chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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nine o'clock on the same evening, Mr. Greenwood, muffled in a cloak, alighted
from a hackney-cab in the Waterloo Road at the corner of the New Cut.
That wide thoroughfare which connects the Waterloo and
Blackfriars' Roads, is one of the most busy and bustling, after its own fashion,
in all London.
Nowhere are the shops of a more miscellaneous nature:
nowhere are the pathways so thronged with the stalls and baskets of itinerant
The ingenuity of those petty provision-dealers adapts
the spoilt articles of the regular fishmongers and butchers to serviceable
purposes in the free market of the New Cut. The fish is cut in slices and fried
in an oil or butter whose rancid taste obviates the putrid flavour and smell of
the comestible; and the refuse scraps from the butchers-shops are chopped up to
form a species of sausage-balls called "faggots." Then the grease, in
which the racy slices of fish and savoury compounds of lights and liver have
been alike cooked, serves to fry large rounds of bread, which, when thus
prepared, are denominated "sop in the pan." Of course these culinary
refinements are prepared by the venders in their own cellars or garrets hard by;
but when conveyed to the miscellaneous market in the New Cut, the luxuries
impart a greasy and sickening odour to the air.
It is perfectly wonderful to behold the various methods
in which the poor creatures in that thoroughfare endeavour to obtain an honest
livelihood; and although their proceedings elicit a smile — still,
God pity them! they had better ply their strange trades thus than rob or beg!
There may be seen, for instance, a ragged urchin holding
a bundle of onions in his hand, and shouting at the top of his shrill voice,
"Here's a ha'porth!" — and, no matter how finely dressed
the passer-by, he is sure to thrust the onions under his or her very nose, still
vociferating, "Here's a ha'porth!" Poor boy! he thinks every one must
The immediate vicinity of the Victoria Theatre is
infested with women who offer play-bills for sale, and who seem to fancy it
impossible that the passers-by can be going elsewhere than to the play.
Here an orange-girl accosts a gentleman with two or
three of the fruit in her hand, but with a significant look which gives the
assurance that her real trade is of a less innocent nature: — there
a poor woman with an array of children before her offers lucifer matches, but
silently appeals for alms.
A little farther on is a long barrow covered with toys;
and a tall man without a nose, shouts at intervals, "Only a penny each!
only a penny each!" Some of these gim-cracks excite astonishment by their
extreme cheapness; but they are chiefly made by the convicts in Holland, and are
exported in large quantities to England.
In the middle of the road a man with stentorian voice
offers "A hundred songs for a penny;" and, enumerating the list, he is
sure to announce the "Return of the Hadmiral" amongst the rest.
Nearly opposite the Victoria Theatre there is an
extensive cook's-shop; and around the window stands a hungry crowd feasting
their eyes on the massive joints which are intended to feast the stomach.
In front of the butchers' shops the serving-men keep up
a perpetual vociferation of "Buy! buy!" — a sort of
running fire that denotes the earnestness with which competition is carried on
amongst rivals in that delectable trade.
Perhaps a new baker's shop is opened in the New Cut; and
then a large placard at the window announces that "a glass of gin will be
given to every purchaser of a quartern loaf." The buyers do not pause to
reflect that the price of the cordial is deducted from the weight of the bread.
The pawnbrokers' shops seem to drive a most bustling
trade in the New Cut; and the fronts of their establishments present a more
extensive and miscellaneous assortment of second-hand garments, blankets,
handkerchiefs. and sheets, than is to be seem elsewhere.
[-159-] The influx and
efflux of people at the public-houses and gin-shops constitute not the least
remarkable feature of that neighbourhood, where, everything is dirty and
squalid, yet where every one appears able to purchase intoxicating liquor!
On the southern side of the New Cut there are a great
many second-hand furniture shops, the sheds wherein the articles are principally
exposed being built against the houses in a fashion which gives the whole, when
viewed by the glaring of the gas-lights, the appearance of a bazaar or fair.
The New Cut is always crowded; but the multitude is not
entirely in motion. Knots of men congregate here, and groups of women
there — the posts at the corners of the alleys and courts, or the
doors of the gin-shops, being the most favourite points of such assembly.
The edges of the path-ways are not completely devoted to
provision dealers. Penny peep-shows, emblazoned with a coloured drawing
representing the last horrible murder, — itinerant quacks with
"certain remedies for the toothach," — stalls covered with
odd numbers of cheap periodical publications, — old women seated on
stools, behind little trays containing combs, papers of needles, reels of
cotton, pack-thread, stay-laces, bobbin, and such-like articles, — men
with cutlery to sell, and who flourish in their hands small knives with
innumerable blades sticking out like the quills on a porcupine, — these
are also prominent features in that strange market.
