A House to Let
Charles Dickens and Others
Part 1 out of 2
This etext was scanned by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1903 Chapman and Hall edition. Proofing was by David, Edgar
Howard, Dawn Smith, Terry Jeffress and Jane Foster.
"House to Let". All, however, is not as it seems and she is drawn into
the mystery which surrounds the house. Originally published in 1858 in
the Christmas edition of "House Worlds Magazine", Dickens and his fellow
contributors wrote a chapter each and Dickens edited the whole.
We have already released Dicken's chapter which was "Going into Society".
However, its good to have the whole book too so that people know how the
story starts and ends.
A HOUSE TO LET
Over the Way
The Manchester Marriage
Going into Society
Three Evenings in the House
Let at Last
OVER THE WAY
I had been living at Tunbridge Wells and nowhere else, going on for
ten years, when my medical man--very clever in his profession, and
the prettiest player I ever saw in my life of a hand at Long Whist,
which was a noble and a princely game before Short was heard of--
said to me, one day, as he sat feeling my pulse on the actual sofa
which my poor dear sister Jane worked before her spine came on, and
laid her on a board for fifteen months at a stretch--the most
upright woman that ever lived--said to me, "What we want, ma'am, is
"Good gracious, goodness gracious, Doctor Towers!" says I, quite
startled at the man, for he was so christened himself: "don't talk
as if you were alluding to people's names; but say what you mean."
"I mean, my dear ma'am, that we want a little change of air and
"Bless the man!" said I; "does he mean we or me!"
"I mean you, ma'am."
"Then Lard forgive you, Doctor Towers," I said; "why don't you get
into a habit of expressing yourself in a straightforward manner,
like a loyal subject of our gracious Queen Victoria, and a member of
the Church of England?"
Towers laughed, as he generally does when he has fidgetted me into
any of my impatient ways--one of my states, as I call them--and then
he began, -
"Tone, ma'am, Tone, is all you require!" He appealed to Trottle,
who just then came in with the coal-scuttle, looking, in his nice
black suit, like an amiable man putting on coals from motives of
Trottle (whom I always call my right hand) has been in my service
two-and-thirty years. He entered my service, far away from England.
He is the best of creatures, and the most respectable of men; but,
"What you want, ma'am," says Trottle, making up the fire in his
quiet and skilful way, "is Tone."
"Lard forgive you both!" says I, bursting out a-laughing; "I see you
are in a conspiracy against me, so I suppose you must do what you
like with me, and take me to London for a change."
For some weeks Towers had hinted at London, and consequently I was
prepared for him. When we had got to this point, we got on so
expeditiously, that Trottle was packed off to London next day but
one, to find some sort of place for me to lay my troublesome old
Trottle came back to me at the Wells after two days' absence, with
accounts of a charming place that could be taken for six months
certain, with liberty to renew on the same terms for another six,
and which really did afford every accommodation that I wanted.
"Could you really find no fault at all in the rooms, Trottle?" I
"Not a single one, ma'am. They are exactly suitable to you. There
is not a fault in them. There is but one fault outside of them."
"And what's that?"
"They are opposite a House to Let."
"O!" I said, considering of it. "But is that such a very great
"I think it my duty to mention it, ma'am. It is a dull object to
look at. Otherwise, I was so greatly pleased with the lodging that
I should have closed with the terms at once, as I had your authority
Trottle thinking so highly of the place, in my interest, I wished
not to disappoint him. Consequently I said:
"The empty House may let, perhaps."
"O, dear no, ma'am," said Trottle, shaking his head with decision;
"it won't let. It never does let, ma'am."
"Mercy me! Why not?"
"Nobody knows, ma'am. All I have to mention is, ma'am, that the
House won't let!"
"How long has this unfortunate House been to let, in the name of
Fortune?" said I.
"Ever so long," said Trottle. "Years."
"Is it in ruins?"
"It's a good deal out of repair, ma'am, but it's not in ruins."
The long and the short of this business was, that next day I had a
pair of post-horses put to my chariot--for, I never travel by
railway: not that I have anything to say against railways, except
that they came in when I was too old to take to them; and that they
made ducks and drakes of a few turnpike-bonds I had--and so I went
up myself, with Trottle in the rumble, to look at the inside of this
same lodging, and at the outside of this same House.
As I say, I went and saw for myself. The lodging was perfect.
That, I was sure it would be; because Trottle is the best judge of
comfort I know. The empty house was an eyesore; and that I was sure
it would be too, for the same reason. However, setting the one
thing against the other, the good against the bad, the lodging very
soon got the victory over the House. My lawyer, Mr. Squares, of
Crown Office Row; Temple, drew up an agreement; which his young man
jabbered over so dreadfully when he read it to me, that I didn't
understand one word of it except my own name; and hardly that, and I
signed it, and the other party signed it, and, in three weeks' time,
I moved my old bones, bag and baggage, up to London.
For the first month or so, I arranged to leave Trottle at the Wells.
I made this arrangement, not only because there was a good deal to
take care of in the way of my school-children and pensioners, and
also of a new stove in the hall to air the house in my absence,
which appeared to me calculated to blow up and burst; but, likewise
because I suspect Trottle (though the steadiest of men, and a
widower between sixty and seventy) to be what I call rather a
Philanderer. I mean, that when any friend comes down to see me and
brings a maid, Trottle is always remarkably ready to show that maid
the Wells of an evening; and that I have more than once noticed the
shadow of his arm, outside the room door nearly opposite my chair,
encircling that maid's waist on the landing, like a table-cloth
Therefore, I thought it just as well, before any London Philandering
took place, that I should have a little time to look round me, and
to see what girls were in and about the place. So, nobody stayed
with me in my new lodging at first after Trottle had established me
there safe and sound, but Peggy Flobbins, my maid; a most
affectionate and attached woman, who never was an object of
Philandering since I have known her, and is not likely to begin to
become so after nine-and-twenty years next March.
It was the fifth of November when I first breakfasted in my new
rooms. The Guys were going about in the brown fog, like magnified
monsters of insects in table-beer, and there was a Guy resting on
the door-steps of the House to Let. I put on my glasses, partly to
see how the boys were pleased with what I sent them out by Peggy,
and partly to make sure that she didn't approach too near the
ridiculous object, which of course was full of sky-rockets, and
might go off into bangs at any moment. In this way it happened that
the first time I ever looked at the House to Let, after I became its
opposite neighbour, I had my glasses on. And this might not have
happened once in fifty times, for my sight is uncommonly good for my
time of life; and I wear glasses as little as I can, for fear of
I knew already that it was a ten-roomed house, very dirty, and much
dilapidated; that the area-rails were rusty and peeling away, and
that two or three of them were wanting, or half-wanting; that there
were broken panes of glass in the windows, and blotches of mud on
other panes, which the boys had thrown at them; that there was quite
a collection of stones in the area, also proceeding from those Young
Mischiefs; that there were games chalked on the pavement before the
house, and likenesses of ghosts chalked on the street-door; that the
windows were all darkened by rotting old blinds, or shutters, or
both; that the bills "To Let," had curled up, as if the damp air of
the place had given them cramps; or had dropped down into corners,
as if they were no more. I had seen all this on my first visit, and
I had remarked to Trottle, that the lower part of the black board
about terms was split away; that the rest had become illegible, and
that the very stone of the door-steps was broken across.
Notwithstanding, I sat at my breakfast table on that Please to
Remember the fifth of November morning, staring at the House through
my glasses, as if I had never looked at it before.
All at once--in the first-floor window on my right--down in a low
corner, at a hole in a blind or a shutter--I found that I was
looking at a secret Eye. The reflection of my fire may have touched
it and made it shine; but, I saw it shine and vanish.
The eye might have seen me, or it might not have seen me, sitting
there in the glow of my fire--you can take which probability you
prefer, without offence--but something struck through my frame, as
if the sparkle of this eye had been electric, and had flashed
straight at me. It had such an effect upon me, that I could not
remain by myself, and I rang for Flobbins, and invented some little
jobs for her, to keep her in the room. After my breakfast was
cleared away, I sat in the same place with my glasses on, moving my
head, now so, and now so, trying whether, with the shining of my
fire and the flaws in the window-glass, I could reproduce any
sparkle seeming to be up there, that was like the sparkle of an eye.
But no; I could make nothing like it. I could make ripples and
crooked lines in the front of the House to Let, and I could even
twist one window up and loop it into another; but, I could make no
eye, nor anything like an eye. So I convinced myself that I really
had seen an eye.
Well, to be sure I could not get rid of the impression of this eye,
and it troubled me and troubled me, until it was almost a torment.
I don't think I was previously inclined to concern my head much
about the opposite House; but, after this eye, my head was full of
the house; and I thought of little else than the house, and I
watched the house, and I talked about the house, and I dreamed of
the house. In all this, I fully believe now, there was a good
Providence. But, you will judge for yourself about that, bye-and-
My landlord was a butler, who had married a cook, and set up
housekeeping. They had not kept house longer than a couple of
years, and they knew no more about the House to Let than I did.
Neither could I find out anything concerning it among the trades-
people or otherwise; further than what Trottle had told me at first.
It had been empty, some said six years, some said eight, some said
ten. It never did let, they all agreed, and it never would let.
I soon felt convinced that I should work myself into one of my
states about the House; and I soon did. I lived for a whole month
in a flurry, that was always getting worse. Towers's prescriptions,
which I had brought to London with me, were of no more use than
nothing. In the cold winter sunlight, in the thick winter fog, in
the black winter rain, in the white winter snow, the House was
equally on my mind. I have heard, as everybody else has, of a
spirit's haunting a house; but I have had my own personal experience
of a house's haunting a spirit; for that House haunted mine.
In all that month's time, I never saw anyone go into the House nor
come out of the House. I supposed that such a thing must take place
sometimes, in the dead of the night, or the glimmer of the morning;
but, I never saw it done. I got no relief from having my curtains
drawn when it came on dark, and shutting out the House. The Eye
then began to shine in my fire.
I am a single old woman. I should say at once, without being at all
afraid of the name, I am an old maid; only that I am older than the
phrase would express. The time was when I had my love-trouble, but,
it is long and long ago. He was killed at sea (Dear Heaven rest his
blessed head!) when I was twenty-five. I have all my life, since
ever I can remember, been deeply fond of children. I have always
felt such a love for them, that I have had my sorrowful and sinful
times when I have fancied something must have gone wrong in my life-
-something must have been turned aside from its original intention I
mean--or I should have been the proud and happy mother of many
children, and a fond old grandmother this day. I have soon known
better in the cheerfulness and contentment that God has blessed me
with and given me abundant reason for; and yet I have had to dry my
eyes even then, when I have thought of my dear, brave, hopeful,
handsome, bright-eyed Charley, and the trust meant to cheer me with.
