His test would contain only the kindly opening clause of my remark. Of that I had no shadow of doubt. You would have thought as I did. You would not have expected a base betrayal from one whom you had befriended and against whom you had committed no offence. And so with perfect confidence, perfect trust, I wrote on a piece of paper the opening words--ending with "Go, and reform,"--and signed it. When I was about to put it in an envelope I was called into my back office, and without thinking I left the paper lying open on my desk." He stopped, turned his head slowly toward Billson, waited a moment, then added: "I ask you to note this; when I returned, a little latter, Mr. Billson was retiring by my street door." [Sensation.]
In a moment Billson was on his feet and shouting:
"It's a lie! It's an infamous lie!"
The Chair. "Be seated, sir! Mr. Wilson has the floor."
Billson's friends pulled him into his seat and quieted him, and Wilson went on:
"Those are the simple facts. My note was now lying in a different place on the table from where I had left it. I noticed that, but attached no importance to it, thinking a draught had blown it there. That Mr. Billson would read a private paper was a thing which could not occur to me; he was an honourable man, and he would be above that. If you will allow me to say it, I think his extra word 'VERY' stands explained: it is attributable to a defect of memory. I was the only man in the world who could furnish here any detail of the test-mark--by HONOURABLE means. I have finished."
There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practised in the tricks and delusions of oratory. Wilson sat down victorious. The house submerged him in tides of approving applause; friends swarmed to him and shook him by the hand and congratulated him, and Billson was shouted down and not allowed to say a word. The Chair hammered and hammered with its gavel, and kept shouting:
"But let us proceed, gentlemen, let us proceed!"
At last there was a measurable degree of quiet, and the hatter said:
"But what is there to proceed with, sir, but to deliver the money?"
Voices. "That's it! That's it! Come forward, Wilson!"
The Hatter. "I move three cheers for Mr. Wilson, Symbol of the special virtue which--"
The cheers burst forth before he could finish; and in the midst of them--and in the midst of the clamour of the gavel also--some enthusiasts mounted Wilson on a big friend's shoulder and were going to fetch him in triumph to the platform. The Chair's voice now rose above the noise:
"Order! To your places! You forget that there is still a document to be read." When quiet had been restored he took up the document, and was going to read it, but laid it down again saying "I forgot; this is not to be read until all written communications received by me have first been read." He took an envelope out of his pocket, removed its enclosure, glanced at it--seemed astonished--held it out and gazed at it--stared at it.
Twenty or thirty voices cried out:
"What is it? Read it! read it!"
And he did--slowly, and wondering:
"'The remark which I made to the stranger--[Voices. "Hello! how's this?"]--was this: 'You are far from being a bad man. [Voices. "Great Scott!"] Go, and reform.' [Voice. "Oh, saw my leg off!"] Signed by Mr. Pinkerton the banker."
The pandemonium of delight which turned itself loose now was of a sort to make the judicious weep. Those whose withers were unwrung laughed till the tears ran down; the reporters, in throes of laughter, set down disordered pot-hooks which would never in the world be decipherable; and a sleeping dog jumped up scared out of its wits, and barked itself crazy at the turmoil. All manner of cries were scattered through the din: "We're getting rich--TWO Symbols of Incorruptibility!--without counting Billson!" "THREE!-- count Shadbelly in--we can't have too many!" "All right--Billson's elected!" "Alas, poor Wilson! victim of TWO thieves!"
A Powerful Voice.