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Every one who found him would slay him, and he felt that his punishment was greater than he could bear.
Practically, he was already a pauper. He had been practicing the arts of the deadbeat for weeks. He had borrowed, from day to day, on such pretenses as might be necessary to secure success, and the end had come. He could never fulfill his pledges; he could never have a chance to rise again. He could see nothing before him but flight and disgraceful exile, or a pinched and disreputable life among the scenes through which he had moved for so many years in honor and assured power and prosperity. As the night came down, and the crowd in front of his dwelling dispersed, he found that his untended rooms were growing cold. So he built a fire for himself in his library, and spent the evening in burning papers. Every scrap that could possibly make against him in the examination of his affairs was consumed. He tore the leaves which recorded his knowledge of the stolen bonds out of his note-book and burned them.
An awful purpose was taking possession of his mind. He had not received it fully, but it hung around him like an invisible spirit,—dreadful, but not unwelcome,-bearing the face of an enemy but the hand of a friend; pointing a path out of certainties into uncertainties—out of a known hell into one unknown-out of cruel entities into possible nothingness. He had arrived at a point where what he regarded as his faith had slipped away from him, and skulked in the distance, and laughed at him for a fool. If there had been anything in prayer-if there had been anything in religion-if there was a God above him or a hell beneathwhy had he, whose life had been conspicuously religious, been left unhelped and unblest? It was all a foolish, cruel dream.
The dog sat and watched him, licking his cold hands when they were at rest. Even the dog seemed to feel that there was another dark shadow present which he could not see. He sniffed the air. He went back and forth between the window and the door. Then he lay down and lapsed into troubled dreams, from which he woke to reassure himself that nothing unwelcome had happened to his new master. The roar from the street was muffled by the intervening rooms, and only made the silence of the house deeper and more dreadful. The clock ticked so loudly that Mr. Benson rose and stopped it—and then the shadowy presence crept closer. It promised escape. It promised forgetfulness. It promised a sudden end of all earthly cares and sorrows. It promised an overwhelming defeat of all earthly enemies. It promised a revenge upon all persecutors. Under its stimulating suggestions he felt a tide of triumph rising in his heart. He was still master of the situation. There was only one consideration which dampened his sense of triumph. Would not the act to which he felt himself moved be a confession? Would it not stain him with a disgrace more dreadful than the alternative life of ignominious poverty?
And then there came the suggestion of a scheme which would relieve him even from this. He knew that Captain Hank would come, and he rejoiced in the thought that the robber was starved and desperate. There was no act at which the miscreant would hesitate, in his blind greed and rage.
It was already getting late. He took out his watch and saw that it lacked but half an hour of midnight. Rising from his chair, he patted the dog's head, and said:
"Old fellow, will you take care of this room ?"
The heavens were not only brass above him, but they had become burnished brass, in which he could see reflected every unworthy motive by which he had been led to seek the propitiation of the Being who, as he had believed, made them His abode,his desire for respectability-his wish, for duties rendered, to secure wealth-the yoke of obligation he had borne in the place of a love that should have borne him- the wide and fatal gulf that lay between his religion and his morality. It was all worthless dross-the residuum of a life which he had supposed was pure gold.
The first of the evening hours were busy ticular. He had put a handkerchief around VOL. XIV.-48.
The dog understood the question, and wagged his tail in an affirmative response.
He passed out of his library, closing the door behind him without locking it. He slowly mounted to his room, lighted a single burner, poured out a potion from a phial, then crushed the glass into a thou sand pieces, and wrapping these in a paper, raised a window and tossed them into the street. Then he carefully removed his clothing, turned down the light somewhat, and placing the potion within his reach, went to bed. He was dressed as usual for his rest, save in a single par
his neck, and tied it loosely, in a hard knot.
A church-bell not far off tolled the hour of twelve, and almost simultaneously he heard the door-bell ring. Captain Hank was true to his appointment. He rang again and again, and then Mr. Benson heard him, wearied and maddened, descending the steps.
The street was still, for the hour had come when the stir and strife of the old day had worn themselves out, and the life of the new day was not begun-that period which, sweet as it is in the country, is full of awe to the waking citizen-that period which seems as if a million hearts had ceased to beat, and the city were dead. The sleepless invalid, the superstitious child, the watchful mother, turned upon their couches, and longed for the sound of wheels, or the step of a passing watchman, to assure them that, amid the dangers of the elements and the machinations of crime, more fearful than storm or fire, some one was awake and abroad.
But Mr. Benson was more than content with the silence. He hoped-he almost lapsed into his habit of praying-that it might not be broken. He had abounding faith in the desperate ruffianism of his midnight visitor, and believed that he had not gone away. He lay still, listening, with every sense alert, to catch the slightest noise that might reach his room. He lay thus an hour, nothing but his throbbing heart disturbing him. At length, when his patience was nearly exhausted, he heard a low, grating noise in the rear of his dwelling. He rose upon his elbow, to make sure that he was not deceived. A creak, as of some fastening severely tried, or slowly giving way, assured him, and then he swallowed his draft to the last drop, and lay down again.
Ah! who can follow him now, even in imagination? Those first sweet, wild dreams, whither did they lead him? Far out to sea, bounding over waves of silver, with the breath of spicy islands regaling his quickened senses? Were there beautiful forms upon the deck around him? Were there marvelous fires in the sky above him? Did he fly, as if the bark that bore him were a thing of the air? Were the elements his slaves? Did the creatures of the deep, with iris-tinted sides, rise up to gambol in his sight, and strew the sea with pearly spray ?
Did he hear the bells of his church ring far away-far away-as if their tones fell
down to him like stars, blazing and fading, or flew down to him like angels, from some inaccessible height, and folded their wings as they touched and melted into himself? Did he hear the organ that once led him in his worship, beginning its cadences in some almost inappreciable dream of sound, like a rivulet picking its sweet, complaining way through a distant glen, and then rising by slow accretions of power until the waves of awful music broke out upon the universe, hurrying the clouds out of heaven, and enveloping the world with the screams and thunders and multitudinous voices of a thousand storms? Did he walk through the streets of a golden city, a crown upon his head and a purple robe upon his shoulders, trailing over pavements of ruby and amethyst, while all who met him bowed or knelt in obeisance, and dusky slaves in gorgeous raiment announced his coming, and made wide the path for his feet?
And then, did there slowly come a change? Was he aware that a dog was at his side— a strange creature that would not away, but pressed a cold nose against his shrinking hand wherever he went a living shadow that followed him, or asserted a place by his side, through whatever glory shone upon him, or whatever ministry of honor was tendered to him? Did he try to fly from the creature, and, as he flew, did he find himself at sea again, the dog, with gleaming eyes and glistening teeth, swimming in the wake of the scudding vessel, his body stretching miles away in serpentine waves and convolutions? Did ships wrapped in flame rush wildly across his path, paving the ocean with fire and painting the clouds with blood, and bursting like rockets into stars of green and gold, and showers of crimson rain? Did his own ship split in twain, with a crack of thunder, and did he slip helplessly into the yawning chasm, his struggling heart grasped in the horny hands of fears that rushed in upon him, impersonated in forms of hideous terror-downdown-down-into the violet water, great monsters, with staring, vacant eyes, chafing him with their slimy sides; rotting wrecks below him, with sleeping skeletons upon their decks; gems on the ocean's floor, that slipped away from him as he tried to grasp them; mocking laughter ringing that seemed to reverberate through interminable galleries, bursting upon one ear, and then echoing wide around the world, and coming back, shivered into spiteful ripples, to the other?
Then by some swift miracle was he in his home again-with a great multitude of weeping, blood-shot eyes gazing up to him from the street, with a thousand tongues loading him with curses, and a thousand hands lifted in menace? And then did he hear a far-off roar, coming nearer and nearer, as if some great engine of wrath and destruction were approaching upon wheels that ground the pavement beneath them to powder, while the faces of the crowd grew white with apprehension? Did it come on, and on, while men yelled and women fainted-on and on, fiery-throated, clothed with triple brass, drawn by demons, and rushing by at last with ponderous, thunderous, irresistible momentum, leaving behind its murderous passage an indistinguishable mass of mangled flesh and comminuted bones, all crimsoned with the vital tide from bursting hearts ?
And then, ah, then! when the wheels had passed away, and a strange lull came down and enveloped all things, did he find himself standing in a vast, white silence, that seemed a part of his dream, yet presented materials and visions which had never entered into a dream?
The stuff of which dreams are made was all behind him! As a storm which sweeps from the west, on a late afternoon, with its burden of lightning, and thunder, and rain, and tempestuous wind, lifts its veil from the evening sun, while still its departing skirts trail down the east, so his dream had come and gone. There were flashes back upon the worldward memory, but he had entered a new world, with an everlasting sun.
Was it a desert of illimitable sand, with mocking oases and seductive and deceitful mirages? Was it a land of fair pastures of flower-bordered paths that led to a golden city with gleaming spires, and welcoming banners, and walls of precious stones? No one knows; and those who have followed him through the possible dream which introduced him to his new life will gladly commit him to the just and pitying One whom he served so poorly and mistakenly in his earthly career.
Captain Hank, unknowing of the tragedy that had occurred during his tedious passage into the house, had at last effected an entrance. The family were gone with their jewels. Thomas and the cook, licensed by their owner, whose determination to end his life had already been dimly taken, had carried off the silver; and he found the available rewards of his guilty enterprise
provokingly scanty. He carried his dark lantern around from room to room, peering into drawers and closets, stopping at intervals to listen, and inwardly cursing his ill luck. He regaled himself in the larder with such viands and wines as he found, and mounted leisurely from story to story, making sure at every step of his backward passage, and looking for the room in which his victim slept. He did not enter the library, where he knew the safe to be, because he would not find the key there. The old grudge which he owed Mr. Benson for circumventing him in getting possession of the bonds, and the new grudge which had been inspired by Mr. Benson's failure to keep his promise with him on that evening, were burning bitterly in his heart. His disappointment at not finding anything in his search that was valuable, and, at the same time, portable, fed the flames of his anger and resentment.
At last he opened the door he sought, and carefully peered within. There lay the man he hated, in a sound and peaceful sleep! Unmindful of his engagement, enjoying the calm repose of a man to whom crime was a stranger, forgetful of the wrongs he had inflicted upon a thousand poor men and women, recruiting himself for another day's machinations and mischief,-there he lay, in a slumber so profound that neither noise nor light turned full upon his face could disturb him!
At first, Captain Hank was struck with a kind of awe. His heart beat thickly in his ears as he stepped within the room. He had seen the handkerchief around Mr. Benson's neck, and had determined what he would do with it if the wearer should stir. He found his clothes, and extracted a bunch of keys from the pockets, and then he looked again, and saw the placid face in a smile that seemed half conscious. He searched the room for treasure, and discovered a watch, which he pocketed. Then he heard, or thought he heard, a noise. Was Mr. Benson waking?
He turned upon him like a tiger, grasped the handkerchief at his throat, and gave it a cruel twist, that carried his knuckles deep into the cold flesh. Then he released his hold, and sprang back as if a viper had stung him.
"Great God!" he exclaimed, "the man is dead!"
If invisible fiends haunt such a man and such a scene as this, what inextinguishable laughter must have possessed them when
they saw how cleverly Captain Hank had been entrapped by his wily antagonist! The handkerchief was placed there for him by the man who, proposing to pass out of life, and lingeringly fond of his reputation, contrived everything for the purpose of being reputed a murdered man. In the malediction of the crime of another, words of pity and commiseration would be spoken concerning himself! To be murdered would be to soften the world's judgments! To be murdered would be a calamity so much greater than the loss of money, that the disaster which he had brought upon so many would be forgotten in his own!
There was no cause for haste now. Captain Hank had learned that he was then the only living man in the house. He sat down in a chair, pale in the face, feeling his hands and feet growing cold, and perspiring at every pore. He had not in his heart intended murder, but there lay the evidence of his crime. He recognized all the possibilities and probabilities of the situation, but with the keys in his hand he would not relinquish his quest for treasure until he had visited the safe.
Not a growl, not a whine, had the dog uttered during all the noise, but he stood ready and waiting, with fierce eyes and trembling limbs, to defend what he had agreed to defend. His keen scent had detected the invading personality. He knew already the antagonist he was about to encounter, and every savage, brutal instinct within him was aroused. The moment Captain Hank opened the door, and threw before him the bar of straight, red light from his dark lantern, he saw two blazing eyes that sprang toward him. He darted back, but there was a grip upon his throat. He gave an involuntary yell of pain, and, dropping his lantern in the darkness, fought wildly with his hands. He reached the staircase without knowing it, and then, just as he had drawn a pistol from his pocket, fell headlong, and man and dog rolled to the foot of the stairs together, the aimless firearm exploding during the passage. A groan, a cry, mingling with the growl of the unhurt beast that held him fast, completed the tragedy of the moment.
A watchman who, unknown to Mr. Benson, had been detailed to stand outside during the night, and make sure that he did not fly, heard the tumult within, and knew that some strange and fearful violence was in progress. His club rang upon the sidewalk in a long series of sharply re
sounding strokes, and, as a police station was but a few rods distant, it was not five minutes before the entire block was surrounded by a cordon of strong and eager men.
The front of the house was bolted and barred, and nothing but extreme violence could effect an entrance there. No response came to the loudest knocking and the most persistent ringing. Then, three or four of the policemen found an opening into the block, and sought the rear of the dwelling. A window was up, and they saw that it had been forced.
One after another, they lifted themselves in, and lighting the gas in the basement, proceeded with their lanterns upstairs. There, stretched upon the floor of the hall, the great dog over him, lay a bleeding form which they recognized at once. They understood the nature of his errand, and did honor to his captor, who looked from his prize up into their faces, and wagged his tail. They patted his head, and told him that he had done well.
The dog seemed to know that these men had authority, and yielded his place to them. Creeping back, he suddenly darted upstairs. He did not stop at the library, but went on, snuffing as he went, and while the policemen were stooping over the prostrate man, trying to determine whether life were still in him, they heard a howl far up among the chambers, so wild, so full of sorrow and the distress of despair, that their strong hearts almost stopped beating.
