When I saw Spicer again he continued his narrative:
"I told you that I was anxious to wreak my vengeance upon Fitzgerald, and the plan which I hit upon was as follows: I contrived to get to Port Royal, and to speak to the two men whom I had been on the best of terms with. I told them that the only chance of escape would be for them to give their names as those of James, which was mine, and of Fitzgerald, the first officer; and I explained to them why; because Fitzgerald and I had saved the life of the daughter of one of the chief planters, who, in gratitude, had promised that he would assist us if we were ever in difficulty. I told them that they must adhere to what they said, as they would be condemned with the others, but that a reprieve would be given when they were on the scaffold."
"But why should you have done this?" inquired I.
"First, because I wished people to believe that I was dead, that there might not be so great a hue and cry after me, and the temptation of so high a reward; next, because I knew that Fitzgerald was still in prison, and that his wife would read the account of his execution in the newspapers, which I hoped would break her heart, and so make him miserable."
"Oh, Spicer, that was too cruel."
"It was, but my plan succeeded. The men gave our names, went to the scaffold expecting a reprieve, and were hanged."
"And thus it is that your poor mother thinks even now that you were hanged," said I.
"Even so, Jack, even so. Well, after a time I quitted my vessel and returned to England; for I was actually tired of bloodshed, and I had collected a great deal of money. On my arrival I inquired after Fitzgerald. It appeared that his wife had heard the account of his execution; and, as her bonnet was found by the side of the mill-dam, it was supposed that she had destroyed herself. Fitzgerald returned home, and was distracted at the intelligence. I have always thought that she was dead; but, by what you say, Jack, I now doubt it."
"And Fitzgerald, Spicer, what became of him?"
"I really cannot tell. I heard that he had entered on board of a King's ship, but not under his own name. How far that was true or not I cannot say; but I have every reason to believe that such was the case."
"And how came you on board of a man-of-war?"
"Why, that's soon told, I spent my money, or lost it all in gambling, went out again, obtained command of a vessel, and did well for some time; but I was more tyrannical and absolute than ever. I had shot five or six of my own men, when the crew mutinied, and put me and two others who had always supported me in an open boat, and left us to our fate. We were picked up by a frigate going to the East Indies when we were in the last extremity. And now, Jack, I believe you have my whole history. I am tired now, and must go to sleep; but, Jack, I wish you to come to-morrow morning, for I have something to say to you of great importance. Good-by, Jack; don't forget."
I promised Spicer that I would not fail, and quitted the hospital. When I called again upon him, I found him very low and weak; he could not raise himself from his pillow. "I feel that I am going now, Jack," said he—"going very fast—I have not many hours to live; but, I thank Heaven, I am not in any pain. A man who dies in agony cannot examine himself—cannot survey the past with calmness or feel convinced of the greatness of his offenses. I thank God for that; but, Jack, although I have committed many a foul and execrable murder, for which I am full of remorse—although I feel how detestable has been my life—I tell you candidly that, although those crimes may appear to others more heavy than the simple one of theft, to me the one that lies most heavy on my soul is the robbing of my poor mother, and my whole treatment of her. Jack, will you do one favor to a dying man?—and it must be done soon, or it will be too late. Will you go to my poor mother, acquaint her with my being here, still alive, and that my hours are numbered, and beg for me forgiveness? Obtain that for me, Jack—bring that to me, and so may you receive forgiveness yourself!"
"I will, Spicer," replied I, "I will go directly; and I have little fear but that I shall succeed."
"Go then, Jack; don't tarry, for my time is nearly come."
I left the hospital immediately, and hastened to old Nanny's. I found her very busy sorting a lot of old bottles which she had just purchased.
"Well, Jack," said she, "you are just come in time to help me. I was just a-saying if Jack was to call now he'd be of some use, for I can't well reach so high as the shelf where I put the bottles on, and when I get on a stool my old head swims."
"Mother," said I, "suppose you put down the bottles for a little while, as I have that to say to you which must not be delayed."
"Why, what's the matter, boy? And how pale you look! What has happened? You don't want money, do you?"
"No, mother, I want no money; I only want you to listen to matters important, which I must disclose to you."
"Well, well, what is it? about the fellow who tried to rob me, I suppose. I told you before, Jack, I won't hurt him, for my poor boy's sake."
"It is about your poor boy I would speak, mother," replied I, hardly knowing how to begin. "Now, mother, did you not tell me that he was hanged at Port Royal?"
"Yes, yes; but why come and talk about it again?"
