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moonlight, which had whispered to
her in the awful calm.
"I saw the end as the end must
be," she said to herself, "on Thursday night. I have been wrong ever since."
When she and her companion met
that morning she reiterated her complaint of suffering from the toothache; she
repeated her refusal to allow Mrs. Wragge to procure a remedy; she left the
house after breakfast, in the direction of the chemist's shop, exactly as she
had left it on the morning before.
This time she entered the shop
without an instant's hesitation.
"I have got an attack of
toothache," she said abruptly to an elderly man who stood behind the counter.
"May I look at the tooth, Miss?"
"There is no necessity to look.
It is a hollow tooth. I think I have caught cold in it."
The chemist recommended various
remedies which were in vogue fifteen years since. She declined purchasing any of
" I have always found Laudanum
relieve the pain better than any thing else," she said, trifling with the
bottles on the counter, and looking at them while she spoke, instead of looking
at the chemist. "Let me have some Laudanum."
"Certainly, Miss. Excuse my
asking the question—it is only a matter of form. You are staying at Aldborough,
"Yes. I am Miss Bygrave, of North
The chemist bowed; and, turning
to his shelves, filled an ordinary half-ounce bottle with laudanum immediately.
In ascertaining his customer's name and address beforehand the owner of the shop
had taken a precaution which was natural to a careful man, but which was by no
means universal, under similar circumstances, in the state of the law at that
"Shall I put you up a little
cotton-wool with the laudanum?" he asked, after he had placed a label on the
bottle, and had written a word on it in large letters.
"If you please. What have you
just written on the bottle?" She put the question sharply, with something of
distrust as well as curiosity in her manner.
The chemist answered the question
by turning the label toward her. She saw written on it, in large letters—POISON.
"I like to be on the safe side,
Miss," said the old man, smiling. " Very worthy people in other respects are
often sadly careless where poisons are concerned."
She began trifling again with the
bottles on the counter, and put another question, with an ill-concealed anxiety
to hear the answer.
"Is there danger," she asked, "in
such a little drop of laudanum as that?"
"There is Death in it, Miss,"
replied the chemist, quietly.
"Death to a child, or to a person
in delicate health?"
"Death to the strongest man in
England, let him be who he may."
With that answer the chemist
sealed up the bottle in its wrapping of white paper, and handed the laudanum to
Magdalen across the counter. She laughed as she took it from him and paid for
"There will be no fear of
accidents at North Shingles," she said. "I shall keep the bottle locked up in my
dressing-case. If it doesn't relieve the pain, I must come to you again and try
some other remedy. Good-morning."
She went straight back to the
house without once looking up—without noticing any one who passed her. She
brushed by Mrs. Wragge in the passage as she might have brushed by a piece of
furniture. She ascended the stairs, and caught her foot twice in her dress from
sheer inattention to the common precaution of holding it up. The trivial daily
interests of life had lost their hold on her already.
In the privacy of her own room
she took the bottle from its wrapping, and threw the paper and the cotton-wool
into the fire-place. At the moment when she did this there was a knock at the
door. She hid the little bottle, and looked up impatiently. Mrs. Wragge came
into the room.
"Have you got something for your
toothache, my dear?"
"Can I do any thing to help you?"
Mrs. Wragge still lingered
uneasily near the door. Her manner showed plainly that she had something more to
"What is it?" asked Magdalen,
"Don't be angry," said Mrs.
Wragge. "I'm not settled in my mind about the captain. He's a great writer—and
he hasn't written. He's as quick as lightning—and he hasn't come back. Here's
Saturday, and no signs of him. Has he run away, do you think? Has any thing
happened to him?"
"I should think not. Go down
stairs; I'll come and speak to you about it directly."
As soon as she was alone again
Magdalen rose front her chair, advanced toward a cupboard in the room which
locked, and paused for a moment, with her hand on the key, in doubt. Mrs.
Wragge's appearance had disturbed the whole current of her thoughts. Mrs.
Wragge's last question, trifling as it was, had checked her on the verge of the
precipice—had roused the old vain hope in her once more of release by accident.
"Why not?" she said. "Why may
something not have happened to one of them?"
She placed the laudanum in the
cupboard, locked it, and put the key in her pocket. "Time enough still," she
thought, "before Monday. I'll wait till the captain comes back."
After some consultation down
stairs it was
agreed that the servant should
sit up that night in expectation of her master's return. The day passed quietly,
without events of any kind. Magdalen dreamed away the hours over a book. A weary
patience of expectation was all she felt now—the poignant torment of thought was
dulled and blunted at last. She passed the day and the evening in the parlor,
vaguely conscious of a strange feeling of aversion to going back to her own
room. As the night advanced, as the noises ceased indoors and out, her
restlessness began to return. She endeavored to quiet herself by reading. Books
failed to fix her attention. The newspaper was lying in a corner of the room:
she tried the newspaper next.
