Part 1 out of 13
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS
A Romance of English History
Another Preliminary Chapter.--The Comprachicos
BOOK THE FIRST.--NIGHT NOT SO BLACK AS MAN.
I. Portland Bill
II. Left Alone
V. The Tree of Human Invention
VI. Struggle between Death and Night
VII. The North Point of Portland
BOOK THE SECOND.--THE HOOKER AT SEA.
I. Superhuman Laws
II. Our First Rough Sketches Filled in
III. Troubled Men on the Troubled Sea
IV. A Cloud Different from the Others enters on the Scene
VI. They Think that Help is at Hand
VII. Superhuman Horrors
VIII. Nix et Nox
IX. The Charge Confided to a Raging Sea
X. The Colossal Savage, the Storm
XI. The Caskets
XII. Face to Face with the Rock
XIII. Face to Face with Night
XV. Portentosum Mare
XVI. The Problem Suddenly Works in Silence
XVII. The Last Resource
XVIII. The Highest Resource
BOOK THE THIRD.--THE CHILD IN THE SHADOW.
II. The Effect of Snow
III. A Burden Makes a Rough Road Rougher
IV. Another Form of Desert
V. Misanthropy Plays Its Pranks
VI. The Awaking
BOOK THE FIRST.--THE EVERLASTING PRESENCE OF THE PAST. MAN REFLECTS MAN.
I. Lord Clancharlie
II. Lord David Dirry-Moir
III. The Duchess Josiana
IV. The Leader of Fashion
V. Queen Anne
VII. Barkilphedro Gnaws His Way
IX. Hate is as Strong as Love
X. The Flame which would be Seen if Man were Transparent
XI. Barkilphedro in Ambuscade
XII. Scotland, Ireland, and England
BOOK THE SECOND.--GWYNPLAINE AND DEA.
I. Wherein we see the Face of Him of whom we have hitherto seen only
III. "Oculos non Habet, et Videt"
IV. Well-matched Lovers
V. The Blue Sky through the Black Cloud
VI. Ursus as Tutor, and Ursus as Guardian
VII. Blindness Gives Lessons in Clairvoyance
VIII. Not only Happiness, but Prosperity
IX. Absurdities which Folks without Taste call Poetry
X. An Outsider's View of Men and Things
XI. Gwynplaine Thinks Justice, and Ursus Talks Truth
XII. Ursus the Poet Drags on Ursus the Philosopher
BOOK THE THIRD.--THE BEGINNING OF THE FISSURE.
I. The Tadcaster Inn
II. Open-Air Eloquence
III. Where the Passer-by Reappears
IV. Contraries Fraternize in Hate
V. The Wapentake
VI. The Mouse Examined by the Cats
VII. Why Should a Gold Piece Lower Itself by Mixing with a Heap of
VIII. Symptoms of Poisoning
IX. Abyssus Abyssum Vocat
BOOK THE FOURTH.--THE CELL OF TORTURE.
I. The Temptation of St. Gwynplaine
II. From Gay to Grave
III. Lex, Rex, Fex
IV. Ursus Spies the Police
V. A Fearful Place
VI. The Kind of Magistracy under the Wigs of Former Days
BOOK THE FIFTH.--THE SEA AND FATE ARE MOVED BY THE SAME BREATH.
I. The Durability of Fragile Things
II. The Waif Knows Its Own Course
III. An Awakening
V. We Think We Remember; We Forget
BOOK THE SIXTH.--URSUS UNDER DIFFERENT ASPECTS.
I. What the Misanthrope said
II. What He did
IV. Moenibus Surdis Campana Muta
V. State Policy Deals with Little Matters as Well as with Great
BOOK THE SEVENTH.--THE TITANESS.
I. The Awakening
II. The Resemblance of a Palace to a Wood
V. They Recognize, but do not Know, Each Other
BOOK THE EIGHTH.--THE CAPITOL AND THINGS AROUND IT.
I. Analysis of Majestic Matters
III. The Old Hall
IV. The Old Chamber
V. Aristocratic Gossip
VI. The High and the Low
VII. Storms of Men are Worse than Storms of Oceans
VIII. He would be a Good Brother, were he not a Good Son
BOOK THE NINTH.--IN RUINS.
I. It is through Excess of Greatness that Man reaches Excess of
II. The Dregs
CONCLUSION.--THE NIGHT AND THE SEA.
I. A Watch-dog may be a Guardian Angel
II. Barkilphedro, having aimed at the Eagle, brings down the Dove
III. Paradise Regained Below
IV. Nay; on High!
Ursus and Homo were fast friends. Ursus was a man, Homo a wolf. Their
dispositions tallied. It was the man who had christened the wolf:
probably he had also chosen his own name. Having found _Ursus_ fit for
himself, he had found _Homo_ fit for the beast. Man and wolf turned
their partnership to account at fairs, at village fetes, at the corners
of streets where passers-by throng, and out of the need which people
seem to feel everywhere to listen to idle gossip and to buy quack
medicine. The wolf, gentle and courteously subordinate, diverted the
crowd. It is a pleasant thing to behold the tameness of animals. Our
greatest delight is to see all the varieties of domestication parade
before us. This it is which collects so many folks on the road of royal
Ursus and Homo went about from cross-road to cross-road, from the High
Street of Aberystwith to the High Street of Jedburgh, from country-side
to country-side, from shire to shire, from town to town. One market
exhausted, they went on to another. Ursus lived in a small van upon
wheels, which Homo was civilized enough to draw by day and guard by
night. On bad roads, up hills, and where there were too many ruts, or
there was too much mud, the man buckled the trace round his neck and
pulled fraternally, side by side with the wolf. They had thus grown old
together. They encamped at haphazard on a common, in the glade of a
wood, on the waste patch of grass where roads intersect, at the
outskirts of villages, at the gates of towns, in market-places, in
public walks, on the borders of parks, before the entrances of churches.
When the cart drew up on a fair green, when the gossips ran up
open-mouthed and the curious made a circle round the pair, Ursus
harangued and Homo approved. Homo, with a bowl in his mouth, politely
made a collection among the audience. They gained their livelihood. The
wolf was lettered, likewise the man. The wolf had been trained by the
man, or had trained himself unassisted, to divers wolfish arts, which
swelled the receipts. "Above all things, do not degenerate into a man,"
his friend would say to him.
Never did the wolf bite: the man did now and then. At least, to bite was
the intent of Ursus. He was a misanthrope, and to italicize his
misanthropy he had made himself a juggler. To live, also; for the
stomach has to be consulted. Moreover, this juggler-misanthrope, whether
to add to the complexity of his being or to perfect it, was a doctor. To
be a doctor is little: Ursus was a ventriloquist. You heard him speak
without his moving his lips. He counterfeited, so as to deceive you, any
one's accent or pronunciation. He imitated voices so exactly that you
believed you heard the people themselves. All alone he simulated the
murmur of a crowd, and this gave him a right to the title of
Engastrimythos, which he took. He reproduced all sorts of cries of
birds, as of the thrush, the wren, the pipit lark, otherwise called the
gray cheeper, and the ring ousel, all travellers like himself: so that
at times when the fancy struck him, he made you aware either of a public
thoroughfare filled with the uproar of men, or of a meadow loud with the
voices of beasts--at one time stormy as a multitude, at another fresh
and serene as the dawn. Such gifts, although rare, exist. In the last
century a man called Touzel, who imitated the mingled utterances of men
and animals, and who counterfeited all the cries of beasts, was
attached to the person of Buffon--to serve as a menagerie.
Ursus was sagacious, contradictory, odd, and inclined to the singular
expositions which we term fables. He had the appearance of believing in
them, and this impudence was a part of his humour. He read people's
hands, opened books at random and drew conclusions, told fortunes,
taught that it is perilous to meet a black mare, still more perilous, as
you start for a journey, to hear yourself accosted by one who knows not
whither you are going; and he called himself a dealer in superstitions.
He used to say: "There is one difference between me and the Archbishop
of Canterbury: I avow what I am." Hence it was that the archbishop,
justly indignant, had him one day before him; but Ursus cleverly
disarmed his grace by reciting a sermon he had composed upon Christmas
Day, which the delighted archbishop learnt by heart, and delivered from
the pulpit as his own. In consideration thereof the archbishop pardoned
As a doctor, Ursus wrought cures by some means or other. He made use of
aromatics; he was versed in simples; he made the most of the immense
power which lies in a heap of neglected plants, such as the hazel, the
catkin, the white alder, the white bryony, the mealy-tree, the
traveller's joy, the buckthorn. He treated phthisis with the sundew; at
opportune moments he would use the leaves of the spurge, which plucked
at the bottom are a purgative and plucked at the top, an emetic. He
cured sore throat by means of the vegetable excrescence called Jew's
ear. He knew the rush which cures the ox and the mint which cures the
horse. He was well acquainted with the beauties and virtues of the herb
mandragora, which, as every one knows, is of both sexes. He had many
recipes. He cured burns with the salamander wool, of which, according to
Pliny, Nero had a napkin. Ursus possessed a retort and a flask; he
effected transmutations; he sold panaceas. It was said of him that he
had once been for a short time in Bedlam; they had done him the honour
to take him for a madman, but had set him free on discovering that he
was only a poet. This story was probably not true; we have all to submit
to some such legend about us.
The fact is, Ursus was a bit of a savant, a man of taste, and an old
Latin poet. He was learned in two forms; he Hippocratized and he
Pindarized. He could have vied in bombast with Rapin and Vida. He could
have composed Jesuit tragedies in a style not less triumphant than that
of Father Bouhours. It followed from his familiarity with the venerable
rhythms and metres of the ancients, that he had peculiar figures of
speech, and a whole family of classical metaphors. He would say of a
mother followed by her two daughters, _There is a dactyl_; of a father
preceded by his two sons, _There is an anapaest_; and of a little child
walking between its grandmother and grandfather, _There is an
amphimacer_. So much knowledge could only end in starvation. The school
of Salerno says, "Eat little and often." Ursus ate little and seldom,
thus obeying one half the precept and disobeying the other; but this was
the fault of the public, who did not always flock to him, and who did
not often buy.
Ursus was wont to say: "The expectoration of a sentence is a relief. The
wolf is comforted by its howl, the sheep by its wool, the forest by its
finch, woman by her love, and the philosopher by his epiphonema." Ursus
at a pinch composed comedies, which, in recital, he all but acted; this
helped to sell the drugs. Among other works, he had composed an heroic
pastoral in honour of Sir Hugh Middleton, who in 1608 brought a river to
London. The river was lying peacefully in Hertfordshire, twenty miles
from London: the knight came and took possession of it. He brought a
brigade of six hundred men, armed with shovels and pickaxes; set to
breaking up the ground, scooping it out in one place, raising it in
another--now thirty feet high, now twenty feet deep; made wooden
aqueducts high in air; and at different points constructed eight hundred
bridges of stone, bricks, and timber. One fine morning the river entered
London, which was short of water. Ursus transformed all these vulgar
details into a fine Eclogue between the Thames and the New River, in
which the former invited the latter to come to him, and offered her his
bed, saying, "I am too old to please women, but I am rich enough to pay
them"--an ingenious and gallant conceit to indicate how Sir Hugh
Middleton had completed the work at his own expense.
Ursus was great in soliloquy. Of a disposition at once unsociable and
talkative, desiring to see no one, yet wishing to converse with some
one, he got out of the difficulty by talking to himself. Any one who has
lived a solitary life knows how deeply seated monologue is in one's
nature. Speech imprisoned frets to find a vent. To harangue space is an
outlet. To speak out aloud when alone is as it were to have a dialogue
with the divinity which is within. It was, as is well known, a custom of
Socrates; he declaimed to himself. Luther did the same. Ursus took after
those great men. He had the hermaphrodite faculty of being his own
audience. He questioned himself, answered himself, praised himself,
blamed himself. You heard him in the street soliloquizing in his van.
The passers-by, who have their own way of appreciating clever people,
used to say: He is an idiot. As we have just observed, he abused himself
at times; but there were times also when he rendered himself justice.
One day, in one of these allocutions addressed to himself, he was heard
to cry out, "I have studied vegetation in all its mysteries--in the
stalk, in the bud, in the sepal, in the stamen, in the carpel, in the
ovule, in the spore, in the theca, and in the apothecium. I have
thoroughly sifted chromatics, osmosy, and chymosy--that is to say, the
formation of colours, of smell, and of taste." There was something
fatuous, doubtless, in this certificate which Ursus gave to Ursus; but
let those who have not thoroughly sifted chromatics, osmosy, and chymosy
cast the first stone at him.
Fortunately Ursus had never gone into the Low Countries; there they
would certainly have weighed him, to ascertain whether he was of the
normal weight, above or below which a man is a sorcerer. In Holland this
weight was sagely fixed by law. Nothing was simpler or more ingenious.
It was a clear test. They put you in a scale, and the evidence was
conclusive if you broke the equilibrium. Too heavy, you were hanged; too
light, you were burned. To this day the scales in which sorcerers were
weighed may be seen at Oudewater, but they are now used for weighing
cheeses; how religion has degenerated! Ursus would certainly have had a
crow to pluck with those scales. In his travels he kept away from
Holland, and he did well. Indeed, we believe that he used never to leave
the United Kingdom.
However this may have been, he was very poor and morose, and having made
the acquaintance of Homo in a wood, a taste for a wandering life had
come over him. He had taken the wolf into partnership, and with him had
gone forth on the highways, living in the open air the great life of
chance. He had a great deal of industry and of reserve, and great skill
in everything connected with healing operations, restoring the sick to
health, and in working wonders peculiar to himself. He was considered a
clever mountebank and a good doctor. As may be imagined, he passed for a
wizard as well--not much indeed; only a little, for it was unwholesome
in those days to be considered a friend of the devil. To tell the truth,
Ursus, by his passion for pharmacy and his love of plants, laid himself
open to suspicion, seeing that he often went to gather herbs in rough
thickets where grew Lucifer's salads, and where, as has been proved by
the Counsellor De l'Ancre, there is a risk of meeting in the evening
mist a man who comes out of the earth, "blind of the right eye,
barefooted, without a cloak, and a sword by his side." But for the
matter of that, Ursus, although eccentric in manner and disposition, was
too good a fellow to invoke or disperse hail, to make faces appear, to
kill a man with the torment of excessive dancing, to suggest dreams fair
or foul and full of terror, and to cause the birth of cocks with four
wings. He had no such mischievous tricks. He was incapable of certain
abominations, such as, for instance, speaking German, Hebrew, or Greek,
without having learned them, which is a sign of unpardonable wickedness,
or of a natural infirmity proceeding from a morbid humour. If Ursus
spoke Latin, it was because he knew it. He would never have allowed
himself to speak Syriac, which he did not know. Besides, it is asserted
that Syriac is the language spoken in the midnight meetings at which
uncanny people worship the devil. In medicine he justly preferred Galen
to Cardan; Cardan, although a learned man, being but an earthworm to
To sum up, Ursus was not one of those persons who live in fear of the
police. His van was long enough and wide enough to allow of his lying
down in it on a box containing his not very sumptuous apparel. He owned
a lantern, several wigs, and some utensils suspended from nails, among
which were musical instruments. He possessed, besides, a bearskin with
which he covered himself on his days of grand performance. He called
this putting on full dress. He used to say, "I have two skins; this is
the real one," pointing to the bearskin.
The little house on wheels belonged to himself and to the wolf. Besides
his house, his retort, and his wolf, he had a flute and a violoncello on
which he played prettily. He concocted his own elixirs. His wits yielded
him enough to sup on sometimes. In the top of his van was a hole,
through which passed the pipe of a cast-iron stove; so close to his box
as to scorch the wood of it. The stove had two compartments; in one of
them Ursus cooked his chemicals, and in the other his potatoes. At night
the wolf slept under the van, amicably secured by a chain. Homo's hair
was black, that of Ursus, gray; Ursus was fifty, unless, indeed, he was
sixty. He accepted his destiny, to such an extent that, as we have just
seen, he ate potatoes, the trash on which at that time they fed pigs and
convicts. He ate them indignant, but resigned. He was not tall--he was
long. He was bent and melancholy. The bowed frame of an old man is the
settlement in the architecture of life. Nature had formed him for
sadness. He found it difficult to smile, and he had never been able to
weep, so that he was deprived of the consolation of tears as well as of
the palliative of joy. An old man is a thinking ruin; and such a ruin
was Ursus. He had the loquacity of a charlatan, the leanness of a
prophet, the irascibility of a charged mine: such was Ursus. In his
youth he had been a philosopher in the house of a lord.
This was 180 years ago, when men were more like wolves than they are
Not so very much though.
Homo was no ordinary wolf. From his appetite for medlars and potatoes he
might have been taken for a prairie wolf; from his dark hide, for a
lycaon; and from his howl prolonged into a bark, for a dog of Chili. But
no one has as yet observed the eyeball of a dog of Chili sufficiently to
enable us to determine whether he be not a fox, and Homo was a real
wolf. He was five feet long, which is a fine length for a wolf, even in
Lithuania; he was very strong; he looked at you askance, which was not
his fault; he had a soft tongue, with which he occasionally licked
Ursus; he had a narrow brush of short bristles on his backbone, and he
was lean with the wholesome leanness of a forest life. Before he knew
Ursus and had a carriage to draw, he thought nothing of doing his fifty
miles a night. Ursus meeting him in a thicket near a stream of running
water, had conceived a high opinion of him from seeing the skill and
sagacity with which he fished out crayfish, and welcomed him as an
honest and genuine Koupara wolf of the kind called crab-eater.
As a beast of burden, Ursus preferred Homo to a donkey. He would have
felt repugnance to having his hut drawn by an ass; he thought too highly
of the ass for that. Moreover he had observed that the ass, a
four-legged thinker little understood by men, has a habit of cocking his
ears uneasily when philosophers talk nonsense. In life the ass is a
third person between our thoughts and ourselves, and acts as a
restraint. As a friend, Ursus preferred Homo to a dog, considering that
the love of a wolf is more rare.
Hence it was that Homo sufficed for Ursus. Homo was for Ursus more than
a companion, he was an analogue. Ursus used to pat the wolf's empty
ribs, saying: "I have found the second volume of myself!" Again he
said, "When I am dead, any one wishing to know me need only study Homo.
I shall leave a true copy behind me."
The English law, not very lenient to beasts of the forest, might have
picked a quarrel with the wolf, and have put him to trouble for his
assurance in going freely about the towns: but Homo took advantage of
the immunity granted by a statute of Edward IV. to servants: "Every
servant in attendance on his master is free to come and go." Besides, a
certain relaxation of the law had resulted with regard to wolves, in
consequence of its being the fashion of the ladies of the Court, under
the later Stuarts, to have, instead of dogs, little wolves, called
adives, about the size of cats, which were brought from Asia at great
Ursus had communicated to Homo a portion of his talents: such as to
stand upright, to restrain his rage into sulkiness, to growl instead of
howling, etc.; and on his part, the wolf had taught the man what _he_
knew--to do without a roof, without bread and fire, to prefer hunger in
the woods to slavery in a palace.
The van, hut, and vehicle in one, which traversed so many different
roads, without, however, leaving Great Britain, had four wheels, with
shafts for the wolf and a splinter-bar for the man. The splinter-bar
came into use when the roads were bad. The van was strong, although it
was built of light boards like a dove-cot. In front there was a glass
door with a little balcony used for orations, which had something of the
character of the platform tempered by an air of the pulpit. At the back
there was a door with a practicable panel. By lowering the three steps
which turned on a hinge below the door, access was gained to the hut,
which at night was securely fastened with bolt and lock. Rain and snow
had fallen plentifully on it; it had been painted, but of what colour it
was difficult to say, change of season being to vans what changes of
reign are to courtiers. In front, outside, was a board, a kind of
frontispiece, on which the following inscription might once have been
deciphered; it was in black letters on a white ground, but by degrees
the characters had become confused and blurred:--
"By friction gold loses every year a fourteen hundredth part of its
bulk. This is what is called the Wear. Hence it follows that on fourteen
hundred millions of gold in circulation throughout the world, one
million is lost annually. This million dissolves into dust, flies away,
floats about, is reduced to atoms, charges, drugs, weighs down
consciences, amalgamates with the souls of the rich whom it renders
proud, and with those of the poor whom it renders brutish."
The inscription, rubbed and blotted by the rain and by the kindness of
nature, was fortunately illegible, for it is possible that its
philosophy concerning the inhalation of gold, at the same time both
enigmatical and lucid, might not have been to the taste of the sheriffs,
the provost-marshals, and other big-wigs of the law. English legislation
did not trifle in those days. It did not take much to make a man a
felon. The magistrates were ferocious by tradition, and cruelty was a
matter of routine. The judges of assize increased and multiplied.
Jeffreys had become a breed.
In the interior of the van there were two other inscriptions. Above the
box, on a whitewashed plank, a hand had written in ink as follows:--
"THE ONLY THINGS NECESSARY TO KNOW.
"The Baron, peer of England, wears a cap with six pearls. The coronet
begins with the rank of Viscount. The Viscount wears a coronet of which
the pearls are without number. The Earl a coronet with the pearls upon
points, mingled with strawberry leaves placed low between. The Marquis,
one with pearls and leaves on the same level. The Duke, one with
strawberry leaves alone--no pearls. The Royal Duke, a circlet of crosses
and fleurs de lys. The Prince of Wales, crown like that of the King, but
"The Duke is a most high and most puissant prince, the Marquis and Earl
most noble and puissant lord, the Viscount noble and puissant lord, the
Baron a trusty lord. The Duke is his Grace; the other Peers their
Lordships. _Most honourable_ is higher than _right honourable_.
