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The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 15477

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


The captives went

To their own places, to their separate glooms,

Uncheered by glance, or hand, or hope, to brood

On those impossible glories of the past,

When they might touch the grass, and see the sky,

And do the works of men. But manly work

Is sometimes in a prison.-S. M. Queen Isabel

'Commutation of punishment, to penal servitude for life.'

Such were the tidings that ran through Stoneborough on Sunday morning, making all feel as if a heavy oppression had been taken from the air. In gratitude to the merciful authorities, and thankfulness for the exemption from death, the first impressions were that Justice was at last speaking, that innocence could not suffer, and that right was reasserting itself. Even when the more sober and sad remembered that leniency was not pardon, nor life liberty, they were hastily answered that life was everything-life was hope, life was time, and time would show truth.

Averil's first tears dropped freely, as she laid her head on Mary's shoulder, and with her hand in Dr. May's, essayed to utter the words, 'It is your doing-you have twice saved him for me,' and Minna stood calmly glad, but without surprise. 'I knew they could not hurt him; God would not let them.'

The joy and relief were so great as to absorb all thought or realization of what this mercy was to the prisoner himself, until Dr. May was able to pay him a visit on Monday afternoon. It was at a moment when the first effects of the tidings of life had subsided, and there had been time to look forth on the future with a spirit more steadfast than buoyant. The strain of the previous weeks was reacting on the bodily frame, and indisposition unhinged the spirits; so that, when Dr. May entered, beaming with congratulations, he was met with the same patient glance of endurance, endeavouring at resignation, that he knew so well, but without the victorious peace that had of late gained the ascendant expression. There was instead an almost painful endeavour to manifest gratitude by cheerfulness, and the smile was far less natural than those of the last interview, as fervently returning the pressure of the hand, he said, 'You were right, Dr. May, you have brought me past the crisis.'

'A sure sign of ultimate recovery, my boy. Remember, dum spiro spero.'

Leonard attempted a responsive smile, but it was a hopeless business. From the moment when at the inquest he found himself entangled in the meshes of circumstance, his mind had braced itself to endure rather than hope, and his present depressed state, both mental and bodily, rendered even that endurance almost beyond his powers. He could only say, 'You have been very good to me.'

'My dear fellow, you are sadly knocked down; I wish-' and the Doctor looked at him anxiously.

'I wish you had been here yesterday,' said Leonard; 'then you would not have found me so. No, not thankless, indeed!'

'No, indeed; but-yes, I see it was folly-nay, harshness, to expect you to be glad of what lies before you, my poor boy.'

'I am-am thankful,' said Leonard, struggling to make the words truth. 'Wednesday is off my mind-yes, it is more than I deserve-I knew I was not fit to die, and those at home are spared. But I am as much cut off from them-perhaps more-than by death. And it is the same disgrace to them, the same exile. I suppose Henry still goes-'

'Yes, he does.'

'Ah! then one thing, Dr. May-if you had a knife or scissors-I do not know how soon they may cut my hair, and I want to secure a bit for poor Ave.'

Dr. May was too handless to have implements of the first order, but a knife he had, and was rather dismayed at Leonard's reckless hacking at his bright shining wavy hair, pulling out more than he cut, with perfect indifference to the pain. The Doctor stroked the chestnut head as tenderly as if it had been Gertrude's sunny curls, but Leonard started aside, and dashing away the tears that were overflowing his eyes under the influence of the gentle action, asked vigorously, 'Have you heard what they will do with me?'

'I do not know thoroughly. A year or six months maybe at one of the great model establishments, then probably you will be sent to some of the public works,' said the Doctor, sadly. 'Yes, it is a small boon to give you life, and take away all that makes life happy.'

'If it were only transportation!'

'Yes. In a new world you could live it down, and begin afresh. And even here, Leonard, I look to finding you like Joseph in his prison.'

'The iron entering into his soul!' said Leonard, with a mournful smile.

'No; in the trustworthiness that made him honoured and blessed even there. Leonard, Leonard, conduct will tell. Even there, you can live this down, and will!'

'Eighteen to-morrow,' replied the boy. 'Fifty years of it, perhaps! I know God can help me through with it, but it is a long time to be patient!'

