“Come to me!” cried the poor maniac, who had crawled as far as the chain would permit her,—“come to me!” she cried, extending her thin arm towards him.
Jack fell on his knees beside her.
“Who are you?” inquired Mrs. Sheppard, passing her hands over his face, and gazing at him with a look that made him shudder.
“Your son,” replied Jack,—“your miserable, repentant son.”
“It is false,” cried Mrs. Sheppard. “You are not. Jack was not half your age when he died. They buried him in Willesden churchyard after the robbery.”
“Oh, God!” cried Jack, “she does not know me. Mother—dear mother!” he added, clasping her in his arms, “Look at me again.”
“Off!” she exclaimed, breaking from his embrace with a scream. “Don’t touch me. I’ll be quiet. I’ll not speak of Jack or Jonathan. I won’t dig their graves with my nails. Don’t strip me quite. Leave me my blanket! I’m very cold at night. Or, if you must take off my clothes, don’t dash cold water on my head. It throbs cruelly.”
“Horror!” cried Jack.
“Don’t scourge me,” she cried, trying to hide herself in the farthest corner of the cell. “The lash cuts to the bone. I can’t bear it. Spare me, and I’ll be quiet—quiet—quiet!”
“Mother!” said Jack, advancing towards her.
“Off!” she cried with a prolonged and piercing shriek. And she buried herself beneath the straw, which she tossed above her head with the wildest gestures.
“I shall kill her if I stay longer,” muttered her son, completely terrified.
While he was considering what would be best to do, the poor maniac, over whose bewildered brain another change had come, raised her head from under the straw, and peeping round the room, asked in a low voice, “If they were gone?”
“Who?” inquired Jack.
“The nurses,” she answered.
“Do they treat you ill?” asked her son.
“Hush!” she said, putting her lean fingers to her lips. “Hush!—come hither, and I’ll tell you.”
Jack approached her.
“Sit beside me,” continued Mrs. Sheppard. “And, now I’ll tell you what they do. Stop! we must shut the door, or they’ll catch us. See!” she added, tearing the rag from her head,—“I had beautiful black hair once. But they cut it all off.”
“I shall go mad myself if I listen to her longer,” said Jack, attempting to rise. “I must go.”
“Don’t stir, or they’ll chain you to the wall,” said his mother detaining him. “Now, tell me why they brought you here?”
“I came to see you, dear mother!” answered Jack.
“Mother!” she echoed,—“mother! why do you call me by that name?”
“Because you are my mother.”
“What!” she exclaimed, staring eagerly in his face. “Are you my son? Are you Jack?”
“I am,” replied Jack. “Heaven be praised she knows me at last.”
“Oh, Jack!” cried his mother, falling upon his neck, and covering him with kisses.