Perhaps some of my readers remember a paper of which the figure of a man carrying a barrel formed the initial letter,* and which I copied from an old spoon now in my possession. As I looked at Mr. Pinto I do declare he looked so like the figure on that old piece of plate that I started and felt very uneasy. "Ha!" said he, laughing through his false teeth (I declare they were false—I could see utterly toothless gums working up and down behind the pink coral), "you see I wore a beard den; I am shafed now; perhaps you tink I am A SPOON. Ha, ha!" And as he laughed he gave a cough which I thought would have coughed his teeth out, his glass eye out, his wig off, his very head off; but he stopped this convulsion by stumping across the room and seizing a little bottle of bright pink medicine, which, being opened, spread a singular acrid aromatic odor through the apartment; and I thought I saw—but of this I cannot take an affirmation—a light green and violet flame flickering round the neck of the phial as he opened it. By the way, from the peculiar stumping noise which he made in crossing the bare-boarded apartment, I knew at once that my strange entertainer had a wooden leg. Over the dust which lay quite thick on the boards, you could see the mark of one foot very neat and pretty, and then a round O, which was naturally the impression made by the wooden stump. I own I had a queer thrill as I saw that mark, and felt a secret comfort that it was not CLOVEN.
* This refers to an illustrated edition of the work.
In this desolate apartment in which Mr. Pinto had invited me to see him, there were three chairs, one bottomless, a little table on which you might put a breakfast-tray, and not a single other article of furniture. In the next room, the door of which was open, I could see a magnificent gilt dressing-case, with some splendid diamond and ruby shirt-studs lying by it, and a chest of drawers, and a cupboard apparently full of clothes.
Remembering him in Baden-Baden in great magnificence, I wondered at his present denuded state. "You have a house elsewhere, Mr. Pinto?" I said.
"Many," says he. "I have apartments in many cities. I lock dem up, and do not carry mosh logish."
I then remembered that his apartment at Baden, where I first met him, was bare, and had no bed in it.
"There is, then, a sleeping-room beyond?"
"This is the sleeping-room." (He pronounces it DIS. Can this, by the way, give any clue to the nationality of this singular man?)
"If you sleep on these two old chairs you have a rickety couch; if on the floor, a dusty one."
"Suppose I sleep up dere?" said this strange man, and he actually pointed up to the ceiling. I thought him mad, or what he himself called "an ombog." "I know. You do not believe me; for why should I deceive you? I came but to propose a matter of business to you. I told you I could give you the clue to the mystery of the Two Children in Black, whom you met at Baden, and you came to see me. If I told you you would not believe, me. What for try and convinz you? Ha hey?" And he shook his hand once, twice, thrice, at me, and glared at me out of his eye in a peculiar way.
Of what happened now I protest I cannot give an accurate account. It seemed to me that there shot a flame from his eye into my brain, whilst behind his GLASS eye there was a green illumination as if a candle had been lit in it. It seemed to me that from his long fingers two quivering flames issued, sputtering, as it were, which penetrated me, and forced me back into one of the chairs—the broken one—out of which I had much difficulty in scrambling, when the strange glamour was ended. It seemed, to me that, when I was so fixed, so transfixed in the broken chair, the man floated up to the ceiling, crossed his legs, folded his arms as if he was lying on a sofa, and grinned down at me. When I came to myself he was down from the ceiling, and, taking me out of the broken cane-bottomed chair, kindly enough—"Bah!" said he, "it is the smell of my medicine. It often gives the vertigo. I thought you would have had a little fit. Come into the open air." And we went down the steps, and into Shepherd's Inn, where the setting sun was just shining on the statue of Shepherd; the laundresses were traipsing about; the porters were leaning against the railings; and the clerks were playing at marbles, to my inexpressible consolation.
"You said you were going to dine at the 'Gray's-inn Coffee-house,'" he said. I was. I often dine there. There is excellent wine at the "Gray's-inn Coffee-house;" but I declare I NEVER SAID SO. I was not astonished at his remark; no more astonished than if I was in a dream. Perhaps I WAS in a dream. Is life a dream? Are dreams facts? Is sleeping being really awake? I don't know. I tell you I am puzzled. I have read "The Woman in White," "The Strange Story"—not to mention that story "Stranger than Fiction" in the Cornhill Magazine—that story for which THREE credible witnesses are ready to vouch. I have had messages from the dead; and not only from the dead, but from people who never existed at all. I own I am in a state of much bewilderment: but, if you please, will proceed with my simple, my artless story.
Well, then. We passed from Shepherd's Inn into Holborn, and looked for a while at Woodgate's bric-a-brac shop, which I never can pass without delaying at the windows—indeed, if I were going to be hung, I would beg the cart to stop, and let me have one look more at that delightful omnium gatherum. And passing Woodgate's, we come to Gale's little shop, "No. 47," which is also a favorite haunt of mine.
Mr. Gale happened to be at his door, and as we exchanged salutations, "Mr. Pinto," I said, "will you like to see a real curiosity in this curiosity shop? Step into Mr. Gale's little back room."
In that little back parlor there are Chinese gongs; there are old Saxe and Sevres plates; there is Furstenberg, Carl Theodor, Worcester, Amstel, Nankin and other jimcrockery. And in the corner what do you think there is? There is an actual GUILLOTINE. If you doubt me, go and see—Gale, High Holborn, No. 47. It is a slim instrument, much slighter than those which they make now;—some nine feet high, narrow, a pretty piece of upholstery enough. There is the hook over which the rope used to play which unloosened the dreadful axe above; and look! dropped into the orifice where the head used to go—there is THE AXE itself, all rusty, with A GREAT NOTCH IN THE BLADE.
As Pinto looked at it—Mr. Gale was not in the room, I recollect; happening to have been just called out by a customer who offered him three pound fourteen and sixpence for a blue Shepherd in pate tendre,—Mr. Pinto gave a little start, and seemed crispe for a moment. Then he looked steadily towards one of those great porcelain stools which you see in gardens—and—it seemed to me—I tell you I won't take my affidavit—I may have been maddened by the six glasses I took of that pink elixir—I may have been sleep-walking: perhaps am as I write now—I may have been under the influence of that astounding MEDIUM into whose hands I had fallen—but I vow I heard Pinto say, with rather a ghastly grin at the porcelain stool,
"Nay, nefer shague your gory locks at me, Dou canst not say I did it."
(He pronounced it, by the way, I DIT it, by which I KNOW that Pinto was a German.)
I heard Pinto say those very words, and sitting on the porcelain stool I saw, dimly at first, then with an awful distinctness—a ghost—an eidolon—a form—A HEADLESS MAN seated, with his head in his lap, which wore an expression of piteous surprise.
At this minute, Mr. Gale entered from the front shop to show a customer some delf plates; and he did not see—but WE DID—the figure rise up from the porcelain stool, shake its head, which it held in its hand, and which kept its eyes fixed sadly on us, and disappear behind the guillotine.
"Come to the 'Gray's-inn Coffee-house,'" Pinto said, "and I will tell you how THE NOTCH CAME TO THE AXE." And we walked down Holborn at about thirty-seven minutes past six o'clock.
If there is anything in the above statement which astonishes the reader, I promise him that in the next chapter of this little story he will be astonished still more.
"You will excuse me," I said, to my companion, "for remarking, that when you addressed the individual sitting on the porcelain stool, with his head in his lap, your ordinarily benevolent features"—(this I confess was a bouncer, for between ourselves a more sinister and ill-looking rascal than Mons. P. I have seldom set eyes on)—"your ordinarily handsome face wore an expression that was by no means pleasing. You grinned at the individual just as you did at me when you went up to the cei—, pardon me, as I THOUGHT you did, when I fell down in a fit in your chambers;" and I qualified my words in a great flutter and tremble; I did not care to offend the man—I did not DARE to offend the man. I thought once or twice of jumping into a cab, and flying; of taking refuge in Day and Martin's Blacking Warehouse; of speaking to a policeman, but not one would come. I was this man's slave. I followed him like his dog. I COULD not get away from him. So, you see, I went on meanly conversing with him, and affecting a simpering confidence. I remember, when I was a little boy at school, going up fawning and smiling in this way to some great hulking bully of a sixth-form boy. So I said in a word, "Your ordinarily handsome face wore a disagreeable expression," &c.
"It is ordinarily VERY handsome," said he, with such a leer at a couple of passers-by, that one of them cried, "Oh, crikey, here's a precious guy!" and a child, in its nurse's arms, screamed itself into convulsions. "Oh, oui, che suis tres-choli garcon, bien peau, cerdainement," continued Mr. Pinto; "but you were right. That—that person was not very well pleased when he saw me. There was no love lost between us, as you say; and the world never knew a more worthless miscreant. I hate him, voyez-vous? I hated him alife; I hate him dead. I hate him man; I hate him ghost: and he know it, and tremble before me. If I see him twenty tausend years hence—and why not?—I shall hate him still. You remarked how he was dressed?"
"In black satin breeches and striped stockings; a white pique waistcoat, a gray coat, with large metal buttons, and his hair in powder. He must have worn a pigtail—only—"
"Only it was CUT OFF! Ha, ha, ha!" Mr. Pinto cried, yelling a laugh, which I observed made the policeman stare very much. "Yes. It was cut off by the same blow which took off the scoundrel's head—ho, ho, ho!" And he made a circle with his hook-nailed finger round his own yellow neck, and grinned with a horrible triumph. "I promise you that fellow was surprised when he found his head in the pannier. Ha! ha! Do you ever cease to hate those whom you hate?"—fire flashed terrifically from his glass eye, as he spoke—"or to love dose whom you once loved. Oh, never, never!" And here his natural eye was bedewed with tears. "But here we are at the 'Gray's-inn Coffee-house.' James, what is the joint?"
That very respectful and efficient waiter brought in the bill of fare, and I, for my part, chose boiled leg of pork and pease-pudding, which my acquaintance said would do as well as anything else; though I remarked he only trifled with the pease-pudding, and left all the pork on the plate. In fact, he scarcely ate anything. But he drank a prodigious quantity of wine; and I must say that my friend Mr. Hart's port-wine is so good that I myself took—well, I should think, I took three glasses. Yes, three, certainly. HE—I mean Mr. P.—the old rogue, was insatiable: for we had to call for a second bottle in no time. When that was gone, my companion wanted another. A little red mounted up to his yellow cheeks as he drank the wine, and he winked at it in a strange manner. "I remember," said he, musing, "when port-wine was scarcely drunk in this country—though the Queen liked it, and so did Harley; but Bolingbroke didn't—he drank Florence and Champagne. Dr. Swift put water to his wine. 'Jonathan,' I once said to him—but bah! autres temps, autres moeurs. Another magnum, James."
This was all very well. "My good sir," I said, "it may suit you to order bottles of '20 port, at a guinea a bottle; but that kind of price does not suit me. I only happen to have thirty-four and sixpence in my pocket, of which I want a shilling for the waiter, and eighteenpence for my cab. You rich foreigners and SWELLS may spend what you like" (I had him there: for my friend's dress was as shabby as an old-clothesman's); "but a man with a family, Mr. What-d'you-call'im, cannot afford to spend seven or eight hundred a year on his dinner alone."
"Bah!" he said. "Nunkey pays for all, as you say. I will what you call stant the dinner, if you are SO POOR!" and again he gave that disagreeable grin, and placed an odious crooked-nailed and by no means clean finger to his nose. But I was not so afraid of him now, for we were in a public place; and the three glasses of port-wine had, you see, given me courage.
"What a pretty snuff-box!" he remarked, as I handed him mine, which I am still old-fashioned enough to carry. It is a pretty old gold box enough, but valuable to me especially as a relic of an old, old relative, whom I can just remember as a child, when she was very kind to me. "Yes; a pretty box. I can remember when many ladies—most ladies, carried a box—nay, two boxes—tabatiere, and bonbonniere. What lady carries snuff-box now, hey? Suppose your astonishment if a lady in an assembly were to offer you a prise? I can remember a lady with such a box as this, with a tour, as we used to call it then; with paniers, with a tortoise-shell cane, with the prettiest little high-heeled velvet shoes in the world!—ah! that was a time, that was a time! Ah, Eliza, Eliza, I have thee now in my mind's eye! At Bungay on the Waveney, did I not walk with thee, Eliza? Aha, did I not love thee? Did I not walk with thee then? Do I not see thee still?"
This was passing strange. My ancestress—but there is no need to publish her revered name—did indeed live at Bungay St. Mary's, where she lies buried. She used to walk with a tortoise-shell cane. She used to wear little black velvet shoes, with the prettiest high heels in the world.
"Did you—did you—know, then, my great gr-ndm-ther?" I said.
He pulled up his coat-sleeve—"Is that her name?" he said.
There, I declare, was the very name of the kind old creature written in red on his arm.
"YOU knew her old," he said, divining my thoughts (with his strange knack); "I knew her young and lovely. I danced with her at the Bury ball. Did I not, dear, dear Miss ——?"
As I live, he here mentioned dear gr-nny's MAIDEN name. Her maiden name was ——. Her honored married name was ——.
"She married your great gr-ndf-th-r the year Poseidon won the Newmarket Plate," Mr. Pinto dryly remarked.
Merciful powers! I remember, over the old shagreen knife and spoon case on the sideboard in my gr-nny's parlor, a print by Stubbs of that very horse. My grandsire, in a red coat, and his fair hair flowing over his shoulders, was over the mantel-piece, and Poseidon won the Newmarket Cup in the year 1783!
"Yes; you are right. I danced a minuet with her at Bury that very night, before I lost my poor leg. And I quarrelled with your grandf——, ha!"
As he said "Ha!" there came three quiet little taps on the table—it is the middle table in the "Gray's-inn Coffee-house," under the bust of the late Duke of W-ll-ngt-n.
"I fired in the air," he continued "did I not?" (Tap, tap, tap.) "Your grandfather hit me in the leg. He married three months afterwards. 'Captain Brown,' I said, 'who could see Miss Sm-th without loving her?' She is there! She is there!" (Tap, tap, tap.) "Yes, my first love—"
But here there came tap, tap, which everybody knows means "No."
"I forgot," he said, with a faint blush stealing over his wan features, "she was not my first love. In Germ—- in my own country—there WAS a young woman—"
Tap, tap, tap. There was here quite a lively little treble knock; and when the old man said, "But I loved thee better than all the world, Eliza," the affirmative signal was briskly repeated.
And this I declare UPON MY HONOR. There was, I have said, a bottle of port-wine before us—I should say a decanter. That decanter was LIFTED up, and out of it into our respective glasses two bumpers of wine were poured. I appeal to Mr. Hart, the landlord—I appeal to James, the respectful and intelligent waiter, if this statement is not true? And when we had finished that magnum, and I said—for I did not now in the least doubt of her presence—"Dear gr-nny, may we have another magnum?" the table DISTINCTLY rapped "No."
"Now, my good sir," Mr. Pinto said, who really began to be affected by the wine, "you understand the interest I have taken in you. I loved Eliza ——" (of course I don't mention family names). "I knew you had that box which belonged to her—I will give you what you like for that box. Name your price at once, and I pay you on the spot."
"Why, when we came out, you said you had not sixpence in your pocket."
"Bah! give you anything you like—fifty—a hundred—a tausend pound."
"Come, come," said I, "the gold of the box may be worth nine guineas, and the facon we will put at six more."
"One tausend guineas!" he screeched. "One tausend and fifty pound, dere!" and he sank back in his chair—no, by the way, on his bench, for he was sitting with his back to one of the partitions of the boxes, as I dare say James remembers.
"DON'T go on in this way," I continued, rather weakly, for I did not know whether I was in a dream. "If you offer me a thousand guineas for this box I MUST take it. Mustn't I, dear gr-nny?"
The table most distinctly said, "Yes;" and putting out his claws to seize the box, Mr. Pinto plunged his hooked nose into it, and eagerly inhaled some of my 47 with a dash of Hardman.
"But stay, you old harpy!" I exclaimed, being now in a sort of rage, and quite familiar with him. "Where is the money? Where is the check?"
"James, a piece of note-paper and a receipt stamp!"
"This is all mighty well, sir," I said, "but I don't know you; I never saw you before. I will trouble you to hand me that box back again, or give me a check with some known signature."
"Whose? Ha, Ha, HA!"
The room happened to be very dark. Indeed, all the waiters were gone to supper, and there were only two gentlemen snoring in their respective boxes. I saw a hand come quivering down from the ceiling—a very pretty hand, on which was a ring with a coronet, with a lion rampant gules for a crest. I SAW THAT HAND TAKE A DIP OF INK AND WRITE ACROSS THE PAPER. Mr. Pinto, then, taking a gray receipt-stamp out of his blue leather pocket-book, fastened it on to the paper by the usual process; and the hand then wrote across the receipt-stamp, went across the table and shook hands with Pinto, and then, as if waving him an adieu, vanished in the direction of the ceiling.
There was the paper before me, wet with the ink. There was the pen which THE HAND had used. Does anybody doubt me? I HAVE THAT PEN NOW. A cedar-stick of a not uncommon sort, and holding one of Gillott's pens. It is in my inkstand now, I tell you. Anybody may see it. The handwriting on the check, for such the document was, was the writing of a female. It ran thus:—"London, midnight, March 31, 1862. Pay the bearer one thousand and fitty pounds. Rachel Sidonia. To Messrs. Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., London."
"Noblest and best of women!" said Pinto, kissing the sheet of paper with much reverence. "My good Mr. Roundabout, I suppose you do not question THAT signature?"
Indeed, the house of Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., is known to be one of the richest in Europe, and as for the Countess Rachel, she was known to be the chief manager of that enormously wealthy establishment. There was only one little difficulty, THE COUNTESS RACHEL DIED LAST OCTOBER.
I pointed out this circumstance, and tossed over the paper to Pinto with a sneer.
"C'est a brendre ou a laisser," he said with some heat. "You literary men are all imbrudent; but I did not tink you such a fool wie dis. Your box is not worth twenty pound, and I offer you a tausend because I know you want money to pay dat rascal Tom's college bills." (This strange man actually knew that my scapegrace Tom has been a source of great expense and annoyance to me.) "You see money costs me nothing, and you refuse to take it! Once, twice; will you take this check in exchange for your trumpery snuff-box?"
What could I do? My poor granny's legacy was valuable and dear to me, but after all a thousand guineas are not to be had every day. "Be it a bargain," said I. "Shall we have a glass of wine on it?" says Pinto; and to this proposal I also unwillingly acceded, reminding him, by the way, that he had not yet told me the story of the headless man.
"Your poor gr-ndm-ther was right just now, when she said she was not my first love. 'Twas one of those banale expressions" (here Mr. P. blushed once more) "which we use to women. We tell each she is our first passion. They reply with a similar illusory formula. No man is any woman's first love; no woman any man's. We are in love in our nurse's arms, and women coquette with their eyes before their tongue can form a word. How could your lovely relative love me? I was far, far too old for her. I am older than I look. I am so old that you would not believe my age were I to tell you. I have loved many and many a woman before your relative. It has not always been fortunate for them to love me. Ah, Sophronia! Round the dreadful circus where you fell, and whence I was dragged corpse-like by the heels, there sat multitudes more savage than the lions which mangled your sweet form! Ah, tenez! when we marched to the terrible stake together at Valladolid—the Protestant and the J— But away with memory! Boy! it was happy for thy grandam that she loved me not.
"During that strange period," he went on, "when the teeming Time was great with the revolution that was speedily to be born, I was on a mission in Paris with my excellent, my maligned friend Cagliostro. Mesmer was one of our band. I seemed to occupy but an obscure rank in it: though, as you know, in secret societies the humble man may be a chief and director—the ostensible leader but a puppet moved by unseen hands. Never mind who was chief, or who was second. Never mind my age. It boots not to tell it: why shall I expose myself to your scornful incredulity—or reply to your questions in words that are familiar to you, but which yet you cannot understand? Words are symbols of things which you know, or of things which you don't know. If you don't know them, to speak is idle." (Here I confess Mr. P. spoke for exactly thirty-eight minutes, about physics, metaphysics, language, the origin and destiny of man, during which time I was rather bored, and, to relieve my ennui, drank a half glass or so of wine.) "LOVE, friend, is the fountain of youth! It may not happen to me once—once in an age: but when I love, then I am young. I loved when I was in Paris. Bathilde, Bathilde, I loved thee—ah, how fondly! Wine, I say, more wine! Love is ever young. I was a boy at the little feet of Bathilde de Bechamel—the fair, the fond, the fickle, ah, the false!" The strange old man's agony was here really terrific, and he showed himself much more agitated than he had been when speaking about my gr-ndm-th-r.
"I thought Blanche might love me. I could speak to her in the language of all countries, and tell her the lore of all ages. I could trace the nursery legends which she loved up to their Sanscrit source, and whisper to her the darkling mysteries of Egyptian Magi. I could chant for her the wild chorus that rang in the dishevelled Eleusinian revel: I could tell her and I would, the watchword never known but to one woman, the Saban Queen, which Hiram breathed in the abysmal ear of Solomon—You don't attend. Psha! you have drunk too much wine!" Perhaps I may as well own that I was NOT attending, for he had been carrying on for about fifty-seven minutes; and I don't like a man to have ALL the talk to himself.
"Blanche de Bechamel was wild, then, about this secret of Masonry. In early, early days I loved, I married a girl fair as Blanche, who, too, was tormented by curiosity, who, too, would peep into my closet—into the only secret I guarded from her. A dreadful fate befell poor Fatima. An ACCIDENT shortened her life. Poor thing! she had a foolish sister who urged her on. I always told her to beware of Ann. She died. They said her brothers killed me. A gross falsehood. AM I dead? If I were, could I pledge you in this wine?"
"Was your name," I asked, quite bewildered, "was your name, pray, then, ever Blueb——?"
"Hush! the waiter will overhear you. Methought we were speaking of Blanche de Bechamel. I loved her, young man. My pearls, and diamonds, and treasure, my wit, my wisdom, my passion, I flung them all into the child's lap. I was a fool. Was strong Samson not as weak as I? Was Solomon the Wise much better when Balkis wheedled him. I said to the king—But enough of that, I spake of Blanche de Bechamel.
"Curiosity was the poor child's foible. I could see, as I talked to her. that her thoughts were elsewhere (as yours, my friend, have been absent once or twice to-night). To know the secret of Masonry was the wretched child's mad desire. With a thousand wiles, smiles, caresses, she strove to coax it from me—from ME—ha! ha!
"I had an apprentice—the son of a dear friend, who died by my side at Rossbach, when Soubise, with whose army I happened to be, suffered a dreadful defeat for neglecting my advice. The young Chevalier Goby de Mouchy was glad enough to serve as my clerk, and help in some chemical experiments in which I was engaged with my friend Dr. Mesmer. Bathilde saw this young man. Since women were, has it not been their business to smile and deceive, to fondle and lure? Away! From the very first it has been so!" And as my companion spoke, he looked as wicked as the serpent that coiled round the tree, and hissed a poisoned counsel to the first woman.
"One evening I went, as was my wont, to see Blanche. She was radiant: she was wild with spirits: a saucy triumph blazed in her blue eyes. She talked, she rattled in her childish way. She uttered, in the course of her rhapsody, a hint—an intimation—so terrible that the truth flashed across me in a moment. Did I ask her? She would lie to me. But I know how to make falsehood impossible. Add I ORDERED HER TO GO TO SLEEP."
At this moment the clock (after its previous convulsions) sounded TWELVE. And as the new Editor* of the Cornhill Magazine—and HE, I promise you, won't stand any nonsense—will only allow seven pages, I am obliged to leave off at THE VERY MOST INTERESTING POINT OF THE STORY.
* Mr. Thackeray retired from the Editorship of the Cornhill Magazine in March, 1862.
"Are you of our fraternity? I see you are not. The secret which Mademoiselle de Bechamel confided to me in her mad triumph and wild hoyden spirits—she was but a child, poor thing, poor thing, scarce fifteen—but I love them young—a folly not unusual with the old!" (Here Mr. Pinto thrust his knuckles into his hollow eyes; and, I am sorry to say, so little regardful was he of personal cleanliness, that his tears made streaks of white over his gnarled dark hands.) "Ah, at fifteen, poor child, thy fate was terrible! Go to! It is not good to love me, friend. They prosper not who do. I divine you. You need not say what you are thinking—"
In truth, I was thinking, if girls fall in love with this sallow hook-nosed, glass-eyed, wooden-legged, dirty, hideous old man, with the sham teeth, they have a queer taste. THAT is what I was thinking.
"Jack Wilkes said the handsomest man in London had but half an hour's start of him. And without vanity, I am scarcely uglier than Jack Wilkes. We were members of the same club at Medenham Abbey, Jack and I, and had many a merry night together. Well, sir, I—Mary of Scotland knew me but as a little hunchbacked music-master; and yet, and yet, I think SHE was not indifferent to her David Riz—and SHE came to misfortune. They all do—they all do!"
"Sir, you are wandering from your point!" I said, with some severity. For, really, for this old humbug to hint that he had been the baboon who frightened the club at Medenham, that he had been in the Inquisition at Valladolid—that under the name of D. Riz, as he called it, he had known the lovely Queen of Scots—was a LITTLE too much. "Sir," then I said, "you were speaking about a Miss de Bechamel. I really have not time to hear all your biography."
"Faith, the good wine gets into my head." (I should think so, the old toper! Four bottles all but two glasses.) "To return to poor Blanche. As I sat laughing, joking with her, she let slip a word, a little word, which filled me with dismay. Some one had told her a part of the Secret—the secret which has been divulged scarce thrice in three thousand years—the Secret of the Freemasons. Do you know what happens to those uninitiate who learn that secret? to those wretched men, the initiate who reveal it?"
As Pinto spoke to me, he looked through and through me with his horrible piercing glance, so that I sat quite uneasily on my bench. He continued: "Did I question her awake? I knew she would lie to me. Poor child! I loved her no less because I did not believe a word she said. I loved her blue eye, her golden hair, her delicious voice, that was true in song, though when she spoke, false as Eblis! You are aware that I possess in rather a remarkable degree what we have agreed to call the mesmeric power. I set the unhappy girl to sleep. THEN she was obliged to tell me all. It was as I had surmised. Goby de Mouchy, my wretched, besotted, miserable secretary, in his visits to the chateau of the Marquis de Bechamel, who was one of our society, had seen Blanche. I suppose it was because she had been warned that he was worthless, and poor, artful and a coward, she loved him. She wormed out of the besotted wretch the secrets of our Order. 'Did he tell you the NUMBER ONE?' I asked.
"She said, 'Yes.'
"'Did he,' I further inquired, 'tell you the—'
"'Oh, don't ask me, don't ask me!' she said, writhing on the sofa, where she lay in the presence of the Marquis de Bechamel, her most unhappy father. Poor Bechamel, poor Bechamel! How pale he looked as I spoke! 'Did he tell you,' I repeated with a dreadful calm, 'the NUMBER TWO?' She said, 'Yes.'
"The poor old marquis rose up, and clasping his hands, fell on his knees before Count Cagl—— Bah! I went by a different name then. Vat's in a name? Dat vich ve call a Rosicrucian by any other name vil smell as sveet. 'Monsieur,' he said, 'I am old—I am rich. I have five hundred thousand livres of rentes in Picardy. I have half as much in Artois. I have two hundred and eighty thousand on the Grand Livre. I am promised by my Sovereign a dukedom and his orders with a reversion to my heir. I am a Grandee of Spain of the First Class, and Duke of Volovento. Take my titles, my ready money, my life, my honor, everything I have in the world, but don't ask the THIRD QUESTION.'
"'Godefroid de Bouillon, Comte de Bechamel, Grandee of Spain and Prince of Volovento, in our Assembly what was the oath you swore?'" The old man writhed as he remembered its terrific purport.
"Though my heart was racked with agony, and I would have died, ay, cheerfully" (died, indeed, as if THAT were a penalty!) "to spare yonder lovely child a pang, I said to her calmly, 'Blanche de Bechamel, did Goby de Mouchy tell you secret NUMBER THREE?'
"She whispered a oui that was quite faint, faint and small. But her poor father fell in convulsions at her feet.
"She died suddenly that night. Did I not tell you those I love come to no good? When General Bonaparte crossed the Saint Bernard, he saw in the convent an old monk with a white beard, wandering about the corridors, cheerful and rather stout, but mad—mad as a March hare. 'General,' I said to him, 'did you ever see that face before?' He had not. He had not mingled much with the higher classes of our society before the Revolution. I knew the poor old man well enough; he was the last of a noble race, and I loved his child."
"And did she die by—?"
"Man! did I say so? Do I whisper the secrets of the Vehmgericht? I say she died that night: and he—he, the heartless, the villain, the betrayer,—you saw him seated in yonder curiosity-shop, by yonder guillotine, with his scoundrelly head in his lap.
"You saw how slight that instrument was? It was one of the first which Guillotin made, and which he showed to private friends in a HANGAR in the Rue Picpus, where he lived. The invention created some little conversation amongst scientific men at the time, though I remember a machine in Edinburgh of a very similar construction, two hundred—well, many, many years ago—and at a breakfast which Guillotin gave he showed us the instrument, and much talk arose amongst us as to whether people suffered under it.
"And now I must tell you what befell the traitor who had caused all this suffering. Did he know that the poor child's death was a SENTENCE? He felt a cowardly satisfaction that with her was gone the secret of his treason. Then he began to doubt. I had MEANS to penetrate all his thoughts, as well as to know his acts. Then he became a slave to a horrible fear. He fled in abject terror to a convent. They still existed in Paris; and behind the walls of Jacobins the wretch thought himself secure. Poor fool! I had but to set one of my somnambulists to sleep. Her spirit went forth and spied the shuddering wretch in his cell. She described the street, the gate, the convent, the very dress which he wore, and which you saw to-day.
"And now THIS is what happened. In his chamber in the Rue St. Honore, at Paris, sat a man ALONE—a man who has been maligned, a man who has been called a knave and charlatan, a man who has been persecuted even to the death, it is said, in Roman Inquisitions, forsooth, and elsewhere. Ha! ha! A man who has a mighty will.
"And looking towards the Jacobins Convent (of which, from his chamber, he could see the spires and trees), this man WILLED. And it was not yet dawn. And he willed; and one who was lying in his cell in the convent of Jacobins, awake and shuddering with terror for a crime which he had committed, fell asleep.
"But though he was asleep his eyes were open.
"And after tossing and writhing, and clinging to the pallet, and saying, 'No, I will not go,' he rose up and donned his clothes—a gray coat, a vest of white pique, black satin small-clothes, ribbed silk stockings, and a white stock with a steel buckle; and he arranged his hair, and he tied his queue, all the while being in that strange somnolence which walks, which moves, which FLIES sometimes, which sees, which is indifferent to pain, which OBEYS. And he put on his hat, and he went forth from his cell; and though the dawn was not yet, he trod the corridors as seeing them. And he passed into the cloister, and then into the garden where lie the ancient dead. And he came to the wicket, which Brother Jerome was opening just at the dawning. And the crowd was already waiting with their cans and bowls to receive the alms of the good brethren.
"And he passed through the crowd and went on his way, and the few people then abroad who marked him, said, 'Tiens! how very odd he looks! He looks like a man walking in his sleep!' This was said by various persons:—
"By milk-women, with their cans and carts, coming into the town.
"By roysterers who had been drinking at the taverns of the Barrier, for it was Mid-Lent.
"By the sergeants of the watch, who eyed him sternly as he passed near their halberds.
"But he passed on unmoved by their halberds,
"Unmoved by the cries of the roysterers,
"By the market-women coming with their milk and eggs.
"He walked through the Rue St. Honore, I say:—
"By the Rue Rambuteau,
"By the Rue St. Antoine,
"By the King's Chateau of the Bastille,
"By the Faubourg St. Antoine.
"And he came to No. 29 in the Rue Picpus—a house which then stood between a court and garden—
"That is, there was a building of one story, with a great coach-door.
"Then there was a court, around which were stables, coach-houses, offices.
"Then there was a house—a two-storied house, with a perron in front.
"Behind the house was a garden—a garden of two hundred and fifty French feet in length.
"And as one hundred feet of France equal one hundred and six feet of England, this garden, my friends, equalled exactly two hundred and sixty-five feet of British measure.
"In the centre of the garden was a fountain and a statue—or, to speak more correctly, two statues. One was recumbent,—a man. Over him, sabre in hand, stood a woman.
"The man was Olofernes. The woman was Judith. From the head, from the trunk, the water gushed. It was the taste of the doctor:—was it not a droll of taste?
"At the end of the garden was the doctor's cabinet of study. My faith, a singular cabinet, and singular pictures!—
"Decapitation of Charles Premier at Vitehall.
"Decapitation of Montrose at Edimbourg.
"Decapitation of Cinq Mars. When I tell you that he was a man of a taste, charming!
"Through this garden, by these statues, up these stairs, went the pale figure of him who, the porter said, knew the way of the house. He did. Turning neither right nor left, he seemed to walk THROUGH the statues, the obstacles, the flower-beds, the stairs, the door, the tables, the chairs.
"In the corner of the room was THAT INSTRUMENT, which Guillotin had just invented and perfected. One day he was to lay his own head under his own axe. Peace be to his name! With him I deal not!
"In a frame of mahogany, neatly worked, was a board with a half-circle in it, over which another board fitted. Above was a heavy axe, which fell—you know how. It was held up by a rope, and when this rope was untied, or cut, the steel fell.
"To the story which I now have to relate, you may give credence, or not, as you will. The sleeping man went up to that instrument.
"He laid his head in it, asleep."
"He then took a little penknife out of the pocket of his white dimity waistcoat.
"He cut the rope asleep.
"The axe descended on the head of the traitor and villain. The notch in it was made by the steel buckle of his stock, which was cut through.
"A strange legend has got abroad that after the deed was done, the figure rose, took the head from the basket, walked forth through the garden, and by the screaming porters at the gate, and went and laid itself down at the Morgue. But for this I will not vouch. Only of this be sure. 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' More and more the light peeps through the chinks. Soon, amidst music ravishing, the curtain will rise, and the glorious scene be displayed. Adieu! Remember me. Ha! 'tis dawn," Pinto said. And he was gone.
I am ashamed to say that my first movement was to clutch the cheque which he had left with me, and which I was determined to present the very moment the bank opened. I know the importance of these things, and that men CHANGE THEIR MIND sometimes. I sprang through the streets to the great banking house of Manasseh in Duke Street. It seemed to me as if I actually flew as I walked. As the clock struck ten I was at the counter and laid down my cheque.
The gentleman who received it, who was one of the Hebrew persuasion, as were the other two hundred clerks of the establishment, having looked at the draft with terror in his countenance, then looked at me, then called to himself two of his fellow-clerks, and queer it was to see all their aquiline beaks over the paper.
"Come, come!" said I, "don't keep me here all day. Hand me over the money, short, if you please!" for I was, you see, a little alarmed, and so determined to assume some extra bluster.
"Will you have the kindness to step into the parlor to the partners?" the clerk said, and I followed him.
"What, AGAIN?" shrieked a bald-headed, red-whiskered gentleman, whom I knew to be Mr. Manasseh. "Mr. Salathiel, this is too bad! Leave me with this gentleman, S." And the clerk disappeared.
"Sir," he said, "I know how you came by this; the Count de Pinto gave it you. It is too bad! I honor my parents; I honor THEIR parents; I honor their bills! But this one of grandma's is too bad—it is, upon my word now! She've been dead these five-and-thirty years. And this last four months she has left her burial-place and took to drawing on our 'ouse! It's too bad, grandma; it is too bad!" and he appealed to me, and tears actually trickled down his nose.
"Is it the Countess Sidonia's cheque or not?" I asked, haughtily.
"But, I tell you, she's dead! It's a shame!—it's a shame!—it is, grandmamma!" and he cried, and wiped his great nose in his yellow pocket-handkerchief. "Look year—will you take pounds instead of guineas? She's dead, I tell you! It's no go! Take the pounds—one tausend pound!—ten nice, neat, crisp hundred-pound notes, and go away vid you, do!"
"I will have my bond, sir, or nothing," I said; and I put on an attitude of resolution which I confess surprised even myself.
"Wery vell," he shrieked, with many oaths, "then you shall have noting—ha, ha, ha!—noting but a policeman! Mr. Abednego, call a policeman! Take that, you humbug and impostor!" and here, with an abundance of frightful language which I dare not repeat, the wealthy banker abused and defied me.
Au bout du compte, what was I to do, if a banker did not choose to honor a cheque drawn by his dead grandmother? I began to wish I had my snuff-box back. I began to think I was a fool for changing that little old-fashioned gold for this slip of strange paper.
Meanwhile the banker had passed from his fit of anger to a paroxysm of despair. He seemed to be addressing some person invisible, but in the room: "Look here, ma'am, you've really been coming it too strong. A hundred thousand in six months, and now a thousand more! The 'ouse can't stand it; it WON'T stand it, I say! What? Oh! mercy, mercy!"
As he uttered these words, A Hand fluttered over the table in the air! It was a female hand: that which I had seen the night before. That female hand took a pen from the green baize table, dipped it in a silver inkstand, and wrote on a quarter of a sheet of foolscap on the blotting-book, "How about the diamond robbery? If you do not pay, I will tell him where they are."
What diamonds? what robbery? what was this mystery? That will never be ascertained, for the wretched man's demeanor instantly changed. "Certainly, sir;—oh, certainly," he said, forcing a grin. "How will you have the money, sir? All right, Mr. Abednego. This way out."
"I hope I shall often see you again," I said; on which I own poor Manasseh gave a dreadful grin, and shot back into his parlor.
I ran home, clutching the ten delicious, crisp hundred pounds, and the dear little fifty which made up the account. I flew through the streets again. I got to my chambers. I bolted the outer doors. I sank back in my great chair, and slept. . . .
My first thing on waking was to feel for my money. Perdition! Where was I? Ha!—on the table before me was my grandmother's snuff-box, and by its side one of those awful—those admirable—sensation novels, which I had been reading, and which are full of delicious wonder.
But that the guillotine is still to be seen at Mr. Gale's, No. 47, High Holborn, I give you MY HONOR. I suppose I was dreaming about it. I don't know. What is dreaming? What is life? Why shouldn't I sleep on the ceiling?—and am I sitting on it now, or on the floor? I am puzzled. But enough. If the fashion for sensation novels goes on, I tell you I will write one in fifty volumes. For the present, DIXI. But between ourselves, this Pinto, who fought at the Colosseum, who was nearly being roasted by the Inquisition, and sang duets at Holyrood, I am rather sorry to lose him after three little bits of Roundabout Papers. Et vous?
When Swift was in love with Stella, and despatching her a letter from London thrice a month by the Irish packet, you may remember how he would begin letter No. XXIII., we will say, on the very day when XXII. had been sent away, stealing out of the coffee-house or the assembly so as to be able to prattle with his dear; "never letting go her kind hand, as it were," as some commentator or other has said in speaking of the Dean and his amour. When Mr. Johnson, walking to Dodsley's, and touching the posts in Pall Mall as he walked, forgot to pat the head of one of them, he went back and imposed his hands on it,—impelled I know not by what superstition. I have this I hope not dangerous mania too. As soon as a piece of work is out of hand, and before going to sleep, I like to begin another: it may be to write only half a dozen lines: but that is something towards Number the Next. The printer's boy has not yet reached Green Arbor Court with the copy. Those people who were alive half an hour since, Pendennis, Clive Newcome, and (what do you call him? what was the name of the last hero? I remember now!) Philip Firmin, have hardly drunk their glass of wine, and the mammas have only this minute got the children's cloaks on, and have been bowed out of my premises—and here I come back to the study again: tamen usque recurro. How lonely it looks now all these people are gone! My dear good friends, some folks are utterly tired of you, and say, "What a poverty of friends the man has! He is always asking us to meet those Pendennises, Newcomes, and so forth. Why does he not introduce us to some new characters? Why is he not thrilling like Twostars, learned and profound like Threestars, exquisitely humorous and human like Fourstars? Why, finally, is he not somebody else?" My good people, it is not only impossible to please you all, but it is absurd to try. The dish which one man devours, another dislikes. Is the dinner of to-day not to your taste? Let us hope to-morrow's entertainment will be more agreeable. . . . I resume my original subject. What an odd, pleasant, humorous, melancholy feeling it is to sit in the study, alone and quiet, now all these people are gone who have been boarding and lodging with me for twenty months! They have interrupted my rest: they have plagued me at all sorts of minutes: they have thrust themselves upon me when I was ill, or wished to be idle, and I have growled out a "Be hanged to you, can't you leave me alone now?" Once or twice they have prevented my going out to dinner. Many and many a time they have prevented my coming home, because I knew they were there waiting in the study, and a plague take them! and I have left home and family, and gone to dine at the Club, and told nobody where I went. They have bored me, those people. They have plagued me at all sorts of uncomfortable hours. They have made such a disturbance in my mind and house, that sometimes I have hardly known what was going on in my family, and scarcely have heard what my neighbor said to me. They are gone at last; and you would expect me to be at ease? Far from it. I should almost be glad if Woolcomb would walk in and talk to me; or Twysden reappear, take his place in that chair opposite me, and begin one of his tremendous stories.
Madmen, you know, see visions, hold conversations with, even draw the likeness of, people invisible to you and me. Is this making of people out of fancy madness? and are novel-writers at all entitled to strait-waistcoats? I often forget people's names in life; and in my own stories contritely own that I make dreadful blunders regarding them; but I declare, my dear sir, with respect to the personages introduced into your humble servant's fables, I know the people utterly—I know the sound of their voices. A gentleman came in to see me the other day, who was so like the picture of Philip Firmin in Mr. Walker's charming drawings in the cornhill Magazine, that he was quite a curiosity to me. The same eyes, beard, shoulders, just as you have seen them from month to month. Well, he is not like the Philip Firmin in my mind. Asleep, asleep in the grave, lies the bold, the generous, the reckless, the tender-hearted creature whom I have made to pass through those adventures which have just been brought to an end. It is years since I heard the laughter ringing, or saw the bright blue eyes. When I knew him both were young. I become young as I think of him. And this morning he was alive again in this room, ready to laugh, to fight, to weep. As I write, do you know, it is the gray of evening; the house is quiet; everybody is out; the room is getting a little dark, and I look rather wistfully up from the paper with perhaps ever so little fancy that HE MAY COME IN.—No? No movement. No gray shade, growing more palpable, out of which at last look the well-known eyes. No, the printer came and took him away with the last page of the proofs. And with the printer's boy did the whole cortege of ghosts flit away, invisible? Ha! stay! what is this? Angels and ministers of grace! The door opens, and a dark form—enters, bearing a black—a black suit of clothes. It is John. He says it is time to dress for dinner.
Every man who has had his German tutor, and has been coached through the famous "Faust" of Goethe (thou wert my instructor, good old Weissenborn, and these eyes beheld the great master himself in dear little Weimar town!) has read those charming verses which are prefixed to the drama, in which the poet reverts to the time when his work was first composed, and recalls the friends now departed, who once listened to his song. The dear shadows rise up around him, he says; he lives in the past again. It is to-day which appears vague and visionary. We humbler writers cannot create Fausts, or raise up monumental works that shall endure for all ages; but our books are diaries, in which our own feelings must of necessity be set down. As we look to the page written last month, or ten years ago, we remember the day and its events; the child ill, mayhap, in the adjoining room, and the doubts and fears which racked the brain as it still pursued its work; the dear old friend who read the commencement of the tale, and whose gentle hand shall be laid in ours no more. I own for my part that, in reading pages which this hand penned formerly, I often lose sight of the text under my eyes. It is not the words I see; but that past day; that bygone page of life's history; that tragedy, comedy it may be, which our little home company was enacting; that merry-making which we shared; that funeral which we followed; that bitter, bitter grief which we buried.
And, such being the state of my mind, I pray gentle readers to deal kindly with their humble servant's manifold shortcomings, blunders, and slips of memory. As sure as I read a page of my own composition, I find a fault or two, half a dozen. Jones is called Brown. Brown, who is dead, is brought to life. Aghast, and months after the number was printed, I saw that I had called Philip Firmin, Clive Newcome. Now Clive Newcome is the hero of another story by the reader's most obedient writer. The two men are as different, in my mind's eye, as—as Lord Palmerston and Mr. Disraeli let us say. But there is that blunder at page 990, line 76, volume 84 of the Cornhill Magazine, and it is past mending; and I wish in my life I had made no worse blunders or errors than that which is hereby acknowledged.
Another Finis written. Another mile-stone passed on this journey from birth to the next world! Sure it is a subject for solemn cogitation. Shall we continue this story-telling business and be voluble to the end of our age? Will it not be presently time, O prattler, to hold your tongue, and let younger people speak? I have a friend, a painter, who, like other persons who shall be nameless, is growing old. He has never painted with such laborious finish as his works now show. This master is still the most humble and diligent of scholars. Of Art, his mistress, he is always an eager, reverent pupil. In his calling, in yours, in mine, industry and humility will help and comfort us. A word with you. In a pretty large experience I have not found the men who write books superior in wit or learning to those who don't write at all. In regard of mere information, non-writers must often be superior to writers. You don't expect a lawyer in full practice to be conversant with all kinds of literature; he is too busy with his law; and so a writer is commonly too busy with his own books to be able to bestow attention on the works of other people. After a day's work (in which I have been depicting, let us say, the agonies of Louisa on parting with the Captain, or the atrocious behavior of the wicked Marquis to Lady Emily) I march to the Club, proposing to improve my mind and keep myself "posted up," as the Americans phrase it, with the literature of the day. And what happens? Given, a walk after luncheon, a pleasing book, and a most comfortable armchair by the fire, and you know the rest. A doze ensues. Pleasing book drops suddenly, is picked up once with an air of some confusion, is laid presently softly in lap: head falls on comfortable arm-chair cushion: eyes close: soft nasal music is heard. Am I telling Club secrets? Of afternoons, after lunch, I say, scores of sensible fogies have a doze. Perhaps I have fallen asleep over that very book to which "Finis" has just been written. "And if the writer sleeps, what happens to the readers?" says Jones, coming down upon me with his lightning wit. What? You DID sleep over it? And a very good thing too. These eyes have more than once seen a friend dozing over pages which this hand has written. There is a vignette somewhere in one of my books of a friend so caught napping with "Pendennis," or the "Newcomes," in his lap and if a writer can give you a sweet soothing, harmless sleep, has he not done you a kindness? So is the author who excites and interests you worthy of your thanks and benedictions. I am troubled with fever and ague, that seizes me at odd intervals and prostrates me for a day. There is cold fit, for which, I am thankful to say, hot brandy-and-water is prescribed, and this induces hot fit, and so on. In one or two of these fits I have read novels with the most fearful contentment of mind. Once, on the Mississippi, it was my dearly beloved "Jacob Faithful:" once at Frankfort O. M., the delightful "Vingt Ans Apres" of Monsieur Dumas: once at Tunbridge wells, the thrilling "Woman in White:" and these books gave me amusement from morning till sunset. I remember those ague fits with a great deal of pleasure and gratitude. Think of a whole day in bed, and a good novel for a companion! No cares: no remorse about idleness: no visitors: and the Woman in White or the Chevalier d'Artagnan to tell me stories from dawn to night! "Please, ma'am, my master's compliments, and can he have the third volume?" (This message was sent to an astonished friend and neighbor who lent me, volume by volume, the W. in W.) How do you like your novels? I like mine strong, "hot with," and no mistake: no love-making: no observations about society: little dialogue, except where the characters are bullying each other: plenty of fighting: and a villain in the cupboard, who is to suffer tortures just before Finis. I don't like your melancholy Finis. I never read the history of a consumptive heroine twice. If I might give a short hint to an impartial writer (as the Examiner used to say in old days), it would be to act, NOT a la mode le pays de Pole (I think that was the phraseology), but ALWAYS to give quarter. In the story of Philip, just come to an end, I have the permission of the author to state, that he was going to drown the two villains of the piece—a certain Doctor F—— and a certain Mr. T. H—— on board the "President," or some other tragic ship—but you see I relented. I pictured to myself Firmin's ghastly face amid the crowd of shuddering people on that reeling deck in the lonely ocean, and thought, "Thou ghastly lying wretch, thou shalt not be drowned: thou shalt have a fever only; a knowledge of thy danger; and a chance—ever so small a chance—of repentance." I wonder whether he DID repent when he found himself in the yellow-fever, in Virginia? The probability is, he fancied that his son had injured him very much, and forgave him on his death-bed. Do you imagine there is a great deal of genuine right-down remorse in the world? Don't people rather find excuses which make their minds easy; endeavor to prove to themselves that they have been lamentably belied and misunderstood; and try and forgive the persecutors who WILL present that bill when it is due; and not bear malice against the cruel ruffian who takes them to the police-office for stealing the spoons? Years ago I had a quarrel with a certain well-known person (I believed a statement regarding him which his friends imparted to me, and which turned out to be quite incorrect). To his dying day that quarrel was never quite made up. I said to his brother, "Why is your brother's soul still dark against me? It is I who ought to be angry and unforgiving: for I was in the wrong." In the region which they now inhabit (for Finis has been set to the volumes of the lives of both here below), if they take any cognizance of our squabbles, and tittle-tattles, and gossips on earth here, I hope they admit that my little error was not of a nature unpardonable. If you have never committed a worse, my good sir, surely the score against you will not be heavy. Ha, dilectissimi fratres! It is in regard of sins NOT found out that we may say or sing (in an undertone, in a most penitent and lugubrious minor key), Miserere nobis miseris peccatoribus.
Among the sins of commission which novel-writers not seldom perpetrate, is the sin of grandiloquence, or tall-talking, against which, for my part, I will offer up a special libera me. This is the sin of schoolmasters, governesses, critics, sermoners, and instructors of young or old people. Nay (for I am making a clean breast, and liberating my soul), perhaps of all the novel-spinners now extant, the present speaker is the most addicted to preaching. Does he not stop perpetually in his story and begin to preach to you? When he ought to be engaged with business, is he not for ever taking the Muse by the sleeve, and plaguing her with some of his cynical sermons? I cry peccavi loudly and heartily. I tell you I would like to be able to write a story which should show no egotism whatever—in which there should be no reflections, no cynicism, no vulgarity (and so forth), but an incident in every other page, a villain, a battle, a mystery in every chapter. I should like to be able to feed a reader so spicily as to leave him hungering and thirsting for more at the end of every monthly meal.
Alexandre Dumas describes himself, when inventing the plan of a work, as lying silent on his back for two whole days on the deck of a yacht in a Mediterranean port. At the end of the two days he arose and called for dinner. In those two days he had built his plot. He had moulded a mighty clay, to be cast presently in perennial brass. The chapters, the characters, the incidents, the combinations were all arranged in the artist's brain ere he set a pen to paper. My Pegasus won't fly, so as to let me survey the field below me. He has no wings, he is blind of one eye certainly, he is restive, stubborn, slow; crops a hedge when he ought to be galloping, or gallops when he ought to be quiet. He never will show off when I want him. Sometimes he goes at a pace which surprises me. Sometimes, when I most wish him to make the running, the brute turns restive, and I am obliged to let him take his own time. I wonder do other novel-writers experience this fatalism? They MUST go a certain way, in spite of themselves. I have been surprised at the observations made by some of my characters. It seems as if an occult Power was moving the pen. The personage does or says something, and I ask, how the dickens did he come to think of that? Every man has remarked in dreams, the vast dramatic power which is sometimes evinced; I won't say the surprising power, for nothing does surprise you in dreams. But those strange characters you meet make instant observations of which you never can have thought previously. In like manner, the imagination foretells things. We spake anon of the inflated style of some writers. What also if there is an AFFLATED style,—when a writer is like a Pythoness on her oracle tripod, and mighty words, words which he cannot help, come blowing, and bellowing, and whistling, and moaning through the speaking pipes of his bodily organ? I have told you it was a very queer shock to me the other day when, with a letter of introduction in his hand, the artist's (not my) Philip Firmin walked into this room, and sat down in the chair opposite. In the novel of "Pendennis," written ten years ago, there is an account of a certain Costigan, whom I had invented (as I suppose authors invent their personages out of scraps, heel-taps, odds and ends of characters). I was smoking in a tavern parlor one night—and this Costigan came into the room alive—the very man:—the most remarkable resemblance of the printed sketches of the man, of the rude drawings in which I had depicted him. He had the same little coat, the same battered hat, cocked on one eye, the same twinkle in that eye. "Sir," said I, knowing him to be an old friend whom I had met in unknown regions, "sir," I said, "may I offer you a glass of brandy-and-water?" "Bedad, ye may," says he, "and I'll sing ye a song tu." Of course he spoke with an Irish brogue. Of course he had been in the army. In ten minutes he pulled out an Army Agent's account, whereon his name was written. A few months after we read of him in a police court. How had I come to know him, to divine him? Nothing shall convince me that I have not seen that man in the world of spirits. In the world of spirits and water I know I did: but that is a mere quibble of words. I was not surprised when he spoke in an Irish brogue. I had had cognizance of him before somehow. Who has not felt that little shock which arises when a person, a place, some words in a book (there is always a collocation) present themselves to you, and you know that you have before met the same person, words, scene, and so forth?
They used to call the good Sir Walter the "Wizard of the North." What if some writer should appear who can write so ENCHANTINGLY that he shall be able to call into actual life the people whom he invents? What if Mignon, and Margaret, and Goetz von Berlichingen are alive now (though I don't say they are visible), and Dugald Dalgetty and Ivanhoe were to step in at that open window by the little garden yonder? Suppose Uncas and our noble old Leather Stocking were to glide silent in? Suppose Athos, Porthos, and Aramis should enter with a noiseless swagger, curling their moustaches? And dearest Amelia Booth, on Uncle Toby's arm; and Tittlebat Titmouse, with his hair dyed green; and all the Crummles company of comedians, with the Gil Blas troop; and Sir Roger de Coverley; and the greatest of all crazy gentlemen, the Knight of La Mancha, with his blessed squire? I say to you, I look rather wistfully towards the window, musing upon these people. Were any of them to enter, I think I should not be very much frightened. Dear old friends, what pleasant hours I have had with them! We do not see each other very often, but when we do, we are ever happy to meet. I had a capital half-hour with Jacob Faithful last night; when the last sheet was corrected, when "Finis" had been written, and the printer's boy, with the copy, was safe in Green Arbor Court.
So you are gone, little printer's boy, with the last scratches and corrections on the proof, and a fine flourish by way of Finis at the story's end. The last corrections? I say those last corrections seem never to be finished. A plague upon the weeds! Every day, when I walk in my own little literary garden-plot, I spy some, and should like to have a spud, and root them out. Those idle words, neighbor, are past remedy. That turning back to the old pages produces anything but elation of mind. Would you not pay a pretty fine to be able to cancel some of them? Oh, the sad old pages, the dull old pages! Oh, the cares, the ennui, the squabbles, the repetitions, the old conversations over and over again! But now and again a kind thought is recalled, and now and again a dear memory. Yet a few chapters more, and then the last: after which, behold Finis itself come to an end, and the Infinite begun.
ON A PEAL OF BELLS.
As some bells in a church hard by are making a great holiday clanging in the summer afternoon, I am reminded somehow of a July day, a garden, and a great clanging of bells years and years ago, on the very day when George IV. was crowned. I remember a little boy lying in that garden reading his first novel. It was called the "Scottish Chiefs." The little boy (who is now ancient and not little) read this book in the summer-house of his great grandmamma. She was eighty years of age then. A most lovely and picturesque old lady, with a long tortoise-shell cane, with a little puff, or tour, of snow-white (or was it powdered?) hair under her cap, with the prettiest little black-velvet slippers and high heels you ever saw. She had a grandson, a lieutenant in the navy; son of her son, a captain in the navy; grandson of her husband, a captain in the navy. She lived for scores and scores of years in a dear little old Hampshire town inhabited by the wives, widows, daughters of navy captains, admirals, lieutenants. Dear me! Don't I remember Mrs. Duval, widow of Admiral Duval; and the Miss Dennets, at the Great House at the other end of the town, Admiral Dennet's daughters; and the Miss Barrys, the late Captain Barry's daughters; and the good old Miss Maskews, Admiral Maskew's daughter; and that dear little Miss Norval, and the kind Miss Bookers, one of whom married Captain, now Admiral Sir Henry Excellent, K.C.B.? Far, far away into the past I look and see the little town with its friendly glimmer. That town was so like a novel of Miss Austen's that I wonder was she born and bred there? No, we should have known, and the good old ladies would have pronounced her to be a little idle thing, occupied with her silly books and neglecting her housekeeping. There were other towns in England, no doubt, where dwelt the widows and wives of other navy captains; where they tattled, loved each other, and quarrelled; talked about Betty the maid, and her fine ribbons indeed! took their dish of tea at six, played at quadrille every night till ten, when there was a little bit of supper, after which Betty came with the lanthorn; and next day came, and next, and next, and so forth, until a day arrived when the lanthorn was out, when Betty came no more: all that little company sank to rest under the daisies, whither some folks will presently follow them. How did they live to be so old, those good people? Moi qui vous parle, I perfectly recollect old Mr. Gilbert, who had been to sea with Captain Cook; and Captain Cook, as you justly observe, dear Miss, quoting out of your "Mangnall's Questions," was murdered by the natives of Owhyhee, anno 1779. Ah! don't you remember his picture, standing on the seashore, in tights and gaiters, with a musket in his hand, pointing to his people not to fire from the boats, whilst a great tattooed savage is going to stab him in the back? Don't you remember those houris dancing before him and the other officers at the great Otaheite ball? Don't you know that Cook was at the siege of Quebec, with the glorious Wolfe, who fought under the Duke of Cumberland, whose royal father was a distinguished officer at Ramillies, before he commanded in chief at Dettingen? Huzza! Give it them, my lads! My horse is down? Then I know I shall not run away. Do the French run? then I die content. Stop. Wo! Quo me rapis? My Pegasus is galloping off, goodness knows where, like his Majesty's charger at Dettingen.
How do these rich historical and personal reminiscences come out of the subject at present in hand? What IS that subject, by the way? My dear friend, if you look at the last essaykin (though you may leave it alone, and I shall not be in the least surprised or offended), if you look at the last paper, where the writer imagines Athos and Porthos, Dalgetty and Ivanhoe, Amelia and Sir Charles Grandison, Don Quixote and Sir Roger, walking in at the garden-window, you will at once perceive that NOVELS and their heroes and heroines are our present subject of discourse, into which we will presently plunge. Are you one of us, dear sir, and do you love novel-reading? To be reminded of your first novel will surely be a pleasure to you. Hush! I never read quite to the end of my first, the "Scottish Chiefs." I couldn't. I peeped in an alarmed furtive manner at some of the closing pages. Miss Porter, like a kind dear tender-hearted creature, would not have Wallace's head chopped off at the end of Vol. V. She made him die in prison,* and if I remember right (protesting I have not read the book for forty-two or three years), Robert Bruce made a speech to his soldiers, in which he said, "And Bannockburn shall equal Cambuskenneth."** But I repeat I could not read the end of the fifth volume of that dear delightful book for crying. Good heavens! It was as sad, as sad as going back to school.
* I find, on reference to the novel, that Sir William died on the scaffold, not in prison. His last words were, "'My prayer is heard. Life's cord is cut by heaven. Helen! Helen! May heaven preserve my country, and—' He stopped. He fell. And with that mighty shock the scaffold shook to its foundations."
** The remark of Bruce (which I protest I had not read for forty-two years), I find to be as follows:—"When this was uttered by the English heralds, Bruce turned to Ruthven, with an heroic smile, 'Let him come, my brave barons! and he shall find that Bannockburn shall page with Cambuskenneth!'" In the same amiable author's famous novel of "Thaddeus of Warsaw," there is more crying than in any novel I ever remember to have read. See, for example, the last page. . . . "Incapable of speaking, Thaddeus led his wife back to her carriage. . . . His tears gushed out in spite of himself, and mingling with hers, poured those thanks, those assurances, of animated approbation through her heart, which made it even ache with excess of happiness." . . . And a sentence or two further. "Kosciusko did bless him, and embalmed the benediction with a shower of tears."
The glorious Scott cycle of romances came to me some four or five years afterwards; and I think boys of our year were specially fortunate in coming upon those delightful books at that special time when we could best enjoy them. Oh, that sunshiny bench on half-holidays, with Claverhouse or Ivanhoe for a companion! I have remarked of very late days some little men in a great state of delectation over the romances of Captain Mayne Reid, and Gustave Aimard's Prairie and Indian Stories, and during occasional holiday visits, lurking off to bed with the volume under their arms. But are those Indians and warriors so terrible as our Indians and warriors were? (I say, are they? Young gentlemen, mind, I do not say they are not.) But as an oldster I can be heartily thankful for the novels of the 1-10 Geo. IV., let us say, and so downward to a period not unremote. Let us see there is, first, our dear Scott. Whom do I love in the works of that dear old master? Amo—
The Baron of Bradwardine and Fergus. (Captain Waverley is certainly very mild.)
Amo Ivanhoe; LOCKSLEY; the Templar.
Amo Quentin Durward, and especially Quentin's uncle, who brought the boar to bay. I forget the gentleman's name.
I have never cared for the Master of Ravenswood, or fetched his hat out of the water since he dropped it there when I last met him (circa 1825).
Amo SALADIN and the Scotch knight in the "Talisman." The Sultan best.
Amo MAJOR DALGETTY. Delightful Major. To think of him is to desire to jump up, run to the book, and get the volume down from the shelf. About all those heroes of Scott, what a manly bloom there is, and honorable modesty! They are not at all heroic. They seem to blush somehow in their position of hero, and as it were to say, "Since it must be done, here goes!" They are handsome, modest, upright, simple, courageous, not too clever. If I were a mother (which is absurd), I should like to be mother-in-law to several young men of the Walter-Scott-hero sort.
Much as I like those most unassuming, manly, unpretending gentlemen, I have to own that I think the heroes of another writer, viz.—
are quite the equals of Scott's men; perhaps Leather-stocking is better than any one in "Scott's lot." La Longue Carabine is one of the great prize-men of fiction. He ranks with your Uncle Toby, Sir Roger de Coverley, Falstaff—heroic figures, all—American or British, and the artist has deserved well of his country who devised them.
At school, in my time, there was a public day, when the boys' relatives, an examining bigwig or two from the universities, old schoolfellows, and so forth, came to the place. The boys were all paraded; prizes were administered; each lad being in a new suit of clothes—and magnificent dandies, I promise you, some of us were. Oh, the chubby cheeks, clean collars, glossy new raiment, beaming faces, glorious in youth—fit tueri coelum—bright with truth, and mirth, and honor! To see a hundred boys marshalled in a chapel or old hall; to hear their sweet fresh voices when they chant, and look in their brave calm faces; I say, does not the sight and sound of them smite you, somehow, with a pang of exquisite kindness? . . . Well. As about boys, so about Novelists. I fancy the boys of Parnassus School all paraded. I am a lower boy myself in that academy. I like our fellows to look well, upright, gentlemanlike. There is Master Fielding—he with the black eye. What a magnificent build of a boy! There is Master Scott, one of the heads of the school. Did you ever see the fellow more hearty and manly? Yonder lean, shambling, cadaverous lad, who is always borrowing money, telling lies, leering after the house-maids, is Master Laurence Sterne—a bishop's grandson, and himself intended for the Church; for shame, you little reprobate! But what a genius the fellow has! Let him have a sound flogging, and as soon as the young scamp is out of the whipping-room give him a gold medal. Such would be my practice if I were Doctor Birch, and master of the school.
Let us drop this school metaphor, this birch and all pertaining thereto. Our subject, I beg leave to remind the reader's humble servant, is novel heroes and heroines. How do you like your heroes, ladies? Gentlemen, what novel heroines do you prefer? When I set this essay going, I sent the above question to two of the most inveterate novel-readers of my acquaintance. The gentleman refers me to Miss Austen; the lady says Athos, Guy Livingston, and (pardon my rosy blushes) Colonel Esmond, and owns that in youth she was very much in love with Valancourt.
"Valancourt? and who was he?" cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas' gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away. Ah, woe is me that the glory of novels should ever decay; that dust should gather round them on the shelves; that the annual cheques from Messieurs the publishers should dwindle, dwindle! Inquire at Mudie's, or the London Library, who asks for the "Mysteries of Udolpho" now? Have not even the "Mysteries of Paris" ceased to frighten? Alas, our novels are but for a season; and I know characters whom a painful modesty forbids me to mention, who shall go to limbo along with "Valancourt" and "Doricourt" and "Thaddeus of Warsaw."
A dear old sentimental friend, with whom I discoursed on the subject of novels yesterday, said that her favorite hero was Lord Orville, in "Evelina," that novel which Dr. Johnson loved so. I took down the book from a dusty old crypt at a club, where Mrs. Barbauld's novelists repose: and this is the kind of thing, ladies and gentlemen, in which your ancestors found pleasure:—
"And here, whilst I was looking for the books, I was followed by Lord Orville. He shut the door after he came in, and, approaching me with a look of anxiety, said, 'Is this true, Miss Anville—are you going?'
"'I believe so, my lord,' said I, still looking for the books.
"'So suddenly, so unexpectedly: must I lose you?'
"'No great loss, my lord,' said I, endeavoring to speak cheerfully.
"'Is it possible,' said he, gravely, 'Miss Anville can doubt my sincerity?'
"'I can't imagine,' cried I, 'what Mrs. Selwyn has done with those books.'
"'Would to heaven,' continued he, 'I might flatter myself you would allow me to prove it!'
"'I must run up stairs,' cried I, greatly confused, 'and ask what she has done with them.'
"'You are going then,' cried he, taking my hand, 'and you give me not the smallest hope of any return! Will you not, my too lovely friend, will you not teach me, with fortitude like your own, to support your absence?'
"'My lord,' cried I, endeavoring to disengage my hand, 'pray let me go!'
"'I will,' cried he, to my inexpressible confusion, dropping on one knee, 'if you wish me to leave you.'
"'Oh, my lord,' exclaimed I, 'rise, I beseech you; rise. Surely your lordship is not so cruel as to mock me.'
"'Mock you!' repeated he earnestly, 'no, I revere you. I esteem and admire you above all human beings! You are the friend to whom my soul is attached, as to its better half. You are the most amiable, the most perfect of women; and you are dearer to me than language has the power of telling.'
"I attempt not to describe my sensations at that moment; I scarce breathed; I doubted if I existed; the blood forsook my cheeks, and my feet refused to sustain me. Lord Orville hastily rising supported me to a chair upon which I sank almost lifeless.
"I cannot write the scene that followed, though every word is engraven on my heart; but his protestations, his expressions, were too flattering for repetition; nor would he, in spite of my repeated efforts to leave him, suffer me to escape; in short, my dear sir, I was not proof against his solicitations, and he drew from me the most sacred secret of my heart!"*
* Contrast this old perfumed, powdered D'Arblay conversation with the present modern talk. If the two young people wished to hide their emotions now-a-days, and express themselves in modest language, the story would run:—
"Whilst I was looking for the books, Lord Orville came in. He looked uncommonly down in the mouth, as he said: 'Is this true, Miss Anville; are you going to cut?'
"'To absquatulate, Lord Orville,' said I, still pretending that I was looking for the books.
"'You are very quick about it,' said he.
"'Guess it's no great loss,' I remarked, as cheerfully as I could.
"'You don't think I'm chaffing?' said Orville, with much emotion.
"'What has Mrs. Selwyn done with the books?' I went on.
"'What, going' said he, 'and going for good? I wish I was such a good-plucked one as you, Miss Anville,'" &c.
The conversation, you perceive, might be easily written down to this key; and if the hero and heroine were modern, they would not be suffered to go through their dialogue on stilts, but would converse in the natural graceful way at present customary. By the way, what a strange custom that is in modern lady novelists to make the men bully the women! In the time of Miss Porter and Madame D'Arblay, we have respect, profound bows and curtsies, graceful courtesy, from men to women. In the time of Miss Bronte, absolute rudeness. Is it true, mesdames, that you like rudeness, and are pleased at being ill-used by men? I could point to more than one lady novelist who so represents you.
Other people may not much like this extract, madam, from your favorite novel, but when you come to read it, YOU will like it. I suspect that when you read that book which you so love, you read it a deux. Did you not yourself pass a winter at Bath, when you were the belle of the assembly? Was there not a Lord Orville in your case too? As you think of him eleven lustres pass away. You look at him with the bright eyes of those days, and your hero stands before you, the brave, the accomplished, the simple, the true gentleman; and he makes the most elegant of bows to one of the most beautiful young women the world ever saw; and he leads you out to the cotillon, to the dear unforgotten music. Hark to the horns of Elfand, blowing, blowing! Bonne vieille, you remember their melody, and your heart-strings thrill with it still.
Of your heroic heroes, I think our friend Monseigneur Athos, Count de la Fere, is my favorite. I have read about him from sunrise to sunset with the utmost contentment of mind. He has passed through how many volumes? Forty? Fifty? I wish for my part there were a hundred more, and would never tire of him reselling prisoners, punishing ruffians, and running scoundrels through the midriff with his most graceful rapier. Ah, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, you are a magnificent trio. I think I like d'Artagnan in his own memoirs best. I bought him years and years ago, price fivepence, in a little parchment-covered Cologne-printed volume, at a stall in Gray's Inn Lane. Dumas glorifies him and makes a Marshal of him; if I remember rightly, the original d'Artagnan was a needy adventurer, who died in exile very early in Louis XIV.'s reign. Did you ever read the "Chevalier d'Harmenthal?" Did you ever read the "Tulipe Noire," as modest as a story by Miss Edgeworth? I think of the prodigal banquets to which this Lucullus of a man has invited me, with thanks and wonder. To what a series of splendid entertainments he has treated me! Where does he find the money for these prodigious feasts? They say that all the works bearing Dumas's name are not written by him. Well? Does not the chief cook have aides under him? Did not Rubens's pupils paint on his canvases? Had not Lawrence assistants for his backgrounds? For myself, being also du metier, I confess I would often like to have a competent, respectable, and rapid clerk for the business part of my novels; and on his arrival, at eleven o'clock, would say, "Mr. Jones, if you please, the archbishop must die this morning in about five pages. Turn to article 'Dropsy' (or what you will) in Encyclopaedia. Take care there are no medical blunders in his death. Group his daughters, physicians, and chaplains round him. In Wales's 'London,' letter B, third shelf, you will find an account of Lambeth, and some prints of the place. Color in with local coloring. The daughter will come down, and speak to her lover in his wherry at Lambeth Stairs," &c., &c. Jones (an intelligent young man) examines the medical, historical, topographical books necessary; his chief points out to him in Jeremy Taylor (fol., London, M.DCLV.) a few remarks, such as might befit a dear old archbishop departing this life. When I come back to dress for dinner, the archbishop is dead on my table in five pages; medicine, topography, theology, all right, and Jones has gone home to his family some hours. Sir Christopher is the architect of St. Paul's. He has not laid the stones or carried up the mortar. There is a great deal of carpenter's and joiner's work in novels which surely a smart professional hand might supply. A smart professional hand? I give you my word, there seem to me parts of novels—let us say the love-making, the "business," the villain in the cupboard, and so forth, which I should like to order John Footman to take in hand, as I desire him to bring the coals and polish the boots. Ask ME indeed to pop a robber under a bed, to hide a will which shall be forthcoming in due season, or at my time of life to write a namby-pamby love conversation between Emily and Lord Arthur! I feel ashamed of myself, and especially when my business obliges me to do the love-passages, I blush so, though quite alone in my study, that you would fancy I was going off in an apoplexy. Are authors affected by their own works? I don't know about other gentlemen, but if I make a joke myself I cry; if I write a pathetic scene I am laughing wildly all the time—at least Tomkins thinks so. You know I am such a cynic!
The editor of the Cornhill Magazine (no soft and yielding character like his predecessor, but a man of stern resolution) will only allow these harmless papers to run to a certain length. But for this veto I should gladly have prattled over half a sheet more, and have discoursed on many heroes and heroines of novels whom fond memory brings back to me. Of these books I have been a diligent student from those early days, which are recorded at the commencement of this little essay. Oh, delightful novels, well remembered! Oh, novels, sweet and delicious as the raspberry open-tarts of budding boyhood! Do I forget one night after prayers (when we under-boys were sent to bed) lingering at my cupboard to read one little half-page more of my dear Walter Scott—and down came the monitor's dictionary upon my head! Rebecca, daughter of Isaac of York, I have loved thee faithfully for forty years! Thou wert twenty years old (say) and I but twelve, when I knew thee. At sixty odd, love, most of the ladies of thy Orient race have lost the bloom of youth, and bulged beyond the line of beauty; but to me thou art ever young and fair, and I will do battle with any felon Templar who assails thy fair name.
ON A PEAR-TREE.
A gracious reader no doubt has remarked that these humble sermons have for subjects some little event which happens at the preacher's own gate, or which falls under his peculiar cognizance. Once, you may remember, we discoursed about a chalk-mark on the door. This morning Betsy, the housemaid, comes with a frightened look, and says, "Law, mum! there's three bricks taken out of the garden wall, and the branches broke, and all the pears taken off the pear-tree!" Poor peaceful suburban pear-tree! Gaol-birds have hopped about thy branches, and robbed them of their smoky fruit. But those bricks removed; that ladder evidently prepared, by which unknown marauders may enter and depart from my little Englishman's castle; is not this a subject of thrilling interest, and may it not BE CONTINUED IN A FUTURE NUMBER?—that is the terrible question. Suppose, having escaladed the outer wall, the miscreants take a fancy to storm the castle? Well—well! we are armed; we are numerous; we are men of tremendous courage, who will defend our spoons with our lives; and there are barracks close by (thank goodness!) whence, at the noise of our shouts and firing, at least a thousand bayonets will bristle to our rescue.
What sound is yonder? A church bell. I might go myself, but how listen to the sermon? I am thinking of those thieves who have made a ladder of my wall, and a prey of my pear-tree. They may be walking to church at this moment, neatly shaved, in clean linen, with every outward appearance of virtue. If I went, I know I should be watching the congregation, and thinking, "Is that one of the fellows who came over my wall?" If, after the reading of the eighth Commandment, a man sang out with particular energy, "Incline our hearts to keep this law," I should think, "Aha, Master Basso, did you have pears for breakfast this morning?" Crime is walking round me, that is clear. Who is the perpetrator? . . . What a changed aspect the world has, since these last few lines were written! I have been walking round about my premises, and in consultation with a gentleman in a single-breasted blue coat, with pewter buttons, and a tape ornament on the collar. He has looked at the holes in the wall, and the amputated tree. We have formed our plan of defence—PERHAPS OF ATTACK. Perhaps some day you may read in the papers, "DARING ATTEMPT AT BURGLARY—HEROIC VICTORY OVER THE VILLAINS," &c. &c. Rascals as yet unknown! perhaps you, too, may read these words, and may be induced to pause in your fatal intention. Take the advice of a sincere friend, and keep off. To find a man writhing in my man-trap, another mayhap impaled in my ditch, to pick off another from my tree (scoundrel! as though he were a pear) will give me no pleasure; but such things may happen. Be warned in time, villains! Or, if you MUST pursue your calling as cracksmen, have the goodness to try some other shutters. Enough! subside into your darkness, children of night! Thieves! we seek not to have YOU hanged—you are but as pegs whereon to hang others.
I may have said before, that if I were going to be hanged myself, I think I should take an accurate note of my sensations, request to stop at some Public-house on the road to Tyburn and be provided with a private room and writing-materials, and give an account of my state of mind. Then, gee up, carter! beg your reverence to continue your apposite, though not novel, remarks on my situation;—and so we drive up to Tyburn turnpike, where an expectant crowd, the obliging sheriffs, and the dexterous and rapid Mr. Ketch are already in waiting.
A number of laboring people are sauntering about our streets and taking their rest on this holiday—fellows who have no more stolen my pears than they have robbed the crown jewels out of the Tower—and I say I cannot help thinking in my own mind, "Are you the rascal who got over my wall last night?" Is the suspicion haunting my mind written on my countenance? I trust not. What if one man after another were to come up to me and say, "How dare you, sir, suspect me in your mind of stealing your fruit? Go be hanged, you and your jargonels!" You rascal thief! it is not merely three-halfp'orth of sooty fruit you rob me of, it is my peace of mind—my artless innocence and trust in my fellow-creatures, my childlike belief that everything they say is true. How can I hold out the hand of friendship in this condition, when my first impression is, "My good sir, I strongly suspect that you were up my pear-tree last night?" It is a dreadful state of mind. The core is black; the death-stricken fruit drops on the bough, and a great worm is within—fattening, and feasting, and wriggling! WHO stole the pears? I say. Is it you, brother? Is it you, madam? Come! are you ready to answer—respondere parati et cantare pares? (O shame! shame!)
Will the villains ever be discovered and punished who stole my fruit? Some unlucky rascals who rob orchards are caught up the tree at once. Some rob through life with impunity. If I, for my part, were to try and get up the smallest tree, on the darkest night, in the most remote orchard, I wager any money I should be found out—be caught by the leg in a man-trap, or have Towler fastening on me. I always am found out; have been; shall be. It's my luck. Other men will carry off bushels of fruit, and get away undetected, unsuspected; whereas I know woe and punishment would fall upon me were I to lay my hand on the smallest pippin. So be it. A man who has this precious self-knowledge will surely keep his hands from picking and stealing, and his feet upon the paths of virtue.
I will assume, my benevolent friend and present reader, that you yourself are virtuous, not from a fear of punishment, but from a sheer love of good: but us you and I walk through life, consider what hundreds of thousands of rascals we must have met, who have not been found out at all. In high places and low, in Clubs and on 'Change, at church or the balls and routs of the nobility and gentry, how dreadful it is for benevolent beings like you and me to have to think these undiscovered though not unsuspected scoundrels are swarming! What is the difference between you and a galley-slave? Is yonder poor wretch at the hulks not a man and a brother too? Have you ever forged, my dear sir? Have you ever cheated your neighbor? Have you ever ridden to Hounslow Heath and robbed the mail? Have you ever entered a first-class railway carriage, where an old gentleman sat alone in a sweet sleep, daintily murdered him, taken his pocket-book, and got out at the next station? You know that this circumstance occurred in France a few months since. If we have travelled in France this autumn we may have met the ingenious gentleman who perpetrated this daring and successful coup. We may have found him a well-informed and agreeable man. I have been acquainted with two or three gentlemen who have been discovered after—after the performance of illegal actions. What? That agreeable rattling fellow we met was the celebrated Mr. John Sheppard? Was that amiable quiet gentleman in spectacles the well-known Mr. Fauntleroy? In Hazlitt's admirable paper, "Going to a Fight," he describes a dashing sporting fellow who was in the coach, and who was no less a man than the eminent destroyer of Mr. William Weare. Don't tell me that you would not like to have met (out of business) Captain Sheppard, the Reverend Doctor Dodd, or others rendered famous by their actions and misfortunes, by their lives and their deaths. They are the subjects of ballads, the heroes of romance. A friend of mine had the house in May Fair, out of which poor Doctor Dodd was taken handcuffed. There was the paved hall over which he stepped. That little room at the side was, no doubt, the study where he composed his elegant sermons. Two years since I had the good fortune to partake of some admirable dinners in Tyburnia—magnificent dinners indeed; but rendered doubly interesting from the fact that the house was that occupied by the late Mr. Sadleir. One night the late Mr. Sadleir took tea in that dining-room, and, to the surprise of his butler, went out, having put into his pocket his own cream-jug. The next morning, you know, he was found dead on Hampstead Heath, with the cream-jug lying by him, into which he had poured the poison by which he died. The idea of the ghost of the late gentleman flitting about the room gave a strange interest to the banquet. Can you fancy him taking his tea alone in the dining-room? He empties that cream-jug and puts it in his pocket; and then he opens yonder door, through which he is never to pass again. Now he crosses the hall: and hark! the hall-door shuts upon him, and his steps die away. They are gone into the night. They traverse the sleeping city. They lead him into the fields, where the gray morning is beginning to glimmer. He pours something from a bottle into a little silver jug. It touches his lips, the lying lips. Do they quiver a prayer ere that awful draught is swallowed? When the sun rises they are dumb.