Part 2 out of 5
'Do you not see,' returned the young lady, 'that by these words you
have removed my last hesitation? Take them.' And she thrust the
notes into the young man's hand.
He sat so long, holding them, like a baby at the font, that Miss
Fonblanque once more bubbled into laughter.
'Pray,' she said, 'hesitate no further; put them in your pocket;
and to relieve our position of any shadow of embarrassment, tell me
by what name I am to address my knight-errant, for I find myself
reduced to the awkwardness of the pronoun.'
Had borrowing been in question, the wisdom of our ancestors had
come lightly to the young man's aid; but upon what pretext could he
refuse so generous a trust? Upon none he saw, that was not
unpardonably wounding; and the bright eyes and the high spirits of
his companion had already made a breach in the rampart of
Challoner's caution. The whole thing, he reasoned, might be a mere
mystification, which it were the height of solemn folly to resent.
On the other hand, the explosion, the interview at the public-
house, and the very money in his hands, seemed to prove beyond
denial the existence of some serious danger; and if that were so,
could he desert her? There was a choice of risks: the risk of
behaving with extraordinary incivility and unhandsomeness to a
lady, and the risk of going on a fool's errand. The story seemed
false; but then the money was undeniable. The whole circumstances
were questionable and obscure; but the lady was charming, and had
the speech and manners of society. While he still hung in the
wind, a recollection returned upon his mind with some of the
dignity of prophecy. Had he not promised Somerset to break with
the traditions of the commonplace, and to accept the first
adventure offered? Well, here was the adventure.
He thrust the money into his pocket.
'My name is Challoner,' said he.
'Mr. Challoner,' she replied, 'you have come very generously to my
aid when all was against me. Though I am myself a very humble
person, my family commands great interest; and I do not think you
will repent this handsome action.'
Challoner flushed with pleasure.
'I imagine that, perhaps, a consulship,' she added, her eyes
dwelling on him with a judicial admiration, 'a consulship in some
great town or capital--or else--But we waste time; let us set about
the work of my delivery.'
She took his arm with a frank confidence that went to his heart;
and once more laying by all serious thoughts, she entertained him,
as they crossed the park, with her agreeable gaiety of mind. Near
the Marble Arch they found a hansom, which rapidly conveyed them to
the terminus at Euston Square; and here, in the hotel, they sat
down to an excellent breakfast. The young lady's first step was to
call for writing materials and write, upon one corner of the table,
a hasty note; still, as she did so, glancing with smiles at her
companion. 'Here,' said she, 'here is the letter which will
introduce you to my cousin.' She began to fold the paper. 'My
cousin, although I have never seen her, has the character of a very
charming woman and a recognised beauty; of that I know nothing, but
at least she has been very kind to me; so has my lord her father;
so have you--kinder than all--kinder than I can bear to think of.'
She said this with unusual emotion; and, at the same time, sealed
the envelope. 'Ah!' she cried, 'I have shut my letter! It is not
quite courteous; and yet, as between friends, it is perhaps better
so. I introduce you, after all, into a family secret; and though
you and I are already old comrades, you are still unknown to my
uncle. You go then to this address, Richard Street, Glasgow; go,
please, as soon as you arrive; and give this letter with your own
hands into those of Miss Fonblanque, for that is the name by which
she is to pass. When we next meet, you will tell me what you think
of her,' she added, with a touch of the provocative.
'Ah,' said Challoner, almost tenderly, 'she can be nothing to me.'
'You do not know,' replied the young lady, with a sigh. 'By-the-
bye, I had forgotten--it is very childish, and I am almost ashamed
to mention it--but when you see Miss Fonblanque, you will have to
make yourself a little ridiculous; and I am sure the part in no way
suits you. We had agreed upon a watchword. You will have to
address an earl's daughter in these words: "NIGGER, NIGGER, NEVER
DIE;" but reassure yourself,' she added, laughing, 'for the fair
patrician will at once finish the quotation. Come now, say your
'"Nigger, nigger, never die,"' repeated Challoner, with undisguised
Miss Fonblanque went into fits of laughter. 'Excellent,' said she,
'it will be the most humorous scene.' And she laughed again.
'And what will be the counterword?' asked Challoner stiffly.
'I will not tell you till the last moment,' said she; 'for I
perceive you are growing too imperious.'
Breakfast over, she accompanied the young man to the platform,
bought him the Graphic, the Athenaeum, and a paper-cutter, and
stood on the step conversing till the whistle sounded. Then she
put her head into the carriage. 'BLACK FACE AND SHINING EYE!' she
whispered, and instantly leaped down upon the platform, with a
thrill of gay and musical laughter. As the train steamed out of
the great arch of glass, the sound of that laughter still rang in
the young man's ears.
Challoner's position was too unusual to be long welcome to his
mind. He found himself projected the whole length of England, on a
mission beset with obscure and ridiculous circumstances, and yet,
by the trust he had accepted, irrevocably bound to persevere. How
easy it appeared, in the retrospect, to have refused the whole
proposal, returned the money, and gone forth again upon his own
affairs, a free and happy man! And it was now impossible: the
enchantress who had held him with her eye had now disappeared,
taking his honour in pledge; and as she had failed to leave him an
address, he was denied even the inglorious safety of retreat. To
use the paper-knife, or even to read the periodicals with which she
had presented him, was to renew the bitterness of his remorse; and
as he was alone in the compartment, he passed the day staring at
the landscape in impotent repentance, and long before he was landed
on the platform of St. Enoch's, had fallen to the lowest and
coldest zones of self-contempt.
As he was hungry, and elegant in his habits, he would have
preferred to dine and to remove the stains of travel; but the words
of the young lady, and his own impatient eagerness, would suffer no
delay. In the late, luminous, and lamp-starred dusk of the summer
evening, he accordingly set forward with brisk steps.
The street to which he was directed had first seen the day in the
character of a row of small suburban villas on a hillside; but the
extension of the city had long since, and on every hand, surrounded
it with miles of streets. From the top of the hill a range of very
tall buildings, densely inhabited by the poorest classes of the
population and variegated by drying-poles from every second window,
overplumbed the villas and their little gardens like a sea-board
cliff. But still, under the grime of years of city smoke, these
antiquated cottages, with their venetian blinds and rural
porticoes, retained a somewhat melancholy savour of the past.
The street when Challoner entered it was perfectly deserted. From
hard by, indeed, the sound of a thousand footfalls filled the ear;
but in Richard Street itself there was neither light nor sound of
human habitation. The appearance of the neighbourhood weighed
heavily on the mind of the young man; once more, as in the streets
of London, he was impressed with the sense of city deserts; and as
he approached the number indicated, and somewhat falteringly rang
the bell, his heart sank within him.
The bell was ancient, like the house; it had a thin and garrulous
note; and it was some time before it ceased to sound from the rear
quarters of the building. Following upon this an inner door was
stealthily opened, and careful and catlike steps drew near along
the hall. Challoner, supposing he was to be instantly admitted,
produced his letter, and, as well as he was able, prepared a
smiling face. To his indescribable surprise, however, the
footsteps ceased, and then, after a pause and with the like
stealthiness, withdrew once more, and died away in the interior of
the house. A second time the young man rang violently at the bell;
a second time, to his keen hearkening, a certain bustle of discreet
footing moved upon the hollow boards of the old villa; and again
the fainthearted garrison only drew near to retreat. The cup of
the visitor's endurance was now full to overflowing; and,
committing the whole family of Fonblanque to every mood and shade
of condemnation, he turned upon his heel and redescended the steps.
Perhaps the mover in the house was watching from a window, and
plucked up courage at the sight of this desistance; or perhaps,
where he lurked trembling in the back parts of the villa, reason in
its own right had conquered his alarms. Challoner, at least, had
scarce set foot upon the pavement when he was arrested by the sound
of the withdrawal of an inner bolt; one followed another, rattling
in their sockets; the key turned harshly in the lock; the door
opened; and there appeared upon the threshold a man of a very
stalwart figure in his shirt sleeves. He was a person neither of
great manly beauty nor of a refined exterior; he was not the man,
in ordinary moods, to attract the eyes of the observer; but as he
now stood in the doorway, he was marked so legibly with the extreme
passion of terror that Challoner stood wonder-struck. For a
fraction of a minute they gazed upon each other in silence; and
then the man of the house, with ashen lips and gasping voice,
inquired the business of his visitor. Challoner replied, in tones
from which he strove to banish his surprise, that he was the bearer
of a letter to a certain Miss Fonblanque. At this name, as at a
talisman, the man fell back and impatiently invited him to enter;
and no sooner had the adventurer crossed the threshold, than the
door was closed behind him and his retreat cut off.
It was already long past eight at night; and though the late
twilight of the north still lingered in the streets, in the passage
it was already groping dark. The man led Challoner directly to a
parlour looking on the garden to the back. Here he had apparently
been supping; for by the light of a tallow dip the table was seen
to be covered with a napkin, and set out with a quart of bottled
ale and the heel of a Gouda cheese. The room, on the other hand,
was furnished with faded solidity, and the walls were lined with
scholarly and costly volumes in glazed cases. The house must have
been taken furnished; for it had no congruity with this man of the
shirt sleeves and the mean supper. As for the earl's daughter, the
earl and the visionary consulships in foreign cities, they had long
ago begun to fade in Challoner's imagination. Like Doctor Grierson
and the Mormon angels, they were plainly woven of the stuff of
dreams. Not an illusion remained to the knight-errant; not a hope
was left him, but to be speedily relieved from this disreputable
The man had continued to regard his visitor with undisguised
anxiety, and began once more to press him for his errand.
'I am here,' said Challoner, 'simply to do a service between two
ladies; and I must ask you, without further delay, to summon Miss
Fonblanque, into whose hands alone I am authorised to deliver the
letter that I bear.'
A growing wonder began to mingle on the man's face with the lines
of solicitude. 'I am Miss Fonblanque,' he said; and then,
perceiving the effect of this communication, 'Good God!' he cried,
'what are you staring at? I tell you, I am Miss Fonblanque.'
Seeing the speaker wore a chin-beard of considerable length, and
the remainder of his face was blue with shaving, Challoner could
only suppose himself the subject of a jest. He was no longer under
the spell of the young lady's presence; and with men, and above all
with his inferiors, he was capable of some display of spirit.
'Sir,' said he, pretty roundly, 'I have put myself to great
inconvenience for persons of whom I know too little, and I begin to
be weary of the business. Either you shall immediately summon Miss
Fonblanque, or I leave this house and put myself under the
direction of the police.'
'This is horrible!' exclaimed the man. 'I declare before Heaven I
am the person meant, but how shall I convince you? It must have
been Clara, I perceive, that sent you on this errand--a madwoman,
who jests with the most deadly interests; and here we are
incapable, perhaps, of an agreement, and Heaven knows what may
depend on our delay!'
He spoke with a really startling earnestness; and at the same time
there flashed upon the mind of Challoner the ridiculous jingle
which was to serve as password. 'This may, perhaps, assist you,'
he said, and then, with some embarrassment, '"Nigger, nigger, never
A light of relief broke upon the troubled countenance of the man
with the chin-beard. '"Black face and shining eye"--give me the
letter,' he panted, in one gasp.
