Page:The New Monthly Magazine - Volume 039.djvu/483

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478
The Story of Hester Malpas.

nothing but the most portable articles were taken — the few spoons, the old lady's watch, and whatever money there might have been, for not a shilling even was to be found anywhere. A letter, however, was found from Mr. Malpas to his sister, mentioning that Frank Horton, who had long been very wild, had been forced to quit the neighbourhood in consequence of having been engaged in an affray with some gamekeepers, and it was supposed that poaching was the least crime of the gang with whom he had been connected. The epistle concluded by a hope very earnestly expressed, that if, as common report went, Frank had gone up to London, he might not meet with Hester, and begging if he attempted to renew the acquaintance, a stop should be put to it at once. It was proved that Hester had met this young man several times in secret, the last in defiance of her aunt's express prohibition; that instead of going to church she had met him, and he had been seen leaving the house with all possible haste about the very time the murder had been committed, and he was traced to the river side. Two vessels had that morning sailed for America, but it was impossible to learn whether he was a passenger in either. Hester's own exclamation, too, seemed to confirm every suspicion, so did her terror, her confusion, and her bewildered manner. Every body said that she looked so guilty, and the coroner's inquest brought in a verdict for her committal.

It was a fine summer evening when Mr. Malpas and his family were seated, some in the porch of the cottage, while the younger children were scattered about the garden. There was an expression of cheerfulness in the face of the parents very different to the harsh, hard despondency of a twelvemonth since; and Hester, as her mother always prognosticated she would, had indeed brought a blessing on her family. Many an anxious glance was cast down the road, for to-day the post came in, and one of the boys had been dispatched to the village to see if there was a letter from Hester. The child was soon discovered running at full speed, and a letter was in his hand. "It is not my sister's handwriting," said he, with the blank look of disappointment. Mr. Malpas opened the epistle, which was from Mr. Lowndes, and broke kindly, though abruptly, his daughter's dreadful situation. The unhappy father sunk back senseless in his seat, and in care for his recovery Mrs. Malpas had a brief respite — but she, too, had to learn the wretched truth. How that miserable day passed no words may tell. Early next morning Mr. Malpas woke from the brief but heavy sleep of complete exhaustion; the cold grey light glared in from the window — he started from his seat, for he had never gone to bed — it was but a moment's oblivion, for the whole truth rose terrible and distinct. In such a state solitude was no relief, and he sought his wife to consult with her on the necessity of his going to London. He found only his other daughter, who had scarcely courage to tell him that her mother had already departed for town, and to give him the few scarcely legible lines which his wife had left.

The next evening, and Mrs. Malpas had found her way to the cell of her unhappy child. All was over — she had been tried and found guilty, not of the actual murder, bat of abetting and concealing it, and the following morning was the one appointed when the sentence of the law was to be carried into effect. "This is not Hester!" exclaimed Mrs. Malpas, when she entered the cell: and even from a mother's lips the ejaculation might be excused, so little resemblance was there between