But his was the art of conduct, not of guile, and he deserved capture for his rare indifference. Why, then, with no natural impulsion, did he risk the gallows? Why, being no born thief, and innocent of the thief's cunning, did he associate with so clever a scoundrel as George Smith, with cowards craven as Brown and Ainslie? The greed of gold, doubtless, half persuaded him, but gold was otherwise attainable, and the motive was assuredly far more subtle. Brodie, in fact, was of a romantic turn. He was, so to say, a glorified schoolboy, surfeited with penny dreadfuls. He loved above all things to patter the flash, to dream himself another Macheath, to trick himself out with all the trappings of a crime he was unfit to commit. It was never the job itself that attracted him: he would always rather throw the dice than force a neighbour's window. But he must needs have a distraction from the respectability of his life. Everybody was at his feet; he was Deacon of his Guild, at an age whereat his fellows were striving to earn a reputable living; his masterpieces were fashioned, and the wrights' trade was already a burden. To go upon the cross seemed a dream of freedom, until he snapped his fingers at the world, filled his mouth with slang, prepared his alibi, and furnished him a whole wardrobe of disguises.
With a conscious irony, maybe, he buried his pistols beneath the domestic hearth, jammed his dark lantern into the press, where he kept his game-cocks, and determined to make an inextricable jumble of his career. Drink is sometimes a sufficient reaction against the orderliness of a successful life.
But drink and cards failed with the Deacon, and at the Vintner's of his frequentation he encountered accomplices proper for his schemes. Never was so outrageous a protest offered against domesticity. Yet Brodie's resolution was romantic after its fashion, and was far more respectable than the blackguardism of the French Revolution, which distracted housewifely discontent a year after the Deacon swung. Moreover, it gave occasion for his dandyism and his love of display. If in one incarnation he was the complete gentleman, in another he dressed the part of the perfect scoundrel, and the list of his costumes would have filled one of his own ledgers.
But, when once the possibility of housebreaking was taken from him, he returned to his familiar dignity. Being questioned by the Procurator Fiscal, he shrugged his shoulders, regretting that other affairs demanded his attention. As who should say: it is unpardonable to disturb the meditations of a gentleman. He made a will bequeathing his knowledge of law to the magistrates of Edinburgh, his dexterity in cards and dice to Hamilton the chimney-sweeper, and all his bad qualities to his good friends and old companions, Brown and Ainslie, not doubting, however, that their own will secure them `a rope at last.' In prison it was his worst complaint that, though the nails of his toes and fingers were not quite so long as Nebuchadnezzar's, they were long enough for a mandarin, and much longer than he found convenient. Thus he preserved an untroubled demeanour until the day of his death. Always polite, and even joyous, he met the smallest indulgence with enthusiasm. When Smith complained that a respite of six weeks was of small account, Brodie exclaimed, `George, what would you and I give for six weeks longer? Six weeks would be an age to us.'
The day of execution was the day of his supreme triumph. As some men are artists in their lives, so the Deacon was an artist in his death. Nothing became him so well as his manner of leaving the world. There is never a blot upon this exquisite performance. It is superb, impeccable! Again his dandyism supported him, and he played the part of a dying man in a full suit of black, his hair, as always, dressed and powdered. The day before he had been jovial and sparkling. He had chanted all his flash songs, and cracked the jokes of a man of fashion. But he set out for the gallows with a firm step and a rigorous demeanour. He offered a prayer of his own composing, and `O Lord,' he said, `I lament that I know so little of Thee.' The patronage and the confession are alike characteristic. As he drew near the scaffold, the model of which he had given to his native city a few years since, he stepped with an agile briskness; he examined the halter, destined for his neck, with an impartial curiosity.
His last pleasantry was uttered as he ascended the table. `George,' he muttered, `you are first in hand,' and thereafter he took farewell of his friends. Only one word of petulance escaped his lips: when the halters were found too short, his contempt for slovenly workmanship urged him to protest, and to demand a punishment for the executioner. Again ascending the table, he assured himself against further mishap by arranging the rope with his own hands. Thus he was turned off in a brilliant assembly. The Provost and Magistrates, in respect for his dandyism, were resplendent in their robes of office, and though the crowd of spectators rivalled that which paid a tardy honour to Jonathan Wild, no one was hurt save the customary policeman. Such was the dignified end of a `double life.' And the duplicity is the stranger, because the real Deacon was not Brodie the Cracksman, but Brodie the Gentleman. So lightly did he esteem life that he tossed it from him in a careless impulse. So little did he fear death that, `What is hanging?' he asked. `A leap in the dark.'
CHARLES PEACE, after the habit of his kind, was born of scrupulously honest parents. The son of a religious file-maker, he owed to his father not only his singular piety but his love of edged tools. As he never encountered an iron bar whose scission baffled him, so there never was a fire-eating Methodist to whose ministrations he would not turn a repentant ear. After a handy portico and a rich booty he loved nothing so well as a soul- stirring discourse. Not even his precious fiddle occupied a larger space in his heart than that devotion which the ignorant have termed hypocrisy. Wherefore his career was no less suitable to his ambition than his inglorious end. For he lived the king of housebreakers, and he died a warning to all evildoers, with a prayer of intercession trembling upon his lips.
The hero's boyhood is wrapped in obscurity. It is certain that no glittering precocity brought disappointment to his maturer years, and he was already nineteen when he achieved his first imprisonment. Even then 'twas a sorry offence, which merited no more than a month, so that he returned to freedom and his fiddle with his character unbesmirched. Serious as ever in pious exercises, he gained a scanty living as strolling musician. There was never a tavern in Sheffield where the twang of his violin was unheard, and the skill wherewith he extorted music from a single string earned him the style and title of the modern Paganini. But such an employ was too mean for his pride, and he soon got to work again--this time with a better success. The mansions of Sheffield were his early prey, and a rich plunder rewarded his intrepidity. The design was as masterly as its accomplishment. The grand style is already discernible. The houses were broken in quietude and good order. None saw the opened window; none heard the step upon the stair; in truth, the victim's loss was his first intelligence.