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SEVERAL times in the course of these papers I have had
occasion to make incidental mention of "Shiny" Smith. My readers will have
gathered from the chance notices of him, that Shiny was a popular character
among the criminal and "shady" classes of the district. They will
have gathered further that he was himself certainly of the shady order; that he
was a good-looking, smart - not to say flash-dressing fellow, self-satisfied, and
knowing as to his general manner, and slangy as to the style of expressing
himself; - a man of some education, and considerable powers of speech, and with a
fair share of ready wit, power of observation, and knowledge of human nature.
This was about as much as I knew of him myself for a long time, and I think
readers will agree with me that such a degree of knowledge about such a man was
naturally calculated to make me desirous of knowing more about him. At any rate
it had that effect upon me; but my endeavours to gratify that desire were for a
considerable period anything but successful. Shiny used to be out of doors a good
deal, and I often [-248-] met him in my walks abroad, and generally entered into
conversation with him when we did meet, but it was all in vain when I attempted
to gratify my curiosity regarding him. Whenever I tried to "draw" him,
either as to his antecedents or any detailed explanation as to the means whereby
he then "knocked out" a living, I found that he was not to be "had." I
tried others with little better result. "You see," explained one worthy to
whom I spoke, and who had sought Shiny's advice on sundry occasions when he had
been "in trouble," "you see Shiny corned into this quarter promiscuous
like, and though we could guess fast enough from his settlin' here at all as he
must a been up to some cross game, none of us knew esactly what it was, and he
worn't the chap to tell. And right he is! A cove as is on the cross shouldn't
let no one - neighbour, nor pal, nor no one - know any more about him than he can
help. The more they know about you, the more likely they are to have a pull over
you; and I pities the feller as a pal can put the screw on. Very often you'd be
skinned alive almost only it mostly happens as it's a case of screw for screw,
so as the one's afraid, and the other daren't. Any one would have to get up
early in the morning though, to get a pull on Shiny. He's the knowingest cove as
ever I come across. There's no mistake about his head being screwed on the right
way. He's up to every move on the board; he can talk like a book, and do
anythink that needs to be done with a pen. Them's his tools, - his head-piece, and
his tongue, and his pen, I mean, - and [-249-] whether you're square, or whether you're cross, them seems to
be the best tools to make your way with. He does a lot better than any of us
roughs,-you should see his crib, it's quite a spicy affair.
This was the most I could learn at second hand. After any of my unsuccessful attempts to "draw" Shiny himself, I used to wish I had accepted the invitation to enter his dwelling, which he gave me on the morning on which he suggested the organization of the Sugar-Bags Defence Fund. I would, no doubt, in the mood in which he then was, have got his story from him. I fully determined that if another such chance occurred I would not fail to avail myself of it; and at length, by the merest accident, the opportunity did offer.
One day, when passing through the street in which Shiny lived, I came upon a crowd that had been drawn together by the sight of "a horse down." It was attached to a cart heavily laden with stone, and had fallen in a painful position. Though the adult portion of the crowd consisted principally of roughs and loafers, there was a general feeling of pity for the poor animal, and Shiny, with his coat off and his shoulder literally to the wheel, was giving directions to a number of the men, who worked with a will - harder probably than they had worked for many a day before - to release and raise the horse. After a great deal of pulling and tugging and a little cutting of straps, the poor creature was loosed from its harness, and lay, only held down by the shafts, while Shiny called for all who could find room to bear a hand [-250-] in backing the cart. I joined in the work. I got a station at one of the wheels, and when, after several unsuccessful attempts, we at last effected our purpose, I found-the day being wet-my hands and parts of my clothing covered with mud. It was not till the horse was upon its legs that Shiny noticed me, and then he greeted me with-
"Halloo, sir! I see you've been putting your pound in like the rest of us. I didn't know we had one of the broad-cloth brigade among the helpers."
He spoke with the utmost good humour, and in the same way I answered -
"Oh, people don't think of their cloth in such an affair as this!"
"Say, some people," he answered; "I think I've known highly 'respectables' who would have thought twice - and had 'don't' for their second thought - over any such idea as soiling hands or garments to lift a poor old cart horse out of the mud. Save me from such men, say I. However, I see you stand in need of a wash and a brush like me. Will you step into my place?"
I replied that I would be glad to do so; whereupon Shiny, nodding an adieu to the knot of men who were still standing by, led the way to his home. When we had, in Shiny's phrase, put ourselves straight, in a neatly appointed little bedroom, we returned to the second of Shiny's apartments, which was furnished partly as a sitting-room, partly as an office. It was carpeted, there was an array of glass-ware on a cupboard-sideboard in [-251-] one corner of it, and a number of fairly good engravings hanging upon the walls, a good-sized pier-glass over the chimney-piece, and on the chimney-piece, by way of smaller ornaments, were a tobacco-jar, with lucifer and spill-holders to match, a fancy cigar-case, and a number of pipes. But across the window stood a pedestal writing-table plentifully bestrewn with papers; a smaller writing-table for fireside use was put away in a recess, and against the wall opposite to the fireplace was a small, well-polished, mahogany book-case. Stepping over to the book-case, I saw that two out of its three shelves were filled with cheap novels; the other with a number of law-books, several volumes of a racing calendar, and a few other works also bearing upon horse-racing. Having before heard that Shiny was a sort of irregular lawyer, I was not surprised at seeing the law-books, but I was at seeing the racing ones. Though 'slangy', Shiny was not horsey in his talk, and I knew sufficient of his habits of life to be certain that he did not, in racing phrase, "follow the horses." Still, it was evident that the books were not there by way of ornament; they had every appearance of being well thumbed, and although I would have found it difficult to give any reasonable ground for coming to such a conclusion, I instinctively felt that these volumes were in some way associated with Shiny's history. My curiosity was excited, and by way of saying something that might induce him to talk on the point, I observed, running my finger over the backs of the books as I spoke-
[-252-] "Law and racing is a rather curious combination, isn't it?"
"Not more curious than racing and commerce, or racing and almost any other profession or calling you might name, would be. Horse-racing - or I should say betting, the end to which horse-racing is the means - is a disease that has affected members of every class, as few know better than I do. It has just struck me," he added, laughing, though in a forced manner, and with a tone of bitterness, "that law and betting, for that is really what racing comes to, are rather an appropriate combination. They are both games of chance, only while law ruins its thousands, betting ruins its tens of thousands." He paused for a moment, and then, looking me hard in the face, slowly added, "and I'm an unit of the tens of thousands; betting brought me to be what I am - made first a fool and then a rogue of me." As he uttered the last words it seemed to occur to him suddenly that he had said too much, and, instantly resuming his usual jerky, voluble, don't-carish manner of talk, he went on-
"But as the poet says, 'thereby hangs a tale,' which there is no need to tell now. This" - waving his hand round the room - is my little crib, not exactly in the marble-hall style, but I think I may say cosey, eh?"
"It is a comfortable little room," I said.
"Ah, yes !" he exclaimed, "the room is well enough, but what sort of things are done in it, that's about what you are thinking, eh?"
"Well, something of that sort," I answered, imitating [-253-] his own bluntness; "I was thinking that you were a strange character, and that, for more reasons than the gratification of my curiosity, I would like to know more about you."
For about a minute's space he stood biting the corners of his moustache silently, then, with the air of one come to a resolution, he placed a chair for me - we had been standing up till this time - and, seating himself on the other side of the fireplace, said quietly-
"Well, you shall, and I'll tell you why! Not because I can give you a tip or two about 'things not generally known,' but because mine is a horrid example story, and you may be in a position to turn such a story to good account. I know I'm a bad lot, but I'm not quite so far gone as to wish to see others come down as I have. To give you a touch of the flowery - you know my weakness - 'I know myself a villain,' but I do not
The rest no better than the thing I seem.'
