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Charles Dickens > Master Humphrey's Clock > Chapter III

Master Humphrey's Clock

Chapter III


WHEN I am in a thoughtful mood, I often succeed in diverting the
current of some mournful reflections, by conjuring up a number of
fanciful associations with the objects that surround me, and
dwelling upon the scenes and characters they suggest.

I have been led by this habit to assign to every room in my house
and every old staring portrait on its walls a separate interest of
its own. Thus, I am persuaded that a stately dame, terrible to
behold in her rigid modesty, who hangs above the chimney-piece of
my bedroom, is the former lady of the mansion. In the courtyard
below is a stone face of surpassing ugliness, which I have somehow
- in a kind of jealousy, I am afraid - associated with her husband.
Above my study is a little room with ivy peeping through the
lattice, from which I bring their daughter, a lovely girl of
eighteen or nineteen years of age, and dutiful in all respects save
one, that one being her devoted attachment to a young gentleman on
the stairs, whose grandmother (degraded to a disused laundry in the
garden) piques herself upon an old family quarrel, and is the
implacable enemy of their love. With such materials as these I
work out many a little drama, whose chief merit is, that I can
bring it to a happy end at will. I have so many of them on hand,
that if on my return home one of these evenings I were to find some
bluff old wight of two centuries ago comfortably seated in my easy
chair, and a lovelorn damsel vainly appealing to his heart, and
leaning her white arm upon my clock itself, I verily believe I
should only express my surprise that they had kept me waiting so
long, and never honoured me with a call before.

I was in such a mood as this, sitting in my garden yesterday
morning under the shade of a favourite tree, revelling in all the
bloom and brightness about me, and feeling every sense of hope and
enjoyment quickened by this most beautiful season of Spring, when
my meditations were interrupted by the unexpected appearance of my
barber at the end of the walk, who I immediately saw was coming
towards me with a hasty step that betokened something remarkable.

My barber is at all times a very brisk, bustling, active little
man, - for he is, as it were, chubby all over, without being stout
or unwieldy, - but yesterday his alacrity was so very uncommon that
it quite took me by surprise. For could I fail to observe when he
came up to me that his gray eyes were twinkling in a most
extraordinary manner, that his little red nose was in an unusual
glow, that every line in his round bright face was twisted and
curved into an expression of pleased surprise, and that his whole
countenance was radiant with glee? I was still more surprised to
see my housekeeper, who usually preserves a very staid air, and
stands somewhat upon her dignity, peeping round the hedge at the
bottom of the walk, and exchanging nods and smiles with the barber,
who twice or thrice looked over his shoulder for that purpose. I
could conceive no announcement to which these appearances could be
the prelude, unless it were that they had married each other that

I was, consequently, a little disappointed when it only came out
that there was a gentleman in the house who wished to speak with

'And who is it?' said I.

The barber, with his face screwed up still tighter than before,
replied that the gentleman would not send his name, but wished to
see me. I pondered for a moment, wondering who this visitor might
be, and I remarked that he embraced the opportunity of exchanging
another nod with the housekeeper, who still lingered in the

'Well!' said I, 'bid the gentleman come here.'

This seemed to be the consummation of the barber's hopes, for he
turned sharp round, and actually ran away.

Now, my sight is not very good at a distance, and therefore when
the gentleman first appeared in the walk, I was not quite clear
whether he was a stranger to me or otherwise. He was an elderly
gentleman, but came tripping along in the pleasantest manner
conceivable, avoiding the garden-roller and the borders of the beds
with inimitable dexterity, picking his way among the flower-pots,
and smiling with unspeakable good humour. Before he was half-way
up the walk he began to salute me; then I thought I knew him; but
when he came towards me with his hat in his hand, the sun shining
on his bald head, his bland face, his bright spectacles, his fawn-
coloured tights, and his black gaiters, - then my heart warmed
towards him, and I felt quite certain that it was Mr. Pickwick.

'My dear sir,' said that gentleman as I rose to receive him, 'pray
be seated. Pray sit down. Now, do not stand on my account. I
must insist upon it, really.' With these words Mr. Pickwick gently
pressed me down into my seat, and taking my hand in his, shook it
again and again with a warmth of manner perfectly irresistible. I
endeavoured to express in my welcome something of that heartiness
and pleasure which the sight of him awakened, and made him sit down
beside me. All this time he kept alternately releasing my hand and
grasping it again, and surveying me through his spectacles with
such a beaming countenance as I never till then beheld.

'You knew me directly!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'What a pleasure it is
to think that you knew me directly!'

I remarked that I had read his adventures very often, and his
features were quite familiar to me from the published portraits.
As I thought it a good opportunity of adverting to the
circumstance, I condoled with him upon the various libels on his
character which had found their way into print. Mr. Pickwick shook
his head, and for a moment looked very indignant, but smiling again
directly, added that no doubt I was acquainted with Cervantes's
introduction to the second part of Don Quixote, and that it fully
expressed his sentiments on the subject.

'But now,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'don't you wonder how I found you

'I shall never wonder, and, with your good leave, never know,' said
I, smiling in my turn. 'It is enough for me that you give me this
gratification. I have not the least desire that you should tell me
by what means I have obtained it.'

'You are very kind,' returned Mr. Pickwick, shaking me by the hand
again; 'you are so exactly what I expected! But for what
particular purpose do you think I have sought you, my dear sir?
Now what DO you think I have come for?'

Mr. Pickwick put this question as though he were persuaded that it
was morally impossible that I could by any means divine the deep
purpose of his visit, and that it must be hidden from all human
ken. Therefore, although I was rejoiced to think that I had
anticipated his drift, I feigned to be quite ignorant of it, and
after a brief consideration shook my head despairingly.

'What should you say,' said Mr. Pickwick, laying the forefinger of
his left hand upon my coat-sleeve, and looking at me with his head
thrown back, and a little on one side, - 'what should you say if I
confessed that after reading your account of yourself and your
little society, I had come here, a humble candidate for one of
those empty chairs?'

'I should say,' I returned, 'that I know of only one circumstance
which could still further endear that little society to me, and
that would be the associating with it my old friend, - for you must
let me call you so, - my old friend, Mr. Pickwick.'

