Imágenes de página

ing joy and consolation to the old habit, all Gerard's apprehensions reman's heart.

turned with redoubled violence, and "I am weary, my son," he said, he longed to throw himself on his " yet will I give thee brief word of knees before his father, to declare his advice, the fruit of long experience. inability to carry out his instructions, To-morrow, when you mount the and to recall his promise of supscaffold, look not at the mob; the porting the burthen of existence. ocean ofeyes will confuse you, and make But affection for his sole surviving you falter. Fancy you are alone with parent, and fear of accelerating the the condemned man, and deal your fatal termination of his malady, stimublow steadily and carefully. If the lated him to self-restraint; and, after head falls not at the first stroke, a last embrace, and a murmured "gooda thousand voices will cry haro on the night,” he retired to his chamber. bungling headsman: a thousand arms There, however, he neither sought his will be uplifted against him, and I shall bed nor found repose. The rays of never again behold thee alive. I will the morning sun shone upon the unpray to God that He mercifully streng- happy youth sitting in the same place, then thee for the terrible task. Go, my almost in the very same posture, he son, and His blessing be upon thee." had taken on entering his room-as

Whilst the old man thus spoke, mute, as motionless, and nearly as with a coolness resulting from long pale, as statue of whitest marble.


The execution of Hendrik the Ma- suit, his broad-leafed Spanish hat upon riner was fixed for six in the evening. his head, and his brown cloak over Long before the appointed hour, his shoulder, according to the fashion crowds of people, eager to see the of the time. Lina had represented horrible spectacle, thronged through to him, in lively colours, the frightful the St George's Gate, in the direction danger incurred by Gerard ; and he, of the place of punishment. Nothing with his usual rough good-heartedness, was more seductive to the populace swore to break the neck of the first of that day than the sight of a grisly man who threw a stone at the new head rolling upon the scaffold, and headsman. reddening the boards with its blood. It was late, and the shades of evenThe Antwerp burghers were not ex- ing fell upon the earth, before the exeempt from this horrible curiosity; and cutioner's varlets completed the neHeadsman's Acre, as the field was cessary arrangements on the scaffold. called in which capital punishments At the moment these terminated, a then took place, was crowded with cart pierced the throng amidst general spectators of all ages and classes, in- stir and hum of curiosity. The crimicluding women, many of them with their nal, attired in a black linen gown, sat children in their arms, urchins of ten- with a priest in the hinder part of the der age, and old men who, already on vehicle. Gerard was on the foremost the brink of the grave, tottered from bench, his broad bright sword in his their easy chair and chimney corner to hand, and one of his assistants beside behold a fellow-creature expiate, by a him. None could divine, from his premature death, his sin against countenance, what passed in his mind; society. Noisy and merry was the his features were fixed and rigid ; his mob. collected round the tall black eyes, bent upon the ground, avoided gallows and the grim rusty wheel. the people's gaze; and but for the

In the crowd, close to the scaffold, weapon he bore, none could have told stood Lina, her heart beating quickly which of the two, he or Hendrik, and anxiously, her tears restrained was the condemned man. Unconfrom flowing only by the reflection scious of his own movements, he that she was there to give Gerard ascended the scaffold, so confused in courage, and that weeping was the spirit that he saw nothing, not even worst way to do it. Her brother Lina, although Franz several times Franz stood beside her, in holiday made signs to catch his attention.

And now the varlets would have cutioner's irresolution, he sprang to removed the prisoner from the cart his feet, and stretching out his fettered to the scaffold; but he pretended he arms to the people, implored help had not finished his confession, which and pity, for that he was wilfully he wished now, for the first time, to tortured. make full and complete, seeing all At this appeal the fury of the mob chance of pardon gone. Perhaps he burst forth with uncontrollable vehenourished a vague hope of escape in mence. the darkness; for heavy clouds drifted “Strike him dead !" was the uniacross the sky, and night approached versal cry; " strike the torturer so rapidly that already those upon the dead !" outskirts of the crowd could scarcely And stones flew about Gerard's distinguish what passed upon the head, but in no great number, since, scaffold. So that the people, fearing fortunately for him, they were not the increasing darkness would deprive plentiful on the field. The unhappy them altogether of the show they youth stood for a moment stunned by coveted, began to clamour loudly for the uproar; then, folding his arms, he the execution of the sentence. The stepped forward to the edge of the culprit, still resisting, and claiming de- scaffold with the air of one for whom lay, was brought upon the scaffold by death has no terrors. force, and made to kneel down. The Wolves !” he exclaimed ; headsman's assistant bared the con- " wolves in the garb of men ! ye demned wretch's neck, and pointed to came for blood-take mine, and slake it with a significant look, as if to say, your fiendish thirst !" “Master, strike."