She looked mechanically at the
headings of the articles; she listlessly turned over page after page, until her
wandering attention was arrested by the narrative of an execution in a distant
part of England. There was nothing to strike her in the story of the crime, and
yet she read it. It was a common, horribly-common, act of bloodshed—the murder
of a woman in farm-service by a man in the same employment who was jealous of
her. He had been convicted on no extraordinary evidence; he had been hanged
under no unusual circumstances. He had made his confession, when he knew there
was no hope for him, like other criminals of his class; and the newspaper had
printed it at the end of the article, in these terms:
I kept company with the deceased
for a year or thereabouts. I said I would marry her when I had money enough. She
said I had money enough now. We had a quarrel. She refused to walk out with me
any more; she wouldn't draw me my beer; she took up with my fellow-servant,
David Crouch. I went to her on the Saturday and said I would marry her as soon
as we could be asked in church, if she would give up Crouch. She laughed at me.
She turned me out of the wash-house, and the rest of them saw her turn me out. I
was not easy in my mind. I went and sat on a gate—the gate on the meadow they
call Pettit's Piece. I thought I would shoot her. I went and fetched my gun and
loaded it. I went out into Pettit's Piece again. I was hard put to it to make up
my mind. I thought I would try my luck—I mean try whether to kill her or not—by
throwing up the Spud of the plow into the air. I said to myself, if it falls
flat, I'll spare her; if it falls point in the earth, I'll kill her. I took a
good swing with it and shied it up. It fell point in the earth. I went and shot
her. It was a bad job, but I did it. I did it, as they said I did it at the
trial. I hope the Lord will have mercy on me. I wish my mother to have my old
clothes. I have no more to say.
In the happier days of her life
Magdalen would have passed over the narrative of the execution, and the printed
confession which accompanied it, unread—the subject would have failed to attract
her. She read the horrible story now—read it with an interest unintelligible to
herself. Her attention, which had wandered over higher and better things,
followed every sentence of the murderer's hideously direct confession from
beginning to end. If the man or the woman had been known to her—if the place had
been familiar to her memory—she could hardly have followed the narrative more
closely, or have felt a more distinct impression of it left on her mind. She
laid down the paper, wondering at herself; she took it up once more and tried to
read some other portion of the contents. The effort was useless; her attention
wandered again. She threw the paper away and went out into the garden. The night
was dark, the stars were few and faint. She could just sec the gravel walk—she
could just pace it backward and forward between the house-door and the gate.
The confession in the newspaper
had taken a fearful hold on her mind. As she paced the walk the black night
opened over the sea, and showed her the murderer in the field hurling the Spud
of the plow into the air. She ran, shuddering, back to the house. The murderer
followed her into the parlor. She seized the candle and went up into her room.
The vision of her own distempered fancy followed her to the place where the
laudanum was hidden, and vanished there.
It was midnight, and there was no
sign yet of the captain's return.
She took from the writing-case
the long letter which she had written to Norah, and slowly read it through. The
letter quieted her. When she reached the blank space left at the end she
hurriedly turned back and began it over again.
One o'clock struck from the
church clock, and still the captain never appeared.
She read the letter for the
second time: she turned back obstinately, despairingly, and began it for the
third time. As she once more reached the last page she looked at her watch. It
was a quarter to two. She had just put the watch back in the belt of her dress
when there came to her—far off in the stillness of the morning—a sound of
She dropped the letter, and
clasped her cold hands in her lap and listened. The sound came on, faster and
faster, nearer and nearer — the trivial sound to all other cars; the sound of
Doom to hers. It passed the side of the house; it traveled a little further on;
it stopped. She heard a loud knocking—then the opening of a window—then
voices—then a long silence—then the wheels again, coming back—then the opening
of the door below, and the sound of the captain's voice in the passage.
She could endure it no longer.
She opened her door a little way and called to him.
He ran up stairs instantly,
astonished that she was not in bed. She spoke to him through the narrow opening
of the door, keeping herself hidden behind it, for she was afraid to let him see
"Has any thing gone wrong?" she
" Make your mind easy," he
answered. "Nothing has gone wrong."
"Is no accident likely to happen
between this and Monday?"
"None whatever. The marriage is a
She put her hand out through the
took it with some little
surprise: it was not often in his experience that she gave him her hand of her
"You have sat up too long," he
said, as he felt the clasp of her cold fingers. "I am afraid you will have a bad
night—I'm afraid you will not sleep."
