< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >


[-178-]  

CHAPTER LVIII.

NEW YEAR'S DAY.

IT was the 1st of January, 1839.
    The weather was cold and inclement;- Nature in nakedness appeared to recline upon the turfless grave of summer.
    The ancient river which intersects the mightiest city upon the surface of the earth, was swollen; and in the country through which it wound its way, ha fields were flooded in many parts.
    [-179-] The trees were stripped of their verdure: the singing of birds had ceased.
    Gloomy and mournful was the face of nature, sombre and lowering the aspect of the proud city.
    So pale - so faint were the beams of the mid-day sun, that the summit of St. Paul's, which a few months back was wont to glitter as if it were crowned with a diadem of gold, was now veiled in a murky cloud; and the myriad pinnacles of the modern Babylon, which a few were each tipped as with a star, pointed upwards to a sky ominous and foreboding.
    Nevertheless, the ingenuity and wonderous perseverence of man had adopted all precautions to expel the cold from the palaces of the rich and powerful, and to surround the lordly owners of those splendid mansions with the most delicious wines and the most luxurious food, in doors, to induce them to forget that winter reigned without.
    Soft carpets, thick curtains - satin, and velvet, and silk, - downy beds beneath gorgeous canopies,- warm clothing, and cheerful fires, combined to defy the approach of winter, and to render the absence of genial summer a matter of small regret.
    Then, when the occupants of these palaces went abroad, there was no bold exertion required for them to face the nipping cold; for they stepped from their thresholds into carriages thickly lined with wool, and supplied with cushions, soft, luxurious, and warm.
    But that cold which was thus expelled from the palaces of the rich took refuge in the dwellings of the poor; and there it remained, sharp as a razor, pitiless as an executioner, inexorable as a judge, and keen as the north-western wind that blows from the ice-bound coasts of Labrador.
    No silks, nor satins, nor velvets, nor carpets, nor canopies, nor curtains, had the dwellings of the poor to defy, or even mitigate the freezing malignity of that chill which, engendered in the arctic regions of eternal snow, and having swept over the frozen river and the mighty forests of America, had come to vent its collected spite upon the islands of Europe.
    Shivering, starving, in their miserable hovels, the industrious many, by the sweat of whose brow the indolent few were supplied with their silks, and their satins, and their velvets, wept bitter - bitter tears ever their suffering and famished children, and nursed the day on which their little ones were born.
    For the winter was a very hard one; and bread - bread was very dear!
    Yes - bread, which thou, Almighty God! hast given to feed those whom thou didst create after thine own image, - even bread was too dear for the starving poor to buy!
    How long, O Lord! wilt thou permit the few to wrest every thing from the many - to monopolize, accumulate, gripe, snatch, drag forth, cling to, the fruits of the earth, for their own behoof alone?
    How long shall there exist such spells in the privilege of birth? how long must all happiness and all misery be summed up in the words-

WEALTH   |   POVERTY

    We said that it was New Year's Day, 1839.
    In the palaces of the great were rejoicings, and music, and festivity; and diamonds glittered - and feathers waved  -and silks rustled ;- the elastic floors bent beneath the steps of the dancers; the wine flowed in crystal cups; and the fruits of summer were amongst the dainties spread to tempt the appetite of the aristocracy.
    Ah! there was happiness indeed, in thus welcoming the new year; for those who there greeted its presence, were well assured that it would teem with the joys and blandishments which had characterized the one that bad just sunk into the grave of Time!
    And how was it with the poor of this mighty metropolis - the imperial city, to whose marts whole navies waft the commerce of the world!
    The granaries were full; the pastures had surrendered up fat oxen to commemorate the season; the provision-shops teemed with food of the most luxurious and of the humblest kinds alike. A stranger walking through this great city would have wondered where the mouths were that could consume such vast quantities of food.
    And yet thousands famished for want of the merest necessaries of Life.
    The hovels of the poor echoed not to the sounds of mirth and music - but to the wail of hunger and the cry of misery. In those sad abodes there was no joviality to welcome a new year ;-for a new year was a curse - a mere prolongation of the acute and poignant horrors of the one gone by.
    Alas! that New Year's Day was one of strange contrasts in the social sphere of London.
    And as London is the heart of this empire, the disease which prevails in the core is conveyed through every vein and artery over the entire national frame.
    The country that contains the greatest wealth of all the territories of the universe, is that which also knows the greatest amount of hideous, revolting, heart-rending misery.
    In England men and women die of starvation in the streets.
    In England women murder their children to save them from a lingering death by famine.
    In England the poor commit crimes to obtain an asylum in a gaol.
    In England aged females die by their own hands, in order to avoid the workhouse.
    There is one cause of all these miseries and horrors - one fatal scourge invented by the rich to torture the poor - one infernal principle of mischief and of woe, which has taken root in the land - one element of a cruelty so keen and so refined, that it outdoes the agonies endured in the Inquisition of the olden time.
    And this fertile source of misery, and murder, and suicide, and crime, is- 

