[Applause.] "And who is to be the guardian of this noble fame--the community as a whole? No! The responsibility is individual, not communal. From this day forth each and every one of you is in his own person its special guardian, and individually responsible that no harm shall come to it. Do you --does each of you--accept this great trust? [Tumultuous assent.] Then all is well. Transmit it to your children and to your children's children. To-day your purity is beyond reproach--see to it that it shall remain so. To-day there is not a person in your community who could be beguiled to touch a penny not his own--see to it that you abide in this grace. ["We will! we will!"] This is not the place to make comparisons between ourselves and other communities--some of them ungracious towards us; they have their ways, we have ours; let us be content. [Applause.] I am done. Under my hand, my friends, rests a stranger's eloquent recognition of what we are; through him the world will always henceforth know what we are. We do not know who he is, but in your name I utter your gratitude, and ask you to raise your voices in indorsement."
The house rose in a body and made the walls quake with the thunders of its thankfulness for the space of a long minute. Then it sat down, and Mr. Burgess took an envelope out of his pocket. The house held its breath while he slit the envelope open and took from it a slip of paper. He read its contents--slowly and impressively--the audience listening with tranced attention to this magic document, each of whose words stood for an ingot of gold:
"'The remark which I made to the distressed stranger was this: "You are very far from being a bad man; go, and reform."'" Then he continued:- "We shall know in a moment now whether the remark here quoted corresponds with the one concealed in the sack; and if that shall prove to be so--and it undoubtedly will--this sack of gold belongs to a fellow-citizen who will henceforth stand before the nation as the symbol of the special virtue which has made our town famous throughout the land--Mr. Billson!"
The house had gotten itself all ready to burst into the proper tornado of applause; but instead of doing it, it seemed stricken with a paralysis; there was a deep hush for a moment or two, then a wave of whispered murmurs swept the place--of about this tenor: "BILLSON! oh, come, this is TOO thin! Twenty dollars to a stranger --or ANYBODY--BILLSON! Tell it to the marines!" And now at this point the house caught its breath all of a sudden in a new access of astonishment, for it discovered that whereas in one part of the hall Deacon Billson was standing up with his head weekly bowed, in another part of it Lawyer Wilson was doing the same. There was a wondering silence now for a while. Everybody was puzzled, and nineteen couples were surprised and indignant.
Billson and Wilson turned and stared at each other. Billson asked, bitingly:
"Why do YOU rise, Mr. Wilson?"
"Because I have a right to. Perhaps you will be good enough to explain to the house why YOU rise."
"With great pleasure. Because I wrote that paper."
"It is an impudent falsity! I wrote it myself."
It was Burgess's turn to be paralysed. He stood looking vacantly at first one of the men and then the other, and did not seem to know what to do. The house was stupefied. Lawyer Wilson spoke up now, and said:
"I ask the Chair to read the name signed to that paper."
That brought the Chair to itself, and it read out the name:
"John Wharton BILLSON."
"There!" shouted Billson, "what have you got to say for yourself now? And what kind of apology are you going to make to me and to this insulted house for the imposture which you have attempted to play here?"
"No apologies are due, sir; and as for the rest of it, I publicly charge you with pilfering my note from Mr. Burgess and substituting a copy of it signed with your own name. There is no other way by which you could have gotten hold of the test-remark; I alone, of living men, possessed the secret of its wording."
There was likely to be a scandalous state of things if this went on; everybody noticed with distress that the shorthand scribes were scribbling like mad; many people were crying "Chair, chair! Order! order!" Burgess rapped with his gavel, and said:
"Let us not forget the proprieties due.