Posts tagged ‘crime’

08/02/2020

Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
I read Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales, a collection of shorter works by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, under the belief that it was first published in 1862. That is certainly the date most commonly given, and by a variety of different sources. However, subsequent research regarding the initial publication date of a couple of the individual stories has made it fairly clear that this volume must have been published later than that—with 1869 now seeming the most likely candidate.

Trying to nail this point down has not been helped by the fact that this collection was revised and/or retitled on several occasions. One of my 1862 sources adds that it was re-released in 1867, “with four extra stories” (it doesn’t bother to tell me their titles, of course). Meanwhile, the book was apparently released in America in 1870 as Dudley Carleon; or The Brother’s Secret: and Other Tales: presumably bailiffs weren’t considered a sufficient attraction. (This is still less annoying than a couple of later British editions, which had their titles pointlessly changed to Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Stories).

And just to top off the confusion, I have two different sources, one offering 1862 and the other 1869, having this collection as by “Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, formerly Braddon”—only Braddon and John Maxwell didn’t marry until 1874.

So if it’s all right with you, I’m just going to ignore all of that and pretend that for once, I didn’t feel obliged to spend longer researching a book’s original publication date than I did reading it. (I won’t say “than I did writing about it”, but—) Much as I hate doing things “out of order”, I’d hate even more to lose what’s fresh in my mind and have to read up on it all again at some point in the future.

So—

The magazine, The Welcome Guest, was founded in 1858 by the publisher, Henry Vizetelly. Subtitled “A Magazine of Recreative Reading for All”, the journal did its best to live up to this broad remit, offering a variety of material and a high standard of contributing writers—and this remained the case even after it changed hands. In 1860, John Maxwell bought the magazine, and hired the novelist and poet, Robert Brough, to edit it.

It was at the offices of The Welcome Guest that Mary Elizabeth Braddon and John Maxwell first met, in April of 1860. She was trying to support herself and her mother by acting and writing; he was impressed with the potential of her first novel, then titled Three Times Dead, which he helped her to revise and reissued as The Trail Of The Serpent.

Then other things happened.

One of them was that Braddon began regularly to contribute short stories and “novelettes”, as they were called, to The Welcome Guest, including several that were later included in Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales.

As the volume now stands, it has a slightly disconcerting arrangement, with the tone of the first few stories jerking back and forth between bleak and comic before the whole settles down into, predominantly, tales of crime and suspense, with the occasional touch of the supernatural.

The question of how to review a work such as this is a tricky one. I think the best approach might be to give a brief overview of each entry, along with a short quote, just to give a taste without, hopefully, spoiling anything. (And yes, I know I’m usually a shameless spoiler; but short works don’t stand up as well to that sort of handling.)

And this should also have the happy side-effect of keeping this to a single post of reasonable length. (Huzzah! they all cried.)

All that said—
 

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Ralph The Bailiff itself was originally published in the first volume of the St. James’s Magazine (April – July, 1861). Interestingly enough, no author was listed for it, which suggests that Braddon’s anomalous situation with respect to John Maxwell was known and causing angst in some quarters. (This may also be why Ralph The Bailiff was rather defiantly made the title story when this collection was finally published.)

When his elder brother unexpectedly dies, Dudley Carleon inherits his comfortable fortune and the respectable country property known as Grey Farm. It seems for a time that his loss has crushed Dudley’s spirits, which may or may not account for the ascendancy gained over him by his bailiff, Ralph Purvis, who becomes the real power of Grey Farm. When, after several years of a lonely, gloomy existence, Dudley is prompted to purchase another property at some distance and place Ralph in full charge of it, he makes use of his new freedom to court and marry Jenny Trevor, the pretty young ward of the rector—only to find, not happiness, but tragedy…

Braddon crams a lot into this novella, playing wicked games with the inversion of “the natural order”, that is, the master-servant and husband-wife relationships; but while we may get some grim fun out of Dudley’s helplessness in the grip of his bailiff, Braddon also uses her story to consider the terrible vulnerability of women, both within and without marriage. Jenny is trapped by her circumstances, literally unable to leave her husband’s house; while madness – or the accusation of madness – is a constant, lurking threat. Meanwhile, as we have seen before with Braddon, crime is not always punished and very often does pay—but only for those with the courage of their criminal acts.

    “And pray, my pretty, curly-haired Miss, who may you be?”
    “Your master’s wife,” said Jenny haughtily.
    The man stared at her rudely for two or three moments before he spoke.
    “My master’s what?”
    “His wife—Mrs Carleon,” she said, looking him full in the face, terrified, but not daunted by his insolence.
    The bailiff burst into a loud hoarse laugh.
    “Mr Dudley Carleon’s wife! His right-down lawful wife! O, you’re that, are you? Give me the light,” he said, snatching the silver candlestick from her hand; “let’s have a look at you, then, for you’re a bit of a curiosity…”

 

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Captain Thomas did first appear in The Welcome Guest, during August, 1860. This comic tale deals with a marriage that does not happen, with the narrator recounting how he came to the unhappy belief that his young fiancée’s heart was still to given to the man she had evidently loved before and lost, and who she did not hesitate to mourn in front of him. Braddon has fun with this one, offering a split-vision narrative whereby the reader sees a great deal more than the rather dull-witted central character—who, among other things, fails to grasp the true identity of his romantic rival, Captain Thomas, even when he makes an unorthodox reappearance on the very eve of the wedding:

    …the parlour-door was ajar—and I heard—yes, I heard from the lips of the woman I was going to marry—these passionate exclamations:
    “My darling Tom, my own precious Thomas! Ums Thomas!” In the whole course of our loves she had never called me Ums Benjamin. Ums was evidently a mysterious expression of endearment, especially consecrete to this military or naval deceiver. “Ums Thomas has come back to ums; ums naughty boy, then! There!”
    After the “There!” there was that indescribable and unmistakable sound—something between the whistling of birds in wet weather and the drawing of corks—which one is in the habit of hearing under the mistletoe. She—my “future”—was kissing Captain Thomas, or Captain Thomas was kissing her! What mattered it which? Ruin either way!
    There was an umbrella-stand in the hall. I retreated into the shadow thereof as Rosa Matilda rushed out of the room. “Mamma!” she called at the foot of the stairs; “Mamma, would you believe it? he’s come back! The Captain! He came in at the back-bedroom window!”

 

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Perhaps the most famous of all of Braddon’s short stories, and frequently anthologised in collections of Victorian ghost stories, The Cold Embrace was first published in The Welcome Guest in September of 1860.

An arrogant young artist draws his naïve cousin into a secret engagement. At the height of his passion he gives her a unique gold ring which once belonged to his mother, and swears that nothing – not even death – can part them; that even if he did die, his spirit would return to her… But out of sight is out of mind, and when tragedy strikes the artist is relieved as much as shocked. He flees, trying to bury the memory of his cousin; but his solitude is not left undisturbed…

…in the broad moonlight there are only two shadows, his own and his dog’s. He turns quickly round—there is no one—nothing to be seen in the broad square but himself and his dog; and though he feels, he cannot see the cold arms clasped round his neck…
 

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From one extreme to the other: My Daughters was also published in The Welcome Guest, in October of 1860.

This is a comic short story about a long-suffering father cursed with three grown-up daughters of romantic temperament, much addicted to sentimental reading. Braddon shows that she knows all the popular writing of her time; and as someone working through Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver novels, wherein Tennyson is a positive touchstone, her apparent exasperation with The Idylls Of The King (expressed here and elsewhere) is doubly amusing. Yet the story builds up to a disappointingly conservative coda that marks this as a very early work.

Well, we were scarcely out of Adam Bede when the girls sickened for the “Idyls.” They had a great struggle, so tremendous was the demand, to get it from Mudie’s; and I’m sure for a week our man-servant, Higgs, aged fourteen, almost lived upon the road between Brompton and Bloomsbury. At last, the modest green-covered volume arrived. O, little did I think what a viper that innocent-seeming book would prove!
 

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The Mystery Of Fernwood was first published in two parts, during November and December of 1861, in the literary magazine, Temple Bar (of which Braddon herself would later become editor).

When Isabel Morley becomes engaged to Laurence Wendale, she receives a rather ungracious invitation to Fernwood, the family estate in Yorkshire. Though Laurence warns her that it is a dreary place, that his father is in poor health and that his mother, Lady Adela, rarely receives company, Isabel is unprepared for the general air of gloom and sadness at Fernwood: an atmosphere which she slowly becomes convinced has something to do with “Mr William”, an invalid relative who occupies rooms in one wing of the building, from which he never emerges… Braddon transposes a number of Gothic conventions to the Yorkshire countryside in this one; though the overall tone is bleak, rather than sensationalised. The Mystery Of Fernwood also offers another of Braddon’s oblique commentaries upon the position of women, contrasting the thoughtless young Laurence with his quietly self-sacrificing half-sister, Lucy.

    “The poor gentleman’s rooms are at the other end of the gallery, miss.”
    “Has he lived here long?” I asked.
    “Nigh upon twenty years, miss—above twenty years, I’m thinking.”
    “I suppose he is distantly related to the family.”
    “Yes, miss.”
    “And quite dependent on Mr Wendale?”
    “Yes, miss.”
    “It is very good of your master to have supported him for so many years, and to keep him in such comfort.”
    “My master is a very good man, miss.”
    The woman seemed determined to give me as little information as possible; but I could not resist one more question. “How is it that in all these years Mr Laurence has never seen this invalid relation?” I asked.

 

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First appearing in The Welcome Guest during February of 1861, Samuel Lowgood’s Revenge is also slightly disappointing in its conventional morality. It concerns two clerks at a shipping firm, one poor, painstaking and retiring, the other brash, handsome and self-confident—and a gentleman’s son, as the obscure Samuel Lowgood is repeatedly reminded. Already consumed by resentment and jealousy, when Christopher Weldon breaks the heart of the girl that Samuel has long secretly loved, the humble clerk finds himself consumed with thoughts of revenge—even if that revenge takes a lifetime to enact…

    …at the end of the month Christopher Weldon was to give a great dinner-party, at which Messrs. Tyndale and Tyndale were to be present, to inaugerate his partnership. As senior clerk, I was honoured by an invitation.
    My enemy had mounted to the highest round of the ladder. Rich, beloved, honoured, the husband of a lovely and haughty lady, partner in the great and wealthy house which he had entered as junior clerk—what more could fortune bestow upon him?
    My time had come—the time at which it was worth my while to crush him…

 

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The Lawyer’s Secret first appeared in The Welcome Guest in three parts, between the 16th February – 2nd March, 1861. It is one of the longer works in this collection, and has since been excerpted and published as a standalone work.

When Ellinor Arden turns twenty-one, she learns that her inheritance of a fortune is conditional upon her marrying her uncle’s adopted son within the year. Ellinor is appalled, not least because she has long loved Horace Margrave, her lawyer, guardian and trustee—but the indifference with which he advises her, and the sensible way he discusses her potential marriage, chills her to the heart. Though she is prepared to dislike him, Henry Dalton seems to Ellinor a high-principled, generous young man; and impulsively, she agrees to the bargain. It is only after this that Horace Margrave confides to Dalton something that will bring the promising marriage to the point of disaster…

The main complaint that might be made against The Lawyer’s Secret is that the secret itself is too obvious. However, Braddon isn’t really writing sensation fiction here, where such a flaw might be fatal. She is more interested in the impact of the secret upon the marriage of Ellinor and Henry, and the simultaneous physical and moral deterioration of the brilliant, much-courted Horace Margrave. Particularly interesting here is how far Ellinor puts herself in the wrong in response to what she perceives as her husband’s sins, and that there is from the very first moment a large measure of class snobbery in her reaction to him, because of his background: a prejudice that colours her response to him and causes her to see his actions as those of someone who is “no gentleman”; unlike, say, Horace Margrave…

    “You too, against me?” cried Ellinor mournfully. “O, believe me, it is not the money I want, it is not the possession of of the money which I grudge him; it is only that my heart sinks at the thought of being united to a man I cannot respect or esteem. I did not ask to love him,” she added, half to herself; “but I did pray that I might be able to esteem him.”
    “I can only say, Ellinor, that you are mistaken in him.”
    At this moment came the sound of a quick firm step on the stairs, and Henry Dalton himself entered the room. His face was bright and cheerful, and he advanced to his wife eagerly; but at the sight of Horace Margrave he fell back with a frown.     “Mr Margrave, I thought it was part of our agreement—”
    The lawyer interrupted him. “That I should never darken this threshold. Yes.”
    Ellinor looked from one to the other with a pale, frightened face. “Mr Dalton,” she exclaimed, “what, in Heaven’s name, does this mean?”
    “Nothing that in the least can affect you, Ellinor. A business disagreement between myself and Mr Margrave; nothing more.”
    His wife turned from him scornfully, and approaching Horace Margrave, rested her hand on the scroll-work at the back of the chair on which he sat.
    It was so small an action in itself, but it said, as plainly as words could speak, “This is the man I trust, in spite of you, in spite of the world…”

 

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My First Happy Christmas finds Braddon dabbling in the other great mainstay of Victorian short fiction, the Christmas story. This one first appeared in The Welcome Guest in (of course) December of 1861.

This story deals with the fate of three small schoolboys left behind when all of their classmates go home for Christmas. Two of them have parents on the other side of the world; the third, our narrator, is an orphan. Particularly interesting here is the justifiable bitterness against the ways of Santa: was Braddon the first to go down that road?

Be that as it may, a particularly agreeable Saturnalia Christmas miracle is in the making…

On the whole, I say, I was not unhappy. During the half-year’s lessons and the half-year’s exercises, the half-year’s propria qua maribus and “Enfield’s Speaker”, bad marks and good marks, stolen feasts in dimly-lighted dormitories, prisoner’s base and fly-the-garter in the great bare playground, I was tolerably happy. But Christmas, that Christmas to which thirty-one out of four-and-thirty boys looked forward with such rapture—Christmas, which, for those thirty-one young persons, meant home, and love, and roast turkey, and unlimited wedges of rich plum-pudding smothered with brandy-sauce, and inexhaustible brown-paper bags of chestnuts, and piles of golden oranges, and bilious attacks, and kisses under the mistletoe from pretty cousins, and blindman’s buffs, and hunt the slippers, and so many glorious things, which to myself and the two pupils from Demerera were nothing but strange words—Christmas was for me a sad and bitter time. That genial and ancient allegorical person with rubicund face, snow-white, holly-crowned head, and brave, good-natured smile, was to me an evil-minded demon, who whispered, “For you I am not what I am to other people; I can never be the same to you that I am to other people; I come to you only to remind you of the love that is forever lost to you; of the home which you have never known…”
 

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The history of Lost And Found is confusing and I’m not sure I’ve got it right yet. This is, however, one of the included stories that argues against an 1862 publication date.

As I understand it, this work was originally part of Braddon’s novel, The Outcasts; or, The Brand Of Society, which was serialised in the London Journal between the 12th September 1863 – 12th March 1864. Braddon then revised her work and reissued it in novel form under the title, Henry Dunbar: The Story Of An Outcast. During the revision process, Braddon removed an entire section of her novel and then published it as a standalone work.

Or so the story goes. Since Lost And Found is almost long enough to be called “a novel” in its own right, it seems unlikely that it was cut out as it stands from within another novel. Furthermore, the only publication details I have found for Lost And Found suggest that it was published in the London Journal during 1864; and it doesn’t really make sense to me that Braddon would serialise The Outcasts, cut out a chunk of it, and then republish that chunk in the same magazine as an independent work.

(Henry Dunbar is now the “definitive” version of this novel. I haven’t yet looked into whether The Outcasts is available also. Quite a few of the 19th century magazines have been archived online, though, so I’ll chase that up when the time, or rather date, is ripe.)

A man calling himself Gervoise Gilbert leaves his alcoholic wife and their life of poverty in London, taking with him their young son, George. The two are fortunate enough to fall in with a band of travelling performers. In exchange for food and lodging, Gervoise designs and paints pictures of the troupe to be used as advertising, while George becomes part of the show itself. Noting the tattoos upon one of the performers, and learning that he did most of them himself, Gervoise asks the man to place a certain mark upon George’s wrist, so that he may always in future be identified. The tattoo is of an earl’s coronet, with the initials ‘G. P.’…

The troupe is present when the Earl of Haughton is killed during a steeplechase race. His young countess is rushed from the scene; later it is learned that both she and her baby, a boy born prematurely, have died. Gervoise wastes no time in travelling to London, to the Palgrave family lawyers, who know his history and hold the documentation necessary to prove his identity. In his haste, Gilbert leaves Georgey with the troupe; and he returns in triumph as Gervoise Palgrave, Earl of Haughton, only to discover that the boy is missing—stolen away, it seems, by his mother…

The loss of his son blights Gervoise’s ascension to the aristocracy. Though he sets in motion a thorough search for Agatha and the boy, no trace is found of either. It is many months before Gervoise can reconcile himself to the situation—and then his consolation takes a dangerous form, in his tentative courtship of Ethel Hurst. Arguing to himself that were Agatha not dead, some hint of her whereabouts must have been discovered. Gervoise defiantly asks Ethel to marry him. However, a chance encounter only days before the wedding leaves Gervoise with a desperate choice to make…

Lost And Found is in all respects a grim work: there are no heroes here, only villains of varying shades and degrees of guilt. The one ray of light is Braddon’s sympathetic and humorous sketch of the performers—and even there she finds one more villain to darken her tale.

Gervoise may be our protagonist but the touchstone of his character is his selfishness. Even though it is Agatha’s violent and drunken behaviour that drives Gervoise away, it is made clear that when he married her, she was an innocent and sober girl; being made to carry the blame for Gervoise’s “fall” from high society to a life of poverty and struggle became too much for her. Gervoise knows well enough that he is leaving Agatha to face destitution, but makes Georgey’s safety his excuse for a desertion that is equally if not more for his own comfort. Yet it is Gervoise’s very haste to claim his inheritance that later leaves Georgey exposed to danger.

The working-out of the plot of Lost And Found exploits the Victorian unease over the implications of wet-nursing: the sense that, “necessary” as it might have been, it resulted in an improper and dangerous mingling of the classes and created intimacy where none should exist.

(Wet-nursing was “necessary” because of the social taboo against women having sex while breastfeeding. Babies were therefore taken away from their mothers at about six weeks of age, to allow husbands sexual access again—although this was usually couched in terms of women “worrying about their figures” [which repeated pregnancies weren’t going to help; just sayin’]. Samuel Richardson’s unnecessary sequel to Pamela deals with this situation with disturbing frankness, but of course that was the mid-18th century.)

Gervoise’s foster-brother, Humphrey Melwood, is positioned in the narrative as, effectively, Gervoise’s evil twin. He is passionately devoted to Gervoise, to the point of intuiting – and acting out – his darkest impulses, creating the disturbing scenario of the aristocratic Gervoise keeping his own hands technically clean while poacher-turned-gamekeeper Humphrey does his dirty work for him.

I argued during my review of The Trail Of The Serpent that Braddon may have been the first to write a real “detective story”, that is, to place a detective figure at the centre of her narrative and to make the successful unravelling of a mystery the backbone of her plot.

The second half of Lost And Found is effectively another such story, making the correct dating of it even more important. While it is perhaps not “pure” enough in its mystery aspects to qualify as a detective story proper, Lost And Found does give us a determined amateur detective following clues to discover the truth of certain dark events surrounding Gervoise’s marriage to Ethel Hurst—albeit that the detective is no hero, but someone determined to do as much harm as possible when he gets his hands on the proofs he seeks. Furthermore, the reader already knows the truth of the mystery being investigated—allowing us to argue, if we choose, that Braddon also invented the so-called “inverted detective story”, something usually attributed to R. Austin Freeman’s Dr John Thorndyke stories many years later.

    “You are Earl of Haughton! Last night you were walking about Avondale afraid to show yourself in your shabby clothes, wild and desperate, talking about ending your days in a river; to-night you are the master of Palgrave Chase. The poor countess is dying; the child died within an hour of its birth.”
    “Dead!”
    “Yes, Master Gervoise. Ah, my lord—I mustn’t call you Master Gervoise any longer—the days are gone forever when I might call you brother.”
    “No, no, Humphrey—no, no,” answered Gervoise. “If this is all true—if it is not some distempered dream, as it seems to me it must be—why then I will be more your brother than ever. Adversity is a hard master, Humphrey; and those who suffer are apt to think very little of the sufferings of others. But prosperity softens a man’s heart. I’ll be a true friend to you, Humphrey.”
    He held out his hand as he spoke, and grasped the horny fingers of the gamekeeper.
    “Bless you for those words, Master Gervoise! The world will be all at your feet now, and money’s very powerful; but for all it’s so powerful, there are some things it can’t do, and those are just the very things a faithful friend can do. You see this arm, Master Gervoise,” cried the gamekeeper, stretching out his muscular right arm and clenching his powerful fist; “there’s many about Avondale as could tell you that it isn’t a weak one. If there’s anyone that wronged you, I’d as lief strike him down with that arm as crush a worm that came in my pathway. It’s not many people I care for, Master Gervoise, but there’s something more than common in the love I bear you; I must have sucked it in with my mother’s milk, for it seems as if it was mixed with the blood that runs in my veins, and I think every drop of that blood would turn to liquid fire if I knew that anyone had injured you. Heaven help them that harmed you, that’s all! Heaven keep ’em safe out of my pathway!”

 

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Eveline’s Visitant is the death-knell of any suggestion of 1862: it first appeared in the Belgravia magazine in January of 1867. Belgravia was founded by John Maxwell late in 1866, and edited by Braddon from its establishment until 1876, becoming their most successful joint venture of this sort.

This is another of Braddon’s well-known and often-anthologised ghost stories. I find it interesting that, like The Cold Embrace, it is set outside of England, that supposed land of ghosts.

During a drunken fight over a worthless woman, Hector de Brissac, a young French soldier, strikes his aristocratic cousin across the face, cutting open his cheek. A duel is inevitable—and it is the aristocrat who falls. As he lies dying, Andre de Brissac whispers to his cousin that the affair between them is not yet over… Hector’s inheritance of his cousin’s estate initially brings him no happiness: he is looked askance at and shunned by his Andre’s friends and neighbours. Things change when Hector meets and marries the lovely and gentle Eveline Duchalet, who becomes the great joy of his life. Only a few months into the marriage, however, a shadow is thrown across it, when Eveline comes home one day to ask the name of the man who must, she concludes, be the owner of the neighbouring estate, who she has begun to see frequently while in the grounds? As Hector knows only too well, there is no such estate, nor any such man…

    “Have you seen this man often, Eveline?” I asked.
    She answered in a tone which had a touch of sadness, “I see him every day.”
    “Where, dearest?”
    “Sometimes in the park, sometimes in the wood. You know the little cascade, Hector, where there is some old neglected rock-work that forms a kind of cavern. I have taken a fancy to that spot, and have spent many mornings there reading. Of late I have seen the stranger there every morning.”
    “He has never dared to address you?”
    “Never. I have looked up from my book, and have seen him standing at a little distance, watching me silently. I have continued reading; and when I have raised my eyes again I have found him gone. He must approach and depart with a stealthy tread, for I never hear his footfall. Sometimes I have almost wished that he would speak to me. It is so terrible to see him standing silently there…”

 

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Found In The Muniment Chest was also published in Belgravia in 1867, in the December issue. It is a fairly straightforward romance, with its climax set during the Christmas season, and may have done duty for a more overt Christmas story.

A young lawyer falls in love with the daughter of a man who is not merely a bibliophile, but a “bibliomaniac”, having spent a literal fortune upon his collection of rare books and manuscripts. Knowing that he is in no position to aspire to the hand of an heiress, he buries his feelings, trying to content himself with the position of legal advisor and loyal friend. One night Barbara comes to him for advice on a matter that must change her life drastically and forever: she confides to him that she has found a will post-dating the one under which her father inherited his fortune…

    “…my first impulse was to come to you with this dreadful paper. And O, Mr Wilmot, does this will really mean anything, and will it reduce papa to poverty, for I fear he has squandered a great deal of money on his books, and has considerably impoverished the estate; and he will have to give all back, will he not, if that paper is binding?”
    How could I answer her when she looked at me with such a terror-stricken face, alarmed not for herself—I doubt if she was even conscious that her own interests were at stake—but for the father she loved so fondly!

 

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Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales concludes with a final comic story—although we may also choose to consider it an inverted ghost story, inasmuch as it is told from the point of view of the ghost. How I Heard My Own Will Read first appeared in Belgravia in February of 1867.

After an over-convivial evening following a stolen holiday at the St. Ledger, Augustus Pettifer is killed in a train wreck outside of a place called Slitherem-on-the-Dwingey; never mind that no such place exists, but was made up merely to excuse his absence from home. But this is only the first of many strange and mortifying events. For one thing, no-one seems to recognise him any more; not even his own widow, when he arrives home. Then there are the reactions of the beneficiaries to the last will and testament of Augustus Pettifer…

    Really, what with the parlour-maid’s asservations, Julia Maria’s mourning, and the graphic account of the accident in the newspaper, I was in a manner beginning to believe in Slitherem-on-the-Dwingey. Suppose I had been killed? Suppose I had been brought home on a shutter, and didn’t know it? There was an awful situation!
    I pinched myself; it was painful. There was a fire in the grate; I laid hold of the bars; that was painful, very, and I believe I swore; but O, it was such a comfort to feel that I was mortal, that I could have blessed anyone for treading upon my pet corn.
    It was a nice thing to be asked into my own dining-room to hear my own will read. There was Peck, in a suit of black, with ebony death’s-heads for studs,—he had always had a playful fancy,—sitting in one of my morocco chairs at the top of my patent telescopic dining-table. He seemed to have forgotten all about Doncaster. I tried to recall it to his recollection, but a temporary paralysis of the vocal organs prevented me…

 

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ETA:

Crap.

It occurred to me just too late that there are four stories here with an original publication date post-1862, and that I therefore accidentally read the first revised edition of 1867, referred to up above, to which more stories were added.

This in spite of the fact that my copy carried a “First published in 1862” rider. I guess I’m not the only one confused by all this.

Anyway…I’m not going to re-write anything. I’m just going to allow myself the comfort of not really having gotten things “out of order”…

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 2)


 
    …close beside the hearth, with his back to the window, sat the same traveller whom Samuel Pecker had last seen beneath his own roof. The uncertain flame of the fire, shooting up for a moment in a vivid blaze, only to sink back and leave all in shadow, revealed nothing but the mere outline of this man’s figure, and revealed even that but dimly, yet at the very first glance through the uncurtained window Millicent Duke uttered a great cry, and falling on her knees in the snow, sobbed aloud,—“My husband! My husband, returned alive to make me the guiltiest and most miserable of women!”
    She grovelled on the snowy ground, hiding her face in her hands and wailing piteously. Darrell lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house.
    The traveller had heard the cry, and stood upon the hearth, with his back to the fire, facing the open door; and the traveller was in sorry truth the Captain of the Vulture—that person of all others upon earth whose presence was most terrible to Darrell and Millicent…

 

 

 

 

Christmas comes once again to Compton – it is the sixth anniversary of the visit of the mysterious pedlar, and Sarah Pecker’s reformation – and this time the inn is honoured by a trio of young bucks. Their presence is considered a mark of honour for the establishment, in spite of the demands they make upon its resources and their riotous behaviour. Recognised head of the household or not, Samuel Pecker still knows when he is out of his depth; and so he suggests to Sarah that she be the one to ask the party to be a little less rough and noisy. It is therefore she who carries in the last bottles of old port held by the Black Bear:

    The third member of the little party, and he who seemed far the most sober of the three, lounged with his back to the fire and his elbow leaning on the mantelpiece… His flashing black eyes, and his small white teeth, which glittered as he spoke, lit up his face, which, in spite of his evident youth, was wan and haggard—the face of a man prematurely old from excitement and dissipation; for the hand of Time during the last six years had drawn many a wrinkle about the restless eyes and determined mouth of Sir Lovel Mortimer, Baronet, alias Captain Fanny, highwayman, and, on occasion, housebreaker.
    Heaven knows what there was in the appearance of any one of the party in the white parlour to overawe or agitate the worthy mistress of the Black Bear, but it is a sure thing that a faint and dusky pallor crept over Sarah Pecker’s face as she set the wine and glasses upon the table. She seemed nervous and uneasy under the strange dazzle of Captain Fanny’s black eyes. It has been said that they were not ordinary eyes; indeed, there was something in them which the physiognomists of to-day would no doubt have set themselves industriously at work to define and explain. They were not restless only. There was a look in them almost of terror—not of a terror of to-day or yesterday, but of some dim far-away time too remote for memory—the trace of some shock to the nervous system received long before the mind had power to note its force, but which had left its lasting seal upon one feature of the face.
    Sarah Pecker dropped and broke one of her best wine glasses under the strange influence of these restless eyes. They fixed her gaze as if they had possessed some magnetic power…

It is the fancy of Sir Lovel Mortimer to hold Sarah in conversation; and she, nettled by his contemptuous attitude to her home village, is roused to answer firmly enough. So the baronet learns of the death of Ringwood Markham, and the inheritance of the family estate by his sister, Millicent; Mrs George Duke. He takes Sarah up on her insistence that Millicent is a widow:

    “The world is wide enough outside Compton-on-the-Moor; and your sailor is a roving blade, who is apt to take his own pleasure abroad, forgetful of any one who may be waiting for him at home. Who knows that Captain Duke may not come back to-morrow to claim his wife and her fortune?”
    “The Lord forbid!” said Mrs Pecker earnestly; “I would rather not be wishing ill to any one: but sooner than poor Miss Millicent should see him come back to break her heart and waste her money, I would pray that the Captain of the Vulture may lie drowned and dead under the foreign seas.”
    “A pious wish!” cried Captain Fanny, laughing. “However, as I don’t know the gentleman, Mrs Pecker, I don’t mind saying, Amen. But as to seven years’ absence being proof enough to make a woman a widow, that’s a common mistake and a vulgar one, Mrs Sarah, which I scarcely expected to hear of from a woman of your sense. Seven years—why, husbands have come back after seventeen!”
    Mrs Pecker made no answer to this…

So focused are the people of Compton upon the visit of the baronet and his companions, and the consequent honour bestowed upon their village, that they barely notice the rash of violent robberies that occur in the surrounding districts; or at least, no-one thinks to tie these events together.

I remarked at the outset of my plunge into George Reynolds’ monumental penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London, that it was very obvious that Mary Elizabeth Braddon had been strongly influenced by Reynolds; likewise, that she was in sympathy with many of his social criticisms. Her way of addressing such points was always very different, however: whereas Reynolds does so with rhetoric and tub-thumping, Braddon’s way is that of black humour and/or chilly matter-of-factness. Here, for instance, merely as a throwaway observation in context, is a reference to the conditions prevailing in England during the 18th century, and the savage property laws of the time. It’s something that Reynolds might have said—but this isn’t the way he would have said it:

The sojourn of a handsome young baronet at the Black Bear was a rare event, to be remembered and talked of for a twelvemonth at least; while violence, outrage, robbery, and murder upon the king’s highway were of everyday occurrence. London kept holiday every Monday morning, and went gipsying and sight-seeing Tyburnwards. Thieves, retired from business, made goodly fortunes by hunting down old comrades. Children were hung without mercy for the stealing of three halfpence on that via sacra, the king’s highway; because the law—poor well-intentioned blundering monster as it was—could frame a statute, but could not make a distinction, and could only hang by the letter, where it might have pardoned according to the spirit.

The next event of significance to our characters is the coming of the end of January—the seventh anniversary of George Duke’s disappearance. Millicent must then seek out Darrell Markham in London and deliver to him Ringwood’s letter, as per her solemn promise; but she has little idea how to go about her task, and is mightily relieved when Sarah forces her own company upon her.

Holding hard to her Cumberland heritage, Sarah stubbornly refuses to be either thrilled, shocked or awed by London. As for Millicent, she barely notices her surroundings for thinking of the upcoming meeting. She has not seen her cousin Darrell for seven years either—not since he lay injured and delirious at the Black Bear, after being attacked by a man he swore was George Duke…

Millicent spends the hired coach journey between the inn at which she and Sarah are staying and the townhouse of Lord C— tormenting herself with visions of a very different Darrell; an indifferent Darrell; a Darrell in love with someone else. The reality is more prosaic but for the moment just as daunting: Darrell has grown up:

Of all the changes Millicent had ever dreamed of, none had come about. But this one change, of which she had never dreamed, had certainly come to pass. Darrell Markham had grown stouter within the past seven years ; not unbecomingly so, of course. He had only changed from a stripling into a stalwart broad-chested, and soldierly-looking fellow, whose very presence inspired poor helpless Millicent with a feeling of safety. He clasped his poor little shivering cousin to his breast, and covered her cold forehead with kisses…

Millicent is inspired with a new terror: that, he in London, she in Compton, Darrell may simply have grown away from her; but her fears in that respect are soon put thoroughly to rest. She hesitates as Darrell insists upon the implications of the seven-years’ silence, and changes the subject by putting Ringwood’s letter, as per her promise, into her cousin’s hand. Her hope is that Ringwood has left Darrell a bequest—which, as Darrell tells her, is exactly what he has done:

    It was thus that poor Ringwood had written:
    “Cousen Darrel,
    “When you gett this, Capten Duk will hav bin away sevin years. I canot lieve you a legasy, but I lieve you my sister Mily, who after my deth will be a ritch woman, for your tru and lovyng wife. Forgett
all past ill blud betwixt us, and cherish her for the sake of
    “RINGWOOD MARKHAM.”

