chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
| > next chapter >
was, as the readers must remember, In the middle of the month of March when
these events occurred.
At that season of the year the sun sets at about six
o'clock; and it is consequently dark at seven.
The Resurrection Man was no sooner left undisturbed for
the night, when he commenced the arduous and almost desperate attempt of an
escape from the prison.
Taking off his coat, he tore open the lining of the
collar, drew forth two files scarcely larger than watch-springs, and made of
steel of equally fine temper.
"Thanks to my precaution in never moving away from
home without such tools as these about me!" he exclaimed, as he bent the
files almost double to try their elasticity, and then drew them over one of his
nails to test the keenness of their teeth.
It is not an uncommon circumstance for the
police-magistrates at the offices not within the City of London to remand
prisoners accused of heinous crimes to Coldbath Fields' gaol; and as such
persons cannot, according to the law, be deemed guilty until they be declared so
by a jury, they are not lodged in the common dark cells allotted to
misdemeanants or criminals sentenced to imprisonment within those walls. There
is a room specially appropriated to the use of untried individuals who are sent
to Coldbath Fields. That chamber is capable of holding four or five beds, and
has two windows looking upon the prison-grounds.
Those windows are, however, secured by strong, iron bars
outside the casements, which are made to open for the purpose of airing the room
in the day-time.
Tidkins had already carefully examined these bars and
had calculated to a nicety the exact time which it would occupy him to remove
two of them by means of his files.
It was seven o'clock when he commenced his labour; and
as the clock of the church on Clerkenwell Green struck eleven, that portion of
his task was accomplished.
"True to a minute!" muttered the Resurrection
Man to himself, with a low chuckle of triumph: "I reckoned on four hours to
do it in!"
But his fingers were cut and lacerated with the process:
he, however, assuaged the pain by greasing the flesh with the remainder of the
gruel left in his bowl.
The next proceeding was to tear his bedding into slips,
wherewith to form a rope; and this was accomplished in about half an hour.
The window was not very high from the ground; and he did
not dread the descent: — but the moon was shining brightly — and
he knew that watchmen, carrying fire-arms, kept guard in the prison-grounds.
He looked up at the lovely planet of the night, whose
chaste splendour was at that moment blessed by so many travellers alike upon the
land and on the ocean; and he uttered a fearful imprecation against its pure
But he did not hesitate many minutes: his case was
desperate — so was his character.
"Better receive an ounce of lead in the heart than
dance on nothing in six weeks or so," he said to himself, as he fastened
the rope to the bar which stood next to the place of the two that he had
Then he passed his legs through the window; and clinging
by his hands and feet, slid slowly and safely down the rope.
He was now in the grounds belonging to the prison; but
the high wall, that bounded that enclosure, separated him from the street.
Cautiously and noiselessly did he creep along, beneath
the shade of the building — directing his steps towards the
tread-wheel yard in which he had been permitted to take exercise, as above
Suddenly the noise of footsteps and of voices fell upon
his ears; and those ominous sounds were approaching.
"Perdition!" thought the Resurrection Man, as
he crouched up close beneath the building: "I could have managed one — I
could have sprung upon him — strangled him in a moment. But
two — two — ."
And he ground his teeth with rage.
"And so you was at the Old Bailey to-day?"
said one of the watchmen to his companion, as they advanced round that part of
"Yes: it was my half-holiday," was the reply,
"and so I thought I might as well go and hear the trial of that young
Holford, you know, who shot at the Queen. The jury had a good deal of trouble at
coming to a verdict; but at last they acquitted him on the ground of
"Ah!" said the first speaker: "then he's
let out again!"
"Deuce a bit of that! " exclaimed his
companion. "The judge ordered him to be detained till the royal pleasure
should be known; and so he'll get sent to Bedlam for the rest of his life."
"And d'ye think he's mad! did he look mad!"
