A DELAWARE LEGEND—A STORY OF THE OLD TIME—THE CHRISTMAS PLAY—A CRUEL ACCUSATION—THE FLIGHT IN THE DARKNESS ALONG THE RIVER SHORE—THE TRIAL AND THE CONDEMNATION—ST. PILLORY'S DAY SEVENTY YEARS AGO—FLOGGING A WOMAN—THE DELIVERANCE.
WHILE the scenes at the whipping-post on flogging-day are fresh in my mind, I have written down the story of Mary Engle. It is a Delaware legend, and the events of which it speaks occurred, I will say, seventy-odd years ago, when they were in the habit of lashing women in this very town of New Castle.
It was on Christmas day that a little party had assembled in the old Newton mansion to participate in the festivities for which, at this season of the year, it was famous all the country over. The house stood upon the river bank, three miles and more from New Castle, and in that day it was considered the greatest and handsomest building in the whole neighborhood. A broad lawn swept away from it down to the water's edge, and in summer-time this was covered with bright-colored flowers and bounded by green hedges. Now the grass was bleached with the cold; the hedges were brown and sere, and the huge old trees, stripped of their foliage, moaned and creaked and shivered in the wind, rattling their branches together as if seeking sympathy with each other in their desolation.
Inside the mansion the scene was as cheerful as life and fun and high spirits could make it.
Old Major Newton, the lord and master of all the wide estates, was one of the race of country gentlemen who introduced to this continent the manners, habits and large hospitality of the better class of English squires of his day. He was a mighty fox-hunter, as many a brush hung in his dining-hall could attest. A believer in the free use of the good things of life, his sideboard always contained a dozen decanters, from which the coming, the remaining and the parting guests were expected to follow the major's example in drinking deeply. His table was always profusely supplied with good fare, and dining with him was the great duty and pleasure of the day. He was a gentleman in education, and to some extent in his tastes; but his manners partook of the coarseness of his time, for he swore fierce oaths, and his temper was quick, terrible and violent. His forty negro slaves were treated with indulgent kindness while they obeyed him implicitly, but any attempt at insubordination upon their part called down upon their beads a volley of oaths and that savage punishment which the major considered necessary to discipline.
To-day the major had been out of spirits, and had not joined heartily in the hilarity of the company, which, despite the gloom of the master, made the old house ring with the merriment and laughter due to the happiness of Christmas time.
At five o'clock dinner was done; and the ladies having withdrawn, the cloth was removed, the wine and whisky and apple-toddy, and a half dozen other beverages, were brought out, and the major, with his male guests, began the serious work of the repast. The major sat at the head of the table; Dr. Ricketts, a jolly bachelor of fifty, who neglected medicine that he might better spend his fortune in a life of ease and pleasure, presided at the lower end of the board, upon the flanks of which sat a dozen gentlemen from the neighboring estates, among them Tom Willitts, from the adjoining farm, and Dick Newton, the major's only son.
The conversation languished somewhat. The major was as gloomy as he had been earlier in the day. Dick seemed to sympathize with his father. Tomn Willitts was impatient to have the drinking bout over, that he might go to the parlor, where his thoughts already wandered, and where his fiancee, Mary Engle, the fair governess in the major's family, awaited him. The guests at last began to be depressed by the want of spirits in their host; and if it had not been for Doctor Ricketts, there would have been a dull time indeed. But the doctor was talkative, lively and wholly indifferent to the taciturnity of his companions. His weakness was a fondness for theorizing, and he rattled on from topic to topic, heedless of anything but the portly goblet which he replenished time and again from the decanter and the punch-bowl.
At last he exclaimed, in the hope of rousing his host from his apparent despondency, "And now let's have a song from the major. Give us the 'Tally Ho!' Newton."
"I can't sing it to-day, gentlemen," said the major; "the fact is I am a good deal out of sorts. I have met with a misfortune, and I—"
"Why, what's happened?" exclaimed the whole company.
"Why," said the major, with an oath, "I've lost my famous old diamond brooch—a jewel, gentlemen, given to my father by George II.—a jewel that I valued more than all the world beside. It was the reward given to my father for a brave and gallant deed at the battle of Dettingen, and its rare intrinsic value was trifling beside that which it possessed as the evidence of my father's valor."
"How did you lose it, major?" asked the doctor.
"I went to my desk this morning, and found that the lock had been picked, the inside drawer broken open and the brooch taken from its box."
