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[-58-]

CHAPTER XXIII.

THE OLD HOUSE IN SMITHFIELD AGAIN.

THE visitor to the Polytechnic Institution or the Adelaide Gallery, has doubtless seen the exhibition of the microscope. A drop of the purest water, magnified by that instrument some thousands of times, appears filled with horrible reptiles and monsters of revolting forms.
    Such is London.
    Fair and attractive as the mighty metropolis may appear to the superficial observer, it swarms with disgusting, loathsome, and venomous objects, wearing human shapes.
    Oh! London is a city of strange contrasts!
    The hustle of business, and the smile of pleasure, - the peaceful citizen, and the gay soldier, - the splendid shop, and the itinerant pastry-stall, - the gorgeous equipage, and the humble market-cart, - the palaces at nobles, and the hovels of the poor,- the psalm from the chapel, and the shout of laughter from the tavern,- the dandies lounging in the west-end streets, and the paupers cleansing away the mud, - the funeral procession, and the bridal cavalcade,- the wealthy and high-born lady whose reputation is above all cavil, and the lost girl whose shame is below all notice,- the adventurer who defends his honour with a duel, and the poor tradesman whom unavoidable bankruptcy has branded as a rogue,- the elegantly-clad banker whose insolvency must soon transpire, and the ragged old miser whose wealth it not suspected, - the monuments of glory, and the hospitals of the poor,- the temples where men adore a God with affectation, and the shrines at which they lose their gold to a deity whom they adore without affectation,- in a word, grandeur and squalor, wealth and misery, virtue and vice,- honesty which has never been tried, and crime which yielded to the force of irresistible circumstances,- all the features, all the characteristics, all the morals, of a great city, must occupy the attention of him who surveys London with microscopic eye.
    And what a splendid subject for the contemplators of the moralist is a mighty city which, at every succeeding hour, presents a new phase of interest to the view ;- in the morning, when only the industrious and. the thrifty are abroad, and while the wealthy sod the great are sleeping off the night's pleasure and dissipation - at noon, when the streets are swarming with life, as if some secret source without the walls poured at that hour myriads of animated streams into the countless avenues and thoroughfares ;- in the evening, when the men of pleasure again venture forth, and music, and dancing, and revelry prevail around ;- and at night, - when every lazar-house vomits forth its filth, every den lets loose its horrors, and every foul court and alley echoes to the footsteps of crime!
    It was about two o'clock in the morning, (three hours after the burglarious attempt upon the villa,) that a man, drenched by the rain which continued to pour in torrents, with his hat drawn over his eyes, and his hands thrust in his pockets to protect them against the cold, crept cautiously down West Street, from Smithfield, dodged past the policeman, and entered the old house which we have described at the opening of our narrative.
    Having closed and carefully bolted the front door, he hastily ascended to the room on the first floor where Walter Sydney had seen him and his companion conceal their plunder four years and four months previously.
    This man - so wet, so cold, and so miserable - was Bill Bolter, the murderer.
    Having groped about for a few moments, he found a match, struck it, and obtained a light. One of the secret recesses furnished a candle; and the flickering glare fell upon the haggard, unshaven. and dirty countenance of the ruffian.
    Scarcely had he lighted the candle, when a peculiar whistle was heard in the street, just under the window. The features of Bolter became suddenly animated with joy; and, as he hastily descended the stairs, he muttered to himself, "Well, at all events here's one on 'em."
    The individual to whom be opened the door was Dick Flairer - in no better plight, mentally and bodily, than himself.
    "Is there any bingo, Bill ?" demanded Dick, the moment he set foot in the up-stairs room.
    "Not a drain," answered Bolter, after a close inspection of the cupboard in the wall between the windows; "and not a morsel of grub neither."
    "Blow the grub," said Dick. " I ain't in no humour for eating; but I could drink a gallon. I've been thinking as I come along, and after the first shock was over, wot cursed fools you and me was to be humbugged in this here affair. Either that young feller was the brother of the one which we threw down the trap —"
    "No: I could swear that he is the same," interrupted Bill.
    "Well - then he must have made his escape  -and that's all," added Dick Flairer.
    "That must be it," observed Bolter, after a long pause. "But it was so sudden upon us - and then without no time to think - and all that —"
    "You may say what you like, Bill - but I shall never forgive myself. I was the first to bolt; and I was a coward. How shall I ever be able to look the Cracksman in the face again, or go to the parlour of the boozing-ken ?"
    "it's no use complaining like this, Dick. You was used to be the bold 'un - and now it seems as if  [-59-] It was me that must say 'Cheer up.' The fact is, someot must be done without delay. I told you and Tom what had happened at my crib; and so, lay up for some time I must. Come, now - Dick, you won't desert a pal in trouble?"
    "There's my hand, Bill. On'y say wot you want done, and I'm your man."
    "In the first place, do you think it's safe for me to stay here? Won't that young feller give the alarm, and say as how his house was attempted by the same cracksmen that wanted to make a stiff 'un of him between four and five years ago at this old crib; and then won't the blue-bottles come and search the place from chimley-pot down to foundation-stone ?"