"Because, mother, you seem to feel the disgrace of his being hanged so much."
"Well, to be sure I do—then why do you remind me of it, you bad boy? It's cruel of you, Jack; I thought you kinder."
"Mother, it is because you do feel it so much that I have come to tell you that you have been deceived. Your son was not hanged."
"Not hanged! Why, Jack, are you sure?"
"Yes, mother, quite sure."
"Not hanged, quite sure—"
Here old Nanny burst out into a wild laugh, which ended in sobbing and tears. I was obliged to wait some minutes before she was composed enough to listen to me; at last I said, "Mother, I have more to say, and there is no time to be lost."
"Why no time to be lost, my dear boy?" said she. "Oh! now that you have told me this, I could dwell for hours—ay, days—more. I shall dwell my whole life upon this kind news."
"But listen to me, mother, for I must tell you how I discovered this."
"Yes, yes, Jack—do, that's a good boy. I am quite calm now," said Nanny, wiping her eyes with her apron.
I then acquainted her with what Spicer had told me relative to his inducing the man to take his name, and continued the history of Spicer's life until I left him on board of a man-of-war.
"But where is he now? And who told you all this?"
"He told me so himself," replied I. "He has been in the hospital some time, and living here close to you, without either of you being aware of it. But, mother, he is now ill—very ill in the hospital; he would not have confessed all this if he had not felt how ill he was."
"Deary, deary me!" replied old Nanny, wringing her hands; "I must go see him."
"Nay, mother, I fear you cannot. The fact is that he is dying, and he has sent me to ask your forgiveness for his conduct to you."
"Deary, deary me!" continued old Nanny, seemingly half out of her wits; "in the hospital, so near to his poor mother—and dying. Dear Jemmy!"
Then the old woman covered up her face with her apron and was silent. I waited a minute or two, and then I again spoke to her.
"Will you not answer my question, mother? Your son has but an hour perhaps to live, and he dies penitent not only for his conduct to you, but for his lawless and wicked life; but he feels his treatment of you to be worse than all his other crimes, and he has sent me to beg that you will forgive him before he dies. Answer me, mother."
"Jack," said Nanny, removing the apron from her face, "I feel as if it was I who ought to ask his pardon, and not he who should ask mine. Who made him bad?—his foolish mother. Who made him unable to control his passions?—his foolish mother. Who was the cause of his plunging into vice—of his intemperance, of his gaming, of his wild and desperate career—which might have ended, as I supposed it had done, on the gallows—but a foolish, weak, selfish mother, who did not do her duty to him in his childhood? It is I who was his great enemy—I who assisted the devil to lead him to destruction—I who, had he been hanged, had been, and have felt for years that I was, his executioner. Can I forgive him! Can he forgive me?"
"Mother, his time is short—I will come to you again, and tell you much more. But if you knew how earnest he is to have your forgiveness before he dies, you would at once send me away to him."
"Then go, my child—go, and may you often be sent on such kind missions! Go, and tell my poor James that his mother forgives him—begs to be forgiven—still dotes upon him—and God knows with how much pleasure would die for him! Go quick, child—the sands of the glass run fast—quick, child—the dying cannot wait—quick—quick!"
Nanny had risen from her stool and taken me by the arm; when we were clear of the threshold she loosed me, and sank down to the earth, whether overcome by her feelings, or in a state of insensibility, I did not wait to ascertain—I fled to execute my mission before it was too late.
In a few minutes I was at the hospital—breathless, it was true. I went in, and found Spicer still alive, for his eyes turned to me. I went up to him; the nurse, who was standing by him, told me he was speechless, and would soon be gone. I told her I would remain with him, and she went to the other patients. I gave him his mother's message, and he was satisfied; he squeezed my hand, and a smile, which appeared to illumine like a rainbow his usual dark and moody countenance, intimated hope and joy; in a few seconds he was no more, but the smile continued on his features after death.
I then returned to old Nanny, who, I found, had been put into bed by some neighbors, and at her bedside was Mrs. St. Felix, who had been passing by and had observed her situation. She was now recovered and quiet. As soon as they had left her I entered into a more full detail of how I became acquainted with the circumstances which led to the discovery. I did not conceal from her that it was her own son who had attempted the robbery; and I wound up by stating that he had died, I really believed, not only penitent, but happy from having received her forgiveness.
"Jack—Jack—you have been as good as an angel to me, indeed you have. It was you also who prevented my poor James from killing his mother—it is you that have been the means of his making his peace with Heaven. Bless you, Jack, bless you!"