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CRIME AND POLICE OF LONDON.
London dining-hours-A night encounter of a suspicious personage on
Waterloo Bridge- Another less grave-Crime in London-- London Police-Thames Tunnel.
AMONG the gravest, most Christian people of London, the common time specified in cards of invitation to dinner is five o'clock. If there be a party, and punctuality be requested, the company may possibly be prepared to sit down at half past five; but an hour's grace is a more general allowance. It is making extraordinary despatch, if the hostess feels at liberty to retire with the ladies to the drawing-room in two hours after sitting down. It would be crowding business quite hard, if the gentlemen should be prepared at the end of another hour to obey the summons from the drawingroom to tea and coffee, and to mingle again in the society of the ladies. And if a guest have any reasons of conscience or convenience for getting home before morning, he may think himself well off if he can find a place to say “good night” by twelve o'clock, without seeming to break in by violence on the social enjoyments of the company to which he has the honour to be admitted. Not unlikely he will be obliged to whisper his apology to whom it is due, and slip away unperceived. For the most fashionable dinners, in the highest circles, company does not arrive till nine, ten, and eleven o'clock; and all the ceremonies of the occasion are expeditiously done, if they get home to sleep by the time when the sun rises on the world to light and to bless it. The stillest portion of the twenty-four hours at the west end is in the morning, when the world of fashion and of feasting have got snugly fixed in their nests, and when in the city the shops are opening, and the business parts of the population are moving to their various tasks.
His majesty, the King of Great Britain, and the Queen, are more exemplary. While I was being shown the Pavilion, which is the royal residence at Brighton, I asked my attendant, one of the chief of the household, as we were in the dining-room, “How many servants commonly wait here at dinner?"_" About three times the number of guests. First is the range of pages nearest the table; next, the footmen; and along by the sideboards is another set of waiters; each of these three classes of a nearly equal number.”— “And what are the common hours of eating ?"_“Their majesties breakfast at nine, lunch at two, and dine at seven in the evening." I did not make a minute of these answers, and depend upon my memory; but I believe they are right. “ And how long do they sit at dinner ?”—“Her majesty and the ladies generally retire soon after eight o'clock; and the king with his company soon afterward joins the queen, and coffee is ordinarily served by nine o'clock, all in the course of two hours. After which, besides that the queen's band is in attendance during dinner, the evening is principally devoted to music, in the music saloon where you saw the organ,” &c. I understood that the royal family generally dispersed before midnight. This was represented to me as the ordinary routine of the day, by which it appeared that the king and queen were regular in their habits, and not very late in retiring at night or in rising in the morning.
It was on a day of December, 1831, when I had lodgings in the Adelphi, Strand, that I accepted an invitation to dine with a small party in Stamford-street, on the opposite side of the river. 'Not being very fond of late hours, I succeeded in getting away, though I was the first to leave, a little before twelve o'clock. The nearest and most direct road to my lodgings was across Waterloo Bridge, the whole distance being a little more than half a mile. If any one is bound to make an apology for using his legs to get home from a party at such an hour, it may perhaps partly suffice to observe, that coaches do not stand just in that neighbourhood. At any rate, being able-bodied, and possessed of tolerable agility, I bolted into the street without sense of impropriety or fear of peril, and making the best of my way, soon found myself past the turnstile at the south end of the bridge. Even in the daytime, as is well known to Londoners, this bridge is little frequented; in the evening less; at the still and solemn hour of midnight, and near the shortest days of winter, scarcely at all. The stars were concealed by smoke and clouds; the lamps of that vast metropolis, beaming faintly up towards heaven, made the darkness visible; on the left, all along the shore towards Whitehall, the full glare of an occasional lamp down upon the glassy bosom of the Thames, threw up its sheet of scattered rays; the arched and regular lines of light across Westminster Bridge presented a beautiful vision; and down the river the lamps of Blackfriars' and Southwark bridges rivalled each other to give enchantment to the scene, in the midst of the twinklings which darted from the confused mêlé of lights from either shore. But the prettiest of all was the scene directly before me, created by the perspective of the two ranges of lamps on the sides of Waterloo Bridge, drawing nearer together as the vista extended and approached the Strand. This bridge is a dead level. I could see distinctly from one gate to the other, and not a human being was upon it. I passed the turnstile on the right, after giving the keeper his penny, and hearing the tick of the clockwork, which forces
him to be honest. This contrivance is admirable, as it ena- · bles an overseer at the end of a week, by his key, to open a secret chamber of machinery, and count the number of pennies which the keeper has received during that period an ingenious check on his dishonest propensity, but somewhat of a libel on the character of the lower orders, as must be confessed,
As was natural, I kept the side to which I was thus introduced, and walked on at peace with myself, and I hope with Heaven, admiring the stillness with which I was immediately surrounded at that dead hour of night, in the midst of şuch a world of human beings. The distant rumbling of carriages, however, along the pavements of the streets, and that peculiar hum which accompanies it, when heard at a little distance, and occasioned by the street-talk and nights rioting of so great a city, admonished me that the world were not all asleep. But the twinkling lamps, everywhere to be seen, like the stars in an open sky, and the regular approaching lines immediately before me, were most attractive of all.
