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A House to Let by Charles Dickens and Others

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precious Public for you; why the Devil don't they tumble up?" when a
man in the crowd holds up a carrier-pigeon, and cries out, "If
there's any person here as has got a ticket, the Lottery's just
drawed, and the number as has come up for the great prize is three,
seven, forty-two! Three, seven, forty-two!" I was givin the man to
the Furies myself, for calling off the Public's attention--for the
Public will turn away, at any time, to look at anything in
preference to the thing showed 'em; and if you doubt it, get 'em
together for any indiwidual purpose on the face of the earth, and
send only two people in late, and see if the whole company an't far
more interested in takin particular notice of them two than of you--
I say, I wasn't best pleased with the man for callin out, and wasn't
blessin him in my own mind, when I see Chops's little bell fly out
of winder at a old lady, and he gets up and kicks his box over,
exposin the whole secret, and he catches hold of the calves of my
legs and he says to me, "Carry me into the wan, Toby, and throw a
pail of water over me or I'm a dead man, for I've come into my
property!"

Twelve thousand odd hundred pound, was Chops's winnins. He had
bought a half-ticket for the twenty-five thousand prize, and it had
come up. The first use he made of his property, was, to offer to
fight the Wild Indian for five hundred pound a side, him with a
poisoned darnin-needle and the Indian with a club; but the Indian
being in want of backers to that amount, it went no further.

Arter he had been mad for a week--in a state of mind, in short, in
which, if I had let him sit on the organ for only two minutes, I
believe he would have bust--but we kep the organ from him--Mr. Chops
come round, and behaved liberal and beautiful to all. He then sent
for a young man he knowed, as had a wery genteel appearance and was
a Bonnet at a gaming-booth (most respectable brought up, father
havin been imminent in the livery stable line but unfort'nate in a
commercial crisis, through paintin a old gray, ginger-bay, and
sellin him with a Pedigree), and Mr. Chops said to this Bonnet, who
said his name was Normandy, which it wasn't:

"Normandy, I'm a goin into Society. Will you go with me?"

Says Normandy: "Do I understand you, Mr. Chops, to hintimate that
the 'ole of the expenses of that move will be borne by yourself?"

"Correct," says Mr. Chops. "And you shall have a Princely allowance
too."

The Bonnet lifted Mr. Chops upon a chair, to shake hands with him,
and replied in poetry, with his eyes seemingly full of tears:

"My boat is on the shore,
And my bark is on the sea,
And I do not ask for more,
But I'll Go:- along with thee."

They went into Society, in a chay and four grays with silk jackets.
They took lodgings in Pall Mall, London, and they blazed away.

In consequence of a note that was brought to Bartlemy Fair in the
autumn of next year by a servant, most wonderful got up in milk-
white cords and tops, I cleaned myself and went to Pall Mall, one
evening appinted. The gentlemen was at their wine arter dinner, and
Mr. Chops's eyes was more fixed in that Ed of his than I thought
good for him. There was three of 'em (in company, I mean), and I
knowed the third well. When last met, he had on a white Roman
shirt, and a bishop's mitre covered with leopard-skin, and played
the clarionet all wrong, in a band at a Wild Beast Show.

This gent took on not to know me, and Mr. Chops said: "Gentlemen,
this is a old friend of former days:" and Normandy looked at me
through a eye-glass, and said, "Magsman, glad to see you!"--which
I'll take my oath he wasn't. Mr. Chops, to git him convenient to
the table, had his chair on a throne (much of the form of George the
Fourth's in the canvass), but he hardly appeared to me to be King
there in any other pint of view, for his two gentlemen ordered about
like Emperors. They was all dressed like May-Day--gorgeous!--And as
to Wine, they swam in all sorts.

I made the round of the bottles, first separate (to say I had done
it), and then mixed 'em all together (to say I had done it), and
then tried two of 'em as half-and-half, and then t'other two.
Altogether, I passed a pleasin evenin, but with a tendency to feel
muddled, until I considered it good manners to get up and say, "Mr.
Chops, the best of friends must part, I thank you for the wariety of
foreign drains you have stood so 'ansome, I looks towards you in red
wine, and I takes my leave." Mr. Chops replied, "If you'll just
hitch me out of this over your right arm, Magsman, and carry me
down-stairs, I'll see you out." I said I couldn't think of such a
thing, but he would have it, so I lifted him off his throne. He
smelt strong of Maideary, and I couldn't help thinking as I carried
him down that it was like carrying a large bottle full of wine, with
a rayther ugly stopper, a good deal out of proportion.

When I set him on the door-mat in the hall, he kep me close to him
by holding on to my coat-collar, and he whispers:

"I ain't 'appy, Magsman."

"What's on your mind, Mr. Chops?"

"They don't use me well. They an't grateful to me. They puts me on
the mantel-piece when I won't have in more Champagne-wine, and they
locks me in the sideboard when I won't give up my property."

"Get rid of 'em, Mr. Chops."

"I can't. We're in Society together, and what would Society say?"

"Come out of Society!" says I.

"I can't. You don't know what you're talking about. When you have
once gone into Society, you mustn't come out of it."

"Then if you'll excuse the freedom, Mr. Chops," were my remark,
shaking my head grave, "I think it's a pity you ever went in."

Mr. Chops shook that deep Ed of his, to a surprisin extent, and
slapped it half a dozen times with his hand, and with more Wice than
I thought were in him. Then, he says, "You're a good fellow, but
you don't understand. Good-night, go along. Magsman, the little
man will now walk three times round the Cairawan, and retire behind
the curtain." The last I see of him on that occasion was his tryin,
on the extremest werge of insensibility, to climb up the stairs, one
by one, with his hands and knees. They'd have been much too steep
for him, if he had been sober; but he wouldn't be helped.

It warn't long after that, that I read in the newspaper of Mr.
Chops's being presented at court. It was printed, "It will be
recollected"--and I've noticed in my life, that it is sure to be
printed that it WILL be recollected, whenever it won't--"that Mr.
Chops is the individual of small stature, whose brilliant success in
the last State Lottery attracted so much attention." Well, I says
to myself, Such is Life! He has been and done it in earnest at
last. He has astonished George the Fourth!

(On account of which, I had that canvass new-painted, him with a bag
of money in his hand, a presentin it to George the Fourth, and a
lady in Ostrich Feathers fallin in love with him in a bag-wig,
sword, and buckles correct.)

I took the House as is the subject of present inquiries--though not
the honour of bein acquainted--and I run Magsman's Amusements in it
thirteen months--sometimes one thing, sometimes another, sometimes
nothin particular, but always all the canvasses outside. One night,
when we had played the last company out, which was a shy company,
through its raining Heavens hard, I was takin a pipe in the one pair
back along with the young man with the toes, which I had taken on
for a month (though he never drawed--except on paper), and I heard a
kickin at the street door. "Halloa!" I says to the young man,
"what's up!" He rubs his eyebrows with his toes, and he says, "I
can't imagine, Mr. Magsman"--which he never could imagine nothin,
and was monotonous company.

The noise not leavin off, I laid down my pipe, and I took up a
candle, and I went down and opened the door. I looked out into the
street; but nothin could I see, and nothin was I aware of, until I
turned round quick, because some creetur run between my legs into
the passage. There was Mr. Chops!

"Magsman," he says, "take me, on the old terms, and you've got me;
if it's done, say done!"

I was all of a maze, but I said, "Done, sir."

"Done to your done, and double done!" says he. "Have you got a bit
of supper in the house?"

Bearin in mind them sparklin warieties of foreign drains as we'd
guzzled away at in Pall Mall, I was ashamed to offer him cold
sassages and gin-and-water; but he took 'em both and took 'em free;
havin a chair for his table, and sittin down at it on a stool, like
hold times. I, all of a maze all the while.

It was arter he had made a clean sweep of the sassages (beef, and to
the best of my calculations two pound and a quarter), that the
wisdom as was in that little man began to come out of him like
prespiration.

"Magsman," he says, "look upon me! You see afore you, One as has
both gone into Society and come out."

"O! You ARE out of it, Mr. Chops? How did you get out, sir?"

"SOLD OUT!" says he. You never saw the like of the wisdom as his Ed
expressed, when he made use of them two words.

"My friend Magsman, I'll impart to you a discovery I've made. It's
wallable; it's cost twelve thousand five hundred pound; it may do
you good in life--The secret of this matter is, that it ain't so
much that a person goes into Society, as that Society goes into a
person."

Not exactly keepin up with his meanin, I shook my head, put on a
deep look, and said, "You're right there, Mr. Chops."

"Magsman," he says, twitchin me by the leg, "Society has gone into
me, to the tune of every penny of my property."

I felt that I went pale, and though nat'rally a bold speaker, I
couldn't hardly say, "Where's Normandy?"

"Bolted. With the plate," said Mr. Chops.

"And t'other one?" meaning him as formerly wore the bishop's mitre.

"Bolted. With the jewels," said Mr. Chops.

I sat down and looked at him, and he stood up and looked at me.

"Magsman," he says, and he seemed to myself to get wiser as he got
hoarser; "Society, taken in the lump, is all dwarfs. At the court
of St. James's, they was all a doing my old business--all a goin
three times round the Cairawan, in the hold court-suits and
properties. Elsewheres, they was most of 'em ringin their little
bells out of make-believes. Everywheres, the sarser was a goin
round. Magsman, the sarser is the uniwersal Institution!"

I perceived, you understand, that he was soured by his misfortunes,
and I felt for Mr. Chops.

"As to Fat Ladies," he says, giving his head a tremendious one agin
the wall, "there's lots of THEM in Society, and worse than the
original. HERS was a outrage upon Taste--simply a outrage upon
Taste--awakenin contempt--carryin its own punishment in the form of
a Indian." Here he giv himself another tremendious one. "But
THEIRS, Magsman, THEIRS is mercenary outrages. Lay in Cashmeer
shawls, buy bracelets, strew 'em and a lot of 'andsome fans and
things about your rooms, let it be known that you give away like
water to all as come to admire, and the Fat Ladies that don't
exhibit for so much down upon the drum, will come from all the pints
of the compass to flock about you, whatever you are. They'll drill
holes in your 'art, Magsman, like a Cullender. And when you've no
more left to give, they'll laugh at you to your face, and leave you
to have your bones picked dry by Wulturs, like the dead Wild Ass of
the Prairies that you deserve to be!" Here he giv himself the most
tremendious one of all, and dropped.

I thought he was gone. His Ed was so heavy, and he knocked it so
hard, and he fell so stoney, and the sassagerial disturbance in him
must have been so immense, that I thought he was gone. But, he soon
come round with care, and he sat up on the floor, and he said to me,
with wisdom comin out of his eyes, if ever it come:

"Magsman! The most material difference between the two states of
existence through which your unhappy friend has passed;" he reached
out his poor little hand, and his tears dropped down on the
moustachio which it was a credit to him to have done his best to
grow, but it is not in mortals to command success,--"the difference
this. When I was out of Society, I was paid light for being seen.
When I went into Society, I paid heavy for being seen. I prefer the
former, even if I wasn't forced upon it. Give me out through the
trumpet, in the hold way, to-morrow."

Arter that, he slid into the line again as easy as if he had been
iled all over. But the organ was kep from him, and no allusions was
ever made, when a company was in, to his property. He got wiser
every day; his views of Society and the Public was luminous,
bewilderin, awful; and his Ed got bigger and bigger as his Wisdom
expanded it.

He took well, and pulled 'em in most excellent for nine weeks. At
the expiration of that period, when his Ed was a sight, he expressed
one evenin, the last Company havin been turned out, and the door
shut, a wish to have a little music.

"Mr. Chops," I said (I never dropped the "Mr." with him; the world
might do it, but not me); "Mr. Chops, are you sure as you are in a
state of mind and body to sit upon the organ?"

His answer was this: "Toby, when next met with on the tramp, I
forgive her and the Indian. And I am."

It was with fear and trembling that I began to turn the handle; but
he sat like a lamb. I will be my belief to my dying day, that I see
his Ed expand as he sat; you may therefore judge how great his
thoughts was. He sat out all the changes, and then he come off.

"Toby," he says, with a quiet smile, "the little man will now walk
three times round the Cairawan, and retire behind the curtain."

When we called him in the morning, we found him gone into a much
better Society than mine or Pall Mall's. I giv Mr. Chops as
comfortable a funeral as lay in my power, followed myself as Chief,
and had the George the Fourth canvass carried first, in the form of
a banner. But, the House was so dismal arterwards, that I giv it
up, and took to the Wan again.

"I don't triumph," said Jarber, folding up the second manuscript,
and looking hard at Trottle. "I don't triumph over this worthy
creature. I merely ask him if he is satisfied now?"

"How can he be anything else?" I said, answering for Trottle, who
sat obstinately silent. "This time, Jarber, you have not only read
us a delightfully amusing story, but you have also answered the
question about the House. Of course it stands empty now. Who would
think of taking it after it had been turned into a caravan?" I
looked at Trottle, as I said those last words, and Jarber waved his
hand indulgently in the same direction.

"Let this excellent person speak," said Jarber. "You were about to
say, my good man?" -

"I only wished to ask, sir," said Trottle doggedly, "if you could
kindly oblige me with a date or two in connection with that last
story?"

"A date!" repeated Jarber. "What does the man want with dates!"

"I should be glad to know, with great respect," persisted Trottle,
"if the person named Magsman was the last tenant who lived in the
House. It's my opinion--if I may be excused for giving it--that he
most decidedly was not."

With those words, Trottle made a low bow, and quietly left the room.

There is no denying that Jarber, when we were left together, looked
sadly discomposed. He had evidently forgotten to inquire about
dates; and, in spite of his magnificent talk about his series of
discoveries, it was quite as plain that the two stories he had just
read, had really and truly exhausted his present stock. I thought
myself bound, in common gratitude, to help him out of his
embarrassment by a timely suggestion. So I proposed that he should
come to tea again, on the next Monday evening, the thirteenth, and
should make such inquiries in the meantime, as might enable him to
dispose triumphantly of Trottle's objection.

He gallantly kissed my hand, made a neat little speech of
acknowledgment, and took his leave. For the rest of the week I
would not encourage Trottle by allowing him to refer to the House at
all. I suspected he was making his own inquiries about dates, but I
put no questions to him.

On Monday evening, the thirteenth, that dear unfortunate Jarber
came, punctual to the appointed time. He looked so terribly
harassed, that he was really quite a spectacle of feebleness and
fatigue. I saw, at a glance, that the question of dates had gone
against him, that Mr. Magsman had not been the last tenant of the
House, and that the reason of its emptiness was still to seek.

"What I have gone through," said Jarber, "words are not eloquent
enough to tell. O Sophonisba, I have begun another series of
discoveries! Accept the last two as stories laid on your shrine;
and wait to blame me for leaving your curiosity unappeased, until
you have heard Number Three."

Number Three looked like a very short manuscript, and I said as
much. Jarber explained to me that we were to have some poetry this
time. In the course of his investigations he had stepped into the
Circulating Library, to seek for information on the one important
subject. All the Library-people knew about the House was, that a
female relative of the last tenant, as they believed, had, just
after that tenant left, sent a little manuscript poem to them which
she described as referring to events that had actually passed in the
House; and which she wanted the proprietor of the Library to
publish. She had written no address on her letter; and the
proprietor had kept the manuscript ready to be given back to her
(the publishing of poems not being in his line) when she might call
for it. She had never called for it; and the poem had been lent to
Jarber, at his express request, to read to me.

Before he began, I rang the bell for Trottle; being determined to
have him present at the new reading, as a wholesome check on his
obstinacy. To my surprise Peggy answered the bell, and told me,
that Trottle had stepped out without saying where. I instantly felt
the strongest possible conviction that he was at his old tricks:
and that his stepping out in the evening, without leave, meant--
Philandering.

Controlling myself on my visitor's account, I dismissed Peggy,
stifled my indignation, and prepared, as politely as might be, to
listen to Jarber.

THREE EVENINGS IN THE HOUSE

NUMBER ONE.

I.

Yes, it look'd dark and dreary
That long and narrow street:
Only the sound of the rain,
And the tramp of passing feet,
The duller glow of the fire,
And gathering mists of night
To mark how slow and weary
The long day's cheerless flight!

II.

Watching the sullen fire,
Hearing the dreary rain,
Drop after drop, run down
On the darkening window-pane;
Chill was the heart of Bertha,
Chill as that winter day, -
For the star of her life had risen
Only to fade away.

III.

The voice that had been so strong
To bid the snare depart,
The true and earnest will,
And the calm and steadfast heart,
Were now weigh'd down by sorrow,
Were quivering now with pain;
The clear path now seem'd clouded,
And all her grief in vain.

IV.

Duty, Right, Truth, who promised
To help and save their own,
Seem'd spreading wide their pinions
To leave her there alone.
So, turning from the Present
To well-known days of yore,
She call'd on them to strengthen
And guard her soul once more.

V.

She thought how in her girlhood
Her life was given away,
The solemn promise spoken
She kept so well to-day;
How to her brother Herbert
She had been help and guide,
And how his artist-nature
On her calm strength relied.

VI.

How through life's fret and turmoil
The passion and fire of art
In him was soothed and quicken'd
By her true sister heart;
How future hopes had always
Been for his sake alone;
And now, what strange new feeling
Possess'd her as its own?

VII.

Her home; each flower that breathed there;
The wind's sigh, soft and low;
Each trembling spray of ivy;
The river's murmuring flow;
The shadow of the forest;
Sunset, or twilight dim;
Dear as they were, were dearer
By leaving them for him.

VIII.

And each year as it found her
In the dull, feverish town,
Saw self still more forgotten,
And selfish care kept down
By the calm joy of evening
That brought him to her side,
To warn him with wise counsel,
Or praise with tender pride.

IX.

Her heart, her life, her future,
Her genius, only meant
Another thing to give him,
And be therewith content.
To-day, what words had stirr'd her,
Her soul could not forget?
What dream had fill'd her spirit
With strange and wild regret?

X.

To leave him for another:
Could it indeed be so?
Could it have cost such anguish
To bid this vision go?
Was this her faith? Was Herbert
The second in her heart?
Did it need all this struggle
To bid a dream depart?

XI.

And yet, within her spirit
A far-off land was seen;
A home, which might have held her;
A love, which might have been;
And Life: not the mere being
Of daily ebb and flow,
But Life itself had claim'd her,
And she had let it go!

XII.

Within her heart there echo'd
Again the well-known tune
That promised this bright future,
And ask'd her for its own:
Then words of sorrow, broken
By half-reproachful pain;
And then a farewell, spoken
In words of cold disdain.

XIII.

Where now was the stern purpose
That nerved her soul so long?
Whence came the words she utter'd,
So hard, so cold, so strong?
What right had she to banish
A hope that God had given?
Why must she choose earth's portion,
And turn aside from Heaven?

XIV.

To-day! Was it this morning?
If this long, fearful strife
Was but the work of hours,
What would be years of life?
Why did a cruel Heaven
For such great suffering call?
And why--O, still more cruel! -
Must her own words do all?

XV.

Did she repent? O Sorrow!
Why do we linger still
To take thy loving message,
And do thy gentle will?
See, her tears fall more slowly;
The passionate murmurs cease,
And back upon her spirit
Flow strength, and love, and peace.

XVI.

The fire burns more brightly,
The rain has passed away,
Herbert will see no shadow
Upon his home to-day;
Only that Bertha greets him
With doubly tender care,
Kissing a fonder blessing
Down on his golden hair.

NUMBER TWO.

I.

The studio is deserted,
Palette and brush laid by,
The sketch rests on the easel,
The paint is scarcely dry;
And Silence--who seems always
Within her depths to bear
The next sound that will utter -
Now holds a dumb despair.

II.

So Bertha feels it: listening
With breathless, stony fear,
Waiting the dreadful summons
Each minute brings more near:
When the young life, now ebbing,
Shall fail, and pass away
Into that mighty shadow
Who shrouds the house to-day.

III.

But why--when the sick chamber
Is on the upper floor -
Why dares not Bertha enter
Within the close-shut door?
If he--her all--her Brother,
Lies dying in that gloom,
What strange mysterious power
Has sent her from the room?

IV.

It is not one week's anguish
That can have changed her so;
Joy has not died here lately,
Struck down by one quick blow;
But cruel months have needed
Their long relentless chain,
To teach that shrinking manner
Of helpless, hopeless pain.

V.

The struggle was scarce over
Last Christmas Eve had brought:
The fibres still were quivering
Of the one wounded thought,
When Herbert--who, unconscious,
Had guessed no inward strife -
Bade her, in pride and pleasure,
Welcome his fair young wife.

VI.

Bade her rejoice, and smiling,
Although his eyes were dim,
Thank'd God he thus could pay her
The care she gave to him.
This fresh bright life would bring her
A new and joyous fate -
O Bertha, check the murmur
That cries, Too late! too late!

VII.

Too late! Could she have known it
A few short weeks before,
That his life was completed,
And needing hers no more,
She might-- O sad repining!
What "might have been," forget;
"It was not," should suffice us
To stifle vain regret.

VIII.

He needed her no longer,
Each day it grew more plain;
First with a startled wonder,
Then with a wondering pain.
Love: why, his wife best gave it;
Comfort: durst Bertha speak?
Counsel: when quick resentment
Flush'd on the young wife's cheek.

IX.

No more long talks by firelight
Of childish times long past,
And dreams of future greatness
Which he must reach at last;
Dreams, where her purer instinct
With truth unerring told
Where was the worthless gilding,
And where refined gold.

X.

Slowly, but surely ever,
Dora's poor jealous pride,
Which she call'd love for Herbert,
Drove Bertha from his side;
And, spite of nervous effort
To share their alter'd life,
She felt a check to Herbert,
A burden to his wife.

XI.

This was the least; for Bertha
Fear'd, dreaded, KNEW at length,
How much his nature owed her
Of truth, and power, and strength;
And watch'd the daily failing
Of all his nobler part:
Low aims, weak purpose, telling
In lower, weaker art.

XII.

And now, when he is dying,
The last words she could hear
Must not be hers, but given
The bride of one short year.
The last care is another's;
The last prayer must not be
The one they learnt together
Beside their mother's knee.

XIII.

Summon'd at last: she kisses
The clay-cold stiffening hand;
And, reading pleading efforts
To make her understand,
Answers, with solemn promise,
In clear but trembling tone,
To Dora's life henceforward
She will devote her own.

XIV.

Now all is over. Bertha
Dares not remain to weep,
But soothes the frightened Dora
Into a sobbing sleep.
The poor weak child will need her:
O, who can dare complain,
When God sends a new Duty
To comfort each new Pain!

NUMBER THREE.

I.

The House is all deserted
In the dim evening gloom,
Only one figure passes
Slowly from room to room;
And, pausing at each doorway,
Seems gathering up again
Within her heart the relics
Of bygone joy and pain.

II.

There is an earnest longing
In those who onward gaze,
Looking with weary patience
Towards the coming days.
There is a deeper longing,
More sad, more strong, more keen:
Those know it who look backward,
And yearn for what has been.

III.

At every hearth she pauses,
Touches each well-known chair;
Gazes from every window,
Lingers on every stair.
What have these months brought Bertha
Now one more year is past?
This Christmas Eve shall tell us,
The third one and the last.

IV.

The wilful, wayward Dora,
In those first weeks of grief,
Could seek and find in Bertha
Strength, soothing, and relief.
And Bertha--last sad comfort
True woman-heart can take -
Had something still to suffer
And do for Herbert's sake.

V.

Spring, with her western breezes,
From Indian islands bore
To Bertha news that Leonard
Would seek his home once more.
What was it--joy, or sorrow?
What were they--hopes, or fears?
That flush'd her cheeks with crimson,
And fill'd her eyes with tears?

VI.

He came. And who so kindly
Could ask and hear her tell
Herbert's last hours; for Leonard
Had known and loved him well.
Daily he came; and Bertha,
Poor wear heart, at length,
Weigh'd down by other's weakness,
Could rest upon his strength.

VII.

Yet not the voice of Leonard
Could her true care beguile,
That turn'd to watch, rejoicing,
Dora's reviving smile.
So, from that little household
The worst gloom pass'd away,
The one bright hour of evening
Lit up the livelong day.

VIII.

Days passed. The golden summer
In sudden heat bore down
Its blue, bright, glowing sweetness
Upon the scorching town.
And sights and sounds of country
Came in the warm soft tune
Sung by the honey'd breezes
Borne on the wings of June.

IX.

One twilight hour, but earlier
Than usual, Bertha thought
She knew the fresh sweet fragrance
Of flowers that Leonard brought;
Through open'd doors and windows
It stole up through the gloom,
And with appealing sweetness
Drew Bertha from her room.

X.

Yes, he was there; and pausing
Just near the open'd door,
To check her heart's quick beating,
She heard--and paused still more -
His low voice Dora's answers -
His pleading--Yes, she knew
The tone--the words--the accents:
She once had heard them too.

XI.

"Would Bertha blame her?" Leonard's
Low, tender answer came:
"Bertha was far too noble
To think or dream of blame."
"And was he sure he loved her?"
"Yes, with the one love given
Once in a lifetime only,
With one soul and one heaven!"

XII.

Then came a plaintive murmur, -
"Dora had once been told
That he and Bertha--" "Dearest,
Bertha is far too cold
To love; and I, my Dora,
If once I fancied so,
It was a brief delusion,
And over,--long ago."

XIII.

Between the Past and Present,
On that bleak moment's height,
She stood. As some lost traveller
By a quick flash of light
Seeing a gulf before him,
With dizzy, sick despair,
Reels to clutch backward, but to find
A deeper chasm there.

XIV.

The twilight grew still darker,
The fragrant flowers more sweet,
The stars shone out in heaven,
The lamps gleam'd down the street;
And hours pass'd in dreaming
Over their new-found fate,
Ere they could think of wondering
Why Bertha was so late.

XV.

She came, and calmly listen'd;
In vain they strove to trace
If Herbert's memory shadow'd
In grief upon her face.
No blame, no wonder show'd there,
No feeling could be told;
Her voice was not less steady,
Her manner not more cold.

XVI.

They could not hear the anguish
That broke in words of pain
Through that calm summer midnight, -
"My Herbert--mine again!"
Yes, they have once been parted,
But this day shall restore
The long lost one: she claims him:
"My Herbert--mine once more!"

XVII.

Now Christmas Eve returning,
Saw Bertha stand beside
The altar, greeting Dora,
Again a smiling bride;
And now the gloomy evening
Sees Bertha pale and worn,
Leaving the house for ever,
To wander out forlorn.

XVIII.

Forlorn--nay, not so. Anguish
Shall do its work at length;
Her soul, pass'd through the fire,
Shall gain still purer strength.
Somewhere there waits for Bertha
An earnest noble part;
And, meanwhile, God is with her, -
God, and her own true heart!

I could warmly and sincerely praise the little poem, when Jarber had
done reading it; but I could not say that it tended in any degree
towards clearing up the mystery of the empty House.

Whether it was the absence of the irritating influence of Trottle,
or whether it was simply fatigue, I cannot say, but Jarber did not
strike me, that evening, as being in his usual spirits. And though
he declared that he was not in the least daunted by his want of
success thus far, and that he was resolutely determined to make more
discoveries, he spoke in a languid absent manner, and shortly
afterwards took his leave at rather an early hour.

When Trottle came back, and when I indignantly taxed him with
Philandering, he not only denied the imputation, but asserted that
he had been employed on my service, and, in consideration of that,
boldly asked for leave of absence for two days, and for a morning to
himself afterwards, to complete the business, in which he solemnly
declared that I was interested. In remembrance of his long and
faithful service to me, I did violence to myself, and granted his
request. And he, on his side, engaged to explain himself to my
satisfaction, in a week's time, on Monday evening the twentieth.

A day or two before, I sent to Jarber's lodgings to ask him to drop
in to tea. His landlady sent back an apology for him that made my
hair stand on end. His feet were in hot water; his head was in a
flannel petticoat; a green shade was over his eyes; the rheumatism
was in his legs; and a mustard-poultice was on his chest. He was
also a little feverish, and rather distracted in his mind about
Manchester Marriages, a Dwarf, and Three Evenings, or Evening
Parties--his landlady was not sure which--in an empty House, with
the Water Rate unpaid.

Under these distressing circumstances, I was necessarily left alone
with Trottle. His promised explanation began, like Jarber's
discoveries, with the reading of a written paper. The only
difference was that Trottle introduced his manuscript under the name
of a Report.

TROTTLE'S REPORT

The curious events related in these pages would, many of them, most
likely never have happened, if a person named Trottle had not
presumed, contrary to his usual custom, to think for himself.

The subject on which the person in question had ventured, for the
first time in his life, to form an opinion purely and entirely his
own, was one which had already excited the interest of his respected
mistress in a very extraordinary degree. Or, to put it in plainer
terms still, the subject was no other than the mystery of the empty
House.

Feeling no sort of objection to set a success of his own, if
possible, side by side with a failure of Mr. Jarber's, Trottle made
up his mind, one Monday evening, to try what he could do, on his own
account, towards clearing up the mystery of the empty House.
Carefully dismissing from his mind all nonsensical notions of former
tenants and their histories, and keeping the one point in view
steadily before him, he started to reach it in the shortest way, by
walking straight up to the House, and bringing himself face to face
with the first person in it who opened the door to him.

It was getting towards dark, on Monday evening, the thirteenth of
the month, when Trottle first set foot on the steps of the House.
When he knocked at the door, he knew nothing of the matter which he
was about to investigate, except that the landlord was an elderly
widower of good fortune, and that his name was Forley. A small
beginning enough for a man to start from, certainly!

On dropping the knocker, his first proceeding was to look down
cautiously out of the corner of his right eye, for any results which
might show themselves at the kitchen-window. There appeared at it
immediately the figure of a woman, who looked up inquisitively at
the stranger on the steps, left the window in a hurry, and came back
to it with an open letter in her hand, which she held up to the
fading light. After looking over the letter hastily for a moment or
so, the woman disappeared once more.

Trottle next heard footsteps shuffling and scraping along the bare
hall of the house. On a sudden they ceased, and the sound of two
voices--a shrill persuading voice and a gruff resisting voice--
confusedly reached his ears. After a while, the voices left off
speaking--a chain was undone, a bolt drawn back--the door opened--
and Trottle stood face to face with two persons, a woman in advance,
and a man behind her, leaning back flat against the wall.

"Wish you good evening, sir," says the woman, in such a sudden way,
and in such a cracked voice, that it was quite startling to hear
her. "Chilly weather, ain't it, sir? Please to walk in. You come
from good Mr. Forley, don't you, sir?"

"Don't you, sir?" chimes in the man hoarsely, making a sort of gruff
echo of himself, and chuckling after it, as if he thought he had
made a joke.

If Trottle had said, "No," the door would have been probably closed
in his face. Therefore, he took circumstances as he found them, and
boldly ran all the risk, whatever it might be, of saying, "Yes."

"Quite right sir," says the woman. "Good Mr. Forley's letter told
us his particular friend would be here to represent him, at dusk, on
Monday the thirteenth--or, if not on Monday the thirteenth, then on
Monday the twentieth, at the same time, without fail. And here you
are on Monday the thirteenth, ain't you, sir? Mr. Forley's
particular friend, and dressed all in black--quite right, sir!
Please to step into the dining-room--it's always kep scoured and
clean against Mr. Forley comes here--and I'll fetch a candle in half
a minute. It gets so dark in the evenings, now, you hardly know
where you are, do you, sir? And how is good Mr. Forley in his
health? We trust he is better, Benjamin, don't we? We are so sorry
not to see him as usual, Benjamin, ain't we? In half a minute, sir,
if you don't mind waiting, I'll be back with the candle. Come
along, Benjamin."

"Come along, Benjamin," chimes in the echo, and chuckles again as if
he thought he had made another joke.

Left alone in the empty front-parlour, Trottle wondered what was
coming next, as he heard the shuffling, scraping footsteps go slowly
down the kitchen-stairs. The front-door had been carefully chained
up and bolted behind him on his entrance; and there was not the
least chance of his being able to open it to effect his escape,
without betraying himself by making a noise.

Not being of the Jarber sort, luckily for himself, he took his
situation quietly, as he found it, and turned his time, while alone,
to account, by summing up in his own mind the few particulars which
he had discovered thus far. He had found out, first, that Mr.
Forley was in the habit of visiting the house regularly. Second,
that Mr. Forley being prevented by illness from seeing the people
put in charge as usual, had appointed a friend to represent him; and
had written to say so. Third, that the friend had a choice of two
Mondays, at a particular time in the evening, for doing his errand;
and that Trottle had accidentally hit on this time, and on the first
of the Mondays, for beginning his own investigations. Fourth, that
the similarity between Trottle's black dress, as servant out of
livery, and the dress of the messenger (whoever he might be), had
helped the error by which Trottle was profiting. So far, so good.
But what was the messenger's errand? and what chance was there that
he might not come up and knock at the door himself, from minute to
minute, on that very evening?

While Trottle was turning over this last consideration in his mind,
he heard the shuffling footsteps come up the stairs again, with a
flash of candle-light going before them. He waited for the woman's
coming in with some little anxiety; for the twilight had been too
dim on his getting into the house to allow him to see either her
face or the man's face at all clearly.

The woman came in first, with the man she called Benjamin at her
heels, and set the candle on the mantel-piece. Trottle takes leave
to describe her as an offensively-cheerful old woman, awfully lean
and wiry, and sharp all over, at eyes, nose, and chin--devilishly
brisk, smiling, and restless, with a dirty false front and a dirty
black cap, and short fidgetty arms, and long hooked finger-nails--an
unnaturally lusty old woman, who walked with a spring in her wicked
old feet, and spoke with a smirk on her wicked old face--the sort of
old woman (as Trottle thinks) who ought to have lived in the dark
ages, and been ducked in a horse-pond, instead of flourishing in the
nineteenth century, and taking charge of a Christian house.

"You'll please to excuse my son, Benjamin, won't you, sir?" says
this witch without a broomstick, pointing to the man behind her,
propped against the bare wall of the dining-room, exactly as he had
been propped against the bare wall of the passage. "He's got his
inside dreadful bad again, has my son Benjamin. And he won't go to
bed, and he will follow me about the house, up-stairs and
downstairs, and in my lady's chamber, as the song says, you know.
It's his indisgestion, poor dear, that sours his temper and makes
him so agravating--and indisgestion is a wearing thing to the best
of us, ain't it, sir?"

"Ain't it, sir?" chimes in agravating Benjamin, winking at the
candle-light like an owl at the sunshine.

Trottle examined the man curiously, while his horrid old mother was
speaking of him. He found "My son Benjamin" to be little and lean,
and buttoned-up slovenly in a frowsy old great-coat that fell down
to his ragged carpet-slippers. His eyes were very watery, his
cheeks very pale, and his lips very red. His breathing was so
uncommonly loud, that it sounded almost like a snore. His head
rolled helplessly in the monstrous big collar of his great-coat; and
his limp, lazy hands pottered about the wall on either side of him,
as if they were groping for a imaginary bottle. In plain English,
the complaint of "My son Benjamin" was drunkenness, of the stupid,
pig-headed, sottish kind. Drawing this conclusion easily enough,
after a moment's observation of the man, Trottle found himself,
nevertheless, keeping his eyes fixed much longer than was necessary
on the ugly drunken face rolling about in the monstrous big coat
collar, and looking at it with a curiosity that he could hardly
account for at first. Was there something familiar to him in the
man's features? He turned away from them for an instant, and then
turned back to him again. After that second look, the notion forced
itself into his mind, that he had certainly seen a face somewhere,
of which that sot's face appeared like a kind of slovenly copy.
"Where?" thinks he to himself, "where did I last see the man whom
this agravating Benjamin, here, so very strongly reminds me of?"

It was no time, just then--with the cheerful old woman's eye
searching him all over, and the cheerful old woman's tongue talking
at him, nineteen to the dozen--for Trottle to be ransacking his
memory for small matters that had got into wrong corners of it. He
put by in his mind that very curious circumstance respecting
Benjamin's face, to be taken up again when a fit opportunity offered
itself; and kept his wits about him in prime order for present
necessities.

"You wouldn't like to go down into the kitchen, would you?" says the
witch without the broomstick, as familiar as if she had been
Trottle's mother, instead of Benjamin's. "There's a bit of fire in
the grate, and the sink in the back kitchen don't smell to matter
much to-day, and it's uncommon chilly up here when a person's flesh
don't hardly cover a person's bones. But you don't look cold, sir,
do you? And then, why, Lord bless my soul, our little bit of
business is so very, very little, it's hardly worth while to go
downstairs about it, after all. Quite a game at business, ain't it,
sir? Give-and-take that's what I call it--give-and-take!"

With that, her wicked old eyes settled hungrily on the region round
about Trottle's waistcoat-pocket, and she began to chuckle like her
son, holding out one of her skinny hands, and tapping cheerfully in
the palm with the knuckles of the other. Agravating Benjamin,
seeing what she was about, roused up a little, chuckled and tapped
in imitation of her, got an idea of his own into his muddled head
all of a sudden, and bolted it out charitably for the benefit of
Trottle.

"I say!" says Benjamin, settling himself against the wall and
nodding his head viciously at his cheerful old mother. "I say!
Look out. She'll skin you!"

Assisted by these signs and warnings, Trottle found no difficulty in
understanding that the business referred to was the giving and
taking of money, and that he was expected to be the giver. It was
at this stage of the proceedings that he first felt decidedly
uncomfortable, and more than half inclined to wish he was on the
street-side of the house-door again.

He was still cudgelling his brains for an excuse to save his pocket,
when the silence was suddenly interrupted by a sound in the upper
part of the house.

It was not at all loud--it was a quiet, still, scraping sound--so
faint that it could hardly have reached the quickest ears, except in
an empty house.

"Do you hear that, Benjamin?" says the old woman. "He's at it
again, even in the dark, ain't he? P'raps you'd like to see him,
sir!" says she, turning on Trottle, and poking her grinning face
close to him. "Only name it; only say if you'd like to see him
before we do our little bit of business--and I'll show good Forley's
friend up-stairs, just as if he was good Mr. Forley himself. MY
legs are all right, whatever Benjamin's may be. I get younger and
younger, and stronger and stronger, and jollier and jollier, every
day--that's what I do! Don't mind the stairs on my account, sir, if
you'd like to see him."

"Him?" Trottle wondered whether "him" meant a man, or a boy, or a
domestic animal of the male species. Whatever it meant, here was a
chance of putting off that uncomfortable give-and-take-business,
and, better still, a chance perhaps of finding out one of the
secrets of the mysterious House. Trottle's spirits began to rise
again and he said "Yes," directly, with the confidence of a man who
knew all about it.

Benjamin's mother took the candle at once, and lighted Trottle
briskly to the stairs; and Benjamin himself tried to follow as
usual. But getting up several flights of stairs, even helped by the
bannisters, was more, with his particular complaint, than he seemed
to feel himself inclined to venture on. He sat down obstinately on
the lowest step, with his head against the wall, and the tails of
his big great-coat spreading out magnificently on the stairs behind
him and above him, like a dirty imitation of a court lady's train.

"Don't sit there, dear," says his affectionate mother, stopping to
snuff the candle on the first landing.

"I shall sit here," says Benjamin, agravating to the last, "till the
milk comes in the morning."

The cheerful old woman went on nimbly up the stairs to the first
floor, and Trottle followed, with his eyes and ears wide open. He
had seen nothing out of the common in the front-parlour, or up the
staircase, so far. The House was dirty and dreary and close-
smelling--but there was nothing about it to excite the least
curiosity, except the faint scraping sound, which was now beginning
to get a little clearer--though still not at all loud--as Trottle
followed his leader up the stairs to the second floor.

Nothing on the second-floor landing, but cobwebs above and bits of
broken plaster below, cracked off from the ceiling. Benjamin's
mother was not a bit out of breath, and looked all ready to go to
the top of the monument if necessary. The faint scraping sound had
got a little clearer still; but Trottle was no nearer to guessing
what it might be, than when he first heard it in the parlour
downstairs.

On the third, and last, floor, there were two doors; one, which was
shut, leading into the front garret; and one, which was ajar,
leading into the back garret. There was a loft in the ceiling above
the landing; but the cobwebs all over it vouched sufficiently for
its not having been opened for some little time. The scraping
noise, plainer than ever here, sounded on the other side of the back
garret door; and, to Trottle's great relief, that was precisely the
door which the cheerful old woman now pushed open.

Trottle followed her in; and, for once in his life, at any rate, was
struck dumb with amazement, at the sight which the inside of the
room revealed to him.

The garret was absolutely empty of everything in the shape of
furniture. It must have been used at one time or other, by somebody
engaged in a profession or a trade which required for the practice
of it a great deal of light; for the one window in the room, which
looked out on a wide open space at the back of the house, was three
or four times as large, every way, as a garret-window usually is.
Close under this window, kneeling on the bare boards with his face
to the door, there appeared, of all the creatures in the world to
see alone at such a place and at such a time, a mere mite of a
child--a little, lonely, wizen, strangely-clad boy, who could not at
the most, have been more than five years old. He had a greasy old
blue shawl crossed over his breast, and rolled up, to keep the ends
from the ground, into a great big lump on his back. A strip of
something which looked like the remains of a woman's flannel
petticoat, showed itself under the shawl, and, below that again, a
pair of rusty black stockings, worlds too large for him, covered his
legs and his shoeless feet. A pair of old clumsy muffetees, which
had worked themselves up on his little frail red arms to the elbows,
and a big cotton nightcap that had dropped down to his very
eyebrows, finished off the strange dress which the poor little man
seemed not half big enough to fill out, and not near strong enough
to walk about in.

But there was something to see even more extraordinary than the
clothes the child was swaddled up in, and that was the game which he
was playing at, all by himself; and which, moreover, explained in
the most unexpected manner the faint scraping noise that had found
its way down-stairs, through the half-opened door, in the silence of
the empty house.

It has been mentioned that the child was on his knees in the garret,
when Trottle first saw him. He was not saying his prayers, and not
crouching down in terror at being alone in the dark. He was, odd
and unaccountable as it may appear, doing nothing more or less than
playing at a charwoman's or housemaid's business of scouring the
floor. Both his little hands had tight hold of a mangy old
blacking-brush, with hardly any bristles left in it, which he was
rubbing backwards and forwards on the boards, as gravely and
steadily as if he had been at scouring-work for years, and had got a
large family to keep by it. The coming-in of Trottle and the old
woman did not startle or disturb him in the least. He just looked
up for a minute at the candle, with a pair of very bright, sharp
eyes, and then went on with his work again, as if nothing had
happened. On one side of him was a battered pint saucepan without a
handle, which was his make-believe pail; and on the other a morsel
of slate-coloured cotton rag, which stood for his flannel to wipe up
with. After scrubbing bravely for a minute or two, he took the bit
of rag, and mopped up, and then squeezed make-believe water out into
his make-believe pail, as grave as any judge that ever sat on a
Bench. By the time he thought he had got the floor pretty dry, he
raised himself upright on his knees, and blew out a good long
breath, and set his little red arms akimbo, and nodded at Trottle.

"There!" says the child, knitting his little downy eyebrows into a
frown. "Drat the dirt! I've cleaned up. Where's my beer?"

Benjamin's mother chuckled till Trottle thought she would have
choked herself.

"Lord ha' mercy on us!" says she, "just hear the imp. You would
never think he was only five years old, would you, sir? Please to
tell good Mr. Forley you saw him going on as nicely as ever, playing
at being me scouring the parlour floor, and calling for my beer
afterwards. That's his regular game, morning, noon, and night--he's
never tired of it. Only look how snug we've been and dressed him.
That's my shawl a keepin his precious little body warm, and
Benjamin's nightcap a keepin his precious little head warm, and
Benjamin's stockings, drawed over his trowsers, a keepin his
precious little legs warm. He's snug and happy if ever a imp was
yet. 'Where's my beer!'--say it again, little dear, say it again!"

If Trottle had seen the boy, with a light and a fire in the room,
clothed like other children, and playing naturally with a top, or a
box of soldiers, or a bouncing big India-rubber ball, he might have
been as cheerful under the circumstances as Benjamin's mother
herself. But seeing the child reduced (as he could not help
suspecting) for want of proper toys and proper child's company, to
take up with the mocking of an old woman at her scouring-work, for
something to stand in the place of a game, Trottle, though not a
family man, nevertheless felt the sight before him to be, in its
way, one of the saddest and the most pitiable that he had ever
witnessed.

"Why, my man," says he, "you're the boldest little chap in all
England. You don't seem a bit afraid of being up here all by
yourself in the dark."

"The big winder," says the child, pointing up to it, "sees in the
dark; and I see with the big winder." He stops a bit, and gets up
on his legs, and looks hard at Benjamin's mother. "I'm a good 'un,"
says he, "ain't I? I save candle."

Trottle wondered what else the forlorn little creature had been
brought up to do without, besides candle-light; and risked putting a
question as to whether he ever got a run in the open air to cheer
him up a bit. O, yes, he had a run now and then, out of doors (to
say nothing of his runs about the house), the lively little cricket-
-a run according to good Mr. Forley's instructions, which were
followed out carefully, as good Mr. Forley's friend would be glad to
hear, to the very letter.

As Trottle could only have made one reply to this, namely, that good
Mr. Forley's instructions were, in his opinion, the instructions of
an infernal scamp; and as he felt that such an answer would
naturally prove the death-blow to all further discoveries on his
part, he gulped down his feelings before they got too many for him,
and held his tongue, and looked round towards the window again to
see what the forlorn little boy was going to amuse himself with
next.

The child had gathered up his blacking-brush and bit of rag, and had
put them into the old tin saucepan; and was now working his way, as
well as his clothes would let him, with his make-believe pail hugged
up in his arms, towards a door of communication which led from the
back to the front garret.

"I say," says he, looking round sharply over his shoulder, "what are
you two stopping here for? I'm going to bed now--and so I tell
you!"

With that, he opened the door, and walked into the front room.
Seeing Trottle take a step or two to follow him, Benjamin's mother
opened her wicked old eyes in a state of great astonishment.

"Mercy on us!" says she, "haven't you seen enough of him yet?"

"No," says Trottle. "I should like to see him go to bed."

Benjamin's mother burst into such a fit of chuckling that the loose
extinguisher in the candlestick clattered again with the shaking of
her hand. To think of good Mr. Forley's friend taking ten times
more trouble about the imp than good Mr. Forley himself! Such a
joke as that, Benjamin's mother had not often met with in the course
of her life, and she begged to be excused if she took the liberty of
having a laugh at it.

Leaving her to laugh as much as she pleased, and coming to a pretty
positive conclusion, after what he had just heard, that Mr. Forley's
interest in the child was not of the fondest possible kind, Trottle
walked into the front room, and Benjamin's mother, enjoying herself
immensely, followed with the candle.

There were two pieces of furniture in the front garret. One, an old
stool of the sort that is used to stand a cask of beer on; and the
other a great big ricketty straddling old truckle bedstead. In the
middle of this bedstead, surrounded by a dim brown waste of sacking,
was a kind of little island of poor bedding--an old bolster, with
nearly all the feathers out of it, doubled in three for a pillow; a
mere shred of patchwork counter-pane, and a blanket; and under that,
and peeping out a little on either side beyond the loose clothes,
two faded chair cushions of horsehair, laid along together for a
sort of makeshift mattress. When Trottle got into the room, the
lonely little boy had scrambled up on the bedstead with the help of
the beer-stool, and was kneeling on the outer rim of sacking with
the shred of counterpane in his hands, just making ready to tuck it
in for himself under the chair cushions.

"I'll tuck you up, my man," says Trottle. "Jump into bed, and let
me try."

"I mean to tuck myself up," says the poor forlorn child, "and I
don't mean to jump. I mean to crawl, I do--and so I tell you!"

With that, he set to work, tucking in the clothes tight all down the
sides of the cushions, but leaving them open at the foot. Then,
getting up on his knees, and looking hard at Trottle as much as to
say, "What do you mean by offering to help such a handy little chap
as me?" he began to untie the big shawl for himself, and did it,
too, in less than half a minute. Then, doubling the shawl up loose
over the foot of the bed, he says, "I say, look here," and ducks
under the clothes, head first, worming his way up and up softly,
under the blanket and counterpane, till Trottle saw the top of the
large nightcap slowly peep out on the bolster. This over-sized
head-gear of the child's had so shoved itself down in the course of
his journey to the pillow, under the clothes, that when he got his
face fairly out on the bolster, he was all nightcap down to his
mouth. He soon freed himself, however, from this slight encumbrance
by turning the ends of the cap up gravely to their old place over
his eyebrows--looked at Trottle--said, "Snug, ain't it? Good-bye!"-
-popped his face under the clothes again--and left nothing to be
seen of him but the empty peak of the big nightcap standing up
sturdily on end in the middle of the bolster.

"What a young limb it is, ain't it?" says Benjamin's mother, giving
Trottle a cheerful dig with her elbow. "Come on! you won't see no
more of him to-night!"

"And so I tell you!" sings out a shrill, little voice under the
bedclothes, chiming in with a playful finish to the old woman's last
words.

If Trottle had not been, by this time, positively resolved to follow
the wicked secret which accident had mixed him up with, through all
its turnings and windings, right on to the end, he would have
probably snatched the boy up then and there, and carried him off
from his garret prison, bed-clothes and all. As it was, he put a
strong check on himself, kept his eye on future possibilities, and
allowed Benjamin's mother to lead him down-stairs again.

"Mind them top bannisters," says she, as Trottle laid his hand on
them. "They are as rotten as medlars every one of 'em."

"When people come to see the premises," says Trottle, trying to feel
his way a little farther into the mystery of the House, "you don't
bring many of them up here, do you?"

"Bless your heart alive!" says she, "nobody ever comes now. The
outside of the house is quite enough to warn them off. Mores the
pity, as I say. It used to keep me in spirits, staggering 'em all,
one after another, with the frightful high rent--specially the
women, drat 'em. 'What's the rent of this house?'--'Hundred and
twenty pound a-year!'--'Hundred and twenty? why, there ain't a house
in the street as lets for more than eighty!'--Likely enough, ma'am;
other landlords may lower their rents if they please; but this here
landlord sticks to his rights, and means to have as much for his
house as his father had before him!'--'But the neighbourhood's gone
off since then!'--'Hundred and twenty pound, ma'am.'--'The landlord
must be mad!'--'Hundred and twenty pound, ma'am.'--'Open the door
you impertinent woman!' Lord! what a happiness it was to see 'em
bounce out, with that awful rent a-ringing in their ears all down
the street!"

She stopped on the second-floor landing to treat herself to another
chuckle, while Trottle privately posted up in his memory what he had
just heard. "Two points made out," he thought to himself: "the
house is kept empty on purpose, and the way it's done is to ask a
rent that nobody will pay."

"Ah, deary me!" says Benjamin's mother, changing the subject on a
sudden, and twisting back with a horrid, greedy quickness to those
awkward money-matters which she had broached down in the parlour.
"What we've done, one way and another for Mr. Forley, it isn't in
words to tell! That nice little bit of business of ours ought to be
a bigger bit of business, considering the trouble we take, Benjamin
and me, to make the imp upstairs as happy as the day is long. If
good Mr. Forley would only please to think a little more of what a
deal he owes to Benjamin and me--"

"That's just it," says Trottle, catching her up short in
desperation, and seeing his way, by the help of those last words of
hers, to slipping cleverly through her fingers. "What should you
say, if I told you that Mr. Forley was nothing like so far from
thinking about that little matter as you fancy? You would be
disappointed, now, if I told you that I had come to-day without the
money?"--(her lank old jaw fell, and her villainous old eyes glared,
in a perfect state of panic, at that!)--"But what should you say, if
I told you that Mr. Forley was only waiting for my report, to send
me here next Monday, at dusk, with a bigger bit of business for us
two to do together than ever you think for? What should you say to
that?"

The old wretch came so near to Trottle, before she answered, and
jammed him up confidentially so close into the corner of the
landing, that his throat, in a manner, rose at her.

"Can you count it off, do you think, on more than that?" says she,
holding up her four skinny fingers and her long crooked thumb, all
of a tremble, right before his face.

"What do you say to two hands, instead of one?" says he, pushing
past her, and getting down-stairs as fast as he could.

What she said Trottle thinks it best not to report, seeing that the
old hypocrite, getting next door to light-headed at the golden
prospect before her, took such liberties with unearthly names and
persons which ought never to have approached her lips, and rained
down such an awful shower of blessings on Trottle's head, that his
hair almost stood on end to hear her. He went on down-stairs as
fast as his feet would carry him, till he was brought up all
standing, as the sailors say, on the last flight, by agravating
Benjamin, lying right across the stair, and fallen off, as might
have been expected, into a heavy drunken sleep.

The sight of him instantly reminded Trottle of the curious half
likeness which he had already detected between the face of Benjamin
and the face of another man, whom he had seen at a past time in very
different circumstances. He determined, before leaving the House,
to have one more look at the wretched muddled creature; and
accordingly shook him up smartly, and propped him against the
staircase wall, before his mother could interfere.

"Leave him to me; I'll freshen him up," says Trottle to the old
woman, looking hard in Benjamin's face, while he spoke.

The fright and surprise of being suddenly woke up, seemed, for about
a quarter of a minute, to sober the creature. When he first opened
his eyes, there was a new look in them for a moment, which struck
home to Trottle's memory as quick and as clear as a flash of light.
The old maudlin sleepy expression came back again in another
instant, and blurred out all further signs and tokens of the past.
But Trottle had seen enough in the moment before it came; and he
troubled Benjamin's face with no more inquiries.

"Next Monday, at dusk," says he, cutting short some more of the old
woman's palaver about Benjamin's indisgestion. "I've got no more
time to spare, ma'am, to-night: please to let me out."

With a few last blessings, a few last dutiful messages to good Mr.
Forley, and a few last friendly hints not to forget next Monday at
dusk, Trottle contrived to struggle through the sickening business
of leave-taking; to get the door opened; and to find himself, to his
own indescribable relief, once more on the outer side of the House
To Let.

LET AT LAST

"There, ma'am!" said Trottle, folding up the manuscript from which
he had been reading, and setting it down with a smart tap of triumph
on the table. "May I venture to ask what you think of that plain
statement, as a guess on my part (and not on Mr. Jarber's) at the
riddle of the empty House?"

For a minute or two I was unable to say a word. When I recovered a
little, my first question referred to the poor forlorn little boy.

"To-day is Monday the twentieth," I said. "Surely you have not let
a whole week go by without trying to find out something more?"

"Except at bed-time, and meals, ma'am," answered Trottle, "I have
not let an hour go by. Please to understand that I have only come
to an end of what I have written, and not to an end of what I have
done. I wrote down those first particulars, ma'am, because they are
of great importance, and also because I was determined to come
forward with my written documents, seeing that Mr. Jarber chose to
come forward, in the first instance, with his. I am now ready to go
on with the second part of my story as shortly and plainly as
possible, by word of mouth. The first thing I must clear up, if you
please, is the matter of Mr. Forley's family affairs. I have heard
you speak of them, ma'am, at various times; and I have understood
that Mr. Forley had two children only by his deceased wife, both
daughters. The eldest daughter married, to her father's entire
satisfaction, one Mr. Bayne, a rich man, holding a high government
situation in Canada. She is now living there with her husband, and
her only child, a little girl of eight or nine years old. Right so
far, I think, ma'am?"

"Quite right," I said.

"The second daughter," Trottle went on, "and Mr. Forley's favourite,
set her father's wishes and the opinions of the world at flat
defiance, by running away with a man of low origin--a mate of a
merchant-vessel, named Kirkland. Mr. Forley not only never forgave
that marriage, but vowed that he would visit the scandal of it
heavily in the future on husband and wife. Both escaped his
vengeance, whatever he meant it to be. The husband was drowned on
his first voyage after his marriage, and the wife died in child-bed.
Right again, I believe, ma'am?"

"Again quite right."

"Having got the family matter all right, we will now go back, ma'am,
to me and my doings. Last Monday, I asked you for leave of absence
for two days; I employed the time in clearing up the matter of
Benjamin's face. Last Saturday I was out of the way when you wanted
me. I played truant, ma'am, on that occasion, in company with a
friend of mine, who is managing clerk in a lawyer's office; and we
both spent the morning at Doctors' Commons, over the last will and
testament of Mr. Forley's father. Leaving the will-business for a
moment, please to follow me first, if you have no objection, into
the ugly subject of Benjamin's face. About six or seven years ago
(thanks to your kindness) I had a week's holiday with some friends
of mine who live in the town of Pendlebury. One of those friends
(the only one now left in the place) kept a chemist's shop, and in
that shop I was made acquainted with one of the two doctors in the
town, named Barsham. This Barsham was a first-rate surgeon, and
might have got to the top of his profession, if he had not been a
first-rate blackguard. As it was, he both drank and gambled; nobody
would have anything to do with him in Pendlebury; and, at the time
when I was made known to him in the chemist's shop, the other
doctor, Mr. Dix, who was not to be compared with him for surgical
skill, but who was a respectable man, had got all the practice; and
Barsham and his old mother were living together in such a condition
of utter poverty, that it was a marvel to everybody how they kept
out of the parish workhouse."

"Benjamin and Benjamin's mother!"

"Exactly, ma'am. Last Thursday morning (thanks to your kindness,
again) I went to Pendlebury to my friend the chemist, to ask a few
questions about Barsham and his mother. I was told that they had
both left the town about five years since. When I inquired into the
circumstances, some strange particulars came out in the course of
the chemist's answer. You know I have no doubt, ma'am, that poor
Mrs. Kirkland was confined while her husband was at sea, in lodgings
at a village called Flatfield, and that she died and was buried
there. But what you may not know is, that Flatfield is only three
miles from Pendlebury; that the doctor who attended on Mrs. Kirkland
was Barsham; that the nurse who took care of her was Barsham's
mother; and that the person who called them both in, was Mr. Forley.
Whether his daughter wrote to him, or whether he heard of it in some
other way, I don't know; but he was with her (though he had sworn
never to see her again when she married) a month or more before her
confinement, and was backwards and forwards a good deal between
Flatfield and Pendlebury. How he managed matters with the Barshams
cannot at present be discovered; but it is a fact that he contrived
to keep the drunken doctor sober, to everybody's amazement. It is a
fact that Barsham went to the poor woman with all his wits about
him. It is a fact that he and his mother came back from Flatfield
after Mrs. Kirkland's death, packed up what few things they had, and
left the town mysteriously by night. And, lastly, it is also a fact
that the other doctor, Mr. Dix, was not called in to help, till a
week after the birth AND BURIAL of the child, when the mother was
sinking from exhaustion--exhaustion (to give the vagabond, Barsham,
his due) not produced, in Mr. Dix's opinion, by improper medical
treatment, but by the bodily weakness of the poor woman herself--"

"Burial of the child?" I interrupted, trembling all over. "Trottle!
you spoke that word 'burial' in a very strange way--you are fixing
your eyes on me now with a very strange look--"

Trottle leaned over close to me, and pointed through the window to
the empty house.

"The child's death is registered, at Pendlebury," he said, "on
Barsham's certificate, under the head of Male Infant, Still-Born.
The child's coffin lies in the mother's grave, in Flatfield
churchyard. The child himself--as surely as I live and breathe, is
living and breathing now--a castaway and a prisoner in that
villainous house!"

I sank back in my chair.

"It's guess-work, so far, but it is borne in on my mind, for all
that, as truth. Rouse yourself, ma'am, and think a little. The
last I hear of Barsham, he is attending Mr. Forley's disobedient
daughter. The next I see of Barsham, he is in Mr. Forley's house,
trusted with a secret. He and his mother leave Pendlebury suddenly
and suspiciously five years back; and he and his mother have got a
child of five years old, hidden away in the house. Wait! please to
wait--I have not done yet. The will left by Mr. Forley's father,
strengthens the suspicion. The friend I took with me to Doctors'
Commons, made himself master of the contents of that will; and when
he had done so, I put these two questions to him. 'Can Mr. Forley
leave his money at his own discretion to anybody he pleases?' 'No,'
my friend says, 'his father has left him with only a life interest
in it.' 'Suppose one of Mr. Forley's married daughters has a girl,
and the other a boy, how would the money go?' 'It would all go,' my
friend says, 'to the boy, and it would be charged with the payment
of a certain annual income to his female cousin. After her death,
it would go back to the male descendant, and to his heirs.'
Consider that, ma'am! The child of the daughter whom Mr. Forley
hates, whose husband has been snatched away from his vengeance by
death, takes his whole property in defiance of him; and the child of
the daughter whom he loves, is left a pensioner on her low-born boy-
cousin for life! There was good--too good reason--why that child of
Mrs. Kirkland's should be registered stillborn. And if, as I
believe, the register is founded on a false certificate, there is
better, still better reason, why the existence of the child should
be hidden, and all trace of his parentage blotted out, in the garret
of that empty house."

He stopped, and pointed for the second time to the dim, dust-covered
garret-windows opposite. As he did so, I was startled--a very
slight matter sufficed to frighten me now--by a knock at the door of
the room in which we were sitting.

My maid came in, with a letter in her hand. I took it from her.
The mourning card, which was all the envelope enclosed, dropped from
my hands.

George Forley was no more. He had departed this life three days
since, on the evening of Friday.

"Did our last chance of discovering the truth," I asked, "rest with
HIM? Has it died with HIS death?"

"Courage, ma'am! I think not. Our chance rests on our power to
make Barsham and his mother confess; and Mr. Forley's death, by
leaving them helpless, seems to put that power into our hands. With
your permission, I will not wait till dusk to-day, as I at first
intended, but will make sure of those two people at once. With a
policeman in plain clothes to watch the house, in case they try to
leave it; with this card to vouch for the fact of Mr. Forley's
death; and with a bold acknowledgment on my part of having got
possession of their secret, and of being ready to use it against
them in case of need, I think there is little doubt of bringing
Barsham and his mother to terms. In case I find it impossible to
get back here before dusk, please to sit near the window, ma'am, and
watch the house, a little before they light the street-lamps. If
you see the front-door open and close again, will you be good enough
to put on your bonnet, and come across to me immediately? Mr.
Forley's death may, or may not, prevent his messenger from coming as
arranged. But, if the person does come, it is of importance that
you, as a relative of Mr. Forley's should be present to see him, and
to have that proper influence over him which I cannot pretend to
exercise."

The only words I could say to Trottle as he opened the door and left
me, were words charging him to take care that no harm happened to
the poor forlorn little boy.

Left alone, I drew my chair to the window; and looked out with a
beating heart at the guilty house. I waited and waited through what
appeared to me to be an endless time, until I heard the wheels of a
cab stop at the end of the street. I looked in that direction, and
saw Trottle get out of the cab alone, walk up to the house, and
knock at the door. He was let in by Barsham's mother. A minute or
two later, a decently-dressed man sauntered past the house, looked
up at it for a moment, and sauntered on to the corner of the street
close by. Here he leant against the post, and lighted a cigar, and
stopped there smoking in an idle way, but keeping his face always
turned in the direction of the house-door.

I waited and waited still. I waited and waited, with my eyes
riveted to the door of the house. At last I thought I saw it open
in the dusk, and then felt sure I heard it shut again softly.
Though I tried hard to compose myself, I trembled so that I was
obliged to call for Peggy to help me on with my bonnet and cloak,
and was forced to take her arm to lean on, in crossing the street.

Trottle opened the door to us, before we could knock. Peggy went
back, and I went in. He had a lighted candle in his hand.

"It has happened, ma'am, as I thought it would," he whispered,
leading me into the bare, comfortless, empty parlour. "Barsham and
his mother have consulted their own interests, and have come to
terms. My guess-work is guess-work no longer. It is now what I
felt it was--Truth!"

Something strange to me--something which women who are mothers must
often know--trembled suddenly in my heart, and brought the warm
tears of my youthful days thronging back into my eyes. I took my
faithful old servant by the hand, and asked him to let me see Mrs.
Kirkland's child, for his mother's sake.

"If you desire it, ma'am," said Trottle, with a gentleness of manner
that I had never noticed in him before. "But pray don't think me
wanting in duty and right feeling, if I beg you to try and wait a
little. You are agitated already, and a first meeting with the
child will not help to make you so calm, as you would wish to be, if
Mr. Forley's messenger comes. The little boy is safe up-stairs.
Pray think first of trying to compose yourself for a meeting with a
stranger; and believe me you shall not leave the house afterwards
without the child."

I felt that Trottle was right, and sat down as patiently as I could
in a chair he had thoughtfully placed ready for me. I was so
horrified at the discovery of my own relation's wickedness that when
Trottle proposed to make me acquainted with the confession wrung
from Barsham and his mother, I begged him to spare me all details,
and only to tell me what was necessary about George Forley.

"All that can be said for Mr. Forley, ma'am, is, that he was just
scrupulous enough to hide the child's existence and blot out its
parentage here, instead of consenting, at the first, to its death,
or afterwards, when the boy grew up, to turning him adrift,
absolutely helpless in the world. The fraud has been managed,
ma'am, with the cunning of Satan himself. Mr. Forley had the hold
over the Barshams, that they had helped him in his villany, and that
they were dependent on him for the bread they eat. He brought them
up to London to keep them securely under his own eye. He put them
into this empty house (taking it out of the agent's hands
previously, on pretence that he meant to manage the letting of it
himself); and by keeping the house empty, made it the surest of all
hiding places for the child. Here, Mr. Forley could come, whenever
he pleased, to see that the poor lonely child was not absolutely
starved; sure that his visits would only appear like looking after
his own property. Here the child was to have been trained to
believe himself Barsham's child, till he should be old enough to be
provided for in some situation, as low and as poor as Mr. Forley's
uneasy conscience would let him pick out. He may have thought of
atonement on his death-bed; but not before--I am only too certain of
it--not before!"

A low, double knock startled us.

"The messenger!" said Trottle, under his breath. He went out
instantly to answer the knock; and returned, leading in a
respectable-looking elderly man, dressed like Trottle, all in black,
with a white cravat, but otherwise not at all resembling him.

"I am afraid I have made some mistake," said the stranger.

Trottle, considerately taking the office of explanation into his own
hands, assured the gentleman that there was no mistake; mentioned to
him who I was; and asked him if he had not come on business
connected with the late Mr. Forley. Looking greatly astonished, the
gentleman answered, "Yes." There was an awkward moment of silence,
after that. The stranger seemed to be not only startled and amazed,
but rather distrustful and fearful of committing himself as well.
Noticing this, I thought it best to request Trottle to put an end to
further embarrassment, by stating all particulars truthfully, as he
had stated them to me; and I begged the gentleman to listen
patiently for the late Mr. Forley's sake. He bowed to me very
respectfully, and said he was prepared to listen with the greatest
interest.

It was evident to me--and, I could see, to Trottle also--that we
were not dealing, to say the least, with a dishonest man.

"Before I offer any opinion on what I have heard," he said,
earnestly and anxiously, after Trottle had done, "I must be allowed,
in justice to myself, to explain my own apparent connection with
this very strange and very shocking business. I was the
confidential legal adviser of the late Mr. Forley, and I am left his
executor. Rather more than a fortnight back, when Mr. Forley was
confined to his room by illness, he sent for me, and charged me to
call and pay a certain sum of money here, to a man and woman whom I
should find taking charge of the house. He said he had reasons for
wishing the affair to be kept a secret. He begged me so to arrange
my engagements that I could call at this place either on Monday
last, or to-day, at dusk; and he mentioned that he would write to
warn the people of my coming, without mentioning my name (Dalcott is
my name), as he did not wish to expose me to any future
importunities on the part of the man and woman. I need hardly tell
you that this commission struck me as being a strange one; but, in
my position with Mr. Forley, I had no resource but to accept it
without asking questions, or to break off my long and friendly
connection with my client. I chose the first alternative. Business
prevented me from doing my errand on Monday last--and if I am here
to-day, notwithstanding Mr. Forley's unexpected death, it is
emphatically because I understood nothing of the matter, on knocking
at this door; and therefore felt myself bound, as executor, to clear
it up. That, on my word of honour, is the whole truth, so far as I
am personally concerned."

"I feel quite sure of it, sir," I answered.

"You mentioned Mr. Forley's death, just now, as unexpected. May I
inquire if you were present, and if he has left any last
instructions?"

"Three hours before Mr. Forley's death," said Mr. Dalcott, "his
medical attendant left him apparently in a fair way of recovery.
The change for the worse took place so suddenly, and was accompanied
by such severe suffering, to prevent him from communicating his last
wishes to any one. When I reached his house, he was insensible. I
have since examined his papers. Not one of them refers to the
present time or to the serious matter which now occupies us. In the
absence of instructions I must act cautiously on what you have told
me; but I will be rigidly fair and just at the same time. The first
thing to be done," he continued, addressing himself to Trottle, "is
to hear what the man and woman, down-stairs, have to say. If you
can supply me with writing-materials, I will take their declarations
separately on the spot, in your presence, and in the presence of the
policeman who is watching the house. To-morrow I will send copies
of those declarations, accompanied by a full statement of the case,
to Mr. and Mrs. Bayne in Canada (both of whom know me well as the
late Mr. Forley's legal adviser); and I will suspend all
proceedings, on my part, until I hear from them, or from their
solicitor in London. In the present posture of affairs this is all
I can safely do."

We could do no less than agree with him, and thank him for his frank
and honest manner of meeting us. It was arranged that I should send
over the writing-materials from my lodgings; and, to my unutterable
joy and relief, it was also readily acknowledged that the poor
little orphan boy could find no fitter refuge than my old arms were
longing to offer him, and no safer protection for the night than my
roof could give. Trottle hastened away up-stairs, as actively as if
he had been a young man, to fetch the child down.

And he brought him down to me without another moment of delay, and I
went on my knees before the poor little Mite, and embraced him, and
asked him if he would go with me to where I lived? He held me away
for a moment, and his wan, shrewd little eyes looked sharp at me.
Then he clung close to me all at once, and said:

"I'm a-going along with you, I am--and so I tell you!"

For inspiring the poor neglected child with this trust in my old
self, I thanked Heaven, then, with all my heart and soul, and I
thank it now!

I bundled the poor darling up in my own cloak, and I carried him in
my own arms across the road. Peggy was lost in speechless amazement
to behold me trudging out of breath up-stairs, with a strange pair
of poor little legs under my arm; but, she began to cry over the
child the moment she saw him, like a sensible woman as she always
was, and she still cried her eyes out over him in a comfortable
manner, when he at last lay fast asleep, tucked up by my hands in
Trottle's bed.

"And Trottle, bless you, my dear man," said I, kissing his hand, as
he looked on: "the forlorn baby came to this refuge through you,
and he will help you on your way to Heaven."

Trottle answered that I was his dear mistress, and immediately went
and put his head out at an open window on the landing, and looked
into the back street for a quarter of an hour.

That very night, as I sat thinking of the poor child, and of another
poor child who is never to be thought about enough at Christmas-
time, the idea came into my mind which I have lived to execute, and
in the realisation of which I am the happiest of women this day.

"The executor will sell that House, Trottle?" said I.

"Not a doubt of it, ma'am, if he can find a purchaser."

"I'll buy it."

I have often seen Trottle pleased; but, I never saw him so perfectly
enchanted as he was when I confided to him, which I did, then and
there, the purpose that I had in view.

To make short of a long story--and what story would not be long,
coming from the lips of an old woman like me, unless it was made
short by main force!--I bought the House. Mrs. Bayne had her
father's blood in her; she evaded the opportunity of forgiving and
generous reparation that was offered her, and disowned the child;
but, I was prepared for that, and loved him all the more for having
no one in the world to look to, but me.

I am getting into a flurry by being over-pleased, and I dare say I
am as incoherent as need be. I bought the House, and I altered it
from the basement to the roof, and I turned it into a Hospital for
Sick Children.

Never mind by what degrees my little adopted boy came to the
knowledge of all the sights and sounds in the streets, so familiar
to other children and so strange to him; never mind by what degrees
he came to be pretty, and childish, and winning, and companionable,
and to have pictures and toys about him, and suitable playmates. As
I write, I look across the road to my Hospital, and there is the
darling (who has gone over to play) nodding at me out of one of the
once lonely windows, with his dear chubby face backed up by
Trottle's waistcoat as he lifts my pet for "Grandma" to see.

Many an Eye I see in that House now, but it is never in solitude,
never in neglect. Many an Eye I see in that House now, that is more
and more radiant every day with the light of returning health. As
my precious darling has changed beyond description for the brighter
and the better, so do the not less precious darlings of poor women
change in that House every day in the year. For which I humbly
thank that Gracious Being whom the restorer of the Widow's son and
of the Ruler's daughter, instructed all mankind to call their
Father.

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