Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

. (page 40 of 103)
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our other new streets, never heeding, never ask-
ing, where the wretches whom we clear out
crowd. With such scenes at our doors, with aK



the plagues of Egypt tied up with bits of cob-
web in kennels so near our homes, we timorously
make our Nuisance Bills and Boards of Health
nonentities, and think to keep away the Wolves
of Crime and Filih by our electioneering duck-
ing to little vestrymen and our gentlemanly
handling of Red Tape !

Intelligence of the coffee money has got
abroad. The yard is full, and Rogers of the
flaming eye is beleaguered with entreaties to
show other lodging-houses. Mine next ! Mine !
Mine 1 Rogers, military, obdurate, stiff-necked,
immovable, replies not, but leads away ; all fall-
ing back before him. Inspector Field follows.
Detective Sergeant, with his barrier of arm
across the little passage, deliberately waits to
close the procession. He sees behind him,
without any eftbrt, and exceedingly disturbs
one individual far in the rear by coolly call-
ing out, " It won't do, Mr. Michael ! Don't
try it ! "

After council holden in the street, we enter
other lodging-houses, pubhc-houses, many lairs
and holes ; all noisome and offensive ; none so
filthy and so crowded as where Irish are. In
one, the Ethiopian party are expected home
presently — were in Oxford Street when last
heard of — shall be fetched, for our delight,
within ten minutes. In another, one of the two
or three Professors who draw Napoleon Buona-
parte and a couple of mackerel on the pavement,
and then let the work of art out to a speculator,
is refreshing after his labours. In another, the
vested interest of the profitable nuisance has
been in one family for a hundred years, and the
landlord drives in comfortably from the country
to his snug little stew in town. In all, Inspector
Field is received with warmth. Coiners and
smashers droop before him ; pickpockets defer
to him ; the gentle sex (not very gentle here)
smile upon him. Half-drunken hags check
themselves in the midst of pots of beer, or pints
of gin, to drink to Mr. Field, and pressingly to
ask the honour of his finishing the draught. One
beldame in rusty black has such admiration for
him, that she runs a whole street's length to
shake him by the hand ; tumbling into a heap of
mud by the way, and still pressing her attentions
when her very form has ceased to be distin-
guishable through it. Before the power of the
law, the power of superior sense — for common
thieves are fools beside these men — and the
power of a perfect mastery of their character,
the garrison of Rats' Castle and the adjacent
Fortresses make but a skulking show indeed
when reviewed by Inspector Field.

St. Giles's clock says it will be midnight in

half an hour, and Inspector Field says we must
hurry to the Old Mint in the Borough. The
cab-driver is low-spirited, and has a solemn sense
of his responsibility. Now, what's your fare, my
lad ? — Oh, you know. Inspector Field : wliat's
the good of asking me ?

Say, Parker, strapped and great-coated, and
waiting in dim Borough doorway by appoint-
ment, to replace the trusty Rogers Avhom we left
deep in St. Giles's, are you ready? Ready,
Inspector Field, and at a motion of my wrist
behold my flaming eye.

This narrow street, sir, is the chief part of the
Old Mint, full of low lodging-houses, as you see
by the transparent canvas lamps and blinds,
announcing beds for travellers ! But it is greatly
changed, friend Field, from my former know-
ledge of it; it is infinitely quieter and more sub-
dued than when I was here last, some seven
years ago ? Oh yes ! Inspector Haynes, a first-
rate man, is on this station now, and plays the
devil with them !

Well, my lads ! How are you to-night, my
lads ? Playing cards here, eh ? Who wins ? —
Why, Mr. Field, I, the sulky gentleman with the
damp flat side-curls, rubbing my bleared eye with
the end of my neckerchief, which is like a dirty
eelskin, am losing just at present, but I suppose
I must take my pipe out of my mouth, and be
submissive to you. I hope I see you well, Mr.
Field ? — Ay, all right, my lad. Deputy, who
have you got up-stairs? Be pleased to show
the rooms !

Why Deputy, Inspector Field can't say. He
only knows that the man who takes care of the
beds and lodgers is always called so. Steady,
O Deputy, with the flaring candle in the black-
ing bottle, for this is a slushy back-yard, and the
wooden staircase outside the house creaks and
has holes in it.

Again, in these confined intolerable rooms,
burrowed out like the holes of rats or the nests
of insect vermin, but fuller of intolerable smells,
are crowds of sleepers, each on his foul truckle-
bed coiled up beneath a rug. Halloa here !
Come ! Let us see you ! Show your face !
Pilot Parker goes from bed to bed, and turns
their slumbering heads towards us, as a sales-
man might turn sheep. Some wake up with an
execration and a threat. — What ! Who spoke }
Oh ! If it's the accursed glaring eye that fixes
me, go where I will, I am helpless. Here ! I
sit up to be looked at. Is it me you want ? —
Not you, lie down again ! — and I lie down, with
a woeful growl.

Wlierever the turning lane of light becomes
stationary for a moment, some sleeper appears



at the end of it, submits himself to be scru-
tinised, and fodes away into the darkness.

There should be strange dreams here,
Deputy. They sleep sound enough, says
Deputy, taking the candle out of the blacking
bottle, snuffing it with his fingers, throwing the
snuff into the bottle, and corking it up with the
candle : that's all / know. What is the inscrip-
tion, Deputy, on all the discoloured sheets ? A
precaution against loss of linen. Deputy turns
down the rug of an unoccupied bed and dis-
closes it. Stop Thief !

To lie at night, wrapped in the legend of my
slinking life ; to take the cry that pursues me,
waking, to my breast in sleep ; to have it staring
at me, and clamouring for me, as soon as con-
sciousness returns ; to have it for my first-foot
on New Year's day, my Valentine, my Birthday
salute, my Christmas greeting, my parting with
the old year. Stop Thief !

And to know that I 7?iusf be stopped, come
what will. To know that I am no match for
this individual energy and keenness, or this
organised and steady system ! Come across
the street here, and, entering by a little shop
and yard, examine these intricate passages and
doors, contrived for escape, flapping and counter-
flapping, like the lids of the conjurer's boxes.
But what avail they ? Who gets in by a nod,
and shows their secret working to us ? In-
spector Field.

Don't forget the old Farm House, Parker !
Parker is not the man to forget it. We are
going there now. It is the old Manor House
of these parts, and stood in the country once.
Then, perhaps, there was something, which was
not the beastly street, to see from the shattered
low fronts of the overhanging wooden houses
we are passing under — shut up now, pasted
over with bills about the literature and drama
of the Mint, and mouldering away. This long
paved yard was a paddock or a garden once, or
a court in front of the Farm House. Perchance,
with a dovecot in the centre, and fowls pecking
about — with fair elm-trees then, where dis-
coloured chimney-stacks and gables are now —
noisy, then, with rooks which have yielded to a
different sort of rookery. It's likelier than not,
Inspector Field thinks, as we turn into the
common kitchen, which is in the yard, and
many paces from the house.

Well, my lads and lasses, how are you all ?
Where's Blackey, who has stood near London
Bridge these five-and-twenty years, with a
painted skin to represent disease ? — Here he
is, Mr. Field ! — How are you, Blackey ? — Jolly,
sa ! — Not playing the fiddle to-night, Blackey?

— Not a night, sa ! — A sharp, smiling youth,
the wit of the kitchen, interposes. He an't
musical to-night, sir. I've been giving him a
moral lecture ; I've been a talking to him about
his latter end, you see. A good many of these
are my pupils, sir. This here young man
(smoothing down the hair of one near him,
reading a Sunday paper) is a pupil of mine,
I'm a teaching of him to read, sir. He's a pro-
mising cove, sir. He's a smith, he is, and gets
his living by the sweat of the brow, sir. So do
I myself, sir. This young woman is my sister,
Mr. Field. S/ie's getting on very well too. I've
a deal of trouble with 'em, sir, but I'm richly
rewarded, now I see 'em all a doing so well,
and growing up so creditable. That's a great
comfort, that is, an't it, sir? — In the midst of
the kitchen (the whole kitchen is in ecstasies
with this impromptu "chaft'") sits a young,
modest, gentle-looking creature, with a beautiful
child in her lap. She seems to belong to the
company, but is so strangely unlike it. She has
such a pretty, quiet face and voice, and is so
proud to hear the child admired — thinks you
would hardly believe that he is only nine
months old ! Is she as bad as the rest, I
wonder? Inspectorial experience does not
engender a belief contrariwise, but prompts the
answer. Not a ha'porth of dift'erence !