"Not he! He's no more mad than me. He seemed a
little gloomy and sulky — but not mad. The only time he showed any
interest in the proceedings, was when a witness called Jem Coffin was examined;
and this chap said all he could in [-307-] favour
of the youngster, although he wasn't able to deny that he saw him fire at the
Queen and Prince Albert. But the best of it was, this Jem Cuffin proved that the
pistols wasn't loaded at all. Holford did not, however, know that when he
fired them. So the young feller has managed to get board and lodging for life;
and Jem Cuffin, who is a returned transport, it seems, and had been in custody
for some time, was discharged on a full pardon granted by the Home
"It must have been an interesting trial,"
observed the first speaker.
"Yes," said his companion; "but I'll tell
you what will be more interesting still — and that is the trial of
Tony Tidkins, whenever it comes on. Lord! what things that feller has done in
his time! Talk of Jack Sheppard, or Dick Turpin, or any of the old
criminals — why, they're nothing at all compared with this Tidkins.
Ah! some rum things will come out when he goes up afore the nobs at the Old
The two men had stepped within half a dozen yards of the
place where the Resurrection Man was crouched up in the deep shade of the
building; and every word of the above conversation met his ears. In spite of the
peril of discovery which now seemed inevitable, the miscreant experienced a
momentary feeling of pride and triumph as he listened to the observations which
were made concerning himself.
"Well, I must go round t'other way," said one
of the watchmen, after a short pause: "we should get blowed up if we was
found together — 'specially talking in a prison on the silent
This was meant as a joke; and so the two men chuckled at
Tidkins also chuckled within himself; because he had
just learnt that the watchmen intended to separate, and that consequently only
one would pass him. He was still menaced with a fearful peril; but he considered
it to be only one half so great as it had seemed a few moments previously.
Midnight was now proclaimed by the iron tongue of
Clerkenwell Church; and the two watchmen parted — one retracing his
steps round the building; and the other slowly advancing towards Tidkins.
"I must spring upon him and throttle him in a
moment," thought the Resurrection Man, clenching his fingers as if they
already held the intended victim's neck in their iron grasp.
But Providence saved the miscreant from that additional
crime: — the watchman struck abruptly away from the neighbourhood of
the building, and walked towards the boundary wall.
His back was now turned upon Tidkins, who lost no time
in availing himself of this unexpected relief from the danger which had
threatened him. In fact, the very circumstance of the two watchmen having
advanced so close to him in each other's company, — which
circumstance had menaced him with a detection that seemed unavoidable, — now
proved most advantageous to his scheme; for as he hurried rapidly on towards the
first tread-wheel yard, he passed between the two watchmen, each of whom was
retreating farther from him, the one by retracing his steps round the building,
and the other by lounging towards the wall.
Thus, while their backs were turned upon him, he gained
in safety the tread-wheel yard where he had taken exercise, and every point of
which he had accurately committed to memory.
His movements were now executed with the rapidity of one
who had well weighed and pre-considered them.
Taking from a corner a gardener's basket, which he had
previously noticed there, and which was used to convey the potatoes that were
dug up in the prison-grounds, he turned it bottom upwards against a low
building, or out-house, which abutted with a shelving slate roof against the
high wall. By means of the basket, he raised himself upon this roof — crept
up on it — and with one nimble spring upwards was enabled to catch
at the chevaux-de-frise, or revolving iron spikes, which were fixed near
the top of the wall, and which thus hung over the out-house.
Careless of the wounds which he received from the chevaux-de-frise,
he scrambled over them, and gained the top of the wall.
The wall was much too high to permit him to drop into
the street with any chance of escaping a broken limb. This he had previously
reflected upon; and he now commenced the desperate feat of walking along the
summit of that lofty wall — with a bright moon shining above, and
the almost positive certainty of being observed by the watchmen inside the
To increase the personal danger incurred by this
extraordinary undertaking, the wall is irregular on the top, breaking into
sudden and abrupt falls towards the south-western angle, and then rising with
elevations equally abrupt from that point to the north-western angle.
