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able company; when the week is elapsed, go to No. 4, street, it is a seed shop, and inquire if there be any letter left for Mr. Hodson : if you receive one, of course you will obey the orders therein, but if you do not, call every other day, until you do have one handed to you in that name. Now give me your address, in case of any sudden call of business, but that very rarely happens. Slowly and sure is the motto of our firm. Good bye.” So saying, he left me, as he said, to proceed to Brighton.
The following morning, (Monday,) I quitted London by a Birmingham coach, and immediately went to the inn as directed, and booked myself a place for the ensuing Thursday, on which day I entered the coach at the appointed time, when I found two persons already seated. The driver was just expressing his impatience at the non-arrival of the remaining fare, when two gentlemen came up; one got into the coach hastily, while the other came to wish him farewell and shake hands, looking at the same time round to the passengers, nodded his head significantly to his companion, and departed. This motion of the head I understood to convey a communication that all was right; for although the party was unknown to me, it afterwards appeared that he had a knowledge of my person, and came for the purpose of recognising me, and assuring themselves that every thing was duly prepared for the robbery, which was effected when we were about thirty miles on the road, towards London, in the following manner. At the time I am speaking of, it was the practice of a banker at Birmingham to send up every month cash and bank-notes to redeem their own local notes, which were made payable in London, and which during the intervals had been presented at their agent's for payment. The better to ensure the safe conveyance of these sums of money, the proprietors of the banking-house had contracted with the coach-masters at Birmingham for a small strong iron box, which was built in the body of the coach, having two peculiarly complicated locks to it, the duplicate keys of which were in the hands of the banker's agents in London. My employers had possessed themselves of these facts, as also the precise day on which the money was to be transmitted ; they, therefore, had made several journeys in the coach, and provided themselves with keys, to unlock the box without any difficulty, previously to undertaking the robbery.
As I said before, the contents of the box, or secret drawer, was extracted about thirty miles from Birmingham, by one of the parties merely unlocking it, and removing the property into a small travelling trunk, which he carried with him for the purpose. Before we arrived at Oxford this passenger was represented by us as having been taken suddenly ill ; another, personating the character of a surgeon, said, as the gentleman was upon urgent business, and must proceed, if possible, the next day by post-chaise to town, that he would, out of kindness, stay and accompany him thither. In consequence of this arrangement, made in the hearing of the coachman and guard, they were both left at Woodstock ; and my third companion, when we arrived at Oxford, made some inquiries respecting a relation of his who was at one of the colleges, and found an excuse, from the information he obtained, to decline proceeding any further that night ; leaving me, as per arrangement, to be dropped at Henley-upon-Thames, to which place I pretended to be going as my place of residence, having told the book-keeper in the first instance, that I was destined to that town. When I got out of the coach, which I managed to do at the gate of a large house, on the Fair-mill, before we got into the town of Henley, I crossed the country to Marlow, and took a chaise into the high-road for London; then getting into the first coach which passed, I was in a few hours at my lodgings in town.
At the end of the week I went to the place appointed, and was pre
sented with a letter in the name of Hodson, in which I was desired to be at the Mermaid at Hackney the following day at two o'clock. As I was about to enter the house I was addressed again by a stranger, who said, “Mr. Hodson, I believe ?" I hesitated for a moment. “It's all right, he continued, “the last affair went off clean and well; I have come to speak with you about another little job.” He then informed me that he had brought me eighty pounds, my share having been laid at one hundred pounds; deducting therefore the twenty pounds received, the eighty pounds made the balance due. I had seen by the public papers that the booty obtained amounted to upwards of five thousand pounds; but when I considered the part I had taken in the affair, and the large number that must necessarily participate in sharing the money, I could not but be satisfied. The next affair, however, he wished me to engage in acted as a drawback upon the good humour in which he had put me. I was the next day to proceed to a small town in Essex, to commit a robbery by myself. It was known to our joint stock company, (as I ever afterwards called the parties,) that a certain dealer in cattle generally carried from three to five hundred pounds about his person, so secured, as that nothing but violence on the part of those who went after it could accomplish the robbery; and to these extremities, by the laws of the company, we could not go, the fundamental principle of their system being to use art, and not force. In conformity therefore to this rule, the planning agent, who was now with me, had concerted a mode of obtaining it, which was left for me to execute. It appeared that although the dealer in cattle carried the money about with him during the day, that he deposited it in a cupboard situated in his own bed-room every night, securely locking the door, then placing the key under his pillow. Duplicate keys for entering the cottage and opening the cupboard were provided, and it only required a delicate hand and a light tread to abstract the money from the cupboard when he was asleep, there being nobody in the house except himself and an old woman, who slept in another room. My employer told me I had been selected for this affair because they knew I had, from my boyhood, been bred a sneak. Having given me my instructions, with the keys for making the entry into the house, he informed me that a person would, with a horse and chaise, be in readiness at my order, to attend at any spot to convey me speedily out of the neighbourhood; he then left me, adding, that I was to deliver to the person who drove the horse the money which I obtained, untouched.
This was not an adventure to my taste; the thoughts of coming in such close contact with a sturdy grazier, in which one of us must get the worst of it, gave me some concern, for I considered it next to an impossibility to bring away the money without waking him, in which case I could not doubt but he would have a struggle for his cash. Such was my objection to the adventure, that I am now certain, valuable as was the company's connexion which I had now formed, I should have given them up rather than have embarked in it, had it not so happened that about this time I became a convert to the doctrine of fatalism. A few weeks before this order came I had formed an intimacy with a servant girl, and very foolishly had, at her earnest solicitation, paid several visits to fortune-tellers ; her motive for persuading me to go to these cheats, who occasion more mischief in society than any class of robbers, was, that she might through them be told who and what I was, together with an account of my temper, and whether I should make a good husband, &c. I verily believe, in London, that not one man in a thousand knows any thing of society but what transpires in his own immediate walk of life, although all write and talk as familiarly of the social compact, of the character, feelings, habits, and moral influences of all the classes, as if they were gifted with omnipresence, and omniscience to boot.
Our great men in parliament talk a great deal about the influence of the Lancasterian schools, and the march of intellect; giving themselves credit for the advance of the people's mind, but I can tell them this is a great blunder. The people, I know, are wiser than they used to be ; but then it is in spite, and not in consequence of the schools for the poor man's children; and I very much question whether any of the poor are made better by their present mode of education; it is the mechanic, the artizan, and all the working classes, which are just above the charity provincial schools, which have made the step in knowledge, and not the poor. Let the prisons be all visited in one day throughout England, and an account taken of where the prisoners were taught when children, to read, &c. When this shall be done, (it would be wise if it were made a part of the system to report this to the public annually,) the effects of national schools would soon be made apparent. I have indulged in these observations because I am about to make a communication which is but little known to the world at large, viz., that nineteen-twentieths of the servant girls in London entirely commit themselves to the direction of fortune tellers, and these girls are generally drawn from the public schools : what is more singular, they never part with the propensity when grown up, for when married they are constant and regular customers, going from week to week to learn how to manage their husbands, how many children they are to have, how many will live, whether they will survive their husbands, and, if so, how many times they are to be married, and what period of their lives is destined to trouble, and what to happiness.
Then, again, every removal from one house to another is looked upon as an event ; so also are all quarrels with neighbours or relations considered subjects worthy to lay before the cunning man; but more especially all suspicions or questions of jealousy, which latter subjects are always accompanied with anxious inquiries whether there is likely to be any counteraction by other men falling in love with them; then they must have his stature, complexion, colour of his eyes, hair, &c., so that when they meet with such a man, they consider themselves called upon by destiny to immediately fall in love, and surrender the peace of their family into the hands of any scoundrel to make spoil of.
The men fortune tellers boast that they have numerous applications from very respectable married ladies; and I know that they have, but the majority of those they deem the most profitable customers, are girls educated at charity-schools, who have, through fortunate marriages, or the success of their husbands subsequently in trade, risen up to wealth, which does not produce good sense, and which the schools have taken care they shall not obtain through their assistance.
At the period of my life to which I am alluding, I was as great a fool as any girl, being devoted to one of these astrologers ; he got such a hold of me, that he persuaded me I should find out my father and mother, together with all their history. In consequence of this delusion, I spent a great deal of my leisure hours with the man, who failed not to squeeze me pretty often for drink, &c., in the end making me a confirmed fatalist. As I said before, I looked upon every thing which happened as preordained, and thought it could not turn out otherwise by the order of nature; this got such a hold of me, that I was never easy for one day, until I was told what was to happen the next: I was therefore at no time twenty-four hours together away from the astrologer's horoscope. At length my fascinator having a wish to go into the country, sold his concern for two hundred pounds, and in some measure set me free, although until very lately I have never overcome the notions he fixed upon my mind, and which influenced all my after life, particularly my taking office at the Old Bailey, as will in the sequel be seen. The man who bought the fortune-telling connexion for two hundred pounds, afterwards told me
Sept. 1835.–VOL. XIV.—NO. LIII.
that he made a very respectable living out of it, and was very well satisfied with the bargain. "As a caution to young girls, (although I know from experience that it is of no use giving it,) I will inform them, that most of the fortune-telling folks, both males and females, are in league with smart looking young men, who pay them for information, particularly when much impatience is shown for a husband, and a little money is saved up for the occasion. I knew a young man who in one year courted and brought to the eve, and some the morning, of marriage, that obtained their money and decamped, making a sum within the twelve months of upwards of three hundred pounds.
Coming back to myself, and the class in which I was cast when a boy, it is worthy of remark, that all the family of the crosses (offenders against the law) are naturally fatalists, or as I have heard the parson call them, predestinarians. It is a doctrine which suits their habits; it relieves their consciences; and persuading themselves that things are ordered to fall out just as they do, they thus get rid of their own responsibility. No expression is so often used by a thief as the following:. "Well! and if it must be so, it must; how can I help what is to be?" Tell them they are sure to be hanged, and the answer will be, “How can I help it? but I hope I shall have better luck in the next world to make up for it.” The doctrine they preach to one another is, “Go along, Bill, or Tom; if we are to be hanged we are to be hanged, we didn't make ourselves thieves, and can't help what is to he.”
Somewhat in this frame of mind I now resolved to rob the grazier, viewing the matter as a part of my predestined career, which I could no more avoid than I could my birth or death: and had I known that I should have been certain of apprehension and subsequent execution, I believe, at that period, it would have made no difference in my movements. Like the rest of the fraternity, I used to say, “If it's ordered for the beaks and old Black Jack to lay hold of me, how can I prevent it?". In this mood, then, I went into Essex, took a careful reconnoitre, made my arrangements accordingly, and accomplished my business in the following manner.
It happened that the night I had fixed upon for the attempt, that the grazier went home half seas over; a short time, therefore, after I had watched him into his house, I entered it by means of my key, and getting into the passage took off my shoes, which I put into my coat pocket. I then stationed a well-trained lad, (who came down at my request to assist,) inside the street-door, to keep his hand upon the lock, in case I should wish to make a hasty retreat; in the event of which it was my intention to lock the door outside, and leave the key in, so that I might be enabled to make my way to the chaise, which was in readiness, before my pursuer could get out of the house. After waiting about half an hour in the passage, I heard the grazier busily engaged in what I conceived to be no artificial snore; I then went up stairs, and opened the bedroom door, which was fortunately unlocked, and again waited a quarter of an hour to make all as safe as possible. At length satisfying myself that the cattle-Ilealer was in a real sleep, I crept upon my hands and knees to his bed, then taking a cord which I carried for the purpose in my pocket, I passed it over the bed, making both ends fast to the bed. stead upon the opposite sides, so that if the sleeper should suddenly wake, and start up, he must for a time be impeded by the rope, during which I hoped to escape without violence on the part of either the robber or the robbed. There was just sufficient light thrown in by the moon, which was on the wane, to enable me to distinguish the furniture in the room; remaining therefore still upon my knees, I took a good look round for the cupboard before I proceeded further to business. My instructions were so accurately drawn up, that I was not long in finding it out, when, rising gently, I unlocked it. The money I was informed would be found in a small box, which it was my object to bring away, but the cupboard was so dark, that it was only by the touch I could hope to find it; pausing, therefore, I again satisfied myself that the man whose money I was about to take was asleep, the assurance of which I could only collect from the bassoon-like notes he drew from his nasal organs.
At length I grasped the box, not however without disturbing some crockery ware, which occasioned me fears of disturbance. Having got it into my hands, I incautiously gave it a gentle shake, to assure myself of it being the real money-box. The sound of money will all but rouse a miser from the grave ; that the well known music, therefore, should awaken a sleeping man need not be wondered at. Up started the grazier at the first shake, and away went I with the box, making my way for the street-door, my ears all the way being saluted with the call of “ Thieves ! thieves ! thieves !” Running about a hundred yards, me and the boy quickly jumped into the chaise, and was off as fast as a good horse could draw us. As we rode along the road, we could distinguish lights moving about in various directions behind us, occasioned no doubt by the grazier and his neighbours seeking for the thieves.
This occurred about twenty-two miles from town, but in crossing the country we made our journey upwards of thirty before we reached Lon. don, never once stopping to bait at any house. About seven o'clock in the morning I was put down at Whitechapel Church, when I wished my companion a good morning, receiving orders in four days time to call for a letter as heretofore at the seed shop. In due course I received ninety pounds for this exploit, there having been obtained, as I was told, nearly seven hundred pounds when the box was opened, a great part of which, however, being in bank post bills, was obliged to be put on one side for a year or two before they could be circulated with any tolerable degree of safety. My share was large upon this occasion, because I had played the chief part in the plot.
(To be continued.)
There's not a charm that stays: all earthly pleasures fade,
But as the golden sun, when gliding down the west,