At this moment appeared two tall, powdered lackeys and a lady's-maid, who inquired whether the little girl had got ready the costume asked for by the Queen and the Princess de Lamballe.
When these visitors had gone, and the commotion they caused had subsided, I was left alone with the cure, Pierrette and her mother having withdrawn in great excitement to "try on" the contents of the box which the Queen had sent in exchange for the little girl's frock and cap.
My guardian then requested me to relate to him the occurrences of the morning, which I did, somewhat more briefly than I have told them here.
"And it is for this you would leave us, my son?" said my old friend, when I had ended my recital, holding my hands in his. For a long time he pleaded earnestly with me, setting forth the numerous hardships, perils, and temptations of a soldier's life, which, said he, would unfit me for becoming the husband of such a good, pure little being as Pierrette.
To all which I replied, doggedly:—
"I wish to be a soldier."
I had my way.
I enlisted into the noble corps of the Royal Auvergne. My training began, and I was promised that, if I behaved well, I should be admitted by-and-by into the first company of Grenadiers. I soon had a powdered queue falling in an imposing fashion over my white vest, but I no longer had Pierrette, or her mother, or the cure of Montreuil, and I made no more music.
One fine day, when I, confined to the barracks, was undergoing some absurd little punishment for having made three errors in the management of my arms, I received a visit from Michel.
"Ah, Mathurin!" he said to me, "you are well punished for having left Montreuil. You enjoy no longer the counsel and instruction of the good cure, and you are fast forgetting the music which you used to love so well."
"No matter," said I; "I have my wish."
"You no longer tend the fruit trees and gather the peaches of Montreuil with your Pierrette, who is as fresh and sweet as they."
"No matter," said I; "I have my wish."
"You will have to work hard for a very long time before you can become even a corporal."
"No matter," said I, again; "when I am a sergeant, I will marry Pierrette."
"Ah, Mathurin!" continued my friend; "believe me, you are unwise. You have too much ambition and pride. Would you not like someone to buy you out, so that you might return to marry Pierrette?"
"Michel! Michel!" I cried; "have you not often told me yourself, 'Each one must make his own lot'? I do not choose to marry Pierrette with the money of others, and I am making my own lot, as you see. Besides, it was the Queen who put this idea into my head, and the Queen must know best. She said: 'He will be a soldier, and I will marry you to him.' She did not say, 'He will return after having been a soldier.'"
"But suppose," said Michel, "the Queen were to provide you with the means of marrying, would you not accept her bounty?"
"No, Michel! Even if such an unlikely thing were to happen, I would not take her money."
"And if Pierrette herself earned her dot?"
"Then, Michel, I would marry her at once."
"Well!" returned he, "I will tell that to the Queen."
"Are you crazy?" I said to him, "or are you now a servant in her house?"
"Neither the one nor the other, Mathurin, although I no longer cut stone."
"What do you cut, then?" asked I.
"I cut pieces, out of paper and ink."
"Is it possible?"
"Yes, my boy; I write simple little plays, easy to be understood. Some day, perhaps, you shall see one."
Meanwhile, my faithful Pierrette did not forget me. And one day a wonderful thing happened to her. She told me all about it afterwards.
It was Easter Monday. Pierrette was sitting before the cure's door, working and singing, when she saw a gorgeous carriage, drawn by six horses, coming through the avenue. It rolled right up to the cure's house, and then stopped. Pierrette now saw that the carriage was empty. As she was gazing with all her eyes, the equerry, taking off his hat with great politeness, begged her to enter the vehicle.
Pierrette had too much good sense to make any needless fuss. She simply slipped off her sabots, put on her shoes with the silver buckles, folded her work, and, assisted by the footman's arm, stepped into the carriage as if to the manner born.
Soon she found herself at Trianon, where she was conducted through gilded apartments into the Queen's presence. With the Queen was Madame de Lamballe, seated in an embrasure of a window, before an easel.
"Ah!" exclaimed the Queen, gaily, "here she is!" And she ran up to Pierrette, and took both her hands in her own. "How pretty she is!" she went on; "what a dear little model she will be for you! Sit there, my child."
