20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 442 Volume 17, New Series, June 19, 1852
CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL

CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S
INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.


No. 442. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JUNE 19, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._




THE OLD HOUSE IN CRANE COURT.

The roaring pell-mell of the principal thoroughfares of London is
curiously contrasted with the calm seclusion which is often found at
no great distance in certain lanes, courts, and passages, and the
effect is not a little heightened when in these by-places we light
upon some old building speaking of antique institutions or bygone
habits of society. We lately had this idea brought strikingly before
us on plunging abruptly out of Fleet Street into Crane Court, in
search of the establishment known as the Scottish Hospital. We were
all at once transferred into a quiet narrow street, as it might be
called, full of printing and lithographic offices, tall, dark, and
rusty, while closing up the further end stood a dingy building of
narrow front, presenting an ornamental porch. A few minutes served to
introduce us to a moderate-sized hall, having a long table in the
centre, and an arm-chair at the upper end, while several old portraits
graced the walls. It was not without a mental elevation of feeling, as
well as some surprise, that we learned that this was a hall in which
Newton had spent many an evening. It was, to be quite explicit, the
meeting-place of the Royal Society from 1710 till 1782, and,
consequently, during not much less than twenty years of the latter
life of the illustrious author of the _Principia_, who, as an
office-bearer in the institution, must have often taken an eminent
place here. We were not, however, immediately in quest of the
antiquities of the Royal Society. Our object was to form some
acquaintance with the valuable institution which has succeeded to it
in the possession of this house.

We must advert to a peculiarity of our Scottish countrymen, which can
be set down only on the credit side of their character--their sympathy
with each other when they meet as wanderers in foreign countries.
Scotland is just a small enough country to cause a certain unity of
feeling amongst the people. Wherever they are, they feel that Scotsmen
should stand, as their proverb has it, _shoulder to shoulder_. The
more distant the clime in which they meet, they remember with the more
intensity their common land of mountain and flood, their historical
and poetical associations, the various national institutions which
ages have endeared to them; and the more disposed are they to take an
interest in each other's welfare. This is a feeling in which time and
modern innovations work no change, and it is one of old-standing.

When James VI. acceded to the throne of Elizabeth, he was followed
southward by some of his favourite nobles, and there was of course an
end put to that exclusive system of the late monarch which had kept
down the number of Scotsmen in London, to what must now appear the
astonishingly small one of fifty-eight. Perhaps some exaggerations
have been indulged in with regard to the host of traders and craftsmen
who went southward in the train of King James, but there can be no
doubt, that it was considerable in point of numbers. But where wealth
is sought for, there also, by an inevitable law of nature, is poverty.
The better class of Scotchmen settled in London, soon found their
feelings of compassion excited in behalf of a set of miserable
fellow-countrymen who had failed to obtain employment or fix
themselves in a mercantile position, and for whom the stated charities
of the country were not available. Hence seems to have arisen, so
early as 1613, the necessity for some system of mutual charity among
the natives of Scotland in London. So far as can be ascertained, it
was a handful of journeymen or hired artisans, who in that year
associated to aid each other, and prevent themselves from becoming
burdensome to strangers--an interesting fact, as evincing in a remote
period the predominance of that spirit of independence for which the
modern Scottish peasantry has been famed, and which even yet survives
in some degree of vigour, notwithstanding the fatally counteractive
influence of poor-laws. The funds contributed by these worthy men were
put into a box, and kept there--for in those days there were no banks
to take a fruitful charge of money--and at certain periods the
contributors would meet, and see what they could spare for the relief
of such poor fellow-countrymen as had in the interval applied to them.
We have still a faint living image of this simple plan in the _boxes_
belonging to certain trades in our Scottish towns, or rather the
survivance of the phrase, for the money, we must presume, is now
everywhere relegated to the keeping of the banks. The institution in
those days was known as the SCOTTISH BOX, just as a money-dealing
company came to be called a bank, from the table (_banco_) which it
employed in transacting its business. From a very early period in its
history, it seems to have taken the form of what is now called a
Friendly Society, each person contributing an entrance-fee of 5s., and
6d. per quarter thereafter, so as to be entitled to certain benefits
in the event of poverty or sickness. Small sums were also lent to the
poorer members, without interest, and burial expenses were paid. We
find from the records that, in 1638, when the company was twenty in
number, and met in Lamb's Conduit Street, it allowed 20s. for a
certain class of those of its members who had died of the plague, and
30s. for others. The whole affair, however, was then on a limited
scale--the quarterly disbursements in 1661 amounting only to L.9, 4s.
Nevertheless, upwards of 300 poor Scotsmen, swept off by the
pestilence of 1665-6, were buried at the expense of the Box, while
numbers more were nourished during their sickness, without subjecting
the parishes in which they resided to the smallest expense. We have
not the slightest doubt, that not one of these people felt the
bitterness of a dependence on alms. If not actually entitled to relief
in consideration of previous payments of their own, they would feel
that they were beholden only to their kindly countrymen. It would be
like the members of a family helping each other. Humiliation could
have been felt only, if they had had to accept of alms from those
amongst whom they sojourned as strangers. Such is the way, at least,
in which we read the character of our countrymen.

