Charles Dickens.

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with awful shrieks and alarms of fire ; destroyed the uniforms
of five policemen ; and committed various other atrocities,
too numerous to recapitulate. And the magistrate, after an
appropriate reprimand, fined Mr. Thomas Potter and Mr.
Robert Smithers five shillings each, for being, what the law
vulgarly terms, drunk ; and thirty-four pounds for seventeen
assaults at forty shillings a-head, with liberty to speak to the

The prosecutors icere spoken to, and Messrs. Potter and
Smithers lived on credit, for a quarter, as best they might ;
and, although the prosecutors expressed their readiness to be
assaulted twice a week, on the same terms, they have never
since been detected in " making a night of it."



WE were passing the corner of Bow-street, on our return
from a lounging excursion the other afternoon, when a crowd,
assembled round the door of the Police-office, attracted our
attention. We turned up the street accordingly. There were
thirty or forty people, standing on the pavement and half
across the road ; and a few stragglers were patiently stationed
on the opposite side of the way all evidently waiting in
expectation of some arrival. We waited too, a few minutes,
but nothing occurred; so, we turned round to an unshorn,
sallow-looking cobbler, who was standing next us with his
hands under the bib of his apron, and put the usual question
of "What's the matter?" The cobbler eyed us from head
to foot, with superlative contempt, and laconically replied

Now, we were perfectly aware that if two men stop in the
street to look at any given object, or even to gaze in the air,
two hundred men will be assembled in no time ; but, as we
knew very well that no crowd of people could by possibility
remain in a street for five minutes without getting up a little
amusement among themselves, unless they had some absorbing
object in view, the natural inquiry next in order was, "What
are all these people waiting here for?" "Her Majesty's
carriage,"" replied the cobbler. This was still more extra-
ordinary. We could not imagine what earthly business Her


Majesty's carriage could have at the Public Office, Bow-street.
We were beginning to ruminate on the possible causes of such
an uncommon appearance, when a general exclamation from
all the boys in the crowd of " Here's the wan ! " caused us to
raise our heads, and look up the street.

The covered vehicle, in which prisoners are conveyed from
the police-offices to the different prisons, was coming along
at full speed. It then occurred to us, for the first time, that
Her Majesty's carriage was merely another name for the
prisoners' van, conferred upon it, not only by reason of the
superior gentility of the term, but because the aforesaid van is
maintained at Her Majesty's expense : having been originally
started for the exclusive accommodation of ladies and gentle-
men under the necessity of visiting the various houses of call
known by the general denomination of " Her Majesty's Gaols."

The van drew up at the office-door, and the people thronged
round the steps, just leaving a little alley for the prisoners
to pass through. Our friend the cobbler, and the other
stragglers, crossed over, and we followed their example. The
driver, and another man who had been seated by his side in
front of the vehicle, dismounted, and were admitted into the
office. The office-door was closed after them, and the crowd
were on the tiptoe of expectation.

After a few minutes' delay, the door again opened, and the
two first prisoners appeared. They were a couple of girls, of
whom the elder could not be more than sixteen, and the
younger of whom had certainly not attained her fourteenth
year. That they were sisters, was evident, from the resem-
blance which still subsisted between them, though two addi-
tional years of depravity had fixed their brand upon the elder
girl's features, as legibly as if a red-hot iron had seared them.
They were both gaudily dressed, the younger one especially;
and, although there was a strong similarity between them in
both respects, which was rendered the more obvious by their
being handcuffed together, it is impossible to conceive a
greater contrast than the demeanour of the two presented.


The younger girl was weeping bitterly not for display, or
in the hope of producing effect, but for very shame : her face
was buried in her handkerchief: and her whole manner was
but too expressive of bitter and unavailing sorrow.

"How long are you for, Emily?" screamed a red-faced
woman in the crowd. "Six weeks and labour," replied the
elder girl with a flaunting laugh; "and that's better than
the stone jug anyhow; the mill's a deal better than the
Sessions, and here's Bella a-going too for the first time. Hold
up your head, you chicken," she continued, boisterously
tearing the other girl's handkerchief away; "Hold up your
head, and show 'em your face. I an't jealous, but I'm blessed
if I an't game ! " " That's right, old gal," exclaimed a man
in a paper cap, who, in common with the greater part of
the crowd, had been inexpressibly delighted with this little
incident. "Right!" replied the girl; "ah, to be sure;
what's the odds, eh ? " " Come ! In with you," interrupted
the driver. "Don't you be in a hurry, coachman," replied
the girl, "and recollect I want to be set down in Cold Bath
Fields large house with a high garden-wall in front; you
can't mistake it. Hallo. Bella, where are you going to
you'll pull my precious arm off?" This was addressed to
the younger girl, who, in her anxiety to - hide herself in the
caravan, had ascended the steps first, and forgotten the strain
upon the handcuff. "Come down, and let's show you the
way." And after jerking the miserable girl down with a force
which made her stagger on the pavement, she got into the
vehicle, and was followed by her wretched companion.

These two girls had been thrown upon London streets, their
vices and debauchery, by a sordid and rapacious mother.
What the younger girl was then, the elder had been once;
and what the elder then was, the younger must soon become.
A melancholy prospect, but how surely to be realised ; a
tragic drama, but how often acted ! Turn to the prisons and
police offices of London nay, look into the very streets
themselves. These things pass before our eyes, day after



day, and hour after hour they have become such matters
of course, that they are utterly disregarded. The progress
of these girls in crime will be as rapid as the flight of a
pestilence, resembling it too in its baneful influence and
wide-spreading infection. Step by step, how many wretched
females, within the sphere of every man's observation, have
become involved in a career of vice, frightful to contemplate ;
hopeless at its commencement, loathsome and repulsive in
its course ; friendless, forlorn, and unpitied, at its miserable
conclusion !

There were other prisoners boys of ten, as hardened in
vice as men of fifty a houseless vagrant, going joyfully to
prison as a place of food and shelter, handcuffed to a man
whose prospects were ruined, character lost, and family
rendered destitute, by his first offence. Our curiosity, how-
ever, was satisfied. The first group had left an impression
on our mind we would gladly have avoided, and would
willingly have effaced.

The crowd dispersed ; the vehicle rolled away with its
load of guilt and misfortune; and we saw no more of the
Prisoners' Van.




MRS. TIBBS was, beyond all dispute, the most tidy, fidgety,
thrifty little personage that ever inhaled the smoke of London ;
and the house of Mrs. Tibbs was, decidedly, the neatest in
all Great Coram-street. The area and the area-steps, and
the street-door and the street-door steps, and the brass handle,
and the door-plate, and the knocker, and the fan-light, were
all as clean and bright, as indefatigable white-washing, and
hearth-stoning, and scrubbing and rubbing, could make them.
The wonder was, that the brass door-plate, with the interest-
ing inscription "MRS. TIBBS," had never caught fire from
constant friction, so perseveringly was it polished. There
were meat-safe-looking blinds in the parlour-windows, blue
and gold curtains in the drawing-room, and spring-roller
blinds, as Mrs. Tibbs was wont in the pride of her heart to
boast, " all the way up." The bell-lamp in the passage looked
as clear as a soap-bubble ; you could see yourself in all the
tables, and French-polish yourself on any one of the chairs.
The banisters were bees-waxed; and the very stair-wires
made your eyes wink, they were so glittering.

Mrs. Tibbs was somewhat short of stature, and Mr. Tibbs
was by no means a large man. He had, moreover, very short


legs., but, by way of indemnification, his face was peculiarly
long. He was to his wife what the is in 90 he was of
some importance with her he was nothing without her.
Mrs. Tibbs was always talking. Mr. Tibbs rarely spoke ;
but, if it were at any time possible to put in a word, when
he should have said nothing at all, he had that talent. Mrs.
Tibbs detested long stories, and Mr. Tibbs had one, the
conclusion of which had never been heard by his most
intimate friends. It always began, " I recollect when I was
in the volunteer corps, in eighteen hundred and six," but,
as he spoke very slowly and softly, and his better half very
quickly and loudly, he rarely got beyond the introductory
sentence. He was a melancholy specimen of the story-teller.
He was the wandering Jew of Joe Millerism.

