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1. Arthur Owen: An Autobiography

Chapter 1note

IAM deformed. A hideous dwarf, you may call me, if you like. The name would n't cut into my heart now. I have heard it too often—seen it too often,—in glances of half-loathing compassion and contemptuous disgust. Even wired cats, they say, don't hurt much after the first dozen lashes. It takes a longer time to get used to wired words, lacerating looks; but, thank Heaven! one does get accustomed—callous—even to these, at last.

Yes, I am a hideous dwarf.

I mention the fact thus early, because I learnt it early. My proud mother's mortification cropping out ever and anon through her sorrowful tenderness, like a dry, jagged rock through dewy greensward; my beautiful sisters' careful fondness; my bonny brother's condescending kindness —condescending, though the imp was two years younger than myself; the way in which my father, usually so taciturn and stiff, unbent and talked to me—all taught me my lesson at home, as faithfully as the pointed fingers and protruded tongues and whispers and shudderings of the people out-of-doors—and even more painfully, because I could not resent the teaching.

Remembering what I am, bear with me whilst I chronicle my life. Mind, I don't ask you for your pity—I've had enough of that. The word sickens me.




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Chapter II.

MY father was the curate of Pwldhi, a village in South Wales. It is a lonely spot. Even in these days of newspapers and railroads, the roar of the busy world reaches the hamlet only like the dull sound of billows breaking miles away. The pedlar's tidings, a month old, are considered “latest intelligence” in Pwldhi. A stranger's visit is pabulum for talk for half-a-year.

It is a lovely spot, too. Dearly do I love Nature, for she is the only beautiful one I ever dared to look upon without apology and shame, the only one I never caused to frown or sigh. She always had a smile for me, though I was hateful to behold, and unveiled her loveliness before me as solace, and not insult.

On the left, as you face the Bay, a green, broad-backed mountain meets the sky. In fine weather you can see the dun wild cattle roaming on the mountain-side, and here and there a flock of sheep nibbling the fragrant thyme, or far, far up, a line of shaggy kids playing at follow-my-leader along the jutting blocks of lichen-mottled limestone. In stormy weather, the clouds rest damp and dreary on the top, and spot the swelling hill-slopes with straggling patches of wind-tost vapour, looking like columns of ascending smoke.

Just where the mountain begins to melt into the plain, there is a dense mass of dark foliage, above which tower the ragged, ivy-clad, weed-stream-ered, jay-and-jackdaw-haunted ruins of a castle, and between which you catch glimpses of an old-fashioned red brick mansion, with white stone piers and coping: the park and residence of the Lord of the Manor.

Towards the sea, the hill-range ends in a long rank of stern, gray crags, over the outermost of which the waves, rolling on and on for ever from the far-off west, break, with perpetual thunder, in seething curls of snowy foam; bronzing the turf that caps the cliffs, and drenching their gay garlands of golden-blossomed gorse, with ever-drifting showers of salt spray.

On the other side of the Bay, a wooded declivity dips its feet in the blue waters, looking over at its grim vis-a-vis as a gentle sister might gaze, half proudly and half fearfully, at a brave brother in fierce combat. Another castle, shattered by Cromwell's cannon, crowns this hill. At its foot nestles the Parsonage, blotched by the sea-breeze. A path fringed with the periwinkle and wild rose leads, just above the rocks, to the church-yard; where the village dead sleep, not beneath green mounds, as in English graveyards, but underneath a coverlet of flowers. A little garden, box-bordered, or with a tiny white-washed wall, watched lovingly throughout


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the year, and weeded by fond fingers, and watered by regretful tears, at Easter and at Whitsuntide, blooms fair and fragrant above each dear, departed one—a sweeter tomb than the unvisited mausoleum with its marble symbols of a stony grief, and virtues—not cherished in the memory of survivors, but chronicled or created, for stranger eyes, in characters of gold.

The present church is old enough to have the cross-legged effigy of a Crusader in its chancel. I used to marvel why he didn't scour the verdigris from his armour,—the damp had made the monument so green. I really thought, when quite a child, that it was a living knight, who lay there studying the Ten Commandments in the Two Tables over the Altar, and that the sexton fed him secretly with what remained of the sacramental bread and wine.

There is, however, an older church beneath the waves. When the sea is calm, you can see the broken arches, covered with limpets and swathed in many-coloured tangle, the ribbed sand heaped high round the thick pillars, and shoals of fish, now bright now shadowy, gliding silently up the watery aisles.

The old parsonage was swept away with the old church, but part of the old garden-wall remains—a tottering mass of rubble at the water-side, with a silver birch trembling, like a warrior's plume, upon the top. My childish fancy likened the pile, I remember, to a warrior left behind by his comrades, and grown grey in gazing for the ship that nevermore returned. The garden, also, remains, grass-grown and rubbish-strewn, and dotted in Spring with a few tufts of pale, sad, lonely-looking daffodils.

Behind the belt of slate-colored shingle that bounds the beach, there is a chaos of sand-hills, covered with dark-green, spreading fern, and pallid bristling sedge, through which the wind sighs mournfully as it bends it to the ground. Here and there, too, there is a spread of mossy sward smooth as velvet, yielding as a Turkey carpet, but far more variously, exquisitely colored than any web the work of human hands. Myriads of rabbits inhabit these wide burrows; now peeping forth cautiously from their holes; now sitting on their hind legs and smoothing their whiskers, like fops, with their fore-paws; now scampering in their short gallop over the glittering soil, scattering, as they go, a silvery spray; and anon plunging, with a knowing back-cast glance of their round eyes, and an impertinent whisk of their funny little tufts of tails—as though well aware that their heavy-footed scarer toiled after them in vain—once more into the wide-branching galleries of their subterranean homes.

A road, like a rock-staircase, leads from the shore to the village-green


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at the top of the hill. On both sides of the road, and round the green, are white-washed cottages, buried in flowers, and with gaudier weed-gardens on their dank roofs of thatch.

Emerald meadows, or “parks”—to adopt the local term—shaded by huge spreading elms, and corn fields, with their lime-kilns veiled in sweet briar, girdle the village; and outlying farm-houses speck the distant verdure like lingering wreaths of snow.

Farming, fishing, quarrying, lime-burning, are the occupations of the villagers.

Such was the place, and such were the people, in which and among whom my life began.

Chapter III.

WE—my three sisters, my brother, and myself—spent a good portion of our time in the open air. We had set school hours, but my father's parochial duties and my mother's domestic cares frequently deprived us of our instructors, and turned schooltime into holiday.

Very delightful to me were the beginnings of our rambles, when, out of sight of the mocking village children (my little brother thrashed one of them who jeered at me, and—for I mean to tell the simple truth— I hated him for being able to do it, whilst I was not), we gathered primroses and anemones in the cool, shady wood, and cowslips in the sunny “parks;” or played at Robinson Crusoe in some sequestered nook in the Burrows. But I was very weak, and soon tired of walking; so generally, after a brief bright ten minutes or so, I lagged behind, if my companions were bent upon a lengthy stroll; and moped by myself till they came back,—in momentary dread lest some of the young ruffians from the village should break in upon my solitude. I tried several times to bribe our old pointer, Ponto, with bread and butter, to stay with me, as a guard; but he always gobbled up my crusts, snuffed round me in expectation of more to come, and, when he saw that my store was exhausted, scampered off to join my brother. I didn't wonder at it, as I watched the active, graceful, bonny boy bounding over the hillocks, like a fawn, his long curly flaxen hair streaming behind him in the breeze; but my intermittent hate of him soon became chronic when I saw that he was always—even by the ungrateful dog I fed—preferred to me. My sisters would sometimes stay with me, by turns. Children, however, cannot be always considerate and self-denying; so, for the most part, on such occasions, I was left alone.

What envy, anger, malice, rankled in my little festered heart! How I


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hated every one except my father! I knew that he gave me every spare moment of his time; and, although he took more notice of me than he did of the rest of his children—why, I was well aware—yet he did not make a difference between me and other children when he talked or played with me. Everybody but my father seemed, when kind, to be kind to me out of compassion; and the pity poisoned the kindness.

Even with God, I thought that I did well to be angry. I reasoned that He might have made me hale and handsome if He had chosen. Why hadn't He then? Why had He sent me into the world to be a laughing-stock? I secretly fraternized with fiends, because, in the wood cuts in my story books, I had always seen devils represented as very ugly. Still I retained a great liking for Christ, and loved to hear and read of his going about healing the sick, making the lame to walk, giving sight to the blind. I fancied that God wouldn't let him know how hideous I was, for fear He should come and make me as beautiful as my brother, whom I looked upon as God's pet.

One Sunday the Cripple at the Pool of Bethesda had been the subject of my father's sermon. In the course of it, he had alluded to a local legend to the effect that any one who dipped himself in Our Ladye's Well, upon the neighbouring mountain, would instantly recover from any sickness or infirmity under which he might have been labouring. The story stuck to me like a burr. Jumbling the Pool of Bethesda and our Ladye's Well, I thought that, if I reached the latter, I should be sure to get into the waters as soon as they were troubled, because no one else in the parish was ill in any way, so far as I knew,—except Auntie Jones (married people in Pwldhi are all either “Aunts” or “Uncles”), and she was bedridden, and so had a worse chance than myself; or, at all events, that Christ would be there to heal me, if any one should step down before me. With all this, too, I mixed up the picture in Pilgrim's Progress of Christian's burden falling off at the foot of the Cross; and could almost have leaped for joy at the thought of returning without my hateful burden, and walking quite boldly through the village (getting kisses from all the women, as Willie always did,) right up into my father's study and asking him if he knew me. I was fresh from a first perusal of the Pilgrim's Progress—one of the most marked and moving epochas in a child's life. Christian was as real to me as the parish clerk; his combat with Apollyon as historical as the fight at the last fair.

The Pwldhi church has no vestry; so my father always walked to and from the parsonage in his gown. I used to walk with him, nestling in its folds to hide my deformity; though I cared less about it then than at other


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times, because the village children were afraid to make game of me in the presence of my father. That Sunday, as I stumbled along at his side, as soon as we were outside the churchyard gate, and I had repeated the text, I began to ask him about Our Ladye's Well. He told me that it was all a superstition, and tried to explain how he had contrasted those fabled cures with the real cures wrought at the Pool of Bethesda. For this, however, I had no ears. I wanted to know where the well was. Pointing to a gray, lonely Cromlech upon the mountain-side—a landmark visible for many a mile—he told me that the well was just under that tall, white stone. I treasured up the information, and during the day matured my scheme.

I was up betimes next morning, and, whilst my brother and sisters were busy with their gardens, slipt out into the Burrows. Taking care to keep high ground always between me and the house, I waded—half glad at having to encounter an obstacle which might stand for the Slough of Despond—through the heavy sand—in the direction of the mountain. Hope gave me unwonted energy; still, by the time that I had reached the bridge that spans the Pwl (a rivulet regarded with much reverence by the neighbouring country folk, because, so long as it runs into Pwdlhi Bay, a poetical old charter gives them the right of free pasturage for their cattle upon Cefn Bryn), I was almost overcome by the hot summer sun, and was very glad to sit down on the low parapet, envying the fish gliding about so cool and swift in the clear stream below. Having recalled to mind a precedent from Bunyan to quiet my conscience for resting on my pilgrimage, I started again; creeping along under the tree-shaded park wall which commences at the bridge. The bees were busy in the chestnut blossoms, that every now and then rained down their snowy petals on my head; flies all green and gold buzzed round me; little blue butterflies, with spots of red and yellow on their wings, flitted past; a blackbird in the hazels cooled the air with his gushing song; and a runnel of crystal water tinkled down the hill, wetting the moss upon the road-side stones, in a niche in which I saw an empty robin's nest half hidden by a bunch of primrose leaves. I thought, “how beautiful all this will look when I come down,” and hurried on.

I stopped again before the gamekeeper's cottage, to look up at the hawks and owls and weasels nailed upon the gable. The gamekeeper's son—one of my young tormentors—saw me, and whistling to his foxy terrier, cried “Hist Pinch! at him, boy!” and then to his mother, “Look, mammy! Here's little Humpty-Dumpty!” “Won't I thrash you, if Christ heals me?” I muttered to myself, and was running away, when the


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woman came out, boxed her son's ears, called off the dog, and asked me what I was doing so far from home. The Pwldhi letters are always left at the Park Lodge; so, recollecting it was post day, I lied for the first time in my life, and told her that the groom was ill, and that I had been sent for the letters.

“But where's the bag, child?”

“Oh, mamma thought it would be too heavy for me to carry.”

“And, indeed, you ought n't to have been sent at all. But come in and rest yourself awhile.”

I went in, and the good woman cut me off half-a-yard of apple turnover (gigantic fruit pasties are common cottage viands in South Wales) which, having had no breakfast, I began to devour most ravenously.

The baby woke, and, sitting up in the cradle, beheld me. Instantly it gave a scream, and, as it refused to be pacified, I was requested to take my departure. “No wonder,” I heard the woman say to herself, “he is an object, poor dear!” And then, with a rough attempt at delicacy, she added aloud, “I want you to make haste, because the postman will soon be in; and, perhaps, Master Owen, you'll ask if there is any letters for me, and come and have a bit of dinner with us as you go by.”

The lie that I had told oppressed me. I could eat no more of the turnover. I seemed to have stolen it—to have got wages for work I never meant to do; for, of course, I shouldn't ask for her letters. I hid the huge fragment of pasty in a hedge, and rattled up the hill as fast as my feeble legs would carry me.

Old Molly, the lodge-keeper, was standing at the park gates, looking out for the postman. I was determined not to tell another lie, for fear Christ should be angry, and let some one get into the water before me, and then refuse to cure me. So I got behind a great block of stone that divided the runnel into two streams, and stood, up to my ankles in water, waiting for Molly to go in; and likening the poor old woman and her black cat that rubbed his arched back against her skirts, to the lions that stopped the way in Pilgrim's Progress.

At last, she did go in. I slipt unseen past her window, and began to ascend the mountain.

It was weary work, for I was faint with hunger and fatigue. The dread, however, of being seen and brought back before I had reached my goal, urged me on. I could not make straight for the Cromlech; fearing the fierce cattle that grazed between me and it. A little scarlet cap I wore had irritated a huge beast; and he came bellowing after me in a horrid way. I fancied at first it was the devil, going about as a roaring


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bullock seeking whom he might devour, and repented of my friendly feeling for fiends; but I saw that he had lost one of his horns, and that blood was dropping from the socket; and that encouraged me, as I felt sure the devil couldn't have been beaten in a contest with common beeves—and, besides, he would bleed fire. Remembering how angry our own bull often got if I had my red cap on when passing through the “park” behind the parsonage, I took off the cap; and then the monster shook his head, and trotted back to his herd, to finish his fight with his rival. I heard their hard foreheads come together like two stones, and wondered whether bulls ever had the headache, and what they took for it.

Meantime I had almost got to the top of the mountain, and seeing that it was covered with smooth turf, I determined to climb up, and go along it, until I came behind the stone that marked the well.

When I was up, I looked around, and saw for the first time a town. Far, far away over the moorlands into which the mountain merges—all purple then with heath; right beyond the map-like plain of field and meadow at their foot, I could see two steeples rising from a great black mass of masonry into a great black cloud of smoke, at the bottom of a long blue bay, sprinkled with white sails that looked like floating sea-gulls. The ships were very pretty, but I shuddered when I thought of living in the town. It seemed so much like the City of Destruction!

It was late in the afternoon—evening, indeed—when I reached Our Ladye's Well. The gray old Cromlech was all a-glow with the red westering sun-beams. A fat little, white-coated, black-faced lamb, munching a mouthful of harebells, was gazing, with a puzzled look, at its reflection in the liquid mirror. A water-wagtail, sweeping its long caudal feathers from side to side, as it dipped its beak into the well, and then held up its head to swallow the tiny draught, reminded me of the Squire's lady with her black velvet train drinking the tenants' health at a Christmas gathering at the Hall. I remember well how I tried to divest myself of the ludicrous association, for I felt that I was on holy ground. Taking off my shoes, I went on tiptoe to the fountain. It was gurgling gaily. It must, I believed, have been but newly stirred. I plunged boldly and bodily in. It was not deep. I lay and splashed there for some ten minutes. I came out. No supernatural visitant appeared to do what the well had failed to accomplish. I was still the same misshapen boy at whom the gamekeeper's terrier had flown. I threw myself on the ground, and literally roared in an agony of rage, disappointment, and despair. I felt that I must always continue what I was; and, in my childish blasphemy, added the Saviour now to my list of foes, and vowed that I would never again believe the


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Bible—anything—anyone, but my father; he had told me that it was all a lie about the well.

Just then my father rode up. He had been seeking me far and wide, and had heard from the gamekeeper's wife that I had passed her house. Chance, or a remembrance of my eager questionings the day before, had led him to the Cromlech. He took me up on the saddle, and I told him all my story, as I rode before him down the hill. I recollect, as though it were only yesterday, I listened to him, the sad, cough-broken voice in which he reproved me for the lie; the loving way in which he pressed me to his heart, as we passed under the sombre shade of the park trees stretching out their arms, as if they were ogres about to snatch me from him, over the dim wall; the solemn words in which he prayed God to forgive and protect and comfort his lonely boy—to be a Father to the fatherless.

I clung to him in terror, for something whispered—“Dark as your life is, it may be darker still!”

Chapter IV.

To children, the customary always appears the normal. I have no doubt that my father had long been ailing, but since his illness had come upon him gradually, I had not noticed it. My eyes were opened now. I saw how hollow his cheeks were—at one time pale as ashes, and then again each spotted with a vivid patch of red, like a poppy-leaf. The light that gleamed beneath his shaggy brows frightened me—it seemed like the reflection of a sunshine that I could not see. The clammy dew upon his forehead reminded me of the dripping walls of the bone-house, where the sexton kept his tools. I knew why my mother wept, as she stood watching him, toiling over the sand-hills, stopping every now and then to lean on a stick he had picked up, whilst his clothes fluttering in the sea-breeze showed how fearfully he was wasted. I felt as though I could have killed the servant whom I overheard, one day, talking about “master's church-yard cough.” I needed no interpreter to tell me what she meant. A solemn awe shadowed for me the brightness of that golden summer; every day appeared a Sunday. I lingered round my father, and followed him from room to room, like a spaniel. I never liked to be away from him; and yet I was almost afraid to be left alone with him, lest then the Dread Messenger, with his fleshless arms, and upraised dart, and horrid grin should come. I durst not look out into the garden in the evening, for I thought Death walked round and round the


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house all night, like a sentry, to prevent his victim from stealing away in the darkness. Meantime, my hatred of my brother increased; for he did not see what I saw, and played about as merrily as ever. Still, though I hated him for doing so, I was glad that he did it, since it gave me more of my father all to myself. I grudged my sweet sisters a word or smile from him, and when he spoke to Willie, or smoothed his curly locks, I quivered like an aspen-tree, with jealousy and rage.

For a few Sundays my father continued to preach, a curate from an adjoining parish reading the prayers. And then for a few more, my father read the Lessons, or the Gospel; but this, too, he had to give up, as his strength melted away like snow. At length, except when he crept out, leaning on my mother's arm, to walk for a little time in the sunshine, he was quite confined to his room; and a strange clergyman, a Mr. Brown, came to live with us at the parsonage, and look after the parish.

He was a short, thick-set, ruddy young man. I disliked him the first time I saw him, because he was so unlike my tall, wasted, and yet still noble-looking father, and because I considered him an interloper. And I soon hated him heartily, for he undertook to teach us children, and—my mother's time being fully occupied in the sick room—tyrannised over us as he pleased. He set us long tasks that we could not understand, and would not suffer us to stir from our seats till we had learnt them. He often beat us cruelly—at least, such beatings seemed rank cruelty to us who had never felt a rod before. He was always talking about our sins; and, though I felt that I was a bad boy, I knew that my sisters—pure as so many snow-drops—had never done anything wrong, and I didn't like a stranger to find fault even with Willie.

One morning a coal-brig had come into the bay, and the Squire's yacht came in a little after. The beach—so solitary at most times—was covered with villagers and sailors. The coal, according to the primitive custom of the place, was roughly divided into pretty equal heaps, upon the sands; and then a man went round with a hat full of tickets, on which the names of the purchasers were written, and threw one upon each heap. The carts rattled down the slipping shingle to receive their loads; and the yachtsmen—looking so smart in their white duck trousers, and frocks with blue, white-braided collars, their loosely-knotted black neckerchiefs, and straw hats with the yacht's name printed in gold letters on the ribands— stood chatting, and laughing with the village girls, who had decked themselves out in their best hats and full-bordered caps, red-green-and-black plaid “bed-gowns,” and Sunday scarlet “whittles.”




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All this we could see and hear from the library, where we were saying our before-breakfast lessons; and my brother and sisters had made up their minds to go down to the beach, as soon as breakfast was over, to enjoy the unwonted bustle. I meant to spend the interval between breakfast and school-time as I always spent it,—in sitting outside my father's bedroom door; because there I could catch a glimpse of his face when his tea and dry toast were carried in, and sometimes, too, he saw me peeping underneath the tray, and would beckon to me, and hold my hand in his until it was time for me to go to my books again. My mother was always kinder to me then than at other times, I thought; but I hardened my heart against her, partly because I believed she smiled on me only to please my father, and partly because I didn't want any one to steal any of my love from him. When I was with him—knowing, child as I was, that in a little time he would be gone away for ever—I considered it a sin to show affection for any one besides. That morning, directly after breakfast, Mr. Brown ordered us all back to the library, told us to write copies until he returned from the village, and locked the door. Willie, however, was not to be so balked of his pleasure. Having seen our despot safely off, my brother opened the window, dropped upon the lawn, and before my eldest sister could prevent her, Minnie (Willie and Minnie were twins) had followed him. Hand in hand they ran down the gravel path, crept through a clump of rose bushes that overhung the garden wall (whitening the grass with the rain of petals they shook off), jumped into the road, and soon were on the beach. Both of them were great pets with the village people. A game of romps began; and presently a party of girls and sailors moved towards the yacht's boat, and Willie and Minnie went with them for a row.