"Who could have done it?"
"I can't imagine," replied the major; "I don't think any of those niggers would have done such a thing. I've searched them all, but it's of no use, sir—no use; it's gone. But if I ever lay hands on the scoundrel, I'll flay him alive—I will, indeed, even if it should be Dick there;" and the old man gulped down a heavy draught of port, as if to drown his grief.
"My theory about such crimes," said the doctor, "is that the persons committing them are always more or less insane."
"Insane!" swore the major, fiercely. "If I catch the man who did this, I'll fit him for a hospital!"
"We are all a little daft at times—when we are angry, in love, in extreme want, or excited by intense passion of any kind," said the doctor. "Extreme ignorance, being neglect of one's intellectual faculties, is a kind of insanity, and so is the perversion of the moral perceptions of those who are educated to a life of crime from their childhood. My theory is that punishment should be so inflicted as to restore reason, not merely to wreak vengeance."
"And my theory is that every vagabond who breaks the laws ought to be flogged and imprisoned, so that he may know that society will not tolerate crime. Hang your fine-spun theories about the beggars who prey upon the community!" said the major, rising and kicking back his chair ill-naturedly.
The doctor had nothing more to say, and the company withdrew to the parlor.
There, gathered around the great fireplace, sat Mrs. Newton, her daughters—both children—Mary Engle, their tutor, Mrs. Willitts and the wives of the gentlemen who had come from the dinner-table.
They rose as the men entered the room, and greeted them cordially. Tom Willitts went quickly to Mary's side; aid while the others engaged in lively conversation he took her hand gently and, as was their privilege, they walked slowly up the room and sat by the window alone, Mary's face brightening as she thanked Tom heartily for the beautiful present he had sent her the day before.
"Why don't you wear it now, Mary?" asked Tom.
"Do you want me to? I will get it and put it on, then, when I go to my room," said Mary.
Mary Engle was the daughter of a widow in humble circumstances who lived in the village. Talented and well-educated, she had determined no longer to be a burden upon her mother, but to support herself. She had chosen to become a governess in Major Newton's family. Young, beautiful and of good social position, she was a valuable acquisition to that household, and was a universal favorite, although the major could never quite rid himself of the notion that, as she was a dependant and an employee, he was conferring a favor upon her by permitting such intimate relations to exist between her and his family. But he treated her kindly, as all men must a pretty woman. She was a girl with whom any man might have fallen in love upon first acquaintance. Dick Newton loved her passionately before she had been in his father's house a month. But she had chosen rather to favor Tom Willitts, a constant visitor at the Newton mansion, and as fine a fellow as ever galloped across the country with the hounds. Dick had not had time to propose before the game was up and Tom called the prize his own. But Dick nursed his passion and smothered his disappointment, while he swore that he would possess the girl or involve her and her lover in common ruin with himself. Tom had been engaged for three months before this Christmas day. He was to be married in the coming spring.
There was to be a theatrical exhibition in the Newton mansion this Christmas evening, in which the young people were to participate. A temporary stage had been erected at one end of the long room, and at an early hour seats were placed in front of the curtain, and the guests took their places, conversing with much merriment and laughter until the bell gave the signal for the performance to begin.
It was a little play—a brief comedy of only tolerable merit, and it devolved upon Mary Engle to enter first.
She tripped in smiling, and began the recitation with a vivacity and spirit that promised well for the excellence of her performance throughout. Upon her throat she wore a diamond brooch which blazed and flashed in the glare of the foot-lights.
There was an exclamation of surprise on the part of the gentlemen present, and the sound startled Mary. She paused and looked around her inquiringly. Just then Major Newton caught sight of the brooch. With an ugly word upon his lips, he sprang from his seat and jumped upon the stage.
"Where did you get that?" he demanded, fiercely, pointing at the diamonds, his hand trembling violently.
There was absolute silence in the room as Mary, pale and calm, replied:
"Why do you ask, sir?"
"Where did you get that, I say? It was stolen from me. You are a thief!"
In an instant she tore it from her dress and flung it upon the floor.
The major leaped toward it and picked it up quickly. Mary covered her face with her hands, and the crimson of her cheeks shone through her fingers.
"Where did you get it?" again demanded the major.
"I will not tell you, sir," said she, dragging down her hands with an effort and clasping them in front of her.
