< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >


[-79-]

CHAPTER CLXV.

THE TRACE.

IN order to avoid unnecessary details we shall now concisely state that Smithers and his son paid the visit agreed upon to Katherine Wilmot.
    Smithers communicated to her, when they were alone together for half an hour, so much of his own history as involved all the particulars with which he was acquainted concerning her parentage.
    The grateful girl expressed a deeper sense of obligation than she had ever yet experienced towards the individual who had supported her for so many years, although she had no claims of relationship upon him.
    After one of the most agreeable days which the late executioner and his son had ever passed in their lives, they took leave of Katherine and the worthy people of the farm, and returned to London.
    Poor Katherine Wilmot! she had that day learnt more concerning her parentage than she had ever known before; but she would have been happier, perhaps, had her original impression on that subject never been disturbed!
    Still Markham had conceived it to be a duty which was owing to the young maiden, to permit Smithers thus to reveal to her those circumstances which seemed to fix her with the stigma of illegitimacy.
    That night her pillow was moistened with abundant tears, as she lay and reflected on her lamented mother!
    On the appointed evening Smithers and his son called at Markham Place.
    They were conducted by Whittingham to a parlour, where the table was spread with a handsome collation, places being arranged for three persons.
    "Sit down, my friends," said Richard Markham, who received them with a warmth far more encouraging than mere courtesy: "after supper we will transact the business for which I have requested your presence here."
    "What, sir!" ejaculated Smithers; "can you condescend to have me at your table?"
    "Not as you lately were," answered Richard: "I receive you as a regenerated man."
    John Smithers (for we shall suppress his nickname of Gibbet, as his father had already done so) cast a glance of profound gratitude upon our hero, in acknowledgment of a behaviour that could not do otherwise than confirm his father in his anxious endeavour to adopt a course of mental improvement.
    Smithers' confidence increased, when he had im[-80-]bibed a glass or two of generous wine; and he related to Markham the particulars of his interview with Katherine.
    Then was it for the first time the hump-back learnt that Katherine was not his cousin.
    He said nothing; but, as he drank in all that fell from his father's lips, two large tears rolled down his cheeks.
    When the supper was over, Richard addressed Smithers in the following manner:  "The narrative which you revealed to me the day before yesterday materially alters the position in which Katherine stands with respect to you. When I first proposed that she should advance you at once a small sum, I believed her to be your near relative. But as she is in no way akin to you, it results that you have for years supported one who had no claim upon you. Accident has made her rich; and it is but fair and just that you should be adequately rewarded for your generosity. I have communicated with Katherine's trustee upon the subject; and we have agreed to furnish you with five hundred pounds at once, to enable you to embark in a respectable and substantial line of business. This pocket-book," proceeded Markham, "contains that sum. Take it, my worthy friend  it is your due; and, should you succeed in the career that you are now about to enter upon, you can with satisfaction trace your prosperity to the humanity which you showed to a friendless orphan."
    After some hesitation, Smithers received the pocket-book. He and his son then took leave of Richard Markham, with the most sincerely felt expressions of gratitude, and with a promise from the father to write to him soon to state where and how they had settled themselves.
    Scarcely had those two individuals, now both made happy, taken their departure, when Whittingham informed his master that a person with a dark complexion, and who gave the name of Morcar, requested to speak to him.
    Richard ordered the gipsy to be instantly admitted to his presence.
    Morcar was accordingly shown into the parlour.
    The moment he found himself alone with Markham, he said in a low and somewhat solemn tone, "We have traced him!"
    "I expected as much, the moment your name was announced," said Richard. "Where is he?"
    "He has taken refuge in a barge on the river," answered Morcar. "That is all I have been able to learn; but I am confident he is there."
     "And do you know where the barge is moored?" asked Richard.
    "Close by Rotherhithe. But there are several other barges off the same wharf; and I cannot single out which he is in. I, however, know that he is concealed in one of them."
    "It is important to discover which," said Markham. "Were we to make our appearance in that vicinity with a body of police, he might escape us altogether."
    "And therefore it will be better to take him by means of stratagem," observed Morcar.
    "What can have induced him to seek refuge there?" said Richard, in a musing tone. "Some new crime, perhaps?"
    "Or else some fresh scheme of villany," returned Morcar. "But, perhaps you are not aware, sir, that river piracy still flourishes to some extent?"
    "I certainly imagined that with our system of Thames police, that species of depredation was completely ruined."
    "No such thing, sir!" exclaimed Morcar. "The man who gave me the information about Tidkins, told me more than ever I knew before on that subject."
    "You may as well acquaint me with those particulars, Morcar," said our hero. "They may assist me in devising some scheme to entrap the Resurrection Man, and enable justice to receive its due."
    "River piracy, sir," continued Morcar, "is carried on by a set of vagabonds who for the most part have been sailors, or in some shape or another engaged amongst barges and lighters. They are all leagued with the marine-store dealers and people that keep old iron and junk shops on both sides of the river below London-bridge. The river pirates usually possess a barge or lighter, which every now and then makes a trip up and down the river between Greenwich and Putney, but with no other freight than bales of sawdust, old rags, or even dung. This they do to keep up appearances and avoid suspicion. But all day long they maintain a good look out in the pool, and take notice of particular ships which they think can be easily robbed. For instance, sometimes a steamer is left with only a boy on board to take care of it; or else a lighter has only one man to look after it Then these pirates go on board in the night, master the boy or the man, and plunder the steamer or lighter of anything worth carrying away."
    "I begin to understand how these villains may reap a profitable harvest in this manner," observed Richard.
    "Oh! you don't know half their pranks yet," said Morcar. "Sometimes two or three of the gang will go and hire themselves as bargemen or lightermen; and then they easily arrange with their pals how to plunder the vessels thus entrusted to them, while the owners never suspect that their own men are at the bottom of the robbery. When times are bad, and these fellows are driven to desperation, they think nothing of cutting away great pieces of ships' cables, or even weighing the anchors of small craft; and with these heavy materials they will get clean off in their boats to their own barge; and next morning they convey them as coolly as possible to the marine store dealers. Sometimes they cut lighters adrift, when the tide is running out, and follow them in their boat; then, under pretense of helping those on board, they out away bales of cotton or any other goods that are easily thrown into their boats in dark nights."
    "The villain Tidkins has no doubt transferred his operations from the land to the river," observed Markham; "seeing that, by means of a little address and a great deal of courage, such depredations can be effected."
    "These river pirates are of several kinds," continued Morcar. "There's the light-horsemen, or men on board the unprotected vessels in the night. Then there's the heavy-horsemen, who wear an under-dress called a jemmy, which is covered by their smocks: the fellows obtain employment as lumpers,  that is to load or discharge ships in the pool, during which they contrive to stow away everything portable in the large pouches or pockets of their under-dress. Afterwards, the heavy horsemen give information to their pals, and put them [-81-] 