Mr. Brown came back long before they did. The brute struck Marion in the face for suffering his orders to be disobeyed, gave Janet, my second sister, a chapter in Chronicles, full of -aims and -eths, and -ites and -iahs, to get off by heart, and told me that he should “inform Mr. Owen, my sick father, how abominably his eldest son had behaved—it was no wonder that the younger should take after him.” The devil knew how, to make me wince. I, too, to lead Willie into mischief! Of course, the fellow said it to remind me that my brother was twice the man that I was. This dear disciple of Him who took the little children up in His arms and blessed them, then posted himself at the window to watch for the truants' return.

The boat pulled back close in shore, and had almost touched the beach, within a stone's throw of the garden, before Brown saw it. Directly he


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did see it, he jumped out of the window, and ran without his hat down to the sea. He was going to strike Willie there, but a great, brown, hairy-breasted tar, without condescending to take his huge fists out of his waistband for such a thing as that, swayed himself in between the pair, with a “G-d damn it, schoolmaster! you're not going to wallop the youngster? You went skylarkin', I guess, when you was young. Damn me, though, if I think you had the spunk! What the devil are you shaking for, man?”

I, too, could see that our mighty master was afraid, and I rejoiced over the discovery, as one who hath found great spoil; for I had thought before that I was the only coward in the world, and now to find that he —the man who was always making me tremble—could be made to tremble, too, was as big a coward as myself—oh, it was sweet!

Pale with wrath and fear, Mr. Brown drew up his stumpy little figure to its utmost height—almost up to the glorious old sailor's shoulder—as he demanded,

“Do you know who I am, sirrah? I am the clergyman of the parish! I shall inform Mr. Gwynne———”

“I humbly beg your reverence's pardon. Youngster, why didn't you tell us 'twas your par?”

He my papa!” cut in little Willie, who had all his mother's pride. “My papa is a gentleman. And he's not the clergyman. Pa pays him just like Thomas. And he can't ride the brown mare, and Thomas can. And he beats us, and—and—and——I hate him—so there!”

Catching Willie in one hand and Minnie in the other, the discomfited pedagogue, in a towering passion, marched back his prisoners to the library. Willie instantly received a merciless thrashing. The proud little fellow was sitting in a corner, almost choking himself in his attempts to swallow his sobs, when he heard Brown tell Minnie to hold out her hand. The flat ruler was just about to descend on the fair, frail little fingers, but up started Willie—

“Beat me again, Mr. Brown! You shan't beat Minnie. I took her.”

He was beaten again—till his cowardly torturer's arm ached. Minnie, however, was saved—and cried far more than her brother did.

My mother noticed their red eyes at dinner, and asked what had happened. Brown said that both Willie and Minnie had been exceedingly naughty, and advised that they should be locked up, in separate rooms, for the rest of the day. Willie was my mother's pet; but she never suffered her affection to interfere with what she thought her duty, so she ordered him to leave the table, and go up into the dormitory. Then he


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did cry, for he loved his mother as dearly as I loved my father. He entreated her to kiss him, and promised never to offend Mr. Brown again; taking care to lay all the blame of the morning's escapade upon himself, by protesting that he had made Minnie go with him. My mother, however, refused to kiss him, and he was locked up with his dinner in the bedroom.

At tea time I was sent to let him out, but no Willie could I see. I looked under all the beds. I punched my sister's frocks, hanging in the closet, fancying that he might be hiding behind them. I took down the fire-board, and peeped up the chimney. But no,—he was certainly gone. I felt afraid for a moment, thinking that the devil had—according to a frequent prediction of Mr. Brown's—come and carried him away, for being naughty; but my child's sense of justice rose up indignantly at the suggestion, and told me that the prophet should rather have been kidnapped by the fiend, if wickedness provoked that punishment. The window was open. My brother had evidently made his escape by descending a pear-tree that grew close to the wall. I went down and told my story. The garden was searched, the “park,” the churchyard; but no trace of him could be found. The servants were sent in pursuit and the yachtsmen, and the men belonging to the collier, who had been, drinking at the Bull, sallied out and joined in the quest; and, as the alarm spread, numbers of the villagers, too, scattered themselves over the Burrows, whither it was thought my brother must have gone.

That was a dreary night. My mother could not leave my father, who was worse than usual, except for a few moments, when she would slip out of his room, come gliding along the dark passage—looking like a ghost, with her pale face and white dressing gown—go down to the front door, stand listening there awhile, and then return without saying a word, but with horror and anguish written on each frozen feature. She knew the proud spirit of her boy. Mr. Brown having ridden over to the next parish just before tea, there was no one to look after my sisters and myself, and we stayed up all night—Minnie crying as though her heart would break, dear, calm Marion striving to comfort her, brave little Janet running out every now and then to research some place about the premises; whilst I sat moping on a box beside my bed, a little grieved about my brother, but envying more the excitement that his loss had occasioned.

“They wouldn't have made such a fuss about me,” I said within myself.

Mastering my dread of the garden, now that so many people were out of doors, I crept down about midnight to the open hall door, and sat


  ― 14 ―
down upon the steps. The night was very dark, and still, and close. The scent of the seringas, in the shrubbery, was almost sickening. At long intervals I saw a faint flash of lightning, far away, and then, a long time after, heard a low growl of thunder. Sometimes, too, I heard the searchers shouting to each other, and could see their lanterns moving over the sand-hills like corpse-candles. I was awoke from a doze into which I had fallen, by something scrambling up the garden wall; there was a great rustling in the rose-bushes, feet came pattering along the gravel path, and Ponto pushed his cold nose against my face, and dropped something on the ground. He caught the skirt of my tunic in his teeth, and pulled me from the steps, wheeled round me, whining, once or twice, and then, with a snappish, disappointed yelp, darted off again into the darkness. Even Ponto knew very well that I was good for nothing. If Janet had been there, he wouldn't have gone without her.

I picked up what the dog had dropped, and went up stairs to shew it to my sisters. It was little Willie's shoe. The button had come off the ankle-band.

Daylight came at last. The red spots in the dappled east grew brighter and brighter, and soon were drowned in gold, as the sun arose in his glory, and shot his dazzling rays over wood and crag and sea. A cluster of sailors were examining the sand a short distance from our house; and presently they started off in a body, running as though they ran a race with Death. He's a hard runner to outstrip, is Death! By seven the bulk of the searchers came languidly back to the village. One of them walked (very unwillingly, I thought) up to the parsonage, and bade me tell my mother that they had seen no trace of Willie,—I knew from his eyes that he was lying—but that, as soon as they had got their breakfasts, they would start again to seek him. Neither the servants nor any of the sailors had returned, I noticed, but I saw both the yacht's boat and the collier's, pulling across the bay to the mouth of the Pwl.

Mr. Brown rode up, hung his bridle on the gate, and found his way into the pantry, whence he brought copious materials for his morning's meal. He had heard that Willie was missing, and looked rather anxious, or, perhaps, annoyed; but his feelings, whatever they were, did not interfere with his appetite. He was taking his solitary breakfast in the library,—Marion, Minnie, and myself conning the tasks to which he had set us as soon as he came home, when little Janet rushed in, shrieking, “Oh, here comes Silly Sally!”

Silly Sally was an idiot of whom we stood greatly in dread. She was boarded by the parish with any cottager who would take her, but as she


  ― 15 ―
often became violent, her changes of residence were frequent. When in her ordinary state, she was suffered to wander about with handcuffs on, and my mother had won the poor thing's love by taking them off whenever she called at the parsonage, dressing her galled wrists, and giving her some little dainty. Sally was still fonder of Willie, for he had driven away a cur, set on her by the village boys, that had pulled her down, and bitten her. She would bring him wild flowers, and birds' eggs when she could get them. Any of the rest of us she greeted with horrid noises and grimaees, that nearly frightened us into fits.

“Where's Parson Brown? Where's Parson Brown? Where's Parson Brown? I say!” shouted Sally, as she stumped along the passage.

My mother entered the library by one door, as Sally came in by another, carrying something wrapped up in her whittle, as carefully as her manacled hands would permit her. Ponto, with slouching head and drooping tail, followed her.

She laid the bundle on the table, drew back the shawl with her teeth and hands, yelled out, with a voice harsh as the howl of a wild beast, “Ay, there's the beautiful boy as Parson Brown has killed! Why don't 'ee kill him, Madam Owen?” and ran out of the room, crying like a beaten child.

There lay Willie—dead; his clothes all wet, and shells and sand and sea-weed in his matted hair. One shoeless foot was scratched and torn, and the wheals of yesterday's flogging stood up puffed and blue on his fair neck and arms. Clutched in his tiny hand, he held a gilt-edged story book, on the cover of which I read—the delicate pointed letters I used to admire so much, smeared and blotched and swollen—“William Owen. A little Birth-day Present from his dear Mamma.”

The sailors had tracked the footprints to the Pwl. Sally had found the corpse washed up on the beach, with Ponto standing over it, licking the face and hands. She held but a short inquest on the body, but I am convinced that her verdict was—virtually—a true one.

“Do kiss me, do kiss me, dear Mamma! Indeed, indeed, I will be good!” he had sobbed yesterday. There was little need to ask for kisses now. I thought my mother had gone mad. She seemed to think her clinging lips could give him life again; and her eye was like a live coal when it fell for a moment upon Brown. I wondered that it did not scorch his cheek. For I was not overwhelmed, but watched all that was going on with a strange mingled feeling of rage at him, and joy as for a deliverance from a weight that I had imagined would hang round me all my life. —Brown had driven Willie, in one of his proud passions, to drown himself


  ― 16 ―
that I fully believed; and, therefore, had I dared, I would have stabbed the monster where he stood. But Willie could never more be preferred to me—I saw the glance in my mother's eye, when it fell upon the token of her that her darling had carried with him to his cold, dark, rushing grave; and then I learnt that I had gained nothing—that Love can clasp, and Jealousy can dog, the dead.

Marion wept silently, and Janet was loud in her wailings; but Minnie, to my astonishment, did not cry at all. She started back when she first saw her brother's cold, calm face, but instantly a look almost as cold and calm came over hers. She went up to him, and lifted the curls from his forehead, and kissed him, and sat down by his side, taking his hand in here, just as though he had been sleeping, and she watching him. She was not afraid to go into the spare bedroom, when he lay there, stiff and clothed in white; but would spend the whole day sitting by the corpse, and pleaded so earnestly to be allowed to stay with “brother Willie, because it would be so unkind to leave him all alone up there,” that my mother suffered her to have her meals in the sad, shaded room. It was very little that she ate. She could hardly be persuaded to come to bed, and as soon as she was dressed in the morning, she returned to her quiet post.

On the evening before the day fixed for the funeral, she had taken tea with the rest of us, and sat very silent at my mother's knee for a little time afterwards. Suddenly she got up, and kissed us all; and then said, “Mamma, may I bid Papa good night?” I crept up behind them when they went up-stairs, and saw Minnie playing with my father's hair and patting his cheek, as he pressed her fondly to his breast. Fearing she might weary him, my mother lifted her off the bed, kissed her, and told her to go down to her sisters. I waited for her to come out, as I did not like to pass the room where Willie was lying by myself. When she came to the dreaded door, she said “Good night, dear Arthur! Kiss me a many times!” She hugged me in her tiny arms, and then went in; whilst I hurried down to the lights below. The servant went up at eight, to put her to bed; and found her with her arms round her brother's neck—in as sound a sleep as his!

The funeral was deferred for a day, and the Twins lie buried in one grave.




  ― 17 ―

Chapter V.

THE autumn leaves were lying, thin and sere, upon that grave; my father, as wasted and as withered, still lingered, like them, on the earth. Only like them; a few more weeks, and the churchyard sods would cover both.

The physician who occasionally attended him had ceased to call, knowing that his visits were in vain, and not wishing to make useless inroads on my father's slender purse. The country “doctor,” who was, also, the coroner for the district, rode over once or twice in the week, and went through the customary form of pulse-feeling and prescribing; talked gossip by way of consolation to my mother, bullied us children, and then rode away again.

He was a coarse, unfeeling, boastful man, who, on the strength of having been an Army Surgeon, gave himself great airs of gentility, and was always wanting to perform some operation. It was easy even for a child to discover that he wasn't a gentleman; he was so perpetually talking about being one. “On the honor of a soldier and a gentleman,” “Sir, I have mingled with the aristocracy, I have been in the Dragoons,” were favourite phrases of his; introducing, or fringing, every second sentence. He was constantly depreciating the surgical skill of other practitioners moreover, and magnifying his own; which, as I have said, he was in an everlasting fever of anxiety to display; eyeing every one with the glare of a butcher looking at a beast into which he longs to plunge his knife. I don't know of what country he was a native; but he talked very queerly, and had a strange habit of altering the pronunciation of a word that he had, by chance, pronounced properly into something that he supposed was more fashionably correct. “Vittles,” he would say, and then add, “I should say, vic-tu-als— these vulgar boors corrupt one's accent!” He was very fond of arguing and meddling, and tried to convince my mother that Marion ought to learn Euclid. Brown had left the parsonage shortly after my brother's death, and taken lodgings some miles away; only visiting Pwldhi to do duty on the Sunday. We had, therefore, no regular lessons at this time, but Marion heard Janet and myself read, and repeat our poetry and Mangnall. Janet was saying the “Child's First Grief” one day, when my mother and the doctor came into the library. He snatched the book out of Marion's hand, exclaiming, “Tut! tut! what trash is this? ‘Oh, call my brother back to me, I cannot play alone!’ Now, really, Mrs. Owen, it is very absurd to let children learn such nonsense. Their brother can't come back, and they can play alone. What's the good of poetry? What use is it? You should exercise their minds—give them


  ― 18 ―
something they can't understand to learn, to invigorate their faculties. Anybody can understand poetry—understand, that is, that it's rubbish. Read a bit of Paradise Lost! What have you learnt from it? Absolutely nothing. Read a treatise on Trigonometry. You've got something solid there. Let your little girl begin Euclid to-morrow, ma'am. Of course, I learnt the classics. Being a gentleman, I had to be educated as one. But I think it was time wasted. Science is my idol now; and I've mastered all the sciences. I'm not like those ignoramuses at Porteynon and Oystermouth who call themselves surgeons and scientific men, and, ten to one, would open an artery if they attempted venesection; and don't know an obtuse angle—ob-tuse I should say—from a semi-circle (extra-professionally, mathematics is my favorite study, or, rather, amusement). I am an operator and a savant. I have been in the Dragoons, ma'am, and have been called in by members of both Houses of Parliament. The Duke of Dawlish breathed his last in my arms. Had he lived, I should have held a high medical appointment at Court. ‘We want gentlemen, you know, Foster!’ his Grace observed, when he promised it. And I am a member of most of the learned societies. There's not a branch of Natural Science that I'm not a proficient in. In Natural History I'm looked up to as an authority; Zoology, Ornithology, Entomology, Conchology,.”— Of course, in my record of this harangue, in order to give a faithful transcript of what I am sure it was, I have considerably expanded my actual recollections. The last words, however, are given verbatim, for I remember that they reminded me of the grammar, and when he came to Ornithology, and Entomology, I thought that he had made a mistake in the names, and would go on with Syntax and Prosody. Marion interrupted him when he mentioned Conchology. My father had taught her a little of this, and she had lately picked up a peculiar shell of which she wanted to know the name. She brought it out, and asked the doctor. He turned very red, and then made up some hard word or other. I could see that he was making it up. Children have keen eyes for shams, and read grown-up people far better than grown-up people read them. The doctor directly afterwards took out his watch, said it was time for him to be at the inquest, and went away to the Bull.

A few nights before there had been a fearful storm. The howling winds rushed in from the sea like a host of angels that had kept not their first estate, hurrying wailing to their doom. Trees were blown down, and the spray beat like rain against the parsonage windows. Off the Point, we had seen every now and then a pale blue light, and yellow flashes; and when the gale lulled, we could hear the dull boom of a gun. My sisters


  ― 19 ―
and I were standing at the bedroom window, in our night-clothes, shivering with fear and cold, watching, by the vivid gleams of the frequent lightning, the fishermen go past in pea-jackets and sou' westers,—bent almost double as they struggled down to the beach against the storm; when the sky seemed to be cracked like a pane of glass; white-hot light streamed out of the fissures, and ran in zigzags along the heavens; everything stood out clear in an unearthly, ghastly blaze; and on the top of a huge billow, just curling for its spring upon the rocks, we saw the black hull of a dismasted vessel. The prospect vanished, as though it had been swallowed by the darkness; and a peal of thunder, directly overhead, sounded like a comet-load of crushed planet, shot by devils for the foundation of a new Pandemonium.

Next morning the beach was strewed with planks, and spars, and barrel-staves, gnawed by the waves as dogs gnaw bones. The sea was fringed with floating wreck, and a corpse lay on the sands; that of a man, black-haired and sunburnt, with golden ear-rings, and an ivory crucifix fastened to a coral chain.

It was on this body that the inquest was to be held. Part of a board with “San Ja—” in white letters on it had been washed ashore, and several hogsheads branded “Oviedo-Cadiz.” It was inferred, therefore, that the cast-away was a Spanish sugar-ship. “Found drowned,” was the verdict of the jury on the man, and he was buried in Pwldhi churchyard, in the part where the docks and nettles grow, next to Farmer Evans who cut his throat. The coroner “took charge” of the ornaments, and Auntie Bevan, who used to go up to his house to help when he had company, declared that she had seen his young housekeeper wearing them. I don't know that she hadn't as good a right to them as any one else; but the village people were horror-struck at the idea of robbing the dead man of his rings, and flaunting them about after that fashion. They would have taken the trinkets—and sold them.

As it was, they got very little except fire-wood from the wreck. The bulk of the cargo had sunk or been carried out to sea.

Old Uncle Syl. was more fortunate.

I hardly ever saw anything of my father now, for I had given up sitting at the bedroom door, because latterly he had never noticed me. He was in that awful state of languor, in which even to breathe appears a weariness—in which there is no strength left to spend in smiles. I made no allowance for this. I thought even my father had deserted me, and my heart grew cold and black towards him as the November sky above my head. I was walking on the sands one dull afternoon, looking, with


  ― 20 ―
as leaden an eye, upon the leaden waves, when I stumbled against a boat drawn up just above high-water mark. I got into it, covered myself up in some old nets and sails that were lying at the bottom, and fell asleep. When I woke, I pushed off my coverlet—half stifled by the smell of fish and tar—and was startled to see the moon shining full upon my face. I looked round. Instead of the Burrows, there were high cliffs before me, and on each side; some in deep shadow, and some silvered by the moonlight. The boat's head was on shore, but the waves as they rolled gently in, lazily lifted up her stern. An old man was kneeling by a box upon the sand. He turned round, and I saw it was old Syl. He had been abroad in his youth—he said in a man-of-war, other people said in a slaver, or a pirate, or something of that kind—and now lived in a lonely cottage, by himself; professedly a fisherman, but there were all kinds of queer stories about him. He never drew a pension, but old Tom Prhys, who did, had been found in a pond in the road that led by old Syl's cottage, on the morning after quarter-day. There was no money in the dead man's pockets, and Syl. said Tom must have spent it all in Swansea, got drunk, and walked into the pond. The people who went to the fair a short time after, made inquiries at the house where Tom generally stopped. He had left it as sober as a judge. This, and many a tale like it, I had heard. I was, therefore, terribly frightened to find myself I didn't know where, with such a companion. The box, I suppose, was a relic of the wreck that he had found, and hidden to rifle at his leisure. There was a hole beside it, surrounded with sand, that seemed to have been just thrown up. Old Syl. having “prized” open the lid, pulled out the contents. Some clothes he threw upon the ground, and then I heard the rattle and saw the gleam of coin. I had never seen so much money before in my life. I thought he would never have done scooping it out by handfuls, and stowing it away in his pockets. Those in his canvas trousers bulged out like swollen cheeks. At last he had got it all. Then he put back the clothes, smashed in the lid of the chest, and sent it adrift. He came close to the boat to do this, and I cowered down, shaking like a jelly, beneath the nets again. I felt that he would murder me, if he found me there; but how to escape I knew not. He went back to the hole, and began digging up the ground beyond it. I soon heard the sand “swishing” down something smooth and glittering he held in his arms. It was a woman's silk dress. He had pulled out a corpse—was it a corpse when it came ashore? What did that gash upon the forehead mean? He snatched the chains and brooches from her neck and breast, and tore the rings from her ears. Very big and bright they were. They


  ― 21 ―
reminded me of the drops hanging from the lustres at the Hall. He tried to pull off the finger-rings, but the hands were puffed by the sea-water; so not being able to slip the rings along, he felt behind him for his knife, and cut five of the fingers off. Frightened as I was, I could not help counting them. The corpse's eyes were open, and seemed to dare him to do it, as they stared full at him in the moonlight. Having got the plunder, the despoiler dug a deep grave, into which he put the body. He was patting down the sand with the flat of his spade, when I dropped over the boat's side, and crawled on my hands and knees to a limestone boulder that was half buried in the beach. Under the lee of this I lay, until Syl. had finished his labour. Then he stept into his boat again, and pulled out into the deep water. I now found that I was in a creek, walled in on three sides with crags; and that the tide was coming in. Farther and farther up the beach it crept, driving me before it. I thought I should soon be drowned, and yet I was glad when the water covered the grave. It seemed to protect me from the dead woman lying down there, with those wide, glaring eyes of hers. At length, at the very head of the creek, I found the sand loose and white, as though the sea never came thither. I lay down and covered myself with sand, and some dry seaweed. The long nap that I had had, and my present fright, prevented me from going to sleep for hours. It was very, very dreary lying there, listening to the waves' monotonous wash, as they rolled in and broke in rings of creamy foam, each bubble bright in the moonlight. However, I dozed at last, and finally fell into deep slumber. When I woke, it was morning. The sun looked like a red ball through the raw mist that lay upon the waters. Gradually it broke—slowly gathered itself into bunches, like brailed up sails, and disappeared—and then I discovered that I was on the rocky side of the harbour, nearly opposite the church. After many slips and tumbles, I escaped from my prison, and got down, scratched and numb and aching, and very hungry, on to the open beach once more.