In the year 1665, the Box was exalted into the character of a
corporation by a royal charter, the expenses attendant on which were
disbursed by gentlemen named Kinnear, Allen, Ewing, Donaldson, &c.
When they met at the Cross Keys in 'Coven Garden,' they found their
receipts to be L.116, 8s. 5d. The character of the times is seen in
one of their regulations, which imposed a fine of 2s. 6d. for every
oath used in the course of their quarterly business. The institution
was now becoming venerable, and, as usual, members began to exhibit
their affection for it by presents. The Mr Kinnear just mentioned,
conferred upon it an elegant silver cup. James Donaldson presented an
ivory mallet or hammer, to be used by the chairman in calling order.
Among the contributors, we find the name of Gilbert Burnet (afterwards
Bishop) as giving L.1 half-yearly. They had an hospital erected in
Blackfriars Street; but experience soon proved that confinement to a
charity workhouse was altogether uncongenial to the feelings and
habits of the Scottish poor, and they speedily returned to the plan of
assisting them by small outdoor pensions, which has ever since been
adhered to. In those days, no effort was made to secure permanency by
a sunk fund. They distributed each quarter-day all that had been
collected during the preceding interval. The consequence of this not
very Scotsman-like proceeding was that, in one of those periods of
decay which are apt to befall all charitable institutions, the
Scottish Hospital was threatened with extinction; and this would
undoubtedly have been its fate, but for the efforts of a few patriotic
Scotsmen who came to its aid.

Through the help of these gentlemen, a new charter was obtained
(1775), putting the institution upon a new and more liberal footing,
and at the same time providing for the establishment of a permanent
fund. Since then, through the virtue of the national spirit,
considerable sums have been obtained from the wealthier Scotch living
in London, and by the bequests of charitable individuals of the
nation; so that the hospital now distributes about L.2200 per annum,
chiefly in L.10 pensions to old people.[1] At the same time, a special
bequest of large amount (L.76,495) from William Kinloch, Esq., a
native of Kincardineshire, who had realised a fortune in India, allows
of a further distribution through the same channel of about L.1800,
most of it in pensions of L.4 to disabled soldiers and sailors. Thus
many hundreds of the Scotch poor of the metropolis may be said to be
kept by their fellow-countrymen from falling upon the parochial funds,
on which they would have a claim--a fact, we humbly think, on which
the nation at large may justifiably feel some little pride. As part of
the means of collecting this money, there is a festival twice a year,
usually presided over by some Scottish nobleman, and attended by a
great number of gentlemen connected with Scotland by birth or
otherwise. A committee of governors meets on the second Wednesday of
every month, to distribute the benefactions to the regular pensioners
and casual applicants; and, in accordance with the national habits of
feeling, this ceremony is always prefaced by divine service in the
chapel, according to the simple practice of the Presbyterian Church.
Since 1782, these transactions, as well as the general concerns of the
institution, have taken place in the old building in Crane Court,
where also the secretary has a permanent residence.