"Lords who are peers are lords in their own right. Lords who are not
peers are lords by courtesy:--there are no real lords, excepting such as
"The House of Lords is a chamber and a court, _Concilium et Curia_,
legislature and court of justice. The Commons, who are the people, when
ordered to the bar of the Lords, humbly present themselves bareheaded
before the peers, who remain covered. The Commons send up their bills by
forty members, who present the bill with three low bows. The Lords send
their bills to the Commons by a mere clerk. In case of disagreement, the
two Houses confer in the Painted Chamber, the Peers seated and covered,
the Commons standing and bareheaded.
"Peers go to parliament in their coaches in file; the Commons do not.
Some peers go to Westminster in open four-wheeled chariots. The use of
these and of coaches emblazoned with coats of arms and coronets is
allowed only to peers, and forms a portion of their dignity.
"Barons have the same rank as bishops. To be a baron peer of England, it
is necessary to be in possession of a tenure from the king _per Baroniam
integram_, by full barony. The full barony consists of thirteen knights'
fees and one third part, each knight's fee being of the value of L20
sterling, which makes in all 400 marks. The head of a barony (_Caput
baroniae_) is a castle disposed by inheritance, as England herself, that
is to say, descending to daughters if there be no sons, and in that case
going to the eldest daughter, _caeteris filiabus aliunde satisfactis_.
"Barons have the degree of lord: in Saxon, _laford_; _dominus_ in high
Latin; _Lordus_ in low Latin. The eldest and younger sons of viscounts
and barons are the first esquires in the kingdom. The eldest sons of
peers take precedence of knights of the garter. The younger sons do
not. The eldest son of a viscount comes after all barons, and precedes
all baronets. Every daughter of a peer is a _Lady_. Other English girls
are plain _Mistress_.
"All judges rank below peers. The serjeant wears a lambskin tippet; the
judge one of patchwork, _de minuto vario_, made up of a variety of
little white furs, always excepting ermine. Ermine is reserved for peers
and the king.
"A lord never takes an oath, either to the crown or the law. His word
suffices; he says, Upon my honour.
"By a law of Edward the Sixth, peers have the privilege of committing
manslaughter. A peer who kills a man without premeditation is not
"The persons of peers are inviolable.
"A peer cannot be held in durance, save in the Tower of London.
"A writ of supplicavit cannot be granted against a peer.
"A peer sent for by the king has the right to kill one or two deer in
the royal park.
"A peer holds in his castle a baron's court of justice.
"It is unworthy of a peer to walk the street in a cloak, followed by two
footmen. He should only show himself attended by a great train of
gentlemen of his household.
"A peer can be amerced only by his peers, and never to any greater
amount than five pounds, excepting in the case of a duke, who can be
"A peer may retain six aliens born, any other Englishman but four.
"A peer can have wine custom-free; an earl eight tuns.
"A peer is alone exempt from presenting himself before the sheriff of
"A peer cannot be assessed towards the militia.
"When it pleases a peer he raises a regiment and gives it to the king;
thus have done their graces the Dukes of Athol, Hamilton, and
"A peer can hold only of a peer.
"In a civil cause he can demand the adjournment of the case, if there be
not at least one knight on the jury.
"A peer nominates his own chaplains. A baron appoints three chaplains;
a viscount four; an earl and a marquis five; a duke six.
"A peer cannot be put to the rack, even for high treason. A peer cannot
be branded on the hand. A peer is a clerk, though he knows not how to
read. In law he knows.
"A duke has a right to a canopy, or cloth of state, in all places where
the king is not present; a viscount may have one in his house; a baron
has a cover of assay, which may be held under his cup while he drinks. A
baroness has the right to have her train borne by a man in the presence
of a viscountess.
"Eighty-six tables, with five hundred dishes, are served every day in
the royal palace at each meal.
"If a plebeian strike a lord, his hand is cut off.
"A lord is very nearly a king.
"The king is very nearly a god.
"The earth is a lordship.
"The English address God as my lord!"
Opposite this writing was written a second one, in the same fashion,
which ran thus:--
"SATISFACTION WHICH MUST SUFFICE THOSE WHO HAVE NOTHING.
"Henry Auverquerque, Earl of Grantham, who sits in the House of Lords
between the Earl of Jersey and the Earl of Greenwich, has a hundred
thousand a year. To his lordship belongs the palace of Grantham Terrace,
built all of marble and famous for what is called the labyrinth of
passages--a curiosity which contains the scarlet corridor in marble of
Sarancolin, the brown corridor in lumachel of Astracan, the white
corridor in marble of Lani, the black corridor in marble of Alabanda,
the gray corridor in marble of Staremma, the yellow corridor in marble
of Hesse, the green corridor in marble of the Tyrol, the red corridor,
half cherry-spotted marble of Bohemia, half lumachel of Cordova, the
blue corridor in turquin of Genoa, the violet in granite of Catalonia,
the mourning-hued corridor veined black and white in slate of Murviedro,
the pink corridor in cipolin of the Alps, the pearl corridor in lumachel
of Nonetta, and the corridor of all colours, called the courtiers'
corridor, in motley.
"Richard Lowther, Viscount Lonsdale, owns Lowther in Westmorland, which
has a magnificent approach, and a flight of entrance steps which seem to
invite the ingress of kings.
"Richard, Earl of Scarborough, Viscount and Baron Lumley of Lumley
Castle, Viscount Lumley of Waterford in Ireland, and Lord Lieutenant and
Vice-Admiral of the county of Northumberland and of Durham, both city
and county, owns the double castleward of old and new Sandbeck, where
you admire a superb railing, in the form of a semicircle, surrounding
the basin of a matchless fountain. He has, besides, his castle of
"Robert Darcy, Earl of Holderness, has his domain of Holderness, with
baronial towers, and large gardens laid out in French fashion, where he
drives in his coach-and-six, preceded by two outriders, as becomes a
peer of England.
"Charles Beauclerc, Duke of St. Albans, Earl of Burford, Baron
Hedington, Grand Falconer of England, has an abode at Windsor, regal
even by the side of the king's.
"Charles Bodville Robartes, Baron Robartes of Truro, Viscount Bodmin and
Earl of Radnor, owns Wimpole in Cambridgeshire, which is as three
palaces in one, having three facades, one bowed and two triangular. The
approach is by an avenue of trees four deep.
"The most noble and most puissant Lord Philip, Baron Herbert of Cardiff,
Earl of Montgomery and of Pembroke, Ross of Kendall, Parr, Fitzhugh,
Marmion, St. Quentin, and Herbert of Shurland, Warden of the Stannaries
in the counties of Cornwall and Devon, hereditary visitor of Jesus
College, possesses the wonderful gardens at Wilton, where there are two
sheaf-like fountains, finer than those of his most Christian Majesty
King Louis XIV. at Versailles.
"Charles Somerset, Duke of Somerset, owns Somerset House on the Thames,
which is equal to the Villa Pamphili at Rome. On the chimney-piece are
seen two porcelain vases of the dynasty of the Yuens, which are worth
half a million in French money.
"In Yorkshire, Arthur, Lord Ingram, Viscount Irwin, has Temple Newsain,
which is entered under a triumphal arch and which has large wide roofs
resembling Moorish terraces.
"Robert, Lord Ferrers of Chartly, Bourchier, and Lonvaine, has Staunton
Harold in Leicestershire, of which the park is geometrically planned in
the shape of a temple with a facade, and in front of the piece of water
is the great church with the square belfry, which belongs to his
"In the county of Northampton, Charles Spencer, Earl of Sunderland,
member of his Majesty's Privy Council, possesses Althorp, at the
entrance of which is a railing with four columns surmounted by groups in
"Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, has, in Surrey, New Park, rendered
magnificent by its sculptured pinnacles, its circular lawn belted by
trees, and its woodland, at the extremity of which is a little mountain,
artistically rounded, and surmounted by a large oak, which can be seen
"Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, possesses Bretby Hall in
Derbyshire, with a splendid clock tower, falconries, warrens, and very
fine sheets of water, long, square, and oval, one of which is shaped
like a mirror, and has two jets, which throw the water to a great
"Charles Cornwallis, Baron Cornwallis of Eye, owns Broome Hall, a palace
of the fourteenth century.
"The most noble Algernon Capel, Viscount Maiden, Earl of Essex, has
Cashiobury in Hertfordshire, a seat which has the shape of a capital H,
and which rejoices sportsmen with its abundance of game.
"Charles, Lord Ossulston, owns Darnley in Middlesex, approached by
"James Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, has, seven leagues from London,
Hatfield House, with its four lordly pavilions, its belfry in the
centre, and its grand courtyard of black and white slabs, like that of
St. Germain. This palace, which has a frontage 272 feet in length, was
built in the reign of James I. by the Lord High Treasurer of England,
the great-grandfather of the present earl. To be seen there is the bed
of one of the Countesses of Salisbury: it is of inestimable value and
made entirely of Brazilian wood, which is a panacea against the bites of
serpents, and which is called _milhombres_--that is to say, a thousand
men. On this bed is inscribed, _Honi soit qui mal y pense_.
"Edward Rich, Earl of Warwick and Holland, is owner of Warwick Castle,
where whole oaks are burnt in the fireplaces.
"In the parish of Sevenoaks, Charles Sackville, Baron Buckhurst, Baron
Cranfield, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, is owner of Knowle, which is as
large as a town and is composed of three palaces standing parallel one
behind the other, like ranks of infantry. There are six covered flights
of steps on the principal frontage, and a gate under a keep with four
"Thomas Thynne, Baron Thynne of Warminster, and Viscount Weymouth,
possesses Longleat, in which there are as many chimneys, cupolas,
pinnacles, pepper-boxes pavilions, and turrets as at Chambord, in
France, which belongs to the king.
"Henry Howard, Earl of Suffolk, owns, twelve leagues from London, the
palace of Audley End in Essex, which in grandeur and dignity scarcely
yields the palm to the Escorial of the King of Spain.
"In Bedfordshire, Wrest House and Park, which is a whole district,
enclosed by ditches, walls, woodlands, rivers, and hills, belongs to
Henry, Marquis of Kent.
"Hampton Court, in Herefordshire, with its strong embattled keep, and
its gardens bounded by a piece of water which divides them from the
forest, belongs to Thomas, Lord Coningsby.
