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...or "Rattle Them Bones." Break's over...back to business.

Chapter 16 ("Strange Dwellings") finds Alf at Rook's place, which he not only found easily but promised he could enter without the aid of the servant who opened the door for him. This type of talk, naturally takes us back to the topic of burglary.

Young Alf spoke with scorn of the burglar who boasts of the time he has done. This is no legitimate ground for boasting. It is as though the fighting man should boast of being knocked out, or the bookmaker take pride in his losses. If you are caught you have shown your incompetence. And though young Alf has been pinched once or twice for minor offences, such as passing snide coin, he has never done a stretch for burglary.

'I come near it more'n once, but I never fell,' he said. 'Once I should have fell, on'y I got up the chimbly. I was workin' a job at a country 'ouse, 'bout fifteen miles out of Lunnun. I fort it was awright, 'cause the famb'ly was away. But I s'pose I must have made more noise than what I oughter 'ave, an' 'earing a sort of rushing about, I made a dash for the chimbly. It was one of them old chimblys - in the 'all - wiv pigeon-holes for the climbin' boys to put their 'ands an' feet, so I could keep up awright while they was wonderin' what it was they'd 'eard. Raver 'ealfy, wasn't it? On'y they never fort of lookin' up the chimbly.'

That was the narrowest squeak that young Alf ever had, in his own opinion. But he is particularly anxious that no one should think the less of him for never having done a stretch for burglary. He argues, quite reasonably, that the perfect burglar is never caught, and consequently never does a stretch. It is to his immunity from arrest that he owes his position as leader of his gang. (pp. 180-1)
And from this point, we take another trip through the Crimestarter Notebook, with some dandy tips on preparing for an exciting career in housebreaking!
  • Make yourself acquainted with the layout of your target by pretending to be a plumber or by sending one of your gang around as a flower peddler with an eye for detail.
  • While the previous generation's concept of a master criminal, Charles Peace, was a big fan of the rope ladder, Alf prefers climbing on another guy's shoulders or lassoing a chimney. Of course, he's young enough to get away with nonsense like that.
  • Window smashing shows a failure of imagination. Put a diamond in the business end of a drawing compass and go to town.
  • Finally, booby trapping the lawn with trip wires will only bite you in the ass if you have to make with a quick scoot. And don't stop in the kitchen for a bite of something...even though we've already seen Alf do that. Do as I say, not as I do...
Remember, this entry is for moral instruction only. You should be horrified. Why are you taking notes?

As we learned in a previous chapter, it never hurts to have a confederate on the inside...and if you can double-cross them later on, well, all the better.
So it happened, that, being flush of brass, young Alf frequented the bars in the neighbourhood of Oxford Street at the hours when the houses of business closed, and stood drinks, with discrimination, casting his bread, as it were on the waters, in the hope that it would return as buttered toast.

' 'Fore long,' said young Alf, 'I'd marked me young man; sawft-'eaded bloke, he was; fort a lot of me. Got quite pals like, we did, meetin' every evenin' be 'pointment at the same ole 'ouse. 'Course for all me ole swank I didn't say nuffink about bein' on the crooked. See? Least not at first. On'y, one night I remawked I was on for a bit of a game, an' wouldn't he come up to the Oxford wiv me? So we goes along to the Oxford togevver, an' gargled a bit, an' then we looked in at one bar an' annuver, garglin' as per before, an' time it was twelve o'clock, me young man was - 'e was jest 'ow I fort e'd be. 'Cause, you unnerstand, I'd settled it all in me mind 'ow I was goin' to work.

'So I says to him, " 'Ow'd it be if you was to land a nice little lump on yer own? "

'Well, 'e says 'e could do wiv a bit of ready, on'y 'e didn't see where it was to come from. An' wiv that I rang in me tale, 'ow there was stuff in 'is awfice that 'e could put 'is 'ooks on, an' 'ow I knowed a way to help 'im if he'd stan' in wiv me.

'That skeered 'im, like, at first, an' he said he didn't want to frow away 'is employment.

' "Garn," I says, "there's you at your graft day in an' day out, an' gettin' five-an'-twenty bob a week; an' here's me, livin' like a toff, an' doin' a job 'ere an' a job there, jest as the fancy takes me. See?" More'n that, I told 'im he'd 'ave nuffink to do 'cept 'andin me 'is keys.

'Well, he didn't fall that night, nor the next night. But he fort a lot of avin' me for a pal, an' what wiv one fing an' annuver he was gettin' short of ready. Long an' short of it was the job was worked awright.'

'How did you work it?' I said.

The method was simple. Young Alf strolled into the emporium just before closing time, found an opportunity of secreting himself, obtained all the necessary keys from his friend, and cleared off with something over a hundred pounds as his reward.

'And what became of your friend?' I inquired.

'Never see 'im since. I unnerstand he got the push,' replied young Alf.

'And he did not get his share of the spoil?'

Young Alf's under jaw denoted impatience at the absurdity of the question. (pp. 187-9)
We also come back to the question of guns, and Alf makes it clear that if he takes a pistol with him, it will always be unloaded to avoid actually killing somebody. Of course, it's not a bright idea to test that theory today. Sure, it worked a hundred years ago, but so did your granny's granny's phonograph, and that won't go anymore, either. Not since the winding spring broke in the winter of '25, anyway.
Besides, he has great faith in the efficacy of an unloaded revolver which is not compromised by the discovery of any cartridge whatsoever on the person. He holds that the mere look of the inside of a pistol barrel is enough to bring the average householder to his senses. This theory he enunciated as he crossed one leg over the other and accepted a second cigar. It is based on the assumption that the average householder, even though he sleep with a loaded revolver under his pillow, has not the pluck to pull the trigger on an emergency. This theory he had an opportunity of testing one night when he found himself utiexpectedly in the bedroom of a householder who was a bit too sharp for him. Young Alf found himself covered with a revolver.

'Move, and you're a dead man,' said the householder, who was seated on the edge of his bed.

Young Alf was compelled to temporize.

'For Gawd's sake don't murder me, mister,' he pleaded. 'It's my first offence, an' you wouldn't send my soul to 'ell?'

The householder advanced slowly upon young Alf, giving him an excellent view of the inside of the pistol barrel. Young Alf determined to act on the assumption that the man was afraid to fire at him. He whipped out his own revolver.

'Now, guv'nor, it's your life or mine,' said young Alf. 'And it shan't be mine.'

In a moment the householder was down on his knee begging young Alf to spare him for the sake of his little ones.

Young Alf consented to spare him, kept him covered while backing out of the door, and then scooted for all he was worth.

My own theory is that the householder's revolver was unloaded, and that he allowed himself to be bluffed. But in this young Alf does not agree with me.

'That didn't skeer me,' continued young Alf, ' 'cause I was sure in me own mind that the bloke wouldn't let fly at me. Time I was skeered was one night at Glasgow - subbubs of Glasgow, it was. That was one of the curiousest fings ever I come across.' (pp. 192-3)
Alf and Jimmy found themselves in Glasgow after liberating the cashbox from a traveling circus they had been using as cover for their sneakthiefery. Not ones to hang around with other people's money, they decided to see what the city had to offer.
'It was when we was at Glasgow,' said young Alf, 'that it happened what I was goin' to tell you about. Jimmy'd kep' 'is eyes skinned for chances, an' one night 'e put me on to a job to work on me own. He'd got a 'ouse waxed in the subbubs, seem' it stood by itself, wiv a lawn all round an' French windys. Reg'lar burglar's frens, French windys, wiv no error. Didn't take me 'arf a mo to get inside; but soon as I was inside I fort I 'eard a step comin' down the stairs. So I got be'ind the curtains an' stood quiet. Course, you unnerstand it was quite dark. Well, the steps come down the stairs, an' the door opened, an' in come a young man in 'is night fings wiv a lamp. I stood quiet as I could, peepin' out tween the curtains, an' I see 'im put the lamp down on the table, an' go up to a box that was stannin' in the corner of the room close to where I was.'

Young Alf took his hands from his pockets and leaned forward, looking at me obliquely.

'He opened the box an' put 'is arms inside, an' I see 'im take out - what you fink I see 'im take out?'

'Gold - spade guineas?' I suggested.


Young Alf shivered.

'Bones?' I exclaimed.

'Heap o' bones,' continued young Alf; 'sure as I'm settin' 'ere. Then 'e put 'em on the table, side o' the lamp, an' began settin' 'em one atop of the uvver, an' fittin' 'em togevver, careful like, an' after a bit there was a real skilliton stannin' up in the room. 'Ealfy, eh? Then the young man began playin' wiv is skilliton, like, pullin' out 'is arms, an' makin' 'im work is legs. That upset me, raver. On'y, course, I dursn't move from where I was. An' then 'e picked up the lamp an' went out again, leavin' me alone wiv the skilliton in the dark. Gawd's trewth, I nipped out quicker'n I come in, wiv no error.'

'But - did you ever find the explanation?' I asked.

'I told Jimmy bout it, an' Jimmy said from what 'e'd 'eard there was a lot of young doctors livin' in the house. It was a sort of lodgin'-'ouse, you unnerstand. An' Jimmy fort the young man'd been studyin' too 'ard, an' it'd got on 'is napper. See? Walkin' in his sleep, 'e was; that's what Jimmy finks. D'you fink so?'

I said the explanation seemed a reasonable one.

'But it made me feel - made me feel gashly,' said young Alf.

Even the memory was so gashly that young Alf consented to break through his rule and have a little whisky before he went, and under its influence he told me tales of gallantries that I would gladly set down if by any means they could be printed. As it is, you must take my word for it that young Alf has been loved by many, and has loved not a few. (pp. 194-6)
With that, Alf leaves the way he came in...after advising Rook that leaving a light burning is doing a housebreaker a favor instead of deterring him. Because knowing is half the battle. Yo Joe.

See! The book is moral! Admit I'm right!

Chapter 17 ("The Constable Speaks") gives us a brief interlude with a constable who did a few years on the Lambeth patrol. After a brief bit of dog talk, the topic turns to Hooligans...and Alf.
'I wonder if you ever came across a young friend of mine who does something in that line,' I said.

'The constable set down his glass.

'Begging your pardon, sir,' he said. 'Meaning the young feller I see going away from here the other night?'

'You know him?'

'I was intending to ask you if you knew the sort of young feller he is. I've known him since he was that high.'

The constable indicated a point at about the level of his waistbelt.

'There's a many of his sort about here,' continued the constable. 'But down Lambeth way they're - well - they're a treat. And that young feller was about the warmest I ever did come across. Sneak anything he could see, that boy would. Cheeky, too. My word!'

The constable nodded reflectively.

'I remember seeing him hanging round a fish shop one day, and so I says to him, "Be off now," making like as if I was going to cuff him. Catch him? Couldn't get near him. And then he looks back with his hands stuck in his pockets, and says, "None of your bleedin' interference, constable, cause I won't tolerate it." Those were his very words. Not four foot high, he warn't, at the time. Not that. Well, so long as you know the sort of young feller he is, there's no harm done.'

'I don't think he'll try to burgle me,' I said. (pp. 200-1)
Tellingly, the constable doesn't respond. Considering Alf isn't exactly a sentimental softie, and isn't afraid of selling outsiders down the river for a quick payday, he's exercised an amazing amount of restraint so far...but of course, Rook knows where to find him if his silverware goes for a stroll. Or thinks he knows, anyway.

Next: Boxing! Alice! Boxing over Alice! And yeah, the permalink says Chapters 17 and 18. That's what I get for having the rearranged chapter numbers from the HTML version in plain sight.


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