Mary held her father’s hand as the sentence was carried out on the man who had attacked her, but had not killed her, unlike he had many women before. Death by hanging. He was pushed off the platform on the gallows and fell. His death was quick compared to the long minutes he had chased her through the streets of London, his insane smile flashing brightly as he passed under each guttering oil lamp, snickering.
Mary shuddered and her father Tom squeezed her shoulder. He gave her a comforting smile, but kept his lips closed. He did not show his teeth because he had none, something he planned to fix. They wound through the narrow streets to the shopfront of John Bohen, Operator, where Tom was measured for dentures. Tom was very clear on his desires, “I want these to be Waterloo teeth–the best.”
Bohen smiled, “Of course. I have set in a stock of the healthiest soldiers’ teeth, and all of them British. No French teeth for my customers.”
Instead of heading right home, Mary and Tom stopped in at a public house for a quick pint and a meal–mash and mincemeat for her toothless father–but Tom ran into an old friend and had several more pints and it was quite late before they headed home.
They walked by the gallows, and Mary could not help but look over. She saw the body was no longer hanging. It had been taken down before the crows could pick at it and lay on the undertaker’s cart. His lamp cast light on the killer’s features, stretched in a grimace of death. She saw that every one of his teeth had already been removed. Some scavengers were quicker than crows.
When his dentures were ready, Tom went to Bohen’s shop on his own. Mary waited at home, preparing a dinner of beef roast in anticipation of her father’s being able to eat more solid food again.
He was later than expected returning, and Mary began to worry. It had grown dark outside. Though she told herself that he must have run into another friend in town–the jolly old man had many–her stitching soon sat idle in her lap as she began to dwell on fears of what may have happened to him.
Then came a knock at the door, and Mary started. She rushed to the door with the taper in her hand. When she opened the door, she almost dropped the candle, for there, lit in its flickering light, was the hideous smile that had burned itself into her brain.
But then her father’s voice said, “What’s the matter, child? Don’t you recognize your old Tom?”
She tried to smile in response, and he took that as assent. He went on, “Of course it is a big change. I feel so young again. I look forward to tucking in to some of that beef.”
That night, Mary slept fitfully, but she jumped up when she heard a snickering in the hallway leading from her father’s room to her own. She thought it must be vestige of her nightmare, but then she heard it again, louder and closer, along with the creak of a footstep on the floorboards near her door. She sat up, pulling the covers with her.
The door opened slowly, its hinges crying, and the snickering form entered. In the dim moonlight from this distance, all she could see was the smile, as if it were floating toward her. Then it approached close enough that the light from the window fell full upon it and she saw her father’s face twisted around it. He snickered, but it was the killer’s laugh, and when he spoke, it was the killer’s voice, “No gal escaped me yet, lass, and I won’t let you go, neither.” He reached out his hands to grab her.
With no place to go, Mary kicked her father in the jaw. His denture came out of his mouth and fell on the ground, shattering.
Suddenly, her father stood there, dumbfounded, unconscious of anything that had happened tonight. When she explained to him what had happened, he kicked the denture and said, “That lousy swindler. I’m going down there tomorrow to get my money back!”
Moral of the Story
In the early days of dentures, there was no material better for making artificial teeth than real teeth. These were fitted into frames made of ivory or bone. Although it was popular to market these teeth as “Waterloo teeth” in the 19th century because soldiers’ teeth were more likely to be from a young and healthy individual, the truth is that teeth were taken from any convenient source, including hanged men. These teeth were also not properly sterilized, so they often served as a source of contamination, carrying syphilis and other diseases.
Today, dentures are manufactured using artificial materials that are both highly durable and highly aesthetic. However, it’s just as important as ever to use care in selecting your denture dentist, because no other factor will make as much of a difference in your results as your choice of dentist.