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[-203-] 

CHAPTER CXCVI.

THE OLD HAG AND THE RESURRECTION MAN.

    THE Old Hag, who has so frequently figured in former portions of our narrative, had latterly become more prosperous, if not more respectable, than when we first introduced her to our readers.
    From having been the occupant of only one room in the house in the court leading from Golden Lane, she had become the lessee of the entire dwelling. The commencement of this success was owing to her connexion with Lady Cecilia Harborough in the intrigue of the "living statue;" and from that moment affairs seemed to have taken a new turn with her. At all events her "business" increased; and the sphere of her infamy became enlarged.
    She would have taken another and better house, in some fashionable quarter, and re-commenced the avocation of a first-rate brothel-keeper  the pursuit of the middle period of her life;  but she reasoned that she was known to a select few where she was  that the obscurity of her dwelling was favourable to many of the nefarious projects in which her aid was required  and that she was too old to dream of forming a new connexion elsewhere.
    It would be impossible to conceive a soul more diabolically hardened, more inveterately depraved, than that of this old hag.
    In order to increase her resources, and occupy, as she said, "her leisure time," she had hired or bought some half-dozen young girls, about ten or twelve years old;  hired or bought them, whichever the reader pleases, of their parents, a "consideration" having been given for each, and the said parents comforting themselves with the idea that their children were well provided for!
    These children of tender age were duly initiated by the old hag in all the arts and pursuits of prostitution. They were sent in pairs to parade Aldersgate Street, Fleet Street, and Cheapside; and their special instructions were to practise their allurements upon elderly men, whose tastes might be deemed more vitiated and eccentric than those of the younger loungers of the great thoroughfares where prostitution most thrives.
    A favourite scheme of the old woman's was this:  One of her juvenile emissaries succeeded, we will suppose, in alluring to the den in Golden Lane an elderly man whose outward respectability denoted a well-filled purse, and ought to have been associated with better morals. When the wickedness was consummated, and the elderly gentleman was about to depart, the old hag would meet him and the young girl on the stairs, and, affecting to treat the latter as a stranger who had merely used her home as a common place of such resort, would seem stupefied at the idea "of so youthful a creature having been brought to her abode for such a purpose." She would then question the girl concerning her age; and the reply would be "under twelve" of course. Thus the elderly voluptuary would suddenly find himself liable to punishment for a misdemeanour, for intriguing with a girl beneath the age of twelve, and the virtuous indignation of the old hag would be vented in assertions that though she kept a house of accommodation for grown-up persons, she abhorred the encouragement of juvenile profligacy. The result would be that the hoary old sinner found himself compelled to pay a considerable sum as hush-money.
    We might occupy many pages with the details of the tricks and artifices which the old hag taught these young girls. And of a surety, they were subjects sufficiently plastic to enable her to model them to all her infamous purposes. Born of parents who never took the trouble to inculcate a single moral lesson, even if they knew any, those poor creatures had actually remained ignorant of the meaning of right and wrong until they were old enough to take an interest in the events that were passing around them. Then, when they missed some lad of their acquaintance, and, on inquiry, learnt that he had been sent to prison for taking something which did not belong to him, they began to understand that it was dangerous to do such an act  but it did not strike them that it was wrong. Again, if by accident they heard that another boy whom they knew, had got a good place, was very industrious, and in a fair way to prosper, they would perceive some utility in such conduct, but would still remain unable to appreciate its rectitude.
    Most of the girls whom the old hag had enlisted in her service, had been born and reared in that dirty warren which constitutes Golden Lane, Upper Whitecross Street, Playhouse Yard, Swan Street, and all their innumerable courts, alleys, and obscure nooks, swarming with a ragged and degraded population. Sometimes in their infancy they creeped out from their loathsome burrows, and even ven-[-204-]tured into Old Street, Barbican, or Beech Street But those excursions were not frequent. During their childhood they rolled half-naked in the gutters,  eating the turnip-parings and cabbage-stalks which were tossed out into the Street with other offal,  poking about in the kennels to find lost half-pence,  or even plundering the cat's-meat-man and the tripe-shop for the means of satisfying their hunger! This mode of life was but little varied;  unless, in- a deed, it were by the more agreeable recreations of particular days in the year. Thus, for instance, November was welcomed as the time for making a Guy-Fawkes, and carrying it round in procession amidst the pestilential mazes of the warren; August gave them "oyster day," to be signalised by the building of shell-grottoes, which were an excuse for importuning passengers for alms; and the December season had its "boxing-day," on which occasion the poor ragged creatures would be seen thronging the doors of the oil-shops to beg for Christmas-candles!
    These had been the only holidays which characterised the childhood of those unfortunate, lost, degraded girls whose lot we are describing. Sunday was not marked by cleanlier apparel, nor better food if it were singled out at all from the other days of the week, the distinguishing sign was merely a the extra drunkenness of the fathers of the families.
    Good Friday brought the little victims no hot-cross buns, nor Christmas Day its festivities, nor Shrove Tuesday its pancakes:  they had no knowledge of holy periods nor sacred ceremonies;  no seasonable luxury reminded them of the anniversaries of the birth, the death, or the resurrection of a Redeemer.
    No  in physical privations and moral blindness had they passed their infancy  and thus, having gone through a complete initiation into the miseries and sufferings of life, they were prepared at the age of ten to commence an apprenticeship of crime. And the old hag was an excellent mistress: were there an University devoted to graduates in Wickedness, this horrible wretch would have taken first-class Degrees in its schools, a Thus, be it understood, up to the age of ten or eleven, when those poor girls were transferred by their unfeeling parents (who were glad to get rid of them) to the care of the old woman, they had scarcely ever been out of the warren where they were born. Now a new world, as it were, dawned upon them. They laid aside their fetid rags, and put on garments which appeared queenly robes in their eyes. They were sent into streets lined with splendid shops, and beheld gay carriages and equipages of all kinds. Hitherto the principal gin-shop in their rookery had appeared the most gorgeous palace in the world in their eyes, with its revolving burners, its fine windows, and its meretriciously dressed bar-girls:  now they could feast their gaze with the splendours of the linen-drapers' and jewellers' establishments on Ludgate Hill. Their existence seemed to be suddenly invested with charms a that they had never before dreamt of; and they adored the old hag as the authoress of their good fortune. Thus she established a sovereign dominion over her poor ignorant victims through the medium -~ of their mistaken gratitude; and when she told them to sin, they sinned  sinned, too, before they even knew the meaning of virtue!
    Such was the history  not of one only  but of all the young girls whom this atrocious old hag had bought from their parents!
    To many  to most of our readers, the details of this description may seem improbable,  nay, impossible.
    The picture is, alas! too true.
    Poor fallen children! the world scorns you  society contemns you  the unthinking blame you. But, just heaven! are ye more culpable than that a community which took no precaution to prevent your degradation, and which now adopts no measures to reclaim you?
    As for ourselves, we declare most solemnly that we believe no age to have been more disgraced than the present one, and no country more culpable than our own. In this age of Bibles and country of glorious civilisation,  in this epoch of missions and land of refinement,  in this period of grand political reform, and nation of ten thousand philanthropic institutions,  in the middle of this nineteenth century, and with all the advantages of profound peace,  -and, what is worst of all, in that great city which vaunts itself the metropolis of the civilised world there are thousands of young children whose neglected, hopeless, and miserable condition can only be looked upon as an apprenticeship calculated to fill our streets with prostitutes of finished depravity  to people our gaols, hulks, and penal colonies with villains familiar with every phase of crime  and to supply our scaffolds with victims for thin diversion of a rude and ruthless mob!
    It was nine o'clock in the evening; and the old hag was seated in the same room where we have before frequently seen her.
    She was, however, surrounded by several additional comforts. She no longer burnt turf in her grate, but good Wall's End coals. She no longer placed her feet on an old mat, but on a thick carpet, She no longer bought her gin by the quartern or half pint, but by the bottle. She sweetened her tea with lump sugar, instead of moist; and in the place of a stew of tripe or cow-heel, she had a joint cooked at the bake-house, or a chicken boiled on her own fire.
    Her select patrons had contributed much towards this improvement in her circumstances; but the luxuries in which she could now indulge, were provided for her by the prostitution of her young victims.
    She was now dozing in her arm-chair, with her great cat upon her lap; but even in the midst of her semi-slumber, her ears were awake to the least motion of the knocker of the house-door  that sound which was the indication of business!
    Thus, when, true to the time appointed in his note, the Resurrection Man arrived at the house, not many moments elapsed ere he was admitted into the hag's parlour.
    "So you have discovered the address of Katherine Wilmot," said the hag. "Where does she nestle?"
    "No matter where," returned the Resurrection Man; "it is sufficient that I can communicate with her, or bring her up to London, when it suits me. I have come now to have a full understanding with you on the subject; and if we play our cards well, we may obtain a round sum of money from this girl  that is, supposing she is really the child of the Harriet Wilmot whom you knew."
    "There can be no doubt of it  there can be no doubt of it," exclaimed the old hag, rocking herself to and fro. "She is the daughter of that Harriet [-205-] Wilmot whom I knew, and whose image sometimes haunts me in my dreams."
    "But what proofs have you of the fact?" demanded the Resurrection Man. "It will not suit me to take any more trouble in the matter, unless I know for certain that I am not running a wild-goose chase."
    "I shall not tell you how I came to know Harriet Wilmot seventeen years ago, nor any thing more about her than I can help," said the old hag resolutely. "I was, however, well acquainted with her  I knew all about her. With her own lips she told me her history. She was for some time engaged to be married to a young man  young at that period  at Southampton. His name was Smithers. Circumstances separated them before the realisation of their hopes and wishes; and she came to London with her father, who soon afterwards died of a broken heart through misfortunes in business."
