Ralph Rashleigh, by James Tucker

Chapter 3

Hath not a Jew — eyes?

As three weeks had now elapsed since the robbery at Winchester, and all talk of it had ceased, Ralph determined on springing his plant, or, in plain terms, securing his booty. For this purpose he provided himself at Portsmouth with a new travelling trunk, which he conveyed per coach to his destination. On his arrival at the latter place, his first care was to fix his abode at an inn near his precious deposit, his next to see that all was right in the coppice where it lay. Having satisfied himself in this particular, he waited until evening, when, by means of two different visits to the spot, he removed the whole of the articles, without exciting any suspicion, to his present headquarters, which he left next morning for London, where he arrived in due course without accident.

His next care was to dispose of the various articles produced by his enterprise. For this purpose he selected an accommodating Israelite, whose fame had been very often spoken of in the gaol he had left as a safe fence, and a perfect pattern for all cross coves. A dingy marine store shop in a court leading to the Minories was the domicile of this descendant of a chosen people, and thither one evening Ralph bent his way. Our adventurer expected to see in Mr Jacobs a withered and filthy old being, similar in external appearance to those of his race who then perambulated the metropolis as dealers in cast-off clothing. His surprise, therefore, was great when, upon enquiring from a little Jewess in the shop for the master of it, a man in the prime of life, and of most respectable exterior, was shown to him. Having been provided with a password, as a shibboleth of introduction, known only to the initiated, he was not long before he spoke his errand, and it was agreed that they should meet at Rashleigh’s lodgings the next forenoon in order to make their bargain.

At the time appointed Mr J. made his entree. Ralph was prepared with a list and specimens of what he had to sell, as he did not deem it altogether prudent to acquaint his new associate with too much at once, nor did he wish to let him know that all the property was then in that house. After overlooking both list and articles with a very businesslike air, Mr Jacobs said to Ralph. “Vell, how mosh do you vant for de lot?”

“At a word, one thousand pounds.”

“Mine Gott! Are you mad? Vere you tink all dat money shall come from?”

“Oh, Mr Jacobs! You know you could easily find twenty times as much money as that, and I am sure they are a very great bargain!”

“I vill tell you vat it ish. Py mine vord, I never did know de monish so shcarce in all de days of my life; and is pesides, if I was to porrow so mosh, to puy all dis lot of trinkets, ven de devil you tink I get all my monish pack again? Eh? Can you tell me dat?”

“Well, well, Mr Jacobs, if money is really so scarce, you can buy half of what’s on the list, and I will look out for another mark to take the rest. What will you give for the fair half? You know, we can divide them into two heaps, and toss up for first choice!”

“Mine Gott! Vat a hurry to be in! Vell, let me see, let me see . . . All dese bracelets . . . very poor, very poor . . . all French . . . all French and Jarman . . . Bad gold, bad gold . . . Sell petter in England dan over de vater. Put if I puy dem dey mosht go to Hambro’ . . . Vell, I vill tell you at vun vord how mosh I vill give you. I vill give . . . Yes, I vill give you . . . free hundred pounds for de fair half . . . de monish in your hand. So take it or leave it.”

As he said this he pulled out an immense roll of bank notes from some cunningly contrived pocket beneath his arm, and rose at the same time as if to go away if the other did not take his offer.

Ralph only replied, “’Tis too little. Say £350.”

‘Not I, py mine Gott! Shall I go?”

“Yes. If you won’t give any more than that we can’t deal.”

The Jew seized the knob of the door, partly opened it, then returned close to Rashleigh, and said in a mysterious whisper, “I vill give £640 for de whole.”

Ralph shook his head, and Mr Jacobs ran out of the room and downstairs.

Our adventurer had arisen from his seat and gone to the window in order to watch the Israelite, intending, if he actually left the house, to follow him, when Mr Jacobs again returned, closed the door after him, and said. “Now I vill give you £650 for dem all, and upon my shoul, I don’t expect to get a finif (£5 note) py de pargain. But I vant to send some jewels to Hambro’, and dese vill do as vell as any.”

At last Ralph agreed to take £660, which was forthwith paid down by the buyer in Bank of England notes, after which he departed with the portmanteau and jewellery.

For some rime after this Rashleigh led an idle dissipated life, frequently appearing at the theatres, gaming-houses, etc., until the slippery goddess took it into her head to desert him, and he found himself nearly penniless. It now became necessary for him to bestir himself.

