The excitement was high in Chapelizod when the news reached that a true bill was found against Charles Archer for the murder of Barnabas Sturk. Everywhere, indeed, the case was watched with uncommon interest; and when the decisive day arrived, and the old judge, furrowed, yellow, and cross, mounted the bench, and the jury were called over, and the challenges began, and the grim, gentleman-like person with the white hair, and his right arm in a black silk sling, whispering to his attorney and now and again pencilling, with his left hand, a line to his counsel with that indescribable air of confidence and almost defiance, pleaded to the indictment not guilty, and the dreadful business of the day began, the court was crowded as it seldom had been before.
A short, clear, horrible statement unfolded the case for the crown. Then the dying deposition of Sturk was put in evidence; then Irons the clerk was put up, and told his tale doggedly and distinctly, and was not to be shaken. No, it was not true that he had ever been confined in a mad house. He had never had delirium tremens. He had never heard that his wife thought him mad. Yes, it was true he had pledged silver of his master's at the Pied Horse at Newmarket. He knew it was a felony, but it was the prisoner who put it into his head and encouraged him to do it. Yes, he would swear to that. He had several times spoken to Lord Dunoran, when passing under the name of Mervyn, on the subject of his father being wronged. He never had any promise from my lord, in case he should fix the guilt of that murder on some other than his father. Our friend, Captain Cluffe, was called, and delivered his evidence in a somewhat bluff and peremptory, but on the whole effective way.
Charles Nutter, after some whispered consultation, was also called, and related what we have heard. Yes, he had been arrested for the murder of Dr. Sturk, and now stood out on bail to answer that charge. Then followed some circumstances, one of which, the discovery of a piece of what was presumed to be the weapon with which the murder was perpetrated, I have already mentioned. Then came some evidence, curious but quite clear, to show that the Charles Archer who had died at Florence was not the Charles Archer who had murdered Beauclerc, but a gentleman who had served in the army, and had afterwards been for
p.482two years in Italy, in the employment of a London firm who dealt in works of art, and was actually resident in Italy at the time when the Newmarket murder occurred, and that the attempt to represent him as the person who had given evidence against the late Lord Dunoran was an elaborate and cunning contrivance of the prisoner at the bar. Then came the medical evidence.
Pell was examined, and delivered only half a dozen learned sentences; Toole, more at length, made a damaging comparison of the fragment of iron already mentioned, and the outline of the fractures in the deceased man's head; and Dillon was questioned generally, and was not cross-examined. Then came the defence.
The points were, that Sturk was restored to speech by the determined interposition of the prisoner at the bar, an unlikely thing if he was ruining himself thereby! That Sturk's brain had been shattered, and not cleared from hallucinations before he died; that having uttered the monstrous dream, in all its parts incredible, which was the sole foundation of the indictment against that every way respectable and eminent gentleman who stood there, the clerk, Irons, having heard something of it, had conceived the plan of swearing to the same story, for the manifest purpose of securing thereby the favour of the young Lord Dunoran, with whom he had been in conference upon this very subject without ever once having hinted a syllable against Mr. Paul Dangerfield until after Doctor Sturk's dream had been divulged; and the idea of fixing the guilt of Beauclerc's murder upon that gentleman of wealth, family, and station, occurred to his intriguing and unscrupulous mind.
Mr. Dangerfield, in the dock nodded sometimes, or sneered or smirked with hollow cheeks, or shook his head in unison with the passing sentiment of the speaker, directing, through that hot atmosphere, now darkening into twilight, a quick glance from time to time upon the aspect of the jury, the weather-gauge of his fate, but altogether with a manly, sarcastic, and at times a somewhat offended air, as though he should say, 'Tis somewhat too good a jest that I, Paul Dangerfield, Esq., a man of fashion, with my known character, and worth nigh two hundred thousand pounds sterling, should stand here, charged with murdering a miserable Chapelizod doctor! The minutes had stolen away; the judge read his notes by candle-light, and charged, with dry and cranky emphasis, dead against that man of integrity, fashion, and guineas; and did not appear a bit disturbed at the idea of hanging him.
