an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: The Summer Tourist
Author: M. E. Braddon
eBook No.: 2200651h.html
Date first posted: December 2022
Most recent update: December 2022
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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The Zoophyte’s Revenge
A Watering-Place About To Become Famous
From Stream To Stream
A Six Days’ Ramble In Normandy And Brittany
A Railway Adventure
At Home In Norway
An Autumn Pilgrimage
Pall Mall To Port Said
The Tyne Watch
Baden In Argovie
The Virginia Springs
A Shark Story
In The Black Forest
Our Trip To Loch Killnoy, Or The Flying Scud
A Couch Of Horrors
The Bridge Of Straubing— A Legend Of The Danube
By The Author Of ‘Lady Audley’s Secret,’ Etc.
His name was Reginald Ravenscroft—rather a pretty name, as he used to say himself in a plaintive manner, if any one would have been so good as to call him by it — but he had been surnamed the Zoophyte by his brother officers in the Queen’s Trumpeters, of which favourite corps he had been captain —the Zoophyte, ordinarily abbreviated for convenience into the Zoo.
This sobriquet had been bestowed upon Captain Ravenscroft on account of a certain easiness— not to say laziness—of disposition which formed the most salient feature in his character. In all their experience of him—and he had been a member of that crack regiment for some ten years—the Queen’s Trumpeters had never seen Reginald Ravenscroft in any other than that placid and lamblike condition which was his natural temperament. He had had his trials in those years, of course — petty annoyances and small vexations, insolent letters from tradesmen and attorneys, aggravating blunders on the part of his body-servant, refusals to cash up from his relatives — vexations which would have thrown other men into raging passions, and sent them stamping about their quarters in a state of temporary lunacy; but they had no more discomposing effect upon Captain Ravenscroft than if he had indeed been one of those strange dabs of gelatinous matter which one sees sticking to the rocks at low tide. He swore, it is true; indeed his répertoire of bad language was considerably in advance of that of his fellows, being richly garnished with the choicest flowers from Billingsgate and Seven-dials, and strengthened by some very original blasphemies of his own composition; but the Queen’s Trumpeters declared it was the funniest thing in the world to hear him give utterance to a lengthened string of blackguardisms which would have astonished any rough in St. Giles’s, in the smoothest mildest tones, and with a most perfect placidity of face and manner. People were very fond of him, although, it must be freely admitted, he had never been known to be of very much use to any of his fellow-creatures. The idea of doing anyone a service never entered his sluggish brain; but on the other hand, he never gave offence to any human being. So people liked him for being good-tempered and agreeable, and freely forgave him his uselessness.
He was very handsome. This fact may have had some influence upon the minds of his acquaintance, for his good looks were of an eminently pleasing and conciliating type. He had a nose that was almost straight enough for perfect Greek, a pale complexion — which his female acquaintance called interesting, but which he himself described as bilious— dreamy gray eyes with long black lashes and the most expressive eyebrows, a low broad forehead crowned with crisply waving dark hair. There was a want of strength and firmness about the mouth and chin; but a moustache concealed the weakness of one feature, and a beard gave form and character to the other; so, upon the whole, the Zoophyte was about as handsome a man as you would be likely to see in any given day’s journey.
He was by no means a fop: but he was quite aware that he was good-looking, and would state the fact in a business-like manner, in any discussion of his affairs and prospects. He dressed well, of course; to belong to the Queen’s Trumpeters and not to dress well would have been an impossibility. The newest combinations of colour in cravats, the last design in socks, the most novel devices in dress-shirts, were scarcely fresh enough for the Trumpeters; while the amount to which every one of these gentlemen became annually indebted to his tailor and his bootmaker would have been a fair income for a moderate-sized family. The Trumpeters were extravagant, and prided themselves on their extravagance.
From his earliest youth upwards debt and difficulty had been, as it were, the normal condition of the Zoophyte: difficulty for other people, that is to say; for his debts had never been a cause of disturbance to himself. It was his habit to allow matters to go on till they became utterly desperate, when he would coolly hand over to his wealthy sister, Lady Talmash Brading, a tangled mass of correspondence from tradesmen and attorneys, not one letter of which had ever been replied to, and leave her and her solicitors to settle the business exactly as they pleased.
She was a very kind sister, and had paid Reginald Ravenscroft’s debts so often, that it had become in a manner an established thing that she should pay them. He scarcely thanked her. ‘What the deuce has she to do with her money?’ he would say, when any one lauded her generosity; ‘she is so preposterously rich, that I consider I do her an actual favour in relieving her of a little of her superfluous cash. It’s like a periodical blood-letting. She would be subject to a kind of financial apoplexy, if it were not for me—would expire of a golden plethora.’
There are limits, however, to human patience, and Lady Talmash Brading was beginning to grow very tired of her brother Reginald’s periodical insolvencies—the tailors’ and boot-makers’ and shirt-makers’ and perfumers’ bills; the heavy accounts from elegant purveyors in St. James’s street, who pleasantly combined the daily necessities of stationery with the glittering temptations of the jeweller, so that the idle swell, being smitten by the effect of some curious monogram on his note-paper, might have it repeated in emeralds and diamonds, or ruby and onyx, as the case may be, on his scarf-pin and shirt-studs, a locket or a pair of sleeve-links; the fearful list of goods supplied by crack saddlers and spur-makers — the endless catalogue of articles which had been necessary to the existence of Captain Ravenscroft during two or three years of that gentleman’s harmless career. Lady Talmash Brading was beginning to grow weary of these things.
‘It is always the same, Reginald,’ she said; ‘or if there is any change, it is for the worse. I can’t comprehend it. You can’t possibly be always wanting the same things — watch-chains and rings and studs and pins. Those things don’t wear out.’
‘No, my dear Leonora; but a fellow loses them and gives them away, and so on. If a fellow one likes sees a thing of that kind on one’s dressing-table and takes a fancy to it, how can one do less than offer it to him? Studs and breast-pins are the small change of life, like four-penny-bits. And then they go out of fashion—they get known; you couldn’t expect a man to wear a thing he had had over a month. They say Heliogabalus would as soon have thought of wearing his shoes twice as a ring — and you wouldn’t have an officer in the Queen’s Own Trumpeters less particular than a dirty Roman emperor.’
Lady Talmash Brading only shrugged her shoulders impatiently in reply to this remonstrance. She was walking up and down her splendid drawing-room in Grosvenor-square, while the Zoophyte lounged at his ease in one satin-covered armchair, with his legs stretched before him on another, and a Morning Post spread out upon his knees. He had a glass stuck in one eye, through which he lazily surveyed the impetuous movements of his sister.
‘I have no common patience,’ she exclaimed at last. ‘If you took the least trouble to regulate your affairs, one wouldn’t mind so much; but you don’t—you allow matters to go on till they can go no farther, and then just fling a mass of bills over to me, and expect me to pay them. I don’t believe you even know what you owe.’
‘I confess, my dear sister, that I have not even an approximate idea of the amount. But why distress yourself upon the subject? the affair is such a mere bagatelle to you. Why not hand the documents over to your steward, and dismiss the business from your mind altogether?’
‘That is not my way of doing things, Reginald,’ answered his sister severely.
‘Unhappily not, my dear creature. You are so awfully business-like.’
‘If you were a little more business-like, a little more reasonable, Reginald, I should have some hope of you. If you would only remember that my patience may be exhausted, and learn to economise—’
‘Economise in the Queen’s Trumpeters! Not to be done, my dear soul. I believe there was a man once in the corps who tried to live within his income, and they did something dreadful to him — filled his bed with some empty soda-water bottles with the wires on, or tarred and feathered him, or tried him by court-martial, or told him he’d better sell out, or something ferocious in that way. No, Leonora, as long as I remain a Trumpeter, I shall do my duty.’
‘Then I should think the sooner you cease to be a Trumpeter, the better. If you mean always to go on as you have been going on for the last ten years, the sooner you sell out the better.’
‘Do you really think so?’ murmured the Zoophyte, staring at her reflectively through his glass. ‘Well, the question is open to consideration certainly. I should realise a couple of thousand or so by the sale of my commission; and I never had two thousand pounds of ready money in my life. Two thousand in actual bank-notes and gold! — there must be a good deal, of spending in that.’
‘What!’ exclaimed Lady Talmash Brading. ‘You don’t mean that you would really be so mad as to leave the army?’
‘Why not? Weren’t you recommending it just now? I could live with you. You couldn’t refuse shelter to such a harmless fellow as me. I could stroll about the place all day when you were down at Brading, keeping an eye upon the gardeners, and seeing they didn’t waste their time — I should be invaluable in that way. Or I might marry Miss Corks.’
‘Marry Miss Corks!’ cried Lady Talmash Brading, with supreme disdain.
‘What! you wouldn’t like a brewer’s daughter to call you sister-in-law? But upon my word I might do a worse thing for myself: she’s a very nice girl — a pretty girl too — and will have a hundred thousand for her fortune; and I think she’d have me. I really don’t see why you should set your face against Miss Corks.’
‘If you want to disgrace me in the sight of all Brading by a match of that kind, pray do so; but from the hour in which you do so, you may consider that you and I are strangers — I would never speak to you again.’
‘Hard lines, rather, Leonora, when such a marriage would make my fortune. But under those circumstances you can’t of course object to pay my debts occasionally.’
‘I do object to pay them ever again. I will allow you two hundred a year; and if you can’t contrive to live upon that and your pay, you must look elsewhere for assistance. It will be no use appealing to me.’
‘My dear Leonora, this is positively inhuman — that allusion to my pay is the very essence of mockery. As if my pay had ever counted for anything! O, I see that I must marry Miss Corks.’
‘Do,’ said Lady Talmash Brading, ‘at your peril.’
She was a proud woman, Lady Talmash Brading. She had begun life as an acknowledged beauty, and the only daughter of a Somersetshire gentleman of small landed estate; so small indeed, having dwindled down from the fair proportions of the past, that Leonora Ravenscroft felt it incumbent upon her to make a good marriage. She had married young, and she had been twice married — first to Mr. Prothero, the great shipbuilder, a man of untold wealth; and then to Viscount Talmash Brading, of Brading Park, Yorkshire, and Talmash Towers, Leicestershire — and she had been twice a widow. She had more estates than she could count on the fingers of one of her pretty plump hands; she had coal mines in the north, and a tin mine in the west; she had the superbly appointed house in Grosvenor-square, furnished by the lamented Prothero; the dainty little villa at Cowes, designed and built by the never-too-much-to-be-regretted viscount; and to inherit all these things she had only one daughter, a fair-haired girl of twelve, born to her a few days before that fatal accident in the hunting field which caused the viscount’s death. Happily for the Zoophyte, this fair-haired young heiress, Julia Talmash Brading, was very fond of her uncle Regy. Not that he had ever done anything to deserve her affection. He existed — that was the highest form of exertion of which this member of the coraline tribe was capable.
After that interview in Grosvenor-square, — which might have been a stormy one, had it been any more possible for one person to sustain the whole burden of a tempest, than it is possible for one person to perform a duet, — Lady Talmasli Brading vowed a terrible vow that she would never again pay her brother’s debts. There were limits to a sister’s generosity, she said, and he had gone beyond them. It would be a wrong done to her precious Julia, if she were to go on being imposed upon in this manner. Granted that she was rich, the wealth of all the Lydian kings, from Candaules downwards, would scarcely have been enough to stand against such extravagance as Reginald Ravenscroft’s. He was now clear of debt. He was set on his pins once more, to use the homely language of my lady’s solicitor, and this last setting him on his pins had been a more expensive business than usual. She would allow him two hundred a year — fifty pounds a quarter, paid with unerring regularity — and she would do no more.
She kept her word. The Queen’s Own Trumpeters were ordered off to Ireland about this time, much to the Zoophyte’s aggravation. If that invertebrate creature could feel strongly upon any point, that point was his attachment to the metropolis. To the profoundest deeps of his nature he was a Cockney. Pall Mall and St. James’s street, with a rare excursus as far as Rotten Row, formed his world; and to be removed to barbarous and unknown regions beyond the reach of this world was the greatest hardship the Zoophyte had ever been called upon to endure. But even this trial could not arouse him to loud lamentations or violent demonstration of any kind. He was heard to utter faint moaning noises like the bleating of a distressed lamb, he swore a little harder than usual in his meek voice, and indeed invented one or two choice forms of execration under this unwonted pressure. He neglected his diet, was seen to take his potage à l’ Italien without grated Parmesan, and didn’t grumble at the non-appearance of those preliminary natives which he was wont to sacrifice to the gods, as it were, before beginning his dinner. Greater things might have befallen him unheeded in the anguish of this Hibernian exile.
They departed, however, the Queen’s Own Trumpeters, in all their supernal splendour, and the Zoophyte had the comfort of knowing that he left the great city without leaving a creditor behind him.
‘It’s almost melancholy,’ he said; ‘if I were to die suddenly, who’d be sorry for me?’
The Trumpeters were in Ireland for the greater part of a year, and were then transferred to a small garrison town in Lancashire — rather a dreary place, where it might be supposed almost impossible for any man to get into debt. The Zoophyte received his quarterly allowance punctually, and accepted it meekly. He had never been known to refuse money; but he accepted it under mental protest. He found the quarterly remittance rather handy for the payment of his small losses at billiards and whist; and on one occasion, his wandering fancies being caught by a breastrpin exposed for sale in the chief jeweller’s of the small garrison town, he bought and paid for the bauble on the spot. It was about the only transaction in his life in which he had ever employed ready-money, and he informed his friends afterwards that it afforded him a novel sensation.
‘I felt that it was low,’ he said, ‘decidedly low. I felt myself sunk considerably in the social scale, to enter into a detail of that kind with a tradesman fellow, instead of paying him through my lawyer, in a gentlemanly manner.’
While the Zoophyte endured his exile in Ireland and Lancashire, Lady Talmash Brading was for the greater part of the time travelling in Switzerland and Italy with her ‘precious Julia.’ For nearly two years, therefore, she had heard very little of her brother, who had a marked aversion to letter-writing.
‘My sister’s in Italy, you see,’ he would remark plaintively, ‘and people who are away from England are so confoundedly selfish, they expect one to tell them such a lot in one’s letters — so I find the only plan is not to write at all.’
The brother and sister had not met since that morning in Grosvenor square when Leonora had vowed a vow that she would never pay Reginald’s debts again, when Lady Talmash Brading and her daughter returned from the Continent, and came straight down to Brading Park.
It was midsummer, and the park and gardens were in all their June splendour: the hothouses full of ripe purple grapes and rosy velvet-skinned peaches, ruddy nectarines and golden apricots; the kitchen gardens running over with mellow-flavoured peas, wonderful cucumbers, and late asparagus, to say nothing of two or three acres of strawberry beds, where the fresh green leaves lay lightly on beds of tan or straw, and where a weed would have been more difficult to find than the rarest orchid in the Botanical Dictionary. The Zoophyte was fond of Brading Park, he was especially fond of the kitchen gardens. He liked to stroll with Julia through the hothouses in the drowsy noontide, stopping now and then to finger the ponderous bunches of grapes with a thoughtful touch, anon to gaze dreamily on a row of pines, or to pluck a peach that seemed ready to drop into his mouth. He liked Brading Park — the house was a nice sleepy old place, with capacious sofas and easy-chairs in every available corner; sunny nooks in deep south-west windows, where a man might doze over his morning paper; and in all the galleries and reception-rooms thick Axmmster carpets that muffled the sound of passing footsteps. The Zoophyte liked Brading — he had his own particular suite of rooms there, and free quarters. Of course his military engagements had prevented his wearing out his welcome.
Brading seemed very rural and homelike and pleasant to Lady Talmash Brading and her daughter after those perpetual Italian hotels, with their gaudy gilded chambers, and eternal clocks and candelabra. Julia skipped about the gardens in an ecstasy.
‘I think there have never been such flowers or such fruit as there are this year, mamma,’ she exclaimed. ‘There’s only one thing I want to make me quite happy.’
‘And what is that, my dearest love?’
‘Uncle Regy. He would so enjoy the peaches — you know how fond he is of peaches; and it is so nice to see him eat them — peeling them so slowly and deliberately with those lazy white hands of his.’
‘I don’t think there is much chance of your seeing your uncle,’ replied Lady Talmash Brading; ‘I had occasion to be very much displeased with him when last we met — we had some words, in fact.’
‘Had words, mamma? Do you mean to say that uncle Regy could possibly quarrel with any one?’
‘Well, no, I don’t know that Reginald said very much himself, but I said a great deal to him. I was in a passion, Julia, and spoke my mind very freely.’
‘What had he been doing, mamma?’
‘O, the usual thing — getting over head and ears in debt, and then coolly flinging his embarrassments upon me.’
The fair young heiress scarcely seemed shocked at this. She only shook her head in a deprecating way.
‘We are so rich, mamma dear,’ she said, ‘we can afford to pay poor uncle Regy’s debts now and then. Military men always get into debt. Grandpapa ought not to have put him into such an expensive regiment as the Queen’s Trumpeters.’
‘That’s all very well, Julia, but it has been going on a great deal too long; and when last I saw your uncle, I told him that I should never pay his debts again; upon which he had the impertinence to threaten me that he would marry Miss Corks.’
‘What, mamma! the daughter of the fat brewer in Brading?’
‘Yes, Julia; and there would be a disgrace. Mr. Corks’ father was butler to my husband’s grandfather, and the son began business in the smallest way in the world. They say he’s enormously rich now, but a most ignorant vulgar person. He’s very popular in Brading, however, among a certain set, and I believe there are people who visit him.’
‘Miss Corks rides to hounds, mamma — I’ve seen her when we’ve been to see them break covert — rather a nice-looking girl, with wavy brown hair, and a rosy face. It’s a pity she’s too common for uncle Regy to marry her.’
‘Too common — yes, I should think so. The idea of the Corks tribe fastening on us!’
‘But they are not a very large tribe, mamma; Miss Corks is an only child, isn’t she?’
‘I believe so,’ Lady Talmash answered coldly; ‘but that doesn’t make the least difference. The thing is not to be heard of.’
The next day was cloudless but sultry; not a breath stirred the roses on the lawn, or rippled the blue bosom of the lake. Lady Talmash and her daughter sat in the garden after luncheon, in a favourite spot under a mighty sycamore. They had work with them and books, but neither of them worked or read. It was the laziest possible weather.
‘Just the sort of weather that uncle Regy likes, mamma,’ said Julia, ‘when he can lie on the grass and bask. How he would enjoy Brading this delicious midsummer! I am so sorry to think of him in a nasty dull town in Lancashire.’
She had not any prolonged cause for sorrow; for looking up at this very moment, she perceived the object of her thoughts walking slowly across the lawn towards her, with the air of having left the house half an hour or so before for an afternoon stroll. It was the Zoophyte’s celebrated manner, placid and imperturbable to the last degree.
My lady was fairly taken aback by this apparition.
‘Why, Reginald,’ she exclaimed, ‘what in heaven’s name brought you here?’
‘The ten-o’clock express — leaves King’s-cross at ten — a capital train. How d’ye do, Leonora? — how d’ye do, July? What a handsome girl you’re growing! You take after your unfortunate uncle, you see, and not the Talmash Bradings. Your father might give you rank, my love, but he couldn’t give you beauty. How sweet the old place looks — such a warm sleepiness about it!’
The Zoophyte dropped himself into one of the garden arm-chairs, and stretched out his legs with a complacent air. There was dust upon his boots. He had actually walked half a mile or so.
‘I find myself getting fat,’ he said, in explanation of this unusual circumstance; ‘so whenever I have an opportunity, I go in for violent exercise. I’ve walked from the station. I’ve got some luggage and that kind of thing there — perhaps you’ll be good enough to send a trap for it. How are the grapes this year, July?’
‘Julia,’ said her mother rather stiffly, ‘go and tell one of the grooms to fetch your uncle’s portmanteau.’
‘But, my dear Leonora, it isn’t a portmanteau, it’s luggage — large military cases and that kind of thing. You’d better send the biggest vehicle you’ve got. There’s a good lot of it.’
My lady opened her fine eyes to their widest extent.
‘You mean to honour me with an unusually long visit, it seems,’ she said. ‘I thought the Trumpeters were in Lancashire.’
‘The Trumpeters are in Lancashire.’
‘And you have got leave of absence, I suppose?’
‘No, my dear Leonora; I have placed myself in a position to be independent of leaves of absence. It’s a deuced unpleasant thing asking for leave.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Simply that I have sold out. I disposed of my commission last week. The Trumpeters are still a very fine corps, but the flower of their flock is lost to them,’ added the Zoophyte, twirling his moustache.
‘Sold out!’ cried Lady Talmash Brading, aghast, ‘sold out!’
‘Yes, my dear Leonora. It was your own suggestion. “If you find the regiment too expensive,” you said, with that stern common sense which has always distinguished you, “you ought to sell out.” I did find the regiment too expensive, and I have sold out. It was the only resource left me for paying my debts, in fact, since you had sworn never to pay them again.’
‘Your debts! Do you mean to say that you were in debt again?’
“My dear Leonora, do you suppose that there is no such thing as growth in a tailor’s bill? Do you imagine that one’s tobacconist’s account is not subject to the common laws of progression? I had a two years’ accumulation of debt to wipe off — my creditors were becoming clamorous, judging by the number of lawyers’ letters which I received but did not read — and my only way of making a clean slate was to sell my commission.’
‘It is shameful,’ exclaimed my lady, in a passion, ‘it is positively infamous! In spite of the two hundred a year I have allowed you!’
‘That two hundred a year was only an incentive to extravagance. It afforded me occasional supplies of ready-money. Now I can do without ready-money. In short, the two hundred a year demoralised me.’
Lady Talmash gave an impatient sigh. She arose from her seat and began to pace up and down the shady patch of grass under the sycamore, as it was her habit to do when unpleasantly excited. Julia Brading twisted the cord and tassels of her little silk apron, and looked at her uncle with a piteous expression of countenance, longing to make him an offer of her pocket-money, or to do something for his consolation. The Zoophyte was the only person unmoved — he stretched his long legs to their fullest extent upon a neighbouring bench, and dived into the pocket of his light overcoat for a splendid seal-skin cigar-case almost big enough for a small portmanteau. Everything appertaining to the Zoophyte was upon a large scale, and splendid in colour and texture.
‘You don’t mind smoke out of doors, I know, Nora,’ he said blandly, and began to puff away at an enormous Rio Hondo cigar.
His sister did not even condescend to notice the inquiry.
‘What is to become of you?’ she exclaimed at last, ‘that is the question — what is to become of you?’
‘My dearest Leonora, I think that is a question that may fairly be relegated to the remote future. I am naturally a cautious man, and am not in a hurry to make any desperate plunge in life. In the mean time I can live with you — there is no objection to that, I suppose?’
‘Of course not, uncle Regy,’ cried Julia; ‘you can live with us. — He can live with us for ever and ever, can’t he, mamma? You know how I was wishing for him only yesterday.’
‘My darling Julia, you are a child, and don’t know what you are talking about. So far as this place goes there are your uncle’s rooms, and he will always be welcome to occupy them, as long as he pleases. But at his age a man must do something and be something. It’s preposterous to suppose that he can go on dawdling the rest of his life away here.’
The Zoophyte yawned, and murmured that, in his opinion, no man ought to be expected to work after he was nine-and-twenty. Mr. Ravenscroft’s nine-and-twentieth birthday had just gone by.
The end of it all was, that he stopped at Brading Park, and strolled in the hothouses and ate ripe peaches, and played billiards with his niece. A wagon-load of chests and portmanteaus came from the railway station, and from these receptacles the Zoophyte produced the greatest marvels in the way of dressing-gowns and morning-coats and waistcoats and cravats that had ever been seen at Brading, to say nothing of a whole arsenal of meerschaum pipes, and a dainty little library of light French literature, with which and with numerous splendid despatch-boxes, dressing-cases, and tobacco-chests he beautified and adorned his rooms — making them so comfortable, in fact, that it was hard to imagine he would ever be able to tear himself away from them.
Captain Ravenscroft — the rule, once a captain always a captain, was allowed to hold good in his case — Captain Ravenscroft had been a year at Brading Park, and he had as yet made no attempt at a new beginning in life. Sometimes when the Viscountess questioned him upon the subject, he told her that he was thinking it over, or that he was looking about him; but nothing came either of his thinking or his looking. There he was, placid and even-tempered to an extreme degree, the idol of the servants, the delight of Lady Talmash Brading’s visitors, but nevertheless an encumbrance and responsibility to the lady herself.
Again and again she returned to the charge. Could he not do something — at the Bar, for instance? But the Zoophyte told her, with one of his lazily expressive shrugs, that by the time he had got through the preliminary business of the Bar, he would be quite an old man. There was commerce, then, suggested the Viscountess — the scions of many noble families had entered the commercial arena lately; could he not do something in sugar-broking, or shipbuilding, or something of that kind?
The Zoophyte pondered, and thought that he might perhaps travel in coals — there was not much commercial genius required for travelling in coals. The Viscountess gave a little shriek of horror.
‘Travelling in coals! Upon my word, Reginald, you are incorrigible.’
‘Then, if you are tired of me, let me marry Miss Corks,’ said the Zoophyte; ‘she’s a very nice girl, and I really think she’d have me.’
‘Marry Miss Corks, by all means,’ cried the Viscountess indignantly; ‘but please consider yourself a stranger to me from the hour of your marriage.’
‘O, as far as that goes,’ replied the Zoophyte coolly, ‘I don’t suppose Miss Corks would have me unless you did the civil; a girl with a hundred thousand pounds won’t enter a family to be despised — it isn’t likely.’
‘And it isn’t likely that I shall receive a brewer’s daughter, whose grandfather was a servant in this house!’ returned Lady Talmash Brading.
‘I suppose not; but it’s rather hard upon me,’ said the Zoo, with a faint moan; ‘she really is a very nice girl.’
Mary Corks certainly was a nice girl, and a pretty girl into the bargain — a girl with frank innocent blue eyes, a pert little nose slightly retroussée, a perfect rosebud of a mouth, and all manner of artless winning ways that had gone straight home to the Zoophyte’s heart. He had a heart, listless and inane as he seemed, and Mary Corks reigned therein. She had been very well educated, and although her father and mother did make sad havoc of the Queen’s English, was quite a lady: a good dutiful daughter too, fond and respectful in her demeanour towards the simple elderly people, and never ashamed of their shortcomings.
Yes, she was a dear little English maiden, and the Zoophyte was very fond of her. He had met her at subscription balls in Brading, and had danced with her a conspicuous number of times; he had ridden his quiet hack to covert, and seen her in her dark-blue riding-habit and coquettish hat with a scarlet feather. He had scraped acquaintance with old Corks one market-day — Corks had a profound reverence for the Talmash Brading family — and had been invited to dine at the big bran-new red-brick villa just outside Brading; a pile of building of the gothic order, with library and billiard-room, smoking-room, and conservatories jutting out from the main edifice, and a quadrangular mass of stabling that was like a baronial castle.
Mr. Corks himself inhabited one cosy little chamber which looked on the poultry-yard — a room that had been intended for the housekeeper, and then discarded as too small. Here the great brewer spent the best part of his life, smoking his clay-pipe, or studying his banker’s-book, or reading the newspapers, in a pleasant solitude. He called the room the Snuggery, and whenever Mary Corks had a favour to ask, she used to repair to this chamber.
Captain Ravenscroft dined a great many times at the Battlements — Mr. Corks’ gothic villa was called the Battlements — and he heard Mary sing and play, and played billiards with her after dinner in the great gothic billiard-room, with its big brass lamps and open oak roof. Sometimes there was a party, consisting of professional people from Brading, with a sprinkling of the smaller county gentry; sometimes there was no one; but there was always an excellent dinner and first-rate wines, and the Zoophyte liked the quiet homely evenings best. He didn’t mind Mr. Corks’ idiomatic English a bit. He thought Corks a hearty honest old fellow, and really liked him.
“I wish I had a fortune,’ he said to himself sometimes despondently; ‘I shall seem such a mercenary scoundrel if I propose to that girl.’
He did, however, propose to her. It wasn’t possible to go on very long in her society and not tell her how much he loved her. Those winning ways of hers quite knocked him over, to use his own expression. So one evening in the billiard-room he was taken off his guard, somehow, and before he knew what he was doing, he had asked her to be his wife.
He had to press the question a little before he could get any decisive answer. At first she would only trifle with the billiard-balls with downcast eyes, evading all his questions; but at last she confessed that he was not quite indifferent to her — that she liked him just a little — well, more than a little — that she loved him very much.
‘But there is papa to be thought of,’ she said, looking up at him shyly with her pretty blue eyes. ‘I don’t think he’d ever consent; in fact, I’m sure he wouldn’t, unless —’
‘Unless what, darling?’ (The Zoophyte had his arm round her waist by this time, and was looking down at the fair young face with an air of proprietorship.) ‘Unless what, dearest?’
‘Unless Lady Talmash Brading were to use her influence with him. Papa has such a high opinion of her; and perhaps if he thought she wished it very much, he might give way.’
The Zoophyte looked very blank for a moment, but it was only for a moment.
‘She shall use her influence, Mary,’ he cried resolutely. He felt quite desperate — felt as if he could drag his sister to the Battlements by main force, and make her sue to Mr. Corks; anything rather than lose this dear girl, who was looking up at him so confidingly.
‘Am I to tell papa?’ she faltered presently.
‘Well, yes, darling. It’s best to be all fair and above-board. Tell papa at once; and I’ll tell my sister, and we’ll see what she can do.’
He was not very hopeful, but still he thought his sister could never be so atrociously cruel as to stand between him and a hundred thousand pounds. It seemed incredible.
But when he came to make his appeal, he found her obdurate. The idea of such an alliance was not to be tolerated for a moment.
‘I use my influence to promote the match!’ she exclaimed, ‘I stoop to that vulgar brewer! you must be demented to think of such a thing, Reginald. People who have risen from nothing at my very door — a girl whose grandfather was a servant!’
‘She can’t help that, you see, Nora; and she’s a perfect lady, I give you my honour — as much a lady as Julia.’
The Viscountess gave a shriek. ‘Yes; and my poor precious Julia is to enter life with the disgrace of a brewery tacked to her name — is to make her entrance into the great world associated with beer!’
‘What nonsense, Leonora! As if my wife’s connections need affect Julia! All you have to do is to be civil to old Corks, and tell him you’ll be glad to welcome his daughter as a member of your family. That kind of man sets such value upon rank, you’ll be able to wind him round your finger. And she really is the dearest girl in the world, Nora.’
‘It is not to be heard of!’ exclaimed the Viscountess decisively.
A day or two after this, Captain Ravenscroft received another invitation to dine at the Battlements. He opined that this meant business, and went there in some trepidation. The dinner went off pleasantly enough. Mary was very silent, and blushed a great deal without adequate provocation, but looked her prettiest. After dinner the Zoophyte would fain have strolled off to the conservatories or the billiard-room, according to his usual custom, but Mr. Corks stopped him.
‘I should like a word or two with you in my room, Captain,’ he said, in a very friendly tone. ‘Johnson, take a bottle of Lafitte to the Snuggery.’
The butler obeyed, and led the way, carrying a massive silver salver, with the claret and two clear bell shaped glasses. It was a summer evening, and the Snuggery was warm, not to say stuffy. Even the open window only admitted an odour of live poultry; but the Zoophyte didn’t mind this. He felt that his future was at stake.
‘Take some of that there claret,’ said the brewer. ‘It’s a better sort than I usually give you, though I don’t give you bad. But I thought you should have the best to-night,’ he added, with a chuckle.
They filled their glasses. The brewer drained his at a draught; the Zoophyte sipped his wine in silence. He was very nervous.
‘My little girl has been a-telling of me something,’ Mr. Corks began, — ‘something about you. Now, I want to know first and foremost, are you in earnest?’
‘Thoroughly in earnest — with all my heart and soul,’ replied the Zoophyte, with unwonted energy.
‘And it ain’t her money you’re after, hay?’ asked the brewer. ‘You like the girl for her own sake?’
‘I love her so dearly, that I would marry her to-morrow if she hadn’t a penny.’
‘That’s all very fine. But how would you keep her if she hadn’t a penny, I should like to know? However, luckily she’ll have plenty. I can give her a handsome fortune without feeling the loss of the money. And I don’t care about her marrying a rich man. I’m not the sort of fellow that wants to join money to money. My father spent his life among the nobility, and he taught me a respect for rank. Money’s a very good thing in its way, but it’s all the better when it’s joined to rank. Now, all other points being agreeable, I shouldn’t mind my daughter being sister-in-law to Lady Talmash Brading. It would sound well — “My sister the Viscountess,” hay? You see, I’m a candid sort of a chap, and don’t make any concealment of my feelings.’
Captain Ravenscroft bowed. It seemed pretty smooth sailing so far; but there were rocks and shoals ahead, no doubt.
‘Now the question is,’ said the brewer, ‘does your sister know of this?’
‘She does,’ replied the Zoophyte gravely.
‘And does she approve of it?’ The Zoophyte hesitated.
‘I have no doubt that she will approve ultimately,’ he said. ‘She cannot fail to approve.’
‘Cannot fail to fiddlestick!’ cried Mr. Corks impatiently. ‘I’m not a-going to let my girl marry into a grand family that will turn their noses up at her. If you expect to get my Mary, and my Mary’s money, the Viscountess must come here to me, and let me know that her heart goes with the business, and that she’ll be a sister to my girl. There must be no shilly-shally about that. And now, Captain Ravenscroft, what may be the income upon which you intend to begin housekeeping?’
The Zoophyte was fain to confess that all his worldly wealth consisted of the two hundred per annum which his sister allowed him.
‘Well, upon my word, you’re a cool customer!’ cried the brewer, with a good-natured laugh that was very reassuring. ‘However, I’ll tell you what I’ll do with, you. Let your sister allow you five hundred a year, and settle it upon you, so as she can’t change her mind — it won’t be much, but it’ll be something — and I’ll give my girl fifty thousand down on the nail; settled upon herself and her children after her, of course.’
‘Of course,’ replied the Zoophyte.
‘And let Lady Talmash Brading come to me in a friendly way, and talk the business over. I don’t want no hole-and-corner work. If my Mary enters a high family, she must enter it like a lady.’
Captain Ravenscroft promised that his sister should do all that was needful. And again he had that desperate feeling, that he would make her bow the knee before this resolute brewer rather than lose such a girl as Mary.
He went home that night not elated but grave. He knew that his sister was an obstinate woman, and that he had a difficult task before him. Early next morning he presented himself in her favourite room — a great sunny bow-windowed apartment, looking out upon the flower-garden. He presented himself before her, and stated his requirements in a business-like manner. It was a matter of life or death to him, he said finally. He should be a blighted man if he did not marry Mary Corks.
His eloquence was all wasted. Lady Talmash was obdurate. It was not the five hundred per annum, though the request was certainly a cool one. She might have strained a point to give him that, had he been about to make an appropriate marriage; but she would never receive Mary Corks. She would never degrade herself in the sight of the county by alliance with that upstart brewer. She was very angry, as she was wont to be when the Corks question was mooted, and she said a great deal.
The Zoophyte heard her with his usual placidity. Even a matter of life and death could not goad him into the display of much emotion. The interview was a long one, and he used the strongest arguments he could think of; but to the end he was mild and tranquil. At the very last he said:
‘Is that final, Leonora?’
‘Then I may as well wish you good-bye. I shall leave the Park this afternoon.’
Lady Talmash looked surprised. ‘There is no occasion for that,’ she exclaimed. ‘I have no quarrel with you, Reginald. I am only inflexible upon the subject of Miss Corks. There is no occasion for you to go away.’
‘I beg your pardon, my dear Leonora. You have often reproached me with my want of energy — my disinclination to enter upon a new career. I begin to feel that your reproaches were well founded, and I have made my plans for placing myself in a position to earn my own living.’
‘Indeed! you surprise me, Reginald. This is rather a new idea, is it not?’
‘Well, yes; it is rather a new idea,’ answered the Zoophyte calmly.
‘And what line have you chosen — anything in the commercial way?’
‘Yes; the business is commercial.’
‘Nothing horrid, I hope,’ cried the Viscountess, with an alarmed look. ‘Not travelling in coals, or anything of that kind?’
‘O, no; there’s no travelling — it’s quite a stationary business, and clean. I really think I shall like it.’
‘You are very mysterious, Regy; you might just as well tell me frankly what you are going to do.’
‘I’ll tell you all about it, if I succeed. In any case, you must take it as a compliment that I am anxious to follow your advice.’
‘I suppose so; but I should like to have been more in your confidence. However, I daresay it’s all right. At any rate I can tolerate anything sooner than your marrying Miss Corks.’
The Zoophyte smiled — it was scarcely a smiling matter, but he decidedly smiled.
‘I’m sorry you’re so prejudiced on that point,’ he said. ‘Good-bye.’
‘You’re going up to town by the next train?’
‘Well, no, not by the next — I’m going away very soon, though. You don’t mind my leaving the bulk of my luggage here, do you, Nora?’
‘Of course not. You can consider those rooms always your own.’
They shook hands, kissed each other even, a display of affection to which they were not particularly given, and parted. Captain Ravenscroft packed a portmanteau and carpet-bag, and carried them away with him in a Brading fly. He declined to avail himself of the Park stables for his exodus, and the Park servants said there had been a quarrel between the Captain and his sister.
‘I don’t know about that,’ said one of the housemaids; ‘I was cleaning the yellow room all the time they was a-talking in my lady’s morning-room, and I didn’t hear high words between ’em.’
‘You’d never hear high words from the Captain,’ answered the housekeeper; ‘it isn’t in him. But take my word for it there’s been a quarrel, or the Captain wouldn’t be going away all of a sudden like this.’
The Zoophyte contrived to evade any farewell between himself and Julia.
He was tender-hearted upon some subjects, and his niece was one of them.
For a fortnight Lady Talmash Brading heard nothing of her brother. In the depths of her heart she was glad that he was gone, though she dared not own as much to Julia, who sorely bemoaned uncle Regy’s departure. The Corks affair was off: that was the grand point in the mind of the Viscountess. She was not very well during that fortnight — had a slight attack of summer influenza or hay fever, and took numerous mild sedatives and saline draughts furnished by the most courteous and sympathetic of provincial doctors. She was a prisoner to the house, therefore, and Julia stayed at home with her, and was not to be lured away by the brightest days. Towards the end of the fortnight Lady Talmash surprised her own maid looking at her once or twice in a curious way, as if there was some revelation she would like to make if she dared. The housekeeper, too, had a peculiar manner one morning when she held a conference with her mistress. Once, too, Lady Talmash actually saw the butler — the grave elderly butler, who looked like a pillar of the state in his respectable solemnity — exchange a subdued grin with his subordinate, as if their minds were burdened with some common joke. The subordinate — as inferior in breeding to his chief — even gave a suppressed chuckle and splutter, and was fain to busy himself suddenly at the sideboard in order to hide his guilty countenance from Lady Talmash Brading’s majesty.
‘Some vulgar village joke, no doubt,’ she thought; ‘but if that man laughs again, he must go.’
At last the Viscountess was pronounced well enough to go out. She took longer to get well, of course, than a common person, and the Brading surgeon was as punctilious and solemn as if she had been at death’s door.
‘You really might take an airing in your pony-carriage, my lady,’ and then he added in a strange downcast way, ‘but I wouldn’t go far, I wouldn’t expose myself to fatigue or worry just yet. A drive in the park, now, would be best.’
‘I hate prowling about the park,’ my lady answered impatiently. ‘If I go out at all, I shall go for a long drive. A park ought to be twenty miles round at least for it to be tolerable to drive in. — Julia, put on your hat, and tell Perkins to bring me my things.’
The Brading practitioner dared not remonstrate: he murmured something about ‘care,’ and not staying out too long for the first time; and then took his polite departure. As he was crossing the hall, and afterwards in his carriage, he indulged in a suppressed chuckle, very much like the under butler’s.
‘It’s to be hoped she won’t drive into Brading,’ he said to himself; ‘if she does, there’ll be the devil to pay.’
Lady Talmash did drive into Brading. She took a pleasant country round first, through green lanes where the dog-roses were in their glory, and then came homewards through Brading High-street. It was a pleasant gay-looking street enough, with old gable ends, and latticed windows in the upper stories, and here and there a house decorated with elaborate wood-work carved into heraldic devices — a house that had been occupied by some notable citizen in days gone by.
Half way down, the street opened out into a wide square market-place, with a piazza and clock-tower in the centre; and just here there was a sharp corner, where the pavement was narrow, and the shop-fronts seemed to butt out upon the road in a rather aggressive manner. When Lady Talmash Brading’s pony-carriage came to this point, Julia, whose quick eyes roamed everywhere, gave a little cry of surprise.
‘Look, mamma!’ she exclaimed; ‘there’s a new pork-shop, such a nice one!’
‘Julia, I wish you would not call out in that way — about new pork-shops, too — it’s so absurd.’
There was a heavy wagon in front of them just at this moment, and Lady Talmash was fain to rein in her eager ponies. She had leisure to look listlessly up at the shop.
It was a pork-butcher’s, with tender young piglings hanging before the window, and sausages in dainty-looking baskets inside — a most attractive-looking pork-butcher’s — and on the board above the window was painted in conspicuous characters the name of Reginald Ravenscroft.
Yes, it was there! It was not a diabolical delusion, like the cat and the skeleton and the gentleman usher in Sir Walter Scott’s Demonology — it was not an awful dream. The inscription was there — ‘REGINALD RAVENSCROFT, PORK-BUTCHER.’ And hanging in the windows there were placards announcing ‘Dairy-fed Pork,’ ‘Fine Cambridge Sausages fresh daily and so on.
The Viscountess flung the reins to her daughter and sprang out of the carriage. She who had never before entered a provision shop of less distinction than Morel’s or Fortnum and Mason’s, walked straight through the narrow door of the pork-butcher’s, her silken skirts actually brushing against a little tin tray of mysterious edible lumps, simmering in grease, and labelled ‘Ducks, a penny each.’
My lady saw the ducks, and shuddered. They diffused a savoury odour of sage-and-onion, and on the counter inside there was a large roasted leg of pork, with accompaniments.
It was market-day, and Reginald Ravenscroft, pork-butcher, was not above turning an honest penny by the sale of a cooked joint. The smell of the shop made Lady Talmash feel very faint, but she could not turn any paler than she was when she entered it. She had been white with anger when she stepped out of her pony-carriage.
Reginald Ravenscroft, pork-butcher, was standing behind his counter in a clean white apron, looking the very image of placid contentment.
‘Pray, may I ask the meaning of this degrading absurdity?’ demanded the Viscountess in a voice that was tremulous with rage.
‘Certainly, my dear Leonora. I am quite ready to explain my motives. You urged me to make a position for myself, and I ultimately resolved to do so. I did not feel that I had a genius for the higher walks of commerce, but I did consider myself a good judge of pork. This shop was to let, and people hereabouts told me a pork-butcher’s was wanted. And I must say that the business has been remarkably brisk since I opened the place last week. Those ducks now, in the tin at the door — they’re the things Londoners call fagots — you’ve no idea how they go off at a penny; and there’s a profit upon them, though you’d hardly believe it. Have a duck; let me get you a clean plate, and try a duck. They’re uncommonly savoury. I make them myself.’
Lady Talmash did not deign to notice this polite offer. Two stalwart country fellows came in at this moment, and bought some roast pork. It was a pleasant sight to see the Zoophyte slicing the leg, not forgetting the stuffing and the gravy, and giving change for half-a-crown with a thoroughly businesslike air. When the men were gone, Lady Talmash returned to the charge.
‘Now, Reginald,’ she began sternly, ‘will you be good enough to explain?’
‘My dearest creature, I have explained,’ he answered in his blandest manner. ‘What more can I say? It was necessary that I should do something, and this business suits me. You can’t imagine what an endearing animal a pig is, considered as dairy-fed pork. As bacon he’s large and uninteresting — runs into rashers, and becomes monotonous; but there’s a really artistic pleasure in cutting up such pork as that,’ said the Zoophyte, patting a pink-looking loin. ‘And then there’s the sucking-pig — see what a variety he imparts to the business.’
‘Is this meant for a joke, Reginald? If so, it is a most contemptible one.’
‘A joke! — not at all. I was never more serious in my life. You prevented my marriage with the dearest little girl in the world, who would have brought me fifty thousand pounds, and you upbraided me on the subject of my disinclination to get my own living. It was time I should do something. I am sorry your repugnance to the beer trade extends to the pig trade also.’
‘O, I see,’ said my lady indignantly, ‘this is an act of revenge.’
‘I won’t admit that, Leonora; but it is an act of self-assertion. You wouldn’t let me marry Mary Corks, so I have taken to pork as a consolation.’
‘I will allow you five hundred a year,’ said Lady Talmash impetuously — ‘settle it upon you — if you’ll abandon this most degrading course.’
‘Thanks; this is a very generous offer, but I really would rather rely upon my own exertions and pigs. You see I have only just discovered that I can get my own living.’
Lady Talmash argued and protested, but it was no use. The Zoophyte, after his own tranquil fashion, was as firm as a rock. He was really attached to the pork trade, he repeated, with a calm persistence that was exasperating to the last degree.
The Viscountess drove home in dead silence. Even the much-indulged Julia dared not question her, her countenance was too awful. For a week she did nothing, but day and night she was pursued by the image of her brother Reginald Ravenscroft selling pork to the commonalty of Brading — the late captain of the Queen’s Own Trumpeters, in shirt-sleeves and a white apron, cutting up pigs!
After enduring this for a week, Lady Talmash found that she could bear it no longer. She must do something, anything, to put an end to the unspeakable humiliation. She ordered her carriage and drove to Brading High-street, and went once more into the neat little pork-shop — past the tray of ‘Ducks, a penny each.’
The Zoophyte was behind his counter, in snow-white shirt-sleeves and spotless apron.
She could only use the same arguments that she had employed before. She was willing to allow him five hundred a year — six — seven — eight hundred even, if he would abandon that degrading employment.
The Zoophyte shrugged his shoulders.
‘Bring Mary Corks here and let her ask me to give up the business,’ he said decisively. ‘There is no one else who could wean me from pigs.’
‘What, humiliate myself to those Corks people, after all I have said?’ cried Lady Talmash.
‘Either that or endure my connection with pork. I really can’t see that it’s any discredit to you. It’s a very clean business.’
The Viscountess was vanquished. It was a hard thing to bow the knee, as it were, to Mr. Corks the brewer; but anything was preferable to this pork business, this open scandal, which of course had set all Brading talking about her, and had provoked her very menials to audacious grinning in her superb presence. She told her coachman to drive straight to the Battlements; and half an hour after her interview with the Zoophyte she was seated in the gorgeous new drawing-room, where all the furniture looked as if it had just come out of the upholsterer’s shop, talking to Mr. and Mrs. Corks.
She could be very charming when she chose, and the brewer and his wife yielded immediately to her fascination. She was candour itself — told them frankly of the prejudice against trade, and the unworthy means that Captain Ravenscroft had taken to break through it.
‘It is a rum start, certainly,’ said Mr. Corks, ‘and there’s been a deal of talk about it.’
The Viscountess shivered a little — that she should ever seek a matrimonial alliance with a family whose head talked of ‘a rum start’! — but the image of the pork-butcher’s shop was in her mind, and she smiled one of her sweetest smiles.
‘We must get him to abandon this folly, Mr. Corks,’ she said: ‘now I know that your pretty daughter has more influence with him than any one else; she must persuade him to give up pork butchering, and when they are married I will settle five or six hundred a year upon him.’
‘And you’ll receive my girl as a member of your family, hay, my lady? You won’t go and turn your back upon her directly she’s married?’
‘No, Mr. Corks, I am not capable of that. If your daughter marries my brother with my approval, I shall treat her as a sister.’
‘Then it’s a bargain, my lady,’ cried Corks. ‘Mary’s desperate fond of the Captain, and she shall have him. I said I wouldn’t consent to the match unless you were agreeable to it, and I’ve kept my word. But the girl’s been going on anyhow, and has talked about that pork-butcher’s shop as if it was the greatest thing that was ever done — like going aboard a lifeboat, or heading a forlorn hope, or summat of that sort.’
Miss Corks came into the room presently, looking so blooming and so pretty, and behaving with such perfect propriety, that Lady Talmash could not help being pleased with her. She bore the girl off in her carriage at once, and drove back to the pork-shop, where there was a brief and animated little scene performed between the Zoophyte and the two ladies.
The shutters went up that afternoon, and the name of Reginald Ravenscroft was painted out upon the space above them. Captain Ravenscroft and Miss Corks were married six weeks afterwards. Mary has been presented at Court by her sister-in-law, and Brading Park and the Battlements have exchanged dinners, much to the delight of Mr. and Mrs. Corks. The Captain has furnished a dear little house in Mayfair, where he lives very happily with his pretty young wife and the society he likes, running down to Brading occasionally, to be received with all honour at the Battlements or the Park. The pork-butcher business will be remembered at Brading to the end of time, but it is popularly supposed the Captain did the thing for a wager.
I will call it Arnheim, a name by which, as most readers of these lines are aware, Edgar Allan Poe has designated a very delicious abode, the creation of his exuberant fancy.
Ere the traveller can reach the delectable spot about to be described, he must traverse a long dreary tract of moorland. As he passes its borders, he sees stretching before him, for a considerable distance, a brown plain of unbroken flatness, terminated by a brown range of hills, rising gradually to the height of seven or eight hundred feet. This melancholy region is so densely clothed with heather, that only on those portions which skirt the road can be seen the narrow tracts of stunted herbage from which a few scattered sheep derive their scanty nourishment. All is silence and monotony; the sense of the former being only made the more striking by the murmur of the invisible sea, shrouded from view by a long low ridge, at about a quarter of a mile’s distance to the right of the traveller, and by the cropping of the sheep along the margin of the road. This, at length, begins to ascend the desolate range of hills in front, the highest point of which, owing to the figuration of the ground, seems continually to elude the traveller, By the time it is gained, probably half-baked by the summer sun, certainly wearied by his monotonous drive, he has very likely sunk into a semi-somnolent condition. Aroused by a change in the motion of his vehicle, which indicates a rapid descent, he opens his drowsy eyes and looks around him. Is he in dreamland? he asks himself. Can this sudden and marvellous transformation scene, of which he is the spectator, be indeed in rerum natura? Well may he pause for a moment ere he satisfies himself of the reality of the prospect which now unfolds itself before him. Every vestige of the bleak moorland has vanished. From the park-like scenery, dotted with clumps of trees and brilliant with wild-flowers, through which he is passing, he sees the road in front tunnelled by the massive foliage which clothes the sloping sides of a deep amphitheatre, into which he is descending. On his right, sprinkled with fairy-like craft, is spread the calm sunlit sea. As though seeking as close neighbourhood as possible with earth’s beauty, it has apparently struggled into the form of a little bay below him. On the area enclosed by the hills, which, from a distance, looks like one vast flower-garden, are erected numerous villas and a few large public buildings. On a wide plateau, about three hundred feet higher, more houses appear above the trees, which screen the slope upon which they stand. Scarcely has the traveller recovered from his surprise, and taken a hasty general survey of so many combined beauties, when they are hidden from his sight by the entrance of the road into the deep leafy tunnel, from which it only emerges at the foot of the declivity.
Farther progress is here arrested by a pretty toll-gate of rustic structure. From an adjoining cottage, embowered in westeria, jasmine, and other creepers, issues its civil keeper, into whose hands the traveller, previously informed of the tax, deposits a sovereign. He then writes his name and address in a ledger, and receives from the tollman a glazed card, bearing the following superscription:
ARNHEIM COMPANY (LIMITED)
‘On presenting this card, the bearer will be admitted, free of charge, to all the al-fresco fêtes, public concerts, and balls given at Arnheim, from June 1 to October 1.
‘N.B. Persons of notoriously objectionable character are excluded from the above-mentioned entertainments.’
The gate opened, the traveler crosses a bridge, which spans an impetuous torrent issuing from a thickly-wooded gorge on his left hand. From this spot he obtains a full view of the delightful watering-place where, I am convinced, he will sojourn for at least two months. Would that I might enjoy the same pleasurable prospect! Our friend, however, has not much time to spare for gazing on the attractive objects which surround him. It is nearly six o’clock, at which hour the inmates of the Arnheim Hotel sit down to their table-d’ hóte dinner. At this place of public entertainment the traveller has been advised to ‘descend;’ and there it is, about a dozen paces from the bridge over the East Arn, the windows of its left wing (it is a quadrangular building) overlooking that brisk and fussy little stream. Conducted to his bedroom, and left there with his impedimenta, he perceives a placard on the wall informing him that his board (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), lodging, and attendance will cost him two pounds ten a week. On descending to the spacious dining-room, in which about sixty persons are already seated, he finds a cover reserved for him beside a friend, who, he is aware, had arrived at Arnheim a few days previously. Although fastidious in culinary matters, our friend rises from table gratified and surprised: gratified, because what he has eaten and drunk has been sufficient in quantity and good in quality; surprised, because his gratification will be purchased at an evidently moderate outlay.
The dinner was served à la Russe, the table being decorated with several handsome epergnes containing fruits and flowers. Upon it were likewise some tasteful little fountains with scented waters, which spread an agreeable fragrance and a sense of coolness through the room. The menu, copies of which were distributed among the diners, written in plain English, was as follows: Vermicelli soup, boiled salmon; sweetbreads, with Dutch sauce; roast lamb, ducklings; potatoes, cauliflower, and green peas; salad, iced pudding, and apricot tart. A pint of claret, which, if Gladstonian, was at least not ‘doctored,’ was placed beside each cover, no farther charge being made for its consumption. Another hotel at Upper Arnheim (the cluster of houses upon the elevated plateau already mentioned) is conducted on the same system as its subjacent rival.
Dinner over, our two friends saunter from the hotel on a tour of inspection, and to hear the evening band, which discourses sweet music between the hours of seven and eight. In the wide verandah, which runs along the front and the two wings of the hotel, several parties are taking their seats at little marble-slabbed tables for their postprandial coffee and cigars. A large fountain, in the middle of the court, supplies with water a stone basin, in which gold and silver fish are disporting themselves. Issuing from the precincts, they have a full view of the lofty-wooded, rock-surmounted slopes in which Amheim nestles, and of the blue expanse of sea which lies on their left. Those leafy heights are not entirely left under Nature’s sway. As is evident from the occasional glimpses of ornamental landscape through which the falls of the West Arn rush from boulder to boulder, the hand of art has been employed in developing, by tasteful arrangement, natural beauties.
But the new-comer’s attention is first claimed by objects in his immediate vicinity. He observes that all the dwelling-houses in Arnheim are detached buildings, created according to English adaptation of Italian architecture. It is a new place, and therefore it wisely eschews all imitation of mediaeval and Tudor models, suitable as those are for large country houses, and in old towns where they harmonise with existing antique erections. To each house is attached a garden and lawn, varying from a half to a whole acre. These are flaming with scarlet geraniums, roses, sweet peas, and fuchsias. No stone walls are visible, the grounds being separated by low hedges, or neat wire or rustic fences, mostly clad with ivy and flowering creepers. The whole area is interspersed with fine oak, lime, beech, and ilex trees.
From about the middle of the main road through the village, a street — the only street properly so called in the place, consisting entirely of shops — branches off to the right, and opens into a circular space, round which sweep two colonnades, the vista being terminated by a building in the Corinthian style of architecture, with two collateral wings. This is the theatre, in which representations are given three nights weekly, one of which is an operatic performance. In the right wing is a restaurant, with a billiard-room in the upper story; in the left is the concert-hall, surmounted by the ball-room. Twice a week, musicians are ready to afford visitors the opportunity of tripping the light fantastic toe; on the remaining lawful night a vocal and instrumental concert takes place.
All these entertainments begin at eight o’clock, and are never prolonged beyond eleven; a wise rule established in honour of Hygeia, the presiding deity of Arnheim. The only one which exacts payment is the theatre; admission to the dress-circle being half-a-crown, that to the pit and upper boxes a shilling.
A handsome domed structure, with a facade like that of St. Paul’s in miniature, stands at the extremity of the main road, facing the hotel whence our two friends set forth. On approaching it, it is seen to be in the form of a Greek cross.
‘A church, evidently,’ remarks the new-comer to his acquaintance, ‘and one which seems much too large for the requirements of the place.’
‘That building,’ is the reply, ‘typifies the good feeling which exists among professors of all religions in Arnheim. It contains five churches. In the nave, service is performed according to the rites of the Established Church; in the choir, the Roman Catholics celebrate Mass; in the right transept, the hymns of Wesley are sung; under the dome every Sunday the Baptist finds a minister of his persuasion; in the left transept, energetic discourses are delivered by a Scotch Presbyterian. Each division is of course separated by thick walls from its neighbour, and has its special entrance. A fine ornamental structure is the result. Its cost was great; but owing to the large resources at the command of the Arnheim Company, the liberality of householders, the small weekly tax of one shilling imposed on all who take advantage of the ministrations within the building, it is hoped that the remnant of debt which still burdens this beautiful basilica will soon be paid off. Then, of course, admission to the services will be gratuitous.’
Here, strains of music, hitherto heard faintly by the two gentlemen during their walk, again reaching their ears, after an interval of silence, with greater force and distinctness, attract them towards the spot whence they seem to proceed. Turning to the left from the church, they follow a gravel walk winding through a dense and lofty shrubbery. In a few minutes they arrive at an open space at the extremity of the amphitheatre, where the sea and the wooded heights converge. This space, varying in breadth from a hundred to twenty yards, is about four acres in extent.
Beyond it farther prospect is excluded by a wooded height terminating in a bold cliff which projects into the sea. This angle of ground is arranged as a park, interspersed with clumps of fine trees, and bordered on the side next the hills with a sloping bank brilliant with rows of white, blue, and scarlet flowers. In the centre of the park stands a ‘kiosque,’ in which about thirty musicians are playing a selection from Faust. At the farther end is a pretty chalet, which does duty as a restaurant; and here, there, and everywhere gay parties are sitting or sauntering about, listening to the band, or engaged in conversation. Long after the music has ceased, our two friends linger in this delicious spot. The gay promenaders betake themselves to the ball-or reading-room, or wend towards the pier, intent on spending an hour or two on the water — whence presently the evening breeze will waft to the shore their voices, joined in glee or duet. The birds, too, sing their wild evensong; the sun sets; the shadows and dews of eve fall on flower-bed and lawn; the moon forms a lucent pathway on the sea; and our friends turn homewards, congratulating themselves on their meeting at the most enjoyable watering-place in the British Empire.
Here, perhaps, I should bring this paper to a conclusion. But in order that, at the first opportunity, they may pack up and journey thither, I am conscious that my readers would like to know where Arnheim is. Ah, so should I — very much indeed. Yes; it is a lamentable fact that no such place does actually exist in these three kingdoms. But, then, in the realm of potentialities, I assure you it is flourishing in all its beauty and pleasure-giving capabilities. Nay, more; the groundwork of my design is ready for the operations of the Company already alluded to. Many of my readers may have already recognised it through the embroidery with which I have pretty thickly covered it. For the information of others, I may state that Lynmouth in North Devon has been in the eye of my mind during the composition of this paper.
‘Dear old place,’ I hear some of its admirers exclaim, ‘it would be sacrilege to disturb it in its picturesque quietude. Italian villas and foreign gaieties at Lynmouth indeed — tasteless, shocking!’
I confess that I sympathise with the feeling which prompts such an objection; but I answer, we must legislate for the future as well as regard with tenderness the past. Hardworking generations — and it seems likely that work will every day be widened and intensified — require occasionally that relief which to many is only afforded by a transition to scenes of gaiety and pleasurable excitement. Really, except to wealthy visitors, English watering-places do not offer varied sources of amusement and ‘distraction.’ There is, of course, bathing — which whiles away half an hour. In fine weather, there may be boating, strolling, or listlessly lounging, on the sands or promenade; in bad weather, the circulating library and the billiard-room are the only resources. Consequently, unless flirtation, perilous diversion! be accessible, ennui rules supreme over a considerable portion of the time spent in these so-called resorts of pleasure. This state of things imperatively demands amelioration. It seems to me that Lynmouth, which combines so many beauties and attractions of various kinds, is about the best place in which that amelioration can be commenced.
With respect to the ways and means towards this blissful consummation, I confess that I am not competent to give satisfactory details. I have, however, formed some crude ideas on the subject, which are at the service of any one who thinks it worth his while to examine them and to discover their originator. But when I mention the magic word ‘Company’ — connected with so assuredly popular an undertaking as the transformation of Lynmouth into Arnheim — who is there in this enlightened nineteenth century that can doubt, I do not say of the feasibilty, but of the eminent success, of the enterprise?
Soften’d shadows falling fast,
Flash and gleam and quiver,
Through the willows’ drooping boughs,
On the running river.
Where the guilty aspen leaves
Shake and moan and shiver,
On the grassy bank that slopes
To the silent river.
Sweetest hours I ever knew,
Kind and gracious giver,
Came and died upon thy breast,
She who robb’d me of my heart
(Though she prize it never)
Found it floating on thy tide,
Fortune! give me for my bow
One shaft from thy quiver,
That shall reach her careless heart
Sailing down Life’s river.
Life’s false stream I cannot trust,
Shifting, changing ever:
Worth its hollow joys one hour
On thy wave, dear river.
Saintly spirit, passing on
Towards the deep for ever,
Cheer me with one kindly smile
Toiling on Life’s river.
Hard to pull against its stream;
Harder still to sever
Truth from all the bright hopes dream’d
On Life’s fickle river.
In its treacherous bed there sleeps
Many a reckless diver,
Who in search of fancied wealth
Scour’d Life’s fatal river.
Placid stream, to thee I turn,
Sick of Life’s vain fever:
Folded in thy still embrace,
Let me drift for ever!
Gentle reader — for thus I address you, wishing to be on a good footing with you, and to establish comfortable relations at once — besides, it sounds well, and has a certain air of respectability about it — do you know St. Brelade’s Bay in Jersey? If so, and if you are not disinclined — as of course you are not: gentle readers never are — to make allowance for poor human nature, you will willingly agree with me, that when a man is comfortably installed in that most charming of bays, he may indeed, like a certain ex-premier, whose immortal name must never be mentioned above a whisper, be disposed to ‘rest and be thankful,’ and will easily imagine that it was not until after a couple of futile attempts that I summoned up sufficient courage to catch the 6.30 a.m. boat to Granville.
‘A cheerful morning, with a vengeance,’ I muttered to myself as I embarked on board the Granville, wroth with the weather and a hurried breakfast; where, enveloping myself, not mea virtute, for that would have been but a very questionable protection, but in an antiquated old pea-jacket — a sort of ‘flag that’s braved a thousand storms’ — I took up my quarters on one of those old rickety camp-stools that invariably seize every opportunity of capsizing at the most inconvenient times; scowling at everybody and everything, and looking about as cheerful as a fellow who has just received a letter informing him of his having been cut off with the stereotyped shilling; nor did I recover my equanimity until, after a triste passage of more than three hours in a little apology for a steamboat, we hove in sight of our port of destination.
Granville is a bustling little seaport in the Department of La Manche, and presents rather an imposing appearance when first seen, rising like Venus from the sea (that’s not a bad simile, by the way). The cliffs rise boldly above the water, which has that intense blue colour so characteristic of Norman bays, and which, at the time of our arrival, was covered with ships and fishing-boats. The Customs examination seemed to be only nominal, as on my informing a polite douanier, whose hat would have astonished Lincoln and Bennett, that I had only a toothbrush and a pair of boots in my knapsack, I was permitted to land without any farther trouble.
I had no intention of staying long in Granville; so I bent myself to-the burden, boldly shouldered my knapsack, and started off for Avranches, which is some twenty-seven kilometres (about seventeen miles) from Granville, disregarding the numerous solicitations of the ‘diligence’ men, and drivers of a miscellaneous description of omnibus.
The road to Avranches is truly magnificent, perfectly straight for most of the way, with posts marking the distance at every kilometre; but most of the scenery is flat and uninteresting. The weather by this time had altered, and, nautically speaking, it was a ‘piping hot’ day, and I gladly arrived, at Sartilly, a village of one street only, not unlike Grampound in Cornwall, where I refreshed the inner man with some detestable cognac. Not a soul was stirring in the village; the men were in the Paris barracks, the women in the fields. Nothing saddened me more than seeing work, that in England is performed by men, in Normandy done by women; and one cannot help moralising on a system that withdraws from agriculture the élite of the French working classes. Now and then I pass a paysan, shuffling along in his noisy sabots, a priest to whom I uncover religiously, and who courteously returns my salute, or a country girl on horseback going to market. Why, I wonder — I like wondering, in open contempt of Flaccus and his nil admirari theory — why do they call Norman girls pretty? I cannot say that I admired them much, having a profound objection to lank hair and sallow faces — nor did I see that profusion of yellow tresses for which they are said to be so celebrated; perhaps the dealers in hair had recently been making their rounds.
The country becomes much prettier and picturesque on approaching Avranches, but I was becoming fast knocked up, and was walking about as cheerfully as a man on the way to the scaffold; and it was with an intense feeling of disgust that I came in sight of the hill that one has to ascend before arriving at the town — a hill to which Pelion upon Ossa would be a joke. Before ‘facing’ it, I bought some grapes, and sat down lotus-eating on the banks of the winding, not to say muddy, Sée, watching the women washing in the river — a characteristic sight in France, and of which there was a good representation in the Academy some three years ago. How they thump the unfortunate linen with those artistic-looking little flat hammers! and the way they wring it about must be a caution to any jeune François contemplating matrimony. I kept at a respectful distance, fearing they might have a desire to experimentalise on me, and naturally objecting to have my only coat made the object of their muscular ablutions.
I reached Avranches at three o’clock, about as tired and footsore as one could wish one’s most importunate tailor — to whom I dedicate the new Bankruptcy Act — to be, and am directed to the Hôtel de Londres, as being the best in the town, and the one most adapted to Englishmen. Here I entreat a bonne to bring me a bottle of Bordeaux, which seemed nectar of the choicest ‘brew,’ and to which I showed scant mercy. Having thus summarily disposed of my wine, I am shown to my room — very near the sky, by the bye; but I recollect Béranger, anl sing,
‘Dans un grenier où est bien à vingt ans;’
and it is not without several desperate attempts at pushing my head through the sloping roof that I acquired a perfect knowledge of the charming eccentricities of the architecture. As evening approaches, I think of dressing, and dive into my knapsack for a pair of presentable shoes — ‘tis true they are so much knocked about that Thierry’s self would never recognise them, but that’s by the way. O shade of St. Crispin! As for inserting a foot, I cannot get a toe into them. What am I to do? I stamp and walk about the room like a peripatetic leopard at the ‘Zoo.’ Again, the ceiling reminds me very forcibly that short as I am — about five feet in very high heels — there are still parts of the room inaccessible to persons of skulls of ordinary thickness. I rush out on the landing, nearly break my neck on the old hollow oak stairs, and shout frantically at a femme de chambre in the distance. She laughs at my dilemma, but, deu certe, volunteers to buy me a pair of felt shoes. Ah, ‘women in our hour of need,’ &c. She expends a modest five-franc piece thereon, and I am in a position to descend to dinner, which was very eatable, and, after the manner of the country, presided over by mine host and wife. Most of the people seemed English; but, ye gods! how that old Frenchwoman on my left did jabber! Perpetual motion is no myth, after all, it seems. May earth lie heavy on her! for in no other way can I imagine that jaw of hers being stopped. Cider makes its appearance at table here, as everywhere else in Normandy; but, personally, I much prefer admiring it at a distance to having any more intimate acquaintance with it. There is a good garden behind the hotel, in which, happy thought! there is an out-of-door cafe, where one spends the evening quietly and agreeably.
Avranches contains about 6000 inhabitants, and is well built. There is an English colony there — 600 in number — with a club. The English have not yet succeeded in building a church, and the service was conducted in a mean-looking room like a barn; but it is one of the attributes of Protestantism, that the plainer and more undecorated the room, the more solemn and impressive is the service. I cannot say, however, that a Sunday there is very agreeable, especially in wet weather, with nothing more interesting to do than watching Normandy pippins gracefully floating down the gutters and disappearing in the distance. There is a fine Roman Catholic church building; and the Jardin des Plantes — the English promenade — commands a glorious view of the sea-coast and Mont St. Michel in the distance. To invalids, or those seeking an economical place of residence, Avranches presents many charms; for not only is the climate soft and genial, but, standing high as it does, it has a peculiarly bracing temperature. The cost of living is small; one lives excellently at the Hotel de Londres for nine or ten francs a day, or even less; and were a good cigar — rara avis in France — obtainable, the town should be classed by me as A1 at Lloyd’s.
This is the head-quarters for excursions to Mont St. Michel, and a party was made up at the hotel for a visit to that most interesting relic of medievalism on the following day. When we descended to breakfast at seven — an early hour for the hotel — we found considerable difficulty in obtaining the slightest thing to eat or drink. The two bonnes, who were always wanting baksheish — an Egyptian muleteer is nothing to them — and who were not beauties in their line, at last condescended to give my fellow-travellers some eggs and other objets de luxe; but nothing would they do for me or my appetite. In vain I appealed to them — they only laughed; I entreated — they made cheerful ‘moves;’ I swore — they were deaf as any of those posts for which enthusiastic Scotchmen are so grateful to one of their native dukes; I complimented them on their angelic faces and figures — they relaxed a little; I talked of their pretty faces, and I got a coffee-cup, but nothing in it. In my despair, I made a razzia on a dish of fruit and another of maccaroons, which were artistically arranged for the table-d’ hôte breakfast, and demolished a fearful quantity. This had the desired effect, and they then, with many grimaces, brought me something more substantial.
We started for Mont St. Michel at 8.30, and our ‘turn-out’ was ‘seedy’ and novel in the extreme; and such were the charming peculiarities of its mechanism, that only two could sit inside; so two of us courageously mounted the box-seat by the cocher, a little lithe Frenchman, good-tempered and witty as Bernal Osborne himself; in fact, he was a veritable Don Quixote of Jehus, and his performances would have excited the lively admiration of the Whip Club. He certainly exerted himself to the utmost, and the street rang with his shrieks and the clattering hoofs. I suppose it is the orthodox thing to insure one’s life; but as it appears a duty, and I always objected to duty on principle, mine remains uninsured, though had I ever the vaguest idea that I should have incurred the frightful perils of that expedition, I would certainly have gone to the nearest office before my departure from London and taken out a policy. It was truly magnificent! First on one side, then on the other; now playfully ascending the pavement, now rapidly disappearing in the gutter. Our cattle, also, were very striking: one animal was a full-grown horse as big as a dromedary without the hump, the other was a pony, and they were so harnessed that the poor devil of a horse had all the work to do. However, as exclaimed the joint sharer with me of the pleasures of the box, ‘Il faut changer tout cela;’ and we made the cocher alter his arrangements. Another carriage started with us, and the rivalry between the two Jehus was extreme, occasionally playful, but always abusive, and deprecatory of each other’s ‘turn-outs;’ the ‘gee-ughs’ of the one, and the sacrés of the other, made the road lively. We crossed a river at a little village, and then the roads became execrable; and shortly afterwards we were on the sands. Our Jehu had already manufactured three whips, and was busily engaged on another, when he quietly stopped at a wayside inn for ten minutes, to refresh his horses, he said, but I thought to absorb cider. Apropos of inns, why is it that they all have a bunch of mistletoe over the door? Is it on the ‘Good wine needs no bush’ principle? The aforesaid gentle reader probably knows, not I. After a jolting, somersault-throwing journey of nearly four hours, we reached a little hamlet, where the carriage stopped. Here we were met by a guide, a large bronzed fellow, his face furrowed by fifty winters and exposure to wind and rain, and not at all a prepossessing-looking sujet, but who had nevertheless been ‘decorated’ for saving life. He began, in tones fearfully suggestive of excitement and terror, with the declaration that it was absolutely impossible to cross the sands, and that we could never land at Mont St. Michel, as the waves were raging so fiercely. ‘Ah, l’amour de Dieu,’ said he, ‘mais ils sont terrifiques!’ But ultimately he admitted that we should be able to cross at one o’clock, when the tide would be gone down.
Accordingly we waited on the causeway, and Mont St. Michel stood grandly out in the distance. It is situated about six miles S.W. of Avranches, and appears at least twice as large as St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. The summit of the tower stands 470 feet above the Bay of Cancale, and it is strongly fortified. I am not, however, going to allow my historic Muse to run off into a digression here, and must refer my reader to Murray, who furnishes very complete particulars of the vicissitudes of Mont St. Michel. Two or three of the party made rough sketches pour passer le temps, and shortly after one we began our passage across the causeway — a narrow, artificial ledge of loosely-piled rocks, about a mile in length, with the sea on one side and quicksands on the other; in fact, as cheerful a sort of Scylla and Charybdis as one could reasonably desire. Our guide, malgré his appearance and age, was very gallant to the ladies, and occasionally gathered curious weeds or flowers for them; and after half an hour’s tedious walking, in which Blondin was completely eclipsed, we reached the island.
A large monastic school is on the left, and the village at the foot consists of very old houses with quaint gables and windows, though I know not how the inhabitants — about 300 in number — can obtain their living, a little fishing and carving being the only industries visible. After lunching at a tumble-down sort of an inn — where, inter alia, they gave us a sea-weed made into a pickle, that caused us to make all sorts of wry faces, and our eyes to water like the hose of a fire-engine or showers in spring — we went over the castle. The chapel of St. Michel is interesting, and the ludicrous representation of the patron saint summarily disposing of a dragon is droll in the extreme. At the door of the castle our guide left us, having received bakskeish to the tune of five francs a head. There were several people waiting for admission; the door opened slowly; a franc a piece was demanded and paid; and we entered a large hall, where trinkets and souvenirs of Mont St. Michel are sold for the benefit of the monastery. After purchasing several, a guide showed us over the castle and monastery. The dungeons, chapels, cloisters, salle des chevaliers, and salle des marechaux are singularly interesting, and the view from the tower is grand in the extreme. I noticed that every accessible slate on the roof was covered with a name, and that the inevitable Jones and Tomkins (stay, I think Tomkins spells his name with a ‘y’ now) had been obtaining cheap, if not honourable, immortality by inditing their noble names and addresses thereon. This was only what might have been expected from those worthies; but I had always given ‘Mossoo’ credit for better taste. It takes two hours to go over the castle, even hurriedly, and one might conveniently spend a much longer time there. The pillars of the cloisters are very light and beautiful, and so is the old Norman church, the beauty of which, however, has been somewhat defaced by restoration. The dungeons are very numerous, and might, perhaps, have been nice little places in old times for a petit souper, but are not at all well furnished at present. There was an ominous-looking hole in the ceiling of one of them, through which, as in the Pneumatic Railway, one was quietly forced, à la Amy Robsart in Keniliworthy and not heard of much afterwards. They must have been very accommodating though, those old seigneurs, as they built their cachets of all sizes; and I hardly see how such nice little boudoirs, with the use of a musical chain gratis, and no five quarters’ assessed taxes to pay, could have been much objected to.
We drove home, the sands having become, by the time of our departure, sufficiently firm to permit our carriages passing over them. The old guide and cocher between them drove us furiously through a stream, and then quietly deposited us on the quicksands.
‘All out!’ was the cry, and indeed it seemed as if some would pass a very mauvais quart d’heure. The wheels were over their axles in the sands, which were swaying to and fro like half a dozen female Shakers when the spirit is in them — or on them (I beg their pardon for this slip of the pen) — and it was only by dint of great labour on our part, and groaning, swearing, and praying to St. Michel on that of the guide, that we extricated our vehicle. Before driving off, however, he put in a claim for more baksheish, protesting at the same time that we should have been lost but for him. Although we perceived it was a planned affair between him and our Jehu, and only a ruse to obtain more ‘loot,’ we yielded gracefully to the occasion, and having again ‘tipped’ him, drove off, devoutly hoping that we should see no more of this old shark of the quicksands. He gave us a profound bow on our departure, with a sly grin at having experimented so effectually on the purses of the perfides Anglais. There was a glorious sunset over the sands, the effect of which was very fine; and after a long drive — in which our indefatigable cocher swore terribly, ‘boxed the compass’ of his saints, called his steeds affectionately by name (Sophie and Bergère), and manufactured an untold quantity of thongs for the special benefit and edification of our ears and his horses’ backs — we reached Avranches in the evening, very tired, but much delighted with our excursion, or indeed expedition, as that to Abyssinia is the only one I can imagine comparable to it.
Intending to leave that town next morning, we took the precaution of booking our places for Dol by diligence; but this proved of little advantage, as on going to the ‘station’ whence it started, and taking up a position on the banquette, we were coolly informed that we had not booked our places, and must descend at once. This, however, we naturally refused to do, being very comfortable where we were, and not feeling inclined to ‘flee to ills we knew not of.’ A stormy debate ensued, the diligence people trying to make us come down, and we as firmly refusing. They had, it seems, been baksheished by another party of men, and hence tried to bully us out of our places; but ‘Britons never, never,’ &c. In vain they showered volumes of abuse on us, and began to clamber up the diligence, as if to pull us down by force. We remained ‘hermetically sealed’ to our seats, and threatened to throw them overboard if they came up.
‘Allons done au mairie,’ said the conductor.
‘Allons,’ we said, with apparent courage and determination, but with a vague feeling as to what M. le Maire would do to us poor devils, and with dim forebodings of everything that French justice ‘has of the most terrible,’ our thoughts even reverting to the cachots of Mont St. Michel. Seeing our determination, however, M. le Conducteur evidently thought it useless to persevere, and as he already had his bribe in his pocket, and had done all in his power to oblige his patrons and to satisfy his wretched little conscience, he desisted, and drove noisily out of Avranches, instead of to ‘la mairie.’
The ‘diligences’ — surely so called on the lucus a non principle, as they are terribly slow — now in use in Normandy are, as a rule, small and uncomfortable; more like those old vans one sees in remote parts of England plying between country towns, than the best public conveyance procurable; but the one that ran to Dol was an exception, and was so large and roomy that it might have been the Arc de Noe itself, for anything we knew to the contrary. It was drawn by five horses of Norman breed, who were changed every five or six miles. By and by the driver relaxed, and he then became very communicative. His definition of the wretched place under the tarpaulin at the top of the diligence (where the baggage and passengers who have last arrived are placed, and to which the horrors of the Middle Passage are nothing) was very amusing.
‘Ah,’ said he, in reply to our inquiry, ‘e’est le salon!’
A nice sort of salon truly; and its inmates dance to a pretty tune, I imagine. How they manage to exist is a mystery to me; and I never saw the tarpaulin raised without expecting to find some unhappy victim in extremis. He was no respecter of persons or priests either, il faut dire, and his remarks on the portly cures we passed en route were rather of a sarcastic than complimentary description.
The diligence passed Pontorson, and we were in Brittany, and already the roads became rougher and narrower. The houses also are inferior to those in Normandy, and the people are differently clad. We passed fields of tobacco and crops of saracin, the colour of which is very brilliant, and from which a kind of bread is made. The tinkling of the little bells on the horses’ collars sounds very cheerfully, and the blue-coloured sheepskins worn on their shoulders give them a picturesque appearance. The headdresses of the women are very droll, and yet neat and becoming, although I feel compelled to state that opinion was not shared by my Abigail, to whom I presented one on my return. At a fair in Dinan I counted no less than fourteen different styles of cap, each worn ‘with an air,’ and not exhibiting that religious horror of soap which Frenchmen generally are reported to entertain.
The diligence reached Dol at 12.30. It is a quaint old town in the department of Ille et Vilaine, and was formerly the seat of a bishopric. The high street is full of picturesque old tumble-down sort of houses with gables and odd windows, and all sorts of devices and animals on the escutcheons over the doors. In the church, which is a noble one, are some exquisite fonts, and during our visit several persons were sketching parts of its interior. There is a railway from Dol to St. Malo; so we took the train accordingly, roundly abusing the French system of keeping the passengers away from the platform until the arrival of the train, and muddling every one together in a little waiting room, which was filled with a nondescript, motley set of people. Here was a young Jesuit priest, with his pale ascetic face rapt in thought, making perhaps a journey to a sick-bed, and not, after the manner of his order, over supplied with napoleons; he wil presently enter a third-class carriage. On an opposite bench were two old women, probably returning from market — fat, cheerful, and not in the least annoyed at being quietly sketched, provided the drawings were afterwards submitted to them for their inspection and admiration. There a portly bourgeois, dreaming of the rentes, was inspecting the time-table; whilst outside a gay little zouave sauntered up and down, thinking, it may be, of Lisette or his marshal’s baton, the ne plus ultras of a French soldier’s ambition, when absinthe is unattainable. A bell rings, tickets are taken, the door is opened, and we take our seats in a second-class carriage, which was apparently as good as one of the first class in England, and was very comfortably fitted up, but the train was miserably slow. The scenery on the road was very fresh and charming; the cantonnières enlivened the stations with their signal flags and vivandière-like dresses; and in a couple of hours we reached St. Malo, which presented a very lively and bustling appearance.
St. Malo is a large seaport in the department of Ille et Vilaine, and is built on the island of Aron, which is connected with the mainland by a causeway three-quarters of a mile in length. It is strongly fortified, and inaccessible on the north side. The harbour, which is formed by the mouth of the river Rance, and separated from the open sea by the causeway, is very spacious, and has a depth of water of forty-five feet at high tide. There is a large floating dock, and an active trade with America, England, and the Channel Islands. I have never been in Cologne with its 10,000 smells, but it struck me that St. Malo had as charming an assortment of odours as one could well desire. They were simply horrible. The best hotel in the town is the Hotel de la France, the house in which Chateaubriand was born — a large quadrangular building, much frequented by English, and at which we stayed accordingly. The cathedral church contains several curious relics, and there is a fine picture of St. Francis d’Assise in one of the side chapels. Here also, as in the Chapelle de St. Michel, are suspended from the roof large models of ships — votive offerings from devout sailors and fishermen, and which strongly reminded me of Horace’s lines,
‘Me tabula sace
Votiva paries indicat uvida
Vestimenta maris Deo’ —
in his charming Ode to Pyrrha.
The bathing at St. Malo is entirely deprived of all enjoyment, owing to the quantity of clothes one is made to wear. I was compelled, like Fatima, to put on a pair of the baggiest trousers and a kind of Garibaldi jacket, fastened by a band at the waist; between the two one is dragged down in the water like a stone, and indeed, when I came on the beach, the body of a young ex-officer, who had just been drowned, was being borne past the bathing-machines, pour encourager les autres, I suppose.
The ladies that sit about the machines, watching the bathers airing their latest costumes, are not at all deficient in ‘chaff,’ and criticise unmercifully the different eccentricities of the sporting sirens and portly Gauls. A Frenchman, il faut dire, never seems to enter beyond his ankles, and does not present a very imposing appearance, being a kind of human breakwater to the tiniest waves, with strong symptoms of the hydrophobia.
The town is surrounded by fortified walls, on the top of which there is a promenade. I never see walls of that kind without thinking of the scenes in the old plays where two or three heralds, with gorgeous trumpets and any amount of cool impertinence, deliberately stand underneath and summon the town to surrender, which summons ‘first citizen’ invariably objects to obey, whereat flourish of trumpets and a long parley. In fact, we were discussing this very subject, and I was giving a very fine representation of the ‘first citizen,’ with a chiffonnier and an old blanchisseuse below for my heralds, much to the amusement of our party, when suddenly we heard a fearful torrent of sacré-bleus in front of us, and ‘Qui va-là?’ rang out in the evening air. It was nine o’clock, and we were on the walls later than is the custom, and, it having become dark, we had not perceived the sentry, who put in an appearance, in a fearful state of excitement, with his bayonet at the charge, on a level with that part of our bodies which we had been sedulously refreshing shortly before at table-d’hôte. I suggested a ‘strategic movement’ and three paces to the rear, and prepared to decamp. The little soldier, however, — he was only about four feet and an odd inch or two — swore in the most reckless manner that he had challenged us twice, and was apparently bent on making the entire party prisoners, if only to revenge Waterloo; and it was not without much difficulty that we succeeded in convincing him that we were not there for the purpose of capturing the forts, or, like crest-shaking Hector, burning the shipping.
In my room at the hotel was a fine portrait of Chateaubriand. The face gleams with thought and intelligence, but a certain sharpness about the nose and lower part of the countenance prevents its being called strictly handsome. The forehead, however, is high and white, the fine eyes shine brightly and firmly, and masses of dark chestnut hair are thrown backwards like the mane of a lion. Enthusiasm is written plainly on every feature, and also that veneration which led him to the gates of Jerusalem and in his wanderings o’er the Holy Land. Such, at least, seems to me to be a true description of the face of the man who theorised on revolutions, translated Milton’s immortal epic, and upheld so triumphantly in his Martyrs the doctrines of Christianity. Ah! it was a singular life, was that of Francois Auguste, Vicomte de Chateaubriand; and yet, if we except his overweening vanity, how nobly did he bear himself during those long eighty years! The quiet student, with a religious horror of war, led by his fervent loyalty into the ranks of the émigrés, and left for dead in the breach of Thionville; no sooner recovered from his wrounds than embarking in quest of the North-West Passage — an enterprise from which he is only dissuaded by Washington himself; an exile from France during the chaos of the Revolution, and earning a tutor’s scanty livelihood in London; appointed minister to Switzerland, and resigning his post on the murder of the Due d’Enghien. Add to these the rôles of journalist, statesman, and man of letters, and one is wrapt in admiration at his wondrous versatility. His married life was not a happy one, for, like Shelley’s, it was embittered by the littlenesses of an uncongenial wife; and he, who of all Frenchmen of his generation should have had the tender solicitude and affection of a kindred soul, was doomed to lead a wretched existence with a woman who neither loved him nor could raise herself to his level. It is St. Malo’s greatest honour to have produced Chateaubriand; and that he loved his seagirt birthplace is shown by the spot he himself selected for his sepulchre. Pay a pilgrimage to yonder rock in the bay, and, remembering the pathos and soul of the man, dreaming with his fantastic and chivalrous nature on the progress and genius of Christianity, ask yourself whether the author of the Génie du Christianisme belongs to France alone or to humanity.
Having determined to proceed to Dinan on the following morning, it was peculiarly satisfactory to us to hear that the steamer had ceased running, and that it would be impossible to ascend the river Ranee. So, abusing our luck, each other, one another, every body and thing, we took the boat to Dinard, a small village across the harbour, and proceeded by road in another of those ornamental carriages which I have before described. The road presented little that was interesting until we approached Dinan, where the country became more picturesque. The proprietor of the Hôtel de Bretagne, the best in the town, having obligingly drowned himself, or been drowned, or something of the sort, two days previously, we were compelled to go to the Hôtel du Commerce, in the Place Duguesclin, where I made the acquaintance of an old bonne of some fifty summers, much inclined to snuff and embonpoint, who was very amusing, and took to the writer in a manner strongly suggestive of matrimony.
Dinan — my beau-idéal of an old town — is in the department of the Côtes-du-Nord, and is distant about twelve miles south-west of St. Malo. It is situated on the sides of a hill, near the left bank of the Ranee, which flows in a deep valley beneath the town, and has a population of 8000. There is an active trade, as the river is navigable at high water for small steamboats up to the town, and the canal of Ille et Ranee continues the water communication as far as Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Shoes, hats, flannels, and sail-cloth are made in Dinan, and there are also beetroot and salt works. The old ramparts are still extant, and the portes are very curious. The castle is at present used as a prison, and is interesting on account of its having been formerly used as a residence by Anne of Brittany. The cathedral church of St. Sauveur is one of the best in Brittany, and part of the exterior dates from the eleventh century, and is very beautiful — the carving and fret-work over the main entrance being exquisite. We noticed inside a flat stone, on which was an eagle and the inscription ‘Guerqui’ (or something very similar). Du Guesclin’s heart is said to be buried underneath, his body having been buried at St. Denis. The English residents in the town number over 1000, and have a church and club of their own, and occupy a separate quartier. Everything is extremely economical, even more so than at Avranches, which, coupled with the climate, facility of access, and historical associations, probably accounts for the presence of so many English families.
We were fortunate enough to be in Dinan on a market-day, and to see a cattle-fair in the Place Duguesclin, which, owing to the quaintness of the costumes and vehicles, the appearance of the rough-looking cattle and rougher men, the rickety booths, and head-dresses of every shape and size, was novel and droll in the extreme. The paysans and their families began flocking in by hundreds, with their cattle, from seven in the morning, and the fair was at its height at noon.
It was curious to see the earnestness with which the paysannes would descant on the respective merits of each animal, and would grow quite eloquent on the superior merits of their own beasts. When there were no buyers, they would go on knitting, chattering like magpies, but losing no time. The men, however, seemed to do but little; and O what pigs! tall, lanky, salmon-coloured brutes, with backs arched like Apollo’s bow. (pleasant comparison!), and which trot along the road much faster than the diligence. At two P.M. the people began returning home, and the road was covered with miscellaneous traps and conveyances, which totally eclipsed those seen on the road to Epsom on a Derby-day.
We remained two days at Dinan, though one could easily spend a fortnight in that charming old town, with its churches, its place, its portes, its old houses and crooked break-neek streets — that recalled the facilis descensus Averni — its villas and surrounding scenery.
The next morning my companions proceeded southwards to see the old druidical remains at Camac, and I returned to St. Malo, where I took the steamer to St. Heliers, having spent a thoroughly enjoyable week. To any one of my readers who may be in Jersey, and who may become slightly ennuyé, I can safely recommend this little tour of mine round the Bay of Cancale, for which a week is amply sufficient. It will not cost him more than five or six pounds, and he will be amply repaid by the charming scenery of the country, its old ruins and associations, and the costumes and habits of the people.
A lawyer’s office in summer time is by no means an agreeable place of sojourn. There is a prevailing sense of dryness and a lack of verdure. The only greenness perceptible is in the conduct of the clients, and in the green ‘ferret’ with which the sheets of parchment are bound together. Pastoral influences, too, are altogether wanting. There are no ‘bleating flocks,’ nor anything to suggest their existence, unless it be the skins which have been stripped from their backs, and converted into the aforesaid parchment, in which sheep’s clothing the ravening wolves of the profession are wont to disguise their meaning, if not themselves; the only fountains are ink fountains; and there are no trees, except those genealogical growths which flourish under the culture of Garter and Clarencieux.
The office of Messrs. Catchem and Eatem, of Spiders Inn, formed no exception to the general truth of this description. I had been their bond-slave or managing clerk for some time, and was seated in my prison one fine afternoon during the month of June 186-, bewailing my hard lot in the intervals of labour, in a somewhat depressed frame of mind. I rather suspect that I must have fallen into a doze. I had been engaged for some time in making out a bill of costs against some unfortunate debtor, whom we had been grinding in our legal mill; and I remember that I had been speculating upon the remarkable analogy existing between the bestial and human creations, and reflecting how precisely the tigers, wolves, snakes, and wasps in the former are repeated in the lawyers, bill-discounters, doctors, and old maids of the latter dispensation. The vastness of the subject was, I suppose, too much for me, and I had taken refuge from the problem in sleep, when I was suddenly aroused by the deep bass voice of my venerable superior Mr. Catchem.
‘Mr. Hopkins,’ said the voice, ‘I find that I shall be unable to go down to Dedborough to complete that purchase of Mr. Ponsonby’s, and therefore you will have to go. The appointment for completion is at ten o’clock on Thursday morning, so that you must leave town by the 5.15 train to-morrow afternoon, and sleep at Dedborough, ready for the next morning. The purchase money is paid into the London branch of Messrs. Musgrave’s bank at Dedborough; you will therefore only have to take a cheque with you for the amount, and get it cashed in the morning ready for the settlement. Come into my room to-morrow about four, and I will give you instructions. I am going across the square to Squeezem and Scrunchem’s; back in half an hour.’
Exit Mr. Catchem, and up jumps Mr. Hopkins and executes a war dance of a jubilant and triumphant description, indicative of his delight at the prospect before him. The sparrow outside my window flew away in great disorder, evidently astonished at the indecorum of my behaviour, and only accustomed to the gravity of demeanour becoming an inn of court. Invigorated by this little interlude, I returned to my bill of costs, thinking that after all old Catchem was perhaps not quite so black as I had painted him. The point of view is everything, and seen through the medium of my country excursion, even he appeared to lose several shades of darkness.
Business over for the day, I walked home to my lodgings in Lavender-crescent, Camberwell, still in the same state of exhilaration. ‘Jane,’ said I, bursting into the passage, ‘I am going into the country for a few days. Will you come with me?’
‘Lor, Mr. Hopkins, sir,’ said Jane, ‘how can I? I couldn’t leave missus and the ’ouse, even if you was kind enough to take me. Is anything the matter, sir? O, don’t, sir, please! You promised me you wouldn’t.’ And Jane leaves my room with her cheeks considerably rouged, and a conviction, I think, that I have been taking something besides exercise.
After tea I packed a carpet-bag ready for my country excursion; and then, in order to get over the intervening time, I lighted the pipe of peace, and sat myself down in my easy-cliair to read Lady Sappho Godiva’s delightful FIeshworms, and to admire the gorgeous upholstery which is therein so minutely described, and, above all, the succulent morbidezza of the female portraits. I certainly found her ‘carnations,’ as painters call them, deliciously warm and juicy, and the scene-painting all that could be desired.
In the morning I arrayed myself with a degree of care befitting the importance of the occasion, and departed joyfully for town, having first taken an affectionate leave of Jane, whose faint ‘Don’t!’ sounded, I thought, much more like ‘Do!’ The day dragged through at last, and punctually at four P.M. I knocked at Mr. Catchem’s green-baize door, and was desired to enter.
‘This is the conveyance, Mr. Hopkins,’ said that gentleman, ‘which you will see properly executed before you pay the purchase money; and take care that all the title-deeds shown in the abstract are handed over to you at the same time. The money, as I told you, is at Messrs. Musgrave’s bank in Dedborough, and here is a cheque for the amount, 4060l. I cannot cross the cheque because you will have to pay in cash; so mind, if you please, that you are very careful of the cheque. The appointment for completion is at Mr. Upton’s office in Dedborough, on Thursday. This 10l. note is for your own expenses, for which you will account to me on your return. Be very careful, if you please, and lose no time in getting off. Good-day.’
I returned my venerable superior’s adieu with great alacrity, and shaking the dust of the office off my feet and my clothes, I hailed a passing hansom, and was soon gleefully bowling off to the Great Northern Railway. In my private capacity I need hardly say that I did not ride much in cabs; but on occasions like the present I felt that I represented the firm of C. and E., and was determined that their dignity and official status should suffer no abatement at my hands.
‘Two bob, captain, please,’ said the jarvey when I got out. I observe, by the way, that cabmen generally salute gentlemen of doubtful exterior as ‘captain,’ which I suppose is intended as a delicate compliment. I paid him at once ‘like a gentleman,’ as he was good enough to assure me; for though I knew it was double his fare, I never haggle about the price when I am spending my employers’ money. It is a kind of spoiling the Egyptians, in which, as in all revenge, there is, to use Lord Bacon’s phrase, a sort of wild justice.
Acting upon the same principle, I took a first-class ticket to Dedborough; and ensconced myself in the most comfortable carriage I could find. I first paid a visit to the book-stall, to provide myself with some literature for possible contingencies. I made choice of a magazine containing a story called ‘Gustavus Snooks’s Will,’ which promised some interest to a lawyer; as I have generally observed that such histories contain some very remarkable legal incidents, confirmatory of the old classical axiom, that it is wiser in the cobbler to stick to his last. King Solomon’s dictum that there is nothing new under the sun is conclusively disproved by the history in question; for in it I find the executors of a will signing the will as well as the testator, which I affirm to be an entire novelty.
I was lost in admiration at the boldness of this innovation, when the door of the carriage was opened, and a lady entered in deep mourning and seated herself in an opposite division; soon afterwards we got under way, and were joyfully rattling out of the smoke and noise of the great Babylon into the pure air of the country. My companion, though still apparently a mere girl, was dressed in widow’s weeds, or rather in that most becoming modification of them which is now prevalent, and in which one single beading of white crape edging the black bonnet does duty for the hideous old widow’s cap. So much as I could see of her she was very pretty. Her complexion was perfectly pale, and she had large deep-gray eyes which darkened in colour at the outer edge of the iris, where it merged into the deep black fringe of the eyelash. Her mouth was hidden by the broad band of double crape which edged her veil; but her lovely brown hair was displayed by her mite of a bonnet, and was coiled in massive lustrous wreaths behind her beautiful head. She made no affectation of deep grief; but her eyes had that curious benumbed appearance which you sometimes see in an animal which is stricken with some great pain.
Sorrow always appears to me so sacred a thing, that I felt no inclination to make any effort towards the usual acquaintance of fellow-travellers, and accordingly devoted myself to my book. But some trifling courtesy broke the ice between us, and it seemed that my companion was anxious to obtain some information about her journey. Was I going to Dedborough? and what time would the train get there? Could I tell her of any hotel at which she could stay for a short time? Would it be very expensive? She apologised for asking these questions by saying that she had lived for many years in France, and was entirely ignorant of England and its ways. Her beautiful eyes filled with tears as she spoke of France, and I could not help feeling for one so young who had suffered so much.
I gave her all the information I could upon the subject, and in return she told me some particulars of her story. She had lately come from Tours, where she had lost her husband after a year’s marriage; and being left almost penniless, her friends had persuaded her to seek for a situation as governess in England, instead of, as she would have preferred, in France. This place she had at length found, as she hoped, in the family of a gentleman living near Dedborough; she was to sleep at that town for one night, and to be fetched to the Cedars, her new home, in the morning. She feared an English hotel would be very costly after the French ones to which she was accustomed. Would there be a salon in which ladies could sit, or must she take her meal in her bedroom? All this she asked in the most natural, innocent, childish manner imaginable; and I could not help thinking what a very child she was, and how totally unfit to travel in England alone, with her confiding winning way and pretty half-foreign accent. I told her in reply that I intended to have a sitting-room for my own use (which, by the way, was a very sudden intention on my part), and that if she would brighten it with her presence during her evening meal, it would give me very sincere pleasure. She didn’t know. Might she do so? Would it be quite en règle for a lady to do so? If she really might — I assured her that she need not be uneasy on that score, and I felt really glad that it was in my power to act in some sort as her protector. Duty is delightful when it assumes the form of taking a lovely girl-widow under one’s protecting wing.
As I stepped on to the platform at Dedborough, an inspector on duty inquired if my name were Hopkins. Wondering what prompted the question, I replied that it was; and having farther made me give the address of my firm in London, he handed me a telegram which had passed my train upon the wires, and which told me that the purchase would not be completed till the Friday morning, as the deeds were not ready for delivery to the purchaser. ‘By all means,’ said I to myself — ‘so much the better. I shall be delighted to have another day in the country. I will go over and see this old place, which Mr. Ponsonby has bought.’ I have a special passion for old houses in the country. A good part of my boyhood was passed at one such, in ‘pleasant Hertford shire,’ and in memory of it I love them all. Meanwhile I placed my companion and her travelling-bag in a cab, and drove with her to the Blue Crocodile, which was the house in Dedborough that I had been advised to stay at.
I found the hotel one of the pleasant, old-fashioned, comfortable houses — now, alas, becoming scarcer every year — in which the buxom landlady receives one as an old friend and caters for one’s comfort with kind solicitude. A great contrast to the ‘lady-manager’ of the modern monster hotel, who sits in an inaccessible office, and is far too grand to take any interest in the welfare of the guests, whom she knows only as ‘No. 537,’or whatever the numeral in which their identity is lost may chance to be. My companion would have nothing but tea, and, seated at the tea-table, she looked more beautiful and child-like than ever.
It was a lovely summer evening, soft and balmy, and sitting at an open window before a garden full of roses and mignonette, the air that filled the room was laden with their fragrance. The sun went down in glorious state — a crimson ball into a purple sea of mist. A river ran below the bottom of the garden, reflecting as in a glass the gorgeous colours of the western sky, whilst the plash of an occasional boat broke from time to time the stillness of the night. There was a piano in our room, and as I sat musing in the gloaming, my companion seated herself before it, and in absent mood struck a few chords. Gradually she seemed moved to more effort, and in a few minutes the plaintive strains of Mozart’s ‘Pro peccatis’ rose upon the air. The melancholy solemnity of the prayer seemed to harmonise with her state of sorrow, and she sang the words with heart-felt pathos. Like Rubini, she appeared to have ‘tears in her voice,’ which breathed the very spirit of passionate sorrow. I sat entranced in a dream of bliss. Each element of beauty seemed to heighten and enhance the rest — music never sounds so sweetly as at such a time; — and as the voice of the singer — herself almost unseen — trembled forth into a flood of melody, I wished that I could sit and listen to it for ever. What a life, I thought, encompassed by such sights and sounds and fragrance, compared to the wretched drudgery of my own!
All too soon it came to an end. My fellow-traveller soon closed the piano, and with a simple ‘goodnight,’ left me to build what castles I might in her absence. She had left her handkerchief on the ground. I picked it up and pressed it to my lips, and as I did so I saw a beautifully embroidered ‘Marie ’ in one corner of it, which I thought a charming name. I kept it as long as I dared, and then rang for the chambermaid to take it up to her. I sat for some time longer; but the glory was departed, and I was soon glad to follow her example, and to take what remembrance I could of my pleasure into dreamland with me.
In the morning I breakfasted alone, Madame de Fontanges (for that I found was her name) sending me her compliments, and saying that she preferred to take her coffee in her own room. I determined to make the most of my day; but first I placed my pocket-book, containing the important cheque, in my travelling-bag; and having carefully locked it, I locked the bag itself into one of the drawers of the wardrobe in my bedroom, and placed the key in my pocket. I had been debating with myself as to the safest manner of keeping this cheque, which was rather a cloud upon my happiness, and I deemed this the safest manner of taking care of it. Having got this matter off my mind, I applied myself vigorously to the breakfast before me, revelling in the golden butter and creamy milk of the country, after the manufactured articles of Lavender-crescent, where the butter was made of fat, and the milk chiefly supplied by the cow with the iron tail. Nor did I forget the more substantial items of eggs and bacon, deeming it advisable, with Major Dalgetty, to provender the garrison against possible sieges.
It was a charming morning, and as I started off to walk to ‘Foxholes,’ the place which our client had purchased, I couldn’t help devoutly wishing that my lines had fallen in such pleasant places as the country around Dedborough. No one enjoys the country like a Cockney, who is imprisoned in the smoke and stir of London. Every flower and blade of grass appeals to him with a force and vividness which the rustic never feels; and if he chance to have passed the happy hours of childhood amidst such scenes, they touch a chord in his heart which vibrates with delight. I found Foxholes was six or seven miles from Dedborough; so that I had abundant time to walk leisurely onwards, resting from time to time to drink more deeply of the pure joys around me, and wandering from the pathway into any wood which took my fancy by the roadside.
By mid-day I reached the entrance to the house. It was a white gate, under tall over-arching elms, making a deep shade after the glare of the sun. Farther on, the entrance road ran under some high pine-trees, whose deep black foliage made a still darker shade, broken and enlivened by the crimson gleams of their boles. Beside this wood spread a large sheet of water, all overgrown with superb water-lilies, whose leaves lay almost blistering in the hot sun, forming a dark green flooring, from which the bloom-cups of ivory and gold sprang up in rich luxuriance; whilst water-spiders skated about on the surface from the beds of jointed reeds which fringed the sides of the lakelet, and great dragon-flies, of bronze and blue and crimson, hung suspended over it on gauzy wings, motionless for a moment, and then darting off with lightning speed. I was speculating upon the capabilities of the place for fishing, when a vain young frog, boastful of his strength and desiring to exhibit it, sprang from the bank some three feet into the water, and again gathering up his legs, was plunging with glee through the bright green waters, when lo! the reeds by the bank were suddenly cleft asunder — a dark body shot out from the side — there was a flash of a great silver-green side under the surface and a ‘swirl’ upon the top — and poor froggy had performed his last acrobatic feat, and his place would know him no more.
The grass around the water was deep in soft moss, into which my feet sank at every step. Thousands of grasshoppers — dark brown, drab, and pale sea-green — were singing their joyful song, leaping high into the air, and falling heels-over-head in every direction. In the pine-trees was a wood-pigeon uttering ‘its long love-ditty,’ most melancholy but most beautiful of country sounds; proclaiming its undying passion for its wife sitting close by upon her eggs, and stopping from time to time with a frightened sudden ‘hoo,’ when I walked upon the odorous pine-needles beneath its nest.
The house was an old red-brick building, not of the bright red which tells of Dutch William and Sir John Vanbrugh; but of an earlier date, stained with age and lichens, and overgrown with vines and jasmine. The old entrance-door looked strong enough to resist a siege, studded all over with thick square iron bosses. I knocked, and was admitted into the great stone-flagged hall, a huge square room with a quadrangular black oaken staircase rising from it. The doors of entrance into the various rooms downstairs were all of dark mahogany, with the handles as high up as one’s shoulder, and the fireplaces were the old-fashioned ‘dogs’ for wood-fires. A delightful place, I thought. How I should like to spend my days there! I left the house with lingering regret, after staying as long as I decently could, and wandered out again towards the great fruit-garden, passing on my way a charming summer pavilion, built of the same red brick, through whose open door swallows were wheeling in and out, to and from their nests built high up the walls against the ceiling, twittering with joy (as well they might), and with their indigo-blue backs glistening in the bright sunshine. From the peas in the fruit-garden rose a flight of blackbirds and thrushes, whilst the harsh scream of a brilliant jay resounded through the summer air. What a paradise I thought it! I sat myself down upon a rustic seat close to a pond full of great fat carp, and watched them gasping at the surface of the water, and sucking down any unwary flies that came within their reach.
I was glad to rest after my walk, and I know of no place of rest so delightful as a garden:
‘Some flowrets of Eden we still inherit,’
— and I do verily believe, for myself, that these paradisaical flowers flourish most freely in country gardens. Sitting as I did, breathing the sweet fresh country air, soothed by the comfortable sounds from a rookery which stood behind the house, inhaling the fragrance of the masses of bright flowers and basking in the blessed sun, my thoughts reverted to that happy time in the history of the world when a garden contained the whole of the human race; before the flaming sword had driven them forth, and the waving of that magic brand had drawn thorns and thistles out of the teeming soil. Having thoroughly rested myself, I set out leisurely upon my return journey, stopping to lunch at a roadside inn, which I had remarked some half-mile back, upon the way. I had most thoroughly enjoyed my excursion so far; but such short holidays are clouded rather painfully by a sense of their evanescence.
I got back to Dedborough late in the afternoon, indulging a vague hope that my charming fellow-traveller might not have yet left; but alas! I was doomed to disappointment, for my friend the waiter informed me with cheerful alacrity that Madame de Fontanges had left in her friend’s carriage directly after lunch, leaving for me a message of compliments and grateful thanks. Sic transit!
My first care was to adjourn to my bedroom, to see after the safety of the all-important cheque. All safe I found it, and immediately transferred the pocket-book containing it to the breast-pocket of my coat, as I did not intend to leave the house again until I went to attend the appointment for completion of the purchase. My sitting-room, I fancied, looked very desolate; but there was no help for it, and after dinner I was glad to adjourn to the coffee-room to lessen the feeling of loneliness.
Next morning I started off to complete the business which had brought me down; but first I called at Messrs. Musgrave’s bank to cash the cheque, as we could not ask the vendor to take our cheque. On presenting the cheque at the counter, I fancied the cashier looked somewhat surprised, but that I attributed to the largeness of the amount for which it was drawn. After asking me one or two questions about it, he took the cheque into the private room of one of the partners, and in a few moments he returned and requested me to walk into Mr. Musgrave’s room, as he wished to speak to me about it. I found the partner holding the cheque in his hand, and looking rather grave, and I began to fear that the bank was in a bad way, and that they were unable to meet the payment. The banker desired his clerk to leave; and having carefully closed the door, he asked me some questions as to the drawer of the cheque — where I had received it, and so on; which, of course, I had no difficulty in answering. Still he did not seem satisfied, and continued to question me in a manner which was fast making me angry, when the door opened, and a quiet gentlemanly-looking man of middle age entered the room and wished Mr. Musgrave ‘good-morning.’
‘This is the young man,’ said the banker to him, and proceeded to repeat my answers to the new-comer. By this time I was getting very uneasy, and asked Mr. Musgrave somewhat impatiently what was wrong about the cheque.
‘Well, young man,’ said the new-comer quietly, ‘the fact is the genuine cheque was presented yesterday and cashed, and this is a forgery, for which I shall have to detain you until we have communicated with the drawer.’
I was utterly stunned at this statement, and declared vehemently that it was impossible; that the cheque had never left my possession since it was handed over to me; and that the whole story was some villanous conspiracy to ruin me, or to avoid paying the money. The banker seemed somewhat nettled at this remark, and was beginning an angry reply, when the stranger stopped him, saying the less said the better. He then said that he was the superintendent of police at Dedborough, and that I must consider myself in custody; but if I would give my word to go quietly with him, no fuss or scandal need be made about it. I felt like a person in a dream. Could it really be possible that I was arrested on a charge of forgery? My head swam at the thought, and I sank fainting on to a chair behind me. Mr. Musgrave, who seemed a humane, fatherly sort of man, appeared to be greatly shocked at the whole affair, and persuaded my custodian to let me have some wine before we left, which brought back my scattered senses. He then told me that the cheque had been presented about two o’clock on the previous day, and had been paid in notes all but the odd sixty pounds, which was cashed in gold. The person presenting it was a youngish man with moustache and dark hair, who had answered with perfect correctness several questions about my employers which had been put to him to test his identity.
‘And now, young man,’ said the police-officer, ‘the less you say the better, because, you know, it will only be used against you. I must trouble you to come with me; but first I must take you back to your hotel to search your room.’
By this time I was so entirely crushed by the whole affair, that I seemed to have lost even the power of speech, and had he proposed to cut off my head there and then, I think I should hardly have offered any objection. I walked mechanically by his side through the streets of Dedborough, but they did not look like the same streets which I had passed through full of hope and confidence but a short half-hour before. I fancied that every one we met looked askance at me, and that the guilt of the crime which I had not committed was branded like Cain’s upon my brow. Was it really only half an hour since I had been free? It seemed an age ago. We passed a beggar — a wretched half-starved object clad in dirty rags — with pallid face and eyes, out of which all hope had long since died; and how devoutly I longed to change places with him, if I could but have shaken off the incubus which oppressed me! All my old life rose in review before me. Where were the troubles which I had thought so heavy? Could it be possible that I had been unhappy ever before? The office in Spiders Inn seemed to me now to have been the very gate of heaven, and Lavender-crescent a dream of bliss. And Jane, — would she too hear of me as a forger? My mind pictured her reading the account of my committal in the Standard, which her mistress indulged in, and which generally found its way into the kitchen after Mrs. Johnson had done with it upstairs. The very paragraph swam before my eyes. ‘The prisoner was a young man of shabby-genteel exterior, and appeared to feel his position very acutely. In answer to the worthy magistrate he protested his innocence of the charge against him,’ &c. &c., in the stereotyped phraseology which meets our eyes from day to day, and which enables one half of the world to gloat over the miseries of the other, and to thank their God that they are ‘not as this publican.’
‘No. 21, sir; yes, sir, certainly. This way, if you please, Mr. Bracelet,’ said the obsequious chambermaid of the Crocodile to the great man who had me in his gripe, preceding us upstairs to my bedroom. My bedroom! Where would be my next bedroom? I wondered. ‘This is the room, if you please, sir,’ as she threw open the door of No. 21.
‘Thanks, my dear; that’ll do — you needn’t stay,’ to the girl, whose eyes were dilating with wonder to see what was coming next.
‘This your bag, young man? Unlock it, please. Ah! clean collar, shaving-tackle, nightgown, socks — quite so. Anything in this pocket?
I thought so; silent matches, wax-candle, skeleton keys, blank cheques. Yes, yes; now we shall do. We’ll take this handy little bag with us, please.’
Was that my bag? Was I dreaming? I rubbed my eyes with a vague hope that I might be in an accursed nightmare; but no! my vision remained the same, and there stood Mr. Superintendent Bracelet, prepared to attend me, with my bag in his hand, and a complacent comfortable smile upon his face. By this time my faculty of surprise was utterly exhausted; and if he had again thrust his hand into my bag and pulled forth a snake or a dodo, it would have appeared to me the most natural thing in the world.
I begged him to grant me one favour, which was to telegraph to my employers in London before making any charge before a magistrate; and this he agreed to do. Meanwhile, he conducted me to the police-station in Dedborough, and left me to my own meditations, which were sorrowful enough. I flung myself down on the bench of my cell, hardly caring what should come next. I must have fallen, I suppose, into a troubled sleep, for it was past three o’clock when I was aroused by some one entering the room, and I found myself face to face with Mr. Catchem. His arrival gave me courage to tell my story minutely from the moment of my leaving London; and I was greatly relieved to find that he seemed to give credit to it, and that his anxiety was much more to recover the money than to bring home the crime to me.
He undertook to be responsible for my appearance, if required; and employed Mr. Bracelet to see if he could gain any trace of my too fascinating fellow-traveller, whom he made me describe most minutely. We could learn nothing of any such person at Dedborough station; but on using the wires, we found that a lady answering to her description, with a gentleman, had taken tickets for Swindon by the 3.5 train of the previous day, from a station on a loop-line ten miles across the country from Dedborough. We of course proceeded by the first train to Swindon, and there again we got scent of the supposed fugitive as having alighted there and taken the first train across to Liverpool. This was hopeful news to me, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the possibility of success. No time was lost in following up the trail; and by ten o’clock that night we saw the forest of masts of the great western port tapering skywards out of the smoke and mist.
We learned that the American steamer Albatross had gone out with the flood-tide two hours before, and drove in hot haste to the offices of the company; but it was past business-hours, and the office was closed. On we went still — found the lodgings of the cash-clerk, and hunted him from them to a café-chantant in the town, where he was vigorously applauding an imitation of Mademoiselle Schneider’s Bulotte in Barbe-Bleu. Rather sulky at first at the interruption, we found means to mollify him, and —
Yes, there were a lady and gentleman, who had secured berths only that morning — didn’t seem particular whereabouts in the vessel, so that they could go.
No, the lady was certainly not a widow. Young, pretty, and dressed in colours — blue, he thought. Gentleman tall, dark, with moustache. The name, he thought, was Colonel and Mrs. White, but couldn’t be sure till he saw his book.
‘Did they pay in notes?’
No, in gold; because he remembered thinking it strange that they should pay all gold. At nine o’clock in the morning the offices would be open, but he would be there, say, by 8.30.
This payment in gold was what we feared, and I began to suspect that, after all, they would slip through our fingers. The only thing to do was to search all through the hotels of the place, in the vague hope of finding their lair and getting some farther clue; but it was already past twelve, and this must be postponed till the morning. We accordingly adjourned to the Royal Swan for the night, Mr. Bracelet kindly locking me into my room — just for form’s sake, as he considerately observed. For hours I could not close my eyes; but at last I fell into a confused sort of slumber, in which I saw that gentleman in widow’s weeds singing the Stabat Mater, whilst the venerable Catchem, in Bulotte’s high Norman cap and clanking sabots, danced an outrageous cancan, kicking up before and behind like Ole Joe, with marvellous agility.
Early in the morning, Mr. Bracelet sought the assistance of the local bloodhounds, with whose aid we commenced a systematic visitation of all the hotels in the place, each one taking a certain district. We met at luncheon to report progress — but, alas! there was nothing to report. No trace of our game could be hit upon, and I began to fear that we must have overrun the scent. One coffee-house of doubtful repute near the quay still remained to be explored; and here we found that a lady and gentleman had slept on the night in question.
‘Did they pay their bill with a note?’
‘Not they — no such luck. The bill were only 7s. 6d., and the gent paid that out of a half squid. But what might be the matter, if not making too bold?’
The ‘matter’ was soon explained, and I fancied from the woman’s manner she was keeping something back.
‘Well, what might it be worth to you to get hold o’ some trace on ’em — say such a thing as a hankercher, now?’
‘One pound — two well, five pounds, if it turned out to be a genuine article.’
‘Certingly, the lady had left one under her pillow — and a real beauty it was.’
A real beauty indeed! It was the very handkerchief, with the embroidered ‘Marie’ in the corner, which I had seen Madame de Fontanges use at Dedborourrh. My heart leaped with delight to see that we had again hit the trail. How I blessed the woman for having kept it back as an addendum to her ‘little bill’!
Mr. Bracelet lost no time in working the wires of the cable, and desiring his brethren in New York to board the steamer before she touched land, and secure our friends, sending them back by the first return packet. And the lightning soon flashed back their reply to assure us of their readiness to do so. I went back with my chief to the Royal Swan, worn out with the excitement, and glad to rest my weary limbs; but, before doing so, I humbly thanked the God of all mercy for my escape from the net which had been spread for me.
In less than four weeks’ time the fugitives were brought back from New York, and safely deposited in the prison at Dedborough, and then the whole affair was explained.
A clerk of Messrs. C. & E.’s had been leaving their employ just about the time of my ill-fated journey; but as it was in pursuance of the usual notice, it excited no suspicion. This lad (for he was but eighteen) had seen Marie de Fontanges, whose real name was Mary Fountain, at the Royal Pandemonium Music-hall in — street, where she was engaged as a singer. and here the siren had sung away the poor boy’s heart and senses. He fell madly in love with her, and wanted to marry her; but Miss Fountain did not exactly see the use of that, unless he had something to offer. She allowed him, however, to visit her at her lodging near Leicester-square, and here she riveted his fetters more tightly, and gradually moulded him to her will. He told her everything about the office-affairs; and she it was who put it into his head to forge a copy of the cheque, and to supply her with all necessary details for carrying out her little scheme. They were then to have sailed for the New World together; but of course she took care to give him the slip, and went away with a former lover of her own class, who, in the intervals of his professional engagements, did also a little burglary; and he it was who had supplied her with the necessary tools for opening my bag, &c., and with the skeleton-keys which she had deposited therein, in order to cast suspicion upon me until she had made good her escape.
All but about 100l. of the money was recovered; the three culprits were tried and convicted at the next assizes held at Dedborough, the heaviest sentence falling upon Mary Fountain, as she was the prime mover in the whole affair. My employers treated me with more kindness than I expected; but of course I could not expect to remain in their service.
I went back sadly to Lavender-crescent, to pack up my effects and seek a cheaper lodging; and there Jane, dear good Jane, womanlike spread the aegis of her protecting care over me — married me almost in spite of myself, spent all her little hoard in keeping us afloat till better days; and at length by the rhetoric of love persuaded her uncle, who is a market-gardener at Battersea, to try me as his book-keeper and salesman, which I have now been for nearly three years. The fresh air and freedom of the life suits me much better than a lawyer’s office; and although my cousin Robert, who is a tallow-chandler’s shopman, says I have married beneath me, I never regret the step which I have taken.
On the cliff the dying sunlight, gold and crimson, pales away,
Merging all its rainbow splendour in the purple of the bay;
Lengthening shadows greet the twilight, whilst the Even’s silver star.
Rising on the brow of Heaven, shines a beacon-light afar.
Bearded, red with kiss of Autumn, yonder waves the August corn;
Sinks the brown lark to his slumber till shall break again the dawn;
’Neath the mallow-leaf the beetle drowsy hums in monotone;
On the medlar-tree the linnet sits and times his pipe alone.
Ripening nuts hang thick in clusters; lovers stroll beneath the boughs
In the gloaming, ne’er a witness save the glow-worm to their vows.
Ah, the days of youth’s sweet spring-tide! ah, the days of Autumn bliss! Winter hours come all too quickly — seize ye, then, the joy of this.
Thus it is the glass turns ever — flow the sands of life along:
Changing, changing, changing, changing, is the burden of our song:
Even in birth the wailing infant draws its first faint breath with pain;
Sink in painless sleep the aged — even in dying live again.
I cannot imagine why, at the very hottest time of the year, people should suddenly become frantic to go to the sea. Mad dogs dread the water. With human beings, madness takes the opposite form; they rush to it. Men, women, and children — babies, dogs, cats, canaries, and bullfinches — all, poor things, panting and puffing, hunting after boxes, bags, and hampers — all examining railway tourist tables — all wildly rushing to Llandudno, Whitby, Torquay, or Ilfracombe, are daily spectacles at every railway station during June, July, and August. Those who are cooped up in small houses in small towns, or who have little leisure for holiday, one can understand requiring a change; but why persons in large comfortable houses should make up their minds to leave those said houses for a small lodging, with lodging-house furniture and lodging-house food — their own gardens just in the short stage of perfection which modern ideas allow to gardens, with fruit ripening for thrushes, blackbirds, and servants, pretending too, and deceiving themselves into the belief, that they leave all this for enjoyment — is a mystery which requires a ‘very clever fellah’ to solve.
One reason, and that is how I, Lady Chester, come to leave my comfortable home, is, that at certain periods I am informed my house is ever so dirty, and the white washers must be had in. My housekeeper has been with me many years. After a certain number of years, I have heard, a good servant becomes either mistress or slave. I suppose mine is what is called a most valuable servant. I should not have the courage to part with her; but it would require a very lively imagination at full stretch to call her a slave. Well, so it happens, I have to turn out of my own house — my comfortable everything. I have no garden, for I live in London, but I am very particular, and like everything nice around me: at certain times I am compelled to leave all, and go forth into the wide world.
When possible, I pay visits to my numerous friends. Twice I have been compelled to go to the sea, as it is called. I tried to change the time of my Hegira, so that it might not clash with my friends’ engagements; but the look of amazement and virtuous indignation expressed in my factotum’s face quite defeated me. I felt I was lowered in her eyes, and ought to be in my own, for imagining it possible I could be allowed to stay in a house that had not been upset for nearly six months. I do wish I dared return suddenly and see what they are doing in my absence. I have heard of such things as parties given in the drawing-rooms, when the lady of the house is absent: and I should like to see; but I must have some good excuse ready before venturing on such a step, or I must get my niece Gertrude to do it for me: her nerves are much stronger than mine. If I live and am ever turned out again, I really will devise some plan for a sudden return; perhaps, though, I might find, ‘Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.’ But my ignorance is not bliss, that’s the thing. If some great man were to lose his wife and think of my factotum as her successor, I might manage better with a new one, I have no doubt. However, I am away now, and I must forget Priggins, and what they call ‘enjoy’ myself in the sea-breezes. This is the second time it has been my lot, since I was left a widow, to spend six weeks at the seaside. Once I went to Whitby; now I am at Ilfracombe.
I have a dear sister the very opposite of myself. I am a widow; she has a busy physician husband. I knew, when Sir Thomas proposed to me, I should be very foolish to refuse him, and so we were married. Hester fell violently in love with Dr. Bevan during a severe illness she had; he saved her life, and marry him she would, though he was only a doctor in a country town, red-brick house at the end of the street. I never had any children; Hester has five, one girl and four boys. Sir Thomas left me very well off; Hester is not at all rich. Her way of going through the world is what I call misery in many respects, yet she has not the faintest idea of comparing her lot to mine. She actually thinks hers is so superior in every way!
Dear Hester delights in her periodical change to the seaside. Nothing could for a moment persuade her it is not the height of enjoyment to others as well as to herself; and so twice, finding I had nowhere to turn to, she has sent me a few lines and entreated me to join them in their annual trip somewhere.
DEAREST GERTRUDE, — By your letter to Gerty I find that old vixen of yours is turning you out again. Do come with us. I am so looking forward to the delicious sea-breezes. O, the sound and the sight and the smell of the sea! Isn’t it a thing to dream of for months? Have you any preference, dear? Do tell me, and you must come. I do so enjoy being together; it almost makes one feel young again. Don’t you remember our first visit to the sea — some odious mouth of a river in Lancashire, dear mother took us to — and the bonnets we had to wear there, because of our complexions! How I wished I had none! Poke bonnets a yard long nearly, and lined with dark-green muslin, and a deep curtain all round our necks, like the valance to a bed! I should like to ask Gerty to wear one! Dear mother, how she hated the sea, but how I do love it! and then you like seeing my boys, and Gerty will be so pleased to have you as a companion; for dearest Henry takes up all my attention during our holiday, he is so busy and hard-worked. I see so little of him at home. We start on Thursday, and thought of Whitby, but say if you prefer any other place. I shall take a nice round of beef well salted, and half a Cheshire cheese; so we can’t starve. You won’t want your footman, will you? Just as you like; but I think it so delightful to rough it a little, and leave servants and cares behind. The lodging-house people are accustomed to wait at table, and we will take a house not too large for ourselves, and then you will be quite comfortable. Last year there were four other parties in the house with us; so the poor cook had five breakfasts, five early dinners, and five late dinners to get ready, and all at different hours!
I will take care we do not do that again if you are with us. Now don’t send me a refusal, for love of our early days, dearest Gertrude. I have told you nothing of our boys. Harry is working hard at Rugby; George is distinguishing himself at Wellington; dear little Ned has passed into the Britannia, and looks quite lovely in his pretty uniform; and Tom says he would rather be aunt Gertrude’s page than anything else, for it is so jolly to have all those buttons, and nothing to do but keep himself neat and wash Cuba, and she looks like a fat white sheep when clean; so please remember this when you are changing your page! Gerty sends her best love, and says you must come. So good-bye, dear. — Your own sister, HESTER BEVAN.
This was the sort of letter which determined me both times to do as Hester asked me — the wrong side of forty makes one cling to the friends of one’s early days. How impossible it is to make friendships of any depth except in buoyant youth! and in after years who or what can make up for one’s own sister? Her marriage had rather interfered with our great affection and intimacy at first; but, after all, Hester, was a happier woman in her married life than I had been; and Dr. Bevan was so clever and so good, I sometimes thought she had done better for herself than many who had made finer marriages. Well, I wrote to Hester:
MY DEAREST SISTER, — I will join you. Let it be Whitby, if you like. I have never been there. It will do as well as any other place, I daresay. Please take me a south bedroom, and an east room for my maid, that she may be up in good time. Dear Hester, I do not think it possible for me to keep well if I were to touch Cheshire cheese. I don’t know what my doctor would say to such a thing. I will have a piece of Parmesan packed, and some truffles. You may not be able to get such things there. Reindeer tongues are delicate for breakfast if we feel very hungry with the change of air. Do you think there will be spring-mattresses on all the beds? I like one, but I must have a thin feather-bed over it. My bed must not face the window, the light is so injurious to one’s eyes. Of course there must be a hanging-wardrobe in my room, though I will tell Goode she must not take many dresses. I shall sleep at York on Thursday, and join you the day after, dear. Much love to my dear namesake. — Your own sister, GERTRUDE CHESTER.
P. S. — I always take a little rum-and-milk in the morning; there will be no difficulty in continuing this, I daresay. I think it has been of benefit to me, and Goode thinks so too. — Good-bye again.
P.S. No. 2. — I will bring my own duvet as you may not find them in furnished houses.
I slept at York and went on next day. Certainly the country for the last two hours is very wild and beautiful, and I was rejoicing too that the sea would not always be in sight, for even when the train stopped at Whitby no ocean was visible. Dr. Bevan and Gerty waiting for me — how pleasant it is at the end of a journey to find a loving face looking out for you! — and as I had no footman, they were doubly welcome. It was wonderful how well I did without Alfred, though; I really hardly missed him. I do not think he is a good travelling servant, though Priggins says I am hard to please; for the last time I went to stay at Blenheim, he was fast asleep when the train stopped, and Goode was looking after the luggage, so I had to find him myself. It was most ridiculous having to awake my own footman, when he ought to have been looking after me, and a horrid Irish porter said:
‘Well, my lady, except for the honour of the thing, you might as well be without him.’
Goode managed wonderfully. She is a very active servant, quite different from my others, and I hope I may keep her, for Hester found her for me; but Priggins thinks her rather vulgar, she is so willing to help any one, instead of ‘keeping herself to herself,’ as she calls it. My dear niece collected all my wrap and my travelling-bag, whilst Dr. Bevan escorted me to the fly that was waiting, and we drove off; her father remaining to take charge of Goode and my boxes. Up the steep hill and narrow streets, Flowergate and Baxtergate, curious names like the old streets in Chester; jet shops everywhere, looking as if the whole town were in mourning; then through a long modern street and up to the Crescent; and there was the sea — I must say it was a grand sight. And there was Hester with her dear arms round my neck, so happy to be together again.
‘Isn’t, it lovely,’ she said, ‘this grand beautiful ocean? Nothing between us and Norroway, as the boatmen say. Come to your room, dear Gertrude. Gerty has undertaken to make it as comfy as possible, only in a lodging one can’t have all home comforts, you know; but we are so enjoying it. This is our sitting-room, really so nice and clean, I thought we were quite fortunate in securing these rooms.’
Yes, there was the sitting-room. The carpet was green; there was a scarlet-and-black table-cover; the curtains were scarlet, with black braid; there were two card-tables folded up against the walls, a black horsehair couch, and a cupboard with some frightful china in it between the windows; the chairs were covered with blue damask. I took it all in at a glance, and felt as if I could not live a month in the room, unless we were always sitting down to hide the blue chairs from the green carpet. But Gerty said, ‘This is your own corner, dear aunty;’ and in the bow window, turned away from the sea and facing the old church and St. Hilda, were a comfortable chair and small table; and many pleasant hours I spent there. It was really beautiful, and Gerty is such a darling, that when I forgot all my home worries and Mrs. Priggins, I began to enjoy myself more than I could have thought possible. Dear Hester gave me the best room over the sitting-room, she and Dr. Bevan squeezing into the smaller bedroom and tiniest dressing-room I ever saw; but she never minds anything of that sort, and besides, she had a view of the sea from that room, which was more enjoyment than having the best room that ever was built. I was rather knocked up by my journey, and glad to rest a short time in my room: Gerty brought me a cup of tea, so much nicer than what Priggins gives me. She is looking so pretty, dear child. The next day Hester said, ‘We dine at two, Gertrude, and have severe tea at eight.’ I looked forward with dread to a two-o’clock dinner. I must say I like the smallest possible dishes cooked in the best possible way. I like my little silver bowl of soup and my tiny filets of sole; lamb-cutlets with some button mushrooms (Dr. Thonick does not forbid them), a grouse or a partridge when in season, an omelette with the slightest soupçon of Parmesan, and no sweets, unless it is a meringue or two served with a little crême à la Vanille, and slightly iced. I knew dear Hester never had the faintest idea how delicate my digestion was; she never could understand it, never had more stomach than a sea-anemone herself, and never minded more than they do what she put into it. However, Gerty and I had a little stroll about twelve o’clock, and I began to feel more inclined to eat when two struck.
‘What excellent mutton, Hester!’ I said. ‘I never have a leg of mutton at home — Priggins always says she fears the smell would upset me; but this is excellent.’
‘So glad, dear Gertrude,’ said my sister — ‘let me give you a tiny bit more before I sit down.’
She had been helping the whole family, Dr. Bevan included; she never let him have the trouble of carving at home; and as, he used to say, she thought she did it so much better than he did, he never interfered. The boys are so good — fine handsome fellows too — and she manages them wonderfully. There was such a capital tart — two indeed. I never thought of touching such a thing, but Hester insisted:
‘My dear Gertrude, don’t you remember how we used to eat Paradise tart together? I had it on purpose for your first day. You must have some; far better than all those things Dr. Thonick gives you.’
Such a dinner as dear Hester had herself! Enough to surprise a sea-anemone even. ‘Too hot for roast mutton,’ she said; so Harry brought her a piece of cheese — Cheshire too — then Paradise tart, and then a large plate of strawberries. ‘None the worse, dear?’ I said gently; and she really had no recollection of anything extraordinary. Wonderful how very differently our internal works must be arranged! I think hers must be those of a large kitchen-clock, and mine intended for a Geneva watch set in a bracelet. But I have done with our dinners; I will not mention the subject again.
Gerty took me down to the quay, and in a few days she actually persuaded me to get into a boat, and through the harbour out into the open sea. It really was enjoyable, and I got interested in the tales she extracted from the old boatman. The mouth of the harbour is very narrow, with a lighthouse on each side, and often the man said the waves washed over them. I did not believe him then, but I put a trifle into the lifeboat collecting-box when we landed. He told us of one vessel being in distress, and the lifeboat going out to it, but the crew had taken to their boat, which on this shore is almost always fatal; there were eleven hammocks ready to turn into, but the only sound in the vessel was a canary-bird singing in the cabin: not a man was ever seen alive.
Another schooner came on the rocks under Church Hill, and the crew were landed in safety by a rope thrown to them, the captain standing by his wife and baby, fastening the rope round each man as he was launched through the waves. When he put it round his wife and himself, his hands shook so, the knot was insecure; he was holding the baby tight in his one arm. The knot gave way just as they neared the shore. He threw his child to the hundred hands stretched out to help them, and sank with his wife into the hungry waters, crushed between the vessel and the rocks. The baby lived, and is now a married woman.
Then there was Carter’s large dog to see — a beautiful black retriever, which had come ashore in Robin Hood’s Bay from some vessel. For three days, poor fellow, he would let no one touch him, and refused food, wandering about on the sands, occasionally swimming out a little distance, and then returning with a low howl, stretching himself on the sand, as if watching for his master to come to shore. Poor fellow, that master will never be seen again till the sea gives up her dead. After three days he was worn out, and came to Carter for food and water, and then jumped into his boat: he has been his faithful companion ever since. And there was Flamborough Head to hear about too: the sailors said many a ship had been kept off the rocks by the warning cries of the sea-birds, which they listened for and could hear above the winds and waves; but that now so many gentlemen (?) went to shoot them, there would soon be none left; so Mr. Sykes is none too soon in bringing forward his Sea-Bird Preservation Bill, as I shall tell him when I meet him in London next year. And Gerty and I read Marmion together, sitting among the ruins of St. Hilda’s Abbey; I never enjoyed it so much before.
I said I dropped a trifle into the lifeboat collecting-box, little thinking of the romance I was to witness in the midst of an awful storm. I wished myself back in my own snug house, with Priggins even. To begin at the beginning. Dr. Bevan said the glass was falling; and it fell steadily for twenty-four hours; the sky also threatening ‘very dirty,’ as the boatmen said, when we walked home by the quay. At night the wind rose, and the rain! — I never heard anything like the rattling of the rain against the windows and the howling of the wind; and next morning the sea! — quite terrible it was. We stood watching from the windows wave after wave rolling in and breaking over the lower lighthouse. Carter had only told us the truth.
