Louise Imogen Guiney

On a pleasing encounter with a pickpocket

I was in town the other evening, walking by myself, at my usual rapid pace, and ruminating, in all likelihood, on the military affairs of the Scythians, when, at a lonely street corner not adorned by a gas-lamp, I suddenly felt a delicate stir in my upper pocket. There is a sort of mechanical intelligence in a well-drilled and well-treated body, which can act, in an emergency, without orders from headquarters. My mind, certainly, was a thousand years away, and it is at best drowsy and indifferent. It had besides, no experience, nor even hearsay, which would have directed it what to do at this thrilling little crisis. Before it was aware what had happened, and in the beat of a swallow’s wing, my fingers had brushed the flying thief, my eyes saw him, and my legs (retired race-horses, but still great at a spurt) flew madly after him. I protest that from the first, though I knew he had under his wicked thumb the hard-earned wealth of the notoriously poor poet (let the double-faced phrase, which I did not mean to write, stand there, under my hand, to all posterity), yet I never felt one yearning towards it, nor conceived the hope of revenge. No: I was fired by the dramatic situation; I felt my blood up, like a charger

that sees
the battle over distances

I was in for the chase in the keen winter air, with the moon just rising over the city roofs, as rapturously as if I were a very young dog again. My able bandit, clearly viewed the instant of his assault, was a tiger-lily of the genus “tough”: short, pallid, sullen, with coat-collar up and hat-brim down, and a general air of mute and violent executive ability. My business in devoting this chapter to reminiscences of my only enemy, is to relate frankly what were my contemporaneous sensations. As I wheeled about, neatly losing the chance of confronting him, and favored with a hasty survey, in the dark, of his strategic mouth and chin, the one sentiment in me, if translated into English, would have uttered itself in this wise: “After years of dulness and decorum, O soul, here is some one to come to play with thee; here is Fun, sent of the immortal gods!”

This divine emissary, it was evident, had studied his ground, and awaited no activity on the part of the preoccupied victim, in a hostile and unfamiliar neighborhood. He suffered a shock when, remembering my ancient prowess in the fields of E——, I took up a gallop within an inch of his nimble heels. Silently, as he ran, he lifted his right arm. We were soon in the blackness of an empty lot across the road, among the coal-sheds and broken tins, with the far lights of the thoroughfare full in our faces. Quick as kobolds summoned up from the earth, air, and nowhere, four fellows, about twenty years old, swarmed at my side, as like the first in every detail as foresight and art could make them; and these darting, dodging, criss-crossing, quadrilling, and incessantly interchanging as they advanced, covering the expert one’s flight, and multiplying his identity, shot separately down a labyrinth of narrow alleys, leaving me confused and checkmated, after a brief and unequal game, but overcome, nay, transported with admiration and unholy sympathy! It was the prettiest trick imaginable.

It was near Christmas; and, brought to bay, and still alone, I conjured up a vision of a roaring cellar-fire, and the snow whistling at the bulkhead, as the elect press in, with great slapping of hands and stamping of shoes, to a superfine night-long and month-long bowl of grog, MY grog, dealt out by Master Villon, with an ironic toast to the generous founder. I might have followed the trail, as I was neither breathless nor afraid, but it struck me that the sweet symmetry of the thing ought not to be spoiled; that I was serving a new use and approximating a new experience; that it would be a stroke of genius, in short, almost equal to the king pickpocket’s own, to make love to the inevitable. Whereupon, bolstered against an aged fence, I laughed the laugh of Dr. Johnson, “heard, in the silence of the night, from Fleet Ditch to Temple Bar.” I thought of the good greenbacks won by my siren singing in the Hodgepodge Monthly; I thought of my family, who would harbor in their memories the inexplicable date when the munificent church-mouse waxed stingy. I thought even of the commandment broken and of the social pact defied, gave my collapsed pocket a friendly dig, and laughed again. The police arrived, with queries, and ineffective note-books. I went home, a shorn lamb, conscious of my exalted financial standing; for had I not been robbed? All the way I walked with Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who came to mind promptly as my corporeal blessings departed. He intoned no requiem for the lost, but poured a known philosophy, in which I had now taken my degree, into my liberal ear:—

“Why shouldst thou vex thyself, that never willingly vexed anybody?”

“A man has but two concerns in life: to be honorable in what he does, and resigned under what happens to him.”

“If anyone misconduct himself towards thee, what is that to thee? The deed is his; and therefore let him look to it.”

“Welcome everything that happens as necessary and familiar.”

Marry, a glow of honest self-satisfaction is cheaply traded for a wad of current specie, and an inkling into the ways of a bold and thirsty world. Methinks I have “arrived”; I have attained a courteous composure proof against mortal hurricanes. Life is no longer a rude and trivial comedy with the Beautifully Bulldozed, who feels able to warm to his own catastrophe, and even to cry, “Pray, madam, don’t mention it,” to an apologizing lady in a gig, who drive over him and kills him, and does so, moreover, in the most bungling manner in the world.

(1892)

MLA Citation

Guiney, Louise Imogen. “On a pleasing encounter with a pickpocket.” 1892. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 5 Mar 2007. 29 Jun 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/guiney/pleasing_encounter_with_a_pickpocket/>.

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