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[-187-]

 CHAPTER CXCII.

THE MINT. — THE FORTY THIEVES

    READER, if you stroll down that portion of the Southwark Bridge Road which lies between Union Street and Great Suffolk Street, you will perceive, midway, and on your left hand, a large mound of earth heaped on an open space doubtless, intended for building-ground.
    At the southern extremity of this mound (on which all the offal from the adjacent houses is thrown, and where vagabond boys are constantly collected) is the entrance into an assemblage of miserable streets, alleys, and courts, forming one of the vilest, most dangerous, and most demoralised districts of this huge metropolis.
    The houses are old, gloomy, and sombre. Some of them have the upper part, beginning with the first floor, projecting at least three feet over the thoroughfares — for we cannot say over the pavement. Most of the doors stand open, and reveal low, dark, and filthy passages, the mere aspect of which compels the passer-by to get into the middle of the way, for fear of being suddenly dragged into those sinister dens, which seem fitted for crimes of the blackest dye.
    This is no exaggeration.
    Even in the day-time one shudders at the cut-throat appearance of the places into the full depths of whose gloom the eye cannot entirely penetrate. But, by night, the Mint, — for it is of this district that we are now writing, — is far more calculated to inspire the boldest heart with alarm, than the thickest forest or the wildest heath ever infested by banditti.
    The houses in the Mint give one an idea of those dens in which murder may be committed without the least chance of detection, And yet that district swarms with population. But of what kind are its inhabitants? The refuse and the most criminal of the metropolis.
    There people follow trades as a blind to avert suspicions relative to their real calling: for they are actually house-breakers or thieves themselves, or else the companions and abettors of such villains.
    In passing through the mazes of the Mint — especially in Mint Street itself — you will observe more ill-looking fellows and revolting women in five minutes than you will see either on Saffron Hill or in Bethnal Green in an hour. Take the entire district that is bounded on the north by Peter Street, on the south by Great Suffolk Street, on the east by Blackman Street and High Street, and on the west by the Southwark Bridge Road, — take this small section of the metropolis, and believe us when we state that within those limits there is concentrated more depravity in all its myriad phases, than many persons could suppose to exist in the entire kingdom.
    The Mint was once a sanctuary, like Whitefriars; and, although the law has deprived it of its ancient privileges, its inhabitants still maintain them, by a tacit understanding with each other, to the extent of their power. Thus, if a villain, of whom the officers of justice are in search, takes refuge at a lodging in the Mint, the landlord will keep his secret in spite of every inducement. The only danger which be might incur would be at the hands of the lower [-188-] description of buzgloaks, dummy-hunters, area-sneaks, and vampers who dwell in that district.
    There is no part of Paris that can compare with the Mint in squalor, filth, or moral depravity; — no — not even the street in the Island of the City, where Eugene Sue has placed his celebrated tapis-franc.
    Let those who happen to visit the Mint, after reading this description thereof, mark well the countenances of the inhabitants whom they will meet in that gloomy labyrinth. Hardened ruffianism characterises the men; — insolent, leering, and shameless looks express the depravity of the women; — the boys have the sneaking, shuffling manner of juvenile thieves; — the girls, even of a tender age, possess the brazen air of incipient profligacy.
    It was about nine o'clock in the evening when the Resurrection Man, wrapped in a thick and capacious pea-coat, the collar of which concealed all the lower part of his countenance, turned hastily from the Southwark Bridge Road into Mint Street.
    The weather was piercingly cold, and the sleet was peppering down with painful violence: the Resurrection Man accordingly buried his face as much as possible in the collar of his coat, and neither looked to the right nor left as he proceeded on his way.