    "Let 'em search it," ejaculated Flairer: "they'll on'y do it once; and who cares for that? You can lie as snug down stairs for a week or so as if you was a thousand miles off'. Besides, who'd think for a instant that you'd hide yourself in the wery spot that the young feller could point out as one of our haunts? Mark me, Bill - if yer goes up to Rat's Castle in Saint Giles's, you would find too many tongues among them cursed Irishers to ask 'Who is he?' and 'What is he? If you goes over to the Mint, you'll be sure to be twigged by a lot a' them low buzgloaks and broken-down magsmen as swarms there; and they'll nose upon you for a penny. Whitechapel back-slums isn't safe; for the broom-gals, the blacks, and the ballad singers which occupies all that district, is always a quarrelling; and the blue-bottles is constantly poking their nose in every crib in consekvence. Here you are snug; and I can bring you your grub and tell you the news of an evenin' arter dark."
    "But to be penned up in that infernal hole for a fortnit or three weeks, till the storm's blowed over, is horrible to think on," said Bill.
    "And scragging* [*hanging] more horrible still," said Dick, significantly. 
    Bill Bolter shuddered; and a convulsive motion agitated his neck, as if he already felt the cord around it. His countenance became ashy pale; and, as he glanced fearfully around, he exclaimed, "Yes, you're right, Dick: I'll take myself to the hiding-crib, and you can give me the office* [*Inform, give warning] at any moment, if things goes wrong. To-morrow you must try and find out whether there's much of a row about the affair in the Court."
    The ruffian never expressed the least anxiety relative to the fate of his children.
    "To-morrow!" exclaimed Dick: "to-day you mean - for it can't be far off from three o'clock. And now talking about grub is all very easy; but getting it is quite another thing. Neither you nor me hasn't got a scurrick; and where to get a penny loaf on tick I don't know."
    "By hell, I shall starve, Dick!" cried the murderer, casting a glance of alarm and horror upon his companion.
    "Whatever I get shall be for you first, Bill; and to get anythink at all I must be wide awake. The grass musn't grow under my feet."
    At that moment a whistle, similar to the sound by which Dick Flairer had notified his approach to Bill Bolter, emanated from the street and fell upon the ears of those worthies.
    Dick hastened to respond to this summons, and in short time introduced the Cracksman.
    The moment this individual entered the room, he demanded if there were anything to eat or to drink upon the premises. He of course received a melancholy negative: but, instead of being disheartened, his countenance appeared to wear a smile of pleasure. 
    "Now, you see, I never desert a friend in distress," he exclaimed; and, with these words, he produced from his pocket a quantity of cold victuals and a large flask of brandy.
    Without waiting to ask questions or give explanations, the three thieves fell tooth and nail upon the provender.
    "I knowed you'd come to this here crib, because Bill don't dare go to the boozing-ken till the affair of the Court's blowed over," said the Cracksman, when his meal was terminated; "and so I thought I'd jine you. Arter I left the place out by Clapton —"
    "And how the devil did you get away?" demanded Dick.
    "Just the same as you did. It would have sarved you right if I'd never spoke to you agin, and blowed you at the ken into the bargain; but I thought to myself, thinks I, 'It must be someot very strange that made the Flairer and the Bolter cut their lucky and leave their pal in the lurch; so let's hear wot they has to say for themselves fust.' Then, as I come along, I found a purse in a gentleman's pocket just opposite Bethnal Green New Church; and that put me into good humour. So I looked in at the ken, got the grub and the bingo, and come on here.
    "You're a reg'lar trump, Tom !" ejaculated Dick Flairer; "and I'll stick to you like bricks from this moment till I die. The fact is - me and Bill has told you about that young feller which we throwed down the trap some four or five year back."
    "Yes - I remember."
    "Well - we seed him to-night."
    "To-night! What-at the crib up there ?"
    "The swell that you got a grip on in the dark. was the very self-same one."
    "Then he must have got clear off - that's all !" cried the Cracksman. It was no ghost - but rale plump flesh and hot blood, I'll swear."
    "So we both think now, to be sure," said Dick "but you don't bear any ill-will, Tom ?"
    "Not a atom. Here's fifteen couters* [*Sovereigns] which was in the purse of the swell which I met at Bethnal Green; and half that's yourn. But, about Bill there - wot's he a-going to do ?"
    Dick pointed with his finger downwards: Tom comprehended the signal, and nodded approvingly.
    The brandy produced a cheering effect upon the three ruffians: and pipes and tobacco augmented their joviality. Their discourse gradually became coarsely humorous; and their mirth boisterous. At length Bill Bolter, who required every possible means of artificial stimulant and excitement to sustain his spirits in the fearful predicament in which he was placed, called upon the Cracksman for a song.
    Tom was famous amongst his companions for his vocal qualifications; and he was not a little proud of the reputation he had acquired in the parlours of the various "boozing-kens" and "patter-cribs"* [*Flash houses] of which he was in the habit of frequenting. He was not, therefore, backward in complying with his friend's request; and, in a somewhat subdued tone, (for fear of making too much noise - complaint not [-60-] often heard in Chick Lane), he sang the following lines:-