THE TREATMENT OF THE WORKHOUSE.

    Alas! when the bees have made the honey, the apiarist comes and takes all away, begrudging the industrious insects even a morsel of the wax!
    Let us examine for a moment the social scale of these realms:

The Sovereign.
....The Aristocracy.
......... The Clergy.
................... The Middle Classes.
................................The Industrious Classes

    [-180-] The lowest step in the ladder is occupied by that class which is the most numerous, the most useful, and which ought to be the most influential.
    The average annual incomes of the individuals of each class are as follows :-

The Sovereign . . . . . . 500;000.
The member of the Aristocracy . . . . . . 30,000.
The Priest  . . . . . 7,500.
The member of the middle classes . . . . 300.
The member of the industrious classes . . . . 20.

    Is this reasonable? is this just? Is this even consistent with common sense?
    It was New Year's Day, 1839.
    The rich man sate down to a table crowded with every luxury: the pauper in the workhouse had not enough to eat. The contrast may thus be represented:-
Turtle, venison, turkey, hare, pheasant, perigord-pie, plum-pudding, mince-pies, jellies, blanc-manger, trifle, preserves, cakes, fruits of all kinds, wines of every description.   lb. bread

 4 oz. bacon

  lb. potatoes

 1 pint of gruel

    And this was New Year's Day, 1839! But to proceed.
    It was five o'clock in the evening. Three persons were conversing together on Constitution Hill, beneath the wall of the Palace Gardens.
    Two of them, who were wrapped up in warm pilot coats, are well known to our readers: the third was a young lad of about sixteen or seventeen, and very short in stature. He was dressed in a blue jacket, dark waistcoat of coarse materials, and corduroy trousers. His countenance was effeminate and by no means bad-looking; his eyes were dark and intelligent; his teeth good. The name of this youth was Henry Holford.
    "Well, my boy," said the Resurrection Man, for he was one of the lad's companions, the other being the redoubtable Cracksman,- "well, my boy, do you feel equal to this undertaking?"
    "Quite," answered Holford in a decided tone.
    "If we succeed, you know," observed the Cracksman, "it will be a jolly good thing for you; and if you happen to get nabbed, why - all the beaks can do to you will be to send you for a month or two upon the stepper. In that there case Tony and me will take care on you when you come out - won't we, Tony?"
    "Certainly," replied the Resurrection Man.- "But if you get scented, Harry," he continued, addressing himself to the lad, "as you approach the big house, you must have a run for it, and we shall stay here and leave the rope over the wall for two hours. If you don't come back by that time, we shall suppose that you ye either got into some quiet corner of the palace, or that you're taken; and then, whichever happens of these two events, we shan't be of any service to you.
    " One thing I should like you to bear in mind, youngster," said the Cracksman, "and that is, that if you don't pluck up your courage well, and prepare for all kinds of dangers and difficulties, you much better give up the thing at once. We don t want you to run neck and heels into a business that you're afeard on."
    "Afraid!" exclaimed the youth, contemptuously :  "I shall not fail for  want of courage. I have made up my mind to risk the venture; and let the result be what it will, I shall go through with it."
    "That's what I call speaking like a man," said the burglar, "though you are but a boy. Take a drop of brandy before you begin."
    "Not a drop," answered Holford : " I require a clear head and quick eye, and dare not drink."
    "Well, as you will," said the Cracksman; and he took a tolerably long draught from a case-bottle which he had produced from his pocket.
    He then handed the bottle to the Resurrection Man, who also paid his respects to it with a hearty good will.
    "I am ready," said Holford; "there is no use in delay."
    "Not a bit," observed the Cracksman "Tony and me will help you over the wall in a jiffey."
    By the aid of the Resurrection Man and the burglar, the youth sealed the wall of the Palace Gardens, and ere he dropped upon the inner side, he said in a low but firm tone, "Good night."
    Holford was now within the enclosure of the royal demesne. The evening was very dark; but at a distance the windows of the palace shone with effulgence.
    Thitherward did he proceed, advancing cautiously along, for he knew that there was a piece of water in the pleasure-grounds. This small lake he soon left on his right hand; and he was shortly within fifty yards of the back part of Buckingham Palace.
