a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
|BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors)
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search
Title: Collected Stories Author: Richard Barham * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0605141h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2006 Date most recently updated: August 2006 This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
GO TO Project Gutenberg of Australia HOME PAGE
Table of Contents
A Singular Passage in the Life of the Late Henry Harris, Doctor in
The Grey Dolphin
The Lady Rohesia
The Spectre of Tappington
Mrs. Botherby's Story: The Leech of Folkestone
In order that the extraordinary circumstance which I am about to relate, may meet with the credit it deserves, I think it necessary to premise, that my reverend friend, among whose papers I find it recorded, was, in his lifetime, ever esteemed as a man of good plain understanding, strict veracity, and unimpeached morals,--by no means of a nervous temperament, or one likely to attach undue weight to any occurrence out of the common course of events, merely because his reflections might not, at the moment, afford him a ready solution of its difficulties.
On the truth of his narrative, as far as he was personally concerned, no one who knew him would hesitate to place the most implicit reliance. His history is briefly this:--He had married early in life, and was a widower at the age of thirty-nine, with an only daughter, who had then arrived at puberty, and was just married to a near connection of our own family. The sudden death of her husband, occasioned by a fall from his horse, only three days after her confinement, was abruptly communicated to Mrs. S--by a thoughtless girl, who saw her master brought lifeless into the house, and, with that inexplicable anxiety to be the first to tell bad news, so common among the lower orders, rushed at once into the sick-room with her intelligence. The shock was too severe; and though the young widow survived the fatal event several months, yet she gradually sank under the blow, and expired, leaving a boy, not a twelvemonth old, to the care of his maternal grandfather.
My poor friend was sadly shaken by this melancholy catastrophe; time, however, and a strong religious feeling, succeeded at length in moderating the poignancy of his grief--a consummation much advanced by his infant charge, who now succeeded, as it were by inheritance, to the place in his affections left vacant by his daughter's decease. Frederick S--grew up to be a fine lad; his person and features were decidedly handsome; still there was, as I remember, an unpleasant expression in his countenance, and an air of reserve, attributed, by the few persons who called occasionally at the vicarage, to the retired life led by his grandfather, and the little opportunity he had, in consequence, of mixing in the society of his equals in age and intellect. Brought up entirely at home, his progress in the common branches of education was, without any great display of precocity, rather in advance of the generality of boys of his own standing; partly owing, perhaps, to the turn which even his amusements took from the first. His sole associate was the son of the village apothecary, a boy about two years older than himself, whose father, being really clever in his profession, and a good operative chemist, had constructed for himself a small laboratory, in which, as he was fond of children, the two boys spent a great portion of their leisure time, witnessing many of those little experiments so attractive to youth, and in time aspiring to imitate what they admired.
In such society, it is not surprising that Frederick S--should imbibe a strong taste for the sciences which formed his principal amusement; or that, when, in process of time, it became necessary to choose his walk in life, a profession so intimately connected with his favourite pursuit, as that of medicine, should be eagerly selected. No opposition was offered by my friend, who, knowing that the greater part of his income would expire with his life, and that the remainder would prove an insufficient resource to his grandchild, was only anxious that he should follow such a path as would secure him that moderate and respectable competency which is, perhaps, more conducive to real happiness than a more elevated or wealthy situation. Frederick was, accordingly, at the proper age, matriculated at Oxford, with the view of studying the higher branches of medicine, a few months after his friend, John W--, had proceeded to Leyden, for the purpose of making himself acquainted with the practice of surgery in the hospitals and lecture-rooms attached to that university. The boyish intimacy of their younger days did not, as is frequently the case, yield to separation; on the contrary, a close correspondence was kept up between them. Dr. Harris was even prevailed upon to allow Frederick to take a trip to Holland to see his friend; and John returned the visit to Frederick at Oxford.
Satisfactory as, for some time, were the accounts of the general course of Frederick S--'s studies, by degrees rumours of a less pleasant nature reached the ears of some of his friends; to the vicarage, however, I have reason to believe, they never penetrated. The good old Doctor was too well beloved in his parish for any one voluntarily to give him pain; and, after all, nothing beyond whisper and surmises had reached X--, when the worthy vicar was surprised on a sudden by a request from his grandchild, that he might be permitted to take his name off the books of the university, and proceed to finish his education in conjunction with his friend W--at Leyden. Such a proposal, made, too, at a time when the period for his graduating could not be far distant, both surprised and grieved the Doctor; he combatted the design with more perseverance that he had ever been known to exert in opposition to any declared wish of his darling boy before, but, as usual, gave way, when, more strongly pressed, from sheer inability to persist in a refusal, which seemed to give so much pain to Frederick, especially when the latter, with more energy than was quite becoming to their relative situations, expressed his positive determination of not returning to Oxford, whatever might be the result of his grandfather's decision. My friend, his mind, perhaps, a little weakened by a short but severe nervous attack from which he had scarcely recovered, at length yielded a reluctant consent, and Frederick quitted England.
It was not till some months had elapsed after his departure, that I had reason to suspect that the eager desire of availing himself of opportunities for study abroad, not afforded him at home, was not the sole, or even the principal, reason which had drawn Frederick so abruptly from his Alma Mater. A chance visit to the university, and a conversation with a senior fellow belonging to his late college, convinced me of this; still I found it impossible to extract from the latter the precise nature of his offence. That he had given way to most culpable indulgences I had before heard hinted; and when I recollected how he had been at once launched, from a state of what might well be called seclusion, into a world where so many enticements were lying in wait to allure--with liberty, example, everything to tempt him from the straight road--regret, I frankly own, was more the predominant feeling in my mind than either surprise or condemnation. But here was evidently something more than mere ordinary excess--some act of profligacy, perhaps, of a deeper stain, which had induced his superiors, who, at first, had been loud in his praises, to desire him to withdraw himself quietly, but for ever; and such an intimation, I found, had, in fact, been conveyed to him from an authority which it was impossible to resist. Seeing that my informant was determined not to be explicit, I did not press for a disclosure, which, if made, would, in all probability, only have given me pain, and that the rather, as my old friend the Doctor had recently obtained a valuable living from Lord M--, only a few miles distant from the market-town in which I resided, where he now was, amusing himself in putting his grounds in order, ornamenting his house, and getting everything ready against his grandson's expected visit in the following autumn. October came, and with it came Frederick; he rode over more than once to see me, sometimes accompanied by the Doctor, between whom and myself the recent loss of my poor daughter Louisa had drawn the cords of sympathy still closer.
More than two years had flown on in this way, in which Frederick S--has as many times made temporary visits to his native country. The time was fast approaching when he was expected to return and finally take up his residence in England, when the sudden illness of my wife's father obliged us to take a journey into Lancashire, my old friend, who had himself a curate, kindly offering to fix his quarters at my parsonage, and superintend the concerns of my parish till my return. Alas! when I saw him next he was on the bed of death!
My absence was necessarily prolonged much beyond what I had anticipated. A letter, with a foreign post-mark, has, as I afterwards found, been brought over from his own house to my venerable substitute in the interval, and barely giving himself time to transfer the charge he had undertaken to a neighbouring clergyman, he had hurried off at once to Leyden. His arrival there was, however, too late. Frederick was dead!--killed in a duel, occasioned, it was said, by no ordinary provocation on his part, although the flight of his antagonist had added to the mystery which enveloped its origin. The long journey, in its melancholy termination, and the complete overthrow of all my poor friend's earthly hopes, were too much for him. He appeared too--as I was informed by the proprietor of the house in which I found him, when his summons at length had brought me to his bedside--to have received some sudden and unaccountable shock, which even the death of his grandson was inadequate to explain. There was, indeed, a wildness in his fast-glazing eye, which mingled strangely with the glance of satisfaction thrown upon me as he pressed my hand; he endeavoured to raise himself, and would have spoken, but fell back in the effort, and closed his eyes for ever. I buried him there, by the side of the object of his more than parental affection--in a foreign land.
It is from the papers that I discovered in his travelling case that I submit the following extracts, without, however, presuming to advance an opinion on the strange circumstances which they detail, or even as to the connexion which some may fancy they discover between different parts of them.
The first was evidently written at my own house, and bears date August the 15th, 18--, about three weeks after my own departure for Preston.
It begins thus:--
'Tuesday, August 15.--Poor girl!--I forget who it is that says, "The real ills of life are light in comparison with fancied evils;" and certainly the scene I have just witnessed goes some way towards establishing the truth of the hypothesis. Among the afflictions which flesh is heir to, a diseased imagination is far from being the lightest, even when considered separately, and without taking into the account those bodily pains and sufferings which--so close is the connexion between mind and matter--are but too frequently attendant upon any disorder of the fancy. Seldom has my interest been more powerfully excited than by poor Mary Graham. Her age, her appearance, her pale, melancholy features, the very contour of her countenance, all conspire to remind me, but too forcibly, of one who, waking or sleeping, is never long absent from my thoughts;--but enough of this.
'A fine morning had succeeded one of the most tempestuous nights I ever remember, and I was just sitting down to a substantial breakfast, which the care of my friend Ingoldsby's house-keeper, kind-hearted Mrs. Wilson, had prepared for me, when I was interrupted by a summons to the sick-bed of a young parishioner whom I had frequently seen in my walks, and had remarked for the regularity of her attendance at Divine worship. Mary Graham is the elder of two daughters, residing with their mother, the widow of an attorney, who, dying suddenly in the prime of life, left his family but slenderly provided for. A strict though not parsimonious economy has, however, enabled them to live with an appearance of respectability and comfort; and from the personal attractions which both girls possess, their mother is evidently not without hopes of seeing one, at least, of them advantageously settled in life. As far as poor Mary is concerned, I fear she is doomed to inevitable disappointment, as I am much mistaken if consumption has not laid its wasting finger upon her; while this last recurrence, of what I cannot but believe to be a formidable epileptic attack, threatens to shake out, with even added velocity, the little sand that may yet remain within the hour-glass of time. Her very delusion, too, is of such a nature as, by adding to bodily illness the agitation of superstitious terror, can scarcely fail to accelerate the catastrophe, which I think I see fast approaching.
'Before I was introduced into the sick-room, her sister, who had been watching my arrival from the window, took me into their little parlour, and, after the usual civilities, began to prepare me for the visit I was about to pay. Her countenance was marked at once with trouble and alarm, and in a low tone of voice, which some internal emotion, rather than the fear of disturbing the invalid in a distant room, had subdued almost to a whisper, informed me that my presence was become necessary, not more as a clergyman than a magistrate; that the disorder with which her sister had, during the night, been so suddenly and unaccountably seized, was one of no common kind, but attended with circumstances which, coupled with the declarations of the sufferer, took it out of all ordinary calculations, and, to use her own expression, that "malice was at the bottom of it."
'Naturally supposing that these insinuations were intended to intimate the partaking of some deleterious substance on the part of the invalid, I inquired what reason she had for imagining, in the first place, that anything of a poisonous nature had been administered at all; and, secondly, what possible incitement any human being could have for the perpetration of so foul a deed towards so innocent and unoffending an individual? Her answer considerably relieved the apprehensions I had begun to entertain lest the poor girl should, from some unknown cause, have herself been attempting to rush uncalled into the presence of her Creator; at the same time, it surprised me not a little by its apparent want of rationality and common sense. She had no reason to believe, she said, that her sister had taken poison, or that any attempt upon her life had been made, or was, perhaps, contemplated, but that "still malice was at work--the malice of villains and fiends, or of both combined; that no causes purely natural would suffice to account for the state in which her sister had been now twice placed, or for the dreadful sufferings she had undergone while in that state;" and that she was determined the whole affair should undergo a thorough investigation. Seeing that the poor girl was now herself labouring under a great degree of excitement, I did not think it necessary to enter at that moment into a discussion upon the absurdity of her opinion, but applied myself to the tranquillising of her mind by assurances of a proper inquiry, and then drew her attention to the symptoms of the indisposition, and the way in which it had made its first appearance.
'The violence of the storm last night had, I found, induced the whole family to sit up far beyond their usual hour, till, wearied out at length, and, as their mother observed, "tired of burning fire and candle to no purpose," they repaired to their several chambers.
'The sisters occupied the same room; Elizabeth was already at her humble toilet, and had commenced the arrangement of her hair for the night, when her attention was at once drawn from her employment by a half-smothered shriek and exclamation from her sister, who, in her delicate state of health, had found walking up two flights of stairs, perhaps a little more quickly than usual, an exertion, to recover from which she had seated herself in a large arm-chair.
'Turning hastily at the sound, she perceived Mary deadly pale, grasping, as it were convulsively, each arm of the chair which supported her, and bending forward in the attitude of listening; her lips were trembling, and bloodless, cold drops of perspiration stood upon her forehead, and in an instant after, exclaiming in a piercing tone, "Hark! they are calling me again! it is--it is the same voice; Oh, no, no!--Oh my God! save me, Betsy--hold me--save me!" she fell forward upon the floor. Elizabeth flew to her assistance, raised her, and by her cries brought both her mother, who had not yet got into bed, and their only servant-girl, to her aid. The latter was despatched at once for medical help; but, from the appearance of the sufferer, it was much to be feared that she would soon be beyond the reach of art. Her agonised parent and sister succeeded in bearing her between them and placing her on a bed; a faint and intermittent pulsation was for a while perceptible; but in a few moments a general shudder shook the whole body; the pulse ceased, the eyes became fixed and glassy, the jaw dropped, a cold clamminess usurped the place of the genial warmth of life. Before Mr. I--arrived everything announced that dissolution had taken place, and that the freed spirit had quitted its mortal tenement.
'The appearance of the surgeon confirmed their worst apprehensions; a vein was opened, but the blood refused to flow, and Mr. I--pronounced that the vital spark was indeed extinguished.
'The poor mother, whose attachment to her children was perhaps the more powerful, as they were the sole relatives or connexions she had in the world, was overwhelmed with a grief amounting almost to frenzy; it was with difficulty that she was removed to her own room by the united strength of her daughter and medical adviser. Nearly an hour had elapsed during the endeavour at calming her transports; they had succeeded, however, to a certain extent, and Mr. I--had taken his leave, when Elizabeth, re-entering the bedchamber in which her sister lay, in order to pay the last sad duties to her corpse, was horror-struck at seeing a crimson stream of blood running down the side of the counterpane to the floor. Her exclamation brought the girl again to her side, when it was perceived, to their astonishment, that the sanguine stream proceeded from the arm of the body, which was now manifesting signs of returning life. The half-frantic mother flew to the room, and it was with difficulty that they could prevent her, in her agitation, from so acting as to extinguish for ever the hope which had begun to rise in their bosoms. A long-drawn sigh, amounting almost to a groan, followed by several convulsive gaspings, was the prelude to the restoration of the animal functions in poor Mary: a shriek, almost preternaturally loud, considering her state of exhaustion, succeeded; but she did recover, and, with the help of restoratives, was well enough towards morning to express a strong desire that I should be sent for--a desire the more readily complied with, inasmuch as the strange expressions and declarations she had made since her restoration to consciousness, had filled her sister with the most horrible suspicions. The nature of these suspicions was such as would, at any other time, perhaps, have raised a smile upon my lips; but the distress, and even agony of the poor girl, as she half-hinted and half-expressed them, were such as entirely to preclude every sensation at all approaching to mirth. Without endeavouring, therefore, to combat ideas, evidently too strongly impressed upon her mind at the moment to admit of present refutation, I merely used a few encouraging words, and requested her to precede me to the sick chamber.
'The invalid was lying on the outside of the bed, partly dressed, and wearing a white dimity wrapping-gown, the colour of which corresponded but too well with the deadly paleness of her complexion. Her cheek was wan and sunken, giving an extraordinary prominence to her eye, which gleamed with a lustrous brilliancy not unfrequently characteristic of the aberration of intellect. I took her hand; it was chill and clammy, the pulse feeble and intermittent, and the general debility of her frame was such that I would fain have persuaded her to defer any conversation which, in her present state, she might not be equal to support. Her positive assurance that, until she had disburdened herself of what she called her "dreadful secret," she could know no rest either of mind or body, at length induced me to comply with her wish, opposition to which, in her then frame of mind, might perhaps be attended with even worse effects than its indulgence. I bowed acquiescence, and in a low and faltering voice, with frequent interruptions, occasioned by her weakness, she gave me the following singular account of the sensations which, she averred, had been experienced by her during her trance.
'"This, sir," she began, "is not the first time that the cruelty of others has, for what purpose I am unable to conjecture, put me to a degree of torture which I can compare to no suffering, either of body or mind, which I have ever before experienced. On a former occasion I was willing to believe it the mere effect of a hideous dream, or what is vulgarly termed the nightmare; but this repetition, and the circumstances under which I was last summoned, at a time, too, when I had not even composed myself to rest, fatally convince me of the reality of what I have seen and suffered.'
'"This is no time for concealment of any kind. It is now more than a twelvemonth since I was in the habit of occasionally encountering in my walks a young man of prepossessing appearance and gentlemanly deportment. He was always alone, and generally reading; but I could not be long in doubt that these rencounters, which became every week more frequent, were not the effect of accident, or that his attention, when we did meet, was less directed to his book than to my sister or myself. He even seemed to wish to address us, and I have no doubt would have taken some other opportunity of doing so, had not one been afforded him by a strange dog attacking us one Sunday morning in our way to church, which he beat off, and made use of this little service to promote an acquaintance. His name, he said, was Francis Somers, and added that he was on a visit to a relation of the same name, resident a few miles from X--. He gave us to understand that he was himself studying surgery with the view to a medical appointment in one of the colonies. You are not to suppose, sir, that he had entered thus into his concerns at the first interview; it was not till our acquaintance had ripened, and he had visited our house more than once with my mother's sanction, that these particulars were elicited. He never disguised, from the first, that an attachment to myself was his object originally in introducing himself to our notice. As his prospects were comparatively flattering, my mother did not raise any impediment to his attentions, and I own I received them with pleasure.'
'"Days and weeks elapsed; and although the distance at which his relation resided prevented the possibility of an uninterrupted intercourse, yet neither was it so great as to preclude his frequent visits. The interval of a day, or at most of two, was all that intervened, and these temporary absences certainly did not decrease the pleasure of the meetings with which they terminated. At length a pensive expression began to exhibit itself upon his countenance, and I could not but remark that at every visit he became more abstracted and reserved. The eye of affection is not slow to detect any symptom of uneasiness in a quarter dear to it. I spoke to him, questioned him on the subject; his answer was evasive, and I said no more. My mother, too, however, had marked the same appearance of melancholy, and pressed him more strongly. He at length admitted that his spirits were depressed, and that their depression was caused by the necessity of an early, though but a temporary, separation. His uncle, and only friend, he said, had long insisted on his spending some months on the Continent, with the view of completing his professional education, and that the time was now fast approaching when it would be necessary for him to commence his journey. A look made the inquiry which my tongue refused to utter. 'Yes, dearest Mary,' was his reply, 'I have communicated our attachment to him, partially at least; and though I dare not say that the intimation was received as I could have wished, yet I have, perhaps, on the whole, no fair reason to be dissatisfied with his reply.'
'"'The completion of my studies, and my settlement in the world, must, my uncle told me, be the first consideration; when these material points were achieved, he should not interfere with any arrangement that might be found essential to my happiness; at the same time he has positively refused to sanction any engagement at present, which may, he says, have a tendency to divert my attention from those pursuits, on the due prosecution of which my future situation in life may depend. A compromise between love and duty was eventually wrung from me, though reluctantly; I have pledged myself to proceed immediately to my destination abroad, with a full understanding that on my return, a twelvemonth hence, no obstacle shall be thrown in the way of what are, I trust, our mutual wishes.'
'"I will not attempt to describe the feelings with which I received this communication, nor will it be necessary to say anything of what passed at the few interviews which took place before Francis quitted X--. The evening immediately previous to that of his departure he passed in this house, and, before we separated, renewed his protestations of an unchangeable affection, requiring a similar assurance from me in return. I did not hesitate to make it. 'Be satisfied, my dear Francis,' said I, 'that no diminution in the regard I have avowed can ever take place, and though absent in body, my heart and soul will still be with you.'--'Swear this,' he cried, with a suddenness and energy which surprised, and rather startled me: 'promise that you will be with me in spirit, at least, when I am far away.' I gave him my hand, but that was not sufficient. 'One of these dark shining ringlets, my dear Mary,' said he, 'as a pledge that you will not forget your vow!' I suffered him to take the scissors from my work-box and to sever a lock of my hair, which he placed in his bosom.--The next day he was pursuing his journey, and the waves were already bearing him from England.
'"I had letters from him repeatedly during the first three months of his absence; they spoke of his health, his prospects, and of his love, but by degrees the intervals between each arrival became longer, and I fancied I perceived some falling off from that warmth of expression which had at first characterised his communications.'
'"One night I had retired to rest rather later than usual, having sat by the bedside, comparing his last brief note with some of his earlier letters, and was endeavouring to convince myself that my apprehensions of his fickleness were unfounded, when an undefinable sensation of restlessness and anxiety seized upon me. I cannot compare it to anything I had ever experienced before; my pulse fluttered, my heart beat with a quickness and violence which alarmed me, and a strange tremor shook my whole frame. I retired hastily to bed, in hopes of getting rid of so unpleasant a sensation, but in vain; a vague apprehension of I know not what occupied my mind, and vainly did I endeavour to shake it off. I can compare my feelings to nothing but those which we sometimes experience when about to undertake a long and unpleasant journey leaving those we love behind us. More than once did I raise myself in my bed and listen, fancying that I heard myself called, and on each of those occasions the fluttering of my heart increased. Twice I was on the point of calling to my sister, who then slept in an adjoining room, but she had gone to bed indisposed, and an unwillingness to disturb either her or my mother checked me; the large clock in the room below at this moment began to strike the hour of twelve. I distinctly heard its vibrations, but ere its sounds had ceased, a burning heat, as if a hot iron had been applied to my temple, was succeeded by a dizziness,--a swoon,--a total loss of consciousness as to where or in what situation I was.'
'"A pain, violent, sharp, and piercing, as though my whole frame were lacerated by some keen-edged weapon, roused me from this stupor,--but where was I? Everything was strange around me--a shadowy dimness rendered every object indistinct and uncertain; methought, however, that I was seated in a large, antique, high-backed chair, several of which were near, their tall black carved frames and seats interwoven with a lattice-work of cane. The apartment in which I sat was one of moderate dimensions, and from its sloping roof, seemed to be the upper story of the edifice, a fact confirmed by the moon shining without, in full effulgence, on a huge round tower, which its light rendered plainly visible through the open casement, and the summit of which appeared but little superior in elevation to the room I occupied. Rather to the right, and in the distance, the spire of some cathedral or lofty church was visible, while sundry gable-ends, and tops of houses, told me I was in the midst of a populous but unknown city.'
'"The apartment itself had something strange in its appearance; and, in the character of its furniture and appurtenances, bore little or no resemblance to any I had ever seen before. The fireplace was large and wide, with a pair of what are sometimes called andirons, betokening that wood was the principal, if not the only fuel consumed within its recess; a fierce fire was now blazing in it, the light from which rendered visible to most remotest parts of the chamber. Over a lofty old-fashioned mantle-piece, carved heavily in imitation of fruits and flowers, hung the half-length portrait of a gentleman, in a dark-coloured foreign habit, with a peaked beard and mustaches, one hand resting upon a table, the other supporting a sort of baton, or short military staff, the summit of which was surmounted by a silver falcon. Several antique chairs, similar in appearance to those already mentioned, surrounded a massive oaken table, the length of which much exceeded its width. At the lower end of this piece of furniture stood the chair I occupied; on the upper, was placed a small chafing-dish filled with burning coals, and darting forth occasionally long flashes of various coloured fire, the brilliance of which made itself visible, even above the strong illumination emitted from the chimney. Two huge, black, japanned cabinets, with clawed feet, reflecting from their polished surfaces the effulgence of the flame, were placed one on each side the casement-window to which I have alluded, and with a few shelves loaded with books, may of which were strewed in disorder on the floor, completed the list of furniture in the apartment. Some strange-looking instruments, of unknown form and purpose, lay on the table near the chafing-dish, on the other side of which a miniature portrait of myself hung, reflected by a small oval mirror in a dark-coloured frame, while a large open volume, traced with strange characters of the colour of blood, lay in front; a goblet, containing a few drops of liquid of the same ensanguined hue, was by its side.'
