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[-82-]

CHAPTER CLXVI.

THE THAMES PIRATES.

MOORED at a wharf at the Rotherhithe side of the river Thames, nearly opposite Execution Dock, were several lighters and barges, all lying together.
    Along the upper part of the buildings belonging to the wharf were painted, in rude but gigantic letters, the following words:  "MOSSOP'S WHARF, WHERE GOODS ARE RECEIVED, HOUSED, OR CARTED."
    Mr. Mossop, the sole proprietor of this wharf, was by no means particular what goods he thus received, whence they came when he housed them, or whither they were going when he carted them. He asked no questions, so long as his commission and charges were duly paid.
    For the convenience of his numerous customers, he kept his office constantly open; and either himself or him son Ben Mossop was in constant attendance.
    Indeed, Mr. Mossop did more business by night than by day. He was, however, a close man: he never put impertinent questions to any one who called to patronise him; and thus his way of doing business was vastly convenient for all those who used his wharf or his store-houses.
    If a lighter arrived at that wharf, ostensibly with a freight of hay, but in reality with divers bales of cotton or other goods concealed beneath the dried grass, Mr. Mossop did not seem to think that there was anything at all strange in this; and if next day he happened to heap that a barge at a neighbouring wharf had been robbed of divers bales of cotton during the night, Mr. Mossop was too much of a gentleman to question the integrity of his customers. Even if every wall in Rotherhithe, Horselydown, and Bermondsey, were covered with placards announcing the loss of the bales, describing them to a nicety, and offering reward for their recovery, Mr. Mossop never stopped to read one of them.
    On two or three occasions, when a police-officer called at his wharf and politely requested him just to honour the nearest magistrate with a visit, and enter into an explanation how certain goods happened to be found in his store-rooms, the said goods having been lost by other parties in an unpleasant manner, Mr. Mossop would put an enormous pair of spectacles upon his nose and a good face on the matter at the same time; and it invariably happened that he managed to convince the bench of his integrity, but without in any way compromising those persons who might be in custody on account of the said goods.
    His son Ben was equally prudent and reserved; and thus father and son were mighty favourites with all the river pirates who patronised them.
    Moreover, Mossop's Wharf was most conveniently situate: the front looked, of course, upon the river; the back opened into Rotherhithe Wall; and Mossop's carts were noted for the celerity with which they would convey goods away from the warehouse to the receivers in Blue Anchor Road or in the neighbourhood of Halfpenny Hatch.
    The father and son were also famous for the regularity and dispatch with which they executed business on pressing occasions. Thus, while Mossop senior would superintend the landing of goods upon the wharf, Mossop junior was stationed at the back gate, where it was his pleasing duty to see the bales speedily carted  they were brought through the warehouses by the lumpers employed.
    Mossop senior was also reputed to be a humane man; for if any of his best customers got into trouble (which was sometimes the case) and were short of funds, a five pound note in a blank envelop would reach them in prison to enable them to employ counsel in their defence; and this sum invariably appeared as money lent" in Mossop's next account against them when they were free once more, and enabled to land another cargo at the wharf.
    But to continue our narrative.
    It was the evening after the one on which Morcar had called at Markham Place; consequently the evening of that day when the gipsy was to meet our herd on the Tower wharf.
    Over the particulars of that meeting we, however, pass; as the plans then arranged will presently develop themselves.
    It was now about nine o'clock.
    The evening was beautiful and moonlight.
    Myriads of stars were rocked to and fro in the cradle of the river's restless tide; and the profiles of the banks were marked with thousands of lights, glancing through dense forests of masts belonging to the shipping that were crowded along those shores.
    At intervals those subdued murmurs which denoted that the river was as busy and active as the great city itself, were absorbed in the noise of some steamer ploughing its rapid way amidst the mazes of vessels that to the inexperienced eye appear to be inextricably entangled together.
    Then would arise those shouts of warning to the smaller craft,  those rapid commands to regulate the movements of the engines,  and those orders to the helmsman, which, emanating from the lips of the captain posted on the paddle-box, proclaim the progress of the steamer winding its way up the pool.
    A wondrous and deeply interesting spectacle, though only dimly seen, is that portion of the Thames on a moonlight night.
    Then indeed is it that even the most callous man is compelled to contemplate with mingled astonishment and awe, one of the grandest features of the sovereign city and world's emporium of trade.
    The gurgling water, and the countless masts,  the vibration of mighty engines on the stream, and the myriads of twinkling lights along the shores,  the cheering voices of the mariners, and the dense volumes of smoke which moving colossal chimneys vomit forth,  the metallic grating of windlasses, and the glittering of the spray beneath revolving wheels,  the flapping of heavy canvass, and the glare from the oval windows of steamers,  the cries of the rowers in endangered boats, and the flood of silver lustre which the moon pours upon the river a bosom,  these form a wondrous complication of elements of interest for both ear and eye.
