Part 2 out of 15
fragments of stone-coping rattling upon the pavement near at hand,
and splitting into fragments, did not increase the pleasure of the
journey, or make the way less dreary.
'A trying night for a man like me to walk in!' said the locksmith,
as he knocked softly at the widow's door. 'I'd rather be in old
John's chimney-corner, faith!'
'Who's there?' demanded a woman's voice from within. Being
answered, it added a hasty word of welcome, and the door was
She was about forty--perhaps two or three years older--with a
cheerful aspect, and a face that had once been pretty. It bore
traces of affliction and care, but they were of an old date, and
Time had smoothed them. Any one who had bestowed but a casual
glance on Barnaby might have known that this was his mother, from
the strong resemblance between them; but where in his face there
was wildness and vacancy, in hers there was the patient composure
of long effort and quiet resignation.
One thing about this face was very strange and startling. You
could not look upon it in its most cheerful mood without feeling
that it had some extraordinary capacity of expressing terror. It
was not on the surface. It was in no one feature that it lingered.
You could not take the eyes or mouth, or lines upon the cheek, and
say, if this or that were otherwise, it would not be so. Yet there
it always lurked--something for ever dimly seen, but ever there,
and never absent for a moment. It was the faintest, palest shadow
of some look, to which an instant of intense and most unutterable
horror only could have given birth; but indistinct and feeble as it
was, it did suggest what that look must have been, and fixed it in
the mind as if it had had existence in a dream.
More faintly imaged, and wanting force and purpose, as it were,
because of his darkened intellect, there was this same stamp upon
the son. Seen in a picture, it must have had some legend with it,
and would have haunted those who looked upon the canvas. They who
knew the Maypole story, and could remember what the widow was,
before her husband's and his master's murder, understood it well.
They recollected how the change had come, and could call to mind
that when her son was born, upon the very day the deed was known,
he bore upon his wrist what seemed a smear of blood but half washed
'God save you, neighbour!' said the locksmith, as he followed her,
with the air of an old friend, into a little parlour where a
cheerful fire was burning.
'And you,' she answered smiling. 'Your kind heart has brought you
here again. Nothing will keep you at home, I know of old, if there
are friends to serve or comfort, out of doors.'
'Tut, tut,' returned the locksmith, rubbing his hands and warming
them. 'You women are such talkers. What of the patient,
'He is sleeping now. He was very restless towards daylight, and
for some hours tossed and tumbled sadly. But the fever has left
him, and the doctor says he will soon mend. He must not be removed
'He has had visitors to-day--humph?' said Gabriel, slyly.
'Yes. Old Mr Chester has been here ever since we sent for him, and
had not been gone many minutes when you knocked.'
'No ladies?' said Gabriel, elevating his eyebrows and looking
'A letter,' replied the widow.
'Come. That's better than nothing!' replied the locksmith. 'Who
was the bearer?'
'Barnaby, of course.'
'Barnaby's a jewel!' said Varden; 'and comes and goes with ease
where we who think ourselves much wiser would make but a poor hand
of it. He is not out wandering, again, I hope?'
'Thank Heaven he is in his bed; having been up all night, as you
know, and on his feet all day. He was quite tired out. Ah,
neighbour, if I could but see him oftener so--if I could but tame
down that terrible restlessness--'
'In good time,' said the locksmith, kindly, 'in good time--don't be
down-hearted. To my mind he grows wiser every day.'
The widow shook her head. And yet, though she knew the locksmith
sought to cheer her, and spoke from no conviction of his own, she
was glad to hear even this praise of her poor benighted son.
'He will be a 'cute man yet,' resumed the locksmith. 'Take care,
when we are growing old and foolish, Barnaby doesn't put us to the
blush, that's all. But our other friend,' he added, looking under
the table and about the floor--'sharpest and cunningest of all the
sharp and cunning ones--where's he?'
'In Barnaby's room,' rejoined the widow, with a faint smile.
'Ah! He's a knowing blade!' said Varden, shaking his head. 'I
should be sorry to talk secrets before him. Oh! He's a deep
customer. I've no doubt he can read, and write, and cast accounts
if he chooses. What was that? Him tapping at the door?'
'No,' returned the widow. 'It was in the street, I think. Hark!
Yes. There again! 'Tis some one knocking softly at the shutter.
Who can it be!'
They had been speaking in a low tone, for the invalid lay overhead,
and the walls and ceilings being thin and poorly built, the sound
of their voices might otherwise have disturbed his slumber. The
party without, whoever it was, could have stood close to the
shutter without hearing anything spoken; and, seeing the light
through the chinks and finding all so quiet, might have been
persuaded that only one person was there.
'Some thief or ruffian maybe,' said the locksmith. 'Give me the
'No, no,' she returned hastily. 'Such visitors have never come to
this poor dwelling. Do you stay here. You're within call, at the
worst. I would rather go myself--alone.'
'Why?' said the locksmith, unwillingly relinquishing the candle he
had caught up from the table.
'Because--I don't know why--because the wish is so strong upon me,'
she rejoined. 'There again--do not detain me, I beg of you!'
Gabriel looked at her, in great surprise to see one who was usually
so mild and quiet thus agitated, and with so little cause. She
left the room and closed the door behind her. She stood for a
moment as if hesitating, with her hand upon the lock. In this
short interval the knocking came again, and a voice close to the
window--a voice the locksmith seemed to recollect, and to have some
disagreeable association with--whispered 'Make haste.'
The words were uttered in that low distinct voice which finds its
way so readily to sleepers' ears, and wakes them in a fright. For
a moment it startled even the locksmith; who involuntarily drew
back from the window, and listened.
The wind rumbling in the chimney made it difficult to hear what
passed, but he could tell that the door was opened, that there was
the tread of a man upon the creaking boards, and then a moment's
silence--broken by a suppressed something which was not a shriek,
or groan, or cry for help, and yet might have been either or all
three; and the words 'My God!' uttered in a voice it chilled him to
He rushed out upon the instant. There, at last, was that dreadful
look--the very one he seemed to know so well and yet had never seen
before--upon her face. There she stood, frozen to the ground,
gazing with starting eyes, and livid cheeks, and every feature
fixed and ghastly, upon the man he had encountered in the dark last
night. His eyes met those of the locksmith. It was but a flash,
an instant, a breath upon a polished glass, and he was gone.
The locksmith was upon him--had the skirts of his streaming garment
almost in his grasp--when his arms were tightly clutched, and the
widow flung herself upon the ground before him.
'The other way--the other way,' she cried. 'He went the other way.
'The other way! I see him now,' rejoined the locksmith, pointing--
'yonder--there--there is his shadow passing by that light. What--
who is this? Let me go.'
'Come back, come back!' exclaimed the woman, clasping him; 'Do not
touch him on your life. I charge you, come back. He carries other
lives besides his own. Come back!'
'What does this mean?' cried the locksmith.
'No matter what it means, don't ask, don't speak, don't think about
it. He is not to be followed, checked, or stopped. Come back!'
The old man looked at her in wonder, as she writhed and clung about
him; and, borne down by her passion, suffered her to drag him into
the house. It was not until she had chained and double-locked the
door, fastened every bolt and bar with the heat and fury of a
maniac, and drawn him back into the room, that she turned upon him,
once again, that stony look of horror, and, sinking down into a
chair, covered her face, and shuddered, as though the hand of death
were on her.
Beyond all measure astonished by the strange occurrences which had
passed with so much violence and rapidity, the locksmith gazed upon
the shuddering figure in the chair like one half stupefied, and
would have gazed much longer, had not his tongue been loosened by
compassion and humanity.
'You are ill,' said Gabriel. 'Let me call some neighbour in.'
'Not for the world,' she rejoined, motioning to him with her
trembling hand, and holding her face averted. 'It is enough that
you have been by, to see this.'
'Nay, more than enough--or less,' said Gabriel.
'Be it so,' she returned. 'As you like. Ask me no questions, I
'Neighbour,' said the locksmith, after a pause. 'Is this fair, or
reasonable, or just to yourself? Is it like you, who have known me
so long and sought my advice in all matters--like you, who from a
girl have had a strong mind and a staunch heart?'
'I have need of them,' she replied. 'I am growing old, both in
years and care. Perhaps that, and too much trial, have made them
weaker than they used to be. Do not speak to me.'
'How can I see what I have seen, and hold my peace!' returned the
locksmith. 'Who was that man, and why has his coming made this
change in you?'
She was silent, but held to the chair as though to save herself
from falling on the ground.
'I take the licence of an old acquaintance, Mary,' said the
locksmith, 'who has ever had a warm regard for you, and maybe has
tried to prove it when he could. Who is this ill-favoured man, and
what has he to do with you? Who is this ghost, that is only seen
in the black nights and bad weather? How does he know, and why
does he haunt, this house, whispering through chinks and crevices,
as if there was that between him and you, which neither durst so
much as speak aloud of? Who is he?'
'You do well to say he haunts this house,' returned the widow,
faintly. 'His shadow has been upon it and me, in light and
darkness, at noonday and midnight. And now, at last, he has come
in the body!'
'But he wouldn't have gone in the body,' returned the locksmith
with some irritation, 'if you had left my arms and legs at liberty.
What riddle is this?'
'It is one,' she answered, rising as she spoke, 'that must remain
for ever as it is. I dare not say more than that.'
'Dare not!' repeated the wondering locksmith.
'Do not press me,' she replied. 'I am sick and faint, and every
faculty of life seems dead within me.--No!--Do not touch me,
Gabriel, who had stepped forward to render her assistance, fell
back as she made this hasty exclamation, and regarded her in silent
'Let me go my way alone,' she said in a low voice, 'and let the
hands of no honest man touch mine to-night.' When she had
tottered to the door, she turned, and added with a stronger effort,
'This is a secret, which, of necessity, I trust to you. You are a
true man. As you have ever been good and kind to me,--keep it. If
any noise was heard above, make some excuse--say anything but what
you really saw, and never let a word or look between us, recall
this circumstance. I trust to you. Mind, I trust to you. How
much I trust, you never can conceive.'
Casting her eyes upon him for an instant, she withdrew, and left
him there alone.
Gabriel, not knowing what to think, stood staring at the door with
a countenance full of surprise and dismay. The more he pondered on
what had passed, the less able he was to give it any favourable
interpretation. To find this widow woman, whose life for so many
years had been supposed to be one of solitude and retirement, and
who, in her quiet suffering character, had gained the good opinion
and respect of all who knew her--to find her linked mysteriously
with an ill-omened man, alarmed at his appearance, and yet
favouring his escape, was a discovery that pained as much as
startled him. Her reliance on his secrecy, and his tacit
acquiescence, increased his distress of mind. If he had spoken
boldly, persisted in questioning her, detained her when she rose to
leave the room, made any kind of protest, instead of silently
compromising himself, as he felt he had done, he would have been
more at ease.
'Why did I let her say it was a secret, and she trusted it to me!'
said Gabriel, putting his wig on one side to scratch his head with
greater ease, and looking ruefully at the fire. 'I have no more
readiness than old John himself. Why didn't I say firmly, "You
have no right to such secrets, and I demand of you to tell me what
this means," instead of standing gaping at her, like an old moon-
calf as I am! But there's my weakness. I can be obstinate enough
with men if need be, but women may twist me round their fingers at
He took his wig off outright as he made this reflection, and,
warming his handkerchief at the fire began to rub and polish his
bald head with it, until it glistened again.
'And yet,' said the locksmith, softening under this soothing
process, and stopping to smile, 'it MAY be nothing. Any drunken
brawler trying to make his way into the house, would have alarmed a
quiet soul like her. But then'--and here was the vexation--'how
came it to be that man; how comes he to have this influence over
her; how came she to favour his getting away from me; and, more
than all, how came she not to say it was a sudden fright, and
nothing more? It's a sad thing to have, in one minute, reason to
mistrust a person I have known so long, and an old sweetheart into
the bargain; but what else can I do, with all this upon my mind!--
Is that Barnaby outside there?'
'Ay!' he cried, looking in and nodding. 'Sure enough it's
Barnaby--how did you guess?'
'By your shadow,' said the locksmith.
'Oho!' cried Barnaby, glancing over his shoulder, 'He's a merry
fellow, that shadow, and keeps close to me, though I AM silly. We
have such pranks, such walks, such runs, such gambols on the grass!
Sometimes he'll be half as tall as a church steeple, and sometimes
no bigger than a dwarf. Now, he goes on before, and now behind,
and anon he'll be stealing on, on this side, or on that, stopping
whenever I stop, and thinking I can't see him, though I have my eye
on him sharp enough. Oh! he's a merry fellow. Tell me--is he
silly too? I think he is.'
'Why?' asked Gabriel.
'Because be never tires of mocking me, but does it all day long.--
Why don't you come?'
'Upstairs. He wants you. Stay--where's HIS shadow? Come. You're
a wise man; tell me that.'
'Beside him, Barnaby; beside him, I suppose,' returned the locksmith.
'No!' he replied, shaking his head. 'Guess again.'
'Gone out a walking, maybe?'
'He has changed shadows with a woman,' the idiot whispered in his
ear, and then fell back with a look of triumph. 'Her shadow's
always with him, and his with her. That's sport I think, eh?'
'Barnaby,' said the locksmith, with a grave look; 'come hither,
'I know what you want to say. I know!' he replied, keeping away
from him. 'But I'm cunning, I'm silent. I only say so much to
you--are you ready?' As he spoke, he caught up the light, and
waved it with a wild laugh above his head.
'Softly--gently,' said the locksmith, exerting all his influence to
keep him calm and quiet. 'I thought you had been asleep.'
'So I HAVE been asleep,' he rejoined, with widely-opened eyes.
'There have been great faces coming and going--close to my face,
and then a mile away--low places to creep through, whether I would
or no--high churches to fall down from--strange creatures crowded
up together neck and heels, to sit upon the bed--that's sleep, eh?'
'Dreams, Barnaby, dreams,' said the locksmith.
'Dreams!' he echoed softly, drawing closer to him. 'Those are not
'What are,' replied the locksmith, 'if they are not?'
'I dreamed,' said Barnaby, passing his arm through Varden's, and
peering close into his face as he answered in a whisper, 'I dreamed
just now that something--it was in the shape of a man--followed me--
came softly after me--wouldn't let me be--but was always hiding
and crouching, like a cat in dark corners, waiting till I should
pass; when it crept out and came softly after me.--Did you ever see
'Many a time, you know.'
'You never saw me run as I did in this dream. Still it came
creeping on to worry me. Nearer, nearer, nearer--I ran faster--
leaped--sprung out of bed, and to the window--and there, in the
street below--but he is waiting for us. Are you coming?'
'What in the street below, Barnaby?' said Varden, imagining that he
traced some connection between this vision and what had actually
Barnaby looked into his face, muttered incoherently, waved the
light above his head again, laughed, and drawing the locksmith's
arm more tightly through his own, led him up the stairs in silence.
They entered a homely bedchamber, garnished in a scanty way with
chairs, whose spindle-shanks bespoke their age, and other furniture
of very little worth; but clean and neatly kept. Reclining in an
easy-chair before the fire, pale and weak from waste of blood, was
Edward Chester, the young gentleman who had been the first to quit
the Maypole on the previous night, and who, extending his hand to
the locksmith, welcomed him as his preserver and friend.
'Say no more, sir, say no more,' said Gabriel. 'I hope I would
have done at least as much for any man in such a strait, and most
of all for you, sir. A certain young lady,' he added, with some
hesitation, 'has done us many a kind turn, and we naturally feel--I
hope I give you no offence in saying this, sir?'
The young man smiled and shook his head; at the same time moving in
his chair as if in pain.
'It's no great matter,' he said, in answer to the locksmith's
sympathising look, 'a mere uneasiness arising at least as much from
being cooped up here, as from the slight wound I have, or from the
loss of blood. Be seated, Mr Varden.'
'If I may make so bold, Mr Edward, as to lean upon your chair,'
returned the locksmith, accommodating his action to his speech, and
bending over him, 'I'll stand here for the convenience of speaking
low. Barnaby is not in his quietest humour to-night, and at such
times talking never does him good.'
They both glanced at the subject of this remark, who had taken a
seat on the other side of the fire, and, smiling vacantly, was
making puzzles on his fingers with a skein of string.
'Pray, tell me, sir,' said Varden, dropping his voice still lower,
'exactly what happened last night. I have my reason for inquiring.
You left the Maypole, alone?'
'And walked homeward alone, until I had nearly reached the place
where you found me, when I heard the gallop of a horse.'
'Behind you?' said the locksmith.
'Indeed, yes--behind me. It was a single rider, who soon overtook
me, and checking his horse, inquired the way to London.'
'You were on the alert, sir, knowing how many highwaymen there are,
scouring the roads in all directions?' said Varden.
'I was, but I had only a stick, having imprudently left my pistols
in their holster-case with the landlord's son. I directed him as
he desired. Before the words had passed my lips, he rode upon me
furiously, as if bent on trampling me down beneath his horse's
hoofs. In starting aside, I slipped and fell. You found me with
this stab and an ugly bruise or two, and without my purse--in which
he found little enough for his pains. And now, Mr Varden,' he
added, shaking the locksmith by the hand, 'saving the extent of my
gratitude to you, you know as much as I.'
'Except,' said Gabriel, bending down yet more, and looking
cautiously towards their silent neighhour, 'except in respect of
the robber himself. What like was he, sir? Speak low, if you
please. Barnaby means no harm, but I have watched him oftener than
you, and I know, little as you would think it, that he's listening
It required a strong confidence in the locksmith's veracity to
lead any one to this belief, for every sense and faculty that
Barnahy possessed, seemed to be fixed upon his game, to the
exclusion of all other things. Something in the young man's face
expressed this opinion, for Gabriel repeated what he had just said,
more earnestly than before, and with another glance towards
Barnaby, again asked what like the man was.
'The night was so dark,' said Edward, 'the attack so sudden, and
he so wrapped and muffled up, that I can hardly say. It seems
'Don't mention his name, sir,' returned the locksmith, following
his look towards Barnaby; 'I know HE saw him. I want to know what
'All I remember is,' said Edward, 'that as he checked his horse his
hat was blown off. He caught it, and replaced it on his head,
which I observed was bound with a dark handkerchief. A stranger
entered the Maypole while I was there, whom I had not seen--for I
had sat apart for reasons of my own--and when I rose to leave the
room and glanced round, he was in the shadow of the chimney and
hidden from my sight. But, if he and the robber were two different
persons, their voices were strangely and most remarkably alike; for
directly the man addressed me in the road, I recognised his speech
'It is as I feared. The very man was here to-night,' thought the
locksmith, changing colour. 'What dark history is this!'
'Halloa!' cried a hoarse voice in his ear. 'Halloa, halloa,
halloa! Bow wow wow. What's the matter here! Hal-loa!'
The speaker--who made the locksmith start as if he had been some
supernatural agent--was a large raven, who had perched upon the top
of the easy-chair, unseen by him and Edward, and listened with a
polite attention and a most extraordinary appearance of
comprehending every word, to all they had said up to this point;
turning his head from one to the other, as if his office were to
judge between them, and it were of the very last importance that he
should not lose a word.
'Look at him!' said Varden, divided between admiration of the bird
and a kind of fear of him. 'Was there ever such a knowing imp as
that! Oh he's a dreadful fellow!'
The raven, with his head very much on one side, and his bright eye
shining like a diamond, preserved a thoughtful silence for a few
seconds, and then replied in a voice so hoarse and distant, that it
seemed to come through his thick feathers rather than out of his
'Halloa, halloa, halloa! What's the matter here! Keep up your
spirits. Never say die. Bow wow wow. I'm a devil, I'm a devil,
I'm a devil. Hurrah!'--And then, as if exulting in his infernal
character, he began to whistle.
'I more than half believe he speaks the truth. Upon my word I do,'
said Varden. 'Do you see how he looks at me, as if he knew what I
To which the bird, balancing himself on tiptoe, as it were, and
moving his body up and down in a sort of grave dance, rejoined,
'I'm a devil, I'm a devil, I'm a devil,' and flapped his wings
against his sides as if he were bursting with laughter. Barnaby
clapped his hands, and fairly rolled upon the ground in an ecstasy
'Strange companions, sir,' said the locksmith, shaking his head,
and looking from one to the other. 'The bird has all the wit.'
'Strange indeed!' said Edward, holding out his forefinger to the
raven, who, in acknowledgment of the attention, made a dive at it
immediately with his iron bill. 'Is he old?'
'A mere boy, sir,' replied the locksmith. 'A hundred and twenty,
or thereabouts. Call him down, Barnaby, my man.'
'Call him!' echoed Barnaby, sitting upright upon the floor, and
staring vacantly at Gabriel, as he thrust his hair back from his
face. 'But who can make him come! He calls me, and makes me go
where he will. He goes on before, and I follow. He's the master,
and I'm the man. Is that the truth, Grip?'
The raven gave a short, comfortable, confidential kind of croak;--a
most expressive croak, which seemed to say, 'You needn't let these
fellows into our secrets. We understand each other. It's all
'I make HIM come?' cried Barnaby, pointing to the bird. 'Him, who
never goes to sleep, or so much as winks!--Why, any time of night,
you may see his eyes in my dark room, shining like two sparks. And
every night, and all night too, he's broad awake, talking to
himself, thinking what he shall do to-morrow, where we shall go,
and what he shall steal, and hide, and bury. I make HIM come!
Ha ha ha!'
On second thoughts, the bird appeared disposed to come of himself.
After a short survey of the ground, and a few sidelong looks at the
ceiling and at everybody present in turn, he fluttered to the
floor, and went to Barnaby--not in a hop, or walk, or run, but in a
pace like that of a very particular gentleman with exceedingly
tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles. Then,
stepping into his extended hand, and condescending to be held out
at arm's length, he gave vent to a succession of sounds, not unlike
the drawing of some eight or ten dozen of long corks, and again
asserted his brimstone birth and parentage with great distinctness.
The locksmith shook his head--perhaps in some doubt of the
creature's being really nothing but a bird--perhaps in pity for
Bamaby, who by this time had him in his arms, and was rolling
about, with him, on the ground. As he raised his eyes from the
poor fellow he encountered those of his mother, who had entered the
room, and was looking on in silence.
She was quite white in the face, even to her lips, but had wholly
subdued her emotion, and wore her usual quiet look. Varden fancied
as he glanced at her that she shrunk from his eye; and that she
busied herself about the wounded gentleman to avoid him the better.
It was time he went to bed, she said. He was to be removed to his
own home on the morrow, and he had already exceeded his time for
sitting up, by a full hour. Acting on this hint, the locksmith
prepared to take his leave.
'By the bye,' said Edward, as he shook him by the hand, and looked
from him to Mrs Rudge and back again, 'what noise was that below?
I heard your voice in the midst of it, and should have inquired
before, but our other conversation drove it from my memory. What
The locksmith looked towards her, and bit his lip. She leant
against the chair, and bent her eyes upon the ground. Barnaby too--
he was listening.
--'Some mad or drunken fellow, sir,' Varden at length made answer,
looking steadily at the widow as he spoke. 'He mistook the house,
and tried to force an entrance.'
She breathed more freely, but stood quite motionless. As the
locksmith said 'Good night,' and Barnaby caught up the candle to
light him down the stairs, she took it from him, and charged him--
with more haste and earnestness than so slight an occasion appeared
to warrant--not to stir. The raven followed them to satisfy
himself that all was right below, and when they reached the street-
door, stood on the bottom stair drawing corks out of number.
With a trembling hand she unfastened the chain and bolts, and
turned the key. As she had her hand upon the latch, the locksmith
said in a low voice,
'I have told a lie to-night, for your sake, Mary, and for the sake
of bygone times and old acquaintance, when I would scorn to do so
for my own. I hope I may have done no harm, or led to none. I
can't help the suspicions you have forced upon me, and I am loth, I
tell you plainly, to leave Mr Edward here. Take care he comes to
no hurt. I doubt the safety of this roof, and am glad he leaves it
so soon. Now, let me go.'
For a moment she hid her face in her hands and wept; but resisting
the strong impulse which evidently moved her to reply, opened the
door--no wider than was sufficient for the passage of his body--
and motioned him away. As the locksmith stood upon the step, it
was chained and locked behind him, and the raven, in furtherance of
these precautions, barked like a lusty house-dog.
'In league with that ill-looking figure that might have fallen from
a gibbet--he listening and hiding here--Barnaby first upon the spot
last night--can she who has always borne so fair a name be guilty
of such crimes in secret!' said the locksmith, musing. 'Heaven
forgive me if I am wrong, and send me just thoughts; but she is
poor, the temptation may be great, and we daily hear of things as
strange.--Ay, bark away, my friend. If there's any wickedness
going on, that raven's in it, I'll be sworn.'
Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain
temper--a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper
tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable.
Thus it generally happened, that when other people were merry, Mrs
Varden was dull; and that when other people were dull, Mrs Varden
was disposed to be amazingly cheerful. Indeed the worthy housewife
was of such a capricious nature, that she not only attained a
higher pitch of genius than Macbeth, in respect of her ability to
be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral in an
instant, but would sometimes ring the changes backwards and
forwards on all possible moods and flights in one short quarter of
an hour; performing, as it were, a kind of triple bob major on the
peal of instruments in the female belfry, with a skilfulness and
rapidity of execution that astonished all who heard her.
It had been observed in this good lady (who did not want for
personal attractions, being plump and buxom to look at, though like
her fair daughter, somewhat short in stature) that this
uncertainty of disposition strengthened and increased with her
temporal prosperity; and divers wise men and matrons, on friendly
terms with the locksmith and his family, even went so far as to
assert, that a tumble down some half-dozen rounds in the world's
ladder--such as the breaking of the bank in which her husband kept
his money, or some little fall of that kind--would be the making
of her, and could hardly fail to render her one of the most
agreeable companions in existence. Whether they were right or
wrong in this conjecture, certain it is that minds, like bodies,
will often fall into a pimpled ill-conditioned state from mere
excess of comfort, and like them, are often successfully cured by
remedies in themselves very nauseous and unpalatable.
Mrs Varden's chief aider and abettor, and at the same time her
principal victim and object of wrath, was her single domestic
servant, one Miss Miggs; or as she was called, in conformity with
those prejudices of society which lop and top from poor hand-
maidens all such genteel excrescences--Miggs. This Miggs was a
tall young lady, very much addicted to pattens in private life;
slender and shrewish, of a rather uncomfortable figure, and though
not absolutely ill-looking, of a sharp and acid visage. As a
general principle and abstract proposition, Miggs held the male sex
to be utterly contemptible and unworthy of notice; to be fickle,
false, base, sottish, inclined to perjury, and wholly undeserving.
When particularly exasperated against them (which, scandal said,
was when Sim Tappertit slighted her most) she was accustomed to
wish with great emphasis that the whole race of women could but die
off, in order that the men might be brought to know the real value
of the blessings by which they set so little store; nay, her
feeling for her order ran so high, that she sometimes declared, if
she could only have good security for a fair, round number--say ten
thousand--of young virgins following her example, she would, to
spite mankind, hang, drown, stab, or poison herself, with a joy
past all expression.
It was the voice of Miggs that greeted the locksmith, when he
knocked at his own house, with a shrill cry of 'Who's there?'
'Me, girl, me,' returned Gabriel.
What, already, sir!' said Miggs, opening the door with a look of
surprise. 'We were just getting on our nightcaps to sit up,--me
and mistress. Oh, she has been SO bad!'
Miggs said this with an air of uncommon candour and concern; but
the parlour-door was standing open, and as Gabriel very well knew
for whose ears it was designed, he regarded her with anything but
an approving look as he passed in.
'Master's come home, mim,' cried Miggs, running before him into the
parlour. 'You was wrong, mim, and I was right. I thought he
wouldn't keep us up so late, two nights running, mim. Master's
always considerate so far. I'm so glad, mim, on your account. I'm
a little'--here Miggs simpered--'a little sleepy myself; I'll own
it now, mim, though I said I wasn't when you asked me. It ain't of
no consequence, mim, of course.'
'You had better,' said the locksmith, who most devoutly wished that
Barnaby's raven was at Miggs's ankles, 'you had better get to bed
at once then.'
'Thanking you kindly, sir,' returned Miggs, 'I couldn't take my
rest in peace, nor fix my thoughts upon my prayers, otherways than
that I knew mistress was comfortable in her bed this night; by
rights she ought to have been there, hours ago.'
'You're talkative, mistress,' said Varden, pulling off his
greatcoat, and looking at her askew.
'Taking the hint, sir,' cried Miggs, with a flushed face, 'and
thanking you for it most kindly, I will make bold to say, that if I
give offence by having consideration for my mistress, I do not ask
your pardon, but am content to get myself into trouble and to be in
Here Mrs Varden, who, with her countenance shrouded in a large
nightcap, had been all this time intent upon the Protestant Manual,
looked round, and acknowledged Miggs's championship by commanding
her to hold her tongue.
Every little bone in Miggs's throat and neck developed itself with
a spitefulness quite alarming, as she replied, 'Yes, mim, I will.'
'How do you find yourself now, my dear?' said the locksmith,
taking a chair near his wife (who had resumed her book), and
rubbing his knees hard as he made the inquiry.
'You're very anxious to know, an't you?' returned Mrs Varden, with
her eyes upon the print. 'You, that have not been near me all day,
and wouldn't have been if I was dying!'
'My dear Martha--' said Gabriel.
Mrs Varden turned over to the next page; then went back again to
the bottom line over leaf to be quite sure of the last words; and
then went on reading with an appearance of the deepest interest and
'My dear Martha,' said the locksmith, 'how can you say such things,
when you know you don't mean them? If you were dying! Why, if
there was anything serious the matter with you, Martha, shouldn't I
be in constant attendance upon you?'
'Yes!' cried Mrs Varden, bursting into tears, 'yes, you would. I
don't doubt it, Varden. Certainly you would. That's as much as to
tell me that you would be hovering round me like a vulture, waiting
till the breath was out of my body, that you might go and marry
Miggs groaned in sympathy--a little short groan, checked in its
birth, and changed into a cough. It seemed to say, 'I can't help
it. It's wrung from me by the dreadful brutality of that monster
'But you'll break my heart one of these days,' added Mrs Varden,
with more resignation, 'and then we shall both be happy. My only
desire is to see Dolly comfortably settled, and when she is, you
may settle ME as soon as you like.'
'Ah!' cried Miggs--and coughed again.
Poor Gabriel twisted his wig about in silence for a long time, and
then said mildly, 'Has Dolly gone to bed?'
'Your master speaks to you,' said Mrs Varden, looking sternly over
her shoulder at Miss Miggs in waiting.
'No, my dear, I spoke to you,' suggested the locksmith.
'Did you hear me, Miggs?' cried the obdurate lady, stamping her
foot upon the ground. 'YOU are beginning to despise me now, are
you? But this is example!'
At this cruel rebuke, Miggs, whose tears were always ready, for
large or small parties, on the shortest notice and the most
reasonable terms, fell a crying violently; holding both her hands
tight upon her heart meanwhile, as if nothing less would prevent
its splitting into small fragments. Mrs Varden, who likewise
possessed that faculty in high perfection, wept too, against Miggs;
and with such effect that Miggs gave in after a time, and, except
for an occasional sob, which seemed to threaten some remote
intention of breaking out again, left her mistress in possession of
the field. Her superiority being thoroughly asserted, that lady
soon desisted likewise, and fell into a quiet melancholy.
The relief was so great, and the fatiguing occurrences of last
night so completely overpowered the locksmith, that he nodded in
his chair, and would doubtless have slept there all night, but for
the voice of Mrs Varden, which, after a pause of some five minutes,
awoke him with a start.
'If I am ever,' said Mrs V.--not scolding, but in a sort of
monotonous remonstrance--'in spirits, if I am ever cheerful, if I
am ever more than usually disposed to be talkative and comfortable,
this is the way I am treated.'
'Such spirits as you was in too, mim, but half an hour ago!' cried
Miggs. 'I never see such company!'
'Because,' said Mrs Varden, 'because I never interfere or
interrupt; because I never question where anybody comes or goes;
because my whole mind and soul is bent on saving where I can save,
and labouring in this house;--therefore, they try me as they do.'
'Martha,' urged the locksmith, endeavouring to look as wakeful as
possible, 'what is it you complain of? I really came home with
every wish and desire to be happy. I did, indeed.'
'What do I complain of!' retorted his wife. 'Is it a chilling
thing to have one's husband sulking and falling asleep directly he
comes home--to have him freezing all one's warm-heartedness, and
throwing cold water over the fireside? Is it natural, when I know
he went out upon a matter in which I am as much interested as
anybody can be, that I should wish to know all that has happened,
or that he should tell me without my begging and praying him to do
it? Is that natural, or is it not?'
'I am very sorry, Martha,' said the good-natured locksmith. 'I was
really afraid you were not disposed to talk pleasantly; I'll tell
you everything; I shall only be too glad, my dear.'
'No, Varden,' returned his wife, rising with dignity. 'I dare say--
thank you! I'm not a child to be corrected one minute and petted
the next--I'm a little too old for that, Varden. Miggs, carry the
light.--YOU can be cheerful, Miggs, at least'
Miggs, who, to this moment, had been in the very depths of
compassionate despondency, passed instantly into the liveliest
state conceivable, and tossing her head as she glanced towards the
locksmith, bore off her mistress and the light together.
'Now, who would think,' thought Varden, shrugging his shoulders and
drawing his chair nearer to the fire, 'that that woman could ever
be pleasant and agreeable? And yet she can be. Well, well, all of
us have our faults. I'll not be hard upon hers. We have been man
and wife too long for that.'
He dozed again--not the less pleasantly, perhaps, for his hearty
temper. While his eyes were closed, the door leading to the upper
stairs was partially opened; and a head appeared, which, at sight
of him, hastily drew back again.
'I wish,' murmured Gabriel, waking at the noise, and looking round
the room, 'I wish somebody would marry Miggs. But that's
impossible! I wonder whether there's any madman alive, who would
This was such a vast speculation that he fell into a doze again,
and slept until the fire was quite burnt out. At last he roused
himself; and having double-locked the street-door according to
custom, and put the key in his pocket, went off to bed.
He had not left the room in darkness many minutes, when the head
again appeared, and Sim Tappertit entered, bearing in his hand a
'What the devil business has he to stop up so late!' muttered Sim,
passing into the workshop, and setting it down upon the forge.
'Here's half the night gone already. There's only one good that
has ever come to me, out of this cursed old rusty mechanical trade,
and that's this piece of ironmongery, upon my soul!'
As he spoke, he drew from the right hand, or rather right leg
pocket of his smalls, a clumsy large-sized key, which he inserted
cautiously in the lock his master had secured, and softly opened
the door. That done, he replaced his piece of secret workmanship
in his pocket; and leaving the lamp burning, and closing the door
carefully and without noise, stole out into the street--as little
suspected by the locksmith in his sound deep sleep, as by Barnaby
himself in his phantom-haunted dreams.
Clear of the locksmith's house, Sim Tappertit laid aside his
cautious manner, and assuming in its stead that of a ruffling,
swaggering, roving blade, who would rather kill a man than
otherwise, and eat him too if needful, made the best of his way
along the darkened streets.
Half pausing for an instant now and then to smite his pocket and
assure himself of the safety of his master key, he hurried on to
Barbican, and turning into one of the narrowest of the narrow
streets which diverged from that centre, slackened his pace and
wiped his heated brow, as if the termination of his walk were near
It was not a very choice spot for midnight expeditions, being in
truth one of more than questionable character, and of an appearance
by no means inviting. From the main street he had entered, itself
little better than an alley, a low-browed doorway led into a blind
court, or yard, profoundly dark, unpaved, and reeking with stagnant
odours. Into this ill-favoured pit, the locksmith's vagrant
'prentice groped his way; and stopping at a house from whose
defaced and rotten front the rude effigy of a bottle swung to and
fro like some gibbeted malefactor, struck thrice upon an iron
grating with his foot. After listening in vain for some response
to his signal, Mr Tappertit became impatient, and struck the
grating thrice again.
A further delay ensued, but it was not of long duration. The
ground seemed to open at his feet, and a ragged head appeared.
'Is that the captain?' said a voice as ragged as the head.
'Yes,' replied Mr Tappertit haughtily, descending as he spoke, 'who
should it be?'
'It's so late, we gave you up,' returned the voice, as its owner
stopped to shut and fasten the grating. 'You're late, sir.'
'Lead on,' said Mr Tappertit, with a gloomy majesty, 'and make
remarks when I require you. Forward!'
This latter word of command was perhaps somewhat theatrical and
unnecessary, inasmuch as the descent was by a very narrow, steep,
and slippery flight of steps, and any rashness or departure from
the beaten track must have ended in a yawning water-butt. But Mr
Tappertit being, like some other great commanders, favourable to
strong effects, and personal display, cried 'Forward!' again, in
the hoarsest voice he could assume; and led the way, with folded
arms and knitted brows, to the cellar down below, where there was a
small copper fixed in one corner, a chair or two, a form and table,
a glimmering fire, and a truckle-bed, covered with a ragged
'Welcome, noble captain!' cried a lanky figure, rising as from a
The captain nodded. Then, throwing off his outer coat, he stood
composed in all his dignity, and eyed his follower over.
'What news to-night?' he asked, when he had looked into his very
'Nothing particular,' replied the other, stretching himself--and he
was so long already that it was quite alarming to see him do it--
'how come you to be so late?'
'No matter,' was all the captain deigned to say in answer. 'Is the
'It is,' replied the follower.
'The comrade--is he here?'
'Yes. And a sprinkling of the others--you hear 'em?'
'Playing skittles!' said the captain moodily. 'Light-hearted
There was no doubt respecting the particular amusement in which
these heedless spirits were indulging, for even in the close and
stifling atmosphere of the vault, the noise sounded like distant
thunder. It certainly appeared, at first sight, a singular spot to
choose, for that or any other purpose of relaxation, if the other
cellars answered to the one in which this brief colloquy took
place; for the floors were of sodden earth, the walls and roof of
damp bare brick tapestried with the tracks of snails and slugs; the
air was sickening, tainted, and offensive. It seemed, from one
strong flavour which was uppermost among the various odours of the
place, that it had, at no very distant period, been used as a
storehouse for cheeses; a circumstance which, while it accounted
for the greasy moisture that hung about it, was agreeably
suggestive of rats. It was naturally damp besides, and little
trees of fungus sprung from every mouldering corner.
The proprietor of this charming retreat, and owner of the ragged
head before mentioned--for he wore an old tie-wig as bare and
frowzy as a stunted hearth-broom--had by this time joined them; and
stood a little apart, rubbing his hands, wagging his hoary bristled
chin, and smiling in silence. His eyes were closed; but had they
been wide open, it would have been easy to tell, from the attentive
expression of the face he turned towards them--pale and unwholesome
as might be expected in one of his underground existence--and from
a certain anxious raising and quivering of the lids, that he was
'Even Stagg hath been asleep,' said the long comrade, nodding
towards this person.
'Sound, captain, sound!' cried the blind man; 'what does my noble
captain drink--is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh? Is it soaked
gunpowder, or blazing oil? Give it a name, heart of oak, and we'd
get it for you, if it was wine from a bishop's cellar, or melted
gold from King George's mint.'
'See,' said Mr Tappertit haughtily, 'that it's something strong,
and comes quick; and so long as you take care of that, you may
bring it from the devil's cellar, if you like.'
'Boldly said, noble captain!' rejoined the blind man. 'Spoken like
the 'Prentices' Glory. Ha, ha! From the devil's cellar! A brave
joke! The captain joketh. Ha, ha, ha!'
'I'll tell you what, my fine feller,' said Mr Tappertit, eyeing the
host over as he walked to a closet, and took out a bottle and glass
as carelessly as if he had been in full possession of his sight,
'if you make that row, you'll find that the captain's very far from
joking, and so I tell you.'
'He's got his eyes on me!' cried Stagg, stopping short on his way
back, and affecting to screen his face with the bottle. 'I feel
'em though I can't see 'em. Take 'em off, noble captain. Remove
'em, for they pierce like gimlets.'
Mr Tappertit smiled grimly at his comrade; and twisting out one
more look--a kind of ocular screw--under the influence of which the
blind man feigned to undergo great anguish and torture, bade him,
in a softened tone, approach, and hold his peace.
'I obey you, captain,' cried Stagg, drawing close to him and
filling out a bumper without spilling a drop, by reason that he
held his little finger at the brim of the glass, and stopped at the
instant the liquor touched it, 'drink, noble governor. Death to
all masters, life to all 'prentices, and love to all fair damsels.
Drink, brave general, and warm your gallant heart!'
Mr Tappertit condescended to take the glass from his outstretched
hand. Stagg then dropped on one knee, and gently smoothed the
calves of his legs, with an air of humble admiration.
'That I had but eyes!' he cried, 'to behold my captain's
symmetrical proportions! That I had but eyes, to look upon these
twin invaders of domestic peace!'
'Get out!' said Mr Tappertit, glancing downward at his favourite
limbs. 'Go along, will you, Stagg!'
'When I touch my own afterwards,' cried the host, smiting them
reproachfully, 'I hate 'em. Comparatively speaking, they've no
more shape than wooden legs, beside these models of my noble
'Yours!' exclaimed Mr Tappertit. 'No, I should think not. Don't
talk about those precious old toothpicks in the same breath with
mine; that's rather too much. Here. Take the glass. Benjamin.
Lead on. To business!'
With these words, he folded his arms again; and frowning with a
sullen majesty, passed with his companion through a little door at
the upper end of the cellar, and disappeared; leaving Stagg to his
The vault they entered, strewn with sawdust and dimly lighted, was
between the outer one from which they had just come, and that in
which the skittle-players were diverting themselves; as was
manifested by the increased noise and clamour of tongues, which was
suddenly stopped, however, and replaced by a dead silence, at a
signal from the long comrade. Then, this young gentleman, going to
a little cupboard, returned with a thigh-bone, which in former
times must have been part and parcel of some individual at least as
long as himself, and placed the same in the hands of Mr Tappertit;
who, receiving it as a sceptre and staff of authority, cocked his
three-cornered hat fiercely on the top of his head, and mounted a
large table, whereon a chair of state, cheerfully ornamented with a
couple of skulls, was placed ready for his reception.
He had no sooner assumed this position, than another young
gentleman appeared, bearing in his arms a huge clasped book, who
made him a profound obeisance, and delivering it to the long
comrade, advanced to the table, and turning his back upon it, stood
there Atlas-wise. Then, the long comrade got upon the table too;
and seating himself in a lower chair than Mr Tappertit's, with much
state and ceremony, placed the large book on the shoulders of their
mute companion as deliberately as if he had been a wooden desk, and
prepared to make entries therein with a pen of corresponding size.
When the long comrade had made these preparations, he looked
towards Mr Tappertit; and Mr Tappertit, flourishing the bone,
knocked nine times therewith upon one of the skulls. At the ninth
stroke, a third young gentleman emerged from the door leading to
the skittle ground, and bowing low, awaited his commands.
'Prentice!' said the mighty captain, 'who waits without?'
The 'prentice made answer that a stranger was in attendance, who
claimed admission into that secret society of 'Prentice Knights,
and a free participation in their rights, privileges, and
immunities. Thereupon Mr Tappertit flourished the bone again, and
giving the other skull a prodigious rap on the nose, exclaimed
'Admit him!' At these dread words the 'prentice bowed once more,
and so withdrew as he had come.
There soon appeared at the same door, two other 'prentices, having
between them a third, whose eyes were bandaged, and who was attired
in a bag-wig, and a broad-skirted coat, trimmed with tarnished
lace; and who was girded with a sword, in compliance with the laws
of the Institution regulating the introduction of candidates, which
required them to assume this courtly dress, and kept it constantly
in lavender, for their convenience. One of the conductors of this
novice held a rusty blunderbuss pointed towards his ear, and the
other a very ancient sabre, with which he carved imaginary
offenders as he came along in a sanguinary and anatomical manner.
As this silent group advanced, Mr Tappertit fixed his hat upon his
head. The novice then laid his hand upon his breast and bent
before him. When he had humbled himself sufficiently, the captain
ordered the bandage to be removed, and proceeded to eye him over.
'Ha!' said the captain, thoughtfully, when he had concluded this
The long comrade read aloud as follows:--'Mark Gilbert. Age,
nineteen. Bound to Thomas Curzon, hosier, Golden Fleece, Aldgate.
Loves Curzon's daughter. Cannot say that Curzon's daughter loves
him. Should think it probable. Curzon pulled his ears last
'How!' cried the captain, starting.
'For looking at his daughter, please you,' said the novice.
'Write Curzon down, Denounced,' said the captain. 'Put a black
cross against the name of Curzon.'
'So please you,' said the novice, 'that's not the worst--he calls
his 'prentice idle dog, and stops his beer unless he works to his
liking. He gives Dutch cheese, too, eating Cheshire, sir, himself;
and Sundays out, are only once a month.'
'This,' said Mr Tappert;t gravely, 'is a flagrant case. Put two
black crosses to the name of Curzon.'
'If the society,' said the novice, who was an ill-looking, one-
sided, shambling lad, with sunken eyes set close together in his
head--'if the society would burn his house down--for he's not
insured--or beat him as he comes home from his club at night, or
help me to carry off his daughter, and marry her at the Fleet,
whether she gave consent or no--'
Mr Tappertit waved his grizzly truncheon as an admonition to him
not to interrupt, and ordered three black crosses to the name of
'Which means,' he said in gracious explanation, 'vengeance,
complete and terrible. 'Prentice, do you love the Constitution?'
To which the novice (being to that end instructed by his attendant
sponsors) replied 'I do!'
'The Church, the State, and everything established--but the
masters?' quoth the captain.
Again the novice said 'I do.'
Having said it, he listened meekly to the captain, who in an
address prepared for such occasions, told him how that under that
same Constitution (which was kept in a strong box somewhere, but
where exactly he could not find out, or he would have endeavoured
to procure a copy of it), the 'prentices had, in times gone by,
had frequent holidays of right, broken people's heads by scores,
defied their masters, nay, even achieved some glorious murders in
the streets, which privileges had gradually been wrested from them,
and in all which noble aspirations they were now restrained; how
the degrading checks imposed upon them were unquestionably
attributable to the innovating spirit of the times, and how they
united therefore to resist all change, except such change as would
restore those good old English customs, by which they would stand
or fall. After illustrating the wisdom of going backward, by
reference to that sagacious fish, the crab, and the not unfrequent
practice of the mule and donkey, he described their general
objects; which were briefly vengeance on their Tyrant Masters (of
whose grievous and insupportable oppression no 'prentice could
entertain a moment's doubt) and the restoration, as aforesaid, of
their ancient rights and holidays; for neither of which objects
were they now quite ripe, being barely twenty strong, but which
they pledged themselves to pursue with fire and sword when needful.
Then he described the oath which every member of that small remnant
of a noble body took, and which was of a dreadful and impressive
kind; binding him, at the bidding of his chief, to resist and
obstruct the Lord Mayor, sword-bearer, and chaplain; to despise the
authority of the sheriffs; and to hold the court of aldermen as
nought; but not on any account, in case the fulness of time should
bring a general rising of 'prentices, to damage or in any way
disfigure Temple Bar, which was strictly constitutional and always
to be approached with reverence. Having gone over these several
heads with great eloquence and force, and having further informed
the novice that this society had its origin in his own teeming
brain, stimulated by a swelling sense of wrong and outrage, Mr
Tappertit demanded whether he had strength of heart to take the
mighty pledge required, or whether he would withdraw while retreat
was yet in his power.
To this the novice made rejoinder, that he would take the vow,
though it should choke him; and it was accordingly administered
with many impressive circumstances, among which the lighting up of
the two skulls with a candle-end inside of each, and a great many
flourishes with the bone, were chiefly conspicuous; not to mention
a variety of grave exercises with the blunderbuss and sabre, and
some dismal groaning by unseen 'prentices without. All these dark
and direful ceremonies being at length completed, the table was put
aside, the chair of state removed, the sceptre locked up in its
usual cupboard, the doors of communication between the three
cellars thrown freely open, and the 'Prentice Knights resigned
themselves to merriment.
But Mr Tappertit, who had a soul above the vulgar herd, and who, on
account of his greatness, could only afford to be merry now and
then, threw himself on a bench with the air of a man who was faint
with dignity. He looked with an indifferent eye, alike on
skittles, cards, and dice, thinking only of the locksmith's
daughter, and the base degenerate days on which he had fallen.
'My noble captain neither games, nor sings, nor dances,' said his
host, taking a seat beside him. 'Drink, gallant general!'
Mr Tappertit drained the proffered goblet to the dregs; then thrust
his hands into his pockets, and with a lowering visage walked among
the skittles, while his followers (such is the influence of
superior genius) restrained the ardent ball, and held his little
shins in dumb respect.
'If I had been born a corsair or a pirate, a brigand, genteel
highwayman or patriot--and they're the same thing,' thought Mr
Tappertit, musing among the nine-pins, 'I should have been all
right. But to drag out a ignoble existence unbeknown to mankind in
general--patience! I will be famous yet. A voice within me keeps
on whispering Greatness. I shall burst out one of these days, and
when I do, what power can keep me down? I feel my soul getting
into my head at the idea. More drink there!'
'The novice,' pursued Mr Tappertit, not exactly in a voice of
thunder, for his tones, to say the truth were rather cracked and
shrill--but very impressively, notwithstanding--'where is he?'
'Here, noble captain!' cried Stagg. 'One stands beside me who I
feel is a stranger.'
'Have you,' said Mr Tappertit, letting his gaze fall on the party
indicated, who was indeed the new knight, by this time restored to
his own apparel; 'Have you the impression of your street-door key
The long comrade anticipated the reply, by producing it from the
shelf on which it had been deposited.
'Good,' said Mr Tappertit, scrutinising it attentively, while a
breathless silence reigned around; for he had constructed secret
door-keys for the whole society, and perhaps owed something of his
influence to that mean and trivial circumstance--on such slight
accidents do even men of mind depend!--'This is easily made. Come
With that, he beckoned the new knight apart, and putting the
pattern in his pocket, motioned to him to walk by his side.
'And so,' he said, when they had taken a few turns up and down,
you--you love your master's daughter?'
'I do,' said the 'prentice. 'Honour bright. No chaff, you know.'
'Have you,' rejoined Mr Tappertit, catching him by the wrist, and
giving him a look which would have been expressive of the most
deadly malevolence, but for an accidental hiccup that rather
interfered with it; 'have you a--a rival?'
'Not as I know on,' replied the 'prentice.
'If you had now--' said Mr Tappertit--'what would you--eh?--'
The 'prentice looked fierce and clenched his fists.
'It is enough,' cried Mr Tappertit hastily, 'we understand each
other. We are observed. I thank you.'
So saying, he cast him off again; and calling the long comrade
aside after taking a few hasty turns by himself, bade him
immediately write and post against the wall, a notice, proscribing
one Joseph Willet (commonly known as Joe) of Chigwell; forbidding
all 'Prentice Knights to succour, comfort, or hold communion with
him; and requiring them, on pain of excommunication, to molest,
hurt, wrong, annoy, and pick quarrels with the said Joseph,
whensoever and wheresoever they, or any of them, should happen to
Having relieved his mind by this energetic proceeding, he
condescended to approach the festive board, and warming by degrees,
at length deigned to preside, and even to enchant the company with
a song. After this, he rose to such a pitch as to consent to
regale the society with a hornpipe, which be actually performed to
the music of a fiddle (played by an ingenious member) with such
surpassing agility and brilliancy of execution, that the spectators
could not be sufficiently enthusiastic in their admiration; and
their host protested, with tears in his eyes, that he had never
truly felt his blindness until that moment.
But the host withdrawing--probably to weep in secret--soon returned
with the information that it wanted little more than an hour of
day, and that all the cocks in Barbican had already begun to crow,
as if their lives depended on it. At this intelligence, the
'Prentice Knights arose in haste, and marshalling into a line,
filed off one by one and dispersed with all speed to their several
homes, leaving their leader to pass the grating last.
'Good night, noble captain,' whispered the blind man as he held it
open for his passage out; 'Farewell, brave general. Bye, bye,
illustrious commander. Good luck go with you for a--conceited,
bragging, empty-headed, duck-legged idiot.'
With which parting words, coolly added as he listened to his
receding footsteps and locked the grate upon himself, he descended
the steps, and lighting the fire below the little copper,
prepared, without any assistance, for his daily occupation; which
was to retail at the area-head above pennyworths of broth and soup,
and savoury puddings, compounded of such scraps as were to be
bought in the heap for the least money at Fleet Market in the
evening time; and for the sale of which he had need to have
depended chiefly on his private connection, for the court had no
thoroughfare, and was not that kind of place in which many people
were likely to take the air, or to frequent as an agreeable
Chronicler's are privileged to enter where they list, to come and
go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome, in their
soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time, and place.
Thrice blessed be this last consideration, since it enables us to
follow the disdainful Miggs even into the sanctity of her chamber,
and to hold her in sweet companionship through the dreary watches
of the night!
Miss Miggs, having undone her mistress, as she phrased it (which
means, assisted to undress her), and having seen her comfortably to
bed in the back room on the first floor, withdrew to her own
apartment, in the attic story. Notwithstanding her declaration in
the locksmith's presence, she was in no mood for sleep; so, putting
her light upon the table and withdrawing the little window curtain,
she gazed out pensively at the wild night sky.
Perhaps she wondered what star was destined for her habitation when
she had run her little course below; perhaps speculated which of
those glimmering spheres might be the natal orb of Mr Tappertit;
perhaps marvelled how they could gaze down on that perfidious
creature, man, and not sicken and turn green as chemists' lamps;
perhaps thought of nothing in particular. Whatever she thought
about, there she sat, until her attention, alive to anything
connected with the insinuating 'prentice, was attracted by a noise
in the next room to her own--his room; the room in which he slept,
and dreamed--it might be, sometimes dreamed of her.
That he was not dreaming now, unless he was taking a walk in his
sleep, was clear, for every now and then there came a shuffling
noise, as though he were engaged in polishing the whitewashed wall;
then a gentle creaking of his door; then the faintest indication of
his stealthy footsteps on the landing-place outside. Noting this
latter circumstance, Miss Miggs turned pale and shuddered, as
mistrusting his intentions; and more than once exclaimed, below her
breath, 'Oh! what a Providence it is, as I am bolted in!'--which,
owing doubtless to her alarm, was a confusion of ideas on her part
between a bolt and its use; for though there was one on the door,
it was not fastened.
Miss Miggs's sense of hearing, however, having as sharp an edge as
her temper, and being of the same snappish and suspicious kind,
very soon informed her that the footsteps passed her door, and
appeared to have some object quite separate and disconnected from
herself. At this discovery she became more alarmed than ever, and
was about to give utterance to those cries of 'Thieves!' and
'Murder!' which she had hitherto restrained, when it occurred to
her to look softly out, and see that her fears had some good
Looking out accordingly, and stretching her neck over the handrail,
she descried, to her great amazement, Mr Tappertit completely
dressed, stealing downstairs, one step at a time, with his shoes in
one hand and a lamp in the other. Following him with her eyes, and
going down a little way herself to get the better of an intervening
angle, she beheld him thrust his head in at the parlour-door, draw
it back again with great swiftness, and immediately begin a retreat
upstairs with all possible expedition.
'Here's mysteries!' said the damsel, when she was safe in her own
room again, quite out of breath. 'Oh, gracious, here's mysteries!'
The prospect of finding anybody out in anything, would have kept
Miss Miggs awake under the influence of henbane. Presently, she
heard the step again, as she would have done if it had been that of
a feather endowed with motion and walking down on tiptoe. Then
gliding out as before, she again beheld the retreating figure of
the 'prentice; again he looked cautiously in at the parlour-door,
but this time instead of retreating, he passed in and disappeared.
Miggs was back in her room, and had her head out of the window,
before an elderly gentleman could have winked and recovered from
it. Out he came at the street-door, shut it carefully behind him,
tried it with his knee, and swaggered off, putting something in his
pocket as he went along. At this spectacle Miggs cried 'Gracious!'
again, and then 'Goodness gracious!' and then 'Goodness gracious
me!' and then, candle in hand, went downstairs as he had done.
Coming to the workshop, she saw the lamp burning on the forge, and
everything as Sim had left it.
'Why I wish I may only have a walking funeral, and never be buried
decent with a mourning-coach and feathers, if the boy hasn't been
and made a key for his own self!' cried Miggs. 'Oh the little
This conclusion was not arrived at without consideration, and much
peeping and peering about; nor was it unassisted by the
recollection that she had on several occasions come upon the
'prentice suddenly, and found him busy at some mysterious
occupation. Lest the fact of Miss Miggs calling him, on whom she
stooped to cast a favourable eye, a boy, should create surprise in
any breast, it may be observed that she invariably affected to
regard all male bipeds under thirty as mere chits and infants;
which phenomenon is not unusual in ladies of Miss Miggs's temper,
and is indeed generally found to be the associate of such
indomitable and savage virtue.
Miss Miggs deliberated within herself for some little time, looking
hard at the shop-door while she did so, as though her eyes and
thoughts were both upon it; and then, taking a sheet of paper from
a drawer, twisted it into a long thin spiral tube. Having filled
this instrument with a quantity of small coal-dust from the forge,
she approached the door, and dropping on one knee before it,
dexterously blew into the keyhole as much of these fine ashes as
the lock would hold. When she had filled it to the brim in a very
workmanlike and skilful manner, she crept upstairs again, and
chuckled as she went.
'There!' cried Miggs, rubbing her hands, 'now let's see whether you
won't be glad to take some notice of me, mister. He, he, he!
You'll have eyes for somebody besides Miss Dolly now, I think. A
fat-faced puss she is, as ever I come across!'
As she uttered this criticism, she glanced approvingly at her small
mirror, as who should say, I thank my stars that can't be said of
me!--as it certainly could not; for Miss Miggs's style of beauty
was of that kind which Mr Tappertit himself had not inaptly termed,
in private, 'scraggy.'
'I don't go to bed this night!' said Miggs, wrapping herself in a
shawl, and drawing a couple of chairs near the window, flouncing
down upon one, and putting her feet upon the other, 'till you come
home, my lad. I wouldn't,' said Miggs viciously, 'no, not for
With that, and with an expression of face in which a great number
of opposite ingredients, such as mischief, cunning, malice,
triumph, and patient expectation, were all mixed up together in a
kind of physiognomical punch, Miss Miggs composed herself to wait
and listen, like some fair ogress who had set a trap and was
watching for a nibble from a plump young traveller.
She sat there, with perfect composure, all night. At length, just
upon break of day, there was a footstep in the street, and
presently she could hear Mr Tappertit stop at the door. Then she
could make out that he tried his key--that he was blowing into it--
that he knocked it on the nearest post to beat the dust out--that
he took it under a lamp to look at it--that he poked bits of stick
into the lock to clear it--that he peeped into the keyhole, first
with one eye, and then with the other--that he tried the key again--
that he couldn't turn it, and what was worse, couldn't get it out--
that he bent it--that then it was much less disposed to come out
than before--that he gave it a mighty twist and a great pull, and
then it came out so suddenly that he staggered backwards--that he
kicked the door--that he shook it--finally, that he smote his
forehead, and sat down on the step in despair.
When this crisis had arrived, Miss Miggs, affecting to be exhausted
with terror, and to cling to the window-sill for support, put out
her nightcap, and demanded in a faint voice who was there.
Mr Tappertit cried 'Hush!' and, backing to the road, exhorted her
in frenzied pantomime to secrecy and silence.
'Tell me one thing,' said Miggs. 'Is it thieves?'
'No--no--no!' cried Mr Tappertit.
'Then,' said Miggs, more faintly than before, 'it's fire. Where
is it, sir? It's near this room, I know. I've a good conscience,
sir, and would much rather die than go down a ladder. All I wish
is, respecting my love to my married sister, Golden Lion Court,
number twenty-sivin, second bell-handle on the right-hand door-
'Miggs!' cried Mr Tappertit, 'don't you know me? Sim, you know--
'Oh! what about him!' cried Miggs, clasping her hands. 'Is he in
any danger? Is he in the midst of flames and blazes! Oh gracious,
'Why I'm here, an't I?' rejoined Mr Tappertit, knocking himself on
the breast. 'Don't you see me? What a fool you are, Miggs!'
'There!' cried Miggs, unmindful of this compliment. 'Why--so it--
Goodness, what is the meaning of--If you please, mim, here's--'
'No, no!' cried Mr Tappertit, standing on tiptoe, as if by that
means he, in the street, were any nearer being able to stop the
mouth of Miggs in the garret. 'Don't!--I've been out without
leave, and something or another's the matter with the lock. Come
down, and undo the shop window, that I may get in that way.'
'I dursn't do it, Simmun,' cried Miggs--for that was her
pronunciation of his Christian name. 'I dursn't do it, indeed.
You know as well as anybody, how particular I am. And to come
down in the dead of night, when the house is wrapped in slumbers
and weiled in obscurity.' And there she stopped and shivered, for
her modesty caught cold at the very thought.
'But Miggs,' cried Mr Tappertit, getting under the lamp, that she
might see his eyes. 'My darling Miggs--'
Miggs screamed slightly.
'--That I love so much, and never can help thinking of,' and it is
impossible to describe the use he made of his eyes when he said
this--'do--for my sake, do.'
'Oh Simmun,' cried Miggs, 'this is worse than all. I know if I
come down, you'll go, and--'
'And what, my precious?' said Mr Tappertit.
'And try,' said Miggs, hysterically, 'to kiss me, or some such
dreadfulness; I know you will!'
'I swear I won't,' said Mr Tappertit, with remarkable earnestness.
'Upon my soul I won't. It's getting broad day, and the watchman's
waking up. Angelic Miggs! If you'll only come and let me in, I
promise you faithfully and truly I won't.'
Miss Miggs, whose gentle heart was touched, did not wait for the
oath (knowing how strong the temptation was, and fearing he might
forswear himself), but tripped lightly down the stairs, and with
her own fair hands drew back the rough fastenings of the workshop
window. Having helped the wayward 'prentice in, she faintly
articulated the words 'Simmun is safe!' and yielding to her woman's
nature, immediately became insensible.
'I knew I should quench her,' said Sim, rather embarrassed by this
circumstance. 'Of course I was certain it would come to this, but
there was nothing else to be done--if I hadn't eyed her over, she
wouldn't have come down. Here. Keep up a minute, Miggs. What a
slippery figure she is! There's no holding her, comfortably. Do
keep up a minute, Miggs, will you?'
As Miggs, however, was deaf to all entreaties, Mr Tappertit leant
her against the wall as one might dispose of a walking-stick or
umbrella, until he had secured the window, when he took her in his
arms again, and, in short stages and with great difficulty--arising
from her being tall and his being short, and perhaps in some degree
from that peculiar physical conformation on which he had already
remarked--carried her upstairs, and planting her, in the same
umbrella and walking-stick fashion, just inside her own door, left
her to her repose.
'He may be as cool as he likes,' said Miss Miggs, recovering as
soon as she was left alone; 'but I'm in his confidence and he can't
help himself, nor couldn't if he was twenty Simmunses!'
It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the
year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created
things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or
forward into summer, and in its uncertainty inclines now to the one
and now to the other, and now to both at once--wooing summer in the
sunshine, and lingering still with winter in the shade--it was, in
short, on one of those mornings, when it is hot and cold, wet and
dry, bright and lowering, sad and cheerful, withering and genial,
in the compass of one short hour, that old John Willet, who was
dropping asleep over the copper boiler, was roused by the sound of
a horse's feet, and glancing out at window, beheld a traveller of
goodly promise, checking his bridle at the Maypole door.
He was none of your flippant young fellows, who would call for a
tankard of mulled ale, and make themselves as much at home as if
they had ordered a hogshead of wine; none of your audacious young
swaggerers, who would even penetrate into the bar--that solemn
sanctuary--and, smiting old John upon the back, inquire if there
was never a pretty girl in the house, and where he hid his little
chambermaids, with a hundred other impertinences of that nature;
none of your free-and-easy companions, who would scrape their
boots upon the firedogs in the common room, and be not at all
particular on the subject of spittoons; none of your unconscionable
blades, requiring impossible chops, and taking unheard-of pickles
for granted. He was a staid, grave, placid gentleman, something
past the prime of life, yet upright in his carriage, for all that,
and slim as a greyhound. He was well-mounted upon a sturdy
chestnut cob, and had the graceful seat of an experienced horseman;
while his riding gear, though free from such fopperies as were then
in vogue, was handsome and well chosen. He wore a riding-coat of a
somewhat brighter green than might have been expected to suit the
taste of a gentleman of his years, with a short, black velvet cape,
and laced pocket-holes and cuffs, all of a jaunty fashion; his
linen, too, was of the finest kind, worked in a rich pattern at the
wrists and throat, and scrupulously white. Although he seemed,
judging from the mud he had picked up on the way, to have come from
London, his horse was as smooth and cool as his own iron-grey
periwig and pigtail. Neither man nor beast had turned a single
hair; and saving for his soiled skirts and spatter-dashes, this
gentleman, with his blooming face, white teeth, exactly-ordered
dress, and perfect calmness, might have come from making an
elaborate and leisurely toilet, to sit for an equestrian portrait
at old John Willet's gate.
It must not be supposed that John observed these several
characteristics by other than very slow degrees, or that he took in
more than half a one at a time, or that he even made up his mind
upon that, without a great deal of very serious consideration.
Indeed, if he had been distracted in the first instance by
questionings and orders, it would have taken him at the least a
fortnight to have noted what is here set down; but it happened that
the gentleman, being struck with the old house, or with the plump
pigeons which were skimming and curtseying about it, or with the
tall maypole, on the top of which a weathercock, which had been out
of order for fifteen years, performed a perpetual walk to the music
of its own creaking, sat for some little time looking round in
silence. Hence John, standing with his hand upon the horse's
bridle, and his great eyes on the rider, and with nothing passing
to divert his thoughts, had really got some of these little
circumstances into his brain by the time he was called upon to
'A quaint place this,' said the gentleman--and his voice was as
rich as his dress. 'Are you the landlord?'
'At your service, sir,' replied John Willet.
'You can give my horse good stabling, can you, and me an early
dinner (I am not particular what, so that it be cleanly served),
and a decent room of which there seems to be no lack in this great
mansion,' said the stranger, again running his eyes over the
'You can have, sir,' returned John with a readiness quite
surprising, 'anything you please.'
'It's well I am easily satisfied,' returned the other with a smile,
'or that might prove a hardy pledge, my friend.' And saying so, he
dismounted, with the aid of the block before the door, in a
'Halloa there! Hugh!' roared John. 'I ask your pardon, sir, for
keeping you standing in the porch; but my son has gone to town on
business, and the boy being, as I may say, of a kind of use to me,
I'm rather put out when he's away. Hugh!--a dreadful idle vagrant
fellow, sir, half a gipsy, as I think--always sleeping in the sun
in summer, and in the straw in winter time, sir--Hugh! Dear Lord,
to keep a gentleman a waiting here through him!--Hugh! I wish that
chap was dead, I do indeed.'
'Possibly he is,' returned the other. 'I should think if he were
living, he would have heard you by this time.'
'In his fits of laziness, he sleeps so desperate hard,' said the
distracted host, 'that if you were to fire off cannon-balls into
his ears, it wouldn't wake him, sir.'
The guest made no remark upon this novel cure for drowsiness, and
recipe for making people lively, but, with his hands clasped behind
him, stood in the porch, very much amused to see old John, with the
bridle in his hand, wavering between a strong impulse to abandon
the animal to his fate, and a half disposition to lead him into the
house, and shut him up in the parlour, while he waited on his
'Pillory the fellow, here he is at last!' cried John, in the very
height and zenith of his distress. 'Did you hear me a calling,
The figure he addressed made no answer, but putting his hand upon
the saddle, sprung into it at a bound, turned the horse's head
towards the stable, and was gone in an instant.
'Brisk enough when he is awake,' said the guest.
'Brisk enough, sir!' replied John, looking at the place where the
horse had been, as if not yet understanding quite, what had become
of him. 'He melts, I think. He goes like a drop of froth. You
look at him, and there he is. You look at him again, and--there he
Having, in the absence of any more words, put this sudden climax to
what he had faintly intended should be a long explanation of the
whole life and character of his man, the oracular John Willet led
the gentleman up his wide dismantled staircase into the Maypole's
It was spacious enough in all conscience, occupying the whole depth
of the house, and having at either end a great bay window, as large
as many modern rooms; in which some few panes of stained glass,
emblazoned with fragments of armorial bearings, though cracked, and
patched, and shattered, yet remained; attesting, by their
presence, that the former owner had made the very light subservient
to his state, and pressed the sun itself into his list of
flatterers; bidding it, when it shone into his chamber, reflect the
badges of his ancient family, and take new hues and colours from
But those were old days, and now every little ray came and went as
it would; telling the plain, bare, searching truth. Although the
best room of the inn, it had the melancholy aspect of grandeur in
decay, and was much too vast for comfort. Rich rustling hangings,
waving on the walls; and, better far, the rustling of youth and
beauty's dress; the light of women's eyes, outshining the tapers
and their own rich jewels; the sound of gentle tongues, and music,
and the tread of maiden feet, had once been there, and filled it
with delight. But they were gone, and with them all its gladness.
It was no longer a home; children were never born and bred there;
the fireside had become mercenary--a something to be bought and
sold--a very courtezan: let who would die, or sit beside, or leave
it, it was still the same--it missed nobody, cared for nobody, had
equal warmth and smiles for all. God help the man whose heart ever
changes with the world, as an old mansion when it becomes an inn!
No effort had been made to furnish this chilly waste, but before
the broad chimney a colony of chairs and tables had been planted on
a square of carpet, flanked by a ghostly screen, enriched with
figures, grinning and grotesque. After lighting with his own hands
the faggots which were heaped upon the hearth, old John withdrew to
hold grave council with his cook, touching the stranger's
entertainment; while the guest himself, seeing small comfort in
the yet unkindled wood, opened a lattice in the distant window, and
basked in a sickly gleam of cold March sun.
Leaving the window now and then, to rake the crackling logs
together, or pace the echoing room from end to end, he closed it
when the fire was quite burnt up, and having wheeled the easiest
chair into the warmest corner, summoned John Willet.
'Sir,' said John.
He wanted pen, ink, and paper. There was an old standish on the
mantelshelf containing a dusty apology for all three. Having set
this before him, the landlord was retiring, when he motioned him to
'There's a house not far from here,' said the guest when he had
written a few lines, 'which you call the Warren, I believe?'
As this was said in the tone of one who knew the fact, and asked
the question as a thing of course, John contented himself with
nodding his head in the affirmative; at the same time taking one
hand out of his pockets to cough behind, and then putting it in
'I want this note'--said the guest, glancing on what he had
written, and folding it, 'conveyed there without loss of time, and
an answer brought back here. Have you a messenger at hand?'
John was thoughtful for a minute or thereabouts, and then said Yes.
'Let me see him,' said the guest.
This was disconcerting; for Joe being out, and Hugh engaged in
rubbing down the chestnut cob, he designed sending on the errand,
Barnaby, who had just then arrived in one of his rambles, and who,
so that he thought himself employed on a grave and serious
business, would go anywhere.
'Why the truth is,' said John after a long pause, 'that the person
who'd go quickest, is a sort of natural, as one may say, sir; and
though quick of foot, and as much to be trusted as the post
itself, he's not good at talking, being touched and flighty, sir.'
'You don't,' said the guest, raising his eyes to John's fat face,
'you don't mean--what's the fellow's name--you don't mean Barnaby?'
'Yes, I do,' returned the landlord, his features turning quite
expressive with surprise.
'How comes he to be here?' inquired the guest, leaning back in his
chair; speaking in the bland, even tone, from which he never
varied; and with the same soft, courteous, never-changing smile
upon his face. 'I saw him in London last night.'
'He's, for ever, here one hour, and there the next,' returned old
John, after the usual pause to get the question in his mind.
'Sometimes he walks, and sometimes runs. He's known along the road
by everybody, and sometimes comes here in a cart or chaise, and
sometimes riding double. He comes and goes, through wind, rain,
snow, and hail, and on the darkest nights. Nothing hurts HIM.'
'He goes often to the Warren, does he not?' said the guest
carelessly. 'I seem to remember his mother telling me something to
that effect yesterday. But I was not attending to the good woman
'You're right, sir,' John made answer, 'he does. His father, sir,
was murdered in that house.'
'So I have heard,' returned the guest, taking a gold toothpick
from his pocket with the same sweet smile. 'A very disagreeable
circumstance for the family.'
'Very,' said John with a puzzled look, as if it occurred to him,
dimly and afar off, that this might by possibility be a cool way of
treating the subject.
'All the circumstances after a murder,' said the guest
soliloquising, 'must be dreadfully unpleasant--so much bustle and
disturbance--no repose--a constant dwelling upon one subject--and
the running in and out, and up and down stairs, intolerable. I
wouldn't have such a thing happen to anybody I was nearly
interested in, on any account. 'Twould be enough to wear one's
life out.--You were going to say, friend--' he added, turning to
'Only that Mrs Rudge lives on a little pension from the family, and
that Barnaby's as free of the house as any cat or dog about it,'
answered John. 'Shall he do your errand, sir?'
'Oh yes,' replied the guest. 'Oh certainly. Let him do it by all
means. Please to bring him here that I may charge him to be quick.
If he objects to come you may tell him it's Mr Chester. He will
remember my name, I dare say.'
John was so very much astonished to find who his visitor was, that
he could express no astonishment at all, by looks or otherwise, but
left the room as if he were in the most placid and imperturbable of
all possible conditions. It has been reported that when he got
downstairs, he looked steadily at the boiler for ten minutes by
the clock, and all that time never once left off shaking his head;
for which statement there would seem to be some ground of truth and
feasibility, inasmuch as that interval of time did certainly
elapse, before he returned with Barnaby to the guest's apartment.
'Come hither, lad,' said Mr Chester. 'You know Mr Geoffrey
Barnaby laughed, and looked at the landlord as though he would say,
'You hear him?' John, who was greatly shocked at this breach of
decorum, clapped his finger to his nose, and shook his head in mute
'He knows him, sir,' said John, frowning aside at Barnaby, 'as well
as you or I do.'
'I haven't the pleasure of much acquaintance with the gentleman,'
returned his guest. 'YOU may have. Limit the comparison to
yourself, my friend.'
Although this was said with the same easy affability, and the same
smile, John felt himself put down, and laying the indignity at
Barnaby's door, determined to kick his raven, on the very first
'Give that,' said the guest, who had by this time sealed the note,
and who beckoned his messenger towards him as he spoke, 'into Mr
Haredale's own hands. Wait for an answer, and bring it back to me
here. If you should find that Mr Haredale is engaged just now,
tell him--can he remember a message, landlord?'
'When he chooses, sir,' replied John. 'He won't forget this one.'
'How are you sure of that?'
John merely pointed to him as he stood with his head bent forward,
and his earnest gaze fixed closely on his questioner's face; and
'Tell him then, Barnaby, should he be engaged,' said Mr Chester,
'that I shall be glad to wait his convenience here, and to see him
(if he will call) at any time this evening.--At the worst I can
have a bed here, Willet, I suppose?'
Old John, immensely flattered by the personal notoriety implied in
this familiar form of address, answered, with something like a
knowing look, 'I should believe you could, sir,' and was turning
over in his mind various forms of eulogium, with the view of
selecting one appropriate to the qualities of his best bed, when
his ideas were put to flight by Mr Chester giving Barnaby the
letter, and bidding him make all speed away.
'Speed!' said Barnaby, folding the little packet in his breast,
'Speed! If you want to see hurry and mystery, come here. Here!'
With that, he put his hand, very much to John Willet's horror, on
the guest's fine broadcloth sleeve, and led him stealthily to the
'Look down there,' he said softly; 'do you mark how they whisper in
each other's ears; then dance and leap, to make believe they are in
sport? Do you see how they stop for a moment, when they think
there is no one looking, and mutter among themselves again; and
then how they roll and gambol, delighted with the mischief they've
been plotting? Look at 'em now. See how they whirl and plunge.
And now they stop again, and whisper, cautiously together--little
thinking, mind, how often I have lain upon the grass and watched
them. I say what is it that they plot and hatch? Do you know?'
'They are only clothes,' returned the guest, 'such as we wear;
hanging on those lines to dry, and fluttering in the wind.'
'Clothes!' echoed Barnaby, looking close into his face, and falling
quickly back. 'Ha ha! Why, how much better to be silly, than as
wise as you! You don't see shadowy people there, like those that
live in sleep--not you. Nor eyes in the knotted panes of glass,
nor swift ghosts when it blows hard, nor do you hear voices in the
air, nor see men stalking in the sky--not you! I lead a merrier
life than you, with all your cleverness. You're the dull men.
We're the bright ones. Ha! ha! I'll not change with you, clever
as you are,--not I!'
With that, he waved his hat above his head, and darted off.
'A strange creature, upon my word!' said the guest, pulling out a
handsome box, and taking a pinch of snuff.
'He wants imagination,' said Mr Willet, very slowly, and after a
long silence; 'that's what he wants. I've tried to instil it into
him, many and many's the time; but'--John added this in confidence--
'he an't made for it; that's the fact.'
To record that Mr Chester smiled at John's remark would be little
to the purpose, for he preserved the same conciliatory and pleasant
look at all times. He drew his chair nearer to the fire though, as
a kind of hint that he would prefer to be alone, and John, having
no reasonable excuse for remaining, left him to himself.
Very thoughtful old John Willet was, while the dinner was
preparing; and if his brain were ever less clear at one time than
another, it is but reasonable to suppose that he addled it in no
slight degree by shaking his head so much that day. That Mr
Chester, between whom and Mr Haredale, it was notorious to all the
neighbourhood, a deep and bitter animosity existed, should come
down there for the sole purpose, as it seemed, of seeing him, and
should choose the Maypole for their place of meeting, and should
send to him express, were stumbling blocks John could not overcome.
The only resource he had, was to consult the boiler, and wait
impatiently for Barnaby's return.
But Barnaby delayed beyond all precedent. The visitor's dinner was
served, removed, his wine was set, the fire replenished, the hearth
clean swept; the light waned without, it grew dusk, became quite
dark, and still no Barnaby appeared. Yet, though John Willet was
full of wonder and misgiving, his guest sat cross-legged in the
easy-chair, to all appearance as little ruffled in his thoughts as
in his dress--the same calm, easy, cool gentleman, without a care
or thought beyond his golden toothpick.
'Barnaby's late,' John ventured to observe, as he placed a pair of
tarnished candlesticks, some three feet high, upon the table, and
snuffed the lights they held.
'He is rather so,' replied the guest, sipping his wine. 'He will
not be much longer, I dare say.'
John coughed and raked the fire together.
'As your roads bear no very good character, if I may judge from my
son's mishap, though,' said Mr Chester, 'and as I have no fancy to
be knocked on the head--which is not only disconcerting at the
moment, but places one, besides, in a ridiculous position with
respect to the people who chance to pick one up--I shall stop here
to-night. I think you said you had a bed to spare.'
'Such a bed, sir,' returned John Willet; 'ay, such a bed as few,
even of the gentry's houses, own. A fixter here, sir. I've heard
say that bedstead is nigh two hundred years of age. Your noble
son--a fine young gentleman--slept in it last, sir, half a year
'Upon my life, a recommendation!' said the guest, shrugging his
shoulders and wheeling his chair nearer to the fire. 'See that it
be well aired, Mr Willet, and let a blazing fire be lighted there
at once. This house is something damp and chilly.'
John raked the faggots up again, more from habit than presence of
mind, or any reference to this remark, and was about to withdraw,
when a bounding step was heard upon the stair, and Barnaby came
'He'll have his foot in the stirrup in an hour's time,' he cried,
advancing. 'He has been riding hard all day--has just come home--
but will be in the saddle again as soon as he has eat and drank, to
meet his loving friend.'
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