< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >


[-400-]

CHAPTER CXXXIII.

SKILLIGALEE'S STORY.

    "You remember the day we parted, after having lived together for nearly six months. I gave you two guineas to find your way up to London, where I recommended you to proceed to seek your fortune; and I told you that I had as much left for myself, to help me to get away from a part of the country where the numerous burglaries I had committed had put all the constables on the alert after me. But in reality I had but two or three shillings remaining in my pocket. I knew that if I told you the real state of my finances, you would not accept so much as I had given you; but I was afraid that you might be implicated in my difficulties, and so I was determined that you should have sufficient to convey you clear away from Staffordshire.
    "Well, when we parted, I walked along the road leading away from the village, as disconsolate as might be; and yet you know that I am not naturally of a very mournful disposition. It was nine o'clock in the evening, if you remember, when I put you into the waggon that was to take you to London. I went on until I reached a lonely public-house, by the way-side. It was then eleven o'clock; and I was both tired and hungry. I entered the Three Compasses (which was the sign of the public house), and sat down in the parlour. There was another traveller there  a short stout man, with a very red face, and who was committing desperate havoc upon a large cheese and loaf, from which he, however, occasionally diverted his attention, in order to pay his respects to a pot of porter. I ordered some refreshment, and inquired if I could be accommodated with a bed. The old widow woman who kept the place, said that the only bed she had to spare was already engaged by the gentleman then at supper, but that I might sleep in the hay-loft if I chose. Thereupon the red-faced man gave a long stare at me, shrugged his shoulders, and went on eating. I suppose that my appearance was not respectable enough to induce him to resign half of his bed for my accommodation; and, indeed, I was dreadfully shabby  almost in rags, as you may well remember. So I accepted the offer of the hay-loft; and retired to that place as soon as I had finished my supper.
    "But as I clambered up the ladder to my roosting-place, my unfortunate trousers caught a nail; and one leg was split completely down to the foot. I was now in a most wretched dilemma, not knowing how I should contrive to mend my luckless inexpressibles. But I soon fell asleep, in spite of my unpleasant reflections; and when I awoke, the dawn of the mild spring morning was just breaking. I examined my garment, and was reduced to despair at its appearance. At length I resolved to dress myself, go down stairs, borrow a needle and thread of the old woman, and be my own tailor. When I descended into the yard, I found a lad busily employed in cleaning a pair of boots, while a pair of trousers lay upon a bench, neatly folded up, having evidently gone through the process of brushing. I immediately recognised the stout drab pantaloons which the red-faced man wore on the preceding evening; and my eyes dwelt longingly upon them. In reply to my questions, the boy said that his grandmother (the old widow who kept the public-house) was not up yet, but that he could get me a needle and thread, as he knew where she kept her work-bag. I begged him to do so; and he very obligingly went into the house for that purpose.
    "The moment he had disappeared I snatched up the red-faced man's drab trousers in one hand, and his excellent pair of bluchers in the other: then, without waiting to look behind me, I jumped over the fence which separated the stable-yard from the fields, and was speedily scampering across the open country as fast as my legs would carry me. When I had run about a mile, I reached a little grove, situated on the bank of a stream: and there I halted.
    "The red-faced gentleman's boots were a wonderful improvement upon my old broken shoes; but his pantaloons fitted somewhat awkwardly, being a world too wide round the waist, and a foot too short in the legs. However, they were better than my old tattered unmentionables, and I could not complain that they were dear!
    "I pursued my way along the banks of the stream until past mid-day, when I came to a village, where I halted at a public-house to take some refreshment. My two or three shillings were still unchanged, because I had not paid a single penny for my entertainment at the Three Compasses. While I sate enjoying my bread and cheese and beer, I revolved in my mind various plans to better my condition. [-401-]

    But my attention was speedily averted from that topic to the conversation of two old men, who were sitting at another table in the tap-room.
    " 'So poor old Joe Dobbin's scapegrace nephew is coming home at last?' said one.  'Yes,' replied the other: 'he has been seeking his fortune, as a sailor, all over the world, for the last ten years; and now that he hasn't a penny, and is a-weary of a sea-faring life, he has written to say that he is coming home to his poor old blind uncle.'  'Ah! Tom Tittlebat has been a wild'un in his day, I'll answer for it,' said the first old man. 'But his uncle seems quite delighted at the idea of seeing him again,' observed the other old fellow.  'He says that he shall persuade upon Tom to stay at home and take care of him; and then he'll be able to turn away cross old Margery, who robs him and ill-treats him in a shameful manner.'
