'Who's for Cremorne?'
The young man's cry rings out along the paved embankment, echoing beneath
the girders of Hungerford bridge.
'How about you, Sir? Care to go down to Cremorne tonight, Sir?'
The gentleman in question, a whiskery man in his sixties, strolling
leisurely along the river terrace, merely shakes his head, offering a
regretful smile, as if to say 'No, no, I am told old for that - far too
The young tout grins sympathetically. He looks down and rubs the brass
buttons of his uniform. His coat is an eye-catching red, a deep crimson
upon which are embroidered a capital C., the mark of the Citizen Boat
Company. He raises his voice once more.
'Cree-morne! Departin' on the hour!'
The cry carries far in the evening air. It is not long before it finds
more receptive ears. For the tree-lined Thames Embankment is still busy
with promenaders and West End pleasure-seekers; the young man will not
have to work too hard. Indeed, for every dissenter, there are two
enthusiasts directed towards the wooden huts that serve as the company's
ticket booths, couples quite prepared to pay the fourpenny fare to
Cremorne Gardens. And they do come in pairs, two by two, much like the
inhabitants of a certain famous vessel of ancient times, a good mixture of
every breed of Londoner: the prosperous costermonger and his Poll; the
shop-boy and his Sarah; the up-and-coming City clerk in sparkling white
turnover collar, who walks in company with his Angelina, a muslin-clad
creature, a zephyr shawl draped over her arm, a white rose pinned to her
dress. True, there is no bona fide aristocrat amongst the steamboat crowd;
but there are at least a few swells, polishing jewelled tie-pins and
patting down their extravagantly long side-whiskers.
One couple, however, strike the tout as peculiar, as they approach the
nearest booth and pay the fourpenny fare: a gentleman in his fifties, in a
black billycock hat and brown tweed jacket, and a younger man, no more
than twenty five, black-suited, with a fulsome white cravat. Both seem an
oddly formal pair for the Cremorne boat.
In fact, if the tout thinks anything, as he turns away, and resumes his
vocal entreaties to passing pedestrians, it is one word, a word which
proves him a good judge of character: 'Coppers.'
'Have you ever wondered, Sir,' says Sergeant Bartleby, unconsciously
straightening his cravat, as the pair complete their business at the
booths, 'why we get all the queer cases?'
'Stop your preening, man,' replies his companion.
'Sorry, sir. I just thought, if we're supposed to be out on the
spree, I'd dress the part.'
Decimus Webb looks rather brutally at the cravat. 'I fear it would take
more than that.'
The sergeant does not reply, since, at that moment, a chain is removed and
the crowd begins to jostle forward along the wooden pier. A knot of
impatient men and women forms, as the more delicate females in the
assembled company negotiate the wooden bridge that leads to the waiting
'Take it slow, your highness,' says a raucous female towards the front.
Several of the costers break out in hearty laughter. Others merely tut to
themselves. Meanwhile, behind Decimus Webb, a pair of men raise their
'Stop that scrouging, won't you?
'Well, perhaps you'd be so polite as to mind where you put you bleedin'
Most of the people nearby raise a smile at this debate. But Webb frowns.
It may be that the men seem a little too theatrical in their complaints;
or perhaps, as they bump into him, it is merely that, familiar with
metropolitan crowds, he possesses a sixth sense in such matters. In any
case, Webb turns towards Bartleby, raising his eyebrows significantly,
giving a slight nod.
The sergeant, to his credit, unobtrusively glances down and responds
instantly, placing a firm hand on the shoulder of the first 'scrouger'.
'And perhaps you would be so kind,' says Bartleby, whispering in the man's
ear, 'as to remove your hand from the Detective Inspector's pocket, and
hook it - the pair of you.'
The scrouger turns a shade of white and his friendship with his neighbour
is abruptly renewed. The men hastily push back through the throng under
Bartleby's watchful gaze. The crowd, meanwhile, moves forward.
'We should have taken them in, Sir,' says the sergeant, as they finally
reach the steamer.
'And spend half the night at the police-court? Don't you want to get to
'Cremorne, sir? To tell the truth, I'm quite looking forward to it.'
'Your enthusiasm for your work is admirable, sergeant,' replies Webb,
though he does not sound so keen himself.
The two policeman find a spot upon deck and it only takes a further couple
of minutes for the steamer to receive its full complement of passengers.
The ropes are loosed from the moorings and sound of the boat's engine,
already rumbling below, changes its pitch, the machinery emitting a
reverberating rattle. With a puff of steam from its tall funnel, the boat
moves off, twin paddle-wheels directing it beneath the iron railway bridge
that spans the river.
'Not going below, Sir?' asks Bartleby, gesturing towards the trapdoor and
steps that descend into the low-ceilinged lower deck, where liquid
refreshment is on sale.
Webb shakes his head. 'I prefer to see where I'm going, sergeant. I might
as well take something of interest from this fool's errand. It's a good
while since I've been down to Chelsea; I expect it has changed a little.'
Bartleby casts a longing glance to below decks, but stays beside his
superior. 'You think it will be a wasted journey?'
'I did not say that. But the whole business is quite ridiculous. It is not
a detective matter; not for Scotland Yard, at least.'
'You think this fellow's harmless, Sir?'
'I don't think he is Sweeney Todd, put it that way, sergeant.'
Webb's gaze returns to the river and, as the boat passes by the breweries
that line the south bank, the tall smoking chimney of Barclay &
Perkins's famous establishment wafts the faint smell of hops towards the
Palace of Westminster. He looks back at his Sergeant.
'Very well, you may go below. Nothing more than a half of stout. Make a
few casual inquiries. Doubtless many of them go down to Cremorne every
'Thank you, Sir,' says the sergeant with a grin.
The journey upstream takes little more than forty minutes, the boat
stopping briefly at Nine Elms and Battersea, though few come on board at
either stop and not a soul disembarks. It is only when the steamer
approaches the old wooden supports of Battersea Bridge, passing the giant
black tub of the local gasometer upon the southern shore, that a
perceptible change of spirits occurs amongst its passengers. Suddenly
there is activity. Gaily-coloured shawls are gathered up, drinks and
downed, hats and bonnets returned to their rightful place. Sergeant
Bartleby, takes the opportunity to return to the deck, where he finds
Decimus Webb watching the sun set, its final rays dissolving into the
murky brown silt of the Thames.
'Anything of interest?' asks Webb.
'Not much, Sir. They've all read the papers. No-one's seen the fellow
themselves but friend of a friend swears they did - you know the sort of
'Worthless,' mutters Webb. 'Ah, well, here we are, at least.'
And, as Webb speaks, the boat turns towards the pier upon the north bank
of the river, the splash of its wheels slowing to a leisurely speed. The
pier is a large wooden structure, illuminated in the dimming twilight by a
row of gas-jets, mounted on a iron rail along its length, each burning
brightly within a large glass globe. As the boat approaches, the mooring
ropes are thrown to waiting attendants and the steamer is pulled in, its
hull banging noisily into the timber piles, until it finally settles,
bobbing on the water.
'Cremorne!' shouts the man on shore, as the boarding plank is secured, the
guide-ropes pulled tight. 'Everybody off!'
The announcement, of course, is merely a formality. Nobody can doubt their
location, even though the river esplanade that runs along the south of the
pleasure-gardens is not marked by any signpost. The signature of Cremorne
is the aura of gaslight; not one individual lamp, though there are a dozen
along the river-side path. Rather, it is the omnipresent radiance within
the gardens themselves, a garish, cheerful glow that, from the Thames,
suggests a magical kingdom hidden from view.
No surprise, then, that the passengers of the steamer all but run into the
'Shall we make ourselves known to the management, Sir?' asks Bartleby, as
the two policemen quit the boat, amongst the last to alight. 'I've met
with the lads from T division already, mind you. I know them on sight.'
'I think,' says Webb, 'we merely watch and wait. If he is here, he will
make a move. That sort cannot help themselves. Now, Sergeant,' he
continues, peering at the queue for the box office, 'tell me, do you
happen to have two bob?'
It is gone half-past nine, past night-fall, when the two policemen
reach the heart of the pleasure-gardens, the Crystal Platform, its wooden
boards already thronged with dancers. From the outside, the area is almost
hidden from view; for it nestles amid a grove of ancient elms, and
surrounded on two sides by twin tiers of supper-boxes. The latter resemble
the boxes in a theatre, but the only stage is the great dancing platform
itself, a great circular rostrum in the open air, raised a foot or so off
the ground, railed around by wrought iron. The railings are interrupted at
intervals by tall triple-crowned lamps and, between them, above the crowd,
arched iron festoons dripping with tear-drops of coloured cut-glass,
sparkling in the gaslight. At the heart of the platform sits a hexagonal
Chinese pagoda, its upturned eaves and exotic fret-work painted rainbow
colours; a 'Refreshment Room' lies within, devoted to the sale of 'Choice
Wines and Sprits' and, most importantly, on the storey above, a
thirty-piece orchestra, providing a noisy accompaniment to the couples
gaily waltzing below.
'They say it's the place for loose women, Sir, now the Casino's closed,'
remarks Bartleby, gazing at the platform as the waltz comes to an end, and
the M.C. calls for a quadrille. 'And those supper-boxes too. You can
imagine, can't you?'
Webb looks around at the boxes. Indeed, in a couple there is merely a hint
of candlelight and indistinct movement behind a muslin curtain.
'I know what they say, Sergeant, and you can spare me your imagination. We
are not here to grub up dirt. Keep your eyes peeled for our man.'
'How do I spot him?'
'In the act, Bartleby.'
The sergeant smiles wrily, and looks round the exterior of platform.
White-aproned waiters move briskly around the tables set on the grass,
accepting the 'refreshment tickets' that are the gardens particular
currency. Men and women seem to lounge in an easy intimacy, listening to
the resounding music, admiring the sets formed by the more proficient
dancers. A blue-uniformed member of T Division strolls past, giving the
two detectives a discreet nod. But no-one appears remotely suspicious.
Plenty are inebriated; a good few may have dubious morals, but nothing out
of the ordinary, on a summer's night in such a place.
Webb taps the sergeant's arm.
'There - that fellow in the great-coat. A bit warm to wear that in May,
don't you think?'
Bartleby peers at the man, upon the opposite side of the platform, a good
two or three hundred yards distant. The man, about nineteen or twenty
years of age, appears and disappears behind the dancing couples, but there
is undoubtedly something nervous in his movements.
'You take the left, I'll take the right,' suggests Webb.
Bartleby nods, and the two policemen begin to work their way around the
seated groups, in front of the lower tier of supper-boxes. It takes them a
good couple of minutes to negotiate past Cremorne's revellers, but the man
give no indication that notices them. Rather, he walks cautiously up to
the queue for the sheltered 'Money Box' just beyond the clearing, one of
the small cabins where Cremorne's bankers change cash into token. He
places himself just behind a young woman wearing a dress of dark blue
poplin, and seems to hesitate for a moment.
Webb motions to Bartleby to get closer.
As the quadrille comes to a close, applause echoes round the platform. And
the man in the great coat reaches towards the woman's neck.
'Grab him!' shouts Webb.
Bartleby springs forward. Both considerably taller and faster than the man
in the great-coat, he tackles him to the ground even as the latter's hand
touches the woman's dress. The woman herself spins around in surprise. A
chorus of exclamations break out from the nearby table; some express
concern, but mostly they are words of encouragement, as if al fresco
wrestling is suddenly upon the evening's entertainment. Webb stands to one
side, as Bartleby looks up imploring, his captive squirming vigorously in
'I could do with a little …' says the Sergeant, interrupted by the
necessity of avoiding the man's fist.
'On its way, Sergeant,' replies Webb, as two men from T Division run round
the platform. 'On its way.'
The sergeant says nothing. At length, however, the strong arms of the two
constables prove sufficient to render the struggling man quite prone.
'Sorry, miss,' says Webb, turning to address the victim, 'Are you quite
all right? Did he harm you?'
'I think he took my necklace,' says the woman, a little shaken.
'Oh, damnation,' exclaims Webb, rather to her dismay. 'Is that all? Check
the fellow's pockets, Sergeant. Is there anything?'
Bartleby obliges. A trawl through the coat quickly reveals two sovereigns,
a gold fob watch, two necklaces, one silver, one gold, a purse, and a
season ticket to the gardens.
'Nothing, Sir. This your necklace, miss?'
'That's mine,' says the woman, bemused. 'But what did you expect to find?'
Inspector Webb sighs. 'A pair of scissors, miss.'
Outside the gas-lit rockery of the Hermit's Cave, in the north east
corner of Cremorne Gardens, Sarah Jane Hockley, maid-of-all-work, quits
the company of the garden's famed elderly prognosticator and walks back in
the direction of the lawn. She dawdles behind her male companion, a young
groom who is eager not to miss the fireworks at 10 p.m., and who has, in
his own words, 'waited all night.' In part, her slowness is a growing
disinclination for the young man's company; in part, she is bent on
reading the prophecy vouchsafed to her by the sage:
"Thalaba's Prophecy. The star of your nativity intimates a very good
foreboding. Although not entirely unchequered, it promises much future
prosperity. The conjunction of Mars with Venus in the square of your
nativity offers tokens to show that energy will bring about your
advancement and that your union will prove the token of your felicity. See
her in the magic mirror. Many future blessings are shown towards the end
of the year - many good results will arise, and profitable friendships
spring up to your interest. Thalaba."
So fascinating is her destiny, written clearly on the crumpled foolscap
paper, that she hardly heeds the sound of footsteps on the grass behind
her. And it is far too late, when the sound of her dress being cut alerts
her to the man's presence.
Far too late, when something pierces her side, colouring her ripped muslin