Charles Dickens

'Say if you would.'

'Listen to me for one moment,' she returned; 'for but a moment. I am but newly risen from a sick-bed, from which I never hoped to rise again. The best among us think, at such a time, of good intentions half-performed and duties left undone. If I have ever, since that fatal night, omitted to pray for your repentance before death--if I omitted, even then, anything which might tend to urge it on you when the horror of your crime was fresh--if, in our later meeting, I yielded to the dread that was upon me, and forgot to fall upon my knees and solemnly adjure you, in the name of him you sent to his account with Heaven, to prepare for the retribution which must come, and which is stealing on you now--I humbly before you, and in the agony of supplication in which you see me, beseech that you will let me make atonement.'

'What is the meaning of your canting words?' he answered roughly. 'Speak so that I may understand you.'

'I will,' she answered, 'I desire to. Bear with me for a moment more. The hand of Him who set His curse on murder, is heavy on us now. You cannot doubt it. Our son, our innocent boy, on whom His anger fell before his birth, is in this place in peril of his life-- brought here by your guilt; yes, by that alone, as Heaven sees and knows, for he has been led astray in the darkness of his intellect, and that is the terrible consequence of your crime.'

'If you come, woman-like, to load me with reproaches--' he muttered, again endeavouring to break away.

'I do not. I have a different purpose. You must hear it. If not to-night, to-morrow; if not to-morrow, at another time. You MUST hear it. Husband, escape is hopeless--impossible.'

'You tell me so, do you?' he said, raising his manacled hand, and shaking it. 'You!'

'Yes,' she said, with indescribable earnestness. 'But why?'

'To make me easy in this jail. To make the time 'twixt this and death, pass pleasantly. For my good--yes, for my good, of course,' he said, grinding his teeth, and smiling at her with a livid face.

'Not to load you with reproaches,' she replied; 'not to aggravate the tortures and miseries of your condition, not to give you one hard word, but to restore you to peace and hope. Husband, dear husband, if you will but confess this dreadful crime; if you will but implore forgiveness of Heaven and of those whom you have wronged on earth; if you will dismiss these vain uneasy thoughts, which never can be realised, and will rely on Penitence and on the Truth, I promise you, in the great name of the Creator, whose image you have defaced, that He will comfort and console you. And for myself,' she cried, clasping her hands, and looking upward, 'I swear before Him, as He knows my heart and reads it now, that from that hour I will love and cherish you as I did of old, and watch you night and day in the short interval that will remain to us, and soothe you with my truest love and duty, and pray with you, that one threatening judgment may be arrested, and that our boy may be spared to bless God, in his poor way, in the free air and light!'

He fell back and gazed at her while she poured out these words, as though he were for a moment awed by her manner, and knew not what to do. But anger and fear soon got the mastery of him, and he spurned her from him.

'Begone!' he cried. 'Leave me! You plot, do you! You plot to get speech with me, and let them know I am the man they say I am. A curse on you and on your boy.'

'On him the curse has already fallen,' she replied, wringing her hands.

'Let it fall heavier. Let it fall on one and all. I hate you both. The worst has come to me. The only comfort that I seek or I can have, will be the knowledge that it comes to you. Now go!'

She would have urged him gently, even then, but he menaced her with his chain.

'I say go--I say it for the last time. The gallows has me in its grasp, and it is a black phantom that may urge me on to something more. Begone! I curse the hour that I was born, the man I slew, and all the living world!'

In a paroxysm of wrath, and terror, and the fear of death, he broke from her, and rushed into the darkness of his cell, where he cast himself jangling down upon the stone floor, and smote it with his ironed hands.