THOUGH our descriptions of the variety of thieves constantly prowling, like the beasts of the forest, for plunder, have been numerous, and, unless we had accompanied them with proof, would almost exceed the belief of our country readers, yet have we still to add other species of robbery. Among the finished villains of London are a gang who extort money from gentlemen, charging them with pretended crimes. These fellows are generally well dressed, and accost elegant young men, demanding money; and, on refusal, threaten to reveal a pretended abominable intercourse. Others there are who have debauched innocent girls, and, when the effects of the illicit commerce is evident, further seduce the unhappy creatures to swear some wealthy married man as the seducer, and, in case of his resisting the false accusations, to swear that he is the father, thus at once rendering a numerous family unhappy.
Other profligate wretches, as indeed we have already shown, swear robberies against innocent men, in order to obtain the reward for the apprehension of felons. Other frauds are practised, which we shall hereafter notice, of dropping counterfeit gold articles and diamonds, and picking the parcel up in the presence of some innocent unsuspicious countryman, whom they acknowledge to be entitled to one half of the pretended prize, and thus cheat him out of whatever property he may have about him, on depositing the spurious article with him, to be valued hereafter.
Instances of some of these artful villainies we have already adduced; but the following has, on perusing the case, drawn from us these additional observations. In truth, they cannot be too often repeated, to guard countrymen against the numerous deceptions practised in the metropolis.
Mr William Hird, of the village of Leyburne, in the North Riding of the county of York, about forty years ago, came on business to London. One day the countryman was caught in a heavy shower of rain, and sought shelter under a gateway on Holborn Hill, where others were for the same reason assembled. There he was accosted by a well-dressed man, who observed that the storm was not likely to abate, and proposed to the innocent countryman to retire to an adjoining public house, and wait for fair weather over a pot of porter. The invitation was readily accepted, and they went to the house, where they found three or four more, who declared that they came on the same errand.
The porter being drank, a bowl of punch was proposed; and the countryman, on such an occasion, determined not to be outdone in acts of courtesy, assented. While the intoxicating liquor passed quickly round, one of the strangers observed that, as the rain increased, a game at cards would pass the heavy time unnoticed; and cards were immediately placed upon the table.
Mr Hird was, in his village club-room, thought to be expert at this amusement; and, confident of his abilities, he scrupled not to take a hand. But what are the best players, who play fairly, among London sharpers? -- Mere dupes.
The game began, when Mr Hird and his partner were for some time successful. The bets, at first small, were doubled, until the stakes became high, when the poor countryman not only lost his gainings, but all his cash soon followed.
This failure being evident, a kind friend in the company advanced him money on his watch, then upon his silver buckles, and in fact every valuable article about him was thus pawned. Entirely stripped, one of the company went out to observe the weather, another disappeared on another pretence, until the countryman was left alone. Then came in the landlord, with his demand for the liquor drank, and payment for the fatal cards.
In vain did poor Mr Hird plead his misfortune; the host insisted on being paid, alleging that the company were all strangers to him, and he must look to the last. References for payment were refused, and the poor countryman was obliged to part with his coat and hat, and, the rain still continuing, to return to his inn, wet to the skin.
Swindling has of late years become so common a practice in the metropolis that writers for diurnal papers frequently amuse themselves in relating adroit performances of this nature in burlesque, pun and hyperbole. One of these scribbling wits thus made merry with a silly tradesman on being fiddled out of his money:
"SWINDLING SET TO MUSIC."
A country-looking man lately called at a haberdasher's shop with a fiddle under his arm, and after purchasing and paying for some trifling articles, which he pretended to want, asked to be allowed to leave his purchase and his fiddle till He did some other business through the town. He had scarcely gone out when in comes an accomplice (as it turned out), who, observing the fiddle, takes it up and tries it, and is quite charmed with it. 'This is the most charming fiddle I have ever met with; is it for sale? -- I'd give fifty guineas for that fiddle.' He was told it was not for sale, but belonged to a countryman who had just left it there till he should make some other calls. 'When he comes back for it, try and buy it from him -- make the best bargain with him you can for yourself; but whatever you buy it at, I promise to give you fifty guineas for it, and I will call again by and by.' By and by back comes the countryman for his fiddle. ' Will you part with that fiddle?' says the haberdasher; 'I have taken a fancy for it.' The man answered he had no intention of parting with his fiddle, for he knew it to be a very good one, and did not know if he could get such another. 'I'll give you fifty shillings for it,' said the haberdasher. 'No, no.' 'Five guineas for it,' said the haberdasher. 'I'll not take twenty,' said the countryman. In short, after a great deal of chapmanship, the haberdasher got the fiddle at forty guineas; and a happy man was he, thinking he had made ten guineas by the bargain. But he has been allowed to keep the fiddle, to solace himself for the loss of his money. The fifty- guinea merchant never returned."
On the 13th of October, 1809, a most infamous act of swindling was practised on eight poor infirm widows in the Almshouses, near the New Grove Road, Mile End Road, by a well-dressed man, about five feet two inches high, stoutish made, hair tied, and light green coat. He went to one of the poor pensioners' houses and thus addressed them: 'You are all widows -- a lady has left you eight pounds'; he then took their names down, and inquired who would go with him, saying the minister and gentlemen were waiting for them, that they must bring twenty-three shillings in silver to give change, or they could not be paid. One of the poor women borrowed the money at a neighbouring public-house, and a young woman went with him to Stepney Church. He told her to wait at the porch while he went and spoke to the clerk, which she saw him do, and supposed all was right; but he told the clerk he wanted to put up the banns of marriage, and the clerk desired him to come when the service was over. He came out, told the girl all was right, and she must go with him. He then asked the unsuspecting girl for the twenty-three shillings and decamped with the money. The girl went back to the clerk, where she was soon informed of her mistake, to the no small grief of the poor disappointed pensioners.