Still gripped by her belief that George Duke is alive and waiting, Millicent resists her fate; but she has not the strength of character to withstand the force represented by an impassioned Darrell and a determined Sarah. However, she outrages the latter by refusing to come out of her mourning for Ringwood for her wedding, compromising only so far as a pale lavender gown. And though she very much enjoys the intervening fortnight, during which time Darrell ensures that she and Sarah see all the sights, there is a shadow over her happiness. At the last moment, her terrors overcome her:

    …Mrs George Duke, falling on her knees at Darrell’s feet, lifted up her clasped hands and appealed to him thus :—
    “O, Darrell, Darrell, I feel as if this was a wicked thing that we are going to do! What evidence have I that George Duke is dead? and what right have I to give my hand to you, not knowing whether it may not still belong to another? Delay this marriage. Wait, wait, and more certain news may reach us; for some thing tells me that we have no justification for the vows we are going to take to-day.”
    She spoke with such a solemn fervour, with such an earnestness in every word, with a light that seemed almost the radiance of inspiration shining in her blue
eyes, that Darrell Markham would have been led to listen to her almost as seriously as she had spoken, but for the interference of Mrs Sarah Pecker. That aggrieved matron, however, showered forth a whole volley of indignant exclamations, such as “Stuff and nonsense, child!”

Sarah hustles the pair into marriage; and this despite the fact that she herself receives at the last moment what she is inclined to take as an ill omen. Almost knocked down on the slippery pavement outside the London church, she is saved by a passing stranger…only he is not a stranger: it is none other than Sir Lovel Mortimer, looking very different from his normal dandified self in a brown wig and thick, almost disguising clothing; but there is no mistaking those eyes. The baronet is very interested to learn what business it is that has brought Sarah to London, and goes off leaving his compliments for the bride and groom.

The wedding goes ahead in spite of the spoken and unspoken fears of the trio; no George Duke appears to forbid it, in spite of Millicent’s nervous glances over her shoulder. With Darrell’s ring upon her finger, Millicent at last allows herself to relax:

Millicent abandoned herself to the delight of Darrell’s presence, and had well-nigh forgotten that she had ever lived away from him. She was with him, sheltered and protected by his love, and all the vague doubts and terrors of the wedding morning had vanished out of her mind. It seemed as if she had left her fears in the stony London church from which she had emerged as Darrell Markham’s wife. She had felt a shadowy apprehension of some shapeless trouble hovering near at hand, some unknown sorrow ready to fall upon her and crush her; but she felt this apprehension no longer. Nothing had occurred to interrupt the marriage. It seemed to her, therefore, as if the marriage, being permitted by Providence, must needs be happy…

The three travel home to Compton, and they make their first stop at the Black Bear where, knowing of the limited resources at the Hall, Sarah has sent ahead to order a celebratory dinner prepared for the newly-weds. Arriving at the inn, she hurries in ahead of her companions to check that her orders have been carried out—and finds herself confronted by the Samuel of old, a timid, weary man clearly expecting thunderstorms to descend upon his head:

    “What! what!” cried Sarah, some indistinct terror chilling her very blood; “what is it, Samuel?—have you lost your speech?”
    It seemed indeed for a moment as if Mr Pecker had been suddenly deprived of the use of that faculty. He shook his head from side to side, swallowed and gasped alternately, and then grasping Sarah by the arm, pointed with his disengaged hand to another half-open door exactly opposite to that of the room in which the dinner-table was laid. “Look there!” he ejaculated in a hoarse whisper close to Sarah’s ear.
    Following the direction of Samuel’s extended hand, Mrs Pecker looked into a room which was generally devoted to the ordinary customers at the Bear, but which on this winter’s evening had but one occupant. This solitary individual was a man wearing a dark blue travel-stained coat, jack-boots, and loose brown curling hair tied with a ribbon. His back was turned to Sarah and her husband, and he was bending over the sea-coal fire with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands. While Mrs Sarah Pecker stood as if transfixed, staring silently at this traveller, Darrell followed Millicent into the hall, and thence into the oak parlour, closing the door behind him.
    “O, Samuel, Samuel! how shall I ever tell her? ” exclaimed Mrs Pecker.

She cannot—and in fact does not. She excuses herself from joining the dinner, and has the inn’s servant wait upon Darrell and Millicent; which is also what Samuel has done with regard to the inn’s other customer. The Peckers try to come to terms with the appalling situation—each of them in their own way:

    “Only an hour—only an hour,” groaned Sarah: “if it had pleased Providence to have taken his life before that hour, what a happy release for them two poor innocent creatures in yonder room!”
    “Ah, what a release indeed!” echoed Samuel. “He’s sittin’ with his back to the door: if somebody could go behind him sudden with a kitchen poker,” added the innkeeper, looking thoughtfully at Sarah’s stout arm; “but then,” he continued, reflectively, “there’d be the body; and that would be against it. If you come to think of it, the leading inconvenience of a murder is that there’s generally a body. But I suppose it’s only right it should be so; for if it wasn’t for bodies, murders would be uncommon easy.”
    Sarah did not appear particularly struck by the brilliancy of her husband’s discourse; she sat in her own particular arm-chair before the old-fashioned fire place, with her hands clasped upon her knees, rocking herself to and fro, and repeating mournfully,—“O, if it had but pleased Providence to take him before that hour!—if it had but pleased Providence!”
    She remembered afterwards that as she said these words there was a feeling in her heart tantamount to an inarticulate prayer that some species of sudden death might overtake the traveller in the common parlour…

The traveller departs while Darrell and Millicent are still at dinner; for the Hall, the Peckers dismally conclude. Even at the last Sarah cannot bring herself to speak the terrible words; and though the others see that something has happened to upset their old friend, the dreadful truth does not cross their minds.

It is a short but hard walk from the Black Bear to Markham Hall, through the snow and by the light of a lantern carried by Samuel. Millicent, somewhat infected by Sarah’s fears, recoils when she sees footprints in the pathway. To approach their own front door, the two must pass several windows, including one giving into a room in which a fire has been lit: inside, a man sits before that fire…

Here, at last, we find ourselves upon familiar Braddon-ground in The Captain Of The Vulture. The bigamy-plot was one of the mainstays of the 19th century sensation novel; though it was not confined to that genre. It was occasionally deployed in more mainstream literature, too, but almost always with a man at the apex of the triangle: obviously this was considered a less shocking situation. In sensation novels, however, it was an excellent way of having a woman – generally the heroine – sexually guilty and yet innocent at the same time—if the bigamy was accidental, which was not always the case.

Braddon had already dabbled in these waters, in her first novel, The Trail Of The Serpent; but there it was merely one subplot in a dizzying maze of mystery and crime. This was the first time she brought this situation front-and-centre; and indeed, it is possible that she was using The Captain Of The Vulture as something of a dry run: bigamy would (though in very different ways) be the fulcrum of her two succeeding novels, which would be among her most controversial yet most successful works.

She handles the matter rather differently here, fittingly for what is an historical romance rather than a sensation novel, having poor Millicent agonise over her “sin” in explicitly religious terms. And there is something concrete for her to agonise over: daringly on Braddon’s part, it is clear that the marriage has been consummated.

Darrell does his best to intervene on Millicent’s behalf, arguing indeed that she was pressured into her new marriage against her better judgement; but he might as well be addressing a brick wall:

    “Now you come here and listen to me, Mistress Millicent Markham, Mrs George Duke, Mrs Darrell Markham, or whatever you may please to call yourself. Come here, I say.”
    She had been lying on the sofa, never blest by one moment’s unconsciousness, but acutely sensible of every word that had been said. Her husband caught hold of her wrist with a rough jerk, and lifted her from the sofa. “Listen to me, will you,” he said, “my very dutiful and blameless wife! I am going to ask you a few questions. Do you hear?”
    “Yes.”
    She neither addressed him by his name nor looked at him as he spoke. Gentle as she was, tender and loving as she was to every animate thing, she made no show of gentleness to him, nor any effort to conceal her shuddering abhorrence of him…

And of course, Captain Duke is not much interested in the marriage as such. What he is interested in, is Millicent’s inheritance of Compton Hall—and his consequent rights as her husband. His words are vicious, deliberately cruel—yet it is almost as if Millicent does not hear them. There is only one thought in her mind, one question which she must ask:

“George Duke, did you stay away these seven years on purpose to destroy me, body and soul?”

Somewhat to her surprise, and ours, the answer is ‘no’: Captain Duke was, he claims, cast away on a Pacific island, and only recently rescued.

Rendered helpless by the situation, Darrell can only insist upon his altered position as Millicent’s only relative. He withdraws—but warns Captain Duke about his treatment of Millicent, and adds that he will be back on the following day.

As he makes to withdraw, Millicent suddenly comes out of her near-catatonic state:

    “Stop!” cried Millicent, as her cousin was leaving the room; “my husband took an earring from me when we parted at Marley, and bade me ask him for it on his return. Have you that trinket?” she asked the Captain.
    She looked him in the face with an earnest, half-terrified gaze. She remembered the double of George Duke, seen by her upon Marley pier, in the winter moonlight.
    The sailor took a small canvas bag from his waist coat pocket. The bag contained a few pieces of gold and silver money, and the diamond earring which Millicent had given George Duke on the night of their parting…

It is the final, crushing blow:

    …going straight to her cousin, she put her two icy hands into his, and addressed him thus:
    “Farewell, Darrell Markham, we must never, never meet again. Heaven forgive us both for our sin; for Heaven knows we were innocent of evil intent. I will obey this man in all reasonable things, and will share my fortune with him and do my duty to him to my dying day; but I can never again be what I was to him before he left this place seven years ago; I can never be his wife again. Good night.”
    She put her cousin from her with a solemn gesture, which, with the simple words that she had spoken, seemed to him like a dissolution of their marriage…

With nowhere else to go, Darrell accepts the invitation of the waiting – and very apologetic – Samuel, to take up his residence at the Black Bear. It is intention to stay in Compton for the present, to see for himself how George Duke intends to treat his wife. He and Samuel turn their sad steps back along the snowy path to the inn. Along their way, the two encounter a man headed in the other direction:

    …a man wearing a horseman’s cloak, and muffled to the chin, with the snow-flakes lying white upon his hat and shoulders.
    Samuel Pecker gave this man a friendly though feeble good-night, but the man seemed a surly fellow, and made no answer. The snow lay so deep upon the ground that the three men passed one another as noiselessly as shadows.
    “Have you ever taken notice, Mr Darrell,” said
Samuel, some time afterwards, “that folks in snowy weather looks very much like ghosts; quiet, and white, and solemn?”

And this man is not the only unexpected visitor on this snowy night. Another, muffled up beyond recognition, calls at the Black Bear, demanding brandy. His voice is vaguely to familiar to Sarah, but she cannot place it—not until, in taking his drink, he exposes his face to her:

    He threw back his head as he swallowed the last drop of the fiery liquor, then throwing Mrs Pecker the price of the brandy, he bade her a hasty good-night, and strode out of the house.
    The empty glass dropped from Sarah’s hand, and shivered into fragments on the floor. Her white and terror-stricken face frightened the waiter when he returned from his errand to the stables.
    The man she had served with brandy could not surely be George Duke, for the Captain had an hour before set out for the Hall; but if not George Duke himself, this man was most certainly some unearthly shadow or double of the Captain of the Vulture…

Up at Compton Hall, Millicent goes about her duties with an air almost of quiet defiance, and declaredly has prepared for a husband a room far separate from her own, one known as the ‘Garden Room’ for its proximity to the grounds. She is interrupted by a caller – he who passed Darrell and Samuel – who seems agitated by news of the Captain’s return, but storms away without seeing him. The Captain, too, when informed, becomes angry and abusive.

Unmoved, Millicent withdraws to her own room. There her stony demeanour crumbles, as she confronts what she considers her enormous guilt—and the reality of what her life must now be. In the extremity of her misery, she even contemplates suicide, going so far as to find one of her father’s old razors. The impulse is soon quelled, however, though in her trembling haste she cuts herself while putting the blade away again. It is not a dangerous cut, but it bleeds significantly even after she bandages it up. That done, she can only sit in sleepless misery, contemplating the future…

Meanwhile, downstairs, George Duke too is reflecting upon his very altered fortunes:

“To think,” he said, “only to fancy that this Ringwood Markham, a younger man than myself, should have died within a few months of my coming home! Egad, they’ve said that George Duke was one of those fellows who always fall on their feet. I’ve had a hard time of it for the last seven years, but I’ve dropped into good luck after all—dropped into my old luck—a fortune, and a poor frightened wife that can’t say bo to a goose—a poor trembling novel-reading pale-faced baby…”

Having polished off one bottle of claret and another of brandy, the Captain staggers off to bed—still congratulating himself, and looking forward to “settling” with Darrell and Millicent:

    Mechanically his wandering right hand sought the butt-end of the pistol beneath the pillow, and so with his fingers resting on the familiar weapon, George Duke dropped off to sleep.
    It is doubtful if he had ever said a prayer in his life. He said none that night.

At some point during the endless winter night, Millicent is seized with the notion of signing over to George Duke everything she owns – everything – and under any conditions he chooses to impose, if only he will go away and leave her alone. Impulsively, she makes her way to the Garden Room:

    The firelight, changeful and capricious, now played upon the sleeper’s ringlets, lying in golden-brown tangles upon the pillow, now glanced upon the white fingers resting on the pistol, now flashed upon the tarnished gilding of the bed-posts, now glimmered on the ceiling, now lit up the wall; while Millicent’s weary eyes followed the light, as a traveller, astray on a dark night, follows a will-o’-the-wisp.
    She followed the light wherever it pleased to lead her. From the golden ringlets on the pillow to the hand upon the pistol, from the gilded bed-posts to the ceiling and the wall, lower and lower down the wall, creeping stealthily downwards, to the oaken floor beside the bed, and to a black pool which lay there, slowly saturating the time-blackened wood.
    The black pool was blood—a pool that grew wider every second, fed by a stream which was silently pouring from a hideous gash across the throat of Captain George Duke, of the good ship Vulture…

Millicent flees into the snowy night. She ignores her nearer neighbours and heads straight for the Black Bear, rousing the household with her cries. They, in turn, find her in hysterics, her hair dishevelled, her hands and her clothing smeared with blood, as she shrieks of George Duke’s murder…

The first impulse of Darrell, Sarah and Samuel is to protect Millicent from whatever has happened, but the inn’s ostler summons a constable, who has very different ideas. He and Darrell venture to Compton Hall, where they find any amount of what seems like damning evidence against Millicent—but there is one thing that they do not find:

    The candle, burned down to the socket of the quaint old silver candlestick, stood where Millicent had left it on a table near the window. The tapestry curtain, flung aside from the door as she had flung it in her terror, hung in a heap of heavy folds. That hideous pool between the bed and the fireplace had widened and spread itself; but the hearth was cold and black, and the bed upon which George Duke had lain was empty.
    It was empty. The pillow on which his head had rested was there, stained a horrible red with his blood. The butt-end of the pistol, on which his fingers had lain when he fell asleep was still visible beneath the pillow. Red ragged  stains and streaks of blood, and one long gory line which marked what way the stream had flowed towards the dark pool on the floor, disfigured the bedclothes; but beyond this there was nothing…

The men search, but no body is to be found. Money there is in abundance, however; so this is not a matter of robbery-homicide. The two notice another curious point:

    …the constable walked slowly round the chamber, looking at everything in his way. “What’s come of the Captain’s clothes, I wonder?” he said, rubbing his chin, and staring thoughtfully at the bed.
    It was noticeable that no vestige of clothing belonging to Captain George Duke was left in the apartment…

The murder of George Duke sends shockwaves of horrified delight through Compton—in itself, and inasmuch as the body must be somewhere. The subsequent investigation turns up nothing helpful, and ends as – in one respect – it must:

    Hugh Martin carried a certain official-looking document in his hand. Armed with this, he walked straight across the room to the sofa upon which Millicent sat.
    “Mrs Millicent Duke,” he said, “in the King’s name I arrest you for the wilful murder of your husband, George Duke.”

Unexpectedly, during the subsequent official inquiry, Millicent stands up under questioning far better than the people who love her: she tells her story openly and straightforwardly, winning the sympathy of everyone who hears her. But matters falter on a general failure to identify an alternative suspect. Millicent admits she knows nothing of her husband’s life away from Compton; Darrell can only add (what he sometime earlier discovered) that Duke was not a naval officer at all; and otherwise, there is only Samuel’s garbled tale of George Duke’s double. The matter concludes with Millicent committed to stand trial…

We might be inclined to feel that Braddon could have fudged the issue of Millicent’s guilt or innocence—omitted her discovering of the body, and begun the scene with her showing up at the Black Bear hysterical and covered in blood. But given Millicent’s own character, as drawn, this would have been an unnecessary piece of obfuscation: she was never the kind of worm that was going to turn, at least not to the point of cutting her husband’s throat. In later Braddon works, however, such is not always the case; and there are several in which the degree of the protagonist’s guilt becomes the crux of her narrative.

In essence, the final stages of The Captain Of The Vulture play out something like a conventional murder mystery, with Darrell Markham turning amateur detective and racing against time to try and find the evidence that will secure Millicent’s acquittal; while there is also a series of revelations about the true identities of several of the supporting cast, and the roles they have played in the tangled business.

But Braddon also uses this phase of her novel to cast a jaundiced eye on the justice system – so-called – and though overtly she admits that this was a hundred years or more in the past, she knows – and knows her readers know – that not nearly enough had changed since, even if some points of procedure had.

Again we see the similarities and differences between Braddon and George Reynolds: the points that they make, and the disparate ways in which they make them. In particular, both authors had a horror of capital punishment within a system in which circumstantial evidence carried so much weight, and no more than lip-service was paid to the presumption of innocence. Braddon even circumvents those who might be inclined to argue that, these days (that is, the 1860s) the law “pampers” criminals, by suggesting wryly that if so, it had plenty to make up for…

Darrell does succeed in elucidating some of the mystery of George Duke’s life, and discovers where he really was during those seven years – let’s just say that it wasn’t cast away on a desert island – but when Millicent’s trial begins, neither those hired to defend her nor those who love and believe in her hold much hope of her acquittal. Even when a decomposed body is found once the ice melts on a pond behind the stables at Compton Hall, it does not, under existing legal procedures, with the defence counsel permitted only to cross-examine and not to mount a rebuttal, play the part it should in Millicent’s defence:

Thus it was that the one strong point in favour of Millicent was insufficiently demonstrated to the jury who were to decide the awful question of her guilt or innocence. That one point was the physical weakness of the accused, and the improbability, if not impossibility, that such a woman could have carried the body of a stalwart strongly built man down a flight of stone steps, and across a space of forty yards, to a frozen pond, the ice upon the surface of which she must have broken before throwing the corpse of her victim into the water…

But Braddon doesn’t let her crusading overwhelm her narrative—and she pulls back from these grim matters to use her courtroom scene, not just to score points, but as the setting for a suitably dramatic ending to her narrative, when Thomas Masterson, aka the mysterious pedlar, is reluctantly giving evidence:

    In the very midst of a sentence Thomas Masterson stopped, and with ashen cheeks and dilated eyes stared across the heads of the lawyers and the multitude at the doorway of the court, which was in an elevated situation, communicating by a flight of steps with the main body of the building. A man who had just entered the court was standing at the top of these steps apart from all other spectators…
    “Why do you pause, Thomas Masterson?” asked the barrister.
    The witness slowly raised his hand, and pointed to the stranger at the top of the steps.
    “Because Cap’en George Duke has just come into the court,” he answered…

There is a distinct air of disappointment in the courtroom once this new witness has testified, accounting for the injury to his throat that really wasn’t as bad as it looked, his decision to leave Compton Hall again, and the travelling to which was due his failure to hear of his wife’s arrest. The spectators feel aggrieved at being deprived of their expected entertainment, with Millicent discharged by the judge; but this changes in a flash when, with more honour than discretion, and more deperation than either, the prisoner responds:

    Millicent Duke rose from her seat for the first time since the trial had begun. She stood up, calmly facing the eager crowd, which had been so ready to condemn her for a witch and a murderess, and which was now as ready to applaud and pity her as an innocent victim.
    She turned to the judge, and said, with quiet deliberation,—” I thank you, my lord, for your goodness to me; but that man is not my husband!”

 

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 1)


 
All Compton might think the Captain dead, but Millicent could not think so. She seemed possessed by some settled conviction that all the storms which ever rent the skies or shook the ocean would never cause the death of George Duke. She watched for his coming with a sick dread that every day might bring him. She rose in the morning with the thought that ere the early winter’s night closed in he would be seated by the hearth. She never heard a latch lifted without trembling lest his hand should be upon it, nor listened to a masculine footfall in the village High Street without dreading lest she should recognise his familiar step. Her meeting with George Duke’s shadow upon the moonlit pier at Marley had added a superstitious terror to her old dread and dislike of her husband. She thought of him now as a being possessed of unholy privileges. He might be near her, but unseen and impalpable ; he might be hiding in the shadowy corners of the dark wainscot, or crouching in the snow outside the latticed window. He might be a spy upon her inmost thoughts, and knowing her distrust and aversion, might stay away for long years, only to torment her the more by returning when she had forgotten to expect him, and had even learned to be happy…

 

 

 

I was more than a little appalled, quite some months back now, to realise I had let a year slip away between my examinations of the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon; but while I did then make a point of reading The Captain Of The Vulture, writing about it was another matter…not least because I progressively let both the second volume of The Mysteries Of London and The Sicilian join it on the list of things read-but-not-dealt-with.

But that was not the only reason for the delay. I found The Captain Of The Vulture to be the least appealing of Braddon’s novels so far, though that is not to say that it is unentertaining; on the contrary; but it does lack some of the usual Braddon spark. It is an odd book, something of an outlier in her collected works: an historical romance, rather than a contemporary sensation novel, and one lacking any obvious identification figure. It is less packed with incident than we are accustomed to, and (mostly) without the usual daring humour.

This seems to be almost a recurring theme amongst those of Braddon’s works which were intended for a “respectable” audience—as was The Captain Of The Vulture, which was serialised in weekly numbers in The Welcome Guest between April and August, 1861, before appearing as a single-volume book in 1862. It was also published in America in 1863, under the variant title, Darrell Markham; or, The Captain Of The Vulture.

Despite this retitling and his overt “hero” role, Darrell Markham is off-stage for much of the novel; while George Duke, the titular Captain, is anything but heroic. Indeed, the novel abounds in rogues—but they are all of the cut-throat variety, rather than the perversely likeable sort that we encountered in (for example) Lady Lisle. And while we may finally choose to call Millicent Duke this novel’s heroine, this is rather because of the horrors she must endure over the course of the story than for her personal qualities.

But if The Captain Of The Vulture is lacking in certain respects, there is no shortage of mystery and crime within its pages. In particular, Braddon seems to have been experimenting with “doubling”, with her narrative studded with cases of mistaken identity, certain incidents playing out more than once, various plot-points and motifs showing up in parallel at different levels of society,  and the central plot turning upon a “double” of the most explicit kind.

The Captain Of The Vulture is set in Georgian England (in-text references to the novels of Samuel Richardson place the action about 1755), and opens in the village of Compton-on-the-Moor. Darrell Markham, once a resident of the district, arrives unexpectedly at the door of the inn, the “Black Bear”, where a flurry of conversation alerts us to several things: that the woman Darrell loves, his cousin Millicent, has jilted him and married another man; that her husband, Captain George Duke, though overtly a naval officer, is suspected of having a profitable sideline as a privateer; and that Millicent’s brother, Ringwood, though “Squire”, spends most of his time going to the devil in London.

The conversation is awkwardly interrupted by a man seeking directions to a place called Marley Water. This is also Darrell’s destination, as he has already told his companions, despite the danger of highwaymen on the intervening Compton Moor. The landlord, Samuel Pecker, gives the requested information, and the horseman rides off—leaving Pecker to shake his head over the erratic behaviour and frequent absences of Captain Duke, and Darrell to absorb the fact that he has just for the first time glimpsed Millicent’s husband.

Darrell is prevented from immediately taking his leave by the arrival on the scene of Sarah Pecker, now Samuel’s help-meet – and often torment – but once Sarah Masterson, a local widow who was housekeeper to the late squire. In this role, Sarah helped to raise the orphaned young Darrell, who is the apple of her eye. She tries frantically to dissuade him from his ride across Compton Moor, but Darrell explains gravely that he must take the York coach from Marley Water the next morning on a matter of urgent business, and goes on his way.

Barely has he departed than Sarah and Samuel find themselves confronted by—Captain George Duke, who has clearly overheard Sarah’s lament regarding Darrell and Millicent; although her embarrassment swiftly turns to anger when the Captain speaks sneeringly of Darrell as, “A good-for-nothing idling reckless ne’er do-weel.”

Meanwhile, a bewildered Samuel is taking in the fact that the Captain seems to have changed his mind about crossing Compton Moor. When the Captain insists that he has only just arrived in Compton, and was certainly not at the inn half-an-hour before, Samuel can think of only one explanation:

    “Flesh and blood doesn’t creep up to a man unawares like that!”
    Captain Duke looked very hard into the face of the speaker; looked thoughtfully, gravely, earnestly at him, with bright searching brown eyes; and then again burst out laughing louder than before. So much was he amused by the landlord’s astonished and awe-stricken face, that he laughed all the way across the low old hall—laughed as he opened the door of the oak-panelled parlour in which the genteeler visitors at the Bear were accustomed to sit—laughed as he threw himself back into the great polished oaken chair by the fire, and stretched his legs out upon the stone hearth till the heels of his boots rested against the iron dogs—laughed as he called Samuel Pecker, and could hardly order his favourite beverage, rum punch, for laughing.
    The room was empty, and it was to be observed that when the door closed upon the landlord, Captain Duke, though he still laughed, something contracted the muscles of his face, while the pleasant light died slowly out of his handsome brown eyes, and gave place to a settled gloom.
    When the punch was brought him, he drank three glasses one after another. But neither the great wood fire blazing on the wide hearth nor the steaming liquid seemed to warm him, for he shivered as he drank.
    He shivered as he drank, and presently he drew his chair still closer to the fire, planted his feet upon the two iron dogs, and sat looking darkly into the red spitting hissing blaze.
    “My incubus, my shadow, my curse!” he said. Only six words, but they expressed the hatred of a lifetime…

Captain Duke spends the rest of the evening at the Black Bear, and is still there when a bloodied and near-unconscious Darrell Markham is carried in, having been left for dead on the moor. And even as Darrell earlier first glimpsed – or thought he glimpsed – the man for whom his cousin Millicent jilted him, George Duke now first lays eyes on the man he very well knows his wife still loves…

The Captain stays only long enough to learn from the surgeon that though Darrell is gravely injured, he should live provided he is not agitated into fever, before carrying the news home to Millicent.

Millicent Duke is one of Braddon’s equivocal “heroines”, as we know from the first description of her, in which Braddon’s exasperation with the prevailing taste for fair and helplessly feminine young women wrestles with her sense of how the world was likely to treat such fragile creatures:

It is a very fair and girlish face upon which the fitful firelight trembles…with delicate features and dark blue eyes in the soft depths of which there lurks a shadow—a shadow as of tears long dried, but not forgotten… It is not easy to think of her as a married woman; there is such an air of extreme youth about her, such a girlish, almost childish timidity in her manner, that, as her husband—not too loving or tender a husband at the best of times—is apt to say, “It is as difficult to deal with Millicent as with a baby, for you never know when she may begin whimpering—like a spoilt child as she is.” There are people in Compton-on-the-Moor who remember the time when the spoilt child never whimpered, and when a gleam of spring sunshine was scarcely a brighter or more welcome thing to fall across a man’s pathway than the radiant face of Millicent Markham…

Our backstory is filled in here: how the orphaned Darrell was taken in by his uncle, Squire Markham; how he grew up as Millicent’s protector and best friend and, by insensible stages, her lover; how unwittingly he mortally offended his uncle by growing into a handsome, athletic and honourable young man, while the Squire’s only son, Ringwood, grew up “a milksop”, weak and cowardly.

Darrell’s angry intervention in Ringwood’s attempted seduction of a pretty but foolish young farmer’s daughter, which ended in a blow that neither Ringwood nor the Squire could forgive or forget – the latter all the more so because of Ringwood’s subsequent pusillanimous behaviour and telling of lies – saw Darrell banished from his childhood home. Before leaving, he promised Millicent to return and marry her, when he had made his way in the world, and received in return her promise to wait.

Not long afterwards, however, the Squire and Ringwood made the acquaintance of the dashing Captain Duke, whose rollicking humour and air of worldliness suited both Markhams so well, he became all but an inmate of the Hall, and was finally offered Millicent as a bride—her fair prettiness and her fair dowry equally suiting the Captain. Her desperate letter to Darrell going astray, eighteen-year-old Millicent was then bullied and terrorised by her father into breaking her promise; while Darrell, never receiving that agonised plea for his help, knows only that Millicent has been untrue.

The marriage turns out as might have been expected: Millicent does her best but cannot hide her indifference, or her relief when her husband is going away, or her persisting thoughts of her cousin; while he, on his returns from his voyages, takes pleasure in tormenting her—perversely resenting the absence of an emotion which he knew from the outset she never felt for him, nor ever pretended to. Never before, however, has he had such a weapon in his hands as the wounding of Darrell Markham:

    “Trembling between life and death,” repeated Millicent, in the same half-conscious tone, so piteous to hear.
    “He was! Heaven knows how he may be now. That was half-an-hour ago; the scale may be turned by this time; he may be dead!”
    As George Duke said the last word, his wife sprang from her seat, and, without once looking at him, ran hurriedly to the outer door. She had her hand upon the bolts, when she cried out in a tone of anguish, “O, no, no, no !” and dropped down on her knees, with her head leaning against the lock of the door.
    The Captain of the Vulture followed her into the passage, and watched her with hard unpitying eyes.
    “You were going to run to him!” he said, as she fell on her knees by the outer door.
    For the first time since Darrell Markham’s name had been mentioned, Millicent looked at her husband; not mournfully, not reproachfully, least of all fearfully; bold, bright, and defiant, her blue eyes looked up to his.
    “I was.”
    “Then why not go? You see I am not cruel; I do not stop you. You are free. Go! Go to your—cousin—and—your lover, Mistress Duke. Shall I open the door for you?”
    She lifted herself with an effort upon her feet, still leaning for support against the street-door. “No,” she said, “I will not go to him; I could do him no good; I might agitate him; I might kill him!”
    The Captain bit his under lip, and the triumphant light faded from his brown eyes.
    “But understand this, George Duke,” said Millicent, in a tone that was strange to her husband’s ears, “it is no fear of you which keeps me here; it is no dread of your cruel words or more cruel looks that holds me from going to his side; for if I could save him by my presence from one throb of pain—if I could give him by my love and devotion one moment’s peace and comfort, and the town of Compton were one raging fire, I would walk through that fire to do it.”

Darrell does not die, however, though his recovery is anything but rapid; yet he is able deliberately to repeat the charge first made in his delirium, that it was Captain George Duke who attacked, shot, and robbed him…

Darrell is so certain and so pertinacious in his charge that it is finally referred to a reluctant magistrate, who can barely conceal his relief when the Captain can prove an alibi—that he was at the Black Bear at the time in question. Darrell is baffled and mystified, unable to dispute this yet unequally unconvinced that he is in error. Matters are not helped by the testimony of Samuel Pecker, who again nervously insists upon his ghost-story.

With this, the enmity between Darrell and the Captain escalates to a new and dangerous level. Fortunately, word is received that the Vulture has been refitted and is ready for her next voyage; while Darrell himself, as soon as he is able, returns to London and vanishes once more from his cousin’s life.

The Captain leaves Compton a few days early, in order to oversee the final arrangements for the Vulture. To the indignation of Sarah Pecker, when he is ready to sail he insists upon Millicent taking a chilly overnight stage-coach ride in order to meet him at Marley Water and see him off. Obedient upon all but one point, Millicent does as instructed, trying to hide from herself how eager she is for the absence of her husband. Upon reaching her destination, and meeting the Captain, Millicent is unnerved to see that they are being shadowed by one of her fellow passengers, a man swathed in a great coat and a muffler, his face hidden by these garments and the shadow of his hat.

Millicent speaks of her fears to her husband, who dismisses the incident as a mere coincidence of movement, but it seems that she was right: a man later calls at the inn where they are staying until the Captain’s midnight departure, asking for him. The Captain agrees to see him, though angrily, but first hastens Millicent into another room. From there, she cannot hear what is said, only that both men have raised their voices.

The departure of the unwelcome visitor leaves the Captain with no excess time on his hands. He and Millicent walk to the docks, where the latter is assured that her husband will be gone for three months at the utmost.