    The barge that was farthest off from Mossop's wharf, of all the lighters moored there, and that could consequently get into the stream quicker than any other near it, was one to which we must particularly direct our readers' attention.
    It was called the Fairy, and was large, decently painted, and kept in pretty good order. It had a spacious cabin abaft, and a smaller one, termed a cuddy, forward. The man, with its large brown sail that seemed as if it had been tanned, was so fitted as [-83-] to be lowered at pleasure, to enable the vessel to pass under the bridges at high water. The rudder was of enormous size; and the tiller was as thick and long as the pole of a carriage.
    The waist, or uncovered part of the lighter in the middle, was now empty; but it was very capacious, and adapted to contain an immense quantity of goods.
    On the evening in question two men were sitting on the windlass, smoking their pipes, and pretty frequently applying themselves to a can of grog which stood upon the deck near them.
    One was the Resurrection Man: the other was John Wicks, better known as the Buffer.
    "Well, Jack," said the Resurrection Man, "this is precious slow work. For the last four days we've done nothing."
    "What did I tell you, when you fust come to me and proposed to take to the river?" exclaimed the Buffer. "Did n't I say that one ought to be bred to the business to do much good in it?"
    "Oh! that be hanged!" cried the Resurrection Man. "I can soon learn any business that's to make money. Besides, the land was too hot to hold me till certain little things had blown over. There's that fellow Markham who ran against me one night;  then there's Crankey Jem. The first saw that I was still hanging about London; and the other may have learnt, by some means or another, that I did n't die of the wound he gave me. Then again, there's those gipsies whose money I walked off with one fine day. All these things made the land unsafe; and so I thought it best to embark the gold that I took from old King Zingary, in this barge, which was to be had so cheap."
    "I suppose we shall do better in time, Tony," said the Buffer, "when we get more acquainted with them light and heavy horsemen that we must employ, and them lumpers that gives the information."
    "Of course. When you set up in a new business, you can't expect to succeed directly," returned the Resurrection Man. "The regular pirates won't have confidence in us at first; and as yet we don't know a single captain or mate that will trust us with the job of robbing their ship. How do they know but what we should peach, if we got into trouble, and tell their employers that it was all done with their connivance? But old Mossop begins to grow more friendly; and that, I'm sure, is a good sign that he thinks that we shall succeed."
    "So it is," said the Buffer. "Besides, this barge is so good a blind, that business must come. What should you say to getting into the skiff presently, and taking a look out amongst the shipping for ourselves?"
    "Well, I've no objection," answered Tidkins. "But we've already a connexion with several lumpers; and they have put us on to all that we have done up to the present time. P'rhaps we should do better to wait for the information that they can give us. They begin to see that we pay well; and so they'll only be too anxious to put things in our way."
    "True enough," observed the Buffer.
    At this period of the conversation, a woman's head appeared above the cabin hatch-way.
    "Supper's ready," she said.
    "We're coming, Moll," returned the Buffer.
    The two villains then descended into the cabin, where a well-spread table awaited them.
    Scarcely had the trio concluded their repast, when a man, who had come from the wharf and -had walked across the barges until he reached the Fairy, called to Tidkins, by the appellation of "Captain," from the hatchway.
    "Come below," answered the Resurrection Man.
    The person thus invited was the foreman in Mr. Mossop's employment. He was short, stout, and strongly built, with a tremendous rubicundity of visage, small piercing grey eyes, no whiskers, and a very apoplectic neck. His age might be about fifty; and he was dressed in a light garb befitting the nature of his calling.
    "Well, Mr. Swot," said the Resurrection Man, as the little fat foreman descended the ladder; "this is really an unusual thing to have the honour of your company. Sit down; and you. Moll, put the lush and the pipes upon the table."
    "That's right, Captain," returned Mr. Swot, as he seated himself. "I came on purpose to drink a social glass and have a chat with you. In fact, my present visit is not altogether without an object."
    "I'm glad of that," said the Resurrection Man. "We want something to do. It was only just now that I and my mate were complaining how slack business was."
    "You know that Mossop never has any thing to do with any schemes in which chaps of your business choose to embark," continued Mr. Swot; "he receives your goods, and either keeps them in warehouse or carts them for you as you like; but he never knows where they come from."
    "Perfectly true," observed the Resurrection Man.
    "But all that's no reason why I should be equally partickler," proceeded Swot.
    "Of course not," said the Resurrection Man.
    "Well, then  we are all friends here?" asked Swot, glancing wound him.
    "All," replied Tidkins. "This is my mate's wife; she answers to the name of Moll, and is stanch to the back-bone."
    "Well and good," said Swot. "Now I've as pretty a little idea in my head as ever was born there; but it requires two or three daring  I may say desperate fellers to carry it out."
    "You could n't come to a better shop for them kind of chaps," remarked the Buffer.
    "And if it's necessary, I'll deuced soon dress myself up like a lighterman and help you," added Moll.
    "I am very much pleased with your pluck, ma'am," said Mr. Swot; "and I drink to your excellent health  and our better acquaintance."
    Mr. Swot emptied his mug at a draught, lighted a pipe, and then continued thus:  
    "But now, my fine fellers, s'pose I was to start some scheme which is about as dangerous as walking slap into a house on fire to get the iron safe that's full of gold and silver?"
    "Well  we're the men to do it," said Tidkins.
    "That is," observed the Buffer, "if so be the inducement is equal to the risk."
    "Of course," returned Mr. Swot. "Now one more question:  would you sleep in the same room with a man who had the cholera or the small-pox, for instance  supposing you got a thousand pounds each to do it?"
    "I would in a minute," answered the Resurrection Man. "Nothing dare, nothing have."
    "So I say," added the Buffer.
    "And you wouldn't find me flinch!" cried Moll. [-84-]
    "Now, then, we shall soon understand each other," resumed Swat, helping himself to another supply of grog. "Please to listen to me for a few minutes. A very fine schooner, the Lady Anne of London, trades to the Gold and Slave Coasts of Guinea. She takes out woollens, cottons, linen, arms, and gunpowder, which she exchanges for gold dust, ivory, gums, and hides. A few days since, as she was beating up the Channel, homeward bound with a fine cargo, something occurs that makes it necessary for her to run for the Medway, instead of coming direct up to London. But the night before last it blew great guns, at you may recollect; and as she was but indifferently manned, she got out of her reckoning  for it was as dark as pitch  and ran ashore between the mouth of the Medway and Gravesend. Now, there she lies  and there she's likely to lie. She got stranded during spring-tide; and she does not float now even at high water. The gold dust would be very acceptable; the gums, ivory, hides, and such like matters, may stay where they are."
    "Then the fact is the owners have n't yet moved out the cargo?" said the Resurrection Man, interrogatively.
    "No  nor do n't intend to, neither  for the present," answered Swat. "And what's more, there's a police-boat pulling about in that part of the river all day and all night; but I can assure you that it gives the. schooner a precious wide berth."
    "Well, I can't understand it, yet," said the Buffer.
    "The fact is," continued Swat, "the Lady Annee was on its way to Standgate Creek in the Medway, when it got ashore on the bank of the Thames, Do you begin to take?"
    "Can't say I do," answered the Resurrection Man. "Is the crew on board still?"
    "The crew consisted this morning, when I heard about it last, of three men and a boy," returned Swat; "and one of them men is a surgeon. But the Lady Anne has got the yellow flag flying;  and now do you comprehend me?"
    "The plague!" ejaculated the Resurrection Man and the Buffer in the same breath.
    "The plague!" repeated Moll Wicks, with a shudder.
    "Neither more or lese," said Swot, coolly emptying his second mug of grog.
    There was a dead silence for some moments. it seemed as if the spirits of those who had listened with deep attention to the foremen's narrative, were suddenly damped by the explanation that closed it.
    "Well  are you afraid?" asked Swot, at length breaking silence.
    "No," returned the Resurrection Man, throwing off the depression which had fallen upon him. "But there is something awful in boarding a plague-ship."
    "Are you sure the gold dust is on board?" demanded the Buffer.
    "Certain. My information is quite correct. Besides, you may get the newspapers and read all about it. for yourselves."
    "The thing is tempting," said Moll.
    "Then, by God, if a woman will dare it, we mustn't show the white feather, Jack," exclaimed the Resurrection Man.
    "That's speaking to the point," observed the foreman. "You see there's a guard on land, to prevent any one from going near the vessel on that side; and the police-boat rows about on the river. The plan would be, to get down to Gravesend to-morrow; then to-morrow night, to drop down with the tide close under the bank, and get alongside the vessel."
    "All that can be done easy enough," said the Resurrection Man. "But we want more hands. Of course you'll go with us?"
    "Yes  I'll risk it," answered Mr. Swat. "It's too good a thing to let slip between one's fingers, if you'll leave it to me I'll get two or three shore hands; because we must be prepared to master all that we may meet on the deck of the schooner, the very moment we board it, so as not to give 'em time ever, to cry out, or they'd alarm the police-boat."
    "Well and good," said the Resurrection Man. "But you don't mean to go in the lighter?"
    "No  no: we must have a good boat with two sculls," answered Swot. "Leave that also to me. At day-break every thing shall be ready for you; and I shall join you in the evening at Gravesend."
    "Agreed! "cried Tidkins.
    Mr. Swat then took his departure; and the three persons whom he left behind in the lighter, continued their carouse.
    In this way the Resurrection Man, the Buffer, and Moll Wicks amused themselves until nearly eleven o'clock, when, just as they were thinking of retiring for the night;  Tidkins to his bed in the after cabin where they were then seated, and the other two to their berth in the cuddy forward,  the lighter was suddenly shaken from one end to the other by some heavy object which bumped violently against it.

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