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Madame Andrecht's the carpenter made his appearance in his house, and entreated him to delay proceedings, which he said would be his ruin, by bringing all his creditors on his back. "See," said he, "in what manner I am paid myself," putting a basket on the table, which contained a pair of silver candlesticks and a silver coffeepot. "One of my debtors owes me upwards of sixty guldens: I have tried in vain to get payment, and have been glad to accept of these as the only chance of making anything of the debt. From the silversmiths here I should not get the half the value for them: I must keep them by me till I go to Amsterdam, where such things are understood; but I shall leave them with you in pledge for my debt." The wood-merchant at first declined receiving them, but at length, thinking that it was his only prospect of obtaining ultimate payment, he yielded, and the articles remained on his bands.
A few days afterwards, the robbery became public; the list of the silver articles contained a coffee-pot and candlesticks; and the wood-merchant, not doubting that the articles pledged had formed part of the abstracted effects, had felt himself compelled to make known the way in which they had been obtained, and to place them in the hands of the officers of justice. He meant, he said, to convey no imputation against the carpenter, but it would be easy to learn from his own lips who was the debtor from whom the articles had come.
The court ordered the basket with the plate to be placed, covered, upon the table, and sent forthwith for the carpenter. He arrived in breathless haste, but seemed prepared for what followed, and without waiting for the interrogatories of the judge, he proceeded with his explanation.
Pressed by his creditor the woodmerchant, the carpenter, in his turn, proceeded to press his own debtors. Among these was the Blue Dragoon, Nicholas D, who was indebted to him in an account of sixty guldens for work done on his premises. Nicholas entreated for delay, but the carpenter being peremptory, he inquired whether he would not take some articles of old silver plate in payment, which, he
said, had belonged to his father, and had been left him as a legacy by an old lady in whose family he had been coachman. It was at last agreed that the carpenter should take the plate at a certain value as a partial payment, and it was accordingly brought to his house the same evening by the dragoon. The latter advised him, in the event of his wishing to dispose of the plate, to take it to Amsterdam, as the silversmiths of the place would not give him half the value for the articles. The carpenter asked him why he had not carried it to Amsterdam himself. "So I would," he answered, "if you had given me time. As it is, give me your promise not to dispose of it here-I have my own reasons for it."
If this statement was correct-and there seemed no reason to doubt the fairness of the carpenter's storyit pressed most heavily against the accused. He was thus found in possession of part of the stolen property, and disposing of it, under the most suspicious circumstances, to a third party.
He was examined anew, and the beginning of his declaration corresponded exactly with the deposition of the carpenter. The latter had worked for him: he was sixty guldens in his debt. He was asked if he had paid the account: he answered he had not been in a condition to do so. He was shown the silver plate, and was told what had been stated by the carpenter. He stammered, became pale, and protested he knew nothing of the plate; and in this statement he persisted in the presence of witnesses. He was then shown the gold which had been found in his house. It belonged, he said, not to himself, but to his father-in-law.
This part of the statement, indeed, was confirmed by the other inmates of his family; but, in other respects, their statements were calculated to increase the suspicions against him. Nicholas, for instance, had stated that no part of his debt to Isaac had been paidthat in fact he had not been in a condition to do so-while the other three members of the household, on the contrary, maintained that a few months before he had made a payment of twenty guldens to Isaac, expressly to
account of this claim. Nicholas became vastly embarrassed when this contradiction between his own statement and the evidence of the witnesses was pointed out to him. For the first time his composure forsook him-he begged pardon for the falsehood he had uttered. It was true, he said, that he had counted out twenty guldens, in presence of the members of his family, and told them it was intended as a payment to account of Isaac's claim; but the money had not been paid to his creditor. He had been obliged to appropriate it to the payment of some old gambling debts, of which he could not venture to inform his wife.
