Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 41 of 103)
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black sound to me — as the trumpet sounded red
to the blind man.

Our dexterous boat's crew made nothing of
the tide, and pulled us gallantly up to Waterloo
Bridge. Here Pea and I disembarked, passed
under the black stone archway, and climbed the
steep stone steps. Within a few feet of their
summit, Pea presented me to Waterloo (or an
eminent toll-taker representing that structure),
muffled up to the eyes in a thick shawl, and
amply great-coated and fur-capped.

Waterloo received us with cordiality, and ob-
served of the night that it was " a Searcher."
He had been originally called the Strand Bridge,



he informed us, but had received his present name
at the suggestion of the proprietors, when Parlia-
ment had resolved to vote three hundred thousand
pound for the erection of a monument in honour
of tlie victory. Parliament took the hint (said
Waterloo, with the least flavour of misanthropy)
and saved the money. Of course the late Duke
of Wellington was the first passenger, and of
course he paid his penny, and of course a noble
lord preserved it evermore. The treadle and
index at the toll-house (a most ingenious con-
trivance for rendering fraud impossible) were
invented by Mr. Lethbridge, then property-man
at Drury-Lane Theatre.

Was it suicide we wanted to know about? said
Waterloo. Ha ! Well, he had seen a good deal
of that work, he did assure us. He had pre-
vented some. Why, one day a woman, poorish-
looking, came in between the hatch, slapped
down a penny, and wanted to go on without the
change ! Waterloo suspected this, and says to
his mate, " Give an eye to the gate," and bolted
after her. She had got to the third seat between
the piers, and was on the parapet just a-going
over, when he caught her and gave her in charge.
At the police-office next morning, she said it was
along of trouble and a bad husband.

" Likely enough," observed Waterloo to Pea
and myself, as he adjusted his chin in his shawl.
" There's a deal of trouble about, you see — and
bad husbands too ! "

Another time, a young woman, at twelve
o'clock in the open day, got through, darted
along; and, before Waterloo could come near
her, jumped upon the parapet, and shot herself
over sideways. Alarm given, waterman put oft',
lucky escape. — Clothes buoyed her up.

" This is where it is," said Waterloo. " If
people jump off straight forwards from the middle
of the parapet of the bays of the bridge, they are
seldom killed by drowning, but are smashed,
poor things ; that's what they are ; they dash
themselves upon the buttress of the bridge. But,
you jump off," said Waterloo to me, jDutting his
forefinger in a button-hole of my great-coat;
" you jump oft" from the side of the bay, and
you'll tumble, true, into the stream under the
arch. What you have got to do is to mind how
you jump in ! There was poor Tom Steele
from Dublin. Didn't dive ! Bless you, didn't
dive at all ! Fell down so flat into the water,
that he broke his breast-bone, and lived two
days ! "

I asked Waterloo if there were a favourite side
of his bridge for this dreadful purpose ? He re-
flected, and thought yes, there was. He should
say the Surrey side.



DOWN WITH THE TJDE.



Three decent-looking men went through one
day, soberly and quietly, and went on abreast
for about a dozen yards ; when the middle one,
he sung out, all of a sudden, " Here goes, Jack ! "
and was over in a minute.

Body found ? Well. Waterloo didn't rightly
recollect about that. They were compositors,
they were.

He considered it astonishing how quick people
were ! ^^'hy, there was a cab came up one
Boxing-night, with a young woman in it, who
looked, according to Waterloo's opinion of her,
a little the worse for liquor ; very handsome she
was too — very handsome. She stopped the cab
at the gate, and said she'd pay the cabman then :
which she did, though there was a little hanker-
ing about the fare, because at first she didn't
seem quite to know where she wanted to be
drove to. However, slie paid the man, and the
toll too, and looking Waterloo in the face (he
thought she knew him, don't you see !) said, " I'll
finish it somehow ! " Well, the cab went off,
leaving Waterloo a little doubtful in his mind,
and while it was going on at full speed the young
woman jumped out, never fell, hardly staggered,
ran along the bridge pavement a little way, pass-
ing several people, and jumped over from the
second opening. At the inquest it was giv' in
evidence that she had been quarrelling at the
Hero of Waterloo, and it was brought in jealousy.
(One of the results of Waterloo's experience was,
that there was a deal of jealousy about.)

" Do we ever get madmen ? ' said Waterloo,
in answer to an inquiry of mine. " Well, we do
get madmen. Yes, we have had one or two ;
escaped from 'Sylums, I suppose. One hadn't
a halfpenny ; and because I wouldn't let him
through, he went back a little way, stooped
down, took a run, and butted at the hatch like a
ram. He smashed his hat rarely, but his head
didn't seem no worse — in my opinion on account
of his being wrong in it afore. Sometimes people
haven't got a halfpenny. If they are really tired
and poor, we give 'em one and let 'em through.
Other people will leave things — pocket-handker-
chiefs mostly. I have taken cravats and gloves,
pocket-knives, toothpicks, studs, shirt -pins,
rings (generally from young gents, early in the
morning), but handkerchiefs is the general thing."

" Regular customers ? " said Waterloo. " Lord,
yes ! '\\'e have regular customers. One, such a
worn-out, used-up old file as you can scarcely
picter, comes from the Surrey side as regular as
ten o'clock at night comes ; and goes over, /
think, to some flash house on the Middlesex
side. He comes back, he does, as reg'lar as the
clock strikes three in the morning, and then can



hardly drag one of his old legs after the other.
He always turns down the water-stairs, comes
up again, and then goes on down the Waterloo
Road. He always does the same thing, and
never varies a minute. Does it every night —
even Sundays."

I asked Waterloo if he had given his mind to
the possibility of this particular customer going
down the water-stairs at three o'clock some
morning, and never coming up again ? He
didn't think iliat of him, he replied. In fact, it
was Waterloo's opinion, founded on his observa-
tion of that file, that he know'd a trick worth
tv.-o of it.

" There's another queer old customer," said
Waterloo, " comes over, as punctual as the alma-
nac, at eleven o'clock on the sixth of January,
at eleven o'clock on the fifth of April, at eleven
o'clock on the sixth of July, at eleven o'clock on
the tenth of October. Drives a shaggy little,
rough pony, in a sort of a rattle-trap arm-chair sort
of a thing. White hair he has, and white whiskers,
and muffles himself up with all manner of shawls.
He comes back again the same afternoon, and
we never see more of him for three months. He
is a captain in the navy — retired — wery old —
wery old — and served with Lord Nelson. He is
particular about drawing his pension at Somer-
set House afore the clock strikes twelve every
quarter. I have heerd say that he thinks it
wouldn't be according to the Act of Parliament,
if he didn't draw it afore twelve."

Having related these anecdotes in a natural
manner, which was the best warranty in the
world for their genuine nature, our friend Water-
loo was sinking deep into his shawl again, as
having exhausted his communicative powers and
taken in enough east wind, when my other friend
Pea in a moment brought him to the surface by
asking whether he had not been occasionally the
subject of assault and battery in the execution
of his duty? Waterloo, recovering his spirits,
instantly dashed into a new branch of his sub-
ject. We learnt how "boUi these teeth" — here
he pointed to the places where two front teeth
were not — were knocked out by an ugly cus-
tomer who one night made a dash at him
(Waterloo), while his (the ugly customer's) pal
and coadjutor made a dash at the toll-taking
apron where the money-pockets were ; hov/
Waterloo, letting the teeth go (to Blazes, he
observed indefinitely), grappled with the apron-
seizer, permitting the ugly one to run away ; and
how he saved the bank, and captured his man,
and consigned him to fine and imprisonment.
Also how, on another night, "a Cove " laid hold
of Waterloo, then presiding at the horse gate oi'



TOLL-TAKER'S EXPERIENCE.



