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[-37-]

CHAPTER XV.

 THE POLICE-OFFICE.

    The morning was rainy, cold, and lowering.
    Markham awoke unrefreshed by his sleep, which had been haunted by the ghost of the young officer who had committed suicide at the Hell. He shivered and felt nervous; as if under the impulse of some impending danger whose nature he could net altogether define. By the good offices of Crisp he obtained the means of washing himself and arranging his toilette previous to an appearance at the police-court; and the same intervention procured him a good breakfast. As he, however, could not eat a morsel, Mr. Crisp very kindly and considerately devoured it all for him.
    At about half-past nine o'clock the various constables connected with the charges entered in the police-sheet, arrived at the station-house for the purpose of conducting their prisoners to the Police-court. All those persons who were charged with felony were handcuffed; but of this class the most knowing contrived to bring their hands beneath their garments in some way or other, and thus conceal the symbol of ignominy as they passed through the streets.
    Richard was astonished at the number of women who were charged with intoxication and disorderly conduct; and the chivalrous admiration of the whole sex which he felt, and which is so natural to youth, was considerably diminished by the hardened appearance and revolting language of these females.
    Markham and the constable who had arrested him proceeded in a cab together to the police-office in Marlborough Street. Upon reaching that establishment, the officer said, "The Magistrate will hear the drunk and assault charges first; so it may be an hour or more before your business will come on. I ought by rights to lock you up; but if you like, we can stay together in the public-house there; and one of my partners will let us know when the case is coming on."
    This arrangement was very acceptable to Richard; and to the nearest public-house did he and the constable accordingly adjourn. For this handsome accommodation all that he had to pay was half-a-guinea to the officer, besides liquidating the score for as much liquor as the said officer and every one of his "partners" who happened to drop in, could consume.
    For the present we must request the reader to accompany us to the interior of the police-office.
    In a small, low, badly-lighted room, sate an elderly gentleman at a desk. This was the Magistrate. Near him was the clerk, whom the worthy functionary consulted so often that it almost seemed as if this clerk were a peripatetic law-manual or text-book. In front of the desk were the bar and the dock; and the space between them and the door was filled with policemen and the friends of those "who had got into trouble."
    The first charge was called. A man dressed in the garb of a common labourer was accused of being drunk and incapable of taking care of himself. The Magistrate put on a most awfully severe and frowning countenance, and said in a gruff tone, "Well, my man, what do you say to this charge ?"
    "Please your worship," observed the prisoner scratching his head, "I am out of work, and my wife has pawned all our little bits of things for food for the children, and yesterday morning I was forced to go out to look for work without any breakfast. There was but a little bread left, and that I would not touch for all the world. Well, your worship, I was fortunate enough to get the promise of some work for Monday; and meeting a friend, he asked me to have a glass. Now beer upon an empty stomach, your worship —"
    The Magistrate, who bad been reading a newspaper during this defence, now lifted up his head, and exclaimed, "Well, you do'nt deny the charge: you are fined five shillings. Call the next case."
    "But your worship —"
    "Call the next case."
    The poor fellow was dragged away from the bay by two huge policemen; and an elegantly dressed person of about twenty-six years of age was introduced to the notice of the magistrate.
    "What is your name ?" enquired the clerk.
    "Name! Oh - John Jenkins," was the reply delivered in a flippant and free-and-easy manner.
    The Clerk and the Magistrate whispered together. A constable then stood forward, and stated the charge. The prisoner at the bar had turned out of a flash tavern in the Haymarket at one in the morning, and commenced crowing like a cock, and ringing at front-door bells, and playing all imaginable kinds of antics. When the constable interfered, the gentleman knocked him down; and had not another policeman come up to the spot at the moment, the said gentleman never would have been taken into custody. 
    The Magistrate cross-questioned the policeman [-38-] who gave evidence in this case, with great severity; and then, turning with a bland smile to the prisoner, who was surveying the clerk through his eye glass in as independent a manner as if he were lounging over the front of his box at the opera, the worthy fuctionary said in a tone of gentle entreaty, "Now really we have reason to suspect that John Jenkins is not your name. In fact, my lord, we know you."
    "Well, then," exclaimed the prisoner, turning his eye-glass from the clerk upon the magistrate, "chalk me up as Lord Plymouth, since you are down upon me in this way."
    "My lord - my lord," said the Magistrate, with parental urbanity of manner, "these little freaks of yours are really not creditable: upon my honour they are not. I sit here to administer justice to the rich as well as to the poor —"
    "Oh! you do, do you ?" cried the nobleman. "Now I tell you what it is - if you dare talk any of your nonsense about prisons and houses of correction to me. I'll not stand it. You know as well as I do that whenever a barrister is to be appointed magistrate, the Home Secretary sends for him and tells him to mind his P's and Q's towards the aristocracy. So none of your nonsense; but be quick and let me off with the usual fine."
    "My lord," ejaculated the Magistrate, glancing with consternation from the prisoner to the clerk, and from the clerk to the prisoner; "did I not say that I sate here to administer equal justice to the rich and the poor? The fine for drunkenness is five shillings, my lord - and in that sum I fine you. As for the assault upon the policeman, I give you leave to speak to him outside."
