The World's Greatest Books, Vol VI.
Part 4 out of 7
look in the glass.
Patteson brought news of the coronation of Lady Anne this coming Easter,
and he begs father to take a fool's advice and eat humble pie; for, says
he, this proud madam is as vindictive as Herodias, and will have
father's head on a charger.
Father bidden to the coronation by three bishops. He hath, with
curtesie, declined to be present. I have misgivings of the issue.
Father summoned forth to the Council to take the oathe of supremacie.
Having declared his inabilitie to take the oathe as it stoode, they bade
him take a turn in the garden to reconsider. When called in agayn, he
was as firm as ever, and was given in ward to the Abbot of Westminster
until the king's grace was informed of the matter. And now the fool's
wise saying of vindictive Herodians came true, for 'twas the king's mind
to have mercy on his old servant, and tender him a qualified oathe, but
Queen Anne, by her importunate clamours, did overrule his proper will,
and at four days' end father was committed to the Tower. Oh, wicked
woman, how could you!... Sure you never loved a father.
Mother hath at length obtaynd access to dear father. He is stedfaste and
cheerfulle as ever. He hath writ us a few lines with a coal, ending with
"_Sursum corda_, dear children! Up with your hearts."
The Lord begins to cut us short. We are now on very meagre commons, dear
mother being obliged to pay fifteen shillings a week for the board,
meagre as it is, of father and his servant. She hath parted with her
I have seen him, and heard his precious words. He hath kist me for us
Dear little Bill hath ta'en a feverish attack. Early in the night his
mind wandered, and he says fearfullie, "Mother, why hangs yon hatchet in
the air with its sharp edge turned towards us?"
I rise, to move the lamp, and say, "Do you see it now?"
He sayth, "No, not now," and closes his eyes.
He's gone, my pretty! ... Slipt through my fingers like a bird upfled to
his native skies. My Billy-bird! His mother's own heart! They are alle
wondrous kind to me....
Spring comes, that brings rejuvenescence to the land and joy to the
heart, but none to me, for where hope dieth joy dieth. But patience,
soul; God's yet in the aumry!
_IV.--The Worst is Done_
By reason of Willie minding to be present at the triall, which, for the
concourse of spectators, demanded his earlie attendance, he committed
the care of me, with Bess, to Dancey, Bess's husband, who got us places
to see father on his way from the Tower to Westminster Hall. We coulde
not come at him for the crowd, but clambered on a bench to gaze our very
hearts away after him as he went by, sallow, thin, grey-haired, yet in
mien not a whit cast down. His face was calm but grave, but just as he
passed he caught the eye of some one in the crowd, and smiled in his old
frank way; then glanced up towards the windows with the bright look he
hath so oft caste up to me at my casement, but saw us not; perchance soe
...Will telleth me the indictment was the longest ever heard: on four
counts. First, his opinion concerning the king's marriage. Second, his
writing sundrie letters to the Bishop of Rochester, counselling him to
hold out. Third, refusing to acknowledge his grace's supremacy. Fourth,
his positive deniall of it, and thereby willing to deprive the king of
his dignity and title.
They could not make good their accusation. 'Twas onlie on the last count
he could be made out a traitor, and proof of't had they none. He shoulde
have been acquitted out of hand, but his bitter enemy, my Lord
Chancellor, called on him for his defence, whereat a general murmur ran
through the court.
He began, but a moment's weakness of the body overcame him and he was
accorded a seat. He then proceeded to avow his having always opposed the
king's marriage to his grace himself, deeming it rather treachery to
have withholden his opinion when solicited. Touching the supremacy he
held there could be no treachery in holding his peace, God only being
cognizant of our thoughts.
"Nay," interposeth the attorney generall, "your silence was the token of
a malicious mind."
"I had always understood," answers father, "that silence stoode for
consent," which made sundrie smile.
The issue of the black day was aforehand fixed. The jury retired and
presentlie returned with a verdict of guilty; for they knew what the
king's grace would have 'em doe in that case....
And then came the frightful sentence....
They brought him back by water ... The first thing I saw was the axe,
_turned with its edge towards him._
Some one laid a cold hand on mine arm; 'twas poor Patteson. He sayth,
"Bide your time, Mistress Meg; when he comes past, I'll make a passage
for ye." ...
O, brother, brother, what ailed thee to refuse the oath? I've taken it!
... "Now, Mistress, now!" and flinging his arms right and left, made a
breach, through which I darted, fearless of bills and halberds, and did
cast mine arms about father's neck. He cries, "My Meg!" and hugs me to
him as though our very souls shoulde grow together. He sayth, "Bless
thee, bless thee! Kiss them alle for me thus and thus." ... Soe gave me
back into Dancey's arms, the guards about him alle weeping.
I did make a second rush, and agayn they had pitie on me and made pause
while I hung upon his neck. He whispered, "Meg, for Christ's sake don't
unman me. God's blessing be with you," he sayth with a last kiss, then
adding, with a passionate upward regard, "The chariot of Israel and the
I look up, almost expecting a beautific vision, and when I turn about,
Alle's over now.... They've done theire worst, and yet I live. Dr.
Clement sayth he went up as blythe as a bridegroom, to be clothed upon
They have let us bury his poor mangled trunk; but as sure as there's a
sun in heaven, I'll have his head!--before another sun has risen, too.
If wise men won't speed me, I'll e'en content me with a fool.
Quoth Patteson: "Fool and fayr lady will cheat 'em yet."
At the stairs lay a wherry with a couple of boatmen. We went down the
river quietlie enow--nor lookt I up till aneath the bridge gate, when,
casting up one fearsome look, I beheld the dark outline of the ghastly
yet precious relic; and falling into a tremour, did wring my hands and
exclaim, "Alas, alas! That head hath lain full manie a time in my lap,
woulde God it lay there now!" When o' suddain, I saw the pole tremble
and sway towardes me; and stretching forth my apron I did, in an extasy
of gladness, pity, and horror, catch its burthen as it fell.
Patteson, shuddering, yet grinning, cries under his breath, "Managed I
not well, mistress? Let's speed away with our theft, but I think not
they'll follow hard after us, for there are well-wishers on the bridge.
I'll put ye into the boat and then say, 'God sped ye, lady, with your
I've heard Bonvisi tell of a poor Italian girl who buried her murdered
lover's heart in a pot of basil, which she watered day and night with
her tears, just as I do my coffer. Will hath promised it shall be buried
with me; layd upon my heart, and since then I've been easier.
He thinks he shall write father's life, when we are settled in a new
home. We are to be cleared out o' this in alle haste; for the king
grutches at our lingering over father's footsteps, and yet when the news
of the bloody deed was taken to him, he scowled at Queen Anne, saying,
"Thou art the cause of this man's death!"
Flow on, bright shining Thames. A good, brave man hath walked aforetime
on your margent, himself as bright, and usefull, and delightsome as you,
sweet river. There's a river whose streams make glad the city of our
God. He now rests beside it. Good Christian folks, as they hereafter
pass this spot, will, maybe, point this way and say, "There dwelt Sir
Thomas More," but whether they doe or not, _Vox Populi_ is no very
considerable matter. Theire favourite of to-day may, for what they care,
goe hang himself to-morrow in his surcingle. Thus it must be while the
world lasts; and the very racks and scrues wherewith they aim to
overcome the nobler spiritt onlie lift and reveal its power of
exaltation above the heaviest gloom of circumstance.
_Interfecistis, interfecistis hominem omnium anglorum optimum._
* * * * *
Poet, dramatist, and novelist, Alessandro Francesco Tommaso
Manzoni was born at Milan on March 7, 1785. In early manhood
he became an ardent disciple of Voltairianism, but after
marriage embraced the faith of the Church of Rome; and it was
in reparation of his early lapse that he composed his first
important literary work, which took the form of a treatise on
Catholic morality, and a number of sacred lyrics. Although
Manzoni was perhaps surpassed as a poet by several of his own
countrymen, his supreme position as novelist of the romantic
school in Italy is indisputable. His famous work, "The
Betrothed" ("I Promessi Sposi"), completed in 1822 and
published at the rate of a volume a year during 1825-27, was
declared by Scott to be the finest novel ever written. Manzoni
died on May 22, 1873.
_I.--The Schemes of Don Rodrigo_
Don Abbondio, cure of a little town near Como, was no hero. It was,
therefore, the less difficult for two armed bravos whom he encountered
one evening in the year 1628 to convince him that the wedding of Renzo
Tramaglino and Lucia Mondella must not take place, as it did not suit
the designs of their master, Don Rodrigo. Renzo, however, was by no
means disposed to take this view of the matter, and was like to have
taken some desperate steps to express his disapproval. From this course
he was dissuaded by Fra Cristoforo, a Capuchin, renowned for his wisdom
and sanctity, who undertook to attempt to soften the heart of Don
The friar was held in affectionate esteem by all, even by Rodrigo's
bravos, and on his arrival at the castle he was at once shown into the
presence of its master.
"I come," said he, "to propose to you an act of justice. Some men of bad
character have made use of the name of your illustrious lordship to
alarm a poor cure, and dissuade him from performing his duty, and to
oppress two innocent persons--"
"In short, father," said Rodrigo, "I suppose there is some young girl
you are concerned about. Since you seem to think that I am so powerful,
advise her to come and put herself under my protection; she shall be
well looked after. Cowled rascal!" he shouted. "Vile upstart! Thank the
cassock that covers your cowardly shoulders for saving them from the
caresses that such scoundrels should receive. Depart, or--"
In the meantime, plans were being discussed in Lucia's cottage.
"Listen, my children," said Agnese, her mother; "if you were married,
that would be the great difficulty out of the way."
"Is there any doubt," said Renzo; "_if_ we were married--At Bergamo, not
far from here, a silk-weaver would be received with open arms. You know
my cousin Bartolo has wanted me to go there and make my fortune, as he
has done. Once married, we could all go thither together, and live in
blessed peace, out of this villain's reach."
"Listen, then," said Agnese. "There must be two witnesses; all four must
go to the priest and take him by surprise, that he mayn't have time to
escape. The man says, 'Signor Cure, this is my wife'; the woman says,
'Signor Cure, this is my husband.' It is necessary that the cure and the
witnesses hear it, and the marriage is then as valid and sacred as if
the Pope himself had blessed it."
"But why, then," said Lucia, "didn't this plan come into Fra
"Do you think it didn't?" replied she. "But--if you must know--the
friars disapprove of that sort of thing."
"If it isn't right, we ought not to do it."
"What! Would I give you advice contrary to the fear of God; if it were
against the will of your parents? But when I am satisfied, and he who
makes all this disturbance is a villain----Once it is done, what do you
think the father will say? 'Ah! daughter; it was a sad error, but it is
done.' In his heart he will be very well satisfied."
On the following night Don Abbondio was disturbed at a late hour by a
certain Tonio, who came with his cousin Gervase to pay a small debt.
While he was giving him a receipt for it, Renzo and Lucia slipped in
unperceived. The cure was startled on suddenly hearing the words,
"Signor Cure, in the presence of these witnesses, this is my wife."
Instantly grasping the situation, and before Lucia's lips could form a
reply, Don Abbondio seized the tablecloth, and at a bound wrapped her
head in it, so that she could not complete the formula. "Perpetua!" he
shouted to his housekeeper. "Help!"
Dashing to an inner room, he locked himself in, flung open the window,
and shouted for help. Hearing the uproar, the sexton, who lived next
door, shouted out, "What is it?"
"Help!" repeated the cure. Not being over desirous of thrusting himself
blindly in upon unknown dangers, the sexton hastened to the belfry and
vigorously rang the great bell. This ringing the bell had more
far-reaching consequences than he anticipated. Enraged by the friar's
visit, Rodrigo had determined to abduct Lucia, and sent his bravos to
effect his purpose that very night. At the very moment that the bell
began to ring they had just broken into Agnese's house, and were
searching for the occupants. Convinced that their action was the cause
of commotion, they beat a hasty retreat.
The discomfited betrothed--still only betrothed--hastily rejoined
Agnese, who was waiting for them in the street. As they hurriedly turned
their steps homeward a child threw himself into their way.
"Back! Back!" he breathlessly exclaimed. "This way to the monastery!"
"What is it?" asked Renzo.
"There are devils in your house," said the boy, panting. "I saw them;
Fra Cristoforo said so; he sent me to warn you. He had news from someone
at the castle; you must go to him at the monastery at once."
"My children," said Fra Cristoforo on their arrival, "the village is no
longer safe for you; for a time, at least, you must take refuge
elsewhere. I will arrange for you, Lucia, to be taken care of in a
convent at Monza. You, Renzo, must put yourself in safety from the anger
of others, and your own. Carry this letter to Father Bonaventura, in our
monastery at Milan. He will find you work."
_II.--The Riot of the Hungry_
Fra Bonaventura was out when Renzo arrived to present his letter.
"Go and wait in the church, where you may employ yourself profitably,"
was the porter's advice, which Renzo was about to follow, when a
tumultuous crowd came in sight. Here, apparently, was matter of greater
interest, so he turned aside to see the cause of the uproar.
The cause, though Renzo did not at the time discover it, was the
shortage of the bread supply. Owing to the ravages of war and the
disturbed state of the country, much land lay uncultivated and deserted;
insupportable taxes were levied; and no sooner had the deficient harvest
been gathered in than the provisions for the army, and the waste which
always accompanies them, made a fearful void in it. What had attracted
Renzo's attention was but the sudden exacerbation of a chronic disease.
Mingling with the hurrying mob, Renzo soon discovered that they had been
engaged in sacking a bakery, and were filled with fury to find large
quantities of flour, the existence of which the authorities had denied.
"The superintendent! The tyrant! We'll have him, dead or alive!"
Renzo found himself borne along in the thickest of the throng to the
house of the superintendent, where a tremendous crowd was endeavouring
to break in the doors. The tumult being allayed by the arrival of
Ferrer, the chancellor, a popular favourite, Renzo became involved in
conversation with some of the rioters. He asked to be directed to an inn
where he could pass the night.
"I know an inn that will suit you," said one who had listened to all the
speeches without himself saying a word. "The landlord is a friend of
mine, a very worthy man."
So saying, he took Renzo off to an inn at some little distance, taking
pains to ascertain who he was and whence he came. Arrived at the inn,
the new companions shared a bottle of wine which, in Renzo's excited
condition, soon mounted to his head. Another bottle was called for; and
the landlord, being asked if he had a bed, produced pen, ink, and paper,
and demanded his name, surname and country.
"What has all this to do with my bed?"
"I do my duty. We are obliged to report everyone that sleeps in the
"Oh, so I'm to tell my business, am I? This is something new. Supposing
I had come to Milan to confess, I should go to a Capuchin father, not to
"Well, if you won't, you won't!" said the landlord, with a glance at
Renzo's companion. "I've done my duty."
So saying, he withdrew, and shortly afterwards the new-found friend
insisted on taking his departure. At daybreak Renzo was awakened by a
shake and a voice calling, "Lorenzo Tramaglino."
"Eh, what does this mean? What do you want? Who told you my name?" said
Renzo, starting up, amazed to find three men, two of them fully armed,
standing at his bedside.
"You must come with us. The high sheriff wants to have some words with
Renzo now found himself being led through the streets, that were still
filled with a considerable number of last night's rioters, by no means
yet pacified. When they had gone a little way some of the crowd,
noticing them, began to form around the party.
"If I don't help myself now," thought Renzo, "it's my own fault. My
friends," he shouted, "they're carrying me off because yesterday I
shouted 'Bread and Justice!' Don't abandon me, my friends!"
The crowd at once began to press forward, and the bailiffs, fearing
danger, let go of his hands and tried to disappear into the crowd. Renzo
was carried off safely.
His only hope of safety now lay in getting entirely clear of Milan and
hiding himself in some other town out of the jurisdiction of the duchy.
He decided to go to Bergamo, which was under Venetian government, where
he could live safely with his cousin until such time as Milan had
_III.--The Unnamed's Penitence_
Don Rodrigo was now more determined than ever to accomplish his
praiseworthy undertaking, and to this end he sought the help of a very
formidable character, a powerful noble, whose bravos had long been the
terror of the countryside, and who was always referred to as "The
Lucia, having been sent one day with a note from the convent where she
had found refuge to a monastery at some little distance, found herself
suddenly seized from behind, and, regardless of her screams, bundled
into a carriage, which drove off at a great pace.
When the carriage stopped, after a long drive, Lucia was hurried into a
litter, which bore her up a steep hill to a castle, where she was shut
up in a room with an old crone. After a while a resounding knock was
heard on the door, and the Unnamed strode in.
Casting a glance around, he discovered Lucia crouched down on the floor
in a corner.
"Come, get up!" he said to her.
The unhappy girl raised herself on her knees, and raised her hands to
"Oh, what have I done to you? Where am I? Why do you make me suffer the
agonies of hell? In the name of God--"
"God!" interrupted he; "always God! They who cannot defend themselves
must always bring forward this God. What do you expect by this word? To
"Oh, signor, what can a poor girl like me expect, except that you should
have mercy upon me? God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy. For
charity's sake, let me go! I will pray for you all my life. Oh, see, you
are moved to pity! Say one word; oh, say it! God pardons so many sins
for one deed of mercy!"
"Oh, why isn't she the daughter of one of the dogs who outlawed me?"
thought the Unnamed. "Then I should enjoy her sufferings; but instead--"
"Don't drive away a good inspiration!" continued Lucia earnestly, seeing
a certain hesitation in his face.
"Perhaps some day even you--But no--no, I will always pray the Lord to
keep you from every evil."
"Come, take courage," said the Unnamed, with unusual gentleness. "Have I
done you any harm? To-morrow morning--"
"Oh set me free now!"
"To-morrow I will see you again."
When he left her, the unhappy girl flung herself on her knees. "O most
holy Virgin," she prayed, "thou to whom I have so often recommended
myself, and who hast so often comforted me! Bring me out of this danger,
bring me safely to my mother, and I vow unto thee to continue a virgin!
I renounce for ever my unfortunate betrothed, that I may belong only to
The Unnamed retired for the night, but not to sleep. "God pardons so
many sins for one deed of mercy!" kept ringing in his ears. Suppose
there was a God, after all? He had so many sins in need of pardon.
About daybreak a confused murmur reached his ear from the valley below;
a distant chiming of bells began to make itself heard; nearer bells took
up the peal, until the whole air rang with the sound. He demanded the
cause of all this rejoicing, and was informed that Cardinal Boromeo had
arrived, and that the festival was in his honour.
He went to Lucia's apartment, and found her still huddled up in a
corner, but sleeping. The hag explained that she could not be prevailed
upon to go to bed.
"Then let her sleep. When she wakes, tell her that I will do all she
Leaving the castle with rapid steps, the Unnamed hastened to the village
where the cardinal had rested the previous night.
"Oh," cried Federigo Boromeo, "what a welcome visit is this. You have
good news for me, I am sure."
"Good news! What good news can you expect from such as I?"
"That God has touched your heart, and would make you His own."
"God! God! If I could but see Him! If He be such as they say, what do
you suppose that He can do with me?"
"The world has long cried out against you," replied Federigo in a solemn
voice. "He can acquire through you a glory such as others cannot give
Him. How must He love you, Who has bid and enabled me to regard you with
a charity that consumes me!" So saying, he extended his hand.
"No!" cried the penitent. "Defile not your hand! You know not all that
the one you would grasp has committed."
"Suffer me to press the hand which will repair so many wrongs, comfort
so many afflicted, be extended peacefully and humbly to so many
"Unhappy man that I am," exclaimed the signor, "one thing, at least, I
can quickly arrest and repair."
Federigo listened attentively to the relation of Lucia's abduction. "Ah,
let us lose no time!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "This is an earnest of
God's forgiveness, to make you an instrument of safety to one whom you
would have ruined."
_IV.--In a Lazzeretto_
Thanks to his cousin, Renzo was enabled to earn very good wages, and
would have been quite content to remain had it not been for his desire
to rejoin Lucia. A terrible outbreak of plague in Milan spread to
Bergamo, and our friend was among the first to be stricken down, his
recovery being due more to his excellent constitution than to any
medical skill. Thereafter, he lost no more time, and after many
inquiries he succeeded in tracing Lucia to an address in Milan.
Secure in an _alias_, he set out to the plague-stricken city, which he
found in the most deplorable condition. Having found the house of which
he was in search, he knocked loudly at the door and inquired if Lucia
still lived there. To his horror, he found that she had been taken to
Let the reader imagine the enclosure of the Lazzeretto, peopled with
16,000 persons ill of the plague; the whole area encumbered, here with
tents and cabins, there with carts, and elsewhere with people; crowded
with dead or dying, stretched on mattresses, or on bare straw; and
throughout the whole a commotion like the swell of the sea.
"Lucia, I've found you! You're living!" exclaimed Renzo, all in a
"Oh, blessed Lord!" cried she, trembling far more violently. "You?"
"How pale you are! You've recovered, though?"
"The Lord has pleased to leave me here a little longer. Ah, Renzo, why
are you here?"
"Why? Need I say why? Am I no longer Renzo? Are you no longer Lucia?"
"Ah, what are you saying? Didn't my mother write to you?"
"Ay, that indeed she did. Fine things to offer to an unfortunate,
afflicted, fugitive wretch who had never done you wrong."
"But, Renzo, Renzo, you don't think what you're saying! A promise to the
"And I think better of the Madonna than you do, for I believe she
doesn't wish for promises that injure one's fellow-creatures. Promise
her that our first daughter shall be called Maria, for that I'm willing
to promise, too. That is a devotion that may have some use, and does no
harm to anyone."
"You don't know what it is to make a vow. Leave me, for heaven's sake,
and think no more about me--except in your prayers!"
"Listen, Lucia! Fra Cristoforo is here. I spoke with him but a short
while ago, while I was searching for you, and he told me that I did
right to come and look for you; and that the Lord would approve my
acting so, and would surely help me to find you, which has come to
"But if he said so, he didn't know------"
"How should he know of things you've done out of your own head, and
without the advice of a priest? A good man, as he is, would never think
of things of this kind. And he spoke, too, like a saint. He said that
perhaps God designed to show mercy to that poor fellow, for so I must
now call him, Don Rodrigo, who is now in this place, and waits to take
him at the right moment, but wishes that we should pray for him
together. Together! You hear? He told me to go back and tell him whether
I'd found you. I'm going. We'll hear what he says."
After a while, Renzo returned with Fra Cristoforo. "My daughter," said
the father, "did you recollect, when you made that vow, that you were
bound by another promise?"
"When it related to the Madonna?"
"My daughter, the Lord approves of offerings when we make them of our
own. It is the heart, the will that He desires. But you could not offer
Him the will of another, to Whom you had pledged yourself."
"Have I done wrong?"
"No, my poor child. But tell me, have you no other motive that hinders
you from fulfilling your promise to Renzo?"
Lucia blushed crimson. "Nothing else," she whispered.
"Then, my child, you know that the Church has power to absolve you from
"But, father, is it not a sin to turn back and repent of a promise made
to the Madonna? I made it at the time with my whole heart----" said
Lucia, violently agitated by so unexpected a hope.
"A sin? A sin to have recourse to the Church, and to ask her minister to
make use of the authority which he has received, through her, from God?
And if you request me to declare you absolved from this vow, I shall not
hesitate to do it; nay, I wish that you may request me."
"Then--then--I do request it!"
In an explicit voice the father then said, "By the authority I have
received from the Church, I declare you absolved from the vow of
virginity, and free you from every obligation you may thereby have
contracted. Beseech the Lord again for those graces you once besought to
make you a holy wife; and rely on it, He will bestow them upon you after
so many sorrows."
"Has Renzo told you," Fra Cristoforo continued, "whom he has seen here?"
"Oh, yes, father, he has!"
"You will pray for him. Don't be weary of doing so. And pray also for
Some weeks later, Don Abbondio received a visit, as unexpected as it was
gratifying, from the marquis who, on Rodrigo's death from the plague,
succeeded to his estates.
"I come," said he, "to bring you the compliments of the cardinal
archbishop. He wishes to have news of the young betrothed persons of
this parish, who had to suffer on account of the unfortunate Don
"Everything is settled, and they will be man and wife as soon as
"And I request that you be good enough to tell me if I can be of any
service to them."
* * * * *
And here we may safely leave Renzo and Lucia. Their powerful protector
easily secured Renzo's pardon, and shortly afterwards they were happily
married and settled in Bergamo, where abundant prosperity came to them;
and, furthermore, they were blessed with a large family, of whom the
first, being a girl, was named Maria.
* * * * *
Mr. Midshipman Easy
Frederick Marryat, novelist and captain in the navy, was born
in London on July 10, 1792. As a boy he chiefly distinguished
himself by repeatedly running away from school with the
intention of going to sea. His first experience of naval
service was under Lord Cochrane, whom he afterwards reproduced
as Captain Savage of the Diomede in "Peter Simple." Honourable
though Marryat's life at sea was, it is as a graphic depictor
of naval scenes, customs, and character that he is known to
the present generation. His first story, "Frank Mildmay"
(1829), took the reading public by storm, and from that time
onward he produced tale after tale with startling rapidity.
"Peter Simple" is the best of Captain Marryat's novels, and
"Mr. Midshipman Easy" is the most humorous. Published in
volume form in 1836, after appearing serially in the pages of
the "Metropolitan Magazine," of which Marryat was then editor,
the latter story immediately caught the fancy of the public,
and considerably widened his already large circle of readers.
"Mr. Midshipman Easy" is frankly farcical; it shows its author
not only as a graphic writer, but as one gifted with an
abundance of whimsical humour and a keen sense of
characterisation. Opinions may differ as to the actual merits
of "Mr. Midshipman Easy," but it has more than served its
author's purpose--it has held the public for over seventy
years. Captain Marryat died on August 9, 1848.
_I.--Mr. Easy Joins His Majesty's Service_
Mr. Nicodemus Easy was a gentleman who lived down in Hampshire. He was a
married man, and in very easy circumstances, and having decided to be a
philosopher, he had fixed upon the rights of man, equality, and all
that--how every person was born to inherit his share of the earth--for
At the age of fourteen his only son, Jack, decided to go to sea.
"It has occurred to me, father," he said, "that although the whole earth
has been so nefariously divided among the few, the waters at least are
the property of all. No man claims his share of the sea; everyone may
there plough as he pleases without being taken up for a trespasser. It
is, then, only upon the ocean that I am likely to find that equality and
rights of man which we are so anxious to establish on shore; and
therefore I have resolved not to go to school again, which I detest, but
to go to sea."
"I cannot listen to that, Jack. You must return to school."
"All I have to say is, father, that I swear by the rights of man I will
not go back to school, and that I will go to sea. Was I not born my own
master? Has anyone a right to dictate to me as if I were not his equal?"
Mr. Easy had nothing to reply.
"I will write to Captain Wilson," he said mournfully.
Captain Wilson, who was under considerable obligations to Mr. Easy,
wrote in reply promising that he would treat Jack as his own son, and
our hero very soon found his way down to Portsmouth.
As Jack had plenty of money, and was very much pleased at finding
himself his own master, he was in no hurry to join his ship, and five or
six companions whom he had picked up strongly advised him to put it off
until the very last moment. So he was three weeks at Portsmouth before
anyone knew of his arrival.
At last, Captain Wilson, receiving a note from Mr. Easy, desired Mr.
Sawbridge, the first lieutenant, to make inquiries; and Mr. Sawbridge,
going on shore, and being informed by the waiter at the Fountain Inn
that Mr. Easy had been there three weeks, was justly indignant.
Mr. Sawbridge was a good officer, who had really worked his way up to
the present rank--that is, he had served seven-and-twenty years, and had
nothing but his pay. He was a good-hearted man; but when he entered
Jack's room, and saw the dinner-table laid out in the best style for
eight, his bile was raised by the display.
"May I beg to ask," said Jack, who was always remarkably polite in his
address, "in what manner I may be of service to you?"
"Yes sir, you may--by joining your ship immediately."
Hereupon, Jack, who did not admire the peremptory tone of Mr. Sawbridge,
very coolly replied. "And, pray, who are you?"
"Who am I, sir? My name is Sawbridge, sir, and I am the first lieutenant
of the Harpy. Now, sir, you have your answer."
Mr. Sawbridge was not in uniform, but he imagined the name of the first
lieutenant would strike terror to a culprit midshipman.
"Really, sir," replied Jack. "What may be your exact situation on board?
My ignorance of the service will not allow me to guess; but if I may
judge from your behaviour, you have no small opinion of yourself."
"Look ye, young man, you may not know what a first lieutenant is; but,
depend upon it, I'll let you know very soon! In the meantime, sir, I
insist that you go immediately on board."
"I'm sorry that I cannot comply with your very moderate request,"
replied Jack coolly. "I shall go on board when it suits my convenience,
and I beg that you will give yourself no further trouble on my account."
He then rang the bell. "Waiter, show this gentleman downstairs."
"By the god of wars!" exclaimed the first lieutenant. "But I'll soon
show you down to the boat, my young bantam! I shall now go and report
your conduct to Captain Wilson, and if you are not on board this
evening, to-morrow morning I shall send a sergeant and a file of marines
to fetch you."
"You may depend upon it," replied Jack, "that I also shall not fail to
mention to Captain Wilson that I consider you a very quarrelsome,
impertinent fellow, and recommend him not to allow you to remain on
board. It will be quite uncomfortable to be in the same ship with such
an ungentlemanly bear."
"He must be mad--quite mad!" exclaimed Sawbridge, whose astonishment
even mastered his indignation. "Mad as a March hare!"
"No, sir," replied Jack, "I am not mad, but I am a philosopher."
"A _what_? Well, my joker, all the better for you. I shall put your
philosophy to the proof."
"It is for that very reason, sir, that I have decided upon going to sea;
and if you do remain on board, I hope to argue the point with you, and
make you a convert to the truth of equality and the rights of man. We
are all born equal. I trust you'll allow that?"
"Twenty-seven years have I been in the service!" roared Sawbridge. "But
he's mad--downright, stark, staring mad!" And the first lieutenant
bounced out of the room.
"He calls me mad," thought Jack. "I shall tell Captain Wilson what is my
opinion about his lieutenant." Shortly afterwards the company arrived,
and Jack soon forgot all about it.
In the meantime, Sawbridge called at the captain's lodgings, and made a
faithful report of all that had happened.
Sawbridge and Wilson were old friends and messmates, and the captain put
it to the first lieutenant that Mr. Easy, senior, having come to his
assistance and released him from heavy difficulties with a most generous
cheque, what could he do but be a father to his son?
"I can only say," replied Sawbridge, "that, not only to please you, but
also from respect to a man who has shown such goodwill towards one of
our cloth, I shall most cheerfully forgive all that has passed between
the lad and me."
Captain Wilson then dispatched a note to our hero, requesting the
pleasure of his company to breakfast on the ensuing morning, and Jack
answered in the affirmative.
Captain Wilson, who knew all about Mr. Easy's philosophy, explained to
Jack the details and rank of every person on board, and that everyone
was equally obliged to obey orders. Lieutenant Sawbridge's demeanour was
due entirely to his zeal for his country.
That evening Mr. Jack Easy was safe on board his majesty's sloop Harpy.
_II.--On Board the Harpy_
Jack remained in his hammock during the first few days at sea. He was
very sick, bewildered, and confused, every minute knocking his head
against the beams with the pitching and tossing of the sloop.
"And this is going to sea," thought Jack. "No wonder that no one
interferes with another here, or talks about a trespass; for I am sure
anyone is welcome to my share of the ocean."
When he was well enough he was told to go to the midshipman's berth, and
Jack, who now felt excessively hungry, crawled over and between chests
until he found himself in a hole infinitely inferior to the dog-kennels
which received his father's pointers.
"I'd not only give up the ocean," thought Jack, "and my share of it, but
also my share of the Harpy, unto anyone who fancies it. Equality enough
here, for everyone appears equally miserably off."
But when he had gained the deck, the scene of cheerfulness, activity,
and order lightened his heart after the four days of suffering, close
air, and confinement from which he had just emerged.
Jack dined with the captain that night, and was very much pleased to
find that everyone drank wine with him, and that everybody at the
captain's table appeared to be on an equality. Before the dessert had
been on the table five minutes, Jack became loquacious on his favourite
topic. All the company stared with surprise at such an unheard-of
doctrine being broached on board of a man-of-war.
This day may be considered as the first in which Jack really made his
appearance on board, and it also was on this first day that Jack made
known, at the captain's table, his very peculiar notions. If the company
at the captain's table were astonished at such heterodox opinions being
started, they were equally astonished at the cool, good-humoured
ridicule with which they were received by Captain Wilson. The report of
Jack's boldness, and every word and opinion that he had uttered--of
course, much magnified--were circulated that evening through the whole
ship; the matter was canvassed in the gun-room by the officers, and
descanted upon by the midshipmen as they walked the deck. The boatswain
talked it over with the other warrant officers, till the grog was all
gone, and then dismissed it as too dry a subject.
The bully of the midshipman's berth--a young man about seventeen, named
Vigors--at once attacked our hero.
"So, my chap, you are come on board to raise a mutiny here with your
equality? You came off scot free at the captain's table, but it won't
do, I can tell you; someone must knock under in the midshipman's berth,
and you are one of them."
"I can assure you that you are mistaken," replied Easy.
At school Jack had fought and fought again, until he was a very good
bruiser, and although not so tall as Vigors, he was much better built
"I've thrashed bigger fellows than he," he said to himself.
"You impudent blackguard!" exclaimed Vigors. "If you say another word,
I'll give you a good thrashing, and knock some of your equality out of
"Indeed!" replied Jack, who almost fancied himself back at school.
"We'll try that!"
Vigors had gained his assumed authority more by bullying than fighting;
others had submitted to him without a sufficient trial. Jack, on the
contrary, had won his way up in school by hard and scientific combat.
The result, therefore, may easily be imagined. In less than a quarter of
an hour Vigors, beaten dead, with his eyes closed and three teeth out,
gave in; while Jack, after a basin of water, looked as fresh as ever.
After that, Jack declared that as might was right in a midshipman's
berth, he would so far restore equality that, let who would come, they
must be his master before they should tyrannise over those weaker than
_III.--The Triangular Duel_
Jack, although generally popular on board, had made enemies of Mr.
Biggs, the boatswain, and Mr. Easthupp, the purser's steward. The
latter--a cockney and a thief--had even been kicked down the hatchway by
When the Harpy was at Malta, Jack, wroth at the way the two men talked
at him, declared he would give them satisfaction.
"Mr. Biggs, let you and this fellow put on plain clothes, and I will
meet you both."
"One at a time?" said the boatswain.
"No, sir; not one at a time, but both at the same time. I will fight
both or none. If you are my superior officer, you must _descend_ to meet
me, or I will not descend to meet that fellow, whom I believe to have
been little better than a pickpocket!"
Mr. Biggs having declared that he would fight, of course, had to look
out for a second, and he fixed upon Mr. Tallboys, the gunner, and
requested him to be his friend. Mr. Tallboys consented, but he was very
much puzzled how to arrange that _three_ were to fight at the same time,
for he had no idea of there being two duels. Jack had no one to confide
in but Gascoigne, a fellow-midshipman; and although Gascoigne thought it
was excessively _infra dig._ of Jack to meet even the boatswain, as the
challenge had been given there was no retracting, and he therefore
consented and went to meet Mr. Tallboys.
"Mr. Gascoigne," said the gunner, "you see that there are three parties
to fight. Had there been two or four there would have been no
difficulty, as the straight line or square might guide us in that
instance; but we must arrange it upon the triangle in this."
Gascoigne stared. He could not imagine what was coming.
"The duel between three can only be fought upon the principle of the
triangle," the gunner went on. "You observe," he said, taking a piece of
chalk and making a triangle on the table, "in this figure we have three
points, each equidistant from each other; and we have three combatants,
so that, placing one at each point, it is all fair play for the three.
Mr. Easy, for instance, stands here, the boatswain here, and the
purser's steward at the third corner. Now, if the distance is fairly
measured it will be all right."
"But then," replied Gascoigne, delighted at the idea, "how are they to
"It certainly is not of much consequence," replied the gunner; "but
still, as sailors, it appears to me that they should fire with the
sun--that is, Mr. Easy fires at Mr. Biggs, Mr. Biggs fires at Mr.
Easthupp, and Mr. Easthupp fires at Mr. Easy, so that you perceive that
each party has his shot at one, and at the same time receives the fire
Gascoigne was in ecstasies at the novelty of the proceeding.
"Upon my word, Mr. Tallboys, I give you great credit. You have a
profound mathematical head, and I am delighted with your arrangement. I
shall insist upon Mr. Easy consenting to your excellent and scientific
Gascoigne went out and told Jack what the gunner had proposed, at which
Jack laughed heartily. The gunner also explained it to the boatswain,
who did not very well comprehend, but replied, "I daresay it's all
right. Shot for shot, and d---- all favours!"
The parties then repaired to the spot with two pairs of ship's pistols,
which Mr. Tallboys had smuggled on shore; and as soon as they were on
the ground, the gunner called Mr. Easthupp. In the meantime, Gascoigne
had been measuring an equilaterial triangle of twelve paces, and marked
it out. Mr. Tallboys, on his return with the purser's steward, went over
the ground, and finding that it was "equal angles subtended by equal
sides," declared that it was all right. Easy took his station, the
boatswain was put into his, and Mr. Easthupp, who was quite in a
mystery, was led by the gunner to the third position.
"But, Mr. Tallboys," said the purser's steward, "I don't understand
this. Mr. Easy will first fight Mr. Biggs, will he not?"
"No," replied the gunner; "this is a duel of three. You will fire at Mr.
Easy, Mr. Easy will fire at Mr. Biggs, and Mr. Biggs will fire at you.
It is all arranged, Mr. Easthupp."
"But," said Mr. Easthupp, "I do not understand it. Why is Mr. Biggs to
fire at me? I have no quarrel with Mr. Biggs."
"Because Mr. Easy fires at Mr. Biggs, and Mr. Biggs must have his shot
"But still, I've no quarrel with Mr. Biggs, and therefore, Mr. Biggs, of
course you will not aim at me."
"Why, you don't think that I'm going to be fired at for nothing?"
replied the boatswain. "No, no; I'll have my shot, anyhow!"
"But at your friend, Mr. Biggs?"
"All the same, I shall fire at somebody, shot for shot, and hit the
"Vel, gentlemen, I purtest against these proceedings," remarked Mr.
Easthupp. "I came here to have satisfaction from Mr. Easy, and not to be
fired at by Mr. Biggs."
"So you would have a shot without receiving one?" cried Gascoigne. "The
fact is that this fellow's a confounded coward."
At this affront, Mr. Easthupp rallied, and accepted the pistol offered
by the gunner.
"You 'ear those words, Mr. Biggs? Pretty language to use to a gentleman!
I purtest no longer, Mr. Tallboys. Death before dishonour--I'm a
The gunner gave the word as if he were exercising the great guns on
"Cock your locks! Take good aim at the object! Fire!"
Mr. Easthupp clapped his hand to his trousers, gave a loud yell, and
then dropped down, having presented his broadside as a target to the
boatswain. Jack's shot had also taken effect, having passed through both
the boatswain's cheeks, without further mischief than extracting two of
his best upper double teeth, and forcing through the hole of the farther
cheek the boatswain's own quid of tobacco. As for Mr. Easthupp's ball,
as he was very unsettled and shut his eyes before he fired, it had gone
heaven knows where.
The purser's steward lay on the ground and screamed; the boatswain threw
down his pistol in a rage. The former was then walked off to the
hospital, attended by the gunner, and also the boatswain, who thought he
might as well have a little medical advice before going on board.
"Well, Easy," said Gascoigne, collecting the pistols and tying them up
in his handkerchief, "I'll be shot, but we're in a pretty scrape;
there's no hushing this up. I'll be hanged if I care; it's the best
piece of fun I ever met with."
"I'm afraid that our leave will be stopped for the future," replied
"Confound it, and they say that the ship is to be here six weeks at
least. I won't go on board. Look ye, Jack, we'll pretend to be so much
alarmed at the result of this duel, that we dare not show ourselves lest
we should be hung. I will write a note and tell all the particulars to
the master's mate, and refer to the gunner for the truth of it, and beg
him to intercede with the captain and first lieutenant. I know that
although we should be punished, they will only laugh; but I will pretend
that Easthupp is killed, and we are frightened out of our lives. That
will be it; and then let's get on board one of the fruit boats, sail in
the night for Palermo, and then we'll have a cruise for a fortnight, and
when the money is all gone we'll come back."
"That's a capital idea, Ned, and the sooner we do it the better."
They were two very nice lads.
_IV.--Jack Leaves the Service_
At the end of four years at sea, Jack had been cured of his philosophy
of equality. The death of his mother, and a letter from the old family
doctor that his father was not in his senses, decided him to return
"It is fortunate for you that the estate is entailed," wrote Dr.
Middleton, "or you might soon be a beggar, for there is no saying what
debts your father might, in his madness, be guilty of. He has turned
away his keepers, and allowed poachers to go all over the manor. I
consider that it is absolutely necessary that you should immediately
return home and look after what will one day be your property. You have
no occasion to follow the profession with your income of L8,000 per
annum. You have distinguished yourself, now make room for those who
require it for their subsistence."
Captain Wilson approved of the decision, and Jack left the service. At
his request, his devoted admirer Mesty--an abbreviation of
Mephistopheles--an African, once a prince in Ashantee and now the cook
of the midshipmen's mess, was allowed to leave the service and accompany
our hero to England as his servant.
From the first utterances of Jack on the subject of liberty and
equality, he had won Mesty's heart, and in a hundred ways the black had
proved his fidelity and attachment. His delight at going home with his
patron was indescribable.
Jack had not written to his father to announce his arrival, and when he
reached home he found things worse than he expected.
His father was at the mercy of his servants, who, insolent and
insubordinate, robbed, laughed at, and neglected him. The waste and
expense were enormous. Our hero, who found how matters stood, soon
resolved what to do.
He rose early; Mesty was in the room, with warm water, as soon as he
"By de power, Massa Easy, your fader very silly old man!"
"I'm afraid so," replied Jack. "How are they getting on in the servants'
"Regular mutiny, sar--ab swear dat dey no stand our nonsense, and dat we
both leave the house to-morrow."
Jack went to his father.
"Do you hear, sir, your servants declare that I shall leave your house
"You leave my house, Jack, after four years' absence! No, no, I'll
reason with them--I'll make them a speech. You don't know how I can
"Look you, father, I cannot stand this. Either give me _carte blanche_
to arrange this household as I please, or I shall quit it myself
"Quit my house, Jack! No, no--shake hands and make friends with them; be
civil, and they will serve you."
"Do you consent, sir, or am I to leave the house?"
"Leave the house! Oh, no; not leave the house, Jack. I have no son but
you. Then do as you please--but you will not send away my butler--he
escaped hanging last assizes on an undoubted charge of murder? I
selected him on purpose, and must have him cured, and shown as a proof
of a wonderful machine I have invented."
"Mesty," said Jack, "get my pistols ready for to-morrow morning, and
your own too--do you hear? It is possible, father, that you may not have
yet quite cured your murderer, and therefore it is as well to be
Mr. Easy did not long survive his son's return, and under Jack's
management, in which Mesty rendered invaluable assistance, the household
was reformed, and the estate once more conducted on reasonable lines.
A year later Jack was married, and Mesty, as major domo, held his post
with dignity, and proved himself trustworthy.
* * * * *
"Peter Simple," published in 1833, is in many respects the
best of all Marryat's novels. Largely drawn from Marryat's own
professional experiences, the story, with its vivid
portraiture and richness of incident, is told with rare
atmosphere and style. Hogg placed the character of "Peter
Simple" on a level with Fielding's "Parson Adams;" Edgar Allan
Poe, on the other hand, found Marryat's works "essentially
_I.--I am Sacrificed to the Navy_
I think that had I been permitted to select my own profession in
childhood, I should in all probability have bound myself apprentice to a
tailor, for I always envied the comfortable seat which they appeared to
enjoy upon the shopboard. But my father, who was a clergyman of the
Church of England and the youngest brother of a noble family, had a
lucrative living, and a "soul above buttons," if his son had not. It has
been from time immemorial the custom to sacrifice the greatest fool of
the family to the prosperity and naval superiority of the country, and
at the age of fourteen, I was selected as the victim.
My father, who lived in the North of England, forwarded me by coach to
London, and from London I set out by coach for Portsmouth.
A gentleman in a plaid cloak sat by me, and at the Elephant and Castle a
drunken sailor climbed up by the wheel of the coach and sat down on the
I commenced a conversation with the gentleman in the plaid cloak
relative to my profession, and asked him whether it was not very
difficult to learn.
"Larn," cried the sailor, interrupting us, "no; it may be difficult for
such chaps as me before the mast to larn; but you, I presume, is a
reefer, and they ain't not much to larn, 'cause why, they pipe-clays
their weekly accounts, and walks up and down with their hands in their
pockets. You must larn to chaw baccy and drink grog, and then you knows
all a midshipman's expected to know nowadays. Ar'n't I right, sir?" said
the sailor, appealing to the gentleman in a plaid cloak. "I axes you,
because I see you're a sailor by the cut of your jib. Beg pardon, sir,"
continued he, touching his hat; "hope no offence."
"I am afraid that you have nearly hit the mark, my good fellow," replied
At the bottom of Portsdown Hill I inquired how soon we should be at
Portsmouth. He answered that we were passing the lines; but I saw no
lines, and I was ashamed to show my ignorance. The gentleman in a plaid
cloak asked me what ship I was going to join, and whether I had a letter
of introduction to the captain.
"Yes, I have," replied I. And I pulled out my pocket-book, in which the
letter was. "Captain Savage, H.M. ship Diomede," I read.
To my surprise, he very coolly took the letter and proceeded to open it,
which occasioned me immediately to snatch the letter from him, stating
my opinion at the same time that it was a breach of honour, and that in
my opinion he was no gentleman.
"Just as you please, youngster," replied he. "Recollect, you have told
me I am no gentleman."
He wrapped his plaid around him and said no more, and I was not a little
pleased at having silenced him by my resolute behaviour.
I stayed at the Blue Posts, where all the midshipmen put up, that night,
and next morning presented myself at the George Inn with my letter of
introduction to Captain Savage.
"Mr. Simple, I am glad to see you," said a voice. And there sat, with
his uniform and epaulets, and his sword by his side, the passenger in
the plaid cloak who wanted to open my letter and whom I had told to his
face that he was "no gentleman!"
I thought I should have died, and was just sinking down upon my knees to
beg for mercy, when the captain, perceiving my confusion, burst out into
a laugh, and said, "So you know me again, Mr. Simple? Well, don't be
alarmed. You did your duty in not permitting me to open the letter,
supposing me, as you did, to be some other person, and you were
perfectly right, under that supposition, to tell me that I was not a
gentleman. I give you credit for your conduct. Now, I think the sooner
you go on board the better."
On my arrival on board, the first lieutenant, after looking at me
closely, said, "Now, Mr. Simple, I have looked attentively at your face,
and I see at once that you are very clever, and if you do not prove so
in a _very_ short time, why--you had better jump overboard, that's all."
I was very much terrified at this speech, but at the same time I was
pleased to hear that he thought me clever. My unexpected reputation was
shortly afterwards strengthened, when, noticing the first lieutenant in
consultation with the gunner, the former, on my approaching, said,
"Youngster hand me that _monkey's tail_."
I saw nothing like a monkey's tail, but I was so frightened that I
snatched up the first thing that I saw, which was a short bar of iron,
and it so happened that it was the very article which he wanted.
"So you know what a monkey's tail is already, do you?" said the first
lieutenant. "Now don't you ever sham stupid after that."
A fortnight later, at daylight, a signal from the flagship in harbour
was made for us to unmoor; our orders had come to cruise in the Bay of
Biscay. The captain came on board, the anchor weighed, and we ran
through the Needles with a fine breeze. Presently I felt so very ill
that I went down below. What occurred for the next six days I cannot
tell. I thought I should die every moment, and lay in my hammock,
incapable of eating, drinking, or walking about.
O'Brien, the senior midshipman and master's mate, who had been very kind
to me, came to me on the seventh, morning and said that if I did not
exert myself I never should get well; that he had taken me under his
protection, and to prove his regard would give me a good basting, which
was a sovereign remedy for sea-sickness. He suited the action to the
word, and drubbed me on the ribs without mercy until I thought the
breath was out of my body; but I obeyed his orders to go on deck
immediately, and somehow or other did contrive to crawl up the ladder to
the main deck, where I sat down and cried bitterly. What would I have
given to have been at home again! It was not my fault that I was the
greatest fool of the family, yet how was I punished for it! But, by
degrees, I recovered myself, and certainly that night I slept very
The next morning O'Brien came to me again.
"It's a nasty slow fever, that sea-sickness, my Peter, and we must drive
it out of you."
And then he commenced a repetition of yesterday's remedy until I was
almost a jelly. Whether the fear of being thrashed drove away my
sickness, I do not know, but this is certain, that I felt no more of it
after the second beating, and the next morning when I awoke I was very
_II.--I am Taken Prisoner_
One morning at daybreak we found ourselves about four miles from the
town of Cette, and a large convoy of vessels coming round a point. We
made all sail in chase, and they anchored close in shore under a
battery, which we did not discover until it opened fire upon us. The
captain tacked the ship, and stood out again, until the boats were
hoisted out, and all ready to pull on shore and storm the battery.
O'Brien, who was the officer commanding the first cutter on service, was
in his boat, and I obtained permission from him to smuggle myself into
We ran ashore, amidst the fire of the gunboats which protected the
convoy, by which we lost three men, and made for the battery, which we
took without opposition, the French artillerymen running out as we ran
in. The directions of the captain were very positive not to remain in
the battery a minute after it was taken, but to board the gunboats,
leaving only one of the small boats, with the armourer, to spike the
guns, for the captain was aware that there were troops stationed along
the coast who might come down upon us and beat us off.
The first lieutenant, who commanded, desired O'Brien to remain with the
first cutter, and after the armourer had spiked the guns, as officer of
the boat he was to shove off immediately. O'Brien and I remained in the
battery with the armourer, the boat's crew being ordered down to the
boat to keep her afloat and ready to shove off at a moment's warning. We
had spiked all the guns but one, when all of a sudden a volley of
musketry was poured upon us, which killed the armourer, and wounded me
in the leg above the knee. I fell down by O'Brien, who cried out, "By
the powers, here they are, and one gun not spiked!" He jumped down,
wrenched the hammer from the armourer's hand, and seizing a nail from
the bag, in a few moments he had spiked the gun.
At this time I heard the tramping of the French soldiers advancing, when
O'Brien threw away the hammer and lifting me upon his shoulders cried,
"Come along, Peter, my boy," and made for the boat as fast as he could.
But he was too late; he had not got half-way to the boat before he was
collared by two French soldiers and dragged back into the battery. The
French troops then advanced and kept up a smart fire; our cutter escaped
and joined the other boat, who had captured the gunboats and convoy with
In the meantime, O'Brien had been taken into the battery with me on his
back; but as soon as he was there he laid me gently down, saying,
"Peter, my boy, as long as you were under my charge, I'd carry you
through thick and thin; but now that you are under the charge of these
French beggars, why, let them carry you."
When the troops ceased firing (and if O'Brien had left one gun unspiked
they must have done a great deal of mischief to our boats), the
commanding officer came up to O'Brien, and looking at him, said,
"Officer?" to which O'Brien nodded his head. He then pointed to
me--"Officer?" O'Brien nodded his head again, at which the French troops
laughed, and called me an _enfant_.
Then, as I was very faint and could not walk, I was carried on three
muskets, O'Brien walking by my side, till we reached the town of Cette;
there we were taken to the commanding officer's house. It turned out
that this officer's name was also O'Brien, and that he was of Irish
descent. He and his daughter Celeste, a little girl of twelve, treated
us both with every kindness. Celeste was my little nurse, and we became
very intimate, as might be expected. Our chief employment was teaching
each other French and English.
Before two months were over, I was quite recovered, and soon the time
came when we were to leave our comfortable quarters for a French prison.
Captain Savage had sent our clothes and two hundred dollars to us under
a flag of truce, and I had taken advantage of this to send a letter off
which I dictated to Colonel O'Brien, containing my statement of the
affair, in which I mentioned O'Brien's bravery in spiking the gun and in
looking after me. I knew that he would never tell if I didn't.
At last the day came for us to leave, and my parting with Celeste was
very painful. I promised to write to her, and she promised to answer my
letters if it were permitted. We shook hands with Colonel O'Brien,
thanking him for his kindness, and much to his regret we were taken in
charge by two French cuirassiers, and so set off, on parole, on
horseback for Toulon.
From Toulon we were moved to Montpelier, and from Montpelier to Givet, a
fortified town in the department of Ardennes, where we arrived exactly
four months after our capture.
_III.--We Make Our Escape_
O'Brien had decided at once that we should make our escape from the
prison at Givet.
First he procured a plan of the fortress from a gendarme, and then, when
we were shown into the room allotted to us, and our baggage was
examined, the false bottom of his trunk was not noticed, and by this
means various instruments he had bought on the road escaped detection.
Round his body O'Brien had also wound a rope of silk, sixty feet long,
with knots at every two feet.
The practicability of escape from Givet seemed to me impossible. The
yard of the fortress was surrounded by a high wall; the buildings
appropriated for the prisoners were built with lean-to roofs on one
side, and at each side of the square was a sentry looking down upon us.
We had no parole, and but little communication with the towns-people.
But O'Brien, who often examined the map he had procured from the
gendarme, said to me one day, "Peter, can you swim?"
"No," replied I; "but never mind that."
"But I must mind it, Peter; for observe we shall have to cross the River
Meuse, and boats are not always to be had. This fortress is washed by
the river on one side; and as it is the strongest side it is the least
guarded--we must escape by it. I can see my way clear enough till we get
to the second rampart on the river, but when we drop into the river, if
you cannot swim, I must contrive to hold you up somehow or other. But
first tell me, do you intend to try your luck with me?"
"Yes," replied I, "most certainly, if you have sufficient confidence in
me to take me as your companion."
"To tell you the truth, Peter, I would not give a farthing to escape
without you. We were taken together, and, please God, we'll take
ourselves off together, directly we get the dark nights and foul
We had been about two months in Givet when letters arrived. My father
wrote requesting me to draw for whatever money I might require, and also
informing me that as my Uncle William was dead, there was now only one
between him and the title, but that my grandfather, Lord Privilege, was
in good health. O'Brien's letter was from Captain Savage; the frigate
had been sent home with despatches, and O'Brien's conduct represented to
the Admiralty, which had, in consequence, promoted him to the rank of
lieutenant. We read each other's letters, and O'Brien said, "I see your
uncle is dead. How many more uncles have you?"
"My Uncle John, who is married, and has already two daughters."
"Blessings on him! Peter, my boy, you shall be a lord before you die."
"Nonsense, O'Brien; I have no chance."
"What chance had I of being lieutenant, and am I not one? And now, my
boy, prepare yourself to quit this cursed hole in a week, wind and
weather permitting. But, Peter, do me one favour. As I am really a
lieutenant, just touch your hat to me, only once, that's all; but I wish
the compliment, just to see how it looks."
"Lieutenant O'Brien," said I, touching my hat, "have you any further
"Yes, sir," replied he; "that you never presume to touch your hat to me
again, unless we sail together, and then that's a different sort of
A week later, O'Brien's preparations were complete. I had bought a new
umbrella on his advice, and this he had painted with a preparation of
oil and beeswax. He had also managed to procure a considerable amount of
twine, which he had turned into a sort of strong cord, or square plait.
At twelve o'clock on a dark November night we left our room and went
down into the yard. By means of pieces of iron, which he drove into the
interstices of the stone, we scaled a high wall, and dropped down on the
other side by a drawbridge. Here the sentry was asleep, but O'Brien
gagged him, and I threw open the pan of his musket to prevent him from
Then I followed O'Brien into the river. The umbrella was opened and
turned upwards, and I had only to hold on to it at arm's-length. O'Brien
had a tow line, and taking this in his teeth, he towed me down with the
stream to about a hundred yards clear of the fortress, where we landed.
O'Brien was so exhausted that for a few minutes he remained quite
motionless. I also was benumbed with the cold.
"Peter," said he, "thank God we have succeeded so far. Now we must push
on as far as we can, for we shall have daylight in two hours."
It was not till some months later that, after many adventures, we
reached Flushing, and procured the services of a pilot. With a strong
tide and a fair wind we were soon clear of the Scheldt, and next morning
a cutter hove in sight, and in a few minutes we found ourselves once
more under the British pennant.
Once, in the West Indies, O'Brien and I had again come across our good
friend Colonel O'Brien and his daughter Celeste. He was now General
O'Brien, Governor of Martinique; and Celeste was nineteen, and I
one-and-twenty. And though France and England were still at war, before
we parted Celeste and I were lovers, engaged to be married; and the
general raised no objection to our attachment.
On our return from that voyage a series of troubles overtook me. My
grandfather, Lord Privilege, had begun to take some interest in me; but
before he died my uncle went to live with him, and so poisoned his mind
against me that when the old lord's will was read it was found that
L10,000 bequeathed to me had been cancelled by a codicil. As both my
brothers and my other uncle were dead, my uncle was enraged at the
possibility of my succeeding to the title.
The loss of L10,000 was too much for my father's reason, and from lunacy
he went quietly to his grave, leaving my only sister, Ellen, to find a
home among strangers.
In the meantime, O'Brien had been made a captain, and had sailed for the
East Indies. I was to have accompanied him, but my uncle, who had now
succeeded to the title, had sufficient influence at the Admiralty to
prevent this, and I was appointed first lieutenant to a ship whose
captain, an illegitimate son of Lord Privilege, was determined to ruin
me. Captain Hawkins was a cowardly, mean, tyrannical man, and, although
I kept my temper under all his petty persecutions, he managed at last to
string together a number of accusations and, on our return, send me to a
The verdict of the court-martial was that "the charges of
insubordination had been partly proved, and therefore that Lieutenant
Peter Simple was dismissed his ship; but in consideration of his good
character and services his case was strongly recommended to the
consideration of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty."
I hardly knew whether I felt glad or sorry at this sentence. On the one
hand, in spite of the fourteen years I had served, it was almost a
death-blow to my future advancement or employment in the service; on the
other, the recommendation very much softened down the sentence, and I
was quite happy to be quit of Captain Hawkins and free to hasten to my
I hurried on shore, but on my journey north fell ill with fever, and for
three weeks was in a state of alternate stupor and delirium, lying in a
cottage by the roadside.
My uncle, learning of my condition, thought this too favourable an
opportunity, provided I should live, not to have me in his power. He
sent to have me removed, and some days afterwards--for I recollect
nothing about the journey--I found myself in bed in a dark room, and my
arms confined. Where was I? Presently the door opened, and a man entered
who took down a shutter, and the light streamed in. The walls were bare
and whitewashed. I looked at the window; it was closed up with two iron
"Why, where am I?" I inquired, with alarm.
"Where are you?" replied he. "Why, in Bedlam!"
As I afterwards discovered, my uncle had had me confined upon the plea
that I was a young man who was deranged with an idea that his name was
Simple, and that he was the heir to the title and estates, and that it
was more from the fear of my coming to some harm than from any ill-will
toward the poor young man that he wished me to remain in the hospital
and be taken care of. Under these circumstances, I remained in Bedlam
for one year and eight months.
A chance visit from General O'Brien, a prisoner on parole, who was
accompanied by his friend, Lord Belmore, secured my release; and shortly
afterwards I commenced an action for false imprisonment against Lord
Privilege. But the sudden death of my uncle stopped the action, and gave
me the title and estates. The return of my old messmate, Captain
O'Brien, who had just been made Sir Terence O'Brien, in consequence of
his successes in the East Indies, added to my happiness.
I found that Sir Terence had been in love with my sister Ellen from the
day I had first taken him home, and that Ellen was equally in love with
him; so when Celeste consented to my entreaties that our wedding should
take place six weeks after my assuming the title, O'Brien took the hint
Both unions have been attended with as much happiness as this world can
afford. O'Brien and I are blessed with children, until we can now muster
a large Christmas party in the two families.
Such is the history of Peter Simple, Viscount Privilege, no longer the
fool, but the head, of the family.
* * * * *
Melmoth the Wanderer
The romances of Charles Robert Maturin mark the transition
stage between the old crude "Gothic" tales of terror and the
subtler and weirder treatment of the supernatural that had its
greatest master in Edgar Allan Poe. Maturin was born at Dublin
in 1782, and died there on October 30, 1824. He became a
clergyman of the Church of Ireland; but his leanings were
literary rather than clerical, and his first story, "Montorio"
(1807), was followed by others that brought him increasing
popularity. Over-zealousness on a friend's behalf caused him
heavy financial losses, for which he strove to atone by an
effort to write for the stage. Thanks to the good offices of
Scott and Byron, his tragedy, "Bertram," was acted at Drury
Lane in 1816, and proved successful. But his other dramatic
essays were failures, and he returned to romance. In 1820 was
published his masterpiece, "Melmoth the Wanderer," the central
figure of which is acknowledged to be one of the great Satanic
creations of literature. The book has been more appreciated in
France than in England; one of its most enthusiastic admirers
was Balzac, who paid it the compliment of writing a kind of
sequel to it.
"I want a glass of wine," groaned the old man; "it would keep me alive a
John Melmoth offered to get some for him. The dying man clutched the
blankets around him, and looked strangely at his nephew.
"Take this key," he said. "There is wine in that closet."
John knew that no one but his uncle had entered the closet for sixty
years--his uncle who had spent his life in greedily heaping treasure
upon treasure, and who, now, on his miserable death-bed, grudged the
clergyman's fee for the last sacrament.
When John stepped into the closet, his eyes were instantly riveted by a
portrait that hung on the wall. There was nothing remarkable about
costume or countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels
they wish they had never seen. In the words of Southey, "they gleamed
with demon light." John held the candle to the portrait, and could
distinguish the words on the border: "Jno. Melmoth, anno 1646." He gazed
in stupid horror until recalled by his uncle's cough.
"You have seen the portrait?" whispered old Melmoth.
"Well, you will see him again--he is still alive."
Later in the night, when the miser was at the point of death, John saw a
figure enter the room, deliberately look round, and retire. The face of
the figure was the face of the portrait! After a moment of terror, John
sprang up to pursue, but the shrieks of his uncle recalled him. The
agony was nearly ended; in a few minutes old Melmoth was dead.
In the will, which made John a wealthy man, there was an instruction to
him to destroy the portrait in the closet, and also to destroy a
manuscript that he would find in the mahogany chest under the portrait;
he was to read the manuscript if he pleased.
On a cold and gloomy evening John entered the closet, found the
manuscript, and with a feeling of superstitious awe, began to read it.
The task was a hard one, for the manuscript was discoloured and
mutilated, and much was quite indecipherable.
John was able to gather, however, that it was the narrative of an
Englishman, named Stanton, who had travelled in Spain in the seventeenth
century. On one night of storm, Stanton had seen carried past him the
bodies of two lovers who had been killed by lightning. As he watched, a
man had stepped forward, had looked calmly at the bodies, and had burst
into a horrible demoniac laugh. Stanton saw the man several times,
always in circumstances of horror; he learnt that his name was Melmoth.
This being exercised a kind of fascination over Stanton, who searched
for him far and wide. Ultimately, Stanton was confined in a madhouse by
relatives who wanted to secure his property; and from the madhouse he
was offered, but refused, release by Melmoth as a result of some
bargain, the nature of which was not revealed.
After reading this story, John Melmoth raised his eyes, and he started
involuntarily as they encountered those of the portrait. With a shudder,
he tore the portrait from its frame, and rushed into his room, where he
flung its fragments on the fire.
The mansion was close by the iron-bound coast of Wicklow, in Ireland,
and on the next night John was summoned forth by the news that a vessel
was in distress. He saw immediately that the ship was doomed. She lay
beating upon a rock, against which the tempest hurled breakers that
dashed their foam to a height of thirty feet.
In the midst of the tumult John descried, standing a little above him on
the rock, a figure that showed neither sympathy nor terror, uttered no
sound, offered no help. A few minutes afterwards he distinctly heard the
words, "Let them perish!"
Just then a tremendous wave dashing over the vessel extorted a cry of
horror from the spectators. When the cry had ceased, Melmoth heard a
laugh that chilled his blood. It was from the figure that stood above
him. He recalled Stanton's narrative. In a blind fury of eagerness, he
began to climb the rock; but a stone gave way in his grasp, and he was
hurled into the roaring deep below.
It was several days before he recovered his senses, and he then learned
that he had been rescued by the one survivor of the wreck, a Spaniard,
who had clutched at John and dragged him ashore with him. As soon as
John had recovered somewhat, he hastened to thank his deliverer, who was
lodged in the mansion. Having expressed his gratitude, Melmoth was about
to retire, when the Spaniard detained him.
"Senor," he said, "I understand your name is"--he gasped--"Melmoth?"
"Had you," said the Spaniard rapidly, "a relative who was, about one
hundred and forty years ago, said to be in Spain?"
"I believe--I fear--I had."
"Are you his descendant? Are you the repository of that terrible secret
which--?" He gave way to uncontrollable agitation. Gradually he
recovered himself, and went on. "It is singular that accident should
have placed me within the reach of the only being from whom I could
expect either sympathy or relief in the extraordinary circumstances in
which I am placed--circumstances which I did not believe I should ever
disclose to mortal man, but which I shall disclose to you."
_II.--The Spaniard's Story_
I am, as you know, a native of Spain; but you are yet to learn that I am
a descendant of one of its noblest houses--the house of Moncada. While I
was yet unborn, my mother vowed that I should be devoted to religion. As
the time drew near when I was to forsake the world and retire to a
monastery, I revolted in horror at the career before me, and refused to
take the vows. But my family were completely under the influence of a
cunning and arrogant priest, who threatened God's curse upon me if I
disobeyed; and ultimately, with a despairing heart, I consented.
"The horror with which I had anticipated monastic life was nothing to my
disgust and misery at the realisation of its evils. The narrowness and
littleness of it, the hypocrisies, all filled me with revolt; and it was
only by brooding over possibilities of escape that I could avoid utter
despair. At length a ray of hope came to me. My younger brother, a lad
of spirit, who had quarrelled with the priest who dominated our family,
succeeded with great difficulty in communicating with me, and promised
that a civil process should be undertaken for the reclamation of my
"But presently my hopes were destroyed by the news that my civil process
had failed. Of the desolation of mind into which this failure plunged
me, I can give no account--despair has no diary. I remember that I used
to walk for hours in the garden, where alone I could avoid the
neighbourhood of the other monks. It happened that the fountain of the
garden was out of repair, and the workmen engaged upon it had had to
excavate a passage under the garden wall. But as this was guarded by day
and securely locked by night, it offered but a tantalising image of
escape and freedom.
"One evening, as I sat gloomily by the door of the passage, I heard my
name whispered. I answered eagerly, and a paper was thrust under the
door. I knew the handwriting--it was that of my brother Juan. From it I
learned that Juan was still planning my escape, and had found a
confederate within the monastery--a parricide who had turned monk to
evade his punishment.
"Juan had bribed him heavily, yet I feared to trust him until he
confided to me that he himself also intended to escape. At length our
plans were completed; my companion had secured the key of a door in the
chapel that led through the vaults to a trap-door opening into the
garden. A rope ladder flung by Juan over the wall would give us liberty.
"At the darkest hour of the night we passed through the door, and
crawled through the dreadful passages beneath the monastery. I reached
the top of the ladder-a lantern flashed in my eyes. I dropped down into
my brother's arms.
"We hurried away to where a carriage was waiting. I sprang into it.
"'He is safe,' cried Juan, following me.
"'But are you?' answered a voice behind him. He staggered and fell back.
I leapt down beside him. I was bathed in his blood. He was dead. One
moment of wild, fearful agony, and I lost consciousness.
"When I came to myself, I was lying in an apartment not unlike my cell,
but without a crucifix. Beside me stood my companion in flight.
"'Where am I?' I asked.
"'You are in the prison of the Inquisition,' he replied, with a mocking
"He had betrayed me! He had been all the while in league with the
"I was tried again and again by the Inquisition--, charged not only with
the crime of escaping from the convent and breaking my religious vows,
but with the murder of my brother. My spirits sank with each appearance
before the judges. I foresaw myself doomed to die at the stake.
"One night, and for several nights afterwards, a visitor presented
himself to me. He came and went apparently without help or hindrance--as
if he had had a master-key to all the recesses of the prison. And yet he
seemed no agent of the Inquisition--indeed, he denounced it with caustic
satire and withering severity. But what struck me most of all was the
preternatural glare of his eyes. I felt that I had never beheld such
eyes blazing in a mortal face. It was strange, too, that he constantly
referred to events that must have happened long before his birth as if
he had actually witnessed them.
"On the night before my final trial, I awoke from a hideous dream of
burning alive to behold the stranger standing beside me. With an impulse
I could not resist, I flung myself before him and begged him to save me.
He promised to do so--on one awful and incommunicable condition. My
horror brought me courage; I refused, and he left me.
"Next day I was sentenced to death at the stake. But before my fearful
doom could be accomplished, I was free--and by that very agency of fire
that was to have destroyed me. The prison of the Inquisition was burned
to the ground, and in the confusion I escaped.
"When my strength was exhausted by running through the deserted streets,
I leaned against a door; it gave way, and I found myself within the
house. Concealed, I heard two voices--an old man's and a young man's.
The old man was confessing to the young one--his son--that he was a Jew,
and entreating the son to adopt the faith of Israel.
"I knew I was in the presence of a pretended convert--one of those Jews
who profess to become Catholics through fear of the Inquisition. I had
become possessed of a valuable secret, and instantly acted upon it. I
burst out upon them, and threatened that unless the old man gave me
hiding I should betray him. At first he was panic-stricken, then,
hastily promising me protection, he conducted me within the house. In an
inner room he raised a portion of the floor; we descended and went along
a dark passage, at the end of which my guide opened a door, through
which I passed. He closed it behind me, and withdrew.
"I was in an underground chamber, the walls of which were lined with
skeletons, bottles containing strange misshapen creatures, and other
hideous objects. I shuddered as I looked round.
"'Why fearest thou these?' asked a voice.' Surely the implements of the
healing art should cause no terror.'
"I turned and beheld a man immensely old seated at a table. His eyes,
although faded with years, looked keenly at me.
"'Thou hast escaped from the clutches of the Inquisition?' he asked me.
"'Yes,' I answered.
"'And when in its prison,' he continued, leaning forward eagerly, 'didst
thou face a tempter who offered thee deliverance at a dreadful price?'
"'It was so,' I answered, wondering.
"'My prayer, then, is granted,' he said. 'Christian youth, thou art safe
here. None save mine own Jewish people know of my existence. And I have
employment for thee.'
"He showed me a huge manuscript.
"'This,' he said, 'is written in characters that the officers of the
Inquisition understand not. But the time has come for transcribing it,
and my own eyes, old with age, are unequal to the labour. Yet it was
necessary that the work should be done by one who has learnt the dread
"A glance at the manuscript showed me that the language was Spanish, but
the characters Greek. I began to read it, nor did I raise my eyes until
the reading was ended."
_III.--The Romance of Immalee_
"The manuscript told how a Spanish merchant had set forth for the East
Indies, taking his wife and son with him, and leaving an infant daughter
behind. He prospered, and decided to settle in the East; he sent for his
daughter, who came with her nurse. But their ship was wrecked; the child
and the nurse alone escaped, and were stranded on an uninhabited island
near the mouth of the Hooghly. The nurse died; but the child survived,
and grew up a wild and beautiful daughter of nature, dwelling in lonely
innocence, and revered as a goddess by the natives who watched her from
"To the Island, when Immalee (so she called herself) was growing into
pure and lovely womanhood, there came a stranger--pale-faced, wholly
different from the dark-skinned people she had seen from the shores of
the island. She welcomed him with innocent joy. He came often; he told
her of the outer world, of its wickedness and its miseries. She, too
untutored to realise the sinister bitterness of his tone, listened with
rapt attention and sympathy. She loved him. She told him that he was her
all, that she would cling to him wheresoever he went. He looked at her
with stern sorrow; he left her abruptly, nor did he ever visit the
"Immalee was rescued, her origin was discovered, and she became Isidora
de Aliaga, the carefully nurtured daughter of prosperous and devout
Spanish parents. The island and the stranger were memories of the past.
Yet one day, in the streets of Madrid, she beheld once more the
well-remembered eyes. Soon afterwards she was visited by the stranger.
How he entered and left her home when he came to her--and again he came
often--she could not tell. She feared him, and yet she loved him.
"At length her father, who had been on another voyage, announced that he
was returning, and bringing with him a suitable husband for his
newly-found daughter. Isidora, in panic, besought the stranger to save
her. He was unwilling. At last, in response to her tears, he consented.
They were wedded, so Isidora believed, by a hermit in a ruined
monastery. She returned home, and he renewed his visits, promising to
reveal their marriage in the fullness of time.
"Meanwhile, tales had reached her father's ears of a malignant being who
was permitted to wander over the earth and tempt men in dire extremity
with release from their troubles as the result of their concluding an
unspeakable bargain. This being himself appeared to the father, and
warned him that his daughter was in danger.
"He returned, and pressed on with preparations for the bridal ceremony.
Isidora entreated her husband to rescue her. He promised, and went away.
A masked ball was given in celebration of the nuptials. At the hour of
twelve Isidora felt a touch upon her shoulder. It was her husband. They
hastened away, but not unperceived. Her brother called on the pair to
stop, and drew his sword. In an instant he lay bleeding and lifeless.
The family and the guests crowded round in horror. The stranger waved
them back with his arm. They stood motionless, as if rooted to the
"'Isidora, fly with me!' he said. She looked at him, looked at the body
of her brother, and sank in a swoon. The stranger passed out amid the
"Isidora, the confessed bride of an unhallowed being, was taken before
the Inquisition, and sentenced to life-long imprisonment. But she did
not survive long; and ere she died, her husband appeared to her, and
offered her freedom, happiness, and love--at a dreadful price she would
not pay. Such was the history of the ill-fated love of Immalee for a
being to whom mortal love was a boon forbidden."
_IV.--The Fate of Melmoth_
When Moncada had completed the tale of Immalee, he announced his
intention of describing how he had left the house of the Jewish doctor,
and what was his purpose in coming to Ireland. A time was fixed for the
continuation of the recital.
The night when Moncada prepared to resume his story was a dark and
stormy one. The two men drew close to the fire.
"Hush!" suddenly said Moncada.
John Melmoth listened, and half rose from his chair.
"We are watched!" he exclaimed.
At that moment the door opened, and a figure appeared at it. The figure
advanced slowly to the centre of the room. Moncada crossed himself, and
attempted to pray. John Melmoth, nailed to his chair, gazed upon the
form that stood before him--it was indeed Melmoth the Wanderer. But the
eyes were dim; those beacons lit by an infernal fire were no longer
"Mortals," said the Wanderer, in strange and solemn accents, "you are
here to talk of my destiny. That distiny is accomplished. Your ancestor
has come home," he continued, turning to John Melmoth. "If my crimes
have exceeded those of mortality, so will my punishment. And the time
for that punishment is come.
"It is a hundred and fifty years since I first probed forbidden secrets.
I have now to pay the penalty. None can participate in my destiny but
with his own consent. _None has consented._ It has been reported of me,
as you know, that I obtained from the enemy of souls a range of
existence beyond the period of mortality--a power to pass over space
with the swiftness of thought--to encounter perils unharmed, to
penetrate into dungeons, whose bolts were as flax and tow at my touch.
It has been said that this power was accorded to me that I might be
enabled to tempt wretches at their fearful hour of extremity with the
promise of deliverance and immunity on condition of their exchanging
situations with me.
"No one has ever changed destinies with Melmoth the Wanderer. _I have
traversed the world in search, and no one to gain that world would lose
his own soul!_" He paused. "Let me, if possible, obtain an hour's
repose. Ay, repose--sleep!" he repeated, answering the astonishment of
his hearers' looks. "My existence is still human!"
And a ghastly and derisive smile wandered over his features as he spoke.
John Melmoth and Moncada quitted the apartment, and the Wanderer,
sinking back in his chair slept profoundly.
The two men did not dare to approach the door until noon next day. The
Wanderer started up, and they saw with horror the change that had come
over him. The lines of extreme age were visible in every feature.
"My hour is come," he said. "Leave me alone. Whatever noises you may
hear in the course of the awful night that is approaching, come not
near, at peril of your lives. Be warned! Retire!"
Back to Full Books