a glorious thing, fit for Progression's angel-lip to touch!
And withal it is a high work of art and genius, as glorious in
its way as Flaxman's Shield of Achilles ; only patient genuine principle can have fashioned it under such self-denying poverty as Shaftesman's. Ilis is the labour made rich by the poet's glory!
Ile has placed the ('up on the table, taken up the candle with his left hand, and with a small engraver's chisel is pointing out to Vey some difficulty accomplished in the position of a figure in relief, when the baby, suddenly awakened by the glare of the candle or the scintillating brilliancy of the silver, moves in Veg's arms, and striking out its little hand towards that of Shaftesman's, forces the keen edged chisel against his left wrist. It is a mere graze, yet being on a vein, the blood trickles on his wristband and trowsers freely. In an instant Mey is up, and coming in trepidation to the window-sill to fetch some plaster from a little work-box ; she catches a sight of the hangman's eager features, and so drawing a thicker curtain, the scene of love and endurance is closed upon his gaze; yet not before forth from it has been preached Truth's sermon, to touch the latent principle of good within his heart !
As he wearily moves away, Thugg sees the baker sitting behind his counter, amidst a mighty pile of loaves on either side, and, with cars intent upon catching up any little stray word that may, sprite. like, come through the key-hole of the neighbouring room, is further employed in fiercely copying out a tremendous bill from a little scrawled book before him. Yes, Meg! all because thy little white hand won't pay the price. Now hunger is that sort of thing that, however abstract the proposition mayappear—and these little metaphysical points tickle one's ingenuity sometimes—it has drawn forth mercy from a stone ; but the one operated upon is a coarse hard flint, from which even Aaron's rod would bring no welling spring So when Thugg enters and asks for a morsel of bread, the mouldiest crust, the driest thing, the flint is hard as brass ! He might snatch and run ; but then, of all men on the earth a hangman has a horror of a jail! Just as with famished stricken face Thugg turns away, to curse in bitterness the good that has just touched his soul, Shaftesman comes forth from the parlour in a better coat, poor threadbare thing as it is, his hat on, and what is evidently the Cup, enveloped in the baize cloth of the Pembroke table. IIe sees the wretch's look, his pallid face, his shrunken chest; and it takes but little to teach such signs unto the merciful in heart--in a moment his hand is on a loaf.
"I can borrow ; I have friends, though poor ; but he is one, God help him, that has asked, I know, in vain. I wouldn't ask you for myself, but take this ;” and as he speaks he draws from his rusty handkerchief a little golden pin, Meg's love token, and lays it down as a pledge for the loaf, which in an instant is safe in Thugg's grasp; and the baker, gloating over his prize—for he has long coveted it to stick in his Sunday ruffled shirt-sees not that the two men have left the shop.
“ What 's your trade, friend? asked Shaftesman, as with pleasure ho sees the hangman's greedy haste to break and cat the bread.
“Why why — why,” hesitates Thugg ; - well! a-going down ’un, sir, and must take on another, sir. But God bless you, sir-I feel I'se a better man this night, by this very bread. God bless and thank ye, sir.”
To escape further interrogation he hurries away, and as the night air now blows refreshingly from the open country, he leaves the dirty outskirts of the town, and gains the quiet fields and shadowing hedge-rows; and there, unconscious of the passing timethere, in the primal stillness of life's sleep, that coarse, hard, untaught outcast, whom society's crimes had learnt to eat the bread of blood, and relish it as the good man his honest crust, thinks over the existence gone and of the time to come; believes at last that Good has an angel's nature; garners up in his solitary heart that man's endurance, woman's gentleness and purity unto him, are not mere things for tap-room jest or felon's sncer ; and so resolves, that as evil has renounced him and left him brcailless, he 'll seek the light of Good—these thoughts of course in his own rough fashion, though offspring of the same eternal truth that connates the soul of all men into one!
He is roused from this sort of dream at last by an advancing footstep. Coming from the town at a rapid pace, made slow, however, by constantly looking rearward, is a man, a well-dressed, middle-aged man ; and, as he nears him, the hangman rises and asks for charity. Charity! it might be that the hangman asks for life and limb ; so abject, so stricken, ghastly does the man stand or rather crouch before him. Never in his whole vocation of blood has Thugg seen such a human countenance ! He falters, hesitates, is speechless, tries to pass and yet seems rooted to the spot, till Thugg reiterates his question, and then he drags--not unbuttons—his coat asunder with the hand of a palsied man, and
diving it into his pocket, brings forth a handful of coin, which, without looking at, he thrusts into Thugg's hand and then hurries on, still turning round at every step, till the bending pathway hides him from the hangman's sight.
Odd and strange! There are two sovereigns, some silver and halfpence, and his first act, as his first impulse, is to hurry back to the town and seek for that poor home. True it is late ; but Shaftesman has told Meg it will be so before he returns. As he passes over a bridge, Thugg sees the artisan before him in conversation with another man. Ile loiters till they part; then hastily wrapping a sovereign and some silver in a piece of rag he tears off the bosom of his rayged shirt, he overtakes Shaftesman and thrusts the money into his hand, without more words than some about honesty, and with a “God bless you, sir," that shows the newborn heart. IIe's gone and out of sight, before Shaftesman can look upon
the gift. Bread in that home this night! Topeful words of the glory of the C'up of Mercy.
But on the morning air one cry is heard from street to street. “Murder ! foul murder !-Crutch the silversmith found weltering in his blood !
Suspicion pointed in one direction to Falter, Crutch's partner ; circumstantial evidence of the minutest kind criminates Shaftesman. IIe, the struggling man of genius : he, whose labours pirating brain-lackers watch with greedy curiosity ; he, who through poverty and want has been the people's friend, and the watching spirit of their rights. They will not believe ; they will not harken ; each man doubting innocence in Shaftesman doubts it in himself; and yet there are damning proofs that some believe: -the marked money, the improbable tale of its gift by an outcast vagabond, the blood upon the wristband and trowsers, the child sleeping as verified by the landlord, the visit to Crutch's house that night for money—all condemn him to the few Pharisees, though not to the Samaritans in the market-place; and the little, drooping, stricken wife stands before God, as woman's mission is, as woman's angel-nature should do, to be witness for the truthay, martyr, if need be, for man.
In prison all the winter, till this spring. Now the trial, now the eager evidence of Falter and the landlord. Grand jurymen and magistrates say the crime is dreadful, and that there must be one last and terrible example: so the “putters down ” of crushed