chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
next chapter >
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
"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
"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
"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
"And scragging* [*hanging] more horrible still," said Dick,
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
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
negative: but, instead of being disheartened, his countenance appeared to
wear a smile of pleasure.
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
"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;
was a Buzgloak, with fingers so fly;
was a Cracksman, that forked all the plate;
was a Dubsman, who kept the jug-gate.
we are rollicking chaps,
smoking, singing, boosing;
care not for the traps,
pass the night carousing!
was an Efter,* [*A thief who frequents theatres]
that went to the play;
was a Fogle he knapped on his way;
was a Gag, which he told to the beak;
was a Hum-box,* [*Pulpit] where parish-prigs speak.
I was an Ikey* [*A Jew fence : a receiver of stolen goods]
with swag all encumbered;
was a Jug, in whose cell he was lumbered;
was a Kye-bosh,* [*1s. 6d.] that paid for
was a Leaf* [*The drop] that fell under his feet.
was a Magsman, frequenting Pall-Mall;
was a Nose that turned chirp on his pal;
O was an Onion,* [* A watch seal] possessed by a swell;
was a Pannie, done niblike and well.
was a Queer-screen, that served as a blind ;* [*Served to
deceive the unwary]
was a Reader,* [*Pocket book] with flimsies well lined;
was a Smasher, so nutty and spry;
was a Ticker,* [*Watch] just faked from a cly.
was an Uptucker,* [*Jack Ketch] fly with the cord;
was a Varnisher,* [*Utterer of false sovereigns] dressed like a lord;
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]
we are rollicking chaps
smoking, singing, boosing:
care not for the traps,
pass the night carouslng.* [*This song is entirely
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
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, -
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,"
Provided with the little comforts just specified, the murderer descended the spiral staircase into the
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
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
next chapter >