And now here goes! In the first place, my name is not Smith, but as in this case there is nothing in a name, I'll still be Smith to you - for my parents' sake, though they are now in their quiet grave. My father was a tradesman in one of the smaller county towns, and was a bit of a somebody there - was twice elected a member of the Town Council, and that sort of thing, you know. He died while I was a boy at school, but left my mother sufficient for what her friends styled 'a genteel subsist-[-254-]ence.' It wasn't so much, however, but what she had to pinch hard to be able to article me to a solicitor in the town, and find me in clothes and pocket-money while I was serving my articles. She did her duty by me like the loving, self-denying mother she was, but I did not do my duty by myself, and, above all, I did not do it by her. I was a handsome, healthy young fellow, and I went in for being a dashing, go-a-head one. I formed acquaintance with a set made up of fast clerks and tradesmen's sons, and a number of well-dressed loafers, who hung on to rich relations. In company with this set, I took to haunting the billiard-rooms of one of the hotels in the town, and soon fell into bad habits - late hours, drinking, playing, and betting; especially betting. From joining in lotteries on the big races, I gradually progressed to 'backing my fancy' for them, and 'making a book' upon them. I took to studying the sporting papers - to watching the betting on and results of races, and looking forward for the 'tips' of the 'prophets.' From betting half-crowns and crowns, I got to half-sovereigns and sovereigns, and soon to 'fiver' and 'tenners.' Occasionally I 'picked up a trifle,' but as a rule I lost, and was consequently nearly always hard up, and drawing upon my mother to the utmost extent that she could let me, for, fortunately for her, a part of her money was 'tied up.' At last - for though it was three years before the smash came, there is no use in dwelling upon details - I had got hold of what I was assured was a 'dead certainty,' and I had an opportunity of backing it at a long price. [-255-] If I could only raise twenty pounds I could 'put it on' to win me a thousand, and then I could put myself straight, and drop betting. But how to get the twenty pounds? that was the rub. I had pumped my mother dry for the time being, and I was already in debt to every friend who had anything to lend; and yet it was such a pity to miss this chance for the sake of a paltry twenty-pound note. Well, I dare say you guess the rest! Satan finds mischief for wicked brains, as well as idle hands, to do. By this time I had got to such a position in the office that most of the money paid in to it passed through my hands, and - to make a long story short - being in a position to do so, I borrowed twenty pounds of the money of my principal. Of course I said to myself that it was only borrowing, for I would pay it back out of my winnings the moment they were paid to me. I had scarcely sent the money to the agent who was to 'put it on' for me, when I repented having taken it. My sin was swift in finding me out. My bet was made a month before the race on which it depended, and during that month I was in an agony of suspense, and was tortured by the recollection, which I had managed to stifle till the wrong was done, of the many other 'tips' that had been given to me as dead certainties, that had turned out to be dead losses, and I vowed that if this only did prove a win, it should be my last betting transaction."
Before he had reached this point, Shiny's usual jaunty manner had deserted him. He spoke earnestly and was [-256-] evidently agitated, and now paused to moisten his parched lips; and having done this and drawn a long breath, he resumed his narrative.
"I dare say I shouldn't have kept these vows," he said, "but anyway, I wasn't put to the test on that score. I went a hundred miles to see the race run. There were seventeen started for it, but practically it was reduced to a match between my horse - as I called it - and another, and during the greater part of the race mine looked as if it was going to win. As it led the way round the last turn, I was already mentally disposing of my gains, and saying what a fool I should have been to have missed such a chance; but it was a case of counting chickens before they were hatched. The other horse began to gain inch by inch, till at a hundred yards from the winning post they were head and head; and they ran the rest of the distance so closely locked together that it was impossible for any one but the judge to be certain which had won until the numbers were hoisted on the telegraph board. When the numbers did go up, that of my horse was second; and as I had backed it for an absolute win, it might as well have been last so far as I was concerned. When I looked at the numbers, I felt my heart grow cold and my head dizzy. I felt like a branded man, but neither on the race-course nor when I got home did any one seem to notice anything special in my appearance. All the same, I suffered horribly in my mind. I couldn't sleep at night or rest by day. My one thought was that I must make up the stolen money somehow, and I saw [-257-] but one way; - to take more money and continue betting, in the hope that luck would turn, and that by some fortunate hit I should be able to replace all. This was the plan I acted upon; but I no longer called it borrowing even to myself. I had got to the desperate stage; and only argued that, if luck didn't turn, I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Well, luck didn't turn; I lost bet after bet. I grew more and more reckless and dissipated; so much so that my 'carryings on' became town talk, and my governor received a very pointed hint that I was going fast, and people were wondering how I did it. That meant, Look into your accounts; he interpreted it aright, and the result was the discovery of my defalcations. I was given into custody. I had, of course, been in a certain measure prepared for such a possibility; and I can honestly say, that I believe my chief feeling on being arrested was a sense of relief. But to my poor mother the news was a terrible blow. She almost lost her reason. She offered to pay the money and more; to sacrifice all she had in the world if I was only allowed to go free. She went down on her knees to the man, and grovelled at his feet to beg for mercy for me; but he was not to be turned. I was taken before the magistrate, and then for the first time I felt the full bitterness of my humiliation. It was on all hands voted an interesting case, and the little court was crowded; and as I glanced round it I saw scores of faces that I knew looking down on me, and scarcely one with a touch of pity on it; and yet, guilty as I was, I might well have been pitied, for I [-258-] was utterly bowed down with shame and remorse. In one place were my boon companions sneering and sniggering; in another, a group of my mother's friends, looking sad for her sake; and the magistrate himself had been a friend of my father's. I pleaded guilty, was committed for trial, and sent to prison till the assizes.
"At the assize trial there was much the same scene, but with one difference, that was very material to me. My mother had, despite the advice of her friends, insisted upon being present; and when I was sentenced, her grief found vent in a cry that told her heart was broken. I shall never forget that cry; it has rung in my ears a thousand times since in my sleeping as well as my waking hours, and I believe I shall hear it when I am dying."
He spoke in a quiet, even tone, but with a depth of feeling that one would have thought him incapable of under any circumstances. Despite his efforts to master his emotion for some moments he was unable to proceed; and, to fill up the pause, I observed-
"Well, seeing with what fair chances you started, yours is a sad story."
"Yes, as bitterly bad and sad as it is true," he answered, "and none the less sad a story from being a common one. I have had opportunities of knowing in a more than general way, that mine was a well-beaten road to ruin, and I've no doubt that, as in my case, it often means ruin for more than one, and the bringing of grey heads with sorrow to the grave. However, to go on with my own story! The judge argued - justly enough, [-259-] I dare say, - that my being educated and in a fair position was an aggravation of my offence, and gave me five years penal. I served it out within fifteen months, and then I got my ticket. My mother had died a year before that, and had left me what little she had by that time to leave; for, what with the drag I had been upon her, her having been under the doctor's hands from the day on which she heard me sentenced, part of her income dying with her, and one thing and another, a little over a clear hundred was all I had to draw. What I ought to have done when I got the money was of course to have gone to a new world and started life afresh as a new man; but I didn't. While I was doing my time I gave full rein to the very tidy share of devil-may-carishness that was in my nature; and I went back to my native town in high-flying style, dressed within an inch of my life, looking in the 'I-care-for-nobody-no-not-I' style, and fully determined not to knuckle-down. I spoke to old acquaintances as if nothing had happened, and in fact in rather a patronising tone; but it wouldn't act; those of them whose good opinion was worth having cold-shouldered me. So, shrugging my shoulders, I said to myself 'Very well, good people all, so let it be. If you won't have me at any less a price than doing the "'umble," you shan't have me at all. You go in for treating me as a black sheep, and I shall go in for being one. So here goes for some racket in the world's-mine-oyster line.'"
During the latter part of his speech, his manner again underwent a change. The earnestness and sadness that [-260-] had previously characterized it vanished, and he was again the rattling, slangy, self-possessed customer I had always found him before. Marking the change, I could not refrain from exclaiming-
"Shiny's himself again!"
"Yes, Shiny's himself again," he answered promptly. "We've all at least one weak joint in our armour, and you've just seen me touched in mine. When I speak of my mother I am for the moment another self than Shiny Smith - the self I might have been. And now we had, perhaps, better drop the subject; what I have told you is really the horrid-example part of my story; the only part of it I expect that you would ever be able to turn to any beneficial purpose. I don't see myself that what else I have to tell is calculated to point a moral; still, as I've broken the ice, I'm good to go on, if you wish it."
As it was to know something of his present way of life that I was chiefly curious, I replied that I would like him to proceed.
"All right, then," he answered; "anything to oblige, so here goes. In the first place, I had quite made up my mind not to put myself within the clutches of the law again; and being limited to that extent, I came to the conclusion that flat-catching must be my game."
"And what might flat-catching be?" I interrupted, seeing that he was taking it for granted that I knew the meaning of the term.
"Well, broadly," he answered, smiling, "it means swindling - in detail it may mean anything, from pro-[-261-]moting bubble companies, down to revealing the future for seven stamps. The only question with me was, what particular line of the business I should take to. Circumstanced as I was, the bubble company sort of thing was several cuts above me, while I felt several cuts above the lowest branches; such, for instance, as professing to sell purses with a couple of half-crowns in them at a shilling each, or doing the sham smuggler, who tackles your neither-man-nor-boy flat, saluting him as 'shipmate,' and 'having' him over lettuce-leaf cigars, which he tells him are the real right sort, and have never paid duty, shiver his old timbers. At length came the right idea! You've been pretty well fleeced over horse-racing, it said, now take to fleecing-turn tipster."
"Tipster!" I interrupted again, as Shiny would have hurried on.