I reached home about noon. I had been missed, and some search had been made for me; but very little alarm had been excited, as I often hid myself, when in my sullen humours. I contrasted Jenny's quiet “Oh, there you are, Master Arthur!” with the raving way in which she ran about when Willie was lost; and loved neither her nor my brother the better for it. I told some lie about having missed my way, and sat down to a huge plateful of gapra, the Welsh porridge, that had been put aside for me.

My secret lay heavy on my heart. I was continually in fear lest I might inadvertently reveal it; and then I was convinced old Syl. would kill me.




  ― 22 ―

I didn't see him about the village for some days after this. He soon, however, made his appearance again at his favourite haunt, the Bull; where the servants said he was “drinkin' like mad, and goin' on awful.” He had given Mrs. Davis an “outlandish coin,” by mistake, for a half-crown, too, they said; and they guessed, “if the truth was known, that he had plenty more where that came from. Some people did say, as he had lured the furrin ship ashore with a false light.” I used to tremble every time I heard the old villain's name; and if, by chance, I met him, and saw his snake's eye glancing sideways at me, over his wrinkled, parchment cheek, it seemed to look into my very heart, and say “you know you'd better hold your tongue, young shaver!” He haunted my dreams. So did the hidden creek; and by day I was always looking at the distant cliffs, and wondering whereabouts it was; and whether the woman heard the water rippling over her head, and there were any chance of her getting up, when the tide was down, and coming to make me appear as a witness against the robber. My nerves were so shaken, that I started at a shadow.

Meanwhile the Ghostly Shadow drew nearer and nearer to my father's room.

Chapter VI.

THE Romans stored the sacred vessels of the Capitol, when broken, in vaults beneath the fortress-temple. Cellars full of smashed crockery such vaults would seem to those who in after days, from East and North and South, surged like an ocean-flood upon the Imperial City. Perchance, the contents of my memory's Favissœ may appear but worthless sherds to those for whom they are not sanctified by the religion of personal association— but I cannot help it. I am writing not for fame, but to unburden my heart and while away the leaden leisure that suffocates me in this prison solitude where——The end of my story shall tell of that. There would be little wisdom in reopening before its time the most recent of my wounds, in anticipating the gloomy termination of a tale at best but dreary.

A dead slave is equal to Darius, says one of the bards of the Anthology. Even before death there is a state in which the Serf and the Czar are on a level, a realm, indeed, in which they may exchange conditions —the glorious Land of Dreams. I call it glorious, because in it I have gathered the only real unblighted joys I ever knew. As though to compensate, in some measure, for the miseries of my waking life, ninety-nine out of a hundred of my nightly visions are antepasts of heaven—Saturnalia


  ― 23 ―
for the slave of ugliness and cowardice and sin. Handsome and brave and pure, loving and loved, I walk in Paradise; and curse the dawn that makes me put on again my hideousness of face and form, and still more loathsome hideousness of heart. They seem to me like foul beggar's rags left—in the place of his own rich robes—for a robbed monarch stepping fresh and glowing from the bath. True, the hundredth dream sinks as low in hell as the others soar high in heaven; but after the petty mortifications of earth, there is a dignity in defying the eternal torments of Tophet; and, for the sake of the Elysian bliss, I gladly run the risk of the Tartarean torture. My prayer is the poet's—

Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
The best-belovëd,—Night!

I had been dreaming of my brother. Together we had wandered through gardens bathed in that soft, silvery twilight which, I believe, is almost always seen, and only seen, in dreams. I was the protector now; holding back the branches to let my brother pass, and carrying him when he was tired. Golden birds' eggs, flowers bright and dewy as though stars just fallen from the sky, and fruits with bloomy, purple rinds through which the juice shone like liquid sunshine, I heaped within his lap; proud of my own profuse munificence and his grateful glance of pleasure. Suddenly he started up, and stood listening for awhile. A smile spread over his face, like daybreak over the earth: “Papa is calling!” he cried, and ran away. And I awoke.

Chapter VII.

BY the dim light of the dull December morning, I saw my mother on her knees, beside my sisters' bed. Her face was hidden in her hands, and the room echoed her convulsive sobs. The Watcher had crept up in the darkness, and carried off his prey.

My first feeling was one of stubborn, indignant unbelief. My father could not thus have gone away for ever, without one farewell word or smile for me! And then that “for ever” clasped and strangled me. I choked and struggled as though a hand had clutched my throat, and a giant's knee had been pressed upon my breast. Next came the remembrance of how little lately I had loved the dead—and now he could never know how dearly I had loved him; how I had watched his looks, and hung upon his words! And who was there left to care for me as he had cared? I dashed my head upon the pillow, and prayed that I might die


  ― 24 ―
—might overtake him before he entered heaven, and entreat him to forgive me and take me with him.

Tears came, at length, as if they would never cease to flow. But before two days were over, the fountain was dried up; and I feared that people would think that I did not care for my father's death, because I could not cry. With an hypocrisy of grief that yet was only half hypocrisy, I would take out my handkerchief and force myself to sob, when those who had not seen me really weep came in.

How strange, how shocking, it appeared, that any one could do anything just as if he had been alive—talk about any one but him! I overheard the girl who came from the village to help make the mourning, chatting in the kitchen with Jenny about some coming wedding; and when I saw Jenny laugh, and then heard her scold the girl for making her let down a stitch in her knitting, I was horror-struck. For people out of doors to be thinking about merry-making, even to go on as usual with their daily work; for Jenny to knit in that unconcerned way and to laugh, with my father lying dead in the house,—seemed a kind of sacrilege. I didn't even like to see my mother writing those sad letters with the mournful news to distant friends. The black wax and the deep-bordered paper only half reconciled me to a task that I thought she ought to have been too sorry to perform. I kept a jealous watch over my sisters' every look and word. A robin that came every morning to the window of the breakfastroom for crumbs, had been neglected lately. Janet noticed its reproachful tapping at the pane, and ran out with its long intermitted meal; and when she came back, began to tell us gaily how the robin had perched upon her shoulder, and eaten out of her hand. I told her that she cared more for her bird than she did for her father, and was glad to make her cry. I felt for the first time in my life superior to her. Pride, like a rock-plant, can grow in scanty soil, and clings all the more closely to it for its scantiness.

When my father had been placed in his coffin, we were taken in to see him. I had longed to see him, but I felt angry and defrauded when I had seen him. I was robbed of my memory of him as he was when alive by the sight of the unfamiliar-looking corpse. Those nipt features, those sealed and sunken eyes, with the long, black lashes streaking the white cheeks like ink, that cold, hard brow that made me shiver when I kissed it and turned my lips to stone, were so unlike the face I had expected—so void of any look of love or care for me—that then I experienced to the full my loss, felt that my father, indeed, was gone for ever.

The sickly scent of the burning lavender stifled me; the chilly sunbeams, stealing in through the diamond-holes of the closed shutters, had


  ― 25 ―
a ghostly look as they fell upon the coffin-lid standing upright against the wall, and lighted up the date of death upon the polished plate; the awful hush in the room made it appear as though there were watchers there in whose presence we did not dare even to whisper. I rushed out, and tried to forget what I had seen—to recall my father as he was when he used to take me on his knee.

But not even in fancy could I get near him now. He was severed from me, it seemed, by an immensity of space and time. The few days that had elapsed since his death were like a gulf of ages. And evermore the picture of the darkened room, with the strange inmate that Death had left in it when he took away my father, rose up before me. When the moon shone at midnight, I had to follow its light, through the shutter-holes, down to the shimmering plate, and the marble face, and the still, shadowy half-forms with which I had peopled the chamber. I saw them now keeping their silent sentry round the corpse. I knew that I was lying in my bed, and yet in spirit I was peering through the shutters, trembling lest one of the watchers should turn and fix me with its spectral eye. The agony of my terror often made me shriek. It was a waking nightmare.

My father had no surviving relatives. My mother's few friends lived in England; too far away to be present at the funeral. I was the only one of the family that was to follow my father to the grave; but, according to the custom in South Wales, all the parish, and scores from the villages around, flocked to the churchyard.

It was a bright frosty morning. The snow lay deep upon the hills. The red shawls of the women, as they came down, stained it as with a trickling stream of blood. The waters of the bay, contrasted with its whitened shores, seemed doubly blue, and shone like polished steel.

The doctor, the undertaker, Mr. Brown, my mother and myself were in the library. Brown and the doctor sipping their wine, and munching with much enjoyment the rich funeral cake that always makes me think of the rank churchyard soil; the undertaker fitting on the hat-bands, and gliding about with the true undertaker's cat-like tread, heaving sighs to be paid for, although not recorded, in the bill (“To Sorrow, so much” would have a startling look!); my mother, pale in her widow's cap and glossy mourning, sternly quelling her grief as a keeper might hold down a struggling tiger—afraid for one moment to relax his hold, lest then the furious beast should master him.

There was a shuffling of feet in the room above stairs. Brown began to pick the paper from the buttons of his gloves, and to blow out the


  ― 26 ―
fingers; the doctor took up his hat and smoothed the crown; the undertaker, with more delicacy, slipped out to lessen the noise. Presently the heavy, uncertain tread of many feet was heard upon the stairs—a subdued rustling and bustle in the hall—and then the undertaker looked in and whispered “we are ready, gentlemen!” For those who have to stay in the death-robbed house, that is the awful moment. A wild light flashed in my mother's eyes, as though she would stop the funeral, and still retain her own. They fell on me, and cut me to the heart; for, lurking in the love with which they filled—like a sea-monster deep down beneath the summer waves—I saw this thought: “Oh, why was not Willie left me?” It was not envy that I felt then, but a crushing sense of my worthlessness, a pang of anguish because I could be no support, no solace to one whom I loved next to my father, and whom he had loved the best. She clasped me to her breast as though to atone for the slight she saw I had discovered, and burst into a passionate flood of tears. Brown then clutched me in his hateful hand, and led me away. We went out. The simple train was soon marshalled, and winding round the leafless rosebushes powdered with sparkling rime, passed through a silent throng of uncovered villagers along the churchyard path.

Sadly the psalm rose and fell as we moved slowly over the crunching snow. The waves had sorrow in their voices as they broke softly—hushed, as it were—upon the rocks beneath us. The faint twitter of the few birds, feebly springing from bough to bough in the cold wintry sunlight, and noiselessly sprinkling the dark pall with the glittering crystals they shook down, seemed fit for funeral song.

The psalm ceased when we reached the lych-gate, and a deep voice that I had never heard before, began to intone the solemn Burial Service. I was glad that Brown was not to bury my father; but what business had Brown to be walking with me? What did he care for the dead?

We entered the church, the coffin was placed upon the trestles in the aisle, and the service went on. Everything had an unreal, unfamiliar, dream-like look. Pulpit and reading-desk were hung with black. The lustrous leaves and crimson berries of the holly in the pews reminded me for the first time that Christmas had come and gone. Most “merry” had been ours! Everywhere were there strange faces; but I cared not now for the eyes fastened on me. My grief was almost swallowed up in pride that so many should have come to see my father buried, and that I was the only one who belonged to him in all that solemn throng.

We came out again into the biting air, and circled the fresh-dug grave. The black gaping pit in the else unbroken snow brought back all the bitterness


  ― 27 ―
of grief. A few more minutes, and the last trace of my father would have vanished from the earth. Cruelly quick the clergyman seemed to read. My head swam as the cords were placed under the coffin, and when it had been lowered to its narrow bed, and the rattling soil had consigned “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” and we leaned forward to take the last look of that which was to be covered up until the Archangel's trump shall summon all to judgment, I lost all further consciousness, and fell senseless on the ground.

When I came to myself, I was at home, lying on the sofa. My mother was bathing my forehead; the clergyman who had buried my father standing by. He had carried me from the churchyard, and now told me that my father had been his dearest friend, then kissed me, and went upon his way. I never saw him again, but I long associated his kind, calm, serious face, as he stood looking down upon me, with that of Him who stopped the bier outside the gates of Nain; and never forgot, either, to add, as a rider to the recollection—that son was worth restoring to his mother!

The blinds were up once more, and the house, after its week's gloom, looked most unfeelingly bright in the unwonted sunshine. But the weeks rolled on, and I soon remembered my father only as we remember a ship that we have passed at sea.

Chapter VIII.

BROWN was settled in the parsonage. We had removed to a little cottage. My mother remained in Wales for the sake of its cheapness. Her income, which would have been next to nothing in England, could just support us there. The tranquil village life flowed on again as usual; and still more quiet was the life in our tiny home. Now that our little band was so sadly diminished, Marion did not care to ramble as of old, but Janet and I still kept up our wanderings; sometimes together, sometimes alone, for I did not fear now to go anywhere by myself—my black dress protected me from insult from the elder children, and ensured the punishment of any of the younger ones who ventured to deride me. Although very glad of this, I was not grateful for it. I felt that my deformity ought to have been itself a shield from unkindness.

It was late in spring; the May had begun to load the hedges—looking in the distance like streams of foaming cream, bubbling over on the long green grass that rose on each side up to a man's waist. I “knew of” scores of nests, with their white, and blue, and fawn, and faint-green spotted treasures.




  ― 28 ―

I had been loitering in the castle ruins. Like Coleridge's hermit, I had there—

—a cushion plump—
It was the turf that almost hid
A rotted alder stump.

The tree that had fattened on decay, had bowed itself to Time, and the root was half covered by the Spring's gay velvet pall. It was a favourite haunt of mine. The sight of the jagged ugliness that Beauty was burying with such gentle care, soothed me, though I could not say why. Leaning on my yielding couch, my head supported by my hands, I had watched the distant English hills resting cloud-like on the sea, softly veiled, as they were, in a wood-smoke blue, pierced here and there by a long slanting line of ruddy gold from the westering sun; and had been wondering what the people were like who lived over there, and whether I should ever see them, and thinking how delightful it would be to get away from a place where every one knew that I was ugly, and yet that, perhaps, I should feel still more miserable amongst strangers, who would be always finding out my ugliness for the first time, and disliking me for it more than those who were accustomed to me. When the sun went down, the light lingered so long, and the air continued so balmy, that instead of returning home, I struck across the village green—marvelling to see no one on it—into the lanes beyond. The hawthorn's luscious fragrance, and the briar's more pungent sweetness—to the scent, what the pineapple is to the taste—mingled their perfumes like lovers' sighs; the bat wheeled round and round in its swift phantom-like gambols; and the blind beetle dashed itself ever and anon, with a startling, stinging thud, against my face, and then went booming on in the grey, dewy twilight. Besides its monotonous drone, and the twitter of the birds settling themselves for the night in their snug nests, the only sound I heard was the occasional tinkle of a sheep-bell or deep-mouthed bay of a house dog—miles away they seemed.

I had rambled for about a mile, when music—human voices—suddenly fell upon my ear. It was a psalm tune. Solemnly the hymn rolled on in the gathering gloom, swelled into thunder, sank into a plaintive wail, and then broke out again in a wild chorus—unearthly, as a spirit-song. Half-frightened, I turned my steps in the direction of the sound, and soon reached a hollow—scooped out by pre-adamite waters—in the downs inclining to the sea. The valley was thronged with people, indistinctly seen in the uncertain light; clustered like swarming bees, both in the bottom of the basin, and on its gently-sloping sides. The hymn ceased as I gained the spot, and a man standing up in one of the high-backed cars of


  ― 29 ―
the district—placed on a mound that broke the smooth uniformity of the hollow—began to preach.

Almost all the inhabitants of the Principality are Methodists. Even those who go to their parish church in the morning, generally “attend chapel” in the afternoon and evening. The Celtic temperament craves after excitement, and is unconquerably superstitious. Wesley, with his energetic appeals to the emotional half of our being, and his implicit faith in ghosts, and visible, audible devils, was just the man to leave his mark in Wales. This was a Methodist gathering, assembled to listen to a famed “revivalist.”

“The wicked shall be turned into hell,” was the preacher's brief, emphatic text; and emphatically enough he expounded it. He painted the place of torment as though he saw it: the hills of burning brimstone wreathed with pale-blue flames, the blasted strand of smouldering ashes, the lake whose red waves broke in crests of white-hot foam, the damned springing like flying fish from its torture, and beaten back by myriad fiends that overshadowed it with dusky vampire-wings; the sullen, thunderous gloom of the brooding atmosphere; the opening in the floor of Heaven through which its glory streamed in tantalising sheen, the murky shaft down which the chorus of the everlasting song of praise came echoing: “For ever and for ever!”—to be reverberated, as words of doom, from shore to shore in hell! A shudder ran through the congregation when he came to this. I saw their heads moving like bulrushes shaken by a sudden sigh of wind. I felt the fear, too, passing through me electrically, as it were. The description itself was quite enough to horrify a child, but my terror was intensified by the sympathy of that great throng. Before the sermon was over, scores of women were in hysterics. Every five minutes or so, a maniacal cry—making my flesh creep as it rang through the darkness—announced that another soul was rendered mad by fear. Even strong men were moved, and crowded together like sheep, with many a back-cast glance of dread at the outer circle of deepening gloom. One close by me fell upon the ground, and, like the demoniac, “wallowed, foaming.”

At length, the preacher sunk back exhausted in the car, and again a hymn was sung.

As the sweet, sad music went up to the peaceful stars now shining brightly overhead, the awful picture the ranter had conjured up faded from my mind. True, there was something like what he had said in the Bible, but my father never tried to frighten people to Heaven that way, like a savage sheep-dog barking at the sheep—he always talked about


  ― 30 ―
God's love. There was something wrong in this fierce doctrine, I felt sure. I could not make it tally with the lovely scenes through which I had been roaming,—the meadows flooded with sunset gold, the green leaves fluttering in the fragrant air, the wild flowers trailing from the hedges; nor with that calm, star-studded sky above. I determined to forget it all. But then I remembered how ugly I was, and how very miserable I had often been; and I thought of the wreck, and of death. It wasn't all beauty and happiness here. Perhaps there might be a place where there was none. My thoughts got into a tangle, and I gave up thinking.

After the service, there was what I believe is called a “Penitent Prayer Meeting.” Forms were placed in front of the car, and “all labouring under convictions of sin” were invited to come up to these benches, to be prayed over by the preacher and the elders of the congregation. Numbers went at first, and I heard loud sobbings and frequent bursts of singing. As the throng thinned, I edged my way up to the “penitent forms,” and the moon having risen, had a clear view of what was going on. What I saw, effectually removed the last trace of solemnity from my feelings.

The scene reminded me of a sheep shearing. The excitement having abated, very few penitents came forward voluntarily now; so that the elders were obliged to make raids amongst the bystanders, and literally to “compel them to come in.” The involuntary penitents when released, hurried back to their companions exactly like shorn sheep. There were other ludicrous circumstances. Two grades of holiness are recognised amongst these religionists—somewhat analogous to the degrees of bachelor and master of arts—“Justification” and “Sanctification.” Over a justified sinner the elders sang one verse of triumph, over a sanctified, two. By some mistake the pæan of sanctification was about to be raised over a young woman who had only reached the inferior status; whereupon the elder who—in the technical language of Methodism—had been “the means of her conversion,” shouted out at the top of his voice, “Hod yer noise, will yer? She be awnly jostified!” I heard one boy, too, say to another: “Rachart, Rachart! I'll go, if thou'lt go,” and, when he came back: “I say, Rachart, I got convarted quick. Folk scrowged so, I was a'mos' smawthered!” Like the boy, most of those who were induced to go up “got converted quick,” and—child as I was—I could not help seeing the blasphemous indecency of baking Christians in rows after this fashion, like a batch of buns. Amongst those who really did seem in earnest about the matter was a young woman of whom I had a mysterious dread, having heard that she was, emphatically, a “bad girl.” What


  ― 31 ―
the phrase exactly meant, of course, I did not know; but it separated her for me from the rest of her sex, as an abnormal woman, a monster of iniquity. I have since thought that she must have been very bad, for breaches of chastity in the lower order of Welsh women are anything but rare. Nevertheless, if she had sinned like a Magdalen, she repented like one at this prayer-meeting. It was frightful to hear her cries. Her sobs shook her bosom, as though the seven devils were struggling within, contesting their hold with their ejecter inch by inch.