"Grimsthorp, in Lincolnshire, with its long facade intersected by
turrets in pale, its park, its fish-ponds, its pheasantries, its
sheepfolds, its lawns, its grounds planted with rows of trees, its
groves, its walks, its shrubberies, its flower-beds and borders, formed
in square and lozenge-shape, and resembling great carpets; its
racecourses, and the majestic sweep for carriages to turn in at the
entrance of the house--belongs to Robert, Earl Lindsey, hereditary lord
of the forest of Waltham.
"Up Park, in Sussex, a square house, with two symmetrical belfried
pavilions on each side of the great courtyard, belongs to the Right
Honourable Forde, Baron Grey of Werke, Viscount Glendale and Earl of
"Newnham Paddox, in Warwickshire, which has two quadrangular fish-ponds
and a gabled archway with a large window of four panes, belongs to the
Earl of Denbigh, who is also Count von Rheinfelden, in Germany.
"Wytham Abbey, in Berkshire, with its French garden in which there are
four curiously trimmed arbours, and its great embattled towers,
supported by two bastions, belongs to Montague, Earl of Abingdon, who
also owns Rycote, of which he is Baron, and the principal door of which
bears the device _Virtus ariete fortior_.
"William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, has six dwelling-places, of
which Chatsworth (two storied, and of the finest order of Grecian
architecture) is one.
"The Viscount of Kinalmeaky, who is Earl of Cork, in Ireland, is owner
of Burlington House, Piccadilly, with its extensive gardens, reaching to
the fields outside London; he is also owner of Chiswick, where there are
nine magnificent lodges; he also owns Londesborough, which is a new
house by the side of an old palace.
"The Duke of Beaufort owns Chelsea, which contains two Gothic buildings,
and a Florentine one; he has also Badminton, in Gloucestershire, a
residence from which a number of avenues branch out like rays from a
star. The most noble and puissant Prince Henry, Duke of Beaufort, is
also Marquis and Earl of Worcester, Earl of Glamorgan, Viscount
Grosmont, and Baron Herbert of Chepstow, Ragland, and Gower, Baron
Beaufort of Caldecott Castle, and Baron de Bottetourt.
"John Holies, Duke of Newcastle, and Marquis of Clare, owns Bolsover,
with its majestic square keeps; his also is Haughton, in
Nottinghamshire, where a round pyramid, made to imitate the Tower of
Babel, stands in the centre of a basin of water.
"William, Earl of Craven, Viscount Uffington, and Baron Craven of
Hamstead Marshall, owns Combe Abbey in Warwickshire, where is to be seen
the finest water-jet in England; and in Berkshire two baronies, Hamstead
Marshall, on the facade of which are five Gothic lanterns sunk in the
wall, and Ashdown Park, which is a country seat situate at the point of
intersection of cross-roads in a forest.
"Linnaeus, Lord Clancharlie, Baron Clancharlie and Hunkerville, Marquis
of Corleone in Sicily, derives his title from the castle of Clancharlie,
built in 912 by Edward the Elder, as a defence against the Danes.
Besides Hunkerville House, in London, which is a palace, he has Corleone
Lodge at Windsor, which is another, and eight castlewards, one at
Burton-on-Trent, with a royalty on the carriage of plaster of Paris;
then Grumdaith Humble, Moricambe, Trewardraith, Hell-Kerters (where
there is a miraculous well), Phillinmore, with its turf bogs, Reculver,
near the ancient city Vagniac, Vinecaunton, on the Moel-eulle Mountain;
besides nineteen boroughs and villages with reeves, and the whole of
Penneth chase, all of which bring his lordship L40,000 a year.
"The 172 peers enjoying their dignities under James II. possess among
them altogether a revenue of L1,272,000 sterling a year, which is the
eleventh part of the revenue of England."
In the margin, opposite the last name (that of Linnaeus, Lord
Clancharlie), there was a note in the handwriting of Ursus: _Rebel; in
exile; houses, lands, and chattels sequestrated. It is well_.
Ursus admired Homo. One admires one's like. It is a law. To be always
raging inwardly and grumbling outwardly was the normal condition of
Ursus. He was the malcontent of creation. By nature he was a man ever in
opposition. He took the world unkindly; he gave his satisfecit to no one
and to nothing. The bee did not atone, by its honey-making, for its
sting; a full-blown rose did not absolve the sun for yellow fever and
black vomit. It is probable that in secret Ursus criticized Providence a
good deal. "Evidently," he would say, "the devil works by a spring, and
the wrong that God does is having let go the trigger." He approved of
none but princes, and he had his own peculiar way of expressing his
approbation. One day, when James II. made a gift to the Virgin in a
Catholic chapel in Ireland of a massive gold lamp, Ursus, passing that
way with Homo, who was more indifferent to such things, broke out in
admiration before the crowd, and exclaimed, "It is certain that the
blessed Virgin wants a lamp much more than these barefooted children
there require shoes."
Such proofs of his loyalty, and such evidences of his respect for
established powers, probably contributed in no small degree to make the
magistrates tolerate his vagabond life and his low alliance with a wolf.
Sometimes of an evening, through the weakness of friendship, he allowed
Homo to stretch his limbs and wander at liberty about the caravan. The
wolf was incapable of an abuse of confidence, and behaved in society,
that is to say among men, with the discretion of a poodle. All the same,
if bad-tempered officials had to be dealt with, difficulties might have
arisen; so Ursus kept the honest wolf chained up as much as possible.
From a political point of view, his writing about gold, not very
intelligible in itself, and now become undecipherable, was but a smear,
and gave no handle to the enemy. Even after the time of James II., and
under the "respectable" reign of William and Mary, his caravan might
have been seen peacefully going its rounds of the little English country
towns. He travelled freely from one end of Great Britain to the other,
selling his philtres and phials, and sustaining, with the assistance of
his wolf, his quack mummeries; and he passed with ease through the
meshes of the nets which the police at that period had spread all over
England in order to sift wandering gangs, and especially to stop the
progress of the Comprachicos.
This was right enough. Ursus belonged to no gang. Ursus lived with
Ursus, a _tete-a-tete_, into which the wolf gently thrust his nose. If
Ursus could have had his way, he would have been a Caribbee; that being
impossible, he preferred to be alone. The solitary man is a modified
savage, accepted by civilization. He who wanders most is most alone;
hence his continual change of place. To remain anywhere long suffocated
him with the sense of being tamed. He passed his life in passing on his
way. The sight of towns increased his taste for brambles, thickets,
thorns, and holes in the rock. His home was the forest. He did not feel
himself much out of his element in the murmur of crowded streets, which
is like enough to the bluster of trees. The crowd to some extent
satisfies our taste for the desert. What he disliked in his van was its
having a door and windows, and thus resembling a house. He would have
realized his ideal, had he been able to put a cave on four wheels and
travel in a den.
He did not smile, as we have already said, but he used to laugh;
sometimes, indeed frequently, a bitter laugh. There is consent in a
smile, while a laugh is often a refusal.
His great business was to hate the human race. He was implacable in that
hate. Having made it clear that human life is a dreadful thing; having
observed the superposition of evils, kings on the people, war on kings,
the plague on war, famine on the plague, folly on everything; having
proved a certain measure of chastisement in the mere fact of existence;
having recognized that, death is a deliverance--when they brought him a
sick man he cured him; he had cordials and beverages to prolong the
lives of the old. He put lame cripples on their legs again, and hurled
this sarcasm at them, "There, you are on your paws once more; may you
walk long in this valley of tears!" When he saw a poor man dying of
hunger, he gave him all the pence he had about him, growling out, "Live
on, you wretch! eat! last a long time! It is not I who would shorten
your penal servitude." After which, he would rub his hands and say, "I
do men all the harm I can."
Through the little window at the back, passers-by could read on the
ceiling of the van these words, written within, but visible from
without, inscribed with charcoal, in big letters,--
ANOTHER PRELIMINARY CHAPTER.
Who now knows the word Comprachicos, and who knows its meaning?
The Comprachicos, or Comprapequenos, were a hideous and nondescript
association of wanderers, famous in the 17th century, forgotten in the
18th, unheard of in the 19th. The Comprachicos are like the "succession
powder," an ancient social characteristic detail. They are part of old
human ugliness. To the great eye of history, which sees everything
collectively, the Comprachicos belong to the colossal fact of slavery.
Joseph sold by his brethren is a chapter in their story. The
Comprachicos have left their traces in the penal laws of Spain and
England. You find here and there in the dark confusion of English laws
the impress of this horrible truth, like the foot-print of a savage in a
Comprachicos, the same as Comprapequenos, is a compound Spanish word
The Comprachicos traded in children. They bought and sold them. They did
not steal them. The kidnapping of children is another branch of
industry. And what did they make of these children?
To laugh at.
The populace must needs laugh, and kings too. The mountebank is wanted
in the streets, the jester at the Louvre. The one is called a Clown, the
other a Fool.
The efforts of man to procure himself pleasure are at times worthy of
the attention of the philosopher.
What are we sketching in these few preliminary pages? A chapter in the
most terrible of books; a book which might be entitled--_The farming of
the unhappy by the happy_.
A child destined to be a plaything for men--such a thing has existed;
such a thing exists even now. In simple and savage times such a thing
constituted an especial trade. The 17th century, called the great
century, was of those times. It was a century very Byzantine in tone. It
combined corrupt simplicity with delicate ferocity--a curious variety of
civilization. A tiger with a simper. Madame de Sevigne minces on the
subject of the fagot and the wheel. That century traded a good deal in
children. Flattering historians have concealed the sore, but have
divulged the remedy, Vincent de Paul.
In order that a human toy should succeed, he must be taken early. The
dwarf must be fashioned when young. We play with childhood. But a
well-formed child is not very amusing; a hunchback is better fun.
Hence grew an art. There were trainers who took a man and made him an
abortion; they took a face and made a muzzle; they stunted growth; they
kneaded the features. The artificial production of teratological cases
had its rules. It was quite a science--what one can imagine as the
antithesis of orthopedy. Where God had put a look, their art put a
squint; where God had made harmony, they made discord; where God had
made the perfect picture, they re-established the sketch; and, in the
eyes of connoisseurs, it was the sketch which was perfect. They debased
animals as well; they invented piebald horses. Turenne rode a piebald
horse. In our own days do they not dye dogs blue and green? Nature is
our canvas. Man has always wished to add something to God's work. Man
retouches creation, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The Court
buffoon was nothing but an attempt to lead back man to the monkey. It
was a progress the wrong way. A masterpiece in retrogression. At the
same time they tried to make a man of the monkey. Barbara, Duchess of
Cleveland and Countess of Southampton, had a marmoset for a page.