Charley was my youngest brother, and he went to India. He married
there, and sent his gentle little wife home to me to be confined,
and she was to go back to him, and the baby was to be left with me,
and I was to bring it up. It never belonged to this life. It took
its silent place among the other incidents in my story that might
have been, but never were. I had hardly time to whisper to her
"Dead my own!" or she to answer, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust! O
lay it on my breast and comfort Charley!" when she had gone to seek
her baby at Our Saviour's feet. I went to Charley, and I told him
there was nothing left but me, poor me; and I lived with Charley,
out there, several years. He was a man of fifty, when he fell
asleep in my arms. His face had changed to be almost old and a
little stern; but, it softened, and softened when I laid it down
that I might cry and pray beside it; and, when I looked at it for
the last time, it was my dear, untroubled, handsome, youthful
Charley of long ago.
- I was going on to tell that the loneliness of the House to Let
brought back all these recollections, and that they had quite
pierced my heart one evening, when Flobbins, opening the door, and
looking very much as if she wanted to laugh but thought better of
"Mr. Jabez Jarber, ma'am!"
Upon which Mr. Jarber ambled in, in his usual absurd way, saying:
Which I am obliged to confess is my name. A pretty one and proper
one enough when it was given to me: but, a good many years out of
date now, and always sounding particularly high-flown and comical
from his lips. So I said, sharply:
"Though it is Sophonisba, Jarber, you are not obliged to mention it,
that _I_ see."
In reply to this observation, the ridiculous man put the tips of my
five right-hand fingers to his lips, and said again, with an
aggravating accent on the third syllable:
I don't burn lamps, because I can't abide the smell of oil, and wax
candles belonged to my day. I hope the convenient situation of one
of my tall old candlesticks on the table at my elbow will be my
excuse for saying, that if he did that again, I would chop his toes
with it. (I am sorry to add that when I told him so, I knew his toes
to be tender.) But, really, at my time of life and at Jarber's, it
is too much of a good thing. There is an orchestra still standing
in the open air at the Wells, before which, in the presence of a
throng of fine company, I have walked a minuet with Jarber. But,
there is a house still standing, in which I have worn a pinafore,
and had a tooth drawn by fastening a thread to the tooth and the
door-handle, and toddling away from the door. And how should I look
now, at my years, in a pinafore, or having a door for my dentist?
Besides, Jarber always was more or less an absurd man. He was
sweetly dressed, and beautifully perfumed, and many girls of my day
would have given their ears for him; though I am bound to add that
he never cared a fig for them, or their advances either, and that he
was very constant to me. For, he not only proposed to me before my
love-happiness ended in sorrow, but afterwards too: not once, nor
yet twice: nor will we say how many times. However many they were,
or however few they were, the last time he paid me that compliment
was immediately after he had presented me with a digestive dinner-
pill stuck on the point of a pin. And I said on that occasion,
laughing heartily, "Now, Jarber, if you don't know that two people
whose united ages would make about a hundred and fifty, have got to
be old, I do; and I beg to swallow this nonsense in the form of this
pill" (which I took on the spot), "and I request to, hear no more of
After that, he conducted himself pretty well. He was always a
little squeezed man, was Jarber, in little sprigged waistcoats; and
he had always little legs and a little smile, and a little voice,
and little round-about ways. As long as I can remember him he was
always going little errands for people, and carrying little gossip.
At this present time when he called me "Sophonisba!" he had a little
old-fashioned lodging in that new neighbourhood of mine. I had not
seen him for two or three years, but I had heard that he still went
out with a little perspective-glass and stood on door-steps in Saint
James's Street, to see the nobility go to Court; and went in his
little cloak and goloshes outside Willis's rooms to see them go to
Almack's; and caught the frightfullest colds, and got himself
trodden upon by coachmen and linkmen, until he went home to his
landlady a mass of bruises, and had to be nursed for a month.
Jarber took off his little fur-collared cloak, and sat down opposite
me, with his little cane and hat in his hand.
"Let us have no more Sophonisbaing, if YOU please, Jarber," I said.
"Call me Sarah. How do you do? I hope you are pretty well."
"Thank you. And you?" said Jarber.
"I am as well as an old woman can expect to be."
Jarber was beginning:
"Say, not old, Sophon- " but I looked at the candlestick, and he
left off; pretending not to have said anything.
"I am infirm, of course," I said, "and so are you. Let us both be
thankful it's no worse."
"Is it possible that you look worried?" said Jarber.
"It is very possible. I have no doubt it is the fact."
"And what has worried my Soph-, soft-hearted friend," said Jarber.
"Something not easy, I suppose, to comprehend. I am worried to
death by a House to Let, over the way."
Jarber went with his little tip-toe step to the window-curtains,
peeped out, and looked round at me.
"Yes," said I, in answer: "that house."
After peeping out again, Jarber came back to his chair with a tender
air, and asked: "How does it worry you, S-arah?"
"It is a mystery to me," said I. "Of course every house IS a
mystery, more or less; but, something that I don't care to mention"
(for truly the Eye was so slight a thing to mention that I was more
than half ashamed of it), "has made that House so mysterious to me,
and has so fixed it in my mind, that I have had no peace for a
month. I foresee that I shall have no peace, either, until Trottle
comes to me, next Monday."
I might have mentioned before, that there is a lone-standing
jealousy between Trottle and Jarber; and that there is never any
love lost between those two.
"TROTTLE," petulantly repeated Jarber, with a little flourish of his
cane; "how is TROTTLE to restore the lost peace of Sarah?"
"He will exert himself to find out something about the House. I
have fallen into that state about it, that I really must discover by
some means or other, good or bad, fair or foul, how and why it is
that that House remains To Let."
"And why Trottle? Why not," putting his little hat to his heart;
"why not, Jarber?
"To tell you the truth, I have never thought of Jarber in the
matter. And now I do think of Jarber, through your having the
kindness to suggest him--for which I am really and truly obliged to
you--I don't think he could do it."
"I think it would be too much for you, Jarber."
"There would be coming and going, and fetching and carrying, Jarber,
and you might catch cold."
"Sarah! What can be done by Trottle, can be done by me. I am on
terms of acquaintance with every person of responsibility in this
parish. I am intimate at the Circulating Library. I converse daily
with the Assessed Taxes. I lodge with the Water Rate. I know the
Medical Man. I lounge habitually at the House Agent's. I dine with
the Churchwardens. I move to the Guardians. Trottle! A person in
the sphere of a domestic, and totally unknown to society!"
"Don't be warm, Jarber. In mentioning Trottle, I have naturally
relied on my Right-Hand, who would take any trouble to gratify even
a whim of his old mistress's. But, if you can find out anything to
help to unravel the mystery of this House to Let, I shall be fully
as much obliged to you as if there was never a Trottle in the land."
Jarber rose and put on his little cloak. A couple of fierce brass
lions held it tight round his little throat; but a couple of the
mildest Hares might have done that, I am sure. "Sarah," he said, "I
go. Expect me on Monday evening, the Sixth, when perhaps you will
give me a cup of tea;--may I ask for no Green? Adieu!"
This was on a Thursday, the second of December. When I reflected
that Trottle would come back on Monday, too, I had My misgivings as
to the difficulty of keeping the two powers from open warfare, and
indeed I was more uneasy than I quite like to confess. However, the
empty House swallowed up that thought next morning, as it swallowed
up most other thoughts now, and the House quite preyed upon me all
that day, and all the Saturday.
It was a very wet Sunday: raining and blowing from morning to
night. When the bells rang for afternoon church, they seemed to
ring in the commotion of the puddles as well as in the wind, and
they sounded very loud and dismal indeed, and the street looked very
dismal indeed, and the House looked dismallest of all.
I was reading my prayers near the light, and my fire was growing in
the darkening window-glass, when, looking up, as I prayed for the
fatherless children and widows and all who were desolate and
oppressed,--I saw the Eye again. It passed in a moment, as it had
done before; but, this time, I was inwardly more convinced that I
had seen it.
Well to be sure, I HAD a night that night! Whenever I closed my own
eyes, it was to see eyes. Next morning, at an unreasonably, and I
should have said (but for that railroad) an impossibly early hour,
comes Trottle. As soon as he had told me all about the Wells, I
told him all about the House. He listened with as great interest
and attention as I could possibly wish, until I came to Jabez
Jarber, when he cooled in an instant, and became opinionated.
"Now, Trottle," I said, pretending not to notice, "when Mr. Jarber
comes back this evening, we must all lay our heads together."
"I should hardly think that would be wanted, ma'am; Mr. Jarber's
head is surely equal to anything."
Being determined not to notice, I said again, that we must all lay
our heads together.
"Whatever you order, ma'am, shall be obeyed. Still, it cannot be
doubted, I should think, that Mr. Jarber's head is equal, if not
superior, to any pressure that can be brought to bear upon it."
This was provoking; and his way, when he came in and out all through
the day, of pretending not to see the House to Let, was more
provoking still. However, being quite resolved not to notice, I
gave no sign whatever that I did notice. But, when evening came,
and he showed in Jarber, and, when Jarber wouldn't be helped off
with his cloak, and poked his cane into cane chair-backs and china
ornaments and his own eye, in trying to unclasp his brazen lions of
himself (which he couldn't do, after all), I could have shaken them
As it was, I only shook the tea-pot, and made the tea. Jarber had
brought from under his cloak, a roll of paper, with which he had
triumphantly pointed over the way, like the Ghost of Hamlet's Father
appearing to the late Mr. Kemble, and which he had laid on the
"A discovery?" said I, pointing to it, when he was seated, and had
got his tea-cup.--"Don't go, Trottle."
"The first of a series of discoveries," answered Jarber. "Account
of a former tenant, compiled from the Water Rate, and Medical Man."
"Don't go, Trottle," I repeated. For, I saw him making
imperceptibly to the door.
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, I might be in Mr. Jarber's way?"
Jarber looked that he decidedly thought he might be. I relieved
myself with a good angry croak, and said--always determined not to
"Have the goodness to sit down, if you please, Trottle. I wish you
to hear this."
Trottle bowed in the stiffest manner, and took the remotest chair he
could find. Even that, he moved close to the draught from the
keyhole of the door.
