Part 1 out of 8
[Italics are indicatedby underscores
James Rusk, email@example.com.]
by Wilkie Collins
PREFACE TO "AFTER DARK."
I HAVE taken some pains to string together the various stories
contained in this Volume on a single thread of interest, which,
so far as I know, has at least the merit of not having been used
The pages entitled "Leah's Diary" are, however, intended to
fulfill another purpose besides that of serving as the frame-work
for my collection of tales. In this part of the book, and
subsequently in the Prologues to the stories, it has been my
object to give the reader one more glimpse at that artist-life
which circumstances have afforded me peculiar opportunities of
studying, and which I have already tried to represent, under
another aspect, in my fiction, "Hide-and-Seek." This time I wish
to ask some sympathy for the joys and sorrows of a poor traveling
portrait-painter--presented from his wife's point of view in
"Leah's Diary," and supposed to be briefly and simply narrated by
himself in the Prologues to the stories. I have purposely kept
these two portions of the book within certain limits; only
giving, in the one case, as much as the wife might naturally
write in her diary at intervals of household leisure; and, in the
other, as much as a modest and sensible man would be likely to
say about himself and about the characters he met with in his
wanderings. If I have been so fortunate as to make my idea
intelligible by this brief and simple mode of treatment, and if I
have, at the same time, achieved the necessary object of
gathering several separate stories together as neatly-fitting
parts of one complete whole, I shall have succeeded in a design
which I have for some time past been very anxious creditably to
Of the tales themselves, taken individually, I have only to say,
by way of necessary explanation, that "The Lady of Glenwith
Grange" is now offered to the reader for the first time; and that
the other stories have appeared in the columns of _Household
Words_. My best thanks are due to Mr. Charles Dickens for his
kindness in allowing me to set them in their present frame-work.
I must also gratefully acknowledge an obligation of another kind
to the accomplished artist, Mr. W. S. Herrick, to whom I am
indebted for the curious and interesting facts on which the tales
of "The Terribly Strange Bed" and "The Yellow Mask" are founded.
Although the statement may appear somewhat superfluous to those
who know me, it may not be out of place to add, in conclusion,
that these stories are entirely of my own imagining,
constructing, and writing. The fact that the events of some of my
tales occur on foreign ground, and are acted out by foreign
personages, appears to have suggested in some quarters the
inference that the stories themselves might be of foreign origin.
Let me, once for all, assure any readers who may honor me with
their attention, that in this, and in all other cases, they may
depend on the genuineness of my literary offspring. The little
children of my brain may be weakly enough, and may be sadly in
want of a helping hand to aid them in their first attempts at
walking on the stage of this great world; but, at any rate, they
are not borrowed children. The members of my own literary family
are indeed increasing so fast as to render the very idea of
borrowing quite out of the question, and to suggest serious
apprehension that I may not have done adding to the large
book-population, on my own sole responsibility, even yet.
LEAVES FROM LEAH'S DIARY.
26th February, 1827.--The doctor has just called for the third
time to examine my husband's eyes. Thank God, there is no fear at
present of my poor William losing his sight, provided he can be
prevailed on to attend rigidly to the medical instructions for
preserving it. These instructions, which forbid him to exercise
his profession for the next six months at least, are, in our
case, very hard to follow. They will but too probably sentence us
to poverty, perhaps to actual want; but they must be borne
resignedly, and even thankfully, seeing that my husband's forced
cessation from work will save him from the dreadful affliction of
loss of sight. I think I can answer for my own cheerfulness and
endurance, now that we know the worst. Can I answer for our
children also? Surely I can, when there are only two of them. It
is a sad confession to make, but now, for the first time since my
marriage, I feel thankful that we have no more.
17th.--A dread came over me last night, after I had comforted
William as well as I could about the future, and had heard him
fall off to sleep, that the doctor had not told us the worst.
Medical men do sometimes deceive their patients, from what has
always seemed to me to be misdirected kindness of heart. The mere
suspicion that I had been trifled with on the subject of my
husband's illness, caused me such uneasiness, that I made an
excuse to get out, and went in secret to the doctor. Fortunately,
I found him at home, and in three words I confessed to him the
object of my visit.
He smiled, and said I might make myself easy; he had told us the
"And that worst," I said, to make certain, "is, that for the next
six months my husband must allow his eyes to have the most
"Exactly," the doctor answered. "Mind, I don't say that he may
not dispense with his green shade, indoors, for an hour or two at
a time, as the inflammation gets subdued. But I do most
positively repeat that he must not _employ_ his eyes. He must not
touch a brush or pencil; he must not think of taking another
likeness, on any consideration whatever, for the next six months.
His persisting in finishing those two portraits, at the time when
his eyes first began to fail, was the real cause of all the bad
symptoms that we have had to combat ever since. I warned him (if
you remember, Mrs. Kerby?) when he first came to practice in our
"I know you did, sir," I replied. "But what was a poor traveling
portrait-painter like my husband, who lives by taking likenesses
first in one place and then in another, to do? Our bread depended
on his using his eyes, at the very time when you warned him to
let them have a rest."
"Have you no other resources? No money but the money Mr. Kerby
can get by portrait-painting?" asked the doctor.
"None," I answered, with a sinking at my heart as I thought of
his bill for medical attendance.
"Will you pardon me?" he said, coloring and looking a little
uneasy, "or, rather, will you ascribe it to the friendly interest
I feel in you, if I ask whether Mr. Kerby realizes a comfortable
income by the practice of his profession? Don't," he went on
anxiously, before I could reply--"pray don't think I make this
inquiry from a motive of impertinent curiosity!"
I felt quite satisfied that he could have no improper motive for
asking the question, and so answered it at once plainly and
"My husband makes but a small income," I said. "Famous London
portrait-painters get great prices from their sitters; but poor
unknown artists, who only travel about the country, are obliged
to work hard and be contented with very small gains. After we
have paid all that we owe here, I am afraid we shall have little
enough left to retire on, when we take refuge in some cheaper
"In that case," said. the good doctor (I am so glad and proud to
remember that I always liked him from the first!), "in that case,
don't make yourself anxious about my bill when you are thinking
of clearing off your debts here. I can afford to wait till Mr.
Kerby's eyes are well again, and I shall then ask him for a
likeness of my little daughter. By that arrangement we are sure
to be both quits, and both perfectly satisfied."
He considerately shook hands and bade me farewell before I could
say half the grateful words to him that were on my lips. Never,
never shall I forget that he relieved me of my two heaviest
anxieties at the most anxious time of my life. The merciful,
warm-hearted man! I could almost have knelt down and kissed his
doorstep, as I crossed it on my way home.
18th.--If I had not res olved, after what happened yesterday, to
look only at the cheerful side of things for the future, the
events of today would have robbed me of all my courage, at the
very outset of our troubles. First, there was the casting up of
our bills, and the discovery, when the amount of them was
balanced against all the money we have saved up, that we shall
only have between three and four pounds left in the cash-box,
after we have got out of debt. Then there was the sad necessity
of writing letters in my husband's name to the rich people who
were ready to employ him, telling them of the affliction that had
overtaken him, and of the impossibility of his executing their
orders for portraits for the next six months to come. And,
lastly, there was the heart-breaking business for me to go
through of giving our landlord warning, just as we had got
comfortably settled in our new abode. If William could only have
gone on with his work, we might have stopped in this town, and in
these clean, comfortable lodgings for at least three or four
months. We have never had the use of a nice empty garret before,
for the children to play in; and I never met with any landlady so
pleasant to deal with in the kitchen as the landlady here. And
now we must leave all this comfort and happiness, and go--I
hardly know where. William, in his bitterness, says to the
workhouse; but that shall never be, if I have to go out to
service to prevent it. The darkness is coming on, and we must
save in candles, or I could write much more. Ah, me! what a day
this has been. I have had but one pleasant moment since it began;
and that was in the morning, when I set my little Emily to work
on a bead purse for the kind doctor's daughter. My child, young
as she is, is wonderfully neat-handed at stringing beads; and
even a poor little empty purse as a token of our gratitude, is
better than nothing at all.
19th.--A visit from our best friend--our only friend here--the
doctor. After he had examined William's eyes, and had reported
that they were getting on as well as can be hoped at present, he
asked where we thought of going to live? I said in the cheapest
place we could find, and added that I was about to make inquiries
in the by-streets of the town that very day. "Put off those
inquiries," he said, "till you hear from me again. I am going now
to see a patient at a farmhouse five miles off. (You needn't look
at the children, Mrs. Kerby, it's nothing infectious--only a
clumsy lad, who has broken his collarbone by a fall from a
horse.) They receive lodgers occasionally at the farmhouse, and I
know no reason why they should not be willing to receive you. If
you want to be well housed and well fed at a cheap rate, and if
you like the society of honest, hearty people, the farm of
Appletreewick is the very place for you. Don't thank me till you
know whether I can get you these new lodgings or not. And in the
meantime settle all your business affairs here, so as to be able
to move at a moment's notice." With those words the kind-hearted
gentleman nodded and went out. Pray heaven he may succeed at the
farmhouse! We may be sure of the children's health, at least, if
we live in the country. Talking of the children, I must not omit
to record that Emily has nearly done one end of the bead purse
20th.--A note from the doctor, who is too busy to call. Such good
news! They will give us two bedrooms, and board us with the
family at Appletreewick for seventeen shillings a week. By my
calculations, we shall have three pounds sixteen shillings left,
after paying what we owe here. That will be enough, at the
outset, for four weeks' living at the farmhouse, with eight
shillings to spare besides. By embroidery-work I can easily make
nine shillings more to put to that, and there is a fifth week
provided for. Surely, in five weeks' time--considering the number
of things I can turn my hand to--we may hit on some plan for
getting a little money. This is what I am always telling my
husband, and what, by dint of constantly repeating it, I am
getting to believe myself. William, as is but natural, poor
fellow, does not take so lighthearted view of the future as I do.
He says that the prospect of sitting idle and being kept by his
wife for months to come, is something more wretched and hopeless
than words can describe. I try to raise his spirits by reminding
him of his years of honest hard work for me and the children, and
of the doctor's assurance that his eyes will get the better, in
good time, of their present helpless state. But he still sighs
and murmurs--being one of the most independent and high spirited
of men--about living a burden on his wife. I can only answer,
what in my heart of hearts I feel, that I took him for Better and
for Worse; that I have had many years of the Better, and that,
even in our present trouble, the Worse shows no signs of coming
The bead purse is getting on fast. Red and blue, in a pretty
21st.--A busy day. We go to Appletreewick to-morrow. Paying bills
and packing up. All poor William's new canvases and
painting-things huddled together into a packing-case. He looked
so sad, sitting silent with his green shade on, while his old
familiar working materials were disappearing around him, as if he
and they were never to come together again, that the tears would
start into my eyes, though I am sure I am not one of the crying
sort. Luckily, the green shade kept him from seeing me: and I
took good care, though the effort nearly choked me, that he
should not hear I was crying, at any rate.