When the assembly dispersed, I was thrown into the company of this girl, as our roads home lay for some distance the same way. I trembled when she first spoke to me, but there was something very winning in her voice, and, at length, I took her hand, and she helped me over the huge stone staircase stiles they have in Wales. She had just got over the last, and had turned round to take me in her arms, when old Syl. jumped up out of a ditch in which he had been lying, and caught her by the wrist.

“So you've been gettin' convarted, have yer?” he said, with a sneer. “Come along, you fool!”

“Oh, not to-night, Syl.!” I heard her answer in a pleading tone; but he dragged her away, over the marsh behind the Burrows, in the direction of his cottage.

Next day, about noon, Foster galloped up to our house, and, without getting off his horse, cried out, “Where's Arthur? He must come along with me.” Both Syl. and the girl had been found dead in the cottage. The coroner had been sent for; and, learning that I had been seen returning with the girl from the prayer-meeting, had come to take me to the inquest.

The jury, and a crowd of villagers, were standing outside the garden gate, when we rode up to the cottage; not daring to enter a second time, until the doctor arrived. I did not wonder at their white lips and faces when I saw the sight the outer room contained.

It was a small chamber with a door, just opposite the front door, leading into a bed-room behind, and another door, belonging to a sort of lumber room, on one side. This door was wide open. On the ground lay Maggie Williams, with a broad green bruise upon her beautiful temple. Her long black hair was clutched in the old villain's hand, as though he had been dragging her towards the bed-room. With the other hand extended, as if to ward off an approaching foe, he stood, as he had staggered back against the bed-room door-post, staring with bursting eyeballs at the doorway of the lumber room. The despairing horror of those eyes—still manifest beneath the glazing film of Death—will haunt me to my dying


  ― 32 ―
day. A stick was caught between him and the wall, evidently dropped when raised over his shoulder in act a second time to strike. The ground was strewed with broken glass: on a round claw-table stood a candlestick guttered with grease, a case-bottle of rum, almost empty, a water-jug and two tumblers, one still full of spirits. My evidence, of course, could throw no light upon the mystery of his end:—

 Qualis vita,
 Finis ita,—

a black riddle that must rest unsolved until the final Apocalypse of All Things!

Chapter IX.

THENCEFORTH, of course, Sylvester's house was haunted. The belated horseman galloped past it fearfully in the deepening dusk; and even by day none ventured within the wicket. The luscious bunches of white lilac, the golden chain of the laburnum, hung over the garden wall untouched. The wall-flowers, basking in the silent blaze of the summer sun, seemed to have meaning in their rusty red,—a bloody secret that the bee entreated them to tell, as it buzzed from blossom to blossom; settling now for a moment upon one, hushed as though listening for the disclosure, and then hurrying off with an impatient, disappointed murmur, to the next. The place had a strange fascination for me. I have stood for hours looking in upon the sweet-williams, the double daisies, the stocks, the cloves, and London-pride, that struggled to the light through the rank growth of weeds that overran the garden-beds. The same tell-tale tinge —so plain, and yet so reticent—was in them all. It affected me like a revelation in an unknown tongue. It blushed, too, in the roses clumped in chubby clusters about the weather-stained trellis-work tumbling from the cottage wall. As they swayed in the sluggish breeze, they appeared, in succession, to be peeping, through the chinks of the shuttered window into the awful room, whispering together of the sight that they had seen, and tremblingly creeping back again to take another view. When on the spot, I could never divest myself of the idea that the murder was then committing, and saw in fancy the sideroom-door fly open—proclaiming that there was a witness there, and the hoary assassin rooted to the ground and blasted before the unknown Avenger.

I had been privy to one of the old man's crimes. I was the last who had seen him and the girl alive. I felt myself, in some shadowy way, connected with them, personally interested in unravelling the mystery of


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their doom. With a vague hope of reding the riddle, I used to linger, too, about their graves. They were buried in the neglected corner of the churchyard of which I have already spoken. The Suicide, the Castaway, the Murderer, and the Magdalen, lie side by side. A dark-boughed tree droops over them; the churchyard-wall just there is broken down— affording, over its mound of mossy mould and slug-slimed stones, a glimpse of a sullen, shaded pond, black as ink, and bristling with brown rushes. It is a dreary sepulchre. I remember plucking a blossom from one of the scores of white nettles that grew amongst the cold, glossy docks and flowerless stinging nettles, over that tomb of loneliness and sin, and inadvertently sucking its honey: a nausea seized me when I thought of what I had done—there was a taste of corpses in my mouth, a flavour of iniquity, so to speak, upon my tongue. I knew nothing then of the sweet chemistry by which Nature distils purity from corruption, and was, of course, as ignorant of Emerson's fanciful analogy: “The divine effort is never relaxed; the carrion in the sun will convert itself to grass and flowers; and man, though in brothels, or jails, or on gibbets, is on his way to all that is good and true.” I cannot say that I have much faith in the latter statement even now—the road appears a strange one.

Beyond the churchyard was another haunt of mine, “the Rocks.” The quarries make a red gap in the green wood on that side of the bay. The “Giant's Footstep” we called the chasm, from its resemblance to a monstrous foot-print on the sloping hill. Beneath the wood and the quarries are the Rocks, a platform bordering, and often covered by, the sea. On the land-side, they form a pavement that might have been laid down by Cyclopean hands; cracks, running almost regularly at right angles to each other, give the huge mass precisely the appearance of an old-world work of art—a quay fit for a fleet of Arks to moor at, for Titanic stevedores to tramp along. Farther out, the mass is more compact, with the fretted, rusty look of iron long exposed to wind and water. Boulders, quaintly carved by the ocean, in Mohammedan mood, into all kinds of nondescript formations; black with “honeycombs” in which you might expect to find soot or blasting-powder stored by negro-bees; white with oyster-shells as if they had been pilloried and pelted by the waves with molluscs; or plumply round, neutral-tinted, and lazily unwieldy as hippopotami taking their siesta in the mud and sun,—are heaped upon the platform, and grouped in miniature archipelagoes in the sea beyond. The old women of the village frequent this wild spot at times in order to gather “lavabread,” an alga of a spinachy hue and taste, which they make into oval cakes and fry with oatmeal. I went to the Rocks, when they were deserted,


  ― 34 ―
for their feast of beauty, the unflagging amusement, the thrill of mysterious terror, fascinating awe, their marine sights and sounds afforded me. The moist, mottled crabs sporting their gay waistcoats—light buff with fancy sprigs of many colours—were play-fellows for me; sprawling everywhere in a countless swarm, scuttering away awkwardly, when approached, to fall with a flop into some sheltering crevice from which they instantly protruded hostile claws,—peering out over them like little apoplectic old men with their heads upon their arms. And then how lovely were the rock-pools!—The tiny ones, with their subaqueous encampments of tent-like limpet-shells, blue periwinkles with such a plum-like bloom upon them in the water, so dull when taken out, and those strange, soft, tenacious knobs like buttons of black, and green, and claret-coloured velvet: the broad, shallow pools, with their floors of golden sand, and stones as glittering, on which fell the dark shadows of scores of gliding fishkins—far more substantial-looking than their owners; the surface of the water—clear, and yet potentially-solid-seeming (prisoned saltwater always has that look) as molten crystal—chequered with long ribs of brilliance, blending in fantastic, Moresque lattices of light when the freshening breeze changed the steady ripple into a chopping, circling canter: and the deep, emerald pool, with its bigger fish, black, rakish, and solitary as pirate-schooners, lying motionless in midwater, or sullenly cruising round and round, putting in at many a fairy-harbour embosomed in tangle, and straightway, with a noiseless swing of their notched rudder-tails, 'bout ship, and out once more into their main of liquid gem. I think that I am morbidly inclined to suicide. I know that I could never look into that Lilliputian lake without fearfully longing to disturb its calm, to go plunging down—rustling its sea-weed tapestry, green, golden, dusky-brown, and bloody-red—and rest on the smooth silvery sand, dappled with patches of streaked and purple pebbles, that glimmered up at me from the bottom, mocking my hesitation, daring me to the leap. I can quite understand the feeling that peopled the sea with seductive Nereids and Sirens in olden times, and Mermaids in more modern; rivers with luring Lurleys, springs with Undines. There was something eerie, too, in the muffled murmur of the water gurgling up hidden crannies far down beneath my feet, as the surging waves rolled in, and in the tumultuous haste with which it ebbed from the darkness to the light,—to be again forced back into its gloomy cells. And, on stormy days, it was grand to see the green, glassy billows, foam-crested long before they reached the land, galloping on, with their white manes flying behind them in the wind, to break in thunder and in boiling snow—doubly white from its contrast with the back ground of


  ― 35 ―
leaden sky on which it was embossed—upon the outlying crags. Buried for a moment, with what a sturdy pride they raise their black heads again—grey-tressed with countless cataracts—above the dazzling, dizzying chaos! “Firm as a rock” is, I imagine, the most hackneyed of similes, and yet it always presents itself with a fresh truth about it to one who watches the truceless war of cliff and sea.

I was standing by my Nereid-pool one day, gazing down into its clear depths as a lover looks into the false, fond, liquid eyes of the charmer he knows to be a traitress, when a voice, close at hand, said gently: “And what are you thinking of, my little boy?” I turned, and saw a lady with a lovely face losing its bloom, and a look of sadness and of shame overlying what seemed to have been its original expression, a bold haughtiness. I had seen her several times, but had never been near her before. She lived in the outskirts of the village, and was, in plain English, the discarded mistress of some great man, and had recently come to hide her head in our retired part of the country. No “respectable people”—how I hate the money-grubbing, Pharisaic phrase!—noticed her, and the poor, seeing that, despite her fine clothes, she was slighted by their “betters,” lost no opportunity of manifesting their coarse scorn. Vice—even when, perhaps, repented of—ought, no doubt, to bring the vicious into contempt: in this very virtuous world of ours, however, it is hard to refrain from laughing sometimes when one thinks of the contemners. A wite-beating London mob, emptying the vials of its wrath on Marshal Haynau, is a sight in which I find grim humour; and the Bankside brewers are only exaggerated types of their brother Britons when they take it into their wise heads to play censor. Whatever had been her former life, Mrs. FitzHerbert, as she called herself, led an existence now almost as unworldly as a nun's. Except with the little parish girl, who was her servant, I fancy she scarcely ever exchanged a word. She came regularly to church—often wept quietly beneath her veil, and subscribed liberally to his charities, Brown said: adding, with a sneer, “and so, of course, she ought.” (Brown, not being a sinner, was rather close with his spare cash—seeming to think his piety a very satisfactory set-off against all claims upon his purse.) On week days she generally remained within doors. If she came out, it was to look after her flowers, or to stroll with a book wherever there was least chance of meeting anybody. One of her solitary rambles had brought her to the Rocks.

Although I was too young to understand the cause of her disgrace, I could see very well that she was shunned by every one; and this excommunication had made me like her. It was my own lot, and I felt for her


  ― 36 ―
the regard—is it selfish, or is it not?—that springs from common suffering.

She sat down on the raised rim of the pool, and began to talk to me.

“Why don't people like you?” I asked after a few minutes, for I thought she looked very beautiful and kind as I watched the reflection of her noble face and shimmering silks in the still, green water.

“Did n't you say just now that they don't like you?

“Ah, but I'm very ugly.”

“And I've been very——never mind the foolish people, Arthur! I want you to tell me something about Papa.”

“He's dead,—he died before you came.”

“Yes, I know, my poor boy; but tell me all you remember of him.”

And I did, and she listened as though she could never weary of the story.

At last she said:

“Let us go and see his grave, Arthur!”

We went. She stooped over the rich summer flowers that waved upon it, and gathered one, and put it in her bosom, and pressed my hand so hard that I looked up at her in astonishment—she was crying.

“I was afraid to come before,” she sobbed out to herself; and then, catching me in her arms, she told me not to forget her when I said my prayers, and talked of my father just as though she had known him long ago.

“Come and see Mamma.”

But she shook her head—the haughty look in her face leaping up through the sadness—and turned to my brother's and my sister's grave. She made me tell her all about them, too—especially what Willie was like.

“Oh, he was very pretty,” I answered. “You wouldn't have talked to me, if you could have talked to him. Ma loved him eversomuch better than me.”

“Indeed, but I would have talked to you, my poor little neglected fellow, andyou must often come to my cottage and talk to me now.” Then shekissed me again, and gave me a picture-book and some sweet-meats that she had in her bag, done up in a little parcel with my name upon it. The outer paper was creased, as though she had carried the packet about with her for some time.

As we were leaving the churchyard, a quarry-woman, drunk and swearing at the horse that dragged the rough, primitive stone-sledge—two unbarked shafts with battens nailed across them—passed us. Taking her pipe out of her mouth, and sticking it under the pack-saddle of straw and sacking on which she sat, with her head nodding to her knees, she beckoned


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to me when she had got a little in front; and, as I was in no haste to obey the summons, called out in the queer form of the imperative in use in Glamorganshire:

“Come he, come he!”

Her communication, when I did go to her, was a caution not to let my mammy see me with you hussy. Having stuttered out this piece of tipsy counsel, she replaced her pipe, patted down her brimless, battered, greasy old beaver hat upon her crown, jerked up the head of her horse, which was cropping the long grass by the roadside, hit him over his galled shoulder with the end of the halter, and looking back the very incarnation of gravity and consummate virtue, jogged on in the direction of the Bull.

My companion had heard the warning, and seemed pleased by the alacrity with which I ran back to her side. She walked with me up to the door of our house, and said to my mother, who happened to be coming out:

“I have brought back your little boy. It is hardly safe for him to wander about so much alone.”

My mother made her some cold answer, and when she was gone, I was forbidden ever to speak to that “bad woman” again.

“She's not bad,” I cried: “She's given me lots of nice things, and she——”

But a feeling that I could not fathom prevented me from adding that she had known Papa.

I meant to disobey, in this instance, my mother's orders; but I had no opportunity of doing so, as in a few days' time we left for England.

Chapter X.

MY mother returned to her native town to open a Ladies' School: I was left, upon the road, at a Free Grammar School in———shire.

It was a sultry evening in July when the fly that had carried my mother and myself from our temporary lodgings in a Bristol square, still black with the smoke of the Reform Riots—with what a ghastly grin the gutted houses regarded us as we rattled by in the purple twilight—rolled over a road of coal-dust, between hedges powdered with grime, and through crowds of black-faced, white-teethed, devilish-looking men, queerly dressed in coarse flannel, and with dagger-like tin candlesticks stuck in their hatbands; mixed with others resplendent in velveteen coats with mother-of-pearl buttons as big as small saucers, and Belcher handkerchiefs—all


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beer-drinking and blaspheming: up to the play-ground gates. The Midsummer holidays were not yet over, and the great yard—its proportions made still more impressive to a matriculating youngster by the veil of gloom that hid its remote quarters—was silent as a tomb. Sombre elms thickly shaded it, and there was a sickly scent of flowering limes in the hot, heavy air. Past the headmaster's house, lurking in a dirty corner, with the spiteful, vigilant look of a spider; past the dark Chapel, feebly blinking its dull, drowsy windows; past the lofty Fives Wall, chalked with gigantic greetings of the vacation now almost at an end; past the prim offices surrounding a bald desert of paved court, sacred, in schooltime, as college grass-plat; on to the tall, many-windowed, desolate, old school-house, the vehicle creaked hearselike. Opposite stood the long low school-room: still, but grim, as a slumbering mastiff, with the Founder's name and date of the foundation in a brooch-like slab upon its forehead.

The Warden, a mountain of fat and broad cloth—it was a school joke to walk round him for an appetite—was ill in bed. I was, therefore, given in custody to his wife, a brisk, brown, business-like little woman, known in school parlance as “Dame.”

The brief colloquy in the dim, dusty, black-busted study was over. The bitter-sweet good-bye kiss had, at length, been snapped in two. The steps were slammed up. The fly drove off, and I stood in the hall sobbing, and loathing the sharp little lady who patted me on the head, as if she were boxing my ears, and told me so unconcernedly to cheer up. The first time we leave home to live amongst strangers, is a dismal time for all, and I was about as helpless a young bird as ever tumbled still callow from the nest.

The week that I spent in almost utter solitude before the boys came back, was like a dreary dream. All things were unfamiliar, but I took no interest in their novelty; each was a fresh stab to my homesick heart. And—again dream-like—as a ceaseless under-current beneath all my other feelings, flowed a vague dread of the boys' return. Still, though I dreaded it, I wished for it—to have it over, and know the worst. Everything kept them present in my mind: the lines of bare bedsteads stretching away in long vistas in the huge, low-pitched dormitory at the top of the house, the size of which, and its distance from any other occupied bed-room, nightly scared away my sleep; the forms piled on the lanky tables in the dining-hall, at the end of one of which I took my lonely meals, opposite a full-length portrait of the Founder, in canonicals, that made me feel uneasy as it watched my movements with ever-following


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eyes; the array of benches under one black oaken gallery in the chapel, into which I peeped through a side window; the pew-like desks of the school-room, up the aisle of which I peered—confronted by a fat-faced clock, over the head master's pulpit-throne, that seemed to wink and promise future floggings—when the cleaners had hooked back the finger-rubbed swing-door; tenantless mouse-cages, stray tops and marbles, bats with the pack thread off the handles, and fragments of copy-books, strewed about the play ground; and deep-cut names—suggesting ferocious individualities that owned them—on gate and wall and tree. Oh, how I wished to get out of the hateful place—how I pined for a free ramble on the dear, far-away Welsh hills! I was afraid to go “out of bounds,” because of the fierce colliers, and their fiercer sons, who prowled in the neighbourhood. Sometimes the latter crept into the play-ground, as I sauntered moping in the dusk, and tried to cut me off before I could get up to the house; and if I took a stroll in the garden, there was nothing to be seen outside except a melancholy landscape blotched with the black mounds of coal-pits, like a face with boils, and a volley of stones from a collier ambuscade on the other side of the hedge, soon made me run back to the buildings for shelter. (Between our boys and the pit boys there was a feud of long standing. There had been many fair, and many unfair, fights between them. Each party considered it was only making just reprisals when it thrashed mercilessly a solitary member of the opposite faction. The colliers, young and old, did not scruple to rob us when they could: tennis-balls and cutlery being the spoils most coveted. “Gie oi zhut knoife,” was their form of “Stand and deliver,” and not a ball that went over the play-ground walls would ever have been recovered, had it not been for the headmaster—an athletic, gipsy-looking man, known, on both sides of the boundary, as the “Black Devil”—who would sally forth to the rescue, heedless of odds; knocking down hulking fellows like nine-pins, laying six-footers across his knee to be searched, like children to be spanked, and always, if unsuccessful in his search, bringing back an old-clo'-Babel-tower of hostage hats, which were retained until the missing missile was restored.)

At length the masters and the boys returned, “business” recommenced, and my Purgatory was exchanged for Hell.

It makes me sick to read Willis's rant about his “brave, free-hearted, noble boy.” Heaven may, perhaps, hang about us in our infancy, but every lingering trace of celestial origin has vanished from the bulk of school-boys. If the Boy were, indeed, Father to the Man, the world would be peopled with demons. Schoolboys are incarnate devils. The shameless


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imps revel in torture, in cowardly cruelty of all kinds. Most despicably base is the barbarity of the play-ground, fastening always on the weak and unresisting. Because I was feeble, because I was fearful, I was hourly beaten and bullied. The hump upon my back was a sufficient reason why I should “run the gauntlet.”

Long I loitered in the bed-room that bright August morning (my pocket-money was now spent, so that I could no longer purchase forbearance), undoing buttons buttoned a moment before, hiding my handkerchief that I might consume time in pretending to hunt for it, awkwardly playing a thousand little tricks (my heart all the time thumping so that I could hear it) in order to defer my dreaded descent to torture; but my tormentors grew impatient, and two familiars were sent to summon me—I was lugged by the ears down the stone staircase—bumped against the iron balusters, if for a second I held back—scarcely allowed time to shuffle on my shoes—and then pitched headlong into the lane of boys (some fifty on each side) drawn up to receive me; who raised a yell of triumph such as I can fancy fiends greet a fresh damned soul with, and pounced upon me as the assembled dogs of a parish rush upon a vagrant cat. Fists, sticks, whips, and knotted handkerchiefs, some with stones in them, fell upon my head and back like hail. Being a novice at this kind of work, and bewildered by the sudden onset, I at first stood still, when I had staggered to my feet. This was prime sport for the gay gauntleteers. They had plenty of time for aim. It was a rare lark, too, when, after I had started, I fell down dead beat before I had got through half of my allotted round. Those whom my agony of terror had enabled me to outstrip, thus leisurely recovered their lost ground, and could aid in sending me in at last a breathless mass of blood and bruises,—the master “on play-ground duty” satisfactorily discharging it at his desk in practising “Rousseau's dream” upon the flute. The cool tune dribbled derisively into my burning brain, as I rushed under the open school-room windows up to the poplar appointed as the goal of my release; and, to this day, I can never hear the namby-pamby melody without breaking out into blasphemy.

This gauntlet affair was an exceptional case of cruelty, perhaps, but nightly was I knocked down, with fives-bats and Latin dictionaries slipped into pillow cases, in the “big fellows”' bolstering raids on the “little fellows”' bed-room—how I used to shake when I saw the bare-footed white bullies creeping along the corridor, barred with the still blue moonlight, that led from their room to ours! And by day, in addition to the miscellaneous cuffs and kicks that are the legitimate inheritance—gladly would


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he cut off the entail!—of the youngest boy of a hundred, a long-legged, dandified puppy whom all the women petted, and whom I have since heard preach a most pious, pathetic charity sermon, used regularly at halfpast twelve to send me to his locker for his “warming-strap”—a thick cord with nine knots in it—which I had to carry submissively to his lordship, standing with hand on hip, to display his fine figure to the sempstress at the “work-room” window—under “the limes,” and there receive, for nothing, two dozen lashes.

