chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
next chapter >
"COME in," exclaimed Bill
"I des say it's Dick Flairer."
"Well, Bill Bolter, old fellow - here you are at
last," cried the new comer. "I s'pose you knowed I should come here
this evenin'. If you hadn't sent me that message t'other day by the young
area-sneak* [*A thief who sneaks down areas to see what he
can steal in kitchens] what got his discharge out o' Coldbath Jug,*
[*Prison] I should ha' come all the same. I
remembered very well that you was sentenced to six months on it; and I'd
calkilated days and weeks right enough."
"Sit down, Dick, and blow a cloud. Wot news since I see
you last ?"
"None. You know that Crankey Jem is nabbed. He and the
Resurrection Man did a pannie* [*Burglary] together
somewhere up Soho way. They got off safe with the swag; and the Resurrection Man
went on to the Mint. Jem took to the Old House in Chick Lane,* [*West-street,
Smithfield] and let me in for my reglars*
[*Gave him a share] But after a weak or ten days the Resurrection Man
nosed* [*Informer] upon him, and will turn King's
Evidence afore the beaks. So Jem was handed over to the dubsman;*
[*Turnkey] and this time he'll get lagged for life."
[-46-] "In course he will.
He has been twice to the floating academy.* [*The
Hulks] There ain't no chance this time."
"But as for business," said Dick Flairer, after a
pause, during which he lighted his pipe and paid his respects to the beer,
"my gropus is as empty as a barrister's bag the day after sessions. I have
but one bob left in my cly* [* Waistcoat-pocket]
and that we'll spend in brandy presently. My mawleys*
[*Hands] is reg'larly itching for a job.
"Someot must be done - and that soon too, returned Bill
Bolter. "By-the-by, s'pose we try that crib which we meant to crack four
year or so ago, when you got nabbed the very next mornin' for faking a blowen's
flag from her nutty arm."* [*Stealing a lady's
reticule from her pretty arm.]
"What-you mean Markham's up between Kentish Town
and Lower Holloway ?" said Dick.
"The same. Don't you recollect - we settled it all the
wery night as we threw that young fellow down the trap in Chick Lane? But, by
goles - Dick - what the deuce is the matter with you ?"
Dick Flairer had turned deadly pale et the mention of this
circumstance: his knees shook; and he cast an uneasy and rapid glance around
"Come, Dick - don't be a fool," said the woman: you
don't think there is any ghosts here, do you ?"
"Ghosts!" he exclaimed, with a convulsive start;
then, after a moment's silence, during which his two companions surveyed him
with curiosity and fear, he added in a low and subdued tone, "Bill, you
know there wasn't a man in all the neighbourhood bolder than me up to the time
when you got into trouble: you know that I didn't care for ghosts or
churchyards, or dark rooms, or anything of that kind. Now it's quite altered. If
even a man seed speret of a person, that man was me about two months ago!"
"What the devil does this mean ?" cried Bolter,
looking uneasily around him in his turn.
"Two months ago," continued Dick Flairer, "I
was up Hackney way, expecting to do a little business with Tom the Cracksman,* [*The
Burglar] which didn't come off; for Tom had been at the boozing-ken*
[*Public-house] all the night before, and had blowed his hand up in a
lark with some davy's.dust.* [*Gunpowder] Well, I
was coming home again, infernal sulky at the affair's breaking down, when just
as I got to Cambridge-Heath-gate I heerd the gallopin' of horses. I looks round,
nat'rally enough ;-but who should I see upon a lovely chestnut mare "
"Who ?" said Bill anxiously.
"The speret of that wery same young feller as you and I
threw down the trap at the old house in Chick Lane four year and some months ago
"Might n't it have been a mistake, Dick ?" demanded
"Why, of course it was," exclaimed the woman.
"No, it warn't," said Dick very seriously. "I sever
tell a lie to a pal* [*A companion] Bill - and that you knows well enough. I seed that young
man as plain as I can now see you, Bill - as plain as I see you, Polly Bolter. I
thought I should have dropped: I fell right against a post in the footpath; but
I took another good long look. There he was - the same face - the same hair -
the same dress - everything the same! I couldn't be mistaken: I'd swear to it."
