Bigamy and Child-Stealing
by Inspector F.

“LYNDHURST! Lyndhurst! Who knows Lyndhurst?” exclaimed the head superintendent at Scotland Yard, who had just opened a note brought by post, addressing a lot of us detectives. “Who knows Lyndhurst?”
“Lord Lyndhurst?”
“Bosh! A place somewhere in Hampshire. There’s a long job there for one of you—three or four months of it, perhaps, or more, Lawyer Bence, of New-square, intimates.”
“I have never been there,” said I; “but I know it’s in the heart of the New Forest.”
“In the heart of the New Forest, eh? Well, I think you had better take the affair in hand; a long spell in the heart of the New Forest would only suit a man without encumbrances; besides, you can groom horses, I know, a faculty which Mr. Bence thinks may come into advantageous play.”

“Does Mr. Bence, then, suppose a detective officer is going to groom horses in the New Forest for three or four months?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. You had better call upon Mr. Bence and ascertain, taking this note with you. It’s a deuce of an in-and-out case of bigamy, child-stealing, and I don’t know what besides, and immediate attention to the affair is commanded. You must see Mr. Bence without delay. He is waiting at his office.”
“Oh, you are the detective officer whose services I have applied for,” said Mr. Bence, glancing first at me, next at a couple of lines which the inspector had written at the foot of his own note. “Sit down, I shall be disengaged in two or three minutes, and we will go into the affair.”
Mr. Bence finished a letter he was writing, dispatched it, gave orders that he was not to be disturbed whilst I was with him, settled himself in his leather fauteuil, and hooking his two thumbs into his waistcoat armholes, began.
“You have brought your notebook, of course?”

“I have,” said I, producing it.
“Very well; I will then recount to you the chief circumstances, the broad outline of this most complicated, abominable, inexplicable business. The broad outline only, which we confide in your skill to fill up, in a manner, as we trust, which shall materially modify the character of the sketch.

“My client, Tracy Shapcott, Esquire, of Portland-place, London, and Beech Hall, situate between Lyndhurst and Lymington, in the New Forest, Hampshire, is a gentleman of very impulsive, ardent temperament. When younger, though he is not thirty yet, he was naturally much more so. He was an only son, and the heir to a fine property, yet he must needs marry, positively marry, a peasant-wench for her pretty face! A quite uneducated girl, I am told—bodily beauty, nothing more—not even moral excellence. Such marriages appear monstrous to the eye of reason, but nevertheless are, as we all know, of constant occurrence, and I suppose will continue to be of constant occurrence to the end of time. He—m?
“In this case, young Tracy Shapcott—he had only passed his majority by a few weeks when the marriage took place—was lured on by a wily rascal, named Street, the girl’s stepfather, who was at the time acting as Tracy Shapcott senior’s bailiff. The wife’s maiden name was Parsons—Ann Parsons; and her mother ran away after not many months’ cohabitation with Street, as I understand, in company with a tinker, or something of the sort. A charming circle, truly, for Tracy Shapcott to enter. His father died not very long after the disreputable marriage of his son, and in happy ignorance thereof. Mrs. Tracy Shapcott was for a brief time installed mistress of Beech Hall. A very brief time. Mere personal beauty soon palls upon the imagination of a man of taste and refinement; the wife was speedily wearied of, as she was unsuited for, the state of life to which she was exalted or condemned; a separation was gladly agreed to by both, Mr. Tracy covenanting to allow her five hundred per annum for life. Should the expected child be born alive, that, when weaned, was to be given into his charge. Fortunately, the child was stillborn, at a place near Lymington, where she at the time resided with Street, her stepfather.

“Soon afterwards Street, always accompanied by Mrs. Shapcott, removed to a superior residence about a mile distant from Lyndhurst. There the wife was taken suddenly ill of smallpox. Mr. Shapcott very properly refused to see her, but sent Mr. Fowler, a surgeon of Lyndhurst, to attend upon her. He also engaged the services of an M.D. of London celebrity, who chanced to be on a professional visit at the Earl of Malmesbury’s, near Christ-church, also a town or village in the New Forest. The case proved to be a bad one—confluent smallpox. She recovered, that is, she did not die, but her health was permanently affected, and her beauty entirely gone, scarred, seamed almost beyond recognition. Change of air and scene was prescribed, and she left the neighborhood of Lyndhurst under the care of Street, her stepfather. Mr. Tracy Shapcott had one, and only one, brief interview with his wife previous to her departure.
“Up to that time,” continued Mr. Bence, “my client had no one but himself to blame for the disgrace and misery caused by his marriage. We shall now see him the victim of a cruel, heartless conspiracy, the actors in which have hitherto escaped legal detection. Street and his stepdaughter had been gone about three weeks when a letter reposted from Hampshire, was received at Portland-place, by Mr. Tracy Shapcott. It was dated from Liverpool, and announced the death of his wife. A certified copy of the registrar’s certificate of the death, stated that Ann, wife of Tracy Shapcott, Esquire, died of aneurism. The letter, which was signed Philip Street, was brief and businesslike. The writer stated that having no tie left that bound him to England, he intended emigrating to America. He respectfully asked Mr. Tracy Shapcott to afford him the means of doing so with comfort and a prospect of success in the New World, for the sake of her who had been so untimely cut off. It was added that whatever Mr. Shapcott intended to give, if anything, which of course was quite optional with him, ought to be forwarded at once, as he, Philip Street, intended sailing by the next packet, whether or not.

