« AnteriorContinuar »
Disclosing further secrets of the prison-house.
The first persons whom they passed by were three men in setters, who were enjoying themselves very merrily over a bottle of wine, and a pipe of tobacco. These, Mr. Robinson informed his friend, were three street robbers, and were all certain of being hanged the ensuing sessions. So inconsiderable an object, said he, is misery to light minds, when it is at any distance. A little farther they beheld a man prostrate on the ground, whose heavy groans and frantic actions, plainly indicated the highest disorder of mind. o person was, it seems, committed for a small felony; and his wife, who then lay-in, upon hearing the news, had thrown herself from a window two pair of stairs high, by which means he had, in all probability, lost both her and his child. A very pretty girl then advanced towards them, whose beauty Mr. Booth could not help admiring the moment he saw her; declaring, at the same time, he thought she had great innocence in her countenance. Robinson said she was committed thither as an idle and disorderly person, and a common street-walker. As she passed by Mr. Booth she damned his eyes, and discharged a volley of words, every one of which was too indecent to be repeated. They now beheld a little creature sitting by herself in a corner, and crying bitterly. his girl, Mr. Robinson said, was committed, because her father-in-law, who was in the grenadier-guards, had sworn that he was afraid of his life, or of some bodily harm which she would do him, and she could get no sureties for keeping the peace; for which reason, Justice Thrasher had committed her to A. great noise now arose, occasioned by the prisoners all flocked to see a fellow whipt for petty larceny, to which he was condemned by the court of quarter-sessions; but this soon ended in the disappointment of the spectators; for the fellow, after being stript, having advanced another sixpence, was discharged untouched. This was immediately followed by another bustle; Blear-eyed Moll, and several of her companions, having got possession of a man who was committed for certain odious unmanlike practices, not fit to be named, were giving him various kinds of discipline, and would probably have put an end to him, had he not been rescued out of their hands by authority. When this bustle was a little allayed, Mr. Booth took notice of a young woman in rags sitting on the ground, and supporting the head of an old man in her lap who ap: peared to be giving up the ghost. These
Mr. Robinson informed him, were father and daughter; that the latter was committed for stealing a loaf, in order to support the former, and the former for receiving it, knowing it to be stolen. A well-dressed man then walked surlily by them, whom Mr. Robinson reported to have been committed on an indictment found against him for a most horrid perjury; but, says he, we expect him to be bailed today. Good Heaven' cries Booth, can such villains find bail, and is no person charitable enough to bail that poor father and daughter? O ! Sir, answered Robinson, the of: fence of the daughter, being felony, is held not to be bailable in law; whereas perjury is a misdemeanor only; and therefore persons who are even indicted for it, are, nevertheless, capable of being bailed. Nay, of all perjuries, that of which this man is indicted, is the worst; for it was with an intention of taking away the life of an innocent person by form of law. As to perjuries in civil matters, they are not so very criminal. They are not, said Booth; and yet even these are a most flagitious offence, and worthy the highest punishment. Surely they ought to be distinguished, answered Robinson, from the others: for what is taking away a little property from a man, compared to taking away his life, and his reputation, and ruining his family into the bargain?—I hope there can be no comparison in the crimes, and I think there ought to be none in the punishment. However, at present, the punishment of all perjury is only pillory, and transportation for seven years; and as it is a traversable and bailable offence, methods are often found to escape any punishment at all." e Booth expressed great astonishment at this, when his attention was suddenly diverted by the most miserable object that he had yet seen. This was a wretch almost naked, and who bore in his countenance, joined to an appearance of honesty, the marks of poverty, hunger, and disease. He had, moreover, a wooden leg, and two or three scars on his forehead. The case of this poor man is, indeed, unhappy enough, said Robinson. He hath served his country, lost his limb, and received several wounds at the siege of Gibraltar. When he was discharged from the hospital abroad, he came over to get into that of Chelsea, but could not immediately, as none of his officers were then in England. In the mean time, he was one day apprehended and committed hither on suspicion of stealing three
* By removing the indictment by certiorari into the King's Bench, the trial is so * postponed, and the costs are so highly increased, that prosecutors are often tired out, and some incapacitated from Pursuing. Werbum sapienti.
he from a fishmonger. He was tried several months ago for this offence, and acquitted: indeed, his innocence manifestly appeared at the trial: but he was brought back again for his fees, and here he hath lain ever since. Booth expressed great horror at this account, and declared if he had only so much money in his pocket, he would pay his fees for him; but added, that he was not possessed of a single farthing in the world. Robinson hesitated a moment, and then said, with a smile, ‘ I am going to make you, sir, a very odd proposal after your last declaration; but what say you to a game at cards : It will serve to pass a tedious hour, and may divert your thoughts from more unpleasant speculations.” I do not imagine Booth would have agreed to this: for though some love of gaming had been formerly amongst his faults; yet he was not so egregiously addicted to that vice, as to be tempted by the shabby plight of Robinson, who had, if I may so express myself, no charms for a gamester. If he had, however, any such inclinations, he had no opportunity to follow them; for before he could make any answer to Robinson's proposal, a strapping wench came up to Booth, and, taking hold of his arm, asked him to walk aside with her: saying, ‘What a pox, are you such a fresh cull that you do not know this fellow: Why, he is a gambler, and committed for cheating at play. There is not such a pickpocket in the whole quad.” A scene of altercation now ensued between Robinson and the lady, which ended in a bout at fisticuffs, in which the lady was greatly superior to the philosopher. While the two combatants were engaged, a grave looking man, rather better dressed than the majority of the company, came up to Mr. Booth, and taking him aside, said, ‘I am sorry, sir, to see a gentleman, as you appear to be, in such intimacy with that rascal, who makes no scruple of disowning all revealed religion. As for crimes, they are human errors, and signify but little; nay, perhaps the worse a man is by nature, the more room there is for grace. The spirit is active, and loves best to inhabit those minds where it may meet with the most work. Whatever your crime be, therefore, I would not have you despair; but rather rejoice at it: for perhaps it may be the means of your being called.” He ran on for a considerable time with this cant, without waiting for an answer, and ended in declaring himself a methodist. Just as the methodist had finished his discourse, a beautiful young woman was ushered into the jail. She was genteel, and
* A cant word for a prison.
well dressed, and did not in the least resemble those females whom Mr. Booth had hitherto seen. The constable had no sooner delivered her at the gate, than she asked, with a commanding voice, for the keeper; and, when he arrived, she said to him, “Well, sir, whither am I to be conducted 2 I hope I am not to take up my lodgings with thesecreatures.’ The keeper answered, with a kind of surly respect, “Madam, we have rooms for those who can afford to pay for them.’ At these words she pulled a handsome purse from her pocket, in which many guineas chinked, saying, with an air of indignation, ‘That she was not come thither on account of poverty.’ The keeper no sooner viewed the purse, than his seatures became all softened in an instant; and with all the courtesy of which he was master, he desired the lady to walk with him, assuring her that she should have the best apartment in his house. Mr. Booth was now left alone; for the methodist had forsaken him, having, as the hrase of the sect is, searched him to the ottom. In fact, he had thoroughly examined every one of Mr. Booth's pockets; from which he had conveyed away a penknife, and an iron snuffbox, these being all the moveables which were to be found. Booth was standing near the gate of the prison, when the young lady above-mentioned was introduced into the yard. He viewed her features very attentively, and was persuaded that he knew her. She was, indeed, so remarkably handsome, that it was hardly possible for any who had ever seen her to forget her. He inquired of one of the under keepers, if the name of the prisoner lately arrived was not Matthews; to which he answered, That her name was not Matthews, but Vincent, and that she was committed for murder. The latter part of this information made Mr. Booth suspect his memory more than the former; for it was very possible that she might have changed her name; but he hardly thought she could sofar have changed her nature, as to be guilty of a crime so very incongruous with her Fo gentle manners; for Miss Matthews had both the birth and education of a gentlewoman. He concluded, therefore, that he was certainly mistaken, and rested satisfied, without any farther inquiry.
CHAPTER W. Containing certain adventures which befel Mr.
