chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
next chapter >
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
next chapter >