"Firstly," Jarber began, after sipping his tea, "would my Sophon- "
"Begin again, Jarber," said I.
"Would you be much surprised, if this House to Let should turn out
to be the property of a relation of your own?"
"I should indeed be very much surprised."
"Then it belongs to your first cousin (I learn, by the way, that he
is ill at this time) George Forley."
"Then that is a bad beginning. I cannot deny that George Forley
stands in the relation of first cousin to me; but I hold no
communication with him. George Forley has been a hard, bitter,
stony father to a child now dead. George Forley was most implacable
and unrelenting to one of his two daughters who made a poor
marriage. George Forley brought all the weight of his band to bear
as heavily against that crushed thing, as he brought it to bear
lightly, favouringly, and advantageously upon her sister, who made a
rich marriage. I hope that, with the measure George Forley meted,
it may not be measured out to him again. I will give George Forley
no worse wish."
I was strong upon the subject, and I could not keep the tears out of
my eyes; for, that young girl's was a cruel story, and I had dropped
many a tear over it before.
"The house being George Forley's," said I, "is almost enough to
account for there being a Fate upon it, if Fate there is. Is there
anything about George Forley in those sheets of paper?"
"Not a word."
"I am glad to hear it. Please to read on. Trottle, why don't you
come nearer? Why do you sit mortifying yourself in those arctic
regions? Come nearer."
"Thank you, ma'am; I am quite near enough to Mr. Jarber."
Jarber rounded his chair, to get his back full to my opinionated
friend and servant, and, beginning to read, tossed the words at him
over his (Jabez Jarber's) own ear and shoulder.
He read what follows:
THE MANCHESTER MARRIAGE
Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw came from Manchester to London and took the
House To Let. He had been, what is called in Lancashire, a Salesman
for a large manufacturing firm, who were extending their business,
and opening a warehouse in London; where Mr. Openshaw was now to
superintend the business. He rather enjoyed the change of
residence; having a kind of curiosity about London, which he had
never yet been able to gratify in his brief visits to the
metropolis. At the same time he had an odd, shrewd, contempt for
the inhabitants; whom he had always pictured to himself as fine,
lazy people; caring nothing but for fashion and aristocracy, and
lounging away their days in Bond Street, and such places; ruining
good English, and ready in their turn to despise him as a
provincial. The hours that the men of business kept in the city
scandalised him too; accustomed as he was to the early dinners of
Manchester folk, and the consequently far longer evenings. Still,
he was pleased to go to London; though he would not for the world
have confessed it, even to himself, and always spoke of the step to
his friends as one demanded of him by the interests of his
employers, and sweetened to him by a considerable increase of
salary. His salary indeed was so liberal that he might have been
justified in taking a much larger House than this one, had he not
thought himself bound to set an example to Londoners of how little a
Manchester man of business cared for show. Inside, however, he
furnished the House with an unusual degree of comfort, and, in the
winter time, he insisted on keeping up as large fires as the grates
would allow, in every room where the temperature was in the least
chilly. Moreover, his northern sense of hospitality was such, that,
if he were at home, he could hardly suffer a visitor to leave the
house without forcing meat and drink upon him. Every servant in the
house was well warmed, well fed, and kindly treated; for their
master scorned all petty saving in aught that conduced to comfort;
while he amused himself by following out all his accustomed habits
and individual ways in defiance of what any of his new neighbours
His wife was a pretty, gentle woman, of suitable age and character.
He was forty-two, she thirty-five. He was loud and decided; she
soft and yielding. They had two children or rather, I should say,
she had two; for the elder, a girl of eleven, was Mrs. Openshaw's
child by Frank Wilson her first husband. The younger was a little
boy, Edwin, who could just prattle, and to whom his father delighted
to speak in the broadest and most unintelligible Lancashire dialect,
in order to keep up what he called the true Saxon accent.
Mrs. Openshaw's Christian-name was Alice, and her first husband had
been her own cousin. She was the orphan niece of a sea-captain in
Liverpool: a quiet, grave little creature, of great personal
attraction when she was fifteen or sixteen, with regular features
and a blooming complexion. But she was very shy, and believed
herself to be very stupid and awkward; and was frequently scolded by
her aunt, her own uncle's second wife. So when her cousin, Frank
Wilson, came home from a long absence at sea, and first was kind and
protective to her; secondly, attentive and thirdly, desperately in
love with her, she hardly knew how to be grateful enough to him. It
is true she would have preferred his remaining in the first or
second stages of behaviour; for his violent love puzzled and
frightened her. Her uncle neither helped nor hindered the love
affair though it was going on under his own eyes. Frank's step-
mother had such a variable temper, that there was no knowing whether
what she liked one day she would like the next, or not. At length
she went to such extremes of crossness, that Alice was only too glad
to shut her eyes and rush blindly at the chance of escape from
domestic tyranny offered her by a marriage with her cousin; and,
liking him better than any one in the world except her uncle (who
was at this time at sea) she went off one morning and was married to
him; her only bridesmaid being the housemaid at her aunt's. The
consequence was, that Frank and his wife went into lodgings, and
Mrs. Wilson refused to see them, and turned away Norah, the warm-
hearted housemaid; whom they accordingly took into their service.
When Captain Wilson returned from his voyage, he was very cordial
with the young couple, and spent many an evening at their lodgings;
smoking his pipe, and sipping his grog; but he told them that, for
quietness' sake, he could not ask them to his own house; for his
wife was bitter against them. They were not very unhappy about
The seed of future unhappiness lay rather in Frank's vehement,
passionate disposition; which led him to resent his wife's shyness
and want of demonstration as failures in conjugal duty. He was
already tormenting himself, and her too, in a slighter degree, by
apprehensions and imaginations of what might befall her during his
approaching absence at sea. At last he went to his father and urged
him to insist upon Alice's being once more received under his roof;
the more especially as there was now a prospect of her confinement
while her husband was away on his voyage. Captain Wilson was, as he
himself expressed it, "breaking up," and unwilling to undergo the
excitement of a scene; yet he felt that what his son said was true.
So he went to his wife. And before Frank went to sea, he had the
comfort of seeing his wife installed in her old little garret in his
father's house. To have placed her in the one best spare room was a
step beyond Mrs. Wilson's powers of submission or generosity. The
worst part about it, however, was that the faithful Norah had to be
dismissed. Her place as housemaid had been filled up; and, even had
it not, she had forfeited Mrs. Wilson's good opinion for ever. She
comforted her young master and mistress by pleasant prophecies of
the time when they would have a household of their own; of which, in
whatever service she might be in the meantime, she should be sure to
form part. Almost the last action Frank Wilson did, before setting
sail, was going with Alice to see Norah once more at her mother's
house. And then he went away.
Alice's father-in-law grew more and more feeble as winter advanced.
She was of great use to her step-mother in nursing and amusing him;
and, although there was anxiety enough in the household, there was
perhaps more of peace than there had been for years; for Mrs. Wilson
had not a bad heart, and was softened by the visible approach of
death to one whom she loved, and touched by the lonely condition of
the young creature, expecting her first confinement in her husband's
absence. To this relenting mood Norah owed the permission to come
and nurse Alice when her baby was born, and to remain to attend on
Before one letter had been received from Frank (who had sailed for
the East Indies and China), his father died. Alice was always glad
to remember that he had held her baby in his arms, and kissed and
blessed it before his death. After that, and the consequent
examination into the state of his affairs, it was found that he had
left far less property than people had been led by his style of
living to imagine; and, what money there was, was all settled upon
his wife, and at her disposal after her death. This did not signify
much to Alice, as Frank was now first mate of his ship, and, in
another voyage or two, would be captain. Meanwhile he had left her
some hundreds (all his savings) in the bank.
It became time for Alice to hear from her husband. One letter from
the Cape she had already received. The next was to announce his
arrival in India. As week after week passed over, and no
intelligence of the ship's arrival reached the office of the owners,
and the Captain's wife was in the same state of ignorant suspense as
Alice herself, her fears grew most oppressive. At length the day
came when, in reply to her inquiry at the Shipping Office, they told
her that the owners had given up Hope of ever hearing more of the
Betsy-Jane, and had sent in their claim upon the underwriters. Now
that he was gone for ever, she first felt a yearning, longing love
for the kind cousin, the dear friend, the sympathising protector,
whom she should never see again,--first felt a passionate desire to
show him his child, whom she had hitherto rather craved to have all
to herself--her own sole possession. Her grief was, however,
noiseless, and quiet--rather to the scandal of Mrs. Wilson; who
bewailed her step-son as if he and she had always lived together in
perfect harmony, and who evidently thought it her duty to burst into
fresh tears at every strange face she saw; dwelling on his poor
young widow's desolate state, and the helplessness of the fatherless
child, with an unction, as if she liked the excitement of the
So passed away the first days of Alice's widowhood. Bye-and-bye
things subsided into their natural and tranquil course. But, as if
this young creature was always to be in some heavy trouble, her ewe-
lamb began to be ailing, pining and sickly. The child's mysterious
illness turned out to be some affection of the spine likely to
affect health; but not to shorten life--at least so the doctors
said. But the long dreary suffering of one whom a mother loves as
Alice loved her only child, is hard to look forward to. Only Norah
guessed what Alice suffered; no one but God knew.
And so it fell out, that when Mrs. Wilson, the elder, came to her
one day in violent distress, occasioned by a very material
diminution in the value the property that her husband had left her,-
-a diminution which made her income barely enough to support
herself, much less Alice--the latter could hardly understand how
anything which did not touch health or life could cause such grief;
and she received the intelligence with irritating composure. But
when, that afternoon, the little sick child was brought in, and the
grandmother--who after all loved it well--began a fresh moan over
her losses to its unconscious ears--saying how she had planned to
consult this or that doctor, and to give it this or that comfort or
luxury in after yearn but that now all chance of this had passed
away--Alice's heart was touched, and she drew near to Mrs. Wilson
with unwonted caresses, and, in a spirit not unlike to that of,
Ruth, entreated, that come what would, they might remain together.
After much discussion in succeeding days, it was arranged that Mrs.
Wilson should take a house in Manchester, furnishing it partly with
what furniture she had, and providing the rest with Alice's
remaining two hundred pounds. Mrs. Wilson was herself a Manchester
woman, and naturally longed to return to her native town. Some
connections of her own at that time required lodgings, for which
they were willing to pay pretty handsomely. Alice undertook the
active superintendence and superior work of the household. Norah,
willing faithful Norah, offered to cook, scour, do anything in
short, so that, she might but remain with them.
The plan succeeded. For some years their first lodgers remained
with them, and all went smoothly,--with the one sad exception of the
little girl's increasing deformity. How that mother loved that
child, is not for words to tell!
Then came a break of misfortune. Their lodgers left, and no one
succeeded to them. After some months they had to remove to a
smaller house; and Alice's tender conscience was torn by the idea
that she ought not to be a burden to her mother-in-law, but ought to
go out and seek her own maintenance. And leave her child! The
thought came like the sweeping boom of a funeral bell over her
Bye-and-bye, Mr. Openshaw came to lodge with them. He had started
in life as the errand-boy and sweeper-out of a warehouse; had
struggled up through all the grades of employment in the place,
fighting his way through the hard striving Manchester life with
strong pushing energy of character. Every spare moment of time had
been sternly given up to self-teaching. He was a capital
accountant, a good French and German scholar, a keen, far-seeing
tradesman; understanding markets, and the bearing of events, both
near and distant, on trade: and yet, with such vivid attention to
present details, that I do not think he ever saw a group of flowers
in the fields without thinking whether their colours would, or would
not, form harmonious contrasts in the coming spring muslins and
prints. He went to debating societies, and threw himself with all
his heart and soul into politics; esteeming, it must be owned, every
man a fool or a knave who differed from him, and overthrowing his
opponents rather by the loud strength of his language than the calm
strength if his logic. There was something of the Yankee in all
this. Indeed his theory ran parallel to the famous Yankee motto--
"England flogs creation, and Manchester flogs England." Such a man,
as may be fancied, had had no time for falling in love, or any such
nonsense. At the age when most young men go through their courting
and matrimony, he had not the means of keeping a wife, and was far
too practical to think of having one. And now that he was in easy
circumstances, a rising man, he considered women almost as
incumbrances to the world, with whom a man had better have as little
to do as possible. His first impression of Alice was indistinct,
and he did not care enough about her to make it distinct. "A pretty
yea-nay kind of woman," would have been his description of her, if
he had been pushed into a corner. He was rather afraid, in the
beginning, that her quiet ways arose from a listlessness and
laziness of character which would have been exceedingly discordant
to his active energetic nature. But, when he found out the
punctuality with which his wishes were attended to, and her work was
done; when he was called in the morning at the very stroke of the
clock, his shaving-water scalding hot, his fire bright, his coffee
made exactly as his peculiar fancy dictated, (for he was a man who
had his theory about everything, based upon what he knew of science,
and often perfectly original)--then he began to think: not that
Alice had any peculiar merit; but that he had got into remarkably
good lodgings: his restlessness wore away, and he began to consider
himself as almost settled for life in them.
Mr. Openshaw had been too busy, all his life, to be introspective.
He did not know that he had any tenderness in his nature; and if he
had become conscious of its abstract existence, he would have
considered it as a manifestation of disease in some part of his
nature. But he was decoyed into pity unawares; and pity led on to
tenderness. That little helpless child--always carried about by one
of the three busy women of the house, or else patiently threading
coloured beads in the chair from which, by no effort of its own,
could it ever move; the great grave blue eyes, full of serious, not
uncheerful, expression, giving to the small delicate face a look
beyond its years; the soft plaintive voice dropping out but few
words, so unlike the continual prattle of a child--caught Mr.
Openshaw's attention in spite of himself. One day--he half scorned
himself for doing so--he cut short his dinner-hour to go in search
of some toy which should take the place of those eternal beads. I
forget what he bought; but, when he gave the present (which he took
care to do in a short abrupt manner, and when no one was by to see
him) he was almost thrilled by the flash of delight that came over
that child's face, and could not help all through that afternoon
going over and over again the picture left on his memory, by the
bright effect of unexpected joy on the little girl's face. When he
returned home, he found his slippers placed by his sitting-room
fire; and even more careful attention paid to his fancies than was
habitual in those model lodgings. When Alice had taken the last of
his tea-things away--she had been silent as usual till then--she
stood for an instant with the door in her hand. Mr. Openshaw looked
as if he were deep in his book, though in fact he did not see a
line; but was heartily wishing the woman would be gone, and not make
any palaver of gratitude. But she only said:
"I am very much obliged to you, sir. Thank you very much," and was
gone, even before he could send her away with a "There, my good
woman, that's enough!"
For some time longer he took no apparent notice of the child. He
even hardened his heart into disregarding her sudden flush of
colour, and little timid smile of recognition, when he saw her by
chance. But, after all, this could not last for ever; and, having a
second time given way to tenderness, there was no relapse. The
insidious enemy having thus entered his heart, in the guise of
compassion to the child, soon assumed the more dangerous form of
interest in the mother. He was aware of this change of feeling,
despised himself for it, struggled with it nay, internally yielded
to it and cherished it, long before he suffered the slightest
expression of it, by word, action, or look, to escape him. He
watched Alice's docile obedient ways to her stepmother; the love
which she had inspired in the rough Norah (roughened by the wear and
tear of sorrow and years); but above all, he saw the wild, deep,
passionate affection existing between her and her child. They spoke
little to any one else, or when any one else was by; but, when alone
together, they talked, and murmured, and cooed, and chattered so
continually, that Mr. Openshaw first wondered what they could find
to say to each other, and next became irritated because they were
always so grave and silent with him. All this time, he was
perpetually devising small new pleasures for the child. His
thoughts ran, in a pertinacious way, upon the desolate life before
her; and often he came back from his day's work loaded with the very
thing Alice had been longing for, but had not been able to procure.
One time it was a little chair for drawing the little sufferer along
the streets, and many an evening that ensuing summer Mr. Openshaw
drew her along himself, regardless of the remarks of his
acquaintances. One day in autumn he put down his newspaper, as
Alice came in with the breakfast, and said, in as indifferent a
voice as he could assume:
"Mrs. Frank, is there any reason why we two should not put up our
Alice stood still in perplexed wonder. What did he mean? He had
resumed the reading of his newspaper, as if he did not expect any
answer; so she found silence her safest course, and went on quietly
arranging his breakfast without another word passing between them.
Just as he was leaving the house, to go to the warehouse as usual,
he turned back and put his head into the bright, neat, tidy kitchen,
where all the women breakfasted in the morning:
"You'll think of what I said, Mrs. Frank" (this was her name with
the lodgers), "and let me have your opinion upon it to-night."
Alice was thankful that her mother and Norah were too busy talking
together to attend much to this speech. She determined not to think
about it at all through the day; and, of course, the effort not to
think made her think all the more. At night she sent up Norah with
his tea. But Mr. Openshaw almost knocked Norah down as she was
going out at the door, by pushing past her and calling out "Mrs.
Frank!" in an impatient voice, at the top of the stairs.
Alice went up, rather than seem to have affixed too much meaning to
"Well, Mrs. Frank," he said, "what answer? Don't make it too long;
for I have lots of office-work to get through to-night."
"I hardly know what you meant, sir," said truthful Alice.
"Well! I should have thought you might have guessed. You're not
new at this sort of work, and I am. However, I'll make it plain
this time. Will you have me to be thy wedded husband, and serve me,
and love me, and honour me, and all that sort of thing? Because if
you will, I will do as much by you, and be a father to your child--
and that's more than is put in the prayer-book. Now, I'm a man of
my word; and what I say, I feel; and what I promise, I'll do. Now,
for your answer!"
Alice was silent. He began to make the tea, as if her reply was a
matter of perfect indifference to him; but, as soon as that was
done, he became impatient.
"Well?" said he.
"How long, sir, may I have to think over it?"
"Three minutes!" (looking at his watch). "You've had two already--
that makes five. Be a sensible woman, say Yes, and sit down to tea
with me, and we'll talk it over together; for, after tea, I shall be
busy; say No" (he hesitated a moment to try and keep his voice in
the same tone), "and I shan't say another word about it, but pay up
a year's rent for my rooms to-morrow, and be off. Time's up! Yes
"If you please, sir,--you have been so good to little Ailsie--"
"There, sit down comfortably by me on the sofa, and let us have our
tea together. I am glad to find you are as good and sensible as I
And this was Alice Wilson's second wooing.
Mr. Openshaw's will was too strong, and his circumstances too good,
for him not to carry all before him. He settled Mrs. Wilson in a
comfortable house of her own, and made her quite independent of
lodgers. The little that Alice said with regard to future plans was
in Norah's behalf.
"No," said Mr. Openshaw. "Norah shall take care of the old lady as
long as she lives; and, after that, she shall either come and live
with us, or, if she likes it better, she shall have a provision for
life--for your sake, missus. No one who has been good to you or the
child shall go unrewarded. But even the little one will be better
for some fresh stuff about her. Get her a bright, sensible girl as
a nurse: one who won't go rubbing her with calf's-foot jelly as
Norah does; wasting good stuff outside that ought to go in, but will
follow doctors' directions; which, as you must see pretty clearly by
this time, Norah won't; because they give the poor little wench
pain. Now, I'm not above being nesh for other folks myself. I can
stand a good blow, and never change colour; but, set me in the
operating-room in the infirmary, and I turn as sick as a girl. Yet,
if need were, I would hold the little wench on my knees while she
screeched with pain, if it were to do her poor back good. Nay, nay,
wench! keep your white looks for the time when it comes--I don't say
it ever will. But this I know, Norah will spare the child and cheat
the doctor if she can. Now, I say, give the bairn a year or two's
chance, and then, when the pack of doctors have done their best--
and, maybe, the old lady has gone--we'll have Norah back, or do
better for her."
The pack of doctors could do no good to little Ailsie. She was
beyond their power. But her father (for so he insisted on being
called, and also on Alice's no longer retaining the appellation of
Mama, but becoming henceforward Mother), by his healthy cheerfulness
of manner, his clear decision of purpose, his odd turns and quirks
of humour, added to his real strong love for the helpless little
girl, infused a new element of brightness and confidence into her
life; and, though her back remained the same, her general health was
strengthened, and Alice--never going beyond a smile herself--had the
pleasure of seeing her child taught to laugh.
As for Alice's own life, it was happier than it had ever been. Mr.
Openshaw required no demonstration, no expressions of affection from
her. Indeed, these would rather have disgusted him. Alice could
love deeply, but could not talk about it. The perpetual requirement
of loving words, looks, and caresses, and misconstruing their
absence into absence of love, had been the great trial of her former
married life. Now, all went on clear and straight, under the
guidance of her husband's strong sense, warm heart, and powerful
will. Year by year their worldly prosperity increased. At Mrs.
Wilson's death, Norah came back to them, as nurse to the newly-born
little Edwin; into which post she was not installed without a pretty
strong oration on the part of the proud and happy father; who
declared that if he found out that Norah ever tried to screen the
boy by a falsehood, or to make him nesh either in body or mind, she
should go that very day. Norah and Mr. Openshaw were not on the
most thoroughly cordial terms; neither of them fully recognising or
appreciating the other's best qualities.
This was the previous history of the Lancashire family who had now
removed to London, and had come to occupy the House.
They had been there about a year, when Mr. Openshaw suddenly
informed his wife that he had determined to heal long-standing
feuds, and had asked his uncle and aunt Chadwick to come and pay
them a visit and see London. Mrs. Openshaw had never seen this
uncle and aunt of her husband's. Years before she had married him,
there had been a quarrel. All she knew was, that Mr. Chadwick was a
small manufacturer in a country town in South Lancashire. She was
extremely pleased that the breach was to be healed, and began making
preparations to render their visit pleasant.
They arrived at last. Going to see London was such an event to
them, that Mrs. Chadwick had made all new linen fresh for the
occasion-from night-caps downwards; and, as for gowns, ribbons, and
collars, she might have been going into the wilds of Canada where
never a shop is, so large was her stock. A fortnight before the day
of her departure for London, she had formally called to take leave
of all her acquaintance; saying she should need all the intermediate
time for packing up. It was like a second wedding in her
imagination; and, to complete the resemblance which an entirely new
wardrobe made between the two events, her husband brought her back
from Manchester, on the last market-day before they set off, a
gorgeous pearl and amethyst brooch, saying, "Lunnon should see that
Lancashire folks knew a handsome thing when they saw it."
For some time after Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick arrived at the Openshaws',
there was no opportunity for wearing this brooch; but at length they
obtained an order to see Buckingham Palace, and the spirit of
loyalty demanded that Mrs. Chadwick should wear her best clothes in
visiting the abode of her sovereign. On her return, she hastily
changed her dress; for Mr. Openshaw had planned that they should go
to Richmond, drink tea and return by moonlight. Accordingly, about
five o'clock, Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw and Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick set
The housemaid and cook sate below, Norah hardly knew where. She was
always engrossed in the nursery, in tending her two children, and in
sitting by the restless, excitable Ailsie till she fell asleep.
Bye-and-bye, the housemaid Bessy tapped gently at the door. Norah
went to her, and they spoke in whispers.
"Nurse! there's some one down-stairs wants you."
"Wants me! Who is it?"
"A gentleman? Nonsense!"
"Well! a man, then, and he asks for you, and he rung at the front
door bell, and has walked into the dining-room."
"You should never have let him," exclaimed Norah, "master and missus
"I did not want him to come in; but when he heard you lived here, he
walked past me, and sat down on the first chair, and said, 'Tell her
to come and speak to me.' There is no gas lighted in the room, and
supper is all set out."
"He'll be off with the spoons!" exclaimed Norah, putting the
housemaid's fear into words, and preparing to leave the room, first,
however, giving a look to Ailsie, sleeping soundly and calmly.
Down-stairs she went, uneasy fears stirring in her bosom. Before
she entered the dining-room she provided herself with a candle, and,
with it in her hand, she went in, looking round her in the darkness
for her visitor.
He was standing up, holding by the table. Norah and he looked at
each other; gradual recognition coming into their eyes.
"Norah?" at length he asked.
"Who are you?" asked Norah, with the sharp tones of alarm and
incredulity. "I don't know you:" trying, by futile words of
disbelief, to do away with the terrible fact before her.
"Am I so changed?" he said, pathetically. "I daresay I am. But,
Norah, tell me!" he breathed hard, "where is my wife? Is she--is
He came nearer to Norah, and would have taken her hand; but she
backed away from him; looking at him all the time with staring eyes,
as if he were some horrible object. Yet he was a handsome, bronzed,
good-looking fellow, with beard and moustache, giving him a foreign-
looking aspect; but his eyes! there was no mistaking those eager,
beautiful eyes--the very same that Norah had watched not half-an-
hour ago, till sleep stole softly over them.
"Tell me, Norah--I can bear it--I have feared it so often. Is she
dead ?" Norah still kept silence. "She is dead!" He hung on
Norah's words and looks, as if for confirmation or contradiction.
"What shall I do?" groaned Norah. "O, sir! why did you come? how
did you find me out? where have you been? We thought you dead, we
did, indeed!" She poured out words and questions to gain time, as
if time would help her.
"Norah! answer me this question, straight, by yes or no--Is my wife
"No, she is not!" said Norah, slowly and heavily.
"O what a relief! Did she receive my letters? But perhaps you
don't know. Why did you leave her? Where is she? O Norah, tell me
"Mr. Frank!" said Norah at last, almost driven to bay by her terror
lest her mistress should return at any moment, and find him there--
unable to consider what was best to be done or said-rushing at
something decisive, because she could not endure her present state:
"Mr. Frank! we never heard a line from you, and the shipowners said
you had gone down, you and every one else. We thought you were
dead, if ever man was, and poor Miss Alice and her little sick,
helpless child! O, sir, you must guess it," cried the poor creature
at last, bursting out into a passionate fit of crying, "for indeed I
cannot tell it. But it was no one's fault. God help us all this
Norah had sate down. She trembled too much to stand. He took her
hands in his. He squeezed them hard, as if by physical pressure,
the truth could be wrung out.
"Norah!" This time his tone was calm, stagnant as despair. "She
has married again!"
Norah shook her head sadly. The grasp slowly relaxed. The man had
There was brandy in the room. Norah forced some drops into Mr.
Frank's mouth, chafed his hands, and--when mere animal life
returned, before the mind poured in its flood of memories and
thoughts--she lifted him up, and rested his head against her knees.
Then she put a few crumbs of bread taken from the supper-table,
soaked in brandy into his mouth. Suddenly he sprang to his feet.
"Where is she? Tell me this instant." He looked so wild, so mad,
so desperate, that Norah felt herself to be in bodily danger; but
her time of dread had gone by. She had been afraid to tell him the
truth, and then she had been a coward. Now, her wits were sharpened
by the sense of his desperate state. He must leave the house. She
would pity him afterwards; but now she must rather command and
upbraid; for he must leave the house before her mistress came home.
That one necessity stood clear before her.
"She is not here; that is enough for you to know. Nor can I say
exactly where she is" (which was true to the letter if not to the
spirit). "Go away, and tell me where to find you to-morrow, and I
will tell you all. My master and mistress may come back at any
minute, and then what would become of me with a strange man in the
Such an argument was too petty to touch his excited mind.
"I don't care for your master and mistress. If your master is a
man, he must feel for me poor shipwrecked sailor that I am--kept for
years a prisoner amongst savages, always, always, always thinking of
my wife and my home--dreaming of her by night, talking to her,
though she could not hear, by day. I loved her more than all heaven
and earth put together. Tell me where she is, this instant, you
wretched woman, who salved over her wickedness to her, as you do to
The clock struck ten. Desperate positions require desperate
"If you will leave the house now, I will come to you to-morrow and
tell you all. What is more, you shall see your child now. She lies
sleeping up-stairs. O, sir, you have a child, you do not know that
as yet--a little weakly girl--with just a heart and soul beyond her
years. We have reared her up with such care: We watched her, for
we thought for many a year she might die any day, and we tended her,
and no hard thing has come near her, and no rough word has ever been
said to her. And now you, come and will take her life into your
hand, and will crush it. Strangers to her have been kind to her;
but her own father--Mr. Frank, I am her nurse, and I love her, and I
tend her, and I would do anything for her that I could. Her
mother's heart beats as hers beats; and, if she suffers a pain, her
mother trembles all over. If she is happy, it is her mother that
smiles and is glad. If she is growing stronger, her mother is
healthy: if she dwindles, her mother languishes. If she dies--
well, I don't know: it is not every one can lie down and die when
they wish it. Come up-stairs, Mr. Frank, and see your child.
Seeing her will do good to your poor heart. Then go away, in God's
name, just this one night-to-morrow, if need be, you can do
anything--kill us all if you will, or show yourself--a great grand
man, whom God will bless for ever and ever. Come, Mr. Frank, the
look of a sleeping child is sure to give peace."
She led him up-stairs; at first almost helping his steps, till they
came near the nursery door. She had almost forgotten the existence
of little Edwin. It struck upon her with affright as the shaded
light fell upon the other cot; but she skilfully threw that corner
of the room into darkness, and let the light fall on the sleeping
Ailsie. The child had thrown down the coverings, and her deformity,
as she lay with her back to them, was plainly visible through her
slight night-gown. Her little face, deprived of the lustre of her
eyes, looked wan and pinched, and had a pathetic expression in it,
even as she slept. The poor father looked and looked with hungry,
wistful eyes, into which the big tears came swelling up slowly, and
dropped heavily down, as he stood trembling and shaking all over.
Norah was angry with herself for growing impatient of the length of
time that long lingering gaze lasted. She thought that she waited
for full half-an-hour before Frank stirred. And then--instead of
going away--he sank down on his knees by the bedside, and buried his
face in the clothes. Little Ailsie stirred uneasily. Norah pulled
him up in terror. She could afford no more time even for prayer in
her extremity of fear; for surely the next moment would bring her
mistress home. She took him forcibly by the arm; but, as he was
going, his eye lighted on the other bed: he stopped. Intelligence
came back into his face. His hands clenched.
"His child?" he asked.
"Her child," replied Norah. "God watches over him," said she
instinctively; for Frank's looks excited her fears, and she needed
to remind herself of the Protector of the helpless.
"God has not watched over me," he said, in despair; his thoughts
apparently recoiling on his own desolate, deserted state. But Norah
had no time for pity. To-morrow she would be as compassionate as
her heart prompted. At length she guided him downstairs and shut
the outer door and bolted it--as if by bolts to keep out facts.
Then she went back into the dining-room and effaced all traces of
his presence as far as she could. She went upstairs to the nursery
and sate there, her head on her hand, thinking what was to come of
all this misery. It seemed to her very long before they did return;
yet it was hardly eleven o'clock. She so heard the loud, hearty
Lancashire voices on the stairs; and, for the first time, she
understood the contrast of the desolation of the poor man who had so
lately gone forth in lonely despair.
It almost put her out of patience to see Mrs. Openshaw come in,
calmly smiling, handsomely dressed, happy, easy, to inquire after
"Did Ailsie go to sleep comfortably?" she whispered to Norah.
Her mother bent over her, looking at her slumbers with the soft eyes
of love. How little she dreamed who had looked on her last! Then
she went to Edwin, with perhaps less wistful anxiety in her
countenance, but more of pride. She took off her things, to go down
to supper. Norah saw her no more that night.
Beside the door into the passage, the sleeping-nursery opened out of
Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw's room, in order that they might have the
children more immediately under their own eyes. Early the next
summer morning Mrs. Openshaw was awakened by Ailsie's startled call
of "Mother! mother!" She sprang up, put on her dressing-gown, and
went to her child. Ailsie was only half awake, and in a not
uncommon state of terror.
"Who was he, mother? Tell me!"
"Who, my darling? No one is here. You have been dreaming love.
Waken up quite. See, it is broad daylight."
"Yes," said Ailsie, looking round her; then clinging to her mother,
said, "but a man was here in the night, mother."
"Nonsense, little goose. No man has ever come near you!"
"Yes, he did. He stood there. Just by Norah. A man with hair and
a beard. And he knelt down and said his prayers. Norah knows he
was here, mother" (half angrily, as Mrs. Openshaw shook her head in
"Well! we will ask Norah when she comes," said Mrs. Openshaw,
soothingly. "But we won't talk any more about him now. It is not
five o'clock; it is too early for you to get up. Shall I fetch you
a book and read to you?"
"Don't leave me, mother," said the child, clinging to her. So Mrs.
Openshaw sate on the bedside talking to Ailsie, and telling her of
what they had done at Richmond the evening before, until the little
girl's eyes slowly closed and she once more fell asleep.
"What was the matter?" asked Mr. Openshaw, as his wife returned to
bed. "Ailsie wakened up in a fright, with some story of a man
having been in the room to say his prayers,--a dream, I suppose."
And no more was said at the time.
Mrs. Openshaw had almost forgotten the whole affair when she got up
about seven o'clock. But, bye-and-bye, she heard a sharp
altercation going on in the nursery. Norah speaking angrily to
Ailsie, a most unusual thing. Both Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw listened
"Hold your tongue, Ailsie I let me hear none of your dreams; never
let me hear you tell that story again!" Ailsie began to cry.
Mr. Openshaw opened the door of communication before his wife could
say a word.
"Norah, come here!"
The nurse stood at the door, defiant. She perceived she had been
heard, but she was desperate.
"Don't let me hear you speak in that manner to Ailsie again," he
said sternly, and shut the door.
Norah was infinitely relieved; for she had dreaded some questioning;
and a little blame for sharp speaking was what she could well bear,
if cross-examination was let alone.
Down-stairs they went, Mr. Openshaw carrying Ailsie; the sturdy
Edwin coming step by step, right foot foremost, always holding his
mother's hand. Each child was placed in a chair by the breakfast-
table, and then Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw stood together at the window,
awaiting their visitors' appearance and making plans for the day.
There was a pause. Suddenly Mr. Openshaw turned to Ailsie, and
"What a little goosy somebody is with her dreams, waking up poor,
tired mother in the middle of the night with a story of a man being
in the room."
"Father! I'm sure I saw him," said Ailsie, half crying. "I don't
want to make Norah angry; but I was not asleep, for all she says I
was. I had been asleep,--and I awakened up quite wide awake though
I was so frightened. I kept my eyes nearly shut, and I saw the man
quite plain. A great brown man with a beard. He said his prayers.
And then he looked at Edwin. And then Norah took him by the arm and
led him away, after they had whispered a bit together."
"Now, my little woman must be reasonable," said Mr. Openshaw, who
was always patient with Ailsie. "There was no man in the house last
night at all. No man comes into the house as you know, if you
think; much less goes up into the nursery. But sometimes we dream
something has happened, and the dream is so like reality, that you
are not the first person, little woman, who has stood out that the
thing has really happened."
"But, indeed it was not a dream!" said Ailsie, beginning to cry.
Just then Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick came down, looking grave and
discomposed. All during breakfast time they were silent and
uncomfortable. As soon as the breakfast things were taken away, and
the children had been carried up-stairs, Mr. Chadwick began in an
evidently preconcerted manner to inquire if his nephew was certain
that all his servants were honest; for, that Mrs. Chadwick had that
morning missed a very valuable brooch, which she had worn the day
before. She remembered taking it off when she came home from
Buckingham Palace. Mr. Openshaw's face contracted into hard lines:
grew like what it was before he had known his wife and her child.
He rang the bell even before his uncle had done speaking. It was
answered by the housemaid.
"Mary, was any one here last night while we were away?"
"A man, sir, came to speak to Norah."
"To speak to Norah! Who was he? How long did he stay?"
"I'm sure I can't tell, sir. He came--perhaps about nine. I went
up to tell Norah in the nursery, and she came down to speak to him.
She let him out, sir. She will know who he was, and how long he
She waited a moment to be asked any more questions, but she was not,
so she went away.
A minute afterwards Openshaw made as though he were going out of the
room; but his wife laid her hand on his arm:
"Do not speak to her before the children," she said, in her low,
quiet voice. "I will go up and question her."
"No! I must speak to her. You must know," said he, turning to his
uncle and aunt, "my missus has an old servant, as faithful as ever
woman was, I do believe, as far as love goes,--but, at the same
time, who does not always speak truth, as even the missus must
allow. Now, my notion is, that this Norah of ours has been come
over by some good-for-nothin chap (for she's at the time o' life
when they say women pray for husbands--'any, good Lord, any,') and
has let him into our house, and the chap has made off with your
brooch, and m'appen many another thing beside. It's only saying
that Norah is soft-hearted, and does not stick at a white lie--
that's all, missus."
It was curious to notice how his tone, his eyes, his whole face
changed as he spoke to his wife; but he was the resolute man through
all. She knew better than to oppose him; so she went up-stairs, and
told Norah her master wanted to speak to her, and that she would
take care of the children in the meanwhile.
Norah rose to go without a word. Her thoughts were these:
"If they tear me to pieces they shall never know through me. He may
come,--and then just Lord have mercy upon us all: for some of us
are dead folk to a certainty. But he shall do it; not me."
You may fancy, now, her look of determination as she faced her
master alone in the dining-room; Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick having left
the affair in their nephew's hands, seeing that he took it up with
"Norah! Who was that man that came to my house last night?"
"Man, sir!" As if infinitely; surprised but it was only to gain
"Yes; the man whom Mary let in; whom she went up-stairs to the
nursery to tell you about; whom you came down to speak to; the same
chap, I make no doubt, whom you took into the nursery to have your
talk out with; whom Ailsie saw, and afterwards dreamed about;
thinking, poor wench! she saw him say his prayers, when nothing,
I'll be bound, was farther from his thoughts; who took Mrs.
Chadwick's brooch, value ten pounds. Now, Norah! Don't go off! I
am as sure as that my name's Thomas Openshaw, that you knew nothing
of this robbery. But I do think you've been imposed on, and that's
the truth. Some good-for-nothing chap has been making up to you,
and you've been just like all other women, and have turned a soft
place in your heart to him; and he came last night a-lovyering, and
you had him up in the nursery, and he made use of his opportunities,
and made off with a few things on his way down! Come, now, Norah:
it's no blame to you, only you must not be such a fool again. Tell
us," he continued, "what name he gave you, Norah? I'll be bound it
was not the right one; but it will be a clue for the police."
Norah drew herself up. "You may ask that question, and taunt me
with my being single, and with my credulity, as you will, Master
Openshaw. You'll get no answer from me. As for the brooch, and the
story of theft and burglary; if any friend ever came to see me
(which I defy you to prove, and deny), he'd be just as much above
doing such a thing as you yourself, Mr. Openshaw, and more so, too;
for I'm not at all sure as everything you have is rightly come by,
or would be yours long, if every man had his own." She meant, of
course, his wife; but he understood her to refer to his property in
goods and chattels.
"Now, my good woman," said he, "I'll just tell you truly, I never
trusted you out and out; but my wife liked you, and I thought you
had many a good point about you. If you once begin to sauce me,
I'll have the police to you, and get out the truth in a court of
justice, if you'll not tell it me quietly and civilly here. Now the
best thing you can do is quietly to tell me who the fellow is. Look
here! a man comes to my house; asks for you; you take him up-stairs,
a valuable brooch is missing next day; we know that you, and Mary,
and cook, are honest; but you refuse to tell us who the man is.
Indeed you've told one lie already about him, saying no one was here
last night. Now I just put it to you, what do you think a policeman
would say to this, or a magistrate? A magistrate would soon make
you tell the truth, my good woman."
"There's never the creature born that should get it out of me," said
Norah. "Not unless I choose to tell."
"I've a great mind to see," said Mr. Openshaw, growing angry at the
defiance. Then, checking himself, he thought before he spoke again:
"Norah, for your missus's sake I don't want to go to extremities.
Be a sensible woman, if you can. It's no great disgrace, after all,
to have been taken in. I ask you once more--as a friend--who was
this man whom you let into my house last night?"
No answer. He repeated the question in an impatient tone. Still no
answer. Norah's lips were set in determination not to speak.
"Then there is but one thing to be done. I shall send for a
"You will not," said Norah, starting forwards. "You shall not, sir!
No policeman shall touch me. I know nothing of the brooch, but I
know this: ever since I was four-and-twenty I have thought more of
your wife than of myself: ever since I saw her, a poor motherless
girl put upon in her uncle's house, I have thought more of serving
her than of serving myself! I have cared for her and her child, as
nobody ever cared for me. I don't cast blame on you, sir, but I say
it's ill giving up one's life to any one; for, at the end, they will
turn round upon you, and forsake you. Why does not my missus come
herself to suspect me? Maybe she is gone for the police? But I
don't stay here, either for police, or magistrate, or master.
You're an unlucky lot. I believe there's a curse on you. I'll
leave you this very day. Yes! I leave that poor Ailsie, too. I
will! No good will ever come to you!"
Mr. Openshaw was utterly astonished at this speech; most of which
was completely unintelligible to him, as may easily be supposed.
Before he could make up his mind what to say, or what to do, Norah
had left the room. I do not think he had ever really intended to
send for the police to this old servant of his wife's; for he had
never for a moment doubted her perfect honesty. But he had intended
to compel her to tell him who the man was, and in this he was
baffled. He was, consequently, much irritated. He returned to his
uncle and aunt in a state of great annoyance and perplexity, and
told them he could get nothing out of the woman; that some man had
been in the house the night before; but that she refused to tell who
he was. At this moment his wife came in, greatly agitated, and
asked what had happened to Norah; for that she had put on her things
in passionate haste, and had left the house.
"This looks suspicious," said Mr. Chadwick. "It is not the way in
which an honest person would have acted."
Mr. Openshaw kept silence. He was sorely perplexed. But Mrs.
Openshaw turned round on Mr. Chadwick with a sudden fierceness no
one ever saw in her before.
"You don't know Norah, uncle! She is gone because she is deeply
hurt at being suspected. O, I wish I had seen her--that I had
spoken to her myself. She would have told me anything." Alice
wrung her hands.
"I must confess," continued Mr. Chadwick to his nephew, in a lower
voice, "I can't make you out. You used to be a word and a blow, and
oftenest the blow first; and now, when there is every cause for
suspicion, you just do nought. Your missus is a very good woman, I
grant; but she may have been put upon as well as other folk, I
suppose. If you don't send for the police, I shall."
"Very well," replied Mr. Openshaw, surlily. "I can't clear Norah.
She won't clear herself, as I believe she might if she would. Only
I wash my hands of it; for I am sure the woman herself is honest,
and she's lived a long time with my wife, and I don't like her to
come to shame."
"But she will then be forced to clear herself. That, at any rate,
will be a good thing."
"Very well, very well! I am heart-sick of the whole business.
Come, Alice, come up to the babies they'll be in a sore way. I tell
you, uncle!" he said, turning round once more to Mr. Chadwick,
suddenly and sharply, after his eye had fallen on Alice's wan,
tearful, anxious face; "I'll have none sending for the police after
all. I'll buy my aunt twice as handsome a brooch this very day; but
I'll not have Norah suspected, and my missus plagued. There's for
He and his wife left the room. Mr. Chadwick quietly waited till he
was out of hearing, and then aid to his wife; "For all Tom's
heroics, I'm just quietly going for a detective, wench. Thou
need'st know nought about it."
He went to the police-station, and made a statement of the case. He
was gratified by the impression which the evidence against Norah
seemed to make. The men all agreed in his opinion, and steps were
to be immediately taken to find out where she was. Most probably,
as they suggested, she had gone at once to the man, who, to all
appearance, was her lover. When Mr. Chadwick asked how they would
find her out? they smiled, shook their heads, and spoke of
mysterious but infallible ways and means. He returned to his
nephew's house with a very comfortable opinion of his own sagacity.
He was met by his wife with a penitent face:
"O master, I've found my brooch! It was just sticking by its pin in
the flounce of my brown silk, that I wore yesterday. I took it off
in a hurry, and it must have caught in it; and I hung up my gown in
the closet. Just now, when I was going to fold it up, there was the
brooch! I'm very vexed, but I never dreamt but what it was lost!"
Her husband muttering something very like "Confound thee and thy
brooch too! I wish I'd never given it thee," snatched up his hat,
and rushed back to the station; hoping to be in time to stop the
police from searching for Norah. But a detective was already gone
off on the errand.
Where was Norah? Half mad with the strain of the fearful secret,
she had hardly slept through the night for thinking what must be
done. Upon this terrible state of mind had come Ailsie's questions,
showing that she had seen the Man, as the unconscious child called
her father. Lastly came the suspicion of her honesty. She was
little less than crazy as she ran up-stairs and dashed on her bonnet
and shawl; leaving all else, even her purse, behind her. In that
house she would not stay. That was all she knew or was clear about.
She would not even see the children again, for fear it should weaken
her. She feared above everything Mr. Frank's return to claim his
wife. She could not tell what remedy there was for a sorrow so
tremendous, for her to stay to witness. The desire of escaping from
the coming event was a stronger motive for her departure than her
soreness about the suspicions directed against her; although this
last had been the final goad to the course she took. She walked
away almost at headlong speed; sobbing as she went, as she had not
dared to do during the past night for fear of exciting wonder in
those who might hear her. Then she stopped. An idea came into her
mind that she would leave London altogether, and betake herself to
her native town of Liverpool. She felt in her pocket for her purse,
as she drew near the Euston Square station with this intention. She
had left it at home. Her poor head aching, her eyes swollen with
crying, she had to stand still, and think, as well as she could,
where next she should bend her steps. Suddenly the thought flashed
into her mind that she would go and find out poor Mr. Frank. She
had been hardly kind to him the night before, though her heart had
bled for him ever since. She remembered his telling her as she
inquired for his address, almost as she had pushed him out of the
door, of some hotel in a street not far distant from Euston Square.
Thither she went: with what intention she hardly knew, but to
assuage her conscience by telling him how much she pitied him. In
her present state she felt herself unfit to counsel, or restrain, or
assist, or do ought else but sympathise and weep. The people of the
inn said such a person had been there; had arrived only the day
before; had gone out soon after his arrival, leaving his luggage in
their care; but had never come back. Norah asked for leave to sit
down, and await the gentleman's return. The landlady--pretty secure
in the deposit of luggage against any probable injury--showed her
into a room, and quietly locked the door on the outside. Norah was
utterly worn out, and fell asleep--a shivering, starting, uneasy
slumber, which lasted for hours.
The detective, meanwhile, had come up with her some time before she
entered the hotel, into which he followed her. Asking the landlady
to detain her for an hour or so, without giving any reason beyond
showing his authority (which made the landlady applaud herself a
good deal for having locked her in), he went back to the police-
station to report his proceedings. He could have taken her
directly; but his object was, if possible, to trace out the man who
was supposed to have committed the robbery. Then he heard of the
discovery of the brooch; and consequently did not care to return.
Norah slept till even the summer evening began to close in. Then
up. Some one was at the door. It would be Mr. Frank; and she
dizzily pushed back her ruffled grey hair, which had fallen over her
eyes, and stood looking to see him. Instead, there came in Mr.
Openshaw and a policeman.
"This is Norah Kennedy," said Mr. Openshaw.
"O, sir," said Norah, "I did not touch the brooch; indeed I did not.
O, sir, I cannot live to be thought so badly of;" and very sick and
faint, she suddenly sank down on the ground. To her surprise, Mr.
Openshaw raised her up very tenderly. Even the policeman helped to
lay her on the sofa; and, at Mr. Openshaw's desire, he went for some
wine and sandwiches; for the poor gaunt woman lay there almost as if
dead with weariness and exhaustion.
"Norah!" said Mr. Openshaw, in his kindest voice, "the brooch is
found. It was hanging to Mrs. Chadwick's gown. I beg your pardon.
Most truly I beg your pardon, for having troubled you about it. My
wife is almost broken-hearted. Eat, Norah,--or, stay, first drink
this glass of wine," said he, lifting her head, pouring a little
down her throat.
As she drank, she remembered where she was, and who she was waiting
for. She suddenly pushed Mr. Openshaw away, saying, "O, sir, you
must go. You must not stop a minute. If he comes back he will kill
"Alas, Norah! I do not know who 'he' is. But some one is gone away
who will never come back: someone who knew you, and whom I am
afraid you cared for."
"I don't understand you, sir," said Norah, her master's kind and
sorrowful manner bewildering her yet more than his words. The
policeman had left the room at Mr. Openshaw's desire, and they two
"You know what I mean, when I say some one is gone who will never
come back. I mean that he is dead!"
"Who?" said Norah, trembling all over.
"A poor man has been found in the Thames this morning, drowned."
"Did he drown himself?" asked Norah, solemnly.
"God only knows," replied Mr. Openshaw, in the same tone. "Your
name and address at our house, were found in his pocket: that, and
his purse, were the only things, that were found upon him. I am
sorry to say it, my poor Norah; but you are required to go and
"To what?" asked Norah.
"To say who it is. It is always done, in order that some reason may
be discovered for the suicide--if suicide it was. I make no doubt
he was the man who came to see you at our house last night. It is
very sad, I know." He made pauses between each little clause, in
order to try and bring back her senses; which he feared were
wandering--so wild and sad was her look.
"Master Openshaw," said she, at last, "I've a dreadful secret to
tell you--only you must never breathe it to any one, and you and I
must hide it away for ever. I thought to have done it all by
myself, but I see I cannot. Yon poor man--yes! the dead, drowned
creature is, I fear, Mr. Frank, my mistress's first husband!"
Mr. Openshaw sate down, as if shot. He did not speak; but, after a
while, he signed to Norah to go on.
"He came to me the other night--when--God be thanked--you were all
away at Richmond. He asked me if his wife was dead or alive. I was
a brute, and thought more of our all coming home than of his sore
trial: spoke out sharp, and said she was married again, and very
content and happy: I all but turned him away: and now he lies dead
"God forgive me!" said Mr. Openshaw.
"God forgive us all!" said Norah. "Yon poor man needs forgiveness
perhaps less than any one among us. He had been among the savages--
shipwrecked--I know not what--and he had written letters which had
never reached my poor missus."
"He saw his child!"
"He saw her--yes! I took him up, to give his thoughts another
start; for I believed he was going mad on my hands. I came to seek
him here, as I more than half promised. My mind misgave me when I
heard he had never come in. O, sir I it must be him!"
Mr. Openshaw rang the bell. Norah was almost too much stunned to
wonder at what he did. He asked for writing materials, wrote a
letter, and then said to Norah:
"I am writing to Alice, to say I shall be unavoidably absent for a
few days; that I have found you; that you are well, and send her
your love, and will come home to-morrow. You must go with me to the
Police Court; you must identify the body: I will pay high to keep
name; and details out of the papers.
"But where are you going, sir?"
He did not answer her directly. Then he said:
"Norah! I must go with you, and look on the face of the man whom I
have so injured,--unwittingly, it is true; but it seems to me as if
I had killed him. I will lay his head in the grave, as if he were
my only brother: and how he must have hated me! I cannot go home
to my wife till all that I can do for him is done. Then I go with a
dreadful secret on my mind. I shall never speak of it again, after
these days are over. I know you will not, either." He shook hands
with her: and they never named the subject again, the one to the
Norah went home to Alice the next day. Not a word was said on the
cause of her abrupt departure a day or two before. Alice had been
charged by her husband in his letter not to allude to the supposed
theft of the brooch; so she, implicitly obedient to those whom she
loved both by nature and habit, was entirely silent on the subject,
only treated Norah with the most tender respect, as if to make up
for unjust suspicion.
Nor did Alice inquire into the reason why Mr. Openshaw had been
absent during his uncle and aunt's visit, after he had once said
that it was unavoidable. He came back, grave and quiet; and, from
that time forth, was curiously changed. More thoughtful, and
perhaps less active; quite as decided in conduct, but with new and
different rules for the guidance of that conduct. Towards Alice he
could hardly be more kind than he had always been; but he now seemed
to look upon her as some one sacred and to be treated with
reverence, as well as tenderness. He throve in business, and made a
large fortune, one half of which was settled upon her.
Long years after these events,--a few months after her mother died,
Ailsie and her "father" (as she always called Mr. Openshaw) drove to
a cemetery a little way out of town, and she was carried to a
certain mound by her maid, who was then sent back to the carriage.
There was a head-stone, with F. W. and a date. That was all.
Sitting by the grave, Mr. Openshaw told her the story; and for the
sad fate of that poor father whom she had never seen, he shed the
only tears she ever saw fall from his eyes.
* * *
"A most interesting story, all through," I said, as Jarber folded up
the first of his series of discoveries in triumph. "A story that
goes straight to the heart--especially at the end. But"--I stopped,
and looked at Trottle.
Trottle entered his protest directly in the shape of a cough.
"Well!" I said, beginning to lose my patience. "Don't you see that
I want you to speak, and that I don't want you to cough?"
"Quite so, ma'am," said Trottle, in a state of respectful obstinacy
which would have upset the temper of a saint. "Relative, I presume,
to this story, ma'am?"
"Yes, Yes!" said Jarber. "By all means let us hear what this good
man has to say."
"Well, sir," answered Trottle, "I want to know why the House over
the way doesn't let, and I don't exactly see how your story answers
the question. That's all I have to say, sir."
I should have liked to contradict my opinionated servant, at that
moment. But, excellent as the story was in itself, I felt that he
had hit on the weak point, so far as Jarber's particular purpose in
reading it was concerned.
"And that is what you have to say, is it?" repeated Jarber. "I
enter this room announcing that I have a series of discoveries, and
you jump instantly to the conclusion that the first of the series
exhausts my resources. Have I your permission, dear lady, to
enlighten this obtuse person, if possible, by reading Number Two?"
"My work is behindhand, ma'am," said Trottle, moving to the door,
the moment I gave Jarber leave to go on.
"Stop where you are," I said, in my most peremptory manner, "and
give Mr. Jarber his fair opportunity of answering your objection now
you have made it.
Trottle sat down with the look of a martyr, and Jarber began to read
with his back turned on the enemy more decidedly than ever.
GOING INTO SOCIETY
At one period of its reverses, the House fell into the occupation of
a Showman. He was found registered as its occupier, on the parish
books of the time when he rented the House, and there was therefore
no need of any clue to his name. But, he himself was less easy to
be found; for, he had led a wandering life, and settled people had
lost sight of him, and people who plumed themselves on being
respectable were shy of admitting that they had ever known anything
of him. At last, among the marsh lands near the river's level, that
lie about Deptford and the neighbouring market-gardens, a Grizzled
Personage in velveteen, with a face so cut up by varieties of
weather that he looked as if he had been tattooed, was found smoking
a pipe at the door of a wooden house on wheels. The wooden house
was laid up in ordinary for the winter, near the mouth of a muddy
creek; and everything near it, the foggy river, the misty marshes,
and the steaming market-gardens, smoked in company with the grizzled
man. In the midst of this smoking party, the funnel-chimney of the
wooden house on wheels was not remiss, but took its pipe with the
rest in a companionable manner.
On being asked if it were he who had once rented the House to Let,
Grizzled Velveteen looked surprised, and said yes. Then his name
was Magsman? That was it, Toby Magsman--which lawfully christened
Robert; but called in the line, from a infant, Toby. There was
nothing agin Toby Magsman, he believed? If there was suspicion of
There was no suspicion of such, he might rest assured. But, some
inquiries were making about that House, and would he object to say
why he left it?
Not at all; why should he? He left it, along of a Dwarf.
Along of a Dwarf?
Mr. Magsman repeated, deliberately and emphatically, Along of a
Might it be compatible with Mr. Magsman's inclination and
convenience to enter, as a favour, into a few particulars?
Mr. Magsman entered into the following particulars.
It was a long time ago, to begin with;--afore lotteries and a deal
more was done away with. Mr. Magsman was looking about for a good
pitch, and he see that house, and he says to himself, "I'll have
you, if you're to be had. If money'll get you, I'll have you."
The neighbours cut up rough, and made complaints; but Mr. Magsman
don't know what they WOULD have had. It was a lovely thing. First
of all, there was the canvass, representin the picter of the Giant,
in Spanish trunks and a ruff, who was himself half the heighth of
the house, and was run up with a line and pulley to a pole on the
roof, so that his Ed was coeval with the parapet. Then, there was
the canvass, representin the picter of the Albina lady, showing her
white air to the Army and Navy in correct uniform. Then, there was
the canvass, representin the picter of the Wild Indian a scalpin a
member of some foreign nation. Then, there was the canvass,
representin the picter of a child of a British Planter, seized by
two Boa Constrictors--not that WE never had no child, nor no
Constrictors neither. Similarly, there was the canvass, representin
the picter of the Wild Ass of the Prairies--not that WE never had no
wild asses, nor wouldn't have had 'em at a gift. Last, there was
the canvass, representin the picter of the Dwarf, and like him too
(considerin), with George the Fourth in such a state of astonishment
at him as His Majesty couldn't with his utmost politeness and
stoutness express. The front of the House was so covered with
canvasses, that there wasn't a spark of daylight ever visible on
that side. "MAGSMAN'S AMUSEMENTS," fifteen foot long by two foot
high, ran over the front door and parlour winders. The passage was
a Arbour of green baize and gardenstuff. A barrel-organ performed
there unceasing. And as to respectability,--if threepence ain't
respectable, what is?
But, the Dwarf is the principal article at present, and he was worth
the money. He was wrote up as MAJOR TPSCHOFFKI, OF THE IMPERIAL
BULGRADERIAN BRIGADE. Nobody couldn't pronounce the name, and it
never was intended anybody should. The public always turned it, as
a regular rule, into Chopski. In the line he was called Chops;
partly on that account, and partly because his real name, if he ever
had any real name (which was very dubious), was Stakes.
He was a un-common small man, he really was. Certainly not so small
as he was made out to be, but where IS your Dwarf as is? He was a
most uncommon small man, with a most uncommon large Ed; and what he
had inside that Ed, nobody ever knowed but himself: even supposin
himself to have ever took stock of it, which it would have been a
stiff job for even him to do.
The kindest little man as never growed! Spirited, but not proud.
When he travelled with the Spotted Baby--though he knowed himself to
be a nat'ral Dwarf, and knowed the Baby's spots to be put upon him
artificial, he nursed that Baby like a mother. You never heerd him
give a ill-name to a Giant. He DID allow himself to break out into
strong language respectin the Fat Lady from Norfolk; but that was an
affair of the 'art; and when a man's 'art has been trifled with by a
lady, and the preference giv to a Indian, he ain't master of his
He was always in love, of course; every human nat'ral phenomenon is.
And he was always in love with a large woman; I never knowed the
Dwarf as could be got to love a small one. Which helps to keep 'em
the Curiosities they are.
One sing'ler idea he had in that Ed of his, which must have meant
something, or it wouldn't have been there. It was always his
opinion that he was entitled to property. He never would put his
name to anything. He had been taught to write, by the young man
without arms, who got his living with his toes (quite a writing
master HE was, and taught scores in the line), but Chops would have
starved to death, afore he'd have gained a bit of bread by putting
his hand to a paper. This is the more curious to bear in mind,
because HE had no property, nor hope of property, except his house
and a sarser. When I say his house, I mean the box, painted and got
up outside like a reg'lar six-roomer, that he used to creep into,
with a diamond ring (or quite as good to look at) on his forefinger,
and ring a little bell out of what the Public believed to be the
Drawing-room winder. And when I say a sarser, I mean a Chaney
sarser in which he made a collection for himself at the end of every
Entertainment. His cue for that, he took from me: "Ladies and
gentlemen, the little man will now walk three times round the
Cairawan, and retire behind the curtain." When he said anything
important, in private life, he mostly wound it up with this form of
words, and they was generally the last thing he said to me at night
afore he went to bed.
He had what I consider a fine mind--a poetic mind. His ideas
respectin his property never come upon him so strong as when he sat
upon a barrel-organ and had the handle turned. Arter the wibration
had run through him a little time, he would screech out, "Toby, I
feel my property coming--grind away! I'm counting my guineas by
thousands, Toby--grind away! Toby, I shall be a man of fortun! I
feel the Mint a jingling in me, Toby, and I'm swelling out into the
Bank of England!" Such is the influence of music on a poetic mind.
Not that he was partial to any other music but a barrel-organ; on
the contrary, hated it.
He had a kind of a everlasting grudge agin the Public: which is a
thing you may notice in many phenomenons that get their living out
of it. What riled him most in the nater of his occupation was, that
it kep him out of Society. He was continiwally saying, "Toby, my
ambition is, to go into Society. The curse of my position towards
the Public is, that it keeps me hout of Society. This don't signify
to a low beast of a Indian; he an't formed for Society. This don't
signify to a Spotted Baby; HE an't formed for Society.--I am."
Nobody never could make out what Chops done with his money. He had
a good salary, down on the drum every Saturday as the day came
round, besides having the run of his teeth--and he was a Woodpecker
to eat--but all Dwarfs are. The sarser was a little income,
bringing him in so many halfpence that he'd carry 'em for a week
together, tied up in a pocket-handkercher. And yet he never had
money. And it couldn't be the Fat Lady from Norfolk, as was once
supposed; because it stands to reason that when you have a animosity
towards a Indian, which makes you grind your teeth at him to his
face, and which can hardly hold you from Goosing him audible when
he's going through his War-Dance--it stands to reason you wouldn't
under them circumstances deprive yourself, to support that Indian in
the lap of luxury.
Most unexpected, the mystery come out one day at Egham Races. The
Public was shy of bein pulled in, and Chops was ringin his little
bell out of his drawing-room winder, and was snarlin to me over his
shoulder as he kneeled down with his legs out at the back-door--for
he couldn't be shoved into his house without kneeling down, and the
premises wouldn't accommodate his legs--was snarlin, "Here's a
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