Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

coming to life here and there in the darkness where they had slept away the night. He was of their sort, yet he did not like his own kin. Nay, some of them might be worthy compared to him, yet he shrunk from them. He rushed out. Heaven was full of lights and hell was full of horrors: where was his own place? He hurried back towards the city.

But as the light grew his terror increased. There was no ground for immediate alarm, for no one yet knew what he had done ; but with the light discovery drew nearer. When he reached Farringdon Street he turned down towards Blackfriars Bridge, then eastward again by Earl Street into Thames Street. He felt safer where the streets were narrow, and the houses rose high to shut out the dayspring, which the Lord says to Job he had “caused to know his place, that it might take hold of the ends of the earth,” like a napkin, "that the wicked might be shaken out of it.” He hurried on, not yet knowing what he was, only seeing revelation at hand clothed in terror. And the end of it was, that he buried his head in the public-house where the mischief of the preceding night had begun, and was glad to lie down in a filthy bed. The ways of transgressors are always hard in the end. Happy they who find them hard in the beginning

Ill at ease as he was, both in body and mind, he was yet so worn out that he fell fast asleep; and still on the stream of sleep went drifting towards the vengeance that awaited him--the vengeance of seeing himself as he was.

When he woke, it was afternoon. He had to make several efforts before his recollection combined with his observation to tell him where he was. He felt, however, that a horror was coming, and when it came his whole being was crushed before it. It must be confessed, however, that it was the disgrace, and not the sin, that troubled him. But honour, although a poor substitute for honesty or religion, is yet something; and the fear of disgrace is a good sword to hang over the heads of those who need such attendance. Thomas's heart burned like a hot coal with shame. In vain he tried to persuade himself, in vain he partially succeeded in persuading himself, that he was not himself when he took the money. Allowing w atever excuse might lie in the state to which he had first brought himself, he knew that no defence of that sort would have any influence in restoring him to the position he had lost. He was an outcast. He lay in moveless torture. He knew himself, and he knew his crime ; and he knew that himself had committed that crime. Wide awake, he did not think of rising ; for the whole world of activity lay beyond the impassable barrier of his shame. There was nothing for him to do, nowhere for him to go., At length he beard voices in the room below him : they were voices he knew; and he was lying over the scene of last night's temptation. He sprung from the bed, hurried on his clothes, crept down the stairs, paid for

his lodging at the bar, and went out into the street. He felt sick at the thought of joining them; he had had a surfeit of wickedness.

But he was too near his former haunts; and the officers of justice must be after him. He turned from one narrow street into another, and wandered on till he came where the bowsprit of a vesse) projected over a wall across a narrow lane, and he knew by this that he must be near the Thames. The sun was going down, and the friendly darkness was at hand. But he could not rest. He knew nothing of the other side, and it seemed to him therefore that he would be safer there. He would take a boat and be put across. A passage between two houses led towards the river. Probably there were stairs at the end. He turned into the passage. Half a dozen bills were up on the walls. He stopped to look. They all described bodies found in the river. He turned away, and started at the sight of a policeman regarding him from a door three or four yards off

. It was a police station. He had all but put his head into the lion's mouth. He had just presence of mind enough to prevent him from running, but not enough to keep his legs steady under him. His very calves seemed to feel the eyes of the policeman burning upon them, and shrink away with a sense of unprotected misery. He passed several stairs before he ventured to look round. Then finding no reason to suppose he was watched, he turned down the next opening, found a boat, and telling the waterman to put him across to Rotherhithe, of which district he just knew the name, sat down in the stern.

The man rowed up the river. The sun was going down behind the dome of St. Paul's, which looked like the round shoulder of a little hill ; and all the brown masts and spars of the vessels shone like a forest of gold-barked trees in winter. The dark river caught the light, and threw it shimmering up on the great black hulls, which shone again in the water below; and the Thames, with all its dirt and all its dead, looked radiant. But Thomas felt nothing of its beauty. If Nature had ever had a right of way in his heart, she was now shut out. What was it to him, despised in his own eyes, that the sun shone? He looked up at the sky only to wish for the night. What was it to him that the world was for a moment gay, even into the heart of London ? Its smile could not reach his heart: it needs an atmosphere as well as a sun to make light. The sun was in the heavens, yea, the central sun of truth shone upon the universe; but there was no atmosphere of truth in Thomas's world to be lighted up by it ; or if there was, it was so filled with smoke and vapour that for the time the sun could not make it smile. As they passed under a towering hull, he envied a monkey that went scrambling out of one of the portholes and in at another. And yet the scene around was as strange as it was beautiful. The wide river, the many vessels, the multitudinous wilderness of grey houses on every side, all disorder to the eye, yet blended by the air and the

light and the thin fog into a marvellous whole; the occasional vista of bridge-arches; the line of London Bridge lying parallel with the lines of green and grey and gold in the sky-its people, its horses, its carriages creeping like insects athwart the sunset-one of the arches cut across near the top by the line of a new railway-bridge, and the segment filled with a moving train; all this light and life to the eye, while, save for the splash of the oars, and the general huin like an aroma of sound that filled the air, all was still to the ear-none of it reached the heart of outcast Thomas.

Soon, as if by magic, the scene changed. The boatman had been rowing up the river, keeping in the quiet water as the tide hurried out. Now he was crossing towards Cherry Garden Stairs. As they drew near the Surrey-side, all at once Thomas found himself in the midst of a multitude of boats, Aitting about like waterflies on the surface of a quiet pool. What they were about he could not see. Now they would gather in dense masses, in every imaginable position to each other, the air filled with shouting, objurgation, expostulation, and good-humoured chaff, varied with abuse. Again they would part asunder and vanish over the wide space. Guns were firing, fags were Aying, Thames liveries gleaming here and there. The boats were full of men, women, and children; some in holiday garments, most of them dark with the darkness of an English mob. It was an aquatic crowd--a people exclusively living on and by the river-assembled to see a rowing-match between two of their own class for a boat, probably given by the publicans of the neighbourhood—who would reap ten times the advantage. But although there were thousands assembled, the uproar troubled such a small proportion of the river's surface, that one might have rowed up and down in the middle space between Rotherhithe and Wapping for hours and known nothing about it.

But Thomas did not see the race, not because he was in haste to get ashore, but because something happened. His waterman, anxious to see the sport, lingered in the crowd lining the whole of that side of the river. In a boat a little way further up was a large family party, and in it a woman who was more taken up with a baby in her arms than with all that was going on around her. In consequence of her absorption in the merry child which was springing with all the newly discovered delight of feet and legs, she was so dreadfully startled when the bows of another boat struck the gunwale just at her back, that she sprung half up from her seat, and the baby, jerking itself forward, dropped from her arms into the river. Thomas was gazing listlessly at the water when he saw the child sweep past him a foot or so below the surface. His next reinembered consciousness was in the water. He was a fair swimmer, though no rider. He caught the child, and let himself drift with the tide, till he came upon the cable of a vessel that lay a hundred yards below. Boats came rushing about him ; in a moment the child was taken from him and handed across half a dozen of them

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

THEY HAULED AND LIFTED THOMAS ON TO THE BARGE.”

Page 218.

« ForrigeFortsett »