To paint life as it is—no poet's fancy, no romancer's
dream, can paint more estranger or sad a picture. The romance of
fiction cannot equal the romance of truth.
Well then—such I desire to portray. To reflect in
simple language, the domestic wrongs and sorrows of society—such as they
at present are—in a plain, simple, and unvarnished tale.
Oh! many a battle is fought by the dim circle of the
household hearth, as noble, or as terrible, as that with crowned brigades
on the fields of "glory." Oh! many a suffering is endured in the
still bosom of familiar life, as bitter or as hopeless as that of the
unlaurelled Martyr at the bigot's stake!
And yet—who speaks of them? Who knows of them?
Who reeks of them?
Down—down beneath the cold surface of society there are
rankling wrongs'—that fret, that fester, that destroy—and yet, they never
glide over the tongue of the Reformer, the brain of the Religionist, or
the heart, even of the well-wishers of mankind.
Every order of society has domestic sufferings peculiar to
itself, sufferings, besides those to which "all flesh is heir"—brought on
by the vile mechanism of our system. These sufferings may first
strike man,—and that is but just, for man makes society what it
is—or at least, allows it to remain so—but the evil stops not there—it
reaches farther, to the breast of woman! What gross
injustice! for society counts woman as nothing in its institutions, and
yet makes her bear the greatest share of sufferings inflicted by a system
in which she has no voice! Brute force first imposed the law—and
moral force compels her to obey it now.
I purpose, therefore, to lift the veil from before the wrongs
of woman —to shew her what she suffers at her own home-hearth—how society
receives her—what society does for her—where society leaves her.
To shew it, not merely in one class or order—but upward,
downward, through all the social grades. If I draw pictures at which
you shudder—if I reveal that, at which your your heart revolts—I cannot
help it—it is truth—such is the world that surrounds you—such is the world
that made you—such is the world you help to make—go! try to alter
it, and BEGIN AT HOME.
THE WORKINGMAN'S WIFE.
1.—The Childbirth of the Poor.
IF, at any time, you should pass of an evening the
Royal Palace of Pimlico, down the long line of pillared palaces, and
thence diverge by the stately piles of governmental craft, the temples of
brute force by land and sea, the pinnacles beneath which class legislates
against class—the hall where justice darkles in its sideling nooks, or the
proud pile where Mammon stands based upon the graves of buried fame.
If you should pass down between the long lines of this stately but unequal
epic of stone, and brick, and marble, interspersed with its episodes of
gleaming water, and green trees, exotic birds and flowers, statues, arches
and columns, fountains of water, and jets of thrice filtered flame, dotted
on the margins, prosaic and yet brilliant notes! with its innumerable
shops, and flooded with the long current of carriage, horse and foot; take
but one step, and side by side with all this gaud and glory, you pass into
the regions of darkness and dismay. Behind you lies the greatness of
the present in light, and voice, and life; the glory of the past in
pillar, arch, and statue; and before you, between two tall houses opens a
narrow, deep ravine, winding on in gloomy, sightless lengths, a thin strip
of murky sky stretched overhead between the reeking house-tops, like dirty
calico across a broken roof. The windows of Downing-street overlook
Proceed a little way, and to the right you will see a narrow
archway beneath the first floor of a mouldering house. You must
stoop to enter it; some steps lead downward from the street; a fetid
stench continually rushes upward through the opening; and on looking down,
you perceive a narrow court, formed by a few dilapidated tenements on
either side, and closed up by a dead wall at the end. The space
between them is unpaved, and half-covered pools of stagnant water, filth,
and ordure. Ragged children, almost naked—the colour of their skin
concealed by dirt—with pale, straggling, unkempt hair, bare feet, hollow,
sunken eyes, white, shrunken, ghostly faces, and their dwindled limbs,
flit over it by day. At night are heard strange sounds of strife or
orgy, of tears and prayers, and hoarse murmurs, which might be taken
equally for the brute-expression of a savage pleasure, or the last
groaning of a dying victim.
Well nigh, side by side with pestiferous gulf, arise the
splendid mansions you have passed, the dwellings of the magnates of the
land. The wretch below can see from his glassless casements the
silken curtains of the rich hang, fluttering in the breeze; and if pain or
hunger keep him wakeful in the close, hot, summer night, lie can hear the
roll of carriages bearing gay fashion to its gorgeous revel, the ball-room
music floating from the balconies—aye, even the voluptuous murmurs of the
His is a hell, where the damned have paradise in perspective,
with the certainty of never entering.
This scene is a type of the whole neighbourhood. Some
slight changes were made not long ago—when the rich opened a new street
through part of the district. But it needed the cholera to come
first, and radiate from this focus of infection. The rich had
pity then, because they felt fear—and the ordure was removed at
the same time as the corpses.
On the evening on which our narrative begins, sad, moaning
cries were heard from one of the smallest houses in the court described
above—cries anxious and broken, similar to those uttered by a woman about
to become a mother.
It was Margaret Haspen in the pangs of child-birth.
The young woman lay in one of those close wooden boxes,
recessed in the wall—opening with a sliding door, or curtain, in the
room—called by courtesy a bed. What little of the fetid air of the
street that entered the room, could scarcely reach the dark, unhealthy
nook, in which the miserable woman writhed with agony. The door of
the one room that constituted the entire home of Margaret and her husband,
stood open, but it was crowded with neighbours. There was a
continual running to and fro between the street-door and the bed-side—all
the old gossips in the neighbourhood being desirous of seeing how the
labour was proceeding; for the very poor have that, at least, in common
with Queens, their births take place with open doors.
Not far from the bed-side of Margaret sat John Haspen, the
bricklayer, with folded arms and outstretched legs, smoking his pipe with
calm indifference. Still nearer stood the nurse, with equal apathy.
However, after a time, the phlegm of the latter seemed to
vanish—she became uneasy—the agony of Margaret became insufferable—and the
neighbours began to wink at each other knowingly, and to express their
fears in whispers.
"Twelve hours, and no progress! there must be something
wrong! Perhaps an operation will be wanted!"
"Oh! just fancy if she was to suffer like Patty Braddis!
They were obliged to cut her side open! She has just exactly the
same symptoms! It's the same case precisely! How Patty
suffered! When she was dead, the blood ran from her eyes, drop by
drop, as from two badly closed wounds!"
Margaret, who heard all, uttered a piercing shriek.
"I told you," said an old crone, "that the child lay wrong.
She won't stand it. They'll be obliged to cut it in pieces!"
Here the sufferer gave so horrible a cry, that even Haspen
was troubled. He advanced to the bed-side. Margaret grew worse
"Happen," said the nurse, "you must fetch a doctor. I
cannot take the responsibility upon myself."
"She's better now,"—he answered sullenly.
"Yes! to be worse again in a moment. Go for the
"Do I know a doctor? Where the d— am I to get a
"Fetch Mr. Cutter—he lives close by."
"I'll fetch him; don't budge, John!" said a neighbour, and
limped off in a half-run.
The bricklayer resumed his place in an angry mood.
"A doctor too!" he muttered through his teeth, relighting his
pipe. "This completes our ruin—this confinement," and he cast a look
of sour displeasure on his wife.
The doctor entered with the old crone. Mr. Cutter had
served long in the marines. He was a fearless practitioner, who
treated his man as a sculptor does a block of marble—cutting away without
remorse or scruple. Accustomed to nautical slang and jollity, he
brought it into the sick-room. No one knew better than he how to
crack a joke over a death-bed, or launch a pun beside a grave. This
freedom of speech and callous confidence had given the poor a high opinion
of his talents. Finding him always unmoved and jocose beside the bed
of pain, they thought he drew his firmness from the certainty of success.
Thus his reputation was soon founded, and a few reckless, fortunate cures
crowned it. As to the many dead whom he had murdered, nobody talked
of them: the medical assassination of the poor is a matter too unimportant
for attention. Besides, amid that crowd where the one treads on the
heels of the other in the run for life, a dead man is one competitor less,
and one vacant place the more. Once buried, his quondam comrades
feel more easy; for, in our social state, which makes us rivals
instead of associates, there are always more interested in each
other's death than in each other's LIFE.
When Cutter entered, Margaret was uttering fainter cries of
"Well, well, my girl! What's the matter? They
tell me you've a starling that wont come out of his cage! Ha, ha!
that's all. We must open the door. What's the lock broken, and
the key lost? Ha, ha! Well, let's see! Children are like
a bottle of wine—the beginning's more pleasant than the end. Ha, ha,
He then set about his task.
"Never mind! Patience! A little steel
medicine—ha, ha!—and all will be right." The sight of his
preparations terrified poor Margaret.
"No, no !" she shrieked, writhing at the bottom of her bed.
"You'll kill me—I wont —let me alone!"
"Ha, ha!" giggled Mr. Cutter; "never mind—all done in a
minute. No, no! eh? You didn't always say no, no, my dear! so
it's too late to say it now. Ha, ha!"
"What witty man he is!" tittered the gossips at the door.
Margaret resisted a few moments, but he commanded her harshly
with an oath to be quiet, and she yielded. One hour after, a female
child was born, amid terrific agony.
"Curse it, a girl!" cried the husband, dashing his pipe to
pieces in his anger.
"A girl!" moaned the sufferer; "all that pain, and then to
have a girl!"
Such is the child-bed of the poor—so the poor man's child was
born: a curse and a sigh welcomed it into life.
"That's it," cried Mr. Cutter, gaily. "You see it's not
so bad after all. Ha! ha! Now you must have rest, and peace of
mind. Take light, and at the same time, nourishing food. Well: have
you no towel?"
The deuce! the outfit seems to have been a little neglected.
Ha! ha! No matter; well, as I was saying, broth, and light white
meats—and, above all, no imprudence. Good bye; I call in again in a
We need not tell the reader that none of these recommendation
were followed—because they could not be.
Margaret recovered, however, as all women of h class—not by
tender care, not by nourishing diet, but thanks to the vigour of a healthy
constitution. But, as always happens in like cases, she preserved
the traces of her sufferings. There was not, as with the rich, the
gentle hand of caressing love or of hired but assiduous care, to wipe the
wrinkles of pain from the drawn face—there was not the resource of
science, and the choice of viands, to replenish the temporary void of
strength. The bright luxuriance, the buoyant freshness that
embellished the young maid, was succeeded in the young mother by that
faded hue, that haggard expression, that withering and decay, that
characterises the matrons of the poor.
Toil, domestic duties, the painful care of her child,
finished the work, and effaced the last vestige of her early beauty.
She sank into that premature old age, so sadly traceable in the child of
want and sorrow.
Meanwhile, the child grew, and prospered.
The bricklayer's home was like that of most others of his
order—a mixture of annoyance and irritation. The first intoxication
of pleasure attendant on the union of a man and woman who have not learnt
to dislike each other, once past — the first fever of youthful passion
once over, they sank into mutual cold indifference.
Indeed, Haspen never loved his wife. She was a servant
at his employer's, and he married her because he wanted a wife, and she
had saved a little money. He looked on his house merely as a
resting-place—at his wife merely is a servant without wages, whom he found
convenient to prepare his meals, and make and share his bed.
On the whole, he was not by nature a bad man. Sunk in
utter ignorance, his principal pleasure was the satisfaction of his
appetites—society had done the best to make a brute out of a man—yet he
was capable of a sudden generous impulse, though devoid of that gentleness
and feeling which smoothes the intercourse of home, and wins domestic
sympathy. A machine of flesh and bone, he could be good or bad,
according as the hand of circumstance might push him.