    The nobleman demanded change for a ten pound note, and threw the five shillings in a contemptuous and insolent manner towards the Clerk, who thanked his lordship as if he had just received an especial favour. The assault was easily settled outside; and the nobleman drove away in an elegant cab, just as the wife of the poor labourer departed in tears from her husband's cell for the purpose of pledging every remaining article of clothing that could possibly be dispensed with, to raise the five shillings wherewith to procure his liberation.
    Several other cases of intoxication, disorderly conduct, and "obstruction of the police in the exercise of their duty" - which last embraced the veriest trifles as well as the most daring attempts at rescue - were then disposed of. In all instances the constables endeavoured to exaggerate the conduct of the accused, and never once attempted to palliate it; and as the Magistrate seemed to place implicit confidence in every word the police uttered (although one or two cases of gross perjury were proved against them), convictions were much more frequent than acquittals.
    The cases of the poor starving emaciated beggar, the apple-cart man, and the affectionate mother, who had all three so powerfully excited Markham's attention at the station-house, were called on one after another consecutively. Fortunately the inspector was not present at the time to use his influence against the two first, and the master of the workhouse did not appear to press the charge against the last. They were all three accordingly discharged, with a severe admonition - the first against begging and being houseless - the second against earning an honest livelihood by selling fruit in the streets - and the third against clamouring in a workhouse for the mere trifle of being separated from her children.
    As these three individuals emerged from the police-office, they were accosted by Mr. Crisp, who informed them that they were "wanted" by a gentleman at a public-house in the neighbourhood. Thither did the trio of unfortunates, accompanied by the poor woman's children, proceed; and great was their surprise when Mr. Crisp officiously introduced them into a private room which Markham had engaged.
    Richard and the police-officer in whose charge he remained, were there; and the moment the poor creatures were shown in, they were accosted by that young man whose ingenuous countenance inspired them with confidence and hope.
    "My good friends," said he, "I was in the station-house last night when you arrived; and your sad tales touched me to the quick. Now, with regard to you, my poor lad," he continued, addressing himself to the rogue and vagabond, "what prospect have you before you? In what way could a friend aid you?"
    "My brother, sir, is well off, and would assist me," replied the poor creature, "if I could but get to him. He lives in Edinburgh, and is well to do as a wheelwright."
    "Here are two guineas for you, my friend," said Richard. "They will take you home; and thee may your reception be as favourable as you seem to think. There - I do not want you to thank me: go - and commence your journey at once."
    The poor fellow pressed Markham's hand with the most enthusiastic gratitude, and took his departure with tears in his eyes and gladness in his heart.
    "And now, my good man," said Richard to the owner of the apple-cart, "what do you propose to do?"
    "To speak the truth, sir, I don't know. The police seem determined that I shan't earn an honest livelihood: and as I am equally resolved not to see my children starve before me, I have nothing left to do but to become a thief. I shan't be the first whom the police have driven to that last resource in this city."
    "You speak bitterly," said Markham.
    "Yes - because I tell the truth, air. My cart is to be returned to me; but of what use is it, or the stock that is in it, since I don't dare go about to sell fruit?"
    "Could you not open a little shop ?"
    "Ah! sir - that requires money!"
    "How much ?"
    "A matter of four or five pounds, sir," replied the man; "and where could a poor devil like me —"
    "I will give you five pounds for the purpose;" interrupted Markham; and taking from his pocketbook a bank note, he handed it to the poor man.
    We will not attempt to depict his gratitude: words would completely fail to convey an idea of the exuberant joy which filled the heart of that good and affectionate father, who would rather have become a thief than seen his children starve!
    "And now, my good woman, what can I do for you ?" said Markham, turning to the third object of his charity. "How in the name of heaven, came you reduced, with three children, to such a state of want and destitution?"
    "My husband, sir, is in prison," answered the poor creature, bursting into tears, while her children clung the more closely around her. 
    "In prison! and for what crime?"
    "Oh! crime, sir - it is only a crime in the eye of the law, but not in the eye of either man or heaven."
    "My good woman, this is absurd.  Is there any [-39-] offence of which the law alone takes cognizance, and which is not reprehensible in the eye of God ?"
    "On the contrary, sir - God has given us for our general use and benefit the very thing which the law has forbidden us to take."
    "This is trifling !" exclaimed Richard impatiently. "Can you, whom I behold so affectionate to your children, be hardened in guilt ?"
    "Do not think so, sir! My husband was a hard working man - never spent an hour at the public-house - never deprived his family of a farthing of his wages. He was a pattern to all married men - and his pride was to see his children well-dressed and happy. Alas, sir - we were too happy not to meet with some sad reverse! My husband in an evil hour went out shooting one afternoon, when there was a holiday at the factory where he worked; and he killed a hare upon a nobleman's grounds near Richmond. He was taken up and tried for poaching, and was sentenced to a year's imprisonment with hard labour! This term expires in six weeks; but in the meantime - O God! what have we not suffered !"
   
