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Title: Unvarnished Tales

Author: William Mackay

Release date: May 9, 2016 [eBook #52029]

Language: English

Credits: Transcribed from the 1886 edition by David Price


Transcribed from the 1886 edition by David Price, email




Decorative graphic




p. ii


Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.


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p. viXV.





















p. 1I.

In the Times newspaper of Monday, 1st July, 18–, there appeared a notice of Mr. White’s last novel.  The notice—for one cannot dignify with the name of review an article which did not exceed a quarter of a column—contained the following sentence:—

“Mr. White’s novels appear to us to lack but one element.  Having achieved that one thing needful, Mr. White at once and without cavil takes his place in the first rank of modern novelists.  In one word, Mr. White must learn to study Human Nature from the life.  His characters are too often evolved from his inner consciousness, and as beings thus produced are apt to be wanting in backbone, it is not surprising that many of this popular p. 2author’s works are weak and flabby—shadows without substance—pictures without colour.  If Mr. White were to give one-half of the time to the study of the men and women by whom he is surrounded, which he gives to the elaboration of plot and the cultivation of style, we do not know that there is any seat in the republic of letters which we would deny him.”

Mr. White was a timid gentleman, with thin reddish hair—a very tall forehead and weak eyes.  He was also a very well tailored man, and lived in a neatly-appointed villa, in the Hilgrove Road, St. John’s Wood, N.W.  He was married, but had no children.  He was by profession a briefless barrister, but he made his name by writing novels.  It so happened that the public applauded Mr. White from the very first moment that he appealed to them—at least in book form: his tentative efforts in periodicals having fallen very short of creating a furorHis nonsense, which, it must be confessed, was not of a very rollicking description, suited their nonsense.  And that was the whole secret of his success.  Being a very industrious man, he wrote a great many fictions, and being modest withal, p. 3attributed his fame to hard work rather than to any endowment of genius.

When Mr. White neglected his grilled bone, his buttered toast, his hot coffee, and his new-laid egg, and seemed spell-bound by what appeared in the Times newspaper, his wife instinctively knew that there was a notice of her husband’s book in that great organ, and she guessed by the twitching of his mouth, and the flushing of his face, that the notice was the reverse of favourable.

“It is quite true.  It is quite true,” said Mr. White, aloud, but to himself, as he laid the paper down.

“What is quite true?” asked Mrs. White, who, while greatly appreciating the pecuniary results of her husband’s labour, had but little sympathy with the work itself.

“I am all wrong,” he replied, grimly.

“Good gracious!  What is the matter with you?”

“I am wanting in backbone,” he explained, gloomily—“criminally deficient in backbone.”

“Why, John, you must be mad,” said the wife of his bosom.  And, indeed, there was a seeming irrelevancy in his remarks, p. 4which favoured his helpmate’s theory.  But John knew quite well what he was about.

“Tell Edward to fetch my coat and hat,” he said, having trifled with his breakfast instead of eating it like a Briton; “and lend me your scissors.”

The dutiful young woman handed her lord and master the scissors, with which he proceeded to cut out the Times review—the which, when carefully abstracted, he placed in his pocket-book.  But before Edward came with his coat and hat, Mrs. White, with natural and justifiable curiosity asked,—

“Where are you going so early, John?”

“I am going,” said John, quoting from the article, “I am going among the men and women by whom I am surrounded.  I am going to study human character from the life.”

Mrs. White shrugged her little shoulders, elevated her little eyebrows, kissed her husband, and when she heard the hall-door close behind him, she said very quietly, as though she were making an observation which did not affect her even remotely,—

“He doesn’t seem to study me very much.”

p. 5John White’s great crony was Anthony Lomax, of Paper Buildings.  And John White took a ticket to the Temple Station, being determined to consult his old friend on this new revelation which the great Times newspaper had opened up to him.  He was fortunate in finding Mr. Lomax at home, devouring a frugal meal of brandy and soda, preparatory to appearing before Vice-Chancellor Bacon in the celebrated case of Breeks v. Woolfer.

“You see,” said John White, with characteristic modesty, “you see I never thought of achieving a first rank.  My books take well and I make money—thank heaven.  But this fellow in the newspaper absolutely says that I am possessed of genius!”

“And haven’t I always said it?” asked Tony, with an offended air; “haven’t we all always said it?”

“Yes; but you are friends, don’t you know?”

“Not a bit.  Do I ever tell Jones that he has genius?  Do I ever tell Sandford that he has genius—although he is a Fellow of Merton?  Did I ever tell Barlow that his p. 6works would set the Thames on fire?  Never!  Friendship in my case never interferes with strict impartiality.”

This pleased Mr. White.  He absolutely blushed with pleasure.  A kind word from Lomax was more real satisfaction to him than a page of praise from the Sultry Review—which is not, perhaps, rating the eulogy of Mr. Lomax very highly.

“And are they right about the—the want of backbone?” he inquired, nervously, “and the necessity to study character from the life?”

“As right as nine-pence, my boy.  Doctors analyse dead bodies, and pull live ones about.  Artists draw, I am told, from the nude.  Actors imitate particular individuals.  Yes, I think the Times rascal is absolutely right.”

“Then I shall commence and study from the life at once.  But where now,” he asked plaintively, “where would you advise me to commence?  You don’t know of any very likely place for the acquirement of the backbone?”

“Well, my boy, there’s Breeks and Woolfer; if you’ll step over to the Vice-Chancellor’s p. 7Court—it’s quite full of character.”

But the novelist only shuddered at the mention of the case, and saying gently that he thought he would take his own course, bade his friend “Good-bye,” and departed much disturbed in his mind at the magnitude and amount of the task the censor of Printing-house Square had set for him.


Three months and a couple of weeks had passed away.  It was now the 15th of October, 18–, and Tony Lomax once more sat in his chambers.  He had been away for his holidays, and had just returned, brown and invigorated, and ready to grapple with and subdue that insatiable monster, “Breeks and Woolfer.”  He was sitting with his legs stretched well under his table, his coat was off notwithstanding the chilliness of the weather, and his white shirt-sleeves were rolled up to his elbows.  He looked the picture of rude health and high animal spirits.

A feeble knock on the panel of his door.  A loud and cheery “Come in” from Tony.  The door opened, and Mr. White entered, glanced p. 8nervously round, and gliding up to Lomax, said in a whisper,—

“Are we alone?”

Lomax could hardly believe his eyes.  The dapper little friend of his youth had grown prematurely old.  His thin red hair was no longer neatly arranged.  His weak eyes had a wild and nervous shifting.  His hands moved convulsively.  His lips were dry, and his throat—to judge from his voice—parched.

“What in heaven’s name—!” exclaimed Lomax, starting from his seat.

“Hush,” said the other, in extreme agitation, “don’t speak so loudly.  They might hear you.”

“Who might hear me?”

“The human characters—from the life—don’t you know.  I have plenty of backbone now—too much, Tony.  It’s very awful!”

Lomax saw how it was, attempted to calm him, and induced him to take a seat, and to release his hat from his trembling fingers.  Then he said, with something of a tremor in his voice,—

“Now, old man, tell us all about it.”

John White looked nervously about the room, again asked whether they were quite alone, p. 9and commenced, in a husky whisper, to tell his narrative, with awful rapidity.

“It was all right at first, Tony, and I made some capital notes, but in a few days I tired.  All the human characters seemed so much alike when studied in the life.  So brutally alike.  It pained me.  The monotony of it made me giddy.  But then the worst came, Tony.  Whenever I went out to study a character—from the life—the character began to study me.  I tried to brave it and bear up against it, because you know, Tony, the Times said I had genius and only wanted backbone.  But just fancy to yourself setting out to study murderers and thieves, and all sorts and conditions of unmentionable men, and the murderers and thieves and unmentionables—from the life—turning round and studying you!  What do you think of that?  Study you—d’ye hear?—from the life!  Ay, and follow you, too—to your club, to your home:—to your very bed!”

The trembling hands searched for the hat.  Mr. White had jumped from his chair, and uttered a wild shriek, that sounded like “Here they arefrom the life,” and had fled out on to the pavement of Paper Buildings.

p. 10Poor White died at Hanwell just two years ago—and Lomax married his widow.  She, poor creature, finds in her new husband a practical person, whom she can understand, and seems all the happier for the change.

p. 11II.

Harp Alley is a little nagged passage nestling under the heavy shadows of Drury Lane Theatre.  None of the merchants who pursue business in the reeking enclosure can be truthfully described as doing a roaring trade.  A manufacturer of spangles, who has hidden his commercial light under the bushel of Harp Alley, does a brisk business during the months preceding Christmas—his stock being in great demand for the decoration of the gorgeous characters of Pantomime.  No one ever stops at the old book shop, where the same old plays which were offered ten years ago in a box at a penny each are offered at a penny still.  And a steel engraving of David Garrick as Richard the Third, greatly perturbed p. 12by apparitions, has during the same interval failed to find a purchaser at half-a-crown.  There is an old clothes shop in the Alley, owned by an adventurous speculator of the Semitic persuasion, where you can borrow a dress suit for the evening, and become a magnificent swell on the new hire system.

The best trade done in Harp Alley is done by the owner of the “Piping Bulfinch”—a public-house much resorted to in the present day by scene-shifters, stage carpenters, property men, and other humble ornaments of the British Drama, with a fine capacity for four ale and bad language.  At the time of this story, the inner bar of the “Piping Bulfinch”—a reserved space with a door marked “private”—was the resort of certain actors and authors having a greater wealth of brain than of pocket.  In those days the cuff-shooter was not, and a jeune premier would be satisfied with something less than the wages of an ambassador.  Only the very superior sort of actor and manager and dramatic author belonged to a Club.  The rank and file met unostentatiously in bars, and did their business p. 13or criticised their neighbours over “goes” of gin and whiskey, or half pints of ale and stout.  I do not intend to mention here the names of those who were wont to meet of an afternoon at the “Piping Bulfinch.”  Some are dead.  Some are alive and famous.  Others are alive and wrecks.  And all of them seem desirous to forget the struggling period when they patronised the snug but sombre hostlery in Harp Alley.

Informally established as a réunion, this little society became known to the outer world, and the gentle layman penetrated to the recesses of the inner bar and forced his babbling company upon the playwright and the player.  So that in self-defence the mummers and the drama-makers hired from the landlord of the “Piping Bulfinch” a large room that opened off the public bar.  Towards defraying the expenses, each member of the coterie subscribed one shilling per week.  They had a room of their own.  They were now a Club; and that is the true history of the establishment of the Otway—for such was the style and title which these able but impecunious men of genius gave to this Association, p. 14when shrinking from contact with the profane vulgar, they withdrew behind the closed door of their own private and particular room.

And every Wednesday came to be known as Sawdust Day.

In those days of struggle what small incidents afforded interest and even excitement! and the weekly advent of the man bearing the sack of sawdust which was to be sprinkled on the floor of the Club-room, was looked forward to with keen enjoyment.  He was a strange reflective man—the man who bore in this weekly sacrifice to respectability—this thin and shifting substitute for a carpet—this indoor Goodwin sands.  But he greatly prized the opportunity afforded him of entering the Club.  He laughed respectfully (to himself) at the jokes which were bandied about.  He accepted with gratified smile the chaff which was levelled at him and at his sawdust.  He became indeed a part of the Club itself, and lengthened his weekly visit as much as possible, always discovering, when it appeared time to go, some refractory spot on the floor which required replenishing and smoothing.  The Sawdust man may have been a broken p. 15down dramatist, a poor poet whose literary wares were a drug in the market; and here in this bright association of wits and good fellows he found solace once a-week.

Twelve happy months sped over the grey locks and closely shaven features of the Sawdust man.  And the fifty-two days of congenial fellowship—so, poor man, he chose to consider it—compensated for the three hundred and thirteen other days upon which he sprinkled the yellow refuse among the unsympathetic feet of the market-men in the public-houses about Covent Garden.  Pride, we are credibly informed, led to the overthrow of the Prince of Darkness; and Pride entering into the bosom of a new member of the Otway led to eventual decline and fall of that remarkable society.  In an evil moment it was proposed at a meeting of the Committee that the Club-room should be carpeted!  After a long and angry discussion the resolution was carried by a bare majority.  The carpet was purchased, and the poor dealer in the waste of the saw-pits was dismissed for ever from the only Paradise of which he had any knowledge.

Not unchallenged, however, was the innovation.  p. 16A few days after the dismissal of the weekly visitor, the following letter was received by the Secretary of the Club.  It was duly affixed to the notice-board above the mantel-piece, where for some time it afforded the greatest amusement to the members, and was provocative of many facetiæ on the part of the chartered wags.  But there were some of the older ornaments of the Otway, I think, who regarded the document with some misgiving, and counted it as an ill omen.  Here is the text of the Awful Denunciation:—

To the Otways.

Pride comes before a fall.

“Beware!  You are haughty now.  You will soon be humble.  My curse is upon you.  For you have driven me forth into the world—alone.  May your Club be overrun by outsiders.  May money rule you instead of brains.  May your skill fail you and your wit wither away.  May you be abandoned by the pewter and the pipe.  May your plays be damned, and your articles rejected.  And aping your betters, may you become the laughing stock of the world.  [Signed]

The Sawdust Man.”

“There is insanity in Sawdust,” said Gadsby, after he had read the startling anathema.

p. 17“More drunk than mad, I expect,” suggested the charitable Tapham.

“Swallowed his own sack, perhaps,” added Ponsonby, in defence of the latter theory.

But old and judicious Otways shook their heads and sighed.  The Sawdust man had become a part of their artistic career.  His removal affected them.  His curse depressed them beyond measure.  On the morning after the receipt of the Curse, the members arriving at the Club found out in the upper panel of the door the word


No one was ever able to ascertain when or how this amateur wood-carving had been accomplished.  It was a mystery.  But it led to this result.  Senior members of the Otway entertained some fine old crusted superstitions, and after this handwriting on the door began to agitate for a removal to more commodious apartments.  And now the curse began to work.  For in order to keep up the more commodious rooms, and to pay for the increased service, there were necessitated two p. 18things.  In the first place, an increased entrance fee and subscription, and in the second place, a certain healthy relaxing of the first rule of the Club, whereby all those who were not professionally connected with art, literature, or the drama, were rigorously excluded.

In two years from the date of the instalment of the Club in its more commodious chambers, the institution had grown marvellously in respectability, but it had lost its character, and was now a collection of individuals of the most various and most nondescript kind.  And at the end of the last of those two years, a gentleman was elected to membership, who worked with the utmost good-will to efface what little traces of Bohemian beginnings still clung about the Otway.  About this person or his antecedents little was known.  He was immensely wealthy.  He had suddenly acquired his money.  And his qualification as a member of the Club was a work on Papua and New Guinea, which had been eagerly welcomed by the learned societies, had been solemnly reviewed by the Quarterly, and which was known by several to be the work, not of the new member at all, but of a Museum hack p. 19named Geyser, who for a consideration in hard cash, permitted Mr. Thistleton—that was the new member’s name—to figure on the title.  Appended to his name were the letters F.R.G.S., and other formidable distinctions which it may be presumed, can also be obtained by the common commercial operation known as exchange and barter.

Shortly after the advent of this great man, questions arose as to the propriety of drinking beer out of pewter in the Club-rooms.  And as Mr. Thistleton was always ready to stand a bottle of wine to anybody who cared to call for it, the consumption of beer fell steadily off, and it became in time, the very worst possible sort of form for an Otway to be seen imbibing the produce of hops.  Clay pipes had long ago been disestablished by a by-law of the committee.  Cigars at ninepence and a shilling were supplied for the post-prandial smoke.  And it was an understood thing that members should always dine in evening dress.  When this rule came into force, it occasioned the withdrawal of some old Otways, who, although eminent in their particular walks of literature and art, hadn’t got a single dress-suit among p. 20’em.  The places of these talented but socially incomplete persons were speedily filled by gentlemen who, if devoid of genius, were possessed of dress suits of the very latest design, and had gold and silver and precious stones.  And the flash of a diamond is, I take it, a much more agreeable scintillation than the flash of the greatest wit in the world.

Mr. Thistleton not only elevated the members of the Otway by means of champagne of great price; he endeavoured to give them reflected glory by inviting to the house-dinner personages of repute in Society.  A Cabinet Minister once dined with him.  At another time, an Indian Prince, dressed in the most gorgeous Oriental toggery, sat down to the Otway repast.  Indeed, there seemed to be, practically, no limit to his influence with the great ones of the earth, and it was apparently his delight to exert that influence, with a view of introducing his brother members to all that was esteemed, wealthy, and wise, in London Society.

At last there visited England an Indian Prince, compared to whom the other Indian princes were mere nobodies.  This mighty p. 21potentate was in due course brought down to the Otway, and was graciously pleased to express his approval of all that he saw and heard.  And the Club, in order to show its appreciation of the compliment of the wise man from the East, invited him to a banquet.  Princes have an awkward habit of making requests that are commands.  And when dinner was over this dusky heathen had induced the members of the Club to guarantee him a donation of five thousand pounds, towards his fund for providing tom-toms for the Nautch girls of Hindustan.  Their solemn word was given to their copper-coloured guest.  There was no retreating from their promise.  The sequel is soon told.  In order to raise the amount the effects of the Otway were offered at public auction.  All the members attended the sale, and watched their works of art, their luxurious furniture, their rare wines, and their ninepenny cigars disappear under the hammer of the auctioneer.

Mr. Thistleton bought in everything.  He bid with a persistency and a viciousness that astonished the man in the rostrum.  When p. 22the last article was knocked down to him, he turned upon his late fellow-members, now dissolved and houseless, and with a demoniac shout of derisive laughter cried, “I am avenged.”  He had grown a beard, and he had become rich, two wonderful disguises.  But there was no doubt about it.  It was the Sawdust Man.

p. 23III.

Not another farthing, Tom.  Not another farthing.”

“But my dear father—”

“But me no buts, Tom, as the man says in the playbook.  You have an ample allowance.  I never object to a hundred or two in advance to pay your club subscriptions, or for any other legitimate purpose.  But extravagance like yours means vice, and vice I never will encourage.”

Lord Lundy shook his grey head at his son, heaved a sigh, felt in the left-hand pocket of his vest, missed something, heaved another sigh, and became absorbed in the Report with which he had been engrossed when his son entered the library.

“I only want a paltry two hundred,” pleaded p. 24Tom, not by any means willing to give up without a struggle.

His father once more looked up from his statistics, and without altering his tone replied,—

“Harkye, Tom.  I have said my say.  You know the position which I hold as the patron of religious and philanthropic societies.  You are aware of the repute which I bear.  With your proceedings, and those of your associates, rumour is busy.  Such rumours reflect upon me.  Common decency should suggest to you that I am the last person in the world to whom you should apply for fresh means wherewith to procure fresh indulgence.”

“Indeed, sir—”

“Enough, Tom.  I am busy.  Good-morning.”

It was useless to argue further.  The Hon. Tom Foote, with downcast countenance, withdrew; reflected that he must once more have recourse to his friends, Shadrach, Mesech, and Abednego in Throgmorton Street; and inwardly apostrophised his stern parent as Old Father Adamant.

When Tom left the library Lord Lundy rang p. 25the bell.  When the menial entered his lordship was still feeling in the left-hand pocket of his vest.

“Oh, James,” he said, “tell my man to look for the snuff-box I usually carry.  Must have dropped it somewhere.”

James bowed and departed on his mission.

Meanwhile Tom, descending into Grosvenor Square, hailed a passing hansom; but when the driver pulled up by the kerb he was undecided in what direction to drive.

“Shall I go to the Raleigh and consult Bruiser, or shall I go direct to old Abednego, or shall I see Dot and explain matters?”  This to himself.  Then, suddenly making up his mind to see Dot, he gave his cabman an address in the vicinity of the Regent’s Park, and abandoned himself to his fate.

To his great delight, and, indeed, surprise, he found Dot in the very best of tempers.  Her little villa was surrounded by a wall which protected it from the vulgar stare of the passer-by, and Tom found her in her breakfast-room arranging flowers and humming an air out of Diana, a burlesque which she was at that time engaged in illustrating at the Mausoleum p. 26Theatre.  She was arrayed in a morning-gown of light-blue, trimmed with some fluffy stuff strangely suggestive of powder-puffs.  She received her guest with considerable warmth; asked her “poor old boy” why he looked so “glum,” and when in reply he admitted that he had been unable to obtain the trifling sum which she had requested, burst out laughing, and said,—

“Don’t look so solemn, Dolly,”—’twas her pet name for him.  “I shall be able to do without it for the present.  A wealthy connection of mine has just died leaving me sufficient for all immediate wants.  And now what’s the news?”

Tom having mentally blessed the rich and opportune relative, and having regretted aloud that any person should have deprived him of the coveted opportunity of playing the part of relieving officer, declared that there was no news.

He then began to look about the room.  This is a habit which most men have in visiting rooms where others, perchance, may be received—others that they know not of.  There is a suspicion of the very furniture.  A p. 27jealousy of articles left behind.  Great Heavens! what heart-burnings have been caused by the discovery of a strange cigar-case or a ring with an unfamiliar monogram.

Tom, strolling up to the mantel-piece while chatting to Dot, or listening to her artless prattle, perceived, nestling between the ormolu timepiece and a vase of early primroses, a snuff-box.  He took it up and involuntarily ejaculated,—


Dot looked up, and observing the object of his curiosity, exclaimed,—

“Oh, put that down, it—it’s nothing.”

“Nothing?” said Tom.  “It’s a snuff-box.  Come, where did you get it?”

Dot pouted.  She must not be cross-examined.  It was an insult to her.  Did Dolly doubt her?

But Dolly was in perfect temper.  He declared himself as devoid of doubt as a minor prophet, and having calmed the rising emotions of the lady, said, with the greatest sang-froid,—

“Lend me the snuff-box till to-morrow at this hour, and I’ll bring you the two hundred.  Yes, and a fifty into the bargain.”

p. 28“Only a loan, mind,” stipulated the girl, who, like most of her charming sex, had a mind irrevocably fixed on the main chance.

“Of course—only a loan,” replied the elated Tom; “d’ye think I’m going to turn snuff-taker?”

Whether Tom’s logic or the hope of Tom’s money mollified Miss Dot, it is certain that when, an hour after, he left Laburnum Villa, Regent’s Park, N.W., he had the snuff-box in his pocket.

It was from Lady Lundy that his lordship had imbibed his religion and his philanthropy.  She was, indeed, a marvellous woman, and had been known on at least one occasion to take the chair from which indisposition had driven her husband.  If ever a nobleman could have been said to be hen-pecked, that devoted aristocrat was Lord Lundy.  And Tom, although more audacious in his expressions of defiance, also stood in considerable awe of his mother.  When on the evening of the day during which all the events of this unvarnished tale arrived, Tom sat down to dinner, both his father and his mother were surprised at the flow of his animal spirits, the redundancy of p. 29his anecdotes, and the impudent way in which he relegated to some future occasion all discussion concerning Outcast London, or the heathen living in dark places of the earth.

Being a Christian household, certain Christian customs were observed in the Lundy establishment; so when Lady Lundy left the room her husband and her son remained to discuss a glass of claret.

“You seem in excellent spirits to-night, my boy,” said the father.  And the remark was not uncalled for; because when last father and son had met, the latter was extremely downcast.

“Pretty well, thank you,” replied the youth.

“And to what may I attribute this change?”

“I’ve taken your advice, sir, and have commenced to do something useful.  I have gone into trade.”

“God bless my soul!  Trade!”

“Yes.  I’m dealing in articles—if I may call them so—of virtue.”

“You’re joking.”

“Never more serious, I assure you.  To prove it I will sell you something.”


p. 30“A snuff-box.”

The philanthropist laughed.

“And so it is you who have been hiding my favourite box.  Hand it over this minute, you rascal.”

But Tom shook his head.

“No; this can’t be yours.  This is a snuff-box with a history.  It belonged, my dear father, to a great philanthropist; and it was discovered in a breakfast-room in the Regent’s Park.”

At this Tom exhibited the pretty receptacle, saying,—

“How much do you say for this highly authenticated heirloom?”

“The two hundred you asked for this morning, Tom,” replied the father, with more coolness than might reasonably been expected under the circumstances.

“Not enough,” said the son.

“Three hundred—five hundred!” gasped the philanthropist.

“Say a thousand,” insinuated Tom.

“I’ll be d—d if I do!” replied the philanthropist, with the utmost decision.

“Then,” said Tom, rising, “I’ll take it to p. 31her ladyship, and see what she’ll give me for it—and for its story.”

“Tom, sit down, I command you.  Not a word of this.  The money is yours.”

How Tom managed with Dot about retaining the snuff-box history does not say.  But it has been noticed with considerable alarm that Tom has now a greater influence over Lord Lundy than ever was obtained even by her ladyship.

p. 32IV.

After the traveller passes the City of Oxford the Thames greatly changes its aspect.  Locks are deserted by their keepers.  One has to open these waterways for oneself, and there is usually a difficulty in finding the bolts rust-eaten and honey-combed into a very corrugated species of small-pox.  For traffic has ceased a great way below, and the gentle dwellers by the banks are a dull and slow race of men given greatly to the consumption of beer.  You may proceed to great distances without seeing a human being.  It is a narrow Thames hereabouts and a shallow.  Yet it is infinitely pleasant in the early spring, when the birds sing against each other in what to us appear songs of unaffected gladness, but p. 33which are really cries of baffled envy—of angry jealousy.  For even the note of the nightingale is now relegated by the advance of knowledge to a place among our shattered illusions.

Innocent lambs, sweetly unconscious of the rapidly growing mint, bleat feebly at the unexpected apparition of a boat containing a human being in flannels, and the great kine slaking their thirst gaze with meek contemptuous eyes at the intruder.  How cool the rushes show standing by the water’s edge, unheeding as yet the earlier efforts of a sun rehearsing for his summer effects.  And above all, the deep cerulean with its white clouds, motionless as those of the painted canvas in the theatre—seeming more intensely white as the black wings of the rook pass beneath with lazy sweep.

Twenty miles above Oxford—more than twenty or less than twenty, for I do not wish the place identified—is the village of —.  It is situated about a mile and a half from the banks of the Thames, and is a place which was at one time of some consideration, but now is half asleep.  It has done its business and retired.  Some wealthy men live in the p. 34place and its vicinity.  The labourers look fat on a wage of a shilling or so a day, and once a year there is a fair, which is greatly deplored by the godly as calculated to undermine the morals of the simple villagers, whom to my own knowledge stand in need of no such temptation, being by nature somewhat prone to forget that part of the moral law which inculcates advice regarding the regulation of a man’s desires.

The prettiest girl in — was Jessie Bracebridge.  She had long golden hair rigidly suppressed under her garden hat, and soft blue eyes and a figure lithe but rounded.  Her dress was plain to a fault.  For she was the only daughter of William Bracebridge, cobbler and Methodist local preacher, a pious enthusiast of great original power and extraordinary will; but a pious enthusiast whose notions of Duty if carried out to their fullest by mankind generally, would render the world a very uncomfortable place to live in.  In the year 1741 the Rev. John Wesley had visited —, and, as appears from his “Journal,” being greatly scandalised by the fact that the Vicar hunted three days a week in the season, and that every p. 35second name inserted in the registry of birth was that of an illegitimate infant, established a conventicle in the village and set apart a local or lay preacher to look after his converts until such time as he could send a regularly ordained minister to supply their spiritual wants.  The lay preacher was named Bracebridge, and the Bracebridge whose name appears in this unvarnished tale was grandson of the friend of John Wesley.  Bracebridge was indeed in a sort of Apostolical Succession.

In the glorious spring weather of 18–, Jessie Bracebridge had wandered down to the river and stood among the reeds looking across the great expanse of meadow beyond the other shore, and wishing that her mother were alive again, and wondering if people might be really good and relatively happy without being so strict and stern as her father, or so instant as he was in season and out of season.  Perhaps, too, she was indulging in day dreams of the great world outside, for she was in her seventeenth year, and had read of the wonders of cities, and, notwithstanding her father’s denunciation of the wickedness in them, longed perhaps to see and judge for herself.  Suddenly p. 36her thoughts were diverted.  A lamb more silly than its companions—if indeed one lamb can be more silly than another—had approached too near the edge of the stream, and the bank giving way under its small weight it fell into the stream and wakened the echoes with piteous bleating.  At that catastrophe Jessie shrieked aloud, regarding the quadruped’s as a life only less precious than that of a human being.

A skiff came round the bend of the stream, and its occupant was soon pulling toward the shrieking maiden.  In her distress she pointed to the drowning lamb, and he, not without difficulty, rescued the woolly unfortunate, and then returned to receive the thanks which he considered were his due—for although we are all agreed that virtue is its own reward, few of us are satisfied with that intangible recompense.  He was a frank-looking, bronzed, and brown-haired English youth, and she blushed as, with the candid impulse of his nature, he expressed his sorrow for her distress and his unfeigned delight that he had been in a position to render a service which had given her pleasure.

It was a short interview but it was a fatal p. 37one.  She had looked and loved.  He had looked and loved.  They met again.  And again.  And for the first time in her life she had a secret from the father whom she feared.

But ah! for her what unthought of bliss in these meetings.  How she listened as her lover, her hero, talked of the world of wealth and fashion—of the grand mansions of London, of the historic colleges of Oxford.  He sang to her songs of the world, and even taught her, who heretofore regarded as morally wrong anything in the way of a musical exercise not contained in the compilation of John and Charles Wesley, to warble such ditties.  Of these it gave him a dreamy pleasure to hear her sing to him a composition—which commenced or ended—for I forget which—with the words—

“We threw two leaflets you and I,
   To the river as it wandered on,
One was rent and left to die,
   The other floated onward all alone.”

An ominous quatrain.

Tom was the name of this sweet-voiced young lover.  And Tom was the son of an eminent judge, who has since exchanged the p. 38ermine for a crown of glory.  Tom was at that time a student of Magdalen College, Oxford.  And Jessie, as you know, was the daughter of a Methodist cobbler.  Yet they loved all the spring till he went away to the Continent and forgot all about that pleasant spooning.

* * * * *

On the following spring Judge —, his revered parent, went the Oxford Circuit.  One day after the Court had risen, he called at his son’s chambers in Magdalen College.  There was an affectionate greeting between father and son, and the latter, whom as we have seen, was a most impulsive and kind-hearted young fellow, saw that his father was not looking well.

“You look ill,” he said, in his sweet musical tones.  “The pestilential atmosphere of those infernal courts.”

“No.  I have been engaged in trying a very sad case.”

Tom smiled incredulously.

“The idea of a judge of your experience affected by anything that transpires in a Court of Justice.”

“And yet so it is.”

p. 39“The story must be an exceptionally terrible one.”

“No.  It is only exceptionally sad.  I will tell it to you briefly.  A young woman was charged with the murder of her infant.  The young woman was unmarried.  So far the story is unfortunately an ordinary one.  She refused to make any defence or divulge anything with regard to the parentage of the child.  A plea of not guilty was entered, and I assigned counsel to defend her.  But the facts were too strong.  The legal guilt of the unfortunate, and, I may say, very beautiful victim was clearly established by the witnesses for the Crown.  But one witness appeared for the defence, and he volunteered his evidence.  He was a tall, gaunt man, with a highly intelligent face.  He was dressed in broadcloth.  He entered the box, and said, in slow tones—the tones of a man suffering an unutterable agony—‘My lord, I wish to speak to the character of my daughter.’  He had no sooner spoken the words than the prisoner uttered a shriek, which, to my dying day, I shall remember.  She shrieked the word ‘Father,’ and fell to the floor of the dock.  p. 40There was great confusion in court for some minutes.  A medical man was sent for.  When he arrived he pronounced the prisoner dead.  The prosecuting counsel rose and announced the fact to the court.  The father still stood in the witness-box.  His face was ghastly pale, his hands clenched before him, his eyes were cast towards the roof of the building and looked bright, as though he could see through that obstacle to something above.  Amid a dead silence, in deep and infinitely pathetic tones he repeated the words, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’  I’m not ashamed to tell you that tears fell on my note-book from these old eyes of mine.”

“And the man’s name?” asked Tom, casually.

“William Bracebridge, of —.”

For one moment a deadly paleness spread over the face of the son.  But in an instant he regained his self-possession, and with his characteristic, frank, engaging manner, said,—

“Dear old dad, no wonder the scene upset you.  It is, indeed, a sad story.  Try a Laranaga, and let us talk of something else.”

p. 41V.

Grigsby is in Kent, and although, in respect of its hops and cherry-orchards, it is called upon to pay extraordinary tithes, its inhabitants seem comfortable and contented.  An occasional agitator happening upon Grigsby endeavours to arouse the farmers as to the iniquity of the landowners.  But these political missionaries receive but scant welcome, and packing up their carpet-bags depart by early trains.

Much of the neglect bestowed upon the disciples of those who consider that land should be let at prairie rates may be traced to the fact that for ten generations the Bodkins have been established in the vicinity.  And the present baronet, Sir Lionel de Stacy p. 42Bodkin, is as popular with his tenants and with the country-side generally, as anyone of his predecessors.  The Bodkins were good landlords and stuck by the farmers.  And the farmers, with a fine bucolic sentiment of reciprocity, stuck by the Bodkins.

One of the Bodkins always went into the Church, and was presented with the Grigsby living.  Here he ministered to the living Bodkins and delivered his sage platitudes to the unheeding ears of the Bodkin effigies that lay in the chancel

“—staring right on
With calm eternal eyes.”

Twenty-five years ago a curious break occurred in this apostolic succession of Bodkins.  Montagu being the baronet’s third son, and being, into the bargain, “the mildest-mannered man” of whom it is possible to form any adequate conception, had been destined for the Grigsby living, and for the emoluments therefrom accruing, including tithes ordinary and extraordinary.

Montagu had passed just a year at Christ Church, Oxford, when his uncle, who p. 43then had the living, died suddenly.  And although Montagu was not a man of very brilliant parts, he knew that by no process of selection or patronage understood even by the Church, could his ordination be so hurried as to permit of his stepping into the shoes of his deceased uncle, and he further felt that the inhabitants of Grigsby, being presumably possessed of immortal souls—the said souls standing in weekly need of saving—the living must be temporarily held by someone outside the pale of the family.

During the first weeks following the death of the Rev. Reginald de Stacy Bodkin, M.A., the subject was not broached in the family.  But when after a reasonable time grief had become ameliorated, and nothing so demonstrative as a paroxysm permissible, the son approached his father and observed, with his peculiar drawl,—

“The situation is decidedly awkward and complicated—don’t you know.”

“Not at all—not at all,” replied the parent, with decision.  “I’ll see that it’s all right.  Go back to Oxford.  By the time you’re ordained, Grigsby living will be ready for you.”

p. 44Montagu was still doubtful, and said hesitatingly,—

“Don’t you think that I’d better study for the Bar?”

Notwithstanding the general gloom, the baronet smiled as he answered,—

“My dear boy, when you are ordained I can present you with a living.  If you go to the Bar, I think it quite unlikely that you will be able to pick one up.  No.  Leave everything to me and go back to Oxford.”

So he left everything to his father and went back to Oxford.

* * * * *

Five-and-twenty miles from Grigsby is Limpus-on-the-Wold, which is, I believe, one of the very poorest parishes in all England.  It is not only poor, but it is wide-spread.  Its inhabitants are dense, and the work of its rector somewhat wearing.  At the time of this unvarnished tale the rector of Limpus was Dr. Shotter, one of the most learned and pious clergymen in the Church.  But care, ill-health, anxiety, and the death of his wife, had told on him.  Moreover, he was an old man.  He had completed his seventieth year, p. 45and now calmly waited an early call to the land of shadows, whither his wife had preceded him.

Worn to a mere skeleton, with a small hectic spot burning on his cheek and a hacking cough racking his frame, he sat at the open casement inhaling the heavy perfumes of a hot July afternoon.  He was tended by his daughter, a staid woman of forty, who placed her hand on his forehead when the fit of coughing came, and handed him his draught, or spoke words of hope and encouragement, when the old man gave it as his opinion that the end was very near.

Then was heard the rattle of a heavy vehicle on the road, and presently a drag and four steaming greys drew up before the door of the rectory.  A man of about fifty years of age descended from the box seat, entered the rectory garden, and in a few moments Dr. Shotter’s daughter was reading from a card the name of Sir Lionel de Stacy Bodkin, Bart.

The baronet was admitted, and by his fine, genial, hearty manner soon found his way into the good graces of the rector.

p. 46“Badly-drained unhealthy hole this,” he remarked with candour, alluding not to the house in particular but to Limpus generally.

The Doctor of Divinity nodded assent, and had a terrible fit of coughing.

“You must get out of it, my dear sir.  The place is killing you.  Limpus-on-the-Wold wants a young man with an iron constitution.  You are an old man, but with many years of useful work before you.”

Dr. Shotter shook his head and avowed that he had but little interest in the life that now is, and made touching reference to another and a better country, an allusion which caused his daughter to weep.

“Tut, tut,” said the baronet; “the beastly vapours of this place have depressed you.  Now, what would you think of Grigsby?”

“A paradise,” sighed the old pastor.

“Then, sir, enter that paradise.  It is mine to give.  Genius like yours, sir, should be taken care of in its old age.  My dear madam,” he continued, turning to the daughter, “add your solicitations to mine.  There is no hard work, there is the most charming air in Kent, and there is a stipend which will permit the p. 47purchase of those luxuries to which an invalid is entitled.”

“It is like a dream, sir; it seems too good to believe,” said the daughter.  Nevertheless, she argued with her father, and urged him till he was beaten down to a solitary argument, which was that he was too weak to be moved with safety.  The kindly-hearted baronet, however, speedily dispelled that difficulty.  When the time came he would arrange that the man of God should be removed by easy stages and in the most comfortable of vehicles.

And that is the manner in which the Rev. Dionysius Shotter, D.D., was appointed to the Grigsby living five-and-twenty years ago.

* * * * *

When Sir Lionel had praised the air of Grigsby he had not done it more than justice.  Compared with Limpus it was indeed a paradise, and, to the great delight of his daughter Rachel, Dr. Shotter lost his cough before he had been two months in the new place.  He began absolutely to put on flesh, found himself capable of walking a mile without inconvenience, and displayed a vigour in his pulpit discourses which would have roused p. 48feelings of envy, malice, hatred, and all un-charitableness in the breast of his curate—had that divine been capable of such worldly emotions.

If the prayers of a righteous man avail much, then should Sir Lionel Bodkin have been one of the most blessed of mortals; for the revivified minister prayed night and day for his benefactor, and called frequently at Bodkin Towers to return his personal thanks and to exhibit the beneficial results of the air of Grigsby on a constitution which he had regarded as shattered beyond hope of remedy.

“I don’t know how it is, Rachel,” he observed, after one of these visits, “but it seems to me that Sir Lionel does not seem to exhibit much joy and thankfulness at my marvellous recovery and daily access of strength.”

“Your fancy, pa dear,” replied his daughter.

“Perhaps so.  And yet, when I said to him to-day that, next to Divine Providence, I owed my thanks to Sir Lionel Bodkin, he replied, rather testily, I thought, ‘Thank Providence, my dear doctor, and not me.’”

p. 49“It is only his brusque manner, dear; under a rough exterior he hides the kindest heart.”

“It must be so.  It must be so,” slowly repeated the aged divine, in a tone which did not argue absolute conviction.

Meanwhile, Montagu, at Christ Church, was zealously preparing himself for the holy office to which he would soon be called.  And a year after the installation of the new rector he received a letter which, neither in its subject-matter nor in its tone, was one which a pious father should have despatched to a boy about to become a light of the Establishment.  The letter read:—

My Dear Monty,—My plans about the living have been all upset.  Before offering it to the present incumbent, I made the most thorough inquiries of his medical man, and found that he could not possibly live more than two or three years.  In fact, when I brought him down here he was little better than a corpse—and a corpse with a daughter as old-looking as your mother.  But thanks to the change, the light duties, and the damned p. 50air of Grigsby, the old doctor seems to have taken a new lease of life, and, upon my soul, I see no reason in the world why he shouldn’t live to be a hundred.  It is impossible for me to explain to the old idiot the reasons why I placed him in the position.  Besides, I don’t believe that even then he would resign.  I see no immediate chance of your having the living.  But, of course, he may die.  At all events, we must hope for the best.—Your affectionate father,

“L. de S. B.”

The above letter was written twenty-four years ago.  The Rev. Montagu Bodkin is curate in a fashionable church in London.  He has grey hairs on his head now.  He is married to a sister of Lady Ashminton, and is greatly blessed with progeny.  The living which lies in the gift of the Bodkin family, is still held by the Rev. Dionysius Shotter, D.D., a hale old man of ninety-five, who is never tired of singing the praises of his lately deceased patron, or of extolling the qualities of the air of Grigsby.

p. 51VI.

You refuse absolutely to give up the papers.  You decline to comply with the order of the Court.  Then, sir, I shall commit you for contempt.  In prison you will have leisure in which to reflect on the enormity of your conduct.”

“But, my lord—”

“Not another word, sir.  Your duty is to respect the Court, not to argue with it.  Officer, remove your prisoner!”

And William Sadd was hurried away, placed in a fly, driven off to Marston Castle, and handed over to the safe custody of the governor of that establishment.  The gates of Marston Castle never closed on a prisoner more innocent of offence.

William Sadd was an inventor.  His name p. 52will be chiefly known to the public in connection with a patent corkscrew, but he had devised many other useful implements from which he derived a comfortable income; for Sadd was a Scotchman, and had carefully protected his rights against all persons piratically inclined.  He was born near Glasgow, where he remained for some five-and-twenty years.  Then, like many of his countrymen, he came to England, and settled in the town of —, a manufacturing community in the North.

He was a sanguine, good-tempered little man, and had married a sanguine and good-tempered little wife, who bore him three sanguine and good-tempered little boys.  He had at one time possessed a chum—another Scotch inventor.  This man of genius—McAllister by name—had died, leaving certain papers to his friend as he lay on his death-bed.  These documents, chiefly relating to uncompleted inventions, he confided to his friend with a last injunction that he should under no circumstances surrender them, but complete and patent them for the benefit of mankind and of his own pocket.  Sadd gave the p. 53promise readily enough, feeling that nothing was more unlikely than that the papers would be inquired after.  Much to his surprise, however, McAllister’s executors, having by some means heard of the existence of the documents, applied for them as essential evidence in a case then in hand.  Sadd replied that they were not essential nor even relevant.  His assertion, however, availed him nothing.  Finally, the judge made an order for their production.  Sadd calmly, but determinedly, refused to comply with the mandate, and was thereupon ordered to be confined in Marston Castle.

Although William Sadd felt acutely that it was an inconvenient thing to be separated from his family even for one night, he was sustained by the thought that he had done his duty, that he was the victim of a misconception on the part of the learned judge, and that his solicitor would, no doubt, set things right in the morning.  When, about an hour after his introduction to the debtors and first-class misdemeanants occupying a common room in the Castle, his solicitor visited him, he became quite indignant with that luminary for suggesting p. 54that he should give up the papers.  He urged the man of law to have His Lordship informed by the mouth of eminent counsel that the documents had no earthly bearing on the case.

“The whole thing’s jest re-deeckless,” said the prisoner, absolutely smiling at the absurdity of the judge’s order.

His solicitor only shook his head and went away.

Among the other prisoners William Sadd became instantly popular.  He had the latest news from the outer world, and as he was going to rejoin it on the morrow, he essayed to execute all kinds of commissions for this brotherhood of misfortune.  His cheery conversation had aroused the drooping spirits of those around him, when suddenly one and all became depressed again.  William, following the eyes of the other victims, glanced towards the door, and, seeing a clergyman enter, instinctively rose to his feet.  His example was not followed by any of the others, who turned sulkily away from beholding the ecclesiastic.

The new arrival was the Rev. Joseph Thorns, p. 55Chaplain of Marston Castle, and was familiarly alluded to by his congregation as “Holy Jo.”  He was a man of small stature, and was afflicted with a deformity between the shoulders, the knowledge of which had permanently soured a temper not originally angelic.  He strode up to the latest arrival, who bowed respectfully, and pulling out a note-book, asked brusquely,—

“Your name?”

The prisoner told him: but with the air of a man who regarded the formality of taking it down in a book as an operation quite superfluous, he being merely a lodger for the night.

“For what have you been committed?”

“Well, ye ken,” replied Mr. Sadd, “it’s jest a bit mistake.  I’ve been neglacted by my soleecitor.”

“I see,” said the Chaplain.  “Contempt of Court,” and he wrote that down opposite the inventor’s name.  “What religion?”

“A’m a member of the Auld Kirk,” replied the contemptuous prisoner.

“I should have thought that even in the Auld Kirk,” said the clergyman, “they would have taught you to obey the law.  Here is p. 56a book for you,” and he handed him a copy of the hymn-book used in the chapel, turned sharply round, and left the long, bare apartment, now looking longer and more bare than ever in the eyes of the latest inmate.  Sadd soon, however, recovered his accustomed spirits, and eventually became sufficiently composed to look through the hymnal.  As he by no means relished the chaplain’s sneer at the Church of his fathers, he observed somewhat maliciously to his companions, holding up the book of sacred songs,—

“Comparrit wi’ the Psawlms of David, they’re a wheen blithers,” an observation which was heartily applauded by the other misdemeanants as indirectly reflecting on the parson.

The next day Mrs. Sadd appeared upon the scene, conveying a basket of delicacies not included in the prison fare, and conveying also the information that it would take some days before the judge was in a temper to be addressed on the subject of Sadd’s contempt.  When three days had passed, and the judge was tackled by an eminent Queen’s Counsel, he absolutely refused to reconsider his sentence.

“Let the prisoner surrender the documents, p. 57and then the Court will consider whether or not he has purged the contempt.”

Thus my lord on the Bench.

But Sadd was firm, and through his solicitor petitioned the Home Secretary.  The Home Secretary, having taken three weeks to consider the matter, refused to interfere with the order of the judge.

Then the spirits of the sanguine inventor fell suddenly to zero.  Nor were they manifestly revived by the daily visits of his wife, for she, poor woman, with tears in her eyes, begged and prayed her recalcitrant husband to give up the documents.  But even his love for her did not induce him to forget his duty to the dead.

Sadd was committed to Marston Castle in the early part of November.  And before a month had passed over his head he had become the most melancholy and morose of those resorting to the common room.  The others had some hope of release.  It seemed that he must remain there for ever, unless he relinquished the sacred papers.  His cheeks became sunken, his shoulders bent, and his hair prematurely grey.  He p. 58sat apart from his fellows and mumbled continually to himself.

It was during the first week in December that the others thought he had gone mad.  His “little woman,” as he fondly called her, did not pay her customary visits.  His solicitor looked in and informed him that Mrs. Sadd was dangerously ill in bed, and urgently pleaded this as an additional reason for complying with the order of the Court.  Duty to the dead, love for the living—these conflicting emotions tore his heart.  In an agony of spirit he motioned his solicitor to withdraw.  Then he burst out crying like a child, and never again opened his lips to mortal man.

On Christmas Day there was service in the jail chapel.  Mr. Thorns preached an excellent sermon from the text—“The law is good if a man use it lawfully.”  This exemplary cleric dwelt with great severity on the evil that is in the world, and particularly on the evil which brought men into jails.  He then proceeded to inform his attentive congregation of a fact which one would have thought was painfully obvious to them—that punishment did not fall only on the wrong p. 59doer, but also upon those who were near and dear to him.  “Picture to yourselves,” went on the minister of the Gospel, “picture your wives on this holy anniversary, seated in silence and sadness, surrounded by their weeping children.  Think of their untold agony as these innocent children—inheritors of a parent’s brand—put the tormenting question, ‘Where’s father?’  Picture—”

It all happened in a moment; a prisoner had burst from the benches occupied by the first-class misdemeanants; had scaled the pulpit like a wild cat; had caught the chaplain by the throat; had suddenly released his grasp; and, with a groan which those who heard it will never forget, had fallen back on to the stone pavement in front of the pulpit—dead.

When the body was searched the precious documents were found stitched beneath his waistcoat.  They disclosed an unfinished scheme of the late Mr. McAllister’s for so dealing with horsehair as to render the wigs of judges not only awful to the multitude, but comfortable to the wearer.

p. 60VII.

For five and twenty years, and on every day during term time, Reginald Grey took his place on the seats devoted to the Junior Bar in one of the Courts allotted to Vice-Chancellors.  He did not live to attend before Vice-Chancellors in the spick-and-span mausoleum, that goes by the name of the Royal Courts of Justice.  When he was at the Bar, the Vice-Chancellors sat in dingy buildings in Lincoln’s Inn Fields—the same, indeed, which have been so fully described in Bleak House.

To the reporters, barristers, general public, and to successive Vice-Chancellors, Reginald was as well known as “the Fields” themselves.  He was a modest, self-contained man, and he never held a brief.  But he must have known a wonderful deal of law, for he never p. 61missed a case, and he listened to every argument and suggestion as though Coke in propriâ personâ were lecturing him upon Littleton.  Even when lunch time came Reginald did not hurry out of Court with the chattering, surging crowd of litigants and lawyers’ clerks.  He sat quietly in the position which he had taken up, and when the Court was quite empty, drew a penny bun from his pocket, which he devoured, gazing absently up at the roof of the Court.  When the Court resumed its duties, he brushed the crumbs from his trousers, and when the Vice-Chancellor entered, he rose with the rest of the Bar and bowed to his lordship with every dignity.

Wigs, gowns, and bands are, as articles of attire, subject to the very same law of decay which affects a great-coat or a suit of sables, and the years had not spared the robes which denoted Mr. Grey’s professional status.  His wig was discoloured by dust, smoke, and other accidents.  Whole wisps of horsehair stuck out here and there, and one of the little tails which depend behind had fallen bodily away—had perhaps been eaten away by rats.  His bands were most disreputable specimens of p. 62man-millinery; for indeed he was his own laundress, and washed those symbolic rags in his own basin, drying them before his fire in his chambers in Gray’s Inn.  His stuff gown was a frayed and ragged garment; no ragman would have advanced sixpence on it.  For five and twenty years had it—but there! it is about the man himself I would speak.  There is something to my mind so pathetic in the sight of these forensic shreds and patches, that I cannot bear to dwell on their dilapidation.

There was only one man in Court who took the slightest notice of Mr. Grey: and he was a tall, florid, bustling, and—as he once had a case of mine, I take the liberty of adding—impudent gentleman, with an impressively loud and boisterous manner.  When he saw Grey even in his scarecrow days he would sometimes throw him a hearty “How d’ye do, Grey?”—but sometimes, I imagine, he pretended not to see him.  This counsel learned in the law was none other than Mr. Stanley Overton.  Grey took a great interest in him, following him from court to court, and listening to him with rapt attention as he p. 63bullied his opponents and even the Court; for a more vulgar, bullying, swaggering man than Overton while he was at the Bar I never encountered.  He toned down greatly after his elevation.

As Grey grew from month to month more worn and shabby, so did Overton become more sleek and resplendent.  When once a man commences in earnest there is no stopping him.  The proverb which tells us about the facility of the descent to Avernus is only half a truth.  The ascent to the stars is equally easy, and is achieved every day both by the brave man and the bully.  It is as easy as the descent, and is a very great deal more comfortable.

Some people were surprised when Overton was made a Vice-Chancellor.  In fact, the surprise was very general.  But it was not shared by Grey.  That devoted man thought it the most natural thing in the world.  He would not again have to follow this luminary in its erratic circuit from court to court.  His idol was now enthroned.  The worship would in future be offered in one temple, and not in two or three.

p. 64On the morning when Overton took his seat as Vice-Chancellor, Mr. Grey took his place in the back benches.  And when the newly-made judge entered, flushed with victory and imposing in brand-new wig and robes, the whole Bar rose with great rustling of stuff and silk.  Grey rose too; and a solicitor’s clerk who sat next him saw his face turn ashen white, while two great tears rolled down his emaciated cheeks; and when he sat down he leaned his head on the ledge in front of him, covered his eyes with his poor thin hand and sighed.

At four o’clock that evening, when the Court rose to go, Grey remained in that position till everyone had left.  An usher found him, and touched him on the elbow.  He started, looked about him on the emptiness in a dazed sort of way, and, without saying a word, walked quietly off, the usher observing to his plump assistant that Mr. Reginald Grey was “a rum old file.”

Mr. Grey’s chambers were very, very high up in one of the gaunt sets in Gray’s Inn.  Indeed, they were at the top of the building—mere garrets.  When he arrived at them he p. 65found his laundress arranging the tea things—he seldom dined—and there was a decided odour of the savoury kipper about the apartment.

“Ah!  Mrs. Tracy,” he said, assuming a thin affectation of gaiety, “this has been a great day for the Inn—a great day.”

“Indeed, sir,” assented that slipshod female.

“Yes, they’ve made a Vice-Chancellor of my old friend, Stanley Overton.”

“Oh, indeed, sir.  Which I’m sure, I’m ’appy to ’ear it, an’ ’appy to ’ear as he’s a friend of yours, Mr. Grey.”

“A very old friend indeed, Mrs. Tracy.  Why, we were boys together.  We were at school together.  We were at college together.  And we were both called to the Bar the same day.”

“Law!” exclaimed Mrs. Tracy.

Indeed, what could she say?  Mr. Grey had always been a remarkably reserved, reticent man—a “little queer,” the good lady thought—and, beyond what was necessary in the way of speech, quite silent and inscrutable.

“Yes, indeed, ma’am,” went on the poor p. 66barrister, “and I’ll tell you something that will surprise you even more.  We were both in love with the same lady.”

This indeed did surprise the draggle-tailed bed-maker, and she looked her astonishment.

“It’s quite true; and the strange thing is that she preferred me, or at least she told me so.  And when I left my home in Devonshire I was engaged to her.”

Mrs. Tracy did not now think that the gentleman was a “little queer”—she was convinced that he was stark staring mad.  She looked apprehensively at the poor thin knife that lay on the table.  Reticent!  Why, the man was as garrulous and confidential as a village gossip.

He continued:

“You see, Overton was always a more pushing man, and a cleverer man too; and after we were called he borrowed a hundred pounds from me and went down to Devonshire.  Some wicked stories got circulated about my doings in London, in consequence of which my sweetheart ceased to care for me, and Overton, who was always a plucky fellow, ran away with her and married her.”

p. 67His voice trembled as he narrated that episode; but he returned to the affectation of gaiety, and said,—

“Yes, Mrs. Tracy, and she’s now Lady Overton; and of course I’m very glad of it, for her sake.”

“Of course, sir,” acquiesces Mrs. Tracy.

“And the funny thing is,” he added, with the most pitiable attempt at hilarity, “he never paid me back that hundred pounds—ha, ha, ha!”

It was a mockery of laughter, the cachinnation of a ghost.

“And to-night, Mrs. Tracy,” he said, “I am going home.”

“To Devonshire, sir?”

“I said home,” he answered; “but you will come as usual in the morning, and see that all is right.  You can go, Mrs. Tracy.  Good-bye.”

And to the utter astonishment of the poor woman, he shook hands with her, and, I fear, retained her hand for a moment, and there was the suspicion of moisture in his eyes.

The next morning, when Mrs. Tracy came to see that all was right, she found Mr. p. 68Reginald Grey stretched lifeless on the hearthrug.  A revolver lay beside him, and there was a bullet through his forehead.  In his left hand was an open locket, containing a little wisp of straw-coloured hair.

p. 69VIII.

Leave my house!” shouted the Rev. Stanley Blewton to his son.  Two women—they were the Prodigal’s mother and sister—wept and pleaded.  But the man of God was inexorable.

“Silence!” he exclaimed.  “And”—turning to his son—“never cross this threshold again.”

“Father!” cried the boy.

“Thief!” retorted the reverend gentleman.

The face of his progeny burnt red, his eyes flashed, and he clenched his fists.  The women meanwhile redoubled their sobs.

“But, hold,” added Mr. Blewton, as his son turned to go.  “You shall be treated beyond your deserts.  Here are ten pounds.  Use them discreetly.  They are the last you will ever have from me.”

p. 70“Keep your money, sir,” answered Master Henry Blewton—he was but seventeen years of age, and inherited the hot temper of his parent., “Mother, good-bye.  Maude, God bless you.  I am innocent.”

He kissed his mother and sister.  The flush of resentment had died from his face.  He turned to his father, and extending his hand, said,—

“Wish me good-bye, sir.  Time will set me right.”

But an ominous sneer played about the thin lips of the clergyman.  He pointed to the door, and his last words to his son were,—

“I will have no parley with one who has brought dishonour on my name.  Go!”

Henry Blewton cast one longing look at his mother and sister, and then walked straight into the hall, took his hat off the peg, and, as the door closed on him, Mrs. Blewton screamed in her agony, and fell into a faint that looked like death.

The Rev. Stanley Blewton was a man with a sense of honour pushed to its extremest point.  He had no forgiveness for the sinner who brought discredit on an honest name.  Like p. 71all good Christians, he was bound, I presume, to accept the story of the thief on the cross.  But as long as there remained another text in the Bible he would never select that particular scripture as the text of a discourse.  His only son had through his influence obtained a good appointment in a clerical insurance office, in which the reverend gentleman was a shareholder.  He had been accused by his superiors of peculation.  His father’s position, backing his remonstrances, kept the case from coming into the police court.  The matter was “squared,” as the slang term has it.  A public scandal was averted.  But certain persons at least would know the secret.  The Blewton name was smirched.  This his reverence would never forgive.

Henry walked with a rapid pace down Brixton Hill, for on that reputable eminence his father’s house was situated; passed through Kennington, along the Westminster Bridge Road, crossed the bridge, passed under the shadow of the clock tower, and went up to a recruiting sergeant who stood at the corner of Parliament Street.

During that walk the circumstances of Henry p. 72Blewton underwent many important changes.  To begin with, he had changed his name, his age, and his occupation.  He enlisted, passed the doctor with credit, and blossomed eventually into Private Nott of a valiant regiment of the line.

From that moment all trace of Henry Blewton became lost to his friends and relatives, and for years they mourned for him as people mourn for the dead.  His concluding prophecy, delivered with such meaning to his father, came true.  Time set him right.  He had not been a year in the army before the real delinquent was discovered; and, as the genuine sinner had no influential acquaintances on the directorate of the company, his case was remitted to the Old Bailey for the consideration of a judge and jury.  He was found guilty, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.  Thus was the character of Henry Blewton vindicated.

Useless, alas! now were the regrets and repentances of his reverend father.  Vain were the efforts of the private detectives whom he engaged.  The advertisements that he caused to be inserted in the papers brought no p. 73response, and, after five years of fruitless labour and unavailing self-reproach, his family came to the conclusion that he was dead.  He had perished from hunger, perhaps, or had hurried himself into the presence of his Maker, goaded to distraction by the paternal taunts.  The reflection that his innocence had been established ameliorated to some little extent the pangs of mother and sister.  But the very thought which gave them consolation added to the poignancy of the father’s feelings.  He mourned in secret, and cried with the man of yore,—

“Would to God I had died for him!  My son, my son!”

At the very point where Brixton Rise merges into Brixton Hill there is an avenue.  It is a very well-kept avenue, and a stately row of young trees runs along each side of it.  A notice-board informs the passers-by that there is “No Thoroughfare,” and that this trimly-kept approach is “Private.”  On some fine days honest people are beguiled by the spectacle of half-a-dozen men with cropped hair and unbecoming uniform repairing the roadway.  These operators are directed by p. 74another person.  He is also in uniform, and carries side arms and a musket—for the avenue leads to Brixton Gaol, and the sullen road-menders are inmates of that suburban retreat.  It is perhaps within the knowledge of the reader that military prisoners are now received in the Brixton seminary; if not, the reader must take it from me that it is so.

One wild November morning the gates of Brixton Gaol opened and let loose a prisoner who had been confined for an assault on his superior officer, that gallant captain having contributed somewhat to the offence by dubbing the man a thief.  He was a fine, soldierly-looking young fellow of two-and-twenty, though he looked much more.  When he came to the end of the avenue he found the chaplain waiting there, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather.

“Good-morning,” said the chaplain—a kind-hearted Devonshire parson, who took more than the usual perfunctory interest in his patients, as he was wont to call them.

“Good-morning, sir,” replied the soldier, respectfully, and with an accent of surprise.

“You have no money, I suppose?”

p. 75“Not a sou, your reverence,” replied the man.

“Then,” said the chaplain, “here are two shillings.  They will at least keep you for a day or two.  Seek work and keep honest.  God bless you.”

“Heaven reward you!” replied the man, writhing under the kindness of the clergyman.  The visitant to the outer world did not move, however.  He looked up and down the hill, as if hesitating in what direction he should go.

“That,” said the parson, pointing down the hill, “that is the way to London”—saying which he turned up the avenue, and so re-entered the precincts of the gaol.  But the man did not take the direction indicated by his benefactor.  There was something in the atmosphere of Brixton which seemed to agree with him.  He found its attractions more considerable than do most visitors to the noted locality.  He wandered in an aimless way up and down by-streets.  But the police—always solicitous about the welfare of discharged prisoners—kept their eyes on him.  He had an uncomfortable feeling that he was being watched.  And he repeated with something of bitter irony p. 76in his tone the parting admonition of the chaplain.

“‘Seek work and keep honest!’  No easy matter, Mr. Parson, with these sleuth-hounds on the trail.”

Towards evening he entered a small beer-house in the Cornwall Road, a thoroughfare not far removed from the gaol.  Here he refreshed himself with bread and cheese and beer.  Here also he found company who did not object to his society, for it is a comforting reflection that there are more wicked people outside gaols than in them.  And among these excellent fellows he spent the time, until at the hour of twelve the landlord was obliged to turn his customers into the bleak and blustrous night.

The man bade good-bye to his companions, and sought the high road.  He proceeded up the hill with his back turned on London.  When he came to the substantial house of the Rev. Stanley Blewton he stopped, looked up and down the road to see that he was not followed, and then passed into the clergyman’s front garden, creeping forward under the shadow of the bushes.

p. 77At one o’clock in the morning the reverend occupant of the house was wakened by a noise below; he listened, warned his wife to keep quiet, drew on his trousers, took his revolver, and crept downstairs in his naked feet.  Yes, the thief had entered the library.  Mr. Blewton was, as we have seen, a person of some determination.  He opened the library door and said,—

“Speak, or I’ll fire.”

“It is—”  But the voice was not allowed to proceed.  The sound indicated the position of the robber.  The minister fired two barrels in the direction of the voice, and heard a body fall with a groan of—


Then there was silence.  Then another groan, and the fall of another man.  When the servants came with a light they found the dead body of the father stretched by the dead body of the son.

p. 78IX.

An elderly man with a pleasant expression, iron-grey hair, and faultlessly dressed may occasionally be seen walking along the shady side of St. James’s Street in the early afternoon.  He gazes a good deal under the bonnets of the pretty women.  But there is a demure and half-respectful expression in his glance which withers any rising feeling of resentment.  His age and his unmistakably sympathetic half-smile give him an immunity which would not be extended to younger and bolder men.  He is known to society as the Hon. Archibald Flodden.

Flodden is a member of three excellent clubs.  His name is on some extremely desirable p. 79visiting lists.  He goes to church when in town every Sunday morning.  His conduct in public is most exemplary.  And yet, somehow, Flodden has no men friends.  He has money, and therefore can always command the society of a select circle of parasites.  But men who ought to be in his own set—or of whose set he ought to be—do not care for his company.  Nor do the female leaders of society give him great countenance.  He is not, perhaps, regarded exactly as a mauvais sujet.  But it is generally admitted that there is something queer about Flodden.

This sentiment was not, of course, inspired originally by the fact that after two years of domestic infelicity his wife left him, taking her infant daughter with her.  Society naturally took the man’s part.  The wife placed herself outside the pale, and Flodden never asked her to re-enter it.  He took the matter philosophically, gave up his house in Sloane Square, took chambers in the Albany, refused all communication with his wife, and led the life of a sedate and philanthropic bachelor.  For eighteen years he has led this blameless and almost idyllic life, and yet there exists in p. 80society an undefined distrust of him which is utterly unaccountable.

But though the great ladies of society, guided by an infallible instinct, do not regard the Hon. Archie Flodden with favour, there are certain other desirable persons who worship him as the very beau ideal knight.  These are ladies of the middle-class, the wives of professional men, or the gushing ornaments of suburban Bohemia.  Their experience of gentlemen is, perhaps, limited.  They may be excused, therefore, in mistaking Flodden’s tinsel of politeness for the gold of real gallantry.

It is quite surprising the number of interesting young persons of the emotional and impressionable kind who have acquired a sincere, romantic, but quite Platonic, regard for Mr. Flodden.  Happy chance has in the majority of instances procured the introduction; and, as a rule, the male relatives of the ladies are quite unaware of the discreet intimacy existing between Flodden and their women-folk.  Indeed, these male relatives are all mere brutes, and it is part of Flodden’s edifying mission to sympathise with these dear p. 81creatures, to express distress that their sweetness should be wasted on such clods of earth, and generally to insinuate comparisons between himself and the lawful husband, which are infinitely detrimental to the latter.

This hoary-headed squire of dames has the pleasantest possible little five o’clock teas at his chambers in the Albany, and sometimes as many as eight, or even nine, of his young friends will join him at that simple repast.  Lord Roach (“Cock” Roach he used to be called in his regiment), who lives in the next set, seeing the ladies file out at half-past six or so, has put it about that Flodden keeps a dancing academy.  But, though there is occasionally a little piano playing, there has never been a dance; indeed, the entertainment is chiefly conversational.  Mr. Flodden never used a rude or an improper expression.  He has, however, a wonderful knack of leading the conversation into doubtful topics.  The chaste annals of the Divorce Court afforded him much agreeable food for comment.  He would argue with some of his impressionable admirers as to the possibility of a purely Platonic affection, and at times he p. 82would scribble off an epigram in choice French on some living beauty, notorious for the number of her amours.  These trifles, written in a formal but trembling hand, have found themselves in the private albums of many an honest house in the suburbs.  The ladies who were the objects of his disinterested regard invariably alluded to him as “a dear, kind creature,” the “most gentlemanly person,” “so sympathetic,” and the rest.  The more gushing, recklessly declared him to be a “duck.”  Dean Swift, remembering his own definition of the phrase, would have called him “a nice man.”

One hot afternoon in the July of last year, Mr. Flodden sat in his luxurious chambers surrounded by half-a-dozen of his female admirers, descanting on the superiority of French art as illustrated by the examples which adorned his walls.  Having exhausted this topic, he proceeded to one more calculated to stimulate the curiosity of his guests.

“I have got a little surprise for you, my dear ladies: a fresh addition to our charmed, and may I say charming, circle.”

Six fragile cups descended from twelve ruby p. 83lips, and twelve eyes opened wide with curiosity.

“Such a charming creature—so young, so beautiful, so romantic, and so unfortunate.”  Six long-drawn sighs.

“Husband a cruel brute; absolutely beats her.”

Twelve eyes cast in mute appeal to the heaven that exists above Albany ceilings.  Then the still, small voice of a sympathetic inquirer—

“And where did you meet this—this—paragon?”

“A secret, my dear madam, an absolute and positive secret.  She was on her way to give lessons—she sings divinely—in order to maintain her keeper in tobacco and beer.  Faugh!”

Six more long-drawn sighs.

“If she keep her appointment she will be here directly.  She is a shy, reserved little creature, but should, I think, in such genial society thaw somewhat.  Yes, she really must thaw.”

In five minutes Flodden’s man—a highly-respectable person, well versed in his master’s p. 84little ways—announced Mrs. Bird.  This was the lady who had so greatly fascinated the philanthropist, thereby driving six sympathetic souls into paroxysms of jealousy.

It must be admitted that anything less reserved or shy than Mrs. Bird had never before been presented to six neglected matrons.  Mrs. Bird was stylishly dressed, greatly made up, and exhibited the undefinable cachet of the professional.  She called Mr. Flodden “old chappie,” shook hands, unintroduced, with the assembled tea-drinkers, hoped they were quite jolly, and then asked the master of the establishment for a brandy and soda.  That worthy man of the world had turned red and white and even blue.  He was completely thunder-struck.  It was evident he must stop the compromising flow of her conversation.  The modest woman of his rambles had suddenly become transformed into a something too terrible for contemplation.  A brilliant idea.  He would ask her to sing.  Mrs. Bird was a woman of a most obliging disposition.  She sat down at the piano and dashed off a showy prelude and commenced her song.  You remember the effect of p. 85Captain Shandon’s tipsy ditty upon the good Colonel Newcome; an effect somewhat similar was now produced on the neglected wives.  Mrs. Bird warbled out with unctuous accent one of the most notorious ballads of a Parisian café chantant.  The matrons rose for shawls, and the songstress, apprehending their intention, jumped from the piano and burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.  Flodden looked humiliated beyond measure; there was not a pennyweight of philanthropy left in him.

“This is awful!” he exclaimed; “in heaven’s name who and what are you?”

“I am your daughter Gwendolyn,” she hissed.

At that moment voices were heard from without—Flodden’s man shouting, “You sha’n’t go in,” and another voice consigning Flodden’s man to Hades.  Then the door was thrust open, and a cad in loud check trousers, a green-coloured Newmarket coat, a white hat and innumerable rings, stood bowing to the assembled company.  He eventually fixed a somewhat bloodshot eye on the philanthropist and said,—

“Now, then, my festive fossil, when next p. 86you go a followin’ other men’s wives, you see as they ain’t your own daughters!  I’m the Great O’Daniel, the star comique.  Gwen’s my wife, an’ you’re my pa-in-lor.  Here’s a horder; give us a turn and bring your lady friends with you.  My new song, ‘The Elderly Masher,’ is no end of a go.  Come along, Gwen.  Good-bye, par.  Ladies, bong joor!”

So saying he tucked Gwendolyn under his arm, bowed, and left the apartment.  The other guests retired in solemn silence, wiser, and, let us hope better, women.

And that was Mr. Flodden’s last five o’clock tea at the Albany.

p. 87X.

The bill itself, considering the prospects of the acceptor, was not for a very alarming amount.  He was heir to a baronetcy and £50,000 per annum.  The bill was for “a monkey”—or, in more intelligible phraseology than that usually adopted by the acceptor himself, for the sum of five hundred pounds sterling.  The extraordinary circumstance about the bill was that the acceptor, Harry Jermyn, paid Abednego, of Throgmorton Street, interest at the rate of sixty per cent. per annum for the accommodation, and that in addition he had to take part of the proceeds in the shape of a park hack, which he found difficulty in selling to a cab proprietor for a five-pound note.  The consideration deducted from the bill in respect of this animal was fifty pounds.

p. 88Harry Jermyn was a mauvais sujet; that is to say, he was a young gentleman kept by his father on a short allowance.  He gambled a little, went to all the races, was a member of the Raleigh and other social centres of a similar kind, and evinced a considerable interest in the drama—that is to say, at theatres where the sacred lamp was kept burning.  In fact, he resembled hundreds of other young men of our acquaintance; and probably he would not have been called a mauvais sujet were it not that the old baronet restricted him to means inadequate to supply his simple desires.

Mr. Abednego was not a mauvais sujet.  He was a most respectable man; had a house in Mayfair, another in Richmond, and a mansion in Scotland which he modestly called his shooting box.  He occasionally entertained live lords, who borrowed his money and sneered at him behind his back.  He had contrived to obtain a seat on a county bench, and was a Colonel of Volunteers in the same happy county, by reason of which he was known to society at large as Colonel Abednego.

When Harry Jermyn’s bill fell due he p. 89rushed down in a hansom to Abednego’s office in Throgmorton Street, and was—after an ominous delay—admitted to the sanctum of the great Abednego himself.  That potentate did not rise, but nodded quickly to his visitor, with a short, and by no means encouraging, “Mornin’.”

Harry was a man with a fine flow of animal spirits, and was not to be dashed by the studied coolness of his reception.

“I say, old chappie,” he replied, with the greatest good humour, “what’s the matter?  Feel a little chippy this morning? or lost a point or two at sixpenny whist last night—eh?”

“Mr. Jermyn, this is the City,” said the money-lender.  “What is your business?”

“Well, the fact is, old boy,” answered Jermyn, sitting on the edge of the table opposite the financier, “that damn bill of mine falls due to-morrow.”


“And of course you’ll renew?”

“Of course I’ll do nothing of the kind,” answered Abednego, rising and taking out his watch.

p. 90Harry’s jaw fell considerably.  His former experience of this exemplary man had not prepared him for this.  It had only prepared him for the incurring of fresh interest and the possession of park hacks anything but fresh.

“But look here, old man, I must have the coin, don’t you know?”

Young Jermyn considered this sort of argument unanswerable.  His host resumed his seat, and looking the young man in the face, said,—

“Well, I found her expensive myself.  I’m not surprised that you do.”

Harry jumped from his seat on the table, and exclaimed, “What in Hades do you mean?”

“I mean Baby Somerville of the Frivolity.”

“You scoundrel!” shouted the borrower, “she is my wife.  I have married her.”

“You lie,” quietly answered Mr. Abednego.

Of course a blow followed.  When Abednego had pulled himself together, and wiped the blood from his face, he said, in tones now quivering with rage,—

“You young scoundrel, you shall suffer for this!”

p. 91That was the end of the interview.  Jermyn withdrew at once, wrathful and defeated, and next day the bill for “a monkey” was dishonoured.

Now, strange as it may appear, Harry Jermyn had really married Baby Somerville of the Frivolity, a shapely, vain, and heartless woman, incapable of an affection, except perhaps for some brute of a chorus man.  There was a period in her career, however, when she was considered chic by a certain number of men about town.  Jermyn unfortunately allowed his passion to take an honourable direction.  He wanted to have her all to himself; and she, knowing him to be heir to a baronetcy, without any conventional coyness consented to be his wife.  But at the time of his marriage, and until he heard it on the day before his bill was dishonoured, he had no suspicion that Abednego had been among the admirers of his wife; and when he taxed her with it, she denied the fact with such accent of sincerity that he clasped her to his heart and called her by a hundred endearing names.  He was, you see, an indubitable mauvais sujet.

p. 92Mr. and Mrs. Jermyn were spending the early days of their married life on the upper Thames, where, to her credit be it said, the lady affected a pretty interest in waving corn, and floating lily leaves, and shrilling larks, and other beauties which, I am told, abound in the neighbourhood of that incomparable stream; and, on the Sunday following the unpleasant interview with the magnate of Throgmorton Street, Mr. Jermyn was sculling his young bride in the skiff which he had purchased for her, and called after her name.

It was a glorious July day, and the river was crowded with craft of every description.

The lock at — was open and half full when they reached it.  Jermyn took his skiff gently in, and held on to the side of a launch, the deck of which was crowded with laughing women and men in gorgeous array.  In the cabin a lunch was laid, and cases of champagne reposed pleasantly in the stern.  Jermyn cursed his indiscretion a moment after, when he discovered that a number of the sirens on deck were members of the Frivolity chorus.  But the worst was to come.  Abednego, flashing p. 93with diamonds, exquisitely raddled as to his cheeks, stood at the tiller, and addressing Mrs. Jermyn, said, with an air of easy familiarity,—

“Hallo, Baby, how are you gettin’ on, eh?”

That was bad enough, but when Harry turned sharply round on his wife, he saw her big eyes turned longingly on the resplendent Hebrew, and her smile cast boldly on his painted countenance.  At that moment the devil entered into Jermyn’s soul as surely as ever it took possession of the Gadarene swine.  His lips turned blue, his face was livid; but he made no other sign.  His was the last boat to leave the lock.  He rowed steadily on, and never spoke to the woman he had loved so well and so unwisely.

Mr. Abednego had enjoyed a real good time on board the launch, and on his way down stopped at the famous riparian village of —.  Here also Jermyn landed some time after.  He sent his wife home by train, and put up at the same hotel as that occupied by his opulent rival.

No one ever knew how it happened.  Close p. 94to the village there is a lock, and by the lock is what is called a hook—a horseshoe of water running round from a point above it, and, after making a vast circuit, emerging at a point below.  For the most part this hook is shallow, but in places it is deep as the wells described by Herodotus.  At six o’clock on the following morning, Abednego, who was fond of the water, repaired to a remote part of the hook.  Five minutes after Harry Jermyn also proceeded to the bathing place.  He must, however, have selected a spot out of sight of the “Colonel,” for that gentleman was unfortunately drowned without Jermyn’s even having seen him.  A certain mark was discovered round Abednego’s throat, but the coroner very sagely informed the jury that with that they had nothing to do—it might be a mark of long-standing.  Mr. Jermyn volunteered evidence as to having seen nobody in the vicinity of the hook.  Verdict in accordance with such evidence as was produced—“Accidental death.”

Six months afterwards the famous case of Jermyn v. Jermyn, Smith, Jones, and Another was heard, which, as the public will recollect, p. 95resulted in a verdict for the husband, who is now a prematurely aged and curiously reticent man—the inheritor of a baronetcy and fifty thousand pounds a year.

p. 96XI.

Felix Carter was always on the look out for unappreciated genius, the which, when discovered, he would clothe, feed, and house until the time came—as it invariably did come—when he found out that the gold was tinsel.  He never for one moment suspected that he himself was the happy possessor of that divine endowment which he so reverenced in others.  And yet his friends all swore that if any man ever were gifted with genius, Felix Carter was that individual.  He was a sort of artistic Admirable Crichton.  He painted exquisite pictures.  He had written three novels.  Plays of his had been produced with success.  And he played the violin like a very Paganini.  Acquaintances spoke of him as being eccentric.  p. 97But every man is accounted eccentric whose talents cover a wide area and whose heart is abnormally large.

Play writing, novel spinning, and violin practice Felix regarded as recreations.  His real profession was that of an artist.  And his big bachelor establishment in a North Western suburb of London will be remembered as the scene of some brilliant receptions, at not a few of which Carter’s latest Man of Genius would put in an appearance, to the great surprise of guests, who very properly refused to see any merit whatever in his utterances.  Sometimes three or four undesirable pensioners would be quartered on the establishment.  And although Carter’s friends deplored the circumstance, not one of them dare remonstrate.  He was the victim of perpetual disappointment in his protégés, but would resent any interference with his practical philanthropy.

One of Carter’s Men of Genius lived with him and on him for a period of more than six months.  It was amusing always to hear his enthusiasm over this big, blotchy-faced loafer.  He bored all his friends by a description of his p. 98first meeting him, of his desire to see him again, and of the happy coincidence of their second encounter.  Carter was greatly given to prowling about unknown London for the purpose of picking up “effects.”  He knew the opium-smoking quarter.  He had been in a thieves’ kitchen, and he knew his way to the most disreputable common lodging-houses in the metropolis.  He occasionally dropped in at the “White Elephant,” a public-house situated in a slum off Fleet Street, where every night in the week a discussion took place on the events of the day.  This discussion was carried on in a hall at the back of the “White Elephant,” and was mainly contributed to by subsidized speakers whose feats of oratory were intended to encourage the ambitious vestryman who smoked his pipe there, or the occasional young barrister who dropped in upon his way to or from the Temple.  But the audience generally was made up of solicitors’ clerks, solicitors who had been struck off the Rolls, with here and there a fiery disciple of Bradlaugh from the unsavoury fastnesses of Clerkenwell.  It was in this resort that Carter first saw and admired Joseph Addison, the p. 99large and very loathsome person who eventually shared his home.

“I tell you,” he would say, “Joseph is the most wonderful chap.  By Jove, sir, you should have heard the way he pegged into those Radicals.  He made them squirm.  I wish old Gladstone had been there to hear him, upon my soul I do.”

Unfortunately it happened that late one night Felix encountered his paragon lying asleep under a bench in St. James’s Park.  It is more than probable that the creature was drunk after a day of successful sponging.  But his admirer only saw a man full of gifts and faculties suffering from cold and hunger.

“By Gad, old boy,” he said in describing the scene, “I could have cried to see a man, who could talk Sir William Harcourt’s head off, perishing for want of a penny roll.”

So Addison was treated as reverently as if he had been his great namesake, was made free of Carter’s house, was introduced to his studio friends, and was generally rendered a great deal more comfortable than he deserved to be.  His appearance was sadly against him.  His eyes were shifty and blood-shot; his bushy p. 100black whiskers were never submitted to the torture of the comb; his finger nails were invariably dirty, and his expression was that of effrontery struggling with awkwardness.  His clothes of seedy black vainly endeavouring to conceal an unwashed shirt seemed as if they had been persistently slept in, and his eyeglass depending from a white string completed the picture of a rakish adventurer.

It is true that these deficiences of attire were gradually ameliorated, and Joseph Addison appeared in the linen and jackets of our friend, to which, however, this hopeless and abominable ale-house ornament managed to impart a debauched and dissipated air.  Of this Carter saw nothing.  Nor did he consider it extraordinary that the unsightly incubus should drink his brandy at eleven o’clock in the morning, or that he should smoke his Latakia out of his favourite pipes.  All these little familiarities he set down as being so many eccentricities of genius.

“What’s a bottle of brandy to me if it makes Joseph talk!  I tell you I have heard that man emit epigrams by the hour.  He’s a little shy before strangers.  But you should p. 101hear him when we’re alone.  By the lord Harry, Rochfoucauld isn’t in it with him.”

And so Felix Carter, a man of taste, refinement, culture, and genius, worshipped this idol of mud, this tavern sponge, this bar-soiled, gin-soddened impostor.  So Titania was enamoured of an ass.

Although it was perfectly true that Joseph Addison never ventured on any epigrams before Carter’s friends, he committed some of them to writing, for the benefit of posterity.  These wonderful sentiments Addison’s hand had traced with charcoal on the white-washed walls of the studio, and Carter would point them out with genuine enthusiasm as though they were

               —jewels five words long
That on the stretched forefinger of all time
Sparkle for ever.

Respect and love for Carter induced his associates to affect a great belief in the value of these jewels of thought scrawled on the walls in the most vulgar hand imaginable.  That there may be no doubt as to the literary and philosophical value of the gems, I will reproduce them here.  On one wall—just p. 102where Carter could see it as he painted, was inscribed the legend—

God Loves the Worker.

Opposite the entrance to the studio appeared in characters of greater magnitude the intimation—

Labour is Prayer.

While above the mantel-piece, between two beautiful “studies” from the nude, ran the inscription—

Labor Omnia Vincit.

As the Latinity of this recondite quotation was impeccable, I presume that Mr. Addison had extracted it from Bartlett’s Dictionary of Quotations.

Had it not been for the large heart and simple faith of the artist, one would have been inclined to see nothing in the unholy alliance but its ludicrous side.  But knowing how firm was the faith of the victim in his new discovery, there was a dash of pathos in it which checked laughter.

Many attempts were made to expose the fraud.  Secret meetings of the admirers of Carter met in adjoining studios.  All sorts of p. 103conspiracies were set on foot.  Most ingenious devices were proposed and unanimously adopted.  But they were unavailing.  All were frustrated by the unsuspicious nature of Carter, or by the low cunning of the beer-swilling brute who was living in easy idleness on his money.  It is generally believed that at this period certain of the younger and more enthusiastic followers of Carter had set on foot a plot for the extermination of Addison, and that his early assassination was by some deemed feasible and desirable.

“I will tell you what it is,” said Carter on one occasion to the most plain-spoken of his friends, “I’ve found out why all you fellows fail to see that Addison is a Man of Genius.”

“And what may the reason be?” asked Plain Speaker.

“You’re all jealous of his ability—that’s what it is.”


“It’s all very well to say ‘Bah,’” said Carter, waxing enthusiastic as he invariably did on this theme, “but it’s impossible to explain your dislike on any other theory.  Joseph is worth a dozen of the fellows who p. 104make money by literature in these days.  I have written books myself, and ought to know something about it.  You’ll find him out one of these days.”

“And so will you,” was Plain Speaker’s response.

Herein Plain Speaker indulged in unconscious prophecy.  That which friendly conspirators could not bring about was contrived by the omnipotent finger of Fate.

Felix Carter went to the Isle of Wight to execute a commission for an invalid magnate in that pleasant settlement, and as he was anxious that a trustworthy and gentlemanly person should take charge of his house during his absence, he left his friend and protégé, Joseph Addison, in that responsible position.  The artist had been about a week at work when he came upon the following gratifying item in one of the London papers:—


Bow Street.  A Thief.—Joseph Addison alias Ward, alias Peters, 40, was charged before Mr. Flowers with stealing from the waiting-room of the Charing Cross Station a black bag containing jewellery, the property of M. Laurent of Paris.  On the prisoner were found a gold p. 105watch, an opera-glass, a silver fruit-knife, and a valuable cigar-case.  These articles bear the initials ‘F. C.’  The prisoner was remanded for further inquiries.”

“My initials!” sighed Carter.

“Our friend will now get plenty of that labour which he affects to love,” said Plain Speaker.

p. 106XII.

“A MOST remarkable man, sir,” said the Secretary of the Teetotal Union to the President.

“But don’t he strike you as being a trifle—a trifle soiled, eh?” asked the President, glancing down at his own immaculate shirt-cuffs.

“N—no,” replied the Secretary, hesitatingly.  “He’s a most dignified man—most dignified.  An’ in his dress shoot most impressive.”

“But really, now, Mr. Bottle, I thought, d’ye know, that he rather smelt of beer.  Just a little, eh?” suggested the President.

“Beer!” echoed the Secretary, in a tone of mingled astonishment and indignation.  “Beer!  Why, sir, he’s one of the most p. 107ardent spirits engaged in the teetotal cause.  He has been one of us for upwards of ten years or more.”

“And before that, eh?”

“He was on the Press.”

“Hum!” observed the President.

“But he’s quite reformed now,” answered the Secretary, to the objection implied in the President’s monosyllable.

“And you say he is really eloquent?”

“Remarkably so—very, remarkably so.  In fact, I may say a puffick J. B. Gough.”

“Has he written in favour of the cause?”

“Largely, sir.  His tracks is well known.”

“Then send him in again.”

The subject of this conversation—which took place in the Committee Room of the Teetotal Union, in Aldersgate Street, City—stood in an outer chamber, gravely contemplative.  All that Mr. Bottle, the Secretary, had urged in favour of his dignified demeanour, was quite justified by his appearance.  But the reflections of Alderman Lamb, the President, were also to a great extent borne out by what little of him was visible to the naked eye.  Indeed, the remarkable man was a p. 108trifle more than soiled.  He was very dirty.  He might be described as an old-young man.  He had curly grey hair, thin and rather distinguished features, a small nervous hand, an imperturbable solemnity of expression, and a dignity of pose worthy the immortal Mr. Turveydrop.

At the bidding of the Secretary, he re-entered the sanctum of the President, to whom he bowed low and impressively.  He sat in the chair offered to him, and looked at Mr. Lamb as though he would have said to that worthy Alderman and Spectacle Maker, “Will you have your case disposed of now, or do you wish it sent to the Assizes?”

“Our Mr. Bottle,” began the President, as Mr. Browley, the remarkable man, bowed condescendingly to that functionary, “our Mr. Bottle suggests that you should temporarily fill the place of one of our regular lecturers.  A lecture is announced for to-morrow night at the Temperance Hall, New Cut.  The remuneration is small—two pounds, in fact.  Will you accept the offer?”

“Sir,” replied Mr. Browley, in solemn tones, “you honour me.  I accept.”

p. 109I,” went on the Alderman, “will be in the chair.”

“You overwhelm me with honours,” replied Mr. Browley, with another obeisance.

“And may I ask,” said the President, “the title of your lecture?”

“With pleasure, sir.  Indeed, you have a right to know.  I call it an Oration.  It is entitled, ‘The Demon Drink.’”

“Capital, capital,” said the Alderman, rubbing his hands as if relishing the idea of being made personally acquainted with the Demon in question; “and you won’t forget the hour—eight o’clock at the Temperance Hall.  Good-bye, Mr. Browley; glad to have made your acquaintance.”

But Mr. Browley made no motion of withdrawal.  With a slight movement of the right hand he signalled that he was about to speak.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but there is a slight preliminary.  I have made it a rule in dealing with religious and philanthropic societies always to extort a small sum in advance as a pledge of good faith.  I am not in any want of money, nor do I doubt your ability and willingness to pay it.  But p. 110I have made it a rule, and I invariably insist on compliance with it.  If you will pay me half a sovereign—not necessarily for publication, but as a guarantee of good faith—I will accept that amount.”

“Certainly, my dear sir.  Mr. Bottle, pray let the gentleman have ten shillings, or a sovereign if he wants it.”

“I said half a sovereign,” said the lecturer, impressively.

That sum was handed to him by Mr. Bottle, who took his receipt, and Mr. Browley appeared once more in the outer air.

For a remarkable man with a great interest in the temperance cause, it must be admitted that his first two visits were somewhat singular in their nature.  His first visit was to a pawnbroker’s, where he redeemed a dress suit pledged for three shillings, and his next visit was to a public-house, where he called for a pint of bitter and Burton—in a pewter.

“That’s both meat and drink,” he murmured, as he licked his lips.  It was evident that the remarkable man spoke from conviction, for he hardly passed a tavern on his way from town to the remoter slums of Islington p. 111without eating and drinking after the same fashion—with this slight variation, that at the last half-dozen houses of call he substituted for the beer that decoction which Mr. Eccles alludes to as “cool, refreshing gin.”

He reeled at last into his own street, and staggered into the one room occupied by himself and his wife.  He threw the bundle of dress clothes on the bed.

“Maggie! get me that ‘Demon Drink.’  I’m going to deliver the ‘Demon’ to-morrow.  D’ye hear?”

“But, John, remember what the doctor said at the hospital.  All excitement is so bad for you.”

“Damn the doctors.  Produce the ‘Demon,’ d’ye hear?”

And so alternately damning the doctors and demanding the Demon, he sank on the bed and snored the snore of the drunk.  She knelt by his side and wept, and—God help her!—prayed.  She remembered him, you see, when he returned from College with his University honours thick upon him, and before the Demon had got him—tight.

There was a great audience the next night p. 112at the New Cut Hall, and Mr. Browley, in his dress clothes, looked somewhat more presentable than on the previous day.  His wife had managed to procure linen, and the worthy Alderman in the chair was quite pleased and encouraged by the improved appearance of the lecturer; though it is true he once whispered to Mr. Bottle that he thought he detected a very strong smell of drink in the room.

Mr. Browley was in due course presented to the large and highly expectant audience.  And it must be admitted that rarely had an audience the opportunity of listening to an oration of such force and vigour.  The whole figure of the lecturer seemed to change, his face glowed, the assumption of hauteur left him as he assailed the drink Demon and portrayed his victims.  Now a torrent of applause followed some well-aimed hit at the vendors of drink, and now some pathetic anecdote drew tears from the eyes of his auditors.  The Alderman was enchanted, and applauded vociferously; now agreeing with his secretary, that Mr. Browley was indeed a very remarkable man.

p. 113Presently the lecturer proceeded to deal with the awful disease which turns the habitual drunkard into a dangerous maniac.  He described the progress and effect of delirium tremens.  His eyes now flashed wildly as he portrayed to the affrighted audience devils from the pit of hell; and goblin forms and pursuing shapes of beast and reptile.  His body swayed to and fro: he spoke in gasps; his mouth seemed parched and hot.  Now his eye-balls appeared to shoot from his head, and his arms were moved in front of him as if to ward off the creatures of his fancies.  The effect was electrical.  The audience rose at him, and followed his effort with long-continued applause.

In the middle of it all the lecturer’s face appeared to grow livid, his eyes fixed, and his limbs stiff.  He placed his left hand to his temple, and with his stretched forefinger pointed in front of him.  Then he moaned as a wild animal moans in pain, and fell backward on the platform.  A wild shriek burst from the back of the hall as his wife rushed forward, jumped upon the platform, and threw herself on the prostrate body.

p. 114A doctor arrived in due course.

“Drunk?” inquired Mr. Bottle, when he had examined him.

“No.  Dead!” answered the physician.

p. 115XIII.

About five years ago, on days when the sun shone warmly, an old man might have been observed taking the air in Kennington Park.  He was one of those seedy and aimless old gentlemen usually described as having seen better days.  He was generally supposed to have been engaged in the City in early life, and to live upon a small pension tendered to him out of the generosity of his old employers.  He lived in humble apartments in a street which ran off the Camberwell New Road, and he attended twice on Sundays the conventicle of a strict sect of Dissenters, by whose minister he was much respected, although his small means prevented his subscribing liberally to the chapel funds.

p. 116In Kennington Park he was treated with less respect—the geniuses of that famous resort having christened him “Old Boots,” in friendly recognition of the very disreputable manner in which he was shod, and the fact that his boots were never subjected to the necessary operations of the blacking brush.

Accompanying him in his walks was his only daughter, a maiden of nineteen or twenty years—a sparkling brunette, who, by her talent as an amateur milliner, was enabled out of very poor materials to dress herself becomingly and even with taste.  She appeared quite devoted to the old gentleman, and many who saw them at once admired her for her filial affection, and also deplored the fact that a young woman so elegant and amiable should have her chances of matrimony spoiled by the caprice of an old man.

For, although Mr. Lowndes—that was the old gentleman’s name—attended his religious duties with great regularity, he was shy of making acquaintances, and reticent with a few whom chance had forced upon his society.  And this by such people of the world as vegetate in Camberwell was put down to his p. 117selfishness.  He was unwilling, they said, to give his daughter a chance of marrying, not because his love for her was great, but because he did not wish to lose so invaluable a nurse.

In this they did “Old Boots” a grievous wrong, for he loved Jessie better than anything else in the world.

Among the very few whose acquaintance the Lowndes family had made was a Mr. Evelyn Jones, a clerk in a bank in the City.  This exemplary young gentleman belonged to the same conventicle as Mr. Lowndes, was a teacher in the Sunday-school, and bade fair to become a bright and shining light in the City.  But these circumstances would not in themselves have led to a friendship.  The fact is that he lodged in the same house as the superannuated City man and his daughter, and was in the habit of purchasing out of his own small means certain delicacies which the old man was too poor to provide.  Evelyn was a frank, unsuspicious youth, and was permitted sometimes to join his fellow-lodgers for half-an-hour of an evening, when it was quite apparent that his pleasure was contributed to p. 118rather by the presence of Jessie than by the highly-improving conversation of her parent.

“How much do you think a man could afford to marry on?” he asked, during one of these visits.

“It depends,” replied Mr. Lowndes, “on the man; but more especially upon the woman.  But why do you ask?”

“Because I’ve got a rise of ten pounds to-day.”

“And what, may I ask,” went on the old man, “does that make your salary?”

“Ninety pounds a-year,” replied Evelyn, with a flush of honest pride.

The old man smiled and shook his head.

“Isn’t that enough to keep a house on—a very small house, you know?”

The old man shook his head again.

“And how much would be enough?” queried the youth.

“I don’t think any young couple should commence housekeeping on less than a thousand a-year.”

Evelyn looked in blank amazement at his host.

“A thousand a-year!” he exclaimed.

p. 119“That was the amount I mentioned,” replied the old gentleman, with some asperity.

“But I shall never make such an income,” he said, in great despondency.

“Then you should never get married,” added the philosopher, calmly.  Feeling, however, that he had been a little too harsh in his manner, he went on,—

“But you must not despair.  Much money is made in the City by honesty and application.  Be industrious, my young friend, and be honest.  Heaven has rewarded other City men for the illustration of these qualities; Heaven may reward you.  And now good evening.  Jessie and I have some private business to transact.”

Poor Jones was dreadfully cast down by this interview.  Because, truth to tell, he had fallen in love with the patient and beautiful lady who attended so assiduously on her broken-down father.  And he had thus artfully contrived to obtain from the old gentleman a general opinion on the subject of matrimony.  The result of his investigations was that he came to regard Mr. Lowndes as a perfect monster of selfishness.

p. 120“He guessed at what I was driving,” said Evelyn to himself, when he gained his own room.  “He suspects that I want to marry Jessie, and has put a thousand a-year upon her as his price for making the sacrifice.”

Now, Evelyn Jones had been bred in the country, and had imbibed certain old-fashioned notions on the matter of courtship from his parents.  He would have considered it a dishonourable act on his part to approach Jessie with an offer of marriage without having first consulted her only surviving parent.  He inferred from a hundred little signs that she was not indifferent to him.  But his highly moral training prevented his taking advantage of these circumstances to press his suit.

“I wish she had a mother,” he sighed; “I’d soon talk her over.  And to hear that selfish old paragon talking of a thousand pounds!  I’ll be bound he never had so much money in his whole life.”

Depressed spirits are but temporary afflictions with the young and sanguine.  What appears at first to be an overmastering despair clears off.  “Hope springs eternal” in the lover’s breast.  And in a week’s time Evelyn p. 121Jones had recovered his equanimity, and determined once more to address “Old Boots” on the subject nearest to his heart.  He purchased a pound of grapes and a bottle of port, and having returned to the suburban delights of his apartments off the Camberwell New Road, he watched the door of his fellow-lodger until he saw Miss Lowndes disappear to the lower regions to consult with her landlady.

This was his opportunity.  He knocked at the door of Mr. Lowndes, and was bidden in short and querulous tones to enter.  He presented his gifts to the old man, who, under the circumstances, could not do less than request him to remain.  The port was opened—and so was the conversation.  At first it meandered lightly among generalities.  But eventually the young man “plucked up a spirit,” as the phrase hath it.

“D’you remember, Mr. Lowndes, my talking to you on the subject of matrimony?”

“I do,” answered the other, curtly.

“Well, I am in love.  I want to marry.”

“And I say again, that on ninety pounds a-year it would be idiotcy.”

“But,” persisted the ardent Jones, “she is p. 122so good, such a clever housekeeper that I think she could make ninety pounds a-year go very far indeed.”

“And who, may I ask, is this paragon?”

“Oh!  Mr. Lowndes, forgive me—pity me.  I love your daughter.”

Mr. Jones, in all the scenes which his lively imagination had conjured up as likely to follow his proposal, did not imagine that which really occurred.  Lowndes jumped from his chair; he became erect, his eyes flashed as he cried,—

“You scoundrel!  You fool!  Have you breathed word of this to her?”

“Not a word, upon my soul.”

“Old Boots” sank back into his chair, apparently much relieved.

“Then don’t,” he said, menacingly.  “Tomorrow I will leave this.  Do not attempt to follow us.  The consequences be on your own head if you do.”

At that moment the door of the sitting-room opened, and two men entered, followed by Jessie, pale and alarmed.

One of the men spoke,—

“Mr. Morton,” he observed, quietly, “we have tracked you at last.  You are arrested for p. 123the robbery of ten thousand pounds from the British Bullion Bank.”

“Old Boots” stood before them erect and even dignified.  Jessie flew to him, and throwing her arms round his neck, wept bitterly.

“I am ready,” said Mr. Morton, the peccant secretary of the Bullion Bank.  “May I request you to show some consideration for this innocent lady.”

Evelyn Jones stood forward.

“I, sir, do not shrink from knowing you in your—your misfortune.  I will take care of your daughter.”

“You brainless puppy!” shrieked the prisoner.  “She is my wife.”

And so indeed she was.

p. 124XIV.

A RECENT case of a Missing Heiress—how recent does not matter—attracted a large amount of public attention.  Stimulating paragraphs first suggested that an heiress was missing.  And eventually still more stimulating paragraphs announced that she had been found—and found under circumstances the most romantic in the world.  If the mothers of Missing Heiresses deposit their little charges on strange doorsteps and at an early age, it is no reasonable matter of surprise that difficulty should arise in satisfactorily tracing them.  And the heroine of the case under consideration will have the satisfaction of knowing that had it not been for the untiring and disinterested efforts of the heir-at-law, she must p. 125have continued to perform menial duties to the end of time.  The Missing Heiress having been suddenly transformed into a Discovered Heroine, did not thereupon cease to be an object of public interest.  Indeed the interest increased.  Editors of penny dreadfuls set their young men to “work up” exciting fictions on the basis of facts, and a sensational evening paper discussed the circumstances in a leading article full of that learning, good taste, and common sense, for which the organ in question has been for so long and so justly celebrated.  The righteous example of the sensational broadsheet has been followed with more or less success by the editors of the provincial papers, and the story of the Missing Heiress has become as familiar in our mouths as “household words.”  But while Society and its organs have been discussing the romantic history of the Heiress from the area, neither Society nor its journals have so much as heard of the story of Mrs. Stubbs, the wife of the umbrella-maker of Blandy Street, Manchester.  And there is nothing more certain in the world than this: that had there been no Missing Heiress there p. 126would have been no story to tell of the wife of the umbrella-maker of Blandy Street, Manchester.

When the good fairy of that romance of real life to which we have alluded determined to assure himself of the existence of the Missing Heiress, he went to considerable expense in advertising, in consulting lawyers, in having conferences with detectives, and the like.  And it was quite surprising to find how many Missing Heiresses turned up to tell the story of how they had been left upon a certain night on a certain doorstep.  Stubbs first heard of the affair from the landlady of the “Six Bells,” and he immediately came to the conclusion that Mrs. Stubbs was the lady in question.  Mrs. Stubbs was a foundling.  Mrs. Stubbs had been found on a doorstep.  Mrs. Stubbs had been found on a doorstep in the very identical town where the Missing Heiress had been deposited.

“It tuk my brothe away,” said Stubbs, in afterwards describing his sensations.

Stubbs was a small and secretive umbrella-maker, and kept the news to himself until he had seen a man of law.  But though Stubbs p. 127kept the news to himself he was unable to disguise its effects.  If the truth must be told, Stubbs was a short-tempered, tyrannical man, habitually cruel and contemptuous to the wife of his bosom.  She had for a short time after marriage attempted to assert her position and maintain her individuality.

But Stubbs being a Republican and a Freethinker, stood upon his undoubted rights, reduced his wife to what he described as her “proper spear,” and became thenceforward and for ever “mawster in his hown ’ouse.”  As he himself explained to the President of the Republican Circle—an influential society holding weekly meetings at the “Six Bells,”—

“I said as ’ow I’d break her, an’ she’s broke.”

On the same evening that brought to Mr. Stubbs the intelligence concerning the Missing Heiress, Mrs. Stubbs was in a great distress of mind because she was behindhand with her husband’s tea.  A domestic failure of this kind was always calculated to arouse the dormant eloquence of her lord.  Indeed, a very trivial shortcoming on the part of Mrs. Stubbs was p. 128apt to bring down on her devoted head hard words and sometimes, I regret to say, hard blows.  In her efforts to expedite matters on this particular evening, Mrs. Stubbs—as is occasionally the case—instead of forwarding domestic affairs had delayed them.  And when the door suddenly opened, and her irate lord stood on the threshold, she stood in the midst of a “confusion worse confounded.”  With trembling accents, and not daring to lift her eyes, she faltered,—

“I’m so sorry I’m a bit late, John, but—”

To her intense surprise, John replied in tones more faltering and deferential than her own,—

“It’s orright, Mary, dear.  Better late than never, don’t ye know.”

“He calls me ‘dear,’” said Mary to herself, lifting her eyes to ascertain whether her husband was sober.  Yes.  He was evidently under no alcoholic influence.  And yet there he stood, blushing, stammering, and holding in his hand the hat which heretofore in his own house he invariably carried on his head.

“I’m afraid,” he said, hesitatingly, and blushing more than ever.  “I’m afraid I’ve been a bit inattentive to you, Mary.”

p. 129As Mary had never had to complain of his want of attention she very wisely replied,—

“Not at all, John.”

“But I ’ave,” he insisted, “and you’re lookin’ pale like.  Let’s git our tea over an’ go to a theayter.”

The surprise of Mrs. Stubbs blossomed into a wild and astounded amazement.  She looked straight at Mr. Stubbs to see whether he was in earnest, and coming to the conclusion that sincerity was defined there, she deliberately went up to her husband and kissed him.  He submitted to the infliction with a good grace, though still blushing consumedly.  The play was to Mrs. Stubbs the height of earthly bliss.  She was a person of small intellect and simple tastes, and followed with childlike wonder the moving histories illustrated on the stage.  It mattered not to her whether the play was comedy or tragedy; burlesque or melodrama.  There were colour and ornament and music.  These sufficed.  And from the rise of the curtain till its fall she watched the proceedings open-mouthed and wondering.  That her husband should not only permit her to enjoy her favourite amusement, but absolutely p. 130offer himself to accompany her to the theatre overwhelmed her, and so in the first moment of surprise she had kissed him.

His conduct all through the evening was delightful.  He comported himself like a very squire of dames; purchased for her ginger-beer and oranges, and reminded her, as she coyly suggested, of the happy days of their courtship.  His conduct then was but a foretaste of his conduct for many days to come.  He discovered that Mary was overworked, and insisted on having a girl in to assist her in the house.  Every moment, when not employed in his small shop—it was little better than a stall—he spent in his house, usually appearing with a votive offering in the shape of a lobster or a basket of mushrooms, or even a box of chocolate creams.  Except on “meeting evenings,” he never now entered the “Six Bells,” but spent the precious hours at home like a devoted husband, smoking his pipe, sipping gin and water, and reading for her such extracts from the daily broadsheets as contained no allusion direct or remote to Missing Heiresses.

The lawyer who had been consulted by p. 131Mr. Stubbs was like his client, a Member of the Republican Circle.  Also, like his client, he was a Socialist and Freethinker; and his name was Chatham.  From the first instruction given him by Mr Stubbs, he expressed the greatest confidence in the claim of his wife, and prosecuted his inquiries with the utmost zeal and goodwill.  Mr. Stubbs had at the time of his important discovery a hundred pounds in the bank.  The most of this money soon found its way into the office of Mr. Chatham.  Inquiries of the kind cost something.  There are so many journeys to be made, so many witnesses to be interviewed; so many reams of foolscap to be crossed, all at the rate of so much per folio.  But Mr. Stubbs, strong in the belief that his wife would soon be worth untold gold grudged none of it.  Indeed, when it was all gone, he borrowed other sums.  It was, after all, only the proverbial sprat to catch the proverbial whale.  The blubber would repay him when realised.  Until everything was made clear, however, he preferred to keep his wife in the dark.  And the interval—it could only be a short one—he magnanimously devoted to cultivating the p. 132acquaintance of a helpmeet whom he had long neglected.

When the hundred pounds had all gone, and when the obliging persons who had lent him sums of money to “go on with,” became clamorous for repayment, he had his moments of depression.  He was, however, sustained by the assurance of his lawyer, and consoled by the unremitting attention of his wife.  At times when the fit of melancholy was particularly bad, he would break into some exclamation such as in less happy days he had used to Mrs. Stubbs.  But he immediately checked himself, and called her his “angel,” and his “guiding star.”  And she, poor woman, accepted the amendment, soothed and comforted her ruffled consort, and expressed a belief that his monetary troubles would soon be over.