Yes, Mr. Willis, boys are, indeed, most noble creatures—well worth writing poetry about! The metamorphosis of the brutal British Boy into the humane British Man (in both instances I refer to average character) is to me a change far more marvellous than that of the grub into the butterfly.

Chapter XI.

MY musty old school—morally rank, as physically the most patriarchal ram, and butting at defenceless youngsters, in its corporate cruelty, full as viciously—has, I believe, been put into Chancery's Medea-cauldron, and come forth a most lamb-like institution; with new regulations, new buildings, even a new site—commanding a view of glittering crescents, instead of grimy coal-pits. God knows, a change was needed, but I wish that its very name had perished; that—once chopped up—the identity of the accursed gerund-mill had shared the fate of Pelias. I hate so everything that reminds me of the dismal, dingy hole wherein I flitted about, like a hunted bat, amongst barbarous tormenters, young and old, and soiled my soul by mean submission to their tyranny.

The fleshy Warden was not actively cruel. Indeed, except on very rare occasions, he was not actively anything. His offices were those of chaplain and general superintendent of the establishment; the last-named function procuring for him the title of “Daddy,” derisively corrupted into “Dodo,” in schoolboy satire on his puffy corpulence. Three times a day in the Hall (after each meal) he mumbled regulation-prayers, much as a toothless horse mumbles its unsatisfying fodder; rousing up from his sleepy and somniferous devotion, on some of the rare occasions I have hinted at, to drop his hand slily to his heel, draw off his slipper, and hurl it with unerring aim and startling impetus at any youngsters whom he detected in the distance, either napping under the influence of his narcotic supplications or digging their penknives into the school forms as they played at Tit-tat-toe, for stakes of fragmentary, rusty-looking apple, with


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their kneeling neighbours. But even then he did not hurry himself. His indignation, as Carlyle says of Dante's, was “slow, equable, silent, like that of a god.” He flung his shoe, as Jupiter might have cast a thunderbolt—calmly stern; and relapsed unruffled into his snuffling drone, filling the chamber with a drowsy boom like the buzz of a mammoth bumble-bee. On Sundays, after hearing the bigger boys repeat their catechism, he preached to us, morning and afternoon, in the school chapel; to which the people of the neighbourhood were admitted. A comatose feeling comes over me as I think of our hot Sunday afternoon sessions under the low, black gallery, projecting with a frown, like the brow of a negro with water on the brain. I seem once more to have gorged myself with cold plum pudding—the dainty of our Dominical dinner—mottled with broad blotches of white suet, thinly sprinkled with flat unstoned raisins—so far apart, that youthful waggery, to indicate the difficulty they would have felt in hailing each other, christened them “shouters”—the pips of which stuck between our teeth and tormented us all service-time; tough as leather, digestible as lead. I see the prim old women opposite nodding their bow-trimmed hats that look like oval trays set out with cups and saucers, the low crowns rising in the midst like spoutless tea-pots. A faint whiff of rosemary and fading wall-flowers floats across the pews as the somnolent worshippers shift the snowy kerchiefs in which they shroud their prayer-books. Overcome by pudding, heat, and perfume, I, too, begin to nod. I pull my own hair, and pinch the lobes of my ears until my nails almost meet. I bite my thumb until I can hardly bear, without screaming, the pressure of my teeth upon the whitened nail. I make my fingers rake like clippers' masts with backstays of pocket-handkerchief. I frantically twist them one over the other in the most fantastic of festoons. I run pins into my calves, and other fleshy places. All in vain, lower—lower—lower droops my head: until it springs back with a neck-cricking jerk, and I find a row of masters' eyes upon me, scintillating prophecies of cane and imposition. Ugh! and those dreary winter services, when teeth rattled like castanets, and every mouth sent out a column of breath white as cigar smoke; and the young bully on the bench behind (whose icy sheets I had to air at night with my personal caloric) made me sit upon his toes to keep them warm, spitefully scrunching my chilblained hands under his iron-shod heels, whenever I rashly attempted to appropriate any of my own fundamental heat for the solace of my tingling extremities. A double ugh! too, for the evening lecture in the ice-house of a school-room, and the banquet of stale bread, sapid as frozen deal, dilapidated cheese, and toothachey water in tin cans, that constituted—by way


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of treat—our Sunday's supper! Neighbouring clergymen sometimes availed themselves of the Warden's pulpit eloquence; and an impressive sight it was to see the mountainous Massillon start from home, when about to give his friends his assistance. An old-fashioned sociable—called, I believe, a “Coburg”—drawn by a stalwart dray-horse, was the vehicle that bore him. Masters and men-servants buttressed the carriage, and propped up the horse; but the steed staggered, and the chariot swayed, when the great man hung in transitu upon the step.

 Loud groaned the beechen axle with the weight,

and the springs collapsed, as if about to snap, when he mounted to the seat; taking care to plant himself exactly in the centre, or there would inevitably have been a capsize. The human “shores” having been removed, the clumsy Coburg rumbled like a launched herring-buss down the inclined plane that led to the great gates; almost lifting “Monarch” off his legs, as with collar about his ears, slack traces, slipping hoofs, and resistent rump jammed close against the splash-board, he was carried along by the impetus communicated to the car by its ponderous cargo. But terribly had he to toil—for he was nearly as fat as his master—in dragging his load up the slight hill with which the outside road commenced. He generally made short stages of it, stopping at the end of every dozen yards; when, amidst the jeers of the congregated colliers, the groom who ran behind blocked the wheels with stones, and gave the old horse panting-time—Daddy, meanwhile, gravely perusing the MS. of his sermon. Carving was one of the Warden's principal secular duties. He performed it attired in a black glazed calico apron, which gave his portly person a very episcopal appearance; Dame assisting him, with one of her husband's old surplices over her dress to protect it from the gravy,—the voluminous folds of the dingy ephod almost smothering the little woman. A trifle of pocket-money was given to each boy, according to the terms of the endowment, but, as he was expected to subscribe this “voluntarily” to some propagation society or other, our only genuine funds were those allowed us by our friends,—called “white-book,” from a vellum-covered volume in which the payments were recorded. Daddy presided over both disbursements, re-pocketing the propagation money, and advising us to spend our white-book with Dame, rather than with an emissary from “Old Giles's”—a sweet-stuff shop hard by, kept by a collier, amicable for commercial reasons—who on pay-days pervaded the play-ground. Dame on such days attempted to do a rival trade, seating herself just inside the school-room door, before a little trunk, filled with parliament, bulls'-eyes, liquorice, peppermint-drops, etc., etc.,—all warranted “wholesome”—and


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was fabled to dispose of her goods at prime cost, merely for our convenience; but as Old Giles's were both cheaper and of better quality, we preferred, when we could, to purchase our confectionery from his establishment. It required some nerve, though, to endure the glare of Daddy's eye, when he saw us sneaking past the black box without buying, and Dame, indignant at the ingratitude that led us to disregard her maternal, disinterested anxiety for the welfare of our pockets and digestions, took care to draw his eye to such offenders, by clucking after them like a hen whose ducklings are about to take the water: so, generally speaking, the 'cute little matron managed to dispose of all her musty stock. To pelt the chestnut trees was another crime that hugely excited Daddy's wrath. We wanted the nuts for a local game called “conquerors,” played upon cap-crowns—previously sufficiently injured by the abstraction of the cane for smoking purposes. To be engaged in this game, or preparing for it by knocking down chestnuts (I can see now the green balls, spined like hedgehogs, pattering down amid a shower of slowly-falling, fan-like leaves, and showing, through their cracks, their treasures of gleaming mahogany peeping out from their snowy coverings like so many Mulatto beauties from between the sheets) was a misdemeanour that Daddy, when he discovered it, always exerted himself personally to punish. Summoning the culprits, he delivered a long charge; and then, merging the judge in the executioner, suddenly aimed at them an open-handed blow, with the benevolent intention of bringing their heads forcibly together. His tactics, however, being understood, the delinquents kept a sharp look out, and ducked when they saw the plump paw approaching; whereupon its owner—unable to stop himself, when under anything like way, until the impulse had exhausted, itself—spun round and round like a sable humming-top; staggering like it, too, as his gyrations became less violent. He had a nasty trick, moreover, of posting himself in the shade beside the dormitory door, as we went up to bed, and of mowing down, in case of any noise, a swath of the first boys who reached the stair-head with one sweeping swing of his great arm. I remember rushing up one night, pursued by a pinching persecutor, and, in my eagerness to escape from him, unwittingly precipitating myself upon—or rather, into—the paternal paunch. Down into its dark depths I dived, like a pellet driven into dough, Empedocles leaping into Etna, or Poe's fisherman sucked down by the Maelstrom; but just as I was choking, the dough become elastic—the rumbling volcano heaved for an eruption—the back-swirl of the vortex began, and I was sent sprawling into the distance—projected, without any exaggeration, a good couple of yards. However, I have gossipped long


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enough about the fat old man. He let me off a flogging once, and twice gave me twopence. May he rest in peace!

Next to him I liked—or, perhaps, I should rather say, disliked the least—“Crane,” the fourth master, indebted, for his sobriquet, to his long legs and neck, and a proneness to pounce upon fleshy youngsters as his godbird pounces on a puffy frog. Whether it was my lack of fat, or a little lingering feeling in the breast of Crane, that procured me exemption from his torture, I know not; but certainly he scarcely ever laid a finger on me. Rhadamanthus, I trust, remembered this when he passed sentence on the otherwise ruthless scourger. My third negative favourite was “Black Devil,” the head master. True, it was no joke to be “laid across the desk” by him, for he had an awful knack of screwing up the seats of breeches, until their occupants stood out round and tight-rinded as plums just going to burst, before he began to flog; and his long fingers left their crimson marks upon one's ears for hours after the box had been inflicted. Still he always seemed to have a reason for his canings, whilst the other masters laced our jackets, or made us hold out our hands, evidently merely to vent and relieve their own ill temper; and Black Devil had a gentlemanly-looking, Brown-Windsor-scented hand that somehow made it seem pleasanter to suffer under it, than to get a cuff from the podgy, yellow-soaped palms of his snobbish underlings. With the doubtful exception of Crane, they were a hateful set—with most appropriate nicknames: “Skinner”—sweet sucking evangelist—reading for the Church; “Bear,” supposed to have growled an offer to the Warden's daughter, and not to have had his natural amiability increased by a contemptuous refusal on the part of the damsel, and a threat of dismissal on that of the dada; “Dumpty,” the writing-master, a stunted, sturdy, consequential despot, whom, nathless, we heartily despised because he didn't know Latin; “Horse,” a blundering, black-maned blockhead, who flung out his fists right and left, as a vicious cart-horse lashes with his hoofs; and “Pig,” an execrable, pimply-faced, cowardly, greedy, little beast, who cottoned to the big fellows (having not long been elevated from their ranks himself), but smuggled kids into his bed-room, and beat them about the head with clothes-brushes—and then “made friends” again as soon as any of them received a hamper. This small fiend, I believe, was publicly hooted out of the play-ground, some time after I left the school, for a bit of barbarity too rank even for its digestion. I wish I could have joined in the maledictory hisses!

Punished half-hourly in schooltime by this noble staff of guides, philosophers, and friends, and pummelled momentarily in playtime by my equally


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detestable mates, I was as miserable a little devil as ever wandered out of hell. My only comforts were my letters from home, and they seemed to have had their bloom rubbed off by the Warden's previous perusal. I found no consolation in writing home—the monthly task, indeed, only increased my misery, for each epistle had to be crammed with mendacious assurances of my happiness and the kindness—kindness!—of my teachers. The big boys clandestinely posted unsupervised correspondence,—“breaking bounds” in the evening, and slipping up to the village Post-Office; but this was an infringement of school rules that I was not hardy enough to venture on.

Rendered desperate at last, however, I determined on a bolder deed. I made up my mind to throw off the school yoke entirely—to run away.

Beneath the great elms, with the leaves that fell in autumn, we made al fresco couches or divans, denominated “squats.” What was the good of them I do n't know, but to make them was the mode; followed, as in the case of many other fashions, none the less universally because unintelligently. Those of the Dii Majores of the school were long and broad and deep, with cupboards scooped out beneath the tree roots, wherein provender was stored for the somewhat chilly picnics to which the proprietors of these damp beds of tarnished gold and rotting crimson invited each other. The youngsters getting only the leavings of the leaves, the fecal foliage that their superiors disdained, had to content themselves with humbler structures, and were too wise to make closets that they knew would soon have nothing to enclose, where so many potent pirates prowled around.

I was lying curled up on my scanty squat, like a dog upon his mat, one misty evening in November, when the thought of running away first struck me. Dim through the fog, I saw the red blaze of the school fire, as it flickered on the distant schoolroom windows. I could not help contrasting that inhospitable hearth (to which I was never admitted, save to be roasted, and then rubbed down until my hot clothes made me dance like a young bear with pain), with a fancy picture, sketched by memory, of a snug home fireside. I wondered what my mother and sisters, bending over such a fire, would say if they knew that I lay shivering in the cold; and the recollection of their gentle voices made the rough shouts and boisterous laughter, that rang out to me from the school through the raw air, seem doubly odious. Home I resolved to get.

The next day was Saturday, and on it I commenced my preparations for my journey. I had the audacity to discontinue my subscription to the propagation fund—for one week only, I tremblingly intimated to Daddy, who, supposing that I had got into debt, grimly permitted me to pocket


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for once the pence of which I had hitherto been robbed by some plague-some pagans somewhere—that was all I knew of the objects of my very reluctant charity. The sum, even when supplemented with my white book, did not constitute an overwhelming amount of capital—considering that I had a two-hundred miles' tramp before me. On Saturdays, moreover, the dining-hall being in the hands of the cleaners, we had a peripatetic dinner of bread-and-cheese. My prandial rations I carefully secreted in my locker, as I did, also, the solid portion of my tea, and as much as I could spare of my next day's meals, including the whole of its insipid supper. With this store of money and food, I resolved to start early on Monday morning; selecting that day because it would enable me to go away in my best clothes, our Sunday toggery not being locked up in the garret, which was its weekly receptacle, until after we had left our rooms on the Monday morning. The girl hired to look after our linen, etc., reserved all her wardrobe cares for the big fellows with whom she flirted, and had neglected me, amongst other youngsters, so shamefully, that my week-day clothes would have formed a very creditable suit for a scarecrow; and though I did n't much mind how I looked within school bounds, I was too proud to make my first appearance in the world without—what vague notions, by the bye, I had of that same world!—in the character of a little tatterdemalion. A quasi-religious feeling, coupled with a fear of being more speedily missed, kept me from running away on the Sunday.

I had noticed a stone loose in the wall, near the great gates. Tilting the stone, I discovered a cavity behind it, and into this—to be handy when I wanted them—on the Sunday evening when the playground was deserted, I put my provisions and some books that I meant to sell when my funds were exhausted: a Valpy's Delectus, a Latin Grammar, Peter Parley's Tales of Animals, and Robinson Crusoe. I had selected the last two from my little library, as being the most attractive books that it contained, and, therefore, most likely to find purchasers; the thought of ever parting from them though cost me a bitter pang, and I determined not to dispose of them until absolutely compelled—meanwhile they would be a kind of company. I took the two school books, because I hated them for the tears that they had made me shed. I might be brought back, and put under the yoke of precisely similar successors to the desk, but they, at all events—who has not felt this detestation of particular schoolbooks, just as if they were sentient foes?—should never more have dominion over me. No, they should be sold into bondage for their insolence. I had heard that buttermen buy second-hand books, and I revelled in the fancy of a pat of Wiltshire being sent to the school wrapt up in Fio, or a pound of


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Double Gloucester in the Garrula lingua nocet page of the Delectus; Irregular Verbs and the Second Concord being just then my stones of stumbling and rocks of offence. I imagined that my tormentors would feel the degradation of returning as tradesmen's wrappages to the scene of their former triumphs, where their brother tyrants still held undisputed sway.

Having got everything ready for my departure, I went back to the school-room gayer than I had ever felt since I first saw it; and at the usual hour filed across the flags that separated it from the schoolhouse, hid my cap behind my boots in my shoe-hole, and went almost merrily up to bed.

Pig's voice woke me in the morning—calling up the boys. I had overslept myself. My Sunday clothes were carried away, and I resigned myself to captivity for another week,

But Pig behaved so brutally towards me in the course of the day, because (as many a puzzled young Latinist has done before) I confounded Fierem and Ferrem; and, when “turned down,” could give no satisfactory account of my missing grammar; I got such an extra allowance of kicks for getting in the way at football, and of cracks across the shins for a similar offence at hockey; and my dandy despot leathered me so unmercifully at five, because, having been “kept in,” I could not go for my diurnal drubbing at half-past twelve; that I determined to creep up to the garret in the dark, taking the chance of its being left unlocked, and, if I could not get my clothes, to start, nevertheless, next morning in my weekday rags.

Martin Luther was not more haunted by the Devil than, according to tradition, was our clerical Founder when he lived in what was then the receutly erected Schoolhouse. He certainly deserved to be haunted for instituting such a dismal den. No wonder Satan felt himself at home in it. Diabolical legends were told of every room; more especially of the garret and the Founder's study. This latter apartment appears to have been Apollyon's favorite lounge. He was almost always in it: singeing the horsehair of the fundatorial throne, by sitting down in it; setting the fundatorial wig on fire, as he patted its proprietor upon the head, in mocking approbation of his prayers; turning the fundatorial sermons into tinder, as he slyly abstracted the wet sheets with his hot fingers, whilst the writer nodded over his Bible and his pad; breaking the fundatorial nose by accelerating with a heavy hand those fundatorial nods. At other times he stole the fundatorial slippers, shuffled his cloven feet into them, and ran round and round the table, filling the room with a powerful perfume of scorched leather, as he playfully dodged behind the chairs, whilst the defrauded owner wrathfully pursued; and occasionally, alas! he victoriously


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tempted the fundatorial chastity, by assuming the forms of lovely damsels come to seek for pious consolation, spiritual advice,—who vanished, with derisive laughter and a smell of burning brimstone, just when the fundatorial arms had clasped to the fundatorial breast their pink and palpitating bosoms in an embrace too fond for ghostly father's. In the garret he was said to have appeared in the form of a white rabbit, with parson's bands and spectacles on, popping its head from behind a beam, and grinning at the Founder who had just caught and was hugging a buxom and by no means unwilling housemaid of the period. When shot at, the myth went on to say, the Devil reassumed his hoofs and horns, danced a hornpipe—beating time with his harpoon-tail—and then blazed like a sky-rocket through the roof. A hole in the roof and two black hoof-marks in the floor were shown to trembling youngsters in my time, as evidences of this “fact.” Although a few bold rationalists hinted that these “Devil's Footmarks” had been made by the monitors' pocket-knives and candles, their supernatural origin was, for the most part, devoutly believed in by the lower forms. It may be supposed, therefore, that a youngster did not consider the garret a very inviting chamber to visit after sun-down. With a beating heart I stole up the stairs. The door to my great joy was ajar, but the room, lighted by one dingy skylight, looked so dreary in the November dusk, when I peeped in,—so full of mysterious brooding shadows, palpable gloom, that I scarcely liked to enter: more especially as my clothes were kept in the very last compartment of the long rack that stretched like a grim slumbering monster down the middle of the floor. What was my horror, when I reached it, to see two green, glowing eyes glaring out of the darkness directly above it! A spiteful spitting, and a scuttering run along the creaking deals hardly convinced me that my terrifier was merely a mortal cat. With a hasty hand I seized my bundle, and was out of the room almost as soon as the cat was—descending to the dormitory, where I hid the clothes between my mattress and the bedstead.

On the Tuesday morning I woke in excellent time. The bedroom was still as a churchyard, and the occupants of the swelling blanket-graves slept on whilst I hurriedly and noiselessly dressed. I believed in prayers in those days, and knelt down, before I left my room, to supplicate God's blessing on my truancy—more particularly His protection from “Mercury,” the truculent hero of the pit-boys,—a squinting, double-jointed, left-handed young collier who was the dread of all the school. He owed his name to a white gossamer which, in a recent scuffle with the elder boys, he had carried off as his share of the spolia opima. In the sides he had made slashes, for the sake of ventilation: and the flaps projecting, gave the castor very


  ― 50 ―
much the appearance of the Hermeän hat. Though grimy now, as if it had been hung up in a smoky chimney corner, like a ham to cure, this hat was an oriflamme as efficient as the snowy plume of Henry of Navarre. Friends gathered triumphant around it: foes fell back dismayed before it. Fervently I prayed that I might not fall into the hands of Mercury. I had been reading Bunyan's Holy War, and I identified the ferocious pit-boy with Diabolus. He used to mount a ruined cottage that commanded the playground, and hurl defiances and stones over the wall just as Diabolus did into the beleagured city. My orisons completed, I slipped off my pillow-case to serve as a knapsack for my stores, and glided, silent as a ghost, down the stone stairs. It made me feel almost like a ghost, to be the only one awake in all that great slumbering house. My heart very nearly failed me when I approached the huge lobby-door, for the purpose of unlocking it. The broad box of a lock seemed to frown frightfully at my audacity, and bid me go back to bed again, and not make a fool of myself. At length I summoned courage to seize the gigantic key. It was as much as both my straining hands could accomplish to force back the grating catch; but, at last, the door stood open, and the frosty morning breeze blew in fresh upon my brow with a cheering kiss of encouragement. Yonder hung the rusty school-bell that soon would summon my mates to their treadmill tasks, but me—oh, nevermore! Glad of heart, I ran down to my cave, leaping over the shadow of the “Founder's Tree” that sprawled black and gaunt in the bright moonlight across my path, as though it were a night master on duty determined to cut me off. My books and prog were soon swallowed by my sack, and flung across my shoulder. Half through nervousness, and half in triumph, I slammed the gate behind me, and, plunged, at the top of my speed, into the dread collier country—my fears for the moment, all mastered by the ecstatic feeling of being once more FREE!

Chapter XII.

MY prayers were disregarded. About a quarter of a mile from the school I ran into the very arms of Mercury, who was wending his way to the pit. Seizing me by the collar with one hand, and brandishing his candlestick, daggerwise, in the other, he threatened to murder me, and then sell me to the doctors; to hide me in the mines, and make me work for him; to take me back to school; to do, in short, a variety of things that he thought would terrify me. Having succeeded in his benevolent attempt, he contented himself with stripping me of my prog, my money, my picture-books,


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and my pillow-case (seeing no cuts in the Latin books, he contemptuously restored them); and, finally, helped me on my way to Bristol with a shove and a tremendous kick.

Tingling with pain, half-choked with terror, and yet glad to have escaped with only the loss of my baggage (to send me to Bristol, naked, had been one of Mercury's menaces), I pattered panting along the frozen road; cowering in ditches, amongst the dead nettles and rime-powdered fallen leaves, when I saw any collier-bands in the distance, hurrying pitwards, like devils scared by the approach of dawn.

Ferunt vagantes dæmonas,
Lætos tenebris noctium,
Gallo canente exterritos
Sparsim timere et cedere.

Oh, how my heart thumped as the tramp, and the laughter, and the blasphemy of my black foes drew nearer and nearer! How I held my breath when they were right abreast of me! How cautiously I peeped out when the sound of their feet and voices died gradually away! And with what a hare-like scamper I got over the ground when the coast was once more clear! Once, a dog belonging to one of them came running along the ditch in which I was lying, and smelt at the heap of thorns behind which I was hid. His moist nose almost touched me. His hot breath puffed full in my face. I could see the look of uncertainty in his eye, when it fell upon me, as to whether he ought to bark or not. Fortunately, just then, his master whistled. The question of casuistry was settled, apparently to the satisfaction of the canine conscience, by a call to a more immediate duty than that of discovering my retreat. With a knowing look that seemed to say “I could have got you into trouble, if I'd liked,” the dog wagged his tail, and trotted off; and I was left unmolested.

The moon had gone down when I reached St.———, half-way between the school and Bristol. The church towered dim and spectral in the dusk of the winter's morning. The tombstones looked over the churchyard-wall like ghosts. Nobody was stirring in the street. A few drowsy lights were blinking in the upper windows of the dark houses. The road beyond stretched black, silent, and dismal. I lingered for a time in a little patch of light that one of the candles threw down upon the path. There seemed warmth and company in the yellow spot on that cold, dreary morning. Remembering, however, that it was not safe to loiter so near my cage, and that I had nothing more to fear from the colliers (St.———being, as it were, a frontier-fortress of civilization, marking the termination of the realin of coal), I pushed on again, and reached Bristol without


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further adventure, by the not very promising entrance of squalid Templestreet.

As I advanced into the city of rum, sugar and dirt, shop-boys were taking down shutters, housemaids were banging door-mats against area-rails, and mechanics hastening to their work; the noses of all of them purple as plums with the biting cold. The tin-cans that the last carried reminded me of breakfast; excitement had, hitherto, stifled hunger, but now I found that my race in the keen air had made me ravenous. The books that Mercury had left me must at once be sold.

It was some time, however, before I could find a bookseller. In the course of wanderings in search of one, I passed the beautiful church of St. Mary Redcliffe. Rosy-golden in the bright winter sunlight, the tower shot up into the clear, frosty air—undefiled as yet with smoke—with such a happy, holiday look about it, that I almost fancied the bells would break out presently of their own accord in a joy-peal. The sight cheered me for a moment, and then it threw a damp upon my enterprise, for Chatterton came into my head. My sister had told me his story, when we visited the church together, just before I went to school. I began to wonder how long the money that I might get for my books would keep me, how much poison cost, and which would be the more painful death—suicide or starvation.

Meditating thus moodily, I suddenly stumbled on what I was seeking. At the corner of a little square court, I came upon an old house; each story projecting over the one beneath, as though it wanted to whisper to the house opposite; quaint faces carved on the projecting beams; and tiny lattices peeping out, with a sly, wicked leer, in all kinds of places where no one could expect to see a window. At the door stood two boxes, filled with battered, mildewed volumes; a paper label in a cleft stick—like those gardeners put into the ground to mark where seeds are sown—intimating the trade value of those on the left by the inscription, “These at 3d.,” a similar index emblazoned with “These at 6d.,” doing the same office for the rather more reputable-looking tomes upon the right. Bulkier books, ticketed with various prices, were arranged in shelves, and laid out flat, like flounders at a fishmonger's, on a sloping board, in the open shop front. Lurking like a spider in a dusty hole behind the counter, sat the proprietor of the establishment; a blear-eyed, red-nosed, snuffy old man, swathed in a filthy flannel dressing-gown, with a huge pair of horn spectacles on his forehead, and smoking a short black pipe. Above him, in a wicker cage, hung a raven, with his head on one side, and eyes that one moment seemed stupid, half asleep, and the next flashed out a glance


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of devilish cunning, and impish fun. Beside the old man sat a black cat, decorated with a red morocco collar. Before him lay a big book, open, which I think must have been a black-letter Bible.

With a trembling hand I tendered the old man my classics, and was proceeding in a trembling voice to ask him what he would give for them, when suddenly he got up, puffed a whiff of tobacco down my throat, and whilst I was coughing the rank fume out, pinched his cat's tail, and shook the raven's cage; whereupon the former began to swear figuratively, and the latter, literally, gruffly ejaculating “Go to Hell!” Three times was this strange process gone through, the old wizard after each performance composedly squatting down again, and coolly inquiring what was my business.

When, at length, he condescended to understand what I wanted, he took the books from me, glanced at their titles, flung them on a pile of pamphlets near him, and then quietly went on smoking. Again and again I asked him to name his price. The only answer I received was from his feathered proxy, which, rendered more and more savage by each shake of his tenement, commanded me in a voice of crescendo ferocity to “Go to Hell!”

Presently, putting down his pipe, the old man took up the big book, muttered some gibberish, and slipped his finger at random between the leaves. Either reading, or pretending to read the passage on which it had fallen, he grunted out: “Thou shalt not steal, Exodus, fifteenth, twentieth.” At this the raven, without any prompting, screamed petulantly: “Go to hell—go to hell—can't you go to hell?”

I was so frightened by this time, that I began to think I had come very near to the place whither the raven wanted to send me. I had no wish now to sell my books to that awful old man. My only desire was to get them back, and be off. When I applied for them, however, this was the response I got:

“The book hath spoken, and so has the bird: do you want to hear the cat?”

I really almost believed that the cat would speak if I asked for the books again, but hunger made me desperate, and I said, or rather sobbed:

“Oh, do, please, sir, give them to me! I've had no breakfast, and they're all I've got.”

The old man rose very gravely, planted his elbows on the counter, and his head upon his palms, and stared at me for full five minutes. Then having blown out a long puff of smoke (as before, directly in my face) and waited until it had cleared away, he replied:




  ― 54 ―

“Give 'em to you indeed! No, Master Moucher, my intentions is to send them there two Latin books back to them as owns 'em, and you with 'em,” he added, making a feint at running round the counter to catch me, and flinging the cat, with all her claws out, and spitting like a fury, in my face. I waited to hear no more, but rushed from the shop, pursued by a laughing chorus of “go to hell—go to hell—ha, ha, ha—ha, ha, ha—gone to hell—gone to hell—ha—ha—HA!”

I was quite cast down by this second robbery, and thoroughly scared by the methodical old madman who had fleeced me with his Sortes Biblicœ and oracular familiars. I wished myself back again in the old hall, safe, at all events, from supernatural tormentors, and sure of a breakfast.

With a longing eye I lingered about a coffee-stall, feeding in fancy on the thick slices of bread and butter, and greedily sniffing the fragrant fumes of the steaming beverage. The woman who kept the stall noticed me, and asked whether she should serve me.

“I haven't got any money,” I said.

“Ah, well, I can't afford to treat young gentlemen,” was the woman's very natural answer.

A shoeless little girl was standing amongst the crowd of al fresco breakfasters, busy with her coffee-cup and second slice of bread and butter. She saw how woe-begone I looked, and brought both to me with a smile.

“Here, drink it up, little boy; I've only taken one bite out. Won't they give you breakfast at home? I've got a brother like you.”

Famished as I was, I couldn't take the proffered refreshment; but the generosity of my kind, shivering little benefactress, made me cry. This touched the woman's heart, and she called me back and gave me free commons. When I had finished my breakfast, she made me tell her how I came to be wandering about; and when she found that I had run away from school, advised me to go back, and never mind the beatings—I should be a big boy some day. I thanked her, and slipped away. The coffee had so warmed and cheered me, that all hankerings after the dreary asylum of school had vanished; but having no money, and no means of getting any, I felt very puzzled as to how I was to reach home. As I hung upon the draw-bridge, I noticed “London” on a schooner's stern. London was only fifty miles from where my mother lived. I would offer myself as a cabin-boy, go to London in the schooner, and then pay my coach fare to Helensburgh with a portion of my wages, buying presents for my mother and sisters with the rest. The plan appeared quite feasible—what an extensive system of chances is childhood's theory of probabilities! It is a pity that we can't hoard a little of our superfluous early


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faith for use in after years; but! the heart has no Joseph to make provision for the time of famine.

My proffer of service was somewhat rudely rebuffed on board the schooner. The mate, with his trowsers tucked up to his knees, was superintending and personally assisting in the swabbing of the deck; and, having been rendered irritable by the cold water that frosty morning, dabbed his mop in my face, and merely repeated what I had already heard from the raven. I was similarly repulsed from a good many other vessels. My deformity, I scarcely need say, was made the butt of scores of cruel jokes; the most good natured of them being an intimation from a waggish master, that he had a monkey already.

I had strolled to the end of what, if I remember rightly, is called the Floating Harbour, when I saw a little man, in a white-seamed blue coat, with tarnished gilt buttons, hurrying down to a boat which was waiting to take him to his vessel, a West Indiaman that was just about to be towed into the river. The little skipper had such a pleasant smile upon his sun-burnt face, that, being anxious now to get some sort of settlement anywhere, I determined to ask him to let me be his cabin-boy, whithersoever the ship might be going. I stopt him as he was slipping down the grassy bank, and told him my tale and wishes.

“Go back to school, my little lad,” was his reply. “We are all of us at school, big and small. There's many a one beside you that don't like the tasks and beatings, and would run away if he could. But we must do our duty, my boy—work on like Britons, that, when breaking-up day comes, we may get a prize, and go home happy to our Father.”

I understood his simple sermon, but I did not act upon it, for my kind-hearted mentor gave me half-a-crown as well as a homily; and with such an amount of wealth as that I thought I could get a long way on my road home, and when it was exhausted, no doubt I should find some means of getting more.

I watched and saw the boat push off and pull to the ship—saw my blue-coated friend run up the side like a cat, and then I wandered on, reviewing my position, and meditating my next move.




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Chapter XIII.

BATH, I knew, was the first place for which I must make in my journey homewards. I had just received some rather vague instructions for finding the Bath road, when I saw in the distance the hateful form of Pig—no doubt, despatched to capture me. Fortunately I was in the neighbourhood of the Cumberland Basin, where a Swansea steamer lay, discharging her throng of pale-faced passengers. I dived into the cadaverous crowd, and managed to escape the porcine eye. Afraid, however, to go back into the city, whilst my foe was prowling there, I rambled along the river-side, determining to return and get more definite directions as to the route that I must follow, than I had yet obtained, when dusk should have driven Aper back into his den. He was fond of a little dismal dissipation on the sly. I, therefore, felt pretty sure that he would remain in Bristol during the day, mooning about from public-house to public-house; but that the dread of meeting colliers after dark would send the cruel coward home—maugre his crapulence—at the first approach of twilight—to give, of course, on his arrival, a doleful account of the weary miles he had walked, along highways and through bye-ways, after me.

Tawny as the Tiber, the Avon rolled its turbid flood; St. Vincent's Rocks blushed blood-red in the brightening sunlight; the woods on the other side of the river rained down their wealth of pallid gold; like a gigantic gossamer swayed and glistened the connecting cord between the piers of what, perhaps, by this time, is a suspension-bridge. The car—bucket—basket—or whatever else the machine used as an aerial ferry-boat might be called—was being hauled across as I stood beneath the rope; midway one of the passengers fired a gun, and multitudinous echoes converted the single report into a volley.

“The way of the world,” muttered a voice near me. “Say a thing boldly, and what a lot of folks will say it after you!” I turned, and saw an ancient gentleman, buttoned up in a black great-coat, stiff from the collar of which, and white as snow, stuck out a tiny pig-tail. This, and his intensely-starched cravat, and the golden head of the cane on which he leaned, were the only light-colored things he had about him. His very face was bluish-black—the effect of mercurial medieines, most probably. He wore gaiters, carried his head on one side, glanced sharply out of the corners of his eyes, and looked altogether very like my recent acquaintance, the raven, considerably magnified. The greeting with which he favored me was not much more courteous than the welcome I had received from that atrocious bird.




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“What the devil are you staring at boy?—God bless me! How dare you be so ugly?”

“Please, sir, I can't help it,” I stammered; and yet, somehow, the aspect in which he had placed my ugliness staggered me. I began to feel morally responsible for it—at all events, for sunning it. It seemed a sin to walk about a universal eyesore. I was trying to quiet my sense of guilt with the reflection that my censor shared largely in my iniquity, when he turned sharp upon me with a

“Ah! What's that you say? I'm no great beauty, an't I?”

“Indeed, sir, I didn't say so,” I replied; laying, unconsciously, a most tremendous stress upon the “say.”

“Child, your eye said it. Don't deny that you thought it. I hate lies worse than ugliness. I saw the speech peering out of your eye—by the bye, those blue eyes of yours a'n't so bad—I saw it peeping out, I say, like a saucy young scamp taking a sight at me from a window. I can't lug the young blackguard down and give him a drubbing; but, you see, I can catch your thoughts—so be careful what you think. It's nonsense standing here in the cold. Come and have a walk.”

He started off at a trot, dragging me along by his side. Not another word did he say, until we reached the Clifton Pump Room. Into this he took me, inviting me, as abruptly as before, to “come and have a drink.” A large tumblerful of the nauseous waters he compelled me to swallow, assuring me that it would warm me and do me good; grinning horribly meanwhile at the grimaces I made under the infliction. When I had gulped down the last, loathsome drop—he insisted on my leaving “no heeltaps”—I was asked what I thought of the “tipple.”

I forget what I said, but my answer tickled him, and put him into a better humor. When we came out of the Pump Room, he bought me a tart to take the chalybeate taste out of my mouth—first abusing the pieman for charging three-pence for, as the testy old fellow asserted, a twopenny one, and finally giving the man's child a shilling—and as we walked up and down the broad space before the Hot Wells, he informed me why he had drenched me with the detestable beverage.

“To take the sauce out of you, young man. I was as good-looking a fellow once as ever lived. Liver went wrong on the Hooghly, love went wrong at home. I'm a broken, lonely old man now—forced to drink that horrid stuff; and I can't walk out without being badgered about my looks by a misshapen imp like you! Come and see my grandchild.”

We went to a handsome house in one of the Clifton crescents. “Back already, grandpapa! O, I am glad,” cried a little girl, as we stept into a


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breakfast parlour where she sat at work. The work was instantly thrown aside, and springing up into the old man's opened arms as lightly as a fawn, she covered his indigo face with kisses. Very strange was the contrast between it and her sweet cheeks, of a shell-like pink-white; and between his rectilineal, hoary pigtail and her flood of golden hair.

“Bella do nt think me ugly,” said the original into whose company I had been so queerly pressed, at length setting her down, and stroking her bright locks with a fond yet dainty touch, as though he feared to dim their lustre with his sombre paw—looking, between its tropical tan and its superinduced dark blue, very much like a lump of ore. “What do you think, Bella? That young monkey—is n't he like a monkey?—had the audacity to call grandpapa ugly!”

She flashed just a glimpse of an indignant glance at me, but when she saw how embarrassed I appeared in my anxiety to vindicate myself from the charge which yet I could not quite deny, she waived the question of my guilt, and took my part against my taunting accuser.

“It would have served you right if he had. You called him a monkey, you naughty man!”

“Well, and what else is he? But he looks as if he wanted something to eat. I do. The greedy monkey drank up all my morning's draught—never left me a drop. So, thank heaven, I've got an appetite. Come, let's have tiffin. Ring the bell, Bella.”

The servant, when he made his appearance, was soundly rated for not having prepared luncheon an hour before the usual time. An impromptu repast having been laid out in great haste and trepidation by the startled domestics, who evidently regarded their master as a sort of two-legged Bengal tiger very partially tamed, we repaired to the dining-room.

His valetudinarian state compelled the old Indian to be very abstemious as far as edibles were concerned, but he drank freely of his Madeira, which in a short time visibly mellowed him. He ceased to swear at the footman, and became quite polite to me, loading my plate with luscious foreign preserves; which he seemed to enjoy by proxy on my palate—delighted at my appreciation of them, and yet only half-contented with such a vicarious gratification of his tastes. On Bella he waited as attentively as any lover, and when I saw how angel-like in temper, as well as face and form, she was, I did not marvel that she should have been able to subjugate even his irascible nature.

I will not attempt to describe her——

 The grave-damp is staining her beautiful brow.

Though, what right have I to mourn her? The benighted wanderer


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might as well claim property in his solitary star, and wear a weeper for its setting. Suffice it to say, that, at this time she was the worthy bud of the peerless blossom into which she opened—to tempt the ruthless fingers of a sudden Fate.

“Youngster, my name is Maurice—Evan Maurice,” my entertainer presently exclaimed. “What's yours? It's ridiculous to be talking to a boy without a name—just like drinking tea without a handle to your cup. Why don't you speak, you anonymous absurdity? You've got a name, haven't you?”

“Arthur Owen?” he echoed, when I had satisfied him on this point. “Why, you must be a countryman of mine—I'm a Welshman—as you may tell by my Cambrian cayenne. Calcutta don't improve that sort of thing. Curried Welsh Rabbit is a nice cool tit-bit, a'n't it? Bella there is going to start for school at a Mrs. Owen's to-morrow. Poor, dear little Bella—no, poor, lone old gaffer! What the devil shall I do without her? and what the devil are you staring at, sir?”

My eyes were fixed upon a portrait hanging opposite to me. Where had I seen those features? They were Mrs. Fitzherbert's. And now I could trace a resemblance between them and Mr. Maurice's, notwithstanding the chromatic disfigurement of the latter. They were repeated, too, but etherialized in Bella's seraphic face.

“Who uncovered that picture?” said Mr. Maurice, in a deep, stern voice, quite unlike his usual petulant tone; his blue face blanching until it looked awfully livid. He got upon a chair, and refastened to the frame the corner of the moth-eaten curtain, which, most probably, had given way and dropped when he banged the door in wrath on his entrance into the dining-room. (An intruding cat, which very nearly had its tail guillotined by the swiftly-swinging mahogany, had caused this explosion of temper.)

“It is poor, dead Aunt's,” whispered little Bella.

For a long time after this Mr. Maurice sat gloomily musing; Bella meanwhile showing me books and prints, and talking to me in a sweet, shy, pitying way. I have already said that I loathe the pity which, in some, my ugliness excites—I would far rather mark unmitigated disgust and scorn—injustice steels its victim. But pity beaming from her soft, deep eyes, and trembling in the tones of her low, silvery voice, was a balm to me at first. Suddenly a pang shot through my heart, and I hated her, too, for her compassion. Our chairs were close together; her long curls fell upon my shoulder, her breath played warm on my cheek; when, all at once, a great gulf seemed to open between us. A vague prophecy


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of the Future swept across my soul, and the black, cold shadow that it cast remained. What had I to do with her? Her very dog was not so far off from her as I. It, in its own kind, had beauty, and graceful, fondling ways to win her love. As she pulled out its long, silken ears, and lifted its velvet head between her lily hands up to her rosy lips, calling it her “pretty, pretty Fido,” I became jealous of the poor, dumb beast, and felt as though I could have killed both spaniel and mistress. I grew sullen, and refused to talk. I pushed away my chair from hers, and presently retreated to a window-seat. She watched me for a little time in wonder, and, then, no doubt, setting me down as “a strange, unaccountable boy,” took a stool at her grandfather's feet, and left me to my own devices.

Some little movement of hers made her grandfather start from his reverie.

“Why, where's the boy?” he said.

“He won't talk to me, grandpapa.”

“Not talk to you—the arrant little fool! Here, you young Owen, unworthy of the name of Welshman—disgrace to the name of amorous Arthur, most polite of princes—what have you to say to this, you illmannered whelp? Not talk to my Bella! What d'ye mean by it, sir?”

“I want to go,” I blurted out—ready to cry, but struggling to repress that sign of weakness in the presence of Bella, who once more looked at me with wide, wondering eyes.

“You want to go do you?” he answered, mimicking my tone. “And who, in the name of God, ever asked you to come? Oh, I did. Why did I? Who are you, Arthur Owen? Who gave you that name? Where do you come from? What —— stop, sir!”

But stop I wouldn't. I rushed from the room, snatched my cap from the hall-table, and darted out by the front door, which the servant had just opened. Some one on the steps I almost upset; but whom, I waited not to see. Mr. Maurice's “stop, stop, you young maniac, stop!” rang round the crescent, and a pair of feet—probably the footman's—pattered along the pavement after me; but turning sharp round a corner, and dodging through some mews, I baffled my pursuer—pursy, no doubt, and careful of his spotless calves. A sulky stroll over Durdham Downs filled up the time until the early evening twilight; when, having first broken into my half-crown for the purchase of a light supper of two plum buns and a bottle of ginger-pop at a Clifton confectioner's, I re-entered Bristol, and inquired, and soon found the road to Bath.




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Chapter XIV.

THE moist cold of a thaw: the damp darkness of a misty December night. Splashed to the eyes, with sodden shoes in which my tired feet worked like force-pump pistons, with clammy hands gnawed raw by the clinging fog, starved to the marrow, utterly miserable, I was plodding through the slush, when a little way before me I descried a double line of flaring fires. As I drew nearer, I saw stalwart figures, arrayed in short smocks and long night-caps, plying the pick and spade on the sides of a ravine; others trundling barrows piled with clay, or dragging them back empty, along narrow, bending planks at such a giddy height above the ground that my head swam as I watched their careless traversers. A waggon rumbled through the gorge to the end of the bluff embankment which protruded from its jaws, stopped mysteriously when apparently just about to topple down the precipice, tilted—so it seemed—of its own accord, shot out a rattling avalanche of ballast, and then rolled back into the mist to fetch another load. It was the inchoate Great Western Railway that I had reached. The huge navvies looked almost fiend-like in the lurid glare of the cresset-fires, their bustle and blasphemy were doubly startling after the deep, solitary stillness through which I had travelled; and yet, after all, the sight of them was pleasant.

It is a dreary thing to follow alone the snake-like windings of a road by night; ebon blackness dogging your steps, ebon blackness again in front, some three-square feet of ground but dimly seen beneath your very nose; hedgerow trees shaping themselves into ambushed foot-pads, milestones masquerading as silent ghosts—standing sentry, perchance, over their foully-murdered bodies; hushed fields, brooded over by dreadful, ever-thickening shadow, stretching away on each side to what would be the sky-line, if sky and earth were not blended in chaotic gloom. Any one who has taken such a journey will appreciate Coleridge's stanza:—

As one who on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once looked round, walks on,
And no more turns his head,
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread!

The feeling so forcibly described in the last two lines—or something very like it—had gradually been stealing over me. Actual fiends from Lancashire appeared decidedly preferable to possible fiends from Hell. Moreover, I was quite fagged out and foot-sore. I determined to test the hospitality of these industrious devils in white jumpers. If repulsed


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from their fires—a warm place to sleep in was all that I wanted—I should be no worse off than before, and must then, with what heart I could muster, once more face the ceriness and endure the weariness of the heavy, haunted highway.

I clambered over a gate, and stumbled through a plowed field up to the first fire on my side of the cutting I have mentioned. I raked together some straw for a bed, and lay down before the grateful blaze unchallenged, and in two minutes was fast asleep. My slumbers, however, were soon disturbed. The toe of a huge boot lifted me out of my couch, and a gruff voice demanded my business. Nathless, the owner of the boot and voice—a gigantic navvy—was a good-tempered fellow; and when he had heard my story, gave me a drink of “dog's nose” to comfort me from a gallon-can full of that mixture which he had just concocted, and told me that if I wanted a “snooze,” I might go and lie down in his hut—a clay cottage a few yards off. To this I repaired, and coiling myself up in a corner and covering myself with an old coat I found there, I very speedily resumed my interrupted nap.

I was awoke next day by a great tumult in and around the cottage. My host was “wanted” by a band of Bristol police, who, afraid to attempt to take him when at work amongst his fellows, and knowing that he belonged to a “night-gang,” had stealthily crept up to his hut in the morning twilight, hoping to catch him in his first heavy sleep, and without the notice of his comrades. His “day-gang” mates, however, were mustered round the door, swearing that they would have the peelers' blood if they didn't instantly decamp. Contractors were striving to appease their men, and advising the “force” not to persist in effecting a capture. Some of the policemen were struggling in the doorway with the surging mob; others were endeavouring to burst open a trap-door which was the entrance to a loft that formed the delinquent's dormitory. This he had fastened down, I suppose, at the first alarm of invasion.

The lower room, as may easily be imagined, was very roughly ceiled. Its ceiling was, in fact, merely the floor of the loft, and in it there were many widely-gaping chinks. Through one of these the Inspector at the head of the constables thrust a pistol; vowing that he would shoot my stalwart friend if he did not instantly come down. Immediately afterwards the hut shook, and I heard a tremendous crash. I thought at first that the pistol had been fired, and that the man was killed; but a roar of laughter and a thundering cheer from the crowd outside undeceived me. I knew then that the navvy must have escaped. But how? He had literally jumped through the wall of his house, its clay yielding to his


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strong shoulder like reeds before a rhinoceros. Those who had come to make a prisoner were themselves kept prisoners for some three hours. When, in the opinion of his friends, sufficient “law” had been given to the quarry, his hunters were liberated, to pursue, if they liked, the chase; but, quailing before the storm of hoots and the shower of stones with which they were greeted when they issued from the cottage, they set off at full speed back to Bristol. In the confusion I slipped away unnoticed, and recommenced my tramp in the opposite direction.

Chapter XV.

FREESTONE, beneath the weeping skies and in the carbonised atmosphere of England, assumes, in course of time, a very dingy hue—puts on, in old-fashioned phrase, “sad-coloured raiment.” The buildings of Bath—save in the case of magnificent Queen-square where the tint is a pure and venerable grey, harmonising well with the ancient extinguishers, for linkboys' torches, still projecting from the walls—seem, on a close inspection, clad in not over clean mourning for the departed gaiety that once brightened the town as with a swarm of peacock-butterflies, flooded it with jocund music as though life had been but one long holiday—the dynasty of duties deposed for ever, and delight reigning with a rose-wreathed sceptre in their stead. The city that was full of merry-makers now sits solitary. Some of her streets—King-street for instance—are so silent that they remind you of Palmyra and Pompeii. For want of living traversers, you people them with ghosts. Patches and ruffles, hoops and swords, paint themselves on the empty air. The flirts and fribbles of the eighteenth century ascend from Hades, dumbly chattering, as they coquettishly tap their polished fans, or sapiently wag their powdered wigs. Beau Nash is King of Bath once more. His coach-and-six again parades the place—with wheels that rattle not, and horses velvet-shod; grandly his heralds puff their spectral cheeks, but noiseless are their horns.——“By leave,” growls a gruff voice in your ear, and two tall chairmen—in long, blue, caped coats, corduroy small-clothes, and ribbed grey worsted stockings, just such as chairmen wore in the Beau's time—trot past with a seedy sedan in which, perhaps, the Beau has sat—it looks quite old enough. The vehicle and vehents that have dispelled your dream of by-gone Bath are the sole relics of its manners. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Bath, however, blackened limestone and deserted streets notwithstanding, is, when seen from a distance on a fine day, one of the most brilliantly beautiful of cities. Hills stand about her as they stand about Jerusalem,


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but hills blooming beneath the blessing of God, not blasted by His curse. In the emerald basin that they form, crescent rises above crescent, terrace above terrace. Graceful churches dot the denser masonry, pointing with taper fingers to the skies; and in the centre of the clustered houses the Abbey towers sublime. Smoke-stains and weather-stains are washed out by the deluge of sunlight raining on window, roof, and wall; in lovely contrast with the verdant slopes around, and the azure heavens smiling overhead, Bath glitters like a jewelled queen. Aquæ Solis was a name she bore in the old Roman times. She may not be indebted to the sun for her waters, but verily she is for her winsomeness. No matter what the season, she looks splendid in the sunshine. When an avalanche of fruit-blossom hangs on the side of Lyncombe Vale, and the glowing green of spring ends every vista opening from sombre but majestic Pulteney-street; when Prior Park decked in its summer robes basks in the dazzling glory of a cloudless mid-day, and summer grass waist high waves in the meadows by the winding Avon; when the Twerton valley gleams one tufted mass of gold and crimson in the pensive radiance of an autumn afternoon; and when the last clambering spray of the wild clematis has withered in the hedges, and Hampton cliffs stand bluff and bright in the cold, clear winter air, embossed on the pale-blue winter-sky,—the Queen of the West may proudly challenge comparison with the fairest of her sisterhood of cities,—any, the wide world over.

But very dreary did Bath look that muggy winter's day when I approached it, a little before noon, by the muddy lower Bristol Road. Dark clouds, almost touching the turrets of the abbey, hung over the city, stretching like a leaden-coloured canopy from Beechen Cliff to Lansdowne. The leafless trees upon the hill where the Leper Prince's pigs once crunched the abundant mast, were glossy with rain and dripping dismally. Beckford's Tower rose like a light-house above a sea of mist. Damp donkeys laden with coal from Radstock, and driven by women that looked like men, and men that looked like devils, came trudging down steep Holloway and the more level Wells Road, shaking the raindrops from their drooping ears, and wearing that expression of melancholy patience which is to be seen only in the faces of flogged asses, and flogged wives. The pavement on the bridge was caked inch-thick with mire, through which foot-passengers toiled like flies on a greasy plate. Below rushed the swollen river, of the colour of bad gingerbread. Bump, bump against the wharf went the black barges, as they rose and fell upon the bilious-looking stream. Drearily the smoke straggled from their rusty chimneys; drearily yelped their dogs; seeking in vain dry places to lie down in on


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the glistening tarpaulins; dreary was the monotonous creak of the straining hawsers; dreary the flapping of the unfurled, wet-through sails.

My Clifton supper, and a frugal breakfast of bread-and-cheese at a roadside public-house, had not exhausted my half-crown. The part left, indeed, being in copper change, seemed to me, in spite of Euclid, greater than the original silver whole. Having lightened my pocket a little by the purchase of a pork-pie, I turned out of busy Southgate-street, and munched my peppery, unctuous dinner unmolested, as I dragged my weary feet over the puddle-sprinkled flags of the once fashionable St. James's Parade: now tenanted by tailors, stencillers, milk-sellers, and washer-women—portraits of cows that would make Landseer stare, and miniatures of mangles, decorating the doorpost or ground-floor window of almost every other house on both sides of the way. Roaming on by Westgate-buildings—fast sinking, through the intermediate stage of shabby gentility, into the base commercial condition of their fallen neighbour—I entered dingy Kingsmead-square. From this leads Avon-street, the Bathonian Alsatia, where—“the politest city in Europe” being cursed with the most blackguardly mob in the world—harlots and ruffians swarm, nearly as numerous and nasty as the vermin that share their quarters.

Having been cross-examined with rather uncomfortable closeness as to my movements by persons who had met and passed me in my morning's tramp to Bath, I had become very shy of asking directions, and was determined to find my way through the city into the London road by my own sagacity. Being, by this time, however, quite bewildered as to my where-abouts, I consciously doubled on my previous track, and wandered down this amiable Avon-street, almost to the river.

A very tall, stout woman, lounging at a half-open cottage-door, beckoned to me. I crossed the road, and was instantly dragged into the hovel. The door was banged-to, and I found myself in a small, foul, close room, where some seven or eight women, with bare breasts, and dirty, dishevelled hair hanging over their fat shoulders, were drinking, toying, and quarrelling with as many men. “What's up, Tom?” inquired one of the latter of my unceremonious introducer. “Where's the traps?” was Tom's counter-query, addressed, to my great astonishment, to me. When Tom's bonnet, however, was taken off, I found that Tom was no woman, but my navvy host of the night before; and told him all I knew of the rout and route of his pursuers. Tom seemed very pleased, and offered me another drink of his favourite “dog's-nose.” I just wetted my lips, and was about to make my exit, when a big blackguard, with a head, neck, and legs like a bull-dog's, caught me by the collar, remarking, with a wink, to his companions


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that I had come just in the nick of time, for a kid would be wanted. “Take young Spriggs,” said the youngest and prettiest of the women, “and not this poor little thing.” “Young Spriggs a'n't forthcoming, and Black Jim's too big, and Mother Jones's little chap is n't big enough,” growled the fellow in reply. “I tell yer this little cove is jist the kinchin for the job,” The girl still maintained that it was a shame to stop me, but a quart-pot, brought down upon her head with such a whack that a great dint was left in the pewter, soon silenced her. Tom, who also opposed my detention, was told to “shut up, if he did n't want to be blown on.”

The burly blackguard in whose clutch I was trembling, then forced a glassful of gin into my mouth, and pointing to a filthy mattress on the floor, bade me lie down there, and not get up till I was called.

The spirits—given me, I suppose, to make me go to sleep—I managed to spit out upon the sly; and, as I lay upon the bed, I listened shuddering to the conversation of my kidnappers. Being carried on chiefly in “thieves' Latin,” a great part of it was unintelligible to me; but, at last, in the midst of the quite mysterious slang, I caught several times the phrase “blue-faced old bloke,” and once or twice the name “Maurice.” After that, of course, I hearkened “with all my ears,” and contrived, by piecing what I did understand, and guessing as to what I didn't, to rede in this way the polyglot riddle: Mr. Maurice was going to leave home on this day with his little girl (I remembered that he had said he was about to send her to school—whither, however, I had forgotten); one of the men-servants travelling with his master, the male garrison of the house would be reduced to one—an infirm old butler; the scoundrels around me, being aware of these facts, had resolved to go over to Clifton in the dusk, and help themselves to the “blue-faced old bloke's” valuable plate at midnight; Tom, having come to this “ken” for asylum, had been pressed into the nefarious scheme; I was to be put through a window to open a back door.

This door I vowed inwardly I would never open. I would be shot first. Bella, I thought, would pity me when she heard that I had been killed in protecting her grandpapa's property. Oh, that I could escape and baffle the burglars! Now I pictured myself marching at the head of a posse of constables up to the den of thieves, and anon I was receiving Mr. Maurice's praises in the presence of my little goddess. The fancy made me tingle with delight.

Presently all the men, except Tom (who tumbled up stairs to get, as he said, “forty winks”) went out of the cottage. The bull-dog bully, who


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seemed to be at the head of the band, took a look at me before he swung his bandy legs over the threshold, but I saw him coming and “foxed” slumber. He merely, therefore, told one of the women to give me something to eat when I woke, and then followed his companions.

When the men were gone, the women began to drink furiously, and yelling, laughing, crying, most of them in a short time took their departure also, either into the street or to their bed-rooms. The woman in whose charge I had been left, a bloated old monster whom the others—hideous profanation of the word—called “Mother,” and the girl who had got her head broken for taking my part, were the only ones that remained.

My custodian and “Mother” swore at each other, slapped each other's faces, and then embraced with maudlin affection over their beer and gin. Soon they began to nod, and spreading their red, brawny arms on the liquor-stained table, laid down their frowzy heads beside the pewter pots, and in a few minutes were fast asleep.

When their snores had become regular, the girl went to the door and looked up and down the street. Returning on tiptoe, she touched me with her foot, and whispered “Run for your life, you poor ugly little devil!” My ugliness, I noticed, appeared to make her grudge her compassion. Had I been good-looking, she would have felt, doubtless, far more pleasure in serving me. It was all the kinder of her, then, to incur the risk of a murderous thrashing for my sake. These thoughts passed through my mind as, feeling very grateful to the poor girl, I crept over the earthen floor. She stooped and gave me a kiss, as if to atone for her uncomplimentary adjective. A moment afterwards I was flying, rather than running, along the slushy roadway.

Chapter XVI.

I RAN—on—on—I knew not, and I know not, whither—until I met, at last, one of the green-coated guardians of Bathonian peace. To him I told my tale; but as, in my agitation, I made a very disconnected story of it, and as, moreover—like many another private in the police force, in all parts of the world blessed with that stiff-stocked British institution—he was a very thick-headed, brutal fellow; he thought I had been instigated by some wag to hoax him, and, boxing my ears, bade me go about my business.

Discouraged by this rebuff, I wandered disconsolately up and down the muddy, monotonous streets of pepper-and-salt houses, afraid again to approach a policeman, and yet feeling myself and accomplice in the Avon-street


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robbers' plotted crime so long as I kept their secret. After weary circuitous ramblings, I strolled into the abbey churchyard. Jacob's-ladders, with angels acrobatizing on them, are carved on the front of the cathedral. These angels being clad in what seem shabby black sacks, and having altogether a very dirty, battered, disreputable look, brought the burglars more vividly than ever to my mind. So, perhaps, would the scoundrels scale the Clifton House now that they had lost their door-opener, and enter by an upper window. The gleaming salvers in the silversmith's at the corner reminded me of the expected spoil. The gilt Greek on the Pump room to me was merely suggestive of scholastic tasks and tortures. I did not feel inclined to loiter in a spot so thronged with disagreeable mementoes, but trotting over the damp flags on which a shower was once more pattering briskly, I passed under the colonnade, and found myself, of course, opposite the White Hart.

Just then a mud-splashed coach from Bristol pulled up at the inn, to change horses. The rain rattled on the umbrellas of the outside passengers, and one who had not the protection of a parapluie began to complain of the drippings from his neighbour's. The querulous voice seemed familiar to me. I looked up, and there was—Pig: a moist mass of misery and ill-temper. Beside him sat a footman whom I thought I had seen before. Through the breath-dimmed glasses, I caught a glimpse of two passengers, whom I was sure I had seen before. I could not be mistaken as to that blue face and that cataract of golden hair. I stood fascinated—fastened to the pavement, as it were—spell-bound by mingled pleasure, astonishment, and fear. I was soon observed. Down jumped Chawls, and running to the coach-window and pointing towards me, said,

“There's the boy, sir!”

I see him,” answered Mr. Maurice, exploding from the vehicle.

“Don't hurt him,” cried little Bella, as her impetuous grandpapa's goloshes floundered in the mid-road mire.

“So I've caught you, have I?” grunted Pig, clutching me by the collar.

Whack—thwack—scrunch—ugh! Mr. Maurice's black stick had descended on my master's shoulders, bonneted him, and doubled him up by a thrust below the belt.

“Hands off!” shouted the fiery little man. “You're throttling the lad. Who asked you to stop him, I should like to know!”

“He's run away from school, sir,” gasped Pig, rubbing his stomach, and turning very pale.




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“Please, sir, they're going to rob your house, sir, and the police won't mind me,” I sobbed out at the same time.

“Why, what the devil's the meaning of all this? Who's that man, you little mystery of a maniac?” was Mr. Maurice's rejoinder.

“Pig, sir,” said I, as bold as brass; for I saw that the old gentleman was on my side.

“And is Pig going to rob my house? I should like to see him at it! What on earth do you mean? But it's nonsense standing here in the rain, talking riddles like a parcel of fools. Come inside Mister—Mister—PIG!”

So saying, Mr. Maurice took my hand, and elbowing his way through the crowd of idlers that this passage of arms had attracted, crossed the street, and entered the hotel; followed—very reluctantly—by my craven captor.

As soon as we were in the coffee-room, Pig repeated his accusation against me, and told how, having hunted for me fruitlessly in Bristol the day before, he had been directed by Daddy to take the London coach and travel some twenty or thirty miles along the London road in search of me. I, on the other hand, related as briefly as I could my Avon-street adventures, and entreated Mr. Maurice not to let Pig conduct me back to school.

“And where do you want to go?” asked Mr. Maurice.

“Home, sir (a choking sob)—to my mother's.

“And where is home?”

“Helensburgh, sir.”

“What!—does your mother keep a school there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, you little fool! Why didn't you tell me that yesterday? Ah! but then I should have had my house robbed. For a wonder, all's for the best. We're going to——”

“Now then, gen'l'men, if you please,” said the coachman, putting his mottled face into the room.

“Oh, yes, ah—here, James, send my man to me—what does the scoundrel mean by mounting before his maater? I'm not going on with you now, but I shall catch you before you've gone two stages. Give an eye to the luggage, and keep my place, and the little girl's, and the man's—and, by-the-bye, there's a vacant inside place—keep that, too.”

The jarvie touched his hat in acknowledgment of the gratuity that accompanied these instructions, and soon summoned Chawls from his perch. Mr. Maurice meanwhile had lifted Bella and Fido from the coach,


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and came into the coffee-room with them just as the coach-wheels fired their valedictory salute of mud against its windows.

“What are you stopping for?” was his unceremonious address to Pig. “Don't you see the coach is gone?”

“I'm not going any farther up, sir; I must return to Bristol with this young gentleman.”

“Oh, you must return to Bristol with this young gentleman, must you? Now, I tell you what it is, Mr. Pig, if you don't take that ugly face of yours out of this room in two twos, I'll make it uglier—if that's possible. This young gentleman is the son of an old friend of mine, and I'm not going to have him thrashed by a fellow like you. I know you have used him shamefully. How often has he flogged you, Arthur? Quick, boy, count, and I'll give him double.”

Pig waited to hear no more, but retreated with ignominious precipitancy.

