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[-1-]

CHAPTER CXXXVII.

RATS' CASTLE.

    Richard Markham, though perfectly unpretending in manner and somewhat reserved or even sedate in disposition, possessed the most undaunted courage. Thus was it that, almost immediately recovering himself from the sudden check which he had experienced at the hands of the Resurrection Man, he hurried in pursuit of the miscreant, followed by the policeman and the people whom the alarm which he had given had called to his aid.
    The people were, however, soon tired of running gratuitously for an object which they could scarcely comprehend; but the police-officer kept close to Markham; and they were speedily reinforced by two other constables, who, seeing that something was the matter, and with characteristic officiousness, immediately joined them.
    From an inquiry put to the waterman of the adjacent cab-stand, who had seen a person running furiously along a moment or two before, Markham felt convinced that the object of his pursuit had plunged into the maze of Saint Giles's; and, though well aware of the desperate character of that individual, and conscious that should he encounter him alone in some dark alley or gloomy court, a fearful struggle must ensue between them, he did not hesitate, unarmed as he was, to dash into that thicket of dangerous habitations.
    Soon outstripping the officers, who vainly begged [-2-] him to keep with them, as they were unacquainted with the person of whom he was in pursuit, forgetting every measure of precaution in the ardour of the chase, Richard rushed headlong through the dark and unpaved streets, following the echo of every retreating footstep which he heard, and stopping only to scrutinise the countenances of those who, in the obscurity of the hour and place, seemed at first might to resemble the exterior of the Resurrection Man.
    Vain was his search. At length, exhausted, he mate down on the steps of a door-way to recover his breath, after having expended an hour In his fruitless search up one street, down another, and in every nook and corner of that district which we have before described as the Holy Land.
    Accident shortly led the officers, who had originally entered upon the chase with him, to the spot where he was seated.
    "Here is the gentleman himself," said one, turning the glare of his bull's-eye full upon our hero.
    "No luck, I suppose, sir?" observed another. "You had much better have remained with us and given us some idea of the person that you want."
    'Fool that I was!" exclaimed Markham, now perceiving his imprudence in that respect: "I have left you to pursue a shadow, instead of depicting to you the substance. But surely the name of Anthony Tidkins "
    "The Resurrection Man, as they call him," hastily remarked one of the constables.
    "The same," answered Markham.
    "Why he blew himself up, along with some ethers and a number of our men, last year, down in Bethnal Green," said the constable who had last spoken.
    "No he lives, he lives," exclaimed Richard, impatiently. "My God! I know him but too well."
    "And it was after him that you gave the alarm just now in Tottenham Court Road!"
    "It was. I knew him at once I could not be mistaken: his voice, laden with a curse, still rings in my ears."
    "Well, since the gentleman's so positive, I 'spose it must be so," said the constable: "we musn't sleep upon it, mates. Ten to one that Tidkins has taken to burrow in one of the low cribs about here; and he means to lie quiet for two or three days till the alarm's blown over. I know the dodges of these fellers. You two go the round of Plumptre Street; and me and this gentleman will just take a permiscuous look into the kens about here."
    The two constables to whom these words were addressed, immediately departed upon the mission proposed to them, and Richard signified his readiness to accompany the officer who had thus settled the plan of proceedings.
    'We'll go first to Rats' Castle, sir, if you please," said the policeman: "that is the most likely place for a run-away to take refuge in at random."
    "What is Rats' Castle?" asked Markham, as he walked by the officer's side down a wretched alley, almost as dark as pitch, and over the broken pavement of which he stumbled at every step.
    "The night-house where all kind of low people meet to sup and lodge," was the reply. "But here we are and you'll see al about it in an instant."
    They had stopped at the door of a house with an area protected by thick wooden palings. All the upper part of the dwelling appeared to be involved in total darkness: but lights streamed through the chinks of the rude shutters of the area-windows and from the same direction emanated boisterous merriment, coarse laughter, and wild hurrahs.
    "You knock at the door, sir, if you please," said the policeman, "while I stand aside. I'll slip in after you; for if they twig my coat, and Tidkins really happens to be there, they'd give him the office to bolt before we could get in."
    "Well thought of," returned Markham. "But upon what plea am I to claim admittance?"
    "As a stranger, impelled by curiosity. You carry the silver key in your pocket."
    The policeman withdrew a few paces; and our hero knocked boldly at the door.
    A gruff voice challenged the visitor from the area.
    "Who's here!"
    "No one that will do you any harm," replied Richard. "I am anxious to witness the interior of this establishment; and here is half-a-crown for you if you can gratify my curiosity."
    "That's English, anyhow," said the voice, softening in its tone. "Stop a minit."
    Markham heard a door close in the area below; and in a few moments the bolts were drawn beck Inside the one at which he was standing.
    "Now then, my ben-cull in with you," said a man, as he opened the front door, and held a candle high up above his head at the same time.
    Markham stepped into a narrow passage, and placed his foot against the door in such a way as to keep it open. But the precaution was unnecessary for the policeman had glided in almost simultaneously with himself.
    "Now, no noise, old feller," said the constable, in a hasty whisper to the man who had opened the door: "our business is n't with any of your set."
    "Wery good," returned the porter of Rats' Castle: "you know best it isn't for me to say nothink."
    "Go first, sir," whispered the officer to Markham. "You seem to know him better than me, for I never saw him but once and then only for a minute or two."
    "Which way!" demanded Richard.
    "Straight on and then down stairs. You keep behind us. old feller," added the policeman, turning to the porter.
    Markham descended a flight of narrow and precipitate steps, and at the bottom found himself in a large room formed of two kitchens thrown into one.
    Two long tables running parallel to each other the entire length of the place, were laid out for supper, the preparations consisting of a number of greasy napkins spread upon either board, and decorated with knives and forks all chained to the tables. Iron plates to eat off, galley-pots and chipped tea-cups filled with salt, three or four pepper-boxes, and two small stone jars containing mustard, completed the preparations for the evening meal.
    The room was lighted by means of a number of candles disposed in tin shades around the walls; and as no one gave himself the trouble to snuff them, the wicks were long, and infested with what housewives denominate "thieves," while the tallow streamed down in large flakes, dripping on the floor, the seats, or the backs of the guests.
    Crowded together at the two tables, and anxiously [-3-] watching the proceedings of an old blear-eyed woman, who was occupied at an immense fire at the farther end of the room, were about thirty or forty persons, male and female. And never did Markham's eyes glance upon a more extraordinary a more loathsome a more revolting spectacle than that assemblage of rags, filth, disease, deformity, and ugliness.
    Mendicants, vagabonds, impostors, and rogues of all kinds were gathered in that room, the fetid heat of which was stifling. The horrible language of which they made use, their frightful curses, their obscene jests, their blasphemous jokes, were calculated to shock the mind of the least fastidious:   It was indeed a scene from which Markham would have fled as from a nest of vipers, had not a stern duty to society and to himself urged him to penetrate farther into that den.
    The appearance of himself and the policeman did not produce any remarkable degree of sensation amongst the persons assembled: they were accustomed to the occasional visits of well-dressed strangers, who repaired thither to gratify curiosity; and the presence of the officers of justice was a matter of frequent occurrence when any great robbery had been perpetrated in the metropolis, and while the culprits remained undiscovered.
    "He is not here," whispered Markham to his companion, after casting a hasty but penetrating glance around.
    "He may come: this is the most likely place in Saint Giles's for him to visit," returned the policeman. "We will wait half-an-hour."
    Richard would gladly have retired; but he was ashamed to exhibits disgust which the officer might mistake for fear. He accordingly seated himself at small side-table, in compliance with a sign from his companion.