Having determined that Captain Hank was not dead, a single officer was left to watch him, while the remainder, with solemn faces, mounted the stairs, led by the brute voice that bewailed the lost master, to the room where he lay. It was a plain case. Mr. Benson, with whose dignified figure they had been familiar for many years, was dead, by a murderer's hand. The twisted handkerchief by which the awful deed had been wrought was in its place, and the print of a cruel hand beneath it. The doer of the murder had forced his way into the house. He had been caught in the house; and when they went back to him, too sober and awe-stricken to upbraid or curse him, they found upon his person the evidences that he had been in the room of the murdered man.
Captain Hank had opened his eyes. He looked wildly about him, and saw that he was a captive.
"Take care of the dog," he growled, huskily, "or I'll shoot him."
“Ay, old fellow, and we'll take care of you, too," was the response. They tried to lift him.
"Hold on, boys! Let me think," he said. "You'll have time enough to think between this and the rope," was the answer. "Get up, if you can, or we'll help you."
"Hold on a minute," repeated Captain Hank. "There's something I want to say. I can't quite get hold on't. What was it about the rope? Oh, look here! Benson's dead." "Yes, we know that, and we know who killed him, too."
"See here! He was dead when I found him. Now I remember all about it."
"That wont go down, Captain Hank. You've left your mark on him."
"Boys," said Captain Hank, with a harsh oath, "this is rough on a hard-workin' and slow-savin' man, as comes here by app'intment, to collect his honest debts. Old Benson owed me a pile, an' he telled me he'd pay to-night, an' he wasn't up to his bargain. He couldn't be. He was he was-dead! I found him dead."
A chorus of derisive laughter was all the response that Captain Hank received for his attempt at explanation and justification, and, with a groan, he realized at last the adverse verdict of appearances, and saw before him a murderer's death.
"Boys, I'm in for it," he said, as he struggled to his feet, and supported himself against the newel of the staircase.
Meantime the dog had descended, and stood guarding the door. They patted his head, and told him his work was done; and as they opened the door into the street, he rushed out, and that was the last that was seen of him. His new master was gone, and he went out on his fruitless quest for the old, to become the degraded occupant of some squatter's shanty in the outer streets, or a vagabond with his houseless fellows.
A force was left in charge of the house, and Captain Hank was conveyed to prison, stoutly asserting all the way that he had committed no crime, but was only trying to reclaim his own, "by app'intment."
As Captain Hank is not a pleasant personage, he can be dismissed here with the statement that the preliminary courts made short work with him, and that, on his trial, he had no defense worth making. But up to the moment when his brutal life was violently ended by the strong arm of public justice, he persisted in the statement that he was not guilty of the crime charged upon
The next day after the arrest of Captain Hank, New York had another great excitement, and the crowd before Mr. Benson's door was larger than it was on the previous day. Those who had known Mr. Benson in the days of his power and popularity could not resist the inclination to pass his door and look up at the walls that hid his mortal remains. The hideous, filthy men and women who swarm in the bar-rooms and brothels crept out of their hidingplaces, attracted by the scent of crime, and gazed at the notorious mansion. The victims of Mr. Benson's breach of trust came to bid farewell to all hope of regaining their lost treasures, and returned to drop, one after another, into hopeless pauperism. For a whole solemn and sickening week the street was forsaken by passing vehicles, to avoid the lazy, curious crowd.
And then came, too, the sad unfolding of Mr. Benson's deceits, tergiversations, wholesale breaches of trust, slaughters of the fortunes of widows and orphans, and of crime for which none dared to make excuse The public journals were full of the matter for many days. The church was scandalized, and careless and scoffing paragraph-writers flung his unseemly record and his awful hypocrisies in its face. The men who had regarded him as an honorable citizen and a worthy companion, looked at each other with distrust-almost in despair. If such a man as he could fall,-if such a reputation as his was valueless,-if a man who had been almost boastfully devoted to duty could be basely selfish and even trade upon his own virtue, who and what were there left to be trusted? His death and disgrace shook the very foundations of public and private faith, and helped to make virtue and piety seem like old frippery, to be kicked about the streets by heedless or spiteful feet. Public and private integrity was made a by-word by ten thousand ribald tongues, and the robes of Christianity were smutched by foul hands, as she walked along the streets or took refuge in her gaudy sanctuaries, shame-faced and silent. It was a great public calamity, by the side of which the loss of a few dollars by the suffering poor was as nothing.
Mrs. Benson and her family were so crushed by the death and disgrace of the husband and father that they could not attend his funeral. So the coroner held his inquest, and when he came to his conclusion, which involved the death of still another man, a few formal rites were observed, attended by old friends for humanity's sake, and then