This rash defiance excited to madAt sight of the naked flesh into ness the fury of the rabble. Women, which he was to cut, Gerard started children, and men of the better classes, as from a heavy sleep, and his limbs fled in all haste from the field, leaving trembled till the scaffold shook under it occupied by the very dregs and him, and the broad-bladed sword fell refuse of Antwerp, who pressed fiercefrom his hand. The varlet picked up ly forward to the scaffold, making the weapon and gave it back to his violent efforts to seize the headsman, master, who clutched it convulsively, in spite of the resistance of the police whilst the red rod of the superintend- and officials. The uproar and confuing official gave the signal to strike. But sion were tremendous. Around Gerard Gerard neither saw the rod nor heard a number of officers of justice assemthe voice of its bearer. Already a bled-less, however, for his protection, murmur arose amongst the crowd. than to prevent the escape of the " Quick, master! quick!” said the culprit, who made furious efforts to varlet, whose ear caught the ill-omen- get rid of his manacles, and continued ed sound.

to appeal to the people and shout for Summoning all the strength and assistance. At this moment of confucourage his recent sufferings had left sion, when scarcely any one knew what him, Gerard raised the sword, with his neighbour did, a man ascended the the fixed determination to strike a bold scaffold, and approached the execuand steady blow, when at that mo- tioner. It was Franz. ment the victim turned his head, and " Gerard," he said, “ Lina conat sight of the impending steel, uttered jures you, in God's name, and by your a lamentable yell. No more was love for her, to speak to her for one wanting to upset Gerard's resolution moment. She is below; follow me!" and presence of mind. They left him And he leaped from the scaffold, on on the instant: his arms lost their the side where the mob was thinnest. strength, and he let the sword fall on Gerard obeyed the charm of Lina's Hendrik's shoulder, but so feebly that name. How gladly, he thought, it did not even wound him.

would he bid his beloved one more At the chill touch of the blade, the farewell before encountering the death criminal's whole frame quivered with he deemed inevitable. In another agony ; but the next instant, feeling second he stood by her side. At the himself unhurt, and perceiving the same instant Franz, stripping off his advantage to be derived from his exe- cloak, muflled Gerard in its folds,

pressed his broad hat over his eyes, ground. The murderer would have and placing Lina's arm in that of the repeated his blow, but Lina, with the bewildered headsman, drew them courage of a lioness defending her gently from the spot.

young, grappled him vigorously, and " Go quietly and fearlessly through clasping her arms around his, impeded the crowd,” he said, “and wait for me his further movements. The sight of in the copse beyond the farthest her lover, stunned and bleeding at her gibbet."

feet, seemed to give her superhuman And seeing that Lina obeyed his strength; and bethinking her that it directions and led away Gerard, who was better to have one enemy to confollowed passively as a child, Franz tend with than a hundred, she abstainran round to the other side of the ed from calling out, lest her cries scaffold, and set up such a shouting, should bring foes instead of friends. that the mob, thinking he had seized Fortunately the uproar of the mob the delinquent headsman, rushed drowned the imprecations of Gerard's furiously in that direction, leaving a assailant, who vociferated horrible free passage to the lovers. Franz curses as hestrove, with brutal violence, continued to shout with all his might, to shake off the heroic girl. At the and to affect the most violent indig very moment when, her last strength nation.

exhausted, she was about to succumb, 46 Strike him dead!” he cried; Franz entered the copse, and, seeing * strike him dead! Down with the Gerard motionless on the ground and base torturer! Throw his carcass to his sister struggling with a stranger, the ravens !"

