This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Published:
  • 1897
Collection:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

flits across his page, he pursued the one flame of his life for the good motive, and he affects to be a very model of domesticity. The sentiment of piety also was strong upon him, and if he did not, like the illustrious Peace, pray for his jailer, he rivalled the Prison Ordinary in comforting the condemned. Had it only been his fate to die on the gallows, how unctuous had been his croak!

The text of his `Memoirs’ having been edited, it is scarce possible to define his literary talent. The book, as it stands, is an excellent piece of narrative, but it loses somewhat by the pretence of style. The man’s invulnerable conceit prevented an absolute frankness, and there is little enough hilarity to correct the acid sentiment and the intolerable vows of repentance. Again, though he knows his subject, and can patter flash with the best, his incorrigible respectability leads him to ape the manner of a Grub Street hack, and to banish to a vocabulary those pearls of slang which might have added vigour and lustre to his somewhat tiresome page. However, the thief cannot escape his inevitable defects. The vanity, the weakness, the sentimentality of those who are born beasts of prey, yet have the faculty of depredation only half-developed, are the foes of truth, and it is well to remember that the autobiography of a rascal is tainted at its source. A congenial pickpocket, equipped with the self-knowledge and the candour which would enable him to recognise himself an outlaw and justice his enemy rather than an instrument of malice, would prove a Napoleon rather than a Vaux. So that we must e’en accept our Newgate Calendar with its many faults upon its head, and be content. For it takes a man of genius to write a book, and the thief who turns author commonly inhabits a paradise of the second-rate.

GEORGE BARRINGTON

GEORGE BARRINGTON

AS Captain Hind was master of the road, George Barrington was (and remains for ever) the absolute monarch of pickpockets. Though the art, superseding the cutting of purses, had been practised with courage and address for half a century before Barrington saw the light, it was his own incomparable genius that raised thievery from the dangerous valley of experiment, and set it, secure and honoured, upon the mountain height of perfection. To a natural habit of depredation, which, being a man of letters, he was wont to justify, he added a sureness of hand, a fertility of resource, a recklessness of courage which drove his contemporaries to an amazed respect, and from which none but the Philistine will withhold his admiration. An accident discovered his taste and talent. At school he attempted to kill a companion–the one act of violence which sullies a strangely gentle career; and outraged at the affront of a flogging, he fled with twelve guineas and a gold repeater watch. A vulgar theft this, and no presage of future greatness; yet it proves the fearless greed, the contempt of private property, which mark as with a stigma the temperament of the prig. His faculty did not rust long for lack of use, and at Drogheda, when he was but sixteen, he encountered one Price, half barnstormer, half thief. Forthwith he embraced the twin professions, and in the interlude of more serious pursuits is reported to have made a respectable appearance as Jaffier in Venice Preserved. For a while he dreamed of Drury Lane and glory; but an attachment for Miss Egerton, the Belvidera to his own Jaffier, was more costly than the barns of Londonderry warranted, and, with Price for a colleague, he set forth on a tour of robbery, merely interrupted through twenty years by a few periods of enforced leisure.

His youth, indeed, was his golden age. For four years he practised his art, chilled by no shadow of suspicion, and his immunity was due as well to his excellent bearing as to his sleight of hand. In one of the countless chap-books which dishonour his fame, he is unjustly accused of relying for his effects upon an elaborate apparatus, half knife, half scissors, wherewith to rip the pockets of his victims. The mere backbiting of envy! An artistic triumph was never won save by legitimate means; and the hero who plundered the Dulce of L–r at Ranelagh, who emptied the pockets of his acquaintance without fear of exposure, who all but carried off the priceless snuff-box of Count Orloff, most assuredly followed his craft in full simplicity and with a proper scorn of clumsy artifice. At his first appearance he was the master, sumptuously apparelled, with Price for valet. At Dublin his birth and quality were never questioned, and when he made a descent upon London it was in company with Captain W. H–n, who remained for years his loyal friend. He visited Brighton as the chosen companion of Lord Ferrers and the wicked Lord Lyttelton. His manners and learning were alike irresistible. Though the picking of pockets was the art and interest of his life, he was on terms of easy familiarity with light literature, and he considered no toil too wearisome if only his conversation might dazzle his victims. Two maxims he charactered upon his heart: the one, never to run a large risk for a small gain; the other, never to forget the carriage and diction of a gentleman.

He never stooped to pilfer, until exposure and decay had weakened his hand. In his first week at Dublin he carried off 1000,
and it was only his fateful interview with Sir John Fielding that gave him poverty for a bedfellow. Even at the end, when he slunk from town to town, a notorious outlaw, he had inspirations of his ancient magnificence, and–at Chester–he eluded the vigilance of his enemies and captured 600, wherewith he purchased some
months of respectability. Now, respectability was ever dear to him, and it was at once his pleasure and profit to live in the highest society. Were it not blasphemy to sully Barrington with slang you would call him a member of the swell-mob, but, having cultivated a grave and sober style for himself, he recoiled in horror from the flash lingo, and his susceptibility demands respect.

He kept a commonplace book! Was ever such thrift in a thief? Whatever images or thoughts flashed through his brain, he seized them on paper, even `amidst the jollity of a tavern, or in the warmth of an interesting conversation.’ Was it then strange that he triumphed as a man of fashionable and cultured leisure? He would visit Ranelagh with the most distinguished, and turn a while from epigram and jest to empty the pocket of a rich acquaintance. And ever with so tactful a certainty, with so fine a restraint of the emotions, that suspicion was preposterous. To catalogue his exploits is superfluous, yet let it be recorded that once he went to Court, habited as a clergyman, and came home the richer for a diamond order, Lord C–‘s proudest decoration. Even the assault upon Prince Orloff was nobly planned. Barrington had precise intelligence of the marvellous snuff-box– the Empress’s own gift to her lover; he knew also how he might meet the Prince at Drury Lane; he had even discovered that the Prince for safety hid the jewel in his vest. But the Prince felt the Prig’s hand upon the treasure, and gave an instant alarm. Over-confidence, maybe, or a too liberal dinner was the cause of failure, and Barrington, surrounded in a moment, was speedily in the lock-up. It was the first rebuff that the hero had received, and straightway his tact and ingenuity left him. The evidence was faulty, the prosecution declined, and naught was necessary for escape save presence of mind. Even friends were staunch, and had Barrington told his customary lie, his character had gone unsullied. Yet having posed for his friends as a student of the law, at Bow Street he must needs declare himself a doctor, and the needless discrepancy ruined him. Though he escaped the gallows, there was an end to the diversions of intellect and fashion; as he discovered when he visited the House of Lords to hear an appeal, and Black Rod ejected him at the persuasion of Mr. G–. As yet unused to insult, he threatened violence against the aggressor, and finding no bail he was sent on his first imprisonment to the Bridewell in Tothill Fields. Rapid, indeed, was the descent. At the first grip of adversity, he forgot his cherished principles, and two years later the loftiest and most elegant gentlemen that ever picked a pocket was at the Hulks–for robbing a harlot at Drury Lane! Henceforth, his insolence and artistry declined, and, though to the last there were intervals of grandeur, he spent the better part of fifteen years in the commission of crimes, whose very littleness condemned them. At last an exile from St. James’s and Ranelagh, he was forced into a society which still further degraded him. Hitherto he had shunned the society of professed thieves; in his golden youth he had scorned to shelter him in the flash kens, which were the natural harbours of pickpockets. But now, says his biographer, he began to seek evil company, and, the victim of his own fame, found safety only in obscene concealment.

At the Hulks he recovered something of his dignity, and discretion rendered his first visit brief enough. Even when he was committed on a second offence, and had attempted suicide, he was still irresistible, and he was discharged with several years of imprisonment to run. But, in truth, he was born for honour and distinction, and common actions, common criminals, were in the end distasteful to him. In his heyday he stooped no further than to employ such fences as might profitably dispose of his booty, and the two partners of his misdeeds were both remarkable.

James, the earlier accomplice affected clerical attire, and in 1791 `was living in a Westphalian monastery, to which he some years ago retired, in an enviable state of peace and penitence, respected for his talents, and loved for his amiable manners, by which he is distinguished in an eminent degree.’ The other ruffian, Lowe by name, was known to his own Bloomsbury Square for a philanthropic and cultured gentleman, yet only suicide saved him from the gallows. And while Barrington was wise in the choice of his servants, his manners drove even strangers to admiration. Policemen and prisoners were alike anxious to do him honour. Once when he needed money for his own defence, his brother thieves, whom he had ever shunned and despised, collected 100 for the captain of their guild. Nor did gaoler and judge ever forget the respect due to a gentleman. When Barrington was tried and condemned for the theft of Mr. Townsend’s watch at Enfield Races–September 15, 1790, was the day of his last transgression–one knows not which was the more eloquent in his respect, the judge or the culprit.

But it was not until the pickpocket set out for Botany Bay that he took full advantage of his gentlemanly bearing. To thrust `Mr.’ Barrington into the hold was plainly impossible, even though transportation for seven years was his punishment. Wherefore he was admitted to the boatswain’s mess, was allowed as much baggage as a first-class passenger, and doubtless beguiled the voyage (for others) with the information of a well-stored mind. By an inspiration of luck he checked a mutiny, holding the quarter-deck against a mob of ruffians with no weapon but a marline-spike. And hereafter, as he tells you in his `Voyage to New South Wales,’ he was accorded the fullest liberty to come or go. He visited many a foreign port with the officers of the ship; he packed a hundred note-books with trite and superfluous observations; he posed, in brief, as the captain of the ship without responsibility. Arrived at Port Jackson, he was acclaimed a hero, and received with obsequious solicitude by the Governor, who promised that his `future situation should be such as would render his banishment from England as little irksome as possible.’ Forthwith he was appointed high constable of Paramatta, and, like Vautrin, who might have taken the youthful Barrington for another Rastignac, he ended his days the honourable custodian of less fortunate convicts. Or, as a broadside ballad has it,

He left old Drury’s flash purlieus, To turn at last a copper.