‘ “The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly,” ’ said poor Hester, with her arm round little Ned; but he looked up into her face with his great blue eyes.
‘Go on, mother,’ he said; ‘go on, finish the verse: “but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.” That’s the rest of it, you know.’
‘Yes, my boy,’ said Dr. Bevan; ‘a fine old sailor said three hundred years ago, “Heaven is as near by sea as He is by land.” Three hundred years have made no difference; unchanged and unchangeable, He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’
The rain ceased about noon, but the wind seemed rather to increase than diminish. Soon after four, Dr. Bevan and the boys came in and told us there was a vessel in danger, nearing the port. ‘She is too much shattered to put out into the open sea, and the boatmen say she never will be able to get round the rocks into the harbour, such a night as this.’
‘Will the lifeboat be out, father?’ said Gerty. ‘I must go and see if it is. I have always wanted to see one go out. You will take me, won’t you, and aunt Gertrude too? — By the bye, aunty, do you remember your poor Goode comes from a village near this? She has been so anxious all day about the storm; I’ll go and tell her of this ship.’
Away went Gertrude, and in a few minutes returned.
‘Father,’ she said, ‘Goode is so anxious; she says, could you find out the names of the men who are going in the lifeboat? I think,’ and Gerty smiled for a moment, ‘she is terribly anxious about some of them.’
Kind Dr. Bevan went out again, and little Ned insisted on going too.
‘I’ll put on my uniform, father, and then they’ll be sure to answer all your questions, you know, when they see I belong to the navy. — May I, mother?’
‘Yes, darling,’ said Hester, and the tears came into her eyes, though we were more inclined to laugh at the child rushing away to put on this beloved uniform, which he was only permitted to wear on Sundays until his knickerbockers were all worn out.
Thanks, of course, to Ned and his uniform, Dr. Bevan soon returned with a list of the names, which Gerty brought to Goode whilst she was in my room. She was very nervous, and the tears were in her eyes. I thought something was wrong in the morning, for she forgot to give me a handkerchief, and positively was putting my cap on the wrong way.
‘Does your father belong to the lifeboat?’ I said.
‘I don’t know, my lady,’ she said, and turned away with shaking hands to leave the room.
‘Look at the list and tell me,’ I said; and Gerty, dear child, actually put her arm round her, and helped her to read the names.
‘O, thank you, Miss Bevan,’ she said, ‘thank you, my lardy. No, he’s not down for it. I am so much obliged to you, Miss Bevan. Can I do anything more, my lady?’ And left the room without waiting for my answer.
‘My dear aunt, I’m sure it is not her father’s name she expected to see, though you so kindly suggested her respected parent.’
‘My dearest Gerty, do you think it possible she should have a lifeboat lover! I never thought of it.’
It was nearly seven, when numbers of people passed the house. The lifeboat was ordered out, the vessel showing signals of distress; all were rushing down to see, and we followed. The wind had suddenly ceased, but the sea was the same awful sight; the spray, dashed from the rocks, reached as far as the Terrace houses. There were hundreds of people present, all helping to draw the great lifeboat on its carriage out of the shed where it was kept. There were thirteen men standing separate, watching the progress of the lifeboat to the pier.
‘That is the crew,’ said Dr. Bevan, pointing to them.
Suddenly a tall fine-looking young man pushed his way rapidly through the crowd and joined the thirteen. There were some hurried words.
‘I had a good five miles to come,’ he said, ‘and I started as soon as I heard any talk of the boat being wanted.’
‘Well, my lad,’ said the man he addressed, ‘I thought you might not turn up, so I took your place for you; but it’s your right and you to go, there’s no doubt.’
‘Thank you kindly, uncle,’ said the young fellow; ‘I am main glad to be in time. Take my coat, will ye, and here’s my watch. I’d ha’ been sorely vexed if I’d been too late; you’ve a many more to look after than me.’
‘But I’ve had my life, and yours is but beginning. Charlie,’ the uncle said, taking the young man’s coat and putting his watch into his own pocket. ‘Dunno be rash now. I’ll give it to your mother, I s’pose, if so be as — ’
‘Ay, give it to mother; there’s nobody else cares about me,’ Charlie said bitterly.
The elder man had no time to answer. Just at that moment there was a scream from the hill above us, and a woman ran wildly down through them all. They all made way for her, and straight on she came to where the thirteen, the lifeboat crew, were standing, close to us. Good gracious, it was my maid! I could scarcely believe my own eyes.
‘Charlie, Charlie!’ she shrieked, ‘you’ll not go! What should you go for? What’s the ship to you? O, my lady, tell him not to!’ and then she burst into tears.
Charlie’s face looked radiant instead of sorrowful.
‘Then you’ve not forgotten me, my darlin’,’ he said. He took her in his arms for a moment. ‘I thought you had clean forgotten me and taken up with somebody ever so grand in London.’
‘You couldn’t think that, Charlie,’ she said, sobbing.
‘I did, though; but I’ll never think it again, never.’
‘And you’ll not go in that boat, Charlie?’
‘I must, Mary dear,’ he said, quite grave and determined. ‘If they drownded, I’d have their blood on me else. God bless you! Kiss me, there’s a good girl; they’re off?’
He was in the boat, waved his hand once, and, amidst cheers and sobs, away they pulled. Gertrude stood with the tears in her eyes waving her handkerchief, and I felt strangely inclined to cry too. I never saw such a scene before; and my poor little Goode clinging to Gerty, trying to watch the boat, and then hiding her face when a wave seemed to swallow them up. It was dreadful. They mounted on the crest of the wave, and a loud hurrah rang from the crowd. Again they were lost, and not a sound was uttered until she was seen once more, and then the cheers redoubled. They saved the poor crew, and came back all safe; but we went home before their return, for it was more than we could bear.
‘O, Miss Bevan, please ask my lady to forgive me; I don’t know how to look my lady in the face again,’ I overheard poor Goode say. It is so strange for servants to show their feelings, one is apt to forget they have any.
But why was it my lot to go to Whitby and then to have a storm; and, above all things, to have a maid who had a lover; and not only that, but a lifeboat lover? Why did it not happen to Lady Verney or Miss Kavanagh, or some one who could have made a good story out of it, and not to me, who can only write down just what happened — and to a person, like myself, with delicate nerves, to whom excitement is prejudicial? And yet, would you believe it, when I returned to town, Dr. Thonick said my pulse was stronger, and that I was all the better for his prescription.
‘Which?’ I said.
‘Why, my dear lady, did I not send you to Whitby, the finest air in the world?’
How extraordinary! I only went on Hester’s account. He must have been thinking of somebody else.
Now that is all I have to say about Whitby. It happened two years ago. This summer Hester asked me again, and I joined them at Ilfracombe.
‘My dear aunt,’ said Gertrude, the first evening, ‘come and sit in the little balcony, and I will tell you all about everything you can see. Ned and I have been out boating ever since we arrived, and the boatmen tell us everything. I delight in the boatmen.’
‘Tell me one thing, Gerty — is there a lifeboat?’
‘I should think so,’ she answered, laughing. ‘My dearest aunt, it’s an awful coast — quite lovely, but terrible for ships. She was out last September twice. They saved the crew of one vessel, but the other foundered just before they reached her. Now look opposite — that pretty little hill.’ (‘With the little chapel on the top, my dear?’) ‘Yes, it was a chapel, St. Nicholas’ Chapel, where the fishermen always went to say their prayers before going out in their boats; but they made the little tower into a lighthouse, and the nave into a cottage for the light-houseman — shameful, I call it!
‘That grand hill to the right, nearly four hundred feet high, is Hillsborough Cliff, and between us and Hillsborough is Rapparee Cove, where some Spanish gold ships went ashore — they sometimes find doubloons even now washed up by the tide. And beyond Hillsborough is Hele Bay and Watermouth Caves; we must go there, we can row through them at high water; and farther on is Hangman’s Hill, called so from a man who stole a sheep there; he got over a gate with the sheep on his back; the creature struggled, and he had not strength to pull it over, so was hanged by the weight of it. Lovely coast, dear aunt, with the most beautiful little bays and coves all along, only intended for the mermaids; for nothing but a bird can possibly get to them except in a boat. To the left hand, about seven miles off, is Morte Bay, where so many ships are wrecked: the sunken rocks go out so far, and there is no lighthouse; and then Bideford Bay and Clovelly are about twenty miles off; you read of them in Westward Ho; and Lundy Island quite plain on a clear day. That is Tenby opposite; and now I am as good as a guide-book, don’t you think?’
‘A great deal better, dear Gerty. But you are looking very thin and pale — where is your pretty colour gone, my dear?’
She had plenty of it that moment, but I did very much want to question her a little. She had had a most excellent offer; one she might well have accepted had she been my daughter instead of Hester’s: and positively she had refused it, for the sake of a Mr. Alan Wingfield, the tall rector of a small rectory, with what she called a lovely little church, that Mr. Gilbert Scott would go down on his knees to look at. So foolish of her! How could they live on three hundred pounds a year, with choir and schools and old women and almshouses, and coals for the old people in winter, and treats for the young people in summer, may-poles and harvest-homes all the year round?
That was how this Mr. Alan Wingfield lived now, and he said he could not give it up; and her father said, with all his sons he could not allow her more than fifty pounds a year; and so her mother said they must wait, and not see too much of each other, but have patience. They had been exceedingly foolish, I thought, and I was rather put out by the whole affair. My advice had never been asked; but I resolved to give Gertrude a little of it as we sat together on the cliffs one fine day, looking out on the sea, which was smooth as glass.
‘My dear,’ I said, ‘I always like going straight to my point. My dear, what in the world made you refuse Sir William?’
‘I didn’t like him, aunt Gertrude.’
‘A regular young lady’s answer, Gertrude’ I said; ‘it was a most desirable thing for you. You would have had everything you could wish for: you could have helped on your brothers, you know. I cannot understand it at all.’
‘I’ll explain it at once,’ she said composedly. ‘He was forty and I am nineteen; very ugly and disagreeable; and he made so sure I must say yes, that I was rather pleased to say no. Besides, Alan Wingfield likes me and I like him, so there was an end to it at once.’
‘My dear,’ I said, as severely as I could, ‘I think this rectory business a very foolish thing altogether. You cannot marry him. He may be very good and delightful, but there is hardly a girl in the county that would have refused Sir William. His diamonds are beautiful; I have seen his first wife wear them.’
‘They were always kept at the Bank, and whenever she was allowed to wear them, Sir William watched her as a cat does a mouse, so afraid she might lose some.’
‘Sir James never let me keep my jewels at home either,’ I said, ‘he was so afraid of thieves. But, Gerty, think of the gardens and the carriages and horses Sir William has.’
‘And, my dear aunt, perhaps you don’t know he is frantic if the horses are kept waiting a minute, and no one is allowed to cut flowers but himself or the head-gardener.’
‘O, my dear, Sir James was very particular about his horses, and I remember getting into trouble too. I picked an orchid that had never flowered in England before. Of course I did not know; but I never shall forget his face when he saw it in my hair that evening, and I thought I looked so nice; and he had asked Mr. Bateman, the great authority upon orchids, to come and look at it: it was not long after we married, and it was provoking. And when Mr. Bateman came next day — O, dear me, I never shall forget it!’
‘Well,’ said Gertrude, ‘I think I would rather have a ring or a bracelet I could wear every day in peace than a box full at the Bank; and I think a basket-carriage and a pretty pony with a long tail, that you can tie up at a gate, more fun than a fine carriage and those terribly precious horses; and I think too, though I am very fond of flowers, that one can have as much enjoyment in one’s roses and mignonette and sweet-peas as great ladies have in their great gardens, with a great gardener always after them, not allowing them to pick this or move that. Mother has been very happy always,’ she added, ‘though we are not at all rich.’
Would any one believe it? Quite forgetting I ought to contradict her, as I was on Sir William’s side, I was stupid enough to say, ‘My dear child, to tell the truth I think your mother’s married life much happier than mine was.’
‘I’m so very glad, dear aunt, and I’m sure you’ll like Alan when you see him far better than Sir William; and we are both young enough to wait a little. He is wonderfully clever too, aunt Gertrude; he did something quite out of the way at Oxford.’
Positively Gerty persuaded me to go out fishing! We were constantly boating and exploring the beautiful coast, and I felt better and stronger than I had done for long; so we went out fishing — it was the best way of enjoying the sea-breezes. We had what I thought at the time a little adventure. It was this. We went down beyond the Torrs one afternoon, cast anchor, and began to fish. Gertrude caught a great many, and so did our boatman: they were very anxious I should catch some, but they would not come to my line at all. Davie looked at the sky and said it was very dirty, and looked threatening for a bad night. There were a good many boats out near us, fishing too, and a great many small schooners and other vessels going up and down the Channel. One of these passing called out, there was a vessel coming up wanted a pilot. The boat nearest us belonged to old Williams, who has all the lobster-pots. Gerty and I went one day to see him haul them up; imagine my amazement at seeing dark-blue creatures spotted with Bismark brown! ‘O,’ I said, ‘London lobsters are scarlet,not blue.’ ‘Yes,’ said Gerty, laughing, ‘and London chickens carry their livers under their wings; but they don’t do that elsewhere.’ Well, old Williams began winding up his lines, and Gerty asked if he were a pilot.
‘O yes,’ said Davie, ‘and so am I.’
‘And is he going to the vessel?’
‘Maybe, and I’d like to go too.’
‘What will they give you?’
‘O, ten shillings or thereabouts.’
‘My dear aunt,’ said Gertrude, ‘do let us go?’ So the lines were pulled in and the anchor hauled up, and away we went, as hard as Davie could pull. Just as we started, a sailing-boat started too. We had no sails, and she gained on us; but the tide was in our favour, and Davie a strong young fellow, and we went through the water wonderfully fast. There was the vessel down below Lee Bay, keeping well out in the Channel. Then Gertrude offered to take an oar, and Davie gladly accepted her help, for she can pull exceedingly well; but the other boat kept drawing nearer and nearer.
‘It is quite exciting, aunty, is it not? I feel as if we were pursued by pirates.’
‘My dear, don’t speak of pirates in the Bristol Channel; what would Mr. Childers say?’
We actually won the race. We went close up to the vessel; she was the William Pitt, from Cardiff to Jersey, heavily laden with coals; so the master was afraid to go out, as the weather looked so threatening, but after all she would not come into harbour, so Davie did not get his ten shillings. She threw us a rope, and towed us up, anchoring for the night under Hillsborough Cliffs. We had a gale that night and a thunderstorm; next morning was lovely, and the William Pitt went on her way.
On Sunday we were rather late going to church. We could not see the clergymen from our seat near the door; but when the Litany began, Gertrude, who was next me, gave a great jump, and then got very red, kneeling very devoutly and hiding her face till it was finished. It was Alan Wingfield who read this part of the service. He found us out, and came in the afternoon: he had only arrived the evening before, and knowing the vicar, had offered to help him. They walked together to the evening service. He is very good-looking, I must say. But only think, she might have had diamonds!
And now I must tell what made me first think of writing down these little events; but for the following adventure, I perhaps never should have done so.
Gertrude wished to take me to the Watermouth Caves, to search for anemones and other wonders of the deep; so she settled we should drive there, as we could only find them at low water, and at low water it was not pleasant going in a boat, as the tide was against us the whole way. We set off at two o’clock one Thursday afternoon, driving past the little village of Hele, then through ‘Squire Bassett’s’ property, to the gate of one of his fields, which opens out into wild cliffs, tracts of fern, and low-growing oaks. Telling the driver we should be an hour, and leaving the carriage to wait for us, we started across the field; but Gerty, finding it hot, went back to the carriage and put in her Algerian bernouse. It was a wide-striped blue-and-white one. ‘I hope the man will take care of it,’ she said, ‘for he gave it me:’ the he being Alan of course.
It was fortunate for us that he had given it. Well, we walked across the short dry turf, near a little stream, which was almost hidden by the masses of fern, large willow herb, and reeds growing on its banks, till we came to a fence and rail, the entrance to the little wood which led to the caves, down a very steep path. A lark was singing so beautifully over our heads as we walked along. When we reached the fence, Gertrude said, ‘There was a keeper here the first time I came; but I know my way.’
Each with a basket for collecting our treasures, which were to be the commencement of an aquarium, holding on by the branches, we went down through the little wood, by the half-formed steps and steep narrow path, till we found ourselves on dry sand and pebbles, with the long natural tunnel before us. It was a wonderful sight; the rocks hanging overhead in arches, and through the last arch a glimpse of the sea was visible, green as an emerald. It was quite low water. There was a small brook, if I may so call it, between us and the large stones and boulders covered with sea-weed beyond; masses of them, one after the other, all shapes and sizes, as far as we could see.
Gerty jumped lightly over the little stream — so clear, we saw every pebble — and holding my hand, I did the same, and we found ourselves on the rocks, inside the caves. The novelty of the scene and the wonderful stillness were delightful. There was really no sound: nothing but ‘the water lapping on the crags’ below us, and an occasional shrill cry of a seagull. We went on and on, in wonder and admiration, before commencing our search for anemones. When we began, they were so beautiful, we were quite engrossed, and time never occurred to either of us, nor tide either. They wait for no man, and they waited not for us. We found hermit crabs, anemones of every shade of red — brown ones with bright blue spots, which Gertrude called turquoise necklaces they could always wear, and never send to be shut up in the Bank. We were really quite in a new life of enjoyment, and after my life in London, it was enough to take up my thoughts. We were at the far end of the caves — in fact outside them, and on the rocks that form the narrow straits at its entrance, looking at the wide sea and beautiful coast — when Gerty suddenly put her hand on my arm. She did not speak, but pointed to the caves through which we had come, and through which we were to return.
We both stood transfixed.
‘What o’clock is it?’ were her first words.
‘4.30,’ I said.
‘Is it possible? Have we been here two hours nearly? We had better see if it is yet possible to return by the caves, and if not, we must try and get up the higher rocks outside. I will try the depth with my parasol.’
‘Take mine,’ I said; ‘it is larger.’
She stepped along the great stones back to the entrance of the caves, and I followed her in a kind of dream. A great part of the boulders inside had disappeared. Perhaps a boy might yet have scrambled through, holding on to the sides and jumping from one to the other; but at the farther end, the tiny brook we had crossed so easily was a deep wide flood — a river.
We are not the first who have been overtaken by the tide, and I am afraid we shall not be the last; but to my dying day I shall never forget the strange, cold, sick feeling that came over me, when I saw that wide gulf between us and safety. How changed the whole scene was! That which had appeared so beautiful seemed now a great monster eager for its prey; the quiet ‘water lapping on the crags,’ an enemy thirsting for us, ever drawing nearer and nearer.
Gerty turned her pale face to me.
‘Aunty dear,’ she said, ‘we cannot return by the caves; we must make our way back quickly, and get on higher ground at once. We can scramble up some of the rocks; take care where you tread, for the sea-weed is slippery; let me go first.’
She passed me and went on, step by step, pausing to hold her hand or parasol as a help to me. We climbed up some large rocks — fear alone enabled me to do it — and when out of reach of water, then, at least, we paused to take breath and look around us.
‘Aunt Gertrude, we must go higher yet. I think if we can reach that large round rock, it looks dry; at any rate, it is dry now, and if we can go no farther, we must trust to a boat passing near, that will take us off soon.’
She was so calm, she kept me calm; and on we went again, she first, as before, helping me up, from ledge to ledge and crag to crag, till we reached the rock she had singled out. I was so tired and nervous then, I trembled all over. She took off her jacket, spread it for me, and made me sit down on what she called the most comfortable corner. She had a small bottle of eau-de-cologne in her pocket, and she bathed my forehead and gave it me to smell. Dear child, I shall never smell eau-de-cologne again without feeling as if I were on that rock. After first examining our locale, she seated herself on a ledge a little below me.
‘I do not feel sure we are above high-water mark,’ she said, ‘but we can get no higher, and we must stand up if the tide does reach us. Some fishing-boats or pleasure-boats must pass soon. I wish I had brought my bernouse to make into a flag.’
It was fortunate for us she had not.
‘My dear,’ I said, and I know my voice was very shaky, ‘you feel quite sure we shall not be drowned?’
‘I cannot feel sure, dear aunty; we must trust and hope,’ she said, looking up with almost a smile at me, and then at the blue sky above us.
‘He bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep,’
she added, clasping her hands upon her knees.
I felt she was praying. Somehow I could not pray; but a sort of review of my life passed before me — my self-indulgent life; my money spent chiefly on myself; my once to church on Sundays, when fine; my visiting or visitors on Sunday afternoons; my sociable little dinners on Sunday evenings; the perfect indifference for anything like holiness. I scarcely knew what holiness meant. And all my wealth! What good was it now to me? and how much I might have done with it! Everything seemed to glide before me. I could not retain one fixed thought, or event, or deed; another seemed to rise up behind it and take its place; and that was in its turn swept away by another; and all the time my eyes were fixed on a star-fish in a little pool of water left by the last tide; but how long would it be there? It would be washed away out into the deep by the next. It was below me. I could not tell how far, it seemed about a yard below me, perhaps more; the salt water had not reached it yet, but was rushing in, nearer and nearer. I sat watching it stretch out all its points, then coming in contact with a red anemone, instantly retreat. I saw it without attending to it. All the time my thoughts were filled with my life; then some words came into my mind, and I seemed, as it were, two different persons; at least there was an answer to what I said. The words kept repeating themselves over and over again, ‘Thou hast much goods laid up for many a year.’ And the answer always came, ‘This night thy soul shall be required.’ Over and over again they rang in my ears, and at last it seemed more than I could bear.
‘No, no, not this night, not this night!’ I said.
I covered my face with my hand, and with my whole heart I said again,
‘O, spare me! — not this night, my God; not this night, I bcseech Thee!’
Dear Gertrude raised herself on her narrow ledge beside me, and putting her arm round my neck, kissed me several times, and then she said she would make a signal if I would give her my handkerchief to add to hers. She fastened them to her parasol, and every now and then waved them in the air.
That dreadful little lark was singing again, louder and louder, higher and higher; it sounded so different now.
Gerty looked at my watch-twenty minutes past five! It seemed hours that we had been sitting there. I looked down; the little pool below me had spread wider, deeper, and the star-fish had disappeared.
Suddenly I thought a voice called out ‘Gertrude!’ She started up. ‘Here, Alan, here!’ and then burst into tears. There was a pause. She waved the handkerchief as high as she could again. I heard voices. They were above us. ‘Lady Chester! Gertrude!’ they were calling.
I tried to answer, but only a sob came. Gertrude recovered herself; she was quite calm and collected again. She answered in a high clear tone,
A few moments more, and a head appeared over the cliff some twenty feet above us.
It was Alan Wingfield.
‘Take care, take care!’ she screamed; ‘you must go round and bring a boat for us; we are quite safe yet; you cannot come this way, Alan.’
There was another voice, and then Alan said,
‘We are going for a boat; we shall be with you very soon; stay where you are, Gertrude dear; don’t try to move till I come.’
She kissed her hand to him, and the head disappeared; she sat down again, and we both had a good cry together; and then she tried to laugh, and said she must undo the flag, for our handkerchiefs were wanted to wipe away our tears. Then she kissed me again and we waited hand in hand, the tide every now and then washing up to the rock on which we were.
O, the joy of seeing the boat come round the corner of the reef! There was Alan Wingfield, and a keeper, and a boatman. It belonged to Mr. Bassett, of Watermouth Castle. Alan and the keeper jumped out on to the rocks, the spray dashing over them as they landed. In a few minutes, splashing through the water, they stood on the crag below us. It was a large flat one covered with sea-weed, and they stood tolerably firm on it, though nearly up to their knees in water.
‘Thank God, my darling!’ Alan said, holding up his arms to take her.
‘Aunt Gertrude first, please, Alan. ’
But I could not allow that.
‘No, thank you,’ I said; ‘I shall feel safer with that good keeper.’
It made no difference to him, which of us he saved, for I am not very heavy, and a great difference to Alan; so he lifted her down, and splashing again through the waves, and slowly feeling his way for sure footing on the rocks, he reached the boat; and a few minutes after I was beside her, safe, but O, so wet! O, the happiness of feeling safe once more! and O, the happiness of standing on dry land again!
My knees shook so, I could hardly walk the half mile to the carriage. On our way we heard how we had been rescued. Alan Wingfield left Ilfracombe for a long walk round by the old church of Berrynarbor; he passed our empty carriage, when suddenly he saw the blue-and-white bernouse. Turning round, he asked the driver for whom he was waiting. He replied, he had brought two ladies from the town; they had gone to the caves, and bid him stop. At that moment, the keeper came up, and when he heard ladies had gone to the caves, he said, ladies did not generally go without him, but he had been to the funeral of his wife’s mother, and only just returned. Looking at his watch, he said:
‘No ladies can be in the caves now; tide’s been flowing two hours and more.’
Much alarmed, Alan and he hurried through the field to the little wood. Alan insisted on descending the little steep path to the caves; and his horror may easily be imagined on seeing them half filled with water.
‘I told you, sir,’ said the keeper, ‘they could not be down here now, and alive. Tide rises six feet an hour in them caves. They may have gotten on to the rocks outside; and our best way is up again and over the hill that is above us, and look down on the cliffs for them.’
So up again they hurried, and out of the wood, and through the ferns and brushwood; scrambling down the almost precipitous cliff, and then on hands and knees approaching the edge, Alan succeeded in letting us know help was at hand. He had called several times before we heard, and almost in despair, was sending off the keeper for a rope, when Gertrude’s ‘Here, Alan, here!’ sounded from below.
‘Ay, the gentleman was thankful, indeed he was, miss,’ said the good keeper, with a smile at Gerty, as he helped me into the carriage; ‘and I hope there’s many years’ happiness in store for both of you.’ I told him to call next day, and a five-pound note very much delighted him. I could not sleep that night. I lay awake, going over that long hour of agony again and again, thankful that this night my soul had not been required of me. Over and over again I thanked God for sparing us. Then I tried to arrange some plans for the future; and this is what I have determined on:
I shall let my house in London, and take a very pretty old-fashioned manor-house in Alan Wingfield’s parish. Priggins shall leave me. I have settled three hundred a year on my dear niece Gertrude. They are to be married on the 18th October; and I am very glad she refused Sir William.
WHEN I was a little girl, I was given one birthday that delicious story of Norwegian life, Feats on the Fiord. Hitherto a brown musty-smelling copy of the Vicar of Wakefield — its type disfigured by long s’s — a volume of Scott’s poems, and some of Andersen’s fairy tales had been the chief delights of a lonely childhood spent in a quiet country house. Feats on the Fiord opened to me a new chapter of romance: I can vividly recall the eager delight with which I pored over it, till every glowing tint of the free bright world to which it transported me became far more real than my colourless every-day life of commonplace and routine. In my childish heart there woke wild visions of a future, in which I, grown up, should in some fashion, the details of which I never troubled myself to think out, attain the acme of felicity, turn my face northward, and live a glorious life of my own among the blue fiords and snowy fjelds of ‘Gamle Norge.’ Change came to that quiet home, and amid new scenes and fuller life the old dreams were almost forgotten. Not entirely, though, only rationalised, — I no longer wished to exchange England for Norway en permanence; but whenever I came across the little well-worn book which had opened to me the fairyland of my childhood, I used to send a little hopeless wish, after the realisation of my old projects. ‘All things are for him who knows how to wait,’ says the Wise Man. My opportunity came most unexpectedly; I seized it; and with a friend who like myself was possessed with a spirit of adventure, and content to give up home comforts for a time, determined to put on a brave though feminine courage, and meet with light hearts both the ups and the downs that might await us, we set off in the glooms of November for a year in Bergen.
We have summered it and wintered it among the descendants of the old Vikings since then, and I daresay that some bits from a kind of gossiping journal kept for home eyes, and treating of every-day home life, may find favour with less partial readers, as the great majority of books on Scandinavia are written by passing travellers, and can therefore touch only on the outside of things.
Bergen, November 25th, 186-. — It is just a week to-day since Janet and I for the first time toiled up the slippery ill-paved hills which pass for streets in this part of the world, and already we have settled down into our new home and life, and begin to realise that ‘here we are!’ and, with just a little wonder at our own temerity, that here we must remain, come what may, at least till spring. Now uncle F — is not to shrug his shoulders with that ‘I told you so’ air; he must take back the shrug, for the speedy repentance his prophetic eye foresaw following on our ‘wild undertaking’ has yet to come; here we are, and would not for the world be anywhere else. But of course after the first plunge from the green banks of fancy into the cold waters of fact one may be allowed an involuntary shudder, and wild grasp after any twig of connection with one’s old standing-ground. Our telegram told you of our arrival without giving details, and our first letter was not much better. Here are a few.
Well, imagine us on last Friday evening standing on the wet slippery deck of the steamer (not alone and unfriended, for Fróken Annessen had come on board to welcome us), trying with curious eyes to penetrate the utterly impenetrable cloud of mist and darkness that enwrapped us.
You remember how we had pictured our first sight of Bergen: a dazzling winter scene — mountains, pines, housetops, streets, snow-covered — icicles sparkling everywhere — fur-clad figures flitting about — the air musical with sleigh-bells — for my own part, I expected to find a stand of reindeer sledges on the landing-quay. That was fancy; here is fact.
A very homelike fog composed of equal parts of mist and rain, an uncomfortable gusty wind more chill and cheerless than keen, and for anything we could see of mountains, we might have been anchored in the Humber. We did not wait, however, to bemoan dispelled illusions. The Fróken smoothed away all our difficulties; we soon found ourselves climbing down the ship’s side (a horrid business) into a tiny rocking boat; then came a swift passage over the dark water, a landing on a little wooden quay, and we were in Norway. You can guess how giddy and weary we felt after our four days’ voyage from Copenhagen, as we toiled up and down a succession of slippery hilly streets lighted by the dimmest of lamps. The Fróken introduced us to our landlady and rooms, and invited us most warmly to go to supper at her house; but we longed for rest and quiet, and our first movement was, when left alone, to inspect our beds. Such comical little boxes they are! children’s cribs half grown up, furnished with a feather-bed, downiest of the downy — a regular lazy hollow — a pile of enormous square pillows, and a solitary eider-down coverlet. If one could curl into a ball, dormouse fashion, and sleep without twist or turn till morning, it would be cosy enough; but I not being gifted with more than average power of becoming monumental, and the counterpane being a mere untuckable-in bag of feathers, it spends the night in a series of escapes, and I in a series of captures. I now place a row of chairs every night at each side of the bed to catch it — this saves me the trouble of groping over the floor in the dark; but it persistently prefers taking up its position on either row to staying where it ought to be. That first night we did feel lonely. A horrid eerie sense of far-awayness from you all — ‘being pendent from our own hook,’ as Janet slangily put it — made us leave our door of communication open, and hold rather a sentimental dialogue, ended by a ‘good-night’ sent over the water. I hope its warmth was not washed out by the time it reached you.
We have had quite a busy week of unpacking and settling in. Our rooms now look really pretty and home-like — foreign, and not exactly comfortable, for we miss thick English carpets and curtains. Our sitting-room — dagligstue it is called here — is a large oblong room, with two French windows reaching almost from floor to ceiling; the floor is painted a light golden brown, and shines like satin wood; there is a little island of carpet in the centre, scarcely larger than an English hearth-rug; the walls and ceiling too are painted — the former a pale pearly blue, with a narrow cornice of ultramarine and gold; the latter glossy white, like satin: the paint here is most peculiar — such a sheen, without the hard surface of varnish. Between the windows there is a long narrow mirror in a heavily-carved frame of dark wood. They are hung with white muslin; and at each side stands a great pot of blue-and-gold china, containing an ivy-plant, which, trained up the walls and along the curtain-rods, falls in lovely graceful wreaths over the clear muslin: is not that pretty? Sofa and chairs are heavy old-fashioned things covered with black damask. We have two rocking-chairs, a large centre and two smaller tables, a tiny chiffonnier, and a remarkably tall piano, which Janet has succeeded in hiring to her great joy; then our crimson bookshelves hang on each side of the great stove opposite the windows: this morning we unpacked our books. That is a long description, but I know you want to see us in our new home as we see you in the old. I wish I could show you Ingebor, our pige, meaning maid. Such a bonnie golden-haired lassie, dressed in the peasant costume, a dark petticoat with bright scarlet bodice; her long hair drawn back by a scarlet fillet, and falling below her waist in two long thick plaits; her honest simple rosy face aglow with smiles at every attempt we make to open communications, and her great blue eyes widely distended, and wonderingly fixed on the two Engelske damer. No matter how her hands are busied, those eyes never swerve from their gaze at us: she leaves the room backward, that she may not lose for one moment look or gesture, and keeps knocking up against things with the most utter unconcern as to the consequences either to her solid self or our more fragile belongings.
All that first morning, while busy with our unpacking, we peered now and then through the mist outside for the mountains; but all in vain; all that we could discover from the windows of our new world was that they ‘gave’ on a great oblong Platz, about which streaming umbrellas were leisurely moving, or contentedly grouping themselves, while the owners enjoyed a friendly gossip. The annual rain-fall here being greater than that of any other city in Europe, the Bergenese seem to have grown accustomed to a kind of amphibious life: of course in a place where two out of every three days are wet, people must learn to be more or less regardless of weather, unless they wish to be confined to the house for the greater part of the year; but I fear we shall never attain to the true Bergen delight in pouring rain. We have from our dagligstue a view across a small public park; and it affords us the most intense amusement to watch ladies and gentlemen enveloped in waterproofs, and insufficiently sheltered under dripping umbrellas, not only sauntering up and down the spongy paths, but sitting composedly on the wet wooden benches to be rained on.
Feeling we could not too soon begin to accustom ourselves to aquatic habits, we put on waterproofs and goloshes, and unfurling our umbrellas, set forth on a tour of inspection; but we soon found that instead of inspecting, we were being inspected. Nothing could have been less remarkable, more like what was worn by every lady we met, than our dark waterproofs and black hats, so that it must have been some mysterious personal attribute that attracted every eye as we emerged into the street; nothing to feed our vanity, however — if we had been two black-beetles belonging to some hitherto undiscovered genus, the air of calm curious study could not have been more unmistakable. We made our progress, every gentleman we met uncovering in our honour, every lady taking us in in a long silent gaze; peasants and servant-maids returning from the fish-market, with enormous cods hanging by the gills from their fingers, the tails trailing along the ground, stopped to criticise; while all of young Bergen not just then at school formed a volunteer escort up and down the muddy streets. It was my first experience of a bodyguard, and I felt more indignant than honoured. Janet bore it with admirable philosophy. I see our Fróken crossing the Platz in our direction; we are going to plunge into society under her chaperonage, to make a round of morning calls. Strangers here make the first call — odd, isn’t it? I shall tell you all about it to-morrow.
November 28th. — Almost a week since I wrote the last lines; but as we have sent off two packets of letters in the interval, I have not had much leisure for journalising. It is so nice to talk to you all, even on paper, and you should see how we watch the postman! Postbuden he is up here, and does not come with the brisk rat-tat of our English wont; he heralds his approach here by a horn solo given at every street-corner as the post, consisting of two mud-bespattered caravans, makes its appearance. The letters are first taken to the office to be sorted. We have two hours at least of horrid suspense before postbuden comes to us, during which time we sit clinking any number of skillings, for we have to purchase each letter with a small copper coin. We have learned to know his tramp on the uncarpeted staircase, and mind you let us hear it often, poor wretched exiles that we are!
I have to tell you of our visits to Bergen’s élite. From eleven to one o’clock is the time here for ceremonious calls. At about half-past ten we set out in the midst of a thick fall of half-melted snow, which had lasted all night and covered the streets with a cold penetrating slush, into which we sank almost ankle deep at every step. We felt some distressful qualms at the idea of introducing our damp and dripping persons into the houses of strangers; but as our little Fróken seemed to think it all right, we made our very first appearance in Scandinavian society as — to quote Mr. Mantalini — ‘moist unpleasant bodies.’
Our first impressions are pleasant — very. Such cordial welcomes we got! Wine was everywhere brought in to drink our ‘Velkommen til Norge og lykkelig ophold’ (Welcome to Norway, and a happy stay). We saw only one gentleman, but liked the ladies much: most of them speak English. The houses are exquisitely neat, and have a certain simple elegance about them, though they lack the cosiness of home, sweet home. The halls and staircases are ugly, neither mats nor carpets; there is none of the pretty litter scattered about the sitting-rooms, which gives the graceful home air to our English rooms — no books or periodicals on the tables, the music always put tidily away, and the piano closed. Everybody was busy, and the click of the knitting-kneedles kept up a staccato accompaniment to our talk. I am sure we shall not long feel strangers here, every one is so brightly kindly courteous. Fru and fróken answer to the German frau and fräulein, and are used much in the same fashion. There is one little old maiden lady to whom I have taken an immense fancy — a quaint quick little woman, with rippling steel-gray hair and sparkling black eyes framed by the primmest of crimped close caps. She has taught herself English; and though she had never spoken with an English person before, she dashed into fluent conversation with us at once, her brows knit, her pauses of the briefest; for, as she honestly told us, ‘the answers can I not understand.’ ‘How does fróken’ (meaning me) ‘find herself in Norway? I hope frókerne’ (meaning both of us) ‘find themselves good in their new logis. The weather has been bad in the last time; but soon hope I it becomes better. Longs fróken after her family? Lives still the herr pappa and the frue mamma? Fróken must write often and receive many letters, and try to find herself in a strange land. Here are many who are glad in the English, and will prize highly if fróken will see them in their houses and make at home.’ And so on, with the utmost delight and independence of replies. Don’t you think there is something really nice and hospitable in this bringing forth of their best, without waiting to consider if it is positively good before producing it, as we stiff English are prone to do with foreign languages? One old gentleman,whose heart was touched by Janet’s admiration of a beautiful silver-gray, blue-eyed Norwegian cat, a great pet of his, had her words translated to him, and now exclaims with unction when they meet, as if quite charmed to have a subject in common, ‘Glo-ri-ous cot! Fróken! glo-ri-ous cot!’
We are going to the theatre this evening. There is a Danish company here. Good-bye. Janet has opened the door of the stove to let the light flicker out for our twilight talk; unfortunately the smoke comes with it. It is only three o’clock now, and I can hardly see to write. We are going out to walk at five, in mud and darkness. They say they have seen both moon and sun up here. I rather think they delude themselves in thinking so; neither has ‘put in an appearance’ since our arrival.
The clubs are empty; Rotten Row
Is void of life as Martin Tupper
There’s not a mortal wight I know
To ask to dinner or to supper;
One’s friends, one’s cronies, dogs and men,
Are in the country shooting, fishing —
I wonder if Commandment Ten
Is thoroughly applied to wishing.
I’ll haunt my favourite club no more,
I’m wasting daily, growing thinner;
To-night, behind a furtive door,
I eat a modest lonely dinner.
The waiter glared in scornful rage
At me, then soften’d into pity;
I heard him tell the button’d page
That I was some one from the City!
Over the walnuts and the wine
I quite forgot the dismal present,
Until this stolid brain of mine
Was fill’d with something much more pleasant —
Flew backward to my salad days,
When I was young and very gushing,
When I was blest with artless ways,
And ere I’d lost the knack of blushing.
‘A happy thought! By Jove, why not?’ —
My very whiskers grew excited —
‘I’ll go and see this pleasant spot
Where all my youthful days were blighted;
A hero, though of middle age,
I’ll vie with knights of ancient story, —
I too will make a pilgrimage;
I too will revel in its glory.’
With half a sigh, and half a laugh,
And half a bottle from the cellar —
‘Here, waiter, bring my pilgrim’s staff —
I mean my paragon umbrella;
And fill my case with mild cigars,
And, waiter, choose me, if you can, some
Whose ruddy glow will shame the stars;
Then cut away, and call a hansom.’
So off we drove towards the north:
The cabman, drunk and very civil,
Seem’d half inclined to shoot me forth,
And half to drive me to the devil;
Till wild with fear and mad with rage,
‘Stop at the Angel, fool!’ I shouted
(One should not cab a pilgrimage —
There cannot be a doubt about it).
And then towards the Lower-road,
Through pious Islington I wended.
There to the left was her abode,
A dwelling not exactly splendid;
And yet, I think, a Becket’s shrine
Could scarcely call up holier fancies
Than well’d within this heart of mine
Of boyish days aud young romances.
Loo was a little damsel then,
With yearning big blue eyes — ay, bluer
Than any of the ‘upper ten’ —
Perhaps they told their secrets truer;
A curly mass of yellow hair
Down falling in luxuriant tresses;
A voice so sweet, I did not care
For all her aitches’ rash excesses;
A waist seem’d cast in Psyche’s mould,
What wonder that Dan Cupid found it? —
And if her cloak were worn and old,
The more need for an arm around it;
A little hand, toil-hard, yet quite
As shapely as a haughty duchess’;
More honest, perhaps, if not so white,
And full of petting, timorous touches.
A straggler after fame was I,
A dismal kind of poetaster;
But Pegasus, the brute, was shy,
And often threw his would-be master.
Loo lived by making pretty flowers
As well as niggard ladies let her;
Yet of these rival trades of ours,
I’m very sure hers paid the better.
A little farther down the right,
And my old house, how grimly quiet!
Erst ringing all a livelong night
With madcap freak and jovial riot!
O scene of happy student-days,
When life was bright and very sunny,
I think I lived on beer and praise —
I know I did not live on money.
What hours of toil, what midnight oil,
In that old gloomy room were wasted!
And when my Muse was in the ‘blues.’
What sweetly-bitter draughts we tasted!
O jocund times, not soon forgot —
So litle pleasure seem’d to leaven
My whole existence, and my lot
Had been a sort of seventh heaven,
But that my landlady — ah, well,
I think the race were sent to try us —
Possess’d peculiar views on hell,
Was fond of gin, and very pious.
And O, the too proverbial cat
Was always breeding strife between us —
It eat my papers, lost my hat,
And, doubtless shock’d, destroy’d my Venus.
’Twas here, when I was sick abed,
Loo, wondering what could be the matter,
Came to inquire, turn’d tail and fled,
For Mrs. Jones was up and at her;
So from that window quite by stealth
(The creature was so very proper)
I threw a nightly bill of health
Well weighted with a heavy copper.
But I grew better by degrees,
And bolder, till I ventured slyly
To toss her out my bunch of keys,
And Loo would come up trembling shyly.
One night — our last night — we rehearsed
A costumed reading from the drama;
’Twas Shakespeare, with the parts reversed —
Her Romeo was a perfect charmer.
Her dress would bring the Surrey down —
I’d corked her eyebrows and her lashes;
A smoking-cap, a dressing-gown,
A pair of tightly-glued moustaches.
And she was kneeling by my side,
Was loving as a Romeo could be,
Whilst I was wrapp’d in maiden pride,
Yet tender too, as Juliet should be.
We gave ourselves a loud encore,
When something stirr’d, or something sounded,
And there, beside the open door,
My guardian stood, amazed, dumbfounded.
He seized my darling by the waist,
He almost seem’d inclin’d to shake her
(He’d come from Spain in anxious haste,
And he was grandson to a Quaker).
It was a more exciting scene
Than ever Frith or Millais painted:
I turn’d at once a pallid green,
‘And Lucy did the same, and fainted;
I know my guardian look’d an oath,
I’m almost certain that he swore it:
The scene was painful to us both,
And so I’ll drop the curtain o’er it.
’Twas stormy, so I hurried fast
Toward our loved walk by the river;
I used to vow my love would last
As long as it — I meant for ever.
My vow was true: the brutes, alas,
Have damm’d its sweet pellucid water,
And clothed its banks of summer grass
With sticks and stones, and bricks and mortar.
I look’d around and tried to smile,
But here my misery most complete was —
They’d built a chapel on our stile,
A tavern where our rustic seat was!
’Tis half revenge and half relief
To think these grassy banks and lea-land
Will one day echo with the grief
Of some Cook’s tourist from New Zealand.
Love versus honour, versus gold,
We both were half inclined to try it,
But thought our love might e’en grow cold
With flowers and sonnets for a diet;
So here we said a long ‘ good-bye,’
The words were very slowly spoken;
Her eyes were somewhat moist, and I
Was wretched, bilious, and heartbroken.
She’s married now, and growing fat
(A butcher or a baker is it?);
She wrote last month to tell me that
They’d bought my last new book and visite;
And that they often hoped I’d call,
Would find her changed, though not completely;
Should hear the children — nine in all —
Repeat my last productions sweetly.
No, laughing Loo! I’ve posted you
In my heart’s album of illusions;
You’re still, I ween, sweet seventeen,
Whilst I am twenty — vile confusions!
Whilst I am gray, and stout, and old,
And rather blasé, very silly
To sit here shivering in the cold
A thousand miles from Piccadilly!
