« PreviousContinue »
increased in terror and in certainty. A tremendous gale rendered it impossible for the ship to carry any canvas ; and night came on with tenfold darkness. The commander of this vessel, now separated from the others, was in the utmost perplexity; and the ship was alternately rolling and driving under bare poles, at the mercy of the tempest. At first a murmur, and soon a shout was heard among the crew that the strange man should be brought forth and thrown overboard.
Roused by the clamour, and the sound of his name, reiterated amidst the uproar, the unfortunate being sprung from his troubled slumbers, and rushed upon deck. He trembled in every joint and fibre; his hair rose in distinct bristles ; and his eyes, after wandering wildly, fixed in an intense gaze, that spoke of expected evil, dreadful and inevitable. It seemed as if he had been summoned to reveal to the assembled universe, the secret that overburthened his heart, and to receive the forfeit of some unpardonable sin, among the hootings and cursings of mankind. No one approached him, who regarded his countenance by the fitful light of the lanterns; but those immediately before him shrunk backward, under the overpowering influence of preternatural terror.
Two stout seamen, however, sprang from behind, and were hurrying him rapidly towards the gangway. He was urged along so speedily, that he made no resistance until on the verge of destruction. The ship rolled downward on the side whence he was about to be precipitated; and a ruddy flash which streamed from a lantern held near the spot, fell upon the troubled waste beyond. They were on the summit of an immeasurable mountain wave; and the wretch looked downward and downward into infinite darkness; while stretching high above, before him, another advancing Alp of waters was impending over the gulf, which was to be to him the abyss of eternity. He uttered one long and shrill and piercing shriek; and clung, in the agony of his struggle, so firmly to his conductors, that they in vain endeavoured to shake him off; but when they had pushed him from his foothold, he adhered, with the tenacity of despair, to the gripe he had taken of each of them, and was thus suspended over the yawning shades below. One was advancing with a cutlass, to sever him from his tormentors and from life, when the vessel, shifting its position, threw all three backward. His grasp relaxed; he fell, as if exanimate, and rolled against the mast. The two men, having sprung again on their feet, were kicking him towards the opposite quarter ; when Rogers, who had been standing near, interrupted them, and arrested the body of their intended victim in its progress. The whole scene
had past in a few moments; but in that brief interval the poor Jonas of the ship had past through all the bitterness of death. Rogers now remonstrated with the seamen, but to no purpose. In vain he represented that the man had an equal right with themselves, to the precarious protection which the ship yet yielded them; that they might one day be called to account for it; and that, though they should escape from human tri. bunals, they must eventually, and might, perhaps, in a few mo. ments, follow this now living being, who had never offended them, to the last common audit, to answer for their usurpation of the attribute of God.
His intercession would have been altogether ineffectual, had not the commander himself, at that moinent appeared, and re. stored order, by directing the executiog of some new man@u
While the attention of the men was thus diverted, Rogers dragged the insensible being down to his couch, and de. posited him there in darkness and temporary safety. He opened his eyes, which fixed, for a moment, on his deliverer; then, turning on his face, he enveloped himself in his covering, and lay coiled in the farthest corner of the recess which had been allotted him to sleep in.
The storm abated, and courage and confidence returned to the crew. On the day following the night of his jeopardy, the strange heing crawled from his lurking place, unobserved, until he suddenly made his appearance in his usual place, at the hour of dining. His danger on the preceding night was not generally known; but the company looked at him with a creeping sensation of superstitious awe, when they saw that his hair had turned completely white. His lower jaw seemed to have dropped. His head was bowed low over the trencher, from which, with trembling hands he took his allotted fare. Silence for some time prevailed in the cabin ; and when the spell was passing away, the speakers addressed each other in an under tone, that sounded unnaturally to themselves, rebuked as it was by the fear that had fallen upon them. From a furtive glance which he threw towards him, Rogers thought that the object of so much terror recognized him as having been his preserver. He soon took an opportunity, unobseryed, of beckoning to him, and the man followed him to a retired
Not without some emotion, Rogers requested him to meet him, at midnight, on the quarter deck. “I will, sir,' replied the man: 'I believe I owe you my life. Would to God I had never incurred the debt. May I know the name of one, who, at any rate, meant to befriend me? •Rogers.'-At this
' word the man recoiled. His limbs seemed seized with a sud
strous womb of the ocean; and now I see them; and I shall see them forever. The heathens, I have read, could cling to their altars; and the Jews had certain places where the avenger of blood could not pursue. But I have no sanctuary, and no city of refuge, in all the wide world of land and waters that basks in the sunlight ;-and I cannot look for it in the grave.'
And here he lay down on his face, and a strong convulsion shook him like an ague fit. He regained some composure, and continued. Since I have been on board of this vessel, where the torments of my earthly purgatory have been condensed to an intensity greater and more unremitting than the cutions of those who follow me have been constant. Every living thing around has mocked at and shunned me; until each human countenance seems to be that of a fiend to whom the penal torture has been assigned of persecuting, and mouthing, and chattering at the guilty ; but I could abide all this, if they were not with me. I have seen them in crowded capitals; in the Arabian deserts; and in the dungeons of the infidels; but never, though long years have past, more distinctly than now.
• But why should I weary you with what you cannot understand, and have no interest in. You ask to know the source of my calamity. I will endeavour to tell you as briefly and intelligibly as I can. I was the son of an industrious and frugal woollen draper, in the city of London, and his only child. I was much indulged; and my father, having bound me apprentice to himself, did not chastise me when I neglected his business, but was satisfied to reprove me for my present offences. I did not acqnire any vices; but I was an idle youth, and loved to see spectacles of all kinds. In particular I attended all public executions; and was very sure never to be absent when any tragic scene was to be acted on Tower Hill or at Tyburn. I loved to watch the countenances of men going to be separated instantly from the bustle of life; and felt a strange excitement at the parade apd circumstances which attend the awful execution of law. I did not go with the common feelings of the multitude, who thought no more of the event after it had passed, but dispersed to other places of amusement, or to their every day business. The procession to the scaffold or the tree; the prayer and the psalm and the dying speech; the preparations for the block or the halter; the descending axe or the withdrawing cart; the hushed pause of the countless spectators; the mangling of the bodies afterwards were all to' me so many acts of a stage play, in which I took a fearful but intense delight. It became a passion, paramount above all others; insomuch, that I sometimes envied the vile execu, tioner, all stained as he was, and besmeared with the blood, and tearing the vitals of his often yet conscious yictims; because he enjoyed a nearer prospect of the scene, from which I was kept back by the crowd and the soldiery.
"I have seen, in the East, men who derived their sustenance from mortal poisons; and others who kept tame snakes in their bosoms, and would caress the slimy monsters, as they were wrapt in their grisly and glittering folds. I have heard, too, of cannibals, and of forlorn creatures who haunt grave yards and prey upon dead carcases. Not more unaccountable even to myself than the fancies and appetites of these extraordinary creatures was the desire that possessed me of witnessing the sufferings of human beings previous to the separation of soul and body. I have reasoned upon it since, and found no satisfactory cause ; for in my nature, if I knew what it was in childhood, there was no cruelty nor malice against my fellow men. But so it was, that the contemplation of all these scenes of bloodshed and terror was my constant employment, and visions of executions, in all their terrible variety of pain and fear and agony, held their infernal sabbath in my mind, so that I neglected business and regular occupation of every kind.
• The persecution of the heretics began, and burnings took place in every part of the country. I had never attended an exhibition of this sort, and imagined, according to the craving of my diseased curiosity, that it must surpass in terror and sublimity all I had witnessed of the closing drama of penal justice. It so happened that I had made acquaintance with one of the sheriff's men, with whom I had held much communion on the subject always uppermost in my thoughts; and he came one morning to inform me that a minister was to be burnt the next day, and that I might, if I pleased, be close to the pile,
very thing as it occurred. This was a golden opportunity for me; and one for which I had long and vainly sighed. I was, however, not a little damped in my eagerness, when he told me it was necessary I should light the pile myself. From. this office, although a good Catholic, and esteeming, even as I still do, (but forgive me-you are a Protestant,) the consuming of heretics as an acceptable thing to God ;--from this function, I say, I recoiled, as unbecoming the son of an honest man, out of whose province it was entirely to perform the part of the common hangman. My acquaintance, however, told me, that. I could gain a near access to the stake on no other condition; and gave me a mask which was adapted to the upper part of my face, and which he said, would prevent any person from
recognizing me. He added, that he would call for me the next morning, and so saying, he left me.
All the rest of that day I'was uneasy, irresolute, and almost beside myself, pondering between my desire to indulge a long cherished curiosity, and the repugnance I felt to execute an office considered disgraceful even when prescribed to an individual as his legal duty. Before I fell asleep, I had made up my mind todepart from home early in the morning, and to behold the spectacle from a distance among the multitude. My dreams, prophetic of all I have ever had since, were troubled, wild, and agonizing ; and lawoke in a feverish state of excitement. Very soon, the populace were seen pouring from various quarters to the field where the execution was to be ; and while I was yet meditating whether to evade my appointment by flight, or to refuse aca companying the sheriff's follower, he made his appearance and beckoned to me, and as if by a fatal, uncontrollable impulse, I slipped quickly out of my father's shop, and accom: panied him on his way. Turning down a narrow alley, he equipped me with my mask, and hurried, or rather dragged me towards the prison. No notice was taken of me, as, by the side of my companion, I mingled among the retainers of the law. Very soon the inner gates were opened, and there came forth, among the officers, a man in black vestments, a little advanced in years. His countenance, though not discomposed, was sad; for, as I heard, he had just parted from his family. And behind the escort I saw them slowly advancing, but did not then note them particularly; for a heavy load had fallen upon my heart. I heard not distinctly what was uttered around me, and turned my face neither to the right nor the left; but was led by the arm, mechanically, by my companion; following, with the other attendants, the cart in which the victim, intended for the present sacrifice, was placed.
• In this stupor I walked on the whole distance, unroused by the great following of the people, or the occasional interruptions that took place in our progress, until we arrived at the spot, where the stake and the faggots were prepared. I kept my eyes fixed, as if by enchantment, on that fatal pile, and was dragged along unresistingly, while a ring was formed around the scene of torture. With dim and dreaming vision, I saw the minister descend from the eart, and walk tranquilly and firmly, as it seemed, to the goal of his earthly pilgrimage. There were other things passing, which swam indistinctly before my sight. There was a priest with an angry countenance, holding a cross, from whom the heretic minister turned away; and a proclamation was read, of which I heard the sounds,