“It would be absurd to suppose that the letter and enclosure did not afford Tracy Shapcott inexpressible relief. He is also a very generous as well as rich man, and under those combined influences he, by the same day’s post, forwarded a draft for one thousand pounds upon a Liverpool banker, payable to the order of Philip Street.”
“Without inquiring whether the certificate of death was genuine or not?”

“Without making any inquiry. But the certificate of death was genuine enough, as far as the official registry was concerned; there is no doubt about that. Moreover, the simple fact that by the woman’s death the five hundred per annum ceased to be payable, repressed suspicion.”
“That is true, sir. I have carefully noted all the points. You will give me a list of dates.”
“Yes; a clerk shall make an accurate copy for you. A few months passed, not quite three, when Tracy Shapcott married again. He could not have made a more suitable, happier choice. The young lady was the only child of a wealthy Wiltshire gentleman, whose country seat is not a hundred miles from Devizes. The marriage was a singularly happy one up to its fourteenth honeymoon. Then thunder fell. Mr. and Mrs. Tracy Shapcott were sitting at dessert with a few friends at the house in Portland-place, when the post brought a letter bearing the Lyndhurst mark, and marked in strongly underlined words—IMMEDIATE. MOST IMPORTANT. The letter was from Mr. Shapcott’s butler at Beech Hall, and announced that Philip Street, and his stepdaughter, Mrs. Tracy Shapcott, were returned to their old place of abode. He, the butler, Mr. Fowler, the surgeon, and his assistant, had seen the woman, who was still very ill, almost bedridden, and there could be no manner of doubt it was really Mrs. Shapcott. Philip Street stoutly denied that he had ever written to Mr. Tracy Shapcott upon any subject, and said he should not perhaps have left the place in Cumberland, where he had lived since he left Hampshire, but that not having received a draft for the two hundred and fifty pounds due on the annuity, he thought perhaps Mr. Tracy meant to shirk out of the obligation, and had come to see about it. He had received when he went away one year’s annuity, five hundred pounds, in advance, and it was to have been paid by half-yearly installments, not in advance, afterwards.

“To be as brief as possible,” the lawyer went on to say, “the upshot was, that nothing could be proved against Street. The Liverpool clerk who had cashed the thousand-pounds draft was quite clear that he, Street, was not the man who presented it, and the registrar was equally positive he was not the husband of the woman that officer saw lying dead, and who was described to him as Ann, wife of Tracy Shapcott, Esq. All that was of but minor importance. The dreadful fact that the first Mrs. Tracy Shapcott was alive could not be disputed; a cruel, irreparable blow was inflicted upon a most amiable lady, the nominal second wife, and upon the equally innocent, morally speaking, husband. One child, a girl, had been born to them, another was upon the road. Of that also, the lady was in due time safely delivered. It, too, was a girl, and the law-bastardised sisters were respectively baptized Emily and Perdita.”
“A dreadful business, truly; but I really don’t see how a police officer can hope to better it.”
“Stop—stop; you haven’t heard half yet. I need not say that the children remained with their mother, and most charming children they were—are, I trust. Mr. Shapcott earnestly longed to see and to speak with them—the eldest, at all events. This request always met with a stern refusal, chiefly, I am quite sure, through the influence of the lady’s father, who has never forgiven Mr. Tracy Shapcott for not having, as soon as he received the letter purporting to be signed by Philip Street, proceeded without an hour’s delay to Liverpool, and ascertain the truth of the representation forwarded to him. The proper course, no doubt, but it is so easy to be wise after the event. As I was saying, Mr. Shapcott’s earnest, humble entreaties to be allowed to see his children, to speak with them, if but for a few minutes, were invariably refused. Mr. Tracy Shapcott has been frequently heard to express himself with passionate bitterness upon the subject, unfortunately. Well, about a twelvemonth ago—the clerk as I have said, will give you the exact dates—about a twelvemonth ago, the eldest child, Emily was kidnapped—stolen away, no one knows how or by whom. She was playing in the grounds of her grandpapa’s mansion, near Devizes, and when sought for could nowhere be found. Suspicion immediately fell upon Mr. Shapcott; search warrants, grounded upon certain wild expressions, threats, in fact, it was sworn he had used, were granted, high rewards were offered, all without effect; the child could not be traced. And now,” continued Mr. Bence, quite excitedly, “and now, only three days ago, the remaining child, Perdita, has, in like manner, disappeared, and can nowhere be found. Mr. Shapcott is again, by general consent, the culprit, and in order, if possible, to punish him, an indictment for bigamy is to be preferred. That, however, is mere blank cartridge. The moral opprobrium attaching to an act which inflicts new and terrible wounds upon the heart of a lady whose life he had, however unintentionally, blighted, is what bows him to the earth.”
“Then you do not concur in the general verdict that Mr. Tracy Shapcott is guilty of the abduction of the children?”
“I do not; I feel convinced that he is as innocent of the atrocious offence as I myself am. Nay, that he laments, passionately grieves over the loss of the children as truly as their mother does, and would hesitate at no sacrifice to recover them for her. But I cannot persuade others to concur in that opinion.”