Such, then, is the institution which has succeeded to the possession
of the dusky hall in which the Royal Society at one time assembled. It
was with a mingled interest that we looked round it, reflecting on the
presence of such men as Newton and Bradley of old, and on the many
worthy deeds which had since been done in it by men of a different
stamp, but surely not unworthy to be mentioned in the same sentence. A
portrait of Queen Mary by Zucchero, and one of the Duke of Lauderdale
by Lely--though felt as reminiscences of Scotland--were scarcely
fitted of themselves to ornament the walls; but this, of course, is as
the accidents of gifts and bequests might determine. We felt it to be
more right and fitting, that the secretary should be our old friend
Major Adair, the son of that Dr Adair who accompanied Robert Burns on
his visit to Glendevon in 1787. He is one of those men of activity,
method, and detail, joined to unfailing good-humour, who are
invaluable to such an institution. He is also, as might be expected,
entirely a Scotsman, and evidently regards the hospital with feelings
akin to veneration. Nor could we refrain from sympathising in his
views, when we thought of the honourable national principle from which
the institution took its rise, and by which it continues to be
supported, as well as the practical good which it must be continually
achieving. To quote his own words: 'From a view of the numbers
relieved, it is evident, that while this institution is a real
blessing to the aged, the helpless, the diseased, and the unemployed
poor of Scotland, resident in London, Westminster, and the
neighbourhood, extending to a circle of ten miles radius from the hall
of the corporation, it is of incalculable benefit to the community at
large, who, by means of this charity, are spared the pain of beholding
so great an addition, as otherwise there would be, of our destitute
fellow-creatures seeking their wretched pittance in the streets,
liable to be taken up as vagrants and sent to the house of correction,
and probably subjected to greater evils and disgrace.' The major has a
pet scheme for extending the usefulness of the institution. It implies
that individuals should make foundations of from L.300 to L.400 each,
in order to produce pensions of L.10 a year; these to be in the care
and dispensation of the hospital, and each to bear for ever the name
of its founder; thus permanently connecting his memory with the
institution, and insuring that once a year, at least, some humble
fellow-countryman shall have occasion to rejoice that such a person as
he once existed. The idea involves the gratification of a fine natural
feeling, and we sincerely hope that it will be realised. And why,
since we have said so much, should we hesitate to add the more general
wish, that the Scottish Hospital may continue to enjoy an undiminished
measure of the patronage of our countrymen? May it flourish for ever!


FOOTNOTES:

[1] _Note by an Englishman._--It is not one of the least curious
particulars in the history of the Scottish Hospital, that it
substantiates by documentary evidence the fact, that Scotsmen, who
have gone to England, occasionally find their way back to their own
country. It appears from the books of the corporation, that in the
year ending 30th November 1850, the sum of L.30, 16s. 6d. was spent in
'passages' from London to Leith; and there is actually a corresponding
society in Edinburgh to receive the _revenants_, and pass them on to
their respective districts.




THE HUNCHBACK OF STRASBOURG.


In the department of the Bas-Rhin, France, and not more than about two
leagues north of Strasbourg, lived Antoine Delessert, who farmed, or
intended farming, his own land--about a ten-acre slice of 'national'
property, which had fallen to him, nobody very well knew how, during
the hurly-burly of the great Revolution. He was about five-and-thirty,
a widower, and had one child, likewise named Antoine, but familiarly
known as Le Bossu (hunchback)--a designation derived, like his
father's acres, from the Revolution, somebody having, during one of
the earlier and livelier episodes of that exciting drama, thrown the
poor little fellow out of a window in Strasbourg, and broken his back.
When this happened, Antoine, _père_, was a journeyman _ferblantier_
(tinman) of that city. Subsequently, he became an active, though
subordinate member of the local Salut Public; in virtue of which
patriotic function he obtained Les Près, the name of his magnificent
estate. Working at his trade was now, of course, out of the question.
Farming, as everybody knows, is a gentlemanly occupation, skill in
which comes by nature; and Citizen Delessert forthwith betook himself,
with his son, to Les Près, in the full belief that he had stepped at
once into the dignified and delightful position of the ousted
aristocrat, to whom Les Près had once belonged, and whose haughty head
he had seen fall into the basket. But envious clouds will darken the
brightest sky, and the new proprietor found, on taking possession of
his quiet, unencumbered domain, that property has its plagues as well
as pleasures. True, there was the land; but not a plant, or a seed
thereon or therein, nor an agricultural implement of any kind to work
it with. The walls of the old rambling house were standing, and the
roof, except in about a dozen places, kept out the rain with some
success; but the nimble, unrespecting fingers of preceding patriots
had carried off not only every vestige of furniture, usually so
called, but coppers, cistern, pump, locks, hinges--nay, some of the
very doors and window-frames! Delessert was profoundly discontented.
He remarked to Le Bossu, now a sharp lad of some twelve years of age,
that he was at last convinced of the entire truth of his cousin
Boisdet's frequent observation--that the Revolution, glorious as it
might be, had been stained and dishonoured by many shameful excesses;
an admission which the son, with keen remembrance of his compulsory
flight from the window, savagely endorsed.

