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“ I'll tell you, Jack, if you ask every body how they come by things, you will have enough to do; but the fact is, the man wants me to sell them for him."
“Why, you said he gave them to you out of charity!"
“Oh, that was only because I couldn't spare breath to tell you all about it.”
“ But why should he lower them down in the dark, if they are his own property ?”
“ Jack, I don't ask whose property it is; all I know is, that I come by it honestly. I don't steal it, and I can't prove that the man does. Why, Jack, if one is to be so nice as that, you can't go into a grocer's shop to buy sugar, or coffee, or pepper, or indeed into almost any shop, if you first want to know whether the people have come by the goods honestly before you buy of them." “ Still, it is so plain, that the man must have stolen them.”
Suppose it is; how are so many poor people to find their livelihood and support their families, if they refuse to get a shilling or two when it is offered ? If we were only to live upon what we get honestly, why, we should starve: the rich take good care of that by grinding us down so close. Why, Jack, how many thousands get their living on this river! and do you think they could all get their living honestly, as you call it? No; we all plunder one another in this world.* You asked me, who were Light Horsemen ? — that's a name for one set of people who live by plunder; - that lighter will have a good slice of her cargo out to-night; for those who cut her adrift, know what's on board of her. Then we have the Heavy Horsemen, - they do their work in day time, when they go on board as Lumpers to clear the ships. And then we've the Coopers and Bumboat men, and the Ratcatchers and the Scuffle Hunters, and the River Pirates; and, last of all, we have the Mudlarkers : all different professions, Jack ; never interfering with each other, and all living by their wits. I'm too old now; I was a flash pirate once; but I'm now nearly eighty, and am only fit for a Mudlarker.”
* These remarks of Grumble were, at the time, perfectly correct ; it was before the Wet Docks or the River Police was established. Previously to the West India, London, St. Katherine's, and other docks having been made, all ships unloaded in the river, and the depredations were so enormous, that Mr. Colquhoun, in his work, has estimated them at half a million sterling annually. At present, the river may be said to be comparatively honest; the police is strict, and the temptations are removed.
“But,” exclaimed I with astonishment, "are they not discovered and punished ?”
“That's very seldom, Jack ; for you see we have receivers all down the river; some of them great men, and dining with the Mayor and Common Council; others in a small way; — all sorts, Jack: and then we have what we call Jew Carts, always ready to take goods inland, where they will not be looked after. Old Nanny was a receiver and fence in a large way once."
“ Then the only honest people on the river are the watermen.”
Here old Grumble chuckled. “Why, Jack, they be the worst of all; for they be both receivers and thieves. Do you think the watermen live by their fares? If you do, just wait on the steps one night, and you'll find that their night work is worth more than the day work is. We all must live, Jack; and now I've shown you a way by which you can earn more money in a night, than you can in a fortnight by asking for half-pence. Here's five shillings for you, my boy; and when I want you again, I'll let you know."
Alas! the five shillings, so easily and so unexpectedly earned, did, for the time, satisfy all my scruples : so easily are we bribed into what is wrong. I wished Old Grumble a good night, and left him. As I returned home, I thought of what he had said about night work; and, instead of making my way to Fisher’s Alley, I returned to the landing steps, resolving to watch for a time, and see what occurred.
I thought of what had passed. I was not satisfied with myself. I thought of what Anderson would say; and I felt that I had done wrong. And then I attempted to exculpate myself: I could not prove that the things were stolen ? I did not go with any
intent to help in such a business. Old Grumble had only paid me for my work: but then, why did he pay me so much money? My conscience told me that it was because the dealings were unfair. I could not persuade myself that I was right. I looked up at the heavens,- for it was a clear night, and there was a very bright star just above me; and as I looked at it, it appeared as if it were an eye beaming down upon me, and piercing into my breast. I turned away from it, and then looked at it again;— still it had the same appearance: I thought it was the eye of God;-I trembled, and I resolved to reveal the whole to Anderson the next day, when I heard the the sound of oars. I looked in the direction, and perceived a wherry with two men pulling in: I was down on the steps, under the shadow of the wall, and they did not see me. They landed, and handed out of the wherry three large and full canvass bags. “ It's more than we can carry,” said the voice of a waterman I well knew ; “we must leave one in the boat; and be quick, for they are on our scent. Hollo ! who's that? what are you doing here? Poor Jack, I declare.”
“Well, mayn't I have a little night work, as well as you ? " “Oh! you've come to that, have you?" replied he.
“Well, as you're waiting for something else, I suppose you could not help us with one of these bags ?”
“Yes, I can,” replied I, forgetting all my resolutions ; " put it on my back, if it's not too heavy."
“ No, no ; you're stout enough to carry it. I say, Jack, can you tell us, does old Nanny fence again, or has she given it up?".
“ I believe she does not,” replied I.
“Well,” said he, “just put the question to her to-morrow morning, for she used to be a good-un; now, follow us.”
I'walked after them with my load until we came to a bystreet; at the shutters of a shop they rapped three times on the iron bar outside which fixed them up; the door was opened, and we put the bags down in the passage, walked out again without a word, and the door was immediately closed.
“ Well, Jack," said the waterman, “I suppose we must tip handsome for the first time; here's ten shillings for you, and we'll let you know when we want you to be on the look-out for us.”
Ten shillings! and five before — fifteen shillings ! I felt as I were a rich man; all scruples of conscience were, for the time, driven away. I hurried home rattling the silver in my pocket, and opening the door softly, I crept to bed. Did I say my prayers that night? No!!
I AM TEMPTED AGAIN. MY PRIDE IS ROUSED, AND MY COURSE OF LIFE
IS CHANGED IN CONSEQUENCE.
I PASSED a dreaming restless night, and woke early. I recalled all that had passed, and I felt very much dissatisfied with myself ; the fifteen shillings, with the added prospect of receiving more, did not yield me the satisfaction I had anticipated. From what the men had said about old Nanny, I thought that I would go and see her; and why? because I wished support against my own convictions: if I had not been actuated by such a feeling, I should, as usual, have gone to old Anderson. When I went down to breakfast I felt confused, and I hardly dared to meet the clear bright eye of my little sister, and I wished the fifteen shillings out of my pocket. That I might appear to her and my mother as if I were not guilty, I swaggered; my sister was surprised, and my mother justifiably angry.
as breakfast was over, I hastened to old Nanny's.
“Well, Jack," said she, “what brings you here so early ?" “Why, mother, I was desired to ask you a question last night, - between ourselves.”
“Well, why don't you ask it, since it's between ourselves ?" replied she with surprise.
“Some of the people want to know if you fence now."
“ Jack," said old Nanny, harshly, “who asked you that question ? and how did you fall into their company? Tell me directly ; I will know."
“Why, mother, is there any harm in it?" replied I, confused and holding down my head. .
“Harm in it! Ask your own conscience, Jack, whether there's barm in it. Why do you not look me in the face like an honest boy? would they have dared to put that question to you, if you had not been a party to their evil deeds, Jack?” continued she,
shaking her head : “I thought better of you; now you have filled me full of sorrow."
I was smitten to the heart at this rebuke from a quarter whence I did not expect it; but my heart was still rebellious, and I would not acknowledge what I felt. I thought to turn the tables, and replied
“Why, mother, at all events, they say that once you were a real good one."
“ Is it indeed gone so far?” replied she. “ Poor boy! poor boy! Yes, Jack, to my shame be it spoken, I once did receive things and buy them, when they were not honestly come by; and now I'm rebuked by a child : but, Jack, I was almost mad then - I had that which would have turned any one's brain-I was reckless, wretched; but I don't do so any more. Even now I am a poor sinful wretch
- I know it; but I'm not so crazy as I was then. I have done so, Jack, more's the shame for me, and I wish I could recal it; but, Jack, we can't recal the past. Oh that we could !"
Here old Nanny pressed her hands to her temples, and for some time was silent; at last she continued,
“Why did I love you, Jack ? because you were honest. Why did I lend you money - I, an old miserly wretch, who have been made to dote on money - I, who have never spent a shilling for my own comfort for these ten years, - but because you were honest ? Why have I longed the whole day to see you, and have cared only for you? because I thought you honest, Jack. I don't care how soon I die now. I thought the world too bad to live in ; you made me think better of it. Oh! Jack, Jack, how has this come to pass? How long have you known these bad people ?"
“Why, mother," replied I, much affected, “only last night."
“Only last night! Tell me all about it; tell the truth, dear boy, do."
I could hold out no longer, and I told her every thing that had passed.
“ Jack,” said she, “I'm not fit to talk to you ; I'm a bad old woinan, and you may say I don't practise what I preach ; but, Jack, if you love me, go to Peter Anderson and tell him every