Margaret was his superior: having entered service many years,
she was removed from that close contact with rude, unpolished vice, that
breaking against the sharp corners of society, which deadens feeling and
intelligence. She had lived neither amid the oaths of rage nor the
cries of drunkenness. She had not been thus much refined, but what
she could descend easily to the lower grade—a change, however, that
withered the freshness of the young woman's soul, even as neglect and want
had withered that of her body!—a change that left the scarce conscious
recollection of a better life, and faded visions of a happier home.
Thus they jogged on together—and they bore the character of a happy couple
in their court, because Haspen did not beat her.
The year passed thus without producing any material change.
The little child, Catherine, grew into girlhood, and the parents lived on
under the fear of the morrow, as before. Haspen's earnings neither
rose nor fell. Placed on the brink of destitution, he still
contrived to cling to the rim of the precipice—a breath could knock him
over—the illness of a few weeks—want of employment—fall of wage. But
he had escaped all these dangers—without, however, laying anything by for
the future. Indeed, his wages were too low to reserve much, and what
little he might have spared was engulfed by the public-house.
Nevertheless, Margaret had little fear for the future.
Catherine was strong, and could already do some work. She would soon
be old enough to enter service—and her wages were a great guarantee for
the future. Add to this the fact that the young girl had received
from heaven the greatest blessing it can give the poor man's child—she was
a "little eater."
"JUST honour enough to escape
Mr. Barrowson, Haspen's employer, was a large, open-faced,
florid man—with a wide mouth, white teeth, and curly hair. He had
frank jovial manner, with a loud voice, and large fat hand, equally ready
to grasp in recognition or to strike in enmity. He passed for an
excellent fellow. Though forty years old, he was still a bachelor,
and seemed likely to remain so. It was certainly whispered in some
quarter that he was a libertine, avaricious, and had done some things
treating very closely on the limits of the criminal law; but he invariably
took up his bills, paid ready money—and, in one word—acted like an
"honourable man." He had just successfully completed several
extensive speculations, and was enjoying a pause in business, after
Content with his enormous recent gains, he was sitting
quietly in his office, by the side of his partner, reading the Times.
"It's horrible!" he cried suddenly. "If government does
not act with vigour, business will be ruined."
"What is it!" asked his partner.
"Nothing but combinations of working-men; Everywhere a demand
for a rise of wage."
"There's the law against combination."
"Certainly; but where's the use of the law, if it is not
The partner mended a pen, and said nothing. Barrowson
"By the bye, have you seen the other masters?"
"Yes; the reduction of wages for bricklayers, plasterers, and
masons, is agreed to."
"Very good. If they object, we'll turn them adrift.
We have no press of work just now, and they must soon or die of hunger."
"Exactly so. Of course, they're at perfect liberty
to choose," the partner quietly observed, wetting the nib of his pen,
and resumed his calculations, while Barrowson continued his perusal of the
That very evening, in paying his men, Barrowson told them his
contracts were all finished, and he had no further need of their services.
This was a thunderbolt to his hearers.
Barrowson had expected the effect of his words, but ho
remained deaf to their prayers to keep them on. "Go and try
elsewhere," was this answer . They ran to every other employer, but
they were all in the conspiracy, and all told them that they were not in
want of hands. The men were forced to return to Barrowson. He
repeated his old answers—"he had no work for them." At last, as
though more by pity, he said, that "out of kindness to them, and at a
heavy inconvenience to himself, be would take a few of them on again, but
at LOWERED WAGES."
They had not expected this, and they went away.
Barrowson shrugged his shoulders, and said, looking after
them: "They are proud now, because their bellies are full. Wait a
few days longer!"
He counted on hunger as an auxiliary, and she failed him not.
Them struggle cannot be long between the rich, who can afford to wait, and
the poor, who must dine tomorrow. And sure enough, the men came
back, begging Mr. Barrowson to take them on at the diminished wages.
The wages once lowered in the one firm, the others followed the example,
and a general reduction took place throughout the district. The
conspiracy, of which the men were made the utterly unconscious tools, had
been crowned with complete success. Instead of wages being lowered
from the employer's poverty, they are lowered when he is so rich that he
knows he can afford to bear a strike. The master makes his
arrangements before he begins the reduction—the man, not till
after it is made. The first is sure to conquer.
One workman alone refused to work at the lowered rate.
Refused by every firm, he still persisted to struggle single-handed
against that terrible coalition. He was told that the law was on his
side, and would punish the combination of employers as well as that of the
employed—a good many told him this, but not one could tell him how he
could get at the law, or how he could pay for the law; and, if the truth
must be told, he had no great confidence in the laws made by the rich for
the protection of the poor. The law, to him, was a policeman and a
tax-collector—and, embittered by fighting the unequal struggle, he
suffered in silent patience. But his resources diminished with every
day: he had sold all his furniture—the all but necessary clothing of his
wife, his child, and himself went next—the pressure increased, the last
means of prolonging the combat was gone—he had reached the confines of
famine and death—nothing remained but submission!
Pale with rage, shame and hunger, he went to the premises of
Barrowson, and aked for work on the same conditions as the others.
The employer received him with a jovial air—told him the
somewhat superior place he had formerly filled was occupied by one
Latchman, but that he might go and work among the crowd.
The return of Haspen was quite an event in the yard.
Those among his companions who had been the first to submit, and before
whom he had boasted that he would sooner die than yield, seized with
avidity this opportunity for his humiliation. He was overwhelmed
with a deluge of gross jests and mockeries, which he could answer only by
the strength of his arm. But when he first had sent back the sarcasm
down the throats of a few of his hearers, the open mockery ceased.
Nevertheless a half-smothered hostility continued to growl around him.
His companions could not forgive him for having shown more spirit than
In midst of this general aversion, one man only made up to
Haspen—it was Latchman, who had supplanted him.
Latchman had the character of a commonplace, rather
indifferent workman. His appearance was repulsive, and his worn and
blunted features reminded you of one of those pieces of money from which
long use has nearly effaced the original stamp—the noble effigy of
manhood. Perhaps it had been lost beneath the wearing hand of
vice—perhaps nature had but negligently struck the die; the bad money of
humanity that circulates along the ranks of life! Perhaps, too, a
profound hypocrisy had thrown that mask of unmeaningness upon his sallow
face. Latchman was, among all the workmen, the one who attracted the
least notice. He was known only for his passive obedience and
obsequious servility—to which qualities he owed his new employment.
His having superseded Haspen and his place did not much ingratiate him
with the latter, who repelled his advances; but nothing could offend
Latchman: insult glided from his bent and servile brow without leaving a
single trace of anger—besides, he adopted an infallible means of
conciliating Haspen—he treated him to drink—and they were quickly friends.
Meanwhile, the embarrassments of Haspen continued unabated.
His wages, never large, and now less, did not permit him to recover
himself from his difficulties—his debts or his losses. Vainly he
struggled against the overwhelming fatality which was dragging him down
into an abyss. Vainly he struggled against the poverty, which clung
to him like an ulcer. He strove hard—he strove manfully—but he
strove uselessly. As soon as he saw that he gained no ground in the
strife, he gave up all effort, and sunk into apathy and despair.
Then the real misery came—that clinging watchful misery that
counts the mouthfuls and calculates the strength. It came—and with
it came the evil thoughts. Perfidious voices seemed
whispering in his ear—he felt tempted, and he trembled!
He resisted—but the very struggle weakened him: he tried to
drown his thoughts in drink, and, that means once tried, he sought none
other. From his home, where the picture of their misery harrowed
him, he rushed to the beer-shop to forget it. The very sight of his
mute, but plaintive family, threw him into the rage of helpless
despair—rendered still more blind by drunkenness.
About this time, cries of pain and anger began to be heard by
the neighbours, and the report ran in the court that the bricklayer was in
the habit of beating his wife.
To crown their misery, Margaret was delivered of another
child, whom they named Mary.
3.—A NIGHT SCENE.
ABOUT eight months had elapsed since the birth of Margaret's second child.
It was one of those nights of early spring, replete with fog
and frost, so prevalent in London; while the dull sound of a half awakened
tempest moaned along the sky. The Abbey clock bad just struck
Margaret sat cowering over the grate, where the faint embers of a fire
glimmered. The young woman had retained no traces of her pristine beauty. Her face was sallow and wrinkled—her haggard eyes shone wildly through
swollen lids that tears had furrowed. Little Mary rested on her knees, but
the child's hoarse, uneasy respiration, was interrupted by a deep
convulsive cough. In the midst of the silent gloom of the apartment, the
weak struggles of the child sounded like the rattle of the dying. At last
the fire went out entirely, and the roots in darkness.
Then Margaret heard in the corner farthest from the fire-place, a
chattering of teeth, mingled with plaintive moans.
"Catherine! Catherine!" cried the mother in alarm—"What is
matter?—What makes you cry?"
An almost inarticulate voice was heard to answer in the darkness "Mother! I
die of cold!"
"Come to me, Catherine! Press yourself against me. Give me your hand, my
child—your hand—I don't feel it."
"It is in yours, mother!"
"Then I, too, must be very cold."
"Oh yes! your hands freeze me!"
"Oh G—! If I had but the fever I had yesterday, I could warm her!"—cried
Margaret. "I am very wretched!"—
"Where is father?" asked the child, pressing against her mother, and
folding her dress around.
"I don't know, Catherine!"
"Will he bring us something to eat?"
"Are you hungry also, child?" asked the young mother in a mournful voice.
The little girl noticed something plaintive in the
tone, as of a breaking heart, and said in a low accent—
"Not very, mother!—If I could but sleep, I should not think about it."
Margaret took a handkerchiefs from her neck and tied it round that of her
daughter, then— seeking the most sheltered nook, placed her there, gently
exhorting her to sleep. The little nurse babe, Mary, had also just dropped
to sleep, and once more all was wrapped in deep, funereal silence.
At this moment, a heavy, vacillating step rung on the pavement of the
The door flew rudely open—and Haspen entered, drunk, and pipe in mouth.
He advanced, stumbling, to the middle of the sombre room, his sight yet
unaccustomed to the transition from the gassy glare without, and sought
with outstretched arms, the fire-place that showed no signs of warmth.
"Margaret!" lie cried in a voice evidently indicative of irritation.
He called her thrice without receiving an answer.
At last a voice was heard as harsh as his: "well?"
"Why, you child of the devil! is there neither fire nor light?"
"Because I have none!"
"And why have you none?"
"Because John Haspen drinks and sings at the public-house, while his
children die of cold and hunger."
"That'll do, Margaret!"—cried the bricklayer, dashing his foot upon the
floor—"that'll do, unless you wish me to stave in your skull like an
"John Haspen, the children are starving!"
"Then give them your tongue to eat, viper and be silent! So there is
no wood here to light a fire. Where's the hatchet?"
He took a hatchet from the floor, and at a blow smashed one of the two only
chairs remaining in the house—threw the fragments on the grate, and a few
sparks communicating with the dry wood, soon kindled it into flame, and
cast their lurid light on the melancholy scene.
Margaret had never left her place, and sat motionless, with fixed eyes,
her child pressed in her arms, and but feebly concealing beneath an
assumed indifference the indignation that boiled in her veins, stretched
her nostrils, and flashed from her eyes. Haspen, standing before the
grate, held his feet alternately over the flame, that lit up the evil
aspect of his harsh and hardened features.
All the rest of the room was lost in darkness.
For a time, the actors in this strange scene were silent—then Haspen,
taking his pipe out of his mouth said, turning to his wife : "to-morrow
they'll come and sell all we have to pay the rent. That scoundrel
Stonage, won't let us remain here any longer."
"And, pray, where shall we go to?"
"To the street. That will be good enough for your ape and you. Besides, we
must quit London. I have no more work. I left Barrowson's three days ago,
and could not get a job anywhere else."
"Serve you right, Haspen. What's the use of a man who's not fit for
anything—whose hand trembles with gin, and who can't see where he lays his
"Silence, woman!" cried the bricklayer, in ungovernable fury, and crushing
his pipe between his fingers; "silence! or I'll teach you that my hand is
strong enough for you still."
The woman tossed her head in scornful defiance.
"That's not what you promised me, John, when you came of evenings to speak
with me at master's gate. If I drew back from your hand, then, it was to
avoid a caress, and not a blow. I thought I married one who had the arms
of a workman, and the heart of a man. Why did you not tell me then, that
you could not work well enough to keep two little children? You want us to
leave London! And, pray, what for? Do you suppose I'll go, with two girls
around my neck, begging from door to door for you? You want to make a
trade of the misery of your wife and children, do you? You're out in your
reckoning, sweetheart! Follow you I will—but it shall be to cry to the
passers-by: 'Do you see this man? He is strong—he is well—but he will not
work to give us food.'"
"Have you done, Margaret?"
"Presently, Haspen! I must tell you all. I've held my tongue too long—but
mark you! I suffered too much hunger in the hunger of these poor little
innocents. Go and swill in the beer-house if you like, but I'll not quit
its door. While you drink, you shall hear us cry for bread—when you come
out drunk, you shall have to stagger over the bodies of your children that
I'll cast in the mud before the threshold. Its time you shared a little of
our misery. They're not my children only. Do you think my arms are strong
enough to carry them always, without you taking your turn? I've had my
share of suffering—the rest shall be for you."
Haspen had listened to this long tirade, at first with a scornful
indifference, then with fast rising wrath. His features became inflamed,
his chest heaved, his breath hissed in his throat that tried to compress
He advanced one step towards Margaret with clenched hands—then drew
back—containing himself still.
"I, too—I've had my share to put up with —and with you," he said, at last,
in a low, dull, stifled voice. "Silence! unless you wish to see blood flow
to-night. I hate you, woman! for since I took to you, my miseries crowded
on me. Before—I never wanted—I worked all the week, and I played all the
Sunday—but you —you have come across me like my evil genius —you, and your
children! Do you understand me now? You are a nest of vipers that I'll
crush under my feet!"
In speaking these last words with the rise of thunder in his voice, he
stamped his heavy foot upon the remnants of the burning chair that laid
before the grate with such a terrible force that the blazing splinters
showered about the room.
A sudden cry was heard, and little Catherine darted up from the chimney
corner towards her mother—her clothes had caught fire.
The terrified Margaret raised her in her arms: John! John! water! for
the love of Heaven water; the poor child is burning!"
But the angry man never moved.
His foot upon a brand—his head erect—with the delirious excitement of
rage—he looked rigidly and terribly silent upon the child writhing in its
mother's arms—and the mother trying to extinguish the flames.
During three minutes the struggle lasted—it was a fearful sight to see
those two weak creatures wrestling for life amid a circle of fire—and the
impassive stillness of the strong man who stood gazing on them.
At last, Margaret surrounded the child with an embrace so close and
complete, that the smothered blames expired.
"G—! my G—! she is burnt! burnt to the bone!"—and then, turning to
Happen, whose angry quiet goaded her to madness: look here, villain!
look—this is for your work!"
She raised her wretched daughter, yelling with pain, in her arms, and held
it close before the face of its father.
"Finish your murder, then!"
"Margaret! won't you be silent?"
"Kill her, then—assassin! Look—see! don't her blood make you thirst?"
The hideous wounds of the victim nearly touched the face of the man—he
could no longer master his passion.
"Back! I tell you, Satan!" and, quicker than the word, a blow was given.
It was aimed at the mother, but it hit the forehead of the child, who fell
on the floor with a fearful moan.
That moan was followed by a hoarse and savage cry, as the mother's eyes
wandered round in search of something; she stretched her hands—stooped—and suddenly rising—the husband felt the sharp, cold blow of a
hatchet strike his check, and glide off into his shoulder.
Pain made him utter an oath—he was about to dart on Margaret, but with the
agility of a tigress, she had already darted into the darkest corner of
the room, her child in one arm, the hatchet in her hand. The gleam of her
hatchet and of her angry eyes was alone visible in the darkness—the hoarse
hissing of her quick breath was alone audible in the silence.
The man paused suddenly before that fury of the tigress defending its
young—he felt fear.
For a time there was silence such as might make one's blood creep!
It was interrupted by the noise of some one pushing open the badly closed
"What's all this?" he said. "I passed before your door, Haspen; I thought
I heard cries, and feared some misfortune had happened."
"Yes—two great misfortunes! The one, to have been born—the other, not to
have drowned myself twelve years ago! Go away; this is a matter between me
and that viper there!"
"What are you going to do?" cried Latchman, who had just perceived
Margaret amid the darkness, and understood all at a glance. "Haspen,
leave your wife alone."
"I'll crush her head between my fists!" he roared. "She
has struck me—she has raised her hand against me!"
"I'll defended my child," said a dull voice.
"I'll throw you on your knees to ask my pardon."
"Try it!" said the same voice—and the eyes and the hatchet glistened in
their dark corner.
Latchman saw it was time to interfere, or the scene would turn to blood:
he seized Haspen, struggling with rage and drink, with his wiry arm—and,
soothing him all the while, dragged him to the door, and then over the
threshold, despite his struggles.
Margaret hastened to bolt the door inside. For some time the struggles of
Latchman and Haspen, who wanted to re-enter, were heard outside; but at
length the latter appeared to yield to the representations of his
companion, and their voices were lost in the distant street, in the
direction of Whitehall.
"Poverty is the mother of Crime."
WHITEHALL was a blaze of racing meteors, when Haspen
and Watchman entered from the dark Sulley-like street that opened out into
it from the slimy depths of
Westminster. There was a party at the Duchess of Buccleugh's, and some
hundred equipages, with their shining lamps, were drawn up in glittering
rows, or flitting about with
rival speed along the broad pavements of Whitehall and Palace-yard. The
waiting lines around the Lords and Commons increased the gaudy bustle, and
groups of spectators
stood here and there upon the causeway. From the Duchess's windows came
streams of light; wide, variegated awnings stretched over the porticoes
and across the street;
the shining liveries of tinselled, powdered lacqueys shone on every side;
the bayonets of the sentinels bristled over the throng; the harness
sparkled on the stately steeds,
whose fiery pawing and indignant tossings scattered the white, snow-like
foam of their hot mouths as though in scorn upon the passers-by. The
windows of Downing-street
were silent and lightless, but from the opposite side, from the Duchess's
mansion, floated strains of low, voluptuous music, now and then maddening
up into the thrilling whirl
of the electric waltz. A rich faint odour came from the princely portico
and the light draperied windows, while a subdued murmur of light muses,
gentle, animated converse,
or the light musical ring of a silvery laugh stole amid the pauses of the
minstrelsy. What a pomp of riches, might, and pleasure! But like the
skeleton at a Roman feast, the
poor stood here and there shivering in rags, and hunger, and cold upon the
pavements. Squalor, wretchedness, misery were writing their silent protest
on the pageant. The
skeleton was at the rich man's feast!
"Move on! move on!" cried the policeman, for rags must slink into their
hiding-place when riches walk abroad. They are offensive —pho! away with
them!—how dare they
parade their misery!' Go, vanish into corners, till the bone and sinew you
cover is wanted to do some work for your master. There, away with you—away
with you; you have
no business in the pleasure-light of life.
"Move on! move on!" but the liveried slave might keep his post, and the
young debauches might stand upon the watch for falling innocence in some
fair child of toil.
"Move one! move on!" Yes, we will move, and onward!
As Haspen and his friend advanced, the scene became more lively. One by
one, and two by two, Peers and Commoners hurried from St. Stephens,
leaving the nation's
business undone, to dance at the Duchess's and waltz the more.
In Downing-street work had ceased eight hours ago—or, rather, the mockery
of work had ceased since then—the care of government seemed lost, its
brute force lived alone
in bayonet and bludgeon, guarding its bright outrage against God and
"The fashion's out to-night," said Latchman.
Haspen answered not, but moved on.
"Stop," continued Latchman, "let's look at it. What a beautiful sight! It
must be very splendid inside there—I should like to see it."
"Come on! What's it to us?"
"Well, nothing; only there's no harm seeing how others enjoy themselves."
"Isn't there; well, I don't want to see it." I wonder what your wife and
child are doing now?"
"Devil! will you hold your tongue? What's that to you?"
"Why, I was thinking if some of these people would give you something
for them ――
"Why don't you ask them."'
"And why not? They're so very rich they're wasting so much—they'd never
miss it. You mustn't be proud, John; it won't do for one like you; it's not
"And why not? Proud!—I'm not proud but by—I'm as good a man as any of
these in—I flunkies, or their masters either. Beg—I'll see them—first."
"But, John, if you could get a shilling,—you know you're starving—they're
starving at home—nobody'll know anything about it. Think now, if you could
go back with a big
loaf—there's your little Catherine, and Mary, poor little things!—it
would save their lives. Now try—nobody'll ever know—it's done in a moment. Look 'at that old gentlemen
there—it's only speaking a word, and—just think now, to go home and give
them it meal!"
The bricklayer's countenance grew troubled; he looked down, and never
marked the sinister, leering look, that bespoke scorn and triumph, in the
eyes of Latchman. The
thought seemed to grapple his heart, and involuntarily he moved towards
the man Latchman had pointed out. Just then there was a commotion around
"What's that?" asked a bystander, as a stalwart policeman dragged a poor
little boy of about ten brutally by the arm.
"Oh, he's only taking that young vagabond to the station-house."
"What's he done—robbed?"
"No; he's begged of that old gentleman."
"Come on, John Haspen," said Latchman; "begging won't do, after all;" and the twain were once more engulfed in the
dark streets of Westminster.
They stopped at a low dilapidated house—numberless in a nameless alley—it
was an asylum of thieves, deserters, and fugitives from the arm of law. There the
trained to rob—there the initiated met to plot, or to divide the spoil. After
Latchman had knocked in a peculiar way, he and Haspen were admitted. A fat-lamp burned in the foul
passage—the house was silent. Latchman ushered his companion into a low,
large room, furnished with tables and benches. A mute attendant placed a
bottle of gin and two
glasses on the table, and left them. The two men seated themselves at one
of the tables.
"What the deuce was the matter with you and your wife, Haspen? When I left
you, you seemed to be in a very good humour."
"Haven't I told you she struck me?"
"But what for?"
What for? Because she's a ――! whose complaints drive me mad. I've nothing
to given the children―I'll never go home again!"
"Well, it's a hard case to be sure, to see one's chid want bread. Let
alone, that it'll go from bad to worse with you. That's been a bad job for
you with Barrowson. You were
wrong to strike him."
"Do you suppose, then, I'd allow him to raise his hand again me, without
returning it? Pooh, what do I care! I've lost my employment—I know no
other master'll take me now; but I don't care that for it. They shan't
think they're going to trample on men, I call tell them! They always had a
spite against me, because I didn't consent at once to the reduction, as
you did. You've feathered your nest pretty well. You were an infernal
"Stuff!" replied the latter, emptying his glass very quietly, "as
though they had not a right to lower wages whenever they chose!"
