Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 29

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Chapter XXIX: The Trail

The day was come—quickly, thank Heaven; and I stood at the bar, with four or five miserable, haggard labourers, to take my trial for sedition, riot, and arson.

I had passed the intervening weeks half stupified with the despair of utter disappointment; disappointment at myself and my own loss of self-possession, which had caused all my misfortune,—perhaps, too, and the thought was dreadful, that of my wretched fellow-sufferers:—disappointment with the labourers, with The Cause; and when the thought came over me, in addition, that I was irreparably disgraced in the eyes of my late patrons, parted for ever from Lillian by my own folly, I laid down my head and longed to die.

Then, again, I would recover awhile, and pluck up heart. I would plead my cause myself—I would testify against the tyrants to their face—I would say no longer to their besotted slaves, but to the men themselves, "Go to, ye rich men, weep and howl! The hire of your labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is by you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them that have reaped hath entered into the ears of the Lord God of Hosts." I would brave my fate—I would die protesting, and glory in my martyrdom. But—

"Martyrdom?" said Mackaye, who had come down to D * * * *, and was busy night and day about my trial. "Ye'll just leave alone the martyr dodge, my puir bairn. Ye're na martyr at a', ye'll understand, but a vera foolish callant, that lost his temper, an' cast his pearls before swine—an' very questionable pearls they, too, to judge by the price they fetch i' the market."

And then my heart sank again. And a few days before the trial a letter came, evidently in my cousin's handwriting, though only signed with his initials:

"SIR,—You are in a very great scrape—you will not deny that. How you will get out of it depends on your own common sense. You probably won't be hanged—for nobody believes that you had a hand in burning the farm; but, unless you take care, you will be transported. Call yourself John Nokes; entrust your case to a clever lawyer, and keep in the background. I warn you, as a friend—if you try to speechify, and play the martyr, and let out who you are, the respectable people who have been patronizing you will find it necessary for their own sakes to clap a stopper on you for good and all, to make you out an impostor and a swindler, and get you out of the way for life: while, if you are quiet, it will suit them to be quiet too, and say nothing about you, if you say nothing about them; and then there will be a chance that they, as well as your own family, will do everything in their power to hush the matter up. So, again, don't let out your real name; and instruct your lawyers to know nothing about the W.'s; and then, perhaps, the Queen's counsel will know nothing about them either. Mind—you are warned, and woe to you if you are fool enough not to take the warning.

"G.L."

Plead in a false name! Never, so help me Heaven! To go into court with a lie in my mouth—to make myself an impostor—probably a detected one—it seemed the most cunning scheme for ruining me, which my evil genius could have suggested, whether or not it might serve his own selfish ends. But as for the other hints, they seemed not unreasonable, and promised to save me trouble; while the continued pressure of anxiety and responsibility was getting intolerable to my over-wearied brain. So I showed the letter to Mackaye, who then told me that he had taken it for granted that I should come to my right mind, and had therefore already engaged an old compatriot as attorney, and the best counsel which money could procure.

"But where did you get the money? You have not surely been spending your own savings on me?"

"I canna say that I wadna ha' so dune, in case o' need. But the men in town just subscribit; puir honest fellows."

"What! is my folly to be the cause of robbing them of their slender earnings? Never, Mackaye! Besides, they cannot have subscribed enough to pay the barrister whom you just mentioned. Tell me the whole truth, or, positively, I will plead my cause myself."