There is a piano going in the old Farni
House as we approach. It stops. Landlady
appears. Has no objections, Mr. Field, to
gentlemen being brought, but wishes it were at
earlier hours, the lodgers complaining of ill-
con wenience. Inspector Field is polite and
soothing — knows his woman and the sex. De-
puty (a girl in this case) shows the way up a
heavy broad old staircase, kept very clean, into
clean rooms where many sleepers are, and
where painted panels of an older time look
strangely on the truckle-beds. The sight of
whitewash and the smell of soap — two things
we seem by this time to have parted from in
infancy — make the old Farm House a phe-
nomenon, and connect themselves with the so
curiously misplaced picture of the pretty mother
and child long after we have left it, — long after
we have left, besides, the neighbouring nook,
with something of a rustic flavour in it yet, where
once, beneath a low wooden colonnade still
standing as of yore, the eminent Jack Sheppard
condescended to regale himself, and where, now,
two old bachelor brothers in broad hats (who
are whispered in the Mint to have made a com-
pact long ago that if either should ever marry,
he must forfeit his share of the joint property)
still keep a sequestered tavern, and sit o' nights



smoking pipes in the bar among ancient bottles
and glasses, as our eyes behold them.

How goes the night now? St. George of
Southwark answers with twelve blows upon his
bell. Parker, good night, for Williams is
already waiting over in the region of Ratcliff
Highway, to show the houses where the sailors

I should like to know where Inspector Field
was born. In Ratcliff Highway, I would have
answered Avith confidence, but for his being
equally at home wherever we go. He does not
trouble his head, as I do, about the river at
night. He does not care for its creeping, black
and silent, on our right there, rushing through
sluice-gates, lapping at piles and posts and iron
lings, hiding strange things in its mud, running
away with suicides and accidentally drowned
bodies faster than midnight funeral should, and
acquiring such various experience between its
cradle and its grave. It has no mystery for
him. Is there not the Thames Police?

Accordingly, Williams, lead the way. We
are a little late, for some of the houses are
already closing. No matter. You show us
plenty. All the landlords know Inspector
Field. All pass him, freely and good-
humouredly, wheresoever he wants to go. So
thoroughly are all these houses open to him and
our local guide, that, granting that sailors must
be entertained in their own way — as I suppose
they must, and have a right to be — I hardly
know how such places could be better regu-
lated. Not that I call the company very select,
or the dancing very graceful — even so graceful
as that of the German Sugar Bakers, whose
assembly, by the Minories, we stopped to visit
— but there is watchful maintenance of order in
every house, and swift expulsion where need is.
Even in the midst of drunkenness, both of the
lethargic kind and the lively, there is sharp
landlord supervision, and pockets are in less
peril than out of doors. These houses show,
singularly, how much of the picturesque and
romantic there truly is in the sailor, requiring
to be especially addressed. All the songs (sung
in a hail-storm of halfpence, which are pitched
at the singer without the least tenderness for
the time or tune — mostly from great rolls of
copper carried for the purpose — and which he
occasionally dodges like shot as they fly near
his head) are of the sentimental sea sort. All
the rooms are decorated with nautical subjects.
Wrecks, engagements, ships on fire, ships pass-
ing lighthouses on iron-bound coasts, ships
blowing up, ships going down, ships running
asliore, men lying out upon the main-yard in a

gale of wind, sailors and ships in every variety
of peril, constitute the illustrations of fact.
Nothing can be done, in the fanciful way,
without a thumping boy upon a scaly dolphin.

How goes the night now? Past one. Black
and Green are waiting in Whitechapel to unveil
the mysteries of Wentworth Street. Williams,
the best of friends must part. Adieu !

Are not Black and Green ready at the ap-
pointed place? Oh yes! They glide out of
shadow as we stop. Imperturbable Black opens
the cab door; Imperturbable Green takes a men-
tal note of the driver. Both Green and Black
then open each his flaming eye, and marshal us
the way that we are going.

The lodging-house we want is hidden in a
maze of streets and courts. It is fast shut. We
knock at the door, and stand hushed, looking up
for a light at one or other of the begrimed old
lattice windows in its ugly front, when another
constable comes up — supposes that we want " to
see the school." Detective Sergeant meanwhile
has got over a rail, opened a gate, dropped
down an area, overcome some other little ob-
stacles, and tapped at a window. Now returns.
The landlord will send a deputy immediately.

Deputy is heard to stumble out of bed. De-
puty lights a candle, draws back a bolt or two,
and appears at the door. Deputy is a shivering
shirt and trousers by no means clean, a yawning
face, a shock head much confused externally
and internally. We want to look for some one.
You may go up with the light, and take 'em all,
if you like, says Deputy, resigning it, and sitting
down upon a bench in the kitchen with his ten
fingers sleepily twisting in his hair.

Halloa here ! Now then ! Show yourselves.
That'll do. It's not you. Don't disturb yourself
any more ! So on, through a labyrinth of airless
rooms, each man responding, like a wild beast,
to the keeper who has tamed him, and who goes
into his cage. What, you haven't found him,
then ? says Deputy, when we come down. A
woman, mysteriously sitting up all night in the
dark by the smouldering ashes of the kitchen
fire, says it's only tramps and cadgers here : it's
gonoj)hs over the way. A man, mysteriously
walking about the kitchen all night in the dark,
bids her hold her tongue. We come out. De-
I'uty fastens the door and goes to bed again.

Black and Green, you know Bark, lodging-
house keeper and receiver of stolen goods ? — Oh
yes. Inspector Field. — Go to Bark's next.

Bark sleeps in an inner wooden hutch, near
his street-door. As we parley on the step with
Bark's Deputy, Bark growls in his bed. We
enter, and Bark flies out of bed. Bark is a red



villain and a wrathful, with a sanguine throat
that looks very much as it' it were expressly made
for hanging, as he stretches it out, in pale de-
fiance, over the half-door of his hutch. Bark's
parts of speech are of an awful sort — princi-
pally adjectives. I won't, says Bark, have no
adjective police and adjective strangers in my
adjective premises ! I won't, by adjective and
substantive ! Give me my trousers, and I'll
send the whole aiijective police to adjective and
substantive 1 Give me, says Bark, my adjective

trousers ! I'll put an adjective knife in the whole
biicing of 'em. I'll punch their adjective heads.
I'll rip up their adjective substantives. Give me
my adjective trousers ! says Bark, and I'll spile
the bileing of 'em !

Now, Bark, what's the use of this? Here's
Black and Green, Detective Sergeant, and In-
spector Field. You know we will come in. — I
know you won't ! says Bark. Somebody give
me my adjective trousers ! Bark's trousers seem
difficult to find. He calls for them, as Her-




cules might for his club. Give me my adjective
trousers ! says Bark, and I'll spile the bileing
of 'em !

Inspector Field holds that it's all one whether
Bark likes the visit or don't like it. He, Inspec-
tor Field, is an Inspector of the Detective Police,
Detective Sergeant is Detective Sergeant, Black
and Green are constables in uniform. Don't
you be a fool, Bark, or you know it will be the
worse for you. — I don't care, says Bark, Give
me my adjective trousers !
Edwin Drood, Etc., 14.

At two o'clock in the morning we descend
into Bark's low kitchen, leaving Bark to foam at
the mouth above, and Imperturbable Black and
Green to look at him. Bark's kitchen is crammed
full of thieves, holding a conversazione there by
lamp-light. It is by far the most dangerous
assembly we have seen yet. Stimulated by the
ravings of Bark above, their looks are sullen,
but not a man speaks. We ascend again. Bark
has got his trousers, and is in a state of madnesf^
in tiie passage, with his back against a door that


shuts off the upper staircase. We observe, in
other respects, a ferocious individuality in Bark.
Instead of " Stop Thief ! " on his Hnen, he
prints " Stolen from Bark's ! "

Now, Bark, we are going up-stairs. — No, you
ain't ! — You refuse admission to the Pohce, do
you. Bark ? — Yes, I do. I refuse it to all the
adjective police, and to all the adjective sub-
stantives. If the adjective coves in the kitchen
was men, they'd come up now, and do for you !
Shut me that there door ! says Bark, and sud-
denly we are enclosed in the passage. They'd
come up and do for you ! cries Bark, and waits.
Not a sound in the kitchen ! They'd come up
and do for you ! cries Bark again, and waits.
Not a sound in the kitchen ! We are shut up,
half-a-dozen of us, in Bark's house, in the inner-
most recesses of the worst part of London, in
the dead of the night — the house is crammed
with notorious robbers and ruffians — and not a
man stirs. No, Bark. They know the weight of
the law, and they know Inspector Field and Co.
too well.

We leave bully Bark to subside at leisure out
of his passion and his trousers, and, I dare say,
to be inconveniently reminded of this little brush
before long. Black and Green do ordinary duty
here, and look serious.

As to White, who waits on Holborn Hill to
show the courts that are eaten out of Rotten
Gray's Inn Lane, where other lodging-houses are,
and where (in one blind alley) the Thieves'
Kitchen and Seminary for the teaching of the
art to children is, the night has so worn away,
being now

Almost at odds with morning, which is which,

that they are quiet, and no light shines through
the chinks in the shutters. As undistinctive
Death will come here one day, sleep comes now.
The wicked cease from troubling sometimes,
even in this life.



