BY CHARLES DICKENS.
IT was in the fourth year of my apprenticeship
to Joe, and it was a Saturday night. There
was a group assembled round the fire at the
Three Jolly Bargemen, attentive to Mr. Wopsle
as he read the newspaper aloud. Of that group,
I was one.
A highly popular murder had been committed,
and Mr. Wopsle was imbrued in blood to the
eyebrows. He gloated over every abhorrent
adjective in the description, and identified
himself with every witness at the Inquest. He
faintly moaned, "I am done for," as the victim,
and he barbarously bellowed, "I'll serve you
out," as the murderer. He gave the medical
testimony, in pointed imitation of our local
practitioner; and he piped and shook, as the aged
turnpike-keeper who had heard blows, to an
extent so very paralytic as to suggest a doubt
regarding the mental competency of that witness.
The coroner, in Mr. Wopsle's hands, became
Timon of Athens; the beadle, Coriolanus. He
enjoyed himself thoroughly, and we all enjoyed
ourselves, and were delightfully comfortable. In
this cosy state of mind we came to the verdict
Then, and not sooner, I became aware of a
strange gentleman leaning over the back of the
settle opposite me, looking on. There was an
expression of contempt on his face, and he bit
the side of a great forefinger as he watched the
group of faces. "Well!" said the stranger to
Mr. Wopsle, when the reading was done, "you
have settled it all to your own satisfaction, I
have no doubt?''
Everybody started and looked up, as if it
were the murderer. He looked at everybody
coldly and sarcastically.
"Guilty, of course?" said he. "Out with
"Sir," returned Mr. Wopsle, "without having
the honour of your acquaintance, I do say
Guilty." Upon this, we all took courage to
unite in a confirmatory murmur.
"I know you do," said the stranger; "I
knew you would. I told you so. But now I'll
ask you a question. Do you know, or do you
not know, that the law of England supposes
every man to be innocent, until he is proved—
proved—to be guilty?"
"Sir," Mr. Wopsle began to reply, "as an
Englishman myself, I——"
"Come!" said the stranger, biting his
forefinger at him. "Don't evade the question.
Either you know it, or you don't know it.
Which is it to be?"
He stood with his head on one side and
himself on one side in a bullying interrogative
manner, and he threw his forefinger at Mr.
Wopsle—as it were to mark him out—before
biting it again.
"Now!" said he. "Do you know it, or
don't you know it?"
"Certainly I know it," replied Mr. Wopsle.
"Certainly you know it. Then why didn't
you say so at first? Now, I'll ask you another
question;" taking possession of Mr. Wopsle, as
if he had a right to him. "Do you know that
none of these witnesses have yet been cross-
Mr. Wopsle was beginning, "I can only
say——" when the stranger stopped him.
"What? You won't answer the question,
yes or no? Now, I'll try you again." Throwing
his finger at him again. "Attend to me.
Are you aware, or are you not aware, that none
of these witnesses have yet been cross-examined?
Come, I only want one word from you. Yes, or
Mr. Wopsle hesitated, and we all began to
conceive rather a poor opinion of him.
"Come!" said the stranger, "I'll help you.
You don't deserve help, but I'll help you. Look
at that paper you hold in your hand. What is
"What is it?" repeated Mr. Wopsle, eyeing
it, much at a loss.
"Is it," pursued the stranger in his most
sarcastic and suspicious manner, "the printed
paper you have just been reading from?"
"Undoubtedly. Now, turn to that paper,
and tell me whether it distinctly states that the
prisoner expressly said that his legal advisers
instructed him altogether to reserve his
"I read that just now," Mr. Wopsle pleaded.
"Never mind what you read just now, sir; I
don't ask you what you read. You may read
the Lord's Prayer backwards, if you like—and,
perhaps, have done it before to-day. Turn to
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