"Ah! forgive we," ejaculated Markham, deeply touched by this recital: "I spoke harshly to you, because I did not remember that the law could be guilty of a deed of such inhuman atrocity. And yet I have heard of many - many such cases ere now! Merciful heavens! is it possible that the law, which with the right hand protects the privileges of the aristocracy, can with the left plunge whole families into despair!"
    "Alas! it is too true!" responded the poor woman, pointing towards her pale and shivering offspring. 
    "Well - cheer up - your husband will be restored to you in six weeks," said Markham. "In the meantime here is wherewith to provide for your family."
    Another five-pound note was taken from the pocket-book, and transferred to the hand of the poor but tender-hearted mother. The children clung to Richard's knees, and poured forth their gratitude in tears: their parent loaded him with blessings which came from the very bottom of her heart, and called him the saviour of herself and famished little ones. Never until that day had Richard so entirely appreciated the luxury of possessing wealth!
    Scarcely was this last matter disposed of, when information arrived that Markham's case would be heard in about ten minutes. To the police-court did he and the constable who had charge of him, proceed accordingly; and in due time the young man found himself standing at the bar in the presence of a magistrate.
    The usual questions were put relative to name, age, and residence, to all of which Richard answered in a candid and respectful manner. The constable then stated the nature at the charge, with which the reader is already acquainted. Evidence was also gone into to show that the officer, whose death had led to the irruption into the gambling-house on the part of the police, had died by his own hand, and not in consequence of any violence. This point was sufficiently proved by a medical man.
    Markham, in his defence, stated he had accompanied some friends, whose name he declined mentioning, to the gaming-house on the preceding evening; that he had not played himself, nor had he intended to play; and that he bad been led into the establishment without previously being acquainted with the exact nature of the place he was about to visit.
    The Magistrate remonstrated with him upon the impropriety of being seen in such houses, and inflicted a fine of five pounds, which was of course immediately paid.
    As he was leaving the police-court, Markham was informed by a beadle who accosted him, that his presence would be required at the gambling-house that same afternoon, at four o'clock, to give evidence at the coroner's inquest concerning the means by which the deceased officer came by his death.

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