    "I devoured every word of this conversation; and my mind was instantly made up. I accordingly joined in the discourse, called for some ale, of which I made the two old fellows partake, and so artfully pumped them that in half an hour I knew all about old blind Dobbin and his graceless nephew Tom Tittlebat, without having appeared even to ask a single question concerning them. At length, when I had my lesson complete, I burst out into a hearty laugh, and cried out, 'What, Master Buckley, don't you remember me then? and you, good Master Dottings, am I quite a stranger to you too?' The old men stared; and then, with another hearty laugh, I boldly announced myself to be Tom Tittlebat. You should have seen the old fellows  how glad they were! One swore that he had all along suspected who I was; and the other vowed that my features were unchanged since he last saw me, although my face was a little tanned! Then I called for more ale, and plied the old boys well, so that they might help to favour the imposture which I meditated.
    "Away we went to the cottage inhabited by old Dobbin, my two aged companions really showing me the way, while I pretended to be quite familiar with it. The moment we came in sight of my alleged uncle's residence, old Buckley and Dottings (whose names I had found out from their own discourse with me) hobbled forward, exclaiming, 'Here's the prodigal returned, Brother Dobbin!'  'Kill the fatted calf, Brother Dobbin!' And In a few moments I was in my alleged uncle's arms.
    "Then the fatted calf wine indeed killed. Dame [-402-] Margery, the old man's housekeeper, was compelled to bustle about to prepare a copious supper  a duty which she performed with a very bad grace, and with sundry suspicious leers and side-glances towards me. I took no notice of her ill-humour, but rattled away about my adventures by sea and land till the three old men were quite astounded at the marvellous things I had seen and the tremendous perils that I had escaped. Buckley and Dotting. were invited to stay to supper; and a merry meal we had. When the things were cleared away, I undertook to brew the punch, assuring the old folks that the compound would be made according to a recipe which I had obtained from the king of the Inaccessible Islands.
    "Well, the punch was made; and there it stood steaming in an enormous bowl upon the table. I was determined to enjoy myself; for I purposed to pack up every thing portable during the night and decamp before dawn, for fear that the rightful nephew should return before I had turned my trick to advantage. So I filled the tumblers, and plied the punch to such an extent that even old Margery's ill-humour was overcome by the gaiety of the scene; and she consented to sit down and join us.
    I was just in the middle of a most exciting account of a conflict which I had with a shark at the South Pole, when a loud knock at the door resounded through the house. Margery hastened to obey the summons; and old Dobbin observed, 'I shouldn't be surprised if this was my cousin George, for I wrote to him the day before yesterday to say that my nephew Tom was coming home, and invited him down to pass a week or so on the happy occasion.' I heard this remark; but the punch had produced such an effect upon me, that I felt no uneasiness. I thought I should be able to get over cousin George as easily as I had done uncle Dobbin; and so I amused myself by filling the glasses round from the second bowl, which had only just been mixed.
    "Meantime Dame Margery, having answered the door, returned, exclaiming, 'It be Master George.' and followed by a person whom her tall gaunt form in some measure hid from me until they were both close to the table. Then what a dreadful scene took place! In cousin George, to my horror and dismay, I beheld the red-faced man that I'd met at the Three Compasses, and whose drab trousers adorned me at that very moment!
    "I leapt from my seat, and was making as fast as I could to the door, when cousin George shouted out, 'Holloa! who have we here?'  and, springing forward, he collared me in a moment. 'What's the matter? what's the matter?' demanded old Dobbin.  'My stars! what's this mean? 'exclaimed Dame Margery.  'Why, it means that this fellow is a robber, and has got on my breeches and boots!' vociferated cousin George, growing purple in the face with rage, and giving me a violent shake.  'Your breeches!' cried old Buckley.  'Your boots!' mumbled old Dottings.  'Yes, to be sure! shouted the red-faced man. 'Go and fetch a constable.'  'Why, you don't mean that nephew Tom has done this?' said old Dobbin.  'Nephew Tom!' exclaimed cousin George, letting go his hold upon my coat: 'no!'  'But I say yes, though,' said I, putting a bold face upon the matter: 'I knew you directly when I met you at the Three Compasses ast night, and only did it by way of a lark.'