“Am I bound, then, upon a voyage of discovery in search of the missing children?”
“Not exactly; yours will be a general commission. Fire would not burn it out of me that Street, Philip Street, is the Alpha and Omega of all the mischief, though I confess to being unable to point to any tangible evidence in support of that opinion. It is in a duel with him—a duel of wit, cunning, invention, and circumvention, Mr. Detective, that I wish to employ you.”
“How am I to provoke the duel? what weapons can you provide me with?
“The duel will be easily enough provoked! motherwit and trained sagacity must be your weapons. This is about the state of the matter: I returned from Hampshire yesterday morning, and, after taking stock after my return of what I had learned, what discovered, found only one hopeful item, which hopeful item is that Philip Street, who lives in hardly such good style as befits a man practically in the enjoyment of five hundred per annum, seldom keeps his groom more than a month, will never employ a native of the place, and has a preference for deaf men, the deafer the better. Now you can act as groom for a time, being sufficiently paid for so doing; you are not a native of those parts, and I conclude, or you would not be worth your salt as a detective, can be as deaf as a block of wood, when you please, and for as long as you please.”
“Well, I am up to that mark; how, then?”
“You will have to leave the train, say within nine or ten miles of Lyndhurst, and assume the garb, gait, speech of a hard-up, but decent tramp, in search of gardening, or groom work—any mortal thing. Your rock ahead in life has been that dreadful deafness, or you’d have had no occasion to tramp all the way from Sussex in search of work. There’s a nice place you can put up at in Lyndhurst where they take in decent respectable tramps, and which of an evening, especially Sunday evening, is filled with village company. They’ll be full of nothing else now but Squire Shapcott being going to be tried after all for bigamy—he owns half the village—and about the carrying off of the children. My life upon it you’ll get further into the heart of the mystery in one evening that way than I should by making direct inquiries for a twelvemonth.”
“That is likely enough. Does Philip Street frequent the Fox and Hounds of an evening?”
“Not he. He is too cunning to place his brain and tongue under the influence of strong ale. No, but he’ll be sure to hear there is a strange tramp hanging about there, who says he can do horses, and gardens, and is as deaf as a millstone. He’ll snap at you like a ravenous pike at a favorite bait. My word for it he will,” added the lawyer, rubbing his fat hands, and shaking his fat sides with glee. “Then, then,” said he, “if there is anything to discover, any villainy to detect, and since there is, it will be very strange if you fail to seize and hold it.”
“I don’t know; that’s to be seen. It’s a complicated business—”

“One moment; let me mention one circumstance, or I may forget it. There was a rumor, a sort of indistinct buzz floating about, which, when I strove to catch and realize it, faded away, that the girl Parsons, Mrs. Tracy Shapcott, you know, had been married before she espoused Shapcott, and that it was not known if her husband was dead or not. Nothing more likely than that such a girl should have married at an earlier age than twenty—she was in her twenty-first year when poor Shapcott was fool enough to take her to wife; likely also to be speedily deserted, and if deserted, to reassume the character of a single woman. Bear that important hint well in mind. I do not think I have any other suggestion to make,” added Mr. Bence, looking up at the ceiling with knit brows, thrusting one hand under his waistcoat and jingling his old-fashioned chain and seals with the other, “if any idea likely to be of service should occur to me I will write to you.”
“No, no, sir, no writing to me if you please; tramps don’t receive letters, especially not lawyer’s letters. The Lyndhursters would be fly in a moment. I must be tramp out and out; live cheap and shocking bad like a tramp, sleep upon a straw bed like a tramp, so that I take it, if it lasts only a month, and the superintendent spoke of three or four months, as uncommon hard lines, far beyond the lines of general duty.”
“Quite right, quite right; but don’t trouble yourself about that. Only succeed, and the reward will be liberal—most liberal.”
“Is that meaning to say that the game is to be played upon the principle of no cure no pay? because if so—”

“Not at all; you misunderstand me. For faithful work, though no favorable result be obtained, an adequate, generous remuneration will be awarded. I pledged myself to that effect in my letter yester-evening to the Commissioners. Here,” added the lawyer, “is earnest-money for the purchase of your tramper’s outfit.”

Some other minor preliminaries were arranged, and I left the office. I rather liked the job: it was a pleasant time of year, the first week in June, and it occurred to me that as I should be sure to get work in the hayfields, and I could mow famously when a lad, I should by that means have a good chance not only of avoiding suspicion as to my real character, but of sounding the village mind in all its nooks and corners anent the Shapcott troubles.”

“Can ’ee let a poor feller a bed cheepish mam?” said a worn, tired, dusty, but decent-looking tramp, carrying a mowing-scythe, the long curved blade of which was carefully bound round with hay-bands, upon his right shoulder and a small bundle in his left hand, addressing the buxom widow landlady of the Fox and Hounds, Lyndhurst.
“Yes, a shake down in the loft for fourpence.”

“Not at no price! well must trudge furder then, and I’ve walked a mort of miles today already. Half-a-pint of beer, Missus.”
“You can have a shake down for fourpence,” bawled the landlady, seeing how wooden-deaf the man was, at the same time handing the half-pint and receiving a silver fourpenny in her open palm.

“Eh, what, no—no none of that,” cried the tramp, grabbing back his fourpenny bit, “a half-pint is a penny all the world over, not twopence, a penny, not twopence, Tom Dawkins beant such a fool as that nayther.”
It was Sunday evening, a considerable number of village rustics were clustered round the bar, and the inner rooms were ringing with their noisy mirth. After an immense deal of bawling into Tom Dawkins’ ears by more than one pair of lungs, he was at last made to comprehend that he might have a shake down for fourpence, and that no such iniquity had been intended as charging him twopence for a half-pint of beer. Tom Dawkins apologized, being a leetle deaf. “Not so very much,” added Tom, “I’ve a seen wus, a dang’d deal wus, my own brother was twice as deaf.” Upon which one of the company remarked that talking of being deaf as a post that feller must be as deaf as twenty posts and a milestone to boot, at which there was a great laugh. Tom laughed too, thinking it was at a shy young fellow who had just come in with his sweetheart. “Never, never mind boy,” said Tom, “let ’em laugh, they wunt laugh themselves as young as thee beeth, I’se warrent, they’d be precious glad to tho’, wouldn’t they? Thee good health and thee sweetheart’s, ay, ay, let ’em laugh; it shakes the wind out on ’em.”
The evening’s result was that I had made a favorable impression upon the Lyndhurst rustics, by whom I was there and then christened “Deaf Dawkins.” As the evening wore on I was engaged to assist on the following day at mowing a field of seven acres, at five shillings an acre, and before I crawled up into the loft a hundred people in and about Lyndhurst knew that I said I wouldn’t turn my back to anyone for mowing hay, reaping and bagging wheat, gardening, looking after horses, and even shoeing horses. I wanted to tell a story about shoeing a horse on the high road, but I was sung down by a stunning chorus to the favorite song of—

“For a shoiny noight is my deloight,
In the zaizon of the year.”

Sunday evening alehouse concerts are highly popular in English agricultural villages. I could not, for my purpose, have achieved a more favorable introduction to the neighborhood. I heard, however, nothing that evening of the Shapcott business; his name was not once, in my hearing, mentioned. They were all too merry, too full of themselves, their Sunday clothes, their sweethearts, their pipes, beer, and song revelry, to care for and think of much else.
It was different on the Wednesday evening. There was a raffle at the Fox and Hounds for a common china tea set, put up by a poor woman, who wanted the money to pay her rent, and was, as in all such cases, an affair of charity; the organ of benevolence stimulated by the almost universal passion for gambling.
The main room was pretty full, and after the important business of the evening was concluded conversation, became miscellaneous, various questions being discussed by different groups of customers. Somebody asked, aloud, addressing a knowing looking chap seated at a small table alone, drinking aristocratic grog, and ditto cigar—he was a lawyer’s clerk I afterwards knew—if it were true that a London runner was coming down to make inquiries, and swear in Squire Stanton’s servants as to what they knowed about the children. The knowing young man, after deliberating his reply, during about a dozen whiffs, said, “It had not quite been decided whether the runner should be sent for or not; but in his, the speaker’s, humble opinion, it wouldn’t be of the least use to have one down. The children,” added he, with solemn tone and expression, “will never be seen again, nor heard of again in this world. Never! Take my word for that. Mind yar, I say nothing against Squire Shapcott, God forbid! Not a word. And as to some people as he had heard trying in some way to mix up Mr. Street’s name with the terrible business, it was ridiculous. What need he care whether the children lived or died, grew up to be the ornaments of society, or were cruelly—. Ah! But a still tongue keeps a wise head. Waiter, fill this glass again!”
“As for the matter of that, Mr. Crowe,” said a fresh-looking, middle-aged man; “what motive can Squire Shapcott have for doing harm to his own children? The little girls where they are, are as right as a trivet, I’ll warrant.”
“I never said,” rejoined Mr. Crowe, “that Squire Shapcott had done the children an injury. I never intend, never shall say so; but this I know, there’s wheels within wheels. So that I may know better how they work round and round than you.”
There was a pause after that emphatic declaration, and the listening ceased to be general. This was fortunate. Five or six of the company, two of them my mates in the hay-field, close to whom I was sitting, having, I soon found, a very bad opinion of Street, and a knowledge of his antecedents, as well as that of the Parsons family, extending many years back.
“He’s a bad ’un, I tell’ee, is Street.”
“Softly. Mind what you are saying!” and he indicated my presence by a nod of his head.

“Oh, never mind he; he’s deafer nor this table. It’s Deaf Dawkins, as we calls un’; I have a been workin’ wi’un yesterday and today. Never mind he.”
“He’s a bad ’un is Street, I tell’ee, stock and lock.” The speaker looked like an under-gamekeeper or forester. “I summered and winter’d ’un for more nor thirty years, long afore he was such a big man as he is now. I do know for certain, I could take my Bible oath on it, that he starved his poor old mother to death only to get hold of the ten gold guineas she’d saved up in better days, so as not to be buried by the parish. The old woman showed them safe to a neighbor only the very day afore she died. They warn’t safe arter the old lady had slipped her wind. Yes, they was safe, in that warmint of a son of her’s pocket; and the poor old creetur’ was buried by the parish arter all, and he’s a downright devil, is Street; and if he’s got a spite agen the Squire, and he thought that by stealin’ the young ’uns safely away he could bring shame and disgrace upon him, he’s just the feller to spare no pains, stick at nothin’, to do it.”
“Didn’t yar know the Parsons? Street married the widow Parsons, didn’t he?”

“Yes; I think I did know the Parsons; and a precious nice lot they were. There was mother Parsons who Street married, and who soon afterwards ran away with Joe Bates, the travelling razor-grinder and tinker. There was—”
“Wasn’t Joe Bates in the army once?” interrupted the previous querist.
“He was; and being a scholard rose up to be a payin’ sergeant. There he was licked; havin’ the dibs to handle, they stuck to his fingers; he was tried for false accounts, and got two years’ treadmill, and when he came out, travelled the country as a grinder and tinker. Well, as I was a-sayin’, we’ll have another. Won’t your deaf mate drink?”
“Won’t he; try un. It’s of no use hollerin’; show un’ the pot gi’ the handle his way. He can hear that, eh? Well, he bean’t a bad sort.”
“As I was sayin’, there was Mother Wallis, and her two gals.”
“Two gals! I never knowed she had more than one.”
“Two, I tell’ee. I knowed ’em both from the time they was six penneth of halfpence high. Wasn’t they stunnin’, beautiful gals. I never seed such faces and figures in my life, never! and I’ve been in Lunnon, too, often enough. Their names was Bet and Nance. Nance was the one Squire married. I warn’t much surprised, that Squire Shapcott knew the sort of young man he was. The gals was twins, and like one another as two peas; you actually didn’t know which was which if you seed ’em apart—not by their faces, I mean; blowed if you could. I couldn’t myself. When you seed ’em walk, you could though. Bet was born with one leg about three inches shorter than t’other.”
“What went of Bet?”
“I can’t say; nor whether she was married or not when she went off, which was afore she was sixteen, and a good while afore either them or Street came into this part of the country. They all come from up Andover way.”
“Deaf Dawkins is wanted!” said the waiter. “Mr. Street wants him.”

Deaf Dawkins made at last to comprehend that he was wanted, walked out of the room. Deaf Dawkins, with all his experience in villainous physiognomies, at once mentally decided that he had never seen a more villainous one than that of Mr. Philip Street.

“Are you the man they call Deaf Dawkins,” shouted that person in Dawkins’ ear.
The poor fellow looked hopelessly at the questioner, then on the ground, then up again at the questioner, stroking his chin meditatively the while. He was again asked in a louder, shriller key, if he was Deaf Dawkins. A gleam of light shot across his eyes. “Mowin’! Yes; I can take a job. I finished the last this evening.”
“I told you it was of no use, Mr. Street,” said the landlady. “He’s a precious sight deafer than a stone wall.”

Mr. Street laughed and looked pleased. “Please hand me a piece of chalk, Mrs. Stares; I’ll try if he can read.”
Mr. Street wrote, “Can you read?” upon the mahogany counter, and pointed Deaf Dawkins’ attention thereto.
“Yes; very well,” was the prompt reply.
This seemed to complete Mr. Street’s satisfaction, and a string of questions were rapidly asked in writing and replied to by speech.

“Do you want a situation?”

“Yes; I do.”
“What are you fit for?”

“A’most anything in reason. I can mow, bag, and do all kinds of gardenin’ ; look arter horses, groom ’em, drive, ride, and make myself generally useful.”
“In whose service were you last?”

“Squire Merton’s, near Lewes, Sussex.”

“Will he give you a character?”

“Certainly he will, and a good ’un.”
“Why did you leave his service?”
“Because I was gettin’ too deaf, he thought.”

“What wages do you want?”
“Aint particuler. Wants mostly a comfortable place where I could be pretty sure of stayin’ a good while.”
“Come to me tomorrow morning. I’ll give you a month’s trial.”
“Thank’ye, sir, I’m sure. How shall I find the place?”

“Anybody will direct you if you show them this card.”

“Thank’ye, sir. O bean’t I happy! whaop!” and I cut a caper which was, I need hardly say, the expression of a real exultation.
Before I went to bed that night, I, by force of spending all the money I had earned at mowing, by way of wetting my new place with the friends I had left in the parlour, and other cheaper expedients, managed to find out without appearing to ask for the information, that the man who professed himself to be so well acquainted with Street and the Parsons family, was under-gamekeeper to the Earl of Malmesbury, a man of very good character, and his name John Blake I should know where to find him if he were wanted. My run of good luck was not yet over. As Mr. Blake rose to leave, he said, suddenly, “I say,” addressing the man who had questioned him about the Parsonses. “I say, Bill, there is one thing I forgot to mention. I’m pretty sure I met Mother Parsons about a year ago, at about a mile t’other side of Plaitford. She was dressed fine, I can tell thee, if ’twas she, and as good looking as ever. She was ridin’ in a chaise cart drawn by a pretty nag, and seein’ me went by like the wind. At least I thought so; but p’raps arter all it wasn’t she; I only glimpsed her for about half a minut’.” Saying that, Blake left.
The notion that darted into my noodle when I first heard Blake speak of the wonderful likeness between the twins, Bet and Nance Parsons, was that Nance, Mrs. Tracy Shapcott, had really died at Liverpool, the letter announcing her death genuine at the time it was written, and the remembrance of the surprising likeness, possibly an accidental meeting with Bet, might have suggested the afterthought. Upon reflection I saw that could not be the case, Mrs. Tracy Shapcott had been seized with smallpox, and frightfully scarred thereby before she left the neighborhood of Lyndhurst, and the woman who had returned with Street was also frightfully seamed and scarred by smallpox! Mr. Fowler and his assistant who attended during the disease, had both seen her since she returned. It was very unlikely that both sisters would be seized with, and disfigured by smallpox! Quite clearly I had thoughtlessly jumped at an absurd conclusion.
The dwelling-place of Mr. Philip Street was called New Forest Lodge. It was a roomy, gloomy looking place, with a large piece of garden ground attached but wretchedly kept. The panel-built house itself was in equally dilapidated condition. In some rooms there were no grates, in others the grates were eaten up with rust. The paint brush had not been called into operation for many years; in fact, everything in and about the house was the embodiment of desolation and decay, with the exception of Mr. Philip Street’s own sitting room; that was cosily furnished enough, and so the old withered woman servant told me was the lady’s, Mrs. Tracy Shapcott’s bedchamber, from which the “lady” never stirred out, except occasionally to take an airing when she was carried downstairs, and placed in the carriage by Mr. Street himself, and on returning to New Forest Lodge, she was in like manner lifted out and carried to her bed chamber by Mr. Street. The withered old crone of a woman servant, the only one kept except myself, lived, it was evident, in terror, the most abject, of her master. She was fettered to his service I was quite certain, by a bond of guilt which only death could break. My intercourse with her, as with Mr. Street, was carried on by the help of a slate and pencil. Somehow the old devil took umbrage at, conceived suspicion of me from the first. I heard her hint as much to Street. He asked her why she suspected me. She could give no reason, except that “she did not like my looks.” The very greatest compliment ever paid me. Street laughed and bade her hold her gabble, and mind her work.
Street kept a really handsome turn-out. A double phaeton, drawn by two horses, and fine, well-matched animals they were. He was very proud and careful of them, and watched my mode of grooming them closely. I fully satisfied him, and he evidently congratulated himself upon being so well suited. He never sent for my character.
On the second day of my novel service, I obtained sight of Mrs. Tracy Shapcott, I was greatly surprised. The disfiguring ravages of the smallpox had been greatly exaggerated by Mr. Bence. The once, there could be no doubt, singularly beautiful face was still a very charming, fascinating one. As to its having been so distorted that her features were scarcely recognizable, that was mere fudge. The only fault of the face, an immense one of course, was its entirely sensuous, unintellectual character. It was not a languid, softly sensuous expression, an ardently voluptuous one rather, and I noticed a hard glitter in her eyes at times which greatly marred their well-opened beauty of form and color. There could not be one moment’s doubt who was master. Street was literally afraid of her; he was her servant—nothing but her servant. The annuity of five hundred pounds of course accounted for their relative positions.

The notion that the lady was not Nance or Ann, but Bet Parsons grew, fastened upon my mind. Why, I could not tell. I racked my brains to discover some mode of finding out, if one of her legs was naturally three inches shorter than the other. I could think of, invent no possible way of arriving at that interesting fact; none whatever. That which perhaps most confirmed my suspicions was her angry insistence which I often overheard expressed, more particularly when she was out an airing, and I on the box, upon leaving Hampshire, and England, without delay. “We are not safe an hour, I tell yon, you dull fool,” she passionately exclaimed. Street pleaded only for a few days’ delay, for reasons stated in so low a tone that I could not catch them. “Ah,” I heard her bitterly reply, “you have two strings to your bow. You think you can always make terms. But have a care; you know me—know not only what I can, but what I will, do if provoked.” With that their conversation, audible to me, ceased.
How, except upon the hypothesis, that she was really “Bet,” and that Nance was really dead, could she not be safe in England for an hour? They would be off in a few days. Would they? We should see.
That evening Mr. Street passed entirely in Mrs. Tracy Shapcott’s bedroom. He came out, and downstairs. He wrote on the slate that I was to have the barouche ready by nine in the morning as he wag going a rather long journey and should not return till evening. I asked if I was to drive as usual. The reply was, “ Yes, of course.” That night, before I lay down, I carefully cleaned and loaded my two revolvers—a weapon much less common in England then than now.

Mr. Street rose unusually early, and was closeted with Mrs. Tracy Shapcott till it was time to be off. He had breakfasted with her in the bedroom. He gave me the slate before mounting, upon which he had written, “Take the Plaitford and Salisbury road. The finger posts will be sufficient direction.”
Plaitford, thought I, as I settled myself in the box; Plaitford; what do I know about Plaitford? Oh, I remember; it was in the neighborhood of Plaitford that Blake thought he saw Martha Parsons, as he called her. The game, I felt, was beginning in earnest. Well, it was a great comfort to have those two sixshooters ready at hand.
We stopped before a solitary house, about midway on the high road between Plaitford and Salisbury. A man and woman came out to receive Street, with whom they heartily shook hands. The man was, or at least had been, a good-looking, nay, handsome fellow. He was erect as a dart still, and an unmistakable military air or bearing. The woman was very, exceedingly comely; and, by Heavens! the face was the Parsons face. “Martha Parsons,” for a thousand pounds! What next—and next?

“There is danger in the least delay now. We must contrive to be off tomorrow, by eleven o’clock at latest. Had I not,” added Street, “a large sum to receive at ten, I would propose starting this evening!”
“Have you heard anything?” asked the woman.
“Nothing at all. But I am nervous. So is she; more so than I am.”
Either the man or woman must have pointed or nodded at me, for Street said, laughing, “Deaf as stone. A cannon fired close to his ear would not startle him!”
My master wrote on the slate, which he had, of course, brought with him, “Half a mile further on is a tavern and stables, on the left hand of the road. Bait the horses there. An hour’s rest will do, as I have determined to be back at Lyndhurst by four o’clock, at latest.”

On I drove, meditative, but very jubilant, I was still more confident than ever that “She,” who was yet more nervous than Street, was “Bet.” Why should Nance, if she were Nance, be nervous at all? Why, indeed? To a certainty Deaf Dawkins would, willy, nilly, ascertain if the possessor of that charming face could also boast of equality in legs, before she took wing for the continent. That was a decree of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not!
I got back, as a good servant should, punctually in time. The party is ready—are waiting, and I assist to stow the portmanteaus, carpet bags, &c. Back into the house flies the woman—she is now thickly veiled, and brings out two children, two of the sweetest children I have ever seen, notwithstanding that both are sobbing violently, spite of the woman’s savage threats, alternated with equally savage blows. They are, I should say, about five and four years of age respectively; but they are boys; their hair is jet black, and close-cropped—their complexions are brown. The children were girls, had light auburn, curling hair, and fair complexions. The boys are forced into the carriage; I shut the door of the barouche, spring up upon the box, seize the reins, and off the tits spring. At the instant the wheels turn, one of the children screams piteously, the other bursts out with, “Save me ! save me! take me to mamma!” Girls’ voices both, by Heaven! The emotion which the flashing conviction excited, that these really were the children of whom I was in search, so thrilled me, that I instinctively, as it were, checked the horses, with such force as to almost bring them upon their haunches, and nearly capsized the carriage. The momentary impulse was to pull up, spring over into the barouche, revolver in hand, and settle the matter at once. Another moment sufficed to show that it would be absurd—mad to do so. There were two powerful, desperate men, armed, I could not doubt; the road was lonely for miles, and though I doubted not of victory, it could only be purchased by killing them, and for that I certainly had no warrant. No—no—I must go on, hearing nothing, conscious of nothing that was passing; endure to hear the children’s piteous cries to me for help—to hear the cruel blows showered upon to silence them, an object with difficulty obtained. But at last they are silent—have been forced down, as I think, for I dare not look round, to the bottom of the carriage, and held there, partly by force, partly by threats. I have time to think, as we bowl swiftly along, and first think what a thick-witted spooney I must have been to have, for one moment, attached importance to the disguise of boy’s clothes, dyed hair, stained complexions!
No matter. I was well rewarded for the difficult discretion I had compelled myself to exercise. The entire disregard I had paid to the children’s piercing screams, my seeming unconsciousness that there had been any screaming at all, would not have lessened their confidence in my utter wooden deafness, and they soon begin to gossip jocosely about people in general, their noble selves in particular. I head that the tall, military-looking man, is not only the identical Joe Bates, for and with whom “Martha Parsons” abandoned Philip Street, but that he is the gentleman who presented the thousand pound draft at the Liverpool bank—a matter, with respect to which he manifests some anxiety. I hear also that the highly nervous lady at New Forest Lodge is really “Bet”—that Nance died less than a week after being delivered of a stillborn child, a matter which it is on all hands agreed was grievously mismanaged, as there could have been no difficulty in substituting a living male child for the dead one. Poor Nance they had buried very, very deep down, at night, in the garden of the place, and knowing where “Bet,” who was nothing loth to play Mrs. Tracy Shapcott, and finger five hundred a year, could be found—the trick was done. The children, I am quietly informed, were stolen, partly to gratify “Martha Wallis’s” vindictive spite against Mr. Tracy Shapcott, for having put away her “Nance,” but chiefly to hold in reserve as ransom for themselves, should the Bet trick prematurely explode. Impunity would, it could not be doubted, be freely secured to them, upon condition of surrendering the children, Emily and Perdita, crouching down there in the bottom of the barouche.
I declare that was, to my apprehension, the most edifying, the most entertaining, the most delightful conversation I ever listened to in my life! And all those pretty talking birds had walked, one might almost say deliberately walked, into my trap, for which, in their insane imaginations, they at one moment believed they could walk out at pleasure. Well—well—well! if I was not the cleverest, of which I had grave doubts, I was certainly the luckiest of detectives. I had but held my mouth open, and fat things had dropped in of their own accord.

