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LONDON [Vol. II]
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FORTNIGHT had passed since the incidents just related.
It was a Monday morning.
The clock of St. Giles's had just struck six, when the
faint, flickering gleam of a candle struggled through the uppermost windows of
the hangman's house.
The few persons who were passing along at that hour, and
on that dark winter's morning, shuddered as they caught a glimpse of the sickly
glare through the obscurity and the mist — for they thought within themselves,
"The executioner is up early on account of the man that's to be hanged at
And such was indeed the case.
Smithers rose shortly before six and, having lighted the
solitary candle that stood upon the mantel, proceeded to the floor below to call
"Gibbet, you lazy hound!" he cried, thundering
with his fist at the door of the hump-back's room; "get up."
"I'm getting up, father," replied the lad,
from the interior of the chamber.
" Well, make haste about it," said the
executioner in a savage tone.
He then returned to the loft.
There was something horribly fantastic in the appearance
of that place. The dim and sickly light of the candle did but little more than
redeem from complete obscurity the various strange objects which we have already
described. But as the penetrating eye of the executioner plunged into the
visible darkness of the loft, and beheld the ominous figure balancing beneath
the beam, while its mask of a livid white hue wore a ghastly appearance in
contrast with the black body and limbs which it surmounted, — no sentiment of
horror nor of alarm agitated his heart.
The avocations of the man had brutalized him and blunted
every humane feeling which he had once possessed.
He walked up and down the room impatiently for several
minutes, until the door opened and his son entered.
The hideous countenance of the lad was ghastly pale, and
distorted with horror. His eyes glared fearfully, as if terrific apparitions
flitted before them.
"Gibbet," said his father, you shall try your
hand this morning on a living being instead of a puppet."
"This morning!" repeated the lad, his teeth
chattering, and his knees knocking together.
"To be sure. Didn't I tell you so last night?"
cried the executioner. "Why, you hump-backed scoundrel, you — you ought to
have prayed that no reprieve might be sent for the chap that's to be tucked up
this morning, instead of working yourself up to this state of cowardly
nervousness. But I'll take it out of you, I will."
With these words, Smithers seized his leathern thong,
and was advancing towards the hump-back, when the wretched lad threw himself on
his knees clasped his hands together, and cried, ' No, — don't, father —
can't bear that lash! You don't know how it hurts — I'll do all you tell
"Well, that's speaking proper — that is," said
the executioner, dropping the already uplifted thong. "It's all for your
good that I use it now and then, Gibbet. Don't I want to make a man of you? Look
at the money you can earn if you'll only make yourself a name like me. D'ye
think the sheriffs throughout England would all apply to me to do their work for
them, if I was n't celebrated for my skill? Why — even the criminals themselves
must look upon it as a regular blessing to have such a [-16-]
knowing hand as me to tie their last cravat for them. I'd bet a pound that the
man who's to be turned off presently, isn't half as miserable as people think —
'cos why, he's well aware that I shan't put him to no pain."
"'I know you've got a great name in your business,
father — "
"We'll call it profession in future, Gibbet; it's
more genteel. And, after all, it's as good as a barrister's; for the barrister
gets the man hanged — and I hang him. That's all the difference."
"I know it's very respectable, father,"
resumed the lad, submissively; "but — still — I — "
"Still what?' cried Smithers, savagely, and taking
up the thong again.
"Nothing — nothing, father," faltered Gibbet.
"So much the better. Now come to the model, and
take and pinion the figure — 'cos that's what I mean you to do presently, down at
Newgate. Begin by degrees, as the saying is; you shall pinion this man to-day;
you shall let the drop fall for the next — and you shall put the halter on the one
that comes arter him, whoever he may be."
"Must I — pin-in-ion the man this morning,
father?" inquired the lad, the workings of whose countenance were now
"Must you? of course you must," answered
Smithers. "Why, what the devil are you snivelling at now? I'd wager a crown
to a brass farthin' that there's many a young nobleman who'd give fifty pounds
to be able to do it. Look how they hire the winders opposite Newgate! Lord bless
their souls, it does me good to think that the aristocracy and gentry patronises
hanging as well as the other fine arts. What would become of the executioners if
they didn't? Why — the legislature would abolish capital punishment at once."
Gibbet clasped his hands together, and raised his eyes
in an imploring manner, as much as to say, "Oh, how I wish they
Fortunately for him, his father did not perceive this
expression of emotion, for the executioner had approached the candle to the
model-gallows, and was now busily occupied in arranging the figure for his son's
"I'll tell you who are the patrons of my business —
profession, I mean," continued the executioner: "and if you
had a grain of feeling for your father, you'd go down on your knees night and
morning and pray for them. The old Tories and the Clergy are my friends; and,
thank God! I'm a stanch Tory, too. I hate changes. What have changes done? Why
swept away the good old laws that used to hang a man for stealing anything above
forty shillings. Ah! George the Third was the best king we ever had! He used to
tuck 'em up — three, four, five, six — aye, seven at once! Folks may well talk of
the good old times — when an executioner could make his twenty or thirty guineas
of a morning! I'd sooner take two guineas for each man under such an excellent
system, than have the ten pounds as I do now."
While Smithers was thus talking he had lowered the
figure until it stood upon the drop. He then took oil the baiter; but the puppet
still retained its upright position, because it was well stiffened and had heavy
plates of lead fastened, to the soles of its feet.
"Now what a cry the rascally radical Sunday papers
make against the people they call the saints," continued Smithers,
as he unfastened the cord which pinioned the arms of the puppet; "and yet
those very saints are the ones that are most in favour of punishment of
death. For my part, I adore the saints — I do. When Fitzmorris Shelley
brought forward his measure to do away with capital penalty, didn't Dinglis and
Cherrytree and all those pious men make a stand against him? And don't they know
what's right and proper? Of course they do! Ah! I never read so much of House of
Commons' business before as I did then: — but I was in a precious fright it's
true. I thought of calling a public meeting of all the executioners in the
kingdom to petition Parliament against the measure; but I didn't do it —
the House of Commons might have thought that we was interested."
Smithers paused for a moment, and contemplated the
puppet and the model-gallows with great admiration. He had fashioned the one and
built the latter himself; and he was not a little proud of his handiwork.
"Now, come, Gibbet," he at length exclaimed;
"it's all ready. Do you hear me, you infernal hump-back?"
"And if I am a hump-back, father," returned
the lad, bursting into tears, "you know
"What?" cried the executioner, his countenance
assuming an expression truly ferocious.
"You know that it isn't my fault," added the
unfortunate youth, shrinking from the glance of his savage parent.
"None of this nonsense, Gibbet," said the man,
a little softened by the reminiscence that he himself had made his son the
object of the very reproach levelled against his personal deformity. "Come
and try your hand at this work for a few minutes before breakfast; and then
we'll go down yonder together."
Gibbet approached the model-gallows; but his countenance
still denoted the most profoundly rooted disgust and abhorrence.
"Let's suppose that the culprit is as yet in his
own cell, Gibbet," continued the executioner. "Well, it's time to
pinion him, we'll say; there's the sheriffs standing there — and here's the
chaplain. Now you go for'ard and begin."
Gibbet took the whip-cord which his father handed to
"That's right. Now you won't bounce up to the poor
devil just like a wild elephant: remember that he's more or less in an
interesting situation — as the ladies say. You'll rather glide behind him, and
insinivate the cord between his arms, whispering at the same time, 'Beg pardon.'
Mind and don't forget that: because we're under an obligation to him to some
extent, as he's the means of putting money in our pocket, and we get the
reversion of his clothes."
Here Gibbet cast a hasty but terrified glance towards
his father's attire.
"Ah! I know what you're looking at,
youngster," said Smithers, with a coarse laugh; "you want to see if
I've got on my usual toggery. To be sure I have. — I wear it as a compliment to
the gentleman that we're to operate on this morning. This coat was the one that
Pegsworth cut his last fling in: this waistcoat was Greenacre's; and the
breeches was William Lees's. But go on — we mustn't waste time in this way." [-17-]
approached the puppet, and endeavoured to manipulate the string as his father
instructed him; but his hand trembled so convulsively that he could not even
pass it between the arms of the figure.
While he was still fumbling with the cord, and vainly
endeavouring to master his emotions, the heathens thong descended with
tremendous violence upon his back.
An appalling cry burst from the poor lad; but the
executioner only showered down curses on his head.
At length Gibbet contrived, through fear of another
blow, to pinion the figure in a manner satisfactory to his brutal parent.
"There!" exclaimed Smithers; I shall make
something of you at last. What virtue there must be in an old bit of leather: it
seems to put the right spirit into you, at all events. Well, that's all you
shall do this morning down at Newgate; and mind and do it as if the thong was
hanging over your head — or it will be all the worse for you when we let home. Try
and keep up the credit of your father's name, and show the Sheriffs and the
Chaplain how you can truss their pigeon for them. They always take great notice —
they do. Last time there was an execution, the Chaplain says to me, says
be, 'Smithers, I don't think you had your hand in nicely in this morning?' —
'Don't you, sir?'says I. — 'No,' says he; I've seen you do
it more genteel than that.' — Well, sir,' says I, 'I'll do my best to
please you next time.' — 'Ah! do, there's a good fellow, Smithers,' says the
Chaplain and off he goes to breakfast with the Sheriffs and Governor, a-smacking
his lips at the idea of the cold foul and ham that he meant to pitch into. But I
only mention that anecdote, to show you how close the authorities take notice —
that's all. So mind and do your best, boy."
"Yes, father," returned Gibbet.
"So now we've done the pinioning," continued
Smithers, once more busying himself with the puppet, which he surveyed with an
admiration almost amounting to a kind of love. "Well, we can suppose that
our chap has marched from the cell, and has just got on the scaffold. So far, so
good. We can't do better than to polish him off decently now [-18-]
that he is here," proceeded Smithers, alluding to the figure, and
rather musing aloud than addressing himself to his son. "Now all we've got
to do is to imagine that the bell's a-ringing: — there stands the parson, reading
the funeral service. Here I am. I take the halter that's already tied nicely
round the poor devil's neck — I fix the loop on this hook that hangs down from the
beam of the gibbet — then I leave the scaffold — I go underneath — I pull the
bolt — and
down he falls so!"
"O God!" cried Gibbet, literally writhing with
mental agony, as the drop fell with a crashing sound, and the jerking noise of
the halter met his ear a moment afterwards.
"Now, then, coward!" exclaimed the
executioner; and again the leathern thong elicited horrible screams from the
The lad was still crying, and his father was in the
midst of sundry fearful anathemas, levelled against what he called his son's
cowardice, when a knock was heard at the door of the loft.
"Come in!" shouted the executioner.
The invitation was obeyed; and an elderly man, dressed
in a shabby suit of black, entered the room with an affected solemnity of
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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