Page images
PDF
EPUB

RECOLLECTIONS OF A MURDERER.

Our counsel was taken together, the plan was at my instigation—the measures for accomplishing it were chiefly directed by me. But on the horrible night, when my fellow-ruffian accomplished our joint purpose, I stood aloof through cowardice or caution; and when subsequently he was arrested for the murder which he had committed, avarice absorbed all other feelings, and my evidence in a court of justice doomed him to death.

We had been schoolfellows, and he once had traits of character which rendered him a choice companion and gentle friend : even in his debasement, a vein of that original purity remained; and as I went down from the witness-box, his eye

fell upon me, and I read on his suffering countenance, a tale of other days. There was no vindictive passion towards his betrayer; he was sorrowful, but calm; and in silence he gave me a token that he had pardoned his treacherous comrade.

I sculked about the city, scarce knowing whether I should be applauded or hated for my conduct. There was a hope that men's curiosity would soon turn into admiration, and I calculated on a golden harvest for my pains. I had a mother too, who had not seen me for many weeks—I dared not seek her, yet I could not bear to depart without one word of love and benediction from her aged lips. So, when the morning came that my associate perished for our common crime, my restlessness carried me near to the throng that looked breathlessly on his execution; and I heard the air rent with shouts of indignant appeal for another victim, and my name was clamoured for. Some one on the outskirts of the mob looked as though he recognised me, and I fled without food, though I had worldly riches enough to purchase it, in the relics of our plunder from the old woman, which we had not yet squandered, as had been our wont, in riot and in revelry!

The day was in midsummer. — How long, how parching hot it seemed! My feet dragged heavily along the dust of the bye-road, but my heart was still heavier. Some, whom I met, saluted me with a kind of welcome — they were strangers, or they would not have done so. Did it not seem strange that the field labourers should pursue with so little

weariness their harassing duties, singing merry songs all the while, and laughing with one another, while the sun stood just over them in heaven, so pitilessly bright and hot? Shall I take shelter, I thought, in this rude tavern, and forget myself in the hospitable garrulity of its master? Stop! I see the figures of other men within the doorway, and how can I stand amongst them?

On, on, on!—The sun surely will not stand still on this day only of the latter ages; kind twilight, and the happy shades of night, must befriend me soon. On! far from my home—my hopes—my remembrances ! A desert cannot so imprison me, as that home. Despair itself is more cheerful than my present hope, -oblivion, vacancy, madness, would be dearer to me than my recollections ! · Far enough from the scene of my disgrace, I might now, it seemed, betake myself to a restingplace for the night. I looked timidly at the people, but they returned my look without suspicion, and I sate down in the midst of them.-I ate food for the first time since day-break. I listened to their discourse, and tried to join in it, but my heart sickened, for they began to prate about the late murder and its expiation. They gave me a newspaper, and bade me read for their entertainment the full story of that

features grew

morning's horrible scene; and the crowds collected, and by their expressions evinced at once their interest in the tale, and their hatred of the unpunished criminal. They thought, perhaps, I might share in these emotions!

And thus, for days I wandered, without one tranquil hour of thought or slumber; sometimes known by my chance companions, and hooted down, and taunted as a double malefactor, whose penalty could only be inflicted by themselves. Sometimes, selfdiscovered by excess of fear or excitement; but never free from the spectre of self-accusation, whose

nore and more tangible; whose airy dress had almost loss its transparency, to be replaced by stronger, and grosser, and more definite attributes. What refuge was there for a heart so houseless ? Mankind pronounced themselves leagued to render it an eternal outcast.

One event, that even now would curdle up the blood in a thousand veins, if for a moment thought upon, was, as it were, the seal set upon my misery. I entered into a vulgar alehouse, and seated myself in a side parlour, to be away whilst it was possible, from the ordinary haunt of village tipplers. The furniture or arrangement of the room did not provoke my observation. The boy brought me what I ordered, and as he left the room, loitered in the doorway to examine my appearance, as I afterwards discovered, though I was then unconscious of his motive. When I looked up, he retreated; but his stupid eye was glistening with unwonted significance. Presently, another came into the apartment, for some foolish pretence; sauntered here and there, and went away in much the same manner. Lastly, the master of the house himself advanced, and stood full fronting me for a minute or two, with his eyes raised above my head, and uttering a few words to me about ordinary matters, as if to allay my suspicions, and concluding with some such sentence as this, with which he broke forth, abruptly and incoherently—“Nonsense!- It cannot be! I said so before; it cannot be the same!”—he left me to myself, and I rose, to ascertain if possible the meaning of this mystery. It was soon apparent. Suspended against the wall, immediately above my head, was a rude, harsh print, freshly fitted to an old frame, and my own name was under it in huge letters, with sentence lower down, in smaller characters, announcing the particulars of my recent life. The lineaments were coarse and ill-favoured, as the artist would naturally ascribe to such a character; but the resemblance might be confidently

« EelmineJätka »