Part 1 out of 3
[Italics are indicatedby underscores
James Rusk, firstname.lastname@example.org.]
A ROGUE'S LIFE
by Wilkie Collins
The following pages were written more than twenty years since,
and were then published periodically in _Household Words._
In the original form of publication the Rogue was very favorably
received. Year after year, I delayed the republication,
proposing, at the suggestion of my old friend, Mr. Charles Reade,
to enlarge the present sketch of the hero's adventures in
Australia. But the opportunity of carrying out this project has
proved to be one of the lost opportunities of my life. I
republish the story with its original conclusion unaltered, but
with such occasional additions and improvements as will, I hope,
render it more worthy of attention at the present time.
The critical reader may possibly notice a tone of almost
boisterous gayety in certain parts of these imaginary
Confessions. I can only plead, in defense, that the story offers
the faithful reflection of a very happy time in my past life. It
was written at Paris, when I had Charles Dickens for a near
neighbor and a daily companion, and when my leisure hours were
joyously passed with many other friends, all associated with
literature and art, of whom the admirable comedian, Regnier, is
now the only survivor. The revising of these pages has been to me
a melancholy task. I can only hope that they may cheer the sad
moments of others. The Rogue may surely claim two merits, at
least, in the eyes of the new generation--he is never serious for
two moments together; and he "doesn't take long to read." W. C.
GLOUCESTER PLACE, LONDON, _March_ 6th, 1879.
A ROGUE'S LIFE.
I AM going to try if I can't write something about myself. My
life has been rather a strange one. It may not seem particularly
useful or respectable; but it has been, in some respects,
adventurous; and that may give it claims to be read, even in the
most prejudiced circles. I am an example of some of the workings
of the social system of this illustrious country on the
individual native, during the early part of the present century;
and, if I may say so without unbecoming vanity, I should like to
quote myself for the edification of my countrymen.
Who am I.
I am remarkably well connected, I can tell you. I came into this
world with the great advantage of having Lady Malkinshaw for a
grandmother, her ladyship's daughter for a mother, and Francis
James Softly, Esq., M. D. (commonly called Doctor Softly), for a
father. I put my father last, because he was not so well
connected as my mother, and my grandmother first, because she was
the most nobly-born person of the three. I have been, am still,
and may continue to be, a Rogue; but I hope I am not abandoned
enough yet to forget the respect that is due to rank. On this
account, I trust, nobody will show such want of regard for my
feelings as to expect me to say much about my mother's brother.
That inhuman person committed an outrage on his family by making
a fortune in the soap and candle trade. I apologize for
mentioning him, even in an accidental way. The fact is, he left
my sister, Annabella, a legacy of rather a peculiar kind, saddled
with certain conditions which indirectly affected me; but this
passage of family history need not be produced just yet. I
apologize a second time for alluding to money matters before it
was absolutely necessary. Let me get back to a pleasing and
reputable subject, by saying a word or two more about my father.
I am rather afraid that Doctor Softly was not a clever medical
man; for in spite of his great connections, he did not get a very
magnificent practice as a physician.
As a general practitioner, he might have bought a comfortable
business, with a house and snug surgery-shop attached; but the
son-in-law of Lady Malkinshaw was obliged to hold up his head,
and set up his carriage, and live in a street near a fashionable
square, and keep an expensive and clumsy footman to answer the
door, instead of a cheap and tidy housemaid. How he managed to
"maintain his position" (that is the right phrase, I think), I
never could tell. His wife did not bring him a farthing. When the
honorable and gallant baronet, her father, died, he left the
widowed Lady Malkinshaw with her worldly affairs in a curiously
involved state. Her son (of whom I feel truly ashamed to be
obliged to speak again so soon) made an effort to extricate his
mother--involved himself in a series of pecuniary disasters,
which commercial people call, I believe, transactions--struggled
for a little while to get out of them in the character of an
independent gentleman--failed--and then spiritlessly availed
himself of the oleaginous refuge of the soap and candle trade.
His mother always looked down upon him after this; but borrowed
money of him also--in order to show, I suppose, that her maternal
interest in her son was not quite extinct. My father tried to
follow her example--in his wife's interests, of course; but the
soap-boiler brutally buttoned up his pockets, and told my father
to go into business for himself. Thus it happened that we were
certainly a poor family, in spite of the fine appearance we made,
the fashionable street we lived in, the neat brougham we kept,
and the clumsy and expensive footman who answered our door.
What was to be done with me in the way of education?
If my father had consulted his means, I should have been sent to
a cheap commercial academy; but he had to consult his
relationship to Lady Malkinshaw; so I was sent to one of the most
fashionable and famous of the great public schools. I will not
mention it by name, because I don't think the masters would be
proud of my connection with it. I ran away three times, and was
flogged three times. I made four aristocratic connections, and
had four pitched battles with them: three thrashed me, and one I
thrashed. I learned to play at cricket, to hate rich people, to
cure warts, to write Latin verses, to swim, to recite speeches,
to cook kidneys on toast, to draw caricatures of the masters, to
construe Greek plays, to black boots, and to receive kicks and
serious advice resignedly. Who will say that the fashionable
public school was of no use to me after that?
After I left school, I had the narrowest escape possible of
intruding myself into another place of accommodation for
distinguished people; in other words, I was very nearly being
sent to college. Fortunately for me, my father lost a lawsuit
just in the nick of time, and was obliged to scrape together
every farthing of available money that he possessed to pay for
the luxury of going to law. If he could have saved his seven
shillings, he would certainly have sent me to scramble for a
place in the pit of the great university theater; but his purse
was empty, and his son was not eligible therefore for admission,
in a gentlemanly capacity, at the doors.
The next thing was to choose a profession.
Here the Doctor was liberality itself, in leaving me to my own
devices. I was of a roving adventurous temperament, and I should
have liked to go into the army. But where was the money to come
from, to pay for my commission? As to enlisting in the ranks, and
working my way up, the social institutions of my country obliged
the grandson of Lady Malkinshaw to begin military life as an
officer and gentleman, or not to begin it at all. The army,
therefore, was out of the question. The Church? Equally out of
the question: since I could not pay for admission to the prepared
place of accommodation for distinguished people, and could not
accept a charitable free pass, in consequence of my high
connections. The Bar? I should be five years getting to it, and
should have to spend two hundred a year in going circuit before I
had earned a farthing. Physic? This really seemed the only
gentlemanly refuge left; and yet, with the knowledge of my
father's experience before me, I was ungrateful enough to feel a
secret dislike for it. It is a degrading confession to make; but
I remember wishing I was not so highly connected, and absolutely
thinking that the life of a commercial traveler would have suited
me exactly, if I had not been a poor g entleman. Driving about
from place to place, living jovially at inns, seeing fresh faces
constantly, and getting money by all this enjoyment, instead of
spending it--what a life for me, if I had been the son of a
haberdasher and the grandson of a groom's widow!
While my father was uncertain what to do with me, a new
profession was suggested by a friend, which I shall repent not
having been allowed to adopt, to the last day of my life. This
friend was an eccentric old gentleman of large property, much
respected in our family. One day, my father, in my presence,
asked his advice about the best manner of starting me in life,
with due credit to my connections and sufficient advantage to
"Listen to my experience," said our eccentric friend, "and, if
you are a wise man, you will make up your mind as soon as you
have heard me. I have three sons. I brought my eldest son up to
the Church; he is said to be getting on admirably, and he costs
me three hundred a year. I brought my second son up to the Bar;
he is said to be getting on admirably, and he costs me four
hundred a year. I brought my third son up to _Quadrilles_--he has
married an heiress, and he costs me nothing."
Ah, me! if that worthy sage's advice had only been followed--if I
had been brought up to Quadrilles!--if I had only been cast loose
on the ballrooms of London, to qualify under Hymen, for a golden
degree! Oh! you young ladies with money, I was five feet ten in
my stockings; I was great at small-talk and dancing; I had glossy
whiskers, curling locks, and a rich voice! Ye girls with golden
guineas, ye nymphs with crisp bank-notes, mourn over the husband
you have lost among you--over the Rogue who has broken the laws
which, as the partner of a landed or fund-holding woman, he might
have helped to make on the benches of the British Parliament! Oh!
ye hearths and homes sung about in so many songs--written about
in so many books--shouted about in so many speeches, with
accompaniment of so much loud cheering: what a settler on the
hearth-rug; what a possessor of property; what a bringer-up of a
family, was snatched away from you, when the son of Dr. Softly
was lost to the profession of Quadrilles!
It ended in my resigning myself to the misfortune of being a
If I was a very good boy and took pains, and carefully mixed in
the best society, I might hope in the course of years to succeed
to my father's brougham, fashionably-situated house, and clumsy
and expensive footman. There was a prospect for a lad of spirit,
with the blood of the early Malkinshaws (who were Rogues of great
capacity and distinction in the feudal times) coursing
adventurous through every vein! I look back on my career, and
when I remember the patience with which I accepted a medical
destiny, I appear to myself in the light of a hero. Nay, I even
went beyond the passive virtue of accepting my destiny--I
actually studied, I made the acquaintance of the skeleton, I was
on friendly terms with the muscular system, and the mysteries of
Physiology dropped in on me in the kindest manner whenever they
had an evening to spare.
Even this was not the worst of it. I disliked the abstruse
studies of my new profession; but I absolutely hated the diurnal
slavery of qualifying myself, in a social point of view, for
future success in it. My fond medical parent insisted on
introducing me to his whole connection. I went round visiting in
the neat brougham--with a stethoscope and medical review in the
front-pocket, with Doctor Softly by my side, keeping his face
well in view at the window--to canvass for patients, in the
character of my father's hopeful successor. Never have I been so
ill at ease in prison, as I was in that carriage. I have felt
more at home in the dock (such is the natural depravity and
perversity of my disposition) than ever I felt in the
drawing-rooms of my father's distinguished patrons and
respectable friends. Nor did my miseries end with the morning
calls. I was commanded to attend all dinner-parties, and to make
myself agreeable at all balls. The dinners were the worst trial.
Sometimes, indeed, we contrived to get ourselves asked to the
houses of high and mighty entertainers, where we ate the finest
French dishes and drank the oldest vintages, and fortified
ourselves sensibly and snugly in that way against the frigidity
of the company. Of these repasts I have no hard words to say; it
is of the dinners we gave ourselves, and of the dinners which
people in our rank of life gave to us, that I now bitterly
Have you ever observed the remarkable adherence to set forms of
speech which characterizes the talkers of arrant nonsense!
