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“ DEPUTY” AT PUGMASTER'S.
PUGMASTER'S Lodging House is one of a row that skulks in a blind alley between Bishopsgate Street and Whitechapel. There used to be a double row in the alley; but a few years since Metropolitan Improvements assaulted the shameful “no thoroughfare” with a vigour that threatened the entire annihilation of Pugmaster and all his crew. Having succeeded in demolishing one side of the way, Metropolitan Improvement faltered in its virtuous intention, let the cleared site on a building lease, backed out of the alley with its implements of demolition, and has not been heard of since. The building erected on the reclaimed ground is a metal warehouse—a store on an extensive scale for all manner of castings in brass and copper of a handy and portable description. It is well known that “metal” of all kinds has an irresistible attraction for thieves and vagabonds of the type common to Pugmaster's Alley. A few pounds' weight of it are easily stowed away, and, as a rule, there are difficulties in identifying it.
Then, again, whatever may be its character or quality, it is worth its weight;" and, despite all laws and Acts of Parliament to the contrary, any quantity of it, from half a pound to half a hundredweight, may be turned into ready money in the twinkling of a marine-store dealer's scale-beam. The metal warehouse stands with its back to the alley; and the only outlet or look-out into it from the blank brick wall is a sort of half-door, half-window, at which, occasionally, goods are delivered. It is an ordinary window, secured—as may plainly be seen from the outside-only with an ordinary catch. The opening is not more than eight feet from the ground, and it might safely be wagered that any night there might be found in Pugmaster's Alley twenty active young fellows both able and willing to make an entry by that window in as little time as it takes to count ten. Nor is it any secret to that twenty-nay, to the fifty times twenty that nightly find harbourage in the alley, one and all of whom are afflicted with a hankering after metal—that, entrance to the warehouse once gained, the plunder of valves, taps, hinges, and fine compact, weighty caps for axletrees, would be almost inexhaustible. Yet for six years has that metal warehouse remained as safe from molestation as though a troop of soldiery, similar to that which guards the Bank of England nightly passed its threshold.
Why was this? I put the question to the person I deemed best able to answer; and he responded with a grin and a chuckle that seemed to make even his wooden leg quiver. We were in the warehouse in which was the window overlooking Pugmaster's Alley. Peering cautiously to make sure that he was not overheard, he replied,
" It's the rummiest thing you ever heard tell of. I don't know who put the rumour about, but I'll swear I didn't. They've got hold of it somehow that I sleeps on a bench under this winder, and that I never lays down without having my poleaxe just handy, and that I have swore a oath to chop down the first one that tries at that winder. I've swore to give 'em no warning, but to wait till whichever of 'em it is raises the sash and
puts in his head and shoulders, to chop him down like a bullock.”
This was Giles, the sole after-dark resident and custodian of the warehouse—a sinister-looking, broadshouldered, squat-built old gentleman, who had seen much naval service in his earlier days, and who, though he has enjoyed a pension for at least twenty years past, is still as tough as rhinoceros hide.
“ Then there is no truth in the rumour ?” said I; but at that moment there appeared in the passage of Pugmaster's lodging house—it was not more than half a dozen yards across the alley, and our window was open—a villanous figure of a man with soldering-irons sticking out of the pocket of his greasy, ragged jacket, as though to give colour to his pretence of being a brazier. Mr Giles nudged me, and looking another way, remarked solemnly, as though in continuation of our conversation
“I'd split his skull just like a sheep's head is split, if I had to stand my trial for it.” I was quite aware that the remark was intended for the edification of the brazier, but if he heard it it had no great effect on him. He merely scowled and snorted ; but that may have been his ordinary morning salutation to a world that could not appreciate his honest efforts.'
This same old Giles the watchman had first excited my curiosity respecting Pugmaster's. The street-door of Pugmaster's was never shut. It was the only means of lighting the dingy kitchen at the end of the passage by day, and at night it stood wide open for the accommodation of lodgers. It was held back by a large stone, the face of which was rubbed smooth and polished by the friction of trousers' legs and of female skirts. On this stone did Pugmaster's Deputy sit of evenings before the press of business began, and smoke his short pipe, and talk with Mr Giles, who, after the warehouse was closed, frequently sat at his window and smoked his pipe.
Sometimes the watchman would so far unbend as to read the murders out of the weekly newspaper to the attentive young man sitting on the stone in the opposite passage, and who, I really believe, setting aside the poleaxe, entertained great respect and admiration for MrGiles. “Any time when you would like to go over Pugmaster's, say the word, sir, and I'll go with you,” Mr Giles, on more than one occasion, had been good enough to remark; and on the day I called on him, prepared to take him at his word, I found him quite ready.
We discovered the “Deputy”—a slim young man, of not prepossessing appearance-taking his breakfast in the kitchen. He was airily attired in a very dirty shirt and a pair of greasy black trousers, secured at the waist with a leather strap, and worn without braces. His hair was long and lank, and so bountifully oiled as to defeat the young man's intention to “curl it under," after the approved “Newgate knocker” fashion ; but he had not washed his face, and his hands were almost as grimy as his turned-back shirt-sleeves. He was luxuriating in a breakfast, the chief ingredients of which were toastwhich he spread with dripping contained in a gallipotand red herrings. He had an abundant supply of smoking hot coffee in a vessel of zinc with a wooden handle, like a washing bowl. His greeting was affable, though somewhat striking in its terms.
“Morning, Mr — Giles,” said he. “'Ow do you find yourself this mornin', sir ?.".
I expected to see my friend resent the sanguinary imputation ; but since he merely made cheery response that he was “ bobbish,” I set it down in my own mind
that Mr Giles accepted the ugly prefix to his name as referring rather to the mystic poleaxe than to himself.
“We think of going over the house, if you've got no objection,” said Mr Giles.
“You're welcome. We're registered, don't you know?" replied the Deputy, with a glance in my direction.
But Mr Giles whispered him, and at once set his mind at ease. Too much so, because he made himself suddenly and demonstratively friendly.
"'Ow are yer ?” said he ; and before I could object, he caught my hand in the dirty paw with which he had just spread a round of toast, and shook it as though he had known me for years.
“You was pretty full last night,” remarked Mr Giles ; “I see 'em comin' in pretty thick after twelve."
“I didn't see no light in your winder.”
“That says nothing," returned Mr Giles, vaguely hinting poleaxe. “I lays awake hours in the dark sometimes, with my eye at that.there bottom pane. Anybody at home?"
"On'y the Bedrid,” replied the Deputy.
“'Course ; he's always at home,” responded Mr Giles, lightly; “it would be rather a mirricle to ketch him out.”
“You won't ’ave a drop of coffee ? " asked the hospitable Deputy, holding the washing bowl towards us with a persuasive smile; "it's werry good.”
But Mr Giles had recently breakfasted, and I don't care much for coffee myself; so we started at once for upstairs.
“We has women as well as men,” said the Deputy, when we reached the first landing of what hundreds of years ago had been a handsome, roomy mansion ; “ but we're werry strict. Lor' bless you, they know better than to carry on here. We floors 'em out; and a male