This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
This article draws on the great public interest at the time in attempts to identify and apprehend the Whitechapel murderer, known as ‘Jack the Ripper’. An ‘invitation from Her Gracious Majesty Victoria’ is a warrant for his arrest for petty debt. Although the Debtors Act of 1869 abolished imprisonment for debt it retained temporary confinement of petty debtors who were able to discharge their debts but refused to do so. Samuel’s self-dramatisation leaves him, in Shakespeare’s words, fearing ‘each bush an officer’ (Henry VI Pt 3 V.vi.12). He casts himself in one of the period’s best known paintings, William Powell Frith’s The Railway Station (1862), which presents a busy scene at the London terminus of the Great Western Railway (now Paddington Station), and includes the arrest of a malefactor. Samuel’s servant wonders whether he is guilty of the unlikely offence of marriage to his dead wife’s sister, which would have been illegal before the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907. — David Skilton
The old gentleman who had a pecuniary embarrassment in his life.
EVER mind what I had done to procure for myself the earnest attentions of the minions (I really don't quite know what a minion is, but I've no doubt but that you can find out) of the law; suffice it that my [i]offence (if any) was only such a one as can be readily condoned by the payment of cash down – that is, when you've got it to flop down, which, frankly speaking, I had not at the time; suffice it that it was not a hanging matter, though it might be a matter of hanging out for a brief while in very uncomfortable quarters. But this doesn't matter; it is quite enough that some time ago I expected a visit from certain gentlemen who wanted to see me pressingly with an invitation from Her Gracious Majesty Victoria. But I am not a proud man, as you know, air, therefore I felt that it was incumbent upon me to evade the receipt of the invite, feeling as I did that if it once reached my hands I should have to accept it, for Royal wishes are tantamount to commands. The first feeling experienced by a man in my then position is one of absolute distrust of all such of his fellow men as he doesn't happen to know – at least, this is how I felt. You know the Shakespearian quotation anent ‘every bush’ being ‘an officer.’ Well. Spokeshave said well, by my halidame; that's just how I felt. Every inoffensive person loitering about a street corner, and mayhap waiting for a tardy sweetheart, my nervous imagination pictured as the officer who in particular wanted to interview me, and did a seedy stranger stare fixedly at me as he passed no doubt in reality attracted by my eminently distinguished presence), a discomforting tremor passed through my frame, and at the first opportunity I looked back suspiciously over my shoulder to ascertain whether be had ‘spotted’ me at last. And I really cannot tell you what an amount of money the peculiarly uncomfortable feeling of being dogged cost me. I had to keep away from my usual haunts and from my home, of course, and this entailed upon me the necessity of calling for various refreshments at sundry obscure houses of call. But when I had given my order, sir, and was just about to raise the refreshing glass to my lips, I would perchance observe two shabby loiterers looking towards me, and would tremulously replace the glass, and do what is called a rapid ‘slide’ or ‘guy,’ with a throbbing heart and lips still parched and dry.
The sort of thing my imagination conjured up.
And one afternoon, sir, just as I was about to enter one of the principal restaurants in this town, I marked the fact that two mildewed looking men were consulting together and then glancing furtively towards myself; I felt instinctively that they were the genuine men, felt that strategy of a subtle kind was absolutely necessary. As I passed through the swing doors I could almost fancy that one of the mouldy men said to the other, ‘That's 'im we 'as 'im now he'll be stoppin' to peck in this 'ere spot; hout with yer papers, Bill.’ But I did not ‘stop and peck,’ sir. I merely looked round in an off-hand sort of way and walked, out by a side door into a quiet street, and I didn't show up again at that restaurant for a day or two. And on another occasion a suspiciously keen-eyed man came up to me and said, mentioning my correct name, ‘Are you so-and-so?’ I assumed a sort of dazed air, as though I were deaf, and replied, ‘What do you say?’ He repeated his question. ‘I don't know any street of that name,’ I replied. He seemed rather puzzled and annoyed at this, and said, rather testily, ‘Street, street, I never mentioned a street: what's yer name I said.’ ‘Philip Ferguson,’ answered I readily. ‘Well, I beg yer pardon, sir,’ said he; ‘I mistook yer for someone else.’ Good business, eh, sir?
Samuel disguises himself. Marvellous what a false nose will do.
I confided the predicament I was in to two friends, sir, not so much with a view of obtaining their monetary assistance as of having a share of their kindly sympathy. I got neither! When they heard how matters stood they laughed long and uproariously. Then they had a whispered consultation together, and one of them gravely remarked, ‘I'll tell you what I'd do, Samuel, if I were you – I'd disguise myself.’ And then followed their suggestions as to how I should endeavour to conceal my identity. One suggested that I should go out with a blackened face and a banjo, like a ‘busking’ Christy Minstrel; the other said that if I took my walks abroad with a reddened nose, a white apron, and a bell I should look the part of a muffin merchant to the very life. I was also advised to disguise myself as a ‘peas-all-hot’ man; a militiaman, sandwich man, a sweep, and a few other things besides. I rejected all these suggestions. ‘Then,’ said one of my friends, ‘go and disguise yourself as a gentleman; it may be a bad imitation, but it'll pass muster, I daresay.’ The other added that if that didn't suit me, I'd better go and ‘disguise myself in liquor.’
I am troubled with gruesome visions at night time.
But I thought I'd be content with keeping out of the way and trusting to chance, sir, but every rap at the door seemed like a veritable tap on my heart, and I got flustered above a little bit till I discovered that the rude disturber of my peace was ‘only’ the man with the water rate, the parson, the obtrusive friend, or one of the other professional callers. And everything seemed to remind me of the fact that I was being looked for. If I glanced into a print shop window, I was sure to encounter F[ri]th's picture of the railway station, with the two officers of the law just performing their stern office upon the absconder. If I happened to be walking in an unfrequented street, some confoundedly good-natured friend would be sure to creep up just behind me and say, as he clapped me on the shoulder, ‘So I've caught you at last, have I?’ Oh, hang such men. When I turned a white and startled face round this same nuisance would add, looking at me in a surprised sort of way the while, ‘Why, you haven't seen a ghost, have you?’ ‘N-n-n-no,’ I would reply, as well as my chattering teeth would allow me ‘wh-a-a at do you play your miserable tricks on me for?’ It is an uncomfortable experience, sir, is being sought for when you don't want to be found, I can tell you.
The cool hand who is so ready with his advice and nothing else.
Of course I met with the usual friend who told me to ‘face it out, you know’ – the inevitable being who never lets such matters bother him; a man who is involved in any species of trouble always meets with him – he is the absolutely necessary concomitant of a troubled career. But it is astonishing how lightly one's troubles fall on other people unconnected with one by ties of blood or close affection. Well, sir, I did a lot of dodging – and, if necessary, I would have done more. I quite canvassed the possibilities of having to go about disguised in an impossible red, stage beard; of having to hide in a water- butt; of having to swim across a canal; of having to construct a secret, trap door in the cellar kitchen; of having to sport a couple of crutches and a green shade over one eye; and of having to wear the orthodox slouch hat and cloak (with one end thrown over my left shoulder) of melodrama. Of course I was persistently ‘out’ when anyone called at my domicile. I had just departed for London, Hong Kong, or Timbuctoo, or anywhere else the servant girl liked to say – I by no means tried to cripple her imagination in that regard. Even the girl herself (who had a leaning towards the Salvation Army and sucking mint humbugs) at last indulged in virtuous scruples and ‘hup and giv notise’ (as she told her faithful friend the charwoman), as she wouldn't tell ‘no more lies to please nobody,’ not liking, for her part, ‘sich carryin's on.’ She further confided to the said charwoman in the solemn stillness of the wash-house that she thought ‘as how I'd been a doin' o' somethink I didn't oughter,’ which it were happen ‘manslaffter’ or marrying my ‘diseased’ wife's sister, which she were told were a offence as they sometimes ‘spotted’ 'em for. She sometimes entertained grave doubts as to my possible connection with Jack the Ripper, and I fancy she must have communicated her doubts on this question to the policeman on the beat whom I caught watching the house. I learnt afterwards that he did not wish to follow me, but the servant. But an end came to my sufferings at last, my good sir, though the end was by no means sensational. I was not nabbed, and, in fact, I, er, well – I got out of the difficulty by paying the money, and there was an end of the matter. I trust that your Samuel may never have such another experience, but if he has if fortune should use him unkindly -- why, there, he will just run round to your office and get you to settle up for him. The question is, will you do it?
Last modified 16 February 2022