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PAGE 3

Scoundrels
by [?]

Some ten years ago the arch-rascal among English thieves was living quietly in a London suburb; he used to solace himself with high-class music, and he was very fond of poetry. This dreadful creature was a curious compound of wild beast and artist. During the day he went about with an innocent air; and the very police who were destined to take him and hang him learned to greet him cordially as he passed them in his walks. They thought he was “a sort of high-class tradesman.” Now, when this cheery little man with the decent frock-coat and the clean respectable air was sauntering on the margin of the breezy heath or walking up by-streets with measured sobriety, he was really marking down the places which he intended to plunder. Here his trained pony should stand; here he would make his entrance; that bedroom door should be fastened inside; this lock should be picked. The wild predatory beast drove the police to despair, for it seemed as if no human being could have performed the feats which came easy to the robber. The hard earning of good men went to the rascal’s store; the cherished household gods, the valued keepsakes of innocent women were transferred callously to the melting-pot. He went coolly into bedrooms where the inmates were asleep; had any one awaked, there would have been murder, and the murderer would have decamped long before the door could be broken open. Now my point is this–the wretch whom I have described never ceased to inveigh against the wrongs of society. Two unhappy women served him faithfully and followed him like dogs; but he did not apply his theories in his treatment of them, for they were never without the marks of his brutality. In the very presence of his bruised and beaten slaves he talked of his own virtues, of social inequality, of the tyranny of the rich, and he held to his belief in his own innate goodness after he had committed depredations to the extent of thousands of pounds, and even after he was answerable for two murders. That man never knew himself a villain, and it was only when the rope was gradually closing round his neck that the keen sleuth-hound remorse found him out, and he had the grace to save an innocent man from a living death. This monstrous hypocrite was another typical scoundrel, and his like people every prison in the country.

The scoundrels who are called great do not usually come under the gallows-tree, and their last dying speeches are somewhat rare; but we may be pretty certain, from the little we know, that each one of them fancies himself an estimable person. Ivan of Russia, the ferocious ruler, who had men torn to pieces before his eyes, the being who had forty thousand men, women, and children massacred in cold blood, regarded himself as the deputy of the Supreme Being. The mad Capet, who fired the signal which started tho massacre of St. Bartholomew, believed that he was fulfilling the demands of goodness and orthodoxy. The deadly inquisitors who roasted unhappy fellow mortals wholesale believed–or pretended to believe–that they were putting their victims through a benign ordeal. The heretic was a naughty child; roast him, and his sin was purged; while the frosty-blooded old men who murdered him looked to heaven and returned thanks for their own special allowance of virtue. Conqueror and inquisitor, burglar and murderer, forger and wife-beater, brutal sea-captain and prowling thief–all the scoundrels go about their business with a full faith in their own blamelessness. I do not like to class them as automata, though the wise and genial Mr. Huxley would undoubtedly do so. What shall we do with them? Is it fair that a wearied world and a toil-worn society should maintain them? My own idea is that sentiment, softness, regrets for severity should be banished, and we should say to the scoundrel, “Attend, rascal! You say that you are wronged, and that you are driven to harm your fellow-creatures by the force of external circumstances; that may be so, but we have nothing to do with the matter. Take notice that you shall eat bitter bread on earth, no matter how you may whine, when our just grip is on you; if you persist in practising scoundrelism, we shall make your lot harder and harder for you; and, if in the end we find that you will go on working evil, we shall treat you as a dangerous wild beast, and put you out of the world altogether.”