    "Broken heart!" exclaimed the Resurrection Man contemptuously: "who ever died of a broken heart? But never mind  go on."
    "Harriet was alone in the world  an orphan  unprotected  and without friends or resources," continued the hag. "She was accordingly compelled to go out to service. A wealthy gentleman saw her, and fell in love with her-but I shall not tell you all about that! No  I shall not tell you about that! Harriet's was a strange fate  a sad fate; and I do not like to think of the part I acted in some respects towards her," added the old woman, shaking her head, as if it were in regret of the past.
    "Go on," said the Resurrection Man. "If you have got anything unpleasant in your memory, all the shakings of heads in the world won't drive it out."
    "Alack! you speak the truth  you speak the truth," muttered the old woman. "It was the blackest deed I ever committed  I wish it had never occurred: it troubles me very often; and when I cannot sleep at night, I am constantly thinking of Harriet Wilmot."
    "What is all this to lead to?" demanded Tidkins, impatiently.
    "I shall not trouble you with many more of my reflections," said the hag. "Harriet became a mother: she had a daughter, on whom she bestowed the name of Katherine. Three or four years afterwards I lost sight of her, and never beheld her more. From that time all traces of herself and her child were gone until last year, when the murder of Reginald Tracy's housekeeper placed the name of Katherine Wilmot before the public. That name immediately struck me: the newspapers said she was sixteen years old  precisely the age that Harriet's daughter must have been. Then the name of Smithers was mixed up in the proceedings which ensued: I saw it all  Harriet must be dead, and Smithers had adopted her child as his niece! But, to convince myself still further, I went to the Old Bailey  I saw Katherine in the dock: you might have knocked me down with a feather, so strong was the resemblance between the young girl and her deceased mother! I came home  I was very ill:- methought I had seen the ghost of one whom I had deeply, deeply injured!"
    "And now you have so far forgotten your remorse that you are desirous to turn your knowledge of Katherine's parentage to good account?" said the Resurrection Man, with a sneering laugh. "But how do you know that she is not well informed on that head already?"
    "She cannot be  she cannot be," answered the old hag; "she would not bear the name of Wilmot if she was. Besides, I have since ascertained that her mother died when she was only four years old; and therefore Katherine was too young to receive any revelation from her parent's lips. No  no: I have good reason to believe that Katherine knows nothing of her paternal origin."
    "I am now perfectly satisfied, from all you have told me, that Katherine Wilmot is the daughter of the Harriet whom you knew," said the Resurrection Man; "and as you seem so positive that she is not aware of many important particulars concerning her birth, I will proceed in the business you have proposed to me."
    "Where is she living?" inquired the old woman.
    "If I tell you that," said Tidkins, "what guarantee have I got that you will not post off alone to her, extort the purchase-money for your secrets, and chouse me out of my reglars? Look you  I have been at the trouble and expense of finding her out  which you never could have done  and I must go halves with you in the produce of the affair."
    "So you shall  so you may," returned the old woman. "But I will not. speak to her in your hearing. I don't know how it is that I have a strange superstitious awe in connexion with all that concerns Harriet Wilmot's memory and the existence of her child. I cannot help the feeling  I cannot help it."
    "By Satan," exclaimed the Resurrection Man, darting a furious glance upon the hag, "you are either a drivelling fool, or you are deceiving me. You entertain compunction about these Wilmots  and yet you purpose to obtain money from the girl. Now is this consistent? Take care how you play with me; for  if I catch you out in any of your tricks  I will hang you up to your own bedpost as readily as I would wring the neck of that damned old cat."
    "You shall see whether I will deceive you  you shall see," cried the old hag, with some degree of alarm. "Arrange the business as you will, so long as I may have speech of Katherine without being overheard; but you shall be present when she pays me for the secret which I have to communicate."
    "Let that be the understanding, and I am agreeable," observed the Resurrection Man. "Will it suit you to go a few miles out of town with me tomorrow?"
    "Is it to see Katherine?" inquired the hag.
    "What the devil else do you think I want your company for?" cried Tidkins: "to take you to dine at Greenwich or Blackwall  eh? Not quite such a fool as that! However, to-morrow morning you may expect me at seven o'clock  "
    "It is not light at that hour," observed the hag.
    "I prefer the dusk of either morning or evening," answered the Resurrection Man. "It suits me better  because I have a few enemies in London. But, as I was saying, I shall call for you at seven tomorrow morning; a friend of mine  one Banks of Globe-Town  has a covered spring-cart and a capital bit of horseflesh. He will drive us to where we have to go, in no time. So don't keep us waiting  as the vehicle will be at the bottom of the lane by a quarter to seven."
    The old hag promised to be punctual; and the Resurrection Man took his departure from her den.

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