    A waiter, wearing an apron which, by its colour, seemed also to do the duty of dish-cloth, now accosted them, and said, "Please to order anythink, gen'lemen?"
    "Two glasses of brandy-and-water," replied the. Constable.
    This command was speedily complied with; and, few minutes afterwards, supper was served up on the two long tables before described. The old woman who presided over the culinary department of the establishment had amply catered for those present. Legs of mutton, both roasted and boiled, rounds of beef, flanked with carrots, huge pies, boiled legs of pork, immense quantities of sausages, and sheep's heads, constituted the staple of the banquet. These viands, accompanied by piles of smoking potatoes "in their jackets" and heaps of cabbages, were all served up on iron dishes, from which no thrifty hand ever removed the rust.
    Then commenced the clattering of the knives and forks, the din of which upon the iron platters was strangely blended with the rattling of the chains that held them to the tables. The boisterous merriment and coarse conversation were for a time absorbed in the interest occasioned by the presence of the repast.
    "What a strange assembly." whispered Markham to the constable.
    "Strange to you, sir no doubt," was the answer, also delivered in a tone audible only to him to whom the words were addressed. "That sturdy feller sitting at the head of the nearest table, with the pat cudgel between his legs, is one of the class that don't take the trouble to clothe themselves in rags, but trust to their insolence to extort alms from females walking alone in retired parts. That feller next to him, all in tatters, but who laughs louder than any one else, is one of them whining, shivering, snivelling wretches that crouch up in doorways on rainy days, and on fine ones sit down on the pavement with 'Starving, but dare not beg,' chalked on the stone before them. The man over there in sailor's clothes tumbled down an area when he was drunk, and broke his leg: he was obliged to have it cut off; and so he now passes himself of as one of Nelson's own tars, though he never saw the sea in his life. That chap almost naked who's just come in, is going to put on his coat and shoes before he sits down to supper; he always goes out begging in that state on rainy days, and is a gentleman on fine ones."
    "I do not understand you," said Markham, astonished at this last observation.
    "Why, sir," replied the policeman, "there's certain beggars that always turn out half-naked, on rainy days, or when the snow's on the ground; and people pity them so much on those occasions that the rogues get enough to keep them all through the fine weather. If they have wives and children to go out with them, so much the better: but that feller there is n't married; and so he goes with a woman who frequents this place, and they hire three or four children from the poor people in this neighbourhood, at the rate of two-pence a day each child, and its grub. To see them go shivering and whining through the streets, with no shoes or stockings, you'd think they were the most miserable devils on the face of the earth; and then, to make the scene complete, the man and woman always pinch the little children that they carry in their arms, to make them cry, whenever they pass a window where several ladies are looking out."
    "Is this possible?" whispered Markham, his face flushing with indignation.
    "Possible, sir! Don't I see it all every day of my life! Look at them men and women blowing their hides out with all that good meat; and now look at the pots of porter that's coming in. Every soul there has sworn a hundred times during the day that he has n't tasted food for forty-eight hours, and will repeat the same story to-morrow. But they all had good suppers here last night, and good breakfasts here this morning; and you see how they are faring this evening."
    "But there are real cases deserving of charity?" said Markham, interrogatively, for he almost felt disposed to doubt the fact.
    "Certainly there are, sir," was the reply; "but it's very difficult for such as you to decide between the true and the false. Look at that man who carves at the second table: he can see well enough to cut himself the tit-bits; but to-morrow he will be totally blind in one of the fashionable squares."
    "Totally blind!" said Richard, more and more astonished at what he heard.
    "Yes, sir totally blind; led by a dog, and with a placard upon his chest. He keeps his eyes fast shut, and colours the lids with carmine and vermilion. But that is nothing. That feller next to him, who uses his knife and fork so well, will tomorrow have lost his right arm at the battle of Salamanca."
    "But how can that imposture be effected?" [-4-]
    "His right arm is concealed under his clothes,' and the coat-sleeve hangs down loose," replied the' constable. "That tall stout man who has just jumped so nimbly over the form in his way back to his place, has walked on crutches in the streets for the last twenty years; and when you see him so, you would think he could hardly drag himself along. The feller over there is a frozen-out gardener in winter, and a poor Spitalfields' weaver in summer. The one next to him will have a black patch over his left eye to-morrow; and yet you may see that it is as good as his right. The short man opposite to him bends his left leg back, and has a wooden one to support the knee, when he is in the street. That woman there has been dressed in widows' weeds for the, last fifteen years, and always has a troop of six children with her; but the children never grow any. bigger, for she hires fresh ones every year or so."
    "This is the most extraordinarily combined mass of contradictions and deceptions I ever gazed upon,' whispered Markham.
    "You may well say that, sir," said the policeman. "The ragged feller down at the bottom of the second table sits as upright as you or me: well, in the streets he crawls along the ground with two icon supporters in his hands. He is the most insolent feller in London. The man next to him goes about on a sort of van, or chaise, and the world believes that he has no legs at all; but they are all the time concealed in the body of the vehicle, and the stumps of the thighs which are seen are false. Those three hulking chaps over there, sitting with the three women that laugh so much, are begging-letter impostors. The eldest of the three men has been seventeen years at the business, and has been in prison twenty-eight times. One day he is a brick-layer who has fallen from a scaffold, and broken his leg, and has a wife and eleven young children dependent on him another day he is a licensed clergyman of the Church of England, but unemployed for two years-wife and six children totally dependent on him. Then he changes into a stanch Tory, ruined by his attachment to the cause, and proscribed by all his friends on account of his principles: in this shape he addresses himself to the old Tory noblemen, and makes a good harvest. The very next day he becomes a determined and stanch Reformer, who lost his employment through giving his vote for the Tower Hamlets to the liberal candidate at the last election, and has since met with an uninterrupted series of misfortunes sold up by a Tory landlord, his wife been dead only a fortnight, and seven motherless children left dependent on him. This kind of letter always draws well. Then he becomes a paralytic with an execution in his house; or a Spitalfields' weaver, with nine children, two of which are cripples, and one blind; or else a poor Scotch schoolmaster, come to London on business, and robbed by designing knaves of the means of returning to his own country. The women are just as bad. They are either wives with husbands in hospitals and bedridden mothers; or daughters with helpless parents and sick brothers and sisters dependent on them; and so on."
    "But if you be aware of all these monstrous impositions, why do you not interfere to protect the public?" inquired Markham.
    "Lord, sir!" said the constable, "if we took up all persons that we know to be impostors, we should have half London in custody. We only interfer [sic] when specially called upon, or when we see cases so very flagrant that we can't help taking notice of them. Some of these chaps that are eating here so hearty now, will seem to be dying in the streets to-morrow."
    "Merciful heavens, what a city of deceit and imposture is this!" observed Richard, painfully excited by the strange details which be had just heard. "Were the interior of this den but once exposed to general view, charity would be at an end, and the deserving poor would suffer for the unprincipled impostor."
    "True enough, sir. And now look   the cloth is removed, and every one is ordering in something strong to wash down the supper. There goes a crown-bowl of punch that's for the begging-letter impostors: and there's glasses of punch, and cold -spirits and water, and shrub, and negus. That's the way they do it, you see, sir."
    Markham did indeed see, and wondered more and more at what he so saw until his feelings of surprise changed into sentiments of ineffable abhorrence and disgust; and he longed to leave that odious den.
    "The person whom we seek does not appear to come," he said, after a long interval of silence. "Two hours have elapsed and we are only wasting time here."
    "He must have taken refuge in some other crib, sir," returned the constable. "Let us leave this one, and make the round of the other lodging houses in this street."
    Markham was glad to hurry away from Rats' Castle, the mysteries of which had so painfully shocked his generous feelings.  

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