    At that moment he was suddenly startled by hearing voices close to him. He stood still, and listened. Steps approached, and he heard a gardener issue some instructions to a subordinate. There was tuft of trees near at hand: Holford had not a moment to lose ;- he darted into the thicket of ever-greens, where be concealed himself.
    "What was that? " said the gardener, stopping short.
    "I heard nothing," answered the man.
    "Yes - there was a rustling of those trees."
    "A cat, perhaps."
    "Or one of the aquatic birds."
    All was still, and the gardener, accompanied by his man, proceeded on his way. The sounds of their footsteps were soon lost in the distance; and Holford emerged from his hiding-place. Without any farther alarm he reached the back premises of the palace.
    He now became involved in a maze of out-houses and offices, and was at a loss which direction to take. He was going captiously along the wall of one of those buildings, when he suddenly ran against a man who was advancing rapidly in a contrary direction.
    "Holloa! who the devil is this?" cried the man; and clutching hold of Holford's collar, he dragged him a few paces, until he brought him beneath a window whence streamed a powerful light. "I suppose you're the new boy that the head-gardener hired this morning?"
    "Yes, sir," answered Holford, gladly availing himself of an excuse thus so conveniently suggested by the error of the man who had collared him.
    "Then mind which way you go in future, young brocoli sprout," exclaimed the other; and, dismissing the youth with a slight cuff on the head, he passed on.
    Holford hastened away from the light of the window; and, crossing a small court, reached a glass door opening into the back part of the palace. The adventurous lad laid his hand upon the latch: the door was not locked; and he hesitated not a moment to enter the royal abode.
    [-181-] He was now in a low vestibule, well lighted, and at the extremity of which there was a staircase. In one corner of the vestibule was a marble table, on which lay several cloaks, the skirts of which hung down to the ground. This circumstance was particularly fortunate for the safety of the intruder, inasmuch as he had scarcely entered the vestibule, when the sound of footsteps, rapidly descending the staircase, fell upon his ears. He hastened to conceal himself beneath the table, the cloaks serving effectually to veil his person.
    Two footmen in gorgeous liveries shortly made their appearance in the vestibule.
    "Where did you say her majesty is?" demanded one.
    "In the Roman drawing-room," replied the other. "The Sculpture Gallery is to be lighted up this evening. You can attend to that duty at once, if you will.''
    "Very well," said the first speaker; and he left the vestibule by means of a door on the right-hand side, but which door he neglected to close behind him.
    The other servant advanced straight up to the marble table, and, sweeping off the cloaks, threw them all over his left arm. Holford's person was now exposed to the eyes of any one who might happen to glance beneath that table. The domestic was, however, a tall and stately individual, and kept his head elevated. Having taken the cloaks from the table, he slowly retraced his steps up the stairs, and disappeared from Holford's view.
    The young adventurer started from his hiding. plane. The door, by which one of the servants had left the vestibule for the purpose of repairing to the Sculpture Gallery, was open. It communicated with a long passage, only feebly lighted. Holford hesitated not a moment, but proceeded in this direction.
    He advanced to the end of the pasaage, and entered a narrow corridor, branching off to the right, and lighted by lamps sustained in the hands of two tall statues. Again the sound of footsteps fell upon Holford's ears; and he had scarcely time to slip behind one of these statues, when the domestic whom he had before seen enter that part of the building, appeared at the end of the corridor. The servant passed without observing him; and the youthful intruder emerged from his lurking-place.
    He now pursued his way, without interruption, through several passages and rooms, until he reached a magnificent marble hall, at the farther extremity of which were numerous dependents of the palace, grouped together, and conversing in a low tone. Holford instantly shrank back into the passage by which he had reached the hall. Exactly opposite was the entrance to the Sculpture Gallery. To retrace his steps was useless: he determined to proceed. But how was he to cross the hall? A few moments' reflection suggested to him an expedient. He walked boldly across the hall; and his presence excited no suspicion, it being impossible for the dependants collected together at the other end to observe the nature of his garb at that distance.
    He now gained access to the Sculpture Gallery; but there he found no means of concealment. He determined to explore elsewhere, and speedily found himself in a magnificent saloon, adjoining the library, and where he beheld sofas, with the drapery hanging down to the carpet.
    It was beneath one of these downy sofas that the daring intruder into the royal dwelling took refuge; and there, comfortably extended at full length, he, chuckled triumphantly at the success which had, up to this moment, attended his adventurous undertaking.  We have before said that he was of very small stature; he was moreover thin and delicate, and easily packed away.
    Some time passed, and no one appeared to interrupt the reflections of Henry Holford. Hour after hour glided by; and at length this palace-clock struck nine. Scarcely had the last chime died away, when the folding doors were thrown open, and a gorgeous procession of nobles and ladies entered the apartment. The magnificence of the dresses worn by England's peeresses and high-born dames - the waving plumes, the glittering jewels, the sparkling diamonds, -combined with a glorious assemblage of female loveliness, formed a spectacle, at once awe-inspiring, ravishing, and delightful. A little in advance of that splendid cortege, - conversing easily with the ladies who walked one pace behind her on either hand, and embellished with precious stones of regal price, - moved the sovereign of the mightiest empire in the universe.
    Upon her high and polished brow, Victoria wore a tiara of diamonds: diamonds innumerable, and of immense value, studded her stomacher; diamond pendants adorned her ears; and diamonds also glistened upon her wrists. She walked with grace and dignity; and her noble bearing compensated for the shortness of her stature.
    The queen advanced to the very sofa beneath which Holford lay concealed and seated herself upon it. The ladies and nobles of the court, together with the guests present upon the occasion, stood at a respectful distance from the sovereign. The splendour of the scene was enhanced by the brilliant uniforms of several military officers of high rank, and the court. dresses of the foreign ambassadors. The blaze of light in which the room was bathed, was reflected front the diamonds of the ladies, and the stars and orders which the nobles wore upon their breasts.
    At that time Victoria was yet a virgin-queen. If not strictly beautiful, her countenance was very pleasing. Her light brown hair was worn quite plain; her blue eyes were animated with intellect; and when she smiled, her lips revealed a set of teeth white as Oriental pearls. Her bust was magnificent, and her figure good, in spite of the lowness of her stature. Her manner was distinguished by somewhat of that impatience which characterised all the family of George the Third, and which seemed to result from a slightly nervous temperament. She appeared to require answers to her questions more promptly than court etiquette permitted those around her to respond to her inquiries. With regard to the condition of the humbler classes of her subjects, she was totally ignorant: she knew that they were suffering some distress; but the fearful amount of that misery was carefully concealed from her. She only read the journals favourable to the ministry; and they took care to report nothing which might offend or wound her. Thus, she who should have known every thing relative to her people, in reality scarcely knew any thing!
    Foremost amid the chiefs of foreign diplomacy was the Ambassador from the court of Castelcicala. He was a man of advanced years; and on his breast glittered the stars of all the principal orders of knighthood in Europe - the Cross and Bath of England, the Legion of Honour of France, the Golden Fleece of Spain, the Black Eagle of Prussia. the Sword of Sweden, the Crescent of Turkey, Saint Nepomecenus of Austria, and the Lion Rampant of Castelcicala. The Ambassadors of France and Austria were also present upon this occasion, - Count Sebastiani, the representative of Louis-Philippe. being [-182-] clad in the splendid uniform of a General in the French army, and wearing the grand cordon of the Legion of  Honour,- and Prince Esterhazy, the Austrian Minister, and himself the possessor of estates more extensive than many a German principality, wearing a court dress covered with lace and glittering with stars.
    Several members of the English Cabinet were also present. There was one whose good-tempered and handsome countenance, gentlemanly demeanour, stout and sturdy form, and complacent smile, would hardly have induced a stranger to believe that this was Viscount Melbourne, the Prime Minister of England. Next was a short personage, with a refined and intelligent, though: by no means an imposing air, - a something sharp and cunning in the curl of the mouth, and the flash of the eye, - and a weak disagreeable voice, frequently stammering and hesitating at a long sentence: this was Lord John Russell, the Secretary for the Home Department. Near Lord John Russell was a tall man of about fifty,-  very good-looking, with dark and well-curled hocks, glossy whiskers, and an elegant figure,- but excessively foppish in his attire, and somewhat affected in manner ;- and this was Lord Palmerston, Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Conversing with this nobleman was a personage with pale and sallow cheeks, luxuriant and naturally-curling locks,- dark and interesting in appearance, and in the prime of life, - whose conversation denoted him to be a man of elegant taste, I and whose manners were those of a finished gentleman; but who little suited the idea which a stranger would have formed of a great viceroy or a responsible minister :- nevertheless, this was the Marquis of Normanby, lately Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and at the time of which we are speaking, Secretary for the Colonies.
    The conversation turned upon the specimens of, art in the gallery of sculpture, which the noble company had just visited. In this manner an hour passed away; and at the expiration of that period, the queen and her numerous guests repaired to the drawing-rooms on the first floor, where arrangements had been made for a grand musical entertainment.
    The entire pageantry was viewed with ease, and; the conversation plainly beard, by the plebian intruder upon that scene of patrician splendour, and. glory, and wealth. The musical tones of the queen's voice had fallen upon his ears: he had listened to the words of great lords and high-born ladies. At that moment how little, how contemptible did he feel himself to be! Never had he entertained so humble, an opinion of his own worth and value in society as he did at that period. He - a common pot-boy in a public-house - had for an hour been the unseen companion of a queen and her mightiest paladins and loveliest dames ;- and had he been discovered in his retreat, he would have been turned ignominiously forth, like the man in the parable who went to the marriage-feast without a wedding-garment.
    For two more mortal hours did Holford remain beneath the sofa, crampled by his recumbent and uneasy position, and already more than half inclined to regret the adventure upon which he had so precipitately entered.
    At length the palace grew quiet, and servants entered the room in which Holford was concealed, to extinguish the lights. The moment that this duty was performed, and the domestics had withdrawn Holford emerged from beneath the sofa, and seated himself upon it. He was proud to think that he now occupied the place where royalty had so lately been. The voice of the queen still seemed to ring in his ears; and he felt an unknown and unaccountable species of happiness in recalling to mind and pondering upon all that had fallen from her lips. At that moment how he envied those peers and highborn dames who were privileged to approach the royal presence and bask beneath the smile of the sovereign ;- how he wished that his lot had been cast in a different sphere! But - no! it was useless to regret what could not be remedied; and, although he was now in a palace, and seated upon the very cushion which a few hours previously had been pressed by royalty, he was not one atom less Henry Holford, the pot-boy!
    The reverie of this extraordinary youth was long. Visions the most wild and fantastical sustained a powerful excitement in his imagination. At length the clock struck two. Holford awoke from his strange meditations, and collected his scattered ideas.
    He now felt the cravings of hunger, and determined to explore the palace in search of food. He had already seen enough of its geography to be enabled to guess the precise position of the servants' offices; and thither he now directed his steps. He reached the great marble hall, which was lighted by lamps: there was no one there. He crossed it, and proceeded along those passages which he had already threaded a few hours before. After wandering about for some time, and, to his infinite surprise and joy, without encountering a soul, he reached the servants' offices. A short search conducted him to a well-stored larder. Some of the dishes had evidently been put away in a hurry, for silver spoons and forks had been left in them. Holford might have possessed himself of property of considerable value: but such an idea never for a moment entered his head. He moreover contented himself with the simplest food he could find; then, remembering that four-and-twenty hours might elapse ere he should be enabled to return to the larder, he supplied himself with a sufficient amount of provender to last during that interval,
    Having adopted this precaution, he stole back again to the room where the friendly sofa had already afforded a secure hiding-place. He once more crept beneath the costly drapery, extended himself upon his back, and fell asleep.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >