This etext was prepared from the 1894 Chapman and Hall "Christmas
Stories" edition by David Price, email email@example.com
THE HOLLY-TREE--THREE BRANCHES
I have kept one secret in the course of my life. I am a bashful
man. Nobody would suppose it, nobody ever does suppose it, nobody
ever did suppose it, but I am naturally a bashful man. This is the
secret which I have never breathed until now.
I might greatly move the reader by some account of the innumerable
places I have not been to, the innumerable people I have not called
upon or received, the innumerable social evasions I have been guilty
of, solely because I am by original constitution and character a
bashful man. But I will leave the reader unmoved, and proceed with
the object before me.
That object is to give a plain account of my travels and discoveries
in the Holly-Tree Inn; in which place of good entertainment for man
and beast I was once snowed up.
It happened in the memorable year when I parted for ever from Angela
Leath, whom I was shortly to have married, on making the discovery
that she preferred my bosom friend. From our school-days I had
freely admitted Edwin, in my own mind, to be far superior to myself;
and, though I was grievously wounded at heart, I felt the preference
to be natural, and tried to forgive them both. It was under these
circumstances that I resolved to go to America--on my way to the
Communicating my discovery neither to Angela nor to Edwin, but
resolving to write each of them an affecting letter conveying my
blessing and forgiveness, which the steam-tender for shore should
carry to the post when I myself should be bound for the New World,
far beyond recall,--I say, locking up my grief in my own breast, and
consoling myself as I could with the prospect of being generous, I
quietly left all I held dear, and started on the desolate journey I
The dead winter-time was in full dreariness when I left my chambers
for ever, at five o'clock in the morning. I had shaved by candle-
light, of course, and was miserably cold, and experienced that
general all-pervading sensation of getting up to be hanged which I
have usually found inseparable from untimely rising under such
How well I remember the forlorn aspect of Fleet Street when I came
out of the Temple! The street-lamps flickering in the gusty north-
east wind, as if the very gas were contorted with cold; the white-
topped houses; the bleak, star-lighted sky; the market people and
other early stragglers, trotting to circulate their almost frozen
blood; the hospitable light and warmth of the few coffee-shops and
public-houses that were open for such customers; the hard, dry,
frosty rime with which the air was charged (the wind had already
beaten it into every crevice), and which lashed my face like a steel
It wanted nine days to the end of the month, and end of the year.
The Post-office packet for the United States was to depart from
Liverpool, weather permitting, on the first of the ensuing month,
and I had the intervening time on my hands. I had taken this into
consideration, and had resolved to make a visit to a certain spot
(which I need not name) on the farther borders of Yorkshire. It was
endeared to me by my having first seen Angela at a farmhouse in that
place, and my melancholy was gratified by the idea of taking a
wintry leave of it before my expatriation. I ought to explain,
that, to avoid being sought out before my resolution should have
been rendered irrevocable by being carried into full effect, I had
written to Angela overnight, in my usual manner, lamenting that
urgent business, of which she should know all particulars by-and-by-
-took me unexpectedly away from her for a week or ten days.
There was no Northern Railway at that time, and in its place there
were stage-coaches; which I occasionally find myself, in common with
some other people, affecting to lament now, but which everybody
dreaded as a very serious penance then. I had secured the box-seat
on the fastest of these, and my business in Fleet Street was to get
into a cab with my portmanteau, so to make the best of my way to the
Peacock at Islington, where I was to join this coach. But when one
of our Temple watchmen, who carried my portmanteau into Fleet Street
for me, told me about the huge blocks of ice that had for some days
past been floating in the river, having closed up in the night, and
made a walk from the Temple Gardens over to the Surrey shore, I
began to ask myself the question, whether the box-seat would not be
likely to put a sudden and a frosty end to my unhappiness. I was
heart-broken, it is true, and yet I was not quite so far gone as to
wish to be frozen to death.
When I got up to the Peacock,--where I found everybody drinking hot
purl, in self-preservation,--I asked if there were an inside seat to
spare. I then discovered that, inside or out, I was the only
passenger. This gave me a still livelier idea of the great
inclemency of the weather, since that coach always loaded
particularly well. However, I took a little purl (which I found
uncommonly good), and got into the coach. When I was seated, they
built me up with straw to the waist, and, conscious of making a
rather ridiculous appearance, I began my journey.
It was still dark when we left the Peacock. For a little while,
pale, uncertain ghosts of houses and trees appeared and vanished,
and then it was hard, black, frozen day. People were lighting their
fires; smoke was mounting straight up high into the rarified air;
and we were rattling for Highgate Archway over the hardest ground I
have ever heard the ring of iron shoes on. As we got into the
country, everything seemed to have grown old and gray. The roads,
the trees, thatched roofs of cottages and homesteads, the ricks in
farmers' yards. Out-door work was abandoned, horse-troughs at road-
side inns were frozen hard, no stragglers lounged about, doors were
close shut, little turnpike houses had blazing fires inside, and
children (even turnpike people have children, and seem to like them)
rubbed the frost from the little panes of glass with their chubby
arms, that their bright eyes might catch a glimpse of the solitary
coach going by. I don't know when the snow begin to set in; but I
know that we were changing horses somewhere when I heard the guard
remark, "That the old lady up in the sky was picking her geese
pretty hard to-day." Then, indeed, I found the white down falling
fast and thick.
The lonely day wore on, and I dozed it out, as a lonely traveller
does. I was warm and valiant after eating and drinking,--
particularly after dinner; cold and depressed at all other times. I
was always bewildered as to time and place, and always more or less
out of my senses. The coach and horses seemed to execute in chorus
Auld Lang Syne, without a moment's intermission. They kept the time
and tune with the greatest regularity, and rose into the swell at
the beginning of the Refrain, with a precision that worried me to
death. While we changed horses, the guard and coachman went
stumping up and down the road, printing off their shoes in the snow,
and poured so much liquid consolation into themselves without being
any the worse for it, that I began to confound them, as it darkened
again, with two great white casks standing on end. Our horses
tumbled down in solitary places, and we got them up,--which was the
pleasantest variety I had, for it warmed me. And it snowed and
snowed, and still it snowed, and never left off snowing. All night
long we went on in this manner. Thus we came round the clock, upon
the Great North Road, to the performance of Auld Lang Syne by day
again. And it snowed and snowed, and still it snowed, and never
left off snowing.
I forget now where we were at noon on the second day, and where we
ought to have been; but I know that we were scores of miles
behindhand, and that our case was growing worse every hour. The
drift was becoming prodigiously deep; landmarks were getting snowed
out; the road and the fields were all one; instead of having fences
and hedge-rows to guide us, we went crunching on over an unbroken
surface of ghastly white that might sink beneath us at any moment
and drop us down a whole hillside. Still the coachman and guard--
who kept together on the box, always in council, and looking well
about them--made out the track with astonishing sagacity.
When we came in sight of a town, it looked, to my fancy, like a
large drawing on a slate, with abundance of slate-pencil expended on
the churches and houses where the snow lay thickest. When we came
within a town, and found the church clocks all stopped, the dial-
faces choked with snow, and the inn-signs blotted out, it seemed as
if the whole place were overgrown with white moss. As to the coach,
it was a mere snowball; similarly, the men and boys who ran along
beside us to the town's end, turning our clogged wheels and
encouraging our horses, were men and boys of snow; and the bleak
wild solitude to which they at last dismissed us was a snowy Sahara.
One would have thought this enough: notwithstanding which, I pledge
my word that it snowed and snowed, and still it snowed, and never
left off snowing.
We performed Auld Lang Syne the whole day; seeing nothing, out of
towns and villages, but the track of stoats, hares, and foxes, and
sometimes of birds. At nine o'clock at night, on a Yorkshire moor,
a cheerful burst from our horn, and a welcome sound of talking, with
a glimmering and moving about of lanterns, roused me from my drowsy
state. I found that we were going to change.
They helped me out, and I said to a waiter, whose bare head became
as white as King Lear's in a single minute, "What Inn is this?"
"The Holly-Tree, sir," said he.
"Upon my word, I believe," said I, apologetically, to the guard and
coachman, "that I must stop here."
Now the landlord, and the landlady, and the ostler, and the post-
boy, and all the stable authorities, had already asked the coachman,
to the wide-eyed interest of all the rest of the establishment, if
he meant to go on. The coachman had already replied, "Yes, he'd
take her through it,"--meaning by Her the coach,--"if so be as
George would stand by him." George was the guard, and he had
already sworn that he would stand by him. So the helpers were
already getting the horses out.
My declaring myself beaten, after this parley, was not an
announcement without preparation. Indeed, but for the way to the
announcement being smoothed by the parley, I more than doubt
whether, as an innately bashful man, I should have had the
confidence to make it. As it was, it received the approval even of
the guard and coachman. Therefore, with many confirmations of my
inclining, and many remarks from one bystander to another, that the
gentleman could go for'ard by the mail to-morrow, whereas to-night
he would only be froze, and where was the good of a gentleman being
froze--ah, let alone buried alive (which latter clause was added by
a humorous helper as a joke at my expense, and was extremely well
received), I saw my portmanteau got out stiff, like a frozen body;
did the handsome thing by the guard and coachman; wished them good-
night and a prosperous journey; and, a little ashamed of myself,
after all, for leaving them to fight it out alone, followed the
landlord, landlady, and waiter of the Holly-Tree up-stairs.
I thought I had never seen such a large room as that into which they
showed me. It had five windows, with dark red curtains that would
have absorbed the light of a general illumination; and there were
complications of drapery at the top of the curtains, that went
wandering about the wall in a most extraordinary manner. I asked
for a smaller room, and they told me there was no smaller room.
They could screen me in, however, the landlord said. They brought a
great old japanned screen, with natives (Japanese, I suppose)
engaged in a variety of idiotic pursuits all over it; and left me
roasting whole before an immense fire.
My bedroom was some quarter of a mile off, up a great staircase at
the end of a long gallery; and nobody knows what a misery this is to
a bashful man who would rather not meet people on the stairs. It
was the grimmest room I have ever had the nightmare in; and all the
furniture, from the four posts of the bed to the two old silver
candle-sticks, was tall, high-shouldered, and spindle-waisted.
Below, in my sitting-room, if I looked round my screen, the wind
rushed at me like a mad bull; if I stuck to my arm-chair, the fire
scorched me to the colour of a new brick. The chimney-piece was
very high, and there was a bad glass--what I may call a wavy glass--
above it, which, when I stood up, just showed me my anterior
phrenological developments,--and these never look well, in any
subject, cut short off at the eyebrow. If I stood with my back to
the fire, a gloomy vault of darkness above and beyond the screen
insisted on being looked at; and, in its dim remoteness, the drapery
of the ten curtains of the five windows went twisting and creeping
about, like a nest of gigantic worms.
I suppose that what I observe in myself must be observed by some
other men of similar character in themselves; therefore I am
emboldened to mention, that, when I travel, I never arrive at a
place but I immediately want to go away from it. Before I had
finished my supper of broiled fowl and mulled port, I had impressed
upon the waiter in detail my arrangements for departure in the
morning. Breakfast and bill at eight. Fly at nine. Two horses,
or, if needful, even four.
Tired though I was, the night appeared about a week long. In cases
of nightmare, I thought of Angela, and felt more depressed than ever
by the reflection that I was on the shortest road to Gretna Green.
What had I to do with Gretna Green? I was not going that way to the
Devil, but by the American route, I remarked in my bitterness.
In the morning I found that it was snowing still, that it had snowed
all night, and that I was snowed up. Nothing could get out of that
spot on the moor, or could come at it, until the road had been cut
out by labourers from the market-town. When they might cut their
way to the Holly-Tree nobody could tell me.
It was now Christmas-eve. I should have had a dismal Christmas-time
of it anywhere, and consequently that did not so much matter; still,
being snowed up was like dying of frost, a thing I had not bargained
for. I felt very lonely. Yet I could no more have proposed to the
landlord and landlady to admit me to their society (though I should
have liked it--very much) than I could have asked them to present me
with a piece of plate. Here my great secret, the real bashfulness
of my character, is to be observed. Like most bashful men, I judge
of other people as if they were bashful too. Besides being far too
shamefaced to make the proposal myself, I really had a delicate
misgiving that it would be in the last degree disconcerting to them.
Trying to settle down, therefore, in my solitude, I first of all
asked what books there were in the house. The waiter brought me a
Book of Roads, two or three old Newspapers, a little Song-Book,
terminating in a collection of Toasts and Sentiments, a little Jest-
Book, an odd volume of Peregrine Pickle, and the Sentimental
Journey. I knew every word of the two last already, but I read them
through again, then tried to hum all the songs (Auld Lang Syne was
among them); went entirely through the jokes,--in which I found a
fund of melancholy adapted to my state of mind; proposed all the
toasts, enunciated all the sentiments, and mastered the papers. The
latter had nothing in them but stock advertisements, a meeting about
a county rate, and a highway robbery. As I am a greedy reader, I
could not make this supply hold out until night; it was exhausted by
tea-time. Being then entirely cast upon my own resources, I got
through an hour in considering what to do next. Ultimately, it came
into my head (from which I was anxious by any means to exclude
Angela and Edwin), that I would endeavour to recall my experience of
Inns, and would try how long it lasted me. I stirred the fire,
moved my chair a little to one side of the screen,--not daring to go
far, for I knew the wind was waiting to make a rush at me, I could
hear it growling,--and began.
My first impressions of an Inn dated from the Nursery; consequently
I went back to the Nursery for a starting-point, and found myself at
the knee of a sallow woman with a fishy eye, an aquiline nose, and a
green gown, whose specially was a dismal narrative of a landlord by
the roadside, whose visitors unaccountably disappeared for many
years, until it was discovered that the pursuit of his life had been
to convert them into pies. For the better devotion of himself to
this branch of industry, he had constructed a secret door behind the
head of the bed; and when the visitor (oppressed with pie) had
fallen asleep, this wicked landlord would look softly in with a lamp
in one hand and a knife in the other, would cut his throat, and
would make him into pies; for which purpose he had coppers,
underneath a trap-door, always boiling; and rolled out his pastry in
the dead of the night. Yet even he was not insensible to the stings
of conscience, for he never went to sleep without being heard to
mutter, "Too much pepper!" which was eventually the cause of his
being brought to justice. I had no sooner disposed of this criminal
than there started up another of the same period, whose profession
was originally house-breaking; in the pursuit of which art he had
had his right ear chopped off one night, as he was burglariously
getting in at a window, by a brave and lovely servant-maid (whom the
aquiline-nosed woman, though not at all answering the description,
always mysteriously implied to be herself). After several years,
this brave and lovely servant-maid was married to the landlord of a
country Inn; which landlord had this remarkable characteristic, that
he always wore a silk nightcap, and never would on any consideration
take it off. At last, one night, when he was fast asleep, the brave
and lovely woman lifted up his silk nightcap on the right side, and
found that he had no ear there; upon which she sagaciously perceived
that he was the clipped housebreaker, who had married her with the
intention of putting her to death. She immediately heated the poker
and terminated his career, for which she was taken to King George
upon his throne, and received the compliments of royalty on her
great discretion and valour. This same narrator, who had a Ghoulish
pleasure, I have long been persuaded, in terrifying me to the utmost
confines of my reason, had another authentic anecdote within her own
experience, founded, I now believe, upon Raymond and Agnes, or the
Bleeding Nun. She said it happened to her brother-in-law, who was
immensely rich,--which my father was not; and immensely tall,--which
my father was not. It was always a point with this Ghoul to present
my clearest relations and friends to my youthful mind under
circumstances of disparaging contrast. The brother-in-law was
riding once through a forest on a magnificent horse (we had no
magnificent horse at our house), attended by a favourite and
valuable Newfoundland dog (we had no dog), when he found himself
benighted, and came to an Inn. A dark woman opened the door, and he
asked her if he could have a bed there. She answered yes, and put
his horse in the stable, and took him into a room where there were
two dark men. While he was at supper, a parrot in the room began to
talk, saying, "Blood, blood! Wipe up the blood!" Upon which one of
the dark men wrung the parrot's neck, and said he was fond of
roasted parrots, and he meant to have this one for breakfast in the
morning. After eating and drinking heartily, the immensely rich,
tall brother-in-law went up to bed; but he was rather vexed, because
they had shut his dog in the stable, saying that they never allowed
dogs in the house. He sat very quiet for more than an hour,
thinking and thinking, when, just as his candle was burning out, he
heard a scratch at the door. He opened the door, and there was the
Newfoundland dog! The dog came softly in, smelt about him, went
straight to some straw in the corner which the dark men had said
covered apples, tore the straw away, and disclosed two sheets
steeped in blood. Just at that moment the candle went out, and the
brother-in-law, looking through a chink in the door, saw the two
dark men stealing up-stairs; one armed with a dagger that long
(about five feet); the other carrying a chopper, a sack, and a
spade. Having no remembrance of the close of this adventure, I
suppose my faculties to have been always so frozen with terror at
this stage of it, that the power of listening stagnated within me
for some quarter of an hour.
These barbarous stories carried me, sitting there on the Holly-Tree
hearth, to the Roadside Inn, renowned in my time in a sixpenny book
with a folding plate, representing in a central compartment of oval
form the portrait of Jonathan Bradford, and in four corner
compartments four incidents of the tragedy with which the name is
associated,--coloured with a hand at once so free and economical,
that the bloom of Jonathan's complexion passed without any pause
into the breeches of the ostler, and, smearing itself off into the
next division, became rum in a bottle. Then I remembered how the
landlord was found at the murdered traveller's bedside, with his own
knife at his feet, and blood upon his hand; how he was hanged for
the murder, notwithstanding his protestation that he had indeed come
there to kill the traveller for his saddle-bags, but had been
stricken motionless on finding him already slain; and how the
ostler, years afterwards, owned the deed. By this time I had made
myself quite uncomfortable. I stirred the fire, and stood with my
back to it as long as I could bear the heat, looking up at the
darkness beyond the screen, and at the wormy curtains creeping in
and creeping out, like the worms in the ballad of Alonzo the Brave
and the Fair Imogene.
There was an Inn in the cathedral town where I went to school, which
had pleasanter recollections about it than any of these. I took it
next. It was the Inn where friends used to put up, and where we
used to go to see parents, and to have salmon and fowls, and be
tipped. It had an ecclesiastical sign,--the Mitre,--and a bar that
seemed to be the next best thing to a bishopric, it was so snug. I
loved the landlord's youngest daughter to distraction,--but let that
pass. It was in this Inn that I was cried over by my rosy little
sister, because I had acquired a black eye in a fight. And though
she had been, that Holly-Tree night, for many a long year where all
tears are dried, the Mitre softened me yet.
"To be continued to-morrow," said I, when I took my candle to go to
bed. But my bed took it upon itself to continue the train of
thought that night. It carried me away, like the enchanted carpet,
to a distant place (though still in England), and there, alighting
from a stage-coach at another Inn in the snow, as I had actually
done some years before, I repeated in my sleep a curious experience
I had really had there. More than a year before I made the journey
in the course of which I put up at that Inn, I had lost a very near
and dear friend by death. Every night since, at home or away from
home, I had dreamed of that friend; sometimes as still living;
sometimes as returning from the world of shadows to comfort me;
always as being beautiful, placid, and happy, never in association
with any approach to fear or distress. It was at a lonely Inn in a
wide moorland place, that I halted to pass the night. When I had
looked from my bedroom window over the waste of snow on which the
moon was shining, I sat down by my fire to write a letter. I had
always, until that hour, kept it within my own breast that I dreamed
every night of the dear lost one. But in the letter that I wrote I
recorded the circumstance, and added that I felt much interested in
proving whether the subject of my dream would still be faithful to
me, travel-tired, and in that remote place. No. I lost the beloved
figure of my vision in parting with the secret. My sleep has never
looked upon it since, in sixteen years, but once. I was in Italy,
and awoke (or seemed to awake), the well-remembered voice distinctly
in my ears, conversing with it. I entreated it, as it rose above my
bed and soared up to the vaulted roof of the old room, to answer me
a question I had asked touching the Future Life. My hands were
still outstretched towards it as it vanished, when I heard a bell
ringing by the garden wall, and a voice in the deep stillness of the
night calling on all good Christians to pray for the souls of the
dead; it being All Souls' Eve.
To return to the Holly-Tree. When I awoke next day, it was freezing
hard, and the lowering sky threatened more snow. My breakfast
cleared away, I drew my chair into its former place, and, with the
fire getting so much the better of the landscape that I sat in
twilight, resumed my Inn remembrances.
That was a good Inn down in Wiltshire where I put up once, in the
days of the hard Wiltshire ale, and before all beer was bitterness.
It was on the skirts of Salisbury Plain, and the midnight wind that
rattled my lattice window came moaning at me from Stonehenge. There
was a hanger-on at that establishment (a supernaturally preserved
Druid I believe him to have been, and to be still), with long white
hair, and a flinty blue eye always looking afar off; who claimed to
have been a shepherd, and who seemed to be ever watching for the
reappearance, on the verge of the horizon, of some ghostly flock of
sheep that had been mutton for many ages. He was a man with a weird
belief in him that no one could count the stones of Stonehenge
twice, and make the same number of them; likewise, that any one who
counted them three times nine times, and then stood in the centre
and said, "I dare!" would behold a tremendous apparition, and be
stricken dead. He pretended to have seen a bustard (I suspect him
to have been familiar with the dodo), in manner following: He was
out upon the plain at the close of a late autumn day, when he dimly
discerned, going on before him at a curious fitfully bounding pace,
what he at first supposed to be a gig-umbrella that had been blown
from some conveyance, but what he presently believed to be a lean
dwarf man upon a little pony. Having followed this object for some
distance without gaining on it, and having called to it many times
without receiving any answer, he pursued it for miles and miles,
when, at length coming up with it, he discovered it to be the last
bustard in Great Britain, degenerated into a wingless state, and
running along the ground. Resolved to capture him or perish in the
attempt, he closed with the bustard; but the bustard, who had formed
a counter-resolution that he should do neither, threw him, stunned
him, and was last seen making off due west. This weird main, at
that stage of metempsychosis, may have been a sleep-walker or an
enthusiast or a robber; but I awoke one night to find him in the
dark at my bedside, repeating the Athanasian Creed in a terrific
voice. I paid my bill next day, and retired from the county with
all possible precipitation.
That was not a commonplace story which worked itself out at a little
Inn in Switzerland, while I was staying there. It was a very homely
place, in a village of one narrow zigzag street, among mountains,
and you went in at the main door through the cow-house, and among
the mules and the dogs and the fowls, before ascending a great bare
staircase to the rooms; which were all of unpainted wood, without
plastering or papering,--like rough packing-cases. Outside there
was nothing but the straggling street, a little toy church with a
copper-coloured steeple, a pine forest, a torrent, mists, and
mountain-sides. A young man belonging to this Inn had disappeared
eight weeks before (it was winter-time), and was supposed to have
had some undiscovered love affair, and to have gone for a soldier.
He had got up in the night, and dropped into the village street from
the loft in which he slept with another man; and he had done it so
quietly, that his companion and fellow-labourer had heard no
movement when he was awakened in the morning, and they said, "Louis,
where is Henri?" They looked for him high and low, in vain, and
gave him up. Now, outside this Inn, there stood, as there stood
outside every dwelling in the village, a stack of firewood; but the
stack belonging to the Inn was higher than any of the rest, because
the Inn was the richest house, and burnt the most fuel. It began to
be noticed, while they were looking high and low, that a Bantam
cock, part of the live stock of the Inn, put himself wonderfully out
of his way to get to the top of this wood-stack; and that he would
stay there for hours and hours, crowing, until he appeared in danger
of splitting himself. Five weeks went on,--six weeks,--and still
this terrible Bantam, neglecting his domestic affairs, was always on
the top of the wood-stack, crowing the very eyes out of his head.
By this time it was perceived that Louis had become inspired with a
violent animosity towards the terrible Bantam, and one morning he
was seen by a woman, who sat nursing her goitre at a little window
in a gleam of sun, to catch up a rough billet of wood, with a great
oath, hurl it at the terrible Bantam crowing on the wood-stack, and
bring him down dead. Hereupon the woman, with a sudden light in her
mind, stole round to the back of the wood-stack, and, being a good
climber, as all those women are, climbed up, and soon was seen upon
the summit, screaming, looking down the hollow within, and crying,
"Seize Louis, the murderer! Ring the church bell! Here is the
body!" I saw the murderer that day, and I saw him as I sat by my
fire at the Holly-Tree Inn, and I see him now, lying shackled with
cords on the stable litter, among the mild eyes and the smoking
breath of the cows, waiting to be taken away by the police, and
stared at by the fearful village. A heavy animal,--the dullest
animal in the stables,--with a stupid head, and a lumpish face
devoid of any trace of insensibility, who had been, within the
knowledge of the murdered youth, an embezzler of certain small
moneys belonging to his master, and who had taken this hopeful mode
of putting a possible accuser out of his way. All of which he
confessed next day, like a sulky wretch who couldn't be troubled any
more, now that they had got hold of him, and meant to make an end of
him. I saw him once again, on the day of my departure from the Inn.
In that Canton the headsman still does his office with a sword; and
I came upon this murderer sitting bound, to a chair, with his eyes
bandaged, on a scaffold in a little market-place. In that instant,
a great sword (loaded with quicksilver in the thick part of the
blade) swept round him like a gust of wind or fire, and there was no
such creature in the world. My wonder was, not that he was so
suddenly dispatched, but that any head was left unreaped, within a
radius of fifty yards of that tremendous sickle.
That was a good Inn, too, with the kind, cheerful landlady and the
honest landlord, where I lived in the shadow of Mont Blanc, and
where one of the apartments has a zoological papering on the walls,
not so accurately joined but that the elephant occasionally rejoices
in a tiger's hind legs and tail, while the lion puts on a trunk and
tusks, and the bear, moulting as it were, appears as to portions of
himself like a leopard. I made several American friends at that
Inn, who all called Mont Blanc Mount Blank,--except one good-
humoured gentleman, of a very sociable nature, who became on such
intimate terms with it that he spoke of it familiarly as "Blank;"
observing, at breakfast, "Blank looks pretty tall this morning;" or
considerably doubting in the courtyard in the evening, whether there
warn't some go-ahead naters in our country, sir, that would make out
the top of Blank in a couple of hours from first start--now!
Once I passed a fortnight at an Inn in the North of England, where I
was haunted by the ghost of a tremendous pie. It was a Yorkshire
pie, like a fort,--an abandoned fort with nothing in it; but the
waiter had a fixed idea that it was a point of ceremony at every
meal to put the pie on the table. After some days I tried to hint,
in several delicate ways, that I considered the pie done with; as,
for example, by emptying fag-ends of glasses of wine into it;
putting cheese-plates and spoons into it, as into a basket; putting
wine-bottles into it, as into a cooler; but always in vain, the pie
being invariably cleaned out again and brought up as before. At
last, beginning to be doubtful whether I was not the victim of a
spectral illusion, and whether my health and spirits might not sink
under the horrors of an imaginary pie, I cut a triangle out of it,
fully as large as the musical instrument of that name in a powerful
orchestra. Human provision could not have foreseen the result--but
the waiter mended the pie. With some effectual species of cement,
he adroitly fitted the triangle in again, and I paid my reckoning
The Holly-Tree was getting rather dismal. I made an overland
expedition beyond the screen, and penetrated as far as the fourth
window. Here I was driven back by stress of weather. Arrived at my
winter-quarters once more, I made up the fire, and took another Inn.
It was in the remotest part of Cornwall. A great annual Miners'
Feast was being holden at the Inn, when I and my travelling
companions presented ourselves at night among the wild crowd that
were dancing before it by torchlight. We had had a break-down in
the dark, on a stony morass some miles away; and I had the honour of
leading one of the unharnessed post-horses. If any lady or
gentleman, on perusal of the present lines, will take any very tall
post-horse with his traces hanging about his legs, and will conduct
him by the bearing-rein into the heart of a country dance of a
hundred and fifty couples, that lady or gentleman will then, and
only then, form an adequate idea of the extent to which that post-
horse will tread on his conductor's toes. Over and above which, the
post-horse, finding three hundred people whirling about him, will
probably rear, and also lash out with his hind legs, in a manner
incompatible with dignity or self-respect on his conductor's part.
With such little drawbacks on my usually impressive aspect, I
appeared at this Cornish Inn, to the unutterable wonder of the
Cornish Miners. It was full, and twenty times full, and nobody
could be received but the post-horse,--though to get rid of that
noble animal was something. While my fellow-travellers and I were
discussing how to pass the night and so much of the next day as must
intervene before the jovial blacksmith and the jovial wheelwright
would be in a condition to go out on the morass and mend the coach,
an honest man stepped forth from the crowd and proposed his unlet
floor of two rooms, with supper of eggs and bacon, ale and punch.
We joyfully accompanied him home to the strangest of clean houses,
where we were well entertained to the satisfaction of all parties.
But the novel feature of the entertainment was, that our host was a
chair-maker, and that the chairs assigned to us were mere frames,
altogether without bottoms of any sort; so that we passed the
evening on perches. Nor was this the absurdest consequence; for
when we unbent at supper, and any one of us gave way to laughter, he
forgot the peculiarity of his position, and instantly disappeared.
I myself, doubled up into an attitude from which self-extrication
was impossible, was taken out of my frame, like a clown in a comic
pantomime who has tumbled into a tub, five times by the taper's
light during the eggs and bacon.
The Holly-Tree was fast reviving within me a sense of loneliness. I
began to feel conscious that my subject would never carry on until I
was dug out. I might be a week here,--weeks!
There was a story with a singular idea in it, connected with an Inn
I once passed a night at in a picturesque old town on the Welsh
border. In a large double-bedded room of this Inn there had been a
suicide committed by poison, in one bed, while a tired traveller
slept unconscious in the other. After that time, the suicide bed
was never used, but the other constantly was; the disused bedstead
remaining in the room empty, though as to all other respects in its
old state. The story ran, that whosoever slept in this room, though
never so entire a stranger, from never so far off, was invariably
observed to come down in the morning with an impression that he
smelt Laudanum, and that his mind always turned upon the subject of
suicide; to which, whatever kind of man he might be, he was certain
to make some reference if he conversed with any one. This went on
for years, until it at length induced the landlord to take the
disused bedstead down, and bodily burn it,--bed, hangings, and all.
The strange influence (this was the story) now changed to a fainter
one, but never changed afterwards. The occupant of that room, with
occasional but very rare exceptions, would come down in the morning,
trying to recall a forgotten dream he had had in the night. The
landlord, on his mentioning his perplexity, would suggest various
commonplace subjects, not one of which, as he very well knew, was
the true subject. But the moment the landlord suggested "Poison,"
the traveller started, and cried, "Yes!" He never failed to accept
that suggestion, and he never recalled any more of the dream.
This reminiscence brought the Welsh Inns in general before me; with
the women in their round hats, and the harpers with their white
beards (venerable, but humbugs, I am afraid), playing outside the
door while I took my dinner. The transition was natural to the
Highland Inns, with the oatmeal bannocks, the honey, the venison
steaks, the trout from the loch, the whisky, and perhaps (having the
materials so temptingly at hand) the Athol brose. Once was I coming
south from the Scottish Highlands in hot haste, hoping to change
quickly at the station at the bottom of a certain wild historical
glen, when these eyes did with mortification see the landlord come
out with a telescope and sweep the whole prospect for the horses;
which horses were away picking up their own living, and did not
heave in sight under four hours. Having thought of the loch-trout,
I was taken by quick association to the Anglers' Inns of England (I
have assisted at innumerable feats of angling by lying in the bottom
of the boat, whole summer days, doing nothing with the greatest
perseverance; which I have generally found to be as effectual
towards the taking of fish as the finest tackle and the utmost
science), and to the pleasant white, clean, flower-pot-decorated
bedrooms of those inns, overlooking the river, and the ferry, and
the green ait, and the church-spire, and the country bridge; and to
the pearless Emma with the bright eyes and the pretty smile, who
waited, bless her! with a natural grace that would have converted
Blue-Beard. Casting my eyes upon my Holly-Tree fire, I next
discerned among the glowing coals the pictures of a score or more of
those wonderful English posting-inns which we are all so sorry to
have lost, which were so large and so comfortable, and which were
such monuments of British submission to rapacity and extortion. He
who would see these houses pining away, let him walk from
Basingstoke, or even Windsor, to London, by way of Hounslow, and
moralise on their perishing remains; the stables crumbling to dust;
unsettled labourers and wanderers bivouacking in the outhouses;
grass growing in the yards; the rooms, where erst so many hundred
beds of down were made up, let off to Irish lodgers at eighteenpence
a week; a little ill-looking beer-shop shrinking in the tap of
former days, burning coach-house gates for firewood, having one of
its two windows bunged up, as if it had received punishment in a
fight with the Railroad; a low, bandy-legged, brick-making bulldog
standing in the doorway. What could I next see in my fire so
naturally as the new railway-house of these times near the dismal
country station; with nothing particular on draught but cold air and
damp, nothing worth mentioning in the larder but new mortar, and no
business doing beyond a conceited affectation of luggage in the
hall? Then I came to the Inns of Paris, with the pretty apartment
of four pieces up one hundred and seventy-five waxed stairs, the
privilege of ringing the bell all day long without influencing
anybody's mind or body but your own, and the not-too-much-for-
dinner, considering the price. Next to the provincial Inns of
France, with the great church-tower rising above the courtyard, the
horse-bells jingling merrily up and down the street beyond, and the
clocks of all descriptions in all the rooms, which are never right,
unless taken at the precise minute when, by getting exactly twelve
hours too fast or too slow, they unintentionally become so. Away I
went, next, to the lesser roadside Inns of Italy; where all the
dirty clothes in the house (not in wear) are always lying in your
anteroom; where the mosquitoes make a raisin pudding of your face in
summer, and the cold bites it blue in winter; where you get what you
can, and forget what you can't: where I should again like to be
boiling my tea in a pocket-handkerchief dumpling, for want of a
teapot. So to the old palace Inns and old monastery Inns, in towns
and cities of the same bright country; with their massive
quadrangular staircases, whence you may look from among clustering
pillars high into the blue vault of heaven; with their stately
banqueting-rooms, and vast refectories; with their labyrinths of
ghostly bedchambers, and their glimpses into gorgeous streets that
have no appearance of reality or possibility. So to the close
little Inns of the Malaria districts, with their pale attendants,
and their peculiar smell of never letting in the air. So to the
immense fantastic Inns of Venice, with the cry of the gondolier
below, as he skims the corner; the grip of the watery odours on one
particular little bit of the bridge of your nose (which is never
released while you stay there); and the great bell of St. Mark's
Cathedral tolling midnight. Next I put up for a minute at the
restless Inns upon the Rhine, where your going to bed, no matter at
what hour, appears to be the tocsin for everybody else's getting up;
and where, in the table-d'hote room at the end of the long table
(with several Towers of Babel on it at the other end, all made of
white plates), one knot of stoutish men, entirely dressed in jewels
and dirt, and having nothing else upon them, will remain all night,
clinking glasses, and singing about the river that flows, and the
grape that grows, and Rhine wine that beguiles, and Rhine woman that
smiles and hi drink drink my friend and ho drink drink my brother,
and all the rest of it. I departed thence, as a matter of course,
to other German Inns, where all the eatables are soddened down to
the same flavour, and where the mind is disturbed by the apparition
of hot puddings, and boiled cherries, sweet and slab, at awfully
unexpected periods of the repast. After a draught of sparkling beer
from a foaming glass jug, and a glance of recognition through the
windows of the student beer-houses at Heidelberg and elsewhere, I
put out to sea for the Inns of America, with their four hundred beds
apiece, and their eight or nine hundred ladies and gentlemen at
dinner every day. Again I stood in the bar-rooms thereof, taking my
evening cobbler, julep, sling, or cocktail. Again I listened to my
friend the General,--whom I had known for five minutes, in the
course of which period he had made me intimate for life with two
Majors, who again had made me intimate for life with three Colonels,
who again had made me brother to twenty-two civilians,--again, I
say, I listened to my friend the General, leisurely expounding the
resources of the establishment, as to gentlemen's morning-room, sir;
ladies' morning-room, sir; gentlemen's evening-room, sir; ladies'
evening-room, sir; ladies' and gentlemen's evening reuniting-room,
sir; music-room, sir; reading-room, sir; over four hundred sleeping-
rooms, sir; and the entire planned and finited within twelve
calendar months from the first clearing off of the old encumbrances
on the plot, at a cost of five hundred thousand dollars, sir. Again
I found, as to my individual way of thinking, that the greater, the
more gorgeous, and the more dollarous the establishment was, the
less desirable it was. Nevertheless, again I drank my cobbler,
julep, sling, or cocktail, in all good-will, to my friend the
General, and my friends the Majors, Colonels, and civilians all;
full well knowing that, whatever little motes my beamy eyes may have
descried in theirs, they belong to a kind, generous, large-hearted,
and great people.
I had been going on lately at a quick pace to keep my solitude out
of my mind; but here I broke down for good, and gave up the subject.
What was I to do? What was to become of me? Into what extremity
was I submissively to sink? Supposing that, like Baron Trenck, I
looked out for a mouse or spider, and found one, and beguiled my
imprisonment by training it? Even that might be dangerous with a
view to the future. I might be so far gone when the road did come
to be cut through the snow, that, on my way forth, I might burst
into tears, and beseech, like the prisoner who was released in his
old age from the Bastille, to be taken back again to the five
windows, the ten curtains, and the sinuous drapery.
A desperate idea came into my head. Under any other circumstances I
should have rejected it; but, in the strait at which I was, I held
it fast. Could I so far overcome the inherent bashfulness which
withheld me from the landlord's table and the company I might find
there, as to call up the Boots, and ask him to take a chair,--and
something in a liquid form,--and talk to me? I could, I would, I
SECOND BRANCH--THE BOOTS
Where had he been in his time? he repeated, when I asked him the
question. Lord, he had been everywhere! And what had he been?
Bless you, he had been everything you could mention a'most!
Seen a good deal? Why, of course he had. I should say so, he could
assure me, if I only knew about a twentieth part of what had come in
his way. Why, it would be easier for him, he expected, to tell what
he hadn't seen than what he had. Ah! A deal, it would.
What was the curiousest thing he had seen? Well! He didn't know.
He couldn't momently name what was the curiousest thing he had seen-
-unless it was a Unicorn, and he see him once at a Fair. But
supposing a young gentleman not eight year old was to run away with
a fine young woman of seven, might I think that a queer start?
Certainly. Then that was a start as he himself had had his blessed
eyes on, and he had cleaned the shoes they run away in--and they was
so little that he couldn't get his hand into 'em.
Master Harry Walmers' father, you see, he lived at the Elmses, down
away by Shooter's Hill there, six or seven miles from Lunnon. He
was a gentleman of spirit, and good-looking, and held his head up
when he walked, and had what you may call Fire about him. He wrote
poetry, and he rode, and he ran, and he cricketed, and he danced,
and he acted, and he done it all equally beautiful. He was uncommon
proud of Master Harry as was his only child; but he didn't spoil him
neither. He was a gentleman that had a will of his own and a eye of
his own, and that would be minded. Consequently, though he made
quite a companion of the fine bright boy, and was delighted to see
him so fond of reading his fairy books, and was never tired of
hearing him say my name is Norval, or hearing him sing his songs
about Young May Moons is beaming love, and When he as adores thee
has left but the name, and that; still he kept the command over the
child, and the child was a child, and it's to be wished more of 'em
How did Boots happen to know all this? Why, through being under-
gardener. Of course he couldn't be under-gardener, and be always
about, in the summer-time, near the windows on the lawn, a mowing,
and sweeping, and weeding, and pruning, and this and that, without
getting acquainted with the ways of the family. Even supposing
Master Harry hadn't come to him one morning early, and said, "Cobbs,
how should you spell Norah, if you was asked?" and then began
cutting it in print all over the fence.
He couldn't say he had taken particular notice of children before
that; but really it was pretty to see them two mites a going about
the place together, deep in love. And the courage of the boy!
Bless your soul, he'd have throwed off his little hat, and tucked up
his little sleeves, and gone in at a Lion, he would, if they had
happened to meet one, and she had been frightened of him. One day
he stops, along with her, where Boots was hoeing weeds in the
gravel, and says, speaking up, "Cobbs," he says, "I like you." "Do
you, sir? I'm proud to hear it." "Yes, I do, Cobbs. Why do I like
you, do you think, Cobbs?" "Don't know, Master Harry, I am sure."
"Because Norah likes you, Cobbs." "Indeed, sir? That's very
gratifying." "Gratifying, Cobbs? It's better than millions of the
brightest diamonds to be liked by Norah." "Certainly, sir."
"You're going away, ain't you, Cobbs?" "Yes, sir." "Would you like
another situation, Cobbs?" "Well, sir, I shouldn't object, if it
was a good Inn." "Then, Cobbs," says he, "you shall be our Head
Gardener when we are married." And he tucks her, in her little sky-
blue mantle, under his arm, and walks away.
Boots could assure me that it was better than a picter, and equal to
a play, to see them babies, with their long, bright, curling hair,
their sparkling eyes, and their beautiful light tread, a rambling
about the garden, deep in love. Boots was of opinion that the birds
believed they was birds, and kept up with 'em, singing to please
'em. Sometimes they would creep under the Tulip-tree, and would sit
there with their arms round one another's necks, and their soft
cheeks touching, a reading about the Prince and the Dragon, and the
good and bad enchanters, and the king's fair daughter. Sometimes he
would hear them planning about having a house in a forest, keeping
bees and a cow, and living entirely on milk and honey. Once he came
upon them by the pond, and heard Master Harry say, "Adorable Norah,
kiss me, and say you love me to distraction, or I'll jump in head-
foremost." And Boots made no question he would have done it if she
hadn't complied. On the whole, Boots said it had a tendency to make
him feel as if he was in love himself--only he didn't exactly know
"Cobbs," said Master Harry, one evening, when Cobbs was watering the
flowers, "I am going on a visit, this present Midsummer, to my
grandmamma's at York."
"Are you indeed, sir? I hope you'll have a pleasant time. I am
going into Yorkshire, myself, when I leave here."
"Are you going to your grandmamma's, Cobbs?"
"No, sir. I haven't got such a thing."
"Not as a grandmamma, Cobbs?"
The boy looked on at the watering of the flowers for a little while,
and then said, "I shall be very glad indeed to go, Cobbs,--Norah's
"You'll be all right then, sir," says Cobbs, "with your beautiful
sweetheart by your side."
"Cobbs," returned the boy, flushing, "I never let anybody joke about
it, when I can prevent them."
"It wasn't a joke, sir," says Cobbs, with humility,--"wasn't so
"I am glad of that, Cobbs, because I like you, you know, and you're
going to live with us.--Cobbs!"
"What do you think my grandmamma gives me when I go down there?"
"I couldn't so much as make a guess, sir."
"A Bank of England five-pound note, Cobbs."
"Whew!" says Cobbs, "that's a spanking sum of money, Master Harry."
"A person could do a good deal with such a sum of money as that,--
couldn't a person, Cobbs?"
"I believe you, sir!"
"Cobbs," said the boy, "I'll tell you a secret. At Norah's house,
they have been joking her about me, and pretending to laugh at our
being engaged,--pretending to make game of it, Cobbs!"
"Such, sir," says Cobbs, "is the depravity of human natur."
The boy, looking exactly like his father, stood for a few minutes
with his glowing face towards the sunset, and then departed with,
"Good-night, Cobbs. I'm going in."
If I was to ask Boots how it happened that he was a-going to leave
that place just at that present time, well, he couldn't rightly
answer me. He did suppose he might have stayed there till now if he
had been anyways inclined. But, you see, he was younger then, and
he wanted change. That's what he wanted,--change. Mr. Walmers, he
said to him when he gave him notice of his intentions to leave,
"Cobbs," he says, "have you anythink to complain of? I make the
inquiry because if I find that any of my people really has anythink
to complain of, I wish to make it right if I can." "No, sir." says
Cobbs; "thanking you, sir, I find myself as well sitiwated here as I
could hope to be anywheres. The truth is, sir, that I'm a-going to
seek my fortun'." "O, indeed, Cobbs!" he says; "I hope you may find
it." And Boots could assure me--which he did, touching his hair
with his bootjack, as a salute in the way of his present calling--
that he hadn't found it yet.
Well, sir! Boots left the Elmses when his time was up, and Master
Harry, he went down to the old lady's at York, which old lady would
have given that child the teeth out of her head (if she had had
any), she was so wrapped up in him. What does that Infant do,--for
Infant you may call him and be within the mark,--but cut away from
that old lady's with his Norah, on a expedition to go to Gretna
Green and be married!
Sir, Boots was at this identical Holly-Tree Inn (having left it
several times since to better himself, but always come back through
one thing or another), when, one summer afternoon, the coach drives
up, and out of the coach gets them two children. The Guard says to
our Governor, "I don't quite make out these little passengers, but
the young gentleman's words was, that they was to be brought here."
The young gentleman gets out; hands his lady out; gives the Guard
something for himself; says to our Governor, "We're to stop here to-
night, please. Sitting-room and two bedrooms will be required.
Chops and cherry-pudding for two!" and tucks her, in her sky-blue
mantle, under his arm, and walks into the house much bolder than
Boots leaves me to judge what the amazement of that establishment
was, when these two tiny creatures all alone by themselves was
marched into the Angel,--much more so, when he, who had seen them
without their seeing him, give the Governor his views of the
expedition they was upon. "Cobbs," says the Governor, "if this is
so, I must set off myself to York, and quiet their friends' minds.
In which case you must keep your eye upon 'em, and humour 'em, till
I come back. But before I take these measures, Cobbs, I should wish
you to find from themselves whether your opinion is correct." "Sir,
to you," says Cobbs, "that shall be done directly."
So Boots goes up-stairs to the Angel, and there he finds Master
Harry on a e-normous sofa,--immense at any time, but looking like
the Great Bed of Ware, compared with him,--a drying the eyes of Miss
Norah with his pocket-hankecher. Their little legs was entirely off
the ground, of course, and it really is not possible for Boots to
express to me how small them children looked.
"It's Cobbs! It's Cobbs!" cries Master Harry, and comes running to
him, and catching hold of his hand. Miss Norah comes running to him
on t'other side and catching hold of his t'other hand, and they both
jump for joy.
"I see you a getting out, sir," says Cobbs. "I thought it was you.
I thought I couldn't be mistaken in your height and figure. What's
the object of your journey, sir?--Matrimonial?"
"We are going to be married, Cobbs, at Gretna Green," returned the
boy. "We have run away on purpose. Norah has been in rather low
spirits, Cobbs; but she'll be happy, now we have found you to be our
"Thank you, sir, and thank you, miss," says Cobbs, "for your good
opinion. Did you bring any luggage with you, sir?"
If I will believe Boots when he gives me his word and honour upon
it, the lady had got a parasol, a smelling-bottle, a round and a
half of cold buttered toast, eight peppermint drops, and a hair-
brush,--seemingly a doll's. The gentleman had got about half a
dozen yards of string, a knife, three or four sheets of writing-
paper folded up surprising small, a orange, and a Chaney mug with
his name upon it.
"What may be the exact natur of your plans, sir?" says Cobbs.
"To go on," replied the boy,--which the courage of that boy was
something wonderful!--"in the morning, and be married to-morrow."
"Just so, sir," says Cobbs. "Would it meet your views, sir, if I
was to accompany you?"
When Cobbs said this, they both jumped for joy again, and cried out,
"Oh, yes, yes, Cobbs! Yes!"
"Well, sir," says Cobbs. "If you will excuse my having the freedom
to give an opinion, what I should recommend would be this. I'm
acquainted with a pony, sir, which, put in a pheayton that I could
borrow, would take you and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, (myself
driving, if you approved,) to the end of your journey in a very
short space of time. I am not altogether sure, sir, that this pony
will be at liberty to-morrow, but even if you had to wait over to-
morrow for him, it might be worth your while. As to the small
account here, sir, in case you was to find yourself running at all
short, that don't signify; because I'm a part proprietor of this
inn, and it could stand over."
Boots assures me that when they clapped their hands, and jumped for
joy again, and called him "Good Cobbs!" and "Dear Cobbs!" and bent
across him to kiss one another in the delight of their confiding
hearts, he felt himself the meanest rascal for deceiving 'em that
ever was born.
"Is there anything you want just at present, sir?" says Cobbs,
mortally ashamed of himself.
"We should like some cakes after dinner," answered Master Harry,
folding his arms, putting out one leg, and looking straight at him,
"and two apples,--and jam. With dinner we should like to have
toast-and-water. But Norah has always been accustomed to half a
glass of currant wine at dessert. And so have I."
"It shall be ordered at the bar, sir," says Cobbs; and away he went.
Boots has the feeling as fresh upon him at this minute of speaking
as he had then, that he would far rather have had it out in half-a-
dozen rounds with the Governor than have combined with him; and that
he wished with all his heart there was any impossible place where
those two babies could make an impossible marriage, and live
impossibly happy ever afterwards. However, as it couldn't be, he
went into the Governor's plans, and the Governor set off for York in
half an hour.
The way in which the women of that house--without exception--every
one of 'em--married and single--took to that boy when they heard the
story, Boots considers surprising. It was as much as he could do to
keep 'em from dashing into the room and kissing him. They climbed
up all sorts of places, at the risk of their lives, to look at him
through a pane of glass. They was seven deep at the keyhole. They
was out of their minds about him and his bold spirit.
In the evening, Boots went into the room to see how the runaway
couple was getting on. The gentleman was on the window-seat,
supporting the lady in his arms. She had tears upon her face, and
was lying, very tired and half asleep, with her head upon his
"Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, fatigued, sir?" says Cobbs.
"Yes, she is tired, Cobbs; but she is not used to be away from home,
and she has been in low spirits again. Cobbs, do you think you
could bring a biffin, please?"
"I ask your pardon, sir," says Cobbs. "What was it you--?"
"I think a Norfolk biffin would rouse her, Cobbs. She is very fond
Boots withdrew in search of the required restorative, and when he
brought it in, the gentleman handed it to the lady, and fed her with
a spoon, and took a little himself; the lady being heavy with sleep,
and rather cross. "What should you think, sir," says Cobbs, "of a
chamber candlestick?" The gentleman approved; the chambermaid went
first, up the great staircase; the lady, in her sky-blue mantle,
followed, gallantly escorted by the gentleman; the gentleman
embraced her at her door, and retired to his own apartment, where
Boots softly locked him up.
Boots couldn't but feel with increased acuteness what a base
deceiver he was, when they consulted him at breakfast (they had
ordered sweet milk-and-water, and toast and currant jelly, over-
night) about the pony. It really was as much as he could do, he
don't mind confessing to me, to look them two young things in the
face, and think what a wicked old father of lies he had grown up to
be. Howsomever, he went on a lying like a Trojan about the pony.
He told 'em that it did so unfortunately happen that the pony was
half clipped, you see, and that he couldn't be taken out in that
state, for fear it should strike to his inside. But that he'd be
finished clipping in the course of the day, and that to-morrow
morning at eight o'clock the pheayton would be ready. Boots's view
of the whole case, looking back on it in my room, is, that Mrs.
Harry Walmers, Junior, was beginning to give in. She hadn't had her
hair curled when she went to bed, and she didn't seem quite up to
brushing it herself, and its getting in her eyes put her out. But
nothing put out Master Harry. He sat behind his breakfast-cup, a
tearing away at the jelly, as if he had been his own father.
After breakfast, Boots is inclined to consider that they drawed
soldiers,--at least, he knows that many such was found in the fire-
place, all on horseback. In the course of the morning, Master Harry
rang the bell,--it was surprising how that there boy did carry on,--
and said, in a sprightly way, "Cobbs, is there any good walks in
"Yes, sir," says Cobbs. "There's Love Lane."
"Get out with you, Cobbs!"--that was that there boy's expression,--
"Begging your pardon, sir," says Cobbs, "there really is Love Lane.
And a pleasant walk it is, and proud shall I be to show it to
yourself and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior."
"Norah, dear," said Master Harry, "this is curious. We really ought
to see Love Lane. Put on your bonnet, my sweetest darling, and we
will go there with Cobbs."
Boots leaves me to judge what a Beast he felt himself to be, when
that young pair told him, as they all three jogged along together,
that they had made up their minds to give him two thousand guineas a
year as head-gardener, on accounts of his being so true a friend to
'em. Boots could have wished at the moment that the earth would
have opened and swallowed him up, he felt so mean, with their
beaming eyes a looking at him, and believing him. Well, sir, he
turned the conversation as well as he could, and he took 'em down
Love Lane to the water-meadows, and there Master Harry would have
drowned himself in half a moment more, a getting out a water-lily
for her,--but nothing daunted that boy. Well, sir, they was tired
out. All being so new and strange to 'em, they was tired as tired
could be. And they laid down on a bank of daisies, like the
children in the wood, leastways meadows, and fell asleep.
Boots don't know--perhaps I do,--but never mind, it don't signify
either way--why it made a man fit to make a fool of himself to see
them two pretty babies a lying there in the clear still sunny day,
not dreaming half so hard when they was asleep as they done when
they was awake. But, Lord! when you come to think of yourself, you
know, and what a game you have been up to ever since you was in your
own cradle, and what a poor sort of a chap you are, and how it's
always either Yesterday with you, or else To-morrow, and never To-
day, that's where it is!
Well, sir, they woke up at last, and then one thing was getting
pretty clear to Boots, namely, that Mrs. Harry Walmerses, Junior's,
temper was on the move. When Master Harry took her round the waist,
she said he "teased her so;" and when he says, "Norah, my young May
Moon, your Harry tease you?" she tells him, "Yes; and I want to go
A biled fowl, and baked bread-and-butter pudding, brought Mrs.
Walmers up a little; but Boots could have wished, he must privately
own to me, to have seen her more sensible of the woice of love, and
less abandoning of herself to currants. However, Master Harry, he
kept up, and his noble heart was as fond as ever. Mrs. Walmers
turned very sleepy about dusk, and began to cry. Therefore, Mrs.
Walmers went off to bed as per yesterday; and Master Harry ditto
About eleven or twelve at night comes back the Governor in a chaise,
along with Mr. Walmers and a elderly lady. Mr. Walmers looks amused
and very serious, both at once, and says to our missis, "We are much
indebted to you, ma'am, for your kind care of our little children,
which we can never sufficiently acknowledge. Pray, ma'am, where is
my boy?" Our missis says, "Cobbs has the dear child in charge, sir.
Cobbs, show Forty!" Then he says to Cobbs, "Ah, Cobbs, I am glad to
see you! I understood you was here!" And Cobbs says, "Yes, sir.
Your most obedient, sir."