'Peste!' exclaimed the new proprietor, after a lengthened and painful
examination of the dilapidations, and general nakedness of his
estate--'this is embarrassing. Citizen Destouches was right. I must
raise money upon the property, to replace what those brigands have
carried off. I shall require three thousand francs at the very least.'

The calculation was dispiriting; and after a night's lodging on the
bare floor, damply enveloped in a few old sacks, the financial horizon
did not look one whit less gloomy in the eyes of Citizen Delessert.
Destouches, he sadly reflected, was an iron-fisted notary-public, who
lent money, at exorbitant interest, to distressed landowners, and was
driving, people said, a thriving trade in that way just now. His pulse
must, however, be felt, and money be obtained, however hard the terms.
This was unmistakably evident; and with the conviction tugging at his
heart, Citizen Delessert took his pensive way towards Strasbourg.

'You guess my errand, Citizen Destouches?' said Delessert, addressing
a flinty-faced man of about his own age, in a small room of Numéro 9,
Rue Béchard.

'Yes--money: how much?'

'Three thousand francs is my calculation.'

'Three thousand francs! You are not afraid of opening your mouth, I
see. Three thousand francs!--humph! Security, ten acres of middling
land, uncultivated, and a tumble-down house; title, _droit de
guillotine_. It is a risk, but I think I may venture. Pierre Nadaud,'
he continued, addressing a black-browed, sly, sinister-eyed clerk,
'draw a bond, secured upon Les Près, and the appurtenances, for three
thousand francs, with interest at ten per cent.'----

'Morbleu! but that is famous interest!' interjected Delessert, though
timidly.

'Payable quarterly, if demanded,' the notary continued, without
heeding his client's observation; 'with power, of course, to the
lender to sell, if necessary, to reimburse his capital, as well as all
accruing _dommages-intérêts_!'

The borrower drew a long breath, but only muttered: 'Ah, well; no
matter! We shall work hard, Antoine and I.'

The legal document was soon formally drawn: Citizen Delessert signed
and sealed, and he had only now to pouch the cash, which the notary
placed upon the table.

'Ah ça!' he cried, eyeing the roll of paper proffered to his
acceptance with extreme disgust. 'It is not in those _chiffons_ of
assignats, is it, that I am to receive three thousand francs, at ten
per cent.?'

'My friend,' rejoined the notary, in a tone of great severity, 'take
care what you say. The offence of depreciating the credit or money of
the Republic is a grave one.'

'Who should know that better than I?' promptly replied Delessert. 'The
paper-money of our glorious Republic is of inestimable value; but the
fact is, Citizen Destouches, I have a weakness, I confess it, for
coined money--_argent métallique_. In case of fire, for instance,
it'----

'It is very remarkable,' interrupted the notary with increasing
sternness--'it is very remarkable, Pierre' (Pierre was an influential
member of the Salut Public), 'that the instant a man becomes a landed
proprietor, he betrays symptoms of _incivisme_: is discovered to be,
in fact, an _aristocq_ at heart.'

'I an _aristocq_!' exclaimed Delessert, turning very pale; 'you are
jesting, surely. See, I take these admirable assignats--three thousand
francs' worth at ten per cent.--with the greatest pleasure. Oh, never
mind counting among friends.'

'Pardon!' replied Destouches, with rigid scrupulosity. 'It is
necessary to be extremely cautious in matters of business. Deducting
thirty francs for the bond, you will, I think, find your money
correct; but count yourself.'

Delessert pretended to do so, but the rage in his heart so caused his
eyes to dance and dazzle, and his hands to shake, that he could
scarcely see the figures on the assignats, or separate one from the
other. He bundled them up at last, crammed them into his pocket, and
hurried off, with a sickly smile upon his face, and maledictions,
which found fierce utterance as soon as he had reached a safe
distance, trembling on his tongue.

'Scélérat! coquin!' he savagely muttered. 'Ten per cent. for this
moonshine money! I only wish---- But never mind, what's sauce for the
goose is sauce for the gander. I must try and buy in the same way
that I have been so charmingly sold.'

Earnestly meditating this equitable process, Citizen Delessert sought
his friend Jean Souday, who lived close by the Fossé des Tanneurs
(Tanners' Ditch.) Jean had a somewhat ancient mare to dispose of,
which our landed proprietor thought might answer his purpose. Cocotte
was a slight waif, sheared off by the sharp axe of the Place de la
Révolution, and Souday could therefore afford to sell her cheap. Fifty
francs _argent métallique_ would, Delessert knew, purchase her; but
with assignats, it was quite another affair. But, courage! He might
surely play the notary's game with his friend Souday: that could not
be so difficult.

'You have no use for Cocotte,' suggested Delessert modestly, after
exchanging fraternal salutations with his friend.

'Such an animal is always useful,' promptly answered Madame Souday, a
sharp, notable little woman, with a vinegar aspect.

'To be sure--to be sure! And what price do you put upon this useful
animal?'

'Cela dépend'---- replied Jean, with an interrogative glance at his
helpmate.

'Yes, as Jean says, that depends--entirely depends'---- responded the
wife.

'Upon what, citoyenne?'

'Upon what is offered, parbleu! We are in no hurry to part with
Cocotte; but money is tempting.'

'Well, then, suppose we say, between friends, fifty francs?'

'Fifty francs! That is very little; besides, I do not know that I
shall part with Cocotte at all.'

'Come, come; be reasonable. Sixty francs! Is it a bargain?'

Jean still shook his head. 'Tempt him with the actual sight of the
money,' confidentially suggested Madame Souday; 'that is the only way
to strike a bargain with my husband.'

Delessert preferred increasing his offer to this advice, and gradually
advanced to 100 francs, without in the least softening Jean Souday's
obduracy. The possessor of the assignats was fain, at last, to adopt
Madame Souday's iterated counsel, and placed 120 paper francs before
the owner of Cocotte. The husband and wife instantly, as silently,
exchanged with each other, by the only electric telegraph then in use,
the words: 'I thought so.'

'This is charming money, friend Delessert,' said Jean Souday; 'far
more precious to an enlightened mind than the barbarous coin stamped
with effigies of kings and queens of the _ancien régime_. It is very
tempting; still, I do not think I can part with Cocotte at any price.'

Poor Delessert ground his teeth with rage, but the expression of his
anger would avail nothing; and, yielding to hard necessity, he at
length, after much wrangling, became the purchaser of the old mare for
250 francs--in assignats. We give this as a specimen of the bargains
effected by the owner of Les Près with his borrowed capital, and as
affording a key to the bitter hatred he from that day cherished
towards the notary, by whom he had, as he conceived, been so
egregiously duped. Towards evening, he entered a wine-shop in the
suburb of Robertsau, drank freely, and talked still more so, fatigue
and vexation having rendered him both thirsty and bold. Destouches, he
assured everybody that would listen to him, was a robber--a villain--a
vampire blood-sucker, and he, Delessert, would be amply revenged on
him some fine day. Had the loquacious orator been eulogising some
one's extraordinary virtues, it is very probable that all he said
would have been forgotten by the morrow, but the memories of men are
more tenacious of slander and evil-speaking; and thus it happened that
Delessert's vituperative and menacing eloquence on this occasion was
thereafter reproduced against him with fatal power.

Albeit, the now nominal proprietor of Les Près, assisted by his son
and Cocotte, set to work manfully at his new vocation; and by dint of
working twice as hard, and faring much worse than he did as a
journeyman _ferblantier_, contrived to keep the wolf, if not far from
the door, at least from entering in. His son, Le Bossu, was a
cheerful, willing lad, with large, dark, inquisitive eyes, lit up with
much clearer intelligence than frequently falls to the share of
persons of his age and opportunities. The father and son were greatly
attached to each other; and it was chiefly the hope of bequeathing Les
Près, free from the usurious gripe of Destouches, to his boy, that
encouraged the elder Delessert to persevere in his well-nigh hopeless
husbandry. Two years thus passed, and matters were beginning to assume
a less dreary aspect, thanks chiefly to the notary's not having made
any demand in the interim for the interest of his mortgage.

'I have often wondered,' said Le Bossu one day, as he and his father
were eating their dinner of _soupe aux choux_ and black bread, 'that
Destouches has not called before. He may now as soon as he pleases,
thanks to our having sold that lot of damaged wheat at such a capital
price: corn must be getting up tremendously in the market. However,
you are ready for Destouches' demand of six hundred francs, which it
is now.'

'Parbleu! quite ready; all ready counted in those charming assignats;
and that is the joke of it. I wish the old villain may call or send
soon'----

A gentle tap at the door interrupted the speaker. The son opened it,
and the notary, accompanied by his familiar, Pierre Nadaud, quietly
glided in.

'Talk of the devil,' growled Delessert audibly, 'and you are sure to
get a whisk of his tail. Well, messieurs,' he added more loudly, 'your
business?'