"Then leave this house this instant, and leave it for ever!" said the major, wild with passion.
Tom Willitts entered just as the last words were uttered. Mary seemed fainting. He flew to her side as if to defend her against her enemy. He did not know the cause of her trouble, but he glared at the major as if he could slay him.
But as he tried to place his arm around Mary, she shrank away from him; and giving him one look of scorn and contempt and hatred, she ran from the room.
From the room to the great door in the hall, which, with frantic eagerness, she flung open, and then, without any covering upon her fair head, hot with shame and disgrace, and maddened with insult, she fled out into the cold and dark and desolate winter's night.
Scarcely heeding the direction, she reached the river's shore; and choosing the hard sand for a pathway, she hurried along it. The tide swept up in ceaseless ripples at her feet, the waves breaking upon the icy fringe of the shore, each with a whisper that seemed to tell of her dishonor. The wind rustled the sedges upon the banks and filled them with voices that mocked her. The stars that lighted her upon her mad journey twinkled through the frosty air with an intelligence they had never before possessed. The lights, far out upon the river and in the distant town, danced up and down in the darkness as if beckoning her to come on to them and to destruction.
Her brain was in a whirl. At first she felt an impulse to end her misery in the river. One plunge, and all this anguish and pain would be buried beneath those restless waters. Then the hope of vindication flashed upon her mind, and the awful sin and the cowardice of self-destruction rose vividly before her. She would seek her home and the mother from whom she should never have gone out. She would give up happiness and humanity, and hide herself from the cold, heartless world for ever. She would have no more to do with false friends and false lovers, but would shut herself away from all this deceit and treachery and unkindness, and nevermore trust any human being but her own dear mother.
And so, over the sandy beach, through mire and mud, through the high grass and the reeds of the water's edge, tangled and dead, and full of peril in the darkness, with her hair disheveled and tossed about by the riotous wind, but with not a tear upon her white face, she struggled onward through the night, until, exhausted with her journey, her wild passion and her misery, she reached her mother's house, and entering, clasped her arms about her mother's neck, and with a sob fell fainting at her feet.
* * * * * * *
There was an end to merriment at the Newton mansion. When Mary ran from the room, the company stood for a moment amazed and bewildered, while the major, raging with passion, yet half ashamed of his furious conduct, walked rapidly up and down the stage, attempting to explain the theft to his guests and to justify his conduct. But Tom Willitts, shocked at the cruel. treatment he had received from Mary, yet filled with righteous indignation at the major's violence, interrupted his first utterance.
"You are a coward and a brute, sir; and old as you are, I will make you answer for your infamous treatment of that young girl."
And before the major could reply he dashed out to pursue Mary and give her his protection. He sought her in vain upon the highway; and filled with bitterness, and wondering why she had so scorned him, he trudged on through the darkness, peering about him vainly for the poor girl for whom he would have sacrificed his life.
"Perhaps it was merely a jest," suggested Mrs. Willitts. "I think Mary wholly incapable of theft. She never could have intended seriously to keep the brooch."
"A pretty serious jest," said the major, "to break into my desk three days ago. It's the kind of humor that puts people in jail."
"My theory about the matter," said the doctor, "is this. She either was made the victim of a pretty ugly practical joke, or else some one stole the jewel from you and gave it to her to get her into trouble."
"I don't believe anything of the kind," said the major.
"It must be so. If she had stolen it, she certainly would not have worn it in your presence this evening. It is absurd to suppose such a thing. Taking this theory—"
"Hang theorizing!" exclaimed the major, seeing the force of this suggestion, but more angry that he was driven to admit it to his own mind. "She is a thief, and as sure as I live she shall either confess, tell how she got the jewel or go to prison."
"And as sure as I live," said the doctor, grown indignant and serious, "I will unravel this mystery and clear this innocent girl of this most infamous and wicked imputation."
"Do it if you can!" said the major, and turned his back upon him contemptuously.
The doctor left the house, and the company dispersed, eager gossips, all of them, to tell the story far and wide throughout the community before to-morrow's noon.
* * * * * * *
When Mary had revived and told, in broken words, the story of her misery and disgrace, her mother soothed and comforted her with the assurance that she should never leave her again; and while she denounced Major Newton's conduct bitterly, mistake he would find that he had made a mistake, and would clear her of the charge.
"But he will not find it out, mother."
"Why? Where did you get the brooch, Mary?" "Do not ask me, mother; I cannot, cannot tell you." "Had you merely picked it up and put it on in jest?"
"No, no," said Mary, "it was given to me, I cannot tell by whom, and I thought it was mine. It was cruel, cruel!" and her tears came again.
"And who was it that did so vile a thing?" asked her mother.
"Mother, I cannot tell even you that."
"But, Mary, this is foolish. You must not, for your own sake, for mine, hide the name of this criminal."
"I will never, never tell. I will die first."
"Was it Tom Willitts?"
"You must not question me, mother," said Mary, firmly. "If the person who betrayed me is cowardly enough to place me in such a position, and then to stand coldly by and witness my shame, I am brave enough and true enough to bear the burden. I would rather have this misery than his conscience."
Tom Willitts knocked at the door.
"If it is Tom Willitts, mother," said Mary, rising, "tell him I will not see him. Tell him never to come to this house again. Tell him," she said, her eyes glowing with excitement, and stamping her foot upon the floor, "tell him I hate him—hate him for a false, mean villain!" and she fell back upon the chair in a wild passion of tears.
Mrs. Engle met Tom at the door. He was filled with anxiety and terror, but he rejoiced that Mary was safe. Mrs. Engle told him that Mary refused to see him. He was smitten with anguish, and begged for a single word with her.
"Do you know anything about this wicked business, Mr. Willitts?" asked Mrs. Engle, suspicious, because of Mary's words, that Tom was the criminal.
"Upon my honor I do not. I heard Major Newton's language, and saw the brooch upon the floor; and when Mary fled from me, I pursued her, wondering what it all meant."
"She evidently suspects you of having been the cause of the trouble. Prove that you were not. Until then she will not see you. I beg you, for yourself and her, to tell the truth about this, if you know it, or at least to persist till you discover it.
Tom went away distressed and confounded. She suspected him. No wonder, then, she had spurned him so rudely. He thought the matter over, and could arrive at no solution of the difficulty. He had sent her a bracelet which she had promised to wear, but she had not worn it. It was impossible that this brooch could have been substituted. No, his own servant had given it to her, and brought her thanks in return. Besides, who could be base enough to play such a dastardly trick upon a pretty young girl? He could not master the situation; and in his trouble he went the next morning to Dr. Ricketts.
The doctor was equally puzzled, but he was certain that there was foul play somewhere. He had pledged himself to unravel the mystery, and he began the work by visiting Mary. Alone, he went to her house. He found it in strange commotion. Mrs. Engle was sitting upon the sofa, crying bitterly; Mary, with pale, sad face, but with an air of determination, confronted an obsequious man, who, with many apologies and a manner that proved that he was ashamed of his business, extended a paper toward her, and requested her to accompany him.
It was a constable with a warrant for her arrest.
Nearly five weary months were to pass before the cruel time of the trial. Dr. Ricketts busied himself examining every one who could possibly have been connected with the affair of the brooch, but with no result but a deeper mystery. Tom's servant swore that he had given the bracelet into Mary's own hand. Two of the house servants at Major Newton's were present at the time, and they were certain the package was not broken. Mary's thimble had been found under the broken desk in which the brooch was kept, and the housemaid had discovered a chisel secreted behind some books in the bookcase in her room.
The evidence, slight though it was, pointed to Mary as the criminal, despite the absurdity of the supposition, in view of the manner in which she had worn he jewel. Mary herself preserved an obstinate silence, refusing to tell how or where or from whom she procured the fatal brooch. The doctor was bewildered and confounded, and he at last gave up his inquiries in despair, hoping for a gracious verdict from the jury at the. trial.
Through all the weary time Mary kept closely at home, secluded from friends and acquaintances. Indeed, visitors were few in number now. She was in humble circumstances, and she was in disgrace. Society always accounts its members guilty until their innocence is proved. There were people in the town who had been jealous of her beauty, her popularity, her place in the affections of rich Tom Willitts, and these did not hesitate to hint, with a sneer, that they had always doubted the reported excellence of Mary Engle, and to assert their belief in her guilt.
Tom Willitts was nearly crazed about her treatment of him and the ignominy that was heaped upon her. With Dr. Ricketts and Dick Newton, who professed intense anxiety to help solve the matter, he strove valiantly to clear her of the charge, but without avail.