Fortune happened to throw in his way an acquaintance, in the person of a female who had formerly been a servant to his employer, with whom he had had a liaison, which he now renewed. She at present lived in the service of an elderly gentleman of great wealth in Welbeck Street. Our adventurer procured by her means admittance into this her master’s house and thus enjoyed ample opportunities of observing the locality of the butler’s pantry, where he learned the plate was kept.

In order to succeed in the plan he had formed for plundering the place, however, it was necessary for him to procure an associate in his enterprise; and he thought himself lucky that about this time he accidentally met in the street one of his quondam companions at Maidstone Gaol. This man was now very seedy in appearance. Having only just been liberated, and being without a shilling, he was ripe for anything that could tend to put money in his pocket. With him, therefore, Ralph made his arrangements, and all being duly prepared, a hackney coachman, who had frequently served Ralph’s associate before in similar transactions, was engaged to be in waiting at a public-house near the scene of their intended operations, so that he might be at hand to receive the booty.

The same night, about twelve o’clock, Ralph and his pal went to the spot, fully prepared for action with all the usual implements of housebreaking. There was as usual a circular iron plate let into the pavement, to admit of coals being shot into the cellar beneath. This was lifted up, and Ralph, who was then but very slender, got down without difficulty. The covering was then replaced by his associate, who retired to some distance, while Ralph, who was well provided with skeleton keys, speedily got out of the cellar and through several doors into the butler’s pantry, where he found the plate, apparently packed up, as if for a journey! He soon carried it all into the cellar. Nothing had as yet occurred to alarm him; but just at this moment a small dog, who was asleep in the area, awoke and came running towards him. Upon smelling his legs, the dog only fawned upon him, because he had been sprinkled with a liquor which never fails to neutralise the opposition of the most ferocious dog.

Ralph now locked himself into the cellar, where he awaited most impatiently the approach of his associate, who was to have returned in half an hour with the coach; but more than two hours elapsed before they came, during which our adventurer was a prey to the fiercest pangs of uncertainty and apprehension. At length the appointed signal was given and the coach stopped. The plate was quickly transferred to it, and in a few minutes they were driving rapidly towards Paddington, where a furnished room had been taken by Ralph the day before. On arrival, they soon secured their booty, paid the jarvey, and lay down to rest. The next day, being resolved to lose no time, Ralph went to the house of a well known fence in Saint Mary Axe, where everything was so very well regulated and the system adopted so cunning, that it seemed to have reached the very pitch of perfection, insomuch that the buyer never saw the seller nor the seller the buyer, thus effectually preventing any after chance of unpleasant recognition. There was a box turning in a wall, so contrived that upon placing any article you wished to dispose of within it and ringing a bell, the box revolved. After the lapse of a few minutes it again turned, and in lieu of the article left, a sum of money, being the price the proprietor was willing to pay for it, made its appearance. If the seller refused to take this he again rang the bell, when his article was returned; but no second offer was ever made. It may easily be conceived that this establishment must have met with great support. In fact, it was the means of immense gain to its proprietor, who thus fixed his own price for all that he bought. But still, the thieves of London much approved of the principle, as they were never seen by anyone while disposing of their ill-gotten booty — thus removing at least one great cause for fear of detection. It was therefore continually well supported; and so cunningly did the owner contrive, that although his premises were repeatedly searched upon the best-founded suspicions that there was stolen property concealed therein, yet nothing was ever found to warrant a conviction.

Once a police officer chased a thief who had stolen a silver teapot from a gentleman’s breakfast table and kept him in full view until he arrived at the door of the house in question. In ran the thief. In two minutes the officer was after him; but there being two doors to the shop, nobody was there. The house was searched from top to bottom, and nothing was found like a silver teapot.

The fact was that next door to this place the owner’s brother had a concealed crucible, which was constantly kept in operation, and which communicated also with the house in question. In this every article bought that would melt was instantly thrown, so that no matter how costly the workmanship, in a few minutes any sized piece of plate was converted into what the fence used jocularly to call his “vite soop”.

To this famed spot Rashleigh now repaired and soon ascertained the price he could get for the plate. It was but 2s. 6d. per ounce; yet this was pretty fair upon the cross, and the confederates divided £200 between them as the proceeds of their night’s spoil.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05