on the scent which ships to rob at night. Next there are the mud-larks, who get on board stranded lighters at low water, and carry off what they can when the vessels are unprotected, or ask some question to lull suspicion if they find any one on board. This mode of river-piracy is very profitable, because numbers of lighters and barges are often left for hours alongside the banks, without a soul on board. Game lightermen are those pirates that are in league with dishonest mates and sailors belonging to vessels that come up the river to discharge: and they receive at night from their pals on board, through the port-holes or over the quarter, any thing that's easy to move away in this manner. Last of all there's the scuffle-hunters, who put on smocks, and obtain work as porters on the wharfs where a ship is loading: then, if they can't contrive to steal any thing by those means, they can at all events carry some useful information to their pals  so that the ship is generally robbed in one way or another."
    "With so well organised a fraternity and such means of operation," said Markham, who had listened with interest and astonishment to these details, "Tidkins is capable of amassing a fortune in a very short time. But we must stop him in his criminal career. At the same time, let us do nothing without mature consideration. Are you willing to assist? Your reward shall be liberal."
    "The Zingaree may not of his own accord deliver up any one to justice," answered Morcar; "but he is allowed to serve an employer who pays him. Moreover," he added, as if ashamed of that sophistical compromise with the rules of his fraternity, "I shall gladly help to punish the miscreant who treated us with such base ingratitude."
    "Then you consent to serve me?" said Richard.
    "I do, sir," was the reply.
    "To-morrow, at mid-day, I will meet you somewhere in the eastern part of London," continued Richard. "I have already a project in my head but I must consider it more maturely."
    "Where shall we meet, sir?" asked Morcar.
    Markham reflected for a moment, and then said "On the Tower wharf."
    "I will be punctual, sir," answered the gipsy; and he took his departure.    

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >