“They were called coppers, because they copped criminals,” David said arrogantly.
That did it. He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Madison elbowed him in the ribs, but that only made him laugh harder.
“What’s so funny?” David asked him.
He stopped laughing, but kept smiling. “I’m sorry I thought you were joking.”
David looked pissed. “I was not.”
“Ephraim, do you know?” Joshua asked as he poured a gallon of gravy over his food.
He sighed. He did know.
“What was it like back then? Did they have the same setup we have with police and judges?”
David sat back, folding his arms across his chest arrogantly. “I’m interested in your opinion as well. Perhaps you learned something in the police academy about the history of law enforcement that I would find useful.” Ah, a challenge.
“Well, they didn’t have police officers like they do today in the early nineteenth century.” David scoffed. Everyone ignored him. They were all eager to hear what Ephraim had to say. He was known as a man of few words and he never spoke freely. This was a treat for them.
“What did they have?” Mrs. Buckman asked. She was eager for him to talk as well.
“They had the tradition of Constables from early history, but it wasn't until the early 1800's when people realized that a police force was needed. They weren't as organized or law focused as we are today. The men who would have done my job were called Bow Street Runners and the police force were called Peelers or Bobbies in the 1820’s.”
Ephraim chuckled at the boy's excitement. “It was considered a lower class job. Something looked down upon. They mostly worked for private pay, but could expect a shilling or two from the government for public work. The men they answered to were men who either bought a commission, meaning they paid for a position in the government or they earned it through reputation. Those positions were government based.”
“They helped people then?” Joshua asked.
He sighed, “No, not really. The whole lot was rather corrupt.”
“And today’s police force isn't?” David asked.
Ephraim ignored him. He was focused on the woman by his left who was watching and waiting. “You have to understand something, Joshua. Back then things were different. Nobility and money ran everything. They were above the law. The Bow Street Runners, the group that made up the policing unit and the other government positions were only created to control the masses and keep the nobility safe and happy. If a noble man broke the law it was only viewed as good gossip.”
“A nobleman, let’s say a Duke for instance could kill his wife and no one could do anything about it. It would just be talked about. If that man had any children it might wreck their chances of making a good match, because a good family wouldn’t want to be linked to such scandal.”
“That’s messed up,” Joshua said. “So, they protected the nobility?”
Ephraim nodded. “And those who could pay them. They were for hire. They mostly went after the poor or did duties of a private detective. A rich household hired footmen to protect the property. They used the footmen to get their own justice.”
“Who protected the poor people?”
“No one. They were at the mercy of the magistrate and the government. If they were in some way hurt by the nobility there was no real way to win. They could appeal to the magistrate, but the magistrate would always take the side of the nobleman. They wouldn’t want to get on bad terms with someone of peer.”
“Oh. Did they have jails?”
Madison watched Ephraim’s hands clenched tightly on the table. “Something like that. The cells were small, overcrowded and inhumane. Some of the smaller districts used dungeons from earlier times to keep criminals.”
“What did they do to people in the dudgeons?”
Madison saw Ephraim’s hands shake before he dropped them onto his lap where they continued to shake. What was wrong with him? She looked around, surprised to find that he had everyone’s undivided attention.
“The magistrate was a power onto himself. The further away from London the more powerful that man became. He had the power to grab a man, woman or child from the street on a whim and throw them into a cell. He mostly followed orders from the noblemen, but sometimes he was the highest ranking nobleman in the area.”
“Innocent people were thrown in the cells?”
“Well, what if they proved they were innocent?”
Ephraim chuckled without humor. She watched his hands shake harder. Something was upsetting him. Without thinking she reached over and covered his hand with hers. His hand almost immediately stopped shaking, but he didn’t look at her. He continued speaking instead.
“They didn’t care. You were in that cell until someone paid on your behalf or someone higher up with more powerful blood spoke on your behalf. You were starved, deprived of liquid. If you were lucky you were placed in a cell with a small opening for a window so you could count the days. That was one of the worse things about being in a cell without light. Days and nights went by and you couldn’t keep track. It was torture not to know how long you were in the cell.” He spoke as if he knew. She could feel the dread of his words.
She didn’t notice his thumb caressing her hand as he spoke. “If you were smart you could follow the hours by the sounds of the guards changing shifts or figure out when night came based on the rats.”
“Rats?” Mrs. Adle asked, sounding horrified.
“Rats rarely came out during the day. They mostly came during the night when the guards were asleep and no one was walking the corridors with a candle or oil lamp. Rats hate light.”
“How did the prisoners get rid of the rats?” Joshua asked.
Ephraim turned his hand over so he could lace his fingers with Madison's. He continued to run his thumb over her skin. He was surprised he could be this close to her and control his hunger even with her blood screaming for him. He wanted nothing more than to taste her, but he controlled it. Every now and then his fangs would begin to lower and he would run his tongue over them sending them back. She had so much control over him and she didn't even know it.
“If you were in there long enough you would pray for a visit from a rat,” he said casually.
“Why?” Brad asked.
“Food. The guards didn’t give much food, not enough to live on and not often and most families couldn’t afford to feed a relative in the cells. A rat provided liquid from the blood and nourishment from meat.”
“Gross!” Jill’s boyfriend said.
“So, they just sat in their cells?” Joshua asked.
“No, they were often taken out of the cells for the amusement of the guards or punishment from the magistrate.”
“What did they do?”
“The prisoners were whipped, caned, tortured in any and every way possible or they were killed. Most didn’t survive a beating. The cuts became infected and that’s usually how they died if starvation didn’t get them first.”
“How sad,” some of the women said.