She softly closed the door.
"I shall sleep," she said,
"sounder than you think for."
It was past two o'clock when she
shut herself up alone in her room. Her chair stood in its customary place by the
toilet-table. She sat down for a few minutes thoughtfully—then opened her letter
to Norah, and turned to the end, where the blank space was left. The last lines
written above the space ran thus:
I have laid my whole heart bare
to you; I have hidden nothing. It has come to this. The end I have toiled for at
such terrible cost to myself, is an end which I must reach, or die. It is
wickedness, madness, what you will —but it is so. There are now two journeys
before me to choose between. If I can marry him—the journey to the church. If
the profanation of myself is more than I can bear—the journey to the grave!
Under that last sentence she
wrote these lines.
My choice is made. If the cruel
law will let you, lay me with my father and mother in the church-yard at home.
Farewell, my love! Be always
innocent; be always happy. If Frank ever asks about me, say I died forgiving
him. Don't grieve long for me, Norah—I am not worth it.
She sealed the letter and
addressed it to her sister. The tears gathered in her eyes as she laid it on the
table. She waited until her sight was clear again, and then took the bank-notes
once more from the little bag in her bosom. After wrapping them in a sheet of
note-paper, she wrote Captain Wragge's name on the inclosure, and added these
words below it: "Lock the door of my room, and leave me till my sister comes.
The money I promised you is in this. You are not to blame; it is my fault, and
mine only. If you have any friendly remembrance of me. be kind to your wife for
After placing the inclosure by
the letter to Norah, she rose and looked round the room. Some few little things
in it were not in their places. She set them in order, and drew the curtains on
either side at the head of her bed. Her own dress was the next object of her
scrutiny. It was all as neat, as pure, as prettily arranged as ever. Nothing
about her was disordered but her hair. Some tresses had fallen loose on one side
of her head; she carefully put them back in their places, with the help of her
glass. "How pale I look!" she thought, with a faint smile. "Shall I be paler
still when they find me in the morning?"
She went straight to the place
where the laudanum was hidden and took it out. The bottle was so small that it
lay easily in the palm of her hand. She let it remain there for a little while,
and stood looking at it.
"DEATH!" she said. "In this drop
of brown drink—DEATH!"
As the words passed her lips an
agony of unutterable horror seized on her in an instant. She crossed the room
unsteadily, with a maddening confusion in her head, with a suffocating anguish
at her heart. She caught at the table to support herself. The faint clink of the
bottle, as it fell harmlessly from her loosened grasp and rolled against some
porcelain object on the table, struck through her brain like the stroke of a
knife. The sound of her own voice, sunk to a whisper—her voice only uttering
that one word, Death—rushed in her ears like the rushing of a wind. She dragged
herself to the bedside, and rested her head against it, sitting on the floor.
"Oh, my life! my life!" she thought; "what is my life worth that I cling to it
An interval passed, and she felt
her strength returning. She raised herself on her knees and hid her face on the
bed. She tried to pray—to pray to be forgiven for seeking the refuge of death.
Frantic words burst from her lips—words which would have risen to cries if she
had not stifled them in the bed-clothes. She started to her feet; despair
strengthened her with a headlong fury against herself. In one moment she was
back at the table; in another the poison was once more in her hand.
She removed the cork and lifted
the bottle to her mouth.
At the first cold touch of the
glass on her lips her strong young life leaped up in her leaping blood, and
fought with the whole frenzy of its loathing against the close terror of Death.
Every active power in the exuberant vital force that was in her rose in revolt
against the destruction which her own will would fain have wreaked on her own
life. She paused: for the second time she paused in spite of herself. There, in
the glorious perfection of her youth and health—there, trembling on the verge of
human existence, she stood, with the kiss of the Destroyer close at her lips,
and Nature, faithful to its sacred trust, fighting for the salvation of her to
No word passed her lips. Her
cheeks flushed deep, her breath came thick and fast. With the poison still in
her hand, with the sense that she might faint in another moment, she made for
the window and threw back the curtain that covered it.
The new day had risen. The broad,
gray dawn flowed in on her over the quiet eastern sea. She saw the waters,
heaving large and silent in the misty calm; she felt the fresh breath of the
morning flutter cool on her face. Her strength returned; her mind cleared a
little. At the sight of the sea her memory recalled the walk in the garden
overnight, and the picture which her distempered fancy had painted on the black
void. In thought, she saw the picture again—the murderer hurling the Spud of the
plow into the air, and setting the life or death of the woman who had deserted
him on the hazard of the falling point. The infection of that terrible
seized on her mind as suddenly as
the new day had burst on her view. The promise of release which she saw in it
from the horror of her own hesitation roused the last energies of her despair.