Never did he revert to his ancient practice. If in his youth he had lived the double-life with an effrontery and elegance which Brodie himself never attained, henceforth his career was single in its innocence. He became a prig in the less harmful and more offensive sense. After the orthodox fashion he endeared himself to all who knew him, and ruled Paramatta with an equable severity. Having cultivated the humanities for the base purposes of his trade, he now devoted himself to literature with an energy of dulness, becoming, as it were, a liberal education personified. His earlier efforts had been in verse, and you wonder that no enterprising publisher had ventured on a limited edition. Time was he composed an ode to Light, and once recovering from a fever contracted at Ballyshannon, he addressed a few burning lines to Hygeia:

Hygeia! thou whose eyes display
The lustre of meridian day;

and so on for endless couplets. Then, had he not celebrated in immortal verse his love for Miss Egerton, untimely drowned in the waters of the Boyne? But now, as became the Constable of Paramatta, he chose the sterner medium, and followed up his `Voyage to New South Wales’ with several exceeding trite and valuable histories.

His most ambitious work was dedicated in periods of unctuous piety to his Majesty King George III., and the book’s first sentence is characteristic of his method and sensibility: `In contemplating the origin, rise, and fall of nations, the mind is alternately filled with a mixture of sacred pain and pleasure.’ Would you read further? Then you will find Fauna and Flora, twin goddesses of ineptitude, flitting across the page, unreadable as a geographical treatise. His first masterpiece was translated into French, anno VI., and the translator apologises that war with England alone prevents the compilation of a suitable biography. Was ever thief treated with so grave a consideration?

Then another work was prefaced by the Right Hon. William Eden, and all were `embellished with beautiful coloured plates,’ and ran through several editions. Once only did he return to poetry, the favoured medium of his youth, and he returned to write an imperishable line. Even then his pedantry persuaded him to renounce the authorship, and to disparage the achievement. The occasion was the opening of a theatre at Sydney, wherein the parts were sustained by convicts. The cost of admission to the gallery was one shilling, paid in money, flour, meat, or spirits.

The play was entitled The Revenge and the Hotel, and Barrington provided the prologue, which for one passage is for ever memorable. Thus it runs:

From distant climes, o’er widespread seas, we come, Though not with much eclat or beat of drum; True patriots we, for be it understood, We left our country for our country’s good. No private views disgraced our generous zeal, What urged our travels was our country’s weal; And none will doubt, but that our emigration Has proved most useful to the British nation.

`We left our country for our country’s good.’ That line, thrown fortuitously into four hundred pages of solid prose, has emerged to become the common possession of Fleet Street. It is the man’s one title to literary fame, for spurning the thievish practice he knew so well, he was righteously indignant when The London Spy was fathered upon him. Though he emptied his contemporary’s pockets of many thousands, he enriched the Dictionary of Quotations with one line, which will be repeated so long as there is human hand to wield a pen. And, if the High Constable of Paramatta was tediously respectable, George Barrington, the Prig, was a man of genius.

THE SWITCHER
AND GENTLEMAN HARRY

I
THE SWITCHER

THE SWITCHER

DAVID HAGGART was born at Canonmills, with no richer birthright than thievish fingers and a left hand of surpassing activity. The son of a gamekeeper, he grew up a long-legged, red-headed callant, lurking in the sombre shadow of the Cowgate, or like the young Sir Walter, championing the Auld Town against the New on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat. Kipping was his early sin; but the sportsman’s instinct, born of his father’s trade, was so strong within him, that he pinched a fighting cock before he was breeched, and risked the noose for horse-stealing when marbles should have engrossed his boyish fancy. Turbulent and lawless, he bitterly resented the intolerable restraint of a tranquil life, and, at last, in the hope of a larger liberty, he enlisted for a drummer in the Norfolk Militia, stationed at the moment in Edinburgh Castle. A brief, insubordinate year, misspent in his country’s service, proved him hopeless of discipline: he claimed his discharge, and henceforth he was free to follow the one craft for which nature and his own ambition had moulded him.

Like Chatterton, like Rimbaud, Haggart came into the full possession of his talent while still a child. A Barrington of fourteen, he knew every turn and twist of his craft, before he escaped from school. His youthful necessities were munificently supplied by facile depredation, and the only hindrance to immediate riches was his ignorance of flash kens where he might fence his plunder. Meanwhile he painted his soul black with wickedness. Such hours as he could snatch from the profitable conduct of his trade he devoted to the austere debauchery of Leith or the Golden Acre. Though he knew not the seduction of whisky, he missed never a dance nor a raffle, joining the frolics of prigs and callets in complete forgetfulness of the shorter catechism. In vain the kirk compared him to a `bottle in the smoke’; in vain the minister whispered of hell and the gallows; his heart hardened, as his fingers grew agile, and when, at sixteen, he left his father’s house for a sporting life, he had not his equal in the three kingdoms for cunning and courage.

His first accomplice was Barney M’Guire, who–until a fourteen stretch sent him to Botany Bay–played Clytus to David’s Alexander, and it was at Portobello Races that their brilliant partnership began. Hitherto Haggart had worked by stealth; he had tracked his booty under the cloud of night. Now was the moment to prove his prowess in the eye of day, to break with a past which he already deemed ignoble. His heart leaped with the occasion: he tackled his adventure with the hot-head energy of a new member, big with his maiden speech. The victim was chosen in an instant: a backer, whose good fortune had broken the bookmakers. There was no thief on the course who did not wait, in hungry appetence, the sportsman’s descent from the stand; yet the novice outstripped them all. `I got the first dive at his keek-cloy,’ he writes in his simple, heroic style, `and was so eager on my prey, that I pulled out the pocket along with the money, and nearly upset the gentleman.’ A steady brain saved him from the consequence of an o’erbuoyant enthusiasm. The notes were passed to Barney in a flash, and when the sportsman turned upon his assailant, Haggart’s hands were empty.

Thereupon followed an infinite series of brilliant exploits. With Barney to aid, he plundered the Border like a reiver. He stripped the yeomen of Tweedside with a ferocity which should have avenged the disgrace of Flodden. More than once he ransacked Ecclefechan, though it is unlikely that he emptied the lean pocket of Thomas Carlyle. There was not a gaff from Newcastle to the Tay which he did not haunt with sedulous perseverance; nor was he confronted with failure, until his figure became a universal terror. His common method was to price a horse, and while the dealer showed Barney the animal’s teeth, Haggart would slip under the uplifted arm, and ease the blockhead of his blunt. Arrogant in his skill, delighted with his manifold triumphs, Haggart led a life of unbroken prosperity under the brisk air of heaven, and, despite the risk of his profession, he remained two years a stranger to poverty and imprisonment. His worst mishap was to slip his forks into an empty pocket, or to encounter in his cups a milvadering horse- dealer; but his joys were free and frank, while he exulted in his success with a boyish glee. `I was never happier in all my life than when I fingered all this money,’ he exclaims when he had captured the comfortable prize of two hundred pounds. And then he would make merry at Newcastle or York, forgetting the knowing ones for a while, going abroad in white cape and tops, and flicking his leg like a gentleman with a dandy whip. But at last Barney and a wayward ambition persuaded him to desert his proper craft for the greater hazard of cracking a crib, and thus he was involved in his ultimate ruin. He incurred and he deserved the untoward fate of those who overlook their talents’ limitation; and when this master of pickpockets followed Barney through the window of a secluded house upon the York Road, he might already have felt the noose tightening at his neck. The immediate reward of this bungled attack was thirty pounds, but two days later he was committed with Barney to the Durham Assizes, where he exchanged the obscurity of the perfect craftsman for the notoriety of the dangerous gaol-bird.

For the moment, however, he recovered his freedom: breaking prison, he straightway conveyed a fiddlestick to his comrade, and in a twinkling was at Newcastle again, picking up purses well lined with gold, and robbing the bumpkins of their scouts and chats. But the time of security was overpast. Marked and suspicious, he began to fear the solitude of the country; he left the horse-fair for the city, and sought in the budging-kens of Edinburgh the secrecy impossible on the hill-side. A clumsy experiment in shop-lifting doubled his danger, and more than once he saw the inside of the police-office. Henceforth, he was free of the family; he loafed in the Shirra-Brae; he knew the flash houses of Leith and the Grassmarket. With Jean Johnston, the blowen of his choice, he smeared his hands with the squalor of petty theft, and the drunken recklessness wherewith he swaggered it abroad hastened his approaching downfall.

With a perpetual anxiety to avoid the nippers his artistry dwindled. The left hand, invincible on the Cheviots, seemed no better than a bunch of thumbs in the narrow ways of Edinburgh; and after innumerable misadventures Haggart was safely lodged in Dumfries gaol. No sooner was he locked within his cell than his restless brain planned a generous escape. He would win liberty for his fellows as well as for himself, and after a brief council a murderous plot was framed and executed. A stone slung in a handkerchief sent Morrin, the gaoler, to sleep; the keys found on him opened the massy doors; and Haggart was free with a reward set upon his head. The shock of the enterprise restored his magnanimity. Never did he display a finer bravery than in this spirited race for his life, and though three counties were aroused he doubled and ducked to such purpose that he outstripped John Richardson himself with all his bloodhounds, and two days later marched into Carlisle disguised in the stolen rags of a potato-bogle.

During the few months that remained to him of life he embarked upon a veritable Odyssey: he scoured Scotland from the Border to St. Andrews, and finally contrived a journey oversea to Ireland, where he made the name of Daniel O’Brien a terror to well-doers. Insolent and careless, he lurched from prison to prison; now it was Armagh that held him, now Downpatrick, until at last he was thrust on a general charge of vagabondage and ill-company into Kilmainham, which has since harboured many a less valiant adventurer than David Haggart. Here the culminating disgrace overtook him: he was detected in the prison yard by his ancient enemy, John Richardson, of Dumfries, who dragged him back to Scotland heavily shackled and charged with murder. So nimble had he proved himself in extrication, that his captors secured him with pitiless severity; round his waist he carried an iron belt, whereto were padlocked the chains, clanking at his wrists and ankles. Thus tortured and helpless, he was fed `like a sucking turkey in Bedlam’; but his sorrows vanished, and his dying courage revived at sight of the torchlight procession, which set forth from Dumfries to greet his return.

His coach was hustled by a mob, thousands strong, eager to catch sight of Haggart the Murderer, and though the spot where he slew Morrin was like fire beneath his passing feet, he carried to his cell a heart and a brain aflame with gratified vanity. His guilt being patent, reprieve was as hopeless as acquittal, and after the assured condemnation he spent his last few days with what profit he might in religious and literary exercises. He composed a memoir, which is a model of its kind; so diligently did he make his soul, that he could appear on the scaffold in a chastened spirit of prayerful gratitude; and, being an eminent scoundrel, he seemed a proper subject for the ministrations of Mr. George Combe. `That is the one thing I did not know before,’ he confessed with an engaging modesty, when his bumps were squeezed, and yet he was more than a match for the amiable phrenologist, whose ignorance of mankind persuaded him to believe that an illiterate felon could know himself and analyse his character.

