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'My dear madam,' said I, on an occurrence of this kind, if I could not afford these luxuries of life I would not purchase them. If the destruction of these fragile things cost me a moment's uneasiness, believe me I would at once dispense with them, and remove the cause.'
Ah! Mr. Thorley, that is so like you!' said Mrs. Williams, smiling, but evidently not convinced. You are so easy. But ser vants are really a plague, and for my part I heartily wish one could do without them.'
'As I am convinced that we cannot do so, my dear madam, without likewise losing many of our comforts,' I replied, 'I am quite satisfied to endure the evil for the sake of the good. And
My argument was here suddenly cut short by the entrance of the maid.
'Well, Mary?' said Mrs. Williams, in a short tetchy tone of rebuke.
Oh, mum' cried she, if you please, the girl at No. 7. is bin doin' o' something, and there's sich a to-do !'
Dear me exclaimed Mrs. Williams, such a nice, genteel-looking girl, too! Well, to be sure, there's no knowing anybody!' and here, her curiosity getting the better of her sympathy, she added, 'Have you heard what's the matter, Mary?'
'No, mum,' replied Mary; but I jist axed the butter.boy as he was passing (Simkins's boy, mum), and he said as how he b'lieved as she'd p'isoned her missus."
'Poor Miss Singleton!' sighed my worthy landlady. 'P'isoned her! so much as she made of that girl. It's really shocking.'
I al'ays said as she was a stuck-up thing, mum,' said Mary, tossing her head disdainfully; and thof she did look so nimmy, as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, I never thought she was no good.'
Now I confess I felt a particular interest in the girl at No. 7. having closely observed her for the last five years. When she first entered the service of our neighbour, she was a slight, delicate girl of fourteen, just emancipated from the poor-house. I watched her progress, and had the pleasure of seeing her in the course of time exalted to the situation of companion of her mistress, and she was truly the genteelest, neatest little body in the whole parish.
Miss Singleton, her mistress, was a maiden lady, who lived in a handsomely-furnished house, and apparently in the enjoyment of a good income; for everything in the establishment was conducted in a liberal manner. Although between forty and fifty years of age, there were still the remains of a personal beauty which in her youth must have been very attractive. There was a peculiar grace, too, in her manner and deportment, that bespoke the gentlewoman.
Seeing a mob about her door, however, and believing her to be a lone woman, I thought I might be allowed to offer my humble services without presumption, especially when our breathless and excited handmaid (despatched by Mrs. Williams) returned with the encourag ing further particulars' that Miss Singleton was not p'isoned, but on'y robbed! So, having quickly put myself in trim, I sallied forth. I was immediately admitted, and found Miss Singleton alone, and overwhelmed with grief. I made my compliments and apologies, but she
thanked me with a sincerity that at once composed the nervous flutterings of my mauvaise honte.
I learned from her the whole stock of her plate, worth about seventy or eighty pounds, was missing. Susan, the girl, had been already given in charge to a constable, and her box, after being searched, also taken away in the custody of the official, although there was nothing discovered that in any way tended to implicate her.
I evinced some surprise at the promptness of all these proceedings, when Miss Singleton informed me that she was so dismayed at the first discovery of the theft, and the hesitation of the girl, that she had given the alarm to her neighbour, Mr. Riggors, a churchwarden of the parish, who had taken upon himself to manage the whole proceedings, and almost before she had recovered from the first effects of her terror the girl was gone. In the excitement of the moment I proffered my services to attend her to the police-office on the following morning, which she said she most gratefully accepted.
I must candidly confess, however, that to one of my retiring disposition there was scarcely anything in the world more distasteful than an appearance in a justice-room. I barely slept a wink all night for thinking of it; but the die was cast; it was the natural and unavoidable sequence of my polite attention, and I wound myself up to see the adventure in which I had embarked brought to a conclusion.
Taking time by the forelock, I was early abroad; and having put everything in train at the office, to the utter surprise of the whole establishment informed them that I was going out, and should probably be detained till a late hour of the afternoon.
Returning immediately, I conveyed my distressed neighbour to the justice room, and forgot my own feelings in endeavouring to calm and repress hers. The room was nearly empty when we arrived, but the bustle soon began. The clerks at the table commenced spreading out their papers, and scribbling away in important silence; the consequential officers talked a great deal, and spoke sharply, and with great authority, in answer to the whispered questions of the paupers and rabble, who formed the staple commodity of the charges.'
Presently there was a startling cry of silence!'-' make room!' -stand back!' and a consequent shuffling of feet, and a compression of the human mass, when the magistrate appeared, and took his seat. There was certainly nothing in his bland, handsome countenance to inspire terror in the hearts of the trembling delinquents who were ushered before him. His eyes were full of pleasantry and good humour; nor did his speech (more especially in private) fall short of their agreeable promise, for Sir Andrew Moreton was very intimate with our firm, and I had the honour of being frequently present when he visited them. He instantly recognized me, and politely answered my salute.
After several cases of little interest had been disposed of (and to which I was an inattentive auditor, devoting myself entirely to Miss Singleton,) the unfortunate Susan was placed at the bar.
In an instant not only the eyes of the worthy magistrate, but those of all the court were directed in sympathy towards her. Pale as marble, and apparently as cold, her feelings seemed too overwhelming to admit of any expression, and she stood like one in a trance, insensible to all around.
Miss Singleton, at the officer's bidding, drew her trembling hand
from her glove, and was sworn. The suavity and gentleness of the magistrate, however, presently gave her courage to proceed.
She expressed her unfeigned sorrow at being compelled by circumstances to appear as the accuser of the prisoner, who had always conducted herself towards her with the strictest propriety; and that until the present occasion she had not the slightest cause of complaint, ever reposing the most unbounded confidence in her honesty.
She then circumstantially detailed the discovery of her loss, the consequent confusion of the girl, and her inability or disinclination to give the least clue or explanation by which the property might be traced.
Has her box been searched?' demanded the magistrate.
It has, your worship,' replied the constable; but there ain't no duplicates, nor nothing; but I dessay as she has had cunning enough to destroy them 'ere.'
'That's enough, sir,' interrupted Sir Andrew. 'We do not require your comments or opinion on the case. Prisoner, what have you to say in answer to this serious charge?'
'I am innocent,' murmured Susan in a voice that was scarcely audible.
That is the only answer I have been able to obtain from her,' said Miss Singleton, and willingly would I sacrifice the property could she prove the truth of it.'
Pray, Miss Singleton,' asked the magistrate, has the girl any followers, as it is termed ?'
'None, sir,' replied Miss Singleton, except her father, and he is never permitted to see her but in my presence.'
'What is her father?'
I believe him to be an honest man; he has lately returned from abroad,' said Miss Singleton, and I think he is a seafaring man.'
'You say you believe and you think; excuse me, madam, for repeating your words, but from whom have you learned all these particulars?'
'From his own lips,' replied Miss Singleton.
'Have you known him long?'
Only three weeks.'
Indeed,' said the magistrate, and he pondered for awhile. From whom, pray, did you receive her character?'
'I took her from the workhouse, sir; whence I selected her for her superior intelligence,' replied Miss Singleton. The fact is, sir, I was informed that she was an illegitimate child,' and she blushed as she uttered the words, and it was not till the appearance of this man, who came to claim her as his daughter, (and indeed he offered me such proofs that I could not doubt his relationship,) that there was a soul in the world, besides myself, who took any interest in her.' · Do you know his address for I think it will be no more than our duty to inform him of the situation in which his daughter is unfortunately placed.'
Miss Singleton gave the father's address, which the magistrate handed to an officer, and bade him seek him immediately.
'It will also be necessary to advertise a description of the lost property, and offer a reward,' continued he. At present there is no sufficient evidence to justify a committal; I will therefore remand th
prisoner until Friday next, and in the meantime I will instruct the officers to use their best endeavours to trace the property.'
Miss Singleton, with tears in her eyes, begged that Susan might be placed apart from the prisoners, at least until there appeared stronger proofs than at present of her culpability.
'Your feelings do honour to your heart, madam,' said Sir Andrew, courteously, and depend on it your wishes shall be attended to.'
Here the case having concluded, Susan was removed from the bar, and I departed with my charge, weary and dissatisfied with the result.
Two days-two interminable days of suspense at length elapsed, and I again attended at the office with my kind and benevolent neighbour.
The newspapers had, as usual, reported the case, and lauded the interesting female in such set terms as excited the minds of their readers, and we consequently found the court crowded by the curious. It was with some difficulty that I succeeded in obtaining a seat for Miss Singleton.
On the bench sat the worthy magistrate, and on his right hand a tall, handsome military man in undress, with hair as white as silver, and such a complexion that an eastern sun alone can bestow.
The prisoner being brought to the bar, the clerk read over the evidence, and she was again asked if she had anything to say, but she only replied, as before, that she was innocent, and knew nothing of the stolen property.
Her little box was produced, and the constable being questioned as to the contents, said,
'Here's on'y this 'ere pocket-book, which seems, to my thinking, to belong to the missus.'
The book was handed to the magistrate. In a moment the dark eyes of the gentleman on the bench were fixed upon it. They examined it, and whispered earnestly together.
That book is Susan's,' said Miss Singleton, eagerly, apparently alarmed lest they should have discovered something from its inspection that might tend to criminate the girl; for she now heartily wished that she might be acquitted, so reluctant was she to punish one whom she had every reason to believe had deeply wronged her. 'Answer me, prisoner,-where did you get this book?' demanded Sir Andrew.
'It was my mother's, sir,' replied Susan.
And this was your mother's name as well as yours,-Susan Wilman?'
'Yes, sir,' answered the prisoner.
There was another pause of several minutes, during which the gentleman on the bench conversed with the magistrate, and it appeared from the direction of his eyes that he was interesting himself in her behalf, and suggesting some queries, when their conversation was abruptly interrupted by a squabbling noise in the court.
Officer, keep silence!' said the magistrate, sternly.
I turned to the quarter whence the noise proceeded, and saw a little bald-headed choleric officer poking his staff authoritatively into the ribs of a most curious individual, who seemed by no means inclined to be repulsed.
He was a stout, ragged-headed fellow, about sixteen or eighteen, pitted deeply with the small-pox, with a pair of large grey rolling eyes that projected most disagreeably, and a mouth literally extend
ing from ear to ear. His right hand was applied to one of them in the form of a trumpet, and he still talked, and in rather a loud key.
What is that noise?' demanded the magistrate, really angry at the interruption.
'Please your worship,' said the officer, 'this man will come in, and I can't make out what he wants.'
Oh! indeed,' replied the magistrate. 'Well, let him pass, and we 'll endeavour to ascertain his business, which seems of so much importance, that we are compelled to set aside our own.'
The young man walked awkwardly but quietly forward, holding a ragged leathern cap in his hand.
Well, what's your business?' demanded Sir Andrew.
The youth, seeing him speak, placed his hand to his ear, and the question being repeated, calmly replied,
Oh!-please your worship, I come to speak about this 'ere young ooman as is had up afore you.'
Indeed!' said he, resuming his equanimity, and turning to the officer. Put him into the box and swear him.'
Having gone through this, apparently to him, unusual and inexplicable ceremony, he was about to speak, when he was stopped short, and his name demanded.
Pill Wattles, your worship.'
William Wattles, I suppose you mean?'
'It's all as one,' replied Wattles; 'thof I never knowed nobody to call me Villiam as long as I can remember; it's al'ays Bill, or Billy at the most.'
'What are you?'
'I'm pot-boy at the George, vere I've bin a matter o' five year, come next Michaelmas.'
'Well, but state what you know about the prisoner at the bar.' 'Nothin' but vot 's good, your worship, and I'm sartain sure as she 's as innocent as the babe unborn.'
Sir Andrew smiled, and shrugged up his shoulders. What with his deafness and the style of his rhetoric, I am afraid we shall only lengthen the proceedings by our interrogations. We must patiently allow him, I suppose, to bestow all his tediousness upon us, and let him tell his story in his own way. By the earnestness of his manner, I think he has something to communicate, which, in the absence of all other evidence, nay throw some light upon the mystery in which the case is at present involved.'
Having obtained permission, the pot-boy proceeded to amuse the whole court with the following oratorical display :
'T' other evenin', your vorship, I vos in the tap a-doin' o' nothin', and Jim Slabbers, vot's a reglar customer at the George, vos a readin' the purlice, and lo and behold you! he lights upun the robbery done by this 'ere young ooman. "My eyes!" says I, "if it ain't that 'ere werry pooty gal as lives at No. 7." I felt wery uncomferrable, and I says, says I, "Jim, I'll bet a kevorten and three outs," says I, "it's all a flam! Vith that they all bustes out a-larfing, and begins a-poking their fun at un like mad. Vell, I thought and I thought about it the whole o' that blessed night. Nex' mornin' I says to the missis, "Please, marm," says I," the gal as is had up 'bout the robbery is going to go afore the justice on Friday, and I'm thinkin' as how I've a bit o' hevi.