    To this circumstance may be attributed the fact that one so cautious and wary as he, should now fail to observe that his motions were watched and his steps dogged by a lad whose countenance was also well concealed by a high collar which was drawn up to his ears.
    In order to avoid unnecessary mystification, we may as well observe that this youth was Henry Holford.
    The Resurrection Man pursued his way along Mint Street, and suddenly turned into a small court on the left-hand side. There he knocked at a door in a peculiar manner, whistling a single sharp shrill note at the same time; and in another moment Holford saw him enter the house.
    "Well, Mr. Tidkins," said a boy of about fourteen, who had opened the door to admit the formidable individual with whom he was evidently well acquainted: "a preshus cold night, ain't it!"
    "Very, my lad," answered the Resurrection Man, turning down his collar, so that the light of the candle which the boy held, gleamed upon his cadaverous countenance. — "Is the Bully Grand at home?"
    A reply in the affirmative was given; and the boy led the way, up a narrow and dilapidated staircase, to a large room where a great number of youths, whose ages varied from twelve to eighteen, were seated at a table, drinking and smoking.
    The organisation of this society of juvenile reprobates requires a detailed notice.
    The association consisted of thirty-nine co-equals and one chief who was denominated the Bully Grand. The fraternity was called The Forty Thieves — whether in consequence of the founders having accidentally amounted to precisely that number, or whether with the idea of emulating the celebrated heroes of the Arabian tale, we cannot determine,
    The society had, however, been established for upwards of thirty years at the time of which we are writing, — and is in existence at this present moment.
    The rules of the association may thus be briefly summed up: — The society consists of Forty Members, including the Bully Grand. Candidates for admission are eligible at twelve years of age. When a member reaches the age of eighteen, he must retire from the association. This rule does not, however, apply to the Bully Grand, who is not eligible for that situation until he has actually reached the age of eighteen, and has been a member for at least four years. Each candidate for membership must be guaranteed as to eligibility and honour (that honour which is necessary amongst thieves) by three members of good standing in the society; and should any member misconduct himself, or withhold a portion of any booty which he may acquire, his guarantees are responsible for him. The Bully Grand must find twelve guarantees amongst the oldest members. His power is in most respects absolute; and the greatest deference is paid to him.
    The modes of proceeding are as follow — The metropolis is divided Into twelve districts distinguished thus: — 1. The Regent's Park; 2. Pentonville; 3. Hoxton; 4. Finsbury; 5. City; 6. Tower Hamlets; 7. Westminster; 8. Pimlico; 9. Hyde Park; 10. Grosvenor Square; 11. Lambeth; 12. The Borough. Three members are allotted to each district, and are changed in due rotation every day. Thus the three who take the Regent's Park district on a Monday, pass to the Pentonville district on Tuesday, the Hoxton district on Wednesday, and so on. Thus thirty-six members are every day employed in the district-service. The Bully Grand and the three others in the meantime attend to the disposal of the stolen property, and to the various business of the fraternity. In every district there is a public-house, or boozing-ken, in the interest of the association; and to the landlords of these flash cribs is the produce of each day's work consigned in the evening. The house in the Mint is merely a place of meeting once a fortnight, a residence for the Bully Grand, and the central depτt to which articles are conveyed from the care of the district boozing-kens.