This peculiarity of structure is caused by the
unevenness of the ground on which the entire establishment with all its
The journey along the top of the walls was not even a
short one. The object of the Resurrection Man was to reach the houses in
Guildford Place, which join the prison-wall on the eastern side. The point where
he ascended was nearly at the middle of the southern wall; but between him and
the southeastern angle stood the gates and the governor's house, which he could
not pass. He therefore had to make a circuit comprising nearly half the southern
wall — all the western wall — all the northern
wall — and then a part of the eastern wall; — and this
in the largest prison in England! — It was a desperate venture: but
as we have before said — Tidkins was a desperate man — and
his case was also desperate!
Fortune often aids the unworthy; and she did so upon
Scarcely had the Resurrection Man proceeded twenty yards
along the wall, when the moon — hitherto so lovely — became
suddenly obscured and a huge black cloud swept over its face.
Tidkins cast one rapid glance upwards; and his heart
leapt within him, as he said to himself, "It will be dark like this long
enough for my purpose."
On he went — walking upright, and
rapidly — with scarcely an unusual effort to balance himself upon
that giddy height, — and stooping only when he reached any of those
abrupt descents or ascents in the structure of the wail which we have ere now
And now he has gained — safely gained — the
north-western angle: he is pursuing his way along the wall which looks upon
At the slightest signal of alarm he is prepared to risk
his life by leaping from the wall.
[-308-] But no one observes
him: it is now quite dark; — he is far away from that part of the
prison where the watchmen walk; — and the street beneath is empty.
Here and there are lights in the upper windows of the
adjacent houses: he can almost see into those rooms, above the level of which he
Looking to his right, he perceives the dark outlines of
the prison-buildings, between which and the northern wall, whereon he is now
walking there is a considerable interval, the intermediate space being occupied
by the gaol-gardens.
His heart beats joyfully — triumphantly he
has gained the north-eastern angle!
A glance to the left shows him the lights of Bagnigge
Wells: before him are those of Wilmington Square; and to his right is Guildford
He felt that he was beyond the reach of danger and so
exhilarating was his joy, that a momentary dizziness seized upon him — and
he nearly fell over within the precincts of the gaol.
But recovering his balance by an extraordinary exertion,
he planted his feet more firmly than ever on the wall, and continued his walk
along the dizzy height.
He was now again in danger of discovery, for he had
reached that part of the eastern wall against which the buildings and
tread-wheel yards of the females' department stood, and in the immediate
vicinity of which a watchman was stationed.
Nevertheless, the houses in Guildford Place were near;
and their back premises abutted against the outer aide of the wall along which
he was now proceeding.
"One minute more of that dark cloud upon the
moon — and I am safe!" he said to himself, as he cast a rapid
But, no — the cloud passes
It has passed; — and the bright moon
suddenly bursts forth with a flood of silver light.
Almost at the same instant, a loud voice raises an
alarm within the precincts of the gaol: the sharp crack of a blunderbuss is
heard — and a bullet whistles past the Resurrection Man, whose dark
form, as seen by the watchman near the females' department, stands out in strong
relief against the moon-lit sky.
The cry of the watchman is echoed by other voices on the
prison side of the wall; and Tidkins mutters a terrible curse as he hurries
But his courage does not fail him: — no — he
is determined to sell his life as dearly as possible!
In less than a minute after the watchman within the
enclosure had raised the alarm, the Resurrection Man reached the backs of the
houses in Guildford Place; — and now the clear moonlight was of the
utmost service to him, in enabling him to execute his movements with security
He lowered him self from the prison-wall to the roof of
an out-house, and thence alighted in a yard attached to a dwelling.
The back-door of the house was locked and bolted inside:
but this was a small obstacle in the way of one who had just escaped from the
Middlesex house of Correction.