    "But this turn did not serve me. While I spoke, cousin George surveyed me attentively; and, again rushing upon me, he roared out. 'He 's a cheat! he's an impostor! Tom has a mole on the left cheek, and he's none: Tom has a cut over the right eye, and he hasn't. Go for a constable.'  'Well, I thought all along he was a rogue,' cried Dame Margery, hurrying off to execute this most unpleasant order.
    "My case now seemed desperate; and not a moment was to be lost. Casting my eyes rapidly around in search of some weapon of defence or avenue of escape, I espied the punch-bowl, three parts full of steaming liquor, within my reach. With the rapidity of lightning I seized it, and dashed it over like a hat upon cousin George's head. He uttered a terrific yell as the hot punch streamed down him; and I precipitated myself from the room as if a blood-hound was at my heels.
    "Away I scudded  a hue and cry after me: but I ran like a race-horse; and in a few minutes was beyond the sound of the 'Stop, thief!' raised by cousin George's ominous voice.
    "That was an excellent adventure: I have often and often laughed at it since, and wondered whether the real Tom Tittlebat ever did return. At all events I kept cousin George's trousers and boots; but they got me into more scrapes yet.
    "I strolled along through the fields, diverting myself with reflection upon the past, and pondering upon what might be in store for the future, until I reached a large market town, where I went boldly to the tap-room of the principal tavern. I ordered an excellent supper, with plenty of ale, feeling convinced that some lucky adventure would enable me to pay for my cheer  for I had now but one shilling left, the remainder of my money having been spent at the inn where I met the two old acquaintances of blind Dobbin.
    "The tap-room was filled with people; and the conversation was pretty general. There was, however, one individual who took no part in the discourse, but sate apart in an obscure corner smoking his pipe. He did not even appear to listen to what was said around him; but maintained his eyes moodily fixed on the floor. His horrible sallow complexion, deep wrinkles, and large mustache, gave him an aspect very far from inviting. Nevertheless, I endeavoured to enter into conversation with him  simply, I suppose, because he appeared to be so reserved, and my curiosity was excited with respect to him; but he threw upon me a look of the most sovereign contempt, and made me no answer. I shrank back from the fierce glance of his dark black eyes, and felt abashed and cowed  I scarcely knew why. But soon recovering my usual good spirits, I also called for my pipe and my pot, and mingled in the conversation. Rattling away with my anecdotes, and now and then singing a snatch of a song, I speedily made myself so agreeable to the drovers and waggoners assembled in the tap-room, that they called for punch and invited me to partake of it with them.
    "At twelve o'clock the waiter came in, and bawled out, 'Any more orders, gentlemen? any more orders?' No answer being given, he said, 'I will receive each gentleman's account, if you please.'  This announcement came like a clap of thunder upon me: I had but a shilling in my pocket, and owed nearly three. What to do I could not tell. Meantime the waiter went round, collecting the money due to him from each individual: and the nearer he drew to the table where I was sitting, the more fidgetty I became. As I glanced round me with feverish anxiety, I saw the dark black eyes at the sallow-faced stranger fixed upon me; and I [-403-] thought that they glared with fiendish delight, as if they had penetrated my secret. I felt ashamed  and my eyes fell beneath the demon-like glance. In another moment the waiter stood before me. 'Now, sir  if you please, sir: steak, one shilling  taturs, penny  bread, penny  fourteen-pence; two pints of ale, eight-pence-  screw of bakker, penny  pot porter, four-peuce,  that's two-and-three, sir.' I sat aghast for a few moments, and then began to fumble in my pockets, the waiter every moment growing more impatient, At that instant the sallow-faced stranger pointed to the bench on which I was sitting, and said in a surly tone, 'No wonder, young man, that you can't find your money in your pocket. when you let it roll about in all directions.' He then sank back into his corner, and seemed to take no more notice of me or my concerns. I thought he had a mind to banter me; but, turning my eyes towards the place which he had indicated, to my surprise I perceived a couple of half-crowns lying there. I am sure the waiter must have seen how my countenance brightened up with sudden joy; but he made no remark; and I paid my bill. He then passed on to the sallow-faced man, who settled his own account, and hastily left the room, without condescending to cast another glance upon me.
