Once a Rogue Always a Rogue


I found this delightful story on the Bablestone Blog. Perhaps some of you may enjoy it. It is a tale of kamma/vipāka told very much in the style of Charles Dickens.

I have updated it to modern English spellings and grammar, as non-native English readers may otherwise find it hard to follow, since it is from an 18th century manuscript.

Once a Rogue Always a Rogue

JACK ARTFUL, a boy of about fourteen years of age, who was educated and brought up among a gang of most notorious pick-pockets that used to travel the circuits with the judges, was detected one day in picking a gentleman’s pocket of his watch, and was accordingly apprehended, tried and convicted, but in consideration of his tender years he was only sentenced to be whipped at the cart’s tail. (in those days, a death sentence by hanging was more usual for older thieves).

One of the gang, so that this rogue of a companion might be favoured as much as possible, slipped into the hand of the beadle appointed to whip him, a five shilling piece, begging him, as the rogue was just a boy, to be as gentle with his lash as he possibly could. The beadle accepted the five shilling piece, and proceeded in his duty according to his own discretion, but he being too harsh in it — as the boy thought — every time he lashed him a little harder than ordinary, the boy turned his head over his shoulder, and cried out to the beadle beneath his breath, “Have mercy, sir, remember the crown piece!” But instead of working to his advantage, after the boy had repeated it three or four times, the beadle took offence at it, so that when he cried out again, “Remember the crown piece,” he repeated his stroke with greater severity than he had done before, crying out at the same time to the boy, “Damn you, you dog, what do you prattle?”

After the punishment was over, the boy took a good look at him, and vowed to take revenge for this abuse, if it took him twenty years. Accordingly, being released, he left the town, but could not give up his old trade of picking pockets.

About seven or eight years later, returning to his familiar haunts with the same judges, he saw his old adversary the beadle standing in the court, at the same county court (as was the beadle’s routine, and as his duty as beadle required) and began to plot his revenge. Saying to himself, “It is a long time since I was caught and punished in this town, and since I was then just a boy, nobody will recognise me.” Having decided thus, he began to look out for an opportunity to put his scheme into action.

After a while, in accordance with his wish, he saw a gentleman very well dressed go into the court, quite close to the beadle, and after he had stood there a little while, the young rouge sauntered up to them, and very deftly relieved the gentleman of his gold watch, using his skill in picking pockets, and slipped it into the beadle’s coat-pocket unnoticed by either of them. About five minutes afterwards, he walked up to the gentleman, and, whispering in his ear, asked him if he had lost his gold watch. The gentleman, surprised at this question, put his hand into his pocket, and finding it gone, replied, “Yes sir, by heaven! I have.”

“Sir,” says the pickpocket, “that man has it in his pocket; I saw him take it out of yours, and I will take an oath on it.

Then the gentleman, having good reason, had the beadle arrested, and accused him of the theft. The beadle was searched, and the watch was found upon him, according to the allegation; and the beadle being the mayor’s servant, his master was so angered to see the evidence appear so plainly against him, that he insisted he should be tried that very day, which was accordingly done; upon which he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

A day or two later, the young chap disguised himself, and went to the sherriff, to ask whether he had an executioner or not; to which the sheriff answered that several prisoners had offered to do it for their fees.

“Well, sir,” said the impostor, “if you think it proper to employ me, I will do it for less than any prisoner in your prison will do it, for I will perform the duty for half a guinea; because I am a stranger in great need, and would willingly do anything in an honest way to get my bread.”

“Well, friend,” said the sherriff, “if you will take care and not disappoint me, I will give you the money.” To be brief, the bargain being struck, and the day of execution having arrived, the new hangman was very punctual, and led the beadle to the gallows. When, after the formal service was ended, and the poor man had made loud and repeated protestations of his innocence, they ascended the scaffold together; and when the beadle had freely forgiven the whole world, had pulled his cap over his eyes, and waited for the last service of this world, which was to swing him into another, the hangman whispered in his ear, “Do you remember about seven years ago that you whipped a poor lad at the cart’s tail, and at the same time received a crown piece from one of his friends to be favourable to him? I am that poor boy that you then whipped; and you whipped me the harder for it, and especially when I reminded you of the money; you cried out to me, ‘Damn you, you dog! Do you prattle?’ Now, sir, I think I am even with you, for it was I that picked the gentleman’s pocket of the watch, and put it into yours.”

At this declaration, the poor beadle, with the utmost surprise and agitation, endeavoured to lift up his cap again, which the other prevented by holding it fast down; and when he began to shout, intending to inform the sherrif and the rest of the spectators what had been told him, the executioner interrupted him in his former words, thus, “Damn you, you dog! What do you prattle?” And thus pushed him off the scaffold to hang.

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