    The minor regulations and bye-laws may be thus summed up: — Of the three members allotted to each district, the oldest member acts as the chief, and guides the plan of proceedings according to his discretion. Should any member be proved to have secreted booty, his guarantees must pay the value of it; and with them rests the punishment of the defaulter. General meetings take place at the headquarters in the Mint on the first and third Wednesday in every month; but if the Bully Grand wishes to call an extraordinary assembly, or to summon any particular member or members to his presence, he must leave notices to that effect with the landlords of the district houses-of-call. The members are to effect no robberies by violence, nor to break into houses: their proceedings must be effected by sleight of hand, cunning, and artifice. All disputes must be referred to the Bully Grand for settlement. The booty must be converted into money, and the cash divided fairly between all the members every fortnight, a certain percentage being allotted by way of salary to the Bully Grand.
    Such are the principles upon which the association of the Forty Thieves is based. Every precaution is adopted, by means of the guarantees, to prevent the admission of unsuitable members, and to ensure the fidelity and honour of those who belong to the fraternity. When a member "gets into trouble," persons of apparent respectability come forward to give the lad a character; so that magistrate. or judges are quite bewildered by the assurance, that "it must be a mistake:" "that the prisoner is [-189-] an honest hard-working boy, belonging to poor but respectable parents in the country;" or "that so convinced is the witness of the lad's innocence, that he will instantly take him into his service if the magistrate will discharge him." While a member remains in prison previous to trial, the funds of the association provide him with the best food allowed to enter the gaol; and, if he be condemned to a term of incarceration in the House of Correction, he looks forward to the banquet that will be given in the Mint to celebrate the day of his release. Moreover, a member does not lose his right to a share of the funds realised during his imprisonment. Thus every inducement is adopted to prevent members who "get into trouble" from peaching against their comrades, or making any revelations calculated to compromise the safety of the society.
    It was a fortnightly meeting of the society when the Resurrection Man visited the house in the Mint, on the occasion of which we were ere now speaking.
    The Forty Thieves were all gathered round a board formed of several rude deal tables placed together, and literally groaning beneath the weight of pewter-pots, bottles, jugs, &c.
    The tallow-candles burnt like stars seen through a mist, so dense was the tobacco-smoke in the apartment.
    At the upper end of the table sate the Bully Grand — a tall, well-dressed, good-looking young man, with a profusion of hair, but no whiskers, and little of that blueish appearance on the chin which denotes a beard. His aspect was therefore even more juvenile than was consistent with his age, which was about twenty-five. He possessed a splendid set of teeth, of which he seemed very proud; and his delicate white hand, which had never been applied to any harder work than picking pockets, was waved gently backward and forward when he spoke.
    Around the table there were fine materials for the study of a phrenologist. Such a concatenation of varied physiognomies was not often to be met with; because none of the charities nor amenities of life were there delineated; — those countenances were indices only of vice in all its grades and phases.
    The Resurrection Man was welcomed with a hum of applause on the part of the members, and with out-stretched hands by the Bully Grand near whom he was invited to take a seat.
    "The business of the evening is over, Mr. Tidkins," said Mr. Tunks, — for so the Bully Grand was named; "and we are now deep in the pleasures of the meeting, as you see. Help yourself! There are spirits of all kinds, and pipes or cigars — whichever you prefer."
    "Have you any information to give me?" inquired Tidkins in a low tone.
    "Plenty — but not at this moment, Mr. Tidkins. Take a glass of something to dispel the cold; and by-and-bye we will talk on matters of business. There is plenty of time; and many of my young friends here would no doubt be proud to give you a specimen of their vocal powers. Let me see — who's turn is it?"
    "Leary Lipkins's, sir," whispered a boy who sate near the Bully Grand.
    "Oh! Leary Lipkins — is it?" said Tunks aloud. "Now, brother Lipkins, the company are waiting for an opportunity to drink to your health and song."
    Mr. Lipkins — a sharp-looking, hatchet-faced, restless-eyed youth of about sixteen — did not require much pressing ere he favoured his audience the following sample of vocal melody:-
    
    THE SIGN OF THE FIDDLE.
    
    There's not in all London a tavern so gay,
    As that where the knowing ones meet of a day:
    So long as a farthing remains to my share,
    I'll drink at that tavern, and never elsewhere.
    
    Yet it is not that comforts there only combine,
    Nor because it dispenses good brandy and wine;
    'Tis not the sweet odour of pipe nor cigar — 
    Oh! no — 'tis a something more cozie by far!
    
    'Tis that friends of the light-fingered craft are all nigh,
    Who'd drink till the cellar itself should be dry,
    And teach you to feel how existence may please,
    When pass'd in the presence of cronies like these.
    
    Sweet Sign of the Fiddle! how long could I dwell
    In thy tap full of smoke, with the friends I love well;
    When bailiffs no longer the alleys infest,
    And duns, like their bills, have relapsed into rest.
    
    "Bravo!" "Brayvo!" "Bra-ah-vo!" echoed at, all sides, when this elegant effusion was brought to a close.
    The Bully Grand then rose, and spoke in the following manner: — "Gentlemen, in proposing the health of our excellent brother Leary Lipkins, I might spare eulogy, his merits being so well known to us all. But I feel that there are times when it is necessary to expatiate somewhat on the excellent qualities of the leading members of our honourable Society — in order to encourage an emulative feeling in the breasts of our younger brethren. Such an occasion is the present one, when we are all thus sociably assembled. Gentlemen, you all know Leary Lipkins! (Cheers, and cries of "We do! we do!") You all know that he is indeed leary in every sense of the word. (Hear! hear!) He can see through the best bit of broad cloth that ever covered a swell's pocket. There seems to be a sort of magnetic attraction between his fingers and a gold watch in. the fob of a Bond Street lounger. (Cheers.) Talk of mesmerism! why — Leary Lipkins can send a gentleman into a complete state of coma as he walks along the streets, so that he never can possibly feel Leary's hands in his pockets. Gentlemen, I hold Leary Lipkins up to you as an excellent example; and beg to propose his very good health."
    The toast was drunk with "three times three."
    Mr. Lipkins returned thanks in what a newspaper-reporter would term "a neat speech;" and he then exercised the usual privilege of calling upon a particular individual for a song.
    A certain Master Tripes Todkinson accordingly indulged his companions in the following manner:-
    
    THE COMPASSIONATE LADY AND THE CHIMNEY SWEEP.
    
    "Pray, who's the little boy that is dancing so nimbly!
    Come, Mary, bring a halfpenny down. — "
    "Please, ma'am, I'm the feller as swept your chimbley,
    And I'm very much obleeged for the brown. — "
    
    "Alas! how his schooling has been neglected!
    But perhaps his kind father's dead? — "
    "No, ma'am; he's a tinker as is wery much respected
    And this mornin' he's drunk in bed. — "
    
    "Perchance 'tis a motherless child that they've fixed on
    To dance. Does your mamma live still? — "
    "Yes, ma'am; at this moment she's stayin' at Brixton,
    Vith a gen'leman as keeps a mill. — "* [*The treadmill.]
    
    [-190-] "Poor child, he is miserably clad! How shocking!
    Not to give him some clothes were a sin! — "
    "Thank'ee, ma'am; but I does n't want no shoe nor stocking,
    I'd rayther have a quartern o'gin!"
    
    The Bully Grand proposed the health of Master Tripes Todkinson, in a speech which was mightily applauded; and Master Tripes Todkinson, having duly returned thanks, called on Master Bandy-legged Diggs to continue the vocal harmony.
    This invitation was responded to with as much readiness as Master Diggs would have displayed in easing an elderly gentleman in a crowd of his purse; and the air with which he favoured his audience ran thus
    
    THE LAST OATH.
    
    Upon the drop he turned
    To swear a parting oath;
    He cursed the parson and Jack Ketch,
    And he coolly damned them both.
    
    He listened to the hum
    Of the crowds that gathered nigh;
    And he carelessly remarked,
    "What a famous man am I!"
    
    Beside the scaffold's foot
    His mistress piped her eye:
    She waved to him her dirty rag.
    And whimpering said, "Good bye!"
    
    She mourned the good old times
    That ne'er could come again,
    When he brought her home a well-lined purse;-
    But all her tears were vain!
    
    Poor Jack was soon turned off;
    And gallantly was hung:
    There was a sigh in every breast,
    A groan on every tongue.
    
    Go — gaze upon his corse,
    And remember then you see
    The bravest robber that hag been.
    Or ever more shall be!
    
    We need scarcely observe that this chant was received with as much favour as the preceding ones. The Resurrection Man was, however, growing impatient; for the reader doubtless comprehends enough of his character to be well aware that Tidkins was not one who loved pleasure better than business. He looked at his watch, and cast a significant glance towards the Bully Grand.
    "What o'clock is it, Mr. Tidkins?" inquired that great functionary.
    "Half-past ten," was the answer.
    "Well, I will devote my attention to you in a few minutes," said Tunks, "You may rest perfectly easy — I have obtained information on every point in which you are interested. But — hark! Shuffling Simon is going to speak!"
    A lad of about seventeen, who had a weakness in the joints of his knees, and walked in a fashion which had led to the nickname mentioned by the Bully Grand, rose from his seat, and proposed the health of Mr. Tunks, the chief of the society of the Forty Thieves.
    Then followed a tremendous clattering of bottles and glasses as the company filled up bumpers in order to pay due honour to the toast; and every one, save the Grand himself, rose. The health was drunk with rounds of applause: a pause of a few moments ensued; and then Shuffling Simon commenced the following complimentary song, in the repetition of which all the other adherents of the Chief vociferously joined:-
    
    PROSPER THE GRAND.
    