    "I was at a loss to make out whether the sallow-faced stranger had done a most generous action, or whether some one else had dropped the money there, and he had really fancied it to be mine. I did not, however, lose much time in conjecture; but, taking the whole affair for a good omen, ordered another glass, and then went jovially to bed, I awoke early, had some breakfast, and went out to take a stroll in the town. I naturally directed my steps towards the market-place, knowing that it was market.day, and hoping to find a watch or a purse in the crowd.
    "Elbowing my way through the graziers, drovers, and butchers, I got into the middle of the market, and there a most extraordinary spectacle met my eyes. A man was leading a woman along by a halter, which was tied round her neck. At first, I thought that a public execution was about to take place; but, seeing no gibbet  no police  no sheriffs  and no clergyman,  and observing, at a second glance, that the woman was giggling and laughing very much unlike a person just going to be hanged, I was at a loss to account for so strange a sight. The crowd appeared to enjoy the fun  for fun it evidently was-excessively; and, at length, I learnt that 'Bob Fosset, the dog's-meat-man, was about to sell his wife to Will Wyatt, the costermonger.' And, sure enough, such was the fact. Bob Fossett led his wife  a comely-looking woman enough  to the centre of the market, and tied the halter to a sheep-pen. He then mounted on the top bar of the pen, and shouted out: 'I hereby put up my wife, Jenny Fossett, to public auction; and I declare that she shall go to the highest bidder.'  ' So I will, Bob,' cried the woman.  'Hooray, Bob Fossett,' bawled the crowd assembled; and then there was such laughing, and joking, and sky-larking, it seemed for all the world just like a fair. Well, Will Wyatt steps forward, and exclaims: 'I bid one shilling for that woman.'  'One shilling bid,' said Bob Fossett.  'One shilling and a pot of beer,' cries some wag in the crowd.  ' One shilling and a pot of beer is bid,' shouts Fossett; 'who bids any more?'  'One shilling and a gallon of beer!' bawls Will Wyatt.  ' One shilling and a gallon of beer for this woman!' cries Bob Fossett: 'who'll advance on that? Going for one shilling and a gallon of beer; going  going,  will no one bid?  gone! Will Wyatt, my lad, that woman's yours.' So Will Wyatt steps forward, kisses the woman, takes off the halter, and tucks her under his arm as cozy as if they'd just been spliced at church. Then they all three went off to the nearest public-house, the crowds hooraying, and shouting, and squeaking, and roaring, as they made way for the party to pass along. I determined to see the remainder of the fun, and so I followed them to the public-house.
    "The moment we entered the parlour, I saw a person sitting in one corner, whose face seemed more or less familiar to me. Ho was a fine, tall, powerfully-built man; and his countenance was very handsome, but so dark that he appeared to be an East-Indian. But it was the peculiar expression of the mouth, and the piercing glance of the eyes, that struck me. I looked  and looked again; and thought that a slight smile curled the stranger's lips as I surveyed him, although he did not seem to take any notice of me, or even to know that I was staring at him. 'Well,' I thought to myself, 'if you are not my sallow-faced friend of last-night, I'm terribly mistaken  that's all;' for I knew too much of disguises myself to be bothered by the difference of complexions. So I went and sat down close by him; and, having ordered something to drink, at length boldly whispered to him, 'I have seen you before.  Very likely,' answered the man, coolly; 'but take care of yourself, or you may still get into a scrape on account of cousin George's breeches.' With these words he rose, drained his glass, and walked coolly out of the room.
    "You may imagine how astonished I was at the ominous words which he had whispered in my ear; but, collecting my ideas, I began to feel alarmed for my safety; and, having no longer any interest in the party whom I had followed into the public-house, I abruptly departed  without partaking of, or paying for, the refreshment which I had ordered. Hurrying away from the place, I got out of the town as quick as possible; and, avoiding the main-road, struck into the fields.