'Money--interest now due on the mortgage for three thousand francs,'
replied M. Destouches with much suavity.

'Interest for two years,' continued the sourly-sardonic accents of
Pierre Nadaud; 'six hundred francs precisely.'

'Very good, you shall have the money directly.' Delessert left the
room; the notary took out and unclasped a note-book; and Pierre Nadaud
placed a slip of _papier timbré_ on the dinner-table, preparatory to
writing a receipt.

'Here,' said Delessert, re-entering with a roll of soiled paper in his
hand, 'here are your six hundred francs, well counted.'

The notary reclasped his note-book, and returned it to his pocket;
Pierre Nadaud resumed possession of the receipt paper.

'You are not aware, then, friend Delessert,' said the notary, 'that
creditors are no longer compelled to receive assignats in payment?'

'How? What do you say?'

'Pierre,' continued M. Destouches, 'read the extract from _Le bulletin
des Lois_, published last week.' Pierre did so with a ringing
emphasis, which would have rendered it intelligible to a child; and
the unhappy debtor fully comprehended that his paper-money was
comparatively worthless! It is needless to dwell upon the fury
manifested by Delessert, the cool obduracy of the notary, or the
cynical comments of the clerk. Enough to say, that M. Destouches
departed without his money, after civilly intimating that legal
proceedings would be taken forthwith. The son strove to soothe his
father's passionate despair, but his words fell upon unheeding ears;
and after several hours passed in alternate paroxysms of stormy rage
and gloomy reverie, the elder Delessert hastily left the house, taking
the direction of Strasbourg. Le Bossu watched his father's retreating
figure from the door until it was lost in the clouds of blinding snow
that was rapidly falling, and then sadly resumed some indoor
employment. It was late when he retired to bed, and his father had not
then returned. He would probably remain, the son thought, at
Strasbourg for the night.

The chill, lead-coloured dawn was faintly struggling on the horizon
with the black, gloomy night, when Le Bossu rose. Ten minutes
afterwards, his father strode hastily into the house, and threw
himself, without a word, upon a seat. His eyes, the son observed, were
blood-shot, either with rage or drink--perhaps both; and his entire
aspect wild, haggard, and fierce. Le Bossu silently presented him with
a measure of _vin ordinaire_. It was eagerly swallowed, though
Delessert's hand shook so that he could scarcely hold the pewter
flagon to his lips.

'Something has happened,' said Le Bossu presently.

'Morbleu!--yes. That is,' added the father, checking himself,
'something _might_ have happened, if---- Who's there?'

'Only the wind shaking the door. What _might_ have happened?'
persisted the son.

'I will tell you, Antoine. I set off for Strasbourg yesterday, to see
Destouches once again, and entreat him to accept the assignats in
part-payment at least. He was not at home. Marguérite, the old
servant, said he was gone to the cathedral, not long since reopened.
Well, I found the usurer just coming out of the great western
entrance, heathen as he is, looking as pious as a pilgrim. I accosted
him, told my errand, begged, prayed, stormed! It was all to no
purpose, except to attract the notice and comments of the passers-by.
Destouches went his way, and I, with fury in my heart, betook myself
to a wine-shop--Le Brun's. He would not even change an assignat to
take for what I drank, which was not a little; and I therefore owe him
for it. When the gendarmes cleared the house at last, I was nearly
crazed with rage and drink. I must have been so, or I should never
have gone to the Rue Béchard, forced myself once more into the
notary's presence, and--and'----

'And what?' quivered the young man, as his father abruptly stopped,
startled as before into silence by a sudden rattling of the crazy
door. 'And what?'

'And abused him for a flinty-hearted scoundrel, as he is. He ordered
me away, and threatened to call the guard. I was flinging out of the
house, when Marguérite twitched me by the sleeve, and I stepped aside
into the kitchen. "You must not think," she said, "of going home on
such a night as this." It was snowing furiously, and blowing a
hurricane at the time. "There is a straw pallet," Marguérite added,
"where you can sleep, and nobody the wiser." I yielded. The good woman
warmed some soup, and the storm not abating, I lay down to rest--to
rest, do I say?' shouted Delessert, jumping madly to his feet, and
pacing furiously to and fro--'the rest of devils! My blood was in a
flame; and rage, hate, despair, blew the consuming fire by turns. I
thought how I had been plundered by the mercenary ruffian sleeping
securely, as he thought, within a dozen yards of the man he had
ruined--sleeping securely just beyond the room containing the
_secrétaire_ in which the mortgage-deed of which I had been swindled
was deposited'----

'Oh, father!' gasped the son.