"And would you tell this story to the
parish-prig* [*Chaplain] so be
as you was going to Tuck-up Fair* [*The Gallows] tomorrow morning ?" demanded Bill.
"I would, by Gd!" cried Dick solemnly, striking his
hand upon the table at the same time.
There was a long pause. Even the woman, who was perhaps more
hardened in vice and more inaccessible to anything in the shape of sentiment than
her male companions, seemed impressed by the positive manner in which the man
told his story.
"Well - come, this won't do!" ejaculated Dick, after the
lapse of some minutes. "Ghost or no ghost, we can't afford to be honest."
"No - we must be up to someot," returned Bill: - "if
we went and offered ourselves to the parish prig he wouldn't take us as his clerk and sexton; so
if he won't
give us a lift, who the devil will? But about that Markham's place?"
"The old fellow died a few months ago, I heard," said
Dick; "the eldest son run away; and that brought about the father's death.
As for the young 'un, he was grabbed this arternoon for smashing queer
screens."* [*Passing forged notes.]
"The devil he was! Well, there ain't no good to be done in that
quarter, then? Do you know any cither spekilation?"
"Tom the Cracksman and me was going to do a pannie in a
neat little crib up by Clapton, that time when he blowed his hand nearly off,
larking with his ben-culls.* [*Friends] I don't see why it shouldn't be done now. Tom told
me about it. A young swell, fond of horses and dogs - lives exceeding quiet -
no company scarcely - but plenty of tin."
"Servants ?" said Bill, interrogatively.
"One man - an old groom; and two women - three in all,"
"That'll do," observed the woman, approvingly.
"Must we speak to the Cracksman first ?" demanded
Yes - fair play's a jewel. I don't believe the Resurrection Man
would ever have chirped* [*Informed] if he had been treated properly. But if this thing is to
be done, let it be done to-morrow night; and now let us go to the boozing-ken
and speak to the Cracksman."
"I'm your man," said Bill; and the two thieves left the
At the top of Union Court is Bleeding Hart Yard, leading to
Kirby Street, at right angles to which is a narrow alley terminating on Great
Saffron Hill. This was the road the burglars took.
It was now eleven o'clock, and a thick fog - so dense that it
seemed as if it could be cut with a knife - prevailed. The men kept close
together, for they could not see a yard before them. Here and there lights
glimmered in the miserable casements; and the fog, thus faintly illuminated at
intervals, appeared of a dingy copper colour.
The burglars proceeded along Saffron Hill.
The streets were nearly empty; but now and then the pale,
squalid, and nameless forms of vice were heard at the door-ways of a few houses,
endeavouring to lure the passers-by into their noisome abodes. A great portion
of the unwholesome life of that district had sought relief from the pangs of
misery and the remorse of crime, in sleep. Alas! the slumbers of the poor and of
the guilty are haunted by the lean, lank, and gaunt visages of penury, and all
the fearful escort of turpitude!
Through the broken shutters of several windows came the
sounds of horrible revelry - ribald and revolting; and from others issued cries,
shrieks, oaths and the sounds of heavy blows - a sad evidence of [-47-]
brutality of drunken quarrels. Numerous Irish families are crowded together in the small back rooms of the houses on Saffron
Hill; and the husbands and fathers gorge themselves, at the expense of
broken-hearted wives and famishing children, with the horrible compound of spirit
and vitriol, sold at the low gin-shops in the neighbourhood. Hosts of Italian
masters also congregate in that locality; and the screams of the unfortunate
boys, who writhe beneath the lash of their furious employers on their return
some after an unsuccessful day with their organs, monkies, white mice, or chalk
images, mingle with the other appalling or disgusting sounds, which make night
in that district truly hideous.
Even at the late hour at which the two burglars were wending
their way over Saffron Hill, boys of ages ranging from seven to fifteen, were
lurking in the courts and alleys, watching for any decently dressed persons, who
might happen to pass that way. Those boys had for the most part been seduced
from the control of their parents by the receivers of stolen goods in Field
Lane, or else had been sent into the streets to thieve by those vile parents
Thus, as the hulks, the convict-ships, the penitentiaries,
and the gallows, relieve society of one generation of villains, another is
springing up to occupy the vacancy.
And this will always be the case so long as laws tend only to
punish - and aim not to reform.
Dick Flairer and Bill Bolter proceeded, without exchanging
many words together, through the dense fog, until they reached a low
public-house, which they entered.
Nothing could be more filthy nor revolting than the interior
of this "boozing-ken." Sweeps, costermongers, Jews, Irish bricklayers, and
woman of the town were crowding round the bar, drinking various malt and
spirituous liquors fearfully adulterated. The beer, having been originally
deluged with water to increase the quantity, had been strengthened by drugs
of most deleterious qualities - such as tobacco-juice and cocculus-indicus. The
former is a poison as subtle as that of a viper: the latter is a berry of such
venomous properties, that if thrown into a pond, it will speedily send the fish
up to the surface to gasp and die. The gin was mixed with vitriol, as hinted
above; and the whiskey, called "Paddy's Eye-Water," with spirits of turpentine. The
pots and glasses in which the various beverages were served up, were all stood
upon double trays, with a cavity between, and numerous holes in the upper surface. The
overflowings and drainings were thus caught
and saved; and the landlord dispensed the precious compound, which bore the name
of "all sorts," at a halfpenny a glass.
The two burglars nodded familiarly to the landlord and his
wife, as they passed the bar, and entered a little, low, smoky room, denominated
"the parlour." A tremendous fire burnt in the grate, at which a short,
thin, dark man, with a most forbidding countenance, was sitting, agreeably
occupied in toasting a sausage. The right hand of this man had lost the two
middle fingers, the stumps of which were still covered with plaster, as if the
injury had been recent. He was dressed in a complete suit of corduroy: the
sleeves of his jacket, the lower part of his waistcoat, and the front of his
trousers, were covered with grease. On the table near him stood a huge piece of
bread and a pot of beer.
This individual was Tom the Cracksman - the most adroit and
noted burglar in the metropolis. He kept a complete list of all the gentlemen's
houses in the environs of
London, with the numbers of servants and male inhabitants in each. He never
attempted any dwelling within a circuit of three miles of the General Post
Office; his avocation was invariably exercised in the suburbs of London, where
the interference of the police was less probable.
At the moment when we introduce him to our readers, he was somewhat
"down in his luck," as he himself expressed it, the accident which had
happened to his hand, through playing with gunpowder, having completely disabled
him for the preceding two months, and the landlord of the "boozing-ken"
having made it an invariable rule never to give credit. Thus, though the Cracksman had spent hundreds of pounds in that house, he
could not obtain so much as a glass of "all sorts without the money.
The Cracksman was alone in the parlour when Dick Flairer and Bill Bolter
entered. Having toasted his sausage, the renowned burglar placed it upon tin
bread, and began eating his supper by means of, formidable clasp-knife, without
deigning to cast a glance around.
At length Bill Bolter burst out into a loud laugh, and exclaimed, "Why,
Tom, you're getting proud all on a sudden: you won't speak to your friends."
"Halloo, Bill, is that you ?" ejaculated the burglar. "When
did they turn you out of the jug ?"
"This mornin' at twelve; and with never a brown in my pocket. Luckily
the old woman had turned the children to some use during the time I was at the
stepper, or else I don't know what would have become on us."
"And I'm as completely stitched up as a man could be if he'd just come
out o' the workus," said Tom. "I just now spent my last tanner* [*Sixpence]
here grub. Ah! it's a dd hard thing for a man like me to be brought down to
cag-mag,* [*Bad meat]" - he added, glancing sulkily at the sausage, which he was eating half
"We all sees ups and downs," observed Dick Flairer. "My opinion is
that we are too free when we have the blunt."
"And there's them as is too close when we haven't it," returned the
Cracksman bitterly. "There's the landlord of this crib, won't give a
gen'leman like me tick not for one blessed farden. But things can't go on so:
I'm blowed If I won't do a crack that shall be worth while; and then I'll open a
ken in opposition to this. You'd see whether I'd refuse a pal tick in the hour
"Well, you don't suppose that we are here just to amuse ourselves," said
Dick: "we come to see you."