Booth in the prison. THE remainder of the day Mr. Booth spent in melancholy contemplation on his present condition. He was destitute of the common necessaries of life, and, consequently, unable to subsist where he was; nor was there a single person in town, to whom he could, with any reasonable hope, apply for his delivery. Grief for some time banished the thoughts of food from his mind; but, in the morning, nature began to grow uneasy, for want of her usual nourishment: for he had not eat a morsel during the last forty hours. A penny loaf, which is, it seems, the ordinary allowance to the prisoners in Bridewell, was now delivered him; and, whilst he was eating this, a man brought him a little packet, sealed up, informing him that it came by a messenger, who said it required no answer. Mr. Booth now opened his packet, and, after unfolding several pieces of blank paper successively, at last discovered a guinea, wrapt with great care, in the innermost paper. He was vastly surprised at this sight, as he had few, if any friends, from whom he could expect such a favour, slight as it was; and not one of his friends, as he was apprised, knew of his confinement. As there was no direction to the packet, nor a word of writing contained in it, he began to suspect that it was delivered to the wrong person; and, being one of the most untainted honesty, he found out the man who gave it to him, and again examined him concerning the person who brought it, and the message delivered with it. The man assured Booth that he had made no mistake, saying, “If your name is Booth, sir, I am positive you are the gentleman to whom the parcel I #. you belongs.” he most scrupulous honesty would, perhaps, in such a situation, have been well enough satisfied in finding no owner for the inea; especially when proclamation had en made in the prison, that Mr. Booth had received a packet, without any direction, to which, if any person had any claim, and would discover the contents, he was ready to deliver it to such claimant. No such claimant being found, (I mean none who knew the contents; for many swore that they expected just such a packet, and believed it to be their property,) Mr. Booth very calmly resolved to apply the money to his own use. The first thing, after redemption of the coat, which Mr. Booth, hungry as he was, thought of, was to supply himself with snuff, which he had long, to his great sorrow, been without. On this occasion, he presently missed that iron box, which the methodist had so dexterously conveyed out of his pocket, as we mentioned in the last chapter. He no sooner missed this box, than he immediately suspected that the gambler was the person who had stolen it; nay, so well was he assured of this man's guilt, that it may, perhaps, be improper to say he barely suspected it. Though Mr. Booth was, as we have hinted, a manofa very sweet disposition, yet was he rather overwarm. Having
therefore, no doubt concerning the person of the thief, he eagerly sought him out, and very bluntly charged him with the fact.
The gambler, whom I think we should now call the philosopher, received this charge without the least visible emotion either of mind or muscle.—After a short pause of a few moments, he answered with great solemnity, as follows: “Young man, I am entirely unconcerned at your groundless suspicion. He that censures a stranger, as I am to you, without any cause, makes a worse compliment to himself than to the stranger. You know yourself, friend ; you know not me. It is true, indeed, you heard me accused of being a cheat and a gamester; but who is my accuser ; look at my apparel, friend ; do thieves and gamesters wear such clothes as these ? play is my folly, not iny vice; it is my impulse, and I have been a martyr to it. Would a gamester have asked another to play when he could have lost eighteen pence and won nothing? however, if you are not satisfied, you may search my pockets ; the outside of all but one will serve your turn, and in that one, there is the eighteen pence I told you of.” He then turned up his clothes ; and his pockets entirely resembled the pitchers of the Belides.
Booth was a little staggered at this defence. He said, the real value of the iron box was too unconsiderable to mention ; but that he had a capricious value for it, for the sake of the person who gave it him: “for though it is not,” said he, “worth sixpence, I would willingly give a crown to any one who would bring it me again.”
Robinson answered, “if that be the case, you have nothing more to do but to . your intention in the prison; and I am we convinced you will not be long in regaining the possession of your snuff-box.’
his advice was immediately followed,
and with success, the methodist presently producing the box ; which, he said, he had found, and should have returned it before, had he known the person to whom it belonged; adding, with uplifted eyes, that the spirit would not suffer him knowingly to detain the goods of another, however inconsi– derable the value was. “Why so, friend ?” said Robinson. ‘Have I not heard you often say, the wickeder any man was, the better, provided he was what you call a believer.’’ ‘You mistake me, cries Cooper, (for that was the name of the methodist :) * no man can be wicked after he is possessed by the spirit. There is a wide difference between the days of sin, and the days of grace. I have been a sinner myself.’ ‘I believe thee, cries Robinson, with a sneer. ‘I care not,’ answered the other, ‘what an atheist believes. I suppose you would insinuate that I stole the snuff-box; but I value not your malice : the Lord knows my innocence.’ He then walked off with the reward; and Booth, returning to Robinson, very earnestly asked pardon for his groundless suspicion: which the other, without any hesitation, accorded him, saying, ‘You never accused me, sir: you suspected some gambler, with whose character I have no concern. I should be angry with a friend or acquaintance who should give a hasty credit to any allegation against me ; but I have no reason to be offended with you for believing that the woman, and the rascal who is just gone, and who is committed here for a pickpocket, which you did not perhaps know, told you to my disadvantage. And if you thought me to be a gambler, you had just reason to suspectany ill of me; for Imyself am confined here by the perjury of one of those villains: who, having cheated me of my money at play, and hearing that I intended to apply to a magistrate against him, himself began the attack, and obtained a warrant against me of Justice Thrasher, who, without hearing one speech in my defence, committed me to this place.” Booth testified great compassion at this account; and he having invited Robinson to dinner, they spent that day together. In the afternoon, Booth indulged his friend with a game at cards; at first for halfpence, and afterwards for shillings, when fortune so favoured Robinson, that he did not leave the other a single shilling in his pocket. A surprising run of luk in a gamester, is often mistaken for somewhat else, by persons who are not over-zealous believers in the divinity of fortune. I have known a r at Bath, who hath happened fortunately, (I might almost say unfortunately,) to have four by honours in his hand almost every time he dealt, for a whole evening, shunned universally by the whole company the next day. And certain it is, that Mr. Booth, though of a temper very little inclined to suspicion, began to waver in his opinion, whether the character given by Mr. Robinson of himself, or that which the others gave him, was the truer. In the morning, hunger paid him a second visit, and found him again in the same situation as before. After some deliberation, therefore, he resolved to ask Robinson to lend him a shilling or two of that money which was lately his own. And this experiment, he thought, would confirm him either in a good or evil opinion of that gentleman. To this demand, Robinson answered, with great alacrity, that he should very gladly have complied, had not Fortune played one of her iade tricks with him: ‘for since my winnin. f.you,' said he, “I have been stripped no only of your money, but my own.” He was going to harangue farther; but Booth, with great indignation, turned from him.
This poor gentleman had very little time to reflect on his own misery, or the rascality, as it appeared to him, of the other, when the same person, who had the day beforé delivered him the guinea from the unknown hand, again accosted him, and told him a lady in the house, (so he expressed himself.) desired the favour of his company.
Mr. Booth immediately obeyed the message, and was conducted into a room in the prison, where he was presently convinced that Mrs. Vincent was no other than his old acquaintance Miss Matthews.
CHAPTER VI. Containing the extraordinary behaviour of JMiss JMatthews, on her meeting with Booth, and some endeavours to prove, by reason and authority, that it is possible for a woman to appear what she really is not. Eight or nine years had passed, since any interview between Mr. Booth and Miss Matthews; and their meeting now in so extraordinary a place aflected both of them with an equal surprise. After some immaterial ceremonies, the lady acquainted Mr. Booth, that having heard there was a person in the prison who knew her by the name of Matthews, she had great curiosity to inquire who he was, whereupon he had been shown to her from the window of the house; that she immediately recollected him, and being informed of his distressful situation, for which she expressed great concern, she had sent him that guinea which he had received the day before; and then proceeded to excuse herself for not having desired to see him at that time, when she was under the greatest disorder and hurry of spirits. Booth made many handsome acknowledgments of her favour; and added, that he very little wondered at the disorder of her spirits, concluding, that he was heartily concerned at seeing her there; but I hope, madam, said he Here he hesitated ; upon which, burstin into an agrony of tears, she cried out, ‘ captain' captain! many extraordinary things have past since last I saw you. O gracious Heaven! did I ever expect that this would be the next place of our meeting!' She then flung herself into her chair, where she gave a loose to her passion, whilst he in the most affectionate and tender manner, endeavoured to soothe and comfort her; but passion itself did, probably, more for its own relief, than all his friendly consolations. Having vented this in a large flood of tears, she became pretty well comsed; but Booth unhappily mentioning her ather, she again relapsed into an agony, and cried out, ‘ W. will you repeat the name of that dear man? I have disgraced him, Mr. Booth, I am unworthy the * of his
daughter.'. Here passion again stopped her words, and discharged itself in tears. After this second vent of sorrow or shame; or, if the reader pleases, of rage; she once more recovered from her agonies. To say the truth, these are, I believe, as critical discharges of nature, as any of those which are so called by the physicians; and do more effectually relieve the mind, than any remedies with which the whole Materia Medica of philosophy can supply it. When Mrs. Vincent had recovered her faculties, she perceived Booth standing silent, with a mixture of concern and astonishment in his countenance: then addressing herself to him with an air of most bewitching softness, of which she was a perfect mistress, she said, ‘I do not wonder at your amazement, Captain Booth; nor indeed at the concern which you so plainly discover for me: for I well know the goodness of your nature; but, O, Mr. Booth ! believe me, when you know what hath happened since our last meeting, your concern will be raised, however your astonishment may cease. O, sir! you are a stranger to the cause of my sorrows.” ‘I hope I am, madam,’ answered he, “for I cannot believe what I have heard in the prison—surely murder’—at which words she started from her chair, repeating, murder! ‘Oh! it is music in my ears!—You have heard then the cause of my commitment, my glory, my delight, my reparation: —Yes, my old friend; this is the hand, this is the arm that drove the penknife to his heart. Unkind fortune, that not one drop of his blood reached my hand.-Indeed, sir, I would never have washed it from it.—But though I have not the happiness to see it on my hand, I have the glorious satisfaction of remembering I saw it run in rivers on the floor; I saw it forsake his cheeks. I saw him fall a martyr to my revenge. And is the killing a villain to be called murder? perhaps the law calls it so-Let it call it what it will, or punish me as it pleases.— Punish me!—no, no—that is not in the wer of man—not of that monster man, r. Booth. I am undone, am revenged, and have now no more business for life; let them take it from me when they will.” Our poor gentleman turned pale with horror at this speech, and the ejaculation of Good Heavens what do I hear! burst spontaneously from his lips; nor can we wonder at this, though he was the bravest of men; for her voice, her looks, her gestures, were properly adapted to the sentiments she expressed. Such indeed was her image, that neither could Shakspeare describe, nor Hogarth paint, nor Clive act a fury in higher perfection. ‘What do you hear?’ reiterated she.— ‘You hear the resentment of the most in
jured of women. You have heard, you say, of the murder; but do you know the cause, Mr. Booth have you, since your return to England, visited that country where we formerly knew one another tell me, do you know my wretched story & tell me that, my friend." Booth hesitated for an answer; indeed, he had heard some imperfect stories, not much to her advantage. She waited not till he had formed a speech; but cried, ‘Whatever you may have heard, you cannot be acquainted with all the strange accidents which have occasioned your seeing me in a place which at our last parting was so unlikely that I should ever have been found in; nor can you know the cause of all that I have uttered, and which, I am convinced, you never expected to have heard from my mouth. If these circumstances raise your curiosity, I will satisfy it.’ He answered, that curiosity was too mean a word to express his ardent desire of knowing her story. Upon which, with very little previous ceremony, she began to relate what is written in the following chapter. But before we put an end to this, it may be necessary to whisper a word or two to the critics, who have, ...}. begun to express no less astonishment than Mr. Booth, that a lady, in whom we had remarked a most extraordinary power of displaying softness, should, the very next moment after the words were out of her mouth, express sentiments becoming the lips of a Dalila, Jezebel, Medea, Semiramis, Parysatis, Tanaquil, Livilla, Messalina, Agrippina, Brunichilde, Elfrida, Lady ...'. of Naples, Christiana of Sweden, Katharine Hays, Sarah Malcolm, Con. Philips,” or any other heroine of the tender sex, which history, sacred or profane, ancient or modern, false or true, hath recorded. We desire such critics to remember, that it is the same English climate in which, on the lovely 10th of June, under a screne sky, the amorous Jacobite, kissing the odoriferous zephyr's breath, gathers a nosegay of white roses to deck the whiter breast of Celia: and in which, on the 11th of June, the very next day, the boisterous Boreas, roused by the hollow thunder, rushes horrible through the air, and, driving the wet tempest before him, levels the hope of the husbandman with the earth, dreadful remembrance of the consequences of the revolution. Again, let it be remembered, that it is the self-same Celia, all tender, soft, and delicate; who, with a voice, the sweetness of which the Syrens might envy, warbles the harmonious song in praise of the young adventurer; and again, the next day, or perhaps, the next hour, with fiery eyes, wrin
* Though last, not least.