« AnteriorContinuar »
A BEAUTEous Queen most desolate,
The music of light reeds that grows
A golden crowned king,
The shadows of those old oak trees
Looks half reality,
Anon a louder, wilder shout
In vain they strike her fallen lute,
In vain the odorous breath of flowers
THE GIBBET-ITS DEATH AND BURIAL.
My Lord Judge has just gone out of town with the black cap so smooth and unruffled in his wig-box, that it might be a seraph's wing for the mercy and gentleness that lies upon it. Yes! snug in the veritable wig-box has it lain the whole circuit through, in all probability astonished at its quiescent innocence; for it is a tough, hard, iron-souled old cap, that in its day has sat mighty and flaunting on the gorgon head of Statute Law, and crowned its judgments of blood | But now Christ's mercy hides and blots out for ever the shadows of the pale anguished features that have gazed upon it, and left graven pictures of unutterable human woes
Not that it hasn't on this day been near its work A schoolman's atom would have weighed the balance and brought it forth. But jurymen on this day have belied their consciences and tricked the law, and said “Not guilty” when guilt has been as evident as the blood that has been spilt. Yet, no! Better let us cry senility of Statute Law ; better let us knowingly for once leave the unscotched slimy serpent Evil crawl forth to prey upon society again; better leave the Law of Conscience to fashion its own unerring Law of Justice, than for us to give another text for another sermon of blood, and for another canonization of another saint, who in a week shall reach such an irrefragable, perfect, white-souled state of innocence, that not the equable justice of a good man's life might compare with it in glory. O hangman : 0 halter | 0 gibbets you have crowned more saints on earth than ethical foresight and political justice have had men courageous enough to shout into the disregarding ear of convention the eternity and progressiveness of their TRUTHs.
And yet, because of this unruffled and seraphic thing, one man must starvel Yes! Thugg, the hangman, who the summer circuit through has slunk upon the heels of criminal law and cried “Give, give!” with the vociferating and endless croak of the carrion vulture! Yet not one knot, not one noose; no, the very rope frayed and limp in his pocket, and he starving : for isnt’t his gaudy bandana, his flash ring, his knife, his waistcoat (that has once closed in a gasping, fluttering, ebbing human heart), all pawned ? and this for mere bread, till shall come a week's satiety and debauch after the jolly Farce of Saintship won by Slaughters Yes, but judge and jurymen have plainly said injustice rather than blood: the crowd outside the court door re-echoes the verdict, till it reaches the hangman's ear, and “Not guilty” creates anew his ravening hunger; till the already printed dying speeches are a unit without per-centage or use, unless to boil the provincial Catnach-pot; and not one nature, save it be the few debased who scout upon the hangman's heels, crave the law's senile prerogatives He slinks to the jail to borrow a few pence of the outer turnkey; but the good man, well fed and safe in office, hasn't any to spare for a vagabond so cleanly grown out of fashion as a hangman; and with a gruff “Be off!” he turns calmly to his pipe, leaving the other famished and drooping to creep away into the meanest streets of the populous town. Ha! hal Vice may soothe him, may give him bread; he curses Good ; it is a demon pursuing his starving footsteps He searches with greedy eyes for Sin; but no through humble windows the peacefulness of the virtues smiles, and words from the social heart make the wretch's desolation more pitiful! One word with these many social ones. “The Cup, the Cup,” never omitted in parentheses or otherwise, not by artisans, at their meagre suppers, who give savour to the hardearned bread by words of the triumph of principle ; not by old grey-haired schoolmasters, who rejoice to see at last the coming harvest from the seed long sown ; rarely by mothers, who whisper to their little tiptoed listening bedward children “that the wicked man is not to die;” not by men in the public houses, who crumple up beside them the newspaper, to call cheerfully for pipes and a fresh pint, and begin discussion of “Death by the Law" now and then, just as a little honey-drop to dryness by old cobblers and old tailors who must, for the flourishing of curtain lectures at night, lose a thousand stitches over windy arguments regarding predestination and moral necessity; not by namelessfrailwomen, whispering 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 2 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 feet, so waxen, so fair even 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 eup; 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 seeond-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 bounteous 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 immer 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