A Rogue's Life
MY first few days' experience in my new position satisfied me that Doctor Dulcifer
preserved himself from betrayal by a system of surveillance worthy of the very
worst days of the Holy Inquisition itself.
No man of us ever knew that he was not being overlooked at home, or followed
when he went out, by another man. Peepholes were pierced in the wall of each
room, and we were never certain, while at work, whose eye was observing, or
whose ear was listening in secret. Though we all lived together, we were
probably the least united body of men ever assembled under one roof. By way of
effectually keeping up the want of union between us, we were not all trusted
alike. I soon discovered that Old File and Young File were much further
advanced in the doctor's confidence than Mill, Screw, or myself. There was a
locked-up room, and a continually-closed door shutting off a back staircase, of
both of which Old File and Young File possessed keys that were never so much
as trusted in the possession of the rest of us. There was also a trap-door in the
floor of the principal workroom, the use of which was known to nobody but the
doctor and his two privileged men. If we had not been all nearly on an equality in
the matter of wages, these distinctions would have made bad blood among us.
As it was, nobody having reason to complain of unjustly-diminished wages,
nobody cared about any preferences in which profit was not involved.
The doctor must have gained a great deal of money by his skill as a coiner. His
profits in business could never have averaged less than five hundred per cent;
and, to do him justice, he was really a generous as well as a rich master.
Even I, as a new hand, was, in fair proportion, as well paid by the week as the
We, of course, had nothing to do with the passing of false money--we only
manufactured it (sometimes at the rate of four hundred pounds' worth in a week);
and left its circulation to be managed by our customers in London and the large
towns. Whatever we paid for in Barkingham was paid for in the genuine Mint
coinage. I used often to compare my own true guineas, half-crowns and shillings
with our imitations under the doctor's supervision, and was always amazed at the
resemblance. Our scientific chief had discovered a process something like what
is called electrotyping nowadays, as I imagine. He was very proud of this; but he
was prouder still of the ring of his metal, and with reason: it must have been a
nice ear indeed that could discover the false tones in the doctor's coinage.
If I had been the most scrupulous man in the world, I must still have received my
wages, for the very necessary purpose of not appearing to distinguish myself