'Well,' said Challoner, though still with some reluctance, 'I
suppose I must regard you as the proper recipient; and though I may
justly complain of the spirit in which I have been treated, I am
only too glad to be done with all responsibility. Here it is,' and
he produced the envelope.
The man leaped upon it like a beast, and with hands that trembled
in a manner painful to behold, tore it open and unfolded the
letter. As he read, terror seemed to mount upon him to the pitch
of nightmare. He struck one hand upon his brow, while with the
other, as if unconsciously, he crumpled the paper to a ball. 'My
gracious powers!' he cried; and then, dashing to the window, which
stood open on the garden, he clapped forth his head and shoulders,
and whistled long and shrill. Challoner fell back into a corner,
and resolutely grasping his staff, prepared for the most desperate
events; but the thoughts of the man with the chin-beard were far
removed from violence. Turning again into the room, and once more
beholding his visitor, whom he appeared to have forgotten, he
fairly danced with trepidation. 'Impossible!' he cried. 'Oh,
quite impossible! O Lord, I have lost my head.' And then, once
more striking his hand upon his brow, 'The money!' he exclaimed.
'Give me the money.'
'My good friend,' replied Challoner, 'this is a very painful
exhibition; and until I see you reasonably master of yourself, I
decline to proceed with any business.'
'You are quite right,' said the man. 'I am of a very nervous
habit; a long course of the dumb ague has undermined my
constitution. But I know you have money; it may be still the
saving of me; and oh, dear young gentleman, in pity's name be
expeditious!' Challoner, sincerely uneasy as he was, could scarce
refrain from laughter; but he was himself in a hurry to be gone,
and without more delay produced the money. 'You will find the sum,
I trust, correct,' he observed 'and let me ask you to give me a
But the man heeded him not. He seized the money, and disregarding
the sovereigns that rolled loose upon the floor, thrust the bundle
of notes into his pocket.
'A receipt,' repeated Challoner, with some asperity. 'I insist on
'Receipt?' repeated the man, a little wildly. 'A receipt?
Immediately! Await me here.'
Challoner, in reply, begged the gentleman to lose no unnecessary
time, as he was himself desirous of catching a particular train.
'Ah, by God, and so am I!' exclaimed the man with the chin-beard;
and with that he was gone out of the room, and had rattled
upstairs, four at a time, to the upper story of the villa.
'This is certainly a most amazing business,' thought Challoner;
'certainly a most disquieting affair; and I cannot conceal from
myself that I have become mixed up with either lunatics or
malefactors. I may truly thank my stars that I am so nearly and so
creditably done with it.' Thus thinking, and perhaps remembering
the episode of the whistle, he turned to the open window. The
garden was still faintly clear; he could distinguish the stairs and
terraces with which the small domain had been adorned by former
owners, and the blackened bushes and dead trees that had once
afforded shelter to the country birds; beyond these he saw the
strong retaining wall, some thirty feet in height, which enclosed
the garden to the back; and again above that, the pile of dingy
buildings rearing its frontage high into the night. A peculiar
object lying stretched upon the lawn for some time baffled his
eyesight; but at length he had made it out to be a long ladder, or
series of ladders bound into one; and he was still wondering of
what service so great an instrument could be in such a scant
enclosure, when he was recalled to himself by the noise of some one
running violently down the stairs. This was followed by the
sudden, clamorous banging of the house door; and that again, by
rapid and retreating footsteps in the street.
Challoner sprang into the passage. He ran from room to room,
upstairs and downstairs; and in that old dingy and worm-eaten
house, he found himself alone. Only in one apartment, looking to
the front, were there any traces of the late inhabitant: a bed
that had been recently slept in and not made, a chest of drawers
disordered by a hasty search, and on the floor a roll of crumpled
paper. This he picked up. The light in this upper story looking
to the front was considerably brighter than in the parlour; and he
was able to make out that the paper bore the mark of the hotel at
Euston, and even, by peering closely, to decipher the following
lines in a very elegant and careful female hand:
'DEAR M'GUIRE,--It is certain your retreat is known. We have just
had another failure, clockwork thirty hours too soon, with the
usual humiliating result. Zero is quite disheartened. We are all
scattered, and I could find no one but the SOLEMN ASS who brings
you this and the money. I would love to see your meeting.--Ever
Challoner was stricken to the heart. He perceived by what
facility, by what unmanly fear of ridicule, he had been brought
down to be the gull of this intriguer; and his wrath flowed forth
in almost equal measure against himself, against the woman, and
against Somerset, whose idle counsels had impelled him to embark on
that adventure. At the same time a great and troubled curiosity,
and a certain chill of fear, possessed his spirit. The conduct of
the man with the chin-beard, the terms of the letter, and the
explosion of the early morning, fitted together like parts in some
obscure and mischievous imbroglio. Evil was certainly afoot; evil,
secrecy, terror, and falsehood were the conditions and the passions
of the people among whom he had begun to move, like a blind puppet;
and he who began as a puppet, his experience told him, was often
doomed to perish as a victim.
From the stupor of deep thought into which he had glided with the
letter in his hand, he was awakened by the clatter of the bell. He
glanced from the window; and, conceive his horror and surprise when
he beheld, clustered on the steps, in the front garden and on the
pavement of the street, a formidable posse of police! He started
to the full possession of his powers and courage. Escape, and
escape at any cost, was the one idea that possessed him. Swiftly
and silently he redescended the creaking stairs; he was already in
the passage when a second and more imperious summons from the door
awoke the echoes of the empty house; nor had the bell ceased to
jangle before he had bestridden the window-sill of the parlour and
was lowering himself into the garden. His coat was hooked upon the
iron flower-basket; for a moment he hung dependent heels and head
below; and then, with the noise of rending cloth, and followed by
several pots, he dropped upon the sod. Once more the bell was
rung, and now with furious and repeated peals. The desperate
Challoner turned his eyes on every side. They fell upon the
ladder, and he ran to it, and with strenuous but unavailing effort
sought to raise it from the ground. Suddenly the weight, which was
thus resisting his whole strength, began to lighten in his hands;
the ladder, like a thing of life, reared its bulk from off the sod;
and Challoner, leaping back with a cry of almost superstitious
terror, beheld the whole structure mount, foot by foot, against the
face of the retaining wall. At the same time, two heads were dimly
visible above the parapet, and he was hailed by a guarded whistle.
Something in its modulation recalled, like an echo, the whistle of
the man with the chin-beard,
Had he chanced upon a means of escape prepared beforehand by those
very miscreants whose messenger and gull he had become? Was this,
indeed, a means of safety, or but the starting-point of further
complication and disaster? He paused not to reflect. Scarce was
the ladder reared to its full length than he had sprung already on
the rounds; hand over hand, swift as an ape, he scaled the
tottering stairway. Strong arms received, embraced, and helped
him; he was lifted and set once more upon the earth; and with the
spasm of his alarm yet unsubsided, found himself in the company of
two rough-looking men, in the paved back yard of one of the tall
houses that crowned the summit of the hill. Meanwhile, from below,
the note of the bell had been succeeded by the sound of vigorous
and redoubling blows.
'Are you all out?' asked one of his companions; and, as soon as he
had babbled an answer in the affirmative, the rope was cut from the
top round, and the ladder thrust roughly back into the garden,
where it fell and broke with clattering reverberations. Its fall
was hailed with many broken cries; for the whole of Richard Street
was now in high emotion, the people crowding to the windows or
clambering on the garden walls. The same man who had already
addressed Challoner seized him by the arm; whisked him through the
basement of the house and across the street upon the other side;
and before the unfortunate adventurer had time to realise his
situation, a door was opened, and he was thrust into a low and dark
'Bedad,' observed his guide, 'there was no time to lose. Is
M'Guire gone, or was it you that whistled?
'M'Guire is gone,' said Challoner.
The guide now struck a light. 'Ah,' said he, 'this will never do.
You dare not go upon the streets in such a figure. Wait quietly
here and I will bring you something decent.'
With that the man was gone, and Challoner, his attention thus
rudely awakened, began ruefully to consider the havoc that had been
worked in his attire. His hat was gone; his trousers were cruelly
ripped; and the best part of one tail of his very elegant frockcoat
had been left hanging from the iron crockets of the window. He had
scarce had time to measure these disasters when his host re-entered
the apartment and proceeded, without a word, to envelop the refined
and urbane Challoner in a long ulster of the cheapest material, and
of a pattern so gross and vulgar that his spirit sickened at the
sight. This calumnious disguise was crowned and completed by a
soft felt hat of the Tyrolese design, and several sizes too small.
At another moment Challoner would simply have refused to issue
forth upon the world thus travestied; but the desire to escape from
Glasgow was now too strongly and too exclusively impressed upon his
mind. With one haggard glance at the spotted tails of his new
coat, he inquired what was to pay for this accoutrement. The man
assured him that the whole expense was easily met from funds in his
possession, and begged him, instead of wasting time, to make his
best speed out of the neighbourhood.
The young man was not loath to take the hint. True to his usual
courtesy, he thanked the speaker and complimented him upon his
taste in greatcoats; and leaving the man somewhat abashed by these
remarks and the manner of their delivery, he hurried forth into the
lamplit city. The last train was gone ere, after many deviations,
he had reached the terminus. Attired as he was he dared not
present himself at any reputable inn; and he felt keenly that the
unassuming dignity of his demeanour would serve to attract
attention, perhaps mirth and possibly suspicion, in any humbler
hostelry. He was thus condemned to pass the solemn and uneventful
hours of a whole night in pacing the streets of Glasgow;
supperless; a figure of fun for all beholders; waiting the dawn,
with hope indeed, but with unconquerable shrinkings; and above all
things, filled with a profound sense of the folly and weakness of
his conduct. It may be conceived with what curses he assailed the
memory of the fair narrator of Hyde Park; her parting laughter rang
in his ears all night with damning mockery and iteration; and when
he could spare a thought from this chief artificer of his
confusion, it was to expend his wrath on Somerset and the career of
the amateur detective. With the coming of day, he found in a shy
milk-shop the means to appease his hunger. There were still many
hours to wait before the departure of the South express; these he
passed wandering with indescribable fatigue in the obscurer by-
streets of the city; and at length slipped quietly into the station
and took his place in the darkest corner of a third-class carriage.
Here, all day long, he jolted on the bare boards, distressed by
heat and continually reawakened from uneasy slumbers. By the half
return ticket in his purse, he was entitled to make the journey on
the easy cushions and with the ample space of the first-class; but
alas! in his absurd attire, he durst not, for decency, commingle
with his equals; and this small annoyance, coming last in such a
series of disasters, cut him to the heart.
That night, when, in his Putney lodging, he reviewed the expense,
anxiety, and weariness of his adventure; when he beheld the ruins
of his last good trousers and his last presentable coat; and above
all, when his eye by any chance alighted on the Tyrolese hat or the
degrading ulster, his heart would overflow with bitterness, and it
was only by a serious call on his philosophy that he maintained the
dignity of his demeanour.
