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The Streets of London in 1748 were as dark as country roads by midnight and much less safe. The winter darkness fell at four-thirty in the afternoon, and though the lamp-lighters went the rounds at six o'clock touching a flame to the open street lamps, in a very few hours what few lights the wind hadn't blown out were deliberately smothered by thugs.
Under cover of the ensuing darkness highly organized criminal gangs held all London in a spell of fear. The only protection against them was a handful of aged watchmen who were primarily interested in keeping out of harm's way. In the suburbs there weren't even watchmen, and to get, an unarmed coach into the city after dark was almost a miracle.
At the height of the crime wave a new justice named Henry Fielding came to the Bow Street police court. More active than his predecessors, he began driving out at night in an innocent looking coach filled with armed deputies. Bands attempting to hold up the coach were ruthlessly shot down. At the end of a few months dozens of highwaymen had been shot off the roads and the crime wave was subsiding.
Day after day a motley crew of drunks and strumpets, thieves and beggars and murderers passed through the Bow Street court. The new justice talked to them all, studied them, and remembered.
This afternoon at two o'clock the Vagabond will go to Sever 11 to hear Professor Greenough's lecture on Henry Fielding.
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