Thus she declined into old age, attended, like Queen Mary, by her maids, who would card, reel, spin, and beguile her leisure with sweet singing. Though her spirit was untamed, the burden of her years compelled her to a tranquil life. She, who formerly never missed a bull-baiting, must now content herself with tick-tack. Her fortune, moreover, had been wrecked in the Civil War. Though silver shells still jingled in her pocket, time was she knew the rattle of the yellow boys. But she never lost courage, and died at last of a dropsy, in placid contentment with her lot. Assuredly she was born at a time well suited to her genius. Had she lived to-day, she might have been a `Pioneer'; she might even have discussed some paltry problem of sex in a printed obscenity.
In her own freer, wiser age, she was not man's detractor, but his rival; and if she never knew the passion of love, she was always loyal to the obligation of friendship. By her will she left twenty pounds to celebrate the Second Charles's restoration to his kingdom; and you contemplate her career with the single regret that she died a brief year before the red wine, thus generously bestowed, bubbled at the fountain.
WHEN Jonathan Wild and the Count La Ruse, in Fielding's narrative, took a hand at cards, Jonathan picked his opponent's pocket, though he knew it was empty, while the Count, from sheer force of habit, stacked the cards, though Wild had not a farthing to lose. And if in his uncultured youth the great man stooped to prig with his own hand, he was early cured of the weakness: so that Fielding's picture of the hero taking a bottle-screw from the Ordinary's pocket in the very moment of death is entirely fanciful. For `this Machiavel of Thieves,' as a contemporary styled him, left others to accomplish what his ingenuity had planned. His was the high policy of theft. If he lived on terms of familiar intimacy with the mill-kens, the bridle-culls, the buttock-and-files of London, he was none the less the friend and minister of justice. He enjoyed the freedom of Newgate and the Old Bailey. He came and went as he liked: he packed juries, he procured bail, he manufactured evidence; and there was scarce an assize or a sessions passed but he slew his man.
The world knew him for a robber, yet could not refuse his brilliant service. At the Poultry Counter, you are told, he laid the foundations of his future greatness, and to the Poultry Counter he was committed for some trifling debt ere he had fully served his apprenticeship to the art and mystery of buckle- making. There he learned his craft, and at his enlargement he was able forthwith to commence thief-catcher. His plan was conceived with an effrontery that was nothing less than genius. On the one side he was the factor, or rather the tyrant, of the cross-coves: on the other he was the trusted agent of justice, the benefactor of the outraged and the plundered. Among his earliest exploits was the recovery of the Countess of G--d--n's chair, impudently carried off when her ladyship had but just alighted; and the courage wherewith he brought to justice the murderers of one Mrs. Knap, who had been slain for some trifling booty, established his reputation as upon a rock. He at once advertised himself in the public prints as Thief-Catcher General of Great Britain and Ireland, and proceeded to send to the gallows every scoundrel that dared dispute his position.
His opportunities of gain were infinite. Even if he did not organise the robbery which his cunning was presently to discover, he had spies in every hole and corner to set him on the felon's track. Nor did he leave a single enterprise to chance: `He divided the city and suburbs into wards or divisions, and appointed the persons who were to attend each ward, and kept them strictly to their duty.' If a subordinate dared to disobey or to shrink from murder, Jonathan hanged him at the next assize, and happily for him he had not a single confederate whose neck he might not put in the halter when he chose. Thus he preserved the union and the fidelity of his gang, punishing by judicial murder the smallest insubordination, the faintest suspicion of rivalry. Even when he had shut his victim up in Newgate, he did not leave him so long as there was a chance of blackmail. He would make the most generous offers of evidence and defence to every thief that had a stiver left him. But whether or not he kept his bargain--that depended upon policy and inclination. On one occasion, when he had brought a friend to the Old Bailey, and relented at the last moment, he kept the prosecutor drunk from the noble motive of self-interest, until the case was over. And so esteemed was he of the officers of the law that even this interference did but procure a reprimand.
His meanest action marked him out from his fellows, but it was not until he habitually pillaged the treasures he afterwards restored to their grateful owners for a handsome consideration, that his art reached the highest point of excellence. The event was managed by him with amazing adroitness from beginning to end.
It was he who discovered the wealth and habit of the victim; it was he who posted the thief and seized the plunder, giving a paltry commission to his hirelings for the trouble; it was he who kept whatever valuables were lost in the transaction; and as he was the servant of the Court, discovery or inconvenience was impossible. Surely the Machiavel of Thieves is justified of his title. He was known to all the rich and titled folk in town; and if he was generally able to give them back their stolen valuables at something more than double their value, he treated his clients with a most proper insolence. When Lady M--n was unlucky enough to lose a silver buckle at Windsor, she asked Wild to recover it, and offered the hero twenty pounds for his trouble. `Zounds, Madam,' says he, `you offer nothing. It cost the gentleman who took it forty pounds for his coach, equipage, and other expenses to Windsor.' His impudence increased with success, and in the geniality of his cups he was wont to boast his amazing rogueries: `hinting not without vanity at the poor Understandings of the Greatest Part of Mankind, and his own Superior Cunning.'
In fifteen years he claimed