The day of the trial came. The court-room was crowded. Able lawyers on both sides sparred with each other, as able lawyers do, but the heart of the prosecuting attorney was evidently not with his work. His duty was clear, however, and the evidence was overwhelming. The defence had nothing to offer but Mary's good character and her appearance before the company with the brooch upon her person.
The judge was compelled to instruct the jury against the prisoner. An hour of anxious suspense, and they returned a verdict of "guilty."
Mrs. Engle began to sob violently. Mary drew her veil aside from a face that was ashen white, but not a muscle quivered until the judge pronounced the sentence:
"Costs of prosecution, a fine of one hundred dollars, twenty lashes upon the bare back on the Saturday following, and imprisonment for one year."
Mary fell to the floor insensible, and Dr. Ricketts, raising her in his arms, applied restoratives. She was removed to the jail to await her punishment.
The doctor mounted his horse and sped away in hot haste forty miles to Dover. He had influence with the governor. He would procure a pardon, and then have Mary taken away from the scene of her tribulation—where her suffering and disgrace would be forgotten, and she would be at peace He was unsuccessful. The governor was a just, not a merciful, man. The law had been outraged. Twelve good men and true had said so. If people committed crimes, they must submit to the penalty. Society must be protected. The intelligence and social position of the criminal only made the demands of justice more imperative. If he pardoned Mary Engle, men would rightly say that the poor and friendless and weak were punished, while the influential and rich escaped the law. He must do his duty to Delaware and to her people. He could not grant the pardon.
But there was to be another appeal to executive mercy. It was the night before the punishment. The doctor sat in his parlor, before the glowing fire in the grate, and with his head resting upon his hand he thought sadly of the pitiful scene he had witnessed in the jail from which he had just come—of Mary, in the damp, narrow cell, bearing herself like a heroine through all this terrible trial, and still keeping a secret which the doctor felt certain would give her back her freedom and her good name if it could be disclosed; of Mrs. Engle, full of despair and terror, crying bitterly over the shame and disgrace that had come upon her child, and which would be increased beyond endurance on the morrow.
As the doctor's kind old heart grew heavy with these thoughts, and from the bewildering maze of circumstances he tried to evolve some theory that promised salvation, Dick Newton entered.
He was haggard and pale, and his eyes were cast down to the floor.
"Why, Dick, what's the matter?" asked the doctor.
"Dr. Ricketts, I have come to make a shameful confession. I—"
"Well?" said the doctor, suspiciously and impatiently, as Dick's voice faltered.
"I will not hesitate about it," said Dick, hurriedly; "I am afraid it is even now too late. I stole the diamond brooch."
"What?" exclaimed the doctor, jumping to his feet in a frenzy of indignant excitement.
"I am the cause of all this trouble. It was my fault that Mary Engle was accused and convicted, and it will be my fault if she is punished. Oh, doctor, cannot something be done to save her? I never intended it should go so far."
"You infamous scoundrel!" said the doctor, unable to restrain his scorn and contempt; "why did you not say this before? Why did you permit all this misery and shame to fall upon the defenceless head of a woman for whom an honest man should have sacrificed his very life? How was this villainy consummated? Tell me, quickly!"
The poor wretch sank upon his knees, and with a trembling voice exclaimed,
"I loved her. I hated Tom Willitts. He sent her a bracelet. I knew it would come. I broke open father's cabinet and took his brooch. With threats and money I induced Tom's servant to lend me the box for a few moments before he entered the house. I placed the brooch in it. She thought it came from Tom, and she resolved to die rather than betray him, although she thinks him the cause of her ruin. It was vile and mean and wicked in me, but I thought Tom would be the victim, not she; and when the trouble came, I could not endure the shame of exposure. But you will save her now, doctor, will you not? I will fly—leave the country—kill myself—anything to prevent this awful crime."
The miserable man burst into tears. Dr. Ricketts looked at him a moment with eyes filled with pity and scorn, and then said,
"So my theory was right, after all. Come, sir, you will go to the governor with me, and we will see if he will grant a pardon upon your confession."
"What, to-night?" asked Dick.
"Yes, to-night—now; and it will be well for you and your victim if fleet horses carry us to Dover and back before ten to-morrow morning."
In five minutes the pair were seated in a carriage, and through the black night they sped onward, the one with his heart swelling with hope, joy and humanity, the other cowering in the darkness, full of misery and self-contempt, and of horrible forebodings of the future.
Saturday morning—a cold, raw, gusty morning in May.