'Be silent, boy, and you shall know all! It may be that I dreamed all
this, for I think the creaking of a door, and a stealthy step on the
stair, awoke me; but perhaps that, too, was part of the dream.
However, I was at last wide awake, and I got up and looked out on the
cold night. The storm had passed, and the moon had temporarily broken
through the heavy clouds by which she was encompassed. Marguérite had
said I might let myself out, and I resolved to depart at once. I was
doing so, when, looking round, I perceived that the notary's
office-door was ajar. Instantly a demon whispered, that although the
law was restored, it was still blind and deaf as ever--could not see
or hear in that dark silence--and that I might easily baffle the
cheating usurer after all. Swiftly and softly, I darted towards the
half-opened door--entered. The notary's _secrétaire_, Antoine, was
wide open! I hunted with shaking hands for the deed, but could not
find it. There was money in the drawers, and I--I think I should have
taken some--did perhaps, I hardly know how--when I heard, or thought I
did, a rustling sound not far off. I gazed wildly round, and plainly
saw in the notary's bedroom--the door of which, I had not before
observed, was partly open--the shadow of a man's figure clearly traced
by the faint moonlight on the floor. I ran out of the room, and out of
the house, with the speed of a madman, and here--here I am!' This
said, he threw himself into a seat, and covered his face with his
hands.

'That is a chink of money,' said Le Bossu, who had listened in dumb
dismay to his father's concluding narrative. 'You had none, you said,
when at the wine-shop.'

'Money! Ah, it may be as I said---- Thunder of heaven!' cried the
wretched man, again fiercely springing to his feet, 'I am lost!'

'I fear so,' replied a commissaire de police, who had suddenly
entered, accompanied by several gendarmes--'if it be true, as we
suspect, that you are the assassin of the notary Destouches.'

The assassin of the notary Destouches! Le Bossu heard but these words,
and when he recovered consciousness, he found himself alone, save for
the presence of a neighbour, who had been summoned to his assistance.

The _procès verbal_ stated, in addition to much of what has been
already related, that the notary had been found dead in his bed, at a
very early hour of the morning, by his clerk Pierre Nadaud, who slept
in the house. The unfortunate man had been stifled, by a pillow it was
thought. His _secrétaire_ had been plundered of a very large sum,
amongst which were Dutch gold ducats--purchased by Destouches only the
day before--of the value of more than 6000 francs. Delessert's
mortgage-deed had also disappeared, although other papers of a similar
character had been left. Six crowns had been found on Delessert's
person, one of which was clipped in a peculiar manner, and was sworn
to by an _épicier_ as that offered him by the notary the day previous
to the murder, and refused by him. No other portion of the stolen
property could be found, although the police exerted themselves to the
utmost for that purpose.

There was, however, quite sufficient evidence to convict Delessert of
the crime, notwithstanding his persistent asseverations of innocence.
His known hatred of Destouches, the threats he had uttered concerning
him, his conduct in front of the cathedral, Marguérite's evidence, and
the finding the crown in his pocket, left no doubt of his guilt, and
he was condemned to suffer death by the guillotine. He appealed of
course, but that, everybody felt, could only prolong his life for a
short time, not save it.

There was one person, the convict's son, who did not for a moment
believe that his father was the assassin of Destouches. He was
satisfied in his own mind, that the real criminal was he whose step
Delessert had dreamed he heard upon the stair, who had opened the
office-door, and whose shadow fell across the bedroom floor; and his
eager, unresting thoughts were bent upon bringing this conviction home
to others. After awhile, light, though as yet dim and uncertain, broke
in upon his filial task.

About ten days after the conviction of Delessert, Pierre Nadaud called
upon M. Huguet, the procureur-général of Strasbourg. He had a serious
complaint to make of Delessert, _fils_. The young man, chiefly, he
supposed, because he had given evidence against his father, appeared
to be nourishing a monomaniacal hatred against him, Pierre Nadaud.
'Wherever I go,' said the irritated complainant, 'at whatever hour,
early in the morning and late at night, he dogs my steps. I can in no
manner escape him, and I verily believe those fierce, malevolent eyes
of his are never closed. I really fear he is meditating some violent
act. He should, I respectfully submit, be restrained--placed in a
_maison de santé_, for his intellects are certainly unsettled; or
otherwise prevented from accomplishing the mischief I am sure he
contemplates.'

M. Huguet listened attentively to this statement, reflected for a few
moments, said inquiry should be made in the matter, and civilly
dismissed the complainant.

In the evening of the same day, Le Bossu was brought before M. Huguet.
He replied to that gentleman's questioning by the avowal, that he
believed Nadaud had murdered M. Destouches. 'I believe also,' added
the young man, 'that I have at last hit upon a clue that will lead to
his conviction.'

'Indeed! Perhaps you will impart it to me?'

'Willingly. The property in gold and precious gems carried off has not
yet been traced. I have discovered its hiding-place.'

'Say you so? That is extremely fortunate.'

'You know, sir, that beyond the Rue des Vignes there are three houses
standing alone, which were gutted by fire some time since, and are now
only temporarily boarded up. That street is entirely out of Nadaud's
way, and yet he passes and repasses there five or six times a day.
When he did not know that I was watching him, he used to gaze
curiously at those houses, as if to notice if they were being
disturbed for any purpose. Lately, if he suspects I am at hand, he
keeps his face determinedly _away_ from them, but still seems to have
an unconquerable hankering after the spot. This very morning, there
was a cry raised close to the ruins, that a child had been run over by
a cart. Nadaud was passing: he knew I was close by, and violently
checking himself, as I could see, kept his eyes fixedly _averted_ from
the place, which I have no longer any doubt contains the stolen
treasure.'

'You are a shrewd lad,' said M. Huguet, after a thoughtful pause. 'An
examination shall at all events take place at nightfall. You, in the
meantime, remain here under surveillance.'

Between eleven and twelve o'clock, Le Bossu was again brought into M.
Huguet's presence. The commissary who arrested his father was also
there. 'You have made a surprising guess, if it _be_ a guess,' said
the procureur. 'The missing property has been found under a
hearth-stone of the centre house.' Le Bossu raised his hands, and
uttered a cry of delight. 'One moment,' continued M. Huguet. 'How do
we know this is not a trick concocted by you and your father to
mislead justice?'

'I have thought of that,' replied Le Bossu calmly. 'Let it be given
out that I am under restraint, in compliance with Nadaud's request;
then have some scaffolding placed to-morrow against the houses, as if
preparatory to their being pulled down, and you will see the result,
if a quiet watch is kept during the night.' The procureur and
commissary exchanged glances, and Le Bossu was removed from the room.

It was verging upon three o'clock in the morning, when the watchers
heard some one very quietly remove a portion of the back-boarding of
the centre house. Presently, a closely-muffled figure, with a
dark-lantern and a bag in his hand, crept through the opening, and
made direct for the hearth-stone; lifted it, turned on his light
slowly, gathered up the treasure, crammed it into his bag, and
murmured with an exulting chuckle as he reclosed the lantern and stood
upright: 'Safe--safe, at last!' At the instant, the light of half a
dozen lanterns flashed upon the miserable wretch, revealing the stern
faces of as many gendarmes. 'Quite safe, M. Pierre Nadaud!' echoed
their leader. 'Of that you may be assured.' He was unheard: the
detected culprit had fainted.

There is little to add. Nadaud perished by the guillotine, and
Delessert was, after a time, liberated. Whether or not he thought his
ill-gotten property had brought a curse with it, I cannot say; but, at
all events, he abandoned it to the notary's heirs, and set off with Le
Bossu for Paris, where, I believe, the sign of 'Delessert et Fils,
Ferblantiers,' still flourishes over the front of a respectably
furnished shop.




PHILOSOPHY OF THE SHEARS.


The vestiarian profession has always been ill-treated by the world.
Men have owed much, and in more senses than one, to their tailors, and
have been accustomed to pay their debt in sneers and railleries--often
in nothing else. The stage character of the tailor is stereotyped from
generation to generation; his goose is a perennial pun; and his
habitual melancholy is derived to this day from the flatulent diet on
which he _will_ persist in living--cabbage. He is effeminate,
cowardly, dishonest--a mere fraction of a man both in soul and body.
He is represented by the thinnest fellow in the company; his starved
person and frightened look are the unfailing signals for a laugh; and
he is never spoken to but in a gibe at his trade:

'Thou liest, thou thread,
Thou thimble,
Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail;
Away thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant;
Or I shall so bemete thee with thy yard,
As thou shalt think on prating while thou liv'st!'

All this is not a very favourable specimen of the way in which the
stage holds the mirror up to nature.



Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 442 Volume 17, New Series, June 19, 1852