Precisely the same sheepish following of one given example
distinguishes the ordering of genteel dinners.
When we gave a dinner at home, we had gravy soup, turbot and
lobster-sauce, haunch of mutton, boiled fowls and tongue,
lukewarm oyster-patties and sticky curry for side-dishes; wild
duck, cabinet-pudding, jelly, cream and tartlets. All excellent
things, except when you have to eat them continually. We lived
upon them entirely in the season. Every one of our hospitable
friends gave us a return dinner, which was a perfect copy of
ours--just as ours was a perfect copy of theirs, last year. They
boiled what we boiled, and we roasted what they roasted. We none
of us ever changed the succession of the courses--or made more or
less of them--or altered the position of the fowls opposite the
mistress and the haunch opposite the master. My stomach used to
quail within me, in those times, when the tureen was taken off
and the inevitable gravy-soup smell renewed its daily
acquaintance with my nostrils, and warned me of the persistent
eatable formalities that were certain to follow. I suppose that
honest people, who have known what it is to get no dinner (being
a Rogue, I have myself never wanted for one), have gone through
some very acute suffering under that privation. It may be some
consolation to them to know that, next to absolute starvation,
the same company-dinner, every day, is one of the hardest trials
that assail human endurance. I date my first serious
determination to throw over the medical profession at the
earliest convenient opportunity, from the second season's series
of dinners at which my aspirations, as a rising physician,
unavoidably and regularly condemned me to be present.
THE opportunity I wanted presented itself in a curious way, and
led, unexpectedly enough, to some rather important consequences.
I have already stated, among the other branches of human
attainment which I acquired at the public school, that I learned
to draw caricatures of the masters who were so obliging as to
educate me. I had a natural faculty for this useful department of
art. I improved it greatly by practice in secret after I left
school, and I ended by making it a source of profit and pocket
money to me when I entered the medical profession. What was I to
do? I could not expect for years to make a halfpenny, as a
physician. My genteel walk in life led me away from all immediate
sources of emolument, and my father could only afford to give me
an allowance which was too preposterously small to be mentioned.
I had helped myself surreptitiously to pocket-money at school, by
selling my caricatures, and I was obliged to repeat the process
At the time of which I write, the Art of Caricature was just
approaching the close of its colored and most extravagant stage
of development. The subtlety and truth to Nature required for the
pursuit of it now, had hardly begun to be thought of then. Sheer
farce and coarse burlesque, with plenty of color for the money,
still made up the sum of what the public of those days wanted. I
was first assured of my capacity for the production of these
requisites, by a medical friend of the ripe critical age of
nineteen. He knew a print-publisher, and enthusiastically showed
him a portfolio full of my sketches, taking care at my request
not to mention my name. Rather to my surprise (for I was too
conceited to be greatly amazed by the circumstance), the
publisher picked out a few of the best of my wares, and boldly
bought them of me-- of course, at his own price. From that time I
became, in an anonymous way, one of the young buccaneers of
British Caricature; cruising about here, there and everywhere, at
all my intervals of spare time, for any prize in the shape of a
subject which it was possible to pick up. Little did my
highly-connected mother think that, among the colored prints in
the shop-window, which disrespectfully illustrated the public and
private proceedings of distinguished individuals, certain
specimens bearing the classic signature of "Thersites Junior,"
were produced from designs furnished by her studious and medical
son. Little did my respectable father imagine when, with great
difficulty and vexation, he succeeded in getting me now and then
smuggled, along with himself, inside the pale of fashionable
society--that he was helping me to study likenesses which were
destined under my reckless treatment to make the public laugh at
some of his most august patrons, and to fill the pockets of his
son with professional fees, never once dreamed of in his
For more than a year I managed, unsuspected, to keep the Privy
Purse fairly supplied by the exercise of my caricaturing
abilities. But the day of detection was to come.
Whether my medical friend's admiration of my satirical sketches
led him into talking about them in public with too little
reserve; or whether the servants at home found private means of
watching me in my moments of Art-study, I know not: but that some
one betrayed me, and that the discovery of my illicit manufacture
of caricatures was actually communicated even to the
grandmotherly head and fount of the family honor, is a most
certain and lamentable matter of fact. One morning my father
received a letter from Lady Malkinshaw herself, informing him, in
a handwriting crooked with poignant grief, and blotted at every
third word by the violence of virtuous indignation, that
"Thersites Junior" was his own son, and that, in one of the last
of the "ribald's" caricatures her own venerable features were
unmistakably represented as belonging to the body of a large owl!
Of course, I laid my hand on my heart and indignantly denied
everything. Useless. My original model for the owl had got proofs
of my guilt that were not to be resisted.
The doctor, ordinarily the most mellifluous and self-possessed of
men, flew into a violent, roaring, cursing passion, on this
occasion--declared that I was imperiling the honor and standing
of the family--insisted on my never drawing another caricature,
either for public or private purposes, as long as I lived; and
ordered me to go forthwith and ask pardon of Lady Malkinshaw in
the humblest terms that it was possible to select. I answered
dutifully that I was quite ready to obey, on the condition that
he should reimburse me by a trebled allowance for what I should
lose by giving up the Art of Caricature, or that Lady Malkinshaw
should confer on me the appointment of physician-in-waiting on
her, with a handsome salary attached. These extremely moderate
stipulations so increased my father's anger, that he asserted,
with an unmentionably vulgar oath, his resolution to turn me out
of doors if I did not do as he bid me, without daring to hint at
any conditions whatsoever. I bowed, and said that I would save
him the exertion of turning me out of doors, by going of my own
accord. He shook his fist at me; after which it obviously became
my duty, as a member of a gentlemanly and peaceful profession, to
leave the room. The same evening I left the house, and I have
never once given the clumsy and expensive footman the trouble of
answering the door to me since that time.
I have reason to believe that my exodus from home was, on the
whole, favorably viewed by my mother, as tending to remove any
possibility of my bad character and conduct interfering with my
sister's advancement in life.
By dint of angling with great dexterity and patience, under the
direction of both her parents, my handsome sister Annabella had
succeeded in catching an eligible husband, in the shape of a
wizen, miserly, mahogany-colored man, turned fifty, who had made
a fortune in the West Indies. His name was Batterbury; he had
been dried up under a tropical sun, so as to look as if he would
keep for ages; he had two subjects of conversation, the
yellow-fever and the advantage of walking exercise: and he was
barbarian enough to take a violent dislike to me. He had proved a
very delicate fish to hook; and, even when Annabella had caught
him, my father and mother had great difficulty in landing
him--principally, they were good enough to say, in consequence of
my presence on the scene. Hence the decided advantage of my
removal from home. It is a very pleasant reflection to me, now,
to remember how disinterestedly I studied the good of my family
in those early days.
Abandoned entirely to my own resources, I naturally returned to
the business of caricaturing with renewed ardor.
About this time Thersites Junior really began to make something
like a reputation, and to walk abroad habitually with a bank-note
comfortably lodged among the other papers in his pocketbook. For
a year I lived a gay and glorious life in some of the freest
society in London; at the end of that time, my tradesmen, without
any provocation on my part, sent in their bills. I found myself
in the very absurd position of having no money to pay them, and
told them all so with the frankness which is one of the best
sides of my character. They received my advances toward a better
understanding with brutal incivility, and treated me soon
afterward with a want of confidence which I may forgive, but can
never forget. One day, a dirty stranger touched me on the
shoulder, and showed me a dirty slip of paper which I at first
presumed to be his card. Before I could tell him what a vulgar
document it looked like, two more dirty strangers put me into a
hackney coach. Before I could prove to them that this proceeding
was a gross infringement on the liberties of the British subject,
I found myself lodged within the walls of a prison.
Well! and what of that? Who am I that I should object to being in
prison, when so many of the royal personages and illustrious
characters of history have been there before me? Can I not carry
on my vocation in greater comfort here than I could in my
father's house? Have I any anxieties outside these walls? No: for
my beloved sister is married--the family net has landed Mr.
Batterbury at last. No: for I read in the paper the other day,
that Doctor Softly (doubtless through the interest of Lady
Malkinshaw) has been appointed the
King's-Barber-Surgeon's-Deputy-Consulting Physician. My relatives
are comfortable in their sphere--let me proceed forthwith to make
myself comfortable in mine. Pen, ink, and paper, if you please,
Mr. Jailer: I wish to write to my esteemed publisher.
"DEAR SIR--Please advertise a series of twelve Racy Prints, from
my fertile pencil, entitled, 'Scenes of Modern Prison Life,' by
Thersites Junior. The two first designs will be ready by the end
of the week, to be paid for on delivery, according to the terms
settled between us for my previous publications of the same size.
"With great regard and esteem, faithfully yours,
Having thus provided for my support in prison, I was enabled to
introduce myself to my fellow-debtors, and to study character for
the new series of prints, on the very first day of my
incarceration, with my mind quite at ease.
If the reader desires to make acquaintance with the associates of
my captivity, I must refer him to "Scenes of Modern Prison Life,"
by Thersites Junior, now doubtless extremely scarce, but
producible to the demands of patience and perseverance, I should
imagine, if anybody will be so obliging as to pass a week or so
over the catalogue of the British Museum. My fertile pencil has
delineated the characters I met with, at that period of my life,
with a force and distinctness which my pen cannot hope to
rival--has portrayed them all more or less prominently, with the
one solitary exception of a prisoner called Gentleman Jones. The
reasons why I excluded him from my portrait-gallery are so
honorab le to both of us, that I must ask permission briefly to
My fellow-captives soon discovered that I was studying their
personal peculiarities for my own advantage and for the public
amusement. Some thought the thing a good joke; some objected to
it, and quarreled with me. Liberality in the matter of liquor and
small loans, reconciled a large proportion of the objectors to
their fate; the sulky minority I treated with contempt, and
scourged avengingly with the smart lash of caricature. I was at
that time probably the most impudent man of my age in all
England, and the common flock of jail-birds quailed before the
magnificence of my assurance. One prisoner only set me and my
pencil successfully at defiance. That prisoner was Gentleman
He had received his name from the suavity of his countenance, the
inveterate politeness of his language, and the unassailable
composure of his manner. He was in the prime of life, but very
bald--had been in the army and the coal trade--wore very stiff
collars and prodigiously long wristbands--seldom laughed, but
talked with remarkable glibness, and was never known to lose his
temper under the most aggravating circumstances of prison
He abstained from interfering with me and my studies, until it
was reported in our society, that in the sixth print of my
series, Gentleman Jones, highly caricatured, was to form one of
the principal figures. He then appealed to me personally and
publicly, on the racket-ground, in the following terms:
"Sir," said he, with his usual politeness and his unwavering
smile, "you will greatly oblige me by not caricaturing my
personal peculiarities. I am so unfortunate as not to possess a
sense of humor; and if you did my likeness, I am afraid I should
not see the joke of it."