When the jury went in he had some soup upon the bench, and sipped it with great noise. Mr. Dangerfield shook hands with his counsel, and smirked and whispered. Many people there felt queer, and grew pale in the suspense, and the general gaze was fixed upon the prisoner with a coarse curiosity, of which he seemed resolutely unconscious; and five minutes passed by and a
p.483minute or two moreit seemed a very long timethe minute-hands of the watches hardly got on at alland then the door of the jury-room opened, and the gentlemen came stumbling in, taking off their hats, and silence was called. There was no need; and the foreman, with a very pale and frightened face, handed down the paper.
And the simple message sounded through the court
And Mr. Dangerfield bowed, and lifted up a white, smiling countenance, all over shining now with a slight moisture.
Then there was some whispering among the conductors of the prosecution; and the leader stood up to say, that, in consequence of a communication from the law officers in England, where the prisoner was to be arraigned on a capital indictment, involving serious consequences to othersfor the murder, he meant, of Mr. Beauclercthe crown wished that he should stand over for judgment until certain steps in that case had been taken at the other side. Then the court enquired whether they had considered so and so; and the leader explained and satisfied his lordship, who made an order accordingly. And Mr. Dangerfield made a low bow, with a smirk, to his lordship, and a nod, with the same, to his counsel; and he turned, and the turnkey and darkness received him.
Mr. Dangerfield, or shall we say the villain, Charles Archer, with characteristic promptitude and coolness, availed himself of the interval to try every influence he could once have set in motion, and as it were to gather his strength for a mighty tussle with the king of terrors, when his pale fingers should tap at his cell door. I have seen two of his letters, written with consummate plausibility and adroitness, and which have given me altogether a very high idea of his powers. But they were all received with a terrifying coldness or with absolute silence. There was no reasoning against an intuition. Every human being felt that the verdict was true, and that the judgment, when it came, would be right; and recoiled from the smiling gentleman, over whose white head the hempen circle hung like a diabolical glory. Dangerfield, who had something of the Napoleonic faculty of never making pictures to himself, saw this fact in its literality, and acquiesced in it.
He was a great favourite with the gaoler, whom, so long as he had the command of his money, he had treated with a frank and convivial magnificence, and who often sat up to one o'clock with him, and enjoyed his stories prodigiously, for the sarcastic man of the world lost none of his amusing qualities: andthe fatigues of his barren correspondence endedslept, and eat, and drank, pretty much as usual.
This Giant Despair, who carried the keys at his girdle, did not often get so swell a pilgrim into his castle, and was secretly flattered by his familiarity, and cheered by his devilish gaiety, and was
p.484quite willing to make rules bend a little, and the place as pleasant as possible to his distinguished guest, and give him in fact, all his heart could desire, except a chance of escape.
I've one move leftnothing very excellentbut sometimes, you know, a scurvy card enough will win the trick. Between you and me, my good friend, I have a thing to tell that 'twill oblige my Lord Dunoran very much to hear. My Lord Townshend will want his vote. He means to prove his peerage immediately and he may give a poor devil a lift, you seehey?
So next day there came my Lord Dunoran and a magistrate, not Mr. LoweMr. Dangerfield professed a contempt for him, and preferred any other. So it was Mr. Armstrong this time, and that is all I know of him.
Lord Dunoran was more pale than usual; indeed he felt like to faint on coming into the presence of the man who had made his life so indescribably miserable, and throughout the interview he scarcely spoke six sentences, and not one word of reproach. The villain was down. It was enough.
Mr. Dangerfield was, perhaps, a little excited. He talked more volubly than usual, and once or twice there came a little flush over his pallid forehead and temples. But, on the whole, he was very much the same brisk, sardonic talker and polite gentleman whom Mr. Mervyn had so often discoursed with in Chapelizod. On this occasion, his narrative ran on uninterruptedly and easily, but full of horrors, like a satanic reverie.
Upon my honour, Sir, said Paul Dangerfield, with his head erect, I bear Mr. Lowe no ill-will. He is, you'll excuse me, a thief-catcher by nature. He can't help it. He thinks he works from duty, public spirit, and other fine influences; I know it is simply from an irrepressible instinct. I do assure you, I never yet bore any man the least ill-will. I've had to remove two or three, not because I hated themI did not care a button for anybut because their existence was incompatible with my safety, which, Sir, is the first thing to me, as yours is to you. Human laws we respectha, ha!you and I, because they subserve our convenience, and just so long. When they tend to our destruction, 'tis, of course, another thing.
This, it must be allowed, was frank enough; there was no bargain here; and what ever Mr. Dangerfield's plan might have been, it certainly did not involve making terms with Lord Dunoran beforehand, or palliating or disguising what he had done. So on he went.
I believe in luck, Sir, and there's the sum of my creed. I was wrong in taking that money from Beauclerc when I did, 'twas in the midst of a dismal run of ill-fortune. There was nothing unfair in taking it, though. The man was a cheat. It was not really his, and no one could tell to whom it belonged; 'twas no more his because I had found it in his pocket than if I had found it in
p.485a barrel on the high seas. I killed him to prevent his killing me. Precisely the same motive, though in your case neither so reasonable nor so justifiable, as that on which, in the name of justice, which means only the collective selfishness of my fellow-creatures, you design in cool blood to put me publicly to death. 'Tis only that you, gentlemen, think it contributes to your safety. That's the spirit of human laws. I applaud and I adopt it in my own case. Pray, Sir (to Mr. Armstrong), do me the honour to try this snuff, 'tis real French rappee.
But, Sir, though I have had to do these things, which you or any other man of nerve would do with a sufficient motive, I never hurt any man without a necessity for it. My money I've made fairly, though in great measure by play, and no man can say I ever promised that which I did not perform. 'Tis quite true I killed Beauclerc in the manner described by Irons. That was put upon me, and I could not help it. I did right. 'Tis also true, I killed that scoundrel Glascock, as Irons related. Shortly after, being in trouble about money and in danger of arrest, I went abroad, and changed my name and disguised my person.
At Florence I was surprised to find a letter directed to Charles Archer. You may suppose it was not agreeable. But, of course, I would not claim it; and it went after all to him for whom it was intended. There was actually there a Mr. Charles Archer, dying of a decline. Three respectable English residents had made his acquaintance, knowing nothing of him but that he was a sick countryman. When I learned all about it, I, too, got an introduction to him; and when he died, I prevailed with one of them to send a note signed by himself and two more to the London lawyer who was pursuing me, simply stating that Charles Archer had died in Florence, to their knowledge, they having seen him during his last illness, and attended his funeral.
I told them that he had begged me to see this done, as family affairs made it necessary; 'twas as well to use the eventand they did it without difficulty. I do not know how the obituary announcement got into the newspapersit was not my doingand naming him as the evidence in the prosecution of my Lord Dunoran was a great risk, and challenged contradiction, but none came. Sir Philip Drayton was one of the signatures, and it satisfied the attorney.
When I came to Chapelizod, though, I soon found that the devil had not done with me, and that I was like to have some more unpleasant work on my hands. I did not know that Irons was above ground, nor he either that I was living. We had wandered far enough asunder in the interval to make the chances very many we should never meet again. Yet here we met, and I knew him, and he me. But he's a nervous man, and whimsical.
He was afraid of me, and never used his secret to force money from me. Still it was not pleasant. I did not know but that if I
p.486went away he might tell it. I weighed the matter; 'tis true I thought there might have come a necessity to deal with him; but I would not engage in anything of the sort, without an absolute necessity. But Doctor Sturk was differenta bull-headed, conceited fool. I thought I remembered his face at Newmarket, and changed as it was, I was right, and learned all about him from Irons. I saw his mind was at work on me, though he could not find me out, and I could not well know what course a man like that might take, or how much he might have seen or remembered. That was not pleasant either.
I had taken a whim to marry; there's no need to mention names; but I supposed I should have met no difficulty with the ladyrelying on my wealth. Had I married, I should have left the country.
However, it was not to be. It might have been well for all had I never thought of it. For I'm a man who, when he once places an object before him, will not give it up without trying. I can wait as well as strike, and know what's to be got by one and t'other. Well, what I've once proposed to myself I don't forego, and that helped to hold me where I was.
The nature of the beast, Sturk, and his circumstances were dangerous. 'Twas necessary for my safety to make away with him. I tried it by several ways. I made a quarrel between him and Toole, but somehow it never came to a duel; and a worse one between him and Nutter, but that too failed to come to a fight. It was to be, Sir, and my time had come. What I long suspected arrived, and he told me in his own study he knew me, and wanted money. The money didn't matter; of that I could spare abundance, though 'tis the nature of such a tax to swell to confiscation. But the man who gets a sixpence from you on such terms is a tyrant and your master, and I can't brook slavery.
I owed the fellow no ill-will; upon my honour, as a gentleman; I forgive him, as I hope he has forgiven me. It was all fair he should try. We can't help our instincts. There's something wolfish in us all. I was vexed at his dd folly, though, and sorry to have to put him out of the way. However, I saw I must be rid of him.
There was no immediate hurry. I could afford to wait a little. I thought he would walk home on the night I met him. He had gone into town in Colonel Strafford's carriage. It returned early in the afternoon without him. I knew his habits; he dined at Keating's ordinary at four o'clock; and Mercer, whom he had to speak with, would not see him, on his bill of exchange business, in his counting-house. Sturk told me so; and he must wait till half-past five at his lodgings. What he had to say was satisfactory, and I allowed five minutes for that.
Then he might come home in a coach. But he was a close-fisted fellow and loved a shilling; so it was probable he would
p.487walk. His usual path was by the Star Fort, and through the thorn woods between that and the Magazine. So I met him. I said I was for town, and asked him how he had fared in his business; and turned with him, walking slowly as though to hear. I had that loaded whalebone in my pocket, and my sword, but no pistol. It was not the place for firearms; the noise would have made an alarm. So I turned sharp upon him and felled him. He knew by an intuition what was about to happen, for as the blow fell he yelled murder. That dd fellow, Nutter, in the wood at our right, scarce a hundred yards away, halloed in answer. I had but time to strike him two blows on the top of his head that might have killed an ox. I felt the metal sink at the second in his skull, and would have pinked him through with my sword, but the fellow was close on me, and I thought I knew the voice for Nutter's. I stole through the bushes swiftly, and got along into the hollow under the Magazine, and thence on.
There was a slight fog upon the park, and I met no one. I got across the park-wall, over the quarry, and so down by the stream at Coyles, and on to the road near my house. No one was in sight, so I walked down to Chapelizod to show myself. Near the village tree I met Dr. Toole. I asked him if Nutter was in the club, and he said nonor at home, he believed, for his boy had seen him more than half-an-hour ago leave his hall door, dressed for the road.
So I made as if disappointed, and turned back again, assured that Nutter was the man. I was not easy, for I could not be sure that Sturk was dead. Had I been allowed a second or two more, I'd have made sure work of it. Still I was nearly sure. I could not go back now and finish the business. I could not say whether he lay there any longer, and if he did, how many men Nutter might have about him by this time. So, Sir, the cast was made, I could not mend it, and must abide my fortune be it good or ill.
Not a servant saw me go out or return. I came in quietly, and went into my bed-room and lighted a candle. 'Twas a blunder, a blot, but a thousand to one it was not hit. I washed my hands. There was some blood on the whalebone, and on my fingers. I rolled the loaded whalebone up in a red handkerchief, and locked it into my chest of drawers, designing to destroy it, which I did, so soon as the servants were in bed; and then I felt a chill and a slight shiver;'twas only that I was an older man. I was cool enough, but a strain on the mind was more to me then than twenty years before. So I drank a dram, and I heard a noise outside my window. 'Twas then that stupid dog, Cluffe, saw me, as he swears.
Well, next day Sturk was brought home; Nutter was gone, and the suspicion attached to him. That was well. But, though Pell pronounced that he must die without recovering consciousness, and that the trepan would kill him instantaneously, I had a profound
p.488misgiving that he might recover speech and recollection. I wrote as exact a statement of the case to my London physiciana very great manas I could collect, and had his answer, which agreed exactly with Doctor Pell's. 'Twas agreed on all hands the trepan would be certain death. Days, weeks, or monthsit mattered not what the intervalno returning glimmer of memory could light his death-bed. Still, Sir, I presaged evil. He was so long about dying.
I'm telling you everything, you see. I offered Irons what would have been a fortune to himhe was attending occasionally in Sturk's sick-room, and assisting in dressing his woundsto watch his opportunity and smother him with a wet handkerchief. I would have done it myself afterwards, on the sole opportunity that offered, had I not been interrupted.
I engaged, with Mrs. Sturk's approval, Doctor Dillon. I promised him five hundred guineas to trepan him. That young villain, I could prove, bled Alderman Sherlock to death to please the alderman's young wife. Who'd have thought the needy profligate would have hesitated to plunge his trepan into the brain of a dying mana corpse, you may say, alreadyfor five hundred guineas? I was growing feverish under the protracted suspense. I was haunted by the apprehension of Sturk's recovering his consciousness and speech, in which case I should have been reduced to my present rueful situation; and I was resolved to end that cursed uncertainty.
When I thought Dillon had forgot his appointment in his swinish vices, I turned my mind another way. I resolved to leave Sturk to nature, and clench the case against Nutter, by evidence I would have compelled Irons to swear. As it turned out, that would have been the better way. Had Sturk died without speaking, and Nutter hanged for his death, the question could have opened no more, and Irons would have been nailed to my interest.
I viewed the problem every way. I saw the danger from the first, and provided many expedients, which, one after the other, fortune frustrated. I can't confidently say even now that it would have been wiser to leave Sturk to die, as the doctors said he must. I had a foreboding, in spite of all they could say, he would wake up before he died and denounce me. If 'twas a mistake, 'twas a fated one, and I could not help it.
So, Sir, you see I've nothing to blame myself forthough all has broken down.
I guessed when I heard the sound at the hall-door of my house that Sturk or Irons had spoken, and that they were come to take me. Had I broken through them, I might have made my escape. It was long odds against me, but still I had a chancethat's all. And the matter affecting my Lord Dunoran's innocence, I'm ready to swear, if it can serve his sonhaving been the undesigned cause of some misfortunes to you, my lord, in my lifetime.
Lord Dunoran said nothing, he only bowed his head.
So Dangerfield, when his statement respecting the murder of Beauclerc had been placed clearly in writing, made oath of its truth, and immediately when this was over (he had, while they were preparing the statement, been walking up and down his flagged chamber), he grew all on a sudden weak, and then very flushed, and they thought he was about to take a fit; but speedily he recovered himself, and in five minutes' time was much as he had been at the commencement.
After my lord and Mr. Armstrong went away, he had the gaoler with him, and seemed very sanguine about getting his pardon, and was very brisk and chatty, and said he'd prepare his petition in the morning, and got in large paper for drafting it on, and said, I suppose at the close of this commission they will bring me up for judgment; that will be the day after to-morrow, and I must have my petition ready. And he talked away like a man who had got a care off his mind, and is in high spirits; and when grinning, beetle-browed Giant Despair shook his hand, and wished him luck at parting, he stopped him, laying his white hand upon his herculean arm, and, said he, I've a point to urge they don't suspect. I'm sure of my liberty; what do you think of thathey? and he laughed. And when I get away what do you say to leaving this place and coming after me? Upon my life, you must, Sir. I like you, and if you don't, rot me, but I'll come and take you away myself.
So they parted in a sprightly, genial way; and in the morning the turnkey called the gaoler up at an unseasonable hour, and told him that Mr. Dangerfield was dead.
The gaoler lay in the passage outside the prisoner's cell, with his bed across the door, which was locked, and visited him at certain intervals. The first time he went in there was nothing remarkable. It was but half-an-hour after the gaoler had left. Mr. Dangerfield, for so he chose to be called, was dozing very quietly in his bed, and just opened his eyes, and nodded on awaking, as though he would say, Here I am, but did not speak.
When, three hours later, the officer entered, having lighted his candle at the lamp, he instantly recoiled. The room felt so queer, said he, I thought I'd a fainted, and I drew back. I tried it again a bit further in, and 'twas worse, and the candle almost went out'twas as if the devil was there. I drew back quick, and I called the prisoner, but no word was there. Then I locks the door, and called Michael; and when he came we called the prisoner again, but to no purpose. Then we opened the door, and I made a rush, and smashed the glass of the window to let in air. We had to wait outside a good while before we could venture in; and when we did, there he was lying like a man asleep in his bed, with his night-cap on, and his hand under his cheek, and he smiling down on the flags, very sly, like a man who has won something cleverly.
p.490He was dead, and his limbs cold by this time.
There was an inquest. Mr. Dangerfield looked very composed in death, says an old letter, and he lay very like sleep, in his bed, his fingers under his cheek and temple, with the countenance turned a little downward, as if looking upon something on the floor, with an ironical smile; so that the ineffaceable lines of sarcasm, I suppose, were traceable upon that jaundiced mask.