By way of answer, the Doctor launched into brilliant auguries of the impression the prisoner's conduct would produce, uttering assurances, highly extravagant in his Worship the Mayor, of the charms of the modern system of prison discipline, but they fell flat; there could be no disguising that penal servitude for life was penal servitude for life, and might well be bitterer than death itself. Sympathy might indeed be balm to the captive, but the good Doctor pierced his own breast to afford it, so that his heart sank even more than when he had left the young man under sentence of death. His least unavailing consolations were his own promises of frequent visits, and Aubrey's of correspondence, but they produced more of dejected gratitude than of exhilaration. Yet it was not in the way of murmur or repining, but rather of 'suffering and being strong,' and only to this one friend was the suffering permitted to be apparent. To all the officials he was simply submissive and gravely resolute; impassive if he encountered sharpness or sternness, but alert and grateful towards kindliness, of which he met more and more as the difference between dealing with him and the ordinary prisoners made itself felt.

To Dr. May alone was the depth of pain betrayed; but another comforter proved more efficient in cheering the prisoner, namely, Mr. Wilmot, who, learning from the Doctor the depression of their young friend, hastened to endeavour at imparting a new spring of life on this melancholy birthday. Physically, the boy was better, and perhaps the new day had worn off somewhat of the burthen of anticipation, for Mr. Wilmot found him already less downcast, and open to consolation. It might be, too, that the sense that the present was to have been his last day upon earth, had made him more conscious of the relief from the immediate shadow of death, for he expressed his thankfulness far more freely and without the effort of the previous day.

'And, depend on it,' said Mr. Wilmot, 'you are spared because there is something for you to do.'

'To bear,' said Leonard.

'No, to do. Perhaps not immediately; but try to look on whatever you have to bear, not only as carrying the cross, as I think you already feel it-'

'Or there would be no standing it at all.'

'True,' said Mr. Wilmot; 'and your so feeling it convinces me the more that whatever may follow is likewise to be looked upon as discipline to train you for something beyond. Who knows what work may be in store, for which this fiery trial may be meant to prepare you?'

The head was raised, and the eyes brightened with something like hope in their fixed interrogative glance.

'Even as things are now, who knows what good may be done by the presence of a man educated, religious, unstained by crime, yet in the same case as those around him? I do not mean

by quitting your natural place, but by merely living as you must live. You were willing to have followed your Master in His death. You now have to follow Him by living as one under punishment; and be sure it is for some purpose for others as well as yourself.'

'If there is any work to be done for Him, it is all right,' said Leonard, cheerily; and as Mr. Wilmot paused, he added, 'It would be like working for a friend-if I may dare say so-after the hours when this place has been made happy to me. I should not mind anything if I might only feel it working for Him.'

'Feel it. Be certain of it. As you have realized the support of that Friend in a way that is hardly granted, save in great troubles, so now realize that every task is for Him. Do not look on the labour as hardship inflicted by mistaken authority-'

'Oh, I only want to get to that! I have been so long with nothing to do!'

'And your hearty doing of it, be it what it may, as unto the Lord, can be as acceptable as Dr. May's labours of love among the poor-as entirely a note in the great concord in Heaven and earth as the work of the ministry itself-as completely in unison. Nay, further, such obedient and hearty work will form you for whatever may yet be awaiting you, and what that may be will show itself in good time, when you are ready for it.

'The right chord was touched, the spirit of energy was roused, and Leonard was content to be a prisoner of hope, not the restless hope of liberation, but the restful hope that he might yet render faithful service even in his present circumstances.

Not much passed his lips in this interview, but its effect was apparent when Dr. May again saw him, and this time in company with Aubrey. Most urgent had been the boy's entreaties to be taken to see his friend, and Dr. May had only hesitated because Leonard's depression had made himself so unhappy that he feared its effect on his susceptible son; whose health had already suffered from the long course of grief and suspense. But it was plain that if Aubrey were to go at all, it must be at once, since the day was fixed for the prisoner's removal, and the still nearer and dearer claims must not clash with those of the friend. Flora shook her head, and reminded her father that Leonard would not be out of reach in future, and that the meeting now might seriously damage Aubrey's already uncertain health.

'I cannot help it, Flora,' said the Doctor; 'it may do him some temporary harm, but I had rather see him knocked down for a day or two, than breed him up to be such a poor creature as to sacrifice his friendship to his health.'