His character escaped his critics as it escaped himself. Time was when George Borrow, that other picaroon, surprised the youthful David, thinking of Willie Wallace upon the Castle Rock, and Lavengro’s romantic memory transformed the raw-boned pickpocket into a monumental hero, who lacked nothing save a vast theatre to produce a vast effect. He was a Tamerlane, robbed of his opportunity; a valiant warrior, who looked in vain for a battlefield; a marauder who climbed the scaffold not for the magnitude, but for the littleness of his sins. Thus Borrow, in complete misunderstanding of the rascal’s qualities.

Now, Haggart’s ambition was as circumscribed as his ability. He died, as he was born, an expert cly-faker, whose achievements in sleight of hand are as yet unparalleled. Had the world been one vast breast pocket his fish-hook fingers would have turned it inside out. But it was not his to mount a throne, or overthrow a dynasty. `My forks,’ he boasted, `are equally long, and they never fail me.’ That is at once the reason and the justification of his triumph. Born with a consummate artistry tingling at his finger-tips, how should he escape the compulsion of a glorious destiny? Without fumbling or failure he discovered the single craft for which fortune had framed him, and he pursued it with a courage and an industry which gave him not a kingdom, but fame and booty, exceeding even his greedy aspiration. No Tamerlane he, questing for a continent, but David Haggart, the man with the long forks, happy if he snatched his neighbour’s purse.

Before all things he respected the profession which his left hand made inevitable, and which he pursued with unconquerable pride. Nor in his inspired youth was plunder his sole ambition: he cultivated the garden of his style with the natural zeal of the artist; he frowned upon the bungler with a lofty contempt. His materials were simplicity itself: his forks, which were always with him, and another’s well-filled pocket, since, sensible of danger, he cared not to risk his neck for a purse that did not contain so much as would `sweeten a grawler.’ At its best, his method was always witty–that is the single word which will characterise it–witty as a piece of Heine’s prose, and as dangerous. He would run over a man’s pockets while he spoke with him, returning what he chose to discard without the lightest breath of suspicion. `A good workman,’ his contemporaries called him; and they thought it a shame for him to be idle. Moreover, he did not blunder unconsciously upon his triumph; he tackled the trade in so fine a spirit of analysis that he might have been the very Aristotle of his science. `The keek-cloy,’ he wrote, in his hints to young sportsmen, `is easily picked. If the notes are in the long fold just tip them the forks; but if there is a purse or open money in the case, you must link it.’ The breast-pocket, on the other hand, is a severer test. `Picking the suck is sometimes a kittle job,’ again the philosopher speaks. `If the coat is buttoned it must be opened by slipping past. Then bring the lil down between the flap of the coat and the body, keeping your spare arm across your man’s breast, and so slip it to a comrade; then abuse the fellow for jostling you.’

Not only did he master the tradition of thievery; he vaunted his originality with the familiar complacence of the scoundrel. Forgetting that it was by burglary that he was undone, he explains for his public glorification that he was wont to enter the houses of Leith by forcing the small window above the outer door. This artifice, his vanity grumbles, is now common; but he would have all the world understand that it was his own invention, and he murmurs with the pedantry of the convicted criminal that it is now set forth for the better protection of honest citizens. No less admirable in his own eyes was that other artifice which induced him to conceal such notes as he managed to filch in the collar of his coat. Thus he eluded the vigilance of the police, which searched its prey in those days with a sorry lack of cunning. In truth, Haggart’s wits were as nimble as his fingers, and he seldom failed to render a profitable account of his talents. He beguiled one of his sojourns in gaol by manufacturing tinder wherewith to light the prisoners’ pipes, and it is not astonishing that he won a general popularity. In Ireland, when the constables would take him for a Scot, he answered in high Tipperary, and saved his skin for a while by a brogue which would not have shamed a modern patriot. But quick as were his wits, his vanity always outstripped them, and no hero ever bragged of his achievements with a louder effrontery.

Now all you ramblers in mourning go, For the prince of ramblers is lying low, And all you maidens that love the game, Put on your mourning veils again.

Thus he celebrated his downfall in a ballad that has the true Newgate ring, and verily in his own eyes he was a hero who carried to the scaffold a dauntless spirit unstained by treachery.

He believed himself an adept in all the arts; as a squire of dames he held himself peerless, and he assured the ineffable Combe, who recorded his flippant utterance with a credulous respect, that he had sacrificed hecatombs of innocent virgins to his importunate lust. Prose and verse trickled with equal facility from his pen, and his biography is a masterpiece. Written in the pedlar’s French as it was misspoken in the hells of Edinburgh, it is a narrative of uncommon simplicity and directness, marred now and again by such superfluous reflections as are the natural result of thievish sentimentality. He tells his tale without paraphrase or adornment, and the worthy Writer to the Signet, who prepared the work for the Press, would have asked three times the space to record one-half the adventures. `I sunk upon it with my forks and brought it with me’; `We obtained thirty-three pounds by this affair’–is there not the stalwart flavour of the epic in these plain, unvarnished sentences?

His other accomplishments are pallid in the light of his brilliant left hand. Once, at Derry–he attended a cock- fight, and beguiled an interval by emptying the pockets of a lucky bookmaker. An expert, who watched the exploit in admiration, could not withhold a compliment. `You are the Switcher,’ he exclaimed; `some take all, but you leave nothing.’ And it is as the Switcher that Haggart keeps his memory green.

II
GENTLEMAN HARRY

GENTLEMAN HARRY

`DAMN ye both! stop, or I will blow your brains out!’ Thus it was that Harry Simms greeted his victims, proving in a phrase that the heroic age of the rumpad was no more. Forgotten the debonair courtesy of Claude Duval! Forgotten the lightning wit, the swift repartee of the incomparable Hind! No longer was the hightoby-gloak a `gentleman’ of the road; he was a butcher, if not a beggar, on horseback; a braggart without the courage to pull a trigger; a swashbuckler, oblivious of that ancient style which converted the misery of surrender into a privilege. Yet Harry Simms, the supreme adventurer of his age, was not without distinction; his lithe form and his hard-ridden horse were the common dread of England; his activity was rewarded with a princely treasure; and if his method were lacking in urbanity, the excuse is that he danced not to the brilliant measure of the Cavaliers, but limped to the clumsy fiddle-scraping of the early Georges.

At Eton, where a too-indulgent grandmother had placed him, he ransacked the desks of his school-fellows, and avenged a birching by emptying his master’s pockets. Wherefore he lost the hope of a polite education, and instead of proceeding with a clerkly dignity to King’s College, in the University of Cambridge, he was ignominiously apprenticed to a breeches-maker. The one restraint was as irksome as the other, and Harry Simms abandoned the needle, as he had scorned the grammar, to go upon the pad. Though his early companions were scragged at Tyburn, the light-fingered rascal was indifferent to their fate, and squandering such booty as fell to his share, he bravely `turned out’ for more. Tottenham Court Fair was the theatre of his childish exploits, and there he gained some little skill in the picking of pockets. But a spell of bad trade brought him to poverty, and he attempted to replenish an empty pocket by the childish expedient of a threatening letter.

The plan was conceived and executed with a futility which ensured an instant capture. The bungler chose a stranger at haphazard, commanding him, under penalty of death, to lay five guineas upon a gun in Tower Wharf; the guineas were cunningly deposited, and the rascal, caught with his hand upon the booty, was committed to Newgate. Youth, and the intercession of his grandmother, procured a release, unjustified by the infamous stupidity of the trick. Its very clumsiness should have sent him over sea; and it is wonderful that from a beginning of so little promise, he should have climbed even the first slopes of greatness. However, the memory of gaol forced him to a brief interlude of honesty; for a while he wore the pink coat of Colonel Cunningham’s postillion, and presently was promoted to the independence of a hackney coach.

Thus employed, he became acquainted with the famous Cyprians of Covent Garden, who, loving him for his handsome face and sprightly gesture, seduced him to desert his cab for an easier profession. So long as the sky was fair, he lived under their amiable protection; but the summer having chased the smarter gentry from town, the ladies could afford him no more than would purchase a horse and a pair of pistols, so that Harry was compelled to challenge fortune on the high road. His first journey was triumphantly successful. A post-chaise and a couple of coaches emptied their wealth into his hands, and, riding for London, he was able to return the favours lavished upon him by Covent Garden. At the first touch of gold he was transformed to a finished blade. He purchased himself a silver-hilted sword, which he dangled over a discreet suit of black velvet; a prodigious run of luck at the gaming-tables kept his purse well lined; and he made so brilliant an appearance in his familiar haunts that he speedily gained the name of `Gentleman Harry.’ But the money, lightly won, was lightly spent. The tables took back more than they gave, and before long Simms was astride his horse again, flourishing his irons, and crying: `Stand and deliver’! upon every road in England.

Epping Forest was his general hunting-ground, but his enterprise took him far afield, and if one night he galloped by starlight across Bagshot Heath, another he was holding up the York stage with unbridled insolence. He robbed, he roared, he blustered with praiseworthy industry; and good luck coming to the aid of caution, he escaped for a while the necessary punishment of his crimes. It was on Stockbridge Downs that he met his first check.

He had stopped a chariot, and came off with a hatful of gold, but the victims, impatient of disaster, raised the county, and Gentleman Harry was laid by the heels. Never at a loss, he condescended to a cringing hypocrisy: he whined, he whimpered, he babbled of reform, he plied his prosecutors with letters so packed with penitence, that they abandoned their case, and in a couple of days Simms had eased a collector at Eversey Bank of three hundred pounds. For this enterprise two others climbed the gallows, and the robber’s pride in his capture was miserably lessened by the shedding of innocent blood.

But he forgot his remorse as speedily as he dissipated his money, and sentimentality neither damped his enjoyment nor restrained his energy. Even his brief visits to London were turned to the best account; and, though he would have the world believe him a mere voluptuary, his eye was bent sternly upon business. If he did lose his money in a gambling hell, he knew who won it, and spoke with his opponent on the homeward way. In his eyes a fuddled rake was always fair game, and the stern windows of St. Clement’s Church looked down upon many a profitable adventure. His most distinguished journey was to Ireland, whither he set forth to find a market for his stolen treasure. But he determined that the road should bear its own charges, and he reached Dublin a richer man than he left London. In three months he was penniless, but he did not begin trade again until he had recrossed the Channel, and, having got to work near Chester, he returned to the Piazza fat with bank-notes.

