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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Culture and Life

A New Way to Detect a Thief

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -


A New Way to Detect a ThiefThe father of Mr. Webster, the great American statesman, was a very humorous and jocose* personage. As he was once journeying in Massachusetts, not far from his native town, he stopped late one night at an inn in the village of Ware. In the bar-room were about twenty persons, who called out to him to discover a thief. One of the company, it appeared, had a watch taken from his pocket a few minutes before, and he knew the offender must be in the room with them. “Fasten all the doors of the room – let no one leave it,” said Mr. Webster, “and here, landlord, go and bring your wife’s great brass kettle.” Boniface did as commanded. The great brass kettle was placed in the middle of the floor, bottom up, as black, and sooty, and smoky as the chimney back. “You don’t want hot water nor nothing to take off the bristles of no critter, do you, squire?” said the landlord, the preparations looking so much like hog-killing. “Go to your barn, and bring me the biggest cockrill you’ve got.” Boniface went to the barn, and soon returned with a tremendous great rooster, cackling all the way like mad. The old rooster was thrown under the inverted kettle, and the lamp was blown out. “Now, gentlemen, I don’t suppose the thief is in here; but if he is, the rooster will crow when the offender touches the bottom of the kettle with his hands. Walk around in circle, and the cock will make known the watch-stealer. The innocent need not be afraid, you know.” The company, then, to humour him and carry out the joke, walked round the kettle in the dark for a few minutes. “All done, gentlemen?” – “All done,” was the cry; “Where’s your crowing – we heard no cock-a-doodle-do?” – “Bring us a light.” A light was brought as ordered. “Now, hold up your hands, good folks” One held up his hands after another – they were of course black, from coming in contact with the soot of the kettle. “All up?” – “All up,” was the response. “A-ll - don’t know; here’s one fellow who hasn’t held up his hands.” - “Ah ha, my old boy! Let’s take a peep at your paws!” They were examined, and were not black like those of the rest of the company. “You’ll find your watch concealed about him; search him!” And so it proved. This fellow, not being aware any more than the rest, of the trap that was set for the discovery of the thief, had kept aloof from the kettle, lest when he touched it the crowing of the rooster should proclaim a thief. As the hands of all the others were blackened, the whiteness of his own, of course, showed that he dared not touch the old brass kettle, and that he was the thief. He was lodged in proper custody preparatory to being sent to jail. – American Paper.

*Jocose = given to joking