It is at the moment of departure that Captain George Duke demands from his wife some token, by which she may know him again, no matter how much time has passed. Bewildered, she gives him one of her earrings, of an unusual design:

    “Remember, Millicent, the man who comes to you and calls himself your husband, yet cannot give you this diamond earring, will not be George Duke.”
    “What do you mean, George?”
    “When I return to Compton, ask me for the fellow jewel to that in your ear. If I cannot show it to you—”
    “What then, George?”
    “Drive me from your door as an impostor.”
    “But I should know you, George; what need should I have of any token to tell me who you were?”
    “You might have need of it. Strange things happen to men who lead such a life as mine. I might be taken prisoner abroad, and kept away from you for years. But whether I come back three months hence, or ten years hence, ask me for the earring, and and if I cannot produce it, do not believe in me…”

After the sailing of the Vulture, Millicent hurries back through the chill night to the inn, only to encounter the strange man along the way. Her immediate fear is that she will be robbed; but when the moonlight falls upon him, she is seized with a far greater terror:

    She stood face to face with him, rooted to the ground, a heavy languor paralysing her limbs, an unearthly chill creeping to the very roots of her hair.
    Her hands fell powerless at her sides. She could only stand white and immovable, with dilated eyes staring blankly into the man’s face. He wore a blue coat, and a three-cornered hat, thrown jauntily upon his head, so as in nowise to overshadow his face.
    She was alone, half a mile from a human habitation or human help—alone at the stroke of midnight with her husband’s ghost.
    It was no illusion of the brain; no self-deception born of a fevered imagination. There, line for line, shade for shade, stood a shadow that wore the outward seeming of George Duke.
    She reeled away from the phantom figure, tottered feebly forward for a few paces, and then summoning a desperate courage, rushed blindly on towards the quay, her garments fluttering in the sharp winter air…

Despite his promise – or threat – of a three-month absence, ten tick by without any sign of Captain George Duke. Alone most of the time in her little house, with only her dog and her novels for company, and an occasional call upon Sarah Pecker at the Black Bear to relieve her loneliness and tedium, Millicent does not know that Sarah has been unable to keep the secret confided to her, and that the story of the Captain’s ghost is all over Compton. Indeed, none of the villagers expect the Captain to return, accepting this visitation as a portent; and by the ten-month mark, even Sarah is suggesting that Millicent should think of mourning—adding to her persuasions the story of her own widowing by the sea:

    “Him as you saw upon the pier at Marley, perhaps, Miss Milly,” answered Sally solemnly, “but not Captain Duke! Such things as you and Samuel see last winter aren’t shown to folks for nothing; and it seems a’most like doubting Providence to doubt that the Captain’s been drowned. I dreamt three times that I see my first husband, Thomas Masterson, lying dead upon a bit of rock in the middle of a stormy sea; and I put on widow’s weeds after the third time.”
    “But you had news of your husband’s death, Sally, hadn’t you?”
    “No more news than his staying away seventeen year and more without sending letter or message to tell that he was living in all those years, Miss Milly; and if that ain’t news enough to make a woman a widow, I don’t know what is!”

Millicent, however, who desperately wants her husband not to return, will not allow herself the comfort of believing that he won’t…

To divert her own thoughts, Millicent pursues the matter of Sarah’s first marriage, of which she rarely speaks, and soon realises that she has opened up old wounds. She hears of Sarah’s disillusioned discovery that she had been married for her small inheritance and, far worse, her further discovery three months after her marriage that Masterson was a notorious smuggler with a price on his head. Sarah’s only consolation in the life of shame and fear she was forced to lead was her baby; but as he grew, even that was poisoned for her by the realisation that Masterson was teaching the boy his own ways:

    “I could have borne to have been trampled on myself, but I couldn’t bear to see my child going to ruin before his mother’s eyes. I told Masterson so one night. I was violent, perhaps; for I was almost wild like, and my passion carried me away. I told him that I meant to take the child away with me out of his reach, and go into service and work for him, and bring him up to be an honest man. He laughed, and said I was welcome to the brat; and I took him at his word, thinking he didn’t care. I went to sleep that night with the boy in my arms, meaning to set out early the next morning, and come back to Compton, where I had friends, and where I fancied I could get a living for myself and my darling; and I thought we might be so happy together. O, Miss Millicent, Miss Millicent, may you never know such a bitter trial as mine! When I woke from pleasant dreams about that new life which never was to be, my child was gone. His cruel father had taken him away, and I never saw either Masterson or my boy again.”
    “You waited in the village where he left you?” asked Millicent.
    “For a year and over, Miss Milly, hopin’ that he’d come back, bringing the boy with him; but no tidings ever came of him or of the child. At the end of that time I left word with the neighbours to say I was gone back to Compton; and I came straight here. I’d been housemaid at the Hall when I was a slip of a girl, and your father took me as his housekeeper, and I lived happy in the dear old house for many years, and I loved you and Master Darrell as if you’d been my own children; but I’ve never forgotten my boy…”

During this time, Millicent never hears from Darrell directly; but he does write to Sarah from time to time. By these means, she (and we), learn that he has found employment in London as secretary to a Scottish nobleman: a position not without certain dangers, since his employer was “suspected of no very strong attachment to the Hanoverian cause.” (This is, we recall about a decade after Culloden.)

The narrative of The Captain Of The Vulture now shifts perspective, and we follow Darrell on various missions carried out for the nobleman, who we know only as ‘Lord C—‘. One of these finds him carrying letters through a foggy November night. He stops at an inn in Reading, the establishment already hosting a rather riotous gathering under the aegis of a Sir Lovel Mortimer. Darrell has no interest in the baronet and his drinking companions—at least, not until he goes to the stables to check on his horse, and finds stabled there his previous horse, called Balmerino, who he had owned for seven years before he was stolen the night of the attack upon Compton Moor. The two know each other instantly.

To the landlord’s dismay, Darrell insists upon being conducted into the baronet’s presence:

    In an easy-chair before the open hearth lolled an effeminate-looking young man, in a brocade-dressing-gown, silk stockings with embroidered clocks, and shoes adorned with red heels and glittering diamond buckles that emitted purple and rainbow sparks in the firelight. He wore a flaxen wig, curled and frizzed to such a degree that it stood away from his face, round which it formed a pale-yellow frame, contrasting strongly with a pair of large restless black eyes and the blue stubble upon his slender chin…
    Sir Lovel Mortimer was as effeminate in manners as in person. He had a clear treble voice, and spoke in the languid drawling manner peculiar to the maccaronis of Ranelagh and the Ring. He was the sort of fopling one reads about in the Spectator, and would have been a spectacle alike miraculous and disgusting to good country-bred Sir Roger de Coverley…

The baronet tells Darrell that he bought the horse in question a few months previously at a fair from a man who seemed to be an elderly farmer. Darrell in turn tells the story of his attack and the losses suffered; admitting disappointment at gaining no clue to the identity of the man who robbed him. The baronet almost forces the reluctant Darrell to sup with him, and spends much of the meal probing his political convictions, a topic of conversation which Darrell cautiously evades. Finally, though, Sir Lovel agrees to return Balmerino, in exchange for Darrell’s current horse and twenty guineas.

Darrell is delighted to be astride Balmerino again, so much so that the following evening he decides to ride on in the dusk rather than cut his day of travel short—and again he pays the price. And while it is not George Duke, or his double, who attacks and robs him this time, Darrell is left with a very good idea of who it was:

When Darrell Markham recovered his senses he found himself lying on his back in a shallow dry ditch; the fog had cleared away, and the stars shone with a pale and chilly glimmer in the wintry sky. The young man’s pockets had been rifled and his pistols taken from him; but tied to the hedge above him stood the grey horse which he had left in the custody of Sir Lovel Mortimer…

Painfully, Darrell makes his way to the nearest hostelry—and discovers that the people there know even more about the identity of his attacker:

    “Was the West-country baronet a fine ladyfied little chap, with black eyes and small white hands?” he asked eagerly.
    “Yes.”
    The man looked triumphantly round at the by standers. “I’m blest if I didn’t guess as much,” he said. “It’s Captain Fanny.”

(And, not for the first time, we are left to ponder whether Braddon’s respectable middle-class readers were expected to understand the implications of her improper joke.)

After this interlude, we return to poor Millicent who, the more everyone else assumes her long-absent husband is dead, becomes all the more convinced that he isn’t: that he is staying away deliberately, allowing her to grow comfortable, so that his return will make her suffer all the more.

These passages mark some of Braddon’s most daring writing within The Captain Of The Vulture: it was not often that a heroine in a Victorian novel (albeit one set a century or so before) could get away with expressing such frank dislike of her husband, such an open wish for his death—and without any attendant guilt or lip-service paid to her duties as a wife. The Duke marriage is presented from the outset as an almost deliberate act of cruelty by the three men involved, or at best one undertaken with complete disregard for Millicent’s welfare; while she, young and ignorant as she is, soon accepts one Victorian truism in place of another: that there is no hope that she will “learn to love her husband”; and the best she can do is “suffer and be still“.

Meanwhile, at the Black Bear, Sarah Pecker is up to her eyeballs in her preparations for the Christmas rush. Tradespeople and carriers make frequent appearances at the inn’s back door, delivering their wares; pedlars and beggars likewise, there to sell, beg or steal—though under Sarah’s sharp eye, opportunities are few. One pedlar is particularly pertinacious, refusing to move on at the orders of the inn’s servant, so that an angry Sarah finally confronts him—and to the great surprise of the girl and the inn’s cook, she then meekly agrees to see the man’s wares, ordering the other two away. Shut outside the room, the others try unabashedly to eavesdrop, but can hear nothing of what seems a strangely lengthy conversation…

At last the voices die away, yet Betty and the cook find the kitchen door still locked against them; nor does Sarah reply when they call out to her. The frightened Betty finally runs to Samuel Pecker.

We get one of the novel’s nastier bits of “doubling” here, as the much bullied and put-upon Samuel responds “hopefully” to Betty’s story with an inquiry of whether his wife has been, “Took bad?” – Surely it was not a ray of joy [in his face]? comments the narrator. Samuel is even more delighted by a suggestion that the pedlar has “carried off” his wife, questioning Betty as to whether he was a large enough man to succeed in such an undertaking. It takes some effort on the part of the impatient Betty to get Samuel to bring his keys, so that they can find out what has happened; and even then he dawdles:

“You’re right, Betty,” he said; “get the lantern and I’ll come round with you. But if the man has run away with your missus, Betty,” he added argumentatively, “there’s such a many roads and by-roads round Compton, that it wouldn’t be over much good going after them…”

But Sarah at least has gone nowhere:

There was no sign of the foreign pedlar; and stretched upon the hearth in a dead swoon lay Mrs Sarah Pecker…

It takes some considerable time for Samuel and Betty to bring Sarah back to consciousness, and when they do, she seems literally a different person:

    Mrs Pecker revived very slowly; but when at last she did open her eyes, and saw the meek Samuel patiently awaiting her recovery, she burst into a sudden flood of tears, and flinging her stout arms about his neck, indifferent to the presence of either Betty or the carrier, cried out passionately,—
    “You’ve been a good husband to me, Samuel Pecker, and I haven’t been an indulgent wife to you; but folks are punished for their sins in this world as well as in the next, and I’ll try and make you more comfortable for the future; for I love you truly, my dear—indeed I do!”

And a quiet and submissive Sarah it is from this point onwards, one who goes out of her way to show her appreciation of her placid husband. She does not even react with anger when it is discovered that the pedlar robbed her of her ready cash, her watch and some silver spoons, though his haul was worth some ten or fifteen pounds. As for Samuel:

    The meek landlord of the Black Bear walked about as one in a strange but delicious dream. He had the key of his cellars in his own possession, and was allowed to drink such portions of his own liquors as he thought fit; and Samuel did not abuse the unwonted privilege, for he was naturally a sober man. He was no longer snubbed and humiliated before the face of his best customers. His tastes were consulted, his wishes were deferred to. Nice little dinners were prepared for him by Sarah’s own hands, and the same hands would even deign to mix for him a nightcap of steaming rum-punch, fragrant as the perfumed groves of Araby the blest. Mr Pecker was almost master in his own house. Sometimes this new state of things seemed well nigh too much for him. Once he went to his wife, and said to her, imploringly,—
    “Sarah, speak sharp to me, will you, please; for I feel as if I wasn’t quite right in my head…”

Some months roll away after this incident, and the narrative of The Captain Of The Vulture shifts to London, where the cousins, Ringwood and Darrell Markham, are following their very different paths. Darrell, having discovered that dissipation does nothing to make him forget Millicent, has knuckled down to his work instead, and has hopes of success as a political writer. Ringwood, meanwhile, having no personal qualities that might win him friends, is wasting his inheritance in an attempt to at least buy a few. He is beginning to taste desperation when he receives a most unexpected, and unwanted, call from his cousin. It is now eighteen months or more since George Duke was last heard of, but Darrell has only just learned of it. Like everyone in Compton, his immediate reaction is “good riddance”:

    “And what do you think of all this?” asked Ringwood.
    “What do I think? Why, that Captain George Duke, and his ship the Vulture, have met the fate that all who sail under false colours deserve. I know of those who can tell of a vessel, with the word ‘Vulture’ painted on her figurehead, that has been seen off the coast of Morocco, with the black flag flying at the fore, and a crew of Africans chained down in the hold. I know of those who can tell of a wicked traffic between the Moorish coast and the West India Islands, and who speak of places where the coming of George Duke is more dreaded than the yellow fever. Good heavens! can it be that this man has met his fate, and that Millicent is free?”

(After Braddon’s The Octoroon, we are not surprised to discover the specific nature of George Duke’s “privateering”.)

Ringwood cares nothing for his sister, and less than nothing for George Duke; but he is glad to be handed something to torment Darrell with. Curiously, he comes to the same conclusion as Millicent: that Duke is choosing to stay away as his form of torment.

The real purpose of Darrell’s call, however, is to press upon Ringwood his responsibility for Millicent, who in her husband’s absence has only the interest of the pittance secured to her upon her marriage to live on. Darrell also insists upon helping Millicent himself, although he adds that Ringwood must keep it a secret. Ringwood makes no protest to any of this, but on the verge of penury himself, he has neither the means nor the inclination to help his sister. If Darrell wants to give him money, though…

Ringwood is particularly eager for a new source of income, for he has recently made a new acquaintance before whom he is eager to cut a fashionable figure:

…he had appointed to meet a gay party at Ranelagh, the chief member of which was to be a certain West-country baronet, called Sir Lovel Mortimer, and better known in two or three taverns of rather doubtful reputation than in the houses of the aristocracy.

Ringwood is too much of a country-bumpkin to recognise certain giveaway flaws in Sir Lovel’s manners and diction: he thinks he’s hit the social jackpot, and is only too eager to accept an invitation to dine and gamble at his new friend’s lodgings; being positively honoured by the thought of losing money to a baronet.

When the door is opened by Sir Lovel’s servant, Ringwood gets a shock:

    …the speaker’s face illuminated by a feeble flicker.
    Sir Lovel Mortimer’s servant was drunk; his face was dirty; his wig pushed over his eyebrows, and singed by the candle in his hand; his cravat was twisted awry, and hung about his neck like a halter; his eyes were dim and watery from the effect of strong liquors; and it was with difficulty he kept himself erect by swaying slowly to and fro as he stood staring vacantly at his master and his master’s guests.
    But it was not the mere drunkenness of the man’s aspect which startled Ringwood Markham.
    Sir Lovel Mortimer’s servant was Captain George Duke!

Ringwood sends word of his sighting of Captain Duke to Darrell. He is out of town when the note is delivered, but as soon as he returns and reads the message, he forces his presence upon his cousin and demands an explanation of what seems to him a ridiculous lie. Though hungover, dull-witted at the best of times, and pretending to be gravely insulted by Darrell’s language as he is, Ringwood sticks to his guns—adding to his initial information just who Duke is working for; prompting Darrell in turn to tell what he knows of “the baronet”:

    “You mean to tell me, then,” he said ruefully, “that this Sir Lovel—”
    “Is no more Sir Lovel than you are,” answered Darrell: “all the fashionable breeding he can pretend to is what he has picked up on the king’s highway; and the only estate he will ever be master of in Devonshire or elsewhere will be enough stout timber to build him a gallows when his course comes to an abrupt termination. He is known to the knights of the road and the constables by the nickname of Captain Fanny, and there is little doubt the house in Chelsea to which he took you was a nest of highwaymen.”

And of course, Darrell’s mind goes back to the night he was attacked on Compton Moor—by, as he would still be prepared to swear, George Duke. He puts two-and-two together in startling fashion:

“The upshot of it is, that while we have thought George Duke was away upon the high seas, he has been hiding in London and going about the country robbing honest men. The ship Vulture is a fiction; and instead of being a merchant, a privateer, a pirate, or a slaver, George Duke is neither more nor less than a highway man and a thief.”

Except that the reader knows that there is a Vulture, at least…

Darrell succeeds in getting a warrant sworn out against Captain Fanny, but by the time Ringwood manages to pick out the correct house – having generally been rather tipsy when carried there by “Sir Lovel” – the occupants have fled. Darrell comes away with nothing more than the fact that the baronet called his servant by the name of Jeremiah.

Sir Lovel and his friends did not leave before emptying Ringwood’s pockets, however, and the young squire is forced to give up his efforts to cut a dash in London, and retreat to his ancestral halls. His experiences harden his heart: as his fortunes recover, Ringwood develops miserly tendencies, becoming tight-fisted and a hard landlord; he certainly has nothing to spare for his sister.

There is now a time-gap in the novel; and The Captain Of The Vulture resumes its narrative when George Duke has been missing almost a full seven years—long enough to be declared legally dead, and his widow, should she wish it, to legally remarry.

Ringwood’s niggardly tendencies have only grown, meanwhile: he acts as his own agent, so as not to have to pay one; and he distrusts his workers, so that he spends much time riding around his estate keeping an eye on them. On one of these rides, he catches a chill which, with his weak constitution, threatens his life. Like his late mother, Ringwood is consumptive…

Millicent moves back into her childhood home to nurse her brother, and her gentle unselfishness and obvious unhappiness evoke a glimmer of remorse in the self-centred Ringwood. Knowing himself dying, he is moved to apologise to Millicent for being such a bad brother, and for his part in forcing her into marriage. He also speaks to her of the estate which, neglected as it has been through his reluctance to spend money, will still bring her a good income—the bulk of their father’s money having been tied up in it, to keep Ringwood from wasting it (the late squire knew his son).

Ringwood also speaks to Millicent of George Duke—and insists upon writing a last letter, to be delivered to Darrell come the end of the following January, once the seven years have fully passed.

When Ringwood dies, the estate does indeed pass to Millicent: the manor house, its grounds, and its surrounding farmlands; as well as what is considered, in Compton, to be a tidy fortune. After her years of deprivation, in spite of the sorrowful event that brought it about her possession of so many solid blessings seems to Millicent almost too good to be true. There is, of course, just one drawback:

If he should come home! If, after all these years of fearful watching and waiting, these years of terror and suspense, in which she had trembled at the sound of every manly footstep, and shuddered at the sound of every voice which bore the faintest resemblance to that one voice which she dreaded to hear; if, after all, now that she had completely given him up—now that she was rich, and might perhaps by-and-by be happy—if, at this time of all others, the man who had been the scourge of her young life should return and claim her once more as his, to hold and to torture by the laws of God and man!

 

[To be continued…]

 

06/12/2019

The Mysteries Of London: Volume II (Part 2)


 
    Richard was now returning to his native shore—occupying in the world a far more exalted position than, in his wildest imaginings, he could ever have hoped to attain. He had left England as an obscure individual—a subordinate in a chivalrous expedition—under the authority of others:—he came back with a star upon his breast—having achieved for himself a renown which placed him amongst the greatest warriors of the age! Unmarked by title, unknown to fame, was he when he had bade adieu to the white cliffs of Albion a few months previously:—as the Regent of a country liberated by himself—as a Marquis who had acquired nobility by his own great deeds, did he now welcome his native clime once more.
    Tears of joy stood in his eyes—emotions of ineffable bliss arose in his bosom, as he thought of what he had been, and what he now was.
    But vanity was not the feeling thus gratified: at the same time, to assert that our hero was not proud of the glorious elevation which he had reached by his own merits, would be to deny him the possession of that laudable ambition which is an honour to those who entertain it. There is, however, a vast distinction between vanity and a proper pride: the former is a weakness—the latter the element of moral strength…

 
 
Katherine’s Wilmot’s acquittal of murder is not the end of her subplot; far from it. It is actually she to whom Reginald Tracy bequeaths his fortune, by way of recompense; and she becomes one of the increasing band of individuals both devoted to, and cared for by, Richard Markham. At length it turns out that her story and Richard’s are entwined, although we don’t find out how for sure until the second half of Volume II.

Jacob Smithers is the next to give us an interpolated narrative. Post-trial, Richard treats him with a courtesy he has not experienced for many years, even shaking his hand. This melts the previously hardened Smithers, and he offers up the story of how he was changed by cruel circumstance from a decent, warm-hearted young man into an enthusiastic public executioner. Most of this is beside the point (or beside our point), except as it leads into the even sadder history of Harriet Wilmot, whom Smithers loved and lost, and who turned up on his doorstep many years later to die in his poor rooms, leaving behind what Smithers took to be her illegitimate daughter. Smithers took the child in and raised her as his niece.

The one memento that Katherine has of her mother is a fragment of a letter the poor woman struggled to write on her deathbed:

    “Should my own gloomy presages prove true, and the warning of my medical attendant be well founded,—if, in a word, the hand of Death be already extended to snatch me away thus in the prime of life, while my darling child is * * * * and inform Mr Markham, whose abode is—”
    The words that originally stood in the place which we have marked with asterisks, had evidently been blotted out by the tears of the writer…

Katherine’s inheritance of a fortune makes her a mark, and it is not long before she is contacted by the old hag, who offers to sell her some letter which will reveal and confirm her true identity. Word of this situation comes to the ears of the Resurrection Man, who intrudes himself into the transaction, forcing the old hag to split with him. When she tries to double-cross him, he retaliates by imprisoning her in that same underground dungeon that previously held Viola Chichester and starving her into submission. To secure her release, the old hag writes out her knowledge of Harriet Wilmot’s history and her own part in it, which forms yet another interpolated narrative.

Very long story very short—it emerges that Harriet Wilmot contracted a secret marriage to the late Mr Markham, father of Richard and Eugene; that she became the object of the lust of the vile and dissolute Marquis of Holmesford; that she was abducted by him; and that, while she escaped virtue intact, the circumstances convinced Mr Markham of her infidelity, so that he spurned her: all this being brokered, in various ways, by the old hag (who wasn’t so old then, but was making a living the same way).

So Katherine is Richard’s half-sister, and eventually becomes part of the ever-increasing ménage of good characters who make their home at Markham Place.

Preceding this, however, are many lengthy passages involving the old hag and the Resurrection Man, plus a side-trip into the world of the Marquis of Holmesford which allows Reynolds to indulge both his readers’ prurience and his own hatred of the aristocracy.

We might dispense with the latter first. The Marquis is a man who has devoted his life to the indulgence of his lusts and pleasures, and now, though old and worn out, still keeps a literal harem in his London home and spends his nights carousing. When his health finally, fatally breaks down and his death is imminent, the Marquis escapes his doctors in order to fulfill a promise to himself:

    “Kathleen—dear Kathleen,” he murmured in a whisper that was scarcely audible; “give me the goblet!”
    Conquering her repugnance, the Irish girl, who possessed a kind and generous heart, reached a glass on the table near the sofa; and, raising the nobleman’s head, she placed the wine to his lips.
    With a last—last expiring effort, he took the glass in his own hand, and swallowed a few drops of its contents:—his eyes were lighted up again for a moment, and his cheek flushed; but his head fell back heavily upon the white bosom.
    Kathleen endeavoured to cry for aid—and could not: a sensation of fainting came over her—she closed her eyes—and a suffocating feeling in the throat almost choked her. But still the music continued and the dance went on, for several minutes more.
    All at once a shriek emanated from the lips of Kathleen: the music ceased—the dance was abandoned—and the Irish girl’s companions rushed towards the sofa.
    Their anticipations were realised: the Marquis was no more!
    The hope which he had so often expressed in his life-time, was fulfilled almost to the very letter;—for the old voluptuary had “died with his head pillowed on the naked, heaving bosom of beauty, and with a glass of sparkling champagne in his hand!”

A far less amusing passage in this section of Volume II involves an earlier phase of the old hag’s life, when she was earning her living—not as a brothel-keeper, exactly, but by renting rooms to those in need of them. She did supplemented her income by bringing in some girls of her own, though for the purposes of blackmail rather than pimping:

    In order to increase her resources, and occupy, as she said, “her leisure time,” she had hired or bought some half-dozen young girls, about ten or twelve years old;—hired or bought them, whichever the reader pleases, of their parents, a “consideration” having been given for each, and the said parents comforting themselves with the idea that their children were well provided for!
    These children of tender age were duly initiated by the old hag in all the arts and pursuits of prostitution. They were sent in pairs to parade Aldersgate Street, Fleet Street, and Cheapside; and their special instructions were to practise their allurements upon elderly men, whose tastes might be deemed more vitiated and eccentric than those of the younger loungers of the great thoroughfares where prostitution most thrives.
    A favourite scheme of the old woman’s was this:—One of her juvenile emissaries succeeded, we will suppose, in alluring to the den in Golden Lane an elderly man whose outward respectability denoted a well-filled purse, and ought to have been associated with better morals. When the wickedness was consummated, and the elderly gentleman was about to depart, the old hag would meet him and the young girl on the stairs, and, affecting to treat the latter as a stranger who had merely used her house as a common place of such resort, would seem stupefied at the idea “of so youthful a creature having been brought to her abode for such a purpose.” She would then question the girl concerning her age; and the reply would be “under twelve” of course. Thus the elderly voluptuary would suddenly find himself liable to punishment for a misdemeanour, for intriguing with a girl beneath the age of twelve; and the virtuous indignation of the old hag would be vented in assertions that though she kept a house of accommodation for grown-up persons, she abhorred the encouragement of juvenile profligacy. The result would be that the hoary old sinner found himself compelled to pay a considerable sum as hush-money…

(Highlighting the fact that in highly moral, sexless Victorian England, child prostitution was rife and – not coincidentally – the age of consent was twelve…)

But be all that as it may—the focus of this second post on Volume II of The Mysteries Of London will be the resolution of the central plots involving the brothers Richard and Eugene Markham who (IYCCYMBTF) separated in 1831, agreeing to pursue their individual fortunes, each by their own lights, and to meet again on the 10th July, 1843, to compare notes. Richard has not seen Eugene since; though he knows his brother is alive because, on the bark of one of the two ash-trees planted by the brothers, which overhang a bench on an eminence above Markham Place, Eugene has several times carved his name and a date.

Neither does the reader hear anything more directly about Eugene Markham; although (ahem) much of both volumes is devoted to the cynical, dishonest, self-centred career of one George Montague Greenwood, who by various devious means becomes a wealthy stock-manipulator, a Member of Parliament, and the friend and companion of the nobility; even as Richard Markham is being cheated out of his fortune, spending two years in jail after being framed for passing counterfeit bills, and fighting a bitterly hard struggle not only to support himself, but to assist his late father’s associate, Mr Monroe, and his daughter, Ellen—both victims, in their different ways, of Greenwood’s villainy.

George Reynolds was widely criticised for the direction of Volume I of The Mysteries Of London, which finds good people in misery and bad people flourishing like green bay trees. He understandably concluded it with what amounts to a literary eye-roll – Yeah, yeah: stick around – and of course devotes Volume II to rewarding his good people and punishing the bad—both to extremes.

We’ve seen already Reynolds’ tendency to reward his good characters, not with the usual middle-class aims of a comfortable fortune and domestic happiness, but via absurdly over-the-top wish-fulfillment fantasies; and as Richard is his hero, he gets the wish-fulfillment fantasy to end all wish-fulfillment fantasies.

So. IYCCYMBTF, Richard is in love with Isabella, the daughter of an exiled aristocrat from Castelcicala, Count Alteroni. Eventually he discovers, much to his dismay, the the Count is actually Prince Alberto, nephew and heir to the Grand Duke Angelo of Castelcicala, and that Isabella is therefore second in line for the throne.

The Grand Duke is an old conservative tyrant, of whom Alberto fell foul when he espoused a push for constitutional reform. The demand for reform has nevertheless continued to grow; and to this Angelo retaliates by imposing press censorship, forbidding public assembly, instituting martial law, and threatening to invite in an Austrian army of occupation. Various high-ranking army officers have been expelled from the country; other reformists have fled voluntarily: so many, that the nucleus of a powerful revolutionary force is gathering in London. However, Prince Alberto declines to have anything to do with the plot in spite of his liberal beliefs, since he personally will be the main beneficiary of Angelo’s overthrow, and he will not pursue what therefore amounts to civil war for personal gain.

The leaders of the revolutionary force are the much-admired General Grachia and Colonel Morosino, who have some two thousand devoted refugees of which to form an army, but require money and contacts to secure the necessary supplies. Richard is invited to join the conspiracy—initially as an advisor and go-between, to make the necessary arrangements in the even-more necessary secrecy. He accepts this position but, not being a man to do anything half-heartedly, and with thoughts of proving himself worthy of Isabella in the back of his mind, he aligns himself with the revolutionary cause and joins the growing rebel army.

Self-evidently, this major subplot of The Mysteries Of London is utterly absurd—with the untrained, inexperienced Richard suddenly emerging as an immaculate soldier, a brilliant military strategist, and an inspiring leader of men.

BUT—in parallel with Richard’s unlikely rise to power, George Reynolds does something entirely unexpected: he creates a genuinely morally complex situation.

IYCCYMBTF, in Volume I Eliza Sydney and her friend, Diana Arlington, both having been victimised by George Montague Greenwood, retaliated by planting a mole in Greenwood’s household, with a view to heading off and preventing other villainy. It was Filippo who rescued Ellen Monroe when Greenwood abducted her, and it was he who later helped Ellen rescue Richard from a trap set for him by the Resurrection Man.

Filippo is another Castelcicalan refugee in London…but his loyalty is to Eliza, and hers – in spite of her sympathy with the push for liberal reform – is to her husband, the Grand Duke. Filippo is therefore again deployed as a mole, this time within the rebel ranks; and this means that when the “secret” rebel army arrives in Castelcicala, the forces of the Grand Duke are ready and waiting for them…

George Reynolds’ handling of this material is genuinely clever here, albeit also sneaky and rather cruel. This first battle kills off all of the high-ranking rebel officers, including General Grachia and Colonel Morosini—meaning that when (inevitably) the rebels do eventually triumph, only Richard is in charge, and only Richard is there to reap all the rewards.

Meanwhile, the narrative skips with suspicious lightness past the fact that it is Eliza Sydney – effectively this volume’s heroine, as I have said – who is chiefly responsible for the slaughter of so many good men. Presumably we’re supposed to forgive this on the grounds that it makes everything work out for Richard.

Richard himself is captured rather than killed in this first disastrous conflict, and is about to be hanged as a mercenary – not even afforded the dignity of being shot as an enemy combatant – when as a last request, he asks the young officer in charge of his execution to deliver a message for him. The mention of his name has an electrifying effect, and almost before he knows it, Richard has not only been reprieved, but is being smuggled to the capital and right into the palace in Montoni, where he confronts his fellow former-jailbird, the Grand Duchess Eliza.

We then learn that Filippo’s price for spying was that nothing should happen to Richard Markham: a price to which Eliza agreed, though this meant defying and deceiving her husband. She arranges false documentation for Richard, advising him not to attempt to flee the country in the obvious way, at the nearest border, but to pose as a tourist and walk out casually in the opposite direction.

(Again to jump the gun, this bit of conspiracy outweighs everything else Eliza has done for her husband; and when Angelo finds out about it, Eliza herself is forced to flee, which she does in company with the same young officer, Major Bazzano. The two of them, as we have already seen in Eliza’s case, end up in England.)

But Richard, as it turns out, does not leave Castelcicala. After various adventures and misadventures, he meets up with the remnants of the rebel army and begins to rebuild it, his forces swelling as Angelo follows through on his threat to bring in the Austrians, which makes outright rebels out of the previously merely disgruntled.

The first act of the new force is to storm the military prison in the city of Estella, where the prisoners captured after the first battle are being held. The town itself is in sympathy with the rebel cause, and receives the army with acclaim. It is consequently here that Richard receives the first of an ever-increasing shower of honours, being made general-in-chief of the “Constitutionalists” (as they now call themselves). One more battle, one more honour—as duly reported in the English newspapers:

    A few days after the arrival of the intelligence of the decisive victory of Abrantani, the newspapers acquainted the illustrious Italian family with the fact that the Committee of Government at Montoni had bestowed the title of Marquis of Estella upon the youthful Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of Castelcicala.
    Oh! with what joyous feelings—with what ineffable emotions of enthusiasm, did the charming Isabella read aloud to her parents that account of her lover’s elevation,—an elevation which, as he himself had felt convinced, must remove one grand obstacle that had hitherto existed in the way of their happiness.
    And how did her young heart beat and her bosom heave, when her father exclaimed, in an emphatic tone, “Yes—Richard is now a Marquis, and may take his rank amongst the proudest peers in the universe;—but there is a higher grade which he yet may reach…”

But even while the Constitutionalists are winning a series of brilliant victories, Montoni is under siege by the Austrian army and in perilous condition. Richard must lead his army against the occupying forces in a final, desperate battle…

    Presently a servant entered, and presented the morning paper to the Prince. Alberto opened it with a trembling hand: his wife and daughter watched him attentively. Suddenly he started—his eyes were lighted up with their wonted fires—a flush appeared on his pale cheek—and he exclaimed in a fervent tone, “O God! I thank thee!”
    He could say no more: his emotions nearly overpowered him, weakened as he was by a long illness.
    Isabella caught the paper as it was falling from his hands. One glance was sufficient: it told her all! For there—conspicuously displayed at the head of a column—was the following glorious announcement:—
    “CASTELCICALA. TOTAL DEFEAT OF THE AUSTRIANS—DELIVERANCE OF MONTONI.
    “The French Government have received the following Telegraphic Despatch from Toulon:—
    “‘The Castelcicalan steamer ‘Torione’ has just arrived. The Austrians were completely routed on the 23rd. Montoni is delivered. The Grand Duke has fled. The Marquis of Estella entered the capital at three o’clock on the 24th. He has been appointed Regent until the arrival of Alberto I. The ‘Torione’ left while the cannon were saluting the presence of the Marquis.'”
    “Let me be the first to congratulate your Serene Highness on this glorious result!” exclaimed Isabella, falling at the feet of her father, and pressing his hand to her lips.
    “No—not on your knees, dearest Isabel!” cried Alberto, now Grand Duke of Castelcicala: “but come to my arms, sweet girl—and you also, beloved companion of my banishment,” he added, turning towards his wife, who was nearly overcome by these sudden tidings of joy:—“come to my arms—for we are no longer exiles—we shall once more behold our native land!”