And Mrs. Rivers, who knew what the neighbourhood thought of the good Doctor's infatuation, felt that there was not much use in suggesting how shocked the world would be at his encouragement of the intimacy between the convict and his young son.

People did look surprised when the Doctor asked admission to the cell for his son as well as himself; and truly Aubrey, who in silence had worked himself into an agony of nervous agitation, looked far from fit for anything trying. Dr. May saw that he must not ask to leave the young friends alone together, but in his reverence for the rights of their friendship, he withdrew himself as far as the limits of the cell would allow, turned his back, and endeavoured to read the Thirty-nine Articles in Leonard's Prayer-Book; but in spite of all his abstraction, he could not avoid a complete consciousness that the two lads sat on the bed, clinging with arms round one another like young children, and that it was Leonard's that was the upright sustaining figure, his own Aubrey's the prone and leaning one. And of the low whispering murmurs that reached his would-be deafened ear, the gasping almost sobbing tones were Aubrey's. The first distinct words that he could not help hearing were, 'No such thing! There can't be slavery where one works with a will!' and again, in reply to something unheard, 'Yes, one can! Why, how did one do one's Greek?'-'Very different!'-'How?'-'Oh!'-'Yes; but you are a clever chap, and had her to teach you, but I only liked it because I'd got it to do. Just the same with the desk-work down at the mill; so it may be the same now.'

Then came fragments of what poor Aubrey had expressed more than once at home-that his interest in life, in study, in sport, was all gone with his friend.

'Come, Aubrey, that's stuff. You'd have had to go to Cambridge, you know, without me, after I doggedly put myself at that place. There's just as much for you to do as ever there was.'

'How you keep on with your do!' cried Ethel's spoilt child, with a touch of petulance.

'Why, what are we come here for-into this world, I mean-but to do!' returned Leonard; 'and I take it, if we do it right, it does not much matter what or where it is.'

'I shan't have any heart for it!' sighed Aubrey.

'Nonsense! Not with all your people at home? and though the voice fell again, the Doctor's ears distinguished the murmur, 'Why, just the little things she let drop are the greatest help to me here, and you always have her-'

Then ensued much that was quite inaudible, and at last Leonard said, 'No, old fellow; as long as you don't get ashamed of me, thinking about you, and knowing what you are about, will be one of the best pleasures I shall have. And look here, Aubrey, if we only consider it right, you and I will be just as really working together, when you are at your books, and I am making mats, as if we were both at Cambridge side by side! It is quite true, is it not, Dr. May?' he added, since the Doctor, finding it time to depart, had turned round to close the interview.

'Quite true, my boy,' said the Doctor; 'and I hope Aubrey will try to take comfort and spirit from it.'

'As if I could!' said Aubrey, impatiently, 'when it only makes me more mad to see what a fellow they have shut up in here!'

'Not mad, I hope,' said Dr. May; 'but I'll tell you what it should do for both of us, Aubrey. It should make us very careful to be worthy to remain his friends.'

'O, Dr. May!' broke in Leonard, distressed.

'Yes,' returned Dr. May, 'I mean what I say, however you break in, Master Leonard. As long as this boy of mine is doing his best for the right motives, he will care for you as he does now-not quite in the same despairing way, of course, for holes in one's daily life do close themselves up with time-but if he slacks off in his respect or affection for you, then I shall begin to have fears of him. Now come away, Aubrey, and remember for your comfort it is not the good-bye it might have been,' he added, as he watched the mute intensity of the boys' farewell clasp of the hands; but even then had some difficulty in getting Aubrey away from the friend so much stronger as the consoler than as the consoled, and unconsciously showing how in the last twenty-four hours his mind had acted on the topics presented to him by Mr. Wilmot.

Changed as he was from the impetuous boyish lad of a few weeks since, a change even more noticeable when with his contemporary than in intercourse with elder men, yet the nature was the same. Obstinacy had softened into constancy, pride into resolution, generosity made pardon less difficult, and elevation of temper bore him through many a humiliation that, through him, bitterly galled his brother.

Whatever he might feel, prison regulations were accepted by him as matters of course, not worth being treated as separate grievances. He never showed any shrinking from the assumption of the convict dress, whilst Henry was fretting and wincing over the very notion of his wearing it, and trying to arrange that the farewell interview should precede its adoption.

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