MASTER HUMPHREY, FROM HIS CLOCK-SIDE IN THE CHIMNEY-
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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