And now how to put the coping-stone upon the work—finish it off in a neat, workmanlike style. “Bet,” was safe enough. She could not if alarmed, and she would not be alarmed, hop fast or far with that game leg of hers. The “Fox and Hounds” was the first house in the village of Lyndhurst. I would pull up and give the coup de grace there.
As I came within view of the house I saw five or six fellows lounging about in front, and presently perceived that John Blake and one of my mates in the hayfield were amongst them. I was glad of that. They would presently see Deaf Dawkins in a new character.
As we neared the inn, the slate was poked up in my face. “Drive fast through the village.” Of course.
Up I pulled the smoking tits, threw the reins on their backs, and was down in a crack! “A couple of you hold the horses’ heads,” I shouted as I pulled open the carriage door with one hand, holding a revolver in the other. “Now Philip Street, now Joe Bates, now Martha Wallis, or whatever you call yourself, take your d—d feet off that child, will you? Come, all of you, out of that I say, and quick! Deaf Dawkins happens to be a London detective, and you are sold as neat as ninepence. Must I pull you out. Come along! Here, Blake, lay hold of this fellow; you, Matey, this one. Now, ma’am, mind the step. It’s of no use blubbering—it isn’t indeed. Now, my pretty dears. You shall soon see mamma!”
’Pon my word, in all my experience, I have never before or since seen anyone so confounded, overwhelmed, flabbergasted as Street, Bates and Martha Wallis were, and I believe it was fully ten minutes before either completely realized the position, whilst the sudden transformation of Deaf Dawkins into a London runner seemed to equally capsize and bewilder the village mind. The landlady looked at me aghast and pale as if she every moment expected to see a long black tail swish out of me behind.

My first care was to send for a medical man to prescribe for and attend to the children. Mr. Fowler was almost immediately on the spot. My next was to secure our prisoners in the Lyndhurst lock-up. That done, I again mounted the barouche-box, Blake with me, and darted for New Forest Lodge.
Hearing the carriage approach, the old crone came to the gate, but had no sooner set her bleared eyes upon me and my companion than she fled screaming; I never inquired whither.

“Miss Elizabeth Parsons,” said I, brusquely, entering that astounded young woman’s chamber, “Miss Elizabeth Parsons, I am a London detective, and it is my painful duty to take you into custody upon a serious charge of felony, in having personated your deceased sister Ann, now six or seven years deceased, and by that false pretence robbing Tracy Shapcott, Esquire, of large sums of money. If, however, you can prove to the female searcher at the lock-up, that both your legs are of equal length, the case may not, perhaps—”
The young tigress! She sprang up in bed, and at me with such suddenness and fury that had not Blake caught me violently back out of the reach of her claws she’d have certainly left their marks on my face, and pretty deep ones too.
“You infernal traitor; I always suspected you. Oh, had you only come back here tonight!” And she ground her teeth and tore her hair out by the roots, with rage. At last finding the inutility of indulging in rage and resistance, she sullenly consented to get up and dress herself, Blake and I outside, one guarding each of the two doors. Full two hours had passed before she came out, richly attired, and looking like a beautiful demon, for beautiful she certainly still was. She walked without help, though limpingly, of course, downstairs, and sprang without aid into the carriage. In fact she had no ailment whatever. It was only a pretence for keeping her bed, and being carried about in order that her deformity should not be observed.
Mr. Tracy Shapcott, who I knew was at Beech Hall, had already arrived at the Fox and Hounds, and was with his children, his legitimate, his own wife’s legitimate children. It was a moment to repay all sorrows, a snatching back from death to life, from purgatory to Paradise! I would not intrude.
We had a jolly evening at the Fox and Hounds. The big room was crammed, and the lion of the entertainment Deaf Dawkins, the London runner, as they would persist in calling me. I have some recollection of being a little obfuscated when I went to bed that night, or that morning. But the ale was strong, and as I have said it was a jolly— a very jolly evening.
All four prisoners were prosecuted to conviction. Street and Bates were sentenced to penal servitude; Mary Wallis, alias Street, alias Bates, to two years imprisonment with hard labor. Elizabeth Wallis got six months, and I got—but that is nobody’s business but mine.

From Experiences of a Real Detective by Inspector F.
Edited by “Waters,” author of Recollections of a Police Officer, Leonard Harlowe, etc.
London: Ward, Lock, & Tyler, 1862. 190-219.