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ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE CRUIKSHANK.
EPOCH THE THIRD.-1724.
Nearly nine years after the events last recorded, and about the middle of May, 1724, a young man of remarkably prepossessing ap. pearance took his way, one afternoon, along Wych-street; and, from the curiosity with which he regarded the houses on the left of the road, seemed to be in search of some particular habitation. The age of this individual could not be more than twenty-one ; his figure was tall, robust, and gracefully proportioned; and his clear grey eye and open countenance bespoke a frank, generous, and resolute nature. His features were regular, and finely-formed; his complexion bright and blooming-a little shaded, however, by travel and exposure to the sun; and, with a praiseworthy contempt for the universal and preposterous fashion then prevailing, of substituting a peruke for the natural covering of the head, he allowed his own dark-brown hair to fall over his shoulders in ringlets as luxuriant as those that distinguished the court gallant in Charles the Second's days—a fashion, which we do not despair of seeing revived in our own days. He wore a French military undress of that period, with high jack-boots, and a laced hat; and, though his attire indicated no particular rank, he had completelythe"air of a person of distinction. Such was the effect produced upon the passengers by his good looks and manly deportment, that few—especially of the gentler and more susceptible sex-failed to turn round and bestow a second glance upon the handsome stranger. Unconscious of the interest he excited, and entirely occupied by his own thoughts—which, if his bosom could have been examined, would have been found composed of mingled hopes and fears—the young man walked on till he came to an old house, with great, projecting, bay windows on the first floor, and situated as nearly as possible at the back of St. Clement's church. Here he halted ; and, looking upwards, read, at the foot of an immense sign-board, displaying a gaudily-painted angel with expanded pinions and an olive-branch, not the name he expected to find, but that of WILLIAM KNEEBONE, WOOLLEN.DRAPER. Tears started to the young man's eyes on beholding the change,
and it was with difficulty he could command himself sufficiently to make the inquiries he desired to do respecting the former owner of the house. As he entered the shop, a tall portly personage advanced to meet him, whom he at once recognised as the present proprietor. Mr. Kneebone was attired in the extremity of the mode. A full. curled wig descended half-way down his back and shoulders ; a neck. cloth of “ right Mechlin” was twisted round his throat so tightly as almost to deprive him of breath, and threaten him with apoplexy; he had lace, also, at his wrists and bosom ; gold clocks to his hose, and red heels to his shoes. A stiff, formally-cut coat of cinnamon.colour. ed cloth, with rows of plate buttons, each of the size of a crown piece, on the sleeves, pockets, and skirts, reached the middle of his legs; and his costume was completed by the silver-hilted sword at his side, and the laced hat under his left arm.
Bowing to the stranger, the woollen-draper very politely requested to know his business.
“ I'm almost afraid to state it,” faltered the other; " but, may I ask whether Mr. Wood, the carpenter, who formerly resided here, is still living ?”
"If you feel any anxiety on his account, sir, I'm happy to be able to relieve it," answered Kneebone, readily. “My good friend, Owen Wood—heaven preserve him!—is still living. And, for a who'll never see sixty again, he's in excellent preservation, I assure
“You delight me with the intelligence," said the stranger, entirely recovering his cheerfulness of look. “I began to fear, from his having quitted the old place, that some misfortune must have befallen him.”
“Quite the contrary," rejoined the woollen-draper, laughing goodhumouredly. “Everything has prospered with him in an extraordinary manner. His business has thriven ; legacies have unexpectedly dropped into his lap; and, to crown all, he has made a large fortune by a Jucky speculation in South-Sea stock-made it, too, where so many others have lost fortunes, your humble servant amongst the num. ber-ha! ha! In a word, sir, Mr. Wood is now in very affluent circumstances, He stuck to the shop as long as it was necessary, and longer, in my opinion. When he left these premises, three years ago, I took them from him; or rather—to deal frankly with you—he placed me in them rent-free; for, I'm not ashamed to confess it, I've had losses, and heavy ones; and, if it hadn't been for him, I don't know where I should have been. Mr. Wood, sir,” he added, with much emotion," is one of the best of men, and would be the happiest, were it not that "and he hesitated.
“Well, sir ?” cried the other, eagerly. “ His wife is still living,” returned Kneebone, drily. “I understand," replied the stranger, unable to repress a smile.
But it strikes me, I've heard that Mrs. Wood was once a favourite of yours.”
“So she was," replied the woollen-draper, helping himself to an enormous pinch of snuff, with the air of a man who does not dislike to be rallied about his gallantry," so she was. But those days are over-quite over. Since her husband has laid me under such a weight of obligation, I couldn't, in honour, continue—hem !” and he took ano. ther explanatory pinch. “ Added to which, she is neither so young as she was, nor is her temper by any means improved—hem !"
Say no more on the subject, sir,” observed the stranger, gravely; “ but, let us turn to a more agreeable one-her daughter."
“ That is a far more agreeable one, I must confess,” returned Knee. bone, with a self-sufficient smirk.
The stranger looked at him as if strongly disposed to chastise his impertinence.
“ Is she married ?'' he asked, after a brief pause.
“Married !-no-no," replied the woollen-draper. “Winifred Wood will never marry, unless the grave can give up its dead. When a mere child, she fixed her aff'ctions upon a youth named Thames Dar. rell, whom her father brought up, and who perished, it is supposed, about nine years ago ; and she has determined to remain faithful to his memory.”
“ You astonish me,” said the stranger, in a voice full of emotion.
“Why, it is astonishing, certainly,” remarked Kneebone, " to find any woman constant-especially to a girlish attachment; but, such is the case.
She has had offers innumerable; for, where wealth and beauty are combined, as in her instance, suitors are seldom wanting. But she was not to be tempted.”
“She is a matchless creature !” exclaimed the young man.
“So I think," replied Kneebone, again applying to the snuff box, and by that means escaping the angry glance levelled at him by his companion.
“ I have one inquiry more to make of you, sir,” said the stranger, as soon as he had conquered his displeasure, “and I will then trouble you no further. You spoke just now of a youth whom Mr. Wood brought up. As far as I recollect, there were two. What has become of the other ?"
" Why, surely you don't mean Jack Sheppard ?” cried the woollen. draper, in surprise.
“ That was the lad's name," returned the stranger.
“I guessed from your dress and manner, sir, that you must have been long absent from your own country,” said Kneebone ; "and now I'm convinced of it, or you wouldn't have asked that question. Jack Sheppard is the talk and terror of the whole town. The ladies can't sleep in their beds for him ; and as to the men, they daren't go to bed
at all. He's the most daring and expert housebreaker that ever used a crow.bar. He laughs at locks and bolts ; and the more carefully you guard your premises from him, the more likely you are to in. sure an attack. His exploits and escapes are in everybody's mouth. He has been lodged in every roundhouse in the metropolis, and has broken out of them all, and boasts that no prison can hold him. We shall see.
His skill has not yet been tried. At present, he is under the protection of Jonathan Wild.”
“ Does that villain still maintain his power ?” asked the stranger sternly.
“ He does," replied Kneebone, “and, what is more surprising, it seems to increase. Jonathan completely baffles and derides the ends of justice. It is useless to contend with him, even with right on your side. Some years ago, in 1715, just before the Rebellion, I was rash enough to league myself with the Jacobite party, and by Wild's ma. chinations got clapped into Newgate, whence I was glad to escape with my head upon my shoulders. I charged the thief-taker, as was the fact, with having robbed me, by means of the lad Sheppard, whom he insti. gated to the deed, of the very pocket-book he produced in evidence against me; but it was of no avail— I couldn't obtain a hearing. Mr. Wood fared still worse. Bribed by a certain Sir Rowland Trenchard, Jonathan kidnapped the carpenter's adopted son, Thames Darrell, and placed him in the hands of a Dutch skipper, with orders to throw him overboard when he got out to sea ; and, though this was proved as clear as day, the rascal managed matters so adroitly, and gave such a dif. ferent complexion to the whole affair, that he came off with flying colours. One reason, perhaps, of his success in this case might be, that having arrested his associate in the dark transaction, Sir Rowland Trenchard, on a charge of high treason, he was favoured by Walpole, who found his account in retaining such an agent. Be this as Jonathan remained the victor; and shortly afterwards,--at the price of a third of his estate, it was whispered,-he procured Trenchard's liberation from confinement."
At the mention of the latter occurrence, a dark cloud gathered upon the stranger's brow.
“ Do you know anything further of Sir Rowland ?” he asked.
“ Nothing more than this,” answered Kneebone,--" that after the failure of his projects, and the downfal of his party, he retired to his
Hall, near Manchester, and has remained there ever since, entirely secluded from the world.”
The stranger was for a moment lost in reflection.
“ And now, sir,” he said, preparing to take his departure, “ will you add to the obligation already conferred by informing me where I can meet with Mr. Wood ?" With pleasure," replied the woollen-draper.
" He lives at
Dollis Hill, a beautiful spot near Willesden, about four or five miles from town, where he has taken a farm. If you ride out there,and the place is well worth a visit, for the magnificent view it commands of some of the finest country in the neighbourhood of London, -you are certain to meet with him.
I saw him yesterday, and he told me he shouldn't stir from home for a week to come. He called here on his way back, after he had been to Bedlam to visit
Mrs. Sheppard." “ Jack's mother !” exclaimed the young man.
“ Gracious heaven ! -is she the inmate of a mad-house ?”
“ She is, sir,” answered the woollen-draper, sadly, "driven there by her son's misconduct. Alas ! that the punishment of his offences should fall on her head. Poor soul! she nearly died when she heard he had robbed his master ; and it might have been well if she had done so, for she never afterwards recovered her reason. She rambles continually about Jack, and her husband, and that wretch Jonathan, to whom, as far as can be gathered from her wild raving, she attributes all her misery. I pity her from the bottom of my heart. But, in the midst of all her affliction, she has found a steady friend in Mr. Wood, who looks after her comforts, and visits her constantly. Indeed, I've heard him say that, but for his wife, he would shelter her under his own roof. That, sir, is what I call being a Good Samaritan."
The stronger said nothing, but hastily brushed away a tear. Per. ceiving he was about to take leave, Kneebone ventured to ask whom he had had the honour of addressing.
Before the question could be answered, a side-door was opened, and a very handsome woman of Amazonian proportions presented herself, and marched familiarly up to Mr. Kneebone. She was extremely showily dressed, and her large hooped petticoat gave additional effect to her lofty stature. As soon as she noticed the stranger, she honoured him with an extremely impudent stare, and scarcely endeavoured to disguise the admiration with which his good looks impressed her.
"Don't you perceive, my dear Mrs. Maggot, that I'm engaged ?" said Kneebone, a little disconcerted. . “ Who've you got
?" demanded the Amazon boldly. “ The gentleman is a stranger to me, Poll,” replied the woollen. draper, with increased embarrassment. “ I don't know his name.” And he looked at the moment as if he had lost all desire to know it.
“Well, he's a pretty fellow, at all events,” observed Mrs. Maggot, eyeing him from head to heel with evident satisfaction;" a devilish pretty fellow !"
“ Upon my word, Poll,” said Kneebone, becoming very red," you