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[-47-]

CHAPTER CLIV.

REFLECTIONS. — THE NEW PRISON

    RICHARD MARKHAM passed an uneasy night.
    His thoughts wandered from topic to topic until the variety seemed infinite.
    He pondered upon his brother, and again reflected for the thousandth time what connexion could possibly exist between him and the Resurrection Man. The fatal letter, desiring this terrible individual to call upon him, was too decidedly in Eugene's hand-writing to be doubted. The other contents of the pocket-book, which Richard had found in the Gipsies' Palace, threw no light upon the subject; indeed, they only consisted of a few papers of no consequence to any one.
    Then Richard's thoughts travelled to the Resurrection Man himself. Was this individual really no more! Had the truth been told relative to his death at the Gipsies' encampment near Pentonville prison?
    Next our hero's imagination wandered to the death-bed of the innocent girl who had entertained so unfortunate a passion for him. What fervent love was that! what disinterested affection! And then to perish in such a manner, — with the darkness of the tomb upon her eyes, long ere death itself made its dread appearance!
    But with what inspiration had she prophesied the most exalted destinies for him she loved! With her sybilline finger she had pointed to a throne!
    And then how speedily were those predictions followed by the communication of events which portended grand political changes in Castelcicala, — changes which threatened the reigning sovereign with overthrow, and the inevitable result of which must be the elevation of Prince Alberto to the ducal throne!
    And Isabella — how many proofs of her unvaried love for our hero had she not given? She had confessed her attachment hr the deceased maiden — she had avowed it to that deceased maiden's father. Then, when Mary-Anne had prophesied the exalted rank which Isabella would be destined to confer, by the fact of marriage, upon Richard, the lovely Italian had ratified the promise by the gentle pressure of her hand!
    Next our hero pondered upon the awful deed which had been ascribed to Katherine Wilmot; and here he was lost in a labyrinth of amaze, distrust, and doubt. Could it be possible that the blackest heart was concealed in so fair a shrine? or had circumstantial evidence accumulated with fearful effect to enthral an innocent girl in the meshes of the criminal law? Richard remembered how he himself had suffered through the overwhelming weight of circumstantial evidence; and this thought rendered him slow to put faith in the guilt of others.
    Then, amidst other topics, Richard meditated upon the mysterious instructions which were conveyed to him in the document left behind by Armstrong, and which seemed to promise much by the solemn earnestness that characterised the directions relative to the circumstances or the time that would justify him in opening the sealed packet.
    Thus, if some of our hero's thoughts were calculated to produce uneasiness, others were associated with secret hopes of successful love and dazzling visions of prosperity.
    In three years and a half the appointment with his brother was to be kept. How would they meet? and would Eugene appear on the day named, and upon the hill where the two trees stood? Why had he not written in the meantime? Was he progressing so well that he wished to surprise his brother with his great prosperity? or was he so wretched that his proud heart prevented him from seeking the assistance of one of whom he had taken leave with a species of challenge to a race in the paths which lead to fortune? That Eugene was alive, Richard felt convinced, because the inscriptions on the tree — Eugene's own tree and the letter to the Resurrection Man, proved this fact. The same circumstances also showed that Eugene had been several times in London (even if he did not dwell in the metropolis altogether) since he parted with Richard upon the hill.
    Then Richard reflected that if he himself were eventually prosperous, his success would be owing to fair and honourable means; and he sincerely hoped that his brother might be pursuing an equally harmless career. Such an idea, however, seemed to be contradicted by the mysterious note to the Resurrection Man. But our hero remembered that bad men often enjoyed immense success; and then he thought of Mr. Greenwood — the man who had robbed him of his property, but whom, so far as he knew, he had never seen. That Greenwood was rising rapidly, Richard was well aware; the newspapers conveyed that information. So well had he played his cards, that a baronetcy, if not even a junior post in the administration, would be his the moment his party should come to power. All this Richard knew: the Tory journals were strenuous in their praise of Mr. Greenwood, and lauded to the skies his devotion to the statesmen who were aspiring to office. Then the great wealth of Mr. Greenwood had become proverbial: not a grand enterprise of the day could be started without his name. He [-48-] was a director in no end of Railway Companies; a shareholder in all the principal Life Insurance Offices; a speculator in every kind of stock; chairman of several commercial associations; a ship-owner; a land-owner; a subscriber to all charitable institutions which published a list of its supporters; President of a Bible Society which held periodical meetings at Exeter Hall; one of the stanchest friends to the Society for the Suppression of Vice; a great man at the parochial vestry; a patron of Sunday Schools; a part-proprietor of an influential newspaper; an advocate for the suppression of Sunday trading and Sunday travelling; a member of half a dozen clubs; a great favourite at Tattersal's; a regular church-goer; a decided enemy to mendicity; an intimate friend of the Poor Law Commissioners; and an out-and-out foe to all Reform. All this Richard knew; for he took some interest in watching the career of a person who had risen from nothing to be so great a man as Mr. Greenwood was. Then, while he reflected upon these facts, our hero was compelled to admit that his brother Eugene might appear, upon the appointed day, the emblem of infinite prosperity, and yet a being from whom the truly honest would shrink back with dismay.
    But we will not follow Richard Markham any further in his reflections during that sleepless night.
    He rose at an early hour, and anxiously awaited the arrival of the morning's newspaper.
    From that vehicle of information he learnt that Katherine Wilmot had been examined, on the previous day, before the magistrate at the Marylebone Police Court, and had been remanded for one week, in order that the depositions might be made out previous to her committal to Newgate to take her trial for the murder of Matilda Kenrick.
    We need not now dwell upon the evidence adduced on the occasion of that preliminary investigation, inasmuch as we shall be hereafter compelled to detail it at some length.
    We must, however, observe that when Richard Markham perused all the testimony adduced against the girl before the magistrate, he was staggered; for it seemed crushing, connected, and overwhelming indeed.
    Nevertheless, he remembered his own unhappy case; and he determined not to desert her.
    He called upon Mr. Tracy, and found that gentleman unwilling to believe that so young and seemingly innocent a girl could be capable of so enormous a crime; yet the reverend gentleman was compelled to admit not only that the evidence weighed strongly against her, but that it was difficult to conceive how the housekeeper had come by her death unless by Katherine's hands.
    Richard took his leave of the rector, in whom he saw only a most compassionate man — ready to allow justice to take its course, but very unwilling to utter a word prejudicial to the accused.
    From Mr. Tracy's house our hero proceeded to the New Prison, Clerkenwell, to see Katherine.
    The New Prison is situate in the midst of the most densely populated part of Clerkenwell. It was originally established in the reign of James I.; but in 1816 it was considerably improved and enlarged, at the enormous cost of £40,000. It is now destined to be levelled with the ground, and a new prison is to be built upon the same site, but upon a plan adapted for the application of the atrocious solitary system.
    The infamy of the English plan of gaol discipline is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in the New Prison, Clerkenwell. Between five and six thousand prisoners pass annually through this gaol; and not the slightest attempt at classification, save in respect to sex, is made. The beds are filthy in the extreme, and often full of vermin from the last occupant: thus prisoners who arrive at the prison in a cleanly state, find themselves covered with loathsome animalculζ after one night a rest in that disgusting place. A miserable attempt at cleanliness is made by bathing the prisoners, but the generality of them dislike it, and bribe the wardsmen to allow them to escape the ordeal And no wonder — for the gaol authorities compel every six individuals to bathe one after the other in the same water, and it frequently happens that a cleanly person is forced into a bath containing the filth and vermin washed from the person of a beggar. The reader must remember, that highly respectable persons — even gentlemen and ladies — may become prisoners in this establishment, for breaches of the peace, assaults, or menaces, until they be released by bail; and yet the gentlemen are compelled to herd with felons, beggars, and misdemeanants — and the ladies with the lowest grade of prostitutes and the filthiest vagrants!
    The prisoners pilfer from each other; and the entire establishment is a scene of quarrelling, swearing, fighting, obscenity, and gambling. The male prisoners write notes of the most disgusting description, and throw them over with a coal into the female yard. Riots and disturbances are common in the sleeping wards; and ardent spirits are procured with tolerable facility.
    The degradation of mingling with the obscene and filthy inmates of the female Reception Ward was, however, avoided by poor Katherine Wilmot. The Keeper took compassion upon her youth and the deep distress of mind into which she was plunged, and sent her to the Female Infirmary.
    When Richard Markham called at the New Prison he was permitted to have an interview with Katherine in the Keeper's office.
    The hapless girl flew towards our hero, as if to a brother, and clasping her hands fervently together, exclaimed, "Mr. Markham, I am innocent — I am innocent!"
    "So I choose to believe you — unless a jury should pronounce you to be guilty," replied Richard; "and even then," he added, in a musing tone, "it is possible — I mean that juries are not infallible."
    "Oh! Mr. Markham, I am most unfortunate — . and very, very unhappy!" said Katherine, the tears rolling down her cheeks. "I have never injured a human-being — and yet, see where I am! see how I am treated!"
    At that moment Richard recalled to mind all that the policeman had told him relative to the unpretending charity of the poor girl, — her goodness even to the very neighbours who despised her, — her amiability towards her unfortunate cousin, — the pious resignation with which she had supported the ill-treatment of her uncle, — and her constant anxiety to earn her own bread in a respectable manner.
    All this Richard remembered; and he felt an invincible belief in the complete innocence of [-49-]  

the young creature with respect to the awful deed now laid to her charge.
    "It is not death that I fear, Mr. Markham," said Katherine, after a pause; "but it is hard — very hard to be accused of a crime which I abhor! No — I do not fear death: perhaps it would be better for me to die even at my age — than dwell in a world which has no charms for me. For I have been unhappy from my birth, Mr. Markham: I was left an orphan when I was young — so very young — oh! too young to lose both parents! Since then my existence has not been blest; and at the very moment when a brighter destiny seemed opened to me, through the goodness of yourself and Mr. Tracy, I am suddenly snatched away to a prison, and overwhelmed with this terrible accusation!"
    "Katherine," said Richard, deeply affected by the young girl's tone and words, "I believe you to be innocent — as God in my judge, I believe you to be innocent!"
    "And may that same Almighty Power bless you for this assurance!" exclaimed Katherine, pressing our hero's hands with the most grateful warmth.
    "Although in asserting my conviction of your innocence, Katherine," continued Richard, "I leave the deed itself enveloped in the darkest mystery, still I do believe that you are innocent — and I will not desert you."
    Richard remembered how grateful to his ears had once sounded those words, "I believe that you are innocent," — when Thomas Armstrong uttered them in the prison of Newgate.
    "Yes, Katherine-you are, you must be innocent," he continued; "and I will labour unceasingly to make your innocence apparent. I will provide the ablest counsel to assist in your defence; and all that human agency can effect in your behalf shall be ensured at any cost."
    The poor girl could not find words to express her deep gratitude to this young man who so generously constituted himself her champion, and on whom she had not the slightest claim; — but her looks and her tears conveyed to our hero all she felt.
    "Has your uncle been to see you?" he inquired.
    "No, sir — nor my cousin," replied Katherine, with melancholy emphasis upon the latter words. [-50-]
    "Perhaps they are unaware of your situation. I will call and communicate to them the sad tidings. As your relatives, it is right that they should know the truth."
    He then took leave of the young creature, who now felt less forlorn since she knew that she possessed at least one friend who would not only exert himself in her behalf, but who also believed In her innocence.
    From the New Prison Richard proceeded to Saint Giles's, and knocked at the door of the Public Executioner's abode.
    But his summons remained unanswered.
    He repeated it again: all was silent within.
    At length a neighbour, — a man who kept a coal and potato shed, — emerged from his shop, and volunteered some information concerning the hangman and his son.
    "It's no use knocking and knocking there, sir," said the man: "Smithers and his lad left London early yesterday morning for some place in the north of Ireland — I do n't know the name — but where there's some work in his partickler line. The postman brought Smithers a letter, asking him to start off without delay; and he did so. He took Gibbet with him to give him another chance, he said, of trying his hand. Smithers told me all this before he went away, and asked me to take in any letters that might come for him, or answer any one that called. That's how I came to know all this."
    "Do you happen to be aware when he will return!" asked Richard.
    "I've no more idea than that there tatur," answered the man, indicating with his foot a specimen of the vegetable alluded to.
    Richard thanked the man for the information which he had been enabled to give, and then pursued his way towards the chief police station in the neighbourhood.
    Arrived at that establishment, he inquired for Morris Benstead.
    The officer happened to be on the premises at the moment.
    Markham led him to a short distance, and then addressed him as follows: — 
    "You have doubtless heard of the extraordinary position in which poor Katherine Wilmot is placed. I, for one, firmly believe her to be innocent."
    "So do I, sir," exclaimed the officer, emphatically.
    "Then you will prove the more useful to my purpose in consequence of that impression," said Richard. "When I saw you on a former occasion, you offered me your services if ever I should require them. Little did I then suppose that I should so soon need your aid. Are you willing to assist me in investigating this most mysterious affair?"
    "With pleasure, sir — with the sincerest pleasure," answered Benstead. "You know the respect I entertain for poor Miss Kate."
    "And I know your goodness of heart," said our hero. "You must then aid me in collecting proofs of her innocence. Spare no expense in your task: hesitate not to apply to me for any money that you may need. Here are ten pounds for immediate purposes. To-morrow I will let you know whom I shall decide upon employing to conduct the poor girl's defence; and you can then communicate direct with the solicitor and barrister retained. Are you willing to undertake this task?"
    "Need you ask me, sir?" cried the policeman. "I would do any thing to serve Miss Kate."
    "Prudence renders it necessary for me to keep myself in the background in this affair," said Richard; "for fear lest scandal should attach an unworthy motive to my exertions in her behalf, and thus prejudice her cause by injuring her character. Upon you, then, I throw the weight of the investigation."
    "And I accept it cheerfully," returned Benstead.
    Markham then took leave of the officer, and having paid a visit to Mr. Gregory, returned home.

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