FictionForest

II. A Sight – 1

Charles DickensMar 01, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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You know the Old Bailey well, no doubt?” said one of the oldest of clerks to Jerry the messenger.

“Ye-es, sir,” returned Jerry, in something of a dogged manner. “I do know the Bailey.”

“Just so. And you know Mr. Lorry.”

“I know Mr. Lorry, sir, much better than I know the Bailey. Much better,” said Jerry, not unlike a reluctant witness at the establishment in question, “than I, as a honest tradesman, wish to know the Bailey.”

“Very well. Find the door where the witnesses go in, and show the door-keeper this note for Mr. Lorry. He will then let you in.”

“Into the court, sir?”

“Into the court.”

Mr. Cruncher’s eyes seemed to get a little closer to one another, and to interchange the inquiry, “What do you think of this?”

“Am I to wait in the court, sir?” he asked, as the result of that conference.

“I am going to tell you. The door-keeper will pass the note to Mr. Lorry, and do you make any gesture that will attract Mr. Lorry’s attention, and show him where you stand. Then what you have to do, is, to remain there until he wants you.”

“Is that all, sir?”

“That’s all. He wishes to have a messenger at hand. This is to tell him you are there.”

As the ancient clerk deliberately folded and superscribed the note, Mr. Cruncher, after surveying him in silence until he came to the blotting-paper stage, remarked:

“I suppose they’ll be trying Forgeries this morning?”

“Treason!”

“That’s quartering,” said Jerry. “Barbarous!”

“It is the law,” remarked the ancient clerk, turning his surprised spectacles upon him. “It is the law.”

“It’s hard in the law to spile a man, I think. It’s hard enough to kill him, but it’s wery hard to spile him, sir.”

“Not at all,” retained the ancient clerk. “Speak well of the law. Take care of your chest and voice, my good friend, and leave the law to take care of itself. I give you that advice.”

“It’s the damp, sir, what settles on my chest and voice,” said Jerry. “I leave you to judge what a damp way of earning a living mine is.”

“Well, well,” said the old clerk; “we all have our various ways of gaining a livelihood. Some of us have damp ways, and some of us have dry ways. Here is the letter. Go along.”

Jerry took the letter, and, remarking to himself with less internal deference than he made an outward show of, “You are a lean old one, too,” made his bow, informed his son, in passing, of his destination, and went his way.

They hanged at Tyburn, in those days, so the street outside Newgate had not obtained one infamous notoriety that has since attached to it. But, the gaol was a vile place, in which most kinds of debauchery and villainy were practised, and where dire diseases were bred, that came into court with the prisoners, and sometimes rushed straight from the dock at my Lord Chief Justice himself, and pulled him off the bench. It had more than once happened, that the Judge in the black cap pronounced his own doom as certainly as the prisoner’s, and even died before him. For the rest, the Old Bailey was famous as a kind of deadly inn-yard, from which pale travellers set out continually, in carts and coaches, on a violent passage into the other world: traversing some two miles and a half of public street and road, and shaming few good citizens, if any. So powerful is use, and so desirable to be good use in the beginning. It was famous, too, for the pillory, a wise old institution, that inflicted a punishment of which no one could foresee the extent; also, for the whipping-post, another dear old institution, very humanising and softening to behold in action; also, for extensive transactions in blood-money, another fragment of ancestral wisdom, systematically leading to the most frightful mercenary crimes that could be committed under Heaven. Altogether, the Old Bailey, at that date, was a choice illustration of the precept, that “Whatever is is right;” an aphorism that would be as final as it is lazy, did it not include the troublesome consequence, that nothing that ever was, was wrong.

Making his way through the tainted crowd, dispersed up and down this hideous scene of action, with the skill of a man accustomed to make his way quietly, the messenger found out the door he sought, and handed in his letter through a trap in it. For, people then paid to see the play at the Old Bailey, just as they paid to see the play in Bedlam—only the former entertainment was much the dearer. Therefore, all the Old Bailey doors were well guarded—except, indeed, the social doors by which the criminals got there, and those were always left wide open.

After some delay and demur, the door grudgingly turned on its hinges a very little way, and allowed Mr. Jerry Cruncher to squeeze himself into court.

 

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