Some said it was a heart disease, and others an exhalation from the prison floor. He was dead, that was all the jury could say for certain, and they found 'twas by a visitation of God. The gaoler, being a superstitious fellow, was plaguily nervous about Mr. Dangerfield's valediction, and took clerical advice upon it, and for several months after became a very serious and ascetic character; and I do believe that the words were spoken in reality with that sinister jocularity in which his wit sported like church-yard meteors, when crimes and horrors were most in his mind.
The niece of this gaoler said she well remembered her uncle, when a very old man, three years before the rebellion, relating that Mr. Dangerfield came by his death in consequence of some charcoal in a warming pan he had prevailed on him to allow him for his bed, he having complained of cold. He got it with a design to make away with himself, and it was forgotten in the room. He placed it under the bed, and waited until the first call of the turnkey was over, and then he stuffed his surtout into the flue of the small fire-place, which afforded the only ventilation of his cell, and so was smothered. It was not till the winter following that the gaoler discovered, on lighting a fire there, that the chimney was stopped. He had a misgiving about the charcoal before, and now he was certain. Of course, he said nothing about his suspicions at first, nor of his discovery afterwards.
So, sometimes in my musings, when I hear of clever young fellows taking to wild courses, and audaciously rushingwhere good Christians pray they may not be ledinto temptation, there rises before me, with towering forehead and scoffing face, a white image smoking his pipe grimly by a plutonic fire; and I remember the words of the son of SirachThe knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom, neither at any time the counsel of sinners prudence.
Mr. Irons, of course, left Chapelizod. He took with him the hundred guineas which Mr. Dangerfield had given him, as also, it was said, a handsome addition made to that fund by open-handed Dr. Walsingham; but somehow, being much pressed for time, he forgot good Mistress Irons, who remained behind and let lodgings pretty much as usual, and never heard from that time forth anything very distinct about him; and latterly it was thought was, on the whole, afraid rather than desirous of his turning up again.
Doctor Toole, indeed, related in his own fashion, at the Phoenix,
p.491some years later, a rumour which, however, may have turned out to be no better than smoke.
News of Zekiel, by Jove! The prophet was found, Sir, with a friend in the neighbourhood of Hounslow, with a brace of pistols, a mask, a handful of slugs, and a powder-horn in his pocket, which he first gave to a constable, and then made his compliments to a justice o' the peace, who gave him and his friend a note of commendation to my Lord Chief Justice, and his lordship took such a fancy to both that, by George, he sent them in a procession in his best one-horse coach, with a guard of honour and a chaplain, the high-sheriff dutifully attending, through the City, where, by the king's commands, they were invested with the grand collar of the order of the hempen cravat, Sir, and with such an attention to their comfort they were not required to descend from their carriage, by George, and when it drove away they remained in an easy, genteel posture, with their hands behind their backs, in a sort of an ecstasy, and showed their good humour by dancing a reel together with singular lightness and agility, and keeping it up till they were both out of breath, when they remained quiet for about half an hour to cool, and then went off to pay their respects to the President of the College of Surgeons, and so forth; but I don't think Irons had pluck for a highwayman, and I can't, therefore, altogether, believe the story.
We all know Aunt Rebecca pretty well by this time. And looking back upon her rigorous treatment of Puddock, recorded in past chapters of this tale, I think I can now refer it all to its true source.
She was queer, quarrelsome, and sometimes nearly intolerable; but she was generous and off-handed, and made a settlement, reserving only a life interest, and nearly all afterwards to Puddock.
But in a marriage settlement, said the attorney (so they called themselves in those days), it is usual; and here his tone became so gentle that I can't say positively what he uttered.
Ohathat, she said, awell, you can speak to Lieutenant Puddock, if you wish. I only say for myself a life estate; Lieutenant Puddock can deal with the remainder as he pleases. And Aunt Rebecca actually blushed a pretty little pink blush. I believe she did not think there was much practical utility in the attorney's suggestion, and if an angel in her hearing had said of her what he once said of Sarah, she would not have laughed indeed, but I think she would have shaken her head.
She was twenty years and upwards his senior; but I don't know which survived the other, for in this life the battle is not always to the strong.
Their wedding was a very quiet affair, and the talk of the village was soon directed from it to the approaching splendours of the union of Miss Gertrude and my Lord Dunoran.