'"But of the objects which I have endeavoured to describe, none arrested my attention so forcibly as two others. These were the figures of two young men, in the prime of life, only separated from me by the table. They were dressed alike, each in a long flowing gown, made of some sad-coloured stuff, and confined at the waist by a crimson girdle; one of them, the shorter of the two, was occupied in feeding the embers of the chafing-dish with a resinous powder, which produced and maintained a brilliant but flickering blaze, to the action of which his companion was exposing a long lock of dark chestnut hair, that shrank and shrivelled as it approached the flame. But, O God!--that hair!--and the form of him who held it! that face! those features! not for one instant could I entertain a doubt--it was He! Francis!--the lock he grasped was mine, the very pledge of affection I had given him, and still, as it partially encountered the fire, a burning heat seemed to scorch the temple from which it had been taken, conveying a torturing sensation that affected my very brain.'
'"How shall I proceed?--but no, it is impossible,--not even to you, sir, can I--dare I--recount the proceedings of that unhallowed night of horror and of shame. Were my life extended to a term commensurate with that of the Patriarchs of old, never could its detestable, its damning pollutions be effaced from my remembrance; and oh! above all, never could I forget the diabolical glee which sparkled in the eyes of my fiendish tormentors, as they witnessed the worse than useless struggles of their miserable victim. Oh! why was it not permitted me to take refuge in unconsciousness--nay, in death itself, from the abominations of which I was compelled to be, not only a witness, but a partaker? But it is enough, sir; I will not further shock your nature by dwelling longer on a scene, the full horrors of which, words, if I even dared employ any, would be inadequate to express; suffice it to say, that after being subjected to it, how long I knew not, but certainly for more than an hour, a noise from below seemed to alarm my persecutors; a pause ensued,--the lights were extinguished,--and, as the sound of a footstep ascending a staircase became more distinct, my forehead felt again the excruciating sensation of heat, while the embers, kindling into a momentary flame, betrayed another portion of the ringlet consuming in the blaze. Fresh agonies succeeded, not less severe, and of a similar description to those which had seized upon me at first; oblivion again followed, and on being at length restored to consciousness, I found myself as you see me now, faint and exhausted, weakened in every limb, and every fibre quivering with agitation. My groans soon brought my sister to my aid; it was long before I could summon resolution to confide, even to her, the dreadful secret, and when I had done so, her strongest efforts were not wanting to persuade me that I had been labouring under a severe attack of nightmare. I ceased to argue, but I was not convinced: the whole scene was then too present, too awfully real, to permit me to doubt the character of the transaction; and if, when a few days had elapsed, the hopelessness of imparting to others the conviction I entertained myself, produced in me an apparent acquiescence with their opinion, I have never been the less satisfied that no cause reducible to the known laws of nature occasioned my sufferings on that hellish evening. Whether that firm belief might have eventually yielded to time, whether I might at length have been brought to consider all that had passed, and the circumstances which I could never cease to remember, as a mere phantasm, the offspring of a heated imagination, acting upon an enfeebled body, I know not--last night, however, would in any case have dispelled the flattering illusion--last night--last night was the whole horrible scene acted over again. The place--the actors--the whole infernal apparatus were the same;--the same insults, the same torments, the same brutalities--all were renewed, save that the period of my agony was not so prolonged. I became sensible to an incision in my arm, though the hand that made it was not visible; at the same moment my persecutors paused; they were manifestly disconcerted, and the companion of him, whose name shall never more pass my lips, muttered something to his abettor in evident agitation; the formula of an oath of horrible import was dictated to me in terms fearfully distinct. I refused it unhesitatingly; again and again was it proposed, with menaces I tremble to think on--but I refused; the same sound was heard--interruption was evidently apprehended--the same ceremony was hastily repeated, and I again found myself released, lying on my own bed, with my mother and my sister weeping over me. O God! O God! when and how is this to end? When will my spirit be left in peace?--Where, or with whom shall I find refuge?"'
'It is impossible to convey any adequate idea of the emotions with which this unhappy girl's narrative affected me. It must not be supposed that her story was delivered in the same continuous and uninterrupted strain in which I have transcribed its substance. On the contrary, it was not without frequent intervals, of longer or shorter duration, that her account was brought to a conclusion; indeed, many passages of her strange dream were not without the greatest difficulty and reluctance communicated at all. My task was no easy one; never, in the course of a long life spent in the active duties of my Christian calling,--never had I been summoned to such a conference before.'
'To the half-avowed, and palliated confession of committed guilt I had often listened, and pointed out the only road to secure its forgiveness. I had succeeded in cheering the spirit of despondency, and sometimes even in calming the ravings of despair; but here I had a different enemy to combat, an ineradicable prejudice to encounter, evidently backed by no common share of superstition, and confirmed by the mental weakness attendant upon severe bodily pain. To argue the sufferer out of an opinion so rooted was a hopeless attempt. I did, however, essay it; I spoke to her of the strange and mysterious connexion maintained between our waking images and those which haunt us in our dreams, and more especially during that morbid oppression commonly called nightmare. I was even enabled to adduce myself as a strong and living instance of the excess to which fancy sometimes carries her freaks on those occasions; while, by an odd coincidence, the impression made upon my own mind, which I adduced as an example, bore no slight resemblance to her own. I stated to her, that on my recovery from the fit of epilepsy, which had attacked me about two years since, just before my grandson Frederick left Oxford, it was with the greatest difficulty that I could persuade myself that I had not visited him, during the interval, in his rooms at Brazenose, and even conversed with himself and his friend W--, seated in his arm-chair, and gazing through the window full upon the statue of Cain, as it stands in the centre of the quadrangle. I told her of the pain I underwent both at the commencement and termination of my attack; of the extreme lassitude that succeeded; but my efforts were all in vain: she listened to me, indeed, with an interest almost breathless, especially when I informed her of my having actually experienced the very burning sensation in the brain alluded to, no doubt a strong attendant symptom of this peculiar affection, and a proof of the identity of the complaint: but I could plainly perceive that I failed entirely in shaking the rooted opinion which possessed her, that her spirit had, by some nefarious and unhallowed means, been actually subtracted for a time from its earthly tenement.'
The next extract which I shall give from my old friend's memoranda is dated August 24th, more than a week subsequent to his first visit at Mrs. Graham's. He appears, from his papers, to have visited the poor young woman more than once during the interval, and to have afforded her those spiritual consolations which no one was more capable of communicating. His patient, for so in a religious sense she may well be termed, had been sinking under the agitation she had experienced; and the constant dread she was under of similar sufferings, operated so strongly on a frame already enervated that life at length seemed to hang only by a thread. His papers go on to say--
'I have just seen poor Mary Graham--I fear for the last time. Nature is evidently quite worn out; she is aware that she is dying, and looks forward to the termination of her existence here, not only with resignation but with joy. It is clear that her dream, or what she persists in calling her "subtraction," has much to do with this. For the last three days her behaviour has been altered; she has avoided conversing on the subject of her delusion, and seems to wish that I should consider her as a convert to my view of her case. This may, perhaps, be partly owing to the flippancies of her medical attendant upon the subject, for Mr. I--has, somehow or other, got an inkling that she has been much agitated by a dream, and thinks to laugh off the impression--in my opinion injudiciously; but though a skilful, and a kind-hearted, he is a young man, and of a disposition, perhaps, rather too mercurial for the chamber of a nervous invalid. Her manner has since been much more reserved to both of us: in my case, probably because she suspects me of betraying her secret.'
August 26th.--Mary Graham is yet alive, but sinking fast; her cordiality towards me has returned since her sister confessed yesterday that she had herself told Mr. I--that his patient's mind "had been affected by a terrible vision." I am evidently restored to her confidence.--She asked me this morning, with much earnestness, "What I believed to be the state of departed spirits during the interval between dissolution and the final day of account? And whether I thought they would be safe, in another world, from the influence of wicked persons employing an agency more than human?" Poor child! One cannot mistake the prevailing bias of her mind. Poor child!
August 27th.--It is nearly over; she is sinking rapidly, but quietly and without pain. I have jus administered to her the sacred elements, of which her mother partook. Elizabeth declined doing the same: she cannot, she says, yet bring herself to forgive the villain who has destroyed her sister. It is singular that she, a young woman of good plain sense in ordinary matters, should so easily adopt, and so pertinaciously retain, a superstition so puerile and ridiculous. This must be a matter of a future conversation between us; at present, with the form of the dying girl before her eyes, it were vain to argue with her. The mother, I find, has written to young Somers, stating the dangerous situation of his affianced wife; indignant, as she justly is, at his long silence, it is fortunate that she has no knowledge of the suspicions entertained by her daughter. I have seen her letter; it is addressed to Mr. Francis Somers, in the Hogewoert, at Leyden--a fellow student, then, of Frederick's. I must remember to inquire if he is acquainted with this young man.'
Mary Graham, it appears, died the same night. Before her departure, she repeated to my friend the singular story she had before told him, without any material variation from the detail she had formerly given. To the last she persisted in believing that her unworthy lover had practised upon her by forbidden arts. She once more described the apartment with great minuteness, and even the person of Francis's alleged companion, who was, she said, about the middle height, hard-featured, with a rather remarkable scar upon his left cheek, extending in a transverse direction from below the eye to the nose. Several pages of my reverend friend's manuscript are filled with reflections upon this extraordinary confession, which, joined with its melancholy termination, seems to have produced no common effect upon him. He alludes to more than one subsequent discussion with the surviving sister, and piques himself on having made some progress in convincing her of the folly of her theory respecting the origin and nature of the illness itself.
His memoranda on this, and other subjects, are continued till about the middle of Spetember, when a break ensues, occasioned, no doubt, by the unwelcome news of his grandson's dangerous state, which induces him to set out forthwith for Holland. His arrival at Leyden was, as I have already said, too late. Frederick S--had expired after thirty hours' intense suffering, from a wound received in a duel with a brother student. The cause of the quarrel was variously related; but according to his landlord's version, it had originated in some silly dispute about a dream of his antagonist's, who had been the challenger. Such, at least, was the account given to him, as he said, by Frederick's friend and fellow-lodger, W--, who had acted as second on the occasion, thus acquitting himself of an obligation of the same kind due to the deceased, whose services he had put in requisition about a year before on a similar occasion, when he had himself been severely wounded in the face.
From the same authority I learned that my poor friend was much affected on finding that his arrival had been deferred too long. Every attention was shown him by the proprietor of the house, a respctable tradesman, and a chamber was prepared for his accommodation; the books, and few effects of his deceased grandson, were delivered over to him, duly inventoried, and, late as it was in the evening when he reached Leyden, he insisted on being conducted immediately to the apartments which Frederick had occupied, there to indulge the first ebullitions of his sorrows, before he retired to his own. Madame Müller accordingly led the way to an upper room, which, being situated at the top of the house, had been, from its privacy and distance from the street, been selected by Frederick as his study. The Doctor entered, and taking the lamp from his conductress motioned to be left alone. His implied wish was of course complied with: and nearly two hours had elapsed before his kindhearted hostess reascended, in the hope of prevailing upon him to return with her, and partake of that refreshment which he had in the first instance peremptorily declined. Her application for admission was unnoticed:--she repeated it more than once, without success; then becoming somewhat alarmed at the continued silence, opened the door and perceived her new inmate stretched on the floor in a fainting fit. Restoratives were instantly administered, and prompt medical aid succeeded at length in restoring him to consciousness. But his mind had received a shock from which, during the few weeks he survived, it never entirely recovered. His thoughts wandered perpetually: and though, from the very slight acquaintance which his hosts had with the English language, the greater part of what fell from him remained unknown, yet enough was understood to induce them to believe that something more than the mere death of his grandson had contributed thus to paralyse his faculties.
When his situation was first discovered, a small miniature was found tightly grasped in his right hand. It had been the property of Frederick, and had more than once been seen by the Müllers in his possession. To this the patient made continued reference, and would not suffer it one moment from his sight: it was in his hand when he expired. At my request it was produced to me. The portrait was of a young woman, in an English morning dress, whose pleasing and regular features, with their mild and somewhat pensive expression, were not, I thought, altogether unknown to me. Her age was apparently about twenty. A profusion of dark chestnut hair was arranged in the Madonna style, above a brow of unsullied whiteness, a single ringlet depending on the left side. A glossy lock of the same colour, and evidently belonging to the original, appeared beneath a small crystal, inlaid in the back of the picture, which was plainly set in gold, and bore in a cypher the letters M.G. with the date 18--. From the inspection of this portrait, I could at the time collect nothing, nor from that of the Doctor himself, which, also, I found the next morning in Frederick's desk, accompanied by two separate portions of hair. One of them was a lock, short, and deeply tinged with grey, and had been taken, I have little doubt, from the head of my old friend himself; the other corresponded in colour and appearance with that of the back of the miniature. It was not until a few days had elapsed, and I had seen the worthy Doctor's remains quietly consigned to the narrow house, that while arranging his papers previous to my intended return upon the morrow, I encountered the narrative I have already transcribed. The name of the unfortunate young woman connected with it forcibly arrested my attention. I recollected it immediately as one belonging to a parishioner of my own, and at once recognised the original of the female portrait as its owner.
I rose not from the perusal of his very singular statement till I had gone through the whole of it. It was late,--and the rays of the single lamp by which I was reading did but very faintly illumine the remoter parts of the room in which I sat. The brilliancy of an unclouded November moon, then some twelve nights old, and shining full into the apartment, did much towards remedying the defect. My thoughts filled with the melancholy details I had read, I rose and walked to the window. The beautiful planet rose high in the firmament, and gave to the snowy roofs of the houses, and pendant icicles, all the sparkling radiance of clustering gems. The stillness of the scene harmonized well with the state of my feelings. I threw open the casement and looked abroad. Far below me, the waters of the principal canal shone like a broad mirror in the moonlight. To the left rose the Burght, a huge round tower of remarkable appearance, pierced with embrasures at its summit; while a little to the right and in the distance, the spire and pinnacles of the Cathedral of Leyden rose in all their majesty, presenting a coup d'oueil of surpassing beauty. To a spectator of calm, unoccupied mind, the scene would have been delightful. On me it acted with an electric effect. I turned hastily to survey the apartment in which I had been sitting. It was the one designated as the study of the late Frederick S--. The sides of the room were covered with dark wainscot; the spacious fireplace opposite to me, with its polished andirons, was surmounted by a large old-fashioned mantlepiece, heavily carved in the Dutch style with fruits and flowers; above it frowned a portrait, in a Vandyke dress, with a peaked beard and mustaches; one hand of the figure rested on a table, while the other bore a marshal's staff, surmounted with a silver falcon; and--either my imagination, already heated by the scene, deceived me,--or a smile as of a malicious triumph curled the lip and glared in the cold leaden eye that seemed fixed upon my own. The heavy, antique, cane-backed chairs,--the large oaken table,--the bookshelves, the scattered volumes--all, all, were there; while, to complete the picture, to my right and left, as half-breathless I leaned my back against the casement, rose, on each side, a tall, dark, ebony cabinet, in whose polished sides the single lamp upon the table shone reflected as in a mirror.
What am I to think?--Can it be that the story I have been reading was written by my poor friend here, and under the influence of delirium?--Impossible! Besides they all assure me, that from the fatal night of his arrival he never left his bed--never put pen to paper. His very directions to have me summoned from England were verbally given, during one of those few and brief intervals in which reason seemed partially to resume her sway. Can it then be possible that--? W--? where is he who alone may be able to throw light on this horrible mystery? No one knows. He absconded, it seems immediately after the duel. No trace of him exists, nor, after repeated and anxious inquiries, can I find that any student has ever been known in the University of Leyden by the name Francis Somers.
'There are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy!!'
'He won't--won't he? Then bring me my boots!' said the Baron.
Consternation was at its height in the castle of Shurland--a caitiff had dared to disobey the Baron! and--the Baron had called for his boots!
A few days before, a notable miracle had been wrought in the nieghbourhood; and in those times miracles were not so common as they are now; no royal balloons, no steam, no railroads,--while the few Saints who took the trouble to walk with their heads under their arms, or to pull the Devil by the nose, scarcely appeared above once in a century;--so the affair made the greater sensation.
The clock had done striking twelve, and the Clerk of Chatham was untrussing his points preparatory to seeking his truckle-bed; a half-emptied tankard of mild ale stood at his elbow, the roasted crab yet floating on its surface. Midnight had surprised the worthy functionary while occupied in dliscussing it, and with his task yet unaccomplished. He meditated a mighty draft: one hand was fumbling with his tags, while the other was extended in the act of grasping the jorum, when a knock on the portal, solemn and sonorous, arrested his fingers. It was repeated thrice ere Emmanuel Saddleton had presence of mind sufficient to inquire who sought admittance at that untimeous hour.
'Open! open! good Clerk of St. Bridget's,' said a female voice small, yet distinct and sweet--an excellent thing in woman.
The Clerk arose, crossed to the doorway, and undid the latchet.
On the threshold stood a Lady of surpassing beauty: her robes wore rich, and large, and full; and a diadem, sparkling with gems that shed a halo around, crowned her brow: she beckoned the Clerk as he stood in astonishment before her.
'Emmanuel!' said the Lady; and her tones sounded like those of a silver flute. 'Emmanuel Saddleton,' truss up your points, and follow me.'
The worthy Clerk stood aghast at the vision; the purple robe, the cymar, the coronet,--above all, the smile; no, there was no mistaking her; it was the blessed Saint Bridget herself!
And what could have brought the sainted Lady out of her warm shrine at such a time of night? and on such a night? for it was as dark as pitch, and metaphroically speaking, 'rained cats and dogs.'
Emmanuel could not speak, so he looked the question.
'No matter for that,' said the saint, answering to his thought. 'No matter for that, Emmanuel Saddleton; only follow me, and you'll see!'
The Clerk turned a wistful eye at the corner cupboard.
'Oh! never mind the lantern, Emmanuel: you'll not want it: bring a mattock and a shovel.' As she spoke, the apparition held up her delicate hand. From the tip of each of her long taper fingers issued a lambent flame of such surpassing brilliancy as would have plunged a whole gas company into despair--it was a 'Hand of Glory,' such a one as tradition tells us yet burns in Rochester Castle every St. Mark's Eve. Many are the daring individuals who have watched Gundolf's Tower, hoping to find it, and the treasure it guards;--but none of them ever did.
'This way, Emmanuel!' and a flame of peculiar radiance streamed from her little finger as it pointed to the pathway leading to the churchyard.
Saddleton shouldered his tools, and followed in silence.
The cemetery of Saint Bridget's was some half-mile distant from the Clerk's domicile, and adjoined a chapel dedicated to that illustrious lady, who, after leading but a so-so life, died in the odour of sanctity. Emmanuel Saddleton was fat and scant of breath, the mattock was heavy, and the Saint walked too fast for him: he paused to take second wind at the end of the first furlong.
'Emmanuel,' said the holy lady, good-humouredly, for she heard him puffing; 'rest awhile, Emmanuel, and I'll tell you what I want with you.'
Her auditor wiped his brow with the back of his hand, and looked all attention and obedience.
'Emmanuel,' continued she, 'what did you and Father Fothergill, and the rest of you, mean yesterday by burying that drowned man so close to me? He died in mortal sin, Emmanuel; no shrift, no unction, no absolution: why, he might as well have been excommunicated. He plagues me with his grinning, and I can't have any peace in my shrine. You must howk him up again, Emmanuel!'
'To be sure, madam,--my lady,--that is, your holiness,' stammered Saddleton, trembling at the thought of the task assigned him. 'To be sure, your ladyship; only--that is--'
'Emmanuel,' said the saint, 'you'll do my bidding; or it would be better you had! and her eye changed from a dove's eye to that of a hawk, and a flash came from it as bright as the one from her little finger. The Clerk shook in his shoes; and, again dashing the cold perspiration from his brow, followed the footsteps of his mysterious guide.
The next morning all Chatham was in an uproar. The Clerk of St. Bridget's had found himself at home at daybreak, seated in his own armchair, the fire out, and--the tankard of ale out too! Who had drunk it?--where had he been?--and how had he got home?--all was a mystery!--he remembered 'a mass of things, but nothing distinctly;' all was fog and fantasy. What he could clearly recollect was that he had dug up the Grinning Sailor, and that the Saint had helped to throw him into the river again. All was thenceforth wonderment and devotion. Masses were sung, tapers were kindled, bells were tolled; the monks of Saint Romuald had a solemn procession, the abbot at their head, the sacristan at their tail, and the holy breeches of St. Thomas à Beckett in the centre;--Father Fothergill brewed a XXX puncheon of holy water. The Rood of Gillingham was deserted; the chapel of Rainham forsaken; everyone who had a soul to be saved, flocked with his offering to Saint Bridget's shrine, and Emmanuel Saddleton gathered more fees from the promiscuous piety of that one week than he had pocketed during the twelve preceding months.
Meanwhile the corpse of the ejected reprobate oscillated like a pendulum between Sheerness and Gillingham Reach. Now borne by the Medway into the Western Swale,--now carried by the fluent tide back to the vicinity of its old quarters, it seemed as though the River god and Neptune were amusing themselves with a game of subaqueous battledore, and had chosen this unfortunate carcass as a marine shuttlecock. For some time the alternation was kept up with great spirit, till Boreas, interfering in the shape of a stiffish 'Nor'-wester,' drifted the bone (and flesh) of contention ashore on the Shurland domain, where it lay in all the majesty of mud. It was soon discovered by the retainers, and dragged from its oozy bed, grinning worse than ever. Tidings of the godsend were of course carried instantly to the castle; for the Baron was a very great man; and if a dun cow had flown across his property unannounced by a warder, the Baron would have kicked him, the said warder, from the topmost battlement into the bottommost ditch,--a descent of peril, and one which 'Ludwig the Leaper,' or the illustrious Trenck himself might well have shrunk from encountering.
'An't please your lordship--' said Peter Periwinkle.
'No, villain! it does not please me!' roared the Baron.
His lordship was deeply engaged with a peck of Feversham oysters,--he doted on shellfish, hated interruptions at meals, and had not yet dispatched more than twenty dozens of the 'natives.'
'There's a body, my lord, washed ashore in the lower creek,' said the seneschal.
The Baron was going to throw the shells at his head; but paused in the act, and said with much dignity--
'Turn out the fellow's pockets!'
But the defunct had before been subjected to the double scrutiny of Father Fothergill and the Clerk of St. Bridget! It was ill gleaning after such hands; there was not a single maravedi.
We have already said that Sir Robert de Shurland, Lord of the Isle of Sheppey, and of many a fair manor on the mainland, was a man of worship. He had rights of freewarren, saccage and sockage, cuisage and jambage, fosse and fork, infang theofe and outfang theofe; and all the waifs and strays belonged to him in fee simple.
'Turn out his pockets!' said the knight.
'An't please you, my lord, I must say as how they was turned out afore, and the devil a rap's left.'
'Then bury the blackguard!'
'Please your lordship, he has been buried once.'
'Then bury him again, and be--!' The Baron bestowed a benediction.
The seneschal bowed low as he left the room, and the Baron went on with his oysters.
Scarcely ten dozen had vanished when Periwinkle reappeared.
'An't please you, my lord, Father Fothergill says as how that it's the Grinning Sailor, and he won't bury him anyhow.'
Oh! he won't--won't he?' said the Baron. Can it be wondered that he called for his boots?
Sir Robert de Shurland, Lord of Shurland and Minster, Baron of Sheppey in comitatukent, was, as has been before hinted, a very great man. He was also a very little man; that is, he was relatively great, and relatively little--or physically little, and metaphorically great--like Sir Sidney Smith and the late M. Bonaparte. To the frame of a dwarf he united the soul of a giant, and the valour of a gamecock. Then, for so small a man, his strength was prodigious; his fist would fell an ox, and his kick--oh! his kick was tremendous, and, when he had his boots on, would--to use an expression of his own, which he had picked up in the holy wars--would 'send a man from Jericho to June.' He was bull-necked and bandy-legged; his chest was broad and deep, his head large and uncommonly thick, his eyes a little bloodshot, and his nose retroussé with a remarkably red tip. Strictly speaking, the Baron could not be called handsome; but his tout ensemble was singularly impressive; and when he called for his boots, everybody trembled and dreaded the worst.
'Periwinkle,' said the Baron, as he encased his better leg, 'let the grave be twenty feet deep!'
Your lordship's command is law.'
'And, Periwinkle' Sir Robert stamped his left heel into its receptacle--' and, Periwinkle, see that it be wide enough to hold not exceeding two!'
'Y--y--yes, my lord?'
'And, Periwinkle!--tell Father Fothergill I would fain speak with his reverence.'
'Y--y--yes, my lord.'
The Baron's beard was peaked; and his moustaches, stiff and stumpy, projected horizontally like those of a Tom Cat; he twirled the one; he stroked the other, he drew the buckle of his surcingle a thought tighter, and strode down the great staircase three steps at a stride.
The vassals were assembled in the great hall of Shurland Castle; every cheek was pale, every tongue was mute: expectation and perplexity were visible on every brow. What would his lordship do? Were the recusant anybody else, gyves to the heels and hemp to the throat were but too good for him: but it was Father Fothergill who had said 'I won't;' and though the Baron was a very great man, the rope was a greater; and the Pope was Father Fothergill's great friend--some people said he was his uncle.
Father Fothergill was busy in the refectory trying conclusions with a venison pasty, when he received the summons of his patron to attend him in the chapel cemetery. Of course he lost notime obeying it for obedience was the general rule in Shurland Castle. If anybody ever said 'I won't,' it was the exception; and like all other exceptions, only proved the rule the stronger. The Father was a friar of the Augustine persuasion; a brotherhood which, having been planted in Kent some few centuries earlier, had taken very kindly to the soil, and overspread the county much as hops did some few centuries later. He was plump and portly, a little thick-winded, especially after dinner; stood five feet four in his sandals; and weighed hard upon eighteen stone. He was moreover a personage of singular piety; and the iron girdle, which, he said, he wore under his cassock to mortify withal, might have been well mistaken for the tire of a cartwheel. When he arrived, Sir Robert was pacing up and down by the side of a newly opened grave.
'Benedicite!' fair son '--(the Baron was as brown as a cigar)--'Benedicite!' said the Chaplain.
The Baron was too angry to stand upon compliment. 'Bury me that grining caitiff there!' quoth he, pointing to the defunct.
'It may not be, fair son,' said the friar, 'he hath perished without absolution.'
'Bury the body!' reared Sir Robert
'Water and earth alike reject him,' returned the Chaplain; 'holy St Bridget herself--'
'Bridget me no Bridgets!--do me thine office quickly, Sir Shaveling! or, by the Piper that played before Moses--' The oath was a fearful one; and whenever the Baron swore to do mischief, he was never known to perjure himself. He was playing with the hilt of his sword. 'Do me thine office, I say. Give him his passport to Heaven.'
'He is already gone to Hell!' stammered the Friar.
'Then do you go after him!' thundered the Lord of Shurland.
His sword half leaped from its scabbard. No! the trenchant blade, that had cut Suleman Ben Malek Ben Buckskin from helmet to chine, disdained to daub itself with the cerebellum of a miserable monk;--it leaped back again;--and as The Chaplain, scared at its flash, turned him in terror, the Baron gave him a kick!--one kick!--it was but one!--but such a one! Despite its obesity, up flew his holy body in an angle of forty five degrees; then having reached its highest point of elevation, sunk headlong into the open grave that yawned to receive it. If the reverend gentleman had possessed such a thing as a neck, he had infallibly broken it! as he did not, he only dislocated his vertebrae--but that did quite as well. He was as dead as ditch-water!
'In with the other rascal!' said the Baron; and he was obeyed; for there he stood in his boots. Mattock and shovel made short work of it; twenty feet of superincumbent mould pressed dawn alike the saint and the sinner. 'Now sing a requiem who list!' said the Baron, and his lordship went back to his oysters.
The vassals at Castle Shurland were astounded, or, as the Seneschal Hugh better expressed it, 'perfectly conglomerated,' by this event. What! murder a monk in the odour of sanctity and on consecrated ground too! They trembled for the health of the Baron's soul. To the unsophisticated many it seemed that matters could not have been much worse had he shot a bishop's coach-horse--all looked for some signal judgment. The melancholy catastrophe of their neighbours at Canterbury was yet rife in their memories: not two centuries had elapsed since those miserable sinners had cut off the tail of the blessed St Thomas's mule. The tail of the mule, it was well known, had been forthwith affixed to that of the Mayor; and rumour said it had since been hereditary in the the corporation. The least that could be expected was, that Sir Robert should have a friar tacked on to his for the term of his natural life! Some bolder spirits there were, 'tis true who viewed the matter in various lights, according to their different temperaments and positions; for perfect unanimity existed not even in the good old times. The verderer, roistering Hob Roebuck, swore roundly, 'Twere as good a deed as eat to kick down the chapel as well as the monk.' Hob had stood there in a white sheet for kissing Giles Miller's daughter. On the other hand, Simpkin Agnew, the bell-ringer, doubted if the devil's cellar, which runs under the bottomless abyss, were quite deep enough for the delinquent, and speculated on the probability of a hole being dug in it for his especial accommodation. The philosophers and economists thought, with Saunders McBullock, the Baron's bagpiper, that a 'feckless monk more or less was nae great subject for a clamjamphry,' especially as the supply considerably exceeded the demand; while Malthouse, the tapster, was arguing to Dame Martin that a murder now and then was a seasonable check to population, without which the Isle of Sheppey would in time be devoured, like a mouldy cheese, by inhabitants of its own producing. Meanwhile, the Baron ate his oysters, and thought no more of the matter.
But this tranquillity of his lordship was not to last. A couple of Saints had been seriously offended; and we have all of us read at school that celestial minds are by no means insensible to the provocations of anger. There were those who expected that St Bridget would come in person, and have the friar up again, as she did the sailor; but perhaps her ladyship did not care to trust herself within the walls of Shurland Castle. To say the truth, it was scarcely a decent house for a female Saint to be seen in. The Baron's gallantries, since he became a widower, had been but too notorious; and her own reputation was a little blown upon in the earlier days of her earthly pilgrimage: then things were so apt to be misrepresented--in short, she would leave the whole affair to St Austin, who, being a gentleman, could interfere with propriety, avenge her affront as well as his own, and leave no loop-hole for scandal. St Austin himself seems to have had his scruples, though of their precise nature it would be difficult to determine, for it were idle to suppose him at all afaid of the Baron's boots. Be this as it may, the mode which he adopted was at once prudent and efficacious. As an ecclesiastic, he could not well call the Baron out--had his boots been out of the question; so he resolved to have recourse to the law. Instead of Shurland Castle, therefore, he repaired forthwith to his own magnificent monastery, situate just without the walls of Canterbury, and presented himself in a vision to its abbot. No one who has ever visited that ancient city can fail to recollect the splendid gateway which terminates the vista of St Paul's-street, and stands there yet in all its pristine beauty. The tiny train of miniature artillery which now adorns its battlements is, it is true, an ornament of a later date; and is said to have been added some centuries after by a learned but jealous proprietor, for the purpose of shooting any wiser man than himself, who might chance to come that way. Tradition is silent as to any discharge having taken place, nor can the oldest inhabitant of modern days recollect any such occurrence. Here it was, in a handsome chamber, immediately over the lofty archway, that the Superior of the monastery lay buried in a brief slumber, snatched from his accustomed vigils. His mitre--for he was a mitred Abbot, and had a seat in Parliament--rested on a table beside him; near it stood a silver flagon of Gascony wine, ready, no doubt, for the pious uses of the morrow. Fasting and watching had made him more than usually somnolent, than which nothing could have been better for the purpose of the Saint who now appeared to him radiant in all the colours of the rainbow.
'Anselm!' said the beatific vision,--' Anselm! are you not a pretty fellow to lie snoring there when your brethren are being knocked at head, and Mother Church herself is menaced?--It is a sin and a shame, Anselm!'
'What's the matter?--Who are you?' cried the Abbot, rubbing his eyes, which the celestial splendour of his visitor had set a-winking. 'Ave Maria! St Austin himself! Speak, Beatissime! What would you with the humblest of your votaries?'
'Anselm!' said the saint, 'a brother of our order, whose soul Heaven assoilzie! hath been foully murdered. He hath been ignominiously kicked to the death, Anselm; and there he lieth cheek-by-jowl with a wretched carcass, which our sister Bridget has turned out of her cemetery for unseemly grinning. Arouse thee, Anselm!'
'Ay, so please you, Sanctissime!' said he Abbot. 'I will order forthwith that thirty mases be said, thirty Paters, and thirty Aves.'
'Thirty fools' heads!' interrupted his patron, who was a little peppery.
'I will send for bell, book, and candle--'
'Send for an ink-horn, Anselm. Write me now a letter to his Holiness the Pope in good round terms, and another to the Coroner, and another to the Sheriff, and seize me the never-enough-to-be-anathematised villain who hath done this deed! Hang him as high as Haman, Anselm!--up with him!--down with his dwelling-place, root and branch, hearth-stone and roof-tree,--down with it all, and sow the site with salt and sawdust!'
St Austin, it will be perceived, was a radical reformer.
'Marry will I,' quoth the Abbot, warming with the Saint's eloquence; 'ay, marry will I, and that instanter. But there is one thing you have forgotten, most Beatified--the name of the culprit.'
'Robert de Shurland.'
'The Lord of Sheppey! Bless me!' said the Abbot, crossing himself, 'won't that be rather inconvenient? Sir Robert is a bold baron, and a powerful; blows will come and go, and crowns will be cracked and--'
'What is that to you, since yours will not be of the number?'
'Very true, Beatissime!--I will don me with speed, and do your bidding.'
'Do so, Anselm!--fail me not to hang the Baron, burn his castle, confiscate his estate, and buy me two large wax candles for my own particular shrine out of your share of the property.'
With this solemn injunction the vision began to fade.
'One thing morel' cried the Abbot grasping his rosary.
'What is that? asked the Saint.
'O Beate Augustine, ora pro nobis!'
'Of course I shall,' said St. Austin, 'Pax vobiscum!'--and Abbot Anselm was left alone.
Within an hour all Canterbury was in commotion. A friar had been murdered,--two friars--ten--twenty; a whole convent had been assaulted, attacked, burnt,--all the monks had been killed, and all the nuns had been kissed! Murder! fire! sacrilege! Never was city in such an uproar. From St George's-gate to St Dunstan's suburb, from the Donjon to the borough of Staplegate, it was noise and hubbub. 'Where was it?--' When was it?--'How was it?' The Mayor caught up his chain, the Aldermen donned their furred gowns, the Town Clerk put on his spectacles. 'Who was he?'--'What was he?'--' Where was he?'--He should be hanged,--he should be burned,--he should be broiled,--he should be fried,--he should be scraped to death with red-hot oyster shells! 'Who was he?'--' What was his name?'
The Abbot's Apparitor drew forth his roll and read aloud:--'Sir Robert de Shurland, Knight banneret, Baron of Shurland and Minster, and Lord of Sheppey.'
The Mayor put his chain in his pocket, the Aldermen took off their gowns, the Town Clerk put his pen behind his ear. It was a county business altogether--the Sheriff had better call out the posse comitatu.
While saints and sinners were thus leaguing against him, the Baron de Shurland was quietly eating his breakfast. He had passed a tranquil night, undisturbed by dreams of cowl or capuchin; nor was his appetite more affected than his conscience. On the contrary, he sat rather longer over his meal than usual: luncheon-time came, and he was ready as ever for his oysters: but scarcely had Dame Martin opened his first half-dozen when the warder's horn was heard from the barbican.
'Who the devil's that?' said Sir Robert. 'I'm not at home, Periwinkle. I hate to be disturbed at meals, and I won't be at home to anybody.'
'An't please your lordship,' answered the Seneschal, 'Paul Prior hath given notice that there is a body--'
'Another body!' roared the Baron. 'Am I to be everlastingly plagued with bodies? No time allowed me to swallow a morsel. Throw it into the moat!'
'So please you, my lord, it is a body of horse--and Paul say there is a larger body of foot behind it; and he thinks, my lord,--that is, he does not know, but he thinks--and we all think my lord, that they are coming to--to besiege the castle!'
'Besiege the castle! Who? what? What for?'
'Paul says, my lord, that he can see the banner of St Austin, and the bleeding heart of Hamo de Crevecoeur, the Abbot's chief vassal; and there is John de Northwood, the sheriff, with his red cross engrailed; and Hever, and Leybourne, and Heaven knows how many more; and they are all coming on as fast as ever they can.'
'Periwinkle,' said the Baron' 'up with the drawbridge; down with the portcullis; bring me a cup of canary, and my nightcap. I won't bothered with them. I shall go to bed.'
'To bed, my lord?' cried Periwinkle, with a look that seemed to say, 'He's crazy!'
At this moment the shrill tones of a trumpct were heard to sound thrice from the champaign. It was the signal for parley: the Baron changed his mind; instead of going to bed, he went to the ramparts.
'Well, rapscallions! and what now?' said the Baron.
A herald, two pursuivants, and a trumpeter, occupied the foreground of the scene: behind them, some three hundred paces off, upon a rising ground, was drawn up in battle array the main body of the ecclesiastical forces.
'Hear you, Robert de Shurland, Knight, Baron of Shurland and Minster, and lord of Sheppey, and know all men, by these presents, that I do hereby attach roll, the said Robert, of murder and sacrilege, new, or of late, done and committed by you, the said Robert, contrary to the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his crown and dignity: and I do hereby require and charge you, the said Robert, to forthwith surrender and give up your own proper person, together with the castle of Shurland aforesaid, in order that the same may be duly dealt with according to law. And here standeth John de Northwood, Esquire, good man and true, sheriff of this his Majesty's most loyal county of Kent, to enforce the same, if need be, with his posse comitatus--'
'His what?' said the Baron.
'His posse comitatus, and--'
'Go to Bath!' said the Baron.
A defiance so contemptuous roused the ire of the adverse commanders. A volley of missiles rattled about the Baron's ears. Nightcaps avail little against contusions. He left the walls, and returned to the great hall.
'Let them pelt away; quoth the Baron: 'there are no windows to break, and they can't get in.' So he took his afterooon nap, and the siege went on.
Towards evening his lordship awoke, and grew tired of the din. Guy Pearson, too, had got a black eye from a brickbat, and the assailants were clambering over the outer wall. So the Baron called for his Sunday hauberk of Milan steel, and his great two-handed sword with the terrible name:--it was the fashion in feudal times to give names to swords: King Arthur's was christened Excalibar; the Baron called his Tickletoby, and whenever he took it in hand it was no joke.
'Up with the portcullis! down with the drawbridge!' said Sir Robert; and out he sallied, followed by the élite of his retainers. Then there was a pretty to do. Heads flew one way--arms and legs another; round went Tickletoby; and, wherever it alighted, down came horse and man: the Baron excelled himself that day. All that he had done in Palestine faded in the comparison; he had fought for fun there, but now it was for life and lands. Away went John de Northwood; away went William of Hever, and Roger of Leybourne. Hamo de Crevecoeur, with the church vassals and the banner of St. Austin, had been gone some time. The siege was raised, and the Lord of Sheppey was left alone in his glory.
But, brave as the Baron undoubtedly was, and total as had been the defeat of his enemies, it cannot be supposed that La Stoccata would be allowed to carry it away thus. It has before been hinted that Abbot Anselm had written to the Pope, and Boniface the Eighth piqued himself on his punctuality as a correspondent in all matters connected with church discipline. He sent back an answer by return of post; and by it all Christian people were strictly enjoined to aid in exterminating the offender, on pain of the greater excommunication in this world, and a million of years of purgatory in the next. But then, again, Boniface the Eighth was rather at a discount in England just then. He had affronted Longshanks, as the royal lieges had nicknamed their monarch; and Longshanks had been rather sharp upon the clergy in consequence. If the Baron de Shurland could but get the King's pardon for what, in his cooler moments, he admitted to be a peccadillo, he might sniff at the Pope, and bid him 'do his devilmost.'
Fortune, who, as the poet says, delights to favour the bold, stood his friend on this occasion. Edward had been for some time collecting a large force on the coast of Kent, to carry on his French wars for the recovery of Guienne; he was expected shortly to review it in person; but, then, the troops lay principally in cantonments about the mouth of the Thames, and his Majesty was to come down by water. What was to he done?--the royal barge was in sight, and John de Northwood and Hamo de Crevecur had broken up all the boats to boil their camp-kettles. A truly great mind is never without resources.
'Bring me my boots!' said the Baron.
They brought him his boots, and his dapple-grey steed along with them; such a courser! all blood and bone, short-backed, broad-chested, and--but that be was a little ewe-necked--faultless in form and figure. The Baron sprung upon his back, and dashed at once into the river.
The barge which carried Edward Longshanks and his fortunes had by this time nearly reached the Nore; the stream was broad, and the current strong, but Sir Robert and his steed were almost as broad, and a great deal stronger. After breasting the tide gallantly for a couple of miles, the knight was near enough to hail the steersman.
'What have we got here?' said the King. 'It's a mermaid,' said one. 'It's a grampus,' said another. 'It's the devil,' said a third. But they were all wrong; it was only Robert de Shurland. 'Gramercy,' said the King, 'that fellow was never born to be drowned!'
It has been said before that the Baron had fought in The Holy Wars; in fact, he had accompanied Longshanks, when only heir apparent in his expedition twenty-five years before, although his name is unacountably omitted by Sir Harris Nicolas in his list of crusaders. He had been present at Acre when Amirand of Joppa stabbed the prince with a poisoned dagger, and had lent Princess Eleanor his own tooth-brush after she had sucked out the venom from the wound. He had slain certain Saracens, contented himself with his own plunder, and never dunned the commissariat for arrears of pay. Of course he ranked high in Edward's good graces, and had received the honour of knghthood at his hands on the field of battle.
In one so circumstanced, it canot be supposed that such a trifle as the killing of a frowsy friar would be much resented, even had he not taken so bold a measure to obtain his pardon. His petition was granted, of course, as soon as asked; and so it would have been had the indictment drawn up by the Canterbury town-clerk, viz., 'That he, the said Robert de Shurland, had then and there,, with several, to wit, one thousand, pairs of boots, given sundry, to wit, two thousand, kicks, and therewith and thereby killed divers; to wit, ten thousand, Austin Friars,' been true to the letter.
Thrice did the gallant grey circumnavigate the barge, while Robert de Winchelsey, the chancellor and archbishop to boot was making out, albeit with great reluctance, the royal pardon. The interval was sufficiently long to enable his Majesty, who, gracious as he was had always an eye to business, just to hint that the gratitude he felt towards the Baron was not unmixed with a lively sense of services to come; and that if life were now spared him, common decency must oblige him make himself useful. Before the archbishop, who had scalded his fingers with the wax in affixing the great-seal, had time to take them out of his mouth, all was settled, and the Baron de Shurland had pledged himself to be forthwith in readiness, cum suis, to accompany his lord to Guienne.
With the royal pardon secured in his vest, boldly did his lordship turn again to the shore; and as boldly did his courser oppose his breadth of chest to the stream. It was a work of no common difficulty or danger; a steed of less 'mettle and bone' had long since sunk in the effort: as it was, the Baron's boots were full of water, and Grey Dolphin's chamfrain more than once dipped beneath the wave. The covvulsive snorts of the noble animal showed his distress; each instant they became more loud and frequent; when his hoof touched the strand, and the horse and his rider stood once again in safety on the shore.
Rapidly dismounting, the Baron was loosening the girths of his demi-pique, to give the panting animal breath, when he was aware of as ugly an oldwoman as he had ever clapped eyes upon, peeping at him under the horse's belly.
'Make much of your steed, Robert Shurland! Make much of your steed!' cried the hag; shaking at him her long and bony finger. 'Groom to the hide, and corn to the manger! He has saved your life, Robert Shurland, for the nonce; but he shall yet be the means of your losing it for all that!'
The Baron started: 'What's that you say, you old faggot?' He ran round by his horse's tail; The woman was gone!
The Baron paused; his great soul was not to be shaken by trifles; he looked around him and solemnly ejaculated the word 'Humbug!' then slinging the bridle acrosss his arm, walked slowly on in the direction of the castle.
The appearance, and still more, the disappearance of the crone, had, however, made an impresslon; every step he took he became more thoughtful. "Twould be deuced provoking, though, if he should break my neck after all.' He turned and gazed at Dolphin with the scrutinising eye of a veterinary surgeon. 'I'll be shot if he is not groggy! said the Baron.
With his lordship, like another great commander, 'Once to be in doubt was once to be resolved:' it would never do to go to the wars on a ricketty prad. He dropped he rein, drew forth Tickletoby, and, as the enfranchised Dolphin, good easy horse, stretched out his ewe-neck to the herbage; struck off his head at a single blow. 'There, you lying old beldame!' said the Baron; 'now take him away to the knacker's.'
Three years were come and gone. King Edward's French wars were over; both parties having fought till they came to a stand-still, shook hands, and the quarrel, as usual, was patched up by a royal marriage. This happy event gave his Majesty leisure to turn his attention to Scotland, where things, through the intervention of William Wallace, were looking rather queerish. As his reconciliation with Philip now allowed of his fighting the Scotch in peace and quietness, the monarch lost no time in marching his long legs across the border, and the short ones of the Baron followed him of course. At Falkirk, Tickletoby was in great request; and in the year following, we find a contemporary poet hinting at his master's prowess under the walls of Caerlaverok--
Ovec eus fu achiminez Li beau Robert de Shurland Ki kant seoit sur le cheval >Ne sembloit home de someille.
A quatrain which Mr. Simpkinson translates.
'With them was marching The good Robert de Shurland, Who, when seated on horseback, does not resemble a man asleep!'
So thoroughly awake, indeed, does he seem to have proved himself, that the bard subsequently exclaims in an ecstacy of admiration:
Si ie estoie une pucelette Je li donroie ceur et cors Tant est de lu bons lu recors. 'If I were a young maiden; I would give my heart and person, So great is his fame!'
Fortunately the poet was a tough old monk of Exeter; since such a present to a nobleman, now in his grand climacteric, would hardly have been worth the carriage. With the reduction of this stronghold of the Maxwells seem to have concluded the Baron's military services; as on the very first day of the fourteenth century we find him once more landed on his native shore, and marching, with such of his retainers as the wars had left him, towards the hospitable shelter of Shurland Castle. It was then, upon that very beach, some hundred yards distant from high-water mark, that his eye fell upon something like an ugly old woman in a red cloak. She was seated on what seemed to be a large stone, in an interesting attitude, with her elbows resting upon her knees, and her chin upon her thumbs. The Baron started: the remembrance of his interview with a similar personage in the same place, some three years since; flashed upon his recollection. He rushed towards the spot but the form was gone--nothing remained but the seat it had appeared to occupy. This, on examination, turned out to be no stone, but the whitened skull of a dead horse! A tender remembrance of the deceased Grey Dolphin shot a momentary pang into the Baron's bosom; he drew the back of his hand across his face; the thought of the hag's prediction in an instant rose, and banished all softer emotions. In utter contempt of his own weakness, yet with a tremor that deprived his redoubtable kick of half its wonted force, he spurned the relic with his foot. One word alone issued from his lips, elucidatory of what was passing in his mind--it long remained imprinted on the memory of his faithful followers--that word was 'Gammon!' The skull bounded across the beach till it reached the very margin of the stream;--one instant more and it would be engulfed for ever. At that moment a loud 'Ha! ha! ha!' was distinctly heard by the whole train to issue from its bleached 'and toothless jaws: it sank beneath the flood in a horse laugh.