    "I wandered about for two or three days, until all my money was gone; and I was one afternoon roaming along a by-lane, wondering what was to become of me, and thinking that it would be much better to break into some house, as a last and desperate resource, when I suddenly encountered a man and woman at the turning of the road. They were dressed as poor country people; but the darkness of their complexions immediately struck my attention; and, at a second glance, I recognised in the man the very person who had whispered those mysterious words in my ears, concerning cousin George's trousers, and whom I could almost certainly identify with the sallow-faced stranger. 'What, not got rid of cousin George's trousers yet!' he exclaimed, laughing heartily; and the woman, who seemed to understand the joke, joined in her companion's mirth.  'Who are you?' I said, 'and how do you happen to know about that little adventure of mine?'  'You see that I do know all about it,' returned the man, with another laugh; 'and you may perhaps be surprised when I tell you that I consider the abstraction of the trousers to be even a more pleasant freak than the personation of Tom Tittlebat.'  'The deuce!' I cried, now completely bewildered: 'if you are a constable, say so, and we will have a fight for it; if not, tell me who you are, and how you came to be acquainted with my affairs.'  'I am certainly no constable,' answered the man, 'or I might have apprehended you some days since on two several occasions, and when there would have been no necessity to fight for [-404-] it. As to how I know any thing about you, ask no questions, because you will receive no satisfactory answers. But if you wish to earn a shilling or two, say so; and you can do it within an hour.'  I professed my willingness to serve this strange individual.  'Come with us,' he said; and, striking into a narrow path, he led the way for about half-a-mile across the fields, until we came in sight of a large farm-house. 'You see that farm,' he said: 'now listen attentively. You must go there, and under any pretence you can think of, obtain admission into the kitchen, or get into conversation with one of the servants, so as to glean all the information you can about the family. There's three daughters find out whether they are engaged to be married, or who the young men are that principally visit at the house, and all particulars of that kind. We will wait for you in yonder copse.'
    "The stranger and his companion hastened away towards the place where I was to meet them again, and I proceeded towards the farm. It was by no means difficult to gain admittance into the kitchen of that hospitable establishment: a simple request for a cup of milk led to an invitation from a buxom cook and a smart servant-maid to walk in and rest myself a little. Then bread and cheese, and a foam log tankard of home-brewed were set before me, and, while I ate and drank, I gradually drew the two women into the conversation which suited my purpose. They proclaimed the praises of 'master and missis;' and told me how the old people were very well off; and how Miss Jemima, the eldest daughter, was engaged to a young farmer in the neighbourhood; how Miss Mary, the second daughter, had been courted by an officer in the army who had been quartered in the neighbouring town, but who had since left, and had never written to her afterwards; and how Miss Frances, the youngest, had been very melancholy ever since she had visited an aunt at Stafford, where it was well known an attorney's clerk had paid her very great attention. These, and various other particulars relative to the family, were related to me in the course of conversation; and, having remained at the farm for a couple of hours, I was about to take my leave, as well informed relative to the inmates as if I had lived with them all my life. But just as I was rising to depart, I espied a purse lying in a work-box upon a shelf; and I began to reflect how I could make it my own. Accident served my purpose: the cook insisted upon drawing me some more ale, and went into the cellar for that purpose; and the maid-servant stepped to the door of the kitchen to receive a can of milk which a boy brought there at the moment to dart toward the shelf and secure the purse was the work of an instant; and when the maid turned towards me again, I was sitting as composedly as if I had never left my chair. The cook made her appearance with the ale, of which I drank; and I then took my leave, with many thanks for the kind entertain ment I had received.
    "I proceeded to the copse, where I found my strange employer and his female companion waiting for me. I told them all that I had gleaned relative to the farmer and his family; and they were highly delighted with the information so procured The man gave me five shillings, and told me that he did not require my services any farther. I was not sorry to get away from the neighbourhood; and, taking leave of the persons who had employed me in so singular a service, pursued my way. When at a convenient distance from the spot where I had left them, I examined the purse, and, to my joy, found that it contained four sovereigns and about seven shillings in silver.
    "Considerably cheered at this change in my pecuniary position, I pursued my way until long after dusk, when I entered a village where I determined to put up for the night. Having supped at a public-house, I inquired about a bed, and found that I could be accommodated with one in a double-bedded room, the other being already retained by a traveller who had arrived before me, but who had stepped out, I was informed, to transact some business with certain inhabitants of his acquaintance. Being tired, I went up to the room where I was to sleep, before the return of the person who was to occupy the other bed; but before I sought my own nest I looked about for a secure spot where I could conceal my purse, as I fancied that my companion might probably be no more honest than myself. I accordingly hid my treasure between the mattress and the sacking; and, putting my clothes under my pillow, lay down to rest. I soon fell into a deep sleep, from which I did not awake until aroused by the noise of some one moving about the room. I started up, and rubbing my eyes, asked what o'clock it was. The person who occupied the other bed was shaving himself at a looking-glass, with his back turned towards me; but the moment my voice fell upon his ears, he started round; and  to my horror  I recognised but too well, beneath a thick coat of lather, the never-to-be-forgotten countenance of cousin George.
    "Here was a precious scrape! The red-faced man was deaf to my prayers for mercy, and alarmed the whole house. Landlord, boots, oatler, and pot-boy rushed up stairs, while cousin George vociferated, 'Fetch a constable! this is the rogue who stole my breeches and boots. Fetch a constable, I say! Here's the villain that imposed upon poor old blind Dobbin. Fetch a constable!' A constable was accordingly fetched; and I was duly given into his charge. While I was huddling on my clothes, cousin George exclaimed, with savage malignity, 'Ah! there's the boots, the scoundrel! There's the drab trousers, the scamp!' and I really believe he would have wrested them from me had it not been necessary for me to wear them in order to accompany the constable.
    "I did not choose to drag forth my purse from its place of concealment, for fear it might involve me in a worse dilemma than that in which I found myself, and which, after all, was not particularly serious. I however left it beneath the mattress, with deep regret, and was led away by the constable, every soul in the public-house turning out to witness my departure. The landlord, moreover, gave me a parting blessing after a fashion  accusing me as a thief who had run up a score of three shillings and seven-pence halfpence at his house, without the slightest means of paying it! To this very natural conclusion he came, inasmuch as the constable, upon searching me, had found nothing in my pockets.
    "The clergyman of the village was a justice of the peace; and before his worshipful reverence was I accordingly taken. He was an elderly man, very corpulent and very stern; and he frowned upon me in a ferocious manner when I was conducted into the library, where he intended to hear the case. Cousin George, who had only shaved one side of his face, and had a black bristly beard over the other, stepped forward and stated the entire case, which comprised the theft of his garments and the imposture practised upon his relative. In the latter business, however, the magistrate refused to interfere, and con-[-405-]fined his attention to the abstraction of the trousers and boots. I, of course, set up the usual defence,  'Had never seen the gentleman before in my life  had bought the trousers and boots of a man that I met at a public house, and whose name I did not know; that I was an honest hard-working young fellow, out of employment; and had never been in trouble before.' The magistrate was, however, obstinate, and would not believe a word I uttered. He accordingly ordered me to be committed for trial at the sessions; and I was moved to an out-house, there to wait in the custody of the constable, until my mittimus was made out, and, a cart was obtained to take me to the county gaol. Cousin George, satisfied with what he had done so far, threw a glance of triumph upon me as I was moved away from the magistrate's library.
    "While I was pent up in the out-house, I went up to the window and looked out upon that open country which seemed the scene of a freedom now lost to me. As I was standing there, pondering on my condition, and wondering whether the numerous burglaries which I had committed in a neighbourhood not very far distant, would be brought against me, my attention was suddenly attracted to a number of people who were advancing rapidly towards the house. As they drew near, to my surprise I recognised the swarthy stranger and his female companion, both evidently in the custody of two constables, and followed by the cook, maid-servant, and other persons belonging to the farm-house. An idea of the real truth instantly flashed through my mind; and I felt sorry  very sorry for the two poor creatures who, I had no doubt, were suffering under a suspicion of the robbery which I had perpetrated. Moreover, I could not help thinking that the swarthy man and the sallow-faced man were one and the same person, and that the two half-crowns had been purposely thrown in my way by him, at the inn in the market-town, to relieve me from that embarrassment into which his keen eyes had penetrated. These reflections suddenly filled me with deep interest in the stranger and his female companion.
    "The procession passed the window (from which I drew back), and entered the magistrate's house. Half-an-hour passed away; and then the clergy-man's man-servant made his appearance with a jug of ale and some bread and meat for the constable who had me in charge. But nothing was given to me, either to eat or drink! 'There's a new case on in the library,' said the servant.  'Ah! what's that?' inquired the constable.  'Two gipsies,' was the answer, 'man and woman, have been prigging a purse down at farmer Clodhopper's. The purse belonged to a young servant gal, and was missed out of her work-box just after the gipsies had left the house last night. But the constables were put on the scent, and soon found the thieves.'  'And was the purse recovered?' asked the officer who had me in custody.  'Deuce a bit of it,' said the servant, 'those gipsies know a trick worth two of that. It seems that they went down to the farm late last night, and told all the young ladies and servant girls their fortunes; so they were taken into the kitchen and fed with the best, besides all the money they'd had given to them by the young ladies and the servants. Not content with all that, they stole the purse, the vagabonds!'  'No, they didn't, though!' I exclaimed, stepping forward; for somehow or another my blood boiled and my heart ached to think that those two poor creatures should be punished for a mime of which they were innocent. Besides, I made sure that all my past offences would be brought against me at the assizes; and I knew in that case that I should be booked for transportation; so one robbery more or less could not make much diference to me. Well, both the constable and the servant stared when I spoke in that manner. 'Yes,' I continued, 'it is perfectly true that those two gipsies are innocent of the theft; and if you will take me before his worship again, I will prove my words.' The constable accordingly conducted me back to the library.
    "The moment I entered the room, the gipsy-man and his companion exhibited the greatest surprise and interest. I gave them a re-assuring glance; and then, turning towards the magistrate, I said, 'Your worship, these two poor creatures are innocent of the crime imputed to them.'  'How do you know?' demanded the justice roughly, for his lunch-time was now drawing near.  'Because I stole it myself,' was my answer. The greatest astonishment pervaded the assembly; joy animated the countenance of the two gipsies; while the cook and maid servant cried out, 'Dear me!' and 'Who would have thought it?' as loud as they could. The justice looked tremendous savage, and declared that he would order the room to be cleared of strangers if they interrupted the business in that indecent manner! I was then called upon to explain the assertion which I had made.  'These two persons,' I said, pointing towards the gipsies, 'are accused of stealing a purse from farmer Clodhopper's kitchen?'  'They are. Well?'  'Then they didn't steal it, because I stole it myself; and these servants can prove that I was there yesterday afternoon.'  'So he was!' exclaimed the cook and maid in the same breath.  ' And now,' I continued, 'if you will send and search under the mattress of the bed which I slept in last night at the public-house where I was arrested, you will find the purse.' But this trouble was avoided; for scarcely had I uttered these words, when in came the landlord of that public-house, holding the purse in his hands. His wife, it appeared, had found it when making the beds; and suspicion instantly pointed to me as the person who had placed It in the spot where it was discovered. This circumstance brought the case safe home to me; and the gipsies were instantly discharged, with a warning to take care of themselves in future!
    "Nothing could exceed the looks of deep gratitude which those two innocent persons cast upon me as they left the room:  but that of the man was significant of something more than a mere sense of obligation for the act of duty which I had done. I don't know how it was, too  but, rogue as I was, I felt an inward satisfaction at the part which I had just performed.
    "I was taken back to the out-house, with another serious charge hanging over my head; and the cart was every moment expected to convey me to the county gaol. But time slipped away, and it did not arrive. At length the constable became impatient, and talked about the impropriety of trifling with the time of a public officer like him, adding that he didn't know if he shouldn't write to the prime minister about it. Presently the man-servant came in with some dinner for him  but not a bite nor a sup for me! Neither did the constable offer me any thing. 'Here's a pretty business,' says the servant; 'the man that was to drive you over to the county gaol has got drunk somehow or other, and can't go; and the horse has suddenly gone dead lame.'  ' What's to be done, then?' cried the constable.  ' Why, you must wait till the man's sober, and the vetorinary surgeon has looked to the horse.' [-406-]
    "And sure enough we did wait until eight o'clock In the evening before we started; and then no thanks to the man nor the veterinary surgeon, for the former was still too tipsy to move, and the latter could do nothing for the horse. However, another man came forward, at a late hour, and offered his services. He not only cured the horse in a few minutes, but also undertook to drive the cart. The constable accordingly put a pair of handcuffs on me, and took me out into the yard where the vehicle was waiting. A man with a sallow face and bushy red hair, was already seated in front, holding the whip and reins; and as I mounted he gave me a look which I immediately understood. That man was no other than my friend, the swarthy gipsy, so well disguised that his own mother would have scarcely known him.