Her prophecy was verified.  His monetary troubles were soon over.  Once again Mrs. Stubbs was expecting her husband’s return to tea.  But there was no confusion now.  The table was laid, the kettle boiling, the bread and butter cut, and the shrimps and water-cresses gracing the festive board.  The master p. 133of the house was late.  But he would soon return, no doubt bearing a peace-offering—now invariably delivered to his spouse when he failed to be punctual.  She was thus reflecting when the door burst suddenly open, and John Stubbs entered with his hat on his head.  His face was pale, his eyes seemed to start from his head.  He approached the table, struck it with his closed fist and—I regret to have to record it—called his wife “a she devil.”  It was one of the dear old words of an earlier and more tempestuous period.  She bore it in silence.  But when he yelled,—

“She’s found, you swindler!  D’ye hear, y’imposter, the real Heiress is found, ye deceitful hussy,” she was puzzled beyond measure.

“Where’s my money?” he howled, as he pulled the cloth from the table and dashed the shrimps and water-cresses to the ground.  “Where’s my hundred pounds.  Where’s the money I spent in bonnets an’ in theayters an’ in chocolate creams?  Eh, you thing!  You born on a doorstep!  Bah!”

He then proceeded to demolish the furniture, and his wife displaying that discretion which p. 134is the better part of valour, watched her opportunity, and when his back was turned fled out into the street.  She believed that he was mad.  Perhaps he was—for he managed that night to fall into the river and die there.  After the inquest the members of the Republican Circle, with whom he was deservedly popular, gave him a semi-public funeral with banners and music.  Towards the cost of the obsequies Mr. Chatham contributed a guinea.  And to this day Mrs. Stubbs, who is doing very well in the laundry line of business, has never been able to guess the cause of her deceased husband’s insanity.

p. 135XV.

Teddy Martin occupied chambers in Lime Court, Temple.  His rooms were situated on the first floor, and from his front window the visitor could command an uninterrupted view of the sun-dial over the way, upon which was inscribed one of those useful moral legends which in earlier times our rude forefathers were accustomed to carve upon such slabs as marked the flight of time.  Those who trod the well-worn flags of Lime Court would sometimes hear the tinkling of a piano welling out over the geraniums in those front windows, and sometimes the piano would tinkle an accompaniment to snatches of opera-bouffe sung by a showy but somewhat unsympathetic female voice.  Barristers’ clerks passing beneath and hearing p. 136this harmony would wink knowingly at each other, and interchange opinions regarding the Martin ménage.

All the world knows of Martin’s celebrated “Crystal Ale” at nine shillings the nine-gallon cask.  Teddy Martin was the son of the maker of that famous brew.  It will be, therefore, inferred that the young man was not quite so dependent on the support of solicitors as other members of his Inn.  Indeed, his allowance was so large as to make him the envy of many brilliant but impecunious members of the Junior Bar, who hated him for his prosperity, and grudged him the briefs which at long intervals were confided to his care.

Like many other young gentlemen of taste and fortune, Teddy Martin was a persistent supporter of the British Drama.  He was quite catholic in his tastes.  Irving was not too dull for him; nor was the Gaiety too fast.  If, indeed, the truth must be told, he preferred those theatres at which burlesque entertainment formed the staple fare; and even found amusement in the festive society of those vestals whose agreeable mission it is to keep burning the sacred lamp of burlesque.  He p. 137formed acquaintance with the ladies of the chorus.  A member of the Junior Bar, he cultivated the society of members of the Junior Stage.

It was the voice of one of these sirens which woke the echoes in Lime Court after the shadows had fallen and the lamp had been lit in the court below, and which scandalised Mr. Solon, Q.C., struggling with a brief of several hundred folios in the chambers beneath.

Martin has never inquired into my domestic secrets, and I have no wish to inquire into Martin’s.  Topsy Varden, it is true, left the stage shortly after she had become acquainted with Mr. Martin; had appeared in his chambers, and had taken possession of his piano.  I have met her there, but know no more than the porter whether she resided in Lime Court en permanence or whether she only visited Mr. Martin, for whom she seemed to have a great partiality.  Perhaps she came early in the morning and returned late at night to her mother in Camden Town.

At that time I was writing dramatic notices for the Slough of Despond—a Society organ—p. 138and was, when I visited Teddy’s chambers, the subject of a vast amount of agreeable wheedling on the part of Miss Varden, who assured me that she never would be happy off the stage—that she wouldn’t; that she knew of my influence with Jones of the Royal Bandbox, and with Robinson of the Royal Potentates’ Theatres, and that if I didn’t get her a “shop” at one of the houses in question I was a wretch—that I was.  In fact, she talked of nothing else; didn’t appear to know anything that was going on in the world, and never read any newspaper except the Mummers’ Mouthpiece.

One morning I called on Teddy Martin, and found him at breakfast.  Topsy had arrived very early that morning, apparently, for she was at breakfast with her admirer, and had done him the compliment to come in a white morning gown, with wonderful arrangements in lace at the throat and wrists.  I found the ingenuous Martin in high glee over a brief for the prosecution in a case in which he was to appear that day at the Old Bailey.

“Come with me, my boy,” he exclaimed; p. 139“it’s a great case.  And if only my learned leader would absent himself, I’d give them a taste of my quality.”

I had nothing better to do, and consented.

“Take me too,” said Miss Topsy, with an admirable affectation of piteous imploring.  It was bad enough for Topsy to visit at his chambers, but he was not likely to run the risk of flaunting her gay presence in the temple of justice herself.  He put her off with a kind word, adding:

“But you’ll be here when we return; we’ll all go to dinner at Verrey’s, have a box at the theatre, and enjoy ourselves amazingly, eh?  And you’ll come with us, old fellow, won’t you?”

Again I consented.  We took leave of the fair young creature, and when we got to the bottom of the court, heard strains of “The Blue Alsatian Mountains” trilling over the flower-boxes on the window-sill.

“Capital girl that,” said Teddy, pressing my arm; “good as gold—all heart, and that sort of thing.”

“Of course,” I answered.  The expression of one’s real sentiments under such circumstances is not only extremely ill-bred, but it p. 140will most assuredly serve to fan the flame in your friend’s heart, and gain for yourself his everlasting distrust.  So I said “Of course,” and we tramped through Fleet Street, up Ludgate Hill, and turned into the Old Bailey, closely followed by Teddy’s little clerk bearing Teddy’s blue bag, with his initials beautifully worked in white silk on the outside.

The case in which Teddy was concerned lasted all day.  But besides opening it in a somewhat abashed and hesitating way, and thereafter cross-examining an utterly unimportant witness, I could not see that Teddy had much more to do with the case than myself, who had been accommodated with a seat in the row of benches apportioned to the bar, situated just behind my friend.  All the real work was performed by Mr. Rowland, Q.C., who prosecuted for the Treasury; and to his skill, resource, and mastery of details, it appeared to me, the conviction of the prisoner was entirely attributable.  I merely mention this because I subsequently heard Teddy take to himself all the credit of having secured the verdict on that memorable occasion.

p. 141After the unfortunate man in the dock had been sentenced and removed to the seclusion of his cell, Teddy packed up his papers, stuffed them into his bag, and leaving that receptacle to be removed by his clerk, accompanied me back to Lime Court.  The piano was still going, and the voice of the siren gave forth the brisk chorus of a bouffe drinking-song.

Topsy Varden must have visited her home with her mother in Camden Town during our absence in Court, for she had abandoned the white breakfast gown of the morning, and was arrayed in a costly dinner dress, so arranged as to exhibit a great amount of her arms and chest.  As Teddy saluted her it was evident that his admiration was sincere.  Her reciprocal expression was that of an actress—hollow, insincere, worthless.

“I’ve had such a win, Topsy!”

“Have you been bettin’?  Am I on?” were the rapid questions of this child of art.

“You little silly!  I mean at the Old Bailey.  I’ve got my man convicted.  He’s to be hanged by the neck until death by strangulation ensues.”

p. 142“La!” exclaimed Topsy.  She would have been much more interested if the win had been on the turf.  She, however, thought it well to add, “What did he do?”

“Shot a bobby—desperate character—think he’d have shot me if he’d had a chance.  Funny defence that,” he said, turning to me.

The defence had been that his brain had been turned—that he had been a respectable working man until a dearly beloved sister of his had left him and “gone wrong.”  He had been “queer” ever since, said some of the witnesses.  But that was surely no reason why he should go about the streets shooting policemen.  So the jury did its duty and the judge did his—with a black cap on his head.

As this explanation of the defence was given, I noticed that Topsy’s expressionless face grew pale, and her bosom rose and fell quickly above her dress.  Her voice was thick as she asked,—

“And—who—was—he?  What—was—his—name?”

My friend replied briefly,—

“Jabez Omrod.”

p. 143Topsy sprang towards him with flashing eyes, as though to clutch his throat; but before she could accomplish her object, she fell back, and in falling moaned almost inarticulately,—

“You have killed my brother!”

* * * * *

Since that day Teddy has never held a brief, nor does he appear anxious to hold one.  His interest in the minor ornaments of the drama has considerably abated.  I know not what has become of the ill-fated Topsy.  Perhaps she has returned for good to her mother in Camden Town.

p. 144XVI.

Mr. Augustus Lincoln was the manager of the Theatre Royal, Sheppey Island.  He was an actor of the old school, and illustrated with great success the charnel house department of dramatic literature.  Regarded simply from an artistic point of view, the performances given at the Theatre Royal may be described as fine and even formidable representations, but commercially considered they could scarcely be regarded as triumphs.  The Sheppey Islanders were, at the time of which we are writing, people of a low and degraded taste, and showed a grovelling preference for the entertainments given at the music-halls.  The permission to indulge in beer and tobacco, which is accorded in Caves of Harmony, may p. 145have had something to do with this preference; but it must be admitted that the Islanders considered “Hamlet,” “The Stranger,” and “The Iron Chest,” a trifle gloomy, even when illuminated by the genius of Mr. Augustus Lincoln.  Indeed, had it not been for an accident, this enterprising lessee and manager would have been obliged, long before the incidents about to be related, to shut up his theatre and appear in a highly popular rôle on the stage of the Bankruptcy Court.

Mr. Lincoln’s accident was the Amateur.  That most industrious and most sanguine of mortals, having hawked his comedies, melodramas, and romantic plays to all the London managers with all the customary want of success, determined that Something must be Done.  If caterers in the West End, blind to their own interests, and careless of the intellectual elevation of their patrons, refused to give him a show, as the bald phraseology of the stage has it, the amateur, with fine philanthropic feeling, determined to give himself a show.  Now the Theatre Royal, Sheppey Island, was very often closed, and on such occasions, when he could raise a p. 146sufficient sum to pay for the advertisement, the circumstance was duly announced in the Era.  It was through the medium of that highly diverting miscellany that Lincoln and the Amateur were brought together.  And from the moment that introduction was effected, Lincoln never knew what it was to have the brokers in the house, an incident which, up to that time, was of not unfrequent occurrence.

The manager was an enthusiast in his way, and threw his whole heart and soul into playing the leading characters in the amateur comedies, melodramas, and romantic plays which he placed on his stage.  And the ambitious authors who resorted to this means of publicity, were as a rule, so extremely pleased with the histrionic efforts of Mr. Lincoln, that in addition to the sum agreed upon for the representation, most of the mute inglorious ones would insist on making a little present to the conscientious manager-actor.  But Mr. Lincoln was as proud as an Elliston, and carried himself with as much dignity.  So that whenever the token of the Amateur’s gratitude was offered in the shape of money, the offended manager would draw himself grandly up and p. 147say, “Sir, I cannot accept a gift of money; though should you like to present me with a new hat, I shall not say you nay.”  The Amateur usually took the hint, and in a few days a band-box containing a hat, was duly delivered at the stage door of the Theatre Royal.  Yet strange to say, no Sheppey Islander had ever seen Mr. Lincoln in a new hat.  Indeed, they had never seen him except in a very old one, which by a judicious use of oil and a silk handkerchief, showed bravely enough when cocked on the side of Mr. Lincoln’s head.

It is, of course, easy to guess the reason of this.  The Amateur donors never thought of consulting their benefactor as to the size of his head, or as to the peculiar shape which he most affected.  And so it happened, that not one of the head-dresses sent to him was of any practical benefit.  For if it happened to be anything like a fit, it was sure to be of a shape to which Mr. Lincoln would not condescend.  He had not, however, discarded them, but had placed them carefully in a cupboard in his bedroom, which cupboard he always kept carefully locked, carrying the key p. 148of it on his bunch.  At rare intervals he would exhibit his collection to some old crony—just as a collector would show his pictures, or a connoisseur his cellar.  Connected with each hat was a memory.  The entire assortment was a sort of history of the Theatre Royal, Sheppey Island, and as he pointed out the trophies he would couple with each the name of the amateur drama, the triumphant success of which it was intended to commemorate.  Thus he would point to a tall beaver, with preposterous brim, such as comic artists place on the head of John Bull, and say,—“That is my Queen of Circassia’s hat;” or he would exhibit a light gossamer of most undoubtedly dandaical proportions, saying,—“That is my Murdered Monk’s hat;”—so on through the collection.  There was a “Prodigal Son’s” hat, and an “Act on the Square” hat.  The hat of the “Pilgrim Fathers—a Nautical Drama,” and the hat of “The Little Pig that Paid the Rent; an Irish Tragedy.”

Mr. Lincoln was more proud of his hats than of any other circumstance connected with his theatrical career—save one, and that p. 149was, that Mr. Gladstone had seen him play Hamlet and had expressed himself entirely satisfied with the performance.

In an evil moment, and at the mature age of fifty-two, Mr. Augustus Lincoln fell in love, and as often happens with the intellectually great, he fell in love with the very last person in the world whom he ought to have sought.  Milly Brassey was a pert, pink-cheeked, saucy-eyed beauty, who played chamber-maid parts in his company.  The Amateurs thought very much of Milly, and as she was not proud in the matter of receiving presents, it may be taken for granted that the sealskin jacket and diamond rings came from the gifted creatures whose works she had helped to illustrate.  Off the stage she was a giddy, giggling little woman, always ready for a flirtation, and was madly loved by the jeune premier, and the low comedian of the company.  Indeed, it is a matter of notoriety that a hostile meeting would have taken place between these jealous lovers had it not transpired that Milly was about to be led to the altar by the manager himself.  So instead of meeting in Greenwich Park over the murderous muzzles of revolvers, they met p. 150in the “Goat and Compasses” over two glasses of cold gin.

Lincoln’s wedding was a very quiet affair.  After all, no such very great change was to take place in the life of the bride.  She was already a member of Lincoln’s company.  She had now become a member of his household as well.  Milly was a clever little actress, and if she did not really love her husband, she made that devoted man think that she did.  His faith in her was unlimited, and although others thought that she flirted alternately with Philip Beresford, the jeune premier, and with Alf. Wild, the low comedian, Lincoln with a firm belief in his wife’s honesty and a still firmer belief in his own charms, saw nothing whatever.  He was perfectly contented, and the amateurs, increasing in perseverance and impatience, brought him month after month new dramas for illustration, and new hats in token of esteem.

All might have gone well had it not been for the hats.  Everybody in Lincoln’s company wanted a hat.  Neither a jeune premier, nor a low comedian, can afford an unstinted indulgence in hats on two pounds p. 151a week, even when that modest stipend is regularly paid.  Actors usually carry large ulster-cloaks that cover a multitude of sins.  But a bad hat or a bad boot is always en évidence.  To say that Milly was gifted with curiosity is simply to say that Milly was a woman.  That she soon began to question her husband as to the contents of the locked cupboard, therefore goes without saying.  But although Lincoln would have trusted her with almost any other secret, he was reticent concerning this.  He had a sort of prescience that the volatile Milly might turn his collection into ridicule, and merely observing in answer to his wife’s queries that it was “Bluebeard’s Cupboard,” refused to be further cross-examined on the subject.  Milly promised not to annoy him any more in the matter, and religiously kept her promise; only when he was out she tried every key in the house on the lock that kept her from a delightful mystery, and at last she found one that fitted, and opening “Bluebeard’s Cupboard” found it full,—not of heads without hats, but of hats without heads.  So full was the cupboard of these samples of the hatter’s art, that she selected two, feeling p. 152confident, that from so large a bag, a brace would never be missed.  These she secreted, and when her husband returned (he had gone to meet an Amateur, who was big with a tragedy called “The Paralytic”), she met him with a kiss, and they were quite happy till it was time to go to the theatre.

A week afterwards another Amateur wanted to see Mr. Lincoln.  On this occasion the appointment was made at a Club in Adelphi Terrace.  The interview was a short one, and Mr. Lincoln was able to bend his steps eastward some two hours before the time he had mentioned to Milly.  He had to make a call in Greenwich, and in the Main Street of that highly-depressing village, he happened to look over the blind in a pastrycook’s window.  He stopped suddenly, and shouted in a tone of the utmost consternation, “My ‘Murdered Monk’s’ hat!”  And then after a pause, “My ‘Prodigal Son’s’ hat.”  He looked again, and saw that the hats covered the empty heads of Philip Beresford and Alf. Wild, between whom sat his wife devouring open tarts, and laughing consumedly at her own jokes.  He entered stealthily, and soon heard enough to p. 153show that he, her husband, was the subject of her witticisms.  He strode up to them, and smashed the hats over the heads of the wearers, calling them varlets and minions.  The Amateur of Adelphi Terrace had been good.  So he was enabled to put his hand in his waistcoat pocket, and withdraw six sovereigns.  Handing two to each, he said solemnly, “In lieu of a week’s notice.  Begone!” and then on his wife making a gesture of remonstrance, he said, in louder tones, “D’ye hear.  All of ye.  Begone!”  They went.  And he has never seen any of them since.

p. 154XVII.

It was a splendid morning in the leafy month of June—though down by the East India Docks “leafy” is scarcely the adjective which one would naturally select to qualify any month of the whole twelve.  It was the morning on which Jack Tarpey, mariner, led Polly Andrews, spinster, to the altar.  There is no altar in a Registrar’s Office, consequently the expression which I have used must be regarded as somewhat figurative.  But an altar is by no means essential to the civil ceremony, and Jack and Poll were as much married as if they had been united by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, assisted by all the “Honourable and Reverends” in the service of the Church of England, as by law p. 155established.  There, in a small parlour near the Commercial Road, Jack and Poll were made man and wife, or, to put it in the forcible language of the former, “had tied a knot with their lips as they couldn’t undo with their teeth.”  The bride was accompanied by a lady friend—for, alas! she was an orphan—while the bridegroom was accompanied by his “shipmet,” young Joey Copper, who was selected to discharge the onerous duties devolving upon him, for a reason which may also be given in Jack’s own words: “Why,” he said, “do I ’ave Joey for my best man?  Stan’ by, mate, an’ I’ll tell ye.  I ’ave’s Joey for my best man because he is the best man in all this ’ere blessed world.  That’s why I ’ave’s Joey, d’ye see?”  It may be taken for granted that they saw; because no one, having once asked the question, thought of putting it a second time.

Breakfast was provided at the residence of the landlord of the bridegroom, a house of public entertainment, at the corner of one of the somewhat melancholy streets abutting on the East India Docks.  The sign of the house was the “Tartar Frigate,” and mine host had p. 156obligingly set apart his back parlour for the entertainment of Jack and his party, now increased by an addition of two other “shipmets.”  The landlord of the “Tartar Frigate” was not, perhaps, a Gunter, but he understood the tastes of his patrons, and gave them what he called “a greasy and substawnshul set out.”  There was a fine round of boiled beef, with carrots, boiled potatoes, and suet dumplings of great weight and sappiness.  Following this there was a liberal dish of plum-duff; and to wind up with, there was half a Dutch cheese and pats of butter, about the composition of which, the less said here or elsewhere the better.  The more solid part of the repast having been removed, all hands were piped to hot grog; a fiddler was introduced into the apartment, and all was jollity and dancing, until some difference of opinion arose between Jack’s male guests, as to which of the three should claim Poll’s lady friend as a partner.  Jack, like the gallant and honest fellow that he was, stopped all disputes by announcing that there was to be no quarrel on his wedding-day, and that the proceedings, so far as he was concerned, were at an end.  Then the punctilious tar paid the p. 157reckoning, and conveyed his wife to the apartments which she had engaged for them in Belt Alley, E.

A life on the Ocean Wave is regarded by some as the most jolly and enjoyable of all possible lives.  But it must be admitted that the Ocean Wave is a relentless master, and has no more regard for the tender feelings of the mariner, and those who are dear to him, than the whale that swallowed Jonah.  Jack and Poll had not been married three weeks, before his ship—The Promise of the May—was ready for sea, and Jack was ordered to join.  Now I would call to my aid that which is not permitted to the Unvarnished writer—the lyre of the poet.  For how shall I attune my harsh prose to the music of their sighs, the liquid measure of their tears?

It came, that final, that inevitable scene.

They stood on the quay, his arms round her waist, her head on his manly shoulder.

“Good-bye, lass,” he whispered, as he drew the back of his hand across his eyes.

“Goo—goo—good-bye,” she said, in an agony of sobbing.

“You’ll always think o’ me, Poll?”

p. 158“Aw—aw—always,” she cried, shaken with emotion.

“An’ you’ll always be true to me?”

“Aw—aw—always,” she moaned.

“Kiss me, lass.”

Their lips met in a fervent salute.  Then he was led away to his ship by Joey Copper, his best man; and she, in a half fainting, half hysterical state, was conducted back to her apartments by her faithful female companion.


It was a splendid morning in the leafy month of August—for Samuel Taylor Coleridge to the contrary, I cannot conceive why June should be held to form a monopoly of leafiness—and Billy Bunting of the Avalanche was proceeding along Lantern Lane, close to the Docks, when he beheld a female in distress.  A hulking tramp with designs upon her purse, had compelled the lady to stop, and she was crying in vain to the great brick wall on either side, to help her.  To “bear down upon” them, to call upon the villain to “belay there;” to knock him senseless in the roadway, and to offer his assistance to beauty in distress—to do all this, was, as is well-known to those conversant with p. 159the literature of the Rolling Deep—the work of a moment.

Billy loved a pretty face, and it was a pretty-one, of that plump and red kind so admired by sailors, which through tears looked up at Billy now.  Giving the prostrate form of the tramp a kick, he gallantly offered his arm to the maiden, saying,—

“I must tow you out of the way of that skulking land-shark, my beauty.”

She, nothing displeased, took the offered arm; and declared that she was “so obliged she couldn’t tell.”

“An’ wot’s yer name, my pretty poppet?”

“Polly,” she replied, with a blush that enhanced her many charms.

“An’ yer t’other name is—”

“Smith,” she replied, coyly.

“H’m.  Wot d’ye think of Bunting as a name—come now?”

“Sweetly bee-utiful,” she murmured.

“That’s my name.”

“No!” she exclaimed in a tone that betokened a delighted surprise.

Those who make long voyages must needs put up with short courtships, and Billy Bunting p. 160had not been many days acquainted with Miss Smith before she had promised to be his, and the marriage was duly solemnised at the Little Bethel, Lancington St., by Mr. Morth, the esteemed pastor of that conventicle.  They spent the day at Gravesend, enjoying its natural and artificial beauties, including the Rosherville Gardens, where they were almost as happy as the advertisements of that pleasaunce would lead one to suppose.  And then they returned to their humble lodging in Belt Alley, E.

Alas! for the brevity of human happiness.  Poor Polly Andrews was no sooner married to her Jack Tarpey than the Promise of the May was ordered on a twelve months’ voyage.  And Polly Smith has been but a brief fortnight the adored wife of Billy Bunting when the Avalanche is ready to go sailing about the world for a similar period.  But, cheer up, brave hearts!  Courage, dear souls!

“There’s a sweet little Cherub that sits up aloft
To keep watch o’er the life of poor Jack.”

And the little Cherub who, from that elevated position, is solicitous concerning the p. 161well-being of poor Jack, will no doubt exhibit an equal solicitude in the case of poor Billy Bunting.  But it is useless to preach philosophy to breaking hearts.  It was a sad scene that which took place on the quay as Polly bid her Bill adieu.  She could but hope; he could but hope, and a year after all is only three hundred and sixty-five miserable little days.  It will soon be over.

But the Avalanche was not to be a year out of port.

And here comes the interesting part of this strange narrative.

At the beginning of September, in the year of which I am writing, a very violent and lasting gale burst over certain Northern latitudes.  And nowhere was that gale felt more severely than in the Bay of Biscay.  Many lives were lost in that ill-omened water—for why it should be called a “Bay” while the Adriatic is called a “Sea,” I have never since the happy days of boyhood been able to discover.  The waves rose mountains high, the wind blew a hurricane, and everything that out-lived the first fury of the elements scudded along under bare poles.  That everything p. 162did not out-live the first fury of the elements will appear presently.

One of the vessels encountering that memorable storm was the Avalanche.  She encountered it, and overcame it, but with considerable loss to herself.  Her mainmast had been snapped in two like a brittle twig.  Her canvas was in shreds, part of her bulwarks was swept away, and the pumps were continually at work, to lessen the volume of water that half filled her hold.  Though all was calm now, she could not move.

“There she lay” several days, “in the Bay of Biscay O!”  At last the inevitable “sail in sight appeared.”  It was a sail however that promised no assistance.  For when examined through the glass it appeared to be a raft, with a solitary human being on board.  There was much speculation as it bore down upon them; at last the raft touched the Avalanche, and its sole occupant, worn out with hunger, thirst, anxiety, and fear, was helped up the side of the Avalanche, and fell upon the deck in a faint that looked uncommonly like death.  Unremitting attention and a judicious administration of rum brought him to; and when p. 163he was sufficiently restored he informed his rescuers that his name was Jack Tarpey, of the Promise of the May; which doomed vessel having encountered the late gales in the Bay succumbed to the last and worst, and went down with all hands, save three who had taken to the raft, His two companions had died of cold and exhaustion.  He alone survived of all the crew.

Billy Bunting was a tender-hearted fellow, and “took to” this shipwrecked mariner.  They became indeed such chums that Jack bade fair to forget the excellent Joey Copper: now no more.  At last relief came to the Avalanche, and the disabled vessel was assisted on her homeward way.  As the days sped on, the friendship between Jack and Billy increased.  They had a bond of sympathy in common.  Both had married Polls, and both these Polls lived in Belt Alley, E.

“She’s that fond o’ me, Jack—bless her,” Billy would say.

“Ah, she do love me, Bill—bless ’er old ’art,” Jack would reply.

It was a long and weary business getting the Avalanche into dock.  And it was a long p. 164and weary time before Bill and Jack were allowed to go ashore—for Jack had joined the crew of the Avalanche.  But the day of emancipation did eventually arrive.  And more exultant mariners never left a ship.  Neither of these happy-go-lucky sons of Neptune could remember the number of his house in Belt Alley, but each could swear to the external appearance of it.  So they chartered a four-wheeler, and as they drove down the alley each had his eye on the window.

“Stop!” shouted Bill, “that’s my ’ouse.”

“An’ mine,” echoed Jack, thinking that affairs were now culminating towards a coincidence.  A blind was pulled suddenly down, and cabby thought he heard boys practising with a pistol in the back-yard.  The mariners heard nothing.  They were both knocking at the same door.  There was no answer.  They knocked again.  Still no answer.  They broke the door down.  On the floor lay a plump, red-faced girl, shot through the heart, a pistol in her hand.  Both exclaimed at the same moment,—


On searching her boxes, they found that p. 165she had piously preserved copies of the certificates of her marriage to each—together with vouchers for two other unions since contracted.

p. 166XVIII.

About ten years ago Mr. Landor was the lessee and manager of the Lugubreum Theatre, and John Philp was his master carpenter.  In those days the staple of the Lugubreum entertainment was melodrama, preceded by farce.  Mr. Landor found Philp, who was about thirty-five years of age, exceedingly useful.  He was quick, intelligent, and ingenious.  He had been brought up to the stage-carpentering business from his earliest days, and had omitted to soak his faculties in gin, as is too often the practice with gentlemen of his profession.  Philp’s powers of invention were indeed notorious, and many famous contrivances, without which certain celebrated sensational scenes must have miserably failed, could be traced to his p. 167suggestions.  He was, withal, a modest, cheery-little fellow, much beloved by his associates, and greatly respected by his employer, who regarded him as one of his most valuable allies.

John Philp lived in a part of old Camberwell, that had not then been disturbed by the invasion of the speculative builder.  He rented a substantially built little cottage of five rooms, with quite a large garden in the back.  Philp’s gardening was, it must be admitted, of a somewhat theatrical kind.  He had erected a flagstaff painted in stripes, on the top of which was a weather-cock of his own contrivance—an indicator which to the very last he believed told him what way the wind blew.  At the end of the garden was a formidable grotto—the effect of which was somewhat marred by the introduction of pieces of coloured glass.  On the side walk were placed two wooden pedestals, also painted in various bright colours; upon these stood statuettes of his favourite great men.  Upon one was William Shakespear—copied from the famous work once erected in Garrick’s Villa, and now standing in the British Museum.  And upon p. 168the other was Mr. Dion Boucicault, appealing to the dog Tatters—an animal which is often alluded to in the Shaughraun, but never appears in that interesting production.

John Philp’s widowed mother lived with him in Artesian Cottages, and kept house for him.  She was a brisk, wholesome-looking old lady, and was very proud of her son—as indeed she had a right to be—and would grow garrulous about his merits, his personal beauty, and his infantile maladies, at the mere mention of his name.  John was very much attached to the old lady—devoting his Sunday afternoons to her entertainment.  What happy days those were when she sat in an arbour in the Greyhound at Dulwich, drinking tea, while John sipped his ale and smoked his pipe.  What royal times, too, when the funds permitted a trip to Gravesend; and when shrimps and most marvellous water-cresses formed an addition to the feast.  And what words can describe that period of delirious excitement when a buoyant exchequer and the closing of the Lugubreum for repairs, permitted that memorable week at Margate.  Alas! such happiness was to be short-lived.  And the p. 169beginning of the sorrow of Mrs. Philp was to be mysteriously bound up with the success in this country of opera bouffe.

Mr. Landor was an astute man, and had no exalted notion of his functions as a manager.  He laughed at those who prated about “High Art,” and the rest of it, and spoke of himself as a business man, whose object in life was to make money, by supplying a certain commodity for which there existed a public demand.  Now the public demand for melodrama and farce became very slack.  Heavy villains and sensational “sets” became a drug in the market; and Mr. Landor having duly weighed the pros and cons of the matter, determined to alter the character of his theatre and make opera bouffe his leading suit.  Old supporters of the Lugubreum growled.  But the public came.  The dissemination of paper was stopped.  The free list was entirely suspended.  And the Lugubreum was doing a roaring trade.  Philp still held his position as head carpenter, with labours necessarily lightened, but with salary undiminished.

For the successful illustration of burlesque, one of the most essential elements is a chorus p. 170of shapely young women, who have no objection to as liberal a display of their personal charms as a manager may deem advisable.  And among the chorus ladies engaged to Mr. Landor was Miss Carry Adair.  This fascinating damsel was the daughter of a lodging-house keeper in Islington, named O’Flaherty, and in assisting her mother—whose education had been somewhat neglected—to cook the accounts of the young city gentlemen who lodged with them, acquired those habits of caution and economy, which have characterised her throughout her career.  At the age of eighteen she left her mother’s care, and was employed by a court dressmaker in Bond Street in the capacity of a live model, to display to their best advantage the goods of her employer.  While acting in this useful, if humble capacity, she was seen by Sir Mornington Cresswell, who had come to inspect a court dress ordered by Lady Cresswell.  Sir Mornington is a well-known philanthropist, and took an immediate interest in the young woman, urging her to take suitable apartments in the region abutting on Regent’s Park, and finally obtaining for her an engagement at p. 171the Lugubreum.  Sir Mornington being one of those reserved and unassuming Christians, who do not let the left hand know what the right is doing, kept the latest instance of his kindly and discriminating philanthropy a secret from his wife.

Carry Adair was a great success in her new vocation.  She was tall, of liberal contour, had big expressionless eyes, and masses of magnificent brown hair.  It was her mission in life to be “a doosid fine woman.”  The callow connoisseurs of the stalls proclaimed her to be a “doosid fine woman.”  And so her reputation was made, although as far as histrionic capability is concerned, she was absolutely devoid of it.  She was withal, an excessively discreet young person, and was never known to indulge in the unseemly jests, which, in the dressing-rooms, formed the current coin of conversation; and, indeed, had been known on many occasions to rebuke her companions when a double entendre offended her keen susceptibilities.  It was this trait in her character which won the sympathies of John Philp.  He was sensible, no doubt, of her merely physical attributes.  But he regarded p. 172her as an innocent and artless girl, thrown into the society of those who were by no means particular.  He longed to shield her from the evil which is in the world, and as a preliminary to this missionary enterprise he fell hopelessly in love with her.  He had given himself, body and soul, to the thrall of a woman who had no more capacity for an honest affection than the table upon which I am writing.

And she—what did she do?  She led him on.  She permitted him to hold her heavy sealskin as she enveloped herself in it.  She permitted him to kiss the diamonds that covered her fingers.  And then in the very dressing-room where she would not permit the use of an indelicate expression, she mimicked the comic agony of her lover, for the edification of the Lotties and the Totties who shrieked with laughter at her irresistible sallies.  For Carry was not without a certain flow of vulgar humour, which she had acquired probably while waiting on her young city gentlemen in the Islingtonian lodging-house.  On the evening when poor John Philp brought himself to ask the awful question, she was p. 173particularly amusing.  She showed how he blushed and stammered as he described his little place in Camberwell; how he spoke of his mother’s devotion; and the happy effects of living on a gravel soil.  Then she narrated with some spirit how she squeezed his hand, and begged for time to consider the proposal.  Carry being the possessor of some means, was in the habit of treating her friends of the dressing room; so her jokes all took immensely, and the Lotties and Totties agreed that poor John Philp was an “old stoopid.”


About a fortnight after John Philp’s proposal, Landor was coming down the steps of Evans’s Hotel in Covent Garden at twelve o’clock one night.  He was passed on the steps by Miss Adair, enveloped in a white satin opera cloak, and apparently in full evening dress.  She was on the arm of a young gentleman with a little yellow moustache—an avant courrier of that Crutch and Toothpick Brigade which has since become famous.  The manager saw her enter a brougham which was waiting in front.  She was followed by the young gentleman, and was driven rapidly off.  p. 174The vehicle was followed on foot by a man with pale face and livid lips, and without any hat on.  In the face of that pursuing figure, Mr. Landor recognised John Philp, the master carpenter.  And being a man of the world he shrugged his shoulders, lit another cigarette, and went on to the Garrick Club, of which institution he is one of the most agreeable ornaments.

John Philp never again entered the stage-door of the Lugubreum.  He threw up his situation, alleging illness as an excuse.  He wanted change of air.  Landor regretted his determination, and looked out for somebody to take his place.  Three months after he received a letter from his old employé, asking him “for God’s sake” to come and see him.  Landor went; Artesian Cottage had evidently been somewhat neglected.  The creepers were trailing about in slovenly branches, and the little garden path was covered with grass.  Mrs. Philp looked worn and weary, and accompanied with sobs the answers which she gave the manager.  She led the way into her son’s bedroom.  He was a shadow of his former self, but a smile overspread his countenance p. 175as he recognised his old master.  He stretched his poor transparent hand across the counterpane, and grasping the manager’s hand, said feebly,—

“It is kind of you, sir.”

Then he motioned his mother to leave the room.

“I’m breaking up fast, sir,” he said, “but afore I go I wished to give you something—as—as a keepsake.  You’ve been a good friend to me, sir, but I’m afraid I seemed ungrateful.”

The manager answered him that he had always valued and respected him.

Then John put his hand under the pillow, and drew out a ring with a small diamond set in it.  This he handed to Landor.

“I bought it for her,” he stuttered; “I wanted to show her that a working man could buy jewels as well as the swells.  I pinched myself to get it, an’ the very night I ’ad it in my pocket to give her, I followed her ’ome to—to—I can’t say it, sir—it chokes me.”

Landor took the ring.  The master carpenter fell back on his pillow.  An expression of satisfied calm was upon his face.  The p. 176great change was coming.  Landor summoned his mother.  Hearing her voice John Philp opened his eyes and stared round the room.  Then he raised himself, and with a last dying effort shrieked,—

“It’s the di’monds as does it; damn ’em.”

He fell back, and Landor closed his eyes and drew the sheet over his face.

p. 177XIX.

All through his own part of the country John Osbaldiston was familiarly known as “Nails.”  And this expressive locution was adopted in the first place to indicate the business out of which the millionaire had amassed his fortune; and in the second place to give some necessarily inadequate notion of the hardness of his nature.  As John Osbaldiston was a millionaire it may be taken for granted that his nick-name was never mentioned before his face.  Besides being the possessor of enormous wealth the retired nail-maker was a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy-Lieutenant, and lived in confident expectation that when the Radicals came in—if they ever did come in—he should be rewarded for his unswerving p. 178devotion by a baronetcy.  The beauty of this hope was somewhat marred when Osbaldiston reflected that his wife was dead, and that he had no son to inherit the title.  He was a hard, pompous man, full of prejudices, and the happiest moments of his life were those which he spent upon the bench sentencing the peccant rustics.  Fortunately for the country side, John Osbaldiston never sat on the bench alone, and his own view as to the depravity of human nature could not take effect in sentences unless a majority of the bench was with him.  And the majority never was with him.

John Osbaldiston’s father had founded the business in the town of Belchester and had purchased the estate upon which John now lived, and to which he had greatly added; absorbing the estates of the smaller country gentlemen as in other days he had absorbed the business of the smaller nail-makers.  The house on the estate was a large, solid building, without any pretensions to architectural beauty, but capable of holding in its vast apartments half the élite of the county, if half the élite of the county should ever feel inclined to visit it together.  John Osbaldiston was a great p. 179picture buyer, and his galleries were the envy of his neighbours, and even of patrons of the Fine Arts living at a distance.  Indeed, the fame of the Osbaldiston collection had travelled almost as far as his nails.  He was not much of a critic.  Some people said that he was not much of a judge, but bought pictures as farmers buy sheep—by the brand.  Whatever truth there may be in these reflections, one thing is certain, that many of the best examples of the most esteemed painters had found their way into the galleries of Bradland Hall—as the Osbaldiston house was called.  Whether the contemplation of these accumulated works of art gave the millionaire any artistic pleasure it is impossible to say; but he was very proud of their possession, and it gave him an exquisite sense of satisfaction when at any sale in London his agent outbid the agent of his blue-blooded neighbour, the Duke of Sandown, for the possession of an example which both were anxious to acquire.  But, notwithstanding this pride of possession, the nail-maker of Belchester was not ostentatious.  His nature was a puzzle.  He was as inscrutable as he was hard.

p. 180The Master of Bradland Hall had one possession which gave him more anxiety than all his other treasures put together; and that possession was his daughter Bella, a thoughtless, light-hearted, high-spirited girl of seventeen, who had been a source of untold trouble to a succession of nursery-governesses, governesses, masters, mistresses, and professors.  Her nature was as soft as the paternal nature was hard.  She was easily led, though difficult to drive, and worst of all, was not awed to any appreciable extent by the frowns of her father, when he did frown at her, which, comparatively speaking, was seldom.  What little affection he had to bestow was given to his only child—the child of his old age; and it must be admitted at once, that if Bella reciprocated the affection, she had a most undemonstrative way of doing it.  The daughter had a way of putting her father down, which amounted almost to snubbing.  Done in private, the old gentleman bore such unfilial ebullitions in silence; though when performed before the menials he resented it with great bitterness.  I have already said that John Osbaldiston was full of prejudices.  For the p. 181purposes of this narrative it is necessary to mention but one of them.  He had a rooted antipathy to railways and everything connected with them.  This was no doubt strange in a man who had made his money in connection with iron, and whose commercial course was entirely connected with the manufacturing town of Belchester.  But his rooted antipathy may be accounted for by the fact that, on two occasions he came into collision with a railway company—not on the lines, but in the law courts—and that on each occasion he was beaten by the defendant company.  The first occasion was a mere affair connected with alleged negligence resulting in the loss of a consignment of nails.  But the second occasion was when the Great Nor’-West by Western Railway Company proposed to have a branch line from Belchester to Balt—a little village situated on the Bradland estate.  Osbaldiston spent thousands and thousands in opposing the Bill, and when finally it was passed, went to law on the question of compensation; though, on a fine night, with the wind blowing towards him, the shriek of the engine could barely be heard at the Hall.  It was then p. 182that John Osbaldiston declared his eternal hatred of all railways whatsoever, and swore a great oath that he would never travel by that means of transit, so long as there was any other mode of conveyance available.

In the early spring of 1879, John Osbaldiston was sitting in his library delivering himself of portentous platitudes on the subject of frivolity, for the edification of Miss Bella, when the afternoon post arrived, and brought a letter bearing the Belchester postmark.  Having perused it, John Osbaldiston settled his neck in his collar, and handed the communication to his daughter, who read it out with many interjections of disapproval.  The following is a copy of the letter.

Belchester Institute,
Belchester —, 1879.

Dear Sir,—A Committee having been appointed to consider the long-mooted question of opening a Loan Exhibition of Works of Art, in connection with the Institute, it has been resolved to hold the proposed Exhibition in the summer of the present year.  Regarding your own long and honourable connection with the town, it has been resolved to consult you generally on the subject, and to request you to lend us a few examples from your magnificent collection.  When it is known that you have contributed to the walls of our p. 183Exhibition, the example upon the minds of other collectors will be prodigious, and the success of our efforts be secured.

“Your obedient servant,
Amos Black, Hon. Sec.

John Osbaldiston, Esq., J.P., D.L.”

“Well, I never,” exclaimed Bella.  “Such impudence!”

“I see nothing impudent about it,” replied the father, sternly.  “I owe everything to Belchester.  Belchester shall not find me ungrateful.”

“Of course not, dear papa.  But supposing Belchester rewards your gratitude by poking its umbrellas through your Titians or by cutting little bits out of your Turners!”

“Belchester has trusted meI will trust Belchester,” replied her parent, pompously.

“But you can’t send to Belchester,” she said, trying another tack.

“And why, pray?”

“Because there is no way of sending them except by the Great Nor’-West by Western Railway Company’s branch line.”

“They shall go by van,” he replied decisively.

p. 184And there was an end of the matter.

The distance between Bradland Hall and Belchester is nearly thirty miles, and when John Osbaldiston had replied to the Secretary of the Belchester Institute, graciously according to the request of the Committee, he personally saw to the selection and packing of the pictures, in a van also selected with great care.  He made arrangement for a change of horses on the road, and he consigned the precious cargo to two men, in whose steadiness, and sobriety, and general possession of character, he could place the utmost confidence.  These selected characters quite justified the confidence reposed in them, and drove so steadily and so slowly, that the roadside population might have supposed the van to contain a corpse.

Two miles from Belchester there is a level crossing; and over this crossing the van containing Osbaldiston’s masterpieces had to be taken.  Just as the hoofs of the off horse left the up line his knees seemed to give way, he fell, and seemed unable to get up again.  Every effort was made to raise him; but in vain.  Then attempts were made to move the van which stood right across the rails.  But p. 185too late.  It all seemed to occur in a moment.  The express came rushing up.  The van was knocked into matchwood, and the masterpieces from Bradland Hall were master pieces indeed—mere fragments of frame and canvas, some strewed by the side of the line, and some adhering to the engine and carriages of the express, which lay on its side a short distance further on.

A telegram brought John Osbaldiston to the spot in process of time.  And he spent many days in Belchester mad with himself, with the Institute, with the railway, and with the world in general.  When he returned home his anger was increased.  He found a letter from Bella:—

Dear Pa.—I knew you would never consent, so I have run away to be married.  He is a man very highly connected, but has been unfortunate, and is at present a guard on the Nor’-West by Western.  He is so handsome, and we are so happy.  Do forgive us.


“Never!” cried the crushed nail-maker.  And he never did.

p. 186XX.

On the first day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-five the following advertisement appeared in the Times newspaper.

Housemaid and Companion.—Wanted immediately a smart active young woman, who thoroughly understands her business: a small house, and only one in family: washing given out: must have first-class references; good wages given; send copies of discharges to Mrs. G., Lambird Cottage, Thornton Heath.”

The “Mrs. G.” who advertised in these terms was a widow lady, named Gillison, and among those who applied for the situation was Susan Copeland, of the village of Stockbury in the county of Kent.  How a copy of the Times happened to arrive in Stockbury, p. 187does not appear upon the evidence.  But in all probability it had been sent to the Vicar, and the wife of that worthy clergyman, who had an insatiable thirst for the knowledge that is to be obtained from advertisements, came upon this “Want” of Mrs. Gillison, and brought it before the notice of Susan Copeland.  Susan was the model villager, the prize-girl of Stockbury, and having served brilliantly as an under nurse to the Vicar’s family, she was now anxious, as the saying goes, “to better herself.”  Susan was a tall brown-eyed girl.  She affected great simplicity in her dress, wore her hair brushed flat down on her forehead, and in a general way looked more like a Puritan maiden than is customary with the daughters of Kentish farmers.  Susan was eighteen years of age, and was engaged to Thomas Ash.  As Susan Copeland was the model girl of Stockbury, it was only right that she should become engaged to the model young man.  And that young man was Tom.  He had secured all the prizes in the Boys’ department, while she had been sedulously engaged in acquiring all the honours from the Girls’.  Indeed, these two swooped down upon the p. 188prize list, and by reason of their superior attainments and conspicuous virtue swept off all before them.

Satisfied with the Vicar’s report, Mrs. Gillison of Thornton Heath engaged Susan in the real and somewhat unusual capacity of “Housemaid and Companion” at a yearly salary of £20, which to a Stockbury girl appeared a tolerable fortune.  And it was arranged that Thomas Ash should take his betrothed to London, and deliver her safely at the house of Mrs. Gillison.  There was much sorrow in the village of Stockbury, when Susan took her departure for the great metropolis, and her boxes contained many tokens of the affectionate esteem in which she was held by her contemporaries.  All thoughts of rivalry were now lost in a universal sentiment of sorrow.  It was felt that in losing Miss Copeland, Stockbury was robbed of much of its moral lustre.  It is not necessary to enumerate the presents which her friends forced upon her.  Most of them had taken the shape of literature, and ranged from the “Dairyman’s Daughter” to the hymnal of the inimitable Watts; from “Baxter’s Saints’ p. 189Rest” presented by the Vicar to a highly coloured history of Jack and the Beanstalk, the gift of a small brother.  So beloved, respected, and lamented, Susan left her native village proudly escorted by the man who hereafter was to lead her to the altar.

Mrs. Gillison, when she had duly inspected, cross-examined, and examined-in-chief her new “housemaid and companion,” professed herself entirely satisfied; and Susan, who had a fine literary taste of her own, was delighted to find that her duties would be very light and that she would have the coveted leisure in which to improve her mind.  Mrs. Gillison was an active, smart little woman, who did her own cooking.  There was, moreover, a boy kept on the premises to carry coal, clean boots, and perform other menial offices.  Indeed, Susan’s duties were, in the first place, to keep clean the few rooms, of which Lambird Cottage consisted, and to afford to Mrs. Gillison that companionship which is found desirable by widow ladies of a certain age.  Mrs. Gillison was not a lady of much education—her husband had been a pork butcher in the Walworth Road—and it was part of p. 190Susan’s duty to read to her in the evening the entertaining fictions which she purchased when she took her walks abroad.  The old lady was omniverous, but chiefly relished the stirring fictions compiled by the Penny Dreadful authors, and at times had appetite for such boy’s literature as dealt with pirates or robbers, or the wild Indians of the West.  Dickens she rated “a low feller,” but she revelled in Ouida, and was particularly partial to the earlier fictions of Bulwer Lytton.  Susan Copeland’s excursions into the field of fiction had hitherto gone no further than “Ministering Children,” and other books with a religious purpose.  Her mind, therefore, became greatly expanded while reading for her mistress, and she became possessed of many views of life, which were to her at once strange and stimulating.

When Susan had been three months with the widow of the pork butcher her mistress handed her five golden sovereigns, that being the amount of wages then due, and Susan went out to the contiguous village of Croydon to purchase a new bonnet.  She had never before purchased a head-dress so fashionable.  p. 191Her tastes, however, had improved since she left the little village of Stockbury, and she wanted a bonnet which would suit the new style of doing her hair; for, with the consent of her mistress, she no longer wore her hair brushed flat down on the forehead like a Puritan, but adopted the fashionable “fringe” just then, to the eternal shame of English womanhood, coming into vogue.  A “housemaid and companion” is a more privileged person than a housemaid, or a companion, and when Susan returned from Croydon with her purchase she walked into Mrs. Gillison’s sitting-room without knocking at the door.  Mrs. Gillison was sitting at the table and started when her servant entered—started, then grew pale, then grew red, and then looked down with a shamefaced expression, more like that of a peccant school-girl than that of a grown woman.  On the table before her lay a pack of cards with their faces exposed.  Mrs. Gillison had, in fact, been discovered in the act of playing “Patience.”  It would be ridiculous to assert that the mere act of engaging in this very monotonous and even foolish pursuit is wicked in itself, and should occasion a blush on the p. 192cheek of matured innocence.  But Susan Copeland had been brought up to consider cards the devil’s plaything, and Mrs. Gillison had often heard her express her opinions on the subject, when she happened upon an allusion to the card-table in any of the novels which she read.  Indeed, so great was the confusion of the widow at being discovered in the midst of an occupation which that model Sunday scholar regarded with honest and hearty aversion that not only did she blush, she added to her sin by uttering a deliberate falsehood.

“I—I—was only tellin’ my fortune,” she said in an apologetic tone.

But in the countenance of her maid she saw pictured neither aversion nor reproach, but only awakened interest and active curiosity.  She took up a King and an Ace, regarded them carefully, and then said slowly,—

“And so these are real cards?”

Much relieved her mistress answered,—

“Of course.  There ain’t much harm in ’em, is there?”

“Not to look at,” replied the cautious handmaiden.  “But I suppose the wickedness is in playing with them.”

p. 193“Not a bit.  There never was a better man than my husband, and me an’ him played cribbage every night of our lives.”

Susan never took her eyes off the King and Ace which she still held.  She was fascinated.  She had even forgotten about her new bonnet.  She said in a dreamy, half-conscious sort of way,—

“I believe it must be in the playing the wickedness is.  I would like to see what it is.  Will you show me—so that I may avoid it?”

Never in her life did Mrs. Gillison comply more willingly with a request.

“Of course, my dear, of course.  Sit down opposite me there.  Pick ’em all up.  That’s right.  Now hand ’em to me.  This is the way we shuffle.  D’ye see?  And that’s the way we cut.  There’s no harm in that, is there?  Now run an’ fetch the cribbage board off my chest of drawers.  It’s a long board with ivory in it, an’ a lot of little holes at the side.  Run along.”

In another half hour Susan had begun to master the intricacies of the game, and was pegging away with an ardour which astonished even Mrs. Gillison, who was delighted at this p. 194new departure.  The last words she said to herself as she turned into bed were,—

“What a treasure that girl is to be sure!”

Strange to relate the following evening found Mrs. Gillison and Susan Copeland sitting at the same table with the same cribbage board between them, evincing the same determined interest in the game.  Susan had quite made up her mind that she had not yet arrived at the sinful phase of card playing.

“I suppose,” she ventured on this occasion, “that the sin of it is when you play for money.”

“I don’t see no sin in playin’ for money.  Me an’ my husband always played sixpence a game.”

“Suppose—suppose,” said Susan, doubtfully, “that we try—just to see.”

Mrs. Gillison was delighted.  She was at heart as determined a gambler as ever punted at Monaco.  She had now discovered in her Paragon the only virtue in which she had considered her wanting.  So they continued their game—only playing for sixpences.  When Mrs. Gillison retired that night her last observation was,—

p. 195“’Ow that gurl do improve in her card playin’ to be sure.”

And indeed Mrs. Gillison did not do her protégée more than justice.  She did improve with rapid strides.  The same faculty which enabled her to take away the village school prizes from all comers, now gave her the power of acquiring the mysteries of the pack.  In time she began to consider cribbage a somewhat slow amusement, and her mistress, nothing loath, undertook to open up for her the beauties of écarté.  This Susan considered an altogether more agreeable pastime.  And after she had played it a week her mistress on going to bed made this remark,—

“The way that gurl turns up the King is astonishin’.”

It was astonishing.  In fact, Susan turned the King up with such success that at the end of twelve months her mistress owed her five hundred pounds which she could not pay.  Then it was that Susan discovered the sinfulness of cards.  It consisted in playing and not paying.  She told her mistress so, and considered that she was only doing her duty as a religious and well brought-up young woman p. 196in warning that abandoned person of the danger of giving way to habits of dishonesty.  This little monetary difficulty occasioned unpleasantness between mistress and maid.  Relations between them became strained.  Mrs. Gillison was—to use her own expression—dying for a game of cards, and Susan Copeland refused to play except for ready money.  Eventually it became so apparent that the unscrupulous old woman either would not or could not pay what she had lost, that Susan in the defence of her just rights was obliged to call in her legal adviser.

Thomas Ash, still true to his Susan, and pining at a separation so lengthened, had obtained a situation in the London police, and although he had not succeeded in getting put upon the Thornton Heath district he felt that he was near his sweetheart, and could occasionally have an interview with her when off duty.  One evening Susan told her mistress that her friend had called, and the old lady, now looking worn and faded, followed her maid to the kitchen, where, to her great surprise and terror, she beheld a policeman of formidable size and severe aspect.  She burst p. 197out crying and begged Susan to spare her—not to arrest her and she would pay all—she would indeed.  Thomas Ash reassured the lady, informing her that he was present in his private capacity to advise, not in his public capacity to arrest.  He was present to assist, not to alarm.  The advice which he gave was simple and direct.  He advised her to sell her house and furniture, and so settle Susan’s demand.  The defaulting gambler at first refused, but Thomas Ash put the heinousness of her crime in such a very strong light that she at last consented, and Lambird Cottage with its contents became the property of strangers.

Ash left the police and took a beer house called the “Spotted Cow,” and in due course married Susan.  They are greatly respected by their customers, and have shown unexampled kindness to the wretched woman, who tried to rob the gentle Susan.  They have, for a consideration paid quarterly, given Mrs. Gillison a home, and she endeavours to prove her gratitude by doing all the kitchen work, mending the socks of the only child, and preparing the linen, for another which is p. 198daily expected.  Sometimes Susan will lend her six pennies of an evening with which to play cribbage, and they play quite happily till the Paragon has won the pennies all back again.

p. 199XXI.

You will find recorded in a hundred places the history of the flirt, who, carrying her affectation of coldness too far, is misunderstood at last by her lover.  He, devoted man, leaves her presence to wander about the world, while she atones for her indiscretion by a life-long repentance.  This capricious maiden figures in comedy, tragedy, and farce.  She is the heroine of innumerable novels, and her folly and fidelity form the theme of at least one popular song.  In this Tale she figures once again; and the only excuse for presenting her is that she appears in connection with a circumstance or coincidence so strange as to appear incredible.  It is nevertheless absolutely true.

Those who have followed the red deer on p. 200Exmoor need not be told that Dulverton is a hunting centre, situated on the border of Somerset.  Such readers will recall, not unpleasantly, the morning bustle in the yard of the “Lion” when there has been a meet in the neighbourhood.  The rubbing down of nags, the excitement of grooms, the greetings of red-coated sportsmen.  Among those who most enthusiastically supported the Devon and Somerset Stag hounds at the date of this story’s commencement were Squire Arbery and his daughter Kate.  She was an excellent horsewoman, and understood the long, precipitous coombes, and knew how to take the deceptive moor-bog, which showed as solid ground to the uninitiated, and was generally in at the death, when the stag, with glassy eye, outstretched tongue, and quivering flank, fell beneath the fangs of the pack.

Kate Arbery had performed in such scenes, times without number, and had invariably succeeded in exciting the admiration of the field.  The admiration of one unfortunate wight had developed into a passion.  His name was Chilcott.  The Chilcotts were hunting men from all time, and Henry Chilcott valued his p. 201accomplishments because he believed they would give him favour in the eyes of Miss Arbery.  Henry was young and enthusiastic.  His brother Arthur, who was two years his senior, regarded the infatuation of Henry as one of the heaviest misfortunes which could have befallen him.

“Take my word for it, Harry, she has no heart,” he would say to him at times.

But the other replied lightly that he couldn’t see how such an anatomical omission was possible, and fell more and more hopelessly in love every day.  These people belonged to the same sphere, and opportunities for the interchange of sentiment were frequent.  Upon Henry Chilcott the effect of such interchanges of sentiment with Kate Arbery varied.  Sometimes he would return to his home elated, beaming, and hilarious.  At other times he would come back down-hearted, misanthropic, and despairing.  And his brother, interpreting the symptoms, knew that Kate had given him high reasons for hope, or that she had treated him with studied coldness and hauteur.  Harry’s nature was a singularly simple and unsuspecting one.  He attributed her varying p. 202moods to anything but the right cause.  But after a year of assiduous attention and of much love-making of the kind when no word of love has been spoken, Harry Chilcott determined to know the worst.

There had been a meet at Anstey Barrows, and after a long and exciting chase the stag was killed at the Water’s-meet on the Lynn.  But few of those who saw the stag break were in at the death.  Among those few were Kate Arbery and her admirer.  After they had witnessed the agreeable spectacle of disembowelling “the stag of ten,” an operation completed with great nicety and despatch by the huntsmen, they rode together slowly in the direction of home—for their horses were by no means so fresh as when they streamed away towards the water from Anstey Barrows.  Then he spoke.  And she, full of high spirits and the keen sense of enjoyment born of sport, at first bantered her gallant, and then snubbed him.  She was simply borne away by a fine flow of animal spirits.  He accepted her answers seriously and in silence.  He had received his sentence, and he had no right to question the wisdom of the judge.  Though she p. 203might, he thought, have been less cruelly severe in her manner of awarding it.

The grey shades of evening were closing in by the time they reached her father’s gates.  As they were flung open, Kate saw that Harry held his horse in.

“You’ll come up to the house, will you not?” she said.

He answered sorrowfully,—

“No, I wish to say good-bye.”

“Oh! good-bye, then.”

“But I mean,” he said, “shake hands with me.  For it is good-bye for ever.”

Had he been a close observer of human nature he would have seen that Kate reddened and then turned white.  She recovered herself in a moment, however.  He approached her.  She held out her hand.  He bent over it and said “Good-bye.”  She felt a hot tear fall that seemed to burn through her glove.  But she only said with supreme airiness of manner, “Good-bye,” and galloped up through the avenue of chestnuts.

Harry was as good as his word.  He took the portion of goods that fell to him, and went into a far country.  And now Miss p. 204Arbery began to evince an interest in Arthur Chilcott, which she had never before exhibited.  She made all sorts of excuses for seeing that gentleman, and at last she did what she might have done before, confessed her love for Harry, and commanded his brother to bring him back to her.  Ladies do occasionally make preposterous demands of this sort, imagining that it is the duty of Society at large, to repair the evil of their own making.  But Arthur was cynical.  He professed himself unable to reconcile Kate’s expressions with Kate’s actions.

“I will prove to you that I love him.  You are his brother.  You shall see my diary.  You shall read my confessions.  And then you will bring him back, will you not?” she pleaded.

To a woman in her present state of mind, Arthur Chilcott knew that he might as well say “Yes” as anything else.  Besides which “yes” is more easily said than any other word in the language.  So he said it; and received, with many injunctions as to strict secrecy, the precious diary.  It was folded up in brown paper.  He put it into his pocket; p. 205took leave of Miss Arbery and the Squire, and went home.

Arthur Chilcott, though capable of advising well when consulted about the affairs of others, was not triumphantly discreet in the conduct of his own.  And soon after the departure of his brother, he became very badly afflicted with the mania for that species of gambling, which goes by the name of speculation.  He dabbled in all sorts and conditions of stocks, and in the course of a couple of years, had muddled away his whole fortune.  Chilcott Manor, with the fine grounds attached, had to be brought to the hammer.  The pictures, books, plate, and wines were duly entered in the unsympathetic pages of the auctioneer, and Arthur came up to London, to live in chambers, heartily wishing that he had never indulged in any sport more hazardous than hunting the red-deer of Exmoor.

Harry Chilcott, after many wanderings in foreign lands, during the course of which he had never forwarded an address, or any indication of the course of his aimless adventures, arrived in London.  He was tolerably well cured of his passion—or fancied that he was, p. 206which is perhaps not exactly the same thing.  Happening to pass through Holborn one day, he stopped at the second-hand bookshop of Mr. Whalley, and began turning over the volumes that lay higgledy-piggledy in a deal box bearing the intimation, “All these at fourpence.”  Of course this intimation did not mean that the whole boxful would be sold for that ridiculously inadequate sum, but that each volume could be purchased for a simple groat.  The box contained a miscellaneous and somewhat battered assortment of literary works.  There was an odd volume of Swift’s “Letters to Stella;” a “Euclid” minus the title page; volume the fourth of Rollin’s “Ancient History;” three or four numbers of “Blackwood;” a “Book of Common Prayer” with one clasp, an incomplete copy of “The Whole Duty of Man” and—

And! what is this?

Harry Chilcott took up a little book of manuscript.  His hand trembled as he opened it and gazed at the handwriting.  He turned eagerly to the flyleaf.  One word was written there—


p. 207It was enough.  He ran into the shop, deposited fourpence, and rushed with his prize to the Charing Cross Hotel, at which establishment, probably for economical reasons, he was staying.  He locked himself into his room, and as he read page after page, uttered that scrap of autobiographical intelligence, which at some time or other most of the sons of Adam have felt impelled to repeat—“What a fool I have been!”  Against the dates of an entire twelve months were entries in which Kate Arbery confessed her affection; entries in which she admitted regret that she should have teased her lover; entries in which she vowed that she would never marry mortal man unless Harry Chilcott asked her to be his.

Finally he turned to the date of the day following that upon which he had bidden her “good-bye for ever.”  And he read thus,—

“(Date.)  I have not slept all night thinking of my darling.  How could I have been so cruel?  He is so patient—so kind.  But he did not mean ‘good-bye.’  It cannot be.  I must see him.  You will come back to me, Harry, I know you will.  I could cry my eyes out with vexation.”

p. 208And so on.

The infatuated man shut the book, and absolutely shouted with exultation,—

“Yes!  Kate, I have got your message, and I fly to your arms.”

Before carrying into effect this resolution he purchased garments more suitable to the accepted lover than the rough, and, indeed, eccentric clothes which he had picked up on his travels.  Then he wrote to his brother Arthur, believing that unhappy speculator still to be in the neighbourhood of Dulverton, and the following evening he and his portmanteau were delivered safe and sound at the door of the “Lion.”  There was great commotion in the principal room of that famous inn.  Indeed, a high carousal was being carried on, and loud songs and louder laughter filled the establishment.  Harry was in high spirits himself, and would have joined the hilarious farmers had it not been that the waiter, who conducted him to his room, informed him that the roysterers downstairs were celebrating the marriage of Miss Kate Arbery to Parson Snowe, a ceremony which had been performed that morning in the parish church.

p. 209For about an hour the disappointed lover sat silent.  Then he took the Diary and wrote in it, “A wedding present for Parson Snowe.”  He wrapped the volume up, addressed it to the reverend bridegroom, and trudged to the post-office with it.  Arrived there, however, his better nature triumphed.  He went back to the “Lion,” and undoing the packet turned once more to the page in which Kate commanded him to come back.  He reverently kissed the entry.  Then he thrust Kate’s Diary into the flames, and silently watched it burn away to white ashes.

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