Unable to waste time by proceeding with caution and
compelled to risk the chance of alarming the inhabitants of the dwelling, the
desperate man threw himself with all his strength against the door, which broke
inwards with a load crash.
The noise was followed by ejaculations of alarm in the
house; footsteps were heard overhead; widows were thrown open — and
the cry of " Thieves!" echoed along the street.
Tidkins paused not to reflect: — he dashed
through the house — along the passage to the front door, the bolts
of which he drew back in a moment. The key was in the lock: — every
thing now appeared to favour the escape of the Resurrection Man!
The front-door was opened in a few moments, just as the
inmates of the dwelling were rushing down the stairs.
But when they reached the passage, the door closed
violently behind the intruder who had caused their alarm.
The Resurrection Man was safe in the open street; and he
knew that he had a good start of the prison watchmen, who would have to make a
considerable circuit from the vicinity of the females' department to the gates,
and from the gates round the south. eastern angle, ere they could reach the
point from which he was now departing.
Swift as an arrow he scud up Guildford Place — .
turned to the right — and slackened his pace only when he had passed
through Wilmington Square. He gained the City Road, along which he walked
somewhat leisurely towards Finsbury — well aware that his pursuers
would not think of looking for him in a wide and open thoroughfare, but would
rather prosecute their searches in the narrow lanes and low districts in the
immediate neighbourhood of the gaol.
His object was to gain his den in Globe Town: for not a
word had transpired during his examination before the magistrate at Lambeth
Street, to show that the police had any clue to his place of abode; and he felt
certain that Banks would not have betrayed him. The undertaker, he knew, was too
deeply concerned in many of his plots and schemes to risk a general smash of the
whole gang, by making any unpleasant revelations.
The Resurrection Man struck from the City Road into Old
Street, and speedily reached Shoreditch.
As he passed down one of the horrible lanes which lie
behind Shoreditch Church, he observed the door of a public-house to be open. He
was well aware of the flash character of the place, but did not happen to be
known by the people who kept it.
He entered this low boozing-ken, ordered a glass of
something at the bar, and inquired for the evening paper. It was immediately
handed to him; for all flash houses of that description take an evening as well
as a morning journal, that their customers may receive the earliest intelligence
of each day's Police or Old Bailey proceedings — matters in which
the generality of them are very frequently interested.
Tidkins turned to the most recent Police Intelligence,
and found his own case duly reported. Nothing, however, was said in that or any
other department of the paper, which tended to excite an alarm lest his house in
Globe Town bad been discovered or any of his accomplices in his various crimes
had been traced.
Thus reassured, he drank off the contents of his glass,
and then recollected that he had no money in his pocket to pay for it. All he
had about him when he was arrested, had been taken from him, according to
custom, on his removal to Coldbath Fields.
[-309-] Scarcely had this
new embarrassment presented itself to his mind, when the door of the tap-room
opened, and a man came forth. To Tidkins's infinite relief it proved to be the
Buffer, who started when he saw his old friend at liberty.
The Resurrection Man placed his finger upon his lip; and
the Buffer instantly checked the ejaculation of astonishment which had risen to
The trifling debt incurred for the liquor was
immediately settled by the Resurrection Man's friend; and the precious pair left
the boozing-ken together.
As they walked along towards Globe Town, Anthony Tidkins
related the particulars of his escape, at which the Buffer was monstrously
delighted. Then, in reply to the Resurrection Man's questions, the other stated
that he had seen Banks on the previous afternoon, and that no inquiries of a
suspicious nature had been made at that individual's abode.
When they reached the door of the Resurrection Man's
house in Globe Town, the Buffer took leave of his friend, with a promise to call
in the course of the day and bring the morning's newspapers.
Tidkins was overjoyed when he again set foot in his back
room on the first floor: and finding some gin in the cupboard, he celebrated his
escape and return with a copious dram.
He did not immediately retire to bed, although he was
sadly fatigued and bruised by the achievements of the night; but, taking down a
bundle of keys from a shelf, he paid a visit to the subterranean department of
The moment he placed the key in the lock of the private
door up the narrow alley, he uttered a curse, adding, "This lock has been
tried — tampered with! I know It — I could swear to it:
I can tell by the way that the key turns!"
And the perspiration ran down his countenance: — for
he trembled for the safety of his treasure!
With feverish impatience he opened the door, and entered
that part of his strangely-built house.
Having obtained a light, a new circumstance of alarm
struck him: the door of the back room wag standing wide open!
"And I can swear that I closed it the last time I
ever came here!" he cried aloud. "Some one has been to this
place; — and that some one must be Banks! The sneaking scoundrel!
But he shall suffer for it."
With a perception as keen as that of the North American
Indian following the trail of a fugitive foe, did the Resurrection Man examine
the floor of the room; and his suspicions that some one had been thither were
confirmed by the appearance of several particles of damp dirt, which had
evidently been left by the feet of an intruder within the last few hours.
"Worse and worse!" thought the Resurrection
Man. "And, by Satan! the trap has been raised!"
This was evident; for the brick which covered the iron
ring in the masonry of the chimney, had not been restored to its place.
"I could not have left it so!" cried Tidkins,
aloud: "no — it is impossible! Some one has been
With almost frantic impatience he raised the trap, and
descended into the subterranean.
Entering one of the cells, — not the same
whence the Rattlesnake had stolen his treasure, — he raised a stone,
and then almost shrank front glancing into the hollow thus laid open.
But mastering his fears, — those fears which
owned the influence of avarice far more than that of danger or of crime, — he
held the lantern over the hole, and plunged his eyes into its depth.
"Safe! — all safe — by
God!" he exclaimed, as four or five canvas, bags met his view.
Then, in order to convince himself of the reality of the
presence of his treasure, he opened the bags one after the other, and feasted
his sight upon their glittering contents.
"It can hardly be Banks who has been here," he
mused to himself, as he restored the bags to their place of concealment, and
then rolled the stone back into its setting: "nothing could escape the
keenness of his scent! He would have pulled up all the pavement sooner than have
missed what he came to look for. And then, too, he is not the man to heave the
brick out of its place, so as to show the secret of the stone-trap to any other
curious intruder that might find his way here. No — no: Master Banks
would pay a second and a third visit to this place, if he felt sure of finding
any thing concealed here; and he would leave every thing close and snug after
each search. But some one has been here! Unless — and I might
have done such a thing as to forget to replace the brick, — I ought
have done so; — and yet it is barely possible!" continued
Tidkins, in deep perplexity, and almost as much alarmed as Robinson Crusoe was
upon discovering the print of the human foot upon the sand of his island.
"Then there is that damp mud, too — and the door that was
open — and the lock that has been tampered with! But suppose the mud
came from my own shoes the last time I was here? the place is very damp — and
It mayn't have got dry. It might also have been myself that left the door
open; — and as for the lock — it is an old one, and may
begin to work badly. Besides — I remember — the last
time I was here, I was in a deuce of a hurry: it was just before I went down to
Banks's to see him settle that job with Kate Wilmot. So, after all — my
fears may be all idle and vain! However, I shall send for Banks presently, when
the Buffer comes again; and I'll precious soon tell by his sneaking old face
whether he has been here, or not, during my absence!"
Thus reasoning against the feasibility of his
fears, — as men often do in cases of doubt and uncertainty, and when
they are anxious to persuade themselves of the groundlessness of their
alarms, — Tidkins left the subterranean, and returned to his
chamber, where he immediately went to bed.
But his fears were well founded: some one had
visited the subterranean during the hours while he himself was occupied in
escaping from Coldbath Fields' Prison.
That intruder was not, however, Banks — nor
any one of the Resurrection Man's accomplices in crime.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
| > next chapter >