Low-Life Deeps/Chapter 1
ALMOST every day of the week, in the summer season, there appear in the newspapers urgent and touching appeals directed to the benevolent for the promotion of philanthropic schemes to enable the multitude of court and alley dwellers of London, especially the little children, to enjoy just one day out in the green country or by the sea side. It is a fact, however, despite all that has been said and written respecting the unparalleled disadvantages of the unfortunates in question, that, in the matter of opportunity for inhaling fresh air and enjoying rural sights and sounds, there are other cities and places the inhabitants of which are worse off twenty times than they are. There is not a back-street resident in any part of the metropolis who has not, within thirty minutes' walk of his own door - supposing him not to be a cripple, and to be able to step out briskly as does a man eager for the distant feast which is already spread for him - a broad and handsome, well-wooded, green-sloped, flower-bedecked park, where he may roam about to his heart's content.
Such blessings are not vouchsafed to all townsfolk. Take the people of one of the largest towns - Manchester, for instance. Recently I happened to be in that vast and prosperous city, and walked out in the morning, under the fiercely hot June sun, to see what the suburbs were like, and presently I came to Ardwick Park. We Londoners have a queer sort of park, so called, Whetstone by name, situated somewhere behind the houses in Lincoln's Inn Fields; but Whetstone Park is merely a little joke with us on account of its diminutive size, and the fact that no green thing grows there. Ardwick Park, Manchester, is larger than Whetstone, but not vastly so. It is a wedge-shaped bit of ground, and, as regards size, bears about the same relation to our Regent's and Victoria Parks as a pound and a half piece cut out of a Cheshire cheese does to the half-hundredweight of which it formed part. It is a regular park though, and has its lodge at the gate, and the customary notice-board of pains and penalties against flower-pickers, gamblers, and trespassers on paths which are sacred; but for all that, and regarding it as a pleasure-ground, it is but a sad-looking enclosure. It is paved evenly with pepper and salt-coloured asphalt, with here and there an edging of grass, as wide in comparison as is the list to the broad-cloth, with here and there a few flowers of the hardier kinds languishing in beds of sickness and unmistakably dying of consumption.
But the gem of the Ardwick Park is a fountain in the middle of a good-sized basin, in which are rockwork and gold and silver fish, and all round the basin are fixed seats, that at a pinch might accommodate a hundred and fifty sitters. On that bright Sunday morning, every form was as completely occupied as are the seats in the pit of a theatre when a popular piece is being played, and all by working folk, while scores of other work-people, too late for the front rows, sauntered over the hot asphalt, patiently waiting for a chance to sit down and enjoy at their ease the beauties of nature, and listen to the refreshing trickling of the plashing fountain. Many of them must have thought it worth while to trudge a long way to participate in the treat, for their shoes were white with dust, and the lodge-keeper was doing a brisk trade in ginger beer. But it was for fresh air that these mill hands, all the week pent up, thirsted chiefly, and there they sat in solemn silence, inhaling mouthful of it, as though it were physic of a flavour foreign and strange to their taste, but in the efficacy of which they had learnt to place perfect faith.
There are people, however, who are worse off than the mill hands, whose abiding places are the slums of Manchester. I should not have thought it possible, but so it is. There are toilers and sweaters for daily bread whose condition in life is worse even than that of the miner who delves in the bowels of the earth or the smelter of iron who works naked to the waist. A creature of goblin aspect, who wears a leather mask to keep his eyes from being melted in his head, as is the red ore in the melting-pot it is his business to feed and keep at a molten simmer. I have visited the Potteries and passed half a day in Longton, which is the centre of the murky region where half the crockery that is used in the world is produced; and I am afraid to say how many times dirtier, smokier, and to the unaccustomed, more stifling than any other pottery parish round about. As it happened, it was a wet morning when I first approached Longton, and allowance should perhaps be made for that unfavourable circumstance; but I think I never in my life was more amazed. Amazed is exactly the word. As I approached the place from Fenton, the choking smoke that blew from Longton in my direction forced me to cover ray mouth and nostrils with my pocket-handkerchief; but, advancing towards the main street, I discovered the utter futility of the precaution. It was as idle as shutting one's mouth with the head held under water as a safeguard against getting drowned. There was not the least use in sneezing and coughing; there was literally nothing for it but to breathe chimney smoke, or to turn and flee to purer air before it was too late.
I have not the faintest hope of doing justice, by any description of which I am capable, to the smoke of Longton. I might do better with a fairer chance; but the moment it beset me I became a victim to its obfuscating influence, and, filled with smoke in every crevice and cavity, had for the time barely sense remaining to gasp and grope my way. The nearest approach to it that I had ever previously experienced was a very foggy day in London. But London fog is a mild and pleasant mixture compared with the subtle concoction that comes pouring out of the pottery kilns. There is much more sulphur in the latter, and a sharpness which is refreshing as far as a single whiff goes, like the odour of vinegar sprinkled on a red-hot fire shovel. But the great difference between a stout and substantial London fog and the daylight darkness of Longton consists in the fact that fogs, as a rule, come in winter time, when keen winds blow and the air is frosty; whereas, in the other case, we have a fog of equal density, with the thermometer registering eighty in the shade.
Nor, when a man grew somewhat used to the smarting mist, and could look about him a little, was there the least reason for wondering that Longton should be so afflicted. From one end to the other, it is chockfull of manufactories where pots and pans and plates and dishes are turned out every day by the hundred thousand, and kilns may be counted ten and a dozen in a single street. And let it be understood a pottery kiln is no mere chimney shaft. It is an oddly shaped thing, the sight of which, especially when the imagination is assisted by the unearthly fumes that rise on every side, is vividly suggestive of that bottle which the fisherman in the "Arabian Nights" found on the beach and uncorked, and out of which, in the midst of evil-smelling and blinding smoke, the escaped genii appeared. The kilns of Longton are brick-built, squat-bellied bottles, with wide gaping mouths, out of which issues, as though by necromantic art, a constant out-rolling of vapour that looks as substantial as wool, and a little of which must go a long way towards poisoning any current of pure air it may happen to fall in with. On a very fine day it is not unlikely that a great part of this ascends and is dispersed by the winds, but on such a day as that when I was there-a still and sultry day with close rain falling steadily - the before-mentioned "wool," as soon as it was vomited. Forth, seemingly became saturated with water, and after staggering with its load a few feet above the housetops, sank down into the streets.
But nobody seemed to recognise in the existing state of things anything particularly uncommon. I went into a shop to buy a newspaper, and as I opened the shop door, the heavy smoke came tumbling after me as though it had been waiting on the threshold, and was glad of the chance of getting in. But the shopkeeper seemed quite unaware of it. "Nice day, sir," he cheerfully remarked. "But just a little cloudy, I think," I ventured. "Well, perhaps it is," said he, as he swept some soot off the newspaper before he handed it to me. "Perhaps it is, but the rain cools the air and makes it pleasant." If this was pleasant weather at Longton, what must it be in November or December, when, in the brightest of places, rain and fog, and mire combine to make the short day appear even too long, and every one is eager for evening, when the shutters may be closed, and the cheerful lamp set to illumine the cosy room? It is no exaggeration to imagine that at such times Longton, and Fenton, and Burslem, but especially the first, must be so dark as to make it difficult to see from one side of the street to the other, even at noon; while, as for the plague of "blacks," which, even with us, is at certain seasons of the year so sharp .a thorn in the side of the decent housewife, they must fall as thickly as snow. Perhaps snow at Longton is black - it is quite impossible that the fleecy particles could penetrate the tangle of thick chimney stuff overhead and descend white - and that the roads, and paths, and the people, and the cabbage of the greengrocers, and the meat in the butchers' shops, are one and all, thickly covered with feathery grime; and that the children play at soot-balls.
And how fares it with the population of such a gruesome place? Neither worse nor better than might be expected. 1 had a good opportunity of observing this, for by the time I had walked once through Longton, the bells began to ring for "knocking off" for the day; and out from the scores of "yards," at the head of which a swag-bellied, black-muzzled kiln so snugly nestles, came swarming the pottery hands - men, women, and children - until the gloomy street was alive with them, if any place could be made livelier by the presence of such a sickly-looking company. In a purely mining district the crowd one encounters in the streets, when the day's or the night's labour is over, is certainly not a prepossessing one; but the "pit lad," be he old or young, with his face and all that is visible of his body as black and as polished as jet, and his coarse and patched frock and trousers of heavy flannels, is, at least, an individual capable of enjoying that state of life to which it has been his destiny to be called; and he is ever ready to go in heart and soul, when he is free to do so, for those sports and pastimes in which he takes delight.
But, if he may be judged from his appearance, the pale-faced potter is a man of quite another kind. It is by no mean; a cheerful spectacle this turning out of pottery hands in the dusk of evening. One and all - and there seem to be as many women as men, and as many children as either - they are as white as bakers, as the most careless of journeymen, who recklessly splash their shabby clothes with flour slop, and are not at all particular as to how much flour finds lodgement in their hair and whiskers, and in the folds of their neckerchiefs. They are like bakers - toilers in the most dingy and unwholesome of our London underground bread-making places - in their haggard aspect, in their shambling gait, in the wearied and utterly "knocked-up" expression of their countenances. Males and females, grown-up and children, they are all of the same type. "All work and no play" has made the dullest of "boys" of them, and their white figures stalk through the smoke which fills the streets in a manner that suggests but one idea - that they are hurrying home to get to bed as soon as possible to rest their weary limbs, and fortify themselves against the drudgery of tomorrow.
And the worst of it is, as I am informed, matters are fully as bad as they seem with the unhappy potter and his wife and family. Their work is sadly against their health. They are, in the majority of cases, dangerously exposed to alternate heat and cold, and the dust of the baked clay goods it is their business to scrape and plane and polish, finds its way to their lungs and breeds fatal disease there. This would be bad enough if, on being released from his hurtful work, the potter were blessed with pure air to breathe; but, with the seeds of consumption thriving within him, with a bad cough, he is doomed, poor fellow to pass his nights as well as his days in the kind of atmosphere I have already attempted to describe.
It occurred to me, as I contemplated the potter children, as well as the potter fathers and mothers, creeping home in so melancholy a manner, what a splendid thing it would be if a great committee of kind-hearted ladies and gentlemen were to take in hand the task of treating the inhabitants of each district to say, three days at some seaside place. It would be an experiment that would require careful management, however. In all probability there ate at sonic of the worst of these localities - at Longton, for example - scores of young men and women whose belief is that the sun is ray less and lemon-coloured, and that the world at large is shrouded constantly in chimney-smoke. What their first sensations would be on making acquaintance with perfect light, and pure air, and dazzling sunshine, is doubtful. It would be embarrassing if, like bats and owls routed out of their gloomy abodes at noontide, they were dazed with the strange glare of real day, and on their arrival at Brighton terminus they went blinking and blundering about, and knocking their confused heads together, and against all manner of hard projections, and, taking fright at the mere threshold of enlightenment, scuttled back to the comparative dinginess of the railway carriages, obstinately refusing to budge from them until they were conveyed home again. Equally awkward for the projectors of the scheme and those who were responsible for its propriety, if the brisk and light quality of the Brighton air had an intoxicating effect on the white-faced host, causing it, with delirious yells, and leaps, and hand-clapping, to overrun the town and swarm the beach.
The most serious result, however, and one that would be almost inevitable, would be the immediate revolution that would ensue in the pottery trade. It is only reasonable to assume that least half the enlightened excursionists would never return to Longton. A very few hours' acquaintance with the new life with which the sweet and bracing air of the sea and the downs would endow them would effectually settle the question of staying where they were, and picking up a living somehow - anyhow - or going back to be once more enshrouded in the black smoke from the Pottery kilns; and as to those who found the courage to return, they would no doubt insist on such measures being adopted by the master potters as should insure for them a longer life and a merrier one.
In the potteries coal-pits abound, and while exploring the delectable locality I availed myself of the privilege of peeping into a pitman's pothouse.
When at full blast, as miners say, it is an awful spectacle, and one that would possibly daunt the courage of even doughty Sir Wilfrid himself, supposing him to have conceived the idea of bearding the lion of beer in its den, and of commencing the campaign in the neighbourhood of Brierly or Hanley. The pitman fresh from home, and taking his accustomed "last pipe" and his evening wet before he is lowered into the black bowels of the earth, is not a very remarkable-looking individual. To be sure the brand of carbon is indelibly set on his brow. He may, and in all probability has, within the last six hours, had his sousing in the big wooden tub that in a pitman's home is as indispensable an article of domestic convenience as a chair to sit on or a bed to lie on; but nothing short of a scientific process can free the lines and wrinkles of his hard face from the ingrain of coal dust. Besides, leave alone his visage and his eyes, that blink at the glare of gaslight, and his horny hands dotted with dull blue scars, and with the finger nails as blunt as though they had been filed, however a pitman may be attired and wherever he may be met, he can at once be known to be the man he is the moment he opens his mouth-not by the style of language that issues there from, but by the dazzling whiteness of his teeth, scrubbed constantly by the ebon grit, and by his gums, which from the same cause, are ruddier than coral.
But this is not the individual regarding whom I have suggested that Sir Wilfrid would probably hesitate ere he attacked him with the virtuous intention of dispossessing him of his beer at the moment when lie is at the point of indulging in it - it is the pitman who has recently come up. A score of these honest delvers of coal, roistering in a dingy room by firelight - the miner can see almost as well in the dark as by aid of gas or candle - is an appalling sight. There is no creature in existence that is as black as a pitman. A negro is merely slate-coloured beside him, a chimney-sweep a person of dusky complexion; coal is black, but the pitman is blacker than coal, a shinier black; he has jetty grit in his hair and in his eyebrows, and it glistens in the very lashes of his eyes, heightening the contrast to his eyeballs, which roll in their orbits like marbles of white china. He is dressed in his "flannels," which are as thick as ordinary blanketing, and his frock is all open at his hairy chest, which is laden with so much pounded coal as to suggest the possibility of kindling a fire there by the aid of a stick of wood and a Lucifer match. He is not a tall man, but he is immensely broad, his shoulders are rounded, and he carries his shaggy head as a man who does not often enjoy the luxury of standing upright. When he sits, as be almost invariably does, with his great black hands spread out on his knees, he has the appearance of a creature that is about to spring at you. There are miners rough and miners smooth, and I am now speaking of the former; and I say that a man must possess a fine spirit who while a score of such jolly fellows were clinking cans, and using towards each other - quite in a friendly kind of way - such language as to suggest the notion that the pit from which they had recently emerged must have been the bottomless one, would go in amongst them and snatch away their beer.
One who is less virtuous, however, and who is so debased as not to feel shame in making confession that there are many flavours more repugnant to his taste than those of malt and hops, may sit for half an hour in such company, with nothing to fear and perhaps something to gain. To some extent I discovered the truth of the latter statement. There was, in the bar room in which the men sat, a newspaper which reported the speech of the farmer who found that his men, after a few weeks of roughing it in the world, had yearned for the peace and pure air of the distant Suffolk village, and finally fairly ran back to those blessings as a truant child runs back to its mother. I could make out from a grizzled old pitman's reading of the newspaper by the firelight, that Hodge had extended his explorations in search of better wages (it was at the time of the agricultural strike) even into the Black Country, and that, tempted by seven shillings a day, he had made a desperate plunge six hundred feet under the earth, of which his previous knowledge had gone no deeper than a beetroot.
I had no opportunity of discovering how Hodge acquitted himself as a miner; but there could be no doubt - judging, that is, from the tone of the comment which followed the grizzled one's reading - that the pitmen present very strongly resented the pretensions of the innocent countryman to "come a-pokun his nose" into their field of industry. So far as I could understand, certain agricultural lock-outs had sought and get employment in some neighbouring pit, and had taken a sudden departure there from; and my friends of the glistening teeth and the gritty eyelashes had settled it in their minds that the penitent "hands" spoken of by the Suffolk farmer were these identical fellows. No pity was expressed for them. As regards the revolt of the men generally, the pitmen were unanimous in their expressions of approval; and one gentleman who had brought up out of the pit his coal-pick, and who drove its blade deep between the floor bricks by way of illustrating what should be done, if he had his way, with every pig-headed old farmer in England, so pleased the rest that, upstanding, every pitman present emptied his quart of the much or little it contained in the speaker's honour. It was on all sides declared that the contributions towards the men's keep should be kept up by all other trades, even though the lock-out lasted for a whole year. Had a gang of locked-out labourers been coming that way at that time, and by chance looked in at the Baker's Rest - they have the queerest signs for these pitmen's drinking shops - they would have been joyously received and generously treated; but I verily believe if the gang had expressed its intention of seeking a job of pit-work there would have been a row and broken heads on the spot.
I can imagine my young man from the country advancing so far into the town as Black horse-lane, but not going a single step further. Black Horse-lane is not at the outskirts of the town. It is within three minutes of the market-place, and the town hail, and the bank, and the post-office. That the more immediate associations of Black Horse-lane are not entirely barbarous is sufficiently proved by the fact that at one corner of it there is a cosy-looking beer shop bearing the alluring sign of the Old House at Home, and at the opposite corner there still appeared, when I was there, sticking to the wall a placard referring to a Christmas pudding club held in the vicinity; but two hundred yards distant is a spectacle appalling enough to make the hay-coloured hair under Hodge's billycock, adorned with a sprig of green wheat, rise in horror. The entrance to Black Horse-lane is rising ground, and standing there with the back to the street, one looks down into a hollow, and at first sight, especially at dusk of evening, it appears as though nothing less than a dreadful earthquake had just commenced, and that presently the towering black chimney shafts, marked by the ragged caps of flame, must come toppling down with a crash.
Amidst such distracting din and such stifling murk it is not easy to give a correct estimate of space, but I should think that the scene in question occupies not more than three acres - but such a three acres! Hodge, the aghast beholder, is aware of a rustic ditty in which a tender swain, addressing his lady-love, says, "More lover-ly art thou than an evenun in June!" and, in face of his ferocious outlook, he shudders as he reflects on the fire-and-brimstone order of young woman that might be truthfully likened to the kind of June evening he has now encountered. A hideous sunken patch, hedged all about with mountains of jagged slag and pit refuse seething, boiling, and bubbling in the midst of dense smoke and steam, spurting up sudden and fierce in unexpected gusts like the jets from the touchholes of great cannon; while below all manner of fire seems to peep up out of the ground or leap a-tiptoe high up into the air as our flame-headed London monument. With a roaring and rattling noise, with a body big as a tun, and with outstretched arms and forked fingers, the flames leap from the squat chimneys of the iron smelters, or the fires are smouldering, winking, and blinking in various colours - green, yellow, and crimson - and everywhere seemingly striving to tear a way through the heavy black pall that is stifling them. And then the noise, or rather the blending of a thousand noises that are so appropriate an accompaniment to the hissing steam-jets and the leaping flames. The engine that heavily groans, the engine that shrilly shrieks, the engine that is spasmodic in its ejaculations and utters intermittent yells and roars as though some of the fiery demons in attendance were torturing it by pulling out its teeth; squealing engines - engines chiefly used there for sucking mighty lifts of water out of mines that otherwise would be speedily drowned - engines that gasp and snort and whistle and scream; while through all and over all are heard the puny and piping voices of the swarms of men whose half-naked forms may be dimly seen flitting hither and thither, in the midst, as it seems, of the fires and the steam and the choking smoke.
Everywhere fires; and, as the evening becomes night, spellbound Hodge perceives that they burn with a merrier blaze, and that they exist in spots hitherto unsuspected. Before it grew dark he had observed notice-boards stuck on the vast hillocks of slag and cinders, that trespassers would be prosecuted. It would have been more candid if the words had been " Trespassers will probably be burnt to death;" for, as though taking advantage of the darkness, here, there, everywhere in these pit-heaps, fiery forms, that all through the daylight had lurked under the rubbish and ashes, now wriggle out like glow-worms of boa-constrictor size, play about the black surface, and making towards each other, join heads and tails, and writhe into a quivering heap, to make a blazing night of it. And it is to this singeing, scorching, pestilent place that jog-trot Hodge, with the clay of the quiet fields still adhering to his boots, and with the scent of growing clover still in his nostrils, has come to better himself! I think I see that scared-visage young fellow lingering, long after dark, on the great furnace-clinker he has utilised as a seat at the mouth of Black Horse-lane, contemplating the life that coal-miners and iron smelters and casters and forgers lead, and weighing in his sobered mind whether the inconveniences of the agricultural frying-pan are not probably more endurable than a sweating, toiling, grimy existence in this ugly district of smoke and fire, despite the advantage of increased wages; whether fifteen shillings and the old wholesome work, and the healthful Newmarket breezes, and the easy old manners and customs are not on the whole to be preferred by such a slow-moving, calm-loving creature as he is, to thirty shillings and all the dirt and hurry and uproar that are inseparable from bread-winning in the Black Country.
What will be his share of domestic comfort if he stays here? For the probably not model, but still homely, cottage, with the bit of flower garden in front and the few rods of vegetable ground at back, he will have - provided it is his intention to "rough it," as thousand of pitmen do - to lodge in a brick-floored hovel in an ill-drained back street; his food will be coarse and inferior, his companions such as have been described partaking of the social glass at the Baker's Rest. If he be a bachelor these are the maidens he must in future consort with - these shock-headed, bare-armed, ankle-jack-wearing damsels, of whom a sample three pause on their way to chaff him and chuck him under the chin to the great amusement of a bevy of middle-aged married women who are engaged in friendly gossip on the other side of the way, lounging on the doorsteps and window-sills, and each one smoking her pipe-not a short pipe, but a regular full-length "churchwarden" that was brought in with the last half-gallon of beer from the public-house. Hodge ponders on all these things, and if, a week afterwards, he is found whistling amongst the ripening corn a more contented man I for one see no great reason for wondering at it.
In a certain district in this land of crocks and clinkers, I recently made acquaintance and had some conversation with a collector of dog tax. I should rather have said a would-be collector of the canine impost, but one whose fidelity to his trust was most provokingly and harassingly baulked by the unscrupulous devices of those who regarded him as their common enemy.
He had - as almost with tears in his eyes he informed me - formerly filled the office of collector of arrears of poor-rates, but had resigned that situation and accepted his present one in the hope that, while it would be less distressful to his sensitive feelings, it would be a lighter job. But he was grievously mistaken. It was utterly impossible, he informed me, for him to perform his duties properly and conscientiously. Through all the working days of the week his district was comparatively clear of dogs. This, during his first week of office, was the more remarkable, because personal observation and diligent inquiry convinced him that the brisk trade driven at the various dog's-meat shops indicated the existence of at least five times the number of pups to he discovered at large or tied up at home. But come Sunday, when my informant's official functions were suspended, the riddle was unmistakably solved. When the pitmen emerged from the mines on Saturday evening they brought up with them any number of "tykes" that had been disporting below since the previous Monday, and now were released so that they might enjoy themselves and minister to their masters' innocent pleasure on the Sabbath Day; and, as at that time no steps could be taken towards frustrating the fraud, the dog-keepers were enabled to laugh at the collector and defy him.
But I remarked, "You have proof that these dogs whose masters avoid the tax are really down in the mine."
"I am certain of it."
"And does not your jurisdiction extend to where the animals are confined?"
"Of course it does."
"Why, then, do you not descend the shafts and do your duty? Since you have a right to go down, why don't you?"
The unhappy collector regarded me with a melancholy and meaning wag of his head.
"My friend," he replied, "it is not my authority to get down into a pit that I for a moment doubt; it is the improbability that I should ever come up again that troubles me. Heaven forbid I should be driven to try it! Fancy, my dear sir, having all those confounded animals set at you in the dark, and you don't know by whom! No, sir, the revenue may suffer, but I have a large family, and my office does not provide a pension for my widow."
I am of course unable to say whether the same influences prevail with the collectors of dog tax at Hanley, but it must he patent to the most ordinary observer that, if it does, the amount returned must represent a very inconsiderable sum. Of the dogs that exist under the earth in this region of smoke and fire I cannot pretend to any knowledge, but on the earth's surface they literally swarm. It does not appear that any particular breed of dogs find favour at Hanley to the exclusion of all others. Of bull pups, and bull terriers, and other fighting varieties, there is a fair sprinkling; but the homely maxim respecting the loaf seems here to apply to the animals in question, and a half-bred dog is regarded as better than one of no breed at all. Anything in dog's hide, with teeth to bite and a tail to wag, is acceptable to those who cannot afford better. One discovers, especially in the slums, whole streets, the inhabitants of which are, apparently, incapable of indulging in canine or any other luxury, bitten to a man with the dog-keeping mania. Tykes of all ages, sizes, and complexions sprawl over the pavements, and lounge at the thresholds of doors, and sit at the windows, quite at their ease, with their heads reposing on the window-sill, hob-and-nob with their biped "pal," who cuddles his four-footed friend lovingly round the neck with one arm, while his as yet unwashed mining face, black and white in patches as the dog's is, beams with that satisfaction which content and pleasant companionship alone can give. And it must be allowed, to the credit of the pitman, that, however hard it may fare with the wife or the child of his bosom, the dog of his bosom is nurtured with the tenderest care, and has as comfortable a time of it as though the transmigration of souls were a thing the worthy toiler steadfastly believed in, and therefore thought it prudent to pave a way to the time when he might be actually, as well as figuratively, on all fours, with his darling "under hung, tulip-eared" Brindle.
A home for starving dogs would be almost as much out of place at Hanley as an asylum for indigent bees on a common, where the yellow gorse is in flower. I believe that the town in question would hold itself in lasting disgrace if a starving or even a lean or ill-conditioned cur were seen prowling about its streets. Neglected children maybe found in plenty; but there is no lack of fatness or sleekness amongst the dogs. The fact is, the hard-working pitman of these parts is not a child-fancier - he is a dog-fancier. This, to be sure, makes it somewhat hard for the small, two-legged creature; but it is difficult to see how it can be helped. It is a nice question whether it would be justifiable to risk shaking the pitman's faith in the burden of "Rule Britannia," by endeavouring to control any of his little predilections. At the same time let it be distinctly understood that, while I write in this spirit concerning the Hanley pitmen, I allude exclusively to the "roughs" of the class, who have not yet succumbed to the indefatigable exertions which are being made by his friends for his conversion. It is only just to state that at the present time in Hanley and elsewhere there are tens of thousands of pit hands who are as sober and industrious and well-behaved as any class of workmen in the three kingdoms.
But, as it happened, it was amongst the inferior kind that my unguided feet led me, and coming down a bye-street I saw a sight that I could not exactly understand. There was a man black as ink, and evidently a pitman, and two deplorably thin and ragged little girls, who appeared to have been to meet father returning from his works - not, however, because of his loving impatience to behold them as soon as his day's toil was over, but to gladden his eyes with the sight of a female dog, of the retriever breed, and two fine pups. The pups the pitman carried, one under each arm, as tenderly as though they were babies born to him, while their mother, walking sedately by his side, bore in her mouth about two pounds of prime looking and perfectly fresh shin of beef. My first idea was that the man had been drinking, and that it was a tipsy freak of his to insist on the dog carrying home the meat that was for the family supper; and I could not, seeing the shoeless, hungry little girls, but reflect on what a sore disaster it would be if the dog were to take it into its head to run away with the joint. I suppose that the pitman read something of this in my face, for when I got up with them, he remarked good-humouredly,
"Never fear, mun; she wull na' droop it."
"It would be safer, I think, if one of the little girls carried it," I ventured.
"Na, she's old enow," rejoined the pitman; "it's danged hard if the dawg can't carry home her own meat" - a joke which made the two squalid-looking girls laugh as they caressed the retriever and stroked its silken ears.
"She's a lucky dog, I should say," said I. "Does she always live on this kind of food?"
The twinkle at once faded out of the pitman's eyes, and he looked serious. "Mun," said he, "she dew."I canna' help it, but she dew. I've a family iv 'em" - here he jerked his thumb resentfully in the direction of the hungry-looking mites of girls - "and eight pence the pound is the best I can afford for her!" and, his hands being both engaged, he paused a moment to administer a kind caress with the toe of his boot to the retriever's back.
It was not a difficult task to lead him on to talk about dogs and their habits and customs; nor did it require any tremendous effort to induce him, when he reached his home, to adjourn to the nearest alehouse, where he might at his leisure continue his narrative of the last dog-fight he had been witness to.
At the alehouse we met with doggy company, and the conversation turned on the lamentable decline of that particular British sport in which two of the canine tribe are the chief actors. It was, I was assured, as difficult in these degenerate times to "pull off a dog-fight all right and regular, and without any hole-and-corner business and fear of the police," as it was to bring about a man-fight under the same open conditions.
"Ah! It was a pretty sport," remarked my friend, with a sigh; "and the more lively-like, because, in fighting young dogs, you could never be sure, however tip-top their breeding, that when they were brought to the scratch, they would not 'turn felon.'"
"Very much depends, perhaps," I remarked, in quest of further information concerning the "pretty sport," "on the way in which a young dog is trained." At which he laughed, and said there could not be any mistake about that, as there was only one way, and at once he good-naturedly proceeded to explain which way that was.
I was given to understand that the first practice a fighting pup had was with "a good old gummer " - that is to say, with a dog which had been a good one in his day, but now was old and toothless and incapable of doing more than "mumble" the juvenile antagonist that was set against him, the one great advantage being that the young dog gained practical experience in the making of "points." The next stage, as I was informed, in training the young aspirant for pit honours, was to treat him to a "real mouthful," or, in other words, "to let him taste dog."
It is a villainous process, and I never felt so grateful to the laws of my country, which have decreed that dog-fighting is an offence punishable with severe imprisonment, as when my informant enlightened me thereon.
"You look about," said he, "for a likely-looking street cur of fit size, and if with a bit of blood in it why all the better, and you take it home and tie it up and spice it up with good grub. Then, just before it's wanted, you clip off its hair at those points that you know your young 'un will want to get at, and you lather and shave em down to the skin. Then you put your young 'un and the cur in a pit together. Most likely the cur, not knowing his customer, will show fight at once, and there'll be quite a lively set-to between 'em for a few minutes; but breed will tell presently, and then the cur knocks under, and your young 'un has it all his own way, and, being now warm to his work, he doesn't shirk it. If he is slow you set him on. You set him on to the shaved parts, which are the vital parts behind the shoulders and that, and you worry him into letting the cur have it hot. There'll be a awful row, of course, for the cur, now he finds his master, will do nothing but slink and crawl along the floor and into the corners, and kick up such a caterwauling' as may be heard half a mile off. But your young 'un, if he's got the right stuff in him, won't mind that; it'll give him an appetite, and he'll go at the cur, and make a regular meal of him."
I have not given a quarter of the sickening details that attended the operation of giving the "young 'un" a "mouthful" with which the knowing Old Hand favoured me, mistaking for apt attention what was in reality on my part the fascination of horror. Had the individual in question confided to me that he was a descendant of a celebrated ogre family who devoured babies, I don't think I should have experienced such a sense of fear and shrinking towards him as I did. As for the dirty white bull-dog he had with him, who during the recital was engaged in chewing one of his master's hoot laces, as though it were a quid of tobacco, all the while blinking and winking with his red rimmed eyes as though he perfectly well understood every word that was said, and highly enjoyed it as recalling to his memory one of the happy episodes of his puppy hood, it would have afforded me much satisfaction to have administered to him a dose of strychnine on the spot. Observing what the dog was at, he jerked the hanging boot-lace out of its mouth, and gave it a sounding kick in the ribs.
"Ah, that's right!" remarked another miner, approvingly, "he'll take all the edge off his teeth, biting that thing. You re a old hand, and know he'll want all the teeth he's got, I'll wager."
The Old Hand gave him a quick, reproachful look, but it was too late. "He's in training, I suppose," said I, with as much indifference as I could assume. "No, he ain't," replied the Old Hand; "don't I tell you that there ain't no dog-fighting done now in these parts? You get under there" - this to the bull-dog, its master at the same time expediting its retreat under the seat with the heel of his boot. But at that moment the door swung open and a man's head appeared - a head with the nose almost flat to the face, and squinting eyes, and an enormously wide mouth. It was fortunate that the bull-dog's chain was made fast to the leg of the seat, for no sooner did the ugly face appear than the dog made a spring out, its bloodshot eyes starting with fury, its teeth exposed, and straining madly against its tether in its frantic desire to reach its enemy. "Ha, my beauty! You're there then?" spoke the head, with a grin which if possible increased its ugliness. The Old Hand was almost as furious as his dog. With a terrible string of oaths, and addressing the owner of the ugly head as "Brummy," he bade him be off; and tauntingly demanded to know why, if Brummy funked on the match he had made, he did not cry off like a man, instead of coming there to aggravate the dog in the hope that he might have a fit and break a blood-vessel. "You'll have enough of him quite soon enough, and I'll put another sovereign on it if you like," exclaimed the exasperated Old Hand, whose ire, however, cooled when the grinning head vanished.
By the time a half-pint brandy measure had been filled at my expense, and emptied by the Old Hand and his friend, his good temper was quite restored, and - may Sir Wilfrid forgive me - a little drop more made him quite kind and confidential. With a friendly slap on the shoulder he swore that I was the right sort, and that if I liked to meet him to-morrow night, although he couldn't promise me "all a dog-fight," I should be treated to a bit of sport it would do any man's heart good to see.
"And that chap who looked in at the door, will he be there?" I asked.
"Well, there won't be no fight if he ain't," replied the friendly Old Hand with a laugh, and so, with my promise to meet him next night, we parted.
"You had better not meet us at the alehouse," whispered the Old Hand, as we parted on the previous night;
"after what has happened somebody might smell a rat, and be on the watch. Stand at the corner of Mill Lane, and when you see us, follow without taking notice."
The Old Hand and his friend, the owner of the brown retriever, were as faithful to the appointment as I myself; and when they strolled up Mill-lane, innocently smoking their pipes, a figure whose appearance was somewhat questionable, I fear, in point of attire, happened to be going in the same direction, and kept in their wake, up one street and down another, until the chase began to grow somewhat wearisome. At last, however, a halt was called near a dirty row of houses, at the door of one of which stood a man in miner garb, who, as soon as he perceived us, knocked the ashes out of his pipe against the doorpost, and this evidently was a preconcerted sign that nothing was amiss, for my companions made straight for the house in question without further delay, and speedily the outer door was bolted from within, and further secured with a stout chain. It was quite dark inside, and a woman came out of a back room to us with a candle to light the way down to the cellar or kitchen, whichever it might be called.
Whatever the nature of the coming performance, the company who were privileged to witness it were already assembled. The scene was a place, about sixteen feet square, with bare walls and a brick floor, and at the four sides a rope was already extended, leaving a space of about a yard between it and the wall, and here, railed off from the centre, three deep, were the sightseers. Pit-lads most of them, some black as when they came up out of the pit, with a sprinkling of individuals of the "rough" and costermonger order, the most prominent of the gathering being half a dozen "swells" of the country "fancy," with snuff-coloured trousers and cutaway coats, and waistcoats and caps of sealskin.
A paraffin lamp hung from the ceiling, and as the window was quite covered with a shutter, and the only means of ventilation was afforded by the chimney, while the "swells" had their cigars alight, and the commonalty their short pipes, no wonder that the place was evil-smelling, hot, and stifling. There was, happily, a wide chimney-place, and the stove had been moved. A bit of board based on brick-bats made out of this quite a commodious and airy recess and I was glad to share it with two promising young pit-lads, who, with a view to thoroughly enjoying the festivities of the evening, had brought a bottle of rum with them.
But the personage who chiefly attracted my attention was a dwarf - a man of at least middle age, judging from his grizzled grey hair, and the enormous size of his head and ears, but certainly not more than four feet and a half in height, yet with tremendous hands and feet and bandy legs. This was "Brummy," the person whose head and face I had once before seen under circumstances which the reader may possibly remember. Brummy was evidently a person of consideration. He was honoured with much notice on the part of the sporting "swells," which shook hands with him, ill-looking and repulsive as he appeared to be, even favouring him with their whispered confidence. The grizzled dwarf critically examined the saw dusted space in the centre of the kitchen, especially at one particular part; there he went down on his knee and felt the bricks all over with the flat of his hand, and, discovering an inequality in them, called for a hammer and remedied the defect.
"He's a careful old codger," remarked one of my fellow-occupants of the chimney: "he knows what a slip and a stumble might cost him - it was that wot lost him the match last time." "What rot!" growled his companion; "he didn't make no slip at all; and it's all lies to say he did. He was licked on his merits, like he will be this time, I hope, and win me my quid. What do you say, chap?" This last query was addressed to me, and it seemed like an opportunity for gaining the enlightenment I was longing for almost as much as for fresh air.
"He'll win, I suppose, if he's better than the other one," I ventured; at which both the young pitmen laughed as at a good joke.