In some conspicuous place most likely stands a caravan,
surmounted by a picture representing a colossal giant and a giantess to match,
with an assurance in large letters that the originals may be seen inside: — then,
as the eye wanders from the enormous canvass to the caravan itself, and compares
their sizes, the mind is left in a pleasing state of surprise how even one
of the Brobdignag marvels — let alone two — could
possibly stow itself away in that diminutive box.
Branching off from the New Cut, on either side, are
numerous narrow streets, — or rather lanes, of a very equivocal
reputation; their chief characteristics being houses of ill-fame, gin-shops,
beer-shops, marine-store dealers, pawnbrokers, and barbers' establishments.
There are two facts connected with low neighbourhoods
which cannot fail to attract the attention of even the most superficial
observers in their wanderings amidst the mazes of the modern Babylon. The first
is that the corner shops of nearly all the narrow and dirty streets are occupied
by general dealers or people in the chandlery-line; and the second is that all
the barbers' establishments are ornamented with a blind or placard conveying an
assurance that each is "the original shaving shop." Here,
again, the mind enjoys the excitement of uncertainty, as in the matter of the
caravan and the giants; for it is impossible to arrive at any satisfactory
decision whether the aforesaid placard means you to infer that the shop to which
it belongs was the first ever opened in the world for tonsorial purposes,
or only the first that shed the light of its civilisation upon that
especial neighbourhood. We may also observe that some of the proprietors of
those establishments are not altogether unacquainted with the mysteries of
puffing; inasmuch as we frequently read upon their shop-fronts the truly
exhilarating and inspiring words, "Hair-dresser to the Queen"
Such are the New Cut and its tributary lanes.
And it was now along the New Cut that Mr. Greenwood,
enveloped in his cloak, was pursuing his way.
He scarcely noticed the turmoil, bustle, and business of
that strange thoroughfare; for he was too much absorbed in his own meditations.
The truth was, that his affairs — once so
gloriously prosperous — were now rendered desperate by various
reverses; and he was about to seek a desperate means of retrieving them.
The reader cannot have failed to observe that the
characters of George Montague Greenwood and Richard Markham stand out from our
picture of London Life in strong contrast with each other; and it is not the
less remarkable that while the former was rising rapidly to wealth, rank, and
eminence, the latter was undergoing persecutions and sinking into comparative
poverty. Now — at the epoch which we are describing — the
tables seem to have turned; for while George Montague Greenwood is about to seek
a desperate remedy for his desperate affairs, Richard Markham is leading a
gallant army over the fertile plains of Castelcicala.
The former, then, may be deemed the personification of
vice, the latter the representative of virtue.
They had chosen separate paths: — the sequel
will fully demonstrate which of the two characters had selected the right one.
In the meantime we will continue our narrative.
Mr. Greenwood pursued his way, and, having crossed over
to the southern side of the New Cut, repaired to a small row of private houses
of which this famous thoroughfare can boast at the extremity joining the
There he stopped for a moment beneath a lamp to consult
a memorandum in his pocket-book; and, having thereby refreshed his memory in
respect to the address of which he was in search, he proceeded to knock at the
door of a house close by.
A dirty servant-girl opened it just as far as a chain
inside would permit; and protruding her smutty face, said, with strange
abruptness, "Well, what is it?"
"Does Mr. Pennywhiffe live here?" demanded
""No — he don't; and, if he did,
you wouldn't come in — 'cos I know it's all your gammon,"
returned that most uninteresting specimen of the female-domestic race.
"Why not?" exclaimed Greenwood, indignantly
"Whom do you take me for?"
"For what you are," replied the girl.
"And what am I, then?"
"Why — a execution, to be sure."
And, with these words, the girl banged the door in Mr.
"I must have taken down the wrong number in my
memorandum," thought the Member of Parliament, as he turned away from the
house, which was evidently in a state of siege. "This is very
He then knocked at the door of the next house.
A woman with a child in her arms answered the summons;
and, without waiting for any question, said abruptly, "You had better walk
Greenwood entered accordingly, supposing that the woman
had overheard his inquiry next door, and that he had now found the abode of the
person whom he sought.
[-160-] The woman led the
way into a back room, almost completely denuded of furniture, smelling awfully
of tobacco-smoke, and very feebly lighted with a single candle that wanted
In the midst of a dense cloud of that vapour, a man
without a coat was sitting on a trunk; but the moment Greenwood entered, this
individual threw down his clay-pipe, and advancing towards the visitor,
exclaimed in a ferocious voice, "So you're going your rounds at this hour,
are you? Well — I'm as far off from having the tin as I have been
all along; and as I am going away to-morrow, I don't mind if I give you a good
drubbing to teach you how to pester a gentleman with shabby bits of paper in
Thus speaking, the ferocious individual advanced towards
Greenwood, squaring away like clock-work.
"Really, sir — you must labour under
some mistake," exclaimed the Member of Parliament. "I have never
called here before in my life."
"Then who the devil are you?" demanded the
"That is quite another question," said
"Do you mean to tell me, then," exclaimed the
man, "that you ain't the Water Rates?"
"No — I am not," answered
Greenwood, unable to suppress a smile. "I thought that a Mr. Pennywhiffe
"Then he don't — that's all," was
the rejoinder. "Blowed if I don't believe it's a plant, after all.
Come — ain't you a bum? no lies, now!"
Greenwood turned indignantly away from the room, and
left the house, muttering to himself, "This is most extraordinary! Every
one appears to be in difficulties in this street."
He was not, however, disheartened: it was highly
necessary for him to see the person of whom he was in search; and be accordingly
knocked at another door.
"Tell him I'll send round the money
to-morrow," shouted a masculine voice inside. "I know it's the
collector, because he's rapping at every house."
Greenwood did not wait for the door to be opened: he
knew very well that Mr. Pennywhiffe could not live there.
The fourth house at which he knocked was the right one.
A decent-looking servant girl replied in the affirmative
to his inquiry; and he was forthwith conducted to a well-furnished room on the
first floor, where he found Mr. Pennywhiffe seated at a table covered with
This individual was about fifty years of age. In person
he was short, thin, and by no means prepossessing in countenance. His eyes were
deeply set, grey, and restless; and his forehead was contracted into a thousand
wrinkles. He was dressed in a suit of black, and wore a white neck-cloth — no
doubt to enhance the respectability of his appearance. This was, however, a
difficult task; for had he figured in the dock of a criminal tribunal, the jury
would have had no trouble in coming to a verdict, a more hang-dog countenance
being seldom seen, even in a city where the face is so often the mirror of the
"Ah! Mr. Greenwood," exclaimed Mr. Pennywhiffe,
rising to welcome his visitor; "this is an unexpected honour. What can I do
for you? Pray, be seated; and speak plainly. There's no listeners here."
"I require your aid in a most important
business," answered Greenwood, taking a chair, and throwing back his cloak.
"To-morrow I must raise twenty or twenty-five thousand pounds, for three or
four months — upon bills — good bills, Mr.
'To be deposited?" asked that individual.
"To ho deposited," replied Greenwood.
"Shall you withdraw them in time?"
"Decidedly. I will convert the money I shall
thereby raise into a hundred thousand," exclaimed Greenwood.
"My commission will be heavy for such a
business," observed Pennywhiffe; "and that, you know is ready
"I am aware of it, and am come provided. Name the
amount you require."
"Will two hundred hurt you?" said Pennywhiffe.
"Remember — the affair is a serious one."
"You shall have two hundred pounds," exclaimed
the Member of Parliament, laying his pocket-book upon the table.
"That is what I call coming to the point."
Mr. Pennywhiffe rose from his seat, and opening an iron
safe, took thence a memorandum-book and a small tin box.
Returning to his seat, he handed the memorandum-book to
Greenwood, saying, "There is my list of noblemen, wealthy gentlemen, and
great mercantile firms, whose names are familiar to me. Choose which you
will have; and make notes of the various sums the bills are to be drawn for. Let
them be for the most part uneven ones, with fractions: it looks so much
White Greenwood was employed in examining the.
memorandum-book, which contained upwards of five hundred names of peers, and
great landowners, in addition to those of the chief commercial firms of London,
Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, and other
places, — besides several belonging to Paris, Lyons, Bordeaux,
Havre, and Lille; Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Hamburgh; New York, the
West Indian Islands, and Montreal; Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras; — while
Mr. Greenwood, we say, was examining this strange register, and copying several
of the best names of noblemen, gentlemen, and merchants, upon a slip of paper,
Mr Pennywhiffe opened his tin-case.
The contents thereof were numerous paid checks, and
bills of exchange, respectively bearing the signatures of the persons or firms
whose names were entered in the memorandum-book.
How Mr. Pennywhiffe became possessed of such important
documents, — which, seeing that they had all been duly honoured at
maturity, ought to have remained in the hands of those who took them up, — was
a mystery which he kept to himself. Whether he had collected them by degrees, or
had obtained them in a heap by robbery, or any other means, he never
condescended to acquaint his clients.
"I have chosen eleven names," said Greenwood,
"and have appended to them the various sums for which I require the bills
to be drawn. The aggregate is twenty-three thousand two hundred and seventeen
pounds, nine shillings, and sevenpence half-penny."
"A good total, that," observed Mr.
Pennywhiffe. — "an excellent total — sounds
uncommon well. Nothing could be better. Am I to provide the stamps?"
"If you please. I will pay you extra for
Mr. Pennywhiffe once more had recourse to his [-161-]
safe, and returned to his seat with a small paste-board box, long and narrow,
and containing a vast number of bill-stamps adapted to sums of all amounts. As
the usual formula of such documents was printed (though in various ways, they
having been procured at different stationers' shops) the process of filling them
up was by no means a tedious one.
But now the ingenuity of Mr. Pennywhiffe mainly
exhibited itself. Each bill was filled up with a different ink and a different
pen; and so skilful a caligrapher was he, that the most astute judge of writing
could not possibly have perceived that they were all written by the same hand.
Then, by the aid of red ink, a few flourishes, and little circles containing
initial letters or figures as if each document corresponded with some particular
entry in some particular leger or bill-book, the papers speedily assumed a very
And now the most difficult and delicate part oh the
entire process was to commence — the signatures, But Mr. Pennywhiffe
went to work with the air of one who fully understood what he was about; and
with the originals before him as a copy, he perfected acceptance after
acceptance in so masterly a manner, that Greenwood, when he compared the
fictitious signatures with the genuine, was astounded at the caligraphic
proficiency of that man whose dangerous agency he was now rendering available to
"So far, all goes well," said Mr. Pennywhiffe.
"The bills are excellent in every point save
one" observed Greenwood.
"Which is that?" demanded the caligrapher.
"They look too new — the paper
is too clean."
"I know it," returned Mr. Pennywhiffe;
"but the process is not entirely complete."
He rose and threw a quantity of small coal upon the
fire, so as to smother the flame, and create a dense smoke. He then passed each
bill several times through the smoke, until the documents acquired a slightly
dingy hue. Lastly, he placed them between the leaves of a portfolio scented with
musk, so as to take off the odour of the smoke; and the entire process was
Mr. Greenwood now counted upon the table bank[-162-]-notes
to the aggregate amount of the two hundred pounds promised, and the price of the
stamps; and in exchange he received the bills for twenty-three thousand two
hundred and seventeen pounds, nine shillings, and sevenpence halfpenny.
"This seems to be a most extraordinary
neighbourhood, Mr. Pennywhiffe," said Greenwood, as he placed the bills in
his pocket-book. "I knocked by mistake at three houses before I came to
yours, and the inmates of each seemed to be in difficulties."
"No doubt of it, my dear sir. This part of London
swarms with members of the Swell Mob, broken-down tradesmen, fraudulent
bankrupts, insolvents playing at hide-and-seek with the sheriff's-officers,
railway projectors, and swindlers of all kinds. I have got a very queer kind of
a lodger in my attic: he has no visible means of living, but is out nearly all
day long; and he dresses uncommonly well — gold chain — polished
boots-figured silk waistcoat — and so forth. He only pays me — or
ought to pay me — five shillings a-week for his furnished bed-room;
and he is six months in arrears. But what is more remarkable still, I don't even
know his name; and he never receives any letter., nor has any friends to call.
He is about thirty-six or thirty-eight years old, a good-looking fellow enough,
and an Irishman."
"Perhaps he also is some railway projector,"
said Mr. Greenwood, rising to take his departure.
At this moment a double knock at the front-door was
"That must be my lodger," exclaimed Mr.
Urged by curiosity to catch a glimpse of the mysterious
gentleman alluded to, Greenwood hurried on his cloak, took leave of the
caligrapher, and left the room.
On the stairs he met the lodger, who was ascending to
his attic, with a brass candle-stick, containing an inch of the commonest
candle, in his hand.
The moment he and Greenwood thus encountered each other,
an ejaculation of surprise issued from the lips of each.
"Hush! not a word!" said the gentleman,
placing his fore-finger upon his lip. "And, of course, Greenwood," he
continued, in a whisper, "you will never mention this to a
"Never — on my honour!" answered
Greenwood. They then shook hands, and parted — the gentleman
continuing his way to the attic, and Greenwood hastening to leave the house.
"Wonders will never cease!" thought the
latter, as he proceeded towards the cab-stand near Rowland Hill's chapel in the
Blackfriars Road: "who would have thought of one of the Irish Members of
Parliament living in an attic in the New Cut?"
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
| > next chapter >