47.The Last Moment
IT was a sight that some people remembered better even than their own
sorrows--the sight in that grey clear morning, when the fatal cart with the two
young women in it was descried by the waiting watching multitude, cleaving its
way towards the hideous symbol of a deliberately inflicted sudden death.
All Stoniton had heard of Dinah Morris, the young Methodist woman who had
brought the obstinate criminal to confess, and there was as much eagerness to
see her as to see the wretched Hetty.
But Dinah was hardly conscious of the multitude. When Hetty had caught sight of
the vast crowd in the distance, she had clutched Dinah convulsively.
"Close your eyes, Hetty," Dinah said, "and let us pray without ceasing to God."
And in a low voice, as the cart went slowly along through the midst of the gazing
crowd, she poured forth her soul with the wrestling intensity of a last pleading, for
the trembling creature that clung to her and clutched her as the only visible sign
of love and pity.
Dinah did not know that the crowd was silent, gazing at her with a sort of awe--
she did not even know how near they were to the fatal spot, when the cart
stopped, and she shrank appalled at a loud shout hideous to her ear, like a vast
yell of demons. Hetty's shriek mingled with the sound, and they clasped each
other in mutual horror.
But it was not a shout of execration--not a yell of exultant cruelty.
It was a shout of sudden excitement at the appearance of a horseman cleaving
the crowd at full gallop. The horse is hot and distressed, but answers to the
desperate spurring; the rider looks as if his eyes were glazed by madness, and
he saw nothing but what was unseen by others. See, he has something in his
hand--he is holding it up as if it were a signal.
The Sheriff knows him: it is Arthur Donnithorne, carrying in his hand a hard-won
release from death.