Just as the clergyman approached the altar, she perceived a boy steal quickly into the church, and ensconce himself behind the woollen-draper, who, in order to carry on his amatory pursuits with greater convenience, and at the same time display his figure (of which he was not a little vain) to the utmost advantage, preferred a standing to a sitting posture. Of this boy she had only caught a glimpse;—but that glimpse was sufficient to satisfy her it was her son,—and, if she could have questioned her own instinctive love, she could not question her antipathy, when she beheld, partly concealed by a pillar immediately in the rear of the woollen-draper, the dark figure and truculent features of Jonathan Wild. As she looked in this direction, the thief-taker raised his eyes—those gray, blood-thirsty eyes!—their glare froze the life-blood in her veins.
As she averted her gaze, a terrible idea crossed her. Why was he there? why did the tempter dare to invade that sacred spot! She could not answer her own questions, but vague fearful suspicions passed through her mind. Meanwhile, the service proceeded; and the awful command, “Thou shalt not steal!” was solemnly uttered by the preacher, when Mrs. Sheppard, who had again looked round towards her son, beheld a hand glance along the side of the woollen-draper. She could not see what occurred, though she guessed it; but she saw Jonathan’s devilish triumphing glance, and read in it,—“Your son has committed a robbery—here—in these holy walls—he is mine—mine for ever!”
She uttered a loud scream, and fainted.
Jonathan Wild’s House in the Old Bailey.
Just as St. Sepulchre’s church struck one, on the eventful night of the 10th of June, (to which it will not be necessary to recur,) a horseman, mounted on a powerful charger, and followed at a respectful distance by an attendant, galloped into the open space fronting Newgate, and directed his course towards a house in the Old Bailey. Before he could draw in the rein, his steed—startled apparently by some object undistinguishable by the rider,—swerved with such suddenness as to unseat him, and precipitate him on the ground. The next moment, however, he was picked up, and set upon his feet by a person who, having witnessed the accident, flew across the road to his assistance.
“You’re not hurt I hope, Sir Rowland?” inquired this individual.
“Not materially, Mr. Wild,” replied the other, “a little shaken, that’s all. Curses light on the horse!” he added, seizing the bridle of his steed, who continued snorting and shivering, as if still under the influence of some unaccountable alarm; “what can ail him?”
“I know what ails him, your honour,” rejoined the groom, riding up as he spoke; “he’s seen somethin’ not o’ this world.”
“Most likely,” observed Jonathan, with a slight sneer; “the ghost of some highwayman who has just breathed his last in Newgate, no doubt.”