But seven years passed, and
Adam Black returned from being a convict in the hulks to his family. When
he entered the cottage, Janet sprang up and received him with open arms.
She had wept over his punishment, but she had trusted that it would effect
a reformation of his propensities. When she had called her children around
him, and desired him to look now upon one, and now upon another, to
observe how they had grown, and to tell him how they had wrought for her,
and how one had become a scholar, and all could read, she again flung her
arms around his neck, and said—
"And now, dear Adam, we
shall a’ be happy—for, after a’, yours wasna a crime that we need hang our
heads about—it was only what hundreds do daily—though it maybe wasna richt.
But ye winna be looked down upon on account o’t—for it wasna like
stealing—and I’m sure I’ll be able to get ye wark, for a’ the gentry round
hae been kind to us."
"Work!—ha!" muttered Adam
sullenly; and he coldly acknowledged the tenderness of his wife.
She saw, she felt, that he
cared not for her, and his indifference went to her heart. Yet she fondly
trusted, by her affection, to win back his, and to lead him also to habits
of industry. But her hope was vain. To be doomed to wear the felon’s
chain, and to mingle with convicts for years, may be a punishment, and it
may make men worse than they were before the law condemned them; but that
it can reform them is all but impossible. It had wrought no reformation on
Adam Black, but it had rendered him more callous and more desperate; it
had caused him to associate with wretches who made him acquainted with
crimes of which he had never dreamed, and their habits gradually became
his habits, and their thoughts his thoughts. He had been sent amongst
felons for killing a pheasant, and he returned from amongst them capable
of murdering a fellow-being.
Poor Janet shuddered at the
words which she heard him utter—for, with strange and wicked oaths, he
vowed vengeance on the individual who had prosecuted him; and she flung
her arms around his neck, and kissed his forehead, yea, wept before him,
and prayed that he would be calm, and tenderly, earnestly urged upon him
the duty of forgiveness to enemies; but at her entreaties, and the sight
of her tenderness, he raged the more furiously.
"Away with your foolery,
woman!" he exclaimed, pushing her rudely from him; "talk not of
forgiveness to me! Have I not worn the chains with which they degraded
me—worn them till the iron entered my flesh— yet you talk of forgiveness!
Do not torment me—I shall be revenged!" And he uttered words which we
He inquired for his gun;
and when informed that it had been sold to clothe his children during his
absence, he grated his teeth together, and his eyes flashed with
indignation—but he said little. He had brought home a few pounds with him;
and, on the day after his return, he visited the ale-house which had
before been his habitual place of rendezvous. There also he purchased a
fowling-piece from an acquaintance. He seized it eagerly in his hands;
and, though he had manifested no joy at the sight of his wife and
children, when he again handled his favourite instrument, he leaped upon
the floor, he examined it in every part, he almost pressed it to his lips.
That very night he returned
home laden with game.
"O, Adam! Adam, man!" cried
Janet, as he flung the birds upon the table, "have we no had enough o’
this wark, think ye, yet? Has a’ that ye hae suffered, and that we hae
suffered, no been a lesson to ye? O Adam! will ye really persevere in this
dangerous course until ye are torn frae your wife an’ bairns again? O
bairns!" added she, addressing her children, "for dearsake, tak thae birds
out o’ my sight—burn them!—bury them in the yard!—dinna let them remain
beneath this roof! O Adam! for my sake—for the sake o’ your family—gie
owre this, an’ I’ll work for ye, dear—we’ll a’ work for ye, till the bluid
run owre our finger ends, if ye’ll only be prevailed upon to desist frae
such a practice."
"Wheesht, old fool!" said
he, pushing her roughly aside; "get the birds dressed—it is long since I
tasted the food I am fondest of."
"No, Adam—no!" returned
she, firmly; "rather wad I cut my hands aff than touch a feather o’ them."
"Idiot!" retorted he,
stamping his foot and scowling upon her; and, ordering one of his
daughters to prepare two of the birds for supper, the poor girl looked
first anxiously at her mother, and then tremblingly at her father, and
Janet sat sorrowful and
silent for a few moments, and tears ran down her cheeks. He to whom she
had given her young affections, and from whom, unworthy as he was, her
heart had never swerved, had looked upon her with coldness, he had spoken
to her with anger and contempt—and these are hard things for a wife to
bear. She had endured sorrow, she had suffered shame, for his sake, yet
she felt his present treatment worse than all. Yet affection, and a desire
for her husband’s reformation and safety, prevailed over every other
feeling, and she rose, her countenance expressive of anxious and imploring
tenderness, and laid her hand on his, and said earnestly—
"Dear devil!" rejoined the
monster, dashing away her hand, "has the woman parted with the little
sense she ever had! See that the girl cook those birds right, and let me
have none of your preaching."
She sat down in silence,
and endeavoured, as she best could, to conceal the agony of a blighted
He returned to his old
courses—drinking by day, and poaching by night; and wasting not only the
money which the game he destroyed produced, but the earnings also of has
wife and family.
About twelve months after
his return from banishment, the two oldest of his children fell sick of a
fever and died; those that were left were unable to provide for
themselves; and his heart-broken wife became feeble of body and almost
imbecile of mind. Again the cottage bore the impress of wretchedness.
About this time, also, sheep were frequently stolen from the flocks of the
gentleman who had been necessary to his punishment. Adam was suspected,
and his outrage was searched; but there was nothing found in it that would
criminate him, though the conviction was strong on every mind that he was
the depredator. At length want drove him from the cottage, and he removed
no one knew where, taking his wife and children with him.
It has been mentioned that,
at a time when Adam Black’s family were in want, and when famine and
remorse were goading him to destruction, their wants were relieved by the
daughter of a Mr. Nisbet, who was the clergyman of the parish. Now, it was
about three years after the poacher had left the scene of his
depredations, that Mr. Nisbet proceeded to Edinburgh on business,
intending to return in a few days. But day after day, his daughter looked
for him in vain. He came not, and no tidings were heard concerning him. A
messenger was dispatched to Edinburgh to inquire respecting him;
and it was ascertained that he had left that city in a coach which passed
within three miles of his manse, and there it was found that he had left
it to proceed home on foot; but, beyond this, no trace of him could be
found, though rewards were offered, and diligent search made over the
country. Many were the surmises regarding his fate, but his
disappearance remained involved in mystery. Some, remembering the
character of the poacher, and that suspicion would have attached to him,
said—"Well this is one thing Idle Adam is innocent of."
At the period of her
father’s disappearance, Mary Nisbet was not beyond the age when reason,
though not immature, is least powerful, the world most alluring, and
sorrow wildest. She had been suddenly deprived of her only protector, her
only relative. But, educated as she had been—the sole child of a country
clergyman, springing up like a solitary but lovely flower in the
wilderness, concentrating in its own bright hues the colours of every ray
that the sun scattered over the barren desert—she endeavoured, by the
precepts her father had taught her, to subdue the intensity of her
feelings; and a few months after his disappearance, partly to beguile her
gaief, and partly from the hope of hearing something that might throw
light upon his fate, she accepted an invitation to visit a friend in
To cheer her melancholy,
her friends took her to visit every object of interest in and around the
Modern Athens; though at that period it had not the same claims to the
appelation that it has now. One object alone remained unvisited, an object
which few of her sex would be desirous of beholding. Mary had never seen
the interior of a prison; and, to the surprise of her friends, she
expressed a determination to visit the city jail. She allowed it
was a strange wish, but she could not drive it from her thoughts. On the
following day they accompanied her to the gloomy abode of iniquity and
punishment, where crime, like a tiger, crouches ready to spring upon its
victims as they enter, and complete within the walls of a prison the work
of depravity it had already begun.
She shuddered as she beheld
the keepers, with suspicion written on their eyeballs, slowly turning lock
after lock, surveying the visitors with jealous scrutiny as they entered,
and suddenly closing upon them one massy door after another, till they
were enveloped in the innermost places of guilt. And there, the profane
impenitence of fallen wretches, from the grey-haired criminal to the felon
of ten years old, made humanity tremble and Christianity bleed. There, the
elder corrupted the younger, laughed the lingering fragments of conscience
to scorn, and developed the broad ways of vice. Some few mourned over
their first crime, and trembled to think of the miserable futurity that
awaited them, when the days of their punishment would be past and they
should be again cast upon the world, the shunned of society.
They were shown into the
cell of a miserable being lying under sentence of death for murder. He was
seated on a low stool in the darkest corner of his dungeon, his elbows
resting on his knees, and his face buried in his hands. His body rocked
backward and forward convulsively, his fetters clanked with the melancholy
motion, and his deep groans at times burst forth, in the bitterness of
remorse, into an agonizing howl. He appeared alike insensible of their
approach or their presence. They were about to depart, when he started up
in a paroxysm of despair, and dashed his clenched hands against his
forehead. His eyes, which were red with agony, fell upon Mary. He sprang
back—he seized his chains and attempted to tear them from their
fastenings; and, still riveting his eyes upon her features, he uttered a
wild scream, and, as they were turning away in horror, he exclaimed—
"Stay, Mary Nisbet—stay!"
Her heart throbbed fast and painfully, as she heard her name thus suddenly
and unexpectedly pronounced in such a place, and by such a being, and she
clung closer to the arm of her friend; for there is something in the
presence of a murderer from which the stoutest heart recoils, not with
fear, but horror.
"Hear me!" he cried, "turn
not away. Look upon me— know me! Art thou come to heap an orphan’s curse
upon the doomed of Heaven and of man? Hear me! my words are already
steeped in the fury of despair—they burn my own throat! Look on me—look
upon your father’s murderer." As he said this, he again howled wildly,
and struck his head against the wall.
"Miserable wretch !—my
father!" exclaimed Mary. And, forgetful of her recent horror,
she sprang forward and grasped him by the arm.
indeed!—lost—ruined for ever!" screamed the wretched criminal. Mary
trembled, wept, and fell back upon the shoulder of her friend.
"Ye have come to look on me
as a wild beast," continued the murderer vehemently; "ye have thrust your
hand into its den, and it has not been withdrawn unwounded. But look on me
again, and remember the features of a monster. Twelve years ago, Mary"——
Here the wretched man burst
into tears, and wrung his hands upon his bosom. "Thank Heaven!" said her
friend, "tears are the forerunners of repentance."
ejaculated the hopeless criminal— "repentance is drowned in the blood of
my victims." He paused a few moments, and again proceeded—"Twelve years
ago I sat beneath your father’s ministry. I resided in his parish. O
death! I was then guiltless!—yes, yes—I was guiltless then! But what am I
now?—a murderer!—the murderer of the very man that made me tremble at sin.
Look on me, Mary—remember me now! In the midst of the hard winter, when
labour was frozen up, and when I would have wrought if any man would have
employed me, and when bread was buried in the granaries of the rich, you
saved me from self-destruction—you saved my wife from death, my children
"Adam Black!" exclaimed
Mary—"wretched man! can it be possible?"
"It is possible," continued
he, "it is true. You saved me from destroying myself, and I have become
the destroyer of others. You snatched my wife from death, and I have
trampled on her bosom—I have hurled her to a strange grave, with a broken
heart. You saved my children from starvation, and I have blasted them by
my example, and they have become a pestilence to society—they have broken
the law and endured its punishment. O woman! I have run the race of the
wicked—I have worn all the honours of sin! I started as a poacher and a
drunkard, and I have ended as a murderer. Want, and the fear of detection
of crimes I had committed, drove me from your father’s parish. I came to
this city— without a character, without principles, without friends, and
with no aim but to live, though how I knew not. I became a prowling fiend
upon the streets, a housebreaker and robber and an associate of those with
whom I had become acquainted when we were convicts together. Some months
ago, I saw your father in this city. My chief confederate in guilt learned
that he had drawn a considerable sum of money, with which he was to return
home on the following day. We resolved that the money should be ours, and
agreed to rob him by the way. The better to avoid detection, we concerted
that the robbery should take place in his own parish. We set out on the
day before he was to leave, and arrived at the footpaths leading across
the moor to the manse, after nightfall. My companion took his station upon
one path, and I upon another, at about four hundred yards distant from
each other, lest we should miss our prey. Within an hour, your father
approached by the path on which I lay in wait for him. I sprang before
him. I demanded his money. He refused it. He grappled with me—he was too
powerful for me—he knew me—he mentioned my name. Till then I had not
thought of murder, but I drew my knife— I plunged it into his bosom, and
he fell dead at my feet. The booty we expected, I did not find. My
companion came up, and, with our hands we dug a grave for my victim in the
morass. My fellow in guilt accused me of having secreted your father’s
money before he came to me. With deep oaths swore that I had found none;
but he believed me not. Afterwards, he saw notices of the rewards that
were offered for the apprehension of the murderer, or to those who could
give information respecting your father’s fate. We were drinking together,
when he threatened to give me up to justice and receive the reward. Stung
to insanity and despair by his threats, I sprang to my feet, and buried in
his body the same knife I had plunged in your father’s bosom. He expired
before me; I was seized before I withdrew my hand; and now I am doomed to
death—death here and hereafter. I would have carried this confession to
the grave--if there be a grave for me. Your father’s fate should have
remained a mystery till suspicion darkened the soul of the innocent; but
your appearance here dragged it to my lips—an invisible power compelled me
to make it—and now you have heard it, invoke the vengeance of Heaven upon
me, and leave me."
Mary wept aloud for a few
minutes, and, again addressing the criminal, said—"Unhappy man! waste not
your numbered hours in wickedness and despair. Insult not the yet offered
mercy of your Creator; for even you, guilty as you are—and a more guilty
man than you, Adam Black, breathes not upon the earth—yet even for you
there is hope."
"Away, woman!" cried he
impatiently; "am I a child, or am I an ignorant man that ye preach to me!
Did I not forsake my Maker in my youth, and dishonour Him with my
strength, and will he accept my premature grey hairs? Shall He take me to
heaven merely because I fear hell? Away, woman! ye have heard all I have
to tell thee! I have lived a sinner, but I will not die the hangman’s
fool, believing that the steps of the gallows, like Jacob’s ladder, lead
"Adam Black!" said Mary,
solemnly, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, "dost thou believe the
"Yes!" exclaimed he, "I
believe as devils believe—I believe and tremble; and already I feel the
futurity that awaits me, in the absence of hope--in the gnawing of the
worm that dieth not—in the burning of despair!"
"Wretched being!" said she,
"add not wilful despair to the catalogue of your crimes."
"Woman, woman!" he cried,
furiously—"why are ye come to torment me before my time. My conscience
cried to me for years—‘Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?’ but I laughed
at its voice, I drowned it in the yell of human fiends, and now it has
turned upon my bosom, where it clings and stings as a scorpion! Away,
woman away! Torture me not!—leave me!—leave me!"
She was supported from the
prison in the arms of her friends; and, on the following day, Adam Black,
her father’s murderer expiated his crimes upon a scaffold.