"Yes, advertising prophet, you know," he rejoined. "'The certain winner of any race sent on receipt of thirty stamps and a stamped addressed envelope. Fortune-maker. Box A.' That's about the simplest style of it, but you generally stick it in warmer than that. However, that's a digression at the present moment. Having decided on the tipster line, I went in for it scientifically. I had about sixty pounds of my money left, and I went and took a lodging in the neighbourhood of a great training district, in order that my address might have a business-like smack about it. I bought those volumes of racing matter that attracted your attention just now, and I may say for myself that I studied them [-262-] and the sporting papers, and otherwise did what I could to form a sound judgment on the coming events, for the benefit of my especial flats. It was then too, I ought to mention, that I took the not uncommon name of Smith - for the benefit of those I came in contact with, understand, not as my advertising signature, that was of a more flowery character. By way of a start I put forth a special 'draw,' running in this style: 'The advertiser, who has long been connected with racing stables, has got hold of so great a "moral" for the C---- Handicap, that he has backed it for all he is worth; but, as it is still at long odds, and is such a chance as only offers once in a lifetime, he is anxious to raise a little more to put on, and in order to do so is willing to send the name of the horse to a limited number of subscribers, on receipt of sixty stamps, and a promise of ten per cent. on winnings from each. Address, &c., &c.' I put this into half-a-dozen sporting papers, and though a first web I flatter myself it looked as pretty a little parlour as ever any sportingly inclined fly was invited to walk into. They walked into it to the tune of fourteen pound over and above the cost of advertising. Nor was that all; I sent the name of one horse to some, and of other horses to others, and lo, and behold, one of them did prove the winner; and those who had received that name sent me something like another ten pound, as the promised per-centage on their winnings. I did a number of other 'specials,' with much the same profitable result. Then as that line could only be followed over some half-dozen of the biggest [-263-] races of the year, I adopted a signature, and started as regular professional tipster, offering to tell the winners of every race of the season, and coming down to a thirteen stamp 'inspirer' for ordinary events, and thirty for the more important ones. I flatter myself that my advertisements in that character were second to few in their drawing power. I seasoned high, come what would. Whether I happened to spot the winner or failed to name it in the half-dozen or dozen that I sent out to my 'subscribers,' it was all the same. I always promised the certain winner, and invariably announced 'Glorious success! Glorious success!' and the flats gorged the bait freely. I used to have fifty and sixty letters a week in a general way, and sometimes a hundred or more."
At this point I once more interrupted the flow of his narrative to observe that it was surprising that any person capable of writing a letter should be so easily duped.
"Ah, that's where you make a mistake," laughed Shiny; "its seeming surprising to you only shows your innocence. It's true some of the letters show their writers to be ignorant, but the majority of them are from people of fair education and position. If you had seen the names and callings of some of the writers you'd have been a lot more surprised than you are now. But there, it's only at a first glance that there appears anything wonderful about it; if you look into it you'll see it's only a case of 'poor human nature.' The man that said there was so many million people in the world mostly fools, [-264-] was a deal nearer the mark than I dare say he supposed - you must be a knave to know how many fools there really are in the world, and how very foolish they are. As another flat-catcher that I was acquainted with used to say, fools make knaves: they are so plentiful and so tempting."
"And did you never experience any compunction in the matter ?" I asked.
"Well, compunction is a weakness in a flat-catcher," he answered, smiling; "still, I don't mind owning that I did have sharp touches of it at times. In some of the letters it was easy enough to detect the germs of a case of bankruptcy, or embezzlement, or robbery from an employer, and when I came across there a fellow-feeling made me wondrous kind. I remembered how I had come down myself; and thinking of that, was disposed to be flat-saver instead of flat-catcher - if I could have been safely. But there was the difficulty. To have warned the flats I should have had to blow the gaff upon myself; to have written saying that tipping was all humbug, tipsters all rogues, and that the only really reliable and profitable advice I could give in connection with betting was not to bet at all. If I had possessed courage and principle enough to have acted in that self-sacrificing manner, I should have had a lot too much principle to have ever been a flat-catcher. When, over some particular letter, my conscience did prick me, I always got cornered by the thought that to warn the flat meant to extinguish myself. So in the end I just let things drift, salving my [-265-] conscience by saying to myself that perhaps my warning would be of no use if I did send it; for to tell a fiat that he is a flat, is, generally speaking, to put his back up, as he is the man of all others who is most given to think himself a sharper; and that as fools will part with their money, they might as well part with a little of it to me as to anybody else. If it had only been the thirteen or thirty stamps they sent me, I should never have had a second thought about the matter in any case; but sending for the tip is only the beginning of the bad end - it's backing the tip that does the mischief. The tipster tells his subscribers that the horse he names can't lose, and advises them to 'lump the money on it,' back it for all they are worth, and the like. Acting upon the advice, they in too many instances lose all they are worth; and then, as was the case with me, they console themselves by thinking 'better luck next time,' and 'borrow' some one else's money to perform with, and, as I did, come to grief through it. I'm doing the open confession business with you now, and you may take my word for it that thousands are ruined through betting who are never seen on a racecourse, and could scarcely tell the difference between a race-horse and a towel-horse, simply through the facilities that the sporting papers give for ruination. If I had happened to be a law-maker instead of a law-breaker, it is one of the things I would have gone in for putting down."