"Sir," I returned, with my customary impudence, "it is not of the
slightest importance whether _you_ see the joke of it or not. The
public will--and that is enough for me."
With that civil speech, I turned on my heel; and the prisoners
near all burst out laughing. Gentleman Jones, not in the least
altered or ruffled, smoothed down his wristbands, smiled, and
The same evening I was in my room alone, designing the new print,
when there came a knock at the door, and Gentleman Jones walked
in. I got up, and asked what the devil he wanted. He smiled, and
turned up his long wristbands.
"Only to give you a lesson in politeness," said Gentleman Jones.
"What do you mean, sir? How dare you--?"
The answer was a smart slap on the face. I instantly struck out
in a state of fury--was stopped with great neatness--and received
in return a blow on the head, which sent me down on the carpet
half stunned, and too giddy to know the difference between the
floor and the ceiling.
"Sir," said Gentleman Jones, smoothing down his wristbands again,
and addressing me blandly as I lay on the floor, "I have the
honor to inform you that you have now received your first lesson
in politeness. Always be civil to those who are civil to you. The
little matter of the caricature we will settle on a future
occasion. I wish you good-evening."
The noise of my fall had been heard by the other occupants of
rooms on my landing. Most fortunately for my dignity, they did
not come in to see what was the matter until I had been able to
get into my chair again. When they entered, I felt that the
impression of the slap was red on my face still, but the mark of
the blow was hidden by my hair. Under these fortunate
circumstances, I was able to keep up my character among my
friends, when they inquired about the scuffle, by informing them
that Gentleman Jones had audaciously slapped my face, and that I
had been obliged to retaliate by knocking him down. My word in
the prison was as good as his; and if my version of the story got
fairly the start of his, I had the better chance of the two of
I was rather anxious, the next day, to know what course my polite
and pugilistic instructor would take. To my utter amazement, he
bowed to me as civilly as usual when we met in the yard; he never
denied my version of the story; and when my friends laughed at
him as a thrashed man, he took not the slightest notice of their
agreeable merriment. Antiquity, I think, furnishes us with few
more remarkable characters than Gentleman Jones.
That evening I thought it desirable to invite a friend to pass
the time with me. As long as my liquor lasted he stopped; when it
was gone, he went away. I was just locking the door after him,
when it was pushed open gently, but very firmly, and Gentleman
Jones walked in.
My pride, which had not allowed me to apply for protection to the
prison authorities, would not allow me now to call for help. I
tried to get to the fireplace and arm myself with the poker, but
Gentleman Jones was too quick for me. "I have come, sir, to give
you a lesson in morality to-night," he said; and up went his
I stopped the preliminary slap, but before I could hit him, his
terrible left fist reached my head again; and down I fell once
more--upon the hearth-rug this time--not over-heavily.
"Sir," said Gentleman Jones, making me a bow, "you have now
received your first lesson in morality. Always speak the truth;
and never say what is false of another man behind his back.
To-morrow, with your kind permission, we will finally settle the
adjourned question of the caricature. Good-night."
I was far too sensible a man to leave the settling of that
question to him. The first thing in the morning I sent a polite
note to Gentleman Jones, informing him that I had abandoned all
idea of exhibiting his likeness to the public in my series of
prints, and giving him full permission to inspect every design I
made before it went out of the prison. I received a most civil
answer, thanking me for my courtesy, and complimenting me on the
extraordinary aptitude with which I profited by the most
incomplete and elementary instruction. I thought I deserved the
compliment, and I think so still. Our conduct, as I have already
intimated, was honorable to us, on either side. It was honorable
attention on the part of Gentleman Jones to correct me when I was
in error; it was honorable common sense in me to profit by the
correction. I have never seen this great man since he compounded
with his creditors and got out of prison; but my feelings toward
him are still those of profound gratitude and respect. He gave me
the only useful teaching I ever had; and if this should meet the
eye of Gentleman Jones I hereby thank him for beginning and
ending my education in two evenings, without costing me or my
family a single farthing.
To return to my business affairs. When I was comfortably settled
in the prison, and knew exactly what I owed, I thought it my duty
to my father to give him the first chance of getting me out. His
answer to my letter contained a quotation from Shakespeare on the
subject of thankless children, but no remittance of money. After
that, my only course was to employ a lawyer and be declared a
bankrupt. I was most uncivilly treated, and remanded two or three
times. When everything I possessed had been sold for the benefit
of my creditors, I was reprimanded and let out. It is pleasant to
think that, even then, my faith in myself and in human nature was
still not shaken.
About ten days before my liberation, I was thunderstruck at
receiving a visit from my sister's mahogany-colored husband, Mr.
Batterbury. When I was respectably settled at home, this
gentleman would not so much as look at me without a frown; and
now, when I was a scamp, in prison, he mercifully and fraternally
came to condole with me on my misfortunes. A little dexterous
questioning disclosed the secret of this prodigious change in our
relations toward each other, and informed me of a family event
which altered my position toward my sister in the most whimsical
While I was being removed to the bankruptcy court, my uncle in
the soap and candle trade was being removed to the other world.
His will took no notice of my father or my mother; but he left to
my sister (always supposed to be his favorite in the family) a
most extraordin ary legacy of possible pin-money, in the shape of
a contingent reversion to the sum of three thousand pounds,
payable on the death of Lady Malkinshaw, provided I survived her.
Whether this document sprang into existence out of any of his
involved money transactions with his mother was more than Mr.
Batterbury could tell. I could ascertain nothing in relation to
it, except that the bequest was accompanied by some cynical
remarks, to the effect that the testator would feel happy if his
legacy were instrumental in reviving the dormant interest of only
one member of Doctor Softly's family in the fortunes of the
hopeful young gentleman who had run away from home. My esteemed
uncle evidently felt that he could not in common decency avoid
doing something for his sister's family; and he had done it
accordingly in the most malicious and mischievous manner. This
was characteristic of him; he was just the man, if he had not
possessed the document before, to have had it drawn out on his
death-bed for the amiable purpose which it was now devoted to
Here was a pretty complication! Here was my sister's handsome
legacy made dependent on my outliving my grandmother! This was
diverting enough; but Mr. Batterbury's conduct was more amusing
The miserly little wretch not only tried to conceal his greedy
desire to save his own pockets by securing the allowance of
pin-money left to his wife, but absolutely persisted in ignoring
the plain fact that his visit to me sprang from the serious
pecuniary interest which he and Annabella now had in the life and
health of your humble servant. I made all the necessary jokes
about the strength of the vital principle in Lady Malkinshaw, and
the broken condition of my own constitution; but he solemnly
abstained from understanding one of them. He resolutely kept up
appearances in the very face of detection; not the faintest shade
of red came over his wicked old mahogany face as he told me how
shocked he and his wife were at my present position, and how
anxious Annabella was that he should not forget to give me her
love. Tenderhearted creature! I had only been in prison six
months when that overwhelming testimony of sisterly affection
came to console me in my captivity. Ministering angel! you shall
get your three thousand pounds. I am fifty years younger than
Lady Malkinshaw, and I will take care of myself, Annabella, for
thy dear sake!
The next time I saw Mr. Batterbury was on the day when I at last
got my discharge. He was not waiting to see where I was going
next, or what vital risks I was likely to run on the recovery of
my freedom, but to congratulate me, and to give me Annabella's
love. It was a very gratifying attention, and I said as much, in
tones of the deepest feeling.
"How is dear Lady Malkinshaw?" I asked, when my grateful emotions
Mr. Batterbury shook his head mournfully. "I regret to say, not
quite so well as her friends could wish," he answered. "The last
time I had the pleasure of seeing her ladyship, she looked so
yellow that if we had been in Jamaica I should have said it was a
case of death in twelve hours. I respectfully endeavored to
impress upon her ladyship the necessity of keeping the functions
of the liver active by daily walking exercise; time, distance,
and pace being regulated with proper regard to her age--you
understand me?--of course, with proper regard to her age."
"You could not possibly have given her better advice," I said.
"When I saw her, as long as two years ago, Lady Malkinshaw's
favorite delusion was that she was the most active woman of
seventy-five in all England. She used to tumble downstairs two or
three times a week, then, because she never would allow any one
to help her; and could not be brought to believe that she was as
blind as a mole, and as rickety on her legs as a child of a year
old. Now you have encouraged her to take to walking, she will be
more obstinate than ever, and is sure to tumble down daily, out
of doors as well as in. Not even the celebrated Malkinshaw
toughness can last out more than a few weeks of that practice.
Considering the present shattered condition of my constitution,
you couldn't have given her better advice--upon my word of honor,
you couldn't have given her better advice!"
"I am afraid," said Mr. Batterbury, with a power of face I
envied; "I am afraid, my dear Frank (let me call you Frank), that
I don't quite apprehend your meaning: and we have unfortunately
no time to enter into explanations. Five miles here by a
roundabout way is only half my daily allowance of walking
exercise; five miles back by a roundabout way remain to be now
accomplished. So glad to see you at liberty again! Mind you let
us know where you settle, and take care of yourself; and do
recognize the importance to the whole animal economy of daily
walking exercise--do now! Did I give you Annabella's love? She's
so well. Good-by."
Away went Mr. Batterbury to finish his walk for the sake of his
health, and away went I to visit my publisher for the sake of my
An unexpected disappointment awaited me. My "Scenes of Modern
Prison Life" had not sold so well as had been anticipated, and my
publisher was gruffly disinclined to speculate in any future
works done in the same style. During the time of my imprisonment,
a new caricaturist had started, with a manner of his own; he had
already formed a new school, and the fickle public were all
running together after him and his disciples. I said to myself:
"This scene in the drama of your life, my friend, has closed in;
you must enter on another, or drop the curtain at once." Of
course I entered on another.
Taking leave of my publisher, I went to consult an artist-friend
on my future prospects. I supposed myself to be merely on my way
to a change of profession. As destiny ordered it, I was also on
my way to the woman who was not only to be the object of my first
love, but the innocent cause of the great disaster of my life.
I first saw her in one of the narrow streets leading from
Leicester Square to the Strand. There was something in her face
(dimly visible behind a thick veil) that instantly stopped me as
I passed her. I looked back and hesitated. Her figure was the
perfection of modest grace. I yielded to the impulse of the
moment. In plain words, I did what you would have done, in my
place--I followed her.
