CHARLES PEACE, after the habit of his kind, was born of scrupulously honest parents. The son of a religious file-maker, he owed to his fathernot only his singular piety but his love of edged tools. As he neverencountered an iron bar whose scission baffled him, so there never wasa fire-eating Methodist to whose ministrations he would not turn arepentant ear. After a handy portico and a rich booty he loved nothingso well as a soul-stirring discourse. Not even his precious fiddle occupied a larger space in his heart than that devotion which theignorant have termed hypocrisy. Wherefore his career was no lesssuitable to his ambition than his inglorious end. For he lived the kingof housebreakers, and he died a warning to all evildoers, with a prayerof intercession trembling upon his lips.
The hero's boyhood is wrapped in obscurity. It is certain that noglittering precocity brought disappointment to his maturer years, and hewas already nineteen when he achieved his first imprisonment. Even then'twas a sorry offence, which merited no more than a month, so that hereturned to freedom and his fiddle with his character unbesmirched.Serious as ever in pious exercises, he gained a scanty living as strolling musician. There was never a tavern in Sheffield where thetwang of his violin was unheard, and the skill wherewith he extorted music from a single string earned him the style and title of the modern Paganini. But such an employ was too mean for his pride, and he soongot to work again--this time with a better success.
The mansions of Sheffield were his early prey, and a rich plunder rewarded his intrepidity. The design was as masterly as its accomplishment. The grandstyle is already discernible. The houses were broken in quietude and good order. None saw the opened window; none heard the step upon the stair; in truth, the victim's loss was his first intelligence.
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