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


[-50-]

CHAPTER XIX

MORNING.

THE orgie lasted throughout the night in the boozing-ken. There were plenty of kind guests who, being flush of money, treated those that had none; and thus Tom the Cracksman, Dick Flairer, and Bill Bolter, were enabled to indulge, to their heart's content, in the adulterated liquors sold at the establishment.
    The cold raw November morning was ushered in with a fine mizzling rain. The gas-lights were extinguished in the parlour; and the dawn of day fell upon countenances inflamed with debauchery, and rendered hideous by dirt and dark bristling beards.
    That was a busy hour for the landlord and landlady of the "boozing-ken." The neighbours who "used the house," came in, one after another - male and female, to take their "morning." This signified their first dram. 
    Then was it that the "all sorts" was in great denand. Old clothesmen, sweeps, dustmen, knackers, crimps, and women of the town, crowded round the bar, imbibing the strange but potent compound. Even young boys and girls of tender age seemed as a matter of course to require the morning stimulant ere they commenced the avocations or business of the day. Matted hair, blear-eyes, grimy faces, pestiferous breaths, and hollow cheeks, combined with rags and tatters, were the characteristics of the wretches that thronged about the bar of that lowest of low drinking-dens.
    Nothing is more revolting to the eye than the unwashed aspect of dissipation by the dingy light of the early dawn. The women had evidently jumped from their beds and huddled on their miserable attire without the slightest regard to decency, in order to lose no time in obtaining their morning dram. The men appeared as if they had slept in their clothes all night; and the pieces of straw in the coarse matted hair of many of them, plainly denoted of what materials their beds were made.
    They all entered shivering, cold, depressed, and sullen. The dram instantly produced an extraordinary change in each. Artificial gaiety - a gaiety which developed itself in ribald jokes, profane oaths, and obscene talk - was diffused around. Those who could afford it indulged in a second and a third glass; and some tossed for pots of beer. The men lighted their pipes; and the place was impregnated with the narcotic fumes of the strongest and worst tobacco - that bastard opium of the poor.
    Presently the policeman "upon that beat" lounged in, and was complimented by the landlady with a glass of her " best cordial gin." He seemed well acquainted with many of the individuals there, and laughed heartily at the jokes uttered in his presence. When he was gone, the inmates of the "boozing-ken" all declared, with one accord, "that he was the most niblike*  [*Gentlemanly - agreeable] blue-bottle in the entire force."
    In the parlour there were several men occupied in warming beer, toasting herrings, and frying sausages. The tables were smeared over with a rag as black as a hat, by a dirty slip-shod drab of a girl; and with the same cloth she dusted the frame of wire-work which protected the dingy face of the huge Dutch clock. Totally regardless of her presence, the men continued their obscene and filthy discourse; and she proceeded with her work as coolly as if nothing offensive met her ears.
    There are, thank God! thousands of British women who constitute the glory of their sex - chaste, virtuous, delicate-minded, and pure in thought and action, - beings who are but one remove from angels now, but who will be angels hereafter when they succeed to their inheritance of immortality. It must be to such as these that the eyes of the poet are turned when he eulogises, in glowing and impassioned language, the entire sex comprehended under the bewitching name of WOMAN! For, oh! how would his mind be shocked, were he to wander for a few hours amidst those haunts of vice and sinks of depravity which we have just described;- his spirit, towering on eagle-wing up into the sunny skies of poesy, would flutter back again to the earth, at the aspect of those foul and loathsome wretches, who, in the female shape, are found in the dwelling-places of poverty and crime!
    But to continue.
    Bill Bolter took leave of his companions at about eight o'clock in the morning, after a night of boisterous revelry; and rapidly retraced his steps homewards.
    Field Lane was now swarming with life. The miserable little shops were all open; and their proprietors were busy in displaying their commodities to the best advantage. Here Jewesses were occupied in suspending innumerable silk handkerchiefs to wires and poles over their doors: there the "translators" of old shoes were employed in spreading their stock upon the shelves that filled the place where the windows ought to have been. In one or two low dark shops women were engaged in arranging herrings, stock fish, and dried haddocks: in another, coals, vegetables, and oysters were exposed for sale; and not a few were hung with "old clothes as good as new." To this, we may add that in the centre of the great metropolis of the mightiest empire in the world - in a city possessing a police which annually costs the nation thousands of pounds - and in a country whose laws are vaunted as being adapted to reach and baffle all degrees of crime - numbers of receivers of stolen goods were boldly, safely, and tranquilly exposing or sale the articles which their agents had "picked up" during the preceding night.
    There was, however, nothing in the aspect of Field Lane at all new to the eyes of Bill Bolter. Indeed he merely went down that Jew's bazaar, in his way homewards, because he was anxious to purchase certain luxuries in the shape of red-herrings for his breakfast, he having borrowed a trifle of a friend at he "boozing-ken" to supply his immediate necessities.
    When he arrived at his lodgings in Lower Union Court, he was assailed with a storm of reproaches, menaces, and curses, on the part of his wife, for having stayed all night at the "boozing ken." At first that cruel and remorseless man trembled - actually turned pale and trembled in the presence of the virago who thus attacked him. But at length his passion was aroused by her taunts and threats; and, after bandying some horrible abuse and foul epithets with the infuriate woman, he was provoked to blows. With one stroke of his enormous fist, he felled her to the ground, and then brutally kicked her as she lay almost senseless at his feet.
