Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Book of Scoundrels by Charles Whibley

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download A Book of Scoundrels pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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.



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.




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

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

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

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

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.



`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

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

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.



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.




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

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.'



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

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

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!'




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 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.



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

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest