`The next day we were both arrested, and once more we stood in the hot, stifling Court of the Old Bailey. Jack was radiant as ever, the one spot of colour and gaiety in that close, sodden atmosphere. When we were taken from Bow Street a thousand people formed our guard of honour, and for a month we were the twin wonders of London. The lightest word, the fleetest smile of the renowned highwayman, threw the world into a fit of excitement, and a glimpse of Rann was worth a king's ransom. I could look upon him all day for nothing! And I knew what a fever of fear throbbed behind his mask of happy contempt. Yet bravely he played the part unto the very end. If the toasts of London were determined to gaze at him, he assured them they should have a proper salve for their eyes. So he dressed himself as a light-hearted sportsman. His coat and waistcoat were of pea- green cloth; his buckskin breeches were spotlessly new, and all tricked out with the famous strings; his hat was bound round with silver cords; and even the ushers of the Court were touched to courtesy. He would whisper to me, as we stood in the dock, ``Cheer up, my girl. I have ordered the best supper that Covent Garden can provide, and we will make merry to-night when this foolish old judge has done his duty.'' The supper was never eaten. Through the weary afternoon we waited for acquittal. The autumn sun sank in hopeless gloom. The wretched lamps twinkled through the jaded air of the court-house. In an hour I lived a thousand years of misery, and when the sentence was read, the words carried no sense to my withered brain. It was only in my cell I realised that I had seen Jack Rann for the last time; that his pea-green coat would prove a final and ineffaceable memory.
`Alas! I, who had never been married, was already a hempen widow; but I was too hopelessly heartbroken for my lover's fate to think of my own paltry hardship. I never saw him again. They told me that he suffered at Tyburn like a man, and that he counted upon a rescue to the very end. They told me (still bitterer news to hear) that two days before his death he entertained seven women at supper, and was in the wildest humour. This almost broke my heart; it was an infidelity committed on the other side of the grave. But, poor Jack, he was a good lad, and loved me more than them all, though he never could be faithful to me.' And thus, bidding the drawer bring fresh glasses, Ellen Roach would end her story. Though she had told it a hundred times, at the last words a tear always sparkled in her eye. She lived without friend and without lover, faithful to the memory of Sixteen- String Jack, who for her was the only reality in the world of shades. Her middle-age was as distant as her youth. The dressmaker's in Oxford Street was as vague a dream as the inhospitable shore of Botany Bay. So she waited on to a weary eld, proud of the `Green Pig's' well-ordered comfort, prouder still that for two years she shared the glory of Jack Rann, and that she did not desert her hero, even in his punishment.
(GILDEROY AND SIXTEEN- STRING JACK)
A PARALLEL (GILDEROY AND SIXTEEN-STRING JACK)
THEIR closest parallel is the notoriety which dogged them from the very day of their death. Each, for his own exploits, was the most famous man of his time, the favourite of broadsides, the prime hero of the ballad-mongers. And each owed his fame as much to good fortune as to merit, since both were excelled in their generation by more skilful scoundrels. If Gilderoy was unsurpassed in brutality, he fell immeasurably below Hind in artistry and wit, nor may he be compared to such accomplished highwaymen as Mull Sack or the Golden Farmer. His method was not elevated by a touch of the grand style. He stamped all the rules of the road beneath his contemptuous foot, and cared not what enormity he committed in his quest for gold. Yet, though he lived in the true Augustan age, he yielded to no one of his rivals in glorious recognition. So, too, Jack Rann, of the Sixteen Strings, was a near contemporary of George Barrington. While that nimble-fingered prig was making a brilliant appearance at Vauxhall, and emptying the pockets of his intimates, Rann was riding over Hounslow Heath, and flashing his pistol in the eye of the wayfarer. The very year in which Jack danced his last jig at Tyburn, Barrington had astonished London by a fruitless attempt to steal Prince Orloff's miraculous snuff- box. And not even Ellen Roach herself would have dared to assert that Rann was Barrington's equal in sleight of hand. But Rann holds his own against the best of his craft, with an imperishable name, while a host of more distinguished cracksmen are excluded even from the Newgate Calendar.
In truth, there is one quality which has naught to do with artistic supremacy; and in this quality both Rann and Gilderoy were rich beyond their fellows. They knew (none better) how to impose upon the world. Had their deserts been even less than they were, they would still have been bravely notorious. It is a common superstition that the talent for advertisement has but a transitory effect, that time sets all men in their proper places.
Nothing can be more false; for he who has once declared himself among the great ones of the earth, not only holds his position while he lives, but forces an unreasoning admiration upon the future. Though he declines from the lofty throne, whereon his own vanity and love of praise have set him, he still stands above the modest level which contents the genuinely great. Why does Euripides still throw a shadow upon the worthier poets of his time? Because he had the faculty of displacement, because he could compel the world to profess an interest not only in his work but in himself. Why is Michael Angelo a loftier figure in the history of art than Donatello, the supreme sculptor of his time? Because Donatello had not the temper which would bully a hundred popes, and extract a magnificent advertisement from each encounter. Why does Shelley still claim a larger share of the world's admiration than Keats, his indubitable superior? Because Shelley was blessed or cursed with the trick of interesting the world by the accidents of his life.
So by a similar faculty Gilderoy and Jack Rann have kept themselves and their achievements in the light of day. Had they lived in the nineteenth century they might have been the vendors of patent pills, or the chairmen of bubble companies. Whatever trade they had followed, their names would have been on every hoarding, their wares would have been puffed in every journal. They understood the art of publicity better than any of their contemporaries, and they are remembered not because they were the best thieves of their time, but because they were determined to interest the people in their misdeeds. Gilderoy's brutality, which was always theatrical, ensured a constant remembrance, and the lofty gallows added to his repute; while the brilliant inspiration of the strings, which decorated Rann's breeches, was sufficient to conquer death. How should a hero sink to oblivion who had chosen for himself so splendid a name as Sixteen- String Jack?