صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

to the knavish cut of his phiz. The diamond ring was next concealed in the lining of his boot, as being an article so easily identified, while the wallet and purse were hid in a cavity of a decayed tree. Monk slept that night in the forest, and left his case at the first break of the morning to seek some shelter more pleasant and secure, little dreaming that the officers of justice were guarding every avenue of escape, and encouraged by the promise of a large reward, were determined to unearth the fox at all hazards. To cut a long story short, Monk was arrested just as he was quietly sneaking out of the woods, and having been identified by the fat traveler and the two countrymen, was consigned to a solitary cell, to await his trial.

The above is but an outline of the narrative which Monk communicated to our friend Bill, who listened to its details with an earnestness and attention which clearly proved that he had cornered an idea, and was bent upon making the best of it. At the conclusion of the narrative, however, he astonished Monk by the startling information that the possession of the diamond ring was necessary to the success of his plan. Monk argued the question-cursed and swore—then begged and entreated, but all to no purpose. Bill was not to be moved. The possession of the ring he declared to be a sine qua non, and in the end it was reluctantly handed over to a new possessor. In the solitude of his cell, Bill now matured the plot which he had so successfully begun.

And now, courteous reader, allow me to avail myself of the story. teller's privilege of annihilating time, and to transfer you instantaneously from summer to autumn—from smiling June to cold and stormy November. The scene which I would place before you is a Court of Justice, before which our old acquaintance, Monk, stands arraigned for the crime of highway robbery. His case is a desperate one. The witnesses soon to be called will pour out a flood of testimony, against which he can raise no barrier : his reliance upon the truth and ingenuity of Bill Steele is fast evaporating, and the dismal prospect of a long and irksome confinement stares him in the face. The fat old Judge upon the bench, whose dignity sits as loosely upon him as his enormous wig and old fashioned spectacles, already begins to look upon him with the terrific aspect of an avenging angel, and mutters to himself a brief but wonderfully eloquent speech, with which he intends to preface the sentence of the law. The trial commences. The first witness called by the public prosecutor was the traveler who had been robbed. His testimony was complete and overwhelming. He swore to the fact of the robbery, and consequent loss of his money and his diamond ring; to the fact that the robber and the prisoner at the bar were identical, and supported this last assertion by various circumstances connected with the transaction, and mentioned, among other things, the crimson scarf which Monk had worn about his neck, adding, in answer to a question from the prisoner's counsel, that the robbery took place on the 18th of June. His testimony was strongly corroborated by the evidence of the two countrymen, who, as we have already mentioned, had witnessed the perpetration of the offence, and

had assisted in the pursuit and arrest of the prisoner. The State prosecutor closed his case, and the defendant's counsel were forced o admit that, against the formidable testimony which had just been ffered, they had no witnesses of their own to call. The case was summed up ingeniously but despairingly on the part of the prisonerwith fearful and resistless cogency against him. The Judge had lifted his portly carcass from its comfortably cushioned chair, and after a preliminary cough and magisterial scowl at the trembling criminal, began his charge to the jury. But where is Bill Steele—where the plan, the boasted project which was to baffle the cunning of judge and jury? “ D-n him," muttered Monk, with a host of other expletives, with which we will not disgrace our pages, “ he's a swindler-a lying rascally knave, and”—but his elegant philippic, and the muddy logic of the Judge's charge were both checked by the appearance of a constable, who handed a note to “his Honor,” and waited in silence its perusal. It proved to be a request, signed W. Steele, that he might be permitted to give his testimony in the case then pending, and averring that his testimony was of the utmost importance to the prisoner on trial, and to the cause of justice. After a moment's hesitation and a brief consultation with his associates, the corpulent magistrate ordered Bill to be brought up from his cell and to be placed upon the stand. In a few minutes he made his appearance, surrounded by three or four ferocious looking bailiffs, and marched gravely but composedly to the witness' stand. At first sight the whole court were struck with the personal resemblance between the unexpected witness and the prisoner at the bar, and the audience sat in breathless silence, wondering what was to come next. Bill bowed calmly to the judge and jury, and then briefly addressed them in substance, as follows:

“ Your Honor and Gentlemen, I am here to-day for the purpose of making a confession, which I trust will quiet the reproaches of my conscience, and prevent you from committing an act of gross injustice. I am a bad man; I have lived a wild and a wicked life; I am now confined under a charge of a criminal nature ; but bad as I am, lawless as I have been, I am neither so vile or depraved as to permit an innocent man to suffer for my offences. Gentlemen of the Jury, I committed the robbery for which the prisoner at the bar now stands indicted. I took the purse, the money, the diamond ring, from the traveler who now sits before me, and to whom, as far as it is possible, I will make amends by restoring that of which he was forcibly deprived. This individual himself—the countrymen whose testimony corroborates his—the officers who' arrested the prisoner at the bar, whose name, even, I do not know-(Bill slid over these astounding lies with calmness and composure truly wonderful all these persons, gentlemen, are laboring under a great mistake, and to convince them of the fact, I will now minutely detail the circumstances of the robbery, produce the diamond ring, and give other evidence of the truth of my statement.”

Bill then went on with a detailed account of the robbery-frequently appealing to the traveler and the countrymen to bear witness

ed

State to the truth of his assertions, and recalling to their minds many trivial

circumstances which they had forgotten, but which they perfectly recollected, as soon as mentioned. So skillfully did Bill tell his story, that Judge, jury and witnesses were all convinced that he was the real criminal, deeming it absolutely impossible that on any other supposition he could have become so perfectly acquainted with circumstances which could only be known to actual participators in the transaction. But still more triumphant was his success, when he produced the diamond ring, which was immediately identified and claimed by the traveler. But Bill went still farther. He described the purse and wallet which he had stolen told the exact amount of money which they contained-mentioned the denomination of the bank-notes and the names of the different banks by which they were issued, but refused to give them up, assigning as a reason that they were in the hands of an accomplice, whom he would not betray, but promising at the same time to make up the loss to the traveler at some future day. He added, too, that he wore a crimson scarf upon his neck at the time of the robbery, and described the place of its concealment so accurately that the officers who were sent after it succeeded in discovering it, and produced it in court. Monk's innocence and Bill's guilt was now so clearly established, that the witnesses themselves declared that they had been mistaken in the individual, and, amid the murmured applause of the spectators, Monk was acquitted and Bill remanded to his cell, charged with the crime which he had just confessed. Monk, joyful at his escape, redeemed his promise to Bill, and having recovered the secreted money, and placed two hundred dollars in the hands of a friend of Steele, immediately left the country.

Thus far Bill's plan had worked admirably, but it now remained for him to extricate himself from the difficulty into which he had voluntarily plunged. Three weeks after, his trial for the robbery which he had confessed, came on. To the astonishment of every one, when called upon to plead to the indictment, he answered "Not guilty.” Not guilty !" thundered the fat Judge, shaking his huge carcass like a maddened elephant, “ didn't you confess your guilt in this very room but a few weeks since ?" "'That is of no consequence now," replied Bill, perfectly undisturbed; “I insist upon pleading • Not guilty.”” The trial went on. The same witnesses were called as on the former occasion, and their testimony fastened the commission of the robbery unmistakably upon Bill ; his confession, as taken down from his own lips, was offered in evidence, and there really seemed no loophole for the rogue's escape, and yet, during the whole scene, a smile of open and undisguised triumph played around his mouth. The prosecutor rested his case. “Have you any witnesses to call ?" thundered the Judge, with a look which was intended to annihilate the prisoner, but which in reality was supremely ridiculous. “I have,” replied Bill; “ call the jailor.” That dignitary, who rejoiced in the very uncommon name of Mr. Jones, immediately took the stand, wondering what on earth the prisoner could want of him. “Do you keep a jail-book," said Bill, “ in which are recorded the names of your prisoners and the dates of their imprisonment ?" Mr. Jones answered in the affirmative, and at the prisoner's request produced the book. “Now," said Bill, with a glance of malicious triumph, “now, Mr. Jones, let me ask you to read from that book the date of my imprisonment.” Mr. Jones did as requested, and to the astonishment of every one it appeared that Bill was imprisoned, as the reader already knows, on the 12th of June, nearly one week anterior to the commission of the offence with which he was charged, and therefore that at the time of the robbery he was actually locked up in jail !

Another instance, dear reader, of the importance of dates ; and I sincerely trust that the present Junior class will profit by the recital, and not growl at “ Taylor's Manual of History” next summer, because they are required to remember twenty-seven dates in a single lesson. Bill Steele was of course acquitted on the charge of highway robbery, and also, not long after, on the charge of burglary, for the very simple reason that no witnesses appeared to testify against him. How much of the two hundred dollars received from Monk went into the old farmer's pocket, remains a secret to this day. Bill Steele is now in the State's Prison at Auburn, having been found guilty of counterfeiting. Monk fled to England, where, by the exercise of his low cunning and heartless knavery, he became a prominent member of the House of Commons.

HUMBUG.

A good old-bachelor friend, who has lived long enough in the world to understand it, who has understood it well enough to enjoy it, and who has enjoyed it well enough to be happy, and to have a little good humor to spare for his friends in general,—is a somewhat choice character, a rara avis, well worth seeking and holding fast when found.

Such an one is my friend B- , who will be proud of your acquaintance. He is a genuine son of the Puritans, as proud of his genesis as a baron, and yet withal as simple and unpretending as a child. A mother and sister are his only loves ; but in this there is no narrow calculation, no lack of sentiment, but more than these, there is a herd's heart of devotion.

A goodly sight he is, in truth, in his neat but outlawed garb, with a white hat crowning his yet whiter head, with his twinkling gray eyes rolling in fun and fat, and peering through the clear orbs of his shellmounted glasses ; while his smooth face, elevated to a becoming angle of dignity by a wide and glassy stock, plays the counterpart to his ready right hand,—both welcoming every one that crosses his path, and both particularly at the service of the ladies, whether matrons or maids.

But beware how you stir the latent fires of wit and satire, which he somehow contrives to keep alive within his honest breast. He is a

perfect Ætna of words and “quips and cranks," and he seems to gain a fresh glow from every eruption of fun. - He has seen the world, he has read the world's authors, great and small; he has been the familiar spirit of the great ; 'he has courted the friendship of the obscure ; he is as much at home in your parlor as in his old coat; he is a man of penetration and taste ; a passionate lover of good books, good society and good living.

O rare friend B- , thou mirror of both tragic and comic, both romance and reality; for in thy face they seem to meet and dwell as friends.

He must now appear before you in somewhat of an atrabillarious mood; for though his life is usually calm as a summer's day, he now and then, like most other philosophers, spices his sweet with bitter, though his is rather the bitterness of regret and pity than of hate, very like that of the ardent youth who dreams that he loves perfection, and is waked up by finding himself jilted by a coquette.

We were sitting, just when the day was welcoming back the night, beside the open fire, that type of love and comfort, ever smiling upon you while it spreads a genial warmth. For some reason then unknown to me, he was sorely wrought up, as was evident from his wild manner, and a stray interjection which now and then escaped him, like the sentinel gun of an encamped host calling to the charge. And sure enough, on it came with a crash and a fury that startled while they gave me pleasure. Said he, “ You are young and hopeful and know the world only as a pleasing picture. You know not the darkness and bitterness of a long experience; you know not the blighting of cherished hopes ; you do not see the suffering hand that has mingled these shades; you cannot know the madness of the genius that has painted and retouched this picture till it seems to you the type of perfection. Your science is the resurrection of mind martyred in discor. ering and perfecting' its truths ; your art is full often the pawn of the artist's all; your literature is the flame of the midnight lamp, or quite as often of the lamp of life itself. Your pleasure is a flower on which more pains of culture are expended than its gay graces and evanescent fragrance can ever repay; your honor is a bitter portion and disappoints more than it exalts; your wealth is coined from the toil and even the life of the image of God. So goes the world, and” — “Hold, hold, sir Misanthrope,” said I, “why are you so berating mankind, and abusing all the world ?".

“'The world is a húmbug," said he with emphasis, smiling bitterly. “You know this latter day science has made the earth a mere crust without, and a world of fire within. In this abyss of conflagration, the pent-up energies of destruction are ever battling against each other and their prison walls. And now the solid earth, which you so securely tread, may open at any moment and overwhelm you and all these scenes around you. But society stands on a more insecure basis than this. Artistic labors have at least this merit, that they have been lavished upon matter which will endure long enough to display the skill of the artist. But the opinions, the customs, the laws, and the institutions of

VOL. XIV.

10

« السابقةمتابعة »