Mr. Tibbs enjoyed a small independence from the pension-
list about 43/. 15*. 10J. a year. His father, mother, and five
interesting scions from the same stock, drew a like sum from
the revenue of a grateful country, though for what particular
service was never known. But, as this said independence was
not quite sufficient to furnish two people with all the luxuries
of this life, it had occurred to the busy little spouse of Tibbs,
that the best thing she could do with a legacy of TOO/.,
would be to take and furnish a tolerable house somewhere
in that partially-explored tract of country which lies between
the British Museum, and a remote village called Somers-town
for the reception of boarders. Great Coram-stree^vas the
spot pitched upon. The house had been furnished accord-
ingly ; two female servants and a boy engaged ; and an
advertisement inserted in the morning papers, informing the
public that " Six individuals would meet with all the comforts
of a cheerful musical home in a select private family, residing
within ten minutes' walk of" everywhere. Answers out of
number were received, with all sorts of initials ; all the
letters of the alphabet Deemed to be seized with a sudden
wish to go out boarding and lodging; voluminous was the
correspondence between Mrs. Tibbs and the applicants ; and


most profound was the secrecy observed. "E." didn't like
this ; " I. 11 couldn't think of putting up with that ; " I. O. U."
didn't think the terms would suit him ; and " G. R. 11 had
never slept in a French bed. The result, however, was, that
three gentlemen became inmates of Mrs. Tibbs's house, on
terms which were "agreeable to all parties. 11 In went the
advertisement again, and a lady with her two daughters,
proposed to increase not their families, but Mrs. Tibbs's.

" Charming woman, that Mrs. Maplesone ! " said Mrs.
Tibbs, as she and her spouse were sitting by the fire after
breakfast ; the gentlemen having gone out on their several
avocations. "Charming woman, indeed!* 1 repeated little
Mrs. Tibbs, more by way of soliloquy than anything else,
for she never thought of consulting her husband. " And the
two daughters are delightful. We must have some fish to-
day ; they'll join us at dinner for the first time/ 1

Mr. Tibbs placed the poker at right angles with the fire
shovel, and essayed to speak, but recollected he had nothing
to say.

"The young ladies, 11 continued Mrs. T., "have kindly
volunteered to bring their own piano. 11

Tibbs thought of the volunteer story, but did not venture
it. A bright thought struck him

" It's very likely " said he.

" Pray don't lean your head against the paper," interrupted
Mrs. Tibbs ; " and don't put your feet on the steel fender ;
that's worse."

Tibbs took his head from the paper, and his feet from the
fender, and proceeded. "It's very likely one of the young
ladies may set her cap at young Mr. Simpson, and you know
a marriage "

" A what ! " shrieked Mrs. Tibbs. Tibbs modestly repeated
his former suggestion.

"I beg you won't mention such a thing, 11 said Mr. T.
" A marriage, indeed ! to rob me of my boarders no, not
for the world, 11


Tibbs thought in his own mind that the event was by no
means unlikely, but, as he never argued with his wife, he put
a stop to the dialogue, by observing it was "time to go to
business."" He always went out at ten o'clock in the morning,
and returned at five in the afternoon, with an exceedingly
dirty face, and smelling mouldy. Nobody knew what he was,
or where he went; but Mrs. Tibbs used to say with an air
of great importance, that he was engaged in the City.

The Miss Maplesones and their accomplished parent arrived
in the course of the afternoon in a hackney-coach, and
accompanied by a most astonishing number of packages.
Trunks, bonnet-boxes, muff-boxes and parasols, guitar-cases,
and parcels of all imaginable shapes, done up in brown paper,
and fastened with pins, filled the passage. Then, there was
such a running up and down with the luggage, such scamper-
ing for warm water for the ladies to wash in, and such a
bustle, and confusion, and heating of servants, and curling-
irons, as had never been known in Great Coram-street before.
Little Mrs. Tibbs was quite in her element, bustling about,
talking incessantly, and distributing towels and soap, like a
head nurse in a hospital. The house was not restored to its
usual state of quiet repose, until the ladies were safely shut
up in their respective bedrooms, engaged in the important
occupation of dressing for dinner.

" Are these gals 'andsome ? " inquired Mr. Simpson of Mr.
Septimus Hicks, another of the boarders, as they were
amusing themselves in the drawing-room, before dinner, by
lolling on sofas, and contemplating their pumps.

" Don't know, 11 replied Mr. Septimus Hicks, who was a
tallish, white-faced young man, with spectacles, and a black
ribbon round his neck instead of a neckerchief a most
interesting person ; a poetical walker of the hospitals, and a
"very talented young man." He was fond of "lugging"
into conversation all sorts of quotations from Don Juan,
without fettering himself by the propriety of their appli-
cation; in which particular he was remarkably independent.


The other, Mr. Simpson, was one of those young men, who
are in society what walking gentlemen are on the stage, only
infinitely worse skilled in his vocation than the most indif-
ferent artist. He was as empty-headed as the great bell of St.
Paul's; always dressed according to the caricatures published
in the monthly fashion ; and spelt Character with a K.

" I saw a devilish number of parcels in the passage when I
came home," simpered Mr. Simpson.

"Materials for the toilet, no doubt, 11 rejoined the Don
Juan reader.

"Much linen, lace, and several pair

Of stockings, slippers, brushes, combs, complete ;

With other articles of ladies fair,

To keep them beautiful, or leave them neat."

" Is that from Milton ? " inquired Mr. Simpson.

"No from Byron,"" returned Mr. Hicks, with a look of
contempt. He was quite sure of his author, because he had
never read any other. " Hush ! Here come the gals," and
they both commenced talking in a very loud key.

" Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones, Mr. Hicks. Mr.
Hicks Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones," said Mrs.
Tibbs, with a very red face, for she had been superintending
the cooking operations below stairs, and looked like a wax
doll on a sunny day. "Mr. Simpson, I beg your pardon
Mr. Simpson Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones "
and vice versa. The gentlemen immediately began to slide
about with much politeness, and to look as if they wished
their arms had been legs, so little did they know what to do
with them. The ladies smiled, curtseyed, and glided into
chairs, and dived for dropped pocket-handkerchiefs : the
gentlemen leant against two of the curtain-pegs ; Mrs. Tibbs
went through an admirable bit of serious pantomime with a
servant who had come up to ask some question about the
fish-sauce ; and then the two young ladies looked at each
other; and everybody else appeared to discover something
very attractive in the pattern of the fender.


"Julia my love," said Mrs. Maplesone to her youngest
daughter, in a tone loud enough for the remainder of the
company to hear "Julia. 1 '

"Yes, Ma."

"Don't stoop. 11 This was said for the purpose of directing
general attention to Miss Julia's figure, which was undeniable.
Everybody looked at her, accordingly, and there was another

" We had the most uncivil hackney-coachman to-day, you
can imagine, 1 ' said Mrs. Maplesone to Mrs. Tibbs, in a
confidential tone.

" Dear me ! " replied the hostess, with an air of great
commiseration. She couldn't say more, for the servant
again appeared at the door, and commenced telegraphing
most earnestly to her " Missis."

" I think hackney-coachmen generally are uncivil," said Mr.
Hicks in his most insinuating tone.

" Positively I think they are," replied Mrs. Maplesone, as if
the idea had never struck her before.

" And cabmen, too," said Mr. Simpson. This remark was
a failure, for no one intimated, by word or sign, the slightest
knowledge of the manners and customs of cabmen.

" Robinson, what do you want ? " said Mrs. Tibbs to the
servant, who, by way of making her presence known to her
mistress, had been giving sundry hems and sniffs outside the
door during the preceding five minutes.

"Please, ma'am, master wants his clean things," replied
the servant, taken off her guard. The two young men turned
their faces to the window, and " went off" like a couple of
bottles of ginger-beer ; the ladies put their handkerchiefs to
their mouths ; and little Mrs. Tibbs bustled out of the room
to give Tibbs his clean linen, and the servant warning.

Mr. Calton, the remaining boarder, shortly afterwards
made his appearance, and proved a surprising promoter of
the conversation. Mr. Carlton was a superannuated beau
an old boy. He used to say of himself that although his


features were not regularly handsome, they were striking.
They certainly were. It was impossible to look at his face
without being reminded of a chubby street-door knocker,
half-lion half-monkey ; and the comparison might be extended
to his whole character and conversation. He had stood still,
while everything else had been moving. He never originated
a conversation, or started an idea; but if any commonplace
topic were broached, or, to pursue the comparison, if any-
body lifted him up, he would hammer away with surprising
rapidity. He had the tic-douloureux occasionally, and then
he might be said to be muffled, because he did not make
quite as much noise as at other times, when he would go on
prosing, rat-tat -tat the same thing over and over again. He
had never been married; but he was still on the look-out
for a wife with money. He had a life interest worth about
800?. a year he was exceedingly vain, and inordinately
selfish. He had acquired the reputation of being the very
pink of politeness, and he walked round the park, and up
Regent-street, every day.

This respectable personage had made up his mind to
render himself exceedingly agreeable to Mrs. Maplesone
indeed, the desire of being as amiable as possible extended
itself to the whole party ; Mrs. Tibbs having considered it
an admirable little bit of management to represent to the
gentlemen that she had some reason to believe the ladies
were fortunes, and to hint to the ladies, that all the gentle-
men were "eligible." A little flirtation, she thought, might
keep her house full, without leading to any other result.

Mrs. Maplesone was an enterprising widow of about fifty :
shrewd, scheming, and good-looking. She was amiably
anxious on behalf of her daughters ; in proof whereof she
used to remark, that she would have no objection to marry
again, if it would benefit her dear girls she could have no
other motive. The "dear girls" themselves were not at all
insensible to the merits of "a good establishment."" One of
them was twenty-five ; the other, three years younger. They


had been at different watering-places, for four seasons ; they
had gambled at libraries, read books in balconies, sold at
fancy fairs, danced at assemblies, talked sentiment in short,
they had done all that industrious girls could do but, as
yet, to no purpose.

" What a magnificent dresser Mr. Simpson is ! " whispered
Matilda Maplesone to her sister Julia.

" Splendid ! " returned the youngest. The magnificent
individual alluded to wore a maroon-coloured dress-coat, with
a velvet collar and cuffs of the same tint very like that
which usually invests the form of the distinguished unknown
who condescends to play the "swell"" in the pantomime at
*' Richardson's Show."

" What whiskers ! " said Miss Julia.

"Charming!"" responded her sister; "and what hair!"
His hair was like a wig, and distinguished by that insinu-
ating wave which graces the shining locks of those chef-
cFceuvres of art surmounting the waxen images in Bartellot's
window in Regent-street; his whiskers meeting beneath his
chin, seemed strings wherewith to tie it on, ere science had
rendered them unnecessary by her patent invisible springs.

"Dinner's on the table, ma'am, if you please," said the
boy, who now appeared for the first time, in a revived black
coat of his master's.

" Oh ! Mr. Calton, will you lead Mrs. Maplesone ? Thank
you." Mr. Simpson offered his arm to Miss Julia; Mr.
Septimus Hicks escorted the lovely Matilda; and the pro-
cession proceeded to the dining-room. Mr. Tibbs was intro-
duced, and Mr. Tibbs bobbed up and down to the three
ladies like a figure in a Dutch clock, with a powerful spring
in the middle of his body, and then dived rapidly into his
seat at the bottom of the table, delighted to screen himself
behind a soup-tureen, which he could just see over, and that
was all. The boarders were seated, a lady and gentleman
alternately, like the layers of bread and meat in a plate
of sandwiches ; and then Mrs. Tibbs directed James to take


off' the covers. Salmon, lobster-sauce, giblet-soup, and the
usual accompaniments were efts-covered : potatoes like petri-
factions, and bits of toasted bread, the shape and size of
blank dice.

"Soup for Mrs. Maplesone, ray dear,"" said the bustling
Mrs. Tibbs. She always called her husband "my dear"
before company. Tibbs, who had been eating his bread, and
calculating how long it would be before he should get any
fish, helped the soup in a hurry, made a small island on
the table-cloth, and put his glass upon it, to hide it from
his wife. ',

" Miss Julia, shall I assist you to some fish ? "

" If you please very little oh ! plenty, thank you " (a
bit about the size of a walnut put upon the plate).

" Julia is a very little eater," said Mrs. Maplesone to Mr.

The knocker gave a single rap. He was busy eating the
fish with his eyes: so he only ejaculated, "Ah!"

"My dear," said Mrs. Tibbs to her spouse after every one
else had been helped, "what do you take?" The inquiry
was accompanied with a look intimating that he mustn't say
fish, because there was not much left. Tibbs thought the
frown referred to the island on the table-cloth ; he therefore
coolly replied, " Why 111 take a little fish, I think."

"Did you say fish, my dear?" (another frown).

"Yes, dear," replied the villain, with an expression of
acute hunger depicted in his countenance. The tears almost
started to Mrs. Tibbs^s eyes, as she helped her " wretch of a
husband," as she inwardly called him, to the last eatable bit
of salmon on the dish.

"James, take this to your master, and take away your
master's knife." This was deliberate revenge, as Tibbs never
could eat fish without one. He was, however, constrained to

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 26 of 31)