XV

End of the Beginning

The trial took place at Lancaster. Zachariah was sorely tempted to go; but, in the first place, he had no money, and, in the second place, he feared arrest. Not that he would have cared two pins if he had been put into jail; but he could not abandon his wife. He was perfectly certain what the result would be, but nevertheless, on the day when the news was due, he could not rest. There was a mail coach which ran from Lancaster to Liverpool, starting from Lancaster in the afternoon and reaching Liverpool between eleven and twelve at night. He went out about that time and loitered about the coach-office as if he were waiting for a friend. Presently he heard the wheels and the rapid trot of the horses. His heart failed him, and he could almost have fainted.

“What’s the news?” said the clerk to the coachman. “All the whole d⁠⸺⁠d lot convicted, and one of ’em going to be hung.”

“One of them hung! Which one is that?”

“Why, him as killed the soldier, of course⁠—the Frenchman.”

“A d⁠⸺⁠d good job too,” replied the clerk. “I should like to serve every ⸻ Frenchman in the country the same way.”

Zachariah could not listen any longer, but went home, and all night long a continuous series of fearful images passed before his eyes⁠—condemned cells, ropes, gallows and the actual fall of the victim, down to the contortion of his muscles. He made up his mind on the following day that he would see Caillaud before he died, and he told his wife he was going. She was silent for a moment, and then she said:

“You will do as you like, I suppose: but I cannot see what is the use of it. You can do no good; you will lose your place here; it will cost you something; and when you get there you may have to stop there.”

Zachariah could not restrain himself.

“Good God!” he cried, “you hear that one of my best friends is about to be hung, and you sit there like a statue⁠—not a single word of sympathy or horror⁠—you care no more than a stone. Use of going! I tell you I will go if I starve, or have to rot in jail all my lifetime. Furthermore, I will go this instant.”

He went out of the room in a rage, rammed a few things into a bag, and was out of the house in ten minutes. He was excusably unjust to his wife⁠—excusably, because he could not help thinking that she was hard, and even cruel. Yet really she was not so, or if she was, she was not necessarily so, for injustice, not only to others, but to ourselves, is always begotten by a false relationship. There were multitudes of men in the world, worse than Zachariah, with whom she would have been, not only happier, but better. He, poor man, with all his virtues, stimulated and developed all that was disagreeable in her.

He was in no mood to rest, and walked on all that night. Amidst all his troubles he could not help being struck with the solemn, silent procession overhead. It was perfectly clear⁠—so clear that the heavens were not a surface, but a depth, and the stars of a lesser magnitude were so numerous and brilliant that they obscured the forms of the greater constellations. Presently the first hint of day appeared in the east. We must remember that this was the year 1817, before, so it is commonly supposed, men knew what it was properly to admire a cloud or a rock. Zachariah was not, therefore, on a level with the most ordinary subscriber to a modern circulating library. Nevertheless he could not help noticing⁠—we will say he did no more⁠—the wonderful, the sacredly beautiful, drama which noiselessly displayed itself before him. Over in the east the intense deep blue of the sky softened a little. Then the trees in that quarter began to contrast themselves against the background and reveal their distinguishing shapes. Swiftly, and yet with such even velocity that in no one minute did there seem to be any progress compared with the minute preceding, the darkness was thinned, and resolved itself overhead into pure sapphire, shaded into yellow below and in front of him, while in the west it was still almost black. The grassy floor of the meadows now showed its colour, grey green, with the dew lying on it, and in the glimmer under the hedge might be discerned a hare or two stirring. Star by star disappeared, until none were left, save Venus, shining like a lamp till the very moment almost when the sun’s disc touched the horizon. Half a dozen larks mounted and poured forth that ecstasy which no bird but the lark can translate. More amazing than the loveliness of scene, sound, and scent around him was the sense of irrestisible movement. He stopped to watch it, for it grew so rapid that he could almost detect definite pulsations. Throb followed throb every second with increasing force, and in a moment more a burning speck of gold was visible, and behold it was day! He slowly turned his eyes away and walked onwards.

Lancaster was reached on the second evening after he left Liverpool. He could not travel fast nor long together, for he was not yet completely strong. He secured a bed in a low part of the town, at a public-house, and on the morning of the third day presented himself at the prison door. After some formalities he was admitted, and taken by a warder along a corridor with whitewashed walls to the condemned cell where Caillaud lay. The warder looked through a grating, and said to Zachariah that a visitor was already there. Two were not allowed at a time, but he would tell the prisoner that somebody was waiting for him.

“Let’s see, what’s your name?” said the warder. Then it suddenly struck him that he had been fool enough, in the excitement of entering the prison, to sign his real name in the book. There was no help for it now, and he repeated that it was Coleman.