The bead purse is done. How are we to get the steel rings and
tassels for it? I am not justified now in spending sixpence
unnecessarily, even for the best of purposes.
23d. _The Farm of Appletreewick._--Too tired, after our move
yesterday, to write a word in my diary about our journey to this
delightful place. But now that we are beginning to get settled, I
can manage to make up for past omissions.
My first occupation on the morning of the move had, oddly enough,
nothing to do with our departure for the farmhouse. The moment
breakfast was over I began the day by making Emily as smart and
nice-looking as I could, to go to the doctor's with the purse.
She had her best silk frock on, showing the mending a little in
some places, I am afraid, and her straw hat trimmed with my
bonnet ribbon. Her father's neck-scarf, turned and joined so that
nobody could see it, made a nice mantilla for her; and away she
went to the doctor's, with her little, determined step, and the
purse in her hand (such a pretty hand that it is hardly to be
regretted I had no gloves for her). They were delighted with the
purse--which I ought to mention was finished with some white
beads; we found them in rummaging among our boxes, and they made
beautiful rings and tassels, contrasting charmingly with the blue
and red of the rest of the purse. The doctor and his little girl
were, as I have said, delighted with the present; and they gave
Emily, in return, a workbox for herself, and a box of sugar-plums
for her baby sister. The child came back all flushed with the
pleasure of the visit, and quite helped to keep up her father's
spirits with talking to him about it. So much for the highly
interesting history of the bead purse.
Toward the afternoon the light cart from the farmhouse came to
fetch us and our things to Appletreewick. It was quite a warm
spring day, and I had another pang to bear as I saw poor William
helped into the cart, looking so sickly and sad, with his
miserable green shade, in the cheerful sunlight. "God only knows,
Leah, how this will succeed with us," he said, as we started;
then sighed, and fell silent again.
Just outside the town the doctor met us. "Good luck go with you!"
he cried, swinging his stick in his usual hasty way; "I shall
come and see you as soon as you are all settled at the
farmhouse." "Good-by, sir," says Emily, struggling up with all
her might among the bundles in the bottom of the cart; "good-by,
and thank you again for the work-box and the sugar-plums." That
was my child all over! she never wants telling. The doctor kissed
his hand, and gave another flourish with
his stick. So we parted.
How I should have enjoyed the drive if William could only have
looked, as I did, at the young firs on the heath bending beneath
the steady breeze; at the shadows flying over the smooth fields;
at the high white clouds moving on and on, in their grand airy
procession over the gladsome blue sky! It was a hilly road, and I
begged the lad who drove us not to press the horse; so we were
nearly an hour, at our slow rate of going, before we drew up at
the gate of Appletreewick.
24th February to 2d March.--We have now been here long enough to
know something of the place and the people. First, as to the
place: Where the farmhouse now is, there was once a famous
priory. The tower in still standing, and the great room where the
monks ate and drank--used at present as a granary. The house
itself seems to have been tacked on to the ruins anyhow. No two
rooms in it are on the same level. The children do nothing but
tumble about the passages, because there always happens to be a
step up or down, just at the darkest part of every one of them.
As for staircases, there seems to me to be one for each bedroom.
I do nothing but lose my way--and the farmer says, drolling, that
he must have sign-posts put up for me in every corner of the
house from top to bottom. On the ground-floor, besides the usual
domestic offices, we have the best parlor--a dark, airless,
expensively furnished solitude, never invaded by anybody; the
kitchen, and a kind of hall, with a fireplace as big as the
drawing-room at our town lodgings. Here we live and take our
meals; here the children can racket about to their hearts'
content; here the dogs come lumbering in, whenever they can get
loose; here wages are paid, visitors are received, bacon is
cured, cheese is tasted, pipes are smoked, and naps are taken
every evening by the male members of the family. Never was such a
comfortable, friendly dwelling-place devised as this hall; I feel
already as if half my life had been passed in it.
Out-of-doors, looking beyond the flower-garden, lawn, back yards,
pigeon-houses, and kitchen-gardens, we are surrounded by a
network of smooth grazing-fields, each shut off from the other by
its neat hedgerow and its sturdy gate. Beyond the fields the
hills seem to flow away gently from us into the far blue
distance, till they are lost in the bright softness of the sky.
At one point, which we can see from our bedroom windows, they dip
suddenly into the plain, and show, over the rich marshy flat, a
strip of distant sea--a strip sometimes blue, sometimes gray;
sometimes, when the sun sets, a streak of fire; sometimes, on
showery days, a flash of silver light.
The inhabitants of the farmhouse have one great and rare
merit--they are people whom you can make friends with at once.
Between not knowing them at all, and knowing them well enough to
shake hands at first sight, there is no ceremonious interval or
formal gradation whatever. They received us, on our arrival,
exactly as if we were old friends returned from some long
traveling expedition. Before we had been ten minutes in the hall,
William had the easiest chair and the snuggest corner; the
children were eating bread-and-jam on the window-seat; and I was
talking to the farmer's wife, with the cat on my lap, of the time
when Emily had the measles.
The family numbers seven, exclusive of the indoor servants, of
course. First came the farmer and his wife--he is a tall, sturdy,
loud-voiced, active old man--she the easiest, plumpest and gayest
woman of sixty I ever met with. They have three sons and two
daughters. The two eldest of the young men are employed on the
farm; the third is a sailor, and is making holiday-time of it
just now at Appletreewick. The daughters are pictures of health
and freshness. I have but one complaint to make against
them--they are beginning to spoil the children already.
In this tranquil place, and among these genial, natural people,
how happily my time might be passed, were it not for the
saddening sight of William's affliction, and the wearing
uncertainty of how we are to provide for future necessities! It
is a hard thing for my husband and me, after having had the day
made pleasant by kind words and friendly offices, to feel this
one anxious thought always forcing itself on us at night: Shall
we have the means of stopping in our new home in a month's time?
3d.--A rainy day; the children difficult to manage; William
miserably despondent. Perhaps he influenced me, or perhaps I felt
my little troubles with the children more than usual: but,
however it was, I have not been so heavy-hearted since the day
when my husband first put on the green shade. A listless,
hopeless sensation would steal over me; but why write about it?
Better to try and forget it. There is always to-morrow to look to
when to-day is at the worst.
4th.--To-morow_ has proved worthy of the faith I put in it.
Sunshine again out-of-doors; and as clear and true a reflection
of it in my own heart as I can hope to have just at this time.
Oh! that month, that one poor month of respite! What are we to do
at the end of the month ?
5th.--I made my short entry for yesterday in the afternoon just
before tea-time, little thinking of events destined to happen
with the evening that would be really worth chronicling, for the
sake of the excellent results to which they are sure to lead. My
tendency is to be too sanguine about everything, I know; but I
am, nevertheless, firmly persuaded that I can see a new way out
of our present difficulties--a way of getting money enough to
keep us all in comfort at the farmhouse until William's eyes are
The new project which is to relieve us from all uncertainties for
the next six months actually originated with _me!_ It has raised
me many inches higher in my own estimation already. If the doctor
only agrees with my view of the case when he comes to-morrow,
William will allow himself to be persuaded, I know; and then let
them say what they please, I will answer for the rest.
This is how the new idea first found its way into my head:
We had just done tea. William, in much better spirits than usual,
was talking with the young sailor, who is jocosely called here by
the very ugly name of "Foul-weather Dick." The farmer and his two
eldest sons were composing themselves on the oaken settles for
their usual nap. The dame was knitting, the two girls were
beginning to clear the tea-table, and I was darning the
children's socks. To all appearance, this was not a very
propitious state of things for the creation of new ideas, and yet
my idea grew out of it, for all that. Talking with my husband on
various subjects connected with life in ships, the young sailor
began giving us a description of his hammock; telling us how it
was slung; how it was impossible to get into it any other way
than "stern foremost" (whatever that may mean); how the rolling
of the ship made it rock like a cradle; and how, on rough nights,
it sometimes swayed to and fro at such a rate as to bump bodily
against the ship's side and wake him up with the sensation of
having just received a punch on the head from a remarkably hard
fist. Hearing all this, I ventured to suggest that it must be an
immense relief to him to sleep on shore in a good, motionless,
solid four-post bed. But, to my surprise, he scoffed at the idea;
said he never slept comfortably out of his hammock; declared that
he quite missed his occasional punch on the head from the ship's
side; and ended by giving a most comical account of all the
uncomfortable sensations he felt when he slept in a four-post
bed. The odd nature of one of the young sailor's objections to
sleeping on shore reminded my husband (as indeed it did me too)
of the terrible story of a bed in a French gambling-house, which
he once heard from a gentleman whose likeness he took.
"You're laughing at me," says honest Foul-weather Dick, seeing
William turn toward me and smile.--"No, indeed," says my husband;
"that last objection of yours to the four-post beds on shore
seems by no means ridiculous to _me,_ at any rate. I once knew a
gentleman, Dick, who practically realized your objection."
"Excuse me, sir," says Dick, after a pause, and with an
appearance of great bewilderment and curiosity; "but could you
put 'practically realized' into plain English, so that a poor man
like me might have a chance of understanding you?"--"Certainly!"
says my husband, laughing. "I mean that I once knew a gentleman
who actually saw and felt what you say in jest you are afraid of
seeing and feeling whenever you sleep in a four-post bed. Do you
understand that?" Foul-weather Dick understood it perfectly, and
begged with great eagerness to hear what the gentleman's
adventure really was. The dame, who had been listening to our
talk, backed her son's petition; the two girls sat down expectant
at the half-cleared tea-table; even the farmer and his drowsy
sons roused themselves lazily on the settle--my husband saw that
he stood fairly committed to the relation of the story, so he
told it without more ado.
I have often heard him relate that strange adventure (William is
the best teller of a story I ever met with) to friends of all
ranks in many different parts of England, and I never yet knew it
fail of producing an effect. The farmhouse audience were, I may
almost say, petrified by it. I never before saw people look so
long in the same direction, and sit so long in the same attitude,
as they did. Even the servants stole away from their work in the
kitchen, and, unrebuked by master or mistress, stood quite
spell-bound in the doorway to listen. Observing all this in
silence, while my husband was going on with his narrative, the
thought suddenly flashed across me, "Why should William not get a
wider audience for that story, as well as for others which he has
heard from time to time from his sitters, and which he has
hitherto only repeated in private among a few friends? People
tell stories in books and get money for them. What if we told our
stories in a book? and what if the book sold? Why freedom,
surely, from the one great anxiety that is now preying on us!