She looked round--discovered me--and instantly quickened her
pace. Reaching the westward end of the Strand, she crossed the
street and suddenly entered a shop.
I looked through the window, and saw her speak to a respectable
elderly person behind the counter, who darted an indignant look
at me, and at once led my charming stranger into a back office.
For the moment, I was fool enough to feel puzzled; it was out of
my character you will say--but remember, all men are fools when
they first fall in love. After a little while I recovered the use
of my senses. The shop was at the corner of a side street,
leading to the market, since removed to make room for the
railway. "There's a back entrance to the house!" I thought to
myself--and ran down the side street. Too late! the lovely
fugitive had escaped me. Had I lost her forever in the great
world of London? I thought so at the time. Events will show that
I never was more mistaken in my life.
I was in no humor to call on my friend. It was not until another
day had passed that I sufficiently recovered my composure to see
poverty staring me in the face, and to understand that I had
really no alternative but to ask the good-natured artist to lend
me a helping hand.
I had heard it darkly whispered that he was something of a
vagabond. But the term is so loosely applied, and it seems so
difficult, after all, to define what a vagabond is, or to strike
the right moral balance between the vagabond work which is boldly
published, and the vagabond work which is reserved for private
circulation only, that I did not feel justified in holding aloof
from my former friend. Accordingly, I renewed our acquaintance,
and told him my present difficulty. He was a sharp man, and he
showed me a way out of it directly.
"You have a good eye for a likeness," he said; "and you have made
it keep you hitherto. Very well. Make it keep you still. You
can't profitably caricature people's faces any longer--never
mind! go to the other extreme, and flatter them now. Turn
portrait-painter. You shall have the use of this study three days
in the week, for ten shillings a week--sleeping on the hearth-rug
included, if you like. Get your paints, rouse up your friends,
set to work at once. Drawing is of no consequence; painting is of
no consequence; perspective is of no consequence; ideas are of no
consequence. Everything is of no consequence, except catching a
likeness and flattering your sitter--and that you know you can
I felt that I could; and left him for the nearest colorman's.
Before I got to the shop, I met Mr. Batterbury taking his walking
exercise. He stopped, shook hands with me affectionately, and
asked where I was going. A wonderful idea struck me. Instead of
answering his question, I asked after Lady Malkinshaw.
"Don't be alarmed," said Mr. Batterbury; "her ladyship tumbled
downstairs yesterday morning."
"My dear sir, allow me to congratulate you!"
"Most fortunately," continued Mr. Batterbury, with a strong
emphasis on the words, and a fixed stare at me; "most
fortunately, the servant had been careless enough to leave a
large bundle of clothes for the wash at the foot of the stairs,
while she went to answer the door. Falling headlong from the
landing, her ladyship pitched (pardon me the expression)--pitched
into the very middle of the bundle. She was a little shaken at
the time, but is reported to be going on charmingly this morning.
Most fortunate, was it not? Seen the papers? Awful news from
Demerara--the yellow fever--"
"I wish I was at Demerara," I said, in a hollow voice.
"You! Why?" exclaimed Mr. Batterbury, aghast.
"I am homeless, friendless, penniless," I went on, getting more
hollow at every word. "All my intellectual instincts tell me that
I could retrieve my position and live respectably in the world,
if I might only try my hand at portrait-painting--the thing of
all others that I am naturally fittest for. But I have nobody to
start me; no sitter to give me a first chance; nothing in my
pocket but three-and-sixpence; and nothing in my mind but a doubt
whether I shall struggle on a little longer, or end it
immediately in the Thames. Don't let me detain you from your
walk, my dear sir. I'm afraid Lady Malkinshaw will outlive me,
"Stop!" cried Mr. Batterbury; his mahogany face actually getting
white with alarm. "Stop! Don't talk in that dreadfully
unprincipled manner--don't, I implore, I insist! You have plenty
of friends--you have me, and your sister. Take to
portrait-painting--think of your family, and take to
"Where am I to get a sitter?' I inquired, with a gloomy shake of
"Me," said Mr. Batterbury, with an effort. "I'll be your first
sitter. As a beginner, and especially to a member of the family,
I suppose your terms will be moderate. Small beginnings--you know
the proverb?" Here he stopped; and a miserly leer puckered up his
"I'll do you, life-size, down to your waistcoat, for fifty
pounds," said I.
Mr. Batterbury winced, and looked about him to the right and
left, as if he wanted to run away. He had five thousand a year,
but he contrived to took, at that moment, as if his utmost income
was five hundred. I walked on a few steps.
"Surely those terms are rather high to begin with?" he said,
walking after me. "I should have thought five-and-thirty, or
"A gentleman, sir, cannot condescend to bargain," said I, with
mournful dignity. "Farewell!" I waved my hand, and crossed over
"Don't do that!" cried Mr. Batterbury. "I accept. Give me your
address. I'll come tomorrow. Will it include the frame! There!
there! it doesn't include the frame, of course. Where are you
going now? To the colorman? He doesn't live in the Strand, I
hope--or near one of the bridges. Think of Annabella, think of
the family, think of the fifty pounds--an income, a year's income
to a prudent man. Pray, pray be careful, and compose your mind:
promise me, my dear, dear fellow--promise me, on your word of
honor, to compose your mind!"
I left him still harping on that string, and suffering, I
believe, the only serious attack of mental distress that had ever
affected him in the whole course of his life.
Behold me, then, now starting afresh in the world, in the
character of a portrait-painter; with the payment of my
remuneration from my first sitter depending whimsically on the
life of my grandmother. If you care to know how Lady Malkinshaw's
health got on, and how I succeeded in my new profession, you have
only to follow the further course of these confessions, in the
I GAVE my orders to the colorman, and settled matters with my
friend the artist that day.
The next morning, before the hour at which I expected my sitter,
having just now as much interest in the life of Lady Malkinshaw
as Mr. Batterbury had in her death, I went to make kind inquiries
after her ladyship's health. The answer was most reassuring. Lady
Malkinshaw had no present intention of permitting me to survive
her. She was, at that very moment, meritoriously and heartily
engaged in eating her breakfast. My prospects being now of the
best possible kind, l felt encouraged to write once more to my
father, telling him of my fresh start in life, and proposing a
renewal of our acquaintance. I regret to say that he was so rude
as not to answer my letter.
Mr. Batterbury was punctual to the moment. He gave a gasp of
relief when he beheld me, full of life, with my palette on my
thumb, gazing fondly on my new canvas.
"That's right!" he said. "I like to see you with your mind
composed. Annabella would have come with me; but she has a little
headache this morning. She sends her love and best wishes."
I seized my chalks and began with that confidence in myself which
has never forsaken me in any emergency. Being perfectly well
aware of the absolute dependence of the art of portrait-painting
on the art of flattery, I determined to start with making the
mere outline of my likeness a compliment to my sitter.
It was much easier to resolve on doing this than really to do it.
In the first place, my hand would relapse into its wicked old
caricaturing habits. In the second place, my brother-in-law's
face was so inveterately and completely ugly as to set every
artifice of pictorial improvement at flat defiance. When a man
has a nose an inch long, with the nostrils set perpendicularly,
it is impossible to flatter it--you must either change it into a
fancy nose, or resignedly acquiesce in it. When a man has no
perceptible eyelids, and when his eyes globularly project so far
out of his head, that you expect to have to pick them up for him
whenever you see him lean forward, how are mortal fingers and
bushes to diffuse the right complimentary expression over them?
You must either do them the most hideous and complete justice, or
give them up altogether. The late Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.,
was undoubtedly the most artful and uncompromising flatterer that
ever smoothed out all the natural characteristic blemishes from a
sitter's face; but even that accomplished parasite would have
found Mr. Batterbury too much for him, and would have been
driven, for the first time in his practice of art, to the
uncustomary and uncourtly resource of absolutely painting a
As for me, I put my trust in Lady Malkinshaw's power of living,
and portrayed the face of Mr. Batterbury in all its native
horror. At the same time, I sensibly guarded against even the
most improbable accidents, by making him pay me the fifty pounds
as we went on, by installments. We had ten sittings. Each one of
them began with a message from Mr. Batterbury, giving me
Annabella's love and apologies for not being able to come and see
me. Each one of them ended with an argument between Mr.
Batterbury and me relative to the transfer of five pounds from
his pocket to mine. I came off victorious on every
occasion--being backed by the noble behavior of Lady Malkinshaw,
who abstained from tumb ling down, and who ate and drank, and
slept and grew lusty, for three weeks together. Venerable woman!
She put fifty pounds into my pocket. I shall think of her with
gratitude and respect to the end of my days.
One morning, while I was sitting before my completed portrait,
inwardly shuddering over the ugliness of it, a suffocating smell
of musk was wafted into the studio; it was followed by a sound of
rustling garments; and that again was succeeded by the personal
appearance of my affectionate sister, with her husband at her
heels. Annabella had got to the end of her stock of apologies,
and had come to see me.
She put her handkerchief to her nose the moment she entered the
"How do you do, Frank? Don't kiss me: you smell of paint, and I
can't bear it."
I felt a similar antipathy to the smell of musk, and had not the
slightest intention of kissing her; but I was too gallant a man
to say so; and I only begged her to favor me by looking at her
Annabella glanced all round the room, with her handkerchief still
at her nose, and gathered her magnificent silk dress close about
her superb figure with her disengaged hand.
"What a horrid place!" she said faintly behind her handkerchief.
"Can't you take some of the paint away? I'm sure there's oil on
the floor. How am I to get past that nasty table with the palette
on it? Why can't you bring the picture down to the carriage,
Advancing a few steps, and looking suspiciously about her while
she spoke, her eyes fell on the chimney-piece. An eau-de-Cologne
bottle stood upon it, which she took up immediately with a
It contained turpentine for washing brushes in. Before I could
warn her, she had sprinkled herself absently with half the
contents of the bottle. In spite of all the musk that now filled
the room, the turpentine betrayed itself almost as soon as I
cried "Stop!" Annabella, with a shriek of disgust, flung the
bottle furiously into the fireplace. Fortunately it was
summer-time, or I might have had to echo the shriek with a cry of
"You wretch! you brute! you low, mischievous, swindling
blackguard!" cried my amiable sister, shaking her skirts with all
her might, "you have done this on purpose! Don't tell me! I know
you have. What do you mean by pestering me to come to this
dog-kennel of a place?" she continued, turning fiercely upon the
partner of her existence and legitimate receptacle of all her
superfluous wrath. "What do you mean by bringing me here, to see
how you have been swindled? Yes, sir, swindled! He has no more
idea of painting than you have. He has cheated you out of your
money. If he was starving tomorrow he would be the last man in
England to make away with himself--he is too great a wretch--he
is too vicious--he is too lost to all sense of respectability--he
is too much of a discredit to his family. Take me away! Give me
your arm directly! I told you not to go near him from the first.
This is what comes of your horrid fondness for money. Suppose
Lady Malkinshaw does outlive him; suppose I do lose my legacy.
What is three thousand pounds to you? My dress is ruined. My
shawl's spoiled. _He_ die! If the old woman lives to the age of
Methuselah, he won't die. Give me your arm. No! Go to my father.
I want medical advice. My nerves are torn to pieces. I m giddy,
faint, sick--SICK, Mr. Batterbury!"
Here she became hysterical, and vanished, leaving a mixed odor of
musk and turpentine behind her, which preserved the memory of her
visit for nearly a week afterward.
"Another scene in the drama of my life seems likely to close in
before long," thought I. "No chance now of getting my amiable
sister to patronize struggling genius. Do I know of anybody else
who will sit to me? No, not a soul. Having thus no portraits of
other people to paint, what is it my duty, as a neglected artist,
to do next? Clearly to take a portrait of myself."
I did so, making my own likeness quite a pleasant relief to the
ugliness of my brother-in-law's. It was my intention to send both
portraits to the Royal Academy Exhibition, to get custom, and
show the public generally what I could do. I knew the institution
with which I had to deal, and called my own likeness, Portrait of
That dexterous appeal to the tenderest feelings of my
distinguished countrymen very nearly succeeded. The portrait of
Mr. Batterbury (much the more carefully-painted picture of the
two) was summarily turned out. The Portrait of a Nobleman was
politely reserved to be hung up, if the Royal Academicians could
possibly find room for it. They could not. So that picture also
vanished back into the obscurity of the artist's easel. Weak and
well-meaning people would have desponded under these
circumstances; but your genuine Rogue is a man of elastic
temperament, not easily compressible under any pressure of
disaster. I sent the portrait of Mr. Batterbury to the house of
that distinguished patron, and the Portrait of a Nobleman to the
Pawnbroker's. After this I had plenty of elbow-room in the
studio, and could walk up and down briskly, smoking my pipe, and
thinking about what I should do next.
I had observed that the generous friend and vagabond brother
artist, whose lodger I now was, never seemed to be in absolute
want of money; and yet the walls of his studio informed me that
nobody bought his pictures. There hung all his great works,
rejected by the Royal Academy, and neglected by the patrons of
Art; and there, nevertheless, was he, blithely plying the brush;
not rich, it is true, but certainly never without money enough in
his pocket for the supply of all his modest wants. Where did he
find his resources? I determined to ask him the question the very
next time he came to the studio.
"Dick," I said (we called each other by our Christian names),
"where do you get your money?"
"Frank," he answered, "what makes you ask that question?"
"Necessity," I proceeded. "My stock of money is decreasing, and I
don't know how to replenish it. My pictures have been turned out
of the exhibition-rooms; nobody comes to sit to me; I can't make
a farthing; and I must try another line in the Arts, or leave
your studio. We are old friends now. I've paid you honestly week
by week; and if you can oblige me, I think you ought. You earn
money somehow. Why can't I?"
"Are you at all particular?" asked Dick.
"Not in the least," I answered.
Dick nodded, and looked pleased; handed me my hat, and put on his
"You are just the sort of man I like," he remarked, "and I would
sooner trust you than any one else I know. You ask how I contrive
to earn money, seeing that all my pictures are still in my own
possession. My dear fellow, whenever my pockets are empty, and I
want a ten-pound note to put into them, I make an Old Master."
I stared hard at him, not at first quite understanding what he
"The Old Master I can make best," continued Dick, "is Claude
Lorraine, whom you may have heard of occasionally as a famous
painter of classical landscapes. I don't exactly know (he has
been dead so long) how many pictures he turned out, from first to
last; but we will say, for the sake of argument, five hundred.
Not five of these are offered for sale, perhaps, in the course of
five years. Enlightened collectors of old pictures pour into the
market by fifties, while genuine specimens of Claude, or of any
other Old Master you like to mention, only dribble in by ones and
twos. Under these circumstances, what is to be done? Are
unoffending owners of galleries to be subjected to
disappointment? Or are the works of Claude, and the other
fellows, to be benevolently increased in number, to supply the
wants of persons of taste and quality? No man of humanity but
must lean to the latter alternative. The collectors, observe,
don't know anything about it--they buy Claude (to take an
instance from my own practice) as they buy all the other Old
Masters, because of his reputation, not because of the pleasure
they get from his works. Give them a picture with a good large
ruin, fancy trees, prancing nymphs, and a watery sky; dirty it
down dexterously to the right pitch; put it in an old frame; call
it a Claude; and the sphere of the Old Master is enlarged, the
collector is delighted, the picture-dealer is enriched, and the
neglected modern artist claps a joyful hand on a well-filled
pocket. Some men have a knack at making Rembrandts, others have a
turn for Raphaels, Titians, Cuyps, Watteaus, and the rest of
them. Anyhow, we are all made happy--all pleased with each
other--all benefited alike. Kindness is propagated and money is
dispersed. Come along, my boy, and make an Old Master!"
HE led the way into the street as he spoke. I felt the
irresistible force of his logic. I sympathized with the ardent
philanthropy of his motives. I burned with a noble ambition to
extend the sphere of the Old Masters. In short, I took the tide
at the flood, and followed Dick.
We plunged into some by-streets, struck off sharp into a court,
and entered a house by a back door. A little old gentleman in a
black velvet dressing-gown met us in the passage. Dick instantly
presented me: "Mr. Frank Softly--Mr. Ishmael Pickup." The little
old gentleman stared at me distrustfully. I bowed to him with
that inexorable politeness which I first learned under the
instructive fist of Gentleman Jones, and which no force of
adverse circumstances has ever availed to mitigate in after life.
Mr. Ishmael Pickup followed my lead. There is not the least need
to describe him--he was a Jew.
"Go into the front show-room, and look at the pictures, while I
speak to Mr. Pickup," said Dick, familiarly throwing open a door,
and pushing me into a kind of gallery beyond. I found myself
quite alone, surrounded by modern-antique pictures of all schools
and sizes, of all degrees of dirt and dullness, with all the
names of all the famous Old Masters, from Titian to Teniers,
inscribed on their frames. A "pearly little gem," by Claude, with
a ticket marked "Sold" stuck into the frame, particularly
attracted my attention. It was Dick's last ten-pound job; and it
did credit to the youthful master's abilities as a workman-like
maker of Claudes.
I have been informed that, since the time of which I am writing,
the business of gentlemen of Mr. Pickup's class has rather fallen
off, and that there are dealers in pictures, nowadays, who are as
just and honorable men as can be found in any profession or
calling, anywhere under the sun. This change, which I report with
sincerity and reflect on with amazement, is, as I suspect, mainly
the result of certain wholesale modern improvements in the
position of contemporary Art, which have necessitated
improvements and alterations in the business of picture-dealing.
In my time, the encouragers of modern painting were limited in
number to a few noblemen and gentlemen of ancient lineage, who,
in matters of taste, at least, never presumed to think for
themselves. They either inherited or bought a gallery more or
less full of old pictures. It was as much a part of their
education to put their faith in these on hearsay evidence, as to
put their faith in King, Lords and Commons. It was an article of
their creed to believe that the dead painters were the great men,
and that the more the living painters imitated the dead, the
better was their chance of becoming at some future day, and in a
minor degree, great also. At certain times and seasons, these
noblemen and gentlemen self-distrustfully strayed into the
painting-room of a modern artist, self-distrustfully allowed
themselves to be rather attracted by his pictures,
self-distrustfully bought one or two of them at prices which
would appear so incredibly low, in these days, that I really
cannot venture to quote them. The picture was sent home; the
nobleman or gentleman (almost always an amiable and a hospitable
man) would ask the artist to his house and introduce him to the
distinguished individuals who frequented it; but would never
admit his picture, on terms of equality, into the society even of
the second-rate Old Masters. His work was hung up in any
out-of-the-way corner of the gallery that could be found; it had
been bought under protest; it was admitted by sufferance; its
freshness and brightness damaged it terribly by contrast with the
dirtiness and the dinginess of its elderly predecessors; and its
only points selected for praise were those in which it most
nearly resembled the peculiar mannerism of some Old Master, not
those in which it resembled the characteristics of the old
The unfortunate artist had no court of appeal that he could turn
to. Nobody beneath the nobleman, or the gentleman of ancient
lineage, so much as thought of buying a modern picture. Nobody
dared to whisper that the Art of painting had in anywise been
improved or worthily enlarged in its sphere by any modern
professors. For one nobleman who was ready to buy one genuine
modern picture at a small price, there were twenty noblemen ready
to buy twenty more than doubtful old pictures at great prices.
The consequence was, that some of the most famous artists of the
English school, whose pictures are now bought at auction sales
for fabulous sums, were then hardly able to make an income. They
were a scrupulously patient and conscientious body of men, who
would as soon have thought of breaking into a house, or
equalizing the distribution of wealth, on the highway, by the
simple machinery of a horse and pistol, as of making Old Masters
to order. They sat resignedly in their lonely studios, surrounded
by unsold pictures which have since been covered again and again
with gold and bank-notes by eager buyers at auctions and
show-rooms, whose money has gone into other than the painter's
pockets---who have never dreamed that the painter had the
smallest moral right to a farthing of it. Year after year, these
martyrs of the brush stood, palette in hand, fighting the old
battle of individual merit against contemporary
dullness--fighting bravely, patiently, independently; and leaving
to Mr. Pickup and his pupils a complete monopoly of all the
profit which could be extracted, in their line of business, from
the feebly-buttoned pocket of the patron, and the inexhaustible
credulity of the connoisseur.
Now all this is changed. Traders and makers of all kinds of
commodities have effected a revolution in the picture-world,
never dreamed of by the noblemen and gentlemen of ancient
lineage, and consistently protested against to this day by the
very few of them who still remain alive.
The daring innovators started with the new notion of buying a
picture which they themselves could admire and appreciate, and
for the genuineness of which the artist was still living to
vouch. These rough and ready customers were not to be led by
rules or frightened by precedents; they were not to be easily
imposed upon, for the article they wanted was not to be easily
counterfeited. Sturdily holding to their own opinions, they
thought incessant repetitions of Saints, Martyrs, and Holy
Families, monotonous and uninteresting--and said so. They thought
little pictures of ugly Dutch women scouring pots, and drunken
Dutchmen playing cards, dirty and dear at the price--and said so.
They saw that trees were green in nature, and brown in the Old
Masters, and they thought the latter color not an improvement on
the former--and said so. They wanted interesting subjects;
variety, resemblance to nature; genuineness of the article, and
fresh paint; they had no ancestors whose feelings, as founders of
galleries, it was necessary to consult; no critical gentlemen and
writers of valuable works to snub them when they were in spirits;
nothing to lead them by the nose but their own shrewdness, their
own interests, and their own tastes--so they turned their backs
valiantly on the Old Masters, and marched off in a body to the
From that time good modern pictures have risen in the scale. Even
as articles of commerce and safe investments for money, they have
now (as some disinterested collectors who dine at certain annual
dinners I know of, can testify) distanced the old pictures in the
race. The modern painters who have survived the brunt of the
battle, have lived to see pictures for which they once asked
hundreds, selling for thousands, and the young generation making
incomes by the brush in one year, which it would have cost the
old heroes of the easel ten to accumulate. The posterity of Mr.
Pickup still do a tolerable stroke of business (making bright
modern masters for the market which is glutted with the dingy old
material), and will, probably, continue to thrive and multiply in
the future: the one venerable institution of this world which we
can safely count upon as likely to last, being the institution of
human folly. Nevertheless, if a wise man of the reformed taste
wants a modern picture, there are places for him to go to now
where he may be sure of getting it genuine; where, if the artist
is not alive to vouch for his work, the facts at any rate have
not had time to die which vouch for the dealer who sells it. In
my time matters were rather different. The painters _we_ throve
by had died long enough ago for pedigrees to get confused, and
identities disputable; and if I had been desirous of really
purchasing a genuine Old Master for myself--speaking as a
practical man--I don't know where I should have gone to ask for
one, or whose judgment I could have safely relied on to guard me
from being cheated, before I bought it.
We are stopping a long time in the picture-gallery, you will say.
I am very sorry--but we must stay a little longer, for the sake
of a living picture, the gem of the collection.
I was still admiring Mr. Pickup's Old Masters, when a dirty
little boy opened the door of the gallery, and introduced a young
My heart--fancy my having a heart!--gave one great bound in me. I
recognized the charming person whom I had followed in the street.
Her veil was not down this time. All the beauty of her large,
soft, melancholy, brown eyes beamed on me. Her delicate
complexion became suddenly suffused with a lovely rosy flush. Her
glorious black hair--no! I will make an effort, I will suppress
my ecstasies. Let me only say that she evidently recognized me.
Will you believe it?--I felt myself coloring as I bowed to her. I
never blushed before in my life. What a very curious sensation it
The horrid boy claimed her attention with a grin.
"Master's engaged," he said. "Please to wait here."
"I don't wish to disturb Mr. Pickup," she answered.
What a voice! No! I am drifting back into ecstasies: her voice
was worthy of her--I say no more.
"If you will be so kind as to show him this," she proceeded; "he
knows what it is. And please say, my father is very ill and very
anxious. It will be quite enough if Mr. Pickup will only send me
word by you--Yes or No."
She gave the boy an oblong slip of stamped paper. Evidently a
promissory note. An angel on earth, sent by an inhuman father, to
ask a Jew for discount! Monstrous!
The boy disappeared with the message.
I seized my opportunity of speaking to her. Don't ask me what I
said! Never before (or since) have I talked such utter nonsense,
with such intense earnestness of purpose and such immeasurable
depth of feeling. Do pray remember what you said yourself, the
first time you had the chance of opening your heart to _your_
young lady. The boy returned before I had half done, and gave her
back the odious document.
"Mr. Pickup's very sorry, miss. The answer is, No."
She lost all her lovely color, and sighed, and turned away. As
she pulled down her veil, I saw the tears in her eyes. Did that
piteous spectacle partially deprive me of my senses? I actually
entreated her to let me be of some use--as if I had been an old
friend, with money enough in my pocket to discount the note
myself. She brought me back to my senses with the utmost
"I am afraid you forget, sir, that we are strangers.
I followed her to the door. I asked leave to call on her father,
and satisfy him about myself and my family connections. She only
answered that her father was too ill to see visitors. I went out
with her on to the landing. She turned on me sharply for the
"You can see for yourself, sir, that I am in great distress. I
appeal to you, as a gentleman, to spare me."
If you still doubt whether I was really in love, let the facts
speak for themselves. I hung my head, and let her go.
When I returned alone to the picture-gallery--when I remembered
that I had not even had the wit to improve my opportunity by
discovering her name and address--I did really and seriously ask
myself if these were the first symptoms of softening of the
brain. I got up, and sat down again. I, the most audacious man of
my age in London, had behaved like a bashful boy! Once more I had
lost her--and this time, also, I had nobody but myself to blame
These melancholy meditations were interrupted by the appearance
of my friend, the artist, in the picture-gallery. He approached
me confidentially, and spoke in a mysterious whisper.
"Pickup is suspicious," he said; "and I have had all the
difficulty in the world to pave your way smoothly for you at the
outset. However, if you can contrive to make a small Rembrandt,
as a specimen, you may consider yourself employed here until
further notice. I am obliged to particularize Rembrandt, because
he is the only Old Master disengaged at present. The professional
gentleman who used to do him died the other day in the Fleet--he
had a turn for Rembrandts, and can't be easily replaced. Do you
think you could step into his shoes? It's a peculiar gift, like
an ear for music, or a turn for mathematics. Of course you will
be put up to the simple elementary rules, and will have the
professional gentleman's last Rembrandt as a guide; the rest
depends, my dear friend, on your powers of imitation. Don't be
discouraged by failures, but try again and again; and mind you
are dirty and dark enough. You have heard a great deal about the
light and shade of Rembrandt-- Remember always that, in your
case, light means dusky yellow, and shade dense black; remember
"No pay," said the voice of Mr. Pickup behind me; "no pay, my
dear, unlesh your Rembrandt ish good enough to take me in--even
me, Ishmael, who dealsh in pictersh and knowsh what'sh what."
What did I care about Rembrandt at that moment? I was thinking of
my lost young lady; and I should probably have taken no notice of
Mr. Pickup, if it had not occurred to me that the old wretch must
know her father's name and address. I at once put the question.
The Jew grinned, and shook his grisly head. "Her father'sh in
difficultiesh, and mum's the word, my dear." To that answer he
adhered, in spite of all that I could say to him.
With equal obstinacy I determined, sooner or later, to get my
I took service under Mr. Pickup, purposing to make myself
essential to his prosperity, in a commercial sense--and then to
threaten him with offering my services to a rival manufacturer of
Old Masters, unless he trusted me with the secret of the name and
address. My plan looked promising enough at the time. But, as
some wise person has said, Man is the sport of circumstances. Mr.
Pickup and I parted company unexpectedly, on compulsion. And, of
all the people in the world, my grandmother, Lady Malkinshaw, was
the unconscious first cause of the events which brought me and
the beloved object together again, for the third time!
ON the next day, I was introduced to the Jew's workshop, and to
the eminent gentlemen occupying it. My model Rembrandt was put
before me; the simple elementary rules were explained; and my
materials were all placed under my hands.
Regard for the lovers of the Old Masters, and for the moral
well-being of society, forbids me to be particular about the
nature of my labors, or to go into dangerous detail on the
subject of my first failures and my subsequent success. I may,
however, harmlessly admit that my Rembrandt was to be of the
small or cabinet size, and that, as there was a run on
Burgomasters just then, my subject was naturally to be of the
Burgomaster sort. Three parts of my picture consisted entirely of
different shades of dirty brown and black; the fourth being
composed of a ray of yellow light falling upon the wrinkled face
of a treacle-colored old man. A dim glimpse of a hand, and a
faint suggestion of something like a brass washhand
basin, completed the job, which gave great satisfaction to Mr.
Pickup, and which was described in the catalogue as--
"A Burgomaster at Breakfast. Originally in the collection of
Mynheer Van Grubb. Amsterdam. A rare example of the master. Not
engraved. The chiar'oscuro in this extraordinary work is of a
truly sublime character. Price, Two Hundred Guineas."
I got five pounds for it. I suppose Mr. Pickup got
This was perhaps not very encouraging as a beginning, in a
pecuniary point of view. But I was to get five pounds more, if my
Rembrandt sold within a given time. It sold a week after it was
in a fit state to be trusted in the showroom. I got my money, and
began enthusiastically on another Rembrandt--"A Burgomaster's
Wife Poking the Fire." Last time, the chiar'oscuro of the master
had been yellow and black, this time it was to be red and black.
I was just on the point of forcing my way into Mr. Pickup's
confidence, as I had resolved, when a catastrophe happened, which
shut up the shop and abruptly terminated my experience as a maker
of Old Masters.
"The Burgomaster's Breakfast" had been sold to a new customer, a
venerable connoisseur, blessed with a great fortune and a large
picture-gallery. The old gentleman was in raptures with the
picture--with its tone, with its breadth, with its grand feeling
for effect, with its simple treatment of detail. It wanted
nothing, in his opinion, but a little cleaning. Mr. Pickup knew
the raw and ticklish state of the surface, however, far too well,
to allow of even an attempt at performing this process, and
solemnly asserted, that he was acquainted with no cleansing
preparation which could be used on the Rembrandt without danger
of "flaying off the last exquisite glazings of the immortal
master's brush." The old gentleman was quite satisfied with this
reason for not cleaning the Burgomaster, and took away his
purchase in his own carriage on the spot.
For three weeks we heard nothing more of him. At the end of that
time, a Hebrew friend of Mr. Pickup, employed in a lawyer's
office, terrified us all by the information that a gentleman
related to our venerable connoisseur had seen the Rembrandt, had
pronounced it to be an impudent counterfeit, and had engaged on
his own account to have the picture tested in a court of law, and
to charge the seller and maker thereof with conspiring to obtain
money under false pretenses. Mr. Pickup and I looked at each
other with very blank faces on receiving this agreeable piece of
news. What was to be done? I recovered the full use of my
faculties first; and I was the man who solved that important and
difficult question, while the rest were still utterly bewildered
by it. "Will you promise me five and twenty pounds in the
presence of these gentlemen if I get you out of this scrape?"
said I to my terrified employer. Ishmael Pickup wrung his dirty
hands and answered, "Yesh, my dear!"
Our informant in this awkward matter was employed at the office
of the lawyers who were to have the conducting of the case
against us; and he was able to tell me some of the things I most
wanted to know in relation to the picture.
I found out from him that the Rembrandt was still in our
customer's possession. The old gentleman had consented to the
question of its genuineness being tried, but had far too high an
idea of his own knowledge as a connoisseur to incline to the
opinion that he had been taken in. His suspicious relative was
not staying in the house, but was in the habit of visiting him,
every day, in the forenoon. That was as much as I wanted to know
from others. The rest depended on myself, on luck, time, human
credulity, and a smattering of chemical knowledge which I had
acquired in the days of my medical studies. I left the conclave
at the picture-dealer's forthwith, and purchased at the nearest
druggist's a bottle containing a certain powerful liquid, which I
decline to particularize on high moral grounds. I labeled the
bottle "The Amsterdam Cleansing Compound"; and I wrapped round it
the following note:
"Mr. Pickup's respectful compliments to Mr.--(let us say, Green).
Is rejoiced to state that he finds himself unexpectedly able to
forward Mr. Green's views relative to the cleaning of 'The
Burgomaster's Breakfast.' The inclosed compound has just reached
him from Amsterdam. It is made from a recipe found among the
papers of Rembrandt himself--has been used with the most
astonishing results on the Master's pictures in every gallery of
Holland, and is now being applied to the surface of the largest
Rembrandt in Mr. P.'s own collection. Directions for use: Lay the
picture flat, pour the whole contents of the bottle over it
gently, so as to flood the entire surface; leave the liquid on
the surface for six hours, then wipe it off briskly with a soft
cloth of as large a size as can be conveniently used. The effect
will be the most wonderful removal of all dirt, and a complete
and brilliant metamorphosis of the present dingy surface of the
I left this note and the bottle myself at two o'clock that day;
then went home, and confidently awaited the result.
The next morning our friend from the office called, announcing
himself by a burst of laughter outside the door. Mr. Green had
implicitly followed the directions in the letter the moment he
received it--had allowed the "Amsterdam Cleansing Compound" to
remain on the Rembrandt until eight o'clock in the evening--had
called for the softest linen cloth in the whole house--and had
then, with his own venerable hands, carefully wiped off the
compound, and with it the whole surface of the picture! The
brown, the black, the Burgomaster, the breakfast, and the ray of
yellow light, all came clean off together in considerably less
than a minute of time. If the picture, was brought into court
now, the evidence it could give against us was limited to a bit
of plain panel, and a mass of black pulp rolled up in a duster.
Our line of defense was, of course, that the compound had been
improperly used. For the rest, we relied with well-placed
confidence on the want of evidence against us. Mr. Pickup wisely
closed his shop for a while, and went off to the Continent to
ransack the foreign galleries. I received my five and twenty
pounds, rubbed out the beginning of my second Rembrandt, closed
the back door of the workshop behind me, and there was another
scene of my life at an end. I had but one circumstance to
regret--and I did regret it bitterly. I was still as ignorant as
ever of the young lady's name and address.
My first visit was to the studio of my excellent artist-friend,
whom I have already presented to the reader under the sympathetic
name of "Dick." He greeted me with a letter in his hand. It was
addressed to me--it had been left at the studio a few days since;
and (marvel of all marvels!) the handwriting was Mr.
Batterbury's. Had this philanthropic man not done befriending me
even yet? Were there any present or prospective advantages to be
got out of him still? Read his letter, and judge.
"SIR--Although you have forfeited by your ungentlemanly conduct
toward myself, and your heartlessly mischievous reception of my
dear wife, all claim upon the forbearance of the most forbearing
of your relatives, I am disposed, from motives of regard for the
tranquillity of Mrs. Batterbury's family, and of sheer
good-nature so far as I am myself concerned, to afford you one
more chance of retrieving your position by leading a respectable
life. The situation I am enabled to offer you is that of
secretary to a new Literary and Scientific Institution, about to
be opened in the town of Duskydale, near which neighborhood I
possess, as you must be aware, some landed property. The office
has been placed at my disposal, as vice-president of the new
Institution. The salary is fifty pounds a year, with apartments
on the attic-floor of the building. The duties are various, and
will be explained to you by the local committee, if you choose to
present yourself to them with the inclosed letter of
introduction. After the unscrupulous manner in which you have
imposed on my liberality by deceiving me into giving you fifty
pounds for a n audacious caricature of myself, which it is
impossible to hang up in any room of the house, I think this
instance of my forgiving disposition still to befriend you, after
all that has happened, ought to appeal to any better feelings
that you may still have left, and revive the long dormant
emotions of repentance and self-reproach, when you think on your
Bless me! What A long-winded style, and what a fuss about fifty
pounds a year, and a bed in an attic! These were naturally the
first emotions which Mr. Batterbury's letter produced in me. What
was his real motive for writing it? I hope nobody will do me so
great an injustice as to suppose that I hesitated for one instant
about the way of finding _that_ out. Of course I started off
directly to inquire if Lady Malkinshaw had had another narrow
escape of dying before me.
"Much better, sir," answered my grandmother's venerable butler,
wiping his lips carefully before he spoke; "her ladyship's health
has been much improved since her accident."
"Accident!" I exclaimed. "What, another? Lately? Stairs again?"
"No, sir; the drawing-room window this time," answered the
butler, with semi-tipsy gravity. "Her ladyship's sight having
been defective of late years, occasions her some difficulty in
calculating distances. Three days ago, her ladyship went to look
out of the window, and, miscalculating the distance--" Here the
butler, with a fine dramatic feeling for telling a story, stopped
just before the climax of the narrative, and looked me in the
face with an expression of the deepest sympathy.
"And miscalculating the distance?" I repeated impatiently.
"Put her head through a pane of glass," said the butler, in a
soft voice suited to the pathetic nature of the communication.
"By great good fortune her ladyship had been dressed for the day,
and had got her turban on. This saved her ladyship's head. But
her ladyship's neck, sir, had a very narrow escape. A bit of the
broken glass wounded it within half a quarter of an inch of the
carotty artery" (meaning, probably, carotid); "I heard the
medical gentleman say, and shall never forget it to my dying day,
that her ladyship's life had been saved by a hair-breadth. As it
was, the blood lost (the medical gentleman said that, too, sir)
was accidentally of the greatest possible benefit, being
apoplectic, in the way of clearing out the system. Her ladyship's
appetite has been improved ever since--the carriage is out airing
of her at this very moment--likewise, she takes the footman's arm
and the maid's up and downstairs now, which she never would hear
of before this last accident. 'I feel ten years younger' (those
were her ladyship's own words to me, this very day), 'I feel ten
years younger, Vokins, since I broke the drawing-room window.'
And her ladyship looks it!"
No doubt. Here was the key to Mr. Batterbury's letter of
forgiveness. His chance of receiving the legacy looked now
further off than ever; he could not feel the same confidence as
his wife in my power of living down any amount of starvation and
adversity; and he was, therefore, quite ready to take the first
opportunity of promoting my precious personal welfare and
security, of which he could avail himself, without spending a
farthing of money. I saw it all clearly, and admired the
hereditary toughness of the Malkinshaw family more gratefully
than ever. What should I do? Go to Duskydale? Why not? It didn't
matter to me where I went, now that I had no hope of ever seeing
those lovely brown eyes again.
I got to my new destination the next day, presented my
credentials, gave myself the full advantage of my high
connections, and was received with enthusiasm and distinction.
I found the new Institution torn by internal schisms even before
it was opened to the public. Two factious governed it--a grave
faction and a gay faction. Two questions agitated it: the first
referring to the propriety of celebrating the opening season by a
public ball, and the second to the expediency of admitting novels
into the library. The grim Puritan interest of the whole
neighborhood was, of course, on the grave side--against both
dancing and novels, as proposed by local loose thinkers and
latitudinarians of every degree. I was officially introduced to
the debate at the height of the squabble; and found myself one of
a large party in a small room, sitting round a long table, each
man of us with a new pewter inkstand, a new quill pen, and a
clean sheet of foolscap paper before him. Seeing that everybody
spoke, I got on my legs along with the rest, and made a slashing
speech on the loose-thinking side. I was followed by the leader
of the grim faction--an unlicked curate of the largest
"If there were, so to speak, no other reason against dancing,"
said my reverend opponent, "there is one unanswerable objection
to it. Gentlemen! John the Baptist lost his head through
Every man of the grim faction hammered delightedly on the table,
as that formidable argument was produced; and the curate sat down
in triumph. I jumped up to reply, amid the counter-cheering of
the loose-thinkers; but before I could say a word the President
of the Institution and the rector of the parish came into the
They were both men of authority, men of sense, and fathers of
charming daughters, and they turned the scale on the right side
in no time. The question relating to the admission of novels was
postponed, and the question of dancing or no dancing was put to
the vote on the spot. The President, the rector and myself, the
three handsomest and highest-bred men in the assembly, led the
way on the liberal side, waggishly warning all gallant gentlemen
present to beware of disappointing the young ladies. This decided
the waverers, and the waverers decided the majority. My first
business, as Secretary, was the drawing out of a model card of
admission to the ball.
My next occupation was to look at the rooms provided for me.
The Duskydale Institution occupied a badly-repaired ten-roomed
house, with a great flimsy saloon built at one side of it,
smelling of paint and damp plaster, and called the Lecture
Theater. It was the chilliest, ugliest, emptiest, gloomiest place
I ever entered in my life; the idea of doing anything but sitting
down and crying in it seemed to me quite preposterous; but the
committee took a different view of the matter, and praised the
Lecture Theater as a perfect ballroom. The Secretary's apartments
were two garrets, asserting themselves in the most barefaced
manner, without an attempt at disguise. If I had intended to do
more than earn my first quarter's salary, I should have
complained. But as I had not the slightest intention of remaining
at Duskydale, I could afford to establish a reputation for
amiability by saying nothing.
"Have you seen Mr. Softly, the new Secretary? A most
distinguished person, and quite an acquisition to the
neighborhood." Such was the popular opinion of me among the young
ladies and the liberal inhabitants. "Have you seen Mr. Softly,
the new Secretary? A worldly, vainglorious young man. The last
person in England to promote the interests of our new
Institution." Such was the counter-estimate of me among the
Puritan population. I report both opinions quite disinterestedly.
There is generally something to be said on either side of every
question; and, as for me, I can always hold up the scales
impartially, even when my own character is the substance weighing
in them. Readers of ancient history need not be reminded, at this
time of day, that there may be Roman virtue even in a Rogue.
The objects, interests, and general business of the Duskydale
Institution were matters with which I never thought of troubling
myself on assuming the duties of Secretary. All my energies were
given to the arrangements connected with the opening ball.
I was elected by acclamation to the office of general manager of
the entertainments; and I did my best to deserve the confidence
reposed in me; leaving literature and science, so far as I was
concerned, perfectly at liberty to advance themselves or not ,
just as they liked. Whatever my colleagues may have done, after I
left them, nobody at Duskydale can accuse me of having ever been
accessory to the disturbing of quiet people with useful
knowledge. I took the arduous and universally neglected duty of
teaching the English people how to be amused entirely on my own
shoulders, and left the easy and customary business of making
them miserable to others.
My unhappy countrymen! (and thrice unhappy they of the poorer
sort)--any man can preach to them, lecture to them, and form them
into classes--but where is the man who can get them to amuse
themselves? Anybody may cram their poor heads; but who will
brighten their grave faces? Don't read story-books, don't go to
plays, don't dance! Finish your long day's work and then
intoxicate your minds with solid history, revel in the
too-attractive luxury of the lecture-room, sink under the soft
temptation of classes for mutual instruction! How many potent,
grave and reverent tongues discourse to the popular ear in these
siren strains, and how obediently and resignedly this same weary
popular ear listens! What if a bold man spring up one day, crying
aloud in our social wilderness, "Play, for Heaven's sake, or you
will work yourselves into a nation of automatons! Shake a loose
leg to a lively fiddle! Women of England! drag the lecturer off
the rostrum, and the male mutual instructor out of the class, and
ease their poor addled heads of evenings by making them dance and
sing with you. Accept no offer from any man who cannot be proved,
for a year past, to have systematically lost his dignity at least
three times a week, after office hours. You, daughters of Eve,
who have that wholesome love of pleasure which is one of the
greatest adornments of the female character, set up a society for
the promotion of universal amusement, and save the British nation
from the lamentable social consequences of its own gravity!"
Imagine a voice crying lustily after this fashion--what sort of
echoes would it find?--Groans?
I know what sort of echoes my voice found. They were so
discouraging to me, and to the frivolous minority of
pleasure-seekers, that I recommended lowering the price of
admission so as to suit the means of any decent people who were
willing to leave off money-grubbing and tear themselves from the
charms of mutual instruction for one evening at least. The
proposition was indignantly negatived by the managers of the
Institution. I am so singularly obstinate a man that I was not to
be depressed even by this.
My next efforts to fill the ballroom could not be blamed. I
procured a local directory, put fifty tickets in my pocket,
dressed myself in nankeen pantaloons and a sky-blue coat (then
the height of fashion), and set forth to tout for dancers among
all the members of the genteel population, who, not being
notorious Puritans, had also not been so obliging as to take
tickets for the ball. There never was any pride or bashfulness
about me. Excepting certain periods of suspense and anxiety, I am
as even-tempered a Rogue as you have met with anywhere since the
days of Gil Blas.
My temperament being opposed to doing anything with regularity, I
opened the directory at hazard, and determined to make my first
call at the first house that caught my eye. Vallombrosa Vale
Cottages. No. 1. Doctor and Miss Dulcifer. Very good. I have no
preferences. Let me sell the first two tickets there. I found the
place; I opened the garden gate; I advanced to the door,
innocently wondering what sort of people I should find inside.
If I am asked what was the true reason for this extraordinary
activity on my part, in serving the interests of a set of people
for whom I cared nothing, I must honestly own that the loss of my
young lady was at the bottom of it. Any occupation was welcome
which kept my mind, in some degree at least, from dwelling on the
bitter disappointment that had befallen me. When I rang the bell
at No. 1, did I feel no presentiment of the exquisite surprise in
store for me? I felt nothing of the sort. The fact is, my
digestion is excellent. Presentiments are more closely connected
than is generally supposed with a weak state of stomach.
I asked for Miss Dulcifer, and was shown into the sitting-room.
Don't expect me to describe my sensations: hundreds of sensations
flew all over me. There she was, sitting alone, near the window!
There she was, with nimble white fingers, working a silk purse!
The melancholy in her face and manner, when I had last seen her,
appeared no more. She was prettily dressed in maize color, and
the room was well furnished. Her father had evidently got over
his difficulties. I had been inclined to laugh at his odd name,
when I found it in the directory! Now I began to dislike it,
because it was her name, too. It was a consolation to remember
that she could change it. Would she change it for mine?
I was the first to recover; I boldly drew a chair near her and
took her hand.
"You see," I said, "it is of no use to try to avoid me. This is
the third time we have met. Will you receive me as a visitor,
under these extraordinary circumstances? Will you give me a
little happiness to compensate for what I have suffered since you
She smiled and blushed.
"I am so surprised," she answered, "I don't know what to say."
"Disagreeably surprised?" I asked.
She first went on with her work, and then replied (a little
sadly, as I thought):
I was ready enough to take advantage of my opportunities this
time; but she contrived with perfect politeness to stop me. She
seemed to remember with shame, poor soul, the circumstances under
which I had last seen her.
"How do you come to be at Duskydale?" she inquired, abruptly
changing the subject. "And how did you find us out here?"
While I was giving her the necessary explanations her father came
in. I looked at him with considerable curiosity.
A tall stout gentleman with impressive respectability oozing out
of him at every pore--with a swelling outline of
black-waistcoated stomach, with a lofty forehead, with a smooth
double chin resting pulpily on a white cravat. Everything in
harmony about him except his eyes, and these were so sharp,
bright and resolute that they seemed to contradict the bland
conventionality which overspread all the rest of the man. Eyes
with wonderful intelligence and self-dependence in them; perhaps,
also, with something a little false in them, which I might have
discovered immediately under ordinary circumstances: but I looked
at the doctor through the medium of his daughter, and saw nothing
of him at the first glance but his merits.
"We are both very much indebted to you, sir, for your politeness
in calling," he said, with excessive civility of manner. "But our
stay at this place has drawn to an end. I only came here for the
re-establishment of my daughter's health. She has benefited
greatly by the change of air, and we have arranged to return home
to-morrow. Otherwise, we should have gladly profited by your kind
offer of tickets for the ball."
Of course I had one eye on the young lady while he was speaking.
She was looking at her father, and a sudden sadness was stealing
over her face. What did it mean? Disappointment at missing the
ball? No, it was a much deeper feeling than that. My interest was
excited. I addressed a complimentary entreaty to the doctor not
to take his daughter away from us. I asked him to reflect on the
irreparable eclipse that he would be casting over the Duskydale
ballroom. To my amazement, she only looked down gloomily on her
work while I spoke; her father laughed contemptuously.
"We are too completely strangers here," he said, "for our loss to
be felt by any one. From all that I can gather, society in
Duskydale will be glad to hear of our departure. I beg your
pardon, Alicia--I ought to have said _my_ departure."
Her name was Alicia! I declare it was a luxury to me to hear
it--the name was so appropriate, so suggestive of the grace and
dignity of her beauty.
I turned toward her when the doctor had done. She looked more
gloomily than before. I protested against the doctor's account of
himself. He laughed again, with a quick distrustful lo ok, this
time, at his daughter.
"If you were to mention my name among your respectable
inhabitants," he went on, with a strong, sneering emphasis on the
word respectable, "they would most likely purse up their lips and
look grave at it. Since I gave up practice as a physician, I have
engaged in chemical investigations on a large scale, destined I
hope, to lead to some important public results. Until I arrive at
these, I am necessarily obliged, in my own interests, to keep my
experiments secret, and to impose similar discretion on the
workmen whom I employ. This unavoidable appearance of mystery,
and the strictly retired life which my studies compel me to lead,
offend the narrow-minded people in my part of the county, close
to Barkingham; and the unpopularity of my pursuits has followed
me here. The general opinion, I believe, is, that I am seeking by
unholy arts for the philosopher's stone. Plain man, as you see
me, I find myself getting quite the reputation of a Doctor
Faustus in the popular mind. Even educated people in this very
place shake their heads and pity my daughter there for living
with an alchemical parent, within easy smelling-distance of an
explosive laboratory. Excessively absurd, is it not?"
It might have been excessively absurd, but the lovely Alicia sat
with her eyes on her work, looking as if it were excessively sad,
and not giving her father the faintest answering smile when he
glanced toward her and laughed, as he said his last words. I
could not at all tell what to make of it. The doctor talked of
the social consequences of his chemical inquiries as if he were
living in the middle ages. However, I was far too anxious to see
the charming brown eyes again to ask questions which would be
sure to keep them cast down. So I changed the topic to chemistry
in general; and, to the doctor's evident astonishment and
pleasure, told him of my own early studies in the science.
This led to the mention of my father, whose reputation had
reached the ears of Doctor Dulcifer. As he told me that, his
daughter looked up--the sun of beauty shone on me again! I
touched next on my high connections, and on Lady Malkinshaw; I
described myself as temporarily banished from home for humorous
caricaturing, and amiable youthful wildness. She was interested;
she smiled--and the sun of beauty shone warmer than ever! I
diverged to general topics, and got brilliant and amusing. She
laughed--the nightingale notes of her merriment bubbled into my
ears caressingly--why could I not shut my eyes and listen to
them? Her color rose; her face grew animated. Poor soul! A little
lively company was but too evidently a rare treat to her. Under
such circumstances, who would not be amusing? If she had said to
me, "Mr. Softly, I like tumbling," I should have made a clown of
myself on the spot. I should have stood on my head (if I could),
and been amply rewarded for the graceful exertion, if the eyes of
Alicia had looked kindly on my elevated heels!
How long I stayed is more than I can tell. Lunch came up. I eat
and drank, and grew more amusing than ever. When I at last rose
to go, the brown eyes looked on me very kindly, and the doctor
gave me his card.
"If you don't mind trusting yourself in the clutches of Doctor
Faustus," he said, with a gay smile, "I shall be delighted to see
you if you are ever in the neighborhood of Barkingham."
I wrung his hand, mentally relinquishing my secretaryship while I
thanked him for the invitation. I put out my hand next to his
daughter, and the dear friendly girl met the advance with the
most charming readiness. She gave me a good, hearty, vigorous,
uncompromising shake. O precious right hand! never did I properly
appreciate your value until that moment.
Going out with my head in the air, and my senses in the seventh
heaven, I jostled an elderly gentleman passing before the garden
gate. I turned round to apologize; it was my brother in office,
the estimable Treasurer of the Duskydale Institute.
"I have been half over the town looking after you," he said. "The
Managing Committee, on reflection, consider your plan of
personally soliciting public attendance at the hall to be
compromising the dignity of the Institution, and beg you,