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RETURN we now to Bill Bolter, the murderer, who had taken
refuge in the subterranean hiding-place of the Old House in Chick Lane.
Heavily and wearily did the hours drag along. The inmate of
that terrible dungeon was enabled to mark their lapse by the deep-mouthed bell
of St. Sepulchre's Church, on Snow Hill, the sound of which boomed ominously at
regular interrals upon his ear.
That same bell tolls the death-note of the convict on the
morning of his execution at the debtor's door of Newgate.
The murderer remembered this, and shuddered.
A faint - faint light glimmered through the little grating at
the end of the dungeon; and the man kept his eyes fixed upon it so long, that at
length his imagination began to conjure up phantoms to appal him. That small
square aperture became a frame in which hideous countenances appeared; and then,
one gradually changed into another - horrible dissolving views that they were!
But chiefly be beheld before him the tall gaunt form of his
murdered wife - with one eye smashed and bleeding in her head :- the other
glared fearfully upon him.
This phantasmagoria became at length so fearful and so real
in appearance, that the murderer turned his back towards the little grating
through which the light struggled into the dungeon in two long, narrow, and
But then he imagined that there were goblins behind him; and
this idea soon grew as insupportable is the first ;- so he rose, and groped his
way up and down that narrow vault - a vault which might become his tomb!
This horrible thought never left his memory. Even while he
reflected upon other things, - amidst the perils which enveloped his career, and
the reminiscences of the dread deeds of which he had been guilty, - amongst the
reasons which he assembled together to convince himself that the hideous
countenances at the grating did not exist in reality, - there was that one idea
- unmixed - definite - standing boldly out from all the rest in his imagination,
that he might be left to die of starvation!
At one time the brain of this wretch was excited to such a
pitch that he actually caught his head in his two hands, and pressed it with all
his force - to endeavour to crush the horrible visions which haunted his
Then he endeavoured to hum a tune; but his voice seemed to
choke him. He lighted a pipe, and sate and smoked; but as the thin blue vapour
curled upwards, in the faint light of the grating, it assumed shapes and forms
appalling to behold. Spectres, clad in long winding sheets - cold grisly
corpses, dressed in shrouds, seemed to move noiselessly through the dungeon.
He laid aside the pipe; and, in a state of mind bordering
almost upon frenzy, tossed off the brandy that had remained in the flask.
But so full of horrible ideas was his mind at that moment,
that it appeared to him as if he had been drinking blood!
He rose from his seat once more, and groped up and down the
dungeon, careless of the almost stunning blows which he gave his head, and the
violent contusions which his limbs received, against the uneven walls.
Hark! suddenly voices fell upon his ears.
He listened with mingled fear and joy, - fear of being
discovered, and joy at the sound of human tones in the midst of that
Those voices came from the lower window of the dwelling on
the other side of the ditch.
"How silent and quiet everything has been lately in the
old house opposite," said a female.
"Last night, - or rather early this morning, I heard
singing there," replied another voice, which was evidently that of a young
Oh! never had the human tones sounded so sweet and musical
upon the murderer's ears before!
"It is very seldom that any one ever goes into that old
house now," said the first speaker.
'Strange rumours are abroad concerning it: I heard that there
are subterranean places in which men can conceal themselves, and no power on
earth could find them save those in the secret."
"How absurd, I was speaking to the policeman [-72-]
about that very thing a few days ago; and he laughed at the idea. He says
it is impossible ; and of course he knows best."
"I am not so sure of that. Who knows what fearful deeds
have those old walls concealed from human eye? For my part, I can very well
believe that there are secret cells and caverns. Who knows but that some poor
wretch is hiding there this very moment?"
"Perhaps the man that murdered his wife up in Union
"Well -who knows ? But at this rate we shall never
get on with our work."
The noise of a window being shut down fell upon the
murderer's ears: and he heard no more.
But he had heard enough! Those girls had spoken of him :-they
had mentioned him as the man who had murdered his wife.
The assassination, then, was already known: the dread deed
was bruited abroad :-thousands and thousands of tongues had no doubt repeated
the tale here and there - conveying it hither and thither - far and wide!
And throughout the vast metropolis was he already spoken of
as the man who had murdered his wife!
And in a few hours more, would millions in all parts hear of the
man who had murdered his wife!
And already were the officers of justice actively in
search of the man who had murdered his wife!
Heavily - heavily passed the hours.
At length the dungeon became pitch dark; and then the
murderer saw sights more appalling than when the faint gleam stole through the
In due time the sonorous voice of St. Sepulchre proclaimed
the hour of nine.
Scarcely had the last stroke of that iron tongue died upon
the breeze, when a noise at the head of the spiral staircase fell upon the
murderer's ears. The trap-door was raised, and the well-known voice of Dick
Flairer was heard.
" Well, Bill - alive or dead, eh - old fellow!"
exclaimed the burglar.
"Alive - and that's all, Dick," answered Bill
Bolter, ascending the staircase.
"My God! how pale you are, Bill," said Dick, the
moment the light of the candle fell upon the countenance of the murderer, as he
emerged from the trap-door.
"Pale, Dick!" ejaculated the wretch, a shudder
passing over his entire frame; "I do not believe I can stand a night in
that infernal hole."
"You must, Bill - you must,2 said Flairer: "all is
discovered up in Union Court there, and the police are about in all
"When was it found out? Tell me the particulars -
speak!" said the murderer, with frenzied impatience.
"Why, it appears that the neighbours heard a devil of a
noise in your room, but didn't think no-think about it, cos you and Polly used
to spar a bit now and then. But at last the boy - Harry, I mean -
went down stairs, and said that his mother wouldn't move, and that his father
had gone away. So up the neighbours went - and then everything was blown. The
children was sent to the workus, and the coroner held his inquest this afternoon
at three. Harry was had up before him; and "
"And what ?" demanded Bolter, hastily.
"And, in course," added Dick, " the Coroner got out
of the boy all the particklars : so the jury returned a verdict "
"Of Wilful Murder, eh?" said Bill, sinking
almost to a whisper.
"Wilful Murder against William Bolter," answered Dick, coolly.
"That little vagabond Harry! "cried the criminal -
his entire countenance distorted with rage ; "I'll he
the death on him!"
"There's no news at all about t'other affair up at
Clapton, and no stir made in it at all," said Dick. after a moment's pause :
" so that there business is all right. But here's a lot of grub and plenty
of lush, Bill: that'll cheer ye, if nothink else will."
"Dick!" exclaimed the murderer, " I cannot go back into
that hole - I had rather get nabbed at once. The few hours I have already been
there have nearly drove me mad; and I can't - I won't attempt the night in that
infernal cold damp vault. I feel as if I was in my coffin."
"Well, you know best," said Dick, coolly. "A hempen
neckcloth at Tuck-up fair, and a leap from a tree with only one leaf, is what
you'll get if you're perverse."
"My God - my God!" ejaculated Bolter, wringing his hands, and
throwing glances of extreme terror around the room; "what am I to do? what
am I to do?"
"Lie still down below for a few weeks, or go out and be
scragged," said Dick Flairer. "Come, Bill, be a man; and don't take on in
this here way. Besides, I'm in a hurry, and, must be off. I've brought you
enough grub for three days, as I shan't come here too often till the business
has blowed over a little."
Bill Bolter took a long draught from a quart bottle of rum
which his friend had brought with him ; and he then left his spirits revive.
Horrible as the prospect of a long sojourn in the dungeon appeared, it was still
preferable to the fearful doom which must inevitably follow his capture; and,
accordingly, the criminal once more returned to his hiding-place.
Dick Flairer promised to return on the third evening from
that time; and the trap-door again closed over the head of the murderer.
Bolter supped off a portion of the provisions which his
friend had brought him, and then lay dawn upon the hard stone bench to sleep. A
noisome stench entered the dungeon from the Ditch, and the rats ran over the
person of the inmate of that subterranean hole. Repose was impossible: the miserable wretch therefore sat up, and began to smoke.
By accident he kicked his leg a little way beneath the stone
bench: the heel of his boot encountered something that yielded to the touch; and
a strange noise followed.
That noise was like the rattling of bones!
The pipe fell from the man's grasp; and he him. self was
stupified with sudden terror.
At length, exercising immense violence over his feelings, he
determined to ascertain whether the horrible suspicions which had entered his
mind were well-founded or not.
He thrust his hand beneath the bench, and encountered the
mouldering bones of a human skeleton.
With indescribable feelings of agony and horror he threw
himself upon the bench - his hair on end, and his heart palpitating violently.
Heaven only can tell how he passed that long weary night -
alone, in the darkness of the dungeon, with his own thoughts, the skeleton
of some murdered victim, and the vermin that infected the subterranean hole.
He slept not a wink throughout those live-long
hours, the lapse of which was
proclaimed by the voice of Saint Sepulchre's solemn mid deep-toned bell.
And none who heard the bell during that night experienced
feelings of such intense anguish and horror as the murderer in his lurking-hole.
Not even the neighbouring prison of Newgate, nor the hospital of Saint
Bartholomew, nor the death-bed of a parent, knew mental suffering so terrible as
that which wrung the heart of this guilty wretch.
The morning dawned; and the light returned to the dungeon.
The clock had just struck eight, and the murderer was
endeavouring to force a mouthful of food down his throat, when the voice of a man in the
street tell upon
his ear. He drew close up to the grating, and clearly heard the following
"Here is a full and perfect account of the horrible
assassination committed by the miscreant William Bolter, upon the person of
his wife; with a portrait of the murderer, and a representation of the room as it appeared when the deed was first discovered by a neighbour.
one Penny! The fullest and most perfect account - only one Penny!"
A pause ensued, and then the voice, bawling more lustily than
before, continued thus:-
"A full and perfect account of the bloody and crud
murder in Upper Union Court; shewing how the assassin first dashed out
one of his victim's eyes, and [-74-] then fractured her skull upon the floor. Only one Penny, together with a true
portrait of the murderer, for whose apprehension a reward of One Hundred Pounds
is offered! Only one Penny!"
"A reward of one hundred pounds!" cried another voice
"my eye! how I should like to find him!"
"Wouldn't I precious soon give him up !" ejaculated
"I wonder whereabouts he is," said a fourth. "No doubt that he has run
away - perhaps to America - perhaps to France."
"That shews how much you know about such things," said a
fifth speaker. "It is a very strange fact, that murderers always linger
near the scene of their crime; they are attracted towards it, seemingly, as the
moth is to the candle. Now, for my part, I shouldn't at all wonder if the
miscreant was within a hundred yards of us at the present moment."
" Only one Penny! The fullest and most perfect account
of the horrible and bloody murder "
The itinerant vender of pamphlets passed on, followed by
the crowd which his vociferations had collected; and his voice soon ceased to
break the silence of the morning.
Bolter sank down upon the stone bench, a prey to maddening
feelings and fearful emotions.
A hundred pounds were offered for his capture! Such a sum
might tempt even Dick Flairer or Tom the Cracksman to betray him.
Instinctively he put his fingers to his neck, to feel if the
rope were there yet, and he shook his bead violently to ascertain if he were
hanging on a gibbet, or could still control his motions.
The words "miscreant," "horrible and bloody murder,"
and "portrait of the assassin," still rang in his ears - loud -
sonorous - deep - and with a prolonged echo like that of a bell!
Already were men speculating upon his whereabouts, and
anxious for his apprehension - some for the reward, others to gratify a morbid
curiosity: already were the newspapers, the cheap press, and the
pamphleteers busy with his name.
None now mentioned him save as the miscreant William Bolter.
Oh! if he could but escape to some foreign land, - if he could but avoid the ignominious consequences of his
crime in this,- he would dedicate the remainder of his days to penitence, - he
would toil from the dawn of morning till sunset to obtain the bread of honesty,
- he would use every effort, exert every nerve to atone for the outrage
he had committed upon the laws of society!
But - no! it was too late. The blood-hounds of the law were
already upon his track.
An hour passed away; and during that interval the murderer
sought to compose himself by means of his pipe and the rum-bottle: but he could
not banish the horrible ideas which haunted him.
Suddenly a strange noise fell upon his ear.
The blood appeared to mm cold to his very heart in a refluent
tide; for the steps of many feet, and the sounds of many voices, echoed through
the old house.
The truth instantly fleshed to his mind: the police had
entered the premises.
With hair standing on end, eye-balls glaring, and forehead
bathed in perspiration, the murderer sate motionless upon the cold stone bench -
afraid even to breathe. Every moment he expected to bear the trap-door
at the head of the spiral staircase move: but several minutes elapsed, and his fears in this respect
were not accomplished.
At length he heard a sound as of a body falling heavily; and
then a voice almost close to him fell upon his ear.
The reader will remember that the vault in which he was
concealed, joined the cellar from whence Walter Sydney had escaped. The officers
had entered that cellar by means of the trap-door in the floor of the room
immediately above it. Bolter could overhear their entire conversation.
"Well, this is a strange crib, this is," said one.
"Show the bull's-eye up in that farther corner: there may be a door in one of them dark nooks."
"It will jist end as I said it would," exclaimed another:
"the feller wouldn't be sich a fool as to come to a place that's knowed to
the Force as one of bad repute."
"I didn't think, myself, there was much good in coming
to search this old crib: but the inspector said yes, and so we couldn't say
"Let's be off: the cold of this infernal den strikes to
my very bones. But I say - that there shelving board that we first lighted on in
getting down, isn't made to help people to come here alive."
"Turn the bull's-eye more on it."
"Now can you see?"
"Yes - plain enough. It leads to a hole that looks on the
ditch. But the plank is quite old and rotten; so I dare say it was put there for
some purpose or another a long time ago. Pr'aps the thieves used to convey their
swag through that there hole into a boat In the ditch, and "
"No, no," interrupted the other policeman: it wasn't swag
that they tumbled down the plank into the Fleet: it was stiff 'uns."
"Very likely. But there can't be any of that kind of
work ever going on now: so let's be off."
The murderer In the adjoining vault could hear the policemen
climb up the plank towards the trap-door: and in a few minutes profound silence again reigned
throughout the old house.
This time he had escaped detection; and yet the search was
keen and penetrating.
The apparent safety of his retreat restored him to something
like good spirits; and he began to calculate the chances which he imagined to
exist for and against the probability of his escape from the hands of justice.
"There is but five men in the world as knows of this
hiding-place," he said to himself; "and them is myself, Dick Flairer, Crankey
Jem, the Resurrection Man, and Tom the Cracksman. As for me. I'm here - that's one
what won't blab. Dick Flairer isn't likely to sell a pal: Tom the Cracksman I'd
rely on even if he was on the rack. Crankey Jem is staunch to the backbone;
besides, he's in the Jug: so is the Resurrection Man. They can't do much harm
there. I think I'm tolerably safe; and as for frightening myself about ghosts
and goblins "
He was suddenly interrupted by the rattling of the bones
beneath the stone-bench. He started: and a profuse perspiration instantly broke out upon
A huge rat had disturbed those relics of mortality; but this
little incident tended to hurl the murderer back again into all that appalling
gloominess of thought from which he had for a moment seemed to be escaping.
Time wore on: and heavily and wearily still passed
[-75-] the hours. At length darkness again came down upon the earth:
the light of the little grating disappeared; and the vault was once more
enveloped in the deepest obscurity.
The murderer ate a mouthful, and then endeavoured to compose
himself to sleep, for he was worn out mentally and bodily.
The clock of Saint Sepulchre's proclaimed the hour of seven,
as he awoke from a short and feverish slumber.
He thought he heard a voice calling him in his dreams; and
when he started up he listened with affright.
"Bill - are you asleep ?"
It was not, then, a dream: a human voice addressed him in
"Bill - why don't you answer?" said the voice. " It's
Bolter suddenly felt relieved of an immense load; It was his
friend Dick who was calling him from the little trap-door. He instantly hurried
up the staircase, and was surprised to find that there was no light in the room.
"My dear feller," said Dick, in a hurried tone, "1
didn't mean to come back so soon again, but me and Tom is a-going to do a little
business together down Southampton way - someot that he has been told of; and as
we may be away a few days, I thought I'd better come this evenin' with a fresh
supply. Here's plenty of grub, and rum, and bakker."
"Well, this is a treat - to hear a friendly voice again so
soon," said Bill;- "but why the devil don't you light the candle ?"
"I'm a-going to do it now," returned Dick; and he struck a
lucifer-match as bespoke. "I thought I wouldn't show a light here sooner
than was necessary; and we must not keep it burning too long; cos there may be
chinks in them shutters, and I des say the blue-bottles is on the scent."
"They come and searched the whole place this mornin',"
said Bill: "but they didn't smell me though."
"Then you're all safe now, my boy," cried Dick.
"Here, look alive - take this basket, and pitch it down the stairs: it's well
tied up, and chock full of sold meat and bread. Put them two bottles into your
pocket: there - that's right. Now - do you want anythink else?"
"Yes-a knife. I was forced to gnaw my food like a dog
for want of one."
"Here you are," said Dick; and, taking a knife from the
secret cupboard between the windows, he handed it to his friend. "Now
are you all right ?"
"Quite - that is, as right as a feller in my sitivation
can be. You won't forget to come "
Bolter was standing within two or three steps from the top of
the staircase; and the greater part of his body was consequently above the
He stopped suddenly short in the midst of his injunction to
his companion, and staggered in such a way that be nearly lost his footing.
His eye had caught sight of a human countenance peering from
behind the half-open door of the room.
"Damnation!" exclaimed the murderer: "I'm sold at
last!" -and, rushing up the steps, he fell upon Dick Flairer with the fury of a
At the same moment four or five officers darted into the room
:- but they were too late to prevent another dreadful deed of blood.
Bolter had plunged the knife which he held in his hand. into
the heart of Dick Flairer. the burglar.
The blow was given with fatal effect: the unfortunate wretch
uttered a horrible cry, and fell at the feet of his assassin, stone dead.
"Villain! what have you done!" ejaculated the serjeant
who headed the little detachment of police.
"I've drawn the claret of the rascal that nosed upon me,"
returned Bolter doggedly.
"You were never more mistaken in your life," said the
"How - what do you mean? Wasn't it that scoundrel Dick
that chirped against me?"
"No - ten thousand times No!" cried the officer:
"it was a prisoner in Newgate who split upon this hiding
place. Somehow or another he heard of the reward offered to take you; and he
told the governor the whole secret of the vault. Without knowing whether we
should find you here or not, we came to search it."
"Then it was the Resurrection Man who betrayed me after
all!" exclaimed Bolter; and, dashing the palms of his two hands violently
against his temples, he added, in a tone of intense agony, "1 have murdered
my best friend - monster, miscreant that I am!"
The policeman speedily fixed a pair of manacles about his
wrists; and in the course of a quarter of an hour he was safely secured in one
of the cells at the station-house in Smithfield.
On the following day he was committed to Newgate.
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