Money enough to stop at the farmhouse till William's eyes are fit
for work again!" I almost jumped up from my chair as my thought
went on shaping itself in this manner. When great men make
wonderful discoveries, do they feel sensations like mine, I
wonder? Was Sir Isaac Newton within an ace of skipping into the
air when he first found out the law of gravitation? Did Friar
Bacon long to dance when he lit the match and heard the first
charge of gunpowder in the world go off with a bang?
I had to put a strong constraint on myself, or I should have
communicated all that was passing in my mind to William before
our friends at the farmhouse. But I knew it was best to wait
until we were alone, and I did wait. What a relief it was when we
all got up at last to say good-night!
The moment we were in our own room, I could not stop to take so
much as a pin out of my dress before I began. "My dear," said I,
"I never heard you tell that gambling-house adventure so well
before. What an effect it had upon our friends! what an effect,
indeed, it always has wherever you tell it!"
So far he did not seem to take much notice. He just nodded, and
began to pour out some of the lotion in which he always bathes
his poor eyes the last thing at night.
"And as for that, William," I went on, "all your stories seem to
interest people. What a number you have picked up, first and
last, from different sitters, in the fifteen years of your
practice as a portrait-painter! Have you any idea how many
stories you really do know?"
No: he could not undertake to say how many just then. He gave
this answer in a very indifferent tone, dabbing away all the time
at his eyes with the sponge and lotion. He did it so awkwardly
and roughly, as it seemed to me, that I took the sponge from him
and applied the lotion tenderly myself.
"Do you think," said I, "if you turned over one of your stories
carefully in your mind beforehand--say the one you told to-night,
for example--that you could repeat it all to me so perfectly and
deliberately that I should be able to take it down in writing
from your lips?"
Yes: of course he could. But why ask that question?
"Because I should like to have all the stories that you have been
in the habit of relating to our friends set down fairly in
writing, by way of preserving them from ever being forgotten."
Would I bathe his left eye now, because that felt the hottest
tonight? I began to forbode that his growing indifference to what
I was saying would soon end in his fairly going to sleep before I
had developed my new idea, unless I took some means forthwith of
stimulating his curiosity, or, in other words, of waking him into
a proper state of astonishment and attention. "William," said I,
without another syllable of preface, "I have got a new plan for
finding all the money we want for our expenses here."
He jerked his head up directly, and looked at me. What plan?
"This: The state of your eyes prevents you for the present from
following your profession as an artist, does it not? Very well.
What are you to do with your idle time, my dear? Turn author! And
how are you to get the money we want? By publishing a book!"
"Good gracious, Leah! are you out of your senses?" he exclaimed.
I put my arm round his neck and sat down on his knee (the course
I always take when I want to persuade him to anything with as few
words as possible).
"Now, William, listen patiently to me," I said. "An artist lies
under this great disadvantage in case of accidents--his talents
are of no service to him unless he can use his eyes and fingers.
An author, on the other hand, can turn his talents to account
just as well by means of other people's eyes and fingers as by
means of his own. In your present situation, therefore, you have
nothing for it, as I said before, but to turn author. Wait! and
hear me out. The book I want you to make is a book of all your
stories. You shall repeat them, and I will write them down from
your dictation. Our manuscript shall be printed; we will sell the
book to the public, and so support ourselves honorably in
adversity, by doing the best we can to interest and amuse
While I was saying all this--I suppose in a very excitable
manner--my husband looked, as our young sailor-friend would
phrase it, quite _taken aback._ "You were always quick at
contriving, Leah," he said; "but how in the world came you to
think of this plan?"
"I thought of it while you were telling them the gambling-house
adventure downstairs," I answered.
"It is an ingenious idea, and a bold idea," he went on,
thoughtfully. "But it is one thing to tell a story to a circle of
friends, and another thing to put it into a printed form for an
audience of strangers. Consider, my dear, that we are neither of
us used to what is called writing for the press."
"Very true," said I, "but nobody is used to it when they first
begin, and yet plenty of people have tried the hazardous literary
experiment successfully. Besides, in our case, we have the
materials ready to our hands; surely we can succeed in shaping
them presentably if we aim at nothing but the simple truth "
"Who is to do the eloquent descriptions and the striking
reflections, and all that part of it?" said William, perplexedly
shaking his head.
"Nobody!" I replied. "The eloquent descriptions and the striking
reflections are just the parts of a story-book that people never
read. Whatever we do, let us not, if we can possibly help it,
write so much as a single sentence that can be conveniently
skipped. Come! come!" I continued, seeing him begin to shake his
head again; "no more objections, William, I am too certain of the
success of my plan to endure them. If you still doubt, let us
refer the new project to a competent arbitrator. The doctor is
coming to see you to-morrow. I will tell him all that I have told
you; and if you will promise on your side, I will engage on mine
to be guided entirely by his opinion."
William smiled, and readily gave the promise. This was all I
wanted to send me to bed in the best spirits. For, of course, I
should never have thought of mentioning the doctor as an
arbitrator, if I had not known beforehand that he was sure to be
on my side.
6th.--The arbitrator has sho wn that he deserved my confidence in
him. He ranked himself entirely on my side before I had half done
explaining to him what my new project really was. As to my
husband's doubts and difficulties, the dear good man would not so
much as hear them mentioned. "No objections," he cried, gayly;
"set to work, Mr. Kerby, and make your fortune. I always said
your wife was worth her weight in gold--and here she is now, all
ready to get into the bookseller's scales and prove it. Set to
work! set to work!"
"With all my heart," said William, beginning at last to catch the
infection of our enthusiasm. "But when my part of the work and my
wife's has been completed, what are we to do with the produce of
"Leave that to me," answered the doctor. "Finish your books and
send it to my house; I will show it at once to the editor of our
country newspaper. He has plenty of literary friends in London,
and he will be just the man to help you. By-the-by," added the
doctor, addressing me, "you think of everything, Mrs. Kerby; pray
have you thought of a name yet for the new book?"
At that question it was my turn to be "taken aback." The idea of
naming the book had never once entered my head.
"A good title is of vast importance," said the doctor, knitting
his brows thoughtfully. "We must all think about that. What shall
it be? eh, Mrs. Kerby, what shall it be?"
"Perhaps something may strike us after we have fairly set to
work," my husband suggested. "Talking of work," he continued,
turning to me, "how are you to find time, Leah, with your nursery
occupations, for writing down all the stories as I tell them?"
"I have been thinking of that this morning," said I, "and have
come to the conclusion that I shall have but little leisure to
write from your dictation in the day-time. What with dressing and
washing the children, teaching them, giving them their meals,
taking them out to walk, and keeping them amused at home--to say
nothing of sitting sociably at work with the dame and her two
girls in the afternoon--I am afraid I shall have few
opportunities of doing my part of the book between breakfast and
tea-time. But when the children are in bed, and the farmer and
his family are reading or dozing, I should have at least three
unoccupied hours to spare. So, if you don't mind putting off our
working-time till after dark--"
"There's the title!" shouted the doctor, jumping out of his chair
as if he had been shot.
"Where?" cried I, looking all round me in the surprise of the
moment, as if I had expected to see the title magically inscribed
for us on the walls of the room.
"In your last words, to be sure!" rejoined the doctor. "You said
just now that you would not have leisure to write from Mr.
Kerby's dictation till _after dark._ What can we do better than
name the book after the time when the book is written? Call it
boldly, _After dark._ Stop! before anybody says a word for or
against it, let us see how the name looks on paper."
I opened my writing-desk in a great flutter. The doctor selected
the largest sheet of paper and the broadest-nibbed pen he could
find, and wrote in majestic round-text letters, with alternate
thin and thick strokes beautiful to see, the two cabalistic words
We all three laid our heads together over the paper, and in
breathless silence studied the effect of the round-text: William
raising his green shade in the excitement of the moment, and
actually disobeying the doctor's orders about not using his eyes,
in the doctor's own presence! After a good long stare, we looked
round solemnly in each other's faces and nodded. There was no
doubt whatever on the subject after seeing the round-text. In one
happy moment the doctor had hit on the right name.
"I have written the title-page," said our good friend, taking up
his hat to go. "And now I leave it to you two to write the book."
Since then I have mended four pens and bought a quire of
letter-paper at the village shop. William is to ponder well over
his stories in the daytime, so as to be quite ready for me "after
dark." We are to commence our new occupation this evening. My
heart beats fast and my eyes moisten when I think of it. How many
of our dearest interests depend upon the one little beginning
that we are to make to-night!
PROLOGUE TO THE FIRST STORY.
BEFORE I begin, by the aid of my wife's patient attention and
ready pen, to relate any of the stories which I have heard at
various times from persons whose likenesses I have been employed
to take, it will not be amiss if I try to secure the reader's
interest in the following pages, by briefly explaining how I
became possessed of the narrative matter which they contain.
Of myself I have nothing to say, but that I have followed the
profession of a traveling portrait-painter for the last fifteen
years. The pursuit of my calling has not only led me all through
England, but has taken me twice to Scotland, and once to Ireland.
In moving from district to district, I am never guided beforehand
by any settled plan. Sometimes the letters of recommendation
which I get from persons who are satisfied with the work I have
done for them determine the direction in which I travel.
Sometimes I hear of a new neighborhood in which there is no
resident artist of ability, and remove thither on speculation.
Sometimes my friends among the picture-dealers say a good word on
my behalf to their rich customers, and so pave the way for me in
the large towns. Sometimes my prosperous and famous
brother-artists, hearing of small commissions which it is not
worth their while to accept, mention my name, and procure me
introductions to pleasant country houses. Thus I get on, now in
one way and now in another, not winning a reputation or making a
fortune, but happier, perhaps, on the whole, than many men who
have got both the one and the other. So, at least, I try to think
now, though I started in my youth with as high an ambition as the
best of them. Thank God, it is not my business here to speak of
past times and their disappointments. A twinge of the old
hopeless heartache comes over me sometimes still, when I think of
my student days.
One peculiarity of my present way of life is, that it brings me
into contact with all sorts of characters. I almost feel, by this
time, as if I had painted every civilized variety of the human
race. Upon the whole, my experience of the world, rough as it has
been, has not taught me to think unkindly of my fellow-creatures.