"Is anythink to be done ?" demanded the Cracksman.
"First answer me this," cried Dick: "has that crib at Upper Clapton
been cracked yet?"
"What, where there's a young swell "
"I don't know nothing more about it than wot you told me,"
Dick. "Me and you was to have done it; and then you went larking with the
"I know the crib you mean," said the Cracksmam hastily: "that job is
yet to be done. Are you the chaps to have a hand in it."
"That's the very business that we're come for," answered Bill.
"Well," resumed the Cracksman, "it seems we're
[-48-] all stumped up, and can't hold out no longer. We won't put
this thing off - it shall be done to-morrow night. Eleven's the hour. I will go
Dalston way - you two can arrange about the roads you'll take, so long as you
don't go together; and we'll all three meet at the gate of Ben Price's field at eleven
"So far, so good," said
Dick Flairer. "I've got a
darkey* [*Dark lantern] but we want the
kifers* [*Implements used by burglars] and tools."
"And a sack," added Bill.
"We must get all these things of old Moses Hart, the fence;*
[*Receiver of stolen goods] and give him a share of the swag,"
exclaimed the Cracksman. "Don't bother yourselves about
that; I'll make it all right."
"Well, now that's settled," said
Dick. "I've got a bob in my pocket, and we'll have a rinse of the bingo."
The burglar went out to the bar, and returned with some
brandy, which he and his companions drank pure.
"So Crankey Jem's in quad?" observed the Cracksman, after a
"Yes - and the Resurrection Man too: but he has chirped, and will be let out after sessions."
"You have heard of his freak over in the Borough I
s'pose," said the Cracksman.
"No I haven't," answered Bill. "What was it?"
"Oh! a capital joke. The story's rather long; but it
will bear telling. There's a young fellow of the name of Sam Chisney; and his father died about two year
ago leaving two thousand pounds in the funds. The widder was to enjoy the
interest during her life; and then it was to come, principal and interest both, to Sam. Well, the old woman gets into debt, and is arrested. She
goes over to the Bench, takes the Rules, and hires a nice lodging on the ground
floor in Belvidere Place. The young feller wants his money very bad, and ,doesn't seem at all
to wait for the old lady's death, particklar as she might live another ten years. Well, he comes across
the Resurrection Man, and tells him just how he's sitivated. The Resurrection Man thinks over the
matter; and, being a bit of a scholar, understands the business. Off they
goes and consults a lawyer named Mac Chizzle, who lives up in the New Road,
somewhere near the Servants' Arms there."
"I know that crib well," observed Bill. "It's a
were tidy and respectable one."
"So Mac Chizzle, Sam Chisney, and the Resurrection Man
lay their heads together, and settle the whole business. The young chap then
goes over to the old woman, and tells her what is to be done. She consents: and all's right. Well, that very day
the old lady is taken so bad - so very bad, she thinks she's a goin' to die. She won't have no doctor; but
she sends for a nurse as she knows - an old creatur' up'ards of seventy and
nearly in her dotage. Then Sam comes; and he's so sorry to see his poor dear
mother so ill; and she begins to talk very pious, and to bless him, and tell him
as how she feels that she can't live four-and-twenty hours. Sam cries dreadful,
and swears he won't leave his poor dear mother - no, not for all the world. He sits up with her all
night, and is so exceedin' kind; and he goes out and gets a bottle of medicine -
which arter all worn't nothink but gin and peppermint. The old nurse is quite pleased to think that the old woman has
such a attentive son; and he sends out to get a little rum; and the old nurse
goes to bed blind drunk.
"What the devil was all that for ?" demanded Dick.
"You'll see in a moment," resumed the Cracksman.
