Charles Dickens

It was impossible to try him for that, and do

otherwise than find him guilty.

At that time, it was the custom (as I learnt from my terrible

experience of that Sessions) to devote a concluding day to the

passing of Sentences, and to make a finishing effect with the

Sentence of Death. But for the indelible picture that my

remembrance now holds before me, I could scarcely believe, even as

I write these words, that I saw two-and-thirty men and women put

before the Judge to receive that sentence together. Foremost among

the two-and-thirty, was he; seated, that he might get breath enough

to keep life in him.

The whole scene starts out again in the vivid colours of the

moment, down to the drops of April rain on the windows of the

court, glittering in the rays of April sun. Penned in the dock, as

I again stood outside it at the corner with his hand in mine, were

the two-and-thirty men and women; some defiant, some stricken with

terror, some sobbing and weeping, some covering their faces, some

staring gloomily about. There had been shrieks from among the women

convicts, but they had been stilled, a hush had succeeded. The

sheriffs with their great chains and nosegays, other civic gewgaws

and monsters, criers, ushers, a great gallery full of people - a

large theatrical audience - looked on, as the two-and-thirty and

the Judge were solemnly confronted. Then, the Judge addressed them.

Among the wretched creatures before him whom he must single out for

special address, was one who almost from his infancy had been an

offender against the laws; who, after repeated imprisonments and

punishments, had been at length sentenced to exile for a term of

years; and who, under circumstances of great violence and daring

had made his escape and been re-sentenced to exile for life. That

miserable man would seem for a time to have become convinced of his

errors, when far removed from the scenes of his old offences, and

to have lived a peaceable and honest life. But in a fatal moment,

yielding to those propensities and passions, the indulgence of

which had so long rendered him a scourge to society, he had quitted

his haven of rest and repentance, and had come back to the country

where he was proscribed. Being here presently denounced, he had for

a time succeeded in evading the officers of Justice, but being at

length seized while in the act of flight, he had resisted them, and

had - he best knew whether by express design, or in the blindness

of his hardihood - caused the death of his denouncer, to whom his

whole career was known. The appointed punishment for his return to

the land that had cast him out, being Death, and his case being

this aggravated case, he must prepare himself to Die.

The sun was striking in at the great windows of the court, through

the glittering drops of rain upon the glass, and it made a broad

shaft of light between the two-and-thirty and the Judge, linking

both together, and perhaps reminding some among the audience, how

both were passing on, with absolute equality, to the greater

Judgment that knoweth all things and cannot err. Rising for a

moment, a distinct speck of face in this way of light, the prisoner

said, "My Lord, I have received my sentence of Death from the

Almighty, but I bow to yours," and sat down again. There was some

hushing, and the Judge went on with what he had to say to the rest.

Then, they were all formally doomed, and some of them were

supported out, and some of them sauntered out with a haggard look

of bravery, and a few nodded to the gallery, and two or three shook

hands, and others went out chewing the fragments of herb they had

taken from the sweet herbs lying about. He went last of all,

because of having to be helped from his chair and to go very

slowly; and he held my hand while all the others were removed, and

while the audience got up (putting their dresses right, as they

might at church or elsewhere) and pointed down at this criminal or

at that, and most of all at him and me.