    Prosper our Bully Grand,
    Great Tunks, our noble Grand;
    Prosper the Grand
    Send him good swag enough,
    Heart made of sterling stuff,
    Long to be up to snuff; — 
    Prosper the Grand.
    
    Save him from all mishaps,
    Scatter blue-bottle trap.
    Throughout the land
    Confound the busy beak,
    Flourish the area-sneak;
    In Tunks a chief we seek; — 
    Prosper the Grand!
    
    The best lush on the board
    To Tunks's health be poured
    By all the band!
    May he continue free,
    Nor ever tread-mill see;
    And all shall shout with glee.
    Prosper the Grand!
    
    It was really extremely refreshing for the Resurrection Man to contemplate the deep manifestation of loyalty with which the thirty-nine thieves sang the preceding air.
    Nor less was it an imposing spectacle when the object of that adoration rose from his seat, waved his right hand, and poured forth his gratitude in a most gracious speech.
    This ceremony being accomplished, the Grand (what a pity it was that so elegant and elevated a personage had retained his unworthy patronymic of Tunks!) took a candle from the table, and conducted the Resurrection Man down stairs into a back room, which the Chief denominated his "private parlour."
    "Now for your information," said the Resurrection Man, somewhat impatiently. "In the first place, have you discovered any thing concerning Cranky Jem Cuffin?"
    "My emissaries have been successful in every instance," answered Tunks, with a complacent smile. "A man exactly corresponding with your description of Crankey Jem dwells in an obscure court in Drury Lane. Here is the address."
    "Any tidings of Margaret Flathers?" inquired Tidkins.
    "She has married a young man who answers to your description of Skilligalee; and they keep a small chandlery-shop in Pitfield Street, Hoxton Old Town. The name of Mitchell is over the door."
    "Your lads are devilish sharp fellows, Bully Grand," said the Resurrection Man, approvingly.
    "With thirty-six emissaries all over London every day, it is not so very difficult to obtain such information as you required," returned Tunks. "Moreover, you paid liberally in advance; and the boys will always be glad to serve you."
    "Now for the next question," said Tidkins. "Any news of the old man that Tomlinson goes to see sometimes?"
    "Yes — he lives in a small lodging in Thomas Street, Bethnal Green," was the answer. "There is his address also. His name is Nelson: — you best know whether it is his right one or not. That is no business of mine. Mr. Tomlinson regularly calls on him every Sunday afternoon, and passes some hours with him. The old man never stirs out, and is very unwell."
    "Once more I must compliment your boys," exclaimed Tidkins, overjoyed with this intelligence. "Have you been able to learn any thing concerning Katherine Wilmot?"
    There I have also succeeded," replied Mr. Tunks. "My boys discovered that, after the trial of Katherine, she lunched with some friends at an inn in the Old Bailey, and shortly afterwards left in a post-chaise. She was accompanied by an old lady; and the chaise took them to Hounslow."
    "And there, I suppose, all traces of them disappear?" said the Resurrection Man, inquiringly.
    "Not at all. I sent Leary Lipkins down to Hounslow yesterday; and he discovered that Miss Wilmot is staying at a farm-house belonging to a Mr. and Mrs. Bennet."
    "Precisely!" exclaimed the Resurrection Man. "That Mrs. Bennet was a witness on the trial. I remember reading all about it. She was the Sister of the woman whom Reginald Tracy murdered."
    "The farm is only a short distance from Hounslow," observed the Bully Grand: "any one in the town can direct you to it. Most probably it was with this Mrs. Bennet that Miss Wilmot travelled in the post-chaise."
    "Evidently so," said the Resurrection Man. "But of that no matter. All I required was Katherine Wilmot's address; and you have discovered it. Now for my last question. Have you ascertained whether it will be possible to bribe the clerk of the church where Lord Ravensworth and the Honourable Miss Adeline Enfield were married, to tear out the leaf of the register which contains the entry of that union?"
    "I have learnt that the clerk is open to bribery: but he is a cautious man, and will not allow himself to be sounded too deeply in the matter," was the answer.
    "Then that business must regard me," observed the Resurrection Man. "You have served me well in all these matters. Twenty pounds I gave you the other day: here are twenty pounds more. Are you satisfied?"
    "I have every reason to be pleased with your liberality," returned the Bully Grand, folding up the bank-notes with his delicate fingers, "Have you any further commands at present?"
    "Yes," replied the Resurrection Man, after a few moments' consideration: "let one of your lads take a couple of notes for me."
    While the Bully Grand proceeded to summon Leary Lipkins, the Resurrection Man seated himself at a desk which there was in the room, and wrote the following note:-
    
