Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/My burglary
A REAL EXPERIENCE.
In the year 18—, I lived in a detached house in what is called the Regent’s Park, about two miles from Southampton. One morning in the month of June, the servant came into my bedroom earlier than usual, in a great state of excitement, saying:
“Oh, sir, they have been trying to break into the house.”
It was then only about seven. I jumped up, bundling on my clothes as quick as I could, and set about inquiring all particulars, when it appeared that this attempt had been made about four in the morning, that the cook had heard a crashing noise, and had called out to the stable boy, who slept over the stable, close adjoining the house, who had also heard the noise, and that they then and there compared notes as to the time, and then (most probably being too frightened to move) went to bed again. I, finding nothing had been stolen, took matters more quietly, eat my breakfast, lit my cigar, and walked about, thinking what steps I had best take. Having gathered some little knowledge, through curiosity, at different times, from London detectives, &c., as to the different modes in which a crib was cracked (Anglicè, a house broken into), I examined the breach, that being a broken pane of glass, near the bolt of the window latch, where the attempt at entry had been made. I found that the putty, which had become very hard, had been attempted to be cut away, with the view, evidently, of taking out the pane of glass, and that in attempting this the window had been broken, and then the latch of the window undone, and the shutter (which the thief thought no doubt turned on a hinge, but was a moveable one) had, on being pushed, fallen down on the stone floor, which was, of course, the crashing noise heard by the cook and the boy.
I knew from this inspection that the man was not an artist, and but a “muff” at his work. This was something (though not much certainly) to go upon. While examining the putty, I fancied I saw something shining. I then examined it more closely with a pocket microscope which I always carry about with me, and I then saw the jagged portion of the blade of a pen-knife, and on further search, found another piece of a blade, and on placing the two bits together on a sheet of writing paper, found they were portions of the same blade. To find the remainder of the knife—that was the thing! As then the case would begin to assume a criminating shape, diligent search was made, but with no effect.
Now there was attached to the house a kitchen garden, and a small flower garden, which were once a fortnight put in order by a working gardener, who lived close to Southampton. His job generally took two days, but always more than one; and on this occasion the garden was undergoing its usual trimming; the morning of the second day being the morning of the attempted burglary. I perceived that the gardener had not returned to complete his work. I did not think very much of this circumstance, as once or twice before he had given me the trouble of sending after him; he having left my job half-finished in order that he might work at some other one elsewhere. I then told the stable lad to go after the man, and to tell him if ever he served me this trick again I would employ him no more. On which the boy said, “Oh, sir, he has been here this morning, and he said he was coming back again in the afternoon to do half a day’s work.”
On hearing this I was just turning away, when the lad added: “He came here in a pair of slippers, and on my saying to him, ‘Them’s rum things to come a gardening in,’ he said: ‘Yes, they be; but I have been up nearly all night playing at cards with some pals, and my feet swelled so I could not bear my boots on.’”
Now all this was very possible, and, perhaps, not improbable, and, under other circumstances, I might have thought nothing about it, but my mind being naturally full of the burglary I caught at the word “slippers”—connecting these articles in my mind as part of a “cracksman’s” dress—and like lightning, and as if by inspiration, though with no data on which to ground it, the strongest conviction seized hold of my mind, John, the gardener, is the man. So strong was this that I could not be quiet; I could see him, as I fancied, cutting away the putty, &c., &c. I returned to the boy, and asked him a variety of questions, and particularly as to what else John, the gardener, had said, and as to his manner, &c., without eliciting anything of importance. At last I said, “Did he tell you where he had been playing at cards?”
“Yes,” said the lad. “At the Pig and Tinderbox, in —— Street.”
So, thought I, as I am going into Southampton, to see Inspector P——, I will just look in at the Pig and Tinder-Box, and have a talk with the landlord. So I told the boy to get the horse harnessed as quickly as possible, and into Southampton I drove, putting up in the next street to the Pig and Tinderbox, so as not to excite any suspicion by driving up to the door; and, walking into that establishment, ordered a glass of beer, and asked for the master of the house.
“Do you know a man of the name of John, a gardener?” said I.
“No,” said he; “I can’t exactly say as I does by name, but I daresay I should know him if I were to see him; we has so many, you know, of all sorts coming to this house, but I should not wonder if my man knows him.”
So the man was called, and I asked him:
“Were you serving the customers last night?”
He said “Yes.”
“Do you know John Holder, a gardener?”
“Yes,” said he; “I knows him.”
“Does he often come here?”
“Not very often,” said he.
“Was he here yesterday?”
“Was he here last night, either before or after twelve?”
“Are you perfectly certain of this?”
And I said:
“If you were called upon, would you swear this?”
“And he could not have been in any other part of the house without your being aware of it?”
Now, thought I to myself, “Gardener, the scent is getting uncommonly warm. I’m running you down a little faster than you think for.” For I now had no doubt he was the man. How stood the case? House broken into, John comes in the morning in slippers, tells a lie unasked for, and, when he hears I am getting up, is evidently afraid to meet me, and bolts away, saying he will return in the afternoon.
My next visit was to Inspector P——, who, after giving instructions to another policeman to come in half-an-hour’s time to my house with his dog-cart, accompanied me back again to my house, having previously gone with me to the Pig and Tinderbox, to have repeated to him by the barman that which he had said to me.
On our arrival we found John at work, mowing the lawn. I apparently took little or no notice of him, but whenever I could do so furtively had a good look at his countenance, and whenever I looked, as P—— and myself were walking about the garden (he, P——, being in plain clothes), his eye was on us, and I observed he was, in consequence of this, notching the grass. P—— and I had a long conversation; he hesitated very much about taking the man, he said; he was inclined to agree with me that it was very likely he was the man, but he said we have not enough, at present, to go upon. So, after a little further delay, he went up to the gardener, and said, very suddenly, “Have you heard Mr. S——’s house was broken open last night?”
“God bless me!—no,” says the man. “What a terrible thing, to be sure.”
Lie number two, for John, the lad, had told him in the morning. No notice was taken of this lie by either of us, but a sort of smile now played upon the inspector’s countenance, and he proceeded to ask him:—
“Have you seen any suspicious-looking character about here lately?”
“No,” said the man, “nobody.”
“No tramping fellows, or anybody of that sort?”
“No,” he had noticed no one of the kind.
All this time the inspector kept getting a little closer to him, and in a light playful tone, said, while just tapping the outside of his waistcoat-pocket, “Lord! how your pockets stick out! Do you carry your tools in your pockets? Let’s see what you’ve got in them,” and suiting the action to the word, coolly put his hand in the man’s pocket, upon which he first of all turned deadly pale, and then began to ride the high horse, from which he had, as is about to be told, a mighty tumble.
Pocket number one brought forth some pawn-tickets, and some lucifer-matches, and other articles of trifling import. Pocket number two brought forth various things, and among them a buck-horn handled knife with two blades, one of which was broken. On seeing this I could hardly contain myself, and was about to say something, when Inspector P—— gave me a look, as much as to say, “Mum for the present,” that functionary at the same time saying to John in the blandest and most insinuating manner, “Now, just let you and I have five minutes’ conversation inside the house, and then you can go on with your work.”
So into the house they walked: I was then walking behind them. Presently I observed P—— (without turning his head in the least on one side), impatiently shaking something in his hand, which he held behind his back, as if for me to take it, so I walked up to the side of him, and unobserved by John, he slipped into my hand the knife with the broken blade.
I knew then what I had to do, and showing the inspector and his new acquaintance into a room, went into another room, got a sheet of note paper, placed on it the two broken bits of blade before alluded to, and then opening the broken blade of the knife, put it to the broken bits, and the three made a complete knife, and a complete case. For on my return to my friends in the other room, I merely said, “It’s all right, P——, it’s a case.”
P—— thereupon quietly took from his pocket a most elegant pair of bracelets, very bright, and made of iron, but with this peculiarity about them, that they were joined together by about three inches of strong chain; and with these ornaments he adorned the wrists of our now common acquaintance the gardener, John. By this time the policeman had arrived with the dog-cart, in which John, the gardener, was asked to go for an airing.
Now, at 4 a.m., John, the gardener, was cutting away the putty from my window; at 2 p.m he was seated, decorated as I have described, in the smartest of dog-carts, between Inspector P—— and Policeman X, of the Hants Constabulary, on his road to W—— gaol.
The case came on before the late Baron A——. He was indicted for burglary, but was directed by the judge to be acquitted, as to constitute a burglary it must be proved that a portion of the person must enter the premises, and this entry the evidence did not sufficiently prove. But, by the direction of the judge, he was detained and re-indicted for misdemeanour, all the evidence being gone over again; the jury did not take five minutes to pronounce a verdict of Guilty, and he was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour.
A hint to gentle burglars in general.—If he had flung away the knife with the broken blade, he might have got off. The correspondence of two minute pieces of steel convicted him.