This departure from truth on the part of the accused had apparently but slender bearing on the question of the robbery; but it excited a general doubt as to his statements, which further inquiry tended to confirm. The carpenter, anxious to remove any suspicion as to the truth of his own story, produced a sort of account-book kept by himself, in which, under the date of 23d June, there was the following entry,-"The innkeeper, Nicholas D. has this day paid me the value of thirty guldens in old silver." The housekeeper and apprentice of the carpenter also deponed that they had been present on one occasion when the dragoon had proposed that their master should take the silver in payment.
If, on the one hand, the innkeeper had handed over to the carpenter the silver plate, it was plain he was either the thief or the receiver: if he had not done so, the carpenter had not only been guilty of a calumnious accusation, but the suspicion of a guilty connexion with the robbery became turned against himself. All presumptions, however, were against the innkeeper. He had admittedly been guilty of a decided falsehood as to the payment, he could not or would not give the names of any one of those to whom his gambling debts had been paid, as he alleged, and the fact that he had brought the plate to the carpenter's was attested by three
The general opinion in the town was decidedly against him. The utmost length that any one ventured to go, was, to suggest that Is relations, who
had been apprehended along with him, might be innocent of any participation in his guilt; though, being naturally anxious to save him, they might somewhat have compromised the truth by their silence, or their statements.
The dragoon was removed from his provisional custody to the prison of the town; the others were subjected to a close surveillance, that all communication between them might be prevented. As all of them, however, persisted in the story, exactly as it had at first been told, stronger measures were at length resorted to. On the motion of the burgomaster, as public prosecutor, "that the principal party accused, Nicholas D-, should be delivered over to undergo the usual preparatory process for compelling confession," namely the torture, the court, after consideration of the state of the evidence, unanimously issued the usual warrant against him to that effect. Some pitied him, though none doubted his guilt. The general impression in the town was, that the courage of the innkeeper would soon give way, and that, in fact, he would probably confess the whole upon the first application of the torture.
The preparations were complete— the torture was to take place the next day, when the following letter, bearing the post-mark of Rotterdam, was received by the court,—
"Before I leave the country, and betake myself where I shall be beyond the reach either of the court of Mor the military tribunal of the garrison, I would save the poor unfortunate persons who are now prisoners at M. Beware of punishing the innkeeper, his wife, his father, and brother, for a crime of which they are not guilty. How the story of the carpenter is connected with theirs, I cannot conjecture. I have heard of it with the greatest surprise. The latter may not himself be entirely innocent. Let the judge pay attention to this remark. You may spare yourselves the trouble of inquiring after me. If the wind is favourable, by the time you read this letter I shall be on my passage to England.
"JOSEPH CHRISTIAN RUHLER, "Former Corporal in the Company of Le Lery."
The court gladly availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by this letter to put off the torture. At first sight it did not appear a mere device to obtain delay. A company under Captain Le Lery was in garrison in the town; in that company there was a corporal of the name of Ruhler, who some weeks before had deserted and disappeared from his quarters. All inquiries after him since had proved in vain. The court subsequently learned from the report of the officer in command, that he had disappeared the evening before the day when the news of the robbery became public. He had been last seen by the guard in the course of the forenoon before his disappearance. Some connexion between the events appeared extremely probable.
But a new discovery seemed suddenly to demolish the conclusions founded on the letter. It had been laid before the commanding officer, who at once declared the handwriting was counterfeited; it was not that of Ruhler, which was well known, nor had it the least resemblance to it. The evidence of several of his comrades, and a comparison of the handwriting with some regimental lists, undoubtedly in the handwriting of Ruhler, proved this beyond a doubt.
The letter from Rotterdam thus was merely the device of some unknown friend or confederate, and probably resorted to only to put off the punishment of the accused. How indeed, if Ruhler was really implicated in the robbery, should he have thus cast suspicion upon himself? If his object had been merely to preserve the innkeeper and his friends from the torture, he would have assumed some other name. In all probability, therefore, some third party, implicated in the robbery, had availed himself of the accidental disappearance of the corporal to throw the suspicion of the robbery upon him, and to exculpate the guilty parties, who, if brought to the torture, might be induced to disclose the names of all their associates. To prevent this was probably the object of the letter. This, at least, was the prevailing opinion.