With success his extravagance increased, and, living the life of a man about town, he was soon harassed by debt. More than once he was lodged in the Marshalsea, and as his violent temper resented the interference of a dun, he became notorious for his assaults upon sheriff’s officers. And thus his poor skill grew poorer: forgetting his trade, he expected that brandy would ease his embarrassment. At last, sodden with drink, he enlisted in the Guards, from which regiment he deserted, only to be pressed aboard a man-of-war. Freed by a clever trick, he took to the road again, until a paltry theft from a barber transported him to Maryland. There he turned sailor, and his ship, The Two Sisters, being taken by a privateer, he contrived to scramble into Portugal, whence he made his way back to England, and to the only adventure of which he was master. He landed with no more money than the price of a pistol, but he prigged a prancer at Bristol horsefair, and set out upon his last journey. The tide of his fortune was at flood. He crammed his pockets with watches; he was owner of enough diamonds to set up shop in a fashionable quarter; of guineas he had as many as would support his magnificence for half a year; and at last he resolved to quit the road, and to live like the gentleman he was. To this prudence he was the more easily persuaded, because not only were the thief-takers eager for his capture, but he was a double-dyed deserter, whose sole chance of quietude was a decent obscurity.

His resolution was taken at St. Albans, and over a comfortable dinner he pictured a serene and uneventful future. On the morrow he would set forth to Dublin, sell his handsome stock of jewels, and forget that the cart ever lumbered up Tyburn Hill. So elated was he with his growing virtue, that he called for a second bottle, and as the port heated his blood his fingers tingled for action. A third bottle proved beyond dispute that only the craven were idle; `and why,’ he exclaimed, generous with wine, `should the most industrious ruffler of England condescend to inaction?’ Instantly he summoned the ostler, screaming for his horse, and before Redburn he had emptied four pockets, and had exchanged his own tired jade for a fresh and willing beast. Still exultant in his contempt of cowardice, he faced the Warrington stage, and made off with his plunder at a drunken gallop. Arrived at Dunstable, he was so befogged with liquor and pride, that he entered the `Bull Inn,’ the goal of the very coach he had just encountered. He had scarce called for a quartern of brandy when the robbed passengers thronged into the kitchen; and the fright gave him enough sobriety to leave his glass untasted, and stagger to his horse. In a wild fury of arrogance and terror, of conflicting vice and virtue, he pressed on to Hockcliffe, where he took refuge from the rain, and presently, fuddled with more brandy, he fell asleep over the kitchen fire.

By this time the hue and cry was raised; and as the hero lay helpless in the corner three troopers burst into the inn, levelled their pistols at his head, and threatened death if he put his hand to his pocket. Half asleep, and wholly drunk, he made not he smallest show of resistance; he surrendered all his money, watches, and diamonds, save a little that was sewn into his neckcloth, and sulkily crawled up to his bed-chamber. Thither the troopers followed him, and having restored some nine pounds at his urgent demand, they watched his heavy slumbers. For all his brandy Simms slept but uneasily, and awoke in the night sick with the remorse which is bred of ruined plans and a splitting head. He got up wearily, and sat over the fire `a good deal chagrined,’ to quote his own simple phrase, at his miserable capture. Escape seemed hopeless indeed; there crouched the vigilant troopers, scowling on their prey. A thousand plans chased each other through the hero’s fuddled brain, and at last he resolved to tempt the cupidity of his guardians, and to make himself master of their fire-arms. There were still left him a couple of seals, one gold, the other silver, and watching his opportunity, Simms flung them with a flourish in the fire. It fell out as he expected; the hungry troopers made a dash to save the trinkets; the prisoner seized a brace of pistols and leapt to the door. But, alas, the pistols missed fire, Harry was immediately overpowered, and on the morrow was carried, sick and sorry, before the Justice. From Dunstable he travelled his last journey to Newgate, and, being condemned at the Old Bailey, he was hanged till he was dead, and his body thereafter was carried for dissection to a surgeon’s in that same Covent Garden where he first deserted his hackney cab for the pleasures of the town.

`Gentleman Harry’ was neither a brilliant thief nor a courteous highwayman. There was no touch of the grand manner even in his prettiest achievement. His predecessors had made a pistol and a vizard an overwhelming terror, and he did but profit by their tradition when he bade the cowed traveller stand and deliver. His profession, as he practised it, neither demanded skill nor incurred danger. Though he threatened death at every encounter, you never hear that he pulled a trigger throughout his career. If his opponent jeered and rode off, he rode off with a whole skin and a full pocket. Once even this renowned adventurer accepted the cut of a riding-whip across his face, nor made any attempt to avenge the insult. But his manifold shortcomings were no hindrance to his success. Wherever he went, between London and York, he stopped coaches and levied his tax. A threatening voice, an arched eyebrow, an arrogant method of fingering an unloaded pistol, conspired with the craven, indolent habit of the time to make his every journey a procession of triumph. He was capable of performing all such feats as the age required of him. But you miss the spirit, the bravery, the urbanity, and the wit, which made the adventurer of the seventeenth century a figure of romance.

One point only of the great tradition did Harry Simms remember. He was never unwilling to restore a trinket made precious by sentiment. Once when he took a gold ring from a gentleman’s finger a gentlewoman burst into tears, exclaiming, `There goes your father’s ring.’ Whereupon Simms threw all his booty into a hat, saying, `For God’s sake, take that or anything else you please.’ In all other respects he was a bully, with the hesitancy of a coward, rather than the proper rival of Hind or Duval. Apart from the exercise of his trade, he was a very Mohock for brutality. He would ill-treat his victims, whenever their drunkenness permitted the freedom, and he had no better gifts for the women who were kind to him than cruelty and neglect. One of his many imprisonments was the result of a monstrous ferocity. `Unluckily in a quarrel,’ he tells you gravely, `I ran a crab-stick into a woman’s eye’; and well did he deserve his sojourn in the New Prison. At another time he rewarded the keeper of a coffee-house, who supported him for six months, by stealing her watch; and, when she grumbled at his insolence, he reflected, with a chuckle, that she could more easily bear the loss of her watch than the loss of her lover. Even in his gaiety there was an unpleasant spice of greed and truculence. Once, when he was still seen in fashionable company, he went to a masquerade, dressed in a rich Spanish habit, lent him by a Captain in the Guards, and he made so fine a show that he captivated a young and beautiful Cyprian, whom, when she would have treated him with generosity, he did but reward with the loss of all her jewels.

Moreover, he had so small a regard for his craft, that he would spoil his effects by drink or debauchery; and, though a highwayman, he cared so little for style, that he would as lief trick a drunken gamester as face his man on Bagshot Heath or beneath the shade of Epping Forest. You admire not his success, because, like the success of the popular politician, it depended rather upon his dupes than upon his merit. You approve not his raffish exploits in the hells of Covent Garden or Drury Lane. But you cannot withhold respect from his consistent dandyism, and you are grateful for the record that, engaged in a mean enterprise, he was dressed `in a green velvet frock and a short lac’d waistcoat.’ Above all, his picturesque capture at Hockcliffe atones for much stupidity. The resolution, wavering at the wine glass, the last drunken ride from St. Albans–these are inventions in experience, which should make Simms immortal. And when he sits `by the fireside a good deal chagrined,’ he recalls the arrest of a far greater man–even of Cartouche, who was surprised by the soldiers at his bedside stitching a torn pair of breeches. His autobiography, wherein `he relates the truth as a dying man,’ seemed excellent in the eyes of Borrow, who loved it so well that he imagined a sentence, ascribed it falsely to Simms, and then rewarded it with extravagant applause.

But Gentleman Harry knew how to tell a simple story, and the book, `all wrote by myself while under sentence of death,’ is his best performance. In action he had many faults, for, if he was a highwayman among rakes, he was but a rake among highwaymen.

A PARALLEL

(THE SWITCHER AND GENTLEMAN
HARRY)

HAGGART and Simms are united in the praise of Borrow, and in the generous applause of posterity. Each resumes for his own generation the prowess of his kind. Each has assured his immortality by an experiment in literature; and if epic simplicity and rapid narrative are the virtues of biography, it is difficult to award the prize. The Switcher preferred to write in the rough lingo, wherein he best expressed himself. He packs his pages with ill-spelt slang, telling his story of thievery in the true language of thieves. Gentleman Harry, as became a person of quality, mimicked the dialect wherewith he was familiar in the more fashionable gambling-dens of Covent Garden. Both write with out the smallest suggestion of false shame or idle regret, and a natural vanity lifts each of them out of the pit of commonplace on to the tableland of the heroic. They set forth their depredation, as a victorious general might record his triumphs, and they excel the nimblest Ordinary that ever penned a dying speech in all the gifts of the historian.

But when you leave the study for the field, the Switcher instantly declares his superiority. He had the happiness to practise his craft in its heyday, while Simms knew but the fag- end of a noble tradition. Haggart, moreover, was an expert, pursuing a difficult art, while Simms was a bully, plundering his betters by bluff. Simms boasted no quality which might be set off against the accurate delicacy of Haggart’s hand. The Englishman grew rich upon a rolling eye and a rusty pistol. He put on his `fiercest manner,’ and believed that the world would deny him nothing. The Scot, rejoicing in his exquisite skill, went to work without fuss or bluster, and added the joy of artistic pride to his delight in plunder. Though Simm’s manner seems the more chivalrous, it required not one tithe of the courage which was Haggart’s necessity. On horseback, with the semblance of a fire-arm, a man may easily challenge a coachful of women. It needs a cool brain and a sound courage to empty a pocket in the watchful presence of spies and policemen. While Gentleman Harry chose a lonely road, or the cover of night for his exploits, the Switcher always worked by day, hustled by a crowd of witnesses.