From London to Southampton, or indeed to Marseilles, by which latter port the great majority of travellers to the East proceed, the route is an old and familiar one. The record of our journey may therefore, so far as our reader is concerned, be contained in a single line — we departed and we arrived. We bade ‘good-bye’ to Europe at Marseilles on the 6th of November, and we greeted the East at Alexandria on the 14th of the same month. We made the coast at an early hour in the morning, during one of the dense fogs which so often prevail in this locality. Steaming cautiously on our course, with the lead-line out on the port-bow, and the pilot keeping a sharp look-out from the bridge, we had well-nigh gained the bar at the entrance to the harbour, when the fog fortunately lifted, and Alexandria lay before us, basking in the first warm rays of the morning sun.
Allow me to remark in the outset, even at the risk of shocking my reader’s susceptibility to sentiment, that Alexandria is just one of those places which the traveller is always very anxious to get to, and from which he is just as anxious to escape. He has been looking forward — it may be for a long time — to that moment when all the fabled wonders of this marvellous land shall break on his astonished sight at once — when the Nile, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Thebes, Memphis, Pompey’s Pillar, and Cleopatra’s Needle, groups of bright-eyed houris, groves of palm-trees, and droves of dromedaries, shall rise and pass in quick but solemn procession before him; and now that the moment has arrived, the first delicious shock of novelty over, he owns, with a sigh, that he is disappointed. Such, I confess, were my feelings. I had been preparing myself overnight, on board the steamer — getting myself up, as it were, for the occasion — with the aid of a pipeful of genuine Turkish bought in Marseilles — and a moonlight contemplation of the lovely bright blue sky overhead. I was ready and even anxious to yield myself up, with all the solemnity due to the occasion, to the mystic grandeur of the scene; to gaze upon the vast expanse of sand, the catacombs and mummies, the obelisks and palms, with pyramidal wonder mingled, if necessary, with hieroglyphic awe. But, to use the elegant and expressive language of the P.R., ‘it was no go!’ I saw nothing but dust, dirt, desolation, and decay. My enthusiasm fell from fever-heat to zero at once. I seemed to hear the words, ‘What came ye out for to see?’ Instead of the city of the Pharaohs I had suddenly found myself transported to Madame Tussaud’s famous Chamber of Horrors.
It is difficult to convey to the mind of the reader any very distinct impression of Alexandria by mere description. Take a portion — the worst portion — of the East-end of London, half a dozen of the narrowest and most ill-smelling streets of Köln, compass them on one side with a section of the Dismal Swamp, and on the other with a part of Portsmouth harbour; scatter through the mass a few gaudily-painted minarets and mosques; plant here a row or two of booths and small shops, and there a clump of date-palms, a stack of broken tumble-down chimneys, or a ruined burial-ground — the rendezvous of goats, donkeys, lazy priests, and leprous beggars by day, and of packs of prowling, hungry, mangy curs by night; over the whole scene pour the rays of a scorching-hot sun, varied at every faint puff of wind with a cloud of choking, blinding dust — and you will have a sufficiently vivid impression of the outward aspect of this most disgusting of cities.
This may serve as an external picture of Alexandria, but the less that is said of the interior the better. It is filthy and repulsive beyond description, and reminds one more of the lowest class of Chinese towns than anything else I can at present recall. Despite its aspect of dirt and decay, Alexandria can boast three hotels of average accommodation; all of which are, however, in the hands of Europeans, and, of course, conducted on the ‘European plan.’ These are the Hotel Abbat, the Hotel de l’Europe, and the Peninsular and Oriental Hotel. I selected the first for my temporary resting-place; and having a somewhat lively presentiment of the nature of the ordeal through which it was necessary to pass in order to reach it, I determined to set out as quickly as possible.
In company with one of my fellow-passengers, a young civil engineer on his way out for the first time to India, where he was to be employed on the Great Peninsular Railway, I descended from the steamer’s deck to one of the small boats, and seated in its stern-sheets was soon rowed ashore by a couple of lusty half-naked Arabs. The boats are almost all built on the English model, substantial, but without any pretension to style or speed, and are usually manned by two rowers, who ply the oar standing.
The prevailing aspect of Alexandria is European. Notwithstanding the bronzed skins and flowing fancy-coloured costumes of the natives, the visitor from the West instinctively realises that he is in a community, the prevailing elements of which have been gathered from sources akin to his own. There are slop-sellers, marine-store and junk dealers, swarthy-visaged sailors in short pea-jackets and superabundant shirt-collars, and in close proximity the porter-houses, surmounted by such familiar signs as the Golden Horn, the Union Jack, the Prince of Wales, &c. &c. Hacks, cabs, and carriages ply for hire in the narrow, tortuous streets, and one momentarily expects to see a lumbering London omnibus turn the corner of the street, and hear the well-known cockney cry of ‘Bank!’ ‘Hy!’ ‘Lon-don-bridge!’ ‘Elephant and Castle!’ ‘Yip! yip!’ Occasionally one of these vehicles, minus the signboards and placards which form so conspicuous a feature of their London prototypes, and surmounted instead by an enormous board, with the name of the hotel to which it plies affixed in large gilt letters, dashes past on its way from the landing; but by far the most numerous and noteworthy appliances of locomotion in Alexandria, or, indeed, anywhere throughout Egypt, are the donkeys. If good Betsey Trotwood had lived in Egypt, instead of the shady suburbs of Dover, she would have howled herself hoarse calling, ‘Donkeys! Janet, donkeys!’
We have now traversed the Greek and native quarters, and reached a corner of the square in which the Abbat is situated. This is one of the favourite haunts of the donkey boys; and as we near the spot where they all stand grouped, we are besieged with a yelling chorus of Arab voices in every variety of tone and pitch. ‘Ride, sir!’ ‘Donkey, sir!’ ‘Werry good donkey, sir! Speak good English — werry good.’ Whether the boy intended to convey the impression that his donkey spoke English as well as himself, I could never ascertain.
All romantic notions about the fabled mysteries of the Orient disappear with the donkey drivers pressing invitation to ride. You might as well be impressed with Hampstead-heath or Blackheath as with your first introduction to the land of the Nile. These donkeys form one of the most striking features of the country. I early formed an attachment for these long-eared, long-sulfering, faithful little creatures, which a subsequent acquaintance with the very numerous family only served to increase. I surveyed the Pyramids and old Cairo from the back of a donkey; traversed the greater part of the city in the same way; and was only induced to forego the satisfaction of subsequently ‘doing’ the famous Suez ship canal in like manner, by receiving intelligence from an official quarter that there were no arrangements made for the reception of donkeys — no pons-asinorum to carry them safely over — and that it would be necessary to take a steam-tug or ‘dahabieh’ instead. A word or two about these donkeys before I dismiss them to their hard fate. They differ from the quadruped known to Britishers under the same name only in that they are smaller. As regards size, they are a medium between a Shetland pony and a goat, and combine the stolidity and staidness of the former with the hardihood, patience, and endurance of the latter. Many of them, despite their diminutive size, are really handsome valuable animals, sleek-skinned, fine-limbed, and sure-footed. They are wonderfully adapted to the habits of the people and the necessities of the country, and though roughly and even sometimes cruelly treated, they are universally esteemed and highly prized. The riding of one of these little animals is far from being a dignified occupation for a European. Nor indeed is it an easy one at first. The main difficulty I found presented itself at the outset of my career: how was I to mount? that was the question. Was there to be a donkey for me, and another abreast for my legs? Was I to face the animal’s head, and guide him by his ears, as I had seen the Arab boys do? or was I to face around, and endeavour to maintain my equilibrium by a vigorous application of both hands to the caudal appendage — the ‘steering apparatus,’ as Jack called it — which hung within easy reach behind? Halting between the two alternatives, I waited until I reached a secluded spot in a neighbouring street, where, shut out from all chance of observation, I ascended or rather descended, for the donkey’s legs were shorter than mine, on the poor little animal’s back. Instead of being demolished at once, as I had rather expected, it trotted forward quite briskly, requiring no spur or other admonition to haste, except an occasional ‘whoop’ from the little Arab boy who followed behind.
Without doubt the finest show in all Alexandria at the present day is Pompey’s famous Pillar. I state this, I am aware, at no small risk of challenge from one or other of the army of sight-seekers and relic-hunters who annually swarm over Egypt, as did the locusts of old, and who, having a somewhat exalted opinion of their own estimate of the popular taste, are disposed to regard any difference of opinion which may happen to be entertained by others as little short of presumption. The most remarkable objects in the ancient city are reported to have been the Pharos and the library. The former, which was one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World,’ was the well-known tower or lighthouse, upon the site of which the present lighthouse stands. It was a square building of white marble, and is said to have cost 800 talents, which in Attic money is equal to 155,000l. sterling, or double that sum if computed by the talent of Alexandria. The library, as well as the museum to which it was attached, was established by Ptolemy Soter, and was maintained at the public expense. Ptolemy the Second made important additions to it. At his death it is computed to have contained no less than 100,000 volumes; which number was increased by his successors to 700,000, which would represent a collection but little less than that now contained in the library of the British Museum. But both these renowned monuments of ancient Alexandria have long since disappeared. Of all the ancient monuments of the once proud capital, the Pillar and the obelisks are the only ones remaining in good preservation; and of these the Pillar, as before stated, should be, as it invariably is, first visited. It is a magnificent shaft, exquisitely formed, and in a remarkable state of preservation. Less impressive than the Pyramids, it is nevertheless more striking. It stands on an eminence less than 2000 feet from the present city walls, and towering far above all surrounding objects, is easily seen in approaching the city, either by sea or land. We reached it after a few minutes’ riding on the back of our favourite donkey Abraham ‘Linklum,’ which we had found contentedly chewing his cud just outside the hotel-entrance. ‘Pompey’s Pillar!’ we cried. ‘Y’up!’ cried the little donkey driver; and in less than a twinkling we were at the base of the mighty shaft.
Though universally called Pompey’s Pillar, it is not easy to find upon what authority its title to be so called rests. From a literal translation of the inscription found on the Pillar, and copied by Sir Gardner Wilkinson and Mr. Salt, it would appear to have been erected by Publius, a prefect of Egypt, in honour of Diocletian, and intended to record the capture of the city by that monarch during the rebellion of Achilleus, A.D. 296. It consists of a capital, shaft, base, and pedestal, which last reposes on substructures of smaller blocks, once no doubt belonging to older monuments, and probably brought to Alexandria for the purpose.
A few years ago the prying curiosity of Europeans, added to the cupidity of their Arab guides and attendants, had well-nigh brought the grand old pillar down about their ears. By digging and picking out the cement that united these stones, they had so weakened the foundation of the pillar as to seriously endanger its safety. Fortunately, the Pasha heard of what was going on in time to order the holes to be stopped up, and thus averted the threatened calamity. The shaft is one solid block of granite, 73 feet high and 30 feet in circumference. The total height of the pillar is 98 feet 9 inches. The capital and pedestal have the appearance of being unfinished and of inferior workmanship, which is accounted for by the supposition that they are of a date subsequent to that of the shaft, and were added to it at the period of its erection in honour of the emperor.
But revenons à nos moutons — or rather to our donkeys, which, while we have in imagination been scaling the lofty pillar, have been patiently regarding us from an adjoining sand-ridge. The man who would visit Pompey’s Pillar, or, indeed, any of the sights of Alexandria, should not only be endowed with an ample stock of patience, but also should be armed with a stout stick, with which to ward off the crowds of piteous-looking beggars and cunning curio-mongers who beset his steps at every turn. A vigorous application of the ‘hickory’ to the backs and shoulders of all such as dared to intercept us in the course of our Pompeyan tour, had the desired effect of keeping the course comparatively clear while we were on foot; but no sooner had we called our faithful gamin and mounted our donkeys than we were completely surrounded by these human ants, who crawled all around and well-nigh over us in their frantic efforts to palm off on us some of their trashy wares, crying, ‘Bakshish! bakshish! Mas’r bakshish! Give, give!’ in the most piteous tones imaginable. The majority were small boys, who carried little sharp pieces of granite taken from a neighbouring pile. These they palm off as pieces of the Pillar. This was bad enough; but the grown-up men had adopted a still better dodge. Rocks are inconvenient things to carry about the person, and so they had substituted ‘Brummagem’ figures, cast in copper, after Egyptian models. They manage to drive a lively trade in these articles during the visiting season. Indeed, I was informed, on reliable authority, that several tons of these trashy counterfeits are annually disposed of by these shameless vagabonds at Pompey’s Pillar alone.
In descending from the eminence to the plain below, in a hollow space to the south-west of the column is pointed out the site of an ancient circus or stadium, from which the small fort thrown up by the French on the adjoining height received the name, which it still bears, of the ‘Circus Redoubt.’ But this is scarcely sufficient to woo the visitor to a more extended sojourn in this locality. The Pillar ‘prospected,’ I was glad to escape from the glare of the broiling sun, the choking dust, and more than all else from the howling Arabs; and our lively little donkey driver, no doubt sharing in our anxiety to be gone, happening to administer at this juncture a more than usually heavy blow to the donkey’s posteriors, we bounded rapidly down the slope and regained our hotel, where the application of soap and warm water to our outer, and of coffee and rolls to our inner, man speedily restored us to our wonted equanimity.
My next visit was to the ‘Needles,’ and a pitiable plight I found them in. These relics originally stood at Heliopolis, whence they are reported to have been brought to Alexandria by one of the Caesars; but this probably is only another of the romantic fictions with which all the objects of interest in this ancient and tradition-mongering country are so plentifully-surrounded. Only one of these ‘Needles’ is standing now; the other having been thrown down, was given by Mahomet Ali to the British, who secured it as a record of their success in Egypt. Upon maturer deliberation, however, it was decided to leave it; and it now remains half-buried in sand and filth, a melancholy monument of blighted ambition and fallen greatness. The French, more enterprising and more appreciative, not only succeeded in carrying their obelisk away, but in transporting it safely to the Champs Elysees of Paris, where, notwithstanding the recent destruction by the Communists of the neighbouring Tuileries, it still forms one of the most splendid monuments of that city.
Nothing now remaining of ancient Alexandria affords the visitor such evidence of its former greatness as the Catacombs. They are situated upon the sea-shore, about three miles to the westward of the Frank quarter, and are easily reached either by land or water. The entrance to these vast chambers is close to a spot once covered with the habitations and gardens of a suburb of the city, which, on account of the neighbouring tombs, was called the Necropolis.
Their extent is sufficiently re-markable to excite wonder, but the principal inducement to visit them is the elegance and symmetry of the architecture in one of the chambers. This chamber has a Doric entablature and mouldings — in excellent Greek taste — the like of which is not to be found, it is said, in any other part of Egypt. There are other catacombs situated near the Rosetta road, about one mile and a half to the eastward of the old wall, but they are in such a state of decay and dilapidation as to be scarce worth visiting. A little more than two miles beyond the Rosetta Gate stands an old Roman station, familiarly known as the ‘Camp.’ It is said to mark the site of Nicopolis, where Augustus routed the partisans of Marc Antony. It derives special interest for English visitors from the fact, that it is the spot where the gallant Abercrombie fell, March 21, 1801.
The Camp presents a most interesting study for the student of Egyptian architecture. In its construction it somewhat resembles the Mazos Hermos and the fortified stations or Aydreumas in the desert, the only perceptible difference being that it is stronger, larger, and better built. It is quadrangular in form, and measures 290 paces by 260 paces within the walls; the latter are from five to six paces thick. These walls are constructed of stone, with courses of flat bricks or tiles at intervals similar to those found in Roman buildings, and the whole is constructed on a scale worthy of the grandeur of the early days of the Empire.
While on this road, the visitor should by all means push on to Aboukir, on the bay of the same name, so well known in modern times as the scene of Nelson’s great victory, recorded in British annals as the Battle of the Nile. It stands near the site of the ancient Canopus, a little to the west of the Canopic mouth of the Nile — between which and that town stood the village of Heracleum, famed for its temple of Hercules. Canopus, from the accounts given by Strabo, Seneca, and others, was a very immoral place in the times of the Greeks and Romans — in fact, a sort of Vauxhall or Jardin Mabille on a large scale. It had a temple dedicated to Serapis — a deity supposed to answer by dreams the prayers of its votaries; and thither repaired in boats the gay Alexandrian men and women, who danced and sang with the most unrestrained license. Some ruins still mark the site of the city of Heracleum — to the temple of which the guide-books, with unvarying unanimity, inform you ‘the slaves of Paris fled, when he was forced by contrary winds to take refuge in the Canopic branch of the Nile.’ But lines of travel here, as elsewhere throughout Egypt, are not laid in pleasant places. At whatever season the trip to Rosetta or Aboukir is taken, the traveller will find the road tedious and dreary in the extreme; and after looking about, and gratifying his antiquarian appetite with a sight of ruined Heracleum and Canopus, he will be glad — as I was — to beat a retreat to the caravanserai or café, where he may appease his hunger and quench his thirst — which his walk or ride will doubtless have given him — with something more substantial than ruins.
Not against human foes, not against covetous kings and drilled soldiery, not against whistling bullets, big battalions, and shrieking shells does Father Tyne keep watch and ward. The winds and the waves are the only foes he fears. Shrouded by mists or lurking in sea-worn caves they rally their forces, concert their attacks, and mature their evil designs on the riches and lives of his gallant children. In the old days they fought unopposed, and, like marauding Danes, ravaged his domain whenever they chose. But now his treasure is too vast to be left at the risk of pillage, and his sons are too dear to his fond old heart to be left at the mercy of every piratical storm. His rollicking recklessness has given place to a manly caution; he has put to good use all his former experience of sorrow and loss; and his battered shield of defiance now displays the legend Semper paratus. Come when they may, his hereditary foes will find him as good as his word. Night as well as day, and day as well as night, summer as well as winter, spring-tide or neap-tide, east wind or west wind, the Tyne Watch never relaxes for a moment; so that happen what may, and happen at what hour it may, all the resources of science, art, sea-craft, and hearty good-will are available to repel the incursions of the foe.
So at least I am told; but being of a sceptical turn, and much given to sleeping on duty myself, I am rude enough to doubt the boastings in which riverside folks are so apt to indulge; and accordingly I issue a commission de inquirendo addressed to myself, and forthwith proceed to head-quarters, that I may be able to report from the very best authority on the state of the Tyne defences against possible conspiracies and sudden raids of winds and waves.
It is an average winter day. True the drum is aloft, but then it mostly is; and it tells me only that strong winds may be expected from all quarters — which seems to me in one sense absurd and in another self-evident. True, also, there is a fresh crisp breeze from the east, kissing the tide out of countenance and provoking a hiss from the topgallants of twice five hundred ships in the tiers; but as for a gale, I’m not such a lubber as to dream of calling this little puff a gale. I will go to Captain Smith, take him unawares at his dinner, his grog, or his afternoon snooze, and make him confess that half a dozen ships might go to smithereens on the Herd sand or the Black Middens without his being one bit the wiser. Away, then, by the narrow and pestilent open sewer which passes well enough for a street with people whose highway is on the water. The sea-breeze sweetens and sweeps it from end to end to-day, and sharp ozone is making the face of the poor to shine through its cobwebby coating of grime, and making the faint heart healthily merry. The close connection between the Thames and the Tyne is seen in the names of the streets. Holborn, Wapping, Shadwell, are the last bits of land the Tyneman leaves behind him, and they are the first to welcome him when his coasting voyage is over. I pass ‘Comical Corner,’ and a comical corner it is. I peer into grimy, mouldy, tumble-down pubs; but there are no men in them just now, and there are no signs of up-grown masculine humanity in street or alley, on the beach or on the quays. Yes, here is one — a jolly, civil, handsome pilot, who is doing the quarter-deck paces through an arc of four strides’ stretch at a corner, so as to be half the time sheltered from the wind and the other half in view of about two yards of river. He growls out ‘Hard a port!’ in answer to my sweetly intoned supplication for direction to the lifeboat establishment. Accordingly I do ‘hard a port,’ and tramping valiantly through unpleasantly slippery slush, soon reach a wide beach almost covered with pilot-boats still high and dry, although the tide has been ‘making’ for hours and cannot now be far from the full. To the left is a raised gangway, on which two pilots — distinguishable from all possible nautical personages by the spotted white muffler round the throat — are waddling up and down, apparently lost in thought, and as unconcerned as if ships were myths and storms were nightmares. Threading my way amongst the craft on the sandy beach, I arrive at some wooden stairs, at the top whereof gleams a bright brass knob and a still brighter brass knocker on an oak-painted door; and this door, I now remember, admits to the private life of the most notable man connected with ‘The Watch by the Tyne’ — Captain Smith or Coxswain Smith or Superintendent Smith — for by all these designations is he called, and by whatever name called he is always safe to answer. I lift the knocker, and then bring it down with what I flatter myself is a bang with something of a ship-ashore expression in it. The door launches itself ‘hard a starbit,’ as if answering to a powerful rudder; which appears to be the case indeed, for it is the brawny arm of the captain himself that has ‘put it about.’
‘I have been commissioned, Mr. Smith’ (and you see it was literally true, and I wasn’t bound to say who had commissioned me), I said when I got to the warmer side of the oak-painted door — ‘commissioned, Mr. Smith, to inquire into the efficiency of the preventive service on the estuary of the Tyne.’
‘But I am not a coastguard, you understand, Mr. Muff,’ replied the gallant old gentleman, drawing himself up to his full six feet and looking like a sailor king.
‘Well, then, I differ with you, Mr. Smith; if you are not a coastguard, I wonder who is. The unprincipled Nor’-Easter, I take it, is the biggest old smuggler that uses these parts, and does more harm to her Majesty’s revenue, in the shape of income-tax, than all other fraudulent free-traders put together; and if so, Mr. Smith, I should like to know who has been a better preventive than yourself.’
‘Ah, well, in that sense, thank God, I’ve done my part like another.’
‘How long have you been at lifeboating, Mr. Smith — twenty years?’
‘O, more than that. I have been superintendent for more than that; but I’ve been at it more than fifty years, as I may say, constant. I have gone out to two hundred and seven wrecks.’
‘And how many lives have you helped in rescuing?’
‘Exactly one thousand and one. You see there, that beautiful illuminated parchment in the handsome gold frame; well, that was given me, together with a purse of thirty sovereigns, by the trustees of the Lifeboat Fund at the end of my twenty-second year as one of the superintendents; and then I’ve these two silver medals — one from the Fisherman’s Society, and the other from the Royal Society for the Preservation of Life from Drowning.’
‘And what do you mean by the Lifeboat Fund?’
‘Well, it’s a voluntary rate on all ships that come into port — voluntary and very trifling, but almost always cheerfully paid along with the other dues at the Custom House; and out of it are maintained our three boats and one on the north shore, just opposite, under the Low Lighthouse.’
‘Very good. Now I should like to examine the boat-house and the boats, and get an idea as to how you work the thing in case of a wreck.’
‘By all means, Mr. Muff, and with very much pleasure. We’re never ashamed; we’re always semper paratus — that’s Latin, you see, sir, and it means, “You never catch a weasel asleep.”’ And the old gentleman laughed his steeple-hat off his head, but cleverly catching it, he replaced it on his silver-crowned pow; for a pilot is by nature a conservative in the matter of hats. It is his only way of distinguishing himself at a great distance, I suppose, from a mere captain. And down we go into the boat-stable below. On the floor are two tramways; on each tramway there is a boat-carriage; on each carriage is a huge boat painted a dull white; by the side of each boat is a ladder; at one end the boat is attached by a rope to a winch, which serves to haul it up when not on service, and by means of a patent drag on which men can check the too rapid rush of the big fabric when she’s off for duty. In front of each boat are folding doors, and beyond, the little railway leads right down into the river, so as to get depth enough at all stages of the tide. We mount the ladder, and inspect the boat called Providence. Now, I have often seen this boat bobbing up and down on the billows, and fancied it resembled a rather fat nautilus — barring the sail — or an overgrown cockle struggling with adversity; so that I am surprised to find a great expanse, with seats for a dozen rowers, and room for a dozen extra hands, and room for vast coils of rope, and room for twenty, or even thirty, half-dead sailors. She is thirty-four feet long, ten feet ten inches wide, and three feet and a half deep. Here are the mighty oars ready for shipping as soon as look. Here are the screws which work the valves to let in the water by way of ballast. Here, quite handy, is the grappling-iron — like Neptune’s trident bent at the prongs — attached to a line made fast to the boat. All along the length of the benches is a rope, which the men grab hold of when a heavier sea than common breaks over them. And all round the outside there is a similar hand-catch or hold-fast for men who may be washed overboard. Here also is a life-preserver, resembling two black mallets joined at their handles, and attached to a line. Here, again, are holes amidships, right through the bottom of the boat.
‘Mr. Smith,’ I exclaim, ‘you don’t mean to say that you would venture out in this thing, with three great holes in her bottom? Why, I can see the ground through them.’
‘And why not, or why otherwise?’ rejoins the knowing old super; ‘why shouldn’t I? Don’t you see, we like to balance her, so as to keep her head yonder well out of the water; but when a sea breaks over her, down rushes the water — and down it would rush to the hinder end of the boat, already low enough in the trough of the last sea; then where would we be?’
‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ I meekly reply.
‘But I do; leastways, I can give a guess, you know. I hope we should be all right; but it wouldn’t be long for this world.’
‘Well, then, what’s that got to do with the holes?’
‘Just this; look here, you see this trap-door under the front bench? Well, that lets the wave through so as it doesn’t stop at the foreport and lower her head, but bangs away through. But now look here; under this bench the trap-door is reversed — the wave shuts it, just as it opened the other. What’s the consequence?’
‘I’m sure, Mr. Smith, I don’t know’; you all go to the bottom, I suppose?’
‘Not a bit of it. The wave stops short, all of a heap, in the middle of the boat, where it doesn’t so much matter. Then, when the next sea gives us a bit of a hoist, out passes the wave through the big holes, and scampers off to swell the tempest outside. Don’t you see?’
‘I think I do, Mr. Smith; but look you. When you take off a lot of fellows from a wreck, the boat must settle down a goodish bit into the water, and then the sea will come up through the holes, won’t it?’
‘To be sure and certainly it will; but what of that? It seldom comes up more than an inch or two, and we’re not very particular as to a feet-wetting.’
‘So far good. Quite intelligible, very sagacious, but not pleasant. But what are these lilliputian life-preservers, Mr. Smith?’
‘Them? them’s grummets, my dear sir. We work the oars with grummets. It’s handier, and easy replaced if we lose one. You see the ring of rope goes round the oar and round the pin, instead of having rowlocks. And here’s spare oars; and this is a hatchet for cutting loose when we’ve got the men; and over the stern here you see our lantern, which shows a red light, so that the other boats can see if we are ahead.’
‘Which you mostly are, I guess.’
‘Well, it’s not for me to say; but I believe it’s not often the other way.’
And so out of the boat; for I begin to feel damp, sea-sick, and shipwrecky. Standing between the boats in a semi-supine and deeply-meditative attitude, I ask Mr. Smith to indulge me with a bit of preraphaelite realism.
‘Now suppose, just suppose, Mr. Smith, that the Castor guns were to fire at this identical moment, what would take place?’
‘Why, in less than five minutes, the Providence would be rounding the sea-wall yonder, with four-and-twenty men aboard of her.’
‘Impossible!’ I exclaim, ‘because there are only three men beside yourself within bugle-call. I dare take my davy of it, for I made a point of looking all about as I came along.’
‘Halloa!’ cries Captain Smith, ‘what’s that? Here they come; clear out! Now you’ll see.’
A noise as of many public-houses disgorging at midnight — a rush like a torrent — a roar like a big wave on a pebbly beach — and in come a host of struggling, panting, shouting, screaming men, as if Bedlam were broken loose. One over the other, pushing, ramming, jamming — like a flock of sheep through a gap in a garden hedge — fifty great hulking fellows, if there is one of them! Up they clamber into the Providence; and in a moment the cry is, ‘No more, not one; we’re full.’ The big doors are flung open. The men stand up grasping their oars and intently looking out across the river for the lightning flash and white puff of the signal-gun. Long before the boom can reach their ears, they will be in full swing for the water. Men are at the winch. Men are at the front, hammers in hand, to knock away at one blow the wedges that stay the boat-carriage. In another moment they will be off. They wait but for the white puff. But it comes not. It’s a mistake.
‘No, it isn’t. I saw the schooner take the ground on the Black Middens; but I reckon she’s off, so I’ll be off too,’ cries one bluff pilot; and when he has said it he disembarks, and the rest soon follow his example.
‘Might have come any day for a score of years, ay for a hundred years, sir, and not seen exactly such a sight as this. Mostly the gun fires first; but being daylight, you see, they saw the ship ground, then raised the call, and ran straight for the boat; and then, as Pete says, the Castor look-out must have seen the schooner lift again and get away clear.’
‘But where in the world did all the men come from?’ I inquire.
‘Ah, but, how shall I say?’ replies Mr. Smith: ‘from under the boats there, from round the corner, from the pilots’ “look-out,” perhaps, on the Lawe, only they must have run down on speculation. Bless you, we’re always wide awake. There’s never been an hour or a quarter of an hour for a hundred years, I daresay, when there wasn’t scores of men awake and on the look-out, some for one cause and some for another. But life, at the mouth of a river like this, is all watches. If some’s in their bunks, others is up and about. Not only police and pilots and suchlike, but all sorts of men, for one thing or another, or nothing at all — just a kind of habit like.’
And as he speaks we approach a jetty which commands a view of the whole estuary, and the bar, and the piers in process of building to enclose the estuary in great part from the previously unbroken violence of the wind-driven waves. From this point we can see the Black Middens, or at least the foam of the billows that unceasingly break on those sullen crags. And here comes the schooner so lately in peril. The crew are leaning over the side, and waving their caps in grateful recognition of our promptitude, of which, as they pass, they can readily judge. And as I lift my eyes across the Narrows, I see the crew of the guard-ship Castor clustered on the forecastle; and the lifeboat-house doors open on the other side, as they were and still are on ours. Their boat is beached outside, and the men are strolling leisurely back to their picturesque hut on the sands, whence they keep night and day a snug look-out. Far away, and up among the cliffs near the Black Middens, is a boat-house, in which is a National Society’s lifeboat. There the doors are open, and men are grouped around, as if half disappointed of a chance of showing their prowess and skill. And round the headland, Mr. Smith tells me, is another of the National boats; and he can a-warrant me, that he can, that if the gun had gone off, there would have been help from that quarter too. So that on a mere chance of a ship not being able to clear the ill-fated rocks, not fewer than five lifeboats were manned, and ready to push off in the twinkle of an eye or the flash of a gun. Brave, all-daring, naught-dreading heroes! It could not be money that thus dragged them into peril and hardship. The most that they could expect was a few shillings, and some would get nothing. But over and above the natural compassion of humanity, and the strong personal sympathy arising from the thought that any day the danger may encompass themselves, it seems to me that there is a spirit of proud defiance, and a burning desire to hurl back the challenge of the angry sea in its very teeth.
‘And you have been two hundred and seven times into yon foaming waters, Captain Smith?’ I exclaim in tones of amazement.
‘Yon? Yes, but yon’s baby-play to what it mostly is. Let but this wind get up to a gale, as is likely enough in a few hours, then add to it darkness as black as ink, and you may form some idea of what it generally is. Eh, mon, many and many a time have I lain out amongst moving mountains of waves half a night, and seen great ships in the death-thraw, and heard the cry of the poor fellows in the rigging like the squeal of sea-mews in the blast, and wept to think that even with a lifeboat such as ours there was no possibility of saving them.’
‘I suppose you have had narrow escapes yourself, captain?’
‘Well, yes, I’ve had as near goes as most men, to say I never did go, you know. Once especially, bless the Almighty! I may say I was saved by a miracle. It was my duty to go in command of the boat; but I had been laid up with two broken ribs I got the last time we were out; and when I took my place in her, the men all said I shouldn’t go — wasn’t strong enough yet, and so on. Well, my poor brother, he it was that took my place; and off they went, and a terrible night it was; and they got near the ship on the Herd, but were driven back again and again; and at last a great sea fell back from the ship right over them, and swept the whole twenty-four of them into the boiling surf. Poor Robert, he died in my stead; and strange to say, this very day his eldest son lies dead, and that’s why our blinds are down. But I’ve had my share — perhaps hardly that, though, considering the time I’ve been at it. I have been swept out of the boat, and hung on till three of my fingers were broken. I have been lifted up by a wave clean away from the boat, but my mate caught my trousers by the leg. The bit gave way; but it checked my headway just enough to make me flop on the deck, instead of shooting out into the sea. Ah, well, bless the Lord! it might easy ha’ been worse, and many’s the time I wonder it wasn’t.
But it’s over now. I’m seventy-two years old, and I’m not to go out any more. All I’ve got to do is to see that the boats are all right — at least those two — for we’ve another a mile away on the sand at the other side of the pier.’
‘Then you’ve nothing to do with the Life Brigade?’
‘Yes, I’m a member of it, and often used to help the coastguard before the volunteer movement came in. But of course it’s more honorary now than anything else, except, perhaps, a bit of good counsel, which is not to be despised.’
‘From a man that has been at the saving of a thousand lives, I should say not.’
‘That’s one way of putting it; but if I’d saved never a one, still I know the ways of the sea — better, ay, far better, than I know my own. Would you like to inspect the Brigade-house and the apparatus? It isn’t very far. Or perhaps you’d like to see it in right earnest some night? You can’t go out in the lifeboat, but you may see a bit of the rocket-work. The glass is going down, and it feels windy like. If you’re stopping in the town one night, you might get a chance.’
‘Certainly, I should greatly like to understand all about it; and if it promises badly to-night, I’ll stop and see what I can. But I won’t trouble you, Joe — I mean Captain Smith. Mr. Wilson knows me; and he will, I am sure, as far as his duties permit, give me every facility and every information. So, for the present, many thanks; and farewell, my honest and true-hearted friend; and when life’s wrecks and rescues are over, may we meet in the quiet haven!’
Brave old Joe! I should like to have broken my pledge for the sake of giving him a wee sup of toddy; but I should as soon have thought of proposing to make a night of it with the Archbishop of Canterbury. So I left him with his clear and bright gray eye to continue his ‘watch by the Tyne.’
Like the tide, I am ebbing from Boat-house beach in a slow and vacillating fashion, which, upon the whole, resolves itself into a retreat along the way by which I came. Shall I make for the sea, as an ebbing tide should, and commence my other tasks in the de inquirendo line without farther delay? That would be a spirited piece of martyrdom in the public service, considering how my inner man aches and yearns with hunger. Yet, hungry as I am, the line must be drawn somewhere. I draw it at the salt herrings, ‘claggum,’ exploded cocoa-nuts, locusts, and ship-biscuits, which constitute the commissariat of ‘Comical Corner’ and its tragical environs. Would that I had a friend — an oasis, so to speak, in this desert of slush and smells! Yet if I had, I should fight shy of him, if he asked me to refect in this street. What a pity friendship cannot be extemporised! Let me see: there’s the mission ship anchored in the stream and out of reach of the smells. The chaplain is bound, by virtue of his modest stipend, to show hospitality to all mariners in distress. My distress is undoubted; and as to being a mariner, have I not just escaped from a shipwreck? Besides, the mission ship, I am told, is a sort of head-quarters for nautical movements of every conceivable description. Accordingly I make for the gangway which leads from the shore to the bonny frigate — christened Diamond when launched for the wars, and rechristened Joseph Straker when consecrated to peace and goodwill. A magnificent deckhouse stands amidships, like a conservatory at sea. In it are a score of sailors, conning the papers, playing at chess or draughts, or reading library books, each and all with a weather eye wide open, and intent on the weather, which, fortunately for me, begins to look ‘dorty.’ Below, on the main deck, is the church — a neat and snug place of worship on Sundays, but often on week-days the scene of pleasant and instructive reunions, not quite up to the Sunday standard in a formally dogmatic point of view, but, I am told, very helpful withal in that direction. On the gun-deck is the recreation and smoking room of this splendid sailors’ club; and here also the memory of Sebastopol, whereat the good Diamond showed battle, is revived by vigorous tea-fights at suitable intervals. Speedily finding myself on the ship’s books in the matter of rations, and slinging my hammock, by a figure of speech, I invite statistics from the chaplain and demi-chaplain of the ship-church on the matters which have brought me to the mouth of the Tyne. They know all about everything — all things in heaven as well as on earth concerned in nautical philosophy; but on the points of rescue and saving and restoring, it stands to reason that they should be uncommonly well informed. They regard lifeboatmen, life-brigadesmen, and all sailors snatched from the perils of storm, as comprised in their cure of souls; and they seem to take for granted that handling real yarn rocket-ropes is as much a part of their functions as the yarn-spinning process with which clerics are more particularly identified. They tell me that on the north side the brigade numbers 144 men; that they have above 100 on the south side; and that there is as earnest and as good-natured a rivalry between the two bodies as there is between the north and south lifeboats; that all services are strictly gratuitous, except certain allowances in victuals while on actual duty; that the coast-guard superintend the parade-drill and the rocket-practice, and cooperate somewhat directorally in every instance of service, but otherwise are a distinct force.
‘But, Mr. Muff — if you’ll pardon me for calling you by your right name — have a cup of coffee,’ says the chaplain, ‘and come with us; for there is no longer any manner of doubt that we shall be in for a night of it; and in that case, you can see and judge for yourself.’
Notwithstanding an involuntary shivery-shivery shake all over both body and soul at the bare mention of the thing, I gather up my rather undisciplined physical courage sufficiently to reply, that ‘Nothing could possibly be more agreeable to my feelings than to witness a few horrible shipwrecks.’ Of course I didn’t mean that; but for that very reason I said it, as is my unfortunate wont.
The shades of night and the barometer alike are falling. The wind and the sea are rising, rising, rising. We sally forth in wrap-rascals and seal-skin caps and india-rubber overalls; the chaplaincy armed with, spiritual weapons I suppose, and I with a pocket-pistol, which in case of extreme need may be converted into a revolver, but which at present is designed only as a medicament for the rescued, if rescued there should be. We climb the wind-swept heights, and peer out on the steel-gray sky and sullen sea. Within the bar to the right and to the left the water is of the hue of dull gold; but it is ribbed with snow-white ridges, and against rock or pier it breaks, now into a blast of snow-flakes, and now into jets of steam. The roar is as if a mighty city were being bombarded, and at the same time both assaulted and defended with countless small-arms. By the time we reach the South Pier, there is little light left but the phosphoric flash of ten thousand breakers on the far-stretching sands. Here stands the Brigade house, frail enough to look at, but deftly built for its work, and weather-proof, and a good deal more than that. The last time I saw it was on a bright sunny evening in the summer, and then it was musical with psalms, or hushed in the solemnity of prayer. Pilots and fisherfolk were at their devotions, and the chaplain, who is now like a bundle of bearskins by my side, was leading their worship with quiet good taste and a fervour that told on their souls. Now all is changed. It is like a den of lions awaiting their prey and panting for strife. The older ones, shaggy and gruff, are prowling round and round, watchful but patient; the younger ones in and out, but principally in, and unanimously smoking. They number in all not far short of a hundred, not counting such lubbers as myself. Beneath all manner of sea-worthy costume, the uniform of the Brigade is discernible in the reek-dimmed gas-light. The officers are distinguished by a broad armlet of white leather; the loose-fitting guernsey and the pipe-clayed belt give a semi-sailorish look to the amphibious rank and file of young civilians, who are bent on showing the profession what maritime landsmen can do when seamen can do no more, and hope and effort alike are dead. Their talk is salty and sharp. When Tom Bowling and old Marlinspike pretend not to be listening, the younkers talk big and loud; but a shrug from those brawny old shoulders or a cast from those space-piercing eyes is a signal for reverent silence. And here is Mr. Wilson; but what of that? For when is he not here? He devotes all his leisure to the place, and in a cause so dear to his heart it is no wonder that he classes all his waking hours, and the majority of his sleeping hours, under the head of ‘leisure,’ — such as it is. He is not exactly commander-in-chief; he is rather the barrack-master of the Brigade, and has charge of the stores. He shows me his cupboards, and lockers, and kitchen, and pantry, and wardrobe, and surgery or apothecary’s shop. All is in apple-pie order, especially the victualling department, and the room for the reception and treatment of the poor shipwrecked ones who may be expected any hour. Space would fail me — not to mention my memory — if I attempted to say more than that I endeavoured to show off, by suggesting some modification or addition to the arrangements, but ignominiously failed in the effort.
Time wears on in a feverish way till ten o’clock. By this time the excitement has become intense, for more than one of the ships made out before night fell must now be close on the harbour-mouth. The lookouts are on the alert, and rumours are flapping about that vessels have been seen. The moon is overdue, and if the clouds would but lift for a moment, what a relief it would be! But as yet there is naught to be seen through the rain-spattered window save one’s own jaded face, and an infinite blackness beyond.
‘There she goes!’ cries the barrack-master; and again and again the boom of big guns bursts through the deep diapason of wind-driven billows. Quick as thought the Castor takes up the solemn rappel, and all the Tyne Watch is up and astir. The boats are not wanted, for they could not get round the South Pier with seas like molten mountains racing over the bar; and we know from the triple signal that ours is the call to duty. Off, then, and away! Away down the long, long pier — full half a mile down. Down, where as yet the works are unfinished, and the sea, rushing in from below, pours in vast cataracts right athwart our path every minute. Ah, here she is, sure enough, and not very far to the suth’ard. A signal is being made from her bows — a Jack-o’-lantern-like flash, but exceedingly dim to inexperienced eyesight. In a moment the apparatus is pitched, the rocket is placed in its carriage on the tripod, the line is made fast to the rocket. At the word of command, the rocket is fired, and away it leaps like some ministering spirit, ‘a flame of fire,’ an eager, resolute, irresistible messenger of mercy and help to men who in a few minutes more would, but for such timely intervention, have been swept into the angry surf and dashed to death upon the rocks. We are not always as clever, it seems, as we show ourselves tonight. There is no hitch of any kind. All goes well. The aim was good, the men on board are expert. For them it is a question of life or death, and that question must be settled in less than ten minutes.
‘Heave ahoy, boys; pull, pull away, pull with a will!’ And pulling they are with a quiet business-like regularity of stroke, hand over hand, that is worth all the bustle and fuss in the world.
‘Here he is, — why, here’s a couple!’ A white-faced, long-haired laddie, and a thick-set old tar as purple in the face, unless the lantern has coloured glass in it, as the soaked toggery in which he is incased. Off with them to the house! And off with the life-buoy and line once more to the ship! This time it is a couple of corpses to all appearance. They have been so chilled to begin with, and so soused by the envious waves as we dragged them home, that they cannot speak, and are slow to breathe. Off with them to warmth and light and steaming hot coffee, or, if needs be, something stronger than that. Ah, how provident of me! Here, my good fellows, let me pass! I bring a teetotaler’s best blessing to exhausted human nature, — a drop of the real stuff distilled from the dew and the heather of famed Glenlivat. How grateful the poor fellows seem! How naturally they take to it! I wonder if they ever tasted it before! Now up with them both, and off as fast as you can trot. And so we proceed, till thirteen men and the fair-haired laddie are all safe in the snuggery of the cosy brigade-house. There they have been nursed and re-clothed and fed, and now they are smoking — all but the laddie — in a thoughtful way that is not yet wholly free from the shadow of death. Very gently the chaplain puts it to them whether they would like to unite with him in a brief service of praise for their deliverance from death. Every head is bowed down, every pipe is laid aside; presently every knee is piously bent, and every eye is filled with salt-water that never came from the sea. When this is over, and they have told the tale of their danger and repeated their thanks to those who have been so willingly the instruments of Heaven, they pass out, warmly wrapped up, on their way to lodgings hard by, to forget their fatigues and dream of their shipwreck, and wake to find themselves safe.
It is the noon of the night. The storm is more furious than ever, and gives no sign of abating. It is advisable that a portion of the Brigade should retire to their homes, and turn in for two or three hours, so as to be ready to relieve the others by and by. Some fifty or sixty remain, and in brief season each man is supplied with a pint of good coffee, a couple of ship-biscuits, and a hunk of ship-beef. Sometimes they have soup instead of coffee, and cheese instead of beef. The midnight meal is making satisfactory progress — nay some of us, being hard set as respects the biscuits and sundry teeth that are sleeping the sleep of slow corruption in the show-bowls of advertising dentists, have made an end of feasting already — when the common-room door flies open with a bang, as if the storm itself were coming in for its supper, and a mighty sea-porpoise, shining with wet waterproof from head to foot, straddles in, and in a hoarse voice and husky exclaims:
‘A pretty set of chaps you are for a brigade, and be blowed to you! Do you call this a look-out, guzzling and gluttonising and warming your lazy bones!’
‘What’s the matter now, Andrew? Never mind the preaching,’ is the mild and fatherly remonstrance of Mr. Quick. ‘Out with it, man.’
‘Why, here’s the Pathfinder tug a-been signalling ye all along the pier; but never a light ye showed. So when she come abreast of the lifeboat, a man came ashore to say as she’d broke her tow-rope off Marsden, and a Proosian full rigger she had in tow ’s gone slick into Dead Man’s Hole.’
‘All right, Andrew, my man. Who’s off for the cliffs?’
Many shout, and some volunteer. We who are finished, though not full, are manifestly most at liberty. So, provided with blue-lights, that we may signal the Brigade to fetch up the rocket-gear in case we light on the ship, away we trudge. The trudging soon changes to a trot, and the trot to a race. Our force is thereby scattered; but only let us find the lost ship, and that will be rendezvous enough for us all. The cliffs are lofty and the path runs perilously near the edge; but the wind is almost as good as a sea-wall. You might lean against it without losing your balance over the precipice. There is a ghostly shimmer on the sounding sea. The moon is up, but thickly veiled, and her rays fall in a diffused twilight on the stormy scene. When we have run about a mile, we call little halts, and peer out into the gloom and down amongst the rocks, and scan the gleaming white fringe along the creeks and bays to the suth’ard. But all in vain. Not a mast, not a yard, not a hull breaks upon our straining eyeballs. Mr. Muff’s imagination is by far the liveliest in all the picket, though I say it that perhaps shouldn’t; and the consequence is, that he raises false hopes in the bosoms of his fellow-pioneers every few yards of the way. ‘There she is; no, she isn’t.’ ‘I see her; no, I don’t.’ ‘Hollo, there’s no mistake this time.’ ‘Yes, there is.’ ‘What’s that, I should like to know?’ ‘Not a ship, anyhow.’ Such are the exclamations which every moment or two rudely interrupt the steady roar of the blast and the heavy thunder of the sea. Still nothing is made out. At last we reach a point from which, with the moon now peeping through a rift in the clouds, we can command the coast-line for miles. Glasses are out. To me they serve only to blot out what moonlight there is, and to make the darkness painfully visible. Other fellows pretend they can use them with advantage. It is not for me to deny it; but I take the freedom to doubt. So after a two hours’ chase of the phantom ship, we sit down behind the tumble-down walls of a broken old shanty; and having recovered our own wind, we return to give battle to the furious wind from the ‘norrard.’
And all this while a poor numb sailor was fighting with death in the whirlpools of Dead Man’s Hole. Hours later on he managed to crawl up the heights, and dragging his stiffened limbs to a farm-house, where the inmates were early astir, he was welcomed, sheltered, and comforted by cannie English bodies, who knew not a word of the stranger’s lingo. Others, wise in the tongues, subsequently ascertained from him that the ill-starred vessel had broken up into drift-wood in Dead Man’s Hole, and, so far as he knew, he alone, of eleven, escaped to tell. As for our reconnoitring party, it arrived in all safety but small comfort at the brigade-house, a little before the pale dawn crept up the eastern sky. Very fortunately the staff we left behind when we set forth on our fruitless expedition had been able to carry on without our aid. While we had been spending our strength for naught, they had watched and toiled to good purpose. Seven rescued ones — one the fair young wife of the skipper of the Flora — were the trophies over which we found them exulting when we got back. As the day came on, the storm went down. It had made its cruel assault, and done some irreparable harm. But happily it had delivered its heaviest blows at points well prepared to resist them; and so, baffled and quite sulkily sobbing with shame for its frequent defeat, the storm-fiend withdrew, to bide his time and whet his revenge — leaving rich spoil of saved lives in the hands of ‘The Tyne Watch.’
However well acquainted most of us may be with the peaks, passes, and glaciers of Switzerland — those ‘palaces of Nature pinnacled in the clouds’ — and with the various attractive localities to be found in that interesting and picturesque country, the generality of travellers are probably ignorant of the circumstance that the healing waters of the earth have chosen this already so highly favoured region as one of their special domains. Beneath those mountains and valleys which the tourist so eagerly treads, and among which he lingers in pursuit of pleasure or health, lie a larger variety of mineral springs than, relatively to its extent, perhaps any country can boast. According to a work lately published by M. Max Wirth, of the Statistical Department of Berne, Switzerland possesses no less than 609 medicinal springs, 424 of which have been analysed by experienced hands, and found to include nearly every ingredient of which mineral waters are composed. These are dispensed by 62 establishments, open to the public during the usual orthodox period, ranging from the 1st of May to the 1st of November.
Fashion, which is all supreme in most mundane matters, and which asserts no inconsiderable sway over watering-places in particular, has not failed to influence the destiny of these resorts of the invalid and the idler. Thus some baths which in former times could count among their regular visitors many persons distinguished by birth, social rank, or fortune, are now only frequented either exclusively by the lower classes, or by a very restricted number of habitues; while others again, which in days gone by were scarcely known by name, have in their turn attained a wide-spread celebrity.
Baden in the canton of Argovie, the most ancient of all the Swiss baths, presents a striking example of these fluctuations of popular favour. It lies between two chains of the Jura, and is built on the banks of the river Limmat, whose waters rush through the narrow defile within which the town is confined. Numbers of invalids come every year to seek the benefit of its warm sulphurous waters, and none of the many mineral springs of Switzerland enjoys a greater reputation in a medical point of view. But the lovers of pleasure will find nothing here to recall the splendid gilded saloons, the beautiful gardens, and the many varied attractions of Baden Baden, Wiesbaden, or Hombourg; and as we saunter slowly along under the shady trees by the river, or pace the streets of the now quiet little town, it is difficult to realise that this Swiss Baden, two hundred years ago, was also a centre of luxury, dissipation, and amusement, a favourite resort of the gay and fashionable, and occupied,for the wealthy idlers of those days, a position not unlike that which is now filled by its brilliant namesake on the banks of the Oos.
The fame of this ancient watering-place has been handed down to us from the days of Nero, and Tacitus speaks of it as ‘In modum municipii extractus locus amoeno salubrium acquarum usu frequens.’ Indeed, several springs on both sides of the river, and in the bed of the Limmat itself, seem to have been well known and much frequented in those early days.
Without following up the history of Baden through the successive centuries which followed, we will at once turn to the palmy days which began to dawn for these ancient baths in 1422, from which period, up to 1712, the members of the Confederation held their Tagsatzungen or Diets annually at this town, received ambassadors from foreign courts, and were the means of attracting many personages of distinction to the picturesque banks of the Limmat. Here, too, the joys and sorrows of life were mournfully contrasted in the pleasant intervals of holiday-making, which enlivened the gatherings of the Councils of Constance (1414-1418) and Basle (1431-1449), when so many scions of noble houses and distinguished prelates came to Baden — ‘For the purpose’ (to quote an old chronicler) ‘of lightening their hearts, made somewhat heavy by the labours of the Council.’ In the sad hours of grief when Huss was expiating on the stake at Constance the crime of too great a devotion to his faith (1415), Anastasia von Hohenklingen, abbess of the Fraueumünster Convent at Zurich, was bartering her broad lands, with all their rights and privileges, in order to pay for a sojourn among the pleasant places of Baden; and again, at the very time when Jerome of Prague had won his crown of martyrdom (1416), Poggio,* who had witnessed his trial and death, was feasting his eyes on the charms of the fair Helvetian belles, who thronged this fashionable watering-place. In these jarring contrasts we have a perfect picture of the spirit of that age, and Poggio’s celebrated letter to Nicolo Nicoli is stamped with the frivolity which was one of its chief characteristics. He was among those who, in 1414, accompanied Pope John XXIII. to the Council of Constance; but he was subsequently obliged to leave the papal suite, and have recourse to the waters of Baden, in the hopes of curing an obstinate attack of gout. He gives a curious account of the mode of life and the recreations in fashion at the time in these Thermae Helvetica, and his letter is the more interesting as it is the first printed record of Baden memorabilia extant.
* Poggio, surnamed Bracciolini, was one of the great promoters of the sciences in the fifteenth century, and for forty years held the post of secretary to ten successive popes.
Even at this early epoch there were as many as thirty hostelries in the town and neighbourhood, each establishment having its separate bath — an artificial basin somewhat rudely excavated in the earth to the depth of a few feet, one portion of which was open to the general public, and capable of containing a great number of bathers, while the remaining section was set apart for private use. Two larger basins or open ponds, respectively entitled ‘St. Verena’ and ‘Freibad,’ occupied nearly the whole of the public square where the various inns displayed their hospitable signboards. Here men and women of all ages, belonging to the peasant classes, disported themselves, the sexes being merely divided by a wooden partition of close trellis work. The public baths belonging to the various inns were fitted with a similar barrier, but, like the lattice-windows in the harems of the East, full provision was made for conversation or curiosity by introducing in the fragile wall of separation several movable apertures. Ample space was left around the basins to receive the various friends or acquaintances of the bathers, and as the admission was free, these spaces were generally crowded. Men and women frequently bathed together in the open baths, such an intermixture of the sexes not being considered indecorous.* On such occasions, however, the men wore a long linen bathing-cloak, the dress of the women consisting of a similar linen garment reaching below the knee, but leaving the neck and arms exposed. A square floating board, with which each bath was provided, served as a table for all who desired to partake of refreshments, and indeed, in those baths where the two sexes met in unrestrained freedom, regular encampments, so to speak, were held daily, and such extemporised tables were of the first necessity. The bathers visited these basins from two to three times a day, remaining several hours in the water. Thus a greater part of the twenty-four hours being spent in the bath, it was soon found necessary to provide some means of amusement beyond that afforded by the conviviality of the table, and games and round dances were speedily instituted and became very popular.
* At Loueche, in the Valais, the same custom is in force at the present day. The public baths contain from fifteen to twenty persons of both sexes, and of all ranks and ages, who, clothed in long dark woollen dresses, spend daily from four to eight hours in the water. Refreshments, newspapers, books, &c. are placed upon floating tables for the benefit of the bather’s.
In the baths frequented by the upper classes, it was customary for ladies visited by gentlemen to exact a small sum of money from the latter called ‘Almosen’ (alms), and frequently the male visitors presented wreaths of flowers to the fair occupants, and placed them on their heads with all due ceremony, to the accompaniment of harps, fifes, and trumpets.**
** Die Heilquellen und Kurorte der Schweiz, by Dr. Meyer Ahrens.
At the elbow formed by the river, and on its left bank below the baths, may still be seen a small meadow called ‘die Matte,’ now partly turned into a vegetable garden, but which was formerly completely shaded by fine trees. This once romantic spot was in olden times the trysting place of the bathers, who usually assembled here after supper and whiled away the hours in every kind of recreation.
It is not surprising that this gay life should have attracted many visitors to Baden, beyond those who frequented the waters in search of health; and accordingly we find that people streamed in large numbers to this captivating locality from a circuit of about one hundred and fifty miles, a considerable distance in those days, when roads were few in number and indifferently constructed. They were a motley company, composed of princes, nobles, burghers, peasants, abbots, priests, monks, and nuns, and Baden was then the centre of luxury and display. Velvets, silks, and satins fluttered in the breeze; gold, silver, and precious stones gleamed by day on the banks of the Limmat, and by night in the magnificently illuminated ball-rooms. The concourse of people collected there rather resembled a brilliant court than a gathering of watering-place visitors.
The arrangements made for receiving these guests were, however, scarcely on a scale commensurate with their riches or social standing. In 1478-80 only two hotels, and those not remarkable for comfort, were principally resorted to — the Stadthof and Hinterhof, both kept by men of gentle birth, who thought it below their dignity to allow of food being cooked for their visitors. They merely condescended to let apartments and baths for a specified time, and the guests were obliged to look to other establishments for their meals. A considerable improvement appears to have taken place in this respect towards the middle of the sixteenth century, for the celebrated naturalist, Konrad Gessner, writing at this period (1553), states that ‘nowhere in Europe had he met with greater luxury and comfort than at Baden.’ This progress steadily increased, and in the year 1578 Dr. Panta-leon of Basle, in a work which gives an amusing account of Baden and of the mode of life and fashion there, mentions no less than twelve hotels and forty-one baths in the town. Michel de Montaigne, two years later, describes these establishments as logis très magnifiques, and gives the first account of the institution of the table-d’hôte at Baden. This was held at the Stadthof and Hinterhof, which still took the lead among the hotels of the town. The Margrave Frederick of Brandenburg was among the guests who partook of the good fare at these tables.
Life at Baden at this time, notwithstanding the efforts of the Reformation to put a stop to its freedom and frivolity, was still characterised by great excesses, and though the votaries of Venus were not wanting, Bacchus was the deity principally worshipped. Pantaleon tells us, that the ‘Herrenbad’ at the Stadthof, a basin capable of holding twenty persons, usually contained an oddly contrasted collection of occupants, noblemen and burghers, Catholics and Protestants, each of whom in turn was obliged to give a breakfast to the bathers at six o’clock in the morning; for most of the company having by this time been assembled for some hours, ‘they required a little refreshment, and could no longer do without some sort of beverage.’ Drinking was carried on to such an extent, that Pantaleon found it necessary to limit each bather to two pints of wine. Prayers were said both before and after breakfast, — a short song was then sung to ‘mine host,’ the burden of which was the wish that he might live many years and be an example of honour to the world. The next breakfast-giver was then elected, crowned with a wreath, and duly warned that he would be serenaded on the following day with trumpets and fifes. In order to restrain within due limits the ever increasing liberty of manners, a formal tribunal was instituted, composed of the leading habitues of the ‘Herrenbad,’ whose jurisdiction extended over all the baths in the town. Every visitor (‘Mitbadende’ or ‘Badgeselle,’ as they were called) was obliged to touch the president’s wand with the left hand, and promise due obedience to him. The sittings of the court were held after the morning meal, and each case of violation of public decorum was investigated and promptly punished. The penalties consisted of fines, which were partly distributed to the poor and partly added to a fund designed to purchase provisions and wine for the common use. Besides these breakfasts, it was understood that each visitor, at the expiration of his stay, was to give a farewell public entertainment. The ‘Frauenbad’ in the Stadthof, capable of holding thirty women, was also amenable to the ‘Herrenbad’ tribunal.
Besides these baths, the Stadthof contained three large basins to which both sexes had access, one called the ‘Kessel,’ holding fifty, and the other two forty persons. In the Kessel the water was sufficiently deep to reach to the chest of a man. This bath was held in great repute, being especially efficacious in cases of lameness and contraction of the limbs.
It would be tedious to go through the whole list of baths which Baden numbered at this period, and the ‘Herrenbad’ has been described in detail, merely in order to give the reader an idea of the manners and customs in vogue at Baden at the end of the sixteenth century.
Although Baden derived a large revenue from the influx of visitors, which these national meetings attracted to the spot, the periodical occurrence of such gatherings occasioned at the same time a degree of luxury and extravagance which the Swiss were little able to afford, and from which all the neighbouring cantons suffered. Indeed ‘fashion’ had become a fever, and was spreading fast; and the people of Zurich seem to have been especially glad to lay aside for a time the greater strictness and prudery of manners which had been introduced into Switzerland by the Reformation, and which consorted little with the habits of a court or of diplomatic life. As, however, wealth was rather the exception than the rule with them, they soon found it necessary to devise some means of supplying the funds requisite to enable them to vie with the brilliant society which gathered round the foreign ambassadors and those following in their train. They were therefore in the habit of obtaining from richer friends and relatives presents of money, provisions, silver goblets, &c. &c., a custom which was gradually followed by the government itself; and we find later, that when princes or distinguished persons arrived, they were regularly welcomed with valuable gifts. This entailed farther hardships; for taxes had to be levied on all classes to meet the extraordinary expenditure which this practice involved, and the authorities of Zurich, justly alarmed, at length formally abolished the custom in 1646. At the same time, a special conference was convoked in order to prevent the women of Zurich from indulging in too great extravagance of dress at Baden, and from playing at ninepins in the public places!
In 1670 it was still the fashion for gentlemen to visit ladies in the bath, and in their presence to indulge in various gymnastic exercises and amusements, such as leaping over the basin with drawn swords, wrestling, &c. &c. These exhibitions of course often led to broils, and it was not uncommon for duels to be fought on the spot, to the terror and dismay of the fair occupants of the bath.
Baden continued to maintain its reputation for gaiety and attractiveness until 1712, when the Diet transferred its settings to Frauenfeld, in the canton of Thurgovie. From this period luxury and frivolity gradually disappeared, and the reign of exaggerated simplicity and puritanical stiffness commenced. A temporary and partial reaction, however, occurred in 1714, when the representatives of the European Powers held a congress at Baden, subsequently to settling the preliminaries of the treaty of peace at Rastatt, which terminated the war of the Spanish succession.
The sun of Baden, which seemed to have set for ever, shone forth once more with unaccustomed brilliancy. The town was busy with preparations on an extended scale. Every inn and private house underwent a thorough transformation. Mirrors, paintings, and all the valuables which could be collected together were pressed into the service of the authorities as well as of private individuals to do honour to the large influx of expected guests. Hundreds of carts streamed into Baden, loaded with wines, game, and provisions of all kinds. The town being far too small to contain the crowds assembled to witness the pageant, booths and tents were erected beyond the gates by enterprising foreigners, which were day and night the scene of feasting, drinking, and gambling. All the neighbouring baths and villages were filled to overflowing. The suite of the French ambassador alone consisted of three hundred persons, including many ladies of high rank and distinction. The foreign representatives took their part in the general rejoicing by giving receptions, breakfasts, balls, and garden-parties. But pleasure was not allowed to absorb every leisure moment. Several conferences took place, the negotiations being conducted by the Comte de Luc and the Sieur Barberie de St. Contest on the part of France, and by the Comte de Goes and Monsieur de Seilern on behalf of Austria; and lastly, when every difficulty had been smoothed away, Prince Eugene and the Duc de Villars joined the congress.
The treaty was signed and duly sealed at the ‘Rathhaus’ of Baden on the 7th of September 1714, in the presence of all the plenipotentiaries, as well as of a large concourse of persons. On the conclusion of the ceremony, the spectators disputed with each other the possession of the pens, sealing-wax, and every article found on the table where the treaty had been drawn up. A medal was struck at Vienna to commemorate this important transaction. On one side, Mars is seen sitting on the shore of the Limmat, washing his blood-stained sword in the waters of the river, the background being filled in with the town of Baden. The ‘genius loci’ is represented floating in the air, holding the arms of the town, which bear the following inscription:
‘Has tandem ad Thermas fessus Mars abluit ensem.’
The reverse side is ornamented with a figure of the Emperor Charles VI., kneeling in a theatrical attitude. Behind him stands a female form (typical of the Holy Roman Empire) in front of an altar on which is placed a helmet jetting forth flames. The emperor is in the act of scattering incense on the fire, in token of thanksgiving. The emblems of peace are represented by fields and vineyards in the distance, and below is inscribed:
‘Exsolvunt grates Caesar et Imperium.’
The meeting of the congress was the last expiring flash of the gaieties of Baden. The days of its splendour and display are become things of the past, and the guests who now people the numerous chambers of the old Stadthof no longer frequent them in quest of fashionable society and amusement. Still the reputation of the mineral waters continues as great as ever, and the baths are yearly visited, as we have already stated, by many thousands of invalids, chiefly French and Swiss, and are perhaps more highly esteemed than any others in the country.
The sulphurous springs, nineteen in number, issue from the ground at a temperature of 108° Fahrenheit, and are considered particularly efficacious in cases of gout and rheumatism. The town is well provided with good hotels, of which the principal is still the Stadthof.
Although Baden does not offer to the eye the grand and striking effects of scenery which we usually associate with the name of Switzerland, many picturesque spots in the immediate neighbourhood, including the ruined castle of the House of Hapsburg, on the rocky heights above the river, provide a sufficient variety of walks and drives; while the Zurich line of railway, on which it is situated, connects the ancient watering-place with all the finest parts of the country.
The ‘Spring Region’ of Virginia comprises portions of the States of Virginia and West Virginia. It includes a large number of mineral springs, of exceedingly varied medical properties. Of these spas, the Greenbrier White-Sulphur Springs bear off the palm, and are most resorted to. They are situated on Howard’s Creek, in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, 2000 feet above tide water, and upon the western slope of the great mountain range which separates the waters that flow into Chesapeake Bay from those that run into the Gulf of Mexico. The scenery of this region is highly picturesque. Mountains surround the charming little valley which contains the renowned white-sulphur spa. Nature has been truly lavish with her gifts, and was not content with simply endowing this spot with bad-smelling, but health-giving, waters. Bold mountainous elevations shut in quiet valleys, where clear sparkling streams ripple over gravelly beds, and under dense masses of foliage. The summer and fall climate is delightful. During the summer the thermometer ranges between 55° and 65°, and rarely attains a greater height than 80° at any hour during the day; while the atmosphere is elastic and invigorating. Within easy access from the White Sulphur, north, south, east, and west, are the other mineral springs, all more or less frequented, of which the ‘Hot,’ ‘Warm,’ and ‘Healing’ Springs, the ‘Sweet’ and ‘Sweet Chalybeate,’ and the ‘Salt’ and ‘Red Sulphur,’ are the most important.
More than fifty years ago, the White-Sulphur Springs were frequented by invalids, and for the greater portion of that time this has been the favourite summer resort of the wealth, talent, and beauty of the Southern States. It is not uncommon to meet at these springs now persons who have not missed a season — save during the late war — for twenty and even thirty years. In the days of the lumbering stage-coach, the majority of the visitors came from their distant homes in splendid private carriages, with their liveried servants and fine horses, and established themselves in their own cottages. If you were not the fortunate possessor of a cottage, you found the accommodations of the poorest description. Indeed, you were fortunate in obtaining even the roughest shelter. There were no conveniences of any kind. The larder was uncommonly lean. The guests had to organise forage parties to avert starvation. Haunches of venison were scrambled for, and eggs and butter intercepted along the public highway. With the cooks and servants, a system of wholesale bribery and corruption was inaugurated. If a guest ventured to complain of the meagreness of the hotel fare — and it is presumable that many did so venture — the proprietor would say: ‘I charge you ten dollars a week for the water. Everything else I give you is free!’ What more could be said? This state of affairs continued for many years. Indeed, it is only recently that the public table has been even passably well supplied, or that ordinary comforts and conveniences have been provided.
In 1857, the property came into the possession of a company, composed mainly of residents of Virginia, who soon after set to work to improve and beautify the grounds, and to erect a main hotel building, which is the largest structure of the kind in the Southern country, its dimensions being 400 feet in length by a corresponding width, and covering nearly an acre of ground. The office, bar, restaurant, barber’s-shop, telegraph and express offices, the kitchen, and a printing-office, are situated on the ground floor; above which, opening upon a spacious verandah extending the whole length of the building on each side, are the ball-room, dining-room, parlour, and reception rooms. The dining-room, 320 feet long, where 2000 persons can dine together, is, doubtless, the largest in the world. The parlour is one of the most elegant and spacious salons in America, being half as large again as the celebrated East Room in the President’s mansion in Washington. The ball-room, at the opposite end of the building, is of similar proportions, and has a floor of hard pine as free from inequalities and almost as highly polished as the surface of a mirror. The second and third stories of the hotel are used for sleeping apartments. In front and rear, and at each end of the main building, are cottages, arranged in rows along the hill-sides, and making quite a village. A few of these are two-storied dwellings, with colonnade fronts; but the majority are low sharp-roofed cottages, with verandahs in front, shaded by trees and clinging vines. The cottages are designated by ‘rows’ or ‘streets,’ such as Broadway, Virginia Row, Baltimore Row, Georgia Row, Alabama Row, Louisiana Row, Carolina Row, Paradise Row, Bachelor’s Row, Wolf Row, and Gambler’s Row, the latter containing the lair of the ‘tiger,’ where much money is lost by visitors in learning the mysteries of faro, roulette, and other games.
Near the bottom of the valley is the spring, over which a pavilion has been erected. This was surmounted some years ago by a statue of Hygeia, the Goddess of Health, holding in her right hand a cup filled with water, and in her left a herb. This statue disappeared during the war, having been carried away, or destroyed, by Sheridan’s raiders, and has not since been replaced. The great fountain bubbles up from a stratum of limestone rock, and is received in an octagonal pool, four-and-a-half feet in diameter, which it fills to a depth of four feet. The temperature of its waters is 62° Fah., from which they do not vary during the whole year. The spring yields about thirty gallons a minute, and it is a remarkable fact that this quantity is not perceptibly varied during the longest spells of wet or dry weather. The waste water is conveyed through a pipe to the bath building, which is situated on the creek a couple of hundred yards away, and completely hidden behind a projecting hill. The White-Sulphur water was analysed in 1842 by Professor Hayes of Boston. In his report he says:
‘This water is colourless and transparent — when agitated it sparkles from the disengagement of air-bubbles. Taste hepatic, resembling that of a solution of hydro-sulphuric acid in water. Exposed to the atmosphere, the hepatic odour is succeeded by a slight earthy odour. It blackens metals and salts of lead. Compared with pure water, free from air, its specific gravity is 1.00254. 50,000 grains (about seven pints) of this water contains, in solution, 3.633 water grain measures of gaseous matter, or about 1-14 of its volume, consisting of — Nitrogen gas, 1.013; oxygen gas, .108; carbonic acid, 2.444; hydro-sulphuric acid, .068. In the same quantity of water, 115 739-1000 grains of saline matter, consisting of — Sulphate of lime, 67.168; sulphate of magnesia, 30.364; chloride of magnesium, .859; carbonate of lime, 6.060; organic matter, 3.740; carbonic acid, 4.584; silicates (silica, 1.34; potash, .18; soda, .66; magnesia, and a trace of oxyd iron), 2.960. The medicinal properties of this water are probably due to the action of this organic substance. The hydro-sulphuric acid resulting from its natural action is one of the most active substances within the reach of physicians, and there are chemical reasons for supposing that after the water has reached the stomach similar changes, accompanied by the product of hydro-sulphuric acid, take place.’
The distinctive medical influences of this water upon the system are cathartic, diuretic, sudorific, and alterative. Its specialty is its action on the liver, and its cure of the diseases which are caused by a functional derangement of the liver. Dyspepsia can be cured at some of these springs; as, indeed, may nearly all the chronic diseases, with the exception of consumption.
My first visit to the White-Sulphur Springs was in August 1869. The stage-coach had given way a few weeks before to the iron horse, the rails of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad having been laid to the very entrance of the grounds. Leaving Washington at seven o’clock A.M., I embarked on board a ferryboat for half-an-hour’s sail down the broad Potomac, to the sleepy and seedy-looking town of Alexandria. Here passengers for the springs take a train on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to Gordonsville, where connection is made with the Chesapeake and Ohio. Every mile of the journey is over historic ground. It is only necessary to mention the names of a few of the stations to call up memories of the bloody past, where the gray-coated soldiers of the Southern Confederacy and those in the Federal blue swarmed on the hill-sides, and swept like tornadoes over the plains. In those days the dense battle-smoke obscured the now peaceful heavens; and in fields where the grain is ripening, the great reaper, Death, gathered in his fearful harvest. No traces of the late conflict now remain, save a Federal burial-ground at one point, and here and there the ruins of an earthwork. But the names alone of Manasses Junction, Warrenton Junction, Culpepper Court-house, Rapidan, Orange Court-house, Gordonsville, and Charlottesville are sufficient to excite the interest of the traveller, and to cause him to scrutinise the landscape closely. For the first half of the journey, however, there is little in the scenery to elicit admiration. When the spurs of the Blue Ridge are reached, the views are full of attraction for the lover of nature. At times the train seems to cling to the mountain side, and you look down, many hundred feet, upon the beautiful and fertile valley of Virginia, with its snug farm-houses, meandering streams, clumps of trees, and broad fields of grain, corn, and tobacco. One scene has been particularly admired by all who have seen it. Two lofty hills, densely wooded from foot to summit, rise abruptly from the banks of a stream of crystal clearness, which flows placidly along under overhanging foliage. Clinging to the side of one of these hills, and just above the stream, is a picturesque-looking dwelling. The stream loses itself in the shadows and foliage between the mountains, while a background of hills, whose soft outlines melt into the blue distance, complete a picture worthy of being transferred to canvas by a master-hand. Later, the scenery becomes bolder, more grand, and of exceeding wildness. On my first visit, however, the train was delayed by a ‘land-slide,’ so that we did not climb the Alleghanies until after night-fall. I can only recall the tilting of the car endways and sideways — in my sleepy condition it seemed sometimes to assume an angle of 45° — the wild snorts and shrieks of the three locomotives, which puffed and panted like living creatures, and at times seemed powerless to push or draw their burden; and then the welcome rattle of the brakes, and the mysterious movements of lanterns in the darkness without, as the train halted at the present terminus of the road, and the journey was ended.
Having since passed over the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in the daytime, I am able to substantiate the wonderful stories told, not only of the grandeur of the scenery, but of the engineering skill displayed in the construction of the line. The following statistics, furnished by a civil engineer, will no doubt prove more comprehensible than ‘Alps upon Alps’ of adjectives. The road from the White-Sulphur Springs to Covington — a distance of 22 miles — is of the most substantial character, and probably cost more per mile than any section of road in the United States. Cuts and fills of from 50 to 80 feet are frequent; and there are some of 100 feet, one of 140 feet, and one of 180 feet. The largest ‘fill’ is the Moss Run fill, the embankment containing 800,000 feet of earthwork, sufficient to make forty miles of railroad in Eastern Virginia, or through any ordinary country. The embankment is but one quarter of a mile long, and cost $400,000. Jerry’s Run embankment is 179 feet high, and one quarter of a mile long. It will cost when completed $700,000. The trains now pass over a temporary bridge at this point. The average cost of the road per mile between the White-Sulphur Springs and Covington is $160,000, some miles costing as much as $300,000. A temporary track one-and-a-half miles long was in use at Mud or Red Hill tunnel in 1869. It was afterwards abandoned, the main track having been completed, and the trains now run through the tunnel. A large force has been recently employed on the straight track at Millboro. The temporary track is very substantial; but the grade is so steep that two powerful engines must be used to draw a train up. The temporary track at Jerry’s Run is two and a half miles long. It winds along the side of a steep hill, and at times, as you look down upon the wild and rugged valley below, you feel as if you were being transported through the realms of another sphere, and that you are gazing upon a picture which forms no part of the world you are, for the time, inhabiting. The trestle-work over which the trains pass is 1400 feet long. Although of the most substantial character, and as safe as possible, as it is just wide enough for the track, and as you see no sign of it beneath you, you have all the experience of a sail through mid-air, except the absence of that gentle and perfect motion which no worker in metals since the days of Tubal Cain has ever been able to rival.
A long breath after that flight, good reader!
The maximum grade on the temporary track, going west, is 290 feet, and going east, 195 feet. The maximum and ruling grade on the main track going west is 60 feet to the mile, and going east but 30 feet to the mile. There are no curves on the main track of less than 1000 feet radius; and on the temporary track the shortest radius of any curve is 477 feet. There are eight tunnels, of which the following may be mentioned: Johnson’s tunnel, 200 feet long, single track; Red Hill or Mud tunnel, 640 feet long; Morris’ tunnel, 400 feet long; Lake’s tunnel, 800 feet long; Kelly’s tunnel, 600 feet long; Lewis’s tunnel, 3,900 feet long; and Alleghany tunnel, 4,760 feet long. All of these latter have a double track; and the total length of the tunnels is two and one-eighth miles. When it is added that the entire road-bed is of the most substantial character, and that the equipment of the line is all that could be desired for comfort, speed, and safety, it must be admitted that the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad is a triumph of engineering skill of which the United States may reasonably boast.
The only really dangerous place on the road is said to be at Covington, where the eastward-bound traveller is tempted into leaving the train by promises of an excellent breakfast, but where, if he succeeds in getting anything to eat, of any description, he is likely to pay a penalty for partaking in the pains of dyspepsia. The hard-boiled eggs, cold chicken, apple-pie, and lemonade of Sambo at Charlottesville or Dinah at Gordonsville are, however, quite palatable and of reasonable price. You may make your purchases from the car-window, and eat at your leisure, and thus avoid the extortion and imposition of railway eating-houses.
But to return to the railroad. This grand work, now barely half completed, is destined for greater things than the mere carrying of pleasure-seekers to and from the White Sulphur and adjacent springs. As its name would indicate, it is designed to connect the waters of the Ohio with those of the Chesapeake; to become another great highway for trade and travel between the Atlantic seaboard and the fertile and rapidly growing West. Northern capitalists have embarked in the enterprise, and within two years a single track will be completed to the banks of the Ohio. Then the tide of travel will set in from the westward towards the Virginian Springs, and they will have thousands of visitors where now there are hundreds.
Arriving at the White-Sulphur Springs during the first week in August 1869, I found ‘the season’ at its height. Some two thousand people had registered, and were content with accommodation for perhaps twelve hundred. Many of my fellow-passengers were aghast at the prospect. It was approaching daybreak, and we had stood for half-an-hour or more in the office after inserting our names in the visitors’ book, and exerting all our powers of diplomacy on the room-clerk, with a view to obtaining some advantage over each other. Finally, one detachment was marched off, under convoy of a coloured man with a lantern, to a small church within the grounds, the basement of which had been strewn with mattresses. Five men (including myself) who had never met before were consigned to a portion of the main hall in the third story of the hotel; where, by means of sheets suspended from a rope, a good-sized sleeping apartment had been improvised. There were two narrow cots and three mattresses upon the floor, and of these we took possession. Having an oil-lamp behind the screen, our figures were distinctly outlined upon it, which caused some meiriment as people passed our camp en route to their rooms. But this only led to laughter from us in return, and then nothing more would be heard from the outside but the pit-pat of little feet scampering down the long passages. For the most part good-humour, and a disposition to make the best of everything, prevailed. There were some grumblers, as a matter of course; but they were in the minority. If they were dissatisfied, they could go away — there were plenty of newcomers to take their places. During the rush of visitors, men, women, and children slept upon the parlour-floor; and ladies, utter strangers to each other, were stowed away five and six in a small room, with two in a bed, and some on mattresses placed on the bare floor. Husbands were separated from their wives, and many ludicrous scenes and incidents resulted from the confusion consequent upon the daily arrival of two or three hundred people late at night. One evening a young lady, having left the ball-room for the purpose of retiring, ran shrieking through the hall in the third story of the hotel, and meeting some of her friends, declared that there was a man in her room. It proved, however, that she had opened the wrong door. On another occasion a man, who had evidently been drinking something stronger than sulphur water, insisted that a room in which a lady was disrobing belonged to a friend of his, and that he was entitled to half the bed; and but for the prompt appearance on the scene of an ex-Confederate general, who occupied a room adjoining, would have caused serious annoyance. Mr. Jones was frequently aroused from his slumbers by persons looking for Smith; and what with the slamming of doors, the rattling of locks, the dragging of luggage through the halls, the squeaking of boots, and the vociferous shouts for servants, the hotel was for some days a perfect bedlam or pandemonium. Yet people would flock here, and endure the discomfort until they had at least an opportunity to display their wardrobes, when they would flit to other springs, less crowded and less fashionable. One night when the train was, as usual, behind time, a lady assigned to a room near mine (I had then secured a distinct apartment in one of the cottages) made the night hideous with her fault-findings. She ‘never saw such a pig-pen!’ She wanted to ‘leave at once.’ She ‘would not stay a minute.’ ‘No, she wouldn’t take her bonnet off.’ She ‘wouldn’t lay down.’ ‘Are there no better rooms?’ ‘Is No. 1999 (mine) any better?’ Finally, on being told she could not get away before morning, she sent her unfortunate husband to the proprietors on what I knew would prove a fruitless errand; and I went to sleep.
There are many attractions to draw visitors to these springs. The scenery is beautiful. It is a pleasure to breathe the pure mountain air. One meets here charming society, &c. A clergyman whom the proprietors had engaged to conduct divine service during a former season startled his hearers by asking in his inaugural sermon, ‘What do the old ladies bring their daughters here for? Is it to marry them to the men whom they love? No,’ he continued, ‘it is to marry them to men with money — to sell them, in fact.’ And then he went on to say something even more obnoxious, and in very questionable taste, which I will not repeat. The future services of this most over-refined divine were of course dispensed with, the proprietors not caring to have farther insults heaped upon their guests. Nor were these allegations true. There is very little done in the way of match-making at these summer resorts. People come and go; and in the rush and confusion there are few opportunities for serious courtship. Possibly some young ladies may ‘set their caps’ here as elsewhere; and young men, and old, may also seek for life-partners, as well as for the German or croquet — and why shouldn’t they?
One word tells what people do here; and that is — dance. Some few occupations incidental to dancing may, however, be mentioned. We will suppose that Beauty is out of her bed at 8 o’clock A.M. She first visits the spring; and it is a pleasant sight to see the young ladies congregate there before breakfast in the studied neglige of their morning toilets. The walk and the pure air bring a rosy glow upon fair cheeks, and soft eyes sparkle with health and happiness. Some sip the water as daintily as a humming-bird extracts honey from a flower; a few make a wry face, as though swallowing unpalatable medicine; while others quaff the clear sparkling liquid as though they enjoyed it. Indeed, one does come to like the water after a time, and to drink three or four glasses of it before breakfast with a decided relish.
Take a newspaper, seat yourself upon a bench, and the beauty of the springs will pass in review before you. How daintily the young women trip down the hill to the fountain, their skirts looped up to avoid the dew! They have fleecy shawls or bright scarfs or opera cloaks thrown over their shoulders to protect them from the morning air; while some who are returning from a stroll in the surrounding woods have bright autumn leaves twined in their hair, or pinned on their bosoms. Others who present (must I say it?) a rather limp and draggled appearance are just from the bath. Peering over your newspaper you see all this, and much more besides, while the cheerful twitter of the maidens’ voices, and their birdlike trills of laughter, fall pleasantly upon the ear.
Near you sits ex-Governor Henry A. Wise, fashioning a walking-stick he has cut during his morning walk, and giving utterance to his views on the political situation in fiery words, to which a little group of bystanders listen attentively. Among his utterances on one occasion were some sentences like these: ‘I would not give a pinch of snuff for the writ of habeas corpus in this country.’ ‘We ought to stand on principle, and the crawling creeping creatures of expediency and policy ought to be kicked out of the temple of liberty.’ ‘We are drifting into imperialism, and if I had health and strength, I would thunder it from the housetops into the ears of the people.’ But he does not yet ‘despair of the republic’ — ‘or,’ said he, ‘I should be an infidel if I did not believe in the ultimate triumph of the right.’
Hard by stands Commodore Matthew F. Maury, grasping a stout walking-stick in his right hand, and discussing the condition of affairs in Virginia — and particularly the water-line communication with the West — with a party of friends. The Commodore has grown a white stubbly beard of late; but still looks fresh and vigorous, and destined to many years of usefulness.
Now comes General Robert E. Lee, dressed in a modest suit of gray, and wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat, from under which you catch the kindly half-melancholy expression of his handsome eyes. Set in its frame of gray beard, his is a countenance to love and admire. With General Lee is W. W. Corcoran, Esq., the princely Washington banker, whose benevolent face is a correct index to his character. All these gentlemen I met, as described, at the spring one morning. Elsewhere I shall refer to other distinguished guests, taking up now the thread of daily life at the ‘White.’
After breakfast Beauty resorts to the spacious parlour, where the belles and beaux congregate to ‘do treadmill,’ as they describe their promenade round and round the room. The mammas, papas, and chaperones sit against the walls, with perhaps here and there a young couple enjoying a quiet chat or mild flirtation. After an hour or more has elapsed, the ten-pin alley or photograph saloon is visited; or the romantic walks about ‘Lovers’ Leap’ explored.
Then the spring is again resorted to: and toilets are made for dinner. After dinner, ‘treadmill’ again — later, a siesta, a drive or ride, or a lounge under the spreading shady trees on the lawn, where the band plays for an hour or more before tea. Now the great event of the day draws near, and Beauty appears at the tea-table in full-dress. A little ‘treadmill’ is gone through after tea, so that engagements may be made for the evening; and then to the ballroom, with its slippery floor and lively music. The German is danced every evening; and sometimes, by way of variety, it is danced in the morning as well. Indeed, I am not sure that some of the young ladies do not begrudge the use of the ballroom for other purposes on one day out of the seven. Wednesday evening there is dress-ball. On the other evenings about one-half of the ladies present appear in full-dress; the remainder are variously attired, and as many wear short dresses, they make rather liberal display of their ankles in the round dances. Of course the young ladies in long skirts and the old ladies who sit in the background think it is horrid of the short-skirted ones to make such a display. Some of the gentlemen are really outré, wearing coloured shirts and morning suits; but quite one half have sufficient respect for themselves and the company to put on white shirts and black coats. A few appear in dress suits; which is, after all, the correct thing when a gentleman goes among ladies in the evening, whether to opera, concert, or ball. Dancing is over by midnight; and so ends the day. The same routine is followed on the morrow, and until the end of the season.
Of course, at a place like this, there must be petty jealousies and heart-burnings. There are sure to be found people who delight in saying ill-natured things; people who make witty remarks at the expense of their friends, as well as of strangers; people who have keen eyes for cotton, velvet, and lace, and are skilful in detecting French gilt and paste; and others with a wonderful memory for last year’s dresses. We could not well do without these people either. They are the vinegar and pepper which help to make up the salad of society. They give piquancy to the insipidity engendered by excessive goodness, and by creating laughter rouse the misanthropical from their torpor. I do not think there is any reason in these feminine amenities; for, of course, the people I have referred to belong, almost without exception, to the gentler sex. I jotted down a few of the remarks made to me, or in my hearing, though I fear they lose much in the transfer from rosy lips to ink and paper. The morning after a ball a young lady was pointed out to me who wore a pair of blue boots (evidently too small for comfort) with this remark: ‘That girl must have slept in those boots. She wore them last night, and they were so very tight, she couldn’t get them off.’
The following remarks are from various sources:
‘That girl is wearing the same head-dress she wore last year; and the same flowers, arranged in the same way. Don’t believe she has combed her hair since.’
‘There is a lady who had one hundred and one offers, and took the one hundred and oneth.’
‘That is a California widow, who has had seven husbands; three are dead, and four living. The last she was divorced from.’
‘That lady has the reputation of never wearing the same dress twice; but I saw her in a dress she wore here last season.’
‘All the girls here mean business, i.e. matrimony.’
‘That lady never wears a dress a second time. Her husband’s income last year was $60,000.’
‘That young lady is from Baltimore. She sits on the grass under the trees and a brown umbrella all day long. Of course she does not sit alone.’
‘Mr. Green has nineteen suits of clothes.’
‘That is a Tennessee colonel. He is a great ladies’ man, and has the reputation of killing a young lady in a fifteen minutes’ interview.’
‘There is a young man with a senseless face and several upper stories to let. But he has a fine pair of horses, and the prettiest girls here smile upon him, and accept his invitations to dine.’
‘Blacque Bey is the great gun here. Everybody does what B. B. does. When B. B. sneezes, everybody sneezes. When B. B. walks, everybody walks. What B. B. says, everybody swears to. It’s a big thing to be B. B.’ &c. &c.
In recalling the names and faces of those I met at the White Sulphur in 1869, I am painfully reminded that the two most distinguished are dead. General Robert E. Lee, the great soldier and Christian gentleman, has been summoned to brighter realms above; and George Peabody, the millionaire philanthropist, who gave away his millions while living, has gone to his rest after a life of unwearied well-doing. He was in feeble health while at the springs, and rarely left his cottage. On one occasion only he appeared in the parlour, and the ovation he then received was touching. Ladies thronged about him, eager to press his hand; and some even claimed the privilege of bestowing sweet kisses on one whom they regarded as a national benefactor. During his sojourn at the White Sulphur, Mr. Peabody gave $60,000 to the College at Lexington, Virginia, of which General Lee was President. Mr. Peabody’s first donation in behalf of Southern education, made in 1866, was $1,000,000 in cash and $1,000,000 in Mississippi State bonds. The second donation, made in 1869, was $1,000,000 in cash and $486,000 in Florida State bonds. The nominal amount, therefore, is $3,500,000, though only $2,000,000 are at present available. This is judiciously invested, and yields annually about $130,000. In special recognition of the former of these donations, the Congress of the United States, on the 16th of March 1867, voted to Mr. Peabody a magnificent gold medal, which was soon after made and presented to him. The testimonial, though called a medal, is more properly a piece of symbolic statuary, about one foot in height — an exquisite work of art. It was manufactured in New York, and cost $7000.
The Southern Confederacy was largely represented at the White Sulphur. General Lee was, of course, the great attraction. General Beauregard, too, ranked as a fixed star, and was specially noticeable for his gallant attentions to the fair sex. Then there were Generals Magruder, Lawton, H. A. Wise, Gary, and others, and Colonel Moseby. Commander Maury had his satellites; and there were hosts of senators, ex-ministers, and ex-governors, colonels and captains by the score, and no end of ex-railroad presidents, with a sprinkling of judges, and a small dose of doctors. Baltimoreans were very numerous, and took the lead in everything. Perhaps I am prejudiced; but kinder people I never met than those who dwell in the Monumental City. Foremost in all charitable movements, and devoted to the South and its interests, they carry into private life the kindly feeling toward strangers, the generous hospitality, and graceful courtesies of the old school. No ladies receive more attention at the springs than the Baltimoreans — few as much. The men from the far South are wonderfully attracted by these Baltimore belles; and I fear often play truant to the girls they left behind them.
Dr. Burke, from whose work on the Virginia Springs, published thirty years ago, I quote, thus describes the social aspect of these springs, in contrast with similar resorts in the North:
‘Saratoga and other Northern watering-places being brought by railroads into contiguity with large and populous cities and towns, and accessible to persons in every condition of life at a trifling expense, the mass of visitors is, of course, composed of all sorts of people. The knowledge of this fact makes men distrustful of each other’s standing, and shy and reserved. Such a material wants, and ever will want, the enchanting ease of manner, dignity of deportment, and air of true gentility which distinguishes Nature’s gentlemen from the mere cockneys and pretenders. At the Virginia Springs, on the contrary, there is a feeling of equality, a relinquishment of formality, a republican simplicity of manners, a reciprocity of kind, courteous, but unpretending civility, that renders these places peculiarly agreeable.’
If such was the contrast in the olden times, how much more salient is it now, when ‘shoddy and petroleum’ have overwhelmed the Northern watering-places! Among the visitors at the White Sulphur last season were the children of many of those who were once known here in their own cottages almost as lords of the manor; and there were, too, some of the old habitués, although they live now in a style rather simpler than that of former days. As an evidence of the prevailing simplicity of manners, there is nothing so striking as the little groups of persons, ladies and gentlemen, who come down on the green lawn, under the big oak-trees, and, spreading out a blanket or shawl, squat down on it à la tailor, or recline à la Turk, and chatter like very children. Nobody talks loudly, nobody puts on ‘airs,’ nobody cuts a swell. There is an observable general aspect of ease, dignity, and genuine good-breeding well becoming a place which is the representative of Southern refinement.
Two or three grand balls are given each season by the proprietors, who also provide music for dancing six nights in every week. Particularly brilliant was the grand fancy-dress affair, known as the Peabody Ball, which took place on the 11th of August 1869. It was attended by more than two thousand persons, including the wall-flowers. Few masks were worn, but a very large number of the dancers were in fancy dress, and the costumes generally were the most costly and elegant ever seen at a Southern watering-place. Many of the dresses were fashioned by Parisian modistes, having been ordered and imported specially for this occasion. The display of jewels, especially of diamonds, and the rich laces, reminded one of ante-bellum festivities. It is a remarkable fact that there was no ‘Belle of the Ball.’ From so many beautiful, charming, and attractive women it was impossible to select one who conspicuously outshone her companions.
Every one wants to carry away from the springs some memento of his or her visit. The photographer finds constant and profitable employment in taking groups at the spring or before the cottages. The gentlemen purchase walking-sticks from the natives, or cut them in the vicinity of Lovers’ Leap; and both ladies and gentlemen resort to the Japanese store, where only articles of Japanese manufacture are sold, and where you can purchase a great many curious things, provided your purse is well lined. The ladies carry fans, on which are inscribed the autographs of their admirers and the celebrities. The signatures of Generals Lee and Beauregard are often met with, and are greatly prized. Of course, such an everyday occurrence as the carrying away of manly hearts by departing belles calls for no special mention. Yet this is a serious matter, if we may believe in the protestations and lamentations of the melancholy youths one finds smoking their cigars under the gallery in the morning, instead of doing ‘treadmill’ as usual. But many, I fear, ‘take heart again’ on the arrival of some new beauty.
The season of 1870 at the White-Sulphur Springs is nearly over. The feminine fashionables, with their fanciful frippery, fled long since. They had displayed all their new dresses; exerted all their powers of pleasing; exhausted themselves with over-much dancing; and, perhaps, exhausted their finances also. A distinguished Virginian, on being asked how long he expected to remain at the springs, replied:
‘Why, sir, you might just as well ask me how much money I’ve got. A Southern gentleman always stays at the springs, sir, as long as his money lasts.’
I write in the mellow month of October. The trees are clad in their gorgeous autumnal foliage; the air is clear and bracing; and the warm sunshine glints on the dead-gold, blood-red, crimson, russet-brown, and pale yellow of the leaves which still cling, despite autumnal gales, to the trees of the surrounding woods. Then the blue autumnal haze, which falls over the distant hills, like a veil over a woman’s face, hiding possible defects without placing actual beauties in eclipse; the morning mists, which stoop low below the mountain crests; the weird moonlight, the twinkling lights from the cottages, and the brilliant blaze from the many-windowed hotel, — all aid to produce effects stranger and more beautiful than those of theatrical transformation scenes, with their undressed beauties, blue lights, and tinsel.
In the month of September 1849, the English barque Hermione, 900 tons, was on her passage from London to the Cape, with a cargo of goods for that colony. She also carried out some 80 or 100 intending colonists, of whom about 15 or 20 were first-class passengers.
These last — drawn together by that freemasonry which only exists on board ship during along and tedious sea-voyage, where the voyagers throw aside all distinctions of clique, and are dependent upon one another for mutual amusement — had formed themselves into a comfortable party, and were gathered together on the quarter-deck one very fine and sultry evening. The Hermione had accomplished two-thirds of her passage, and was in the latitudes of flying-fish, bonitas, dolphins, sharks, and other tropical inhabitants of the deep, the observation of which was a source of perpetual amusement to the ship’s company and passengers.
Amongst the latter were an old Dutch merchant named Van Leyt, his wife (a lady of German extraction), and their three daughters, Lenchen, Gretchen, and Löttchen. There were a couple of young gentlemen or so going out as mercantile clerks, a midshipman going to join his ship, one or two speculators in colonial produce, and a widow lady of middle age who atfected juvenile airs, and was always talking of her nerves. Mrs. Chudlepip thought it highly interesting, on any little emergency, to pretend to be utterly confused and helpless, and to be unable to act without male assistance. Thus she was perpetually talking of what she said and did on such and such an occasion, and what she ought to have said and done; videlicet, as she parades the deck on this September evening, leaning on the arm of a Cape Town ‘colonial broker’ of considerable means, and some few years her junior: ‘Well, my dear Mr. Trappit, you see it was so awkward; the captain asked me if I should like to see some of the crew dance; and detesting the tedious monotony of this horrid ship, of course I said yes — so thoughtless of me, but I am so impulsive.’
Mr. Trappit murmured a few words, intended to be complimentary. The widow continued:
‘Yes, as you say, dear Mr. Trappit, my spirits do sometimes get too much for me. Well, when I was informed that the men would dance with their feet bare (so improper and indelicate before ladies!), of course I was shocked, so I immediately withdrew my consent: and what do you think the captain did, Mr. Trappit?’
Mr. Trappit could not possibly guess.
‘Why, he actually laughed at me!’
Mr. Trappit coughed; perhaps it was to avoid following the captain’s example.
‘So you see,’ added Mrs. Chudlepip, ‘my impulsive nature led me to do precisely the reverse of what I ought to have done. Instead of giving my consent thoughtlessly to the gambols of the crew (which the captain declares are necessary to keep them in spirits), I ought to have inquired of what nature they would be before sanctioning them with my presence.’
Mr. Trappit gazed vacantly at the sea; the widow inclined her head to one side, and gently played with her gloved fingers on the ivory handle of her parasol the sweet melody of ‘What she said and did, and what she ought to have said and done.’
Nearly all the first-class passengers were assembled on the aft or quarter-deck, and owing to the heat, were in various states and degrees of languor. One or two listlessly promenaded the deck, making abrupt turns, something after the fashion of the Polar bear in the Regent’s park when he feels the heat too much for him. But the majority reclined upon cushions, sipping lemonade and sherry, and smoking cigarettes. Mynheer van Leyt and his buxom broad-shouldered wife were engaged in a game of draughts, whilst their three daughters reclined at their feet, engaged in their everlasting knitting; which absorbing employment, however, did not prevent the plump and flaxen-haired Löttchen from occasionally casting side-glances at the young midshipman, who was leaning over the taffrail, idly throwing date-stones into the water. He was a very handsome fellow was Ernest Sellars, midshipman of her Majesty’s war-sloop Thunderer. He was about twenty to twenty-two, lithe, active, and sun-browned, with the whitest teeth and the blackest of curly black hair, and with that general Byronic air which is so fascinating to a certain class of young lady. Besides, there is no doubt whatever, that a midshipman’s uniform is above most other costumes calculated to set off to advantage the ‘human form divine.’ So, unquestionably, thought Löttchen van Leyt; and for the matter of that, it is possible that her sisters were of the same opinion.
A general air of ennui pervaded the party: Vrow van Leyt grumbled audibly as she wiped her broad red face with a large yellow silk handkerchief, and Mrs. Chudlepip seemed to be meditating on what it would be correct to ‘say and do.’ Even the œillades of the siren Löttchen failed to have any effect upon the insensible Sellars, who continued to puff his cigarette and to throw date-stones into the water with the utmost nonchalance. Suddenly, however, he started from his listlessness, exclaiming vehemently,
‘O, by Jove, what a monster!’ The fair Lottchen gave a fascinating little scream as she inquired:
‘Dear me! what do you mean, Mr. Sellars? what is so monstrous?’
‘A shark, fraülein; an enormous shark that is following us.’
‘A shark!’ cried every one simultaneously, as a general rush was made to the taffrail. Vrow van Leyt upset the draught-board in the excitement, and Mrs. Chudlepip exclaimed:
‘Following us! O, how horrible!’
Amid the general excitement, the captain, who had been engaged in some duty in the forepart of the vessel, came aft.
‘What is it, ladies and gentlemen?’ he asked.
‘A shark, sir!’ cried several of the men.
Captain Torr looked over the side of the vessel.
‘A shark indeed,’ said he, ‘and a monstrous one!’
Yes, there was the savage-looking fish, with his pointed snout and his cruel malevolent-looking little deep-set eyes, with a sort of satanic gleam in them, as of an evil spirit anticipating his prey. He was at least thirty-five feet in length; and as his great black fin cut the water, appearing about a foot above the surface, there was a stealthy appearance in his movements which caused the passengers to shudder, as one turns cold with loathing at the sight of a venomous reptile. The sea was calm as plate-glass, and of a deep intense blue. It was moreover, as is often the case in these latitudes,phosphorescent; so that as the huge fish cleft the water with his gigantic fin, he left behind him a track of what seemed like living fire.
Mrs. Chudlepip suggested poetically, that the shark looked ‘like a lost spirit amid the flames of torment.’
‘Would you like to look at him a little closer, ma’am?’ asked Captain Torr, with a covert smile.
‘I! O no, thank you, sir!’ cried the widow, with an affectation of intense horror.
‘Will you give us leave to try and catch him, sir?’ eagerly asked Ernest Sellars, who had seen this sort of fun before.
‘That is just what I meant,’ returned the captain.
Accordingly, a line of great strength, with an enormous hook baited with a dead fowl, was speedily prepared, and the tempting morsel offered to the hungry fish. But although he kept steadily in the wake of the vessel, and occasionally glared malignantly at the bait, he would not touch it.
‘He’s a-waitin’ for somethin’ better, yer honour,’ said Pat O’Donovan, one of the crew, touching his cap to the captain.
‘What does he say, capitaine?’ inquired Gretchen van Leyt.
‘O, nothing, fraülein. Sailors have such odd superstitions; they think the shark is waiting for one of us.’
‘Shure an’ that’s it, yer honour,’ said Pat, who was endeavouring in vain to entice the monstrous brute.
‘Gott in himmel!’ ejaculated the Vrow van Leyt, her red face turning to a hue a little less like a pickled cabbage.
‘O, shocking! dear, dear, how dreadful!’ added Mrs. Chudlepip. ‘What shall we do?’
‘Do!’ returned Captain Torr; ‘why — nothing. Have a little patience, ladies, and you’ll see the brute lagged yet. Try a bit of salt pork, Pat. Here, Ned Wilson, ask the cook for a piece of pork.’
The whole of the passengers, fore as well as aft, and the entire crew, were now watching operations with the greatest interest. The pork was fetched and tried, but was no more successful than the fowl had been. The shark smelt at it with a saturnine grin, but would not attempt to swallow it. The sailors began to mutter to one another, and to shake their heads.
‘Shure it’s ’cute the baste is!’ said Pat. ‘Arrah, thin, he knows one of us is goin’ to kick the bucket, mates.’
‘Ay, ay,’ responded several of his comrades. For it is well known that sharks are extremely sagacious in this respect, and when death and disease are busy on board a vessel, they will follow in her wake for days, in greedy expectation of the dreadful banquet which they know will be forthcoming.
Ernest Sellars, who had never removed his eyes from the surface of the sea, now descried a second black fin above the water, about a dozen yards behind the first.
‘By Jupiter, there’s a pair of them!’ he cried, pointing out the new-comer to the first mate of the vessel.
‘I think it’s likely enough there are a shoal of them,’ returned the first mate quietly. ‘The beggars are so artful, they seldom show all at once.’
Captain Torr was now determined to do his utmost to secure one of the monsters; and he was seconded with a will by his crew, for all sailors hate the shark with an intense spite and aversion.
‘Fetch a fresh leg of mutton, Ned,’ cried the captain. ‘There was a sheep killed an hour ago, and we’ll sacrifice a leg to entice one of those rascals.’
The leg of mutton was brought, and whether it was that it savoured more of blood than the salt meat or the blanched fowl, or whether it reminded the shark of a morsel of a man, it is impossible to say; but the bait was no sooner offered to the ferocious creature than he took it with a force which shook the mast to which the end of the line had been made fast.
‘Gott bewahr!’ screamed the Dutch-German family. ‘ ’Tis like Beelzebub himself.’
The sailors gradually hauled in the line, the enraged shark darting from side to side, lashing the sea with his tail, and scattering showers of brine in clouds over the deck.
Mrs. Chudlepip, with a succession of little shrieks, seized hold of Löttchen van Leyt by the arm, and poured into that terrified young lady’s ear a long string of suggestions as to what ‘ought to be done,’ not a word of which could the foreigner understand.
‘By your leave! stand away! Out of the way, there!’ roared half a dozen hoarse excited voices, as the shark, struggling and vicious, was drawn on to the deck.
‘Good God! get out of the way, ladies!’ screamed Captain Torr at the pitch of his voice.
But it was too late. Mrs. Chudlepip, now in an agony of genuine terror, was too bewildered to know ‘what to say or do,’ and in her confusion drew her companion, together with herself, immediately in the direction of the shark. The angry and alarmed brute gave three or four resounding slaps with his tail, and away flew Mrs. Chudlepip and Löttchen into the sea.
The confusion was terrible; ropes were thrown out, a boat was lowered, and Ernest Sellars, with the impulse of generous youth, jumped overboard without a moment’s hesitation.
But now a low groan burst from those on deck, as the second shark was seen to make in the direction of the unfortunate women. Poor Mrs. Chudlepip’s enormous bustle and voluminous petticoats served as a buoy, and kept the half-drowned pair above water.
‘Now!’ roared the captain. ‘Pull, Tom Roberts! another stroke, you have them! Give way, lads, give way! Hurrah!’
And a great cheer arose, as it was then seen that Löttchen van Leyt was safely drawn into the boat.
At the same moment Ernest Sellars, who was swimming with a rope round his waist towards Mrs. Chudlepip, seized the halfdead widow by the hair, and gave the signal to be drawn on board. It was only just in time; for even as the young man and his fat and fair burden began to rise from the water, the shark turned on his side to seize them. Making a desperate effort, the unwieldly animal in his disappointment grabbed furiously at the luckless Mrs. Chudlepip. Away came bustle and petticoats, torn like old rags; which, being immediately bolted by the shark, the unfortunate lady was dragged hastily on board with her deliverer, unhurt, but in a state, as regards wardrobe, which, as the reporters say, ‘may be better imagined than described.’ Great as had been the peril, it was impossible for the passengers to avoid roars of laughter at the widow’s forlorn appearance. Even her wig had come off when grasped by Sellars; and it was fortunate that she had clung to the midshipman with all her strength, otherwise she would have shared the fate of her petticoats. As she herself afterwards said,
‘I had hardly any clothes on amongst all those brutes of sailors, my dear, and really I don’t know what I said and did, or what I ought to have said and done.’
It was affirmed — but no doubt this was only malicious gossip — that Mrs. Chudlepip made the handsome young midshipman an offer of her heart and Three-per-cents. Perhaps, however, he had some doubts as to the propriety of marrying his grandmother; for it is stated by those who should know, that Captain Sellars, of H.M.S. Termagant, married a German-Dutch lady whose maiden name was Van Leyt. It is a matter of certainty, however, that Mrs. Chudlepip, on her demise, left Ernest Sellars a handsome fortune.
During a solitary tour which I took some three or four years ago in Germany, I one morning received the following laconic epistle from my friend Everard Conyers:
‘Hotel des Quatre Saisons, W — ,
June 3d, 186 — .
‘DEAR OLD FELLOW, — If this reaches you at Heidelberg, as I hope it will, and you are able to tear yourself away from the delights of Prince Rupert’s Tower, and the inebriated riots of the enlightened Teutonic students, spare me a day or two at W — .
‘I am no longer, literally speaking, tied here by the leg; but what say you if other ties have thrown their noose around me? I want you to help me with your advice, as to whether or not I shall rivet them around my neck once and for ever!
‘I will engage a room for you at my hotel. Come, there’s a good fellow! — Yours, &c.
‘For the last seven or eight years of our lives Everard Conyers and I had been fast friends, and there were few or none in the world dearer to me than he. Nor did I stand altogether alone in this partiality, for Everard’s attractions were such as neither young nor old, as a rule, either resisted or attempted to resist.
To say that he was young, handsome, and brilliant, of good fortune, connections, and gentlemanly tastes, is merely to mention certain qualifications which he shared with others; but beyond this, there was about Everard Conyers an almost womanly tenderness, of which many a one, and I fear some of the fairer creation to their cost, had experienced the charm.
I arrived at W — the evening of the day on which I received Conyers’ letter.
After dinner we went out together to the gardens of the Kursaal.
He was delighted to see me, dear old fellow, and looked better than I had expected to see him. He had, so he said, entirely recovered from the rheumatic affection (brought on by lying on the wet grass after cricketing) to cure which he had first visited W — .
Therefore I imagined his prolonged stay to be solely occasioned by the ‘other ties’ to which he had alluded in his letter.
He did not, however, mention the subject at dinner, but talked very fast on a variety of irrelevant points, and professed an immense appetite; and I, for my part, was quite satisfied that he should choose his own time and manner of making me his confidant.
There was a ball that night in the great hall of the Kursaal: such a ball as frequently occurs at W —; by no means a dressed affair, no toilet being considered necessary for the occasion beyond the removal of hat or bonnet on the part of the young ladies; while between the dances, the performers strolled about amidst the crowd outside the Kursaal, and drank coffee and ate ices beneath the trees.
Conyers had a ticket for the ball; but after standing with me for a moment or so behind the screen which on this evening, for the accommodation of the dancers, divided the great hall from the rest of the apartments, he declared the orchestra stationed in the gallery above to be intolerably loud and ‘bruyant,’ and drew me on to a room at the side, from whence proceeded the unmistakable chink of money, quite audible amidst the noise of pattering feet, the hum of voices, and the undulating rise and fall of the Strauss waltz.
‘Playing high to-night,’ said he, after a minute or so, during which he and I had stationed ourselves among the spectators at one of the gambling-tables.
So saying, he threw down a napoleon. The ball in the middle of the table pursued its course with the usual dull rattle; and Everard’s napoleon, in company with many another, fell a prey to the long rake of the croupier.
He tried another and another, then two, and lost persistently; shrugged his shoulders slightly, took my arm, and walked away.
‘No luck to-night,’ said he. ‘I sadly want her to tell me the lucky numbers.’
‘Do you indulge in much of this kind of sport, then, if sport you call it?’ said I.
He looked in my face and laughed.
‘Well, no; merely as an amusement — at least not systematically. My dear fellow, if you’d been at W — as long as I, you’d have discovered a turn at the tables quite a necessity of life, in fact the only thing to do; there’s nothing else beyond mooning in the gardens and making excursions to the forest, both of which become monotonous after a time — at least they did so till —’
Here he broke off suddenly, perceiving an acquaintance in an adjoining apartment.
‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ said he. ‘I want to speak to that fellow, and ask if he and his will be of my party to-morrow.’
Left alone, I strolled out into the gardens amidst the gaily-dressed crowd. The evening was hot; but there either was, or seemed to be, a certain coolness by the side of the artificial lake which lies in front of the Kursaal.
Sitting here, my attention was presently attracted by a figure coming towards me.
It was that of a flower-girl. She was ‘petite,’ evidently French, and in age I should say somewhere about thirty, simply dressed in some dark colour, and wearing at her side a little leathern pouch, into which those who took a rose from the basket she held upon her arm put what return they chose.
I have said that she was small, and her face was pale, almost sallow; but many a high-born lady might have envied the simple dignity, the innate grace, of her bearing; and when she smiled she was charming.
Some among the crowd appeared known to her, and she had a smile or a word or two for all these; but to strangers, or those perhaps whom she considered too pressing in their attentions, she was gravity and decorum itself.
But above this, she had a story in her face. I felt sure of it, as I watched her coming slowly towards me among the crowd; a kind of questioning, searching look in her great eyes, as if she sought for some one or something; and this habit from long use had, as it were, grown into and become part of her life. I held out my hand for a rose, still keeping my eyes on her face — I fear rather too intently for good manners — and as I did so, I saw it change, the pale face became if possible a shade paler, and a kind of sudden fire or intense light shone in her eyes.
She was looking beyond me, and almost involuntarily I followed the direction of her eyes with mine, and saw Everard Conyers, and by his side two ladies: one oldish, and quite magnificently attired, even among that gorgeous assembly, in purple silk and lace; the other a young lady, all in snowy white, most delicately fair, and in form and feature simply the most beautiful woman my eyes had ever rested on.
‘Monsieur, désire-t-il une rose?’
I lifted my eyes to the pale face of the flower-girl, took the rose she gave me, and put something into her little leathern pouch.
As she passed away, Conyers’ voice at my side said,
‘Leighton, you must let me present you to Madame la Comtesse de Beauvilliers, and to her daughter la Comtesse Hilda. — Madame,’ to the old lady, ‘this is my best earthly friend; let me entreat of you,’ he added, laughing, ‘to bestow upon him some portion of the favour, and of you, Comtesse Hilda, some of the smiles, which have of late days made me the happiest among mortals!’
‘Mais, monsieur, j’en serai enchantée,’ said the Comtesse de Beauvilliers, extending her hand to me à l’Anglaise; while the Comtesse Hilda honoured me with a profound and graceful reverence, but said nothing.
Immediately afterwards I found myself walking up and down in company with the old Comtesse; Everard and the daughter strolling on together in front.
Madame la Comtesse was very gracious and affable, and very full of conversation, which she conducted in a mixture of French and broken English.
Was this my first visit to W —?
No; I had known it in former years.
She had done the same. For her part she was heartily sick of the place; and if it were not for a certain ‘soupçond’un rhumatisme,’ and because the air suited the delicate health of her daughter la Comtesse Hilda, she would not remain there another hour; it was a ‘wicked place, les morales y étaient très basses.’ How very seldom, for instance, it was your fate at W — to make the acquaintance of a young man like my esteemed friend Monsieur Everard Conyers — a young man ‘enfin si frais, si pur, si comme il faut,’ — so different, in fact, from the general run of W — society!
So he may be, thought I; but I very much doubt, Madame la Comtesse, whether even his purity, however great, will long stand the contaminating influence of society such as yours and that of your daughter.
For as she talked, and rambled sweetly on, and at length, though very cautiously, slid from the contemplation of Everard’s moral qualities to the far more important question of his social position in England, and the extent of his income, trying (though, as I flatter myself, in vain) to obtain from me some precise idea as to what they might be, I brought both eyes and ears to bear pretty acutely upon her, and with even greater intentness upon the fair and faultless vision moving in front of me.
In some early paintings, the Evil Spirit who first tempted our parents to sin is represented with a serpent’s body indeed, surmounted, however, by the head and shoulders of a faultlessly beautiful woman; and in the perfect lines of the perfect face there is nothing even to suggest wickedness or guile, far less degradation, shame, and that great mystery — death; nothing to provoke a shudder or cause distrust, save the one fact, that the beautiful mask is a mask, quite expressionless, apparently immovable.
Some such reminiscence or uncomfortable idea as this floated through my mind as I watched the Comtesse Hilda walking by the side of Everard Conyers.
She listened indeed, and answered and smiled; but the smile was the smile of the lips — not the eyes — and displayed to perfection the pearly even teeth in all their symmetry and whiteness.
And yet she was beautiful; and it seemed to me that her beauty dazzled the eyes and burned into the very soul of Everard Conyers.
I could see him grow more earnest and low-toned in what he said to her; and there was a kind of tender impassioned look in his honest blue eyes, for which indeed her face seemed to possess the attractions of a magnet.
In the distance the undulating sounds of the Strauss waltz swelled and sank upon the breeze, and the moon rose high and solemnly above the trees of the garden.
Madame la Comtesse mère — basilisk-eyed — played her part to perfection, keeping well behind, and eying the pair — so it seemed to me — much as a hungry spider might eye a couple of fat and well-conditioned flies hovering upon the verge of the fatal web.
After a time, however, she appeared to weary of my conversation; and well she might, considering the meaningless platitudes with which I favoured her; but whether she set me down as half knave or half fool, I do not know.
Certain personages among the crowd enjoyed the honour of Madame la Comtesse’s acquaintanceship: some she greeted with a stately bend of recognition; with others she was empressée in the extreme; and one, a young effacé-looking man, with a handsome face and a general air of effeteness and satiety about him, she introduced to me as Monsieur le Comte, her son.
At length Madame la Comtesse became suddenly affected by a violent ‘crise de toux,’ and shortly after this the Comtesse Hilda and her companion turned round so as to meet us; whereupon the Comtesse mère declared it time to leave the festive scene of the Kursaal and return home.
Everard, who had at first appeared a good deal crestfallen at the idea, consoled himself by reflecting that the day of his fête chainpêtre had well-nigh set in, for it was already close on midnight.
‘Will four o’clock in the afternoon suit you, Madame la Comtesse?’ said he; ‘the heat will not be too great in the forest at that hour, and I promise to provide amusement for you as far as I can, and at any rate eatables, among the sylvan shades. The Comtesse Hilda will, I expect, appear as a dryad,’ added he, smiling at her.
The three departed together, Everard escorting the ladies home.
I promised to meet him at the hotel on his return, and in the mean while strolled along the quiet paths by the side of the water, meditating on what I had seen, and considering what I should say to Conyers, were he to ask my advice and opinion on the subject.
The man’s in love, I reflected, and therefore no words of mine — did I possess the tongue of Demosthenes and the wisdom of Socrates — are likely to make much difference to him; he will simply put me down as dense and prejudiced, and, it may even be, jealous.
‘Monsieur,’ said a voice.
I started, and looked round. At my side stood the flower-girl, very pale, very quiet, very composed.
‘Monsieur,’ said she, ‘you are a friend to Monsieur Everard Conyers?’
I said I was, too much astonished to say anything else.
‘I can read faces,’ said she, ‘and I trust yours.’
Seeing, perhaps, a shade of suspicion, or at least amazement, in my expression at being thus accosted, she went on:
‘I know what you would say. You wish to know who I am, and what Monsieur Everard Conyers and his affairs can be to me.’ (She spoke very slowly, pronouncing her words carefully and distinctly, as one who wished to make herself understood.) ‘I will tell you. I am a poor flower-girl, and my name is Marie Dupin. Once, a year ago, I was in danger, and quite defenceless. I thought for a moment there was no one in the wide world to help me. Monsieur Conyers rescued me, monsieur; if he had been my own brother, he could not have done so more nobly or more generously; and I would give my life for him, and think I did but pay a rightful debt.’
As she spoke, the colour rose to her cheeks, and made her for the moment positively beautiful.
‘But, Marie,’ said I, ‘what is the danger from which you would at present save Monsieur Conyers?’
‘Monsieur,’ she answered quietly, ‘from the hands of the wicked Comtesse de Beauvilliers, and from those of her beautiful and worthless daughter.’
‘And have you, then, proofs,’ said I, ‘that the Comtesse de Beauvilliers is wicked, or, I will say, designing, and her daughter worthless?’
‘I have,’ she answered, ‘deadly proofs. But let me in return, monsieur, ask you a question. Has Monsieur Conyers much money — very much?’
‘He has a good fortune, and certain expectations,’ I answered half unconsciously, speaking the exact truth to this flower-girl, as if she had been the tried associate of my life. But something in her earnestness and simplicity impressed me in spite of myself.
‘Ah, it is as I thought!’ said she. ‘They will suck him like a leech, ruin him for this world and the next, if they could; and then, unless the Comtesse Hilda thinks the remains of his fortune sufficiently large, she will throw him away like an empty husk or a worn-out shoe.’
‘But I must hear more of this,’ I exclaimed. ‘You believe, then, the Comtesse and her daughter to be mere adventurers — trading on the good faith and evident admiration of Monsieur Conyers — tempting him to gamble, and perhaps lend them money for the same purpose. You do not suspect the Comtesse Hilda of ulterior designs — in fact, that she intends, if possible, to become the wife of Monsieur Conyers?’
‘I cannot say, monsieur,’ answered Marie quietly. ‘The Comtesse Hilda has been tossed about in the world for many a long day; she may wish to secure a home for herself, and imagines Monsieur Conyers to be in a position to provide her with one. But Heaven knows she shall not attain her end unobstructed, while I live to tear from his eyes the bandage which she has drawn around them! I tell you, monsieur, that on her white hand there is the stain of blood!’
‘The stain of blood!’ I repeated.
Marie nodded, and her great eyes filled with tears.
‘Do not ask me whose,’ she said; ‘for his sake, perhaps, I might have spared her — for he loved her. I do not ask revenge; I only ask to save the man who once saved me; and that, Heaven helping me, I will do speedily. But it grows late, and I must leave you. Good-night, monsieur!’
‘Stay, Marie,’ said I, ‘let me beg of you to stay. The truth of your suspicions cannot fail to be of paramount importance to me on account of my friend. Can you give me no clue, no hint as to their nature and extent?’
‘Not to-night, monsieur!’ she said simply. ‘Nor shall my lips accuse the Comtesse Hilda. Her own lips, her own eyes shall do that, and you will then be convinced that what I speak is truth. Farewell!’
In another minute Marie Dupin had disappeared in the darkness.
On my return to the hotel I found that Everard, to whose apartment I went, had arrived there before me.
He was stamping about the room in a state of perplexity and impatience, so it appeared. One or two open letters, evidently just arrived, lay about, and to the contents of these I attributed this sudden change of mood, for which I should otherwise have been at a loss to account.
‘Ah, sit down, old fellow,’ said Everard, pushing a chair towards me and throwing himself into another. ‘Well, are you going to congratulate me? Don’t you think I’m one of the luckiest men alive?’
‘Before I answer that question, Everard,’ said I, laughing, or attempting to laugh, ‘I must know precisely on what point my congratulations are expected.’
‘To tell you the truth, Leighton, I can hardly myself say; at least I am at a loss to explain in what exact relationship I at present stand to the Comtesse Hilda. She knows, of course, that I admire her — admire her immensely; but whether among her many lovers — ’
‘Her lovers!’ I interrupted him. ‘And so, Everard, you love the Comtesse Hilda de Beauvilliers?
‘Why, what else would you have me do?’ he exclaimed, stopping in the midst of his walk — for he had risen, and was again tramping up and down the room. ‘Surely to see her only, is to love her!’
‘To see her, yes,’ said I, with a marked emphasis on the word.
‘She is beautiful,’ pursued Everard, as if talking to himself.
‘And good and sweet as she is beautiful. Don’t tell me, because the old Countess may not come up to all one’s ideas, is foolish, vain, mercenary if you will — because she has brought up her daughter in this style of place (and Heaven knows there can’t be a worse) — because maybe they have got into difficulties, having no one to advise them’ (here his eye glanced at one of the letters on the table — which, from its penmanship and business-like air, I judged to proceed from a man of business or lawyer’s clerk — as if that document was in some way connected with the moneyed difficulties of the Comtesse de Beauvilliers), — ‘in short, don’t tell me, Leighton, that the Comtesse Hilda is not good and pure as she is beautiful!’
He spoke with very unnecessary warmth and vehemence, as a man does speak when he wishes rather to convince himself than his listener of the truth of his words.
I kept silence. How was I to disprove his statements? Moreover, ‘the stain of blood, the stain of blood upon that white hand,’ still rung in my ears, and perforce closed my lips.
As we sat thus, Everard drew towards him the lawyer’s letter, reread it, crushed it in his hand, and threw it down.
‘Hang the fellow!’ said he; ‘what’s the good of his writing to me on “large sums of money due on the estate, leases to be renewed, and extensive repairs necessary on the Yorkshire property”? I declare if he knows where the ready money’s to come from, I don’t; and there’s an end of it.’
‘It is, then,’ said I, ‘so expensive living at W —?’
‘Well — not exactly. I see what you’re driving at, Leighton,’ said he, stopping short in his walk, and looking me full in the face with his great tender eyes, in which there was a strange light and shimmer to-night, so it struck me: ‘granted that the old Comtesse de Beauvilliers be designing, mercenary, and all the rest of it, that does not affect the daughter, does it?
‘Not precisely. But it behoves you, Everard, in my opinion, before you inviolably connect your fate with that of another, to consider under what influences and in what society she has hitherto moved; whether your tastes, pursuits, and aims are in any way similar; whether you may not one day discover, when it is too late, that a great gulf lies between you — a gulf which you will then attempt to span, and in vain!’
‘I tell you,’ said Everard, ‘that I trust and love her; and if I thought this night that she loved me as I do her, I should esteem myself the happiest of mortals.’
‘Good-night,’ said I, laughing. ‘“Force not the course of the river,” I imagine to be a true axiom.’
‘Let me cap you. “It is better to meet a bear robbed of her whelps than a fool in his folly.”’
And so we parted. I had leisure to ponder these words of wisdom, and anything else which came beneath my notice, the next day, during the morning hours of which I saw but little of my friend.
In the afternoon I found myself one of a rather large would-be-silvan party, reclining in a glade of the beautiful forest which opens some miles from W — , and there partaking of every delicacy of the season and out of it, in truly rustic guise; for our tablecloth was spread upon the grass, and the company sat round on stumps and roots covered with cushions and rugs, and ate Perigord pie and many another dainty by the aid of two-pronged forks.
The banquet being at length concluded, the servants retired with such spoils as they could lay hands on; but the Champagne, Hoch-heimer, and Engelheimer still circulated among the guests, who continued sitting around the remains of their feast.
Comtesse Hilda stationed herself on the gnarled root of an oak, and Everard lay at her feet. Her hat she had tossed off, and the setting sun lent a glory to the magnificent hair which rippled down her shoulders in endless profusion.
The two were a little withdrawn from the rest, and Comtesse Hilda, looking down, played with a bunch of wild-roses which Everard had picked for her, and apparently listened with great attention to his conversation.
A good deal of talking and laughing went on among the guests, most of whom were apparently well acquainted with one another; but I, a stranger, had leisure for observation.
So, I noticed, had a certain fiercely moustached and whiskered individual, who sat nearly opposite Comtesse Hilda and her companion. He too, I learned, was something of a stranger at W —, and enjoyed the reputation of great riches. On him the Comtesse Hilda, every now and then looking up from her lap and the flowers which lay upon it, turned her eyes. Sitting thus, we suddenly became conscious of a sweet voice singing an old French melody, the sounds of which came wafted to us through the wood, now loud, now soft, now dying away upon the breeze; and at the end of a long vista we beheld the small graceful figure of a woman coming towards us, a flower-basket on her arm.
‘Marie Dupin!’ exclaimed Everard, springing up; ‘the very thing! I know of no sweeter voice in the world than Marie’s — save one,’ he added, smiling at the Comtesse. He filled a glass with Hochheimer and took it to Marie, who was now close to us. ‘Pledge me, Marie,’ he said.
She put away the wine.
‘Merci, monsieur, je n’en prends jamais. — Les messieurs et mesdames, désirent-ils de roses?’
Everard slipped a piece of gold into Marie’s pouch.
‘Distribute them yourself, Marie,’ said he, ‘and then sing to us, anything — a French ballad — we are not difficult to please; n’est-ce pas, mes amis?’
‘I will do so with pleasure, monsieur,’ said Marie. She then went round the circle, distributing a rose and leaf to each in turn.
As she paused before the Comtesse Hilda and gave her a crimson rose, the most beautiful in the basket, I fancied a shade of distrust, like the morning film upon the sky, crossed that perfect face. Marie sat down upon a stump, folded her small hands upon her lap, and began to sing, very softly at first and slowly, some old French crooning melody, such as a peasant might croon to her child, therewith to quiet its murmurs and hush it into calm, but in a voice so full, so rich, so deep, that you could not choose but listen. From this she passed into something very spirited, quick, gay, lively; and at the end of her performance received immense applause.
‘Sing us one more song, Marie,’ said Everard, who still lay at the feet of the Comtesse Hilda.
‘But I shall weary this company,’ said she.
‘No, no,’ said one or two: ‘sing.’
And the Comtesse Hilda laughed a little silvery laugh, and said,
‘Sing us a love-song, child. Don’t you know one?’
‘Oui, Madame la Comtesse,’ said Marie gently; ‘shall I sing it?’ and began.
It was a quaint old melody this time; very peculiar, very pathetic, with an ever-recurring refrain —
‘Te reverrai-je done,
O mes chères montagnes d’Alsace?’
— many verses long.
As the song proceeded, Comtesse Hilda turned pale as death, and round her eyes rose great circles.
‘Pardon,’ said Marie, stopping suddenly; ‘Madame la Comtesse se trouve mal!’
A bomb falling in the midst of us could hardly have astonished us more.
That this dryad, this Diana, this goddess of the feast, should suddenly falter and fail, and her wonderful ripe beauty assume the hues of mortal weakness, appeared utterly incongruous, and, but for the fact, well-nigh impossible.
‘C’est la chaleur; ma fille est d’une santé délicate,’ said the old Comtesse, going towards her; ‘un peu d’eau, Monsieur Conyers, et cela se passera.’
So it proved; for in a minute or so, during which Everard, kneeling at her feet, had chafed her hands between his own, Comtesse Hilda opened her eyes, smiled at her anxious adorer, and declared herself quite restored.
During the confusion which this little scene had occasioned, Marie Dupin, the flower-girl, had disappeared.
The party did not return to W — till late. We drove through the forest by the most beautiful clair-de-lune I had ever witnessed, which caused every tree and every forest glade to assume an unreal and spiritual appearance, while not a sound was to be heard save that of our own voices and the noise of the carriage-wheels. I slept somewhat late the next morning; and ere I had risen, was more or less surprised by receiving a visit from Everard, who, after a hasty knock at the door, entered without farther ceremony, and threw himself down in the armchair by the side of the bed.
‘Are you awake?’ said he.
‘Yes — no; in what can I serve you at this untimely hour?’ I answered, rubbing my eyes, so as to obtain a better view of my visitant, which ended in my exclaiming:
‘You have not been in bed all night! That, at least, is very clear.’
‘You’re about right there,’ said he. ‘I couldn’t sleep; so what’s the good? What do you think of this ?’
He took from his pocket a small square parcel tied round with a piece of scarlet ribbon.
‘Think of it? how can I tell, till I know the contents? Is it this parcel which has caused you a night’s unrest, Everard? If so, I must at least ask — first to untie the ribbon, in order to learn what the packet may contain; and secondly how you came by it.’
‘No — no! don’t untie it,’ said Everard, putting out his hand, ‘and I will tell you my story.’
I noticed now that he looked very worn and weary — far more so than a single night’s unrest warranted.
‘You know,’ said he, ‘after the Comtesse Hilda had recovered from her fainting-fit, the party broke up into little coteries.
‘The Comtesse and I wandered away in company with two or three others; but after a time our companions dropped off, and she and I found ourselves alone.
‘I daresay you remember, Leighton,’ said he, smiling, ‘that in our nursery days we used to be informed that the rays of the full moon upon the head produced madness — probably about as true an axiom as other old-wives’ fables; but whatever the cause, I believe I was mad last night.
‘It seemed to me, Leighton, as if my whole life concentrated itself into those few minutes — for it could hardly have been longer — during which she and I stood together in the forest.
‘I told her I loved her; and she — she did not reject me.
‘You remember, when at length all the company assembled in order to return to W — , some mistake occurred about the carriages, and I followed the servants and others who had gone in search of them, in order to make sure of all being right; when, turning an angle in the path, I perceived at a little distance two figures — a man, and by his side Marie Dupin. On seeing me, the man turned aside, but not before I had recognised in him Count R— , who, as I told you, has been but a short time at W — , and is very little known except by name.
‘Marie came on and met me.
‘When I saw her face, I started; there was such a strange look on it, and her eyes were full of tears.
“The carriages are on the road, monsieur,’ she said, “and will be there by the time you return. Can you spare me a few minutes? I have something to tell you.”
‘Of course I complied; and walked on with her.
“Monsieur,” she said, “that man, Count R— , is a minister of police. He is here on the track of the Comtesse de Beauvilliers and her daughter.’
‘I can’t tell you what I said, Leighton. I believe if I had been shot near the heart, I should have felt it less. She went on quietly: “Not long ago the Comtesse de Beauvilliers and the Comtesse Hilda resided at Berlin. They left the place suddenly and secretly, not without suspicion of having been engaged in a political intrigue of no creditable nature, for the purpose of obtaining money.” (She said all this, Leighton; and I heard it.) “Since then circumstances have come to light which have put the police on their track; and if they wish for safety, they must leave W — to-morrow.”
‘I turned on her then, Leighton; I was half wild, and she a woman. If she had been a man, I believe I should have struck her down on the spot; but I thank Heaven I was spared that!
‘She only turned paler and paler, and looked at me with her great strange eyes, which haunt me still. Then she said:
“Monsieur, it is not as you say. I am no spy, no hunter of women like myself. I have told nothing to the police-agent; and any proofs he may possess are not of my handiwork, or obtained by my connivance. You may still save the honour of those dear to you, monsieur, by means of the warning I have given you; but in return I make one stipulation with you. Visit the Comtesse Hilda; give her this packet, and make her open it in your presence; then, monsieur, you will see if I have reason in my words, if I have cause to warn you against the Comtesse Hilda.”
‘When she had said this, she gave a great sigh, Leighton, as if her heart was almost broken, and turned away; but I made her stop, and begged her to tell me what she knew and what she meant. But she refused, and said, “I will meet you to-morrow at the Comtesse de Beauvilliers’s, monsieur; till then I keep silence.” And she went.’
He ceased speaking.
‘Give me the parcel,’ I said, and took it. The paper in which it was folded was somewhat worn and sullied, and the ribbon faded. I judged that the parcel had been tied up not recently, but some two or three years since.
‘Go into the next room,’ I said; ‘I will join you in ten minutes, and we will go together to the Comtesse de Beauvilliers’s.’
‘I will not go there,’ said Everard, who was sitting, his head sunk in his hands.
‘Yes, you will. If there is nothing in that packet to compromise the Comtesse Hilda, so much the better; in that case the story of the Berlin intrigue may be also false; if not, the sooner you warn her that W — is no longer a safe residence for her, the more you will serve her interests.’
Half an hour later, he and I stood at the door of the Countess’s apartments; Everard changed and worn by that night of agony, as if by the effects of a long and terrible illness.
They were all together in the little drawing-room: the Countess Hilda sitting by the window; the old Countess in the easiest of easy-chairs, and attired in a magnificent négligé costume, sipping chocolate; and leaning behind her, weariness the predominant expression of his handsome womanish face, stood the young Count, her son.
There was a little antechamber to the room, and I was dimly conscious of some one noiselessly entering therein behind us. Not so the inmates of the room, who were all struck aghast by the change in Everard’s appearance.
‘Mais, qu’est que c’est, monsieur?’ exclaimed the old Countess.
‘Vous ne vous trouvez done pas bien portant ce matin?’
The Countess Hilda looked at him in astonishment, thinking, no doubt, was this the guise in which he came to claim her as his affianced bride? and a shade of terror and distrust passed, as it were, from his countenance to hers.
‘Countess Hilda,’ said Everard in a low tone, which sounded strangely in the silence of the room, ‘may I request you to open this parcel in my presence?’
All the indignant blood rushed to the Countess’s face.
‘No, sir. I will do nothing of the kind. May I inquire by what right you presume to make such a request?’
‘The right of loving you,’ said Everard, in a still lower voice.
‘And who has instigated you to so extraordinary a course?’ continued the Countess; and as Everard was silent, ‘Go, leave the room!’ said she passionately. ‘Your conduct admits of no excuse.’
