Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

her, before she ventured to lift her eyes up to her awful judge; she then gave one fearful glance, and discovered William, unpitying but beloved William, in every feature ! It was a face she had been used to look on with delight, and a kind of absent smile of gladness now beamed on her poor wan visage.

When every witness on the part of the prosecutor had been examined, the judge addressed himself to her

“ What defence have you to make ?"

It was William spoke to Agnes! The sound was sweet; the voice was mild, was soft, compassionate, encouraging. It almost charmed her to a love of life ! Not such a voice as when William last addressed her; when he left her undone and pregnant, vowing never to see or speak to her

more.

She would have hung upon the present word for ever. She did not call to mind that this gentleness was the effect of practice, the art of his occupation; which, at times, is but a copy, by the unfeeling, of the benevolent brethren of the bench. In the present judge, tenderness was not designed for consolation of the culprit, but for the approbation of the auditors.

There were no spectators, Agnes, by your side when last he parted from you ;-if there had, the awful William would have been awed to marks of pity.

Stunned with the enchantment of that well-known tongue directed to her, she stood like one just petrified-all vital power seemed suspended.

Again he put the question, and with these additional sentences, tenderly and emphatically delivered :-" Recollect yourself; have you no witnesses? no proof on your behalf ?"

A dead silence followed these questions.

He then mildly but forcibly added—“ What have you to say ?"

Here a flood of tears burst from her eyes, which she fixed earnestly upon him, as if pleading for mercy, while she faintly articulated

"Nothing, my lord." After a short

pause,

he asked her in the same forcible, but benevolent tone

“ Have you no one to speak to your character ?"
The prisoner answered
66 No."

A second gush of tears followed this reply, for she called to mind by whom her character had first been blasted.

He summed up the evidence, and every time he was obliged to press hard upon the proofs against her, she shrunk, and seemed to stagger with the deadly blowwrithed under the weight of his minute justice, more than from the prospect of a shameful death.

The jury consulted but a few minutes, the verdict was“Guilty."

Sher heard it with composure.

But when William placed the fatal velvet on his head, and rose to pronounce the fåtal sentence, she started with a kind of convulsive motion, retreated a step or two back, and lifting up her hands, with a scream exclaimed

“Oh, not from you!

The piercing shriek which accompanied these words, prevented their being heard by part of the audience; and those who heard them thought little of their meaning, more than that they expressed her fear of dying.

Serene and dignified, as if no such exclamation had been uttered, William delivered the final speech ending with "Dead, dead, dead."

She fainted as he closed the period, and was carried back to prison in a swoon ; while he adjourned the court to go to dinner.

If, unaffected by the scene he had witnessed, William sat down to dinner with an appetite, let not the reader conceive that the most distant suspicion had struck his mind of his ever having seen, much less familiarly known, the poor offender whom he had just condemned. Still this forgetfulness did not proceed from the want of memory for Agnes. In every peevish or heavy hour passed with his wife, he was sure to think of her; yet it was self-love, rather than love of her, that gave rise to these thoughts. He felt the lack of female sympathy and tenderness to soften the fatigue of studious labour, to soothe a sullen, a morose disposition-he felt he wanted comfort for himself, but never once considered what were the wants of Agnes.

In the chagrin of a barren bed he sometimes thought, too, even on the child that Agnes bore him ; but whether it were male or female, whether a beggar in the streets or dead, various and important public occupation forbade him to inquire. Yet the poor, the widow, and the orphan frequently shared William's ostentatious bounty. He was the president of many excellent charities, gave largely, and sometimes instituted benevolent societies for the unhappy ; for he delighted to load the poor with obligation, and the rich with praise. There are persons like him who love to do

every thing good but that which their immediate duty requires. There are servants that will serve every one more cheerfully than their masters; there are men who will distribute money liberally to all except their creditors; and there are wives who will love all mankind better than their own husbands. Duty is a familiar word which has little effect upon an ordi

nary mind; and as ordinary minds make a vast majority, we have acts of generosity, self-denial, and honesty, where smaller pains would constitute greater virtues. Had William followed the common dictates of charity, had he adopted private pity instead of public munificence, had he cast an eye at home before he sought abroad for objects of compassion, Agnes had been preserved from an ignominious death, and he had been preserved from-remorse, the tortures of which he for the first time proved on reading a printed sheet of paper, accidentally thrown in his way a few days after he had left the town in which he had condemned her to die.

“ March 10th, 1794, “The last dying words, speech, and confession, birth, parentage, and education, life, character, and behaviour, of Agnes Primrose, who was executed this morning between the hours of ten and twelve, pursuant to the sentence passed upon her by the Honourable Justice Norwynne.

“ Agnes Primrose was born of honest parents, in the village of Anfield, in the county of " (William started at the name of the village and county); “but being led astray by the arts and flattery of seducing man, she fell from the paths of virtue, and took to bad company, which instilled into her young heart all their evil ways, and at length brought her to this untimely end. So she hopes her death will be a warning to all young persons of her own sex, how they listen to the praises and courtship of young men, especially of those who are their betters; for they only court to deceive. But the said Agnes freely forgives all persons who have done her injury or given her sorrow, from the young man who first won her heart, to the jury who found her guilty, and the judge who condemned her to death,

" And she acknowledges the justice of her sentence, not only in respect of her crime for which she suffers, but in regard to many other heinous sins of which she has been guilty, more especially that of once attempting to commit a murder upon her own helpless child; for which guilt she now considers the vengeance of God has overtaken her, to which she is patiently resigned, and departs in peace and charity with all the world, praying the Lord to have mercy on her parting soul."

POSTSCRIPT TO THE CONFESSION.

“So great was this unhappy woman's terror of death and the awful judgment that was to follow, that when sentence was pronounced upon her she fell into a swoon, from that into convulsions, from which she never entirely recovered, but was delirious to the time of her execution, except that short interval in which she made her confession to the clergyman who attended her. She has left one child, a youth almost sixteen, who has never forsaken his mother during all the time of her imprisonment, but waited on her with true filial duty; and no sooner was her final sentence passed than he began to droop, and now lies dangerously ill near the prison from which she is released by death. During the loss of her senses, the said Agnes Primrose raved continually of her child; and, asking for pen, ink, and paper, wrote an incoherent petition to the judge, recommending the youth to his protection and mercy. But notwithstanding this insanity, she behaved with composure and resignation when the fatal morning arrived in which she was to be launched into eternity. She prayed devoutly during the last hour, and seemed to have her whole mind fixed on the world to which she was going. A crowd of spectators followed her to the fatal spot, most of whom returned weeping at the recollection of the

« AnteriorContinuar »