I have certainly received such treatment at the hands of some of
my sitters as I could not describe without saddening and shocking
any kind-hearted reader; but, taking one year and one place with
another, I have cause to remember with gratitude and
respect--sometimes even with friendship and affection--a very
large proportion of the numerous persons who have employed me.
Some of the results of my experience are curious in a moral point
of view. For example, I have found women almost uniformly less
delicate in asking me about my terms, and less generous in
remunerating me for my services, than men. On the other hand,
men, within my knowledge, are decidedly vainer of their personal
attractions, and more vexatiously anxious to have them done full
justice to on canvas, than women. Taking both sexes together, I
have found young people, for the most part, more gentle, more
reasonable, and more considerate than old. And, summing up, in a
general way, my experience of different ranks (which extends, let
me premise, all the way down from peers to publicans), I have met
with most of my formal and ungracious receptions among rich
people of uncertain social standing: the highest classes and the
lowest among my employers almost always contrive--in widely
different ways, of course, to make me feel at home as soon as I
enter their houses.
The one great obstacle that I have to contend against in the
practice of my profession is not, as some persons may imagine,
the difficulty of making my sitters keep their heads still while
I paint them, but the difficulty of getting them to preserve the
natural look and the every-day peculiarities of dress and manner.
People will assume an expressio n, will brush up their hair, will
correct any little characteristic carelessness in their
apparel--will, in short, when they want to have their likenesses
taken, look as if they were sitting for their pictures. If I
paint them, under these artificial circumstances, I fail of
course to present them in their habitual aspect; and my portrait,
as a necessary consequence, disappoints everybody, the sitter
always included. When we wish to judge of a man's character by
his handwriting, we want his customary scrawl dashed off with his
common workaday pen, not his best small-text, traced laboriously
with the finest procurable crow-quill point. So it is with
portrait-painting, which is, after all, nothing but a right
reading of the externals of character recognizably presented to
the view of others.
Experience, after repeated trials, has proved to me that the only
way of getting sitters who persist in assuming a set look to
resume their habitual expression, is to lead them into talking
about some subject in which they are greatly interested. If I can
only beguile them into speaking earnestly, no matter on what
topic, I am sure of recovering their natural expression; sure of
seeing all the little precious everyday peculiarities of the man
or woman peep out, one after another, quite unawares. The long,
maundering stories about nothing, the wearisome recitals of petty
grievances, the local anecdotes unrelieved by the faintest
suspicion of anything like general interest, which I have been
condemned to hear, as a consequence of thawing the ice off the
features of formal sitters by the method just described, would
fill hundreds of volumes, and promote the repose of thousands of
readers. On the other hand, if I have suffered under the
tediousness of the many, I have not been without my compensating
gains from the wisdom and experience of the few. To some of my
sitters I have been indebted for information which has enlarged
my mind--to some for advice which has lightened my heart--to some
for narratives of strange adventure which riveted my attention at
the time, which have served to interest and amuse my fireside
circle for many years past, and which are now, I would fain hope,
destined to make kind friends for me among a wider audience than
any that I have yet addressed.
Singularly enough, almost all the best stories that I have heard
from my sitters have been told by accident. I only remember two
cases in which a story was volunteered to me, and, although I
have often tried the experiment, I cannot call to mind even a
single instance in which leading questions (as the lawyers call
them) on my part, addressed to a sitter, ever produced any result
worth recording. Over and over again, I have been disastrously
successful in encouraging dull people to weary me. But the clever
people who have something interesting to say, seem, so far as I
have observed them, to acknowledge no other stimulant than
chance. For every story which I propose including in the present
collection, excepting one, I have been indebted, in the first
instance, to the capricious influence of the same chance.
Something my sitter has seen about me, something I have remarked
in my sitter, or in the room in which I take the likeness, or in
the neighborhood through which I pass on my way to work, has
suggested the necessary association, or has started the right
train of recollections, and then the story appeared to begin of
its own accord. Occasionally the most casual notice, on my part,
of some very unpromising object has smoothed the way for the
relation of a long and interesting narrative. I first heard one
of the most dramatic of the stories that will be presented in
this book, merely through being carelessly inquisitive to know
the history of a stuffed poodle-dog.
It is thus not without reason that I lay some stress on the
desirableness of prefacing each one of the following narratives
by a brief account of the curious manner in which I became
possessed of it. As to my capacity for repeating these stories
correctly, I can answer for it that my memory may be trusted. I
may claim it as a merit, because it is after all a mechanical
one, that I forget nothing, and that I can call long-passed
conversations and events as readily to my recollection as if they
had happened but a few weeks ago. Of two things at least I feel
tolerably certain beforehand, in meditating over the contents of
this book: First, that I can repeat correctly all that I have
heard; and, secondly, that I have never missed anything worth
hearing when my sitters were addressing me on an interesting
subject. Although I cannot take the lead in talking while I am
engaged in painting, I can listen while others speak, and work
all the better for it.
So much in the way of general preface to the pages for which I am
about to ask the reader's attention. Let me now advance to
particulars, and describe how I came to hear the first story in
the present collection. I begin with it because it is the story
that I have oftenest "rehearsed," to borrow a phrase from the
stage. Wherever I go, I am sooner or later sure to tell it. Only
last night, I was persuaded into repeating it once more by the
inhabitants of the farmhouse in which I am now staying.
Not many years ago, on returning from a short holiday visit to a
friend settled in Paris, I found professional letters awaiting me
at my agent's in London, which required my immediate presence in
Liverpool. Without stopping to unpack, I proceeded by the first
conveyance to my new destination; and, calling at the
picture-dealer's shop, where portrait-painting engagements were
received for me, found to my great satisfaction that I had
remunerative employment in prospect, in and about Liverpool, for
at least two months to come. I was putting up my letters in high
spirits, and was just leaving the picture-dealer's shop to look
out for comfortable lodgings, when I was met at the door by the
landlord of one of the largest hotels in Liverpool--an old
acquaintance whom I had known as manager of a tavern in London in
my student days.
"Mr. Kerby!" he exclaimed, in great astonishment. "What an
unexpected meeting! the last man in the world whom I expected to
see, and yet the very man whose services I want to make use of!"
"What, more work for me?" said I; "are all the people in
Liverpool going to have their portraits painted?"
"I only know of one," replied the landlord, "a gentleman staying
at my hotel, who wants a chalk drawing done for him. I was on my
way here to inquire of any artist whom our picture-dealing friend
could recommend. How glad I am that I met you before I had
committed myself to employing a stranger!"
"Is this likeness wanted at once?" I asked, thinking of the
number of engagements that I had already got in my pocket.
"Immediately--to-day--this very hour, if possible," said the
landlord. "Mr. Faulkner, the gentleman I am speaking of, was to
have sailed yesterday for the Brazils from this place; but the
wind shifted last night to the wrong quarter, and he came ashore
again this morning. He may of course be detained here for some
time; but he may also be called on board ship at half an hour's
notice, if the wind shifts back again in the right direction.
This uncertainty makes it a matter of importance that the
likeness should be begun immediately. Undertake it if you
possibly can, for Mr. Faulkner's a liberal gentleman, who is sure
to give you your own terms."
I reflected for a minute or two. The portrait was only wanted in
chalk, and would not take long; besides, I might finish it in the
evening, if my other engagements pressed hard upon me in the
daytime. Why not leave my luggage at the picture-dealer's, put
off looking for lodgings till night, and secure the new
commission boldly by going back at once with the landlord to the
hotel? I decided on following this course almost as soon as the
idea occurred to me--put my chalks in my pocket, and a sheet of
drawing paper in the first of my portfolios that came to
hand--and so presented myself before Mr. Faulkner, ready to take
his likeness, literally at five minutes' notice.
I found him a very pleasant, intelligent man, young an d
handsome. He had been a great traveler; had visited all the
wonders of the East; and was now about to explore the wilds of
the vast South American Continent. Thus much he told me
good-humoredly and unconstrainedly while I was preparing my
As soon as I had put him in the right light and position, and had
seated myself opposite to him, he changed the subject of
conversation, and asked me, a little confusedly as I thought, if
it was not a customary practice among portrait-painters to gloss
over the faults in their sitters' faces, and to make as much as
possible of any good points which their features might possess.
"Certainly," I answered. "You have described the whole art and
mystery of successful portrait-painting in a few words."
"May I beg, then," said he, 'that you will depart from the usual
practice in my case, and draw me with all my defects, exactly as
I am? The fact is," he went on, after a moment's pause, "the
likeness you are now preparing to take is intended for my mother.
My roving disposition makes me a great anxiety to her, and she
parted from me this last time very sadly and unwillingly. I don't
know how the idea came into my head, but it struck me this
morning that I could not better employ the time, while I was
delayed here on shore, than by getting my likeness done to send
to her as a keepsake. She has no portrait of me since I was a
child, and she is sure to value a drawing of me more than
anything else I could send to her. I only trouble you with this
explanation to prove that I am really sincere in my wish to be
drawn unflatteringly, exactly as I am."
Secretly respecting and admiring him for what he had just said, I
promised that his directions should be implicitly followed, and
began to work immediately. Before I had pursued my occupation for
ten minutes, the conversation began to flag, and the usual
obstacle to my success with a sitter gradually set itself up
between us. Quite unconsciously, of course, Mr. Faulkner
stiffened his neck, shut his month, and contracted his
eyebrows--evidently under the impression that he was facilitating
the process of taking his portrait by making his face as like a
lifeless mask as possible. All traces of his natural animated
expression were fast disappearing, and he was beginning to change
into a heavy and rather melancholy-looking man.
This complete alteration was of no great consequence so long as I
was only engaged in drawing the outline of his face and the
general form of his features. I accordingly worked on doggedly
for more than an hour--then left off to point my chalks again,
and to give my sitter a few minutes' rest. Thus far the likeness
had not suffered through Mr. Faulkner's unfortunate notion of the
right way of sitting for his portrait; but the time of
difficulty, as I well knew, was to come. It was impossible for me
to think of putting any expression into the drawing unless I
could contrive some means, when he resumed his chair, of making
him look like himself again. "I will talk to him about foreign
parts," thought I, "and try if I can't make him forget that he is
sitting for his picture in that way."
While I was pointing my chalks Mr. Faulkner was walking up and
down the room. He chanced to see the portfolio I had brought with
me leaning against the wall, and asked if there were any sketches
in it. I told him there were a few which I had made during my
recent stay in Paris; "In Paris?" he repeated, with a look of
interest; "may I see them?"