As she spoke, her eyes fell upon some one who stood in the doorway looking at her, the Countess Hilda, fixedly — Marie Dupin. She advanced into the room.
‘Comtesse Hilda de Beauvilliers,’ said she, ‘if you will not open this parcel, I will do it for you.’ So saying, she tore off the cover and opened the lid of a little silver box. Within it lay two things: a diamond ring, and a thick lock of fair hair of the colour called ‘blond cendré’ dabbled in and stiffened with blood.
‘Do you know that hair, Countess?’ said the flower-girl. It seemed she did; for she wavered, faltered, looked round at her mother, who had risen in alarm, and the young Count, who came forward angrily, and then sank rigidly into the chair behind her, staring at Marie Dupin.
‘Get out of the house, woman, or it will be the worse for you!’ exclaimed the Count.
‘No, no; let her speak,’ said Comtesse Hilda, with a strange kind of laugh — ‘let her speak!’ And Marie Dupin did speak, and said,
‘Yes, Comtesse, it is three years ago since he died, my foster-brother Count Maurice de Bergue — died by his own hand; but the stain of his blood lies on your white hands, Comtesse Hilda de Beauvilliers — on you and on your mother!
‘God knows he loved you! And you led him on, and made him believe that you too loved him; you led him on — shall I say it, Comtesse? — into wickedness, into vice — in the midst of that whirlpool, Paris, he, so young and fresh from our Auvergne mountains. You taught him to gamble, and — you were a potent instructress — to forget everything in the world but you, and the desire to make money, that he might pour it at your feet. Then, when luck turned against him, and instead of gaining he lost, and still he sought you, then you laughed at him; and one day, Comtesse, when he wearied you, and you were aiming at far higher game, to which he had served as decoy duck long enough, so you thought, you jested at him and his pretensions, gloried in the new conquest you had made, threw him back the diamond ring he had given you, and denied the possibility of bestowing your hand upon a ruined man! Do you remember it, Comtesse?’ Comtesse Hilda bowed her white face. ‘You know what followed? You know why this hair is all dabbled in blood! He lay one morning, stiff and cold and dead, across the threshold of his own door — he, my brother, with the ring you had once worn against his heart!’
Her voice sank here, and faltered for the first time.
‘You shall pay for this! Leave the house, woman!’ said the Count, and raised his hand as if to force her to do so.
She looked at him very much as one might look at an insect beneath one’s feet.
‘It is not for vengeance that I speak!’ she said; ‘if it were, Heaven knows there is many a surer path by which I might have compassed it. But vengeance will surely follow such deeds as yours, Comtesse Hilda!
‘Comtesse de Beauvilliers! Comtesse Hilda!’ she continued, raising her voice, ‘be warned, while there is time. The Berlin police are on your track — there is no longer safety for you at W —.’
‘Spy!’ shrieked the Count, turning upon Marie with a fearful oath. The old Comtesse, with a smothered exclamation, sank back upon her couch; but the Comtesse Hilda laughed a little scornful laugh.
‘All the better,’ said she; ‘our career at W — seems to be terminated, and we will leave it to-day.
‘Monsieur,’ said she, turning upon Everard, ‘I imagine you no longer desire the fulfilment of those vows which you last night swore to me with such fidelity?
‘This woman informs you that there is blood upon my hands, and perhaps she speaks truth.
‘Go, and rejoice in her society, if you will, upon the peril you have escaped, and gloat over the dexterity and address which have enabled you publicly to degrade the woman you professed to adore!’
Everard had not spoken until now, but stood like one in a dream, struck dumb, and rooted to the spot — as if from the effects of some horrible enchantment.
But as the Comtesse rose to leave the room, he turned his face, and his white lips murmured:
‘Hilda. God forgive you, as I do!’
Then she stopped, looked at him with great wide-opened eyes, and came near him.
‘Kiss me!’ she said — and he kissed her — ‘for,’ she said, ‘I loved you!’
For many days after this Everard Conyers lay between life and death; and even after the fever had left him, such great weakness remained behind, that it was for some time doubtful which of the two would prove victorious. But he was young, and ultimately so far recovered as to enable me to remove him from W — . This was a great point gained; for here everything was fraught to him with painful recollections of bygone joys. Nevertheless, so great was the apathy into which he had fallen, that I much doubt whether he even thanked me for my pains; and I was well aware, that though I had succeeded in removing his bodily presence from W — , I had no such power over his mind, which — in as far as it had strength to cling to anything — remained obstinately rooted to the reminiscences of the past.
He would sit for hours moodily silent, never mentioning the names of those with whom he had been of late connected, save once: and that to ask whether they, the Beauvilliers, had left W — in safety. But when he was ill, and raving in delirium, the name of ‘Hilda’ was ever on his lips.
One night, when he was at the worst, a light knock sounded at the door, and some one softly entered — Marie Dupin, smaller, paler, more ethereal than ever. She came up to the bed and looked at him.
‘Will he die?’ she said. ‘I have killed him! It is all my work!’
‘No, Marie,’ I said; ‘on the contrary, you have saved him from a great peril. I believe that he will live; if not, there is a living death far worse than the mere death of the body.’
‘He does not know me,’ she said in her old gentle way; ‘he must not.’
Then she smoothed the pillows with her soft womanly hand, and went away quietly.
One evening, about a month after the time I first moved Everard from W — , we were sitting together on the balcony of a little inn at a tiny seaport on the coast of Normandy. He was already far better for the fresh sea-air and the quietness and primitive life which prevailed in the village of C — , where, indeed, no greater excitement was to be found than that occasioned by the outgoings and incomings of the sea-faring inhabitants on fishing excursions, and nothing marked the flight of time save the rising and setting of the sun, and the tinkling of the church-bell for matins and vespers.
I had been reading to him, and on laying down my book it struck me very forcibly, that I saw before me very nearly the Everard of old times; so that I felt emboldened to say,
‘Everard, I have something to tell you.’
‘Well,’ said he, ‘what? Anything pleasant?’
‘The Comtesse Hilda de Beauvilliers is married; I read it this morning in the Paris paper.’
‘Married!’ said he.
‘To some French marquis, with many names and more titles, at the church of La Madeleine.’
My last remembrance of Everard Conyers is a very recent and a very pleasant one.
Three years have elapsed since he and I returned to England together.
One warm evening, a week or so ago, I was paddling down the Thames amongst the rushes and reeds and forget-me-nots which grow by its margin, and presently relaxed my efforts and let my boat float to land just where a little green lawn slopes down to the edge of the water.
About a hundred yards higher up, nestling among a clump of trees, stands a cottage clad all over with ivy and cluster-roses. The French windows open down to the ground, and at the sound of my call two figures emerged therefrom: Everard Conyers, blithe and hale and sunburnt, all his dear old face lighted up with the pleasant smile I used to say he specially kept for me and for one other, she who now stood by his side; a slight figure, a sweet quiet face with great calm eyes — his wife, Marie Dupin.
Is there anybody, I wonder, who, at some time or other in his life, has not visited the west coast of Scotland? If such a one exists, I would strongly recommend him to do so; at least I know that is the opinion to which we unanimously came in the cabin of the schooner yacht Flying Scud, as we were enjoying a cigar and a glass of grog prior to turning in for the night; the ‘we’ aforesaid being comprised of Henry Harlowe, aged twenty-seven, only lately come into a large fortune, good-looking, good-tempered, and entered on the books of the ‘Chaperones’ and Mothers of Marriageable Daughters’ Society’ as a most eligible parti; secondly, of Captain Alexander Northcombe, late of the 85th Dragoons, and now getting through time by spending four months in town, another month or two in a cruise, and the rest of the year in visiting at the hundred-and-one country houses where Captain Alec is always a welcome guest; for he is up to everything, from private theatricals to being placed at the warm corner of a covert when a big bag is wanted; thirdly and lastly, of myself, described in the last census as being of ‘no occupation.’
Well, having introduced you to ourselves, let me try to give you an idea of our ship. One of Harry’s first proceedings on coming into his kingdom was to build a yacht, such as he had often declared that as soon as he could he would build. During our former cruises in a little twenty-ton cutter, we had often laid our heads together to scheme what the new yacht was to be; and the Flying Scud was the result of those cogitations. She was a schooner of about one hundred and twelve tons, with comfortable accommodation for five people, and, judging from one or two little trials we had had in the north, very fast.
We were at this time, about 11 P.M., off Lamlash in the island of Arran, having left Cambeltown in the morning; but, owing to light winds, had only made our present position. It was a splendid night; the moon was within three or four days of the full, and threw a broad path of light across the water, looking like a belt of molten silver; and the Ayrshire hills, standing up in strong relief from the water, completed a picture such as is seldom seen, even among the lochs and bays of the Scottish highlands.
However, we had admired it to the full, and were now engaged in imbibing our nightcaps and discussing the past and the future; the past consisting in reminiscences of our trip to Skye, and the future in anticipations of our visit to well-known ‘beautiful Loch Killnoy,’ on the borders of which Alec’s people had taken a house for the summer, and where we were to sail in a regatta that would be attended by many crack yachts, and thus have a good chance of trying what the Scud could really do.
‘I say, Harry,’ said Alec, — who was stretched on one of the sofas, for he had a great idea of his own comfort — ‘just put me the least drop more whisky in this, I’ve made it rather weak. Thanks. By the way, I forgot to tell you that I had a letter from Polly’ (his sister) ‘when we were in Cambeltown.’
‘Just like you, to forget,’ cut in Harry; ‘we will present you with a gold medal the day you remember anything except dinner-time.’
‘Well, never mind, we won’t argue that point; but I’ll just read you a bit of what she says; it’s a message to you two fellows, so I suppose you ought to hear it: “You can tell Mr. Harlowe and Mr. Middleton that I shall expect them to be very agreeable and amusing; for there are some charming girls staying here, and there is ‘no end’ of croquet and archery and dances, and we all want to be taken out in the yacht, and besides we have picnics and boating, and, in short, great fun.” There, what do you think of that, Mr. Digby Middleton and Mr. Henry Harlowe?’
‘Please don’t speak to me, for I’m engaged in contemplating in my mind’s eye all the bliss that is in store for us.’
‘It’s all very well for you to talk about the pleasures that are in store for us,’ growled Harry; ‘but I appeal to your sense, if you have any, — a point, by the way, on which I am rather doubtful, — if we are fit to shine in polite society, not to mention such a gay whirl of dissipation as Miss Mary Northcombe so graphically describes, after a month’s roughing it in the north?’
Alec gently murmured through a cloud of smoke, ‘Well, they must take us as they find us; and if they don’t like us, they need not have us.’
‘There is something in that: — however, Digby, just pull that sleeping beauty off the sofa, and let us go up and see how the night looks.’
‘Pray don’t exert yourself so much,’ said Alec, bringing his long body from the horizontal to the perpendicular, and leading the way on deck.
There we found no change; still almost a dead calm, as bright and as clear as ever, and, so far as I could judge, no signs of a breeze. Donald the pilot, whom we had shipped as our captain, was leaning against the main rigging, peering anxiously to windward and whistling for wind. He was a thorough specimen of a Scotchman, cautious and sure; would never commit himself to an assertion, but for all that he knew every loch and inlet on the west coast as well as his own cottage.
‘Well, Donald, any signs of a breeze? Shall we get up to the loch before morning?’
‘’Deed, yer honour, there’s no muckle appearance o’ it the noo; but happen we get a bit puff, I’ll no’ undertake to say but we might win up afore the mornen’.’
‘There, Harry, I hope you have profited by the instruction afforded you. By the way, how goes the time, Digby?’
‘Just ten minutes to eleven.’
‘By Jove, is that all? I thought it was about twelve. I say, Harry, let us go below and have a hand at écaré.’
‘Well, I don’t mind if we do just for an hour or so. I thought it was much later, too. Good-night, Donald, and get the square-sail on her if you have a slant of wind in the night.’
‘Ay, ay, sir, and gude-night to your honours.’
Well, we went below, and having pegged the table — that is, made it fast, so that it could not swing, for we did not expect a breeze — got out the cards, and Alec and Harry sat down to play — Harry on the sofa and Alec on a low camp-stool — while I mixed a little b. and s., otherwise known as brandy and soda-water. I had just finished and put the tumblers on the table when we heard Donald exclaim:
‘Up wi’ the helm; we’ll ha’e a fine breeze the noo.’
‘Quick!’ said Harry; ‘unpeg the table, Alec, or we shall have all these things upset.’
Poor Alec stooped to do so, when the squall struck us, and his stool slipped from under him, and he was deposited on the carpet; while, as the Scud heeled rapidly over to the strong breeze, the three large tumblers slid gently off the table, and discharged themselves and their contents into the nape of his neck, as he rolled down the now sloping floor to the lee-side of the cabin; while Harry and I lay on the two sofas and roared with laughter at poor Alec’s half-drowned appearance. However, the advent of the steward soon put things to rights; but it had put an extinguisher on écarté, and we went up on deck again, where we found that the squall had steadied into a fine fresh breeze on the quarter; we lent a hand to set the square-sail; that being done we turned in, to be soon lulled to sleep by the wash of the water against the yacht’s sides, as, true to her name, she went flying along at the rate of nearly ten knots an hour.
The next morning I was aroused by Harry’s coming into my cabin in a decidedly light and airy costume, to inform me that we were just entering the mouth of Loch Killnoy, and advising me to come up on deck, for, as soon as the anchor had been let go, we would have a swim: this was farther enforced by Alec’s putting his head through the skylight, and stating, that if I was not on deck in the space of one minute, he would salute me with a bucket of water when I did come. As I knew I should have no peace, I made a virtue of necessity; and attiring myself in what an African potentate — whose dress, according to tradition, is a pair of spurs and a cocked hat — might consider a superfluity of clothing, put my head up the companion, and saw for the first time ‘beautiful Loch Killnoy. ’ Imagine a sheet of water about seven miles long and two broad, closed in at the upper end by great towering jagged hills, descending almost perpendicularly to the water’s edge; while farther down the loch they assume a less wild character, and though still majestic lose their points and crags, while their bases are clothed with a thick belt of woods, out of which peep, but not obtrusively, a few cottages and villas — and on the south side of the entrance, placed on a natural lawn, and among some of the finest trees in Scotland, stands the palatial residence of the Duke of —. Imagine this on a beautiful summer’s morning, the hazy blue of the hills, the reflections so well-defined as almost to make the loch look like an inverted landscape — imagine all this, if you can; and if you cannot, go and see it, and I think you’ll agree with Alec, when he said:
‘By Jove, I say, awfully pretty, you know!’
‘Pretty, you heathen!’ said Harry, ‘why, it is the most splendid thing we have seen! I say, Johnson’ (he was the sailing-master), ‘ shall we bring up in that bay below the castle, where the other yachts are lying?’
‘Yes, sir; the pilot says that’s the best anchorage.’
‘What schooner is that lying there?’ said I.
‘I’m not quite sure, sir; but it looks very like the Ariadne.’
‘I believe it is,’ said Harry, ‘and if she sails for the Cup, we’ll soon see what the Scud can do.’
‘Down staysail. Are you all ready with the anchor?’
‘Ay, ay, sir!’
The helm is put down, and she comes round head to what little breeze there is.
Whiir-r-r, rattle, bang, splash, and we are at anchor.
We had a splendid swim in the very clear but very cold water; and having finished breakfast, were discussing the propriety of ordering the gig, and going on shore to call on the Northcombes and learn the plan of the campaign, when we heard a lady’s voice, which we recognised as Miss Polly’s, asking ‘if that was the Flying Scud?’ We ran up on deck, and found a boat alongside, containing Polly and four other young ladies; we took them on board, and were then informed that they had seen the yacht come in, and being determined to surprise us, had quietly rowed off to bring us on shore, without the mankind of their party knowing anything about it.
What a charming boat’s crew they were! Polly was a brunette, rising twenty-one, as a ‘hossy’ man would say — of course we were introduced to the other four — and the stroke, how shall I describe her? She was quite a different style from Polly — fair, with lots of golden hair, like the princess in the fairy tale; great big blue eyes, and such feet and ankles! The others were very good specimens of what poor John Leech used to draw so well — ‘English darlings.’
After a vain attempt to be allowed to row them on shore, we got in and shoved off.
Loch Killnoy is divided into two parts — upper and lower — by a long sandy promontory running out from the east side, and which at high water of spring tides is covered; but at all other times the tide runs with considerable force through a channel comparatively narrow, but of sufficient depth to float the largest ship in her Majesty’s service. The Northcombes’ house was on the upper part of the loch, but as the tide was flood we swept the narrows at a great pace.
‘Do you see that house just showing through the trees, Mr. Middleton? asked Polly.
‘Do you mean the one a little way up the hill, with the large lawn?’
‘Yes; that’s where Miss Herbert lives, and where all the great croquet tournaments take place.’
By the way, Miss Blanche Herbert was the lady whom I tried to describe just now.
‘I hope you can all play well,’ observed the fair chatelaine.
‘O, I think we can pass an examination in the art of croquet,’ answered Alec.
‘And, Mr. Harlowe, when will you take us all out in the yacht? We do so want to go — don’t we?’
‘O yes, so much!’ was immediately chorused in reply.
‘Miss Blanche Herbert,’ said Harry solemnly, ‘with the exception of the day on which we race, the yacht is entirely at your service.’
‘How very polite! If I were not rowing, I would make you the most profound curtsey; but instead of that, I’ll tell you that it is really very good of you. I vote for to-morrow — don’t you, Polly?’
A lively discussion as to where we were to go, and who were to be of the party, filled up the time until we arrived at a little stone pier which ran out from the foot of Mr. Northcombe’s garden. Certainly no place could be better adapted for a large party to stay at and amuse themselves than Armadale House. A velvety lawn running down to the loch, with clumps of evergreens and laurels forming themselves into walks apparently invented on purpose for flirtation, besides all the amusements mentioned in Polly’s letter, and added to this a host and hostess who were hospitality itself, made our prospects look bright in the extreme.
In these days of express trains, Suez canals, and twenty-mile-an hour steam-boats, it is no wonder that those whose business compels them to pass a certain time nearly every day in a town should take advantage of the present facilities of rapid transit, and deposit their household gods at some distance from their offices. Nowhere is this theory more fully carried out than in the neighbourhood of the ancient city of Glasgow. Partly by steamer and partly by railway, merchants and brokers, bankers and manufacturers, daily go to their toil, and as a natural consequence return by the same means; and so it happens that wild, picturesque, and romantic spots, whose scenery and associations have been made known to all the civilised world by the magic pen of the great wizard of the north, Sir Walter Scott, are now dotted with the country residences of ‘canny Glasgow bodies,’ whose fathers would have thought it rank heresy to have dwelt more than a mile from the temple of Saint Mungo. So wags the world away; and nowadays a fast steamer puffs her smoke into the mouth of Rob Roy’s cave as she rushes past, while worthy Messrs. Mac Michel and Jamison, merchants of the Trongate, Glasgow, discuss on her deck the probable result of the daring encroachments beet-root sugar is making upon the genuine nigger productions of Demerara.
Old Northcombe — Alec’s father — was one of these sort of worthy gentlemen. I do not attempt to conceal the fact; but the days of looking down upon a man because his father is in trade have passed away, and that wonderful association known as ‘society’ is just as willing to receive the heir of the merchant-prince as the future possessor of the title of Duke of Fitznoodle. However, in trade or not in trade, the proprietors of these said locations — to use a Yankeeism — on the Clyde manage to have as charming a lot of daughters, and as gentlemanlike a set of sons, as any old dowager of a past age might wish to stigmatise and ban by saying to her dearest scandal crony, ‘O yes, dear Lady Montmatre, pas mal, as you say, but then not in our set at all, you know.’
Be that as it may, I know we three agreed that Polly’s letter had not at all exaggerated things; and even that rather uninteresting game of croquet, with such partners as pretty Blanche Herbert and her numerous feminine acquaintances, never became ennuyant.
I must now carry you on to a week after our arrival, and put you en rapport with my dramatis personae on a Monday morning, as we were all standing on the pier waiting for the boat to take us on board the yacht.
This was to be our last ladies’ trip before the race, which was to take place on Wednesday, and the intervening Tuesday was to be devoted to putting the Scud in proper fettle.
‘Now tell me, Mr. Harlowe,’ said Blanche — ‘do you really think you will win?’
‘O, I hope so; at any rate, I think your gloves are pretty safe.’
‘Well, I’m thankful to hear that; because Polly was making me quite miserable all yesterday by saying that you had no chance against the Circe.’
Here I must observe, entre nous, that the owner of the Circe, a fine cutter expected to arrive every day, was engaged to Polly, so that accounts for her hostility to us. At this moment the boat came alongside the landing-place, and having, with not more than the usual amount of fuss — the most expressive word I can think of — succeeded in getting the chaperone safely stowed, the girls were soon disposed of, as they were all experienced boat women. Here I should like, if time and space would permit, to say or rather write a few words with regard to that species of the genus female known as the chaperone or female detective, for such nine-tenths of them are. I do not mean to say, that if I wanted to find the man who kindly wrote my name in mistake for his own on a cheque for 500l., which was duly honoured by my bankers’, that I should employ one of them; but if I wanted to know whether it was going to be a match between young Mountchessington and Annie Mayfair, or if it could be satisfactorily proved that Mr. A.’s attentions to Miss B. were of such a nature as to warrant Miss B.’s papa in asking what Mr. A. meant, or even if I wanted a little evidence got up in regard to a case that I thought it desirable to bring before Lord P—z—e, commend me to a chaperone who has — note this carefully — successfully disposed of four or five daughters, and has therefore a good sound knowledge of the art — for art it is — of scheming.
Being now safely packed, we pulled out into the loch; and the Scud, which had been some time under weigh, having gracefully rounded to and hauled her staysail sheet to windward, thereby kindly allowing us to come alongside, we succeeded in getting our living cargo safely on deck.
What fun it is, a party of ladies on board a yacht! Such questions and such exclamations: ‘how charming!’ ‘how delightful!’ and the cabin being entered — the descent to which, by the way, generally involves a considerable display of that part of the human form divine known as ‘tootsicums’ — there arises a Babel of ‘Look, Alice, books and pictures!’ ‘And a piano!’ &c. as if they thought that the cabin of a yacht flying a Royal Yacht Club burgee was furnished with nothing but bare boards. Suddenly a voice on deck is heard, ‘Let draw the staysail!’ and as the boat’s head falls off, and she heels gently over, there is an indiscriminate series of small shrieks as they all slide down to the lee-side of the cabin. This little climax of course involves an adjourning on deck, where we all gradually settle down to enjoy ourselves. Blanche seems to find the compass an intricate study, to judge by the long time she and Harry bend their heads together over it; Alec and I devote ourselves to Blanche’s sister and the two Miss Hamiltons; Polly walks forward with a firm step, like a sailoress as she is, to consult the mate as to the probable date of the Circe’s arrival; and the dear old chaperone asks the captain in rather an unsteady voice, ‘if he is quite sure it is quite safe;’ to which query Donald takes upon himself to reply more emphatically than politely, ‘Hoot, woman! what are you frightened for?’
All the little incidents of the day, though very amusing at the time, would but little interest you now; so let us pass on until about five P.M., when we were running back into the loch, and the question was raised by Harry, as to whether we should go past the narrows into the upper half of the loch, or not. After consultation with Donald, it was decided that we should, as he said we might easily do so, and get back to our moorings soon after seven o’clock. To enable my readers fully to understand our situation, I must explain that these narrows could only be gone through in safety with the tide in our favour and the wind what sailors call abeam — that is, blowing on the side of the vessel. It was now within an hour of high water, and the breeze in the proper direction; so we should be able to go up with the last of the flood, and come down with the first hour’s ebb. All went well; we glided in safety through the narrow passage, and spent an hour or so tacking about the upper loch, at one time standing in close enough to recognise the members of the croquet-party on the Northcombes’ lawn. Donald now hinted that it was time to return, and we bore away for what Alec had christened the North-West Passage; for he declared it must be, to judge from Donald’s long face, as perilous as the one poor Sir John Franklin lost his life trying to find.
We had gone down into the cabin, and were indulging in what ladies so much delight in, afternoon tea, when we were startled by hearing the canvas flapping.
‘Hallo!’ exclaimed Harry; ‘if the wind dies away, and leaves us at the mercy of the tide in the narrows, we shall go on shore to a certainty.’
The instant afterwards we heard the skipper call out, in quick eager tones, to lower away the boats, and tow her head off shore. The moment I got my head above the companion, I saw what an unpleasant scrape we were in. The breeze had completely failed, and the eddying tide had caught the yacht, and was taking her, broadside on, to where the short breaking ripple showed the end of the spit which divides the upper from the lower Loch Killnoy. The only chance of preventing her going on shore was to tow clear of the point, and the men were exerting every nerve to do so, while Donald danced about the deck in a state of almost rabid excitement. A few moments more decided our fate. A slight shiver ran through the vessel as she touched the ground, and the rapidly ebbing tide pressing us every moment more firmly on to the ridge, we remained most unmistakably hard and fast. Of course, there was no danger — even the chaperone could only raise a very small shriek; but fancy our disappointment — this was Monday, the regatta was to take place on Wednesday, and as we had gone ashore a very short time after high-water of a very high spring-tide, it was out of the question expecting to get the yacht off under a month at least, at which time we intended to have been on our way to the Mediterranean. Poor Harry’s disgust was intense when the fact was patent to him that the Scud could not sail in the match, and no wonder he gave vent to an emphatic blessing. However, there was no help for it, and we went on shore, leaving Donald and the skipper to make arrangements for getting off the yacht. Of course, everybody condoled with us; but there was a good deal of chaff about being shipwrecked in a calm.
Half an hour of our landing, Mr. Northcombe came home, after spending his day in pursuit of mammon in the city of Glasgow; and nothing would satisfy him but that Harry and I should stay for a week or so at Armadale House; and to this we agreed, Harry with an eagerness I could not then account for.
The accident to the yacht was a great disappointment to us all, as we had set our hearts on winning at the regatta; but, to quote Burns’s version of the proverb that appears in some form or other in every known language,
‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.’
And so it was with us.
But to be brief: the regatta took place, and went off in a most satisfactory manner. The Circe won as she liked, thereby making Polly happy; but, of course, Harry, Alec, and I said among ourselves that the Scud could have beaten her, had she been able to sail. As a matter of course, also, a ball took place afterwards, as that is part and parcel of yacht-racing; and the day following it was explained how Harry, after all, was not so very much disappointed at the Scud’s going on shore, he thereby receiving old Northcombe’s invitation to stay a little longer in the Frith of Clyde, which he had accepted with such empressement.
The rooms of the Yacht Club, in which the ball took place, were admirably adapted for the purpose, there being plenty of card and ‘cooling’ rooms en suite, and in one of these, about one A.M., were seated Harry and Blanche.
‘Harry dear, I believe it is all fibs your saying that you are glad that the yacht has gone on shore, and that now you can get off going to the Mediterranean without any bother; and I’m sure you are very savage at not winning the regatta prize.’
‘No, darling, I’m not; for I’ve won a better prize than all the cups that ever were sailed for — and that is you, my Blanche.’
Great was the excitement on the banks of Loch Killnoy when the engagement of Blanche Herbert and Harry Harlowe was announced; but, in spite of the proverb that ‘the course of true love never runs smooth,’ all went well in this case. They are now married, and I am happy to say that Mrs. Harlowe has neither put a veto on yachting nor insisted on the banishment of Harry’s bachelor friends. The Flying Scud was successfully floated off next spring tides; and exactly a year from the day she went on shore, she again passed through the dangerous narrows, carrying nearly the same party as she did on that eventful occasion; and as we passed the point, that is now marked by a conspicuous beacon, I said to Harry:
‘Old fellow, if any one had told you the morning we first entered the loch that you would leave it a married man, what would you have said?’
‘I don’t know what I should have said then, but I know what I say now — that it was a “happy thought” which first brought me to “beautiful Loch Killnoy.”’
P.S. — Blanche’s sister has taken pity on me, and we are to be ‘turned off’ very soon. We intend to spend our honeymoon in the Frith of Clyde, when perhaps we may have the pleasure of meeting some of the readers of this paper. Captain Alec is still a bachelor, and likely to remain so.
I don’t know what induced me to cross Bundles Moor on a doubtful winter’s day. I had been stopping for a week at Tickleby Wells among the Yorkshire moors, recruiting energies exhausted by the completion of my work on the ‘Infinite Indicative.’ My engagements necessitated my being in town the next day. The solitary through train which daily left Tickleby, which is about two miles from the Wells, started at 5.15 A.M. Perhaps a natural reluctance to face the chilliness and darkness of early morn had some share in influencing the decision I arrived at; which was this — to cross Bundles Moor on foot to the town of Bungford, where there is a principal station, and whence I could reach London by a night train in five hours. This plan gave me another day to inhale the ozone of the hills.
My host the doctor tried to dissuade me. The day was lowering, snow was in the air, the track was at places faintly traced, here and there it failed altogether. But I laughed at his cautions. A man who had conquered virgin peaks of Swiss Alps, who had crossed the Rocky Mountains, who had mounted the extreme heights of the Andes, scaled the precipices of the Himalayas, was not likely to be daunted by the dangers of Bundles Moor.
I started; the guests at the Wells, assembled in the portico, watched my progress up the hill-side. I was soon out of sight of these, and alone among the undulating moors of West Yorkshire.
Notwithstanding my experience in the Andes and elsewhere, I am bound to confess that I lost my way; that I wandered many hours in fog and mist and snow-showers; that I finally was very glad to abandon all hopes of reaching Bungford, and to crawl warily along the track of a little stream, which at all events led somewhere. The sulky day was almost quenched in night when I reached an enclosed country and struck upon a stony lane hedged in by loose stone walls. On clearing the ridge of the next hill, I saw through a rift in the fog, lying in the valley beneath me, a little town gray and slaty. Presently I came to a high-road bordered by a footpath of beaten cinders, and passing one or two decent houses, sheltered by stag-headed hide-bound trees, found myself in a street of gray stone cottages, varied here and there by the gateway of some factory. The only sign of life about the place was the dull reverberation of machinery, the gush of escaping steam. The town seemed deserted of inhabitants, but coming to the opening of another street, I was convinced that such was not the case; for with a great clatter of wooden clogs a human being was advancing. His dress I can hardly describe, my attention being so much engrossed by his complexion, which was of a brilliant blue.
‘My friend,’ I said to him gently, as he approached, ‘can you tell me if there is an inn in this place?’
‘Is there an inn here, please?’
‘Aw doan’t know.’
‘Isn’t there a public-house?’
‘A pooblic-house! Now do yo think a tawn loike this ’ud be without a pooblic-house?’
‘No, I should think not indeed.’
‘What do yo ask such fool’s questions for, then?’ said my friend, passing on, indignant.
I went on melancholy and forlorn; but again I met a man, whitefaced, and wearing shoes.
Him I accosted briskly. Perhaps, after all, it was well to be a little brusque.
‘My lad, where’s public-house?’
He stopped and scrutinised me narrowly.
‘Now, where do you come fro’ — London? Nay, you’re none come fro’ London. You’ll be a chap fro’ a warehouse ‘ee Bradford.’
‘Come, tell us the way to the public-house.’
‘Nay, a don’t much matter wi’ public-houses. Nobbut what a can do with a good glass a yale now and then.’
‘Then you shall have a glass with me if you’ll take me to the best inn in the place.’
In this way I succeeded in finding the inn, a dingy square stone building flush with the road; behind it were extensive outhouses, breweries, piggeries, and suchlike.
It was like a bit out of Pilgrim’s Progress, my experience in this Yorkshire town.
The landlord gave me no cordial welcome.
What was the name of the place? Well, it seemed very strange as a chap should come to a place and not know name of it. Nay, there were no more trains out that night. If I wanted trains, why didn’t I go down to the station? Could I have a bed? Well, he didn’t know; they didn’t matter much wi’ letting beds to folk they knew nowt about. Summut t’eat? Nay, he didn’t think they’d aught to eat; he’d ax missus.
Missus came. Ever I have found, whether in African desert or Indian jungle or American wild, that the kind heart of woman is open to the cry of distress. But I thought at first that Yorkshire was an exception. Missus was just as cautious as her master. I was really exhausted and worn out, or I would have quitted the place at once. At last I happened to mention that I had met at the Wells a well-known countryman of hers, Mr. Bungs: then she expanded.
‘Aye! well if ye know Billy Bungs ye’re all right. I can give ye a bed in billiard-room if ye like, I’m full in th’ house. Dinner, my lad! it’s getting supper-time now. I’ll get thee a bit o’ supper, and make thee comfortable, never fear.’
Really, after the walk I had had, the roaring fire in the inn-parlour and the comfortable arm-chair were sufficiently pleasant. And the missus’s bit of supper consisted of a hot roast goose, a cold round of beef of about sixty pounds avoirdupois, a pair of fowls and boiled ham smoking hot, a brace of grouse, and pies innumerable, backed by a cheese as big as a cart-wheel; and all put on the table at once.
‘Ah!’ you say, ‘I see it now — hot supper, bad dream, woke with a start — regular thing!’
Wrong again, reader. My experiences of waking life have been thrilling enough to enable me to dispense with the machinery of dreams. Though, indeed, had I not irrefragable proofs of the reality of the scene I passed through on the eventful night of which I am now penning the chronicle, I could wish to believe it only a troubled dream. You shall hear.
Supper finished, I settled myself in the big arm-chair by the fire, with the Times, a smoking tumbler of toddy, and a well-filled pipe, prepared to enjoy myself. I had toiled hard all day; this evening hour was to be my recompense. But the columns of the Times soon were lost in a mist, the tumbler smoked untasted by my side, my pipe fell out of my mouth, and I slept.
I was awakened by a knocking at the door. It was the missus.
‘A’m going to lock up now, maister, — you’ll find th’ ostler up th’ yard; he’ll show you where your bedroom is, and give you a light.’
I stumbled through the darkness up the yard; at an open door, at the farther end of the yard, stood a man with a light in his hand. He called to me as I approached,
‘What! you’ve come to take your couch, then, have you?’
At the time I was struck with the peculiar nature of his address. My couch! Fancy a Yorkshireman asking you if you’re going to retire to your couch!
‘Yes; give me a candle, please,’ I said.
‘Ha’nt you brought a lamp, then? Well, here’s a candle.’
He handed me a bit of stick, which had a tallow-dip stuck at the end of it. Possibly it was the customary chamber-candlestick in Yorkshire — at any rate, I was too tired to care. I took it, and entered the open door. The flickering light of the candle only showed me for a moment a vast black interior, then the door slammed to behind me, blowing out my candle. I was in total darkness. Still I had in my pocket a tin box of vesuvians. Without venturing to move, I felt for this and found it. It is possible to obtain a flame from a vesuvian if at the moment of ignition, when the phosphorus is flaring, you apply a piece of paper to it — still, it’s about three to one against doing it. There were only two vesuvians left in my box — with each I failed to light a paper. I turned to the door I had entered — it was locked. Still I had been told that my apartment was a billiard-room. I should be likely to find matches somewhere; probably on the chimneypiece; there are usually a match-box and a hundred or two loose matches lying on a billiard-room chimneypiece. The billiard-table must be in the centre of the room; if I could once grasp that, I could make my way round the room, and my eyes, accustomed to the darkness, might discern the fireplace.
I took two steps carefully forward, and was precipitated into an abyss. I don’t know how far I fell, consciousness left me for a moment. When I recovered my senses, I was lying in some yielding matter, unhurt but gradually sinking. Yes, I was being gradually swallowed up in some horrible viscid pulp. Although I have breasted the billows of the mighty Atlantic, have sported in the waters of the arrowy Rhone, yet here all my skill and strength were useless. I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t move, except by swinging my arms purposelessly about; in a few moments they too would be sucked in, and then — suffocation in its most horrible form. And yet I couldn’t believe it. No, it couldn’t be that this was really my last moment. Well, at least I should know whether my theories in the Infinite Indicative were just; and yet perhaps not, perhaps this blackness and gloom creeping over me may be Infinite too! O horror! They say that in moments of sudden death the whole of a man’s past life is revealed to him as in a panorama. It isn’t so, crede experto; terror, incredulity, a wild wonder, sweep across all the nervous centres, rendering impressions of consciousness blurred and illegible.
But whilst slowly sinking into this mysterious death, I became aware of a bright light, as from a lantern, flashing upon me, and that a human form was peering at me from above. One of the murdering gang who had inveigled me into this trap, no doubt, and who was here to satisfy himself that the dastardly deed had been accomplished. The fiend! he was actually prodding at me with an iron bar! Rage restored my strength for a moment, and I clutched the bar, which the man had thrust into my breast, with both my hands; the villain, overbalanced, fell into the pit, the pit prepared for me, and I with all the energy of despair grasped him, and actually using him as a float, succeeded in raising myself partly out of the viscid mass. How he roared for help, for more assassins! and how I, like a madman, crammed great double-handsful of the sticky stuff we were struggling in — crammed them into his mouth!
But his cries had done their work; the doors were thrown open, and two repulsive wretches, carrying stable lanterns, rushed in.
* * * * *
‘Eh, missus, missus! Coome here, quick! Danged if supervisor han’t tumbled into t’couch frame, and here’s another’ (say gent) ‘a-throttling him!’
I had indeed found my way into the malt-house instead of into my bedroom, had tumbled into the malt, and had nearly killed a responsible officer of her Majesty’s Revenue.
After we had been fished out, and rubbed down and dried — my clothes smell beery to this very day — my friend the supervisor, who seemed at first to be strongly inclined to invoke the terrors of the law, and give me into custody for what he called ‘compressing a couch,’ began to take a more cheerful view of the occurrence. He was a Scotchman, and willingly agreed to my proposal to bury the remembrance of our struggle in an amicable toddy tournament.
‘Eh, mon,’ he said, ‘I thocht ye were the divil.’
‘But, I say, what did you want to prod me with that iron thing for?’
‘Prod ye, mon! I was just taking my gauge, that’s all. Ye see we gauge the malt always and all times — in the cestern, in the couch — that’s the couch where ye were — and it’s put there to germinate, d’ye see; and then it’s spread on the floor, and then roasted in the kiln, and we measure it all ways. But, mon, I hope I’ll never have to gauge sic another couch!’
And may I never rest again on such a couch of horrors!
A Legend of the Danube
[In one of the three chapels planted round the churchyard of St. Peter’s Church, outside of the walls of Straubing, a tombstone is pointed out as that which covers the grave of the unfortunate Agnes Bernauer. Though the daughter of a humble citizen of Augsburg, this fair damsel, by her beauty and virtue, gained the heart of Albert, son of Duke Ernest of Bavaria. Albert was privately married to her; but unfortunately for the happiness of the youthful couple, their secret reached the ears of the Duke, who had planned for his son a more exalted match. The father, taking advantage of his son’s absence, caused Agnes to be seized, condemned to death upon false accusation, and cast from the bridge of Straubing into the Danube. The fury and despair of Albert, on hearing these horrid tidings, were boundless. He fled away, and in open rebellion joined the army of Louis the Bearded, his father’s bitterest foe, and with him invaded his native land to take vengeance on the murderers of his wife. The chronicler adds that this deadly and unnatural feud lasted for many years.]
‘He told me he’d return ere dark,
He told me not to fear;
The dark has come, the stars are out,
But Albert is not here.
Before the casement, where so oft
We twain have sat, I’ll wait,
And rush to meet him when I hear
His hand upon the gate.
How dull and drear the room to-night
Without his cheery smile,
Uplifting my young heart with joy
To heaven for a while!
O sweet half-year of cloudless skies!
O fields and happy flowers!
O sunny morns! O rosy nights!
O laughter-laden hours!
A step — he comes! Alas, ’tis gone;
It passes by the gate —
Some weary peasant trudging home
Lie still, poor heart, and wait.
He told me he’d return ere dark,
He told me not to fear;
The dark has come, the stars are out,
But Albert is not here.
Why comes he not? I know he seeks
The Duke, his haughty sire —
Duke Ernest, stern, they say, and proud,
Of fierce and vengeful ire.
But ere he left, he kiss’d me thrice
And strain’d me to his breast:
“Sweet Agnes, I will tell him all,
And we will hope the best;
But, by my knightly faith, I swear
That thou shalt take thy stand
Before the world my wedded wife,
The proudest in the land!”
These were his words, his last loved words.
Why is my heart not light?
Why sits a dread of coming woe
Upon my soul to-night?
He told he’d return ere dark,
He told me not to fear;
The stars are out, the moon is up,
But Albert is not here.
He comes, he comes! I hear the gate’ —
Alas for human pride,
Three fierce repulsive men rush’d in
And seized the waiting bride,
‘Unhand me! — Hold! what want you here?
Can it be gold you seek?’
Amazed at such rare loveliness,
Those rough men could not speak;
But each drew back, and silent gazed
On face and ruffled brow:
Duke Ernest, lord of all the land,
Enters the chamber now.
‘O, where is Albert? Speak, my lord!
Why comes he not to me?’
‘Peace,’ said the Duke; ‘that erring knight
You never more shall see.
‘Nay, nay, my lord; recall your words!
Pray God it may not be!
For I am all the world to him,
And he is all to me.’
She sank down on a suppliant knee,
So innocent, so sweet;
She look’d up in his frowning face,
She clung about his feet.
‘You will not part us, gentle Duke
‘No, no; ’twere death in life;
He is my husband leal and true,
And I’m his faithful wife.’
Duke Ernest forth a casket drew,
A written scroll he bore:
‘Now, swear you are not Albert’s wife —
Vow ne’er to see him more.
These men shall bear you far away
Safe to a distant land,
With dainty robes, and costly gems,
And gold at your command.
Upon these sacred relics swear
You’re not his wedded wife;
But dare refuse — this scroll condemns,
To-night shall end your life.’
She started proudly to her feet,
She spake with flashing eye —
‘That I am Albert’s wedded wife
I never will deny!
Though life to me is dear and sweet,
And death a gloomy shore,
Though life I love — know you,’ she said,
‘I love my honour more.’
The old knight clench’d his mailed hand,
He stamp’d his foot in scorn:
‘Prate you of honour thus, forsooth!
You — a poor peasant born!
You are a witch — by hellish arts
Have you beguiled my son.’
‘Now, by the Holy Cross,’ said she,
‘No witch-deed have I done!
He sought me for my own poor self,
He show’d his love for me;
He woo’d and won my virgin heart,
And then he wedded me —
Yes, wedded me! In holy church
Was breathed the mystic vow;
And though I was a peasant born,
I am his equal now!’
A coarse curse like an adder hiss’d
From fierce lips parch’d and white —
‘The eagle mates not with the crow;
The crow shall die to-night.’
He gave a sign his creatures knew,
Obeying it full soon,
For now they drag the young bride forth
Beneath the peering moon.
Along the dusty road they trail
Her dark dishevell’d hair —
Would that brave Albert, sword in hand,
Could meet those ruffians there!
They reach old Straubing’s fatal bridge;
Ah, deed of dire disgrace!
The sad moon hides behind a cloud
Her pale affrighted face.
The Danube roars, the deep wind wails
The night-birds loudly scream;
One long, lorn, terror-laden cry —
They’ve thrown her in the stream.
The clouds clear off, and silvery beams
A halo round her throw,
Illume each stone upon the bridge,
Each broken wave below.
See, see! she breasts the angry flood,
She struggles with the tide;
She nears the bank — by all the saints,
She’ll reach the farther side!
O, haste thee, haste thee, gallant knight!
And give a helping hand;
’Yea, leap into the swollen stream,
And draw her safe to land.
He grasps her flowing hair; and now —
O God! that there should be
In all the world so black a heart,
So base a wretch as he! —
He holds her head beneath the surge!
A struggle — all is o’er —
And she, so lovely and so true,
Is still for evermore.
A great light on the waters fell,
Sweet whispers floated by,
And melting strains of far-off song
Were wafted from the sky.
And then a wreath of mist arose
From the spot where Agnes sank;
Duke Ernest watch’d it seek the stars,
Then shuddering left the bank.
O Agnes! many a bard has sung
Thy beauty and thy bale;
And many a fair Bavarian maid
Has wept to hear thy tale;
Wept too for Albert, hapless knight,
Who hastening to thy side,
Met on the bridge thy murder’d corse
Just rescued from the tide.
His horror, fury, his despair,
His grief — ah! who may tell,
As bending o’er the lovely dead
The scalding tear-drops fell?
He took her cold, cold hand in his,
And there, with bated breath,
He swore upon her silent heart
He would avenge her death.
* * * * * *
Long years have past. In Straubing town,
By Danube’s turbid wave,
They still show, near its ancient church,
Her venerated grave;
And history tells how civil war
Raged like a roaring flood;
How son ’gainst sire waged deadly strife,
And dyed the land with blood,
And how the old Duke mourn’d his heir
As the ghastly years went by,
While in his lurid soul was nursed
The worm that would not die.
Project Gutenberg Australia