“Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could — though that warn’t as often as you may think, till you put the question whether you would ha’ been over-ready to give me work yourselves — a bit of a poacher, a bit of a labourer, a bit of a waggoner, a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most things that don’t pay and lead to trouble, I got to be a man. A deserting soldier in a Traveller’s Rest, what lay hid up to the chin under a lot of taturs, learnt me to read; and a travelling Giant what signed his name at a penny a time learnt me to write. I warn’t locked up as often now as formerly, but I wore out my good share of keymetal still.
“At Epsom races, a matter of over twenty years ago, I got acquainted wi’ a man whose skull I’d crack wi’ this poker, like the claw of a lobster, if I’d got it on this hob. His right name was Compeyson; and that’s the man, dear boy, what you see me a-pounding in the ditch, according to what you truly told your comrade arter I was gone last night.
“He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he’d been to a public boarding-school and had learning. He was a smooth one to talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks. He was good-looking too. It was the night afore the great race, when I found him on the heath, in a booth that I know’d on. Him and some more was a sitting among the tables when I went in, and the landlord (which had a knowledge of me, and was a sporting one) called him out, and said, ’I think this is a man that might suit you’ — meaning I was.
“Compeyson, he looks at me very noticing, and I look at him. He has a watch and a chain and a ring and a breast-pin and a handsome suit of clothes.
“‘To judge from appearances, you’re out of luck,’ says Compeyson to me.
“‘Yes, master, and I’ve never been in it much.’ (I had come out of Kingston Jail last on a vagrancy committal. Not but what it might have been for something else; but it warn’t.)
“‘Luck changes,’ says Compeyson; ‘perhaps yours is going to change.’
“I says, ‘I hope it may be so. There’s room.’
“‘What can you do?’ says Compeyson.
“‘Eat and drink,’ I says; ‘if you’ll find the materials.’
“Compeyson laughed, looked at me again very noticing, giv me five shillings, and appointed me for next night. Same place.
“I went to Compeyson next night, same place, and Compeyson took me on to be his man and pardner. And what was Compeyson’s business in which we was to go pardners? Compeyson’s business was the swindling, handwriting forging, stolen bank-note passing, and such-like. All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head, and keep his own legs out of and get the profits from and let another man in for, was Compeyson’s business. He’d no more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil afore mentioned.