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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 28. The Tempter
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 28. The Tempter Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :3226

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 28. The Tempter

CHAPTER XXVIII. THE TEMPTER

Albert was conveyed to St. Paul, but not until he had had one heart-breaking interview with his mother. The poor woman had spent nearly an hour dressing herself to go to him, for she was so shaken with agitation and blinded with weeping, that she could hardly tie a ribbon or see that her breast-pin was in the right place. This interview with her son shook her weak understanding to its foundations, and for days afterward Isa devoted her whole time to diverting her from the accumulation of troubled thoughts and memories that filled her with anguish--an anguish against the weight of which her feeble nature could offer no supports.

When Albert was brought before the commissioner, he waived examination, and was committed to await the session of the district court. Mr. Plausaby came up and offered to become his bail, but this Charlton vehemently refused, and was locked up in jail, where for the next two or three months he amused himself by reading the daily papers and such books as he could borrow, and writing on various subjects manuscripts which he never published.

The confinement chafed him. His mother's sorrow and feeble health oppressed him. And despite all he could do, his own humiliation bowed his head a little. But most of all, the utter neglect of Helen Minorkey hurt him sorely. Except that she had sent, through Isabel Marlay, that little smuggled message that she was sorry for him--like one who makes a great ado about sending you something which turns out to be nothing--except this mockery of pity, he had no word or sign from Helen. His mind dwelt on her as he remembered her in the moments when she had been carried out of herself by the contagion of his own enthusiasm, when she had seemed to love him devotedly. Especially did he think of her as she sat in quiet and thoughtful enjoyment in the row-boat by the side of Katy, playfully splashing the water and seeming to rejoice in his society. And now she had so easily accepted his guilt!

These thoughts robbed him of sleep, and the confinement and lack of exercise made him nervous. The energetic spirit, arrested at the very instant of beginning cherished enterprises, and shut out from hope of ever undertaking them, preyed upon itself, and Albert had a morbid longing for the State's prison, where he might weary himself with toil.

His counsel was Mr. Conger. Mr. Conger was not a great jurist. Of the philosophy of law he knew nothing. For the sublime principles of equity and the great historic developments that underlie the conventions which enter into the administration of public justice, Mr. Conger cared nothing. But there was one thing Mr. Conger did understand and care for, and that was success. He was a man of medium hight, burly, active, ever in motion. When he had ever been still long enough to read law, nobody knew. He said everything he had to say with a quick, vehement utterance, as though he grudged the time taken to speak fully about anything. He went along the street eagerly; he wrote with all his might. There were twenty men in the Territory, at that day, any one of whom knew five times as much law as he. Other members of the bar were accustomed to speak contemptuously of Conger's legal knowledge. But Conger won more cases and made more money than any of them. If he did not know law in the widest sense, he did know it in the narrowest. He always knew the law that served his turn. When he drew an assignment for a client, no man could break it. And when he undertook a case, he was sure to find his opponent's weak point. He would pick flaws in pleas; he would postpone; he would browbeat witnesses; he would take exceptions to the rulings of the court in order to excite the sympathy of the jury; he would object to testimony on the other side, and try to get in irrelevant testimony on his own; he would abuse the opposing counsel, crying out, "The counsel on the other side lies like thunder, and he knows it!" By shrewdness, by an unwearying perseverance, by throwing his whole weight into his work, Conger made himself the most successful lawyer of his time in the Territory. And preserved his social position at the same time, for though he was not at all scrupulous, he managed to keep on the respectable side of the line which divides the lawyer from the shyster.

Mr. Conger had been Mr. Plausaby's counsel in one or two cases, and Charlton, knowing no other lawyer, sent for him. Mr. Conger had, with his characteristic quickness of perception, picked up the leading features of the case from the newspapers. He sat down on the bed in Charlton's cell with his brisk professional air, and came at once to business in his jerky-polite tone.

"Bad business, this, Mr. Charlton, but let us hope we'll pull through. _We generally _do pull through. Been in a good many tight places in my time. But it is necessary, first of all, that you trust me. The boat is in a bad way--you hail a pilot--he comes aboard. Now--hands off the helm--you sit down and let the pilot steer her through. You understand?" And Mr. Conger looked as though he might have smiled at his own illustration if he could have spared the time. But he couldn't. As for Albert, he only looked more dejected.

"Now," he proceeded, "let's get to business. In the first place, you must trust me with everything. You must tell me whether you took the warrant or not." And Mr. Conger paused and scrutinized his client closely.

Charlton said nothing, but his face gave evidence of a struggle.

"Well, well, Mr. Charlton," said the brisk man with the air of one who has gotten through the first and most disagreeable part of his business, and who now proposes to proceed immediately to the next matter on the docket. "Well, well, Mr. Charlton, you needn't say anything if the question is an unpleasant one. An experienced lawyer knows what silence means, of course," and there was just a trifle of self-gratulation in his voice. As for Albert, he winced, and seemed to be trying to make up his mind to speak.

"Now," and with this _now the lawyer brought his white fat hand down upon his knee in an emphatic way, as one who says "nextly." "Now--there are several courses open to us. I asked you whether you took the warrant or not, because the line of defense that presents itself first is to follow the track of your suspicions, and fix the guilt on some one else if we can. I understand, however, that that course is closed to us?"

Charlton nodded his head.

"We might try to throw suspicion--only suspicion, you know--on the stage-driver or somebody else. Eh? Just enough to confuse the jury?"

Albert shook his head a little impatiently.

"Well, well, that's so--_not the _best line. The warrant was in your hands. You used it for pre-emption. That is very ugly, very. I don't think much of that line, under the circumstances. It might excite feeling against us. It is a very bad case. But we will pull through, I hope. We generally do. Give the case wholly into my hands. We'll postpone, I think. I shall have to make an affidavit that there are important witnesses absent, or something of the sort. But we'll have the case postponed. There's some popular feeling against you, and juries go as the newspapers do. Now, I see but one way, and that is to postpone until the feeling dies down. Then we can manage the papers a little and get up some sympathy for you. And there's no knowing what may happen. There's nothing like delay in a bad case. Wait long enough, and something is sure to turn up."

"But I don't want the case postponed," said Charlton decidedly.

"Very natural that you shouldn't like to wait. This is not a pleasant room. But it is better to wait a year or even two years in this jail than to go to prison for fifteen or twenty. Fifteen or twenty years out of the life of a young man is about all there is worth the having."

Here Charlton shuddered, and Mr. Conger was pleased to see that his words took effect.

"You'd better make up your mind that the case is a bad one, and trust to my experience. When you're sick, trust the doctor. I think I can pull you through if you'll leave the matter to me."

"Mr. Conger," said Charlton, lifting up his pale face, twitching with nervousness, "I don't want to get free by playing tricks on a court of law. I know that fifteen or twenty years in prison would not leave me much worth living for, but I will not degrade myself by evading justice with delays and false affidavits. If you can do anything for me fairly and squarely, I should like to have it done."

"Scruples, eh?" asked Mr. Conger in surprise.

"Yes, scruples," said Albert Charlton, leaning his head on his hands with the air of one who has made a great exertion and has a feeling of exhaustion.

"Scruples, Mr. Charlton, are well enough when one is about to break the law. After one has been arrested, scruples are in the way."

"You have no right to presume that I have broken the law," said Charlton with something of his old fire.

"Well, Mr. Charlton, it will do no good for you to quarrel with your counsel. You have as good as confessed the crime yourself. I must insist that you leave the case in my hands, or I must throw it up. Take time to think about it. I'll send my partner over to get any suggestions from you about witnesses. The most we can do is to prove previous good character. That isn't worth anything where the evidence against the prisoner is so conclusive--as in your case. But it makes a show of doing something." And Mr. Conger was about leaving the cell when, as if a new thought had occurred to him, he turned back and sat down again and said: "There _is one other course open to you. Perhaps it is the best, since you will not follow my plan. You can plead guilty, and trust to the clemency of the President. I think strong political influences could be brought to bear at Washington in favor of your pardon?"

Charlton shook his head, and the lawyer left him "to think the matter over," as he said. Then ensued the season of temptation. Why should he stand on a scruple? Why not get free? Here was a conscienceless attorney, ready to make any number of affidavits in regard to the absence of important witnesses; ready to fight the law by every technicality of the law. His imprisonment had already taught him how dear liberty was, and, within half an hour after Conger left him, a great change came over him. Why should he go to prison? What justice was there in his going to prison? Here he was, taking a long sentence to the penitentiary, while such men as Westcott and Conger were out. There could be no equity in such an arrangement. Whenever a man begins to seek equality of dispensation, he is in a fair way to debauch his conscience. And another line of thought influenced Charlton. The world needed his services. What advantage would there be in throwing away the chances of a lifetime on a punctilio? Why might he not let the serviceable lawyer do as he pleased? Conger was the keeper of his own conscience, and would not be either more or less honest at heart for what he did or did not do. All the kingdoms of the earth could not have tempted Charlton to serve himself by another man's perjury. But liberty on one hand and State's-prison on the other, was a dreadful alternative. And so, when the meek and studious man whom Conger used for a partner called on him, he answered all his questions, and offered no objection to the assumption of the quiet man that Mr. Conger would carry on the case in his own fashion.

Many a man is willing to be a martyr till he sees the stake and fagots.

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