On a Double Life

The entire town respected William—well, almost the entire town. Some people who knew him well knew that he lived a double life. By day, he was a member of the Town Council, a sort of judge for small claims made about his chosen profession, cabinetmaking. He was also one of the first members of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. However, by night, William spent the lavish sums his cabinetry made for him in drink, women, and gambling. That’s not an unusual story, perhaps. Other people have done the same: Respectable by day, reprehensible by night.

But William was different. Times were changing. Modern dress and even modern architecture were all the rage in William’s town and period, but William clung to the old styles and ideas.While his clothes were expensive, they kept the style of twenty years ago. He seemed, by his 40s, to be stuck in an earlier time. He remembered the period when a gentleman would have a mistress or two hidden here or there, when a man of means would lay a pound or two or three on a rooster fight, when a solid citizen would join a social club in order to drink among his fellows—even to excess. Even the music William liked and often hummed or whistled was from a generation earlier. But in more recent years, those distractions had become passé; the modern society man eschewed such activities as frivolous and unrespectable. A sort of “Puritan” ethic of solid citizenry had taken hold in his town and nation. So, William remained a throwback to a time when an earlier, more permissive and somewhat liberal mentality had reigned.

William had no wife, but he kept two women in town. Each woman had children by him, but the two women didn’t know each other despite the fact they lived fairly close to each other. He was at least (at most?) discreet about this. His gambling was a way to supplement his income because he was spending money hand over fist to keep up the two women and their families and also keep his own rooms, including servants, his cabinet shop supplied and manned, and also help support other family members. But, as it always does, the gambling began to go against William. That made him gamble even more to make up his losses. That strategy never ends well

Where else could William get money?

Sitting in his cabinetry shop one day, working on a lock set that a patron had ordered, it hit William right between the eyes: Working on doors and locks in his job meant that he had keys to some of the town’s most expensive shops.

And what better cover for his plan than to be a respected member of the Town Council? Because of his experiences in his town’s “dens of iniquity,” William had connections to his town’s more villainous element, and it was here that he found the men who would come to form his “crew” of burglars. Soon, he and his gang began using the keys William had to break into shops along the town’s main street at nighttime. The local newspaper began reporting a string of break-ins. The town soon became gripped in a panic over who might be broken into next. Of course, that meant that “daytime” William received more orders for more and better and newer locks for the doors to the town’s businesses. These poor saps! The business owners didn’t realize that they were merely giving the man who was robbing them even more access to their goods.

One evening, even the City Council offices were robbed.

And then, finally, the national tax office got hit. Luckily, only a few coins and bills were taken. The burglars missed a drawer that held all the cash. But the authorities managed to catch one of the robbers, and, in the town jail, the man began to talk. His tale sounded too ridiculous, so outlandish that it could not possibly be true. The ringleader of the group, he explained, was one of them, one of the town’s elites.

William had visited the man in jail the next day after the robbery. All the authorities knew him, of course, so he was granted access to the prisoner. “What a kind man,” they thought. “An important man like that showing Christian charity by visiting those in jail!”

William knew the jig was up. He left town and then the country. Eventually, the other accomplice was caught, and, when their stories matched, the authorities were left with no choice to believe the truth: William had been leading a double life. An arrest warrant was issued—a national warrant—because of the robbery of the tax office. Eventually, a bounty hunter tracked William down in another country and brought him back for trial.

William was tried by a jury of his peers—and that may have been his ultimate misfortune. The other prosperous, successful businessmen in town, many of them in the Chamber of Commerce with William and even on the Town Council, decided to make a public example of William. He was condemned to death by hanging for the robbery. His two accomplices were given prison sentences, but William was to become an object lesson.

As he was led away to the gallows, William, dressed in a fine silk suit in the old style, hummed his favorite old tune. In an extreme irony, the town gallows upon which he was hanged had been designed and built by his own shop.

You may have heard of William—at least about his character. You see, his name was William Brodie—Deacon Brodie. His town was Edinburgh, Scotland, in the late 1700s. And, some decades later, a writer from there, one Robert Louis Stevenson, would write a book, based on Deacon Brodie, about a man who lived a double life: Respectable by day, reprehensible by night.

You know it as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


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