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The Detective Police - flamingo



The Detective Police
by-Charles Dicken

WE are not by any
means devout
believers in the old Bow
Street Police. To say
the truth, we think
there was a vast
amount of humbug
about those worthies.
Apart from many of
them being men of
very indifferent
character, and far too
much in the habit of
consorting with thieves
and the like, they never
lost a public occasion
of jobbing and trading
in mystery and making
the most of
themselves. Continually
puffed besides by
incompetent
magistrates anxious to
conceal their own
deficiencies, and hand-
in-glove with the
penny-a-liners of that
time, they became a
sort of superstition.
Although as a
Preventive Police they
were utterly
ineffective, and as a
Detective Police were
very loose and
uncertain in their
operations, they
remain with some
people a superstition
to the present day.
On the other hand, the
Detective Force
organised since the
establishment of the
existing Police, is so
well chosen and
trained, proceeds so
systematically and
quietly, does its
business in such a
workmanlike manner,
and is always so calmly
and steadily engaged in
the service of the
public, that the public
really do not know
enough of it, to know a
tithe of its usefulness.
Impressed with this
conviction, and
interested in the men
themselves, we
represented to the
authorities at Scotland
Yard, that we should be
glad, if there were no
official objection, to
have some talk with
the Detectives. A most
obliging and ready
permission being given,
a certain evening was
appointed with a
certain Inspector for a
social conference
between ourselves and
the Detectives, at The
Household Words Office
in Wellington Street,
Strand, London. In
consequence of which
appointment the party
'came off,' which we
are about to describe.
And we beg to repeat
that, avoiding such
topics as it might for
obvious reasons be
injurious to the public,
or disagreeable to
respectable individuals,
to touch upon in print,
our description is as
exact as we can make
it.
The reader will have
the goodness to
imagine the Sanctum
Sanctorum of
Household Words.
Anything that best
suits the reader's
fancy, will best
represent that
magnificent chamber.
We merely stipulate for
a round table in the
middle, with some
glasses and cigars
arranged upon it; and
the editorial sofa
elegantly hemmed in
between that stately
piece of furniture and
the wall.
It is a sultry evening at
dusk. The stones of
Wellington Street are
hot and gritty, and the
watermen and
hackney-coachmen at
the Theatre opposite,
are much flushed and
aggravated. Carriages
are constantly setting
down the people who
have come to Fairy-
Land; and there is a
mighty shouting and
bellowing every now
and then, deafening us
for the moment,
through the open
windows.
Just at dusk,
Inspectors Wield and
Stalker are announced;
but we do not
undertake to warrant
the orthography of any
of the names here
mentioned. Inspector
Wield presents
Inspector Stalker.
Inspector Wield is a
middle-aged man of a
portly presence, with a
large, moist, knowing
eye, a husky voice, and
a habit of emphasising
his conversation by the
aid of a corpulent fore-
finger, which is
constantly in
juxtaposition with his
eyes or nose. Inspector
Stalker is a shrewd,
hard-headed
Scotchman - in
appearance not at all
unlike a very acute,
thoroughly-trained
schoolmaster, from
the Normal
Establishment at
Glasgow. Inspector
Wield one might have
known, perhaps, for
what he is - Inspector
Stalker, never.
The ceremonies of
reception over,
Inspectors Wield and
Stalker observe that
they have brought
some sergeants with
them. The sergeants
are presented - five in
number, Sergeant
Dornton, Sergeant
Witchem, Sergeant
Mith, Sergeant Fendall,
and Sergeant Straw.
We have the whole
Detective Force from
Scotland Yard, with one
exception. They sit
down in a semi-circle
(the two Inspectors at
the two ends) at a little
distance from the
round table, facing the
editorial sofa. Every
man of them, in a
glance, immediately
takes an inventory of
the furniture and an
accurate sketch of the
editorial presence. The
Editor feels that any
gentleman in company
could take him up, if
need should be, without
the smallest
hesitation, twenty
years hence.
The whole party are in
plain clothes. Sergeant
Dornton about fifty
years of age, with a
ruddy face and a high
sunburnt forehead,
has the air of one who
has been a Sergeant in
the army - he might
have sat to Wilkie for
the Soldier in the
Reading of the Will. He is
famous for steadily
pursuing the inductive
process, and, from
small beginnings,
working on from clue
to clue until he bags his
man. Sergeant
Witchem, shorter and
thicker-set, and
marked with the small-
pox, has something of
a reserved and
thoughtful air, as if he
were engaged in deep
arithmetical
calculations. He is
renowned for his
acquaintance with the
swell mob. Sergeant
Mith, a smooth-faced
man with a fresh
bright complexion, and
a strange air of
simplicity, is a dab at
housebreakers.
Sergeant Fendall, a
light- haired, well-
spoken, polite person,
is a prodigious hand at
pursuing private
inquiries of a delicate
nature. Straw, a little
wiry Sergeant of meek
demeanour and strong
sense, would knock at
a door and ask a series
of questions in any mild
character you choose
to prescribe to him,
from a charity-boy
upwards, and seem as
innocent as an infant.
They are, one and all,
respectable-looking
men; of perfectly good
deportment and
unusual intelligence;
with nothing lounging or
slinking in their
manners; with an air of
keen observation and
quick perception when
addressed; and
generally presenting in
their faces, traces
more or less marked
of habitually leading
lives of strong mental
excitement. They have
all good eyes; and they
all can, and they all do,
look full at
whomsoever they
speak to.
We light the cigars, and
hand round the glasses
(which are very
temperately used
indeed), and the
conversation begins by
a modest amateur
reference on the
Editorial part to the
swell mob. Inspector
Wield immediately
removes his cigar
from his lips, waves his
right hand, and says,
'Regarding the swell
mob, sir, I can't do
better than call upon
Sergeant Witchem.
Because the reason
why? I'll tell you.
Sergeant Witchem is
better acquainted with
the swell mob than any
officer in London.'
Our heart leaping up
when we beheld this
rainbow in the sky, we
turn to Sergeant
Witchem, who very
concisely, and in well-
chosen language, goes
into the subject
forthwith. Meantime,
the whole of his
brother officers are
closely interested in
attending to what he
says, and observing its
effect. Presently they
begin to strike in, one
or two together, when
an opportunity offers,
and the conversation
becomes general. But
these brother officers
only come in to the
assistance of each
other - not to the
contradiction - and a
more amicable
brotherhood there
could not be. From the
swell mob, we diverge
to the kindred topics
of cracksmen, fences,
public- house dancers,
area-sneaks, designing
young people who go
out 'gonophing,' and
other 'schools.' It is
observable throughout
these revelations, that
Inspector Stalker, the
Scotchman, is always
exact and statistical,
and that when any
question of figures
arises, everybody as
by one consent
pauses, and looks to
him.
When we have
exhausted the various
schools of Art - during
which discussion the
whole body have
remained profoundly
attentive, except when
some unusual noise at
the Theatre over the
way has induced some
gentleman to glance
inquiringly towards the
window in that
direction, behind his
next neighbour's back -
we burrow for
information on such
points as the following.
Whether there really
are any highway
robberies in London, or
whether some
circumstances not
convenient to be
mentioned by the
aggrieved party,
usually precede the
robberies complained
of, under that head,
which quite change
their character?
Certainly the latter,
almost always.
Whether in the case of
robberies in houses,
where servants are
necessarily exposed to
doubt, innocence under
suspicion ever
becomes so like guilt in
appearance, that a
good officer need be
cautious how he judges
it? Undoubtedly.
Nothing is so common
or deceptive as such
appearances at first.
Whether in a place of
public amusement, a
thief knows an officer,
and an officer knows a
thief - supposing them,
beforehand, strangers
to each other -
because each
recognises in the
other, under all
disguise, an inattention
to what is going on, and
a purpose that is not
the purpose of being
entertained? Yes.
That's the way exactly.
Whether it is
reasonable or
ridiculous to trust to
the alleged experiences
of thieves as narrated
by themselves, in
prisons, or
penitentiaries, or
anywhere? In general,
nothing more absurd.
Lying is their habit and
their trade; and they
would rather lie - even
if they hadn't an
interest in it, and didn't
want to make
themselves agreeable -
than tell the truth.
From these topics, we
glide into a review of
the most celebrated
and horrible of the
great crimes that have
been committed within
the last fifteen or
twenty years. The men
engaged in the
discovery of almost all
of them, and in the
pursuit or
apprehension of the
murderers, are here,
down to the very last
instance. One of our
guests gave chase to
and boarded the
emigrant ship, in which
the murderess last
hanged in London was
supposed to have
embarked. We learn
from him that his
errand was not
announced to the
passengers, who may
have no idea of it to
this hour. That he went
below, with the captain,
lamp in hand - it being
dark, and the whole
steerage abed and
sea-sick - and engaged
the Mrs. Manning who
WAS on board, in a
conversation about her
luggage, until she was,
with no small pains,
induced to raise her
head, and turn her
face towards the light.
Satisfied that she was
not the object of his
search, he ...


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