213



his bridge, and threw him unceremoniously over
his knee, having first cut his head open with his
whip. How Waterloo " got right," and started
after the Cove all down the Waterloo Road,
through Stamford Street, and round to the foot
of Blackfriars Bridge, where the Cove "cut into"
a public-house. How Waterloo cut in too ; but
how an aider and abettor of the Cove's, who
happened to be taking a promiscuous drain at the
bar, stopped Waterloo ; and the Cove cut out
again, ran across the road down Holland Street,
and where not, and into a beershop. How
Waterloo, breaking awaj' from his detainer, was
close upon the Cove's heels, attended by no end
of people, who, seeing him running with the
blood streaming down his face, thought some-
thing worse was " up," and roared Fire ! and
Murder ! on the hopeful chance of the matter in
hand being one or both. How the Cove was
ignominiously taken in a shed where he had
run to hide, and how at the police-court they at
first wanted to make a sessions job of it; but
eventually Waterloo was allowed to be "spoke
to," and the Cove made it square Avith Waterloo
by paying his doctor's bill (W. was laid up for a
week) and giving him " Three, ten." Likewise
we learnt what we had faintly suspected before,
that your sporting amateur on the Derby day,
albeit a captain, can be — "if he be," as Captain
Bobadil observes, "so generously minded" —
anything but a man of honour and a gentleman ;
not sufficiently gratifying his nice sense of humour
by the witty scattering of flour and rotten eggs
on obtuse civilians, but requiring the further ex-
citement of "bilking the toll," and "pitching
into " Waterloo, and " cutting him about the
head with his whip;" finally being, when called
upon to answer for the assault, what Waterloo
described as " Minus," or, as I humbly conceived
it, not to be found. Likewise did Waterloo
inform us, in reply to my inquiries, admiringly
and deferentially preferred tlirough my friend
Pea, that the takings at the Bridge had more
tlian doubled in amount since the reduction of
the toll one-half. And being asked if the afore-
said takings included much bad money, Waterloo
responded, with a look far deeper than the
deepest part of the river, he should think not ! —
and so retired into his shawl for the rest of the
night.

Then did Pea and I once more embark in our
four-oared galley, and glide swiftly down the
river with the tide. And while the shrewd East
rasped and notched us, as with jagged razors,
did my friend Pea impart to me confidences of
interest relating to the Thames Police ; we be-
tween-whiles finding "duty boats" hanging in



dark corners under banks, like weeds — our own
was a " supervision boat " — and they, as they
reported " all riglit ! " flashing their hidden light
on us, and we flashing ours on them. These
duty boats had one sitter in each : an Inspector :
and were rowed " Ran-dan" — which, for the infor-
mation of those who never graduated, as I was
once proud to do, under a fireman-waterman and
winner of Kean's Prize W^herry : who, in the
course of his tuition, took hundreds of gallons of
rum-and-egg (at my expense) at the various
houses of note above and below bridge ; not by
any means because he liked it, but to cure a
weakness in his liver, for which the faculty had
particularly recommended it — may be explained
as rowed by three men, two pulling an oar each,
and one a pair of sculls.

Thus, floating down our black highway, sul-
lenly frowned upon by the knitted brows oi
Blackfriars, Southwark, and London, each in his
lowering turn, I was shown by my friend Pea
that there are, in the Thames Police Force,
whose district extends from Battersea to Bark-
ing Creek, ninety-eight men, eight duty boats,
and two supervision boats ; and that these go
about so silently, and lie in wait in such dark
places, and so seem to be nowhere, and so may
be anywhere, that they have gradually become
a police of prevention, keeping the river almost
clear of any great crimes, even while the in-
creased vigilance on shore has made it much
harder than of yore to live by " thieving " in the
streets. And as to the various kinds of water
thieves, said my friend Pea, there were the
Tier-rangers, who silently dropped alongside the
tiers of shipping in the Pool by night, and who,
going to the companion-head, listened for two
snores — snore number one., the skipper's ; snore
number two, the mate's — mates and skippers
always snoring great guns, and being dead sure
to be hard at it if they had turned in and were
asleep. Hearing the double fire, down went
the Rangers into the skippers' cabins ; groped
for the skippers' inexpressibles, which it was
the custom of those gentlemen to shake off,
watch, money, braces, boots, and all together,
on the floor ; and therewith make oft' as silently
as might be. Then there were the Lumpers, or
labourers employed to unload vessels. They
wore loose canvas jackets with a broad hem in
the bottom, turned inside, so as to form a large
circular pocket in which they could conceal,
like clowns in pantomimes, packages of sur-
prising sizes. A great deal of property was
stolen in this manner (Pea confided to me) from
steamers ; first, because steamers carry a larger
number of small packages than other ships ;



214



A WALK IN A WORKHOUSE.