    "Away we went at a rattling pace it was soon dark, and the constable told the driver not to go at such a rate. But he did not obey the command: on the contrary, he whipped the horse the more; and the cart bounded along the road as if it was for a wager. The constable swore and prayed by turns: the driver laughed; and presently the cart upset into a dry ditch. 'Run for your liberty!' cried the driver to me, as he pulled me from the ditch; and I followed him across the fields with a speed that was increased by hearing the constable shouting 'Stop, thief!' behind me. But in a very few minutes those cries became fainter and fainter, until they at length ceased altogether. Still my deliverer pursued his way, and at such a rate, too, that I was scarcely able to keep up with him.
    "At length we stopped in a thicket, and sat down to rest. My deliverer took a file from his pocket and worked away at my manacles with such a skill and energy, that in a few minutes I was relieved from them. He then produced some food, and I ate a hearty meal. When the meal was over, my companion condescended to give me an explanation of certain matters which had hitherto remained wrapped up in some degree of mystery.
    "'You must be informed,' he said, 'that my name is Morcar, and that I am the son of Zingary, king of the gipsies. The female whom you saw with me yesterday and this morning, is my wife. A considerable portion of the money earned by our race consists of fees paid by the simple and credulous, for having their fortunes told. In order to obtain the necessary information relative to the inhabitants of those places or dwellings which we visit, we are compelled to assume many disguises, or to make use of the agency of others, not connected with us, to gather that information for us. Some days ago, at an early hour in the morning, I was loitering about in the neighbourhood of the Three Compasses, and from behind a hedge saw you make off with the boots and trousers which a boy had been brushing in the yard. Chance led me that same afternoon to the village where you played your famous trick upon old Dobbin; and, as the story spread like wild-fire through the place immediately after your detection by cousin George, I could not avoid hearing all the particulars. I got a lift in a cart from that village to the market-town where I met you the same night at the inn. I could not help admiring your boldness and ingenuity; and, while I sat quietly smoking my pipe in the taproom, listening to the discourse of the inmates, and picking up a variety of information, to be turned to future account, I noticed your embarrassment at the appearance of the waiter to collect the money owing by each individual. I had made a good day's work in a certain way, and was disposed to be liberal: accordingly, at a moment when you were turned in another direction, I placed the two half-crowns close by where you sate on the bench. Next day I threw off what I call my 'sallow disguise, and repaired to another public-house, near the market, to glean additional information, all of which our women have since turned to ample profit. There I was enabled to give you a warning which was really important to you, as old Dobbin's cousin George had actually arrived that morning in the town to attend the market. A few days afterwards I was roving with my wife along the by-lanes in the neighbourhood of Clodhopper's farm, endeavouring by some means to glean what we could concerning the young women at that place  for our finest harvests are always reaped at farm-houses. Again I met you; and I made you the instrument of my design. But,' added Morcar, with a smile, 'you went farther than you were instructed: you did a thing which we never do  I mean, steal money. We take for our use a sucking-pig, a fowl, or a goose; and we do not consider that stealing. We also snare rabbits and game; and we look upon it as no crime. However, you saw the scrape into which that business of the purse got me and my wife this morning. You saved us, and I vowed to save you also. The moment I was discharged I went to the stable where the horse that was to convey you to gaol was kept, and bribed the ostler to drive a nail into his foot so as to touch the flesh. Then I found the man who was to drive you, and plied him so well with liquor that he was unable to perform his duty. My object was to delay your journey until the evening, because I knew that I could ensure your escape in the dark. You have seen how well my plans have succeeded, because you are now free.'
    "You may suppose that I thanked my kind deliverer most sincerely for all he had done to serve me. He, however, cut me short in my expressions of gratitude, by saying, 'What are you going to do? If you will join us, you will be assured of your daily food, and will be more or less protected from danger. My father has a van, in which you can at any time hide when concealment is necessary; and we will do all we can to serve you, for I still consider myself to be indebted to you on account of your generous conduct of this morning. I could have borne punishment myself; but the idea of my wife being plunged into such misery  no, never  never!'
    "I accepted the welcome offers of Morcar, and that very night was conducted to the encampment where his father and mother had taken up their quarters. Eva presented her son to me, saying, 'You have preserved for this little one a father and mother: henceforth the Zingarees will know thee as a friend!' From that moment I have lived with the gipsies until the present time; and, though some years have passed away since I first joined them, I have not yet become weary of our wandering mode of existence."

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >