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[-20-]

CHAPTER IX.

A CITY MAN.  -  SMITHFIELD SCENES

GEORGE MONTAGUE was a tall, good-looking young man of about three or four-and-twenty. His hair and eyes were black, his complexion rather dark, and his features perfectly regular
    His manners were certainly polished and a agreeable; but there was, nevertheless, a something reserved and mysterious about him - an anxiety to avert the conversation from any topic connected with himself - a studied desire to flatter and gain the good opinions of those about him, by means of compliments at times servile - and an occasional betrayal of a belief in a code of morals not altogether consistent with the well-being of society, which constituted features in his cha-[-21-]racter by no means calculated to render him a favourite with all classes of persons. He was, however, well-informed upon most topics, ambitious of creating a sensation in the world, no matter by what means; resolute in his pursuit after wealth, and careless whether the paths leading to the objects which he sought were tortuous or straightforward. He was addicted to pleasure, but never permitted it to interfere with his business or mar his schemes. Love with him was merely the blandishment of beauty; and friendship was simply that bond which connected him with those individuals who were necessary to him. He was utterly and completely selfish; but he was somehow or another possessed of sufficient tact to conceal most of his faults - of the existence of which he was well aware. The consequence was that he was usually welcomed as an agreeable companion; some even went so far as to assert that he was a "devilish good fellow;" and all admitted that he was a thorough man of the world. He must have commenced his initiation early, thus to have acquired such a character ere he had completed his four-and-twentieth year!
    London abounds with such precocious specimens of thorough heartlessness and worldly mindedness. The universities and great public schools let loose upon society every half year a cloud of young men, who think only how soon they can spend their own property in order to prey upon that of others. These are your "young men about town:" as they grow older they become "men upon the town." In their former capacity they graduate in all the degrees of vice, dissipation, extravagance, and debauchery; and in the latter they become the tutors of the novices who are entering in their turn upon the road to ruin. The transition from the young man about town to the man upon the town is as natural as that of a chrysalis to a butterfly. These men upon the town constitute as pestilential a section of male society as the women of the town do of the female portion of the community. They are alike the reptiles produced by the great moral dung-heap.
    We cannot, however, exactly class Mr. George  Montague with the men upon the town in the true meaning of the phrase, inasmuch as he devoted his attention to commercial speculations of all kinds and under all shapes, and his sphere was chiefly the City; whereas men upon the town seldom entertain an idea half "so vulgar" as mercantile pursuits, and never visit the domains of the Lord Mayor save when they want to get a bill discounted, or to obtain cash for a check of too large an amount to be entrusted to any of their high-born and aristocratic companions.
    Mr. George Montague was, therefore, one of that multitudinous class called "City men" who possess no regular offices, but have their letters addreseed to the Auction Mart or Garraway's, and who make their appointments at such places as "the front of the Bank," "the Custom-house Wharf;" and "under the clock at the Docks."
    City men are very extraordinary characters. They all know "a certain speculation that would make a sure fortune, if one had but the capital to work upon;" they never fail to observe, while making this assertion, that they could apply to a friend if they chose, but that they do not choose to lay themselves under the obligation;  and they invariably affirm that nothing is more easy than to make a fortune in the City, although the greater portion of them remain without that happy consummation until the day of their deaths. Now and then, however, one of these City men does succeed a in "making a hit" by some means or other; and then his old friends, the very men who are constantly enunciating the opinion relative to the facility with which fortunes are obtained in the City, look knowing, wink at each other, and declare "that it never could have been done unless he'd had somebody with plenty of money to back him."
    Now Mr. Montague was one of those who adopted a better system of logic than the vulgar reasoning. He knew that there was but little merit in producing bread from flour, for instance: but he perceived that there was immense credit due to those who could produce their bread without any flour at all. Upon this principle he acted, and his plan was not unattended with success. He scorned the idea "that money was necessary to beget money ;" he began his "City career," as he sometimes observed, without a farthing; and he was seldom without gold in his pocket.
    No one knew where he lived. He was some times seen getting into a Hackney omnibus at the Flower Pot, a Camberwell one at the Cross Keys; or running furiously after a Hammersmith one along Cheapside; but as these directions were very opposite, it was difficult to deduce from them any idea of his domiciliary whereabouts.
    He was young to be a City man; the class does not often include members under thirty; but of course there are exceptions to all rules; and  Mr. George Montague was one.
    He was then a City man: but if the reader be anxious to know what sort of business he transacted to obtain his living; whether he dabbled in the funds, sold wines upon commission, effected loans and discounts, speculated in shares, got up joint-stock companies, shipped goods to the colonies, purchased land in Australia at eighteen- pence an acre and sold it again at one-and-nine, conducted compromises for insolvent tradesmen,  made out the accounts of bankrupts, arbitrated between partners who disagreed, or bought in things in a friendly way at public sales; whether he followed any of these pursuits, or meddled a little with them all, we can no more satisfy our readers than if we attempted the biography of the Man in the Moon,- all we can say is, that he was invariably in the City from eleven to four; that he usually had "an excellent thing in hand just at that moment ;" and, in a word, that he belonged to the class denominated City Men!
    We have taken some pains to describe this gentleman; for reasons which will appear hereafter.
    Having been duly introduced to Walter Sydney by Mr. Stephens, and after a few observations of a general nature, Mr. Montague glided almost imperceptibly into topics upon which he conversed with ease and fluency.
    Presently a pause ensued; and Mr. Stephens enquired "if there were anything new in the City?"
    "Nothing particular," answered Montague. "I have not of course been in town this morning; but I was not away till late last night. I had a splendid thing in hand, which I succeeded in bringing to a favourable termination. By-the-by there was a rumour on 'Change yesterday [-22-] afternoon, just before the close, that Alderman  Dumkins is all wrong."
    "Indeed," said Stephens; "I thought he was wealthy."
    "Oh! no; I knew the contrary eighteen months ago! It appears he has been starting joint-stock company to work the Ercalat tin mines in Cornwall —"
    "And I suppose the mines do not really exist?"
    "Oh! yes; they do - upon his maps! However, he has been exhibiting certain specimens of tin; which be has passed off as Ercalat produce; and it is now pretty generally known that the article was supplied him by a house in Aldgate." 
    "Then he will be compelled to resign his gown?"
    "Not he! On the contrary, he stands next in rotation for the honours of the civic chair, and he intends to go boldly forward as if nothing had happened. You must remember that the aldermen of the City of London have degenerated considerably in respectability during late years, and that none of the really influential and wealthy men in the City will have anything to do with the corporation affairs. You no see any great banker nor merchant wearing the aldermanic gown. The only alderman who really possessed what may be called a large fortune, and whose pecuniary position was above all doubt, resigned his gown the other day in disgust at the treatment which he received from his brother authorities, in consequence of his connexion with the Weekly Courier - the only newspaper that boldly, fearlessly, and effectually advocates the people's cause."
    "And Dumkins will not resign, you think?"
    "Oh! decidedly not. But for my part," added Montague, "I feel convinced that the sooner some change is made in the City administration the better. Only conceive the immense sums which the corporation receives from various sources, and the uses to which they are applied. Look at the beastly guzzling at Guildhall, while there are in the very heart of the City Augean stables of filth, crime, and debauchery to be cleansed - witness Petticoat-lane, Smithfield —"
    A species of groan or stifled exclamation of horror issued from the lips of Walter as Montague uttered these words: her countenance grew deadly pale, and her entire frame appeared to writhe under a most painful reminiscence or emotion.
    "Compose yourself, compose yourself," said Stephens, hastily. "Shall I ring for a glass of water, or wine, or anything —"
    "No, it is past," interrupted Walter Sydney; "but I never think of that horrible - that appalling adventure without feeling my blood curdle in my veins. The mere mention of the word Smithfield —"
    "Could I have been indiscreet enough to give utterance to anything calculated to annoy?" said Montague, who was surprised at this scene.
    "You were not aware of the reminiscence you awoke in my mind by your remark," answered Walter, smiling; "but were you acquainted with the particulars of that fearful night, you would readily excuse my weakness."
    "You have excited Mr. Montague's curiosity," observed Stephens, "and you have now nothing to do but to gratify it."
    "It is an adventure of a most romantic kind -  an adventure which you will scarcely believe - and yet one that will make your hair stand on end."
    "I am now most anxious to learn the details of this mysterious occurrence," said Montague, scarcely knowing whether these remarks were made in jest or earnest.
    Walter Sydney appeared to reflect for a few moments; and then commenced the narrative in the following manner:- 
    "It is now a little more than four years ago - very shortly after I first arrived at this house - that I rode into town, attended by the same groom who is in my service now. I knew little or nothing of the City, and felt my curiosity awakened to view the emporium of the world's commerce. I accordingly determined to indulge in a ramble by myself amidst the streets and thoroughfares of a place of which such marvellous accounts reach those who pass their youth in the country. I left the groom with the horses at a livery-stable in Bishopsgate-street, with a promise to return in the course of two or three hours. I then roved about to. my heart's content, and never gave the lapse of time a thought. Evening came, and the weather grew threatening. Then commenced my perplexities. I had forgotten the address of the stables where the groom awaited my return; and I discovered the pleasing fact that I had lost my way just at the moment when an awful storm seemed ready to break over the metropolis. When I solicited information concerning the right path which 1 should pursue, I was insulted by the low churls to whom I applied. To be brief, I was overtaken by darkness and by the storm, in a place which I have since ascertained to be Smithfield market. I could not have conceived that so filthy and horrible a nuisance could have been allowed to exist in the midst of a city of so much wealth. But, oh! the revolting streets which branch all from that Smithfield. It seemed to me that I was wandering amongst all the haunts of crime and appalling penury of which I had read in romances, but which I never could have believed to exist in the very heart of the metropolis of the world. Civilisation appeared to me to have chosen particular places which it condescended to visit, and to have passed others by without even leaving a foot-print to denote its presence."
    "But this horrible adventure?" said Montague.
    "Oh! forgive my digression. Surrounded by darkness, exposed to the rage of the storm, and actually sinking with fatigue, I took refuge in an old house, which I am sure I could never find again; but which was situated nearly at the end, and on the right-hand side of the way, of one of those vile narrow streets branching off from Smithfield. That house was the den of wild beasts in human shape! I was compelled to hear a conversation of a most appalling nature between two ruffians, who made that place the depot for their plunder. They planned, amongst other atrocious topics, the robbery of a country-seat, somewhere to the north of Islington, and inhabited by a family of the name of Markham."
    "Indeed! What - how strange!" ejaculated Montague: then immediately afterwards, he added, "How singular that you should have overheard so vile a scheme!"
    "Oh! those villains," continued Walter, "were capable of crimes of a far deeper dye They discussed horror upon horror, till I thought [-23-] that I was going raving mad. I made a desperate attempt to escape, and was perceived. What then immediately followed I know not, for I became insensible: in a word, Mr. Montague, I fainted!"
    A deep blush suffused her countenance, as she made this avowal - for it seemed to have a direct relation to her sex; and she was well aware that the secret connected therewith had been revealed by her benefactor to George Montague. On his part, he gazed upon her with mingled interest and admiration.
    "I awoke to encounter a scene of horror," she continued, after a short pause, "which you must fancy; but the full extent of which I cannot depict. I can only feel it even now. Those wretches were conveying me to a room upon the ground-floor - a room to which the cells of the Bastille or the Inquisition could have produced no equal. It had a trap-door communicating with the Fleet Ditch! I begged for mercy - I promised wealth - for I knew that my kind benefactor," she added, glancing towards. Mr. Stephens, "would have enabled me to fulfil my pledge to them; but all was in vain. The murderers hurled me down the dark and pestiferous hole!"
    "Merciful heavens!" ejaculated Montague.
    "It would appear that the house in question," proceeded Walter, "stood upon the side of, and not over the Ditch. There can be, however, no doubt that the trap-door was contrived for the horrible purpose of disposing of those victims who fell into the merciless hands of the occupants of the dwelling; for when I had fallen some distance, instead of being immersed in black and filthy mud, I was caught upon a sloping plank which shelved towards a large aperture in the wall of the Ditch. I instinctively clung to this plank, and lay stretched upon it for some moments until I had partially recovered my presence of mind. The circumstance of having thus escaped a dreadful death gave me an amount of courage at which I myself was astonished. At length I began to reason whether it would be better to remain there until morning, and then endeavour to reach the trap-door above my head, or to devise some means of immediate escape. I decided upon the latter proceeding; for I reflected that the morning would not afford light to that subterranean hole to enable me to act with certainty; and I, moreover, dreaded the extreme vengeance of those ruffians who had I already given me a sample of their brutality, should I happen to encounter them on emerging from the trap-door. Lastly, I considered that it was also probable that I might not succeed in raising the trap-door at all."
    "What a fearful situation !" observed Montague.
    "Horrible even to think of," added Stephens, who listened with the deepest attention to this narrative, although he had heard it related on former occasions.
    "With my hands and legs I groped about," continued Walter, "and I speedily ascertained my exact position with regard to the locality. My feet were close to a large square aperture in the perpendicular wall overhanging the Ditch; and the floor of the cellar was only a couple of feet below the aperture. I accordingly got cautiously off the board, and stood upon the damp ground. After the lapse of several minutes, during which I nerved myself to adopt the idea that had struck me, I passed my head through the aperture, and looked out over the Ditch The stream appeared rapid, to judge by its gurgling sound; and the stench that exhaled from it was pestiferous in the extreme. Turning my head to the left I saw hundreds of lights twinkling in the small narrow windows of two lines of houses that overhung the Ditch. The storm had now completely passed away - the rain had ceased - and the night was clear and beautiful. In a few minutes I was perfectly acquainted with the entire geography of the place. The means of escape were within my reach. About three feet above the aperture through which I was now looking, a plank crossed the Ditch; and on the opposite side - for the Ditch in that part was not above two yards wide from wall to wall - was a narrow ledge running along the side of the house facing the one in which I was, and evidently communicating with some lane or street close by. I can scarcely tell you how I contrived  to creep through the aperture and reach the plank overhead. Nevertheless, I attempted the dangerous feat, and I accomplished it. I crossed the plank, and reached the ledge of which I have spoken: it terminated in the very street where stood the terrible den from which I had just so miraculously escaped. Indeed, I emerged upon that street only at a distance of a few yards from the door of that detestable place. To hurry away in a contrary direction was my first and most natural impulse; but I had not proceeded far when the door of a house was suddenly thrown violently open, and out poured a crowd of men and women, among whom I was, as it were, immediately hemmed in."
    "What! another adventure?" exclaimed Montague.
    "One calculated to inspire feelings of deep disgust, if not of alarm," answered Waiter. "It appeared that two women had been quarreling and had turned out to fight. They fell upon each other like wild cats, or as you would fancy that tigers would fight. A clear and lovely moon lighted this revolting scene. A circle was formed round the termagants, and for ten minutes did they lacerate themselves with fists and nails in a fearful manner. Their clothes were torn into ribands - their countenances were horribly disfigured with scratches - the blood poured from their noses - and their hair, hanging all dishevelled over their naked shoulders, gave them a wild, ferocious, and savage appearance, such as I never could have expected to encounter in the metropolis of the civilised world."
    "And in the very heart of the City," added Mr. Montague.
    "Suddenly a cry of 'The Bluebottles!' was raised, and the crowd, belligerents and all, rushed pell-mell back again into the house. In spite of all my endeavours to escape I was hurried in with that hideous mob of ferocious-looking men and brazen-faced women. In a few moments I found myself in a large room, in which there were at least thirty wretched beds huddled close together, and so revoltingly dirty that the cold pavement or a hedge-side would have seemed a more preferable couch. And, oh! how can I describe the inmates of that den, many of whom were crowding round a fire cooking provender, which filled the place with a sickening and most fetid odour. There were young girls almost naked, without shoes or stockings, and whose sunken cheeks, dimmed eyes, and miserable attire contrasted [-24-] strangely with their boisterous mirth. Some of these unfortunate creatures, nevertheless, retained traces of original beauty prematurely faded. The men were hatless and shoeless; indeed the entire assembly consisted of males and females evidently of the most wretched description. Scarcely had I time to cast a glance around me when I was questioned as to how I came there? what I wanted? and whether I meant to stand anything? 'I tell tell you what it is,' said one to his companions, 'he's a swell who is come to have a look at at these kind of cribs, and he must pay his footing.' I immediately comprehended the nature of the impression which my presence had created, and presented the individual who had spoken with a couple of half-crowns. The sight of the money produced an immense feeling in my favour. Heaven only knows how many gallons of beer were fetched from a neighbouring public-house; and when the inmates of that lazar-house - for I can scarcely call it anything else - had all partaken of the liquor, I was overwhelmed with offers of service. One declared, that if I merely came to see the neighbourhood he would take me round to every place in the street; another assured me, that if I had committed a forgery or any other 'genteel crime,' he would either help me to lie secure until the matter had blown over, or to escape from the country; and so on. I suffered the wretches to retain the impression that curiosity had alone led me thither; and as soon as I had made this announcement the mistress of the house was summoned to do the honours of the establishment. A blear-eyed old crone made her appearance, and insisted upon showing me over the house. 'These rooms,' said she, meaning the two upon the ground floor, 'are for those who can afford to pay threepence for their bed and who have supper to cook.' We then ascended to the first floor. 'These are the four- penny beds,' said the old woman, pointing with pride and satisfaction to some thirty or forty couches, a shade cleaner, and the least thing further off from each other than those down stairs. The rooms on the first floor were also filled with lodgers; and another demand war made upon my purse. On the third floor and in the attics were the most horrible scenes of wretchedness which I had yet beheld. Those dens were filled with straw beds, separated from each other only by pieces of plank about eight or ten inches in height. Men, women, and children were all crowded together - sleeping pell-mell. Oh! it was a horrible, horrible spectacle. To be brief, I escaped from that moral plague-house; and in a few moments was traversing Smithfield once more. Even the tainted air of that filthy enclosure was refreshing after the foul atmosphere from which I had just emerged.
    Louisa entered the room at this moment to announce that luncheon was prepared in another apartment.
    "And you never took any steps to root out that nest of villains in the Old House whence you escaped alive so miraculously?" said Montague, sipping a glass of exquisite wine after his luncheon.
    "I wrote two anonymous letters the very next morning," answered Walter: "one to Mr. Markham, warning him of the contemplated burglary at his house; and another to the Lord Mayor of London. It did not altogether suit Mr. Stephens's plans —"
    "No - not to make a fuss about an affair which would have been sure to bring your name into notoriety," added this gentleman hastily.
    "That adventure has no doubt given you a distaste for late rambles," said Montague.
    "In the City - decidedly so," was the reply "I seldom go into London, early or late - I have so few inducements - so few acquaintances! By the way, a few evenings ago I treated myself to  a visit to the Opera, and there accident threw me into conversation with a gentleman and lady who sat in the same box as myself. The result was an invitation to the abode of the lady - a Mrs. Arlington-"
    "Mrs. Arlington," ejaculated Montague, a alight flush animating his countenance.
    "The same. She is the friend of Sir Rupert Harborough. I am anxious to see something of  the world now and then - and to avail myself of my present garb for that purpose. I accordingly called upon Mrs. Arlington last evening, and learnt 'a lesson of life.' I saw an elegant woman, a baronet, a fashionable gentleman, and a very interesting young man, associating with a vulgar wretch of the name, I believe, of Talbot, whose manners would have disgraced a groom. I must, however, observe that the interesting young gentleman to whom I allude did not seem to be more pleased with the conversation and conduct of this vulgarian than myself. One coincidence somewhat extraordinary occurred - that same interesting young man was no other than Mr. Richard Markham, one of the sons of —"
    "Ah! indeed - how singular!" exclaimed George Montague, not waiting till Walter finished his sentence; "very singular!" he added; then, having tossed off a bumper of Madeira, he walked up to the window, where he affected to inhale with delight the exquisite fragrance of the flowers that adorned the casement.

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