next, because of the extreme rapidity with
which they are obhged to be unladen for their
return voyages. The Lumpers dispose of their
booty easily to marine-store dealers, and the
only remedy to be suggested is that marine-
store shops should be licensed, and thus
brought under the eye of the police as rigidly
as public-houses. Lumpers also smuggle goods
ashore for the crews of vessels. The smuggling
of tobacco is so considerable, that it is well
Avorth the while of the sellers of smuggled to-
bacco to use hydraulic presses, to squeeze a
single pound into a package small enough to be
contained in an ordinary pocket. Next, said
my friend Pea, there were the Truckers — less
thieves than smugglers, whose business it was
to land more considerable parcels of goods than
the Lumpers could manage. They sometimes
sold articles of grocery, and so forth, to the
crews, in order to cloak their real calling, and
get aboard without suspicion. Many of them
had boats of their own, and made money. Be-
sides these, there were the Dredgermen, who,
under pretence of dredging up coals and such-
like from the bottom of the river, hung about
barges and other undecked craft, and when they
saw an opportunity, threw any property they
could lay their hands on overboard, in order
slily to dredge it up when the vessel was gone.
Sometimes they dexterously used their dredges
to whip away anything that might lie within
reach. Some of them were mighty neat at this,
and the accomplishment was called dry dredg-
ing. Then, there was a vast deal of property,
such as copper nails, sheathing, hard wood, &c.,
habitually brought away by shipwrights and
other workmen from their employers' yards,
and disposed of to marine-store dealers, many
of whom escaped detection through hard swear-
ing, and their extraordinary artful ways of ac-
counting for the possession of stolen property.
Likewise, there were special-pleading practi-
tioners, for whom barges " drifted away of their
own selves " — they having no hand in it, except
first cutting them loose, and afterwards plunder-
ing them — innocents, meaning no harm, who
had the misfortune to observe those foundlings
wandering about the Thames.

We were now going in and out, with little
noise and great nicety, among the tiers of ship-
ping, whose many hulls, lying close together,
rose out of the water like black streets. Here
and there, a Scotch, an Irish, or a foreign
steamer, getting up her steam as the tide made,
looked, with her great chimney and high sides,
like a quiet factory among the common build-
ings. Now, the streets opened into clearer



spaces, now contracted into alleys ; but the
tiers were so like houses in the dark, that I
could almost have believed myself in the nar-
rower by-ways of Venice. Everything was
wonderfully still ; for it wanted full three hours
of flood, and nothing seemed awake but a dog
here and there. s

So we took no Tier-rangers captive, nor any
Lumpers, nor Truckers, nor Dredgermen, nor
other evil-disposed person or persons ; but
went ashore at ^Vapping, where the old Thames
police-oflice is now a station-house, and where
the old Court, with its cabin windows looking
on the river, is a quaint charge-room : with
nothing worse in it usually than a stuffed cat in
a glass case, and a portrait, pleasant to behold,
of a rare old Thames Police-ofiftcer, Mr. Super-
intendent Evans, now succeeded by his son.
We looked over the charge books, admirably
kept, and found the prevention so good, that
there were not five hundred entries (including
drunken and disorderly) in a whole year. Then
we looked into the store-room ; where there
was an oakum smell, and a nautical seasoning
of dreadnought clothing, rope yarn, boat-hooks,
sculls and oars, spare stretchers, rudders, pistols,
cutlasses, and the like. Then, into the cell,
aired high up in the wooden wall through an
opening like a kitchen plate-rack ; wherein
there was a drunken man, not at all warm, and
very wishful to know if it were morning yet.
Then, into a better sort of watch and ward
room, where there was a squadron of stone
bottles drawn up, ready to be filled with hot
water, and applied to any unfortunate creature
who might be brought in apparently drowned.
Einally, we shook hands with our worthy friend
Pea, and ran all the way to Tower Hill, under
strong Police suspicion occasionally, before we
got warm.




A WALK IN A WORKHOUSE.



N a certain Sunday, I formed one oi
the congregation assembled in the
chapel of a large metropolitan Work-
house. With the exception of the

\"^X\\^ clergyman and clerk, and a very few

^^^/ officials, there were no



none but paupers
present. The children sat in the galleries ;
'? the women in the body of the chapel, and
in one of the side-aisles ; the men in the remain-
ing aisle. The service was decorously performed,
though the sermon might have been much better
adapted to the comprehension and to the cir-




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INMATES.



215



cumstances of the hearers. The usual suppHca-
tions were oftered, with more than the usual signifi-
cancy in such a place, for the fatherless children
and widows, for all sick persons and young
children, for all that were desolate and oppressed,
for the comforting and helping of the weak-
hearted, for the raising up of them that had
fallen ; for all that were in danger, necessity, and
tribulation. The prayers of the congregation
were desired " for several persons in the various
wards dangerously ill ; " and others who were
recovering returned their thanks to Heaven.