Richard – sorry, I mean, the Marquis of Estella – travels triumphantly back to England, where he cedes his own power as Regent and bestows upon Alberto all of the honours and privileges of his Grand Duchy.

And Angelo, in turn, has more honours up his sleeve for Richard:

Then the Grand-Duke took his daughter’s hand, and said, “Isabella, our duty towards our native land requires that your mother and myself should return thither with the least possible delay. But before we depart, we must ensure the happiness of you, beloved child, and of him who is in every way worthy of your affections. Thus an imperious necessity demands that the ceremony of your union should be speedily accomplished. I have fixed the day after to-morrow for your bridal:—but you, dearest Isabella, will remain in England with your noble husband. He himself will explain to you—even if he has not already done so—the motives of this arrangement. May God bless you, my beloved children! And, oh!” continued the Grand-Duke, drawing himself up to his full height, while a glow of honourable pride animated his countenance, “if there be one cause rather than another which makes me rejoice in my sovereign rank, it is that I am enabled to place this excellent young man in a position so exalted—on an eminence so lofty—that none acquainted with his former history shall ever think of associating his name with the misfortunes that are past! And that he may give even a title to his bride and accompany her to the altar with that proper independence which should belong to the character of the husband, it is my will to create him PRINCE OF MONTONI; and here is the decree which I have already prepared to that effect, and to which I have affixed my royal seal.”

Thus is virtue rewarded in the world of George Reynolds.

And of course—the reason why Richard – sorry, I mean, the Prince of Montoni – can’t leave England with his in-laws is that he still has hopes of making contact with his long-lost brother, Eugene. He promises the Grand Duke Alberto that he and Isabella will leave England for Castecicala once the momentous date of the 10th July, 1843 – and whatever it brings – has passed…

But before we trace the history of Eugene Markham, we first need to dispose of the Resurrection Man, who is the third-most important character in The Mysteries Of London. He and Richard dog each other all over the city (at least until Richard turns soldier), with the Resurrection Man carrying out various criminal ventures while eluding the forces of good. As mentioned, he is involved in the plot against the infant Lord Ravensworth; does murder Lydia Hutchinson; and starves the old hag into submission to force her to give up what she knows about Katherine. He also manages to clean out a great many valuable items from Ravensworth Hall (once Adeline has withdrawn to the Continent), by posing as the ghost of Gilbert Vernon, who commits suicide after his plot against the baby fails.

Less successful are his stint as a “river pirate”, robbing the many trading-barges that crowd the Thames; and his attempt to steal the cargo of a grounded ship, left abandoned due to plague on board. In both of these ventures he is thwarted by Richard and Morris Benstead, but manages to slip away. His luck runs out when he tries to extort money from Katherine (at this point, he does not know that Richard has taken a hand in her business), and finally walks into a trap. He is imprisoned and jailed, but pulls off an impressive escape and vanishes into the depths of London, safe from pursuit.

So he thinks. The Resurrection Man is simultaneously being hunted by Crankey Jem who, after the failure of his first attempt upon his former partner’s life, devotes time and incredible patience to ensuring he doesn’t get away a second time.

Despite these failures, enough of the Resurrection Man’s enterprises have succeeded to allow him to accumulate an impressive swag of gold and jewels. He is all the more fixated upon his ill-gotten gains because his previous such accumulation was stolen from him by Margaret Flathers, his common-law wife, before she fled to take refuge with the gypsies. The Resurrection Man keeps his haul in a secret hiding-place under the floor of one of his secret dungeons in his secret London hideout…which as it turns out, aren’t so very secret. Forced by his growing paranoia to check obsessively on his stash, one night the Resurrection Man finds his worst fears justified: his gold has once again been stolen.

Driven to extremities, the Resurrection Man sees a way to both restore his fortunes and satisfy his desire for revenge:

    “You don’t mean to do what you was telling me just now?” said Banks, earnestly. “Depend upon it, he’ll prove too much for you.”
    “Not he!” exclaimed Tidkins. “I’ve a long—long score to settle up with him; and if he has neither seen nor heard of me for the last two years, it was only because I wanted to punish Crankey Jem first.”
    “And now that you can’t find that cussed indiwidual,” said Banks, “you mean to have a go in earnest against the Prince?”
    “I do,” answered Tidkins, with an abruptness which was in itself expressive of demoniac ferocity. ‘You come to me to-morrow morning; and see if I won’t invent some scheme that shall put Richard Markham in my power. I tell you what it is, Banks,” added the Resurrection Man, in a hoarse, hollow whisper, “I hate that fellow to a degree I cannot explain; and depend upon it, he shall gnash his teeth in one of the dark cells yonder before he’s a week older.”
    “And what good will that do you?” asked the undertaker.
    “What good!” repeated Tidkins, scornfully: then, after a short pause, he turned towards Banks, and said in a low voice, “We’ll make him pay an immense sum for his ransom—a sum that shall enrich us both, Ned: and then—”
    “And then?” murmured Banks, interrogatively.
    “And then—when I’ve got all I can from him,” replied Tidkins, “I’ll murder him!”

The Resurrection Man proceeds to prepare his house for the reception of his mortal enemy; one of his mortal enemies:

    The detestable monster gloated in anticipation upon the horrible revenge which he meditated; and as he now trod the damp pavement of the vaulted passage, he glanced first at the four doors on the right, then at the four doors on the left, as if he were undecided in which dungeon to immure his intended victim.
    At length he stopped before one of the doors, exclaiming, “Ah! this must be the cell! It’s the one, as I have been told, where so many maniacs dashed their brains out against the wall, when this place was used as an asylum—long before my time.”
    Thus musing, Tidkins entered the cell, holding the lantern high up so as to embrace at a glance all the gloomy horrors of its aspect.
    “Yes—yes!” he muttered to himself: “this is the one for Richard Markham! All that he has ever done to me shall soon be fearfully visited on his own head! Ah, ah! we shall see whether his high rank—his boasted virtues—his immense influence—and his glorious name can mitigate one pang of all the sufferings that he must here endure! Yes,” repeated Tidkins, a fiendish smile relaxing his stern countenance,—“this is the dungeon for Richard Markham!”
    “No—it is thine!” thundered a voice; and at the same moment the door of the cell closed violently upon the Resurrection Man….

It’s Crankey Jem, of course, whose patience has finally paid off; and now that it has, he isn’t about to mess around in dealing out his long-delayed vengeance:

    “The hour of vengeance is come at last!” exclaimed Crankey Jem, as he lighted the candle in a small lantern which he took from his pocket. “There shall you remain, Tidkins—to perish by starvation—to die by inches—to feel the approach of Death by means of such slow tortures that you will curse the day which saw your birth!”
    “Jem, do not say all that!” cried the Resurrection Man, from the interior of the dungeon. “You would not be so cruel? Let me out—and we will be friends.”
    “Never!” ejaculated Cuffin. “What! have I hunted after you—dogged you—watched you—then lost sight of you for two years—now found you out again—at length got you into my power—and all this for nothing?”
    “Well, Jem—I know that I used you badly,” said the Resurrection Man, in an imploring tone: “but forgive me—pray forgive me! Surely you were sufficiently avenged by plundering me of my treasure—my hoarded gold—my casket of jewels?”
    “Miserable wretch!” cried Crankey Jem, in a tone of deep disgust: “do not imagine that I took your gold and your jewels to enrich myself. No: had I been starving, I would not have purchased a morsel of bread by means of their aid! Two hours after I had become possessed of your treasure, I consigned it all—yes, all—gold and jewels—to the bed of the Thames!”
    “Then are you not sufficiently avenged?” demanded Tidkins, in a voice denoting how fiercely rage was struggling with despair in his breast.
    “Your death, amidst lingering tortures, will alone satisfy me!” returned Crankey Jem. “Monster that you are, you shall meet the fate which you had reserved for an excellent nobleman whose virtues are as numerous as your crimes!”

Meanwhile—as noted, the date for the long-anticipated reunion between Richard Markham and his brother, Eugene, is creeping ever-closer. Richard looks forward to this meeting with deep affection and eagerness…albeit his feelings are slightly tempered by a discovery that his brother somehow knows the Resurrection Man: a revelation that brings with it the terrible possibility that Eugene has strayed from the path of virtue in his pursuit of success:

    Richard reflected that if he himself were eventually prosperous, his success would be owing to fair and honourable means; and he sincerely hoped that his brother might be pursuing an equally harmless career. Such an idea, however, seemed to be contradicted by the mysterious note to the Resurrection Man. But our hero remembered that bad men often enjoyed immense success; and then he thought of Mr Greenwood—the man who had robbed him of his property, but whom, so far as he knew, he had never seen.
    That Greenwood was rising rapidly, Richard was well aware; the newspapers conveyed that information. So well had he played his cards, that a baronetcy, if not even a junior post in the administration, would be his the moment his party should come to power. All this Richard knew: the Tory journals were strenuous in their praise of Mr Greenwood, and lauded to the skies his devotion to the statesmen who were aspiring to office.
    Then the great wealth of Mr Greenwood had become proverbial: not a grand enterprise of the day could be started without his name. He was a director in no end of Railway Companies; a shareholder in all the principal Life Insurance Offices; a speculator in every kind of stock; chairman of several commercial associations; a ship-owner; a landowner; a subscriber to all charitable institutions which published a list of its supporters; President of a Bible Society which held periodical meetings at Exeter Hall; one of the stanchest friends to the Society for the Suppression of Vice; a great man at the parochial vestry; a patron of Sunday Schools; a part-proprietor of an influential newspaper; an advocate for the suppression of Sunday trading and Sunday travelling; a member of half a dozen clubs; a great favourite at Tattersall’s; a regular church-goer; a decided enemy to mendicity; an intimate friend of the Poor Law Commissioners; and an out-and-out foe to all Reform.
    All this Richard knew; for he took some interest in watching the career of a person who had risen from nothing to be so great a man as Mr Greenwood was. Then, while he reflected upon these facts, our hero was compelled to admit that his brother Eugene might appear, upon the appointed day, the emblem of infinite prosperity, and yet a being from whom the truly honest would shrink back with dismay…

But having climbed to the heights of financial and social success over the course of Volume I, via a series of unconscionable plots (including accidentally ruining Richard Markham), Volume II finds things going not quite so well for George Montague Greenwood. In some cases, his plots simply misfire, sometimes for reasons beyond his control—and sometimes because the people he has mistreated take the lessons they have learned from him and turn them back upon him.

They don’t do so at once, however; and he pockets a tidy fortune from the manipulation of stock in a fraudulent railway deal.

But this is the beginning of the end for Greenwood. He is playing around with stock manipulation in France and, in pursuit of an enormous coup, must transport twenty thousand pounds to that country. His plans become known to his French valet, Lafleur, who sees his opportunity. Hiring a band of cut-throats to assist him – including the Resurrection Man and his frequent collaborator, John Wicks, aka the Buffer – Lafleur arranges for his employer to be set upon and robbed on a lonely stretch of the road to Dover. (The Frenchman later succeeds in diddling his partners in crime and absconding with almost the entire haul.)

This catastrophe is the first in a series of rolling disasters for Greenwood, who has already invested money in his schemes that he now cannot bring to fruition; nor can he recover his investment. To keep himself afloat, he must somehow borrow a large sum of money and, to this end, he puts pressure on a Mr Tomlinson, a once-failed stock-broker who has recovered his position in the world—but only because his devoted colleague took the blame for certain financial depredations of which he, Tomlinson, was actually guilty…as Greenwood well knows. He also knows that Tomlinson is concealing the wanted if not guilty man from the law. He therefore has the means to blackmail Tomlinson into raising the money he needs.

Tomlinson still requires some security for the negotiated loan, which Greenwood coolly insists he shall have, in the form of bills held by him for loans made to various prominent men. In fact, no such bills exist; not yet: he calls upon a certain Mr Pennywhiffe…

    Returning to his seat, he handed the memorandum-book to Greenwood, saying, “There is my list of noblemen, wealthy gentlemen, and great mercantile firms, whose names are familiar to me. Choose which you will have; and make notes of the various sums the bills are to be drawn for. Let them be for the most part uneven ones, with fractions: it looks so much better.”
    While Greenwood was employed in examining the memorandum-book, which contained upwards of five hundred names of peers, and great landowners, in addition to those of the chief commercial firms of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, and other places,—besides several belonging to Paris, Lyons, Bordeaux, Havre, and Lille; Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Hamburgh; New York, the West Indian Islands, and Montreal; Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras;—while Mr Greenwood, we say, was examining this strange register, and copying several of the best names of noblemen, gentlemen, and merchants, upon a slip of paper, Mr Pennywhiffe opened his tin-case.
    The contents thereof were numerous paid checks, and bills of exchange, respectively bearing the signatures of the persons or firms whose names were entered in the memorandum-book…
    “I have chosen eleven names,” said Greenwood; “and have appended to them the various sums for which I require the bills to be drawn. The aggregate is twenty-three thousand two hundred and seventeen pounds, nine shillings, and sevenpence halfpenny.”
    “A good total, that,” observed Mr Pennywhiffe,—“an excellent total—sounds uncommon well.”

On this “security”, then, Greenwood intends for Mr Tomlinson to raise the money he needs—but when the moment comes, he discovers to his horror that he has lost the pocket-book containing the forged bills.

It’s been found, though: Ellen spots Greenwood while she is out one day, and then literally stumbles over it. She can’t catch up with Greenwood, but as soon as she gets the chance she calls at his house to return his property. She is there when Greenwood returns from his discovery of his loss—and when, in his distracted state, he speaks out loud of “forgery” and “ruin”…

Understanding the situation in a flash, Ellen pounces:

    “When our hands are joined at the altar, I will restore you the proofs of your crime; and God grant,” she added solemnly, “that this peril which you have incurred may serve as a warning to you against future risks of the same fearful kind.”
    “You have no faith in my word—you have no confidence in my written promise, Ellen,” cried Greenwood: “how, then, can you be anxious to have me as a husband?”
    “That my child may not grow up with the stain of illegitimacy upon him—that he may not learn to despise his mother,” answered Ellen, emphatically; “for he need never know the precise date of our union.”
    “But you know, Ellen,” again remonstrated Greenwood, “that there are circumstances which act as an insuperable barrier to this marriage. Could you tell your father that you have espoused the man who ruined him—ruined Richard,—and also admit, at the same time, that this man was the father of your child! Consider, Ellen—reflect—”
    “There is no need of consideration—no need of reflection,” interrupted Miss Monroe. “I care not about revealing the fact of my marriage for the present. In a few years—when our child can comprehend his true position,—then it would be necessary to declare myself a wife.”
    “But there is another difficulty, Ellen,” persisted Greenwood: “my name—”
    “Let us be wedded privately—in some suburban church, where you stand no chance of being recognised as George Montague Greenwood, and where your right name may be fearlessly inscribed upon the register.”
    “A woman who is determined to gain her point, annihilates all difficulties,” muttered Greenwood to himself.
    “How do you decide?” asked Ellen. “Remember that I am firm. I have these alternatives before me—either to obtain a father’s name for my child, or to avenge the wrongs of my own parent and myself. Consent to make me your wife, and the proofs of your crime shall be returned to you at the altar: refuse, and to-morrow morning I will prepare the way for vengeance.”

Greenwood capitulates—and Ellen keeps her word: setting up another of this story’s bizarre moral twists. It may not be on par with Eliza selling out the Constitutionalist army, but the fact remains that as soon as Ellen knows herself a wife, she does indeed hand over the forged documents to Greenwood, and lets him get on with his current plot; this despite the explicit evocation of her father’s ruin and Richard’s by Greenwood (and, consequently, her own different variety of “ruin”).

Equally bizarre, and more than a little exasperating, is that here marks one of the few times that George Reynolds is guilty of conventional morality in The Mysteries Of London, giving in to the contemporary insistence that a mother must love the father of her child, regardless of the circumstances of conception and his subsequent treatment of her—and we know what those were with respect to Ellen and Greenwood, right? (At least if YCCYMBTF.)

So far Reynolds has always had Ellen not hating Greenwood as she would be entitled to; from here, she continues to soften towards him and finally realises that she does in fact love him (!). Greenwood’s own change of feeling is more gradual and convincing: having always been attracted to Ellen (in the sense of first buying her virginity, and then abducting her), he first learns to admire her character when – unknown to the other two – he overhears the confrontation between her and Reginald Tracy at the masquerade, and later to appreciate the generosity of her conduct towards himself.

Anyway: after, ahem, “a twenty-four hour honeymoon”, the two go their separate ways.

Meanwhile—we learn that the same information with which Greenwood has been blackmailing Tomlinson is also in the hands of the Resurrection Man, who puts it to similar use. Caught between Scylla and Charybdis, Mr Tomlinson – who has Greenwood’s loan in his possession – comes to a desperate resolution:

“I am wearied of London,—wearied of this city where all hearts seem to be eaten up with selfishness,—wearied of supporting the weight of that secret which the merest accident may reveal, and which places me at the mercy of that ferocious extortioner! Oh! if that secret were discovered—if it were ascertained that Michael Martin was really in London,—he would be dragged before the tribunals—and I must either appear against him as a witness, or proclaim his innocence and thereby sacrifice myself! No—no—I could not do either:—never—never! I know that I am weak—vacillating—timid! But God also knows how unwillingly I have departed from the ways of rectitude—how many bitter tears have marked the paths of my duplicity! And now I will be firm—yes, firm to commit one last crime! Oh! I will prove myself a worthy pupil of my great master Greenwood! He shall be amply repaid,” continued the stock-broker, bitterly, “for all the kind lessons he has given me in the school of dishonour—yes, and repaid, too, in his own coin. Seven thousand pounds—added to my own little stock,—this will be a sufficient fund wherewith to begin an honourable avocation in another clime. Yes—America is the country for me! There I can begin the world again as a new man—and perhaps I may retrieve myself even in my own estimation!”

In the wake of this, Greenwood turns to Ellen for comfort—though ashamed of the “weakness” that prompts this act. They meet on the bench under the ash-trees, on the night after the wedding of the Prince of Montoni to the Princess Isabella:

    “You are a good girl, Ellen,” said Greenwood, upon whose lash a tear stood: but he hastily dashed it away, exclaiming, “This is unlike me! What can be the cause of these emotions—hitherto unknown? Is it that I am envious of his happiness? Is it that I pine for that sweet domesticity which he will now enjoy? Or is it that I am wearied of a world false and hollow-hearted?”
    “Alas!” cried Ellen, the tears streaming from her eyes: “is the world really false and hollow-hearted? or have you sought only that sphere which wears the appearance that you deplore? Look yonder,” she continued, pointing towards the mansion; “no falsehood—no hollow-heartedness are there! And why? Because he who rules in that abode has encouraged every sweet sympathy that renders life agreeable—every amenity which inspires confidence and mutual reliance between a number of persons dwelling together. The sphere that he has chosen is purified by his own virtues: the light of his excellence is reflected from the hearts of all around him. All are good, or strive to be good in his circle—because he himself is good. Where you have moved—ever agitating amidst the selfish crowd, as in troubled waters—none are good, because no one sets a good example. Every thing in your world is SELF: in Richard’s world he sacrifices SELF unto others. Hence his prosperity—his happiness—”
    “And hence my adversity—my dissatisfied spirit!” exclaimed Greenwood, impatiently. “But talk not thus, Ellen, any more: you will drive me mad!”

Despite these moments of better feeling, Greenwood ends up trying to blackmail Gilbert Vernon over his presence in England, when he was supposedly thousands of miles away from his dying brother, Lord Ravensworth. Vernon promises Greenwood a fat pay-out once he inherits the family title and estate, but his suicide leaves Greenwood hanging once again.

The downward spiral continues, and strips Greenwood of everything he had accumulated by fair means and foul (okay, just foul). He loses his fortune, his seat in Parliament, and his mansion. In desperation, he applies to each of his high-society and business “friends”—every one of whom rejects his plea for financial assistance with the same air of contemptuous disinterest that has always marked Greenwood’s own proceedings. He ends up in such straits, the landlady of his poor lodgings locks her door against him, because he hasn’t paid the rent. And while he is grappling with being both homeless and destitute, Greenwood is struck by a carriage and ends up in hospital with a broken leg.

Here Ellen comes into her own—hiring a house where he can recover, while she cares for him. She also manages to convince him that it isn’t a question of success or failure, or even of forgiveness: that Richard just wants his brother back; and he must absolutely keep that long-standing appointment.

And so, after twelve years (and almost 2,300 pages), the fateful day dawns:

    Accordingly, at nine o’clock on the morning of the 10th of July, 1843, the Prince repaired to the eminence on which he hoped—oh! how fondly hoped—full soon to welcome the long-lost Eugene.
    His seven companions were the Princess Isabella, Ellen, Mr Monroe, Katherine, Mario Bazzano, Eliza Sydney, and the faithful Whittingham.
    Richard could not conceal a certain nervous suspense under which he laboured; for although he felt assured of Eugene’s appearance, yet so long a period had elapsed since they had parted, and so many vicissitudes might have occurred during the interval, that he trembled lest the meeting should be characterised by circumstances which would give his brother pain…
    In a few minutes Greenwood reached a point where the road took a sudden turn to the right, thus running round all one side of the base of the eminence, and passing by the mansion itself.
    There he paused again;—for although the party assembled on the hill were plainly perceived by him, he was yet unseen by them—a hedge concealing him from their view.
    “Oh! is the dread ordeal so near at hand?” he exclaimed, with a temporary revival of bitterness of spirit. “Scarcely separated from him by a distance of two hundred yards—a distance so soon cleared—and yet—and yet—“

But as Greenwood steels himself, a post-chaise comes dashing along the road. For a moment it looks as if he is to be struck down yet again—but then the chaise crashes. Greenwood hurries forward to help the passengers—and finds himself face to face with—Lafleur!

But his former valet again gets the better of him, striking him down with terrible – indeed, fatal – violence, before escaping.

Greenwood begs the postillions to carry him up the hill—and at long last, the Markham brothers are reunited:

    Richard sprang forward: a few steps brought him close by the litter, which the bearers now placed upon the ground beneath the foliage of the very tree whereon the inscriptions were engraved!
    One look—one look was sufficient!
    “Eugene—my brother Eugene!” exclaimed our hero, in a tone of the most intense anguish, as he cast himself on his knees by the side of the litter, and threw his arms around the dying man. “Oh! my God—is it thus that we meet? You are wounded, my dearest brother: but we will save you—we will save you! Hasten for a surgeon—delay not a moment—it is the life of my brother which is at stake!”
    “Your brother, Richard!” cried Isabella, scarcely knowing what she said in that moment of intense excitement and profound astonishment: “your brother, my beloved husband? Oh! no—there is some dreadful mistake—for he whom you thus embraced is Mr George Montague Greenwood!”
    “Montague—Greenwood!” ejaculated Richard, starting as if an ice-bolt had suddenly entered his heart. “No—no—impossible, Isabella! Tell me—Eugene—tell me—you cannot be he of whom I have heard so much?”
    “Yes, Richard—I am that villain!” answered Eugene, turning his dying countenance in an imploring manner towards his brother. “But do not desert me—do not spurn me—do not even upbraid me now!”
    “Never—never!” cried the Prince, again embracing Eugene with passionate—almost frantic warmth. “Upbraid you, my dearest brother! Oh! no—no! Forget the past, Eugene—let it be buried in oblivion…”

George Reynolds concludes The Mysteries Of London by informing us of the fates of all the other characters; dishing out rewards and punishments with a liberal hand. There are a few surprises here—including that we leave the former Grand Duchess of Castelcicala (who is much more prominent in this volume than this summary makes it appear) living in single, or rather widowed, blessedness, back in her old villa where she impersonated her own brother. Most surprising of all, though, is that Crankey Jem – who, not to mince matters, tortures the Resurrection Man to death – is allowed to just slip quietly out of the narrative.

But of course, George Reynolds reserves his final word for himself:

     ‘Tis done: Virtue is rewarded—Vice has received its punishment.
     Said we not, in the very opening of this work, that from London branched off two roads, leading to two points totally distinct the one from the other?
     Have we not shown how the one winds its tortuous way through all the noisome dens of crime, chicanery, dissipation, and voluptuousness; and how the other meanders amidst rugged rocks and wearisome acclivities, but having on its way-side the resting-places of rectitude and virtue?
     The youths who set out along those roads,—the elder pursuing the former path, the younger the latter,—have fulfilled the destinies to which their separate ways conducted them.
     The one sleeps in an early grave: the other is the heir-apparent to a throne…
     If, then, the preceding pages be calculated to engender one useful thought—awaken one beneficial sentiment,—the work is not without its value.
     If there be any merit in honesty of purpose and integrity of aim,—then is that merit ours.
     And if, in addition to considerations of this nature, we may presume that so long as we are enabled to afford entertainment, our labours will be rewarded by the approval of the immense audience to whom we address ourselves,—we may with confidence invite attention to a Second Series of “The Mysteries of London.”

And—he kept his promise / threat.

May God have mercy on us all…

 

 

See also:
The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 1)
The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 2)
The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 3)
The Mysteries Of London: Volume II (Part 1)

 

05/12/2019

The Mysteries Of London: Volume II (Part 1)


 
    The dwellers in the country, and even the inhabitants of the great provincial cities and manufacturing towns, can form no just estimate of the wondrous features of the sovereign metropolis by the local scenes with which they are familiar.
    Who can judge of the splendour of the West End of London by even the most fashionable quarters of Edinburgh or Dublin?
    Who can conceive the amount of revolting squalor and hideous penury existing in the poor districts of London, by a knowledge of the worst portions of Liverpool or Manchester? Who can form a conjecture of the dreadful immorality and shocking vice…?
    No:—for all that is most gorgeous and beautiful, as well as all that is most filty and revolting,—all that is best of talent, or most degraded of ignorance,—all that is most admirable for virtue, or most detestable for crime,—all that is most refined in elegance, or most strange in barbarism,—all, all these wondrous phases are to be found, greatest in glory, or lowest in infamy, in the imperial city of the British Isles!
    And shall we be charged with vanity, if we declare that never until now has the veil been so rudely torn aside, nor the corruptions of London so boldly laid bare?

 

 

Ah-hmm.

Sorry.

In my own defence, my failure to update isn’t just about my slackness and disorganisation: it’s also because I spent so long tearing my hair over how to address the second volume of George Reynolds’ The Mysteries Of London, I ended up forgetting the specifics of what I wanted (somehow) to say and had to read it over again; all 1,146 pages of it.

But I think I can now see a way of tackling it, and hopefully within the confines of two posts (one ain’t gunna cut it).

Further in my defence, part of the problem is the nature of Volume II. There’s more of a sense of strain here, of Reynolds seeking ways to fill his pages and stretch his story out to the full 52 weekly parts. Thus, while this volume does finally resolve its central, anti-parallel plots involving Richard Markham and George Montague Greenwood, both of its main characters are off-stage for significant sections of the novel, while much time is spent on subplots that don’t have much to do with the central narrative, and (even more of a giveaway) on interpolated narratives. There are also rather too many songs from our criminal characters, all supplemented with lengthy glossaries of thieves’ cant.

The best that Reynolds can do to link up the increasingly disparate threads of his story is to write into most of them the sinister figure of Anthony Tidkins, aka “the Resurrection Man”, who – surprise! – did not in fact die at the end of Volume I in spite of the best efforts of his mortal enemy, James Cuffin, aka “Crankey Jem”. Other characters pop in and out as required, but not always in a convincing manner.

That last paragraph highlights an attendant problem of dealing with Volume II of The Mysteries Of London: trying to remember what happened in Volume I, and who everyone is.

Consequently I’ve coined an acronym – IYCCYMBTF – “If You Can Cast Your Minds Back That Far” – to indicate material that was touched upon in my previous posts, should any of you find it necessary to go back for a refresher.

So—to try and convey some sense of Volume II in something approaching a coherent manner, I’m going to devote this first post to the material surrounding the main plots, some of which resolves threads left hanging at the end of Volume I, and some of which introduces new characters (because we just didn’t have enough already).

Most divorced from the main plot(s) of Volume II of The Mysteries Of London is the interpolated narrative of Major Anderson, a former army officer who has ruined his life with compulsive gambling. Rescued from destitution by Richard Markham, the Major gives a circumstantial account of his fall from grace and the miseries suffered by his wife and children (who have all died of deprivation). The anti-gambling subplot is commonplace in 18th and 19th century literature, chiefly because what happens to the Andersons here very often did happen; although it is more common to find this sort of thing in novels by women, usually from the perspective of the gambler’s suffering dependents. The only two really interesting points in this material, both of which will echo throughout this volume’s other plots, are that Reynolds takes it for granted that (i) doing someone a favour will in most cases end in resentment and enmity; and (ii) a desire for revenge is a pretty normal human response to an injury. Only Reynolds’ “immaculate” characters like Richard Markham escape these two taints.

Certainly these assumptions reappear in the subplot concerning the increasingly vicious rivalry between Lydia Hutchinson and Adeline Enfield (later Lady Ravensworth). Lydia is introduced on the cold streets of London, crying out to her former friend as she is helped into her luxurious carriage by her much older husband. The Ravensworths shun the poor, wretched, shivering woman, however, who is knocked down by their carriage as they drive away, and injured. Hurriedly, Adeline explains to her husband that the woman was once – she vaguely remembers – one of her teachers; but as it is obvious what she is now, they needn’t soil their hands by having anything to do with her.

Lydia is rescued by Viola Chichester, the estranged wife of Arthur Chichester who (IYCCYMBTF) was one of those responsible for landing Richard Markham in prison for passing counterfeit notes. Viola’s own sufferings we did not touch upon in detail, however she was imprisoned by the Resurrection Man in an underground dungeon in one of his London bolt-holes until she signed her fortune over to her husband (that being what he had, after all, married her for). Her experiences have made Viola sympathetic to others in trouble and now she goes out of her way to assist and redeem people like Lydia, who she takes in, cares for, and helps to start a new life.

Lydia gives us another of the novel’s lengthy interpolated narratives, this one also a bit too familiar in most respects to be interesting, as we hear how the daughter of a poor but honest curate ends up walking the streets of London. Here, however, Reynolds is more on his game—so the familiar material is periodically broken up with scenes like this:

“I locked the door cautiously, and returned to the bed-side. And there—in a miserable garret, and in the depth of a cold winter’s night,—with a nipping frost upon the window, and the bright moon high in the heavens,—there, attended only by myself, did the delicately nurtured Adeline Enfield give birth to a male child. But the little infant’s eyes never opened even for a moment upon this world: it was born dead!”

The exigency of their circumstances forces Lydia to hide the dead baby in her trunk until the girls can figure out what to do with it. Unfortunately, this act coincides with the discovery downstairs that several silver spoons have been stolen, which prompts a school-wide search of the property of those suspected—i.e. the servants and the junior teachers. The searchers get rather more than they bargained for when they force their way into Lydia’s tiny garret: no spoons, but…

“And now the school-mistress approached my trunk: she raised the lid—I leant against the wall for support. My clothes were tumbled out on the floor: at the bottom of the box was a small bundle, wrapped round with linen articles. The school-mistress drew it forth—a terrific scream escaped my lips—the corpse of the infant rolled upon the floor!”

Mrs Lambkin turns out to be more worried about the reputation of her school than anything else (even her spoons). She therefore encourages Lydia to, um, get some exercise:

“When the house was quiet, I put on my bonnet and cloak, concealing beneath the latter the corpse of Miss Enfield’s child. I then slipped out by the back way, and striking into the bye-lanes leading towards Brompton, at length reached a pond, into which a muddy ditch emptied itself. The moon was bright, and thus enabled me to discover a spot fitted for my purpose. I placed two or three large stones in the bundle containing the body of the child: then I threw the whole into the pond. The dark water splashed and gurgled; and in a few moments all was still once more…”

(There is no suggestion in the narrative that Lydia has done anything particularly untoward here—and of course the fact is that, in addition to a naturally appallingly high infant mortality rate, it was common practice at this time for unwanted babies simply to be left on the streets to die of exposure; another of those little details of Victorian life that didn’t make it into mainstream literature.)

Adeline starts out full of passionate protestations of lifetime friendship for Lydia, but the very fact that Lydia (i) knows her secret, and (ii) succeeded in keeping it eventually finds Adeline doing her best to shake the dirt of the incident off her skirts—which involves declining to have anything more to do with her erstwhile BFF. And as the unsuspected Miss Enfield makes a spectacular marriage, Lydia falls further and further, becoming first a mistress, then a brothel-inhabitant, then a street-walker. Along the way, her curate-father dies of a broken heart and her brother gets shot dead after challenging Lydia’s seducer (or more accurately, rapist, since she was drugged first) to a duel.

Eventually, assisted by Viola Chichester, Lydia secures a position as maid to the newly-married Lady Bounce; but she is delayed on her journey to join her new mistress, who therefore departs on her honeymoon with the maid of her aunt-by-marriage instead: the latter agreeing to accept the services of the newcomer while her real mistress is away:

    “One moment, William. Did this young woman mention her name—for as yet I am really ignorant of it?”
    “Yes, my lady,” answered the domestic: “her name is Lydia Hutchinson.”
    And the servant withdrew.
    “Lydia Hutchinson!” murmured Lady Ravensworth, turning deadly pale, and tottering to a seat…

Lydia at first assumes that Adeline has hired her as a form of expiation for her previous neglect and cruelty and is more than willing to forgive and forget. When Adeline impulsively spurns her, however, Lydia reacts with violent rage and contempt, throwing their mutual secrets in the other’s face. Adeline is at first cowed, but becomes scornful and defiant as she considers that any attempt by Lydia to punish her will come down to the word of a noblewoman against that of a former prostitute:

    “Enough!” cried Adeline, now almost purple with rage, and every vein on her forehead swollen almost to bursting. “I accept your challenge—for I well know that I can rely upon the honour of Lord Dunstable and Colonel Cholmondeley. Yes—yes: they would sooner perjure themselves than attaint the honour of a peeress!”
    “There is one other consideration, then,” said Lydia, still completely unruffled: “and perhaps the ingenuity of your ladyship will devise a means of frustrating that test also.”
    “To what do you allude?” demanded Adeline.
    “I mean that when you summon your domestics to drag me to gaol on a charge of extortion,” replied Lydia, contemptuously, “that moment do I proclaim the history of the past! Then will medical expertise speedily prove whether Lady Ravensworth now bears her first child in her bosom!”