The town was in a small uproar. Men lounged on the porches of the taverns, in front of which their horses were hitched, talking politics, discussing crop prospects, the prices of grain, the latest news by coach and schooner from Philadelphia. Inside the bar-room men were reading newspapers a month old, drinking, swearing and debating with loud voices.
But the attraction that morning was in another quarter. In the middle of the market street there was a common—a strip of green sod twenty feet wide fringed on either side with a row of trees. In the centre of this stood the whipping-post and pillory.
The hour of ten tolled out from the steeple down the street. It was the same bell that called the people together on Sunday to worship God and to supplicate his mercy. It was a bell of various uses. It summoned the saints to prayer and the sinners to punishment.
At its earliest stroke the jailer issued from the prison with a forlorn-looking white man in his clutches. He hurried his prisoner up the ladder, and prepared to fasten him in the pillory. The boys below collected in knots, and fingered the missiles in their hands. The jailer descended. A boy lifted his hand and flung a rotten egg at the pilloried wretch. It hit him squarely in the face, and the feculent contents streamed down to his chin. That was the signal. Eggs, dead cats, mud, stones, tufts of sod and a multitude of filthy things were showered upon the prisoner, until the platform was covered with the débris. He yelled with pain, and strove vainly to shake from his face the blood that streamed forth, from the cut skin and the filth that besmeared it. The crowd hooted at him and laughed at his efforts, and called him vile names, and jested with him about his wooden collar and cuffs, and no human heart in all that assembly had any pity for him. For an hour he stood there, enduring inconceivable torture. When the steeple clock struck eleven, he was taken out in wretched plight, almost helpless and sorely wounded. No more pillory that day. It was the turn of the whipping-post now. There were two women to be whipped, one of them white, the other black. We know who the white woman was.
The negro was to suffer first. She was dragged from the jail wild with fright and apprehension. Around her legs a soiled skirt of calico dangled. About her naked body, stripped for the sacrifice, a fragment of carpet was hung. The jailer brought, her by main force to the post through the jeering crowd, and while she begged wildly, almost incoherently, for mercy, promising vague, impossible things, the officer of the law clasped the iron cuffs about her uplifted hands, so that she was compelled to stand upon her toes to escape unendurable agony. The blanket was torn from her shoulders, and with dilated eyes glistening with terror, she turned her head half around to where the sheriff stood, ready to execute the law.
This virtuous officer felt the sharp thongs of his "cat" complacently as he listened with dull ear to the incessant prayers of the woman; and when the jailer said, "Forty lashes, sheriff," the cat was swung slowly up, and the ends of the lashes touched the victim's back, bringing blood at the first blow.
The crowd laughed and applauded. The sheriff accepted the applause with the calm indifference of a man who feels the greatness of his office and has confidence in his own skill.
As the lashes came thick and fast, the skin swelled up into thick purple ridges, and then the blood spurted out in crimson streams, flowing down upon the wretched skirt and staining it with a new and dreadful hue. The woman's piercing screams rang out upon the air and filled some kind hearts with tender pity. But as it was a "nigger," the tendency to human kindness was smothered.
Beneath the blows she writhed and contorted and shrank forward, until at last, faint with loss of blood, with terrible pain and nervous exhaustion, she sank helplessly down and hung by her arms alone. At first the sheriff thought he would postpone the rest of the punishment until she recovered. But there were only five more lashes to be given, and he concluded that it would be as well to finish up the job. They were inflicted upon the insensible form, and then the jailer came forward with a pair of shears. The sheriff took them coolly and clipped away a portion of the woman's ears. Her hands were then unshackled; and bleeding, mutilated, unconscious, she was carried into the prison.
Her agonized cries had penetrated those walls already and brought a whiter hue to the pale cheeks of the woman who by this ignominy had learned her sisterhood with the poor black. There were two other women in the cell, Mrs. Engle and Mrs. Willitts. The former controlled herself for her daughter's sake, but dared speak no word to her. Mrs. Willitts, through her tears, tried to comfort Mary as with hesitating hands she disrobed her for her torture:
"The day will come, Mary dear, when you will be vindicated, and these wicked men will hide their heads with bitter shame and humiliation. But bear up bravely, dear. Have good courage through it all. Perhaps it will not be so hard. 'Though there be heaviness for a night, joy cometh in the morning.' We will all be happy together yet some day."