With these words, Marie Antoinette gently pushed the bewildered Pierrette into a very high chair, where she sat with her pretty feet dangling.
"Now listen to me, little one," continued the Queen. "Two gentlemen will shortly be coming here. Whether you do or do not recognise one of them is no matter, but whatever they tell you, that you must do. You will have to sing; I know that you can sing. Whenever they tell you to enter or to depart, to go or to come, you will obey them exactly. Do you understand me? All this will be for your good. This lady and I will help the gentlemen to teach you, and all that we ask in return for our pains is that, for one hour every day, you will sit for madame. You will not consider that any great hardship?"
Pierrette was so much more than satisfied with the bargain that she could have embraced the Queen in the exuberance of her gratitude.
As she was posing for Madame de Lamballe two men entered the room. One was stout, the other tall. At sight of the tall one she exclaimed: "Why! it is——" then stopped herself.
"Well, gentlemen," said Marie Antoinette, "what do you think of her? Was I not right?"
"It is Rose herself!" replied Sedaine.
"A single note, madame," said the other, M. Grevey, "and I shall know if she be as perfectly Monsigny's Rose as she is Sedaine's."
Then, turning to Pierrette, he said to her:—
"Sing the scale after me thus: Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol."
The girl repeated his notes.
"She has a divine voice, madame!" was his verdict.
The Queen clapped her hands and jumped for joy, as she exclaimed:—
"She will gain her dot!"
Of all these gay proceedings I, of course, was ignorant. Ever since Michel's visit I had felt very wretched. I had no further tidings of my friends at Montreuil, and began to think that Pierrette must have quite forgotten me. The regiment remained at Orleans three months, and I had a bad fit of home-sickness which affected my physical health.
One day, in the street, an officer of our company called me to him, and pointing to a huge play-bill, said:—
"Read that, Mathurin."
This is what I read:—
"On Monday next will be given a special performance of 'Irene,' the new work of M. de Voltaire, to be followed by 'Rose and Colas,' an operetta by M. Sedaine and M. de Monsigny, for the benefit of Mademoiselle Colombe, of the Comedie Italienne, who will appear in the second piece. Her Majesty the Queen has graciously promised to be present."
"What has that to do with me, my Captain?" inquired I.
"You are a good-looking fellow," said the officer. "I will get you powdered and frizzed out a bit, and station you at the door of the Royal box."
Thus it came to pass that the night of the performance found me in the theatre, resplendent in full uniform, standing upon a blue carpet, and surrounded on all sides by flowers and festoons.
While awaiting the Queen's arrival, I overheard a conversation between M. de Grevey and the manager of the theatre. The latter seemed anxious concerning the qualifications of Mademoiselle Colombe, who, apparently, was quite unknown to him, while the other reassured him upon that point, and conveyed to him Her Majesty's guarantee that a sum equal to the half of the night's receipts should be paid to him for the use of his theatre. Evidently, the whole affair had been got up by the Queen.
Their dialogue was interrupted by a sudden bustle and commotion, and the Queen entered so quickly that I had barely time to present arms. With her was the other young lady whom I had seen at Montreuil.
The performance commenced at once. All the time that 'Irene' was going on, the Queen laughed and chattered, but as soon as the operetta began, she was all attention, her example, of course, being followed by everyone in her box.
Suddenly I heard a woman's voice which thrilled me to the heart, and set me trembling so that I could scarcely hold my gun. Surely there was but one voice like that in all the world!
Through the gauze curtain drawn across the tiny window of the box, I got a glimpse of the performers. It was a little lady who was singing:—
Once a birdie, Grey as a mouse, Built for his children A tiny house.
Why! this charming Rose was just like Pierrette! She had her figure, her red and blue frock, her white petticoat, her pretty simple manner, her small shoes with the silver buckles, her red and blue stockings!
"Dear me!" said I to myself, "these actresses must be clever indeed to be able to make themselves look so much like other folks! Here is this famous Mademoiselle Colombe, who, no doubt, lives in a fine house, has several men-servants, and goes about in Paris dressed like a duchess, and she is exactly like Pierrette! But my poor little girl could not sing so well, although her voice may be quite as pretty."
