Friday, November 9, 2007


Tales and Fantasies by Robert Louis Stevenson

Tales and Fantasies
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Misadventures of John Nicholson
The Body-Snatcher
The Story of a Lie
JOHN VAREY NICHOLSON was stupid; yet, stupider men than he
are now sprawling in Parliament, and lauding themselves as
the authors of their own distinction. He was of a fat habit,
even from boyhood, and inclined to a cheerful and cursory
reading of the face of life; and possibly this attitude of
mind was the original cause of his misfortunes. Beyond this
hint philosophy is silent on his career, and superstition
steps in with the more ready explanation that he was detested
of the gods.
His father - that iron gentleman - had long ago enthroned
himself on the heights of the Disruption Principles. What
these are (and in spite of their grim name they are quite
innocent) no array of terms would render thinkable to the
merely English intelligence; but to the Scot they often prove
unctuously nourishing, and Mr. Nicholson found in them the
milk of lions. About the period when the churches convene at
Edinburgh in their annual assemblies, he was to be seen
descending the Mound in the company of divers red-headed
clergymen: these voluble, he only contributing oracular nods,
brief negatives, and the austere spectacle of his stretched
upper lip. The names of Candlish and Begg were frequent in
these interviews, and occasionally the talk ran on the
Residuary Establishment and the doings of one Lee. A
stranger to the tight little theological kingdom of Scotland
might have listened and gathered literally nothing. And Mr.
Nicholson (who was not a dull man) knew this, and raged at
it. He knew there was a vast world outside, to whom
Disruption Principles were as the chatter of tree-top apes;
the paper brought him chill whiffs from it; he had met
Englishmen who had asked lightly if he did not belong to the
Church of Scotland, and then had failed to be much interested
by his elucidation of that nice point; it was an evil, wild,
rebellious world, lying sunk in DOZENEDNESS, for nothing
short of a Scots word will paint this Scotsman's feelings.
And when he entered into his own house in Randolph Crescent
(south side), and shut the door behind him, his heart swelled
with security. Here, at least, was a citadel impregnable by
right-hand defections or left-hand extremes. Here was a
family where prayers came at the same hour, where the Sabbath
literature was unimpeachably selected, where the guest who
should have leaned to any false opinion was instantly set
down, and over which there reigned all week, and grew denser
on Sundays, a silence that was agreeable to his ear, and a
gloom that he found comfortable.
Mrs. Nicholson had died about thirty, and left him with three
children: a daughter two years, and a son about eight years
younger than John; and John himself, the unlucky bearer of a
name infamous in English history. The daughter, Maria, was a
good girl - dutiful, pious, dull, but so easily startled that
to speak to her was quite a perilous enterprise. 'I don't
think I care to talk about that, if you please,' she would
say, and strike the boldest speechless by her unmistakable
pain; this upon all topics - dress, pleasure, morality,
politics, in which the formula was changed to 'my papa thinks
otherwise,' and even religion, unless it was approached with
a particular whining tone of voice. Alexander, the younger
brother, was sickly, clever, fond of books and drawing, and
full of satirical remarks. In the midst of these, imagine
that natural, clumsy, unintelligent, and mirthful animal,
John; mighty well-behaved in comparison with other lads,
although not up to the mark of the house in Randolph
Crescent; full of a sort of blundering affection, full of
caresses, which were never very warmly received; full of
sudden and loud laughter which rang out in that still house
like curses. Mr. Nicholson himself had a great fund of
humour, of the Scots order - intellectual, turning on the
observation of men; his own character, for instance - if he
could have seen it in another - would have been a rare feast
to him; but his son's empty guffaws over a broken plate, and
empty, almost light-hearted remarks, struck him with pain as
the indices of a weak mind.
Outside the family John had early attached himself (much as a
dog may follow a marquis) to the steps of Alan Houston, a lad
about a year older than himself, idle, a trifle wild, the
heir to a good estate which was still in the hands of a
rigorous trustee, and so royally content with himself that he
took John's devotion as a thing of course. The intimacy was
gall to Mr. Nicholson; it took his son from the house, and he
was a jealous parent; it kept him from the office, and he was
a martinet; lastly, Mr. Nicholson was ambitious for his
family (in which, and the Disruption Principles, he entirely
lived), and he hated to see a son of his play second fiddle
to an idler. After some hesitation, he ordered that the
friendship should cease - an unfair command, though seemingly
inspired by the spirit of prophecy; and John, saying nothing,
continued to disobey the order under the rose.
John was nearly nineteen when he was one day dismissed rather
earlier than usual from his father's office, where he was
studying the practice of the law. It was Saturday; and
except that he had a matter of four hundred pounds in his
pocket which it was his duty to hand over to the British
Linen Company's Bank, he had the whole afternoon at his
disposal. He went by Princes Street enjoying the mild
sunshine, and the little thrill of easterly wind that tossed
the flags along that terrace of palaces, and tumbled the
green trees in the garden. The band was playing down in the
valley under the castle; and when it came to the turn of the
pipers, he heard their wild sounds with a stirring of the
blood. Something distantly martial woke in him; and he
thought of Miss Mackenzie, whom he was to meet that day at
Now, it is undeniable that he should have gone directly to
the bank, but right in the way stood the billiard-room of the
hotel where Alan was almost certain to be found; and the
temptation proved too strong. He entered the billiard-room,
and was instantly greeted by his friend, cue in hand.
'Nicholson,' said he, 'I want you to lend me a pound or two
till Monday.'
'You've come to the right shop, haven't you?' returned John.
'I have twopence.'
'Nonsense,' said Alan. 'You can get some. Go and borrow at
your tailor's; they all do it. Or I'll tell you what: pop
your watch.'
'Oh, yes, I dare say,' said John. 'And how about my father?'
'How is he to know? He doesn't wind it up for you at night,
does he?' inquired Alan, at which John guffawed. 'No,
seriously; I am in a fix,' continued the tempter. 'I have
lost some money to a man here. I'll give it you to-night,
and you can get the heir-loom out again on Monday. Come;
it's a small service, after all. I would do a good deal more
for you.'
Whereupon John went forth, and pawned his gold watch under
the assumed name of John Froggs, 85 Pleasance. But the
nervousness that assailed him at the door of that inglorious
haunt - a pawnshop - and the effort necessary to invent the
pseudonym (which, somehow, seemed to him a necessary part of
the procedure), had taken more time than he imagined: and
when he returned to the billiard-room with the spoils, the
bank had already closed its doors.
This was a shrewd knock. 'A piece of business had been
neglected.' He heard these words in his father's trenchant
voice, and trembled, and then dodged the thought. After all,
who was to know? He must carry four hundred pounds about
with him till Monday, when the neglect could be
surreptitiously repaired; and meanwhile, he was free to pass
the afternoon on the encircling divan of the billiard-room,
smoking his pipe, sipping a pint of ale, and enjoying to the
masthead the modest pleasures of admiration.
None can admire like a young man. Of all youth's passions
and pleasures, this is the most common and least alloyed; and
every flash of Alan's black eyes; every aspect of his curly
head; every graceful reach, every easy, stand-off attitude of
waiting; ay, and down to his shirt-sleeves and wrist-links,
were seen by John through a luxurious glory. He valued
himself by the possession of that royal friend, hugged
himself upon the thought, and swam in warm azure; his own
defects, like vanquished difficulties, becoming things on
which to plume himself. Only when he thought of Miss
Mackenzie there fell upon his mind a shadow of regret; that
young lady was worthy of better things than plain John
Nicholson, still known among schoolmates by the derisive name
of 'Fatty'; and he felt, if he could chalk a cue, or stand at
ease, with such a careless grace as Alan, he could approach
the object of his sentiments with a less crushing sense of
Before they parted, Alan made a proposal that was startling
in the extreme. He would be at Colette's that night about
twelve, he said. Why should not John come there and get the
money? To go to Colette's was to see life, indeed; it was
wrong; it was against the laws; it partook, in a very dingy
manner, of adventure. Were it known, it was the sort of
exploit that disconsidered a young man for good with the more
serious classes, but gave him a standing with the riotous.
And yet Colette's was not a hell; it could not come, without
vaulting hyperbole, under the rubric of a gilded saloon; and,
if it was a sin to go there, the sin was merely local and
municipal. Colette (whose name I do not know how to spell,
for I was never in epistolary communication with that
hospitable outlaw) was simply an unlicensed publican, who
gave suppers after eleven at night, the Edinburgh hour of
closing. If you belonged to a club, you could get a much
better supper at the same hour, and lose not a jot in public
esteem. But if you lacked that qualification, and were an
hungered, or inclined toward conviviality at unlawful hours,
Colette's was your only port. You were very ill-supplied.
The company was not recruited from the Senate or the Church,
though the Bar was very well represented on the only occasion
on which I flew in the face of my country's laws, and, taking
my reputation in my hand, penetrated into that grim supperhouse.
And Colette's frequenters, thrillingly conscious of
wrong-doing and 'that two-handed engine (the policeman) at
the door,' were perhaps inclined to somewhat feverish excess.
But the place was in no sense a very bad one; and it is
somewhat strange to me, at this distance of time, how it had
acquired its dangerous repute.
In precisely the same spirit as a man may debate a project to
ascend the Matterhorn or to cross Africa, John considered
Alan's proposal, and, greatly daring, accepted it. As he
walked home, the thoughts of this excursion out of the safe
places of life into the wild and arduous, stirred and
struggled in his imagination with the image of Miss Mackenzie
- incongruous and yet kindred thoughts, for did not each
imply unusual tightening of the pegs of resolution? did not
each woo him forth and warn him back again into himself?
Between these two considerations, at least, he was more than
usually moved; and when he got to Randolph Crescent, he quite
forgot the four hundred pounds in the inner pocket of his
greatcoat, hung up the coat, with its rich freight, upon his
particular pin of the hatstand; and in the very action sealed
his doom.
ABOUT half-past ten it was John's brave good fortune to offer
his arm to Miss Mackenzie, and escort her home. The night
was chill and starry; all the way eastward the trees of the
different gardens rustled and looked black. Up the stone
gully of Leith Walk, when they came to cross it, the breeze
made a rush and set the flames of the street-lamps quavering;
and when at last they had mounted to the Royal Terrace, where
Captain Mackenzie lived, a great salt freshness came in their
faces from the sea. These phases of the walk remained
written on John's memory, each emphasised by the touch of
that light hand on his arm; and behind all these aspects of
the nocturnal city he saw, in his mind's-eye, a picture of
the lighted drawing-room at home where he had sat talking
with Flora; and his father, from the other end, had looked on
with a kind and ironical smile. John had read the
significance of that smile, which might have escaped a
stranger. Mr. Nicholson had remarked his son's entanglement
with satisfaction, tinged by humour; and his smile, if it
still was a thought contemptuous, had implied consent.
At the captain's door the girl held out her hand, with a
certain emphasis; and John took it and kept it a little
longer, and said, 'Good-night, Flora, dear,' and was
instantly thrown into much fear by his presumption. But she
only laughed, ran up the steps, and rang the bell; and while
she was waiting for the door to open, kept close in the
porch, and talked to him from that point as out of a
fortification. She had a knitted shawl over her head; her
blue Highland eyes took the light from the neighbouring
street-lamp and sparkled; and when the door opened and closed
upon her, John felt cruelly alone.
He proceeded slowly back along the terrace in a tender glow;
and when he came to Greenside Church, he halted in a doubtful
mind. Over the crown of the Calton Hill, to his left, lay
the way to Colette's, where Alan would soon be looking for
his arrival, and where he would now have no more consented to
go than he would have wilfully wallowed in a bog; the touch
of the girl's hand on his sleeve, and the kindly light in his
father's eyes, both loudly forbidding. But right before him
was the way home, which pointed only to bed, a place of
little ease for one whose fancy was strung to the lyrical
pitch, and whose not very ardent heart was just then
tumultuously moved. The hilltop, the cool air of the night,
the company of the great monuments, the sight of the city
under his feet, with its hills and valleys and crossing files
of lamps, drew him by all he had of the poetic, and he turned
that way; and by that quite innocent deflection, ripened the
crop of his venial errors for the sickle of destiny.
On a seat on the hill above Greenside he sat for perhaps half
an hour, looking down upon the lamps of Edinburgh, and up at
the lamps of heaven. Wonderful were the resolves he formed;
beautiful and kindly were the vistas of future life that sped
before him. He uttered to himself the name of Flora in so
many touching and dramatic keys, that he became at length
fairly melted with tenderness, and could have sung aloud. At
that juncture a certain creasing in his greatcoat caught his
ear. He put his hand into his pocket, pulled forth the
envelope that held the money, and sat stupefied. The Calton
Hill, about this period, had an ill name of nights; and to be
sitting there with four hundred pounds that did not belong to
him was hardly wise. He looked up. There was a man in a
very bad hat a little on one side of him, apparently looking
at the scenery; from a little on the other a second nightwalker
was drawing very quietly near. Up jumped John. The
envelope fell from his hands; he stooped to get it, and at
the same moment both men ran in and closed with him.
A little after, he got to his feet very sore and shaken, the
poorer by a purse which contained exactly one penny postagestamp,
by a cambric handkerchief, and by the all-important
Here was a young man on whom, at the highest point of lovely
exaltation, there had fallen a blow too sharp to be supported
alone; and not many hundred yards away his greatest friend
was sitting at supper - ay, and even expecting him. Was it
not in the nature of man that he should run there? He went
in quest of sympathy - in quest of that droll article that we
all suppose ourselves to want when in a strait, and have
agreed to call advice; and he went, besides, with vague but
rather splendid expectations of relief. Alan was rich, or
would be so when he came of age. By a stroke of the pen he
might remedy this misfortune, and avert that dreaded
interview with Mr. Nicholson, from which John now shrunk in
imagination as the hand draws back from fire.
Close under the Calton Hill there runs a certain narrow
avenue, part street, part by-road. The head of it faces the
doors of the prison; its tail descends into the sunless slums
of the Low Calton. On one hand it is overhung by the crags
of the hill, on the other by an old graveyard. Between these
two the roadway runs in a trench, sparsely lighted at night,
sparsely frequented by day, and bordered, when it was cleared
the place of tombs, by dingy and ambiguous houses. One of
these was the house of Colette; and at his door our illstarred
John was presently beating for admittance. In an
evil hour he satisfied the jealous inquiries of the
contraband hotel-keeper; in an evil hour he penetrated into
the somewhat unsavoury interior. Alan, to be sure, was
there, seated in a room lighted by noisy gas-jets, beside a
dirty table-cloth, engaged on a coarse meal, and in the
company of several tipsy members of the junior bar. But Alan
was not sober; he had lost a thousand pounds upon a horserace,
had received the news at dinner-time, and was now, in
default of any possible means of extrication, drowning the
memory of his predicament. He to help John! The thing was
impossible; he couldn't help himself.
'If you have a beast of a father,' said he, 'I can tell you I
have a brute of a trustee.'
'I'm not going to hear my father called a beast,' said John
with a beating heart, feeling that he risked the last sound
rivet of the chain that bound him to life.
But Alan was quite good-natured.
'All right, old fellow,' said he. 'Mos' respec'able man your
father.' And he introduced his friend to his companions as
'old Nicholson the what-d'ye-call-um's son.'
John sat in dumb agony. Colette's foul walls and maculate
table-linen, and even down to Colette's villainous casters,
seemed like objects in a nightmare. And just then there came
a knock and a scurrying; the police, so lamentably absent
from the Calton Hill, appeared upon the scene; and the party,
taken FLAGRANTE DELICTO, with their glasses at their elbow,
were seized, marched up to the police office, and all duly
summoned to appear as witnesses in the consequent case
against that arch-shebeener, Colette.
It was a sorrowful and a mightily sobered company that came
forth again. The vague terror of public opinion weighed
generally on them all; but there were private and particular
horrors on the minds of individuals. Alan stood in dread of
his trustee, already sorely tried. One of the group was the
son of a country minister, another of a judge; John, the
unhappiest of all, had David Nicholson to father, the idea of
facing whom on such a scandalous subject was physically
sickening. They stood awhile consulting under the buttresses
of Saint Giles; thence they adjourned to the lodgings of one
of the number in North Castle Street, where (for that matter)
they might have had quite as good a supper, and far better
drink, than in the dangerous paradise from which they had
been routed. There, over an almost tearful glass, they
debated their position. Each explained he had the world to
lose if the affair went on, and he appeared as a witness. It
was remarkable what bright prospects were just then in the
very act of opening before each of that little company of
youths, and what pious consideration for the feelings of
their families began now to well from them. Each, moreover,
was in an odd state of destitution. Not one could bear his
share of the fine; not one but evinced a wonderful twinkle of
hope that each of the others (in succession) was the very man
who could step in to make good the deficit. One took a high
hand; he could not pay his share; if it went to a trial, he
should bolt; he had always felt the English Bar to be his
true sphere. Another branched out into touching details
about his family, and was not listened to. John, in the
midst of this disorderly competition of poverty and meanness,
sat stunned, contemplating the mountain bulk of his
At last, upon a pledge that each should apply to his family
with a common frankness, this convention of unhappy young
asses broke up, went down the common stair, and in the grey
of the spring morning, with the streets lying dead empty all
about them, the lamps burning on into the daylight in
diminished lustre, and the birds beginning to sound
premonitory notes from the groves of the town gardens, went
each his own way with bowed head and echoing footfall.
The rooks were awake in Randolph Crescent; but the windows
looked down, discreetly blinded, on the return of the
prodigal. John's pass-key was a recent privilege; this was
the first time it had been used; and, oh! with what a
sickening sense of his unworthiness he now inserted it into
the well-oiled lock and entered that citadel of the
proprieties! All slept; the gas in the hall had been left
faintly burning to light his return; a dreadful stillness
reigned, broken by the deep ticking of the eight-day clock.
He put the gas out, and sat on a chair in the hall, waiting
and counting the minutes, longing for any human countenance.
But when at last he heard the alarm spring its rattle in the
lower story, and the servants begin to be about, he instantly
lost heart, and fled to his own room, where he threw himself
upon the bed.
SHORTLY after breakfast, at which he assisted with a highly
tragical countenance, John sought his father where he sat,
presumably in religious meditation, on the Sabbath mornings.
The old gentleman looked up with that sour, inquisitive
expression that came so near to smiling and was so different
in effect.
'This is a time when I do not like to be disturbed,' he said.
'I know that,' returned John; 'but I have - I want - I've
made a dreadful mess of it,' he broke out, and turned to the
Mr. Nicholson sat silent for an appreciable time, while his
unhappy son surveyed the poles in the back green, and a
certain yellow cat that was perched upon the wall. Despair
sat upon John as he gazed; and he raged to think of the
dreadful series of his misdeeds, and the essential innocence
that lay behind them.
'Well,' said the father, with an obvious effort, but in very
quiet tones, 'what is it?'
'Maclean gave me four hundred pounds to put in the bank,
sir,' began John; 'and I'm sorry to say that I've been robbed
of it!'
'Robbed of it?' cried Mr. Nicholson, with a strong rising
inflection. 'Robbed? Be careful what you say, John!'
'I can't say anything else, sir; I was just robbed of it,'
said John, in desperation, sullenly.
'And where and when did this extraordinary event take place?'
inquired the father.
'On the Calton Hill about twelve last night.'
'The Calton Hill?' repeated Mr. Nicholson. 'And what were
you doing there at such a time of the night?'
'Nothing, sir,' says John.
Mr. Nicholson drew in his breath.
'And how came the money in your hands at twelve last night?'
he asked, sharply.
'I neglected that piece of business,' said John, anticipating
comment; and then in his own dialect: 'I clean forgot all
about it.'
'Well,' said his father, 'it's a most extraordinary story.
Have you communicated with the police?'
'I have,' answered poor John, the blood leaping to his face.
'They think they know the men that did it. I dare say the
money will be recovered, if that was all,' said he, with a
desperate indifference, which his father set down to levity;
but which sprung from the consciousness of worse behind.
'Your mother's watch, too?' asked Mr. Nicholson.
'Oh, the watch is all right!' cried John. 'At least, I mean
I was coming to the watch - the fact is, I am ashamed to say,
I - I had pawned the watch before. Here is the ticket; they
didn't find that; the watch can be redeemed; they don't sell
pledges.' The lad panted out these phrases, one after
another, like minute guns; but at the last word, which rang
in that stately chamber like an oath, his heart failed him
utterly; and the dreaded silence settled on father and son.
It was broken by Mr. Nicholson picking up the pawn-ticket:
'John Froggs, 85 Pleasance,' he read; and then turning upon
John, with a brief flash of passion and disgust, 'Who is John
Froggs?' he cried.
'Nobody,' said John. 'It was just a name.'
'An ALIAS,' his father commented.
'Oh! I think scarcely quite that,' said the culprit; 'it's a
form, they all do it, the man seemed to understand, we had a
great deal of fun over the name - '
He paused at that, for he saw his father wince at the picture
like a man physically struck; and again there was silence.
'I do not think,' said Mr. Nicholson, at last, 'that I am an
ungenerous father. I have never grudged you money within
reason, for any avowable purpose; you had just to come to me
and speak. And now I find that you have forgotten all
decency and all natural feeling, and actually pawned - pawned
- your mother's watch. You must have had some temptation; I
will do you the justice to suppose it was a strong one. What
did you want with this money?'
'I would rather not tell you, sir,' said John. 'It will only
make you angry.'
'I will not be fenced with,' cried his father. 'There must
be an end of disingenuous answers. What did you want with
this money?'
'To lend it to Houston, sir,' says John.
'I thought I had forbidden you to speak to that young man?'
asked the father.
'Yes, sir,' said John; 'but I only met him.'
'Where?' came the deadly question.
And 'In a billiard-room' was the damning answer. Thus, had
John's single departure from the truth brought instant
punishment. For no other purpose but to see Alan would he
have entered a billiard-room; but he had desired to palliate
the fact of his disobedience, and now it appeared that he
frequented these disreputable haunts upon his own account.
Once more Mr. Nicholson digested the vile tidings in silence,
and when John stole a glance at his father's countenance, he
was abashed to see the marks of suffering.
'Well,' said the old gentleman, at last, 'I cannot pretend
not to be simply bowed down. I rose this morning what the
world calls a happy man - happy, at least, in a son of whom I
thought I could be reasonably proud - '
But it was beyond human nature to endure this longer, and
John interrupted almost with a scream. 'Oh, wheest!' he
cried, 'that's not all, that's not the worst of it - it's
nothing! How could I tell you were proud of me? Oh! I
wish, I wish that I had known; but you always said I was such
a disgrace! And the dreadful thing is this: we were all
taken up last night, and we have to pay Colette's fine among
the six, or we'll be had up for evidence - shebeening it is.
They made me swear to tell you; but for my part,' he cried,
bursting into tears, 'I just wish that I was dead!' And he
fell on his knees before a chair and hid his face.
Whether his father spoke, or whether he remained long in the
room or at once departed, are points lost to history. A
horrid turmoil of mind and body; bursting sobs; broken,
vanishing thoughts, now of indignation, now of remorse;
broken elementary whiffs of consciousness, of the smell of
the horse-hair on the chair bottom, of the jangling of church
bells that now began to make day horrible throughout the
confines of the city, of the hard floor that bruised his
knees, of the taste of tears that found their way into his
mouth: for a period of time, the duration of which I cannot
guess, while I refuse to dwell longer on its agony, these
were the whole of God's world for John Nicholson.
When at last, as by the touching of a spring, he returned
again to clearness of consciousness and even a measure of
composure, the bells had but just done ringing, and the
Sabbath silence was still marred by the patter of belated
feet. By the clock above the fire, as well as by these more
speaking signs, the service had not long begun; and the
unhappy sinner, if his father had really gone to church,
might count on near two hours of only comparative
unhappiness. With his father, the superlative degree
returned infallibly. He knew it by every shrinking fibre in
his body, he knew it by the sudden dizzy whirling of his
brain, at the mere thought of that calamity. An hour and a
half, perhaps an hour and three-quarters, if the doctor was
long-winded, and then would begin again that active agony
from which, even in the dull ache of the present, he shrunk
as from the bite of fire. He saw, in a vision, the family
pew, the somnolent cushions, the Bibles, the psalm-books,
Maria with her smelling-salts, his father sitting spectacled
and critical; and at once he was struck with indignation, not
unjustly. It was inhuman to go off to church, and leave a
sinner in suspense, unpunished, unforgiven. And at the very
touch of criticism, the paternal sanctity was lessened; yet
the paternal terror only grew; and the two strands of feeling
pushed him in the same direction.
And suddenly there came upon him a mad fear lest his father
should have locked him in. The notion had no ground in
sense; it was probably no more than a reminiscence of similar
calamities in childhood, for his father's room had always
been the chamber of inquisition and the scene of punishment;
but it stuck so rigorously in his mind that he must instantly
approach the door and prove its untruth. As he went, he
struck upon a drawer left open in the business table. It was
the money-drawer, a measure of his father's disarray: the
money-drawer - perhaps a pointing providence! Who is to
decide, when even divines differ between a providence and a
temptation? or who, sitting calmly under his own vine, is to
pass a judgment on the doings of a poor, hunted dog,
slavishly afraid, slavishly rebellious, like John Nicholson
on that particular Sunday? His hand was in the drawer,
almost before his mind had conceived the hope; and rising to
his new situation, he wrote, sitting in his father's chair
and using his father's blotting-pad, his pitiful apology and
'MY DEAR FATHER, - I have taken the money, but I will pay it
back as soon as I am able. You will never hear of me again.
I did not mean any harm by anything, so I hope you will try
and forgive me. I wish you would say good-bye to Alexander
and Maria, but not if you don't want to. I could not wait to
see you, really. Please try to forgive me. Your
affectionate son,
The coins abstracted and the missive written, he could not be
gone too soon from the scene of these transgressions; and
remembering how his father had once returned from church, on
some slight illness, in the middle of the second psalm, he
durst not even make a packet of a change of clothes. Attired
as he was, he slipped from the paternal doors, and found
himself in the cool spring air, the thin spring sunshine, and
the great Sabbath quiet of the city, which was now only
pointed by the cawing of the rooks. There was not a soul in
Randolph Crescent, nor a soul in Queensferry Street; in this
outdoor privacy and the sense of escape, John took heart
again; and with a pathetic sense of leave-taking, he even
ventured up the lane and stood awhile, a strange peri at the
gates of a quaint paradise, by the west end of St. George's
Church. They were singing within; and by a strange chance,
the tune was 'St. George's, Edinburgh,' which bears the name,
and was first sung in the choir of that church. 'Who is this
King of Glory?' went the voices from within; and, to John,
this was like the end of all Christian observances, for he
was now to be a wild man like Ishmael, and his life was to be
cast in homeless places and with godless people.
It was thus, with no rising sense of the adventurous, but in
mere desolation and despair, that he turned his back on his
native city, and set out on foot for California, with a more
immediate eye to Glasgow.
IT is no part of mine to narrate the adventures of John
Nicholson, which were many, but simply his more momentous
misadventures, which were more than he desired, and, by human
standards, more than he deserved; how he reached California,
how he was rooked, and robbed, and beaten, and starved; how
he was at last taken up by charitable folk, restored to some
degree of self-complacency, and installed as a clerk in a
bank in San Francisco, it would take too long to tell; nor in
these episodes were there any marks of the peculiar
Nicholsonic destiny, for they were just such matters as
befell some thousands of other young adventurers in the same
days and places. But once posted in the bank, he fell for a
time into a high degree of good fortune, which, as it was
only a longer way about to fresh disaster, it behooves me to
It was his luck to meet a young man in what is technically
called a 'dive,' and thanks to his monthly wages, to
extricate this new acquaintance from a position of present
disgrace and possible danger in the future. This young man
was the nephew of one of the Nob Hill magnates, who run the
San Francisco Stock Exchange, much as more humble
adventurers, in the corner of some public park at home, may
be seen to perform the simple artifice of pea and thimble:
for their own profit, that is to say, and the discouragement
of public gambling. It was thus in his power - and, as he
was of grateful temper, it was among the things that he
desired - to put John in the way of growing rich; and thus,
without thought or industry, or so much as even understanding
the game at which he played, but by simply buying and selling
what he was told to buy and sell, that plaything of fortune
was presently at the head of between eleven and twelve
thousand pounds, or, as he reckoned it, of upward of sixty
thousand dollars.
How he had come to deserve this wealth, any more than how he
had formerly earned disgrace at home, was a problem beyond
the reach of his philosophy. It was true that he had been
industrious at the bank, but no more so than the cashier, who
had seven small children and was visibly sinking in decline.
Nor was the step which had determined his advance - a visit
to a dive with a month's wages in his pocket - an act of such
transcendent virtue, or even wisdom, as to seem to merit the
favour of the gods. From some sense of this, and of the
dizzy see-saw - heaven-high, hell-deep - on which men sit
clutching; or perhaps fearing that the sources of his fortune
might be insidiously traced to some root in the field of
petty cash; he stuck to his work, said not a word of his new
circumstances, and kept his account with a bank in a
different quarter of the town. The concealment, innocent as
it seems, was the first step in the second tragicomedy of
John's existence.
Meanwhile, he had never written home. Whether from
diffidence or shame, or a touch of anger, or mere
procrastination, or because (as we have seen) he had no skill
in literary arts, or because (as I am sometimes tempted to
suppose) there is a law in human nature that prevents young
men - not otherwise beasts - from the performance of this
simple act of piety - months and years had gone by, and John
had never written. The habit of not writing, indeed, was
already fixed before he had begun to come into his fortune;
and it was only the difficulty of breaking this long silence
that withheld him from an instant restitution of the money he
had stolen or (as he preferred to call it) borrowed. In vain
he sat before paper, attending on inspiration; that heavenly
nymph, beyond suggesting the words 'my dear father,' remained
obstinately silent; and presently John would crumple up the
sheet and decide, as soon as he had 'a good chance,' to carry
the money home in person. And this delay, which is
indefensible, was his second step into the snares of fortune.
Ten years had passed, and John was drawing near to thirty.
He had kept the promise of his boyhood, and was now of a
lusty frame, verging toward corpulence; good features, good
eyes, a genial manner, a ready laugh, a long pair of sandy
whiskers, a dash of an American accent, a close familiarity
with the great American joke, and a certain likeness to a Ry-
l P-rs-n-ge, who shall remain nameless for me, made up the
man's externals as he could be viewed in society. Inwardly,
in spite of his gross body and highly masculine whiskers, he
was more like a maiden lady than a man of twenty-nine.
It chanced one day, as he was strolling down Market Street on
the eve of his fortnight's holiday, that his eye was caught
by certain railway bills, and in very idleness of mind he
calculated that he might be home for Christmas if he started
on the morrow. The fancy thrilled him with desire, and in
one moment he decided he would go.
There was much to be done: his portmanteau to be packed, a
credit to be got from the bank where he was a wealthy
customer, and certain offices to be transacted for that other
bank in which he was an humble clerk; and it chanced, in
conformity with human nature, that out of all this business
it was the last that came to be neglected. Night found him,
not only equipped with money of his own, but once more (as on
that former occasion) saddled with a considerable sum of
other people's.
Now it chanced there lived in the same boarding-house a
fellow-clerk of his, an honest fellow, with what is called a
weakness for drink - though it might, in this case, have been
called a strength, for the victim had been drunk for weeks
together without the briefest intermission. To this
unfortunate John intrusted a letter with an inclosure of
bonds, addressed to the bank manager. Even as he did so he
thought he perceived a certain haziness of eye and speech in
his trustee; but he was too hopeful to be stayed, silenced
the voice of warning in his bosom, and with one and the same
gesture committed the money to the clerk, and himself into
the hands of destiny.
I dwell, even at the risk of tedium, on John's minutest
errors, his case being so perplexing to the moralist; but we
have done with them now, the roll is closed, the reader has
the worst of our poor hero, and I leave him to judge for
himself whether he or John has been the less deserving.
Henceforth we have to follow the spectacle of a man who was a
mere whip-top for calamity; on whose unmerited misadventures
not even the humourist can look without pity, and not even
the philosopher without alarm.
That same night the clerk entered upon a bout of drunkenness
so consistent as to surprise even his intimate acquaintance.
He was speedily ejected from the boarding-house; deposited
his portmanteau with a perfect stranger, who did not even
catch his name; wandered he knew not where, and was at last
hove-to, all standing, in a hospital at Sacramento. There,
under the impenetrable ALIAS of the number of his bed, the
crapulous being lay for some more days unconscious of all
things, and of one thing in particular: that the police were
after him. Two months had come and gone before the
convalescent in the Sacramento hospital was identified with
Kirkman, the absconding San Francisco clerk; even then, there
must elapse nearly a fortnight more till the perfect stranger
could be hunted up, the portmanteau recovered, and John's
letter carried at length to its destination, the seal still
unbroken, the inclosure still intact.
Meanwhile, John had gone upon his holidays without a word,
which was irregular; and there had disappeared with him a
certain sum of money, which was out of all bounds of
palliation. But he was known to be careless, and believed to
be honest; the manager besides had a regard for him; and
little was said, although something was no doubt thought,
until the fortnight was finally at an end, and the time had
come for John to reappear. Then, indeed, the affair began to
look black; and when inquiries were made, and the penniless
clerk was found to have amassed thousands of dollars, and
kept them secretly in a rival establishment, the stoutest of
his friends abandoned him, the books were overhauled for
traces of ancient and artful fraud, and though none were
found, there still prevailed a general impression of loss.
The telegraph was set in motion; and the correspondent of the
bank in Edinburgh, for which place it was understood that
John had armed himself with extensive credits, was warned to
communicate with the police.
Now this correspondent was a friend of Mr. Nicholson's; he
was well acquainted with the tale of John's calamitous
disappearance from Edinburgh; and putting one thing with
another, hasted with the first word of this scandal, not to
the police, but to his friend. The old gentleman had long
regarded his son as one dead; John's place had been taken,
the memory of his faults had already fallen to be one of
those old aches, which awaken again indeed upon occasion, but
which we can always vanquish by an effort of the will; and to
have the long lost resuscitated in a fresh disgrace was
doubly bitter.
'Macewen,' said the old man, 'this must be hushed up, if
possible. If I give you a cheek for this sum, about which
they are certain, could you take it on yourself to let the
matter rest?'
'I will,' said Macewen. 'I will take the risk of it.'
'You understand,' resumed Mr. Nicholson, speaking precisely,
but with ashen lips, 'I do this for my family, not for that
unhappy young man. If it should turn out that these
suspicions are correct, and he has embezzled large sums, he
must lie on his bed as he has made it.' And then looking up
at Macewen with a nod, and one of his strange smiles: 'Goodbye,'
said he, and Macewen, perceiving the case to be too
grave for consolation, took himself off, and blessed God on
his way home that he was childless.
BY a little after noon on the eve of Christmas, John had left
his portmanteau in the cloak-room, and stepped forth into
Princes Street with a wonderful expansion of the soul, such
as men enjoy on the completion of long-nourished schemes. He
was at home again, incognito and rich; presently he could
enter his father's house by means of the pass-key, which he
had piously preserved through all his wanderings; he would
throw down the borrowed money; there would be a
reconciliation, the details of which he frequently arranged;
and he saw himself, during the next month, made welcome in
many stately houses at many frigid dinner-parties, taking his
share in the conversation with the freedom of the man and the
traveller, and laying down the law upon finance with the
authority of the successful investor. But this programme was
not to be begun before evening - not till just before dinner,
indeed, at which meal the reassembled family were to sit
roseate, and the best wine, the modern fatted calf, should
flow for the prodigal's return.
Meanwhile he walked familiar streets, merry reminiscences
crowding round him, sad ones also, both with the same
surprising pathos. The keen frosty air; the low, rosy,
wintry sun; the castle, hailing him like an old acquaintance;
the names of friends on door-plates; the sight of friends
whom he seemed to recognise, and whom he eagerly avoided, in
the streets; the pleasant chant of the north-country accent;
the dome of St. George's reminding him of his last
penitential moments in the lane, and of that King of Glory
whose name had echoed ever since in the saddest corner of his
memory; and the gutters where he had learned to slide, and
the shop where he had bought his skates, and the stones on
which he had trod, and the railings in which he had rattled
his clachan as he went to school; and all those thousand and
one nameless particulars, which the eye sees without noting,
which the memory keeps indeed yet without knowing, and which,
taken one with another, build up for us the aspect of the
place that we call home: all these besieged him, as he went,
with both delight and sadness.
His first visit was for Houston, who had a house on Regent
Terrace, kept for him in old days by an aunt. The door was
opened (to his surprise) upon the chain, and a voice asked
him from within what he wanted.
'I want Mr. Houston - Mr. Alan Houston,' said he.
'And who are ye?' said the voice.
'This is most extraordinary,' thought John; and then aloud he
told his name.
'No' young Mr. John?' cried the voice, with a sudden increase
of Scotch accent, testifying to a friendlier feeling.
'The very same,' said John.
And the old butler removed his defences, remarking only 'I
thocht ye were that man.' But his master was not there; he
was staying, it appeared, at the house in Murrayfield; and
though the butler would have been glad enough to have taken
his place and given all the news of the family, John, struck
with a little chill, was eager to be gone. Only, the door
was scarce closed again, before he regretted that he had not
asked about 'that man.'
He was to pay no more visits till he had seen his father and
made all well at home; Alan had been the only possible
exception, and John had not time to go as far as Murrayfield.
But here he was on Regent Terrace; there was nothing to
prevent him going round the end of the hill, and looking from
without on the Mackenzies' house. As he went, he reflected
that Flora must now be a woman of near his own age, and it
was within the bounds of possibility that she was married;
but this dishonourable doubt he dammed down.
There was the house, sure enough; but the door was of another
colour, and what was this - two door-plates? He drew nearer;
the top one bore, with dignified simplicity, the words, 'Mr.
Proudfoot'; the lower one was more explicit, and informed the
passer-by that here was likewise the abode of 'Mr. J. A.
Dunlop Proudfoot, Advocate.' The Proudfoots must be rich,
for no advocate could look to have much business in so remote
a quarter; and John hated them for their wealth and for their
name, and for the sake of the house they desecrated with
their presence. He remembered a Proudfoot he had seen at
school, not known: a little, whey-faced urchin, the
despicable member of some lower class. Could it be this
abortion that had climbed to be an advocate, and now lived in
the birthplace of Flora and the home of John's tenderest
memories? The chill that had first seized upon him when he
heard of Houston's absence deepened and struck inward. For a
moment, as he stood under the doors of that estranged house,
and looked east and west along the solitary pavement of the
Royal Terrace, where not a cat was stirring, the sense of
solitude and desolation took him by the throat, and he wished
himself in San Francisco.
And then the figure he made, with his decent portliness, his
whiskers, the money in his purse, the excellent cigar that he
now lighted, recurred to his mind in consolatory comparison
with that of a certain maddened lad who, on a certain spring
Sunday ten years before, and in the hour of church-time
silence, had stolen from that city by the Glasgow road. In
the face of these changes, it were impious to doubt fortune's
kindness. All would be well yet; the Mackenzies would be
found, Flora, younger and lovelier and kinder than before;
Alan would be found, and would have so nicely discriminated
his behaviour as to have grown, on the one hand, into a
valued friend of Mr. Nicholson's, and to have remained, upon
the other, of that exact shade of joviality which John
desired in his companions. And so, once more, John fell to
work discounting the delightful future: his first appearance
in the family pew; his first visit to his uncle Greig, who
thought himself so great a financier, and on whose purblind
Edinburgh eyes John was to let in the dazzling daylight of
the West; and the details in general of that unrivalled
transformation scene, in which he was to display to all
Edinburgh a portly and successful gentleman in the shoes of
the derided fugitive.
The time began to draw near when his father would have
returned from the office, and it would be the prodigal's cue
to enter. He strolled westward by Albany Street, facing the
sunset embers, pleased, he knew not why, to move in that cold
air and indigo twilight, starred with street-lamps. But
there was one more disenchantment waiting him by the way.
At the corner of Pitt Street he paused to light a fresh
cigar; the vesta threw, as he did so, a strong light upon his
features, and a man of about his own age stopped at sight of
'I think your name must be Nicholson,' said the stranger.
It was too late to avoid recognition; and besides, as John
was now actually on the way home, it hardly mattered, and he
gave way to the impulse of his nature.
'Great Scott!' he cried, 'Beatson!' and shook hands with
warmth. It scarce seemed he was repaid in kind.
'So you're home again?' said Beatson. 'Where have you been
all this long time?'
'In the States,' said John - 'California. I've made my pile
though; and it suddenly struck me it would be a noble scheme
to come home for Christmas.'
'I see,' said Beatson. 'Well, I hope we'll see something of
you now you're here.'
'Oh, I guess so,' said John, a little frozen.
'Well, ta-ta,' concluded Beatson, and he shook hands again
and went.
This was a cruel first experience. It was idle to blink
facts: here was John home again, and Beatson - Old Beatson -
did not care a rush. He recalled Old Beatson in the past -
that merry and affectionate lad - and their joint adventures
and mishaps, the window they had broken with a catapult in
India Place, the escalade of the castle rock, and many
another inestimable bond of friendship; and his hurt surprise
grew deeper. Well, after all, it was only on a man's own
family that he could count; blood was thicker than water, he
remembered; and the net result of this encounter was to bring
him to the doorstep of his father's house, with tenderer and
softer feelings.
The night had come; the fanlight over the door shone bright;
the two windows of the dining-room where the cloth was being
laid, and the three windows of the drawing-room where Maria
would be waiting dinner, glowed softlier through yellow
blinds. It was like a vision of the past. All this time of
his absence life had gone forward with an equal foot, and the
fires and the gas had been lighted, and the meals spread, at
the accustomed hours. At the accustomed hour, too, the bell
had sounded thrice to call the family to worship. And at the
thought, a pang of regret for his demerit seized him; he
remembered the things that were good and that he had
neglected, and the things that were evil and that he had
loved; and it was with a prayer upon his lips that he mounted
the steps and thrust the key into the key-hole.
He stepped into the lighted hall, shut the door softly behind
him, and stood there fixed in wonder. No surprise of
strangeness could equal the surprise of that complete
familiarity. There was the bust of Chalmers near the stairrailings,
there was the clothes-brush in the accustomed
place; and there, on the hat-stand, hung hats and coats that
must surely be the same as he remembered. Ten years dropped
from his life, as a pin may slip between the fingers; and the
ocean and the mountains, and the mines, and crowded marts and
mingled races of San Francisco, and his own fortune and his
own disgrace, became, for that one moment, the figures of a
dream that was over.
He took off his hat, and moved mechanically toward the stand;
and there he found a small change that was a great one to
him. The pin that had been his from boyhood, where he had
flung his balmoral when he loitered home from the Academy,
and his first hat when he came briskly back from college or
the office - his pin was occupied. 'They might have at least
respected my pin!' he thought, and he was moved as by a
slight, and began at once to recollect that he was here an
interloper, in a strange house, which he had entered almost
by a burglary, and where at any moment he might be
scandalously challenged.
He moved at once, his hat still in his hand, to the door of
his father's room, opened it, and entered. Mr. Nicholson sat
in the same place and posture as on that last Sunday morning;
only he was older, and greyer, and sterner; and as he now
glanced up and caught the eye of his son, a strange commotion
and a dark flush sprung into his face.
'Father,' said John, steadily, and even cheerfully, for this
was a moment against which he was long ago prepared, 'father,
here I am, and here is the money that I took from you. I
have come back to ask your forgiveness, and to stay Christmas
with you and the children.'
'Keep your money,' said the father, 'and go!'
'Father!' cried John; 'for God's sake don't receive me this
way. I've come for - '
'Understand me,' interrupted Mr. Nicholson; 'you are no son
of mine; and in the sight of God, I wash my hands of you.
One last thing I will tell you; one warning I will give you;
all is discovered, and you are being hunted for your crimes;
if you are still at large it is thanks to me; but I have done
all that I mean to do; and from this time forth I would not
raise one finger - not one finger - to save you from the
gallows! And now,' with a low voice of absolute authority,
and a single weighty gesture of the finger, 'and now - go!'
How John passed the evening, in what windy confusion of mind,
in what squalls of anger and lulls of sick collapse, in what
pacing of streets and plunging into public-houses, it would
profit little to relate. His misery, if it were not
progressive, yet tended in no way to diminish; for in
proportion as grief and indignation abated, fear began to
take their place. At first, his father's menacing words lay
by in some safe drawer of memory, biding their hour. At
first, John was all thwarted affection and blighted hope;
next bludgeoned vanity raised its head again, with twenty
mortal gashes: and the father was disowned even as he had
disowned the son. What was this regular course of life, that
John should have admired it? what were these clock-work
virtues, from which love was absent? Kindness was the test,
kindness the aim and soul; and judged by such a standard, the
discarded prodigal - now rapidly drowning his sorrows and his
reason in successive drams - was a creature of a lovelier
morality than his self-righteous father. Yes, he was the
better man; he felt it, glowed with the consciousness, and
entering a public-house at the corner of Howard Place
(whither he had somehow wandered) he pledged his own virtues
in a glass - perhaps the fourth since his dismissal. Of that
he knew nothing, keeping no account of what he did or where
he went; and in the general crashing hurry of his nerves,
unconscious of the approach of intoxication. Indeed, it is a
question whether he were really growing intoxicated, or
whether at first the spirits did not even sober him. For it
was even as he drained this last glass that his father's
ambiguous and menacing words - popping from their hidingplace
in memory - startled him like a hand laid upon his
shoulder. 'Crimes, hunted, the gallows.' They were ugly
words; in the ears of an innocent man, perhaps all the
uglier; for if some judicial error were in act against him,
who should set a limit to its grossness or to how far it
might be pushed? Not John, indeed; he was no believer in the
powers of innocence, his cursed experience pointing in quite
other ways; and his fears, once wakened, grew with every hour
and hunted him about the city streets.
It was, perhaps, nearly nine at night; he had eaten nothing
since lunch, he had drunk a good deal, and he was exhausted
by emotion, when the thought of Houston came into his head.
He turned, not merely to the man as a friend, but to his
house as a place of refuge. The danger that threatened him
was still so vague that he knew neither what to fear nor
where he might expect it; but this much at least seemed
undeniable, that a private house was safer than a public inn.
Moved by these counsels, he turned at once to the Caledonian
Station, passed (not without alarm) into the bright lights of
the approach, redeemed his portmanteau from the cloak-room,
and was soon whirling in a cab along the Glasgow Road. The
change of movement and position, the sight of the lamps
twinkling to the rear, and the smell of damp and mould and
rotten straw which clung about the vehicle, wrought in him
strange alternations of lucidity and mortal giddiness.
'I have been drinking,' he discovered; 'I must go straight to
bed, and sleep.' And he thanked Heaven for the drowsiness
that came upon his mind in waves.
From one of these spells he was wakened by the stoppage of
the cab; and, getting down, found himself in quite a country
road, the last lamp of the suburb shining some way below, and
the high walls of a garden rising before him in the dark.
The Lodge (as the place was named), stood, indeed, very
solitary. To the south it adjoined another house, but
standing in so large a garden as to be well out of cry; on
all other sides, open fields stretched upward to the woods of
Corstorphine Hill, or backward to the dells of Ravelston, or
downward toward the valley of the Leith. The effect of
seclusion was aided by the great height of the garden walls,
which were, indeed, conventual, and, as John had tested in
former days, defied the climbing schoolboy. The lamp of the
cab threw a gleam upon the door and the not brilliant handle
of the bell.
'Shall I ring for ye?' said the cabman, who had descended
from his perch, and was slapping his chest, for the night was
'I wish you would,' said John, putting his hand to his brow
in one of his accesses of giddiness.
The man pulled at the handle, and the clanking of the bell
replied from further in the garden; twice and thrice he did
it, with sufficient intervals; in the great frosty silence of
the night the sounds fell sharp and small.
'Does he expect ye?' asked the driver, with that manner of
familiar interest that well became his port-wine face; and
when John had told him no, 'Well, then,' said the cabman, 'if
ye'll tak' my advice of it, we'll just gang back. And that's
disinterested, mind ye, for my stables are in the Glesgie
'The servants must hear,' said John.
'Hout!' said the driver. 'He keeps no servants here, man.
They're a' in the town house; I drive him often; it's just a
kind of a hermitage, this.'
'Give me the bell,' said John; and he plucked at it like a
man desperate.
The clamour had not yet subsided before they heard steps upon
the gravel, and a voice of singular nervous irritability
cried to them through the door, 'Who are you, and what do you
'Alan,' said John, 'it's me - it's Fatty - John, you know.
I'm just come home, and I've come to stay with you.'
There was no reply for a moment, and then the door was
'Get the portmanteau down,' said John to the driver.
'Do nothing of the kind,' said Alan; and then to John, 'Come
in here a moment. I want to speak to you.'
John entered the garden, and the door was closed behind him.
A candle stood on the gravel walk, winking a little in the
draughts; it threw inconstant sparkles on the clumped holly,
struck the light and darkness to and fro like a veil on
Alan's features, and sent his shadow hovering behind him.
All beyond was inscrutable; and John's dizzy brain rocked
with the shadow. Yet even so, it struck him that Alan was
pale, and his voice, when he spoke, unnatural.
'What brings you here to-night?' he began. 'I don't want,
God knows, to seem unfriendly; but I cannot take you in,
Nicholson; I cannot do it.'
'Alan,' said John, 'you've just got to! You don't know the
mess I'm in; the governor's turned me out, and I daren't show
my face in an inn, because they're down on me for murder or
'For what?' cried Alan, starting.
'Murder, I believe,' says John.
'Murder!' repeated Alan, and passed his hand over his eyes.
'What was that you were saying?' he asked again.
'That they were down on me,' said John. 'I'm accused of
murder, by what I can make out; and I've really had a
dreadful day of it, Alan, and I can't sleep on the roadside
on a night like this - at least, not with a portmanteau,' he
'Hush!' said Alan, with his head on one side; and then, 'Did
you hear nothing?' he asked.
'No,' said John, thrilling, he knew not why, with
communicated terror. 'No, I heard nothing; why?' And then,
as there was no answer, he reverted to his pleading: 'But I
say, Alan, you've just got to take me in. I'll go right away
to bed if you have anything to do. I seem to have been
drinking; I was that knocked over. I wouldn't turn you away,
Alan, if you were down on your luck.'
'No?' returned Alan. 'Neither will you, then. Come and
let's get your portmanteau.'
The cabman was paid, and drove off down the long, lamplighted
hill, and the two friends stood on the side-walk
beside the portmanteau till the last rumble of the wheels had
died in silence. It seemed to John as though Alan attached
importance to this departure of the cab; and John, who was in
no state to criticise, shared profoundly in the feeling.
When the stillness was once more perfect, Alan shouldered the
portmanteau, carried it in, and shut and locked the garden
door; and then, once more, abstraction seemed to fall upon
him, and he stood with his hand on the key, until the cold
began to nibble at John's fingers.
'Why are we standing here?' asked John.
'Eh?' said Alan, blankly.
'Why, man, you don't seem yourself,' said the other.
'No, I'm not myself,' said Alan; and he sat down on the
portmanteau and put his face in his hands.
John stood beside him swaying a little, and looking about him
at the swaying shadows, the flitting sparkles, and the steady
stars overhead, until the windless cold began to touch him
through his clothes on the bare skin. Even in his bemused
intelligence, wonder began to awake.
'I say, let's come on to the house,' he said at last.
'Yes, let's come on to the house,' repeated Alan.
And he rose at once, reshouldered the portmanteau, and taking
the candle in his other hand, moved forward to the Lodge.
This was a long, low building, smothered in creepers; and
now, except for some chinks of light between the dining-room
shutters, it was plunged in darkness and silence.
In the hall Alan lighted another candle, gave it to John, and
opened the door of a bedroom.
'Here,' said he; 'go to bed. Don't mind me, John. You'll be
sorry for me when you know.'
'Wait a bit,' returned John; 'I've got so cold with all that
standing about. Let's go into the dining-room a minute.
Just one glass to warm me, Alan.'
On the table in the hall stood a glass, and a bottle with a
whisky label on a tray. It was plain the bottle had been
just opened, for the cork and corkscrew lay beside it.
'Take that,' said Alan, passing John the whisky, and then
with a certain roughness pushed his friend into the bedroom,
and closed the door behind him.
John stood amazed; then he shook the bottle, and, to his
further wonder, found it partly empty. Three or four glasses
were gone. Alan must have uncorked a bottle of whisky and
drank three or four glasses one after the other, without
sitting down, for there was no chair, and that in his own
cold lobby on this freezing night! It fully explained his
eccentricities, John reflected sagely, as he mixed himself a
grog. Poor Alan! He was drunk; and what a dreadful thing
was drink, and what a slave to it poor Alan was, to drink in
this unsociable, uncomfortable fashion! The man who would
drink alone, except for health's sake - as John was now doing
- was a man utterly lost. He took the grog out, and felt
hazier, but warmer. It was hard work opening the portmanteau
and finding his night things; and before he was undressed,
the cold had struck home to him once more. 'Well,' said he;
'just a drop more. There's no sense in getting ill with all
this other trouble.' And presently dreamless slumber buried
When John awoke it was day. The low winter sun was already
in the heavens, but his watch had stopped, and it was
impossible to tell the hour exactly. Ten, he guessed it, and
made haste to dress, dismal reflections crowding on his mind.
But it was less from terror than from regret that he now
suffered; and with his regret there were mingled cutting
pangs of penitence. There had fallen upon him a blow, cruel,
indeed, but yet only the punishment of old misdoing; and he
had rebelled and plunged into fresh sin. The rod had been
used to chasten, and he had bit the chastening fingers. His
father was right; John had justified him; John was no guest
for decent people's houses, and no fit associate for decent
people's children. And had a broader hint been needed, there
was the case of his old friend. John was no drunkard, though
he could at times exceed; and the picture of Houston drinking
neat spirits at his hall-table struck him with something like
disgust. He hung back from meeting his old friend. He could
have wished he had not come to him; and yet, even now, where
else was he to turn?
These musings occupied him while he dressed, and accompanied
him into the lobby of the house. The door stood open on the
garden; doubtless, Alan had stepped forth; and John did as he
supposed his friend had done. The ground was hard as iron,
the frost still rigorous; as he brushed among the hollies,
icicles jingled and glittered in their fall; and wherever he
went, a volley of eager sparrows followed him. Here were
Christmas weather and Christmas morning duly met, to the
delight of children. This was the day of reunited families,
the day to which he had so long looked forward, thinking to
awake in his own bed in Randolph Crescent, reconciled with
all men and repeating the footprints of his youth; and here
he was alone, pacing the alleys of a wintry garden and filled
with penitential thoughts.
And that reminded him: why was he alone? and where was Alan?
The thought of the festal morning and the due salutations
reawakened his desire for his friend, and he began to call
for him by name. As the sound of his voice died away, he was
aware of the greatness of the silence that environed him.
But for the twittering of the sparrows and the crunching of
his own feet upon the frozen snow, the whole windless world
of air hung over him entranced, and the stillness weighed
upon his mind with a horror of solitude.
Still calling at intervals, but now with a moderated voice,
he made the hasty circuit of the garden, and finding neither
man nor trace of man in all its evergreen coverts, turned at
last to the house. About the house the silence seemed to
deepen strangely. The door, indeed, stood open as before;
but the windows were still shuttered, the chimneys breathed
no stain into the bright air, there sounded abroad none of
that low stir (perhaps audible rather to the ear of the
spirit than to the ear of the flesh) by which a house
announces and betrays its human lodgers. And yet Alan must
be there - Alan locked in drunken slumbers, forgetful of the
return of day, of the holy season, and of the friend whom he
had so coldly received and was now so churlishly neglecting.
John's disgust redoubled at the thought, but hunger was
beginning to grow stronger than repulsion, and as a step to
breakfast, if nothing else, he must find and arouse this
He made the circuit of the bedroom quarters. All, until he
came to Alan's chamber, were locked from without, and bore
the marks of a prolonged disuse. But Alan's was a room in
commission, filled with clothes, knickknacks, letters, books,
and the conveniences of a solitary man. The fire had been
lighted; but it had long ago burned out, and the ashes were
stone cold. The bed had been made, but it had not been slept
Worse and worse, then; Alan must have fallen where he sat,
and now sprawled brutishly, no doubt, upon the dining-room
The dining-room was a very long apartment, and was reached
through a passage; so that John, upon his entrance, brought
but little light with him, and must move toward the windows
with spread arms, groping and knocking on the furniture.
Suddenly he tripped and fell his length over a prostrate
body. It was what he had looked for, yet it shocked him; and
he marvelled that so rough an impact should not have kicked a
groan out of the drunkard. Men had killed themselves ere now
in such excesses, a dreary and degraded end that made John
shudder. What if Alan were dead? There would be a
By this, John had his hand upon the shutters, and flinging
them back, beheld once again the blessed face of the day.
Even by that light the room had a discomfortable air. The
chairs were scattered, and one had been overthrown; the
table-cloth, laid as if for dinner, was twitched upon one
side, and some of the dishes had fallen to the floor. Behind
the table lay the drunkard, still unaroused, only one foot
visible to John.
But now that light was in the room, the worst seemed over; it
was a disgusting business, but not more than disgusting; and
it was with no great apprehension that John proceeded to make
the circuit of the table: his last comparatively tranquil
moment for that day. No sooner had he turned the corner, no
sooner had his eyes alighted on the body, than he gave a
smothered, breathless cry, and fled out of the room and out
of the house.
It was not Alan who lay there, but a man well up in years, of
stern countenance and iron-grey locks; and it was no
drunkard, for the body lay in a black pool of blood, and the
open eyes stared upon the ceiling.
To and fro walked John before the door. The extreme
sharpness of the air acted on his nerves like an astringent,
and braced them swiftly. Presently, he not relaxing in his
disordered walk, the images began to come clearer and stay
longer in his fancy; and next the power of thought came back
to him, and the horror and danger of his situation rooted him
to the ground.
He grasped his forehead, and staring on one spot of gravel,
pieced together what he knew and what he suspected. Alan had
murdered some one: possibly 'that man' against whom the
butler chained the door in Regent Terrace; possibly another;
some one at least: a human soul, whom it was death to slay
and whose blood lay spilled upon the floor. This was the
reason of the whisky drinking in the passage, of his
unwillingness to welcome John, of his strange behaviour and
bewildered words; this was why he had started at and harped
upon the name of murder; this was why he had stood and
hearkened, or sat and covered his eyes, in the black night.
And now he was gone, now he had basely fled; and to all his
perplexities and dangers John stood heir.
'Let me think - let me think,' he said, aloud, impatiently,
even pleadingly, as if to some merciless interrupter. In the
turmoil of his wits, a thousand hints and hopes and threats
and terrors dinning continuously in his ears, he was like one
plunged in the hubbub of a crowd. How was he to remember -
he, who had not a thought to spare - that he was himself the
author, as well as the theatre, of so much confusion? But in
hours of trial the junto of man's nature is dissolved, and
anarchy succeeds.
It was plain he must stay no longer where he was, for here
was a new Judicial Error in the very making. It was not so
plain where he must go, for the old Judicial Error, vague as
a cloud, appeared to fill the habitable world; whatever it
might be, it watched for him, full-grown, in Edinburgh; it
must have had its birth in San Francisco; it stood guard, no
doubt, like a dragon, at the bank where he should cash his
credit; and though there were doubtless many other places,
who should say in which of them it was not ambushed? No, he
could not tell where he was to go; he must not lose time on
these insolubilities. Let him go back to the beginning. It
was plain he must stay no longer where he was. It was plain,
too, that he must not flee as he was, for he could not carry
his portmanteau, and to flee and leave it was to plunge
deeper in the mire. He must go, leave the house unguarded,
find a cab, and return - return after an absence? Had he
courage for that?
And just then he spied a stain about a hand's-breadth on his
trouser-leg, and reached his finger down to touch it. The
finger was stained red: it was blood; he stared upon it with
disgust, and awe, and terror, and in the sharpness of the new
sensation, fell instantly to act.
He cleansed his finger in the snow, returned into the house,
drew near with hushed footsteps to the dining-room door, and
shut and locked it. Then he breathed a little freer, for
here at least was an oaken barrier between himself and what
he feared. Next, he hastened to his room, tore off the
spotted trousers which seemed in his eyes a link to bind him
to the gallows, flung them in a corner, donned another pair,
breathlessly crammed his night things into his portmanteau,
locked it, swung it with an effort from the ground, and with
a rush of relief, came forth again under the open heavens.
The portmanteau, being of occidental build, was no featherweight;
it had distressed the powerful Alan; and as for John,
he was crushed under its bulk, and the sweat broke upon him
thickly. Twice he must set it down to rest before he reached
the gate; and when he had come so far, he must do as Alan
did, and take his seat upon one corner. Here then, he sat a
while and panted; but now his thoughts were sensibly
lightened; now, with the trunk standing just inside the door,
some part of his dissociation from the house of crime had
been effected, and the cabman need not pass the garden wall.
It was wonderful how that relieved him; for the house, in his
eyes, was a place to strike the most cursory beholder with
suspicion, as though the very windows had cried murder.
But there was to be no remission of the strokes of fate. As
he thus sat, taking breath in the shadow of the wall and
hopped about by sparrows, it chanced that his eye roved to
the fastening of the door; and what he saw plucked him to his
feet. The thing locked with a spring; once the door was
closed, the bolt shut of itself; and without a key, there was
no means of entering from without.
He saw himself obliged to one of two distasteful and perilous
alternatives; either to shut the door altogether and set his
portmanteau out upon the wayside, a wonder to all beholders;
or to leave the door ajar, so that any thievish tramp or
holiday schoolboy might stray in and stumble on the grisly
secret. To the last, as the least desperate, his mind
inclined; but he must first insure himself that he was
unobserved. He peered out, and down the long road; it lay
dead empty. He went to the corner of the by-road that comes
by way of Dean; there also not a passenger was stirring.
Plainly it was, now or never, the high tide of his affairs;
and he drew the door as close as he durst, slipped a pebble
in the chink, and made off downhill to find a cab.
Half-way down a gate opened, and a troop of Christmas
children sallied forth in the most cheerful humour, followed
more soberly by a smiling mother.
'And this is Christmas-day!' thought John; and could have
laughed aloud in tragic bitterness of heart.
In front of Donaldson's Hospital, John counted it good
fortune to perceive a cab a great way of, and by much
shouting and waving of his arm, to catch the notice of the
driver. He counted it good fortune, for the time was long to
him till he should have done for ever with the Lodge; and the
further he must go to find a cab, the greater the chance that
the inevitable discovery had taken place, and that he should
return to find the garden full of angry neighbours. Yet when
the vehicle drew up he was sensibly chagrined to recognise
the port-wine cabman of the night before. 'Here,' he could
not but reflect, 'here is another link in the Judicial
The driver, on the other hand, was pleased to drop again upon
so liberal a fare; and as he was a man - the reader must
already have perceived - of easy, not to say familiar,
manners, he dropped at once into a vein of friendly talk,
commenting on the weather, on the sacred season, which struck
him chiefly in the light of a day of liberal gratuities, on
the chance which had reunited him to a pleasing customer, and
on the fact that John had been (as he was pleased to call it)
visibly 'on the randan' the night before.
'And ye look dreidful bad the-day, sir, I must say that,' he
continued. 'There's nothing like a dram for ye - if ye'll
take my advice of it; and bein' as it's Christmas, I'm no'
saying,' he added, with a fatherly smile, 'but what I would
join ye mysel'.'
John had listened with a sick heart.
'I'll give you a dram when we've got through,' said he,
affecting a sprightliness which sat on him most unhandsomely,
'and not a drop till then. Business first, and pleasure
With this promise the jarvey was prevailed upon to clamber to
his place and drive, with hideous deliberation, to the door
of the Lodge. There were no signs as yet of any public
emotion; only, two men stood not far off in talk, and their
presence, seen from afar, set John's pulses buzzing. He
might have spared himself his fright, for the pair were lost
in some dispute of a theological complexion, and with
lengthened upper lip and enumerating fingers, pursued the
matter of their difference, and paid no heed to John.
But the cabman proved a thorn in the flesh.
Nothing would keep him on his perch; he must clamber down,
comment upon the pebble in the door (which he regarded as an
ingenious but unsafe device), help John with the portmanteau,
and enliven matters with a flow of speech, and especially of
questions, which I thus condense:-
'He'll no' be here himsel', will he? No? Well, he's an
eccentric man - a fair oddity - if ye ken the expression.
Great trouble with his tenants, they tell me. I've driven
the fam'ly for years. I drove a cab at his father's waddin'.
What'll your name be? - I should ken your face. Baigrey, ye
say? There were Baigreys about Gilmerton; ye'll be one of
that lot? Then this'll be a friend's portmantie, like? Why?
Because the name upon it's Nucholson! Oh, if ye're in a
hurry, that's another job. Waverley Brig? Are ye for away?'
So the friendly toper prated and questioned and kept John's
heart in a flutter. But to this also, as to other evils
under the sun, there came a period; and the victim of
circumstances began at last to rumble toward the railway
terminus at Waverley Bridge. During the transit, he sat with
raised glasses in the frosty chill and mouldy fetor of his
chariot, and glanced out sidelong on the holiday face of
things, the shuttered shops, and the crowds along the
pavement, much as the rider in the Tyburn cart may have
observed the concourse gathering to his execution.
At the station his spirits rose again; another stage of his
escape was fortunately ended - he began to spy blue water.
He called a railway porter, and bade him carry the
portmanteau to the cloak-room: not that he had any notion of
delay; flight, instant flight was his design, no matter
whither; but he had determined to dismiss the cabman ere he
named, or even chose, his destination, thus possibly balking
the Judicial Error of another link. This was his cunning
aim, and now with one foot on the roadway, and one still on
the coach-step, he made haste to put the thing in practice,
and plunged his hand into his trousers pocket.
There was nothing there!
Oh yes; this time he was to blame. He should have
remembered, and when he deserted his blood-stained
pantaloons, he should not have deserted along with them his
purse. Make the most of his error, and then compare it with
the punishment! Conceive his new position, for I lack words
to picture it; conceive him condemned to return to that
house, from the very thought of which his soul revolted, and
once more to expose himself to capture on the very scene of
the misdeed: conceive him linked to the mouldy cab and the
familiar cabman. John cursed the cabman silently, and then
it occurred to him that he must stop the incarceration of his
portmanteau; that, at least, he must keep close at hand, and
he turned to recall the porter. But his reflections, brief
as they had appeared, must have occupied him longer than he
supposed, and there was the man already returning with the
Well, that was settled; he had lost his portmanteau also; for
the sixpence with which he had paid the Murrayfield Toll was
one that had strayed alone into his waistcoat pocket, and
unless he once more successfully achieved the adventure of
the house of crime, his portmanteau lay in the cloakroom in
eternal pawn, for lack of a penny fee. And then he
remembered the porter, who stood suggestively attentive,
words of gratitude hanging on his lips.
John hunted right and left; he found a coin - prayed God that
it was a sovereign - drew it out, beheld a halfpenny, and
offered it to the porter.
The man's jaw dropped.
'It's only a halfpenny!' he said, startled out of railway
'I know that,' said John, piteously.
And here the porter recovered the dignity of man.
'Thank you, sir,' said he, and would have returned the base
gratuity. But John, too, would none of it; and as they
struggled, who must join in but the cabman?
'Hoots, Mr. Baigrey,' said he, 'you surely forget what day it
'I tell you I have no change!' cried John.
'Well,' said the driver, 'and what then? I would rather give
a man a shillin' on a day like this than put him off with a
derision like a bawbee. I'm surprised at the like of you,
Mr. Baigrey!'
'My name is not Baigrey!' broke out John, in mere childish
temper and distress.
'Ye told me it was yoursel',' said the cabman.
'I know I did; and what the devil right had you to ask?'
cried the unhappy one.
'Oh, very well,' said the driver. 'I know my place, if you
know yours - if you know yours!' he repeated, as one who
should imply grave doubt; and muttered inarticulate thunders,
in which the grand old name of gentleman was taken seemingly
in vain.
Oh to have been able to discharge this monster, whom John now
perceived, with tardy clear-sightedness, to have begun
betimes the festivities of Christmas! But far from any such
ray of consolation visiting the lost, he stood bare of help
and helpers, his portmanteau sequestered in one place, his
money deserted in another and guarded by a corpse; himself,
so sedulous of privacy, the cynosure of all men's eyes about
the station; and, as if these were not enough mischances, he
was now fallen in ill-blood with the beast to whom his
poverty had linked him! In ill-blood, as he reflected
dismally, with the witness who perhaps might hang or save
him! There was no time to be lost; he durst not linger any
longer in that public spot; and whether he had recourse to
dignity or conciliation, the remedy must be applied at once.
Some happily surviving element of manhood moved him to the
'Let us have no more of this,' said he, his foot once more
upon the step. 'Go back to where we came from.'
He had avoided the name of any destination, for there was now
quite a little band of railway folk about the cab, and he
still kept an eye upon the court of justice, and laboured to
avoid concentric evidence. But here again the fatal jarvey
out-manoeuvred him.
'Back to the Ludge?' cried he, in shrill tones of protest.
'Drive on at once!' roared John, and slammed the door behind
him, so that the crazy chariot rocked and jingled.
Forth trundled the cab into the Christmas streets, the fare
within plunged in the blackness of a despair that neighboured
on unconsciousness, the driver on the box digesting his
rebuke and his customer's duplicity. I would not be thought
to put the pair in competition; John's case was out of all
parallel. But the cabman, too, is worth the sympathy of the
judicious; for he was a fellow of genuine kindliness and a
high sense of personal dignity incensed by drink; and his
advances had been cruelly and publicly rebuffed. As he
drove, therefore, he counted his wrongs, and thirsted for
sympathy and drink. Now, it chanced he had a friend, a
publican in Queensferry Street, from whom, in view of the
sacredness of the occasion, he thought he might extract a
dram. Queensferry Street lies something off the direct road
to Murrayfield. But then there is the hilly cross-road that
passes by the valley of the Leith and the Dean Cemetery; and
Queensferry Street is on the way to that. What was to hinder
the cabman, since his horse was dumb, from choosing the
cross-road, and calling on his friend in passing? So it was
decided; and the charioteer, already somewhat mollified,
turned aside his horse to the right.
John, meanwhile, sat collapsed, his chin sunk upon his chest,
his mind in abeyance. The smell of the cab was still faintly
present to his senses, and a certain leaden chill about his
feet, all else had disappeared in one vast oppression of
calamity and physical faintness. It was drawing on to noon -
two-and-twenty hours since he had broken bread; in the
interval, he had suffered tortures of sorrow and alarm, and
been partly tipsy; and though it was impossible to say he
slept, yet when the cab stopped and the cabman thrust his
head into the window, his attention had to be recalled from
depths of vacancy.
'If you'll no' STAND me a dram,' said the driver, with a
well-merited severity of tone and manner, 'I dare say ye'll
have no objection to my taking one mysel'?'
'Yes - no - do what you like,' returned John; and then, as he
watched his tormentor mount the stairs and enter the whiskyshop,
there floated into his mind a sense as of something
long ago familiar. At that he started fully awake, and
stared at the shop-fronts. Yes, he knew them; but when? and
how? Long since, he thought; and then, casting his eye
through the front glass, which had been recently occluded by
the figure of the jarvey, he beheld the tree-tops of the
rookery in Randolph Crescent. He was close to home - home,
where he had thought, at that hour, to be sitting in the
well-remembered drawing-room in friendly converse; and,
instead - !
It was his first impulse to drop into the bottom of the cab;
his next, to cover his face with his hands. So he sat, while
the cabman toasted the publican, and the publican toasted the
cabman, and both reviewed the affairs of the nation; so he
still sat, when his master condescended to return, and drive
off at last down-hill, along the curve of Lynedoch Place; but
even so sitting, as he passed the end of his father's street,
he took one glance from between shielding fingers, and beheld
a doctor's carriage at the door.
'Well, just so,' thought he; 'I'll have killed my father!
And this is Christmas-day!'
If Mr. Nicholson died, it was down this same road he must
journey to the grave; and down this road, on the same errand,
his wife had preceded him years before; and many other
leading citizens, with the proper trappings and attendance of
the end. And now, in that frosty, ill-smelling, strawcarpeted,
and ragged-cushioned cab, with his breath
congealing on the glasses, where else was John himself
advancing to?
The thought stirred his imagination, which began to
manufacture many thousand pictures, bright and fleeting, like
the shapes in a kaleidoscope; and now he saw himself, ruddy
and comfortered, sliding in the gutter; and, again, a little
woe-begone, bored urchin tricked forth in crape and weepers,
descending this same hill at the foot's pace of mourning
coaches, his mother's body just preceding him; and yet again,
his fancy, running far in front, showed him his destination -
now standing solitary in the low sunshine, with the sparrows
hopping on the threshold and the dead man within staring at
the roof - and now, with a sudden change, thronged about with
white-faced, hand-uplifting neighbours, and doctor bursting
through their midst and fixing his stethoscope as he went,
the policeman shaking a sagacious head beside the body. It
was to this he feared that he was driving; in the midst of
this he saw himself arrive, heard himself stammer faint
explanations, and felt the hand of the constable upon his
shoulder. Heavens! how he wished he had played the manlier
part; how he despised himself that he had fled that fatal
neighbourhood when all was quiet, and should now be tamely
travelling back when it was thronging with avengers!
Any strong degree of passion lends, even to the dullest, the
forces of the imagination. And so now as he dwelt on what
was probably awaiting him at the end of this distressful
drive - John, who saw things little, remembered them less,
and could not have described them at all, beheld in his
mind's-eye the garden of the Lodge, detailed as in a map; he
went to and fro in it, feeding his terrors; he saw the
hollies, the snowy borders, the paths where he had sought
Alan, the high, conventual walls, the shut door - what! was
the door shut? Ay, truly, he had shut it - shut in his
money, his escape, his future life - shut it with these
hands, and none could now open it! He heard the snap of the
spring-lock like something bursting in his brain, and sat
And then he woke again, terror jarring through his vitals.
This was no time to be idle; he must be up and doing, he must
think. Once at the end of this ridiculous cruise, once at
the Lodge door, there would be nothing for it but to turn the
cab and trundle back again. Why, then, go so far? why add
another feature of suspicion to a case already so suggestive?
why not turn at once? It was easy to say, turn; but whither?
He had nowhere now to go to; he could never - he saw it in
letters of blood - he could never pay that cab; he was
saddled with that cab for ever. Oh that cab! his soul
yearned and burned, and his bowels sounded to be rid of it.
He forgot all other cares. He must first quit himself of
this ill-smelling vehicle and of the human beast that guided
it - first do that; do that, at least; do that at once.
And just then the cab suddenly stopped, and there was his
persecutor rapping on the front glass. John let it down, and
beheld the port-wine countenance inflamed with intellectual
'I ken wha ye are!' cried the husky voice. 'I mind ye now.
Ye're a Nucholson. I drove ye to Hermiston to a Christmas
party, and ye came back on the box, and I let ye drive.'
It is a fact. John knew the man; they had been even friends.
His enemy, he now remembered, was a fellow of great good
nature - endless good nature - with a boy; why not with a
man? Why not appeal to his better side? He grasped at the
new hope.
'Great Scott! and so you did,' he cried, as if in a transport
of delight, his voice sounding false in his own ears. 'Well,
if that's so, I've something to say to you. I'll just get
out, I guess. Where are we, any way?'
The driver had fluttered his ticket in the eyes of the
branch-toll keeper, and they were now brought to on the
highest and most solitary part of the by-road. On the left,
a row of fieldside trees beshaded it; on the right, it was
bordered by naked fallows, undulating down-hill to the
Queensferry Road; in front, Corstorphine Hill raised its
snow-bedabbled, darkling woods against the sky. John looked
all about him, drinking the clear air like wine; then his
eyes returned to the cabman's face as he sat, not
ungleefully, awaiting John's communication, with the air of
one looking to be tipped.
The features of that face were hard to read, drink had so
swollen them, drink had so painted them, in tints that varied
from brick-red to mulberry. The small grey eyes blinked, the
lips moved, with greed; greed was the ruling passion; and
though there was some good nature, some genuine kindliness, a
true human touch, in the old toper, his greed was now so set
afire by hope, that all other traits of character lay
dormant. He sat there a monument of gluttonous desire.
John's heart slowly fell. He had opened his lips, but he
stood there and uttered nought. He sounded the well of his
courage, and it was dry. He groped in his treasury of words,
and it was vacant. A devil of dumbness had him by the
throat; the devil of terror babbled in his ears; and
suddenly, without a word uttered, with no conscious purpose
formed in his will, John whipped about, tumbled over the
roadside wall, and began running for his life across the
He had not gone far, he was not past the midst of the first
afield, when his whole brain thundered within him, 'Fool!
You have your watch!' The shock stopped him, and he faced
once more toward the cab. The driver was leaning over the
wall, brandishing his whip, his face empurpled, roaring like
a bull. And John saw (or thought) that he had lost the
chance. No watch would pacify the man's resentment now; he
would cry for vengeance also. John would be had under the
eye of the police; his tale would be unfolded, his secret
plumbed, his destiny would close on him at last, and for
He uttered a deep sigh; and just as the cabman, taking heart
of grace, was beginning at last to scale the wall, his
defaulting customer fell again to running, and disappeared
into the further fields.
WHERE he ran at first, John never very clearly knew; nor yet
how long a time elapsed ere he found himself in the by-road
near the lodge of Ravelston, propped against the wall, his
lungs heaving like bellows, his legs leaden-heavy, his mind
possessed by one sole desire - to lie down and be unseen. He
remembered the thick coverts round the quarry-hole pond, an
untrodden corner of the world where he might surely find
concealment till the night should fall. Thither he passed
down the lane; and when he came there, behold! he had
forgotten the frost, and the pond was alive with young people
skating, and the pond-side coverts were thick with lookerson.
He looked on a while himself. There was one tall,
graceful maiden, skating hand in hand with a youth, on whom
she bestowed her bright eyes perhaps too patently; and it was
strange with what anger John beheld her. He could have
broken forth in curses; he could have stood there, like a
mortified tramp, and shaken his fist and vented his gall upon
her by the hour - or so he thought; and the next moment his
heart bled for the girl. 'Poor creature, it's little she
knows!' he sighed. 'Let her enjoy herself while she can!'
But was it possible, when Flora used to smile at him on the
Braid ponds, she could have looked so fulsome to a sickhearted
The thought of one quarry, in his frozen wits, suggested
another; and he plodded off toward Craigleith. A wind had
sprung up out of the north-west; it was cruel keen, it dried
him like a fire, and racked his finger-joints. It brought
clouds, too; pale, swift, hurrying clouds, that blotted
heaven and shed gloom upon the earth. He scrambled up among
the hazelled rubbish heaps that surround the caldron of the
quarry, and lay flat upon the stones. The wind searched
close along the earth, the stones were cutting and icy, the
bare hazels wailed about him; and soon the air of the
afternoon began to be vocal with those strange and dismal
harpings that herald snow. Pain and misery turned in John's
limbs to a harrowing impatience and blind desire of change;
now he would roll in his harsh lair, and when the flints
abraded him, was almost pleased; now he would crawl to the
edge of the huge pit and look dizzily down. He saw the
spiral of the descending roadway, the steep crags, the
clinging bushes, the peppering of snow-wreaths, and far down
in the bottom, the diminished crane. Here, no doubt, was a
way to end it. But it somehow did not take his fancy.
And suddenly he was aware that he was hungry; ay, even
through the tortures of the cold, even through the frosts of
despair, a gross, desperate longing after food, no matter
what, no matter how, began to wake and spur him. Suppose he
pawned his watch? But no, on Christmas-day - this was
Christmas-day! - the pawnshop would be closed. Suppose he
went to the public-house close by at Blackhall, and offered
the watch, which was worth ten pounds, in payment for a meal
of bread and cheese? The incongruity was too remarkable; the
good folks would either put him to the door, or only let him
in to send for the police. He turned his pockets out one
after another; some San Francisco tram-car checks, one cigar,
no lights, the pass-key to his father's house, a pockethandkerchief,
with just a touch of scent: no, money could be
raised on none of these. There was nothing for it but to
starve; and after all, what mattered it? That also was a
door of exit.
He crept close among the bushes, the wind playing round him
like a lash; his clothes seemed thin as paper, his joints
burned, his skin curdled on his bones. He had a vision of a
high-lying cattle-drive in California, and the bed of a dried
stream with one muddy pool, by which the vaqueros had
encamped: splendid sun over all, the big bonfire blazing, the
strips of cow browning and smoking on a skewer of wood; how
warm it was, how savoury the steam of scorching meat! And
then again he remembered his manifold calamities, and
burrowed and wallowed in the sense of his disgrace and shame.
And next he was entering Frank's restaurant in Montgomery
Street, San Francisco; he had ordered a pan-stew and venison
chops, of which he was immoderately fond, and as he sat
waiting, Munroe, the good attendant, brought him a whisky
punch; he saw the strawberries float on the delectable cup,
he heard the ice chink about the straws. And then he woke
again to his detested fate, and found himself sitting, humped
together, in a windy combe of quarry refuse - darkness thick
about him, thin flakes of snow flying here and there like
rags of paper, and the strong shuddering of his body clashing
his teeth like a hiccough.
We have seen John in nothing but the stormiest condition; we
have seen him reckless, desperate, tried beyond his moderate
powers; of his daily self, cheerful, regular, not unthrifty,
we have seen nothing; and it may thus be a surprise to the
reader to learn that he was studiously careful of his health.
This favourite preoccupation now awoke. If he were to sit
there and die of cold, there would be mighty little gained;
better the police cell and the chances of a jury trial, than
the miserable certainty of death at a dyke-side before the
next winter's dawn, or death a little later in the gaslighted
wards of an infirmary.
He rose on aching legs, and stumbled here and there among the
rubbish heaps, still circumvented by the yawning crater of
the quarry; or perhaps he only thought so, for the darkness
was already dense, the snow was growing thicker, and he moved
like a blind man, and with a blind man's terrors. At last he
climbed a fence, thinking to drop into the road, and found
himself staggering, instead, among the iron furrows of a
ploughland, endless, it seemed, as a whole county. And next
he was in a wood, beating among young trees; and then he was
aware of a house with many lighted windows, Christmas
carriages waiting at the doors, and Christmas drivers (for
Christmas has a double edge) becoming swiftly hooded with
snow. From this glimpse of human cheerfulness, he fled like
Cain; wandered in the night, unpiloted, careless of whither
he went; fell, and lay, and then rose again and wandered
further; and at last, like a transformation scene, behold him
in the lighted jaws of the city, staring at a lamp which had
already donned the tilted night-cap of the snow. It came
thickly now, a 'Feeding Storm'; and while he yet stood
blinking at the lamp, his feet were buried. He remembered
something like it in the past, a street-lamp crowned and
caked upon the windward side with snow, the wind uttering its
mournful hoot, himself looking on, even as now; but the cold
had struck too sharply on his wits, and memory failed him as
to the date and sequel of the reminiscence.
His next conscious moment was on the Dean Bridge; but whether
he was John Nicholson of a bank in a California street, or
some former John, a clerk in his father's office, he had now
clean forgotten. Another blank, and he was thrusting his
pass-key into the door-lock of his father's house.
Hours must have passed. Whether crouched on the cold stones
or wandering in the fields among the snow, was more than he
could tell; but hours had passed. The finger of the hall
clock was close on twelve; a narrow peep of gas in the halllamp
shed shadows; and the door of the back room - his
father's room - was open and emitted a warm light. At so
late an hour, all this was strange; the lights should have
been out, the doors locked, the good folk safe in bed. He
marvelled at the irregularity, leaning on the hall-table; and
marvelled to himself there; and thawed and grew once more
hungry, in the warmer air of the house.
The clock uttered its premonitory catch; in five minutes
Christmas-day would be among the days of the past -
Christmas! - what a Christmas! Well, there was no use
waiting; he had come into that house, he scarce knew how; if
they were to thrust him forth again, it had best be done at
once; and he moved to the door of the back room and entered.
Oh, well, then he was insane, as he had long believed.
There, in his father's room, at midnight, the fire was
roaring and the gas blazing; the papers, the sacred papers -
to lay a hand on which was criminal - had all been taken off
and piled along the floor; a cloth was spread, and a supper
laid, upon the business table; and in his father's chair a
woman, habited like a nun, sat eating. As he appeared in the
doorway, the nun rose, gave a low cry, and stood staring.
She was a large woman, strong, calm, a little masculine, her
features marked with courage and good sense; and as John
blinked back at her, a faint resemblance dodged about his
memory, as when a tune haunts us, and yet will not be
'Why, it's John!' cried the nun.
'I dare say I'm mad,' said John, unconsciously following King
Lear; 'but, upon my word, I do believe you're Flora.'
'Of course I am,' replied she.
And yet it is not Flora at all, thought John; Flora was
slender, and timid, and of changing colour, and dewy-eyed;
and had Flora such an Edinburgh accent? But he said none of
these things, which was perhaps as well. What he said was,
'Then why are you a nun?'
'Such nonsense!' said Flora. 'I'm a sick-nurse; and I am
here nursing your sister, with whom, between you and me,
there is precious little the matter. But that is not the
question. The point is: How do you come here? and are you
not ashamed to show yourself?'
'Flora,' said John, sepulchrally, 'I haven't eaten anything
for three days. Or, at least, I don't know what day it is;
but I guess I'm starving.'
'You unhappy man!' she cried. 'Here, sit down and eat my
supper; and I'll just run upstairs and see my patient; not
but what I doubt she's fast asleep, for Maria is a MALADE
With this specimen of the French, not of Stratford-atte-Bowe,
but of a finishing establishment in Moray Place, she left
John alone in his father's sanctum. He fell at once upon the
food; and it is to be supposed that Flora had found her
patient wakeful, and been detained with some details of
nursing, for he had time to make a full end of all there was
to eat, and not only to empty the teapot, but to fill it
again from a kettle that was fitfully singing on his father's
fire. Then he sat torpid, and pleased, and bewildered; his
misfortunes were then half forgotten; his mind considering,
not without regret, this unsentimental return to his old
He was thus engaged, when that bustling woman noiselessly reentered.
'Have you eaten?' said she. 'Then tell me all about it.'
It was a long and (as the reader knows) a pitiful story; but
Flora heard it with compressed lips. She was lost in none of
those questionings of human destiny that have, from time to
time, arrested the flight of my own pen; for women, such as
she, are no philosophers, and behold the concrete only. And
women, such as she, are very hard on the imperfect man.
'Very well,' said she, when he had done; 'then down upon your
knees at once, and beg God's forgiveness.'
And the great baby plumped upon his knees, and did as he was
bid; and none the worse for that! But while he was heartily
enough requesting forgiveness on general principles, the
rational side of him distinguished, and wondered if, perhaps,
the apology were not due upon the other part. And when he
rose again from that becoming exercise, he first eyed the
face of his old love doubtfully, and then, taking heart,
uttered his protest.
'I must say, Flora,' said he, 'in all this business, I can
see very little fault of mine.'
'If you had written home,' replied the lady, 'there would
have been none of it. If you had even gone to Murrayfield
reasonably sober, you would never have slept there, and the
worst would not have happened. Besides, the whole thing
began years ago. You got into trouble, and when your father,
honest man, was disappointed, you took the pet, or got
afraid, and ran away from punishment. Well, you've had your
own way of it, John, and I don't suppose you like it.'
'I sometimes fancy I'm not much better than a fool,' sighed
'My dear John,' said she, 'not much!'
He looked at her, and his eye fell. A certain anger rose
within him; here was a Flora he disowned; she was hard; she
was of a set colour; a settled, mature, undecorative manner;
plain of speech, plain of habit - he had come near saying,
plain of face. And this changeling called herself by the
same name as the many-coloured, clinging maid of yore; she of
the frequent laughter, and the many sighs, and the kind,
stolen glances. And to make all worse, she took the upper
hand with him, which (as John well knew) was not the true
relation of the sexes. He steeled his heart against this
'And how do you come to be here?' he asked.
She told him how she had nursed her father in his long
illness, and when he died, and she was left alone, had taken
to nurse others, partly from habit, partly to be of some
service in the world; partly, it might be, for amusement.
'There's no accounting for taste,' said she. And she told
him how she went largely to the houses of old friends, as the
need arose; and how she was thus doubly welcome as an old
friend first, and then as an experienced nurse, to whom
doctors would confide the gravest cases.
'And, indeed, it's a mere farce my being here for poor
Maria,' she continued; 'but your father takes her ailments to
heart, and I cannot always be refusing him. We are great
friends, your father and I; he was very kind to me long ago -
ten years ago.
A strange stir came in John's heart. All this while had he
been thinking only of himself? All this while, why had he
not written to Flora? In penitential tenderness, he took her
hand, and, to his awe and trouble, it remained in his,
compliant. A voice told him this was Flora, after all - told
him so quietly, yet with a thrill of singing.
'And you never married?' said he.
'No, John; I never married,' she replied.
The hall clock striking two recalled them to the sense of
'And now,' said she, 'you have been fed and warmed, and I
have heard your story, and now it's high time to call your
'Oh!' cried John, chap-fallen; 'do you think that absolutely
'I can't keep you here; I am a stranger,' said she. 'Do you
want to run away again? I thought you had enough of that.'
He bowed his head under the reproof. She despised him, he
reflected, as he sat once more alone; a monstrous thing for a
woman to despise a man; and strangest of all, she seemed to
like him. Would his brother despise him, too? And would his
brother like him?
And presently the brother appeared, under Flora's escort;
and, standing afar off beside the doorway, eyed the hero of
this tale.
'So this is you?' he said, at length.
'Yes, Alick, it's me - it's John,' replied the elder brother,
'And how did you get in here?' inquired the younger.
'Oh, I had my pass-key,' says John.
'The deuce you had!' said Alexander. 'Ah, you lived in a
better world! There are no pass-keys going now.'
'Well, father was always averse to them,' sighed John. And
the conversation then broke down, and the brothers looked
askance at one another in silence.
'Well, and what the devil are we to do?' said Alexander. 'I
suppose if the authorities got wind of you, you would be
taken up?'
'It depends on whether they've found the body or not,'
returned John. 'And then there's that cabman, to be sure!'
'Oh, bother the body!' said Alexander. 'I mean about the
other thing. That's serious.'
'Is that what my father spoke about?' asked John. 'I don't
even know what it is.'
'About your robbing your bank in California, of course,'
replied Alexander.
It was plain, from Flora's face, that this was the first she
had heard of it; it was plainer still, from John's, that he
was innocent.
'I!' he exclaimed. 'I rob my bank! My God! Flora, this is
too much; even you must allow that.'
'Meaning you didn't?' asked Alexander.
'I never robbed a soul in all my days,' cried John: 'except
my father, if you call that robbery; and I brought him back
the money in this room, and he wouldn't even take it!'
'Look here, John,' said his brother, 'let us have no
misunderstanding upon this. Macewen saw my father; he told
him a bank you had worked for in San Francisco was wiring
over the habitable globe to have you collared - that it was
supposed you had nailed thousands; and it was dead certain
you had nailed three hundred. So Macewen said, and I wish
you would be careful how you answer. I may tell you also,
that your father paid the three hundred on the spot.'
'Three hundred?' repeated John. 'Three hundred pounds, you
mean? That's fifteen hundred dollars. Why, then, it's
Kirkman!' he broke out. 'Thank Heaven! I can explain all
that. I gave them to Kirkman to pay for me the night before
I left - fifteen hundred dollars, and a letter to the
manager. What do they suppose I would steal fifteen hundred
dollars for? I'm rich; I struck it rich in stocks. It's the
silliest stuff I ever heard of. All that's needful is to
cable to the manager: Kirkman has the fifteen hundred - find
Kirkman. He was a fellow-clerk of mine, and a hard case; but
to do him justice, I didn't think he was as hard as this.'
'And what do you say to that, Alick?' asked Flora.
'I say the cablegram shall go to-night!' cried Alexander,
with energy. 'Answer prepaid, too. If this can be cleared
away - and upon my word I do believe it can - we shall all be
able to hold up our heads again. Here, you John, you stick
down the address of your bank manager. You, Flora, you can
pack John into my bed, for which I have no further use tonight.
As for me, I am off to the post-office, and thence to
the High Street about the dead body. The police ought to
know, you see, and they ought to know through John; and I can
tell them some rigmarole about my brother being a man of
highly nervous organisation, and the rest of it. And then,
I'll tell you what, John - did you notice the name upon the
John gave the name of the driver, which, as I have not been
able to command the vehicle, I here suppress.
'Well,' resumed Alexander, 'I'll call round at their place
before I come back, and pay your shot for you. In that way,
before breakfast-time, you'll be as good as new.'
John murmured inarticulate thanks. To see his brother thus
energetic in his service moved him beyond expression; if he
could not utter what he felt, he showed it legibly in his
face; and Alexander read it there, and liked it the better in
that dumb delivery.
'But there's one thing,' said the latter, 'cablegrams are
dear; and I dare say you remember enough of the governor to
guess the state of my finances.'
'The trouble is,' said John, 'that all my stamps are in that
beastly house.'
'All your what?' asked Alexander.
'Stamps - money,' explained John. 'It's an American
expression; I'm afraid I contracted one or two.'
'I have some,' said Flora. 'I have a pound note upstairs.'
'My dear Flora,' returned Alexander, 'a pound note won't see
us very far; and besides, this is my father's business, and I
shall be very much surprised if it isn't my father who pays
for it.'
'I would not apply to him yet; I do not think that can be
wise,' objected Flora.
'You have a very imperfect idea of my resources, and not at
all of my effrontery,' replied Alexander. 'Please observe.'
He put John from his way, chose a stout knife among the
supper things, and with surprising quickness broke into his
father's drawer.
'There's nothing easier when you come to try,' he observed,
pocketing the money.
'I wish you had not done that,' said Flora. 'You will never
hear the last of it.'
'Oh, I don't know,' returned the young man; 'the governor is
human after all. And now, John, let me see your famous passkey.
Get into bed, and don't move for any one till I come
back. They won't mind you not answering when they knock; I
generally don't myself.'
IN spite of the horrors of the day and the tea-drinking of
the night, John slept the sleep of infancy. He was awakened
by the maid, as it might have been ten years ago, tapping at
the door. The winter sunrise was painting the east; and as
the window was to the back of the house, it shone into the
room with many strange colours of refracted light. Without,
the houses were all cleanly roofed with snow; the garden
walls were coped with it a foot in height; the greens lay
glittering. Yet strange as snow had grown to John during his
years upon the Bay of San Francisco, it was what he saw
within that most affected him. For it was to his own room
that Alexander had been promoted; there was the old paper
with the device of flowers, in which a cunning fancy might
yet detect the face of Skinny Jim, of the Academy, John's
former dominie; there was the old chest of drawers; there
were the chairs - one, two, three - three as before. Only
the carpet was new, and the litter of Alexander's clothes and
books and drawing materials, and a pencil-drawing on the
wall, which (in John's eyes) appeared a marvel of
He was thus lying, and looking, and dreaming, hanging, as it
were, between two epochs of his life, when Alexander came to
the door, and made his presence known in a loud whisper.
John let him in, and jumped back into the warm bed.
'Well, John,' said Alexander, 'the cablegram is sent in your
name, and twenty words of answer paid. I have been to the
cab office and paid your cab, even saw the old gentleman
himself, and properly apologised. He was mighty placable,
and indicated his belief you had been drinking. Then I
knocked up old Macewen out of bed, and explained affairs to
him as he sat and shivered in a dressing-gown. And before
that I had been to the High Street, where they have heard
nothing of your dead body, so that I incline to the idea that
you dreamed it.'
'Catch me!' said John.
'Well, the police never do know anything,' assented
Alexander; 'and at any rate, they have despatched a man to
inquire and to recover your trousers and your money, so that
really your bill is now fairly clean; and I see but one lion
in your path - the governor.'
'I'll be turned out again, you'll see,' said John, dismally.
'I don't imagine so,' returned the other; 'not if you do what
Flora and I have arranged; and your business now is to dress,
and lose no time about it. Is your watch right? Well, you
have a quarter of an hour. By five minutes before the halfhour
you must be at table, in your old seat, under Uncle
Duthie's picture. Flora will be there to keep you
countenance; and we shall see what we shall see.'
'Wouldn't it be wiser for me to stay in bed?' said John.
'If you mean to manage your own concerns, you can do
precisely what you like,' replied Alexander; 'but if you are
not in your place five minutes before the half-hour I wash my
hands of you, for one.'
And thereupon he departed. He had spoken warmly, but the
truth is, his heart was somewhat troubled. And as he hung
over the balusters, watching for his father to appear, he had
hard ado to keep himself braced for the encounter that must
'If he takes it well, I shall be lucky,' he reflected.
'If he takes it ill, why it'll be a herring across John's
tracks, and perhaps all for the best. He's a confounded
muff, this brother of mine, but he seems a decent soul.'
At that stage a door opened below with a certain emphasis,
and Mr. Nicholson was seen solemnly to descend the stairs,
and pass into his own apartment. Alexander followed, quaking
inwardly, but with a steady face. He knocked, was bidden to
enter, and found his father standing in front of the forced
drawer, to which he pointed as he spoke.
'This is a most extraordinary thing,' said he; 'I have been
'I was afraid you would notice it,' observed his son; 'it
made such a beastly hash of the table.'
'You were afraid I would notice it?' repeated Mr. Nicholson.
'And, pray, what may that mean?'
'That I was a thief, sir,' returned Alexander. 'I took all
the money in case the servants should get hold of it; and
here is the change, and a note of my expenditure. You were
gone to bed, you see, and I did not feel at liberty to knock
you up; but I think when you have heard the circumstances,
you will do me justice. The fact is, I have reason to
believe there has been some dreadful error about my brother
John; the sooner it can be cleared up the better for all
parties; it was a piece of business, sir - and so I took it,
and decided, on my own responsibility, to send a telegram to
San Francisco. Thanks to my quickness we may hear to-night.
There appears to be no doubt, sir, that John has been
abominably used.'
'When did this take place?' asked the father.
'Last night, sir, after you were asleep,' was the reply.
'It's most extraordinary,' said Mr. Nicholson. 'Do you mean
to say you have been out all night?'
'All night, as you say, sir. I have been to the telegraph
and the police office, and Mr. Macewen's. Oh, I had my hands
full,' said Alexander.
'Very irregular,' said the father. 'You think of no one but
'I do not see that I have much to gain in bringing back my
elder brother,' returned Alexander, shrewdly.
The answer pleased the old man; he smiled. 'Well, well, I
will go into this after breakfast,' said he.
'I'm sorry about the table,' said the son.
'The table is a small matter; I think nothing of that,' said
the father.
'It's another example,' continued the son, 'of the
awkwardness of a man having no money of his own. If I had a
proper allowance, like other fellows of my age, this would
have been quite unnecessary.'
'A proper allowance!' repeated his father, in tones of
blighting sarcasm, for the expression was not new to him. 'I
have never grudged you money for any proper purpose.'
'No doubt, no doubt,' said Alexander, 'but then you see you
aren't always on the spot to have the thing explained to you.
Last night, for instance - '
'You could have wakened me last night,' interrupted his
'Was it not some similar affair that first got John into a
mess?' asked the son, skilfully evading the point.
But the father was not less adroit. 'And pray, sir, how did
you come and go out of the house?' he asked.
'I forgot to lock the door, it seems,' replied Alexander.
'I have had cause to complain of that too often,' said Mr.
Nicholson. 'But still I do not understand. Did you keep the
servants up?'
'I propose to go into all that at length after breakfast,'
returned Alexander. 'There is the half-hour going; we must
not keep Miss Mackenzie waiting.'
And greatly daring, he opened the door.
Even Alexander, who, it must have been perceived was on terms
of comparative freedom with his parent - even Alexander had
never before dared to cut short an interview in this highhanded
fashion. But the truth is, the very mass of his son's
delinquencies daunted the old gentleman. He was like the man
with the cart of apples - this was beyond him! That
Alexander should have spoiled his table, taken his money,
stayed out all night, and then coolly acknowledged all, was
something undreamed of in the Nicholsonian philosophy, and
transcended comment. The return of the change, which the old
gentleman still carried in his hand, had been a feature of
imposing impudence; it had dealt him a staggering blow. Then
there was the reference to John's original flight - a subject
which he always kept resolutely curtained in his own mind;
for he was a man who loved to have made no mistakes, and when
he feared he might have made one kept the papers sealed. In
view of all these surprises and reminders, and of his son's
composed and masterful demeanour, there began to creep on Mr.
Nicholson a sickly misgiving. He seemed beyond his depth; if
he did or said anything, he might come to regret it. The
young man, besides, as he had pointed out himself, was
playing a generous part. And if wrong had been done - and
done to one who was, after, and in spite of, all, a Nicholson
- it should certainly be righted.
All things considered, monstrous as it was to be cut short in
his inquiries, the old gentleman submitted, pocketed the
change, and followed his son into the dining-room. During
these few steps he once more mentally revolted, and once
more, and this time finally, laid down his arms: a still,
small voice in his bosom having informed him authentically of
a piece of news; that he was afraid of Alexander. The
strange thing was that he was pleased to be afraid of him.
He was proud of his son; he might be proud of him; the boy
had character and grit, and knew what he was doing.
These were his reflections as he turned the corner of the
dining-room door. Miss Mackenzie was in the place of honour,
conjuring with a tea-pot and a cosy; and, behold! there was
another person present, a large, portly, whiskered man of a
very comfortable and respectable air, who now rose from his
seat and came forward, holding out his hand.
'Good-morning, father,' said he.
Of the contention of feeling that ran high in Mr. Nicholson's
starched bosom, no outward sign was visible; nor did he delay
long to make a choice of conduct. Yet in that interval he
had reviewed a great field of possibilities both past and
future; whether it was possible he had not been perfectly
wise in his treatment of John; whether it was possible that
John was innocent; whether, if he turned John out a second
time, as his outraged authority suggested, it was possible to
avoid a scandal; and whether, if he went to that extremity,
it was possible that Alexander might rebel.
'Hum!' said Mr. Nicholson, and put his hand, limp and dead,
into John's.
And then, in an embarrassed silence, all took their places;
and even the paper - from which it was the old gentleman's
habit to suck mortification daily, as he marked the decline
of our institutions - even the paper lay furled by his side.
But presently Flora came to the rescue. She slid into the
silence with a technicality, asking if John still took his
old inordinate amount of sugar. Thence it was but a step to
the burning question of the day; and in tones a little
shaken, she commented on the interval since she had last made
tea for the prodigal, and congratulated him on his return.
And then addressing Mr. Nicholson, she congratulated him also
in a manner that defied his ill-humour; and from that
launched into the tale of John's misadventures, not without
some suitable suppressions.
Gradually Alexander joined; between them, whether he would or
no, they forced a word or two from John; and these fell so
tremulously, and spoke so eloquently of a mind oppressed with
dread, that Mr. Nicholson relented. At length even he
contributed a question: and before the meal was at an end all
four were talking even freely.
Prayers followed, with the servants gaping at this new-comer
whom no one had admitted; and after prayers there came that
moment on the clock which was the signal for Mr. Nicholson's
'John,' said he, 'of course you will stay here. Be very
careful not to excite Maria, if Miss Mackenzie thinks it
desirable that you should see her. Alexander, I wish to
speak with you alone.' And then, when they were both in the
back room: 'You need not come to the office to-day,' said he;
'you can stay and amuse your brother, and I think it would be
respectful to call on Uncle Greig. And by the bye' (this
spoken with a certain- dare we say? - bashfulness), 'I agree
to concede the principle of an allowance; and I will consult
with Doctor Durie, who is quite a man of the world and has
sons of his own, as to the amount. And, my fine fellow, you
may consider yourself in luck!' he added, with a smile.
'Thank you,' said Alexander.
Before noon a detective had restored to John his money, and
brought news, sad enough in truth, but perhaps the least sad
possible. Alan had been found in his own house in Regent
Terrace, under care of the terrified butler. He was quite
mad, and instead of going to prison, had gone to Morningside
Asylum. The murdered man, it appeared, was an evicted tenant
who had for nearly a year pursued his late landlord with
threats and insults; and beyond this, the cause and details
of the tragedy were lost.
When Mr. Nicholson returned from dinner they were able to put
a despatch into his hands: 'John V. Nicholson, Randolph
Crescent, Edinburgh. - Kirkham has disappeared; police
looking for him. All understood. Keep mind quite easy. -
Austin.' Having had this explained to him, the old gentleman
took down the cellar key and departed for two bottles of the
1820 port. Uncle Greig dined there that day, and Cousin
Robina, and, by an odd chance, Mr. Macewen; and the presence
of these strangers relieved what might have been otherwise a
somewhat strained relation. Ere they departed, the family
was welded once more into a fair semblance of unity.
In the end of April John led Flora - or, as more descriptive,
Flora led John - to the altar, if altar that may be called
which was indeed the drawing-room mantel-piece in Mr.
Nicholson's house, with the Reverend Dr. Durie posted on the
hearthrug in the guise of Hymen's priest.
The last I saw of them, on a recent visit to the north, was
at a dinner-party in the house of my old friend Gellatly
Macbride; and after we had, in classic phrase, 'rejoined the
ladies,' I had an opportunity to overhear Flora conversing
with another married woman on the much canvassed matter of a
husband's tobacco.
'Oh yes!' said she; 'I only allow Mr. Nicholson four cigars a
day. Three he smokes at fixed times - after a meal, you
know, my dear; and the fourth he can take when he likes with
any friend.'
'Bravo!' thought I to myself; 'this is the wife for my friend
EVERY night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour
of the George at Debenham - the undertaker, and the landlord,
and Fettes, and myself. Sometimes there would be more; but
blow high, blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four
would be each planted in his own particular arm-chair.
Fettes was an old drunken Scotchman, a man of education
obviously, and a man of some property, since he lived in
idleness. He had come to Debenham years ago, while still
young, and by a mere continuance of living had grown to be an
adopted townsman. His blue camlet cloak was a local
antiquity, like the church-spire. His place in the parlour
at the George, his absence from church, his old, crapulous,
disreputable vices, were all things of course in Debenham.
He had some vague Radical opinions and some fleeting
infidelities, which he would now and again set forth and
emphasise with tottering slaps upon the table. He drank rum
- five glasses regularly every evening; and for the greater
portion of his nightly visit to the George sat, with his
glass in his right hand, in a state of melancholy alcoholic
saturation. We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to
have some special knowledge of medicine, and had been known,
upon a pinch, to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation; but
beyond these slight particulars, we had no knowledge of his
character and antecedents.
One dark winter night - it had struck nine some time before
the landlord joined us - there was a sick man in the George,
a great neighbouring proprietor suddenly struck down with
apoplexy on his way to Parliament; and the great man's still
greater London doctor had been telegraphed to his bedside.
It was the first time that such a thing had happened in
Debenham, for the railway was but newly open, and we were all
proportionately moved by the occurrence.
'He's come,' said the landlord, after he had filled and
lighted his pipe.
'He?' said I. 'Who? - not the doctor?'
'Himself,' replied our host.
'What is his name?'
'Doctor Macfarlane,' said the landlord.
Fettes was far through his third tumbler, stupidly fuddled,
now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the
last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name
'Macfarlane' twice, quietly enough the first time, but with
sudden emotion at the second.
'Yes,' said the landlord, 'that's his name, Doctor Wolfe
Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice
became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and
earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a
man had risen from the dead.
'I beg your pardon,' he said, 'I am afraid I have not been
paying much attention to your talk. Who is this Wolfe
Macfarlane?' And then, when he had heard the landlord out,
'It cannot be, it cannot be,' he added; 'and yet I would like
well to see him face to face.'
'Do you know him, Doctor?' asked the undertaker, with a gasp.
'God forbid!' was the reply. 'And yet the name is a strange
one; it were too much to fancy two. Tell me, landlord, is he
'Well,' said the host, 'he's not a young man, to be sure, and
his hair is white; but he looks younger than you.'
'He is older, though; years older. But,' with a slap upon
the table, 'it's the rum you see in my face - rum and sin.
This man, perhaps, may have an easy conscience and a good
digestion. Conscience! Hear me speak. You would think I
was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not? But no,
not I; I never canted. Voltaire might have canted if he'd
stood in my shoes; but the brains' - with a rattling fillip
on his bald head - 'the brains were clear and active, and I
saw and made no deductions.'
'If you know this doctor,' I ventured to remark, after a
somewhat awful pause, 'I should gather that you do not share
the landlord's good opinion.'
Fettes paid no regard to me.
'Yes,' he said, with sudden decision, 'I must see him face to
There was another pause, and then a door was closed rather
sharply on the first floor, and a step was heard upon the
'That's the doctor,' cried the landlord. 'Look sharp, and
you can catch him.'
It was but two steps from the small parlour to the door of
the old George Inn; the wide oak staircase landed almost in
the street; there was room for a Turkey rug and nothing more
between the threshold and the last round of the descent; but
this little space was every evening brilliantly lit up, not
only by the light upon the stair and the great signal-lamp
below the sign, but by the warm radiance of the bar-room
window. The George thus brightly advertised itself to
passers-by in the cold street. Fettes walked steadily to the
spot, and we, who were hanging behind, beheld the two men
meet, as one of them had phrased it, face to face. Dr.
Macfarlane was alert and vigorous. His white hair set off
his pale and placid, although energetic, countenance. He was
richly dressed in the finest of broadcloth and the whitest of
linen, with a great gold watch-chain, and studs and
spectacles of the same precious material. He wore a broadfolded
tie, white and speckled with lilac, and he carried on
his arm a comfortable driving-coat of fur. There was no
doubt but he became his years, breathing, as he did, of
wealth and consideration; and it was a surprising contrast to
see our parlour sot - bald, dirty, pimpled, and robed in his
old camlet cloak - confront him at the bottom of the stairs.
'Macfarlane!' he said somewhat loudly, more like a herald
than a friend.
The great doctor pulled up short on the fourth step, as
though the familiarity of the address surprised and somewhat
shocked his dignity.
'Toddy Macfarlane!' repeated Fettes.
The London man almost staggered. He stared for the swiftest
of seconds at the man before him, glanced behind him with a
sort of scare, and then in a startled whisper, 'Fettes!' he
said, 'You!'
'Ay,' said the other, 'me! Did you think I was dead too? We
are not so easy shut of our acquaintance.'
'Hush, hush!' exclaimed the doctor. 'Hush, hush! this
meeting is so unexpected - I can see you are unmanned. I
hardly knew you, I confess, at first; but I am overjoyed -
overjoyed to have this opportunity. For the present it must
be how-d'ye-do and good-bye in one, for my fly is waiting,
and I must not fail the train; but you shall - let me see -
yes - you shall give me your address, and you can count on
early news of me. We must do something for you, Fettes. I
fear you are out at elbows; but we must see to that for auld
lang syne, as once we sang at suppers.'
'Money!' cried Fettes; 'money from you! The money that I had
from you is lying where I cast it in the rain.'
Dr. Macfarlane had talked himself into some measure of
superiority and confidence, but the uncommon energy of this
refusal cast him back into his first confusion.
A horrible, ugly look came and went across his almost
venerable countenance. 'My dear fellow,' he said, 'be it as
you please; my last thought is to offend you. I would
intrude on none. I will leave you my address, however - '
'I do not wish it - I do not wish to know the roof that
shelters you,' interrupted the other. 'I heard your name; I
feared it might be you; I wished to know if, after all, there
were a God; I know now that there is none. Begone!'
He still stood in the middle of the rug, between the stair
and doorway; and the great London physician, in order to
escape, would be forced to step to one side. It was plain
that he hesitated before the thought of this humiliation.
White as he was, there was a dangerous glitter in his
spectacles; but while he still paused uncertain, he became
aware that the driver of his fly was peering in from the
street at this unusual scene and caught a glimpse at the same
time of our little body from the parlour, huddled by the
corner of the bar. The presence of so many witnesses decided
him at once to flee. He crouched together, brushing on the
wainscot, and made a dart like a serpent, striking for the
door. But his tribulation was not yet entirely at an end,
for even as he was passing Fettes clutched him by the arm and
these words came in a whisper, and yet painfully distinct,
'Have you seen it again?'
The great rich London doctor cried out aloud with a sharp,
throttling cry; he dashed his questioner across the open
space, and, with his hands over his head, fled out of the
door like a detected thief. Before it had occurred to one of
us to make a movement the fly was already rattling toward the
station. The scene was over like a dream, but the dream had
left proofs and traces of its passage. Next day the servant
found the fine gold spectacles broken on the threshold, and
that very night we were all standing breathless by the barroom
window, and Fettes at our side, sober, pale, and
resolute in look.
'God protect us, Mr. Fettes!' said the landlord, coming first
into possession of his customary senses. 'What in the
universe is all this? These are strange things you have been
Fettes turned toward us; he looked us each in succession in
the face. 'See if you can hold your tongues,' said he.
'That man Macfarlane is not safe to cross; those that have
done so already have repented it too late.'
And then, without so much as finishing his third glass, far
less waiting for the other two, he bade us good-bye and went
forth, under the lamp of the hotel, into the black night.
We three turned to our places in the parlour, with the big
red fire and four clear candles; and as we recapitulated what
had passed, the first chill of our surprise soon changed into
a glow of curiosity. We sat late; it was the latest session
I have known in the old George. Each man, before we parted,
had his theory that he was bound to prove; and none of us had
any nearer business in this world than to track out the past
of our condemned companion, and surprise the secret that he
shared with the great London doctor. It is no great boast,
but I believe I was a better hand at worming out a story than
either of my fellows at the George; and perhaps there is now
no other man alive who could narrate to you the following
foul and unnatural events.
In his young days Fettes studied medicine in the schools of
Edinburgh. He had talent of a kind, the talent that picks up
swiftly what it hears and readily retails it for its own. He
worked little at home; but he was civil, attentive, and
intelligent in the presence of his masters. They soon picked
him out as a lad who listened closely and remembered well;
nay, strange as it seemed to me when I first heard it, he was
in those days well favoured, and pleased by his exterior.
There was, at that period, a certain extramural teacher of
anatomy, whom I shall here designate by the letter K. His
name was subsequently too well known. The man who bore it
skulked through the streets of Edinburgh in disguise, while
the mob that applauded at the execution of Burke called
loudly for the blood of his employer. But Mr. K- was then at
the top of his vogue; he enjoyed a popularity due partly to
his own talent and address, partly to the incapacity of his
rival, the university professor. The students, at least,
swore by his name, and Fettes believed himself, and was
believed by others, to have laid the foundations of success
when he had acquired the favour of this meteorically famous
man. Mr. K- was a BON VIVANT as well as an accomplished
teacher; he liked a sly illusion no less than a careful
preparation. In both capacities Fettes enjoyed and deserved
his notice, and by the second year of his attendance he held
the half-regular position of second demonstrator or subassistant
in his class.
In this capacity the charge of the theatre and lecture-room
devolved in particular upon his shoulders. He had to answer
for the cleanliness of the premises and the conduct of the
other students, and it was a part of his duty to supply,
receive, and divide the various subjects. It was with a view
to this last - at that time very delicate - affair that he
was lodged by Mr. K- in the same wynd, and at last in the
same building, with the dissecting-rooms. Here, after a
night of turbulent pleasures, his hand still tottering, his
sight still misty and confused, he would be called out of bed
in the black hours before the winter dawn by the unclean and
desperate interlopers who supplied the table. He would open
the door to these men, since infamous throughout the land.
He would help them with their tragic burden, pay them their
sordid price, and remain alone, when they were gone, with the
unfriendly relics of humanity. From such a scene he would
return to snatch another hour or two of slumber, to repair
the abuses of the night, and refresh himself for the labours
of the day.
Few lads could have been more insensible to the impressions
of a life thus passed among the ensigns of mortality. His
mind was closed against all general considerations. He was
incapable of interest in the fate and fortunes of another,
the slave of his own desires and low ambitions. Cold, light,
and selfish in the last resort, he had that modicum of
prudence, miscalled morality, which keeps a man from
inconvenient drunkenness or punishable theft. He coveted,
besides, a measure of consideration from his masters and his
fellow-pupils, and he had no desire to fail conspicuously in
the external parts of life. Thus he made it his pleasure to
gain some distinction in his studies, and day after day
rendered unimpeachable eye-service to his employer, Mr. K-.
For his day of work he indemnified himself by nights of
roaring, blackguardly enjoyment; and when that balance had
been struck, the organ that he called his conscience declared
itself content.
The supply of subjects was a continual trouble to him as well
as to his master. In that large and busy class, the raw
material of the anatomists kept perpetually running out; and
the business thus rendered necessary was not only unpleasant
in itself, but threatened dangerous consequences to all who
were concerned. It was the policy of Mr. K- to ask no
questions in his dealings with the trade. 'They bring the
body, and we pay the price,' he used to say, dwelling on the
alliteration - 'QUID PRO QUO.' And, again, and somewhat
profanely, 'Ask no questions,' he would tell his assistants,
'for conscience' sake.' There was no understanding that the
subjects were provided by the crime of murder. Had that idea
been broached to him in words, he would have recoiled in
horror; but the lightness of his speech upon so grave a
matter was, in itself, an offence against good manners, and a
temptation to the men with whom he dealt. Fettes, for
instance, had often remarked to himself upon the singular
freshness of the bodies. He had been struck again and again
by the hang-dog, abominable looks of the ruffians who came to
him before the dawn; and putting things together clearly in
his private thoughts, he perhaps attributed a meaning too
immoral and too categorical to the unguarded counsels of his
master. He understood his duty, in short, to have three
branches: to take what was brought, to pay the price, and to
avert the eye from any evidence of crime.
One November morning this policy of silence was put sharply
to the test. He had been awake all night with a racking
toothache - pacing his room like a caged beast or throwing
himself in fury on his bed - and had fallen at last into that
profound, uneasy slumber that so often follows on a night of
pain, when he was awakened by the third or fourth angry
repetition of the concerted signal. There was a thin, bright
moonshine; it was bitter cold, windy, and frosty; the town
had not yet awakened, but an indefinable stir already
preluded the noise and business of the day. The ghouls had
come later than usual, and they seemed more than usually
eager to be gone. Fettes, sick with sleep, lighted them
upstairs. He heard their grumbling Irish voices through a
dream; and as they stripped the sack from their sad
merchandise he leaned dozing, with his shoulder propped
against the wall; he had to shake himself to find the men
their money. As he did so his eyes lighted on the dead face.
He started; he took two steps nearer, with the candle raised.
'God Almighty!' he cried. 'That is Jane Galbraith!'
The men answered nothing, but they shuffled nearer the door.
'I know her, I tell you,' he continued. 'She was alive and
hearty yesterday. It's impossible she can be dead; it's
impossible you should have got this body fairly.'
'Sure, sir, you're mistaken entirely,' said one of the men.
But the other looked Fettes darkly in the eyes, and demanded
the money on the spot.
It was impossible to misconceive the threat or to exaggerate
the danger. The lad's heart failed him. He stammered some
excuses, counted out the sum, and saw his hateful visitors
depart. No sooner were they gone than he hastened to confirm
his doubts. By a dozen unquestionable marks he identified
the girl he had jested with the day before. He saw, with
horror, marks upon her body that might well betoken violence.
A panic seized him, and he took refuge in his room. There he
reflected at length over the discovery that he had made;
considered soberly the bearing of Mr. K-'s instructions and
the danger to himself of interference in so serious a
business, and at last, in sore perplexity, determined to wait
for the advice of his immediate superior, the class
This was a young doctor, Wolfe Macfarlane, a high favourite
among all the reckless students, clever, dissipated, and
unscrupulous to the last degree. He had travelled and
studied abroad. His manners were agreeable and a little
forward. He was an authority on the stage, skilful on the
ice or the links with skate or golf-club; he dressed with
nice audacity, and, to put the finishing touch upon his
glory, he kept a gig and a strong trotting-horse. With
Fettes he was on terms of intimacy; indeed, their relative
positions called for some community of life; and when
subjects were scarce the pair would drive far into the
country in Macfarlane's gig, visit and desecrate some lonely
graveyard, and return before dawn with their booty to the
door of the dissecting-room.
On that particular morning Macfarlane arrived somewhat
earlier than his wont. Fettes heard him, and met him on the
stairs, told him his story, and showed him the cause of his
alarm. Macfarlane examined the marks on her body.
'Yes,' he said with a nod, 'it looks fishy.'
'Well, what should I do?' asked Fettes.
'Do?' repeated the other. 'Do you want to do anything?
Least said soonest mended, I should say.'
'Some one else might recognise her,' objected Fettes. 'She
was as well known as the Castle Rock.'
'We'll hope not,' said Macfarlane, 'and if anybody does -
well, you didn't, don't you see, and there's an end. The
fact is, this has been going on too long. Stir up the mud,
and you'll get K- into the most unholy trouble; you'll be in
a shocking box yourself. So will I, if you come to that. I
should like to know how any one of us would look, or what the
devil we should have to say for ourselves, in any Christian
witness-box. For me, you know there's one thing certain -
that, practically speaking, all our subjects have been
'Macfarlane!' cried Fettes.
'Come now!' sneered the other. 'As if you hadn't suspected
it yourself!'
'Suspecting is one thing - '
'And proof another. Yes, I know; and I'm as sorry as you are
this should have come here,' tapping the body with his cane.
'The next best thing for me is not to recognise it; and,' he
added coolly, 'I don't. You may, if you please. I don't
dictate, but I think a man of the world would do as I do; and
I may add, I fancy that is what K- would look for at our
hands. The question is, Why did he choose us two for his
assistants? And I answer, because he didn't want old wives.'
This was the tone of all others to affect the mind of a lad
like Fettes. He agreed to imitate Macfarlane. The body of
the unfortunate girl was duly dissected, and no one remarked
or appeared to recognise her.
One afternoon, when his day's work was over, Fettes dropped
into a popular tavern and found Macfarlane sitting with a
stranger. This was a small man, very pale and dark, with
coal-black eyes. The cut of his features gave a promise of
intellect and refinement which was but feebly realised in his
manners, for he proved, upon a nearer acquaintance, coarse,
vulgar, and stupid. He exercised, however, a very remarkable
control over Macfarlane; issued orders like the Great Bashaw;
became inflamed at the least discussion or delay, and
commented rudely on the servility with which he was obeyed.
This most offensive person took a fancy to Fettes on the
spot, plied him with drinks, and honoured him with unusual
confidences on his past career. If a tenth part of what he
confessed were true, he was a very loathsome rogue; and the
lad's vanity was tickled by the attention of so experienced a
'I'm a pretty bad fellow myself,' the stranger remarked, 'but
Macfarlane is the boy - Toddy Macfarlane I call him. Toddy,
order your friend another glass.' Or it might be, 'Toddy,
you jump up and shut the door.' 'Toddy hates me,' he said
again. 'Oh yes, Toddy, you do!'
'Don't you call me that confounded name,' growled Macfarlane.
'Hear him! Did you ever see the lads play knife? He would
like to do that all over my body,' remarked the stranger.
'We medicals have a better way than that,' said Fettes.
'When we dislike a dead friend of ours, we dissect him.'
Macfarlane looked up sharply, as though this jest were
scarcely to his mind.
The afternoon passed. Gray, for that was the stranger's
name, invited Fettes to join them at dinner, ordered a feast
so sumptuous that the tavern was thrown into commotion, and
when all was done commanded Macfarlane to settle the bill.
It was late before they separated; the man Gray was incapably
drunk. Macfarlane, sobered by his fury, chewed the cud of
the money he had been forced to squander and the slights he
had been obliged to swallow. Fettes, with various liquors
singing in his head, returned home with devious footsteps and
a mind entirely in abeyance. Next day Macfarlane was absent
from the class, and Fettes smiled to himself as he imagined
him still squiring the intolerable Gray from tavern to
tavern. As soon as the hour of liberty had struck he posted
from place to place in quest of his last night's companions.
He could find them, however, nowhere; so returned early to
his rooms, went early to bed, and slept the sleep of the
At four in the morning he was awakened by the well-known
signal. Descending to the door, he was filled with
astonishment to find Macfarlane with his gig, and in the gig
one of those long and ghastly packages with which he was so
well acquainted.
'What?' he cried. 'Have you been out alone? How did you
But Macfarlane silenced him roughly, bidding him turn to
business. When they had got the body upstairs and laid it on
the table, Macfarlane made at first as if he were going away.
Then he paused and seemed to hesitate; and then, 'You had
better look at the face,' said he, in tones of some
constraint. 'You had better,' he repeated, as Fettes only
stared at him in wonder.
'But where, and how, and when did you come by it?' cried the
'Look at the face,' was the only answer.
Fettes was staggered; strange doubts assailed him. He looked
from the young doctor to the body, and then back again. At
last, with a start, he did as he was bidden. He had almost
expected the sight that met his eyes, and yet the shock was
cruel. To see, fixed in the rigidity of death and naked on
that coarse layer of sackcloth, the man whom he had left well
clad and full of meat and sin upon the threshold of a tavern,
awoke, even in the thoughtless Fettes, some of the terrors of
the conscience. It was a CRAS TIBI which re-echoed in his
soul, that two whom he had known should have come to lie upon
these icy tables. Yet these were only secondary thoughts.
His first concern regarded Wolfe. Unprepared for a challenge
so momentous, he knew not how to look his comrade in the
face. He durst not meet his eye, and he had neither words
nor voice at his command.
It was Macfarlane himself who made the first advance. He
came up quietly behind and laid his hand gently but firmly on
the other's shoulder.
'Richardson,' said he, 'may have the head.'
Now Richardson was a student who had long been anxious for
that portion of the human subject to dissect. There was no
answer, and the murderer resumed: 'Talking of business, you
must pay me; your accounts, you see, must tally.'
Fettes found a voice, the ghost of his own: 'Pay you!' he
cried. 'Pay you for that?'
'Why, yes, of course you must. By all means and on every
possible account, you must,' returned the other. 'I dare not
give it for nothing, you dare not take it for nothing; it
would compromise us both. This is another case like Jane
Galbraith's. The more things are wrong the more we must act
as if all were right. Where does old K- keep his money?'
'There,' answered Fettes hoarsely, pointing to a cupboard in
the corner.
'Give me the key, then,' said the other, calmly, holding out
his hand.
There was an instant's hesitation, and the die was cast.
Macfarlane could not suppress a nervous twitch, the
infinitesimal mark of an immense relief, as he felt the key
between his fingers. He opened the cupboard, brought out pen
and ink and a paper-book that stood in one compartment, and
separated from the funds in a drawer a sum suitable to the
'Now, look here,' he said, 'there is the payment made - first
proof of your good faith: first step to your security. You
have now to clinch it by a second. Enter the payment in your
book, and then you for your part may defy the devil.'
The next few seconds were for Fettes an agony of thought; but
in balancing his terrors it was the most immediate that
triumphed. Any future difficulty seemed almost welcome if he
could avoid a present quarrel with Macfarlane. He set down
the candle which he had been carrying all this time, and with
a steady hand entered the date, the nature, and the amount of
the transaction.
'And now,' said Macfarlane, 'it's only fair that you should
pocket the lucre. I've had my share already. By the bye,
when a man of the world falls into a bit of luck, has a few
shillings extra in his pocket - I'm ashamed to speak of it,
but there's a rule of conduct in the case. No treating, no
purchase of expensive class-books, no squaring of old debts;
borrow, don't lend.'
'Macfarlane,' began Fettes, still somewhat hoarsely, 'I have
put my neck in a halter to oblige you.'
'To oblige me?' cried Wolfe. 'Oh, come! You did, as near as
I can see the matter, what you downright had to do in selfdefence.
Suppose I got into trouble, where would you be?
This second little matter flows clearly from the first. Mr.
Gray is the continuation of Miss Galbraith. You can't begin
and then stop. If you begin, you must keep on beginning;
that's the truth. No rest for the wicked.'
A horrible sense of blackness and the treachery of fate
seized hold upon the soul of the unhappy student.
'My God!' he cried, 'but what have I done? and when did I
begin? To be made a class assistant - in the name of reason,
where's the harm in that? Service wanted the position;
Service might have got it. Would HE have been where I am
'My dear fellow,' said Macfarlane, 'what a boy you are! What
harm HAS come to you? What harm CAN come to you if you hold
your tongue? Why, man, do you know what this life is? There
are two squads of us - the lions and the lambs. If you're a
lamb, you'll come to lie upon these tables like Gray or Jane
Galbraith; if you're a lion, you'll live and drive a horse
like me, like K-, like all the world with any wit or courage.
You're staggered at the first. But look at K-! My dear
fellow, you're clever, you have pluck. I like you, and Klikes
you. You were born to lead the hunt; and I tell you,
on my honour and my experience of life, three days from now
you'll laugh at all these scarecrows like a High School boy
at a farce.'
And with that Macfarlane took his departure and drove off up
the wynd in his gig to get under cover before daylight.
Fettes was thus left alone with his regrets. He saw the
miserable peril in which he stood involved. He saw, with
inexpressible dismay, that there was no limit to his
weakness, and that, from concession to concession, he had
fallen from the arbiter of Macfarlane's destiny to his paid
and helpless accomplice. He would have given the world to
have been a little braver at the time, but it did not occur
to him that he might still be brave. The secret of Jane
Galbraith and the cursed entry in the day-book closed his
Hours passed; the class began to arrive; the members of the
unhappy Gray were dealt out to one and to another, and
received without remark. Richardson was made happy with the
head; and before the hour of freedom rang Fettes trembled
with exultation to perceive how far they had already gone
toward safety.
For two days he continued to watch, with increasing joy, the
dreadful process of disguise.
On the third day Macfarlane made his appearance. He had been
ill, he said; but he made up for lost time by the energy with
which he directed the students. To Richardson in particular
he extended the most valuable assistance and advice, and that
student, encouraged by the praise of the demonstrator, burned
high with ambitious hopes, and saw the medal already in his
Before the week was out Macfarlane's prophecy had been
fulfilled. Fettes had outlived his terrors and had forgotten
his baseness. He began to plume himself upon his courage,
and had so arranged the story in his mind that he could look
back on these events with an unhealthy pride. Of his
accomplice he saw but little. They met, of course, in the
business of the class; they received their orders together
from Mr. K-. At times they had a word or two in private, and
Macfarlane was from first to last particularly kind and
jovial. But it was plain that he avoided any reference to
their common secret; and even when Fettes whispered to him
that he had cast in his lot with the lions and foresworn the
lambs, he only signed to him smilingly to hold his peace.
At length an occasion arose which threw the pair once more
into a closer union. Mr. K- was again short of subjects;
pupils were eager, and it was a part of this teacher's
pretensions to be always well supplied. At the same time
there came the news of a burial in the rustic graveyard of
Glencorse. Time has little changed the place in question.
It stood then, as now, upon a cross road, out of call of
human habitations, and buried fathom deep in the foliage of
six cedar trees. The cries of the sheep upon the
neighbouring hills, the streamlets upon either hand, one
loudly singing among pebbles, the other dripping furtively
from pond to pond, the stir of the wind in mountainous old
flowering chestnuts, and once in seven days the voice of the
bell and the old tunes of the precentor, were the only sounds
that disturbed the silence around the rural church. The
Resurrection Man - to use a byname of the period - was not to
be deterred by any of the sanctities of customary piety. It
was part of his trade to despise and desecrate the scrolls
and trumpets of old tombs, the paths worn by the feet of
worshippers and mourners, and the offerings and the
inscriptions of bereaved affection. To rustic
neighbourhoods, where love is more than commonly tenacious,
and where some bonds of blood or fellowship unite the entire
society of a parish, the body-snatcher, far from being
repelled by natural respect, was attracted by the ease and
safety of the task. To bodies that had been laid in earth,
in joyful expectation of a far different awakening, there
came that hasty, lamp-lit, terror-haunted resurrection of the
spade and mattock. The coffin was forced, the cerements
torn, and the melancholy relics, clad in sackcloth, after
being rattled for hours on moonless byways, were at length
exposed to uttermost indignities before a class of gaping
Somewhat as two vultures may swoop upon a dying lamb, Fettes
and Macfarlane were to be let loose upon a grave in that
green and quiet resting-place. The wife of a farmer, a woman
who had lived for sixty years, and been known for nothing but
good butter and a godly conversation, was to be rooted from
her grave at midnight and carried, dead and naked, to that
far-away city that she had always honoured with her Sunday's
best; the place beside her family was to be empty till the
crack of doom; her innocent and almost venerable members to
be exposed to that last curiosity of the anatomist.
Late one afternoon the pair set forth, well wrapped in cloaks
and furnished with a formidable bottle. It rained without
remission - a cold, dense, lashing rain. Now and again there
blew a puff of wind, but these sheets of falling water kept
it down. Bottle and all, it was a sad and silent drive as
far as Penicuik, where they were to spend the evening. They
stopped once, to hide their implements in a thick bush not
far from the churchyard, and once again at the Fisher's
Tryst, to have a toast before the kitchen fire and vary their
nips of whisky with a glass of ale. When they reached their
journey's end the gig was housed, the horse was fed and
comforted, and the two young doctors in a private room sat
down to the best dinner and the best wine the house afforded.
The lights, the fire, the beating rain upon the window, the
cold, incongruous work that lay before them, added zest to
their enjoyment of the meal. With every glass their
cordiality increased. Soon Macfarlane handed a little pile
of gold to his companion.
'A compliment,' he said. 'Between friends these little d-d
accommodations ought to fly like pipe-lights.'
Fettes pocketed the money, and applauded the sentiment to the
echo. 'You are a philosopher,' he cried. 'I was an ass till
I knew you. You and K- between you, by the Lord Harry! but
you'll make a man of me.'
'Of course we shall,' applauded Macfarlane. 'A man? I tell
you, it required a man to back me up the other morning.
There are some big, brawling, forty-year-old cowards who
would have turned sick at the look of the d-d thing; but not
you - you kept your head. I watched you.'
'Well, and why not?' Fettes thus vaunted himself. 'It was no
affair of mine. There was nothing to gain on the one side
but disturbance, and on the other I could count on your
gratitude, don't you see?' And he slapped his pocket till
the gold pieces rang.
Macfarlane somehow felt a certain touch of alarm at these
unpleasant words. He may have regretted that he had taught
his young companion so successfully, but he had no time to
interfere, for the other noisily continued in this boastful
'The great thing is not to be afraid. Now, between you and
me, I don't want to hang - that's practical; but for all
cant, Macfarlane, I was born with a contempt. Hell, God,
Devil, right, wrong, sin, crime, and all the old gallery of
curiosities - they may frighten boys, but men of the world,
like you and me, despise them. Here's to the memory of
It was by this time growing somewhat late. The gig,
according to order, was brought round to the door with both
lamps brightly shining, and the young men had to pay their
bill and take the road. They announced that they were bound
for Peebles, and drove in that direction till they were clear
of the last houses of the town; then, extinguishing the
lamps, returned upon their course, and followed a by-road
toward Glencorse. There was no sound but that of their own
passage, and the incessant, strident pouring of the rain. It
was pitch dark; here and there a white gate or a white stone
in the wall guided them for a short space across the night;
but for the most part it was at a foot pace, and almost
groping, that they picked their way through that resonant
blackness to their solemn and isolated destination. In the
sunken woods that traverse the neighbourhood of the buryingground
the last glimmer failed them, and it became necessary
to kindle a match and re-illumine one of the lanterns of the
gig. Thus, under the dripping trees, and environed by huge
and moving shadows, they reached the scene of their
unhallowed labours.
They were both experienced in such affairs, and powerful with
the spade; and they had scarce been twenty minutes at their
task before they were rewarded by a dull rattle on the coffin
lid. At the same moment Macfarlane, having hurt his hand
upon a stone, flung it carelessly above his head. The grave,
in which they now stood almost to the shoulders, was close to
the edge of the plateau of the graveyard; and the gig lamp
had been propped, the better to illuminate their labours,
against a tree, and on the immediate verge of the steep bank
descending to the stream. Chance had taken a sure aim with
the stone. Then came a clang of broken glass; night fell
upon them; sounds alternately dull and ringing announced the
bounding of the lantern down the bank, and its occasional
collision with the trees. A stone or two, which it had
dislodged in its descent, rattled behind it into the
profundities of the glen; and then silence, like night,
resumed its sway; and they might bend their hearing to its
utmost pitch, but naught was to be heard except the rain, now
marching to the wind, now steadily falling over miles of open
They were so nearly at an end of their abhorred task that
they judged it wisest to complete it in the dark. The coffin
was exhumed and broken open; the body inserted in the
dripping sack and carried between them to the gig; one
mounted to keep it in its place, and the other, taking the
horse by the mouth, groped along by wall and bush until they
reached the wider road by the Fisher's Tryst. Here was a
faint, diffused radiancy, which they hailed like daylight; by
that they pushed the horse to a good pace and began to rattle
along merrily in the direction of the town.
They had both been wetted to the skin during their
operations, and now, as the gig jumped among the deep ruts,
the thing that stood propped between them fell now upon one
and now upon the other. At every repetition of the horrid
contact each instinctively repelled it with the greater
haste; and the process, natural although it was, began to
tell upon the nerves of the companions. Macfarlane made some
ill-favoured jest about the farmer's wife, but it came
hollowly from his lips, and was allowed to drop in silence.
Still their unnatural burden bumped from side to side; and
now the head would be laid, as if in confidence, upon their
shoulders, and now the drenching sack-cloth would flap icily
about their faces. A creeping chill began to possess the
soul of Fettes. He peered at the bundle, and it seemed
somehow larger than at first. All over the country-side, and
from every degree of distance, the farm dogs accompanied
their passage with tragic ululations; and it grew and grew
upon his mind that some unnatural miracle had been
accomplished, that some nameless change had befallen the dead
body, and that it was in fear of their unholy burden that the
dogs were howling.
'For God's sake,' said he, making a great effort to arrive at
speech, 'for God's sake, let's have a light!'
Seemingly Macfarlane was affected in the same direction; for,
though he made no reply, he stopped the horse, passed the
reins to his companion, got down, and proceeded to kindle the
remaining lamp. They had by that time got no farther than
the cross-road down to Auchenclinny. The rain still poured
as though the deluge were returning, and it was no easy
matter to make a light in such a world of wet and darkness.
When at last the flickering blue flame had been transferred
to the wick and began to expand and clarify, and shed a wide
circle of misty brightness round the gig, it became possible
for the two young men to see each other and the thing they
had along with them. The rain had moulded the rough sacking
to the outlines of the body underneath; the head was distinct
from the trunk, the shoulders plainly modelled; something at
once spectral and human riveted their eyes upon the ghastly
comrade of their drive.
For some time Macfarlane stood motionless, holding up the
lamp. A nameless dread was swathed, like a wet sheet, about
the body, and tightened the white skin upon the face of
Fettes; a fear that was meaningless, a horror of what could
not be, kept mounting to his brain. Another beat of the
watch, and he had spoken. But his comrade forestalled him.
'That is not a woman,' said Macfarlane, in a hushed voice.
'It was a woman when we put her in,' whispered Fettes.
'Hold that lamp,' said the other. 'I must see her face.'
And as Fettes took the lamp his companion untied the
fastenings of the sack and drew down the cover from the head.
The light fell very clear upon the dark, well-moulded
features and smooth-shaven cheeks of a too familiar
countenance, often beheld in dreams of both of these young
men. A wild yell rang up into the night; each leaped from
his own side into the roadway: the lamp fell, broke, and was
extinguished; and the horse, terrified by this unusual
commotion, bounded and went off toward Edinburgh at a gallop,
bearing along with it, sole occupant of the gig, the body of
the dead and long-dissected Gray.
WHEN Dick Naseby was in Paris he made some odd acquaintances;
for he was one of those who have ears to hear, and can use
their eyes no less than their intelligence. He made as many
thoughts as Stuart Mill; but his philosophy concerned flesh
and blood, and was experimental as to its method. He was a
type-hunter among mankind. He despised small game and
insignificant personalities, whether in the shape of dukes or
bagmen, letting them go by like sea-weed; but show him a
refined or powerful face, let him hear a plangent or a
penetrating voice, fish for him with a living look in some
one's eye, a passionate gesture, a meaning and ambiguous
smile, and his mind was instantaneously awakened. 'There was
a man, there was a woman,' he seemed to say, and he stood up
to the task of comprehension with the delight of an artist in
his art.
And indeed, rightly considered, this interest of his was an
artistic interest. There is no science in the personal study
of human nature. All comprehension is creation; the woman I
love is somewhat of my handiwork; and the great lover, like
the great painter, is he that can so embellish his subject as
to make her more than human, whilst yet by a cunning art he
has so based his apotheosis on the nature of the case that
the woman can go on being a true woman, and give her
character free play, and show littleness, or cherish spite,
or be greedy of common pleasures, and he continue to worship
without a thought of incongruity. To love a character is
only the heroic way of understanding it. When we love, by
some noble method of our own or some nobility of mien or
nature in the other, we apprehend the loved one by what is
noblest in ourselves. When we are merely studying an
eccentricity, the method of our study is but a series of
allowances. To begin to understand is to begin to
sympathise; for comprehension comes only when we have stated
another's faults and virtues in terms of our own. Hence the
proverbial toleration of artists for their own evil
creations. Hence, too, it came about that Dick Naseby, a
high-minded creature, and as scrupulous and brave a gentleman
as you would want to meet, held in a sort of affection the
various human creeping things whom he had met and studied.
One of these was Mr. Peter Van Tromp, an English-speaking,
two-legged animal of the international genus, and by
profession of general and more than equivocal utility. Years
before he had been a painter of some standing in a colony,
and portraits signed 'Van Tromp' had celebrated the greatness
of colonial governors and judges. In those days he had been
married, and driven his wife and infant daughter in a pony
trap. What were the steps of his declension? No one exactly
knew. Here he was at least, and had been any time these past
ten years, a sort of dismal parasite upon the foreigner in
It would be hazardous to specify his exact industry.
Coarsely followed, it would have merited a name grown
somewhat unfamiliar to our ears. Followed as he followed it,
with a skilful reticence, in a kind of social chiaroscuro, it
was still possible for the polite to call him a professional
painter. His lair was in the Grand Hotel and the gaudiest
cafes. There he might be seen jotting off a sketch with an
air of some inspiration; and he was always affable, and one
of the easiest of men to fall in talk withal. A conversation
usually ripened into a peculiar sort of intimacy, and it was
extraordinary how many little services Van Tromp contrived to
render in the course of six-and-thirty hours. He occupied a
position between a friend and a courier, which made him worse
than embarrassing to repay. But those whom he obliged could
always buy one of his villainous little pictures, or, where
the favours had been prolonged and more than usually
delicate, might order and pay for a large canvas, with
perfect certainty that they would hear no more of the
Among resident artists he enjoyed celebrity of a nonprofessional
sort. He had spent more money - no less than
three individual fortunes, it was whispered - than any of his
associates could ever hope to gain. Apart from his colonial
career, he had been to Greece in a brigantine with four brass
carronades; he had travelled Europe in a chaise and four,
drawing bridle at the palace-doors of German princes; queens
of song and dance had followed him like sheep and paid his
tailor's bills. And to behold him now, seeking small loans
with plaintive condescension, sponging for breakfast on an
art-student of nineteen, a fallen Don Juan who had neglected
to die at the propitious hour, had a colour of romance for
young imaginations. His name and his bright past, seen
through the prism of whispered gossip, had gained him the
nickname of THE ADMIRAL.
Dick found him one day at the receipt of custom, rapidly
painting a pair of hens and a cock in a little water-colour
sketching box, and now and then glancing at the ceiling like
a man who should seek inspiration from the muse. Dick
thought it remarkable that a painter should choose to work
over an absinthe in a public cafe, and looked the man over.
The aged rakishness of his appearance was set off by a
youthful costume; he had disreputable grey hair and a
disreputable sore, red nose; but the coat and the gesture,
the outworks of the man, were still designed for show. Dick
came up to his table and inquired if he might look at what
the gentleman was doing. No one was so delighted as the
'A bit of a thing,' said he. 'I just dash them off like
that. I - I dash them off,' he added with a gesture.
'Quite so,' said Dick, who was appalled by the feebleness of
the production.
'Understand me,' continued Van Tromp; 'I am a man of the
world. And yet - once an artist always an artist. All of a
sudden a thought takes me in the street; I become its prey:
it's like a pretty woman; no use to struggle; I must - dash
it off.'
'I see,' said Dick.
'Yes,' pursued the painter; 'it all comes easily, easily to
me; it is not my business; it's a pleasure. Life is my
business - life - this great city, Paris - Paris after dark -
its lights, its gardens, its odd corners. Aha!' he cried,
'to be young again! The heart is young, but the heels are
leaden. A poor, mean business, to grow old! Nothing remains
but the COUP D'OEIL, the contemplative man's enjoyment, Mr. -
,' and he paused for the name.
'Naseby,' returned Dick.
The other treated him at once to an exciting beverage, and
expatiated on the pleasure of meeting a compatriot in a
foreign land; to hear him, you would have thought they had
encountered in Central Africa. Dick had never found any one
take a fancy to him so readily, nor show it in an easier or
less offensive manner. He seemed tickled with him as an
elderly fellow about town might be tickled by a pleasant and
witty lad; he indicated that he was no precision, but in his
wildest times had never been such a blade as he thought Dick.
Dick protested, but in vain. This manner of carrying an
intimacy at the bayonet's point was Van Tromp's stock-intrade.
With an older man he insinuated himself; with youth
he imposed himself, and in the same breath imposed an ideal
on his victim, who saw that he must work up to it or lose the
esteem of this old and vicious patron. And what young man
can bear to lose a character for vice?
At last, as it grew towards dinner-time, 'Do you know Paris?'
asked Van Tromp.
'Not so well as you, I am convinced,' said Dick.
'And so am I,' returned Van Tromp gaily. 'Paris! My young
friend - you will allow me? - when you know Paris as I do,
you will have seen Strange Things. I say no more; all I say
is, Strange Things. We are men of the world, you and I, and
in Paris, in the heart of civilised existence. This is an
opportunity, Mr. Naseby. Let us dine. Let me show you where
to dine.'
Dick consented. On the way to dinner the Admiral showed him
where to buy gloves, and made him buy them; where to buy
cigars, and made him buy a vast store, some of which he
obligingly accepted. At the restaurant he showed him what to
order, with surprising consequences in the bill. What he
made that night by his percentages it would be hard to
estimate. And all the while Dick smilingly consented,
understanding well that he was being done, but taking his
losses in the pursuit of character as a hunter sacrifices his
dogs. As for the Strange Things, the reader will be relieved
to hear that they were no stranger than might have been
expected, and he may find things quite as strange without the
expense of a Van Tromp for guide. Yet he was a guide of no
mean order, who made up for the poverty of what he had to
show by a copious, imaginative commentary.
'And such,' said he, with a hiccup, 'such is Paris.'
'Pooh!' said Dick, who was tired of the performance.
The Admiral hung an ear, and looked up sidelong with a
glimmer of suspicion.
'Good night,' said Dick; 'I'm tired.'
'So English!' cried Van Tromp, clutching him by the hand.
'So English! So BLASE! Such a charming companion! Let me
see you home.'
'Look here,' returned Dick, 'I have said good night, and now
I'm going. You're an amusing old boy: I like you, in a
sense; but here's an end of it for to-night. Not another
cigar, not another grog, not another percentage out of me.'
'I beg your pardon!' cried the Admiral with dignity.
'Tut, man!' said Dick; 'you're not offended; you're a man of
the world, I thought. I've been studying you, and it's over.
Have I not paid for the lesson? AU REVOIR.'
Van Tromp laughed gaily, shook hands up to the elbows, hoped
cordially they would meet again and that often, but looked
after Dick as he departed with a tremor of indignation.
After that they two not unfrequently fell in each other's
way, and Dick would often treat the old boy to breakfast on a
moderate scale and in a restaurant of his own selection.
Often, too, he would lend Van Tromp the matter of a pound, in
view of that gentleman's contemplated departure for
Australia; there would be a scene of farewell almost touching
in character, and a week or a month later they would meet on
the same boulevard without surprise or embarrassment. And in
the meantime Dick learned more about his acquaintance on all
sides: heard of his yacht, his chaise and four, his brief
season of celebrity amid a more confiding population, his
daughter, of whom he loved to whimper in his cups, his
sponging, parasitical, nameless way of life; and with each
new detail something that was not merely interest nor yet
altogether affection grew up in his mind towards this
disreputable stepson of the arts. Ere he left Paris Van
Tromp was one of those whom he entertained to a farewell
supper; and the old gentleman made the speech of the evening,
and then fell below the table, weeping, smiling, paralysed.
OLD Mr. Naseby had the sturdy, untutored nature of the upper
middle class. The universe seemed plain to him. 'The
thing's right,' he would say, or 'the thing's wrong'; and
there was an end of it. There was a contained, prophetic
energy in his utterances, even on the slightest affairs; he
SAW the damned thing; if you did not, it must be from
perversity of will; and this sent the blood to his head.
Apart from this, which made him an exacting companion, he was
one of the most upright, hot-tempered, hot-headed old
gentlemen in England. Florid, with white hair, the face of
an old Jupiter, and the figure of an old fox-hunter, he
enlivened the vale of Thyme from end to end on his big,
cantering chestnut.
He had a hearty respect for Dick as a lad of parts. Dick had
a respect for his father as the best of men, tempered by the
politic revolt of a youth who has to see to his own
independence. Whenever the pair argued, they came to an open
rupture; and arguments were frequent, for they were both
positive, and both loved the work of the intelligence. It
was a treat to hear Mr. Naseby defending the Church of
England in a volley of oaths, or supporting ascetic morals
with an enthusiasm not entirely innocent of port wine. Dick
used to wax indignant, and none the less so because, as his
father was a skilful disputant, he found himself not seldom
in the wrong. On these occasions, he would redouble in
energy, and declare that black was white, and blue yellow,
with much conviction and heat of manner; but in the morning
such a licence of debate weighed upon him like a crime, and
he would seek out his father, where he walked before
breakfast on a terrace overlooking all the vale of Thyme.
'I have to apologise, sir, for last night - ' he would begin.
'Of course you have,' the old gentleman would cut in
cheerfully. 'You spoke like a fool. Say no more about it.'
'You do not understand me, sir. I refer to a particular
point. I confess there is much force in your argument from
the doctrine of possibilities.'
'Of course there is,' returned his father. 'Come down and
look at the stables. Only,' he would add, 'bear this in
mind, and do remember that a man of my age and experience
knows more about what he is saying than a raw boy.'
He would utter the word 'boy' even more offensively than the
average of fathers, and the light way in which he accepted
these apologies cut Richard to the heart. The latter drew
slighting comparisons, and remembered that he was the only
one who ever apologised. This gave him a high station in his
own esteem, and thus contributed indirectly to his better
behaviour; for he was scrupulous as well as high-spirited,
and prided himself on nothing more than on a just submission.
So things went on until the famous occasion when Mr. Naseby,
becoming engrossed in securing the election of a sound party
candidate to Parliament, wrote a flaming letter to the
papers. The letter had about every demerit of party letters
in general; it was expressed with the energy of a believer;
it was personal; it was a little more than half unfair, and
about a quarter untrue. The old man did not mean to say what
was untrue, you may be sure; but he had rashly picked up
gossip, as his prejudice suggested, and now rashly launched
it on the public with the sanction of his name.
'The Liberal candidate,' he concluded, 'is thus a public
turncoat. Is that the sort of man we want? He has been
given the lie, and has swallowed the insult. Is that the
sort of man we want? I answer No! With all the force of my
conviction, I answer, NO!'
And then he signed and dated the letter with an amateur's
pride, and looked to be famous by the morrow.
Dick, who had heard nothing of the matter, was up first on
that inauspicious day, and took the journal to an arbour in
the garden. He found his father's manifesto in one column;
and in another a leading article. 'No one that we are aware
of,' ran the article, 'had consulted Mr. Naseby on the
subject, but if he had been appealed to by the whole body of
electors, his letter would be none the less ungenerous and
unjust to Mr. Dalton. We do not choose to give the lie to
Mr. Naseby, for we are too well aware of the consequences;
but we shall venture instead to print the facts of both cases
referred to by this red-hot partisan in another portion of
our issue. Mr. Naseby is of course a large proprietor in our
neighbourhood; but fidelity to facts, decent feeling, and
English grammar, are all of them qualities more important
than the possession of land. Mr. - is doubtless a great man;
in his large gardens and that half-mile of greenhouses, where
he has probably ripened his intellect and temper, he may say
what he will to his hired vassals, but (as the Scotch say) -
He mauna think to domineer.
'Liberalism,' continued the anonymous journalist, 'is of too
free and sound a growth,' etc.
Richard Naseby read the whole thing from beginning to end;
and a crushing shame fell upon his spirit. His father had
played the fool; he had gone out noisily to war, and come
back with confusion. The moment that his trumpets sounded,
he had been disgracefully unhorsed. There was no question as
to the facts; they were one and all against the Squire.
Richard would have given his ears to have suppressed the
issue; but as that could not be done, he had his horse
saddled, and furnishing himself with a convenient staff, rode
off at once to Thymebury.
The editor was at breakfast in a large, sad apartment. The
absence of furniture, the extreme meanness of the meal, and
the haggard, bright-eyed, consumptive look of the culprit,
unmanned our hero; but he clung to his stick, and was stout
and warlike.
'You wrote the article in this morning's paper?' he demanded.
'You are young Mr. Naseby? I PUBLISHED it,' replied the
editor, rising.
'My father is an old man,' said Richard; and then with an
outburst, 'And a damned sight finer fellow than either you or
Dalton!' He stopped and swallowed; he was determined that
all should go with regularity. 'I have but one question to
put to you, sir,' he resumed. 'Granted that my father was
misinformed, would it not have been more decent to withhold
the letter and communicate with him in private?'
'Believe me,' returned the editor, 'that alternative was not
open to me. Mr. Naseby told me in a note that he had sent
his letter to three other journals, and in fact threatened me
with what he called exposure if I kept it back from mine. I
am really concerned at what has happened; I sympathise and
approve of your emotion, young gentleman; but the attack on
Mr. Dalton was gross, very gross, and I had no choice but to
offer him my columns to reply. Party has its duties, sir,'
added the scribe, kindling, as one who should propose a
sentiment; 'and the attack was gross.'
Richard stood for half a minute digesting the answer; and
then the god of fair play came upper-most in his heart, and
murmuring 'Good morning,' he made his escape into the street.
His horse was not hurried on the way home, and he was late
for breakfast. The Squire was standing with his back to the
fire in a state bordering on apoplexy, his fingers violently
knitted under his coat tails. As Richard came in, he opened
and shut his mouth like a cod-fish, and his eyes protruded.
'Have you seen that, sir?' he cried, nodding towards the
'Yes, sir,' said Richard.
'Oh, you've read it, have you?'
'Yes, I have read it,' replied Richard, looking at his foot.
'Well,' demanded the old gentleman, 'and what have you to say
to it, sir?'
'You seem to have been misinformed,' said Dick.
'Well? What then? Is your mind so sterile, sir? Have you
not a word of comment? no proposal?'
'I fear, sir, you must apologise to Mr. Dalton. It would be
more handsome, indeed it would be only just, and a free
acknowledgment would go far - ' Richard paused, no language
appearing delicate enough to suit the case.
'That is a suggestion which should have come from me, sir,'
roared the father. 'It is out of place upon your lips. It
is not the thought of a loyal son. Why, sir, if my father
had been plunged in such deplorable circumstances, I should
have thrashed the editor of that vile sheet within an inch of
his life. I should have thrashed the man, sir. It would
have been the action of an ass; but it would have shown that
I had the blood and the natural affections of a man. Son?
You are no son, no son of mine, sir!'
'Sir!' said Dick.
'I'll tell you what you are, sir,' pursued the Squire.
'You're a Benthamite. I disown you. Your mother would have
died for shame; there was no modern cant about your mother;
she thought - she said to me, sir - I'm glad she's in her
grave, Dick Naseby. Misinformed! Misinformed, sir? Have
you no loyalty, no spring, no natural affections? Are you
clockwork, hey? Away! This is no place for you. Away!'
(waving his hands in the air). 'Go away! Leave me!'
At this moment Dick beat a retreat in a disarray of nerves, a
whistling and clamour of his own arteries, and in short in
such a final bodily disorder as made him alike incapable of
speech or hearing. And in the midst of all this turmoil, a
sense of unpardonable injustice remained graven in his
THERE was no return to the subject. Dick and his father were
henceforth on terms of coldness. The upright old gentleman
grew more upright when he met his son, buckrammed with
immortal anger; he asked after Dick's health, and discussed
the weather and the crops with an appalling courtesy; his
pronunciation was POINT-DE-VICE, his voice was distant,
distinct, and sometimes almost trembling with suppressed
As for Dick, it seemed to him as if his life had come
abruptly to an end. He came out of his theories and
clevernesses; his premature man-of-the-worldness, on which he
had prided himself on his travels, 'shrank like a thing
ashamed' before this real sorrow. Pride, wounded honour,
pity and respect tussled together daily in his heart; and now
he was within an ace of throwing himself upon his father's
mercy, and now of slipping forth at night and coming back no
more to Naseby House. He suffered from the sight of his
father, nay, even from the neighbourhood of this familiar
valley, where every corner had its legend, and he was
besieged with memories of childhood. If he fled into a new
land, and among none but strangers, he might escape his
destiny, who knew? and begin again light-heartedly. From
that chief peak of the hills, that now and then, like an
uplifted finger, shone in an arrow of sunlight through the
broken clouds, the shepherd in clear weather might perceive
the shining of the sea. There, he thought, was hope. But
his heart failed him when he saw the Squire; and he remained.
His fate was not that of the voyager by sea and land; he was
to travel in the spirit, and begin his journey sooner than he
For it chanced one day that his walk led him into a portion
of the uplands which was almost unknown to him. Scrambling
through some rough woods, he came out upon a moorland
reaching towards the hills. A few lofty Scotch firs grew
hard by upon a knoll; a clear fountain near the foot of the
knoll sent up a miniature streamlet which meandered in the
heather. A shower had just skimmed by, but now the sun shone
brightly, and the air smelt of the pines and the grass. On a
stone under the trees sat a young lady sketching. We have
learned to think of women in a sort of symbolic
transfiguration, based on clothes; and one of the readiest
ways in which we conceive our mistress is as a composite
thing, principally petticoats. But humanity has triumphed
over clothes; the look, the touch of a dress has become
alive; and the woman who stitched herself into these material
integuments has now permeated right through and gone out to
the tip of her skirt. It was only a black dress that caught
Dick Naseby's eye; but it took possession of his mind, and
all other thoughts departed. He drew near, and the girl
turned round. Her face startled him; it was a face he
wanted; and he took it in at once like breathing air.
'I beg your pardon,' he said, taking off his hat, 'you are
'Oh!' she exclaimed, 'for my own amusement. I despise the
'Ten to one, you do yourself injustice,' returned Dick.
'Besides, it's a freemasonry. I sketch myself, and you know
what that implies.'
'No. What?' she asked.
'Two things,' he answered. 'First, that I am no very
difficult critic; and second, that I have a right to see your
She covered the block with both her hands. 'Oh no,' she
said; 'I am ashamed.'
'Indeed, I might give you a hint,' said Dick. 'Although no
artist myself, I have known many; in Paris I had many for
friends, and used to prowl among studios.'
'In Paris?' she cried, with a leap of light into her eyes.
'Did you ever meet Mr. Van Tromp?'
'I? Yes. Why, you're not the Admiral's daughter, are you?'
'The Admiral? Do they call him that?' she cried. 'Oh, how
nice, how nice of them! It is the younger men who call him
so, is it not?'
'Yes,' said Dick, somewhat heavily.
'You can understand now,' she said, with an unspeakable
accent of contented noble-minded pride, 'why it is I do not
choose to show my sketch. Van Tromp's daughter! The
Admiral's daughter! I delight in that name. The Admiral!
And so you know my father?'
'Well,' said Dick, 'I met him often; we were even intimate.
He may have mentioned my name - Naseby.'
'He writes so little. He is so busy, so devoted to his art!
I have had a half wish,' she added laughing, 'that my father
was a plainer man, whom I could help - to whom I could be a
credit; but only sometimes, you know, and with only half my
heart. For a great painter! You have seen his works?'
'I have seen some of them,' returned Dick; 'they - they are
very nice.'
She laughed aloud. 'Nice?' she repeated. 'I see you don't
care much for art.'
'Not much,' he admitted; 'but I know that many people are
glad to buy Mr. Van Tromp's pictures.'
'Call him the Admiral!' she cried. 'It sounds kindly and
familiar; and I like to think that he is appreciated and
looked up to by young painters. He has not always been
appreciated; he had a cruel life for many years; and when I
think' - there were tears in her eyes - 'when I think of
that, I feel incline to be a fool,' she broke off. 'And now
I shall go home. You have filled me full of happiness; for
think, Mr. Naseby, I have not seen my father since I was six
years old; and yet he is in my thoughts all day! You must
come and call on me; my aunt will be delighted, I am sure;
and then you will tell me all - all about my father, will you
Dick helped her to get her sketching traps together; and when
all was ready, she gave Dick her hand and a frank return of
'You are my father's friend,' she said; 'we shall be great
friends too. You must come and see me soon.'
Then she was gone down the hillside at a run; and Dick stood
by himself in a state of some bewilderment and even distress.
There were elements of laughter in the business; but the
black dress, and the face that belonged to it, and the hand
that he had held in his, inclined him to a serious view.
What was he, under the circumstances, called upon to do?
Perhaps to avoid the girl? Well, he would think about that.
Perhaps to break the truth to her? Why, ten to one, such was
her infatuation, he would fail. Perhaps to keep up the
illusion, to colour the raw facts; to help her to false
ideas, while yet not plainly stating falsehoods? Well, he
would see about that; he would also see about avoiding the
girl. He saw about this last so well, that the next
afternoon beheld him on his way to visit her.
In the meantime the girl had gone straight home, light as a
bird, tremulous with joy, to the little cottage where she
lived alone with a maiden aunt; and to that lady, a grim,
sixty years old Scotchwoman, with a nodding head,
communicated news of her encounter and invitation.
'A friend of his?' cried the aunt. 'What like is he? What
did ye say was his name?'
She was dead silent, and stared at the old woman darkling.
Then very slowly, 'I said he was my father's friend; I have
invited him to my house, and come he shall,' she said; and
with that she walked off to her room, where she sat staring
at the wall all the evening. Miss M'Glashan, for that was
the aunt's name, read a large bible in the kitchen with some
of the joys of martyrdom.
It was perhaps half-past three when Dick presented himself,
rather scrupulously dressed, before the cottage door; he
knocked, and a voice bade him enter. The kitchen, which
opened directly off the garden, was somewhat darkened by
foliage; but he could see her as she approached from the far
end to meet him. This second sight of her surprised him.
Her strong black brows spoke of temper easily aroused and
hard to quiet; her mouth was small, nervous and weak; there
was something dangerous and sulky underlying, in her nature,
much that was honest, compassionate, and even noble.
'My father's name,' she said, 'has made you very welcome.'
And she gave him her hand, with a sort of curtsy. It was a
pretty greeting, although somewhat mannered; and Dick felt
himself among the gods. She led him through the kitchen to a
parlour, and presented him to Miss M'Glashan.
'Esther,' said the aunt, 'see and make Mr. Naseby his tea.'
And as soon as the girl was gone upon this hospitable intent,
the old woman crossed the room and came quite near to Dick as
if in menace.
'Ye know that man?' she asked in an imperious whisper.
'Mr. Van Tromp?' said Dick. 'Yes, I know him.'
'Well, and what brings ye here?' she said. 'I couldn't save
the mother - her that's dead - but the bairn!' She had a
note in her voice that filled poor Dick with consternation.
'Man,' she went on, 'what is it now? Is it money?'
'My dear lady,' said Dick, 'I think you misinterpret my
position. I am young Mr. Naseby of Naseby House. My
acquaintance with Mr. Van Tromp is really very slender; I am
only afraid that Miss Van Tromp has exaggerated our intimacy
in her own imagination. I know positively nothing of his
private affairs, and do not care to know. I met him casually
in Paris - that is all.'
Miss M'Glashan drew along breath. 'In Paris?' she said.
'Well, and what do you think of him? - what do ye think of
him?' she repeated, with a different scansion, as Richard,
who had not much taste for such a question, kept her waiting
for an answer.
'I found him a very agreeable companion,' he said.
'Ay,' said she, 'did ye! And how does he win his bread?'
'I fancy,' he gasped, 'that Mr. Van Tromp has many generous
'I'll warrant!' she sneered; and before Dick could find more
to say, she was gone from the room.
Esther returned with the tea-things, and sat down.
'Now,' she said cosily, 'tell me all about my father.'
'He' - stammered Dick, 'he is a very agreeable companion.'
'I shall begin to think it is more than you are, Mr. Naseby,'
she said, with a laugh. 'I am his daughter, you forget.
Begin at the beginning, and tell me all you have seen of him,
all he said and all you answered. You must have met
somewhere; begin with that.'
So with that he began: how he had found the Admiral painting
in a cafe; how his art so possessed him that he could not
wait till he got home to - well, to dash off his idea; how
(this in reply to a question) his idea consisted of a cock
crowing and two hens eating corn; how he was fond of cocks
and hens; how this did not lead him to neglect more ambitious
forms of art; how he had a picture in his studio of a Greek
subject which was said to be remarkable from several points
of view; how no one had seen it nor knew the precise site of
the studio in which it was being vigorously though secretly
confected; how (in answer to a suggestion) this shyness was
common to the Admiral, Michelangelo, and others; how they
(Dick and Van Tromp) had struck up an acquaintance at once,
and dined together that same night; how he (the Admiral) had
once given money to a beggar; how he spoke with effusion of
his little daughter; how he had once borrowed money to send
her a doll - a trait worthy of Newton, she being then in her
nineteenth year at least; how, if the doll never arrived
(which it appeared it never did), the trait was only more
characteristic of the highest order of creative intellect;
how he was - no, not beautiful - striking, yes, Dick would go
so far, decidedly striking in appearance; how his boots were
made to lace and his coat was black, not cut-away, a frock;
and so on, and so on by the yard. It was astonishing how few
lies were necessary. After all, people exaggerated the
difficulty of life. A little steering, just a touch of the
rudder now and then, and with a willing listener there is no
limit to the domain of equivocal speech. Sometimes Miss
M'Glashan made a freezing sojourn in the parlour; and then
the task seemed unaccountably more difficult; but to Esther,
who was all eyes and ears, her face alight with interest, his
stream of language flowed without break or stumble, and his
mind was ever fertile in ingenious evasions and -
What an afternoon it was for Esther!
'Ah!' she said at last, 'it's good to hear all this! My
aunt, you should know, is narrow and too religious; she
cannot understand an artist's life. It does not frighten
me,' she added grandly; 'I am an artist's daughter.'
With that speech, Dick consoled himself for his imposture;
she was not deceived so grossly after all; and then if a
fraud, was not the fraud piety itself? - and what could be
more obligatory than to keep alive in the heart of a daughter
that filial trust and honour which, even although misplaced,
became her like a jewel of the mind? There might be another
thought, a shade of cowardice, a selfish desire to please;
poor Dick was merely human; and what would you have had him
A MONTH later Dick and Esther met at the stile beside the
cross roads; had there been any one to see them but the birds
and summer insects, it would have been remarked that they met
after a different fashion from the day before. Dick took her
in his arms, and their lips were set together for a long
while. Then he held her at arm's-length, and they looked
straight into each other's eyes.
'Esther!' he said; you should have heard his voice!
'Dick!' said she.
'My darling!'
It was some time before they started for their walk; he kept
an arm about her, and their sides were close together as they
walked; the sun, the birds, the west wind running among the
trees, a pressure, a look, the grasp tightening round a
single finger, these things stood them in lieu of thought and
filled their hearts with joy. The path they were following
led them through a wood of pine-trees carpeted with heather
and blue-berry, and upon this pleasant carpet, Dick, not
without some seriousness, made her sit down.
'Esther!' he began, 'there is something you ought to know.
You know my father is a rich man, and you would think, now
that we love each other, we might marry when we pleased. But
I fear, darling, we may have long to wait, and shall want all
our courage.'
'I have courage for anything,' she said, 'I have all I want;
with you and my father, I am so well off, and waiting is made
so happy, that I could wait a lifetime and not weary.'
He had a sharp pang at the mention of the Admiral. 'Hear me
out,' he continued. 'I ought to have told you this before;
but it is a thought I shrink from; if it were possible, I
should not tell you even now. My poor father and I are
scarce on speaking terms.'
'Your father,' she repeated, turning pale.
'It must sound strange to you; but yet I cannot think I am to
blame,' he said. 'I will tell you how it happened.'
'Oh Dick!' she said, when she had heard him to an end, 'how
brave you are, and how proud. Yet I would not be proud with
a father. I would tell him all.'
'What!' cried Dick, 'go in months after, and brag that I had
meant to thrash the man, and then didn't. And why? Because
my father had made a bigger ass of himself than I supposed.
My dear, that's nonsense.'
She winced at his words and drew away. 'But when that is all
he asks,' she pleaded. 'If he only knew that you had felt
that impulse, it would make him so proud and happy. He would
see you were his own son after all, and had the same thoughts
and the same chivalry of spirit. And then you did yourself
injustice when you spoke just now. It was because the editor
was weak and poor and excused himself, that you repented your
first determination. Had he been a big red man, with
whiskers, you would have beaten him - you know you would - if
Mr. Naseby had been ten times more committed. Do you think,
if you can tell it to me, and I understand at once, that it
would be more difficult to tell it to your own father, or
that he would not be more ready to sympathise with you than I
am? And I love you, Dick; but then he is your father.'
'My dear,' said Dick, desperately, 'you do not understand;
you do not know what it is to be treated with daily want of
comprehension and daily small injustices, through childhood
and boyhood and manhood, until you despair of a hearing,
until the thing rides you like a nightmare, until you almost
hate the sight of the man you love, and who's your father
after all. In short, Esther, you don't know what it is to
have a father, and that's what blinds you.'
'I see,' she said musingly, 'you mean that I am fortunate in
my father. But I am not so fortunate after all; you forget,
I do not know him; it is you who know him; he is already more
your father than mine.' And here she took his hand. Dick's
heart had grown as cold as ice. 'But I am sorry for you,
too,' she continued, 'it must be very sad and lonely.'
'You misunderstand me,' said Dick, chokingly. 'My father is
the best man I know in all this world; he is worth a hundred
of me, only he doesn't understand me, and he can't be made
There was a silence for a while. 'Dick,' she began again, 'I
am going to ask a favour, it's the first since you said you
loved me. May I see your father - see him pass, I mean,
where he will not observe me?'
'Why?' asked Dick.
'It is a fancy; you forget, I am romantic about fathers.'
The hint was enough for Dick; he consented with haste, and
full of hang-dog penitence and disgust, took her down by a
backway and planted her in the shrubbery, whence she might
see the Squire ride by to dinner. There they both sat
silent, but holding hands, for nearly half an hour. At last
the trotting of a horse sounded in the distance, the park
gates opened with a clang, and then Mr. Naseby appeared, with
stooping shoulders and a heavy, bilious countenance,
languidly rising to the trot. Esther recognised him at once;
she had often seen him before, though with her huge
indifference for all that lay outside the circle of her love,
she had never so much as wondered who he was; but now she
recognised him, and found him ten years older, leaden and
springless, and stamped by an abiding sorrow.
'Oh Dick, Dick!' she said, and the tears began to shine upon
her face as she hid it in his bosom; his own fell thickly
too. They had a sad walk home, and that night, full of love
and good counsel, Dick exerted every art to please his
father, to convince him of his respect and affection, to heal
up this breach of kindness, and reunite two hearts. But
alas! the Squire was sick and peevish; he had been all day
glooming over Dick's estrangement - for so he put it to
himself, and now with growls, cold words, and the cold
shoulder, he beat off all advances, and entrenched himself in
a just resentment.
THAT took place upon a Tuesday. On the Thursday following,
as Dick was walking by appointment, earlier than usual, in
the direction of the cottage, he was appalled to meet in the
lane a fly from Thymebury, containing the human form of Miss
M'Glashan. The lady did not deign to remark him in her
passage; her face was suffused with tears, and expressed much
concern for the packages by which she was surrounded. He
stood still, and asked himself what this circumstance might
portend. It was so beautiful a day that he was loth to
forecast evil, yet something must perforce have happened at
the cottage, and that of a decisive nature; for here was Miss
M'Glashan on her travels, with a small patrimony in brown
paper parcels, and the old lady's bearing implied hot battle
and unqualified defeat. Was the house to be closed against
him? Was Esther left alone, or had some new protector made
his appearance from among the millions of Europe? It is the
character of love to loathe the near relatives of the loved
one; chapters in the history of the human race have justified
this feeling, and the conduct of uncles, in particular, has
frequently met with censure from the independent novelist.
Miss M'Glashan was now seen in the rosy colours of regret;
whoever succeeded her, Dick felt the change would be for the
worse. He hurried forward in this spirit; his anxiety grew
upon him with every step; as he entered the garden a voice
fell upon his ear, and he was once more arrested, not this
time by doubt, but by indubitable certainty of ill.
The thunderbolt had fallen; the Admiral was here.
Dick would have retreated, in the panic terror of the moment;
but Esther kept a bright look-out when her lover was
expected. In a twinkling she was by his side, brimful of
news and pleasure, too glad to notice his embarrassment, and
in one of those golden transports of exultation which
transcend not only words but caresses. She took him by the
end of the fingers (reaching forward to take them, for her
great preoccupation was to save time), she drew him towards
her, pushed him past her in the door, and planted him face to
face with Mr. Van Tromp, in a suit of French country
velveteens and with a remarkable carbuncle on his nose.
Then, as though this was the end of what she could endure in
the way of joy, Esther turned and ran out of the room.
The two men remained looking at each other with some
confusion on both sides. Van Tromp was naturally the first
to recover; he put out his hand with a fine gesture.
'And you know my little lass, my Esther?' he said. 'This is
pleasant; this is what I have conceived of home. A strange
word for the old rover; but we all have a taste for home and
the home-like, disguise it how we may. It has brought me
here, Mr. Naseby,' he concluded, with an intonation that
would have made his fortune on the stage, so just, so sad, so
dignified, so like a man of the world and a philosopher, 'and
you see a man who is content.'
'I see,' said Dick.
'Sit down,' continued the parasite, setting the example.
'Fortune has gone against me. (I am just sirrupping a little
brandy - after my journey.) I was going down, Mr. Naseby;
between you and me, I was DECAVE; I borrowed fifty francs,
smuggled my valise past the concierge - a work of
considerable tact - and here I am!'
'Yes,' said Dick; 'and here you are.' He was quite idiotic.
Esther, at this moment, re-entered the room.
'Are you glad to see him?' she whispered in his ear, the
pleasure in her voice almost bursting through the whisper
into song.
'Oh yes,' said Dick, 'very.'
'I knew you would be,' she replied; 'I told him how you loved
'Help yourself,' said the Admiral, 'help yourself; and let us
drink to a new existence.'
'To a new existence,' repeated Dick; and he raised the
tumbler to his lips, but set it down untasted. He had had
enough of novelties for one day.
Esther was sitting on a stool beside her father's feet,
holding her knees in her arms, and looking with pride from
one to the other of her two visitors. Her eyes were so
bright that you were never sure if there were tears in them
or not; little voluptuous shivers ran about her body;
sometimes she nestled her chin into her throat, sometimes
threw back her head, with ecstasy; in a word, she was in that
state when it is said of people that they cannot contain
themselves for happiness. It would be hard to exaggerate the
agony of Richard.
And, in the meantime, Van Tromp ran on interminably.
'I never forget a friend,' said he, 'nor yet an enemy: of the
latter, I never had but two - myself and the public; and I
fancy I have had my vengeance pretty freely out of both.' He
chuckled. 'But those days are done. Van Tromp is no more.
He was a man who had successes; I believe you knew I had
successes - to which we shall refer no farther,' pulling down
his neckcloth with a smile. 'That man exists no more: by an
exercise of will I have destroyed him. There is something
like it in the poets. First, a brilliant and conspicuous
career - the observed, I may say, of all observers, including
the bum-bailie: and then, presto! a quiet, sly, old, rustic
BONHOMME, cultivating roses. In Paris, Mr. Naseby - '
'Call him Richard, father,' said Esther.
'Richard, if he will allow me. Indeed, we are old friends,
and now near neighbours; and, A PROPOS, how are we off for
neighbours, Richard? The cottage stands, I think, upon your
father's land - a family which I respect - and the wood, I
understand, is Lord Trevanion's. Not that I care; I am an
old Bohemian. I have cut society with a cut direct; I cut it
when I was prosperous, and now I reap my reward, and can cut
it with dignity in my declension. These are our little
AMOURS PROPRES, my daughter: your father must respect
himself. Thank you, yes; just a leetle, leetle, tiny -
thanks, thanks; you spoil me. But, as I was saying, Richard,
or was about to say, my daughter has been allowed to rust;
her aunt was a mere duenna; hence, in parenthesis, Richard,
her distrust of me; my nature and that of the duenna are
poles asunder - poles! But, now that I am here, now that I
have given up the fight, and live henceforth for one only of
my works - I have the modesty to say it is my best - my
daughter - well, we shall put all that to rights. The
neighbours, Richard?'
Dick was understood to say that there were many good families
in the Vale of Thyme.
'You shall introduce us,' said the Admiral.
Dick's shirt was wet; he made a lumbering excuse to go; which
Esther explained to herself by a fear of intrusion, and so
set down to the merit side of Dick's account, while she
proceeded to detain him.
'Before our walk?' she cried. 'Never! I must have my walk.'
'Let us all go,' said the Admiral, rising.
'You do not know that you are wanted,' she cried, leaning on
his shoulder with a caress. 'I might wish to speak to my old
friend about my new father. But you shall come to-day, you
shall do all you want; I have set my heart on spoiling you.'
'I will just take ONE drop more,' said the Admiral, stooping
to help himself to brandy. 'It is surprising how this
journey has fatigued me. But I am growing old, I am growing
old, I am growing old, and - I regret to add - bald.'
He cocked a white wide-awake coquettishly upon his head - the
habit of the lady-killer clung to him; and Esther had already
thrown on her hat, and was ready, while he was still studying
the result in a mirror: the carbuncle had somewhat painfully
arrested his attention.
'We are papa now; we must be respectable,' he said to Dick,
in explanation of his dandyism: and then he went to a bundle
and chose himself a staff. Where were the elegant canes of
his Parisian epoch? This was a support for age, and designed
for rustic scenes. Dick began to see and appreciate the
man's enjoyment in a new part, when he saw how carefully he
had 'made it up.' He had invented a gait for this first
country stroll with his daughter, which was admirably in key.
He walked with fatigue, he leaned upon the staff; he looked
round him with a sad, smiling sympathy on all that he beheld;
he even asked the name of a plant, and rallied himself gently
for an old town bird, ignorant of nature. 'This country life
will make me young again,' he sighed. They reached the top
of the hill towards the first hour of evening; the sun was
descending heaven, the colour had all drawn into the west;
the hills were modelled in their least contour by the soft,
slanting shine; and the wide moorlands, veined with glens and
hazelwoods, ran west and north in a hazy glory of light.
Then the painter wakened in Van Tromp.
'Gad, Dick,' he cried, 'what value!'
An ode in four hundred lines would not have seemed so
touching to Esther; her eyes filled with happy tears; yes,
here was the father of whom she had dreamed, whom Dick had
described; simple, enthusiastic, unworldly, kind, a painter
at heart, and a fine gentleman in manner.
And just then the Admiral perceived a house by the wayside,
and something depending over the house door which might be
construed as a sign by the hopeful and thirsty.
'Is that,' he asked, pointing with his stick, 'an inn?'
There was a marked change in his voice, as though he attached
importance to the inquiry: Esther listened, hoping she should
hear wit or wisdom.
Dick said it was.
'You know it?' inquired the Admiral.
'I have passed it a hundred times, but that is all,' replied
'Ah,' said Van Tromp, with a smile, and shaking his head;
'you are not an old campaigner; you have the world to learn.
Now I, you see, find an inn so very near my own home, and my
first thought is my neighbours. I shall go forward and make
my neighbours' acquaintance; no, you needn't come; I shall
not be a moment.'
And he walked off briskly towards the inn, leaving Dick alone
with Esther on the road.
'Dick,' she exclaimed, 'I am so glad to get a word with you;
I am so happy, I have such a thousand things to say; and I
want you to do me a favour. Imagine, he has come without a
paint-box, without an easel; and I want him to have all. I
want you to get them for me in Thymebury. You saw, this
moment, how his heart turned to painting. They can't live
without it,' she added; meaning perhaps Van Tromp and Michel
Up to that moment, she had observed nothing amiss in Dick's
behaviour. She was too happy to be curious; and his silence,
in presence of the great and good being whom she called her
father, had seemed both natural and praiseworthy. But now
that they were alone, she became conscious of a barrier
between her lover and herself, and alarm sprang up in her
'Dick,' she cried, 'you don't love me.'
'I do that,' he said heartily.
'But you are unhappy; you are strange; you - you are not glad
to see my father,' she concluded, with a break in her voice.
'Esther,' he said, 'I tell you that I love you; if you love
me, you know what that means, and that all I wish is to see
you happy. Do you think I cannot enjoy your pleasures?
Esther, I do. If I am uneasy, if I am alarmed, if - . Oh,
believe me, try and believe in me,' he cried, giving up
argument with perhaps a happy inspiration.
But the girl's suspicions were aroused; and though she
pressed the matter no farther (indeed, her father was already
seen returning), it by no means left her thoughts. At one
moment she simply resented the selfishness of a man who had
obtruded his dark looks and passionate language on her joy;
for there is nothing that a woman can less easily forgive
than the language of a passion which, even if only for the
moment, she does not share. At another, she suspected him of
jealousy against her father; and for that, although she could
see excuses for it, she yet despised him. And at least, in
one way or the other, here was the dangerous beginning of a
separation between two hearts. Esther found herself at
variance with her sweetest friend; she could no longer look
into his heart and find it written with the same language as
her own; she could no longer think of him as the sun which
radiated happiness upon her life, for she had turned to him
once, and he had breathed upon her black and chilly, radiated
blackness and frost. To put the whole matter in a word, she
was beginning, although ever so slightly, to fall out of
WE will not follow all the steps of the Admiral's return and
installation, but hurry forward towards the catastrophe,
merely chronicling by the way a few salient incidents,
wherein we must rely entirely upon the evidence of Richard,
for Esther to this day has never opened her mouth upon this
trying passage of her life, and as for the Admiral - well,
that naval officer, although still alive, and now more
suitably installed in a seaport town where he has a telescope
and a flag in his front garden, is incapable of throwing the
slightest gleam of light upon the affair. Often and often
has he remarked to the present writer: 'If I know what it was
all about, sir, I'll be - ' in short, be what I hope he will
not. And then he will look across at his daughter's
portrait, a photograph, shake his head with an amused
appearance, and mix himself another grog by way of
consolation. Once I heard him go farther, and express his
feelings with regard to Esther in a single but eloquent word.
'A minx, sir,' he said, not in anger, rather in amusement:
and he cordially drank her health upon the back of it. His
worst enemy must admit him to be a man without malice; he
never bore a grudge in his life, lacking the necessary taste
and industry of attention.
Yet it was during this obscure period that the drama was
really performed; and its scene was in the heart of Esther,
shut away from all eyes. Had this warm, upright, sullen girl
been differently used by destiny, had events come upon her
even in a different succession, for some things lead easily
to others, the whole course of this tale would have been
changed, and Esther never would have run away. As it was,
through a series of acts and words of which we know but few,
and a series of thoughts which any one may imagine for
himself, she was awakened in four days from the dream of a
The first tangible cause of disenchantment was when Dick
brought home a painter's arsenal on Friday evening. The
Admiral was in the chimney-corner, once more 'sirrupping'
some brandy and water, and Esther sat at the table at work.
They both came forward to greet the new arrival; and the
girl, relieving him of his monstrous burthen, proceeded to
display her offerings to her father. Van Tromp's countenance
fell several degrees; he became quite querulous.
'God bless me,' he said; and then, 'I must really ask you not
to interfere, child,' in a tone of undisguised hostility.
'Father,' she said, 'forgive me; I knew you had given up your
art - '
'Oh yes!' cried the Admiral; 'I've done with it to the
'Pardon me again,' she said firmly, 'but I do not, I cannot
think that you are right in this. Suppose the world is
unjust, suppose that no one understands you, you have still a
duty to yourself. And, oh, don't spoil the pleasure of your
coming home to me; show me that you can be my father and yet
not neglect your destiny. I am not like some daughters; I
will not be jealous of your art, and I will try to understand
The situation was odiously farcical. Richard groaned under
it; he longed to leap forward and denounce the humbug. And
the humbug himself? Do you fancy he was easier in his mind?
I am sure, on the other hand, that he was acutely miserable;
and he betrayed his sufferings by a perfectly silly and
undignified access of temper, during which he broke his pipe
in several pieces, threw his brandy and water in the fire,
and employed words which were very plain although the drift
of them was somewhat vague. It was of very brief duration.
Van Tromp was himself again, and in a most delightful humour
within three minutes of the first explosion.
'I am an old fool,' he said frankly. 'I was spoiled when a
child. As for you, Esther, you take after your mother; you
have a morbid sense of duty, particularly for others; strive
against it, my dear - strive against it. And as for the
pigments, well, I'll use them, some of these days; and to
show that I'm in earnest, I'll get Dick here to prepare a
Dick was put to this menial task forthwith, the Admiral not
even watching how he did, but quite occupied with another
grog and a pleasant vein of talk.
A little after Esther arose, and making some pretext, good or
bad, went off to bed. Dick was left hobbled by the canvas,
and was subjected to Van Tromp for about an hour.
The next day, Saturday, it is believed that little
intercourse took place between Esther and her father; but
towards the afternoon Dick met the latter returning from the
direction of the inn, where he had struck up quite a
friendship with the landlord. Dick wondered who paid for
these excursions, and at the thought that the reprobate must
get his pocket money where he got his board and lodging, from
poor Esther's generosity, he had it almost in his heart to
knock the old gentleman down. He, on his part, was full of
airs and graces and geniality.
'Dear Dick,' he said, taking his arm, 'this is neighbourly of
you; it shows your tact to meet me when I had a wish for you.
I am in pleasant spirits; and it is then that I desire a
'I am glad to hear you are so happy,' retorted Dick bitterly.
'There's certainly not much to trouble YOU.'
'No,' assented the Admiral, 'not much. I got out of it in
time; and here - well, here everything pleases me. I am
plain in my tastes. 'A PROPOS, you have never asked me how I
liked my daughter?'
'No,' said Dick roundly; 'I certainly have not.'
'Meaning you will not. And why, Dick? She is my daughter,
of course; but then I am a man of the world and a man of
taste, and perfectly qualified to give an opinion with
impartiality - yes, Dick, with impartiality. Frankly, I am
not disappointed in her. She has good looks; she has them
from her mother. So I may say I CHOSE her looks. She is
devoted, quite devoted to me - '
'She is the best woman in the world!' broke out Dick.
'Dick,' cried the Admiral, stopping short; 'I have been
expecting this. Let us - let us go back to the "Trevanion
Arms" and talk this matter out over a bottle.'
'Certainly not,' went Dick. 'You have had far too much
The parasite was on the point of resenting this; but a look
at Dick's face, and some recollection of the terms on which
they had stood in Paris, came to the aid of his wisdom and
restrained him.
'As you please,' he said; 'although I don't know what you
mean - nor care. But let us walk, if you prefer it. You are
still a young man; when you are my age - But, however, to
continue. You please me, Dick; you have pleased me from the
first; and to say truth, Esther is a trifle fantastic, and
will be better when she is married. She has means of her
own, as of course you are aware. They come, like the looks,
from her poor, dear, good creature of a mother. She was
blessed in her mother. I mean she shall be blessed in her
husband, and you are the man, Dick, you and not another.
This very night I will sound her affections.'
Dick stood aghast.
'Mr. Van Tromp, I implore you,' he said; 'do what you please
with yourself, but, for God's sake, let your daughter alone.'
'It is my duty,' replied the Admiral, 'and between ourselves,
you rogue, my inclination too. I am as matchmaking as a
dowager. It will be more discreet for you to stay away tonight.
Farewell. You leave your case in good hands; I have
the tact of these little matters by heart; it is not my first
All arguments were in vain; the old rascal stuck to his
point; nor did Richard conceal from himself how seriously
this might injure his prospects, and he fought hard. Once
there came a glimmer of hope. The Admiral again proposed an
adjournment to the 'Trevanion Arms,' and when Dick had once
more refused, it hung for a moment in the balance whether or
not the old toper would return there by himself. Had he done
so, of course Dick could have taken to his heels, and warned
Esther of what was coming, and of how it had begun. But the
Admiral, after a pause, decided for the brandy at home, and
made off in that direction.
We have no details of the sounding.
Next day the Admiral was observed in the parish church, very
properly dressed. He found the places, and joined in
response and hymn, as to the manner born; and his appearance,
as he intended it should, attracted some attention among the
worshippers. Old Naseby, for instance, had observed him.
'There was a drunken-looking blackguard opposite us in
church,' he said to his son as they drove home; 'do you know
who he was?'
'Some fellow - Van Tromp, I believe,' said Dick.
'A foreigner, too!' observed the Squire.
Dick could not sufficiently congratulate himself on the
escape he had effected. Had the Admiral met him with his
father, what would have been the result? And could such a
catastrophe be long postponed? It seemed to him as if the
storm were nearly ripe; and it was so more nearly than he
He did not go to the cottage in the afternoon, withheld by
fear and shame; but when dinner was over at Naseby House, and
the Squire had gone off into a comfortable doze, Dick slipped
out of the room, and ran across country, in part to save
time, in part to save his own courage from growing cold; for
he now hated the notion of the cottage or the Admiral, and if
he did not hate, at least feared to think of Esther. He had
no clue to her reflections; but he could not conceal from his
own heart that he must have sunk in her esteem, and the
spectacle of her infatuation galled him like an insult.
He knocked and was admitted. The room looked very much as on
his last visit, with Esther at the table and Van Tromp beside
the fire; but the expression of the two faces told a very
different story. The girl was paler than usual; her eyes
were dark, the colour seemed to have faded from round about
them, and her swiftest glance was as intent as a stare. The
appearance of the Admiral, on the other hand, was rosy, and
flabby, and moist; his jowl hung over his shirt collar, his
smile was loose and wandering, and he had so far relaxed the
natural control of his eyes, that one of them was aimed
inward, as if to watch the growth of the carbuncle. We are
warned against bad judgments; but the Admiral was certainly
not sober. He made no attempt to rise when Richard entered,
but waved his pipe flightily in the air, and gave a leer of
welcome. Esther took as little notice of him as might be.
'Aha! Dick!' cried the painter. 'I've been to church; I
have, upon my word. And I saw you there, though you didn't
see me. And I saw a devilish pretty woman, by Gad. If it
were not for this baldness, and a kind of crapulous air I
can't disguise from myself - if it weren't for this and that
and t'other thing - I - I've forgot what I was saying. Not
that that matters, I've heaps of things to say. I'm in a
communicative vein to-night. I'll let out all my cats, even
unto seventy times seven. I'm in what I call THE stage, and
all I desire is a listener, although he were deaf, to be as
happy as Nebuchadnezzar.'
Of the two hours which followed upon this it is unnecessary
to give more than a sketch. The Admiral was extremely silly,
now and then amusing, and never really offensive. It was
plain that he kept in view the presence of his daughter, and
chose subjects and a character of language that should not
offend a lady. On almost any other occasion Dick would have
enjoyed the scene. Van Tromp's egotism, flown with drink,
struck a pitch above mere vanity. He became candid and
explanatory; sought to take his auditors entirely into his
confidence, and tell them his inmost conviction about
himself. Between his self-knowledge, which was considerable,
and his vanity, which was immense, he had created a strange
hybrid animal, and called it by his own name. How he would
plume his feathers over virtues which would have gladdened
the heart of Caesar or St. Paul; and anon, complete his own
portrait with one of those touches of pitiless realism which
the satirist so often seeks in vain.
'Now, there's Dick,' he said, 'he's shrewd; he saw through me
the first time we met, and told me so - told me so to my
face, which I had the virtue to keep. I bear you no malice
for it, Dick; you were right; I am a humbug.'
You may fancy how Esther quailed at this new feature of the
meeting between her two idols.
And then, again, in a parenthesis:-
'That,' said Van Tromp, 'was when I had to paint those dirty
daubs of mine.'
And a little further on, laughingly said perhaps, but yet
with an air of truth:-
'I never had the slightest hesitation in sponging upon any
human creature.'
Thereupon Dick got up.
'I think perhaps,' he said, 'we had better all be thinking of
going to bed.' And he smiled with a feeble and deprecatory
'Not at all,' cried the Admiral, 'I know a trick worth two of
that. Puss here,' indicating his daughter, 'shall go to bed;
and you and I will keep it up till all's blue.'
Thereupon Esther arose in sullen glory. She had sat and
listened for two mortal hours while her idol defiled himself
and sneered away his godhead. One by one, her illusions had
departed. And now he wished to order her to bed in her own
house! now he called her Puss! now, even as he uttered the
words, toppling on his chair, he broke the stem of his
tobacco-pipe in three! Never did the sheep turn upon her
shearer with a more commanding front. Her voice was calm,
her enunciation a little slow, but perfectly distinct, and
she stood before him as she spoke, in the simplest and most
maidenly attitude.
'No,' she said, 'Mr. Naseby will have the goodness to go home
at once, and you will go to bed.'
The broken fragments of pipe fell from the Admiral's fingers;
he seemed by his countenance to have lived too long in a
world unworthy of him; but it is an odd circumstance, he
attempted no reply, and sat thunderstruck, with open mouth.
Dick she motioned sharply towards the door, and he could only
obey her. In the porch, finding she was close behind him, he
ventured to pause and whisper, 'You have done right.'
'I have done as I pleased,' she said. 'Can he paint?'
'Many people like his paintings,' returned Dick, in stifled
tones; 'I never did; I never said I did,' he added, fiercely
defending himself before he was attacked.
'I ask you if he can paint. I will not be put off. CAN he
paint?' she repeated.
'No,' said Dick.
'Does he even like it?'
'Not now, I believe.'
'And he is drunk?' - she leaned upon the word with hatred.
'He has been drinking.'
'Go,' she said, and was turning to re-enter the house when
another thought arrested her. 'Meet me to-morrow morning at
the stile,' she said.
'I will,' replied Dick.
And then the door closed behind her, and Dick was alone in
the darkness. There was still a chink of light above the
sill, a warm, mild glow behind the window; the roof of the
cottage and some of the banks and hazels were defined in
denser darkness against the sky; but all else was formless,
breathless, and noiseless like the pit. Dick remained as she
had left him, standing squarely upon one foot and resting
only on the toe of the other, and as he stood he listened
with his soul. The sound of a chair pushed sharply over the
floor startled his heart into his mouth; but the silence
which had thus been disturbed settled back again at once upon
the cottage and its vicinity. What took place during this
interval is a secret from the world of men; but when it was
over the voice of Esther spoke evenly and without
interruption for perhaps half a minute, and as soon as that
ceased heavy and uncertain footfalls crossed the parlour and
mounted lurching up the stairs. The girl had tamed her
father, Van Tromp had gone obediently to bed: so much was
obvious to the watcher in the road. And yet he still waited,
straining his ears, and with terror and sickness at his
heart; for if Esther had followed her father, if she had even
made one movement in this great conspiracy of men and nature
to be still, Dick must have had instant knowledge of it from
his station before the door; and if she had not moved, must
she not have fainted? or might she not be dead?
He could hear the cottage clock deliberately measure out the
seconds; time stood still with him; an almost superstitious
terror took command of his faculties; at last, he could bear
no more, and, springing through the little garden in two
bounds, he put his face against the window. The blind, which
had not been drawn fully down, left an open chink about an
inch in height along the bottom of the glass, and the whole
parlour was thus exposed to Dick's investigation. Esther sat
upright at the table, her head resting on her hand, her eyes
fixed upon the candle. Her brows were slightly bent, her
mouth slightly open; her whole attitude so still and settled
that Dick could hardly fancy that she breathed. She had not
stirred at the sound of Dick's arrival. Soon after, making a
considerable disturbance amid the vast silence of the night,
the clock lifted up its voice, whined for a while like a
partridge, and then eleven times hooted like a cuckoo. Still
Esther continued immovable and gazed upon the candle.
Midnight followed, and then one of the morning; and still she
had not stirred, nor had Richard Naseby dared to quit the
window. And then, about half-past one, the candle she had
been thus intently watching flared up into a last blaze of
paper, and she leaped to her feet with an ejaculation, looked
about her once, blew out the light, turned round, and was
heard rapidly mounting the staircase in the dark.
Dick was left once more alone to darkness and to that dulled
and dogged state of mind when a man thinks that Misery must
now have done her worst, and is almost glad to think so. He
turned and walked slowly towards the stile; she had told him
no hour, and he was determined, whenever she came, that she
should find him waiting. As he got there the day began to
dawn, and he leaned over a hurdle and beheld the shadows flee
away. Up went the sun at last out of a bank of clouds that
were already disbanding in the east; a herald wind had
already sprung up to sweep the leafy earth and scatter the
congregated dewdrops. 'Alas!' thought Dick Naseby, 'how can
any other day come so distastefully to me?' He still wanted
his experience of the morrow.
IT was probably on the stroke of ten, and Dick had been half
asleep for some time against the bank, when Esther came up
the road carrying a bundle. Some kind of instinct, or
perhaps the distant light footfalls, recalled him, while she
was still a good way off, to the possession of his faculties,
and he half raised himself and blinked upon the world. It
took him some time to recollect his thoughts. He had
awakened with a certain blank and childish sense of pleasure,
like a man who had received a legacy overnight; but this
feeling gradually died away, and was then suddenly and
stunningly succeeded by a conviction of the truth. The whole
story of the past night sprang into his mind with every
detail, as by an exercise of the direct and speedy sense of
sight, and he arose from the ditch and, with rueful courage,
went to meet his love.
She came up to him walking steady and fast, her face still
pale, but to all appearance perfectly composed; and she
showed neither surprise, relief, nor pleasure at finding her
lover on the spot. Nor did she offer him her hand.
'Here I am,' said he.
'Yes,' she replied; and then, without a pause or any change
of voice, 'I want you to take me away,' she added.
'Away?' he repeated. 'How? Where?'
'To-day,' she said. 'I do not care where it is, but I want
you to take me away.'
'For how long? I do not understand,' gasped Dick.
'I shall never come back here any more,' was all she
Wild words uttered, as these were, with perfect quiet of
manner and voice, exercise a double influence on the hearer's
mind. Dick was confounded; he recovered from astonishment
only to fall into doubt and alarm. He looked upon her frozen
attitude, so discouraging for a lover to behold, and recoiled
from the thoughts which it suggested.
'To me?' he asked. 'Are you coming to me, Esther?'
'I want you to take me away,' she repeated with weary
impatience. 'Take me away - take me away from here.'
The situation was not sufficiently defined. Dick asked
himself with concern whether she were altogether in her right
wits. To take her away, to marry her, to work off his hands
for her support, Dick was content to do all this; yet he
required some show of love upon her part. He was not one of
those tough-hided and small-hearted males who would marry
their love at the point of the bayonet rather than not marry
her at all. He desired that a woman should come to his arms
with an attractive willingness, if not with ardour. And
Esther's bearing was more that of despair than that of love.
It chilled him and taught him wisdom.
'Dearest,' he urged, 'tell me what you wish, and you shall
have it; tell me your thoughts, and then I can advise you.
But to go from here without a plan, without forethought, in
the heat of a moment, is madder than madness, and can help
nothing. I am not speaking like a man, but I speak the
truth; and I tell you again, the thing's absurd, and wrong,
and hurtful.'
She looked at him with a lowering, languid look of wrath.
'So you will not take me?' she said. 'Well, I will go
And she began to step forward on her way. But he threw
himself before her.
'Esther, Esther!' he cried.
'Let me go - don't touch me - what right have you to
interfere? Who are you, to touch me?' she flashed out,
shrill with anger.
Then, being made bold by her violence, he took her firmly,
almost roughly, by the arm, and held her while he spoke.
'You know well who I am, and what I am, and that I love you.
You say I will not help you; but your heart knows the
contrary. It is you who will not help me; for you will not
tell me what you want. You see - or you could see, if you
took the pains to look - how I have waited here all night to
be ready at your service. I only asked information; I only
urged you to consider; and I still urge and beg you to think
better of your fancies. But if your mind is made up, so be
it; I will beg no longer; I give you my orders; and I will
not allow - not allow you to go hence alone.'
She looked at him for awhile with cold, unkind scrutiny like
one who tries the temper of a tool.
'Well, take me away, then,' she said with a sigh.
'Good,' said Dick. 'Come with me to the stables; there we
shall get the pony-trap and drive to the junction. To-night
you shall be in London. I am yours so wholly that no words
can make me more so; and, besides, you know it, and the words
are needless. May God help me to be good to you, Esther -
may God help me! for I see that you will not.'
So, without more speech, they set out together, and were
already got some distance from the spot, ere he observed that
she was still carrying the hand-bag. She gave it up to him,
passively, but when he offered her his arm, merely shook her
head and pursed up her lips. The sun shone clearly and
pleasantly; the wind was fresh and brisk upon their faces,
and smelt racily of woods and meadows. As they went down
into the valley of the Thyme, the babble of the stream rose
into the air like a perennial laughter. On the far-away
hills, sun-burst and shadow raced along the slopes and leaped
from peak to peak. Earth, air and water, each seemed in
better health and had more of the shrewd salt of life in them
than upon ordinary mornings; and from east to west, from the
lowest glen to the height of heaven, from every look and
touch and scent, a human creature could gather the most
encouraging intelligence as to the durability and spirit of
the universe.
Through all this walked Esther, picking her small steps like
a bird, but silent and with a cloud under her thick eyebrows.
She seemed insensible, not only of nature, but of the
presence of her companion. She was altogether engrossed in
herself, and looked neither to right nor to left, but
straight before her on the road. When they came to the
bridge, however, she halted, leaned on the parapet, and
stared for a moment at the clear, brown pool, and swift,
transient snowdrift of the rapids.
'I am going to drink,' she said; and descended the winding
footpath to the margin.
There she drank greedily in her hands and washed her temples
with water. The coolness seemed to break, for an instant,
the spell that lay upon her; for, instead of hastening
forward again in her dull, indefatigable tramp, she stood
still where she was, for near a minute, looking straight
before her. And Dick, from above on the bridge where he
stood to watch her, saw a strange, equivocal smile dawn
slowly on her face and pass away again at once and suddenly,
leaving her as grave as ever; and the sense of distance,
which it is so cruel for a lover to endure, pressed with
every moment more heavily on her companion. Her thoughts
were all secret; her heart was locked and bolted; and he
stood without, vainly wooing her with his eves.
'Do you feel better?' asked Dick, as she at last rejoined
him; and after the constraint of so long a silence, his voice
sounded foreign to his own ears.
She looked at him for an appreciable fraction of a minute ere
she answered, and when she did, it was in the monosyllable -
Dick's solicitude was nipped and frosted. His words died
away on his tongue. Even his eyes, despairing of
encouragement, ceased to attend on hers. And they went on in
silence through Kirton hamlet, where an old man followed them
with his eyes, and perhaps envied them their youth and love;
and across the Ivy beck where the mill was splashing and
grumbling low thunder to itself in the chequered shadow of
the dell, and the miller before the door was beating flour
from his hands as he whistled a modulation; and up by the
high spinney, whence they saw the mountains upon either hand;
and down the hill again to the back courts and offices of
Naseby House. Esther had kept ahead all the way, and Dick
plodded obediently in her wake; but as they neared the
stables, he pushed on and took the lead. He would have
preferred her to await him in the road while he went on and
brought the carriage back, but after so many repulses and
rebuffs he lacked courage to offer the suggestion. Perhaps,
too, he felt it wiser to keep his convoy within sight. So
they entered the yard in Indian file, like a tramp and his
The grooms eyebrows rose as he received the order for the
pony-phaeton, and kept rising during all his preparations.
Esther stood bolt upright and looked steadily at some
chickens in the corner of the yard. Master Richard himself,
thought the groom, was not in his ordinary; for in truth, he
carried the hand-bag like a talisman, and either stood
listless, or set off suddenly walking in one direction after
another with brisk, decisive footsteps. Moreover he had
apparently neglected to wash his hands, and bore the air of
one returning from a prolonged nutting ramble. Upon the
groom's countenance there began to grow up an expression as
of one about to whistle. And hardly had the carriage turned
the corner and rattled into the high road with this
inexplicable pair, than the whistle broke forth - prolonged,
and low and tremulous; and the groom, already so far
relieved, vented the rest of his surprise in one simple
English word, friendly to the mouth of Jack-tar and the sooty
pitman, and hurried to spread the news round the servants'
hall of Naseby House. Luncheon would be on the table in
little beyond an hour; and the Squire, on sitting down, would
hardly fail to ask for Master Richard. Hence, as the
intelligent reader can foresee, this groom has a part to play
in the imbroglio.
Meantime, Dick had been thinking deeply and bitterly. It
seemed to him as if his love had gone from him, indeed, yet
gone but a little way; as if he needed but to find the right
touch or intonation, and her heart would recognise him and be
melted. Yet he durst not open his mouth, and drove in
silence till they had passed the main park-gates and turned
into the cross-cut lane along the wall. Then it seemed to
him as if it must be now, or never.
'Can't you see you are killing me?' he cried. 'Speak to me,
look at me, treat me like a human man.'
She turned slowly and looked him in the face with eyes that
seemed kinder. He dropped the reins and caught her hand, and
she made no resistance, although her touch was unresponsive.
But when, throwing one arm round her waist, he sought to kiss
her lips, not like a lover indeed, not because he wanted to
do so, but as a desperate man who puts his fortunes to the
touch, she drew away from him, with a knot in her forehead,
backed and shied about fiercely with her head, and pushed him
from her with her hand. Then there was no room left for
doubt, and Dick saw, as clear as sunlight, that she had a
distaste or nourished a grudge against him.
'Then you don't love me?' he said, drawing back from her, he
also, as though her touch had burnt him; and then, as she
made no answer, he repeated with another intonation,
imperious and yet still pathetic, 'You don't love me, DO you,
DO you?'
'I don't know,' she replied. 'Why do you ask me? Oh, how
should I know? It has all been lies together - lies, and
lies, and lies!'
He cried her name sharply, like a man who has taken a
physical hurt, and that was the last word that either of them
spoke until they reached Thymebury Junction.
This was a station isolated in the midst of moorlands, yet
lying on the great up line to London. The nearest town,
Thymebury itself, was seven miles distant along the branch
they call the Vale of Thyme Railway. It was now nearly half
an hour past noon, the down train had just gone by, and there
would be no more traffic at the junction until half-past
three, when the local train comes in to meet the up express
at a quarter before four. The stationmaster had already gone
off to his garden, which was half a mile away in a hollow of
the moor; a porter, who was just leaving, took charge of the
phaeton, and promised to return it before night to Naseby
House; only a deaf, snuffy, and stern old man remained to
play propriety for Dick and Esther.
Before the phaeton had driven off, the girl had entered the
station and seated herself upon a bench. The endless, empty
moorlands stretched before her, entirely unenclosed, and with
no boundary but the horizon. Two lines of rails, a waggon
shed, and a few telegraph posts, alone diversified the
outlook. As for sounds, the silence was unbroken save by the
chant of the telegraph wires and the crying of the plovers on
the waste. With the approach of midday the wind had more and
more fallen, it was now sweltering hot and the air trembled
in the sunshine.
Dick paused for an instant on the threshold of the platform.
Then, in two steps, he was by her side and speaking almost
with a sob.
'Esther,' he said, 'have pity on me. What have I done? Can
you not forgive me? Esther, you loved me once - can you not
love me still?'
'How can I tell you? How am I to know?' she answered. 'You
are all a lie to me - all a lie from first to last. You were
laughing at my folly, playing with me like a child, at the
very time when you declared you loved me. Which was true?
was any of it true? or was it all, all a mockery? I am weary
trying to find out. And you say I loved you; I loved my
father's friend. I never loved, I never heard of, you, until
that man came home and I began to find myself deceived. Give
me back my father, be what you were before, and you may talk
of love indeed!'
'Then you cannot forgive me - cannot?' he asked.
'I have nothing to forgive,' she answered. 'You do not
'Is that your last word, Esther?' said he, very white, and
biting his lip to keep it still.
'Yes, that is my last word,' replied she.
'Then we are here on false pretences, and we stay here no
longer,' he said. 'Had you still loved me, right or wrong, I
should have taken you away, because then I could have made
you happy. But as it is - I must speak plainly - what you
propose is degrading to you, and an insult to me, and a rank
unkindness to your father. Your father may be this or that,
but you should use him like a fellow-creature.'
'What do you mean?' she flashed. 'I leave him my house and
all my money; it is more than he deserves. I wonder you dare
speak to me about that man. And besides, it is all he cares
for; let him take it, and let me never hear from him again.'
'I thought you romantic about fathers,' he said.
'Is that a taunt?' she demanded.
'No,' he replied, 'it is an argument. No one can make you
like him, but don't disgrace him in his own eyes. He is old,
Esther, old and broken down. Even I am sorry for him, and he
has been the loss of all I cared for. Write to your aunt;
when I see her answer you can leave quietly and naturally,
and I will take you to your aunt's door. But in the meantime
you must go home. You have no money, and so you are
helpless, and must do as I tell you; and believe me, Esther,
I do all for your good, and your good only, so God help me.'
She had put her hand into her pocket and withdrawn it empty.
'I counted upon you,' she wailed.
'You counted rightly then,' he retorted. 'I will not, to
please you for a moment, make both of us unhappy for our
lives; and since I cannot marry you, we have only been too
long away, and must go home at once.'
'Dick,' she cried suddenly, 'perhaps I might - perhaps in
time - perhaps - '
'There is no perhaps about the matter,' interrupted Dick. 'I
must go and bring the phaeton.' And with that he strode from
the station, all in a glow of passion and virtue. Esther,
whose eyes had come alive and her cheeks flushed during these
last words, relapsed in a second into a state of
petrifaction. She remained without motion during his
absence, and when he returned suffered herself to be put back
into the phaeton, and driven off on the return journey like
an idiot or a tired child. Compared with what she was now,
her condition of the morning seemed positively natural. She
sat white and cold and silent, and there was no speculation
in her eyes. Poor Dick flailed and flailed at the pony, and
once tried to whistle, but his courage was going down; huge
clouds of despair gathered together in his soul, and from
time to time their darkness was divided by a piercing flash
of longing and regret. He had lost his love - he had lost
his love for good.
The pony was tired, and the hills very long and steep, and
the air sultrier than ever, for now the breeze began to fail
entirely. It seemed as if this miserable drive would never
be done, as if poor Dick would never be able to go away and
be comfortably wretched by himself; for all his desire was to
escape from her presence and the reproach of her averted
looks. He had lost his love, he thought - he had lost his
love for good.
They were already not far from the cottage, when his heart
again faltered and he appealed to her once more, speaking low
and eagerly in broken phrases.
'I cannot live without your love,' he concluded.
'I do not understand what you mean,' she replied, and I
believe with perfect truth.
'Then,' said he, wounded to the quick, 'your aunt might come
and fetch you herself. Of course you can command me as you
please. But I think it would be better so.'
'Oh yes,' she said wearily, 'better so.'
This was the only exchange of words between them till about
four o'clock; the phaeton, mounting the lane, 'opened out'
the cottage between the leafy banks. Thin smoke went
straight up from the chimney; the flowers in the garden, the
hawthorn in the lane, hung down their heads in the heat; the
stillness was broken only by the sound of hoofs. For right
before the gate a livery servant rode slowly up and down,
leading a saddle horse. And in this last Dick shuddered to
identify his father's chestnut.
Alas! poor Richard, what should this portend?
The servant, as in duty bound, dismounted and took the
phaeton into his keeping; yet Dick thought he touched his hat
to him with something of a grin. Esther, passive as ever,
was helped out and crossed the garden with a slow and
mechanical gait; and Dick, following close behind her, heard
from within the cottage his father's voice upraised in an
anathema, and the shriller tones of the Admiral responding in
the key of war.
SQUIRE NASEBY, on sitting down to lunch, had inquired for
Dick, whom he had not seen since the day before at dinner;
and the servant answering awkwardly that Master Richard had
come back but had gone out again with the pony phaeton, his
suspicions became aroused, and he cross-questioned the man
until the whole was out. It appeared from this report that
Dick had been going about for nearly a month with a girl in
the Vale - a Miss Van Tromp; that she lived near Lord
Trevanion's upper wood; that recently Miss Van Tromp's papa
had returned home from foreign parts after a prolonged
absence; that this papa was an old gentleman, very chatty and
free with his money in the public-house - whereupon Mr.
Naseby's face became encrimsoned; that the papa, furthermore,
was said to be an admiral - whereupon Mr. Naseby spat out a
whistle brief and fierce as an oath; that Master Dick seemed
very friendly with the papa - 'God help him!' said Mr.
Naseby; that last night Master Dick had not come in, and today
he had driven away in the phaeton with the young lady -
'Young woman,' corrected Mr. Naseby.
'Yes, sir,' said the man, who had been unwilling enough to
gossip from the first, and was now cowed by the effect of his
communications on the master. 'Young woman, sir!'
'Had they luggage?' demanded the Squire.
'Yes, sir.'
Mr. Naseby was silent for a moment, struggling to keep down
his emotion, and he mastered it so far as to mount into the
sarcastic vein, when he was in the nearest danger of melting
into the sorrowful.
'And was this - this Van Dunk with them?' he asked, dwelling
scornfully upon the name.
The servant believed not, and being eager to shift the
responsibility of speech to other shoulders, suggested that
perhaps the master had better inquire further from George the
stableman in person.
'Tell him to saddle the chestnut and come with me. He can
take the gray gelding; for we may ride fast. And then you
can take away this trash,' added Mr. Naseby, pointing to the
luncheon; and he arose, lordly in his anger, and marched
forth upon the terrace to await his horse.
There Dick's old nurse shrunk up to him, for the news went
like wildfire over Naseby House, and timidly expressed a hope
that there was nothing much amiss with the young master.
'I'll pull him through,' the Squire said grimly, as though he
meant to pull him through a threshing-mill; 'I'll save him
from this gang; God help him with the next! He has a taste
for low company, and no natural affections to steady him.
His father was no society for him; he must go fuddling with a
Dutchman, Nance, and now he's caught. Let us pray he'll take
the lesson,' he added more gravely, 'but youth is here to
make troubles, and age to pull them out again.'
Nance whimpered and recalled several episodes of Dick's
childhood, which moved Mr. Naseby to blow his nose and shake
her hard by the hand; and then, the horse arriving
opportunely, to get himself without delay into the saddle and
canter off.
He rode straight, hot spur, to Thymebury, where, as was to be
expected, he could glean no tidings of the runaways. They
had not been seen at the George; they had not been seen at
the station. The shadow darkened on Mr. Naseby's face; the
junction did not occur to him; his last hope was for Van
Tromp's cottage; thither he bade George guide him, and
thither he followed, nursing grief, anxiety, and indignation
in his heart.
'Here it is, sir,' said George stopping.
'What! on my own land!' he cried. 'How's this? I let this
place to somebody - M'Whirter or M'Glashan.'
'Miss M'Glashan was the young lady's aunt, sir, I believe,'
returned George.
'Ay - dummies,' said the Squire. 'I shall whistle for my
rent too. Here, take my horse.'
The Admiral, this hot afternoon, was sitting by the window
with a long glass. He already knew the Squire by sight, and
now, seeing him dismount before the cottage and come striding
through the garden, concluded without doubt he was there to
ask for Esther's hand.
'This is why the girl is not yet home,' he thought: 'a very
suitable delicacy on young Naseby's part.'
And he composed himself with some pomp, answered the loud
rattle of the riding-whip upon the door with a dulcet
invitation to enter, and coming forward with a bow and a
smile, 'Mr. Naseby, I believe,' said he.
The Squire came armed for battle; took in his man from top to
toe in one rapid and scornful glance, and decided on a course
at once. He must let the fellow see that he understood him.
'You are Mr. Van Tromp?' he returned roughly, and without
taking any notice of the proffered hand.
'The same, sir,' replied the Admiral. 'Pray be seated.'
'No sir,' said the Squire, point-blank, 'I will not be
seated. I am told that you are an admiral,' he added.
'No sir, I am not an admiral,' returned Van Tromp, who now
began to grow nettled and enter into the spirit of the
'Then why do you call yourself one, sir?'
'I have to ask your pardon, I do not,' says Van Tromp, as
grand as the Pope.
But nothing was of avail against the Squire.
'You sail under false colours from beginning to end,' he
said. 'Your very house was taken under a sham name.'
'It is not my house. I am my daughter's guest,' replied the
Admiral. 'If it WERE my house - '
'Well?' said the Squire, 'what then? hey?'
The Admiral looked at him nobly, but was silent.
'Look here,' said Mr. Naseby, 'this intimidation is a waste
of time; it is thrown away on me, sir; it will not succeed
with me. I will not permit you even to gain time by your
fencing. Now, sir, I presume you understand what brings me
'I am entirely at a loss to account for your intrusion,' bows
and waves Van Tromp.
'I will try to tell you then. I come here as a father' -
down came the riding-whip upon the table - 'I have right and
justice upon my side. I understand your calculations, but
you calculated without me. I am a man of the world, and I
see through you and your manoeuvres. I am dealing now with a
conspiracy - I stigmatise it as such, and I will expose it
and crush it. And now I order you to tell me how far things
have gone, and whither you have smuggled my unhappy son.'
'My God, sir!' Van Tromp broke out, 'I have had about enough
of this. Your son? God knows where he is for me! What the
devil have I to do with your son? My daughter is out, for
the matter of that; I might ask you where she was, and what
would you say to that? But this is all midsummer madness.
Name your business distinctly, and be off.'
'How often am I to tell you?' cried the Squire. 'Where did
your daughter take my son to-day in that cursed pony
'In a pony carriage?' repeated Van Tromp.
'Yes, sir - with luggage.'
'Luggage?' - Van Tromp had turned a little pale.
'Luggage, I said - luggage!' shouted Naseby. 'You may spare
me this dissimulation. Where's my son. You are speaking to
a father, sir, a father.'
'But, sir, if this be true,' out came Van Tromp in a new key,
'it is I who have an explanation to demand?'
'Precisely. There is the conspiracy,' retorted Naseby.
'Oh!' he added, 'I am a man of the world. I can see through
and through you.'
Van Tromp began to understand.
'You speak a great deal about being a father, Mr. Naseby,'
said he; 'I believe you forget that the appellation is common
to both of us. I am at a loss to figure to myself, however
dimly, how any man - I have not said any gentleman - could so
brazenly insult another as you have been insulting me since
you entered this house. For the first time I appreciate your
base insinuations, and I despise them and you. You were, I
am told, a manufacturer; I am an artist; I have seen better
days; I have moved in societies where you would not be
received, and dined where you would be glad to pay a pound to
see me dining. The so-called aristocracy of wealth, sir, I
despise. I refuse to help you; I refuse to be helped by you.
There lies the door.'
And the Admiral stood forth in a halo.
It was then that Dick entered. He had been waiting in the
porch for some time back, and Esther had been listlessly
standing by his side. He had put out his hand to bar her
entrance, and she had submitted without surprise; and though
she seemed to listen, she scarcely appeared to comprehend.
Dick, on his part, was as white as a sheet; his eyes burned
and his lips trembled with anger as he thrust the door
suddenly open, introduced Esther with ceremonious gallantry,
and stood forward and knocked his hat firmer on his head like
a man about to leap.
'What is all this?' he demanded.
'Is this your father, Mr. Naseby?' inquired the Admiral.
'It is,' said the young man.
'I make you my compliments,' returned Van Tromp.
'Dick!' cried his father, suddenly breaking forth, 'it is not
too late, is it? I have come here in time to save you.
Come, come away with me - come away from this place.'
And he fawned upon Dick with his hands.
'Keep your hands off me,' cried Dick, not meaning unkindness,
but because his nerves were shattered by so many successive
'No, no,' said the old man, 'don't repulse your father, Dick,
when he has come here to save you. Don't repulse me, my boy.
Perhaps I have not been kind to you, not quite considerate,
too harsh; my boy, it was not for want of love. Think of old
times. I was kind to you then, was I not? When you were a
child, and your mother was with us.' Mr. Naseby was
interrupted by a sort of sob. Dick stood looking at him in a
maze. 'Come away,' pursued the father in a whisper; 'you
need not be afraid of any consequences. I am a man of the
world, Dick; and she can have no claim on you - no claim, I
tell you; and we'll be handsome too, Dick - we'll give them a
good round figure, father and daughter, and there's an end.'
He had been trying to get Dick towards the door, but the
latter stood off.
'You had better take care, sir, how you insult that lady,'
said the son, as black as night.
'You would not choose between your father and your mistress?'
said the father.
'What do you call her, sir?' cried Dick, high and clear.
Forbearance and patience were not among Mr. Naseby's
'I called her your mistress,' he shouted, 'and I might have
called her a - '
'That is an unmanly lie,' replied Dick, slowly.
'Dick!' cried the father, 'Dick!'
'I do not care,' said the son, strengthening himself against
his own heart; 'I - I have said it, and it is the truth.'
There was a pause.
'Dick,' said the old man at last, in a voice that was shaken
as by a gale of wind, 'I am going. I leave you with your
friends, sir - with your friends. I came to serve you, and
now I go away a broken man. For years I have seen this
coming, and now it has come. You never loved me. Now you
have been the death of me. You may boast of that. Now I
leave you. God pardon you.'
With that he was gone; and the three who remained together
heard his horse's hoofs descend the lane. Esther had not
made a sign throughout the interview, and still kept silence
now that it was over; but the Admiral, who had once or twice
moved forward and drawn back again, now advanced for good.
'You are a man of spirit, sir,' said he to Dick; 'but though
I am no friend to parental interference, I will say that you
were heavy on the governor.' Then he added with a chuckle:
'You began, Richard, with a silver spoon, and here you are in
the water like the rest. Work, work, nothing like work. You
have parts, you have manners; why, with application you may
die a millionaire!' Dick shook himself. He took Esther by
the hand, looking at her mournfully.
'Then this is farewell,' he said.
'Yes,' she answered. There was no tone in her voice, and she
did not return his gaze.
'For ever,' added Dick.
'For ever,' she repeated mechanically.
'I have had hard measure,' he continued. 'In time I believe
I could have shown you I was worthy, and there was no time
long enough to show how much I loved you. But it was not to
be. I have lost all.'
He relinquished her hand, still looking at her, and she
turned to leave the room.
'Why, what in fortune's name is the meaning of all this?'
cried Van Tromp. 'Esther come back!'
'Let her go,' said Dick, and he watched her disappear with
strangely mingled feelings. For he had fallen into that
stage when men have the vertigo of misfortune, court the
strokes of destiny, and rush towards anything decisive, that
it may free them from suspense though at the cost of ruin.
It is one of the many minor forms of suicide.
'She did not love me,' he said, turning to her father.
'I feared as much,' said he, 'when I sounded her. Poor Dick,
poor Dick. And yet I believe I am as much cut up as you are.
I was born to see others happy.'
'You forget,' returned Dick, with something like a sneer,
'that I am now a pauper.'
Van Tromp snapped his fingers.
'Tut!' said he; 'Esther has plenty for us all.'
Dick looked at him with some wonder. It had never dawned
upon him that this shiftless, thriftless, worthless, sponging
parasite was yet, after and in spite of all, not mercenary in
the issue of his thoughts; yet so it was.
'Now,' said Dick, 'I must go.'
'Go?' cried Van Tromp. 'Where? Not one foot, Mr. Richard
Naseby. Here you shall stay in the meantime! and - well, and
do something practical - advertise for a situation as private
secretary - and when you have it, go and welcome. But in the
meantime, sir, no false pride; we must stay with our friends;
we must sponge a while on Papa Van Tromp, who has sponged so
often upon us.'
'By God,' cried Dick, 'I believe you are the best of the
'Dick, my boy,' replied the Admiral, winking, 'you mark me, I
am not the worst.'
'Then why,' began Dick, and then paused. 'But Esther,' he
began again, once more to interrupt himself. 'The fact is,
Admiral,' he came out with it roundly now, 'your daughter
wished to run away from you to-day, and I only brought her
back with difficulty.'
'In the pony carriage?' asked the Admiral, with the silliness
of extreme surprise.
'Yes,' Dick answered.
'Why, what the devil was she running away from?'
Dick found the question unusually hard to answer.
'Why,' said he, 'you know, you're a bit of a rip.'
'I behave to that girl, sir, like an archdeacon,' replied Van
Tromp warmly.
'Well - excuse me - but you know you drink,' insisted Dick.
'I know that I was a sheet in the wind's eye, sir, once -
once only, since I reached this place,' retorted the Admiral.
'And even then I was fit for any drawing-room. I should like
you to tell me how many fathers, lay and clerical, go
upstairs every day with a face like a lobster and cod's eyes
- and are dull, upon the back of it - not even mirth for the
money! No, if that's what she runs for, all I say is, let
her run.'
'You see,' Dick tried it again, 'she has fancies - '
'Confound her fancies!' cried Van Tromp. 'I used her kindly;
she had her own way; I was her father. Besides I had taken
quite a liking to the girl, and meant to stay with her for
good. But I tell you what it is, Dick, since she has trifled
with you - Oh, yes, she did though! - and since her old
papa's not good enough for her - the devil take her, say I.'
'You will be kind to her at least?' said Dick.
'I never was unkind to a living soul,' replied the Admiral.
'Firm I can be, but not unkind.'
'Well,' said Dick, offering his hand, 'God bless you, and
The Admiral swore by all his gods he should not go. 'Dick,'
he said, 'You are a selfish dog; you forget your old Admiral.
You wouldn't leave him alone, would you?'
It was useless to remind him that the house was not his to
dispose of, that being a class of considerations to which his
intelligence was closed; so Dick tore himself off by force,
and, shouting a good-bye, made off along the lane to
IT was perhaps a week later, as old Mr. Naseby sat brooding
in his study, that there was shown in upon him, on urgent
business, a little hectic gentleman shabbily attired.
'I have to ask pardon for this intrusion, Mr. Naseby,' he
said; 'but I come here to perform a duty. My card has been
sent in, but perhaps you may not know, what it does not tell
you, that I am the editor of the THYMEBURY STAR.'
Mr. Naseby looked up, indignant.
'I cannot fancy,' he said, 'that we have much in common to
'I have only a word to say - one piece of information to
communicate. Some months ago, we had - you will pardon my
referring to it, it is absolutely necessary - but we had an
unfortunate difference as to facts.'
'Have you come to apologise?' asked the Squire, sternly.
'No, sir; to mention a circumstance. On the morning in
question, your son, Mr. Richard Naseby - '
'I do not permit his name to be mentioned.'
'You will, however, permit me,' replied the Editor.
'You are cruel,' said the Squire. He was right, he was a
broken man.
Then the Editor described Dick's warning visit; and how he
had seen in the lad's eye that there was a thrashing in the
wind, and had escaped through pity only - so the Editor put
it - 'through pity only sir. And oh, sir,' he went on, 'if
you had seen him speaking up for you, I am sure you would
have been proud of your son. I know I admired the lad
myself, and indeed that's what brings me here.'
'I have misjudged him,' said the Squire. 'Do you know where
he is?'
'Yes, sir, he lies sick at Thymebury.'
'You can take me to him?'
'I can.'
'I pray God he may forgive me,' said the father.
And he and the Editor made post-haste for the country town.
Next day the report went abroad that Mr. Richard was
reconciled to his father and had been taken home to Naseby
House. He was still ailing, it was said, and the Squire
nursed him like the proverbial woman. Rumour, in this
instance, did no more than justice to the truth; and over the
sickbed many confidences were exchanged, and clouds that had
been growing for years passed away in a few hours, and as
fond mankind loves to hope, for ever. Many long talks had
been fruitless in external action, though fruitful for the
understanding of the pair; but at last, one showery Tuesday,
the Squire might have been observed upon his way to the
cottage in the lane.
The old gentleman had arranged his features with a view to
self-command, rather than external cheerfulness; and he
entered the cottage on his visit of conciliation with the
bearing of a clergyman come to announce a death.
The Admiral and his daughter were both within, and both
looked upon their visitor with more surprise than favour.
'Sir,' said he to Van Tromp, 'I am told I have done you much
There came a little sound in Esther's throat, and she put her
hand suddenly to her heart.
'You have, sir; and the acknowledgment suffices,' replied the
Admiral. 'I am prepared, sir, to be easy with you, since I
hear you have made it up with my friend Dick. But let me
remind you that you owe some apologies to this young lady
'I shall have the temerity to ask for more than her
forgiveness,' said the Squire. 'Miss Van Tromp,' he
continued, 'once I was in great distress, and knew nothing of
you or your character; but I believe you will pardon a few
rough words to an old man who asks forgiveness from his
heart. I have heard much of you since then; for you have a
fervent advocate in my house. I believe you will understand
that I speak of my son. He is, I regret to say, very far
from well; he does not pick up as the doctors had expected;
he has a great deal upon his mind, and, to tell you the
truth, my girl, if you won't help us, I am afraid I shall
lose him. Come now, forgive him! I was angry with him once
myself, and I found I was in the wrong. This is only a
misunderstanding, like the other, believe me; and with one
kind movement, you may give happiness to him, and to me, and
to yourself.'
Esther made a movement towards the door, but long before she
reached it she had broken forth sobbing.
'It is all right,' said the Admiral; 'I understand the sex.
Let me make you my compliments, Mr. Naseby.'
The Squire was too much relieved to be angry.
'My dear,' said he to Esther, 'you must not agitate
'She had better go up and see him right away,' suggested Van
'I had not ventured to propose it,' replied the Squire. 'LES
CONVENANCES, I believe - '
'JE M'EN FICHE,' cried the Admiral, snapping his fingers.
'She shall go and see my friend Dick. Run and get ready,
Esther obeyed.
'She has not - has not run away again?' inquired Mr. Naseby,
as soon as she was gone.
'No,' said Van Tromp, 'not again. She is a devilish odd girl
though, mind you that.'
'But I cannot stomach the man with the carbuncles,' thought
the Squire.
And this is why there is a new household and a brand-new baby
in Naseby Dower House; and why the great Van Tromp lives in
pleasant style upon the shores of England; and why twenty-six
individual copies of the THYMEBURY STAR are received daily at
the door of Naseby House.

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