"As it was, you appear to have made a pretty good thing out of it," I said.
[-266-] "Very fair," he answered, quite unabashed. "But it turned out to be too good to last. I received letters accusing me of not having given tips in return for stamps sent, and some complaints of the same kind were sent to the sporting papers. As a matter of fact I had never received the letters. I said so. The others could only repeat that they had certainly sent them, and the upshot was that a sorter in the local post-office was taken up for stealing letters addressed to me. It was his own superiors who entrapped him; but I was obliged to give evidence before the magistrate, and this gave an opportunity to the solicitor for the defence to show me up as a flatcatcher. The case attracted notice, and turned public attention for a moment to the subject of racing tipsters: and then, behold, the sporting newspaper, without which I should have been powerless and the flats safe, turned moral against me. It certainly assumed a virtue when it had it not. I fancy people had been writing to it about its share in the business, for it was through its answers to correspondents that it attacked me. It would look better of the fellow, it said, to disgorge some of his own plunder than to help to send a poor sorter to prison. It suggested that I probably knew as much about the points of a racehorse, as a race-horse did about shorthand; and finally it intimated that it would insert no more of the fellow's advertisements. Under these circumstances I changed my signature, changed my newspaper, and varied the style of my advertisements. That would have been quite sufficient as far as the flats were concerned; but it wasn't [-267-] good enough to take in the paper that was down on me. The fellow was at it again, it said, and pointed out how and where, and it stuck to me so close that there was nothing left for me but to shut up shop as a tipster."
"What did you take to then?" I asked, as Shiny made a rather lengthy pause.
"I didn't take to anything for a while, though I thought over a good many things. My first idea was to start a loan office."
"Had you capital enough to turn money-lender then?" I exclaimed in surprise.
"No, not to turn money-lender," he answered, with significant emphasis; "but more than enough to work the inquiry-fee dodge with."
"And how might the inquiry-fee dodge be worked? I asked.
"Well, it's done on the bounce," he replied. "You advertise yourself as say 'The Metropolitan and Provincial Discount and Loan Association. Money advanced in sums of from £5 to £500, at five per cent, interest, with or without security. Forms of proposal on application.' Of course your forms of proposal are immensely business-looking papers. They are form 16, number 30,814, are officially headed, and printed in with as much legal and financial sounding jargon as they can well stand. You send them to all who ask, and when they come back filled up, you strike your fish. On another form you write to say that the Board of Directors having considered the proposal are prepared to advance the sum [-268-] required immediately upon receiving the report of their district agent, who will be instructed to forward the business, on receipt of the usual inquiry fee, which, owing to the extensive character of their business, the directors of the M. and P. Association were enabled to fix at half a guinea instead of the guinea charged by other offices. In nine cases out of ten the half-guinea is sent, and then, after waiting a day or two, you write regretting that the report of the district agent is such that the directors have decided that they cannot make the advance at the low rate of interest at which they do business, and as they strictly confine themselves to the one class of business, they must decline the proposal."
"Then the inquiry-fee dodge, as you call it, is simply a more elaborate system of flat-catching than the racing one?" I said.
"Just so," he said, "more elaborate and more profitable. I knew two who were in the line, and their worst weeks used to be better than my best at the tipping."
"How was it you didn't take to it, then; not from tenderness of conscience, I suppose?"
"No, but from tenderness of feeling about myself;" he answered. "I had had enough of penal servitude to be extra cautious about running the risk of that again. It was a hundred to one that the game could be carried on safely, but still, by being the secretary, the board of directors, the district agent, and everything else all in one, you did leave yourself open to a charge of obtaining [-269-] money under false pretences. This made me hesitate about the inquiry-fee business and other things of the kind that I thought of; though I dare say I should have gone in for something of the kind at last, if I hadn't drifted into this quarter of the world."
As he finished speaking, he pushed his chair back from the fire a little way, took a pipe from his pocket and began to fill it, like a man who had come to the end of his subject; but adopting something of his own freedom of manner, I said-
"But how did you come to drift into this quarter of the world? It's hardly fair of you to want to leave off just at the part of your story in which, you must know, I am most likely to be interested."
"Well, it's not that," he said; "I don't want to come the to-be-continued-in-our-next stroke over you."
"Of course, if there is anything you think it would be imprudent to tell me," I answered, "I have nothing further to say."
"Well, what further I have to tell of myself is, I suppose, neither better nor worse than what I have already told, as it is all to the same effect - that I am a bad lot. I hesitated about speaking about the game I'm up to at present, because it occurred to me that I might let out something that I had no right to do about others. However, I can tell you, in a general way, and put you fly to a wrinkle or two without injuring any one. While I was still thinking about what I should do, after being knocked out of time as a tipster, I met a publican with whom I [-270-] was acquainted through having been in the habit of going into his booth at race meetings. I found that his public-house was down here, and had a small music hall attached to it, and that he was in search of a person to act as chairman and manager of this hail. After some talk it was arranged that I was to have the berth at a pound a week and my board and lodgings, and so I came into the neighbourhood. The hall was a very low one, its chief frequenters being the thieves, crimps, and other queer characters of the district; drunken sailors, and the sort of women that are likely to be found in such company. And here I got to know all the 'queer' set. Well, as I dare say you know, in most queer districts there is a character known among the initiated as the Penman, or the 'Scolard.' He is Jack the penman, or Scolard Johnson, or some such name; and he is usually a man of blown character, but of some education and cleverness. I soon found out that there was no such character in this district, and, on the other hand, some of the cleverer and more high-flying customers among the queer set soon found out not only that I was a bit of a penman, and a bit of a 'scolard,' but a bit of a lawyer too. They took to coming to ask me just to write that bit of a thing, or advise them over the other; and sometimes they voluntarily paid very liberally for those slight services. This suggested to me that here was an opening, and acting on the idea, I set up as what I may call attorney and correspondent general to the neighbourhood, giving up the managership but retaining the chairmanship of the [-271-] music hall, which brings me in fifteen shillings a week.
"What might an attorney and correspondent genera] of your stamp do?" I asked.
"Oh, a thousand and one odd things."
"But name some of them," I persisted.
"Well, he will advise with the friends or relations of people 'in trouble;' he will give opinions upon cases which, if he knows his business, he will have put to him supposititious ones, he will - if he can - explain the nature or value of papers which a client may have chanced to find. He will write - for friends who are not able to write - to people who are under hiding because they are 'wanted;' he will read the answers when there are any; and in the way of smaller things he will draw out subscription-list headings, cards for 'Friendly Leads,' - that is, raffles for the benefit of people who have just got into or out of trouble - and begging petitions. Sometimes, too, he may do a little in the way of such things as 'touching up' a rent book which is going to be used as a reference by a person seeking a house, and which would be the reverse of a recommendation, if not touched up; or putting a crimp's accounts against sailors into shape.
Such was the story of Shiny Smith's life, as told by himself such the chances he had thrown away, such the misery he had brought upon himself and others, such the disreputable means by which he had lived - by which he was living. As revealing something of the inner life of [-272-] our human birds of prey, it might be regarded as a curious story, but sitting there face to face with the man when he had finished it, looking at his well-knit figure, his handsome face, and broad forehead, and thinking of what he might have been and was not, I felt that it was a most wretched story - a story which he who had told it had well classed as of the "horrid example"class. At first, as I have mentioned, he spoke with evident feeling, but during the latter part of his discourse he had spoken in much his usual manner. It was apparent, however, that to a certain extent the manner was on this occasion forced; that "the still small voice" was making itself heard: that he felt, if not remorse, at least some sense of his degradation. Seeing this, and remembering that I had more than once heard of his doing really kind acts, I felt that there must still be some good in him, and while I could not but condemn, neither could I but pity him. I appealed to the good that I believe was yet left in him. I urged upon him to give up the life he was leading; to seek out some honest way of earning a livelihood. He admitted that his present mode of life was degraded, that at times he keenly felt it to be so, and that an honest life would be infinitely preferable. But that sin of pride by which so many have fallen, prevented him from attempting to raise himself out of the slough into which he had sunk. To be admitted into the ranks of honest men again, he said, he would have to do the humble and penitential, and start at the very bottom of the ladder. It was what he ought to do, perhaps, might [-273-] be a fitting part of his punishment, but for all that he couldn't bring himself to do it - he wouldn't "knuckle down." This was all I could get out of him, either on this or the several subsequent occasions when, as opportunity offered, I renewed the subject with him, and again urged him to turn from his wickedness.
