Page:The New Monthly Magazine - Volume 039.djvu/482

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The Story of Hester Malpas.

She could say nothing — the surprise of this departure overwhelmed every other feeling. She walked with him in silence — she listened to his words, and felt a vague sort of satisfaction in his expressions of attachment and fidelity; but she answered only by tears. Frank was the first to see the necessity of their parting. He accompanied her back to her aunt's, and Hester let herself in, as she had the key of the backdoor. He followed her into the passage — he clasped her to his breast, and turned hastily away. Hester was not aware that he was gone till she heard the door dose after him; she wanted consolation — it would have been a relief to have spoken to any one — she felt half inclined to seek her aunt and confess the meeting, but her courage failed, and she hurried into her own little room, where she was soon lost in a confused reverie which blended her aunt's anger and Frank's departure together.

Leaving her to the enjoyment (as people are said to enjoy a bad state of health) of her solitary and melancholy reverie, we will follow the worthy Mr. Lowndes out of church, who, leaving his wife to hurry home about dinner, declared his intention of paying Mrs. Hester Malpas a visit. The fact was, he had missed Hester from her accustomed place in church — thought that she was still kept prisoner to the house — and considering her to have been punished quite long enough, resolved to speak a word in her favour to her aunt. He knocked at the door, but instead of being let in with that promptitude which characterized all the movements of Mrs. Hester's household, he was kept waiting; he knocked again — still no answer. At this moment, just as Mr. Lowndes' temper was giving more way than the door, the servant girl came up, who had loitered longer on her way from church, arrived, and let them in together. She threw open the parlour door, but instantly sprung back with a scream. Mr. Lowndes advanced, but he, too, started back with an exclamation of horror. The girl caught hold of his arm, and both stood trembling for a moment, ere they mustered courage to enter that fated and fearful room. The presence of death is always awful, but death, the sudden and the violent, has a terror far beyond common and natural fear. The poor old lady was lying with her face on the floor, and the manner of her death was instantly obvious — a violent blow on the back of the head had fractured. the skull, and a dark red stain marked the clean white cap, whence the blood was slowly trickling. They raised the body, and placed it in the large arm-chair, the customary seat of the deceased. "Good God! where is Miss Hester?" exclaimed Mr. Lowndes. The servant girl ran into the passage, and called at the foot of the stairs — she had not courage to ascend them. There was at first no answer — she called again — the door of Hester's apartment was opened slowly, and a light but hesitating step was heard. "Miss Hester, oh! Miss Hester, come down to your aunt." Hester's Mat and broken voice answered, "Not yet, not yet — I cannot bear it."

Fatally were these words remembered against her. That evening saw the unfortunate girl confined in a solitary cell in Newgate. We shall only give the brief outline of the evidence that first threw, and then fixed the imputation of guilt upon her. It was evident that the murderer, whoever he was, had entered by the door: true, the window was open, but had any one entered through it there must have been the trace of footsteps on the little flower-bed of the small garden in front. The house, too, had been rifled by one who appeared to know it well, while