“Ah yes, Coleman,” echoed the man, in a manner which was significant.

“Who is the other visitor?” said Zachariah.

“It is his daughter.”

His first thought was to ask to be let in, but his next was, that it would be profanity to disturb the intercourse of father and child, and he was silent. However, he had been announced, and Caillaud appeared at the grating begging permission for his friend to enter. It was at first refused; but presently something seemed to strike the jailer, for he relented with a smile.

“You won’t want to come again?” he observed interrogatively.

“No; that is to say, I think not.”

“No; that is to say, I think not,” he repeated slowly, word for word, adding, “I shall have to stay with you while you are together.”

Zachariah entered, the warder locking the door behind him, and seating himself on the edge of the bedstead, where he remained during the whole of the interview, jingling his keys and perfectly unmoved.

The three friends spoke not a word for nearly five minutes. Zachariah was never suddenly equal to any occasion which made any great demands upon him. It often made him miserable that it was so. Here he was, in the presence of one whom he had so much loved, and who was about to leave him forever, and he had nothing to say. That could have been endured could he but have felt and showed his feeling, could he but have cast himself upon his neck and wept over him, but he was numbed and apparently immovable. It was Caillaud who first broke the silence.

“It appears I shall have to console you rather than you me; believe me, I care no more about dying, as mere dying, than I do about walking across this room. There are two things which disturb me⁠—the apprehension of some pain, and bidding goodbye to Pauline and you, and two or three more.”

There was, after all, but just a touch needed to break up Zachariah and melt him.

“You are happier than I,” he cried. “Your work is at an end. No more care for things done or undone; you are discharged, and nobly discharged, with honour. But as for me!”

“With honour!” and Caillaud smiled. “To be hung like a forger of banknotes⁠—not even to be shot⁠—and then to be forgotten. Forgotten utterly! This does not happen to be one of those revolutions which men remember.”

“No! men will not remember,” said Pauline, with an elevation of voice and manner almost oratorical. “Men will not remember, but there is a memory in the world which forgets nothing.”

“Do you know,” said Caillaud, “I have always loved adventure, and at times I look forward to death with curiosity and interest, just as if I were going to a foreign country.”

“Tell me,” said Zachariah, “if there is anything I can do.”

“Nothing. I would ask you to see that Pauline comes to no harm, but she can take care of herself. I have nothing to give you in parting. They have taken everything from me.”

“What a brute I am! I shall never see you again, and I cannot speak,” sobbed Zachariah.

“Speak! What need is there of speaking? What is there which can be said at such a time? To tell you the truth, Coleman, I hardly cared about having you here. I did not want to imperil the calm which is now happily upon me; we all of us have something unaccountable and uncontrollable in us, and I do not know how soon it may wake in me. But I did wish to see you, in order that your mind might be at peace about me. Come, goodbye!”

Caillaud put his hand on Zachariah’s shoulder.

“This will not do,” he said. “For my sake forbear. I can face what I have to go through next Monday if am not shaken. Come, Pauline, you too, my child, must leave me for a bit.”

Zachariah looked at Pauline, who rose and threw her shawl over her shoulders. Her lips were tightly shut, but she was herself. The warder opened the door. Zachariah took his friend’s hand, held it for a moment, and then threw his arms round his neck. There is a pathos in parting which the mere loss through absence does not explain. We all of us feel it, even if there is to be a meeting again in a few months, and we are overcome by incomprehensible emotion when we turn back down the pier, unable any longer to discern the waving of the handkerchief, or when the railway train turns the curve in the cutting and leaves us standing on the platform. Infinitely pathetic, therefore, is the moment when we separate forever.

Caillaud was unsettled for an instant, and then, slowly untwining the embrace, he made a sign to Pauline, who took Zachariah’s hand and led him outside; the heavy well-oiled bolt of the lock shooting back under the key with a smooth strong thud between them. She walked down the corridor alone, not noticing that he had not followed her, and had just passed out of sight when an officer stepped up to him and said:

“Your name is Coleman?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry to hear it. My name is Nadin. You know me, I think. You must consider yourself my prisoner.”

Zachariah was in prison for two years. He had not been there three months when his wife died.


Let us now look forward to 1821; let us walk down one of the new streets just beginning to stretch northwards from Pentonville; let us stop opposite a little house, with a little palisade in front, enclosing a little garden five and twenty feet long and fifteen feet broad; let us peep through the chink between the blind and the window. We see Zachariah and Pauline. Another year passes; we peep through the same chink again. A cradle is there, in which lies Marie Pauline Coleman; but where is the mother? She is not there, and the father alone sits watching the child.