I gave him the permission he asked as a matter of course. Sitting
down, he took the portfolio on his knee, and began to look
through it. He turned over the first five sketches rapidly
enough; but when he came to the sixth, I saw his face flush
directly, and observed that he took the drawing out of the
portfolio, carried it to the window, and remained silently
absorbed in the contemplation of it for full five minutes. After
that, he turned round to me, and asked very anxiously if I had
any objection to part with that sketch.
It was the least interesting drawing of the collection--merely a
view in one of the streets running by the backs of the houses in
the Palais Royal. Some four or five of these houses were
comprised in the view, which was of no particular use to me in
any way; and which was too valueless, as a work of art, for me to
think of selling it. I begged his acceptance of it at once. He
thanked me quite warmly; and then, seeing that I looked a little
surprised at the odd selection he had made from my sketches,
laughingly asked me if I could guess why he had been so anxious
to become possessed of the view which I had given him?
"Probably," I answered, "there is some remarkable historical
association connected with that street at the back of the Palais
Royal, of which I am ignorant."
"No," said Mr. Faulkner; "at least none that _I_ know of. The
only association connected with the place in _my_ mind is a
purely personal association. Look at this house in your
drawing--the house with the water-pipe running down it from top
to bottom. I once passed a night there--a night I shall never
forget to the day of my death. I have had some awkward traveling
adventures in my time; but _that_ adventure--! Well, never mind,
suppose we begin the sitting. I make but a bad return for your
kindness in giving me the sketch by thus wasting your time in
"Come! come!" thought I, as he went back to the sitter's chair,
"I shall see your natural expression on your face if I can only
get you to talk about that adventure." It was easy enough to lead
him in the right direction. At the first hint from me, he
returned to the subject of the house in the back street. Without,
I hope, showing any undue curiosity, I contrived to let him see
that I felt a deep interest in everything he now said. After two
or three preliminary hesitations, he at last, to my great joy,
fairly started on the narrative of his adventure. In the interest
of his subject he soon completely forgot that he was sitting for
his portrait--the very expression that I wanted came over his
face--and my drawing proceeded toward completion, in the right
direction, and to the best purpose. At every fresh touch I felt
more and more certain that I was now getting the better of my
grand difficulty; and I enjoyed the additional gratification of
having my work lightened by the recital of a true story, which
possessed, in my estimation, all the excitement of the most
This, as I recollect it, is how Mr. Faulkner told me his
THE TRAVELER'S STORY
A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED.
Shortly after my education at college was finished, I happened to
be staying at Paris with an English friend. We were both young
men then, and lived, I am afraid, rather a wild life, in the
delightful city of our sojourn. One night we were idling about
the neighborhood of the Palais Royal, doubtful to what amusement
we should next betake ourselves. My friend proposed a visit to
Frascati's; but his suggestion was not to my taste. I knew
Frascati's, as the French saying is, by heart; had lost and won
plenty of five-franc pieces there, merely for amusement's sake,
until it was amusement no longer, and was thoroughly tired, in
fact, of all the ghastly respectabilities of such a social
anomaly as a respectable gambling-house. "For Heaven's sake,"
said I to my friend, "let us go somewhere where we can see a
little genuine, blackguard, poverty-stricken gaming with no false
gingerbread glitter thrown over it all. Let us get away from
fashionable Frascati's, to a house where they don't mind letting
in a man with a ragged coat, or a man with no coat, ragged or
otherwise." "Very well," said my friend, "we needn't go out of
the Palais Royal to find the sort of company you want. Here's the
place just before us; as blackguard a place, by all report, as
you could possibly wish to see." In another minute we arrived at
the door, and entered the house, the back of which you have drawn
in your sketch.
When we got upstairs, and had left our hats and sticks with the
doorkeeper, we were admitted into the chief gambling-room. We did
not find many people assembled there. But, few as the men were
who looked up at us on our entrance, they were all
types--lamentably true types--of their respective classes.
We had come to see blackguards; but these men were something
worse. There is a comic side, more or less appreciable, in all
blackguardism--here there was nothing but tragedy--mute, weird
tragedy. The quiet in the room was horrible. The thin, haggard,
long-haired young man, whose sunken eyes fiercely watched the
turning up of the cards, never spoke; the flabby, fat-faced,
pimply player, who pricked his piece of pasteboard perseveringly,
to register how often black won, and how often red--never spoke;
the dirty, wrinkled old man, with the vulture eyes and the darned
great-coat, who had lost his last _sou,_ and still looked on
desperately, after he could play no longer--never spoke. Even the
voice of the croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and
thickened in the atmosphere of the room. I had entered the place
to laugh, but the spectacle before me was something to weep over.
I soon found it necessary to take refuge in excitement from the
depression of spirits which was fast stealing on me.
Unfortunately I sought the nearest excitement, by going to the
table and beginning to play. Still more unfortunately, as the
event will show, I won--won prodigiously; won incredibly; won at
such a rate that the regular players at the table crowded round
me; and staring at my stakes with hungry, superstitious eyes,
whispered to one another that the English stranger was going to
break the bank.
The game was _Rouge et Noir_. I had played at it in every city in
Europe, without, however, the care or the wish to study the
Theory of Chances--that philosopher's stone of all gamblers! And
a gambler, in the strict sense of the word, I had never been. I
was heart-whole from the corroding passion for play. My gaming
was a mere idle amusement. I never resorted to it by necessity,
because I never knew what it was to want money. I never practiced
it so incessantly as to lose more than I could afford, or to gain
more than I could coolly pocket without being thrown off my
balance by my good luck. In short, I had hitherto frequented
gambling-tables--just as I frequented ball-rooms and
opera-houses--because they amused me, and because I had nothing
better to do with my leisure hours.
But on this occasion it was very different--now, for the first
time in my life, I felt what the passion for play really was. My
success first bewildered, and then, in the most literal meaning
of the word, intoxicated me. Incredible as it may appear, it is
nevertheless true, that I only lost when I attempted to estimate
chances, and played according to previous calculation. If I left
everything to luck, and staked without any care or consideration,
I was sure to win--to win in the face of every recognized
probability in favor of the bank. At first some of the men
present ventured their money safely enough on my color; but I
speedily increased my stakes to sums which they dared not risk.
One after another they left off playing, and breathlessly looked
on at my game.
Still, time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still
won. The excitement in the room rose to fever pitch. The silence
was interrupted by a deep-muttered chorus of oaths and
exclamations in different languages, every time the gold was
shoveled across to my side of the table--even the imperturbable
croupier dashed his rake on the floor in a (French) fury of
astonishment at my success. But one man present preserved his
self-possession, and that man was my friend. He came to my side,
and whispering in English, begged me to leave the place,
satisfied with what I had already gained. I must do him the
justice to say that he repeated his warnings and entreaties
several times, and only left me and went away after I had
rejected his advice (I was to all intents and purposes gambling
drunk) in terms which rendered it impossible for him to address
me again that night.
Shortly after he had gone, a hoarse voice behind me cried:
"Permit me, my dear sir--permit me to restore to their proper
place two napoleons which you have dropped. Wonderful luck, sir!
I pledge you my word of honor, as an old soldier, in the course
of my long experience in this sort of thing, I never saw such
luck as yours--never! Go on, sir--_Sacre mille bombes!_ Go on
boldly, and break the bank!"
I turned round and saw, nodding and smiling at me with inveterate
civility, a tall man, dressed in a frogged and braided surtout.
If I had been in my senses, I should have considered him,
personally, as being rather a suspicious specimen of an old
soldier. He had goggling, bloodshot eyes, mangy mustaches, and a
broken nose. His voice betrayed a barrack-room intonation of the
worst order, and he had the dirtiest pair of hands I ever
saw--even in France. These little personal peculiarities
exercised, however, no repelling influence on me. In the mad
excitement, the reckless triumph of that moment, I was ready to
"fraternize" with anybody who encouraged me in my game. I
accepted the old soldier's offered pinch of snuff; clapped him on
the back, and swore he was the honestest fellow in the world--the
most glorious relic of the Grand Army that I had ever met with.
"Go on!" cried my military friend, snapping his fingers in
ecstasy--"Go on, and win! Break the bank--_Mille tonnerres!_ my
gallant English comrade, break the bank!"
And I _did_ go on--went on at such a rate, that in another
quarter of an hour the croupier called out, "Gentlemen, the bank
has discontinued for to-night." All the notes, and all the gold
in that "bank," now lay in a heap under my hands; the whole
floating capital of the gambling-house was waiting to pour into
"Tie up the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir,"
said the old soldier, as I wildly plunged my hands into my heap
of gold. "Tie it up, as we used to tie up a bit of dinner in the
Grand Army; your winnings are too heavy for any breeches-pockets
that ever were sewed. There! that's it--shovel them in, notes and
all! _Credie!_ what luck! Stop! another napoleon on the floor!
_Ah! sacre petit polisson de Napoleon!_ have I found thee at
last? Now then, sir--two tight double knots each way with your
honorable permission, and the money's safe. Feel it! feel it,
fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball--_Ah, bah!_ if
they had only fired such cannon-balls at us at Austerlitz--_nom
d'une pipe!_ if they only had! And now, as an ancient grenadier,
as an ex-brave of the French army, what remains for me to do? I
ask what? Simply this: to entreat my valued English friend to
drink a bottle of Champagne with me, and toast the goddess
Fortune in foaming goblets before we part!"
Excellent ex-brave! Convivial ancient grenadier! Champagne by all
means! An English cheer for an old soldier! Hurrah! hurrah!
Another English cheer for the goddess Fortune! Hurrah! hurrah!
"Bravo! the Englishman; the amiable, gracious Englishman, in
whose veins circulates the vivacious blood of France! Another
glass? _Ah, bah!_--the bottle is empty! Never mind! _Vive le
vin!_ I, the old soldier, order another bottle, and half a pound
of bonbons with it!"
"No, no, ex-brave; never--ancient grenadier! _Your_ bottle last
time; _my_ bottle this. Behold it! Toast away! The French Army!
the great Napoleon! the present company! the croupier! the honest
croupier's wife and daughters--if he has any! the Ladies
generally! everybody in the world!"
By the time the second bottle of Champagne was emptied, I felt as
if I had been drinking liquid fire--my brain seemed all aflame.
No excess in wine had ever had this effect on me before in my
life. Was it the result of a stimulant acting upon my system when
I was in a highly excited state? Was my stomach in a particularly
disordered condition? Or was the Champagne amazingly strong?
"Ex-brave of the French Army!" cried I, in a mad state of
exhilaration, "_I_ am on fire! how are _you?_ You have set me on
fire! Do you hear, my hero of Austerlitz? Let us have a third
bottle of Champagne to put the flame out!"
The old soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I
expected to see
them slip out of their sockets; placed his dirty forefinger by
the side of his broken nose; solemnly ejaculated "Coffee!" and
immediately ran off into an inner room.
The word pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a
magical effect on the rest of the company present. With one
accord they all rose to depart. Probably they had expected to
profit by my intoxication; but finding that my new friend was
benevolently bent on preventing me from getting dead drunk, had
now abandoned all hope of thriving pleasantly on my winnings.
Whatever their motive might be, at any rate they went away in a
body. When the old soldier returned, and sat down again opposite
to me at the table, we had the room to ourselves. I could see the
croupier, in a sort of vestibule which opened out of it, eating
his supper in solitude. The silence was now deeper than ever.
A sudden change, too, had come over the "ex-brave." He assumed a
portentously solemn look; and when he spoke to me again, his
speech was ornamented by no oaths, enforced by no
finger-snapping, enlivened by no apostrophes or exclamations.
"Listen, my dear sir," said he, in mysteriously confidential
tones--"listen to an old soldier's advice. I have been to the
mistress of the house (a very charming woman, with a genius for
cookery!) to impress on her the necessity of making us some
particularly strong and good coffee. You must drink this coffee
in order to get rid of your little amiable exaltation of spirits
before you think of going home--you _must,_ my good and gracious
friend! With all that money to take home to-night, it is a sacred
duty to yourself to have your wits about you. You are known to be
a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen present
to-night, who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and
excellent fellows; but they are mortal men, my dear sir, and they
have their amiable weaknesses. Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you
understand me! Now, this is what you must do--send for a
cabriolet when you feel quite well again--draw up all the windows
when you get into it--and tell the driver to take you home only
through the large and well-lighted thoroughfares. Do this; and
you and your money will be safe. Do this; and to-morrow you will
thank an old soldier for giving you a word of honest advice."
Just as the ex-brave ended his oration in very lachrymose tones,
the coffee came in, ready poured out in two cups. My attentive
friend handed me one of the cups with a bow. I was parched with
thirst, and drank it off at a draught. Almost instantly
afterwards, I was seized with a fit of giddiness, and felt more
completely intoxicated than ever. The room whirled round and
round furiously; the old soldier seemed to be regularly bobbing
up and down before me like the piston of a steam-engine. I was
half deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a feeling of utter
bewilderment, helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I rose from my
chair, holding on by the table to keep my balance; and stammered
out that I felt dreadfully unwell--so unwell that I did not know
how I was to get home.
"My dear friend," answered the old soldier--and even his voice
seemed to be bobbing up and down as he spoke--"my dear friend, it
would be madness to go home in _your_ state; you would be sure to
lose your money; you might be robbed and murdered with the
greatest ease. _I_ am going to sleep here; do _you_ sleep here,
too--they make up capital beds in this house--take one; sleep off
the effects of the wine, and go home safely with your winnings
to-morrow--to-morrow, in broad daylight."
I had but two ideas left: one, that I must never let go hold of
my handkerchief full of money; the other, that I must lie down
somewhere immediately, and fall off into a comfortable sleep. So
I agreed to the proposal about the bed, and took the offered arm
of the old soldier, carrying my money with my disengaged hand.
Preceded by the croupier, we passed along some passages and up a
flight of stairs into the bedroom which I was to occupy. The
ex-brave shook me warmly by the hand, proposed that we should
breakfast together, and then, followed by the croupier, left me
for the night.
I ran to the wash-hand stand; drank some of the water in my jug;
poured the rest out, and plunged my face into it; then sat down
in a chair and tried to compose myself. I soon felt better. The
change for my lungs, from the fetid atmosphere of the
gambling-room to the cool air of the apartment I now occupied,
the almost equally refreshing change for my eyes, from the
glaring gaslights of the "salon" to the dim, quiet flicker of one
bedroom-candle, aided wonderfully the restorative effects of cold
water. The giddiness left me, and I began to feel a little like a
reasonable being again. My first thought was of the risk of
sleeping all night in a gambling-house; my second, of the still
greater risk of trying to get out after the house was closed, and
of going home alone at night through the streets of Paris with a
large sum of money about me. I had slept in worse places than
this on my travels; so I determined to lock, bolt, and barricade
my door, and take my chance till the next morning.
Accordingly, I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under
the bed, and into the cupboard; tried the fastening of the
window; and then, satisfied that I had taken every proper
precaution, pulled off my upper clothing, put my light, which was
a dim one, on the hearth among a feathery litter of wood-ashes,
and got into bed, with the handkerchief full of money under my
I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I
could not even close my eyes. I was wide awake, and in a high
fever. Every nerve in my body trembled--every one of my senses
seemed to be preternaturally sharpened. I tossed and rolled, and
tried every kind of position, and perseveringly sought out the
cold corners of the bed, and all to no purpose. Now I thrust my
arms over the clothes; now I poked them under the clothes; now I
violently shot my legs straight out down to the bottom of the
bed; now I convulsively coiled them up as near my chin as they
would go; now I shook out my crumpled pillow, changed it to the
cool side, patted it flat, and lay down quietly on my back; now I
fiercely doubled it in two, set it up on end, thrust it against
the board of the bed, and tried a sitting posture. Every effort
was in vain; I groaned with vexation as I felt that I was in for
a sleepless night.
What could I do? I had no book to read. And yet, unless I found
out some method of diverting my mind, I felt certain that I was
in the condition to imagine all sorts of horrors; to rack my
brain with forebodings of every possible and impossible danger;
in short, to pass the night in suffering all conceivable
varieties of nervous terror.
I raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room--which was
brightened by a lovely moonlight pouring straight through the
window--to see if it contained any pictures or ornaments that I
could at all clearly distinguish. While my eyes wandered from
wall to wall, a remembrance of Le Maistre's delightful little
book, "Voyage autour de ma Chambre," occurred to me. I resolved
to imitate the French author, and find occupation and amusement
enough to relieve the tedium of my wakefulness, by making a
mental inventory of every article of furniture I could see, and
by following up to their sources the multitude of associations
which even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be made to
In the nervous unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found
it much easier to make my inventory than to make my reflections,
and thereupon soon gave up all hope of thinking in Le Maistre's
fanciful track--or, indeed, of thinking at all. I looked about
the room at the different articles of furniture, and did nothing
There was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all
things in the world to meet with in Paris--yes, a thorough clumsy
British four-poster, with the regular top lined with chintz--the
regular fringed valance all round--the regular stifling,
unwholesome curtains, which I remembered having mechanically
drawn back against the posts with out particularly noticing the
bed when I first got into the room. Then there was the
marble-topped wash-hand stand, from which the water I had
spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still dripping, slowly
and more slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs,
with my coat, waistcoat, and trousers flung on them. Then a large
elbow-chair covered with dirty-white dimity, with my cravat and
shirt collar thrown over the back. Then a chest of drawers with
two of the brass handles off, and a tawdry, broken china inkstand
placed on it by way of ornament for the top. Then the
dressing-table, adorned by a very small looking-glass, and a very
large pincushion. Then the window--an unusually large window.
Then a dark old picture, which the feeble candle dimly showed me.
It was a picture of a fellow in a high Spanish hat, crowned with
a plume of towering feathers. A swarthy, sinister ruffian,
looking upward, shading his eyes with his hand, and looking
intently upward--it might be at some tall gallows at which he was
going to be hanged. At any rate, he had the appearance of
thoroughly deserving it.
This picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward
too--at the top of the bed. It was a gloomy and not an
interesting object, and I looked back at the picture. I counted
the feathers in the man's hat--they stood out in relief--three
white, two green. I observed the crown of his hat, which was of
conical shape, according to the fashion supposed to have been
favored by Guido Fawkes. I wondered what he was looking up at. It
couldn't be at the stars; such a desperado was neither astrologer
nor astronomer. It must be at the high gallows, and he was going
to be hanged presently. Would the executioner come into
possession of his conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I
counted the feathers again--three white, two green.
While I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual
employment, my thoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight
shining into the room reminded me of a certain moonlight night in
England--the night after a picnic party in a Welsh valley. Every
incident of the drive homeward, through lovely scenery, which the
moonlight made lovelier than ever, came back to my remembrance,
though I had never given the picnic a thought for years; though,
if I had _tried_ to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled
little or nothing of that scene long past. Of all the wonderful
faculties that help to tell us we are immortal, which speaks the
sublime truth more eloquently than memory? Here was I, in a
strange house of the most suspicious character, in a situation of
uncertainty, and even of peril, which might seem to make the cool
exercise of my recollection almost out of the question;
nevertheless, remembering, quite involuntarily, places, people,
conversations, minute circumstances of every kind, which I had
thought forgotten forever; which I could not possibly have
recalled at will, even under the most favorable auspices. And
what cause had produced in a moment the whole of this strange,
complicated, mysterious effect? Nothing but some rays of
moonlight shining in at my bedroom window.
I was still thinking of the picnic--of our merriment on the drive
home--of the sentimental young lady who _would_ quote "Childe
Harold" because it was moonlight. I was absorbed by these past
scenes and past amusements, when, in an instant, the thread on
which my memories hung snapped asunder; my attention immediately
came back to present things more vividly than ever, and I found
myself, I neither knew why nor wherefore, looking hard at the
Looking for what?
Good God! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the
hat itself was gone! Where was the conical crown? Where the
feathers--three white, two green? Not there! In place of the hat
and feathers, what dusky object was it that now hid his forehead,
his eyes, his shading hand?
Was the bed moving?
I turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming?
giddy again? or was the top of the bed really moving
down--sinking slowly, regularly, silently, horribly, right down
throughout the whole of its length and breadth--right down upon
me, as I lay underneath?
My blood seemed to stand still. A deadly paralysing coldness
stole all over me as I turned my head round on the pillow and
determined to test whether the bed-top was really moving or not,
by keeping my eye on the man in the picture.
The next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black,
frowzy outline of the valance above me was within an inch of
being parallel with his waist. I still looked breathlessly. And
steadily and slowly--very slowly--I saw the figure, and the line
of frame below the figure, vanish, as the valance moved down
I am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more
than one occasion in peril of my life, and have not lost my
self-possession for an instant; but when the conviction first
settled on my mind that the bed-top was really moving, was
steadily and continuously sinking down upon me, I looked up
shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath the hideous
machinery for murder, which was advancing closer and closer to
suffocate me where I lay.
I looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle,
fully spent, went out; but the moonlight still brightened the
room. Down and down, without pausing and without sounding, came
the bed-top, and still my panic-terror seemed to bind me faster
and faster to the mattress on which I lay--down and down it sank,
till the dusty odor from the lining of the canopy came stealing
into my nostrils.
At that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled
me out of my trance, and I moved at last. There was just room for
me to roll myself sidewise off the bed. As I dropped noiselessly
to the floor, the edge of the murderous canopy touched me on the
Without stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat
from my face, I rose instantly on my knees to watch the bed-top.
I was literally spellbound by it. If I had heard footsteps behind
me, I could not have turned round; if a means of escape had been
miraculously provided for me, I could not have moved to take
advantage of it. The whole life in me was, at that moment,
concentrated in my eyes.
It descended--the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came
down--down--close down; so close that there was not room now to
squeeze my finger between the bed-top and the bed. I felt at the
sides, and discovered that what had appeared to me from beneath
to be the ordinary light canopy of a four-post bed was in reality
a thick, broad mattress, the substance of which was concealed by
the valance and its fringe. I looked up and saw the four posts
rising hideously bare. In the middle of the bed-top was a huge
wooden screw that had evidently worked it down through a hole in
the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked down on the
substance selected for compression. The frightful apparatus moved
without making the faintest noise. There had been no creaking as
it came down; there was now not the faintest sound from the room
above. Amid a dead and awful silence I beheld before me--in the
nineteenth century, and in the civilized capital of France--such
a machine for secret murder by suffocation as might have existed
in the worst days of the Inquisition, in the lonely inns among
the Hartz Mountains, in the mysterious tribunals of Westphalia!
Still, as I looked on it, I could not move, I could hardly
breathe, but I began to recover the power of thinking, and in a
moment I discovered the murderous conspiracy framed against me in
all its horror.
My cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I
had been saved from being smothered by having taken an overdose
of some narcotic. How I had chafed and fretted at the fever fit
which had preserved my life by keeping me awake! How recklessly I
had confided myself to the two wretches who had led me into this
room, determined, for the sake of my winnings, to kill me in my
sleep by the surest and most horrible contrivance for secretly
accomplishing my destruction! How many men, winners like me, had
I had proposed to sleep, in that bed, and had never been seen or
heard of more! I shuddered at the bare idea of it.
But, ere long, all thought was again suspended by the sight of
the murderous canopy moving once more. After it had remained on
the bed--as nearly as I could guess--about ten minutes, it began
to move up again. The villains who worked it from above evidently
believed that their purpose was now accomplished. Slowly and
silently, as it had descended, that horrible bed-top rose towards
its former place. When it reached the upper extremities of the
four posts, it reached the ceiling, too. Neither hole nor screw
could be seen; the bed became in appearance an ordinary bed
again--the canopy an ordinary canopy--even to the most suspicious
Now, for the first time, I was able to move--to rise from my
knees--to dress myself in my upper clothing--and to consider of
how I should escape. If I betrayed by the smallest noise that the
attempt to suffocate me had failed, I was certain to be murdered.
Had I made any noise already? I listened intently, looking
towards the door.
No! no footsteps in the passage outside--no sound of a tread,
light or heavy, in the room above--absolute silence everywhere.
Besides locking and bolting my door, I had moved an old wooden
chest against it, which I had found under the bed. To remove this
chest (my blood ran cold as I thought of what its contents
_might_ be!) without making some disturbance was impossible; and,
moreover, to think of escaping through the house, now barred up
for the night, was sheer insanity. Only one chance was left
me--the window. I stole to it on tiptoe.
My bedroom was on the first floor, above an _entresol,_ and
looked into a back street, which you have sketched in your view.
I raised my hand to open the window, knowing that on that action
hung, by the merest hair-breadth, my chance of safety. They keep
vigilant watch in a House of Murder. If any part of the frame
cracked, if the hinge creaked, I was a lost man! It must have
occupied me at least five minutes, reckoning by time--five
_hours,_ reckoning by suspense--to open that window. I succeeded
in doing it silently--in doing it with all the dexterity of a
house-breaker--and then looked down into the street. To leap the
distance beneath me would be almost certain destruction! Next, I
looked round at the sides of the house. Down the left side ran a
thick water-pipe which you have drawn--it passed close by the
outer edge of the window. The moment I saw the pipe I knew I was
saved. My breath came and went freely for the first time since I
had seen the canopy of the bed moving down upon me!
To some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have
seemed difficult and dangerous enough--to _me_ the prospect of
slipping down the pipe into the street did not suggest even a
thought of peril. I had always been accustomed, by the practice
of gymnastics, to keep up my school-boy powers as a daring and
expert climber; and knew that my head, hands, and feet would
serve me faithfully in any hazards of ascent or descent. I had
already got one leg over the window-sill, when I remembered the
handkerchief filled with money under my pillow. I could well have
afforded to leave it behind me, but I was revengefully determined
that the miscreants of the gambling-house should miss their
plunder as well as their victim. So I went back to the bed and
tied the heavy handkerchief at my back by my cravat.
Just as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place,
I thought I heard a sound of breathing outside the door. The
chill feeling of horror ran through me again as I listened. No!
dead silence still in the passage--I had only heard the night air
blowing softly into the room. The next moment I was on the
window-sill--and the next I had a firm grip on the water-pipe
with my hands and knees.
I slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I
should, and immediately set off at the top of my speed to a
branch "Prefecture" of Police, which I knew was situated in the
immediate neighbourhood. A "Sub-prefect," and several picked men
among his subordinates, happened to be up, maturing, I believe,
some scheme for discovering the perpetrator of a mysterious
murder which all Paris was talking of just then. When I began my
story, in a breathless hurry and in very bad French, I could see
that the Sub-prefect suspected me of being a drunken Englishman
who had robbed somebody; but he soon altered his opinion as I
went on, and before I had anything like concluded, he shoved all
the papers before him into a drawer, put on his hat, supplied me
with another (for I was bareheaded), ordered a file of soldiers,
desired his expert followers to get ready all sorts of tools for
breaking open doors and ripping up brick flooring, and took my
arm, in the most friendly and familiar manner possible, to lead
me with him out of the house. I will venture to say that when the
Sub-prefect was a little boy, and was taken for the first time to
the play, he was not half as much pleased as he was now at the
job in prospect for him at the gambling-house!
Away we went through the streets, the Sub-prefect cross-examining
and congratulating me in the same breath as we marched at the
head of our formidable _posse comitatus._ Sentinels were placed
at the back and front of the house the moment we got to it; a
tremendous battery of knocks was directed against the door; a
light appeared at a window; I was told to conceal myself behind
the police--then came more knocks and a cry of "Open in the name
of the law!" At that terrible summons bolts and locks gave way
before an invisible hand, and the moment after the Sub-prefect
was in the passage, confronting a waiter half-dressed and ghastly
pale. This was the short dialogue which immediately took place:
"We want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house?"
"He went away hours ago."
"He did no such thing. His friend went away; _he_ remained. Show
us to his bedroom!"
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefect, he is not here! he--"
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Garcon, he is. He slept here--he
didn't find your bed comfortable--he came to us to complain of
it--here he is among my men--and here am I ready to look for a
flea or two in his bedstead. Renaudin! (calling to one of the
subordinates, and pointing to the waiter) collar that man and tie
his hands behind him. Now, then, gentlemen, let us walk
Every man and woman in the house was secured--the "Old Soldier"
the first. Then I identified the bed in which I had slept, and
then we went into the room above.
No object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of
it. The Sub-prefect looked round the place, commanded everybody
to be silent, stamped twice on the floor, called for a candle,
looked attentively at the spot he had stamped on, and ordered the
flooring there to be carefully taken up. This was done in no
time. Lights were produced, and we saw a deep raftered cavity
between the floor of this room and the ceiling of the room
beneath. Through this cavity there ran perpendicularly a sort of
case of iron thickly greased; and inside the case appeared the
screw, which communicated with the bed-top below. Extra lengths
of screw, freshly oiled; levers covered with felt; all the
complete upper works of a heavy press--constructed with infernal
ingenuity so as to join the fixtures below, and when taken to
pieces again, to go into the smallest possible compass--were next
discovered and pulled out on the floor. After some little
difficulty the Sub-prefect succeeded in putting the machinery
together, and, leaving his men to work it, descended with me to
the bedroom. The smothering canopy was then lowered, but not so
noiselessly as I had seen it lowered. When I mentioned this to
the Sub-prefect, his answer, simple as it was, had a terrible
significance. "My men," said he, "are working down the bed-top
for the first time--the men whose money you won were in better
We left the house in the sole possession of two police
agents--every one of the inmates being removed to prison on the
spot. The Sub-prefect, after taking down my _"proces verbal "_ in
his office, returned with me to my hotel to get my passport. "Do
you think," I asked, as I gave it to him, "that any men have
really been smothered in that bed, as they tried to smother
"I have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the Morgue,"
answered the Sub-prefect, "in whose pocketbooks were found
letters stating that they had committed suicide in the Seine,
because they had lost everything at the gaming table. Do I know
how many of those men entered the same gambling-house that _you_
entered? won as _you_ won? took that bed as _you_ took it? slept
in it? were smothered in it? and were privately thrown into the
river, with a letter of explanation written by the murderers and
placed in their pocket-books? No man can say how many or how few
have suffered the fate from which you have escaped. The people of
the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a secret from
_us_--even from the police! The dead kept the rest of the secret
for them. Good-night, or rather good-morning, Monsieur Faulkner!
Be at my office again at nine o'clock--in the meantime, _au
The rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and
re-examined; the gambling-house was strictly searched all through
from top to bottom; the prisoners were separately interrogated;
and two of the less guilty among them made a confession. I
discovered that the Old Soldier was the master of the
gambling-house--_justice_ discovered that he had been drummed out
of the army as a vagabond years ago; that he had been guilty of
all sorts of villainies since; that he was in possession of
stolen property, which the owners identified; and that he, the
croupier, another accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup
of coffee, were all in the secret of the bedstead. There appeared
some reason to doubt whether the inferior persons attached to the
house knew anything of the suffocating machinery; and they
received the benefit of that doubt, by being treated simply as
thieves and vagabonds. As for the Old Soldier and his two head
myrmidons, they went to the galleys; the woman who had drugged my
coffee was imprisoned for I forget how many years; the regular
attendants at the gambling-house were considered "suspicious" and
placed under "surveillance"; and I became, for one whole week
(which is a long time) the head "lion" in Parisian society. My
adventure was dramatized by three illustrious play-makers, but
never saw theatrical daylight; for the censorship forbade the
introduction on the stage of a correct copy of the gambling-house
One good result was produced by my adventure, which any
censorship must have approved: it cured me of ever again trying
_"Rouge et Noir"_ as an amusement. The sight of a green cloth,
with packs of cards and heaps of money on it, will henceforth be
forever associated in my mind with the sight of a bed canopy
descending to suffocate me in the silence and darkness of the
Just as Mr. Faulkner pronounced these words he started in his
chair, and resumed his stiff, dignified position in a great
hurry. "Bless my soul!" cried he, with a comic look of
astonishment and vexation, "while I have been telling you what is
the real secret of my interest in the sketch you have so kindly
given to me, I have altogether forgotten that I came here to sit
for my portrait. For the last hour or more I must have been the
worst model you ever had to draw from!"
"On the contrary, you have been the best," said I. "I have been
trying to catch your likeness; and, while telling your story, you
have unconsciously shown me the natural expression I wanted to
insure my success."
NOTE BY MRS. KERBY.
I cannot let this story end without mentioning what the chance
saying was which caused it to be told at the farmhouse the other
night. Our friend the young sailor, among his other quaint
objections to sleeping on shore, declared that he particularly
hated four-post beds, because he never slept in one without
doubting whether the top might not come down in the night and
suffocate him. I thought this chance reference to the
distinguishing feature of William's narrative curious enough, and
my husband agreed with me. But he says it is scarcely worth while
to mention such a trifle in anything so important as a book. I
cannot venture, after this, to do more than slip these lines in
modestly at the end of the story. If the printer should notice my
few last words, perhaps he may not mind the trouble of putting
them into some out-of-the-way corner.
PROLOGUE TO THE SECOND STORY.
THE beginning of an excellent connection which I succeeded in
establishing in and around that respectable watering-place,
Tidbury-on-the-Marsh, was an order for a life-size oil portrait
of a great local celebrity--one Mr. Boxsious, a solicitor, who
was understood to do the most thriving business of any lawyer in
The portrait was intended as a testimonial "expressive (to use
the language of the circular forwarded to me at the time) of the
eminent services of Mr. Boxsious in promoting and securing the
prosperity of the town." It had been subscribed for by the
"Municipal Authorities and Resident Inhabitants" of
Tidbury-on-the-Marsh; and it was to be presented, when done, to
Mrs. Boxsious, "as a slight but sincere token"--and so forth. A
timely recommendation from one of my kindest friends and patrons
placed the commission for painting the likeness in my lucky
hands; and I was instructed to attend on a certain day at Mr.
Boxsious's private residence, with all my materials ready for
taking a first sitting.
On arriving at the house, I was shown into a very prettily
furnished morning-room. The bow-window looked out on a large
inclosed meadow, which represented the principal square in
Tidbury. On the opposite side of the meadow I could see the new
hotel (with a wing lately added), and close by, the old hotel
obstinately unchanged since it had first been built. Then,
further down the street, the doctor's house, with a colored lamp
and a small door-plate, and the banker's office, with a plain
lamp and a big door-plate--then some dreary private
lodging-houses--then, at right angles to these, a street of
shops; the cheese-monger's very small, the chemist's very smart,
the pastry-cook's very dowdy, and the green-grocer's very dark, I
was still looking out at the view thus presented, when I was
suddenly apostrophized by a glib, disputatious voice behind me.
"Now, then, Mr. Artist," cried the voice, "do you call that
getting ready for work? Where are your paints and brushes, and
all the rest of it? My name's Boxsious, and I'm here to sit for
I turned round, and confronted a little man with his legs
astraddle, and his hands in his pockets. He had light-gray eyes,
red all round the lids, bristling pepper-colored hair, an
unnaturally rosy complexion, and an eager, impudent, clever look.
I made two discoveries in one glance at him: First, that he was a
wretched subject for a portrait; secondly, that, whatever he
might do or say, it would not be of the least use for me to stand
on my dignity with him.
"I shall be ready directly, sir, " said I.
"Ready directly?" repeated my new sitter. "What do you mean, Mr.
Artist, by ready directly? I'm ready now. What was your contract
with the Town Council, who have subscribed for this picture? To
paint the portrait. And what was my contract? To sit for it. Here
am I ready to sit, and there are you not ready to paint me.
According to all the rules of law and logic, you are committing a
breach of contract already. Stop! let's have a look at your
paints. Are they the best quality? If not, I warn you, sir,
there's a second breach of contract! Brushes, too? Why, they're
old brushes, by the Lord Harry! The Town Council pays you well,
Mr. Artist; why don't you work for them with new brushes? What?
you work best with old? I contend, sir, that you can't. Does my
housemaid clean best with an old broom? Do my clerks write best
with old pens? Don't color up, and don't look as if you were
going to quarrel with me! You can't quarrel with me. If you were
fifty times as irritable a man as you look, you couldn't quarrel
with me. I'm not young, and I'm not touc hy--I'm Boxsious, the
lawyer; the only man in the world who can't be insulted, try it
how you like!"
He chuckled as he said this, and walked away to the window. It
was quite useless to take anything he said seriously, so I
finished preparing my palette for the morning's work with the
utmost serenity of look and manner that I could possibly assume.
"There!" he went on, looking out of the window; "do you see that
fat man slouching along the Parade, with a snuffy nose? That's my
favorite enemy, Dunball. He tried to quarrel with me ten years
ago, and he has done nothing but bring out the hidden benevolence
of my character ever since. Look at him! look how he frowns as he
turns this way. And now look at me! I can smile and nod to him. I
make a point of always smiling and nodding to him--it keeps my
hand in for other enemies. Good-morning! (I've cast him twice in
heavy damages) good-morning, Mr. Dunball. He bears malice, you
see; he won't speak; he's short in the neck, passionate, and four
times as fat as he ought to be; he has fought against my
amiability for ten mortal years; when he can't fight any longer,
he'll die suddenly, and I shall be the innocent cause of it."
Mr. Boxsious uttered this fatal prophecy with extraordinary
complacency, nodding and smiling out of the window all the time
at the unfortunate man who had rashly tried to provoke him. When
his favorite enemy was out of sight, he turned away, and indulged
himself in a brisk turn or two up and down the room. Meanwhile I
lifted my canvas on the easel, and was on the point of asking him
to sit down, when he assailed me again.
"Now, Mr. Artist," he cried, quickening his walk impatiently, "in
the interests of the Town Council, your employers, allow me to
ask you for the last time when you are going to begin?"
"And allow me, Mr. Boxsious, in the interest of the Town Council
also," said I, "to ask you if your notion of the proper way of
sitting for your portrait is to walk about the room!"
"Aha! well put--devilish well put!" returned Mr. Boxsious;
"that's the only sensible thing you have said since you entered
my house; I begin to like you already." With these words he
nodded at me approvingly, and jumped into the high chair that I
had placed for him with the alacrity of a young man.
"I say, Mr. Artist," he went on, when I had put him into the
right position (he insisted on the front view of his face being
taken, because the Town Council would get the most for their
money in that way), "you don't have many such good jobs as this,
"Not many," I said. "I should not be a poor man if commissions
for life-size portraits often fell in my way."
"You poor!" exclaimed Mr. Boxsious, contemptuously. "I dispute
that point with you at the outset. Why, you've got a good cloth
coat, a clean shirt, and a smooth-shaved chin. You've got the
sleek look of a man who has slept between sheets and had his
breakfast. You can't humbug me about poverty, for I know what it
is. Poverty means looking like a scarecrow, feeling like a
scarecrow, and getting treated like a scarecrow. That was _my_
luck, let me tell you, when I first thought of trying the law.
Poverty, indeed! Do you shake in your shoes, Mr. Artist, when you
think what you were at twenty? I do, I can promise you."
He began to shift about so irritably in his chair, that, in the
interests of my work, I was obliged to make an effort to calm
"It must be a pleasant occupation for you in your present
prosperity," said I, "to look back sometimes at the gradual
processes by which you passed from poverty to competence, and
from that to the wealth you now enjoy."
"Gradual, did you say?" cried Mr. Boxsious; "it wasn't gradual at
all. I was sharp--damned sharp, and I jumped at my first start in
business slap into five hundred pounds in one day."
"That was an extraordinary step in advance," I rejoined. "I
suppose you contrived to make some profitable investment--"
"Not a bit of it! I hadn't a spare sixpence to invest with. I won
the money by my brains, my hands, and my pluck; and, what's more,
I'm proud of having done it. That was rather a curious case, Mr.
Artist. Some men might be shy of mentioning it; I never was shy
in my life and I mention it right and left everywhere--the whole
case, just as it happened, except the names. Catch me ever
committing myself to mentioning names! Mum's the word, sir, with
yours to command, Thomas Boxsious."
"As you mention 'the case' everywhere," said I, "perhaps you
would not be offended with me if I told you I should like to hear
"Man alive! haven't I told you already that I can't be offended?
And didn't I say a moment ago that I was proud of the case? I'll
tell you, Mr. Artist--but stop! I've got the interests of the
Town Council to look after in this business. Can you paint as
well when I'm talking as when I'm not? Don't sneer, sir; you're
not wanted to sneer--you're wanted to give an answer--yes or no?"
"Yes, then," I replied, in his own sharp way. "I can always paint
the better when I am hearing an interesting story."
"What do you mean by talking about a story? I'm not going to tell
you a story; I'm going to make a statement. A statement is a
matter of fact, therefore the exact opposite of a story, which is
a matter of fiction. What I am now going to tell you really
happened to me."
I was glad to see that he settled himself quietly in his chair
before he began. His odd manners and language made such an
impression on me at the time, that I think I can repeat his
"statement" now, almost word for word as he addressed it to me.
THE LAWYER'S STORY
A STOLEN LETTER.
I SERVED my time--never mind in whose office--and I started in
business for myself in one of our English country towns, I
decline stating which. I hadn't a farthing of capital, and my
friends in the neighborhood were poor and useless enough, with
one exception. That exception was Mr. Frank Gatliffe, son of Mr.
Gatliffe, member for the county, the richest man and the proudest
for many a mile round about our parts. Stop a bit, Mr. Artist,
you needn't perk up and look knowing. You won't trace any
particulars by the name of Gatliffe. I'm not bound to commit
myself or anybody else by mentioning names. I have given you the
first that came into my head.
Well, Mr. Frank was a stanch friend of mine, and ready to
recommend me whenever he got the chance. I had contrived to get
him a little timely help--for a consideration, of course--in
borrowing money at a fair rate of interest; in fact, I had saved
him from the Jews. The money was borrowed while Mr. Frank was at
college. He came back from college, and stopped at home a little