"No, by ――! they have not the right.
Have they the right to kill a man,
eh? I tell you from that time bread fell short—my children fell
sick—they'll never recover it! It's the life of my
wife and children the thieves have robbed me of!"
Latchman shrugged his shoulders with a most provoking indifference.
"What would you have? They're rich―they're the masters.
What is it to
them if you rot alive!"
"But, by ――! I don't choose to rot!" cried the bricklayer, starting up, and
striking his heavy fist upon the table that the glasses jingled. "Have I
not got as good a right to live as
they? If they won't give me food, by G—, I'll take it!"
"Why have you not done so, then?"
This question was asked in a very calm tone, but in so direct a manner—so
full of meaning—that Haspen felt embarrassed.
"Yes, why? Have you a right to the same pay, if
you give the same work?"
"Why of course I have."
"Well, then, if your wages are cut down, why don't you take back what is
stolen front you.
Would you allow one of your fellow-workmen
to seize on a portion of your wages on pay day?"
"Thunder and lightning, I should think not!"
"Then why do you let your master do it? When a rich man robs us, Haspen,
we can't seek justice, as if it was a poor one; but one can take it—one
seizes on ones stolen
property as one call best get it. Do you understand? What do you say to
"I?—Nothing!" relied Happen, thoughtfully and sullenly.
Latchman called for more gin.
"I say! hark'ye, Haspen! the question is, whether you mean to live in
misery, or to live at your ease, with a bob in your pocket, and a bottle
before your nose."
"And how should I manage to live so?"
"I told you already. If you hadn't your ears at your elbows, a month ago,
when we were in Barrowson's counting-house, you wouldn't have been in this
Prisons are for the stupid. Besides, d'ye see, you if you don't get any
work, you will be obliged to beg, and you will be sent to prison all the
same as a vagrant. So, you see, you
must go to prison at any rate."
"By G—! that's true!" cried the bricklayer, dropping his hat upon the
ground. "When one's down, everybody gives one a kick."
"Then help yourself on to your legs again."
"Silence!" roared Haspen, "or you'll make me do something wrong."
"Pooh, you're too frightened. Well, have your own way. Go again to Morley,
or Achren, or Shell and Co., to ask them to let you work, or perhaps
"Latchman! haven't I told you to hold your tongue!" cried Happen,
grinding his teeth with rage.
"And if I did hold my tongue, would that make things better? You want to
work—do you know you have not even got any tools?"
"Tools! no tools? why my tools are at the premises."
"Aye; but master said he'd keep them for the deductions that were due
from your wages. You was a week in arrear. Do you hear?"
"He said that? the thief!"
"And this morning your tools were sent to the forge, along with a lot of
"Is it true?―Is that true? By G—, I'll tear him into mince-meat!"
"And a nice meal you'll have of it!" said Latchman, smiling with
provoking coldness. "Besides that wont last you two days;" and
quietly lighted his pipe.
"Don't forget, my boy, that to-morrow you'll be without work, without
tools, and without lodging!"
Haspen answered not a word. His head sunk on his chest, his eyes were
fixed on the ground; his heart and brain, worn out with the angry storms
that had been racking them
so many hours, at last gave way, and when Latchman turned on him his
cunning side-long glance, the hard, strong workman cried!
A gleam of joy passed over the face of the tempter; he advanced to the
bricklayer—he took his large hand in his own skeleton grasp,
"They've stolen your tools, Haspen! but there are others it the warehouse. To-morrow evening come here, at nine o'clock, and we will arrange it all."
Haspen raised his head without speaking, heaved a sigh, deep, harsh, and
bitter, emptied his full glass at a draught, and casting around him a
wild, savage glance, said:
The two working-men went out and parted.
5.—A NIGHT ROBBERY.
"THE world calls that man a robber, who presumes to take another man's
property, without, himself, possessing a thousand pounds a year."
months after the above scene had occurred, on a cold November night, just as eleven o'clock had pealed from the tower of the Abbey, two
men might be seen gliding along the wall that encompassed the premises of
The night was dark and rainy, the wind whistled through the few leafless
trees that dotted the muddy quays of the Thames, and the roll of the river
came up at times, like the
sad and solemn voice of some strange warning.
"Wait here, John," said one of the men to his companion. "The rest will
soon be here."
"You're sure you told them of the hour?"
"Are you sure he keeps the money in the counting-house?"
"Yesterday evening, when I gave him the keys, they were busy counting the
"Hush, here's some one!"
In truth, two men were seen advancing through the gloom. They soon made
themselves known, and, after a short and whispered consultation, all four
proceeded towards an
angle of the wall. One leant against its base, another climbed on his
shoulders, and the third, with the assistance of the two first, reached
the Summit. Once there, he helped
his three companions up―they glided down into the yard, and proceeded
among piles of timber and building-materials toward the interior of the
premises. There the foremost
"Two of you here, plant the ladder; above all, be mum—the Governor sleeps
in that room
"But the dog?"
"Never mind the dog—I'll manage him."
Latchman, for it was he who had spoken, waited till his companions had
secured the ladder, and then advanced at their head.
At the corner of a shed he stopped.
"Now silence! Stop there, Castor's about to wake up."
A low and angry growl was heard, such as precedes the open bark of a huge
"Well, Castor! Old boy, Castor, don't you know me?"
These words were spoken in a subdued and cautious tone,
which, probably, was the reason why the dog did not recognise the speaker,
for he darted towards Latchman, but suddenly his head was bowed to the
"Here, Castor—here, my boy!"
The noble animal raised its head without misgiving; the next
moment it uttered a faint, broken cry, and rolled over dead.
"On!" said the robber to those behind. "Is it really
"Look!" Latchman had cut its threat. They were now
under the window of the counting-house, which was on the first floor.
"Plant the ladder," continued the same voice that had
hitherto issued every order; "and you, Jack, mount first, because of the
One of the three men mounted forthwith.
"You remain on watch, Peter. Give the alarm at the
"Lest you should be seen, hide yourself in that tool-house.
You can see all about you, from there. You, Haspen, come with me."
They mounted the ladder, Haspen first,
Jack had in the meantime reached the window, and a pane of
glass was taken out by him with marvellous dexterity.
"None but a glazier could have done that!"
The glazier had entered the room through the window, the
other two followed in their turn, and vanished in the interior. The
window was forthwith closed behind them.
During several minutes the yard remained in complete silence,
save the perpetual dropping of the rain from the roofs, and the whistling
of the wind around the deserted sheds.
The clock struck one.
Suddenly the sound of hurried footsteps reverberated against
the walls—a key grated in a lock, and a man entered the yard.
A quick and slight whistling resounded from the shed where
Peter watched, and straightway human shadows appeared against the casement
of the first floor; a head even became visible, —leant, listened, and as
All sunk in the same silence as before.
Meanwhile the man who had entered the yard passed across it,
in the direction of the house. The human shadows reappeared at the
window, but another whistle as slight and wild, it might have been taken
for the wintry wind, was heard from the shed, and the shadows vanished.
The stranger had now arrived in a line with the tool-house
where Peter was concealed. It was Barrowson's partner, who lived on
the premises, returning from a party.
"The careless scoundrels!" he muttered, seeing the door of
the tool-house open; "there are tools there that the rain would rust," and
he locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.
A few steps further on, he knocked against the ladder by
which the robbers had mounted.
"A ladder too! Haven't I told them always to put them
away? Leant against the wall too, as though it was to show thieves
With these words he took the ladder down laid it flat upon
the ground, and entered his lodgings to retire for the night.
More than ten minutes now elapsed without any signs of life,
when a quick, short whistle again sounded from the tool-house.
Forthwith the window of the counting-house opened.
"Curse it, the ladder is gone!" said Haspen, leaning over the
"And Peter is shut in—we can't get down."
"Then we're taken!" exclaimed the glazier.
"Twenty feet at least—we can't jump it."
"What shall we do?"
The three men looked at each other in utter stupefaction.
"It's you—you cursed glazier, who planned our coming here,"
cried Haspen, clenching his fist. "If we're nabbed, you shall die by
"Don't I risk as much as you? Why did you come, if
you're such a chicken-hearted rascal?"
"Silence!" said Latchman, who was the first to regain his
presence of mind. "Is this a time to quarrel? Let's sooner see
if we can't save ourselves."
"How? there's no chance!"
"One—and one only. This wall forms one side of the
store-room, which runs up two storeys. If we break through it, we
can jump down on the heap of stores piled against the side, and we can let
ourselves out that way—the outer door fastens on the inside."
"But how shall we break through the wall?"
"There are always tools kept in the little room there; give
me the glim. There—d'ye see—we can set to work now."
"Shall we have time?"
"Three hours before us, at least. Quick—to work."
"We can open the door of the tool-house, when we're once
below. But quick—not a moment's to lose!"
The three thieves set to work in good earnest. The
loosened stones began to give way, but, for fear of making a noise, they
were obliged to progress but slowly. An hour was spent thus, in
nervous, anxious terror; at last, a huge stone, the removal of which
seemed to ensure a passage, was pushed too heavily, and fell down into the
store-room with an appalling noise.
The three men stood panic-stricken.
"It's nothing! everybody's sleeping," said Latchman.
"Let's see if we can pass."
"I'll try," replied the glazier, and put his head through the
Without losing time in disputing precedence, his companions
began to push him by the legs, but the narrow opening refused passage to
the stout and thick-built robber, who struggled in vain to extricate
"He'll never get through," said Latchman. "But he
must," growled Haspen, pushing him with his colossal strength.
"Help! help! you're crushing me!" exclaimed the unhappy man.
"Through! through!" cried Haspen, jamming him with terrible
The stones which held the glazier's body wedged, were
loosened by so many efforts, and the wall front above suddenly giving way,
half buried the wretched victim in the narrow opening.
"Good G—! he's crushed!" the two men cried simultaneously.
The glazier uttered no sound—his limbs became motionless.
Latchman and his companion looked at each other in silence—a
terrible silence, compassing all that man can feel of agony and terror.
The legs of the body protruded into the counting-house, but
the trunk and bust were hidden and wedged in the wall. The two
workmen tried to release it by removing some stones, but the vice-like
grasp of the masonry remained, and they vainly sought to draw the body
back towards them.
More than an hour again passed, in a frenzy of despair and
And already the morning twilight began to whiten in the air,
and the first soft effulgence streamed across the casement, while a
delicate rose colour fell upon the distant spires.
A blind fury seized Latchman and the bricklayer; the foam
flaked from the mouth of the latter, the blood trickled from his hands,
bruised with his long and useless efforts.
"Latchman!" he cried, mad with rage and fear, "if I dash my
brains to pieces against the stones, I'll get through."
Latchman was silently busy in removing the loose masonry.
His efforts shewed the more plainly their position. A large mass had
formed a sort of keystone that supported the remainder. To move it,
would bring down the whole, and rouse the house. Sufficient space
remained for a man to pass, but that space was entirely occupied by the
body of the glazier.
The two workmen saw, at a glance, that they must either
withdraw the body, or wait there to be taken. But every effort to
withdraw the body proved vain.
The thieves drew back discouraged.
"Impossible to get him out whole!" said Latchman, with a
frenzied look. "Haspen! our life's at stake ! that man is dead!
we must get him out in pieces!"
"What, do you mean?"
"There's nothing else can save its. Take your knife,
and help me!"
"I cannot—No! Latchman."
"Then I must alone."
The knife flashed in the hand of the robber, and plunged into
But scarcely had the blade gashed the flesh, ere a smothered
shriek burst from beneath the ruin,—the body writhed convulsively, and, at
a bound, disappeared through the opening.
Roused from his swoon by the sudden pain, the glazier had
made one of those almost superhuman efforts, attempted only in the hour of
agony, and had succeeded in forcing his way.
Haspen and his companion uttered a cry of joy, and
precipitating themselves through the aperture, were soon in the store-room
below. There a horrible sight awaited them. The glazier was
seated on the floor, half naked and bleeding, and trying to fold up the
skin of his head, which had been entirely torn down over his face.
But no time was to be lost in idle pity, and the two workmen, assisting
their comrade to walk, unloosened the door of the store, and were soon
standing in the open yard.
Already Haspen was advancing toward the tool-house where
Peter was imprisoned, his repeated signals becoming dangerously loud, as
his anxiety increased with the delay—when a cry burst from the street
without--a rattle was sprung—a sudden commotion arose in the house.
The bricklayer paused in fear; he looked back—the counting-house was in
flames—they had left the lantern behind them, and it had fired the
The tread of many feet was close at hand—the keys were
turning in the great gates—Latchman, Haspen, and the glazier had barely
time to glide behind a shed, and escape across the wall at one end of the
yard, as the police and workmen entered at the other.
But Peter remained a prisoner in the tool-house.
IT was the middle of the assizes. The court
was re-opened after an adjournment of an hour—and a dense crowd was
assembled to hear the trial of the burglars who bad broken into
Barrowson's counting-house. The jury were resuming their places,
after having copiously replenished their inner man with the relics of a
substantial meal—and a throng of workless workmen, of curious loungers,
and of interested thieves, were congregated on all sides.
The judge was a fat good-natured looking man, of about sixty,
with a fresh colour, and a frolicsome eye; very fond of cracking a joke,
and passing even sentence of death so pleasantly, as though the criminal
ought to feel excessively obliged to him. He was the perfect type of
that fat, round, easy, middle-class justice, that most complacently sets
about vindicating public morals, and avenging public order, with the most
comfortable calm of conscience, on four thousand pounds per annum.
Baron Snobtape was born of a legal family—his father,
grandfather, and great-grandfather had been lawyers before him—and he was
considered the cleverest man upon the bench. No one, like him could
disconcert hardihood, or throw artifice off its guard! His great,
jolly, good-natured face disarmed suspicion. No one, like him, could
feign an interest in a prisoner, or put a captious question with seemingly
There was a great rivalry at this time between Snobtape and
Baron Papergules—and, accordingly, the former had exerted all his ability
on this occasion. As he shone in proving guilt, not innocence, the
fate of the prisoner was certain.
In vain was the assumed stupidity of innocence—so difficult
to convict of hypocrisy. In vain Latchman, who defended himself with
the most brilliant cunning, had upset one piece of evidence after another,
and explained away the most damning circumstances. Snobtape
succeeded in making the witnesses contradict each other. In vain
Peter, with heroic constancy, refused to turn queen's evidence! (what
heroism and self-sacrifice there is in the world, and wasted—wasted
worthlessly!)—Snobtape disconcerted cunning and courage alike—link by link
he soldered the manacles around the limbs of the prisoners, and in this
race between the cunning of justice and the cunning of crime—the former
was gaining rapidly the victory. An intense interest was excited by
the trial—but what was its effect upon the public? That interest
went with the accused, and not with the accuser! The public came to
hear this struggle of intellect against despair—for life on the one side,
for gain upon the other—with feelings kindred to those that take it to the
playhouse. Justice was strong—and impulsive generosity took the
weaker side. The narration of that night of agony in the
counting-house, the thrilling tremor of the hair-breadth escape—the
subsequent capture—the refusal of Peter to implicate his comrades—all
caused greater interest in the criminals than horror of the crime.
Did justice gain here? No! public feeling, like a retributive
conscience, avenged in its impulsive sympathy on the stern justice of the
rich, the social injustice that had forced the poor to sin. This
feeling was heightened by the presence of Margaret with her two
children—and grew more deep as one by one the folds were raised from that
dread drama of domestic misery. But the evidence of little Catherine
sealed her father's fate. The poor child was placed in the
witness-box. It was a terrible sight to mark the keen, cold,
long-practised intellect of the hardened lawyer, wrestling with the fond
innocence of the faithful child who strove to save her father. It
was hideous to hear the bland, singing tones of the old man, surprising
her unguarded innocence, and breaking through her weak and fragile
caution. Every confession wrested from the young girl's ignorance
tied the halter closer rounds her father's neck.
That evidence decided the case. It is true the judge
and court listened to the defence with complacent kindness. Indeed,
a young barrister had received his maiden brief to defend Haspen. He
was a friend and protégé of Snobtape. Descended of a rich family,
with large expectations, he danced and sung with the Misses Snobtape—he
was a good match—and Snobtape was pushing him. Some ladies were
accommodated with private seats to hear him—they were members of both
families—Laura Snobtape was among them! The young lawyer made a
truly pretty speech—he spoke for the ladies—he awakened tender
sympathies—he delivered himself of rhetorical passages, but as to anything
that could save his client's neck, not one word of the kind did he
utter—or ever think of uttering. On concluding, his friends gathered
round him—he was complimented on his excellent debut, and Laura Snobtape
tapped him with her fan, while tine jury said, "guilty," and the strong
heart-broken man was called up or judgment in the presence of his wife and
The sentence of the court was transportation for life—and
hard labour at the hulks for the first ten years. The convicts heard
the sentence in motionless silence, and the public—the play once over—went
away in careless hurry to seek other pastime or more profitable
One woman, with two children, remained alone of all that
crowd of strangers, besides the officers of the court, and one or two
lawyers arranging for the next case. The prisoners were to be
removed at once to the hulks. In an ante-room they were allowed to
see their friends once more.
Margaret advanced to Haspen with little Mary in her arms.
"John," she said, kindly, "here are your children. Kiss
"Leave me alone, Margaret!" the bricklayer replied, hurriedly
without raising his eyes. "Get away! Don't think about me!"
"Haspen—for the love of heaven! kiss your children!" and she
pushed Catherine and Mary into their father's arms.
The latter raised his head—a savage glare shot from his
eyes—the muscles of his face worked, and his large hand roughly repulsed
his little children.
"Get away, woman! You have been my ruin! Away
with you, all! It was to stop your cries for bread that I robbed.
You have been my black angel! Get away—get away, I say! Leave
And he staggered out with his goalers.
The counsel who had defended Haspen, had entered during this
scene, and beheld it with astonishment. He thought it would make a
capital article for the Legal Times, to show "the depravity and
heartlessness of the poor" for he was a literary man as well as a lawyer.
Accordingly, to glean more, he approached Margaret, who had remained,
erect and motionless, before the vacant space where Haspen had just stood.
"Your husband seems to be rather rough my good woman," said
the young lawyer, carelessly twirling his golden eye-glass.
"That's true, sir," she replied, as one half-stunned, "Haspen
has a rough tongue and a heavy hand."
"Then you need regret it the less, the society takes him from
you, and screens you from his brutal treatment."
Margaret raised her dark eyes on the young lawyer.
"Oh! then it's society that takes my husband from me, sir?"
"Yes, my good woman—to punish and reform him."
"Then society will take care of my children won't it?—as it
takes away Haspen, who alone enabled us to live, it will replace him to us
The lawyer sailed
"You don't understand, my good woman; society means all the
world. All mankind are united like one great family—this family is
called society,—and punishes any one of its members who injures another,
the same as you would punish your little girl if she hurt her sister.
Haspen has hurt a member of society, by robbing him of his rightful
property, and to punish him he is sent to the hulks. Do you
understand it now?"
"Oh, yes, sir. But then why are my children and I
punished, who never did any harm to anybody? For now we're without
bread. Haspen will be in prison, and there he will get plenty of
food; we shall be at liberty, and there we shall die of hunger.
D'ye see, we shall be worse punished than he!"
The lawyer kept twirling his eye-glass—but rather at a loss
for an answer.
"At last" he said, "It's an unavoidable misfortune."
"But, sir, if we're all one family, as you said just now,
surely this shouldn't be. If I punish my little girl because she's
done wrong, I don't throw a part of the punishment on her sister.
For, d'ye see, sir, taking my husband away from me for life, is the same
as if he died. It would have been better had you killed him, for
then I might, perhaps, have found another father for these children."
"Your husband is civilly dead," rejoined the lawyer,
delighted at having found a means of turning the question. "You may
look on yourself as a widow. If you had children by him now, they
would be bastards. If he earn before he dies you wouldn't inherit
it. Henceforth, society looks on him as dead."
"Oh, then I can marry again, sir, can't I, if I find anybody
who'll work to give these children bread?"
"No! not a bit—of course not," cried the lawyer, impatiently.
"How stupid these working-people are!" he added, in an under tone.
"They cant understand anything."
And, in truth, Margaret was too simple to understand the
justice of our laws. Her learning was only COMMON
THE trial of Latchman, Haspen, and their
accomplices, had revealed the underhand dealings of Barrowson—had brought
many things to light, of which nothing was publicly known—and had shown
the various infamous means by which he robbed the earnings of his men.
He had received many public slights on this account, and altogether, a
very disagreeable impression was made on the public mind.
Barrowson saw the necessity of doing something to efface it.
He had not lived so long in the world without having learnt that it was
necessary to sacrifice, at times, a little to appearances. He well
knew that public opinion looked on virtue as a very troublesome lady but
one, nevertheless, with whom it would never do to break entirely—and with
whom it was necessary to be at least on bowing terms.
Accordingly he offered Margaret the placed of porteress on
his premises—which favour conferred on the wife of the man who had robbed
him, was looked on by all the world as an act of the most sublime
generosity, and perfectly re-established him in the good graces of
Margaret, pursuant to this arrangement took up her abode on
But the name of a convict's wife marked her like the brand of
a red-hot iron. She had to suffer every humiliation that could reach
so humble and obscure a life. The people have their nobility of
honesty,—the noblest that can be !—but alas! just as haughty, as
exclusive, and as unjust as all the others!
Margaret was placed in a position superior to that she had
hitherto known; but, obliged to renounce her old acquaintance, she found
no countenance from the new; gone were her pleasant chats at the street
corner—as attractive to her as the ball-room and converzatione to the
child of fashion. And the children! No more sports and
games—the very children, glad to have a triumph over a weaker sister,
insulted the children of the convicted burglar. All was lost for
that unhappy family. If Catherine or her little sister tried to
mingle in the sports of their former playmates,—all hands closed before
theirs outstretched to form the merry round—and they were forced to sit on
a stone at the opposite side of the yard, seeing, with big tears on their
cheeks, the others laughing in the sunlight, free, unstained, and
frolicsome. It was long before Margaret could accustom herself to
her new fate, and accept her badge of misery. As to Catherine, she
fitted herself into her new position with greater courage. The first
tears once shed, she determined take life as she found it. The child
inherited much of the firm, haughty, nature of her father—much of that
disposition to brave public opinion, which makes either a hero or a
criminal, according to the force of circumstances. Meanwhile, as she
grew up, she became more and more careless of the scorn of others—more
hardened against the censures of the world. Her strong, bold spirit
soon persuaded itself that, where honour was once gone, virtue was an
unnecessary luxury. Repulsed for a fault not her own, she made up
her mind at once—and instead of useless fretting against the prejudices
that destroyed her, she accepted here disgrace complacently, and placed
herself at ease amidst her shame.