Meanwhile Sir Robert de Shurland felt an odd sort of sensation in his right foot. His boots had suffered in the wars. Great pains had been token for their preservation. They bed been 'soled' and 'heeled' more than once--had they been 'goloshed,' their owner might have defied Fate! Well has it been said that 'There is no such thing as a trifle.' A nobleman's life depended upon a question of ninepence.
The Baron marched on; the uneasiness in his feat increased. He plucked off his boot;--a horse's tooth was sticking in his great toe!
The result may be anticipated. Lame as he was, his lordship, with characteristic decision, would hobble on to Shurland; his walk increased the inflammation; a flagon of aqua vitae did not mend matters. He was in a high fever; he took to his bed. Next morning the toe presented the appearance of a Bedfordshire carrot; by dinner time it had deepened to beetroot; and when Bargrave, the leech, at last sliced it off, the gangrene was too confirmed to admit of remedy. Dame Martin thought it high time to send for Miss Margaret who, ever since her mother's death, had been living with her maternal aunt, the abbess, in the Ursuline convent at Greenwich. The young lady came, and with her came one Master Ingoldsby, her Cousin-german by the mother's side; but the Baron was too far gone in the dead-thraw to recognise either. He died as he lived, unconquered and unconquerable. His last words were 'Tell the old hag she may go to--' Whither remains a secret. He expired without fully articulating the place of her destination.
But who and what was the crone who prophesied the catastrophe? Ay, 'that is the mystery of this wonderful history.'--Some say it was Dame Fothergill, the late confessor's mamma; others, St Bridget herself; others thought it was nobody at all, but only a phantom conjured up by conscience. As we do not know, we decline giving an opinion.
And what became of the Clerk of Chatham?--Mr. Simpkinson avers that he lived to a good old age, and was at last hanged by Jack Cade, with his inkhorn about his neck, for 'setting boys copies.' In support of this he adduces his name 'Emmanuel,' and refers to the historian Shakspeare. Mr. Peters, on the contrary, considers this to be what he calls one of Mr. Simpkinson's 'Anacreonisms,' inasmuch as, at the introduction of Mr. Cade's reform measure, the Clerk, if alive, would have been hard upon two hundred years old. The probability is that the unfortunate alluded to was his great-grandson.
Margaret Shurland in due course became Margaret Ingoldsby: her portrait still hangs in the gallery at Tappington. The features are handsome, but shrewish, betraying, as it were, a touch of the old Baron's temperament; but we never could learn that she actually kicked her husband. She brought him a very pretty fortune in chains, owches, and Saracen ear-rings; the barony being a male fief; reverted to the Crown.
In the abbey-church at Minster may yet be seen the tomb of a recumbent warrior, clad in the chain-mail of the 13th century. His hands are clasped in prayer, his legs, crossed in that position so prized by Templars in ancient, and tailors in modern days, bespeak him a soldier of the faith in Palestine. Close behind his dexter calf lies sepultured in bold relief a horse's head: and a respectable elderly lady, as she shows the monument, fails not to read her auditors a fine moral lesson on the sin of ingratitude, or to claim a sympathising tear to the memory of poor 'Grey Dolphin!'
The Lady Rohesia lay on her death-bed!
So said the doctor, and doctors are generally allowed to be judges in these matters; besides Doctor Butts was the Court Physician: he carried a crutch-handled staff, with its cross of the blackest ebony,--raison de plus.
'Is there no hope, Doctor?' said Beatrice Grey.
'Is there no hope?' said Everard Ingoldsby.
'Is there no hope?' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri. He was the Lady Rohesia's husband;--he spoke the last.
The doctor shook his head. He looked at the disconsolate widower in posse then at the hour-glass; its waning sand seemed sadly to shadow forth the sinking pulse of his patient. Dr. Butts was a very learned man. 'Ars longa, vita brevis!' said Doctor Butts.
'I am very sorry to hear it,' quoth Sir Guy de Montgomeri.
Sir Guy was a brave knight, and a tall; but he was no scholar.
'Alas! my poor sister!' sighed Ingoldsby.
'Alas! my poor mistress!' sobbed Beatrice.
Sir Guy neither sighed nor sobbed; his grief was too deep-seated for outward manifestation.
'And how long, Doctor--?' The afflicted husband could not finish the sentence.
Dr. Butts withdrew his hand from the wrist of the dying lady. He pointed to the horologe; scarcely a quarter of its sand remained in the upper moiety. Again he shook his head; the eye of the patient waxed dimmer, the rattling in the throat increased.
'What's become of Father Francis?' whimpered Beatrice.
'The last consolations of the church--' suggested Everard.
A darker shade came over the brow of Sir Guy.
'Where is the Confessor?' continued his grieving brother-in-law.
'In the pantry,' cried Marion Hacket pertly, as she tripped downstairs in search of that venerable ecclesiastic;--'in the pantry, I warrant me.' The bower-woman was not wont to be in the wrong; in the pantry was the holy man was discovered,--at his devotions.
'Pax vobiscum,' said Father Francis, as he entered the chamber of death.
'Vita brevis!' retorted Doctor Butts. He was not a man to be browbeat out of his Latin,--and by a paltry Friar Minim, too. Had it been a Bishop, indeed, or even a mitred Abbot,--but a miserable Franciscan!
'Benedicite!' said the Friar
'Ars longa!' returned the Leech.
Doctor Butts adjusted the tassels of his falling band; drew his short sad-coloured cloak closer around him; and, grasping his cross-handled walking-staff, stalked majestically out of the apartment. Father Francis had the field to himself.
The worthy chaplain hastened to administer the last rites of the church. To all appearance he had little time to lose; as he concluded, the dismal toll of the passing-bell sounded from the belfry tower,--little Hubert, the bandy-legged sacristan, was pulling with all his might. It was a capital contrivance that same passing-bell,--which of the Urbans or Innocents invented it is a query; but whoever he was, he deserved well of his country and of Christendom.
Ah! our ancestors were not such fools, after all, as we, their degenerate children, conceit them to have been. The passing-bell! a most solemn warning to imps of every description, is not to be regarded with impunity; the most impudent Succubus of them all dare as well dip his claws in holy water as come within the verge of its sound. Old Nick himself, if he sets any value at all upon his tail, had best convey himself clean out of hearing, and leave the way open to Paradise. Little Hubert continued pulling with all his might,--and St. Peter began to look out for a customer.
The knell seemed to have some effect even upon the Lady Rohesia; she raised her head slightly; inarticulate sounds issued from her lips,--inarticulate, that is, to the profaner ears of the laity. Those of Father Francis, indeed, were sharper; nothing, as he averred, could be more distinct than the words, 'A thousand marks to the priory of Saint Mary Rouncival.'
Now the Lady Rohesia Ingoldsby had brought her husband broad lands and large possessions; much of her ample dowry, too, was at her own disposal; and nuncupative wills had not yet been abolished by Act of Parliament.
'Pious soul!' ejaculated Father Francis. 'A thousand marks, she said--'
'If she did, I'll be shot!' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri.
'--A thousand marks!' continued the Confessor, fixing his, cold grey eye upon the knight, as he went on heedless of the interruption; '--a thousand marks! and as many Aves and Paters shall be duly said--as soon as the money is paid down.'
Sir Guy shrank from the monk's gaze; he turned to the window, gaze, and muttered to himself something that sounded like 'Don't you wish you may get it?'
The bell continued to toll. Father Francia had quitted the room, taking with him the remains of the holy oil he had been using for Extreme Unction. Everard Ingoldsby waited on him down stairs.
'A thousand thanks!' said the latter.
'A thousand marks!' said the friar.
'A thousand devils!' growled Sir Guy de Montgomeri, from the top of the landing-place.
But his accents fell unheeded; his brother-in-law and the friar were gone; he was left alone with his departing lady and Beatrice Grey.
Sir Guy de Montgomeri stood pensively at the foot of the bed; his arms were crossed upon his bosom, his chin was sunk upon his breast; his eyes were filled with tears; the dim rays of the fading watchlight gave a darker shade to the furrows on his brow, and a brighter tint to the little bald patch on the top of his head,--for Sir Guy was a middle-aged gentleman, tall and portly withal, with a slight bend in his shoulders, but not that much; his complexion was somewhat florid--especially about the nose; but his lady was in extremis, and at this particular moment he was paler than usual.
'Bim! bome!' went the bell. The knight groaned audibly; Beatrice Grey wiped her eye with her little square apron of lace de Maslines; there was a moment's pause,--a moment of intense affliction; she let it fall,--all but one corner, which remained between her finger and thumb. She looked at Sir Guy; drew the thumb and forefinger of her other hand slowly along its border, till they reached the opposite extremity. She sobbed aloud. 'So kind a lady!' said Beatrice Grey.--'So excellent a wife!' responded Sir Guy.--'So good!' said the damsel.--'So dear!' said the knight.--'So pious!' said she.--'So humble!' said he.--'So good to the poor!'--'So capital a manager!'--'So punctual at matins!'--' Dinner dished to moment!--'So devout!' said Beatrice.--'So fond of me!' said Sir Guy.--'And of Father Francis!'--'What the devil do you mean by that?' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri.
The knight and the maiden had rung their antiphonic changes on the fine qualities of the departing Lady, like the Strophe and Antistrophe of a Greek play. The cardinal virtues at once disposed of, her minor excellences came under review. She would drown a witch, drink lamb's wool at Christmas, beg Domine Dump's boys a holiday, and dine upon sprats on Good Friday! A low moan from the subject of these eulogies seemed to intimate that the enumeration of her good deeds was not altogether lost on her,--that the parting spirit felt and rejoiced in the testimony.
'She was too good for earth!' continued Sir Guy.
'Ye-ye-yes!' sobbed Beatrice.
'I did not deserve her!' said the knight.
'No-o-o-o!' cried the damsel.
'Not but that I made her an excellent husband and a kind; but she is going, and--and--where, or when, or how--shall I get such another?'
'Not in broad England--not in the whole wide world!' responded Beatrice Grey; 'that is, not just such another!' Her voice still faltered, but her accents on the whole were more articulate; she dropped the corner of her apron, and had recourse to her handkerchief; in fact, her eyes were getting red, and so was the tip of her nose.
Sir Guy was silent; he gazed for a few moments steadfastly on the face of his lady. The single word, 'Another!' fell from his lips like distant echo;--it is not often that the viewless nymph repeats more than is necessary.
'Bim! bome!' went the bell. Bandy-legged Hubert been toiling for half an hour; he began to grow tired, and St. Peter fidgety.
'Beatrice Grey!' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri, 'what's to be done? What's to become of Montgomeri Hall?--and the buttery,--and the servants?--And what--what's to become of me, Beatrice Grey?'--There was pathos in his tones, and a solemn pause succeeded. 'I'll turn monk myself!' said Sir Guy.
'Monk?' said Beatrice.
'I'll be a Carthusianl' repeated the knight, but in a tone less assured: he relapsed into a reverie.--Shave his head!--he did not so much mind that,--he was getting rather bald already;--but, beans for dinner,--and those without butter--and then a horse-hair shirt!
The knight seemed undecided: his eye roamed gloomily around the apartment; it paused upon different objects, but as if it saw them not; its sense was shut, and there was no speculation in its glance: it rested at last upon the fair face of the sympathising damsel at his side, beautiful in her grief.
Her tears had ceased; but her eyes were cast down, mournfully fixed upon her delicate little foot, which was beating the tattoo.
There is no talking to a female when she does not look at you. Sir Guy turned round--he seated himself on the edge of the bed; and, placing his hand beneath the chin of the lady, turned up her face in an angle of fifteen degrees.
'I don't think I shall take the vows, Beatrice; but what's to become of me? Poor, miserable, old--that is poor, miserable, middle-aged man that I am!--No one to comfort, no one to care for me!'--Beatrice's tears flowed afresh, but she opened not her lips.--"Pon my life,' continued he, 'I don't believe there is a single creature now would care a button if I were hanged to-morrow!'
'Oh! don't say so, Sir Guy!' sighed Beatrice; 'you know there's--there's Master Everard, and--and Father Francis--'
'Pish!' cried Sir Guy, testily.
'And--there's your favourite old bitch.'
'I am not thinking of old bitches!' quoth Sir Guy de Montgomeri.
Another pause ensued: the knight had released her chin, and taken her hand; it was a pretty little hand, with long taper fingers and filbert-formed nails, and the softness of the palm said little for its owner's industry.
'Beatrice,' said the knight, thoughtfully; 'You must be fatigued with your long watching. Take a seat, my child.'--Sir Guy did not relinquish her hand; but he sidled along the counterpane, and made room for his companion between himself and the bed-post.
Now this is a very awkward position for two people to be placed in, especially when the right hand of the one holds the right hand of the other:--in such an attitude, what the deuce can the gentleman do with his left? Sir Guy closed his till it became an absolute fist, and his knuckles rested on the bed a little in the rear of his companion.
'Another!' repeated Sir Guy, musing; 'if indeed I could find such another!' He was talking to his thought, but Beatrice Grey answered him.
'There's Madam Fitzfoozle.'
'A frump!' said Sir Guy.
'Or the Lady Bumbarton.'
'With her hump!' muttered he.
'There's the Dowager--'
'Stop--stop!' said the knight, 'stop one moment!'--He paused; he was all on the tremble; something seemed rising in his throat; but he gave a great gulp, and swallowed it. 'Beatrice,' said he, what think you of--' his voice sank into a most sedutive softness,--'what think you of--Beatrice Grey?'
The murder was out:--the knight felt infinitely relieved; the knuckles of his left hand unclosed spontaneously; and the arm he had felt such a difficulty in disposing of, found itself,--nobody knows how, encircling the jimp waist of the pretty Beatrice. The young lady's reply was expressed in three syllables. They were,--'Oh, Sir Guy!' The words might be somewhat indefinite, but there was no mistaking the look. Their eyes met; Sir Guy's left arm contracted itself spasmodically; when the eyes meet,--at least, as theirs met,--the lips are very apt to follow the example. The knight had taken one long, loving kiss--nectar and ambrosia! He thought on Doctor Butts and his repetatur haustus,--a prescription Father Francis had taken infinite pains to translate for him; he was about to repeat it, but the dose was interrupted in transitu. Doubtless the adage.
'There's many a slip
'Twixt the cup and the lip,'
hath reference to medicine. Sir Guy's lip was again all but in conjunction with that of his bride elect. It has been hinted already that there was a little round polished patch on the summit of the knight's pericranium, from which his locks had gradually receded; a sort of oasis,--or rather a Mont Blanc in miniature, rising above the highest point of vegetation. It was on this little spot, undefended alike by Art and Nature, that at this interesting moment the blow descended, such as we must borrow a term from the Sister Island adequately to describe,--it was a 'Whack!'
Sir Guy started upon his feet; Beatrice Grey started upon hers: but a single glance to the rear reversed her position,--she fell upon her knees and screamed.
The knight, too, wheeled about, and beheld a sight which might have turned a bolder man to stone.--It was She!--the all-but-defunct Rohesia--there she sat, bolt upright!--her eyes no longer glazed with the film of impending dissolution, but scintillating like flint and steel; while in her hand she grasped the bed-staff,--a weapon of mickle might, as her husband's bloody coxcomb could now well testify. Words were yet wanting, for the quinzy, which her rage had broken, still impeded her utterance; but the strength and rapidity of her gutteral intonations augured well for her future eloquence.
Sir Guy de Montgomeri stood for awhile like a man distraught; this resurrection--for such it seemed,--had quite overpowered him. 'A husband ofttimes makes the best physician,' says the proverb; he was a living personification of its truth. Still it was whispered he had been content with Dr. Butts; but his lady was restored to bless him for many years.--Heavens, what a life he led!
The Lady Rohesia mended apace; her quinsy was cured; the bell was stopped; and little Hubert, the sacristan, kicked out of the chapelry. St. Peter opened his wicket, and looked out;--there was nobody there; so he flung-to the gate in a passion, and went back to his lodge, grumbling at being hoaxed by a runaway ring.
Years rolled on.--The improvement of Lady Rohesia's temper did not keep pace with that of her health; and one fine morning Sir Guy de Montgomery was seen to enter the porte-cochère of Durham House, at that time the town residence of Sir Walter Raleigh. Nothing more was ever heard of him; but a boat full of adventurers was known to have dropped down with the tide that evening to Deptford Hope; where lay the ship the Darling, commanded by Captain Keymis, who sailed next morning on the Virginia voyage.
A brass plate, some eighteen inches long, may yet be seen in Denton chancel, let into a broad slab of Bethersden marble; it represents a lady kneeling, in her wimple and hood; her hands are clasped in prayer, and beneath is an inscription in the characters of the age--
'Praie for ye sowle of ye Lady Royse.
And for all Christen sowles!'
The date is illegible; but it appears that she survived King Henry the Eighth, and that the dissolution of monasteries had lost St. Mary Rouncival her thousand marks.--As for Beatrice Grey, it is well known that she was alive in 1559, and then had virginity enough left to be a maid of honour to 'good Queen Bess.'
"IT is very odd, though; what can have become of them?" said Charles Seaforth, as he peeped under the valance of an old-fashioned bedstead, in an old-fashioned apartment of a still more old-fashioned manor-house; "'tis confoundedly odd, and I can't make it out at all. Why, Barney, where are they?--and where the d--l are you?"
No answer was returned to this appeal; and the lieutenant, who was, in the main, a reasonable person,--at least as reasonable a person as any young gentleman of twenty-two in "the service" can fairly be expected to be,--cooled when he reflected that his servant could scarcely reply extempore to a summons which it was impossible he should hear.
An application to the bell was the considerate result; and the footsteps of as tight a lad as ever put pipe-clay to belt sounded along the gallery.
"Come in!" said his master.--An ineffectual attempt upon the door reminded Mr Seaforth that he had locked himself in.--"By Heaven! this is the oddest thing of all," said he, as he turned the key and admitted Mr Maguire into his dormitory.
"Barney, where are my pantaloons?"
"Is it the breeches?" asked the valet, casting an inquiring eye round the apartment;--"is it the breeches, sir?"
"Yes; what have you done with them?"
"Sure then your honour had them on when you went to bed, and it's hereabout they'll be, I'll be bail;" and Barney lifted a fashionable tunic from a cane-backed arm-chair, proceeding in his examination. But the search was vain: there was the tunic aforesaid,--there was a smart-looking kerseymere waistcoat; but the most important article of all in a gentleman's wardrobe was still wanting.
"Where can they be?" asked the master, with a strong accent on the auxiliary verb.
"Sorrow a know I knows," said the man.
"It must have been the devil, then, after all, who has been here and carried them off!" cried-Seaforth, staring full into Barney's face.
Mr Maguire was not devoid of the superstition of his countrymen, still he looked as if he did not quite subscribe to the sequitur.
His master read incredulity in his countenance. "Why, I tell you, Barney, I put them there, on that arm-chair, when I got into bed; and, by Heaven! I distinctly saw the ghost of the old fellow they told me of, come in at midnight, put on my pantaloons, and walk away with them.
"May be so," was the cautious reply.
"I thought, of course, it was a dream; but then,--where the d--l are the breeches?"
The question was more easily asked than answered. Barney renewed his search, while the lieutenant folded his arms, and, leaning against the toilet, sunk into a reverie.
"After all, it must be some trick of my laughter-loving cousins," said Seaforth.
"Ah! then, the ladies!" chimed in Mr Maguire, though the observation was not addressed to him; "and will it be Miss Caroline, or Miss Fanny, that's stole your honour's things?"
"I hardly know what to think of it," pursued the bereaved lieutenant, still speaking in soliloquy, with his eye resting dubiously on the chamber-door. "I locked myself in, that's certain; and--but there must be some other entrance to the room--pooh! I remember--the private staircase; how could I be such a fool?" and he crossed the chamber to where a low oaken doorcase was dimly visible in a distant corner. He paused before it. Nothing now interfered to screen it from observation; but it bore tokens of having been at some earlier period concealed by tapestry, remains of which yet clothed the walls on either side the portal.
"This way they must have come," said Seaforth; "I wish with all my heart I had caught them!"
"Och! the kittens!" sighed Mr Barney Maguire.
But the mystery was yet as far from being solved as before. True, there was the "other door;" but then that, too, on examination, was even more firmly-secured than the one which opened on the gallery,--two heavy bolts on the inside effectually prevented any coup de main on the lieutenant's bivouac from that quarter. He was more puzzled than ever; nor did the minutest inspection of the walls and floor throw any light upon the subject! one thing only was clear,--the breeches were gone! "It is very singular," said the lieutenant.
Tappington (generally called Tapton) Everard is an antiquated but commodious manor-house in the eastern division of the county of Kent. A former proprietor had been High-sheriff in the days of Elizabeth, and many a dark and dismal tradition was yet extant of the licentiousness of his life, and the enormity of his offences. The Glen, which the keeper's daughter was seen to enter, but never known to quit, still frowns darkly as of yore; while an ineradicable bloodstain on the oaken stair yet bids defiance to the united energies of soap and sand. But it is with one particular apartment that a deed of more especial atrocity is said to be connected. A stranger guest--so runs the legend--arrived unexpectedly at the mansion of the "Bad Sir Giles." They met in apparent friendship; but the ill-concealed scowl on their master's brow told the domestics that the visit was not a welcome one; the banquet, however, was not spared; the wine-cup circulated freely,--too freely, perhaps,--for sounds of discord at length reached the ears of even the excluded serving-men as they were doing their best to imitate their betters in the lower hall. Alarmed, some of them ventured to approach the parlour; one, an old and favoured retainer of the house, went so far as to break in upon his master's privacy. Sir Giles, already high in oath, fiercely enjoined his absence, and he retired; not, however, before he had distinctly heard from the stranger's lips a menace that "There was that within his pocket which could disprove the knight's right to issue that or any other command within the walls of Tapton."
The intrusion, though momentary, seemed to have produced a beneficial effect; the voices of the disputants fell, and the conversation was carried on thenceforth in a more subdued tone, till, as evening closed in, the domestics, when summoned to attend with lights, found not only cordiality restored, but that a still deeper carouse was meditated. Fresh stoups, and from the choicest bins, were produced; nor was it till at a late, or rather early hour, that the revellers sought their chambers.
The one allotted to the stranger occupied the first floor of the eastern angle of the building, and had once been the favourite apartment of Sir Giles himself. Scandal-ascribed this preference to the facility which a private staircase, communicating with the grounds, had afforded him, in the old knight's time, of following his wicked courses unchecked by parental observation; a consideration which ceased to be of weight when the death of his father left him uncontrolled master of his estate and actions. From that period Sir Giles had established himself in what were called the "state apartments;" and the "oaken chamber" was rarely tenanted, save on occasions of extraordinary festivity, or when the yule log drew an unusually large accession of guests around the Christmas hearth.