THE THIEVES' ALPHABET.

A was an Area - sneak leary and sly;
B was a Buzgloak, with fingers so fly;
C was a Cracksman, that forked all the plate;
D was a Dubsman, who kept the jug-gate.
    For we are rollicking chaps,
    All smoking, singing, boosing;
    We care not for the traps,
    But pass the night carousing!

E was an Efter,* [*A thief who frequents theatres]  that went to the play;
F was a Fogle he knapped on his way;
G was a Gag, which he told to the beak;
H was a Hum-box,* [*Pulpit] where parish-prigs speak.
    CHORUS
I was an Ikey* [*A Jew fence : a receiver of stolen goods] with swag all encumbered;
J was a Jug, in whose cell he was lumbered;
K was a Kye-bosh,* [*1s. 6d.]   that paid for his treat;
L was a Leaf* [*The drop] that fell under his feet.
    CHORUS
M was a Magsman, frequenting Pall-Mall;
N was a Nose that turned chirp on his pal;
O was an Onion,* [* A watch seal] possessed by a swell;
P was a Pannie, done niblike and well.
    CHORUS.
Q was a Queer-screen, that served as a blind ;* [*Served to deceive the unwary]
R was a Reader,* [*Pocket book] with flimsies well lined;
S was a Smasher, so nutty and spry;
T was a Ticker,* [*Watch] just faked from a cly.
    CHORUS.
U was an Uptucker,* [*Jack Ketch] fly with the cord;
V was a Varnisher,* [*Utterer of false sovereigns] dressed like a lord;
Y was a Yoxter* [*A convict returned from transportation before his time] that eat caper sauce;* [*Hanged]
Z was a Ziff* [*Juvenile thief] who was flashed on the horse.* [*Privately whipped in prison]
   
For we are rollicking chaps
    All smoking, singing, boosing:
    We care not for the traps,
    But pass the night carouslng.* [*This song is entirely original]

    In this manner did the three thieves pass the first hours of morning at the old house in Chick Lane.
    At length the heavy and sonorous voice of Saint Paul's proclaimed six o'clock. It still wanted an hour to sun-rise; but they now thought it prudent to separate.
    Tom the Cracksman and Dick Flairer arranged together a "little piece of business" for the ensuing night, which they hoped would prove more fortunate than their attempt on the villa at Upper Clapton; but Dick faithfully promised Bill Bolter to return to him in the evening before he set out on the new expedition.
    Matters being thus agreed upon, the moment for the murderer's concealment arrived. We have before stated that the entire grate in the room which the villains frequented, could be removed; and that, when taken out of its setting, it revealed an aperture of considerable dimensions. At the bottom of this square recess was a trap-door, communicating with a narrow and spiral staircase, that led into a vault adjoining and upon the same level with the very cellar from which Walter Sydney had so miraculously escaped.
    The possibility of such an architectural arrangement being fully carried out, with a view to provide a perfect means of concealment, will be apparent to our readers, when we state that the side of the house farthest from the Fleet Ditch was constructed with a double brick wail, and that the spiral staircase consequently stood between those two partitions.
    The mode in which the huge chimneys were built, also tended to ensure the complete safety of that strange hiding-place, and to avert any suspicion that might for a moment be entertained of the existence of such a retreat in that old house.
    Even in case the secret of the moveable grate should be discovered, the eye of the most acute-thief- taker would scarcely detect the trap-door at the bottom of the recess, so admirably was it made to correspond with the brick-work that formed its frame.
    The vault with which the spiral staircase corresponded, was about fourteen feet long by two-and a-half wide. An iron grating of eight inches square, overlooking the Fleet Ditch, was all the means provided to supply that living tomb with fresh - we cannot say pure - air. If the atmosphere of the hiding- place were thus neither wholesome nor pleasant, it did not at least menace existence; and a residence in that vault for even weeks and weeks together was deemed preferable to the less "cribbed, cabined, and confined" sojourn of Newgate.
    But connected with the security of this vault was one fearful condition. The individual who sought its dark solitude, could not emancipate himself at will. He was entirely at the mercy of those confederates who were entrusted with his secret. Should anything happen to these men, - should they be suddenly overtaken by the hand of death, then starvation must be the portion of the inmate of that horrible vault: and should they fall into the hands of justice, then the only service they could render their companion in the living tomb, would be to reveal the secret of his hiding-place.
    Up to the time of which we are writing, since the formation of that strange lurking-hole in the days of the famous Jonathan Wild, three or four persons had alone availed themselves of the vault as a means of personal concealment. In the first place, the secret existed but with a very few; and secondly, it was only in cases where life and death were concerned that a refuge was sought in so fearful an abode.
    When the grate was removed and the trap-door was opened, the entire frame of Bill Bolter became suddenly convulsed with horror. He dreaded to be left to the mercy of his own reflections!
    "It's infernally damp," said Bill, his teeth chattering as much with fear as with the cold.
    Fearful, however, of exciting the disgust and contempt of his companions at what might be termed his pusillanimous conduct, he mustered up all his courage, shook hands with the Cracksman and Flairer, and then insinuated his person through the aperture.
    "You may as well take the pipes and baccy along with you, old feller," returned Dick.
    "And heres a thimble-full of brandy left in the flask," added the Cracksman.
    "This evenin' I'll bring you a jolly week of the bingo," said Flairer.
    Provided with the little comforts just specified, the murderer descended the spiral staircase into the vault.
    The trap-door closed above his head; and the grate was replaced with more than usual care and caution.
    The Cracksman and Dick Flairer then took their departure from the old house, in the foundation of which a fellow creature was thus strangely entombed alive!

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