University of Virginia Library


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“I would to Heaven I had your potency,
And you were Isabel! should it then be thus?
No! I would tell what 'twere to be a judge,
And what a prisoner.”

We change the scene from Mrs. Meredith's
drawing-room to the gloomiest cell in the city
prison, where, stretched on a heap of straw, lay a
poor wretch condemned to be hung at four o'clock
in the afternoon of that day. The door opened,
and Isabella entered, attended by Rose, and escorted
by a turnkey, who, having set down a candle to
aid the feeble light of the cell, went out himself
and locked the door upon them.

“Take up the light, Rose,” said Isabella, who
was shivering, not so much from the unsunned air
of the apartment, as at the presence of a fellow-creature
in such circumstances; “hold it near
him, Rose, so that I can see his face.”

Rose approached close to him and said, as if
announcing the visit of an angel, “Here's a lady
come to see you.” He made no reply; and, after
an eager survey, she turned to her young mistress
and said, “His senses are clean gone!” Isabella
held Rose's arm while she gazed at him. His face
was ashen, his hair was in matted masses, and his


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pale blue eye wandered inexpressively. “Who
are you?” asked Isabella. The music of her voice
for an instant fixed his uncertain gaze, but he made
no reply; and again his eye was bent on vacancy.
“Who are you, friend?” she repeated.

“I a'n't nobody,” he replied, in a broken voice,
between a laugh and a sob.

“Have you no friend?” He turned his face to
the straw, and muttered something inaudibly.
“What does he say, Rose?”

“Turn up your face so the lady can hear,” said
Rose. He obeyed; but Rose's voice seemed to
have broken the spell of her mistress's, and he remained

“Rouse yourself, my good friend,” said Isabella,
“I wish to be of service to you. Can you give
me any reason why you should not die the death
to which you are sentenced?”

“No—lief as not.”

“It cannot be—you must have something—
some friend for whom you would like to live and
come out of this place.”

“Had!—had!” the poor creature sobbed like
a child.

“Tell me,” said Isabella, eagerly, “the name
of this friend?” But the obstinate mood had again
seized him, and, though she varied the question
and put it in every possible form, he gave no sign
of answer.

“Try him upon some other hook, Miss Belle,”
whispered Rose.


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“How long had you been with the skinners
when you were taken?”

Now he answered promptly—“Years!—years!”

“Years?—that cannot be.”

“Cannot? A'n't the minutes years to the child
that's crying for its mammy, hey?” He had risen
on his elbow; but he again sunk back on the
straw, and renewed his piteous crying.

“What does this mean? What can be done
for him?” exclaimed Isabella. “My poor friend,
death is very near to you—do you know it?”

“Yes, yes, lady. Ha'n't they brought me a new
suit?” He pointed to the execution suit that was
folded up and lying beside him. “There be three
times in every one's life when they're sure of a new
suit:—when they're born, when they're married,
and when they die. I've got my last and prettiest,
I'm thinking, for I remember granny reading about
the angels being in white robes.”

His mind seemed now more collected, and
Isabella ventured to ask him if he were willing
to die?

“Glad on't—don't look at me, lady, with that
bright watery eye—I am glad on't.”

“Have you prayed for the pardon of your sins?”

“Haven't any—never had—never wronged anybody—nor
wished it—nor thought on't.”

“Merciful Heaven!” exclaimed Isabella, “what
is to be done?”

“For me, lady?—nothing.”


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“Do you not wish to live?”

“Yes—with him. 'Out him?—no.”

“Who?” Isabella spoke too eagerly. He looked
at her, shook his head, then broke into an exulting
laugh like a boy who has seen a trap and escaped

“Miss Belle,” said Rose, “you are wasting
your tears and your feelings—we must all die once,
and the stroke can't come in better time to him
than now, when he's so willing to go.”

“Willing? glad, hey! nobody cares for me, and
I cares for nobody but him; I think he be dead;
but,” he added, laying his hand on Isabella's arm,
“be he dead or be he living, you'll see him—
your soul is kin to his, lady—and mind you tell
him how the skinners kept me till the reg'lars
came—did not tell 'em I was not a skinner—
cheated 'em, hey!”

Isabella waited till he was through, and then
said quietly, “Who did you tell me to give your
message to?”

“Misser Eliot.” At the utterance of this name
poor Kisel sunk back on the straw, laughed and
cried, and attempted to whistle, but he was too weak
to control the muscles of his lips. By degrees
his voice subsided into low moanings, and his eye
wandered without light or direction from his mind.
The name had produced its effect upon Isabella
also. She had been incited to this visit to the
prison by Herbert, who had communicated to her


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the previous evening some particulars he had received
from a sub-keeper in the prison, in relation
to this condemned man, which had excited a fear
in his (Herbert's) mind that there was some mistake
in relation to the culprit. Herbert had not,
however, the slightest suspicion that the poor victim
was Kisel. One or two particulars of the
convict's apparent innocence and simplicity had
touched Isabella's heart, and all night she had been
disturbed by the impression that he was unjustly
condemned. Some young ladies would have rested
satisfied with dropping a few pitiful tears over
such a mischance; but Isabella Linwood was of
another temper; and having no male friend on
whom she could rely, she went herself to the
prison, and easily obtained access to the prisoner's
cell. The moment Kisel pronounced Eliot's name,
she was convinced the condemned must be the
half-witted attendant of Captain Lee, whom she
had often heard Herbert describe; and she doubted
not that by going to Sir Henry Clinton and communicating
her convictions, she might obtain an
order for having him identified by confronting him
with Herbert, or at any rate, that she should procure
a respite of his sentence. Her carriage was
awaiting her; and having communicated her intentions
to Rose, she directed her to walk home, saying
she should go immediately to Sir Henry's.
Rose remonstrated. “What if he be the poor
man you think for, Miss Belle? life is nothing to


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him—he can do nothing with it—he would not
thank you for it.”

“But, Rose, the life of an innocent man is

“La, Miss Belle, they don't stand on such trifles
as innocence in war-times—please don't go to Sir
Henry's. He won't think the man belonging to
Captain Lee alters the case much, and you don't
love to be denied, and—I don't love to have you.”

Rose was right. Her young mistress did not
“love to be denied,” but the discipline of events
was fast subduing her self-will, and counteracting
the indulgence and flattery of her friends. A
common nature is not taught by experience, and
may therefore be either the tool or victim of circumstances;
but a creature like Isabella Linwood,
composed of noble elements (if, as with her, these
elements are sustained by religious principle), has
within herself a self-rectifying and all-controlling
power. “Rose little dreams,” said she, as the carriage
door closed upon her, “how my fondest wishes
and expectations have been denied and defeated!
God grant that the affections thus cast back
upon me may not degenerate to morbid sensibility
or pining selfishness, but that they may be employed
vigorously for the good of my fellow-beings! This
poor, harmless, broken creature, if I could but save
him!—save him and render Eliot Lee a service—
Herbert's friend—poor Bessie's brother—and the
preserver of my dear little pet, Lizzy!”


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In the midst of these meditations she was
shown into Sir Henry's library, where she perceived
Jasper Meredith seated at the table, reading, in
the identical spot where, a few weeks before, she
had received so passionate a declaration from him.
A most embarrassing reminiscence of the scene
struck them both. He started from the table, and
she asked the servant to show her to the drawing-room.
“The drawing-room was occupied;” and
thus, though the awkwardness of entering was increased
tenfold by the effort to avoid it, enter she

Seldom have two persons been placed in a more
singular position in relation to each other. Their
destiny, while it was governed by inflexible principles,
seemed to have been at the mercy of the
merest accidents. “If,” as Meredith had thought
a thousand times, while pursuing his retrospections,
“if Isabella had not hesitated, and while she
hesitated, Helen Ruthven had not broken in upon
us, our fate would then have been fixed; or if, on
the second occasion, when I urged her decision,
she had not again hesitated till her impatient
father called her, I should not now be wavering
between my inclination and my better judgment!

But Isabella did hesitate, and that hesitation,
proceeding from the demands of her pure and
lofty nature, was her salvation, and a fatal rebuke
and spur to his vanity.

They exchanged the ordinary salutations. Isabella


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sat down. They were in the same chairs
they had occupied at that memorable moment of
their lives; the same table was before them—the
same books on the table. Feelings have their habits,
and so easily revert to their customary channels!
A spell seemed to have been cast over them.
Neither spoke nor moved, till Isabella, starting as
one starts from a thrilling dream, rose and walked
to the window. “Ah,” thought she, “what memories,
hopes, dreams, `poor fancy's followers,' has
this place conjured up!”

Jasper, moved by an irresistible impulse, followed
her, and was arrested in his half-formed purpose
by the vision of Helen Ruthven, who, as she was
passing on the opposite side of the street, had seen
Isabella come forward, and had vainly tried to
catch her eye. She was smiling and bowing.
When she saw Meredith, she beckoned. “You
had best go to Miss Ruthven,” said Isabella; “I
have some business with Sir Henry.”

“I will go, Miss Linwood,” he replied; and adding
bitterly, “ `the will of man is by his reason
swayed,' ” he disappeared. Isabella burst into
tears. Was ever a woman disinthralled from such
a sentiment as Isabella had felt, without efforts repeated
and repeated, and many such pangs as she
now suffered, secretly endured. The struggle is a
hard one—the conquest worth it.

Sir Henry entered. “Your pardon, my dear
Miss Isabella. I believed Meredith was here, and


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thought you might chance to profit by the blessing
promised to those who wait—but you look troubled—your
father is not worse, no?—your brother
has not abused his liberty?—papa does not frown
upon the faithful knight?”

“Oh, no, no—nothing of all this, Sir Henry—I
have again come a petitioner to you, but not now
in my own cause.” Isabella then proceeded to
state concisely and eloquently the case of the condemned;
Sir Henry became graver as she proceeded;
and as she ended, losing a good deal of his
habitual courtesy, he said, “Really, Miss Linwood,
these are not matters for a young lady to
interfere with. The day for voluntary and romantic
righters of wrongs is past. This fellow has
been adjudged to death after due investigation,
before the proper tribunal, and I do not see that it
makes any essential difference in his favour even
if he should have had the honour of once being in
the service of a man who is so fortunate as to be
the friend of your brother, and to have rendered
an accidental service to your aunt. The poor
wretch, as you allow, was one of a band of skinners
when captured by a detachment of our soldiers.
His comrades were hung last week, and I
have already granted a respite to this man for
some reason, what I do not precisely recollect, alleged
by the proper officer.”

“He was ill—unable to stand, when the others


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“Ah, yes—I remember.”

Isabella urged her conviction that the prisoner
had been accidentally involved with the skinners.
She described his simplicity and imbecility of
mind, and, as it seemed to her, his utter incapacity
to commit the energetic and atrocious crimes perpetrated
by a band of desperadoes. But to all her
pleadings Sir Henry still returned the answer so
satisfactory to an official conscience:—“His death
had been decreed by the laws in such cases made
and provided.”

Isabella said that so slight seemed to be the
prisoner's tenure of life, that if he were reprieved
for a week, Sir Henry might be relieved from the
responsibility of taking a life perhaps not forfeited.
But Sir Henry did not shrink from responsibility,
and though she still reasoned, and urged, it was all
in vain.

He alleged that the press of important affairs
rendered it impossible for him to make a personal
investigation of the business; and that indeed it
was out of the question, occupying the station he
did, to attend minutely to such a concern. The
truth was, that Sir Henry was somewhat fortified
in his present decision by a secret consciousness,
that, on a former occasion, he had surrendered a
point purely to the influence of a lovely young
woman; and he was now resolved to maintain the

Isabella was obliged to take her leave, having


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failed in her errand of mercy, and feeling a just
indignation at the carelessness with which a man
could make his station an apology for neglecting
the rights of his fellow; and struck with the truth,
that the only reason for one man's occupying a station
more elevated than another, is, that it gives
him the opportunity of better protecting and serving
his fellow-beings.