This callous and depraved reasoning was but strengthened by
the intercourse of dissolute young men and abandoned women, the only
society the prejudice of the virtuous allowed her! Her heart was
prostituted by the impure contact—long before she had committed any actual
sin; she needed now but an opportunity for the latter. That
opportunity soon offered.
Catherine was beautiful—with that rich, full, solid beauty,
so enticing to the sensualist. Barrowson had not failed to notice
her. She was exactly to his taste. He had little difficulty in
succeeding with his victim.
The situation of Catherine soon demanded secrecy—and
Barrowson, who was a most punctilious observer of the decencies—sent her
off privately to a village a short way out of town.
Her mother heard of her dishonour and of her departure at the
She uttered no reproaches—she knew they would have been
laughed at—but she determined on forthwith quitting the neighbourhood, and
going somewhere where her misfortunes would not taunt her in the public
A year, however, had elapsed, before she could realize her
During this time, Catherine had followed her course, and had
arrived at the goal: she was on the streets!
This was too much. Margaret Haspen sold all the little
she had gathered together since her husband's "death," and set off for the
country, where Barrowson granted her a lease of a little public-house,
halfway between town and his country seat.
The worthy man placed the crown on all his kindness by giving
her a letter of recommendation to his brewer and spirit dealer, and
promised to bait his horse at her door whenever he passed that way.
This was, indeed, remarkably convenient to him, for he was in the habit of
riding or driving down to this house of a Saturday evening—and frequently
either alone, or in very questionable company—this half-way house being a
place of rendezvous—not used for the most laudable purposes by our worthy
merchant. It happened just to be vacant, and he thought he could not
place a more ready tool to keep it than Margaret, the convict's wife.
After all, Barrowson was an excellent creature!
8.—THE HALF-WAY HOUSE.
IT was six o'clock in the evening; the weather was
sultry; a grey mist covered the sky—and a hot wind lifted the sand
fitfully along the broad and dusty road. A little girl of eight
stood at the door of a lonely public-house, some ten miles on the road
from London, and about a mile distant front the nearest village. She
had been gathering some wild flowers in the fields, and they drooped
withering in her hand, while, singing a monotonous song, but with a sweet
and mournful voice, she stood intently gazing down the long and arid
highway, and evidently expecting some one. In the distance down the
road, the granite spire of a market town just beckoned over the trees.
At last, with a cry of pleasure, she let her flowers drop, and bounded
"Good evening, mother—mother!" and Margaret Haspen was
obliged to stop, as little Mary dashed against her in her exuberant joy.
"Get out of the way, you plague! or I shall throw you down,"
said Margaret; but in a kindly tone, at variance with the words, and
taking little Mary in her arms, pressed her fondly to her breast.
"What news, Mary? Has anybody been?" Oh, yes;
lot's of people! Three men and a woman—all at once!"
"Did you give them to drink ?"
"Yes. But they'd drank too much already—for they could
"Did they pay you?"
"Oh, yes. Then the woman asked my name; and when I said
Mary Haspen, I don't know what was the matter with her—she grew quite
white—and then began to cry."
"What's that you say?"
"And after having cried a good deal, she took me in her arms
and kissed me. Then she asked me if we were all well, and if we were
"And did she tell you who she was?"
"Oh, no. She would have said more, but the men came,
and laughed at her because she cried. Then she began to laugh and
sing. She drank a great deal of gin, and then they all left
together. Oh! I'd nearly forgot—she said she would come back
to-night to see you."
Margaret grew thoughtful, and asked no more questions.
She had soon recognised, by a description which the child had given, her
long-lost daughter Catherine. The men were evidently strangers she
had enticed away to the public house. Bitter thoughts crowded on her
brain, and she sighed heavily, and then mechanically set about setting the
house in order.
Margaret Haspen had put little Mary to bed—the sun had set—it
was growing dark—she sat alone before the fire, listening to the hollow,
melancholy wind that moaned sadly through the dry foliage of the sunburnt
trees, when suddenly the sound of steps were heard before the door.
Margaret Haspen turned round, and saw by the indistinct
twilight, the figure of a labouring man pass the window, hesitatingly, and
looking around him, as one who feared discovery. Having assured
himself that no one but the bricklayer's wife was in the bar-kitchen, he
"Good evening to ye! Can you give us a light,
missus?"—and he took an unkindled pipe out of his mouth.
"There's the fire!"—said Margaret,
The new comer walked to the fire-place, slowly twisted a
piece of paper, lit it, and held it to his pipe still, after it had gone
out, for his eyes were busy scanning the premises. Feeling sure, at
last, that Margaret was quite alone, he took off his waggoner's
slouch-hat, and said—
"Don't you know me again, Margaret Haspen?"
The woman uttered a cry of surprise.
"Hush! silence! —don't speak that name —are you alone in the
"Yes! quite alone!—But why?"
Without giving an answer—Latchman gave a wild, peculiar
Immediately heavy footsteps were heard, and another man,
dressed like a labourer, entered.
"There's no one here but Margaret,"—said Latchman, and the
new visitor also uncovered his head—it was Haspen!
Latchman stopped another exclamation of surprise on the part
"Great ―― ! Is it you?"—said
the poor woman trembling in every limb.
"It's us, Margaret—shut the door—and now—quick! give us some
grub—for we've had nothing for twelve hours!"
The Woman never moved. Her faded eyes could not stray
from those two pale, hardened faces, gleaming through the fire-light of
the room-like some threatening apparition from the past.
"Well!―Moggy! dye hear
me?"—said Haspen, pushing her gently.
The sound of that voice, whose harsh, metallic tones were but
too well remembered, made her start, as though beneath the touch of a
half-closed wound. However, mechanically, and with a kind of fear,
she proceeded to a cupboard, and placed some food and drink before her
There was silence for several minutes—the two men eat with
eager haste—Margaret had withdrawn to a remote dark corner, and sat
watching them, as the red fire-light fell upon their Cain-like foreheads.
At last Haspen turned, and said—"you don't seem overjoyed to
see us, Margaret!—yet it's not so very short a time since we parted."
"It's a pity, John, that we ever met!"―sighed
Margaret—but not reproachfully.
"I know, Margaret!" and his tone was softened—"and yet, it
might have been different—it's a pity, Margaret!—Where are the
The wretched woman was more startled at the tone, than she
had been at the first appearance of that evening's visitors. Her
hand trembled much, and her cheek was very pale, as she took the candle
and led the outcast to the bed-side of his child.
Opening the slide of the recessed bed, she fainted. The
stalwart felon stepped to the bed, with the soft footfall of a slender
Little Mary lay lapped in careless sleep. The roses
sparkled on her dimpled cheeks—her long lashes drooped peacefully over her
closed eyes—her bright, brown, curly hair wantoned around her little
neck—and one pretty hand, hanging listlessly open, showed the innocence of
her unconscious slumber. Haspen looked at her some moments, in utter
silence—then he slowly bent, and pressed one gentle kiss upon her pure,
calm forehead. Recording angels!—there was a tear left there!
The felon turned round abruptly—and walked with long, quick
strides, to the door; Margaret re-closed the slide.
At last, he said, in a rough, hurried tone—"Where's
The poor mother bowed her head. "Catherine has left
"Left you? Why?"
"She got into bad ways—and"—
"She was with child."
Haspen folded his arms across his breast, with a gloomy
look—and remained silent a long time.
"Who was she with child by?"—he said at length, as though
struck by a sudden thought.
The name had scarce escaped the lips of Margaret—before the
felon had started up with clenched fists, and flashing eyes.
"Barrowson and Barrowson—and always BARROWSON!"—he
hissed through his closed teeth. He always—and
HE—and HE alone upon my path!—and I can't
crush his head between these two hands"—and he made a terrible gesture.
He sat down again, his whole body trembled with ungovernable
There was a long pause, which no one ventured to interrupt.
Latchman had the true tact of knowing when to speck and when to keep
silent. He had not uttered a word during the conversation between
Haspen and his wife, and he, therefore, waited now, without showing either
impatience or uneasiness. At last, when he thought his companion
sufficiently cool to listen to him, he reminded him of the dangers that
surrounded them, and of the priceless value of the passing moments.
Both the fugitives formed part of a widely spread
metropolitan association of thieves, of whom strong numbers resided here
and there about the country, affording asylum, assistance, and concealment
to the imperilled brothers of the community. This commonwealth of
thieves has remained immutable, while kingdoms and republics, empires and
constitutions have melted away from over and around it.
The two fugitives had, accordingly, depended for concealment
on the wide ramifications of their union, and relied for evading the
police on the secret resting places they could meet in the crowded
solitudes of London, and the denuded solitudes of the country.
In the village near Margaret's abode, lived one of their
accomplices. Him they now sought to reach. After a whimpering
conversation with Haspen, Latchman turned to Margaret.
"Do you know Plotchild?"
"What—the beer-house keeper in the next village?"
"Yes, I know him."
"We must get to his house. How shall we find it?"
"If you go there, you'll be taken. The police 'use' the
"The――! What shall we
do now, Latchman?"
"We must send for him to come here."
"Moggy, will you go for us?" said Haspen.
"If it is necessary to save you."
"Well, then, go—go quick! Tell him 'his friends of the
dark glib' want to see him."
"And if he refuses to come?"
"You tell him that, and he'll come." Margaret went.
The two felons were alone in the house—alone, save the
sleeping Mary. Latchman fastened the door behind her, and sat down
at the table by the side of his companion.
"If this cove will but shell out."
Perhaps he'll put us in the way of cribbing something.
There are plenty of bens here to get into."
"There are the traveller's [Ed.―commercial
travellers] too—their pockets are well lined."
"We'll do what we can—but as for the stone-jug. I'll
have no more of it. I'd sooner be scragged. The first who
tries to grab me I'll cook his goose for him with this," and the
bricklayer drew a formidable knife, sharpened into a point by the patient
laboriousness peculiar to a prisoner preparing for escape.
"Mind you don't miss fire, then, and let out some tin with
Haspen made no answer, but he clutched convulsively that arm
of death, and his eyes glared savagely, as some fearful but enticing
picture seemed to rise before his mental sight. Latchman thought he
was merely responding to his sanguinary jest.
"We must have blunt, one way or another, that's clear," said
the latter, "for without a tanner or two we should be nabbed in
"I tell you, Latchman, I won't go back there, and stand so,
any longer, with a chain on my leg, and be made a sight of to the stray
visitors who pass a pleasant hour in looking at the wild beasts in their
cage. No, I'll hang—so, I'll make sure of that, before they catch
Latchman nodded approval, and the two felons lit their pipes,
and smoked in silence.
Some little time had elapsed thus, when a horse's steps were
heard in great distance along the road, coming in the direction from
The two men raised their heads, and listened.
"Who can that be?" whispered Haspen, with the confused
suspiciousness of trembling guilt.
"We can stag him thro' here," and Latchman climbed on the
dresser, to look through a small hole at the top of the closed shutter.
"It's a swell on horseback."
"Hallo! He stops."
"What's he doing?"
"He's fastened his horse—he's taking off a portmanteau—he's
coming to the door."
At the closed door, the traveller let his portmanteau drop on
the ground, and a jingling, as of money, was distinctly audible. The
two thieves looked meaningly at each other. Meanwhile the traveller
had knocked at the door, and, receiving no answer, cried in an angry
"Well, Margaret, are you asleep or dead? Why don't you
let me in?"
"By my soul, I know that voice," said Haspen. "Listen,
Latchman, haven't you heard it before? Look, if you know him."
"Its too dark. Oliver's got his nightcap on. [Ed.―'the
Moon's behind a cloud.'] But, at any rate, there's no harm in
opening, we're two, and he's alone."
"But, if he knows us, Latchman, he'll tell."
"One can easily prevent his doing that," said the convict,
with a soft smile that had something horrible in it.
"Margaret, you infernal ―――
why don't you let me in?"
"Who's there?" answered Latchman, mimicking Margaret's voice.
"Who the deuce should it be? I—BARROWSON."
"BARROWSON!" cried the bricklayer,
darting forward, and seizing the knife he had laid on the table.
"Let him in! Quick! Let him in!"
The door opened—and Barrowson walked in.
"The D――― seize you! I
thought you meant to let me shiver there all night. There's a fog
enough to soak you to the bone—Ha! where's Margaret?"—he added, on
perceiving what he had neglected to notice at first, that it was not
Margaret who had let him in. He had proceeded right across the room
to the fire-place. In looking round for the absent hostess—his eyes
encountered the face of Haspen—who stood erect, motionless, and terrible,
before him. Barrowson uttered a cry of half surprise, half fear,—and
involuntarily made a stop towards the door. Latchman had closed it,
and stood with his back leaning against it. Barrowson's ruddy face
turned very pale—its expression became anxious. However, he tried to
resume his usual jovial manner, and exclaimed:
"The deuce, friends! who would have thought of seeing you
"Or you either," rejoined Latchman, taking off his hat, and
bowing with deliberate irony― "we are
quite delighted to see you in good health, and especially with a
The rich man looked at his treasure with trembling—he still
held it in his hand.
"What?—that?—oh nothing! that's nothing, only a few
shirts,—that's all.—But where's Margaret?"
"She's gone—Barrowson!—and—you are alone with us!"
Haspen uttered these words in a tone so deep and dread—that
the merchant started at every syllable. "Then,"—said the
latter—stammering, and advancing to the door—"we'll――we'll
ride on home good-night—friends?――"
"Why do you want to go," interposed Latchman, "you'll sleep
very comfortably here. We'll make all right in Margaret's absence,
depend upon it—you shan't want for anything we can do for you. To
begin—let me relieve you of this load"—and he laid his hand on the
"No! No! Not a bit! Don't trouble yourself, I'll let
nobody have it."
"Pooh! only some shirts! that's all," resumed Latchman―shaking
it and making the money jingle.
"What a deuced odd sound these shirts of yours have!
Come, my boy! sit down by the fire., and make yourself at home."
The miserable merchant felt his heart fail him. His
eyes wandered from Latchman to the bricklayer—and found no encouragement
from either. The face of the latter, especially, literally flashed
with hate. Barrowson once more moved to the door with undisguised
"For the love of heaven, let me go! Gentlemen!"
"We are no gentlemen!"—interposed Haspen, in a hoarse, dry
tone, in which the desire of prolonging the scene, struggled with the
almost irresistible impulse of his fury―"thanks
to you—to you—who forced the fellons' chain upon our legs!"
"My friends!—don't blame me—I was not the cause—rest
assured—my good friends! Let me go!—and I swear by all that's
sacred, I'll never tell a soul that I have seen you!"
"We're not afraid—for you won't go from here!" sneered
"What do you mean? my friends!" and the faltering merchant
could scarcely articulate. "Haspen!—my friend!"
"I your friend!"—thundered the bricklayer, every muscle of
his frame suddenly starting into convulsive action"—I?―I?―I,
whom you ruined? I! who would tear you with my bare hands!"
And he strode towards Barrowson,—his eyes on fire, his arms
stretched forward, his fingers curved to seize their prey. The
unhappy merchant completely lost his presence of mind.
"Where am I—Oh my God!――am I
in a den of cut-throats!"
"For you, at least! Barrowson!" cried Haspen, as he seized
the portly merchant with his muscular arm, and threw him backwards over a
bench before the hearth. The victim raised himself upon his knees—a
hideout and a pitiable sight. His wild, unmeaning eyes were starting
from their sockets, his hands were raised in supplication, his body bent
in the attitude of the most humiliating abjectness—his whole appearance
exhibited what villainy has most vile, and fear most cowardly. He
tried to speak, but his teeth chattered together, and he could scarcely
make himself heard.
"For the love of heaven! Haspen!—let me go!—I always
did good to your family it was I who placed your wife here. Don't
take advantage of this place. Let, me go."
"Ha! you did good to my family! did you?" hissed the
bricklayer. " Tell me, was it in lowering my wages, to drive me into
want? Was it in turning me out of work, forcing me to steal from
sheer hunger? Was it in sending me to the hulks? Was it in
ruining Catherine, whom you have turned upon the streets? Oh! you
have done my family much good, Barrowson! And I! I'll pay it
you back now! I won't be ungrateful, one good turn for another! one
by one! See, Barrowson!—there's for lowering my wage!" and the heavy
shod foot of the bricklayer smote the merchant's head, that he flew back
crashing against the fire-place wall.
"That's for turning me adrift! That's for sending
me to the hulks! That's for my-child, Catherine! D'ye hear,
Barrowson! for my child!―Catherine!
Kate! Pretty little Kate!—There!—There!—There――Ha!
At every word the foot of the convict came down with a
terrible blow, and the bruised and bloody head of the merchant rolled
round upon the hearth-stone. He still uttered suppressed cries of
agony, and once, he even succeeded in half raising himself, streaming with
blood, and crying:
"Mercy, Haspen, mercy! forgive me, oh my God! don't kill me,
Haspen! mercy don't kill me!"
He then fell forward on his face, grovelling, like a serpent,
on his belly, before his former workman, and embracing his legs in abject
supplication, tears and blood together fell from his face.
But Haspen was frenzied. "You never had pity on me!
I want your blood, Barrowson!"
With one hand he held the merchant writhing at his feet; with
the other he stretched towards the table, trying to reach the knife he had
laid there. He grasped it at length.
But scarcely had Barrowson seen the glimmer of the blade by
the fire-light, ere, with one of those sudden returns of strength that the
last agony and the last despair confer, he tore himself away—dashed the
bricklayer back, and darted to the darkest corner of the kitchen, where he
remained, uttering piercing cries.
"Cut his throat! silence him, Haspen, or we're lost!"
But Haspen had already bounded after him, and seizing the
merchant by the hair, had thrown him upon his knees—his head thrown
backward, and the long blade of the knife disappeared to the very hilt
down the throat and breast of the victim.
Barrowson fell from him without a sigh. Haspen placed a
foot upon his forehead, and drew out the knife jammed firmly in the bones.
Latchman drew near. He looked on the body with perfect
indifference, and turned the head round with his foot, as if to see
whether life really were extinct. The body never moved. "That's well
done. He'll tell no tales!"
"Water!" cried the bricklayer, whose hands were dripping
"There! But what shall we do with him now?"
"Follow me, and you'll see."
At this moment a key turned in the lock of the house door—it
opened gently—and Margaret stood upon the threshold.
ON the afternoon of the fatal night, the occurrence
of which we have just recorded, Catherine, as the reader will recollect,
had called at the half-way house, in company with two men, light
companions of her fallen days, whom she had lured on an excursion in the
country. It will, moreover, be remembered, that she had promised
little Mary to return in the evening.
Separated from her mother during two years, she had lost
sight of her early home, and wandered hither and thither, without knowing
the dwelling-place of her deserted mother. Chance had now thrown
that knowledge in her way. Although sank in the lowest stages of
vice, this poor young girl had not lost all her better nature; in the
midst of her degradation she cherished a remembrance of maternal love, and
above the gangrene of foul lusts, some feelings of pure love still rose,
like the sweet flowers that sometimes cluster over a corrupt and pestilent
She had, therefore, resolved to return to the half-way house
that very night, once more to see her mother, to obtain her forgiveness,
and to embrace her once again.
Unfortunately, her loose companions had detained her to a
very late hour, and when she left them, she was so far gone under the
influence of the drink they had forced her to partake of, that she had
great difficulty in recognising and pursuing the road to her mother's
house. She tried, nevertheless, to find her way, but felt herself so
stupefied, that she entered a field and sat down to rest. Scarcely
had she done so, ere sleep overpowered her.
Several hours must have passed before she awoke. The
darkness was very great; a mist lay seeking on the ground and tries, and a
mournful wind crept meaning through the branches. Catherine passed
her hands across her eyes, stretched her cold, stiffened limbs, and began
to look round for her onward path. She was on the side of a large
field of furze that ran on one side of a cross-road; the moon was behinds
a great black cloud; but a gleam that fell through a break in the mass,
disclosed a white strip in the distance (while all else was lost in gloom)
; it was the highway leading from the village past the, half-way house.
Towards this she endeavoured to direct her steps. Rising with difficulty,
she was skirting along the ditch, when she thought she heard, not far off,
a confused whispering of voices. Then she saw some indistinct
shadows advancing through the mist. She stood motionless and
observant. Soon, two men became distinctly visible, stealing along
the hedger, and carrying an apparently very heavy burden. At a some
distance from the young girl they stopped, and let their load drop to the
earth, which it did with a dull, cushion-like sound.
"This is a good place," said the least of the two' men, who
were dressed in the garb of labourers; "by throwing him here, they'll
think it's some chap who's been 'spoken to' on the highway."
Catherine trembled, as she heard these words, and conceived
"Besides which, nobody'll come here in a hurry," replied the
other. "This furze is only two years' old, and nobody'll touch it
"Have you the mattock?"
"Yes; and the pick. Stand out there it little more."
The two men set to work, and Catherine heard their violent
and hurried labour, as they were hewing out a trench. Her eyes now
wandered to the burden which the men had laid down at some little distance
from her. It was wrapped in a large piece of sacking, and as far as
she could judge by the feeble light of a solitary star that stepped forth
amid the darkness, two or three large black-looking streaks appeared to
have sweated through the surface. Who could the victim be?
Where could it have been stricken? She determined to do her best
towards discovering the murderers.
Catherine's nature was not easily susceptible of fear—and,
moreover, the remaining excitement of drink gave her that audacity which,
at such times, takes the place of courage even with the most timid.
She therefore determined not to attempt flight, but to remain and watch;
and accordingly crouched down behind a tuft of furze.
The two labourers had soon completed the trench, whereupon
they each lifted one end of the sack. "Take care!" said the taller;
"mind that no spots get on your clothes."
"That's not so easy," rejoined the other. "His head is
at my end, and the blood runs like beer when the spiggot's drawn."
They dropped their load into the hole, threw the earth back
over it, and Catherine heard them trampling on the heap, to flatten down
the surface. They then carefully replaced the sod and stuck some
furze here and there into its old place.
"It's all over now!" observed the lesser of the two men ; "he'll
never complain of the face-ache again!"
"Yes!—it is over!" rejoined the other, in a voice so slow and
solemn, that his companion started. The last speaker then stood bareheaded
and silent, for a moment, ere he added—"We are quits now.
A faint sound, like a half-stifled shriek, was heard from
amid the furze.
"Hush! List! Jack! did you hear that?"
"I thought I heard a cry!"
"Here—close by—from the earth!"
"Pooh! the wind in the furze. You're funking!
Come on." The two men advanced straight towards Catherine. "This
time it's no funking. Do you hear that? Look to the road!"
They stopped, and the measured pace of the rural police
sounded from the lane. "It's the peelers! Down! quick and they
both lay flat upon the grass. They almost touched Catherine.
She hardly dared to breathe. The police passed by—they were saved.