The strongest efforts were now made to discover the true writer of the letter; and meantime the
torture was put off, when two other important witnesses made their appearance on the stage. Neither had the least connexion with the other; nay, the circumstances which they narrated appeared in some respects contradictory, and while they threw light on the subject in one quarter, they only served to darken it in another.
A merchant in the town, who dealt in different wares, and lived in the neighbourhood of Madame Andrecht's house, had been absent on a journey of business during the discovery of the robbery, and the course of the subsequent judicial proceedings. Scarcely had he returned and heard the story of the robbery, when he voluntarily presented himself next morning before the authorities, for the purpose, as he said, of making important revelations, which might have the effect of averting destruction from the innocent. In the public coach he had already heard some particulars of the case, and had formed his own conjectures; but since his return, these conjectures had with him grown into convictions, and he had not closed an eye from the apprehension that his disclosures might come too late. Had he returned sooner, matters would never have reached this length.
At the time when the robbery must have taken place, he had been in the town. The carpenter, Isaac Van C—, called upon him one day, begging the loan of the boat, which he was in the custom of using for the transport of bales and heavy packages to different quarters of the town. The boat generally lay behind the merchant's house, close to his warehouse, which was situated on the bank of the town fosse already alluded to. Isaac assured him he would require the boat only for a night or two, and would take care that it was returned in the morning in good condition. To the question why he wanted the boat at night, he, after some hesitation, returned for answer, that he had engaged to transport the furniture of some people who were removing, and who had their own reasons for not doing so in daylight, implying that they were taking French leave of their creditors. "And you propose to lend
yourself to such a transaction?" said the merchant, peremptorily refusing the loan of the boat. The carpenter interrupted him; assured him he had only jested; that his real object was only to amuse himself in fishing with some of his comrades; and that he had only not stated that at first, as the merchant might be apprehensive that the operation would dirty his boat. The merchant at last yielded to the continued requests of the carpenter, and agreed to lend him the boat, but upon the express condition that it should be returned to its place in the morning. In this respect the carpenter kept his word; when the merchant went to his warehouse in the morning, he saw the carpenter and his apprentice engaged in fastening the boat. They went away without observing him. It struck him, however, as singular, that they appeared to have with them neither nets nor fishing tackle of any kind. He examined the boat, and was surprised to find it perfectly clean and dry, whereas, if used for fishing, it would probably have been found half-filled with water, and dirty enough. In this particular, then, the carpenter had been detected in an untruth. The boat had not been fastened to its usual place; the merchant jumped into it for that purpose, and from a crevice in the side he saw something protruding; he took it out; it was a couple of silver forks wrapped in paper. Thus the carpenter's first version of the story-as to the purpose for which he wanted the boat-was the true one after all. He had been assisting some bankrupt to carry off his effects. Angry at having been thus deceived, the merchant put the forks in his pocket, and set out forthwith on his way to Isaac's. The carpenter, his apprentice, and his housekeeper, were in the workshop. He produced the forks. 66 These," said he, " are what you have left in my boat. Did you use these to eat your fish with?"
The three were visibly embarrassed. They cast stolen glances upon one another; no one ventured to speak. The housekeeper first recovered her composure. She stammered out, "that he must not think ill of them; that her master had only been assisting some people who were leaving the
town quietly, to remove their furni ture and effects." As the transaction was unquestionably not of the most creditable character, this might account for the visible embarrassment they betrayed; when he demanded, however, the names of the parties whose effects they had been removing, no answer was forthcoming. The carpenter at last told him he was not at liberty to disclose them then, but that he should learn them afterwards. All three pressingly entreated him to be silent as to this matter. He was so; but in the meantime made inquiry quietly as to who had left the town, though without success. Shortly after, his journey took place, and the transaction had worn out of mind, till recalled to his recollection on his return, when he was made aware of the whole history of the robbery; and forthwith came to the conclusion, that there lay at the bottom of the matter some shameful plot to implicate the innocent, and to shield those whom he believed to be the true criminals, namely, Isaac Van C-, his apprentice, and housekeeper,the leading witnesses, in fact, against the unfortunate dragoon.
The criminal proceedings, in consequence of these disclosures, took a completely different turn. The merchant was a witness entirely above suspicion. True, there was here only the testimony of one witness, either to the innocence of the dragoon, or the guilt of the carpenter; but the moral conviction to which his statement gave rise in the mind of the judge was so strong, that he did not hesitate to issue an immediate order for the arrest of the carpenter and his companions, before publicity should be given to the merchant's disclosures. No sooner were they apprehended, than a strict scrutiny was made in the carpenter's house.
This measure was attended with the most complete success. With the exception of a few trifles, the whole of the effects which had been abstracted from Madame Andrecht's, were ound in the house. The examination of the prisoners produced a very different result from those of Nicholas, and his comrades. True, they denied the charges, but they did so with palpable confusion, and their
statements abounded in the grossest contradictions of each other and even of themselves. They came to recriminations and mutual accusations; and, being threatened with the torture, they at last offered to make a full confession. The substance of their admissions was as follows:
Isaac Van C-, his apprentice, and his housekeeper, were the real perpetrators of the robbery at Madame Andrecht's. Who had first suggested to them the design does not appear from the evidence. But with the old lady's house and its arrangements they were as fully acquainted as the dragoon. The apprentice, when formerly in the service of another master, had wrought in it, and knew every corner of it thoroughly. They had borrowed the boat for the purpose of getting access across the canal into the garden, and used it for carrying off the stolen property, as already mentioned. On the morning when the robbery became public, the master and the apprentice had mingled with the crowd to learn what reports were in circulation on the subject. Among other things the apprentice had heard that the woolspinner's wife had unhesitatingly expressed her suspicions against the Blue Dragoon. Of this he informed his comrades, and they, delighted at finding so convenient a scapegoat for averting danger from themselves, forthwith formed the infernal design of directing, by every means in their power, the suspicions of justice against the innkeeper.
The apprentice entered the drinkingroom of the innkeeper, and called for some schnaps, at the same time asking for a coal to light his pipe. While the innkeeper went out to fetch the coal, the apprentice took the opportunity of slipping the widow's memorandum-book, which he had brought in his pocket, betwixt the drawers. He succeeded, and the consequences followed as the culprits had foreseen: the house was searched, the book found, and, in the eyes of many, the dragoon's guilt established.
If these confessions were to be trusted, the dragoon and his family seemed exculpated from any actual participation in the robbery. Still, there were circumstances which these confessions did not clear up; some
grave points of doubt remain unexplained. That the carpenter had himself pledged the silver plate with the wood-merchant, without having received it from Nicholas, was now likely enough; he had accused him, probably, only to screen himself. But how came Nicholas's handkerchief to be found at the side of the hedge? How came the excise receipt, which belonged to him, to be used as a match by the thieves? The carpenter and his comrades declared that as to these facts they knew nothing; and as they had now no inducement to conceal the truth, there could be no reasonable doubt that their statement might, in these particulars, be depended upon.
The suspicion again arose that other accomplices must be concerned in the affair; and the subject of the letter from the corporal who had deserted, became anew the subject of attention. If not written by himself, it might have been written by another at his suggestion, and in one way or other he might have a connexion with the mysterious subject of the robbery.
In fact, while the proceedings against the carpenter and his associates were in progress, an incident had occurred, which could not fail to awaken curiosity and attention with regard to this letter. The schoolmaster of a village about a league from the town presented himself before the authorities, exhibited a scrap of paper on which nothing appeared but the name Joseph Christian Ruhler, and inquired whether, shortly before, a letter in this handwriting and subscribed with this name, had not been transmitted to the court? On comparing the handwriting of the letter with the paper exhibited by the schoolmaster, it was unquestionable that both were the production of the same hand.
The statement of the schoolmaster was this,
In the village where he resided, there was a deaf and dumb young man, named Henry Hechting, who had been sent by the parish to the schoolmaster for board and education. He had succeeded in imparting to the unfortunate youth the art of writing; so perfectly, indeed, that he could communicate with any one by means