Their hours of leisure furnish a yet more striking contrast. Simms was a polished dandy delighting in his clothes, unhappy if he were deprived of his bottle and his game. Haggart, on the other hand, was before all things sealed to his profession. He would have deserted the gayest masquerade, had he ever strayed into so light a frivolity, for the chance of lightening a pocket. He tasted but few amusements without the limits of his craft, and he preserved unto the end a touch of that dour character which is the heritage of his race. But, withal, he was an amiable decent body, who would have recoiled in horror from the drunken brutality of Gentleman Harry. Though he bragged to George Combe of his pitiless undoing of wenches, he never thrust a crab-stick into a woman’s eye, and he was incapable of rewarding a kindness by robbery and neglect. Once– at Newcastle–he arrayed himself in a smart white coat and tops, but the splendour ill became his red-headed awkwardness, and he would have stood aghast at the satin frocks and velvet waistcoats of him who broke the hearts of Drury Lane. But if he were gentler in his life, Haggart was prepared to fight with a more reckless courage when his trade demanded it. It was the Gentleman’s boast that he never shed the blood of man. When David found a turnkey between himself and freedom, he did not hesitate to kill, though his remorse was bitter enough when he neared the gallows. In brief, Haggart was not only the better craftsman, but the honester fellow, and though his hands were red with blood, he deserved his death far less than did the more truculent, less valiant Simms. Each had in his brain the stuff whereof men of letters are made: this is their parallel. And, by way of contrast, while the Switcher was an accomplished artist, Gentleman Harry was a roystering braggart.

DEACON BRODIE AND
CHARLES PEACE

I
DEACON BRODIE

DEACON BRODIE

AS William Brodie stood at the bar, on trial for a his life, he seemed the gallantest gentleman in court. Thither he had been carried in a chair, and, still conscious of the honour paid him, he flashed a condescending smile upon his judges. His step was jaunty as ever; his superb attire well became the Deacon of a Guild. His coat was blue, his vest a very garden of flowers; while his satin breeches and his stockings of white silk were splendid in their simplicity. Beneath a cocked hat his hair was fully dressed and powdered, and even the prosecuting counsel assailed him with the respect due to a man of fashion. The fellow’s magnificence was thrown into relief by the squalor of his accomplice. For George Smith had neither the money nor the taste to disguise himself as a polished rogue, and he huddled as far from his master as he could in the rags of his mean estate. Nor from this moment did Brodie ever abate one jot of his dignity. He faced his accusers with a clear eye and a frigid amiability; he listened to his sentence with a calm contempt; he laughed complacently at the sorry interludes of judicial wit; and he faced the last music with a bravery and a cynicism which bore the stamp of true greatness.

It was not until after his crime that Brodie’s heroism approved itself. And even then his was a triumph not of skill but of character. Always a gentleman in manner and conduct, he owed the success and the failure of his life to this one quality. When in flight he made for Flushing on board the Endeavour, the other passengers, who knew not his name, straightway christened him `the gentleman.’ The enterprise itself would have been impossible to one less persuasively gifted, and its proper execution is a tribute to the lofty quality of his mind. There was he in London, a stranger and a fugitive; yet instead of crawling furtively into a coal-barge he charters a ship, captures the confidence of the captain, carries the other passengers to Flushing, when they were bound for Leith, and compels every one to confess his charm! The thief, also, found him irresistible; and while the game lasted, the flash kens of Edinburgh murmured the Deacon’s name in the hushed whisper of respect.

His fine temperament disarmed treachery. In London he visited an ancient doxy of his own, who, with her bully, shielded him from justice, though betrayal would have met with an ample reward. Smith, if he knew himself the superior craftsman, trembled at the Deacon’s nod, who thus swaggered it through life, with none to withhold the exacted reverence. To this same personal compulsion he owed his worldly advancement. Deacon of the Wrights’ Guild while still a young man, he served upon the Council, was known for one of Edinburgh’s honoured citizens, and never went abroad unmarked by the finger of respectful envy. He was elected in 1773 a member of the Cape Club, and met at the Isle of Man Arms in Craig’s Close the wittiest men of his time and town. Raeburn, Runciman, and Ferguson the poet were of the society, and it was with such as these that Brodie might have wasted his vacant hour. Indeed, at the very moment that he was cracking cribs and shaking the ivories, he was a chosen leader of fashion and gaiety; and it was the elegance of the `gentleman’ that distinguished him from his fellows.

The fop, indeed, had climbed the altitudes of life; the cracksman still stumbled in the valleys. If he had a ready cunning in the planning of an enterprise, he must needs bungle at the execution; and had he not been associated with George Smith, a king of scoundrels, there would be few exploits to record. And yet for the craft of housebreaker he had one solid advantage: he knew the locks and bolts of Edinburgh as he knew his primer–for had he not fashioned the most of them himself? But, his knowledge once imparted to his accomplices, he cheerfully sank to a menial’s office. In no job did he play a principal’s part: he was merely told off by Smith or another to guard the entrance and sound the alarm. When M`Kain’s on the Bridge was broken, the Deacon found the false keys; it was Smith who carried off such poor booty as was found. And though the master suggested the attack upon Bruce’s shop, knowing full well the simplicity of the lock, he lingered at the Vintner’s over a game of hazard, and let the man pouch a sumptuous booty.

Even the onslaught upon the Excise Office, which cost his life, was contrived with appalling clumsiness. The Deacon of the Wrights’ Guild, who could slash wood at his will, who knew the artifice of every lock in the city, let his men go to work with no better implements than the stolen coulter of a plough and a pair of spurs. And when they tackled the ill omened job, Brodie was of those who brought failure upon it. Long had they watched the door of the Excise; long had they studied the habits of its clerks; so that they went to work in no vain spirit of experiment. Nor on the fatal night did they force an entrance until they had dogged the porter to his home. Smith and Brown ransacked the place for money, while Brodie and Andrew Ainslie remained without to give a necessary warning. Whereupon Ainslie was seized with fright, and Brodie, losing his head, called off the others, so that six hundred pounds were left, that might have been an easy prey. Smith, indignant at the collapse of the long- pondered design, laid the blame upon his master, and they swung, as Brodie’s grim spirit of farce suggested, for four pounds apiece.

The humours of the situation were all the Deacon’s own. He dressed the part in black; his respectability grinned behind a vizard; and all the while he trifled nonchalantly with a pistol. Breaking the silence with snatches from The Beggar’s Opera, he promised that all their lead should turn to gold, christened the coulter and the crow the Great and Little Samuel, and then went off to drink and dice at the Vintner’s. How could anger prevail against this undying gaiety? And if Smith were peevish at failure, he was presently reconciled, and prepared once more to die for his Deacon.

Even after escape, the amateur is still apparent. True, he managed the trip to Flushing with his ancient extravagance; true, he employed all the juggleries of the law to prevent his surrender at Amsterdam. But he knew not the caution of the born criminal, and he was run to earth, because he would still write to his friends like a gentleman. His letters, during this nightmare of disaster, are perfect in their carelessness and good-fellowship. In this he demands news of his children, as becomes a father and a citizen, and furnishes a schedule of their education; in that he is curious concerning the issue of a main, and would know whether his black cock came off triumphant. Nor, even in flight, did he forget his proper craft, but would have his tools sent to Charleston, that in America he might resume the trade that had made him Deacon.

But his was the art of conduct, not of guile, and he deserved capture for his rare indifference. Why, then, with no natural impulsion, did he risk the gallows? Why, being no born thief, and innocent of the thief’s cunning, did he associate with so clever a scoundrel as George Smith, with cowards craven as Brown and Ainslie? The greed of gold, doubtless, half persuaded him, but gold was otherwise attainable, and the motive was assuredly far more subtle. Brodie, in fact, was of a romantic turn. He was, so to say, a glorified schoolboy, surfeited with penny dreadfuls. He loved above all things to patter the flash, to dream himself another Macheath, to trick himself out with all the trappings of a crime he was unfit to commit. It was never the job itself that attracted him: he would always rather throw the dice than force a neighbour’s window. But he must needs have a distraction from the respectability of his life. Everybody was at his feet; he was Deacon of his Guild, at an age whereat his fellows were striving to earn a reputable living; his masterpieces were fashioned, and the wrights’ trade was already a burden. To go upon the cross seemed a dream of freedom, until he snapped his fingers at the world, filled his mouth with slang, prepared his alibi, and furnished him a whole wardrobe of disguises.

With a conscious irony, maybe, he buried his pistols beneath the domestic hearth, jammed his dark lantern into the press, where he kept his game-cocks, and determined to make an inextricable jumble of his career. Drink is sometimes a sufficient reaction against the orderliness of a successful life.

But drink and cards failed with the Deacon, and at the Vintner’s of his frequentation he encountered accomplices proper for his schemes. Never was so outrageous a protest offered against domesticity. Yet Brodie’s resolution was romantic after its fashion, and was far more respectable than the blackguardism of the French Revolution, which distracted housewifely discontent a year after the Deacon swung. Moreover, it gave occasion for his dandyism and his love of display. If in one incarnation he was the complete gentleman, in another he dressed the part of the perfect scoundrel, and the list of his costumes would have filled one of his own ledgers.

But, when once the possibility of housebreaking was taken from him, he returned to his familiar dignity. Being questioned by the Procurator Fiscal, he shrugged his shoulders, regretting that other affairs demanded his attention. As who should say: it is unpardonable to disturb the meditations of a gentleman. He made a will bequeathing his knowledge of law to the magistrates of Edinburgh, his dexterity in cards and dice to Hamilton the chimney-sweeper, and all his bad qualities to his good friends and old companions, Brown and Ainslie, not doubting, however, that their own will secure them `a rope at last.’ In prison it was his worst complaint that, though the nails of his toes and fingers were not quite so long as Nebuchadnezzar’s, they were long enough for a mandarin, and much longer than he found convenient. Thus he preserved an untroubled demeanour until the day of his death. Always polite, and even joyous, he met the smallest indulgence with enthusiasm. When Smith complained that a respite of six weeks was of small account, Brodie exclaimed, `George, what would you and I give for six weeks longer? Six weeks would be an age to us.’

The day of execution was the day of his supreme triumph. As some men are artists in their lives, so the Deacon was an artist in his death. Nothing became him so well as his manner of leaving the world. There is never a blot upon this exquisite performance. It is superb, impeccable! Again his dandyism supported him, and he played the part of a dying man in a full suit of black, his hair, as always, dressed and powdered. The day before he had been jovial and sparkling. He had chanted all his flash songs, and cracked the jokes of a man of fashion. But he set out for the gallows with a firm step and a rigorous demeanour. He offered a prayer of his own composing, and `O Lord,’ he said, `I lament that I know so little of Thee.’ The patronage and the confession are alike characteristic. As he drew near the scaffold, the model of which he had given to his native city a few years since, he stepped with an agile briskness; he examined the halter, destined for his neck, with an impartial curiosity.