"Next night at about ten o'clock the young fellow says to the nurse- 'Nurse, my poor dear mother is wasting away: she can't last out the night. I do
feel so miserable; and I fancy a drop of the rum that they sell at a partickler public, close
up by Westminster Bridge.' 'Well, my dear,' says the nurse, 'I'll go and get a
bottle there; for I feel that we shall both want someot to cheer us through this
blessed night.' So the old nurse toddles off to get the rum at the place Sam told her. He had
sent her away to a
good long distance on purpose. The moment she was gone, Mrs. Chisney gets up,
dresses herself as quick as she can, and is all ready just as a hackney-coach drives up to the door. Sam
runs down: all was as right as the mail. There was the Resurrection Man in the coach, with the dead body of
a old woman that had only been buried the day before, and that he'd had up again
during the night. So Sam and the Resurrection Man they gets the stiff 'un up stairs, and Mrs.
jumps into the coach and drives away to a comfortable lodging which Mac Chizzle
had got for her up in Somers Town.
"Now I begin to twig," exclaimed Dick Flairer.
"Presently the old nurse comes back; and Sam meets her on the stairs, whimpering as hard as he
could; and says, 'Oh! nurse-your poor dear missus is gone: your poor dear missus is gone!'
So she was; no mistake about that. Well, the nurse begins to cry; but Sam gets
her up stairs, and plies her so heartily with the rum that she got blind drunk once more, without ever thinking of laying the body
out; so she didn't find out it was quite cold. Next day she washed it, and laid
it out properly; and an she was nearly blind, she didn't notice that the features wasn't altogether the same. The
body, too, was a remarkable fresh 'un; and so everything went
on as well as could be wished. Sam then stepped over to the Marshal of the
Bench, and give him notice of his mother's death; and as she died in the Rules,
there must be an inquest. So a jury of prisoners was called: and the old nurse was examined; and she
said how exceedin' attentive the young man had been, and all that; and then Sam
himself was called. Of course he told a good tale; and then the Coroner says,
'Well, gentlemen, I s'pose you'll like to look at the body.' So over they all
goes to Belvidere Place, and the foreman of the Jury just pokes his nose in at
the door of the room where the corpse was lying; and no one else even went
more than half up the staircase. After this, the jury is quite satisfied, and
return a verdict of 'Died from Natural Causes, accelerated by confinement in
the Rules of the King's Bench Prison;' and to this - as they were prisoners
themselves - they added some very severe remarks upon 'the deceased's unfeeling
and remorseless creditors.' Then comes the funeral, which was very
respectable; and Sam Chisney was chief mourner; and he cried a good deal. All
the people who saw it said they never saw a young man so dreadful cut up. In this way they killed the old woman: the son proved
her death, got the money, and sold it out every farden; and he and his mother is
keeping a public-house together somewhere up Spitalfields way. The
Resurrection Man and Man Chizzle each got a hundred for their share in the
business; and the thing passed off as comfortable as possible."
I'm blowed if that isn't the best lark I ever heard," ejaculated Dick, when the
Cracksman had brought his tale to an end.
it is," added Bill.
The parlour of the "boozing-ken" now received some additional
guests - all belonging to the profession of roguery, though not
all following precisely the same line. Thus there were Cracksmen, Magsmen* [*Swell-mobites]
Area-sneaks, Public Patterers* [*Swell-mobites who
affect to be dissenting ministers, and preach in the open air in order to
collect crowds, upon whose pockets their confederates work.] Buzgloaks*
[*Common thieves], Dummy-Hunters* [*Thieves who steal pocket-handkerchiefs],
Compter-Prigs* [*Swell-mobites who steal from the compters in shops, while their
confederates make some trifling purchase. These thieves often contrive to empty
the till.], Smashers* [*Persons who pass false money], Flimsy-Kiddies* [*Persons
who pass forged bank-notes at races, fairs], Macers* [*Common cheats], Coiners,
Begging-Letter Impostors, &c. &c.
The orgies of that motley crew soon became uproarious and
revolting. Those who had money lavished it with the most reckless profusion; and
thus those who had none were far from being in want of liquor.
The Cracksman was evidently a great man amongst this horrible
fraternity: his stories and songs invariably commanded attention.
It is not our purpose to detain the reader much longer in the parlour of the "boozing-ken," we
have doubtless narrated enough in this and the preceding chapter to give him a
faint idea of some or the horrors of London. We cannot, however, allow the
morning scene to pass unnoticed.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
next chapter >