immediately guessed what had occurAnd he hurled stones at the scaffold, red. A cry of rage burst from his headed a charge on the police, and be- lips, and before Lina remarked his haved altogether like a madman let presence, his powerful hands were upon loose. Favoured by this attracting of the shoulders of her antagonist, who the attention from them, and under lay, the next instant, upon the grass cover of the darkness, Lina succeeded at his feet. in getting her lover away unrecognised, " Lina !" cried Franz, seizing the for Franz's cloak and hat completely fallen man and dragging him in the concealed the headsman's well-known direction of the scaffold, - hide Gerard costume. But before they reached the in the bushes; if he still lives, he is thicket, the mob got possession of the rescued from all he most dreads. scaffold, released the prisoner, and be- Quick! I will return." gan ill-treating the officials, to compel With these words he hurried from them to confess what had become of the copse, dragging his prisoner after the executioner. On finding that this him so rapidly, that the prostrate latter personage, the cause of the man, his legs in Franz's iron grasp, whole tumult, had disappeared, a man, his head trailing in the dust, and one of the lowest of the people, who striking violently against each stock had seen Franz throw his cloak over and stone, could make no effectual Gerard's shoulders, and who had resistance. As soon as Franz was watched the direction taken by Lina within earshot of the mob, he shouted, and her disguised companion, guessed more loudly than everthat the fugitive was no other than The headsman! here I have him the headsman himself, and imme- —the headsman !" diately started in pursuit. Before he “Death to the villain !" was recould overtake them, Lina and Gerard echoed on all sides, and from all four disappeared amongst the trees. His corners of the field the mob, who had suspicions confirmed by this myste- dispersed to seek the object of their rious conduct, the ruffian, blaspheming hate, rushed towards Franz. When with exultation and fury, rushed upon Lina's brother saw himself the centre the lovers; and, tearing off Gerard's of a dense crowd, howling and frantic cloak, beheld the headsman's livery for blood, he hurled amongst them the Thereupon, without word or question, man whom he dragged by the feet, he lifted a heavy cudgel, and struck with the wordsthe poor fellow violently upon the " There is the headsman !" head. Gerard fell senseless to the "Death to him !" hoarsely repeated a hundred voices, and as many blows and bone, his joy knew no bounds, descended upon the shrieking wretch, and for a moment inspired the young whose expostulations and prayers for man with fears of his immediate dismercy were unheard in the mighty solution. tumult, and whom the mob, blinded “My son, my son !” he cried, "you by fury, easily mistook in the dark- know not half your good fortune. Not ness for the delinquent executioner. only have you miraculously escaped His cries were soon silenced by the a cruel death, but you are also decruel treatment he received ; in a few livered from the horrible employment minutes he was dead, his clothes were which has been mine, and was to be torn from his body, and his face was yours. The accursed obligation that disfigured and mutilated so as to be weighed upon our race ceases with wholly unrecognisable.

life, and you, my son, are dead!" Leaving the mob to their bloody " And pure from the stain of blood!" work, Franz returned to his sister, joyfully exclaimed Gerard. and found her weeping and praying “Begone," continued the old man, beside the body of her lover, whom " and dwell far from thine unjust she believed dead. On examination, brethren. Quit Antwerp, marry thy however, he found Gerard's pulse still good Lina, be faithful and kind to beating. The violent blow he had re- her, and heaven bless thee in thy ceived had stunned but not slain him. posterity! Thy sons will not be born Fresh water thrown upon his face to wield the axe, nor wilt thou weep and chest restored him to conscious- over them, as I have wept over thee. ness, and to the caresses of his dear The savings of thine ancestors and Lina, speechless and almost beside mine insure thee for ever from poverty; herself with joy at his recovery. make good use of them and be happy !" When his strength returned, the trio His voice grew weak with emotion, crept stealthily from the copse, and and died away in inarticulate benedicsafely reached the town, where Gerard tions. Gerard hung upon his father's concealed himself during the evening neck, and stammered forth his thanks. in the house of his mistress. When The events of the day appeared to him midnight came, and the streets of like a dream. He could not realise Antwerp were deserted, he betook the sudden transition from the depths himself, accompanied by Franz, to his of despair to the utmost height of own dwelling, and made his unex- happiness. pected appearance in his father's chamber.

For many years after these incidents The old headsman, who lay broad . there lived at Brussels, under an asawake upon his bed of sickness, weep- sumed name, the son of the Antwerp ing bitterly, and deploring the death headsman, and his beautiful wife Lina. of his unhappy son, deemed himself The old man's blessing was heard, and the sport of a deceitful vision when he when Gerard's turn came to quit a saw the dead man approach his couch. world of cares for a brighter and better But when convinced, by Gerard's abode, brave sons and fair daughters voice and affectionate embrace, that wept around the dying bed of the he indeed beheld his child in solid flesh DOOMSTER'S FIRSTBORN.


DEAR EUSEBIUS,- Whether it be laughed at me, as all do, and said, a fable or not that the Lydians "No wonder-you are like the man invented chess, to relieve themselves who complained of inveterate deaffrom pain and trouble, and were con- ness, had applied every recipe, and tent to eat one day and play an- was cured by the most simple one-a other, unquestionably amusement is cork-screw. Do set aside all your a most salutary medicine to heal the nostrums, and spend a week or two "mind diseased," and even to mitigate at the curacy, and I'll take care to hunger itself.

pack in half-a-dozen novels, and you The utilitarian ant would not have will soon forget your own in other had the best of the argument with the folks' woes." grasshopper, -" dance now,"-if the “I will go," I replied; “ but I protest latter had not insisted on dancing too against any woes whatsoever. When long—a whole summer. Even hunger young as you, Mr Curate, I could bear would do its dire work in double them, and sit out a tragedy stoically ; quick time, if left to fret incessantly but shaken nerves and increasing on the mind as well as the fast failing years won't bear the tragic phantassubstance. Avert the thought of it, magoria now. Sentimental comedy and half a loaf will keep alive longer is too much, and I positively, with than a whole one, eaten together with shame, cry over a child's book." cankering care.“ Post equitem sedet “ I fear," quoth the Curate, “ it is atra Cura," said the most amiable of a sure sign your heart is hardening. satirists; but Care, the real “ gentle. The sympathy that should soften it man in black," won't always be con- is too easily and too quickly drawn off tented to sit behind, but is apt to as by the fancy to waste, and leaves the sume an opposite seat at the table, and, interior dry. Come to us, and altergrinning horribly, to take away your nate your feelings between fancy and appetite “ quite and entirely." You active realities; between reading imamay try, Eusebius, to run away from ginary histories and entering practihim, and bribe the stoker to seventy cally and interestingly into the true or eighty miles an hour, but Care will histories of the many homes I must telegraph you, and thus electrify you visit, and you will soon be fresh in on your arrival, when you thought him spirit and sound again." a hundred miles or so off. I have as. "Let me, Eusebius, use the dialogue certained a fact, Eusebius, that Care form, as in some former letters : sufis not out of one, but in one, and has a fice it only to tell you previously, that lodging somewhere in the stomach, I took the Curate's advice and inviwhere he sets up a diabolical labora- tation, and for a time did my best to tory, and sends his vile fumes up, up- throw off every ailment, and refresh and so all over the brain; and from that myself by country-air exercise, in the conjuration what blue devils do not society of the happy Curate and his arise, as he smokes at leisure his infer- wife, at the vicarage of which nal cigar below! Charge me not, you know well by description. And Eusebius, with being poetical—this is here we read novels. Even at the sober prose to the indescribable reality. Curate's house did we read novels, Your friend has been hypochondriacal. those“ Satan's books," as a large It is a shameful truth; but confession body of Puritans call them, whilst is the demon's triumph, and so the they read them privately; or, if seen, sufferer is punished-mocked, scoffed ostensibly that they may point out the at, unpitied, and uncured. The Lady wickedness in them, and thus forbid Dorothea Dosewell had proposed a the use of them; as an elder of the seventy-fifth remedy. My lady, I am demure sect excused himself when in despair: I have not as yet com- detected at a theatre, that he “ came pleted the fifty-sixth prescription; to see if any of their young folk were the fifty-fifth has left me worse. The there." How often people do what is Curate, who happened to be present, right, and defend it as if it was a

« AnteriorContinuar »