As I made him this answer every feature of Mr. Pickwick's face
fused itself into one all-pervading expression of delight. After
shaking me heartily by both hands at once, he patted me gently on
the back, and then - I well understood why - coloured up to the
eyes, and hoped with great earnestness of manner that he had not
hurt me.

If he had, I would have been content that he should have repeated
the offence a hundred times rather than suppose so; but as he had
not, I had no difficulty in changing the subject by making an
inquiry which had been upon my lips twenty times already.

'You have not told me,' said I, 'anything about Sam Weller.'

'O! Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'is the same as ever. The same
true, faithful fellow that he ever was. What should I tell you
about Sam, my dear sir, except that he is more indispensable to my
happiness and comfort every day of my life?'

'And Mr. Weller senior?' said I.

'Old Mr. Weller,' returned Mr. Pickwick, 'is in no respect more
altered than Sam, unless it be that he is a little more opinionated
than he was formerly, and perhaps at times more talkative. He
spends a good deal of his time now in our neighbourhood, and has so
constituted himself a part of my bodyguard, that when I ask
permission for Sam to have a seat in your kitchen on clock nights
(supposing your three friends think me worthy to fill one of the
chairs), I am afraid I must often include Mr. Weller too.'

I very readily pledged myself to give both Sam and his father a
free admission to my house at all hours and seasons, and this point
settled, we fell into a lengthy conversation which was carried on
with as little reserve on both sides as if we had been intimate
friends from our youth, and which conveyed to me the comfortable
assurance that Mr. Pickwick's buoyancy of spirit, and indeed all
his old cheerful characteristics, were wholly unimpaired. As he
had spoken of the consent of my friends as being yet in abeyance, I
repeatedly assured him that his proposal was certain to receive
their most joyful sanction, and several times entreated that he
would give me leave to introduce him to Jack Redburn and Mr. Miles
(who were near at hand) without further ceremony.

To this proposal, however, Mr. Pickwick's delicacy would by no
means allow him to accede, for he urged that his eligibility must
be formally discussed, and that, until this had been done, he could
not think of obtruding himself further. The utmost I could obtain
from him was a promise that he would attend upon our next night of
meeting, that I might have the pleasure of presenting him
immediately on his election.

Mr. Pickwick, having with many blushes placed in my hands a small
roll of paper, which he termed his 'qualification,' put a great
many questions to me touching my friends, and particularly Jack
Redburn, whom he repeatedly termed 'a fine fellow,' and in whose
favour I could see he was strongly predisposed. When I had
satisfied him on these points, I took him up into my room, that he
might make acquaintance with the old chamber which is our place of

'And this,' said Mr. Pickwick, stopping short, 'is the clock! Dear
me! And this is really the old clock!'

I thought he would never have come away from it. After advancing
towards it softly, and laying his hand upon it with as much respect
and as many smiling looks as if it were alive, he set himself to
consider it in every possible direction, now mounting on a chair to
look at the top, now going down upon his knees to examine the
bottom, now surveying the sides with his spectacles almost touching
the case, and now trying to peep between it and the wall to get a
slight view of the back. Then he would retire a pace or two and
look up at the dial to see it go, and then draw near again and
stand with his head on one side to hear it tick: never failing to
glance towards me at intervals of a few seconds each, and nod his
head with such complacent gratification as I am quite unable to
describe. His admiration was not confined to the clock either, but
extended itself to every article in the room; and really, when he
had gone through them every one, and at last sat himself down in
all the six chairs, one after another, to try how they felt, I
never saw such a picture of good-humour and happiness as he
presented, from the top of his shining head down to the very last
button of his gaiters.

I should have been well pleased, and should have had the utmost
enjoyment of his company, if he had remained with me all day, but
my favourite, striking the hour, reminded him that he must take his
leave. I could not forbear telling him once more how glad he had
made me, and we shook hands all the way down-stairs.

We had no sooner arrived in the Hall than my housekeeper, gliding
out of her little room (she had changed her gown and cap, I
observed), greeted Mr. Pickwick with her best smile and courtesy;
and the barber, feigning to be accidentally passing on his way out,
made him a vast number of bows. When the housekeeper courtesied,
Mr. Pickwick bowed with the utmost politeness, and when he bowed,
the housekeeper courtesied again; between the housekeeper and the
barber, I should say that Mr. Pickwick faced about and bowed with
undiminished affability fifty times at least.

I saw him to the door; an omnibus was at the moment passing the
corner of the lane, which Mr. Pickwick hailed and ran after with
extraordinary nimbleness. When he had got about half-way, he
turned his head, and seeing that I was still looking after him and
that I waved my hand, stopped, evidently irresolute whether to come
back and shake hands again, or to go on. The man behind the
omnibus shouted, and Mr. Pickwick ran a little way towards him:
then he looked round at me, and ran a little way back again. Then
there was another shout, and he turned round once more and ran the
other way. After several of these vibrations, the man settled the
question by taking Mr. Pickwick by the arm and putting him into the
carriage; but his last action was to let down the window and wave
his hat to me as it drove off.

I lost no time in opening the parcel he had left with me. The
following were its contents:-


A good many years have passed away since old John Podgers lived in
the town of Windsor, where he was born, and where, in course of
time, he came to be comfortably and snugly buried. You may be sure
that in the time of King James the First, Windsor was a very quaint
queer old town, and you may take it upon my authority that John
Podgers was a very quaint queer old fellow; consequently he and
Windsor fitted each other to a nicety, and seldom parted company
even for half a day.

John Podgers was broad, sturdy, Dutch-built, short, and a very hard
eater, as men of his figure often are. Being a hard sleeper
likewise, he divided his time pretty equally between these two
recreations, always falling asleep when he had done eating, and
always taking another turn at the trencher when he had done
sleeping, by which means he grew more corpulent and more drowsy
every day of his life. Indeed it used to be currently reported
that when he sauntered up and down the sunny side of the street
before dinner (as he never failed to do in fair weather), he
enjoyed his soundest nap; but many people held this to be a
fiction, as he had several times been seen to look after fat oxen
on market-days, and had even been heard, by persons of good credit
and reputation, to chuckle at the sight, and say to himself with
great glee, 'Live beef, live beef!' It was upon this evidence that
the wisest people in Windsor (beginning with the local authorities
of course) held that John Podgers was a man of strong, sound sense,
not what is called smart, perhaps, and it might be of a rather lazy
and apoplectic turn, but still a man of solid parts, and one who
meant much more than he cared to show. This impression was
confirmed by a very dignified way he had of shaking his head and
imparting, at the same time, a pendulous motion to his double chin;
in short, he passed for one of those people who, being plunged into
the Thames, would make no vain efforts to set it afire, but would
straightway flop down to the bottom with a deal of gravity, and be
highly respected in consequence by all good men.

Being well to do in the world, and a peaceful widower, - having a
great appetite, which, as he could afford to gratify it, was a
luxury and no inconvenience, and a power of going to sleep, which,
as he had no occasion to keep awake, was a most enviable faculty, -
you will readily suppose that John Podgers was a happy man. But
appearances are often deceptive when they least seem so, and the
truth is that, notwithstanding his extreme sleekness, he was
rendered uneasy in his mind and exceedingly uncomfortable by a
constant apprehension that beset him night and day.

You know very well that in those times there flourished divers evil
old women who, under the name of Witches, spread great disorder
through the land, and inflicted various dismal tortures upon
Christian men; sticking pins and needles into them when they least
expected it, and causing them to walk in the air with their feet
upwards, to the great terror of their wives and families, who were
naturally very much disconcerted when the master of the house
unexpectedly came home, knocking at the door with his heels and
combing his hair on the scraper. These were their commonest
pranks, but they every day played a hundred others, of which none
were less objectionable, and many were much more so, being improper
besides; the result was that vengeance was denounced against all
old women, with whom even the king himself had no sympathy (as he
certainly ought to have had), for with his own most Gracious hand
he penned a most Gracious consignment of them to everlasting wrath,
and devised most Gracious means for their confusion and slaughter,
in virtue whereof scarcely a day passed but one witch at the least
was most graciously hanged, drowned, or roasted in some part of his
dominions. Still the press teemed with strange and terrible news
from the North or the South, or the East or the West, relative to
witches and their unhappy victims in some corner of the country,
and the Public's hair stood on end to that degree that it lifted
its hat off its head, and made its face pale with terror.

You may believe that the little town of Windsor did not escape the
general contagion. The inhabitants boiled a witch on the king's
birthday and sent a bottle of the broth to court, with a dutiful
address expressive of their loyalty. The king, being rather
frightened by the present, piously bestowed it upon the Archbishop
of Canterbury, and returned an answer to the address, wherein he
gave them golden rules for discovering witches, and laid great
stress upon certain protecting charms, and especially horseshoes.
Immediately the towns-people went to work nailing up horseshoes
over every door, and so many anxious parents apprenticed their
children to farriers to keep them out of harm's way, that it became
quite a genteel trade, and flourished exceedingly.

In the midst of all this bustle John Podgers ate and slept as
usual, but shook his head a great deal oftener than was his custom,
and was observed to look at the oxen less, and at the old women
more. He had a little shelf put up in his sitting-room, whereon
was displayed, in a row which grew longer every week, all the
witchcraft literature of the time; he grew learned in charms and
exorcisms, hinted at certain questionable females on broomsticks
whom he had seen from his chamber window, riding in the air at
night, and was in constant terror of being bewitched. At length,
from perpetually dwelling upon this one idea, which, being alone in
his head, had all its own way, the fear of witches became the
single passion of his life. He, who up to that time had never
known what it was to dream, began to have visions of witches
whenever he fell asleep; waking, they were incessantly present to
his imagination likewise; and, sleeping or waking, he had not a
moment's peace. He began to set witch-traps in the highway, and
was often seen lying in wait round the corner for hours together,
to watch their effect. These engines were of simple construction,
usually consisting of two straws disposed in the form of a cross,
or a piece of a Bible cover with a pinch of salt upon it; but they
were infallible, and if an old woman chanced to stumble over them
(as not unfrequently happened, the chosen spot being a broken and
stony place), John started from a doze, pounced out upon her, and
hung round her neck till assistance arrived, when she was
immediately carried away and drowned. By dint of constantly
inveigling old ladies and disposing of them in this summary manner,
he acquired the reputation of a great public character; and as he
received no harm in these pursuits beyond a scratched face or so,
he came, in the course of time, to be considered witch-proof.

There was but one person who entertained the least doubt of John
Podgers's gifts, and that person was his own nephew, a wild, roving
young fellow of twenty who had been brought up in his uncle's house
and lived there still, - that is to say, when he was at home, which
was not as often as it might have been. As he was an apt scholar,
it was he who read aloud every fresh piece of strange and terrible
intelligence that John Podgers bought; and this he always did of an
evening in the little porch in front of the house, round which the
neighbours would flock in crowds to hear the direful news, - for
people like to be frightened, and when they can be frightened for
nothing and at another man's expense, they like it all the better.

One fine midsummer evening, a group of persons were gathered in
this place, listening intently to Will Marks (that was the nephew's
name), as with his cap very much on one side, his arm coiled slyly
round the waist of a pretty girl who sat beside him, and his face
screwed into a comical expression intended to represent extreme
gravity, he read - with Heaven knows how many embellishments of his
own - a dismal account of a gentleman down in Northamptonshire
under the influence of witchcraft and taken forcible possession of
by the Devil, who was playing his very self with him. John
Podgers, in a high sugar-loaf hat and short cloak, filled the
opposite seat, and surveyed the auditory with a look of mingled
pride and horror very edifying to see; while the hearers, with
their heads thrust forward and their mouths open, listened and
trembled, and hoped there was a great deal more to come. Sometimes
Will stopped for an instant to look round upon his eager audience,
and then, with a more comical expression of face than before and a
settling of himself comfortably, which included a squeeze of the
young lady before mentioned, he launched into some new wonder
surpassing all the others.

The setting sun shed his last golden rays upon this little party,
who, absorbed in their present occupation, took no heed of the
approach of night, or the glory in which the day went down, when
the sound of a horse, approaching at a good round trot, invading
the silence of the hour, caused the reader to make a sudden stop,
and the listeners to raise their heads in wonder. Nor was their
wonder diminished when a horseman dashed up to the porch, and
abruptly checking his steed, inquired where one John Podgers dwelt.

'Here!' cried a dozen voices, while a dozen hands pointed out
sturdy John, still basking in the terrors of the pamphlet.

The rider, giving his bridle to one of those who surrounded him,
dismounted, and approached John, hat in hand, but with great haste.

'Whence come ye?' said John.

'From Kingston, master.'

'And wherefore?'

'On most pressing business.'

'Of what nature?'


Witchcraft! Everybody looked aghast at the breathless messenger,
and the breathless messenger looked equally aghast at everybody -
except Will Marks, who, finding himself unobserved, not only
squeezed the young lady again, but kissed her twice. Surely he
must have been bewitched himself, or he never could have done it -
and the young lady too, or she never would have let him.

'Witchcraft!' cried Will, drowning the sound of his last kiss,
which was rather a loud one.

The messenger turned towards him, and with a frown repeated the
word more solemnly than before; then told his errand, which was, in
brief, that the people of Kingston had been greatly terrified for
some nights past by hideous revels, held by witches beneath the
gibbet within a mile of the town, and related and deposed to by
chance wayfarers who had passed within ear-shot of the spot; that
the sound of their voices in their wild orgies had been plainly
heard by many persons; that three old women laboured under strong
suspicion, and that precedents had been consulted and solemn
council had, and it was found that to identify the hags some single
person must watch upon the spot alone; that no single person had
the courage to perform the task; and that he had been despatched
express to solicit John Podgers to undertake it that very night, as
being a man of great renown, who bore a charmed life, and was proof
against unholy spells.

John received this communication with much composure, and said in a
few words, that it would have afforded him inexpressible pleasure
to do the Kingston people so slight a service, if it were not for
his unfortunate propensity to fall asleep, which no man regretted
more than himself upon the present occasion, but which quite
settled the question. Nevertheless, he said, there WAS a gentleman
present (and here he looked very hard at a tall farrier), who,
having been engaged all his life in the manufacture of horseshoes,
must be quite invulnerable to the power of witches, and who, he had
no doubt, from his own reputation for bravery and good-nature,
would readily accept the commission. The farrier politely thanked
him for his good opinion, which it would always be his study to
deserve, but added that, with regard to the present little matter,
he couldn't think of it on any account, as his departing on such an
errand would certainly occasion the instant death of his wife, to
whom, as they all knew, he was tenderly attached. Now, so far from
this circumstance being notorious, everybody had suspected the
reverse, as the farrier was in the habit of beating his lady rather
more than tender husbands usually do; all the married men present,
however, applauded his resolution with great vehemence, and one and
all declared that they would stop at home and die if needful (which
happily it was not) in defence of their lawful partners.

This burst of enthusiasm over, they began to look, as by one
consent, toward Will Marks, who, with his cap more on one side than
ever, sat watching the proceedings with extraordinary unconcern.
He had never been heard openly to express his disbelief in witches,
but had often cut such jokes at their expense as left it to be
inferred; publicly stating on several occasions that he considered
a broomstick an inconvenient charger, and one especially unsuited
to the dignity of the female character, and indulging in other free
remarks of the same tendency, to the great amusement of his wild

As they looked at Will they began to whisper and murmur among
themselves, and at length one man cried, 'Why don't you ask Will

As this was what everybody had been thinking of, they all took up
the word, and cried in concert, 'Ah! why don't you ask Will?'

'HE don't care,' said the farrier.

'Not he,' added another voice in the crowd.

'He don't believe in it, you know,' sneered a little man with a
yellow face and a taunting nose and chin, which he thrust out from
under the arm of a long man before him.

'Besides,' said a red-faced gentleman with a gruff voice, 'he's a
single man.'

'That's the point!' said the farrier; and all the married men
murmured, ah! that was it, and they only wished they were single
themselves; they would show him what spirit was, very soon.

The messenger looked towards Will Marks beseechingly.

'It will be a wet night, friend, and my gray nag is tired after
yesterday's work - '

Here there was a general titter.

'But,' resumed Will, looking about him with a smile, 'if nobody
else puts in a better claim to go, for the credit of the town I am
your man, and I would be, if I had to go afoot. In five minutes I
shall be in the saddle, unless I am depriving any worthy gentleman
here of the honour of the adventure, which I wouldn't do for the

But here arose a double difficulty, for not only did John Podgers
combat the resolution with all the words he had, which were not
many, but the young lady combated it too with all the tears she
had, which were very many indeed. Will, however, being inflexible,
parried his uncle's objections with a joke, and coaxed the young
lady into a smile in three short whispers. As it was plain that he
set his mind upon it, and would go, John Podgers offered him a few
first-rate charms out of his own pocket, which he dutifully
declined to accept; and the young lady gave him a kiss, which he
also returned.

'You see what a rare thing it is to be married,' said Will, 'and
how careful and considerate all these husbands are. There's not a
man among them but his heart is leaping to forestall me in this
adventure, and yet a strong sense of duty keeps him back. The
husbands in this one little town are a pattern to the world, and so
must the wives be too, for that matter, or they could never boast
half the influence they have!'

Waiting for no reply to this sarcasm, he snapped his fingers and
withdrew into the house, and thence into the stable, while some
busied themselves in refreshing the messenger, and others in
baiting his steed. In less than the specified time he returned by
another way, with a good cloak hanging over his arm, a good sword
girded by his side, and leading his good horse caparisoned for the

'Now,' said Will, leaping into the saddle at a bound, 'up and away.
Upon your mettle, friend, and push on. Good night!'

He kissed his hand to the girl, nodded to his drowsy uncle, waved
his cap to the rest - and off they flew pell-mell, as if all the
witches in England were in their horses' legs. They were out of
sight in a minute.

The men who were left behind shook their heads doubtfully, stroked
their chins, and shook their heads again. The farrier said that
certainly Will Marks was a good horseman, nobody should ever say he
denied that: but he was rash, very rash, and there was no telling
what the end of it might be; what did he go for, that was what he
wanted to know? He wished the young fellow no harm, but why did he
go? Everybody echoed these words, and shook their heads again,
having done which they wished John Podgers good night, and
straggled home to bed.

The Kingston people were in their first sleep when Will Marks and
his conductor rode through the town and up to the door of a house
where sundry grave functionaries were assembled, anxiously
expecting the arrival of the renowned Podgers. They were a little
disappointed to find a gay young man in his place; but they put the
best face upon the matter, and gave him full instructions how he
was to conceal himself behind the gibbet, and watch and listen to
the witches, and how at a certain time he was to burst forth and
cut and slash among them vigorously, so that the suspected parties
might be found bleeding in their beds next day, and thoroughly
confounded. They gave him a great quantity of wholesome advice
besides, and - which was more to the purpose with Will - a good
supper. All these things being done, and midnight nearly come,
they sallied forth to show him the spot where he was to keep his
dreary vigil.

The night was by this time dark and threatening. There was a
rumbling of distant thunder, and a low sighing of wind among the
trees, which was very dismal. The potentates of the town kept so
uncommonly close to Will that they trod upon his toes, or stumbled
against his ankles, or nearly tripped up his heels at every step he
took, and, besides these annoyances, their teeth chattered so with
fear, that he seemed to be accompanied by a dirge of castanets.

At last they made a halt at the opening of a lonely, desolate
space, and, pointing to a black object at some distance, asked Will
if he saw that, yonder.

'Yes,' he replied. 'What then?'

Informing him abruptly that it was the gibbet where he was to
watch, they wished him good night in an extremely friendly manner,
and ran back as fast as their feet would carry them.

Will walked boldly to the gibbet, and, glancing upwards when he
came under it, saw - certainly with satisfaction - that it was
empty, and that nothing dangled from the top but some iron chains,
which swung mournfully to and fro as they were moved by the breeze.
After a careful survey of every quarter he determined to take his
station with his face towards the town; both because that would
place him with his back to the wind, and because, if any trick or
surprise were attempted, it would probably come from that direction
in the first instance. Having taken these precautions, he wrapped
his cloak about him so that it left the handle of his sword free,
and ready to his hand, and leaning against the gallows-tree with
his cap not quite so much on one side as it had been before, took
up his position for the night.


We left Will Marks leaning under the gibbet with his face towards
the town, scanning the distance with a keen eye, which sought to
pierce the darkness and catch the earliest glimpse of any person or
persons that might approach towards him. But all was quiet, and,
save the howling of the wind as it swept across the heath in gusts,
and the creaking of the chains that dangled above his head, there
was no sound to break the sullen stillness of the night. After
half an hour or so this monotony became more disconcerting to Will
than the most furious uproar would have been, and he heartily
wished for some one antagonist with whom he might have a fair
stand-up fight, if it were only to warm himself.

Truth to tell, it was a bitter wind, and seemed to blow to the very
heart of a man whose blood, heated but now with rapid riding, was
the more sensitive to the chilling blast. Will was a daring
fellow, and cared not a jot for hard knocks or sharp blades; but he
could not persuade himself to move or walk about, having just that
vague expectation of a sudden assault which made it a comfortable
thing to have something at his back, even though that something
were a gallows-tree. He had no great faith in the superstitions of
the age, still such of them as occurred to him did not serve to
lighten the time, or to render his situation the more endurable.
He remembered how witches were said to repair at that ghostly hour
to churchyards and gibbets, and such-like dismal spots, to pluck
the bleeding mandrake or scrape the flesh from dead men's bones, as
choice ingredients for their spells; how, stealing by night to
lonely places, they dug graves with their finger-nails, or anointed
themselves before riding in the air, with a delicate pomatum made
of the fat of infants newly boiled. These, and many other fabled
practices of a no less agreeable nature, and all having some
reference to the circumstances in which he was placed, passed and
repassed in quick succession through the mind of Will Marks, and
adding a shadowy dread to that distrust and watchfulness which his
situation inspired, rendered it, upon the whole, sufficiently
uncomfortable. As he had foreseen, too, the rain began to descend
heavily, and driving before the wind in a thick mist, obscured even
those few objects which the darkness of the night had before
imperfectly revealed.

'Look!' shrieked a voice. 'Great Heaven, it has fallen down, and
stands erect as if it lived!'

The speaker was close behind him; the voice was almost at his ear.
Will threw off his cloak, drew his sword, and darting swiftly
round, seized a woman by the wrist, who, recoiling from him with a
dreadful shriek, fell struggling upon her knees. Another woman,
clad, like her whom he had grasped, in mourning garments, stood
rooted to the spot on which they were, gazing upon his face with
wild and glaring eyes that quite appalled him.

'Say,' cried Will, when they had confronted each other thus for
some time, 'what are ye?'

'Say what are YOU,' returned the woman, 'who trouble even this
obscene resting-place of the dead, and strip the gibbet of its
honoured burden? Where is the body?'

He looked in wonder and affright from the woman who questioned him
to the other whose arm he clutched.

'Where is the body?' repeated the questioner more firmly than
before. 'You wear no livery which marks you for the hireling of
the government. You are no friend to us, or I should recognise
you, for the friends of such as we are few in number. What are you
then, and wherefore are you here?'

'I am no foe to the distressed and helpless,' said Will. 'Are ye
among that number? ye should be by your looks.'

'We are!' was the answer.

'Is it ye who have been wailing and weeping here under cover of the
night?' said Will.

'It is,' replied the woman sternly; and pointing, as she spoke,
towards her companion, 'she mourns a husband, and I a brother.
Even the bloody law that wreaks its vengeance on the dead does not
make that a crime, and if it did 'twould be alike to us who are
past its fear or favour.'

Will glanced at the two females, and could barely discern that the
one whom he addressed was much the elder, and that the other was
young and of a slight figure. Both were deadly pale, their
garments wet and worn, their hair dishevelled and streaming in the
wind, themselves bowed down with grief and misery; their whole
appearance most dejected, wretched, and forlorn. A sight so
different from any he had expected to encounter touched him to the
quick, and all idea of anything but their pitiable condition
vanished before it.

'I am a rough, blunt yeoman,' said Will. 'Why I came here is told
in a word; you have been overheard at a distance in the silence of
the night, and I have undertaken a watch for hags or spirits. I
came here expecting an adventure, and prepared to go through with
any. If there be aught that I can do to help or aid you, name it,
and on the faith of a man who can be secret and trusty, I will
stand by you to the death.'

'How comes this gibbet to be empty?' asked the elder female.

'I swear to you,' replied Will, 'that I know as little as yourself.
But this I know, that when I came here an hour ago or so, it was as
it is now; and if, as I gather from your question, it was not so
last night, sure I am that it has been secretly disturbed without
the knowledge of the folks in yonder town. Bethink you, therefore,
whether you have no friends in league with you or with him on whom
the law has done its worst, by whom these sad remains have been
removed for burial.'

The women spoke together, and Will retired a pace or two while they
conversed apart. He could hear them sob and moan, and saw that
they wrung their hands in fruitless agony. He could make out
little that they said, but between whiles he gathered enough to
assure him that his suggestion was not very wide of the mark, and
that they not only suspected by whom the body had been removed, but
also whither it had been conveyed. When they had been in
conversation a long time, they turned towards him once more. This
time the younger female spoke.

'You have offered us your help?'

'I have.'

'And given a pledge that you are still willing to redeem?'

'Yes. So far as I may, keeping all plots and conspiracies at arm's

'Follow us, friend.'

Will, whose self-possession was now quite restored, needed no
second bidding, but with his drawn sword in his hand, and his cloak
so muffled over his left arm as to serve for a kind of shield
without offering any impediment to its free action, suffered them
to lead the way. Through mud and mire, and wind and rain, they
walked in silence a full mile. At length they turned into a dark
lane, where, suddenly starting out from beneath some trees where he
had taken shelter, a man appeared, having in his charge three
saddled horses. One of these (his own apparently), in obedience to
a whisper from the women, he consigned to Will, who, seeing that
they mounted, mounted also. Then, without a word spoken, they rode
on together, leaving the attendant behind.

They made no halt nor slackened their pace until they arrived near
Putney. At a large wooden house which stood apart from any other
they alighted, and giving their horses to one who was already
waiting, passed in by a side door, and so up some narrow creaking
stairs into a small panelled chamber, where Will was left alone.
He had not been here very long, when the door was softly opened,
and there entered to him a cavalier whose face was concealed
beneath a black mask.

Will stood upon his guard, and scrutinised this figure from head to
foot. The form was that of a man pretty far advanced in life, but
of a firm and stately carriage. His dress was of a rich and costly
kind, but so soiled and disordered that it was scarcely to be
recognised for one of those gorgeous suits which the expensive
taste and fashion of the time prescribed for men of any rank or

He was booted and spurred, and bore about him even as many tokens
of the state of the roads as Will himself. All this he noted,
while the eyes behind the mask regarded him with equal attention.
This survey over, the cavalier broke silence.

'Thou'rt young and bold, and wouldst be richer than thou art?'

'The two first I am,' returned Will. 'The last I have scarcely
thought of. But be it so. Say that I would be richer than I am;
what then?'

'The way lies before thee now,' replied the Mask.

'Show it me.'

'First let me inform thee, that thou wert brought here to-night
lest thou shouldst too soon have told thy tale to those who placed
thee on the watch.'

'I thought as much when I followed,' said Will. 'But I am no blab,
not I.'

'Good,' returned the Mask. 'Now listen. He who was to have
executed the enterprise of burying that body, which, as thou hast
suspected, was taken down to-night, has left us in our need.'

Will nodded, and thought within himself that if the Mask were to
attempt to play any tricks, the first eyelet-hole on the left-hand
side of his doublet, counting from the buttons up the front, would
be a very good place in which to pink him neatly.

'Thou art here, and the emergency is desperate. I propose his task
to thee. Convey the body (now coffined in this house), by means
that I shall show, to the Church of St. Dunstan in London to-morrow
night, and thy service shall be richly paid. Thou'rt about to ask
whose corpse it is. Seek not to know. I warn thee, seek not to
know. Felons hang in chains on every moor and heath. Believe, as
others do, that this was one, and ask no further. The murders of
state policy, its victims or avengers, had best remain unknown to
such as thee.'

'The mystery of this service,' said Will, 'bespeaks its danger.
What is the reward?'

'One hundred golden unities,' replied the cavalier. 'The danger to
one who cannot be recognised as the friend of a fallen cause is not
great, but there is some hazard to be run. Decide between that and
the reward.'

'What if I refuse?' said Will.

'Depart in peace, in God's name,' returned the Mask in a melancholy
tone, 'and keep our secret, remembering that those who brought thee
here were crushed and stricken women, and that those who bade thee
go free could have had thy life with one word, and no man the

Men were readier to undertake desperate adventures in those times
than they are now. In this case the temptation was great, and the
punishment, even in case of detection, was not likely to be very
severe, as Will came of a loyal stock, and his uncle was in good
repute, and a passable tale to account for his possession of the
body and his ignorance of the identity might be easily devised.

The cavalier explained that a coveted cart had been prepared for
the purpose; that the time of departure could be arranged so that
he should reach London Bridge at dusk, and proceed through the City
after the day had closed in; that people would be ready at his
journey's end to place the coffin in a vault without a minute's
delay; that officious inquirers in the streets would be easily
repelled by the tale that he was carrying for interment the corpse
of one who had died of the plague; and in short showed him every
reason why he should succeed, and none why he should fail. After a
time they were joined by another gentleman, masked like the first,
who added new arguments to those which had been already urged; the
wretched wife, too, added her tears and prayers to their calmer
representations; and in the end, Will, moved by compassion and
good-nature, by a love of the marvellous, by a mischievous
anticipation of the terrors of the Kingston people when he should
be missing next day, and finally, by the prospect of gain, took
upon himself the task, and devoted all his energies to its
successful execution.

The following night, when it was quite dark, the hollow echoes of
old London Bridge responded to the rumbling of the cart which
contained the ghastly load, the object of Will Marks' care.
Sufficiently disguised to attract no attention by his garb, Will
walked at the horse's head, as unconcerned as a man could be who
was sensible that he had now arrived at the most dangerous part of
his undertaking, but full of boldness and confidence.

It was now eight o'clock. After nine, none could walk the streets
without danger of their lives, and even at this hour, robberies and
murder were of no uncommon occurrence. The shops upon the bridge
were all closed; the low wooden arches thrown across the way were
like so many black pits, in every one of which ill-favoured fellows
lurked in knots of three or four; some standing upright against the
wall, lying in wait; others skulking in gateways, and thrusting out
their uncombed heads and scowling eyes: others crossing and
recrossing, and constantly jostling both horse and man to provoke a
quarrel; others stealing away and summoning their companions in a
low whistle. Once, even in that short passage, there was the noise
of scuffling and the clash of swords behind him, but Will, who knew
the City and its ways, kept straight on and scarcely turned his

The streets being unpaved, the rain of the night before had
converted them into a perfect quagmire, which the splashing water-
spouts from the gables, and the filth and offal cast from the
different houses, swelled in no small degree. These odious matters
being left to putrefy in the close and heavy air, emitted an
insupportable stench, to which every court and passage poured forth
a contribution of its own. Many parts, even of the main streets,
with their projecting stories tottering overhead and nearly
shutting out the sky, were more like huge chimneys than open ways.
At the corners of some of these, great bonfires were burning to
prevent infection from the plague, of which it was rumoured that
some citizens had lately died; and few, who availing themselves of
the light thus afforded paused for a moment to look around them,
would have been disposed to doubt the existence of the disease, or
wonder at its dreadful visitations.

But it was not in such scenes as these, or even in the deep and
miry road, that Will Marks found the chief obstacles to his
progress. There were kites and ravens feeding in the streets (the
only scavengers the City kept), who, scenting what he carried,
followed the cart or fluttered on its top, and croaked their
knowledge of its burden and their ravenous appetite for prey.
There were distant fires, where the poor wood and plaster tenements
wasted fiercely, and whither crowds made their way, clamouring
eagerly for plunder, beating down all who came within their reach,
and yelling like devils let loose. There were single-handed men
flying from bands of ruffians, who pursued them with naked weapons,
and hunted them savagely; there were drunken, desperate robbers
issuing from their dens and staggering through the open streets
where no man dared molest them; there were vagabond servitors
returning from the Bear Garden, where had been good sport that day,
dragging after them their torn and bleeding dogs, or leaving them
to die and rot upon the road. Nothing was abroad but cruelty,
violence, and disorder.

Many were the interruptions which Will Marks encountered from these
stragglers, and many the narrow escapes he made. Now some stout
bully would take his seat upon the cart, insisting to be driven to
his own home, and now two or three men would come down upon him
together, and demand that on peril of his life he showed them what
he had inside. Then a party of the city watch, upon their rounds,
would draw across the road, and not satisfied with his tale,
question him closely, and revenge themselves by a little cuffing
and hustling for maltreatment sustained at other hands that night.
All these assailants had to be rebutted, some by fair words, some
by foul, and some by blows. But Will Marks was not the man to be
stopped or turned back now he had penetrated so far, and though he
got on slowly, still he made his way down Fleet-street and reached
the church at last.

As he had been forewarned, all was in readiness. Directly he
stopped, the coffin was removed by four men, who appeared so
suddenly that they seemed to have started from the earth. A fifth
mounted the cart, and scarcely allowing Will time to snatch from it
a little bundle containing such of his own clothes as he had thrown
off on assuming his disguise, drove briskly away. Will never saw
cart or man again.

He followed the body into the church, and it was well he lost no
time in doing so, for the door was immediately closed. There was
no light in the building save that which came from a couple of
torches borne by two men in cloaks, who stood upon the brink of a
vault. Each supported a female figure, and all observed a profound

By this dim and solemn glare, which made Will feel as though light
itself were dead, and its tomb the dreary arches that frowned
above, they placed the coffin in the vault, with uncovered heads,
and closed it up. One of the torch-bearers then turned to Will,
and stretched forth his hand, in which was a purse of gold.
Something told him directly that those were the same eyes which he
had seen beneath the mask.

'Take it,' said the cavalier in a low voice, 'and be happy. Though
these have been hasty obsequies, and no priest has blessed the
work, there will not be the less peace with thee thereafter, for
having laid his bones beside those of his little children. Keep
thy own counsel, for thy sake no less than ours, and God be with

'The blessing of a widowed mother on thy head, good friend!' cried
the younger lady through her tears; 'the blessing of one who has
now no hope or rest but in this grave!'

Will stood with the purse in his hand, and involuntarily made a
gesture as though he would return it, for though a thoughtless
fellow, he was of a frank and generous nature. But the two
gentlemen, extinguishing their torches, cautioned him to be gone,
as their common safety would be endangered by a longer delay; and
at the same time their retreating footsteps sounded through the
church. He turned, therefore, towards the point at which he had
entered, and seeing by a faint gleam in the distance that the door
was again partially open, groped his way towards it and so passed
into the street.

Meantime the local authorities of Kingston had kept watch and ward
all the previous night, fancying every now and then that dismal
shrieks were borne towards them on the wind, and frequently winking
to each other, and drawing closer to the fire as they drank the
health of the lonely sentinel, upon whom a clerical gentleman
present was especially severe by reason of his levity and youthful
folly. Two or three of the gravest in company, who were of a
theological turn, propounded to him the question, whether such a
character was not but poorly armed for single combat with the
Devil, and whether he himself would not have been a stronger
opponent; but the clerical gentleman, sharply reproving them for
their presumption in discussing such questions, clearly showed that
a fitter champion than Will could scarcely have been selected, not
only for that being a child of Satan, he was the less likely to be
alarmed by the appearance of his own father, but because Satan
himself would be at his ease in such company, and would not scruple
to kick up his heels to an extent which it was quite certain he
would never venture before clerical eyes, under whose influence (as
was notorious) he became quite a tame and milk-and-water character.

But when next morning arrived, and with it no Will Marks, and when
a strong party repairing to the spot, as a strong party ventured to
do in broad day, found Will gone and the gibbet empty, matters grew
serious indeed. The day passing away and no news arriving, and the
night going on also without any intelligence, the thing grew more
tremendous still; in short, the neighbourhood worked itself up to
such a comfortable pitch of mystery and horror, that it is a great
question whether the general feeling was not one of excessive
disappointment, when, on the second morning, Will Marks returned.

However this may be, back Will came in a very cool and collected
state, and appearing not to trouble himself much about anybody
except old John Podgers, who, having been sent for, was sitting in
the Town Hall crying slowly, and dozing between whiles. Having
embraced his uncle and assured him of his safety, Will mounted on a
table and told his story to the crowd.

And surely they would have been the most unreasonable crowd that
ever assembled together, if they had been in the least respect
disappointed with the tale he told them; for besides describing the
Witches' Dance to the minutest motion of their legs, and performing
it in character on the table, with the assistance of a broomstick,
he related how they had carried off the body in a copper caldron,
and so bewitched him, that he lost his senses until he found
himself lying under a hedge at least ten miles off, whence he had
straightway returned as they then beheld. The story gained such
universal applause that it soon afterwards brought down express
from London the great witch-finder of the age, the Heaven-born
Hopkins, who having examined Will closely on several points,
pronounced it the most extraordinary and the best accredited witch-
story ever known, under which title it was published at the Three
Bibles on London Bridge, in small quarto, with a view of the
caldron from an original drawing, and a portrait of the clerical
gentleman as he sat by the fire.

On one point Will was particularly careful: and that was to
describe for the witches he had seen, three impossible old females,
whose likenesses never were or will be. Thus he saved the lives of
the suspected parties, and of all other old women who were dragged
before him to be identified.

This circumstance occasioned John Podgers much grief and sorrow,
until happening one day to cast his eyes upon his house-keeper, and
observing her to be plainly afflicted with rheumatism, he procured
her to be burnt as an undoubted witch. For this service to the
state he was immediately knighted, and became from that time Sir
John Podgers.

Will Marks never gained any clue to the mystery in which he had
been an actor, nor did any inscription in the church, which he
often visited afterwards, nor any of the limited inquiries that he
dared to make, yield him the least assistance. As he kept his own
secret, he was compelled to spend the gold discreetly and
sparingly. In the course of time he married the young lady of whom
I have already told you, whose maiden name is not recorded, with
whom he led a prosperous and happy life. Years and years after
this adventure, it was his wont to tell her upon a stormy night
that it was a great comfort to him to think those bones, to
whomsoever they might have once belonged, were not bleaching in the
troubled air, but were mouldering away with the dust of their own
kith and kindred in a quiet grave.


Being very full of Mr. Pickwick's application, and highly pleased
with the compliment he had paid me, it will be readily supposed
that long before our next night of meeting I communicated it to my
three friends, who unanimously voted his admission into our body.
We all looked forward with some impatience to the occasion which
would enroll him among us, but I am greatly mistaken if Jack
Redburn and myself were not by many degrees the most impatient of
the party.

At length the night came, and a few minutes after ten Mr.
Pickwick's knock was heard at the street-door. He was shown into a
lower room, and I directly took my crooked stick and went to
accompany him up-stairs, in order that he might be presented with
all honour and formality.

'Mr. Pickwick,' said I, on entering the room, 'I am rejoiced to see
you, - rejoiced to believe that this is but the opening of a long
series of visits to this house, and but the beginning of a close
and lasting friendship.'

That gentleman made a suitable reply with a cordiality and
frankness peculiarly his own, and glanced with a smile towards two
persons behind the door, whom I had not at first observed, and whom
I immediately recognised as Mr. Samuel Weller and his father.

It was a warm evening, but the elder Mr. Weller was attired,
notwithstanding, in a most capacious greatcoat, and his chin
enveloped in a large speckled shawl, such as is usually worn by
stage coachmen on active service. He looked very rosy and very
stout, especially about the legs, which appeared to have been
compressed into his top-boots with some difficulty. His broad-
brimmed hat he held under his left arm, and with the forefinger of
his right hand he touched his forehead a great many times in
acknowledgment of my presence.

'I am very glad to see you in such good health, Mr. Weller,' said

'Why, thankee, sir,' returned Mr. Weller, 'the axle an't broke yet.
We keeps up a steady pace, - not too sewere, but vith a moderate
degree o' friction, - and the consekens is that ve're still a
runnin' and comes in to the time reg'lar. - My son Samivel, sir, as
you may have read on in history,' added Mr. Weller, introducing his

I received Sam very graciously, but before he could say a word his
father struck in again.

'Samivel Veller, sir,' said the old gentleman, 'has conferred upon
me the ancient title o' grandfather vich had long laid dormouse,
and wos s'posed to be nearly hex-tinct in our family. Sammy,
relate a anecdote o' vun o' them boys, - that 'ere little anecdote
about young Tony sayin' as he WOULD smoke a pipe unbeknown to his

'Be quiet, can't you?' said Sam; 'I never see such a old magpie -

'That 'ere Tony is the blessedest boy,' said Mr. Weller, heedless
of this rebuff, 'the blessedest boy as ever I see in MY days! of
all the charmin'est infants as ever I heerd tell on, includin' them
as was kivered over by the robin-redbreasts arter they'd committed
sooicide with blackberries, there never wos any like that 'ere
little Tony. He's alvays a playin' vith a quart pot, that boy is!
To see him a settin' down on the doorstep pretending to drink out
of it, and fetching a long breath artervards, and smoking a bit of
firevood, and sayin', "Now I'm grandfather," - to see him a doin'
that at two year old is better than any play as wos ever wrote.
"Now I'm grandfather!" He wouldn't take a pint pot if you wos to
make him a present on it, but he gets his quart, and then he says,
"Now I'm grandfather!"'

Mr. Weller was so overpowered by this picture that he straightway
fell into a most alarming fit of coughing, which must certainly
have been attended with some fatal result but for the dexterity and
promptitude of Sam, who, taking a firm grasp of the shawl just
under his father's chin, shook him to and fro with great violence,
at the same time administering some smart blows between his
shoulders. By this curious mod

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