“You have no right to presume that I have broken the law,” said Charlton with something of his old fire.
“Well, Mr. Charlton, it will do no good for you to quarrel with your counsel. You have as good as confessed the crime yourself. I must insist that you leave the case in my hands, or I must throw it up. Take time to think about it. I’ll send my partner over to get any suggestions from you about witnesses. The most we can do is to prove previous good character. That isn’t worth anything where the evidence against the prisoner is so conclusive—as in your case. But it makes a show of doing something.” And Mr. Conger was about leaving the cell when, as if a new thought had occurred to him, he turned back and sat down again and said: “There is one other course open to you. Perhaps it is the best, since you will not follow my plan. You can plead guilty, and trust to the clemency of the President. I think strong political influences could be brought to bear at Washington in favor of your pardon?”
Charlton shook his head, and the lawyer left him “to think the matter over,” as he said. Then ensued the season of temptation. Why should he stand on a scruple? Why not get free? Here was a conscienceless attorney, ready to make any number of affidavits in regard to the absence of important witnesses; ready to fight the law by every technicality of the law. His imprisonment had already taught him how dear liberty was, and, within half an hour after Conger left him, a great change came over him. Why should he go to prison? What justice was there in his going to prison? Here he was, taking a long sentence to the penitentiary, while such men as Westcott and Conger were out. There could be no equity in such an arrangement. Whenever a man begins to seek equality of dispensation, he is in a fair way to debauch his conscience. And another line of thought influenced Charlton. The world needed his services. What advantage would there be in throwing away the chances of a lifetime on a punctilio? Why might he not let the serviceable lawyer do as he pleased? Conger was the keeper of his own conscience, and would not be either more or less honest at heart for what he did or did not do. All the kingdoms of the earth could not have tempted Charlton to serve himself by another man’s perjury. But liberty on one hand and State’s-prison on the other, was a dreadful alternative. And so, when the meek and studious man whom Conger used for a partner called on him, he answered all his questions, and offered no objection to the assumption of the quiet man that Mr. Conger would carry on the case in his own fashion.
Many a man is willing to be a martyr till he sees the stake and fagots.