SOMERSET'S ADVENTURE: THE SUPERFLUOUS MANSION
Mr. Paul Somerset was a young gentleman of a lively and fiery
imagination, with very small capacity for action. He was one who
lived exclusively in dreams and in the future: the creature of his
own theories, and an actor in his own romances. From the cigar
divan he proceeded to parade the streets, still heated with the
fire of his eloquence, and scouting upon every side for the offer
of some fortunate adventure. In the continual stream of passers-
by, on the sealed fronts of houses, on the posters that covered the
hoardings, and in every lineament and throb of the great city, he
saw a mysterious and hopeful hieroglyph. But although the elements
of adventure were streaming by him as thick as drops of water in
the Thames, it was in vain that, now with a beseeching, now with
something of a braggadocio air, he courted and provoked the notice
of the passengers; in vain that, putting fortune to the touch, he
even thrust himself into the way and came into direct collision
with those of the more promising demeanour. Persons brimful of
secrets, persons pining for affection, persons perishing for lack
of help or counsel, he was sure he could perceive on every side;
but by some contrariety of fortune, each passed upon his way
without remarking the young gentleman, and went farther (surely to
fare worse!) in quest of the confidant, the friend, or the adviser.
To thousands he must have turned an appealing countenance, and yet
not one regarded him.
A light dinner, eaten to the accompaniment of his impetuous
aspirations, broke in upon the series of his attempts on fortune;
and when he returned to the task, the lamps were already lighted,
and the nocturnal crowd was dense upon the pavement. Before a
certain restaurant, whose name will readily occur to any student of
our Babylon, people were already packed so closely that passage had
grown difficult; and Somerset, standing in the kennel, watched,
with a hope that was beginning to grow somewhat weary, the faces
and the manners of the crowd. Suddenly he was startled by a gentle
touch upon the shoulder, and facing about, he was aware of a very
plain and elegant brougham, drawn by a pair of powerful horses, and
driven by a man in sober livery. There were no arms upon the
panel; the window was open, but the interior was obscure; the
driver yawned behind his palm; and the young man was already
beginning to suppose himself the dupe of his own fancy, when a
hand, no larger than a child's and smoothly gloved in white,
appeared in a corner of the window and privily beckoned him to
approach. He did so, and looked in. The carriage was occupied by
a single small and very dainty figure, swathed head and shoulders
in impenetrable folds of white lace; and a voice, speaking low and
silvery, addressed him in these words -
'Open the door and get in.'
'It must be,' thought the young man with an almost unbearable
thrill, 'it must be that duchess at last!' Yet, although the
moment was one to which he had long looked forward, it was with a
certain share of alarm that he opened the door, and, mounting into
the brougham, took his seat beside the lady of the lace. Whether
or no she had touched a spring, or given some other signal, the
young man had hardly closed the door before the carriage, with
considerable swiftness, and with a very luxurious and easy movement
on its springs, turned and began to drive towards the west.
Somerset, as I have written, was not unprepared; it had long been
his particular pleasure to rehearse his conduct in the most
unlikely situations; and this, among others, of the patrician
ravisher, was one he had familiarly studied. Strange as it may
seem, however, he could find no apposite remark; and as the lady,
on her side, vouchsafed no further sign, they continued to drive in
silence through the streets. Except for alternate flashes from the
passing lamps, the carriage was plunged in obscurity; and beyond
the fact that the fittings were luxurious, and that the lady was
singularly small and slender in person, and, all but one gloved
hand, still swathed in her costly veil, the young man could
decipher no detail of an inspiring nature. The suspense began to
grow unbearable. Twice he cleared his throat, and twice the whole
resources of the language failed him. In similar scenes, when he
had forecast them on the theatre of fancy, his presence of mind had
always been complete, his eloquence remarkable; and at this
disparity between the rehearsal and the performance, he began to be
seized with a panic of apprehension. Here, on the very threshold
of adventure, suppose him ignominiously to fail; suppose that after
ten, twenty, or sixty seconds of still uninterrupted silence, the
lady should touch the check-string and re-deposit him, weighed and
found wanting, on the common street! Thousands of persons of no
mind at all, he reasoned, would be found more equal to the part;
could, that very instant, by some decisive step, prove the lady's
choice to have been well inspired, and put a stop to this
His eye, at this point, lighted on the hand. It was better to fall
by desperate councils than to continue as he was; and with one
tremulous swoop he pounced on the gloved fingers and drew them to
himself. One overt step, it had appeared to him, would dissolve
the spell of his embarrassment; in act, he found it otherwise: he
found himself no less incapable of speech or further progress; and
with the lady's hand in his, sat helpless. But worse was in store.
A peculiar quivering began to agitate the form of his companion;
the hand that lay unresistingly in Somerset's trembled as with
ague; and presently there broke forth, in the shadow of the
carriage, the bubbling and musical sound of laughter, resisted but
triumphant. The young man dropped his prize; had it been possible,
he would have bounded from the carriage. The lady, meanwhile,
lying back upon the cushions, passed on from trill to trill of the
most heartfelt, high-pitched, clear and fairy-sounding merriment.
'You must not be offended,' she said at last, catching an
opportunity between two paroxysms. 'If you have been mistaken in
the warmth of your attentions, the fault is solely mine; it does
not flow from your presumption, but from my eccentric manner of
recruiting friends; and, believe me, I am the last person in the
world to think the worse of a young man for showing spirit. As for
to-night, it is my intention to entertain you to a little supper;
and if I shall continue to be as much pleased with your manners as
I was taken with your face, I may perhaps end by making you an
Somerset sought in vain to find some form of answer, but his
discomfiture had been too recent and complete.
'Come,' returned the lady, 'we must have no display of temper; that
is for me the one disqualifying fault; and as I perceive we are
drawing near our destination, I shall ask you to descend and offer
me your arm.'
Indeed, at that very moment the carriage drew up before a stately
and severe mansion in a spacious square; and Somerset, who was
possessed of an excellent temper, with the best grace in the world
assisted the lady to alight. The door was opened by an old woman
of a grim appearance, who ushered the pair into a dining-room
somewhat dimly lighted, but already laid for supper, and occupied
by a prodigious company of large and valuable cats. Here, as soon
as they were alone, the lady divested herself of the lace in which
she was enfolded; and Somerset was relieved to find, that although
still bearing the traces of great beauty, and still distinguished
by the fire and colour of her eye, her hair was of a silvery
whiteness and her face lined with years.
'And now, mon preux,' said the old lady, nodding at him with a
quaint gaiety, 'you perceive that I am no longer in my first youth.
You will soon find that I am all the better company for that.'
As she spoke, the maid re-entered the apartment with a light but
tasteful supper. They sat down, accordingly, to table, the cats
with savage pantomime surrounding the old lady's chair; and what
with the excellence of the meal and the gaiety of his entertainer,
Somerset was soon completely at his ease. When they had well eaten
and drunk, the old lady leaned back in her chair, and taking a cat
upon her lap, subjected her guest to a prolonged but evidently
'I fear, madam,' said Somerset, 'that my manners have not risen to
the height of your preconceived opinion.'
'My dear young man,' she replied, 'you were never more mistaken in
your life. I find you charming, and you may very well have lighted
on a fairy godmother. I am not one of those who are given to
change their opinions, and short of substantial demerit, those who
have once gained my favour continue to enjoy it; but I have a
singular swiftness of decision, read my fellow men and women with a
glance, and have acted throughout life on first impressions.
Yours, as I tell you, has been favourable; and if, as I suppose,
you are a young fellow of somewhat idle habits, I think it not
improbable that we may strike a bargain.'
'Ah, madam,' returned Somerset, 'you have divined my situation. I
am a man of birth, parts, and breeding; excellent company, or at
least so I find myself; but by a peculiar iniquity of fate,
destitute alike of trade or money. I was, indeed, this evening
upon the quest of an adventure, resolved to close with any offer of
interest, emolument, or pleasure; and your summons, which I profess
I am still at some loss to understand, jumped naturally with the
inclination of my mind. Call it, if you will, impudence; I am
here, at least, prepared for any proposition you can find it in
your heart to make, and resolutely determined to accept.'
'You express yourself very well,' replied the old lady, 'and are
certainly a droll and curious young man. I should not care to
affirm that you were sane, for I have never found any one entirely
so besides myself; but at least the nature of your madness
entertains me, and I will reward you with some description of my
character and life.'
Thereupon the old lady, still fondling the cat upon her lap,
proceeded to narrate the following particulars.
NARRATIVE OF THE SPIRITED OLD LADY
I was the eldest daughter of the Reverend Bernard Fanshawe, who
held a valuable living in the diocese of Bath and Wells. Our
family, a very large one, was noted for a sprightly and incisive
wit, and came of a good old stock where beauty was an heirloom. In
Christian grace of character we were unhappily deficient. From my
earliest years I saw and deplored the defects of those relatives
whose age and position should have enabled them to conquer my
esteem; and while I was yet a child, my father married a second
wife, in whom (strange to say) the Fanshawe failings were
exaggerated to a monstrous and almost laughable degree. Whatever
may be said against me, it cannot be denied I was a pattern
daughter; but it was in vain that, with the most touching patience,
I submitted to my stepmother's demands; and from the hour she
entered my father's house, I may say that I met with nothing but
injustice and ingratitude.
I stood not alone, however, in the sweetness of my disposition; for
one other of the family besides myself was free from any violence
of character. Before I had reached the age of sixteen, this
cousin, John by name, had conceived for me a sincere but silent
passion; and although the poor lad was too timid to hint at the
nature of his feelings, I had soon divined and begun to share them.
For some days I pondered on the odd situation created for me by the
bashfulness of my admirer; and at length, perceiving that he began,
in his distress, rather to avoid than seek my company, I determined
to take the matter into my own hands. Finding him alone in a
retired part of the rectory garden, I told him that I had divined
his amiable secret, that I knew with what disfavour our union was
sure to be regarded; and that, under the circumstances, I was
prepared to flee with him at once. Poor John was literally
paralysed with joy; such was the force of his emotions, that he
could find no words in which to thank me; and that I, seeing him
thus helpless, was obliged to arrange, myself, the details of our
flight, and of the stolen marriage which was immediately to crown
it. John had been at that time projecting a visit to the
metropolis. In this I bade him persevere, and promised on the
following day to join him at the Tavistock Hotel.
True, on my side, to every detail of our arrangement, I arose, on
the day in question, before the servants, packed a few necessaries
in a bag, took with me the little money I possessed, and bade
farewell for ever to the rectory. I walked with good spirits to a
town some thirty miles from home, and was set down the next morning
in this great city of London. As I walked from the coach-office to
the hotel, I could not help exulting in the pleasant change that
had befallen me; beholding, meanwhile, with innocent delight, the
traffic of the streets, and depicting, in all the colours of fancy,
the reception that awaited me from John. But alas! when I inquired
for Mr. Fanshawe, the porter assured me there was no such gentleman
among the guests. By what channel our secret had leaked out, or
what pressure had been brought to bear on the too facile John, I
could never fathom. Enough that my family had triumphed; that I
found myself alone in London, tender in years, smarting under the
most sensible mortification, and by every sentiment of pride and
self-respect debarred for ever from my father's house.
I rose under the blow, and found lodgings in the neighbourhood of
Euston Road, where, for the first time in my life, I tasted the
joys of independence. Three days afterwards, an advertisement in
the Times directed me to the office of a solicitor whom I knew to
be in my father's confidence. There I was given the promise of a
very moderate allowance, and a distinct intimation that I must
never look to be received at home. I could not but resent so cruel
a desertion, and I told the lawyer it was a meeting I desired as
little as themselves. He smiled at my courageous spirit, paid me
the first quarter of my income, and gave me the remainder of my
personal effects, which had been sent to me, under his care, in a
couple of rather ponderous boxes. With these I returned in triumph
to my lodgings, more content with my position than I should have
thought possible a week before, and fully determined to make the
best of the future.
All went well for several months; and, indeed, it was my own fault
alone that ended this pleasant and secluded episode of life. I
have, I must confess, the fatal trick of spoiling my inferiors. My
landlady, to whom I had as usual been overkind, impertinently
called me in fault for some particular too small to mention; and I,
annoyed that I had allowed her the freedom upon which she thus
presumed, ordered her to leave my presence. She stood a moment
dumb, and then, recalling her self-possession, 'Your bill,' said
she, 'shall be ready this evening, and to-morrow, madam, you shall
leave my house. See,' she added, 'that you are able to pay what
you owe me; for if I do not receive the uttermost farthing, no box
of yours shall pass my threshold.'
I was confounded at her audacity, but as a whole quarter's income
was due to me, not otherwise affected by the threat. That
afternoon, as I left the solicitor's door, carrying in one hand,
and done up in a paper parcel, the whole amount of my fortune,
there befell me one of those decisive incidents that sometimes
shape a life. The lawyer's office was situate in a street that
opened at the upper end upon the Strand, and was closed at the
lower, at the time of which I speak, by a row of iron railings
looking on the Thames. Down this street, then, I beheld my
stepmother advancing to meet me, and doubtless bound to the very
house I had just left. She was attended by a maid whose face was
new to me, but her own was too clearly printed on my memory; and
the sight of it, even from a distance, filled me with generous
indignation. Flight was impossible. There was nothing left but to
retreat against the railing, and with my back turned to the street,
pretend to be admiring the barges on the river or the chimneys of
I was still so standing, and had not yet fully mastered the
turbulence of my emotions, when a voice at my elbow addressed me
with a trivial question. It was the maid whom my stepmother, with
characteristic hardness, had left to await her on the street, while
she transacted her business with the family solicitor. The girl
did not know who I was; the opportunity too golden to be lost; and
I was soon hearing the latest news of my father's rectory and
parish. It did not surprise me to find that she detested her
employers; and yet the terms in which she spoke of them were hard
to bear, hard to let pass unchallenged. I heard them, however,
without dissent, for my self-command is wonderful; and we might
have parted as we met, had she not proceeded, in an evil hour, to
criticise the rector's missing daughter, and with the most shocking
perversions, to narrate the story of her flight. My nature is so
essentially generous that I can never pause to reason. I flung up
my hand sharply, by way, as well as I remember, of indignant
protest; and, in the act, the packet slipped from my fingers,
glanced between the railings, and fell and sunk in the river. I
stood a moment petrified, and then, struck by the drollery of the
incident, gave way to peals of laughter. I was still laughing when
my stepmother reappeared, and the maid, who doubtless considered me
insane, ran off to join her; nor had I yet recovered my gravity
when I presented myself before the lawyer to solicit a fresh
advance. His answer made me serious enough, for it was a flat
refusal; and it was not until I had besought him even with tears,
that he consented to lend me ten pounds from his own pocket. 'I am
a poor man,' said he, 'and you must look for nothing farther at my
The landlady met me at the door. 'Here, madam,' said she, with a
curtsey insolently low, 'here is my bill. Would it inconvenience
you to settle it at once?'
'You shall be paid, madam,' said I, 'in the morning, in the proper
course.' And I took the paper with a very high air, but inwardly
I had no sooner looked at it than I perceived myself to be lost. I
had been short of money and had allowed my debt to mount; and it
had now reached the sum, which I shall never forget, of twelve
pounds thirteen and fourpence halfpenny. All evening I sat by the
fire considering my situation. I could not pay the bill; my
landlady would not suffer me to remove my boxes; and without either
baggage or money, how was I to find another lodging? For three
months, unless I could invent some remedy, I was condemned to be
without a roof and without a penny. It can surprise no one that I
decided on immediate flight; but even here I was confronted by a
difficulty, for I had no sooner packed my boxes than I found I was
not strong enough to move, far less to carry them.
In this strait I did not hesitate a moment, but throwing on a shawl
and bonnet, and covering my face with a thick veil, I betook myself
to that great bazaar of dangerous and smiling chances, the pavement
of the city. It was already late at night, and the weather being
wet and windy, there were few abroad besides policemen. These, on
my present mission, I had wit enough to know for enemies; and
wherever I perceived their moving lanterns, I made haste to turn
aside and choose another thoroughfare. A few miserable women still
walked the pavement; here and there were young fellows returning
drunk, or ruffians of the lowest class lurking in the mouths of
alleys; but of any one to whom I might appeal in my distress, I
began almost to despair.
At last, at the corner of a street, I ran into the arms of one who
was evidently a gentleman, and who, in all his appointments, from
his furred great-coat to the fine cigar which he was smoking,
comfortably breathed of wealth. Much as my face has changed from
its original beauty, I still retain (or so I tell myself) some
traces of the youthful lightness of my figure. Even veiled as I
then was, I could perceive the gentleman was struck by my
appearance: and this emboldened me for my adventure.
'Sir,' said I, with a quickly beating heart, 'sir, are you one in
whom a lady can confide?'
'Why, my dear,' said he, removing his cigar, 'that depends on
circumstances. If you will raise your veil--'
'Sir,' I interrupted, 'let there be no mistake. I ask you, as a
gentleman, to serve me, but I offer no reward.'
'That is frank,' said he; 'but hardly tempting. And what, may I
inquire, is the nature of the service?'
But I knew well enough it was not my interest to tell him on so
short an interview. 'If you will accompany me,' said I, 'to a
house not far from here, you can see for yourself.'
He looked at me awhile with hesitating eyes; and then, tossing away
his cigar, which was not yet a quarter smoked, 'Here goes!' said
he, and with perfect politeness offered me his arm. I was wise
enough to take it; to prolong our walk as far as possible, by more
than one excursion from the shortest line; and to beguile the way
with that sort of conversation which should prove to him
indubitably from what station in society I sprang. By the time we
reached the door of my lodging, I felt sure I had confirmed his
interest, and might venture, before I turned the pass-key, to
beseech him to moderate his voice and to tread softly. He promised
to obey me: and I admitted him into the passage and thence into my
sitting-room, which was fortunately next the door.
'And now,' said he, when with trembling fingers I had lighted a
candle, 'what is the meaning of all this?'
'I wish you,' said I, speaking with great difficulty, 'to help me
out with these boxes--and I wish nobody to know.'
He took up the candle. 'And I wish to see your face,' said he.
I turned back my veil without a word, and looked at him with every
appearance of resolve that I could summon up. For some time he
gazed into my face, still holding up the candle. 'Well,' said he
at last, 'and where do you wish them taken?'
I knew that I had gained my point; and it was with a tremor in my
voice that I replied. 'I had thought we might carry them between
us to the corner of Euston Road,' said I, 'where, even at this late
hour, we may still find a cab.'
'Very good,' was his reply; and he immediately hoisted the heavier
of my trunks upon his shoulder, and taking one handle of the
second, signed to me to help him at the other end. In this order
we made good our retreat from the house, and without the least
adventure, drew pretty near to the corner of Euston Road. Before a
house, where there was a light still burning, my companion paused.
'Let us here,' said he, 'set down our boxes, while we go forward to
the end of the street in quest of a cab. By doing so, we can still
keep an eye upon their safety, and we avoid the very extraordinary
figure we should otherwise present--a young man, a young lady, and
a mass of baggage, standing castaway at midnight on the streets of
London.' So it was done, and the event proved him to be wise; for
long before there was any word of a cab, a policeman appeared upon
the scene, turned upon us the full glare of his lantern, and hung
suspiciously behind us in a doorway.
'There seem to be no cabs about, policeman,' said my champion, with
affected cheerfulness. But the constable's answer was ungracious;
and as for the offer of a cigar, with which this rebuff was most
unwisely followed up, he refused it point-blank, and without the
least civility. The young gentleman looked at me with a warning
grimace, and there we continued to stand, on the edge of the
pavement, in the beating rain, and with the policeman still
silently watching our movements from the doorway.
At last, and after a delay that seemed interminable, a four-wheeler
appeared lumbering along in the mud, and was instantly hailed by my
companion. 'Just pull up here, will you?' he cried. 'We have some
baggage up the street.'
And now came the hitch of our adventure; for when the policeman,
still closely following us, beheld my two boxes lying in the rain,
he arose from mere suspicion to a kind of certitude of something
evil. The light in the house had been extinguished; the whole
frontage of the street was dark; there was nothing to explain the
presence of these unguarded trunks; and no two innocent people were
ever, I believe, detected in such questionable circumstances.
'Where have these things come from?' asked the policeman, flashing
his light full into my champion's face.
'Why, from that house, of course,' replied the young gentleman,
hastily shouldering a trunk.
The policeman whistled and turned to look at the dark windows; he
then took a step towards the door, as though to knock, a course
which had infallibly proved our ruin; but seeing us already
hurrying down the street under our double burthen, thought better
or worse of it, and followed in our wake.
'For God's sake,' whispered my companion, 'tell me where to drive
'Anywhere,' I replied with anguish. 'I have no idea. Anywhere you
Thus it befell that, when the boxes had been stowed, and I had
already entered the cab, my deliverer called out in clear tones the
address of the house in which we are now seated. The policeman, I
could see, was staggered. This neighbourhood, so retired, so
aristocratic, was far from what he had expected. For all that, he
took the number of the cab, and spoke for a few seconds and with a
decided manner in the cabman's ear.
'What can he have said?' I gasped, as soon as the cab had rolled
'I can very well imagine,' replied my champion; 'and I can assure
you that you are now condemned to go where I have said; for, should
we attempt to change our destination by the way, the jarvey will
drive us straight to a police-office. Let me compliment you on
your nerves,' he added. 'I have had, I believe, the most horrible
fright of my existence.'
But my nerves, which he so much misjudged, were in so strange a
disarray that speech was now become impossible; and we made the
drive thenceforward in unbroken silence. When we arrived before
the door of our destination, the young gentleman alighted, opened
it with a pass-key like one who was at home, bade the driver carry
the trunks into the hall, and dismissed him with a handsome fee.
He then led me into this dining-room, looking nearly as you behold
it, but with certain marks of bachelor occupancy, and hastened to
pour out a glass of wine, which he insisted on my drinking. As
soon as I could find my voice, 'In God's name,' I cried, 'where am
He told me I was in his house, where I was very welcome, and had no
more urgent business than to rest myself and recover my spirits.