The scene between the two women is partly overheard by Lord Ravensworth who, already in poor health, is almost overcome by learning of his wife’s early transgressions. Bent now on revenge, Lydia insists on remaining in the Ravensworth household, a permanent thorn in Adeline’s side. Her plan is to stay a year, at the end of which time she will depart with a glowing reference that will secure her whatever other position she desires. In the meantime, though in public she will perform her functions as Adeline’s maidservant, behind close doors it will be Adeline who is the menial; Adeline who will wait upon Lydia…

Reynolds’ handling of this material is peculiar. He does not merely treat Lydia’s desire for revenge as a natural response (as touched upon above), but finds a general warning in her worm-turns behaviour which he swiftly extrapolates into a State Of The Nation speech:

    Yes! Most solemnly do I proclaim to you, O suffering millions of these islands, that ye shall not always languish beneath the yoke of your oppressors! Individually ye shall each see the day when your tyrant shall crouch at your feet; and as a mass ye shall triumph over that proud oligarchy which now grinds you into the dust!
    That day—that great day cannot be far distant; and then ye shall rise—not to wreak a savage vengeance on those who have so long coerced you, but to prove to them that ye know how to exercise a mercy which they never manifested towards you;—ye shall rise, not to convulse the State with a disastrous civil war, nor to hurry the nation on to the deplorable catastrophe of social anarchy, confusion and bloodshed;—but ye shall rise to vindicate usurped rights, and to recover delegated and misused power, that ye may triumphantly assert the aristocracy of mind, and the aristocracy of virtue!

While we may not consider this subplot the best vehicle for Reynolds’ social theories, this passage underscores that despite what his enemies said of him, he was a radical but no revolutionary. He even goes on to illustrate the dangers of “savage vengeance” bereft of “mercy” by having Lydia go too far in her tormenting and humiliation of Adeline, who responds with what Reynolds also treats as a natural desire for revenge—even when it takes the form of Adeline hiring a hitman.

Escaping into the grounds one evening, Adeline overhears a strange conversation between two men. The point of it (to which we will return) is lost upon her, but she quickly grasps that one of the two is a criminal for hire with no scruples about his work, as long as he is well-paid. When the second man drops the first’s scribbled address, Adeline seizes the opportunity. Taking every precaution to disguise her identity and the scene of the proposed crime, she organises for the professional criminal – who is of course the Resurrection Man – to take care of her little problem:

“My enemy is certain to come hither shortly,” whispered Adeline: “it may be directly—or it may be in an hour;—still she is sure to come. I shall conceal you behind a curtain—in case the wrong person might happen to enter the room by accident. But when any one comes in, and you hear me close the door and say ‘WRETCH!” rush upon her—seize her by the throat—and strangle her. Are you strong enough to do this?—for no blood must be shed.”

In one of the most shocking passages in The Mysteries Of London, the murder of Lydia Hutchinson occurs as planned. The Resurrection Man then – oh, irony! – disposes of her body by weighting it down in a pond, staging the scene to make it look as if she has robbed Adeline of her jewel casket and fled.

Adeline manages the dark – literally dark – business so cleverly that, at the time, the Resurrection Man does not discover her identity or that of his victim; nor does she know what he looks like. He comes later to that knowledge, as part of the plot overheard and misunderstood by Adeline—which was nothing less than the murder of Lord Ravensworth by his younger brother, Gilbert Vernon, and the subsequent murder of Adeline’s baby, should it prove to be a boy…and it does.

Lord Ravensworth is disposed of without the Resurrection Man’s intervention, via poisoned tobacco sent as a gift from Vernon who is supposedly in the Middle East. Vernon “comes home” upon his brother’s death, feigning grief, infiltrating the household, and waiting for the right time to dispose of his nephew with the connivance of his “valet”…

But Reynolds has no intention of letting wicked aristocracy flourish to that extent; and the plot against the infant lord is thwarted by the separate but determined efforts of Morcar the gypsy and Eliza Sydney, aka the Grand Duchess Eliza of Castelcicala.

(And what is the Grand Duchess doing back in England? We’ll get to that in Part 2.)

The third interpolated narrative in The Mysteries Of London gives us the life-history of Crankey Jem—who (IYCCYMBTF) almost stabbed the Resurrection Man to death at the end of Volume I. Later learning that he has failed, Jem devotes himself to tracking down and finishing off his mortal enemy, a business which unfolds over several years (and almost the entirety of Volume II). IYCCYMBTF, Jem was once convicted and transported on the testimony of his one-time partner in crime, who got off in exchange for his testimony. Reynolds – whose disgust with a legal system that punishes without any intention of, or room for, reformation we have seen many times before (and will again) – uses this subplot to condemn numerous aspects of the transportation of convicts…and you will forgive me if I dwell at some length upon Crankey Jem’s experiences and observations:

“Sydney is beautifully situated. It possesses a fine ascent from a noble harbour; and its bays, its coves, its gardens, its gentlemen’s seats, form a pleasing spectacle. Then its forests of masts—the Government-house, with its beautiful domain—the numerous wharfs—the thousands of boats upon the glassy water—and Wooloomooloo, with its charming villas and its windmills,—all these combine to enhance the interest of the scene. The town itself is far more handsome than I had expected to find it…”

I must make Crankey Jem my compliments. I don’t think transported convicts were often in a frame of mind to appreciate their surroundings, let alone discourse upon them in fluent travelogue…

Reynolds, via Jem, indulges in a two-point program here—on one hand, scaring his readers straight with a graphic account of the horrors of convict life; on the other, denouncing those horrors and the authorities that devised them:

“What with the humid climate, the want of fresh meat, and the severity of the labour, no man who fell ill ever entertained a hope of recovery. Talk of the civilised notions of the English—talk of the humane principles of her penal laws—why, the Inquisition itself could not have been more horrible than the doom of the convict at Macquarie Harbour! Again I say, it was true that we were great criminals; but surely some adequate mode of punishment—some mode involving the means of reformation—might have been devised without the application of so much real physical torture!… In the penal colony of Port Macquarie those tortures were renewed daily—and they killed the miserable sufferers by inches!”

A small group of convicts finally devise a plan of escape—knowing as they do so that even if they succeed, the country itself will probably kill them. Still, they consider this preferable to the alternative. Among this group are to be found, by the way, Robert Stephens and the lawyer, MacChizzle, who (IYCCYMBTF) were the prime movers in the complicated plot that saw Eliza Sydney masquerading as her own dead brother, Walter.

The escape succeeds. For a time the convicts survive on kangaroo and possum brought down by one of their number, but in time the game dries up and the men are faced with starvation—with just one possible way of averting it:

“On the fifth night we made a fire, and sate round it at considerable distances from each other. We all endeavoured to remain awake: we trembled at the approach of drowsiness—for we knew the consequences of sleep in our desperate condition. There we sate—none uttering a word,—with cracked and bloody lips—parched throats—eyes glowing with cannibal fires…”

At length MacChizzle is unfortunate enough to fall asleep and, well…

    “Oh! the horrors of that night! I was starving—and food was near. But what food?… Presently the hissing of the flesh upon the embers, and the odour of the awful cookery, convinced me that the meal would soon be served up. Then how did I wrestle with my inclinations! And Stephens, I could well perceive, was also engaged in a terrific warfare with the promptings of hunger. But we resisted the temptation: yes—we resisted it;—and our companions did not trouble themselves to invite us to their repast.
    “At length the morning dawned upon that awful and never-to-be-forgotten night. The fire was now extinguished; but near the ashes lay the entrails and the head of the murdered man. The cannibals had completely anatomised the corpse, and had wrapped up in their shirts (which they took off for the purpose) all that they chose to carry away with them…”

The fate of another of the group, who met a grim end venturing into the bush to cut a club with which to kill the unfortunate MacChizzle in the first place, is then discovered:

“An enormous snake was coiled around the wretch’s corpse—licking it with its long tongue, to cover it with saliva for the purpose of deglutition… Its huge coils had actually squeezed our unfortunate comrade to death!”

Our pythons don’t actually get that big…but thank you for the thought.

Jem and Stephens separate themselves from the rest and go their own way. Eventually they separate from each other—and Jem is recaptured and banished to Norfolk Island. Another amusing burst of travelogue-cum-horror follows, as Jem’s description of the island’s beauties gives way to his opinion of his new place of punishment:

    “Between Macquarie Harbour and Norfolk Island I can only draw this distinction—that the former is Purgatory, and the latter Hell!
    “There is no attempt to reform the prisoners in Norfolk Island, beyond prayer-reading—and this is scarcely any benefit. The convicts are too depraved to be amended by mere moral lessons: they want education; they require to be treated like human beings, instead of brute beasts, criminal though they are; they need a sufficiency of wholesome food, to enable them to toil with something approaching a good will; they ought to be protected against the tyranny of overseers
    “Let punishment be terrible—not horrible… The tortures of semi-starvation and overwhelming toil, and the system of retaining men’s minds in a state of moral abasement and degradation in their own eyes, will never lead to reform…”

And so on.

Another escape follows. This time Jem and his fellows have almost reached New Zealand when they are shipwrecked in a storm. Jem is (at length) the only survivor, losing his companions by various means along the way, including one to another face of the local fauna:

“The vessel went down and, small as it was, it formed a vortex which for a few moments sucked us under, spar and all. But we rose again to the surface, clinging desperately to the boom. Suddenly one of my comrades uttered a fearful cry—a cry of such wild agony that it rings in my ears every time I think of that horrible incident. I glanced towards him: the water was for an instant tinged with blood—a shark had bitten off one of the wretched man’s legs!”

(“Tinged”?)

Long story short—Jem is picked by by a passing vessel and ends up in Hobart; enabling him to again inform us of both its natural beauties and the terrible things that go on there, including a lengthy rumination upon the treatment of, and behaviour of, female convicts. However, since Jem has secured civilian clothing, and there is no-one to contradict his story, he is accepted as a freeman and eventually makes his way back to England.

Jem tells his story to young Henry Holford: he who (IYCCYMBTF) used to infiltrate Buckingham Palace and spy on Victoria. He’s still doing it, we now learn; and we follow him for another lengthy session that encompasses another discussion between the two noblewomen—one of whom insists she has proof that (i) the marriage of George III to Amy Lightfoot was legal, and that all of his royal descendants are therefore illegitimate; and (ii) George’s “madness” was a hereditary condition…which explains Victoria’s “fits of depression”…

However, this time Reynolds is mostly intent upon satirising the ignorance of the royal couple about their subjects and general conditions. Thus Henry’s spying session makes him privy to a breakfast-table conversation between Victoria and Albert:

    “The very first article on which my eyes rested when I took up this newspaper ere now, is headed ‘Dreadful Suicide through Extreme Destitution.’ Beneath, in the same column, is an article entitled ‘Infanticide, and Suicide of the Murderess, through Literal Starvation.’ The next column contains a long narrative which I have not had time to read, but which is headed ‘Suicide through Dread of the Workhouse.’ On this page,” continued the Queen, turning the paper upon the table, “there is an article entitled ‘Death from Starvation;’ another headed ‘Dreadful Condition of the Spitalfields’ Weavers;’ a third called ‘Starving State of the Paisley Mechanics;’ a fourth entitled ‘Awful Distress in the Manufacturing Districts;’ and I perceive numerous short paragraphs all announcing similar calamities.”
    “The English papers are always full of such accounts,” observed the Prince.
    “And yet I would have you know that England is the richest, most prosperous, and happiest country on the face of the earth,” returned the Queen, somewhat impatiently. “You must not take these accounts literally as you read them. My Ministers assure me that they are greatly exaggerated… I spoke to the Secretary of State a few days ago upon the subject of workhouses; and he assures me that they are very comfortable places. He declared that the people do not know when they are well off, and that they require to be managed like refractory children. He quite convinced me that all he said was perfectly correct; and I really begin to think that the people are very obstinate, dissatisfied, and insolent.”
    “They are very enthusiastic in their demonstrations towards their sovereign,” remarked the Prince.
    “And naturally so,” exclaimed Victoria. “Am I not their Queen? are they not my subjects? do I not rule over them? All the happiness, prosperity, and enjoyments which they possess emanate from the throne. They would be very ungrateful if they did not reverence—nay, adore their sovereign.”

It is after Victoria has left the room that Albert discovers the hidden Henry. In the interests of hushing up the security breach, he does not expose him or have him arrested, but rather – as the disgruntled Henry later puts it to himself – has him “turned out like a dog.” So end the palace adventures.

Brooding upon the enormous gulf between the luxuries taken for granted by the royals and his own miserable life as a pot-boy, Henry sense of bitter injustice grows until conceives the idea of making himself famous in perpetuity, by becoming a regicide…

Meanwhile—various other subplots of The Mysteries Of London are winding down and opening up in closer proximity to our main narratives.

One of these concerns the Reverend Reginald Tracy who (IYCCYMBTF), while being lauded publicly as a model churchman, was secretly carrying on a torrid sexual affair with the Lady Cecilia Harborough. The affair is still going on—but now that the Reverend’s hound-dog has been let off its leash, he’s seeing desirable women pretty much everywhere he looks, and not worrying too much about the means that get him to the end.

And the next woman who catches his roving eye is Ellen Monroe.

I’m going to jump the gun here a bit and reveal that, much to my delight, George Reynolds does not bow to one of the strongest of all prevailing conventions and punish the erring Ellen by killing her off in Volume II. That said, she is far less prominent in the narrative of this volume, with the role of “heroine” rather occupied by Eliza Sydney.

(Active heroine, that is: the immaculate Princess Isabella of Castelcicala is still sitting around and twiddling her thumbs and waiting for Providence to reward her.)

However, Ellen gets her moments. She becomes, as I say, the object of Reginald Tracy’s lust, kindled the first time he lays eyes on her. Matters now carry him to Markham Place, where he accidentally learns about Ellen’s illegitimate son—and of course promptly concludes that such a “frail vessel” is his for the taking.

Tracy’s growing obsession leads him to spy upon Ellen through the key-hole as she is taking her early morning bath:

    While thus occupied, she was partly turned towards the door; and all the treasures of her bosom were revealed to the ardent gaze of the rector.
    His desires were now inflamed to that pitch when they almost become ungovernable. He felt that could he possess that charming creature, he would care not for the result—even though he forced her to compliance with his wishes, and murder and suicide followed,—the murder of her, and the suicide of himself!
    He was about to grasp the handle of the door, when he remembered that he had heard to key turn in the lock immediately after she had entered the room.
    He gnashed his teeth with rage.
    And now the drapery had fallen from her shoulders, and the whole of her voluptuous form, naked to the waist, was exposed to his view… He literally trembled under the influence of his fierce desires.
    How he envied—Oh! how he envied the innocent babe which the fond mother pressed to that bosom—swelling, warm, and glowing!

Ahem.

Nothing happens at this juncture, but Tracy decides he must have Ellen. He hasn’t quite the effrontery to approach her himself, however, and so employs a go-between: the same old hag who (IYCCYMBTF) brokered the sale of Ellen’s virginity; and who also assisted Lady Cecilia to re-seduce Tracy, after he escaped her clutches the first time. Like the Resurrection Man, the old hag (who never gets a name) is one of the threads that tie this unwieldy narrative together, as she pops up in most of the criminal subplots.

While the hag is still in the negotiation phase, Ellen correctly deduces the identity of her employer. Concealing her true feelings, she tells the hag that she will meet with her would-be lover at a disreputable public masquerade – where he is to dress as a monk – to discuss the matter; but she has done so only to expose Tracy to himself and give more power to her rejection:

“By what right do you presume that I will compromise my fair fame for your sake, if you tremble to sacrifice your reputation for mine?” asked Ellen. “Is every compromise to be effected by poor women, and shall man make no sacrifice for her? Are you vile, or base, or cowardly enough to ask me to desert home and friends to gratify your selfish passion, while you carefully shroud your weakness beneath the hypocritical cloak of reputed sanctity? Was it to hear such language as this that I agreed to meet you? But know, sir, that you have greatly—oh! greatly mistaken me!… You cherish the idea that because I have been frail once, I am fair game for a licentious sportsman like you. You are wrong, sir—you are wrong…”

All this, too, Reynolds chalks up to “reasonable revenge”:

“It struck me that if I could induce you—you, the man of sanctity—to clothe yourself in the mummery of a mask and meet me at a scene which you and your fellow-ecclesiastics denounce as one worthy of Satan, I should hurl back with tenfold effect that deep, deep humiliation which you visited upon me… My intention was to seize an opportunity to tear your disguise from you, and allow all present to behold amongst them the immaculate rector of St. David’s. But I will be more merciful to you than you were to me…”

Humiliated indeed, Tracy slinks off—back to Lady Cecilia. He’s already bored with her, and disgusted by her ready availability; as well as blaming all his transgressions upon her, for leading him astray in the first place; but hey, she’s better than nothing:

The remainder of the night was passed by them in the intoxicating joys of illicit love…

In fact, so much “better” is she that the two of them grow careless—and are caught together by Tracy’s elderly and loyal housekeeper, Mrs Kenrick, while Tracy is smuggling Lady Cecilia out of his rectory in the early dawn.

Mrs Kenrick, a simple, profoundly devout old woman who is devoted to Tracy, is shocked to the very depths of her being. Nevertheless, her very devotion to Tracy makes her think only of his repentance and redemption; she would never dream of exposing him. But Tracy, in his now-corrupted state, sees her only as a danger to his reputation—and takes steps accordingly…

The Reginald Tracy subplot in The Mysteries Of London interweaves with another that introduces a new group of characters. The second volume opens with a different perspective on the events that closed Volume I, where (IYCCYMBYF) the Resurrection Man took refuge in a gypsy stronghold, discovered there his common-law wife who had robbed him of his accumulated gold, and (among other things) ended up getting stabbed by Crankey Jem. Volume II begins with the chase that preceded all this, with Richard Markham hunting his enemy through the streets of London in company with two or three excited but dubious police officers—dubious because (IYCCYMBTF) the Resurrection Man had supposedly been killed in an explosion that did take the lives of several officers. The possibility that the person responsible is still alive inspires the others to join the chase, but ultimately their quarry is lost.

The night’s activities leave Richard in company with an intelligent young policeman named Morris Benstead. Typical of Reynolds, though he spends much of the book decrying police methods and the privileging of the rich over the poor in all aspects of the law, here he gives us one exception to his rule: Benstead is honest, hard-working and dedicated. He also becomes one of the by-now almost endless list of Richard Markham’s acolytes.

Richard and Benstead are wending their way back when they hears screams and cries for help from a building. They force their way in and find a strange and terrible scene: man is beating a young woman, in a room fitted up – we can hardly say “decorated” – with every aspect of death by hanging, including an unnervingly realistic puppet-figure dangling from a noose.

Given his constant tub-thumping about the state of the legal system in England, the injustice of the law as applied, conditions in prison, the punishment-without-reform stance of The Authorities, and (a particular bug-bear) the punitive use of solitary confinement, we are hardly surprised to find Reynolds taking an anti-capital punishment stance. Though couched in his usual rhetoric, his arguments are cogent enough: that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent; and that the process of execution degrades and brutalises everyone associated with it. (That public executions had precisely opposite of their theoretical effect was dealt with in Volume I: The Authorities finally conceded this point, although not for another twenty years.)

The man responsible for this unique style of interior design turns out to be the public executioner, one Jacob Smithers: an individual who takes great pride in his work and devotes all his spare time to improving his technique. However, to his fury and dismay, his only son, who he intends shall first assist him and then succeed to the family business, has an eradicable horror of the whole thing and defies his father to the limits of his poor strength.

The boy – christened “John”, but whose father has since changed his name to the more professionally appropriate “Gibbet” – is something curiously rare in the pages of George Reynolds: a character we’re inclined to call “Dickens-esque”; although that said, I suspect that his direct inspiration lay rather in the recent publication of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris. Here is how the boy is described:

The hump-backed lad…was about seventeen or eighteen years of age, and so hideously ugly that he scarcely seemed to belong to the human species. His hair was fiery red, and covered with coarse and matted curls a huge head that would not have been unsuitable for the most colossal form. His face was one mass of freckles; his eyes were of a pinkish hue; his eyebrows and lashes were white; and his large teeth glittered like dominoes between his thick and blueish lips. His arms were long like those of a baboon, but his legs were short; and he was not more than four feet and a half high…

(We’re later told that Gibbet’s deformities are the result of being thrown violently downstairs by his father as a small boy, when he tried to intervene in a drunken brawl between his parents. I’m not altogether sure how falling down the stairs leads to this collection of attributes…particularly not the red hair!)

But of course Gibbet’s exterior conceals a heart of gold, as partly evidenced by his horror at his father’s way of life:

    “What are you snivelling at now? I’d wager a crown to a brass farthin’ that there’s many a young nobleman who’d give fifty pounds to be able to do it. Look how they hire the winders opposite Newgate! Lord bless their souls, it does me good to think that the aristocracy and gentry patronises hanging as well as the other fine arts. What would becomes of the executioners if they didn’t? Why—the legislature would abolish capital punishment at once.”
    Gibbet clasped his hands together, and raised his eyes in an imploring manner, as much to say, “Oh, how I wish they would!”
    “I’ll tell you who are the patrons of my business—profession, I mean,” continued the executioner: “and if you had a grain of feeling for  your father, you’d go down on your knees night and morning and pray for them. The old Tories and the Clergy are my friends; and, thank God! I’m a stanch Tory, too. I hate changes. What have changes done? Why, swept away the good old laws that used to hang a man for stealing anything above forty shillings. Ah! George the Third was the best king we ever had! He used to tuck ’em up—three, four, five, six—aye, seven at once! Folks may well talk of the good old times—when an executioner could make his twenty or thirty guineas of a morning!”

Gibbet’s beautiful inner nature is also displayed in his devotion to his cousin, Katherine Wilmot, who is the one person who loves and cares for him, and whose intervention on his behalf was the cause of the beating interrupted by Richard and Benstead. We learn at once that there is some doubt about Katherine’s blood relationship to Smithers, yet this does her little good as she is shunned by the neighbourhood as “the executioner’s niece”, even as she gives most of her spare time and her little money to acts of kindness and charity.

This and more Richard learns from Benstead, and of course begins to seek a way of helping Katherine. He is not the only one: Reginald Tracy also knows and feels for the girl, with what at least used to be disinterested compassion; although these days he’s also noticing how very attractive Katherine is… It is Tracy whom Richard consults about Katherine: the clergyman agrees to help secure her a domestic post that will remove her from her uncle’s household, but – having had time to think about it – concludes that no post could be better for her than one under his own roof…

In fact Katherine has long known and loved Mrs Kenrick, and she is delighted with her new position…and deeply dismayed when, one day, a strangely altered Mrs Kenrick abruptly announces her intention of sending Katherine away to her own sister in the country. But this never happens, because one evening Katherine returns from an errand to find the housekeeper dead at the kitchen table. The summoned doctor diagnoses poison—and all eyes turn to Katherine, who was on the verge of being sent away, and who just the day before purchased laudanum…she says, on the orders of the Reverend Mr Tracy, though he denies giving her any such command…

Katherine is arrested and tried for the murder of Mrs Kenrick; but she has powerful, active friends who believe in her innocence. Richard Markham knows from bitter experience how deceiving circumstantial evidence can be; and he finances a race against time by Morris Benstead to collect information in Katherine’s favour. One piece of this is a letter written by Mrs Kenrick to her sister, which reveals that she was sending Katherine away not for any fault, but to protect her; and that the person she needed to be protected from was the Reverend Reginald Tracy…

Benstead also brings the Smithers, father and son, back from Ireland—and it is Gibbet who becomes the key witness. He explains to the court that after losing his cousin’s company at home, he fell into the habit of watching her of an evening from a dark corner of the rectory yard, merely to see her. And he was at his post when strange events took place in the kitchen:

“[Mrs Kenrick] filled two cups, and then turned towards the shelves to fetch a small jug, which I thought contained milk. But while her back was turned, I saw Mr Tracy hastily put his hand into his waistcoat pocket, and then as rapidly advance his hand to Mrs Kenrick’s cup…”

Katherine is triumphantly acquitted, and Reginald Tracy arrested in her stead. As the scandal breaks, Tracy finds that he cannot face the inevitable trial, conviction and execution – even less the attendant exposure and humiliation – and takes steps to avoid both. Summoning Lady Cecilia (who he now blames for everything, and hates with a bitter passion), he persuades her to secure poison for him—in exchange for which, he promises to will her his entire fortune. Between her own terror of exposure and her love of money, Cecilia finally agrees when Tracy further promises to conceal her part in the business:

    The moment the journal was placed on the table by her side, Cecilia took it up with trembling hands, and cast a hasty glance over its contents.
    In another instant all suspense relative to the rector’s fate ceased. The following words settled that point beyond a doubt:—
    “SUICIDE OF THE REV. REGINALD TRACY.
    “Shortly after eight o’clock last evening a rumour was in circulation, to the effect that the above-named individual, whose name has so recently been brought before the public in connection with the murder of Matilda Kenrick, had put a period to his existence by means of poison…”

The weight of the world off her shoulders, Cecilia sets out immediately for the office of Reginald’s lawyer, to claim her fortune—only to discover that, not only did the rector deceive her about the money, he has revealed to his lawyer the whole story…

Facing in essence the same choice that Reginald did only the night before, Cecilia is trying desperately to think to whom she might turn for help when she runs into the one person who, for her, represents the final straw:

    “I must conceal myself—at least for the present,” resumed Cecilia. “Will you grant me an asylum?”
    “I! My dear lady!” ejaculated the hag, shaking her head ominously: “I am in danger myself—I am in danger myself! Did I not procure you the poison?”
    “True. But I would not betray you.”
    “No—we must each shift for ourselves, as best we can,” replied the old hag flatly. “Indeed, I may as well remind you, Lady Cecilia, that your day is gone—you are ruined—and, if you had any spirit, you would not survive it!”
    “My God! what do you mean?” faltered Cecilia, in a faint tone.
    “The river is deep, or the Monument is high,” answered the hag, in a significant tone; “and both are near!”

Cecilia chooses the latter:

    Down she fell!
    Her head dashed against the pavement, at a distance of three yards from the base of the Monument.
    Her brains were scattered upon the stones.
    She never moved from the moment she touched the ground;—the once gay, sprightly, beautiful patrician lady was no more!
    A crowd instantaneously collected around her; and horror was depicted on every countenance, save one, that gazed upon the sad spectacle.
    And that one wretch who showed no feeling, was the old hag of Golden Lane.
    “She cannot now betray me for procuring the poison,” thought the vile harridan, as she calmly contemplated the mangled corpse at her feet…

 
[To be continued…]
 
Footnote: While working on Part 2 of this, I came across a source of the original illustrations…and of course couldn’t resist adding this:

 

03/11/2018

The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 3)

 

    “Be your resolve as it may,” added Ellen, hastily, “nothing shall induce me to turn back. Desert me—abandon me if you will, Filippo; but, in the name of every thing sacred, lend me the weapons which you carry with you.”
    The Italian made no reply for some moments, but continued to walk rapidly along by the side of the disguised lady. “I will believe, Miss Monroe,” he said, at length, “that your motives are excellent; but are you well advised?”
    “Listen,” exclaimed Ellen. “The individual, whose life we may perhaps this night save, is Richard Markham—the generous young man who has been a son to my father, and a brother to myself.”
    “I have heard Mr Greenwood mention his name many times,” observed Filippo.
    “He believes that he is to meet his brother, from whom he has been for many years separated, this night on the banks of the canal,” continued Ellen. “For certain reasons I know most positively that the idea of such an appointment can only be a plot on the part of some enemies of Richard Markham. And yet I dared not communicate those reasons to him—Oh! no,” added Ellen, with a shudder, “that was impossible—impossible!”

 

 

 

 
So far we would have to say that The Mysteries Of London is rather vindicating the personal philosophy of George Montague Greenwood. Certainly Richard Markham’s high principles and impeccable personal honour do him very little good in the practical sense; while all around him, criminals both high and low are flourishing.

This was one of the reasons that The Mysteries Of London was so loudly condemned; and it is true that for most of its length, Reynolds’ crooks are much more successful than his good people and, at the higher levels of society, live much more comfortably. (I imagine there’s a flourish of comeuppances at the end, though…but that’s a thousand pages or more away.) Moreover, Reynolds presents a staggering variety of crimes in minute detail—from burglary to fraud to counterfeiting to kidnapping for ransom to attempted rape to body-snatching to attempted murder…and to murder, of course.

Greenwood might be the most successful of the upper-society criminals, but he is not alone. Richard’s initial troubles stem from the efforts of Sir Rupert Harborough (husband to the oversexed Lady Cecilia) and Arthur Chichester, who likes to pass himself off as a gentleman of good standing, but is actually the son of a notorious pawnbroker. When the wealthy but naive Richard first goes out into the world, he falls into the clutches of these two. Their first thought is to fleece him at the gambling-tables – Chichester is an experienced sharper, and he teaches Sir Rupert the tricks of his trade – but not only is Richard opposed to gambling on principle, even when they succeed in luring him unknowingly into a den, the immediate consequence is that he witnesses a young man ruining himself and then blowing his own brains out.

Giving up that scheme, perforce, Sir Rupert and Chichester instead use Richard to pass some of the counterfeit banknotes they have been involved in producing. The notes are not as convincing as they might be, and Richard is arrested and examined by a magistrate. He is confused but not worried, certain that of course Chichester will be able to clear him:

    “I really am not aware,” said Mr Chichester, caressing his chin in a very nonchalant manner, “that I can throw any light upon this subject.”
    “All I require is the truth,” ejaculated Richard, surprised at the tone and manner of his late friend. “Did you not give me that note for five hundred pounds to change for you? and did I not receive the second note from you in exchange for fifty sovereigns?”
    Mr Chichester replied in an indignant negative.
    The magistrate shook his head: the prosecuting solicitor took snuff significantly;—MacChizzle made a memorandum;—and Whittingham murmured, “Ah! that mitigated villain Axminster.”
    “What do I hear!” exclaimed Richard: “Mr Chichester, your memory must fail you sadly. I suppose you recollect the occasion upon which Mr Talbot gave you the five hundred pound note?”
    “Mr. Talbot never gave me any note at all,” answered Chichester, in a measured and determined manner.
    “It is false—false as hell!” cried Markham, more enraged than alarmed; and he forthwith detailed to the magistrate the manner in which he had been induced to change the one note, and had become possessed of the other.
    “This is a very lame story, indeed,” said the magistrate; “and you must try and see if you can get a jury to believe it. You stand committed.”

Having dodged that bullet, Chichester and Sir Rupert go back to conspiring with Greenwood; although they can’t understand why he gets so agitated when he hears what they did to Richard Markham…

But most of the novel’s criminals are found amongst the poor and underprivileged—and were, as they one after the other reveal, driven into a life of crime by injustice and distinctly un-Christian conduct on the part of their “betters”. Thus we spend much time following the activities of Tom the Cracksman, Dick Flairer, the Buffer (who gets his nickname from his habit of stripping his victims), and of course the Resurrection Man:

    “You are certain that this is the place?” said the Resurrection Man.
    “As certain as one can be who stood by the grave for a quarter of an hour in day-light, and who has to recognise it again in total darkness,” answered the surgeon. “Besides, the mortar was soft—”
    “There might have been another burial close by,” interrupted the Resurrection Man; “but we will soon find out whether you are right or not, sir. Was the coffin a wooden one?”
    “Yes! an elm coffin, covered with black cloth,” replied the surgeon. “I gave the instructions for the funeral myself, being the oldest friend of the family.”
    The Resurrection Man took one of the long flexible rods which we have before noticed, and thrust it down into the vault. The point penetrated into the lid of a coffin. He drew it back, put the point to his tongue, and tasted it.
    “Yes,” he said, smacking his lips, “the coffin in this vault is an elm one, and is covered with black cloth.”
    “I thought I could not be wrong,” observed the surgeon.
    The body-snatchers then proceeded to raise the coffin, by means of ropes passed underneath it. This was a comparatively easy portion of their task; and in a few moments it was placed upon the flag-stones of the church.
    The Resurrection Man took a chisel and opened the lid with considerable care. He then lighted his candle a second time; and the glare fell upon the pale features of the corpse in its narrow shell.
    “This is the right one,” said the surgeon, casting a hasty glance upon the face of the dead body, which was that of a young girl of about sixteen.
    The Resurrection Man extinguished the light; and he and his companions proceeded to lift the corpse out of the coffin.
    The polished marble limbs of the deceased were rudely grasped by the sacrilegious hands of the body-snatchers; and, having stripped the corpse stark naked, they tied its neck and heels together by means of a strong cord. They then thrust it into a large sack made for the purpose…

—who in addition to his main source of income works as a burglar, as well as hiring himself out for any sort of villainy, as long as the price is right.

Though Greenwood remains the novel’s main villain, over the course of The Mysteries Of London the Resurrection Man emerges as Richard’s particular evil genius—persecuting him, as we have seen, and eventually trying to take his life.

Richard, for his part, is determined to put an end to the Resurrection Man’s career. An escalating battle takes place between the two, after their initial encounter in Newgate. When they meet again near the Alteronis’ villa, Richard unthinkingly insults the Resurrection Man, who retaliates with blackmail—threatening to reveal Richard’s past to the Count. Richard is cowed into promising to pay, though he has trouble convincing his adversary that he is no longer a rich man, and can only scrape together a few hundred pounds.