VERY dark night it was, and bitter
cold; the east wind blowing bleak,
and bringing with it stinging par-
ticles from marsh, and moor, and
fen — from the Great Desert and Old
Egypt maybe. Some of the com-
ponent parts of the sharp-edged vapoar
that came flying up the Thames at Lon-
might be mummy dust, dry atoms from the
pie at Jerusalem, camels' footprints, cro-

codiles' hatching-places, loosened grains of ex-
pression from the visages of blunt-nosed sphinxes,
waifs and strays from caravans of turbaned mer-
chants, vegetation from jungles, frozen snow
from the Himalayas. Oh ! it was very very
dark upo''i the Thames, and it was bitter bitter

" And yet," said the voice within the great
pea-coat at my side, " you'll have seen a good
many rivers too, I dare say ? "

" Truly," said I, " when I come to think of it,
not a few. From the Niagara, downward to the
mountain rivers of Italy, which are like the
national spirit — very tame, or chafing suddenly
and bursting bounds, only to dwindle away
again. The IMoselle, and the Rhine, and the
Rhone ; and the Seine, and the Saone ; and the
St. Lawrence, Mississippi, and Ohio ; and the
Tiber, the Po, and the Arno ; and the "

Pea-coat coughing, as if he had had enough of
that, I said no more. I could have carried the
catalogue on to a teasing length, though, if I had
been in the cruel mind.

"And after all," said he, "this looks so dismal.?"

" So awful," I returned, " at night. The Seine
at Paris is very gloomy, too, at such a time, and
is probably the scene of far more crime and
greater wickedness ; but this river looks so broad
and vast, so murky and silent, seems such an
image of death in the midst of the great city's
life, that "

That Pea-coat coughed again. He could not
stand my holding forth.

We were in a four-oared Thames Police Gal-
ley, lying on our oars in the deep shadow of
Southwark Bridge — under the corner arch on
the Surrey side — having come down with the
tide from Vauxhall. We were fain to hold on
pretty tight, though close in shore, for the river
was swollen and the tide running down very
strong. We were watching certain water-rats of
human growth, and lay in the deep shade as
quiet as mice; our light hidden, and our scraps
of conversation carried on in whispers. Above
us, the massive iron girders of the arch were
faintly visible, and below us its ponderous sha-
dow seemed to sink down to the bottom of the

We had been lying here some half an hour.
With our backs to the wind, it is true ; but the
wind, being in a determined temper, blew straight
through us, and would not take the trouble to go
round. I would have boarded a fire-ship to get
into action, and mildly suggested as much to my
friend Pea.

" No doubt," says he as patiently as possible;
"but shore-going tactics wouldn't do with us.



River thieves can always get rid of stolen pro-
perty in a moment by dropping it overboard.
We want to take them icith the property, so we
lurk about and come out upon 'em sharp. If
they see us or hear us, over it goes."

Pea's wisdom being indisputable, there was
nothing for it but to sit there and be blown
through for another half-hour. The water-rats
thinking it wise to abscond at the end of that
time without commission of felony, we shot out,
disappointed, with the tide.

" Grim they look, don't they ? " said Pea, see-
ing me glance over my shoulder at the lights
upon the bridge, and downward at their long
crooked reflections in the river.

" Very," said I, " and make one think with a
shudder of Suicides. What a night for a dread-
ful leap from that parapet ! "

" Ay, but Waterloo's the favourite bridge for
making holes in the water from," returned Pea.
" By-the-bye — avast pulling, lads ! — would you
like to speak to Waterloo on the subject?"

My face confessing a surprised desire to have
some friendly conversation with Waterloo Bridge,
and my friend Pea being the most obliging
of men, we put about, pulled out of the force
of the stream, and in place of going at great
speed with the tide, began to strive against it,
close in shore again. Every colour but black
seemed to have departed from the world. The
air was black, the water was black, the barges
and hulks were black, the piles were black, the
buildings were black, the shadows were only a
deeper shade of black upon a black ground.
Here and there, a coal fire in an iron cresset
blazed upon a wharf ; but, one knew that it too
had been black a little while ago, and would be
black again soon. Uncomfortable rushes of
water suggestive of gurgling and drowning,
ghostly rattlings of iron chains, dismal clank-
ings of discordant engines, formed the music
that accompanied the dip of our oars and their
rattling in the rullocks. Even the noises had a

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 40 of 103)