I may be surprised to hear Boots say it, perhaps; but Boots assures
me that his heart beat like a hammer, going up-stairs. "I beg your
pardon, sir," says he, while unlocking the door; "I hope you are not
angry with Master Harry. For Master Harry is a fine boy, sir, and
will do you credit and honour." And Boots signifies to me, that, if
the fine boy's father had contradicted him in the daring state of
mind in which he then was, he thinks he should have "fetched him a
crack," and taken the consequences.
But Mr. Walmers only says, "No, Cobbs. No, my good fellow. Thank
you!" And, the door being opened, goes in.
Boots goes in too, holding the light, and he sees Mr. Walmers go up
to the bedside, bend gently down, and kiss the little sleeping face.
Then he stands looking at it for a minute, looking wonderfully like
it (they do say he ran away with Mrs. Walmers); and then he gently
shakes the little shoulder.
"Harry, my dear boy! Harry!"
Master Harry starts up and looks at him. Looks at Cobbs too. Such
is the honour of that mite, that he looks at Cobbs, to see whether
he has brought him into trouble.
"I am not angry, my child. I only want you to dress yourself and
Master Harry dresses himself quickly. His breast begins to swell
when he has nearly finished, and it swells more and more as he
stands, at last, a looking at his father: his father standing a
looking at him, the quiet image of him.
"Please may I"--the spirit of that little creatur, and the way he
kept his rising tears down!--"please, dear pa--may I--kiss Norah
before I go?"
"You may, my child."
So he takes Master Harry in his hand, and Boots leads the way with
the candle, and they come to that other bedroom, where the elderly
lady is seated by the bed, and poor little Mrs. Harry Walmers,
Junior, is fast asleep. There the father lifts the child up to the
pillow, and he lays his little face down for an instant by the
little warm face of poor unconscious little Mrs. Harry Walmers,
Junior, and gently draws it to him,--a sight so touching to the
chambermaids who are peeping through the door, that one of them
calls out, "It's a shame to part 'em!" But this chambermaid was
always, as Boots informs me, a soft-hearted one. Not that there was
any harm in that girl. Far from it.
Finally, Boots says, that's all about it. Mr. Walmers drove away in
the chaise, having hold of Master Harry's hand. The elderly lady
and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, that was never to be (she married a
Captain long afterwards, and died in India), went off next day. In
conclusion, Boots put it to me whether I hold with him in two
opinions: firstly, that there are not many couples on their way to
be married who are half as innocent of guile as those two children;
secondly, that it would be a jolly good thing for a great many
couples on their way to be married, if they could only be stopped in
time, and brought back separately.
THIRD BRANCH--THE BILL
I had been snowed up a whole week. The time had hung so lightly on
my hands, that I should have been in great doubt of the fact but for
a piece of documentary evidence that lay upon my table.
The road had been dug out of the snow on the previous day, and the
document in question was my bill. It testified emphatically to my
having eaten and drunk, and warmed myself, and slept among the
sheltering branches of the Holly-Tree, seven days and nights.
I had yesterday allowed the road twenty-four hours to improve
itself, finding that I required that additional margin of time for
the completion of my task. I had ordered my Bill to be upon the
table, and a chaise to be at the door, "at eight o'clock to-morrow
evening." It was eight o'clock to-morrow evening when I buckled up
my travelling writing-desk in its leather case, paid my Bill, and
got on my warm coats and wrappers. Of course, no time now remained
for my travelling on to add a frozen tear to the icicles which were
doubtless hanging plentifully about the farmhouse where I had first
seen Angela. What I had to do was to get across to Liverpool by the
shortest open road, there to meet my heavy baggage and embark. It
was quite enough to do, and I had not an hour too much time to do it
I had taken leave of all my Holly-Tree friends--almost, for the time
being, of my bashfulness too--and was standing for half a minute at
the Inn door watching the ostler as he took another turn at the cord
which tied my portmanteau on the chaise, when I saw lamps coming
down towards the Holly-Tree. The road was so padded with snow that
no wheels were audible; but all of us who were standing at the Inn
door saw lamps coming on, and at a lively rate too, between the
walls of snow that had been heaped up on either side of the track.
The chambermaid instantly divined how the case stood, and called to
the ostler, "Tom, this is a Gretna job!" The ostler, knowing that
her sex instinctively scented a marriage, or anything in that
direction, rushed up the yard bawling, "Next four out!" and in a
moment the whole establishment was thrown into commotion.
I had a melancholy interest in seeing the happy man who loved and
was beloved; and therefore, instead of driving off at once, I
remained at the Inn door when the fugitives drove up. A bright-eyed
fellow, muffled in a mantle, jumped out so briskly that he almost
overthrew me. He turned to apologise, and, by heaven, it was Edwin!
"Charley!" said he, recoiling. "Gracious powers, what do you do
"Edwin," said I, recoiling, "gracious powers, what do you do here?"
I struck my forehead as I said it, and an insupportable blaze of
light seemed to shoot before my eyes.
He hurried me into the little parlour (always kept with a slow fire
in it and no poker), where posting company waited while their horses
were putting to, and, shutting the door, said:
"Charley, forgive me!"
"Edwin!" I returned. "Was this well? When I loved her so dearly!
When I had garnered up my heart so long!" I could say no more.
He was shocked when he saw how moved I was, and made the cruel
observation, that he had not thought I should have taken it so much
I looked at him. I reproached him no more. But I looked at him.
"My dear, dear Charley," said he, "don't think ill of me, I beseech
you! I know you have a right to my utmost confidence, and, believe
me, you have ever had it until now. I abhor secrecy. Its meanness
is intolerable to me. But I and my dear girl have observed it for
He and his dear girl! It steeled me.
"You have observed it for my sake, sir?" said I, wondering how his
frank face could face it out so.
"Yes!--and Angela's," said he.
I found the room reeling round in an uncertain way, like a
labouring, humming-top. "Explain yourself," said I, holding on by
one hand to an arm-chair.
"Dear old darling Charley!" returned Edwin, in his cordial manner,
"consider! When you were going on so happily with Angela, why
should I compromise you with the old gentleman by making you a party
to our engagement, and (after he had declined my proposals) to our
secret intention? Surely it was better that you should be able
honourably to say, 'He never took counsel with me, never told me,
never breathed a word of it.' If Angela suspected it, and showed me
all the favour and support she could--God bless her for a precious
creature and a priceless wife!--I couldn't help that. Neither I nor
Emmeline ever told her, any more than we told you. And for the same
good reason, Charley; trust me, for the same good reason, and no
other upon earth!"
Emmeline was Angela's cousin. Lived with her. Had been brought up
with her. Was her father's ward. Had property.
"Emmeline is in the chaise, my dear Edwin!" said I, embracing him
with the greatest affection.
"My good fellow!" said he, "do you suppose I should be going to
Gretna Green without her?"
I ran out with Edwin, I opened the chaise door, I took Emmeline in
my arms, I folded her to my heart. She was wrapped in soft white
fur, like the snowy landscape: but was warm, and young, and lovely.
I put their leaders to with my own hands, I gave the boys a five-
pound note apiece, I cheered them as they drove away, I drove the
other way myself as hard as I could pelt.
I never went to Liverpool, I never went to America, I went straight
back to London, and I married Angela. I have never until this time,
even to her, disclosed the secret of my character, and the mistrust
and the mistaken journey into which it led me. When she, and they,
and our eight children and their seven--I mean Edwin and Emmeline's,
whose oldest girl is old enough now to wear white for herself, and
to look very like her mother in it--come to read these pages, as of
course they will, I shall hardly fail to be found out at last.
Never mind! I can bear it. I began at the Holly-Tree, by idle
accident, to associate the Christmas time of year with human
interest, and with some inquiry into, and some care for, the lives
of those by whom I find myself surrounded. I hope that I am none
the worse for it, and that no one near me or afar off is the worse
for it. And I say, May the green Holly-Tree flourish, striking its
roots deep into our English ground, and having its germinating
qualities carried by the birds of Heaven all over the world!