Mary Engle stood there, speechless, statue-like, immovable, as they took away her garments, and her fair white skin glistened in the dim light.
It was almost time. The black woman was being dragged through the door to the next cell. The murmur of the crowd came up from the street. Mrs. Willitts placed the blanket upon those ivory shoulders, and Mary, turning to her mother, flung her arms about her and kissed her. In a whisper she said,
"I shall die, mother. I will not live through it. I will never see you again."
But there was not a tear in her eye. Wrapping the blanket tightly about her, with the calmness of despair she prepared to step from the cell at the call of the impatient jailer.
A great commotion in the streets. The noise of horse's hoofs. A din of voices; then a wild cheer.
Dr. Ricketts dashed in, flourishing a paper in his hand.
"She is pardoned! pardoned!" he shouted; "go back! take her back!" he said as the jailer laid his hand upon Mary. "See this!" and he flung the paper open in his face.
The long agony was over, and the reaction was so great that Mary Engle, hardly conscious of the good thing that had happened to her, and not fully realizing the events by which her innocence was proved, stood stupefied and bewildered. Then she felt faint, and laying her upon the low bed, they told her all the story; and when the doctor said that Tom was not a guilty man, she turned her face to the wall to hide the blinding tears, and she muttered:
"Thank God! thank God for that!"
As she came out of the prison doors, leaning on the doctor's aim, the crowd, now largely increased, hailed her with a hurrah, but Mary drew her veil over her face and shuddered as she thought how these very people had assembled to see her flogged.
"It is my theory, my dear," said the doctor, "that human beings are equally glad when their fellow-creatures get into trouble and when they get out of it."
Back once again in her old home, Mary was besieged by friends whose regard had suddenly assumed a violent form, and who were now eager to congratulate her upon her vindication.
Tom Willitts came to the door and inquired for Mrs. Engle.
"Can I come in now?" he inquired, with a glow upon his face.
He did go in, and there, before them all, he clasped Mary in his arms, while she begged him to forgive her for all the suffering she had caused him.
But Tom wanted to be forgiven, too; and as both confessed guilt, repentance and an earnest wish to be merciful, they were soon better friends than ever.
"I used to love you," said Tom, "but now I worship you for your heroism and your sacrifice for me."
There was another visitor. Old Major Newton entered the room, hat in hand, and with bowed head. The lines in his face were deeper and harder than usual, but he looked broken and sad.
He went up to Mary and said as he stood before her with downcast eyes:
"I have come to ask pardon for my brutality and cruelty. The injury I did to you I can never atone for. I shall carry my remorse to the grave. But if you have any word of pity for an old man whose son has fled from home a scoundrel and a villain, and who stands before you broken-hearted, ready to kiss your feet for your angelic goodness and your noble self-sacrifice, say it, that I may at least have that comfort in my desolation."
And Mary took the old man's hard hands in hers and spoke kind and gentle words to him; and with tears coursing down his rough cheeks, he kissed her dainty fingers and went out, and back to his forlorn and wretched home.
There was another Christmas night a few months later, and this time the merry-making was going on in the Willitts mansion.
There were two brides there. Mary and Tom Willitts were busy helping the children with their Christmas games, and keeping up the excitement as if no sorrow had ever come across their path; while seated at the upper end of the room, Dr. Ricketts and his wife (Mrs. Engle that had been), looking upon the younger pair with pride and pleasure, touched only now and then with a sad memory of the troubled times that were gone by for ever.
And when the games were all in full progress, Tom and his wife watched them for a while, and then he drew her arm through his, and they went to the porch and looked out upon the river beating up against the ice-bound shore, just as it did on that night one year ago. But it had a different language to Mary's ears now. it was full of music, but music that seemed in a minor key, as the remembrance of that wild flight along the shore came up vividly in her mind.
Neither spoke for a while, but each knew that the thoughts of the other went over all the misery and terror of the past, only to rest satisfied with the calm, sweet happiness of the present. Mary, clasping her husband's arm tighter in her grasp, looked with unconscious eyes out over the broad river, while her lips slowly repeated that grand old hymn of comfort and hope:
"There is a day of peace and rest
For sorrow's dark and dreary night;
Though grief may bide an evening guest,
Yet joy shall come with morning light.
"The light of smiles shall beam again
From lids that now o'erflow with tears,
And weary days of woe and pain
Are earnests of serener years."