As he spoke he offered me another glass of wine, of which, indeed,
I stood in great want, for I was faint, and inclined to be
hysterical. Then he sat down beside the fire, lit another cigar,
and for some time observed me curiously in silence.
'And now,' said he, 'that you have somewhat restored yourself, will
you be kind enough to tell me in what sort of crime I have become a
partner? Are you murderer, smuggler, thief, or only the harmless
and domestic moonlight flitter?'
I had been already shocked by his lighting a cigar without
permission, for I had not forgotten the one he threw away on our
first meeting; and now, at these explicit insults, I resolved at
once to reconquer his esteem. The judgment of the world I have
consistently despised, but I had already begun to set a certain
value on the good opinion of my entertainer. Beginning with a note
of pathos, but soon brightening into my habitual vivacity and
humour, I rapidly narrated the circumstances of my birth, my
flight, and subsequent misfortunes. He heard me to an end in
silence, gravely smoking. 'Miss Fanshawe,' said he, when I had
done, 'you are a very comical and most enchanting creature; and I
can see nothing for it but that I should return to-morrow morning
and satisfy your landlady's demands.'
'You strangely misinterpret my confidence,' was my reply; 'and if
you had at all appreciated my character, you would understand that
I can take no money at your hands.'
'Your landlady will doubtless not be so particular,' he returned;
'nor do I at all despair of persuading even your unconquerable
self. I desire you to examine me with critical indulgence. My
name is Henry Luxmore, Lord Southwark's second son. I possess nine
thousand a year, the house in which we are now sitting, and seven
others in the best neighbourhoods in town. I do not believe I am
repulsive to the eye, and as for my character, you have seen me
under trial. I think you simply the most original of created
beings; I need not tell you what you know very well, that you are
ravishingly pretty; and I have nothing more to add, except that,
foolish as it may appear, I am already head over heels in love with
'Sir,' said I, 'I am prepared to be misjudged; but while I continue
to accept your hospitality that fact alone should be enough to
protect me from insult.'
'Pardon me,' said he: 'I offer you marriage.' And leaning back in
his chair he replaced his cigar between his lips.
I own I was confounded by an offer, not only so unprepared, but
couched in terms so singular. But he knew very well how to obtain
his purposes, for he was not only handsome in person, but his very
coolness had a charm; and to make a long story short, a fortnight
later I became the wife of the Honourable Henry Luxmore.
For nearly twenty years I now led a life of almost perfect quiet.
My Henry had his weaknesses; I was twice driven to flee from his
roof, but not for long; for though he was easily over-excited, his
nature was placable below the surface, and with all his faults, I
loved him tenderly. At last he was taken from me; and such is the
power of self-deception, and so strange are the whims of the dying,
he actually assured me, with his latest breath, that he forgave the
violence of my temper!
There was but one pledge of the marriage, my daughter Clara. She
had, indeed, inherited a shadow of her father's failing; but in all
things else, unless my partial eyes deceived me, she derived her
qualities from me, and might be called my moral image. On my side,
whatever else I may have done amiss, as a mother I was above
reproach. Here, then, was surely every promise for the future;
here, at last, was a relation in which I might hope to taste
repose. But it was not to be. You will hardly credit me when I
inform you that she ran away from home; yet such was the case.
Some whim about oppressed nationalities--Ireland, Poland, and the
like--has turned her brain; and if you should anywhere encounter a
young lady (I must say, of remarkable attractions) answering to the
name of Luxmore, Lake, or Fonblanque (for I am told she uses these
indifferently, as well as many others), tell her, from me, that I
forgive her cruelty, and though I will never more behold her face,
I am at any time prepared to make her a liberal allowance.
On the death of Mr. Luxmore, I sought oblivion in the details of
business. I believe I have mentioned that seven mansions, besides
this, formed part of Mr. Luxmore's property: I have found them
seven white elephants. The greed of tenants, the dishonesty of
solicitors, and the incapacity that sits upon the bench, have
combined together to make these houses the burthen of my life. I
had no sooner, indeed, begun to look into these matters for myself,
than I discovered so many injustices and met with so much studied
incivility, that I was plunged into a long series of lawsuits, some
of which are pending to this day. You must have heard my name
already; I am the Mrs. Luxmore of the Law Reports: a strange
destiny, indeed, for one born with an almost cowardly desire for
peace! But I am of the stamp of those who, when they have once
begun a task, will rather die than leave their duty unfulfilled. I
have met with every obstacle: insolence and ingratitude from my
own lawyers; in my adversaries, that fault of obstinacy which is to
me perhaps the most distasteful in the calendar; from the bench,
civility indeed--always, I must allow, civility--but never a spark
of independence, never that knowledge of the law and love of
justice which we have a right to look for in a judge, the most
august of human officers. And still, against all these odds, I
have undissuadably persevered.
It was after the loss of one of my innumerable cases (a subject on
which I will not dwell) that it occurred to me to make a melancholy
pilgrimage to my various houses. Four were at that time tenantless
and closed, like pillars of salt, commemorating the corruption of
the age and the decline of private virtue. Three were occupied by
persons who had wearied me by every conceivable unjust demand and
legal subterfuge--persons whom, at that very hour, I was moving
heaven and earth to turn into the street. This was perhaps the
sadder spectacle of the two; and my heart grew hot within me to
behold them occupying, in my very teeth, and with an insolent
ostentation, these handsome structures which were as much mine as
the flesh upon my body.
One more house remained for me to visit, that in which we now are.
I had let it (for at that period I lodged in a hotel, the life that
I have always preferred) to a Colonel Geraldine, a gentleman
attached to Prince Florizel of Bohemia, whom you must certainly
have heard of; and I had supposed, from the character and position
of my tenant, that here, at least, I was safe against annoyance.
What was my surprise to find this house also shuttered and
apparently deserted! I will not deny that I was offended; I
conceived that a house, like a yacht, was better to be kept in
commission; and I promised myself to bring the matter before my
solicitor the following morning. Meanwhile the sight recalled my
fancy naturally to the past; and yielding to the tender influence
of sentiment, I sat down opposite the door upon the garden parapet.
It was August, and a sultry afternoon, but that spot is sheltered,
as you may observe by daylight, under the branches of a spreading
chestnut; the square, too, was deserted; there was a sound of
distant music in the air; and all combined to plunge me into that
most agreeable of states, which is neither happiness nor sorrow,
but shares the poignancy of both.
From this I was recalled by the arrival of a large van, very
handsomely appointed, drawn by valuable horses, mounted by several
men of an appearance more than decent, and bearing on its panels,
instead of a trader's name, a coat-of-arms too modest to be
deciphered from where I sat. It drew up before my house, the door
of which was immediately opened by one of the men. His companions-
-I counted seven of them in all--proceeded, with disciplined
activity, to take from the van and carry into the house a variety
of hampers, bottle-baskets, and boxes, such as are designed for
plate and napery. The windows of the dining-room were thrown
widely open, as though to air it; and I saw some of those within
laying the table for a meal. Plainly, I concluded, my tenant was
about to return; and while still determined to submit to no
aggression on my rights, I was gratified by the number and
discipline of his attendants, and the quiet profusion that appeared
to reign in his establishment. I was still so thinking when, to my
extreme surprise, the windows and shutters of the dining-room were
once more closed; the men began to reappear from the interior and
resume their stations on the van; the last closed the door behind
his exit; the van drove away; and the house was once more left to
itself, looking blindly on the square with shuttered windows, as
though the whole affair had been a vision.
It was no vision, however; for, as I rose to my feet, and thus
brought my eyes a little nearer to the level of the fanlight over
the door, I saw that, though the day had still some hours to run,
the hall lamps had been lighted and left burning. Plainly, then,
guests were expected, and were not expected before night. For
whom, I asked myself with indignation, were such secret
preparations likely to be made? Although no prude, I am a woman of
decided views upon morality; if my house, to which my husband had
brought me, was to serve in the character of a petite maison, I saw
myself forced, however unwillingly, into a new course of
litigation; and, determined to return and know the worst, I
hastened to my hotel for dinner.
I was at my post by ten. The night was clear and quiet; the moon
rode very high and put the lamps to shame; and the shadow below the
chestnut was black as ink. Here, then, I ensconced myself on the
low parapet, with my back against the railings, face to face with
the moonlit front of my old home, and ruminating gently on the
past. Time fled; eleven struck on all the city clocks; and
presently after I was aware of the approach of a gentleman of
stately and agreeable demeanour. He was smoking as he walked; his
light paletot, which was open, did not conceal his evening clothes;
and he bore himself with a serious grace that immediately awakened
my attention. Before the door of this house he took a pass-key
from his pocket, quietly admitted himself, and disappeared into the
He was scarcely gone when I observed another and a much younger man
approaching hastily from the opposite side of the square.
Considering the season of the year and the genial mildness of the
night, he was somewhat closely muffled up; and as he came, for all
his hurry, he kept looking nervously behind him. Arrived before my
door, he halted and set one foot upon the step, as though about to
enter; then, with a sudden change, he turned and began to hurry
away; halted a second time, as if in painful indecision; and
lastly, with a violent gesture, wheeled about, returned straight to
the door, and rapped upon the knocker. He was almost immediately
admitted by the first arrival.
My curiosity was now broad awake. I made myself as small as I
could in the very densest of the shadow, and waited for the sequel.
Nor had I long to wait. From the same side of the square a second
young man made his appearance, walking slowly and softly, and like
the first, muffled to the nose. Before the house he paused, looked
all about him with a swift and comprehensive glance; and seeing the
square lie empty in the moon and lamplight, leaned far across the
area railings and appeared to listen to what was passing in the
house. From the dining-room there came the report of a champagne
cork, and following upon that, the sound of rich and manly
laughter. The listener took heart of grace, produced a key,
unlocked the area gate, shut it noiselessly behind him, and
descended the stair. Just when his head had reached the level of
the pavement, he turned half round and once more raked the square
with a suspicious eyeshot. The mufflings had fallen lower round
his neck; the moon shone full upon him; and I was startled to
observe the pallor and passionate agitation of his face.
I could remain no longer passive. Persuaded that something deadly
was afoot, I crossed the roadway and drew near the area railings.
There was no one below; the man must therefore have entered the
house, with what purpose I dreaded to imagine. I have at no part
of my career lacked courage; and now, finding the area gate was
merely laid to, I pushed it gently open and descended the stairs.
The kitchen door of the house, like the area gate, was closed but
not fastened. It flashed upon me that the criminal was thus
preparing his escape; and the thought, as it confirmed the worst of
my suspicions, lent me new resolve. I entered the house; and being
now quite reckless of my life, I shut and locked the door.
From the dining-room above I could hear the pleasant tones of a
voice in easy conversation. On the ground floor all was not only
profoundly silent, but the darkness seemed to weigh upon my eyes.
Here, then, I stood for some time, having thrust myself uncalled
into the utmost peril, and being destitute of any power to help or
interfere. Nor will I deny that fear had begun already to assail
me, when I became aware, all at once and as though by some
immediate but silent incandescence, of a certain glimmering of
light upon the passage floor. Towards this I groped my way with
infinite precaution; and having come at length as far as the angle
of the corridor, beheld the door of the butler's pantry standing
just ajar and a narrow thread of brightness falling from the chink.
Creeping still closer, I put my eye to the aperture. The man sat
within upon a chair, listening, I could see, with the most rapt
attention. On a table before him he had laid a watch, a pair of
steel revolvers, and a bull's-eye lantern. For one second many
contradictory theories and projects whirled together in my head;
the next, I had slammed the door and turned the key upon the
malefactor. Surprised at my own decision, I stood and panted,
leaning on the wall. From within the pantry not a sound was to be
heard; the man, whatever he was, had accepted his fate without a
struggle, and now, as I hugged myself to fancy, sat frozen with
terror and looking for the worst to follow. I promised myself that
he should not be disappointed; and the better to complete my task,
I turned to ascend the stairs.
The situation, as I groped my way to the first floor, appealed to
me suddenly by my strong sense of humour. Here was I, the owner of
the house, burglariously present in its walls; and there, in the
dining-room, were two gentlemen, unknown to me, seated complacently
at supper, and only saved by my promptitude from some surprising or
deadly interruption. It were strange if I could not manage to
extract the matter of amusement from so unusual a situation.
Behind this dining-room, there is a small apartment intended for a
library. It was to this that I cautiously groped my way; and you
will see how fortune had exactly served me. The weather, I have
said, was sultry; in order to ventilate the dining-room and yet
preserve the uninhabited appearance of the mansion to the front,
the window of the library had been widely opened, and the door of
communication between the two apartments left ajar. To this
interval I now applied my eye.
Wax tapers, set in silver candlesticks, shed their chastened
brightness on the damask of the tablecloth and the remains of a
cold collation of the rarest delicacy. The two gentlemen had
finished supper, and were now trifling with cigars and maraschino;
while in a silver spirit lamp, coffee of the most captivating
fragrance was preparing in the fashion of the East. The elder of
the two, he who had first arrived, was placed directly facing me;
the other was set on his left hand. Both, like the man in the
butler's pantry, seemed to be intently listening; and on the face
of the second I thought I could perceive the marks of fear. Oddly
enough, however, when they came to speak, the parts were found to
'I assure you,' said the elder gentleman, 'I not only heard the
slamming of a door, but the sound of very guarded footsteps.'
'Your highness was certainly deceived,' replied the other. 'I am
endowed with the acutest hearing, and I can swear that not a mouse
has rustled.' Yet the pallor and contraction of his features were
in total discord with the tenor of his words.
His highness (whom, of course, I readily divined to be Prince
Florizel) looked at his companion for the least fraction of a
second; and though nothing shook the easy quiet of his attitude, I
could see that he was far from being duped. 'It is well,' said he;
'let us dismiss the topic. And now, sir, that I have very freely
explained the sentiments by which I am directed, let me ask you,
according to your promise, to imitate my frankness.'
'I have heard you,' replied the other, 'with great interest.'
'With singular patience,' said the prince politely.
'Ay, your highness, and with unlooked-for sympathy,' returned the
young man. 'I know not how to tell the change that has befallen
me. You have, I must suppose, a charm, to which even your enemies
are subject.' He looked at the clock on the mantelpiece and
visibly blanched. 'So late!' he cried. 'Your highness--God knows
I am now speaking from the heart--before it be too late, leave this
The prince glanced once more at his companion, and then very
deliberately shook the ash from his cigar. 'That is a strange
remark,' said he; 'and a propos de bottes, I never continue a cigar
when once the ash is fallen; the spell breaks, the soul of the
flavour flies away, and there remains but the dead body of tobacco;
and I make it a rule to throw away that husk and choose another.'
He suited the action to the words.
'Do not trifle with my appeal,' resumed the young man, in tones
that trembled with emotion. 'It is made at the price of my honour
and to the peril of my life. Go--go now! lose not a moment; and if
you have any kindness for a young man, miserably deceived indeed,
but not devoid of better sentiments, look not behind you as you
'Sir,' said the prince, 'I am here upon your honour; assure you
upon mine that I shall continue to rely upon that safeguard. The
coffee is ready; I must again trouble you, I fear.' And with a
courteous movement of the hand, he seemed to invite his companion
to pour out the coffee.
The unhappy young man rose from his seat. 'I appeal to you,' he
cried, 'by every holy sentiment, in mercy to me, if not in pity to
yourself, begone before it is too late.'
'Sir,' replied the prince, 'I am not readily accessible to fear;
and if there is one defect to which I must plead guilty, it is that
of a curious disposition. You go the wrong way about to make me
leave this house, in which I play the part of your entertainer;
and, suffer me to add, young man, if any peril threaten us, it was
of your contriving, not of mine.'
'Alas, you do not know to what you condemn me,' cried the other.
'But I at least will have no hand in it.' With these words he
carried his hand to his pocket, hastily swallowed the contents of a
phial, and, with the very act, reeled back and fell across his
chair upon the floor. The prince left his place and came and stood
above him, where he lay convulsed upon the carpet. 'Poor moth!' I
heard his highness murmur. 'Alas, poor moth! must we again inquire
which is the more fatal--weakness or wickedness? And can a
sympathy with ideas, surely not ignoble in themselves, conduct a
man to this dishonourable death?'
By this time I had pushed the door open and walked into the room.
'Your highness,' said I, 'this is no time for moralising; with a
little promptness we may save this creature's life; and as for the
other, he need cause you no concern, for I have him safely under
lock and key.'
The prince had turned about upon my entrance, and regarded me
certainly with no alarm, but with a profundity of wonder which
almost robbed me of my self-possession. 'My dear madam,' he cried
at last, 'and who the devil are you?'
I was already on the floor beside the dying man. I had, of course,
no idea with what drug he had attempted his life, and I was forced
to try him with a variety of antidotes. Here were both oil and
vinegar, for the prince had done the young man the honour of
compounding for him one of his celebrated salads; and of each of
these I administered from a quarter to half a pint, with no
apparent efficacy. I next plied him with the hot coffee, of which
there may have been near upon a quart.
'Have you no milk?' I inquired.
'I fear, madam, that milk has been omitted,' returned the prince.
'Salt, then,' said I; 'salt is a revulsive. Pass the salt.'
'And possibly the mustard?' asked his highness, as he offered me
the contents of the various salt-cellars poured together on a
'Ah,' cried I, 'the thought is excellent! Mix me about half a pint
of mustard, drinkably dilute.'
Whether it was the salt or the mustard, or the mere combination of
so many subversive agents, as soon as the last had been poured over
his throat, the young sufferer obtained relief.
'There!' I exclaimed, with natural triumph, 'I have saved a life!'
'And yet, madam,' returned the prince, 'your mercy may be cruelty
disguised. Where the honour is lost, it is, at least, superfluous
to prolong the life.'
'If you had led a life as changeable as mine, your highness,' I
replied, 'you would hold a very different opinion. For my part,
and after whatever extremity of misfortune or disgrace, I should
still count to-morrow worth a trial.'
'You speak as a lady, madam,' said the prince; 'and for such you
speak the truth. But to men there is permitted such a field of
license, and the good behaviour asked of them is at once so easy
and so little, that to fail in that is to fall beyond the reach of
pardon. But will you suffer me to repeat a question, put to you at
first, I am afraid, with some defect of courtesy; and to ask you
once more, who you are and how I have the honour of your company?'
'I am the proprietor of the house in which we stand,' said I.
'And still I am at fault,' returned the prince.
But at that moment the timepiece on the mantel-shelf began to
strike the hour of twelve; and the young man, raising himself upon
one elbow, with an expression of despair and horror that I have
never seen excelled, cried lamentably, 'Midnight! oh, just God!'
We stood frozen to our places, while the tingling hammer of the
timepiece measured the remaining strokes; nor had we yet stirred,
so tragic had been the tones of the young man, when the various
bells of London began in turn to declare the hour. The timepiece
was inaudible beyond the walls of the chamber where we stood; but
the second pulsation of Big Ben had scarcely throbbed into the
night, before a sharp detonation rang about the house. The prince
sprang for the door by which I had entered; but quick as he was, I
yet contrived to intercept him.
'Are you armed?' I cried.
'No, madam,' replied he. 'You remind me appositely; I will take
'The man below,' said I, 'has two revolvers. Would you confront
him at such odds?'
He paused, as though staggered in his purpose.
'And yet, madam,' said he, 'we cannot continue to remain in
ignorance of what has passed.'
'No!' cried I. 'And who proposes it? I am as curious as yourself,
but let us rather send for the police; or, if your highness dreads
a scandal, for some of your own servants.'
'Nay, madam,' he replied, smiling, 'for so brave a lady, you
surprise me. Would you have me, then, send others where I fear to
'You are perfectly right,' said I, 'and I was entirely wrong. Go,
in God's name, and I will hold the candle!'
Together, therefore, we descended to the lower story, he carrying
the poker, I the light; and together we approached and opened the
door of the butler's pantry. In some sort, I believe, I was
prepared for the spectacle that met our eyes; I was prepared, that
is, to find the villain dead, but the rude details of such a
violent suicide I was unable to endure. The prince, unshaken by
horror as he had remained unshaken by alarm, assisted me with the
most respectful gallantry to regain the dining-room.
There we found our patient, still, indeed, deadly pale, but vastly
recovered and already seated on a chair. He held out both his
hands with a most pitiful gesture of interrogation.
'He is dead,' said the prince.
'Alas!' cried the young man, 'and it should be I! What do I do,
thus lingering on the stage I have disgraced, while he, my sure
comrade, blameworthy indeed for much, but yet the soul of fidelity,
has judged and slain himself for an involuntary fault? Ah, sir,'
said he, 'and you too, madam, without whose cruel help I should be
now beyond the reach of my accusing conscience, you behold in me
the victim equally of my own faults and virtues. I was born a
hater of injustice; from my most tender years my blood boiled
against heaven when I beheld the sick, and against men when I
witnessed the sorrows of the poor; the pauper's crust stuck in my
throat when I sat down to eat my dainties, and the cripple child
has set me weeping. What was there in that but what was noble? and
yet observe to what a fall these thoughts have led me! Year after
year this passion for the lost besieged me closer. What hope was
there in kings? what hope in these well-feathered classes that now
roll in money? I had observed the course of history; I knew the
burgess, our ruler of to-day, to be base, cowardly, and dull; I saw
him, in every age, combine to pull down that which was immediately
above and to prey upon those that were below; his dulness, I knew,
would ultimately bring about his ruin; I knew his days were
numbered, and yet how was I to wait? how was I to let the poor
child shiver in the rain? The better days, indeed, were coming,
but the child would die before that. Alas, your highness, in
surely no ungenerous impatience I enrolled myself among the enemies
of this unjust and doomed society; in surely no unnatural desire to
keep the fires of my philanthropy alight, I bound myself by an
'That oath is all my history. To give freedom to posterity I had
forsworn my own. I must attend upon every signal; and soon my
father complained of my irregular hours and turned me from his
house. I was engaged in betrothal to an honest girl; from her also
I had to part, for she was too shrewd to credit my inventions and
too innocent to be entrusted with the truth. Behold me, then,
alone with conspirators! Alas! as the years went on, my illusions
left me. Surrounded as I was by the fervent disciples and
apologists of revolution, I beheld them daily advance in confidence
and desperation; I beheld myself, upon the other hand, and with an
almost equal regularity, decline in faith. I had sacrificed all to
further that cause in which I still believed; and daily I began to
grow in doubts if we were advancing it indeed. Horrible was the
society with which we warred, but our own means were not less
'I will not dwell upon my sufferings; I will not pause to tell you
how, when I beheld young men still free and happy, married, fathers
of children, cheerfully toiling at their work, my heart reproached
me with the greatness and vanity of my unhappy sacrifice. I will
not describe to you how, worn by poverty, poor lodging, scanty
food, and an unquiet conscience, my health began to fail, and in
the long nights, as I wandered bedless in the rainy streets, the
most cruel sufferings of the body were added to the tortures of my
mind. These things are not personal to me; they are common to all
unfortunates in my position. An oath, so light a thing to swear,
so grave a thing to break: an oath, taken in the heat of youth,
repented with what sobbings of the heart, but yet in vain repented,
as the years go on: an oath, that was once the very utterance of
the truth of God, but that falls to be the symbol of a meaningless
and empty slavery; such is the yoke that many young men joyfully
assume, and under whose dead weight they live to suffer worse than
'It is not that I was patient. I have begged to be released; but I
knew too much, and I was still refused. I have fled; ay, and for
the time successfully. I reached Paris. I found a lodging in the
Rue St. Jacques, almost opposite the Val de Grace. My room was
mean and bare, but the sun looked into it towards evening; it
commanded a peep of a green garden; a bird hung by a neighbour's
window and made the morning beautiful; and I, who was sick, might
lie in bed and rest myself: I, who was in full revolt against the
principles that I had served, was now no longer at the beck of the
council, and was no longer charged with shameful and revolting
tasks. Oh! what an interval of peace was that! I still dream, at
times, that I can hear the note of my neighbour's bird.
'My money was running out, and it became necessary that I should
find employment. Scarcely had I been three days upon the search,
ere I thought that I was being followed. I made certain of the
features of the man, which were quite strange to me, and turned
into a small cafe, where I whiled away an hour, pretending to read
the papers, but inwardly convulsed with terror. When I came forth
again into the street, it was quite empty, and I breathed again;
but alas, I had not turned three corners, when I once more observed
the human hound pursuing me. Not an hour was to be lost; timely
submission might yet preserve a life which otherwise was forfeit
and dishonoured; and I fled, with what speed you may conceive, to
the Paris agency of the society I served.
'My submission was accepted. I took up once more the hated burthen
of that life; once more I was at the call of men whom I despised
and hated, while yet I envied and admired them. They at least were
wholehearted in the things they purposed; but I, who had once been
such as they, had fallen from the brightness of my faith, and now
laboured, like a hireling, for the wages of a loathed existence.
Ay, sir, to that I was condemned; I obeyed to continue to live, and
lived but to obey.
'The last charge that was laid upon me was the one which has to-
night so tragically ended. Boldly telling who I was, I was to
request from your highness, on behalf of my society, a private
audience, where it was designed to murder you. If one thing
remained to me of my old convictions, it was the hate of kings; and
when this task was offered me, I took it gladly. Alas, sir, you
triumphed. As we supped, you gained upon my heart. Your
character, your talents, your designs for our unhappy country, all
had been misrepresented. I began to forget you were a prince; I
began, all too feelingly, to remember that you were a man. As I
saw the hour approach, I suffered agonies untold; and when, at
last, we heard the slamming of the door which announced in my
unwilling ears the arrival of the partner of my crime, you will
bear me out with what instancy I besought you to depart. You would
not, alas! and what could I? Kill you, I could not; my heart
revolted, my hand turned back from such a deed. Yet it was
impossible that I should suffer you to stay; for when the hour
struck and my companion came, true to his appointment, and he, at
least, true to our design, I could neither suffer you to be killed
nor yet him to be arrested. From such a tragic passage, death, and
death alone, could save me; and it is no fault of mine if I
continue to exist.
'But you, madam,' continued the young man, addressing himself more
directly to myself, 'were doubtless born to save the prince and to
confound our purposes. My life you have prolonged; and by turning
the key on my companion, you have made me the author of his death.
He heard the hour strike; he was impotent to help; and thinking
himself forfeit to honour, thinking that I should fall alone upon
his highness and perish for lack of his support, he has turned his
pistol on himself.'
'You are right,' said Prince Florizel: 'it was in no ungenerous
spirit that you brought these burthens on yourself; and when I see
you so nobly to blame, so tragically punished, I stand like one
reproved. For is it not strange, madam, that you and I, by
practising accepted and inconsiderable virtues, and commonplace but
still unpardonable faults, should stand here, in the sight of God,
with what we call clean hands and quiet consciences; while this
poor youth, for an error that I could almost envy him, should be
sunk beyond the reach of hope?
'Sir,' resumed the prince, turning to the young man, 'I cannot help
you; my help would but unchain the thunderbolt that overhangs you;
and I can but leave you free.'
'And, sir,' said I, 'as this house belongs to me, I will ask you to
have the kindness to remove the body. You and your conspirators,
it appears to me, can hardly in civility do less.'
'It shall be done,' said the young man, with a dismal accent.
'And you, dear madam,' said the prince, 'you, to whom I owe my
life, how can I serve you?'
'Your highness,' I said, 'to be very plain, this is my favourite
house, being not only a valuable property, but endeared to me by
various associations. I have endless troubles with tenants of the
ordinary class: and at first applauded my good fortune when I
found one of the station of your Master of the Horse. I now begin
to think otherwise: dangers set a siege about great personages;
and I do not wish my tenement to share these risks. Procure me the
resiliation of the lease, and I shall feel myself your debtor.'
'I must tell you, madam,' replied his highness, 'that Colonel
Geraldine is but a cloak for myself; and I should be sorry indeed
to think myself so unacceptable a tenant.'
'Your highness,' said I, 'I have conceived a sincere admiration for
your character; but on the subject of house property, I cannot
allow the interference of my feelings. I will, however, to prove
to you that there is nothing personal in my request, here solemnly
engage my word that I will never put another tenant in this house.'
'Madam,' said Florizel, 'you plead your cause too charmingly to be
Thereupon we all three withdrew. The young man, still reeling in
his walk, departed by himself to seek the assistance of his fellow-
conspirators; and the prince, with the most attentive gallantry,
lent me his escort to the door of my hotel. The next day, the
lease was cancelled; nor from that hour to this, though sometimes
regretting my engagement, have I suffered a tenant in this house.
THE SUPERFLUOUS MANSION (Continued).
As soon as the old lady had finished her relation, Somerset made
haste to offer her his compliments.
'Madam,' said he, 'your story is not only entertaining but
instructive; and you have told it with infinite vivacity. I was
much affected towards the end, as I held at one time very liberal
opinions, and should certainly have joined a secret society if I
had been able to find one. But the whole tale came home to me; and
I was the better able to feel for you in your various perplexities,
as I am myself of somewhat hasty temper.'
'I do not understand you,' said Mrs. Luxmore, with some marks of
irritation. 'You must have strangely misinterpreted what I have
told you. You fill me with surprise.'
Somerset, alarmed by the old lady's change of tone and manner,
hurried to recant.
'Dear Mrs. Luxmore,' said he, 'you certainly misconstrue my remark.
As a man of somewhat fiery humour, my conscience repeatedly pricked
me when I heard what you had suffered at the hands of persons
'Oh, very well indeed,' replied the old lady; 'and a very proper
spirit. I regret that I have met with it so rarely.'
'But in all this,' resumed the young man, 'I perceive nothing that
'I am about to come to that,' she returned. 'And you have already
before you, in the pledge I gave Prince Florizel, one of the
elements of the affair. I am a woman of the nomadic sort, and when
I have no case before the courts I make it a habit to visit
continental spas: not that I have ever been ill; but then I am no
longer young, and I am always happy in a crowd. Well, to come more
shortly to the point, I am now on the wing for Evian; this incubus
of a house, which I must leave behind and dare not let, hangs
heavily upon my hands; and I propose to rid myself of that concern,
and do you a very good turn into the bargain, by lending you the
mansion, with all its fittings, as it stands. The idea was sudden;
it appealed to me as humorous: and I am sure it will cause my
relatives, if they should ever hear of it, the keenest possible
chagrin. Here, then, is the key; and when you return at two to-
morrow afternoon, you will find neither me nor my cats to disturb
you in your new possession.'
So saying, the old lady arose, as if to dismiss her visitor; but
Somerset, looking somewhat blankly on the key, began to protest.
'Dear Mrs. Luxmore,' said he, 'this is a most unusual proposal.
You know nothing of me, beyond the fact that I displayed both
impudence and timidity. I may be the worst kind of scoundrel; I
may sell your furniture--'
'You may blow up the house with gunpowder, for what I care!' cried
Mrs. Luxmore. 'It is in vain to reason. Such is the force of my
character that, when I have one idea clearly in my head, I do not
care two straws for any side consideration. It amuses me to do it,
and let that suffice. On your side, you may do what you please--
let apartments, or keep a private hotel; on mine, I promise you a
full month's warning before I return, and I never fail religiously
to keep my promises.'
The young man was about to renew his protest, when he observed a
sudden and significant change in the old lady's countenance.
'If I thought you capable of disrespect!' she cried.
'Madam,' said Somerset, with the extreme fervour of asseveration,
'madam, I accept. I beg you to understand that I accept with joy
'Ah well,' returned Mrs. Luxmore, 'if I am mistaken, let it pass.
And now, since all is comfortably settled, I wish you a good-
Thereupon, as if to leave him no room for repentance, she hurried
Somerset out of the front door, and left him standing, key in hand,
upon the pavement.
The next day, about the hour appointed, the young man found his way
to the square, which I will here call Golden Square, though that
was not its name. What to expect, he knew not; for a man may live
in dreams, and yet be unprepared for their realisation. It was
already with a certain pang of surprise that he beheld the mansion,
standing in the eye of day, a solid among solids. The key, upon
trial, readily opened the front door; he entered that great house,
a privileged burglar; and, escorted by the echoes of desertion,
rapidly reviewed the empty chambers. Cats, servant, old lady, the
very marks of habitation, like writing on a slate, had been in
these few hours obliterated. He wandered from floor to floor, and
found the house of great extent; the kitchen offices commodious and
well appointed; the rooms many and large; and the drawing-room, in
particular, an apartment of princely size and tasteful decoration.
Although the day without was warm, genial, and sunny, with a
ruffling wind from the quarter of Torquay, a chill, as it were, of
suspended animation inhabited the house. Dust and shadows met the
eye; and but for the ominous procession of the echoes, and the
rumour of the wind among the garden trees, the ear of the young man
was stretched in vain.
Behind the dining-room, that pleasant library, referred to by the
old lady in her tale, looked upon the flat roofs and netted cupolas
of the kitchen quarters; and on a second visit, this room appeared
to greet him with a smiling countenance. He might as well, he
thought, avoid the expense of lodging: the library, fitted with an
iron bedstead which he had remarked, in one of the upper chambers,
would serve his purpose for the night; while in the dining-room,
which was large, airy, and lightsome, looking on the square and
garden, he might very agreeably pass his days, cook his meals, and
study to bring himself to some proficiency in that art of painting
which he had recently determined to adopt. It did not take him
long to make the change: he had soon returned to the mansion with
his modest kit; and the cabman who brought him was readily induced,
by the young man's pleasant manner and a small gratuity, to assist
him in the installation of the iron bed. By six in the evening,
when Somerset went forth to dine, he was able to look back upon the
mansion with a sense of pride and property. Four-square it stood,
of an imposing frontage, and flanked on either side by family
hatchments. His eye, from where he stood whistling in the key,
with his back to the garden railings, reposed on every feature of
reality; and yet his own possession seemed as flimsy as a dream.
In the course of a few days, the genteel inhabitants of the square
began to remark the customs of their neighbour. The sight of a
young gentleman discussing a clay pipe, about four o'clock of the
afternoon, in the drawing-room balcony of so discreet a mansion;
and perhaps still more, his periodical excursion to a decent tavern
in the neighbourhood, and his unabashed return, nursing the full
tankard: had presently raised to a high pitch the interest and
indignation of the liveried servants of the square. The disfavour
of some of these gentlemen at first proceeded to the length of
insult; but Somerset knew how to be affable with any class of men;
and a few rude words merrily accepted, and a few glasses amicably
shared, gained for him the right of toleration.
The young man had embraced the art of Raphael, partly from a notion
of its ease, partly from an inborn distrust of offices. He scorned
to bear the yoke of any regular schooling; and proceeded to turn
one half of the dining-room into a studio for the reproduction of
still life. There he amassed a variety of objects,
indiscriminately chosen from the kitchen, the drawing-room, and the
back garden; and there spent his days in smiling assiduity.
Meantime, the great bulk of empty building overhead lay, like a
load, upon his imagination. To hold so great a stake and to do
nothing, argued some defect of energy; and he at length determined
to act upon the hint given by Mrs. Luxmore herself, and to stick,
with wafers, in the window of the dining-room, a small handbill
announcing furnished lodgings. At half-past six of a fine July
morning, he affixed the bill, and went forth into the square to
study the result. It seemed, to his eye, promising and
unpretentious; and he returned to the drawing-room balcony, to
consider, over a studious pipe, the knotty problem of how much he
was to charge.
Thereupon he somewhat relaxed in his devotion to the art of
painting. Indeed, from that time forth, he would spend the best
part of the day in the front balcony, like the attentive angler
poring on his float; and the better to support the tedium, he would
frequently console himself with his clay pipe. On several
occasions, passers-by appeared to be arrested by the ticket, and on
several others ladies and gentlemen drove to the very doorstep by
the carriageful; but it appeared there was something repulsive in
the appearance of the house; for with one accord, they would cast
but one look upward, and hastily resume their onward progress or
direct the driver to proceed. Somerset had thus the mortification
of actually meeting the eye of a large number of lodging-seekers;
and though he hastened to withdraw his pipe, and to compose his
features to an air of invitation, he was never rewarded by so much
as an inquiry. 'Can there,' he thought, 'be anything repellent in
myself?' But a candid examination in one of the pier-glasses of
the drawing-room led him to dismiss the fear.
Something, however, was amiss. His vast and accurate calculations
on the fly-leaves of books, or on the backs of playbills, appeared
to have been an idle sacrifice of time. By these, he had variously
computed the weekly takings of the house, from sums as modest as
five-and-twenty shillings, up to the more majestic figure of a
hundred pounds; and yet, in despite of the very elements of
arithmetic, here he was making literally nothing.
This incongruity impressed him deeply and occupied his thoughtful
leisure on the balcony; and at last it seemed to him that he had
detected the error of his method. 'This,' he reflected, 'is an age
of generous display: the age of the sandwich-man, of Griffiths, of
Pears' legendary soap, and of Eno's fruit salt, which, by sheer
brass and notoriety, and the most disgusting pictures I ever
remember to have seen, has overlaid that comforter of my childhood,
Lamplough's pyretic saline. Lamplough was genteel, Eno was
omnipresent; Lamplough was trite, Eno original and abominably
vulgar; and here have I, a man of some pretensions to knowledge of
the world, contented myself with half a sheet of note-paper, a few
cold words which do not directly address the imagination, and the
adornment (if adornment it may be called) of four red wafers! Am
I, then, to sink with Lamplough, or to soar with Eno? Am I to
adopt that modesty which is doubtless becoming in a duke? or to
take hold of the red facts of life with the emphasis of the
tradesman and the poet?'
Pursuant upon these meditations, he procured several sheets of the
very largest size of drawing-paper; and laying forth his paints,
proceeded to compose an ensign that might attract the eye, and at
the same time, in his own phrase, directly address the imagination
of the passenger. Something taking in the way of colour, a good,
savoury choice of words, and a realistic design setting forth the
life a lodger might expect to lead within the walls of that palace
of delight: these, he perceived, must be the elements of his
advertisement. It was possible, upon the one hand, to depict the
sober pleasures of domestic life, the evening fire, blond-headed
urchins and the hissing urn; but on the other, it was possible (and
he almost felt as if it were more suited to his muse) to set forth
the charms of an existence somewhat wider in its range or, boldly
say, the paradise of the Mohammedan. So long did the artist waver
between these two views, that, before he arrived at a conclusion,
he had finally conceived and completed both designs. With the
proverbially tender heart of the parent, he found himself unable to
sacrifice either of these offsprings of his art; and decided to
expose them on alternate days. 'In this way,' he thought, 'I shall
address myself indifferently to all classes of the world.'
The tossing of a penny decided the only remaining point; and the
more imaginative canvas received the suffrages of fortune, and
appeared first in the window of the mansion. It was of a high
fancy, the legend eloquently writ, the scheme of colour taking and
bold; and but for the imperfection of the artist's drawing, it
might have been taken for a model of its kind. As it was, however,
when viewed from his favourite point against the garden railings,
and with some touch of distance, it caused a pleasurable rising of
the artist's heart. 'I have thrown away,' he ejaculated, 'an
invaluable motive; and this shall be the subject of my first
The fate of neither of these works was equal to its merit. A crowd
would certainly, from time to time, collect before the area-
railings; but they came to jeer and not to speculate; and those who
pushed their inquiries further, were too plainly animated by the
spirit of derision. The racier of the two cartoons displayed,
indeed, no symptom of attractive merit; and though it had a certain
share of that success called scandalous, failed utterly of its
effect. On the day, however, of the second appearance of the
companion work, a real inquirer did actually present himself before
the eyes of Somerset.
This was a gentlemanly man, with some marks of recent merriment,
and his voice under inadequate control.
'I beg your pardon,' said he, 'but what is the meaning of your
'I beg yours,' returned Somerset hotly. 'Its meaning is
sufficiently explicit.' And being now, from dire experience,
fearful of ridicule, he was preparing to close the door, when the
gentleman thrust his cane into the aperture.
'Not so fast, I beg of you,' said he. 'If you really let
apartments, here is a possible tenant at your door; and nothing
would give me greater pleasure than to see the accommodation and to
learn your terms.'
His heart joyously beating, Somerset admitted the visitor, showed
him over the various apartments, and, with some return of his
persuasive eloquence, expounded their attractions. The gentleman
was particularly pleased by the elegant proportions of the drawing-
'This,' he said, 'would suit me very well. What, may I ask, would
be your terms a week, for this floor and the one above it?'
'I was thinking,' returned Somerset, 'of a hundred pounds.'
'Surely not,' exclaimed the gentleman.
'Well, then,' returned Somerset, 'fifty.'
The gentleman regarded him with an air of some amazement. 'You
seem to be strangely elastic in your demands,' said he. 'What if I
were to proceed on your own principle of division, and offer
'Done!' cried Somerset; and then, overcome by a sudden
embarrassment, 'You see,' he added apologetically, 'it is all found
money for me.'
'Really?' said the stranger, looking at him all the while with
growing wonder. 'Without extras, then?'
'I--I suppose so,' stammered the keeper of the lodging-house.
'Service included?' pursued the gentleman.
'Service?' cried Somerset. 'Do you mean that you expect me to
empty your slops?'
The gentleman regarded him with a very friendly interest. 'My dear
fellow,' said he, 'if you take my advice, you will give up this
business.' And thereupon he resumed his hat and took himself away.
This smarting disappointment produced a strong effect on the artist
of the cartoons; and he began with shame to eat up his rosier
illusions. First one and then the other of his great works was
condemned, withdrawn from exhibition, and relegated, as a mere
wall-picture, to the decoration of the dining-room. Their place
was taken by a replica of the original wafered announcement, to
which, in particularly large letters, he had added the pithy
rubric: 'NO SERVICE.' Meanwhile he had fallen into something as
nearly bordering on low spirits as was consistent with his
disposition; depressed, at once by the failure of his scheme, the
laughable turn of his late interview, and the judicial blindness of
the public to the merit of the twin cartoons.
Perhaps a week had passed before he was again startled by the note
of the knocker. A gentleman of a somewhat foreign and somewhat
military air, yet closely shaven and wearing a soft hat, desired in
the politest terms to visit the apartments. He had (he explained)
a friend, a gentleman in tender health, desirous of a sedate and
solitary life, apart from interruptions and the noises of the
common lodging-house. 'The unusual clause,' he continued, 'in your
announcement, particularly struck me. "This," I said, "is the
place for Mr. Jones." You are yourself, sir, a professional
gentleman?' concluded the visitor, looking keenly in Somerset's
'I am an artist,' replied the young man lightly.
'And these,' observed the other, taking a side glance through the
open door of the dining-room, which they were then passing, 'these
are some of your works. Very remarkable.' And he again and still
more sharply peered into the countenance of the young man.
Somerset, unable to suppress a blush, made the more haste to lead
his visitor upstairs and to display the apartments.
'Excellent,' observed the stranger, as he looked from one of the
back windows. 'Is that a mews behind, sir? Very good. Well, sir:
see here. My friend will take your drawing-room floor; he will
sleep in the back drawing-room; his nurse, an excellent Irish
widow, will attend on all his wants and occupy a garret; he will
pay you the round sum of ten dollars a week; and you, on your part,
will engage to receive no other lodger? I think that fair.'
Somerset had scarcely words in which to clothe his gratitude and
'Agreed,' said the other; 'and to spare you trouble, my friend will
bring some men with him to make the changes. You will find him a
retiring inmate, sir; receives but few, and rarely leaves the
house, except at night.'
'Since I have been in this house,' returned Somerset, 'I have
myself, unless it were to fetch beer, rarely gone abroad except in
the evening. But a man,' he added, 'must have some amusement.'
An hour was then agreed on; the gentleman departed; and Somerset
sat down to compute in English money the value of the figure named.