    He then coolly sate down by the fire to cook his own breakfast, without paying the least attention to the two poor children, who were crying bitterly in that corner of the room where they had slept.
    In a few minutes the woman rose painfully from [-51-] the floor. Her features were distorted and her lips were livid with rage. She dared not, however, attempt to irritate her furious husband any farther: still her passion required a vent. She looked round, and seemed to reflect for a moment.
    Then, in the next instant, all her concentrated rage burst upon the heads of her unhappy offspring.
    With a horrible curse at their squalling, the woman leapt, like a tiger-cat, upon the poor little boy and girl. Harry, as usual, covered his sister with his own thin and emaciated form as well as he could; and a torrent of blows rained down upon his naked flesh. The punishment which that maddened wretch thus inflicted upon him, was horrible in the extreme.
    A thousand times before that day had Polly Bolter treated her children with demoniac cruelty; and her husband had not attempted to interfere. On the present occasion, however, he took it into his head to meddle in the matter - for the simple reason that, having quarrelled with his wife, he hated her at the moment, and greedily availed himself of any opportunity to thwart or oppose her.
    Starting from his chair, he exclaimed, "Come, now - I say, leave those children alone. They haven't done nothing to you."
    "You mind your own business," returned the woman, desisting for an instant from her attack upon the boy, and casting a look of mingled defiance and contempt at her husband.
    That woman's countenance, naturally ugly and revolting, was now absolutely frightful.
    "I say, leave them children alone," cried Bill. "If you touch 'em again, I'll drop down on you."
    "Oh, you coward! to hit a woman! I wish I was a man, I'd pay you off for this: and if I was, you wouldn't dare strike me."
    "Mind what you say, Poll; I'm in no humour to he teased this morning. Keep your mawleys* [*Hands] off the kids, or I'm blessed if I don't do for you."
    "Ugh - coward! This is the way I dare you;" and she dealt a tremendous blow upon her boy's shoulder.
    The poor lad screamed piteously: the hand of his mother had fallen with the weight of a sledge hammer upon his naked flesh.
    But that ferocious blow was echoed by another, at scarcely a moment's interval. The latter was dealt by the fist of Bill Bolter, and fell upon the back part of the ruthless mother's head with stunning force.
    The woman fell forward, and struck her face violently against the corner of the deal table.
    Her left eye came in contact with the angle of the board, and was literally crushed in its socket - an awful retribution upon her who only a few hours before was planning how to plunge her innocent and helpless daughter into the eternal night of blindness.
    She fell upon the floor, and a low moan escaped our lips. She endeavoured to carry her right hand to her now sightless eye; but her strength failed her, and her arm fell lifeless by her side. She was dying.
    The man was now alarmed, and hastened to raise her up. The children were struck dumb with unknown fears, and clasped each other in their little arms.
    The woman recovered sufficient consciousness, during the two or three seconds which preceded the exhalation of her last breath, to glance with her remaining eye up into her husband's face. She could not, however, utter an articulate sound - not even another moan.
    But no pen could depict, and no words describe, the deadly - the malignant - the fiendish hatred which animated her countenance as she thus met her husband's gaze.
    The tigress, enveloped in the folds of the boa-constrictor, never darted such a glance of impotent but profound and concentrated rage upon the serpent that held it powerless in its fatal clasp.
    She expired with her features still distorted by that horrible expression of vindictive spite.
    A few moments elapsed before the man was aware that his wife was dead - that he had murdered her!
    He supported her mechanically, as it were; for he was dismayed and appalled by the savage aspect which her countenance had assumed -that countenance which was rendered the more hideous by the bleeding eye-ball crushed in its socket.
    At length he perceived that she was no more; and, with a terrible oath, he let her head drop upon the floor.
    For a minute he stood and contemplated the corpse:- a whirlwind was in his brain.
    The voices of his children aroused him from his reverie.
    "Father, what's the matter with mother?" asked the boy, in a timid and subdued tone.
    "Mother's hurt herself," said Fanny: "poor mother!"
    "Look at mother's eye, father," added the boy: "do look at it! I'm sure something dreadful is the matter."
    "Damnation!" ejaculated the murderer: and, after another minute's hesitation, he hurried to the door.
    "O, father, father, don't leave us - don't go away from us !" cried the little boy, bursting into an agony of tears: "pray don't go away, father! I think mother's dead," added he with a glance of horror and apprehension towards the corpse: "so don't leave us, father - and I and Fanny will go out and beg, and do anything you like; only pray don't leave us; don't, don't, leave us!"
    With profound anguish in his heart, the little fellow clung to his father's knees, and proffered his prayer in a manner the most ingenuous - the most touching.
    The man paused, as if he knew not what to do.
    His hesitation lasted but a moment. Disengaging himself from the arms of his child, he said in as kind a tone as he could assume - and that tone was kinder than any he had ever used before - "Don't be foolish, boy; I shall be back directly. I'm only going to fetch a doctor - I shan't be a minute."
    "Oh, pray don't be long, father!" returned the boy, clasping his little hands imploringly together.
    In another moment the two children were alone with the corpse of their mother; while the murderer was rapidly descending the stairs to escape from the contemplation of that scene of horror.

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