    "The news I have just received are rather good than bad. The clerk is open to bribery, but is cautious. I will myself call upon him the day after to-morrow; and I will meet you afterwards, at our usual place of appointment, in the evening between six and seven. But you must find money somehow or another: I am incurring expenses in this matter, and cannot work for nothing. Surely Greenwood will assist you?"
    
    This letter was sealed and addressed to "GILBERT VERNON, ESQ., No. — Stamford Street"
    The Resurrection Man then penned another note which ran thus:-
    
    "I have discovered Katherine's address, and shall call upon you the day after to-morrow at nine o'clock in the evening. Remain at home; as you know the importance of the business."
    
    By the time he had concluded his correspondence, the Bully Grand had returned with Leary Lipkins.
    "My good lad," said the Resurrection Man addressing the latter, "here are two notes, which you must deliver this night — this night, mind. The first is addressed; and the person for whom it is intended never retires to bed until very late. He will be up, when you call at the house where he lodges in Stamford Street. Give the letter into his own hand. You must then proceed to Golden Lane; and in the third court on the right-hand side of the way, and in the fourth house on the left-hand in that court, an old woman lives. You must knock till she answers you; and give her this second letter. I actually do not know her name, although I have dealings with her at present."
    Leary Lipkins promised to fulfil these directions, and immediately departed to execute them.
    Shortly afterwards the Resurrection Man took his leave of the Bully Grand, and left the headquarters of the Forty Thieves.
    Henry Holford, who had never lost sight of the door of that house since he had seen the Resurrection Man enter it, and who had remained concealed in the shade of an overhanging frontage opposite for more than two hours, resumed his task of dogging that formidable Individual.
    The Resurrection Man passed down Mint Street, into the Borough, and called a cab from the nearest stand, saying to the driver, "New Church, Bethnal Green."
    The moment Tidkins was ensconsed within, and the driver was seated on his box, Henry Holford crept softly behind the cab. In that manner he rode unmolested until within a short distance of the place of destination, when he descended, and followed the vehicle on foot.
    The cab stopped near the railings that surround the church; and the Resurrection Man, having settled the fare, hurried onwards to Globe Town, Holford still dogging him — but with the utmost caution.
    Presently Tidkins struck into a bye-street at the eastern extremity of the Happy Valley (as, our readers will remember, Globe Town is denominated in the gazetteer of metropolitan thieves), and stopped at the door of a house of dilapidated appearance —  in a word, this was the very den where we have before seen him conducting his infamous plots, and in the subterranean vaults of which Viola Chichester was imprisoned for a period of three weeks.
    Holford saw the Resurrection Man enter this house by the front door communicating with the street. He watched the windows for a few moments, and then perceived a light suddenly appear in the room on the upper floor.
    "I have succeeded!" exclaimed Holford, aloud "the villain lives there! I have traced him to his lurking-hole; and Jem may yet be avenged!"
    Then, in order to be enabled to give an accurate description of the house to the returned convict, Holford studied its situation and appearance with careful attention. He observed that it was two storeys high, and that by the side was a dark alley.
    At length he was convinced that he should be enabled to find that particular dwelling again, or to direct Crankey Jem to it without the possibility of error; and, rejoicing at being thus enabled to oblige his new friend, the young man commenced his long and weary walk back to Drury Lane.

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