T'other one, indeed!" remarked the elder of them; " ----- his old carcase, - he's as artful as a two-legger, anyhow."
And then they began to talk about something else. It was still uncertainty with me, though I had an uncomfortable idea of the truth. Whose was the "old carcase" against which Brummy, the dwarf, was about to exercise himself? It would never do to inquire. Being there, I was, of course, supposed to know all about it.
Then one of the sporting "gents" took out his timekeeper, and called "five minutes to time," whereon there was a clapping of hands, and the bandy-legged Dwarf proceeded further to mystify me. He divested himself of his coat and his waistcoat, his blue-checked shirt, and his boots, leaving himself with nothing on but his trousers and a dirty under-flannel, cut off high at the shoulders. Stripped, he appeared an extraordinarily muscular fellow, and his arms, which were nearly covered with hair, were scarred, each of them from the wrists to the elbows, as though at some time or other he had been badly burnt. The creature likewise had a scar, ugly and jagged, within an inch of his collar-bone, and another - now one came to examine him for wounds - at the right side of his chin, which looked like a piece bitten out of a dirty apple and put back again. He now produced a strap, to which was attached a bright iron ring, and this he proceeded to buckle round his waist, at the same time dispensing with his braces. Then he took from a pocket of his coat a phial filled with what looked like oil, which he handed to the sporting "gent" with the watch, who took out the cork and smelt at it. After which all the sporting "gents" smelt at it in succession, and pronouncing it "all right, gave it back to Brummy, who, amidst almost breathless silence, commenced to anoint his arms and fists with it, rubbing it well in.
"Dan'l won't bring in Physic till the last minnit," remarked one of the young pitmen.
I still managed to refrain at that moment from demanding of my companions in the chimney who was Dan'l, who the physic was for, and what it all meant, but it is to this hour a wonder to me how I resisted.
Yet it would have been a pity if I had shown rash ignorance, for within a minute my curiosity was only too well satisfied. "All ready?" asked the sporting swell with the watch.
"Ay, mun, bring him as sune as ye like," grinned the dwarf; and then there was heard the pattering of a four-footed animal, and an anxious whining, and, the kitchen door opening, in came Dan'l, with Physic. It was my friend the elderly miner of the evening before, and Physic was the hideous-jowled dirty white bull-dog. For a few moments the scene of last night at the alehouse was repeated. The instant that Physic caught sight of "Brummy" he gave a furious gasp, as though he had not for a moment ceased to brood over the insult he had been subjected to when last they met, and though it might cost him his life, was now determined to bring the quarrel to an issue. But Dan'l had him fast by the great leather collar, and, with both hands, hauled him to the wall, where another man hitched a stout chain to a holdfast, while one performed the same office for the dwarf, except that in his case it was a substantial strap which was used. Like the dog, however, he had his measured length of tether, one end of which was attached to the ring at the back of his waist strap and the other to a staple in the wall opposite. I dislike rum, and especially is it to me unpalatable to gulp it out of a bottle; yet, on account of the sudden sensation of sickness which at this moment overcame me, I felt positively grateful when the sociable young pitman by my side pressed a "flip" on my acceptance. There could no longer be any misunderstanding as to the horrible encounter which was about to happen. This dreadful dwarf had backed himself, or had been backed by his friends, to engage in combat with Dan'l's bull-dog. "It's their third go in," said my friendly young pitman as he drank "T'ord's you" out of the rum bottle; "it's one and one with 'em as yet; this time it's who shall."
Perhaps at this juncture I should have escaped, if I could, from the hideous lists; but flight was out of the question, and it was necessary to appear interested. As well as I could make out from the arrangements, and the wrangling and disagreement respecting them, the terms of the fight were that both dog and man were to be allowed length of rope enough, as it was called, to get at each, other, but there was not so much of it that either could fail to get out of the other's reach should he deem it prudent to do so. The biped brute was to kneel down or go on all-fours, which he pleased, and was to use no other weapons than his clenched fists. He was by no means to take hold of the quadruped's collar, or to attempt to grapple with the dog unless it "made fast" to him, when he would be at liberty to use his hands in order to extricate himself. In case the bull-dog should be lucky enough to pin his enemy, the man had only to cry out "I'm done," and means would be promptly taken to compel the victor to loosen his grip. On "Brummy's" part, to win the fight, he was to knock the bulldog "out of time" - in other words, either to stun it or so punishes it that, despite all it's master's urging, it would refuse to face the dwarf again after a full minute's notice. Dan'l set out a bowl with vinegar and water, and a sponge on his side, while the dog's antagonist received from the hands of a kind patron a pint flask of brandy, at which he took a pull, and then stood "convenient" in a corner, together with a towel. Then he tucked down his flannel shirt at the neck, spat in his enormous hands, made them into fists, each almost as big as a stonemason's mallet, and knelt, smiling. Meanwhile Dan'l was giving the finishing touches to Physic's fighting toilette, and man and dog were ready at almost time same moment. There was no need to encourage the red-eyed Physic; he was too eager for the fray. He did not bark, but he was frenzied with passion to that degree that tears trickled down his blunt nose, and his gasping became each moment more shrill and hysterical. He needed no urging on for the first "round," at all events. As soon as the umpire called "Let go," the dirty, glaring, furious brute sprang forward with an impetuosity that caused the last link of its chain to click with a ringing sound against the staple which held it.
The dwarf, however, was not to be stormed and defeated all in a moment. Once the ghastly fight began, there was a dire fascination in it; and I now noted closely the combat. The man was on all fours when the words "Let go" were uttered, and, making accurate allowance for the length of the dog's chain, he arched his back, cat wise, so as just to escape its fangs, and fetched it a blow on the crown of its head that brought it almost to its knees. The dog's recovery, however, was instantaneous; and before the dwarf could draw back, Physic made a second dart forward, and this time its teeth grazed, the biped's arm, causing a slight red trickling. He grinned scornfully, and sucked the place; but there was tremendous excitement among the bull-dog's backers, who clapped their hands with delight, rejoicing in the honour of first blood. The hairy dwarf was still smiling, however, and while Dan'l held his dog, preparatory to letting it go for "Round 2," he was actually provoking it as much as he could, "hissing" at it, and presenting towards it the bleeding arm. The animal, flushed possibly with his first success, made for its opponent in a sudden leap, but the dwarf leapt forward too, and smote the bull-dog such a tremendous blow under the ear as to roll it completely over, evidently bewildering it for a moment, and causing it to bleed freely, to the frantic joy of the friends of the man-beast. But they, in turn, were made to look serious, for, with astonishing energy, Physic turned about, and with a dash, was again at the dwarf, and this time contrived to fix its teeth in one of his hairy arms, a terrible gash appearing as the man snatched the limb out of his ravenous jaws. The bull-dog was licking his lips, and had fewer tears in his eyes as his master drew him back. As for the dwarf, he retired to his corner for a whet of brandy and a moment's comforting with the towel. He was ready and smiling again, however, for "Round 3," and this time it was a fight in earnest - the dog worrying the man, and the man dealing it terrific blows on the ribs and on the head with those sledge-hammer fists, till in the end both the man's arms were bleeding, and a horribly cheerful business was going on behind the ropes at 2 to 1 on Physic. But let me make short work of the ensuing seven "rounds," which in some of their details were so shocking that more than once I would have left the place if I could. The company generally, however, were made of far less sensitive stuff. The more furious the ghastly fight, the keener was their relish for it; and in their excitement they leant over each other's shoulders, and over the rope, and mouthed and snarled, and uttered guttural noises when a good hit or snap was made, just as the dog and the dwarf were doing. By the time Round 10 was concluded the bull-dog's head was swelled much beyond its accustomed size; it had lost two teeth, and one of its eyes was entirely shut up; while as for the dwarf, his fists, as well as his arms, were reeking, and his hideous face was ghastly pale with rage and despair of victory. Fate was kind to him, however. In Round 11 the bull-dog came on fresh and foaming, with awful persistence of fury, but, with desperate strength, the dwarf dealt him a tremendous blow under the chin, and with such effect that the dog was dashed against the wall, where, despite all its master could do to revive it continued to lie, and being unable to respond when "time" was called, Brummy was declared to be victorious.
In venturing to give publicity to some "further particulars" of an affair which by this time, probably, has passed well nigh out of recollection, I cannot but be aware that some explanation is due from me. It may be reasonably asked "why have these said particulars been so long withheld?" To this I can only reply, that circumstances over which I had no control forbade it. As long ago as September, '74, the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph were in possession of all the additional facts here following - indeed, it is from the newspaper printer's proof of the article sent to me for revision, with a view, as I imagined, to its immediate publication, that this account is written. That it was not published in the Daily Telegraph at the time was, I still must think, scarcely just to me.
I regret to make known that my "further particulars" do not include the discovery of "Brummy," and the more so, because I am aware that there are folks so sceptical that nothing short of the actual production of the dog-fighting dwarf will convince them. As the reader will find in the following statement, the individual in question on more than one occasion ventured, as it were, within arm's length of those who were anxious to make his closer acquaintance; but he evidently has peculiar and private reasons for refraining from declaring himself. If however, the testimony of many witnesses - including several of the dog-fighter's intimate friends and boon companions bears the value claimed for it, then there can no longer be a question as to the happening of the man and dog-fight at the time and place as stated by me in the narrative printed in the Daily Telegraph on the 6th of July of last year.
About six weeks after the appearance in the Daily Telegraph, of my account of the man and dog-fight, and while the matter still occupied a considerable amount of public attention, a remarkable letter was received by the editor. The writer described himself as holding a responsible position on the medical staff of the Manchester Infirmary. The purport of his communication was that he had strong reasons for believing that he might be able to furnish the long-desired clue to the whereabouts of the individual who fought with the bull-dog at Hanley, on the 24th of June. His statement, in effect, was that a few days previously he was going a railway journey from Manchester to Bolton, and that on the way he fell in with a man named Tapley, and whose acquaintance he had made at a time when he - the medical gentleman in question, and who may be here spoken of as Mr. Blank - took an interest in exploring the mysteries of Manchester back-street life. Tapley was going to Bolton, and arrived there with Mr. Blank, they went into a public-house for some refreshment. Tapley knew the manager of the public-house, who, addressing him, remarked, "Why, Tom, an old friend of yours was here and asked after you yesterday."
"Who was that?" Tapley asked.
"Why the chap who fought the dog at Hanley," was the reply. This naturally excited the curiosity of Mr. Blank, to whom the public-house manager was a stranger, and a conversation ensued, from which it appeared that the individual called "Brummy" was tolerably well known there, and that Tapley, about two years before, had fought with him in a street brawl, and that Brummy, in throwing Tapley, had broken the leg of the latter. Further discussion of the subject of the man and dog-fight convinced Mr. Blank that there could be no doubt that the "Brummy" there spoken of and the individual who was the chief performer in my narrative were identical, and after revolving the matter in his mind, he addressed the editor of the Daily Telegraph, as already stated, at the same time expressing his willingness - provided his name was kept out of the affair - to assist all he could in any inquiries it might be thought fit to institute. Steps were promptly taken towards acting on this welcome information. The main thing was to entrust the business to a man on whose tact and judgment the proprietors of the Telegraph had perfect reliance, and it was finally resolved that Mr. J. M. Le Sage, who holds the responsible position of manager of an important department of the paper, should at once proceed to Manchester, with power to act in every way as seemed best to him.
By appointment, Mr. Le Sage met Mr. Blank of the Manchester Infirmary, and the two straightway proceeded to where Mr. Tapley lived and questioned him. Tapley was nothing loth to assist. No money was given to him, and none was promised. All that he stipulated for was that his railway fare should be paid. It was reward enough for him, he said, to pay off an old grudge he had against his enemy by compelling him to come forward. "I knew at once," said Mr. Tapley, at this first interview, "I knew at once, when I read the account in the Telegraph who it was that fought the dog, although Mr. Greenwood made a queer mistake in the names. It isn't the dog that's named Physic, it's the man. Richard Physic is his name, though he's commonly known as Brummy." From which it would appear, that without being aware of it, I must have heard, during the progress of the combat, the name "Physic," mentioned, and that it came back to my mind when, while writing, I paused for a moment to find a fanciful name for the dog. I may mention that Mr. Le Sage did not fail to make an immediate entry in his note book of this odd, but not insignificant item of evidence.
The three, Mr. Blank, Mr. Le Sage and the man Tapley, then proceeded to Bolton and to the public house where Mr. Blank had first heard of the affair.
It is a drinking bar, in some way connected with a place of public entertainment known as Weston's Music Hall, and the manager's name is John Bayley. The person last mentioned made no mystery of what he knew of the matter. It was quite true, he admitted to Mr. Le Sage and the others, that the man who was called "Brummy," but whose real name was Physic, occasionally "looked in" there, and was well known by him (the manager), as well as by many of the frequenters of the smoke room. Bayley described Mr. Physic, and, excepting that he fixed his height as being at least three inches more than I should have thought it possible the bull-necked "Brummy" could be, the description tallied, with curious exactness, with that of the man it would afford me so much pleasure to identify. Bayley even mentioned that Mr. Physic had a small bald place on the crown of his head, and so had Brummy, as I distinctly remember, although I did not mention it in my description of him. Questioned as to Mr. Physic's means of livelihood, Bayley only knew that he "went about the country," and had heard that he dealt in gas-burners. Asked was Physic proud of his notoriety, and whether he bragged of the Hanley affair, he replied that for fear of the law he said very little about it, but that when he did it was to express his wonder that such a trifling business should cause such a lasting fuss. Could he furnish Mr. Physic's present address? No. All he knew about that was that he did not live at Bolton.
Finally, Mr. Bayley was commissioned to communicate as speedily as possible with Physic, alias Brummy, and to inform him that, if he would consent to come forward and enable me to identify him, he should be guaranteed against all legal consequences, and receive for his trouble a handsome present. Two days afterwards Mr. Le Sage called on Mr. Bayley, whom he found in a mood much less communicative than formerly. Had he seen Brummy? Yes, he had. He had seen him the day before, and had delivered the gentleman's message and promise; and Brummy had replied that he would "see about it." Where was Brummy now? Oh! He had gone off - gone away to Newcastle, Mr. Bayley believed, and he couldn't take it upon himself to say when it was likely he would return.
Mr. Le Sage forwarded to London this discouraging information, upon which it was represented to me by the editor that he might get on better with my assistance, and I at once adopted the suggestion, and went to Manchester, and joined Mr. Le Sage at the White Bear Hotel. Mr. Tapley was again applied to, and we went in company to Bolton and to the public house where Mr. Bayley, the public house manager, was to be found.
That person professed to have heard nothing further of Physic, alias Brummy; but, on proceeding to the smoke-room, Mr. Tapley there recognized several of his acquaintances and amongst them a man named Bernard Mullany. In reply to questions put by Tapley, Mr. Mullany frankly admitted in our presence that he knew all about the Hanley dog fight; that Brummy, otherwise Physic, was the man who had fought the animal; that Brummy had found two pounds towards the stake that was fought for; and that there were not more than thirty persons present at the fight. Mr. Mullany, however, when pressed on the point, stoutly denied being one of the thirty. His intimacy with Mr. Physic, however, appeared to be almost brotherly. He described his friend as being almost like a gentleman when quite sober, but as being more like a devil than a man when he was drunk. He related one or two stories of his friend's tipsy eccentricities and habits, which certainly went far to establish the accusation of his being devilish when in his cups.
"Of what size is he?" was asked.
"Oh! A little fellow as regards height, but wonderfully deceiving as regards bulk," Mr. Mullany replied. "It is a dodge of his, when in a smoke-room where there is company, to turn the talk to measurement of chests and that, and then to wager his chest measurement against that of somebody else; and, though he stands only five feet one or two, he measures fair three feet four round the naked chest, and as for his fists, they are bigger than mine," said Mr. Mullany, who is a stout-built young man of five feet nine or ten in height, and not altogether innocent of pugilistic practices.
Mr. Mullany was shy of replying to a question as to when he had last seen his friend Physic. It was a little bit ago; he wasn't sure how long. Asked as to his opinion why it was that his friend had not taken kindly to the offer made to him through Mr. Bayley a few days ago, he replied that Brummy wasn't a man who was hard up for a pound, and that he was afraid, because of the law, to "come forward and face it." Further, Mr. Mullany intimated that, for his part, he did not blame him for keeping back; "It's all very well you saying that the law can't ketch hold of him now," said Mullany; "but, in my opinion, it's a second Tichborne business, and penal servitude for anybody proved to be mixed up in it."
Some conversation with Mullany seemed to convince him of the absurdity of this belief, and though he more than once expressed his reluctance to being "mixed up" in the affair, finally he agreed to go next day to Hanley, and confer with a "party" who was present at the fight, and afterwards to come to Manchester to our hotel and tell us the result. I have forgotten to mention Mullany informed us that Physic, or Brummy, had fought several dogs to his knowledge - one at a public-house, the name of which he mentioned, at Manchester, and another at "Evans's" in Liverpool. Before we left him, said he, "The man you ought to get hold of is Frank. He's Brummy's bosom friend, and could get at him better than anybody." But he either could not or would not tell us where this Frank might be found.
Whether Mr. Mullany paid his promised visit to Hanley it is impossible to say, but he neither came nor sent to us at Manchester. We had a visitor, however, at eleven o'clock the night following - Saturday night. Within a few minutes of the time for closing the hotel doors, word was brought to Mr. Le Sage, whose name was known at Bolton - mine was not - informing him that a man outside wished to speak with him. Going outside, Mr. Le Sage found three men, but two stood aside, and took no part in the conversation which ensued. It was brief, but promising.
"Is your name Sage?"
"It is. What is your name?"
"My name is Frank - Frank Ward. You've been down to Bolton, I hear."
"Well, I know what you want. You want to know about the dog-fight at Hanley. You want it to be proved that what Mr. Greenwood told about was true."
"Well, what about the money - is that square?"
I should have mentioned that in his increasing anxiety to bring matters to an issue, Mr. Le Sage had step by step increased his offered reward for Brummy's production from ten pounds to a hundred - meanwhile, and in order to avoid the danger of tempting persons of such questionable morality to concoct a hoax, steadily refraining from parting with any sum whatever. Indeed, too much stress cannot be laid on the fact that every one concerned was in turn frankly informed at starting, that, whatever sum might afterwards be distributed, nobody would get a penny until Brummy was induced to declare himself. In reply to Mr. Frank Ward's inquiry, he was assured by Mr. Le Sage that the hundred pounds promised would be paid the moment the conditions imposed were fulfilled.
"Can you prove that he was the man who fought the dog?" he was asked.
"I can," replied Mr. Ward.
"And will you?"
"Not while you stay down here. We won't deal with you here. If you want to know all about it, you get back to London, and then we'll deal with you."
"But how will you do so?"
"By telegraph, we'd rather."
"And when will you telegraph?"
"Can't say - in a day or two. There's two or three others to see and talk to about it. But you get back. I tell you nothing will be done while you stay here at Manchester."
"Did you come from Bolton to-day?"
"Are you going back to-night?"
"No; the last train has gone. We shall stay here tonight, and go back tomorrow." And so saying, abruptly as he had made his appearance, the man calling himself Frank Ward and his two companions - who had stood aloof during the brief conference, taking no part in it - took their departure. To suit their own, and, it may be presumed, the ends of their friend Brummy, these three men had paid their railway fare from Bolton, were put to the expense of staying at Manchester all night, and would, next morning, have to pay a further sum to get home again; and they never asked for or received from Mr. Le Sage a single penny. In order to make sure of remembering the whole of his conversation with Ward, Mr. Le Sage returned immediately to the hotel, and proceeded to detail it to me, taking down as he did so, a strict account of it in shorthand in his notebook. I need not say how high were our expectations that, at last, the matter which had caused me so many weeks of pain and anxiety was about to be satisfactorily cleared up. But, alas! The bond of brotherhood which is said to exist amongst thieves would appear to be equally efficacious in attaching dog-fighters one to the other.
We did not return to London immediately. Perhaps it would have been better had we done so; but we were unwilling to quit a neighbourhood somewhere about which it appeared so likely that the man we sought was lurking. But a few days afterwards we did return, and ever since Mr. Physic, alias Brummy, or his comrades, have made no sign.
By the bye, it may not be out of place here for me to make known the particulars of another business transacted by the gentleman who was my companion and me during our residence at Manchester.
It may possibly be borne in mind that some time after the occurrence of the fight the Mayor of Longton - which adjoins Hanley - created some sensation by the public announcement that a gentleman, for whose integrity he could vouch, had made known to him the fact that on the morning following the night on which the combat took place, and while in a railway carriage, he had overheard two men talking about a man and dog fight which had taken place at Hanley the night previous, and at which one of the men was present. The gentleman questioned the man last mentioned, and was by him informed that it was all true; that the fight was between a dog and "a little stout-built fellow, as ugly as sin," and that he had never seen such a sickening sight before, and hoped to never again. Mr. Smith, woollen merchant and wholesale clothier, of Manchester and of High Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, was the gentleman in question, and the conversation he had with the man in the railway carriage took place on the 25th of June, whereas it was the 6th of July before any account of the fight appeared in the Daily Telegraph. On Mr. Smith's statement appearing in print, my ingenious enemies, the editors of certain Black Country newspapers, openly declared their belief that it was I who was the man who talked with the woollen merchant in the railway carriage - being, I suppose, so brimful of my splendid invention that I could scarce contain it until I found opportunity to commit it to paper. In order to set this unjust suspicion at rest, in company with Mr. Le Sage, before mentioned, I went to Ashton-under-Lyne and waited on Mr. Smith. On making our business known to him, that gentleman declared his willingness to give evidence of what he had heard in any way that might be thought desirable. He repeated the conversation he had had with the man he met in the train the morning after the fight, at the same time describing his informant as a tall, brawny-built fellow of about five feet ten in height, and as looking like a market-gardener. My height, I may mention, is a trifle under five feet six. After this, for the first time, I made myself known to the woollen merchant, and he expressed the satisfaction it afforded him to be able to render such convincing proof of the happening of the man-and-dog fight at the time and place stated by me.