Presently a police inspector, for whom Mr. Maurice had sent, made his appearance: a florid, sandy-whiskered man, with a cold, cruel, blue eye, that made me wince when he looked at me. I was so dirty that, no doubt, he considered me at first a little blackguard thief whom he would soon have to take into custody. We adjourned to a private room, and I once more told my tale, saying as little as I could about Tom—I felt grateful for his kindness, and wanted to screen him if possible. The inspector instantly recognised the house in which I had been kept, from my description of “Mother,” but thought that the thieves, alarmed by my escape, would not be likely to be found in it, and that, in all probability, they would not now attempt to carry out their scheme—at all events, at the time originally fixed. However, if Mr. Maurice would furnish him with credentials, he would go over to Clifton and garrison the house for the night with a band of the local police, and direct them to watch it sharply for the future. It would be well, he added, for Mr. Maurice to order his plate to be sent to his banker's until his return home, and to hire two or three men on whom he could rely to sleep in the house, as the women servants might feel nervous. A letter of introduction and commands was soon written to the housekeeper: and with this, and some of Mr. Maurice's gold, in his pocket, the inspector took his departure, promising that he would personally superintend the removal of the plate and secure trustworthy sentinels—he would be delighted, he was sure, to do anything for so liberal a gentleman. Chawls, then, to his infinite disgust, had to escort me to a clothier's, and procure me a ready-made outfit, complete from top to toe. Feeling civilised again with clean linen, clean face, sound shoes,


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and new clothes, I sat bodkin between Bella and Mr. Maurice in the post-chaise he had engaged—hurrying as fast as four galloping horses could drag it in pursuit of the London coach.

We went at such a rate that we overtook it at the end of the first stage, but meantime I had been able to tell of the cruelty that had driven me from school, and my manifold adventures since—moving the old man to alternate wrath and mirth, and Bella to tearful pity, not unmingled with admiration; and to learn how it was that she was going to school when the Christmas holidays were so close at hand.

Mr. Maurice, I found, had been suddenly summoned to Marseilles, and having known my father long ago, had determined to leave his little girl in the care of my mother during his absence from England.

He made very light of my truancy, said that he had run away from school, and that I had done perfectly right in leaving such a set of brute as he was sure my late mates and masters were, and promised to make my peace at home. Although rough-rinded as a pomegranate, he had as soft a heart. In a short time I quite loved the crusty, kind, ungentle old gentleman.

My recollections of our journey to town are very dream-like. I was very, very happy—escaped for ever from that hateful school (Mr. Maurice had sworn that I should never go back to it), loaded with kindness, and seated by Bella, who seemed to think me an unprecedented little hero—but I was, also, very, very sleepy, for toil and excitement had completely tired me out.

I remember stopping to dine at the inn that has been converted into the Marlborough College, and peeping through the red window-curtains of the warm, bright dining-room into the damp dusk outside. The rain dimpled the face of the dimly-seen black oblong fishpond behind the house, and as I thought of the wet, weary walk, that I was taking at that time, on the day before, I luxuriated in the present comfort of the snug chamber, and the prospective comfort of the cosy coach which would carry me in a few hours, without any effort of my own, over the long, long miles that had seemed so drealily interminable when I counted the mile-stones, a wretched little foot-sore, frightened tramp.

I remember, too, waking as the coach rolled through Windsor Forest. A frost had set in. The musical jingle of the harness, the clear ring of the team's “tattling hoofs” as they struck the glassy ground, the sharp snap of the brittle twigs, and the crackling of the crisp leaves crushed beneath the wheels, and every now and then, a low, melancholy sough of wind, like the sigh of a troubled dreamer, were the only sounds that broke


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the stillness of the closing night, or rather, early morn. The stars, newly burnished as it were, flashed their blue light from the black sky. The moon was sinking behind a clump of leafless trees that “flecked” her pale, sad face “with bars;” solemn as the last look of a dying friend, her level beams streamed through the network of dark branches over the hushed and shadowy park. Just off the road, a herd of dappled deer lay couched in the withered, rime-betinselled fern. Through the right-hand window I indistinctly saw a colossal equestrian statue: the outlines both of steed and rider melting into the circumambient gloom—gloaming would be a better word—of silvery gray. On the left stretched the Long Walk, a hazy vista ending in a still hazier mass of huddled towers.

I woke again as we rattled into St. Martin's-le-Grand. The great city still wore its dressing-gown of orange—tawny cabs, carts, foot-passengers, seen through the raw, yellow fog, had the look of magic-lantern figures exhibited by a bungler who cannot find the proper focus for his light. The pillars of the Post Office, the huge dome of St. Paul's, loomed unsubstantial in the mist. Far up, seemingly without any support, the cross which a straggling sunbeam had managed to reach, blazed like a motionless, meteor.

A sharp turn, deeper darkness, and a rumbling archway—and the coach, looking very shabby after its long journey—with a record of its route written on it in the soils of half-a-dozen shires, came to a standstill in the yard of the Bull-and-Mouth.

Chapter XVII.

MOST persons judge of Essex from the marshes that they see in passing up the Thames. They fancy it to be a county with a soil like moist sponge-cake, perpetually breathing forth miasma,—that all the inhabitants die of ague and typhus fever (solacing themselves, whilst still alive, under the burden of their dreary, fen-oppressed existence, by means of opium pills—sold regularly as Epsom salts in other places by the accommodating local druggists),—that the Purfleet quarries are the nearest approach to romantic scenery that the shire can boast,—that dismal South end, with its ramshackle wooden pier—running out into the muddy water like a seedy man who longs to drown his shabby sorrows, but is afraid to make the fatal plunge,—that this caricature of a watering place is quite a flattering specimen of Essex towns. Contrasting the melancholy flats and miserable buildings on the one hand, with the verdant, wood-sprinkled slopes and trim villas on the other, steam-boat passengers exaggerate the


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loveliness and healthiness of beauteous, balmy Kent, and, as I have said before, arrive at the conclusion that poor Essex is the doomed abode of ugliness, dilapidated architecture, blue devils, disease, and death. Tilbury Fort appears to them a most unnecessary stronghold, for what foe, they reason, although actuated by the most fanatical of anti-British frenzies, would dream of landing on that Stygian shore?

Such critics, as is generally the case with those who found their opinions on impressions produced by the outsides of things, are quite wrong in their conjectures.

Leaving their county's fenny fringe to supply Campos Martios to pugilists, and fattening grounds for cattle, the East Saxons manage to attain inside it man's destined three score years and ten, as frequently as the dwellers in more famously hygienic parts of England,—are not more low-spirited than Englishmen usually are,—seek excitement in British beer and gin, instead of Turkish poppy-juice,—possess as pretty, cleanly towns, picturesque hamlets, cosy farm houses, and handsome gentlemen's seats, as can be found anywhere, and in the northern portion of their district are blest with many a peaceful scene of rural beauty. The landscapes are by no means grand, but to the mind in some moods they are not the less agreeable on that account. What are called “noble prospects”—“show” sublimities that extort admiration, often oppress the gazer. One turns from them to quiet little smiling “bits” of copsewood, cornfield, meadow, village church, and green and smithy, and mill with its great dripping wheel and willow-bordered stream,—as a man who has shuddered his applause, and felt his insignificance, before a Siddons or a Rachael, hastens, with a feeling of relief, to the placens uxor, the winsome wife, at home.

In North Essex stands the town that I call Helensburgh: an old, old place, rich in all kinds of ruin and relic—you may dig up Roman burialurns like potatoes in its neighbourhood. The Druid has cut mistletoe by moonlight in its woods, and British warriors, blue with woad, have trooped from its low huts to their scythed chariots. Agricola's legions have tramped along its High-street, with flashing armour, towering eagles, flaunting labarum, in all the majestic pomp of perfect discipline, and all the insufferable insolence of indomitable victors' pride. The dream-directed finder of the True Cross first saw sunlight here, and coming, on her return from foreign shores, to a heap of smouldering embers where she had left her flourishing native town, she caused it to rise, phœnix-like, from its ashes; laying out its streets in the form, again and again repeated, of the sacred tree that she had rescued from obscurity. The cross in the Town Arms is commemorative of her discovery and palingenetic performance;


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and though the borough be not actually named after her, as I have named it, holds a St. Helen's chapel and a St. Helen's-lane. The fierce Saxon and the fiercer Dane ruled the place by turns, according to the caprice of fickle fortune. That fragment of Abbey Wall has echoed the chants of Norman monks; and Norman knights have tilted yonder in the shadow of that massy pile,—the frowning castle, rent and crumbling, and bannered only with here and there a drooping tree, a rank patch of straggling weeds or waving grass, or a rich, fragrant tuft of blood-red, or rust-hued, or golden-yellow wall-flowers; but, nevertheless, a stout keep still. In cruel Mary's time bands of brave martyrs were driven, like sheep to the shambles, from the surrounding villages along the winding lanes, above whose hedges peered the wet, brown corn. quivering in the fresh autumn-morning breeze—the only thing, save following children about to be made motherless, that wept and trembled there, for fanaticism steeled the hearts of the butchers, and faith and hope breathed supernatural strength into the victims' souls—and then, at noon, were led, through a dense crowd of loathing faces, to be burnt upon St. John's green, within a stone's throw of the turreted gateway of the shrine of him whose latest word was love. Those three old elms upon the green have had their leaves prematurely withered by the hot blasts that swept from the blazing faggots, on which Christians, by Christians, were being charred to death: a scene to be repeated in the next Protestant-trumpeted reign, with this slight difference—that the roasters were then roastees. “Behold, how these Christians love one another,” has been a bitter satire for a dreary while. In fate-blinded Charles's time, Helensburgh, contrary to the will of its burghers, was defended by a garrison of cavaliers against a Roundhead army under Fairfax. The ramparts from which his booming cannon pounded the old wall, and shivered the gates, and truncated the church-towers (hung round with woolsacks, and converted into forts), and smashed in the roofs and windows, and ploughed up the streets of Helensburgh, may yet be seen; but now they are green with grass, the buttercup grows where the blood of wounded bombardier dropped in a trickling stream, and in the meadows over which the horrid missiles flew, singing their sibilant song of death, like so many consciously malicious demons, school-boys drive hither and thither the harmless cricket-ball, and make the calm summer evenings merry with their ringing laughter and their friendly shouts. Two white stones in the turf of the Castle Bailey mark where the gallant chiefs of the royalists—after a siege almost rivalling in its horrors of famine and bloodshed, those awful ones we read of in the Old Testament and Josephus—were shot down like dogs by the order of the parvanimous Puritan they for so long a time had baffled.




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The burghers have abjured their whiggism and puritanism, and are staunch tories and high-churchmen now, but, otherwise, the old town is little changed since those old times. Smart modern buildings have sprung up in its outskirts like funguses at the foot of an oak, but a dreamy antiquity still broods over the main body of the place. It is scarred with traces of the siege even now, like a veteran with cicatrices. The church-towers, as I have hinted, are in ruins, or repaired merely with makeshift weatherboard summits—jury steeples. St. Mary's was rebuilt, but the new masonry has not blended with the old; they touch without assimilating, like geological strata. The town wall is not much more dilapidated than it was upon that dismantling day when the victorious Roundheads wreaked their rage, with pick and spade and blasting powder, on the sturdy mass of flint and rubble ribbed with herring-bone seams of Roman brick, that for months had never flinched beneath their hailstorm of ever hurtling balls. In the timbers of quaint, gabled houses you find bullets that were lodged there in the seventeenth century. A pseudo-classical Town Hall with Caen stone front and pilasters has supplanted the grim Moot Hall of indistinguishable material, curiously composite architecture, and immemorial age; but the prim modern building gives no modern character to the slumbrous old place—it appears simply an unaccountable anachronism. The same may be said of a silk-factory that lifts its tall chimney, like a giraffe's neck, beside the river, and with its Argus-eyes strives to stare out of countenance the sleepy watermill that has ground for ten generations. The mill looks back with a sly twinkle of contempt in its dusty, diamond-paned lattices. It was a grown-up mill, scores—hundreds—of years before that upstart factory was built or thought of, and it isn't going to be put upon by the impertinent young parvenu.

A tranquil place is Helensburgh; the sluggish current of its ordinary existence being ruffled only once a week by the market-day, once a quarter by a cattle fair, and once a year by the Mayor's oyster-feast. The mollusks, for which their river is proverbial, scarcely lead a less eventful life than the Helenburghers. A railway has reached the town, (after strong opposition on the part of the old-fashioned inhabitants to a direct line,) by accident, as it were, but has not done much to enliven it. An omnibus rumbles down to the station once or twice a day, hearse-like, carrying one passenger, and bringing back none; a cab or two plant themselves before the new Town Hall, (as being the most cockneyfied building in the borough,) and try to fancy themselves on a London stand; but omnibus and cab, like Town Hall and factory, are compelled to succumb to the old-world


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atmosphere of the place, and creep about with a disconsolate, apologetic air, as if they knew that they were uninvited aliens.

It was, however, in its pre-railway times that I first saw Helensburgh.

Chapter XVIII.

THE Defiance, that had rattled out of the archway of the Bull Inn, Aldgate, at two p.m., pulled up at the Helensburgh George at eight. The liberated horses stole limping and steaming into the stable-yard, looking sulky as school-boys who, after having been kept in and flogged for a whole afternoon, at length obtain their freedom when too depressed to enjoy it. Outside passengers, cramped and frozen, stumbled down the steps and ladders, and stumped up and down the slippery pavement, clapping their arms across their chests, and striving to recover a consciousness of legs. Inside passengers issued sleepy and ill-tempered from their covert. The coachman went round for his half-crowns and shillings, regulating the courtesy of his acknowledgment by the nature of the coin— jarvies never thought shillings worth touching hats for. Porters squabbled for luggage. A few idlers, whose curiosity was strong enough to stand the biting cold, regarded the dispersing travellers with the reluctant admiration—reluctant as implying a sense of inferiority on the part of the admirer—with which stay-at-home yokels in the old coaching times always regarded those who possessed the marvellous advantage of having been that very day in big, black, busy London.

My companions and I were soon seated by my mother's fireside.

She was startled to see me, but Mr. Maurice stood my friend, and made out a much better case for me than I could have made for myself; for now that the oppressions of school were overpast, they did not appear heavy enough to justify my truancy. I felt as if I had committed a great sin in running away.

Notwithstanding Mr. Maurice's advocacy, I received (naturally enough, perhaps) but a cold welcome from my mother. My sisters, too, looked shyly on me. Home reached was not the cosy place of unclouded smiles I had longed for when moping far away in Gloucestershire. Is any haven gained as fair as it seemed when we gazed upon it from the troubled sea? I sometimes doubt whether those who get there will find even Heaven as happy as they fancy it.

But Bella was with me, and was to stay with me; and by this time we had become quite friends. So long as she cared for me, I thought I should not mind about the iciest of other people's looks—though those of my mother and my sisters.




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As I sat nodding before the fire after tea, I heard Mr. Maurice and my mother talking—without actively heeding them, for I was almost asleep, but I remember nearly everything they said, and though I did not understand it all at the time, I may as well jot down the substance of it here— according to my present comprehension of it—to explain the connection between his family and ours.

Mr. Maurice had sent home his children, a son and daughter, from India to be educated.

The boy entered the army, married, had one child, the little Bella. His wife died; he became a reprobate, and was now lying sick at Marseilles, whither his father had been summoned.

The daughter, after leaving school, went to reside with a relative in Wales. My father at that time was the curate of the parish in which she lived. They met, became attached, and were about to be married, when a young nobleman came to the village, to read with a tutor during the Long Vacation. The sequel is a hackneyed story; one often told before, one often to be told again—for there will ever be vain women, and the breed of faithless men is destined never to die out so long as autumn breezes shake the sere leaves into the mire. The humble curate was discarded. She, too became a reprobate—sinned the sin for which, for her sex and on earth, there is no forgiveness.

When Mr. Maurice returned to his native land, a widowed, broken-down old man; his son had defiled his name with one black stain; his daughter, had steeped it in a still deeper disgrace. The only one left for his lonely heart to love was his little grandchild. I need not say that the daughter was Mrs. Fitzherbert, or that my mother, with the unerring instinct that enables women to detect everything connected with those they love, had recognised her husband's first choice in the faded beauty, who, discarded in her turn, had come to haunt—the very ghost of her young self—the secluded hamlet that contained his dust.

Mr. Maurice having to go back to town by the night mail, was soon compelled to take his leave. He said good-bye to his darling, again and again, with kisses and with tears. She clung to him, as if he were the sole prop in the wide world round which her heart could twine. How I grudged him the right to give and to receive such love!




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Chapter XIX.

THAT night I had three strange prophetic dreams—growing clearer just in proportion as there was the less of previous thought and feeling floating in my mind to engender them. The first vague one might have been suggested by what I had heard of Bella's father; the second, more distinct, by the parting I had witnessed—dimly foreshadowing, as all partings do, the final severance; but how can I account for the sharp-cut historical details of the third? I shudder even now to think how it came true to the last jot and tittle. Who are they that steal with noiseless footfall to the couch, and, in a voice that never woke an echo, whisper of the hidden future—disclose the things that lie beyond the dark, ever moving veil their eyes can pierce, not ours?

VISION THE FIRST.

Melancholy music came floating to me from far away as I rocked upon dim waters. I knew that I was on a shoreless sea, and that I might follow the sad sound for ever, and yet should never find its source. Fainter and fainter the dying notes fell upon my ear, until at last they ceased; and an awful stillness brooded over the dark main, that now no longer heaved.

Light that was, as it were, the moonlight of moonlight, a single ray from some pale orb that never saw the sun, but filled its urn at the fount of earth's pallid satellite in her sickliest phase, glimmered for a moment on the inky ocean. Slowly rising to its surface, slowly swaying as it came, I beheld a corpse—the corpse of a man—the corpse of the younger Maurice, as I was sure, when the ghostly shimmer revealed the features, and I marked a locket, the fellow of one with her mother's hair that I had seen Bella wear, hanging from the neck.

VISION THE SECOND.

A myriad golden dimples danced upon a purple sea. Round quay and mole rose masts gay with the flags of every land. Snow-white houses towered in the distance, glinting back the dazzling sunshine. Suddenly I stood within the quadrangular court of one, and saw an old man in black tottering along a paved walk arched with a trelliswork brown with leafless vine-branches. He entered the house. A funeral procession mustered, and two coffins were borne forth. A little girl, with long golden hair falling over her black mantle, followed them, sobbing as she went. I, too, followed them, and saw the place where they were laid, and a tablet, green with slime, upon the ivied wall above, with this inscription:




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image
Image on page 79: Sketch of tablet

I well knew how to fill up the blanks.

VISION THE THIRD.

A playground, within eyeshot of my mother's windows, wherein I am being hunted as of old. Scornful faces peer from the panes upon the dwarf his schoolmates plague, but presently a pale sad little face looks out, and in a few minutes a slight figure stands between me and my tormentors. “What! do you care for him?” exclaims a handsome boy who has been idly watching the sport, “I'll see, then, that no one shall touch him.” And I spurn his protection, and blush with bitter shame that she should have been my defender.

Scenes round Pwldhi, my old school, Bristol, Bath, what I had seen upon my road to London, to Helensburgh, the little that I had been able to make out of Helensburgh itself as I entered it on that dark winter evening, blend in the normal kaleidescope like fantasie of dreams, and then a second picture stands out clear in summer sunlight.

Years have rolled by. Bella no longer wears her mourning garb, but, clad in white, hangs on his arm. They stand at the head of a cataract, gazing down into the sullen depth the falling water is churning into viscous foam. There is a scream, and the flutter of a snowy dress. The coward stands paralysed. It was by his carelessness she fell, and yet he makes no plunge—to save her, or with her enter the Unseen. But there is a second plunge. The trees that droop from the cliff-side fly upwards. There is a ringing in my ears, as the gurgling waters close above me. For a moment there is blackness all around, and then there comes a blank.

I have wandered far and wide when I return to consciousness. My soul is weary. The slanting sunbeams are bathing Vauban's huge mounds in blood-red light, as I enter Lille. The red rays are flashing from the windows and burnishing the old Spanish-built houses of a square I cross.


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One points like a finger down a dark archway. I see the man at whom it points, and spring upon him, and haul him from the gloom. Handsome giant though he be, he is, for the moment, as an infant in my hands. I demand my darling back. He calls me madman, and strikes me to the ground.

Chapter XX.

I KNOW not how long I have been in this place, but I know that I have long been sane. I care for no one now. Why did I ever care? Sane did I say? Would that I had murdered myself in my madness, rather than sunk into this lethargy of heart.

I set out with the intention of chronicling my life's great grief. I have hinted it, but I have, also, talked of other matters in a careless tone. God proffered balm for my wound, but I pushed aside his hand, and preferred the devil's stanching-iron; and life is now one dreary drab—never darker, never brighter. To outlive sorrow is a blighting curse.

It is Sunday evening, and through my barred lattice I see the setting sun. The old Pagan deity seems to remember the day of his worship, and, in spite of usurping Christianity, floods it with a peculiar, and yet a plaintive glory. I somehow pity him when I see him raining his generous beams upon those proud cathedral towers. I fancy him to be thinking of by-gone times and desolated temples. Fain would I have that sweet sadness when I look back upon the past, and as serenely sink into my rest: but the fountain of my tears is dry, and what remains for me beyond the grave?

The fruit outside my window ripens in its wreath of withered leaves. Girt with withered hopes, my soul but rots.

Would that I could once more cry Ai! ai! The sharpest pang were better than this sluggish calm.

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