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LONDON [Vol. II]
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FEELINGS. — KATHERINE.
"HOLLOA, Banks!" exclaimed the executioner,
"Got scent of this morning's work — eh, old feller!"
"Alas! my dear Mr. Smithers," returned the
undertaker, shaking his head in a lachrymose manner, "if men will
perpetrate such enormities, they must expect to go to their last home by means
of a dance upon nothing."
And, according to a custom which years had rendered a
part of Mr. Banks's nature, he wiped his eyes with a dingy white
"There he is again, the old fool!" ejaculated
Smithers, with a coarse guffaw; "always a-wimpering! Why, you don't mean to
say, Banks, that you care two straws about the feller that's going to be tucked
up this morning?"
"Ah! Smithers, you don't know my heart: I weep for
frail human nature, and not only for the unhappy being that's so soon to be a
blessed defunct carkiss. But, Smithers — my boy — "
"Well?" cried the executioner.
"How much is it to be this time for the rope?"
asked Mr. Banks, in a tremulous tone and with another solemn shake of the head.
"Five shillings — not a mag under," was the
"That's too much, Mr. Smithers — too much,"
observed the undertaker of Globe Lane. "The last one I bought I lost by:
times is changed, Mr. Smithers — sadly changed."
"Ain't the morbid feelings, as the press
calls 'em, as powerful as ever?" demanded the executioner savagely.
"The morbid feelings, thank God, is right as a
trivet," answered Banks; "but it's the blunt that falls off, Smithers —
blunt! And what's the use of the morbid feelings if there's no blunt to gratify
"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Banks," cried the
executioner, "that you can't get as ready a sale for the halters as you
used to do?"
"I'm afraid that such is the actiwal case, my dear
friend," responded Mr. Banks, turning up his eyes in a melancholy manner.
"The last blessed wictim that you operated upon, Mr. Smithers, you
remember, I gived you five shillings for the rope; and I will say, in justice to
him as spun it and them as bought it, that a nicer, stronger, or compacter bit
of cord never supported carkiss to cross-beam. But wain was it that I coiled it
neat up in my winder; — wain was it that I wrote upon a half sheet of foolscap, 'This
is the halter that hung poor William Lees;' — the morbid feelings was strong,
'cos the crowd collected opposite my house; but the filthy lucre, Smithers, was
wanting. Well, — there the damned — I beg it's pardon — the blessed cord stayed for a
matter of three weeks; and I do believe it never would have gone at all, if some
swell that was passing quite promiscuously one day didn't take a fancy to it — "
"Well, and what did he give you?" demanded the
"Only twelve shillings, as true as I'm a woful
sinner that hopes to be saved!" answered the undertaker.
"Twelve shillings. — eh? And how much would you have
had for the rope?"
"When the blunt doesn't fall short of the morbid
feelings, I calkilates upon a guinea," answered Mr. Banks.
"Why, you old rogue," shouted the executioner,
"you know that you sold William Lees's rope a dozen times over. The moment
the real one was disposed of, you shoved a counterfeit into your winder; and
that went off so well, that you kept on till you'd sold a dozen."
"No, Smithers — never no such luck as that since
Greenacre's business," said the undertaker, with a solemn shake of the
head; "and then I believe I really did sell nineteen ropes in less than a
"I only wonder people is such fools as to be gulled
so," observed Smithers.
"What can they say, when they see your certifikit
that the rope's the true one?" demanded Banks. " There was one old
gen'leman that dealt with me for a many — many years; and he bought the rope of
every blessed defunct that had danced on nothing at Newgate for upwards of
twenty year! I quite entered into his feelings, I did — I admired that man; and so
I always sold him the real ropes. But time's passing, while I'm chattering here.
Come, my dear Smithers — shall we say three shillings for the rope and certifikit
"Not a mug less than five," was the dogged
"Four, my dear friend Smithers?" said the
undertaker, with a whining, coaxing tone and manner.
"No — five, I tell you."
"Well — five then," said Banks. "I'll be
there at a few minits 'afore nine: I s'pose you'll cut the carkiss down at the
Yes — yes," answered Smithers. "I'm always
punctiwal with the dead as well as the living."
The undertaker muttered something about "blessed
defuncts," smoothed down the limp ends of his dirty cravat, and slowly
withdrew, shaking his head more solemnly than ever.
"See what it is to be a Public Executioner!"
cried Smithers, turning with an air of triumph towards his son: "look at
the perk visits — look at the priweleges! And yet you go snivelling about like a
young [-19-] gal, 'cos I want to make you fit to
succeed me in my honourable profession."
"O father!" cried the lad, unable to restrain
his feelings any longer: "instead of being respected, we are abhorred —
instead of being honoured, our very touch is contamination! You
yourself know, dear father, that you scarcely or never go abroad; if you enter
the public-house tap-room, even in a neighbourhood so low as this, the people
get up and walk away on different excuses. When I step out for an errand, the
boys in the streets point at me; and those who are well-behaved, pass me with
stealthy looks of horror and dread. Even that canting hypocrite who has just
left us — even he never crosses your threshold except when his interest is
concerned; — and yet be, they say, is connected with body-snatchers, and does not
bear an over excellent character in his neighbourhood. Yet such a sneaking old
wretch as that approaches our door with loathing — Oh! I know that he does! You
see, father — dear father, that it is a horrible employment; then pray don't make
me embrace it — Oh! don't — pray don't, father — dear father: say you won't —
do anything else you tell me! I'll pick up rags and bones from the gutters —
sweep chimnies — I'll break stones from dawn to darkness; — but do not — do not make
me an executioner!"
Smithers was so astounded at this appeal that he had
allowed it to proceed without interruption. He was accustomed to be addressed on
the same subject, but never to such a length, nor with such arguments; so that
the manner and matter of that prayer produced a strange impression on the man
who constantly sought, by means of rude sophistries, to veil from himself and
his family the true estimation in which his calling was held.
Gibbet, mistaking his father's astonishment for a more
favourable impression, threw himself at his feet, clasped his hands, and
exclaimed, "Oh! do not turn a deaf ear to my prayer! And think not, dear
father, that I confound you with that pursuit which I abhor; — think not that I
see other in you than my parent — a parent whom — "
"Whom you shall obey!" cried the executioner,
now recovering the use of his tongue: "or, by God!" he added, pointing
with terrible ferocity towards the model-gallows, " I'll serve you as I did
that puppet just now — and as I shall do the man down in the Old Bailey
Gibbet rose — disappointed, dispirited, and with a heart
agitated by the most painful emotions.
But why had not Smithers recourse to the leathern weapon
as usual? why had he spared the poor hump-back on this occasion?
Gibbet himself marvelled that such forbearance should
have been shown towards him, since he now comprehended but too well that his
father was inexorable in his determination with regard to him.
The truth was that Smithers was so far struck by his
son's appeal as to deem it of more serious import than any previously manifested
aversion to his horrible calling; and he accordingly met it with a menace which
he deemed to be more efficacious than the old discipline of the thong.
"Now mind me," said the executioner, after a
few moments' pause, "you needn't try any more of these snivelling antics:
they won't succeed with me, I tell you before-hand if you don't do as I order
you, I'll hang you up to that beam as soon as yonder mouse in the noose on the
mantel. So let one word be enough. Hark! there's seven o'clock: we've only just
time to get a mouthful before we must be off."
Smithers proceeded downstairs, followed by Gibbet.
They entered a little parlour, where Katherine was
It being still dark, a candle stood on the table; and
it's light was reflected in the polished metal teapot milk-jug and sugar-basin.
The table napkin was of dazzling whiteness: the knives and forks were bright as
steel could be; — in a word, an air of exquisite neatness and cleanliness pervaded
the board on which the morning's repast was spread.
Nor was this appearance confined to the table. The
little room itself was a model of domestic propriety. Not a speck of dust was to
be seen on the simple furniture, which was also disposed with taste: the windows
were set off with a clean muslin curtain; and the mantel was covered with fancy
ornaments all indicative of female industry.
Then Kate herself! — her appearance was in perfect keeping
with that of the room which owed its cleanliness and air of simple comfort to
her. A neat cap set off her chesnut hair, which was arranged in plain bands; her
dark stuff gown was made high in the body and long in the skirt, but did not
conceal the gracefulness of her slender form, nor altogether prevent a little
foot in a neat shoe and a well-turned ankle in a lily-white cotton stocking from
occasionally revealing themselves. Then her hands were so slightly brown, her
fingers so taper, and her nails so carefully kept, that no one, to look at them,
would conceive how much hard work Katherine was compelled to do.
Though so rigidly neat and clean, Kate had nothing of
the coquette about her. She was as bashful and artless as a child; and, besides —
whom had she, the executioner's acknowledged niece, to captivate?
Although she endeavoured to greet Smithers and the
hump-back with a smile, a profound melancholy in reality oppressed her.
It was one of those mornings when her uncle was to
exercise his horrible calling: — this circumstance would alone have deeply
affected her spirits, which were never too light nor buoyant. But on the present
occasion, another cause of sorrow weighed on her soul — and that was the knowledge
that her wretched cousin was that morning to enter on his fearful noviciate!
She entertained a boundless compassion for that
unfortunate being. His physical deformities, and the treatment which he
experienced from his father, called forth the kindest sympathies of her
naturally tender heart. Moreover, he had received instruction and was in the
habit of seeking consolation from her: she was the only friend of that suffering
creature who was persecuted alike by nature and by man; and she perhaps felt the
more acutely on his account, because she was so utterly powerless in protecting
him from the parental ferocity which drove him to her for comfort.
She knew that a good — a generous — a kind — and a deeply
sensitive soul was enclosed within that revolting form; and she experienced
acute anguish [-20-] when a brutal hand could
wantonly torture so susceptible a spirit.
And to that wounded, smarting spirit she herself was all
kindness — all softness — all conciliation — all encouragement.
No wonder, then, if the miserable son of the public
executioner was devoted to her: no wonder if she were a goddess of light, and
hope, and consolation, and bliss to him! To do her the slightest service was a
source of the purest joy which that poor being could know: to be able to
convince her by a deed, — even so slight as picking up her thread when it fell, or
placing her chair for her in its wonted situation, — this, this was sublime
happiness to the hump-back!
He could sit for hours near her, without uttering a word —
but watching her like a faithful dog. And when her musical voice, fraught
with some expression of kindness, fell upon his ear, how that hideous
countenance would brighten up — how those coarse lips would form a smile — how those
large dull orbs would glow with ineffable bliss!
But when his father was unkind to her, — unkind to
Katherine, his only friend, — unkind to the sole being that ever had looked not
only without abhorrence, but with unadulterated gentleness on him, — then a new
spirit seemed to animate him; and the faithful creature, who received his own
stripes with spaniel-like irresistance, burst forth in indignant remonstrance
when a blow was levelled at her. Then his rage grew terrible; and the resigned,
docile, retiring hump-back became transformed into a perfect demon.
How offensive to the delicate admirer of a maudlin
romance, in which only handsome boys and pretty girls are supposed to be capable
of playing at the game of Love, must be the statement which we are now about to
make. But the reader who truly knows the world as it really is, — will not start
when we inform him that this being whom nature had formed in her most uncouth
mould, — this creature whose deformities seemed to render him a connecting link
between man and monkey, — this living thing that appeared to be but one remove
above a monster, cherished a profound love for that young girl whom he esteemed
as his guardian angel.
But this passion was unsuspected by her, as its nature
was unbeknown to himself. Of course it was not reciprocated: — how could it be?
Nevertheless, every proof of friendship — every testimonial of kind feeling —
evidence of compassion on her part, only tended to augment that attachment which
the hump-back experienced for Katherine.
"Well, Kate," said the executioner, as he took
his seat at the breakfast-table, "I've drilled Gibbet into the art of
pinioning at last."
The girl made no answer; but she cast a rapid glance at
the hump-back, and two tears trickled down her cheeks.
"Come, Gibbet," answered Smithers; "we've
no time to lose. Don't be afraid of your bread-and-butter: you'll get nothing to
eat till you come home again to dinner."
"Is John going with you this morning, uncle?"
inquired Katherine timidly.
"Why, you know he is. You only ask the question to
get up a discussion once more about it, as you did last night."
This was more or less true: the generous-hearted girl
hoped yet to be able to avert her uncle from his intention in respect to the
"But I won't hear any more about it,"
continued the executioner, as he ate his breakfast. "And, then, why do you
call him John?"
"Did you not give him that name at his
baptism?" said Kate.
"And if I did, I've also the right to change
it," returned the executioner; "and I choose him to be called Gibbet.
It's more professional."
"I think the grocer in High Street wants an errand
boy, uncle," observed Katherine, with her eyes fixed upon her cup — she dared
not raise them to Smithers' face as she spoke: "perhaps he would take John —
I mean my cousin — and that would be better than making him follow a calling
which he does not fancy."
"Mind your own business, Miss Imperence!"
ejaculated the executioner; and let me mind mine. Now, then — who knocks at the
Gibbet rose and hastened from the room.
In a few moments he returned, holding in his hand a
paper, which he gave to his father.
"Ah! I thought so," said Smithers, as he
glanced his eye over the paper: "my friend Dognatch is always in time.
Here's the last dying speech, confession, and a true account of the execution
of the man that I'm to tuck up presently — all cut and dry, you see. Well —
very kind of Dognatch always to send me a copy; but I suppose he thinks it's a
compliment due to my sitiwation."
With these words Smithers tossed off his tea, rose, and
exclaimed, "Now Gibbet, my boy, we must be off."
"Father, I don't feel equal to it," murmured
the hump-back, who seemed fixed to his chair.
"Come — without another word!" cried the
executioner, in so terrible a tone that Gibbet started from his seat as if
suddenly moved by electricity.
"Uncle — uncle, you will not — you cannot force this
poor lad — " began Katherine, venturing upon a last appeal in favour of the
"Kate," said the executioner, turning abruptly
upon her, while his countenance wore so ferocious an expression of mingled
determination and rage, that the young girl uttered an ejaculation of alarm, — "Kate, do not provoke me;
or — "
He said no more, but darted on her a look of such dark,
diabolical menace, that she sank back, annihilated as it were, into her seat.
She covered her face with her hands, and burst into an
agony of tears.
For some moments she remained absorbed in profound
grief: the fate of the wretched humpback, and the idea that she herself was
doomed to exist beneath the same roof with the horrible man whom she called her
uncle, were causes of bitter anguish to her tender and sensitive soul.
When she raised her head, and glanced timidly around,
she found herself alone.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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