However, while waiting to meet the Resurrection Man and make the payoff, Richard encounters Mr Talbot, aka Pocock, the engraver who was responsible for the counterfeit banknotes. In the meantime he has had a falling out with Chichester and Harborough, and is only too glad to write out a declaration of their plot, and Richard’s innocence.

When Richard next meets the Resurrection Man (it not having crossed his mind that his innocence won’t make any practical difference to Count Alteroni), his attitude towards him is much changed:

    “Come now,” ejaculated the Resurrection Man, considerably crest-fallen; “assist an old companion in difficulties: lend me a hundred or so.”
    “No,” returned Richard in a resolute manner; “had you asked me in the first instance to assist you, I would have done so willingly;—but you have endeavoured to extort a considerable sum of money from me—much more than I could spare; and I should not now be justified in yielding to the prayers of a man who has found that his base menaces have failed.”
    “You do not think I would have done what I said?” cried the Resurrection Man.
    “I believe you to be capable of any villainy. But we have already conversed too long. I was anxious to show you how a virtuous resolution would enable me to triumph over your base designs;—and I have now nothing more to say to you. Our ways lie in different directions, both at present and in future. Farewell.”
    With these words Markham continued his way up Brick Lane; but the Resurrection Man was again by his side in a moment.
    “You refuse to assist me?” he muttered in a hoarse and savage tone.
    “I do. Molest me no further.”
    “You refuse to assist me?” repeated the villain, grinding his teeth with rage: “then you may mind the consequences! I will very soon show you that you will bitterly—bitterly repent your determination. By God, I will be revenged!”

His theoretical repentance begins almost immediately: the Resurrection Man follows Richard through the dark streets of London, and strikes him down when he gets the chance. He thinks he has killed him; and Richard, when he regains consciousness in his enemy’s house, has the sense to feign dead. The surroundings in which he finds himself nearly are the death of him:

    Markham was about to start from his prostrate position when the interior of that room was thus abruptly revealed to him; but for a few moments the spectacle which met his sight paralysed every limb, and rendered him breathless, speechless, and motionless with horror.
    Stretched upon a shutter, which three chairs supported, was a corpse—naked, and of that blueish or livid colour which denotes the beginning of decomposition!
    Near this loathsome object was a large tub full of water; and to that part of the ceiling immediately above it were affixed two large hooks, to each of which hung thick cords. In one corner of the room were long flexible iron rods, spades, pickaxes, wooden levers, coils of thick rope, trowels, saws, hammers, huge chisels, skeleton-keys, &c…

If he was in any doubt about the purpose of these objects, his ignorance is soon enlightened:

    “Anythink by vay of a change; partikler as when we want a stiff ‘un by a certain day, and don’t know in which churchyard to dive for one, we hit upon the plan of catching ’em alive in the street.”
    “It was my idea, though,” exclaimed the Buffer. “Don’t you remember when we wanted a stiff ‘un for the wery same Sawbones which we’ve got to meet presently, we waited for near two hours at this house-door, and at last we caught hold of a feller that was walking so comfortable along, looking up at the moon?”
    “And then I thought of holding him with his head downwards in a tub of water,” added the Cracksman, “till he was drownded. That way don’t tell no tales;—no wound on the skin—no pison in the stomach; and there ain’t too much water inside neither, cos the poor devils don’t swaller with their heads downwards.”
    “Ah! it was a good idea,” said the Buffer; “and now we’ve reduced it to a reg’lar system. Tub of water all ready on the floor—hooks and cords to hold the chaps’ feet up to the ceiling; and then, my eye! there they hangs, head downwards, jest for all the world like the carcasses in the butchers’ shops, if they hadn’t got their clothes on…”

The Resurrection Man is called away by his colleagues (to dig up the girl’s body, described above), and Richard has the opportunity to escape—although not before being embarrassingly trapped, albeit temporarily, by “the Mummy”, a hideous old crone with whom the Resurrection Man shares his residence…and who actually is his mother. When the Mummy must report that “the fresh ‘un” came back to life and escaped, her loving son is thoroughly enraged.

Richard, for his part, leads the police to the churchyard, but they are just too late to prevent the girl’s body being stolen; and he is subsequently unable to find the house again. It is in the wake of this that the Resurrection Man ruins Richard with the Alteronis. Richard strikes the next blow, when information obtained from Henry Holford (pint-sized invader of Buckingham Palace) does allow him to find the house again. He organises a police-raid:

    Already were two of the officers half-way up the staircase,—already was the door of the back room on the ground floor yielding to the strength of a constable,—already were Richard Markham and several officers hurrying down the street towards the spot, obedient to the signal conveyed by the springing of the rattles,—when a terrific explosion took place.
    “Good God!” ejaculated Markham: “what can that mean?”
    “There—there!” cried a policeman near him: “it is all over with the serjeant and my poor comrades!”
Immediately after the explosion, and while Markham and the officer were yet speaking, a bright column of fire shot up into the air:—millions and millions of sparks, glistening vividly, showered down upon the scene of havoc;—for a moment—a single moment—the very heavens seemed on fire;—then all was black—and silent—and doubly sombre.
    The den of the assassins had ceased to exist: it had been destroyed by gunpowder.
    The blackened remains and dismembered relics of mortality were discovered on the following morning amongst the ruins, or in the immediate neighbourhood;—but it was impossible to ascertain how many persons had perished on this dread occasion…

Richard allows himself to believe, or hope, that the Resurrection Man is among the casualties; but his enemy, ahem, resurrects himself when he sees a chance to wreck Richard’s life again. Just as Richard seems to have begun a promising new career as a playwright under the name “Edward Preston”, his bow to the audience is interrupted by a voice from “the gods” of the theatre that reveals his true identity and his criminal – or at least, prison – past, and ruins everything.

However—even as the Resurrection Man is tracking Richard, someone else is tracking him. When we first meet him, the Resurrection Man is being held, like Richard, awaiting his trial on a charge of burglary. He escapes imprisonment by “nosing” on his partner, Crankey Jem, who is convicted and transported—but doesn’t stay transported; and if he was cranky before—

    Meantime, the Resurrection Man had precipitated himself down stairs, and had already begun to unbolt the front door, when lights appeared, and in another moment he was surrounded by the gipsy chiefs, and pinioned by them.
    “Villain!” cried Morcar, tearing the bag of gold from his grasp: “is this the reward of our hospitality?”
    “It’s mine—and I can prove it,” thundered the Resurrection Man. “But let me go—I don’t want to hurt any of you—and you needn’t hurt me.”
    “Ah! that voice!” ejaculated the Traveller, who had just reached the bottom of the stairs as Tidkins uttered those words: then, before a single arm could even be stretched out to restrain him, he rushed with the fury of a demon upon the Resurrection Man, and planted his long dagger in the miscreant’s breast.
    Tidkins fell: a cry of horror broke from the gipsies; and the Traveller was instantly secured.
    “He is not dead—but he is dying,” exclaimed Morcar, raising the Resurrection Man in his arms.
    “Tell him, then,” cried the Traveller, in a tone of mingled triumph and joy,—“tell him that the man who was transported four years ago by his infernal treachery has at length been avenged,—tell him that he dies by the hand of Crankey Jem!”
    These words seemed to animate the Resurrection Man for a few moments: he made an effort to speak—but his tongue refused to articulate the curses which his imagination prompted; and, turning a glance of the most diabolical hatred upon the avenger, he sank back insensible in the arms of Morcar…

(Only “insensible” at this stage, we note…)

Between this post and the previous one, I think I’ve given you a good idea of what The Mysteries Of London is all about. But while there are many more things I could talk about, what I want to focus upon in the rest of this post is what I consider the single most fascinating aspect of this novel so far: the character of Ellen Monroe.

Ellen is the daughter of Richard’s agent, Mr Monroe—who has at least the grace to ruin himself as well as Richard, through “investing” with George Montague. This, you may recall, takes place while Richard is in prison. The Monroes are left in penury, forced to scratch a precarious living: Mr Monroe does piece-meal law-copying for a pittance, while Ellen does needlework for even less. It is she being exploited in that quote in Part 1, being paid a farthing and a half per hour (!!!) for her efforts.

Of course this is not enough to ward off starvation, let alone pay for a decent lodging. Ellen, with her beauty, has already attracted the attention of a nasty but shrewd old woman (the same one who arranged the Reverend Reginald Tracy’s viewing of the “statue” of Cecilia Harborough); and finally Ellen is desperate enough to ask the woman’s help. Of course the old woman has only one thing on her mind—but she sees well enough that Ellen isn’t ready to take the plunge, and has to be eased into it. She first arranges for her to lend her face to a statuary; then to model – clothed – for an artist; then to pose topless for a sculptor (and you better believe we hear about her breasts, despite the tut-tut tone); then fully nude for a photographer:

We shall not proceed to any details connected with this new avocation to which that lovely maiden lent herself. Suffice it to say, that having sold her countenance to the statuary, her likeness to the artist, and her bust to the sculptor, she disposed of her whole body to the photographer. Thus her head embellished images white and bronzed; her features and her figure were perpetuated in divers paintings; her bust was immortalised in a splendid statue; and her entire form is preserved, in all attitudes, and on many plates, in the private cabinet of a photographer at one of the metropolitan Galleries of Practical Science.

Though Ellen is still physically chaste, she is progressively losing that “chastity of the mind” so beloved of the 19th century male. She is also, though she is earning much more than for her needlework when she does work, earning it irregularly: having her income cease after she has become accustomed to having money again gets more difficult each time. And when the photographer is done, the old woman insists she has nothing more to suggest; but she is only biding her time…

At last, seeing her father starving, and his health failing, Ellen is driven back to the old woman one more time. She pleads for her help, any kind of help—and the old woman finally makes her the proposition she’s been intending to make all along.

But it’s all in the timing: these events coincide with Richard’s release from prison; and although he was forced to confront him once, to confess his loss of his fortune, Mr Monroe has not faced him since. Now, quite as desperate as Ellen, Mr Monroe takes on the shameful task of begging for help from the young man he has ruined.

And it is this that drives Ellen to the old woman. Though she has known Richard all her life – in fact, both the Markham boys – in her misery Ellen is unable to imagine him doing anything but spurning his former agent. Her anticipation of this final, crushing blow to her father is too much for her—and she agrees to sell the only thing of value that she still has in her possession: her virginity.

And then, of course—Richard does help—just a little too late.

He does more than help: he insists upon the Monroes coming to live with him and sharing his scanty bounty. For Ellen, this is almost killing with kindness…particularly in light of who it was the old woman brokered the deal with…and the fact that she, Ellen, is now pregnant…

As I said at the outset, the handling of the true identity of “George Montague Greenwood” is one of the novel’s oddest touches. Reynolds doesn’t even get into it squarely at this stage; although going forward, as Ellen gets to know Richard intimately, and benefits from his unselfishness and generosity, every aspect of her situation takes on a new kind of horror for her. However, she makes up her mind that the one thing she can do to requite Richard for all that he has done for her father and herself is to keep the truth from him at all cost.

When she realises that she is pregnant, Ellen goes to Greenwood and begs him to marry her for the child’s sake. When he counters with the offer of a life of luxury for herself and the child – but no marriage – she tells him to shove it. She subsequently manages to hide her condition from her father and Richard with the help of the housekeeper (not quite so blind as the men); and is fortunate to go into labour when they are both away from home. The baby, a boy, is smuggled out to the house of a poor young doctor, who agrees to care for it in exchange for a stipend. (Greenwood does pay for the baby’s support, which is his one semi-decent act in the entire novel.) Ellen must sneak visits the child, grieving when she sees that he does not really know her. Reynolds make it clear that, despite her circumstances, she is a loving and devoted mother, suffering by being parted from her baby—and never really suggests that she deserves it.

Once she has recovered her health and strength, Ellen goes back to thinking about earning her own living, to give Richard some relief. First she gets a job as assistant to a mesmerist and “mind-reader”; but that lasts only until she is guilty of an ill-timed giggling fit, mid-act. She then decides to train as a dancer, and turns out to be a quick study and a genuine talent, apart from her striking physical beauty. She quickly earns a glowing reputation, as well as a satisfactory income, as a ballerina. The main downside is that she must keep her occupation secret from her father (she performs under an assumed name); although it is also necessary for her ongoingly to evade the many men who haunt the theatre.

But she cannot evade one visitor:

    One evening, a short time before she was to appear in the ballet, the manager informed her that a gentleman desired to speak with her alone in the green-room. To that apartment did Ellen immediately repair, and, to her surprise, the found herself in the presence of Mr Greenwood.
    “Ah! I am not then mistaken,” exclaimed that gentleman, with one of his blandest smiles. “I saw you last night for the first time; and the moment you appeared upon the stage I knew you—that is, I felt almost convinced that it was you. But how happened this strange event in your life?”
    “My benefactor, Richard Markham,” answered Ellen, with singular and mysterious emphasis upon the name, “is not wealthy—you best know why; my father is irretrievably ruined—you also know how:—and, with all my faults, I could not endure the idea of eating the bread of dependence and idleness.”

    “But why did you not apply to me?” demanded Greenwood. “I would have placed you above want.”
    “No—I would not for worlds be dependent upon you,” replied Ellen warmly. “I appealed to you to support my child—our child; and you did so. There was only one way in which you could have manifested a real generosity towards me—and you refused. The service I asked you once upon my knees—with tears and prayers—you rejected:—I implored you to give a father’s honourable name to your child—I besought you to save the reputation of her whose father was ruined through you, and who herself became your victim by a strange combination of circumstances. You refused! What less could I accept at your hands? Do you think that I have not my little sentiments of pride as well as you?”

Greenwood nevertheless insists that he does care for her – in his way – and renews his offers of a life of luxury as his mistress, which the disgusted Ellen unhesitatingly throws back in his face. As we already know, Greenwood does not take rejection well; and he retaliates by setting in motion a plot to abduct her. It succeeds, up to a point—but thanks to the efficiency of Filippo, the household spy, she is enabled to escape.

Later on we get an amusing early example of “stunt-casting”: Richard learns that his first play, of which the theatre-manager has high hopes, is to include in its cast that celebrated ballerina, “Miss Selina Fitzherbert”, who has decided to try her hand at acting—at which she likewise proves brilliant. (Even as he did not know about her dancing, she did not know about his writing.) But that opening-night proves a first and last for Ellen as well as for Richard: she quits when he is driven out by the Resurrection Man’s verbal assault.

Meanwhile, Ellen maintains her vigilance over Richard’s safety and piece of mind. At one point, becoming convinced that Richard is walking into a trap set for him by the Resurrection Man – she of all people knows that the message supposedly sent to Richard by Eugene is a fake – she dons men’s clothes, arms herself with pistols, and (in a chapter titled “Female Courage”) sallies forth into the night to save his life…

Reynolds’ handling of Ellen is deeply peculiar. He obviously felt that he couldn’t go without some editorialisation on her behaviour; but while she is busy committing, in 19th century terms, the most heinous transgressions imaginable, he spends most of his time criticising her not for that, but for venial sins like her vanity. And despite those transgressions – despite, too, the sop thrown to conventionality via the boringly perfect Isabella – it is impossible to get away from the fact that Ellen Monroe is this novel’s heroine.

I tell you this—if Reynolds gets cold feet here—if he feels obliged to kill Ellen off, as per Victorian tradition—I am going to be royally pissed.

I’m hopeful that he won’t, though, judging from the fact that he grants his own open-minded tendencies to his “good” male characters. Ellen’s situation is eventually discovered when the baby becomes gravely ill. She rushes off, thoughtlessly dropping the letter sent to inform her—which is found by her father. When Ellen comes back, having been reassured that the baby has recovered and is no longer in danger, she is confronted by a man in the throes of a thoroughly Victorian emotional and physical collapse.

At this, Ellen confesses everything to him—everything. And Mr Monroe, having time to ponder her words as he lies upon what he fully expects to be his death-bed, finally concludes that (i) she did what she did for him, and (ii) dying of shame would therefore be the height of ingratitude.

So he gets better.

And as for Richard—

    The father and daughter were at length restored to partial tranquillity by each other’s endeavours at reciprocal consolation, and were commingling their tears together, when the door opened.
    Markham, followed by Marian, entered the room.
    But what was the surprise of Mr Monroe—what was the joy of Ellen, when Marian advanced towards the bed, and presented the child to his mother!
    “A parent must not be separated from her offspring,” said Richard; “henceforth, Ellen, that infant must be nurtured by thee…”

The Mysteries Of London – Volume I, at least – closes with an epilogue in which Reynolds addresses the reader directly, reiterating his overarching theme of WEALTH. | POVERTY., and expanding upon his intentions in writing this serial in the first place—all of them above reproach, of course:

    We have constituted ourselves the scourge of the oppressor, and the champion of the oppressed: we have taken virtue by the hand to raise it, and we have seized upon vice to expose it; we have no fear of those who sit in high places; but we dwell as emphatically upon the failings of the educated and rich, as on the immorality of the ignorant and poor.
    We invite all those who have been deceived to come around us, and we will unmask the deceiver;—we seek the company of them that drag the chains of tyranny along the rough thoroughfares of the world, that we may put the tyrant to shame;—we gather around us all those who suffer from vicious institutions, that we may expose the rottenness of the social heart.
    Crime, oppression, and injustice prosper for a time; but, with nations as with individuals, the day of retribution must come. Such is the lesson which we have yet to teach.
    And let those who have perused what we have already written, pause ere they deduce therefrom a general moral;—for as yet they cannot anticipate our design, nor read our end.
    No:—for we have yet more to write, and they have more to learn, of THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON.

And sure enough, across 1845 – 1846, another 52 weekly numbers of The Mysteries Of London appeared. I’m not so sure, though, that Reynolds can’t justly be accused of slacking off—because in contrast to Volume I, which in its unabridged Valancourt Books reissue is 1,176 pages long, Volume II runs a mere 1,146 pages…

 

02/11/2018

The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 2)

 

    “My mind is made up,” said Eugene, “and no persuasion shall alter its decision. I am my own master—my father’s conduct has emancipated me from all deference to parental authority. Richard, you have brought my things?”
    “My dearest brother—whither are you going?”
    “I am on the road to fame and fortune!”
    “Alas!” said Richard mournfully, “you may perhaps find that this world is not so fruitful in resources as you now imagine.”
    “All remonstrances—all objections are vain,” interrupted Eugene impatiently. “We must say adieu! But one word more,” he added, after an instant’s pause, as a sudden thought seemed to strike him; “you doubt the possibility of my success in life, and I feel confident of it. Do you pursue your career under the auspices of that parent in whose wisdom you so blindly repose: I will follow mine, dependent only on mine own resources. This is the 10th of July, 1831; twelve years hence, on the 10th of July, 1843, we will meet again on this very spot, between the two trees, if they still be standing. Remember the appointment: we will then compare notes relative to our success in life!”

 

 

 

Having addressed George Reynolds’ themes and style in The Mysteries Of London in the first part of this post, here I will try to give an overview of his characters and plots—though obviously, I will have to be representative rather than thorough, or this will be a thousand pages long, too.

(ETA: It still turned out quite long enough, thanks to the necessary illustrative quotes; so I’ll divide this piece into two.)

At its simplest, The Mysteries Of London is a tale of two brothers, Eugene and Richard Markham. They are raised in wealth and comfort by a generous yet autocratic father. Eugene, the elder, is sent to Sandhurst Military Academy—and there, out in the world by himself for the first time, and thrown amongst reckless, spendthrift young men – who, as Eugene puts it, “Enlisted me in their pleasures and debaucheries” – he falls seriously into debt. Offended both by the debt and the nature of it, Mr Markham chooses this moment to teach his eldest son a severe lesson. Since some of Eugene’s debts are from his gambling – debts of honour, in other words – his inability to pay has disastrous consequences: he is shunned by his fellow officers, and forced to sell his commission and resign.

Upon his return to the parental roof, a violent confrontation ends in Eugene taking his angry father at his word and leaving home, determined to make his own fortune in his own way.

The Markham brothers have always been close – Richard, indeed, is devoted to Eugene, though they are so different in temperament – and one of their joint projects as boys was the planting of two ash trees on a hill overlooking their home, where they frequently sat as they were growing up, to talk over the present and the future. Before setting out, Eugene makes a proposal: he and Richard will each follow their own path in the world, Richard guided by their father’s precepts, Eugene living by his wits; and in twelve years’ time, they will meet again at their ash trees to see which of them has prospered more.

And that is the last that Richard sees of his brother (at least to the end of Volume I, which takes us from 1831 to 1839). Once, he has a particularly vivid dream in which he thinks he sees Eugene standing by his bed; and on various occasions, he discovers that Eugene has carved his initials and the date into the bark of his particular ash; but no meeting between the brothers occurs, nor does Richard receive any word of Eugene.

Following Eugene’s departure, the narrative stays with Richard, who is the hero of The Mysteries Of London. He is also its chew-toy—losing his entire fortune (his portion and Eugene’s, after the latter is disinherited); being wrongly imprisoned for passing counterfeit banknotes; falling in love with a young woman whose circumstances are absurdly superior to his own; having his hopes and prospects crushed every time he starts to believe he has found a way of re-establishing himself in the world; and making an extremely dangerous enemy…

Meanwhile, we also hear of a conscienceless opportunist called George Montague—who later changes his name to George M. Greenwood, overtly as a term of an inheritance, in reality because he has made one particular corner of London too hot to hold him. (The fact that certain people do not know that “Montague” and “Greenwood” are the same person causes much difficulty and grief.) Greenwood is a skilled con-man, throwing up a smokescreen of seeming prosperity and successful financial ventures, and ruining those unwise enough to trust him to invest their money. One of those whose fortune he drains away is a certain Mr Monroe—only it isn’t actually Mr Monroe’s money: he was entrusted with the management of Richard Markham’s fortune while Richard was in prison; so that when the latter gets out, he finds himself reduced from many thousands to a few hundreds of pounds a year. When Greenwood belatedly learns what he has done, for once he is strangely disturbed…

Greenwood is also a complete scoundrel when it comes to women. It was he who seduced Diana Arlington, after she was thrown upon his tender mercies when her father was ruined—by Greenwood, of course. He also buys the virginity of another of our characters (a subplot I shall return to at more length presently). He does do something that you could call “falling in love” with Eliza Sydney – she who spends the first part of the novel masquerading as her own dead brother – and gets engaged to her. Even so, he hopes to avoid actually marrying her. Eliza’s principles are too much for him, however; and when he lets passion overcome him and ventures into her bedroom one night, she holds him off with the dagger she keeps under her pillow, and drives him away and out of her life with scorn and insults. Greenwood’s wounded ego leads him to plan a vicious act of revenge, in which Eliza will be drugged, raped while unconscious, and then – what other choice would she have? – become his willing mistress; but fortunately the plot is forestalled.

But Eliza’s escape is one of Greenwood’s few failure: for the most part he flourishes like the proverbial green bay tree.

And having shown him to the reader in all his vicious, destructive and unprincipled anti-glory, Reynolds finds the perfect place for Greenwood: he goes into politics:

    “You deserved success, after that brilliant speech;” said Chichester, laughing heartily at this narrative.
    “The polling was continued briskly until four o’clock, when the mayor closed the books and announced that George Greenwood, Esquire, Gentleman, was duly returned to serve in Parliament as the representative of Rottenborough.”
    “When shall you ‘take your oaths and your seat,’ as the papers say?” demanded Chichester.
    “This evening,” answered Greenwood.
    “And of course you will range yourself amongst the Liberals?”
    “How can you fancy that I shall be guilty of such egregious folly?” cried the new Member of Parliament. “The reign of the Liberals is drawing to a close: a Tory administration within a year or eighteen months is inevitable.”
    “But you stood forward as a Liberal, and were returned as such.”
    “Very true—very true, my dear fellow. But do you imagine that I became a Member of Parliament to meet the interests and wishes of a pack of strangers, or to suit my own?”
    “And at the next election—”
    “I shall be returned again. Mark my word for that. A politician is not worth a fig who has not a dozen excuses ready for the most flagrant tergiversation; and money—money will purchase all the free and independent electors of Rottenborough.”

One of the most intriguing things about The Mysteries Of London is that, although it is perfectly obvious to the reader who George Montague Greenwood actually is, the narrative never acknowledges it. There is only one other character who knows that unwelcome truth—and for a variety of reasons, she goes to extraordinary lengths to keep it hidden.

Eliza Sydney is another of Reynolds’ characters who masquerades under a false identity—also for financial reasons. Another con-artist persuades her to participate in an elaborate fraud, by convincing her that she herself is a victim of fraud, and that the masquerade is the only way she can redress her wrongs. In truth, under the terms of the will of the late Earl of Warrington (uncle to the present Earl, the “keeper” of Diana Arlington), whose illegitimate daughter was the mother of Walter and Eliza Sydney, Walter was to inherit a fortune if he lived to come of age; if not, the money was to revert to the original family. A certain Mr Stephens, the confidante of the late Mrs Sydney, convinces Eliza that Lord Warrington intends to withhold the money illegally, and that by pretending to be her lookalike brother (who did, inconveniently, die young), she can thwart him.

Eliza and Mr Stephens take some pains to establish her identity as “Walter”, which allows Reynolds to indulge to the full his fetish for women in drag:

    Then followed the mysterious toilet.
    Stays, curiously contrived, gave to that exquisitely modelled form as much as possible the appearance of the figure of a man. The swell of the bosom, slightly compressed, was rendered scarcely apparent by padding skilfully placed, so as to fill up and flatten the undulating bust. The position of the waist was lowered; and all this was effected without causing the subject of so strange a transformation any pain or uneasiness.
    The semi-military blue frock coat, buttoned up to the throat, completed the disguise; and as this species of garment is invariably somewhat prominent about the chest, the very fashion of its make materially aided an effectual concealment, by averting surprise at the gentle protuberance of the breast, in the present instance.
    Louisa arranged the luxuriant and flowing hair with particular attention, bestowing as much as possible a masculine appearance upon that which would have been a covering worthy of a queen.
    The toilet being thus completed, this strange being to whom we have introduced our readers, descended to a parlour on the ground floor…

He also likes emphasising the contrast between Eliza’s ultra-feminine tastes, shown in the decoration of her bedroom and the dresses she isn’t allowed to wear, and her masculine attire.

However, at the very last moment, the conspirators are exposed (a letter between Stephens and his brother falls into the hands of The Black Chamber of the General Post-Office). Eliza is so appalled to discover that she has been party to a criminal conspiracy, she reveals the entire plot, pleads guilty to the subsequent charges, and goes to prison (she and Richard are convicted on the same day, and get out on the same day: two years for both of them).

Eliza’s frankness and contrition win her the admiration of Diana Arlington and the Earl of Warrington. Diana visits her in prison, and becomes her best friend when she gets out; the Earl contributes to her support, but won’t see or talk to her: in his youth he was in love with her mother, his illegitimate cousin, whom she very much resembles; however, she rejected him to marry a farmer’s son, which is the kind of thing that happens all the time in George Reynolds’ world.

While exchanging girl-talk, Diana and Eliza discover that they have something in common:

    “Forgive me, my dearest friend,” said Eliza, taking the hand of Mrs Arlington and pressing it between her own;—“forgive me if I have kept back one secret of my life from your knowledge. That George Montague—I once loved him!”
    “You!” exclaimed Mrs Arlington in surprise.
    “Yes, Diana—I once loved that man—before the fatal exposure which led to my imprisonment;—but he behaved like a villain—he endeavoured to take advantage of my affection;—and I smothered the feeling in my bosom!”
    “Oh! you did well—you did well thus to triumph over a passion which would have been fatal to your happiness;—for never would your hopes have been fulfilled—with honour to yourself,” added Mrs Arlington, sinking her voice almost to a whisper…

But the two women don’t just commiserate with each other: they join forces, and take action to ensure that at least some of Greenwood’s dastardly schemes will be thwarted, by planting a mole in his household…

In the wake of Greenwood’s attempted rape, Eliza decides that she can only truly be safe from him by leaving England. She departs for Italy, and the Grand Duchy of Castelcicala, where the Earl owns a property.

Castelcicala is necessarily fictional – hilariously, its capital city is “Montoni”, after the villain in The Mysteries Of Udolpho – because it is the site of the most extravagant of Reynolds’ wish-fulfillment fantasies. How extravagant do they get? Let’s put it this way: he manages to elevate Eliza Sydney, ex-con, offspring of a farmer’s son and an Earl’s bastard, to the throne of Castelcicala—when the elderly and rather tyrannical Grand Duke Angelo falls in love with her. Various horrified statesmen try to prevent the intended marriage by revealing Eliza’s past to the Grand Duke, but it turns out she has told him all about herself already, and he doesn’t care. So in rapid succession, Eliza Sydney is created Marchioness of Ziani, and then becomes the Grand Duchess Eliza of Castelcicala…

…which is the kind of thing that happens all the time in George Reynolds’ world…

The marriage of Eliza to the Grand Duke has significant implications—not least the possibility of an heir to the throne. Castelcicala has been in turmoil for years, with tensions between the faction supporting the Grand Duke and his traditional, iron-fisted rule, and that supporting his nephew and heir, Prince Alberto, who wants to introduce more liberal ways. To prevent civil war, Alberto has voluntarily banished himself from his country, along with some of his followers.

One of the latter is the Count Alteroni, who settles with his wife and daughter in a villa outside of London. The Count’s own liberal ideas have led him to seek acquaintance with Thomas Armstrong, a radical writer, who in turn introduces Richard to the Count and his family—after the two of them become friends in prison:

    “I am a person accused of a political offence—a libel on the government, in a journal of considerable influence which I conduct. I shall be tried next session; my sentence will not be severe, perhaps; but it will not be the less unjust. I am the friend of my fellow-countrymen, and my fellow-creatures: the upright and the enlightened denominate me a philanthropist: my enemies denounce me as a disturber of the public peace, a seditious agitator, and a visionary. You have undoubtedly heard of Thomas Armstrong?”
    “I have not only heard of you, sir,” said Richard, surveying the great Republican writer with profound admiration and respect, “but I have read your works and your essays with pleasure and interest.”
    “In certain quarters,” continued Armstrong, “I am represented as a character who ought to be loathed and shunned by all virtuous and honest people,—that I am a moral pestilence,—a social plague; and that my writings are only deserving of being burnt by the hands of the common hangman. The organs of the rich and aristocratic classes, level every species of coarse invective against me. And yet, O God!” he added enthusiastically, “I only strive to arouse the grovelling spirit of the industrious millions to a sense of the wrongs under which they labour, and to prove to them that they were not sent into this world to lick the dust beneath the feet of majesty and aristocracy!”

Armstrong is clearly – very clearly – intended as a self-portrait; so it is curious that Reynolds kills him off quite quickly, albeit for plot-purposes. (And no, he’s not martyred for his cause.)

Richard and the Alteronis take a strong liking to each other, and the inevitable happens: Richard and the beautiful young daughter, Isabella, fall in love. Richard is nevertheless painfully conscious of his own circumstances, but cannot quite bring himself to tell the truth to Count Alteroni. However, the choice is taken out of his hands when he offends the Resurrection Man (as quoted in Part 1). The latter tries to burgle the Alteronis’ villa and, when caught, does Richard as much harm as he can—which as it turns out is a lot:

    “Silence, my dear friend,” said the count authoritatively: “I will hear the man, let him be who or what he may!”
    “And you will do well to hear me, sir,” continued the Resurrection Man. “You harbour a villain in your house; and that villain is now before you. He boasts of having secured the affections of your daughter, and hopes to gull you into allowing him to marry her.”
    “Miscreant—murderer!” exclaimed Markham, no longer able to contain his indignation: “pollute not innocence itself by these allusions to a lady whose spotless mind—”
    “Hush!” said the count. “Let us hear patiently all this man has to say. I can soon judge whether he be speaking the truth; and if he deceives me, I will show him no mercy.”
    “But, count—allow me one word—I myself will unfold—”
    “Excuse me, Markham,” interrupted the Italian noble, with dignified firmness: “I will hear this man first. Proceed!”
    “The villain I allude to is of course that Markham,” continued the Resurrection Man. “It was him, too, that induced me and my pals, the Cracksman and the Buffer, to make this attempt upon your house to-night… This is all I have to say—unless it is that me and your friend Markham first got acquainted in Newgate—”
    “Newgate!” ejaculated the count, with a thrill of horror.
    “Yes—Newgate; where he was waiting to be tried for forgery, for which he got two years in the Compter. And that’s all. Let him deny it if he can.”

Richard is promptly exiled from his earthly paradise and, though he manages later to convince the Count and Countess of his innocence (Isabella never doubted him), it does him no good: to the Alteronis, he is “tainted” by his time in prison, be he never so innocent.

But then circumstances intervene, with the Count becoming another of the victims of a certain enterprising financier…

In fact, things run so far in the opposite direction that the Count ends up in a debtors’ prison. Richard, who has managed to consolidate the poor remains of his fortune, pays to free him. He does it anonymously, but Isabella has no doubt about who was responsible, and convinces her parents of their debt to him. As a result, Richard is summoned back into the fold—but his happiness is short-lived, as Isabella’s devotion to him leads her to tell him the truth; the whole truth: that (unless the former Eliza Sydney produces ah heir) she is second in line for the throne of Castelcicala:

    “Isabella!” exclaimed Richard, dropping the arm on which the Italian lady was leaning, and stepping back in the most profound astonishment: “Isabella, what mean you?”
    “I mean,” continued the signora, casting upon him a glance of deep tenderness and noble pride; “I mean that henceforth, Richard, I can have no secret from you,—that I must now disclose what has often before trembled upon my tongue; a secret which my father would not, however, as yet, have revealed to the English public generally,—the secret of his rank; for he whom the world knows as the Count Alteroni, is Alberto, Prince of Castelcicala!”
    Strange was the effect that this revelation produced upon the young man. He felt, as if, when in a burning heat, a mighty volume of icy water had suddenly been dashed over him: his head appeared to swim round—his sight grew dim—he staggered, and would have fallen had not Isabella rushed towards him, exclaiming, “Richard—dear Richard—do you not believe how much I love you?”
    Those words produced an instantaneous change within him: those sweet syllables, uttered in the silvery tones of lovely woman’s tenderness—recalled him to himself.
    “Ah! Isabella,” he exclaimed, mournfully, “how insuperable is the barrier which divides us now!”

Of course…Richard doesn’t know that he’s living in George Reynolds’ world…

 

[To be continued…]

 

22/10/2018

The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 1)

 

    Amongst these cities there is one in which contrasts of a strange nature exist. The most unbounded wealth is the neighbour of the most hideous poverty; the most gorgeous pomp is placed in strong relief by the most deplorable squalor; the most seducing luxury is only separated by a narrow wall from the most appalling misery.
    The crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich would appear delicious viands to starving millions; and yet those millions obtain them not!
    In that city there are in all districts five prominent buildings: the church, in which the pious pray; the gin-palace, to which the wretched poor resort to drown their sorrows; the pawn-broker’s, where miserable creatures pledge their raiment, and their children’s raiment, even unto the last rag, to obtain the means of purchasing food, and – alas! too often – intoxicating drink; the prison, where the victims of a vitiated condition of society expiate the crimes to which they have been driven by starvation and despair; and the workhouse, to which the destitute, the aged, and the friendless hasten to lay down their aching heads—and die!

 

 

 

 

It is hard to know where to begin with George Reynolds’ monumental penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London—which is one reason why, after introducing Reynolds at this blog, it’s taken me so long to get around to actually considering his writing.

Even a consideration of Volume I alone is daunting—not least because it runs some 1200 pages. Furthermore, it ends, not with any attempt to wrap up any of its numerous co-plots, but a simple promise of more of the same: a promise that Reynolds kept. Volume I is a compilation of the first 52 weekly installments of his serial, which ran from 1844 into 1845; and, having drawn a line at that point, Reynolds did it all over again from 1845 into 1846.

Consequently, a standard review is impossible (even a ‘standard review’ as long as mine usually are). Instead, what I am going to try and do is just give an overview of this first volume of The Mysteries Of London: to take a look, in this first part, at Reynolds’ approach to his writing and what he was trying to achieve—and in particular how this work stands apart from the literature of its time. (Some lengthy quotes to follow—perhaps over-lengthy, but I think it does Reynolds the best justice to let him speak for himself.) A second part will consider his characters and plot.

It can be difficult today to conceptualise the contemporary popularity of The Mysteries Of London—which was in all likelihood the best-selling book of its time. The sales figures for the weekly numbers were always high, but we must think in multiples when trying to estimate how many people were actually following the story. Many copies were bought by mechanics’ institutes, and other such communal organisations, where a single issue would be read by multiple individuals. Other single copies were read out loud in a variety of gathering places—both to save costs, and because in spite of rising literacy levels among the working-class, many among Reynolds’ potential audience could not read.

But we would be very wrong to assume that only the working-classes enjoyed Reynolds—whether or not some of the people reading his books admitted it to anyone else. When Reynolds’ publisher, George Vickers, reissued The Mysteries Of London in book form, it sold over a million copies; and while Vickers sensibly kept most of his editions at accessible prices, he also released high-quality, leather-bound sets that were very definitely not aimed at working-class readers.

However, Reynolds’ subject matter, his approach to his material, and his personal unpopularity with “the establishment” for his political agitation, saw his work buried after his death in 1879. The critical condemnation of his books as “vile” and “dangerous” was allowed to prevail; and it is only very recently that Reynolds’ reputation has been revived—and, more importantly, his books reissued.

One the things that struck me immediately about The Mysteries Of London was the extent of Reynolds’ influence upon Mary Elizabeth Braddon, whose own penny-dreadfuls began appearing some fifteen years later. Braddon is certainly the superior writer of the two, displaying better control of her material, much more lightness of touch, and a more subtle sense of humour—but we must remember that, despite her pointed social criticisms, Braddon was writing chiefly to entertain and to earn a living; whereas Reynolds was a committed social agitator using his works as an overt attack upon the numerous injustices prevailing in contemporary England. Not surprisingly, then, he favours a declamatory, tub-thumping style, with copious use of exclamation marks; while his humour tends more to the overtly sarcastic than the ironic.

Humour is not a dominant factor in The Mysteries Of London, however. More typical is a tone of outrage—for example, in this passage dealing with working-class wages:

    “Madam,” said Ellen, bursting into tears, “I have worked nearly seventeen hours at that shawl—”
    She could say no more: her voice was lost in sobs.
    “Come, come,” cried the shopwoman harshly,—“no whimpering here! Take up your money, if you like it—and if you don’t, leave it. Only decide one way or another, and make haste!”
    Ellen took up the sixpence, wiped her eyes, and hastily turned to leave the shop.
    “Do you not want any more work?” demanded the shopwoman abruptly.
    The fact was that the poor girl worked well, and did not “shirk” labour; and the woman knew that it was the interest of her master to retain that young creature’s services.
    Those words, “Do you not want any more work?” reminded Ellen that she and her father must live—that they could not starve! She accordingly turned towards that uncouth female once more, and received another shawl, to embroider in the same     manner, and at the same price!
    Eighty blossoms for sixpence!
    Sixteen hours’ work for sixpence!
    A farthing and a half per hour!!!

In fact—you could justly describe The Mysteries Of London as an attack upon “the 1%”. From its earliest passages, Reynolds draws graphic and repeated contrasts between the obscene wealth of the upper classes, and the even more obscene poverty of the lowest—and the indifference of the one to the other. He makes his agenda perfectly clear at the outset, in a passage striking when put in the context of mid-Victorian literature:

    For in this city the daughter of the peer is nursed in enjoyments, and passes through an uninterrupted avenue of felicity from the cradle to the tomb; while the daughter of poverty opens her eyes at her birth upon destitution in all its most appalling shapes, and at length sells her virtue for a loaf of bread.
    There are but two words known in the moral alphabet of this great city; for all virtues are summed up in the one, and all vices in the other: and those words are:

    WEALTH. | POVERTY.

In 1845 the German philosopher, Fredric Engels, published (translated) The Condition of the Working Class in England, which in turn was a significant influence on Benjamin Disraeli’s “social condition” novel of the same year, Sybil; or, The Two Nations. Disraeli’s subtitle entered the vernacular, while a certain passage in the novel was much quoted in public debate:

    “Well, society may be in its infancy,” said Egremont slightly smiling; “but, say what you like, our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.”
    “Which nation?” asked the younger stranger, “for she reigns over two.”
    The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly.
    “Yes,” resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
    “You speak of—” said Egremont, hesitatingly.
    “THE RICH AND THE POOR.”

Reynolds was there before him, however. And frankly, the idea that future Prime Minister Disraeli was plagiarising despised radical George Reynolds delights me quite as much as it infuriates me.

Reynolds’ overarching mantra in The Mysteries Of London is that the main cause of crime is poverty. Even his very worst and most unrepentant criminals are generally given the chance to tell their life-stories, which almost invariably begin with that individual’s attempts to live honestly, and to earn an honest living—and how that proved impossible, usually thanks to the “nice” people. And while the narrative itself expresses a conventional religious view, there is a constant, sneering depiction of religious hypocrisy, and of the actual behaviour of those who preen themselves upon being Christians in a Christian nation. The brutal treatment of those who have strayed from the path, whether criminally or sexually, by those in comfortable circumstances – the practical uselessness of repentance, once a false step has been taken – is one of Reynolds’ recurrent themes.

Another is the unavoidable impact of squalor and deprivation upon the physical, mental and moral wellbeing of those forced by poverty to live under such conditions:

    The wealthy classes of society are far too ready to reproach the miserable poor for things which are really misfortunes and not faults. The habit of whole families sleeping together in one room destroys all sense of shame in the daughters: and what guardian then remains for their virtue? But, alas! a horrible—an odious crime often results from that poverty which thus huddles brothers and sisters, aunts and nephews, all together in one narrow room—the crime of incest!
    When a disease – such as the small-pox or scarlatina – breaks out in one of those crowded houses, and in a densely populated neighbourhood; the consequences are frightful: the mortality is as rapid as that which follows the footsteps of the plague!
    These are the fearful mysteries of that hideous district which exists in the very heart of this great metropolis. From St. John-street to Saffron Hill—from West-street to Clerkenwell Green, is a maze of’ narrow lanes, choked up with dirt, pestiferous with nauseous odours, and swarming with a population that is born, lives, and dies, amidst squalor, penury, wretchedness, and crime…

Many passages in The Mysteries Of London either mock at or rail against government institutions, which are shown as corrupt and venal, run by the rich for the rich. In particular Reynolds attacks the Poor Laws, and the horrors of the workhouse—highlighting the starvation conditions and the brutal separation of husbands and wives, parents and children. All this was done intentionally, of course, to dissuade the poor from seeking this dubious refuge; but instead of “getting a job”, as the architects of the system smugly asserted they would, countless thousands, unable to find either work or relief, died in miserable poverty:

    Alas! that New Year’s Day was one of strange contrasts in the social sphere of London.
    And as London is the heart of this empire, the disease which prevails in the core is conveyed through every vein and artery over the entire national frame.
    The country that contains the greatest wealth of all the territories of the universe, is that which also knows the greatest amount of hideous, revolting, heart-rending misery.
    In England men and women die of starvation in the streets
    In England women murder their children to save them from a lingering death by famine.
    In England the poor commit crimes to obtain an asylum in a gaol.
    In England aged females die by their own hands, in order to avoid the workhouse…

Another significant subplot involves what Reynolds calls “the Black Chamber of the General Post-Office”, a secret department whose job is to open any letters that look like they might be important, extract any information, political or financial, that might be of use to the government, and then close the letters so that the invasion of privacy might not be detected:

    Oh! vile—despicable occupation,—performed, too, by men who went forth, with heads erect and confident demeanour, from their atrocious employment—after having violated those secrets which are deemed most sacred, and broken the seals which merchants, lovers, parents, relations, and friends had placed upon their thoughts!
    Base and diabolical outrage—perpetrated by the commands of the Ministers of the Sovereign!

(This subplot is an exaggerated version of a real scandal, in which it was revealed that correspondence directed to an Italian refugee in London had been opened under a government warrant, and the contents transmitted to the Court of Naples—resulting in summary killing of several would-be revolutionaries. The incident ruined the career of then-Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, who to that point had been responsible for several important reforms, but afterwards, as he put it himself, was only, “Remembered as the man who opened the letters of the Italians.”)

Likewise, Reynolds constantly ridicules the idea that everyone is equal under the law. The text is peppered with incidents involving corrupt and/or incompetent policemen, and magistrates and judges going out of their way to exonerate the rich and brutalise the poor. These scenes are not exactly subtle, but they have their effect. On one hand—

    The harmony was disturbed by the entrance of a constable dragging in a poor ragged, half-starved, and emaciated lad, without shoes or stockings.
    “What’s the charge?” demanded the inspector.
    “A rogue and vagabond,” answered the constable.
    “Oh! very well: put that down, Crisp. How do you know?”
    “Because he’s wandering about and hasn’t nowhere to go to, and no friends to refer to; and I saw him begging.”
    “Very good; put that down, Crisp. And I suppose he’s without food and hungry?”
    “I have not tasted food—” began the poor wretch who stood shivering at the bar.
    “Come, no lies,” ejaculated the inspector. “No lies!” echoed the constable, giving the poor wretch a tremendous shake.
    “Have you put it all down, Crisp?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Well, let him have a bit of bread, and lock him up. He’ll get three months of it on the stepper to-morrow.”
    The poor creature was supplied with a cubic inch of stale bread, and then thrust into a filthy cell.
    “What do you think that unfortunate creature will be done to?” enquired Markham
    “Three months on the stepper—the treadmill, to be sure.”
    “But what for?”
    “Why, for a rogue and vagabond.”
    “A vagabond he may be,” said Markham, “because he has no home to go to; but how do you know he is a rogue?”
    “Why—he was found begging, wasn’t he?”
    “And does that make a man a rogue?”
    “Certainly it do—in the eye of the law.”

And on the other—

    A constable then stood forward, and stated the charge. The prisoner at the bar had turned out of a flash tavern in the Haymarket at one in the morning, and commenced crowing like a cock, and ringing at front-door bells, and playing all imaginable kinds of antics. When the constable interfered, the gentleman knocked him down; and had not another policeman come up to the spot at the moment, the said gentleman never would have been taken into custody.
    The Magistrate cross-questioned the policeman who gave evidence in this case, with great severity; and then, turning with a bland smile to the prisoner, who was surveying the clerk through his eye glass in as independent a manner as if he were lounging over the front of his box at the opera, the worthy functionary said in a tone of gentle entreaty, “Now really we have reason to suspect that John Jenkins is not your name. In fact, my lord, we know you.”
    “Well, then,” exclaimed the prisoner, turning his eye-glass from the clerk upon the magistrate, “chalk me up as Lord Plymouth, since you are down upon me in this way.”
    “My lord—my lord,” said the Magistrate, with parental urbanity of manner, “these little freaks of yours are really not creditable: upon my honour they are not. I sit here to administer justice to the rich as well as to the poor—”
    “Oh! you do, do you ?” cried the nobleman. “Now I tell you what it is—if you dare talk any of your nonsense about prisons and houses of correction to me. I’ll not stand it. You know as well as I do that whenever a barrister is to be appointed magistrate, the Home Secretary sends for him and tells him to mind his P’s and Q’s towards the aristocracy. So none of your nonsense; but be quick and let me off with the usual fine.”
    “My lord,” ejaculated the Magistrate, glancing with consternation from the prisoner to the clerk, and from the clerk to the prisoner; “did I not say that I sate here to administer equal justice to the rich and the poor? The fine for drunkenness is five shillings, my lord—and in that sum I fine you. As for the assault upon the policeman, I give you leave to speak to him outside.”
    The nobleman demanded change for a ten pound note, and threw the five shillings in a contemptuous and insolent manner towards the clerk, who thanked his lordship as if he had just received an especial favour. The assault was easily settled outside…

But whatever Reynolds’ views upon the causes of crime, his narrative positively wallows in its effects. Much of The Mysteries Of London is set amongst the lowest of the low, and in the worst and most dangerous corners of London. Crimes of all sorts are plotted and committed—and described to the reader in detail. Professional criminals rank amongst the novel’s most prominent characters—one in particular:

    “And, in return,” he added, after a moment’s pause, “if I can ever do you a service, outside or in, you may reckon upon the Resurrection Man.”
    “The Resurrection Man!” ejaculated Richard, appalled, in spite of himself, at this ominous title.
    “Yes—that’s my name and profession,” said the man. “My godfathers and godmothers called me Anthony, and my parents had previously blessed me with the honourable appellation of Tidkins: so you may know me as Anthony Tidkins, the Resurrection Man.”
    “And are you really—” began Richard, with a partial shudder; “are you really a—”
    “A body-snatcher ?” cried Anthony; “of course I am—when there’s any work to be done; and when there isn’t, then I do a little in another line…”

The relationship between Richard Markham and the Resurrection Man is something I will return to in Part 2; here I will merely note that, though Richard is effectively the hero of The Mysteries Of London, and the Resurrection Man one of its main villains, this does not prevent Reynolds on occasion from—not siding with the latter, but doing him sufficient justice. Typical is this pointed exchange, when Richard finds the Resurrection Man in the vicinity of the house of the girl he loves. His unguarded protest is something he will later be made to regret:

    “Wretch! what do you mean to do?” ejaculated Richard, hurrying after him and detaining him by the arm: “you do not know that that abode is sacred—that it is the residence of probity, innocence, and honour—that if you were to breathe a hint who and what you are, you would be spurned from the door?”
    “Ah! I am accustomed to that in this Christian land—in this land of Bibles and Missionary Societies,” said the Resurrection Man, bitterly…

And this emphasis upon life amongst the lowest and most despised of society leads me to highlight what eventually struck me as the single most remarkable thing about The Mysteries Of London: the near absence of the middle-class.

So much of Victorian literature is for and about the middle-classes that this gulf in The Mysteries Of London is startling. This in itself is a commentary upon the nature of contemporary society: middle-class people might have been allured by tales of upward mobility through socially acceptable behaviour, but the poor knew very well that such aspirations were not for the likes of them; and Reynolds knew it, too—as he knew that his readers were more interested in (or at least, titillated by) tales of misbehaviour amongst the aristocracy. So while there is a scattering of middle-class characters in the story – among them Richard Markham – they all suffer either personal or financial ruin, and so end up excluded from their natural social sphere.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the narrative is split between the very highest and the very lowest levels of English society; and rather than bothering with the usual end-of-novel rewards, such as marriage and domesticity, Reynolds instead indulges his readers with a series of absurd wish-fulfillment fantasies, in which the most unlikely people are elevated to the most improbable heights.

Another really striking aspect of The Mysteries Of London is Reynolds’ relentless insistence upon smell. This is something that was completely anathema in polite society at the time, an attitude reflected in mainstream literature. Yet this was a convention that ran counter to the ugly reality of the mid-19th century. Even in the “nice” sections of London, there was no proper closed sewage system until the 1860s—and no real thought of one until the means of transmission of cholera was determined in the 1850s. Even then the government didn’t want to pay for the necessary work—not until what became known as “The Great Stink” of 1858, when a combination of an unusually hot summer and the untreated waste that clogged the Thames persuaded the powers-that-be of its necessity.

Nevertheless, you’ll look in vain in the literature of the time for any reference to, or even just acknowledgement of, the Stink. Literally—It Just Wasn’t Done; and this taboo persisted into the 20th century. It has been suggested that, as late as 1890, part of the virulent critical reaction to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray stemmed from the text’s emphasis upon odours—even though these, for the most part, are pleasant ones.

There’s nothing pleasant about the equivalent descriptions in The Mysteries Of London, however. On the contrary, Reynolds provides a series of revoltingly graphic descriptions of rubbish rotting in the streets, open sewers, slaughterhouses, and other such delights—reminding us over and over that countless people were forced to live and work in such conditions.

Most shocking of all, however, are the numerous scenes describing bodily decomposition. No doubt most of what Reynolds describes here was another sickening reality of life amongst the London poor—for instance, those forced to live near an overcrowded cemetery:

    The soil was damp; and a nauseous odour, emanating from it, impregnated the air. When the sun lay for several days upon the place, even in the depth of winter,—and invariably throughout the summer,—the stench was so intolerable that not a dwelling in the neighbourhood was seen with a window open. Nevertheless, that sickly, fetid odour penetrated into every house, and every room, and every inhabited nook or corner, in that vicinity; and the clothes of the poor inmates smelt, and their food tasted, of the damp grave!
    The cemetery was crowded with the remains of mortality. The proprietors of the ground had only one aim in view—namely, to crowd the greatest possible quantity of corpses into the smallest space. But even this economy of room did not prevent the place from being so filled with the dead, that in a given quantity of the soil it was difficult to say whether earth or decayed human remains predominated. Still the cemetery was kept open for interments; and when there was no room for a newcomer, some recently-buried tenant of a grave was exhumed to afford the required space.

—but nevertheless there is a definite sense of gratuitousness in the way he dwells upon the subject, in the body-snatching scenes in particular, but also in the way he continues his description of the operation of the cemetery:

    Baring his brawny arms to the very shoulders, he now set himself vigorously to work to dig the grave which was to receive a new-comer that after-noon.
    Throwing the earth up on either side, he had digged to a depth of about two feet, when his spade encountered a coffin. He immediately took his pickaxe, broke the coffin to pieces, and then separated with his shovel the pieces of wood and the human bones from the damp earth. The coffin was already so soft with decay that the iron rod had penetrated through it without much difficulty; and it therefore required but little exertion to break it up altogether.
    But the odour which came from the grave was now of the most nauseating kind – fetid, sickly, pestiferous – making the atmosphere heavy, and the human breath thick and clammy, as it were – and causing even that experienced grave-digger to retch as if he were about to vomit.
    Leaping from the grave, he began to busy himself in conveying the pieces of the broken coffin and the putrid remains of mortality into the Bone-House. where he heaped them pell-mell upon the fire.
    The flesh had not completely decayed all away from the bones; a thick, black, fatty-looking substance still covered those human relics; and the fire was thus fed with a material which made the flames roar and play half up the chimney.
    And from the summit of that chimney came a smoke-thick, dense, and dark, like the smoke of a gasometer or a manufactory, but bearing on its sable wing the odour of a pestilence…

And the third really shocking aspect of The Mysteries Of London is – surprise! – its attitude to sex.

It is difficult to describe Reynolds’ approach to this touchy topic. Overtly, his narrative plays out within a framework of conventional religion and morality, and this applies to his female characters: at one extreme his heroine is a perfect angel, and at the other his women criminals are much more depraved and vicious than his men. So far, so familiar.

Almost at once, however, we get a sense of a split-vision; of lip-service. There are “fallen women” aplenty in The Mysteries Of London, and although Reynolds classes a few of them amongst his “depraved criminals”, most of them are presented as victims and treated with sympathy—and sometimes more than that.

There are many passing references to young women being forced to sell themselves to stay alive, or being seduced and abandoned. That too is in its way familiar. Where Reynolds surprises us is giving us not one, but several, such women among his main characters—each one with different circumstances and motivations, but all – or almost all – treated with dignity and an almost matter-of-fact acceptance of their situation, at least once you wave away the smokescreen of, “Tut, tut!” One of them, indeed, can almost be considered this novel’s heroine!

I will deal with Ellen Monroe’s subplot in detail in Part 2, rather than here (ETA: Or as it turned out, Part 3); but two other of Reynolds’ transgressing women are worth considering in this context. One is Diana Arlington, known as “Mrs Arlington”, though she has never been married. She is originally the victim of the man to whom she thought she was to be married, but after her father is financially ruined (by him, as it turns out), he stops meaning marriage. When her father dies and she is left destitute, she has little choice but to become her once-fiancé’s mistress. In time he gets bored with the arrangement, and hands Diana off to an acquaintance of his, a Sir Rupert Harborough. She doesn’t care for him at all, but tries to feel grateful for his generosity. However, her progressive discovery of Sir Rupert’s dishonesty and, finally, criminal behaviour disgusts her, and she decides to separate from him and – accepting that while she’d like to be “an honest woman” again, there’s really no way back – find another keeper.

She has no shortage of men to choose from—and her doing so is presented to us with extraordinary facetiousness:

    Diana hastened to unlock an elegant rosewood writing-desk, edged with silver; and from a secret drawer she took several letters – or rather notes – written upon paper of different colours. Upon the various envelopes were seals impressed with armorial bearings, some of which were surrounded by coronets. She glanced over each in a cursory manner, which showed she was already tolerably familiar with their contents. The greater portion she tossed contemptuously into the fire;—a few she placed one upon the other, quite in a business-like way, upon the table.
    When she had gone through the entire file, she again directed her attention to those which she had reserved; and as she perused them one after the other, she mused in the following manner:—
    “Count de Lestranges is brilliant in his offers, and immensely rich—no doubt; but he is detestably conceited, and would think more of himself than of his mistress. His appeal must be rejected;” and she threw the French nobleman’s perfumed epistle into the fire.
    “This,” she continued, taking up another, “is from Lord Templeton. Five thousand a-year is certainly handsome; but then he himself is so old and ugly! Away with this suitor at once.” The English Peer’s billet-doux followed that of the French Count.
    “Here is a beautiful specimen of calligraphy,” resumed Diana, taking up a third letter; “but all the sentiments are copied, word for word, out of the love-scenes in Anne Radcliffe’s romances. Never was such gross plagiarism! He merits the punishment I thus inflict upon him;—and her plump white hand crushed the epistle ere she threw it into the fire.
    “But what have we here? Oh! the German baron’s killing address—interspersed with remarks upon the philosophy of love. Ah! my lord, love was not made for philosophers—and philosophers are incapable of love; so we will have none of you.”
    Another offering to the fire.
    “Here is the burning address of the Greek attaché with a hard name. It is prettily written;—but who could possibly enter upon terms with an individual of the name of Thesaurochrysonichochrysides?”
    To the flames went the Greek lover’s note also.
    “Ah! this seems as if it were to be the successful candidate,” said Diana, carefully perusing the last remaining letter. “It is written upon a plain sheet of white paper, and without scent. But then the style—how manly! Yes—decidedly, the Earl of Warrington has gained the prize. He is rich—unmarried—handsome—and still in the prime of life! There is no room for hesitation.”

So she doesn’t: she writes, offering herself; he accepts, and sets her up in a luxurious house. And perhaps most extraordinary of all, their subsequent connection is presented almost as a quasi-marriage—two people comfortable together and glad of each other’s company—though Reynolds daringly insists that neither is in love with the other.

Eventually the relationship comes to grief, due to the Earl’s thin-skin and pride; and Diana meets a grim fate that, in another context, would certainly be a case of cosmic punishment—but which here just doesn’t read like that. Before this, Diana is one of the characters who is indisputably on the side of right, waging an anonymous battle against the ongoing depredations of her original seducer, and becoming bosom friends with another of the novel’s prominent female characters, Eliza Sydney, who despite knowing all about Diana, begs to be allowed to call her “sister”—something, by the way, that our hero, Richard Markham, also insists upon.

But Reynolds’ greatest daring is in the character of Lady Cecilia Harborough—a serial adultress because she likes sex.

She REALLY likes sex.

The fact that such a character was conceived and written in 1844 is mind-boggling. There were other serial adultresses in Victorian literature, sure, but it was always about the money; here, Reynolds makes it hilariously clear that, while Cecilia certainly likes money, there’s something else she likes even more. In an era in which some men were desperately trying to convince society at large that women lacked the capacity to enjoy sex, Lady Cecilia is not only unprecedented, but would remain unparalleled for many decades to follow.

Amusingly in retrospect, when we first meet her, Cecilia is presented as one of the novel’s “victims”: she is seduced by Sir Rupert Harborough and impregnated, and marries him after her parents agree to pay Sir Rupert’s outrageous demands. The marriage is miserable, of course, chiefly because the money dries up. Sir Rupert embarks upon a series of criminal enterprises to retrieve his fortune, while Cecilia becomes the mistress of one George Greenwood—in exchange for his retrieval of her diamonds, which Sir Rupert stole and pawned. When Greenwood gets bored and moves on, Cecilia finds a rich, handsome Guardsman to replace him—and Reynolds has the audacity to write an overt sex-farce scene, in which both Sir Rupert and Cecilia try to sneak their respective lovers out of the house at the same time, all four bumping into one another in the vestibule.

But it is what comes next that takes the reader’s breath away, as Cecilia sets her sights on a minister, who is celebrated for his eloquence, his devotion—and his chastity. In (literally) Cecilia’s experienced hands, Reginald Tracy has no chance. Afterwards, wracked with guilt and religious terror, he tries to tear himself away from her, but Cecilia isn’t having any of that; and when he won’t approach her voluntarily, she finds a way of bringing him back to her.

An old woman approaches Tracy with a story of a poor sculptor and a remarkable stature, for which he wishes to find a purchaser. Tracy agrees to see it—and finds it somewhat…familiar:

    In somewhat bold relief, against the dark wall, stood the object of his interest,—seeming a beautiful model of a female form, the colouring of which was that of life. It was naked to the middle; the arms were gracefully rounded; and one hand sustained the falling drapery which, being also coloured, produced upon the mind of the beholder the effect of real garments.
    Lost in wonder at the success with which the sculptor had performed his work,—and experiencing feelings of a soft and voluptuous nature,—Reginald drew closer to the statue. At that moment the light of the fire played upon its countenance; and it seemed to him as if the lips moved with a faint smile. Then, how was his surprise increased, when the conviction flashed to his mind that the face he was gazing upon was well known to him!
    “O Cecilia, Cecilia!” he ejaculated aloud: “hast thou sent thy statue hither to compel me to fall at its feet and worship the senseless stone, while thou—the sweet original—art elsewhere, speculating perhaps upon the emotions which this phantasmagorian sport was calculated to conjure up within me! Ah! Cecilia, if thou wast resolved to subdue me once more—if thou couldst not rest until I became thy slave again,—oh! why not have invited me to meet thine own sweet self, instead of this speechless, motionless, passionless image,—a counterpart of thee only in external loveliness! Yes—there it is perfect:—the hair—the brow—the eyes—the mouth— Heavens! those lips seem to smile once more; those eyes sparkle with real fire! Cecilia—Cecilia—”
    And Reginald Tracy was afraid—he scarcely knew wherefore: the entire adventure of the evening appeared to be a dream.
    “Yes—yes!” he suddenly exclaimed, after having steadfastly contemplated the form before him for some moments,—standing at a distance of only three or four paces,—afraid to advance nearer, unwilling to retreat altogether,—“yes!” he exclaimed, “there is something more than mere senseless marble here! The eyes shoot fire—the lips smile—the bosom heaves— Oh! Cecilia—Cecilia, it is yourself!”
    As he spoke he rushed forward: the statue burst from chill marble into warmth and life;—it was indeed the beauteous but wily Cecilia—who returned his embrace and hung around his neck;—and the rector was again subdued—again enslaved!

And afterwards—

    The barrier was now completely broken down; and the rector gave way to the violence of the passion which hurried him along.
    That man, so full of vigour, and in the prime at his physical strength, abandoned himself without restraint to the fury of those desires which burnt the more madly—the more wildly, from having been so long pent-up.
    Day after day did he meet his guilty paramour; and on each occasion did he reflect less upon the necessity of caution. He passed hours and hours together with her at her abode; and at length he ventured to receive her at his own residence, when his housekeeper bad retired to rest.
    But he did not neglect his professional duties on the Sabbath;—and he now became an accomplished hypocrite. He ascended the pulpit as usual, and charmed thousands with his discourse as heretofore. Indeed his eloquence improved, for the simulated earnestness which displaced the tone of heart-felt conviction that he had once experienced, seemed more impassioned, and was more impressive than the natural ebullition of his feelings.
    Thus as be progressed in the ways of vice, his reputation increased in sanctity…

But while he’s busy exposing everyone else’s sexual peccadilloes, Reynolds also gives away a couple of fetishes of his own. First of all, he clearly had a thing about women in drag—and finds several excuses for cross-dressing scenes. Most significantly, the novel opens with a young man getting lost in the wilds of London during a violent storm, and undergoing a terrifying, near-fatal adventure after accidentally taking refuge in a thieves’ den. This “young man” is later revealed as the aforementioned Eliza Sydney, who (for complicated reasons I won’t go into here) is carrying out an extended impersonation of her own dead brother, Walter. Meanwhile, when Ellen Monroe becomes convinced that Richard Markham is walking into a trap set for him by the Resurrection Man, she disguises herself in men’s clothes and arms herself with pistols, in order to go to his aid.

But above all else—George Reynolds was a breast-man: he proves quite incapable of describing an attractive woman without telling us everything we might have wanted to know about the size and shape of her breasts. On several occasions this is entirely inappropriate—for instance, even when the point is that an unmarried woman has borne an illegitimate baby, Reynolds can’t help commenting on how much bigger her breasts are as a consequence. This, meanwhile, is a description of what Ellen Monroe conceals under her men’s clothes:

Those swelling globes of snow, each adorned as with a delicate rose-bud, needed no support to maintain them in their full and natural rotundity…

Even Queen Victoria is not exempt!—

At that time Victoria was yet a virgin-queen. If not strictly beautiful, her countenance was very pleasing. Her light brown hair was worn quite plain; her blue eyes were animated with intellect; and when she smiled, her lips revealed a set of teeth white as Oriental pearls. Her bust was magnificent…

And speaking of Victoria— Though the monarchy was one of the infinite number of British institutions of which Reynolds disapproved, he mostly* lays off it in The Mysteries Of London (unlike some of his later works, as we shall see)—putting it to a most unexpected alternative use.

(*Mostly: there is still a suggestion that George III’s mental illness was hereditary and transmitted to his descendants, another that George’s alleged morganatic marriage to Hannah Lightfoot meant that the entire royal family was illegitimate, and a third that the marriage produced “issue”. And yes: for Reynolds, that is “laying off”.)

I have said that Reynolds resorts to absurd wish-fulfillment fantasies in this novel: the most interesting of these involves a plot concocted by the Resurrection Man, his colleague, Tom the Cracksman, and an urchin called Henry Holford, to rob Buckingham Palace. The boy is sent in as a scout and, penetrating security with embarrassing ease, spends several days concealed within the palace—gorging on stolen food, gawping at its various luxuries, and above all spying and eavesdropping from his favourite vantage point of beneath the Royal Sofa. As it happens, Henry’s unofficial visit coincides with the official one of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, so there is much for him to spy upon. Long passages describing the glories of the palace and the (visual) splendour of the nobility follow.

Reynolds, as we have seen, could be vicious in his attacks, but in this case – to mix a metaphor – he sheathes his sword and keeps his tongue in his cheek—offering an outrageous moment in which Henry not only sits on Victoria’s sofa, but dares to occupy the same space as the Royal Buttocks:

Holford emerged from beneath the sofa, and seated himself upon it. He was proud to think that he now occupied the place where royalty had so lately been…now in a palace, and seated upon the very cushion which a few hours previously had been pressed by royalty…

Reynolds follows this up with a typical bit of nose-thumbing—having his scruffy urchin, a mere “pot-boy”, invade the throne-room itself:

    At length he reached the Throne Room. The imperial seat itself was covered over with a velvet cloth, to protect it against the dust. Holford removed the cloth; and the splendours of the throne were revealed to him.
    He hesitated for a moment: he felt as if he were committing a species of sacrilege;—then triumphing over this feeling – a feeling which had appeared like a remorse – he ascended the steps of the throne;—he placed himself in the seat of England’s monarch.
    Had the sceptre been there he would have grasped it;—had the crown been within his reach, he would have placed it upon his head!

 

[To be continued…]

 

27/05/2017

Les Mystères de Londres


 
    “The man has arrived thus far. To-morrow, by his secret labours, his ideas will be promulgated, and he will find a powerful auxiliary in European politics. The man will then transform himself; in order to obtain access to crowned personages, he will become a mighty lord. He will amass into one mountainous heap the bitter and legitimate hatreds; all the crying wrongs committed by the insatiable cupidity, by the perfidious ambition, by the cowardly tyranny of his enemy. His voice, which will be heard, will preach the establishment of an immense crusade. Then this great lord will for a time throw off his golden honours, and his velvet robes, and become the Irishman, Fergus, in order to gain the hearts of his countrymen. He will revisit his poor Ireland; his treasures will be employed in relieving her indescribable distress, and his hand always open to bestow, will one day stretch toward the east, and will point to London in the distance, whence descends upon Erin, the torrent of her sufferings.
    “And then he will repeat the death-cry of his father: Arise—and war to England.”

 

 

 

 

 

While the timing of the publication of G. W. M. Reynolds’ own sprawling penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London, was no doubt primarily responsible for the failure of Paul Féval’s Les Mystères de Londres to appear in English translation in 1844, it is not difficult to imagine that whatever enthusiasm there might have been for this French-penned crime drama in the wake of the enormous popularity of Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris, it was quenched by the realisation that for all of its many and varied crime plots and French criminal characters, the real Bad Guy in Les Mystères de Londres was England. Sue’s stringent criticisms of his own country, his own society, were one thing; a Frenchman depicting England as a monster of tyranny, oppression and injustice, both at home and across the world—particularly in a work aimed (at least overtly) at the working-classes—was something else entirely. And to make things even worse, the main thread of the narrative concerns a plot against England that is explicitly Catholic in nature.

But even as English readers gobbled up the myriad exciting improbabilities of Reynolds’ The Mysteries Of London and its follow-up, The Mysteries Of The Court Of London, a version of Les Mystères de Londres did finally creep out into the marketplace. Published in 1847, translated by one “R. Stephenson”, about whom I have been able to find no information, and bearing no hint of the identity of the work’s original author, The Mysteries Of London; or, Revelations Of The British Metropolis is a poor shadow of Paul Féval’s original work, a one-volume, 500-page rendering of his four volumes.

It is hardly to be wondered at that The Mysteries Of London is a difficult, unsatisfactory read. Like its model, Les Mystères de Paris, this is a rambling, undisciplined, multi-plotted story full of people with secret identities (sometimes several at once): one difficult enough to follow even without huge chunks of the narrative being excised. As it stands, it is frequently impossible to tell whether something is mysterious because Féval meant it to be mysterious, or because Stephenson hacked out the explanation—although it progressively becomes evident that the latter is responsible for a majority of the reader’s frustrations.

Allow me to offer a minor example of the editing style that plagues this work throughout: one of the novel’s heroines, a girl called Susannah, is steeling herself to tell her brief life-history to the man she loves, revealing that she is the daughter of Ishmael Spencer, “the forger”, “the robber” and (worst of all?) “the Jew”. She has just got through explaining that she was never allowed out of the house, and had no companions other than a maid, Temperance, and a disfigured manservant, Rehoboam:

“It was one evening. Ishmael had not for two days been in that part of the house in which I lived. I was in the parlour, where I had just fallen asleep with my head upon Cora’s shoulder. I raised my eyes; whether I was still sleeping or awake, I know not, but I saw a lady cautiously entering the parlour with Temperance. How beautiful that lady seemed to me, and how much goodness was there in her features!… Corah lay trembling under me, for Corah was timid also, and was alarmed at the appearance of a stranger…”

Thus, at a moment when we are no doubt supposed to be speculating about the identity of the “beautiful lady”, all I could think was, “Who the hell is Cora(h)!?” – to whom we will continue to get confusing references for quite a number of pages, until (more by accident than design, we suspect) Stephenson leaves in his text the key to the mystery, after Ishmael finds out about Susannah’s visitor:

“‘Do not sleep any more in the parlour, my child; and, when you have dreams as this, always come and tell me at once. Will you do so, Susannah?’ My father’s questions were always an order or a threat. I bowed my head and trembled. ‘Will you do what I tell you?’ repeated Ishmael, shaking me by the arm. ‘I will, sir.’ ‘Yes, Susannah? You are a good girl; and, besides, if you did not, I would kill your doe.'”

Ohhhhhhhhhh, she has a pet deer! In the middle of London. Which sleeps in the house with her. Of course she does.

This is, as I say, a very minor example of Stephenson’s editing style. More serious (and even more frustrating) is the eventual realisation that he also censored Féval’s text. What remain are mere allusions to shocking material that has been removed—enough to hint at what happened without us ever knowing the details. Two plot-threads in particular are affected by this. In one, we have an improbable love affair between Susannah, the daughter of Ishmael Spencer, and the aristocratic Brian de Lancaster, who is waging a personal and public war against his brother, the dissolute and criminal Earl of White Manor. It will, at great length, be revealed that (of course) Ishmael was not Susannah’s real father; that she is the daughter of Lord White Manor and his discarded wife (the mysterious, beautiful lady of Susannah’s vague childhood memories); and that Brian and Susannah are therefore uncle and niece. We are shown the aftermath of this devastating discovery—

Susannah has seen Brian de Lancaster but once since their fatal separation in Wimpole Street, and this was immediately after the decease of the Earl of White Manor, which took place during one of his terrible attacks at Denham Park. He came to inform her of the death of her father, and of his having succeeded to the peerage, and then set out again for London, without so much as sleeping one night under the same roof with Susannah.

—but not the moment of realisation.

Still more frustrating in its way is perhaps the most shocking of all this work’s shocking subplots, that involving the sisters, Clara and Anna Macfarlane, whose romantic affairs drive most of what we might call the “middle-layer” plots. One of the criminal gang, Bob Lantern, is offered money by two different people in return for the person of a beautiful young woman, and decides to cash in on both offers by abducting and selling the sisters. One of them, Anna as it turns out, is destined to be the unwilling plaything of the Earl of White Manor, although she is rescued before he gets around to having his way with her. Clara is not so fortunate, being sold to a certain Dr Moore to be the test subject in his experiments. Hints about this come and go, so that we are never sure of all she has been subjected to; but what remains is hair-raising enough:

For a time, the doctor ceased his experiments on Clara, who had become useless to him, and left her under the charge of Rowley, who divided his leisure moments between her and his Toxicological Amusements…

Rowley had been ordered to supply her with good food, that she might better be able to sustain the galvanic shock to which the doctor wished to expose her…

Clara Macfarlane was much changed. The traces of the long and cruel martyrdom she had been made to suffer, were clearly perceptible in her pallid and meagre face. Her form, so beautiful in its youthful proportions, had become debilitated and stooping… In the eyes of Clara, was some what of a wild expression. The horrible shock that had been given to her nervous system, had left behind it an affection [sic.?] which continually distorted her features by sudden and painful twitchings…

The final exasperation is that for some reason the text of The Mysteries Of London was rendered without any punctuation of the dialogue: I have inserted it in my quotes for ease of reading, but it isn’t present in the book itself. For example, the conversation quoted up above, between Ishmael and Susannah, is presented as follows:

Do not sleep any more in the parlour, my child; and, when you have dreams as this, always come and tell me at once. Will you do so, Susannah? My father’s questions were always an order or a threat. I bowed my head and trembled. Will you do what I tell you? repeated Ishmael, shaking me by the arm. I will, sir. Yes, Susannah? You are a good girl; and, besides, if you did not, I would kill your doe.

The cumulative result is a rather gruelling five hundred pages, in which we are never sure who anyone is, or who is speaking from moment to moment—or even if certain passages are meant to be dialogue at all. But if reading The Mysteries Of London was a chore rather than a pleasure, reviewing it is even more difficult: far more so than, say, dealing with the full six volumes of Les Mystères de Paris. In fact it can’t be done in any coherent way, except by, as it were, speaking backwards from the point at which the fragmented pieces fall into place.

Briefly, then, The Mysteries Of London has two main parallel plots, one dealing with machinations at the very highest levels of English society, the other with the activities of a brutal criminal gang; with most of the “nice” characters, like the Macfarlane sisters, caught between and swept up into danger because of one or the other (or both). The link between all the story’s threads is the Marquis de Rio Santo, aka “Mr Edward”, real name: Fergus O’Brian—the money and the genius behind a plot to lead the Irish in violent revolt against the English government, with his own part being to use his access to the highest levels of society to assassinate the British monarch (who at the time of the story’s setting was the relatively inoffensive William IV).

It is late in the narrative before we are finally let in on the life-history of this work’s anti-hero, but his story, when it finally emerges, is one of an amusing and spectacular climb up the social ladder; one which might reasonably open, “Once upon a time—x“. Some twenty years earlier, then, the lovely Mary Macfarlane fell in love with and became engaged to the poor Irishman Fergus O’Brian, rejecting the advances of Godfrey de Lancaster, afterwards the Earl of White Manor. A quarrel led to a duel in which de Lancaster was wounded; and Fergus, being a poor Irishman, was tried, convicted and transported to Australia. During his transportation, Fergus gained a friend and collaborator in the form of an angry Scot named Randal Graham; the two agree to (i) escape, (ii) turn pirate, and (iii) find some way to stick it to England:

    Fergus O’Brian had not become a pirate, merely to be a pirate. He had other views besides that of making booty more or less abundant; and every action of his during the four years in which he had traversed those seas, was a stone added to the gigantic edifice, of which he was the architect.
    It is not necessary to state, that his attacks were made on British ships, in preference to all others. They pillaged, sunk, or blew up, more ships belonging to the East India Company, than all the French privateers that ever swam…

Fergus also spends these years travelling the world, getting a good look at the brutality and exploitation that are the hallmarks of English colonisation and English trade, and gaining recruits to his cause:

Quitting the Indian seas, he only changed the scene, again to find, at intervals more distant from one another, the same hatred against England, still covered and restrained, but ready to burst forth. At the Cape of Good Hope, the Dutch boors—in America, both the Canadas, from one extremity to the other, groaning under the most horrible oppression, and venting their cries of distress, which were soon to find an echo in a French heart…

An amusing interlude follows, in which it is solemnly explained to us that Napoleon – who had, The most noble, the most enlightened, and the boldest mind, which has perhaps ever dazzled the world – escaped from St Helena with the single goal of crushing English tyranny…

…but since he didn’t quite manage it, it was up to Fergus O’Brian to pick up his slack.

During his travels, Fergus managed to be of service of John VI of Portugal, whose reward paved the way for Fergus’s great plan against England:

    In 1822, one year after the restoration of the house of Braganza, Fergus O’Brian, the poor orphan from St Giles’s, was created a grandee of Portugal, of the first order, Grand Cross of the Order of Christ, and Marquis de Rio Santo in Paraiba. Fergus was also, by royal prescription, authorised to bear the name and title of a noble family which had become extinct, the Alacaons, of Coimbra.
    So that when we heard announced in the proud drawing rooms of the Westend, the sounding titles of Don Jose Maria Telles de Alacaon, Marquis de Rio Santo, it was not the name of a vulgar adventurer, ennobled by the grace of fraud, and strutting about under a false title, but it was really a great nobleman, of legitimate manufacture, a marquis by royal grant, an exalted personage, upon whose breast glitterd the insignia of several of the most distinguished and most rarely bestowed European orders, which he had acquired and merited…

Perhaps the single most interesting thing about The Mysteries Of London is that its anti-hero is both a genuine aristocrat (albeit a created one) and a poor, dispossessed Irish revolutionary. His toggling between the various levels of society is, therefore, rather more convincing than usual: he is able both to command a dangerous and extensive criminal gang, and enter unhindered into the very highest circles of society. The latter, indeed, is why he takes upon himself the task of regicide: as the noble Marquis de Rio Santo, he has no trouble getting access to the king.

Paul Féval does not pull any punches with respect to English tyranny, dwelling angrily upon abuses in India, the opium trade in China, the brutalities of Botany Bay—but it is with respect to the treatment of Irish Catholics by English Protestants that he really lets himself go. And this is, of course, Fergus’s background, the first of many injustices suffered, with his respectable Irish family gradually stripped of their possessions and their savings by the cruel manoeuvring of English landlords, his sister seduced and abandoned, and his parents dying of grief and starvation:

    He again threw himself upon his knees and endeavoured to pray. But a mysterious voice resounded in his ears, and repeated to him his father’s dying words:
    “Arise! and war to England!”
    He sprang to his feet; his brows were knit, and a purple tinge chased the paleness from his fine features, and flashed fire.
    This was not—and no one could have been deceived by it—the transient anger of a child; it was the deadly hatred of a man. And in that poor room, in the poorest district of all London, arose a cloud, the precursor of a tempest, which might shake the three kingdoms to their foundations.
    Fergus advanced with firm steps towards the bed, and then slowly drew from his forehead to his chest, and then from one shoulder to the other, the sacred sign of the Catholic religion.
    “My father!” he exclaimed, with head erect and outstretched hand, “I here swear to obey you.”

And indeed, Fergus’s planned revenge is nothing less than the violent overthrow of the English government, for which purpose he spends years building a revolutionary army, predominantly but not exclusively Irish, which he has ferried to England as his plans move towards fruition. Féval allows Fergus’s schemes to progress so far as his army being in place around London, only waiting for their commander’s signal to strike—

—but of course that signal does not, cannot, come.

There is a strange split-vision about the conclusion of The Mysteries Of London. On one hand Féval is clearly enjoying his violently anti-English fantasy; but at the same time he has to find a way for the hitherto invincible Fergus to stumble at the last. His compromise is to have, not Fergus’s revolution fail, but his private crimes rise up against him. It is not the government or the army who stops Fergus, but two personally outraged and determined young men, and a traitor from within his own ranks—one who until almost the last moment is his most trusted lieutenant…

Between its aristocrats and its criminals, The Mysteries Of London is populated by a handful of respectable, middle-class (and mostly Scottish) characters, whose paths are crossed by Fergus in one or other of his various guises. Early on we find him pursuing the lovely Miss Mary Trevor, apparently because she reminds him of his lost love, Mary Macfarlane, even aside from the coincidence of their names. Mary is in love with poor but honest Frank Percival (poverty-stricken younger sons abound in this narrative, presumably as a criticism of the English system of primogeniture); but he is away, travelling on the Continent for reasons never explicated, when the Marquis de Rio Santo first enters Mary’s orbit. Between the “hypnotic” power of the Marquis’s personality and pressure from her family, Mary finds herself engaged to the Marquis almost without her volition. She still nurses Frank in her heart, however, until she is given reason to believe that he has been dallying with another woman even while making her impassioned declarations.

(The woman in question, the Marquis’s first romantic “victim”, is introduced to us rather marvellously as “Ophelia, Countess of Derby, the widow of a knight of the garter”, in the first but by no means the last demonstrations of Paul Féval’s complete failure to grasp the English system of title usage.)

Frank gets back to England to find himself supplanted by the Marquis, upon whom he forces a quarrel and a duel. A crack shot (of course), the Marquis shoots but refrains from killing Frank, who is left to suffer through a slow recovery under the care of his best friend and physician, Stephen Macnab.

And this is where things get complicated. (Yes, this.)

Stephen (whose surname is variously spelled Macnab, McNab and M’Nab throughout the text) is the son of a widowed mother—widowed when her husband was brutally killed many years before:

The death of his father, of which he had been the accidental witness, had at first shaken his youthful faculties; but he had soon recovered from the shock, and the lapse of years had now removed all the effects of the calamity upon his intellect. But the remembrance of his murdered father, and the image of his murderer, were engraved upon his mind in ineffaceable characters of blood. The assassin, whom he had seen for an instant, in consequence of the fall of his mask, was not stamped upon his memory with very certain indications: one circumstance, however, was still luminous—it was the form of a tall, robust, and supple man, with black eyebrows, knit together with a long scar drawn distinctly on his heated forehead. He saw all this as in a dream, but a burning fever for vengeance was kindled in his mind…

Staying with Stephen and his mother are Clara and Anna Macfarlane, the daughters of Mrs Macnab’s brother, Angus: a Scottish landowner and magistrate known generally as just as “the laird”. Mrs Macnab did – and, perhaps, does – have a second sibling, a sister called “Mary”…

When we are first introduced to Stephen, smug male that he is, he is hesitating between Clara and Anna, never doubting that he can have either for the asking; but although Anna is in fact in love with him, he only needs to realise that Clara is attracted to another man to become unalterably fixated upon her. This discovery occurs during a complicated scene in church, which finds a certain handsome stranger gazing fixedly at the young woman carrying around the collection plate, Clara Macfarlane palpitating over the handsome stranger, and Stephen toggling between homicidal fury and suicidal despair. (From the way the narrative unfolds we initially assume it is Mary Trevor who is carrying the plate, but it will very belatedly be confirmed as Anna Macfarlane: one of many missing subplots.) Later we learn that in his “Mr Edward” guise, Fergus has a house very near that in which the Macnabs live, and that Clara has become infatuated with him while watching him from the window. He, in turn, has distantly flirted with her, kissing his fingers at her and such, but without serious intention.

(People falling in love while spying on someone through their windows is a disturbingly recurrent theme in The Mysteries Of London, but since this very situation later leads to the rescue of Anna Macfarlane from the Earl of White Manor, we can’t entirely condemn it.)

So without knowing it, Frank Percival and Stephen Macnab have been supplanted by the same man. Stephen’s romantic sufferings recede while he is fighting to save his friend’s life, however, and he is distracted from them further by Frank’s feverish muttering when, it appears, he is the grip of a nightmare:

    “The scar!” cried Percival suddenly; “did I not see the scar upon his forehead?”
    Stephen had started up. “The scar!” exclaimed he; “oh! I remember!”
    “Upon his red forehead!” rejoined Frank. “It appeared white and clearly defined.”
    “From his left eyebrow to the upper part of his forehead?” said Stephen, involuntarily.
    “From his left eyebrow to the upper part of his forehead!” repeated Percival.
    “Frank!” cried Stephen; “you too know him then, In the name of Heaven, who is it you are speaking of?”
    Frank did not reply; sleep had again overpowered him…

Stephen never gets to follow up the mystery of the man with the scar, because Frank’s life is still hanging in the balance when Clara and Anna Macfarlane disappear, which not unnaturally distracts him from all other considerations.

One of the numerous (not to say infinite) minor characters of The Mysteries Of London is a certain Mr Bishop, whose main profession is indicated by the usual rider which accompanies his name, “the burker”. Hilariously enough, in Paul Féval’s twisted vision of London, not only does Bishop deal openly in dead bodies, he keeps a showroom of his merchandise. Having failed to get any help from the police in the matter of his cousins’ disappearance, the desperate Stephen calls upon Bishop and asks to see what he has in stock:

    All around this place—which occupied the space generally employed as kitchens and coal cellars in ordinary houses—were ranges of marble tables sloping forward.
    It was a frightful spectacle, to see dead bodies lying there, stripped of their sere-clothes, symmetrically arranged with a view to being made an article of traffic…

The girls aren’t there, but as we know, Bishop is very well aware of the fate of one of them:

    “Now then,” continued Bishop—Bob having shut the door—“what I have to tell you is—the devil take me if I tell you or any other man”—and he seemed embarrassed in speaking of it even to Bob—“I have never undertaken a business of this kind; but you, Bob, have neither heart nor soul, and provided you are well paid—”
    “Shall I be well paid, Mr Bishop?”
    “The matter in hand is, that—they want to carry off some young girl alive for the doctor to make some surgical experiments upon…”

Bishop is right about Bob, who almost at the same moment is approached by Paterson, the Earl of White Manor’s steward, who also has a proposition for him:

    “You know that little girl in Cornhill?”
    “Anna Macfarlane? I know, your honour; I was speaking about her only a minute ago to that gentleman who has just left.”
    “She is a divinity, by Heaven!” exclaimed Paterson… “I am sure his lordship would be enraptured with the girl at first sight—we must have her.”

Thus Bob finds himself in something of a dilemma:

“What the devil shall I do?” said Bob, “it is dreadfully awkward: one hundred pounds from Bishop! two hundred from the steward! a very pretty sum. But the sweet girl cannot serve as a subject for Dr Moore, and a plaything for the earl at the same time—that’s very certain—that’s not possible. And yet I promised Bishop; I promised that leech, Paterson…”

…until it occurs to him that Anna has a sister, who will do quite as well for Dr Moore.

The sisters are lured away from home with a false message to meet their father at a certain public house, run by a couple who used to be in the Laird’s service, which lulls their suspicions. Unfortunately for the girls, the Gruffs are in league with Bishop, and they are not the first to disappear through a panel in the floor, to be lowered into a boat on the river below; although they are – perhaps – luckier in that they are only drugged, not dead.

To the mortification of the Gruffs, who should show up in the middle of these dark dealings but the Laird himself? – who catches a glimpse of his daughters being lowered through the floor. A desperate pursuit, an even more desperate battle with Bob Lantern, ends with the Laird being severely beaten and tossed into the river, while the stupefied girls are carried off to their separate fates…

While this (what we might call ‘Plot B’) is unfolding, over in Plot C we are hearing the history of Susannah and Ishmael Spencer. The significance of this is not revealed until much later in the story, when we get a flashback to Fergus’s return to Britain after his glorious career as a pirate, when he begins the construction of his revolutionary army. He and his angry Scottish offsider, Graham, call upon an even angrier Scot: Angus Macfarlane, who Fergus finds concocting plots to murder the Earl of White Manor, in vengeance for his (the earl’s) appalling treatment of his wife, the former Mary Macfarlane.

Fergus learns from Angus, among other things, that at the outset of the former’s piratical career, rumours abounded that he had returned to England, and that false sightings of him were frequently reported. Unfortunately for Mary, these happened to coincide with her pregnancy—leading White Manor (already regretting his marriage, and subject to fits of violent insanity at the best of times) to convince himself that her expected child was actually Fergus’s. When the girl was born he took her away from her mother and gave her up to the tender mercies of Ishmael Spencer; while as for Mary—oh, take THAT, Thomas Hardy!—

    “Two days afterward he dragged his wife to Smithfield. Godfrey made her go into one of the sheep pens, which happened to be empty, and cried out loudly three times: ‘This woman is to be sold—sold for three shillings.’
    “‘Let me pass,’ cried a man, ‘I wish to purchase, for three shillings, the Countess of White Manor.’
    “The man was dressed in the coarse costume of a cattle dealer. Upon seeing him, Godfrey’s courage forsook him, and he made a movement to escape. Mary has never mentioned, in her letters, the name of this man, but when I went to London, public rumour informed me of it. It was the young Brian de Lancaster, the brother of the earl…”

As Angus broods over his bloody plans for White Manor, Fergus manages to re-channel his anger into his own cause, and recruits Angus as one of his lieutenants…

…but it is, in the end, Angus Macfarlane who betrays Fergus—not that we ever really understand what is going on in the feverish last section of the story, where the editing makes bewildering nonsense out of the inevitable long and convoluted explanation, with which such fiction necessarily closes.

Angus is rescued from the river after his attempt to rescue his daughters, and ends up in Fergus’s care. He is raving, near total insanity, and makes a very nearly successful attempt to murder Fergus. We get confirmation during this section that it was Fergus who killed Stephen’s father, and that Angus knows it; and has only refrained from revenging himself upon Fergus for the death of his brother-in-law because (i) Fergus is sort of his brother-in-law too, sharing his grief over Mary; and (ii) his hatred of the Earl of White Manor is his prevailing passion—at least until his daughters are abducted.

It is this that pushes Angus over the edge, understandably, though both girls are eventually rescued. The problem is—as the narrative stands, we never know why Angus is so sure that Fergus was behind the girls’ abduction. It was, of course, in Clara’s case, one of his co-conspirators who was behind it; but Angus seems to have more direct guilt in mind (though, at the same time, he cannot possibly believe Fergus had anything to do with Anna falling into White Manor’s clutches). Perhaps a cosmic irony was intended, with Fergus being taken down by the one crime he didn’t commit? In any event, it is on this basis, and just before Fergus is to set his revolution in motion, that Angus turns on him…

It is, however, Frank Percival and Stephen Macnab who directly intervene, making a citizens’ arrest of sorts. Stephen has his father’s death to avenge, and on the testimony of Angus knows who his killer was; now he gets proof for himself:

At that moment Rio Santo, who had succeeded in withdrawing himself from the maddening grasp of the laird, raised his head—his brilliant eye flashed fire—a reddening tinge proceeding from the efforts of Angus, or from anger, suffused the features of the marquis, till then so pallid; his brows were knit, and on the purpled skin of the forehead a livid scar appeared, extending from the eyebrow to the hair…

So much for Stephen; as for Frank—

    “I have come to ask you, my lord,” replied Frank, hardly able to restrain his anger, “for an explanation of a cowardly and nameless crime.” He raised himself on the points of his toes, and whispered in the ear of the marquis, “I am the brother of Harriet Percival.”
    “And the disappointed lover of Mary Trevor!” sarcastically added the marquis. “I declare to you, sir, that I had not the honour of your sister’s acquaintance.”
    “That is true,” retorted Frank. “You killed her without knowing her.”

Him or anyone else! Of all the pieces of hack-handed editing in The Mysteries Of London, this one takes the cake. Some three hundred pages before this moment there is a single passing reference to “poor Harriet Percival”, and that is all we know about her. Fergus, meanwhile, is hardly more confused than we are: he tries to get an explanation out of Frank, but the situation takes an even more dramatic turn before he can give one, so this particular subplot is left hanging, a perpetual mystery.

Events then occur in a rush. Fergus is arrested, tried and convicted, not for his attempt to overthrow the government and assassinate the king, but for the murder of Mr Macnab (who had accidentally stumbled over an important secret, in the early days of Fergus’s plotting), and for being the mastermind behind a plot to rob the Bank of England—by tunnelling in from underneath!!

Good grief! – was this the earliest instance of that perpetually popular crime-plot??

Meanwhile, Clara, still in an extremely shaky condition of body and mind, finds out who it was she was infatuated with, the real identity of “Mr Edward”. In her unbalanced state, she makes her way to Newgate, and happens to be on the spot when Fergus is broken out by his still-loyal accomplices. She ends up being carried off by Fergus, who uses her presence to confuse the troops who are searching for a single man on a horse, and travels with him all the way to Scotland—to what should be her own home, Crewe Castle, Angus’s property (though bought for him by Fergus, to be used as a hideout if / when necessary).

And maybe I take it back about the Harriet Percival editing being the most confusing, because we are missing something important here, too—namely, the key to the working out of Fergus’s fate, wherein Clara becomes convinced that despite his engagement to Mary Trevor, her real rival for Fergus is Anna; and perhaps she’s right:

It was a singular journey. During the whole of it, he conducted himself toward Clara as a father would have done toward a beloved child. But, from the impression which had been produced upon him by the sight of Anna, when she presented to him the plate for his donation in Temple church, the marquis, in the strange and unconnected conversation which he had with Clara, several times inadvertently pronounced the name of her younger sister. Each time, that name fell as a heavy weight upon the heart of Clara…

From hints remaining in the text, we deduce that at some point Clara suffered a strange and tormenting dream, in which Anna came between her and Fergus, though we never know if this had any basis in reality. From Fergus’s reaction, almost certainly not:

    “She is not there today,” she said, with joyful anxiety. “Tell me, Edward, she is not come, is she?”
    Rio Santo saw at once that the poor girl was under the dominion of some strange hallucination; but he could not comprehend of whom she was speaking.

And poor Fergus is indeed fated to be taken down by the crimes he has not committed. Harriet Percival, nothing; it is the once-glimpsed Anna Macfarlane who dooms him:

    “My father!” exclaimed Clara. “Oh, yes, yes, Edward! the farm is just on the other side of the hill. O! how happy we shall be there!”
    She paused abruptly, but immediately afterward added: “That is to say, if my sister does not come, as she did the other time.”
    A flash of ungovernable fury darted from her eyes. She suddenly threw herself back upon the ground, and her hand, by chance, fell upon the cold barrel of one of the pistols. Her action was rapid as thought itself. An explosion broke the silence of that sequestered spot; Rio Santo fell to the ground—the ball from the pistol had struck him in the breast…

Some time later, Fergus is found by quite another woman—the lonely occupant of Crewe Castle:

    When the moon…rendered the spot visible by her silver light, a female form was seen kneeling by the unfortunate marquis. She was praying.
    This was Mary Macfarlane, the Countess of White Manor. She had just recognised, in the dead body stretched upon the grass, Fergus O’Brian, her first, her only love…

Having reached this melodramatic conclusion, The Mysteries Of Paris wraps itself up with a few hilariously abrupt paragraphs—which serve the secondary purpose of illustrating how much of the narrative I have been obliged to ignore in this review, even in this severely cut-down version of the text:

    Prince Demetrious Tolstoy was recalled to Russia in 1837.—He has in his old age become a hermit. The Viscount de Lantures Lucas was espoused to a Blue Stocking, and says—that he is now a most unhappy man. Bishop the Burker was hung for the murder of a child only six years old; Snail became a policeman; Rowley was sent to Botany Bay for experimenting upon an Irishman; Doctor Moore is now dead; Tyrrel the blind man is a banker, and chairman of a railway company, in Thames-street, and handles millions. The duchesse de Gevres, alias the Countess Cantaceuzini, has assumed the name of Randal, and has charge of Mr Tyrrel’s house; and Captain Paddy O’Chrane is now landlord of the King’s Arms.
    Gilbert Paterson, on the night of Rio Santo’s escape from Newgate, was knocked down by a person on horseback, and a waggon passing at the moment, crushed him beneath its wheels. Bob Lantern is confined to St Luke’s Hospital, his wife Temperance sharing his fate, gin and rum having deprived her of her reason…

 

 

 

02/05/2017

The father of crime

Frances Trollope’s Hargrave came to my attention when I was researching the roots of modern crime and detective fiction and, as it turned out, rightly so; but while that novel was singled out for its criminal content, there are further indications that several of Trollope’s novels contain crime subplots—and, perhaps more importantly in context of this historical study, that her novels were influential upon other writers who would play a part in the development of this branch of fiction. As the 19th century wore on, Trollope’s novels fell out of favour in England, where her Regency outspokenness offended Victorian sensibilities; but that they continued to be embraced in France is evident from the fact that when the next important work in the evolution of the detective story appeared, its author used the pseudonym Sir Françis Trolopp.

Paul Henri Corentin Féval (also known as Paul Féval père) is a pivotal figure in 19th century crime writing: literally pivotal, as he was the first to seize upon and expand the format initiated by Eugène Sue in his Les Mystères de Paris, and also – or so says the dogma; we shall investigate presently – the first to introduce into his sprawling crime stories the figure of the professional detective. Furthermore, some years later, after founding a magazine devoted to crime stories, Féval employed and collaborated with Émile Gaboriau, who later wrote what is arguably the first modern detective series, with his stories featuring police detective Monsieur Lecoq.

Paul Féval was trained as a lawyer, but he soon gave up his legal career to become a writer; quickly gaining a reputation as the author of entertaining historical swashbucklers. In terms of his later career, his most important early work was Le Loup Blanc, published in 1843, the hero of which is a Zorro-esque figure who fights against injustice—and may be the earliest example of the crime-fighter with a double life and a secret identity. (He’s also an albino, because if there’s one thing Paul Féval believed in, it was piling it on.)

Féval’s breakthrough work, however, was 1844’s Les Mystères de Londres which, although a clear imitation of Eugène Sue’s crime drama, dropped the social criticism which was a major aspect of Sue’s work while adding several components to the mixture that would dictate the immediate future of crime writing, particularly in France. In this respect, Féval’s most important decision was to make his hero an anti-hero, the secret head of a criminal gang who is also a political plotter masterminding a scheme to bring about an English Revolution. Féval’s revenge-focused central character is recognised as an influence upon Alexandre Dumas père, whose The Count Of Monte Cristo appeared the following year. Subsequently, French crime writing would come to be dominated by narratives of criminal life, and stories of criminals evading the law, in a manner which clearly invited the reader to side with “the bad guys”. This form of writing climaxed with the creation by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre of the seminal figure of Fantômas.

Unfortunately, however, for those of us interested in the history of crime fiction but who don’t have French as a second language, Paul Féval was not the only writer for whom Eugène Sue’s complex crime drama became a model. In fact, over the next decade magazines and newspapers worldwide would almost drown in serial stories promising to reveal “The Mysteries Of—x” …and a poor city you were if somebody didn’t want to unravel your mysteries.

In England, the person to make this form of writing his own was George William Macarthur Reynolds, a critical figure in the development of both crime fiction and horror fiction in England (about whom, we shall be hearing a great deal more in the future). In August 1844, just as Féval’s Les Mystères de Londres was coming to its conclusion in Le Courrier Français, a new weekly eight-page serial (a form of publication which Reynolds dominated, as we shall later see) appeared in England, bearing the title, The Mysteries Of London.

Féval was furious, rightly anticipating that this home-grown serial would supersede his own work. Content with their own story, English readers showed no interest in a foreign version of the same, with the result that, unlike Les Mystères de Paris, Les Mystères de Londres was not translated into English. Three years later, a translation of sorts did appear; and a year after that, another was published in America. The former is a significant abridgement; the latter seems to have been released in loose-leaf, paper-serial form only, never in book form, and no copies are available.

Thus, though Féval’s work has been regularly reissued in France, including as recently as 2015, there is currently no such thing as a full-length, English-language edition of Les Mystères de Londres. Therefore, all we can do is take a look at the 1847 translation by one “R. Stephenson”: a wholly inadequate version of the original, but the best available.