It may be observed, that over each end of the piers of this bridge, as of most of the others, the jutting out of the balustrade forms a recess, in which are seats for passengers to stop and rest, if they please; or to loiter for any purpose that may best suit themselves; and the balusters are suficiently high to conceal persons seated there from those who are coming and going, till the moving passengers get directly opposite the recess, in which those at rest happen to have their place. Without suspecting, or imagining, that any person could find reason for being lodged in one of these recesses at such a time of night, I carelessly walked along, musing upon the strange vision that surrounded me, and was thoroughly absorbed in my own thoughts. As I came near the middle of the bridge, opposite one of the recesses above described, a man suddenly leaped out, planted himself before me, and in a plaintive, beseeching tone, implored my arm to help him home, as he was in great distress. Thoughts at such a moment are quick. That he should have kept himself invisible till that moment--that he could spring out from his ambush with an agility, indicating full vigour and the greatest sprightliness of body--and the evident affectation of his whole manner and voice, aping distress, without being able to demonstrate it (for nature in such a matter never deceives) all told the whole story, as quick as one thought can succeed another under such quickening occasions. I reasonably expected the next moment a more violent assault. I made as if I would pass—the fellow interrupted me. I felt a horror at the idea of a close brush, to which he himself seemed in no wise disinclined. For one unpleasant moment we stood face to face-to me unpleasant
-for by this time no doubt could remain of his design. To my ineffable satisfaction, however, he suddenly and unexpectedly withdrew, and allowed me to pass. As I left him behind, apprehending his advance upon me in rear, I turned my head over my shoulder, and saw the secret of my deliverance: two men had just entered upon the bridge, and were coming fast upon us. I know not why I did not stop to demand assistance to secure the arrest of the individual who had just interrupted me. I was indeed for the moment quite unmanned, and pushed directly to clear the bridge, which being accomplished, and finding myself safe in the Strand, and the street full of passengers, I must confess, that I felt the perspiration trickling down my whole frame, by the violent reaction of a sense of relief, after such a sense of danger.
Even if I had been sufficiently self-possessed to undertake by calling help to secure the fellow who had stopped me, and had I succeeded, still he had committed no assault; he had done me no harm; he had only implored my assistance in his pretended distress; and of course nothing criminal could have been proved against him.
Never before or since in London, during nearly four years' residence, did I meet with any thing of the kind to startle me. Such is the ubiquity and vigilance of the police, that there is no danger to be apprehended in passing through any of the principal streets at any hour of night, unless it be in one of those fogs, which not unfrequently in winter settle upon London, and render a walk in any street, without company, absolutely appalling. I have been lost on ground as familiar to me as the room which I occupy; and when half way between two lamps at the ordinary distance from each other, I could not know that either of them was lighted. Persons caught out at such times, if alone, are very much exposed to thieves and robbers, who are always on the alert to improve their opportunities.
I should not perhaps say, that I have never since been startled from a like cause. I lodged for many months at No. 9, Amelia-place, Brompton; and in passing to and from the city, was accustomed to turn the right angle at the north end of Brompton Crescent, where for a long time, and till within a few months, there was no lamp-I mean none immediately at the corner. On that account I never consid. ered it exactly a safe place at a late hour. One can never know, till he arrives at the very point of the angle, who he may meet on turning it—and it is a very retired place. I had engaged a hackney-coach to call for me at six o'clock precisely one morning in the winter, to take me to the city for a stagecoach going into the country. Six o'clock came, but not the man. Being impatient, and afraid of losing my seat, I threw on my cloak, took my umbrella and carpet-bag under my arms, and started off on foot, to rouse the hackney. coach at a stable just around the said angle of the Crescent. I met the lamplighter extinguishing his lamps in a cloudy morning, and before a beam of day had appeared, leaving all darkness behind himself and before me. “Why do you put out the lamps before daylight?” I said. “I am ordered to do it,” was the sullen reply. It was to lighten the taxes, that I was left without light at an hour when it was most needed. Not a lainp was burning in the whole line of Brompton Crescent, or in the neighbourhood; and yet I was doomed by this accident to pass the very corner, which I had always dreaded, in total darkness, at an hour when honest folks were all asleep, except for some such reason as called me out. I could not see any thing two rods before me, while, in the stillness of the hour, my own steps might be heard for a quarter of a mile. I was bundled up in my cloak, with my bag under one arm and umbrella in another, and thus disabled, not only for flight, but for the least resistance, if assaulted. By this time the lamplighter-rather the lamp-extinguisher, was half a mile off, and all darkness between him and me, and before me. I approached the corner-and to my utter horror a man stood at the very point, facing me, and awaiting my approach! I could not retreat, for there was not twelve feet between us when the darkness first permitted me to see him. He stood on the kerb of the sideway, about six feet from the wall, and my course lay between the wall and hiin. There was no time to make an election, as I was altogether in his power. I affected not to regard him, and attempted to pass. He remained motionless, staring at me, as if he had a right to scrutinize and examine me from top to toe. A reflection from his glazed hat showed me that he was a policeman. “ Well," said I, “it's very wrong to put out the lamps at this hour.”—“Very wrong," said he. “But”-approaching and feeling after my bundle—“what have you got under your arm here?” At that moment the coach I was in pursuit of drove out of the yard about two rods before us, and the interview which took place between me and the coachman, and my getting into the coach, convinced the policeman that he had less reason to suspect me, than I had to fear him, when we first met.
As to the case on Waterloo Bridge, all to whom I mentioned the circumstances concurred with my own impression at the moment of the encounter, as to the assailant's purpose. The manner of the villain could not be mistaken. Had it been a case of real and urgent distress, as he affected, he would naturally have called for assistance from the place where he lay, and not have sprung like a lion on his prey, and planted himself at my feet, and danced around, and so circumvented me that I could not pass. I was walk