Two London Hoaxes : Famous Impostors by Bram Stoker

Famous Impostors : Hoaxes Two London Hoaxes


Bram Stoker

Famous Impostors by Bram Stoker

There is a class of imposture which must be kept apart from others of its kind, or at least ear-marked in such wise that there can be no confusion of ideas regarding it. This includes all sorts of acts which, though often attended with something of the same result as other efforts to mislead, are yet distinguished from them by intention. They have—whatever may be their results—a jocular and humorous intention. Such performances are called hoaxes. These, though amusing to their perpetrators and to certain sportive persons, and though generally causing a due amount of pain and loss to those on whom they are inflicted, usually escape the condign and swift punishment which they deserve. It is generally held that humour, like charity, covereth a multitude of sins. So be it. We are all grateful for a laugh no matter who may suffer.

Two London Hoaxes

Not many years ago, in one of the popular dairy-refreshment shops in Holborn, the prim manageress and her white-capped waitresses were just commencing their day’s work when a couple of sturdy green-aproned men swooped down on the place from a large pantechnicon van, and to the amazement of the young ladies commenced to clear the shop.

“There you are Bill. Hand up them chairs, and look slippy.”

“Right o’, mate.”

“Good gracious me, what are you men doing?” shrieked the alarmed manageress.

“Doing, miss, doing? Why moving the furniture. This is the lot ain’t it?”

“No, no, no; there must be some mistake. You must have come to the wrong place.”

“Mistake, wrong place? No miss. ‘Ere, look where’s that letter?” And Jack placed a begrimed document before the lady.

The letter seemed right enough. It read beautifully, a plain direction to clear the shop and remove the stuff elsewhere; it only lacked the official heading of the company. But the joint inspection was rudely broken in upon by the arrival of a couple of the knights of the brush who had come “to do the chimbley, maam”; and ere they could be disposed of vans of coals began to draw up, more pantechnicons, more sweeps, loads of furniture, butchers with prime joints, plump birds from the poulterers, fish of every conceivable kind, noisy green-grocer boys, staggering under huge loads of vegetables; florists “to decorate,” gasfitters, carpenters “to take down the counter, miss”; others “to put it up.”

* * * * *

Pandemonium is quiet compared with that shop. The poor manageress was in tears, deafened with the exasperated, swearing representatives of, apparently, all the tradesmen for miles around. The thing had been well done. No sooner had the provision merchants worked clear and the streams of vans, waggons and carts been backed away to the accompaniment of much lurid language, than ladies began to arrive with boxes of mysterious long garments which, they assured the indignant lady in charge, they were instructed were urgently needed for an event they referred to as “interesting.” There was no monotony, for fast and furious—very furious sometimes—came other maidens laden with more boxes and still more boxes, filled with costumes, bonnets, and other creations dear to the feminine mind. Then came servants “in answer to your advertisement, madam.” They flocked in from all directions, north, south, east and west. Never was seen such a concourse of servants: dignified housekeepers, housemaids, parlourmaids, and every other sort of maid, seemed to be making for that unfortunate manageress. Sleek-looking butlers popped in, as uniformed nurses popped out. Window-cleaners had to be torn from the windows they insisted they had got orders to clean; carpet beaters sought carpets which did not exist. Never had mortal—aye and immortal—requirements been thought out with more thoughtful care. From the needs of the unborn baby, to the “poor departed one,” whom melancholy gentlemen in seedy black came to measure, all were remembered, and the man for whose especial benefit presumably were intended beautiful wreaths, crosses, harps, etc., which kept constantly arriving. Throughout that live-long day to the “dewy eve” beloved of the poet the game went merrily on.

As a hoax the thing was worked for all it was worth. Not only had shoals of letters evidently been sent out, but advertisements, too, had been freely distributed among the press. Needless to say that, despite the closest investigations, its author or authors, discreetly silent, remained unknown.

The joke was not new by any means. Well nigh a century before mischief-loving Theodore Hook had stirred all London by a similar prank—the famous Berners Street Hoax. In those days Berners Street was a quiet thoroughfare inhabited by fairly well-to-do families. Indeed it was this very sedate quietness which drew upon it Hook’s unwelcome attention. Fixing on one of the houses, which happened to be adorned with a brass plate, he made a wager with a brother wag that he would cause that particular house to become the talk of the town: and he certainly did—for not only the town, but all England shrieked with laughter when the result of his little manœuvre became known.

One morning, soon after breakfast, waggons laden with coals began to draw up before the house with the brass plate, No. 54. These were quickly succeeded with tradespeople by the dozen with various commodities. These in turn were followed by van loads of furniture; followed by a hearse with a coffin and a number of mourning coaches. Soon the street became choked: for, what with the goods dumped down as near as possible to the house—pianos, organs, and cart loads of furniture of all descriptions, the anxious tradesmen, and the laughing mob of people quickly attracted to the scene, confusion reigned supreme. About this time the Lord Mayor and other notabilities began to arrive in their carriages. His Lordship’s stay was short. He was driven to Marlborough Street police office where he informed the magistrate that he had received a note purporting to come from Mrs. T., the victimised widow resident at No. 54, saying she was confined to her room and begging his lordship to do her the favour of calling on her on important business. Meanwhile, the trouble in Berners Street was growing serious, and officers belonging to the Marlborough Street office were at once sent to keep order. For a time even they were helpless. Never was such a strange meeting: barbers with wigs; mantlemakers with band-boxes; opticians with their various articles of trade. Presently there arrived a couple of fashionable physicians, an accoucheur, and a dentist. There were clockmakers, carpet manufacturers and wine merchants, all loaded with specimens of their trade; brewers with barrels of ale, curiosity dealers with sundry knickknacks; cartloads of potatoes; books, prints, jewellery, feathers and furbelows of all kinds; ices and jellies; conjuring tricks; never was such a conglomeration. Then, about five o’clock servants of all kinds began to troop in to apply for situations. For a time the police officers were powerless. Vehicles were jammed and interlocked; the exasperated drivers were swearing, and the disappointed tradesmen were maddened by the malicious fun of the crowd who were enjoying the joke. Some of the vans were overturned and many of the tradesmens’ goods came to grief; while some of the casks of ale became the prey of the delighted spectators. All through the day and late into the night this extraordinary state of things continued, to the dismay and terror of the poor lady and the other inmates of the house with the brass plate.

Theodore Hook had taken precautions to secure a good seat for the performance, having taken furnished-apartments just opposite the house of his victim, where he posted himself with one or two companions to enjoy the scene. Hook’s connection with the mad joke was, fortunately for him, not known until long afterwards; it seems he had devoted three or four whole days to writing the letters, all couched in ladylike style. In the end the novelist seems to have been rather frightened at the result of his little joke, for he made a speedy departure to the country; and there is no doubt that, had he been publicly known as its author, he would have fared badly.

Famous Impostors

Chapter I. Pretenders
A. Perkin Warbeck
B. The Hidden King
C. Stephan Mali
D. The False Dauphins
E. Princess Olive

Chapter II. Practitioners of Magic
A. Paracelsus
B. Cagliostro
C. Mesmer

Chapter III.
The Wandering Jew

Chapter IV.
John Law

Chapter V. Witchcraft and Clairvoyance
A. Witches
B. Doctor Dee
C. La Voisin
D. Sir Edward Kelley
E. Mother Damnable
F. Matthew Hopkins

Chapter VI.
Arthur Orton (Tichborne claimant)

Chapter VII. Women as Men
A. The Motive for Disguise
B. Hannah Snell
C. La Maupin
D. Mary East

Chapter VIII. Hoaxes, etc.
A. Two London Hoaxes
B. The Cat Hoax
C. The Military Review
D. The Toll-Gate
E. The Marriage Hoax
F. Buried Treasure
G. Dean Swift’s Hoax
H. Hoaxed Burglars
I. Bogus Sausages
J. The Moon Hoax

Chapter IX.
Chevalier d’Eon

Chapter X.
The Bisley Boy