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Barnaby Rudge

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Chapter 6

Beyond all measure astonished by the strange occurrences which had passed with so much violence and rapidity, the locksmith gazed upon the shuddering figure in the chair like one half stupefied, and would have gazed much longer, had not his tongue been loosened by compassion and humanity.

‘You are ill,’ said Gabriel. ‘Let me call some neighbour in.’

‘Not for the world,’ she rejoined, motioning to him with her trembling hand, and holding her face averted. ‘It is enough that you have been by, to see this.’

‘Nay, more than enough—or less,’ said Gabriel.

‘Be it so,’ she returned. ‘As you like. Ask me no questions, I entreat you.’

‘Neighbour,’ said the locksmith, after a pause. ‘Is this fair, or reasonable, or just to yourself? Is it like you, who have known me so long and sought my advice in all matters—like you, who from a girl have had a strong mind and a staunch heart?’

‘I have need of them,’ she replied. ‘I am growing old, both in years and care. Perhaps that, and too much trial, have made them weaker than they used to be. Do not speak to me.’

‘How can I see what I have seen, and hold my peace!’ returned the locksmith. ‘Who was that man, and why has his coming made this change in you?’

She was silent, but held to the chair as though to save herself from falling on the ground.

‘I take the licence of an old acquaintance, Mary,’ said the locksmith, ‘who has ever had a warm regard for you, and maybe has tried to prove it when he could. Who is this ill-favoured man, and what has he to do with you? Who is this ghost, that is only seen in the black nights and bad weather? How does he know, and why does he haunt this house, whispering through chinks and crevices, as if there was that between him and you, which neither durst so much as speak aloud of? Who is he?’

‘You do well to say he haunts this house,’ returned the widow, faintly. ‘His shadow has been upon it and me, in light and darkness, at noonday and midnight. And now, at last, he has come in the body!’

‘But he wouldn’t have gone in the body,’ returned the locksmith with some irritation, ‘if you had left my arms and legs at liberty. What riddle is this?’

‘It is one,’ she answered, rising as she spoke, ‘that must remain for ever as it is. I dare not say more than that.’

‘Dare not!’ repeated the wondering locksmith.

‘Do not press me,’ she replied. ‘I am sick and faint, and every faculty of life seems dead within me.—No!—Do not touch me, either.’

Gabriel, who had stepped forward to render her assistance, fell back as she made this hasty exclamation, and regarded her in silent wonder.

‘Let me go my way alone,’ she said in a low voice, ‘and let the hands of no honest man touch mine to-night.’ When she had tottered to the door, she turned, and added with a stronger effort, ‘This is a secret, which, of necessity, I trust to you. You are a true man. As you have ever been good and kind to me,—keep it. If any noise was heard above, make some excuse—say anything but what you really saw, and never let a word or look between us, recall this circumstance. I trust to you. Mind, I trust to you. How much I trust, you never can conceive.’

Casting her eyes upon him for an instant, she withdrew, and left him there alone.

Gabriel, not knowing what to think, stood staring at the door with a countenance full of surprise and dismay. The more he pondered on what had passed, the less able he was to give it any favourable interpretation. To find this widow woman, whose life for so many years had been supposed to be one of solitude and retirement, and who, in her quiet suffering character, had gained the good opinion and respect of all who knew her—to find her linked mysteriously with an ill-omened man, alarmed at his appearance, and yet favouring his escape, was a discovery that pained as much as startled him. Her reliance on his secrecy, and his tacit acquiescence, increased his distress of mind. If he had spoken boldly, persisted in questioning her, detained her when she rose to leave the room, made any kind of protest, instead of silently compromising himself, as he felt he had done, he would have been more at ease.

‘Why did I let her say it was a secret, and she trusted it to me!’ said Gabriel, putting his wig on one side to scratch his head with greater ease, and looking ruefully at the fire. ‘I have no more readiness than old John himself. Why didn’t I say firmly, “You have no right to such secrets, and I demand of you to tell me what this means,” instead of standing gaping at her, like an old moon-calf as I am! But there’s my weakness. I can be obstinate enough with men if need be, but women may twist me round their fingers at their pleasure.’

He took his wig off outright as he made this reflection, and, warming his handkerchief at the fire began to rub and polish his bald head with it, until it glistened again.

‘And yet,’ said the locksmith, softening under this soothing process, and stopping to smile, ‘it MAY be nothing. Any drunken brawler trying to make his way into the house, would have alarmed a quiet soul like her. But then’—and here was the vexation—‘how came it to be that man; how comes he to have this influence over her; how came she to favour his getting away from me; and, more than all, how came she not to say it was a sudden fright, and nothing more? It’s a sad thing to have, in one minute, reason to mistrust a person I have known so long, and an old sweetheart into the bargain; but what else can I do, with all this upon my mind!—Is that Barnaby outside there?’

‘Ay!’ he cried, looking in and nodding. ‘Sure enough it’s Barnaby—how did you guess?’

‘By your shadow,’ said the locksmith.

‘Oho!’ cried Barnaby, glancing over his shoulder, ‘He’s a merry fellow, that shadow, and keeps close to me, though I AM silly. We have such pranks, such walks, such runs, such gambols on the grass! Sometimes he’ll be half as tall as a church steeple, and sometimes no bigger than a dwarf. Now, he goes on before, and now behind, and anon he’ll be stealing on, on this side, or on that, stopping whenever I stop, and thinking I can’t see him, though I have my eye on him sharp enough. Oh! he’s a merry fellow. Tell me—is he silly too? I think he is.’

‘Why?’ asked Gabriel.

‘Because he never tires of mocking me, but does it all day long.—Why don’t you come?’

‘Where?’

‘Upstairs. He wants you. Stay—where’s HIS shadow? Come. You’re a wise man; tell me that.’

‘Beside him, Barnaby; beside him, I suppose,’ returned the locksmith.

‘No!’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘Guess again.’

‘Gone out a walking, maybe?’

‘He has changed shadows with a woman,’ the idiot whispered in his ear, and then fell back with a look of triumph. ‘Her shadow’s always with him, and his with her. That’s sport I think, eh?’

‘Barnaby,’ said the locksmith, with a grave look; ‘come hither, lad.’

‘I know what you want to say. I know!’ he replied, keeping away from him. ‘But I’m cunning, I’m silent. I only say so much to you—are you ready?’ As he spoke, he caught up the light, and waved it with a wild laugh above his head.

‘Softly—gently,’ said the locksmith, exerting all his influence to keep him calm and quiet. ‘I thought you had been asleep.’

‘So I HAVE been asleep,’ he rejoined, with widely-opened eyes. ‘There have been great faces coming and going—close to my face, and then a mile away—low places to creep through, whether I would or no—high churches to fall down from—strange creatures crowded up together neck and heels, to sit upon the bed—that’s sleep, eh?’

‘Dreams, Barnaby, dreams,’ said the locksmith.

‘Dreams!’ he echoed softly, drawing closer to him. ‘Those are not dreams.’

‘What are,’ replied the locksmith, ‘if they are not?’

‘I dreamed,’ said Barnaby, passing his arm through Varden’s, and peering close into his face as he answered in a whisper, ‘I dreamed just now that something—it was in the shape of a man—followed me—came softly after me—wouldn’t let me be—but was always hiding and crouching, like a cat in dark corners, waiting till I should pass; when it crept out and came softly after me.—Did you ever see me run?’

‘Many a time, you know.’

‘You never saw me run as I did in this dream. Still it came creeping on to worry me. Nearer, nearer, nearer—I ran faster—leaped—sprung out of bed, and to the window—and there, in the street below—but he is waiting for us. Are you coming?’

‘What in the street below, Barnaby?’ said Varden, imagining that he traced some connection between this vision and what had actually occurred.

Barnaby looked into his face, muttered incoherently, waved the light above his head again, laughed, and drawing the locksmith’s arm more tightly through his own, led him up the stairs in silence.

They entered a homely bedchamber, garnished in a scanty way with chairs, whose spindle-shanks bespoke their age, and other furniture of very little worth; but clean and neatly kept. Reclining in an easy-chair before the fire, pale and weak from waste of blood, was Edward Chester, the young gentleman who had been the first to quit the Maypole on the previous night, and who, extending his hand to the locksmith, welcomed him as his preserver and friend.

‘Say no more, sir, say no more,’ said Gabriel. ‘I hope I would have done at least as much for any man in such a strait, and most of all for you, sir. A certain young lady,’ he added, with some hesitation, ‘has done us many a kind turn, and we naturally feel—I hope I give you no offence in saying this, sir?’

The young man smiled and shook his head; at the same time moving in his chair as if in pain.

‘It’s no great matter,’ he said, in answer to the locksmith’s sympathising look, ‘a mere uneasiness arising at least as much from being cooped up here, as from the slight wound I have, or from the loss of blood. Be seated, Mr Varden.’

‘If I may make so bold, Mr Edward, as to lean upon your chair,’ returned the locksmith, accommodating his action to his speech, and bending over him, ‘I’ll stand here for the convenience of speaking low. Barnaby is not in his quietest humour to-night, and at such times talking never does him good.’

They both glanced at the subject of this remark, who had taken a seat on the other side of the fire, and, smiling vacantly, was making puzzles on his fingers with a skein of string.

‘Pray, tell me, sir,’ said Varden, dropping his voice still lower, ‘exactly what happened last night. I have my reason for inquiring. You left the Maypole, alone?’

‘And walked homeward alone, until I had nearly reached the place where you found me, when I heard the gallop of a horse.’

‘Behind you?’ said the locksmith.

‘Indeed, yes—behind me. It was a single rider, who soon overtook me, and checking his horse, inquired the way to London.’

‘You were on the alert, sir, knowing how many highwaymen there are, scouring the roads in all directions?’ said Varden.

‘I was, but I had only a stick, having imprudently left my pistols in their holster-case with the landlord’s son. I directed him as he desired. Before the words had passed my lips, he rode upon me furiously, as if bent on trampling me down beneath his horse’s hoofs. In starting aside, I slipped and fell. You found me with this stab and an ugly bruise or two, and without my purse—in which he found little enough for his pains. And now, Mr Varden,’ he added, shaking the locksmith by the hand, ‘saving the extent of my gratitude to you, you know as much as I.’

‘Except,’ said Gabriel, bending down yet more, and looking cautiously towards their silent neighhour, ‘except in respect of the robber himself. What like was he, sir? Speak low, if you please. Barnaby means no harm, but I have watched him oftener than you, and I know, little as you would think it, that he’s listening now.’

It required a strong confidence in the locksmith’s veracity to lead any one to this belief, for every sense and faculty that Barnaby possessed, seemed to be fixed upon his game, to the exclusion of all other things. Something in the young man’s face expressed this opinion, for Gabriel repeated what he had just said, more earnestly than before, and with another glance towards Barnaby, again asked what like the man was.

‘The night was so dark,’ said Edward, ‘the attack so sudden, and he so wrapped and muffled up, that I can hardly say. It seems that—’

‘Don’t mention his name, sir,’ returned the locksmith, following his look towards Barnaby; ‘I know HE saw him. I want to know what YOU saw.’

‘All I remember is,’ said Edward, ‘that as he checked his horse his hat was blown off. He caught it, and replaced it on his head, which I observed was bound with a dark handkerchief. A stranger entered the Maypole while I was there, whom I had not seen—for I had sat apart for reasons of my own—and when I rose to leave the room and glanced round, he was in the shadow of the chimney and hidden from my sight. But, if he and the robber were two different persons, their voices were strangely and most remarkably alike; for directly the man addressed me in the road, I recognised his speech again.’

‘It is as I feared. The very man was here to-night,’ thought the locksmith, changing colour. ‘What dark history is this!’

‘Halloa!’ cried a hoarse voice in his ear. ‘Halloa, halloa, halloa! Bow wow wow. What’s the matter here! Hal-loa!’

The speaker—who made the locksmith start as if he had been some supernatural agent—was a large raven, who had perched upon the top of the easy-chair, unseen by him and Edward, and listened with a polite attention and a most extraordinary appearance of comprehending every word, to all they had said up to this point; turning his head from one to the other, as if his office were to judge between them, and it were of the very last importance that he should not lose a word.

‘Look at him!’ said Varden, divided between admiration of the bird and a kind of fear of him. ‘Was there ever such a knowing imp as that! Oh he’s a dreadful fellow!’

The raven, with his head very much on one side, and his bright eye shining like a diamond, preserved a thoughtful silence for a few seconds, and then replied in a voice so hoarse and distant, that it seemed to come through his thick feathers rather than out of his mouth.

‘Halloa, halloa, halloa! What’s the matter here! Keep up your spirits. Never say die. Bow wow wow. I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil. Hurrah!’—And then, as if exulting in his infernal character, he began to whistle.

‘I more than half believe he speaks the truth. Upon my word I do,’ said Varden. ‘Do you see how he looks at me, as if he knew what I was saying?’

To which the bird, balancing himself on tiptoe, as it were, and moving his body up and down in a sort of grave dance, rejoined, ‘I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil,’ and flapped his wings against his sides as if he were bursting with laughter. Barnaby clapped his hands, and fairly rolled upon the ground in an ecstasy of delight.

‘Strange companions, sir,’ said the locksmith, shaking his head, and looking from one to the other. ‘The bird has all the wit.’

‘Strange indeed!’ said Edward, holding out his forefinger to the raven, who, in acknowledgment of the attention, made a dive at it immediately with his iron bill. ‘Is he old?’

‘A mere boy, sir,’ replied the locksmith. ‘A hundred and twenty, or thereabouts. Call him down, Barnaby, my man.’

‘Call him!’ echoed Barnaby, sitting upright upon the floor, and staring vacantly at Gabriel, as he thrust his hair back from his face. ‘But who can make him come! He calls me, and makes me go where he will. He goes on before, and I follow. He’s the master, and I’m the man. Is that the truth, Grip?’

The raven gave a short, comfortable, confidential kind of croak;—a most expressive croak, which seemed to say, ‘You needn’t let these fellows into our secrets. We understand each other. It’s all right.’

‘I make HIM come?’ cried Barnaby, pointing to the bird. ‘Him, who never goes to sleep, or so much as winks!—Why, any time of night, you may see his eyes in my dark room, shining like two sparks. And every night, and all night too, he’s broad awake, talking to himself, thinking what he shall do to-morrow, where we shall go, and what he shall steal, and hide, and bury. I make HIM come! Ha ha ha!’

On second thoughts, the bird appeared disposed to come of himself. After a short survey of the ground, and a few sidelong looks at the ceiling and at everybody present in turn, he fluttered to the floor, and went to Barnaby—not in a hop, or walk, or run, but in a pace like that of a very particular gentleman with exceedingly tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles. Then, stepping into his extended hand, and condescending to be held out at arm’s length, he gave vent to a succession of sounds, not unlike the drawing of some eight or ten dozen of long corks, and again asserted his brimstone birth and parentage with great distinctness.

The locksmith shook his head—perhaps in some doubt of the creature’s being really nothing but a bird—perhaps in pity for Barnaby, who by this time had him in his arms, and was rolling about, with him, on the ground. As he raised his eyes from the poor fellow he encountered those of his mother, who had entered the room, and was looking on in silence.

She was quite white in the face, even to her lips, but had wholly subdued her emotion, and wore her usual quiet look. Varden fancied as he glanced at her that she shrunk from his eye; and that she busied herself about the wounded gentleman to avoid him the better.

It was time he went to bed, she said. He was to be removed to his own home on the morrow, and he had already exceeded his time for sitting up, by a full hour. Acting on this hint, the locksmith prepared to take his leave.

‘By the bye,’ said Edward, as he shook him by the hand, and looked from him to Mrs Rudge and back again, ‘what noise was that below? I heard your voice in the midst of it, and should have inquired before, but our other conversation drove it from my memory. What was it?’

The locksmith looked towards her, and bit his lip. She leant against the chair, and bent her eyes upon the ground. Barnaby too—he was listening.

—‘Some mad or drunken fellow, sir,’ Varden at length made answer, looking steadily at the widow as he spoke. ‘He mistook the house, and tried to force an entrance.’

She breathed more freely, but stood quite motionless. As the locksmith said ‘Good night,’ and Barnaby caught up the candle to light him down the stairs, she took it from him, and charged him—with more haste and earnestness than so slight an occasion appeared to warrant—not to stir. The raven followed them to satisfy himself that all was right below, and when they reached the street-door, stood on the bottom stair drawing corks out of number.

With a trembling hand she unfastened the chain and bolts, and turned the key. As she had her hand upon the latch, the locksmith said in a low voice,

‘I have told a lie to-night, for your sake, Mary, and for the sake of bygone times and old acquaintance, when I would scorn to do so for my own. I hope I may have done no harm, or led to none. I can’t help the suspicions you have forced upon me, and I am loth, I tell you plainly, to leave Mr Edward here. Take care he comes to no hurt. I doubt the safety of this roof, and am glad he leaves it so soon. Now, let me go.’

For a moment she hid her face in her hands and wept; but resisting the strong impulse which evidently moved her to reply, opened the door—no wider than was sufficient for the passage of his body—and motioned him away. As the locksmith stood upon the step, it was chained and locked behind him, and the raven, in furtherance of these precautions, barked like a lusty house-dog.

‘In league with that ill-looking figure that might have fallen from a gibbet—he listening and hiding here—Barnaby first upon the spot last night—can she who has always borne so fair a name be guilty of such crimes in secret!’ said the locksmith, musing. ‘Heaven forgive me if I am wrong, and send me just thoughts; but she is poor, the temptation may be great, and we daily hear of things as strange.—Ay, bark away, my friend. If there’s any wickedness going on, that raven’s in it, I’ll be sworn.’






Chapter 7

Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain temper—a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable. Thus it generally happened, that when other people were merry, Mrs Varden was dull; and that when other people were dull, Mrs Varden was disposed to be amazingly cheerful. Indeed the worthy housewife was of such a capricious nature, that she not only attained a higher pitch of genius than Macbeth, in respect of her ability to be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral in an instant, but would sometimes ring the changes backwards and forwards on all possible moods and flights in one short quarter of an hour; performing, as it were, a kind of triple bob major on the peal of instruments in the female belfry, with a skilfulness and rapidity of execution that astonished all who heard her.

It had been observed in this good lady (who did not want for personal attractions, being plump and buxom to look at, though like her fair daughter, somewhat short in stature) that this uncertainty of disposition strengthened and increased with her temporal prosperity; and divers wise men and matrons, on friendly terms with the locksmith and his family, even went so far as to assert, that a tumble down some half-dozen rounds in the world’s ladder—such as the breaking of the bank in which her husband kept his money, or some little fall of that kind—would be the making of her, and could hardly fail to render her one of the most agreeable companions in existence. Whether they were right or wrong in this conjecture, certain it is that minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort, and like them, are often successfully cured by remedies in themselves very nauseous and unpalatable.

Mrs Varden’s chief aider and abettor, and at the same time her principal victim and object of wrath, was her single domestic servant, one Miss Miggs; or as she was called, in conformity with those prejudices of society which lop and top from poor hand-maidens all such genteel excrescences—Miggs. This Miggs was a tall young lady, very much addicted to pattens in private life; slender and shrewish, of a rather uncomfortable figure, and though not absolutely ill-looking, of a sharp and acid visage. As a general principle and abstract proposition, Miggs held the male sex to be utterly contemptible and unworthy of notice; to be fickle, false, base, sottish, inclined to perjury, and wholly undeserving. When particularly exasperated against them (which, scandal said, was when Sim Tappertit slighted her most) she was accustomed to wish with great emphasis that the whole race of women could but die off, in order that the men might be brought to know the real value of the blessings by which they set so little store; nay, her feeling for her order ran so high, that she sometimes declared, if she could only have good security for a fair, round number—say ten thousand—of young virgins following her example, she would, to spite mankind, hang, drown, stab, or poison herself, with a joy past all expression.

It was the voice of Miggs that greeted the locksmith, when he knocked at his own house, with a shrill cry of ‘Who’s there?’

‘Me, girl, me,’ returned Gabriel.

What, already, sir!’ said Miggs, opening the door with a look of surprise. ‘We were just getting on our nightcaps to sit up,—me and mistress. Oh, she has been SO bad!’

Miggs said this with an air of uncommon candour and concern; but the parlour-door was standing open, and as Gabriel very well knew for whose ears it was designed, he regarded her with anything but an approving look as he passed in.

‘Master’s come home, mim,’ cried Miggs, running before him into the parlour. ‘You was wrong, mim, and I was right. I thought he wouldn’t keep us up so late, two nights running, mim. Master’s always considerate so far. I’m so glad, mim, on your account. I’m a little’—here Miggs simpered—‘a little sleepy myself; I’ll own it now, mim, though I said I wasn’t when you asked me. It ain’t of no consequence, mim, of course.’

‘You had better,’ said the locksmith, who most devoutly wished that Barnaby’s raven was at Miggs’s ankles, ‘you had better get to bed at once then.’

‘Thanking you kindly, sir,’ returned Miggs, ‘I couldn’t take my rest in peace, nor fix my thoughts upon my prayers, otherways than that I knew mistress was comfortable in her bed this night; by rights she ought to have been there, hours ago.’

‘You’re talkative, mistress,’ said Varden, pulling off his greatcoat, and looking at her askew.

‘Taking the hint, sir,’ cried Miggs, with a flushed face, ‘and thanking you for it most kindly, I will make bold to say, that if I give offence by having consideration for my mistress, I do not ask your pardon, but am content to get myself into trouble and to be in suffering.’

Here Mrs Varden, who, with her countenance shrouded in a large nightcap, had been all this time intent upon the Protestant Manual, looked round, and acknowledged Miggs’s championship by commanding her to hold her tongue.

Every little bone in Miggs’s throat and neck developed itself with a spitefulness quite alarming, as she replied, ‘Yes, mim, I will.’

‘How do you find yourself now, my dear?’ said the locksmith, taking a chair near his wife (who had resumed her book), and rubbing his knees hard as he made the inquiry.

‘You’re very anxious to know, an’t you?’ returned Mrs Varden, with her eyes upon the print. ‘You, that have not been near me all day, and wouldn’t have been if I was dying!’

‘My dear Martha—’ said Gabriel.

Mrs Varden turned over to the next page; then went back again to the bottom line over leaf to be quite sure of the last words; and then went on reading with an appearance of the deepest interest and study.

‘My dear Martha,’ said the locksmith, ‘how can you say such things, when you know you don’t mean them? If you were dying! Why, if there was anything serious the matter with you, Martha, shouldn’t I be in constant attendance upon you?’

‘Yes!’ cried Mrs Varden, bursting into tears, ‘yes, you would. I don’t doubt it, Varden. Certainly you would. That’s as much as to tell me that you would be hovering round me like a vulture, waiting till the breath was out of my body, that you might go and marry somebody else.’

Miggs groaned in sympathy—a little short groan, checked in its birth, and changed into a cough. It seemed to say, ‘I can’t help it. It’s wrung from me by the dreadful brutality of that monster master.’

‘But you’ll break my heart one of these days,’ added Mrs Varden, with more resignation, ‘and then we shall both be happy. My only desire is to see Dolly comfortably settled, and when she is, you may settle ME as soon as you like.’

‘Ah!’ cried Miggs—and coughed again.

Poor Gabriel twisted his wig about in silence for a long time, and then said mildly, ‘Has Dolly gone to bed?’

‘Your master speaks to you,’ said Mrs Varden, looking sternly over her shoulder at Miss Miggs in waiting.

‘No, my dear, I spoke to you,’ suggested the locksmith.

‘Did you hear me, Miggs?’ cried the obdurate lady, stamping her foot upon the ground. ‘YOU are beginning to despise me now, are you? But this is example!’

At this cruel rebuke, Miggs, whose tears were always ready, for large or small parties, on the shortest notice and the most reasonable terms, fell a crying violently; holding both her hands tight upon her heart meanwhile, as if nothing less would prevent its splitting into small fragments. Mrs Varden, who likewise possessed that faculty in high perfection, wept too, against Miggs; and with such effect that Miggs gave in after a time, and, except for an occasional sob, which seemed to threaten some remote intention of breaking out again, left her mistress in possession of the field. Her superiority being thoroughly asserted, that lady soon desisted likewise, and fell into a quiet melancholy.

The relief was so great, and the fatiguing occurrences of last night so completely overpowered the locksmith, that he nodded in his chair, and would doubtless have slept there all night, but for the voice of Mrs Varden, which, after a pause of some five minutes, awoke him with a start.

‘If I am ever,’ said Mrs V.—not scolding, but in a sort of monotonous remonstrance—‘in spirits, if I am ever cheerful, if I am ever more than usually disposed to be talkative and comfortable, this is the way I am treated.’

‘Such spirits as you was in too, mim, but half an hour ago!’ cried Miggs. ‘I never see such company!’

‘Because,’ said Mrs Varden, ‘because I never interfere or interrupt; because I never question where anybody comes or goes; because my whole mind and soul is bent on saving where I can save, and labouring in this house;—therefore, they try me as they do.’

‘Martha,’ urged the locksmith, endeavouring to look as wakeful as possible, ‘what is it you complain of? I really came home with every wish and desire to be happy. I did, indeed.’

‘What do I complain of!’ retorted his wife. ‘Is it a chilling thing to have one’s husband sulking and falling asleep directly he comes home—to have him freezing all one’s warm-heartedness, and throwing cold water over the fireside? Is it natural, when I know he went out upon a matter in which I am as much interested as anybody can be, that I should wish to know all that has happened, or that he should tell me without my begging and praying him to do it? Is that natural, or is it not?’

‘I am very sorry, Martha,’ said the good-natured locksmith. ‘I was really afraid you were not disposed to talk pleasantly; I’ll tell you everything; I shall only be too glad, my dear.’

‘No, Varden,’ returned his wife, rising with dignity. ‘I dare say—thank you! I’m not a child to be corrected one minute and petted the next—I’m a little too old for that, Varden. Miggs, carry the light.—YOU can be cheerful, Miggs, at least.’

Miggs, who, to this moment, had been in the very depths of compassionate despondency, passed instantly into the liveliest state conceivable, and tossing her head as she glanced towards the locksmith, bore off her mistress and the light together.

‘Now, who would think,’ thought Varden, shrugging his shoulders and drawing his chair nearer to the fire, ‘that that woman could ever be pleasant and agreeable? And yet she can be. Well, well, all of us have our faults. I’ll not be hard upon hers. We have been man and wife too long for that.’

He dozed again—not the less pleasantly, perhaps, for his hearty temper. While his eyes were closed, the door leading to the upper stairs was partially opened; and a head appeared, which, at sight of him, hastily drew back again.

‘I wish,’ murmured Gabriel, waking at the noise, and looking round the room, ‘I wish somebody would marry Miggs. But that’s impossible! I wonder whether there’s any madman alive, who would marry Miggs!’

This was such a vast speculation that he fell into a doze again, and slept until the fire was quite burnt out. At last he roused himself; and having double-locked the street-door according to custom, and put the key in his pocket, went off to bed.

He had not left the room in darkness many minutes, when the head again appeared, and Sim Tappertit entered, bearing in his hand a little lamp.

‘What the devil business has he to stop up so late!’ muttered Sim, passing into the workshop, and setting it down upon the forge. ‘Here’s half the night gone already. There’s only one good that has ever come to me, out of this cursed old rusty mechanical trade, and that’s this piece of ironmongery, upon my soul!’

As he spoke, he drew from the right hand, or rather right leg pocket of his smalls, a clumsy large-sized key, which he inserted cautiously in the lock his master had secured, and softly opened the door. That done, he replaced his piece of secret workmanship in his pocket; and leaving the lamp burning, and closing the door carefully and without noise, stole out into the street—as little suspected by the locksmith in his sound deep sleep, as by Barnaby himself in his phantom-haunted dreams.





Chapter 8

Clear of the locksmith’s house, Sim Tappertit laid aside his cautious manner, and assuming in its stead that of a ruffling, swaggering, roving blade, who would rather kill a man than otherwise, and eat him too if needful, made the best of his way along the darkened streets.

Half pausing for an instant now and then to smite his pocket and assure himself of the safety of his master key, he hurried on to Barbican, and turning into one of the narrowest of the narrow streets which diverged from that centre, slackened his pace and wiped his heated brow, as if the termination of his walk were near at hand.

It was not a very choice spot for midnight expeditions, being in truth one of more than questionable character, and of an appearance by no means inviting. From the main street he had entered, itself little better than an alley, a low-browed doorway led into a blind court, or yard, profoundly dark, unpaved, and reeking with stagnant odours. Into this ill-favoured pit, the locksmith’s vagrant ‘prentice groped his way; and stopping at a house from whose defaced and rotten front the rude effigy of a bottle swung to and fro like some gibbeted malefactor, struck thrice upon an iron grating with his foot. After listening in vain for some response to his signal, Mr Tappertit became impatient, and struck the grating thrice again.

A further delay ensued, but it was not of long duration. The ground seemed to open at his feet, and a ragged head appeared.

‘Is that the captain?’ said a voice as ragged as the head.

‘Yes,’ replied Mr Tappertit haughtily, descending as he spoke, ‘who should it be?’

‘It’s so late, we gave you up,’ returned the voice, as its owner stopped to shut and fasten the grating. ‘You’re late, sir.’

‘Lead on,’ said Mr Tappertit, with a gloomy majesty, ‘and make remarks when I require you. Forward!’

This latter word of command was perhaps somewhat theatrical and unnecessary, inasmuch as the descent was by a very narrow, steep, and slippery flight of steps, and any rashness or departure from the beaten track must have ended in a yawning water-butt. But Mr Tappertit being, like some other great commanders, favourable to strong effects, and personal display, cried ‘Forward!’ again, in the hoarsest voice he could assume; and led the way, with folded arms and knitted brows, to the cellar down below, where there was a small copper fixed in one corner, a chair or two, a form and table, a glimmering fire, and a truckle-bed, covered with a ragged patchwork rug.

‘Welcome, noble captain!’ cried a lanky figure, rising as from a nap.

The captain nodded. Then, throwing off his outer coat, he stood composed in all his dignity, and eyed his follower over.

‘What news to-night?’ he asked, when he had looked into his very soul.

‘Nothing particular,’ replied the other, stretching himself—and he was so long already that it was quite alarming to see him do it—‘how come you to be so late?’

‘No matter,’ was all the captain deigned to say in answer. ‘Is the room prepared?’

‘It is,’ replied the follower.

‘The comrade—is he here?’

‘Yes. And a sprinkling of the others—you hear ‘em?’

‘Playing skittles!’ said the captain moodily. ‘Light-hearted revellers!’

There was no doubt respecting the particular amusement in which these heedless spirits were indulging, for even in the close and stifling atmosphere of the vault, the noise sounded like distant thunder. It certainly appeared, at first sight, a singular spot to choose, for that or any other purpose of relaxation, if the other cellars answered to the one in which this brief colloquy took place; for the floors were of sodden earth, the walls and roof of damp bare brick tapestried with the tracks of snails and slugs; the air was sickening, tainted, and offensive. It seemed, from one strong flavour which was uppermost among the various odours of the place, that it had, at no very distant period, been used as a storehouse for cheeses; a circumstance which, while it accounted for the greasy moisture that hung about it, was agreeably suggestive of rats. It was naturally damp besides, and little trees of fungus sprung from every mouldering corner.

The proprietor of this charming retreat, and owner of the ragged head before mentioned—for he wore an old tie-wig as bare and frowzy as a stunted hearth-broom—had by this time joined them; and stood a little apart, rubbing his hands, wagging his hoary bristled chin, and smiling in silence. His eyes were closed; but had they been wide open, it would have been easy to tell, from the attentive expression of the face he turned towards them—pale and unwholesome as might be expected in one of his underground existence—and from a certain anxious raising and quivering of the lids, that he was blind.

‘Even Stagg hath been asleep,’ said the long comrade, nodding towards this person.

‘Sound, captain, sound!’ cried the blind man; ‘what does my noble captain drink—is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh? Is it soaked gunpowder, or blazing oil? Give it a name, heart of oak, and we’d get it for you, if it was wine from a bishop’s cellar, or melted gold from King George’s mint.’

‘See,’ said Mr Tappertit haughtily, ‘that it’s something strong, and comes quick; and so long as you take care of that, you may bring it from the devil’s cellar, if you like.’

‘Boldly said, noble captain!’ rejoined the blind man. ‘Spoken like the ‘Prentices’ Glory. Ha, ha! From the devil’s cellar! A brave joke! The captain joketh. Ha, ha, ha!’

‘I’ll tell you what, my fine feller,’ said Mr Tappertit, eyeing the host over as he walked to a closet, and took out a bottle and glass as carelessly as if he had been in full possession of his sight, ‘if you make that row, you’ll find that the captain’s very far from joking, and so I tell you.’

‘He’s got his eyes on me!’ cried Stagg, stopping short on his way back, and affecting to screen his face with the bottle. ‘I feel ‘em though I can’t see ‘em. Take ‘em off, noble captain. Remove ‘em, for they pierce like gimlets.’

Mr Tappertit smiled grimly at his comrade; and twisting out one more look—a kind of ocular screw—under the influence of which the blind man feigned to undergo great anguish and torture, bade him, in a softened tone, approach, and hold his peace.

‘I obey you, captain,’ cried Stagg, drawing close to him and filling out a bumper without spilling a drop, by reason that he held his little finger at the brim of the glass, and stopped at the instant the liquor touched it, ‘drink, noble governor. Death to all masters, life to all ‘prentices, and love to all fair damsels. Drink, brave general, and warm your gallant heart!’

Mr Tappertit condescended to take the glass from his outstretched hand. Stagg then dropped on one knee, and gently smoothed the calves of his legs, with an air of humble admiration.

‘That I had but eyes!’ he cried, ‘to behold my captain’s symmetrical proportions! That I had but eyes, to look upon these twin invaders of domestic peace!’

‘Get out!’ said Mr Tappertit, glancing downward at his favourite limbs. ‘Go along, will you, Stagg!’

‘When I touch my own afterwards,’ cried the host, smiting them reproachfully, ‘I hate ‘em. Comparatively speaking, they’ve no more shape than wooden legs, beside these models of my noble captain’s.’

‘Yours!’ exclaimed Mr Tappertit. ‘No, I should think not. Don’t talk about those precious old toothpicks in the same breath with mine; that’s rather too much. Here. Take the glass. Benjamin. Lead on. To business!’

With these words, he folded his arms again; and frowning with a sullen majesty, passed with his companion through a little door at the upper end of the cellar, and disappeared; leaving Stagg to his private meditations.

The vault they entered, strewn with sawdust and dimly lighted, was between the outer one from which they had just come, and that in which the skittle-players were diverting themselves; as was manifested by the increased noise and clamour of tongues, which was suddenly stopped, however, and replaced by a dead silence, at a signal from the long comrade. Then, this young gentleman, going to a little cupboard, returned with a thigh-bone, which in former times must have been part and parcel of some individual at least as long as himself, and placed the same in the hands of Mr Tappertit; who, receiving it as a sceptre and staff of authority, cocked his three-cornered hat fiercely on the top of his head, and mounted a large table, whereon a chair of state, cheerfully ornamented with a couple of skulls, was placed ready for his reception.

He had no sooner assumed this position, than another young gentleman appeared, bearing in his arms a huge clasped book, who made him a profound obeisance, and delivering it to the long comrade, advanced to the table, and turning his back upon it, stood there Atlas-wise. Then, the long comrade got upon the table too; and seating himself in a lower chair than Mr Tappertit’s, with much state and ceremony, placed the large book on the shoulders of their mute companion as deliberately as if he had been a wooden desk, and prepared to make entries therein with a pen of corresponding size.

When the long comrade had made these preparations, he looked towards Mr Tappertit; and Mr Tappertit, flourishing the bone, knocked nine times therewith upon one of the skulls. At the ninth stroke, a third young gentleman emerged from the door leading to the skittle ground, and bowing low, awaited his commands.

‘Prentice!’ said the mighty captain, ‘who waits without?’

The ‘prentice made answer that a stranger was in attendance, who claimed admission into that secret society of ‘Prentice Knights, and a free participation in their rights, privileges, and immunities. Thereupon Mr Tappertit flourished the bone again, and giving the other skull a prodigious rap on the nose, exclaimed ‘Admit him!’ At these dread words the ‘prentice bowed once more, and so withdrew as he had come.

There soon appeared at the same door, two other ‘prentices, having between them a third, whose eyes were bandaged, and who was attired in a bag-wig, and a broad-skirted coat, trimmed with tarnished lace; and who was girded with a sword, in compliance with the laws of the Institution regulating the introduction of candidates, which required them to assume this courtly dress, and kept it constantly in lavender, for their convenience. One of the conductors of this novice held a rusty blunderbuss pointed towards his ear, and the other a very ancient sabre, with which he carved imaginary offenders as he came along in a sanguinary and anatomical manner.

As this silent group advanced, Mr Tappertit fixed his hat upon his head. The novice then laid his hand upon his breast and bent before him. When he had humbled himself sufficiently, the captain ordered the bandage to be removed, and proceeded to eye him over.

‘Ha!’ said the captain, thoughtfully, when he had concluded this ordeal. ‘Proceed.’

The long comrade read aloud as follows:—‘Mark Gilbert. Age, nineteen. Bound to Thomas Curzon, hosier, Golden Fleece, Aldgate. Loves Curzon’s daughter. Cannot say that Curzon’s daughter loves him. Should think it probable. Curzon pulled his ears last Tuesday week.’

‘How!’ cried the captain, starting.

‘For looking at his daughter, please you,’ said the novice.

‘Write Curzon down, Denounced,’ said the captain. ‘Put a black cross against the name of Curzon.’

‘So please you,’ said the novice, ‘that’s not the worst—he calls his ‘prentice idle dog, and stops his beer unless he works to his liking. He gives Dutch cheese, too, eating Cheshire, sir, himself; and Sundays out, are only once a month.’

‘This,’ said Mr Tappert gravely, ‘is a flagrant case. Put two black crosses to the name of Curzon.’

‘If the society,’ said the novice, who was an ill-looking, one-sided, shambling lad, with sunken eyes set close together in his head—‘if the society would burn his house down—for he’s not insured—or beat him as he comes home from his club at night, or help me to carry off his daughter, and marry her at the Fleet, whether she gave consent or no—’

Mr Tappertit waved his grizzly truncheon as an admonition to him not to interrupt, and ordered three black crosses to the name of Curzon.

‘Which means,’ he said in gracious explanation, ‘vengeance, complete and terrible. ‘Prentice, do you love the Constitution?’

To which the novice (being to that end instructed by his attendant sponsors) replied ‘I do!’

‘The Church, the State, and everything established—but the masters?’ quoth the captain.

Again the novice said ‘I do.’

Having said it, he listened meekly to the captain, who in an address prepared for such occasions, told him how that under that same Constitution (which was kept in a strong box somewhere, but where exactly he could not find out, or he would have endeavoured to procure a copy of it), the ‘prentices had, in times gone by, had frequent holidays of right, broken people’s heads by scores, defied their masters, nay, even achieved some glorious murders in the streets, which privileges had gradually been wrested from them, and in all which noble aspirations they were now restrained; how the degrading checks imposed upon them were unquestionably attributable to the innovating spirit of the times, and how they united therefore to resist all change, except such change as would restore those good old English customs, by which they would stand or fall. After illustrating the wisdom of going backward, by reference to that sagacious fish, the crab, and the not unfrequent practice of the mule and donkey, he described their general objects; which were briefly vengeance on their Tyrant Masters (of whose grievous and insupportable oppression no ‘prentice could entertain a moment’s doubt) and the restoration, as aforesaid, of their ancient rights and holidays; for neither of which objects were they now quite ripe, being barely twenty strong, but which they pledged themselves to pursue with fire and sword when needful. Then he described the oath which every member of that small remnant of a noble body took, and which was of a dreadful and impressive kind; binding him, at the bidding of his chief, to resist and obstruct the Lord Mayor, sword-bearer, and chaplain; to despise the authority of the sheriffs; and to hold the court of aldermen as nought; but not on any account, in case the fulness of time should bring a general rising of ‘prentices, to damage or in any way disfigure Temple Bar, which was strictly constitutional and always to be approached with reverence. Having gone over these several heads with great eloquence and force, and having further informed the novice that this society had its origin in his own teeming brain, stimulated by a swelling sense of wrong and outrage, Mr Tappertit demanded whether he had strength of heart to take the mighty pledge required, or whether he would withdraw while retreat was yet in his power.

To this the novice made rejoinder, that he would take the vow, though it should choke him; and it was accordingly administered with many impressive circumstances, among which the lighting up of the two skulls with a candle-end inside of each, and a great many flourishes with the bone, were chiefly conspicuous; not to mention a variety of grave exercises with the blunderbuss and sabre, and some dismal groaning by unseen ‘prentices without. All these dark and direful ceremonies being at length completed, the table was put aside, the chair of state removed, the sceptre locked up in its usual cupboard, the doors of communication between the three cellars thrown freely open, and the ‘Prentice Knights resigned themselves to merriment.

But Mr Tappertit, who had a soul above the vulgar herd, and who, on account of his greatness, could only afford to be merry now and then, threw himself on a bench with the air of a man who was faint with dignity. He looked with an indifferent eye, alike on skittles, cards, and dice, thinking only of the locksmith’s daughter, and the base degenerate days on which he had fallen.

‘My noble captain neither games, nor sings, nor dances,’ said his host, taking a seat beside him. ‘Drink, gallant general!’

Mr Tappertit drained the proffered goblet to the dregs; then thrust his hands into his pockets, and with a lowering visage walked among the skittles, while his followers (such is the influence of superior genius) restrained the ardent ball, and held his little shins in dumb respect.

‘If I had been born a corsair or a pirate, a brigand, genteel highwayman or patriot—and they’re the same thing,’ thought Mr Tappertit, musing among the nine-pins, ‘I should have been all right. But to drag out a ignoble existence unbeknown to mankind in general—patience! I will be famous yet. A voice within me keeps on whispering Greatness. I shall burst out one of these days, and when I do, what power can keep me down? I feel my soul getting into my head at the idea. More drink there!’

‘The novice,’ pursued Mr Tappertit, not exactly in a voice of thunder, for his tones, to say the truth were rather cracked and shrill—but very impressively, notwithstanding—‘where is he?’

‘Here, noble captain!’ cried Stagg. ‘One stands beside me who I feel is a stranger.’

‘Have you,’ said Mr Tappertit, letting his gaze fall on the party indicated, who was indeed the new knight, by this time restored to his own apparel; ‘Have you the impression of your street-door key in wax?’

The long comrade anticipated the reply, by producing it from the shelf on which it had been deposited.

‘Good,’ said Mr Tappertit, scrutinising it attentively, while a breathless silence reigned around; for he had constructed secret door-keys for the whole society, and perhaps owed something of his influence to that mean and trivial circumstance—on such slight accidents do even men of mind depend!—‘This is easily made. Come hither, friend.’

With that, he beckoned the new knight apart, and putting the pattern in his pocket, motioned to him to walk by his side.

‘And so,’ he said, when they had taken a few turns up and down, you—you love your master’s daughter?’

‘I do,’ said the ‘prentice. ‘Honour bright. No chaff, you know.’

‘Have you,’ rejoined Mr Tappertit, catching him by the wrist, and giving him a look which would have been expressive of the most deadly malevolence, but for an accidental hiccup that rather interfered with it; ‘have you a—a rival?’

‘Not as I know on,’ replied the ‘prentice.

‘If you had now—’ said Mr Tappertit—‘what would you—eh?—’

The ‘prentice looked fierce and clenched his fists.

‘It is enough,’ cried Mr Tappertit hastily, ‘we understand each other. We are observed. I thank you.’

So saying, he cast him off again; and calling the long comrade aside after taking a few hasty turns by himself, bade him immediately write and post against the wall, a notice, proscribing one Joseph Willet (commonly known as Joe) of Chigwell; forbidding all ‘Prentice Knights to succour, comfort, or hold communion with him; and requiring them, on pain of excommunication, to molest, hurt, wrong, annoy, and pick quarrels with the said Joseph, whensoever and wheresoever they, or any of them, should happen to encounter him.

Having relieved his mind by this energetic proceeding, he condescended to approach the festive board, and warming by degrees, at length deigned to preside, and even to enchant the company with a song. After this, he rose to such a pitch as to consent to regale the society with a hornpipe, which he actually performed to the music of a fiddle (played by an ingenious member) with such surpassing agility and brilliancy of execution, that the spectators could not be sufficiently enthusiastic in their admiration; and their host protested, with tears in his eyes, that he had never truly felt his blindness until that moment.

But the host withdrawing—probably to weep in secret—soon returned with the information that it wanted little more than an hour of day, and that all the cocks in Barbican had already begun to crow, as if their lives depended on it. At this intelligence, the ‘Prentice Knights arose in haste, and marshalling into a line, filed off one by one and dispersed with all speed to their several homes, leaving their leader to pass the grating last.

‘Good night, noble captain,’ whispered the blind man as he held it open for his passage out; ‘Farewell, brave general. Bye, bye, illustrious commander. Good luck go with you for a—conceited, bragging, empty-headed, duck-legged idiot.’

With which parting words, coolly added as he listened to his receding footsteps and locked the grate upon himself, he descended the steps, and lighting the fire below the little copper, prepared, without any assistance, for his daily occupation; which was to retail at the area-head above pennyworths of broth and soup, and savoury puddings, compounded of such scraps as were to be bought in the heap for the least money at Fleet Market in the evening time; and for the sale of which he had need to have depended chiefly on his private connection, for the court had no thoroughfare, and was not that kind of place in which many people were likely to take the air, or to frequent as an agreeable promenade.






Chapter 9

Chronicler’s are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome, in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time, and place. Thrice blessed be this last consideration, since it enables us to follow the disdainful Miggs even into the sanctity of her chamber, and to hold her in sweet companionship through the dreary watches of the night!

Miss Miggs, having undone her mistress, as she phrased it (which means, assisted to undress her), and having seen her comfortably to bed in the back room on the first floor, withdrew to her own apartment, in the attic story. Notwithstanding her declaration in the locksmith’s presence, she was in no mood for sleep; so, putting her light upon the table and withdrawing the little window curtain, she gazed out pensively at the wild night sky.

Perhaps she wondered what star was destined for her habitation when she had run her little course below; perhaps speculated which of those glimmering spheres might be the natal orb of Mr Tappertit; perhaps marvelled how they could gaze down on that perfidious creature, man, and not sicken and turn green as chemists’ lamps; perhaps thought of nothing in particular. Whatever she thought about, there she sat, until her attention, alive to anything connected with the insinuating ‘prentice, was attracted by a noise in the next room to her own—his room; the room in which he slept, and dreamed—it might be, sometimes dreamed of her.

That he was not dreaming now, unless he was taking a walk in his sleep, was clear, for every now and then there came a shuffling noise, as though he were engaged in polishing the whitewashed wall; then a gentle creaking of his door; then the faintest indication of his stealthy footsteps on the landing-place outside. Noting this latter circumstance, Miss Miggs turned pale and shuddered, as mistrusting his intentions; and more than once exclaimed, below her breath, ‘Oh! what a Providence it is, as I am bolted in!’—which, owing doubtless to her alarm, was a confusion of ideas on her part between a bolt and its use; for though there was one on the door, it was not fastened.

Miss Miggs’s sense of hearing, however, having as sharp an edge as her temper, and being of the same snappish and suspicious kind, very soon informed her that the footsteps passed her door, and appeared to have some object quite separate and disconnected from herself. At this discovery she became more alarmed than ever, and was about to give utterance to those cries of ‘Thieves!’ and ‘Murder!’ which she had hitherto restrained, when it occurred to her to look softly out, and see that her fears had some good palpable foundation.

Looking out accordingly, and stretching her neck over the handrail, she descried, to her great amazement, Mr Tappertit completely dressed, stealing downstairs, one step at a time, with his shoes in one hand and a lamp in the other. Following him with her eyes, and going down a little way herself to get the better of an intervening angle, she beheld him thrust his head in at the parlour-door, draw it back again with great swiftness, and immediately begin a retreat upstairs with all possible expedition.

‘Here’s mysteries!’ said the damsel, when she was safe in her own room again, quite out of breath. ‘Oh, gracious, here’s mysteries!’

The prospect of finding anybody out in anything, would have kept Miss Miggs awake under the influence of henbane. Presently, she heard the step again, as she would have done if it had been that of a feather endowed with motion and walking down on tiptoe. Then gliding out as before, she again beheld the retreating figure of the ‘prentice; again he looked cautiously in at the parlour-door, but this time instead of retreating, he passed in and disappeared.

Miggs was back in her room, and had her head out of the window, before an elderly gentleman could have winked and recovered from it. Out he came at the street-door, shut it carefully behind him, tried it with his knee, and swaggered off, putting something in his pocket as he went along. At this spectacle Miggs cried ‘Gracious!’ again, and then ‘Goodness gracious!’ and then ‘Goodness gracious me!’ and then, candle in hand, went downstairs as he had done. Coming to the workshop, she saw the lamp burning on the forge, and everything as Sim had left it.

‘Why I wish I may only have a walking funeral, and never be buried decent with a mourning-coach and feathers, if the boy hasn’t been and made a key for his own self!’ cried Miggs. ‘Oh the little villain!’

This conclusion was not arrived at without consideration, and much peeping and peering about; nor was it unassisted by the recollection that she had on several occasions come upon the ‘prentice suddenly, and found him busy at some mysterious occupation. Lest the fact of Miss Miggs calling him, on whom she stooped to cast a favourable eye, a boy, should create surprise in any breast, it may be observed that she invariably affected to regard all male bipeds under thirty as mere chits and infants; which phenomenon is not unusual in ladies of Miss Miggs’s temper, and is indeed generally found to be the associate of such indomitable and savage virtue.

Miss Miggs deliberated within herself for some little time, looking hard at the shop-door while she did so, as though her eyes and thoughts were both upon it; and then, taking a sheet of paper from a drawer, twisted it into a long thin spiral tube. Having filled this instrument with a quantity of small coal-dust from the forge, she approached the door, and dropping on one knee before it, dexterously blew into the keyhole as much of these fine ashes as the lock would hold. When she had filled it to the brim in a very workmanlike and skilful manner, she crept upstairs again, and chuckled as she went.

‘There!’ cried Miggs, rubbing her hands, ‘now let’s see whether you won’t be glad to take some notice of me, mister. He, he, he! You’ll have eyes for somebody besides Miss Dolly now, I think. A fat-faced puss she is, as ever I come across!’

As she uttered this criticism, she glanced approvingly at her small mirror, as who should say, I thank my stars that can’t be said of me!—as it certainly could not; for Miss Miggs’s style of beauty was of that kind which Mr Tappertit himself had not inaptly termed, in private, ‘scraggy.’

‘I don’t go to bed this night!’ said Miggs, wrapping herself in a shawl, and drawing a couple of chairs near the window, flouncing down upon one, and putting her feet upon the other, ‘till you come home, my lad. I wouldn’t,’ said Miggs viciously, ‘no, not for five-and-forty pound!’

With that, and with an expression of face in which a great number of opposite ingredients, such as mischief, cunning, malice, triumph, and patient expectation, were all mixed up together in a kind of physiognomical punch, Miss Miggs composed herself to wait and listen, like some fair ogress who had set a trap and was watching for a nibble from a plump young traveller.

She sat there, with perfect composure, all night. At length, just upon break of day, there was a footstep in the street, and presently she could hear Mr Tappertit stop at the door. Then she could make out that he tried his key—that he was blowing into it—that he knocked it on the nearest post to beat the dust out—that he took it under a lamp to look at it—that he poked bits of stick into the lock to clear it—that he peeped into the keyhole, first with one eye, and then with the other—that he tried the key again—that he couldn’t turn it, and what was worse, couldn’t get it out—that he bent it—that then it was much less disposed to come out than before—that he gave it a mighty twist and a great pull, and then it came out so suddenly that he staggered backwards—that he kicked the door—that he shook it—finally, that he smote his forehead, and sat down on the step in despair.

When this crisis had arrived, Miss Miggs, affecting to be exhausted with terror, and to cling to the window-sill for support, put out her nightcap, and demanded in a faint voice who was there.

Mr Tappertit cried ‘Hush!’ and, backing to the road, exhorted her in frenzied pantomime to secrecy and silence.

‘Tell me one thing,’ said Miggs. ‘Is it thieves?’

‘No—no—no!’ cried Mr Tappertit.

‘Then,’ said Miggs, more faintly than before, ‘it’s fire. Where is it, sir? It’s near this room, I know. I’ve a good conscience, sir, and would much rather die than go down a ladder. All I wish is, respecting my love to my married sister, Golden Lion Court, number twenty-sivin, second bell-handle on the right-hand door-post.’

‘Miggs!’ cried Mr Tappertit, ‘don’t you know me? Sim, you know—Sim—’

‘Oh! what about him!’ cried Miggs, clasping her hands. ‘Is he in any danger? Is he in the midst of flames and blazes! Oh gracious, gracious!’

‘Why I’m here, an’t I?’ rejoined Mr Tappertit, knocking himself on the breast. ‘Don’t you see me? What a fool you are, Miggs!’

‘There!’ cried Miggs, unmindful of this compliment. ‘Why—so it—Goodness, what is the meaning of—If you please, mim, here’s—’

‘No, no!’ cried Mr Tappertit, standing on tiptoe, as if by that means he, in the street, were any nearer being able to stop the mouth of Miggs in the garret. ‘Don’t!—I’ve been out without leave, and something or another’s the matter with the lock. Come down, and undo the shop window, that I may get in that way.’

‘I dursn’t do it, Simmun,’ cried Miggs—for that was her pronunciation of his Christian name. ‘I dursn’t do it, indeed. You know as well as anybody, how particular I am. And to come down in the dead of night, when the house is wrapped in slumbers and weiled in obscurity.’ And there she stopped and shivered, for her modesty caught cold at the very thought.

‘But Miggs,’ cried Mr Tappertit, getting under the lamp, that she might see his eyes. ‘My darling Miggs—’

Miggs screamed slightly.

‘—That I love so much, and never can help thinking of,’ and it is impossible to describe the use he made of his eyes when he said this—‘do—for my sake, do.’

‘Oh Simmun,’ cried Miggs, ‘this is worse than all. I know if I come down, you’ll go, and—’

‘And what, my precious?’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘And try,’ said Miggs, hysterically, ‘to kiss me, or some such dreadfulness; I know you will!’

‘I swear I won’t,’ said Mr Tappertit, with remarkable earnestness. ‘Upon my soul I won’t. It’s getting broad day, and the watchman’s waking up. Angelic Miggs! If you’ll only come and let me in, I promise you faithfully and truly I won’t.’

Miss Miggs, whose gentle heart was touched, did not wait for the oath (knowing how strong the temptation was, and fearing he might forswear himself), but tripped lightly down the stairs, and with her own fair hands drew back the rough fastenings of the workshop window. Having helped the wayward ‘prentice in, she faintly articulated the words ‘Simmun is safe!’ and yielding to her woman’s nature, immediately became insensible.

‘I knew I should quench her,’ said Sim, rather embarrassed by this circumstance. ‘Of course I was certain it would come to this, but there was nothing else to be done—if I hadn’t eyed her over, she wouldn’t have come down. Here. Keep up a minute, Miggs. What a slippery figure she is! There’s no holding her, comfortably. Do keep up a minute, Miggs, will you?’

As Miggs, however, was deaf to all entreaties, Mr Tappertit leant her against the wall as one might dispose of a walking-stick or umbrella, until he had secured the window, when he took her in his arms again, and, in short stages and with great difficulty—arising from her being tall and his being short, and perhaps in some degree from that peculiar physical conformation on which he had already remarked—carried her upstairs, and planting her, in the same umbrella and walking-stick fashion, just inside her own door, left her to her repose.

‘He may be as cool as he likes,’ said Miss Miggs, recovering as soon as she was left alone; ‘but I’m in his confidence and he can’t help himself, nor couldn’t if he was twenty Simmunses!’






Chapter 10

It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or forward into summer, and in its uncertainty inclines now to the one and now to the other, and now to both at once—wooing summer in the sunshine, and lingering still with winter in the shade—it was, in short, on one of those mornings, when it is hot and cold, wet and dry, bright and lowering, sad and cheerful, withering and genial, in the compass of one short hour, that old John Willet, who was dropping asleep over the copper boiler, was roused by the sound of a horse’s feet, and glancing out at window, beheld a traveller of goodly promise, checking his bridle at the Maypole door.

He was none of your flippant young fellows, who would call for a tankard of mulled ale, and make themselves as much at home as if they had ordered a hogshead of wine; none of your audacious young swaggerers, who would even penetrate into the bar—that solemn sanctuary—and, smiting old John upon the back, inquire if there was never a pretty girl in the house, and where he hid his little chambermaids, with a hundred other impertinences of that nature; none of your free-and-easy companions, who would scrape their boots upon the firedogs in the common room, and be not at all particular on the subject of spittoons; none of your unconscionable blades, requiring impossible chops, and taking unheard-of pickles for granted. He was a staid, grave, placid gentleman, something past the prime of life, yet upright in his carriage, for all that, and slim as a greyhound. He was well-mounted upon a sturdy chestnut cob, and had the graceful seat of an experienced horseman; while his riding gear, though free from such fopperies as were then in vogue, was handsome and well chosen. He wore a riding-coat of a somewhat brighter green than might have been expected to suit the taste of a gentleman of his years, with a short, black velvet cape, and laced pocket-holes and cuffs, all of a jaunty fashion; his linen, too, was of the finest kind, worked in a rich pattern at the wrists and throat, and scrupulously white. Although he seemed, judging from the mud he had picked up on the way, to have come from London, his horse was as smooth and cool as his own iron-grey periwig and pigtail. Neither man nor beast had turned a single hair; and saving for his soiled skirts and spatter-dashes, this gentleman, with his blooming face, white teeth, exactly-ordered dress, and perfect calmness, might have come from making an elaborate and leisurely toilet, to sit for an equestrian portrait at old John Willet’s gate.

It must not be supposed that John observed these several characteristics by other than very slow degrees, or that he took in more than half a one at a time, or that he even made up his mind upon that, without a great deal of very serious consideration. Indeed, if he had been distracted in the first instance by questionings and orders, it would have taken him at the least a fortnight to have noted what is here set down; but it happened that the gentleman, being struck with the old house, or with the plump pigeons which were skimming and curtseying about it, or with the tall maypole, on the top of which a weathercock, which had been out of order for fifteen years, performed a perpetual walk to the music of its own creaking, sat for some little time looking round in silence. Hence John, standing with his hand upon the horse’s bridle, and his great eyes on the rider, and with nothing passing to divert his thoughts, had really got some of these little circumstances into his brain by the time he was called upon to speak.

‘A quaint place this,’ said the gentleman—and his voice was as rich as his dress. ‘Are you the landlord?’

‘At your service, sir,’ replied John Willet.

‘You can give my horse good stabling, can you, and me an early dinner (I am not particular what, so that it be cleanly served), and a decent room of which there seems to be no lack in this great mansion,’ said the stranger, again running his eyes over the exterior.

‘You can have, sir,’ returned John with a readiness quite surprising, ‘anything you please.’

‘It’s well I am easily satisfied,’ returned the other with a smile, ‘or that might prove a hardy pledge, my friend.’ And saying so, he dismounted, with the aid of the block before the door, in a twinkling.

‘Halloa there! Hugh!’ roared John. ‘I ask your pardon, sir, for keeping you standing in the porch; but my son has gone to town on business, and the boy being, as I may say, of a kind of use to me, I’m rather put out when he’s away. Hugh!—a dreadful idle vagrant fellow, sir, half a gipsy, as I think—always sleeping in the sun in summer, and in the straw in winter time, sir—Hugh! Dear Lord, to keep a gentleman a waiting here through him!—Hugh! I wish that chap was dead, I do indeed.’

‘Possibly he is,’ returned the other. ‘I should think if he were living, he would have heard you by this time.’

‘In his fits of laziness, he sleeps so desperate hard,’ said the distracted host, ‘that if you were to fire off cannon-balls into his ears, it wouldn’t wake him, sir.’

The guest made no remark upon this novel cure for drowsiness, and recipe for making people lively, but, with his hands clasped behind him, stood in the porch, very much amused to see old John, with the bridle in his hand, wavering between a strong impulse to abandon the animal to his fate, and a half disposition to lead him into the house, and shut him up in the parlour, while he waited on his master.

‘Pillory the fellow, here he is at last!’ cried John, in the very height and zenith of his distress. ‘Did you hear me a calling, villain?’

The figure he addressed made no answer, but putting his hand upon the saddle, sprung into it at a bound, turned the horse’s head towards the stable, and was gone in an instant.

‘Brisk enough when he is awake,’ said the guest.

‘Brisk enough, sir!’ replied John, looking at the place where the horse had been, as if not yet understanding quite, what had become of him. ‘He melts, I think. He goes like a drop of froth. You look at him, and there he is. You look at him again, and—there he isn’t.’

Having, in the absence of any more words, put this sudden climax to what he had faintly intended should be a long explanation of the whole life and character of his man, the oracular John Willet led the gentleman up his wide dismantled staircase into the Maypole’s best apartment.

It was spacious enough in all conscience, occupying the whole depth of the house, and having at either end a great bay window, as large as many modern rooms; in which some few panes of stained glass, emblazoned with fragments of armorial bearings, though cracked, and patched, and shattered, yet remained; attesting, by their presence, that the former owner had made the very light subservient to his state, and pressed the sun itself into his list of flatterers; bidding it, when it shone into his chamber, reflect the badges of his ancient family, and take new hues and colours from their pride.

But those were old days, and now every little ray came and went as it would; telling the plain, bare, searching truth. Although the best room of the inn, it had the melancholy aspect of grandeur in decay, and was much too vast for comfort. Rich rustling hangings, waving on the walls; and, better far, the rustling of youth and beauty’s dress; the light of women’s eyes, outshining the tapers and their own rich jewels; the sound of gentle tongues, and music, and the tread of maiden feet, had once been there, and filled it with delight. But they were gone, and with them all its gladness. It was no longer a home; children were never born and bred there; the fireside had become mercenary—a something to be bought and sold—a very courtezan: let who would die, or sit beside, or leave it, it was still the same—it missed nobody, cared for nobody, had equal warmth and smiles for all. God help the man whose heart ever changes with the world, as an old mansion when it becomes an inn!

No effort had been made to furnish this chilly waste, but before the broad chimney a colony of chairs and tables had been planted on a square of carpet, flanked by a ghostly screen, enriched with figures, grinning and grotesque. After lighting with his own hands the faggots which were heaped upon the hearth, old John withdrew to hold grave council with his cook, touching the stranger’s entertainment; while the guest himself, seeing small comfort in the yet unkindled wood, opened a lattice in the distant window, and basked in a sickly gleam of cold March sun.

Leaving the window now and then, to rake the crackling logs together, or pace the echoing room from end to end, he closed it when the fire was quite burnt up, and having wheeled the easiest chair into the warmest corner, summoned John Willet.

‘Sir,’ said John.

He wanted pen, ink, and paper. There was an old standish on the mantelshelf containing a dusty apology for all three. Having set this before him, the landlord was retiring, when he motioned him to stay.

‘There’s a house not far from here,’ said the guest when he had written a few lines, ‘which you call the Warren, I believe?’

As this was said in the tone of one who knew the fact, and asked the question as a thing of course, John contented himself with nodding his head in the affirmative; at the same time taking one hand out of his pockets to cough behind, and then putting it in again.

‘I want this note’—said the guest, glancing on what he had written, and folding it, ‘conveyed there without loss of time, and an answer brought back here. Have you a messenger at hand?’

John was thoughtful for a minute or thereabouts, and then said Yes.

‘Let me see him,’ said the guest.

This was disconcerting; for Joe being out, and Hugh engaged in rubbing down the chestnut cob, he designed sending on the errand, Barnaby, who had just then arrived in one of his rambles, and who, so that he thought himself employed on a grave and serious business, would go anywhere.

‘Why the truth is,’ said John after a long pause, ‘that the person who’d go quickest, is a sort of natural, as one may say, sir; and though quick of foot, and as much to be trusted as the post itself, he’s not good at talking, being touched and flighty, sir.’

‘You don’t,’ said the guest, raising his eyes to John’s fat face, ‘you don’t mean—what’s the fellow’s name—you don’t mean Barnaby?’

‘Yes, I do,’ returned the landlord, his features turning quite expressive with surprise.

‘How comes he to be here?’ inquired the guest, leaning back in his chair; speaking in the bland, even tone, from which he never varied; and with the same soft, courteous, never-changing smile upon his face. ‘I saw him in London last night.’

‘He’s, for ever, here one hour, and there the next,’ returned old John, after the usual pause to get the question in his mind. ‘Sometimes he walks, and sometimes runs. He’s known along the road by everybody, and sometimes comes here in a cart or chaise, and sometimes riding double. He comes and goes, through wind, rain, snow, and hail, and on the darkest nights. Nothing hurts HIM.’

‘He goes often to the Warren, does he not?’ said the guest carelessly. ‘I seem to remember his mother telling me something to that effect yesterday. But I was not attending to the good woman much.’

‘You’re right, sir,’ John made answer, ‘he does. His father, sir, was murdered in that house.’

‘So I have heard,’ returned the guest, taking a gold toothpick from his pocket with the same sweet smile. ‘A very disagreeable circumstance for the family.’

‘Very,’ said John with a puzzled look, as if it occurred to him, dimly and afar off, that this might by possibility be a cool way of treating the subject.

‘All the circumstances after a murder,’ said the guest soliloquising, ‘must be dreadfully unpleasant—so much bustle and disturbance—no repose—a constant dwelling upon one subject—and the running in and out, and up and down stairs, intolerable. I wouldn’t have such a thing happen to anybody I was nearly interested in, on any account. ‘Twould be enough to wear one’s life out.—You were going to say, friend—’ he added, turning to John again.

‘Only that Mrs Rudge lives on a little pension from the family, and that Barnaby’s as free of the house as any cat or dog about it,’ answered John. ‘Shall he do your errand, sir?’

‘Oh yes,’ replied the guest. ‘Oh certainly. Let him do it by all means. Please to bring him here that I may charge him to be quick. If he objects to come you may tell him it’s Mr Chester. He will remember my name, I dare say.’

John was so very much astonished to find who his visitor was, that he could express no astonishment at all, by looks or otherwise, but left the room as if he were in the most placid and imperturbable of all possible conditions. It has been reported that when he got downstairs, he looked steadily at the boiler for ten minutes by the clock, and all that time never once left off shaking his head; for which statement there would seem to be some ground of truth and feasibility, inasmuch as that interval of time did certainly elapse, before he returned with Barnaby to the guest’s apartment.

‘Come hither, lad,’ said Mr Chester. ‘You know Mr Geoffrey Haredale?’

Barnaby laughed, and looked at the landlord as though he would say, ‘You hear him?’ John, who was greatly shocked at this breach of decorum, clapped his finger to his nose, and shook his head in mute remonstrance.

‘He knows him, sir,’ said John, frowning aside at Barnaby, ‘as well as you or I do.’

‘I haven’t the pleasure of much acquaintance with the gentleman,’ returned his guest. ‘YOU may have. Limit the comparison to yourself, my friend.’

Although this was said with the same easy affability, and the same smile, John felt himself put down, and laying the indignity at Barnaby’s door, determined to kick his raven, on the very first opportunity.

‘Give that,’ said the guest, who had by this time sealed the note, and who beckoned his messenger towards him as he spoke, ‘into Mr Haredale’s own hands. Wait for an answer, and bring it back to me here. If you should find that Mr Haredale is engaged just now, tell him—can he remember a message, landlord?’

‘When he chooses, sir,’ replied John. ‘He won’t forget this one.’

‘How are you sure of that?’

John merely pointed to him as he stood with his head bent forward, and his earnest gaze fixed closely on his questioner’s face; and nodded sagely.

‘Tell him then, Barnaby, should he be engaged,’ said Mr Chester, ‘that I shall be glad to wait his convenience here, and to see him (if he will call) at any time this evening.—At the worst I can have a bed here, Willet, I suppose?’

Old John, immensely flattered by the personal notoriety implied in this familiar form of address, answered, with something like a knowing look, ‘I should believe you could, sir,’ and was turning over in his mind various forms of eulogium, with the view of selecting one appropriate to the qualities of his best bed, when his ideas were put to flight by Mr Chester giving Barnaby the letter, and bidding him make all speed away.

‘Speed!’ said Barnaby, folding the little packet in his breast, ‘Speed! If you want to see hurry and mystery, come here. Here!’

With that, he put his hand, very much to John Willet’s horror, on the guest’s fine broadcloth sleeve, and led him stealthily to the back window.

‘Look down there,’ he said softly; ‘do you mark how they whisper in each other’s ears; then dance and leap, to make believe they are in sport? Do you see how they stop for a moment, when they think there is no one looking, and mutter among themselves again; and then how they roll and gambol, delighted with the mischief they’ve been plotting? Look at ‘em now. See how they whirl and plunge. And now they stop again, and whisper, cautiously together—little thinking, mind, how often I have lain upon the grass and watched them. I say what is it that they plot and hatch? Do you know?’

‘They are only clothes,’ returned the guest, ‘such as we wear; hanging on those lines to dry, and fluttering in the wind.’

‘Clothes!’ echoed Barnaby, looking close into his face, and falling quickly back. ‘Ha ha! Why, how much better to be silly, than as wise as you! You don’t see shadowy people there, like those that live in sleep—not you. Nor eyes in the knotted panes of glass, nor swift ghosts when it blows hard, nor do you hear voices in the air, nor see men stalking in the sky—not you! I lead a merrier life than you, with all your cleverness. You’re the dull men. We’re the bright ones. Ha! ha! I’ll not change with you, clever as you are,—not I!’

With that, he waved his hat above his head, and darted off.

‘A strange creature, upon my word!’ said the guest, pulling out a handsome box, and taking a pinch of snuff.

‘He wants imagination,’ said Mr Willet, very slowly, and after a long silence; ‘that’s what he wants. I’ve tried to instil it into him, many and many’s the time; but’—John added this in confidence—‘he an’t made for it; that’s the fact.’

To record that Mr Chester smiled at John’s remark would be little to the purpose, for he preserved the same conciliatory and pleasant look at all times. He drew his chair nearer to the fire though, as a kind of hint that he would prefer to be alone, and John, having no reasonable excuse for remaining, left him to himself.

Very thoughtful old John Willet was, while the dinner was preparing; and if his brain were ever less clear at one time than another, it is but reasonable to suppose that he addled it in no slight degree by shaking his head so much that day. That Mr Chester, between whom and Mr Haredale, it was notorious to all the neighbourhood, a deep and bitter animosity existed, should come down there for the sole purpose, as it seemed, of seeing him, and should choose the Maypole for their place of meeting, and should send to him express, were stumbling blocks John could not overcome. The only resource he had, was to consult the boiler, and wait impatiently for Barnaby’s return.

But Barnaby delayed beyond all precedent. The visitor’s dinner was served, removed, his wine was set, the fire replenished, the hearth clean swept; the light waned without, it grew dusk, became quite dark, and still no Barnaby appeared. Yet, though John Willet was full of wonder and misgiving, his guest sat cross-legged in the easy-chair, to all appearance as little ruffled in his thoughts as in his dress—the same calm, easy, cool gentleman, without a care or thought beyond his golden toothpick.

‘Barnaby’s late,’ John ventured to observe, as he placed a pair of tarnished candlesticks, some three feet high, upon the table, and snuffed the lights they held.

‘He is rather so,’ replied the guest, sipping his wine. ‘He will not be much longer, I dare say.’

John coughed and raked the fire together.

‘As your roads bear no very good character, if I may judge from my son’s mishap, though,’ said Mr Chester, ‘and as I have no fancy to be knocked on the head—which is not only disconcerting at the moment, but places one, besides, in a ridiculous position with respect to the people who chance to pick one up—I shall stop here to-night. I think you said you had a bed to spare.’

‘Such a bed, sir,’ returned John Willet; ‘ay, such a bed as few, even of the gentry’s houses, own. A fixter here, sir. I’ve heard say that bedstead is nigh two hundred years of age. Your noble son—a fine young gentleman—slept in it last, sir, half a year ago.’

‘Upon my life, a recommendation!’ said the guest, shrugging his shoulders and wheeling his chair nearer to the fire. ‘See that it be well aired, Mr Willet, and let a blazing fire be lighted there at once. This house is something damp and chilly.’

John raked the faggots up again, more from habit than presence of mind, or any reference to this remark, and was about to withdraw, when a bounding step was heard upon the stair, and Barnaby came panting in.

‘He’ll have his foot in the stirrup in an hour’s time,’ he cried, advancing. ‘He has been riding hard all day—has just come home—but will be in the saddle again as soon as he has eat and drank, to meet his loving friend.’

‘Was that his message?’ asked the visitor, looking up, but without the smallest discomposure—or at least without the show of any.

‘All but the last words,’ Barnaby rejoined. ‘He meant those. I saw that, in his face.’

‘This for your pains,’ said the other, putting money in his hand, and glancing at him steadfastly.‘This for your pains, sharp Barnaby.’

‘For Grip, and me, and Hugh, to share among us,’ he rejoined, putting it up, and nodding, as he counted it on his fingers. ‘Grip one, me two, Hugh three; the dog, the goat, the cats—well, we shall spend it pretty soon, I warn you. Stay.—Look. Do you wise men see nothing there, now?’

He bent eagerly down on one knee, and gazed intently at the smoke, which was rolling up the chimney in a thick black cloud. John Willet, who appeared to consider himself particularly and chiefly referred to under the term wise men, looked that way likewise, and with great solidity of feature.

‘Now, where do they go to, when they spring so fast up there,’ asked Barnaby; ‘eh? Why do they tread so closely on each other’s heels, and why are they always in a hurry—which is what you blame me for, when I only take pattern by these busy folk about me? More of ‘em! catching to each other’s skirts; and as fast as they go, others come! What a merry dance it is! I would that Grip and I could frisk like that!’

‘What has he in that basket at his back?’ asked the guest after a few moments, during which Barnaby was still bending down to look higher up the chimney, and earnestly watching the smoke.

‘In this?’ he answered, jumping up, before John Willet could reply—shaking it as he spoke, and stooping his head to listen. ‘In this! What is there here? Tell him!’

‘A devil, a devil, a devil!’ cried a hoarse voice.

‘Here’s money!’ said Barnaby, chinking it in his hand, ‘money for a treat, Grip!’

‘Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!’ replied the raven, ‘keep up your spirits. Never say die. Bow, wow, wow!’

Mr Willet, who appeared to entertain strong doubts whether a customer in a laced coat and fine linen could be supposed to have any acquaintance even with the existence of such unpolite gentry as the bird claimed to belong to, took Barnaby off at this juncture, with the view of preventing any other improper declarations, and quitted the room with his very best bow.