But what my weak endeavours had failed to effect, a Higher Power brought about in its own good time and manner. The hand of affliction was laid upon Shiny. He was prostrated upon a sick-bed, and for the rainy day of sickness he had made no preparation. In the course of a few weeks he was reduced to a state of destitution and might have died of want and neglect had it not been for the kindness of Bible Braidy. The old man assisted him so far as his own scanty means would allow, and finally got him removed to the workhouse infirmary. There, after many weeks of suffering, the disease was mastered. At this stage, Braidy informed me that Shiny wished to see me. I found him much broken down, and very weak; and I could see tears gather in his eyes as I shook hands with him, and expressed my sorrow at seeing him so ill. He murmured some expression of thanks; and then, having lain still for a few minutes, he said in a trembling voice, but with a faint smile creeping over his wasted features-
"I hope you believe in the old adage that it is never too late to mend."
"I do," I answered.
"Well, I'm sorry I should have left it so late; but I [-274-] do mean, with God's help, to mend now. I have been brought back from the verge of the grave, so that I may call myself a new man I feel as if a new heart had been given to me, and when I get about again, I want to lead a better life. Will you help me?"
"Willingly! In any way that I can," I answered promptly. "What is your own idea?"
Briefly put, his views were that he must leave the neighbourhood, and that he would like to leave England altogether, and commence a new life in a new world.
The latter idea I thought was a good one; and after I had left him, it occurred to me that I could perhaps enable him to carry it out.
I had, a week or two previously, made the acquaintance of an agent of a large firm of railway contractors, who had come down to our district to superintend the fitting out and loading of a vessel that was to take out a number of men who had been engaged for the construction of a railway in New Zealand. Report said he had been a navvy, and had worked his way up to his present position. He was a big, burly fellow, rather coarse of feature, and rather blustering in manner, but, under his roughness of exterior, there was a good deal of shrewdness and kindness of heart. To this man I spoke about Shiny; and the result was that, after some little negotiation, he agreed to take him out as his own clerk. On the day of sailing, Braidy and I saw him off, and, though, being still weak, he was much affected at parting, he went away in a hopeful spirit. He arrived safely at [-275-] his destination, and took an early opportunity of writing to old Braidy to notify the fact, and after that he kept up a tolerably regular correspondence with the old man. His first letters gave unmistakable indications of despondency and restlessness of spirit; and there can be little doubt that, had he been among the old scenes and companions, he would have relapsed into the old evil ways, his sick-bed repentance and promises forgotten in the days of restored health. Happily for himself, however, he was now placed beyond the reach of the temptation that would have lain in his old associations; and as time wore on, his letters became more and more cheerful, marking, unconsciously to himself, the growth of grace within him. One letter in particular I well remember. It was dated on the second anniversary of his arrival in the colony, and was written, he said, in the softness of a stilly summer night, with the bright stars looking down upon him like the eyes of guardian angels. The day, he went on, had sent his thoughts back to the old bad times before the sickness, which had been laid upon him as a means of salvation, and as he reflected of what he was then-a wrong-doer against the laws of man, and still more against the laws of God - a proudly perverse stray-away, knowing well the right, but preferring the wrong, when he thought of himself as he had been, and what he now was - a sheep brought back to the fold - his heart was filled with unutterable thankfulness for the manner in which God had blessed and saved him.
From this and other letters - which were very modestly [-276-] written - we gathered that he was doing very well in a worldly way, and continued faithful to the good resolves; he had made. Five years after his departure, the agent∑ who had so kindly afforded him the opportunity of retrieving himself; returned to England, bringing with him from Shiny a handsome present for old Braidy, and a graceful little token of remembrance for myself. He amply confirmed all that Shiny's letters had said. He had been so satisfied with Shiny's behaviour, and so pleased with his ability, that he had been strongly desirous of retaining him as his clerk; but Shiny had not cared about coming back to the old country. He had got another engagement in the colony, and there, liked by all who knew him, he was leading an honest, respectable, God-fearing life. The path of reformation had been made easy for him; he was humbly thankful that it had been so, and grateful to all who had helped him in that path.