On this eventful night it was prepared for the unknown visitor, who sought his couch heated and inflamed from his midnight orgies, and in the morning was found in his bed a swollen and blackened corpse. No marks of violence appeared upon the body; but the livid hue of the lips, and certain dark-coloured spots visible on the skin, aroused suspicions which those who entertained them were too timid to express. Apoplexy, induced by the excesses of the preceding night, Sir Giles's confidential leech pronounced to be the cause of his sudden dissolution; the body was buried in peace; and though some shook their heads as they witnessed the haste with which the funeral rites were hurried on, none ventured to murmur. Other events arose to distract the attention of the retainers; men's minds became occupied by the stirring politics of the day, while the near approach of that formidable armada, so vainly arrogating to itself a title which the very elements joined with human valour to disprove, soon interfered to weaken, if not obliterate, all remembrance of the nameless stranger who had died within the walls of Tapton Everard.
Years rolled on: the "Bad Sir Giles" had--himself long since gone to his account, the last, as it was believed, of his immediate line; though a few of the older tenants were sometimes heard to speak of an elder brother, who had disappeared in early life, and never inherited the estate. Rumours, too, of his having left a son in foreign lands were at one time rife: but they died away, nothing occurring to support them: the property passed unchallenged to a collateral branch of the family, and the secret, if secret there were, was buried in Denton churchyard, in the lonely grave of the mysterious stranger. One circumstance alone occurred, after a long-intervening period, to revive the memory of these transactions. Some workmen employed in grubbing an old plantation, for the purpose of raising on it site a modern shrubbery, dug up, in the execution of their task, the mill-dewed remnants of what seemed to have been once a garment. On more minute inspection, enough remained of silken slashes and a coarse embroidery to identify the relics as having once formed part of a pair of trunk hose; while a few papers which fell from them, altogether illegible from damp and age, were by the unlearned rustics conveyed to the then owner of the estate.
Whether the squire was more successful in deciphering them was never known; he certainly never alluded to their contents; and little would have been thought of the matter but for the inconvenient memory of one old woman, who declared she heard her grandfather say that when the "stranger guest" was poisoned, though all the rest of his clothes were there, his breeches, the supposed repository of the supposed documents, could never be found. The master of Tapton Everard smiled when he heard Dame Jones's hint of deeds which might impeach the validity of his own title in favour of some unknown descendant of some unknown heir; and the story was rarely alluded to, save by one or two miracle-mongers, who had heard that others had seen the ghost of old Sir Giles, in his night-cap, issue from the postern, enter the adjoining copse, and wring his shadowy hands in agony, as he seemed to search vainly for something hidden among the evergreens. The stranger's death-room had, of course, been occasionally haunted from the time of his decease; but the periods of visitation had latterly became very rare,--even Mrs Botherby, the house-keeper, being forced to admit that, during her long sojourn at the manor, she had never "met with anything worse than herself;" though, as the old lady afterwards added upon more mature reflection, "I must say I think I saw the devil once."
Such was the legend attached to Tapton Everard, and such the story which the lively Caroline Ingoldsby detailed to her equally mercurial cousin Charles Seaforth, lieutenant in the Hon. East India Company's second regiment of Bombay Fencibles, as arm-in-arm they promenaded a gallery decked with some dozen grim-looking ancestral portraits, and, among others, with that of the redoubted Sir Giles himself. The gallant commander had that very morning paid his first visit to the house of his maternal uncle, after an absence of several years passed with his regiment on the arid plains of Hindostan, whence he was now returned on a three years' furlough. He had gone out a boy, he--returned a man, but the impression made upon his youthful fancy by his favourite cousin remained unimpaired, and to Tapton he directed his steps, even before he sought the home of his widowed mother,--comforting himself in this breach of filial decorum by the reflection that, as the manor was so little out of his way, it would be unkind to pass, as it were, the door of his relatives without just looking in for a few hours.
But he found his uncle as hospitable and his cousin more charming than ever, and the looks of one, and the requests of the other, soon precluded the possibility of refusing to lengthen the "few hours" into a few days, though the house was at the moment full of visitors.
The Peterses were there from Ramsgate; and Mr, Mrs, and the two Miss Simpkinsons, from Bath, had come to pass a month with the family; and Tom Ingoldsby had brought down his college friend the Honourable Augustus Sucklethumbkin, with his groom and pointers, to take a fortnight's shooting. And then there was Mrs Ogleton, the rich young widow, with her large black eyes, who, people did say, was setting her cap at the young squire, though Mrs Botherby did not believe it; and, above all, here was Mademoiselle Pauline, her femme de chambre, who "mon Dieu'd" everything and everybody, and cried, "Quel horreur!" at Mrs Botherby's cap. In short, to use the last-named and much-respected lady's own expression, the house was "choke-full" to the very attics,--all, save the "oaken chamber," which, as the lieutenant expressed a most magnanimous disregard of ghosts, was forthwith appropriated to his particular accommodation. Mr Maguire meanwhile was fain to share the apartment of Oliver Dobbs, the squire's own man: a jocular proposal of joint occupancy having been first indignantly rejected by "Mademoiselle," though preferred with the "laste taste in life" of Mr Barney's most insinuating brogue.
"Come, Charles, the urn is absolutely getting cold; your breakfast will be quite spoiled: what can have made you so idle?" Such was the morning salutation of Miss Ingoldsby to the militaire as he entered the breakfast-room half an hour after the latest of the party.
"A pretty gentleman, truly, to make an appointment with," chimed in Miss Frances. "What is become of our ramble to the rocks before breakfast?"
"Oh! the young men never think of keeping a promise now," said Mrs Peters, a little ferret-faced woman with underdone eyes.
"When I was a young man," said Mr Peters, I remember I always made a point of--"
"Pray how long ago was that?" asked Mr Simpkinson from Bath.
"Why, sir, when I married Mrs Peters, I was--let me see--I was--"
"Do pray hold your tongue, P., and eat your breakfast!" interrupted his better half, who had a mortal horror of chronological references; "it's very rude to tease people with your family-affairs."
The lieutenant had by this time taken his seat in silence--a good-humoured nod, and a glance, half-smiling, half-inquisitive, being the extent of his salutation. Smitten as he was, and in the immediate presence of her who had made so large a hole in his heart, his manner was evidently distrait, which the fair Caroline in her secret soul attributed to his being solely occupied by her agrémens,--how would she have bridled had she known that they only shared his meditations with a pair of breeches!
Charles drank his coffee and spiked some half-dozen eggs, darting occasionally a penetrating glance at the ladies, in hope of detecting the supposed waggery by the evidence of some furtive smile or conscious look. But in vain; not dimple moved indicative of roguery, nor did the slightest elevation of eyebrow rise confirmative of his suspicions. Hints and insinuations passed unheeded,--more particular inquiries were out of the question:--the subject was unapproachable.
In the meantime, "patent cords" were just the thing for a morning's ride; and, breakfast ended, away cantered the party over the downs, till, every faculty absorbed by the beauties, animate and inanimate, which surrounded him, Lieutenant Seaforth of the Bombay Fencibles bestowed no more thought upon his breeches than if he had been born the top of Ben Lomond.
Another night had passed away; the sun rose brilliantly, forming with his level beams a splendid rainbow in the far off west, whither the heavy cloud, which for the last two hours had been pouring its waters on the earth, was now flying before him.
"Ah! then, and it's little good it'll be the claning of ye," apostrophised Mr Barney Maguire, as he deposited, in front of his master's toilet, a pair of "bran-new" jockey boots, one of Hoby's primeest fits, which the lieutenant had purchased in his way through town. On that very morning had they come for the first time under the valet's depuriating hand, so little soiled, indeed, from the turfy ride of the preceding day, that a less scrupulous domestic might, perhaps, have considered the application of "Warren's Matchless," or oxalic acid, altogether superfluous. Not so Barney: with the nicest care had he removed the slightest impurity from each polished surface and there they stood, rejoicing in their sable radiance. No wonder a pang shot across Mr Maguire s breast, as he thought on the work now cut out for them, so different from the light labours of the day before, no wonder he murmured with a sigh, as the scarce-dried window-panes disclosed a road now inch-deep in mud, "Ah! then, it's little good the claning of ye!"--for well had he learned in the hall below that eight miles of a stiff clay soil lay between the Manor and Bolsover Abbey, whose picturesque ruins.
"Like ancient Rome, majestic in decay. "
the party had determined to explore. The master-had already commenced dressing, and the man was fitting straps upon a light pair of crane-necked spurs, when his hand was arrested by the old question, "Barney, where are the breeches?"
They were nowhere to be found!
Mr Seaforth descended that morning, whip in hand, and equipped in a handsome green riding-frock, but no "breeches and boots to match" were there: loose jean trowsers, surmounting a pair of diminutive Wellingtons, embraced, somewhat incongruously, his nether man, vice the "patent cords," returned, like yesterday's pantaloons, absent without leave. The "top-boots" had a holiday.
"A fine morning after the rain," said Mr Simpkinson from Bath.
"Just the thing for the 'ops," said Mr Peters. "I remember when I was a boy--"
"Do hold your tongue, P.," said Mrs Peters, advice which that exemplary matron was in the constant habit of administering to "her P.," as she called him, whenever he prepared to vent his reminiscences. Her precise reason for this it would be difficult to determine, unless, indeed, the story be true which a little bird had whispered into Mrs Botherby's ear,--Mr Peters, though now a wealthy man, had received a liberal education at a charity-school and was apt to recur to the days of his muffin cap and leathers. As usual, he took his wife's hint in good part, and "paused in his reply."
"A glorious day for the ruins!" said young Ingoldsby. "But, Charles, what the deuce are you about?--you don't mean to ride through our lanes in such toggey as that?"
"Lassy me!" said Miss Julia Simpkinson, "won't you be very wet?"
"You had better take Tom's cab," quoth the squire.
But this proposition was at once overruled; Mrs Ogleton had already nailed the cab, a vehicle of all others the best adapted for a snug flirtation.
"Or drive Miss Julia in the phaeton?" No; that was the post of Mr Peters, who, indifferent as an equestrian, had acquired some fame as a whip while travelling through the midland counties for the firm of Bagshaw, Snivelby, and Ghrimes.
"Thank you, I shall ride with my cousins," said Charles, with as much nonchalance as he could assume,--and he did so; Mr Ingoldsby, Mrs Peters, Mr Simpkinson from Bath, and his eldest daughter with her album, following in the family coach. The gentleman-commoner voted the affair d--d slow, and declined the party altogether in favour of the gamekeeper and a cigar. There was 'no fun' in looking at old houses! Mrs Simpkinson preferred a short séjour in the still-room with Mrs Botherby, who had promised to initiate her in that grand arcanum, the transmutation of gooseberry jam into Guava jelly.
"Did you ever see an old abbey before, Mr Peters?"
"Yes, miss, a French one; we have got one at Ramsgate; he teaches the Miss Joneses to parley-voo, and is turned of sixty."
Miss Simpkinson closed her album with an air of ineffable disdain.
Mr Simpkinson from Bath was a professed antiquary and one of the first water; he was master of Gwillim's Heraldry, and Milles's History of the Crusades; knew every plate the Monasticon; had written an essay on the origin and dignity of the office of overseer, and settled the date of a Queen Anne's farthing. An influential member of the Antiquarian Society, to whose "Beauties of Bagnigge Wells" he had been a liberal subscriber, procured him a seat at the board of that learned body, since which happy epoch Sylvanus Urban had not a more indefatigable correspondent. His inaugural essay on the President's cocked hat was considered a miracle of erudition: and his account of the earliest application of gilding to gingerbread, a masterpiece of antiquarian research. His eldest daughter was of a kindred spirit: if her father's mantle had not fallen upon her, it was only because he had not thrown it off himself; she had caught hold of its tail, however, while it yet hung upon his honoured shoulders. To souls so congenial, what a sight was the magnificent ruin of Bolsover! its broken arches, its mouldering pinnacles, and the airy tracery of its half-demolished windows. The party were in raptures; Mr Simpkinson began to meditate an essay, and his daughter an ode: even Seaforth, as he gazed on these lonely relics of the olden time, was betrayed into a momentary forgetfulness of his love and losses; the widow's eye-glass turned from her cicisbeo's whiskers to the mantling ivy: Mrs Peters wiped her spectacles; and "her P." supposed the central tower "had once been the county jail." The squire was a philosopher, and had been there often before, so he ordered out the cold tongue and chickens.
"Bolsover Priory," said Mr Simpkinson, with the air of a connoisseur,--"Bolsover Priory was founded in the reign of Henry the Sixth, about the beginning of the eleventh century. Hugh de Bolsover had accompanied that monarch to the Holy Land, in the expedition undertaken by way of penance for the murder of his young nephews in the Tower. Upon the dissolution of the monasteries, the veteran was enfeoffed in the lands and manor, to which he gave his own name of Bowlsover, or Bee-owls-over (by corruption Bolsover),--a Bee in chief, over three Owls, all proper, being the armorial ensigns borne by this distinguished crusader at the siege of Acre."
"Ah! that was Sir Sidney Smith," said Mr Peters; "I've heard tell of him, and all about Mrs Partington, and--"
"P., be quiet, and don't expose yourself!" sharply interrupted his lady. P. was silenced, and betook himself to the bottled stout.
"These lands," continued the antiquary, "were held in grand serjeantry by the presentation of three white owls and a pot of honey--"
"Lassy me! how nice!" said Miss Julia. Mr Peters licked his lips.
"Pray give me leave, my dear--owls and honey, whenever the king should come a rat-catching into this part of the country."
"Rat-catching!" ejaculated the squire, pausing abruptly in the mastication of a drumstick.
"To be sure, my dear sir: don't you remember that rats once came under the forest law--a minor species of venison? 'Rats and mice, and such small deer,' eh?--Shakspear, you know. Our ancestors ate rats ("The nasty fellows!" shuddered Miss Julia in a parenthesis); and owls, you now, are capital mousers--"
"I've seen a howl," said Mr Peters; "there's one in the Sohological Gardens,--a little hook-nosed chap in a wig,--only its feathers and--"
Poor P. was destined never to finish a speech.
"Do be quiet!" cried the authoritative voice, and the would-be naturalist shrank into his shell, like a snail in the "Sohological Gardens."
"You should read Blount's 'Jocular Tenures,' Mr Ingoldsby," pursued Simpkinson. "A learned man was Blount! Why, sir, his Royal Highness the Duke of York once paid a silver horse-shoe to Lord Ferrers--"
"I've heard of him," broke in the incorrigible Peters; "he was hanged at the old Bailey in a silk rope for shooting Dr Johnson."
The antiquary vouchsafed no notice of the interruption; but, taking a pinch of snuff, continued his harangue.
"A silver horse-shoe, sir, which is due from every scion of royalty who rides across one of his manors; and if you look into the penny county histories, now publishing by an eminent friend of mine, you will find that Langhale in Co. Norf. was held by one Baldwin per saltum sufflatum, et pettem; that is, he was to come every Christmas into Westminster Hall, there to take a leap, cry hem! and--"
"Mr Simpkinson, a glass of sherry?" cried Tom Ingoldsby, hastily.
"Not any, thank you, sir. This Baldwin, surnamed Le--"
"Mrs Ogleton challenges you, sir; she insists upon it," said Tom, still more rapidly; at the same time filling a glass, and forcing it on the sçavant, who, thus arrested in the very crisis of his narrative, received and swallowed the potation as if it had been physic.
"What on earth has Miss Simpkinson discovered there?" continued Tom; "something of interest. See how fast she is writing."
The diversion was effectual: every one looked towards Miss Simpkinson, who, far too ethereal for "creature comforts," was seated apart on the dilapidated remains of an altar-tomb, committing eagerly to paper something that had strongly impressed her: the air,--the eye "in a fine frenzy rolling,"--all betokened that the divine afflatus was come. Her father rose, and stole silently towards her.
"What an old boar!" muttered young Ingoldsby; alluding, perhaps, to a slice of brawn which he had just begun to operate upon, but which, from the celerity with which it disappeared, did not seem so very difficult of mastication.
But what had become of Seaforth and his fair Caroline all this while? Why, it so happened that they had been simultaneously stricken with the picturesque appearance of one of those high and pointed arches, which that eminent antiquary, Mr Horseley Curties, has described in his "Ancient Records" as "a Gothic window of the Saxon order;"--and then the ivy clustered so thickly and so beautifully on the other side, that they went round to look at that;--and then their proximity deprived it of half its effect, and so they walked across to a little knoll, a hundred yards off, and in crossing a small ravine, they came to what in Ireland they call a "bad step," and Charles had to carry his cousin over it,--and then, when they had to come back, she would not give him the trouble again for the world, so they followed a better but more circuitous route and there were hedges and ditches in the way, and stiles to get over, and gates to get through; so that an hour or more had elapsed before they were able to rejoin the party.
"Lassy me!" said Miss Julia Simpkinson, "how long you have been gone!"
And so they had. The remark was a very just as well as a very natural one. They were gone a long while, and a nice cosey chat they had; and what do you think it was all about, my dear miss?
"O, lassy me! love, no doubt, and the moon, and eyes, and nightingales, and--"
Stay, stay, my sweet young lady; do not let the fervour of your feelings run away with you! I do not pretend to say, indeed, that one or more of these pretty subjects might not have been introduced; but the most important and leading topic of the conference was--Lieutenant Seaforth's breeches.
"Caroline," said Charles, "I have had some very odd dreams since I have been at Tappington."
"Dreams, have you?" smiled the young lady, arching her taper neck like a swan in pluming. "Dreams, have you?"
"Ay, dreams,--or dream, perhaps, I should say; for, though repeated, it was still the same. And what do you imagine was its subject?"
"It is impossible for me to divine," said the tongue;--"I have not the least difficulty in guessing," said the eye, as plainly as ever eye spoke.
"I dreamt--of your great grandfather!"
There was a change in the glance--"My great grandfather?" "Yes, the old Sir Giles, or Sir John, you told me about the other day: he walked into my bedroom in his short, cloak of murrey-coloured velvet, his long rapier, and his Raleigh-looking hat and feather, just as the picture represents him: but with one exception."
"And what was that?"
"Why, his lower extremities, which were visible, were--those of a skeleton."
"Well, after taking a turn or two about the room, and looking round him with a wistful air, he came to the bed's foot, stared at me in a manner impossible to describe,--and then he--he laid hold of my pantaloons; whipped his long bony legs into them in a twinkling; and strutting up to the glass, seemed to view himself in it with great complacency. I tried to speak, but in vain. The effort, however, seemed to excite his attention; for, wheeling about, he showed me the grimmest-looking death's head you can well imagine, and with an indescribable grin strutted out of the room."
"Absurd! Charles. How can you talk such nonsense?"
"But, Caroline,--the breeches are really gone."
On the following morning, contrary to his usual custom, Seaforth was the first person in the breakfast parlour. As no one else was present, he did precisely what nine young men out of ten so situated would have done; he walked up to the mantel-piece, established himself upon the rug, and subducting his coat-tails one under each arm, turned towards the fire that portion of the human frame which it is considered equally indecorous to present to a friend or enemy. A serious, not to say anxious, expression was visible upon his good-humoured countenance, and his mouth was fast buttoning itself up for an incipient whistle when little Flo, a tiny spaniel of the Blenheim breed,--the-: pet object of Miss Julia Simpkinson's affections, bounced from beneath a sofa, and began to bark at--his pantaloons.
They were cleverly "built," of a light grey mixture, a broad stripe of the most vivid scarlet traversing each seam in a perpendicular direction from hip to ankle,--in short, the regimental costume of the Royal Bombay Fencibles. The animal, educated in the country, had never seen such a pair of breeches in her life--Omne ignotum pro magnifico! The scarlet streak, inflamed as it was by the reflection of the fire, seemed to act on Flora's nerves as the same colour does on those of bulls and turkeys; she advanced at the pas de charge, and her vociferation, like her amazement, was unbounded. A sound kick from the disgusted officer changed its character, and induced a retreat at the very moment when the mistress of the pugnacious quadruped entered to the rescue.
"Lassy me! Flo! what is the matter?" cried the sympathising lady, with a scrutinising glance levelled at the gentleman.
It might as well have lighted on a feather bed.--His air of imperturbable unconsciousness defied examination; and as he would not, and Flora could not expound, that injured individual was compelled to pocket up her wrongs. Others of the household soon dropped in, and clustered round the board dedicated to the most sociable of meals; the urn was paraded "hissing hot," and the cups which "cheer, but not inebriate," steamed redolent of hyson and pekoe; muffins and marmalade, newspapers and Finnon haddies, left little room for observation on the character of Charles's warlike "turn-out." At length a look from Caroline, followed by a smile that nearly ripened to a titter, caused him to turn abruptly and address his neighbour. It was Miss Simpkinson, who, deeply engaged in sipping her tea and turning over her album, seemed, like a female Chrononotonthologos, "immersed in cogibundity of cogitation." An interrogatory on the subject of her studies drew from her the confession that she was at that moment employed in putting the finishing touches to a poem inspired by the romantic shades of Bolsover. The entreaties of the company were of course urgent. Mr Peters, "who liked verses," was especially persevering, and Sappho at length compliant. After a preparatory hem! and a glance at the mirror to ascertain that her look was sufficiently sentimental, the poetess began:--
"There is a calm, a holy feeling. Vulgar minds can never know. O'er the bosom softly stealing-- Chasten'd grief, delicious woe! Oh! how sweet at eve regaining Yon lone tower's sequester'd shade-- Sadly mute and uncomplaining--"
Yow!--yeough!--yeough!--yow!--yow! yelled a hapless sufferer from beneath the table.--It was an unlucky hour for quadrupeds; and if "every dog will have his day," he could not have selected a more unpropitious one than this. Mrs Ogleton, too, had a pet,--a favourite pug,--whose squab figure, black muzzle, and tortuosity of tail, that curled like a head of celery in a salad-bowl, bespoke his Dutch extraction. Yow! yow! yow! continued the brute,--a chorus in which Flo instantly joined. Sooth to say, pug had more reason to express his dissatisfaction than was given him by the muse of Simpkinson; the other only barked for company. Scarcely had the poetess got through her first stanza, when Tom Ingoldsby, in the enthusiasm of the moment, became so lost in the material world, that, in his abstraction, he unwarily laid his hand on the cock of the urn. Quivering with emotion, he gave it such an unlucky twist, that the full stream of its scalding contents descended on the gingerbread hide of the unlucky Cupid.--The confusion was complete;--the whole economy of the table disarranged;--the company broke up most admired disorder;--and "Vulgar minds will never know" anything more of Miss Simpkinson's ode till they peruse it in some forthcoming Annual.
Seaforth profited by the confusion to take the delinquent who had caused this "stramash" by the arm, and to lead him to the lawn, where he had a word or two for his private ear. The conference between the young gentlemen was neither brief in its duration nor unimportant in its result. The subject was what the lawyers call tripartite, embracing the information that Charles Seaforth was over head and ears in love with Tom Ingoldsby's sister; secondly, that the lady had referred him to "papa" for his sanction; thirdly and lastly, his nightly visitations, and consequent bereavement. At the two first items Tom smiled auspiciously; at the last he burst out into an absolute "guffaw."
"Steal your breeches!--Miss Bailey over again, by Jove," shouted Ingoldsby. "But a gentleman, you say,--and Sir Giles too.--I am not sure, Charles, whether I ought not to call you out for aspersing the honour of the family."
"Laugh as you will, Tom,--be as incredulous as you please. One fact is incontestible,--the breeches are gone! Look here--I am reduced to my regimentals, and if these go, to-morrow I must borrow of you!"
Rochefoucault says, there is something in the misfortunes of our very best friends that does not displease us;--assuredly we can, most of us, laugh at their petty inconveniences, till called upon to supply them. Tom composed his features on the instant, and replied with more gravity, as well as with an expletive, which, if my Lord Mayor had been within hearing, might have cost him five shillings.
"There is something very queer in this, after all. The clothes, you say, have positively disappeared. Somebody is playing you a trick, and, ten to one, your servant has a hand in it. By the way, I heard something yesterday of his kicking up a bobbery in the kitchen, and seeing a ghost, or something of that kind, himself. Depend upon it, Barney is in the plot."
It now struck the lieutenant at once, that the usually buoyant spirits of his attendant had of late been materially sobered down, his loquacity obviously circumscribed, and that he, the said lieutenant, had actually rung his bell several times that very morning before he could procure his attendance. Mr Maguire was forthwith summoned, and underwent a close examination. The "bobbery" was easily-explained. Mr Oliver Dobbs hinted his disapprobation of a flirtation carrying on between the gentleman from Minster and the lady from the Rue St Honoré. Mademoiselle had boxed Mr Maguire's ears, and Mr Maguire had pulled Mademoiselle upon his knee, and the lady had not cried Mon Dieu! And Mr Oliver Dobbs said it was very wrong; and Mrs Botherby said it was "scandalous," and what ought not to be done in any moral kitchen; and Mr Maguire had got hold of the Honourable Augustus Sucklethumbkin's powder-flask, and had put large pinches of the best double Dartford into Mr Dobbs's tobacco-box;--and Mr Dobbs's pipe had exploded, and set fire to Mrs Botherby's Sunday cap;--and Mr Maguire had put it out with the slop-basin, "barring the wig";--and then they were all so "cantankerous," that Barney had gone to take a walk in the garden; and then--then Mr Barney had seen a ghost!
"A what? you blockhead!" asked Tom Ingoldsby.
"Sure then, and it's meself will tell your honour the rights of it," said the ghost-seer. "Meself and Miss Pauline, sir, or Miss Pauline and meself, for the ladies comes first anyhow, we got tired of the hobstroppylous skrimmaging among the ould servants, that didn't know a joke when they seen one: and we went out to look at the comet,--that's the rory-bory-alehouse, they calls him in this country,--and we walked upon the lawn--and divil of any alehouse there was there at all; and Miss Pauline said it was because of the shrubbery maybe, and why wouldn't we see it better beyonst the trees?--and so we went to the trees, but sorrow a comet did meself see there, barring a big ghost instead of it."
"A ghost? And what sort of a ghost, Barney?"
"Och, then, divil a lie I'll tell your honour. A tall ould gentleman he was, all in white, with a shovel on the shoulder of him, and a big torch in his fist,--though what he wanted with that it's meself can't tell, for his eyes were like gig-lamps, let alone the moon and the comet, which wasn't there at all,--and 'Barney,' says he to me,--'cause why he knew me,--'Barney,' says he, 'what is it you're doing with the colleen there, Barney?'--Divil a word did I say. Miss Pauline screeched, and cried murther in French, and ran off with herself; and of course meself was in a mighty hurry after the lady, and had no time to stop palavering with him any way; so I dispersed at once, and the ghost vanished in a flame of fire!"
Mr Maguire's account was received with avowed incredulity by both gentlemen; but Barney stuck to his text with unflinching pertinacity. A reference to Mademoiselle was suggested, but abandoned, as neither party had a taste for delicate investigations.
"I'll tell you what, Seaforth," said Ingoldsby, after Barney had received his dismissal, "that there is a trick here, is evident; and Barney's vision may possibly be a part of it. Whether he is most knave or fool, you best know. At all events, I will sit up with you to-night and see if I can convert my ancestor into a visiting acquaintance. Meanwhile your finger on your lip!"
"'Twas now the very witching time of night.
When churchyards yawn, and graves give up their dead."
Gladly would I grace my tale with decent horror, and therefore I do beseech the "gentle reader" to believe, that if all the succedanea to this mysterious narrative are not in strict keeping, he will ascribe it only to the disgraceful innovations of modern degeneracy upon the sober and dignified habits of our ancestors. I can introduce him, it is true, into an old and high-roofed chamber, its walls covered on three sides with black oak wainscotting, adorned with carvings of fruit and flowers long anterior to those of Grinling Gibbons; the fourth side is clothed with a curious remnant of dingy tapestry, once elucidatory of some Scriptural history, but of which not even Mrs Botherby could determine. Mr Simpkinson, who had examined it carefully, inclined to believe the principal figure to be either Bathsheba, or Daniel in the lions' den; while Tom Ingoldsby decided in favour of the King of Bashan. All, however, was conjecture, tradition being silent on the subject.--A lofty arched portal led into, and a little arched portal led out of, this apartment; they were opposite each other, and each possessed the security of massy bolts on its interior. The bedstead, too, was not one of yesterday, but manifestly coeval with days ere Seddons was, and, when a good four-post "article" was deemed worthy of being a royal bequest. The bed itself, with all the appurtenances of palliasse, mattresses, etc., was of far later date, and looked most incongruously comfortable; the casements, too, with their little diamond-shaped panes and iron binding, had given way to the modern heterodoxy of the sash-window. Nor was this all that conspired to ruin the costume, and render the room a meet haunt for such "mixed spirits" only as could condescend to don at the same time an Elizabethan doublet and Bond Street inexpressibles.
With their green morocco slippers on a modern fender in front of a disgracefully modern grate, sat two young gentlemen, clad in "shawl pattern" dressing gowns and black silk stocks, much at variance with the high cane-backed chairs which supported them. A bunch of abomination, called a cigar, reeked in the left-hand corner of the mouth of one, and in the right-hand corner of the mouth of the other;--an arrangement happily adapted for the escape of the noxious fumes up the chimney, without that unmerciful "funking" each other, which a less scientific disposition of the weed would have induced. A small pembroke table filled up the intervening space between them, sustaining at each extremity, an elbow and a glass of toddy;--thus in "lonely pensive contemplation" were the two worthies occupied, when the "iron tongue of midnight had tolled twelve."
"Ghost-time's come!" said Ingoldsby, taking from his waistcoat pocket a watch like a gold half-crown, and consulting it as though he suspected the turret-clock over the stables of mendacity.
"Hush!" said Charles; "did I not hear a footstep?"
There was a pause:--there was a footstep--it sounded distinctly--it reached the door--it hesitated, stopped, and...
Tom darted across the room, threw open the door, and became aware of Mrs Botherby toddling to her chamber, at the other end of the gallery, after dosing one of the housemaids with an approved, julep from the Countess of Kent's "Choice Manual."
"Good night, sir!" said Mrs Botherby.
"Go to the d---l!" said the disappointed ghost-hunter.
An hour--two--rolled on, and still no spectral visitation; nor did aught intervene to make night hideous; and when the turret-clock sounded at length the hour of three, Ingoldsby, whose patience and grog were alike exhausted, sprang from his chair, saying,--
"This is all infernal nonsense, my good fellow. Deuce of any ghost shall we see to-night; it's long past the canonical hour. I'm off to bed; and as to your breeches, I'll insure them for the next twenty-four hours at least, at the price of the buckram."
"Certainly.--Oh! thankee;--to be sure!" stammered Charles, rousing himself from a reverie, which had degenerated into an absolute snooze.
"Good-night, my boy! Bolt the door behind me; and defy the Pope, the Devil and the Pretender!--"
Seaforth followed his friend's advice, and the next morning came down to breakfast dressed in the habiliments of the preceding day. The charm was broken, the demon defeated; the light greys with the red stripe down the seams were yet in rerum naturâ, and adorned the person of their lawful proprietor.
Tom felicitated himself and his partner of the watch on the result of their vigilance; but there is a rustic adage, which warns us against self-gratulation before we are quite "out of the wood."--Seaforth was yet within its verge.
A rap at Tom Ingoldsby's door the following morning startled him as he was shaving;--he cut his chin.
"Come in,-and be d--d to you!" said the martyr, pressing his thumb on the scarified epidermis.--The door opened, and exhibited Mr Barney Maguire.
"Well, Barney, what is it?" quoth the sufferer, adopting the vernacular of his visitant.
"The master, sir--"
"Well, what does he want?"
"The loanst of a breeches, plase your honour."
"Why, you don't mean to tell me--By Heaven, this is too good!" shouted Tom, bursting into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. "Why, Barney, you don't mean to say the ghost has got them again!"
Mr Maguire did not respond to the young squire's risibility; the cast of his countenance was decidedly serious.
"Faith, then, it's gone they are, sure enough! Hasn't meself been looking over the bed, and under the bed, and in the bed, for the matter of that, and divil a ha'p'orth of breeches is there to the fore at all:--I'm bothered entirely!"
"Hark'ee! Mr Barney," said Tom, incautiously removing his thumb, and letting a crimson stream "incarnadine the multitudinous" lather that plastered his throat,--"this may be all very well with your master, but you don't humbug me, sir:--tell me instantly what have you done with the clothes?"
This abrupt transition from "lively to severe" certainly took Maguire by surprise, and he seemed for an instant as much disconcerted as it is possible to disconcert an Irish gentleman's gentleman.
"Me? is it meself, then, that's the ghost to your honour's thinking?" said he, after a moment's pause, and with a slight shade of indignation in his tones: "is it I would stale the master's things?--and what would I do with them?"
"That you best know:--what your purpose is I can't guess, for I don't think you mean to 'stale' them, as you call it; but that you are concerned in their disappearance, I am satisfied. Confound this blood!--give me a towel, Barney."
Maguire acquitted himself of the commission. "As I've a sowl, your honour," said he solemnly, "little it is meself knows of the matter: and after what I seen--"
"What you've seen! Why, what have you seen?--Barney, I don't want to enquire into your flirtations; but don't suppose you can palm off your saucer eyes and gig-lamps upon me!"
"Then, as sure as your honour's standing there I saw him: and why wouldn't I, when Miss Pauline was to the fore as well as meself, and--"
"Get along with your nonsense,leave the room, sir!"
"But the master?" said Barney imploringly; "and without a breeches?--sure he'll be catching cowld!--"
"Take that, rascal!" replied Ingoldsby, throwing a pair of pantaloons at, rather than to, him: "but don't suppose, sir, you shall carry on your tricks here with impunity; recollect there is such a thing as a tread-mill, and that my father is a county magistrate."
Barney's eye flashed fire,--he stood erect, and was about to speak; but, mastering himself, not without an effort, he took up the garment, and left the room as perpendicular as a Quaker.
"Ingoldsby;" said Charles Seaforth, after breakfast, "this is now past a joke; to-day is the last of my stay; for, notwithstanding the ties which detain me, common decency obliges me to visit home after so long an absence. I shall come to an immediate explanation with your father on the subject nearest my heart, and depart while I have a change of dress left. On his answer will my return depend! In the meantime tell me candidly,--I ask it in all seriousness and as a friend,--am I not a dupe to your well-known propensity to hoaxing? have you not a hand in--"
"No, by heaven I Seaforth; I see what you mean: on my honour, I am as much mystified as yourself: and if your servant--"
"Not he:--if there be a trick, he at least is not privy to it."
"If there be a trick? Why, Charles, do you think--"
"I know not what to think, Tom. As surely as you are a living man, so surely did that spectral anatomy visit my room again last night, grin in my face, and walk away with my trousers, nor was I able to spring from my bed, or break the chain which seemed to bind me to my pillow."
"Seaforth!" said Ingoldsby, after a short pause, "I will--But hush! here are the girls and my father.--I will carry off the females, and leave you a clear field with the governor: carry your point with him, and we will talk about your breeches afterwards."
Tom's diversion was successful; he carried off the ladies en masse to look at a remarkable specimen of the class Dodecandria Monogynia,--which they could not find:--while Seaforth marched boldly up to the encounter, and carried "the governor's" outworks by a coup de main. I shall not stop to describe the progress of the attack: suffice it that it was as successful as could have been wished, and that Seaforth was referred back again to the lady. The happy lover was off at a tangent; the botanical party was soon overtaken; and the arm of Caroline, whom a vain endeavour to spell out the Linnæan name of a daffy-down-dilly had detained a little in the rear of the others, was soon firmly locked in his own.
"What was the world to them.
Its noise, its nonsense, and its 'breeches' all?"
Seaforth was in the seventh heaven; he retired to his room that night as happy as if no such thing as a goblin had ever been heard of, and personal chattels were as well fenced in by law as real property. Not so Tom Ingoldsby: the mystery,--for mystery there evidently was,--had not only piqued his curiosity, but ruffled his temper. The watch of the previous night had been unsuccessful, probably because it was undisguised. To-night he would "ensconce himself,"--not indeed "behind the arras,"--for the little that remained was, as we have seen, nailed to the wall,--but in a small closet which opened from one corner of the room, and, by leaving the door ajar, would give to its occupant a view of all that might pass in the apartment. Here did the young ghost-hunter take up a position with a good stout sapling under his arm, a full half-hour before Seaforth retired for the night. Not even his friend did he let into his confidence, fully determined that if his plan did not succeed, the failure should be attributed to himself alone.
At the usual hour of separation for the night, Tom saw, from his concealment, the lieutenant enter his room, and after taking a few turns in it, with an expression so joyous as to betoken that his thoughts were mainly occupied by his approaching happiness, proceed slowly to disrobe himself. The coat, the waistcoat, the black silk stock, were gradually discarded* the green morocco slippers were kicked off, and then--ay, and then--his countenance grew grave; it seemed to occur to him all at once that this was his last stake,--nay, that very breeches he had on were not his own,--that to-morrow morning was his last, and that if he lost them--A glance showed that his mind was made up: he replaced the single button he had just subducted, and threw himself upon the bed in a state of transition--half chrysalis, half grub.
Wearily did Tom Ingoldsby watch the sleeper by the flickering light of the night-lamp, till the clock, striking one, induced him to increase the narrow opening which he had left for the purpose of observation. The motion, slight as it was, seemed to attract Charles's attention; for he raised. himself suddenly to a sitting posture, listened for a moment, and then stood upright upon the floor. Ingoldsby was on the point of discovering himself, when, the light, flashing full upon his friend's countenance, he perceived that, though his eyes were open, "their sense was shut,"--that he was yet under the influence of sleep. Seaforth advanced slowly to the toilet, lit his candle at the lamp that stood on it, then, going back to the bed's foot, appeared to search eagerly for something which he could not find.--For a few moments he seemed restless and uneasy,walking round the apartment and examining the chairs, till, coming fully in front of a large swing-glass that flanked the dressing-table, he paused, as if contemplating his figure in it. He now returned towards the bed; put on his slippers; and, with cautious and stealthy steps, proceeded towards the little arched doorway that opened on the private staircase.
As he drew the bolt, Tom Ingoldsby emerged from his hiding-place; but the sleep-walker heard him not; he proceeded softly down stairs, followed at a due distance by his friend; opened the door which led out upon the gardens; and stood at once among the thickest of the scrubs, which here clustered round the base of a corner turret, and screened the postern from common observation. At this moment Ingoldsby had nearly spoiled all by making a false step: the sound attracted Seaforth's attention,--he paused and turned: and as the full moon shed her light directly upon his pale and troubled features, Tom marked, almost with dismay, the fixed and rayless appearance of his eyes:
"There was no speculation in those orbs
That he did glare withal."
The perfect stillness preserved by his follower seemed to reassure him; he turned aside; and from the midst of a thickset laurustinus, drew forth a gardener's spade, shouldering which he proceeded with great rapidity into the midst of the shrubbery. Arrived at a certain point where the earth seemed to have been recently disturbed, he set himself heartily to the task of digging, till, having thrown up several shovelfuls of mould, he stopped, flung down his tool, and very composedly began to disencumber himself of his pantaloons.
Up to this moment Tom had watched him with a wary eye: he now advanced cautiously, and, as his friend was busily engaged in disentangling himself from his garment, made himself master of the spade. Seaforth, meanwhile, had accomplished his purpose: he stood for a moment with:
"His streamers waving in the wind."
occupied in carefully rolling up the small-clothes into as compact a form as possible, and all heedless of the breath of heaven, which might certainly be supposed, at such a moment, and in such a plight, to "visit his frame too roughly."
He was in the act of stooping low to deposit the pantaloons in the grave which he had been digging for them, when Tom Ingoldsby came close behind him, and with the flat side of the spade--
The shock was effectual,--never again was Lieutenant Seaforth known to act the part of a somnambulist. One by one, his breeches,--his trousers,--his pantaloons,--his silk-net tights,--his patent cords,--his showy greys with the broad red stripe of the Bombay Fencibles were brought to light,--rescued from the grave in which they had been buried, like the strata of a Christmas pie; and, after having been well aired by Mrs Botherby, became once again effective.
The family, the ladies especially, laughed;--the Peterses laughed;--the Simpkinsons laughed;--Barney Maguire cried "Botheration!" and Ma'mselle Pauline "Mon Dieu!"
Charles Seaforth, unable to face the quizzing which awaited him on all sides, started off two hours earlier than he had proposed--he soon returned, however; and having, at his father-in-law's request, given up the occupation of Rajah-hunting and shooting Nabobs, led his blushing bride to the altar.
Mr Simpkinson from Bath did not attend the ceremony, being engaged at the Grand Junction Meeting of Sçavans, then congregating from all parts of the known world in the city of Dublin. His essay, demonstrating that the globe is a great custard, whipped into coagulation by whirlwinds, and cooked by electricity,--a little too much baked in the Isle of Portland, and a thought underdone about the Bog of Allen,--was highly spoken of, and narrowly escaped obtaining a Bridgewater prize.
Miss Simpkinson and her sister acted as bridesmaids on the occasion; the former wrote an epithalamium, and the latter cried "Lassy me!" at the clergyman's wig.--Some years have since rolled on; the union has been crowned with two or three tidy little offshoots from the family tree of whom Master Neddy is "grandpapa's darling," and Mary-Anne mamma's particular "Sock." I shall only add that Mr and Mrs Seaforth are living together quite as happily as two good-hearted, good-tempered bodies, very fond, of each other, can possibly do: and, that since the day of his marriage Charles has shown no disposition to jump out of bed, or ramble out of doors o' nights,--though, from his entire devotion to every wish and whim of his young wife, Tom insinuates that the fair Caroline does still occasionally take advantage of it so far as to "slip on the breeches."
READER, were you ever bewitched?--I do not mean by a 'white wench's black eye,' or by love-potions imbibed from a ruby lip;--but, were you ever really and bonâ fide bewitched, in the true Matthew Hopkins's sense of the word? Did you ever, for instance, find yourself from head to heel one vast complication of cramps?--or burst out into sudorific exudation like a cold thaw, with the thermometer at zero?--Were your eyes ever turned upside down, exhibiting nothing but their whites?--Did you ever vomit a paper of crooked pins?--or expectorate Whitechapel needles?--These are genuine and undoubted marks of possession; and if you never experienced any of them,--why, 'happy man be his dole!'
Yet such things have been; yea, we are assured, and that on no mean authority, still are.
The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh. In this last-named, and fifth, quarter of the globe, a Witch may still be occasionally discovered in favourable, i.e. stormy, seasons, weathering Dungeness Point in an egg-shell, or careering on her broomstick over Dymchurch wall. A cow may yet be sometimes seen galloping like mad, with tail erect, and an old pair of breeches on her horns, an unerring guide to the door of the crone whose magic arts have drained her udder. I do not, however, remember to have heard that any Conjuror has of late been detected in the district.
Not many miles removed from the verge of this recondite region, stands a collection of houses, which its maligners call a fishing-town, and its well-wishers a Watering-place. A limb of one of the Cinque Ports, it has (or lately had) a corporation of its own, and has been thought considerable enough to give a second title to a noble family. Rome stood on seven hills; Folkestone seems to have been built upon seventy. Its streets, lanes, and alleys,--fanciful distinctions without much real difference,--are agreeable enough to persons who do not mind running up and down stairs; and the only inconvenience at all felt by such of its inhabitants as are not asthmatic, is when some heedless urchin tumbles down a chimney, or an impertinent pedestrian peeps into a garret window.
At the eastern extremity of the town, on the sea-beach, and scarcely above high-water mark, stood, in the good old times, a row of houses then denominated 'Frog-hole.' Modern refinement subsequently euphonized the name into 'East-street'; but 'what's in a name?'--the encroachments of Ocean have long since levelled all in one common ruin.
Here, in the early part of the seventeenth century, flourished, in somewhat doubtful reputation but comparative opulence, a compounder of medicines, one Master Erasmus Buckthorne; the effluvia of whose drugs from within, mingling agreeably with the 'ancient and fish-like smells' from without, wafted a delicious perfume throughout the neighbourhood.
At seven of the clock, on the morning when Mrs. Botherby's narrative commences, a stout Suffolk 'punch,' about thirteen hands and a half in height, was slowly led up and down before the door of the pharmacopolist by a lean and withered lad, whose appearance warranted an opinion, pretty generally expressed, that his master found him as useful in experimentalizing as in household drudgery; and that, for every pound avoirdupois of solid meat, he swallowed, at the least, two pounds troy-weight of chemicals and galenicals. As the town clock struck the quarter Master Buckthorne emerged from his laboratory, and, putting the key carefully into his pocket, mounted the sure-footed cob aforesaid, and proceeded up and down the acclivities and declivities of the town with the gravity due to his station and profession. When he reached the open country his pace was increased to a sedate canter, which, in somewhat more than half an hour, brought 'the horse and his rider' in front of a handsome and substantial mansion, the numerous gable-ends and bayed windows of which bespoke the owner a man of worship and one well to do in the world.
'How now, Hodge Gardener?' quoth the Leech, scarcely drawing bit; for Punch seemed to be aware that he had reached his destination and paused of his own accord;'how now, man? How fares thine employer, worthy Master Marsh? How hath he done? How hath he slept?--My potion hath done its office? Ha!'
'Alack! ill at ease worthy sir--ill at ease,' returned the hind; 'his honour is up and stirring; but he hath rested none, and complaineth that the same gnawing pain devoureth, as it were, his very vitals in sooth he is ill at ease.'
'Morrow, doctor!' interrupted a voice from a casement opening on the lawn. 'Good morrow! I have looked for, longed for, thy coming this hour and more enter at once; the pasty and tankard are impatient for thine attack!'
'Marry, Heaven forbid that I should baulk their fancy!' quoth the Leech sotto voce, as, abandoning the bridle to honest Hodge, he dismounted, and followed a buxom-looking handmaiden into the breakfast parlour.
There, at the head of his well-furnished board, sat Master Thomas Marsh, of Marston Hall, a Yeoman well respected in his degree one of that sturdy and sterling class which, taking rank immediately below the Esquire (a title in its origin purely military), occupied, in the wealthier counties, the position in society now filled by the Country Gentleman. He was one of those of whom the proverb ran:
'A Knight of Cales. A Gentleman of Wales. And a Laird of the North Countree; A Yeoman of Kent. With his yearly rent. Will buy them out all three!'
A cold sirloin, big enough to frighten a Frenchman, filled the place of honour, counter-checked by a game-pie of no stinted dimensions; while a silver flagon of 'humming-bub,'--viz. ale strong enough to blow a man's beaver off,--smiled opposite in treacherous amenity. The sideboard groaned beneath sundry massive cups and waiters of the purest silver; while the huge skull of a fallow deer, with its branching horns, frowned majestically above. All spoke of affluence, of comfort,--all save the master, whose restless eye and feverish look hinted but too plainly the severest mental or bodily disorder. By the side of the proprietor of the mansion sat his consort, a lady now past the bloom of youth, yet still retaining many of its charms. The clear olive of her complexion and 'the darkness of her Andalusian eye' at once betrayed her foreign origin; in fact, her 'lord and master,' as husbands were even then, by a legal fiction, denominated, had taken her to his bosom in a foreign country. The cadet of his family, Master Thomas Marsh had early in life been engaged in commerce. In the pursuit of his vocation he had visited Antwerp, Hamburg, and most of the Hanse Towns; and had already formed a tender connexion with the orphan offspring of one of old Alva's officers, when the unexpected deaths of one immediate and two presumptive heirs placed him next in succession to the family acres. He married and brought home his bride; who, by the decease of the venerable possessor, heart-broken at the loss of his elder children, became eventually lady of Marston Hall. It has been said that she was beautiful, yet was her beauty of a character that operates on the fancy more than the affections; she was one to be admired rather than loved. The proud curl of her lip, the firmness of her tread, her arched brow and stately carriage, showed the decision, not to say haughtiness, of her soul; while her glances, whether lightening with anger or melting in extreme softness, betrayed the existence of passions as intense in kind as opposite in quality. She rose as Erasmus entered the parlour, and bestowing on him a look fraught with meaning quitted the room, leaving him in unrestrained communication with his patient.
'Fore George, Master Buckthorne!' exclaimed the latter, as the Leech drew near, 'I will no more of your pharmacy;--burn, burn,--gnaw, gnaw,--I had as lief the foul fiend were in my gizzard as one of your drugs. Tell me, in the devil's name, what is the matter with me!'
Thus conjured, the practitioner paused and even turned somewhat pale There was a perceptible faltering in his voice, as, evading the question, he asked, 'What say your other physicians?'
'Doctor Phiz says it is wind,--Doctor Fuz says it is water,--and Doctor Buz says it is something between wind and water.'
'They are all of them wrong,' said Erasmus Buckthorne.
'Truly, I think so,' returned the patient. 'They are manifest asses; but you, good Leech, you are a horse of another colour. The world talks loudly of your learning, your skill, and cunning in arts the most abstruse; nay, sooth to say, some look coldly on you therefore, and stickle not to aver that you are cater-cousin with Beelzebub himself.'
'It is ever the fate of science,' murmured the professor, 'to be maligned by the ignorant and superstitious. But a truce with such folly;--let me examine your palate.'
Master Marsh thrust out a tongue long, clear, and red as beet-root. 'There is nothing wrong there,' said the Leech. 'Your wrist:--no;--the pulse is firm and regular, the skin cool and temperate Sir, there is nothing the matter with you!'
'Nothing the matter with me, Sir 'Potecary? But I tell you there is the matter with me,--much the matter with me. Why is it that something seems ever gnawing at my heart-strings? Whence this pain in the region of the liver? Why is it that I sleep not o' nights,--rest not o' days? Why--'
'You are fidgety, Master Marsh,' said the doctor.
Master Marsh's brow grew dark; he half rose from his seat, supported himself by both hands on the arms of his elbowchair, and in accents of mingled anger and astonishment repeated the word 'Fidgety!'
'Ay, fidgety,' returned the doctor calmly. 'Tut, man, there is nought ails thee save thine own overweening fancies. Take less of food, more air, put aside thy flagon, call for thy horse; be boot and saddle the word! Why,--hast thou not youth?'
'I have,' said the patient.
'Wealth and a fair domain?'
'Granted,' quoth Marsh cheerily.
'And a fair wife?'
'Yea,' was the response, but in a tone something less satisfied.
'Then arouse thee, man, shake off this fantasy, betake thyself to thy lawful occasions,--use thy good hap,--follow thy pleasures, and think no more of these fancied ailments.'
'But I tell you, master mine, these ailments are not fancied. I lose my rest, I loathe my food, my doublet sits loosely on me,--these racking pains. My wife, too! when I meet her gaze, the cold sweat stands on my forehead, and I could almost think--' Marsh paused abruptly, mused a while, then added, looking steadily at his visitor, 'These things are not right; they pass the common, Master Erasmus Buckthorne.'
A slight shade crossed the brow of the Leech, but its passage was momentary; his features softened to a smile, in which pity seemed slightly blended with contempt 'Have done with such follies, Master Marsh. You are well, an you would but think so. Ride, I say, hunt, shoot, do anything,--disperse these melancholic humours and become yourself again.'
'Well, I will do your bidding,' said Marsh thoughtfully. 'It may be so; and yet,--but I will do your bidding. Master Cobbe of Brenzet writes me that he hath a score or two of fat ewes to be sold a pennyworth; I had thought to have sent Ralph Looker, but I will essay to go myself. Ho, there!--saddle me the brown mare, and bid Ralph be ready to attend me on the gelding.'
An expression of pain contracted the features of Master Marsh as he rose and slowly quitted the apartment to prepare for his journey; while the Leech, having bidden him farewell, vanished through an opposite door, and betook himself to the private boudoir of the fair mistress of Marston, muttering as he went a quotation from a then newly published play--
'Not poppy, nor mandragora. Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world. Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep Which thou own'dst yesterday.'
Of what passed at this interview between the Folkestone doctor and the fair Spaniard Mrs. Botherby declares she could never obtain any satisfactory elucidation Not that tradition is silent on the subject, quite the contrary; it is the abundance, not paucity, of the materials she supplies, and the consequent embarrassment of selection, that makes the difficulty. Some have averred that the Leech, whose character, as has been before hinted, was more than threadbare, employed his time in teaching her the mode of administering certain noxious compounds, the unconscious partaker whereof would pine and die so slowly and gradually as to defy suspicion. Others there were who affirmed that Lucifer himself was then and there raised in propriâ personâ with all his terrible attributes of horn and hoof. In support of this assertion, they adduce the testimony of the aforesaid buxom housemaid, who protested that the Hall smelt that evening like a manufactory of matches. All, however, seemed to agree that the confabulation, whether human or infernal, was conducted with profound secrecy and protracted to a considerable length; that its object, as far as could be divined, meant anything but good to the head of the family; that the lady, moreover, was heartily tired of her husband; and that, in the event of his removal by disease or casualty, Master Erasmus Buckthorne, albeit a great philosophist, would have no violent objection to 'throw physic to the dogs,' and exchange his laboratory for the estate of Marston, its live stock included. Some, too, have inferred that to him did Madame Isabel 'seriously incline'; while others have thought, induced perhaps by subsequent events, that she was merely using him for her purposes; that one José, a tall, bright-eyed, hook-nosed stripling from her native land, was a personage not unlikely to put a spoke in the doctor's wheel; and that, should such a chance arise, the Sage, wise as he was, would after all run no slight risk of being 'bamboozled.'
Master José was a youth well-favoured and comely to look upon. His office was that of page to the dame; an office which, after long remaining in abeyance, has been of late years revived, as may well be seen in the persons of sundry smart hobbledehoys, now constantly to be met with on staircases and in boudoirs, clad, for the most part, in garments fitted tightly to the shape, the lower moiety adorned with a broad stripe of crimson or silver lace, and the upper with what the first Wit of our times has described as 'a favourable eruption of buttons.' The precise duties of this employment have never, as far as we have heard, been accurately defined. The perfuming a handkerchief, the combing a lap-dog, and the occasional presentation of a sippet-shaped billet doux, are, and always have been, among them; but these a young gentleman standing five foot ten, and aged nineteen 'last grass,'might well be supposed to have outgrown José, however, kept his place, perhaps because he was not fit for any other. To the conference between his mistress and the physician he had not been admitted his post was to keep watch and ward in the ante-room; and, when the interview was concluded, he attended the lady and her visitor as far as the courtyard, where he held, with all due respect, the stirrup for the latter, as he once more resumed his position on the back of Punch.
Who is it that says 'little pitchers have large ears'? Some deep metaphysician of the potteries,--who might have added that they have also quick eyes, and sometimes silent tongues. There was a little metaphorical piece of crockery of this class, who, screened by a huge elbowchair, had sat a quiet and unobserved spectator of the whole proceedings between her mamma and Master Erasmus Buckthorne. This was Miss Marian Marsh, a rosy-cheeked, laughter-loving imp of some six years old; but one who could be mute as a mouse when the fit was on her. A handsome and highly polished cabinet of the darkest ebony occupied a recess at one end of the apartment; this had long been a great subject of speculation to little Miss. Her curiosity, however, had always been repelled; nor had all her coaxing ever won her an inspection of the thousand and one pretty things which its recesses no doubt contained. On this occasion it was unlocked, and Marian was about to rush forward in eager anticipation of a peep at its interior, when, child as she was, the reflection struck her that she would stand abetter chance of carrying her point by remaining perdue. Fortune for once favoured her she crouched closer than before, and saw her mother take something from one of the drawers, which she handed over to the Leech. Strange mutterings followed and words whose sound was foreign to her youthful ears. Had she been older, their import, perhaps, might have been equally unknown.--After a while there was a pause; and then the lady, as in answer to a requisition from the gentleman, placed in his hand a something which she took from her toilet. The transaction, whatever its nature, seemed now to be complete, and the article was carefully replaced in the drawer from which it had been taken. A long and apparently interesting conversation then took place between the parties, carried on in a low tone. At its termination Mistress Marsh and Master Erasmus Buckthorne quitted the boudoir together But the cabinet!--ay, that was left unfastened; the folding-doors still remained invitingly expanded, the bunch of keys dangling from the lock. In an instant the spoiled child was in a chair; the drawer so recently closed yielded at once to her hand, and her hurried researches were rewarded by the prettiest little waxen doll imaginable It was a first-rate prize, and Miss lost no time in appropriating it to herself. Long before Madam Marsh had returned to her sanctum, Marian was seated under a laurestinus in the garden, nursing her new baby with the most affectionate solicitude.
'Susan, look here; see what a nasty scratch I have got on my hand,' said the young lady, when routed out at length from her hiding-place to her noontide meal.
'Yes, Miss, this is always the way with you! mend, mend, mend,--nothing but mend! Scrambling about among the bushes, and tearing your clothes to rags. What with you, and with Madam's farthingales and kirtles, a poor bower-maiden has a fine time of it!'
'But I have not torn my clothes, Susan, and it was not the bushes; it was the doll only see what a great ugly pin I have pulled out of it! and look, here is another!' As she spoke, Marian drew forth one of those extended pieces of black pointed wire, with which, in the days of toupets and pompons, our foremothers were wont to secure their fly-caps and head-gear from the impertinent assaults of 'Zephyrus and the Little Breezes.'
'And pray, Miss, where did you get this pretty doll, as you call it?' asked Susan, turning over the puppet and viewing it with a scrutinizing eye.
'Mamma gave it me,' said the child.--This was a fib!
'Indeed!' quoth the girl thoughtfully; and then, in half soliloquy and a lower key, 'Well! I wish I may die if it doesn't look like master!--But come to your dinner, Miss! Hark! the bell is striking One!'
Meanwhile Master Thomas Marsh and his man Ralph were threading the devious paths--then, as now, most pseudonymously dignified with the name of roads--that wound between Marston Hall and the frontier of Romney Marsh. Their progress was comparatively slow; for, though the brown mare was as good a roadster as a man might back and the gelding no mean nag of his hands, yet the tracks, rarely traversed save by the rude wains of the day, miry in the 'bottoms,' and covered with loose and rolling stones on the higher grounds, rendered barely passable the perpetual alternation of hill and valley.
The master rode on in pain, and the man in listlessness. Although the intercourse between two individuals so situated was much less restrained in those days than might suit the refinement of a later age, little passed approximating to conversation beyond an occasional and half-stifled groan from the one, or a vacant whistle from the other. An hour's riding had brought them among the woods of Acryse; and they were about to descend one of those green and leafy lanes, rendered by matted and over-arching branches impervious alike to shower or sunbeam, when a sudden and violent spasm seized on Master Marsh and nearly caused him to fall from his horse. With some difficulty he succeeded in dismounting and seating himself by the road-side. Here he remained for a full half-hour in great apparent agony; the cold sweat rolled in large round drops adown his clammy forehead, a universal shivering palsied every limb, his eyeballs appeared to be starting from their sockets, and to his attached, though dull and heavy serving-man, he seemed as one struggling in the pangs of impending dissolution. His groans rose thick and frequent; and the alarmed Ralph was hesitating between his disinclination to leave him and his desire to procure such assistance as one of the few cottages, sparsely sprinkled in that wild country, might afford, when, after along-drawn sigh, his master's features as suddenly relaxed; he declared himself better, the pang had passed away and, to use his own expression, he 'felt as if a knife had been drawn from out his very heart.' With Ralph's assistance, after a while he again reached his saddle; and though still ill at ease, from a deep-seated and gnawing pain which ceased not, as he averred, to torment him, the violence of the paroxysm was spent and it returned no more.
Master and man pursued their way with increased speed, as, emerging from the wooded defiles, they at length neared the coast then, leaving the romantic castle of Saltwood, with its neighbouring town of Hithe, a little on their left, they proceeded along the ancient paved causeway, and, crossing the old Roman road, or Watling, plunged again into the woods that stretched between Lympne and Ostenhanger.
The sun rode high in the heavens and its meridian blaze was powerfully felt by man and horse, when, again quitting their leafy covert, the travellers debouched on the open plain of Aldington Frith,(3) a wide tract of unenclosed country stretching down to the very borders of 'the Marsh' itself.
(3) See Notes appended to the story.
Here it was, in the neighbouring chapelry, the site of which may yet be traced by the curious antiquary, that Elizabeth Barton, the 'Holy Maid of Kent,' had, something less than a hundred years previous to the period of our narrative, commenced that series of supernatural pranks which eventually procured for her head an unenvied elevation upon London Bridge; and, though the parish had since enjoyed the benefit of the incumbency of Master Erasmus's illustrious and enlightened namesake, still, truth to tell, some of the old leaven was even yet supposed to be at work. The place had, in fact, an ill name; and, though Popish miracles had ceased to electrify its denizens, spells and charms, operating by a no less wondrous agency, were said to have taken their place Warlocks, and other unholy subjects of Satan, were reported to make its wild recesses their favourite rendez-vous, and that to an extent which eventually attracted the notice of no less a personage than the sagacious Matthew Hopkins himself, Witchfinder-General to the British Government.
A great portion of the Frith, or Fright, as the name was then, and is still, pronounced, had formerly been a Chase, with rights of free-warren, etc., appertaining to the Archbishops of the province. Since the Reformation, however, it had been disparked; and, when Master Thomas Marsh and his man Ralph entered upon its confines, the open greensward exhibited a lively scene, sufficiently explanatory of certain sounds that had already reached their ears while yet within the sylvan screen which concealed their origin.
It was Fair-day booths, stalls, and all the rude paraphernalia of an assembly, that then met as much for the purposes of traffic as festivity, were scattered irregularly over the turf. Pedlars with their packs, horse-croupers, pig-merchants, itinerant vendors of crockery and cutlery, wandered promiscuously among the mingled groups, exposing their several wares and commodities and soliciting custom. On one side was the gaudy riband, making its mute appeal to rustic gallantry; on the other the delicious brandy-ball and alluring lollipop, compounded after the most approved receipt in the 'True Gentlewoman's Garland,' and 'raising the waters' in the mouth of many an expectant urchin.
Nor were rural sports wanting to those whom pleasure rather than business had drawn from their humble homes. Here was the tall and slippery pole, glittering in its grease and crowned with the ample cheese, that mocked the hopes of the discomfited climber. There the fugitive pippin, swimming in water not of the purest and bobbing from the expanded lips of the juvenile Tantalus. In this quarter the car was pierced by squeaks from some beleaguered porker, whisking his well-soaped tail from the grasp of one already in fancy his captor. In that, the eye rested, with undisguised delight, upon the grimaces of grinning candidates for the honours of the horse-collar. All was fun, frolic, courtship, junketing, and jollity.
Maid Marian, indeed, with her lieges, Robin Hood, Scarlet, and Little John, was wanting; Friar Tuck was absent; even the Hobby-horse had disappeared but the agile Morris-dancers yet were there, and jingled their bells merrily among stalls well stored with gingerbread, tops, whips, whistles, and all those noisy instruments of domestic torture in which scenes like these are even now so fertile.--Had I a foe whom I held at deadliest feud, I would entice his favourite child to a Fair and buy him a whistle and a penny-trumpet.
In one corner of the green, a little apart from the thickest of the throng, stood a small square stage, nearly level with the chins of the spectators, whose repeated bursts of laughter seemed to intimate the presence of something more than usually amusing. The platform was divided into two unequal portions; the smaller of which, surrounded by curtains of a coarse canvas, veiled from the eyes of the profane the penetralia of this movable temple of Esculapius,--for such it was. Within its interior, and secure from vulgar curiosity, the Quack-salver had hitherto kept himself ensconced; occupied, no doubt, in the preparation and arrangement of that wonderful panacea which was hereafter to shed the blessings of health among the admiring crowd. Meanwhile his attendant Jack-pudding was busily employed on the proscenitum, doing his best to attract attention by a practical facetiousness which took wonderfully with the spectators, interspersing it with the melodious notes of a huge cow's horn. The fellow's costume varied but little in character from that in which the late (alas! that we should have to write the word--late!) Mr. Joseph Grimaldi was accustomed to present himself before 'a generous and enlightened public' the principal difference consisted in this, that the upper garment was a long white tunic of a coarse linen, surmounted by a caricature of the ruff then fast falling into disuse, and was secured from the throat downwards by a single row of broad white metal buttons, and his legs were cased in loose white trousers of the same material; while his sleeves, prolonged to a most disproportionate extent, descended far below the fingers, and acted as flappers in the somersets and caracoles with which he diversified and enlivened his antics Consummate impudence, not altogether unmixed with a certain sly humour, sparkled in his eye through the chalk and ochre with which his features were plentifully bedaubed; and especially displayed itself in a succession of jokes, the coarseness of which did not seem to detract from their merit in the eyes of his applauding audience.
He was in the midst of a long and animated harangue explanatory of his master's high pretensions; he had informed his gaping auditors that the latter was the seventh son of a seventh son, and of course, as they very well knew, an Unborn Doctor; that to this happy accident of birth he added the advantage of most extensive travel; that in his search after science he had not only perambulated the whole of this world, but had trespassed on the boundaries of the next; that the depths of the Ocean and the bowels of the Earth were alike familiar to him; that besides salves and cataplasms of sovereign virtue by combining sundry mosses, gathered many thousand fathoms below the surface of the sea, with certain unknown drugs found in an undiscovered island, and boiling the whole in the lava of Vesuvius, he had succeeded in producing his celebrated balsam of Crackapanoko, the never-failing remedy for all human disorders, and which, a proper trial allowed, would go near to reanimate the dead. 'Draw near!' continued the worthy,'draw near, my masters! and you, my good mistresses, draw near, every one of you. Fear not high and haughty carriage: though greater than King or Kaiser, yet is the mighty Aldrovando milder than mother's milk; flint to the proud, to the humble he is as melting wax: he asks not your disorders, he sees them himself at a glance--nay, without a glance; he tells your ailments with his eyes shut!--Draw near! draw near! the more incurable the better! List to the illustrious Doctor Aldrovando, first physician to Prester John, Leech to the Grand Llama, and Hakim in Ordinary to Mustapha Muley Bey!'
'Hath your master ever a charm for the toothache, an't please you?' asked an elderly countryman, whose swollen cheek bespoke his interest in the question.
'A charm!--a thousand, and every one of them infallible. Toothache, quotha! I had hoped you had come with every bone in your body fractured or out of joint. A toothache!--propound a tester,(4) master o' mine--we ask not more for such trifles do my bidding, and thy jaws, even with the word, shall cease to trouble thee!'
(4) A silver coin of the time of Henry VIII., borrowed from France; of value from about 18d. originally to about 6d. later.
The clown, fumbling a while in a deep leathern purse, at length produced a sixpence, which he tendered to the jester. 'Now to thy master, and bring me the charm forthwith.'
'Nay, honest man; to disturb the mighty Aldrovando on such slight occasion were pity of my life: areed my counsel aright, and I will warrant thee for the nonce. Hie thee home, friend; infuse this powder in cold spring-water, fill thy mouth with the mixture, and sit upon thy fire till it boils!'
'Out on thee for a pestilent knave!' cried the cozened countryman; but the roar of merriment around bespoke the bystanders well pleased with the jape put upon him. He retired, venting his spleen in audible murmurs; and the mountebank, finding the feelings of the mob enlisted on his side, waxed more impudent every instant, filling up the intervals between his fooleries with sundry capers and contortions, and discordant notes from the cow's horn.
'Draw near, draw near, my masters! Here have ye a remedy for every evil under the sun, moral, physical, natural and supernatural! Hath any man a termagant wife?--here is that will tame her presently! Hath anyone a smoky chimney?--here is an incontinent cure!'
To the first infliction no man ventured to plead guilty, though there were those standing by who thought their neighbours might have profited withal. For the last-named receipt started forth at least a dozen candidates. With the greatest gravity imaginable, Pierrot, having pocketed their groats, delivered to each a small packet curiously folded and closely sealed, containing, as he averred, directions which, if truly observed, would preclude any chimney from smoking for a whole year. They whose curiosity led them to dive into the mystery found that a sprig of mountain ash culled by moonlight was the charm recommended, coupled, however, with the proviso that no fire should be lighted on the hearth during its exercise.
The frequent bursts of merriment proceeding from this quarter at length attracted the attention of Master Marsh, whose line of road necessarily brought him near this end of the fair; he drew bit in front of the stage just as its noisy occupant, having laid aside his formidable horn, was drawing still more largely on the amazement of 'the public' by a feat of especial wonder,--he was eating fire! Curiosity mingled with astonishment was at its height, and feelings not unallied to alarm were beginning to manifest themselves, among the softer sex especially, as they gazed on the flames that issued from the mouth of the living volcano. All eyes indeed were fixed upon the fire-eater with an intentness that left no room for observing another worthy who had now emerged upon the scene. This was, however, no less a personage than the Deus ex machinâ,--the illustrious Aldrovando himself.
Short in stature and spare in form, the sage had somewhat increased the former by a steeple-crowned hat adorned with a cock's feather; while the thick shoulder-padding of a quilted doublet, surmounted by a falling band, added a little to his personal importance in point of breadth His habit was composed throughout of black serge, relieved with scarlet slashes in the sleeves and trunks; red was the feather in his hat, red were the roses in his shoes, which rejoiced moreover in a pair of red heels. The lining of a short cloak of faded velvet, that hung transversely over his left shoulder, was also red. Indeed, 'from all that we could ever see or hear,' this agreeable alternation of red and black appears to be the mixture of colours most approved at the court of Beelzebub, and the one most generally adopted by his friends and favourites. His features were sharp and shrewd, and a fire sparkled in his keen grey eye, much at variance with the wrinkles that ran their irregular furrows above his prominent and bushy brows. He had advanced slowly from behind his screen while the attention of the multitude was absorbed by the pyrotechnics of Mr. Merryman, and, stationing himself at the extreme corner of the stage, stood quietly leaning on a crutch-handle walking-staff of blackest ebony, his glance steadily fixed on the face of Marsh, from whose countenance the amusement he had insensibly begun to derive had not succeeded in removing all traces of bodily pain.
For a while the latter was unobservant of the inquisitorial survey with which he was regarded; the eyes of the parties, however, at length met. The brown mare had a fine shoulder; she stood pretty nearly sixteen hands. Marsh himself, though slightly bowed by ill-health and the 'coming autumn' of life, was full six feet in height. His elevation giving him an unobstructed view over the heads of the pedestrians, he had naturally fallen into the rear of the assembly, which brought him close to the diminutive Doctor, with whose face, despite the red heels, his own was about upon a level.
'And what makes Master Marsh here?--what sees he in the mummeries of a miserable buffoon to divert him when his life is in jeopardy?' said a shrill cracked voice that sounded as in his very ear. It was the Doctor who spoke.
'Knowest thou me, friend?' said Marsh, scanning with awakened interest the figure of his questioner: 'I call thee not to mind; and yet--stay, where have we met?'
'It skills not(5) to declare,' was the answer; 'suffice it we have met,--in other climes perchance,--and now meet happily again--happily at least for thee.'
(5) An obsolete expression for it boots not, or it serves not.
'Why, truly the trick of thy countenance reminds me of somewhat I have seen before; where or when I know not: but what wouldst thou with me?'
'Nay, rather what wouldst thou here, Thomas Marsh? What wouldst thou on the Frith of Aldington?--Is it a score or two of paltry sheep? or is it something nearer to thy heart?'
Marsh started as the last words were pronounced with more than common significance: a pang shot through him at the moment, and the vinegar aspect of the charlatan seemed to relax into a smile half compassionate, half sardonic.
'Grammercy,' quoth Marsh, after a long-drawn breath, 'what knowest thou of me, fellow, or of my concerns? What knowest thou--'
'This know I, Master Thomas Marsh,' said the stranger gravely, 'that thy life is even now perilled; evil practices are against thee; but no matter, thou art quit for the nonce--other hands than mine have saved thee! Thy pains are over. Hark! the clock strikes One!' As he spoke, a single toll from the bell-tower of Bilsington came, wafted by the western breeze, over the thick-set and lofty oaks which intervened between the Frith and what had been once a priory. Doctor Aldrovando turned as the sound came floating on the wind, and was moving as if half in anger towards the other side of the stage, where the mountebank, his fires extinct, was now disgorging to the admiring crowd yard after yard of gaudy-coloured riband.
'Stay! Nay, prithee stay!' cried Marsh eagerly, 'I was wrong; in faith I was. A change, and that a sudden and most marvellous, hath indeed come over me; I am free; I breathe again; I feel as though a load of years had been removed; and--is it possible?--hast thou done this?'
'Thomas Marsh!' said the Doctor, pausing and turning for the moment on his heel, 'I have not: I repeat, that other and more innocent hands than mine have done this deed. Nevertheless heed my counsel well! Thou art parlously encompassed; I, and I only, have the means of relieving thee. Follow thy courses; pursue thy journey; but, as thou valuest life and more than life, be at the foot of yonder woody knoll what time the rising moon throws her first beam upon the bare and blighted summit that towers above its trees.'
He crossed abruptly to the opposite quarter of the scaffolding, and was in an instant deeply engaged in listening to those whom the cow's horn had attracted, and in prescribing for their real or fancied ailments. Vain were all Marsh's efforts again to attract his notice; it was evident that he studiously avoided him; and when, after an hour or more spent in useless endeavour, he saw the object of his anxiety seclude himself once more within his canvas screen, he rode slowly and thoughtfully off the field.
What should he do? Was the man a mere quack? an impostor?--His name thus obtained?--that might be easily done. But then, his secret griefs: the Doctor's knowledge of them; their cure; for he felt that his pains were gone, his healthful feelings restored!
True, Aldrovando, if that were his name, had disclaimed all co-operation in his recovery: but he knew, or he at least announced it. Nay, more: he had hinted that he was yet in jeopardy; that practices--and the chord sounded strangely in unison with one that had before vibrated within him--that practices were in operation against his life! It was enough! He would keep tryst with the Conjuror, if conjuror he were; and at least ascertain who and what he was, and how he had become acquainted with his own person and secret afflictions.
When the late Mr. Pitt was determined to keep out Bonaparte and prevent his gaining a settlement in the county of Kent, among other ingenious devices adopted for that purpose, he caused to be constructed what was then, and has ever since been, conventionally termed a 'Military Canal.' This is a not very practicable ditch, some thirty feet wide and nearly nine feet deep--in the middle,--extending from the town and port of Hithe to within a mile of the town and port of Rye, a distance of about twenty miles, and forming, as it were, the cord of a bow, the arc of which constitutes that remote fifth quarter of the globe spoken of by travellers. Trivial objections to the plan were made at the time by cavillers; and an old gentleman of the neighbourhood, who proposed as a cheap substitute to put up his own cocked-hat upon a pole, was deservedly pooh-poohed down; in fact, the job, though rather an expensive one, was found to answer remarkably well. The French managed indeed to scramble over the Rhine, and the Rhone, and other insignificant currents; but they never did, nor could, pass Mr. Pitt's 'Military Canal.' At no great distance from the centre of this cord rises abruptly a sort of woody promontory, in shape almost conical; its sides covered with thick underwood, above which is seen a bare and brown summit rising like an Alp in miniature. The 'defence of the nation' not being then in existence, Master Marsh met with no obstruction in reaching this place of appointment long before the time prescribed.
So much indeed was his mind occupied by his adventure and extraordinary cure that his original design had been abandoned, and Master Cobbe remained unvisited. A rude hostel in the neighbourhood furnished entertainment for man and horse; and here, a full hour before the rising of the moon, he left Ralph and the other beasts, proceeding to his rendezvous on foot and alone.
'You are punctual, Master Marsh,' squeaked the shrill voice of the Doctor, issuing from the thicket as the first silvery gleam trembled on the aspens above. "Tis well: now follow me and in silence.'
The first part of the command Marsh hesitated not to obey; the second was more difficult of observance.
'Who and what are you? Whither are you leading me?' burst not unnaturally from his lips; but all question was at once cut short by the peremptory tones of his guide.
'Hush! I say; your finger on your lip, there be hawks abroad: follow me, and that silently and quickly.' The little man turned as he spoke, and led the way through a scarcely perceptible path or track which wound among the underwood. The lapse of a few minutes brought them to the door of a low building, so hidden by the surrounding trees that few would have suspected its existence It was a cottage of rather extraordinary dimensions, but consisting of only one floor. No smoke rose from its solitary chimney; no cheering ray streamed from its single window, which was, however, secured by a shutter of such thickness as to preclude the possibility of any stray beam issuing from within. The exact size of the building it was, in that uncertain light, difficult to distinguish, a portion of it seeming buried in the wood behind. The door gave way on the application of a key, and Marsh followed his conductor resolutely, but cautiously, along a narrow passage feebly lighted by a small taper that winked and twinkled at its farther extremity. The Doctor, as he approached, raised it from the ground, and, opening an adjoining door, ushered his guest into the room beyond.
It was a large and oddly furnished apartment, insufficiently lighted by an iron lamp that hung from the roof and scarcely illumined the walls and angles, which seemed to be composed of some dark-coloured wood. On one side, however, Master Marsh could discover an article bearing strong resemblance to a coffin; on the other was a large oval mirror in an ebony frame, and in the midst of the floor was described, in red chalk, a double circle, about six feet in diameter, its inner verge inscribed with sundry hieroglyphics, agreeably relieved at intervals with an alternation of skulls and cross-bones. In the very centre was deposited one skull of such surpassing size and thickness as would have filled the soul of a Spurzheim or De Ville with wonderment. A large book, a naked sword, an hour-glass, a chafing dish, and a black cat, completed the list of movables; with the exception of a couple of tapers which stood on each side of the mirror, and which the strange gentleman now proceeded to light from the one in his hand. As they flared up with what Marsh thought a most unnatural brilliancy, he perceived, reflected in the glass behind, a dial suspended over the coffin-like article already mentioned: the hand was fast verging towards the hour of nine. The eyes of the little Doctor seemed riveted on the horologe.
'Now strip thee, Master Marsh, and that quickly: untruss, I say! discard thy boots, doff doublet and hose, and place thyself incontinent in yonder bath.'
The visitor cast his eyes again upon the formidable-looking article, and perceived that it was nearly filled with water. A cold bath, at such an hour and under such auspices, was anything but inviting: he hesitated, and turned his eyes alternately on the Doctor and the Black Cat.
'Trifle not the time, man, an you be wise,' said the former: 'Passion of my heart! let but yon minute-hand reach the hour, and thou not immersed, thy life were not worth a pin's fee!'
The Black Cat gave vent to a single Mew,--a most unnatural sound for a mouser,--it seemed as it were mewed through a cow's horn.
'Quick, Master Marsh! uncase, or you perish!' repeated his strange host, throwing as he spoke a handful of some dingy-looking powders into the brasier. 'Behold the attack is begun!' A thick cloud rose from the embers; a cold shivering shook the astonished yeoman; sharp pricking pains penetrated his ankles and the palms of his hands, and, as the smoke cleared away, he distinctly saw and recognised in the mirror the boudoir of Marston Hall.
The doors of the well-known ebony cabinet were closed; but fixed against them, and standing out in strong relief from the contrast afforded by the sable background, was a waxen image--of himself! It appeared to be secured, and sustained in an upright posture, by large black pins driven through the feet and palms, the latter of which were extended in a cruciform position. To the right and left stood his wife and José; in the middle, with his back towards him, was a figure which he had no difficulty in recognising as that of the Leech of Folkestone. The letter had just succeeded in fastening the dexter hand of the image, and was now in the act of drawing a broad and keen-edged sabre from its sheath. The Black Cat mewed again. 'Haste or you die!' said the Doctor:--Marsh looked at the dial; it wanted but four minutes of nine: he felt that the crisis of his fate was come. Off went his heavy boots; doublet to the right, galligaskins to the left; never was man more swiftly disrobed: in two minutes, to use an Indian expression, 'he was all face!' in another he was on his back and up to his chin in a bath which smelt strongly as of brimstone and garlic.
'Heed well the clock!' cried the Conjuror: 'with the first stroke of Nine plunge thy head beneath the water; suffer not a hair above the surface; plunge deeply, or thou art lost!'
The little man had seated himself in the centre of the circle upon the large skull, elevating his legs at an angle of forty-five degrees. In this position he spun round with a velocity to be equalled only by that of a tee-totum, the red roses on his insteps seeming to describe a circle of fire. The best buckskins that ever mounted at Melton had soon yielded to such rotatory friction--but he spun on--the Cat mewed, bats and obscene birds fluttered overhead; Erasmus was seen to raise his weapon; the clock struck!--and Marsh, who had 'ducked' at the instant, popped up his head again, spitting and sputtering, half-choked with the infernal solution, which had insinuated itself into his mouth, and ears, and nose. All disgust at his nauseous dip was, however, at once removed, when, cast in, his eyes on the glass, he saw the consternation of the party whose persons it exhibited. Erasmus had evidently made his blow; and failed; the figure was unmutilated; the hilt remained in the hand of the striker, while the shivered blade lay in shining fragments on the floor.
The Conjuror ceased his spinning and brought himself to an anchor; the Black Cat purred,--its purring seemed strangely mixed with the self-satisfied chuckle of a human being.--Where had Marsh heard something like it before?
He was rising from his unsavoury couch when a motion from the little man checked him. 'Rest where you are, Thomas Marsh; so far all goes well, but the danger is not yet over!' He looked again, and perceived that the shadowy triumvirate were in deep and eager consultation; the fragments of the shattered weapon appeared to undergo a close scrutiny. The result was clearly unsatisfactory; the lips of the parties moved rapidly, and much gesticulation might be observed, but no sound fell upon the ear. The hand of the dial had nearly reached the quarter at once the parties separated, and Buckthorne stood again before the figure, his hand armed with a long and sharp-pointed miséricorde,--a dagger little in use of late, but such as, a century before, often performed the part of a modern oyster-knife, in tickling the osteology of a dismounted cavalier through the shelly defences of his plate armour. Again he raised his arm 'Duck!' roared the Doctor, spinning away upon his cephalic pivot:--the Black Cat cocked his tail, and seemed to mew the word 'Duck!' Down went Master Marsh's head.--One of his hands had unluckily been resting on the edge of the bath; he drew it hastily in, but not altogether scathless; the stump of a rusty nail, projecting from the margin of the bath, had caught and slightly grazed it. The pain was more acute than is usually produced by such trivial accidents; and Marsh, on once more raising his head, beheld the dagger of the Leech sticking in the little finger of the wax figure, which it had seemingly nailed to the cabinet door.
'By my life, truly, a scape o' the narrowest!' quoth the Conjuror: 'the next course, dive you not the readier, there is no more life in you than in a pickled herring--What! courage, Master Marsh; but be heedful; an they miss again let them bide the issue!'
He drew his hand athwart his brow as he spoke, and dashed off the perspiration which the violence of his exercise had drawn from every pore. Black Tom sprang upon the edge of the bath and stared full in the face of the bather his sea-green eyes were lambent with unholy fire, but their marvellous obliquity of vision was not to be mistaken; the very countenance, too!--Could it be?--the features were feline, but their expression was that of the Jack Pudding! Was the Mountebank a Cat?--or the Cat a Mountebank?--It was all a mystery; and Heaven knows how long Marsh might have continued staring at Grimalkin, had not his attention been again called by Aldrovando to the magic mirror.
Great dissatisfaction, not to say dismay, seemed now to pervade the conspirators Dame Isabel was closely inspecting the figure's wounded hand, while José was aiding the pharmacopolist to charge a huge petronel with powder and bullets. The load was a heavy one; but Erasmus seemed determined this time to make sure of his object. Somewhat of trepidation might be observed in his manner as he rammed down the balls, and his withered cheek appeared to have acquired an increase of paleness; but amazement rather than fear was the prevailing symptom, and his countenance betrayed no jot of irresolution. As the clock was about to chime half-past nine, he planted himself with a firm foot in front of the image, waved his unoccupied hand with a cautionary gesture to his companions, and, as they hastily retired on either side, brought the muzzle of his weapon within half a foot of his mark. As the shadowy form was about to draw the trigger, Marsh again plunged his head beneath the surface; and the sound of an explosion, as of fire-arms, mingled with the rush of water that poured into his ears. His immersion was but momentary, yet did he feel as though half suffocated he sprang from the bath, and, as his eye fell on the mirror, he saw--or thought he saw--the Leech of Folkestone lying dead on the floor of his wife's boudoir, his head shattered to pieces, and his hand still grasping the stock of a bursten petronel.
He saw no more; his head swam, his senses reeled, the whole room was turning round; and, as he fell to the ground, the last impressions to which he was conscious were the chucklings of a hoarse laughter and the mewings of a Tom Cat!
Master Marsh was found the next morning by his bewildered serving-man, stretched before the door of the humble hostel at which he sojourned. His clothes were somewhat torn and much bemired: and deeply did honest Ralph marvel that one so staid and grave as Master Marsh of Marston should thus have played the roisterer, missing, perchance, a profitable bargain for the drunken orgies of midnight wassail, or the endearments of some rustic light-o'-love. Tenfold was his astonishment increased when, after retracing in silence their journey of the preceding day, the Hall, on their arrival about noon, was found in a state of uttermost confusion.--No wife stood there to greet with the smile of bland affection her returning spouse; no page to hold his stirrup or receive his gloves, his hat and riding-rod.--The doors were open, the rooms in most admired disorder; men and maidens peeping, hurrying hither and thither, and popping in and out, like rabbits in a warren.--The lady of the mansion was nowhere to be found.
José, too, had disappeared: he had been last seen riding furiously towards Folkestone early in the preceding afternoon: to a question from Hodge Gardener he had hastily answered that he bore a missive of moment from his mistress. The lean apprentice of Erasmus Buckthorne declared that the page had summoned his master, in haste, about six of the clock, and that they had rode forth together, as he verily believed on their way back to the Hall, where he had supposed Master Buckthorne's services to be suddenly required on some pressing emergency. Since that time he had seen nought of either of them: the grey cob, however, had returned late at night, masterless, with his girths loose and the saddle turned upside down.
Nor was Master Erasmus Buckthorne ever seen again. Strict search was made through the neighbourhood, but without success; and it was at length presumed that he must, for reasons which nobody could divine, have absconded, together with José and his faithless mistress. The latter had carried off with her the strong box, divers articles of valuable plate and jewels of price. Her boudoir appeared to have been completely ransacked; the cabinet and drawers stood open and empty; the very carpet, a luxury then newly introduced into England, was gone. Marsh, however, could trace no vestige of the visionary scene which he affirmed to have been last night presented to his eyes.
Much did the neighbours marvel at his story:--some thought him mad; others, that he was merely indulging in that privilege to which, as a traveller, he had a right indefeasible. Trusty Ralph said nothing but shrugged his shoulders, and, falling into the rear, imitated the action of raising a wine-cup to his lips. An opinion, indeed, soon prevailed that Master Thomas Marsh had gotten, in common parlance, exceedingly drunk on the preceding evening, and had dreamt all that he so circumstantially related. This belief acquired additional credit when they whom curiosity induced to visit the woody knoll of Aldington Mount declared that they could find no building such as that described, nor any cottage near; save one, indeed--a low-roofed hovel, once a house of public entertainment, but now half in ruins. The 'Old Cat and Fiddle'--so was the tenement called--had been long uninhabited, yet still exhibited the remains of a broken sign, on which the keen observer might decipher something like a rude portrait of the animal from which it derived its name. It was also supposed still to afford an occasional asylum to the smugglers of the coast, but no trace of any visit from sage or mountebank could be detected; nor was the wise Aldrovando, whom many remembered to have seen at the fair, ever found again on all that country-side.
Of the runaways nothing was ever certainly known. A boat, the property of an old fisherman who plied his trade on the outskirts of the town, had been seen to quit the bay that night; and there were those who declared that she had more hands on board than Carden and his son, her usual complement; but, as the gale came on, and the frail bark was eventually found keel upwards on the Goodwin Sands, it was presumed that she had struck on that fatal quicksand in the dark, and that all on board had perished.
Little Marian, whom her profligate mother had abandoned, grew up to be a fine girl and a handsome. She became, moreover, heiress to Marston Hall, and brought the estate into the Ingoldsby family by her marriage with one of its scions.
Thus far Mrs. Botherby.
It is a little singular that, on pulling down the old Hall in my grandfather's time, a human skeleton was discovered among the rubbish; under what particular part of the building I could never with any accuracy ascertain; but it was found enveloped in a tattered cloth, that seemed to have been once a carpet, and which fell to pieces almost immediately on being exposed to the air. The bones were perfect but those of one hand were wanting; and the skull, perhaps from the labourer's pick-axe, had received considerable injury: the worm-eaten stock of an old-fashioned pistol lay near, together with a rusty piece of iron which a workman, more sagacious than his fellows, pronounced a portion of the lock, but nothing was found which the utmost stretch of human ingenuity could twist into a barrel.
The portrait of the fair Marian hangs yet in the gallery of Tappington; and near it is another, of a young man in the prime of life, which Mrs. Botherby affirms to be that of her father. It exhibits a mild and rather melancholy countenance with a high forehead, and the peaked beard and moustaches of the seventeenth century. The signet-finger of the left hand is gone, and appears, on close inspection, to have been painted out by some later artist; possibly in compliment to the tradition, which, teste Botherby, records that of Mr. Marsh to have gangrened, and to have undergone amputation at the knuckle-joint. If really the resemblance of the gentleman alluded to, it must have been taken at some period antecedent to his marriage. There is neither date nor painter's name; but, a little above the head, on the dexter side of the picture is an escutcheon, bearing 'Quarterly, gules and argent, in the first quarter a horse's head of the second'; beneath it are the words 'Ætatis suæ 26.' On the opposite side is the following mark, which Mr. Simpkinson declares to be that of a Merchant of the Staple, and pretends to discover, in the monogram comprised in it, all the characters which compose the name of THOMAS MARSH, of MARSTON.
'Rome stood on seven hills; Folkestone seems to have been built upon seventy.'--P. 123.
PEOPLE who run down in a couple of hours, 'by express,' to Folkestone, and find a fashionable and flourishing watering-place, have for the most part little idea of the quaint, narrow, dirty little town which existed half a century ago, and some traces of which still exist. Smuggling and fishing--smuggling for choice--comprised pretty well the whole business of the inhabitants. Apart from these occupations, in the conduct of which they exhibited unquestionable abilities, the Folkestoners were said to be somewhat of the dullest, and the place was regarded as the very Boetia of Kent. Subjoined are some interesting particulars from the pen of the author.
'From the time of the celebrated couplet with which the Mayor addressed Queen Elizabeth,--
"O mighty Queene! Welcome to Folkesteene!" and her Majesty's most gracious reply-- "You great Fool! Get off that stool!"
a Folkestone Rhyme became a term of ridicule in the county. The unlucky Folkestoners, however, bore up heroically against the gibes of their neighbours, and many were the arguments advanced by them to prove that their powers of versification had been unjustly stigmatized. To convince the public of this they produced, as their champion, a venerable cobbler, the poet-laureate of the place, who undertook to compose two lines in a given period, which the first judges of such matters should instantly acknowledge to be bonâ fide rhymes. Accordingly, on the evening appointed, the bells pealed joyously, the shops were shut, the windows illuminated, and precisely as the clock struck eight the long-expected lines, written in red ink upon gilt-edged vellum, were publicly read by the town-clerk as follows:--
Knives and Forks!"
Long and reiterated shouts of applause burst from the assembled townsmen at this announcement of their poet's triumphant effusion. But, alas! how fleeting are all human honours. A neighbouring tailor, jealous of the cobbler's fame, produced a short tale in verse founded on a circumstance which had recently occurred; and this, as it recorded the prowess of their boatmen, was held by the people of Folkestone to surpass in a literary point of view the distich of the cobbler. It ran thus:--
"A mighty whale Come down the chan-nale; The Dover men could not catch it But the Folkestoners did!"
In later times it happened to be discovered that Folkestone Church stood in a sufficiently conspicuous situation to serve as a landmark for ships entering the Downs or Dover harbour. Admiral Foley therefore sent a polite note to the corporation, requesting, as a matter of public utility, that they would whitewash the church steeple. This communication was considered to be an affair of considerable importance, and a deputation of the inhabitants accordingly waited upon the Admiral to make a respectful inquiry as to what colour he would please to have their church steeple whitewashed?--Yet more recently, a poor old man was brought to the bar charged with stealing a pair of leather breeches. There was not the slightest doubt about his guilt; but luckily for him a Folkestone jury were appointed to try the cause. Anxious to save the prisoner's life by avoiding a capital conviction--men were hanged for trifling matters in those days--they returned a verdict of Manslaughter! which was probably the first time that term was applied to the purloining a pair of inexpressibles.'
'Aldington Frith.--P. 135.
Aldington Frith, locally pronounced 'Allington Fright,' is a tongue of wild land projecting into the marsh from the higher ground, and was formerly, according to Hasted, 'a chace for deer and wild beasts belonging to the archbishop's manor at Aldington.'
Another legend appertaining to this wild district was commenced by 'Ingoldsby,' but I have been unable to discover more of the story than is hinted at in the few following stanzas:--
THE BELL OF ALDINGTON It is the Bell of Aldington! And it tolls at the midnight hour;-- It tolls at One, and it tolls at Two. Dismally deep the whole night through It tolls from that old grey tower. Down is the moon, and dark is the night. Yet the belfry window has never a light. Sir Edmund rocks on his restless bed; He tosses, and tumbles, and turns his head To and again:-- Seems as his brain Were addled with care, or with grief, or with pain. Yet his pillow is stuffed with the eider down. And his bed with feathers that no shop in town Would send you a pound of for less than a crown; And, go where you will, it's seldom one meets With such Whitney blankets or fine Holland sheets. Spite of it all, you may say what you please. But it's clear, if a host of unanimous fleas Had attacked him at once from his nose to his knees. Fully bent upon eating him up by degrees. Sir Edmund would not have been less at his ease. And he fidgets and kicks off the bed-clothes, and oft He beats the down pillow to make it more soft. In vain--sleep defies him! It seems rather odd. But he can't get so much as 'three winks and a nod.' So he roars to the poor little foot-page who still Keeps watch in the ante-room, waiting his will. 'Hallo! you young monkey--come hither, you Bill! What means this noise That my rest destroys? I suppose it's some "lark" of you rascally boys. Go run to the church, sir--take with you a light. And see who 'tis daring the village to fright With his horrid bim-boming at this time of night.-- Be off, you young--!' (something it wouldn't be right To record, or my readers might fancy the knight. Though a very great man, was not over-polite.) The page made a bow his obedience to show-- As well-bred foot-pages ought always to do; He descended the stair. And, opening a pair Of huge folding-doors, stept out into the air; Then pausing and listening, said--'Well, I declare I don t hear any bell. It's all very well. But what he can mean I am sure I can't tell; Though I've not for my part seen a glass touch his lips, he Must somehow have managed to make himself tipsy!'
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia