And thus he effected his escape from the New Prison.
In a hollow in the meadows behind the prison whence Jack Sheppard had escaped,—for, at this time, the whole of the now thickly-peopled district north of Clerkenwell Bridewell was open country, stretching out in fertile fields in the direction of Islington—and about a quarter of a mile off, stood a solitary hovel, known as Black Mary’s Hole. This spot, which still retains its name, acquired the appellation from an old crone who lived there, and who, in addition to a very equivocal character for honesty, enjoyed the reputation of being a witch. Without inquiring into the correctness of the latter part of the story, it may be sufficient to state, that Black Mary was a person in whom Jack Sheppard thought he could confide, and, as Edgeworth Bess was incapable of much further exertion, he determined to leave her in the old woman’s care till the following night, while he shifted for himself and fulfilled his design—for, however rash or hazardous a project might be, if once conceived, Jack always executed it,—of visiting Jonathan Wild at his house in the Old Bailey.
It was precisely two o’clock on the morning of Whit-monday, the 25th of May 1724, when the remarkable escape before detailed was completed: and, though it wanted full two hours to daybreak, the glimmer of a waning moon prevented it from being totally dark. Casting a hasty glance, as he was about to turn an angle of the wall, at the great gates and upper windows of the prison, and perceiving no symptoms of pursuit, Jack proceeded towards the hovel at a very deliberate pace, carefully assisting his female companion over every obstacle in the road, and bearing her in his arms when, as was more than once the case, she sank from fright and exhaustion. In this way he crossed one or two public gardens and a bowling-green,—the neighbourhood of Clerkenwell then abounded in such places of amusement,—passed the noted Ducking Pond, where Black Mary had been frequently immersed; and, striking off to the left across the fields, arrived in a few minutes at his destination.
Descending the hollow, or rather excavation,—for it was an old disused clay-pit, at the bottom of which the cottage was situated,—he speedily succeeded in arousing the ancient sibyl, and having committed Edgeworth Bess to her care, with a promise of an abundant reward in case she watched diligently over her safety, and attended to her comforts till his return,—to all which Black Mary readily agreed,—he departed with a heart lightened of half its load.