Master Humphrey's Clock
Part 1 out of 3
Master Humphrey's Clock by Charles Dickens
Scanned and proofed by David Price
Master Humphrey's Clock
by Charles Dickens
CHAPTER I - MASTER HUMPHREY, FROM HIS CLOCK-SIDE IN THE CHIMNEY
THE reader must not expect to know where I live. At present, it is
true, my abode may be a question of little or no import to anybody;
but if I should carry my readers with me, as I hope to do, and
there should spring up between them and me feelings of homely
affection and regard attaching something of interest to matters
ever so slightly connected with my fortunes or my speculations,
even my place of residence might one day have a kind of charm for
them. Bearing this possible contingency in mind, I wish them to
understand, in the outset, that they must never expect to know it.
I am not a churlish old man. Friendless I can never be, for all
mankind are my kindred, and I am on ill terms with no one member of
my great family. But for many years I have led a lonely, solitary
life; - what wound I sought to heal, what sorrow to forget,
originally, matters not now; it is sufficient that retirement has
become a habit with me, and that I am unwilling to break the spell
which for so long a time has shed its quiet influence upon my home
I live in a venerable suburb of London, in an old house which in
bygone days was a famous resort for merry roysterers and peerless
ladies, long since departed. It is a silent, shady place, with a
paved courtyard so full of echoes, that sometimes I am tempted to
believe that faint responses to the noises of old times linger
there yet, and that these ghosts of sound haunt my footsteps as I
pace it up and down. I am the more confirmed in this belief,
because, of late years, the echoes that attend my walks have been
less loud and marked than they were wont to be; and it is
pleasanter to imagine in them the rustling of silk brocade, and the
light step of some lovely girl, than to recognise in their altered
note the failing tread of an old man.
Those who like to read of brilliant rooms and gorgeous furniture
would derive but little pleasure from a minute description of my
simple dwelling. It is dear to me for the same reason that they
would hold it in slight regard. Its worm-eaten doors, and low
ceilings crossed by clumsy beams; its walls of wainscot, dark
stairs, and gaping closets; its small chambers, communicating with
each other by winding passages or narrow steps; its many nooks,
scarce larger than its corner-cupboards; its very dust and dulness,
are all dear to me. The moth and spider are my constant tenants;
for in my house the one basks in his long sleep, and the other
plies his busy loom secure and undisturbed. I have a pleasure in
thinking on a summer's day how many butterflies have sprung for the
first time into light and sunshine from some dark corner of these
When I first came to live here, which was many years ago, the
neighbours were curious to know who I was, and whence I came, and
why I lived so much alone. As time went on, and they still
remained unsatisfied on these points, I became the centre of a
popular ferment, extending for half a mile round, and in one
direction for a full mile. Various rumours were circulated to my
prejudice. I was a spy, an infidel, a conjurer, a kidnapper of
children, a refugee, a priest, a monster. Mothers caught up their
infants and ran into their houses as I passed; men eyed me
spitefully, and muttered threats and curses. I was the object of
suspicion and distrust - ay, of downright hatred too.
But when in course of time they found I did no harm, but, on the
contrary, inclined towards them despite their unjust usage, they
began to relent. I found my footsteps no longer dogged, as they
had often been before, and observed that the women and children no
longer retreated, but would stand and gaze at me as I passed their
doors. I took this for a good omen, and waited patiently for
better times. By degrees I began to make friends among these
humble folks; and though they were yet shy of speaking, would give
them 'good day,' and so pass on. In a little time, those whom I
had thus accosted would make a point of coming to their doors and
windows at the usual hour, and nod or courtesy to me; children,
too, came timidly within my reach, and ran away quite scared when I
patted their heads and bade them be good at school. These little
people soon grew more familiar. From exchanging mere words of
course with my older neighbours, I gradually became their friend
and adviser, the depositary of their cares and sorrows, and
sometimes, it may be, the reliever, in my small way, of their
distresses. And now I never walk abroad but pleasant recognitions
and smiling faces wait on Master Humphrey.
It was a whim of mine, perhaps as a whet to the curiosity of my
neighbours, and a kind of retaliation upon them for their
suspicions - it was, I say, a whim of mine, when I first took up my
abode in this place, to acknowledge no other name than Humphrey.
With my detractors, I was Ugly Humphrey. When I began to convert
them into friends, I was Mr. Humphrey and Old Mr. Humphrey. At
length I settled down into plain Master Humphrey, which was
understood to be the title most pleasant to my ear; and so
completely a matter of course has it become, that sometimes when I
am taking my morning walk in my little courtyard, I overhear my
barber - who has a profound respect for me, and would not, I am
sure, abridge my honours for the world - holding forth on the other
side of the wall, touching the state of 'Master Humphrey's' health,
and communicating to some friend the substance of the conversation
that he and Master Humphrey have had together in the course of the
shaving which he has just concluded.
That I may not make acquaintance with my readers under false
pretences, or give them cause to complain hereafter that I have
withheld any matter which it was essential for them to have learnt
at first, I wish them to know - and I smile sorrowfully to think
that the time has been when the confession would have given me pain
- that I am a misshapen, deformed old man.
I have never been made a misanthrope by this cause. I have never
been stung by any insult, nor wounded by any jest upon my crooked
figure. As a child I was melancholy and timid, but that was
because the gentle consideration paid to my misfortune sunk deep
into my spirit and made me sad, even in those early days. I was
but a very young creature when my poor mother died, and yet I
remember that often when I hung around her neck, and oftener still
when I played about the room before her, she would catch me to her
bosom, and bursting into tears, would soothe me with every term of
fondness and affection. God knows I was a happy child at those
times, - happy to nestle in her breast, - happy to weep when she
did, - happy in not knowing why.
These occasions are so strongly impressed upon my memory, that they
seem to have occupied whole years. I had numbered very, very few
when they ceased for ever, but before then their meaning had been
revealed to me.
I do not know whether all children are imbued with a quick
perception of childish grace and beauty, and a strong love for it,
but I was. I had no thought that I remember, either that I
possessed it myself or that I lacked it, but I admired it with an
intensity that I cannot describe. A little knot of playmates -
they must have been beautiful, for I see them now - were clustered
one day round my mother's knee in eager admiration of some picture
representing a group of infant angels, which she held in her hand.
Whose the picture was, whether it was familiar to me or otherwise,
or how all the children came to be there, I forget; I have some dim
thought it was my birthday, but the beginning of my recollection is
that we were all together in a garden, and it was summer weather, -
I am sure of that, for one of the little girls had roses in her
sash. There were many lovely angels in this picture, and I
remember the fancy coming upon me to point out which of them
represented each child there, and that when I had gone through my
companions, I stopped and hesitated, wondering which was most like
me. I remember the children looking at each other, and my turning
red and hot, and their crowding round to kiss me, saying that they
loved me all the same; and then, and when the old sorrow came into
my dear mother's mild and tender look, the truth broke upon me for
the first time, and I knew, while watching my awkward and ungainly
sports, how keenly she had felt for her poor crippled boy.
I used frequently to dream of it afterwards, and now my heart aches
for that child as if I had never been he, when I think how often he
awoke from some fairy change to his own old form, and sobbed
himself to sleep again.
Well, well, - all these sorrows are past. My glancing at them may
not be without its use, for it may help in some measure to explain
why I have all my life been attached to the inanimate objects that
people my chamber, and how I have come to look upon them rather in
the light of old and constant friends, than as mere chairs and
tables which a little money could replace at will.
Chief and first among all these is my Clock, - my old, cheerful,
companionable Clock. How can I ever convey to others an idea of
the comfort and consolation that this old Clock has been for years
It is associated with my earliest recollections. It stood upon the
staircase at home (I call it home still mechanically), nigh sixty
years ago. I like it for that; but it is not on that account, nor
because it is a quaint old thing in a huge oaken case curiously and
richly carved, that I prize it as I do. I incline to it as if it
were alive, and could understand and give me back the love I bear
And what other thing that has not life could cheer me as it does?
what other thing that has not life (I will not say how few things
that have) could have proved the same patient, true, untiring
friend? How often have I sat in the long winter evenings feeling
such society in its cricket-voice, that raising my eyes from my
book and looking gratefully towards it, the face reddened by the
glow of the shining fire has seemed to relax from its staid
expression and to regard me kindly! how often in the summer
twilight, when my thoughts have wandered back to a melancholy past,
have its regular whisperings recalled them to the calm and peaceful
present! how often in the dead tranquillity of night has its bell
broken the oppressive silence, and seemed to give me assurance that
the old clock was still a faithful watcher at my chamber-door! My
easy-chair, my desk, my ancient furniture, my very books, I can
scarcely bring myself to love even these last like my old clock.
It stands in a snug corner, midway between the fireside and a low
arched door leading to my bedroom. Its fame is diffused so
extensively throughout the neighbourhood, that I have often the
satisfaction of hearing the publican, or the baker, and sometimes
even the parish-clerk, petitioning my housekeeper (of whom I shall
have much to say by-and-by) to inform him the exact time by Master
Humphrey's clock. My barber, to whom I have referred, would sooner
believe it than the sun. Nor are these its only distinctions. It
has acquired, I am happy to say, another, inseparably connecting it
not only with my enjoyments and reflections, but with those of
other men; as I shall now relate.
I lived alone here for a long time without any friend or
acquaintance. In the course of my wanderings by night and day, at
all hours and seasons, in city streets and quiet country parts, I
came to be familiar with certain faces, and to take it to heart as
quite a heavy disappointment if they failed to present themselves
each at its accustomed spot. But these were the only friends I
knew, and beyond them I had none.
It happened, however, when I had gone on thus for a long time, that
I formed an acquaintance with a deaf gentleman, which ripened into
intimacy and close companionship. To this hour, I am ignorant of
his name. It is his humour to conceal it, or he has a reason and
purpose for so doing. In either case, I feel that he has a right
to require a return of the trust he has reposed; and as he has
never sought to discover my secret, I have never sought to
penetrate his. There may have been something in this tacit
confidence in each other flattering and pleasant to us both, and it
may have imparted in the beginning an additional zest, perhaps, to
our friendship. Be this as it may, we have grown to be like
brothers, and still I only know him as the deaf gentleman.
I have said that retirement has become a habit with me. When I
add, that the deaf gentleman and I have two friends, I communicate
nothing which is inconsistent with that declaration. I spend many
hours of every day in solitude and study, have no friends or change
of friends but these, only see them at stated periods, and am
supposed to be of a retired spirit by the very nature and object of
We are men of secluded habits, with something of a cloud upon our
early fortunes, whose enthusiasm, nevertheless, has not cooled with
age, whose spirit of romance is not yet quenched, who are content
to ramble through the world in a pleasant dream, rather than ever
waken again to its harsh realities. We are alchemists who would
extract the essence of perpetual youth from dust and ashes, tempt
coy Truth in many light and airy forms from the bottom of her well,
and discover one crumb of comfort or one grain of good in the
commonest and least-regarded matter that passes through our
crucible. Spirits of past times, creatures of imagination, and
people of to-day are alike the objects of our seeking, and, unlike
the objects of search with most philosophers, we can insure their
coming at our command.
The deaf gentleman and I first began to beguile our days with these
fancies, and our nights in communicating them to each other. We
are now four. But in my room there are six old chairs, and we have
decided that the two empty seats shall always be placed at our
table when we meet, to remind us that we may yet increase our
company by that number, if we should find two men to our mind.
When one among us dies, his chair will always be set in its usual
place, but never occupied again; and I have caused my will to be so
drawn out, that when we are all dead the house shall be shut up,
and the vacant chairs still left in their accustomed places. It is
pleasant to think that even then our shades may, perhaps, assemble
together as of yore we did, and join in ghostly converse.
One night in every week, as the clock strikes ten, we meet. At the
second stroke of two, I am alone.
And now shall I tell how that my old servant, besides giving us
note of time, and ticking cheerful encouragement of our
proceedings, lends its name to our society, which for its
punctuality and my love is christened 'Master Humphrey's Clock'?
Now shall I tell how that in the bottom of the old dark closet,
where the steady pendulum throbs and beats with healthy action,
though the pulse of him who made it stood still long ago, and never
moved again, there are piles of dusty papers constantly placed
there by our hands, that we may link our enjoyments with my old
friend, and draw means to beguile time from the heart of time
itself? Shall I, or can I, tell with what a secret pride I open
this repository when we meet at night, and still find new store of
pleasure in my dear old Clock?
Friend and companion of my solitude! mine is not a selfish love; I
would not keep your merits to myself, but disperse something of
pleasant association with your image through the whole wide world;
I would have men couple with your name cheerful and healthy
thoughts; I would have them believe that you keep true and honest
time; and how it would gladden me to know that they recognised some
hearty English work in Master Humphrey's clock!
It is my intention constantly to address my readers from the
chimney-corner, and I would fain hope that such accounts as I shall
give them of our histories and proceedings, our quiet speculations
or more busy adventures, will never be unwelcome. Lest, however, I
should grow prolix in the outset by lingering too long upon our
little association, confounding the enthusiasm with which I regard
this chief happiness of my life with that minor degree of interest
which those to whom I address myself may be supposed to feel for
it, I have deemed it expedient to break off as they have seen.
But, still clinging to my old friend, and naturally desirous that
all its merits should be known, I am tempted to open (somewhat
irregularly and against our laws, I must admit) the clock-case.
The first roll of paper on which I lay my hand is in the writing of
the deaf gentleman. I shall have to speak of him in my next paper;
and how can I better approach that welcome task than by prefacing
it with a production of his own pen, consigned to the safe keeping
of my honest Clock by his own hand?
The manuscript runs thus
INTRODUCTION TO THE GIANT CHRONICLES
Once upon a time, that is to say, in this our time, - the exact
year, month, and day are of no matter, - there dwelt in the city of
London a substantial citizen, who united in his single person the
dignities of wholesale fruiterer, alderman, common-councilman, and
member of the worshipful Company of Patten-makers; who had
superadded to these extraordinary distinctions the important post
and title of Sheriff, and who at length, and to crown all, stood
next in rotation for the high and honourable office of Lord Mayor.
He was a very substantial citizen indeed. His face was like the
full moon in a fog, with two little holes punched out for his eyes,
a very ripe pear stuck on for his nose, and a wide gash to serve
for a mouth. The girth of his waistcoat was hung up and lettered
in his tailor's shop as an extraordinary curiosity. He breathed
like a heavy snorer, and his voice in speaking came thickly forth,
as if it were oppressed and stifled by feather-beds. He trod the
ground like an elephant, and eat and drank like - like nothing but
an alderman, as he was.
This worthy citizen had risen to his great eminence from small
beginnings. He had once been a very lean, weazen little boy, never
dreaming of carrying such a weight of flesh upon his bones or of
money in his pockets, and glad enough to take his dinner at a
baker's door, and his tea at a pump. But he had long ago forgotten
all this, as it was proper that a wholesale fruiterer, alderman,
common-councilman, member of the worshipful Company of Patten-
makers, past sheriff, and, above all, a Lord Mayor that was to be,
should; and he never forgot it more completely in all his life than
on the eighth of November in the year of his election to the great
golden civic chair, which was the day before his grand dinner at
It happened that as he sat that evening all alone in his counting-
house, looking over the bill of fare for next day, and checking off
the fat capons in fifties, and the turtle-soup by the hundred
quarts, for his private amusement, - it happened that as he sat
alone occupied in these pleasant calculations, a strange man came
in and asked him how he did, adding, 'If I am half as much changed
as you, sir, you have no recollection of me, I am sure.'
The strange man was not over and above well dressed, and was very
far from being fat or rich-looking in any sense of the word, yet he
spoke with a kind of modest confidence, and assumed an easy,
gentlemanly sort of an air, to which nobody but a rich man can
lawfully presume. Besides this, he interrupted the good citizen
just as he had reckoned three hundred and seventy-two fat capons,
and was carrying them over to the next column; and as if that were
not aggravation enough, the learned recorder for the city of London
had only ten minutes previously gone out at that very same door,
and had turned round and said, 'Good night, my lord.' Yes, he had
said, 'my lord;' - he, a man of birth and education, of the
Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, Barrister-at-Law, - he who
had an uncle in the House of Commons, and an aunt almost but not
quite in the House of Lords (for she had married a feeble peer, and
made him vote as she liked), - he, this man, this learned recorder,
had said, 'my lord.' 'I'll not wait till to-morrow to give you
your title, my Lord Mayor,' says he, with a bow and a smile; 'you
are Lord Mayor DE FACTO, if not DE JURE. Good night, my lord.'
The Lord Mayor elect thought of this, and turning to the stranger,
and sternly bidding him 'go out of his private counting-house,'
brought forward the three hundred and seventy-two fat capons, and
went on with his account.
'Do you remember,' said the other, stepping forward, - 'DO you
remember little Joe Toddyhigh?'
The port wine fled for a moment from the fruiterer's nose as he
muttered, 'Joe Toddyhigh! What about Joe Toddyhigh?'
'I am Joe Toddyhigh,' cried the visitor. 'Look at me, look hard at
me, - harder, harder. You know me now? You know little Joe again?
What a happiness to us both, to meet the very night before your
grandeur! O! give me your hand, Jack, - both hands, - both, for
the sake of old times.'
'You pinch me, sir. You're a-hurting of me,' said the Lord Mayor
elect pettishly. 'Don't, - suppose anybody should come, - Mr.
'Mr. Toddyhigh!' repeated the other ruefully.
'O, don't bother,' said the Lord Mayor elect, scratching his head.
'Dear me! Why, I thought you was dead. What a fellow you are!'
Indeed, it was a pretty state of things, and worthy the tone of
vexation and disappointment in which the Lord Mayor spoke. Joe
Toddyhigh had been a poor boy with him at Hull, and had oftentimes
divided his last penny and parted his last crust to relieve his
wants; for though Joe was a destitute child in those times, he was
as faithful and affectionate in his friendship as ever man of might
could be. They parted one day to seek their fortunes in different
directions. Joe went to sea, and the now wealthy citizen begged
his way to London, They separated with many tears, like foolish
fellows as they were, and agreed to remain fast friends, and if
they lived, soon to communicate again.
When he was an errand-boy, and even in the early days of his
apprenticeship, the citizen had many a time trudged to the Post-
office to ask if there were any letter from poor little Joe, and
had gone home again with tears in his eyes, when he found no news
of his only friend. The world is a wide place, and it was a long
time before the letter came; when it did, the writer was forgotten.
It turned from white to yellow from lying in the Post-office with
nobody to claim it, and in course of time was torn up with five
hundred others, and sold for waste-paper. And now at last, and
when it might least have been expected, here was this Joe Toddyhigh
turning up and claiming acquaintance with a great public character,
who on the morrow would be cracking jokes with the Prime Minister
of England, and who had only, at any time during the next twelve
months, to say the word, and he could shut up Temple Bar, and make
it no thoroughfare for the king himself!
'I am sure I don't know what to say, Mr. Toddyhigh,' said the Lord
Mayor elect; 'I really don't. It's very inconvenient. I'd sooner
have given twenty pound, - it's very inconvenient, really.' - A
thought had come into his mind, that perhaps his old friend might
say something passionate which would give him an excuse for being
angry himself. No such thing. Joe looked at him steadily, but very
mildly, and did not open his lips.
'Of course I shall pay you what I owe you,' said the Lord Mayor
elect, fidgeting in his chair. 'You lent me - I think it was a
shilling or some small coin - when we parted company, and that of
course I shall pay with good interest. I can pay my way with any
man, and always have done. If you look into the Mansion House the
day after to-morrow, - some time after dusk, - and ask for my
private clerk, you'll find he has a draft for you. I haven't got
time to say anything more just now, unless,' - he hesitated, for,
coupled with a strong desire to glitter for once in all his glory
in the eyes of his former companion, was a distrust of his
appearance, which might be more shabby than he could tell by that
feeble light, - 'unless you'd like to come to the dinner to-morrow.
I don't mind your having this ticket, if you like to take it. A
great many people would give their ears for it, I can tell you.'
His old friend took the card without speaking a word, and instantly
departed. His sunburnt face and gray hair were present to the
citizen's mind for a moment; but by the time he reached three
hundred and eighty-one fat capons, he had quite forgotten him.
Joe Toddyhigh had never been in the capital of Europe before, and
he wandered up and down the streets that night amazed at the number
of churches and other public buildings, the splendour of the shops,
the riches that were heaped up on every side, the glare of light in
which they were displayed, and the concourse of people who hurried
to and fro, indifferent, apparently, to all the wonders that
surrounded them. But in all the long streets and broad squares,
there were none but strangers; it was quite a relief to turn down a
by-way and hear his own footsteps on the pavement. He went home to
his inn, thought that London was a dreary, desolate place, and felt
disposed to doubt the existence of one true-hearted man in the
whole worshipful Company of Patten-makers. Finally, he went to
bed, and dreamed that he and the Lord Mayor elect were boys again.
He went next day to the dinner; and when in a burst of light and
music, and in the midst of splendid decorations and surrounded by
brilliant company, his former friend appeared at the head of the
Hall, and was hailed with shouts and cheering, he cheered and
shouted with the best, and for the moment could have cried. The
next moment he cursed his weakness in behalf of a man so changed
and selfish, and quite hated a jolly-looking old gentleman opposite
for declaring himself in the pride of his heart a Patten-maker.
As the banquet proceeded, he took more and more to heart the rich
citizen's unkindness; and that, not from any envy, but because he
felt that a man of his state and fortune could all the better
afford to recognise an old friend, even if he were poor and
obscure. The more he thought of this, the more lonely and sad he
felt. When the company dispersed and adjourned to the ball-room,
he paced the hall and passages alone, ruminating in a very
melancholy condition upon the disappointment he had experienced.
It chanced, while he was lounging about in this moody state, that
he stumbled upon a flight of stairs, dark, steep, and narrow, which
he ascended without any thought about the matter, and so came into
a little music-gallery, empty and deserted. From this elevated
post, which commanded the whole hall, he amused himself in looking
down upon the attendants who were clearing away the fragments of
the feast very lazily, and drinking out of all the bottles and
glasses with most commendable perseverance.
His attention gradually relaxed, and he fell fast asleep.
When he awoke, he thought there must be something the matter with
his eyes; but, rubbing them a little, he soon found that the
moonlight was really streaming through the east window, that the
lamps were all extinguished, and that he was alone. He listened,
but no distant murmur in the echoing passages, not even the
shutting of a door, broke the deep silence; he groped his way down
the stairs, and found that the door at the bottom was locked on the
other side. He began now to comprehend that he must have slept a
long time, that he had been overlooked, and was shut up there for
His first sensation, perhaps, was not altogether a comfortable one,
for it was a dark, chilly, earthy-smelling place, and something too
large, for a man so situated, to feel at home in. However, when
the momentary consternation of his surprise was over, he made light
of the accident, and resolved to feel his way up the stairs again,
and make himself as comfortable as he could in the gallery until
morning. As he turned to execute this purpose, he heard the clocks
Any such invasion of a dead stillness as the striking of distant
clocks, causes it to appear the more intense and insupportable when
the sound has ceased. He listened with strained attention in the
hope that some clock, lagging behind its fellows, had yet to
strike, - looking all the time into the profound darkness before
him, until it seemed to weave itself into a black tissue, patterned
with a hundred reflections of his own eyes. But the bells had all
pealed out their warning for that once, and the gust of wind that
moaned through the place seemed cold and heavy with their iron
The time and circumstances were favourable to reflection. He tried
to keep his thoughts to the current, unpleasant though it was, in
which they had moved all day, and to think with what a romantic
feeling he had looked forward to shaking his old friend by the hand
before he died, and what a wide and cruel difference there was
between the meeting they had had, and that which he had so often
and so long anticipated. Still, he was disordered by waking to
such sudden loneliness, and could not prevent his mind from running
upon odd tales of people of undoubted courage, who, being shut up
by night in vaults or churches, or other dismal places, had scaled
great heights to get out, and fled from silence as they had never
done from danger. This brought to his mind the moonlight through
the window, and bethinking himself of it, he groped his way back up
the crooked stairs, - but very stealthily, as though he were
fearful of being overheard.
He was very much astonished when he approached the gallery again,
to see a light in the building: still more so, on advancing
hastily and looking round, to observe no visible source from which
it could proceed. But how much greater yet was his astonishment at
the spectacle which this light revealed.
The statues of the two giants, Gog and Magog, each above fourteen
feet in height, those which succeeded to still older and more
barbarous figures, after the Great Fire of London, and which stand
in the Guildhall to this day, were endowed with life and motion.
These guardian genii of the City had quitted their pedestals, and
reclined in easy attitudes in the great stained glass window.
Between them was an ancient cask, which seemed to be full of wine;
for the younger Giant, clapping his huge hand upon it, and throwing
up his mighty leg, burst into an exulting laugh, which reverberated
through the hall like thunder.
Joe Toddyhigh instinctively stooped down, and, more dead than
alive, felt his hair stand on end, his knees knock together, and a
cold damp break out upon his forehead. But even at that minute
curiosity prevailed over every other feeling, and somewhat
reassured by the good-humour of the Giants and their apparent
unconsciousness of his presence, he crouched in a corner of the
gallery, in as small a space as he could, and, peeping between the
rails, observed them closely.
It was then that the elder Giant, who had a flowing gray beard,
raised his thoughtful eyes to his companion's face, and in a grave
and solemn voice addressed him thus:
FIRST NIGHT OF THE GIANT CHRONICLES
Turning towards his companion the elder Giant uttered these words
in a grave, majestic tone:
'Magog, does boisterous mirth beseem the Giant Warder of this
ancient city? Is this becoming demeanour for a watchful spirit
over whose bodiless head so many years have rolled, so many changes
swept like empty air - in whose impalpable nostrils the scent of
blood and crime, pestilence, cruelty, and horror, has been familiar
as breath to mortals - in whose sight Time has gathered in the
harvest of centuries, and garnered so many crops of human pride,
affections, hopes, and sorrows? Bethink you of our compact. The
night wanes; feasting, revelry, and music have encroached upon our
usual hours of solitude, and morning will be here apace. Ere we
are stricken mute again, bethink you of our compact.'
Pronouncing these latter words with more of impatience than quite
accorded with his apparent age and gravity, the Giant raised a long
pole (which he still bears in his hand) and tapped his brother
Giant rather smartly on the head; indeed, the blow was so smartly
administered, that the latter quickly withdrew his lips from the
cask, to which they had been applied, and, catching up his shield
and halberd, assumed an attitude of defence. His irritation was
but momentary, for he laid these weapons aside as hastily as he had
assumed them, and said as he did so:
'You know, Gog, old friend, that when we animate these shapes which
the Londoners of old assigned (and not unworthily) to the guardian
genii of their city, we are susceptible of some of the sensations
which belong to human kind. Thus when I taste wine, I feel blows;
when I relish the one, I disrelish the other. Therefore, Gog, the
more especially as your arm is none of the lightest, keep your good
staff by your side, else we may chance to differ. Peace be between
'Amen!' said the other, leaning his staff in the window-corner.
'Why did you laugh just now?'
'To think,' replied the Giant Magog, laying his hand upon the cask,
'of him who owned this wine, and kept it in a cellar hoarded from
the light of day, for thirty years, - "till it should be fit to
drink," quoth he. He was twoscore and ten years old when he buried
it beneath his house, and yet never thought that he might be
scarcely "fit to drink" when the wine became so. I wonder it never
occurred to him to make himself unfit to be eaten. There is very
little of him left by this time.'
'The night is waning,' said Gog mournfully.
'I know it,' replied his companion, 'and I see you are impatient.
But look. Through the eastern window - placed opposite to us, that
the first beams of the rising sun may every morning gild our giant
faces - the moon-rays fall upon the pavement in a stream of light
that to my fancy sinks through the cold stone and gushes into the
old crypt below. The night is scarcely past its noon, and our
great charge is sleeping heavily.'
They ceased to speak, and looked upward at the moon. The sight of
their large, black, rolling eyes filled Joe Toddyhigh with such
horror that he could scarcely draw his breath. Still they took no
note of him, and appeared to believe themselves quite alone.
'Our compact,' said Magog after a pause, 'is, if I understand it,
that, instead of watching here in silence through the dreary
nights, we entertain each other with stories of our past
experience; with tales of the past, the present, and the future;
with legends of London and her sturdy citizens from the old simple
times. That every night at midnight, when St. Paul's bell tolls
out one, and we may move and speak, we thus discourse, nor leave
such themes till the first gray gleam of day shall strike us dumb.
Is that our bargain, brother?'
'Yes,' said the Giant Gog, 'that is the league between us who guard
this city, by day in spirit, and by night in body also; and never
on ancient holidays have its conduits run wine more merrily than we
will pour forth our legendary lore. We are old chroniclers from
this time hence. The crumbled walls encircle us once more, the
postern-gates are closed, the drawbridge is up, and pent in its
narrow den beneath, the water foams and struggles with the sunken
starlings. Jerkins and quarter-staves are in the streets again,
the nightly watch is set, the rebel, sad and lonely in his Tower
dungeon, tries to sleep and weeps for home and children. Aloft
upon the gates and walls are noble heads glaring fiercely down upon
the dreaming city, and vexing the hungry dogs that scent them in
the air, and tear the ground beneath with dismal howlings. The
axe, the block, the rack, in their dark chambers give signs of
recent use. The Thames, floating past long lines of cheerful
windows whence come a burst of music and a stream of light, bears
suddenly to the Palace wall the last red stain brought on the tide
from Traitor's Gate. But your pardon, brother. The night wears,
and I am talking idly.'
The other Giant appeared to be entirely of this opinion, for during
the foregoing rhapsody of his fellow-sentinel he had been
scratching his head with an air of comical uneasiness, or rather
with an air that would have been very comical if he had been a
dwarf or an ordinary-sized man. He winked too, and though it could
not be doubted for a moment that he winked to himself, still he
certainly cocked his enormous eye towards the gallery where the
listener was concealed. Nor was this all, for he gaped; and when
he gaped, Joe was horribly reminded of the popular prejudice on the
subject of giants, and of their fabled power of smelling out
Englishmen, however closely concealed.
His alarm was such that he nearly swooned, and it was some little
time before his power of sight or hearing was restored. When he
recovered he found that the elder Giant was pressing the younger to
commence the Chronicles, and that the latter was endeavouring to
excuse himself on the ground that the night was far spent, and it
would be better to wait until the next. Well assured by this that
he was certainly about to begin directly, the listener collected
his faculties by a great effort, and distinctly heard Magog express
himself to the following effect:
In the sixteenth century and in the reign of Queen Elizabeth of
glorious memory (albeit her golden days are sadly rusted with
blood), there lived in the city of London a bold young 'prentice
who loved his master's daughter. There were no doubt within the
walls a great many 'prentices in this condition, but I speak of
only one, and his name was Hugh Graham.
This Hugh was apprenticed to an honest Bowyer who dwelt in the ward
of Cheype, and was rumoured to possess great wealth. Rumour was
quite as infallible in those days as at the present time, but it
happened then as now to be sometimes right by accident. It
stumbled upon the truth when it gave the old Bowyer a mint of
money. His trade had been a profitable one in the time of King
Henry the Eighth, who encouraged English archery to the utmost, and
he had been prudent and discreet. Thus it came to pass that
Mistress Alice, his only daughter, was the richest heiress in all
his wealthy ward. Young Hugh had often maintained with staff and
cudgel that she was the handsomest. To do him justice, I believe
If he could have gained the heart of pretty Mistress Alice by
knocking this conviction into stubborn people's heads, Hugh would
have had no cause to fear. But though the Bowyer's daughter smiled
in secret to hear of his doughty deeds for her sake, and though her
little waiting-woman reported all her smiles (and many more) to
Hugh, and though he was at a vast expense in kisses and small coin
to recompense her fidelity, he made no progress in his love. He
durst not whisper it to Mistress Alice save on sure encouragement,
and that she never gave him. A glance of her dark eye as she sat
at the door on a summer's evening after prayer-time, while he and
the neighbouring 'prentices exercised themselves in the street with
blunted sword and buckler, would fire Hugh's blood so that none
could stand before him; but then she glanced at others quite as
kindly as on him, and where was the use of cracking crowns if
Mistress Alice smiled upon the cracked as well as on the cracker?
Still Hugh went on, and loved her more and more. He thought of her
all day, and dreamed of her all night long. He treasured up her
every word and gesture, and had a palpitation of the heart whenever
he heard her footstep on the stairs or her voice in an adjoining
room. To him, the old Bowyer's house was haunted by an angel;
there was enchantment in the air and space in which she moved. It
would have been no miracle to Hugh if flowers had sprung from the
rush-strewn floors beneath the tread of lovely Mistress Alice.
Never did 'prentice long to distinguish himself in the eyes of his
lady-love so ardently as Hugh. Sometimes he pictured to himself
the house taking fire by night, and he, when all drew back in fear,
rushing through flame and smoke, and bearing her from the ruins in
his arms. At other times he thought of a rising of fierce rebels,
an attack upon the city, a strong assault upon the Bowyer's house
in particular, and he falling on the threshold pierced with
numberless wounds in defence of Mistress Alice. If he could only
enact some prodigy of valour, do some wonderful deed, and let her
know that she had inspired it, he thought he could die contented.
Sometimes the Bowyer and his daughter would go out to supper with a
worthy citizen at the fashionable hour of six o'clock, and on such
occasions Hugh, wearing his blue 'prentice cloak as gallantly as
'prentice might, would attend with a lantern and his trusty club to
escort them home. These were the brightest moments of his life.
To hold the light while Mistress Alice picked her steps, to touch
her hand as he helped her over broken ways, to have her leaning on
his arm, - it sometimes even came to that, - this was happiness
When the nights were fair, Hugh followed in the rear, his eyes
riveted on the graceful figure of the Bowyer's daughter as she and
the old man moved on before him. So they threaded the narrow
winding streets of the city, now passing beneath the overhanging
gables of old wooden houses whence creaking signs projected into
the street, and now emerging from some dark and frowning gateway
into the clear moonlight. At such times, or when the shouts of
straggling brawlers met her ear, the Bowyer's daughter would look
timidly back at Hugh, beseeching him to draw nearer; and then how
he grasped his club and longed to do battle with a dozen rufflers,
for the love of Mistress Alice!
The old Bowyer was in the habit of lending money on interest to the
gallants of the Court, and thus it happened that many a richly-
dressed gentleman dismounted at his door. More waving plumes and
gallant steeds, indeed, were seen at the Bowyer's house, and more
embroidered silks and velvets sparkled in his dark shop and darker
private closet, than at any merchants in the city. In those times
no less than in the present it would seem that the richest-looking
cavaliers often wanted money the most.
Of these glittering clients there was one who always came alone.
He was nobly mounted, and, having no attendant, gave his horse in
charge to Hugh while he and the Bowyer were closeted within. Once
as he sprung into the saddle Mistress Alice was seated at an upper
window, and before she could withdraw he had doffed his jewelled
cap and kissed his hand. Hugh watched him caracoling down the
street, and burnt with indignation. But how much deeper was the
glow that reddened in his cheeks when, raising his eyes to the
casement, he saw that Alice watched the stranger too!
He came again and often, each time arrayed more gaily than before,
and still the little casement showed him Mistress Alice. At length
one heavy day, she fled from home. It had cost her a hard
struggle, for all her old father's gifts were strewn about her
chamber as if she had parted from them one by one, and knew that
the time must come when these tokens of his love would wring her
heart, - yet she was gone.
She left a letter commanding her poor father to the care of Hugh,
and wishing he might be happier than ever he could have been with
her, for he deserved the love of a better and a purer heart than
she had to bestow. The old man's forgiveness (she said) she had no
power to ask, but she prayed God to bless him, - and so ended with
a blot upon the paper where her tears had fallen.
At first the old man's wrath was kindled, and he carried his wrong
to the Queen's throne itself; but there was no redress he learnt at
Court, for his daughter had been conveyed abroad. This afterwards
appeared to be the truth, as there came from France, after an
interval of several years, a letter in her hand. It was written in
trembling characters, and almost illegible. Little could be made
out save that she often thought of home and her old dear pleasant
room, - and that she had dreamt her father was dead and had not
blessed her, - and that her heart was breaking.
The poor old Bowyer lingered on, never suffering Hugh to quit his
sight, for he knew now that he had loved his daughter, and that was
the only link that bound him to earth. It broke at length and he
died, - bequeathing his old 'prentice his trade and all his wealth,
and solemnly charging him with his last breath to revenge his child
if ever he who had worked her misery crossed his path in life
From the time of Alice's flight, the tilting-ground, the fields,
the fencing-school, the summer-evening sports, knew Hugh no more.
His spirit was dead within him. He rose to great eminence and
repute among the citizens, but was seldom seen to smile, and never
mingled in their revelries or rejoicings. Brave, humane, and
generous, he was beloved by all. He was pitied too by those who
knew his story, and these were so many that when he walked along
the streets alone at dusk, even the rude common people doffed their
caps and mingled a rough air of sympathy with their respect.
One night in May - it was her birthnight, and twenty years since
she had left her home - Hugh Graham sat in the room she had
hallowed in his boyish days. He was now a gray-haired man, though
still in the prime of life. Old thoughts had borne him company for
many hours, and the chamber had gradually grown quite dark, when he
was roused by a low knocking at the outer door.
He hastened down, and opening it saw by the light of a lamp which
he had seized upon the way, a female figure crouching in the
portal. It hurried swiftly past him and glided up the stairs. He
looked for pursuers. There were none in sight. No, not one.
He was inclined to think it a vision of his own brain, when
suddenly a vague suspicion of the truth flashed upon his mind. He
barred the door, and hastened wildly back. Yes, there she was, -
there, in the chamber he had quitted, - there in her old innocent,
happy home, so changed that none but he could trace one gleam of
what she had been, - there upon her knees, - with her hands clasped
in agony and shame before her burning face.
'My God, my God!' she cried, 'now strike me dead! Though I have
brought death and shame and sorrow on this roof, O, let me die at
home in mercy!'
There was no tear upon her face then, but she trembled and glanced
round the chamber. Everything was in its old place. Her bed
looked as if she had risen from it but that morning. The sight of
these familiar objects, marking the dear remembrance in which she
had been held, and the blight she had brought upon herself, was
more than the woman's better nature that had carried her there
could bear. She wept and fell upon the ground.
A rumour was spread about, in a few days' time, that the Bowyer's
cruel daughter had come home, and that Master Graham had given her
lodging in his house. It was rumoured too that he had resigned her
fortune, in order that she might bestow it in acts of charity, and
that he had vowed to guard her in her solitude, but that they were
never to see each other more. These rumours greatly incensed all
virtuous wives and daughters in the ward, especially when they
appeared to receive some corroboration from the circumstance of
Master Graham taking up his abode in another tenement hard by. The
estimation in which he was held, however, forbade any questioning
on the subject; and as the Bowyer's house was close shut up, and
nobody came forth when public shows and festivities were in
progress, or to flaunt in the public walks, or to buy new fashions
at the mercers' booths, all the well-conducted females agreed among
themselves that there could be no woman there.
These reports had scarcely died away when the wonder of every good
citizen, male and female, was utterly absorbed and swallowed up by
a Royal Proclamation, in which her Majesty, strongly censuring the
practice of wearing long Spanish rapiers of preposterous length (as
being a bullying and swaggering custom, tending to bloodshed and
public disorder), commanded that on a particular day therein named,
certain grave citizens should repair to the city gates, and there,
in public, break all rapiers worn or carried by persons claiming
admission, that exceeded, though it were only by a quarter of an
inch, three standard feet in length.
Royal Proclamations usually take their course, let the public
wonder never so much. On the appointed day two citizens of high
repute took up their stations at each of the gates, attended by a
party of the city guard, the main body to enforce the Queen's will,
and take custody of all such rebels (if any) as might have the
temerity to dispute it: and a few to bear the standard measures
and instruments for reducing all unlawful sword-blades to the
prescribed dimensions. In pursuance of these arrangements, Master
Graham and another were posted at Lud Gate, on the hill before St.
A pretty numerous company were gathered together at this spot, for,
besides the officers in attendance to enforce the proclamation,
there was a motley crowd of lookers-on of various degrees, who
raised from time to time such shouts and cries as the circumstances
called forth. A spruce young courtier was the first who
approached: he unsheathed a weapon of burnished steel that shone
and glistened in the sun, and handed it with the newest air to the
officer, who, finding it exactly three feet long, returned it with
a bow. Thereupon the gallant raised his hat and crying, 'God save
the Queen!' passed on amidst the plaudits of the mob. Then came
another - a better courtier still - who wore a blade but two feet
long, whereat the people laughed, much to the disparagement of his
honour's dignity. Then came a third, a sturdy old officer of the
army, girded with a rapier at least a foot and a half beyond her
Majesty's pleasure; at him they raised a great shout, and most of
the spectators (but especially those who were armourers or cutlers)
laughed very heartily at the breakage which would ensue. But they
were disappointed; for the old campaigner, coolly unbuckling his
sword and bidding his servant carry it home again, passed through
unarmed, to the great indignation of all the beholders. They
relieved themselves in some degree by hooting a tall blustering
fellow with a prodigious weapon, who stopped short on coming in
sight of the preparations, and after a little consideration turned
back again. But all this time no rapier had been broken, although
it was high noon, and all cavaliers of any quality or appearance
were taking their way towards Saint Paul's churchyard.
During these proceedings, Master Graham had stood apart, strictly
confining himself to the duty imposed upon him, and taking little
heed of anything beyond. He stepped forward now as a richly-
dressed gentleman on foot, followed by a single attendant, was seen
advancing up the hill.
As this person drew nearer, the crowd stopped their clamour, and
bent forward with eager looks. Master Graham standing alone in the
gateway, and the stranger coming slowly towards him, they seemed,
as it were, set face to face. The nobleman (for he looked one) had
a haughty and disdainful air, which bespoke the slight estimation
in which he held the citizen. The citizen, on the other hand,
preserved the resolute bearing of one who was not to be frowned
down or daunted, and who cared very little for any nobility but
that of worth and manhood. It was perhaps some consciousness on
the part of each, of these feelings in the other, that infused a
more stern expression into their regards as they came closer
'Your rapier, worthy sir!'
At the instant that he pronounced these words Graham started, and
falling back some paces, laid his hand upon the dagger in his belt.
'You are the man whose horse I used to hold before the Bowyer's
door? You are that man? Speak!'
'Out, you 'prentice hound!' said the other.
'You are he! I know you well now!' cried Graham. 'Let no man step
between us two, or I shall be his murderer.' With that he drew his
dagger, and rushed in upon him.
The stranger had drawn his weapon from the scabbard ready for the
scrutiny, before a word was spoken. He made a thrust at his
assailant, but the dagger which Graham clutched in his left hand
being the dirk in use at that time for parrying such blows,
promptly turned the point aside. They closed. The dagger fell
rattling on the ground, and Graham, wresting his adversary's sword
from his grasp, plunged it through his heart. As he drew it out it
snapped in two, leaving a fragment in the dead man's body.
All this passed so swiftly that the bystanders looked on without an
effort to interfere; but the man was no sooner down than an uproar
broke forth which rent the air. The attendant rushing through the
gate proclaimed that his master, a nobleman, had been set upon and
slain by a citizen; the word quickly spread from mouth to mouth;
Saint Paul's Cathedral, and every book-shop, ordinary, and smoking-
house in the churchyard poured out its stream of cavaliers and
their followers, who mingling together in a dense tumultuous body,
struggled, sword in hand, towards the spot.
With equal impetuosity, and stimulating each other by loud cries
and shouts, the citizens and common people took up the quarrel on
their side, and encircling Master Graham a hundred deep, forced him
from the gate. In vain he waved the broken sword above his head,
crying that he would die on London's threshold for their sacred
homes. They bore him on, and ever keeping him in the midst, so
that no man could attack him, fought their way into the city.
The clash of swords and roar of voices, the dust and heat and
pressure, the trampling under foot of men, the distracted looks and
shrieks of women at the windows above as they recognised their
relatives or lovers in the crowd, the rapid tolling of alarm-bells,
the furious rage and passion of the scene, were fearful. Those
who, being on the outskirts of each crowd, could use their weapons
with effect, fought desperately, while those behind, maddened with
baffled rage, struck at each other over the heads of those before
them, and crushed their own fellows. Wherever the broken sword was
seen above the people's heads, towards that spot the cavaliers made
a new rush. Every one of these charges was marked by sudden gaps
in the throng where men were trodden down, but as fast as they were
made, the tide swept over them, and still the multitude pressed on
again, a confused mass of swords, clubs, staves, broken plumes,
fragments of rich cloaks and doublets, and angry, bleeding faces,
all mixed up together in inextricable disorder.
The design of the people was to force Master Graham to take refuge
in his dwelling, and to defend it until the authorities could
interfere, or they could gain time for parley. But either from
ignorance or in the confusion of the moment they stopped at his old
house, which was closely shut. Some time was lost in beating the
doors open and passing him to the front. About a score of the
boldest of the other party threw themselves into the torrent while
this was being done, and reaching the door at the same moment with
himself cut him off from his defenders.
'I never will turn in such a righteous cause, so help me Heaven!'
cried Graham, in a voice that at last made itself heard, and
confronting them as he spoke. 'Least of all will I turn upon this
threshold which owes its desolation to such men as ye. I give no
quarter, and I will have none! Strike!'
For a moment they stood at bay. At that moment a shot from an
unseen hand, apparently fired by some person who had gained access
to one of the opposite houses, struck Graham in the brain, and he
fell dead. A low wail was heard in the air, - many people in the
concourse cried that they had seen a spirit glide across the little
casement window of the Bowyer's house -
A dead silence succeeded. After a short time some of the flushed
and heated throng laid down their arms and softly carried the body
within doors. Others fell off or slunk away in knots of two or
three, others whispered together in groups, and before a numerous
guard which then rode up could muster in the street, it was nearly
Those who carried Master Graham to the bed up-stairs were shocked
to see a woman lying beneath the window with her hands clasped
together. After trying to recover her in vain, they laid her near
the citizen, who still retained, tightly grasped in his right hand,
the first and last sword that was broken that day at Lud Gate.
The Giant uttered these concluding words with sudden precipitation;
and on the instant the strange light which had filled the hall
faded away. Joe Toddyhigh glanced involuntarily at the eastern
window, and saw the first pale gleam of morning. He turned his
head again towards the other window in which the Giants had been
seated. It was empty. The cask of wine was gone, and he could
dimly make out that the two great figures stood mute and motionless
upon their pedestals.
After rubbing his eyes and wondering for full half an hour, during
which time he observed morning come creeping on apace, he yielded
to the drowsiness which overpowered him and fell into a refreshing
slumber. When he awoke it was broad day; the building was open,
and workmen were busily engaged in removing the vestiges of last
Stealing gently down the little stairs, and assuming the air of
some early lounger who had dropped in from the street, he walked up
to the foot of each pedestal in turn, and attentively examined the
figure it supported. There could be no doubt about the features of
either; he recollected the exact expression they had worn at
different passages of their conversation, and recognised in every
line and lineament the Giants of the night. Assured that it was no
vision, but that he had heard and seen with his own proper senses,
he walked forth, determining at all hazards to conceal himself in
the Guildhall again that evening. He further resolved to sleep all
day, so that he might be very wakeful and vigilant, and above all
that he might take notice of the figures at the precise moment of
their becoming animated and subsiding into their old state, which
he greatly reproached himself for not having done already.
CORRESPONDENCE TO MASTER HUMPHREY
'SIR, - Before you proceed any further in your account of your
friends and what you say and do when you meet together, excuse me
if I proffer my claim to be elected to one of the vacant chairs in
that old room of yours. Don't reject me without full
consideration; for if you do, you will be sorry for it afterwards -
you will, upon my life.
'I enclose my card, sir, in this letter. I never was ashamed of my
name, and I never shall be. I am considered a devilish gentlemanly
fellow, and I act up to the character. If you want a reference,
ask any of the men at our club. Ask any fellow who goes there to
write his letters, what sort of conversation mine is. Ask him if
he thinks I have the sort of voice that will suit your deaf friend
and make him hear, if he can hear anything at all. Ask the
servants what they think of me. There's not a rascal among 'em,
sir, but will tremble to hear my name. That reminds me - don't you
say too much about that housekeeper of yours; it's a low subject,
'I tell you what, sir. If you vote me into one of those empty
chairs, you'll have among you a man with a fund of gentlemanly
information that'll rather astonish you. I can let you into a few
anecdotes about some fine women of title, that are quite high life,
sir - the tiptop sort of thing. I know the name of every man who
has been out on an affair of honour within the last five-and-twenty
years; I know the private particulars of every cross and squabble
that has taken place upon the turf, at the gaming-table, or
elsewhere, during the whole of that time. I have been called the
gentlemanly chronicle. You may consider yourself a lucky dog; upon
my soul, you may congratulate yourself, though I say so.
'It's an uncommon good notion that of yours, not letting anybody
know where you live. I have tried it, but there has always been an
anxiety respecting me, which has found me out. Your deaf friend is
a cunning fellow to keep his name so close. I have tried that too,
but have always failed. I shall be proud to make his acquaintance
- tell him so, with my compliments.
'You must have been a queer fellow when you were a child,
confounded queer. It's odd, all that about the picture in your
first paper - prosy, but told in a devilish gentlemanly sort of
way. In places like that I could come in with great effect with a
touch of life - don't you feel that?
'I am anxiously waiting for your next paper to know whether your
friends live upon the premises, and at your expense, which I take
it for granted is the case. If I am right in this impression, I
know a charming fellow (an excellent companion and most delightful
company) who will be proud to join you. Some years ago he seconded
a great many prize-fighters, and once fought an amateur match
himself; since then he has driven several mails, broken at
different periods all the lamps on the right-hand side of Oxford-
street, and six times carried away every bell-handle in Bloomsbury-
square, besides turning off the gas in various thoroughfares. In
point of gentlemanliness he is unrivalled, and I should say that
next to myself he is of all men the best suited to your purpose.
'Expecting your reply,
Master Humphrey informs this gentleman that his application, both
as it concerns himself and his friend, is rejected.
CHAPTER II - MASTER HUMPHREY, FROM HIS CLOCK-SIDE IN THE CHIMNEY-
MY old companion tells me it is midnight. The fire glows brightly,
crackling with a sharp and cheerful sound, as if it loved to burn.
The merry cricket on the hearth (my constant visitor), this ruddy
blaze, my clock, and I, seem to share the world among us, and to be
the only things awake. The wind, high and boisterous but now, has
died away and hoarsely mutters in its sleep. I love all times and
seasons each in its turn, and am apt, perhaps, to think the present
one the best; but past or coming I always love this peaceful time
of night, when long-buried thoughts, favoured by the gloom and
silence, steal from their graves, and haunt the scenes of faded
happiness and hope.
The popular faith in ghosts has a remarkable affinity with the
whole current of our thoughts at such an hour as this, and seems to
be their necessary and natural consequence. For who can wonder
that man should feel a vague belief in tales of disembodied spirits
wandering through those places which they once dearly affected,
when he himself, scarcely less separated from his old world than
they, is for ever lingering upon past emotions and bygone times,
and hovering, the ghost of his former self, about the places and
people that warmed his heart of old? It is thus that at this quiet
hour I haunt the house where I was born, the rooms I used to tread,
the scenes of my infancy, my boyhood, and my youth; it is thus that
I prowl around my buried treasure (though not of gold or silver),
and mourn my loss; it is thus that I revisit the ashes of
extinguished fires, and take my silent stand at old bedsides. If
my spirit should ever glide back to this chamber when my body is
mingled with the dust, it will but follow the course it often took
in the old man's lifetime, and add but one more change to the
subjects of its contemplation.
In all my idle speculations I am greatly assisted by various
legends connected with my venerable house, which are current in the
neighbourhood, and are so numerous that there is scarce a cupboard
or corner that has not some dismal story of its own. When I first
entertained thoughts of becoming its tenant, I was assured that it
was haunted from roof to cellar, and I believe that the bad opinion
in which my neighbours once held me, had its rise in my not being
torn to pieces, or at least distracted with terror, on the night I
took possession; in either of which cases I should doubtless have
arrived by a short cut at the very summit of popularity.
But traditions and rumours all taken into account, who so abets me
in every fancy and chimes with my every thought, as my dear deaf
friend? and how often have I cause to bless the day that brought us
two together! Of all days in the year I rejoice to think that it
should have been Christmas Day, with which from childhood we
associate something friendly, hearty, and sincere.
I had walked out to cheer myself with the happiness of others, and,
in the little tokens of festivity and rejoicing, of which the
streets and houses present so many upon that day, had lost some
hours. Now I stopped to look at a merry party hurrying through the
snow on foot to their place of meeting, and now turned back to see
a whole coachful of children safely deposited at the welcome house.
At one time, I admired how carefully the working man carried the
baby in its gaudy hat and feathers, and how his wife, trudging
patiently on behind, forgot even her care of her gay clothes, in
exchanging greeting with the child as it crowed and laughed over
the father's shoulder; at another, I pleased myself with some
passing scene of gallantry or courtship, and was glad to believe
that for a season half the world of poverty was gay.
As the day closed in, I still rambled through the streets, feeling
a companionship in the bright fires that cast their warm reflection
on the windows as I passed, and losing all sense of my own
loneliness in imagining the sociality and kind-fellowship that
everywhere prevailed. At length I happened to stop before a
Tavern, and, encountering a Bill of Fare in the window, it all at
once brought it into my head to wonder what kind of people dined
alone in Taverns upon Christmas Day.
Solitary men are accustomed, I suppose, unconsciously to look upon
solitude as their own peculiar property. I had sat alone in my
room on many, many anniversaries of this great holiday, and had
never regarded it but as one of universal assemblage and rejoicing.
I had excepted, and with an aching heart, a crowd of prisoners and
beggars; but THESE were not the men for whom the Tavern doors were
open. Had they any customers, or was it a mere form? - a form, no
Trying to feel quite sure of this, I walked away; but before I had
gone many paces, I stopped and looked back. There was a provoking
air of business in the lamp above the door which I could not
overcome. I began to be afraid there might be many customers -
young men, perhaps, struggling with the world, utter strangers in
this great place, whose friends lived at a long distance off, and
whose means were too slender to enable them to make the journey.
The supposition gave rise to so many distressing little pictures,
that in preference to carrying them home with me, I determined to
encounter the realities. So I turned and walked in.
I was at once glad and sorry to find that there was only one person
in the dining-room; glad to know that there were not more, and
sorry that he should be there by himself. He did not look so old
as I, but like me he was advanced in life, and his hair was nearly
white. Though I made more noise in entering and seating myself
than was quite necessary, with the view of attracting his attention
and saluting him in the good old form of that time of year, he did
not raise his head, but sat with it resting on his hand, musing
over his half-finished meal.
I called for something which would give me an excuse for remaining
in the room (I had dined early, as my housekeeper was engaged at
night to partake of some friend's good cheer), and sat where I
could observe without intruding on him. After a time he looked up.
He was aware that somebody had entered, but could see very little
of me, as I sat in the shade and he in the light. He was sad and
thoughtful, and I forbore to trouble him by speaking.
Let me believe it was something better than curiosity which riveted
my attention and impelled me strongly towards this gentleman. I
never saw so patient and kind a face. He should have been
surrounded by friends, and yet here he sat dejected and alone when
all men had their friends about them. As often as he roused
himself from his reverie he would fall into it again, and it was
plain that, whatever were the subject of his thoughts, they were of
a melancholy kind, and would not be controlled.
He was not used to solitude. I was sure of that; for I know by
myself that if he had been, his manner would have been different,
and he would have taken some slight interest in the arrival of
another. I could not fail to mark that he had no appetite; that he
tried to eat in vain; that time after time the plate was pushed
away, and he relapsed into his former posture.
His mind was wandering among old Christmas days, I thought. Many
of them sprung up together, not with a long gap between each, but
in unbroken succession like days of the week. It was a great
change to find himself for the first time (I quite settled that it
WAS the first) in an empty silent room with no soul to care for. I
could not help following him in imagination through crowds of
pleasant faces, and then coming back to that dull place with its
bough of mistletoe sickening in the gas, and sprigs of holly
parched up already by a Simoom of roast and boiled. The very
waiter had gone home; and his representative, a poor, lean, hungry
man, was keeping Christmas in his jacket.
I grew still more interested in my friend. His dinner done, a
decanter of wine was placed before him. It remained untouched for
a long time, but at length with a quivering hand he filled a glass
and raised it to his lips. Some tender wish to which he had been
accustomed to give utterance on that day, or some beloved name that
he had been used to pledge, trembled upon them at the moment. He
put it down very hastily - took it up once more - again put it down
- pressed his hand upon his face - yes - and tears stole down his
cheeks, I am certain.
Without pausing to consider whether I did right or wrong, I stepped
across the room, and sitting down beside him laid my hand gently on
'My friend,' I said, 'forgive me if I beseech you to take comfort
and consolation from the lips of an old man. I will not preach to
you what I have not practised, indeed. Whatever be your grief, be
of a good heart - be of a good heart, pray!'
'I see that you speak earnestly,' he replied, 'and kindly I am very
sure, but - '
I nodded my head to show that I understood what he would say; for I
had already gathered, from a certain fixed expression in his face,
and from the attention with which he watched me while I spoke, that
his sense of hearing was destroyed. 'There should be a freemasonry
between us,' said I, pointing from himself to me to explain my
meaning; 'if not in our gray hairs, at least in our misfortunes.
You see that I am but a poor cripple.'
I never felt so happy under my affliction since the trying moment
of my first becoming conscious of it, as when he took my hand in
his with a smile that has lighted my path in life from that day,
and we sat down side by side.
This was the beginning of my friendship with the deaf gentleman;
and when was ever the slight and easy service of a kind word in
season repaid by such attachment and devotion as he has shown to
He produced a little set of tablets and a pencil to facilitate our
conversation, on that our first acquaintance; and I well remember
how awkward and constrained I was in writing down my share of the
dialogue, and how easily he guessed my meaning before I had written
half of what I had to say. He told me in a faltering voice that he
had not been accustomed to be alone on that day - that it had
always been a little festival with him; and seeing that I glanced
at his dress in the expectation that he wore mourning, he added
hastily that it was not that; if it had been he thought he could
have borne it better. From that time to the present we have never
touched upon this theme. Upon every return of the same day we have
been together; and although we make it our annual custom to drink
to each other hand in hand after dinner, and to recall with
affectionate garrulity every circumstance of our first meeting, we
always avoid this one as if by mutual consent.
Meantime we have gone on strengthening in our friendship and regard
and forming an attachment which, I trust and believe, will only be
interrupted by death, to be renewed in another existence. I
scarcely know how we communicate as we do; but he has long since
ceased to be deaf to me. He is frequently my companion in my
walks, and even in crowded streets replies to my slightest look or
gesture, as though he could read my thoughts. From the vast number
of objects which pass in rapid succession before our eyes, we
frequently select the same for some particular notice or remark;
and when one of these little coincidences occurs, I cannot describe
the pleasure which animates my friend, or the beaming countenance
he will preserve for half-an-hour afterwards at least.
He is a great thinker from living so much within himself, and,
having a lively imagination, has a facility of conceiving and
enlarging upon odd ideas, which renders him invaluable to our
little body, and greatly astonishes our two friends. His powers in
this respect are much assisted by a large pipe, which he assures us
once belonged to a German Student. Be this as it may, it has
undoubtedly a very ancient and mysterious appearance, and is of
such capacity that it takes three hours and a half to smoke it out.
I have reason to believe that my barber, who is the chief authority
of a knot of gossips, who congregate every evening at a small
tobacconist's hard by, has related anecdotes of this pipe and the
grim figures that are carved upon its bowl, at which all the
smokers in the neighbourhood have stood aghast; and I know that my
housekeeper, while she holds it in high veneration, has a
superstitious feeling connected with it which would render her
exceedingly unwilling to be left alone in its company after dark.
Whatever sorrow my dear friend has known, and whatever grief may
linger in some secret corner of his heart, he is now a cheerful,
placid, happy creature. Misfortune can never have fallen upon such
a man but for some good purpose; and when I see its traces in his
gentle nature and his earnest feeling, I am the less disposed to
murmur at such trials as I may have undergone myself. With regard
to the pipe, I have a theory of my own; I cannot help thinking that
it is in some manner connected with the event that brought us
together; for I remember that it was a long time before he even
talked about it; that when he did, he grew reserved and melancholy;
and that it was a long time yet before he brought it forth. I have
no curiosity, however, upon this subject; for I know that it
promotes his tranquillity and comfort, and I need no other
inducement to regard it with my utmost favour.
Such is the deaf gentleman. I can call up his figure now, clad in
sober gray, and seated in the chimney-corner. As he puffs out the
smoke from his favourite pipe, he casts a look on me brimful of
cordiality and friendship, and says all manner of kind and genial
things in a cheerful smile; then he raises his eyes to my clock,
which is just about to strike, and, glancing from it to me and back
again, seems to divide his heart between us. For myself, it is not
too much to say that I would gladly part with one of my poor limbs,
could he but hear the old clock's voice.
Of our two friends, the first has been all his life one of that
easy, wayward, truant class whom the world is accustomed to
designate as nobody's enemies but their own. Bred to a profession
for which he never qualified himself, and reared in the expectation
of a fortune he has never inherited, he has undergone every
vicissitude of which such an existence is capable. He and his
younger brother, both orphans from their childhood, were educated
by a wealthy relative, who taught them to expect an equal division
of his property; but too indolent to court, and too honest to
flatter, the elder gradually lost ground in the affections of a
capricious old man, and the younger, who did not fail to improve
his opportunity, now triumphs in the possession of enormous wealth.
His triumph is to hoard it in solitary wretchedness, and probably
to feel with the expenditure of every shilling a greater pang than
the loss of his whole inheritance ever cost his brother.
Jack Redburn - he was Jack Redburn at the first little school he
went to, where every other child was mastered and surnamed, and he
has been Jack Redburn all his life, or he would perhaps have been a
richer man by this time - has been an inmate of my house these
eight years past. He is my librarian, secretary, steward, and
first minister; director of all my affairs, and inspector-general
of my household. He is something of a musician, something of an
author, something of an actor, something of a painter, very much of
a carpenter, and an extraordinary gardener, having had all his life
a wonderful aptitude for learning everything that was of no use to
him. He is remarkably fond of children, and is the best and
kindest nurse in sickness that ever drew the breath of life. He
has mixed with every grade of society, and known the utmost
distress; but there never was a less selfish, a more tender-
hearted, a more enthusiastic, or a more guileless man; and I dare
say, if few have done less good, fewer still have done less harm in
the world than he. By what chance Nature forms such whimsical
jumbles I don't know; but I do know that she sends them among us
very often, and that the king of the whole race is Jack Redburn.
I should be puzzled to say how old he is. His health is none of
the best, and he wears a quantity of iron-gray hair, which shades
his face and gives it rather a worn appearance; but we consider him
quite a young fellow notwithstanding; and if a youthful spirit,
surviving the roughest contact with the world, confers upon its
possessor any title to be considered young, then he is a mere
child. The only interruptions to his careless cheerfulness are on
a wet Sunday, when he is apt to be unusually religious and solemn,
and sometimes of an evening, when he has been blowing a very slow
tune on the flute. On these last-named occasions he is apt to
incline towards the mysterious, or the terrible. As a specimen of
his powers in this mood, I refer my readers to the extract from the
clock-case which follows this paper: he brought it to me not long
ago at midnight, and informed me that the main incident had been
suggested by a dream of the night before.
His apartments are two cheerful rooms looking towards the garden,
and one of his great delights is to arrange and rearrange the
furniture in these chambers, and put it in every possible variety
of position. During the whole time he has been here, I do not
think he has slept for two nights running with the head of his bed
in the same place; and every time he moves it, is to be the last.
My housekeeper was at first well-nigh distracted by these frequent
changes; but she has become quite reconciled to them by degrees,
and has so fallen in with his humour, that they often consult
together with great gravity upon the next final alteration.
Whatever his arrangements are, however, they are always a pattern
of neatness; and every one of the manifold articles connected with
his manifold occupations is to be found in its own particular
place. Until within the last two or three years he was subject to
an occasional fit (which usually came upon him in very fine
weather), under the influence of which he would dress himself with
peculiar care, and, going out under pretence of taking a walk,
disappeared for several days together. At length, after the
interval between each outbreak of this disorder had gradually grown
longer and longer, it wholly disappeared; and now he seldom stirs
abroad, except to stroll out a little way on a summer's evening.
Whether he yet mistrusts his own constancy in this respect, and is
therefore afraid to wear a coat, I know not; but we seldom see him
in any other upper garment than an old spectral-looking dressing-
gown, with very disproportionate pockets, full of a miscellaneous
collection of odd matters, which he picks up wherever he can lay
his hands upon them.
Everything that is a favourite with our friend is a favourite with
us; and thus it happens that the fourth among us is Mr. Owen Miles,
a most worthy gentleman, who had treated Jack with great kindness
before my deaf friend and I encountered him by an accident, to
which I may refer on some future occasion. Mr. Miles was once a
very rich merchant; but receiving a severe shock in the death of
his wife, he retired from business, and devoted himself to a quiet,
unostentatious life. He is an excellent man, of thoroughly
sterling character: not of quick apprehension, and not without
some amusing prejudices, which I shall leave to their own
development. He holds us all in profound veneration; but Jack
Redburn he esteems as a kind of pleasant wonder, that he may
venture to approach familiarly. He believes, not only that no man
ever lived who could do so many things as Jack, but that no man
ever lived who could do anything so well; and he never calls my
attention to any of his ingenious proceedings, but he whispers in
my ear, nudging me at the same time with his elbow: 'If he had
only made it his trade, sir - if he had only made it his trade!'
They are inseparable companions; one would almost suppose that,
although Mr. Miles never by any chance does anything in the way of
assistance, Jack could do nothing without him. Whether he is
reading, writing, painting, carpentering, gardening, flute-playing,
or what not, there is Mr. Miles beside him, buttoned up to the chin
in his blue coat, and looking on with a face of incredulous
delight, as though he could not credit the testimony of his own
senses, and had a misgiving that no man could be so clever but in a
These are my friends; I have now introduced myself and them.
A CONFESSION FOUND IN A PRISON IN THE TIME OF CHARLES THE SECOND
I held a lieutenant's commission in his Majesty's army, and served
abroad in the campaigns of 1677 and 1678. The treaty of Nimeguen
being concluded, I returned home, and retiring from the service,
withdrew to a small estate lying a few miles east of London, which
I had recently acquired in right of my wife.
This is the last night I have to live, and I will set down the
naked truth without disguise. I was never a brave man, and had
always been from my childhood of a secret, sullen, distrustful
nature. I speak of myself as if I had passed from the world; for
while I write this, my grave is digging, and my name is written in
the black-book of death.
Soon after my return to England, my only brother was seized with
mortal illness. This circumstance gave me slight or no pain; for
since we had been men, we had associated but very little together.
He was open-hearted and generous, handsomer than I, more
accomplished, and generally beloved. Those who sought my
acquaintance abroad or at home, because they were friends of his,
seldom attached themselves to me long, and would usually say, in
our first conversation, that they were surprised to find two
brothers so unlike in their manners and appearance. It was my
habit to lead them on to this avowal; for I knew what comparisons
they must draw between us; and having a rankling envy in my heart,
I sought to justify it to myself.
We had married two sisters. This additional tie between us, as it
may appear to some, only estranged us the more. His wife knew me
well. I never struggled with any secret jealousy or gall when she
was present but that woman knew it as well as I did. I never
raised my eyes at such times but I found hers fixed upon me; I
never bent them on the ground or looked another way but I felt that
she overlooked me always. It was an inexpressible relief to me
when we quarrelled, and a greater relief still when I heard abroad
that she was dead. It seems to me now as if some strange and
terrible foreshadowing of what has happened since must have hung
over us then. I was afraid of her; she haunted me; her fixed and
steady look comes back upon me now, like the memory of a dark
dream, and makes my blood run cold.
She died shortly after giving birth to a child - a boy. When my
brother knew that all hope of his own recovery was past, he called
my wife to his bedside, and confided this orphan, a child of four
years old, to her protection. He bequeathed to him all the
property he had, and willed that, in case of his child's death, it
should pass to my wife, as the only acknowledgment he could make
her for her care and love. He exchanged a few brotherly words with
me, deploring our long separation; and being exhausted, fell into a
slumber, from which he never awoke.
We had no children; and as there had been a strong affection
between the sisters, and my wife had almost supplied the place of a
mother to this boy, she loved him as if he had been her own. The
child was ardently attached to her; but he was his mother's image
in face and spirit, and always mistrusted me.
I can scarcely fix the date when the feeling first came upon me;
but I soon began to be uneasy when this child was by. I never
roused myself from some moody train of thought but I marked him
looking at me; not with mere childish wonder, but with something of
the purpose and meaning that I had so often noted in his mother.
It was no effort of my fancy, founded on close resemblance of
feature and expression. I never could look the boy down. He
feared me, but seemed by some instinct to despise me while he did
so; and even when he drew back beneath my gaze - as he would when
we were alone, to get nearer to the door - he would keep his bright
eyes upon me still.
Perhaps I hide the truth from myself, but I do not think that, when
this began, I meditated to do him any wrong. I may have thought
how serviceable his inheritance would be to us, and may have wished
him dead; but I believe I had no thought of compassing his death.
Neither did the idea come upon me at once, but by very slow
degrees, presenting itself at first in dim shapes at a very great
distance, as men may think of an earthquake or the last day; then
drawing nearer and nearer, and losing something of its horror and
improbability; then coming to be part and parcel - nay nearly the
whole sum and substance - of my daily thoughts, and resolving
itself into a question of means and safety; not of doing or
abstaining from the deed.
While this was going on within me, I never could bear that the
child should see me looking at him, and yet I was under a
fascination which made it a kind of business with me to contemplate
his slight and fragile figure and think how easily it might be
done. Sometimes I would steal up-stairs and watch him as he slept;
but usually I hovered in the garden near the window of the room in
which he learnt his little tasks; and there, as he sat upon a low
seat beside my wife, I would peer at him for hours together from
behind a tree; starting, like the guilty wretch I was, at every
rustling of a leaf, and still gliding back to look and start again.
Hard by our cottage, but quite out of sight, and (if there were any
wind astir) of hearing too, was a deep sheet of water. I spent
days in shaping with my pocket-knife a rough model of a boat, which
I finished at last and dropped in the child's way. Then I withdrew
to a secret place, which he must pass if he stole away alone to
swim this bauble, and lurked there for his coming. He came neither
that day nor the next, though I waited from noon till nightfall. I
was sure that I had him in my net, for I had heard him prattling of
the toy, and knew that in his infant pleasure he kept it by his
side in bed. I felt no weariness or fatigue, but waited patiently,
and on the third day he passed me, running joyously along, with his
silken hair streaming in the wind, and he singing - God have mercy
upon me! - singing a merry ballad, - who could hardly lisp the
I stole down after him, creeping under certain shrubs which grow in
that place, and none but devils know with what terror I, a strong,
full-grown man, tracked the footsteps of that baby as he approached
the water's brink. I was close upon him, had sunk upon my knee and
raised my hand to thrust him in, when he saw my shadow in the
stream and turned him round.
His mother's ghost was looking from his eyes. The sun burst forth
from behind a cloud; it shone in the bright sky, the glistening
earth, the clear water, the sparkling drops of rain upon the
leaves. There were eyes in everything. The whole great universe
of light was there to see the murder done. I know not what he
said; he came of bold and manly blood, and, child as he was, he did
not crouch or fawn upon me. I heard him cry that he would try to
love me, - not that he did, - and then I saw him running back
towards the house. The next I saw was my own sword naked in my
hand, and he lying at my feet stark dead, - dabbled here and there
with blood, but otherwise no different from what I had seen him in
his sleep - in the same attitude too, with his cheek resting upon
his little hand.
I took him in my arms and laid him - very gently now that he was
dead - in a thicket. My wife was from home that day, and would not
return until the next. Our bedroom window, the only sleeping-room
on that side of the house, was but a few feet from the ground, and
I resolved to descend from it at night and bury him in the garden.
I had no thought that I had failed in my design, no thought that
the water would be dragged and nothing found, that the money must
now lie waste, since I must encourage the idea that the child was
lost or stolen. All my thoughts were bound up and knotted together
in the one absorbing necessity of hiding what I had done.
How I felt when they came to tell me that the child was missing,
when I ordered scouts in all directions, when I gasped and trembled
at every one's approach, no tongue can tell or mind of man
conceive. I buried him that night. When I parted the boughs and
looked into the dark thicket, there was a glow-worm shining like
the visible spirit of God upon the murdered child. I glanced down
into his grave when I had placed him there, and still it gleamed
upon his breast; an eye of fire looking up to Heaven in
supplication to the stars that watched me at my work.
I had to meet my wife, and break the news, and give her hope that
the child would soon be found. All this I did, - with some
appearance, I suppose, of being sincere, for I was the object of no
suspicion. This done, I sat at the bedroom window all day long,
and watched the spot where the dreadful secret lay.
It was in a piece of ground which had been dug up to be newly
turfed, and which I had chosen on that account, as the traces of my
spade were less likely to attract attention. The men who laid down
the grass must have thought me mad. I called to them continually
to expedite their work, ran out and worked beside them, trod down
the earth with my feet, and hurried them with frantic eagerness.
They had finished their task before night, and then I thought
myself comparatively safe.
I slept, - not as men do who awake refreshed and cheerful, but I
did sleep, passing from vague and shadowy dreams of being hunted
down, to visions of the plot of grass, through which now a hand,
and now a foot, and now the head itself was starting out. At this
point I always woke and stole to the window, to make sure that it
was not really so. That done, I crept to bed again; and thus I
spent the night in fits and starts, getting up and lying down full
twenty times, and dreaming the same dream over and over again, -
which was far worse than lying awake, for every dream had a whole
night's suffering of its own. Once I thought the child was alive,
and that I had never tried to kill him. To wake from that dream
was the most dreadful agony of all.
The next day I sat at the window again, never once taking my eyes
from the place, which, although it was covered by the grass, was as
plain to me - its shape, its size, its depth, its jagged sides, and
all - as if it had been open to the light of day. When a servant
walked across it, I felt as if he must sink in; when he had passed,
I looked to see that his feet had not worn the edges. If a bird
lighted there, I was in terror lest by some tremendous
interposition it should be instrumental in the discovery; if a
breath of air sighed across it, to me it whispered murder. There
was not a sight or a sound - how ordinary, mean, or unimportant
soever - but was fraught with fear. And in this state of ceaseless
watching I spent three days.
On the fourth there came to the gate one who had served with me
abroad, accompanied by a brother officer of his whom I had never
seen. I felt that I could not bear to be out of sight of the
place. It was a summer evening, and I bade my people take a table
and a flask of wine into the garden. Then I sat down WITH MY CHAIR
UPON THE GRAVE, and being assured that nobody could disturb it now
without my knowledge, tried to drink and talk.
They hoped that my wife was well, - that she was not obliged to
keep her chamber, - that they had not frightened her away. What
could I do but tell them with a faltering tongue about the child?
The officer whom I did not know was a down-looking man, and kept
his eyes upon the ground while I was speaking. Even that terrified
me. I could not divest myself of the idea that he saw something
there which caused him to suspect the truth. I asked him hurriedly
if he supposed that - and stopped. 'That the child has been
murdered?' said he, looking mildly at me: 'O no! what could a man
gain by murdering a poor child?' I could have told him what a man
gained by such a deed, no one better: but I held my peace and
shivered as with an ague.
Mistaking my emotion, they were endeavouring to cheer me with the
hope that the boy would certainly be found, - great cheer that was
for me! - when we heard a low deep howl, and presently there sprung
over the wall two great dogs, who, bounding into the garden,
repeated the baying sound we had heard before.
'Bloodhounds!' cried my visitors.
What need to tell me that! I had never seen one of that kind in
all my life, but I knew what they were and for what purpose they
had come. I grasped the elbows of my chair, and neither spoke nor
'They are of the genuine breed,' said the man whom I had known
abroad, 'and being out for exercise have no doubt escaped from
Both he and his friend turned to look at the dogs, who with their
noses to the ground moved restlessly about, running to and fro, and
up and down, and across, and round in circles, careering about like
wild things, and all this time taking no notice of us, but ever and
again repeating the yell we had heard already, then dropping their
noses to the ground again and tracking earnestly here and there.
They now began to snuff the earth more eagerly than they had done
yet, and although they were still very restless, no longer beat
about in such wide circuits, but kept near to one spot, and
constantly diminished the distance between themselves and me.
At last they came up close to the great chair on which I sat, and
raising their frightful howl once more, tried to tear away the
wooden rails that kept them from the ground beneath. I saw how I
looked, in the faces of the two who were with me.
'They scent some prey,' said they, both together.
'They scent no prey!' cried I.
'In Heaven's name, move!' said the one I knew, very earnestly, 'or
you will be torn to pieces.'
'Let them tear me from limb to limb, I'll never leave this place!'
cried I. 'Are dogs to hurry men to shameful deaths? Hew them
down, cut them in pieces.'
'There is some foul mystery here!' said the officer whom I did not
know, drawing his sword. 'In King Charles's name, assist me to
secure this man.'
They both set upon me and forced me away, though I fought and bit
and caught at them like a madman. After a struggle, they got me
quietly between them; and then, my God! I saw the angry dogs
tearing at the earth and throwing it up into the air like water.
What more have I to tell? That I fell upon my knees, and with
chattering teeth confessed the truth, and prayed to be forgiven.
That I have since denied, and now confess to it again. That I have
been tried for the crime, found guilty, and sentenced. That I have
not the courage to anticipate my doom, or to bear up manfully
against it. That I have no compassion, no consolation, no hope, no
friend. That my wife has happily lost for the time those faculties
which would enable her to know my misery or hers. That I am alone
in this stone dungeon with my evil spirit, and that I die to-
Master Humphrey has been favoured with the following letter written
on strongly-scented paper, and sealed in light-blue wax with the
representation of two very plump doves interchanging beaks. It
does not commence with any of the usual forms of address, but
begins as is here set forth.
Bath, Wednesday night.
Heavens! into what an indiscretion do I suffer myself to be
betrayed! To address these faltering lines to a total stranger,
and that stranger one of a conflicting sex! - and yet I am
precipitated into the abyss, and have no power of self-snatchation
(forgive me if I coin that phrase) from the yawning gulf before me.
Yes, I am writing to a man; but let me not think of that, for
madness is in the thought. You will understand my feelings? O
yes, I am sure you will; and you will respect them too, and not
despise them, - will you?
Let me be calm. That portrait, - smiling as once he smiled on me;
that cane, - dangling as I have seen it dangle from his hand I know
not how oft; those legs that have glided through my nightly dreams
and never stopped to speak; the perfectly gentlemanly, though false
original, - can I be mistaken? O no, no.
Let me be calmer yet; I would be calm as coffins. You have
published a letter from one whose likeness is engraved, but whose
name (and wherefore?) is suppressed. Shall I breathe that name!
Is it - but why ask when my heart tells me too truly that it is!
I would not upbraid him with his treachery; I would not remind him
of those times when he plighted the most eloquent of vows, and
procured from me a small pecuniary accommodation; and yet I would
see him - see him did I say - HIM - alas! such is woman's nature.
For as the poet beautifully says - but you will already have
anticipated the sentiment. Is it not sweet? O yes!
It was in this city (hallowed by the recollection) that I met him
first; and assuredly if mortal happiness be recorded anywhere, then
those rubbers with their three-and-sixpenny points are scored on
tablets of celestial brass. He always held an honour - generally
two. On that eventful night we stood at eight. He raised his eyes
(luminous in their seductive sweetness) to my agitated face. 'CAN
you?' said he, with peculiar meaning. I felt the gentle pressure
of his foot on mine; our corns throbbed in unison. 'CAN you?' he
said again; and every lineament of his expressive countenance added
the words 'resist me?' I murmured 'No,' and fainted.
They said, when I recovered, it was the weather. I said it was the
nutmeg in the negus. How little did they suspect the truth! How
little did they guess the deep mysterious meaning of that inquiry!
He called next morning on his knees; I do not mean to say that he
actually came in that position to the house-door, but that he went
down upon those joints directly the servant had retired. He
brought some verses in his hat, which he said were original, but
which I have since found were Milton's; likewise a little bottle
labelled laudanum; also a pistol and a sword-stick. He drew the
latter, uncorked the former, and clicked the trigger of the pocket
fire-arm. He had come, he said, to conquer or to die. He did not
die. He wrested from me an avowal of my love, and let off the
pistol out of a back window previous to partaking of a slight
Faithless, inconstant man! How many ages seem to have elapsed
since his unaccountable and perfidious disappearance! Could I
still forgive him both that and the borrowed lucre that he promised
to pay next week! Could I spurn him from my feet if he approached
in penitence, and with a matrimonial object! Would the blandishing
enchanter still weave his spells around me, or should I burst them
all and turn away in coldness! I dare not trust my weakness with
My brain is in a whirl again. You know his address, his
occupations, his mode of life, - are acquainted, perhaps, with his
inmost thoughts. You are a humane and philanthropic character;
reveal all you know - all; but especially the street and number of
his lodgings. The post is departing, the bellman rings, - pray
Heaven it be not the knell of love and hope to
P.S. Pardon the wanderings of a bad pen and a distracted mind.
Address to the Post-office. The bellman, rendered impatient by
delay, is ringing dreadfully in the passage.
P.P.S. I open this to say that the bellman is gone, and that you
must not expect it till the next post; so don't be surprised when
you don't get it.
Master Humphrey does not feel himself at liberty to furnish his
fair correspondent with the address of the gentleman in question,
but he publishes her letter as a public appeal to his faith and
CHAPTER III - MASTER HUMPHREY'S VISITOR
WHEN I am in a thoughtful mood, I often succeed in diverting the
current of some mournful reflections, by conjuring up a number of
fanciful associations with the objects that surround me, and
dwelling upon the scenes and characters they suggest.
I have been led by this habit to assign to every room in my house
and every old staring portrait on its walls a separate interest of
its own. Thus, I am persuaded that a stately dame, terrible to
behold in her rigid modesty, who hangs above the chimney-piece of
my bedroom, is the former lady of the mansion. In the courtyard
below is a stone face of surpassing ugliness, which I have somehow
- in a kind of jealousy, I am afraid - associated with her husband.
Above my study is a little room with ivy peeping through the
lattice, from which I bring their daughter, a lovely girl of
eighteen or nineteen years of age, and dutiful in all respects save
one, that one being her devoted attachment to a young gentleman on
the stairs, whose grandmother (degraded to a disused laundry in the
garden) piques herself upon an old family quarrel, and is the
implacable enemy of their love. With such materials as these I
work out many a little drama, whose chief merit is, that I can
bring it to a happy end at will. I have so many of them on hand,
that if on my return home one of these evenings I were to find some
bluff old wight of two centuries ago comfortably seated in my easy
chair, and a lovelorn damsel vainly appealing to his heart, and
leaning her white arm upon my clock itself, I verily believe I
should only express my surprise that they had kept me waiting so
long, and never honoured me with a call before.
I was in such a mood as this, sitting in my garden yesterday
morning under the shade of a favourite tree, revelling in all the
bloom and brightness about me, and feeling every sense of hope and
enjoyment quickened by this most beautiful season of Spring, when
my meditations were interrupted by the unexpected appearance of my
barber at the end of the walk, who I immediately saw was coming
towards me with a hasty step that betokened something remarkable.
My barber is at all times a very brisk, bustling, active little
man, - for he is, as it were, chubby all over, without being stout
or unwieldy, - but yesterday his alacrity was so very uncommon that
it quite took me by surprise. For could I fail to observe when he
came up to me that his gray eyes were twinkling in a most
extraordinary manner, that his little red nose was in an unusual
glow, that every line in his round bright face was twisted and
curved into an expression of pleased surprise, and that his whole
countenance was radiant with glee? I was still more surprised to
see my housekeeper, who usually preserves a very staid air, and
stands somewhat upon her dignity, peeping round the hedge at the
bottom of the walk, and exchanging nods and smiles with the barber,
who twice or thrice looked over his shoulder for that purpose. I
could conceive no announcement to which these appearances could be
the prelude, unless it were that they had married each other that
I was, consequently, a little disappointed when it only came out
that there was a gentleman in the house who wished to speak with
'And who is it?' said I.
The barber, with his face screwed up still tighter than before,
replied that the gentleman would not send his name, but wished to
see me. I pondered for a moment, wondering who this visitor might
be, and I remarked that he embraced the opportunity of exchanging
another nod with the housekeeper, who still lingered in the
'Well!' said I, 'bid the gentleman come here.'
This seemed to be the consummation of the barber's hopes, for he
turned sharp round, and actually ran away.
Now, my sight is not very good at a distance, and therefore when
the gentleman first appeared in the walk, I was not quite clear
whether he was a stranger to me or otherwise. He was an elderly
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