I was so fascinated that I could not turn my head away from the glass, and presently the door of the box struck me in the face. Someone had opened it, because Her Majesty complained of the heat. I heard her say:—
"I am perfectly satisfied. My first gentleman-in-waiting may tell Mademoiselle Colombe that she will not repent having left to me the management of this affair. Ah! it amuses me so much!"
"There is no doubt, madame," said the Princess de Lamballe, "that your good deed is a complete success. Everyone is here. See, all the good townsfolk of Orleans are enchanted with this splendid singer, and the whole court is ready to applaud her."
She gave the signal for applause, and the audience, who, according to custom, had hitherto remained silent out of respect for the Queen, gave full vent to their enthusiasm. From that moment, scarcely a word of Rose's was allowed to pass without tremendous clapping. The Queen was delighted.
At the end of the piece the ladies threw their bouquets to Rose.
"Where is the real lover?" inquired the Queen of the Duc de Lauzun, who thereupon left the box, and beckoned to my captain in the corridor.
Again the nervous trembling seized me, for I felt that something—I could not guess what—was about to happen to me.
My captain bowed respectfully, and conversed in a low tone with M. de Lauzun. Marie Antoinette was looking at me! I leaned against the wall to keep myself from falling. There were footsteps upon the staircase, and I saw Michel Sedaine, followed by Grevey and the podgy and pompous manager; and they were bringing Pierrette, the real Pierrette, my Pierrette, to me—my sister, my wife, my Pierrette of Montreuil!
The manager was exclaiming joyfully:—
"Here is a good night's work! Eighteen thousand francs!"
The Queen now came forward, and, taking Pierrette's hand, said in her gay, kindly manner:—
"You see, my child, there was no other way in which you could honourably earn your dot in a single hour. To-morrow I shall take you back to the cure of Montreuil, who will, I trust, absolve us both. He will forgive you for playing in a comedy once in your life."
Here the Queen, with a gracious bow, turned to me. To poor, bewildered, stupid me!
"I hope," said she, "that M. Mathurin will deign to accept Pierrette's fortune. I have added nothing to it; she has earned it all herself!"
The Queer Side of Things.
The Judge's Penance
"Your crime," said Lord Justice Pimblekin, "is the most heartless, atrocious, inhuman, and horrible that it has ever been my misfortune to hear of: your long and cold-blooded premeditation; the cynical indifference to the result of your atrocities, combined with the delight with which you have wallowed in human gore; your contempt for all the dictates of honesty, truth, pity, and good faith; your greed, ingratitude, treachery, savageness, meanness, and cannibalism; all these things stamp you as the most atrocious, unmitigated and loathsome scoundrel, savage, monster, and vampire that ever wallowed in the foul and fathomless quagmire of infinite and immeasurable dastardliness.
"Under these circumstances I ought to inflict upon you the severest penalty which the law allows. I say it is my unmistakable duty to sentence you to penal servitude for life, with the cat once a week.
"Mercy would be thrown away upon you.
"Under these circumstances I will disregard my palpable duty, and render the whole proceedings a farce, by sentencing you to a fine of forty shillings, or a month."
The fine being immediately paid, the prisoner left the court amid the congratulations of his friends.
New laurels were added to the already superfoliated wreath of Lord Justice Pimblekin by this fresh masterpiece of judicial wisdom.
He was already the most renowned of all the judges on the Bench, and the admiration and envy of the whole judicial and forensic body.
His verdicts had a character of their own; the severity of his denunciation of inextenuable crime was only equalled by the inadequacy of the punishment dealt out; as he explained on each occasion, he never did his duty.
He designed a mixture of justice, equity, and mercy; only he left out the first two ingredients. After the mental strain of that historical verdict recounted above, his lordship took a holiday. He had an offer of a seat in a balloon which was about to ascend, and accepted. The machine ascended successfully from his lordship's grounds, sailed majestically out to sea, and disappeared in the distance.
With the utmost anxiety the whole community waited for further news of the balloon; but none arrived. Either the eminent judge had been picked up by a passing ship bound for some remote parts, or he had perished.
A year passed without news; and it was then decided to erect a cenotaph to his lordship in Westminster Abbey.
* * * * *
One evening some time after this decision, Jemmy Wedge and Bill Slinker, the eminent burglars, sat in their humble room near the Mint, arranging the final details of a burglary dated for the following evening. Jemmy's eye, glancing casually round the room, perceived a dim figure standing in a dark corner. With a strong expression of disapproval, Jemmy jumped to his feet and sprang towards the intruding eavesdropper; but stopped suddenly with an ejaculation of surprise as he recognised the well-known and revered features of Lord Justice Pimblekin!
A flood of contending emotions welled up in the mind of Jemmy Wedge—rage at the overhearing of his plans by an intruder, and that intruder an administrator of the law; fear of the consequences; inveterate and deep-rooted affection for the judge who had so often saved him from the well-merited penalties of crime; surprise, wonder.
His arm, raised to fell the eavesdropper, sank impotently to his side: he gasped and stared.
"You need have no anxiety," said Lord Justice Pimblekin in a strange, hollow, far-off voice, "your secret is safe with me. I will not blow the gaff."
These words, spoken with the quiet judicial accent which Jemmy knew so well, yet in the far-off tone mentioned above, made Jemmy's eyes rounder than ever with wonderment.
No word of slang had ever before passed the lips of the judge: for slang might indeed be unintelligible to a judge who knew not what a race-course was, and would ask in court, "What is the 'Stock Exchange'—is it a cattle market?"
Lord Justice Pimblekin's head was drooped hopelessly upon his bosom; and he now covered his face with his trembling hands, while a bright tear crept out between his fingers, as he murmured in a quivering voice, "I am one of you now! I'm a pal—that's what I am; straight, and no kid, my pippin!" The painful effort with which these words were uttered was apparent in his whole frame. He had not finished speaking; he was obviously struggling with another word, which threatened to choke him. With an expression of horror and despair, he clutched his bald head; and then the word came—the single word "Blimey!" It was uttered in the same soft, mincing, judicial accents.
Then his lordship moved across the room and, sitting upon the table near the fire, drew out a short dirty clay pipe, lit it at the candle, and sat puffing at it; an occasional tear still creeping down his furrowed cheek.
"You may proceed with your deliberations with a perfect sense of security," he said anon. "Djeer, old pal? I ain't goin' to give yer away."
Every phrase of this kind evidently inflicted upon the unfortunate judge the most acute pain.
"To convince you how little you have to apprehend from me," he continued, "I may inform you that I shall never again occupy my former judicial position; in fact, I am incapacitated from doing so by the fact that I am a GHOST!"
Now, Jemmy Wedge and Bill Slinker were superstitious and nervous to a degree, as most burglars are; and at that announcement their hair rose, and they stood gazing at the speaker with glaring eyes and chattering teeth.
"I am sorry to cause you such alarm," said the spectre, "and assure you I should only be too happy to go; but I cannot—it is not permitted me to do so.
"The balloon in which I ascended was found to have some defect in the valve, which made it impossible to descend; it, consequently, after rising to a great altitude, burst, hurling myself and the three other occupants of the car into the sea. I was unfortunately drowned—a most terrible loss to society! The three others were drowned also; but, as they were neither judges nor counsel, but merely ordinary persons, liable to be called as jurors or witnesses, their loss need not further concern us. If they had survived, they would have been subsequently killed at some time or other by their treatment in court.
"Well, I found myself floating among the disembodied spirits in space; and I became conscious that certain of those in my vicinity were eyeing me askance and whispering together in a menacing and most disturbing manner——" At this point the spectre broke down for a moment, and sobbed audibly, his emotion culminating in the words, "Strike me pink!" He then proceeded: "You must excuse this emotion—the whole thing has been too much for me—djeer?——in a most menacing and disturbing manner. Now and again these threatening spirits would beckon to their circle certain of those that passed; and these joined them in their minative demonstrations until, knock me funny! if the whole rabble did not surround me, covering me with vituperation. I gleaned from the evidence before me that they were innocent persons who had suffered in consequence of the inadequate punishments I had dealt out to various criminals during my judicial career. There was a woman who had been murdered by her husband after his release from the seven days I had given him for breaking both her arms and legs; there were seven babies who had been made away with by another malefactor, in his joy at escaping with one month for kicking a policeman to death. There were several hundreds of persons who had succumbed to the practices of a purveyor of diseased meat to the London markets who was an especial protege of mine and whom I always—after the most scathing comments on his villainy—let off with a fine; and so forth.
"These indignant spectres dragged me before three spirits who acted as judges in those parts, and who, as I understood, had formerly been Mahatmas when living; and these, after hearing the evidence before the court, pronounced upon me a most—s'elp me beans!—most terrible sentence. I was condemned to return to earth as a ghost, and there remain until the evil consequences of my lapses of duty had fully worked themselves out. This, they calculated, would amount to a sentence of about seven thousand years. There was no option of a fine, while my request for leave to appeal for a mandamus was dismissed with costs. My sentence also provided that I should be compelled to assist in all the crimes resulting from my own leniency, and should be powerless to prevent them by warning the sufferers or the authorities. And," concluded the unhappy spectre, sobbing aloud, "here I am, s'elp me!"
The two burglars were really touched, for they had loved Lord Justice Pimblekin as a true and valuable friend. They knew him to have been an old gentleman whose abhorrence of the vulgarity of crime had been equalled by his sensitive horror of illiterate, vulgar, or slangy speech; and they thus, to a certain extent, understood the painful nature of his present position, for the involuntary use of the idiom and ways of the society in which he was now condemned to mix was a part of his sentence.
Far into the night the judge sat smoking his short spectral pipe and drinking from an unsubstantial pewter pot, while he listened, shuddering, to the plans of the two burglars for the carrying out of their crime. With growing horror he gradually gleaned that the crib to be cracked was the house of his twin brother the Bishop of Hampstead, a lonely mansion near the village of Highgate.
He watched the two malefactors as they cleaned and loaded their revolvers and made other preparations for the expedition. If that judge had done his duty, these two would still have been working out their time for the last crime but seven which they had committed; whereas Lord Pimblekin had let them off for that job with three months, and visited their subsequent deeds with penalties which decreased at a constant ratio, until for the latest—burglarious entry, removal of property valued at L500, wilful destruction of other property valued at L5,000, and maiming of two policemen and one footman—he had given them seven days.
Now, it happened that there had been for the last year or so before the disappearance of Justice Pimblekin a disagreement of a somewhat painful nature between himself and his twin brother the Bishop of Hampstead.
Both were old gentlemen of the utmost purity and philanthropy of principle, to whom the injuring of anyone—especially a brother—would have been an idea of the utmost horror.
Besides this, their mutual affection was really very strong; but they had quarrelled about a matter of principle—a mere trifle: whether a piece of toast should be buttered on the right or left side; and their feelings had become temporarily embittered.
This painful circumstance naturally increased the horror of the unhappy spectre at the present plans of the burglars, and he made the wildest efforts to go to his brother and warn him; but he was glued to the table.
Just as the clocks were striking 2 a.m., however, he felt that he could move; and swiftly gliding away from the attic, he hurried down into the street and strained every nerve to direct his course towards Highgate.
But every effort was vain; he was drawn, against his will, to a house where an habitual criminal whom his lordship had let loose upon society was engaged in preparing poisoned food for a family.
Having assisted in the mixing of the poison, he passed on and found himself in a room with a swindling company-director whom he had let off with six months instead of fifty years; and here he assisted in the drawing up of a new prospectus specially designed for the benefit of the widow and the fatherless who might happen to have a mite or two to be relieved of.
By this time it was morning; and the judge's ghost found himself in a shed where that diseased-meat purveyor whom he had alluded to was busy packing for the market; and the ghost helped with advice.
All that day he wandered from one criminal to another, from one victim to another; until the following night he once more joined the two burglars Jemmy and Bill at the carriage-gate of the residence of the Bishop of Hampstead. Convulsed with inexpressible grief, the spectre advised the stretching of wires across the lawn to trip up pursuers; then struggling madly against the words which he was forced to utter, he offered, as a ghost, to glide in through the walls and discover the most vulnerable fastenings; an offer which the two burglars eagerly and gratefully accepted. After this the judge's ghost pointed out where the plate was kept, and assisted in chloroforming the butler and stealing the key; and then he led the way to the cabinet in which the Bishopess of Hampstead kept her jewels, and kept watch while it was forced and the valuables were extracted.
All three had safely reached the library on their way out, when a piercing scream rang through the house; it was the scream of the spectre's sister-in-law the bishopess who had just awoke and discovered the loss of the jewels; and in another moment the bishop in his nightcap and slippers stood before them.
He was a brave bishop, and was in the act of felling Jemmy Wedge with a poker, when he recognised his brother; and the weapon fell from his hand, giving Jemmy a chance of whipping out his revolver and firing. The bishop fell; and the judge's ghost and he were left alone. Beside himself with despair, the ghost bent over his brother and tried to weep; but he felt that he was grinning from ear to ear and chuckling derisively. The wounded bishop slowly opened his eyes and gazed at him in grief and horror.
"Peter!" he gasped.
"He, he!" said the ghost. "We're quits now. I said I would round on you, old pal! You've got it now." Then straining every agonized nerve to prevent it, the judge's ghost began to jig round the prostrate bishop and snap his fingers and hop lightly over him.
The other members of the family and the servants had collected and were gazing upon the scene: Mrs. Bishop glared at the ghost, uttered the word "Peter!" screamed a piercing scream, and swooned.
They carried the bishop and the bishopess upstairs and sent for a doctor, while the members of the family stood around the judge's ghost, gazing upon him with indignation and repugnance. In a hurried consultation they agreed that it would never do to hand him over to the police, as such a family scandal was not to be thought of.
"Do not loathe me," said the unfortunate spectre; "I am only a ghost!"
"A ghost!" cried the family in chorus; "a nice subterfuge! You expect us to believe that, of course? Go! Let us never see your face again!"
Slowly and with downcast eyes the ghost crept out through the bookcase and rejoined Jemmy and Bill to assist in disposing of the swag. They lavished upon him terms of endearment, and insisted on treating him at every public-house in the neighbourhood: and the sight of that respectably-dressed old gentleman with kid gloves and a short clay pipe surprised the pot-boys. The ghost could not consume the liquor, being too unsubstantial. At short intervals he would retire into a dark corner to beat his breast in remorse and anguish.
Presently Jemmy and Bill, who had been whispering earnestly together, turned respectfully to the spectre; they appeared very nervous, as though afraid to broach some delicate matter which was on their minds.
"Beg parding, boss—I mean my lordship"—began Jemmy, hesitatingly, and fidgeting from one foot to the other; "but we was a-going to ask yer if as how you'd 'ave enny objection——"
"Yus," chimed in Bill. "If ye'd take the 'uff if so be as we wos to——"
"Dry up, you, Bill," said Jemmy. "It's just this 'ere, guvnor. We wos a-thinkin' of crackin' another crib next week as yer might ha' heered ov in yer time—well, to bust out with it straight and candid, it's yer own crib as used to be w'en yer wos alive; but, yer see, bein' as how ye're dead now and it ain't o' no more good to yer—there's a nice little lot of old plate as you've got there as we sho'd be proud to 'andle. The on'y thing is——"
"Yus, that's w'ere it is," interrupted Bill. "The o'ny thing is as we might 'ave to knock yer missis—axin' pardon; 'er ladyship—on the 'ed, bein' a light sleeper, her maid ses, and a bit ov a spitfire, d'ye see?"
The judge's ghost attempted to give vent to a cry of indignant horror and forbid the attempt in the most unequivocal way. He struggled to rush forth and inform the police and the community; but he heard himself chuckle and felt himself slap the two burglars on the back, and knew that he was saying to them: "Heave ahead, my bloaters! I owe the old Dutch clock one for the naggings she's treated me to. I'm on this job, that's what I am!" And then he puffed away at his short clay, and kept on chuckling until he felt quite sick with misery.
"He's the right sort, so he is," said Bill, "and no two ways abaat it."
"Right yer are," said Jemmy. "'E's the sort o' pal for me, and no error."
Once more the judge's ghost wandered about from one malefactor to another, and from one victim to another, always assisting the malefactors and jeering the victims, and always welcome as a friend by the former, and cursed as an enemy by the latter. He had no rest night or day; he was constantly racked and harrowed by some new shock of grief or repugnance.
The thing got noised about, how the eminent and respected judge Lord Justice Pimblekin had not been killed in his balloon adventure, but had returned to the country and, disregarding all his old associations of morality, refinement, and respectability, was herding with criminals of the lowest type, and indulging in the most nefarious and vulgar practices.
At this time it was his fate to appear at a select meeting of the directors of that Widows' and Orphans' Fleecing Corporation Limited, the prospectus of which he had assisted in drawing up. His presence at first filled the directors with the gravest alarm; but when the promoter explained how greatly his lordship had changed, they unanimously appointed him chairman. It was passingly suggested that his lordship's growing evil reputation might prejudice the concern in the eyes of the public; but the promoter, who knew the public well, reassuringly explained that investors were so hopelessly idiotic that a board composed entirely of burglars would not prevent their investing so long as the prospectus contained sufficiently impossible promises of profit; so the ghost of Lord Pimblekin officiated as chairman and assisted in causing several suicides.
Then the night came for the cracking of his own crib, and he continued to give vent to a succession of boisterous chuckles every one of which nearly killed him; only a ghost is a difficult thing to kill. Arrived at his palatial suburban residence, he directed the burglars to the outhouse where the ladders were kept; and the three first ascended to her ladyship's dressing-room where the jewels were. The door between the dressing-room and her ladyship's bedroom being open, the ghost undertook to stand over her with a phantom bludgeon to prevent any noise in the event of her waking. She woke, stared at his lordship, looked at the burglars at work at her bureau, gazed once more at the ghost with a look which froze him, murmured "Peter," and sank back with closed eyes.
Half mad with misery, the ghost directed the burglars to the plate and other valuables, and then looked on chuckling while they tore the silk curtains, jumped on her ladyship's favourite violin, ripped the carpet with a clasp-knife, cut the throat of the pug, and twisted the necks of the canaries and linnets and doves.
Then they left quietly; and, as the ghost followed them out, he was conscious of an immaterial form similar to his own standing at his side. "Come with me," said the form; and they whirled through space until they arrived in the same court in which sentence had been passed upon him. The three Mahatmas were still sitting on the bench, and the chief Mahatma said:—
"Prisoner, your case is one of the worst which it has ever been our painful task to pass sentence upon. Your reckless disregard of what you recognised as your duty and of the consequences of your misdemeanours on the bench render mercy in your case entirely out of place. It is our duty to give you the benefit of the full seven thousand years to which you have been sentenced; we will, however, release you on your own recognisances and allow you to return to earthly existence and again fill your former judicial sphere, with a view to observing how you go on for the future. You will be bound over to come up for judgment if called upon."
Instantly our judge found himself in the flesh once more, and robing for his accustomed seat on the bench. His reappearance caused great surprise, as his evil reputation was now public property and the authorities had removed his cenotaph from Westminster Abbey and sold it to a rag-shop.
However, as it is impossible to remove a judge from the bench even if he murders the Queen, the Royal Family, and the Bench of Bishops, steals the watches of the whole Houses of Lords and Commons, and even defrauds the Inland Revenue, Lord Justice Pimblekin was allowed to remain on the bench; and, as he was a socially influential person, bygones were allowed to be bygones.
But he was a reformed judge. He did his duty, and gave irredeemable criminals what they deserved; fraudulent company directors got the cat, and diseased meat purveyors a lifer, until there was hardly any crime left. Lord Justice Pimblekin's twin brother and wife recovered, and forgave him, and his lordship has not been called up for judgment yet.
J. F. SULLIVAN
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