His last pleasantry was uttered as he ascended the table. `George,’ he muttered, `you are first in hand,’ and thereafter he took farewell of his friends. Only one word of petulance escaped his lips: when the halters were found too short, his contempt for slovenly workmanship urged him to protest, and to demand a punishment for the executioner. Again ascending the table, he assured himself against further mishap by arranging the rope with his own hands. Thus he was turned off in a brilliant assembly. The Provost and Magistrates, in respect for his dandyism, were resplendent in their robes of office, and though the crowd of spectators rivalled that which paid a tardy honour to Jonathan Wild, no one was hurt save the customary policeman. Such was the dignified end of a `double life.’ And the duplicity is the stranger, because the real Deacon was not Brodie the Cracksman, but Brodie the Gentleman. So lightly did he esteem life that he tossed it from him in a careless impulse. So little did he fear death that, `What is hanging?’ he asked. `A leap in the dark.’

II
CHARLES PEACE

CHARLES PEACE

CHARLES PEACE, after the habit of his kind, was born of scrupulously honest parents. The son of a religious file-maker, he owed to his father not only his singular piety but his love of edged tools. As he never encountered an iron bar whose scission baffled him, so there never was a fire-eating Methodist to whose ministrations he would not turn a repentant ear. After a handy portico and a rich booty he loved nothing so well as a soul- stirring discourse. Not even his precious fiddle occupied a larger space in his heart than that devotion which the ignorant have termed hypocrisy. Wherefore his career was no less suitable to his ambition than his inglorious end. For he lived the king of housebreakers, and he died a warning to all evildoers, with a prayer of intercession trembling upon his lips.

The hero’s boyhood is wrapped in obscurity. It is certain that no glittering precocity brought disappointment to his maturer years, and he was already nineteen when he achieved his first imprisonment. Even then ’twas a sorry offence, which merited no more than a month, so that he returned to freedom and his fiddle with his character unbesmirched. Serious as ever in pious exercises, he gained a scanty living as strolling musician. There was never a tavern in Sheffield where the twang of his violin was unheard, and the skill wherewith he extorted music from a single string earned him the style and title of the modern Paganini. But such an employ was too mean for his pride, and he soon got to work again–this time with a better success. The mansions of Sheffield were his early prey, and a rich plunder rewarded his intrepidity. The design was as masterly as its accomplishment. The grand style is already discernible. The houses were broken in quietude and good order. None saw the opened window; none heard the step upon the stair; in truth, the victim’s loss was his first intelligence.

But when the booty was in the robber’s own safe keeping, the empiricism of his method was revealed. As yet he knew no secret and efficient fence to shield him from detection; as yet he had not learnt that the complete burglar works alone. This time he knew two accomplices–women both, and one his own sister! A paltry pair of boots was the clue of discovery, and a goodly stretch was the proper reward of a clumsy indiscretion. So for twenty years he wavered between the crowbar and the prison house, now perfecting a brilliant scheme, now captured through recklessness or drink. Once when a mistake at Manchester sent him to the Hulks, he owned his failure was the fruit of brandy, and after his wont delivered (from the dock) a little homily upon the benefit of sobriety.

Meanwhile his art was growing to perfection. He had at last discovered that a burglary demands as diligent a forethought as a campaign; he had learnt that no great work is achieved by a multitude of minds. Before his boat carried off a goodly parcel of silk from Nottingham, he was known to the neighbourhood as an enthusiastic and skilful angler. One day he dangled his line, the next he sat peacefully at the same employ; and none suspected that the mild mannered fisherman had under the cloud of night despatched a costly parcel to London. Even the years of imprisonment were not ill-spent. Peace was still preparing the great achievement of his life, and he framed from solitary reflection as well as from his colleagues in crime many an ingenious theory afterwards fearlessly translated into practice. And when at last he escaped the slavery of the gaol, picture- framing was the pursuit which covered the sterner business of his life. His depredation involved him in no suspicion; his changing features rendered recognition impossible. When the exercise of his trade compelled him to shoot a policeman at Whalley Range, another was sentenced for the crime; and had he not encountered Mrs. Dyson, who knows but he might have practised his art in prosperous obscurity until claimed by a coward’s death? But a stormy love-passage with Mrs. Dyson led to the unworthy killing of the woman’s husband–a crime unnecessary and in no sense consonant to the burglar’s craft; and Charles Peace was an outlaw, with a reward set upon his head.

And now came a period of true splendour. Like Fielding, like Cervantes, like Sterne, Peace reserved his veritable masterpiece for the certainty of middlelife. His last two years were nothing less than a march of triumph. If you remember his constant danger, you will realise the grandeur of the scheme. From the moment that Peace left Bannercross with Dyson’s blood upon his hands, he was a hunted man. His capture was worth five hundred pounds; his features were familiar to a hundred hungry detectives. Had he been less than a man of genius, he might have taken an unavailing refuge in flight or concealment. But, content with no safety unattended by affluence, he devised a surer plan: he became a householder. Now, a semi-detached villa is an impregnable stronghold. Respectability oozes from the dusky mortar of its bricks, and escapes in clouds of smoke from its soot-grimed chimneys. No policeman ever detects a desperate ruffian in a demure black-coated gentleman who day after day turns an iron gate upon its rusty hinge. And thus, wrapt in a cloak of suburban piety, Peace waged a pitiless and effective war upon his neighbours.

He pillaged Blackheath, Greenwich, Peckham, and many another home of honest worth, with a noiselessness and a precision that were the envy of the whole family. The unknown and intrepid burglar was a terror to all the clerkdom of the City, and though he was as secret and secluded as Peace, the two heroes were never identified. At the time of his true eminence he `resided’ in Evelina Road, Peckham, and none was more sensible than he how well the address became his provincial refinement. There he installed himself with his wife and Mrs. Thompson. His drawing- room suite was the envy of the neighbourhood; his pony-trap proclaimed him a man of substance; his gentle manners won the respect of all Peckham. Hither he would invite his friends to such entertainments as the suburb expected. His musical evenings were recorded in the local paper, while on Sundays he chanted the songs of Zion with a zeal which Clapham herself might envy.

The house in Evelina Road was no mere haunt of quiet gentility. It was chosen with admirable forethought and with a stern eye upon the necessities of business. Beyond the garden wall frowned a railway embankment, which enabled the cracksman to escape from his house without opening the front door. By the same embankment he might, if he chose, convey the trophies of the night’s work; and what mattered it if the windows rattled to the passing train?

At least a cloud of suspicion was dispelled. Here he lived for two years, with naught to disturb his tranquillity save Mrs. Thompson’s taste for drink. The hours of darkness were spent in laborious activity, the open day brought its own distractions. There was always Bow Street wherein to loaf, and the study of the criminal law lost none of its excitement from the reward offered outside for the bald-headed fanatic who sat placidly within. And the love of music was Peace’s constant solace. Whatever treasures he might discard in a hurried flight, he never left a fiddle behind, and so vast became his pilfered collection that he had to borrow an empty room in a friend’s house for its better disposal.

Moreover, he had a fervent pride in his craft; and you might deduce from his performance the whole theory and practice of burglary. He worked ever without accomplices. He knew neither the professional thief nor his lingo; and no association with gaol-birds involved him in the risk of treachery and betrayal. His single colleague was a friendly fence, and not even at the gallows’ foot would he surrender the fence’s name. His master quality was a constructive imagination. Accident never marred his design. He would visit the house of his breaking until he understood its ground-plan, and was familiar with its inhabitants. This demanded an amazing circumspection, but Peace was as stealthy as a cat, and he would keep silent vigil for hours rather than fail from an over keen anxiety. Having marked the place of his entry, and having chosen an appropriate hour, he would prevent the egress of his enemies by screwing up the doors.

He then secured the room wherein he worked, and the job finished, he slung himself into the night by the window, so that, ere an alarm could be raised, his pony-trap had carried the booty to Evelina Road.

Such was the outline of his plan; but, being no pedant, he varied it at will: nor was he likely to court defeat through lack of resource. Accomplished as he was in his proper business, he was equally alert to meet the accompanying risks. He had brought the art of cozening strange dogs to perfection; and for the exigence of escape, his physical equipment was complete. He would resist capture with unparalleled determination, and though he shuddered at the shedding of blood, he never hesitated when necessity bade him pull the trigger. Moreover, there was no space into which he would not squeeze his body, and the iron bars were not yet devised through which he could not make an exit. Once–it was at Nottingham–he was surprised by an inquisitive detective who demanded his name and trade. `I am a hawker of spectacles,’ replied Peace, `and my licence is downstairs. Wait two minutes and I’ll show it you.’ The detective never saw him again. Six inches only separated the bars of the window, but Peace asked no more, and thus silently he won his freedom. True, his most daring feat–the leap from the train–resulted not in liberty, but in a broken head. But he essayed a task too high even for his endeavour, and, despite his manacles, at least he left his boot in the astonished warder’s grip.

No less remarkable than his skill and daring were his means of evasion. Even without a formal disguise he could elude pursuit. At an instant’s warning, his loose, plastic features would assume another shape; out shot his lower jaw, and, as if by magic, the blood flew into his face until you might take him for a mulatto. Or, if he chose, he would strap his arm to his side, and let the police be baffled by a wooden mechanism, decently finished with a hook. Thus he roamed London up and down unsuspected, and even after his last failure at Blackheath, none would have discovered Charles Peace in John Ward, the Single- Handed Burglar, had not woman’s treachery prompted detection. Indeed, he was an epitome of his craft, the Complete Burglar made manifest.

Not only did he plan his victories with previous ingenuity, but he sacrificed to his success both taste and sentiment. His dress was always of the most sombre; his only wear was the decent black of everyday godliness. The least spice of dandyism might have distinguished him from his fellows, and Peace’s whole vanity lay in his craft. Nor did the paltry sentiment of friendship deter him from his just course. When the panic aroused by the silent burglar was uncontrolled, a neighbour consulted Peace concerning the safety of his house. The robber, having duly noted the villa’s imperfections, and having discovered the hiding-place of jewellery and plate, complacently rifled it the next night. Though his self-esteem sustained a shock, though henceforth his friend thought meanly of his judgment, he was rewarded with the solid pudding of plunder, and the world whispered of the mysterious marauder with a yet colder horror. In truth, the large simplicity and solitude of his style sets him among the Classics, and though others have surpassed him at single points of the game, he practised the art with such universal breadth and courage as were then a revolution, and are still unsurpassed.

But the burglar ever fights an unequal battle. One false step, and defeat o’erwhelms him. For two years had John Ward intimidated the middle-class seclusion of South London; for two years had he hidden from a curious world the ugly, furrowed visage of Charles Peace. The bald head, the broad-rimmed spectacles, the squat, thick figure–he stood but five feet four in his stockings, and adds yet another to the list of little- great men–should have ensured detection, but the quick change and the persuasive gesture were omnipotent, and until the autumn of 1878 Peace was comfortably at large. And then an encounter at Blackheath put him within the clutch of justice. His revolver failed in its duty, and, valiant as he was, at last he met his match. In prison he was alternately insolent and aggrieved. He blustered for justice, proclaimed himself the victim of sudden temptation, and insisted that his intention had been ever innocent.

But, none the less, he was sentenced to a lifer, and, the mask of John Ward being torn from him, he was sent to Sheffield to stand his trial as Charles Peace. The leap from the train is already recorded; and at his last appearance in the dock he rolled upon the floor, a petulant and broken man. When once the last doom was pronounced, he forgot both fiddle and crowbar; he surrendered himself to those exercises of piety from which he had never wavered. The foolish have denounced him for a hypocrite, not knowing that the artist may have a life apart from his art, and that to Peace religion was an essential pursuit. So he died, having released from an unjust sentence the poor wretch who at Whalley Range had suffered for his crime, and offering up a consolatory prayer for all mankind. In truth, there was no enemy for whom he did not intercede. He prayed for his gaolers, for his executioner, for the Ordinary, for his wife, for Mrs. Thompson, his drunken doxy, and he went to his death with the sure step of one who, having done his duty, is reconciled with the world. The mob testified its affectionate admiration by dubbing him `Charley,’ and remembered with effusion his last grim pleasantry. `What is the scaffold?’ he asked with sublime earnestness. And the answer came quick and sanctimonious: `A short cut to Heaven!’

III
A PARALLEL

(DEACON BRODIE AND CHARLES
PEACE)

A PARALLEL
(DEACON BRODIE AND CHARLES
PEACE)

NOT a parallel, but a contrast, since at all points Peace is Brodie’s antithesis. The one is the austerest of Classics, caring only for the ultimate perfection of his work. The other is the gayest of Romantics, happiest when by the way he produces a glittering effect, or dazzles the ear by a vain impertinence. Now, it is by thievery that Peace reached magnificence. A natural aptitude drove him from the fiddle to the centre-bit. He did but rob, because genius followed the impulse. He had studied the remotest details of his business; he was sternly professional in the conduct of his life, and, as became an old gaol-bird, there was no antic of the policeman wherewith he was not familiar. Moreover, not only had he reduced house-breaking to a science, but, being ostensibly nothing better than a picture- frame maker, he had invented an incomparable set of tools wherewith to enter and evade his neighbour’s house. Brodie, on the other hand, was a thief for distraction. His method was as slovenly as ignorance could make it. Though by trade a wright, and therefore a master of all the arts of joinery, he was so deficient in seriousness that he stole a coulter wherewith to batter the walls of the Excise Office. While Peace fought the battle in solitude, Brodie was not only attended by a gang, but listened to the command of his subordinates, and was never permitted to perform a more intricate duty than the sounding of the alarm. And yet here is the ironical contrast. Peace, the professional thief, despised his brothers, and was never heard to patter a word of flash. Brodie, the amateur, courted the society of all cross coves, and would rather express himself in Pedlar’s French than in his choicest Scots. While the Englishman scraped Tate and Brady from a one-stringed fiddle, the Scot limped a chaunt from The Beggar’s Opera, and thought himself a devil of a fellow. The one was a man about town masquerading as a thief; the other the most serious among housebreakers, singing psalms in all good faith.

But if Peace was incomparably the better craftsman, Brodie was the prettier gentleman. Peace would not have permitted Brodie to drive his pony-trap the length of Evelina Road. But Brodie, in revenge, would have cut Peace had he met him in the Corn-market. The one was a sombre savage, the other a jovial comrade, and it was a witty freak of fortune that impelled both to follow the same trade. And thus you arrive at another point of difference. The Englishman had no intelligence of life’s amenity. He knew naught of costume: clothes were the limit of his ambition. Dressed always for work, he was like the caterpillar which assumes the green of the leaf, wherein it hides: he wore only such duds as should attract the smallest notice, and separate him as far as might be from his business. But the Scot was as fine a dandy as ever took (haphazard) to the cracking of kens. If his refinement permitted no excess of splendour, he went ever gloriously and appropriately apparelled. He was well-mannered, cultured, with scarce a touch of provincialism to mar his gay demeanour: whereas Peace knew little enough outside the practice of burglary, and the proper handling of the revolver.

Our Charles, for example, could neither spell nor write; he dissembled his low origin with the utmost difficulty, and at the best was plastered over (when not at work) with the parochialism of the suburbs. So far the contrast is complete; and even in their similarities there is an evident difference. Each led a double life; but while Brodie was most himself among his own kind, the real Peace was to be found not fiddle-scraping in Evelina Road but marking down policemen in the dusky byways of Blackheath. Brodie’s grandeur was natural to him; Peace’s respectability, so far as it transcended the man’s origin, was a cloak of villainy.

Each, again, was an inventor, and while the more innocent Brodie designed a gallows, the more hardened Peace would have gained notoriety by the raising of wrecks and the patronage of Mr. Plimsoll. And since both preserved a certain courage to the end, since both died on the scaffold as becomes a man, the contrast is once more characteristic. Brodie’s cynicism is a fine foil to the piety of Peace; and while each end was natural after its own fashion, there is none who will deny to the Scot the finer sense of fitness. Nor did any step in their career explain more clearly the difference in their temperament than their definitions of the gallows. For Peace it is `a short cut to Heaven’; for Brodie it is `a leap in the dark.’ Again the Scot has the advantage. Again you reflect that, if Peace is the most accomplished Classic among the housebreakers, the Deacon is the merriest companion who ever climbed the gallows by the shoulders of the incomparable Macheath.

THE MAN IN THE GREY SUIT

THE MAN IN THE GREY SUIT

THE Abb Bruneau, who gave his shaven head in atonement for unnumbered crimes, was a finished exponent of duplicity. In the eye of day and of Entrammes he shone a miracle of well-doing; by night he prowled in the secret places of Laval. The world watched him, habited in the decent black of his calling; no sooner was he beyond sight of his parish than his valise was opened, and he arrayed himself–under the hedge, no doubt–in a suit of jaunty grey. The pleasures for which he sacrificed the lives of others and his own were squalid enough, but they were the best a provincial brain might imagine; and he sinned the sins of a hedge priest with a courage and effrontery which his brethren may well envy. Indeed, the Man in the Grey Suit will be sent down the ages with a grimmer scandal, if with a staler mystery, than the Man in the Iron Mask.

He was born of parents who were certainly poor, and possibly honest, at Ass-le-Berenger. He counted a dozen Chouans among his ancestry, and brigandage swam in his blood. Even his childhood was crimson with crimes, which the quick memory of the countryside long ago lost in the pride of having bred a priest. He stained his first cure of souls with the poor, sad sin of arson, which the bishop, fearful of scandal and loth to check a promising career, condoned with a suitable advancement. At Entrammes, his next benefice, he entered into his full inheritance of villainy, and here it was–despite his own protest–that he devised the grey suit which brought him ruin and immortality. To the wild, hilarious dissipation of Laval, the nearest town, he fell an immediate and unresisting prey. Think of the glittering lamps, the sparkling taverns, the bright-eyed women, the manifold fascinations, which are the character and delight of this forgotten city! Why, if the Abb Bruneau
doled out comfort and absolution at Entrammes–why should he not enjoy at Laval the wilder joys of the flesh? Lack of money was the only hindrance, since our priest was not of those who could pursue bonnes fortunes; ever he sighed for `booze and the blowens,’ but `booze and the blowens’ he could only purchase with the sovereigns his honest calling denied him. There was no resource but thievery and embezzlement, sins which led sometimes to falsehood or incendiarism, and at a pinch to the graver enterprise of murder. But Bruneau was not one to boggle at trifles. Women he would encounter–young or old, dark or fair, ugly or beautiful, it was all one to him–and the fools who withheld him riches must be punished for their niggard hand. For a while a theft here and there, a cunning extortion of money upon the promise of good works, sufficed for his necessities, but still he hungered for a coup, and patiently he devised and watched his opportunity.

Meanwhile his cunning protected him, and even if the gaze of suspicion fell upon him he contrived his orgies with so neat a discretion that the Church, which is not wont to expose her malefactors, preserved a timid and an innocent silence. The Abb disappeared with a commendable constancy, and with that just sense of secrecy which should compel even an archiepiscopal admiration. He was not of those who would drag his cloth through the mire. Not until the darkness he loved so fervently covered the earth would he escape from the dull respectability of Entrammes, nor did he ever thus escape unaccompanied by his famous valise. The grey suit was an effectual disguise to his calling, and so jealous was he of the Church’s honour that he never–unless in his cups–disclosed his tonsure. One of his innumerable loves confessed in the witness-box that Bruneau always retained his hat in the glare of the Caf, protesting
that a headache rendered him fatally susceptible to draught; and such was his thoughtful punctilio that even in the comparative solitude of a guilty bed-chamber he covered his shorn locks with a nightcap.

And while his conduct at Laval was unimpeachable, he always proved a nice susceptibility in his return. A cab carried him within a discreet distance of his home, whence, having exchanged the grey for the more sober black, he would tramp on foot, and thus creep in tranquil and unobserved. But simple as it is to enjoy, enjoyment must still be purchased, and the Abb was never guilty of a meanness. The less guilty scheme was speedily staled, and then it was that the Abb bethought
him of murder.

His first victim was the widow Bourdais, who pursued the honest calling of a florist at Laval. Already the curate was on those terms of intimacy which unite the robber with the robbed; for some months earlier he had imposed a forced loan of sixty francs upon his victim. But on the 15th of July 1893, he left Entrammes, resolved upon a serious measure. The black valise was in his hand, as he set forth upon the arid, windy road. Before he reached Laval he had made the accustomed transformation, and it was no priest, but a layman, doucely dressed in grey, that awaited Mme. Bourdais’ return from the flower-market. He entered the shop with the coolness of a friend, and retreated to the door of the parlour when two girls came to make a purchase. No sooner had the widow joined him than he cut her throat, and, with the ferocity of the beast who loves blood as well as plunder, inflicted some forty wounds upon her withered frame. His escape was simple and dignified; he called the cabman, who knew him well, and who knew, moreover, what was required of him; and the priest was snugly in bed, though perhaps exhausted with blood and pleasure, when the news of the murder followed him to his village.

Next day the crime was common gossip, and the Abb‘s friends
took counsel with him. One there was astonished that the culprit remained undiscovered. `But why should you marvel?’ said Bruneau. `I could kill you and your wife at your own chimney- corner without a soul knowing. Had I taken to evil courses instead of to good I should have been a terrible assassin.’ There is a touch of the pride which De Quincey attributes to Williams in this boastfulness, and throughout the parallel is irresistible. Williams, however, was the better dandy; he put on a dress-coat and patent-leather pumps because the dignity of his work demanded a fitting costume. And Bruneau wore the grey suit not without a hope of disguise. Yet you like to think that the Abb looked complacently upon his valise, and had forethought for the cut of his professional coat; and if he be not in the first flight of artistry, remember his provincial upbringing, and furnish the proper excuse.

Meanwhile the scandal of the murdered widow passed into forgetfulness, and the Abb was still impoverished. Already
he had robbed his vicar, and the suspicion of the Abb Fricot
led on to the final and the detected crime. Now Fricot had noted the loss of money and of bonds, and though he refrained from exposure he had confessed to a knowledge of the criminal. M. Bruneau was naturally sensitive to suspicion, and he determined upon the immediate removal of this danger to his peace. On January 2, 1894, M. Fricot returned to supper after administering the extreme unction to a parishioner. While the meal was preparing, he went into his garden in sabots and bareheaded, and never again was seen alive. The supper cooled, the vicar was still absent; the murderer, hungry with his toil, ate not only his own, but his victim’s share of the food, grimly hinting that Fricot would not come back. Suicide was dreamed of, murder hinted; up and down the village was the search made, and none was more zealous than the distressed curate.

At last a peasant discovered some blocks of wood in the well, and before long blood-stains revealed themselves on the masonry. Speedily was the body recovered, disfigured and battered beyond recognition, and the voice of the village went up in denunciation of the Abb Bruneau. Immunity had made the culprit callous, and in a few hours suspicion became certainty. A bleeding nose was the lame explanation given for the stains which were on his clothes, on the table, on the keys of his harmonium. A quaint and characteristic folly was it that drove the murderer straight to the solace of his religion. You picture him, hot and red- handed from murder, soothing his battered conscience with some devilish Requiem for the unshrived soul he had just parted from its broken body, and leaving upon the harmonium the ineradicable traces of his guilt. Thus he lived, poised between murder and the Church, spending upon the vulgar dissipation of a Breton village the blood and money of his foolish victims. But for him `les tavernes et les filles’ of Laval meant a veritable paradise, and his sojourn in the country is proof enough of a limited cunning. Had he been more richly endowed, Paris had been the theatre of his crimes. As it is, he goes down to posterity as the Man in the Grey Suit, and the best friend the cabmen of Laval ever knew. Them, indeed, he left inconsolable.

MONSIEUR L’ABB

MONSIEUR L’ABB

The childhood of the Abb Rosselot is as secret as his origin, and no man may know whether Belfort or Bavaria smiled upon his innocence. A like mystery enshrouds his early manhood, and the malice of his foes, who are legion, denounces him for a Jesuit of Innsbruck. But since he has lived within the eye of the world his villainies have been revealed as clearly as his attainments, and history provides him no other rival in the corruption of youth than the infamous Thwackum.

It is not every scholar’s ambition to teach the elements, and Rosselot adopted his modest calling as a cloak of crime. No sooner was he installed in a mansion than he became the mansion’s master, and henceforth he ruled his employer’s domain with the tyrannical severity of a Grand Inquisitor. His soul wrapped in the triple brass of arrogance, he even dared to lay his hands upon food before his betters were served; and presently, emboldened by success, he would order the dinners, reproach the cook with a too lavish use of condiments, and descend with insolent expostulation into the kitchen. In a week he had opened the cupboards upon a dozen skeletons, and made them rattle their rickety bones up and down the draughty staircases, until the inmates shivered with horror and the terrified neighbours fled the haunted castle as a lazar-house. Once in possession of a family secret, he felt himself secure, and henceforth he was free to browbeat his employer and to flog his pupil to the satisfaction of his waspish nature. Moreover, he was endowed with all the insight and effrontery of a trained journalist. So sedulous was he in his search after the truth, that neither man nor woman could deny him confidence. And, as vinegar flowed in his veins for blood, it was his merry sport to set wife against husband and children against father. Not even were the servants safe from his watchful inquiry, and housemaids and governesses alike entrusted their hopes and fears to his malicious keeping. And when the house had retired to rest, with what a sinister delight did he chuckle over the frailties and infamies, a guilty knowledge of which he had dragged from many an unwilling sinner! To oust him, when installed, was a plain impossibility, for this wringer of hearts was only too glib in the surrender of another’s scandal; and as he accepted the last scurrility with Christian resignation, his unfortunate employer could but strengthen his vocabulary and patiently endure the presence of this smiling, demoniacal tutor.

But a too villainous curiosity was not the Abb‘s capital sin.

Not only did he entertain his leisure with wrecking the happiness of a united family, but he was an enemy open and declared of France. It was his amiable pastime at the dinner- table, when he had first helped himself to such delicacies as tempted his dainty palate, to pronounce a pompous eulogy upon the German Emperor. France, he would say with an exultant smile, is a pays pourri, which exists merely to be the football of Prussia. She has but one hope of salvation–still the monster speaks–and that is to fall into the benign occupation of a vigorous race. Once upon a time–the infamy is scarce credible– he was conducting his young charges past a town-hall, over the lintel of whose door glittered those proud initials `R. F.’ `What do they stand for?’ asked this demon Barlow. And when the patriotic Tommy hesitated for an answer, the preceptor exclaimed with ineffable contempt, `Race de fous’! It is no wonder, then, that this foe of his fatherland feared to receive a letter openly addressed; rather he would slink out under cover of night and seek his correspondence at the poste restante, like a guilty lover or a British tourist.

The Chteau de Presles was built for his reception. It was haunted by a secret, which none dare murmur in the remotest garret. There was no more than a whisper of murder in the air, but the Marquis shuddered when his wife’s eye frowned upon him. True, the miserable Menaldo had disappeared from his seminary ten years since, but threats of disclosure were uttered continually, and respectability might only be purchased by a profound silence. Here was the Abb‘s most splendid opportunity, and
he seized it with all the eagerness of a greedy temperament. The Marquise, a wealthy peasant, who was rather at home on the wild hill-side than in her stately castle, became an instant prey to his devilish intrigue. The governess, an antic old maid of fifty-seven, whose conversation was designed to bring a blush to the cheek of the most hardened dragoon, was immediately on terms of so frank an intimacy that she flung bread pellets at him across the table, and joyously proposed, if we may believe the priest on his oath, to set up housekeeping with him, that they might save expense. Two high-spirited boys were always at hand to encourage his taste for flogging, and had it not been for the Marquis, the Abb‘s cup would have been full to overflowing. But the Marquis loved not the lean, ogling instructor of his sons, and presently began to assail him with all the abuse of which he was master. He charged the Abb with unspeakable
villainy; salop and saligaud were the terms in which he would habitually refer to him. He knew the rascal for a spy, and no modesty restrained him from proclaiming his knowledge. But whatever insults were thrown at the Abb he received with a
grin complacent as Shylock’s, for was he not conscious that when he liked the pound of flesh was his own!

With a fiend’s duplicity he laid his plans of ruin and death. The Marquise, swayed to his will, received him secretly in the blue room (whose very colour suggests a guilty intrigue), though never, upon the oath of an Abb, when the key was
turned in the lock. A journey to Switzerland had freed him from the haunting suspicion of the Marquis, and at last he might compel the wife to denounce her husband as a murderer. The terrified woman drew the indictment at the Abb‘s dictation,
and when her husband returned to St. Amand he was instantly thrust into prison. Nothing remained but to cajole the sons into an expressed hatred of their father, and the last enormity was committed by a masterpiece of cunning. `Your father’s one chance of escape,’ argued this villain in a cassock, `is to be proved an inhuman ruffian. Swear that he beat you unmercifully and you will save him from the guillotine.’ All the dupes learned their lesson with a certainty which reflects infinite credit upon the Abb‘s method of instruction.

For once in his life the Abb had been moved by greed as well
as by villainy. His early exploits had no worse motive than the satisfaction of an inhuman lust for cruelty and destruction. But the Marquise was rich, and when once her husband’s head were off, might not the Abb reap his share of the gathered harvest? The stakes were high, but the game was worth the playing, and Rosselot played it with spirit and energy unto the last card. His appearance in court is ever memorable, and as his ferret eyes glinted through glass at the President, he seemed the villain of some Middle Age Romance. His head, poised upon a lean, bony frame, was embellished with a nose thin and sharp as the blade of a knife; his tightly compressed lips were an indication of the rascal’s determination. `Long as a day in Lent’–that is how a spectator described him; and if ever a sinister nature glared through a sinister figure, the Abb‘s
character was revealed before he parted his lips in speech. Unmoved he stood and immovable; he treated the imprecations of the Marquis with a cold disdain; as the burden of proof grew heavy on his back, he shrugged his shoulders in weary indifference. He told his monstrous story with a cynical contempt, which has scarce its equal in the history of crime; and priest, as he was, he proved that he did not yield to the Marquis himself in the Rabelaisian amplitude of his vocabulary. He brought charges against the weird world of Presles with an insouciance and brutality which defeated their own aim. He described the vices of his master and the sins of the servants in a slang which would sit more gracefully upon an idle roysterer than upon a pious Abb. And, his story ended, he leered at
the Court with the satisfaction of one who had discharged a fearsome duty.

But his rascality overshot its mark; the Marquise, obedient to his priestly casuistry, displayed too fierce a zeal in the execution of his commands. And he took to flight, hoping to lose in the larger world of Paris the notoriety which his prowess won him among the poor despised Berrichons. He left behind for our consolation a snatch of philosophy which helps to explain his last and greatest achievement. `Those who have money exist only to be fleeced.’ Thus he spake with a reckless revelation of self. Yet the mystery of his being is still unpierced. He is traitor, schemer, spy; but is he an Abb? Perhaps not. At
any rate, he once attended the `Messe des Morts,’ and was heard to mumble a `Credo,’ which, as every good Catholic remembers, has no place in that solemn service.

—-
Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty at the Edinburgh University Press