Among this congregation were some evil-
looking young women and beetle-browed young
men ; but not many — perhaps that kind of cha-
racters kept away. Generally, the faces (those
of the children excepted) were depressed and
subdued, and wanted colour. Aged people were
there, in every variety. Mumbling, blear-eyed,
spectacled, stupid, deaf, lame ; vacantly winking
in the gleams of sun that now and then crept in
through the open doors from the paved yard ;
shading their listening ears or blinking eyes
with their withered hands ; poring over their
books, leering at nothing, going to sleep, crouch-
ing and drooping in corners. There were weird
old women, all skeleton within, all bonnet and
cloak without, continually wiping their eyes with
dirty dusters of pocket-handkerchiefs ; and there
were ugly old crones, both male and female, with
a ghastly kind of contentment upon them which
was not at all comforting to see. Upon the
whole, it was the dragon. Pauperism, in a very
weak and impotent condition ; toothless, fang-
less, drawing his breath heavily enough, and
hardly worth chaining up.

When the service was over, I walked with
the humane and conscientious gentleman whose
duty it was to take that walk that Sunday morn-
ing, through the little world of poverty enclosed
within the workhouse walls. It was inhabited
by a population of some fifteen hundred or two
thousand paupers, ranging from the infant newly
born or not yet come into the pauper world, to
the old man dying on his bed.

In a room opening from a squalid yard, where
a number of listless women were lounging to
and fro, trying to get warm in the ineffectual
sunshine of the tardy May morning — in the
" Itch Ward," not to compromise the truth — a
woman such as Hogarth has often drawn, was
hurriedly getting on her gown before a dusty
fire. She was the nurse, or wardswoman, of
that insalubrious department — herself a pauper
— flabby, raw-boned, untidy — unpromising and
coarse of aspect as need be. But, on being
spoken to about the patients whom she had in



charge, she turned round, with her shabby gown
half on, lialf off, and fell a crying with all her
might. Not for show, not querulously, not in
any mawkish sentiment, but in the deep grief
and affliction of her heart; turning away her di-
shevelled head ; sobbing most bitterly, wringing
her hands, and letting fall abundance of great
tears, that choked her utterance. What was the
matter with the nurse of the itch-ward? Oh,
" the dropped child " was dead ! Oh, the child
that was found in the street, and she had brought
up ever since, had died an hour ago, and see
where the little creature lay, beneath this cloth 1
The dear, the pretty dear !

The dropped child seemed too small and
poor a thing for Death to be in earnest with,
but Death had taken it ; and already its diminu-
tive form was neatly washed, composed, and
stretched as if in sleep upon a box. I thought
I heard a voice from Heaven saying, It shall be
well for thee, O nurse of the itch-ward, when
some less gentle pauper does those offices to
thy cold form, that such as the dropped child
are the angels who behold my Father's face !

In another room were several ugly old women
crouching, witch-like, round a hearth, and chat-
tering and nodding, after the manner of the
monkeys. '! All well here ? And enough to
eat ? " A general chattering and chuckling ; at
last an answer from a volunteer. " Oh yes, gen-
tleman ! Bless you, gentleman ! Lord bless the
parish of St. So-and-so ! It feed the hungry, sir,
and give drink to the thusty, and it warm them
which is cold, so it do, and good luck to the
parish of St. So-and-so, and thankee, gentleman!"
Elsewhere, a party of pauper nurses were at
dinner. " How do you get on ? " " Oh, pretty
well, sir ! We works hard, and we lives hard —
like the sodgers ! "

In another room, a kind of purgatory or place
of transition, six or eight noisy madwomen were
gathered together, under the superintendence of
one sane attendant. Among them was a girl of
two or three and twenty, very prettily dressed,
of most respectable appearance, and good man-
ners, who had been brought in from the house
where she had lived as domestic servant (having,
I suppose, no friends), on account of being sub-
ject to epileiDtic fits, and requiring to be re-
moved under the influence of a very bad one.
She was by no means of the same stuff", or the
same breeding, or the same experience, or in
the same state of mind, as those by whom she
was surrounded ; and she pathetically com-
plained that the daily association and the nightly
noise made her worse, and was driving her mad
— which was perfectly evident. The case was



2l6



A WALK IN A WORKHOUSE.



noted for inquiry and redress, but she said she
had already been there for some weeks.

If this girl had stolen her mistress's watch, I
do not hesitate to say she would have been
infinitely better off. We have come to this
absurd, this dangerous, this monstrous pass, that
the dishonest felon is, in respect of cleanliness,
order, diet, and accommodation, better provided
for, and taken care of, than the honest pauper.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 41 of 103)