Frances Sutton, Baroness Dudley, eighth peeress in the bench of barons,
had tea served by a baboon clad in cold brocade, which her ladyship
called My Black. Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, used to go
and take her seat in Parliament in a coach with armorial bearings,
behind which stood, their muzzles stuck up in the air, three Cape
monkeys in grand livery. A Duchess of Medina-Celi, whose toilet Cardinal
Pole witnessed, had her stockings put on by an orang-outang. These
monkeys raised in the scale were a counterpoise to men brutalized and
bestialized. This promiscuousness of man and beast, desired by the
great, was especially prominent in the case of the dwarf and the dog.
The dwarf never quitted the dog, which was always bigger than himself.
The dog was the pair of the dwarf; it was as if they were coupled with a
collar. This juxtaposition is authenticated by a mass of domestic
records--notably by the portrait of Jeffrey Hudson, dwarf of Henrietta
of France, daughter of Henri IV., and wife of Charles I.
To degrade man tends to deform him. The suppression of his state was
completed by disfigurement. Certain vivisectors of that period succeeded
marvellously well in effacing from the human face the divine effigy.
Doctor Conquest, member of the Amen Street College, and judicial visitor
of the chemists' shops of London, wrote a book in Latin on this
pseudo-surgery, the processes of which he describes. If we are to
believe Justus of Carrickfergus, the inventor of this branch of surgery
was a monk named Avonmore--an Irish word signifying Great River.
The dwarf of the Elector Palatine, Perkeo, whose effigy--or
ghost--springs from a magical box in the cave of Heidelberg, was a
remarkable specimen of this science, very varied in its applications. It
fashioned beings the law of whose existence was hideously simple: it
permitted them to suffer, and commanded them to amuse.
The manufacture of monsters was practised on a large scale, and
comprised various branches.
The Sultan required them, so did the Pope; the one to guard his women,
the other to say his prayers. These were of a peculiar kind, incapable
of reproduction. Scarcely human beings, they were useful to
voluptuousness and to religion. The seraglio and the Sistine Chapel
utilized the same species of monsters; fierce in the former case, mild
in the latter.
They knew how to produce things in those days which are not produced
now; they had talents which we lack, and it is not without reason that
some good folk cry out that the decline has come. We no longer know how
to sculpture living human flesh; this is consequent on the loss of the
art of torture. Men were once virtuosi in that respect, but are so no
longer; the art has become so simplified that it will soon disappear
altogether. In cutting the limbs of living men, in opening their bellies
and in dragging out their entrails, phenomena were grasped on the moment
and discoveries made. We are obliged to renounce these experiments now,
and are thus deprived of the progress which surgery made by aid of the
The vivisection of former days was not limited to the manufacture of
phenomena for the market-place, of buffoons for the palace (a species of
augmentative of the courtier), and eunuchs for sultans and popes. It
abounded in varieties. One of its triumphs was the manufacture of cocks
for the king of England.
It was the custom, in the palace of the kings of England, to have a sort
of watchman, who crowed like a cock. This watcher, awake while all
others slept, ranged the palace, and raised from hour to hour the cry of
the farmyard, repeating it as often as was necessary, and thus supplying
a clock. This man, promoted to be cock, had in childhood undergone the
operation of the pharynx, which was part of the art described by Dr.
Conquest. Under Charles II. the salivation inseparable to the operation
having disgusted the Duchess of Portsmouth, the appointment was indeed
preserved, so that the splendour of the crown should not be tarnished,
but they got an unmutilated man to represent the cock. A retired officer
was generally selected for this honourable employment. Under James II.
the functionary was named William Sampson, Cock, and received for his
crow L9, 2s. 6d. annually.
The memoirs of Catherine II. inform us that at St. Petersburg, scarcely
a hundred years since, whenever the czar or czarina was displeased with
a Russian prince, he was forced to squat down in the great antechamber
of the palace, and to remain in that posture a certain number of days,
mewing like a cat, or clucking like a sitting hen, and pecking his food
from the floor.
These fashions have passed away; but not so much, perhaps, as one might
imagine. Nowadays, courtiers slightly modify their intonation in
clucking to please their masters. More than one picks up from the
ground--we will not say from the mud--what he eats.
It is very fortunate that kings cannot err. Hence their contradictions
never perplex us. In approving always, one is sure to be always
right--which is pleasant. Louis XIV. would not have liked to see at
Versailles either an officer acting the cock, or a prince acting the
turkey. That which raised the royal and imperial dignity in England and
Russia would have seemed to Louis the Great incompatible with the crown
of St. Louis. We know what his displeasure was when Madame Henriette
forgot herself so far as to see a hen in a dream--which was, indeed, a
grave breach of good manners in a lady of the court. When one is of the
court, one should not dream of the courtyard. Bossuet, it may be
remembered, was nearly as scandalized as Louis XIV.
The commerce in children in the 17th century, as we have explained, was
connected with a trade. The Comprachicos engaged in the commerce, and
carried on the trade. They bought children, worked a little on the raw
material, and resold them afterwards.
The venders were of all kinds: from the wretched father, getting rid of
his family, to the master, utilizing his stud of slaves. The sale of men
was a simple matter. In our own time we have had fighting to maintain
this right. Remember that it is less than a century ago since the
Elector of Hesse sold his subjects to the King of England, who required
men to be killed in America. Kings went to the Elector of Hesse as we go
to the butcher to buy meat. The Elector had food for powder in stock,
and hung up his subjects in his shop. Come buy; it is for sale. In
England, under Jeffreys, after the tragical episode of Monmouth, there
were many lords and gentlemen beheaded and quartered. Those who were
executed left wives and daughters, widows and orphans, whom James II.
gave to the queen, his wife. The queen sold these ladies to William
Penn. Very likely the king had so much per cent. on the transaction. The
extraordinary thing is, not that James II. should have sold the women,
but that William Penn should have bought them. Penn's purchase is
excused, or explained, by the fact that having a desert to sow with men,
he needed women as farming implements.
Her Gracious Majesty made a good business out of these ladies. The young
sold dear. We may imagine, with the uneasy feeling which a complicated
scandal arouses, that probably some old duchesses were thrown in cheap.
The Comprachicos were also called the Cheylas, a Hindu word, which
conveys the image of harrying a nest.
For a long time the Comprachicos only partially concealed themselves.
There is sometimes in the social order a favouring shadow thrown over
iniquitous trades, in which they thrive. In our own day we have seen an
association of the kind in Spain, under the direction of the ruffian
Ramon Selles, last from 1834 to 1866, and hold three provinces under
terror for thirty years--Valencia, Alicante, and Murcia.
Under the Stuarts, the Comprachicos were by no means in bad odour at
court. On occasions they were used for reasons of state. For James II.
they were almost an _instrumentum regni_. It was a time when families,
which were refractory or in the way, were dismembered; when a descent
was cut short; when heirs were suddenly suppressed. At times one branch
was defrauded to the profit of another. The Comprachicos had a genius
for disfiguration which recommended them to state policy. To disfigure
is better than to kill. There was, indeed, the Iron Mask, but that was a
mighty measure. Europe could not be peopled with iron masks, while
deformed tumblers ran about the streets without creating any surprise.
Besides, the iron mask is removable; not so the mask of flesh. You are
masked for ever by your own flesh--what can be more ingenious? The
Comprachicos worked on man as the Chinese work on trees. They had their
secrets, as we have said; they had tricks which are now lost arts. A
sort of fantastic stunted thing left their hands; it was ridiculous and
wonderful. They would touch up a little being with such skill that its
father could not have known it. _Et que meconnaitrait l'oeil meme de son
pere_, as Racine says in bad French. Sometimes they left the spine
straight and remade the face. They unmarked a child as one might unmark
a pocket-handkerchief. Products, destined for tumblers, had their joints
dislocated in a masterly manner--you would have said they had been
boned. Thus gymnasts were made.
Not only did the Comprachicos take away his face from the child, they
also took away his memory. At least they took away all they could of it;
the child had no consciousness of the mutilation to which he had been
subjected. This frightful surgery left its traces on his countenance,
but not on his mind. The most he could recall was that one day he had
been seized by men, that next he had fallen asleep, and then that he had
been cured. Cured of what? He did not know. Of burnings by sulphur and
incisions by the iron he remembered nothing. The Comprachicos deadened
the little patient by means of a stupefying powder which was thought to
be magical, and suppressed all pain. This powder has been known from
time immemorial in China, and is still employed there in the present
day. The Chinese have been beforehand with us in all our
inventions--printing, artillery, aerostation, chloroform. Only the
discovery which in Europe at once takes life and birth, and becomes a
prodigy and a wonder, remains a chrysalis in China, and is preserved in
a deathlike state. China is a museum of embryos.
Since we are in China, let us remain there a moment to note a
peculiarity. In China, from time immemorial, they have possessed a
certain refinement of industry and art. It is the art of moulding a
living man. They take a child, two or three years old, put him in a
porcelain vase, more or less grotesque, which is made without top or
bottom, to allow egress for the head and feet. During the day the vase
is set upright, and at night is laid down to allow the child to sleep.
Thus the child thickens without growing taller, filling up with his
compressed flesh and distorted bones the reliefs in the vase. This
development in a bottle continues many years. After a certain time it
becomes irreparable. When they consider that this is accomplished, and
the monster made, they break the vase. The child comes out--and, behold,
there is a man in the shape of a mug!
This is convenient: by ordering your dwarf betimes you are able to have
it of any shape you wish.
James II. tolerated the Comprachicos for the good reason that he made
use of them; at least it happened that he did so more than once. We do
not always disdain to use what we despise. This low trade, an excellent
expedient sometimes for the higher one which is called state policy, was
willingly left in a miserable state, but was not persecuted. There was
no surveillance, but a certain amount of attention. Thus much might be
useful--the law closed one eye, the king opened the other.
Sometimes the king went so far as to avow his complicity. These are
audacities of monarchical terrorism. The disfigured one was marked with
the fleur-de-lis; they took from him the mark of God; they put on him
the mark of the king. Jacob Astley, knight and baronet, lord of Melton
Constable, in the county of Norfolk, had in his family a child who had
been sold, and upon whose forehead the dealer had imprinted a
fleur-de-lis with a hot iron. In certain cases in which it was held
desirable to register for some reason the royal origin of the new
position made for the child, they used such means. England has always
done us the honour to utilize, for her personal service, the
The Comprachicos, allowing for the shade which divides a trade from a
fanaticism, were analogous to the Stranglers of India. They lived among
themselves in gangs, and to facilitate their progress, affected somewhat
of the merry-andrew. They encamped here and there, but they were grave
and religious, bearing no affinity to other nomads, and incapable of
theft. The people for a long time wrongly confounded them with the Moors
of Spain and the Moors of China. The Moors of Spain were coiners, the
Moors of China were thieves. There was nothing of the sort about the
Comprachicos; they were honest folk. Whatever you may think of them,
they were sometimes sincerely scrupulous. They pushed open a door,
entered, bargained for a child, paid, and departed. All was done with
They were of all countries. Under the name of Comprachicos fraternized
English, French, Castilians, Germans, Italians. A unity of idea, a unity
of superstition, the pursuit of the same calling, make such fusions. In
this fraternity of vagabonds, those of the Mediterranean seaboard
represented the East, those of the Atlantic seaboard the West. Many
Basques conversed with many Irishmen. The Basque and the Irishman
understand each other--they speak the old Punic jargon; add to this the
intimate relations of Catholic Ireland with Catholic Spain--relations
such that they terminated by bringing to the gallows in London one
almost King of Ireland, the Celtic Lord de Brany; from which resulted
the conquest of the county of Leitrim.
The Comprachicos were rather a fellowship than a tribe; rather a
residuum than a fellowship. It was all the riffraff of the universe,
having for their trade a crime. It was a sort of harlequin people, all
composed of rags. To recruit a man was to sew on a tatter.
To wander was the Comprachicos' law of existence--to appear and
disappear. What is barely tolerated cannot take root. Even in the
kingdoms where their business supplied the courts, and, on occasions,
served as an auxiliary to the royal power, they were now and then
suddenly ill-treated. Kings made use of their art, and sent the artists
to the galleys. These inconsistencies belong to the ebb and flow of
royal caprice. "For such is our pleasure."
A rolling stone and a roving trade gather no moss. The Comprachicos were
poor. They might have said what the lean and ragged witch observed, when
she saw them setting fire to the stake, "Le jeu n'en vaut pas la
chandelle." It is possible, nay probable (their chiefs remaining
unknown), that the wholesale contractors in the trade were rich. After
the lapse of two centuries, it would be difficult to throw any light on
It was, as we have said, a fellowship. It had its laws, its oaths, its
formulae--it had almost its cabala. Any one nowadays wishing to know all
about the Comprachicos need only go into Biscaya or Galicia; there were
many Basques among them, and it is in those mountains that one hears
their history. To this day the Comprachicos are spoken of at Oyarzun, at
Urbistondo, at Leso, at Astigarraga. _Aguardate nino, que voy a llamar
al Comprachicos_--Take care, child, or I'll call the Comprachicos--is
the cry with which mothers frighten their children in that country.
The Comprachicos, like the Zigeuner and the Gipsies, had appointed
places for periodical meetings. From time to time their leaders
conferred together. In the seventeenth century they had four principal
points of rendezvous: one in Spain--the pass of Pancorbo; one in
Germany--the glade called the Wicked Woman, near Diekirsch, where there
are two enigmatic bas-reliefs, representing a woman with a head and a
man without one; one in France--the hill where was the colossal statue
of Massue-la-Promesse in the old sacred wood of Borvo Tomona, near
Bourbonne les Bains; one in England--behind the garden wall of William
Challoner, Squire of Gisborough in Cleveland, Yorkshire, behind the
square tower and the great wing which is entered by an arched door.
The laws against vagabonds have always been very rigorous in England.
England, in her Gothic legislation, seemed to be inspired with this
principle, _Homo errans fera errante pejor_. One of the special statutes
classifies the man without a home as "more dangerous than the asp,
dragon, lynx, or basilisk" (_atrocior aspide, dracone, lynce, et
basilico_). For a long time England troubled herself as much concerning
the gipsies, of whom she wished to be rid as about the wolves of which
she had been cleared. In that the Englishman differed from the Irishman,
who prayed to the saints for the health of the wolf, and called him "my
English law, nevertheless, in the same way as (we have just seen) it
tolerated the wolf, tamed, domesticated, and become in some sort a dog,
tolerated the regular vagabond, become in some sort a subject. It did
not trouble itself about either the mountebank or the travelling barber,
or the quack doctor, or the peddler, or the open-air scholar, as long as
they had a trade to live by. Further than this, and with these
exceptions, the description of freedom which exists in the wanderer
terrified the law. A tramp was a possible public enemy. That modern
thing, the lounger, was then unknown; that ancient thing, the vagrant,
was alone understood. A suspicious appearance, that indescribable
something which all understand and none can define, was sufficient
reason that society should take a man by the collar. "Where do you live?
How do you get your living?" And if he could not answer, harsh penalties
awaited him. Iron and fire were in the code: the law practised the
cauterization of vagrancy.
Hence, throughout English territory, a veritable "loi des suspects" was
applicable to vagrants (who, it must be owned, readily became
malefactors), and particularly to gipsies, whose expulsion has
erroneously been compared to the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors
from Spain, and the Protestants from France. As for us, we do not
confound a battue with a persecution.
The Comprachicos, we insist, had nothing in common with the gipsies. The
gipsies were a nation; the Comprachicos were a compound of all
nations--the lees of a horrible vessel full of filthy waters. The
Comprachicos had not, like the gipsies, an idiom of their own; their
jargon was a promiscuous collection of idioms: all languages were mixed
together in their language; they spoke a medley. Like the gipsies, they
had come to be a people winding through the peoples; but their common
tie was association, not race. At all epochs in history one finds in the
vast liquid mass which constitutes humanity some of these streams of
venomous men exuding poison around them. The gipsies were a tribe; the
Comprachicos a freemasonry--a masonry having not a noble aim, but a
hideous handicraft. Finally, their religions differ--the gipsies were
Pagans, the Comprachicos were Christians, and more than that, good
Christians, as became an association which, although a mixture of all
nations, owed its birth to Spain, a devout land.
They were more than Christians, they were Catholics; they were more than
Catholics, they were Romans, and so touchy in their faith, and so pure,
that they refused to associate with the Hungarian nomads of the comitate
of Pesth, commanded and led by an old man, having for sceptre a wand
with a silver ball, surmounted by the double-headed Austrian eagle. It
is true that these Hungarians were schismatics, to the extent of
celebrating the Assumption on the 29th August, which is an abomination.
In England, so long as the Stuarts reigned, the confederation of the
Comprachicos was (for motives of which we have already given you a
glimpse) to a certain extent protected. James II., a devout man, who
persecuted the Jews and trampled out the gipsies, was a good prince to
the Comprachicos. We have seen why. The Comprachicos were buyers of the
human wares in which he was dealer. They excelled in disappearances.
Disappearances are occasionally necessary for the good of the state. An
inconvenient heir of tender age whom they took and handled lost his
shape. This facilitated confiscation; the tranfer of titles to
favourites was simplified. The Comprachicos were, moreover, very
discreet and very taciturn. They bound themselves to silence, and kept
their word, which is necessary in affairs of state. There was scarcely
an example of their having betrayed the secrets of the king. This was,
it is true, for their interest; and if the king had lost confidence in
them, they would have been in great danger. They were thus of use in a
political point of view. Moreover these artists furnished singers for
the Holy Father. The Comprachicos were useful for the _Miserere_ of
Allegri. They were particularly devoted to Mary. All this pleased the
papistry of the Stuarts. James II. could not be hostile to holy men who
pushed their devotion to the Virgin to the extent of manufacturing
eunuchs. In 1688 there was a change of dynasty in England: Orange
supplanted Stuart. William III. replaced James II.
James II. went away to die in exile, miracles were performed on his
tomb, and his relics cured the Bishop of Autun of fistula--a worthy
recompense of the Christian virtues of the prince.
William, having neither the same ideas nor the same practices as James,
was severe to the Comprachicos. He did his best to crush out the vermin.
A statute of the early part of William and Mary's reign hit the
association of child-buyers hard. It was as the blow of a club to the
Comprachicos, who were from that time pulverized. By the terms of this
statute those of the fellowship taken and duly convicted were to be
branded with a red-hot iron, imprinting R. on the shoulder, signifying
rogue; on the left hand T, signifying thief; and on the right hand M,
signifying man-slayer. The chiefs, "supposed to be rich, although
beggars in appearance," were to be punished in the _collistrigium_--that
is, the pillory--and branded on the forehead with a P, besides having
their goods confiscated, and the trees in their woods rooted up. Those
who did not inform against the Comprachicos were to be punished by
confiscation and imprisonment for life, as for the crime of misprision.
As for the women found among these men, they were to suffer the
cucking-stool--this is a tumbrel, the name of which is composed of the
French word _coquine_, and the German _stuhl_. English law being endowed
with a strange longevity, this punishment still exists in English
legislation for quarrelsome women. The cucking-stool is suspended over a
river or a pond, the woman seated on it. The chair is allowed to drop
into the water, and then pulled out. This dipping of the woman is
repeated three times, "to cool her anger," says the commentator,
BOOK THE FIRST.
_NIGHT NOT SO BLACK AS MAN_.
An obstinate north wind blew without ceasing over the mainland of
Europe, and yet more roughly over England, during all the month of
December, 1689, and all the month of January, 1690. Hence the disastrous
cold weather, which caused that winter to be noted as "memorable to the
poor," on the margin of the old Bible in the Presbyterian chapel of the
Nonjurors in London. Thanks to the lasting qualities of the old
monarchical parchment employed in official registers, long lists of poor
persons, found dead of famine and cold, are still legible in many local
repositories, particularly in the archives of the Liberty of the Clink,
in the borough of Southwark, of Pie Powder Court (which signifies Dusty
Feet Court), and in those of Whitechapel Court, held in the village of
Stepney by the bailiff of the Lord of the Manor. The Thames was frozen
over--a thing which does not happen once in a century, as the ice forms
on it with difficulty owing to the action of the sea. Coaches rolled
over the frozen river, and a fair was held with booths, bear-baiting,
and bull-baiting. An ox was roasted whole on the ice. This thick ice
lasted two months. The hard year 1690 surpassed in severity even the
famous winters at the beginning of the seventeenth century, so minutely
observed by Dr. Gideon Delane--the same who was, in his quality of
apothecary to King James, honoured by the city of London with a bust and
One evening, towards the close of one of the most bitter days of the
month of January, 1690, something unusual was going on in one of the
numerous inhospitable bights of the bay of Portland, which caused the
sea-gulls and wild geese to scream and circle round its mouth, not
daring to re-enter.
In this creek, the most dangerous of all which line the bay during the
continuance of certain winds, and consequently the most
lonely--convenient, by reason of its very danger, for ships in hiding--a
little vessel, almost touching the cliff, so deep was the water, was
moored to a point of rock. We are wrong in saying, The night falls; we
should say the night rises, for it is from the earth that obscurity
comes. It was already night at the bottom of the cliff; it was still day
at top. Any one approaching the vessel's moorings would have recognized
a Biscayan hooker.
The sun, concealed all day by the mist, had just set. There was
beginning to be felt that deep and sombrous melancholy which might be
called anxiety for the absent sun. With no wind from the sea, the water
of the creek was calm.
This was, especially in winter, a lucky exception. Almost all the
Portland creeks have sand-bars; and in heavy weather the sea becomes
very rough, and, to pass in safety, much skill and practice are
necessary. These little ports (ports more in appearance than fact) are
of small advantage. They are hazardous to enter, fearful to leave. On
this evening, for a wonder, there was no danger.
The Biscay hooker is of an ancient model, now fallen into disuse. This
kind of hooker, which has done service even in the navy, was stoutly
built in its hull--a boat in size, a ship in strength. It figured in the
Armada. Sometimes the war-hooker attained to a high tonnage; thus the
Great Griffin, bearing a captain's flag, and commanded by Lopez de
Medina, measured six hundred and fifty good tons, and carried forty
guns. But the merchant and contraband hookers were very feeble
specimens. Sea-folk held them at their true value, and esteemed the
model a very sorry one, The rigging of the hooker was made of hemp,
sometimes with wire inside, which was probably intended as a means,
however unscientific, of obtaining indications, in the case of magnetic
tension. The lightness of this rigging did not exclude the use of heavy
tackle, the cabrias of the Spanish galleon, and the cameli of the Roman
triremes. The helm was very long, which gives the advantage of a long
arm of leverage, but the disadvantage of a small arc of effort. Two
wheels in two pulleys at the end of the rudder corrected this defect,
and compensated, to some extent, for the loss of strength. The compass
was well housed in a case perfectly square, and well balanced by its two
copper frames placed horizontally, one in the other, on little bolts, as
in Cardan's lamps. There was science and cunning in the construction of
the hooker, but it was ignorant science and barbarous cunning. The
hooker was primitive, just like the praam and the canoe; was kindred to
the praam in stability, and to the canoe in swiftness; and, like all
vessels born of the instinct of the pirate and fisherman, it had
remarkable sea qualities: it was equally well suited to landlocked and
to open waters. Its system of sails, complicated in stays, and very
peculiar, allowed of its navigating trimly in the close bays of Asturias
(which are little more than enclosed basins, as Pasages, for instance),
and also freely out at sea. It could sail round a lake, and sail round
the world--a strange craft with two objects, good for a pond and good
for a storm. The hooker is among vessels what the wagtail is among
birds--one of the smallest and one of the boldest. The wagtail perching
on a reed scarcely bends it, and, flying away, crosses the ocean.
These Biscay hookers, even to the poorest, were gilt and painted.
Tattooing is part of the genius of those charming people, savages to
some degree. The sublime colouring of their mountains, variegated by
snows and meadows, reveals to them the rugged spell which ornament
possesses in itself. They are poverty-stricken and magnificent; they put
coats-of-arms on their cottages; they have huge asses, which they
bedizen with bells, and huge oxen, on which they put head-dresses of
feathers. Their coaches, which you can hear grinding the wheels two
leagues off, are illuminated, carved, and hung with ribbons. A cobbler
has a bas-relief on his door: it is only St. Crispin and an old shoe,
but it is in stone. They trim their leathern jackets with lace. They do
not mend their rags, but they embroider them. Vivacity profound and
superb! The Basques are, like the Greeks, children of the sun; while the
Valencian drapes himself, bare and sad, in his russet woollen rug, with
a hole to pass his head through, the natives of Galicia and Biscay have
the delight of fine linen shirts, bleached in the dew. Their thresholds
and their windows teem with faces fair and fresh, laughing under
garlands of maize; a joyous and proud serenity shines out in their
ingenious arts, in their trades, in their customs, in the dress of their
maidens, in their songs. The mountain, that colossal ruin, is all aglow
in Biscay: the sun's rays go in and out of every break. The wild
Jaizquivel is full of idylls. Biscay is Pyrenean grace as Savoy is
Alpine grace. The dangerous bays--the neighbours of St. Sebastian, Leso,
and Fontarabia--with storms, with clouds, with spray flying over the
capes, with the rages of the waves and the winds, with terror, with
uproar, mingle boat-women crowned with roses. He who has seen the Basque
country wishes to see it again. It is the blessed land. Two harvests a
year; villages resonant and gay; a stately poverty; all Sunday the sound
of guitars, dancing, castanets, love-making; houses clean and bright;
storks in the belfries.
Let us return to Portland--that rugged mountain in the sea.
The peninsula of Portland, looked at geometrically, presents the
appearance of a bird's head, of which the bill is turned towards the
ocean, the back of the head towards Weymouth; the isthmus is its neck.
Portland, greatly to the sacrifice of its wildness, exists now but for
trade. The coasts of Portland were discovered by quarrymen and
plasterers towards the middle of the seventeenth century. Since that
period what is called Roman cement has been made of the Portland
stone--a useful industry, enriching the district, and disfiguring the
bay. Two hundred years ago these coasts were eaten away as a cliff;
to-day, as a quarry. The pick bites meanly, the wave grandly; hence a
diminution of beauty. To the magnificent ravages of the ocean have
succeeded the measured strokes of men. These measured strokes have
worked away the creek where the Biscay hooker was moored. To find any
vestige of the little anchorage, now destroyed, the eastern side of the
peninsula should be searched, towards the point beyond Folly Pier and
Dirdle Pier, beyond Wakeham even, between the place called Church Hope
and the place called Southwell.
The creek, walled in on all sides by precipices higher than its width,
was minute by minute becoming more overshadowed by evening. The misty
gloom, usual at twilight, became thicker; it was like a growth of
darkness at the bottom of a well. The opening of the creek seaward, a
narrow passage, traced on the almost night-black interior a pallid rift
where the waves were moving. You must have been quite close to perceive
the hooker moored to the rocks, and, as it were, hidden by the great
cloaks of shadow. A plank thrown from on board on to a low and level
projection of the cliff, the only point on which a landing could be
made, placed the vessel in communication with the land. Dark figures
were crossing and recrossing each other on this tottering gangway, and
in the shadow some people were embarking.
It was less cold in the creek than out at sea, thanks to the screen of
rock rising over the north of the basin, which did not, however, prevent
the people from shivering. They were hurrying. The effect of the
twilight defined the forms as though they had been punched out with a
tool. Certain indentations in their clothes were visible, and showed
that they belonged to the class called in England the ragged.
The twisting of the pathway could be distinguished vaguely in the relief
of the cliff. A girl who lets her stay-lace hang down trailing over the
back of an armchair, describes, without being conscious of it, most of
the paths of cliffs and mountains. The pathway of this creek, full of
knots and angles, almost perpendicular, and better adapted for goats
than men, terminated on the platform where the plank was placed. The
pathways of cliffs ordinarily imply a not very inviting declivity; they
offer themselves less as a road than as a fall; they sink rather than
incline. This one--probably some ramification of a road on the plain
above--was disagreeable to look at, so vertical was it. From underneath
you saw it gain by zigzag the higher layer of the cliff where it passed
out through deep passages on to the high plateau by a cutting in the
rock; and the passengers for whom the vessel was waiting in the creek
must have come by this path.
Excepting the movement of embarkation which was being made in the creek,
a movement visibly scared and uneasy, all around was solitude; no step,
no noise, no breath was heard. At the other side of the roads, at the
entrance of Ringstead Bay, you could just perceive a flotilla of
shark-fishing boats, which were evidently out of their reckoning. These
polar boats had been driven from Danish into English waters by the whims
of the sea. Northerly winds play these tricks on fishermen. They had
just taken refuge in the anchorage of Portland--a sign of bad weather
expected and danger out at sea. They were engaged in casting anchor: the
chief boat, placed in front after the old manner of Norwegian flotillas,
all her rigging standing out in black, above the white level of the sea;
and in front might be perceived the hook-iron, loaded with all kinds of
hooks and harpoons, destined for the Greenland shark, the dogfish, and
the spinous shark, as well as the nets to pick up the sunfish.
Except a few other craft, all swept into the same corner, the eye met
nothing living on the vast horizon of Portland--not a house, not a ship.
The coast in those days was not inhabited, and the roads, at that
season, were not safe.
Whatever may have been the appearance of the weather, the beings who
were going to sail away in the Biscayan urca pressed on the hour of
departure all the same. They formed a busy and confused group, in rapid
movement on the shore. To distinguish one from another was difficult;
impossible to tell whether they were old or young. The indistinctness of
evening intermixed and blurred them; the mask of shadow was over their
faces. They were sketches in the night. There were eight of them, and
there were seemingly among them one or two women, hard to recognize
under the rags and tatters in which the group was attired--clothes which
were no longer man's or woman's. Rags have no sex.
A smaller shadow, flitting to and fro among the larger ones, indicated
either a dwarf or a child.
It was a child.
This is what an observer close at hand might have noted.
All wore long cloaks, torn and patched, but covering them, and at need
concealing them up to the eyes; useful alike against the north wind and
curiosity. They moved with ease under these cloaks. The greater number
wore a handkerchief rolled round the head--a sort of rudiment which
marks the commencement of the turban in Spain. This headdress was
nothing unusual in England. At that time the South was in fashion in the
North; perhaps this was connected with the fact that the North was
beating the South. It conquered and admired. After the defeat of the
Armada, Castilian was considered in the halls of Elizabeth to be elegant
court talk. To speak English in the palace of the Queen of England was
held almost an impropriety. Partially to adopt the manners of those upon
whom we impose our laws is the habit of the conquering barbarian towards
conquered civilization. The Tartar contemplates and imitates the
Chinese. It was thus Castilian fashions penetrated into England; in
return, English interests crept into Spain.
One of the men in the group embarking appeared to be a chief. He had
sandals on his feet, and was bedizened with gold lace tatters and a
tinsel waistcoat, shining under his cloak like the belly of a fish.
Another pulled down over his face a huge piece of felt, cut like a
sombrero; this felt had no hole for a pipe, thus indicating the wearer
to be a man of letters.
On the principle that a man's vest is a child's cloak, the child was
wrapped over his rags in a sailor's jacket, which descended to his
By his height you would have guessed him to be a boy of ten or eleven;
his feet were bare.
The crew of the hooker was composed of a captain and two sailors.
The hooker had apparently come from Spain, and was about to return
thither. She was beyond a doubt engaged in a stealthy service from one
coast to the other.
The persons embarking in her whispered among themselves.
The whispering interchanged by these creatures was of composite
sound--now a word of Spanish, then of German, then of French, then of
Gaelic, at times of Basque. It was either a patois or a slang. They
appeared to be of all nations, and yet of the same band.
The motley group appeared to be a company of comrades, perhaps a gang of
The crew was probably of their brotherhood. Community of object was
visible in the embarkation.
Had there been a little more light, and if you could have looked at them
attentively, you might have perceived on these people rosaries and
scapulars half hidden under their rags; one of the semi-women mingling
in the group had a rosary almost equal for the size of its beads to that
of a dervish, and easy to recognize for an Irish one made at
Llanymthefry, which is also called Llanandriffy.
You might also have observed, had it not been so dark, a figure of Our
Lady and Child carved and gilt on the bow of the hooker. It was probably
that of the Basque Notre Dame, a sort of Panagia of the old Cantabri.
Under this image, which occupied the position of a figurehead, was a
lantern, which at this moment was not lighted--an excess of caution
which implied an extreme desire of concealment. This lantern was
evidently for two purposes. When alight it burned before the Virgin, and
at the same time illumined the sea--a beacon doing duty as a taper.
Under the bowsprit the cutwater, long, curved, and sharp, came out in
front like the horn of a crescent. At the top of the cutwater, and at
the feet of the Virgin, a kneeling angel, with folded wings, leaned her
back against the stem, and looked through a spyglass at the horizon. The
angel was gilded like Our Lady. In the cutwater were holes and openings
to let the waves pass through, which afforded an opportunity for gilding
Under the figure of the Virgin was written, in gilt capitals, the word
_Matutina_--the name of the vessel, not to be read just now on account
of the darkness.
Amid the confusion of departure there were thrown down in disorder, at
the foot of the cliff, the goods which the voyagers were to take with
them, and which, by means of a plank serving as a bridge across, were
being passed rapidly from the shore to the boat. Bags of biscuit, a cask
of stock fish, a case of portable soup, three barrels--one of fresh
water, one of malt, one of tar--four or five bottles of ale, an old
portmanteau buckled up by straps, trunks, boxes, a ball of tow for
torches and signals--such was the lading. These ragged people had
valises, which seemed to indicate a roving life. Wandering rascals are
obliged to own something; at times they would prefer to fly away like
birds, but they cannot do so without abandoning the means of earning a
livelihood. They of necessity possess boxes of tools and instruments of
labour, whatever their errant trade may be. Those of whom we speak were
dragging their baggage with them, often an encumbrance.
It could not have been easy to bring these movables to the bottom of the
cliff. This, however, revealed the intention of a definite departure.
No time was lost; there was one continued passing to and fro from the
shore to the vessel, and from the vessel to the shore; each one took his
share of the work--one carried a bag, another a chest. Those amidst the
promiscuous company who were possibly or probably women worked like the
rest. They overloaded the child.
It was doubtful if the child's father or mother were in the group; no
sign of life was vouchsafed him. They made him work, nothing more. He
appeared not a child in a family, but a slave in a tribe. He waited on
every one, and no one spoke to him.
However, he made haste, and, like the others of this mysterious troop,
he seemed to have but one thought--to embark as quickly as possible. Did
he know why? probably not: he hurried mechanically because he saw the
The hooker was decked. The stowing of the lading in the hold was quickly
finished, and the moment to put off arrived. The last case had been
carried over the gangway, and nothing was left to embark but the men.
The two objects among the group who seemed women were already on board;
six, the child among them, were still on the low platform of the cliff.
A movement of departure was made in the vessel: the captain seized the
helm, a sailor took up an axe to cut the hawser--to cut is an evidence
of haste; when there is time it is unknotted.
"Andamos," said, in a low voice, he who appeared chief of the six, and
who had the spangles on his tatters. The child rushed towards the plank
in order to be the first to pass. As he placed his foot on it, two of
the men hurried by, at the risk of throwing him into the water, got in
before him, and passed on; the fourth drove him back with his fist and
followed the third; the fifth, who was the chief, bounded into rather
than entered the vessel, and, as he jumped in, kicked back the plank,
which fell into the sea, a stroke of the hatchet cut the moorings, the
helm was put up, the vessel left the shore, and the child remained on
The child remained motionless on the rock, with his eyes fixed--no
calling out, no appeal. Though this was unexpected by him, he spoke not
a word. The same silence reigned in the vessel. No cry from the child to
the men--no farewell from the men to the child. There was on both sides
a mute acceptance of the widening distance between them. It was like a
separation of ghosts on the banks of the Styx. The child, as if nailed
to the rock, which the high tide was beginning to bathe, watched the
departing bark. It seemed as if he realized his position. What did he
A moment later the hooker gained the neck of the crook and entered it.
Against the clear sky the masthead was visible, rising above the split
blocks between which the strait wound as between two walls. The truck
wandered to the summit of the rocks, and appeared to run into them. Then
it was seen no more--all was over--the bark had gained the sea.
The child watched its disappearance--he was astounded but dreamy. His
stupefaction was complicated by a sense of the dark reality of
existence. It seemed as if there were experience in this dawning being.
Did he, perchance, already exercise judgment? Experience coming too
early constructs, sometimes, in the obscure depths of a child's mind,
some dangerous balance--we know not what--in which the poor little soul
Feeling himself innocent, he yielded. There was no complaint--the
irreproachable does not reproach.
His rough expulsion drew from him no sign; he suffered a sort of
internal stiffening. The child did not bow under this sudden blow of
fate, which seemed to put an end to his existence ere it had well begun;
he received the thunderstroke standing.
It would have been evident to any one who could have seen his
astonishment unmixed with dejection, that in the group which abandoned
him there was nothing which loved him, nothing which he loved.
Brooding, he forgot the cold. Suddenly the wave wetted his feet--the
tide was flowing; a gust passed through his hair--the north wind was
rising. He shivered. There came over him, from head to foot, the shudder
He cast his eyes about him.
He was alone.
Up to this day there had never existed for him any other men than those
who were now in the hooker. Those men had just stolen away.
Let us add what seems a strange thing to state. Those men, the only
ones he knew, were unknown to him.
He could not have said who they were. His childhood had been passed
among them, without his having the consciousness of being of them. He
was in juxtaposition to them, nothing more.
He had just been--forgotten--by them.
He had no money about him, no shoes to his feet, scarcely a garment to
his body, not even a piece of bread in his pocket.
It was winter--it was night. It would be necessary to walk several
leagues before a human habitation could be reached.
He did not know where he was.
He knew nothing, unless it was that those who had come with him to the
brink of the sea had gone away without him.
He felt himself put outside the pale of life.
He felt that man failed him.
He was ten years old.
The child was in a desert, between depths where he saw the night rising
and depths where he heard the waves murmur.
He stretched his little thin arms and yawned.
Then suddenly, as one who makes up his mind, bold, and throwing off his
numbness--with the agility of a squirrel, or perhaps of an acrobat--he
turned his back on the creek, and set himself to climb up the cliff. He
escaladed the path, left it, returned to it, quick and venturous. He was
hurrying landward, just as though he had a destination marked out;
nevertheless he was going nowhere.
He hastened without an object--a fugitive before Fate.
To climb is the function of a man; to clamber is that of an animal--he
did both. As the slopes of Portland face southward, there was scarcely
any snow on the path; the intensity of cold had, however, frozen that
snow into dust very troublesome to the walker. The child freed himself
of it. His man's jacket, which was too big for him, complicated matters,
and got in his way. Now and then on an overhanging crag or in a
declivity he came upon a little ice, which caused him to slip down.
Then, after hanging some moments over the precipice, he would catch
hold of a dry branch or projecting stone. Once he came on a vein of
slate, which suddenly gave way under him, letting him down with it.
Crumbling slate is treacherous. For some seconds the child slid like a
tile on a roof; he rolled to the extreme edge of the decline; a tuft of
grass which he clutched at the right moment saved him. He was as mute in
sight of the abyss as he had been in sight of the men; he gathered
himself up and re-ascended silently. The slope was steep; so he had to
tack in ascending. The precipice grew in the darkness; the vertical rock
had no ending. It receded before the child in the distance of its
height. As the child ascended, so seemed the summit to ascend. While he
clambered he looked up at the dark entablature placed like a barrier
between heaven and him. At last he reached the top.
He jumped on the level ground, or rather landed, for he rose from the
Scarcely was he on the cliff when he began to shiver. He felt in his
face that bite of the night, the north wind. The bitter north-wester was
blowing; he tightened his rough sailor's jacket about his chest.
It was a good coat, called in ship language a sou-'wester, because that
sort of stuff allows little of the south-westerly rain to penetrate.
The child, having gained the tableland, stopped, placed his feet firmly
on the frozen ground, and looked about him.
Behind him was the sea; in front the land; above, the sky--but a sky
without stars; an opaque mist masked the zenith.
On reaching the summit of the rocky wall he found himself turned towards
the land, and looked at it attentively. It lay before him as far as the
sky-line, flat, frozen, and covered with snow. Some tufts of heather
shivered in the wind. No roads were visible--nothing, not even a
shepherd's cot. Here and there pale spiral vortices might be seen, which
were whirls of fine snow, snatched from the ground by the wind and blown
away. Successive undulations of ground, become suddenly misty, rolled
themselves into the horizon. The great dull plains were lost under the
white fog. Deep silence. It spread like infinity, and was hush as the
The child turned again towards the sea.
The sea, like the land, was white--the one with snow, the other with
foam. There is nothing so melancholy as the light produced by this
Certain lights of night are very clearly cut in their hardness; the sea
was like steel, the cliff like ebony. From the height where the child
was the bay of Portland appeared almost like a geographical map, pale,
in a semicircle of hills. There was something dreamlike in that
nocturnal landscape--a wan disc belted by a dark crescent. The moon
sometimes has a similar appearance. From cape to cape, along the whole
coast, not a single spark indicating a hearth with a fire, not a lighted
window, not an inhabited house, was to be seen. As in heaven, so on
earth--no light. Not a lamp below, not a star above. Here and there came
sudden risings in the great expanse of waters in the gulf, as the wind
disarranged and wrinkled the vast sheet. The hooker was still visible in
the bay as she fled.
It was a black triangle gliding over the livid waters.
Far away the waste of waters stirred confusedly in the ominous
clear-obscure of immensity. The _Matutina_ was making quick way. She
seemed to grow smaller every minute. Nothing appears so rapid as the
flight of a vessel melting into the distance of ocean.
Suddenly she lit the lantern at her prow. Probably the darkness falling
round her made those on board uneasy, and the pilot thought it necessary
to throw light on the waves. This luminous point, a spark seen from
afar, clung like a corpse light to the high and long black form. You
would have said it was a shroud raised up and moving in the middle of
the sea, under which some one wandered with a star in his hand.
A storm threatened in the air; the child took no account of it, but a
sailor would have trembled. It was that moment of preliminary anxiety
when it seems as though the elements are changing into persons, and one
is about to witness the mysterious transfiguration of the wind into the
wind-god. The sea becomes Ocean: its power reveals itself as Will: that
which one takes for a thing is a soul. It will become visible; hence the
terror. The soul of man fears to be thus confronted with the soul of
Chaos was about to appear. The wind rolling back the fog, and making a
stage of the clouds behind, set the scene for that fearful drama of wave
and winter which is called a Snowstorm. Vessels putting back hove in
sight. For some minutes past the roads had no longer been deserted.
Every instant troubled barks hastening towards an anchorage appeared