How Jack Sheppard attended his Mother’s Funeral.
That night Jack walked to Paddington, and took up his quarters at a small tavern, called the Wheat-sheaf, near the green. On the next morning—Sunday—the day on which he expected his mother’s funeral to take place, he set out along the Harrow Road.
It was a clear, lovely, October morning. The air was sharp and bracing, and the leaves which had taken their autumnal tints were falling from the trees. The road which wound by Westbourne Green, gave him a full view of the hill of Hampstead with its church, its crest of houses, and its villas peeping from out the trees.
Jack’s heart was too full to allow him to derive any pleasure from this scene; so he strolled on without raising his eyes till he arrived at Kensal Green. Here he obtained some breakfast, and mounting the hill turned off into the fields on the right. Crossing them, he ascended an eminence, which, from its singular shape, seems to have been the site of a Roman encampment, and which commands a magnificent prospect.
Leaning upon a gate he looked down into the valley. It was the very spot from which his poor mother had gazed after her vain attempt to rescue him at the Mint; but, though he was ignorant of this, her image was alone present to him. He beheld the grey tower of Willesden Church, embosomed in its grove of trees, now clothed, in all the glowing livery of autumn. There was the cottage she had inhabited for so many years,—in those fields she had rambled,—at that church she had prayed. And he had destroyed all this. But for him she might have been alive and happy. The recollection was too painful, and he burst into an agony of tears.
Aroused by the sound of the church bells, he resolved, at whatever risk, to attend Divine service. With this view, he descended the hill and presently found a footpath leading to the church. But he was destined to have every tide of feeling awakened—every wound opened. The path he had selected conducted him to his mother’s humble dwelling. When she occupied, it, it was neatness itself; the little porch was overrun with creepers—the garden trim and exquisitely kept. Now, it was a wilderness of weeds. The glass in the windows was broken—the roof unthatched—the walls dilapidated. Jack turned away with an aching heart. It seemed an emblem of the ruin he had caused.
As he proceeded, other painful reminiscences were aroused. At every step he seemed to be haunted by the ghost of the past. There was the stile on which Jonathan had sat, and he recollected distinctly the effect of his mocking glance—how it had hardened his heart against his mother’s prayer. “O God!” he exclaimed, “I am severely punished.”
He had now gained the high road. The villagers were thronging to church. Bounding the corner of a garden wall, he came upon his former place of imprisonment. Some rustic hand had written upon the door “JACK SHEPPARD’S CAGE;” and upon the wall was affixed a large placard describing his person, and offering a reward for his capture. Muffling up his face, Jack turned away; but he had not proceeded many steps when he heard a man reading aloud an account of his escapes from a newspaper.