"Now, Jack—run! They made my heart go like a dog's
The two men rose, and rapidly hurrying across the field, soon
disappeared behind the hedge. Cautiously Catherine rose, too—crept,
more than walked, to the ditch, and peered through the bushes. The
moon burst forth, and shone full upon the road,—and by its keen, cold,
pursuing beam, the watcher distinctly saw two men emerge on the high road,
and hurry on in a direction leading from the village already noticed as
lying at some distance from the half-way house. She, also, then
crossed the hedge, and hurried towards the village on which the fugitives
had turned their backs.
Catherine had been at the police-station about half an hour.
The sleeping sergeant had been routed up—and a statement of all she had
witnessed during the night had been taken down from the lips of the young
girl. The deposition was almost finished, when the gallop of a
horseman was heard in the street, and a mounted policeman alighted at the
door of the office. He deposed as follows:—
"This evening, late, Plotchild, who, as you know, sir, holds
with the hare and runs with the hounds, told me that two runaway convicts
were at a house in the neighbourhood. I at once got some of my men,
and then proceeded to the spot. Though very late, there was light in
the house—the house door was fastened, we knocked, but no one answered, so
we forced the door, and what should we see, but this woman busy washing
out the marks of blood from the floor and walls. As soon as she saw
us, she almost fainted, and cried: "I'm lost!" I arrested her at
once,—left the house in charge of one of my men, and here we are."
Catherine had listened to the inspector's report with a
strange and unaccountable anxiety; some vague foreboding shook her.
She leant forward to look at the face of the female prisoner, but the
latter stooped, and a large bonnet, and drooping handkerchief laid over
it, concealed her features.
"This is important," said the sergeant. Just as you
came, this girl was deposing that she had seen two men bury a body in a
field." Scarcely had the sergeant spoken the words, ere the prisoner
looked up, and fixed her eyes on Catherine: a piercing shriek announced
the mutual recognition.
"My mother! Oh, my mother! My God what have I
done?" and Catherine sank senseless in the arms of Margaret Haspen!
A few days afterwards Haspen and Latchman were drinking in the ale-house
of an obscure village, they had entered towards dusk. A change had
been coming over Haspen during the last few days—he had had his revenge on
Barrowson—his one great thirst was slaked, and he kept growing more and
more reckless of concealment —more and more unfriendly every day, to the
great horror of Latchman. While seated, exhausted, haggard, and
broken down in mind and body, in the humble bar, a man entered, apparently
a tramp like themselves. He called for beer, and while drinking it,
cast his sinister and prying eyes over the rim of the pot, furtively upon
the way-worn fugitives. After a sly and lengthened scrutiny, the
stranger rose with an unconcerned air, whispered to the landlord, and went
Latchman turned and said something to Haspen. "I don't
care—I'm tired of this at last—I'll die!" rejoined the latter, in a
scarcely suppressed tone.
"I'm not, then," whispered Latchman; come—look at that man!
for God's sake— don't speak so loud!"
"For God's sake! What have you to do with God?"
answered Haspen, with a cold, bitter, retributive irony, as conscience or
common sense stirred in his stormy, rude brain. He took no pains to
subdue his voice.
Latchman trembled in every limb. "John! you're
mad—don't be a fool! come, quick we shall be taken, I'm sure, if you
don't! Look at that man! It's dark—there's time still, we can
both take different sides, and meet again in—"
"Hell! We go together—we part company no more."
"Haspen! you've the money—give it me."
Haspen had kept the profit of the last plunder—a new thing
for him to do, since he knew Latchman had always been the purse-bearer.
Was there a secret cunning in the act, by which he bound the seducer down
to the standard of his own extremities. Latchman lingered on the
spot of danger for the money—he feared to fly without it, for the money
afforded him his only chance of escape from the encircling and quick
pursuit. The path was still clear the one man could not venture to
arrest them—it was dark—the country was wooded and thinly peopled—there
was a certainty of escape, if attempted before the other stranger returned
with the local police and assistance from the village.
"Haspen—come—quick—the money!" Haspen remained looking
on his companion with a grim simile of delight, but answered nothing.
Hurried steps as of several men were heard coming in the direction of the
street. "Are you mad? John. Do you hear,—Well then! I'm
off—go to the devil by yourself."—and he was about to dart through the
open door—but before he could realise his intention, the strong hand of
the bricklayer was fixed with a vice-like clutching upon his arm—but he
uttered not a word! "Are you mad? are you mad? Haspen! Let me
go"—and he writhed his thin form like a serpent in the grasp of a fallen
Hercules! The wretched felon shrieked, implored, threatened,
fought—but the strong man stood impassable—it was fate, seizing its prey.
Suddenly the fugitives were surrounded by the police and a large crowd of
people. The time of flight was gone. In that war of two
against the world, the world had conquered. Latchman ceased
struggling, and cowered down like a re-captured hound before a cruel
"There! take him!" roared Haspen, with a sound of triumphant
joy in his voice; "there, take him;" he cried, as he lifted the wretch
from the ground, and hurled him into the arms of the surrounding law;
"that is Latchman, who taught me my first robbery—that is Latchman, the
thief and murderer. And I'm John Haspen, who killed Barrowson, the
scoundrel—take him; and now take all you'll get of me."
With the shriek of a fiend, the doomed Latchman flew into the
arms of his recoiling captors, who then closed round to seize their
remaining prey; but, with the rapidity of lightning, Haspen drew forth the
knife that had slain Barrowson, and the first of his assailants fell dead
at his feet.
"Come on, come on!" he yelled; but the bravest shrunk back
before his terrible despair. At last, closing in on him from all
sides, they beat him down with long staves and the forms that stood in the
bar. Half stunned, and brought to the ground, he struggled still,
streaming with blood at every pore, with gnashing teeth and teaming mouth.
The man was turned into the wild beast, fighting not for life or for
revenge, but in the fierce paroxysms of dying fury. At last his
assailants rushed close in upon him, prostrate as he lay, his broken arm
had fallen by his side—his heaving heart panted with exhaustion—and the
heavy truncheons of the police dealt the crashing blows with impunity upon
his now unguarded head. When silence was restored in the wrecked
bar, shattered by the terrible conflict, the still form of the felon was
borne out upon a shutter, one mass of wounds, bruises, and blood. He
still breathed a few times, but never recovered consciousness, and expired
before he could be carried to the station.
AN execution was to take place at Newgate. It
had been announced long beforehand, as an instructive and national
solemnity. The press had been pointing attention to it, day by day.
Before daybreak, the people began to assemble—the people, so anxious for
anything that will tear them out of the dull monotony of their cheerless,
routine life! They came, as they would to the public-house, seeking
something to drown thought for a few hours. They came, as they had
gone the previous evening to the playhouses, to get the amusement of one
The pomps of the olden days are gone, with their magic of
song and scent, of velvet and gold, of plumes and steel, of minstrelsy and
war. The glorious pageants of popular freedom are not yet
come—nothing is left in the meantime, but a Queen's visit and an
execution. And you should have seen how the people thronged!
Two necks to be dislocated for the sake of public morals! What a
delicious, interesting sight. Women came with their children, as to
a holiday spectacle. A little girl cried at home. "Will you be
still?" said the mother, "or you shan't go and see the woman hung this
morning!" and the little girl was still, and went.
Meanwhile, busy, bustling conversation was going on among the
crowd. Thieves pursued their avocations, boys and girls were
"larking," some were playing at marbles and chuck- farthing; practiced
jokes were played in every direction; and the hoarse laugh and the
delighted scream, testified of the general pleasure. Here and there,
knots were engaged in more earnest, interesting conversation. This
man had known the murderers, the other had lived in the next house, a
third could tell all about their birth, parentage, and education; every
one of these at once felt himself, and became in the eyes of the
bystanders, a man of very considerable consequence. There was a sort
of rivalry between them: he who could boast the greatest intimacy with
murderers, reached the highest dignity. It seemed a great honour to
have known them. Strange that the great crime "honours," while the
lesser one degrades. They, who would not have associated with a
convicted thief, were proud of having been intimate with convicted
One man, only, among the mass, seemed to shrink with horror
from the sight. It was one of the jurymen who had passed the
verdict! the penalty—DEATH.
Whilst this was going on in the open air, the heavy tolling
of the church bell, timing, it were, the pause of popular excitement with
its electric throbs, a harrowing scene was enacting in the prison—in a
dull, dead, cell, lay Margaret. The door opened, and a young woman
entered, bearing a child in her arms.
"Mother! Mother!" cried an agonising voice! "my poor
Margaret trembled—and opened her arms—it was Catherine and
Oh! it was pitiful to see the latter clinging around the neck
of the doomed woman. She grasped in her trembling, tiny hands, the
gaunt, pale, form of Margaret, she twined her little legs and arms around
her—she glued herself to her mother's breast till she could scarcely
breathe—and, amid the inarticulate words and cries, and convulsive sobs,
the gaoler came and parted them—for life and death!
Meanwhile, the crowd without became impatient for the
sight—some wanted their break- fast—some had to go to work—some felt cold
and tired—and the show delayed. At last, Latchman appeared.
Hopelessness and certain death had given courage to his craven heart.
He advanced with a firm step, bowed gracefully around; talked
unconcernedly to the hangman; and, with a theatrical pronunciation,
turning to the multitude, said—"Ladies and gentlemen! I trust I have
made my peace with earth and heaven! I forgive all my enemies! and I
die full of hope!" Whereupon something like an approving murmur ran
along the crowd; isolated cries were raised of, "Well done, old boy!"
"Spoken like a trump!" and then his neck was broken—the people being
edified by his behaviour, and leaning to believe that after all murder
could not rest very heavily upon the conscience—that hanging was not so
very bad, and that a murderer could die in a very comfortable manner.
But the next act of this dread drama was approaching.
Intense, breathless attention riveted the crowd, when Margaret appeared!
Suffering and agony had ennobled her otherwise common face—death clothed
it with interest— sorrow touched it with beauty! She spoke no word!
Innocent of murder, innocent of any crime, except the more than
questionable one of not denouncing her own husband—she merely rested her
eyes for a few moments reproachfully on the multitude below, and then
raised them mournfully to heaven. At this moment a piercing shriek
rang over the crowd, and below, close in front of the drop, stood
Catherine and Mary. The latter was raised high in her sister's arms,
and stretched her little hands upwards to her mother.
"Mother!" cried the child, "you must not die! Stay with
me, mother, mother! What will become of me? What shall I do
"God pity you!" cried Margaret, and writhed her pinioned arms
in vain; but she leant forward—all the mother came rushing to her face—an
involuntary blessing hovered on her lips—Oh! despite years of hardship and
hunger—despite grief and age—she looked beautiful—very beautiful—that
moment! "God bless you! He knows I don't deserve to die.
Hush!—Mary!—Don't cry so, Mary!" and the soft cajoling tenderness of the
mother turned her choking tones into angelic music.
Another moment, and her lifeless corpse was dangling in the
air before that careless myriad of spectators.
A thick soft rain was now failing—the crowd dispersed rapidly in all
directions. The busy monotony of life began to ring on every side:
every one went his own way on his own business, few caring for God, and
still fewer for their neighbour.
Half an hour afterwards, a group of girls of the town were
seen passing up Smithfield, supporting one of their companions. One
walked behind, carrying a little girl, whose eyes were swollen, whose
cheeks were wet, with tears.
Two young shopmen passed by. "Is that the child of the
woman that has just been hung?"—one of them asked the girl who carried
"Poor thing! What will become of it?"—said the other.
"Luckily for her, she's pretty !"—rejoined the first.
Both smiled knowingly, twirled their clouded canes—and
entered a shop.
END OF BOOK I.