She resolved to end the struggle by setting her life or death on the hazard of a
On what chance?
The sea showed it to her. Dimly
distinguishable through the mist she saw a little fleet of coasting vessels
slowly drifting toward the house, all following the same direction with the
favoring set of the tide. In half an hour—perhaps in less —the fleet would have
passed her window. The hands of her watch pointed to four o'clock. She seated
herself close at the side of the window, with her back toward the quarter from
which the vessels were drifting down on her—with the poison placed on the
window-sill and the watch on her lap. For one half hour to come she determined
to wait there and count the vessels as they went by. If, in that time, an even
number passed her, the sign given should be a sign to live. If the uneven number
prevailed, the end should be Death.
With that final resolution she
rested her head against the window, and waited for the ships to pass.
The first came—high, dark, and
near in the mist—gliding silently over the silent sea. An interval, and the
second followed, with the third close after it. Another interval, longer and
longer drawn out, and nothing passed. She looked at her watch. Twelve minutes,
and three ships. Three.
The fourth came; slower than the
rest, larger than the rest, farther off in the mist than the rest. The interval
followed— a long interval once more. Then the next vessel passed—darkest and
nearest of all. Five. The next uneven number—Five.
She looked at her watch again.
Nineteen minutes, and five ships. Twenty minutes, twenty-one, two, three, and no
sixth vessel. Twenty-four, and the sixth came by. Twenty-five, twenty-six,
twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and the next uneven number—the fatal Seven—glided
into view. Two minutes to the end of the half hour. And seven ships.
Twenty-nine, and nothing followed
in the wake of the seventh ship. The minute-hand of the watch moved on half-way
to thirty, and still the white heaving sea was a misty blank. Without moving her
head from the window she took the poison in one hand and raised the watch in the
other. As the quick seconds counted each other out, her eyes, as quick as they,
looked from the watch to the sea, from the sea to the watch —looked for the last
time at the sea—and saw the EIGHTH ship.
Life! At the last moment, Life!
She never moved; she never spoke.
The death of thought, the death of feeling, seemed to have come to her already.
She put back the poison mechanically on the ledge of the window, and watched, as
in a dream, the ship gliding smoothly on its silent way—gliding till it melted
dimly into shadow—gliding till it was lost in the mist.
The strain on her mind relaxed
when the Messenger of Life had passed from her sight.
"Providence?" she whispered,
faintly to herself. "Or Chance?"
Her eyes closed and her head fell
back. When the sense of life returned to her the morning sun was warm on her
face—the blue heaven looked down on her—and the sea was a sea of gold.
She fell on her knees at the
window and burst into tears.
* * * * * * *
Toward noon that day, the
captain, waiting below stairs, and hearing no movement in Magdalen's room, felt
uneasy at the long silence. He desired the new maid to follow him up stairs,
and, pointing to the door, told her to go in softly, and see whether her
mistress was awake.
The maid entered the room,
remained there a moment, and came out again, closing the door gently.
"She looks beautiful, Sir," said
the girl; "and she's sleeping as quietly as a new-born child."
WAR IN THE SOUTHWEST.
page 651 we publish several
illustrations of JACKSON, TENNESSEE, and of SCENES ON THE RAILROAD between
Columbus and Corinth, from sketches by our special artist. Mr. Alexander
Simplot. Mr. Simplot writes:
September 19, 1862.
"I herewith send you a couple of
sketches from Jackson, Tennessee. This place is the largest on the railroad
front Columbus to Corinth, and is a fine town. Pretty dwellings embowered in
trees meet the eye at almost every turn.
"Brigadier-General John A. Logan
has command of the post, and is fortifying it very strongly.
"The enemy is known to have a
great desire to repossess the town, and an attack from them is momentarily
expected. All the streets entering into the city are barricaded with cotton
bales, and, from appearance, are fully sufficient to oppose the ingress of a
very large force.
"Near the depot is a cotton
fort—a sketch of which I send you—for the protection of that portion of the
town. It is amply provided with water reservoirs, in the shape of barrels sunk
into the ground, to stand a long siege.
"An engineer on General Logan's
staff has constructed an admirable railroad battery for the protection of the
road from guerrilla raids. They have as yet had but one occasion to use it, and
that was at Henderson, a few days since, where the woods were shelled
sufficiently to make it too hot to hold the rebels. At every trestle-work or
bridge along the road are stationed a few soldiers as guard, and it is to this
we owe our security as we go dashing along at a headlong pace."